Helen Mathers.

Cherry ripe! A romance (Volume 3) online

. (page 6 of 14)
Online LibraryHelen MathersCherry ripe! A romance (Volume 3) → online text (page 6 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


less sufficiently present to his mind, but be-
cause, now that light was returning to his
eyes, he was able consecutively to think, and
thouo'ht entailed the startino- forward of those
shadows of Avhich he had been dimly conscious,
into vivid and hateful life.

At the same time he began to observe out-
ward things, recognised the familiar faces of
his books — familiar, yet surely absent from
his sight for a very long while, and then with
a sudden sharp shock that was the beginning
of his awakening, he remembered that he had



HEART, 123



only been absent from them three weeks that
very clay.

Only three Aveeks .... half absently he
said to himself, Avith reference to that abstract
creation that stood in his mind for Mignon^
that she passed quickly through all the great
crises of her life, and that she had apparently
found it just as natural to fall into sin at the
first opportunity she got, as she had previously
found it easy to marry at a moment's notice
the man who had come forward to protect
her. His thoughts straying towards her Avere
cut short by the entry of letters. During
these three days there had come to him a
great many, all of Avhich he had flung aside
save those from Scotland Yard, and these too,
he had, AAiien perused, dashed down Avith a
baulked and utter sense of failure, for let the
wording of them be as it might, the gist of each
Avas precisely similar. Not the slightest clue
had been obtained to the missing couple, and
the matter, that had at the first flash appeared
so simple as to call for no special skill or
address, AA^as fast resolving itself into a
baffling puzzle that absolutely defied solution.



1 24 " CHERR Y RIPE .'"

Mr. La Mert and his companion had been
traced to Waterloo ; beyond that point all
Avas darkness. It was quite certain that they
had not left England, and in this, the last
bulletin received by Adam, he was informed
that there was reason to believe they were
still in London, waiting their opportunity to
get safely away.

In London ! Close to him, within reach
of his hand and vengeance, and he idly wait-
ing here — the thought nearly drove him mad,
and for a space relit the furnaces of fury in
his heart. And yet he knew that to go and
search for them in the great Babylon yonder
was worse than useless ; that skilled searchers
were at work ; nevertheless he said to himself
that but a little lono-er he would wait, wearinof
the semblance of a coward's shameful acquies-
cence in his own disgrace.

To-morrow, ay, to-morrow, he would rise
up, and, no matter how great the folly and
uselessness of it, he would himself assist in
the prosecution of the search.

It was one of those bright, early October
.afternoons, when life seems at its keenest and



HEART. 125



brightest, when the sun's rays strike one with
a sense of tino^hnof and warmth, when the air
heartens and freshens body and soul, and
every leaf, and twig, and late-tarrying flower
stands out ^dvid and distinct as though our
eyes have suddenly grown clearer, and the
world in which we walk has been hitherto
looked at by us through spectacles. But
Adam, who was usually so quick to note and
comprehend each one of Nature's moods,
heeded her not to-day; he could not have
told whether the day were fair or foul, and
yet it was to affect him ; for as he sat, fixedly
staring at the books and mass of papers before
him, a sudden shaft of sunshine pierced be-
tween the drawn-down blind and the window,
and lit upon and burnished the edges of some
shining object among the dusty heap before him.

Mechanically he leaned forward to see what
it was, and, stretching out his hand, he lifted
the glittering thing and held it before his eyes.

It was only Mignon's little thimble that he
had seen on her slender finger so many, many
times, as it flitted over her needle-work, or,
oftener still, remained in mid-air while she



126 ''CHERRY RIPE f

talked. Only a little old battered thimble;
but the homely familiar thing did that which
nothing else had had power to do — it brought
the living Mignon up before him, and for the
space of a moment he saw her, not as the
guilty accomplice of an unlawful lover, but as
the meny, mad, lovely little hoyden who had
ridden in her wheelbarrow Avith such wild
glee, who had eaten his cheri'ies, taught him
English history, presented liim with half-a-
crown, and three weeks ago, in gentle token
that, thouo'h she did not love, her heart was
full of kindness for him, thrust into his hand
a tiny knot of flowers. He took from his
breast-pocket a minute jDackage, then from
another pocket he drew a second, and a third,
and proceeded to unfold them. The first con-
tained what had been a small bunch of flowers,
the other a plain gold wedding-ring, the third
a briofht new half-croTvm. These he laid side
by side, and for some seconds sat looking at
all three.

