The pleasant summer voyage is over. The Waterwitch is lounging off Port Madoc, waiting for her crew. The said crow are busy on shore drinking the ladies’ healths, with a couple of sovereigns which Valencia has given them, in her sister’s name and her own. The ladies, under the care of Elsley, and the far more practical care of Mr. Bowie, are rattling along among children, maids, and boxes, over the sandy flats of the Traeth Mawr, beside the long reaches of the lazy stream, with the blue surges of the hills in front, and the silver sea behind. Soon they begin to pass wooded knolls, islets of rock in the alluvial plain. The higher peaks of Snowdon sink down behind the lower spurs in front; the plain narrows; closes in, walled round with woodlands clinging to the steep hill-sides; and, at last, they enter the narrow gorge of Pont–Aberglaslyn — pretty enough no doubt, but much over-praised; for there are in Devon alone a dozen passes far grander, both for form and size.
Soon they emerge again on flat meadows, mountain-cradled; and the grave of the mythic greyhound, and the fair old church, shrouded in tall trees; and last, but not least, at the famous Leek Hotel, where ruleth Mrs. Lewis, great and wise, over the four months’ Babylon of guides, cars, chambermaids, tourists, artists, and reading-parties, camp-stools, telescopes, poetry-books, blue uglies, red petticoats, and parasols of every hue.
There they settle down in the best rooms in the house, and all goes as merrily as it can, while the horrors which they have left behind them hang, like a black background, to all their thoughts. However, both Scoutbush and Campbell send as cheerful reports as they honestly can; and gradually the exceeding beauty of the scenery, and the amusing bustle of the village, make them forget, perhaps, a good deal which they ought to have remembered.
As for poor Lucia, no one will complain of her for being happy; for feeling that she has got a holiday, the first for now four years, and trying to enjoy it to the utmost. She has no household cares. Mr. Bowie manages everything, and does so, in order to keep up the honour of the family, on a somewhat magnificent scale. The children, in that bracing air, are better than she has ever seen them. She has Valencia all to herself; and Elsley, in spite of the dark fancies over which he has been brooding, is better behaved, on the whole, than usual.
He has escaped — so he considers — escaped from Campbell, above all from Thurnall. From himself, indeed, he has not escaped; but the company of self is, on the whole, more pleasant to him than otherwise just now. For though he may turn up his nose at tourists and reading-parties, and long for contemplative solitude, yet there is a certain pleasure to some people, and often strongest in those who pretend most shyness, in the “digito monstrari, et diceri, hic est:” in taking for granted that everybody has read his poems; that everybody is saying in their hearts, “There goes Mr. Vavasour the distinguished poet. I wonder what he is writing now? I wonder where he has been to-day, and what he has been thinking of.”
So Elsley went up Hebog, and looked over the glorious vista of the vale, over the twin lakes, and the rich sheets of woodland, with Aran and Moel Meirch guarding them right and left, and the greystone glaciers of the Glyder walling up the valley miles above. And they went up Snowdon, too, and saw little beside fifty fog-blinded tourists, five-and-twenty dripping ponies, and five hundred empty porter-bottles; wherefrom they returned, as do many, disgusted, and with great colds in their heads. But most they loved to scramble up the crags of Dinas Emrys, and muse over the ruins of the old tower, “where Merlin taught Vortigern the courses of the stars;” till the stars set and rose as they had done for Merlin and his pupil, behind the four great peaks of Aran, Siabod, Cnicht, and Hebog, which point to the four quarters of the heavens: or to lie by the side of the boggy spring, which once was the magic well of the magic castle, till they saw in fancy the white dragon and the red rise from its depths once more, and fight high in air the battle which foretold the fall of the Cymry before the Sassenach invader.
One thing, indeed, troubled Elsley — that Claude was his only companion; for Valencia avoided carefully any more tête-à-tête walks with him. She had found out her mistake, and devoted herself now to Lucia. She had a fair excuse enough, for Lucia was not just then in a state for rambles and scrambles; and of that Elsley certainly had no right to complain; so that he was forced to leave them both at home, with as good grace as he could muster, and to wander by himself, scribbling his fancies, while they lounged and worked in the pleasant garden of the hotel, with Bowie fetching and carrying for them all day long, and intimating pretty roundly to Miss Clara his “opeeenion,” that he “was very proud and thankful of the office: but he did think that he had to do a great many things for Mrs. Vavasour every day which would come with a much better grace from Mr. Vavasour himself: and that, when he married, he should not leave his wife to be nursed by other men.” Which last words were spoken with an ulterior object, well understood by the hearer; for between Clara and Bowie there was one of those patient and honourable attachments so common between worthy servants. They had both “kept company,” though only by letter, for the most part, for now five years; they had both saved a fair sum of money; and Clara might have married Bowie when she chose, had she not thought it her duty to take care of her mistress; while Bowie considered himself equally indispensable to the welfare of that “puir feckless laddie,” his master.
So they waited patiently, amusing the time by little squabbles of jealousy, real or pretended; and Bowie was faithful, though Clara was past thirty now, and losing her good looks.
“So ye’ll see your lassie, Mr. Bowie!” said Sergeant MacArthur, his intimate, when he started for Aberalva that summer. “I’m thinking ye’d better put her out of her pain soon. Five years is ower lang courting, and she’s na pullet by now, saving your pardon.”
“Hoooo — ” says Bowie; “leave the green gooseberries to the lads, and gi’ me the ripe fruit, Sergeant.”
However, he found love-making in his own fashion so pleasant, that, not content with carrying Mrs. Vavasour’s babies about all day long, he had several times to be gently turned out of the nursery, where he wanted to assist in washing and dressing them, on the ground that an old soldier could turn his hand to anything.
