Lancelot was now so far improved in health as to return to his little cottage ornee. He gave himself up freely to his new passion. With his comfortable fortune and good connections, the future seemed bright and possible enough as to circumstances. He knew that Argemone felt for him; how much it seemed presumptuous even to speculate, and as yet no golden-visaged meteor had arisen portentous in his amatory zodiac. No rich man had stepped in to snatch, in spite of all his own flocks and herds, at the poor man’s own ewe-lamb, and set him barking at all the world, as many a poor lover has to do in defence of his morsel of enjoyment, now turned into a mere bone of contention and loadstone for all hungry kites and crows.
All that had to be done was to render himself worthy of her, and in doing so, to win her. And now he began to feel more painfully his ignorance of society, of practical life, and the outward present. He blamed himself angrily for having, as he now thought, wasted his time on ancient histories and foreign travels, while he neglected the living wonderful present, which weltered daily round him, every face embodying a living soul. For now he began to feel that those faces did hide living souls; formerly he had half believed — he had tried, but from laziness, to make himself wholly believe — that they were all empty masks, phantasies, without interest or significance for him. But, somehow, in the light of his new love for Argemone, the whole human race seemed glorified, brought nearer, endeared to him. So it must be. He had spoken of a law wider than he thought in his fancy, that the angels might learn love for all by love for an individual. Do we not all learn love so? Is it not the first touch of the mother’s bosom which awakens in the infant’s heart that spark of affection which is hereafter to spread itself out towards every human being, and to lose none of its devotion for its first object, as it expands itself to innumerable new ones? Is it not by love, too — by looking into loving human eyes, by feeling the care of loving hands — that the infant first learns that there exist other beings beside itself? — that every body which it sees expresses a heart and will like its own? Be sure of it. Be sure that to have found the key to one heart is to have found the key to all; that truly to love is truly to know; and truly to love one, is the first step towards truly loving all who bear the same flesh and blood with the beloved. Like children, we must dress up even our unseen future in stage properties borrowed from the tried and palpable present, ere we can look at it without horror. We fear and hate the utterly unknown, and it only. Even pain we hate only when we cannot know it; when we can only feel it, without explaining it, and making it harmonise with our notions of our own deserts and destiny. And as for human beings, there surely it stands true, wherever else it may not, that all knowledge is love, and all love knowledge; that even with the meanest, we cannot gain a glimpse into their inward trials and struggles, without an increase of sympathy and affection.
Whether he reasoned thus or not, Lancelot found that his new interest in the working classes was strangely quickened by his passion. It seemed the shortest and clearest way toward a practical knowledge of the present. ‘Here,’ he said to himself, ‘in the investigation of existing relations between poor and rich, I shall gain more real acquaintance with English society, than by dawdling centuries in exclusive drawing-rooms.’
The inquiry had not yet presented itself to him as a duty; perhaps so much the better, that it might be the more thoroughly a free-will offering of love. At least it opened a new field of amusement and knowledge; it promised him new studies of human life; and as he lay on his sofa and let his thoughts flow, Tregarva’s dark revelations began to mix themselves with dreams about the regeneration of the Whitford poor, and those again with dreams about the heiress of Whitford; and many a luscious scene and noble plan rose brightly detailed in his exuberant imagination. For Lancelot, like all born artists, could only think in a concrete form. He never worked out a subject without embodying it in some set oration, dialogue, or dramatic castle in the air.
But the more he dreamt, the more he felt that a material beauty of flesh and blood required a material house, baths, and boudoirs, conservatories, and carriages; a safe material purse, and fixed material society; law and order, and the established frame-work of society, gained an importance in his eyes which they had never had before.
‘Well,’ he said to himself, ‘I am turning quite practical and auld-warld. Those old Greeks were not so far wrong when they said that what made men citizens, patriots, heroes, was the love of wedded wife and child.’
