I Say No, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter xx.

The Reverend Miles Mirabel.

“I am making a little excursion from the Engadine, my dearest of all dear friends. Two charming fellow-travelers take care of me; and we may perhaps get as far as the Lake of Como.

“My sister (already much improved in health) remains at St. Moritz with the old governess. The moment I know what exact course we are going to take, I shall write to Julia to forward any letters which arrive in my absence. My life, in this earthly paradise, will be only complete when I hear from my darling Emily.

“In the meantime, we are staying for the night at some interesting place, the name of which I have unaccountably forgotten; and here I am in my room, writing to you at last — dying to know if Sir Jervis has yet thrown himself at your feet, and offered to make you Lady Redwood with magnificent settlements.

“But you are waiting to hear who my new friends are. My dear, one of them is, next to yourself, the most delightful creature in existence. Society knows her as Lady Janeaway. I love her already, by her Christian name; she is my friend Doris. And she reciprocates my sentiments.

“You will now understand that union of sympathies made us acquainted with each other.

“If there is anything in me to be proud of, I think it must be my admirable appetite. And, if I have a passion, the name of it is Pastry. Here again, Lady Doris reciprocates my sentiments. We sit next to each other at the table d’hote.

“Good heavens, I have forgotten her husband! They have been married rather more than a month. Did I tell you that she is just two years older than I am?

“I declare I am forgetting him again! He is Lord Janeaway. Such a quiet modest man, and so easily amused. He carries with him everywhere a dirty little tin case, with air holes in the cover. He goes softly poking about among bushes and brambles, and under rocks, and behind old wooden houses. When he has caught some hideous insect that makes one shudder, he blushes with pleasure, and looks at his wife and me, and says, with the prettiest lisp: ‘This is what I call enjoying the day.’ To see the manner in which he obeys Her is, between ourselves, to feel proud of being a woman.

“Where was I? Oh, at the table d’hote.

“Never, Emily — I say it with a solemn sense of the claims of truth — never have I eaten such an infamous, abominable, maddeningly bad dinner, as the dinner they gave us on our first day at the hotel. I ask you if I am not patient; I appeal to your own recollection of occasions when I have exhibited extraordinary self-control. My dear, I held out until they brought the pastry round. I took one bite, and committed the most shocking offense against good manners at table that you can imagine. My handkerchief, my poor innocent handkerchief, received the horrid — please suppose the rest. My hair stands on end, when I think of it. Our neighbors at the table saw me. The coarse men laughed. The sweet young bride, sincerely feeling for me, said, ‘Will you allow me to shake hands? I did exactly what you have done the day before yesterday.’ Such was the beginning of my friendship with Lady Doris Janeaway.

“We are two resolute women — I mean that she is resolute, and that I follow her — and we have asserted our right of dining to our own satisfaction, by means of an interview with the chief cook.

“This interesting person is an ex-Zouave in the French army. Instead of making excuses, he confessed that the barbarous tastes of the English and American visitors had so discouraged him, that he had lost all pride and pleasure in the exercise of his art. As an example of what he meant, he mentioned his experience of two young Englishmen who could speak no foreign language. The waiters reported that they objected to their breakfasts, and especially to the eggs. Thereupon (to translate the Frenchman’s own way of putting it) he exhausted himself in exquisite preparations of eggs. Eggs a la tripe, au gratin, a l’Aurore, a la Dauphine, a la Poulette, a la Tartare, a la Venitienne, a la Bordelaise, and so on, and so on. Still the two young gentlemen were not satisfied. The ex-Zouave, infuriated; wounded in his honor, disgraced as a professor, insisted on an explanation. What, in heaven’s name, did they want for breakfast? They wanted boiled eggs; and a fish which they called a Bloaterre. It was impossible, he said, to express his contempt for the English idea of a breakfast, in the presence of ladies. You know how a cat expresses herself in the presence of a dog — and you will understand the allusion. Oh, Emily, what dinners we have had, in our own room, since we spoke to that noble cook!

“Have I any more news to send you? Are you interested, my dear, in eloquent young clergymen?

