W. H. (William Hurrell) Mallock.

A romance of the nineteenth century (Volume 2) online

. (page 4 of 11)
Online LibraryW. H. (William Hurrell) MallockA romance of the nineteenth century (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wandered under willows and alders, by the
margin of snow-fed rivers. She is growing
happy, she is growing at peace with herself.
I have watched her violet eyes, and her
cheeks like rose-leaves, and I have seen how

Beauty born of murmuring sound
Has passed into her face.

More than this — I have been twice with her
to the chapel in the cork-wood, for Vespers
and Benediction, and I have seen her praying.
I too — had I only been alone, my God, I
could have prayed too. My care for her has
opened my heart again, has revived my faith
again. Surely I know, and see, and with my
whole mind assent to this, that what we are
and what we make ourselves is something of
infinite and eternal moment. Vice and virtue
are as heaven and hell asunder. Space, with


its million stars, is as nothing to the gulf be-
tween them : and Thou, my Judge Eternal,
it must be that Thou art all in all. Soften
her heart ! Cleanse her from all iniquity !
Let me brine her back to Thee ! Mother of
Purity, she has knelt to Thee also. Oh
mother inviolate, consoler of them that
weep, refuge of sinners, pray for her !

* She is with me all the time I am wTiting.
I feel her in the air near me. She surrounds
me ; she is touching me whether her body
be there or no. I don't know exactly how to
describe what has happened. I could almost
believe, not in the transmigration of souls,
but somehow in the transmigration of bodies ;
for, fanciful as the expression sounds, it seems
at times to me as if it were her blood that was
beating in my temples. A part of her body
seems to be mixed with mine. When I am
half asleep, if I put my hands to my face, it
seems to be her white hand caressing me ;


and sometimes I have started up in the night
feeHng almost certain that her lips were on
mine, kissing me.'

Moods, motives, and affections are gene-
rally complex things. With Vernon in the
present case they were so in a marked degree,
as may be detected in the above extract. But
any one who had judged him merely from what
he thus wrote of himself, would have probably
done him injustice. The passionate senti-
ments which he indulged himself in commit-
ting to paper, he committed to paper only.
He kept his promise to Miss Walters, alike in
letter and in spirit. He avoided all allusion,
not only to the painful confession she had
made to him, but also to his own feelings with
regard to her. His one constant effort, in all
his intercourse with her, was to direct her
thoughts from anything that was personal to
either of them, and to fix them on general
questions and the wider interests of life. He


made her dwell on such subjects as poetry,
scenery, and pictures. He discussed various
characters with her In fiction and in history,
and the various tastes, qualities, and occupa-
tions that make men's lives so many-coloured.
He tried to fill her mind with a yet graver
order of questions — the various social prob-
lems that are perplexing the modern mind,
and to extend by this means her ideas of in-
dividual duty. He often spoke to her also of
the chief axioms of religion, and the history of
the Christian theologies ; but he was careful
to approach them on their intellectual side
only, and to make no appeal to her feelings.
Despite, however, the Impersonal nature of
this conversation. It became Inspired, under his
management, with a delicate, earnest devotion
that Is often wanting to more direct love-
making. It. would be Indeed wTong In this
case to say he was making love at all. An
impression of love, he doubtless did convey


to her, because, after its own fashion, his
nature was then stirred with It ; but he did
not do this Intentionally. What he Intended
to express, and what was always present with
him, was an anxious, tender solicitude that
whatever was best and purest should be what
she most admired. He became almost
morbidly sensitive to anything that had the
least taint In Its beauty, and he tried by his
presence to inspire her with a repulsion for
It. He seemed as subtle and insidious in
suggesting good thoughts to her as the devil
is supposed to be In suggesting evil. As to
evil, especially of the kind she was in danger
from, it was his wish that she should not so
much condemn as forget it. The wound
would heal better, he thought, If Its progress
were not examined; and every subject which
they thought of or discussed together, he tried
to administer to her as a sacrament of self-
respect. He became too, In this way, a re-


velation to himself. Subtle moral Instincts,
which had been for years dormant, and as he
thought dead, now woke to life again ; and he
found himself once more regarding the world
with the solemn earnestness of his boyhood.

