Margaret L. (Margaret Louisa) Woods.

Esther Vanhomrigh : in two volumes (Volume 1) online

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saw she was perfectly unconscious.

Swift had once been used to scoff good-naturedly
at Esther if she told him that she was sick ; but hers
was that strange kind of good health which has a
poor constitution behind it, and the sufferings and
anxieties of the last few years had told upon it. For
some days after her last interview, if so it could be
called, with Swift, she kept her room and saw no one.
When she reappeared, both Mrs. Conolly and Francis
were startled at the change in her. To herself it ap-
peared not so much that she was another person^ as
that she was dead ; a corpse that moved and spoke
and even remembered, but to which some essential
of life was lacking. It no more occurred to her that
she could take up again that past existence of hers
than it could have done if the grave lay between her
and it. For years she had believed, at first rightly,
afterwards mistakenly, that Swift loved her better
than he dared allow. Time, circumstance, and, last
but not least, the violence of her own passion had
completely worn out his sentiment for her. The
moment of awakening had come. She saw that her


love was unreturned ; yet more, she believed that she
had always been indifferent to her idol, and was now
an object of hatred to him. Her twelve-years' pas-
sion, the torture and the inspiration of her life, fell
dead, and with it died the greater part of herself.

For many days and nights following that first and
last meeting of the two Esthers, the thoughts of each
ran in much the same channel. Esther Johnson, for
all her philosophy, was unable to refrain from bestow-
ing a good deal of useless and painful reflection on
the disappointments and disadvantages of her con-
nection with Swift, while the disaster and humiliation
that had attended hers seemed to Esther Vanhomrigh,
as she lay staring at the darkness night after night,
to be branded on her flesh. Yet each one, entertain-
ing the last of the common stock of lovers' delusions,
said to herself that after all Swift was the only man
she could ever have loved.

If in the night Essie tossed on her bed, or paced
the room in a restless agony of thought, in the day-
time a great apathy of body and mind had fallen
upon her. Her constitutional indolence, no longer
counteracted by strong interests, seemed all that was
left of the old Esther. The autumn was cold and
rainy, and she spent most of the day on the stool be-


fore the fire that had been her favourite seat, but the
habitual book was no longer open before her, or if
open, was unread. She never left the grounds, even
to visit the few poor families whom she had found fit
objects for her charity among an innumerable crowd
of claimants. For, generally speaking, the dirt and
untruthfulness and disorderliness of the Irish poor
offended her more than their wit and shrewdness and
naviete amused her. Sometimes she would leave the
fire and go out through the parlour window without any
protection against damp and cold, as had always been
her custom, and stroll aimlessly round the garden, or
stand on the old bridge and watch the swollen Liffey
tearing under the high arches, tumbling amid its yel-
low foam, dead leaves and mats of dry reeds and
broken branches. She would go to the bower, too,
and stand with a strange apathy in the very place,
leaning on the very branch, where she had stood on
that September day when she and Swift had last
visited it together. The bower above and around
and the island below, turned golden, and sheltering
each other, kept their glory later than the meadow
trees, which the stormy winds and rains stripped bare
earlier than usual. But in time they too laid it by,
and the slender yellow leaves of the willows, and the


small fretted orange or red leaves of the thorns, were
mingled in the stream and rushed on under the bridge,
or were heaped by the eddying river in its miniature
bays and inlets. The russet foliage of the oak re-
mained longer to roof in the bower ; but the wind
and rain moaned and pattered through it on to the
rock below. Still if it did not actually rain, Essie
continued to come thither in her black dress and thin
kerchief, though week by week the full curves of her
shape fell away and grew nearer to hollow leanness,
and the pink of her cheeks was replaced by two spots
of hard bright colour.

