Lady Eustace had been rather cross on the journey down to Scotland, and had almost driven the unfortunate Macnulty to think that Lady Linlithgow or the workhouse would be better than this young tyrant; but on her arrival at her own house she was for a while all smiles and kindness. During the journey she had been angry without thought, but was almost entitled to be excused for her anger. Could Miss Macnulty have realised the amount of oppression inflicted on her patroness by the box of diamonds, she would have forgiven anything. Hitherto there had been some secrecy, or at any rate some privacy, attached to the matter; but now that odious lawyer had discussed the matter aloud, in the very streets, in the presence of servants, and Lady Eustace had felt that it was discussed also by every porter on the railway from London down to Troon, the station in Scotland at which her own carriage met her to take her to her own castle. The night at Carlisle had been terrible to her, and the diamonds had never been for a moment off her mind. Perhaps the worst of it all was that her own man-servant and maid-servant had heard the claim which had been so violently made by Mr. Camperdown. There are people in that respect very fortunately circumstanced, whose servants, as a matter of course, know all their affairs, have an interest in their concerns, sympathise with their demands, feel their wants, and are absolutely at one with them. But in such cases the servants are really known, and are almost as completely a part of the family as the sons and daughters. There may be disruptions and quarrels; causes may arise for ending the existing condition of things; but while this condition lasts the servants in such households are for the most part only too well inclined to fight the battles of their employers. Mr. Binns, the butler, would almost foam at the mouth if it were suggested to him that the plate at Silvercup Hall was not the undoubted property of the old squire; and Mrs. Pouncebox could not be made to believe, by any amount of human evidence, that the jewels which her lady has worn for the last fifteen years are not her ladyship’s very own. Binns would fight for the plate, and so would Pouncebox for the jewels, almost till they were cut to pieces. The preservation of these treasures on behalf of those who paid them their wages and fed them, who occasionally scolded them, but always succoured them, would be their point of honour. No torture would get the key of the cellar from Binns; no threats extract from Pouncebox a secret of the toilet. But poor Lizzie Eustace had no Binns and no Pouncebox. They are plants that grow slowly. There was still too much of the mushroom about Lady Eustace to permit of her possessing such treasures. Her footman was six feet high, was not bad-looking, and was called Thomas. She knew no more about him, and was far too wise to expect sympathy from him, or other aid than the work for which she paid him. Her own maid was somewhat nearer to her; but not much nearer. The girl’s name was Patience Crabstick, and she could do hair well. Lizzie knew but little more of her than that.
Lizzie considered herself to be still engaged to be married to Lord Fawn, but there was no sympathy to be had in that quarter. Frank Greystock might be induced to sympathise with her, but hardly after the fashion which Lizzie desired. And then sympathy in that direction would be so dangerous should she decide upon going on with the Fawn marriage. For the present she had quarrelled with Lord Fawn; but the very bitterness of that quarrel, and the decision with which her betrothed had declared his intention of breaking off the match, made her the more resolute that she would marry him. During her journey to Portray she had again determined that he should be her husband; and, if so, advanced sympathy — sympathy that would be pleasantly tender with her cousin Frank — would be dangerous. She would be quite willing to accept even Miss Macnulty’s sympathy if that humble lady would give it to her of the kind she wanted. She declared to herself that she could pour herself out on Miss Macnulty’s bosom, and mingle her tears even with Miss Macnulty’s if only Miss Macnulty would believe in her. If Miss Macnulty would be enthusiastic about the jewels, enthusiastic as to the wickedness of Lord Fawn, enthusiastic in praising Lizzie herself, Lizzie — so she told herself — would have showered all the sweets of female friendship even on Miss Macnulty’s head. But Miss Macnulty was as hard as a deal board. She did as she was bidden, thereby earning her bread. But there was no tenderness in her; no delicacy; no feeling; no comprehension. It was thus that Lady Eustace judged her humble companion; and in one respect she judged her rightly. Miss Macnulty did not believe in Lady Eustace, and was not sufficiently gifted to act up to a belief which she did not entertain.