Then for the first time it all came home to
him — all the shame, the sin, the loss, and
last, and gi'eatest of all, the pity of it.



HEART. 127



The mists of passion and revenge no longer
obscured his vision, the veil that had for a
time been mercifully drawn between him
and his calamity was torn asunder. Now
was the hour of his weakness and sufferinsf to
begin, and before it he fell, helj)less and un-
resisting as a child.

He neither abased his head nor stirred, but
sat staring straight before him at the half-
crown, the ring, the withered flowers, in his
eyes the strained agonised look that in a man
out-weighs in its piteousness all the rivers of
tears that have ever been shed by women.
Hitherto he could not truly be said to have
suffered. The first stunning blow of misfor-
tune had been so instantly excluded by the
overmastering longing for revenge, that his
own sense of personal bereavement had been
in abeyance; but now in the flesh he suffered,
although possibly not in the same degree
that he would have done had this ofirl been
veritably and truly his wife.

This thing that he had called his own, that
had borne his name, shared his home, dwelt
by his side, that had been his, yet not his,



128 ''CHERRY RIPE r

that he had so longed after, yet refrained
from, that the o^ift mis^ht be all the richer
and more perfect when at last it should come
to him, had been refrained from for — Philip-
La Mert. That she might go to this worn-
out man of pleasure, this reckless plunderer
of the fruit that grew in other men's gardens,
as innocent and pure as an unwed maiden —
yea, for the greater triumph and delight of
this man — he had forborne.

In name, at least, she had once been his ;
she was now Philip's .... the first fact had
been washed out in the last, which was eter-
nal ; for come Avhat would, happen to Philip
what might, she could never, though both
dragged out their lives for a hundred years,
be anything to liim again.

He might slay this man who had betrayed
her. Ay ! but would that give back to him
his lost Mignon ? Would it make white her
robes aofain, or restore to her so much as the
shadow of that which had departed from her \

He might punish, but he could not undo ;
he mio'ht destrov, but he could not create :
all the vengeance on earth could not make



HEART. 129



whole that which was broken^ or make void
the terrible deed that Mignon, not knowing,
had committed.

For she knew not that Philip, the last, the
most fatal, of all men upon earth that she
should have loved, was he to whom was
owing the ruin of her sister's young life,
and when she awakened to that knowledge,
as all too surely she must awaken some day,
whither would she turn, and what would be-
come of her in her extremity, since she had no
friend in the wide world to whom she could
turn, save him that she had outraged and for-
saken % Surely, surely she would come creep-
ing homeward to the only home she had ever
known, as do all spent and wounded crea-
tures — to die ?

For it was only a question of time and
accident ; nay, when this man wearied of her,
as he had wearied of all the rest, might he
not tell her the truth with his own lips, and
so rid himself of her in a moment ?

Still gazing before him, as the shadoAvs fell
in the quiet room, and the books before him
grew faint and indistinct, he seemed to see

VOL. III. A9



130 ''CHERRY RIPE/'



this Mignon, a lonely and pathetic figure,
unconscious and innocent even in her ruin,
wandering, as a child may, into peril, smiling,
unsuspecting, happy, until the great gates of
sin clanged heavily behind her, and she awoke
by slow degrees to the consciousness of the
thing that she had done.

Muriel's chance of salvation, Philip's one
hope of self-respect and reformation, his own
strong life and hopes — among these the girl
had lightly moved, shattering all, herself the
only unconscious actor in the tragedy. O !
God help her, when her awakening should
^ome .... when the mists fell from her
childish soul and eyes; when she discovered
that by her own act she had consigned to
never-ending shame the sister she had so
deeply and wildly loved that their two hearts
had seemed to make but one between them !