Meantime Francis, lost now to all thoughts of what
might be said about it, hovered round her, putting
shawls for her that she did not use and food on her
plate that she would not eat, and inviting her to walks
and rides she would not take, though she never failed
to thank him for his care and remonstrate with him
for losing his time with her. But something more
was needed than this kind of care. If anything
could have warmed the icy corpse of Esther back to
life, it would have been a warm stream of human
tenderness, flowing out perpetually towards her in
expressions of love, in soft beguiling ways and in-
stinctive adaptation to her moods. Her melancholy


condition and loneliness, except for himself, made
Francis more sensible than ever of his deep attach-
ment to her, and he knew vaguely what she wanted,
but he could not give it her. All his life up till now
he had been accustomed, first as a matter of temper-
ament, then as a matter of pride, to hide all that was
warm and kind in him under a cold and unkind mask,
and now in bitter helplessness he strove to alter him-
self and could not. A caressing word upon his lips
sounded idiotic in his own ears and unnatural in hers.
If love had burst into his life as something new, it
might have altered all that ; but his love for Esther
was part of his old self, and to her less than to any
one else could he be different.

To be passive and helpless in the face of a crisis
was a new experience to him. But he dared not take
any decided step, lest it should be a wrong one, and
had Essie been capable of noticing anything, she
must have noticed a transformation in him ; for he
grew silent and almost humble. He never asked her
about that strange apparition of Swift, for he had
observed enough to be satisfied that it had signified
a rupture between them. The papers which he had
picked up from the floor and locked into her desk on
the day when he had found her lying unconscious,


were evidently letters of her own, and the thick fair
curl that had fallen down among them had no doubt
been cut years ago from her young head, with a bad-
inage that had not wholly masked some underlying
sentiment. The Dean had quitted the field ; so far
so good but what a wreck had he left behind him !
After this state of things had lasted without any
change for nearly four months, Francis at length be-
haved in a manner that he despised : he went and
confided his wishes and difficulties, and Esther's
melancholy condition to Mrs. Conolly. Mrs. Conolly
had long had uneasy suspicions concerning Miss Van-
homrigh and the Dean, whom she was as willing as
Francis could desire to credit with the whole blame
of the matter. This was the secret of her anxiety to
see Miss Vanhomrigh well married, for otherwise she
was not one of that class of matrons who regard all
the disengaged men and women of their acquaint-
ance as so much marrying material. When Francis
had told her his story in an embarrassed and unex-
pansive manner, yet with a sincerity of pain and
anxiety which he could not disguise, and when she
had amplified it by her own guesses and observations,
she solemnly declared that her fancy could not have
devised anything so good as this marriage, which,


besides providing Miss Vanhomrigh with a good
husband, would remove her far from the possibility
of renewed intercourse with Swift, and from all that
could recall to her the faults and the misfortunes of
her youth.

"Describe to her your solitude, Mr. Mordaunt,"
she said, when Francis had declared for the tenth
time that Essie had a regard for him, but that he
despaired of persuading her to look upon him as a
possible husband. ' ' Describe to her the horrors and
dangers of the American wilderness ! "

" Danger ! Nonsense ! " interjected Francis.

"The absence of all that can make life agreeable,"
continued Mrs. Conolly ; "and see if she'll not be
eager to share all with you."

' ' What, madam ? You would have me appeal to
her pity ? "

"Yes, Mr. Mordaunt, for her sake. I am certain
she'll make you a good wife, for she's one of whom
you may say that when she sets her hand to the
plough she looks not back. Yet 'tis more for her
sake than for the difference 'twill make to you in that
savage yes, I will call it savage country, that I
earnestly hope for this marriage. If you love her,
lay pride on one side, and through her love if you can,


but through her pity if you cannot, win her for her
own sake win her."

Francis put up his lip, and could not promise to do
anything of the sort.

She went to see Miss Vanhomrigh with him a few-
days after, and found her on the terrace outside the
summer parlour.

' ' What will you do when your cousin is gone ? "
she asked Essie, when Francis had stepped down
into the garden for a minute. ' ' Sure you'll not let
him cross the seas alone and leave you here alone
too. 'Twould be the foolishest thing."

"Would it not be foolisher, dear madam, to keep
him here idle, and even in danger should he be recog-
nised ? "

"'Twould be madness. But there's no such
reason why you should not accompany him."

"Why, Madam Conolly, you forget we are not in
fact very nearly related. The good people in the
Plantations would talk."

"I meant of course that you should marry

" Poor Francis ! Would not that be a little unfair
to him ? "

"My dear, he wishes it," whispered Mrs. Conolly,


pressing her hand as Francis rejoined them. And in
a few minutes she took her leave.