Beneath the surface, however, there were
certain things that troubled him. Now and
again her manner jarred on him slightly,
though it was some time before he could
explain why to himself; he had also two
sources of a more defined uneasiness. One
of these was the suspicion, which he could
not be sure was false, that In speaking of
religious questions he had assumed a stronger
faith than he felt in order that her faith mieht
gain strength from it. The other was the
discovery, on his part, that she was singularly
shrewd in her apprehension of religious diffi-
culties — shrewder, indeed, than he conceived a
woman had any right to be : and often, when
she Insisted on the grave nature of some of


these, he was tempted to borrow an answer
from Dr. Johnson : — ' That may be ; but I
don't see how you should know it.' He
several times smiled to catch himself feeling
this ; and he at once translated his temper
into the thought that really had excited it —
* She has logic enough to see her way into
an objection, but not logic enough to see her
way out of it.'

These matters at times made his mind
misgive him ; but they could not embitter,
except for passing moments, the new life he
was leading. Every morning when he awoke
there was a day of duty before him, but it was
duty allied with the keenest form of pleasure.
His imagination wove for him a luxurious
world of enchantment ; and his conscience
looked down on it and said that It was very
good. He seemed to himself like a rapt
votary praying in a temple of roses, and he
several times repeated an expression that


Campbell had used to him : ' I am leading a
consecrated life.'

He was in this condition, whatever view
may be taken of it, when he received one
morning a letter from Campbell himself.
This was the first news of him since the
day on which he had set out for San Remo.
That was not a fortnight ago ; but to Vernon
it seemed years : and yet, so much mean-
while had his own affairs absorbed him, that
he had not had time to wonder at Campbell's

'Well,' thought Vernon, as he surveyed
the envelope, 'his post-mark is San Remo.
That, at least, is of happy augury.' Here,
however, he w^as not quite accurate, as the
date of the letter showed him. He had mis-
read the post-mark. It was Sorrento, not
San Remo. The letter ran thus : —

' My dear Vernon, — I should have written
long ago to you, could I have written with



any certainty. I have been waiting till I
could do that : but I may as well wait no
longer. I am not yet in Hell ; still less am
I in Paradise. You must think of me as one
of those who are — not contented, but still
hopeful in the flame. When I left you, I
returned to Cannes to collect my luggage,
and there, amongst my letters, I found the fol-
lowing : — '' The plans of the person in whom
you take an interest have changed since you
were last told of them. She will not be at
San Remo, and she is anxious that you should
be told of this, as she has heard of your
movements, and of course knows the cause of
them. She is very anxious also about
another thing, and one which I beg in ad-
vance you will not let discourage you.
She is very anxious that at present you
should not know where she is, and that at
present you should not even try to see her.
You could, no doubt, by taking some trouble,


discover her : but if you regard her wishes
you will certainly not do so ; neither will you
do so if you regard your own interests. My
only fear is that this note may not reach you,
before you are already on her traces. It is
for your sake I am writing, even more than for
hers. Were I not sure that by pressing
your suit now you would be ensuring your
own disappointment, I should not be so
urgent that you should yield to her strange
fancies. She is a curious Q-irl. I don't in
the least feel that I know her : but this I do
know, that, however she regards you, it is at
least not with indifference. You have moved
her in some way, and I think very deeply :
so it is well worth your while to have a little
quiet patience." I need not, my dear Vernon,
quote you any more of the letter. The rest
was only to tell me how the writer had heard
ot my movements, and that she herself was
leaving Florence for Sorrento. Well — what I

H 2


did was to go straight off to Sorrento myself,
that I might learn more from my informant.
I have not learnt much — at least not much
that I can communicate. The details are all
too slight to be conveyed by writing. But I
have hope ; I believe that I have hope. Ah,
Vernon, the love of a woman who knows no
evil, almost makes evil Incomprehensible to
oneself ! Soft, tender, and innocent as my friend
Is, the thought of her Is like a fire upon some
of my past life. Tastes and habits, which I
was long used to laugh over, now only fill me
with indignant, burning shame. I don't quite
know how long I shall stay here. I am
awaiting more news. I mean to be patient,
and not to attempt hurrying on things ; and
if nothing is to be gained by my remaining
here, I may possibly find myself in a week's
time on my way back to England. In that
case I will propose myself to you for a day
or two ; or, if you should not be able to re-


celve me, I could at all events get a bed at
Stanley's Pension!

