THE VICAR'S DAUGHTER
BY GEORGE MACDONALD
The Vicar's Daughter was originally published in 1872 by Tinsley Brothers, London.
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY
CHAPTER II. I TRY
CHAPTER III. MY WEDDING
CHAPTER IV. JUDY'S VISIT
CHAPTER V. GOOD SOCIETY
CHAPTER VI. A REFUGE FROM THE HEAT
CHAPTER VII. CONNIE
CHAPTER VIII. CONNIE'S BABY
CHAPTER IX. THE FOUNDLING REFOUND
CHAPTER X. WAGTAIL COMES TO HONOR
CHAPTER XI. A STUPID CHAPTER
CHAPTER XII. AN INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER XIII. MY FIRST DINNER PARTY.—A NEGATIVED PROPOSAL
CHAPTER XIV. A PICTURE
CHAPTER XV. RUMORS
CHAPTER XVI. A DISCOVERY
CHAPTER XVII. MISS CLARE
CHAPTER XVIII. MISS CLARE'S HOME
CHAPTER XIX. HER STORY
CHAPTER XX. A REMARKABLE FACT
CHAPTER XXI. LADY BERNARD
CHAPTER XXII. MY SECOND DINNER PARTY
CHAPTER XXIII. THE END OF THE EVENING
CHAPTER XXIV. MY FIRST TERROR
CHAPTER XXV. ITS SEQUEL
CHAPTER XXVI. TROUBLES
CHAPTER XXVII. MISS CLARE AMONGST HER FRIENDS
CHAPTER XXVIII. MR. MORLEY
CHAPTER XXIX. A STRANGE TEXT
CHAPTER XXX. ABOUT SERVANTS
CHAPTER XXXI. ABOUT PERCIVALE
CHAPTER XXXII. MY SECOND TERROR
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE CLOUDS AFTER THE RAIN
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE SUNSHINE
CHAPTER XXXV. WHAT LADY BERNARD THOUGHT OF IT
CHAPTER XXXVI. RETROSPECTIVE
CHAPTER XXXVII. MRS. CROMWELL COMES
CHAPTER XXXVIII. MRS. CROMWELL GOES
CHAPTER XXXIX. ANCESTRAL WISDOM
CHAPTER XL. CHILD NONSENSE
CHAPTER XLI. "DOUBLE, DOUBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE"
CHAPTER XLII. ROGER AND MARION
CHAPTER XLIII. A LITTLE MORE ABOUT ROGER, AND ABOUT MR. BLACKSTONE
CHAPTER XLIV. THE DEA EX
I think that is the way my father would begin. My name is Ethelwyn Percivale, and used to be Ethelwyn Walton. I always put the Walton in between when I write to my father; for I think it is quite enough to have to leave father and mother behind for a husband, without leaving their name behind you also. I am fond of lumber-rooms, and in some houses consider them far the most interesting spots; but I don't choose that my old name should lie about in the one at home.
I am much afraid of writing nonsense; but my father tells me that to see things in print is a great help to recognizing whether they are nonsense or not. And he tells me, too, that his friend the publisher, who,—but I will speak of him presently,—his friend the publisher is not like any other publisher he ever met with before; for he never grumbles at any alterations writers choose to make,—at least he never says any thing, although it costs a great deal to shift the types again after they are once set up. The other part of my excuse for attempting to write lies simply in telling how it came about.
Ten days ago, my father came up from Marshmallows to pay us a visit. He is with us now, but we don't see much of him all day; for he is generally out with a friend of his in the east end, the parson of one of the poorest parishes in London,—who thanks God that he wasn't the nephew of any bishop to be put into a good living, for he learns more about the ways of God from having to do with plain, yes, vulgar human nature, than the thickness of the varnish would ever have permitted him to discover in what are called the higher orders of society. Yet I must say, that, amongst those I have recognized as nearest, the sacred communism of the early church—a phrase of my father's—are two or three people of rank and wealth, whose names are written in heaven, and need not he set down in my poor story.
A few days ago, then, my father, coming home to dinner, brought with him the publisher of the two books called, "The Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood," and "The Seaboard Parish." The first of these had lain by him for some years before my father could publish it; and then he remodelled it a little for the magazine in which it came out, a portion at a time. The second was written at the request of Mr. S., who wanted something more of the same sort; and now, after some years, he had begun again to represent to my father, at intervals, the necessity for another story to complete the trilogy, as he called it: insisting, when my father objected the difficulties of growing years and failing judgment, that indeed he owed it to him; for he had left him in the lurch, as it were, with an incomplete story, not to say an uncompleted series. My father still objected, and Mr. S. still urged, until, at length, my father said—this I learned afterwards, of course—"What would you say if I found you a substitute?" "That depends on who the substitute might be, Mr. Walton," said Mr. S. The result of their talk was that my father brought him home to dinner that day; and hence it comes, that, with some real fear and much metaphorical trembling, I am now writing this. I wonder if anybody will ever read it. This my first chapter shall be composed of a little of the talk that passed at our dinner-table that day. Mr. Blackstone was the only other stranger present; and he certainly was not much of a stranger.
"Do you keep a diary, Mrs. Percivale?" asked Mr. S., with a twinkle in his eye, as if he expected an indignant repudiation.
"I would rather keep a rag and bottle shop," I answered: at which Mr. Blackstone burst into one of his splendid roars of laughter; for if ever a man could laugh like a Christian who believed the world was in a fair way after all, that man was Mr. Blackstone; and even my husband, who seldom laughs at any thing I say with more than his eyes, was infected by it, and laughed heartily.
"That's rather a strong assertion, my love," said my father. "Pray, what do you mean by it?"
"I mean, papa," I answered, "that it would be a more profitable employment to keep the one than the other."
"I suppose you think," said Mr. Blackstone, "that the lady who keeps a diary is in the same danger as the old woman who prided herself in keeping a strict account of her personal expenses. And it always was correct; for when she could not get it to balance at the end of the week, she brought it right by putting down the deficit as charity."
"That's just what I mean," I said.
"But," resumed Mr. S., "I did not mean a diary of your feelings, but of the events of the day and hour."
"Which are never in themselves worth putting down," I said. "All that is worth remembering will find for itself some convenient cranny to go to sleep in till it is wanted, without being made a poor mummy of in a diary."
"If you have such a memory, I grant that is better, even for my purpose, much better," said Mr. S.
"For your purpose!" I repeated, in surprise. "I beg your pardon; but what designs can you have upon my memory?"
"Well, I suppose I had better be as straightforward as I know you would like me to be, Mrs. Percivale. I want you to make up the sum your father owes me. He owed me three books; he has paid me two. I want the third from you."
I laughed; for the very notion of writing a book seemed preposterous.
"I want you, under feigned names of course," he went on, "as are all the names in your father's two books, to give me the further history of the family, and in particular your own experiences in London. I am confident the history of your married life must contain a number of incidents which, without the least danger of indiscretion, might be communicated to the public to the great advantage of all who read them."
"You forget," I said, hardly believing him to be in earnest, "that I should be exposing my story to you and Mr. Blackstone at least. If I were to make the absurd attempt,—I mean absurd as regards my ability,—I should be always thinking of you two as my public, and whether it would be right for me to say this and say that; which you may see at once would render it impossible for me to write at all."
"I think I can suggest a way out of that difficulty, Wynnie," said my father. "You must write freely, all you feel inclined to write, and then let your husband see it. You may be content to let all pass that he passes."
"You don't say you really mean it, papa! The thing is perfectly impossible. I never wrote a book in my life, and"—
"No more did I, my dear, before I began my first."
"But you grew up to it by degrees, papa!"
"I have no doubt that will make it the easier for you, when you try. I am so far, at least, a Darwinian as to believe that."
"But, really, Mr. S. ought to have more sense—I beg your pardon, Mr. S.; but it is perfectly absurd to suppose me capable of finishing any thing my father has begun. I assure you I don't feel flattered by your proposal. I have got a man of more consequence for a father than that would imply."
All this time my tall husband sat silent at the foot of the table, as if he had nothing on earth to do with the affair, instead of coming to my assistance, when, as I thought, I really needed it, especially seeing my own father was of the combination against me; for what can be more miserable than to be taken for wiser or better or cleverer than you know perfectly well you are. I looked down the table, straight and sharp at him, thinking to rouse him by the most powerful of silent appeals; and when he opened his mouth very solemnly, staring at me in return down all the length of the table, I thought I had succeeded. But I was not a little surprised, when I heard him say,—
"I think, Wynnie, as your father and Mr. S. appear to wish it, you might at least try."
This almost overcame me, and I was very near,—never mind what. I bit my lips, and tried to smile, but felt as if all my friends had forsaken me, and were about to turn me out to beg my bread. How on earth could I write a book without making a fool of myself?
"You know, Mrs. Percivale," said Mr. S., "you needn't be afraid about the composition, and the spelling, and all that. We can easily set those to rights at the office."
He couldn't have done any thing better to send the lump out of my throat; for this made me angry.
"I am not in the least anxious about the spelling," I answered; "and for the rest, pray what is to become of me, if what you print should happen to be praised by somebody who likes my husband or my father, and therefore wants to say a good word for me? That's what a good deal of reviewing comes to, I understand. Am I to receive in silence what doesn't belong to me, or am I to send a letter to the papers to say that the whole thing was patched and polished at the printing-office, and that I have no right to more than perhaps a fourth part of the commendation? How would that do?"