‘Wedded wife and child!’— He shrank in from the daring of the delicious thought, as if he had intruded without invitation into a hidden sanctuary, and looked round for a book to drive away the dazzling picture. But even there his thoughts were haunted by Argemone’s face, and
‘When his regard
Was raised by intense pensiveness, two eyes,
Two starry eyes, hung in the gloom of thought,
And seemed, with their serene and azure smiles,
To beckon him.’
He took up, with a new interest ‘Chartism,’ which alone of all Mr. Carlyle’s works he had hitherto disliked, because his own luxurious day-dreams had always flowed in such sad discord with the terrible warnings of the modern seer, and his dark vistas of starvation, crime, neglect, and discontent.
‘Well,’ he said to himself, as he closed the book, ‘I suppose it is good for us easy-going ones now and then to face the possibility of a change. Gold has grown on my back as feathers do on geese, without my own will or deed; but considering that gold, like feathers, is equally useful to those who have and those who have not, why, it is worth while for the goose to remember that he may possibly one day be plucked. And what remains? “Io,” as Medea says. . . . But Argemone?’ . . . And Lancelot felt, for the moment, as conservative as the tutelary genius of all special constables.
As the last thought passed through his brain, Bracebridge’s little mustang slouched past the window, ridden (without a saddle) by a horseman whom there was no mistaking for no one but the immaculate colonel, the chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, dared to go about the country ‘such a figure.’ A minute afterwards he walked in, in a student’s felt hat, a ragged heather-coloured coatee, and old white ‘regulation drills,’ shrunk half-way up his legs, a pair of embroidered Indian mocassins, and an enormous meerschaum at his button-hole.
‘Where have you been this last week?’
‘Over head and ears in Young England, till I fled to you for a week’s common sense. A glass of cider, for mercy’s sake, “to take the taste of it out of my mouth,” as Bill Sykes has it.’
‘Where have you been staying?’
‘With young Lord Vieuxbois, among high art and painted glass, spade farms, and model smell-traps, rubricalities and sanitary reforms, and all other inventions, possible and impossible, for “stretching the old formula to meet the new fact,” as your favourite prophet says.’
‘Till the old formula cracks under the tension.’
‘And cracks its devotees, too, I think. Here comes the cider!’
‘But, my dear fellow, you must not laugh at all this. Young England or Peelite, this is all right and noble. What a yet unspoken poetry there is in that very sanitary reform! It is the great fact of the age. We shall have men arise and write epics on it, when they have learnt that “to the pure all things are pure,” and that science and usefulness contain a divine element, even in their lowest appliances.’
‘Write one yourself, and call it the Chadwickiad.’
‘Smells and the Man I sing.
There’s a beginning at once. Why don’t you rather, with your practical power, turn sanitary reformer — the only true soldier — and conquer those real devils and “natural enemies” of Englishmen, carbonic acid and sulphuretted hydrogen?’
‘Ce n’est pas mon metier, my dear fellow. I am miserably behind the age. People are getting so cursedly in earnest now-a-days, that I shall have to bolt to the backwoods to amuse myself in peace; or else sham dumb as the monkeys do, lest folks should find out that I’m rational, and set me to work.’
Lancelot laughed and sighed.
‘But how on earth do you contrive to get on so well with men with whom you have not an idea in common!’
‘Savoir faire, O infant Hercules! own daddy to savoir vivre. I am a good listener; and, therefore, the most perfect, because the most silent, of flatterers. When they talk Puginesquery, I stick my head on one side attentively, and “think the more,” like the lady’s parrot. I have been all the morning looking over a set of drawings for my lord’s new chapel; and every soul in the party fancies me a great antiquary, just because I have been retailing to B as my own everything that A told me the moment before.’
‘I envy you your tact, at all events.’
‘Why the deuce should you? You may rise in time to something better than tact; to what the good book, I suppose, means by “wisdom.” Young geniuses like you, who have been green enough to sell your souls to “truth,” must not meddle with tact, unless you wish to fare as the donkey did when he tried to play lap-dog.’