“On our first appearance at the public table we noticed a remarkable air of depression among the ladies. Had some adventurous gentleman tried to climb a mountain, and failed? Had disastrous political news arrived from England; a defeat of the Conservatives, for instance? Had a revolution in the fashions broken out in Paris, and had all our best dresses become of no earthly value to us? I applied for information to the only lady present who shone on the company with a cheerful face — my friend Doris, of course. “‘What day was yesterday?’ she asked.

“‘Sunday,’ I answered.

“‘Of all melancholy Sundays,’ she continued, the most melancholy in the calendar. Mr. Miles Mirabel preached his farewell sermon, in our temporary chapel upstairs.’

“‘And you have not recovered it yet?’

“‘We are all heart-broken, Miss Wyvil.’

“This naturally interested me. I asked what sort of sermons Mr. Mirabel preached. Lady Janeaway said: ‘Come up to our room after dinner. The subject is too distressing to be discussed in public.’

“She began by making me personally acquainted with the reverend gentleman — that is to say, she showed me the photographic portraits of him. They were two in number. One only presented his face. The other exhibited him at full length, adorned in his surplice. Every lady in the congregation had received the two photographs as a farewell present. ‘My portraits,’ Lady Doris remarked, ‘are the only complete specimens. The others have been irretrievably ruined by tears.’

“You will now expect a personal description of this fascinating man. What the photographs failed to tell me, my friend was so kind as to complete from the resources of her own experience. Here is the result presented to the best of my ability.

“He is young — not yet thirty years of age. His complexion is fair; his features are delicate, his eyes are clear blue. He has pretty hands, and rings prettier still. And such a voice, and such manners! You will say there are plenty of pet parsons who answer to this description. Wait a little — I have kept his chief distinction till the last. His beautiful light hair flows in profusion over his shoulders; and his glossy beard waves, at apostolic length, down to the lower buttons of his waistcoat.

“What do you think of the Reverend Miles Mirabel now?

“The life and adventures of our charming young clergyman, bear eloquent testimony to the saintly patience of his disposition, under trials which would have overwhelmed an ordinary man. (Lady Doris, please notice, quotes in this place the language of his admirers; and I report Lady Doris.)

“He has been clerk in a lawyer’s office — unjustly dismissed. He has given readings from Shakespeare — infamously neglected. He has been secretary to a promenade concert company — deceived by a penniless manager. He has been employed in negotiations for making foreign railways — repudiated by an unprincipled Government. He has been translator to a publishing house — declared incapable by envious newspapers and reviews. He has taken refuge in dramatic criticism — dismissed by a corrupt editor. Through all these means of purification for the priestly career, he passed at last into the one sphere that was worthy of him: he entered the Church, under the protection of influential friends. Oh, happy change! From that moment his labors have been blessed. Twice already he has been presented with silver tea-pots filled with sovereigns. Go where he may, precious sympathies environ him; and domestic affection places his knife and fork at innumerable family tables. After a continental career, which will leave undying recollections, he is now recalled to England — at the suggestion of a person of distinction in the Church, who prefers a mild climate. It will now be his valued privilege to represent an absent rector in a country living; remote from cities, secluded in pastoral solitude, among simple breeders of sheep. May the shepherd prove worthy of the flock!

“Here again, my dear, I must give the merit where the merit is due. This memoir of Mr. Mirabel is not of my writing. It formed part of his farewell sermon, preserved in the memory of Lady Doris — and it shows (once more in the language of his admirers) that the truest humility may be found in the character of the most gifted man.

“Let me only add, that you will have opportunities of seeing and hearing this popular preacher, when circumstances permit him to address congregations in the large towns. I am at the end of my news; and I begin to feel — after this long, long letter — that it is time to go to bed. Need I say that I have often spoken of you to Doris, and that she entreats you to be her friend as well as mine, when we meet again in England?

“Good-by, darling, for the present. With fondest love,

“Your CECILIA.”

“P.S. — I have formed a new habit. In case of feeling hungry in the night, I keep a box of chocolate under the pillow. You have no idea what a comfort it is. If I ever meet with the man who fulfills my ideal, I shall make it a condition of the marriage settlement, that I am to have chocolate under the pillow.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30