"But you forget it is not to have your name to it," he said; "and so it won't matter a bit. There will be nothing dishonest about it."
"You forget, that, although nobody knows my real name, everybody will know that I am the daughter of that Mr. Walton who would have thrown his pen in the fire if you had meddled with any thing he wrote. They would be praising me, if they praised at all. The name is nothing. Of all things, to have praise you don't deserve, and not to be able to reject it, is the most miserable! It is as bad as painting one's face."
"Hardly a case in point," said Mr. Blackstone. "For the artificial complexion would be your own work, and the other would not."
"If you come to discuss that question," said my father, "we must all confess we have had in our day to pocket a good many more praises than we had a right to. I agree with you, however, my child, that we must not connive at any thing of the sort. So I will propose this clause in the bargain between you and Mr. S.; namely, that, if he finds any fault with your work, he shall send it back to yourself to be set right, and, if you cannot do so to his mind, you shall be off the bargain."
"But papa,—Percivale,—both of you know well enough that nothing ever happened to me worth telling."
"I am sorry your life has been so very uninteresting, wife," said my husband grimly; for his fun is always so like earnest!
"You know well enough what I mean, husband. It does not follow that what has been interesting enough to you and me will be interesting to people who know nothing at all about us to begin with."
"It depends on how it is told," said Mr. S.
"Then, I beg leave to say, that I never had an original thought in my life; and that, if I were to attempt to tell my history, the result would be as silly a narrative as ever one old woman told another by the workhouse fire."
"And I only wish I could hear the one old woman tell her story to the other," said my father.
"Ah! but that's because you see ever so much more in it than shows. You always see through the words and the things to something lying behind them," I said.
"Well, if you told the story rightly, other people would see such things behind it too."
"Not enough of people to make it worth while for Mr. S. to print it," I said.
"He's not going to print it except he thinks it worth his while; and you may safely leave that to him," said my husband.
"And so I'm to write a book as big as 'The Annals;' and, after I've been slaving at it for half a century or so, I'm to be told it won't do, and all my labor must go for nothing? I must say the proposal is rather a cool one to make,—to the mother of a family."
"Not at all; that's not it, I mean," said Mr. S.; "if you will write a dozen pages or so, I shall be able to judge by those well enough,—at least, I will take all the responsibility on myself after that."
"There's a fair offer!" said my husband. "It seems to me, Wynnie, that all that is wanted of you is to tell your tale so that other people can recognize the human heart in it,—the heart that is like their own, and be able to feel as if they were themselves going through the things you recount."
"You describe the work of a genius, and coolly ask me to do it. Besides, I don't want to be set thinking about my heart, and all that," I said peevishly.
"Now, don't be raising objections where none exist," he returned.
"If you mean I am pretending to object, I have only to say that I feel all one great objection to the whole affair, and that I won't touch it."
They were all silent; and I felt as if I had behaved ungraciously. Then first I felt as if I might have to do it, after all. But I couldn't see my way in the least.
"Now, what is there," I asked, "in all my life that is worth setting down,—I mean, as I should be able to set it down?"
"What do you ladies talk about now in your morning calls?" suggested Mr. Blackstone, with a humorous glance from his deep black eyes.
"Nothing worth writing about, as I am sure you will readily believe, Mr. Blackstone," I answered.
"How comes it to be interesting, then?"
"But it isn't. They—we—only talk about the weather and our children and servants, and that sort of thing."
"Well!" said Mr. S., "and I wish I could get any thing sensible about the weather and children and servants, and that sort of thing, for my magazine. I have a weakness in the direction of the sensible."
"But there never is any thing sensible said about any of them,—not that I know of."
"Now, Wynnie, I am sure you are wrong," said my father. "There is your friend, Mrs. Cromwell: I am certain she, sometimes at least, must say what is worth hearing about such matters."
"Well, but she's an exception. Besides, she hasn't any children."
"Then," said my husband, "there's Lady Bernard"—
"Ah! but she was like no one else. Besides, she is almost a public character, and any thing said about her would betray my original."
"It would be no matter. She is beyond caring for that now; and not one of her friends could object to any thing you who loved her so much would say about her."
The mention of this lady seemed to put some strength into me. I felt as if I did know something worth telling, and I was silent in my turn.
"Certainly," Mr. S. resumed, "whatever is worth talking about is worth writing about,—though not perhaps in the way it is talked about. Besides, Mrs. Percivale, my clients want to know more about your sisters, and little Theodora, or Dorothea, or—what was her name in the book?"
The end of it was, that I agreed to try to the extent of a dozen pages or so.
I hope no one will think I try to write like my father; for that would be to go against what he always made a great point of,—that nobody whatever should imitate any other person whatever, but in modesty and humility allow the seed that God had sown in her to grow. He said all imitation tended to dwarf and distort the plant, if it even allowed the seed to germinate at all. So, if I do write like him, it will be because I cannot help it.
I will just look how "The Seaboard Parish" ends, and perhaps that will put into my head how I ought to begin. I see my father does mention that I had then been Mrs. Percivale for many years. Not so very many though,—five or six, if I remember rightly, and that is three or four years ago. Yes; I nave been married nine years. I may as well say a word as to how it came about; and, if Percivale doesn't like it, the remedy lies in his pen. I shall be far more thankful to have any thing struck out on suspicion than remain on sufferance.
After our return home from Kilkhaven, my father and mother had a good many talks about me and Percivale, and sometimes they took different sides. I will give a shadow of one of these conversations. I think ladies can write fully as natural talk as gentlemen can, though the bits between mayn't be so good.
Mother.—I am afraid, my dear husband [This was my mother's most solemn mode of addressing my father], "they are too like each other to make a suitable match."
Father.—I am sorry to learn you consider me so very unlike yourself, Ethelwyn. I had hoped there was a very strong resemblance indeed, and that the match had not proved altogether unsuitable.
Mother.—Just think, though, what would have become of me by this time, if you had been half as unbelieving a creature as I was. Indeed, I fear sometimes I am not much better now.
Father.—I think I am, then; and I know you've done me nothing but good with your unbelief. It was just because I was of the same sort precisely that I was able to understand and help you. My circumstances and education and superior years—
Mother.—Now, don't plume yourself on that, Harry; for you know everybody says you look much the younger of the two.
Father.—I had no idea that everybody was so rude. I repeat, that my more years, as well as my severer education, had, no doubt, helped me a little further on before I came to know you; but it was only in virtue of the doubt in me that I was able to understand and appreciate the doubt in you.
Mother.—But then you had at least begun to leave it behind before I knew you, and so had grown able to help me. And Mr. Percivale does not seem, by all I can make out, a bit nearer believing in any thing than poor Wynnie herself.
Father.—At least, he doesn't fancy he believes when he does not, as so many do, and consider themselves superior persons in consequence. I don't know that it would have done you any great harm, Miss Ethelwyn, to have made my acquaintance when I was in the worst of my doubts concerning the truth of things. Allow me to tell you that I was nearer making shipwreck of my faith at a certain period than I ever was before or have been since.
Mother.—What period was that?
Father.—Just the little while when I had lost all hope of ever marrying you,—unbeliever as you counted yourself.
Mother.—You don't mean to say you would have ceased to believe in God, if he hadn't given you your own way?
Father.—No, my dear. I firmly believe, that, had I never married you, I should have come in the end to say, "Thy will be done," and to believe that it must be all right, however hard to bear. But, oh, what a terrible thing it would have been, and what a frightful valley of the shadow of death I should have had to go through first!
[I know my mother said nothing more just then, but let my father have it all his own way for a while.]
Father.—You see, this Percivale is an honest man. I don't exactly know how he has been brought up; and it is quite possible he may have had such evil instruction in Christianity that he attributes to it doctrines which, if I supposed they actually belonged to it, would make me reject it at once as ungodlike and bad. I have found this the case sometimes. I remember once being astonished to hear a certain noble-minded lady utter some indignant words against what I considered a very weighty doctrine of Christianity; but, listening, I soon found that what she supposed the doctrine to contain was something considered vastly unchristian. This may be the case with Percivale, though I never heard him say a word of the kind. I think his difficulty comes mainly from seeing so much suffering in the world, that he cannot imagine the presence and rule of a good God, and therefore lies with religion rather than with Christianity as yet. I am all but certain, the only thing that will ever make him able to believe in a God at all is meditation on the Christian idea of God,—I mean the idea of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself,—not that pagan corruption of Christ in God reconciling him to the world. He will then see that suffering is not either wrath or neglect, but pure-hearted love and tenderness. But we must give him time, wife; as God has borne with us, we must believe that he bears with others, and so learn to wait in hopeful patience until they, too, see as we see.
And as to trusting our Wynnie with Percivale, he seems to be as good as she is. I should for my part have more apprehension in giving her to one who would be called a thoroughly religious man; for not only would the unfitness be greater, but such a man would be more likely to confirm her in doubt, if the phrase be permissible. She wants what some would call homoeopathic treatment. And how should they be able to love one another, if they are not fit to be married to each other? The fitness, seems inherent to the fact.
Mother.—But many a two love each other who would have loved each other a good deal more if they hadn't been married.
Father.—Then it was most desirable they should find out that what they thought a grand affection was not worthy of the name. But I don't think there is much fear of that between those two.
Mother.—I don't, however, see how that man is to do her any good, when you have tried to make her happy for so long, and all in vain.
Father.—I don't know that it has been all in vain. But it is quite possible she does not understand me. She fancies, I dare say, that I believe every thing without any trouble, and therefore cannot enter into her difficulties.