"What were you saying to my cousin just now,
madam ? " asked Francis, as he handed her down the
terrace steps.

"I was saying that you wished to marry her,"
replied Mrs. Conolly indifferently. Francis ejacu-
lated something that did not seem expressive of grati-

"Lord! No thanks, I beg," said Mrs. Conolly,
with a little smile. "Sure, 'twas not for your sake I
did it, but for hers. I was convinced you'd never do
it yourself."

"You take me for a timid man, Madam Conolly."

" By no means, but for a lover so half-hearted and

cold that, were't not for the happy circumstance of

your dwelling in America, I'd by no means desire a

woman I valued to marry you."

She spoke partly in jest, but also partly in earnest.
Francis reddened, but when he returned to Esther he
was unusually pale. It was a mild December day,
and she sat listlessly on the balustrade of the terrace,
looking away over the river and the meadows to the
blue Dublin mountains. Francis stood in front of


''Did you believe what Madam Conolly told you,
Hess ? " he asked.

She turned her eyes on him with a puzzled look.

"What was it?" she said Mrs. Conolly's whis-
pered information had made no impression upon her,
and she was not thinking about it. Indeed, she could
hardly be said to think of anything in those long days
of brooding, and even at night her thoughts and feel-
ings had ceased to be very clear and poignant, though
fever and a hacking cough kept her awake.

"She told you I wished to marry you, and it is
true. If she said that I loved you dearly, that was
true also."

She still looked at him with that little puzzled con-
traction of the brows that was familiar to him.

"Mrs. Conolly cannot let me be," she said ; " but
indeed you need not listen to her, Francis. You have
always made too much of the trifle of kindness you
owe us. I do not wish to marry, and if I did, for
you to marry me out of gratitude why, 'twould be
ridiculous. "

"Good heavens, Hess!" he cried, coming nearer
to her, " can't you believe that I love you?"

She sighed wearily, as one who is obliged to talk of
what does not interest her.


"I know you do in reason, Frank, "she answered.
"But you don't want to marry me. Mrs. Conolly
has been talking to you.* Why can't she leave me
alone ? "

' ' Now listen to me, Essie, " he said, standing up
close to her and taking her hand. " Confound Mrs.
Conolly ; don't mention her again. Ten years ago I
said to myself that I would get you for my wife, if
ever I had a chance. Have I got a chance now,
Hess? Do try and believe I love you."

" No, no ; you can't," she whispered, turning pale.

" Hess, I can I do."

She wrenched her hand from his grasp, for a mo-
ment roused from her apathy.

"You wouldn't if you knew," she moaned. " Not
if you knew how I have spent myself in worshipping
that man oh, much worse ! how I grovelled at his
feet, and he all the time hating me. "

Francis stepped back and silenced her by a quick

"Hush, "he said almost sternly, "never tell me a
word of him ! 'Tis folly, for you can say somewhat
to give me pain, but nothing to alter my regard for
you. For God's sake let all this be clean forgotten
between us. There's a new countrywaiting for you,


Essie. You'll love it very well. There's little com-
pany there, but you never was fond of company,
and there's plenty of work- to be done, such as you
was used to love. And I must tell you myself, since
there's no one else to do it, that you will find yourself
and me persons of consequence out there, and all the
people coming to us for counsel and assistance from
as many square miles of country as there are in Ulster
and Leinster put together. You used to say you'd
love to be somebody, Hess, and on my honour you
may be a queen out there. Then 'tis such a whole-
some air not like this chill place ; you'll soon lose
your cough and be as strong as ever you was. 'Tis
certain you'd do well to come with me, Hess I can't
take a ' No. ' "

Her momentary agitation had passed away ; she
listened quietly with bowed head. She remained
silent so for a minute or two after he had finished
speaking, and he fancied his words had not been
without effect. Then she looked up at him with a
strange look, half dull, half sad, and shook her head

"'Tis too late," she said. "You are very good,
Frank ; once I should have liked your new country
well enough. " He cried out against her ' ' too late, "


but she continued talking in a spiritless way, yet as
one stating some plain fact. "Yes, it is too late,
and I will tell you why. I dare be sworn you think
there's no such thing as a broken heart ; I was used
myself to think it a bit of cant or ladies' vapours. I
know better now, for my own heart is broken. It
should not be so, I allow ; I must be a poor weak
creature for this to have happened. I see very well
that what you say is wise as well as kind, and I
should be very fortunate if I could do as you advise ;
but, my dear, 'tis of no manner of use. I am fit for
nothing more in this world though I should be
thirty or forty years in it, as I very well may

