In the course of another fortnight I had seen sufficient of Frances Evans Henri to enable me to form a more definite opinion of her character. I found her possessed in a somewhat remarkable degree of at least two good points -- namely, perseverance and a sense of duty. I found she was really capable of applying to study, of contending with difficulties. At first I offered her the same help which I had always found it necessary to confer on the others. I began with unloosing for her each knotty point; but I soon discovered that such help was regarded by my new pupil as degrading; she recoiled from it with a certain proud impatience. Hereupon I appointed her long lessons, and left her to solve alone any perplexities they might present. She set to the task with serious ardour, and having quickly accomplished one labour, eagerly demanded more. So much for her perseverance. As to her sense of duty, it evinced itself thus: she liked to learn, but hated to teach. Her progress as a pupil depended upon herself, and I saw that on herself she could calculate with certainty; her success as a teacher rested partly, perhaps chiefly, upon the will of others. It cost her a most painful effort to enter into conflict, with this foreign will, to endeavour to bend it into subjection to her own; for in what regarded people in general the action of her will was impeded by many scruples. It was as unembarrassed as strong where her own affairs were concerned, and to it she could at any time subject her inclination, if that inclination went counter to her convictions of right; yet when called upon to wrestle with the propensities, the habits, the faults of others, of children especially, who are deaf to reason, and, for the most part, insensate to persuasion, her will sometimes almost refused to act; then came in the sense of duty, and forced the reluctant will into operation. A wasteful expense of energy and labour was frequently the consequence. Frances toiled for and with her pupils like a drudge, but it was long ere her conscientious exertions were rewarded by anything like docility on their part, because they saw that they had power over her, inasmuch as by resisting her painful attempts to convince, persuade, control -- by forcing her to the employment of coercive measures -- they could inflict upon her exquisite suffering. Human beings -- human children especially -- seldom deny themselves the pleasure of exercising a power which they are conscious of possessing, even though that power consist only in a capacity to make others wretched. A pupil whose sensations are duller than those of his instructor, while his nerves are tougher and his bodily strength perhaps greater, has an immense advantage over that instructor, and he will generally use it relentlessly, because the very young, very healthy, very thoughtless know neither how to sympathize nor how to spare. Frances, I fear, suffered much; a continual weight seemed to oppress her spirits. I have said she did not live in the house; and whether in her own abode, wherever that might be, she wore the same preoccupied, unsmiling sorrowfully resolved air that always shaded her features under the roof of Mdlle. Reuter, I could not tell.
One day I gave, as a devoir, the trite little anecdote of Alfred tending cakes in the herdsman's hut, to be related with amplifications. A singular affair most of the pupils made of it. Brevity was what they had chiefly studied. The majority of the narratives were perfectly unintelligible. Those of Sylvie and Leonie Ledru alone pretended to anything like sense and connection. Eulalie, indeed, had hit upon a clever expedient for at once ensuring accuracy and saving trouble. She had obtained access somehow to an abridged history of England, and had copied the anecdote out fair. I wrote on the margin of her production, 'Stupid and deceitful,' and then tore it down the middle.
Last in the pile of single-leaved devoirs I found one of several sheets neatly written out and stitched together. I knew the hand, and scarcely needed the evidence of the signature 'Frances Evans Henri' to confirm my conjecture as to the writer's identity.
Night was my usual time for correcting devoirs, and my own room the usual scene of such task -- task most onerous hitherto; and it seemed strange to me to feel rising within me an incipient sense of interest, as I snuffed the candle and addressed myself to the perusal of the poor teacher's manuscript.
'Now,' thought I, 'I shall see a glimpse of what she really is; I shall get an idea of the nature and extent of her powers. Not that she can be expected to express herself well in a foreign tongue; but still, if she has any mind, here will be a reflection of it.'
The narrative commenced by a description of a Saxon peasant's hut, situated within the confines of a great, leafless, winter forest. It represented an evening in December; flakes of snow were falling, and the herdsman foretold a heavy storm. He summoned his wife to aid him in collecting their flock, roaming far away on the pastoral banks of the Thone; he warns her that it will be late ere they return. The good woman is reluctant to quit her occupation of baking cakes for the evening meal; but acknowledging the primary importance of securing the herds and flocks, she puts on her sheepskin mantle, and addressing a stranger who rests half reclined on a bed of rushes near the hearth, bids him mind the bread till her return.
'Take care, young man,' she continues, 'that you fasten the door well after us; and above all, open to none in our absence. Whatever sound you hear, stir not, and look not out. The night will soon fall; this forest is most wild and lonely; strange noises are often heard therein after sunset; wolves haunt these glades, and Danish warriors infest the country. Worse things are talked of. You might chance to hear, as it were, a child cry, and on opening the door to afford it succour, a great black bull or a shadowy goblin dog might rush over the threshold; or, more awful still, if something flapped, as with wings, against the lattice, and then a raven or a white dove flew in and settled on the hearth, such a visitor would be a sure sign of misfortune to the house. Therefore heed my advice, and lift the latchet for nothing.'
Her husband calls her away; both depart. The stranger, left alone, listens awhile to the muffled snow-wind, the remote, swollen sound of the river, and then he speaks.
'It is Christmas Eve,' says he; 'I mark the date. Here I sit alone on a rude couch of rushes, sheltered by the thatch of a herdsman's hut; I, whose inheritance was a kingdom, owe my night's harbourage to a poor serf. My throne is usurped, my crown presses the brow of an invader. I have no friends. My troops wander broken in the hills of Wales. Reckless robbers spoil my country. My subjects lie prostrate, their breasts crushed by the heel of the brutal Dane. Fate! thou hast done thy worst, and now thou standest before me resting thy hand on thy blunted blade. Ay; I see thine eye confront mine and demand why I still live, why I still hope. Pagan demon, I credit not thine omnipotence, and so cannot succumb to thy power. My God, whose Son, as on this night, took on Him the form of man, and for man vouchsafed to suffer and bleed, controls thy hand, and without His behest thou canst not strike a stroke. My God is sinless, eternal, all- wise -- in Him is my trust; and though stripped and crushed, by thee, though naked, desolate, void of resource, I do not despair, I cannot despair. Were the lance of Guthrum now wet with my blood, I should not despair. I watch, I toil, I hope, I pray; Jehovah, in His own time, will aid.'
I need not continue the quotation; the whole devoir was in the same strain. There were errors of orthography, there were foreign idioms, there were some faults of construction, there were verbs irregular transformed into verbs regular. It was mostly made up, as the above example shows, of short and somewhat rude sentences, and the style stood in great need of polish and sustained dignity; yet such as it was I had hitherto seen nothing like it in the course of my professorial experience. The girl's mind had conceived a picture of the hut, of the two peasants, of the crownless king; she had imagined the wintry forest; she had recalled the old Saxon ghost-leg-ends; she had appreciated Alfred's courage under calamity; she had remembered his Christian education, and had shown him, with the rooted confidence of those primitive days, relying on the scriptural Jehovah for aid against the mythological Destiny. This she had done without a hint from me. I had given the subject, but not said a word about the manner of treating it.
'I will find or make an opportunity of speaking to her,' I said to myself as I rolled the devoir up; 'I will learn what she has of English in her besides the name of Frances Evans. She is no novice in the language, that is evident; yet she told me she had neither been in England, nor taken lessons in English, nor lived in English families.'
In the course of my next lesson I made a report of the other devoirs, dealing out praise and blame in very small retail parcels, according to my custom, for there was no use in blaming severely, and high encomiums were rarely merited. I said nothing to Mdlle. Henri's exercise, and, spectacles on nose, I endeavoured to decipher in her countenance her sentiments at the omission. I wanted to find out whether in her existed a consciousness of her own talents. 'If she thinks she did a clever thing in composing that devoir, she will now look mortified,' thought I. Grave as usual, almost sombre, was 'her face; as usual her eyes were fastened on the cahier open before her. There was something, I thought, of expectation in her attitude, as I concluded a brief review of the last devoir; and when, casting it from me and rubbing my hands, I bade them take their grammars, some slight change did pass over her air and mien, as though she now relinquished a faint prospect of pleasant excitement. She had been waiting for something to be discussed in which she had a degree of interest. The discussion was not to come on, so expectation sank back, shrunk and sad; but attention, promptly filling up the void, repaired in a moment the transient collapse of feature. Still, I felt, rather than saw, during the whole course of the lesson, that a hope had been wrenched from her, and that if she did not show distress, it was because she would not. ,
At four o'clock, when the bell rang and the room was in immediate tumult, instead of taking my hat and starting from the estrade, I sat still a moment. I looked at Frances. she was putting her books into her cabas. Having fastened the button, she raised her head. Encountering my eye, she made a quiet, respectful obeisance, as bidding good-afternoon, and was turning to depart.
'Come here,' said I, lifting my finger at the same time. She hesitated; she could not hear the words amidst the uproar now pervading both schoolrooms. I repeated the sign; she approached. Again she paused within half a yard of the estrade, and looked shy, and still doubtful whether she had mistaken my meaning.
'Step up,' I said, speaking with decision. It is the only way of dealing with diffident, easily-embarrassed characters; and with some slight manual aid I presently got her placed just where I wanted her to be -- that is, between my desk and the window, where she was screened from the rush of the second division, and where no one could sneak behind her to listen.
'Take a seat,' I said, placing a tabouret. and I made her sit down. I knew what I was doing would be considered a very strange thing, and, what was more, I did not care. Frances knew it also, and, I fear, by an appearance of agitation and trembling, that she cared much. I drew from my pocket the rolled-up devoir.
'This is yours, I suppose?' said I, addressing her in English, for I now felt sure she could speak English.
'Yes,' she answered distinctly; and as I unrolled it and laid it out flat on the desk before her with my hand upon it, and a pencil in that hand, I saw her moved, and, as it were, kindled; her depression beamed as a cloud might behind which the sun is burning.
'This devoir has numerous faults,' said I. 'It will take you some years of careful study before you are in a condition to write English with absolute correctness. Attend! I will point out some principal defects.' And I went through it carefully, noting every error, and demonstrating why they were errors, and how the words or phrases ought to have been written. In the course of this sobering process she became calm. I now went on, --
'As to the substance of your devoir, Mdlle. Henri, it has surprised me. I perused it with pleasure, because I saw in it some proofs of taste and fancy. Taste and fancy are not the highest gifts of the human mind, but such as they are you possess them -- not probably in a paramount degree, but in a degree beyond what the majority can boast. You may, then, take courage; cultivate the faculties that God and nature have bestowed on you, and do not fear in any crisis of suffering, under any pressure of injustice, to drive free and full consolation from the consciousness of their strength and rarity.'
'Strength and rarity!' I repeated to myself; 'ay, the words are probably true,' for on looking up I saw the sun had dissevered its screening cloud, her countenance was transfigured, a smile shone in her eyes -- a smile almost triumphant. It seemed to say, --
'I am glad you have been forced to discover so much of my nature; you need not so carefully moderate your language. Do you think I am myself a stranger to myself? What you tell me in terms so qualified I have known fully from a child.'
She did say this as plainly as a frank and flashing glance could, but in a moment the glow of her complexion, the radiance of her aspect, had subsided. If strongly conscious of her talents, she was equally conscious of her harassing defects; and the remembrance of these, obliterated for a single second, now reviving with sudden force, at once subdued the too vivid characters in which her sense of her powers had been expressed. So quick was the revulsion of feeling, I had not time to check her triumph by reproof; ere I could contract my brows to a frown she had become serious and almost mournful- looking.
'Thank you, sir,' said she, rising. There was gratitude both in her voice and in the look with which she accompanied it. It was time, indeed, for our conference to terminate; for, when I glanced around, behold all the boarders (the day-scholars had departed) were congregated within a yard or two of my desk, and stood staring with eyes and mouths wide open. The three ma”tresses formed a whispering knot in one corner, and, close at my elbow, was the directness, sitting on a low chair, calmly clipping the tassels of her finished purse.
After all, I had profited but imperfectly by the opportunity I had so boldly achieved of speaking to Mdlle. Henri. It was my intention to ask her how she came to be possessed of two English baptismal names, Frances and Evans, in addition to her French surname, also whence she derived her good accent. I had forgotten both points, or rather our colloquy had been so brief that I had not had time to bring them forward. Moreover, I had not half tested her powers of speaking English; all I had drawn from her in that language were the words 'Yes,' and 'Thank you, sir.' 'No matter,' I reflected. 'What has been left incomplete now shall be finished another day.' Nor did I fail to keep the promise thus made to myself It was difficult to get even a few words of particular conversation with one pupil among so many; but, according to the old proverb, 'where there is a will there is a way;' and again and again I managed to find an opportunity for exchanging a few words with Mdlle. Henri, regardless that envy stared and detraction whispered whenever I approached her.
'Your book an instant.' Such was the mode in which I often began these brief dialogues. 'The time was always just at the conclusion of the lesson; and motioning to her to rise, I installed myself in her place, allowing her to stand deferentially at my side, for I esteemed it wise and right in her case to enforce strictly all forms ordinarily in use between master and pupil, the rather because I perceived that in proportion as my manner grew austere and magisterial, hers became easy and self-possessed -- an odd contradiction, doubtless, to the ordinary effect in such cases; but so it was.
'A pencil,' said I, holding out my hand without looking at her. (I am now about to sketch a brief report of the first of these conferences.) She gave me one, and while I underlined some errors in a grammatical exercise she had written, I observed, --
'You are not a native of Belgium?'
'Nor of France?'
'Where, then, is your birthplace?'
'I was born at Geneva.'
'You don't call Frances and Evans Swiss names, I presume?'
'No, sir; they are English names.'
'Just so; and is it the custom of the Genevese to give their children English appellatives?'
'Non, monsieur; mais --'
'Speak English, if you please.'
'But' (slowly and with embarrassment) 'my parents were not all the two Genevese.'
'Say both instead of "all the two," mademoiselle.'
'Not both Swiss. My mother was English.'
'Ah! and of English extraction?'
'Yes; her ancestors were all English.'
'And your father?'
'He was Swiss.'
'What besides? What was his profession?'
'Ecclesiastic -- pastor -- he had a church.'
'Since your mother is an Englishwoman, why do you not speak English with more facility?'
'Maman est morte, il y a dix ans.'
'And you do homage to her memory by forgetting her language. Have the goodness to put French out of your mind so long as I con- verse with you -- keep to English.'
'C'est si difficile, monsieur, quand on n'en a plus l'habitude.'
'You had the habitude formerly, I suppose? Now answer me in your mother tongue.'
'Yes, sir, I spoke the English more than the French when I was a child.'
'Why do you not speak it now?'
'Because I have no English friends.'
'You live with your father, I suppose?'
'My father is dead.'
'You have brothers and sisters?'
'Do you live alone?'
'No; I have an aunt -- ma tante Julienne.'
'Your father's sister?'
'Is that English?'
'No. but I forget
'For which, mademoiselle, if you were a child, I should certainly devise some slight punishment. At your age -- you must be two or three and twenty, I should think?'
'Pas encore, monsieur -- en un mois j'aurai dix-neuf ans.'
'Well, nineteen is a mature age, and, having attained it, you ought to be so solicitous for your own improvement that it should not be needful for a master to remind you twice of the expediency of your speaking English whenever practicable.'
To this wise speech I received no answer; and when I looked up, my pupil was smiling to herself a much-meaning though not very gay smile. It seemed to say, 'He talks of he knows not what.' It said this so plainly that I determined to request information on the point concerning which my ignorance seemed to be thus tacitly affirmed.
'Are you solicitous for your own improvement?'
'How do you prove it, mademoiselle?'
An odd question and bluntly put; it excited a second smile. 'Why, monsieur, I am not inattentive -- am I? I learn my lessons well
'Oh, a child can do that! And what more do you do?'
'What more can I do?'
'Oh, certainly, not much. But you are a teacher, are you not, as well as a pupil?'
'You teach lace-mending?'
'A dull, stupid occupation. Do you like it?'
'No; it is tedious.'
'Why do you pursue it? Why do you not rather teach history, geography, grammar, even arithmetic?'
'Is monsieur certain that I am myself thoroughly acquainted with these studies?'
'I don't know. You ought to be at your age.'
'But I never was at school, monsieur
'Indeed! What, then, were your friends -- what was your aunt about? She is very much to blame.'
'No, monsieur, no; my aunt is good -- she is not to blame -- she does what she can; she lodges and nourishes me' (I report Mdlle. Henri's phrases literally, and it was thus she translated from the French). 'She is not rich; she has only an annuity of twelve hundred francs, and it would be impossible for her to send me to school.'
'Rather,' thought I to myself on hearing this, but I continued, in the dogmatical tone I had adopted, --
'It is sad, however, that you should be brought up in ignorance of the most ordinary branches of education. Had you known something of history and grammar you might, by degrees, have relinquished your lace-mending drudgery, and risen in the world.'
'It is what I mean to do.'
'How? By a knowledge of English alone? That will not suffice. No respectable family will receive a governess whose whole stock of knowledge consists in a familiarity with one foreign language.'
'Monsieur, I know other things.'
'Yes, yes; you can work with Berlin wools, and embroider handkerchiefs and collars; that will do little for you.'
Mdlle. Henri's lips were unclosed to answer, but she checked herself, as thinking the discussion had been sufficiently pursued, and remained silent.
'Speak,' I continued impatiently. 'I never like the appearance of acquiescence when the reality is not there; and you had a contradiction at your tongue's end.'
'Monsieur, I have had many lessons both in grammar, history, geography, and arithmetic. I have gone through a course of each study.'
'Bravo! But how did you manage it, since your aunt could not afford to send you to school?'
'By lace-mending; by the thing monsieur despises so much.'
'Truly! And now, mademoiselle, it will be a good exercise for you to explain to me in English how such a result was produced by such means.
'Monsieur, I begged my aunt to have me taught lace-mending soon after we came to Brussels, because I knew it was a metier -- a trade -- which was easily learned, and by which I could earn some money very soon. I learned it in a few days; and I quickly got work, for all the Brussels ladies have old lace -- very precious -- which must be mended all the times it is washed. I earned money a little, and this money I gave for lessons in the studies I have mentioned. Some of it I spent in buying books -- English books especially. Soon I shall try to find a place of governess, or schoolteacher, when I can write and speak English well; but it will be difficult, because those who know I have been a lace-mender will despise me, as the pupils here despise me. Pourtant j'ai mon projet,' she added in a lower tone.
'What is it?'
'I will go and live in England; I will teach French there.'
The words were pronounced emphatically. She said 'England' as you might suppose an Israelite of Moses' days would have said Canaan.
'Have you a wish to see England?'
'Yes, and an intention.'
And here a voice, the voice of the directness, interposed, -
'Mademoiselle Henri, je crois qu'il va pleuvoir; vous feriez bien, ma bonne amie, de retourner chez vous tout de suite.'
In silence, without a word of thanks for this officious warning, Mdlle. Henri collected her books. She moved to me respectfully, endeavoured to move to her superior, though the endeavour was almost a failure, for her head seemed as if it would not bend, and thus departed.
Where there is one grain of perseverance or wilfulness in the composition, trifling obstacles are ever known rather to stimulate than discourage. Mdlle. Reuter might as well have spared herself the trouble of giving that intimation about the weather (by-the-bye, her prediction was falsified by the event; it did not rain that evening). At the close of the next lesson I was again at Mdlle. Henri's desk. Thus did I accost her, --
'What is your idea of England, mademoiselle? Why do you wish to go there?'
Accustomed by this time to the calculated abruptness of my manner, it no longer discomposed or surprised her, and she answered with only so much of hesitation as was rendered inevitable by the difficulty she experienced in improvising the translation of her thoughts from French to English.
'England is something unique, as I have heard and read. My idea of it is vague, and I want to go there to render my idea clear, definite.'
'Hum! How much of England do you suppose you could see if you went there in the capacity of a teacher? A strange notion you must have of getting a clear and definite idea of a country! All you could see of Great Britain would be the interior of a school, or at most of one or two private dwellings.'
'It would be an English school; they would be English dwellings.'
'Indisputably. but what then? What would be the value of observations made on a scale so narrow?' 'Monsieur, might not one learn something by analogy? An -- echantillon -- a -- a sample often serves to give an idea of the whole. besides, narrow and wide are words, comparative, are they not? All my life would perhaps seem narrow in your eyes. All the life of a -- that little animal subterranean -- une taupe -- comment dit-on?'
'Yes; a mole, which lives underground, would seem narrow even to me.
'Well, mademoiselle, what then? Proceed.'
'Mais, monsieur, vous me comprenez.'
'Not in the least. Have the goodness to explain.'
'Why, monsieur, it is just so. In Switzerland I have done but little, learned but little, and seen but little. My life there was in a circle. I walked the same round every day; I could not get out of it. Had I rested -- remained there even till my death -- I should never have enlarged it, because I am poor and not skilful; I have not great acquirements. When I was quite tired of this round, I begged my aunt to go to Brussels. My existence is no larger here, because I am no richer or higher; I walk in as narrow a limit, but the scene is changed. It would change again if I went to England. I knew something of the bourgeois of Geneva; now I know something of the bourgeois of Brussels. If I went to London, I should know something of the bourgeois of London. Can you make any sense out of what I say,. monsieur, or is it all obscure?'
'I see, I see. Now let us advert to another subject. You propose to devote your life to teaching, and you are a most unsuccessful teacher; you cannot keep your pupils in order.'
A flush of painful confusion was the result of this harsh remark. She bent her head to the desk; but soon raising it, replied, --
'Monsieur, I am not a skilful teacher, it is true, but practice improves; besides, I work under difficulties. Here I only teach sewing. I can show no power in sewing, no superiority; it is a subordinate art. Then I have no associates in this house; I am isolated. I am too a heretic, which deprives me of influence.'
'And in England you would be a foreigner; that too would deprive you of influence, and would effectually separate you from all round you. In England you would have as few connections, as little importance as you have here.'
'But I should be learning something. For the rest, there are probably difficulties for such as I everywhere; and if I must contend, and perhaps be conquered, I would rather submit to English pride than to Flemish coarseness. Besides, monsieur --'
She stopped -- not evidently from any difficulty in finding words to express herself, but because discretion seemed to say, 'You have said enough.'
'Finish your phrase,' I urged.
'Besides, monsieur, I long to live once more among Protestants; they are more honest than Catholics. A Romish school is a building with porous walls, a hollow floor, a false ceiling. Every room in this house, monsieur, has eye-holes and ear-holes, and what the house is the inhabitants are -- very treacherous. They all think it lawful to tell lies; they all call it politeness to profess friendship where they feel hatred.'
'All?' said I. 'You mean the pupils -- the mere children -- inexperienced, giddy things, who have not learned to distinguish the difference between right and wrong?'
'On the contrary, monsieur, the children are the most sincere. They have not yet had time to become accomplished in duplicity. They will tell lies, but they do it inartificially and you know they are lying; but the grown-up people are very false. They deceive strangers, they deceive each other
A servant here entered.
'Mdlle. Henri, Mdlle. Reuter vous prie de vouloir bien conduire la petite de Dorlodot chez elle. Elle vous attend dans le cabinet de Rosalie la portiere -- c'est que sa borne n'est pas venue la chercher - voyez-vous.'
'Eh bien! est-ce que je suis sa bonne-moi?' demanded Mdlle. Henri; then smiling with that same bitter, derisive smile I had seen on her lips once before, she hastily rose and made her exit.