Mother.—But you have told her many and many a time that you do.
Father.—Yes: and I hope I was right; but the same things look so different to different people that the same words won't describe them to both; and it may seem to her that I am talking of something not at all like what she is feeling or thinking of. But when she sees the troubled face of Percivale, she knows that he is suffering; and sympathy being thus established between them, the least word of the one will do more to help the other than oceans of argument. Love is the one great instructor. And each will try to be good, and to find out for the sake of the other.
Mother.—I don't like her going from home for the help that lay at her very door.
Father.—You know, my dear, you like the Dean's preaching much better than mine.
Mother.—Now, that is unkind of you!
Father.—And why? [My father went on, taking no heed of my mother's expostulation.] Because, in the first place, it is better; because, in the second, it comes in a newer form to you, for you have got used to all my modes; in the third place, it has more force from the fact that it is not subject to the doubt of personal preference; and lastly, because he has a large, comprehensive way of asserting things, which pleases you better than my more dubitant mode of submitting them,—all very sound and good reasons: but still, why be so vexed with Wynnie?
[My mother was now, however, so vexed with my father for saying she preferred the Dean's preaching to his,—although I doubt very much whether it wasn't true,—that she actually walked out of the octagon room where they were, and left him to meditate on his unkindness. Vexed with herself the next moment, she returned as if nothing had happened. I am only telling what my mother told me; for to her grown daughters she is blessedly trusting.]
Mother.—Then if you will have them married, husband, will you say how on earth you expect them to live? He just makes both ends meet now: I suppose he doesn't make things out worse than they are; and that is his own account of the state of his affairs.
Father.—Ah, yes! that is—a secondary consideration, my dear. But I have hardly begun to think about it yet. There will be a difficulty there, I can easily imagine; for he is far too independent to let us do any thing for him.
Mother.—And you can't do much, if they would. Really, they oughtn't to marry yet.
Father.—Really, we must leave it to themselves. I don't think you and I need trouble our heads about it. When Percivale considers himself prepared to marry, and Wynnie thinks he is right, you may be sure they see their way to a livelihood without running in hopeless debt to their tradespeople.
Mother.—Oh, yes! I dare say: in some poky little lodging or other!
Father.—For my part, Ethelwyn, I think it better to build castles in the air than huts in the smoke. But seriously, a little poverty and a little struggling would be a most healthy and healing thing for Wynnie. It hasn't done Percivale much good yet, I confess; for he is far too indifferent to his own comforts to mind it: but it will be quite another thing when he has a young wife and perhaps children depending upon him. Then his poverty may begin to hurt him, and so do him some good.
* * * * *
It may seem odd that my father and mother should now be taking such opposite sides to those they took when the question of our engagement was first started, as represented by my father in "The Seaboard Parish." But it will seem inconsistent to none of the family; for it was no unusual thing for them to take opposite sides to those they had previously advocated,—each happening at the time, possibly enlightened by the foregone arguments of the other, to be impressed with the correlate truth, as my father calls the other side of a thing. Besides, engagement and marriage are two different things; and although my mother was the first to recognize the good of our being engaged, when it came to marriage she got frightened, I think. Any how, I have her authority for saying that something like this passed between her and my father on the subject.
Discussion between them differed in this from what I have generally heard between married people, that it was always founded on a tacit understanding of certain unmentioned principles; and no doubt sometimes, if a stranger had been present, he would have been bewildered as to the very meaning of what they were saying. But we girls generally understood: and I fancy we learned more from their differences than from their agreements; for of course it was the differences that brought out their minds most, and chiefly led us to think that we might understand. In our house there were very few of those mysteries which in some houses seem so to abound; and I think the openness with which every question, for whose concealment there was no special reason, was discussed, did more than even any direct instruction we received to develop what thinking faculty might be in us. Nor was there much reason to dread that my small brothers might repeat any thing. I remember hearing Harry say to Charley once, they being then eight and nine years old, "That is mamma's opinion, Charley, not yours; and you know we must not repeat what we hear."
They soon came to be of one mind about Mr. Percivale and me: for indeed the only real ground for doubt that had ever existed was, whether I was good enough for him; and for my part, I knew then and know now, that I was and am dreadfully inferior to him. And notwithstanding the tremendous work women are now making about their rights (and, in as far as they are their rights, I hope to goodness they may get them, if it were only that certain who make me feel ashamed of myself because I, too, am a woman, might perhaps then drop out of the public regard),—notwithstanding this, I venture the sweeping assertion, that every woman is not as good as every man, and that it is not necessary to the dignity of a wife that she should assert even equality with her husband. Let him assert her equality or superiority if he will; but, were it a fact, it would be a poor one for her to assert, seeing her glory is in her husband. To seek the chief place is especially unfitting the marriage-feast. Whether I be a Christian or not,—and I have good reason to doubt it every day of my life,—at least I see that in the New Jerusalem one essential of citizenship consists in knowing how to set the good in others over against the evil in ourselves.
There, now, my father might have said that! and no doubt has said so twenty times in my hearing. It is, however, only since I was married that I have come to see it for myself; and, now that I do see it, I have a right to say it.
So we were married at last. My mother believes it was my father's good advice to Percivale concerning the sort of pictures he painted, that brought it about. For certainly soon after we were engaged, he began to have what his artist friends called a run of luck: he sold one picture after another in a very extraordinary and hopeful manner. But Percivale says it was his love for me—indeed he does—which enabled him to see not only much deeper into things, but also to see much better the bloom that hangs about every thing, and so to paint much better pictures than before. He felt, he said, that he had a hold now where before he had only a sight. However this may be, he had got on so well for a while that he wrote at last, that, if I was willing to share his poverty, it would not, he thought, be absolute starvation; and I was, of course, perfectly content. I can't put in words—indeed I dare not, for fear of writing what would be, if not unladylike, at least uncharitable—my contempt for those women who, loving a man, hesitate to run every risk with him. Of course, if they cannot trust him, it is a different thing. I am not going to say any thing about that; for I should be out of my depth,—not in the least understanding how a woman can love a man to whom she cannot look up. I believe there are who can; I see some men married whom I don't believe any woman ever did or ever could respect; all I say is, I don't understand it.
My father and mother made no objection, and were evidently at last quite agreed that it would be the best thing for both of us; and so, I say, we were married.
I ought to just mention, that, before the day arrived, my mother went up to London at Percivale's request, to help him in getting together the few things absolutely needful for the barest commencement of housekeeping. For the rest, it had been arranged that we should furnish by degrees, buying as we saw what we liked, and could afford it. The greater part of modern fashions in furniture, having both been accustomed to the stateliness of a more artistic period, we detested for their ugliness, and chiefly, therefore, we desired to look about us at our leisure.
My mother came back more satisfied with the little house he had taken than I had expected. It was not so easy to get one to suit us; for of course he required a large room to paint in, with a good north light. He had however succeeded better than he had hoped.
"You will find things very different from what you have been used to, Wynnie," said my mother.
"Of course, mamma; I know that," I answered. "I hope I am prepared to meet it. If I don't like it, I shall have no one to blame but myself; and I don't see what right people have to expect what they have been used to."
"There is just this advantage," said my father, "in having been used to nice things, that it ought to be easier to keep from sinking into the sordid, however straitened the new circumstances may be, compared with the old."
On the evening before the wedding, my father took me into the octagon room, and there knelt down with me and my mother, and prayed for me in such a wonderful way that I was perfectly astonished and overcome. I had never known him to do any thing of the kind before. He was not favorable to extempore prayer in public, or even in the family, and indeed had often seemed willing to omit prayers for what I could not always count sufficient reason: he had a horror at their getting to be a matter of course, and a form; for then, he said, they ceased to be worship at all, and were a mere pagan rite, better far left alone. I remember also he said, that those, however good they might be, who urged attention to the forms of religion, such as going to church and saying prayers, were, however innocently, just the prophets of Pharisaism; that what men had to be stirred up to was to lay hold upon God, and then they would not fail to find out what religious forms they ought to cherish. "The spirit first, and then the flesh," he would say. To put the latter before the former was a falsehood, and therefore a frightful danger, being at the root of all declensions in the Church, and making ever-recurring earthquakes and persecutions and repentances and reformations needful. I find what my father used to say coming back so often now that I hear so little of it,—especially as he talks much less, accusing himself of having always talked too much,—and I understand it so much better now, that I shall be always in danger of interrupting my narrative to say something that he said. But when I commence the next chapter, I shall get on faster, I hope. My story is like a vessel I saw once being launched: it would stick on the stocks, instead of sliding away into the expectant waters.
I confess the first thing I did when I knew myself the next morning was to have a good cry. To leave the place where I had been born was like forsaking the laws and order of the Nature I knew, for some other Nature it might be, but not known to me as such. How, for instance, could one who has been used to our bright white sun, and our pale modest moon, with our soft twilights, and far, mysterious skies of night, be willing to fall in with the order of things in a planet, such as I have read of somewhere, with three or four suns, one red and another green and another yellow? Only perhaps I've taken it all up wrong, and I do like looking at a landscape for a minute or so through a colored glass; and if it be so, of course it all blends, and all we want is harmony. What I mean is, that I found it a great wrench to leave the dear old place, and of course loved it more than I had ever loved it. But I would get all my crying about that over beforehand. It would be bad enough afterwards to have to part with my father and mother and Connie, and the rest of them. Only it wasn't like leaving them. You can't leave hearts as you do rooms. You can't leave thoughts as you do books. Those you love only come nearer to you when you go away from them. The same rules don't hold with thinks and things, as my eldest boy distinguished them the other day.