‘At all events, I would sooner remain cub till they run me down and eat me, than give up speaking my mind,’ said Lancelot. ‘Fool I may be, but the devil himself shan’t make me knave.’
‘Quite proper. On two thousand a year a man can afford to be honest. Kick out lustily right and left! — After all, the world is like a spaniel; the more you beat it, the better it likes you — if you have money. Only don’t kick too hard; for, after all, it has a hundred million pair of shins to your one.’
‘Don’t fear that I shall run a-muck against society just now. I am too thoroughly out of my own good books. I have been for years laughing at Young England, and yet its little finger is thicker than my whole body, for it is trying to do something; and I, alas, am doing utterly nothing. I should be really glad to take a lesson of these men and their plans for social improvement.’
‘You will have a fine opportunity this evening. Don’t you dine at Minchampstead?’
‘Yes. Do you?’
‘Mr. Jingle dines everywhere, except at home. Will you take me over in your trap?’
‘Done. But whom shall we meet there?’
‘The Lavingtons, and Vieuxbois, and Vaurien, and a parson or two, I suppose. But between Saint Venus and Vieuxbois you may soon learn enough to make you a sadder man, if not a wiser one.’
‘Why not a wiser one? Sadder than now I cannot be; or less wise, God knows.’
The colonel looked at Lancelot with one of those kindly thoughtful smiles, which came over him whenever his better child’s heart could bubble up through the thick crust of worldliness.
‘My young friend, you have been a little too much on the stilts heretofore. Take care that, now you are off them, you don’t lie down and sleep, instead of walking honestly on your legs. Have faith in yourself; pick these men’s brains, and all men’s. You can do it. Say to yourself boldly, as the false prophet in India said to the missionary, “I have fire enough in my stomach to burn up” a dozen stucco and filigree reformers and “assimilate their ashes into the bargain, like one of Liebig’s cabbages.”’
‘How can I have faith in myself, when I am playing traitor to myself every hour in the day? And yet faith in something I must have: in woman, perhaps.’
‘Never!’ said the colonel, energetically. ‘In anything but woman? She must be led, not leader. If you love a woman, make her have faith in you. If you lean on her, you will ruin yourself, and her as well.’
Lancelot shook his head. There was a pause.
‘After all, colonel, I think there must be a meaning in those old words our mothers used to teach us about “having faith in God.”’
The colonel shrugged his shoulders.
‘Quien sabe? said the Spanish girl, when they asked her who was her child’s father. But here comes my kit on a clod’s back, and it is time to dress for dinner.’
So to the dinner-party they went.
Lord Minchampstead was one of the few noblemen Lancelot had ever met who had aroused in him a thorough feeling of respect. He was always and in all things a strong man. Naturally keen, ready, business-like, daring, he had carved out his own way through life, and opened his oyster — the world, neither with sword nor pen, but with steam and cotton. His father was Mr. Obadiah Newbroom, of the well-known manufacturing firm of Newbroom, Stag, and Playforall. A stanch Dissenter himself, he saw with a slight pang his son Thomas turn Churchman, as soon as the young man had worked his way up to be the real head of the firm. But this was the only sorrow which Thomas Newbroom, now Lord Minchampstead, had ever given his father. ‘I stood behind a loom myself, my boy, when I began life; and you must do with great means what I did with little ones. I have made a gentleman of you, you must make a nobleman of yourself.’ Those were almost the last words of the stern, thrifty, old Puritan craftsman, and his son never forgot them. From a mill-owner he grew to coal-owner, shipowner, banker, railway director, money-lender to kings and princes; and last of all, as the summit of his own and his compeer’s ambition, to land-owner. He had half a dozen estates in as many different counties. He had added house to house, and field to field; and at last bought Minchampstead Park and ten thousand acres, for two-thirds its real value, from that enthusiastic sportsman Lord Peu de Cervelle, whose family had come in with the Conqueror, and gone out with George iv. So, at least, they always said; but it was remarkable that their name could never be traced farther back than the dissolution of the monasteries: and Calumnious Dryasdusts would sometimes insolently father their title on James I. and one of his batches of bought peerages. But let the dead bury their dead. There was now a new lord in Minchampstead; and every country Caliban was finding, to his disgust, that he had ‘got a new master,’ and must perforce ‘be a new man.’ Oh! how the squires swore and the farmers chuckled, when the ‘Parvenu’ sold the Minchampstead hounds, and celebrated his 1st of September by exterminating every hare and pheasant on the estate! How the farmers swore and the labourers chuckled when he took all the cottages into his own hands and rebuilt them, set up a first-rate industrial school, gave every man a pig and a garden, and broke up all the commons ‘to thin the labour-market.’ Oh, how the labourers swore and the farmers chuckled, when he put up steam-engines on all his farms, refused to give away a farthing in alms, and enforced the new Poor-law to the very letter. How the country tradesmen swore, when he called them ‘a pack of dilatory jobbers,’ and announced his intention of employing only London workmen for his improvements. Oh! how they all swore together (behind his back, of course, for his dinners were worth eating), and the very ladies said naughty words, when the stern political economist proclaimed at his own table that ‘he had bought Minchampstead for merely commercial purposes, as a profitable investment of capital, and he would see that, whatever else it did, it should pay.’
But the new lord heard of all the hard words with a quiet self-possessed smile. He had formed his narrow theory of the universe, and he was methodically and conscientiously carrying it out. True, too often, like poor Keats’s merchant brothers —
‘Half-ignorant, he turned an easy wheel,
Which set sharp racks at work to pinch and peel.’
But of the harm which he did he was unconscious; in the good which he did he was consistent and indefatigable; infinitely superior, with all his defects, to the ignorant, extravagant do-nothing Squire Lavingtons around him. At heart, however, Mammoth-blinded, he was kindly and upright. A man of a stately presence; a broad, honest north-country face; a high square forehead, bland and unwrinkled. I sketch him here once for all, because I have no part for him after this scene in my corps de ballet.
Lord Minchampstead had many reasons for patronising Lancelot. In the first place, he had a true eye for a strong man wherever he met him; in the next place, Lancelot’s uncle the banker, was a stanch Whig ally of his in the House. ‘In the rotten-borough times, Mr. Smith,’ he once said to Lancelot, ‘we could have made a senator of you at once; but, for the sake of finality, we were forced to relinquish that organ of influence. The Tories had abused it, really, a little too far; and now we can only make a commissioner of you — which, after all, is a more useful post, and a more lucrative one.’ But Lancelot had not as yet ‘Galliolised,’ as the Irish schoolmaster used to call it, and cared very little to play a political ninth fiddle.
The first thing which caught his eyes as he entered the drawing-room before dinner was Argemone listening in absorbed reverence to her favourite vicar — a stern, prim, close-shaven, dyspeptic man, with a meek, cold smile, which might have become a cruel one. He watched and watched in vain, hoping to catch her eye; but no — there she stood, and talked and listened —
‘Ah,’ said Bracebridge, smiling, ‘it is in vain, Smith! When did you know a woman leave the Church for one of us poor laymen?’
‘Good heavens!’ said Lancelot, impatiently, ‘why will they make such fools of themselves with clergymen?’
‘They are quite right. They always like the strong men — the fighters and the workers. In Voltaire’s time they all ran after the philosophers. In the middle ages, books tell us, they worshipped the knights errant. They are always on the winning side, the cunning little beauties. In the war-time, when the soldiers had to play the world’s game, the ladies all caught the red-coat fever; now, in these talking and thinking days (and be hanged to them for bores), they have the black-coat fever for the same reason. The parsons are the workers now-a-days — or rather, all the world expects them to be so. They have the game in their own hands, if they did but know how to play it.’
