Edward Maitland.

By and by : an historical romance of the future (Volume 1) online

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•a holiday absence of the boy's, one of the
Avenil girls was telling her sisters, how that
he had lamented to her the fulness of the
world, and wished that he had lived before
the modern system of emigration had done
so much towards spreading population every-



BY AND BY. 143

-where. And another said he acted as if he
possessed an extra sense, and one that re-
quired for its exercise a total withdrawal from
human intercourse.

Bertie happened to call while they were
talking, and they at once turned to him,
asking —

'' Where is he now, Mr. Greathead ?"

" Meaning Criss ? I scarcely know. I
had a message from him a few days ago from
the top of Teneriffe, which is one of his
favourite perches. He has a friend in the
observatory there. There is a wire on the
summit, as on most other summits, for the
convenience of aerialists, and he generally
■sends me a message when he alights any-
where."

" Oh, I know," exclaimed one of the girls,
" he delights to rest awhile on some high
peak, and thence take flight into the air, and
return again to it, as a lark to its nest, after
being poised aloft. It was a happy inspira-
tion of Mr. Wilmer's which gave him his
name, for never did name and nature more
closely correspond. However dreamy he



144 ^y AND BY.

may be, he must see many things by moving
about so much, which other people miss.
He ought to meet with adventures, too.
Did he say whither he was going next ?"

" Yes, to Algiers to visit a school friend
who is son of the British minister there. I
have not heard from him since, but I have
brought you an Italian paper with an account
of an extraordinary rescue of people from
destruction by the eruption of Etna, which I,
as an aerialist, find exceedingly interesting,
and which I thought you might like to
see.

" Anything about Criss in it ?"

" It is only as I have said."

'' Do tell us all about it."

'' Well, you must know that for a very long
time Etna had been so quiet that a large
population had come gradually to settle upon
its slopes, thinking the days of its activity
wxre over. Last week, however, a tremen-
dous eruption rent the mountain in various
places, and there poured out torrents of
lava, which, meeting below one of the most
thickly peopled slopes, completely cut off the



BY AND BY. 145

escape of the inhabitants. The Itahan
Government sent its best aerialists to try and
extricate them, but these after many and dis-
astrous attempts to pass the barrier of intense
heat, and aHght exactly upon the very
limited area available, were compelled to
desist : and then from within the flaminor
circle, from the wretches doomed to be
burnt or starved to death, and from their
sympathising but helpless comrades without,
went up a cry of agony, which, as you know,
has rung through all the wires of the world,
appealing for aid. I and others of my craft
were on the point of starting to see what we
could do, when a telegram came to say that
the rescue had been effected. I have nov/
got the details, and as I consider them a
whole bunch of feathers in the cap of aerial-
ism, I have come to glorify my calling and
its professors among my friends.

"It appears that at the moment when
despair was at its height, an aerialist v/hose
approach had been unperceived, alighted in
the terror-stricken crowd, and signified his
readiness and ability to save them, one at a

VOL. I. 10



146 BY AND BY.

time. The peasants, who are still as much a
parcel of children as they were five or ten
thousand years ago, rushed upon him, deter-
mined to be saved all at once. Seeing that
their violence would be the destruction of
himself and his machine, as well as of them-
selves also, he dexterously disengaged him-
self, and leaping aloft out of their reach, was
lost to their view in the smoke of the
burning mountain. On hearing their re-
newed wail of despair, he presently returned
towards them, and hailing them, said he
hoped now that they would do as they were
told, and not attempt to get into the car
again. He then stopped a few yards over
their heads, and bade them depute one of
their number to hold parley with him, the
rest keeping at a distance. Luckily their
padre was with them, — it is he who has
given the account, — and it was under his
influence that the stipulations of the aerialist
were observed. The important question, who
should go first, was settled in favour of the
children. The aerialist said he could carry
two of these at once ; so the padre brought