But somehow I couldn't get up and dress. I seemed to have got very fond of my own bed, and the queer old crows, as I had called them from babyhood, on the chintz curtains, and the Chinese paper on the walk with the strangest birds and creeping things on it. It Was a lovely spring morning, and the sun was shining gloriously. I knew that the rain of the last night must be glittering on the grass and the young leaves; and I heard the birds singing as if they knew far more than mere human beings, and believed a great deal more than they knew. Nobody will persuade me that the birds don't mean it; that they sing from any thing else than gladness of heart. And if they don't think about cats and guns, why should they? Even when they fall on the ground, it is not without our Father. How horridly dull and stupid it seems to say that "without your Father" means without his knowing it. The Father's mere knowledge of a thing—if that could be, which my father says can't—is not the Father. The Father's tenderness and care and love of it all the time, that is the not falling without him. When the cat kills the bird, as I have seen happen so often in our poor little London garden, God yet saves his bird from his cat. There is nothing so bad as it looks to our half-sight, our blinding perceptions. My father used to say we are all walking in a spiritual twilight, and are all more or less affected with twilight blindness, as some people are physically. Percivale, for one, who is as brave as any wife could wish, is far more timid than I am in crossing a London street in the twilight; he can't see what is coming, and fancies he sees what is not coming. But then he has faith in me, and never starts when I am leading him.
Well, the birds were singing, and Dora and the boys were making a great chatter, like a whole colony of sparrows, under my window. Still I felt as if I had twenty questions to settle before I could get up comfortably, and so lay on and on till the breakfast-bell rang: and I was not more than half dressed when my mother came to see why I was late; for I had not been late forever so long before.
She comforted me as nobody but a mother can comfort. Oh, I do hope I shall be to my children what my mother has been to me! It would be such a blessed thing to be a well of water whence they may be sure of drawing comfort. And all she said to me has come true.
Of course, my father gave me away, and Mr. Weir married us.
It had been before agreed that we should have no wedding journey. We all liked the old-fashioned plan of the bride going straight from her father's house to her husband's. The other way seemed a poor invention, just for the sake of something different. So after the wedding, we spent the time as we should have done any other day, wandering about in groups, or sitting and reading, only that we were all more smartly dressed; until it was time for an early dinner, after which we drove to the station, accompanied only by my father and mother. After they left us, or rather we left them, my husband did not speak to me for nearly an hour: I knew why, and was very grateful. He would not show his new face in the midst of my old loves and their sorrows, but would give me time to re-arrange the grouping so as myself to bring him in when all was ready for him. I know that was what he was thinking, or feeling rather; and I understood him perfectly. At last, when I had got things a little tidier inside me, and had got my eyes to stop, I held out my hand to him, and then—knew that I was his wife.
This is all I have got to tell, though I have plenty more to keep, till we get to London. There, instead of my father's nice carriage, we got into a jolting, lumbering, horrid cab, with my five boxes and Percivale's little portmanteau on the top of it, and drove away to Camden Town. It was to a part of it near the Regent's Park; and so our letters were always, according to the divisions of the post-office, addressed to Regent's Park, but for all practical intents we were in Camden Town. It was indeed a change from a fine old house in the country; but the street wasn't much uglier than Belgrave Square, or any other of those heaps of uglinesses, called squares, in the West End; and, after what I had been told to expect, I was surprised at the prettiness of the little house, when I stepped out of the cab and looked about me. It was stuck on like a swallow's nest to the end of a great row of commonplace houses, nearly a quarter of a mile in length, but itself was not the work of one of those wretched builders who care no more for beauty in what they build than a scavenger in the heap of mud he scrapes from the street. It had been built by a painter for himself, in the Tudor style; and though Percivale says the idea is not very well carried out, I like it much.
I found it a little dreary when I entered though,—from its emptiness. The only sitting-room at all prepared had just a table and two or three old-fashioned chairs in it; not even a carpet on the floor. The bedroom and dressing-room were also as scantily furnished as they well could be.
"Don't be dismayed, my darling," said my husband.
"Look here,"—showing me a bunch of notes,—"we shall go out to-morrow and buy all we want,—as far as this will go,—and then wait for the rest. It will be such a pleasure to buy the things with you, and see them come home, and have you appoint their places. You and Sarah will make the carpets; won't you? And I will put them down, and we shall be like birds building their nest."
"We have only to line it; the nest is built already."
"Well, neither do the birds build the tree. I wonder if they ever sit in their old summer nests in the winter nights."
"I am afraid not," I answered; "but I'm ashamed to say I can't tell."
"It is the only pretty house I know in all London," he went on, "with a studio at the back of it. I have had my eye on it for a long time, but there seemed no sign of a migratory disposition in the bird who had occupied it for three years past. All at once he spread his wings and flew. I count myself very fortunate."
"So do I. But now you must let me see your study," I said. "I hope I may sit in it when you've got nobody there."
"As much as ever you like, my love," he answered. "Only I don't want to make all my women like you, as I've been doing for the last two years. You must get me out of that somehow."
"Easily. I shall be so cross and disagreeable that you will get tired of me, and find no more difficulty in keeping me out of your pictures."
But he got me out of his pictures without that; for when he had me always before him he didn't want to be always producing me.
He led me into the little hall,—made lovely by a cast of an unfinished Madonna of Michael Angelo's let into the wall,—and then to the back of it, where he opened a small cloth-covered door, when there yawned before me, below me, and above me, a great wide lofty room. Down into it led an almost perpendicular stair.
"So you keep a little private precipice here," I said.
"No, my dear," he returned; "you mistake. It is a Jacob's ladder,—or will be in one moment more."
He gave me his hand, and led me down.
"This is quite a banqueting-hall, Percivale!" I cried, looking round me.
"It shall be, the first time I get a thousand pounds for a picture," he returned.
"How grand you talk!" I said, looking up at him with some wonder; for big words rarely came out of his mouth.
"Well," he answered merrily, "I had two hundred and seventy-five for the last."
"That's a long way off a thousand," I returned, with a silly sigh.
"Quite right; and, therefore, this study is a long way off a banqueting-hall."
There was literally nothing inside the seventeen feet cube except one chair, one easel, a horrible thing like a huge doll, with no end of joints, called a lay figure, but Percivale called it his bishop; a number of pictures leaning their faces against the walls in attitudes of grief that their beauty was despised and no man would buy them; a few casts of legs and arms and faces, half a dozen murderous-looking weapons, and a couple of yards square of the most exquisite tapestry I ever saw.
"Do you like being read to when you are at work?" I asked him.
"Sometimes,—at certain kinds of work, but not by any means always," he answered. "Will you shut your eyes for one minute," he went on, "and, whatever I do, not open them till I tell you?"
"You mustn't hurt me, then, or I may open them without being able to help it, you know," I said, closing my eyes tight.
"Hurt you!" he repeated, with a tone I would not put on paper if I could, and the same moment I found myself in his arms, carried like a baby, for Percivale is one of the strongest of men.
It was only for a few yards, however. He laid me down somewhere, and told me to open my eyes.
I could scarcely believe them when I did. I was lying on a couch in a room,—small, indeed, but beyond exception the loveliest I had ever seen. At first I was only aware of an exquisite harmony of color, and could not have told of what it was composed. The place was lighted by a soft lamp that hung in the middle; and when my eyes went up to see where it was fastened, I found the ceiling marvellous in deep blue, with a suspicion of green, just like some of the shades of a peacock's feathers, with a multitude of gold and red stars upon it. What the walls were I could not for some time tell, they were so covered with pictures and sketches; against one was a lovely little set of book-shelves filled with books, and on a little carved table stood a vase of white hot-house flowers, with one red camellia. One picture had a curtain of green silk before it, and by its side hung the wounded knight whom his friends were carrying home to die.
"O my Percivale!" I cried, and could say no more.
"Do you like it?" he asked quietly, but with shining eyes.
"Like it?" I repeated. "Shall I like Paradise when I get there? But what a lot of money it must have cost you!"
"Not much," he answered; "not more than thirty pounds or so. Every spot of paint there is from my own brush."
I must make a conversation of it to tell it at all; but what I really did say I know no more than the man in the moon.
"The carpet was the only expensive thing. That must be as thick as I could get it; for the floor is of stone, and must not come near your pretty feet. Guess what the place was before."
"I should say, the flower of a prickly-pear cactus, full of sunlight from behind, which a fairy took the fancy to swell into a room."
"It was a shed, in which the sculptor who occupied the place before me used to keep his wet clay and blocks of marble."
"Seeing is hardly believing," I said. "Is it to be my room? I know you mean it for my room, where I can ask you to come when I please, and where I can hide when any one comes you don't want me to see."
"That is just what I meant it for, my Ethelwyn,—and to let you know what I would do for you if I could."
"I hate the place, Percivale," I said. "What right has it to come poking in between you and me, telling me what I know and have known—for, well, I won't say how long—far better than even you can tell me?"
He looked a little troubled.
"Ah, my dear!" I said, "let my foolish words breathe and die."
I wonder sometimes to think how seldom I am in that room now. But there it is; and somehow I seem to know it all the time I am busy elsewhere.
He made me shut my eyes again, and carried me into the study.
"Now," he said, "find your way to your own room."