Poor Lizzie! The world, in judging of people who are false, and bad, and selfish, and prosperous to outward appearances, is apt to be hard upon them, and to forget the punishments which generally accompany such faults. Lizzie Eustace was very false, and bad, and selfish, and, we may say, very prosperous also; but in the midst of all she was thoroughly uncomfortable. She was never at ease. There was no green spot in her life with which she could be contented. And though, after a fashion, she knew herself to be false and bad, she was thoroughly convinced that she was ill-used by everybody about her. She was being very badly treated by Lord Fawn; but she flattered herself that she would be able to make Lord Fawn know more of her character before she had done with him.
Portray Castle was really a castle, not simply a country mansion so called, but a stone edifice with battlements and a round tower at one corner, and a gate which looked as if it might have had a portcullis, and narrow windows in a portion of it, and a cannon mounted upon a low roof, and an excavation called the moat, but which was now a fantastic and somewhat picturesque garden, running round two sides of it. In very truth, though a portion of the castle was undoubtedly old and had been built when strength was needed for defence and probably for the custody of booty, the battlements, and the round tower, and the awe-inspiring gateway had all been added by one of the late Sir Florians. But the castle looked like a castle, and was interesting. As a house it was not particularly eligible, the castle form of domestic architecture being exigent in its nature, and demanding that space, which in less ambitious houses can be applied to comfort, shall be surrendered to magnificence. There was a great hall, and a fine dining-room, with plate-glass windows looking out upon the sea; but the other sitting-rooms were insignificant, and the bedrooms were here and there, and were for the most part small and dark. That, however, which Lizzie had appropriated to her own use was a grand chamber, looking also out upon the open sea.
The castle stood upon a bluff of land, with a fine prospect of the Firth of Clyde, and with a distant view of the Isle of Arran. When the air was clear, as it often is clear there, the Arran hills could be seen from Lizzie’s window, and she was proud of talking of the prospect. In other respects, perhaps, the castle was somewhat desolate. There were a few stunted trees around it, but timber had not prospered there. There was a grand kitchen garden, or rather a kitchen garden which had been intended to be grand; but since Lizzie’s reign had been commenced, the grandeur had been neglected. Grand kitchen gardens are expensive, and Lizzie had at once been firm in reducing the under-gardeners from five men to one and a boy. The head gardener had of course left her at once; but that had not broken her heart, and she had hired a modest man at a guinea a week instead of a scientific artist, who was by no means modest, with a hundred and twenty pounds a year, and coals, house, milk, and all other horticultural luxuries. Though Lizzie was prosperous and had a fine income, she was already aware that she could not keep up a town and country establishment and be a rich woman on four thousand a year. There was a flower garden and small shrubbery within the so-called moat; but, otherwise, the grounds of Portray Castle were not alluring. The place was sombre, exposed, and in winter very cold; and except that the expanse of sea beneath the hill on which stood the castle was fine and open, it had no great claim to praise on the score of scenery. Behind the castle, and away from the sea, the low mountains belonging to the estate stretched for some eight or ten miles; and toward the further end of them, where stood a shooting-lodge, called always The Cottage, the landscape became rough and grand. It was in this cottage that Frank Greystock was to be sheltered with his friend, when he came down to shoot what Lady Eustace had called her three annual grouse.
She ought to have been happy and comfortable. There will, of course, be some to say that a young widow should not be happy and comfortable — that she should be weeping her lost lord, and subject to the desolation of bereavement. But as the world goes now, young widows are not miserable; and there is, perhaps, a growing tendency in society to claim from them year by year still less of any misery that may be avoidable. Suttee propensities of all sorts, from burning alive down to bombazine and hideous forms of clothing, are becoming less and less popular among the nations, and women are beginning to learn that, let what misfortunes will come upon them, it is well for them to be as happy as their nature will allow them to be. A woman may thoroughly respect her husband, and mourn him truly, honestly, with her whole heart, and yet enjoy thoroughly the good things which he has left behind for her use. It was not, at any rate, sorrow for the lost Sir Florian that made Lady Eustace uncomfortable. She had her child. She had her income. She had her youth and beauty. She had Portray Castle. She had a new lover, and, if she chose to be quit of him, not liking him well enough for the purpose, she might undoubtedly have another whom she would like better. She had hitherto been thoroughly successful in her life. And yet she was unhappy. What was it that she wanted?
