When Frank Greystock left Bobsborough to go to Scotland, he had not said that he would return, nor had he at that time made up his mind whether he would do so or no. He had promised to go and shoot in Norfolk, and had half undertaken to be up in London with Herriot, working. Though it was holiday-time, still there was plenty of work for him to do, various heavy cases to get up and papers to be read, if only he could settle himself down to the doing of it. But the scenes down in Scotland had been of a nature to make him unfit for steady labour. How was he to sail his bark through the rocks by which his present voyage was rendered so dangerous? Of course, to the reader, the way to do so seems to be clear enough. To work hard at his profession, to explain to his cousin that she had altogether mistaken his feelings, and to be true to Lucy Morris, was so manifestly his duty, that to no reader will it appear possible that to any gentleman there could be a doubt. Instead of the existence of a difficulty, there was a flood of light upon his path, so the reader will think; a flood so clear that not to see his way was impossible. A man carried away by abnormal appetites, and wickedness, and the devil, may of course commit murder, or forge bills, or become a fraudulent director of a bankrupt company. And so may a man be untrue to his troth, and leave true love in pursuit of tinsel, and beauty, and false words, and a large income. But why should one tell the story of creatures so base? One does not willingly grovel in gutters, or breathe fetid atmospheres, or live upon garbage. If we are to deal with heroes and heroines, let us, at any rate, have heroes and heroines who are above such meanness as falsehood in love. This Frank Greystock must be little better than a mean villain if he allows himself to be turned from his allegiance to Lucy Morris for an hour by the seductions and money of such a one as Lizzie Eustace.
We know the dear old rhyme:
It is good to be merry and wise,
It is good to be honest and true;
It is good to be off with the old love
Before you are on with the new.
There was never better truth spoken than this, and if all men and women could follow the advice here given, there would be very little sorrow in the world. But men and women do not follow it. They are no more able to do so than they are to use a spear, the staff of which is like a weaver’s beam, or to fight with the sword Excalibar. The more they exercise their arms, the nearer will they get to using the giant’s weapon, or even the weapon that is divine. But as things are at present, their limbs are limp and their muscles soft, and overfeeding impedes their breath. They attempt to be merry without being wise, and have themes about truth and honesty with which they desire to shackle others, thinking that freedom from such trammels may be good for themselves. And in that matter of love, though love is very potent, treachery will sometimes seem to be prudence, and a hankering after new delights will often interfere with real devotion.
It is very easy to depict a hero, a man absolutely stainless, perfect as an Arthur, a man honest in all his dealings, equal to all trials, true in all his speech, indifferent to his own prosperity, struggling for the general good, and, above all, faithful in love. At any rate, it is as easy to do that as to tell of the man who is one hour good and the next bad, who aspires greatly but fails in practice, who sees the higher but too often follows the lower course. There arose at one time a school of art which delighted to paint the human face as perfect in beauty; and from that time to this we are discontented unless every woman is drawn for us as a Venus, or at least a Madonna. I do not know that we have gained much by this untrue portraiture, either in beauty or in art. There may be made for us a pretty thing to look at, no doubt; but we know that that pretty thing is not really visaged as the mistress whom we serve, and whose lineaments we desire to perpetuate on the canvas. The winds of heaven, or the flesh-pots of Egypt, or the midnight gas, passions, pains, and perhaps rouge and powder, have made her something different. But still there is the fire of her eye and the eager eloquence of her mouth, and something too, perhaps, left of the departing innocence of youth, which the painter might give us without the Venus or the Madonna touches. But the painter does not dare do it. Indeed, he has painted so long after the other fashion that he would hate the canvas before him were he to give way to the rouge-begotten roughness or to the flesh-pots, or even to the winds. And how, my lord, would you, who are giving hundreds, more than hundreds, for this portrait of your dear one, like to see it in print from the art critic of the day, that she is a brazen-faced hoyden who seems to have had a glass of wine too much, or to have been making hay?