I looked about me, but could see no sign of door. He took up a tall stretcher with a canvas on it, and revealed the door, at the same time showing a likeness of myself,—at the top of the Jacob's ladder, as he called it, with me foot on the first step, and the other half way to the second. The light came from the window on my left, which he had turned into a western window, in order to get certain effects from a supposed sunset. I was represented in a white dress, tinged with the rose of the west; and he had managed, attributing the phenomenon to the inequalities of the glass in the window, to suggest one rosy wing behind me, with just the shoulder-roof of another visible.
"There!" he said. "It is not finished yet, but that is how I saw you one evening as I was sitting here all alone in the twilight."
"But you didn't really see me like that!" I said.
"I hardly know," he answered. "I had been forgetting every thing else in dreaming about you, and—how it was I cannot tell, but either in the body or out of the body there I saw you, standing just so at the top of the stair, smiling to me as much as to say, 'Have patience. My foot is on the first step. I'm coming.' I turned at once to my easel, and before the twilight was gone had sketched the vision. To-morrow, you must sit to me for an hour or so; for I will do nothing else till I have finished it, and sent it off to your father and mother."
I may just add that I hear it is considered a very fine painting. It hangs in the great dining-room at home. I wish I were as good as he has made it look.
The next morning, after I had given him the sitting he wanted, we set out on our furniture hunt; when, having keen enough eyes, I caught sight of this and of that and of twenty different things in the brokers' shops. We did not agree about the merits of everything by which one or the other was attracted; but an objection by the one always turned the other, a little at least, and we bought nothing we were not agreed about. Yet that evening the hall was piled with things sent home to line our nest. Percivale, as I have said, had saved up some money for the purpose, and I had a hundred pounds my father had given me before we started, which, never having had more than ten of my own at a time, I was eager enough to spend. So we found plenty to do for the fortnight during which time my mother had promised to say nothing to her friends in London of our arrival. Percivale also keeping out of the way of his friends, everybody thought we were on the Continent, or somewhere else, and left us to ourselves. And as he had sent in his pictures to the Academy, he was able to take a rest, which rest consisted in working hard at all sorts of upholstery, not to mention painters' and carpenters' work; so that we soon got the little house made into a very warm and very pretty nest. I may mention that Percivale was particularly pleased with a cabinet I bought for him on the sly, to stand in his study, and hold his paints and brushes and sketches; for there were all sorts of drawers in it, and some that it took us a good deal of trouble to find out, though he was clever enough to suspect them from the first, when I hadn't a thought of such a thing; and I have often fancied since that that cabinet was just like himself, for I have been going on finding out things in him that I had no idea were there when I married him. I had no idea that he was a poet, for instance. I wonder to this day why he never showed me any of his verses before we were married. He writes better poetry than my father,—at least my father says so. Indeed, I soon came to feel very ignorant and stupid beside him; he could tell me so many things, and especially in art (for he had thought about all kinds of it), making me understand that there is no end to it, any more than to the Nature which sets it going, and that the more we see into Nature, and try to represent it, the more ignorant and helpless we find ourselves, until at length I began to wonder whether God might not have made the world so rich and full just to teach his children humility. For a while I felt quite stunned. He very much wanted me to draw; but I thought it was no use trying, and, indeed, had no heart for it. I spoke to my father about it. He said it was indeed of no use, if my object was to be able to think much of myself, for no one could ever succeed in that in the long run; but if my object was to reap the delight of the truth, it was worth while to spend hours and hours on trying to draw a single tree-leaf, or paint the wing of a moth.
The very first morning after the expiry of the fortnight, when I was in the kitchen with Sarah, giving her instructions about a certain dish as if I had made it twenty times, whereas I had only just learned how from a shilling cookery-book, there came a double knock at the door. I guessed who it must be.
"Run, Sarah," I said, "and show Mrs. Morley into the drawing-room."
When I entered, there she was,—Mrs. Morley, alias Cousin Judy.
"Well, little cozzie!" she cried, as she kissed me three or four times, "I'm glad to see you gone the way of womankind,—wooed and married and a'! Fate, child! inscrutable fate!" and she kissed me again.
She always calls me little coz, though I am a head taller than herself. She is as good as ever, quite as brusque, and at the first word apparently more overbearing. But she is as ready to listen to reason as ever was woman of my acquaintance; and I think the form of her speech is but a somewhat distorted reflex of her perfect honesty. After a little trifling talk, which is sure to come first when people are more than ordinarily glad to meet, I asked after her children. I forget how many there were of them, but they were then pretty far into the plural number.
"Growing like ill weeds," she said; "as anxious as ever their grandfathers and mothers were to get their heads up and do mischief. For my part I wish I was Jove,—to start them full grown at once. Or why shouldn't they be made like Eve out of their father's ribs? It would be a great comfort to their mother."
My father had always been much pleased with the results of Judy's training, as contrasted with those of his sister's. The little ones of my aunt Martha's family were always wanting something, and always looking care-worn like their mother, while she was always reading them lectures on their duty, and never making them mind what she said. She would represent the self-same thing to them over and over, until not merely all force, but all sense as well, seemed to have forsaken it. Her notion of duty was to tell them yet again the duty which they had been told at least a thousand times already, without the slightest result. They were dull children, wearisome and uninteresting. On the other hand, the little Morleys were full of life and eagerness. The fault in them was that they wouldn't take petting; and what's the good of a child that won't be petted? They lacked that something which makes a woman feel motherly.
"When did you arrive, cozzie?" she asked.
"A fortnight ago yesterday."
"Ah, you sly thing! What have you been doing with yourself all the time?"
"What! you came into an empty house?"
"Not quite that, but nearly."
"It is very odd I should never have seen your husband. We have crossed each other twenty times."
"Not so very odd, seeing he has been my husband only a fortnight."
"What is he like?"
"Like nothing but himself."
"Is he tall?"
"Is he stout?"
"Very clever, I believe."
"Not at all."
For my father had taught me to look down on that word.
"Why did you marry him then?"
"I didn't. He married me."
"What did you marry him for then?"
"What did you love him for?"
"Because he was a philosopher."
"That's the oddest reason I ever heard for marrying a man."
"I said for loving him, Judy."
Her bright eyes were twinkling with fun.
"Come, cozzie," she said, "give me a proper reason for falling in love with this husband of yours."
"Well, I'll tell you, then," I said; "only you mustn't tell any other body; he's got such a big shaggy head, just like a lion's."
"And such a huge big foot,—just like a bear's?"
"Yes, and such great huge hands! Why, the two of them go quite round my waist! And such big eyes, that they look right through me; and such a big heart, that if he saw me doing any thing wrong, he would kill me, and bury me in it."
"Well, I must say, it is the most extraordinary description of a husband I ever heard. It sounds to me very like an ogre."
"Yes; I admit the description is rather ogrish. But then he's poor, and that makes up for a good deal."
I was in the humor for talking nonsense, and of course expected of all people that Judy would understand my fun.
"How does that make up for any thing?"
"Because if he is a poor man, he isn't a rich man, and therefore not so likely to be a stupid."
"How do you make that out?"
"Because, first of all, the rich man doesn't know what to do with his money, whereas my ogre knows what to do without it. Then the rich man wonders in the morning which waistcoat he shall put on, while my ogre has but one, besides his Sunday one. Then supposing the rich man has slept well, and has done a fair stroke or two of business, he wants nothing but a well-dressed wife, a well-dressed dinner, a few glasses of his favorite wine, and the evening paper, well-diluted with a sleep in his easy chair, to be perfectly satisfied that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Now my ogre, on the other hand"—
I was going on to point out how frightfully different from all this my ogre was,—how he would devour a half-cooked chop, and drink a pint of ale from the public-house, &c., &c., when she interrupted me, saying with an odd expression of voice,—
"You are satirical, cozzie. He's not the worst sort of man you've just described. A woman might be very happy with him. If it weren't such early days, I should doubt if you were as comfortable as you would have people think; for how else should you be so ill-natured?"
It flashed upon me, that, without the least intention, I had been giving a very fair portrait of Mr. Morley. I felt my face grow as red as fire.
"I had no intention of being satirical, Judy," I replied.
"I was only describing a man the very opposite of my husband."
"You don't know mine yet," she said. "You may think"—
She actually broke down and cried. I had never in my life seen her cry, and I was miserable at what I had done. Here was a nice beginning of social relations in my married life!
I knelt down, put my arms round her, and looked up in her face.
"Dear Judy," I said, "you mistake me quite. I never thought of Mr. Morley when I said that. How should I have dared to say such things if I had? He is a most kind, good man, and papa and every one is glad when he comes to see us. I dare say he does like to sleep well,—I know Percivale does; and I don't doubt he likes to get on with what he's at: Percivale does, for he's ever so much better company when he has got on with his picture; and I know he likes to see me well dressed,—at least I haven't tried him with any thing else yet, for I have plenty of clothes for a while; and then for the dinner, which I believe was one of the points in the description I gave, I wish Percivale cared a little more for his, for then it would be easier to do something for him. As to the newspaper, there I fear I must give him up, for I have never yet seen him with one in his hand. He's so stupid about some things!"
"Oh, you've found that out! have you? Men are stupid; there's no doubt of that. But you don't know my Walter yet."
I looked up, and, behold, Percivale was in the room! His face wore such a curious expression that. I could hardly help laughing. And no wonder: for here was I on my knees, clasping my first visitor, and to all appearance pouring out the woes of my wedded life in her lap,—woes so deep that they drew tears from her as she listened. All this flashed upon me as I started to my feet: but I could give no explanation; I could only make haste to introduce my husband to my cousin Judy.