So slipped away a fortnight and more, during which Valencia was the cynosure of all eyes, and knew it also: for Claude Mellot, half to amuse her, and half to tease Elsley, made her laugh many a time by retailing little sayings and doings in her praise and dispraise, picked up from rich Manchester gentlemen, who would fain have married her without a penny, and from strong-minded Manchester ladies, who envied her beauty a little, and set her down, of course, as an empty-minded worldling, and a proud aristocrat. The majority of the reading-parties, meanwhile, thought a great deal more about Valencia than about their books. The Oxford men, it seemed, though of the same mind as the Cambridge men in considering her the model of all perfection, were divided as to their method of testifying the same. Two or three of them, who were given to that simpering and flirting tone with young ladies to which Oxford would-be-fine gentlemen are so pitiably prone, hung about the inn-door to ogle her: contrived always to be walking in the garden when she was there, dressed out as if for High Street at four o’clock on a May afternoon; tormented Claude by fruitless attempts to get from him an introduction, which he had neither the right nor the mind to give; and at last (so Bowie told Claude one night, and Claude told the whole party next morning) tried to bribe and flatter Valencia’s maid into giving them a bit of ribbon, or a cast-off glove, which had belonged to the idol. Whereon that maiden, in virtuous indignation, told Mr. Bowie, and complained moreover (as maids are bound to do to valets for whom they have a penchant), of their having dared to compliment her on her own good looks: by which act she succeeded, of course, in making Mr. Bowie understand that other people still thought her pretty, if he did not; and also in arousing in him that jealousy which is often the best helpmate of sweet love. So Mr. Bowie went forth in his might that very evening, and finding two of the Oxford men, informed them in plain Scotch, that, “Gin he caught them, or any ither such skellums, philandering after his leddies, or his leddies’ maids, he’d jist knock their empty pows togither.” To which there was no reply but silence; for Mr. Bowie stood six feet four without his shoes, and had but the week before performed, for the edification of the Cambridge men, who held him in high honour, a few old Guards’ feats; such, as cutting in two at one sword-blow a suspended shoulder of mutton; lifting a long table by his teeth; squeezing a quart pewter pot flat between his fingers; and other little recreations of those who are “born unto Rapha.”
But the Cantabs, and a couple of gallant Oxford boating men who had fraternised with them, testified their admiration in their simple honest way, by putting down their pipes whenever they saw Valencia coming, and just lifting their hats when they met her close. It was taking a liberty, no doubt. “But I tell you, Mellot,” said Wynd, as brave and pure-minded a fellow as ever pulled in the University eight, “the Arabs, when they see such a creature, say, ‘Praise Allah for beautiful women,’ and quite right; they may remind some fellows of worse things, but they always remind me of heaven and the angels; and my hat goes off to her by instinct, just as it does when I go into a church.”
That was all; simple chivalrous admiration, and delight in her loveliness, as in that of a lake, or a mountain sunset; but nothing more. The good fellows had no time, indeed, to fancy themselves in love with her, or her with them, for every day was too short for them; what with reading all the morning, and starting out in the afternoon in strange garments (which became shabbier and more ragged very rapidly as the weeks slipped on) upon all manner of desperate errands; walking unheard-of-distances, and losing their way upon the mountains; scrambling cliffs and now and then falling down them; camping all night by unpronounceable lakes, in the hope of catching mythical trout; trying in all ways how hungry, thirsty, dirty, and tired a man could make himself, and how far he could go without breaking his neck, any approach to which catastrophe was hailed (as were all other mishaps) as “all in the day’s work,” and “the finest fun in the world,” by that unconquerable English “lebensglückseligkeit,” which is a perpetual wonder to our sober German cousins. Ah, glorious twenty-one, with your inexhaustible powers of doing and enjoying, eating and hungering, sleeping and sitting up, reading and playing! Happy are those who still possess you, and can take their fill of your golden cup, steadied, but not saddened, by the remembrance, that for all things a good and loving God will bring them into judgment. Happier still those who (like a few) retain in body and soul the health and buoyancy of twenty-one on to the very verge of forty, and seeming to grow younger-hearted as they grow older-headed, can cast off care and work at a moment’s warning, laugh and frolic now as they did twenty years ago, and say with Wordsworth —
“So was it when I was a boy,
So let it be when I am old,
Or let me die!”
Unfortunately, as will appear hereafter, Elsley’s especial bêtes noirs were this very Wynd and his inseparable companion, Naylor, who happened to be not only the best men of the set, but Mellot’s especial friends. Both were Rugby men, now reading for their degree. Wynd was a Shropshire squire’s son, a lissom fair-haired man, the handiest of boxers, rowers, riders, shots, fishermen, with a noisy superabundance of animal spirits, which maddened Elsley. Yet Wynd had sentiment in his way, though he took good care never to show it Elsley; could repeat Tennyson from end to end; spouted the Mort d’Arthur up hill and down dale, and chaunted rapturously, “Come into the garden, Maud!” while he expressed his opinion of Maud’s lover in terms more forcible than delicate. Naylor, fidus Achates, was a Gloucestershire parson’s son, a huge heavy-looking man, with a thick curling lip, and a sleepy eye; but he had brains enough to become a first-rate classic; and in that same sleepy eye and heavy lip lay an infinity of quiet humour; racy old country stories, quaint scraps of out-of-the-way learning, jovial old ballads, which he sang with the mellowest of voices, and a slang vocabulary, which made him the dread of all bargees from Newnham pool to Upware. Him also Elsley hated, because Naylor looked always as if he was laughing at him, which indeed he was.
And the worst was, that Elsley had always to face them both at once. If Wynd vaulted over a gate into his very face, with a “How de’ do, Mr. Vavasour? Had any verses this morning?” in the same tone as if he had asked, “Had any sport?” Naylor’s round face was sure to look over the stone-wall, pipe in mouth, with a “Don’t disturb the gentleman, Tom; don’t you see he’s a composing of his rhymes!” in a strong provincial dialect put on for the nonce. In fact, the two young rogues, having no respect whatsoever for genius, perhaps because they had each of them a little genius of their own, made a butt of the poet, as soon as they found out that he was afraid of them.
But worse bêtes noirs than either Wynd or Naylor were on their way to fill up the cup of Elsley’s discomfort. And at last, without a note of warning, appeared in Beddgelert a phenomenon which rejoiced some hearts, but perturbed also the spirits not only of the Oxford “philanderers,” but those of Elsley Vavasour, and, what is more, of Valencia herself.
She was sitting one evening at the window with Lucia, looking out into the village and the pleasure-grounds before the hotel. They were both laughing and chatting over the groups of tourists in their pretty Irish way, just as they had done when they were girls; for Lucia’s heart was expanding under the quiet beauty of the place, the freedom from household care, and what was more, from money anxieties; for Valencia had slipped into her hand a cheque for fifty pounds from Scoutbush, and assured her that he would be quite angry if she spoke of paying the rent of the rooms; Elsley was mooning down the river by himself; Claude was entertaining his Cambridge acquaintances, as he did every night, with his endless fun and sentiment. Gradually the tourists slipt in one by one, as the last rays of the sun faded off the peaks of Aran, and the mist settled down upon the dark valley beneath, and darkness fell upon that rock-girdled paradise; when up to the door below there drove a car, at sight whereof out rushed, not waiters only and landlady, but Mr. Bowie himself, who helped out a very short figure in a pea-jacket and a shining boating hat, and then a very tall one in a wild shooting-coat and a military cap.