And so also has the reading world taught itself to like best the characters of all but divine men and women. Let the man who paints with pen and ink give the gas-light and the flesh-pots, the passions and pains, the prurient prudence and the rouge-pots and pounce-boxes of the world as it is, and he will be told that no one can care a straw for his creations. With whom are we to sympathise? says the reader, who not unnaturally imagines that a hero should be heroic. Oh, thou, my reader, whose sympathies are in truth the great and only aim of my work, when you have called the dearest of your friends round you to your hospitable table, how many heroes are there sitting at the board? Your bosom friend, even if he be a knight without fear, he is a knight without reproach? The Ivanhoe that you know, did he not press Rebecca’s hand? Your Lord Evandale, did he not bring his coronet into play when he strove to win his Edith Bellenden? Was your Tresilian still true and still forbearing when truth and forbearance could avail him nothing? And those sweet girls whom you know, do they never doubt between the poor man they think they love and the rich man whose riches they know they covet?
Go into the market, either to buy or sell, and name the thing you desire to part with or to get, as it is, and the market is closed against you. Middling oats are the sweepings of the granaries. A useful horse is a jade gone at every point. Good sound port is sloe juice. No assurance short of A 1 betokens even a pretence to merit. And yet in real life we are content with oats that are really middling, are very glad to have a useful horse, and know that if we drink port at all we must drink some that is neither good nor sound. In those delineations of life and character which we call novels, a similarly superlative vein is desired. Our own friends around us are not always merry and wise, nor, alas, always honest and true. They are often cross and foolish, and sometimes treacherous and false. They are so, and we are angry. Then we forgive them, not without a consciousness of imperfection on our own part. And we know, or at least believe, that though they be sometimes treacherous and false, there is a balance of good. We cannot have heroes to dine with us. There are none. And were these heroes to be had, we should not like them. But neither are our friends villains, whose every aspiration is for evil, and whose every moment is a struggle for some achievement worthy of the devil.
The persons whom you cannot care for in a novel because they are so bad, are the very same that you so dearly love in your life because they are so good. To make them and ourselves somewhat better, not by one spring heavenward to perfection, because we cannot so use our legs, but by slow climbing, is, we may presume, the object of all teachers, leaders, legislators, spiritual pastors, and masters. He who writes tales such as this probably also has, very humbly, some such object distantly before him. A picture of surpassing godlike nobleness, a picture of a King Arthur among men, may perhaps do much. But such pictures cannot do all. When such a picture is painted, as intending to show what a man should be, it is true. If painted to show what men are, it is false. The true picture of life as it is, if it could be adequately painted, would show men what they are and how they might rise, not indeed to perfection, but one step first, and then another, on the ladder.
Our hero, Frank Greystock, falling lamentably short in his heroism, was not in a happy state of mind when he reached Bobsborough. It may be that he returned to his own borough and to his mother’s arms because he felt that were he to determine to be false to Lucy he would there receive sympathy in his treachery. His mother would, at any rate, think that it was well, and his father would acknowledge that the fault committed was in the original engagement with poor Lucy, and not in the treachery. He had written that letter to her in his chambers one night in a fit of ecstasy; and could it be right that the ruin of a whole life should be the consequence?