He behaved, of course, as if he had heard nothing. But I fancy Judy caught a glimpse of the awkward position, for she plunged into the affair at once.
"Here is my cousin, Mr. Percivale, has been abusing my husband to my face, calling him rich and stupid, and I don't know what all. I confess he is so stupid as to be very fond of me, but that's all I know against him."
And her handkerchief went once more to her eyes.
"Dear Judy!" I expostulated, "you know I didn't say one word about him."
"Of course I do, you silly coz!" she cried, and burst out laughing. "But I won't forgive you except you make amends by dining with us to-morrow."
Thus for the time she carried it off; but I believe, and have since had good reason for believing, that she had really mistaken me at first, and been much annoyed.
She and Percivale got on very well. He showed her the portrait he was still working at,—even accepted one or two trifling hints as to the likeness, and they parted the best friends in the world. Glad as I had been to see her, how I longed to see the last of her! The moment she was gone, I threw myself into his arms, and told him how it came about. He laughed heartily.
"I was a little puzzled," he said, "to hear you informing a lady I had never seen that I was so very stupid."
"But I wasn't telling a story, either, for you know you are ve-e-e-ry stupid, Percivale. You don't know a leg from a shoulder of mutton, and you can't carve a bit. How ever you can draw as you do, is a marvel to me, when you know nothing about the shapes of things. It was very wrong to say it, even for the sake of covering poor Mrs. Morley's husband; but it was quite true you know."
"Perfectly true, my love," he said, with something else where I've only put commas; "and I mean to remain so, in order that you may always have something to fall back upon when you get yourself into a scrape by forgetting that other people have husbands as well as you."
We had agreed, rather against the inclination of both of us, to dine the next evening with the Morleys. We should have preferred our own society, but we could not refuse.
"They will be talking to me about my pictures," said my husband, "and that is just what I hate. People that know nothing of art, that can't distinguish purple from black, will yet parade their ignorance, and expect me to be pleased."
"Mr. Morley is a well-bred man, Percivale," I said.
"That's the worst of it,—they do it for good manners; I know the kind of people perfectly. I hate to have my pictures praised. It is as bad as talking to one's face about the nose upon it."
I wonder if all ladies keep their husbands waiting. I did that night, I know, and, I am afraid, a good many times after,—not, however, since Percivale told me very seriously that being late for dinner was the only fault of mine the blame of which he would not take on his own shoulders. The fact on this occasion was, that I could not get my hair right. It was the first time I missed what I had been used to, and longed for the deft fingers of my mother's maid to help me. When I told him the cause, he said he would do my hair for me next time, if I would teach him how. But I have managed very well since without either him or a lady's-maid.
When we reached Bolivar Square, we found the company waiting; and, as if for a rebuke to us, the butler announced dinner the moment we entered. I was seated between Mr. Morley and a friend of his who took me down, Mr. Baddeley, a portly gentleman, with an expanse of snowy shirt from which flashed three diamond studs. A huge gold chain reposed upon his front, and on his finger shone a brilliant of great size. Every thing about him seemed to say, "Look how real I am! No shoddy about me!" His hands were plump and white, and looked as if they did not know what dust was. His talk sounded very rich, and yet there was no pretence in it. His wife looked less of a lady than he of a gentleman, for she betrayed conscious importance. I found afterwards that he was the only son of a railway contractor, who had himself handled the spade, but at last died enormously rich. He spoke blandly, but with a certain quiet authority which I disliked.
"Are you fond of the opera, Mrs. Percivale?" he asked me in order to make talk.
"I have never been to the opera," I answered.
"Never been to the opera? Ain't you fond of music?"
"Did you ever know a lady that wasn't?"
"Then you must go to the opera."
"But it is just because I fancy myself fond of music that I don't think I should like the opera."
"You can't hear such music anywhere else."
"But the antics of the singers, pretending to be in such furies of passion, yet modulating every note with the cunning of a carver in ivory, seems to me so preposterous! For surely song springs from a brooding over past feeling,—I do not mean lost feeling; never from present emotion."
"Ah! you would change your mind after having once been. I should strongly advise you to go, if only for once. You ought now, really."
"An artist's wife must do without such expensive amusements,—except her husband's pictures be very popular indeed. I might as well cry for the moon. The cost of a box at the opera for a single night would keep my little household for a fortnight."
"Ah, well! but you should see 'The Barber,'" he said.
"Perhaps if I could hear without seeing, I should like it better," I answered.
He fell silent, busying himself with his fish, and when he spoke again turned to the lady on his left. I went on with my dinner. I knew that our host had heard what I said, for I saw him turn rather hastily to his butler.
Mr. Morley is a man difficult to describe, stiff in the back, and long and loose in the neck, reminding me of those toy-birds that bob head and tail up and down alternately. When he agrees with any thing you say, down comes his head with a rectangular nod; when he does not agree with you, he is so silent and motionless that he leaves you in doubt whether he has heard a word of what you have been saying. His face is hard, and was to me then inscrutable, while what he said always seemed to have little or nothing to do with what he was thinking; and I had not then learned whether he had a heart or not. His features were well formed, but they and his head and face too small for his body. He seldom smiled except when in doubt. He had, I understood, been very successful in business, and always looked full of schemes.
"Have you been to the Academy yet?" he asked.
"No; this is only the first day of it."
"Are your husband's pictures well hung?"
"As high as Haman," I answered; "skied, in fact. That is the right word, I believe."
"I would advise you to avoid slang, my dear cousin,—professional slang especially; and to remember that in London there are no professions after six o clock."
"Indeed!" I returned. "As we came along in the carriage,—cabbage, I mean,—I saw no end of shops open."
"I mean in society,—at dinner,—amongst friends, you know."
"My dear Mr. Morley, you have just done asking me about my husband's pictures; and, if you will listen a moment, you will hear that lady next my husband talking to him about Leslie and Turner, and I don't know who more,—all in the trade."
"Hush! hush! I beg," he almost whispered, looking agonized. "That's Mrs. Baddeley. Her husband, next to you, is a great picture-buyer. That's why I asked him to meet you."
"I thought there were no professions in London after six o'clock."
"I am afraid I have not made my meaning quite clear to you."
"Not quite. Yet I think I understand you."
"We'll have a talk about it another time."
It irritated me rather that he should talk to me, a married woman, as to a little girl who did not know how to behave herself; but his patronage of my husband displeased me far more, and I was on the point of committing the terrible blunder of asking Mr. Baddeley if he had any poor relations; but I checked myself in time, and prayed to know whether he was a member of Parliament. He answered that he was not in the house at present, and asked in return why I had wished to know. I answered that I wanted a bill brought in for the punishment of fraudulent milkmen; for I couldn't get a decent pennyworth of milk in all Camden Town. He laughed, and said it would be a very desirable measure, only too great an interference with the liberty of the subject. I told him that kind of liberty was just what law in general owed its existence to, and was there on purpose to interfere with; but he did not seem to see it.
The fact is, I was very silly. Proud of being the wife of an artist, I resented the social injustice which I thought gave artists no place but one of sufferance. Proud also of being poor for Percivale's sake, I made a show of my poverty before people whom I supposed, rightly enough in many cases, to be proud of their riches. But I knew nothing of what poverty really meant, and was as yet only playing at being poor; cherishing a foolish, though unacknowledged notion of protecting my husband's poverty with the aegis of my position as the daughter of a man of consequence in his county. I was thus wronging the dignity of my husband's position, and complimenting wealth by making so much of its absence. Poverty or wealth ought to have been in my eyes such a trifle that I never thought of publishing whether I was rich or poor. I ought to have taken my position without wasting a thought on what it might appear in the eyes of those about me, meeting them on the mere level of humanity, and leaving them to settle with themselves how they were to think of me, and where they were to place me. I suspect also, now that I think of it, that I looked down upon my cousin Judy because she had a mere man of business for her husband; forgetting that our Lord had found a collector of conquered taxes,—a man, I presume, with little enough of the artistic about him,—one of the fittest in his nation to bear the message of his redemption to the hearts of his countrymen. It is his loves and his hopes, not his visions and intentions, by which a man is to be judged. My father had taught me all this; but I did not understand it then, nor until years after I had left him.
"Is Mrs. Percivale a lady of fortune?" asked Mr. Baddeley of my cousin Judy when we were gone, for we were the first to leave.
"Certainly not. Why do you ask?" she returned.
"Because, from her talk, I thought she must be," he answered.
Cousin Judy told me this the next day, and I could see she thought I had been bragging of my family. So I recounted all the conversation I had had with him, as nearly as I could recollect, and set down the question to an impertinent irony. But I have since changed my mind: I now judge that he could not believe any poor person would joke about poverty. I never found one of those people who go about begging for charities believe me when I told him the simple truth that I could not afford to subscribe. None but a rich person, they seem to think, would dare such an excuse, and that only in the just expectation that its very assertion must render it incredible.
A REFUGE FROM THE HEAT.