The young Anglo-Swiss evidently derived both pleasure and profit from the study of her mother-tongue. In teaching her I did not, of course, confine myself to the ordinary school routine. I made instruction in English a channel for instruction in literature. I prescribed to her a course of reading. She had a little selection of English classics, a few of which had been left her by her mother, and the others she had purchased with her own penny-fee. I lent her some more modern works. All these she read with avidity, giving me, in writing, a clear summary of each work when she had perused it. Composition, too, she delighted in. Such occupation seemed the very breath of her nostrils, and soon her improved productions wrung from me the avowal that those qualities in her I had termed taste and fancy ought rather to have been denominated judgment and imagination. When I intimated so much, which I did as usual in dry and stinted phrase, I looked for the radiant and exulting smile my one word of eulogy had elicited before; but Frances coloured. If she did smile, it was very softly and shyly; and instead of looking up to me with a conquering glance, her eyes rested on my hand, which, stretched over her shoulder, was writing some directions with a pencil on the margin of her book.
'Well, are you pleased that I am satisfied with your progress?' I asked.
'Yes,' said she slowly, gently, the blush that had half subsided returning.
'But I do not say enough, I suppose" I continued. 'My praises are too cool.'
She made no answer, and, I thought, looked a little sad. I divined her thoughts, and should much have liked to have responded to them, had it been expedient so to do. She was not now very ambitious of my admiration, not eagerly desirous of dazzling me; a little affection -- ever so little -- pleased her better than all the panegyrics in the world. Feeling this, I stood a good while behind her, writing on the margin of her book. I could hardly quit my station or relinquish my occupation. Something retained me bending there, my head very near hers, and my hand near hers too; but the margin of a copy-book is not an illimitable space -- so, doubtless, the directness thought; and she took occasion to walk past, in order to ascertain by what art I prolonged so disproportionately the period necessary for filling it. I was obliged to go. Distasteful effort -- to leave what we most prefer.
Frances did not become pale or feeble in consequence of her sedentary employment; perhaps the stimulus it communicated to her mind counterbalanced the inaction it imposed on her body. She changed, indeed -- changed obviously and rapidly; but it was for the better. When I first saw her, her countenance was sunless, her complexion colourless; she looked like one who had no source of enjoyment, no store of bliss anywhere in the world. Now the cloud had passed from her mien, leaving space for the dawn of hope and interest, and those feelings rose like a clear morning, animating what had been depressed, tinting what had been pale. Her eyes, whose colour I had not at first known, so dim were they with repressed tears, so shadowed with ceaseless dejection, now, lit by a ray of the sunshine that cheered her heart, revealed irids of bright hazel -- irids large and full, screened with long lashes, and pupils instinct with fire. That look of wan emaciation which anxiety or low spirits often communicates to a thoughtful, thin face, rather long than round, having vanished from hers, a clearness of skin almost bloom and a plumpness almost embonpoint softened the decided lines of her features. Her figure shared in this beneficial change. It became rounder; and as the harmony of her form was complete and her stature of the graceful middle height, one did not regret (or at least I did not regret) the absence of confirmed fullness in contours still slight, though compact, elegant, flexible. The exquisite turning of waist, wrist, hand, foot, and ankle satisfied completely my notions of symmetry, and allowed a lightness and freedom of movement which corresponded with my ideas of grace.
Thus improved, thus wakened to life, Mdlle. Henri began to take a new footing in the school. Her mental power manifested gradually but steadily, ere long extorted recognition even from the envious; and when the young and healthy saw that she could smile brightly, converse gaily, move with vivacity and alertness, they acknowledged in her a sisterhood of youth and health, and tolerated her as of their kind accordingly.
To speak truth, I watched this change much as a gardener watches the growth of a precious plant, and I contributed to it too, even as the said gardener contributes to the development of his favourite. To me it was not difficult to discover how I could best foster my pupil, cherish her starved feelings, and induce the out- ward manifestation of that inward vigour which sunless drought and blighting blast had hitherto forbidden to expand. Constancy of attention, a kindness as mute as watchful, always standing by her, cloaked in the rough garb of austerity, and making its real nature known only by a rare glance of interest or a cordial and gentle word; real respect masked with seeming imperiousness, directing, urging her actions, yet helping her too, and that with devoted care, -- these were the means I used, for these means best suited Frances' feelings, as susceptible as deep-vibrating, her nature at once proud and shy.
The benefits of my system became apparent also in her altered demeanour as a teacher. She now took her place amongst her pupils with an air of spirit and firmness which assured them at once that she meant to be obeyed, and obeyed she was. They felt they had lost their power over her. If any girl had rebelled, she would no longer have taken her rebellion to heart. She possessed a source of comfort they could not drain, a pillar of support they could not overthrow. Formerly, when insulted, she wept; now, she smiled.
The public reading of one of her devoirs achieved the revelation of her talents to all and sundry. I remember the subject -- it was an emigrant's letter to his friends at home. It opened with simplicity. Some natural and graphic touches disclosed to the reader the scene of virgin forest and great New World river -- barren of sail and flag -- amidst which the epistle was supposed to be indited. The difficulties and dangers that attend a settler's life were hinted at; and in the few words said on that subject, Mdlle. Henri failed not to render audible the voice of resolve, patience, endeavour. The disasters which had driven him from his native country were alluded to; stainless honour, inflexible independence, indestructible self-respect there took the word. Past days were spoken of; the grief of parting, the regrets of absence, were touched upon. feeling, forcible and fine, breathed eloquent in every period. At the close, consolation was suggested; religious faith became there the speaker, and she spoke well.
The devoir was powerfully written in language at once chaste and choice, in a style nerved with vigour and graced with harmony.
Mdlle. Reuter was quite sufficiently acquainted with English to understand it when read or spoken in her presence, though she could neither speak nor write it herself. During the perusal of this devoir she sat placidly busy, her eyes and fingers occupied with the formation of a riviere, or open-work hem round a cambric handkerchief. She said nothing, and her face and forehead, clothed with a mask of purely negative expression, were as blank of comment as her lips. As neither surprise, pleasure, approbation, nor interest was evinced in her countenance, so no more were disdain, envy, annoyance, weariness; if that inscrutable mien said anything, it was simply this, --
'The matter is too trite to excite an emotion or call forth an opinion.'
As soon as I had done a hum rose. Several of the pupils, pressing round Mdlle. Henri, began to beset her with compliments. The composed voice of the directness was now heard, --
'Young ladies, such of you as have cloaks and umbrellas will hasten to return home before the shower becomes heavier' (it was raining a little); 'the remainder will wait till their respective servants arrive to fetch them.' And the school dispersed, for it was four o'clock.
'Monsieur, a word,' said Mdlle. Reuter, stepping on to the estrade, and signifying, by a movement of the hand, that she wished me to relinquish, for an instant, the castor I had clutched.
'Mademoiselle, I am at your service.'
'Monsieur, it is, of course, an excellent plan to encourage effort in young people by making conspicuous the progress of any particularly industrious pupil; but do you not think that, in the present instance, Mdlle. Henri can hardly be considered as a concurrent with the other pupils? She is older than most of them, and has had advantages of an exclusive nature for acquiring a knowledge of English. On the other hand, her sphere of life is somewhat beneath theirs. Under these circumstances, a public distinction conferred upon Mdlle. Henri may be the means of suggesting comparisons and exciting feelings such as would be far from advantageous to the individual forming their object. The interest I take in Mdlle. Henri's real welfare makes me desirous of screening her from annoyances of this sort; besides, monsieur, as I have before hinted to you, the sentiment of amour propre has a somewhat marked preponderance in her character. Celebrity has a tendency to foster this sentiment, and in her it should be rather repressed -- she rather needs keeping down than bringing forward; and then I think, monsieur -- it appears to me that ambition, literary ambition especially, is not a feeling to be cherished in the mind of a woman. Would not Mdlle. Henri be much safer and happier if taught to believe that in the quiet discharge of social duties consists her real vocation, than if stimulated to aspire after applause and publicity? She may never marry; scanty as are her resources, obscure as are her connections, uncertain as is her health (for I think her consumptive; her mother died of that complaint), it is more than probable she never will. I do not see how she can rise to a position whence such a step would be possible; but even in celibacy it would be better for her to retain the character and habits of a respectable decorous female.'
'Indisputably, mademoiselle,' was my answer. 'Your opinion admits of no doubt;' and fearful of the harangue being renewed, I retreated under cover of that cordial sentence of assent.
At the date of a fortnight after the little incident noted above, I find it recorded in my diary that a hiatus occurred in Mdlle. Henri's usually regular attendance in class. The first day or two I wondered at her absence, but did not like to ask an explanation of it. I thought, indeed, some chance word might be dropped which would afford me the information I wished to obtain, without my running the risk of exciting silly smiles and gossiping whispers by demanding it. But when a week passed and the seat at the desk near the door still remained vacant, and when no allusion was made to the circumstance by any individual of the class -- when, on the contrary, I found that all observed a marked silence on the point -- I determined, coute qu'il coute, to break the ice of this silly reserve. I selected Sylvie as my informant, because from her I knew that I should at least get a sensible answer, unaccompanied by wriggle, titter, or other flourish of folly.
'Ou donc est Mdlle. Henri?' I said one day as I returned an exercise-book I had been examining.
'Elle est partie, monsieur.'
'Partie! et pour combien de temps? Quand reviendra-t-elle?'
'Elle est partie pour toujours, monsieur; elle ne reviendra plus.'
'Ah!' was my involuntary exclamation; then after a pause, --
'En etes-vous bien sure, Sylvie?'
'Oui, oui, monsieur, mademoiselle la directrice nous l'a dit elle- meme il y a deux ou trois jours.'
And I could pursue my inquiries no further; time, place, and circumstances forbade my adding another word. I could neither comment on what had been said nor demand further particulars. A question as to the reason of the teacher's departure, as to whether it had been voluntary or otherwise, was indeed on my lips, but I suppressed it -- there were listeners all round. An hour after, in passing Sylvie in the corridor as she was putting on her bonnet, I stopped short and asked, --
'Sylvie, do you know Mdlle. Henri's address? I have some books of hers,' I added carelessly, 'and I should wish to send them to her.'
'No, monsieur,' replied Sylvie; 'but perhaps Rosalie, the portress, will be able to give it you.'
Rosalie's cabinet was just at hand. I stepped in and repeated the inquiry. Rosalie, a smart French grisette, looked up from her work with a knowing smile, precisely the sort of smile I had been so desirous to avoid exciting. Her answer was prepared. She knew nothing whatever of Mdlle. Henri's address -- had never known it. Turning from her with impatience -- for I believed she lied and was hired to lie -- I almost knocked down some one who had been standing at my back. It was the directness. My abrupt movement made her recoil two or three steps. I was obliged to apologize, which I did more concisely than politely. No man likes to be dogged, and in the very irritable mood in which I then was the sight of Mdlle. Reuter thoroughly incensed me. At the moment I turned her countenance looked hard, dark, and inquisitive; her eyes were bent upon me with an expression of almost hungry curiosity. I had scarcely caught this phase of physiognomy ere it had vanished; a bland smile played on her features; my harsh apology was received with good-humoured facility.
'Oh, don't mention it, monsieur; you only touched my hair with your elbow; it is no worse, only a little dishevelled.' She shook it back, and passing her fingers through her curls, loosened them into more numerous and flowing ringlets. Then she went on with vivacity, --
'Rosalie, I was coming to tell you to go instantly and close the windows of the salon. The wind is rising, and the muslin curtains will be covered with dust.'
Rosalie departed. 'Now,' thought I, 'this will not do. Mdlle. Reuter thinks her meanness in eavesdropping is screened by her art in devising a pretext, whereas the muslin curtains she speaks of are not more transparent than this same pretext.' An impulse came over me to thrust the flimsy screen aside, and confront her craft boldly with a word or two of plain truth. 'The roughshod foot treads most firmly on slippery ground,' thought I; so I began, --
'Mademoiselle Henri has left your establishment. been dismissed, I presume?'
'Ah, I wished to have a little conversation with you, monsieur,' replied the directness, with the most natural and affable air in the world. 'but we cannot talk quietly here. Will monsieur step into the garden a minute?' And she preceded me, stepping out through the glass door I have before mentioned.
'There,' said she, when we had reached the centre of the middle alley, and when the foliage of shrubs and trees, now in their summer pride, closing behind and around us, shut out the view of the house, and thus imparted a sense of seclusion even to this little plot of ground in the very core of a capital -- 'there one feels quiet and free when there are only pear-trees and rose-bushes about one. I dare say you, like me, monsieur, are sometimes tired of being eternally in the midst of life, of having human faces always round you, human eyes always upon you, human voices always in your car. I am sure I often wish intensely for liberty to spend a whole month in the country at some little farmhouse, bien gentille, bien propre tout entouree de champs et de bois; quelle vie charmante que la vie champetre! N'est-ce pas, monsieur?'
'Cela depend, mademoiselle.'
'Que le vent est bon et frais!' continued the directness; and she was right there, for it was a south wind, soft and sweet. I carried my hat in my hand, and this gentle breeze, passing through my hair, soothed my temples like balm. Its refreshing effect, however, penetrated no deeper than the mere surface of the frame; for as I walked by the side of Mdlle. Reuter my heart was still hot within me, and while I was musing the fire burned. Then spake I with my tongue, --
'I understand Mdlle. Henri is gone from hence, and will not return?'
'Ah, true! I meant to have named the subject to you some days ago, but my time is so completely taken up I cannot do half the things I wish. Have you never experienced what it is, monsieur, to find the day too short by twelve hours for your numerous duties?'
'Not often. Mdlle. Henri's departure was not voluntary, I presume? If it had been, she would certainly have given me some intimation of it, being my pupil.'
'Oh, she did not tell you? That was strange. For my part, I never thought of adverting to the subject; when one has so many things to attend to, one is apt to forget little incidents that are not of primary importance.'
'You consider Mdlle. Henri's dismission, then, as a very insignificant event?'
'Dismission? Ah! she was not dismissed, I can say with truth, monsieur, that since I became the head of this establishment no master or teacher has ever been dismissed from it.'
'Yet some have left it, mademoiselle?'
'Many. I have found it necessary to change frequently. A change of instructors is often beneficial to the interests of a school; it gives life and variety to the proceedings; it amuses the pupils, and suggests to the parents the idea of exertion and progress.'
'Yet when you are tired of a professor or ma”tresse you scruple to dismiss them?'
'No need to have recourse to such extreme measures I assure you. Allons, monsieur le professeur -- asseyons nous; je vais vous donner une petite lecon dans votre etat d'instituteur.' (I wish I might write all she said to me in French; it loses sadly by being translated into English.) We had now reached the garden-chair. The directness sat down, and signed to me to sit by her; but I only rested my knee on the seat, and stood leaning my head and arm against the embowering branch of a huge laburnum, whose golden flowers, blent with the dusky green leaves of a lilac-bush, formed a mixed arch of shade and sunshine over the retreat. Mdlle. Reuter sat silent a moment; some novel movements were evidently working in her mind, and they showed their nature on her astute brow. She was meditating some chef d'oeuvre of policy. Convinced by several months' experience that the affectation of virtues she did not possess was unavailing to ensnare me -- aware that I had read her real nature, and would believe nothing of the character she gave out as being hers -- she had determined at last to try a new key, and see if the lock of my heart would yield to that; a little audacity, a word of truth a glimpse of the real. 'Yes, I will try,' was her inward resolve; and then her blue eye glittered upon me -- it did not flash, nothing of flame ever kindled in its temperate gleam.
'Monsieur fears to sit by me?' she inquired playfully.
'I have no wish to usurp PeletÕs place,' I answered, for I had got the habit of speaking to her bluntly -- a habit begun in anger, but continued because I saw that, instead of offending it fascinated her. She cast down her eyes and dropped her eyelids. She sighed uneasily; she turned with an anxious gesture, as if she would give me the idea of a bird that flutters in its cage, and would fain fly from its jail and jailer, and seek its natural mate and pleasant nest.
'Well, and your lesson?' I demanded briefly.
'Ah!' she exclaimed, recovering herself, 'you are so young, so frank and fearless, so talented, so impatient of imbecility, so disdainful of vulgarity, you need a lesson. Here it is, then. Far more is to be done in this world by dexterity than by strength; but perhaps you knew that before, for there is delicacy as well as power in your character, policy as well as pride!'
'Go on,' said I; and I could hardly help smiling, the flattery was so piquant, so finely seasoned. She caught the prohibited smile, though I passed my hand over my mouth to conceal it: and again she made room for me to sit beside her. I shook my head, though temptation penetrated to my senses at the moment, and once more I told her to go on.
'Well, then, if ever you are at the head of a large establishment, dismiss nobody. To speak truth, monsieur (and to you I will speak truth), I despise people who are always making rows, blustering, sending off one to the right, and another to the left, urging and hurrying circumstances. I'll tell you what I like best to do, monsieur, shall I?' She looked up again; she had compounded her glance well this rime -- much archness, mote deference, a spicy dash of coquetry, an unveiled consciousness of capacity. I nodded. She treated me like the great Mogul; so I became the great Mogul as far as she was concerned.
'I like, monsieur, to take my knitting in my hands, and to sit quietly down in my chair. Circumstances defile past me. I watch their march. So long as they follow the course I wish, I say nothing and do nothing. I don't clap my hands, and cry out "Bravo! how lucky I am!" to attract the attention and envy of my neighbours -- I am merely passive; but when events fall out ill -- when circumstances become adverse -- I watch very vigilantly. I knit on still, and still I hold my tongue; but every now and then, monsieur, I just put my toe out -- so -- and give the rebellious circumstance a little secret push, without noise which sends it the way I wish, and I am successful after all, and nobody has seen my expedient. So, when teachers or masters become troublesome and inefficient -- when, in short, the interests of the school would suffer from their retaining their places -- I mind my knitting; events progress, circumstances glide past; I see one which, if pushed ever so little awry will render untenable the post I wish to have vacated -- the deed is done -- the stumbling- block removed -- and no one saw me; I have not made an enemy; I am rid of an encumbrance.'
A moment since, and I thought her alluring; this speech concluded, I looked on her with distaste. 'Just like you,' was my cold answer. 'And in this way you have ousted Mdlle. Henri? You wanted her office, therefore you rendered it intolerable to her?'
'Not at all, monsieur; I was merely anxious about Mdlle. Henri's health. No; your moral sight is clear and piercing, but there you have failed to discover the truth. I took -- I have always taken a real interest in Mdlle. Henri's welfare. I did not like her going out in all weathers; I thought it would be more advantageous for her to obtain a permanent situation: besides, I considered her now qualified to do something more than teach sewing. I reasoned with her; left the decision to herself She saw the correctness of my views, and adopted them.'
'Excellent! And now, mademoiselle, you will have the goodness to give me her address.'
'Her address!' and a sombre and stony change came over the mien of the directness -'her address? Ah! well, I wish I could oblige you, monsieur, but I cannot, and I will tell you why. Whenever I myself asked her for her address, she always evaded the inquiry. I thought -- I may be wrong -- but I thought her motive for doing so was a natural though mistaken reluctance to introduce me to some probably very poor abode. Her means were narrow, her origin obscure; she lives somewhere, doubtless, in the 'basse ville."'
'I'll not lose sight of my best pupil yet,' said I, 'though she were born of beggars and lodged in a cellar; for the rest, it is absurd to make a bugbear of her origin to me. I happen to know that she was a Swiss pastor's daughter, neither more nor less; and as to her narrow means, I care nothing for the poverty of her purse so long as her heart overflows with affluence.'
'Your sentiments are perfectly noble, monsieur,' said the directress, affecting to suppress a yawn; her sprightliness was now extinct, her temporary candour shut up. The little, red-coloured, piratical-looking pennon of audacity she had allowed to float a minute in the air was furled, and the broad, sober-hued flag of dissimulation again hung low over the citadel. I did not like her thus, so I cut short the tete-ˆ-tete and departed.
Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real fife. If they observed this duty conscientiously, they would give us fewer pictures chequered with vivid contrasts of fight and shade. They would seldom elevate their heroes and heroines to the heights of rapture, still seldomer sink them to the depths of despair; for if we rarely taste the fullness of joy in this life, we yet more rarely savour the acrid bitterness of hopeless anguish. Unless, indeed, we have plunged like beasts into sensual indulgence -- abused, strained, stimulated, again overstrained, and at last destroyed our faculties for enjoyment; then, truly, we may find ourselves without support, robed of hope. Our agony is great, and how can it end? We have broken the spring of our powers. Life must be all suffering -- too feeble to conceive faith; death must be darkness; God, spirits, religion can have no place in our collapsed minds, where linger only hideous and polluting recollections of vice; and time brings us on to the brink of the grave, and dissolution flings us in -- a rag eaten through and through with disease, wrung together with pain, stamped into the churchyard sod by the inexorable heel of despair.
But the man of regular life and rational mind never despairs. He loses his property -- it is a blow -- he staggers a moment; then his energies, roused by the smart, are at work to seek a remedy; activity soon mitigates regret. Sickness affects him; he takes patience -- endures what he cannot cure. Acute pain racks him -- his writhing limbs know not where to find rest; he leans on Hope's anchor. Death takes from him what he loves; roots up, and tears violently away the stem round which his affections were twined -- a dark, dismal time, a frightful wrench. But some morning Religion looks into his desolate house with sunrise, and says that in another world, another life, he shall meet his kindred again. She speaks of that world as a place unsullied by sin, of that fife as an era unembittered by suffering; she mightily strengthens her consolation by connecting with it two ideas -- which mortals cannot comprehend, but on which they love to repose -- Eternity, Immortality; and the mind of the mourner, being filled with an image, faint yet glorious, of heavenly hills all light and peace -- of a spirit resting there in bliss -- of a day when his spirit shall also alight there, free and disembodied -- of a reunion perfected by love, purified from fear -- he takes courage, goes out to encounter the necessities and discharge the duties of life; and though sadness may never lift her burden from his mind, Hope will enable him to support it.
Well, and what suggested all this, and what is the inference to be drawn therefrom? What suggested it is the circumstance of my best pupil -- my treasure -- being snatched from my hands, and put away out of my reach. The inference to be drawn from it is, that being a steady, reasonable man, I did not allow the resentment, disappointment, and grief engendered in my mind by this evil chance to grow there to any monstrous size, nor did I allow them to monopolize the whole space of my heart; I pent them, on the contrary, in one strait and secret nook. In the daytime, too, when I was about my duties, I put them on the silent system; and it was only after I had closed the door of my chamber at night that I somewhat relaxed my severity towards these morose nurslings, and allowed vent to their language of murmurs; then, in revenge, they sat on my pillow, haunted my bed, and kept me awake with their long midnight cry.
A week passed. I had said nothing more to Mdlle. Reuter. I had been calm in my demeanour to her, though stony cold and hard. When I looked at her, it was with the glance fitting to be bestowed on one who I knew had consulted jealousy as an adviser, and employed treachery as an instrument -- the glance of quiet disdain and rooted distrust, On Saturday evening, ere I left the house, I stepped into the salle-ˆ-manger where she was sitting alone, and placing myself before her, I asked, with the same tranquil tone and manner that I should have used had I put the question for the first time, --
'Mademoiselle, will you have the goodness to give me the address of Frances Evans Henri?'