She had been a very clever child — a clever, crafty child; and now she was becoming a clever woman. Her craft remained with her; but so keen was her outlook upon the world, that she was beginning to perceive that craft, let it be never so crafty, will in the long run miss its own object. She actually envied the simplicity of Lucy Morris, for whom she delighted to find evil names, calling her demure, a prig, a sly puss, and so on. But she could see — or half see — that Lucy with her simplicity was stronger than was she with her craft. She had nearly captivated Frank Greystock with her wiles, but without any wiles Lucy had captivated him altogether. And a man captivated by wiles was only captivated for a time, whereas a man won by simplicity would be won for ever — if he himself were worth the winning. And this too she felt — that let her success be what it might, she could not be happy unless she could win a man’s heart. She had won Sir Florian’s, but that had been but for an hour — for a month or two. And then Sir Florian had never really won hers. Could not she be simple? Could not she act simplicity so well that the thing acted should be as powerful as the thing itself; perhaps even more powerful? Poor Lizzie Eustace! In thinking over all this she saw a great deal. It was wonderful that she should see so much and tell herself so many home truths. But there was one truth she could not see, and therefore could not tell it to herself. She had not a heart to give. It had become petrified during those lessons of early craft in which she had taught herself how to get the better of Messrs. Harter & Benjamin, of Sir Florian Eustace, of Lady Linlithgow, and of Mr. Camperdown.
Her ladyship had now come down to her country house, leaving London and all its charms before the end of the season, actuated by various motives. In the first place, the house in Mount Street was taken furnished, by the month, and the servants were hired after the same fashion, and the horses jobbed. Lady Eustace was already sufficiently intimate with her accounts to know that she would save two hundred pounds by not remaining another month or three weeks in London, and sufficiently observant of her own affairs to have perceived that such saving was needed. And then it appeared to her that her battle with Lord Fawn could be better fought from a distance than at close quarters. London, too, was becoming absolutely distasteful to her. There were many things there that tended to make her unhappy, and so few that she could enjoy. She was afraid of Mr. Camperdown, and ever on the rack lest some dreadful thing should come upon her in respect of the necklace, some horrible paper served upon her from a magistrate, ordering her appearance at Newgate, or perhaps before the Lord Chancellor, or a visit from policemen who would be empowered to search for and carry off the iron box. And then there was so little in her London life to gratify her! It is pleasant to win in a fight; but to be always fighting is not pleasant. Except in those moments, few and far between, in which she was alone with her cousin Frank — and perhaps in those other moments in which she wore her diamonds — she had but little in London that she enjoyed. She still thought that a time would come when it would be otherwise. Under these influences she had actually made herself believe that she was sighing for the country, and for solitude; for the wide expanse of her own bright waves — as she had called them — and for the rocks of dear Portray. She had told Miss Macnulty and Augusta Fawn that she thirsted for the breezes of Ayrshire, so that she might return to her books and her thoughts. Amid the whirl of London it was impossible either to read or to think. And she believed it too herself. She so believed it that on the first morning of her arrival she took a little volume in her pocket, containing Shelley’s “Queen Mab,” and essayed to go down upon the rocks. She had actually breakfasted at nine, and was out on the sloping grounds below the castle before ten, having made some boast to Miss Macnulty about the morning air.