There was a little garden, one side enclosed by the house, another by the studio, and the remaining two by walls, evidently built for the nightly convenience of promenading cats. There was one pear-tree in the grass-plot which occupied the centre, and a few small fruit-trees, which, I may now safely say, never bore any thing, upon the walls. But the last occupant had cared for his garden; and, when I came to the cottage, it was, although you would hardly believe it now that my garden is inside the house, a pretty little spot,—only, if you stop thinking about a garden, it begins at once to go to the bad. Used although I had been to great wide lawns and park and gardens and wilderness, the tiny enclosure soon became to me the type of the boundless universe. The streets roared about me with ugly omnibuses and uglier cabs, fine carriages, huge earth-shaking drays, and, worse far, with the cries of all the tribe, of costermongers,—one especially offensive which soon began to haunt me. I almost hated the man who sent it forth to fill the summer air with disgust. He always But his hollowed hand to his jaw, as if it were loose and he had to hold it in its place, before he uttered his hideous howl, which would send me hurrying up the stairs to bury my head under all the pillows of my bed until, coming back across the wilderness of streets and lanes like the cry of a jackal growing fainter and fainter upon the wind, it should pass, and die away in the distance. Suburban London, I say, was roaring about me, and I was confined to a few square yards of grass and gravel-walk and flower-plot; but above was the depth of the sky, and thence at night the hosts of heaven looked in upon me with the same calm assured glance with which they shone upon southern forests, swarming with great butterflies and creatures that go flaming through the tropic darkness; and there the moon would come, and cast her lovely shadows; and there was room enough to feel alone and to try to pray. And what was strange, the room seemed greater, though the loneliness was gone, when my husband walked up and down in it with me. True, the greater part of the walk seemed to be the turnings, for they always came just when you wanted to go on and on; but, even with the scope of the world for your walk, you must turn and come back some time. At first, when he was smoking his great brown meerschaum, he and I would walk in opposite directions, passing each other in the middle, and so make the space double the size, for he had all the garden to himself, and I had it all to myself; and so I had his garden and mine too. That is how by degrees I got able to bear the smoke of tobacco, for I had never been used to it, and found it a small trial at first; but now I have got actually to like it, and greet a stray whiff from the study like a message from my husband. I fancy I could tell the smoke of that old black and red meerschaum from the smoke of any other pipe in creation.
"You must cure him of that bad habit," said cousin Judy to me once.
It made me angry. What right had she to call any thing my husband did a bad habit? and to expect me to agree with her was ten times worse. I am saving my money now to buy him a grand new pipe; and I may just mention here, that once I spent ninepence out of my last shilling to get him a packet of Bristol bird's-eye, for he was on the point of giving up smoking altogether because of—well, because of what will appear by and by.
England is getting dreadfully crowded with mean, ugly houses. If they were those of the poor and struggling, and not of the rich and comfortable, one might be consoled. But rich barbarism, in the shape of ugliness, is again pushing us to the sea. There, however, its "control stops;" and since I lived in London the sea has grown more precious to me than it was even in those lovely days at Kilkhaven,—merely because no one can build upon it. Ocean and sky remain as God made them. He must love space for us, though it be needless for himself; seeing that in all the magnificent notions of creation afforded us by astronomers,—shoal upon shoal of suns, each the centre of complicated and infinitely varied systems,—the spaces between are yet more overwhelming in their vast inconceivableness. I thank God for the room he thus gives us, and hence can endure to see the fair face of his England disfigured by the mud-pies of his children.
There was in the garden a little summer-house, of which I was fond, chiefly because, knowing my passion for the flower, Percivale had surrounded it with a multitude of sweet peas, which, as they grew, he had trained over the trellis-work of its sides. Through them filtered the sweet airs of the summer as through an AEolian harp of unheard harmonies. To sit there in a warm evening, when the moth-airs just woke and gave two or three wafts of their wings and ceased, was like sitting in the midst of a small gospel.
The summer had come on, and the days were very hot,—so hot and changeless, with their unclouded skies and their glowing centre, that they seemed to grow stupid with their own heat. It was as if—like a hen brooding over her chickens—the day, brooding over its coming harvests, grew dull and sleepy, living only in what was to come. Notwithstanding the feelings I have just recorded, I began to long for a wider horizon, whence some wind might come and blow upon me, and wake me up, not merely to live, but to know that I lived.
One afternoon I left my little summer-seat, where I had been sitting at work, and went through the house, and down the precipice, into my husband's study.
"It is so hot," I said, "I will try my little grotto: it may be cooler."
He opened the door for me, and, with his palette on his thumb, and a brush in his hand, sat down for a moment beside me.
"This heat is too much for you, darling," he said.
"I do feel it. I wish I could get from the garden into my nest without going up through the house and down the Jacob's ladder," I said. "It is so hot! I never felt heat like it before."
He sat silent for a while, and then said,—
"I've been thinking I must get you into the country for a few weeks. It would do you no end of good."
"I suppose the wind does blow somewhere," I returned. "But"—
"You don't want to leave me?" he said.
"I don't. And I know with that ugly portrait on hand you can't go with me."
"He happened to be painting the portrait of a plain red-faced lady, in a delicate lace cap,—a very unfit subject for art,—much needing to be made over again first, it seemed to me. Only there she was, with a right to have her portrait painted if she wished it; and there was Percivale, with time on his hands, and room in his pockets, and the faith that whatever God had thought worth making could not be unworthy of representation. Hence he had willingly undertaken a likeness of her, to be finished within a certain time, and was now working at it as conscientiously as if it had been the portrait of a lovely young duchess or peasant-girl. I was only afraid he would make it too like to please the lady herself. His time was now getting short, and he could not leave home before fulfilling his engagement.
"But," he returned, "why shouldn't you go to the Hall for a week or two without me? I will take you down, and come and fetch you."
"I'm so stupid you want to get rid of me!" I said.
I did not in the least believe it, and yet was on the edge of crying, which is not a habit with me.
"You know better than that, my Wynnie," he answered gravely. "You want your mother to comfort you. And there must be some air in the country. So tell Sarah to put up your things, and I'll take you down to-morrow morning. When I get this portrait done, I will come and stay a few days, if they will have me, and then take you home."
The thought of seeing my mother and my father, and the old place, came over me with a rush. I felt all at once as if I had been absent for years instead of weeks. I cried in earnest now,—with delight though,—and there is no shame in that. So it was all arranged; and next afternoon I was lying on a couch in the yellow drawing-room, with my mother seated beside me, and Connie in an easy-chair by the open window, through which came every now and then such a sweet wave of air as bathed me with hope, and seemed to wash all the noises, even the loose-jawed man's hateful howl, from my brain.
Yet, glad as I was to be once more at home, I felt, when Percivale left me the next morning to return by a third-class train to his ugly portrait,—for the lady was to sit to him that same afternoon,—that the idea of home was already leaving Oldcastle Hall, and flitting back to the suburban cottage haunted by the bawling voice of the costermonger.
But I soon felt better: for here there was plenty of shadow, and in the hottest days my father could always tell where any wind would be stirring; for he knew every out and in of the place like his own pockets, as Dora said, who took a little after cousin Judy in her way. It will give a notion of his tenderness if I set down just one tiniest instance of his attention to me. The forenoon was oppressive. I was sitting under a tree, trying to read when he came up to me. There was a wooden gate, with open bars near. He went and set it wide, saying,—
"There, my love! You will fancy yourself cooler if I leave the gate open."
Will my reader laugh at me for mentioning such a trifle? I think not, for it went deep to my heart, and I seemed to know God better for it ever after. A father is a great and marvellous truth, and one you can never get at the depth of, try how you may.
Then my mother! She was, if possible, yet more to me than my father. I could tell her any thing and every thing without fear, while I confess to a little dread of my father still. He is too like my own conscience to allow of my being quite confident with him. But Connie is just as comfortable with him as I am with my mother. If in my childhood I was ever tempted to conceal any thing from her, the very thought of it made me miserable until I had told her. And now she would watch me with her gentle, dove-like eyes, and seemed to know at once, without being told, what was the matter with me. She never asked me what I should like, but went and brought something; and, if she saw that I didn't care for it, wouldn't press me, or offer any thing instead, but chat for a minute or two, carry it away, and return with something else. My heart was like to break at times with the swelling of the love that was in it. My eldest child, my Ethelwyn,—for my husband would have her called the same name as me, only I insisted it should be after my mother and not after me,—has her very eyes, and for years has been trying to mother me over again to the best of her sweet ability.
It is high time, though, that I dropped writing about myself for a while. I don't find my self so interesting as it used to be.
The worst of some kinds especially of small illnesses is, that they make you think a great deal too much about yourself. Connie's, which was a great and terrible one, never made her do so. She was always forgetting herself in her interest about others. I think I was made more selfish to begin with; and yet I have a hope that a too-much-thinking about yourself may not always be pure selfishness. It may be something else wrong in you that makes you uncomfortable, and keeps drawing your eyes towards the aching place. I will hope so till I get rid of the whole business, and then I shall not care much how it came or what it was.
Connie was now a thin, pale, delicate-looking—not handsome, but lovely girl. Her eyes, some people said, were too big for her face; but that seemed to me no more to the discredit of her beauty than it would have been a reproach to say that her soul was too big for her body. She had been early ripened by the hot sun of suffering, and the self-restraint which pain had taught her. Patience had mossed her over and made her warm and soft and sweet. She never looked for attention, but accepted all that was offered with a smile which seemed to say, "It is more than I need, but you are so good I mustn't spoil it." She was not confined to her sofa now, though she needed to lie down often, but could walk about pretty well, only you must give her time. You could always make her merry by saying she walked like an old woman; and it was the only way we could get rid of the sadness of seeing it. We betook ourselves to her to laugh her sadness away from us.
Once, as I lay on a couch on the lawn, she came towards me carrying a bunch of grapes from the greenhouse,—a great bunch, each individual grape ready to burst with the sunlight it had bottled up in its swollen purple skin.
"They are too heavy for you, old lady," I cried.