A little surprised, but not disconcerted, she smilingly disclaimed any knowledge of that address, adding, 'Monsieur has perhaps forgotten that I explained all about that circumstance before -- a week ago?'
'Mademoiselle,' I continued, 'you would greatly oblige me by directing me to that young person's abode.'
She seemed somewhat puzzled; and at last, looking up with an admirably counterfeited air of naivete, she demanded 'Does monsieur think I am telling an untruth?'
Still avoiding to give her a direct answer, I said, 'It is not, then, your intention, mademoiselle, to oblige me in this particular?'
'But, monsieur, how can I tell you what I do not know?'
'Very well. I understand you perfectly, mademoiselle, and now I have only two or three words to say. This is the last week in July; in another month the vacation will commence. Have the goodness to avail yourself of the leisure it will afford you to look out for another English master. At the close of August I shall be under the necessity of resigning my post in your establishment.'
I did not wait for her comments on this announcement, but bowed and immediately withdrew.
That same evening, soon after dinner, a servant brought me a small packet. It was directed in a hand I knew, but had not hoped so soon to see again. Being in my own apartment and alone, there was nothing to prevent my immediately opening it. It contained four five-franc pieces, and a note in English.
'Monsieur, -- I came to Mdlle. Reuter's house yesterday at the
time when I knew you would be just about finishing your lesson,
and I asked if I might go into the schoolroom and speak to you.
Mdlle. Reuter came out and said you were already gone. It had not
yet struck four, so I thought she must be mistaken, but concluded it
would be vain to call another day on the same errand. In one sense a
note will do as well. It will wrap up the twenty francs, the price of
the lessons I have received from you; and if it will not fully express
the thanks I owe you in addition -- if it will not bid you good-bye as
I could wish to have done -- if it will not tell you, as I long to do,
how sorry I am that I shall probably never see you more -- why,
spoken words would hardly be more adequate to the task. Had I
seen you, I should probably have stammered out something feeble
and unsatisfactory -- something belying my feelings rather than
explaining them; so it is perhaps as well that I was denied admission
to your presence. You often remarked, monsieur, that my devoirs
dwelt a great deal on fortitude in bearing grief; you said I introduced that theme too often. I find indeed that it is much easier to
write about a severe duty than to perform it, for I am oppressed
when I see and feel to what a reverse fate has condemned me. You
were kind to me, monsieur -- very kind. I am afflicted -- I am heart-
broken to be quite separated from you; soon I shall have no friend
on earth. But it is useless troubling you with my distresses. What
claim have I on your sympathy? None. I will then say no more. --
F. E. Henri.
I put up the note in my pocket-book; I slipped the five-franc pieces into my purse; then I took a turn through my narrow chamber.
'Mdlle. Reuter talked about her poverty,' said I, 'and she is poor; yet she pays her debts and more. I have not yet given her a quarter's lessons, and she has sent me a quarter's due. I wonder of what she deprived herself to scrape together the twenty francs. I wonder what sort of a place she has to live in, and what sort of a woman her aunt is, and whether she is likely to get employment to supply the place she has lost. No doubt she will have to trudge about long enough from school to school, to inquire here and apply there, he rejected in this place, disappointed in that. Many an evening she'll go to her bed tired and unsuccessful. And the directness would not let her in to bid me good-bye? I might not have the chance of standing with her for a few minutes at a window in the schoolroom and exchanging some half-dozen of sentences -- getting to know where she lived -- putting matters in train for having all things arranged to my mind? No address on the note,' I continued, drawing it again from the pocket-book and examining it on each side of the two leaves. 'Women are women that is certain, and always do business like women. Men mechanically put a date and address to their communications. And these five-franc pieces' (I hauled them forth from my purse) -- 'if she had offered me them herself instead of tying them up with a thread of green silk in a kind of Lilliputian packet, I could have thrust them back into her little hand, and shut up the small, taper fingers over them -- so -- and compelled her shame, her pride, her shyness, all to yield to a little bit of determined will. Now where is she? How can I get at her?'
Opening my chamber door, I walked down into the kitchen.
'Who brought the packet?' I asked of the servant who had delivered it to me.
'Un petit commissionaire, monsieur.'
'Did he say anything?'
And I wended my way up the back stairs, wondrously the wiser for my inquiries.
'No matter,' said I to myself, as I again closed the door -- 'no matter; I'll seek her through Brussels.'
And I did. I sought her day by day, whenever I had a moment's leisure, for four weeks. I sought her on Sundays all day long; I sought her on the boulevards, in the Allee Verte, in the Park; I sought her in. St. Gudule and St. Jacques; I sought her in the two Protestant chapels; I attended these latter at the German, French, and English services, not doubting that I should meet her at one of them. All my researches were absolutely fruitless; my security on the last point was proved by the event to be equally groundless with my other calculations. I stood at the door of each chapel after the service, and waited till every individual had come out scrutinizing every gown draping a slender form, peering under every bonnet covering a young head. In vain. I saw girlish figures pass me, drawing their black scarfs over their sloping shoulders, but none of them had the exact rum and air of Mdlle. Henri's. I saw pale and thoughtful faces encadrees in bands of brown hair, but I never found her forehead, her eyes, her eye- brows. All the features of all the faces I met seemed frittered away, because my eye failed to recognize the peculiarities it was bent upon -- an ample space of brow and a large dark, and serious eye, with a fine but decided line of eyebrow traced above.
'She has probably left Brussels -- perhaps is gone to England, as she said she would,' muttered I inwardly, as on the afternoon of the fourth Sunday I turned from the door of the chapel-royal, which the doorkeeper had just closed and locked, and followed in the wake of the last of the congregation, now dispersed and dispersing over the square. I had soon outwalked the couples of English gentlemen and ladies. (Gracious goodness! why don't they dress better? My eye is yet filled with visions of the high-flounced, slovenly, and rumbled dresses in costly silk and satin, of the large unbecoming collars in expensive lace, of the ill-cut coats and strangely fashioned pantaloons which every Sunday, at the English service, filled the choirs of the chapel-royal, and after it issuing forth into the square, came into disadvantageous contrast with freshly and trimly attired foreign figures, hastening to attend salut at the church of Coburg.) I had passed these pairs of Britons, and the groups of pretty British children, and the British footmen and waiting-maids; I had crossed the Place Royale, and got into the Rue Royale; thence I had diverged into the Rue de Louvain, an old and quiet street. I remember that, feeling a little hungry, and not desiring to go back and take my share of the gouter, now on the refectory table at Pelet's -- to wit, pistolets and water -- I stepped into a baker's and refreshed myself on a couc (?) -- it is a Flemish word, I don't know how to spell it -- a Corinthe -- anglice, a currant bun -- and a cup of coffee; and then I strolled on towards. the Porte de Louvain. Very soon I was out of the city, and slowly mounting the hill, which ascends from the gate, I took my time; for the afternoon, though cloudy, was very sultry, and not a breeze stirred to refresh the atmosphere. No inhabitant of Brussels need wander far to search for solitude; let him but move half a league from his own city, and he will find her brooding still and blank over the wide fields, so drear though so fertile, spread out treeless and trackless round the capital of Brabant. Having gained the summit of the hill, and having stood and looked long over the cultured but lifeless campaign, I felt a wish to quit the highroad, which I had hitherto followed, and get in among those tilled grounds -- fertile as the beds of a Brobdignagian kitchen-garden - spreading far and wide even to the boundaries of the horizon, where from a dusk green distance changed them to a sullen blue, and con- fused their tints with those of the livid and thunderous-looking sky. Accordingly I turned up a by-path to the right. I had not followed it far ere it brought me, as I expected, into the fields, amidst which, just before me, stretched a long and lofty white wall enclosing, as it seemed from the foliage showing above, some thickly planted nursery of yew and cypress, for of that species were the branches resting on the pale parapets, and crowding gloomily about a massive cross, planted doubtless on a central eminence and extending its arms, which seemed of black marble, over the summits of those sinister trees. I approached, wondering to what house this well-protected garden appertained; I turned the angle of the wall, thinking to see some stately residence. I was close upon great iron gates. There was a hut serving for a lodge near; but I had no occasion to apply for the key -- the gates were open. I pushed one leaf back -- rain had rusted its hinges, for it groaned dolefully as they revolved. Thick planting embowered the entrance. Passing up the avenue, I saw objects on each hand which, in their own mute language of inscription and sign, explained clearly to what abode I had made my way. This was the house appointed for all living; crosses, monuments, and garlands of everlastings announced, 'The Protestant Cemetery, outside the gate of Louvain.'
The place was large enough to afford half an hour's strolling without the monotony of treading continually the same path; and for those who love to peruse the annals of graveyards here was variety of inscription enough to occupy the attention for double or treble that space of time. Hither people of many kindreds, tongues, and nations had brought their dead for interment; and here, on pages of stone, of marble, and of brass, were written names, dates, last tributes of pomp or love, in English, in French, in German, and Latin. Here the Englishman had erected a marble monument over the remains of his Mary Smith or Jane Brown, and inscribed it only with her name. There the French widower had shaded the grave of his Elmire or Celestine with a brilliant thicket of roses, amidst which a little tablet rising bore an equally bright testimony to her countless virtues. Every nation, tribe, and kindred mourned after its own fashion; and how soundless was the mourning of all! My own tread, though slow and upon smooth-rolled paths, seemed to startle, because it formed the sole break to a silence, otherwise total. Not only the winds but the very fitful, wandering airs, were that afternoon, as by common consent, all fallen asleep in their various quarters: the north was hushed, the south silent, the east sobbed not, nor did the west whisper. The clouds in heaven were condensed and dull, but apparently quite motionless. Under the trees of this cemetery nestled a warm, breathless gloom, out of which the cypresses stood up straight and mute, above which the willows hung low and still; where the flowers, as languid as fair, waited listless for night-dew or thunder-shower; where the tombs, and those they hid, lay impassible to sun or shadow, to rain or drought.
Importuned by the sound of my own footsteps, I turned off upon the turf, and slowly advanced to a grove of yews. I saw something stir among the stems. I thought it might he a broken branch swinging -- my short-sighted vision had caught no form, only a sense of motion -- but the dusky shade passed on, appearing and disappearing at the openings in the avenue. I soon discerned it was a living thing, and a human thing. and drawing nearer, I perceived it was a woman, pacing slowly to and fro, and evidently deeming herself alone as I had deemed myself alone, and meditating as I had been meditating. Ere long she returned to a seat which I fancy she had but just quitted, or I should have caught sight of her before. It was in a nook, screened by a clump of trees. There was the white wall before her, and a little stone set up against the wall, and at the foot of the stone was an allotment of turf freshly turned up -- a new- made grave. I put on my spectacles, and passed softly close behind her; glancing at the inscription on the stone, I read, 'Julienne Henri, died at Brussels, aged sixty. August 10th, 18--.' Having perused the inscription, I looked down at the form sitting bent and thoughtful just under my eyes, unconscious of the vicinity of any living thing. It was a slim, youthful figure in mourning apparel of the plainest black stuff, with a little, simple black crape bonnet. I felt, as well as saw, who it was; and moving neither hand nor foot, I stood some moments enjoying the security of conviction. I had sought her for a month, and had never discovered one of her traces, never met a hope or seized a chance of encountering her anywhere. I had been forced to loosen my grasp on expectation, and but an hour ago had sunk slackly under the discouraging thought that the current of life and the impulse of destiny had swept her for ever from my reach; and, behold, while bending sullenly earthward beneath the pressure of despondency -- while following with my eyes the track of sorrow on the turf of a graveyard -- here was my lost jewel dropped on the tearfed herbage, nestling in the mossy and mouldy roots of yew trees.
Frances sat very quiet, her elbow on her knee and her head on her hand. I knew she could retain a thinking attitude a long time without change. At last a tear fell. She had been looking at the name on the stone before her, and her heart had no doubt endured one of those constrictions with which the desolate living, regretting the dead, are at times so sorely oppressed. Many tears rolled down, which she wiped away again and again with her handkerchief; some distressed sobs escaped her, and then, the paroxysm over, she sat quiet as before. I put my hand gently on her shoulder; no need further to prepare her, for she was neither hysterical nor liable to fainting fits. A sudden push, indeed, might have startled her, but the contact of my quiet touch merely woke attention as I wished; and though she turned quickly, yet so lightning-swift is thought -- in some minds especially -- I believe the wonder of what, the consciousness of who it was that thus stole unawares on her solitude, had passed through her brain and flashed into her heart even before she had effected that hasty movement; at least Amazement had hardly opened her eyes and raised them to mine ere Recognition informed their irids with most speaking brightness. Nervous surprise had hardly discomposed her features ere a sentiment of most vivid joy shone clear and warm on her whole countenance. I had hardly time to observe that she was wasted and pale, ere called to feet a responsive inward pleasure by the sense of most full and exquisite pleasure glowing in the animated flush, and shining in the expansive light, now diffused over my pupil's face. It was the summer sun flashing out after the heavy summer shower; and what fertilizes more rapidly than that beam, burning almost like fire in its ardour?
I hate boldness -- that boldness which is of the brassy brow and insensate nerves; but I love the courage of the strong heart, the fervour of the generous blood. I loved with passion the light of Frances Evans's clear haze] eye when it did not fear to look straight into mine. I loved the tones with which she uttered the words, --
'Mon ma”tre! mon ma”tre!'
I loved the movement with which she confided her hand to my hand. I loved her as she stood there, penniless and parentless; for a sensualist charmless, for me a treasure -- my best object of sympathy on earth, thinking such thoughts as I thought, feeling such feelings as I felt; my ideal of the shrine in which to seal my stores of love; personification of discretion and forethought, of diligence and per- severance, of self-denial and self-control -- those guardians, those trusty keepers of the gift I longed to confer on her -- the gift of all my affections; model of truth and honour, of independence and conscientiousness -- those refiners and sustainers of an honest life; silent possessor of a well of tenderness, of a flame, as genial as still, as pure as quenchless, of natural feeling, natural passion -- those sources of refreshment and comfort to the sanctuary of home. I knew how quietly and how deeply the well bubbled in her heart; I knew how the more dangerous flame burned safely under the eye of reason; I had seen when the fire shot up a moment high and vivid, when the accelerated heat troubled life's current in its channels; I had seen reason reduce the rebel, and humble its blaze to embers. I had confidence in Frances Evans; I had respect for her, and as I drew her arm through mine and led her out of the cemetery, I felt I had another sentiment, as strong as confidence, as firm as respect, more fervid than either -- that of love.
'Well, my pupil,' said I, as the ominous-sounding gate swung to behind us -- 'well, I have found you again. A month's search has seemed long, and I little thought to have discovered my lost sheep straying amongst graves.'
Never had I addressed her but as 'mademoiselle' before, and to speak thus was to take up a tone new to both her and me. Her answer apprised me that this language ruffled none of her feelings, woke no discord in her heart.
'Mon maitre,' she said, 'have you troubled yourself to seek me? I little imagined you would think much of my absence, but I grieved bitterly to be taken away from you. I was sorry for that circumstance when heavier troubles ought to have made me forget it.'
'Your aunt is dead?'
'Yes, a fortnight since. and she died full of regret, which I could not chase from her mind. She kept repeating, even during the last night of her existence, "Frances, you will be so lonely when I am gone -- so friendless." She wished, too, that she could have been buried in Switzerland, and it was I who persuaded her in her old age to leave the banks of Lake Leman, and to come only, as it seems, to die in this flat region of Flanders. Willingly would I have observed her last wish, and taken her remains back to our own country, but that was impossible. I was forced to lay her here.'
'She was ill but a short time, I presume?'
'But three weeks. When she began to sink I asked Mdlle. Reuter's leave to stay with her and wait on her. I readily got leave.'
'Do you return to the pensionnat?' I demanded hastily.
'Monsieur, when I had been at home a week Mdlle. Reuter called one evening, just after I had got my aunt to bed. She went into her room to speak to her, and was extremely civil and affable, as she always is; afterwards she came and sat with me a long time, and just as she rose to go away she said, 'Mademoiselle I shall not soon cease to regret your departure from my establishment, though indeed it is true that you have taught your class of pupils so well that they are all quite accomplished in the little works you manage so skilfully, and have not the slightest need of further instruction. My second teacher must in future supply your place, with regard to the younger pupils, as well as she can, though she is indeed an inferior artiste to you, and doubtless it will he your part now to assume a higher position in your calling. I am sure you will everywhere find schools and families willing to profit by your talents." And then she paid me my last quarter's salary. I asked, as mademoiselle would no doubt think, very bluntly, if she designed to discharge me from the establishment. She smiled at my inelegance of speech, and answered that "our connection as employer and employed was certainly dissolved, but that she hoped still to retain the pleasure of my acquaintance; she should always be happy to see me as a friend," and then she said something about the excellent condition of the streets, and the long continuance of fine weather, and went away quite cheerful.'
I laughed inwardly; all this was so like the directness -- so like what I had expected and guessed of her conduct; and then the exposure and proof of her lie, unconsciously afforded by Frances. 'She had frequently applied for Mdlle. Henri's address,' forsooth. 'Mdlle. Henri had always evaded giving it,' etc., etc., and here I found her a visitor at the very house of whose locality she had professed absolute ignorance!
Any comments I might have intended to make on my pupil's communication were checked by the plashing of large rain-drops on our faces and on the path, and by the muttering of a distant but coming storm. The warning obvious in stagnant air and leaden sky had already induced me to take the road leading back to Brussels, and now I hastened my own steps and those of my companion, and as our way lay down hill, we got on rapidly. There was an interval after the fall of the first broad drops before heavy rain came on; in the meantime we had passed through the Porte de Louvain, and were again in the city.
'Where do you live?' I asked. 'I will see you safe home.'
'Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges,' answered Frances.
It was not far from the Rue de Louvain, and we stood on the doorsteps of the house we sought ere the clouds, severing with loud peal and shattered cataract of lightning, emptied their livid folds in a torrent, heavy, prone, and broad.
'Come in! come in!' said Frances, as, after putting her into the house, I paused ere I followed. The word decided me. I stepped across the threshold, shut the door on the rushing flashing, whitening storm, and followed her upstairs to her apartments. Neither she nor I was wet; a projection over the door had warded off the straight-descending flood. None but the first large drops had touched our garments. One minute more and we should not have had a dry thread on us.
Stepping over a little mat of green wool, I found myself in a small room with a painted floor and a square of green carpet in the middle. The articles of furniture were few, but all bright and exquisitely clean; order reigned through its narrow limits -- such order as it soothed my punctilious soul to behold. And I had hesitated to enter the abode, because I apprehended after all that Mdlle. Reuter's hint about its extreme poverty might be too well founded, and I feared to embarrass the lace-mender by entering her lodgings unawares! Poor the place might be; poor truly it was; but its neatness was better than elegance, and had but a bright little fire shone on that dean hearth, I should have deemed it more attractive than a palace. No fire was there, however, and no fuel laid ready to light; the lace-mender was unable to allow herself that indulgence especially now when, deprived by death of her sole relative she had only her own unaided exertions to rely on. Frances went into an inner room to take off her bonnet, and she came out a model of frugal neatness, with her well- fitting black stuff dress, so accurately defining her elegant bust and taper waist, with her spotless white collar turned hack from a fair and shapely neck, with her plenteous brown hair arranged in smooth bands on her temples, and in a large Grecian plait behind. Ornaments she had none -- neither brooch, ring, nor ribbon; she did well enough without them -- perfection of fit, proportion of form, grace of carriage, agreeably supplied their place. Her eye, as she re-entered the small sitting-room, instantly sought mine, which was just then lingering on the hearth. I knew she read at once the sort of inward ruth and pitying pain which the chill vacancy of that hearth stirred in my soul. Quick to penetrate, quick to determine, and quicker to put in practice, she had in a moment tied a holland apron round her waist; then she disappeared, and reappeared with a basket; it had a cover; she opened it, and produced wood and coal; deftly and compactly she arranged them in the grate.
'It is her whole stock, and she will exhaust it out of hospitality,' thought I.
'What are you going to do?' I asked; 'not surely to light a fire this hot evening? I shall be smothered.'
'Indeed, monsieur, I feel it very chilly since the rain began. Besides, I must boil the water for my tea, for I take tea on Sundays; you will be obliged to try and bear the heat.'
She had struck a light; the wood was already in a blaze; and truly, when contrasted with the darkness, the wild tumult of the tempest without, that peaceful glow which began to beam on the now animated hearth seemed very cheering. A low, purring sound from some quarter announced that another being besides myself was pleased with the change: a black cat, roused by the light from its sleep on a little cushioned footstool, came and rubbed its head against Frances' gown as she knelt. She caressed it, saying it had been a favourite with her 'pauvre tante Julienne.'
The fire being lit, the hearth swept, and a small kettle of a very antique pattern, such as I thought I remembered to have seen in old farmhouses in England, placed over the now ruddy flame, Frances' hands were washed, and her apron removed in an instant. Then she opened a cupboard, and took out a tea-tray, on which she had soon arranged a china tea-equipage, whose pattern, shape, and size denoted a remote antiquity; a little, old-fashioned silver spoon was deposited in each saucer; and a pair of silver tongs, equally old-fashioned, were laid on the sugar-basin; from the cupboard, too, was produced a tiny silver cream-ewer, not larger than an egg-shell. While making these preparations, she chanced to look up, and reading curiosity in my eyes, she smiled and asked, --
'Is this like England, monsieur?'
'Like the England of a hundred years ago,' I replied.
'Is it truly? Well, everything on this tray is at least a hundred years old. These cups, these spoons, this ewer, are all heirlooms; my great-grandmother left them to my grandmother, she to my mother, and my mother brought them with her from England to Switzerland, and left them to me; and ever since I was a little girl I have thought I should like to carry them back to England, whence they came.'
She put some pistolets on the table. She made the tea, as foreigners do make tea -- that is, at the rate of a teaspoonful to half a dozen cups. She placed me a chair, and as I took it she asked, with a sort of exultation, --
'Will it make you think yourself at home for a moment?'
'If I had a home in England, I believe it would recall it,' I answered; and, in truth, there was a sort of illusion in seeing the fair-complexioned English-looking girl presiding at the English meal and speaking in the English language.
'You have, then, no home?' was her remark.
'None, nor ever have had. If ever I possess a home, it must be of my own making, and the task is yet to begin.' And as I spoke, a pang, new to me, shot across my heart. It was a pang of mortification at the humility of my position and the inadequacy of my means, while with that pang was born a strong desire to do more, earn more, be more, possess more; and in the increased possessions my roused and eager spirit panted to include the home I had never had, the wife I inwardly vowed to win.
Frances' tea was little better than hot water, sugar, and milk-, and her pistolets, with which she could not offer me butter, were sweet to my palate as manna.