She scrambled down, not very far down, but a little way beneath the garden gate, to a spot on which a knob of rock cropped out from the scanty herbage of the incipient cliff. Fifty yards lower the real rocks began; and, though the real rocks were not very rocky, not precipitous or even bold, and were partially covered with salt-fed mosses down almost to the sea, nevertheless they justified her in talking about her rock-bound shore. The shore was hers, for her life, and it was rock-bound, This knob she had espied from her windows; and, indeed, had been thinking of it for the last week, as a place appropriate to solitude and Shelley. She had stood on it before, and had stretched her arms with enthusiasm toward the just-visible mountains of Arran. On that occasion the weather, perhaps, had been cool; but now a blazing sun was overhead, and when she had been seated half a minute, and “Queen Mab” had been withdrawn from her pocket, she found that it would not do. It would not do even with the canopy she could make for herself with her parasol. So she stood up and looked about herself for shade; for shade in some spot in which she could still look out upon “her dear wide ocean with its glittering smile.” For it was thus that she would talk about the mouth of the Clyde. Shelter near her there was none. The scrubby trees lay nearly half a mile to the right, and up the hill too. She had once clambered down to the actual shore, and might do so again. But she doubted that there would be shelter even there; and the clambering up on that former occasion had been a nuisance, and would be a worse nuisance now. Thinking of all this, and feeling the sun keenly, she gradually retraced her steps to the garden within the moat, and seated herself, Shelley in hand, within the summer-house. The bench was narrow, hard, and broken; and there were some snails which discomposed her; but, nevertheless, she would make the best of it. Her darling “Queen Mab” must be read without the coarse, inappropriate, every-day surroundings of a drawing-room; and it was now manifest to her that unless she could get up much earlier in the morning, or come out to her reading after sunset, the knob of rock would not avail her.
She began her reading, resolved that she would enjoy her poetry in spite of the narrow seat. She had often talked of “Queen Mab,” and perhaps she thought she had read it. This, however, was in truth her first attempt at that work. “How wonderful is Death, Death and his brother Sleep.” Then she half-closed the volume, and thought that she enjoyed the idea. Death-and his brother Sleep! She did not know why they should be more wonderful than Action, or Life, or Thought; but the words were of a nature which would enable her to remember them, and they would be good for quoting. “Sudden arose Ianthe’s soul; it stood All beautiful in naked purity.” The name of Ianthe suited her exactly. And the antithesis conveyed to her mind by naked purity struck her strongly, and she determined to learn the passage by heart. Eight or nine lines were printed separately, like a stanza, and the labour would not be great, and the task, when done, would be complete. “Instinct with inexpressible beauty and grace, Each stain of earthliness Had passed away, it reassumed Its native dignity, and stood Immortal amid ruin.” Which was instinct with beauty, the stain or the soul, she did not stop to inquire, and may be excused for not understanding. “Ah,” she exclaimed to herself, “how true it is; how one feels it; how it comes home to one! — Sudden arose Ianthe’s soul.’” And then she walked about the garden, repeating the words to herself, and almost forgetting the heat. “‘Each stain of earthliness had passed away.’ Ha; yes. They will pass away and become instinct with beauty and grace.” A dim idea came upon her that when this happy time should arrive, no one would claim her necklace from her, and that the man at the stables would not be so disagreeably punctual in sending in his bill. “‘All beautiful in naked purity!’” What a tawdry world was this in which clothes and food and houses are necessary! How perfectly that boy poet had understood it all. “‘Immortal amid ruin’!” She liked the idea of the ruin almost as well as that of the immortality, and the stains quite as well as the purity. As immortality must come, and as stains were instinct with grace, why be afraid of ruin? But then, if people go wrong — at least women — they are not asked out anywhere! “‘Sudden arose Ianthe’s soul; it stood all beautiful ——.’” And so the piece was learned, and Lizzie felt that she had devoted her hour to poetry in a quite rapturous manner. At any rate she had a bit to quote; and though in truth she did not understand the exact bearing of the image, she had so studied her gestures and so modulated her voice, that she knew that she could be effective. She did not then care to carry her reading further, but returned with the volume into the house. Though the passage about Ianthe’s soul comes very early in the work, she was now quite familiar with the poem, and when in after days she spoke of it as a thing of beauty that she had made her own by long study, she actually did not know that she was lying. As she grew older, however, she quickly became wiser, and was aware that in learning one passage of a poem it is expedient to select one in the middle or at the end. The world is so cruelly observant nowadays that even men and women who have not themselves read their “Queen Mab” will know from what part of the poem a morsel is extracted, and will not give you credit for a page beyond that from which your passage comes.