"Yes; I am an old lady," she answered. "Think what good use of my time I have made compared with you! I have got ever so far before you: I've nearly forgotten how to walk!"
The tears gathered in my eyes as she left me with the bunch; for how could one help being sad to think of the time when she used to bound like a fawn over the grass, her slender figure borne like a feather on its own slight yet firm muscles, which used to knot so much harder than any of ours. She turned to say something, and, perceiving my emotion, came slowly back.
"Dear Wynnie," she said, "you wouldn't have me back with my old foolishness, would you? Believe me, life is ten times more precious than it was before. I feel and enjoy and love so much more! I don't know how often I thank God for what befell me."
I could only smile an answer, unable to speak, not now from pity, but from shame of my own petulant restlessness and impatient helplessness.
I believe she had a special affection for poor Sprite, the pony which threw her,—special, I mean, since the accident,—regarding him as in some sense the angel which had driven her out of paradise into a better world. If ever he got loose, and Connie was anywhere about, he was sure to find her: he was an omnivorous animal, and she had always something he would eat when his favorite apples were unattainable. More than once she had been roused from her sleep on the lawn by the lips and the breath of Sprite upon her face; but, although one painful sign of her weakness was, that she started at the least noise or sudden discovery of a presence, she never started at the most unexpected intrusion of Sprite, any more than at the voice of my father or mother. Need I say there was one more whose voice or presence never startled her?
The relation between them was lovely to see. Turner was a fine, healthy, broad-shouldered fellow, of bold carriage and frank manners, above the middle height, with rather large features, keen black eyes, and great personal strength. Yet to such a man, poor little wan-faced, big-eyed Connie assumed imperious airs, mostly, but perhaps not entirely, for the fun of it; while he looked only enchanted every time she honored him with a little tyranny.
"There! I'm tired," she would say, holding out her arms like a baby. "Carry me in."
And the great strong man would stoop with a worshipping look in his eyes, and, taking her carefully, would carry her in as lightly and gently and steadily as if she had been but the baby whose manners she had for the moment assumed. This began, of course, when she was unable to walk; but it did not stop then, for she would occasionally tell him to carry her after she was quite capable of crawling at least. They had now been engaged for some months; and before me, as a newly-married woman, they did not mind talking a little.
One day she was lying on a rug on the lawn, with him on the grass beside her, leaning on his elbow, and looking down into her sky-like eyes. She lifted her hand, and stroked his mustache with a forefinger, while he kept as still as a statue, or one who fears to scare the bird that is picking up the crumbs at his feet.
"Poor, poor man!" she said; and from the tone I knew the tears had begun to gather in those eyes.
"Why do you pity me, Connie?" he asked.
"Because you will have such a wretched little creature for a wife some day,—or perhaps never,—which would be best after all."
He answered cheerily.
"If you will kindly allow me my choice, I prefer just such a wretched little creature to any one else in the world."
"And why, pray? Give a good reason, and I will forgive your bad taste."
"Because she won't be able to hurt me much when she beats me."
"A better reason, or she will."
"Because I can punish her if she isn't good by taking her up in my arms, and carrying her about until she gives in."
"A better reason, or I shall be naughty directly."
"Because I shall always know where to find her."
"Ah, yes! she must leave you to find her. But that's a silly reason. If you don't give me a better, I'll get up and walk into the house."
"Because there won't be any waste of me. Will that do?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, with mock imperiousness.
"I mean that I shall be able to lay not only my heart but my brute strength at her feet. I shall be allowed to be her beast of burden, to carry her whither she would; and so with my body her to worship more than most husbands have a chance of worshipping their wives."
"There! take me, take me!" she said, stretching up her arms to him. "How good you are! I don't deserve such a great man one bit. But I will love him. Take me directly; for there's Wynnie listening to every word we say to each other, and laughing at us. She can laugh without looking like it."
The fact is, I was crying, and the creature knew it. Turner brought her to me, and held her down for me to kiss; then carried her in to her mother.
I believe the county people round considered our family far gone on the inclined plane of degeneracy. First my mother, the heiress, had married a clergyman of no high family; then they had given their eldest daughter to a poor artist, something of the same standing as—well, I will be rude to no order of humanity, and therefore avoid comparisons; and now it was generally known that Connie was engaged to a country practitioner, a man who made up his own prescriptions. We talked and laughed over certain remarks of the kind that reached us, and compared our two with the gentlemen about us,—in no way to the advantage of any of the latter, you may be sure. It was silly work; but we were only two loving girls, with the best possible reasons for being proud of the men who had honored us with their love.
It is time I told my readers something about the little Theodora. She was now nearly four years old I think,—a dark-skinned, lithe-limbed, wild little creature, very pretty,—at least most people said so, while others insisted that she had a common look. I admit she was not like a lady's child—only one has seen ladies' children look common enough; neither did she look like the child of working people—though amongst such, again, one sees sometimes a child the oldest family in England might be proud of. The fact is, she had a certain tinge of the savage about her, specially manifest in a certain furtive look of her black eyes, with which she seemed now and then to be measuring you, and her prospects in relation to you. I have seen the child of cultivated parents sit and stare at a stranger from her stool in the most persistent manner, never withdrawing her eyes, as if she would pierce to his soul, and understand by very force of insight whether he was or was not one to be honored with her confidence; and I have often seen the side-long glance of sly merriment, or loving shyness, or small coquetry; but I have never, in any other child, seen that look of self-protective speculation; and it used to make me uneasy, for of course, like every one else in the house, I loved the child. She was a wayward, often unmanageable creature, but affectionate,—sometimes after an insane, or, at least, very ape-like fashion. Every now and then she would take an unaccountable preference for some one of the family or household, at one time for the old housekeeper, at another for the stable-boy, at another for one of us; in which fits of partiality she would always turn a blind and deaf side upon every one else, actually seeming to imagine she showed the strength of her love to the one by the paraded exclusion of the others. I cannot tell how much of this was natural to her, and how much the result of the foolish and injurious jealousy of the servants. I say servants, because I know such an influencing was all but impossible in the family itself. If my father heard any one utter such a phrase as "Don't you love me best?"—or, "better than" such a one? or, "Ain't I your favorite?"—well, you all know my father, and know him really, for he never wrote a word he did not believe—but you would have been astonished, I venture to think, and perhaps at first bewildered as well, by the look of indignation flashed from his eyes. He was not the gentle, all-excusing man some readers, I know, fancy him from his writings. He was gentle even to tenderness when he had time to think a moment, and in any quiet judgment he always took as much the side of the offender as was possible with any likelihood of justice; but in the first moments of contact with what he thought bad in principle, and that in the smallest trifle, he would speak words that made even those who were not included in the condemnation tremble with sympathetic fear. "There, Harry, you take it—quick, or Charley will have it," said the nurse one day, little thinking who overheard her. "Woman!" cried a voice of wrath from the corridor, "do you know what you are doing? Would you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourself?" An hour after, she was sent for to the study; and when she came out her eyes were very red. My father was unusually silent at dinner; and, after the younger ones were gone, he turned to my mother, and said, "Ethel, I spoke the truth. All that is of the Devil,—horribly bad; and yet I am more to blame in my condemnation of them than she for the words themselves. The thought of so polluting the mind of a child makes me fierce, and the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. The old Adam is only too glad to get a word in, if even in behalf of his supplanting successor." Then he rose, and, taking my mother by the arm, walked away with her. I confess I honored him for his self-condemnation the most. I must add that the offending nurse had been ten years in the family, and ought to have known better.
But to return to Theodora. She was subject to attacks of the most furious passion, especially when any thing occurred to thwart the indulgence of the ephemeral partiality I have just described. Then, wherever she was, she would throw herself down at once,—on the floor, on the walk or lawn, or, as happened on one occasion, in the water,—and kick and scream. At such times she cared nothing even for my father, of whom generally she stood in considerable awe,—a feeling he rather encouraged. "She has plenty of people about her to represent the gospel," he said once. "I will keep the department of the law, without which she will never appreciate the gospel. My part will, I trust, vanish in due time, and the law turn out to have been, after all, only the imperfect gospel, just as the leaf is the imperfect flower. But the gospel is no gospel till it gets into the heart, and it sometimes wants a torpedo to blow the gates of that open." For no torpedo or Krupp gun, however, did Theodora care at such times; and, after repeated experience of the inefficacy of coaxing, my father gave orders, that, when a fit occurred, every one, without exception, should not merely leave her alone, but go out of sight, and if possible out of hearing,—at least out of her hearing—that she might know she had driven her friends far from her, and be brought to a sense of loneliness and need. I am pretty sure that if she had been one of us, that is, one of his own, he would have taken sharper measures with her; but he said we must never attempt to treat other people's children as our own, for they are not our own. We did not love them enough, he said, to make severity safe either for them or for us.
The plan worked so far well, that after a time, varied in length according to causes inscrutable, she would always re-appear smiling; but, as to any conscience of wrong, she seemed to have no more than Nature herself, who looks out with her smiling face after hours of thunder, lightning, and rain; and, although this treatment brought her out of them sooner, the fits themselves came quite as frequently as before.
But she had another habit, more alarming, and more troublesome as well: she would not unfrequently vanish, and have to be long sought, for in such case she never reappeared of herself. What made it so alarming was that there were dangerous places about our house; but she would generally be found seated, perfectly quiet, in some out-of-the-way nook where she had never been before, playing, not with any of her toys, but with something she had picked up and appropriated, finding in it some shadowy amusement which no one understood but herself.