The repast over, and the treasured plate and porcelain being washed and put by, the bright table rubbed still brighter, 'le chat de ma tante Julienne' also being fed with provisions brought forth on a plate for its special use, a few stray cinders, and a scattering of ashes too, being swept from the hearth, Frances at last sat down; and then, as she took a chair opposite to me, she betrayed, for the first time, a little embarrassment. And no wonder, for indeed I had unconsciously watched her rather too closely, followed all her steps and all her movements a little too perseveringly with my eyes: for she mesmerized me by the grace and alertness of her action -- by the deft, cleanly, and even decorative effect resulting from each touch of her slight and fine fingers; and when at last she subsided to stillness, the intelligence of her face seemed beauty to me, and I dwelt on it accordingly. Her colour, however, rising rather than settling with repose, and her eyes remaining downcast, though I kept waiting for the lids to be raised that I might drink a ray of the light I loved -- a light where fire dissolved in softness, where affection tempered penetration, where, just now at least, pleasure played with thought -- this expectation not being gratified, I began at last to suspect that I had probably myself to blame for the disappointment. I must cease gazing, and begin talking, if I wished to break the spell under which she now sat motionless. So recollecting the composing effect which an authoritative tone and manner had ever been wont to produce on her, I said, --
'Get one of your English books, mademoiselle; for the rain yet falls heavily, and will probably detain me half an hour longer. Released and set at ease, up she rose, got her book, and accepted at once the chair I placed for her at my side. She had selected 'Paradise Lost' from her shelf of classics, thinking suppose, the religious character of the book best adapted it to Sunday. I told her to begin at the beginning, and while she read Milton's invocation to that heavenly muse, who on the 'secret top of Oreb or of Sinai' had taught the Hebrew shepherd how in the womb of chaos the conception of a world had originated and ripened, I enjoyed, undisturbed, the treble pleasure of having her near me, hearing the sound of her voice -- a sound sweet and satisfying in my ear -- and looking by intervals at her face. Of this last privilege I chiefly availed myself when I found fault with an intonation, a pause, or an emphasis; as long as I dogmatized I might also gaze, without exciting too warm a flush.
'Enough,' said I, when she had gone through some half-dozen pages (a work of time with her, for she read slowly, and paused often to ask and receive information), 'enough; and now the rain is ceasing, and I must soon go.' For, indeed, at that moment, looking towards the window, I saw it all blue. The thunder-clouds were broken and scattered, and the setting August sun sent a gleam like the reflection of rubies through the lattice. I got up; I drew on my gloves.
'You have not yet found another situation to supply the place of that from which you were dismissed by Mdlle. Reuter?'
'No, monsieur. I have made inquiries everywhere, but they all ask me for references; and to speak truth, I do not like to apply to the directness, because I consider she acted neither justly nor honourably towards me. She used underhand means to set my pupils against me, and thereby render me unhappy while I held my place in her establishment; and she eventually deprived me of it by a masked and hypocritical manoeuvre, pretending that she was acting for my good, but really snatching from me my chief means of subsistence, at a crisis when not only my own life, but that of another, depended on my exertions. Of her I will never more ask a favour.'
'How, then, do you propose to get on? How do you live now?'
'I have still my lace-mending trade; with care it will keep me from starvation, and I doubt not by dint of exertion to get better employment yet. It is only a fortnight since I began to try; my courage or hopes are by no means worn out yet.'
'And if you get what you wish, what then? What are your ultimate views?'
'To save enough to cross the Channel. I always look to England as my Canaan.'
'Well, well, ere long I shall pay you another visit, Good-evening now,' and I left her rather abruptly. I had much ado to resist a strong inward impulse, urging me to take a warmer, a more expressive leave. What so natural as to fold her for a moment in a close embrace, to imprint one kiss on her cheek and forehead? I was not unreasonable; that was all I wanted. Satisfied in that point I could go away content. And Reason denied me even this. She ordered me to turn my eyes from her face and my steps from her apartment -- to quit her as dryly and coldly as I would have quitted old Madame Pelet. I obeyed, but I swore rancorously to be avenged one day. 'I'll cam a right to do as I please in this matter, or I'll die in the contest. I have one object before me now -- to get that Genevese girl for my wife; and my wife she shall be -- that is, provided she has as much, or half as much, regard for her master as he has for her. And would she be so docile, so smiling, so happy under my instructions if she had not? Would she sit at my side, when I dictate or correct, with such a still, contented, halcyon mien?' For I had ever remarked that, how- ever sad or harassed her countenance might be when I entered a room, yet after I had been near her, spoken to her a few words, given her some directions, uttered perhaps some reproofs, she would, all at once, nestle into a nook of happiness, and look up serene and revived. the reproofs suited her best of all. While I scolded she would chip away with her penknife at a pencil or a pen, fidgeting a little, pouting a little, defending herself by monosyllables; and when I deprived her of the pen or pencil, fearing it would be all cut away, and when I interdicted even the monosyllabic defence, for the purpose of working up the subdued excitement a little higher, she would at last raise her eyes and give me a certain glance, sweetened with gaiety, and pointed with defiance, which, to speak truth, thrilled me as nothing had ever done, and made me, in a fashion (though happily she did not know it), her subject, if not her slave. After such little scenes her spirits would maintain their flow, often for some hours, and, as, I remarked before, her health therefrom took a sustenance and vigour which, previously to the event of her aunt's death and her dismissal, had almost recreated her whole frame.
It has taken me several minutes to write these last sentences; but I had thought all their purport during the brief interval of descending the stairs from Frances' room. just as I was opening the outer door I remembered the twenty francs which I had not restored. I paused -- impossible to carry them away with me, difficult to force them back on their original owner. I had now seen her in her own humble abode, witnessed the dignity of her poverty, the pride of order, the fastidious care of conservatism, obvious in the arrangement and economy of her little home. I was sure she would not suffer herself to be excused paying her debts. I was certain the favour of indemnity would be accepted from no hand, perhaps least of all from mine. Yet these four five-franc pieces were a burden to my self- respect, and I must get rid of them. An expedient -- a clumsy one no doubt, but the best I could devise -- suggested itself to me. I darted up the stairs, knocked, re-entered the room as if in haste, -- 'Mademoiselle, I have forgotten one of my gloves. I must have left it here.'
She instantly rose to seek it. As she turned her, back, I -- being now at the hearth -- noiselessly lifted a little vase, one of a set of china ornaments, as old-fashioned as the tea-cups slipped the money under it, then saying, 'Oh, here is my glove! I had dropped it within the fender. Good-evening, mademoiselle,' I made my second exit.
Brief as my impromptu return had been, it had afforded me time to pick up a heartache. I remarked that Frances had already removed the red embers of her cheerful little fire from the grate. Forced to calculate every item, to save in every detail, she had instantly on my departure retrenched a luxury too expensive, to be enjoyed alone.
'I am glad it is not yet winter,' thought I; 'but in two months more come the winds and rains of November. Would to God that before then I could earn the right and the power to shovel coals into that grate ad libitum!'
Already the pavement was drying; a balmy and fresh breeze stirred the air, purified by lightning. I felt the west behind me, where spread a sky like opal; azure immingled with crimson. The enlarged sun, glorious in Tyrian tints, dipped his brim already. Stepping, as I was, eastward, I faced a vast bank of clouds, but also I had before me the arch of an evening rainbow -- a perfect rainbow, high, wide, vivid. I looked long; my eye drank in the scene, and I suppose my brain must have absorbed it; for that night, after lying awake in pleasant fever a long time, watching the silent sheet-lightning, which still played among the retreating clouds, and flashed silvery over the stars, I at last fell asleep; and then in a dream were reproduced the setting sun, the bank of clouds, the mighty rain- bow. I stood, methought, on a terrace. I leaned over a parapeted wall. there was space below me, depth I could not fathom; but hearing an endless dash of waves, I believed it to be the sea -- sea spread to the horizon, sea of changeful green and intense blue; all was soft in the distance, all vapour-veiled. A spark of gold glistened on the line between water and air, floated up, approached, enlarged, changed; the object hung midway between heaven and earth under the arch of the rainbow; the soft but dusk clouds diffused behind. It hovered as on wings; pearly, fleecy, gleaming air streamed like raiment round it; light, tinted with carnation, coloured what seemed face and limbs; a large star shone with still lustre on an angel's forehead; an upraised arm and hand, glancing like a ray, pointed to the bow overhead, and a voice in my heart whispered, 'Hope smiles on effort!'
A competency was what I wanted; a competency it was now my aim and resolve to secure, but never had I been farther from the mark. With August the school year (l'annee scolaire) closed, the examinations concluded, the prizes were adjudged, the schools dispersed, the gates of all colleges, the doors of all pensionnats shut, not to be reopened till the beginning or middle of October. The last day of August was at hand, and what was my position? Had I advanced a step since the commencement of the past quarter? On the contrary, I had receded one. By renouncing my engagement as English master in Mdlle. Reuter's establishment I had voluntarily cut off £20 from my yearly income; I had diminished my £60 per annum to £40, and even that sum I now held by a very precarious tenure.
It is some time since I made any reference to M. Pelet. The moonlight walk is, I think, the last incident recorded in this narrative where that gentleman cuts any conspicuous figure. The fact is, since that event a change had come over the spirit of our inter- course. He, indeed, ignorant that the still hour, a cloudless moon, and an open lattice had revealed to me the secret of his selfish love and false friendship, would have continued smooth and complaisant as ever; but I grew spiny as a porcupine and inflexible as a black- thorn cudgel. I never had a smile for his raillery, never a moment for his society. His invitations to take coffee with him in his parlour were invariably rejected, and very stiffly and sternly rejected too. His jesting allusions to the directness (which he still continued) were heard with a grim calm very different from the petulant pleasure they were formerly wont to excite. For a long time Pelet bore with my frigid demeanour very patiently. He even increased his attentions; but finding that even a cringing politeness failed to thaw or move me, he at last altered too. In his turn he cooled; his invitations ceased; his countenance became suspicious and overcast, and I read in the perplexed yet brooding aspect of his brow a constant examination and comparison of premises, and an anxious endeavour to draw thence some explanatory inference. Ere long, I fancy, he succeeded, for he was not without penetration; perhaps, too, Mdlle. Zoraide might have aided him in the solution of the enigma. At any rate, I soon found that the uncertainty of doubt had vanished from his manner; renouncing all pretence of friendship and cordiality, he adopted a reserved, formal, but still scrupulously polite deportment. This was the point to which I had wished to bring him, and I was now again comparatively at my case. I did not, it is true, like my position in his house. but being freed from the annoyance of false professions and double-dealing I could endure it, especially as no heroic sentiment of hatred or jealousy of the director distracted my philosophical soul. He had not, I found, wounded me in a very tender point, the wound was so soon and so radically healed, leaving only a sense of contempt for the treacherous fashion in which it had been inflicted, and a lasting mistrust of the hand which I had detected attempting to stab in the dark.
This state of things continued till about the middle of July, and then there was a little change. Pelet came home one night, an hour after his usual rime, in a state of unequivocal intoxication; a thing anomalous with him, for if he had some of the worst faults of his countrymen, he had also one at least of their virtues -- that is, sobriety. So drunk, however, was he upon this occasion, that after having roused the whole establishment (except the pupils, whose dormitory, being over the classes in a building apart from the dwelling-house, was consequently out of the reach of disturbance) by violently ringing the hall bell and ordering lunch to be brought in immediately -- for he imagined it was noon, whereas the city bells had just tolled midnight -- after having furiously rated the servants for their want of punctuality, and gone near to chastise his poor old mother, who advised him to go to bed, he began raving dreadfully about 'le maudit Anglais, Creemsvort.' I had not yet retired; some German books I had got hold of had kept me up late. I heard the uproar below, and could distinguish the director's voice exalted in a manner as appalling as it was unusual. Opening my door a little, I became aware of a demand on his part for 'Creemsvort' to be brought down to him, that he might cut his throat on the hall table and wash his honour, which he affirmed to be in a dirty condition, in infernal British blood. 'He is either mad or drunk,' thought I, 'and in either case the old woman and the servants will be the better of a man's assistance;' so I descended straight to the hall. I found him staggering about, his eyes in a fine frenzy rolling. A pretty sight he was -- a just medium between the fool and the lunatic.
'Come, M. Pelet,' said I, 'you had better go to bed,' and I took hold of his arm. His excitement, of course, increased greatly at sight and touch of the individual for whose blood he had been making application. He struggled and struck with fury. But a drunken man is no match for a sober one; and, even in his normal state, Pelet's worn-out frame could not have stood against my sound one. I got him upstairs, and, in process of time, to bed. During the operation he did not fail to utter comminations which, though broken, had a sense in them; while stigmatizing me as the treacherous spawn of a perfidious country, he in the same breath anathematized Zoraide Reuter. He termed her 'femme sotte et vicieuse,' who, in a fit of lewd caprice, had thrown herself away on an unprincipled adventurer, directing the point of the last appellation by a furious blow, obliquely aimed at me. I left him in the act of bounding elastically out of the bed into which I had tucked him; but as I took the precaution of turning the key in the door behind me, I retired to my own room, assured of his safe custody till the morning, and free to draw undisturbed conclusions from the scene I had just witnessed.
Now, it was precisely about this time that the directness, stung by my coldness, bewitched by my scorn, and excited by the preference she suspected me of cherishing for another, had fallen into a snare of her own laying -- was herself caught in the meshes of the very passion with which she wished to entangle me. Conscious of the state of things in that quarter, I gathered, from the condition in which I saw my employer, that his ladylove had betrayed the alienation of her affections -- inclinations, rather, I would say; affection is a word at once too warm and too pure for the subject -- had let him see that the cavity of her hollow heart, emptied of his image, was now occupied by that of his usher. It was not without some surprise that I found myself obliged to entertain this view of the case. Pelet, with his old-established school, was so convenient, so profitable a match -- Zoraide was so calculating, so interested a woman -- I wondered mere personal preference could, in her mind, have prevailed for a moment over worldly advantage. Yet it was evident from what Pelet said that not only had she repulsed him, but had even let slip expressions of partiality for me. One of his drunken exclamations was, 'And the jade dotes on your youth, you raw blockhead, and talks of your noble deportment, as she calls your accursed English formality, and your pure morals, forsooth! des moeurs de Caton a-t-elle dit -- sotte!' Hers, I thought, must be a curious soul, where, in spite of a strong natural tendency to estimate unduly advantages of wealth and station, the sardonic disdain of a fortuneless subordinate had wrought a deeper impression than could he imprinted by the most flattering assiduities of a prosperous chef d'institution. I smiled inwardly; and, strange to say, though my amour propre was excited not disagreeably by the conquest, my better feelings remained untouched. Next day, when I saw the directness, and when she made an excuse to meet me in the corridor, and besought my notice by a demeanour and look subdued to Helot humility, I could not love, I could scarcely pity her. To answer briefly and dryly some interesting inquiry about my health, to pass her by with a stern bow, was all I could. Her presence and manner had then, and for some rime previously and consequently, a singular effect upon me. They sealed up all that was good, elicited all that was noxious in my nature; sometimes they enervated my senses, hut they always hardened my heart. I was aware of the detriment done, and quarrelled with myself for the change. I had ever hated a tyrant; and, behold, the possession of a slave, self-given, went near to transform me into what I abhorred! There was at once a sort of low gratification in receiving this luscious incense from an attractive and still young worshipper, and an irritating sense of degradation in the very experience of the pleasure. When she stole about me with the soft step of a slave, I felt at once barbarous and sensual as a pasha. I endured her homage sometimes; sometimes I rebuked it. My indifference or harshness served equally to increase the evil I desired to check.
'Que le dedain lui sied bien!' I once overheard her say to her mother. 'Il est beau comme Apollon quand il sourit de son air hautain.'
And the jolly old dame laughed, and said she thought her daughter was bewitched; for I had no point of a handsome man about me, except being straight and without deformity. 'Pour moi,' she continued, 'il me fait tout l'effet d'un chathuant, avec ses besicles.'
Worthy old girl! I could have gone and kissed her had she not been a little too old, too fat, and too red-faced. Her sensible, truthful words seemed so wholesome, contrasted with the morbid illusions of her daughter.
When Pelet awoke on the morning after his frenzy fit, he retained no recollection of what had happened the previous night, and his mother fortunately had the discretion to refrain from informing him that I had been a witness of his degradation. He did not again have recourse to wine for curing his griefs, but even in his sober mood he soon showed that the iron of jealousy had entered into his soul. A thorough Frenchman, the national characteristic of ferocity had not been omitted by nature in compounding the ingredients of his character. It had appeared first in his access of drunken wrath when some of his demonstrations of hatred to my person were of a truly fiendish character, and now it was more covertly betrayed by momentary contractions of the features, and flashes of fierceness in his light blue eyes when their glance chanced to encounter mine. He absolutely avoided speaking to me; I was now spared even the falsehood of his politeness. In this state of our mutual relations my soul rebelled, sometimes almost ungovernably, against living in the house and discharging the service of such a man; but who is free from the constraint of circumstances? At that time I was not. I used to rise each morning eager to shake off his yoke, and go out with my portmanteau under my arm, if a beggar, at least a freeman; and in the evening, when I came back from the pensionnat de demoiselles, a certain pleasant voice in my car; a certain face, so intelligent yet so docile, so reflective yet so soft, in my eyes; a certain cast of character, at once proud and pliant, sensitive and sagacious, serious and ardent, in my head; a certain tone of feeling, fervid and modest, refined and practical, pure and powerful, delighting and troubling my memory -- visions of new ties I longed to contract, of new duties I longed to undertake, had taken the rover and the rebel out of me, and had shown endurance of my hated lot in the light of a Spartan virtue.
But Pelet's fury subsided; a fortnight sufficed for its rise, progress, and extinction. In that space of time the dismissal of the obnoxious teacher had been effected in the neighbouring house, and in the same interval I had declared my resolution to follow and find out my pupil, and upon my application for her address being refused I had summarily resigned my own post. This last act seemed at once to restore Mdlle. Reuter to her senses. Her sagacity, her judgment, so long misled by a fascinating delusion, struck again into the right track the moment that delusion vanished. By the right track I do not mean the steep and difficult path of principle -- in that path she never trod -- but the plain highway of common sense, from which she had of late widely diverged. When there she carefully sought, and having found, industriously pursued the trail of her old suitor, M. Pelet. She soon overtook him. What arts she employed to soothe and blind him I know not, but she succeeded both in allaying his wrath and hoodwinking his discernment, as was soon proved by the alteration in his mien and manner. She must have managed to convince him that I neither was nor ever had been a rival of his, for the fortnight of fury against me terminated in a fit of exceeding graciousness and amenity, not unmixed with a dash of exulting self-complacency, more ludicrous than irritating. Pelet's bachelor life had been passed in proper French style with due disregard to moral restraint and I thought his married life promised to ,be very French also. He often boasted to me what a terror he had been to certain husbands of his acquaintance; I perceived it would not now be difficult to pay him back in his own coin.
The crisis drew on. No sooner had the holidays commenced than note of preparation for some momentous event sounded all through the premises of Pelet. Painters, polishers, and upholsterers were immediately set to work, and there was talk of 'la chambre de madame,' 'le salon de madame.' Not deeming it probable that the old duenna at present graced with that title in our house had inspired her son with such enthusiasm of filial piety as to induce him to fit up apartments expressly for her use, I concluded, in common with the cook, the two housemaids, and the kitchen-scullion, that a new and more juvenile madame was destined to be the tenant of these gay chambers.
Presently official announcement of the coming event was put forth. In another week's time M. Francois Pelet, directeur, and Mdlle. Zoraide Reuter, directrice, were to be joined together in the bonds of matrimony. Monsieur, in person heralded the fact to me, terminating his communication by an obliging expression of his desire that I should continue, as heretofore, his ablest assistant and most trusted friend, and a proposition to raise my salary by an additional two hundred francs per annum. I thanked him, gave no conclusive answer at the time, and, when he had left me, threw off my blouse put on my coat, and set out on a long walk outside the Porte de Flandre, in order, as I thought, to cool my blood, calm my nerves, and shake my disarranged ideas into some order. In fact, I had just received what was virtually my dismissal. I could not conceal, I did not desire to conceal, from myself the conviction that, being now certain that Mdlle. Reuter was destined to become Madame Pelet, it would not do for me to remain a dependent dweller in the house which was soon to be hers. Her present demeanour towards me was deficient neither in dignity nor propriety; but I knew her former feeling was unchanged. Decorum now repressed and policy masked it, but opportunity would be too strong for either of these -- temptation would shiver their restraints.
I was no pope -- I could not boast infallibility: in short, if I stayed, the probability was that in three months' time a practical modern French novel would be in full process of concoction under the roof of the unsuspecting Pelet. Now, modern French novels are not to my taste, either practically or theoretically. Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I had once had the opportunity of contemplating, near at hand, an example of the results produced by a course of interesting and romantic domestic treachery. No golden halo of fiction was about this example; I saw it bare and real, and it was very loathsome. I saw a mind degraded by the practice of mean subterfuge, by the habit of perfidious deception, and a body depraved by the infectious influence of the vice-polluted soul. I had suffered much from the forced and prolonged view of this spectacle; those sufferings I did not now regret, for their simple recollection acted as a most wholesome antidote to temptation. They had inscribed on my reason the conviction that unlawful pleasure, trenching on another's rights, is delusive and envenomed pleasure; its hollowness disappoints at the time, its poison cruelly tortures afterwards, its effects deprave for ever.
From all this resulted the conclusion that I must leave Pelet's, and that instantly. 'But,' said Prudence, 'you know not where to go nor how to live.' And then the dream of true love came over me. Frances Henri seemed to stand at my side, her slender waist to invite my arm, her hand to court my hand. I felt it was made to nestle in mine; I could not relinquish my right to it, nor could I withdraw my eyes for ever from hers, where I saw so much happiness, such a correspondence of heart with heart; over whose expression I had such influence; where I could kindle bliss, infuse awe, stir deep delight, rouse sparkling spirit, and sometimes waken pleasurable dread. My hopes to win and possess, my resolutions to work and rise rose in array against me; and here I was about to plunge into the gulf of absolute destitution; 'and all this,' suggested an inward voice, 'because you fear an evil which may never happen!' 'It will happen; you know it will,' answered that stubborn monitor Conscience. 'Do what you feel is right. Obey me, and even in the sloughs of want I will plant for you firm footing.' And then, as I walked fast along the road there rose upon me a strange, inly-felt idea of some Great Being, unseen, but all-present, who in His beneficence desired only my welfare, and now watched the struggle of good and evil in my heart, and waited to see whether I should obey His voice, heard in the whispers of my conscience, or lend an car to the sophisms by which His enemy and mine, the Spirit of Evil, sought to lead me astray. Rough and steep was the path indicated by divine suggestion, mossy and declining the green way along which temptation strewed flowers; but whereas, methought, the Deity of Love, the Friend of all that exists, would smile well pleased were I to gird up my loins and address myself to the rude ascent, so, on the other hand, each inclination to the velvet declivity seemed to kindle a gleam of triumph on the brow of the man- hating, God-defying demon. Sharp and short I turned round, fast I retraced my steps; in half an hour I was again at M. Pelet's. I sought him in his study; brief parley, concise explanation sufficed; my manner proved that I was resolved; he, perhaps, at heart approved my decision. After twenty minutes' conversation I re-entered my own room, self-deprived of the means of living, self-sentenced to leave my present home, with the short notice of a week in which to provide another.
Directly as I closed the door I saw laid on the table two letters. My thought was that they were notes of invitation from the friends of some of my pupils. I had received such marks of attention occasionally, and with me, who had no friends, correspondence of more interest was out of the question. The postman's arrival had never yet been an event of interest to me since I came to Brussels. I laid my hand carelessly on the documents, and coldly and slowly glancing at them, I prepared to break the seals. My eye was arrested and my band too; I saw what excited me, as if I had found a vivid picture where I expected only to discover a blank page. On one cover was an English postmark; on the other a lady's clear, fine autograph. The last I opened first.