BY AND BY. 147

two children himself, and placed them in the
car, for he could not trust the mothers to obey
the orders given. He describes it as a
moment of agonising anxiety when the car
arose with its first load, and disappeared in the
smoke. But not a voice ventured to utter a
sound. Presently, however, there arose from
the multitudes w^ho were assembled on the
outside of the ring of fire, a cry and a shout
of joy which told those within of the safe and
unexpected arrival of the car and its contents.
All was delirious delight for a moment, and
then came an interval of suspense. But soon
the car returned and carried off more chil-
dren ; and then the aged and infirm, and
then the able-bodied, the good padre himself
being reserved for the last, the lava having by
this time approached so near that a little
delay would have rendered his escape impos-
sible. The rescue had occupied all the
day and a part of the night, though much
time had been saved by the plan of suspend-
ing a large basket beneath the car in which
the passengers were carried. But it w^as not,
and could not be intermitted until completed,

ic — 2



148 BY AND BY.

though It must have tasked the endurance of
the aeriaHst and the powers of his machnie to
the utmost."

" You haven't told us who he was," said
Avenil, who had entered during the relation.
" Was he an Italian ?"

" Ah, that is one of the strangest parts of
the stor}^," said Bertie. " When the people
had done congratulating themselves and each
other, they bethought themselves of their
deliverer : but on searching for him he was
nowhere to be found. The Government has
advertised the thanks of the nation to the
unknown aeriallst, and offered to make any
acknowledgment of his services in Its
power."

" Do you know any professional likely to
have done it ?"

" I know none wdio has an aeromotive
corresponding with the description of this
one ; and It is not like a professional to think
of concealing himself after doing a piece of
business. I suspect it was some accom-
plished amateur, though I know of but one
In the world capable of the feat."



BY AND BY. 149

** Could it have been Criss ?"

" Here he comes to speak for himself,"
-exclaimed one of the girls, who was looking
out of the window. And presently the Ariel
alighted on the broad verandah, and Criss
entered.

But to all the questions with w^hich they
assailed him, he said only that he had hoped
to escape being found out, and that the reason
of his delay in returning was that he was so
exhausted with the job that he had hurried
off the moment he had let go the padre and
the basket, and slept for twenty-four hours in
a secluded nook on the opposite side of the
mountain.

" Well, there is an Italian countship wait-
ing for you whenever you choose to come
out of your shell and claim it," said
Bertie.

*' Count Carol sounds charmingly," ex-
claimed the girls. " You may find it of
immense use when you fall in love. A
woman likes to be called Coicntcss.''

" Not a woman of much account, though,
I suspect," returned Criss, making his first



I50 BY AND BY.

and last joke, as he disappeared and went to
his own room.



" There, girls/' said Avenil to his younger
sisters after Criss was gone. " You see, a
woman who wants to catch him will have to
be on her best behaviour. By the way, has
he ever shown any signs of falling in love,
any preferences for any of your sweet
sex r

" Never," said the youngest, Bessy Avenil,.
a blooming, practically-disposed damsel of
nearly Criss's own age, now about seventeen.
'' And I believe he would need a good shaking
to bring him to the point ; or, rather, that a
woman would have to do the proposing her-
self. But I don't believe it is ' goodness^
that will win him ; at least, not if opposites
have the most attraction for each other."

" At any rate he w^on't find his duplicate,"
said another, who was a little older. " My
belief is that he will be better single, for he is
just one to expect so much that he will
always be disappointed with what he finds to
be really the case. He seems to me like one



BY AND BY. 151

of those men who in old times women would
have thought it a sacrilege to love."

" At any rate," added Avenil, " he has
now proved himself to be something more
than a visionar^^ ; so let us hope that this
adventure will develop his practical side.

** Meaning his matrimonial ?" asked Bessie.

" Do you know," said Bertie to Avenil,
'' that I think you carry your aversion to the
contemplative to an extreme."

" Call it rather the unpractical speculative,"
replied Avenil. '' The world's whole history
down nearly to our own time has been little
else than one long martyrdom, in which man
has sacrificed himself at the altar of his own
unverifiable fantasies. Ours is the first
millennium of the Emancipation. It is the
product of that scientific spirit, which refuses
to divorce belief from knowledg^e. It is not
that I find dear Criss's disposition aught but
of the noblest, but that I fear the indulgence
of that style of thought may lead to his sym-
pathising rather w^th the v/orld's ancient
worst than with its modern best."