“My brother, and mon Saint Père! Lucia! too delightful! This is why they did not write.” And Valencia sprang up, and was going to run down stairs to them, when she paused at Lucia’s call.
“Who have they with them’? Val — come and look! who can it be?”
Campbell and Bowie were helping out carefully a tall man, covered up in many wrappers. It was too dark to see the face; but a fancy crossed Valencia’s mind which made her look grave, in spite of her pleasure.
He was evidently weak, as from recent illness; for his two supporters led him up the steps, and Scoutbush seemed full of directions and inquiries, and fussed about with the landlady, till she was tired of curtseying to “my lord.”
A minute afterwards Bowie threw open the door grandly. “My lord, my ladies!” and in trotted Scoutbush, and began kissing them fiercely, and then dancing about.
“Oh my dears! Here at last — out of that horrid city of the plague! Such sights as I have seen —” and then he paused. “Do you know, Val and Lucia, I’m glad I’ve seen it: I don’t know, but I feel as if I should be a better man all my life; and those poor people, how well they did behave! And the Major, he’s an angel! And so’s that brick of a doctor, and the mad schoolmistress, and the curate. Everybody, I think, but me. Hang it, Val! but your words shan’t come true! I will be of some use yet before I die! But I’ve —” and Valencia went up to him and kissed him, while he ran on, and Lucia said —
“You have been of use already, dear Fred. You have sent me and the dear children to this sweet place, where we have been safer and happier than —” (she checked herself); “and your generous present too. I feel quite a girl again, thanks to you. Val and I have done nothing but laugh all day long;” and she began kissing him too.
“‘How happy could I be with either,
Were t’other dear charmer away!’”
broke out Scoutbush. “What a pity it is now, that I should have two such sweet creatures making love to me, and can’t marry either of them? Why did ye go and be my father’s daughters, mavourneen? I’d have made a peeress of the one of ye, if ye’d had the sense to be anybody else’s sisters.”
At which they all laughed, and laughed, and chattered broad Irish together as they used to do for fun in old Kilanbaggan Castle, before Lucia was a weary wife, and Valencia a worldly fine lady, and Scoutbush a rackety guardsman, breaking half of the ten commandments every week, rather from ignorance than vice.
“Well, I’m glad ye’re pleased with me, asthore,” said he at last to Lucia; “but I’ve done another little good deed, I flatter myself; for I’ve brought away the poor spalpeen of a priest, and have got him safe in the house.”
Valencia stopped short in her fun.
“Why, what have ye to say against that, Miss Val?”
“Why, won’t he be a little in the way?” said Valencia, not knowing what to say.
“Faith, he needn’t trouble you; and I shall take very good care — I wonder when the supper is coming — that neither he nor any else troubles me. But really,” said he, in his natural voice, and with some feeling, “I was ashamed to go away and leave him there. He would have died if we had. He worked day and night. Talk of saints and martyrs! Campbell himself said he was an idler by the side of him.”
“Oh! I hope Major Campbell has not over-exerted himself!”
“He? nothing hurts him. He’s as hard as his own sword. But the poor curate worked on till he got the cholera himself. He always expected it, longed for it; Campbell said — wanted to die. Some love affair, I suppose, poor fellow? — and a terrible bout he had for eight-and-forty hours. Thurnall thought him gone again and again; but he pulled the poor fellow through, after all, and we got some one (that is, Campbell did) to take his duty; and brought him away, after a good deal of persuasion; for he would not move as long as there was a fresh case in the town; that is why we never wrote. We did not know till the last hour when we should start; and we expected to be with you in two days, and give you a pleasant surprise. He was half dead when we got him on board; but the week’s sea-air helped him through; so I must not grumble at these northerly breezes. ‘It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good,’ they say!”
Valencia heard all this as in a dream; and watched her chattering brother with a stupefied air. She comprehended all now; and bitterly she blamed herself. He had really loved her, then; set himself manfully to die at his post, that he might forget her in a better world. How shamefully she had trifled with that noble heart! How should she ever meet — how have courage to look him in the face? And not love, or anything like love, but sacred pity and self-abasement filled her heart, as his fair, delicate face rose up before her, all wan and shrunken, with sad upbraiding eyes; and round it such a halo, pure and pale, as crowns, in some old German picture, a martyr’s head.
“He has had the cholera! he has been actually dying?” asked she at last, with that strange wish to hear over again bad news, which one knows too well already.
“Of course he has. Why, you are not going away, Valencia? You need not be afraid of infection. Campbell, and Thurnall, too, says that’s all nonsense; and they must know, having seen it so often. Here comes Bowie at last with supper!”
“Has Mr. Headley had anything to eat?” asked Valencia, who longed to run away to her own room, but dared not.
“He is eating now like any ged, ma’am; and Major Campbell’s making him eat too.”
“He must be very ill,” thought she, “for mon Saint Père never to have come near us yet:” and then she thought with terror that her Saint Père might have guessed the truth, and be angry with her. And yet she trusted in Frank’s secrecy. He would not betray her.
Take care, Valencia. When a woman has to trust a man not to betray her, and does trust him, she may soon find it not only easy, but necessary, to do more than trust him.
However, in five minutes Campbell came in. Valencia saw at once that there was no change in his feelings to her: but he could talk of nothing but Headley, his self-devotion, courage, angelic gentleness, and humility; and every word of his praise was a fresh arrow in Valencia’s conscience; at last —
“One knows well enough what is the matter,” said he, almost bitterly — “what is the matter, I sometimes think, with half the noblest men in the world, and nine-tenths of the noblest women; and with many a one, too, God help them! who is none of the noblest, and therefore does not know how to take the bitter cup, as he knows —”
“What does the philosopher mean now?” asked Scoutbush, looking up from the cold lamb. Valencia knew but too well what he meant.
“He has a history, my dear lord.”
“A history? What! is he writing a book?”
Campbell laughed a quiet under-laugh, half sad, half humorous.