It can hardly be too strongly asserted that Lizzie Greystock did not appear to Frank as she has been made to appear to the reader. In all this affair of the necklace he was beginning to believe that she was really an ill-used woman; and as to other traits in Lizzie’s character, traits which he had seen, and which were not of a nature to attract, it must be remembered that beauty reclining in a man’s arms does go far toward washing white the lovely blackamoor. Lady Linlithgow, upon whom Lizzie’s beauty could have no effect of that kind, had nevertheless declared her to be very beautiful. And this loveliness was of a nature that was altogether pleasing, if once the beholder of it could get over the idea of falseness which certainly Lizzie’s eye was apt to convey to the beholder. There was no unclean horse’s tail. There was no get-up of flounces, and padding, and paint, and hair, with a dorsal excrescence appended, with the object surely of showing in triumph how much absurd ugliness women can force men to endure. She was lithe, and active, and bright, and was at this moment of her life at her best. Her growing charms had as yet hardly reached the limits of full feminine loveliness, which, when reached, have been surpassed. Luxuriant beauty had with her not as yet become comeliness; nor had age or the good things of the world added a pound to the fairy lightness of her footstep. All this had been tendered to Frank, and with it that worldly wealth which was so absolutely necessary to his career. For though Greystock would not have said to any man or woman that nature had intended him to be a spender of much money and a consumer of many good things, he did undoubtedly so think of himself. He was a Greystock, and to what miseries would he not reduce his Lucy if, burdened by such propensities, he were to marry her and then become an aristocratic pauper!
The offer of herself by a woman to a man is, to us all, a thing so distasteful that we at once declare that the woman must be abominable. There shall be no whitewashing of Lizzie Eustace. She was abominable. But the man to whom the offer is made hardly sees the thing in the same light. He is disposed to believe that, in his peculiar case, there are circumstances by which the woman is, if not justified, at least excused. Frank did put faith in his cousin’s love for himself. He did credit her when she told him that she had accepted Lord Fawn’s offer in pique, because he had not come to her when he had promised that he would come. It did seem natural to him that she should have desired to adhere to her engagement when he would not advise her to depart from it. And then her jealousy about Lucy’s ring, and her abuse of Lucy, were proofs to him of her love. Unless she loved him, why should she care to marry him? What was his position that she should desire to share it, unless she so desired because he was dearer to her than aught beside? He had not eyes clear enough to perceive that his cousin was a witch whistling for a wind, and ready to take the first blast that would carry her and her broomstick somewhere into the sky. And then, in that matter of the offer, which in ordinary circumstances certainly should not have come from her to him, did not the fact of her wealth and of his comparative poverty cleanse her from such stain as would, in usual circumstances, attach to a woman who is so forward? He had not acceded to her proposition. He had not denied his engagement to Lucy. He had left her presence without a word of encouragement, because of that engagement. But he believed that Lizzie was sincere. He believed, now, that she was genuine; though he had previously been all but sure that falsehood and artifice were second nature to her.
At Bobsborough he met his constituents, and made them the normal autumn speech. The men of Bobsborough were well pleased and gave him a vote of confidence. As none but those of his own party attended the meeting, it was not wonderful that the vote was unanimous. His father, mother, and sister all heard his speech, and there was a strong family feeling that Frank was born to set the Greystocks once more upon their legs. When a man can say what he likes with the certainty that every word will be reported, and can speak to those around him as one manifestly their superior, he always looms large. When the Conservatives should return to their proper place at the head of affairs, there could be no doubt that Frank Greystock would be made Solicitor-General. There were not wanting even ardent admirers who conceived that, with such claims and such talents as his, the ordinary steps in political promotion would not be needed, and that he would become Attorney-General at once. All men began to say all good things to the dean, and to Mrs. Greystock it seemed that the woolsack, or at least the Queen’s Bench with a peerage, was hardly an uncertainty. But then, there must be no marriage with a penniless governess. If he would only marry his cousin, one might say that the woolsack was won.
Then came Lucy’s letter; the pretty, dear, joking letter about the “duchess” and broken hearts. “I would break my heart, only — only — only —.” Yes, he knew very well what she meant. I shall never be called upon to break my heart, because you are not a false scoundrel. If you were a false scoundrel — instead of being, as you are, a pearl among men — then I should break my heart. That was what Lucy meant. She could not have been much clearer, and he understood it perfectly. It is very nice to walk about one’s own borough and be voted unanimously worthy of confidence, and be a great man; but if you are a scoundrel, and not used to being a scoundrel, black care is apt to sit very close behind you as you go caracoling along the streets.