'Monsieur, -- I found out what you had done the very morning after your visit to me. You might be sure I should dust the china every day; and as no one but you had been in my room for a week, and as fairy-money is not current in Brussels, I could not doubt who left the twenty francs on the chimney-piece. I thought I heard you stir the vase when I was stooping to look for your glove under the table, and I wondered you should imagine it had got into such a little cup. Now, monsieur, the money is not mine, and I shall not keep it. I will not send it in this note, because it might be lost -- besides, it is heavy -- but I will restore it to you the first rime I see you. And you must make no difficulties about taking it: because, in the first place, I am sure, monsieur, you can understand that one likes to pay one's debts -- that it is satisfactory to owe no man anything; and, in the second place, I can now very well afford to be honest, as I am provided with a situation. This last circumstance is, indeed, the reason of my writing to you, for it is pleasant to communicate good news and in these days I have only my master to whom I can tell anything.
'A week ago, monsieur, I was sent for by a Mrs. Wharton, an English lady. Her eldest daughter was going to be married, and some rich relation having made her a present of a veil and dress in costly old lace, as precious, they said, almost as jewels, but a little damaged by time, I was commissioned to put them in repair. I had to do it at the house. They gave me, besides some embroidery to complete, and nearly a week elapsed before I had finished everything. While I worked, Miss Wharton often came into the room and sat with me, and so did Mrs. Wharton. They made me talk English; asked how I had learned to speak it so well. Then they inquired what I knew besides -- what books I had read; soon they seemed to make a sort of wonder of me, considering me no doubt as a learned grisette. One afternoon Mrs. Wharton brought in a Parisian lady to test the accuracy of my knowledge of French. The result of it was that, owing probably in a great degree to the mother's and daughter's good- humour about the marriage, which inclined them to do beneficent deeds, and partly, I think, because they are naturally benevolent people, they decided that the wish I bad expressed to do something more than mend lace was a very legitimate one, and the same day they took me in their carriage to Mrs. D--'s, who is the directness of the first English school at Brussels. It seems she happened to be in want of a French lady to give lessons in geography, history, grammar, and composition, in the French language. Mrs. Wharton recommended me very warmly; and as two of her younger daughters are pupils in the house, her patronage availed to get me the place. It was settled that I am to attend six hours daily (for, happily, it was not required that I should live in the house; I should have been sorry to leave my lodgings), and for this Mrs. D-- will give me twelve hundred francs per annum.
'You see, therefore, monsieur, that I am now rich -- richer almost than I ever hoped to be. I feel thankful for it, especially as my sight was beginning to be injured by constant working at fine lace; and I was getting, too, very weary of sitting up late at nights, and yet not being able to find time for reading or study. I began to fear that I should fall ill, and be unable to pay my way. This fear is now in a great measure removed; and in truth, monsieur, I am very grateful to God for the relief, and I feel it necessary, almost, to speak of my happiness to some one who is kind-hearted enough to derive joy from seeing others joyful. I could not, therefore, resist the temptation of writing to you. I argued with myself it is very pleasant for me to write, and it will not be exactly painful, though it may be tiresome, to monsieur to read. Do not be too angry with my circumlocution and inelegancies of expression, and believe me your attached pupil,
F. E. Henri.'
Having read this letter, I mused on its contents for a few moments -- whether with sentiments pleasurable or otherwise I will hereafter note -- and then took up the other. It was directed in a hand to me unknown -- small, and rather neat, neither masculine nor exactly feminine. The seal bore a coat of arms, concerning which I could only decipher that it was not that of the Seacombe family; consequently the epistle could be from none of my almost forgotten, and certainly quite forgetting, patrician relations. From whom, then, was it? I removed the envelope; the note folded within ran as follows: --
'I have no doubt in the world that you are doing well in that greasy Flanders; living probably on the fat of the unctuous land; sitting like a black-haired, tawny-skinned, long-nosed Israelite by the flesh-pots of Egypt; or like a rascally son of Levi near the brass cauldrons of the sanctuary, and every now and then plunging in a consecrated hook, and drawing out of the sea of broth the fattest heave-shoulders and the fleshiest of wave-breasts. I know this, because you never write to any one in England. Thankless dog that you are! I, by the sovereign efficacy of my recommendation, got you the place where you are now living in clover, and yet not a word of gratitude, or even acknowledgment, have you ever offered in return. But I am coming to see you, and small conception can you, with your addled aristocratic brains, form of the sort of moral kicking I have ready packed in my carpet bag, destined to be presented to you immediately on my arrival.
'Meantime I know all about your affairs, and have just got information, by Brown's last letter, that you are said to be on the point of forming an advantageous match with a pursy little Belgian schoolmistress -- a Mdlle. Zenobie, or some such name. Won't I have a look at her when I come over! And this you may rely on -- if she pleases my taste, or if I think it worth while in a pecuniary point of view, I'll pounce on your prize and bear her away triumphant in spite of your teeth. Yet I don't like dumpies either, and Brown says she is little and stout -- the better fitted for a wiry, starved-looking chap like you.
'Be on the lookout, for you know neither the day nor hour when your (I don't wish to blaspheme, so I'll leave a blank) cometh. -- Yours truly,
>Hunsden Yorke Hunsden.
'Humph!' said I; and ere I laid the letter down I again glanced at the small, neat handwriting, not a bit like that of a mercantile man, nor, indeed, of any man except Hunsden himself. They talk of affinities between the autograph and the character; what affinity was there here? I recalled the writer's peculiar face, and certain traits I suspected, rather than knew, to appertain to his nature, and I answered, 'A great deal.'
Hunsden, then, was coming to Brussels, and coming I knew not when -- coming charged with the expectation of finding me on the summit of prosperity, about to be married, to step into a warm nest, to lie comfortably down by the side of a snug, well-fed little mate.
'I wish him joy of the fidelity of the picture he has painted,' thought I. 'What will he say when, instead of a pair of plump turtle- doves, billing and cooing in a bower of roses, he finds a single lean cormorant, standing mateless and shelterless on poverty's bleak cliff? Oh, confound him! Let him come, and let him laugh at the contrast between rumour and fact. Were he the devil himself, instead of being merely very like him I'd not condescend to get out of his way, or to forge a smile or a cheerful word wherewith to avert his sarcasm.'
Then I recurred to the other letter. That struck a chord whose sound I could not deaden by thrusting my fingers into my ears, for it vibrated within; and though its swell might be exquisite music, its cadence was a groan.
That Frances was relieved from the pressure of want, that the curse of excessive labour was taken off her, filled me with happiness; that her first thought in prosperity should be to augment her joy by sharing it with me met and satisfied the wish of my heart. Two results of her letter were then pleasant sweet as two draughts of nectar; but applying my lips for the third time to the cup, and they were excoriated as with vinegar and gall.
Two persons whose desires are moderate may live well enough in Brussels on an income which would scarcely afford a respectable maintenance for one in London, and that not because the necessaries of life are so much dearer in the latter capital, or taxes so much higher than in the former, but because the English surpass in folly all the nations on God's earth, and are more abject slaves to custom, to opinion, to the desire to keep up a certain appearance, than the Italians are to priestcraft, the French to vainglory, the Russians to their czar or the Germans to black beer. I have seen a degree of sense in the modest arrangement of one homely Belgian household that might put to shame the elegance, the superfluities, the luxuries, the strained refinements of a hundred genteel English mansions. In Belgium, provided you can make money, you may save it. This is scarcely possible in England; ostentation there lavishes in a month what industry has earned in a year. More shame to all classes in that most bountiful and beggarly country for their servile following of fashion. I could write a chapter or two on this subject, but must forbear, at least for the present. Had I retained my £60 per annum, I could, now that Frances was in possession of £50, have gone straight to her this very evening and spoken out the words which, repressed, kept fretting my heart with fever. Our united income would, as we should have managed it, have sufficed well for our mutual support, since we lived in a country where economy was not confounded with meanness, where frugality in dress, food, and furniture was not synonymous with vulgarity in these various points. But the placeless usher, bare of resource, and unsupported by connections, must not think of this; such a sentiment as love, such a word as marriage, were misplaced in his heart and on his lips. Now for the first time did I truly feel what it was to be poor; now did the sacrifice I had made in casting from me the means of living put on a new aspect. Instead of a correct, just, honourable act, it seemed a deed at once light and fanatical. I took several turns in my room, under the goading influence of most poignant remorse. I walked a quarter of an hour from the wall to the window; and at the window self-reproach seemed to face, me, at the wall self-disdain. All at once out spoke Conscience.
'Down, stupid tormentors!' cried she. 'The man has done his duty. You shall not bait him thus by thoughts of what might have been. He relinquished a temporary and contingent good to avoid a permanent and certain evil; he did well. Let him reflect now, and when your blinding dust and deafening hum subside he will discover a path.'
I sat down; I propped my forehead on both my hands; I thought and thought an hour -- two hours -- vainly. I seemed like one sealed in a subterranean vault, who gazes at utter blackness, at blackness ensured by yardthick stone walls around, and by piles of building above expecting light to penetrate through granite, and through cement firm as granite. But there are chinks, or there may he chinks, in the best-adjusted masonry. There was a chink in my cavernous cell, for eventually I saw, or seemed to see, a ray -- pallid, indeed, and cold, and doubtful, but still. a ray, for it showed that narrow path which conscience had promised. After two, three hours' torturing research in brain and memory, I disinterred certain remains of circumstances, and conceived a hope that by putting them together an expedient might be framed and a resource discovered. The circumstances were briefly these: --
Some three months ago M. Pelet had, on the occasion of his fete, given the boys a treat, which treat consisted in a party of pleasure to a certain place of public resort in the outskirts of Brussels, of which I do not at this moment remember the name, but near it were several of those lakelets called etangs; and there was one etang, larger than the rest, where on holidays people were accustomed to amuse themselves by rowing round it in little boats. The boys having eaten an unlimited quantity of gaufres, and drunk several bottles of Louvain beer amid the shades of a garden made and provided for such crams, petitioned the director for leave to take a row on the etang. Half a dozen of the eldest succeeded in obtaining leave, and I was commissioned to accompany them as surveillant. Among the half- dozen happened to be a certain Jean Baptiste Vandenhuten, a most ponderous young Flamand, not tall, but even now, at the early age of sixteen, possessing a breadth and depth of personal development truly national. It chanced that Jean was the first lad to step into the boat. He stumbled, rolled to one side; the boat revolted at his weight, and capsized. Vandenhuten sank like lead, rose, sank again. My coat and waistcoat were off in an instant. I had not been brought up at Eton and boated and bathed and swum there ten long years for nothing; it was a natural and easy act for me to leap to the rescue. The lads and the boatmen yelled; they thought there would be two deaths by drowning instead of one. But as Jean rose the third time I clutched him by one leg and the collar, and in three minutes more both he and I were safe landed. To speak heaven's truth, my merit in the action was small indeed, for I bad run no risk, and sub- sequently did not even catch cold from the wetting; but when M. and Madame Vandenhuten, of whom Jean Baptiste was the sole hope, came to hear of the exploit, they seemed to think I had evinced a bravery and devotion which no thanks could sufficiently repay. Madame, in particular, was 'certain I must have dearly loved their sweet son, or I would not thus have hazarded my own life to save his.' Monsieur, an honest-looking though phlegmatic man, said very little; but he would not suffer me to leave the room till I had promised that in case I ever stood in need of help I would, by applying to him, give him a chance of discharging the obligation under which he affirmed I had laid him. These words, then, were my glimmer of light; it was here I found my sole outlet; and in truth, though the cold light roused, it did not cheer me, nor did the outlet seem such as I should like to pass through. Right I had none to M. Vandenhuten's good offices. It was not on the ground of merit I could apply to him; no, I must stand on that of necessity. I had no work; I wanted work. My best chance of obtaining it lay in securing his recommendation. This I knew could be had by asking for it; not to ask because the request revolted my pride and contradicted my habits would, I felt, be an indulgence of false and indolent fastidiousness. I might repent the omission all my life. I would not, then, be guilty of it.
That evening I went to M. Vandenhuten's, but I had bent the bow and adjusted the shaft in vain; the string broke. I rang the bell at the great door (it was a large, handsome house in an expensive part of the town); a manservant opened; I asked for M. Vandenhuten. M. Vandenhuten and family were all out of town -- gone to Ostend -- did not know when they would be back. I left my card, and retraced my steps.
A week is gone; le jour des noces arrived; the marriage was solemnized at St. Jacques; Mdlle. Zoraide became Madame Pelet, nee Reuter; and in about an hour after this transformation 'the happy pair,' as newspapers phrase it, were on their way to Paris, where, according to previous arrangement, the honeymoon was to be spent. The next day I quitted the pensionnat. Myself and my chattels (some books and clothes) were soon transferred to a modest lodging I had hired in a street not far off. In half an hour my clothes were arranged in a commode, my books on a shelf, and the 'flitting' was effected. I should not have been unhappy that day had not one pang tortured me -- a longing to go to the Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges, resisted, yet irritated by an inward resolve to avoid that street till such time as the mist of doubt should clear from my prospects.
It was a sweet September evening -- very mild, very still. I had nothing to do. At that hour I knew Frances would he equally released from occupation. I thought she might possibly be wishing for her master. I knew I wished for my pupil. Imagination began with her low whispers, infusing into my soul the soft tale of pleasures that might be.
'You will find her reading or writing,' said she; 'you can take your seat at her side; you need not startle her peace by undue excitement; you need not embarrass her manner by unusual action or language. Be as you always are; look over what she has written; listen while she reads; chide her, or quietly approve. You know the effect of either system; you know her smile when pleased; you know the play of her looks when roused; you have the secret of awakening what expression you will, and you can choose amongst that pleasant variety. With you she will sit silent as long as it suits you to talk alone; you can hold her under a potent spell. Intelligent as she is, eloquent as she can be, you can seal her lips, and veil her bright countenance with diffidence. Yet, you know, she is not all monotonous mildness; you have seen, with a sort of strange pleasure, revolt, scorn, austerity, bitterness, lay energetic claim to a place in her feelings and physiognomy. you know that few could rule her as you do; you know she might break but never bend under the hand of Tyranny and Injustice but Reason and Affection can guide her by a sign. Try their influence now. Go -- they are not passions; you may handle them safely.'
'I will not go,' was my answer to the sweet temptress. 'A man is master of himself to a certain point, but not beyond it. Could I seek Frances to-night, could I sit with her alone in a quiet room, and address her only in the language of reason and affection?'
'No,' was the brief, fervent reply of that love which had conquered and now controlled me.
Time seemed to stagnate; the sun would not go down; my watch ticked, but I thought the hands were paralysed.
'What a hot evening!' I cried, throwing open the lattice for, indeed, I had seldom felt so feverish. Hearing a step ascending the common stair, I wondered whether the locataire, now mounting to his apartments, were as unsettled in mind and condition as I was, or whether he lived in the calm of certain resources and in the freedom of unfettered feelings. What! was he coming in person to solve the problem hardly proposed in inaudible thought? He had actually knocked at the door -- at my door -- a smart, prompt rap; and almost before I could invite him in he was over the threshold, and had closed the door behind him.
'And how are you?' asked an indifferent, quiet voice, in the English language, while my visitor, without any sort of bustle or introduction, put his hat on the table and his gloves into his hat, and drawing the only armchair the room afforded a little forward, seated himself tranquilly therein.
'Can't you speak?' he inquired in a few moments, in a tone whose nonchalance seemed to intimate that it was much the same thing whether I answered or not. The fact is, I found it desirable to have recourse to my good friends les besicles, not exactly to ascertain the identity of my visitor -- for I already knew him, confound his impudence! -- but to see how he looked, to get a clear notion of his mien and countenance. I wiped the glasses very deliberately, and put them on quite as deliberately, adjusting them so as not to hurt the bridge of my nose or get entangled in my short tufts of dun hair. I was sitting in the window-seat, with my back to the light, and I had him vis-ˆ-vis -- a position he would much rather have had reversed, for at any time he preferred scrutinizing to being scrutinized. Yes, it was he, and no mistake, with his six feet of length arranged in a sitting attitude, with his dark travelling surtout with its velvet collar, his gray pantaloons, his black stock, and his face, the most original one Nature ever modelled, yet the least obtrusively so -- not one feature that could be termed marked or odd, yet the effect of the whole unique. There is no use in attempting. to describe what is indescribable. Being in no hurry to address him, I sat and stared at my ease.
'Oh, that's your game, is it?' said he at last. 'Well, we'll see which is soonest tired.' And he slowly drew out a fine cigar-case, picked one to his taste, lit it, took a book from the shelf convenient to his hand, then leaning back, proceeded to smoke and read as tranquilly as if he had been in his own room in Grove Street, X--shire, England. I knew he was capable of continuing in that attitude till midnight, if he conceived the whim; so I rose, and taking the book from his hand, I said, --
'You did not ask for it, and you shall not have it.'
'It is silly and dull,' he observed, 'so I have not lost much;' then, the spell being broken, he went on. 'I thought you lived at Pelet's. I went there this afternoon, expecting to be starved to death by sitting in a boarding-school drawing-room, and they told me you were gone -- had departed this morning. You had left your address behind you though, which I wondered at; it was a more practical and sensible precaution than I should have imagined you capable of. Why did you leave?
'Because M. Pelet has just married the lady whom you and Mr. Brown assigned to me as my wife.'
'Oh, indeed!' replied Hunsden, with a short laugh. 'So you've lost both your wife and your place?'
I saw him give a quick, covert glance all round my room; he marked its narrow limits, its scanty furniture. In an instant he had comprehended the state of matters -- had absolved me from the crime of prosperity. A curious effect this discovery wrought in his strange mind. I am morally certain that if he had found me installed in a handsome parlour, lounging on a soft couch, with a pretty, wealthy wife at my side, he would have hated me. A brief, cold, haughty visit would in such a case have been the extreme limit of his civilities, and never would he have come near me more so long as the tide of fortune bore me smoothly on its surface; but the painted furniture, the bare walls, the cheerless solitude of my room relaxed his rigid pride, and I know not what softening change had taken place both in his voice and look ere he spoke again.
'You have got another place?'
'You are in the way of getting one?'
'That is bad. Have you applied to Brown?'
'You had better; he often has it in his power to give useful information in such matters.
'He served me once very well; I have no claim on him, and am not in the humour to bother him again.'
'Oh, if you're bashful, and dread being intrusive, you need only commission me. I shall see him to-night; I can put in a word.
'I beg you will not, Mr. Hunsden; I am in your debt already. You did me an important service when I was at X--; got me out of a den where I was dying. That service I have never repaid, and at present I decline positively adding another item to the account.'
'If the wind sits that way, I'm satisfied. I thought my unexampled generosity in turning you out of that accursed counting-house would be duly appreciated some day. "Cast your bread on the waters, and it shall be found after many days," say the Scriptures. Yes, that's right, lad; make much of me -- I'm a nonpareil. There's nothing like me in the common herd. In the meantime, to put all humbug aside and talk sense for a few moments, you would be greatly the better of a situation, and what is more, you are a fool if you refuse to take one from any hand that offers it.'
'Very well, Mr. Hunsden. Now you have settled that point, talk of something else. What news from X--?'
'I have not settled that point, or at least there is another to settle before we get to X--. Is this Miss Zenobie' ('Zoraide,' interposed I) -- 'well, Zoraide -- is she really married to Pelet?'
'I tell you yes; and if you don't believe me, go and ask the cure of St. Jacques.'
'And your heart is broken?'
'I am not aware that it is. It feels all right -- beats as usual.'
'Then your feelings are less superfine than I took them to be. You must be a coarse, callous character to bear such a thwack with- out staggering under it.'
'Staggering under it? What the deuce is there to stagger under in the circumstance of a Belgian schoolmistress marrying a French schoolmaster? The progeny will doubtless be a strange hybrid race; but that's their lookout, not mine.'
'He indulges in scurrilous jests, and the bride was his affianced one!'
'Who said so?'
'I'll tell you what, Hunsden: Brown is an old gossip.'
'He is; but in the meantime, if his gossip be founded on less than fact, if you took no particular interest in Miss Zoraide, why, O youthful pedagogue, did you leave your place in consequence of her becoming Madame Pelet?'
'Because' -- I felt my face grow a little hot -- 'because, in short, Mr. Hunsden, I decline answering any more questions;' and I plunged my hands deep in my breeches pocket.
Hunsden triumphed; his eyes, his laugh announced victory.
'What the deuce are you laughing at, Mr. Hunsden?'
'At your exemplary composure. Well, lad, I'll not bore you. I see how it is. Zoraide has jilted you -- married some one richer, as any sensible woman would have done if she had had the chance.'
I made no reply, I let him think so, not feeling inclined to enter into an explanation of the real state of things, and as little to forge a false account. But it was not easy to blind Hunsden. My very silence, instead of convincing him that he had hit the truth, seemed to render him doubtful about it. He went on, --
'I suppose the affair has been conducted as such affairs always are amongst rational people. You offered her your youth and your talents -- such as they are -- in exchange for her position and money. I don't suppose you took appearance, or what is called love, into the account -- for I understand she is older than you, and Brown says rather sensible looking than beautiful. She having then no chance of making a better bargain, was at first inclined to come to terms with you; but Pelet, the head of a flourishing school, stepped in with a higher bid. She accepted, and he has got her: a correct transaction -- perfectly so -- business-like and legitimate. And now we'll talk of something else.'
'Do,' said I, very glad to dismiss the topic, and especially glad to have baffled the sagacity of my cross-questioner -- if indeed, I had baffled it; for though his words now led away from the dangerous point, his eyes, keen and watchful, seemed still preoccupied with the former idea.
'You want to hear news from X--? And what interest can you have in X--? You left no friends there, for you made none. Nobody ever asks after you, neither man nor woman; and if I mention your name in company, the men look as if I had spoken of Prester John, and the women sneer covertly. Our X-- belles must have disliked you. How did you excite their displeasure?'
'I don't know. I seldom spoke to them -- they were nothing to me. I considered them only as something to be glanced at from a distance. Their dresses and faces were often pleasing enough to the eye, but I could not understand their conversation, nor even read their countenances. When I caught snatches of what they said, I could never make much of it; and the play of their lips and eyes did not help me at all.'
'That was your fault, not theirs. There are sensible as well as handsome women in X--. women it is worth any man's while to talk to, and with whom I can talk with pleasure. But you had and have no pleasant address; there is nothing in you to induce a woman to be affable. I have remarked you sitting near the door in a room full of company, bent on hearing, not on speaking; on observing, not on entertaining; looking frigidly shy at the commencement of a party, confusingly vigilant about the middle, and insultingly weary towards the end. Is that the way, do you think, ever to communicate pleasure or excite interest? No; and if you are generally unpopular, it is because you deserve to be so.'
'Content!' I ejaculated.
'No, you are not content. You see beauty always turning its back on you; you are mortified, and then you sneer. I verify believe all that is desirable on earth -- wealth, reputation, love -- will for ever to you be the ripe grapes on the high trellis. You'll look up at them; they will tantalize in you the lust of the eye; but they are out of reach. You have not the address to fetch a ladder, and you'll go away calling them sour.'