" You know a good deal about his educa-



152 BY AND BY.

tlon," said Bertie ;" have you found him
defective In his views of history ?"

" No, far from It. The professor of history
at his school told me the boy's sympathies,
as shown in his essays, were invariably of
the widest and most radically catholic
kind."

" And in chemistry, which you yourself
undertook to teach him ?"

"Ah, there is an illustration of what I
mean. He applied himself to that with won-
derful assiduity and success, making himself
In a short time a complete master of chemical
analysis. Then he suddenly dropped it ; and
on my enquiring the reason, said that it
would not take him where he wanted to go,
inasmuch as it failed to discover the universal
entity that underlies all phenomena. It was
not processes or stages that he cared for, but
the ultimate analysis of things, whereby he
could resolve the various material substances
into their prime element. ' Is It past finding
out, Avenil dear ?' he cried, his eyes glisten-
ing with eagerness, as If his whole heart lay in
discoverinor for himself what men call God.



BY AXD BY. 153

Of course I told him that it is past finding
out by chemistry.

*' ' But it must be there, and must be homo-
_g-eneous !' he cried, with the same eager
manner. ' If it is not homogeneous, it is not
God. I cannot think of God as made up of
substances eternally and essentially different'
And he went on to declare that if the crucible
failed to carry analysis back to the stage
where all things meet, and to reveal to him the
universal Substance or essential spirit of
things, he should exchange the crucible of the
chemist for the crucible of his own mind, and
continue the search there.

"Considering it a perilous temperament that
prompts the longing to merge one's individu-
ality in the inscrutable universal, — for what
else is the Xirvana of the Bhuddist ? — I
endeavoured to check his indulgence of it by
saying that as our faculties, being themselves
phenomenal, cannot transcend phenomena, it
is clearly our duty to rest content with phe-
nomena, and not seek to trespass upon for-
bidden ground. He asked what the penalty
is for making the attempt. I told him a



154 BY AND BY.

wasted life, fatuity, and ofttimes madness, as
the history of the world amply showed.
And I spoke seriously, as I wished to impress
him with a sense of the danger he runs
through indulging his theistic tendencies.
But he laughed, and said with that winning
way he has, —

" ' Dear Master Avenil, if I were made so,
no doubt I should be able to remain content
with mere phenomena, without seeking to
know what it is that appears in and through
them. But I feel that I am not made so.
Suppose me, then, to be a bit of the universe,
a conscious particle of the great whole^
would you have me balk my longing to
recognise, and be recognised of, the whole of
which I am a part ? Nay, supposing the
theory which you favour to be correct, and
that it is only in our consciousness that the
Universe attains self-consciousness, would you
forbid Nature such crownine satisfaction as it
may attain through my consciousness ?'

'' What could I say ? Bertie, what would
you have said ?"

" If the longing be genuine, fulfil your



BY AND BY. 155

nature, only do not cultivate fancy to the
neglect of experience."

" Well, that is ver}- much what I contrived
to say, and the boy cried, ' Ah, that is just
as my own dear wise Bertie would have
spoken.'

'' He added, too, that even if madness be
the penalty for presuming to endeavour to
penetrate the unfathomable, it was a penalty
that was quite as likely to overtake him if he
refused his nature full liberty of exploration.
I suspect that his habits of physical discur-
siveness have something to do Avith this
mental characteristic."

" You know his favourite motto, which he
inscribes in his most private entries ?" asked
Bertie.

" No, what is it ?"

" A text from Scripture, ' One with God.' '"

Avenil sighed, for he really loved the lad.




CHAPTER XL

HE women of the Avenil family,
both for their connection with
Criss, and as types of a dominant
class, deserve a special chapter to
themselves. Although by describing our
recent social developments and the steps
whereby our national church was brought into
accord with them, I may delay my story, my
readers must not think that I am digressing
from the main purpose of my book. The
connection may not be at once obvious, but
neither in these fortunate days is the special
connection obvious between the chuich and
the female part of the community. It was
not so in the times to which I shall have to
recur in order to make my story, as a story



BY AND BY. 157

of the day should be, an Index to the manners
of the age.