This letter set Vernon thinking. But a
few short days ago, the feeling expressed in
it would have been a riddle to him ; and now,
as though a sixth sense had been added to
him, he saAv it all clearly. ' And yet,' he re-
flected, * between Campbell's case and my
own what a difference ! — more than a differ-
ence — what a contrast! He turns to another,
and finds she raises him. I turn to another,
and find I must raise her. Still,' he con-
tinued, ' here is one bright thought. Let me
take it as a happy omen. If love has on
Campbell the effect he says it has — the effect of
a second cleansing baptism — /^^r sins surely are
fast being washed away. Her transgressions
will vanish like a cloud, and like a thick cloud
her sins. The shadow on her life will be as
though it had never been. No — not so ; let
me think this rather, that the fire of repent-


ance will make the gold of her purity still

purer. And yet ' his train of thought

seemed here to halt for a moment — * I do not
yet know her thoroughly. I know she has
much to repent of. I know she has much to
purge away. It is not that knov/ledge that
troubles me. I should love her far more
could I bring her safely home again than I
should have done if she had never wandered.
What is it, then ? Or is it nothing — a fancy
merely ? Is she not safe home already ? I can-
not tell. There is something in her still remote
from me. There is some " untravelled region
of her mind " w^hich I cannot get to. When I
am with her, when I am face to face with
herself, I am conscious of it, I know not
how. I feel always as if there were some
third presence watching us — some ghost that
will not reveal itself. Ah, Cynthia ! will
you never be quite open with me ? Must
your eyes still have glances that I cannot


tell the meaning of? Must my heart still
ache, and still be anxious as I think of you ? '
He was wandering in his garden when
the above thoughts invaded him, with the
leaves of Campbell's letter still fluttering in his
hand. The uneasiness he felt was a surprise
to him, dimming all his prospects like an
unlooked-for driving mist, and he was trying
to rouse his spirits by the morning air and
sunshine. At this juncture a note was
brought him from Miss Walters. ' I have
got,' she wrote, ' a small piece of news to tell
you. It is not very tragic, but still I am
sorry for it. My aunt and I are going away
for a few days, to stay at San Remo with
Mrs. Charles Crane. She's a connection of
that slangy little woman that you seemed to
find so amusing ; but is not in the least like
her. She is related to my aunt in some way,
and is a very old and a very true friend of
mine. She's somehow related, too, to poor


Jack Stapleton, whom I know you dislike so ;
but that's neither here nor there. Well — it
can't be helped. Go we must, and that
either to-morrow or next day. I want to
know if you will come over this morning, so
that we may make the most of the little time
that is left to us. You needn't go to the
house ; but you will find me, at about eleven,
by the little bay with the tunnel — the place
where I caught you trespassing. Ah, those
happy days that I have spent with you ! I
hate to think that there is to be even so short
a break in them ! Dear, dear friend — come
to me. I do want you so.'

Vernon's anxieties, though somewhat
vague in their nature, had had one effect upon
him more intense than themselves. In pro-
portion as they seemed to divide him from
Miss Walters, they made his desire to be
close to her more keen and more absorbing
than ever : and the above note struck on his
life like a flash of returning sunlight. The time


she had named for the meeting was but half-
an-hour distant ; and there wanted still ten
minutes to it when he found himself at the
trysting-place. Early as he was, however,
she was there before him. She was sitting
on a rustic bench, with an open book on her
lap ; but she seemed not to be reading, only
watching the sea-water. The sight of her at
once took him out of his solitary thoughts,
and as if by magic set him down in a new
world. The change was wonderful, and gave
him an intoxicating sense as though he were
being carried through the air rapidly to some
untold distance. She rose to meet him with
a bright, soft smile ; and every movement of
her lips and figure charmed him with an
insidious magic. She had on a new dress, of
a delicate shade of brown, which fitted her to
perfection. Her hat, her gloves, and the
border of her pocket-handkerchief were all of
the same colour. From the worldly point of
view she had never looked more fascinating.