Cutting as these words n-tight have been under some circumstances, they drew no blood now. My life was changed, my experience had been varied since I left X--; but Hunsden could not know this. He had seen me only in the character of Mr. Crimsworth's clerk -- a dependant amongst wealthy strangers, meeting disdain with a hard front, conscious of an unsocial and unattractive exterior, refusing to sue for notice which I was sure would be withheld, declining to evince an admiration which I knew would be scorned as worthless. He could not be aware that since then youth and loveliness had been to me everyday objects, that I had studied them at leisure and closely, and had seen the plain texture of truth under the embroidery of appearance; nor could he, keen-sighted as he was, penetrate into my heart, search my brain, and read my peculiar sympathies and antipathies. He had not known me long enough or well enough to perceive how low my feelings would ebb under some influences, powerful over most minds; how high, how fast they would flow under other influences, that perhaps acted with the more intense force on me because they acted on me alone. Neither could he suspect for an instant the history of my communications with Mdlle. Reuter. Secret to him and to all others was the tale of her strange infatuation. Her blandishments, her wiles had been seen but by me, and to me only were they known. but they had changed me, for they had proved that I could impress. A sweeter secret nestled deeper in my heart, one full of tenderness and as full of strength. It took the sting out of Hunsden's sarcasm; it kept me unbent by shame and unstirred by wrath. But, of all this I could say nothing -- nothing decisive at least; uncertainty sealed my lips, and during the interval of silence by which alone I replied to Mr. Hunsden, I made up my mind to be for the present wholly misjudged by him, and misjudged I was. He thought he had been rather too hard upon me, and that I was crushed by the weight of his upbraidings; so to reassure me he said doubtless I should mend some day. I was only at the beginning of life yet; and since happily I was not quite without sense, every false step I made would be a good lesson.
Just then I turned my face a little to the light. The approach of twilight and my position in the window-seat had, for the last ten minutes, prevented him from studying my countenance; as I moved, however, he caught an expression which he thus interpreted, --
'Confound it! How doggedly self-approving the lad looks! I thought he was fit to die with shame, and there he sits grinning smiles, as good as to say, "Let the world wag as it will, I've the philosopher's stone in my waistcoat pocket and the elixir of life in my cupboard; I'm independent of both fate and fortune!"
'Hunsden, you spoke of grapes; I was thinking of a fruit I like better than your X-- hothouse grapes -- a unique fruit, growing wild, which I have marked as my own, and hope one day to gather and taste. It is of no use your offering me the draught of bitterness or threatening me with death by thirst. I have the anticipation of sweetness on MY palate, the hope of freshness on my lips; I can reject the unsavoury and endure the exhausting.'
'For how long?'
'Till the next opportunity for effort; and as the prize of success will be a treasure after my own heart, I'll bring a bull's strength to the struggle.'
'Bad luck crushes bulls as easily as bullaces; and, I believe, the fury dogs you. You were born with a wooden spoon in your mouth, depend on it.'
'I believe you; and I mean to make my wooden spoon do the work of some people's silver ladles. Grasped firmly and handled nimbly, even a wooden spoon will shovel up broth.'
Hunsden rose. 'I see,' said he. 'I suppose you're one of those who develop best unwatched and act best unaided. Work your own way. Now, I'll go.' And without another word he was going; at the door he turned.
'Crimsworth Hall is sold,' said he.
'Sold!' was my echo.
'Yes. You know, of course, that your brother failed three months ago?'
'What! Edward Crimsworth?'
'Precisely; and his wife went home to her father's. When affairs went awry his temper sympathized with them. He used her ill. I told you he would be a tyrant to her some day. As to him --'
'Ay, as to him -- what is become of him?'
'Nothing extraordinary; don't be alarmed. He put himself under the protection of the court, compounded with his creditors -- ten-pence in the pound -- in six weeks set up again, coaxed back his wife, and is flourishing like a green bay tree.'
'And Crimsworth Hall -- was the furniture sold too?'
'Everything -- from the grand piano down to the rolling-pin.'
'And the contents of the oak dining-room -- were they sold?'
'Of course. Why should the sofas and chairs of that room be held more sacred than those of any other?'
'And the pictures?'
'What pictures? Crimsworth had no special collection that I know of. He did not profess to be an amateur.'
'There were two portraits, one on each side the mantelpiece. You cannot have forgotten them, Mr. Hunsden; you once noticed that of the lady --'
'Oh, I know! the thin-faced gentlewoman with a shawl put on like drapery. Why, as a matter of course, it would be sold among the other things. If you had been rich, you might have bought it, for I remember you said it represented your mother. You see what it is to be without a sou.'
I did. 'But surely,' I thought to myself, 'I shall not always be so poverty-stricken; I may one day buy it back yet.' -- 'Who purchased it? Do you know?' I asked.
'How is it likely? I never inquired who purchased anything. There spoke the unpractical man -- to imagine all the world is interested in what interests himself! Now, goodnight; I'm off for Germany to-morrow morning. I shall be back here in six weeks, and possibly I may call and see you again. I wonder whether you'll be still out of place!' he laughed, as mockingly, as heartlessly as Mephistopheles, and so laughing, vanished.
Some people, however indifferent they may become after a considerable space of absence, always contrive to leave a pleasant impression just at parting. Not so Hunsden. A conference with him affected one like a draught of Peruvian bark: it seemed a concentration of the specially harsh, stringent, bitter. Whether, Eke bark, it invigorated, I scarcely knew.
A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow. I slept little on the night after this interview. Towards morning I began to doze, but hardly had my slumber become sleep when I was roused from it by hearing a noise in my sitting-room, to which my bedroom adjoined -- a step and a shoving of furniture. The movement lasted barely two minutes; with the closing of the door it ceased. I listened: not a mouse stirred. Perhaps I had dreamt it; perhaps a locataire had made a mistake and entered my apartment instead of his own. It was yet but five o'clock; neither I nor the day was wide awake. I turned, and was soon unconscious. When I did rise, about two hours later, I had for- gotten the circumstance. The first thing I saw, however, on quitting my chamber, recalled it. Just pushed in at the door of my sitting- room, and still standing on end, was a wooden packing-case -- a rough deal affair, wide but shallow. A porter had doubtless shoved it forward, but seeing no occupant of the room, had left it at the entrance.
'That is none of mine,' thought I, approaching; 'it must be meant for somebody else.' I stooped to examine the address: --
'Wm. Crimsworth, Esq., No. --, -- St., Brussels.'
I was puzzled, but concluding that the best way to obtain information was to ask within, I cut the cords and opened the case. Green baize enveloped its contents, sewn carefully at the sides. I ripped the pack-thread with my penknife, and still, as the seam gave way, glimpses of gilding appeared through the widening interstices. Boards and baize being at length removed, I lifted from the case a large picture, in a magnificent frame. Leaning it against a chair, in a position where the light from the window fell favourably upon it, I stepped back; already I had mounted my spectacles. A portrait-painter's sky (the most sombre and threatening of welkins) and distant trees of a conventional depth of hue raised in full relief a pale, pensive-looking female face, shadowed with soft dark hair, almost blending with the equally dark clouds; large, solemn eyes looked reflectively into mine; a thin cheek rested on a delicate little hand, a shawl, artistically draped, half hid, half showed a slight figure. A listener (had there been one) might have heard me, after ten minutes' silent gazing, utter the word 'Mother!' I might have said more, but with me the first word uttered aloud in soliloquy rouses consciousness; it reminds me that only crazy people talk to themselves, and then I think out my monologue instead of speaking it. I had thought a long while, and a long while had contemplated the intelligence, the sweetness, and, alas! the sadness also of those fine gray eyes, the mental power of that forehead, and the rare sensibility of that serious mouth, when my glance, travelling downwards, fell on a narrow billet, stuck in the corner of the picture, between the frame and the canvas. Then I first asked, 'Who sent this picture? Who thought of me, saved it out of the wreck of Crimsworth Hall, and now commits it to the care of its natural keeper?' I took the note from its niche thus it spoke: --
'There is a sort of stupid pleasure in giving a child sweets, a fool his bells, a dog a bone. You are repaid by seeing the child besmear his face with sugar, by witnessing how the fool's ecstasy makes a greater fool of him than ever, by watching the dog's nature come out over his bone. In giving William Crimsworth his mother's picture, I give him sweets, bells, and bone all in one. What grieves me is that I cannot behold the result. I would have added five shillings more to my bid if the auctioneer could only have promised me that pleasure.
H. Y. H.
'P.S. -- You said last night you positively declined adding another item to your account with me. Don't you think I've saved you that trouble?'
I muffled the picture in its green baize covering, restored it to the case, and having transported the whole concern to my bedroom, put it out of sight under my bed. My pleasure was now poisoned by pungent pain; I determined to look no more till I could look at my ease. If Hunsden had come in at that moment, I should have said to him, 'I owe you nothing, Hunsden -- not a fraction of a farthing; you have paid yourself in taunts.'
Too anxious to remain any longer quiescent, I had no sooner breakfasted than I repaired once more to M. Vandenhuten's, scarcely hoping to find him at home -- for a week had barely elapsed since my first call -- but fancying I might be able to glean information as to the time when his return was expected. A better result awaited me than I had anticipated; for though the family were yet at Ostend, M. Vandenhuten had come over to Brussels on business for the day. He received me with the quiet kindness of a sincere though not excitable man. I had not sat five minutes alone with him in his bureau before I became aware of a sense of ease in his presence such as I rarely experienced with strangers. I was surprised at my own composure, for, after all, I had come on business to me exceedingly painful -- that of soliciting a favour. I asked on what basis the calm rested. I feared it might be deceptive. Ere long I caught a glimpse of the ground, and at once I felt assured of its solidity; I knew where I was.
M. Vandenhuten was rich, respected, and influential; I poor, despised, and powerless. So we stood to the world at large as members of the world's society; but to each other, as a pair of human beings, our positions were reversed. The Dutchman (he was not Flamand, but pure Hollandais) was slow, cool, of rather dense intelligence, though sound and accurate judgment: the Englishman far more nervous, active, quicker both to plan and to practise, to conceive and to realize. The Dutchman was benevolent, the Englishman susceptible; in short, our characters dovetailed, but my mind having more fire and action than his, instinctively assumed and kept the predominance.
This point settled, and my position well ascertained, I addressed him on the subject of my affairs with that genuine frankness which full confidence can alone inspire. It was a pleasure to him to be so appealed to; he thanked me for giving him this opportunity of using a little exertion in my behalf. I went on to explain to him that my wish was not so much to be helped as to be put into the way of helping myself; of him I did not want exertion -- that was to be my part -- but only information and recommendation. Soon after I rose to go. He held out his hand at parting -- an action of greater significance with foreigners than with Englishmen. As I exchanged a smile with him, I thought the benevolence of his truthful face was better than the intelligence of my own. Characters of my order experience a balm-like solace in the contact of such souls as animated the honest breast of Victor Vandenhuten.
The next fortnight was a period of many alternations; my existence during its lapse resembled a sky of one of those autumnal nights which are specially haunted by meteors and falling stars. Hopes and fears, expectations and disappointments, descended in glancing showers from zenith to horizon; but all were transient, and darkness followed swift each vanishing apparition. M. Vandenhuten aided me faithfully. He set me on the track of several places, and himself made efforts to secure them for me; but for a long time solicitation and recommendation were vain -- the door either shut in my face when I was about to walk in, or another candidate, entering before me, rendered my further advance useless. Feverish and roused, no disappointment arrested me. defeat following fast on defeat served as stimulants to will. I forgot fastidiousness, conquered reserve, thrust pride from me; I asked, I persevered, I remonstrated, I dunned. It is so that openings are forced into the guarded circle where Fortune sits dealing favours round. My perseverance made me known; my importunity made me remarked. I was inquired about; my former pupils' parents, gathering the reports of their children, heard me spoken of as talented, and they echoed the word. The sound, bandied about at random, came at last to ears which, but for its universality, it might never have reached; and at the very crisis when I had tried my last effort, and knew not what to do, Fortune looked in at me one morning, as I sat in drear and almost desperate deliberation on my bedstead, nodded with the familiarity of an old acquaintance -- though God knows I had never met her before -- and threw a prize into my lap.
In the second week of October 18-- I got the appointment of English professor to all the classes of -- College, Brussels, with a salary of three thousand francs per annum, and the certainty of being able, by dint of the reputation and publicity accompanying the position, to make as much more by private lessons. The official notice which communicated this information mentioned also that it was the strong recommendation of M. Vandenhuten, negociant, which had turned the scale of choice in my favour.
No sooner had I read the announcement than I hurried to M. Vandenhuten's bureau, pushed the document under his nose, and when he had perused it, took both his hands and thanked him with unrestrained vivacity. My vivid words and emphatic gesture moved his Dutch calm to unwonted sensation. He said he was happy -- glad to have served me, but he had done nothing meriting such thanks. He had not laid out a centime, only scratched a few words on a sheet of paper.
Again I repeated to him, --
'You have made me quite happy, and in a way that suits me. I do not feel an obligation irksome, conferred by your kind hand; I do not feel disposed to shun you because you have done me a favour. From this day you must consent to admit me to your intimate acquaintance, for I shall hereafter recur again and again to the pleasure of your society.'
'Ainsi soit-il,' was the reply, accompanied by a smile of benignant content. I went away with its sunshine in my heart.
It was two o'clock when I returned to my lodgings; my dinner, just brought in from a neighbouring hotel, smoked on the table. I sat down thinking to cat: had the plate been heaped with potsherds and broken glass instead of boiled beef and haricots, I could not have made a more signal failure. Appetite had forsaken me. Impatient of seeing food which I could not taste, I put it all aside into a cupboard, and then demanded, 'What shall I do till evening?' for before 6 p.m. it would be vain to seek the Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges; its inhabitant (for me it had but one) was detained by her vocation elsewhere. I walked in the streets of Brussels, and I walked in my own room, from two o'clock till six. Never once in that space of time did I sit down; I was in my chamber when the last-named hour struck. I had just bathed my face and feverish hands, and was standing near the glass. My cheek was crimson, my eye was flame; still all my features looked quite settled and calm. Descending swiftly the stair and stepping out, I was glad to see twilight drawing on in clouds; such shade was to me like a grateful screen, and the chill of later autumn, breathing in a fitful wind from the north-west, met me as a refreshing coolness. Still I saw it was cold to others, for the women I passed were wrapped in shawls, and the men had their coats buttoned close.
When are we quite happy? Was I so then? No. An urgent and growing dread worried my nerves, and had worried them since the first moment good tidings had reached me. How was Frances? It was ten weeks since I had seen her, six since I had heard from her or of her. I had answered her letter by a brief note, friendly but calm, in which no mention of continued correspondence or further visits was made. At that hour my bark hung on the topmost curl of a wave of fate, and I knew not on what shoal the onward rush of the billow might hurl it. I would not then attach her destiny to mine by the slightest thread. If doomed to split on the rock or run aground on the sandbank, I was resolved no other vessel should share my disaster; but six weeks was a long time, and could it be that she was still well and doing well? Were not all sages agreed in declaring that happiness finds no climax on earth? Dared I think that but half a street now divided me from the full cup of contentment -- the draught drawn from waters said to flow only in heaven?
I was at the door; I entered the quiet house; I mounted the stairs. The lobby was void and still, all the doors closed. I looked for the neat green mat; it lay duly in its place.
'Signal of hope!' I said, and advanced. 'But I will he a little calmer; I am not going to rush in and get up a scene directly.' Forcibly staying my eager step, I paused on the mat.
'What an absolute hush! Is she in? Is anybody in?' I demanded to myself. A little tinkle, as of cinders falling from a grate, replied; a movement -- a fire was gently stirred; and the slight rustle of life continuing, a step paced equably backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards in the apartment. Fascinated, I stood, more fixedly fascinated when a voice rewarded the attention of my strained ear -- so low, so self-addressed I never fancied the speaker otherwise than alone; solitude might speak thus in a desert, or in the hall of a forsaken house.
The old Scotch ballad was partly recited, then dropped. A pause ensued; then another strain followed, in French, of which the purport, translated, ran as follows: --
Something stirred in an adjoining chamber. It would not do to be surprised eavesdropping. I tapped hastily, and as hastily entered. Frances was just before me; she had been walking slowly in her room, and her step was checked by my advent. Twilight only was with her, and tranquil, ruddy firelight; to these sisters, the bright and the dark, she had been speaking, ere I entered, in poetry. Sir Walter Scott's voice, to her a foreign, far-off sound, a mountain echo, had uttered itself in the first stanzas; the second, I thought, from the style and the substance, was the language of her own heart. Her face was grave, its expression concentrated. She bent on me an unsmiling eye -- an eye just resumed from abstraction, just awaking from dreams. Well arranged was her simple attire, smooth her dark hair, orderly her tranquil room; but what -- with her thoughtful look, her serious self- reliance, her bent to meditation and happy inspiration -- what had she to do with love? 'Nothing,' was the answer of her own sad though gentle countenance. It seemed to say, 'I must cultivate fortitude and cling to poetry; one is to be my support and the other my solace through life. Human affections do not bloom, nor do human passions glow for me.' Other women have such thoughts. Frances, had she been as desolate as she deemed, would not have been worse off than thousands of her sex. Look at the rigid and formal race of old maids -- the race whom all despise; they have fed themselves, from youth upwards, on maxims of resignation and endurance. Many of them get ossified with the dry diet. Self-control is so continually their thought, so perpetually their object, that at last it absorbs the softer and more agreeable qualifies of their nature, and they die mere models of austerity, fashioned out of a little parchment and much bone. Anatomists will tell you that there is a heart in the withered old maid's carcass, the same as in that of any cherished wife or proud mother in the land. Can this be so? I really don't know, but feel inclined to doubt it.
I came forward, bade Frances 'good-evening,' and took my seat. The chair I had chosen was one she had probably just left; it stood by a little table where were her open desk and papers. I know not whether she had fully recognized me at first, but she did so now; and in a voice soft but quiet she returned my greeting. I had shown no eagerness; she took her cue from me, and evinced no surprise. We met as we had always met, as master and pupil -- nothing more. I proceeded to handle the papers. Frances, observant and serviceable, stepped into an inner room, brought a candle, lit it, placed it by me, then drew the curtain over the lattice, and having added a little fresh fuel to the already bright fire, she drew a second chair to the table and sat down at my right hand, a little removed. The paper on the top was a translation of some grave French author into English, but underneath lay a sheet with stanzas. On this I laid hands. Frances half rose, made a movement to recover the captured spoil, saying that was nothing -- a mere copy of verses. I put by resistance with the decision I knew she never long opposed, but on this occasion her fingers had fastened on the paper. I had quietly to unloose them. Their hold dissolved to my touch; her hand shrunk away. My own would fain have followed it, but for the present I forbade such impulse. The first page of the sheet was occupied with the lines I had overheard; the sequel was not exactly the writer's own experience, but a composition by portions of that experience suggested. Thus, while egotism was avoided, the fancy was exercised, and the heart satisfied. I translate as before, and my translation is nearly literal. It continued thus: --
I read, then dreamily made marks on the margin with my pencil, thinking all the while of other things -- thinking that 'Jane' was now at my side, no child, but a girl of nineteen; and she might be mine, so my heart affirmed. Poverty's curse was taken off me, envy and jealousy were far away, and unapprised of this our quiet meeting. The frost of the master's manner might melt; I felt the thaw coming fast, whether I would or not. No further need for the eye to practise a hard look, for the brow to compress its expanse into a stem fold; it was now permitted to suffer the outward revelation of the inward glow, to seek, demand, elicit an answering ardour. While musing thus I thought that the grass on Hermon never drank the fresh dews of sunset more gratefully than my feelings drank the bliss of this hour.
Frances rose as if restless; she passed before me to stir the fire, which did not want stirring; she lifted and put down the little ornaments on the mantelpiece; her dress waved within a yard of me; slight, straight, and elegant, she stood erect on the hearth.
There are impulses we can control, but there are others which.' control us, because they attain us with a tiger leap, and are our masters ere we have seen them. Perhaps, though, such impulses are seldom altogether bad; perhaps reason, by a process as brief as quiet, a process that is finished ere felt, has ascertained the sanity of the deed instinct meditates, and feels justified in remaining passive while it is performed. I know I did not reason, I did not plan or intend; yet, whereas one moment I was sitting solus on the chair near the table, the next I held Frances on my knee, placed there with sharpness and decision, and retained with exceeding tenacity.
'Monsieur!' cried Frances, and was still. Not another word escaped her lips. Sorely confounded she seemed during the lapse of the first few moments; but the amazement soon subsided. Terror did not succeed, nor fury. After all, she was only a little nearer than she had ever been before to one she habitually respected and trusted. Embarrassment might have impelled her to contend, but self-respect checked resistance where resistance was useless.
'Frances, how much regard have you for me?' was my demand. No answer; the situation was yet too new and surprising to permit speech. On this consideration I compelled myself for some seconds to tolerate her silence, though impatient of it. Presently I repeated the same question, probably not in the calmest of tones. She looked at me. My face, doubtless, was no model of composure, my eyes no still wells of tranquillity.
'Do speak,' I urged; and a very low, hurried, yet still arch voice said, --
'Monsieur, vous me fa”tes mal; de gr>ce l>chez un peu ma main droite.'
In truth I became aware that I was holding the said 'main droite' in a somewhat ruthless grasp. I did as desired, and, for the third time, asked more gently, --
'Frances, how much regard have you for me?'
'Mon maitre, j'en ai beaucoup,' was the truthful rejoinder,
'Frances, have you enough to give yourself to me as my wife? to accept me as your husband?'
I felt the agitation of the heart; I saw 'the purple light of love' cast its glowing reflection on cheeks, temples, neck. I desired to consult the eye, but sheltering lash and lid forbade.
'Monsieur,' said the soft voice at last -- 'monsieur desire savoir si je consens -- si, enfin, si je veux me marier avec lui?'
'Monsieur sera-t-il aussi bon mari qu'il a ete bon ma”tre?'
'I will try, Frances.'
A pause; then with a new yet still subdued inflection of the voice an inflection which provoked while it pleased me -- accompanied, too, by a 'sourire a la fois fin et timide' in perfect harmony with the tone, --
'C'est a dire, monsieur sera toujours un peu entete, exigeant, volontaire --'
'Have I been so, Frances?'
'Mais oui; vous le savez bien.'
'Have I been nothing else?'
'Mais oui; vous avez ete mon meilleur ami.'
'And what, Frances, are you to me?'
'Votre devouee eleve, qui vous aime de tout son coeur.'
'Will my pupil consent to pass her life with me? Speak English now, Frances.'
Some moments were taken for reflection. The answer, pronounced slowly, ran thus, --
'You have always made me happy. I like to hear you speak; I like to see you; I like to be near you. I believe you are very good, and very superior. I know you are stern to those who are careless and idle, but you are kind, very kind to the attentive and industrious, even if they are not clever. Master, I should be glad to five with you always;' and she made a sort of movement as if she would have clung to me, but restraining herself, she only added with earnest emphasis, 'Master, I consent to pass my life with you.'
'Very well, Frances.'
I drew her a little nearer to my heart; I took a first kiss from her lips, thereby sealing the compact now framed between us. Afterwards she and I were silent, nor was our silence brief Frances' thoughts during this interval I know not, nor did I attempt to guess them; I was not occupied in searching her countenance, nor in otherwise troubling her composure. The peace I felt I wished her to feel. My arm, it is true, still detained her, but with a restraint that was gentle enough, so long as no opposition tightened it. My gaze was on the red fire, my heart was measuring its own content; it sounded and sounded, and found the depth fathomless.