It was quite dark now, but as in letters of
fire written before him he read his own self-
condemnation, and hearkened to the stern
reproof spoken by his conscience. Bad as
this thing was, said his mentor, was it not of
his own doing 1 Had he not taken advantage



HEART, 131

of this girl's inexperience and forlorn position
to surprise her into the false step of becoming
his \\dfe, leavinof her not a moment in which
to take counsel of her heart or learn her own
mind, and when he had obtained her, instead
of carefully watching over, and protecting her
(aware as he was of her girlish fancy for Mr.
La Mert), had he not deliberately left her,
without one word of warning, exposed to the
temptations and wiles of a man whose life had
been spent in the practice of beguiling foolish
women's hearts from them %

She was but a child ; she ought to have been
cared for as such ; he should have been gentle
Avith her, instead of which he had been harsh,
even violent, scaring her into that refuge of
all weak creatures — deceit, and driving her to
repose herself, when the opportunity arose,
upon one whose love seemed to assure to her
love and protection. And yet this deceit,
this palpable premeditation on her part of
the whole affair, did not tally well with his
conception of her innocence and transparent
simplicity of character.

Her absolute silence to Flora on the subject

49—2



132 '^ CHERRY RIPE /"

of her previous acquaintance with this man,
her meeting with him on the very morning of
his own de]3arture, her interview alone with
him when he came to the house, her sub-
sequent walk, and the fact that she knew
her husband might return any day, and that
therefore the time for action was short — did
not all these circumstances point to the con-
clusion that she had all alonof nourished a
secret guilty feeling for her former lover, and
that his arrival upon the scene had only been
the light set to the torch that had long been
in waiting for the burning touch \

Nay, if Flora spoke truth, she had de-
hberately sought out and striven to attract
this man to her own misdoing ; with the un-
tutored instinct of a child, she had looked,
longed for, and stretched out her hand for
the forbidden fruit, heedless of all so that she
grasped it securely.

After all, had he erred in the reading of her
character, and was the innocence for which he
had loved her but sheer silliness and folly, the
simplicity of heart that he had so often in his
thoughts designated by the old Scotch term



HEART, 133



of " sefaldness " but pure stupidity and igno-
rance ? The love-letter that she had written
with such eager haste to Mr. La Mert, in
reply to his own — might not the impulse that
prompted her to such speed have taken its birth
in a spirit of nascent coquetry, and were the
words of Silas Sorel but true words after all %

Then if it were so, if he had misread her
from first to last, if that upon which he had
poured out his whole love was but a cheam-
woman created by his fancy, while the reahty
was this poor and miserable thing, then he
should surely thank God with all his heart
and soul that he was rid of her, that the first-
comer should have been the touchstone to test
her lightness or her purity, and so rid him of
her for ever .... and yet .... and yet
«... her face rising up before him, as he
remembered it last, pure and child-like as it
had looked to him in her slumbers, shamed
him in his thoughts, and sent them slinking
out of sight as though they had been in-
carnate lies.

There came into his mind those exquisite
lines of one of the good Hare brothers that



134 "CHERRY RIPEr

had always appeared to him to be written for,
to exactly typify, Mignon, that had seemed to
explain her character so well, since he, better
than any else, knew of the intense powers of devo-
tion and love that underlay her simple exterior.

'' Leaves are hght and useless, and idle and
wavering and changeable, they even dance,
yet God has made them part of the oak. In
so doing He has given us a lesson not to deny
the stout-heartedness within, because we see
the lightsomeness without."

He had watched her growing up, he had
jealously hearkened to her every word, be-
cause he knew how often the fairest face is
belied by the black heart within, and from
first to last he had found her a school-girl
indeed, and over-young for her years, but
emphatically "without guile." He had even
fancied he saw growing up in her one by one
the delicate blossoms of those '^ seeds of truth
which exist naturally in our souls," and he
had behsved that the instincts of such an one
could not possibly lead her far astray, but that
she must inevitably turn towards the light,
obeying the voice of her heart.



HEART. 135

He had been mistaken .... but no, to-
night, to-night he would think of her, not as
this incredible and frightful thing that she
had become, but as he had known her al-
ways ; to-morrow he w^ould put her out of his
thoughts for ever, and she would be as one
who had never lived to him, one whom he
had never known — for to-night, ay, to-night,
she should come to him in her girlish robes of
purity and loveliness .... all the future was
his in which to forget her, to-night he would
.... remember.

There passed in array before him every
kind look she had ever given him, every
gentle word that had fallen from her lips,
every hue and tint that she had ever worn,
and through the silence and darkness of the
room he seemed to hear the patter of her
httle feet coming and going, nay, the very
touch of her slender hand crept out of the
void and fell upon his like a flower, and once
more he felt upon his lips the fleeting kiss
that she had so rarely yet so lightly laid
upon them.