Lucy’s letter required an answer, and how should he answer it? He certainly did not wish her to tell Lady Linlithgow of her engagement, but Lucy clearly wished to be allowed to tell, and on what ground could he enjoin her to be silent? He knew, or he thought he knew, that till he answered the letter, she would not tell his secret; and therefore from day to day he put off the answer. A man does not write a love-letter usually when he is in doubt himself whether he does or does not mean to be a scoundrel.
Then there came a letter to “Dame” Greystock, from Lady Linlithgow, which filled them all with amazement.
“MY DEAR MADAM,” began the letter:
“Seeing that your son is engaged to many Miss Morris — at least she says so — you ought not to have sent her here without telling me all about it. She says you know of the match, and she says that I can write to you if I please. Of course I can do that without her leave. But it seems to me that if you know all about it, and approve the marriage, your house and not mine would be the proper place for her.
“I’m told that Mr. Greystock is a great man. Any lady being with me as my companion can’t be a great woman. But perhaps you wanted to break it off; else you would have told me. She shall stay here six months, but then she must go.
It was considered absolutely necessary that this letter should be shown to Frank. “You see,” said his mother, “she told the old lady at once.”
“I don’t see why she shouldn’t.” Nevertheless Frank was annoyed. Having asked for permission, Lucy should at least have waited for a reply.
“Well, I don’t know,” said Mrs. Greystock. “It is generally considered that young ladies are more reticent about such things. She has blurted it out and boasted about it at once.”
“I thought girls always told of their engagements,” said Frank, “and I can’t for the life of me see that there was any boasting in it.” Then he was silent for a moment. “The truth is, we are all of us treating Lucy very badly.”
“I cannot say that I see it,” said his mother.
“We ought to have had her here.”
“For how long, Frank?”
“For as long as a home was needed by her.”
“Had you demanded it, Frank, she should have come, of course. But neither I nor your father could have had pleasure in receiving her as your future wife. You yourself say that it cannot be for two years at least.”
“I said one year.”
“I think, Frank, you said two. And we all know that such a marriage would be ruinous to you. How could we make her welcome? Can you see your way to having a house for her to live in within twelve months?”
“Why not a house? I could have a house tomorrow.”
“Such a house as would suit you in your position? And, Frank, would it be a kindness to marry her and then let her find that you were in debt?”
“I don’t believe she’d care if she had nothing but a crust to eat.”
“She ought to care, Frank.”
“I think,” said the dean to his son on the next day, “that in our class of life an imprudent marriage is the one thing that should be avoided. My marriage has been very happy, God knows; but I have always been a poor man, and feel it now when I am quite unable to help you. And yet your mother had some fortune. Nobody, I think, cares less for wealth than I do. I am content almost with nothing.”— The nothing with which the dean had hitherto been contented had always included every comfort of life, a well-kept table, good wine, new books, and canonical habiliments with the gloss still on; but as the Bobsborough tradesmen had, through the agency of Mrs. Greystock, always supplied him with these things as though they came from the clouds, he really did believe that he had never asked for anything. — “I am content almost with nothing. But I do feel that marriage cannot be adopted as the ordinary form of life by men in our class as it can be by the rich or by the poor. You, for instance, are called upon to live with the rich, but are not rich. That can only be done by wary walking, and is hardly consistent with a wife and children.”
“But men in my position do marry, sir.”
“After a certain age; or else they marry ladies with money. You see, Frank, there are not many men who go into Parliament with means so moderate as yours; and they who do, perhaps have stricter ideas of economy.” The dean did not say a word about Lucy Morris, and dealt entirely with generalities.
In compliance with her son’s advice — or almost command — Mrs. Greystock did not answer Lady Linlithgow’s letter. He was going back to London, and would give personally, or by letter written there, what answer might be necessary.
“You will then see Miss Morris?” asked his mother.
“I shall certainly see Lucy. Something must be settled.” There was a tone in his voice as he said this which gave some comfort to his mother.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01