'Monsieur,' at last said my quiet companion, as stirless in her happiness as a mouse in its terror. Even now in speaking she scarcely lifted her head.
'Well, Frances?' I like unexaggerated intercourse; it is not my way to overpower with amorous epithets, any more than to worry with selfishly importunate caresses.
'Monsieur est raisonnable, n'est-ce pas?'
'Yes, especially when I am requested to be so in English. But why do you ask me? You see nothing vehement or obtrusive in my manner; am I not tranquil enough?'
'Ce n'est pas cela --'began Frances.
'English!' I reminded her.
'Well, monsieur, I wished merely to say that I should like, of course, to retain my employment of teaching. You will teach still, I suppose, monsieur?'
'Oh yes; it is all I have to depend on.'
'Bon -- I mean good. Thus we shall have both the same profession. I like that; and my efforts to get on will be as unrestrained as yours -- will they not, monsieur?'
'You are laying plans to be independent of me,' said I.
'Yes, monsieur; I must be no encumbrance to you -- no burden in any way.'
'But, Frances, I have not yet told you what my prospects are. I have left M. Pelet's; and after nearly a month's seeking I have got another place, with a salary of three thousand francs a year, which I can easily double by a little additional exertion. Thus you see it would be useless for you to fag yourself by going out to give lessons; on six thousand francs you and I can live, and live well.'
Frances seemed to consider. There is something flattering to man's strength, something consonant to his honourable pride, in the idea of becoming the providence of what he loves -- feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field. So, to decide her resolution, I went on, --
'Life has been painful and laborious enough to you so far, Frances; you require complete rest. Your twelve hundred francs would not form a very important addition to our income, and what sacrifice of comfort to earn it! Relinquish your labours -- you must be weary -- and let me have the happiness of giving you rest.'
I am not sure whether Frances had accorded due attention to my harangue. Instead of answering me with her usual respectful promptitude, she only sighed, and said, --
'How rich you are, monsieur!' and then she stirred uneasy in my arms. 'Three thousand francs!' she murmured, 'while I get only twelve hundred!' She went on faster. 'However, it must be so for the present; and, monsieur, were you not saying something about my giving up my place? Oh no! I shall hold it fast,' and her little fingers emphatically tightened on mine. 'Think of my marrying you to be kept by you, monsieur! I could not do it; and how dull my days would be! You would be away teaching in close, noisy schoolrooms from morning till evening, and I should be lingering at home, unemployed and solitary. I should get depressed and sullen, and you would soon tire of me.'
'Frances, you could read and study -- two things you like so well.'
'Monsieur, I could not. I like a contemplative life, but I like an active life better. I must act in some way, and act with you. I have taken notice, monsieur, that people who are only in each other's company for amusement never really like each other so well, or esteem each other so highly, as those who work together, and perhaps suffer together.'
'You speak God's truth,' said I at last; 'and you shall have your own way, for it is the best way. Now, as a reward for such ready consent, give me a voluntary kiss.'
After some hesitation, natural to a novice in the art of kissing, she brought her lips into very shy and gentle contact with my forehead. I took the small gift as a loan, and repaid it promptly, and with generous interest.
I know not whether Frances was really much altered since the time I first saw her; but as I looked at her now, I felt that she was singularly changed for me. The sad eye, the pale cheek, the dejected and joyless countenance I remembered as her early attributes were quite gone, and now I saw a face dressed in graces; smile, dimple, and rosy tint rounded its contours and brightened its hues. I had been accustomed to nurse a flattering idea that my strong attachment to her proved some particular perspicacity in my nature. She was not handsome, she was not rich, she was not even accomplished, yet was she my life's treasure. I must, then, be a man of peculiar discernment. To-night my eyes opened on the mistake I had made; I began to suspect that it was only my tastes which were unique, not my power of discovering and appreciating the superiority of moral worth over physical charms. For me Frances had physical charms. In her there was no deformity to get over, none of those prominent defects of eyes, teeth, complexion, shape, which hold at bay the admiration of the boldest male champions of intellect (for women can love a downright ugly man if he be but talented). Had she been either 'edentee, myope, rugueuse, ou bossue,' my feelings towards her might still have been kindly, but they could never have been impassioned. I had affection for the poor little misshapen Sylvie, but for her I could never have had love. It is true Frances' mental points had been the first to interest me, and they still retained the strongest hold on my preference; but I liked the graces of her person too. I derived a pleasure, purely material, from contemplating the clearness of her brown eyes, the fairness of her fine skin, the purity of her well-set teeth, the proportion of her delicate form; and that pleasure I could ill have dispensed with. It appeared, then, that I too was a sensualist, in my temperate and fastidious way.
Now, reader, during the last two pages I have been giving you honey fresh from flowers, but you must not live entirely on food so luscious; taste, then, a little gall -- just a drop, by way of change.
At a somewhat late hour I returned to my lodgings. Having temporarily forgotten that man had any such coarse cares as those of eating and drinking, I went to bed fasting. I had been excited and in action all day, and had tasted no food since eight that morning; besides, for a fortnight past I had known no rest either of body or mind. The last few hours had been a sweet delirium; it would not subside now, and till long after midnight broke with troubled ecstasy the rest I so much needed. At last I dozed, but not for long; it was yet quite dark when I awoke, and my waking was like that of Job when a spirit passed before his face, and, like him, 'the hair of my flesh stood up.' I might continue the parallel, for in truth, though I saw nothing, yet 'a thing was secretly brought unto me, and mine car received a little thereof. There was silence, and I heard a voice,' saying, 'In the midst of life we are in death.'
That sound, and the sensation of chill anguish accompanying it, many would have regarded as supernatural; but I recognized it at once as the effect of reaction. Man is ever clogged with his mortality, and it was my mortal nature which now faltered and plained -- my nerves which jarred and gave a false sound, because the soul, of late rushing headlong to an aim, had overstrained the body's comparative weakness. A horror of great darkness fell upon me. I felt my chamber invaded by one I had known formerly, but had thought for ever departed. I was temporarily a prey to hypochondria.
She had been my acquaintance -- nay, my guest, once before in boyhood. I had entertained her at bed and hoard for a year; for that space of time I had her to myself in secret. She lay with me, she ate with me, she walked out with me, showing me nooks in woods, hollows in hills, where we could sit together, and where she could drop her drear veil over me and so hide sky and sun, grass and green tree; taking me entirely to her death-cold bosom, and holding me with arms of bone. What tales she would tell me at such hours! What songs she would recite in my ears! How she would discourse to me of her own country -- the grave -- and again and again promise to conduct me there ere long; and, drawing me to the very brink of a black, sullen river, show me, on the other side, shores unequal with mound, monument, and tablet, standing up in a glimmer more hoary than moonlight. 'Necropolis!' she would whisper, pointing to the pale piles, and add, 'It contains a mansion prepared for you.'
But my boyhood was lonely, parentless, uncheered by brother or sister; and there was no marvel that, just as I rose to youth, a sorceress, finding me lost in vague mental wanderings, with many affections and few objects, glowing aspirations and gloomy prospects, strong desires and slender hopes, should lift up her illusive lamp to me in the distance, and lure me to her vaulted home of horrors. No wonder her spells then had power; but now, when my course was widening, my prospect brightening, when my affections had found a rest, when my desires, folding wings, weary with long flight, had just alighted on the very lap of Fruition, and nestled there, warm, content, under the caress of a soft hand -- why did hypochondria accost me now?
I repulsed her as one would a dreaded and ghastly concubine coming to embitter a husband's heart towards his young bride. In vain. She kept her sway over me for that night and the next day, and eight succeeding days. Afterwards my spirits began slowly to recover their tone; my appetite returned, and in a fortnight I was well. I had gone about as usual all the time, and had said nothing to anybody of what I felt; but I was glad when the evil spirit departed from me, and I could again seek Frances, and sit at her side, freed from the dreadful tyranny of my demon.
One fine, frosty Sunday in November Frances and I took a long walk. We made the tour of the city by the boulevards, and afterwards, Frances being a little tired, we sat down on one of those wayside seats placed under the trees at intervals for the accommodation of the weary, Frances was telling me about Switzerland. The subject animated her; and I was just thinking that her eyes spoke fall as eloquently as her tongue, when she stopped and remarked, --
'Monsieur, there is a gentleman who knows you.'
I looked up. Three fashionably dressed men were just then passing -- Englishmen, I knew, by their air and gait as well as by their features. In the tallest of the trio I at once recognized Mr. Hunsden; he was in the act of lifting his hat to Frances. Afterwards he made a grimace at me, and passed on.
'Who is he?'
'A person I knew in England.'
'Why did he bow to me? he does not know me.'
'Yes, he does know you, in his way.'
'How, monsieur?' (She still called me 'monsieur;' I could not persuade her to adopt any more familiar term.)
'Did you not read the expression of his eyes?'
'Of his eyes? No; what did they say?'
'To you they said, "How do you do, Wilhelmina Crimsworth?" To me, "So you have found your counterpart at last; there she sits, the female of your kind!"'
'Monsieur, you could not read all that in his eyes; he was so soon gone.'
'I read that and more, Frances. I read that he will probably call on me this evening, or on some future occasion shortly. and I have no doubt he will insist on being introduced to you. Shall I bring him to your rooms?'
'If you please, monsieur; I have no objection. I think, indeed, I should rather like to see him nearer; he looks so original.'
As I had anticipated, Mr. Hunsden came that evening. The first thing he said was, --
'You need not begin boasting, monsieur le professeur. I know about your appointment to College, and all that; Brown has told me.' Then he intimated that he had returned from Germany hut a day or two since; afterwards he abruptly demanded whether that was Madame Pelet-Reuter with whom he had seen me on the boulevards. I was going to utter a rather emphatic negative, but on second thoughts I checked myself, and, seeming to assent, asked what he thought of her.
'As to her, I'll come to that directly; but first I've a word for you. I see you are a scoundrel. You've no business to be promenading about with another man's wife. I thought you had sounder sense than to get mixed up in foreign hodgepodge of this sort.'
'But the lady?'
'She's too good for you evidently. She is like you, but something better than you; no beauty, though. Yet when she rose (for I looked back to see you both walk away) I thought her figure and carriage good. These foreigners understand grace. What the devil has she done with Pelet? She has not been married to him three months; he must be a spoon!'
I would not let the mistake go too far. I did not like it much.
'Pelet? How your head runs on M. and Madame Pelet! You are always talking about them. I wish to the gods you had wed Mdlle. Zoraide yourself"
'Was that young gentlewoman not Mdlle. Zoraide?'
'No, nor Madame Zoraide either.'
'Why did you tell a lie then?'
'I told no lie; but you are in such a hurry. She is a pupil of mine -- a Swiss girl.'
'And, of course, you are going to be married to her? Don't deny that.'
'Married! I think I shall -- if Fate spares us both ten weeks longer. That is my little wild strawberry, Hunsden, whose sweetness made me careless of your hot-house grapes.'
'Stop! No boasting, no heroics; I won't hear them. What is she? To what caste does she belong?'
I smiled. Hunsden unconsciously laid stress on the word caste, and, in fact, republican, lord-hater as he was, Hunsden was as proud of his old --shire blood, of his descent and family standing, respectable and respected through long generations back, as any peer in the realm of his Norman race and Conquest-dated title. Hunsden would as little have thought of taking a wife from a caste inferior to his own as a Stanley would think of mating with a Cobden. I enjoyed the surprise I should give; I enjoyed the triumph of my practice over his theory; and leaning over the table, and uttering the words slowly but with repressed glee, I said concisely, --
'She is a lace-mender.'
Hunsden examined me. He did not say he was surprised, but surprised he was. He had his own notions of good breeding. I saw he suspected I was going to take some very rash step; but repressing declamation or remonstrance, he only answered, --
'Well, you are the best judge of your own affairs. A lace-mender may make a good wife as well as a lady; but, of course, you have taken care to ascertain thoroughly that since she has not education, fortune, or station, she is well furnished with such natural qualities as you think most likely to conduce to your happiness. Has she many relations' '
'None in Brussels.'
'That is better. Relations are often the real evil in such cases. I cannot but think that a train of inferior connections would have been a bore to you to your life's end.'
After sitting in silence a little while longer, Hunsden rose, and was quietly bidding me good-evening. The polite, considerate manner in which he offered me his hand (a thing he had never done before) convinced me that he thought I had made a terrible fool of myself; and that, ruined and thrown away as I was, it was no time for sarcasm or cynicism, or indeed for anything hut indulgence and forbearance.
'Good-night, William,' he said, in a really soft voice, while his face looked benevolently compassionate; 'goodnight, lad. I wish you and your future wife much prosperity, and I hope she will satisfy your fastidious soul.'
I had much ado to refrain from laughing as I beheld the magnanimous pity of his mien. Maintaining, however, a grave air, I said, 'I 'thought you would have liked to have seen Mdlle. Henri?'
'Oh, that is the name! Yes, if it would be convenient, I should like to see her; but --'He hesitated.
'I should on no account wish to intrude.'
'Come, then,' said I. We set out. Hunsden no doubt regarded me as a rash, imprudent man, thus to show my poor little grisette sweet-heart, in her poor little unfurnished grenier; but he prepared to act the real gentleman, having, in fact, the kernel of that character under the harsh husk it pleased him to wear by way of mental mackintosh. He talked affably, and even gently, as we went along the street. He had never been so civil to me in his life. We reached the house, entered, ascended the stair; on gaining the lobby, Hunsden turned to mount a narrower stair which led to a higher story. I saw his mind was bent on the attics.
'Here, Mr. Hunsden,' said I quietly, tapping at Frances' door. He turned. In his genuine politeness he was a little disconcerted at having made the mistake. His eye reverted to the green mat, but he said nothing.
We walked in, and Frances rose from her seat near the table to receive us. Her mourning attire gave her a recluse, rather conventual, but withal very distinguished look. Its grave simplicity added nothing to beauty, but much to dignity. The finish of the white collar and manchettes sufficed for a relief to the merino gown of solemn black; ornament was forsworn. Frances curtsied with sedate grace, looking, as she always did look, when one first accosted her, more a woman to respect than to love. I introduced Mr. Hunsden, and she expressed her happiness at making his acquaintance in French. The pure and polished accent, the low yet sweet and rather full voice, produced their effect immediately. Hunsden spoke French in reply. I had not heard him speak that language before; he managed it very well. I retired to the window seat. Mr. Hunsden, at his hostess's invitation, occupied a chair near the hearth; from my position I could see them both, and the room too, at a glance. The room was so clean and bright it looked like a little polished cabinet; a glass filled with flowers in the centre of the table, a fresh rose in each china cup on the mantelpiece, gave it an air of fete. Frances was serious and Mr. Hunsden subdued, but both mutually polite; they got on at the French swimmingly. Ordinary topics were discussed with great state and decorum. I thought I had never seen two such models of propriety; for Hunsden (thanks to the constraint of the foreign tongue) was obliged to shape his phrases, and measure his sentences, with a care that forbade any eccentricity. At last England was mentioned, and Frances proceeded to ask questions. Animated by degrees she began to change, just as a grave night-sky changes at the approach of sunrise. First it seemed as if her forehead cleared, then her eyes glittered, her features relaxed, and became quite mobile. Her subdued complexion grew warm and transparent. To me she now looked pretty; before, she had only looked ladylike.
She had many things to say to the Englishman just fresh from his island country, and she urged him with an enthusiasm of curiosity which ere long thawed Hunsden's reserve as fire thaws a congealed viper. I use this not very flattering comparison because he vividly reminded me of a snake waking from torpor, as he erected his tall form, reared his head, before a little declined, and putting back his hair from his broad Saxon forehead, showed unshaded the gleam of almost savage satire which his interlocutor's tone of eagerness and look of ardour had sufficed at once to kindle in his soul and elicit from his eyes. He was himself as Frances was herself, and in none but his own language would he now address her.
'You understand English?' was the prefatory question.
'Well, then, you shall have plenty of it. And first, I see you've not much more sense than some others of my acquaintance' (indicating me with his thumb), or else you'd never turn rabid about that dirty little country called England -- for rabid I see you are. I read Anglo- phobia in your looks, and hear it in your words. Why, mademoiselle, is it possible that anybody with a grain of rationality should feel enthusiasm about a mere name, and that name England? I thought you were a lady-abbess five minutes ago, and respected you accordingly; and now I see you are a sort of Swiss sibyl, with high Tory and high Church principles!'
'England is your country?' asked Frances.
'And you don't like it?'
'I'd be sorry to like it! A little, corrupt, venal, lord-and-king- cursed nation, full of mucky pride -- as they say in --shire -- and help- less pauperism; rotten with abuses, worm-eaten with prejudices!'
'You might say so of almost every state. There are abuses and prejudices everywhere, and I thought fewer in England than in other countries.'
'Come to England and see. Come to Birmingham and Manchester, come to St. Giles's in London, and get a practical notion of how our system works. Examine the footprints of our august aristocracy; see how they walk in blood, crushing hearts as they go. Just put your head in at English cottage doors; get a glimpse of Famine crouched torpid on black hearthstones, of Disease lying bare on beds without coverlets, of Infamy wantoning viciously with Ignorance, though indeed Luxury is her favourite paramour, and princely halls are dearer to her than thatched hovels
'I was not thinking of the wretchedness and vice in England; I was thinking of the good side -- of what is elevated in your character as a nation.'
'There is no good side -- none, at least, of which you can have any knowledge; for you cannot appreciate the efforts of industry, the achievements of enterprise, or the discoveries of science. Narrowness of education and obscurity of position quite incapacitate you from understanding those points; and as to historical and poetical associations, I will not insult you mademoiselle, by supposing that you alluded to such humbug.'
'But I did partly.'
Hunsden laughed -- his laugh of unmitigated scorn.
'I did, Mr. Hunsden. Are you of the number of those to whom such associations give no pleasure?'
'Mademoiselle, what is an association? I never saw one. What is its length, breadth, weight, value -- ay, value? What price will it bring in the market?'
'Your portrait, to any one who loved you, would, for the sake of association, be without price.'
That inscrutable Hunsden heard this remark, and felt it rather acutely, too, somewhere, for he coloured -- a thing not unusual with him when hit unawares on a tender point. A sort of trouble momentarily darkened his eye, and I believe he filled up the transient pause succeeding his antagonist's home-thrust by a wish that some one did love him as he would like to be loved -- some one whose love he could unreservedly return.
The lady pursued her temporary advantage.
'If your world is a world without associations, Mr. Hunsden, I no longer wonder that you hate England so. I don't dearly know what Paradise is, and what angels are, yet taking it to he the most glorious region I can conceive, and angels the most elevated existences, if one of them -- if Abdiel the faithful himself' (she was thinking of Milton) -- 'were suddenly stripped of the faculty of association, I think he would soon rush forth from "the ever-during gates," leave heaven, and seek what he had lost in hell -- yes, in the very hell from which he turned "with retorted scorn."'
Frances' tone in saying this was as marked as her language, and it was when the word 'hell' twanged off from her lips, with a somewhat startling emphasis, that Hunsden deigned to bestow one slight glance of admiration. He liked something strong, whether in man or woman; he liked whatever dared to clear conventional limits. He had never before heard a lady say 'hell' with that uncompromising sort of accent, and the sound pleased him from a lady's lips; he would fain have had Frances to strike the string again, but it was not in her way. The display of eccentric vigour never gave her pleasure, and it only sounded in her voice or flashed in her countenance when extraordinary circumstances -- and those generally painful -- forced it out of the depths where it burned latent. To me, once or twice, she had, in intimate conversation, uttered venturous thoughts in nervous language; but when the hour of such manifestation was past, I could not recall it -- it came of itself, and of itself departed. Hunsden's excitations she put by soon with a smile, and recurring to the theme of disputation, said, --
'Since England is nothing, why do the Continental nations respect her so?'
'I should have thought no child would have asked that question,' replied Hunsden, who never at any time gave information without reproving for stupidity those who asked it of him. 'If you had been my pupil, as I suppose you once had the misfortune to be that of a deplorable character not a hundred miles off, I would have put you in the corner for such a confession of ignorance. Why, mademoiselle, can't you see that it is our gold which buys us French politeness, German good will, and Swiss servility?' and he sneered diabolically.
'Swiss!' said Frances, catching the word 'servility.' 'Do you call my countrymen servile?' And she started up. I could not suppress a low laugh: there was ire in her glance and defiance in her attitude. 'Do you abuse Switzerland to me, Mr. Hunsden? Do you think I have no associations? Do you calculate that I am prepared to dwell only on what vice and degradation may he found in Alpine villages, and to leave quite out of my heart the social greatness of my countrymen, and our blood-earned freedom, and the natural glories of our mountains? You're mistaken -- you're mistaken.'
'Social greatness? Call it what you will, your countrymen are sensible fellows. They make a marketable article of what to you is an abstract idea; they have ere this sold their social greatness and also their blood-eared freedom to be the servants of foreign kings.'
'You never were in Switzerland?'
'Yes; I have been there twice.'
'You know nothing of it.'
'And you say the Swiss are mercenary, as a parrot says "Poor Poll," or as the Belgians here say the English are not brave, or as the French accuse them of being perfidious. There is no justice in your dictums.'
'There is truth.'
'I tell you, Mr. Hunsden, you are a more unpractical man than I am an unpractical woman, for you don't acknowledge what really exists. You want to annihilate individual patriotism and national greatness as an atheist would annihilate God and his own soul, by denying their existence.'
'Where are you flying to? You are of at a tangent. I thought we were talking about the mercenary nature of the Swiss.'
'We were; and if you proved to me that the Swiss are mercenary to-morrow (which you cannot do), I should love Switzerland still.'
'You would be mad, then -- mad as a March hare -- to indulge in a passion for trillions of shiploads of soil, timber, snow, and ice.'
'Not so mad as you who love nothing.'
'There's a method in my madness; there's none in yours.'
'Your method is to squeeze the sap out of creation and make manure of the refuse, by way of turning it to what you call use.'
'You cannot reason at all,' said Hunsden; 'there is no logic in you.'
'Better to be without logic than without feeling,' retorted Frances, who was now passing backwards and forwards from her cupboard to the table, intent, if not on hospitable thoughts, at least on hospitable deeds, for she was laying the cloth, and putting plates, knives, and forks thereon.
'Is that a hit at me, mademoiselle? Do you suppose I am without feeling?'
'I suppose you are always interfering with your own feelings and those of other people, and dogmatizing about the irrationality of this, that, and the other sentiment, and then ordering it to be suppressed because you imagine it to be inconsistent with logic.'
'I do right.'
Frances had stepped out of sight into a sort of little pantry. She soon reappeared.
'You do right? Indeed, no! You are much mistaken if you think so. Just! De so good as to let me get to the fire, Mr. Hunsden; I have something to cook.' (An interval occupied in settling a casserole on the fire; then, while she stirred its contents.) 'Right! as if it were right to crush any pleasureable sentiment that God has given to man, especially any sentiment that, like patriotism, spreads man's selfishness in wider circles' (fire stirred, dish put down before it).
'Were you born in Switzerland?'