After lunch Lizzie invited Miss Macnulty to sit at the open window of the drawing-room and look out upon the “glittering waves.” In giving Miss Macnulty her due we must acknowledge that, though she owned no actual cleverness herself, had no cultivated tastes, read but little, and that little of a colourless kind, and thought nothing of her hours but that she might get rid of them and live, yet she had a certain power of insight, and could see a thing. Lizzie Eustace was utterly powerless to impose upon her. Such as Lizzie was, Miss Macnulty was willing to put up with her and accept her bread. The people whom she had known had been either worthless — as had been her own father, or cruel — like Lady Linlithgow, or false — as was Lady Eustace. Miss Macnulty knew that worthlessness, cruelty, and falseness had to be endured by such as she. And she could bear them without caring much about them; not condemning them, even within her own heart, very heavily. But she was strangely deficient in this, that she could not call these qualities by other names, even to the owners of them. She was unable to pretend to believe Lizzie’s rhapsodies. It was hardly conscience or a grand spirit of truth that actuated her, as much as a want of the courage needed for lying. She had not had the face to call old Lady Linlithgow kind, and therefore old Lady Linlithgow had turned her out of the house. When Lady Eustace called on her for sympathy, she had not courage enough to dare to attempt the bit of acting which would be necessary for sympathetic expression. She was like a dog or a child, and was unable not to be true. Lizzie was longing for a little mock sympathy — was longing to show off her Shelley, and was very kind to Miss Macnulty when she got the poor lady into the recess of the window. “This is nice; is it not?” she said, as she spread her hand out through the open space toward the “wide expanse of glittering waves.”
“Very nice, only it glares so,” said Miss Macnulty.
“Ah, I love the full warmth of the real summer. With me it always seems that the sun is needed to bring to true ripeness the fruit of the heart.” Nevertheless she had been much troubled both by the heat and by the midges when she tried to sit on the stone. “I always think of those few glorious days which I passed with my darling Florian at Naples; days too glorious because they were so few.” Now Miss Macnulty knew some of the history of those days and of their glory, and knew also how the widow had borne her loss.
“I suppose the bay of Naples is fine,” she said.
“It is not only the bay. There are scenes there which ravish you, only it is necessary that there should be some one with you that can understand you. ‘Soul of Ianthe!’” she said, meaning to apostrophise that of the deceased Sir Florian. “You have read ‘Queen Mab’?”
“I don’t know that I ever did. If I have, I have forgotten it.”
“Ah, you should read it. I know nothing in the English language that brings home to one so often one’s own best feelings and aspirations. ‘It stands all beautiful in naked purity,’” she continued, still alluding to poor Sir Florian’s soul. “‘Instinct with inexpressible beauty and grace, each stain of earthliness had passed away.’ I can see him now in all his manly beauty, as we used to sit together by the hour, looking over the waters. Oh, Julia, the thing itself has gone, the earthly reality; but the memory of it will live forever.”
“He was a very handsome man certainly,” said Miss Macnulty, finding herself forced to say something.
“I see him now,” she went on, still gazing out upon the shining water. “‘It reassumed its native dignity and stood primeval amid ruin.’ Is not that a glorious idea, gloriously worded?” She had forgotten one word and used a wrong epithet; but it sounded just as well. Primeval seemed to her to be a very poetical word.
“To tell the truth,” said Miss Macnulty, “I never understand poetry when it is quoted unless I happen to know the passage beforehand. I think I’ll go away from this, for the light is too much for my poor old eyes.” Certainly Miss Macnulty had fallen into a profession for which she was not suited.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01