Lancelot stood still, sulking over many thoughts. The colonel lounged across the room towards Lord Vieuxbois, a quiet, truly high-bred young man, with a sweet open countenance, and an ample forehead, whose size would have vouched for great talents, had not the promise been contradicted by the weakness of the over-delicate mouth and chin.
‘Who is that with whom you came into the room, Bracebridge?’ asked Lord Vieuxbois. ‘I am sure I know his face.’
‘Lancelot Smith, the man who has taken the shooting-box at Lower Whitford.’
‘Oh, I remember him well enough at Cambridge! He was one of a set who tried to look like blackguards, and really succeeded tolerably. They used to eschew gloves, and drink nothing but beer, and smoke disgusting short pipes; and when we established the Coverley Club in Trinity, they set up an opposition, and called themselves the Navvies. And they used to make piratical expeditions down to Lynn in eight oars, to attack bargemen, and fen girls, and shoot ducks, and sleep under turf-stacks, and come home when they had drank all the public-house taps dry. I remember the man perfectly.’
‘Navvy or none,’ said the colonel, ‘he has just the longest head and the noblest heart of any man I ever met. If he does not distinguish himself before he dies, I know nothing of human nature.’
‘Ah yes, I believe he is clever enough! — took a good degree, a better one than I did — but horribly eclectic; full of mesmerism, and German metaphysics, and all that sort of thing. I heard of him one night last spring, on which he had been seen, if you will believe it, going successively into a Swedenborgian chapel, the Garrick’s Head, and one of Elliotson’s magnetic soirees. What can you expect after that?’
‘A great deal,’ said Bracebridge drily. ‘With such a head as he carries on his shoulders the man might be another Mirabeau, if he held the right cards in the right rubber. And he really ought to suit you, for he raves about the middle ages, and chivalry, and has edited a book full of old ballads.’
‘Oh, all the eclectics do that sort of thing; and small thanks to them. However, I will speak to him after dinner, and see what there is in him.’
And Lord Vieuxbois turned away, and, alas for Lancelot! sat next to Argemone at dinner. Lancelot, who was cross with everybody for what was nobody’s fault, revenged himself all dinner-time by never speaking a word to his next neighbour, Miss Newbroom, who was longing with all her heart to talk sentiment to him about the Exhibition; and when Argemone, in the midst of a brilliant word-skirmish with Lord Vieuxbois, stole a glance at him, he chose to fancy that they were both talking of him, and looked more cross than ever.
After the ladies retired, Lancelot, in his sulky way, made up his mind that the conversation was going to be ineffably stupid; and set to to dream, sip claret, and count the minutes till he found himself in the drawing-room with Argemone. But he soon discovered, as I suppose we all have, that ‘it never rains but it pours,’ and that one cannot fall in with a new fact or a new acquaintance but next day twenty fresh things shall spring up as if by magic, throwing unexpected light on one’s new phenomenon. Lancelot’s head was full of the condition-of-the-poor question, and lo! everybody seemed destined to talk about it.
‘Well, Lord Vieuxbois,’ said the host, casually, ‘my girls are raving about your new school. They say it is a perfect antiquarian gem.’
‘Yes, tolerable, I believe. But Wales has disappointed me a little. That vile modernist naturalism is creeping back even into our painted glass. I could have wished that the artist’s designs for the windows had been a little more Catholic.’
‘How then?’ asked the host, with a puzzled face.
‘Oh, he means,’ said Bracebridge, ‘that the figures’ wrists and ankles were not sufficiently dislocated, and the patron saint did not look quite like a starved rabbit with its neck wrung. Some of the faces, I am sorry to say, were positively like good-looking men and women.’
‘Oh, I understand,’ said Lord Minchampstead; ‘Bracebridge’s tongue is privileged, you know, Lord Vieuxbois, so you must not be angry.’