I wish that it came within my scope
fully to delineate the characters of old
Mr. and Mrs. Avenil, who disappear from
the scene about the time at which we have
arrived. It is only permitted to me to say
that they died as they had lived, contentedly
resigned to the operation of the laws of that
Nature which had ever been the subject of
their deepest study. United, in harmony
with the dictates of their consciences, in a
marriage of the third class, and therefore
trusting solely to their own sense of mutual
fitness and sympathy for the continuance of
their association, no cloud had ever inter-
vened between them and the full sunshine of
their happiness. Hand in hand they lived
and loved and worked, trusting to their re-
spect for the physical laws of life to find its
due issue in the development of their moral
natures. So they passed through life cheer-
ful, reliant, and self-sustalnino^, emulatinor In
their own method the consummate ease and
enchanting rhythm of the order of the unl-



158 BY AND BY.

verse ; keenly enjoying in their heyday the
rewards reaped of knowledge and obedience,
and, in their decline, still finding pleasure in
tracing and recognising the inevitable se-
quence of the steps which marked their decay.
To the very last, their delight in studying the
phenomena of the present, made them indif-
ferent to those of the past or future. Neither
regret nor hope found a place in their minds.
Wherever is existence, they said, we shall
find something worthy to be studied. What-
ever lasts as long as we do is sufficient for us.
Anticipation serves only to spoil the actual.
Anxiety about the future implies dissatisfac-
tion with the present. Such was their re-
ligion, a term surely not misapplied, though
devoid of that yearning towards a personified
ideal which constitutes spirituality.

They left a large and distinguished family
to inherit a temperament in which the intel-
lectual faculties dominated to the exclusion
of the spiritual. For they held it as an axiom
that the spiritual faculty which has not the
intellectual and moral for its basis — that is,
ivhich ignores evidence and utility — is apt to



BY AND BY. 159

be as pernicious as the imagination which
ignores experience and fact. Of this family
Mistress Susanna Avenil (to give her the
usual designation of women living in such
wedlock as she insisted on) was the eldest ;
Charles himself coming next ; and the
younger ones, whom I have termed the
Avenil girls, bringing up the rear. There
was thus a very considerable interval between
the eldest and the youngest of the brothers
and sisters.

Bright, intelligent, cheerful, and active, the
sisters were a model of self-helpfulness and
prudence. Though not devoid of sentiment
in regard to the delicate matters of the affec-
tions, they were too practical in their manage-
ment to let their affections minister to their
discomfort. They had one and all asserted |
the privilege accorded to girls now^-a-days,
of quitting the parental shelter at the same
age that their brothers quit it, in order, like .
them, to follow the vocations they have I
chosen. *-

No sickly exotics were they, such as their
foremothers of ages long past. For them



i6o BY AND BY.

was no herding together under the perpetual
parental eye, like silly sheep sure to be lost
if once they strayed ; no sacrificing the in-
dividuality of their genius or their characters,
and passing their lives in worthless frivolity
or listless indolence, envious of the active
careers of their brothers, powerless to earn or
to spend, and absolute slaves to the exigen-
cies or caprices of their parents, until mar-
riage should come to deliver them to a new
bondage. The days happily are long past,
in which, while to man all careers were open,
to women there was but one, and it depended
upon the will of individual men to accord
them that. It is ^little wonder that, thus
placed, the women of those times should have
devoted themselves to the pursuit of mar-
riage, with an eagerness commensurate with
the uncertainty of success, and reckless
whether the issue promised ill or well. Nor
is it strange that, caring nothing for the
characters of the men, but only for their
wealth, the women should have so deterio-
rated in their own characters that the men
; ceased to care for them, except as companions



BY AND BY, i6i

of the moment, and declined to ally them- /
selves with them in any but the most tem- '
porary manner. The literature of the Vic-
torian era, just preceding the Emancipation,
abounds in evidences of the hapless condition
of the British female of that period, particu- '
larly in the middle and upper classes. It
was the very intensity of her despair of any
amelioration of her condition by conventional
remedies, that precipitated the radical change
of which we are now so richly reaping the
benefits. That this change was not effected
long before, was owing, it must be confessed,
to the timidity of the men, and their want of
faith in the inherent goodness of the female
heart. The men had suffered the women to
retain their belief in ecclesiastical infallibility
long after they themselves had abandoned
such belief. The irrevocability of marriage,
dictated as it was by priests, had at least the
appearance of being a revenge taken by
them for their own exclusion from it. It was
the disastrous result of ecclesiastical restric-
tion upon the relations of the sexes, far more
than a process of rational investigation, that y