She read his admiration in his eyes, and she
met his glance with a more than usual ten-
derness. She held his hand too, in greeting
him, with a more lingering pressure.

* I'm glad,' she said presently, * that you
like my frock. It's my maid's handiwork.*
And then turning her back on him, ' Does it
fit well ? Tell me.'

The temptation was too much for Vernon.
He put his hand on her shoulder, and let
it slip down to her waist. She made no
struggle ; he felt her yield to his touch ; and,
still holding her, he led her back to the seat.

' You are looking beautiful to-day,* he

' I'm glad of that,' she said. * I should
like your last impressions to be nice of me.
Don't you admire my rose too ? '

It was in her button-hole, and Vernon
stooped forward to smell it. As he was
slowly drawing back, her breath stirred his
hair. He raised his eyes, and his lips were


close to hers. Neither of them spoke : they
each drew a breath sharply : in another
instant the outer world was dark to them, and
their whole universe was nothing but a single

It might have seemed natural, when they
again woke to daylight, that Vernon should
now renew in words his former declaration of
affection. But for some secret cause he was
not moved to do so. The occurrence just
narrated had not put him in tune for it : and
the only sign, when they spoke, of what had
just passed between them, was not in the sub-
ject spoken about, but in the peculiar tone of
their voices.

Vernon said, * Had you been long waiting,
when I came ? '

' About twenty minutes. I was out
earlier than I thought I should be. I brought
a book with me and read a page, and since
then I have been watching the water. The
little bay is like a pool of crystal. Those


rifts in the rocks — I have been fancying them
sea nymphs' grottoes ! And the open sea
outside — how broad, and blue, and free ; and
how gaily the sunlight dances on it ! Do
you see what I have been reading ? It is
the translation you made for me from the
Odyssey, of the journey of Hermes to
Calypso. This is just the day, and this is
just the place, for it. Read it over again to

She closed her eyes to listen, and Vernon

The Slayer of Argus on Pieria's crest

Pitched for a moment, then from off the steep
Dropped Hke a diver to the sea's broad breast,

With feathered ankles, and the wand of sleep ;
And as a sea-gull fishing skims its way

Over the seedless fields where none may reap,
Wetting its white wings with the puffs of spray.

So went the God, breathing the breeze and brine.
Until at last he reached the isle, that lay

Very far off, in strange seas sapphirine.
There on the beach he- lighted, and he went

Straight to the cave where dwelt the nymph divine
With the renowned locks luxuriant :

And in the cave he found her. At her side


A great fire burned of smelling wood that sent
A fragrance of split cedar far and wide ;

And she meanwhile with lips of melody
Sate singing, and a golden shuttle plied !

Miss Walters here interrupted him, with
a smile. ' I think,' she said, ' I should have
made a very good Greek nymph. I should
have looked very pretty in the water. How
delightful to have winged one's way as Hermes
did, and to have felt the sea-wind blowing
over all one's limbs, and to have been at peace
with nature ! Calypso could yield herself to
all the beauty round her. She had no feud
with the gladness of the violet-coloured sea,
and the sunshine, nor with her lawny uplands
of green parsley and violets. Had I been a
Calypso, I might have sheltered you as a
Ulysses — for you know you are a wanderer —
if you would not have been too proud to share
a cave with me.'

Vernon glanced at her for a moment, and
her look certainly was curiously in keeping


with her wishes. But his eyes did not dwell
on her. He abruptly folded his arms, and
subsided into complete silence. Presently
his brows contracted ; his face assumed a look
of distress and pain, and then again this
softened into sadness. At last he turned to
Miss Walters, and spoke very tenderly.

* Cynthia,' he began, ' there are certain
subjects about which we agreed to be silent
for a time/

She interrupted him. * I know there are,'
she said a little wearily ; 'but don't let us talk
about them now.' And as she said this she
moved a little nearer to him.

The sense of her touch was like a dis-
solving charm. It might have been Calypso
herself that was pressing so softly to his
side — Calypso acclimatised to the air of the
present century. He felt a thrill pass from
her body to his, and a strong impulse was
rising in him to fold her once more in his


arms. But impulse was this time thwarted,
and will gained the victory.