“I am very tired,” said Valencia; “I really think I shall go to bed.”
She went to her room; but to bed she did not go: she sat down and cried till she could cry no more, and lay awake the greater part of the night, tossing miserably. She would have done better if she had prayed; but prayer, about such a matter, was what Valencia knew nothing of. She was regular enough at church, of course, and said her prayers and confessed her sins in a general way, and prayed about her “soul,” as she had been taught to do — unless she was too tired: but to pray really, about a real sorrow, a real sin like this, was a thought which never entered her mind; and if it had, she would have driven it away again: just because the anxiety was so real, practical, human, it was a matter which had nothing to do with religion; which it seemed impertinent — almost wrong to lay before the Throne of God.
So she came downstairs next morning, pale, restless, unrefreshed in body or mind; and her peace of mind was not improved by seeing, seated at the breakfast-table, Frank Headley, whom Lucia and Scoutbush were stuffing with all manner of good things.
She blushed scarlet — do what she would she could not help it — when he rose and bowed to her. Half choked, she came forward and offered her hand. She was so “shocked to hear that he had been so dangerously ill — no one had even told them of it — it had come upon them so suddenly;” and so forth.
She spoke kindly, but avoided the least tone of tenderness: for she felt that if she gave way, she might be only too tender; and to re-awaken hope in his heart would be only cruelty. And, therefore, and for other reasons also, she did not look him in the face as she spoke.
He answered so cheerfully that she was half disappointed, in spite of her remorse, at his not being as miserable as she had expected. Still, if he had overcome the passion, it was so much better for him. But yet Valencia hardly wished that he should have overcome it, so self-contradictory is woman’s heart; and her pity had sunk to half-ebb, and her self-complacency was rising with a flowing tide, as he chatted on quietly, but genially, about the voyage, and the scenery, and Snowdon, which he had never seen, and which he would ascend that very day.
“You will do nothing of the kind, Mr. Headley!” cried Lucia. “Is he not mad, Major Campbell, quite mad?”
“I know I am mad, my dear Mrs. Vavasour; I have been so a long time: but Snowdon ponies are in their sober senses — and I shall take one of them.”
“Fulfil the old pun? — Begin beside yourself, and end beside your horse! I am sure he is not strong enough to sit over those rocks. No, you shall stay at home comfortably here; Valencia and I will take care of you.”
“And mon Saint Père too. I have a thousand things to say to him.”
“And so has he to Queen Whims.”
So Scoutbush sent Bowie for “John Jones Clerk,” the fisherman (may his days be as many as his salmon, and as good as his flies!), and the four stayed at home, and talked over the Aberalva tragedies, till, as it befell, both Lucia and Campbell left the room awhile.
Immediately Frank rose, and walking across to Valencia, laid the fatal ring on the arm of her chair, and returned to his seat without a word.
“You are very —. I hope that it — ” stammered Valencia.
“You hope that it was a comfort to me? It was; and I shall be always grateful to you for it.”
Valencia heard an emphasis on the “was.” It checked the impulse (foolish enough) which rose in her, to bid him keep the ring.
So, prim and dignified, she slipped it into its place on her finger, and went on with her work; merely saying —
“I need not say that I am happy that anything which I could do should have been of use to you in such a fearful time.”
“It was a fearful time! but for myself, I cannot be too glad of it. God grant that it may have been as useful to others as to me! It cured me of a great folly. Now I look back, I am astonished at my own absurdity, rudeness, presumption. — You must let me say it! — I do not know how to thank you enough, I cannot trust myself with the fit words, they would be so strong: but I owe this confession to you, and to your exceeding goodness and kindness, when you would have been justified in treating me as a madman. I was mad, I believe: but I am in my right mind now, I assure you,” said he gaily. “Had I not been, I need hardly say you would not have seen me here. What a prospect this is!” And he rose and looked out of the window.
Valencia had heard all this with downcast eyes and unmoved face. Was she pleased at it? Not in the least, the naughty child that she was; and more, she grew quite angry with herself, ashamed of herself, for having thought and felt so much about him the night before. “How silly of me! He is very well, and does not care for me. And who is he, pray, that I should even look at him?”
And, as if in order to put her words into practice, she looked at him there and then. He was gazing out of the window, leaning gracefully and yet feebly against the shutter, with the full glory of the forenoon sun upon his sharp-cut profile and rich chestnut locks; and after all, having looked at him once, she could not help looking at him again. He was certainly a most gentleman-like man, elegant from head to foot; there was not an ungraceful line about him, to his very boots, and the white nails of his slender fingers; even the defects of his figure — the too great length of the neck and slope of the shoulders — increased his likeness to those saintly pictures with which he had been mixed up in her mind the night before. He was at one extreme pole of the different types of manhood, and that burly doctor who had saved his life at the other: but her Saint Père alone perfectly combined the two. There was nobody like him, after all. Perhaps her wisest plan, as Headley had forgotten his fancy, was to confess all to the Saint Père (as she usually did her little sins), and get some sort of absolution from him.
However, she must say something in answer —
“Yes, it is a very lovely view; but really I must say one more word about this matter. I have to thank you, you know, for the good faith which you have kept with me.”
He looked round, seemingly amused. “Cela va sans dire!” and he bowed; “pray do not say any more about the matter;” and he looked at her with such humble and thankful eyes, that Valencia was sorry not to hear more from him than —
“Pray tell me — for of course you know — the name of this exquisite valley up which I am looking.”
“Gwynnant. You must go up it when you are well enough; and see the lakes; they are the only ones in Snowdon from the banks of which the primaeval forest has not disappeared.”
“Indeed? I must make shift to go there this very afternoon, for — do not laugh at me — but I never saw a lake in my life.”
“Never saw a lake?”
“No. I am a true Lowlander: born and bred among bleak Norfolk sands and fens — so much the worse for this chest of mine; and this is my first sight of mountains. It is all like a dream to me, and a dream which I never expected to be realised.”
“Ah, you should see our Irish lakes and mountains — you should see Killarney!”
“I am content with these; I suppose it is as wrong to break the tenth commandment about scenery, as about anything else.”
“Ah, but it seems so hard that you, who I am sure would appreciate fine scenery, should have been debarred from it, while hundreds of stupid people run over the Alps and Italy every summer, and come home, as far as I can see, rather more stupid than they went; having made confusion worse confounded by filling their poor brains with hard names out of Murray.”