‘I don’t see my way into all this,’ said Squire Lavington (which was very likely to be true, considering that he never looked for his way). ‘I don’t see how all these painted windows, and crosses, and chanting, and the deuce and the Pope only know what else, are to make boys any better.’
‘We have it on the highest authority,’ said Vieuxbois, ‘that pictures and music are the books of the unlearned. I do not think that we have any right in the nineteenth century to contest an opinion which the fathers of the Church gave in the fourth.’
‘At all events,’ said Lancelot, ‘it is by pictures and music, by art and song, and symbolic representations, that all nations have been educated in their adolescence! and as the youth of the individual is exactly analogous to the youth of the collective race, we should employ the same means of instruction with our children which succeeded in the early ages with the whole world.’
Lancelot might as well have held his tongue — nobody understood him but Vieuxbois, and he had been taught to scent German neology in everything, as some folks are taught to scent Jesuitry, especially when it involved an inductive law, and not a mere red-tape precedent, and, therefore, could not see that Lancelot was arguing for him. ‘All very fine, Smith,’ said the squire; ‘it’s a pity you won’t leave off puzzling your head with books, and stick to fox-hunting. All you young gentlemen will do is to turn the heads of the poor with your cursed education.’ The national oath followed, of course. ‘Pictures and chanting! Why, when I was a boy, a good honest labouring man wanted to see nothing better than a halfpenny ballad, with a wood-cut at the top, and they worked very well then, and wanted for nothing.’
‘Oh, we shall give them the halfpenny ballads in time!’ said Vieuxbois, smiling.
‘You will do a very good deed, then,’ said mine host. ‘But I am sorry to say that, as far as I can find from my agents, when the upper classes write cheap publications, the lower classes will not read them.’
‘Too true,’ said Vieuxbois.
‘Is not the cause,’ asked Lancelot, ‘just that the upper classes do write them?’
‘The writings of working men, certainly,’ said Lord Minchampstead, ‘have an enormous sale among their own class.’
‘Just because they express the feelings of that class, of which I am beginning to fear that we know very little. Look again, what a noble literature of people’s songs and hymns Germany has. Some of Lord Vieuxbois’s friends, I know, are busy translating many of them.’
‘As many of them, that is to say,’ said Vieuxbois, ‘as are compatible with a real Church spirit.’
‘Be it so; but who wrote them? Not the German aristocracy for the people, but the German people for themselves. There is the secret of their power. Why not educate the people up to such a standard that they should be able to write their own literature?’
‘What,’ said Mr. Chalklands, of Chalklands, who sat opposite, ‘would you have working men turn ballad writers? There would be an end of work, then, I think.’
‘I have not heard,’ said Lancelot, ‘that the young women —ladies, I ought to say, if the word mean anything — who wrote the “Lowell Offering,” spun less or worse cotton than their neighbours.’
‘On the contrary,” said Lord Minchampstead, ‘we have the most noble accounts of heroic industry and self-sacrifice in girls whose education, to judge by its fruits, might shame that of most English young ladies.’
Mr. Chalklands expressed certain confused notions that, in America, factory girls carried green silk parasols, put the legs of pianos into trousers, and were too prudish to make a shirt, or to call it a shirt after it was made, he did not quite remember which.
‘It is a great pity,’ said Lord Minchampstead, ‘that our factory girls are not in the same state of civilisation. But it is socially impossible. America is in an abnormal state. In a young country the laws of political economy do not make themselves fully felt. Here, where we have no uncleared world to drain the labour-market, we may pity and alleviate the condition of the working-classes, but we can do nothing more. All the modern schemes for the amelioration which ignore the laws of competition, must end either in pauperisation’—(with a glance at Lord Vieuxbois) — ‘or in the destruction of property.’
Lancelot said nothing, but thought the more. It did strike him at the moment that the few might, possibly, be made for the many, and not the many for the few; and that property was made for man, not man for property. But he contented himself with asking —
‘You think, then, my lord, that in the present state of society, no dead-lift can be given to the condition — in plain English, the wages — of working men, without the destruction of property?’