' Don't be afraid,' he said. ' I am going to
talk of nothing that will pain you ; but I want
to ask you one simple question — perhaps

His eyes, as he spoke, were full of a pure,
grave earnestness, and, as she caught their
expression, she gently drew back a little.
He now put his hand out to her, but she
would not take it. She only said, still speak-
ing wearily, ' Well — ask what you want to
ask me.'

'Do you remember,' he began, 'that when
first I knew you, you told me you were
unhappy. I want to ask if you are at all
restored to happiness now ? '

' I have been very happy with you,' she
said, 'very, very, very! I never thought
when I came here that I should ever be so
happy again. Then all the world was blank,


and dark, and hateful to me ; and now this
place — these delicious gardens — I have grown
to love them ; and it is you who have made
me do so.'

When Vernon next spoke, he did so with
more embarrassment. H e even blushed a little,
and his words came slowly. * Tell me this
too,' he said. * Do not you find that the
memories and the thoughts that troubled you
have passed away like a dream ? They have
been no real part of your pure, high nature.
You have had but to shake your wings, and
you have soared away from them.'

* Whilst you are with me,' she said, * such
things never trouble me. You always give
me a sense of safety and protection, as though
your arms were round me. I can venture to
take a happy interest in all that I once cared
for ; and the shadows that used to threaten
me are obliged to keep their distance. Even
when I am alone at night they know that I


am going to meet you in the morning, and
that now, when I wake up, I have something
each day to look forward to. It is your doing
— yes, yours — the whole of this.'

* I am glad,' he said hurriedly, ' if I have
been of any help to you ; but this new peace
of mind surely does not depend upon me ?
What I want to feel sure of is, that you have
recovered your old trust in yourself, and that
you are again reconciled with your best and
purest nature.'

* You have taught me,' she said, ' to love
what is best and purest. I shall go on loving
them if you are there to encourage me. I
shall love them for your sake.'

' What on earth,' he said, * have I got to
do with it ? You hardly, I think, understand
my question. Good is good, no matter what
I think about it ; and you had loved it, and
hated its opposite, long before you had ever
heard of my existence. Isn't that so ? '



* It is,' she said. ' By nature, I think, I
was a very good person.'

' Well then, what I want is that you should
recover your own nature. It is this that I
have asked of God, in my prayers for you.
I wish you to love goodness for its own sake
and for yours. Do you think virtue is virtue
or purity is purity to us, if we value them only
as the taste or the toy of another ? What I
want you to say to me is not " I love virtue be-
cause you love it ; " but " I love you because
you love virtue." '

She hung her head for a moment as if lost
in thought, and he watched for her answer.
Presently there broke from her a little, soft
murmur of petulance. * Why do you vex
me ? ' she said ; ' you are spoiling our last
morning.' And then raising her eyes she
fixed them full upon him. As he miet their
gaze they seemed to expand and deepen, and
soften second by second into a liquid tender-


ness. Her lips parted a little, a flush stole
over her cheek, she opened her arms as if to
call him to herself, and at last, in a breathless
whisper, she said ' Come ! ' She saw that he
did not stir, and she moved her head impe-
riously. ' Come,' she repeated, ' come closer.
I want you here. There Is something I wish
to tell you.'

He did as she commanded; he moved
quite close to her, and In another Instant her
fair arms were round him, pressing him to her
breathing bosom. Her lips were close to his
ear. ' My own one,' she said, ' I love you ; '
and still holding him, and almost In the same
breath, 'you must pay me,' she said, 'for
having told you that. Kiss me — kiss me on
the mouth, and say that you love me too.'

In lovers' ejaculations there is considerable
sameness probably. It may be enough to
say that Vernon's response had all In It that
could mark the most earnest feeling ; and for


a few delightful moments her embrace brought
perfect peace to him. He had no thought
except that she was holding him.

' My own one,' she went on presently,

* this has come at last ; but it has been grow-
ing up in me ever since I saw you. My first

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryW. H. (William Hurrell) MallockA romance of the nineteenth century (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 11)