“Not quite so hard as that thousands, every day, who would enjoy a meat dinner, should have nothing but dry bread, and not enough of that. I fancy sometimes, that, in some mysterious way, that want will be made up to them in the next life; and so with all the beautiful things which travelled people talk of — I comfort myself with the fancy, that I see as much as is good for me here, and that if I make good use of that, I shall see the Alps and the Andes in the world to come, or something much more worth seeing. Tell me now, how far may that range of crags be from us? I am sure that I could walk there after luncheon, this mountain air is strengthening me so.”
“Walk thither? I assure you they are at least four miles off.”
“Four? And I thought them one! So clear and sharp as they stand out against the sky, one fancies that one could almost stretch out a hand and touch those knolls and slabs of rock, as distinct as in a photograph; and yet so soft and rich withal, dappled with pearly-grey stone and purple heath. Ah! — So it must be, I suppose. The first time that one sees a glorious thing, one’s heart is lifted up towards it in love and awe, till it seems near to one — ground on which one may freely tread, because one appreciates and admires; and so one forgets the distance between its grandeur and one’s own littleness.”
The allusion was palpable: but did he intend it? Surely not, after what he had just said. And yet there was a sadness in the tone which made Valencia fancy that some feeling for her might still linger: but he evidently had been speaking to himself, forgetful, for the moment, of her presence; for he turned to her with a start and a blush —“But now — I have been troubling you too long with this stupid tête-à-tête sentimentality of mine. I will make my bow, and find the Major. I am afraid, if it be possible for him to forget any one, he has forgotten me in some new moss or other.”
He went out, and to Valencia’s chagrin she saw him no more that day. He spent the forenoon in the garden, and the afternoon in lying down, and at night complained of fatigue, and stayed in his own room the whole evening, while Campbell read him to sleep. Next morning, however, he made his appearance at breakfast, well and cheerful.
“I must play at sick man no more, or I shall rob you, I see, of Major Campbell’s company; and I owe you all for too much already.”
“Unless you are better than you were last night, you must play at sick man,” said the Major. “I cannot conceive what exhausted you so; unless you ladies are better nurses, I must let no one come near him but myself. If you had been scolding him the whole morning, instead of praising him as he deserves, he could not have been more tired last night.”
“Pray do not!” cried Frank, evidently much pained; “I had such a delightful morning, and every one is so kind — you only make me wretched, when I feel all the trouble I am giving.”
“My dear fellow,” said Scoutbush en grand sérieux, “after all that you have done for our people at Aberalva, I should be very much shocked if any of my family thought any service shown to you a trouble.”
“Pray do not speak so,” said Frank, “I am fallen among angels, when I least expected.”
“Scoutbush as an angel!” shrieked Lucia, clapping her hands. “Elsley, don’t you see the wings sprouting already, under his shooting jacket?”
“They are my braces, I suppose, of course,” said Scoutbush, who never understood a joke about himself, though he liked one about other people; while Elsley, who hated all jokes, made no answer — at least none worth recording. In fact, as the reader may have discovered, Elsley, save tête-à-tête with some one who took his fancy, was somewhat of a silent and morose animal, and, as little Scoutbush confided to Mellot, there was no getting a rise out of him. All which Lucia saw as keenly as any one, and tried to pass off by chattering nervously and fussily for him, as well as for herself; whereby she only made him the more cross, for he could not the least understand her argument —“Why, my dear, if you don’t talk to people, I must!”
“But why should people be talked to?”
“Because they like it, and expect it!”
“The more foolish they. Much better to hold their tongues and think.”
“Or read your poetry, I suppose?” And then would begin a squabble.
Meanwhile there was one, at least, of the party, who was watching Lucia with most deep and painful interest. Lord Scoutbush was too busy with his own comforts, especially with his fishing, to think much of this moroseness of Elsley’s. “If he suited Lucia, very well. His taste and hers differed: but it was her concern, not his”— was a very easy way of freeing himself from all anxiety on the matter: but not so with Major Campbell. He saw all this; and knew enough of human nature to suspect that the self-seeking which showed as moroseness in company, might show as downright bad temper in private. Longing to know more of Elsley, if possible, to guide and help him, he tried to be intimate with him, as he had tried at Aberalva; paid him court, asked his opinion, talked to him on all subjects which he thought would interest him. His conclusion was more favourable to Elsley’s head than to his heart. He saw that Elsley was vain, and liked his attentions; and that lowered him in his eyes: but he saw too that Elsley shrank from him; at first he thought it pride, but he soon found that it was fear; and that lowered him still more in his eyes.
Perhaps Campbell was too hard on the poet: but his own purity itself told against Elsley. “Who am I, that any one should be afraid of me, unless they have done something wrong?” So, with his dark suspicions roused, he watched intently every word and every tone of Elsley’s to his wife; and here he came to a more unpleasant conclusion still. He saw that they were, sometimes at least, not happy together; and from this he took for granted, too hastily, that they were never happy together; that Lucia was an utterly ill-used person; that Elsley was a bad fellow, who ill-treated her: and a black and awful indignation against the man grew up within him; all the more fierce because it seemed utterly righteous, and because, too, it had, under heavy penalties, to be utterly concealed beneath a courteous and genial manner: till many a time he felt inclined to knock Elsley down for little roughnesses to her, which were really the fruit of mere gaucherie; and then accused himself for a hypocrite, because he was keeping up the courtesies of life with such a man. For Campbell, like most men of his temperament, was over-stern, and sometimes a little cruel and unjust, in demanding of others the same lofty code which he had laid down for himself, and in demanding it, too, of some more than of others, by a very questionable exercise of private judgment. On the whole, he was right, no doubt, in being as indulgent as he dared to the publicans and sinners like Scoutbush; and in being as severe as he dared on all Pharisees, and pretentious persons whatsoever: but he was too much inclined to draw between the two classes one of those strong lines of demarcation which exist only in the fancies of the human brain; for sins, like all diseased matters, are complicated and confused matters; many a seeming Pharisee is at heart a self-condemned publican, and ought to be comforted, and not cursed; while many a publican is, in the midst of all his foul sins, a thorough exclusive and self-complacent Pharisee, and needs not the right hand of mercy, but the strong arm of punishment.