In this retrospection of Adam was no



136

maudlin, unliealthy sentiment, or paltry self-
pity. It was his last deliberate, conscious
regard of that which had once been precious
to him, his last backward look ere rising up
to go his way, to act his part, whether well
or ill, in the battle of life, and henceforth to
live, if life were his portion, as though no
Mignon had ever existed unto him, as though
the folly of love had never found place in
his thoughts.

Through the long hours of the night, then,
her spirit abode with him, and in that space
he lived over again all the bitter-sweet of the
past four months, all the longing, the dis-
appointment, the fierce jealousy, the acquies-
cence in his fate, lastly the renewed hope and
courage with which he had returned, resolved
to make one last, determined struggle before
resigning himself to an ignominious defeat.

It was strange how little of the bitterness
that a man usually feels towards the woman
who has disgraced him found place in Adam's
thouoiits. Of the foul inofratitude of her
conduct to himself, who had so nobly and
generously given her all, to be rewarded



HEART. 137

thus, lie never thought ; his condemnation
was all for her betrayer. As well might one
scold a child who ventures barefooted on red-
hot ploughshares, believing them to be but
painted red, as turn the engines of his fury
on this creature who had been but an instru-
ment, put to vile uses, of a wicked man's will.
Perhaps it had been his own fault that she
did not love him. Somehow, all his life long
it had seemed to be his fate to miss love, and
save his mother, he could not remember a
soul who had ever loved him — stay, there
had been one other, but it had been love
guessed at, not spoken ; moreover, he had not
coveted it, and we all have a cruel way of
reckoninof as no love at all that which we do
not care to take. And after Mrs. Montrose
had been calmly and politely snubbed out of
life by her husband, her son had loved nothing
and nobody until he had met Mignon ; and
although it had been some time before he set
his whole heart upon her, and not until he had
watched her narrowly at all times and places,
he had, his mind once made up, loved her
with an intensity, a devotion, and an un-



138 ''CHERRY RIPE r

selfishness that she mio^ht have looked for in
vain from any other man.

For as yet there Avas nothing in her to
awaken such a passion, although indeed it is
true enough that it is not always the people
Avho are most deserving of it who get the
best and noblest kind of love, since some of
the profoundest passions with which the world
has rung have been inspired by a totally in-
adequate power, a miserably insufficient cause,
the real secret being that these famous lovers,
whether men or women, have possessed a
capacity for love so grand, and deep, and
large, as to be able to cover with glory those
who have inspired it.

The beauty, the sweetness, the goodness of
the person beloved has been but of secondary
importance ; it is not these that have worked
such grand results ; the passion, the sublime
excellence in loving existed independently, and
though outward influences might bring them
to the light, even as the sun calls out the
colour of flowers, the germs existed in the man
or woman's own heart.

And so this poor fellow had given to the



HEART, 139



girl all the pent-up love for which he had
never found a vent, and he had been re-
warded as such men usually are. Neveiihe-
less, love in him existing in its highest, most
perfect form, sufficing to itself and absolutely
independent of response, he suffered less than
if that love had been the selfish passion that
passes current with the world as the sacred
flame.

For if we go to the root of things, what is
love for the most part but a deification of
self ? The love of a lover .... it demands an
equivalent, it loves because the loveliness or
charm of a woman are grateful to it, they
communicate to him a sense of pleasure,
therefore he loves the cause. The love of a
mother for her child, does she not cherish it
because it is hers, a blessing and a delight,
that gives to her far more of happiness than she
gives to it ? If it dies, does she mourn it so
passionately because of the little life so rudely
swept away, or because she is so intensely
conscious of her own personal bereavement ?
She mourns it thus wdldly because the touch
of the little lips was joy to her, because the



140 " CHERR V RIPE /"

feeling of ownership and protection of the
helpless creature was sweet . . . . in a word,
self is largely mingled mth the sacredness of
all sorrow, and they only can be said to
mourn as to love truly, who mourn without
any selfish reflection, or who have loved
without return.

'' Desires absorb ; affections give out." All
the giving had been on Adam's side, yet was
he none the poorer.