Lord Minchampstead smiled, and parried the question.
‘There may be other dead-lift ameliorations, my young friend, besides a dead-lift of wages.’
So Lancelot thought, also; but Lord Minchampstead would have been a little startled could he have seen Lancelot’s notion of a dead-lift. Lord Minchampstead was thinking of cheap bread and sugar. Do you think that I will tell you of what Lancelot was thinking?
But here Vieuxbois spurred in to break a last lance. He had been very much disgusted with the turn the conversation was taking, for he considered nothing more heterodox than the notion that the poor were to educate themselves. In his scheme, of course the clergy and the gentry were to educate the poor, who were to take down thankfully as much as it was thought proper to give them: and all beyond was ‘self-will’ and ‘private judgment,’ the fathers of Dissent and Chartism, Trades’-union strikes, and French Revolutions, et si qua alia.
‘And pray, Mr. Smith, may I ask what limit you would put to education?’
‘The capacities of each man,’ said Lancelot. ‘If man living in civilised society has one right which he can demand it is this, that the State which exists by his labour shall enable him to develop, or, at least, not hinder his developing, his whole faculties to their very utmost, however lofty that may be. While a man who might be an author remains a spade-drudge, or a journeyman while he has capacities for a master; while any man able to rise in life remains by social circumstances lower than he is willing to place himself, that man has a right to complain of the State’s injustice and neglect.’
‘Really, I do not see,’ said Vieuxbois, ‘why people should wish to rise in life. They had no such self-willed fancy in the good old times. The whole notion is a product of these modern days —’
He would have said more, but he luckily remembered at whose table he was sitting.
‘I think, honestly,’ said Lancelot, whose blood was up, ‘that we gentlemen all run into the same fallacy. We fancy ourselves the fixed and necessary element in society, to which all others are to accommodate themselves. “Given the rights of the few rich, to find the condition of the many poor.” It seems to me that other postulate is quite as fair: “Given the rights of the many poor, to find the condition of the few rich.”’
Lord Minchampstead laughed.
‘If you hit us so hard, Mr. Smith, I must really denounce you as a Communist. Lord Vieuxbois, shall we join the ladies?’
In the drawing-room, poor Lancelot, after rejecting overtures of fraternity from several young ladies, set himself steadily again against the wall to sulk and watch Argemone. But this time she spied in a few minutes his melancholy, moonstruck face, swam up to him, and said something kind and commonplace. She spoke in the simplicity of her heart, but he chose to think she was patronising him — she had not talked commonplaces to the vicar. He tried to say something smart and cutting — stuttered, broke down, blushed, and shrank back again to the wall, fancying that every eye in the room was on him; and for one moment a flash of sheer hatred to Argemone swept through him.
Was Argemone patronising him? Of course she was. True, she was but three-and-twenty, and he was of the same age; but, spiritually and socially, the girl develops ten years earlier than the boy. She was flattered and worshipped by gray-headed men, and in her simplicity she thought it a noble self-sacrifice to stoop to notice the poor awkward youth. And yet if he could have seen the pure moonlight of sisterly pity which filled all her heart as she retreated, with something of a blush and something of a sigh, and her heart fluttered and fell, would he have been content? Not he. It was her love he wanted, and not her pity; it was to conquer her and possess her, and inform himself with her image, and her with his own; though as yet he did not know it; though the moment that she turned away he cursed himself for selfish vanity, and moroseness and conceit.
‘Who am I to demand her all to myself? Her, the glorious, the saintly, the unfallen! Is not a look, a word, infinitely more than I deserve? And yet I pretend to admire tales of chivalry! Old knightly hearts would have fought and wandered for years to earn a tithe of the favours which have been bestowed on me unasked.’—
Peace! poor Lancelot! Thy egg is by no means addle; but the chick is breaking the shell in somewhat a cross-grained fashion.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10