Campbell, like other men, had his faults: and his were those of a man wrapped up in a pure and stately, but an austere and lonely creed, distrusted with the world in all its forms, and looking down upon men in general nearly as much as Thurnall did. So he set down Elsley for a bad man, to whom he was forced by hard circumstances to behave as if he were a good one.
The only way, therefore, in which he could vent his feeling, was by showing to Lucia that studied attention which sympathy and chivalry demand of a man toward an injured woman. Not that he dared, or wished, to conduct himself with her as he did with Valencia, even had she not been a married woman; he did not know her as intimately as he did her sister; but still he had a right to behave as the most intimate friend of her family, and he asserted that right; and all the more determinedly because Elsley seemed now and then not to like it. “I will teach him how to behave to a charming woman,” said he to himself; and perhaps he had been wiser if he had not said it: but every man has his weak point, and chivalry was Major Campbell’s.
“What do you think of that poet, Mellot?” said he once, on returning from a pic-nic, during which Elsley had never noticed his wife; and, at last, finding Valencia engaged with Headley, had actually gone off, pour pis aller, to watch Lord Scoutbush fishing.
“Oh, clever enough, and to spare; and as well read a man as I know. One of the Sturm-und-drang party, of course:— the express locomotive school, scream-and-go-head: and thinks me, with my classicism, a benighted pagan. Still, every man has a right to his opinion. Live and let live.”
“I don’t care about his taste,” said the Major impatiently. “What sort of man is he? — man, Claude?”
“Ahem, humph! ‘Irritabile genus poetarum.’ But one is so accustomed to that among literary men, one never expects them to be like anybody else, and so takes their whims and oddities for granted.”
“And their sins too, eh?”
“Sins? I know of none on his part.”
“Don’t you call temper a sin?”
“No; I call it a determination of blood to the head, or of animal spirits to the wrong place, or — my dear Major, I am no moralist. I take people, you know, as I find them. But he is a bore; and I should not wonder if that sweet little woman had found it out ere now.”
Campbell ground something between his teeth. He fancied himself full of righteous wrath: he was really in a very unchristian temper. Be it so: perhaps there were excuses for him (as there are for many men) of which we know nothing.
Elsley, meanwhile, watched Campbell with fast lowering brow. Losing a woman’s affections? He who does so deserves his fate. Had he been in the habit of paying proper attention to Lucia, he would have liked Campbell all the more for his conduct. There are few greater pleasures to a man who is what he should be to his wife, than to see other men admiring what he admires, and trying to rival him where he knows that he can have no rival. Let them worship as much as they will. Let her make herself as charming to them as she can. What matter? He smiles at them in his heart; for has he not, over and above all the pretty things which he can say and do ten times as well as they, a talisman — a dozen talismans which are beyond their reach? — in the strength of which he will go home and laugh over with her, amid sacred caresses, all which makes mean men mad? But Elsley, alas for him, had neglected Lucia himself, and therefore dreaded comparison with any other man; and the suspicions which had taken root in him at Aberalva grew into ugly shape and strength. However he was silent, and contented himself with coldness and all but rudeness.
There were excuses for him. In the first place, it would have been an ugly thing to take notice of any man’s attentions to a wife; it could not be done but upon the strongest grounds, and done in a way which would make a complete rupture necessary, so breaking up the party in a sufficiently unpleasant way. Besides, to move in the matter at all would be to implicate Lucia; for, of whatsoever kind Campbell’s attentions were, she evidently liked them; and a quarrel with her on that score was more than Elsley dared face. He was not a man of strong moral courage; he hated a scene of any kind; and he was afraid of being worsted in any really serious quarrel, not merely by Campbell, but by Lucia. It may seem strange that he should be afraid of her, though not so that he should be afraid of Campbell. But the truth is, that the man who bullies his wife very often does so — as Elsley had done more than once — simply to prove to himself his own strength, and hide his fear of her. He knew well that woman’s tongue, when once the “fair beast” is brought to bay, is a weapon far too trenchant to be faced by any shield but that of a very clear conscience toward her; which was more than Elsley had.
Beside — and it is an honour to Elsley Vavasour, amid all his weakness, that he had justice and chivalry enough left to know what nine men out of ten ignore — behind all, let the worst come to the worst, lay one just and terrible rejoinder, which he, though he had been no worse than the average of men, could only answer by silent shame —
“At least, sir, I was pure when I came to you! You best know whether you were so likewise.”
And yet even that, so all-forgiving is woman, might, have been faced by some means: but the miserable complication about the false name still remained. Elsley believed that he was in his wife’s power; that she could, if she chose, turn upon him, and proclaim him to the world as a scoundrel and an impostor. And, as it is of the nature of man to hate those whom he fears, Elsley began to have dark and ugly feelings toward Lucia. Instead of throwing them away, as a strong man would have done, he pampered them almost without meaning to do so. For he let them run riot through his too vivid imagination, in the form of possible speeches, possible scenes, till he had looked and looked through a hundred thoughts which no man has a right to entertain for a moment. True; he had entertained them with horror; but he ought not to have entertained them at all; he ought to have kicked them contemptuously out and back to the devil, from whence they came. It may be again, that this is impossible to man; that prayer is the only refuge against that Walpurgis-dance of the witches and the fiends, which will, at hapless moments, whirl unbidden through a mortal brain: but Elsley did not pray.
So, leaving these fancies in his head too long, he soon became accustomed to them; and accustomed too, to the Nemesis which they bring with them; of chronic moodiness and concealed rage. Day by day he was lashing himself up into fresh fury, and yet day by day he was becoming more careful to conceal that fury. He had many reasons: moral cowardice, which made him shrink from the tremendous consequences of an explosion — equally tremendous, were he right or wrong. Then the secret hope, perhaps the secret consciousness, that he was wrong, and was only saying to God, like the self-deceiving prophet, “I do well to be angry;” then the honest fear of going too far; of being surprised at last into some hideous and irreparable speech or deed, which he might find out too late was utterly unjust: then at moments (for even that would cross him) the devilish notion, that, by concealment, he might lure Lucia on to give him a safe ground for attack. All these, and more, tormented him for a wretched fortnight, during which he became, at such an expense of self-control as he had not exercised for years, courteous to Campbell, more than courteous to Lucia; hiding under a smiling face, wrath which increased with the pressure brought to bear upon it.