There was something dreadful in the dead calm of
her speech and look ; it almost carried conviction to
Francis' unwilling mind, but he withstood the im-
pression. Sitting down by her on the balustrade, he
endeavoured to argue with her, but in vain. She
only shook her head at his reasoning. At length he
was reduced to silence and despair, when suddenly
Mrs. Conolly's advice occurred to him. Must he
appeal to her pity ? Yes ; for her own sake. So he
made the last sacrifice of his pride, and pleaded with
her to come for his sake, because if she did not his


life would always be solitary more solitary than
she could imagine.

She smiled faintly.

"Not always, Frank. You are young for a man,
and look at me I am an old, old woman. Some day
you will get a young wife, and live happy ever after."

He answered impatiently

"Women seldom come my way, and when they
do they don't love me, nor I them. Besides, you know
me, and with how cold a heart I am cursed, so that
I never loved but very few persons in my life. There
are just two alive now I love, and one is his Lordship,
and t'other well, that other I love incomparably
more, and always shall do, so long as I live."

"I am sorry for you, Frank," she said, " and yet
I am not. For I can't, however I try, be truly sorry
about anything. I used to laugh at you when you
was a boy, for thinking whenever you was sick that
you was going to die, and now I am as foolish my-
self, for it seems to me that I am going to die. "

He threw his arm around her, not caressingly, but
to drag her into the house.

"Good God!" he cried; "you must leave this
cursed climate, or 'twill kill you as it killed Molly."

' ' Ah, " she said. ' ' So you too think it killed Molly.


I have sometimes thought so since she died. In that
case 'twas my fault that she died, for 'twas my doing
that we settled in Ireland ; she never loved it very well. "

They had by this time reached the glass doors into
the parlour.

"Essie," he said solemnly, "it you continue to
give way to such splenetic fancies, you will end a
madwoman. "

"I was a madwoman, Frank, for the best part of
my life. 'Twould have been a mercy then to have
sent me to Bedlam. But now I am quite sane, and
know very well what I have been and what I am. Oh,
Frank, you must be mad yourself if you really love
me. Let us not talk of it any more. "

But Francis, having once begun his wooing of
Esther, carried it on with the energy and persistence
that marked him in all his undertakings. In earlier
days such obstinacy would have roused a rebellious
temper in Esther, but " Governor Huff "was now dead
and buried. "She shed a few weary tears over the
matter, and finally got her own way by partial yield-
ing. He was to go away and leave her to think it
over. In the spring, on his way back to America, he
was to return to Cellbridge, and then perhaps very
likely, she would do as he wished.

VOL. n. 1 9


So foolish a thing is the human heart that it was
with a feeling of relief Esther watched the ship sail
out of Dublin Bay, which bore away the only creature
that loved her, except two old servants. She was
glad to get back home and brood wholly undisturbed,
even Mrs. Conolly having gone to Dublin. Soon
after Christmas there came a heavy fall of snow and
an iron frost that seemed as if it would never go.
For weeks the roads were blocked and every village
thrown upon its own resources. Neither news nor
visitors came near the lonely house at Cellbridge.
The black trees broke under the frozen snow, and
their great branches lay across the garden paths or
hung into the river, and caught as in a net the pieces
of ice it brought down on its chill dark current. And
sometimes Esther wandered out to the bridge, and
watched the icy river or scattered food for the freezing
birds, but oftener she sat idle by the fire. All the
winter there was no change in her, except that every
day she grew leaner, and coughed more, and suffered
more pain.