As the night wore on, by degrees the
image of Mignon, as she had been, faded,
and Mignon as she was rose up before him.
He had done with his regrets, with his
memories ; what he now had to do was to
look this new woman in the face and recog-
nise her with all her loathsome shame, and
treachery, and deceit upon her, to accustom
his eyes to her features, her mien, to indelibly
imprint her upon his mind, then, then it
would be easy enough to root her out of his
heart and life, and go his way to do his work
in the world as well as if she had never existed.
Fool . . . . fool .... as though the slow
growth of years is capable of being plucked



HEART. 141

up in a moment, as though by one supreme
effort a man may overcome his ruhng passion
.... rather A\ill he do so by slow degrees,
with many falterings, backshdings, and halts
by the way, while in proportion to the strength
of the nature that it dominates, will be the
duration and fierceness of the struggle.

One by one the objects of the room came
out before him, in dun, in grey, in chilly
shades that made familiar things look ghostly
and unreal. One by one the sounds that
usher in the daylight made themselves audi-
ble to his ears, and his senses came back to
every-day life. Mechanically he bent for-
ward to gather up the relics that remained
to him of the dream of his manhood. The
wedding-ring, the flowers, and the half-crown
were there, but what had become of the thim-
ble ? He looked at them in bewilderment for
some moments, then his clenched right hand
relaxed, and to his own surprise he found
within it the missing bit of silver. At what
period of his agony had he clutched and held
fast to it ? He could not remember ....



142 '' CHERRY RIPE /"

but it was unaccountable, because he no
longer feared or desired to touch anything
that had been hers. The lonsf battle of the
night was over, and he had conquered.
Henceforth his heart was empty of love (he
thought), and let him meet her as soon as he
might it would be with absolute indifference.
So much for the opinion of a. poor mortal
who had discovered a royal road to that to
which no man has ever discovered a royal
road yet.

Then he rose, unbarred the hall -door, and
went out into the free air of heaven.





CHAPTER III.

" When Phoebus doth behold
Her silver visage in the wat'ry glass,
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass."

iHE morning was yet young, and the
sky had that marvellous clear inten-
sity that almost pains the eye as
one gazes, so pure is it and cold, as though
the light were but the sun's messenger, while
he himself follows from afar.

How many of us are there who know what
these early mornings are, how hushed and
still and even solemn, a brief space of breath-
ing-time in which to think, ere the common
crowded day claims us for its own ?

For the most part, we know them not, no,
nor desire to ; we prefer sleep ; sleep, of



144 " CHERR V RIPE /"

which we shall surely have more than enough
when, our brief span of life over, we lie down
to a slumber of which the limits are not
known.

Something of the old intense love for, and
sympathy with, nature, that had from his boy-
hood made her his true and loving disciple,
stirred in Adam as he gazed upwards and
abroad ; he seemed to have been long away
from that familiar friend whose teaching had
always seemed to him to be so much sweeter
and better than any that came to him from
the lives or lips of man. He loved every one
of her works, he rejoiced in her every foot-
print ; the nearer he found himself to under-
standing her, the nearer he had approached
his Maker, and the calmer and more steadfast
his heart had grown.

" The ways of Nature are the thoughts of
Nature, and these are the thoughts of God."

For a while Adam stood and looked around
him, then he passed on to the inner garden.
He walked slowly round it, pausing Avhen he
came to Mignon's chair, and looking up-
wards at the bunch of wall-flowers that still



HEART. 145



flourished in their old place. His eyes next
fell on the wheelbarrow, that looked dirty and
disconsolate, and harboured a snail or two
and some withered leaves.

He had meant to make a thriving, fruitful
place of this neglected shabby garden by next
spring, while at one end should be the j)ret-
tiest flower-walk that a lass ever stejDped
between.

The solitary rose-bush that the garden con-
tained, and that seemed to have got in there
by mistake, stood bare and unsightly ; it had
borne but one rose that summer, and this he
had plucked and given to — her.

As he stood before it, there came to his
mind a verse of one of the songs of his
country :

" Oft hae I rov'd by bonnie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine t"\vine,
While ilka bird sang"o' its love,
And fondly sae did I o' mine.
Wi' heartsome glee I pu'd a rose —


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryHelen MathersCherry ripe! A romance (Volume 3) → online text (page 6 of 14)