Campbell and Lucia, Mellot, Valencia, and Frank, utterly deceived, went on more merrily than ever, little dreaming that they walked and talked daily with a man who was fast becoming glad to flee to the pit of hell, but for the fear that “God would be there also.” They, meanwhile, chatted on, enjoying, as human souls are allowed to do at rare and precious moments, the mere sensation of being; of which they would talk at times in a way which led them down into deep matters: for instance —
“How pleasant to sit here for ever!” said Claude, one afternoon, in the inn garden at Beddgelert, “and say, not with Descartes, ‘I think, therefore I exist;’ but simply, ‘I enjoy, therefore I exist.’ I almost think those Emersonians are right at times, when they crave the ‘life of plants, and stones, and rain.’ Stangrave said to me once, that his ideal of perfect bliss was that of an oyster in the Indian seas, drinking the warm salt water motionless, and troubling himself about nothing, while nothing troubled itself about him.”
“Till a diver came and tore him up for the sake of his pearls?” said Valencia.
“He did not intend to contain any pearls. A pearl, you know, is a disease of the oyster, the product of some irritation. He wished to be the oyster pure and simple, a part of nature.”
“And to be of no use?” asked Frank.
“Of none whatsoever. Nature had made him what he was, and all beside was her business, and not his. I don’t deny that I laughed at him, and made him wroth by telling him that his doctrine was ‘the apotheosis of loafing.’ But my heart went with him, and the jolly oyster too. It is very beautiful after all, that careless nymph and shepherd life of the old Greeks, and that Marquesas romance of Herman Melville’s — to enjoy the simple fact of living, like a Neapolitan lazzaroni, or a fly upon a wall.”
“But the old Greek heroes fought and laboured to till the land, and rid it of giants and monsters,” said Frank. “And as for the Marquesas, Mr. Melville found out, did he not — as you did once — that they were only petting and fattening him for the purpose of eating him? There is a dark side to that pretty picture, Mr. Mellot.”
“Tant pis pour eux! But that is an unnecessary appendage to the idea, purely. It must be possible to realise such a simple, rich, healthy life, without wickedness, if not without human sorrow. It is no dream, and no one shall rob me of it. I have seen fragments of it scattered up and down the world; and I believe they will all meet in Paradise — where and when I care not; but they will meet. I was very happy in the South Sea Islands, after that, when nobody meant to eat me; and I am very happy here, and do not intend to be eaten, unless it will be any pleasure to Miss St. Just. No; let man enjoy himself when he can, and take his fill of those flaming red geraniums, and glossy rhododendrons, and feathered crown-ferns, and the gold green lace of those acacias tossing and whispering overhead, and the purple mountains sleeping there aloft, and the murmur of the brook over the stones; and drink in scents with every breath — what was his nose made for, save to smell? I used to torment myself once by asking them all what they meant. Now, I am content to have done with symbolisms, and say, ‘What you all mean, I care not, all I know is, that I can draw pleasure from the mere sight of you, as, perhaps, you do from the mere sight of me; so let us sit together, Nature and I, and stare into each other’s eyes like two young lovers, careless of the morrow and its griefs.’ I will not even take the trouble to paint her. Why make ugly copies of perfect pictures? Let those who wish to see her take a railway ticket, and save us academicians colours and canvas. Quant à moi, the public must go to the mountains, as Mahomet had to do; for the mountains shall not come to the public.”
“One of your wilful paradoxes, Mr. Mellot; why, you are photographing them all day long.”
“Not quite all day long, madam. And after all, il faut vivre: I want a few luxuries; I have no capacity for keeping a shop; photographing pays better than painting, considering the time it takes; and it is only Nature reproducing herself, not caricaturing her. But if any one will ensure me a poor two thousand a year, I will promise to photograph no more, but vanish to Sicily or Calabria, and sit with Sabina in an orchard all my days, twining rose garlands for her pretty head, like Theocritus and his friends, while the ‘pears drop on our shoulders, and the apples by our side.’”
“What do you think of all this?” asked Valencia of Frank.
“That I am too like the Emersonian oyster here, very happy, and very useless; and, therefore, very anxious to be gone.”
“Surely you have earned the right to be idle awhile?”
“No one has a right to be idle.”
“Oh!” groaned Claude; “where did you find that eleventh commandment?”
“I have done with all eleventh commandments; for I find it quite hard work enough to keep the ancient ten. But I find it, Mellot, in the deepest abyss of all; in the very depth from which the commandments sprang. But we will not talk about it here.”
“Why not?” asked Valencia, looking up. “Are we so very naughty as to be unworthy to listen?”
“And are these mountains,” asked Claude, “so ugly and ill-made, that they are an unfit pulpit for a sermon? No; tell me what you mean. After all, I am half in jest”
“Do not courtesy, pity, chivalry, generosity, self-sacrifice — in short, being of use — do not our hearts tell us that they are the most beautiful, noble, lovely things in the world?”
“I suppose it is so,” said Valencia.
“Why does one admire a soldier? Not for his epaulettes and red coat, but because one knows that, coxcomb though he be at home here, there is the power in him of that same self-sacrifice; that, when he is called, he will go and die, that he may be of use to his country. And yet — it may seem invidious to say so just now — but there are other sorts of self-sacrifice, less showy, but even more beautiful.”
“Oh, Mr. Headley, what can a man do more than die for his countrymen?”
“Live for them. It is a longer work, and therefore a more difficult and a nobler one.”
Frank spoke in a somewhat sad and abstracted tone.
“But, tell me,” she said, “what all this has to do with — with the deep matter of which you spoke?”
“Simply that it is the law of all earth, and heaven, and Him who made them. — That God is perfectly powerful, because He is perfectly and infinitely of use; and perfectly good, because he delights utterly and always in being of use; and that, therefore, we can become like God — as the very heathens felt that we can, and ought to become — only in proportion as we become of use. I did not see it once. I tried to be good, not knowing what good meant. I tried to be good, because I thought it would pay me in the world to come. But, at last, I saw that all life, all devotion, all piety, were only worth anything, only Divine, and God-like, and God-beloved, as they were means to that one end — to be of use.”
“It is a noble thought, Headley,” said Claude: but Valencia was silent.