VOL. I. 1 1



i62 BY AND BY.

opened the female mind to the baselessness
of ecclesiastical pretensions. The men fought
their own way to freedom by dint of hard
brain-work. It was for them a battle royal
between truth and falsehood, or rather be-
tween the right to obey the dictates of their
own minds and consciences, and the claims of
antiquated tradition. But they did not take
their women with them. Either through
difference of nature or difference of training,
these were not amenable to the considera-
tions which had influenced the men. Woman
cared nothing for the abstract truth or false-
hood of her religion. Her heart was the sole
instrument whereby she judged such matters.
The ordinance of the church which rigidly
forbade all intercourse with the other sex,
save on condition of an indissoluble life-long
contract, had come to have the effect of
abolishing even those very contracts. While
[those who were already involved in them,
1 finding themselves unable to part, were driven
jmore and more to desert. Woman had so
■far subordinated her intellect and moral sense
to the authority of her priests, so far forgotten

i



BY AND BY. 163

her heart, as to accept at their hands a deity \
and a faith which were independent of any
considerations recognisable by those faculties.
Her new-born infant might be consigned to )
everlasting torture for the omission by its
parents of a prescribed ecclesiastical cere-
mony ; but the system that kept her from
getting a husband in this world was in-
tolerable. And by insisting on the absolute
permanence of the tie, the church had vir-
tually abolished marriage.

That a great change was necessary and
inevitable, was seen by both men and women
long before the particular nature of the
change could be forecast. The patience of
the British people never received a more
sio^nal illustration. Desirinof gradual amelio-
ration, and not sharp revolution, generation
after generation went on hoping against hope.
But the evil continued to increase. The
women flocked to their temples, and per-
formed ardent devotions ; but they did not
obtain husbands ; neither did they lose the de-
sire for them. In those few generations, when
the evil was at its worst, millions of fair, well-

II — 2



i64 BY AND BY.

grown, noble-minded women, lived and died
in hapless longing to fulfil their nature, and
find a scope for their affections. The causes
were numerous, but they were all traceable
to one general cause, the violation of natural
law. Destructive wars, huge standing armies,
colonisation by males alone — these had served
to destroy the proper numerical proportion
between the sexes. Added to this was the
artificial tone of society, whereby women had
come to be regarded as weaklings unfit to
bear the storms of life, or to help men to
fight and win their way in the world ; equals
however, to sharing the spoils after the
victory had been won. Even parents pre-
ferred to see their daughters pine and wither
in singlehood, to their wedding on other
terms.

It was not to destroy, but to restore mar-
riage that the country at length consented to
extend the principle of limited liability to the
relations between the sexes. The evil was
at its height when the legislature passed an
\ enactment recognising as valid other contracts
than these on which it had hitherto insisted



BY AND BY. 165

in marriage. As is well-known, the relief
was instantaneous, the morals of the country
were saved, marriage was restored, xh^ family
was preserved. INIany, remembering the
ancient feuds, declared that this only was
wanting to complete the triumph of Protes-
tantism. Our institutions were now free
from the reproach of immorality attaching to
all vows involving irrevocability. While
many took this view of the indissoluble con-
tract, unions without any contract were held
in universal reprobation. People were free
to make their own terms of partnership, but
a contract cognisable by the state was re-
garded as indispensable for all persons
possessing self-respect, and to marry without
a formal contract was, as is still the case,
regarded as highly improper. But it is for
breaches of contract, whether formal or im-
plied, that society reserves its strongest con-
demnation. .

The ingenuity of the lawyers proved equal
to the requirements of the new regime.
Forms of contract suitable to all tastes and
circumstances were duly invented. Practi-



BY AND BY.

^ /lly, the marriages were (and are) of three

1 kinds : those which were dissoluble only

I through the intervention of a court of law :

; those which required the mutual consent of


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