WHEN Swift had recovered the " bad head" that had
followed on his angry rupture with Esther Vanhom-
righ, he expected to find a letter from her full of
appeal and remonstrance, or at least reproach. He
had fully made up his mind to return it unread, yet
he was glad not to find it. Weeks went by, and still
she made no sign. At length then his life was free
from those continual claims which he could neither
deny nor allow. He had hardly guessed how com-
pletely Esther's sympathy and admiration had ceased
to compensate him for the worry and diversion of in-
terest his connection with her caused him. He who
prided himself justly on the faithfulness of his attach-
ments was a little ashamed to think how this great
friendship of his, that had once been but too warm,
was now quite cold ; a dead burden to be thrown out
of his life with a sigh of relief. But the fact must be
acknowledged, with shame or without it ; he was
thankful to have shaken himself free from this ten-
years' entanglement. He walked the streets with a


lighter step, and gave more sugar-plums and half-
pence to the children, and rallied the apple-women
more good-naturedly than he had ever been known
to do ; and every one said how hearty the Dean was
looking. Mrs. Johnson, too, was brilliant in spite of
the bad winter. Since she would not let him speak
to her on the subject, he had written her a letter asking
her pardon a thousand times for the pain he had caused
her, telling her that he was fully resolved never again
to hold any communication with that poor crazed
creature " that shall be nameless," and imploring her
to exercise all her powers of forgetfulness on the
matter. Hetty did not, never again could love him
as she had once done, but she was neither analytical
nor repining, and found another kind of happiness in
his complete devotion to her ; a devotion as tender
as he had shown in the days of her youth, and much
more respectful and unselfish. She was formed for
society, and life became very pleasant to her as the
increasing number of Swift's admirers and friends
widened the circle of her own. He was no longer
a lonely man in Dublin, except with the inevitable
loneliness of his intellect and character. If it was
beyond Mrs. Johnson's power to understand or
genuinely care for many of his interests, there were


others about him now to supply her deficiencies ;
young eager minds looking to him for inspiration.
He threw off that winter in mere light-heartedness a
dozen anonymous ballads, epigrams and broadsheets
on trifling occasions, which have mostly disappeared
with the trunks of a long-past generation of travellers.
They served to keep his pen sharp for more serious
warfare, as it was reported that the English Parlia-
ment intended before long to make a fresh attack on
the liberties of Ireland, through the coinage. All
patriotic eyes turned towards the great Dean, and he,
like the war-house of his favourite Book of Job,
scented the battle from afar and cried " Ha, ha ! " at
the sound of the trumpet. For full six months he
rejoiced in his freedom, and never so much as thought
of Esther Vanhomrigh. At length the persistent
black east winds had ceased to blow, and as he rode
into the country, he noticed that the catkins and
primroses were out in the hedges ; then he could not
help thinking, and thinking kindly, of her who was
used to have an unusual delight in the spring. Not
that he wished to renew his intercourse with her,
which he saw clearly now to have been disadvanta-
geous to her as well as troublesome to himself, but
he hoped she was gone over to England, since he


had heard nothing of her this winter. There no
doubt she was nursing Mrs. Purvis, and would soon
inherit another fortune and marry some one ; perhaps
"little Master," her cousin, who was an ugly, dis-
agreeable fellow, but honest enough. These sup-
positions served as an anodyne to any little uneasi-
ness of conscience that might have been caused by
the recollection of his once esteemed and adored
Missessy. The sunshine that had long been missing
from the earth was very pleasant to feel, and his head
seemed boiling with an unusual number of ideas as
he trotted along, or smoked a surreptitious pipe in
his library window-seat. The world was going so
well with him that had he retained enough of his
usual pessimism, he would have said something un-
fortunate must be about to happen.

One Sunday late in May, Patrick was dressing him
for the Cathedral, and he was endeavouring to forget
his amusement over the complete success of his last
literary fraud, and attune his mind to the sacred
function in which he was about to take part. Patrick
was talking ; he always talked, and the Dean listened
or not according to his humour. On this day he had
not paid any attention to Patrick's discourse, till the
name Vanhomrigh attracted his attention.


" Eh ? H'm ! What was that you was saying, you
chatter pie ? "

' ' Thunder and turf ! His riverence gets hard of
hearing ! I was saying, your honour," and here
Patrick raised his voice to a shout, ' ' I met Miss Van-
homrigh's man in the town to-day, and he tould me
his poor lady was mighty sick bless her purty face !
and he afther fetching the doctor."

Online LibraryMargaret L. (Margaret Louisa) WoodsEsther Vanhomrigh : in two volumes (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 32)