“It is a noble thought, Mellot; and all thoughts become clear in the light of it; even that most difficult thought of all, which so often torments good people, when they feel, ‘I ought to love God, and yet I do not love him.’ Easy to love Him, if one can once think of Him as the concentration, the ideal perfection, of all which is most noble, admirable, lovely in human character! And easy to work, too, when one once feels that one is working for such a Being, and with such a Being; as that! The whole world round us, and the future of the world too, seem full of light even down to its murkiest and foulest depths, when we can but remember that great idea — An infinitely useful God over all, who is trying to make each of us useful in his place. If that be not the beatific vision of which old Mystics spoke so rapturously, one glimpse of which was perfect bliss, I at least know none nobler, desire none more blessed. Pray forgive me, Miss St. Just! I ought not to intrude thus!”
“Go on!” said Valencia.
“I— I really have no more to say. I have said too much. I do not know how I have been betrayed so far,” stammered Frank, who had the just dislike of his school of anything like display on such solemn matters.
“Can you tell us too much truth? Mr. Headley is right, Mr. Mellot, and you are wrong.”
“It will not be the first time, Miss St. Just. But what I spoke in jest, he has answered in earnest.”
“He was quite right. We are none of us half earnest enough. There is Lucia with the children.” And she rose and walked across the garden.
“You have moved the fair trifler somewhat,” said Claude.
“God grant it! but I cannot think what made me.”
“Why think? You spoke out nobly, and I shall not forget your sermon.”
“I was not preaching at you, most affectionate and kindly of men.”
“And laziest of men, likewise. What can I do now, at this moment, to be of use to any one? Set me my task.”
But Frank was following with his eyes Valencia, as she went hurriedly across to Lucia. He saw her take two of the children at once off her sister’s hands, and carry them away down a walk. A few minutes afterwards he could hear her romping with them; but he could not have guessed, from the silver din of those merry voices, that Valencia’s heart was heavy within her.
For her conscience was really smitten. Of what use was she in the world? Major Campbell had talked to her often about her duties to this person and to that, of this same necessity of being useful; but she had escaped from the thought, as we have seen her, in laughing at poor little Scoutbush on the very same score. But why had not Major Campbell’s sermons touched her heart as this one had? Who can tell? Who is there among us to whom an oft-heard truth has not become a tiresome and superfluous commonplace, till one day it has flashed before us utterly new, indubitable, not to be disobeyed, written in letters of fire across the whole vault of heaven? All one can say is, that her time was not come. Besides, she looked on Major Campbell as a being utterly superior to herself; and that very superiority, while it allowed her to be as familiar with him as she chose, excused her in her own eyes from opening to him her real heart. She could safely jest with him, let him pet her, play at being his daughter, while she felt that between him and her lay a gulf as wide as between earth and heaven; and that very notion comforted her in her naughtiness; for in that case, of course, his code of morals was not meant for her; and while she took his warnings (as many of them at least as she chose), she thought herself by no means bound to follow his examples. She all but worshipped him as her guardian angel: but she was not meant for an angel herself; so she could indulge freely in those little escapades and frivolities for which she was born, and then, whenever frightened, run for shelter under his wings. But to hear the same, and even loftier words, from the lips of the curate, whom she had made her toy, almost her butt, was to have them brought down unexpectedly and painfully to her own level. If this was his ideal, why ought it not to be hers? Was she not his equal, perhaps his superior? And so her very pride humbled her, as she said to herself — “Then I ought to be useful. I can be; — will be!”
“Lucia,” asked she, that very afternoon, “will you let me take the children off your hands while Clara is busy in the morning?”
“Oh, you dear good creature? but it would be such a gêne! They are really stupid, I am afraid sometimes, or else I am. They make me so miserably cross at times.”
“I will take them. It would be a relief to you, would it not?”
“My clear!” said poor Lucia, with a doleful smile, which seemed to Valencia’s self-accusing heart to say, “Have you only now discovered that fact?”
From that day Valencia courted Headley’s company more and more. To fall in love with him was of course absurd; and he had cured himself of his passing fancy for her. There could be no harm, then, in her making the most of conversation so different from what she heard in the world, and which in her heart of hearts she liked so much better. For it was with Valencia as with all women; in this common fault of frivolity, as in most others, the men rather than they are to blame. Valencia had cultivated in herself those qualities which she saw admired by the men whom she met, and some one of whom, of course, she meant to marry; and as their female ideal was a butterfly ideal, a butterfly she became. But beneath all lay, deep and strong, the woman’s love of nobleness and wisdom, the woman’s longing to learn and to be led, which has shown itself in every age in so many a fantastic and even ugly shape, and which is their real excuse for the flirting with, “geniuses,” casting themselves at the feet of directors; which had tempted her to coquette with Elsley, and was now bringing her into “undesirable” intimacy with the poor curate.
She had heard that day, with some sorrow, his announcement that he wished to be gone; but as he did not refer to it again, she left the thought alone, and all but forgot it. The subject, however, was renewed about a week afterwards. “When you return to Aberalva,” she had said, in reference to some commission.
“I shall never return to Aberalva.”
“No; I have already resigned the curacy. I believe your uncle has appointed to it the man whom Campbell found for me: and an excellent man, I hear, he is. At least, he will do better there than I.”
“But what could have induced you? How sorry all the people will be!”
“I am not sure of that,” said he with a smile. “I did what I could at last to win back at least their respect, and to leave at least not hatred behind me: but I am unfit for them. I did not understand them. I meant — no matter what I meant? but I failed. God forgive me! I shall now go somewhere where I shall have simpler work to do, where I shall at least have a chance of practising the lesson which I learnt there. I learnt it all, strange to say, from the two people in the parish from whom I expected to learn least.”
“Whom do you mean?”
“The doctor and the schoolmistress.”
“Why from them less than from any in the parish? She so good, and he so clever?”
“That I shall never tell to any one now. Suffice it that I was mistaken.”
Valencia could obtain no further answer; and so the days ran on, every one becoming more and more intimate, till a certain afternoon, on which they were all to go and pic-nic, under Claude’s pilotage, above the lake of Gwynnant. Scoutbush was to have been with them; but a heavy day’s rain in the meanwhile swelled the streams into fishing order, so the little man ordered a car, and started at three in the morning for Bettws with Mr. Bowie, who, however loth to give up the arrangement of plates and the extraction of champagne corks, considered his presence by the river-side a natural necessity.
“My dear Miss Clara, ye see, there’ll be nobody to see that his lordship pits on dry stockings; and he’s always getting over the tops of his water-boots, being young and daft, as we’ve all been, and no offence to you; and to tell you truth, I can stand all temptations — in moderation, that is, save an’ except the chance o’ cleiking a fish.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52