'I should think so, or else why should I call it my country?'
'And where did you get your English features and figure?'
'I am English too -- half the blood in my veins is English; thus I have a right to a double power of patriotism, possessing an interest in two noble, free, and fortunate countries.'
'You had an English mother?'
'Yes, yes; and you, I suppose, had a mother from the moon or from Utopia, since not a nation in Europe has a claim on your interest?'
'On the contrary, I'm a universal patriot, if you could understand me rightly. My country is the world.'
'Sympathies so widely diffused must be very shallow. Will you have the goodness to come to table. -- Monsieur' (to me, who appeared to be now absorbed in reading by moonlight), 'monsieur, supper is served.'
This was said in quite a different voice to that in which she had been bandying phrases with Mr. Hunsden -- not so short, graver and softer.
'Frances, what do you mean by preparing supper? We had no intention of staying.'
'Ah, monsieur, but you have stayed, and supper is prepared; you have only the alternative of eating it.'
The meal was a foreign one, of course. It consisted in two small but tasty dishes of meat prepared with skill and served with nicety; a salad and fromage francais completed it. The business of eating interposed a brief truce between the belligerents, but no sooner was supper disposed of than they were at it again. The fresh subject of dispute ran on the spirit of religious intolerance, which Mr. Hunsden affirmed to exist strongly in Switzerland, notwithstanding the professed attachment of the Swiss to freedom. Here Frances had greatly the worst of it, not only because she was unskilled to argue, but because her own real opinions on the point in question happened to coincide pretty nearly with Mr. Hunsden's, and she only contradicted him out of opposition. At last she gave in, confessing that she thought as he thought, but bidding him take notice that she did not consider herself beaten.
'No more did the French at Waterloo,' said Hunsden.
'There is no comparison between the cases,' rejoined Frances; 'mine was a sham fight.'
'Sham or real, it's up with you.'
'No; though I have neither logic nor wealth of words, yet in a case where my opinion really differed from yours, I would adhere to it when I had not another word to say in its defence; you should be baffled by dumb determination. You speak of Waterloo! Your Wellington ought to have been conquered there, according to Napoleon; but he persevered in spite of the laws of war, and was victorious in defiance of military tactics. I would do as he did.'
'I'll he bound for it you would; probably you have some of the same sort of stubborn stuff in you.'
'I should be sorry if I had not. He and Tell were brothers, and I'd scorn the Swiss, man or woman, who had none of the much-enduring nature of our heroic William in his soul.'
'If Tell was like Wellington, he was an ass.'
'Does not ass mean baudet?' asked Frances, turning to me.
'No, no,' replied I,. 'it means an esprit fort. And now,' I continued, as I saw that fresh occasion of strife was brewing between these two, 'it is high time to go.'
Hunsden rose. 'Good-bye,' said he to Frances. 'I shall be off for this glorious England to-morrow, and it maybe twelve months or more before I come to Brussels again. Whenever I do come I'll seek you out, and you shall see if I don't find means to make you fiercer than a dragon. You've done pretty well this evening, but next interview you shall challenge me outright. Meantime you're doomed to become Mrs. William Crimsworth, I suppose. Poor young lady! But you have a spark of spirit; cherish it, and give the professor the full benefit thereof.'
'Are you married, Mr. Hunsden?' asked Frances suddenly.
'No. I should have thought you might have guessed I was a Benedict by my look.'
'Well, whenever you marry, don't take a wife out of Switzerland; for if you begin blaspheming Helvetia and cursing the cantons -- above all, if you mention the word ass in the same breath with the name Tell (for ass is baudet, I know, though monsieur is pleased to translate it esprit fort) -- your mountain maid will some night smother her Breton-bretonnant, even as your own Shakespeare's Othello smothered Desdemona.'
'I am warned,' said Hunsden; 'and so are you, lad' (nodding to me). 'I hope yet to hear of a travesty of the Moor and his gentle lady, in which the parts shall be reversed according to the plan just sketched -- you, however, being in my nightcap. -- Farewell, mademoiselle!' He bowed on her hand, absolutely like Sir Charles Grandison on that of Harriet Byron; adding, 'Death from such fingers would not he without charms.'
'Mon Dieu!' murmured Frances, opening her large eyes and lifting her distinctly arched brows; 'c'est qu'il fait des compliments! je ne m'y suis pas attendu.' She smiled, half in ire, half in mirth, curtsied with foreign grace, and so they parted.
No sooner had we got into the street than Hunsden collared me.
'And that is your lace-mender?' said he; 'and you reckon you have done a fine, magnanimous thing in offering to marry her? You, a scion of Seacombe, have proved your disdain of social distinctions by taking up with an ouvriere! And I pitied the fellow, thinking his feelings had misled him, and that he had hurt himself by contracting a low match!'
'Just let go my collar, Hunsden.'
On the contrary, he swayed me to and fro; I grappled him round the waist. It was dark, the street lonely and lampless. We had then a tug for it; and after we had both rolled on the pavement, and with difficulty picked ourselves up, we agreed to walk on more soberly.
'Yes, that's my lace-mender,' said I; 'and she is to be mine for life -- God willing.'
'God is not willing -- you can't suppose it. What business have you to be suited so well with a partner? And she treats you with a sort of respect, too, and says "monsieur," and modulates her tone in addressing you, actually as if you were something superior! She could not evince more deference to such a one as I, were she favoured by fortune to the supreme extent of being my choice instead of yours.'
'Hunsden, you're a puppy. But you've only seen the title-page of my happiness; you don't know the tale that follows; you cannot conceive the interest and sweet variety and thrilling excitement of the narrative.'
Hunsden -- speaking low and deep, for we had now entered a busier street -- desired me to hold my peace, threatening to do something dreadful if I stimulated his wrath further by boasting. I laughed till my sides ached. We soon reached his hotel; before he entered it, he said, --
'Don't be. vainglorious. Your lace-mender is too good for you, but not good enough for me. neither physically nor morally does she come up to my ideal of a woman. No; I dream of something far beyond that pale-faced, excitable little Helvetian (by-the-bye, she has infinitely more of the nervous, mobile Parisienne in her than of the robust "jungfrau"). Your Mdlle. Henri is in person chetive, in mind sans caractere, compared with the queen of my visions. You, indeed, may put up with that minors chiffonne; but when I marry I must have straighter and more harmonious features, to say nothing of a nobler and better-developed shape than that perverse, ill- thriven child can boast.'
'Bribe a seraph to fetch you a coal of fire from heaven, if you will,' said I, 'and with it kindle life in the tallest, fattest, most boneless, fullest-blooded of Rubens's painted women; leave me only my Alpine peri, and I'll not envy you.'
With a simultaneous movement each turned his back on the other. Neither said 'God bless you;' yet on the morrow the sea was to roll between us.
In two months more Frances had fulfilled the time of mourning for her aunt. One January morning -- the first of the New Year holidays -- I went in a fiacre, accompanied only by M. Vandenhuten, to the Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges; and having alighted alone and walked upstairs, I found Frances, apparently waiting for me, dressed in a style scarcely appropriate to that cold, bright, frosty day. Never till now had I seen her attired in any other than black or sad- coloured stuff, and there she stood by the window, clad all in white, and white of a most diaphanous texture. Her array was very simple, to be sure, but it looked imposing and festal because it was so clear, full, and floating. A veil shadowed her head and hung below her knee; a little wreath of pink flowers fastened it to her thickly tressed Grecian plait, and thence it fell softly on each side of her face. Singular to state, she was or had been crying; when I asked her if she were ready, she said, 'Yes monsieur,' with something very like a checked sob; and when I took a shawl, which lay on the table, and folded it round her, not only did tear after tear course unbidden' down her cheek but she shook to my ministration like a reed. I said I was sorry to see her in such low spirits, and requested to be allowed an insight into the origin thereof She only said, 'It was impossible to help it,' and then voluntarily, though hurriedly putting her hand into mine, accompanied me out of the room, and ran downstairs with a quick, uncertain step, like one who was eager to get some formidable piece of business over. I put her into the fiacre. M. Vandenhuten received her, and seated her beside himself. We drove all together to the Protestant chapel, went through a certain service in the Common Prayer Book, and she and I came out married. M. Vandenhuten had given the bride away.
We took no bridal trip. Our modesty, screened by the peaceful obscurity of our station and the pleasant isolation of our circumstances, did not exact that additional precaution. We repaired at once to a small house I had taken in the faubourg nearest to that part of the city where the scene of our avocations lay.
Three or four hours after the wedding ceremony, Frances, divested of her bridal snow, and attired in a pretty lilac gown of warmer materials, a piquant black silk apron, and a lace collar with some finishing decoration of lilac ribbon, was kneeling on the carpet of a neatly furnished though not spacious parlour, arranging on the shelves of a chiffonier some books which I handed to her from the table. It was snowing fast out of doors; the afternoon had turned out wild and cold; the leaden sky seemed full of drifts, and the street was already ankle-deep in the white downfall. Our fire burned bright, our new habitation looked brilliantly clean and fresh, the furniture was all arranged, and there were but some articles of glass, china, books, etc., to put in order. Frances found in this business occupation till tea-time, and then, after I had distinctly instructed her how to make a cup of tea in rational English style, and after she had got over the dismay occasioned by seeing such an extravagant amount of material put into the pot, she administered to me a proper British repast, at which there wanted neither candies nor urn, firelight nor comfort.
Our week's holiday glided by, and we readdressed ourselves to labour. Both my wife and I began in good earnest with the notion that we were wording people, destined to earn our bread by exertion, and that of the most assiduous kind. Our days were thoroughly occupied. We used to part every morning at eight o'clock, and not meet again till five p.m.; but into what sweet rest did the turmoil of each busy day decline! Looking down the vista of memory, I see the evenings passed in that little parlour like a long string of rubies circling the dusk brow of the past. Unvaried were they as each cut gem, and like each gem brilliant and burning.
A year and a half passed. One morning (it was a fete, and we had the day to ourselves) Frances said to me, with a suddenness peculiar to her when she had been thinking long on a subject, and at last, having come to a conclusion, wished to test its soundness by the touchstone of my judgment, 'I don't work enough.'
'What now?' demanded I, looking up from my coffee, which I had been deliberately stirring while enjoying, in anticipation, a walk I proposed to take with Frances that fine summer day (it was June) to a certain farmhouse in the country, where we were to dine; 'what now?' and I saw at once, in the serious ardour of her face, a project of vital importance.
'I am not satisfied,' returned she. 'You are now earning eight thousand francs a year' (it was true; my efforts, punctuality, the fame of my pupils' progress, the publicity of my station, had so far helped me on), 'while I am still at my miserable twelve hundred francs. I can do better, and I will.'
'You work as long and as diligently as I do, Frances.'
'Yes, monsieur; but I am not working in the right way, and I am convinced of it.'
'You wish to change -- you have a plan for progress in your mind. Go and put on your bonnet; and, while we take our walk, you shall tell me of it.'
She went -- as docile as a well-trained child. She was a curious mixture of tractability and firmness. I sat thinking about her, and wondering what her plan could be, when she re-entered.
'Monsieur, I have given Minnie' (our bonne) 'leave to go out too, as it is so very fine; so will you be kind enough to lock the door, and take the key with you?'
'Kiss me, Mrs. Crimsworth,' was my not very apposite reply; but she looked so engaging in her light summer dress and little cottage bonnet, and her manner in speaking to me was then, as always, so unaffectedly and suavely respectful, that my heart expanded at the sight of her, and a kiss seemed necessary to content its importunity.
'Why do you always call me 'monsieur"? Say "William."
'I cannot pronounce your W. Besides, 'monsieur" belongs to you; I like it best.'
Minnie having departed in clean cap and smart shawl, we too set out, leaving the house solitary and silent -- silent, at least, but for the ticking of the clock We were soon clear of Brussels; the fields received us, and then the lanes, remote from carriage-resounding chausees. Ere long we came upon a nook, so rural, green, and secluded it might have been a spot in some pastoral English province; a bank of short and mossy grass, under a hawthorn, offered a seat too tempting to be declined. We took it, and when we had admired and examined some English-looking wild flowers growing at our feet, I recalled Frances' attention and my own to the topic touched on at breakfast.
'What was her plan?' A natural one -- the next step to be mounted by us, or at least by her, if she wanted to rise in her profession. She proposed to begin a school. We already had the means for commencing on a careful scale, having lived greatly within our income. We possessed, too, by this time, an extensive and eligible connection, in the sense advantageous to our business; for though our circle of visiting acquaintance continued as limited as ever, we were now widely known in schools and families as teachers. When Frances had developed her plan, she intimated, in some closing sentences, her hopes for the future. If we only had good health and tolerable success, we might, she was sure, in time realize an independence, and that perhaps before we were too old to enjoy it. Then both she and I would rest; and what was to hinder us from going to live in England? England was still her Promised Land.
I put no obstacle in her way, raised no objection. I knew she was not one who could live quiescent and inactive, or even comparatively inactive. Duties she must have to fulfil, and important duties. work to do, and exciting, absorbing, profitable work. Strong faculties stirred in her frame, and they demanded full nourishment, free exercise. Mine was not the hand ever to starve or cramp them; no, I delighted in offering them sustenance, and in clearing them wider space for action.
'You have conceived a plan, Frances,' said I, 'and a good plan; execute it. You have my free consent, and wherever and whenever my assistance is wanted, ask and you shall have.'
Frances' eyes thanked me almost with tears, just a sparkle or two, soon brushed away. She possessed herself of my hand too, and held it for some time very close clasped in both her own, but she said no more than 'Thank you, monsieur.'
We passed a divine day, and came home late, lighted by a full summer moon.
Ten years rushed now upon me with dusty, vibrating, unresting wings -- years of bustle, action, unslacked endeavour; years in which I and my wife, having launched ourselves in the full career of progress, as progress whirls on in European capitals, scarcely knew repose, were strangers to amusement, never thought of indulgence, and yet, as our course ran side by side, as we marched hand in hand, we neither murmured, repented, nor faltered. Hope indeed cheered us; health kept us up; harmony of thought and deed smoothed many difficulties, and finally success bestowed every now and then encouraging reward on diligence. Our school became one of the most popular in Brussels, and as by degrees we raised our terms and elevated our system of education, our choice of pupils grew more select, and at length included the children of the best families in Belgium. We had too an excellent connection in England, first opened by the unsolicited recommendation of Mr. Hunsden, who having been over, and having abused me for my prosperity in set terms, went back, and soon after sent a leash of young --shire heiresses -- his cousins; as he said, 'to be polished off by Mrs. Crimsworth.'
As to this same Mrs. Crimsworth, in one sense she was become another woman, though in another she remained unchanged. So different was she under different circumstances, I seemed to possess two wives. The faculties of her nature already disclosed when I married her, remained fresh and fair; but other faculties shot up strong, branched out broad, and quite altered the external character of the plant. Firmness activity, and enterprise covered with grave foliage poetic feeling and fervour; but these flowers were still there, preserved pure and dewy under the umbrage of later growth and hardier nature. Perhaps I only in the world knew the secret of their existence, but to me they were ever ready to yield an exquisite fragrance and present a beauty as chaste as radiant.
In the daytime my house and establishment were conducted by madame the directness, a stately and elegant woman, bearing much anxious thought on her large brow, much calculated dignity in her serious mien. Immediately after breakfast I used to part with this lady. I went to my college, she to her schoolroom. Returning for an hour in the course of the day, I found her always in class, intently occupied -- silence, industry, observance attending on her presence. When not actually teaching, she was overlooking and guiding by eye and gesture; she then appeared vigilant and solicitous. When communicating instruction, her aspect was more animated; she seemed to feel a certain enjoyment in the occupation. The language in which she addressed her pupils, though simple and unpretending, was never trite or dry. She did not speak from routine formulas -- she made her own phrases as she went on, and very nervous and impressive phrases they frequently were; often, when elucidating favourite points of history or geography, she would wax genuinely eloquent in her earnestness. Her pupils, or at least the elder and more intelligent amongst them, recognized well the language of a superior mind. They felt too, and some of them received the impression of elevated sentiments. There was little fondling between mistress and girls, but some of Frances' pupils in time learnt to love her sincerely, all of them beheld her with respect. Her general demeanour towards them was serious, sometimes benignant when they pleased her with their progress and attention, always scrupulously refined and considerate. In cases where reproof or punishment was called for she was usually forbearing enough; but if any took advantage of that forbearance, which sometimes happened, a sharp, sudden, and lightning-like severity taught the culprit the extent of the mistake committed. Sometimes a gleam of tenderness softened her eyes and manner, but this was rare -- only when a pupil was sick, or when it pined after home, or in the case of some little motherless child, or of one much poorer than its companions, whose scanty wardrobe and mean appointments brought on it the contempt of the jewelled young countesses and silk-dad misses. Over such feeble fledglings the directress spread a wing of kindliest protection. It was to their bedsides she came at night to tuck them warmly in; it was after them she looked in winter to see that they always had a comfortable seat by the stove; it was they who by turns were summoned to the salon to receive some little dole of cake or fruit -- to sit on a footstool at the fireside -- to enjoy home comforts, and almost home liberty, for an evening together -- to be spoken to gently and softly, comforted, encouraged, cherished, and, when bedtime came, dismissed with a kiss of true tenderness. As to Julia and Georgiana G--, daughters of an English baronet, as to Mdlle. Mathilde de --, heiress of a Belgian count, and sundry other children of patrician race, the directness was careful of them as of the others, anxious for their progress as for that of the rest; but it never seemed to enter her head to distinguish them by a mark of preference. One girl of noble blood she loved dearly -- a young Irish baroness -- Lady Catherine; but it was for her enthusiastic heart and clever head, for her generosity and her genius -- the title and rank went for nothing.
My afternoons were spent also in college, with the exception of an hour that my wife daily exacted of me for her establishment, and with which she would not dispense. She said that I must spend that time amongst her pupils to learn their characters, to be au courant with everything that was passing in the house, to become interested in what interested her, to be able to give her my opinion on knotty points when she required it; and this she did constantly, never allowing my interest in the pupils to fall asleep, and never making any change of importance without my cognizance and consent. She delighted to sit by me when I gave my lessons (lessons in literature), her hands folded on her knee, the most fixedly attentive of any present. She rarely addressed me in class; when she did, it was with an air of marked deference. It was her pleasure, her joy, to make me still the master in all things.
At six o'clock p.m. my daily labours ceased. I then came home, for my home was my heaven. Ever at that hour, as I entered our private sitting-room, the lady directness vanished from before my eyes, and Frances Henri, my own little lace-mender, was magically restored to my arms. Much disappointed she would have been if her master had not been as constant to the tryst as herself, and if his truthful kiss had not been prompt to answer her soft, 'Bon soir, monsieur.'
Talk French to me she would, and many a punishment she has had for her wilfulness. I fear the choice of chastisement must have been injudicious, for instead of correcting the fault, it seemed to encourage its renewal. Our evenings were our own; that recreation was necessary to refresh our strength for the due discharge of our duties. Sometimes we spent them all in conversation, and my young Genevese, now that she was thoroughly accustomed to her English professor, now that she loved him too absolutely to fear him much, reposed in him a confidence so unlimited that topics of conversation could no more be wanting with him than subjects for communion with her own heart. In those moments, happy as a bird with its mate, she would show me what she had of vivacity, of mirth, of originality in her well-dowered nature. She would show, too, some stores of raillery, of malice, and would vex, tease, pique me sometimes about what she called my bizarreries anglaises, my caprices insulaires, with a wild and witty wickedness that made a perfect white demon of her while it lasted. This was rare, however, and the elfish freak was always short. Sometimes when driven a little hard in the war of words -- for her tongue did ample justice to the pith, the point, the delicacy of her native French, in which language she always attacked me -- I used to turn upon her with my old decision, and arrest bodily the sprite that teased me. Vain idea! no sooner had I grasped hand or arm than the elf was gone; the provocative smile quenched in the expressive brown eyes, and a ray of gentle homage shone under the lids in its place. I had seized a mere vexing fairy, and found a submissive and supplicating little mortal woman in my arms. Then I made her get a look and read English to me for an hour by way of penance. I frequently dosed her with Wordsworth in this way, and Wordsworth steadied her soon. She had a difficulty in comprehending his deep, serene, and sober mind. His language, too, was not facile to her. She had to ask questions, to sue for explanations, to he like a child and a novice, and to acknowledge me as her senior and director. Her instinct instantly penetrated and possessed the meaning of more ardent and imaginative writers. Byron excited her; Scott she loved; Wordsworth only she puzzled at, wondered over, and hesitated to pronounce an opinion upon.
But whether she read to me or talked with me; whether she teased me in French or entreated me in English; whether she jested with wit or inquired with deference, narrated with interest or listened with attention; whether she smiled at me or on me, always at nine o'clock I was left -- abandoned. She would extricate herself from my arms, quit my side, take her lamp, and be gone. Her mission was upstairs. I have followed her sometimes and watched her. First she opened the door of the dortior (the pupils' chamber), noiselessly she glided up the long room between the two rows of white beds, surveyed all the sleepers. If any were wakeful, especially if any were sad spoke to them and soothed them, stood some minutes to ascertain that all was safe and tranquil, trimmed the watchlight which burned in the apartment all night, then withdrew closing the door behind her without sound. Thence she glided to our own chamber. It had a little cabinet within. This she sought. There, too, appeared a bed but one, and that a very small one; her face (the night I followed and observed her) changed as she approached this tiny couch. From grave it warmed to earnest; she shaded with one hand the lamp she held in the other; she bent above the pillow and hung over a child asleep. Its slumber (that evening, at least, and usually, I believe) was sound and calm; no tear wet its dark eyelashes; no fever heated its round cheek; no ill dream discomposed its budding features. Frances gazed; she did not smile, and yet the deepest delight filled, flushed her face. Feeling, pleasurable, powerful, worked in her whole frame, which still was motionless. I saw, indeed, her heart heave, her lips were a little apart, her breathing grew somewhat hurried. The child smiled; then at last the mother smiled too, and said in low soliloquy, 'God bless my little son!' She stooped closer over him, breathed the softest of kisses on his brow, covered his minute hand with hers, and at last started up and came away. I regained the parlour before her. Entering it two minutes later, she said quietly as she put down her extinguished lamp, --
'Victor rests well. He smiled in his sleep. He has your smile, monsieur.'
The said Victor was, of course, her own boy, born in the third year of our marriage. His Christian name had been given him in honour of M. Vandenhuten, who continued always our trusty and well-beloved friend.
Frances was, then, a good and dear wife to me, because I was to her a good, just, and faithful husband. What she would have been) had she married a harsh, envious, careless man -- a profligate, a prodigal, a drunkard, or a tyrant -- is another question, and one which I once propounded to her. Her answer, given after some reflection, was, --
'I should have tried to endure the evil or cure it for a while; and when I found it intolerable and incurable, I should have left my torturer suddenly and silently.'
'And if law or might had forced you back again?'
'What! to a drunkard, a profligate, a selfish spendthrift, an unjust fool?'
'I would have gone back, again assured myself whether or not his vice and my misery were capable of remedy, and if not, have left him again.'
'And if again forced to return and compelled to abide?'
'I don't know,' she said hastily. 'Why do you ask me, monsieur?'
I would have an answer, because I saw a strange kind of spirit in her eye, whose voice I determined to waken.
'Monsieur, if a wife's nature loathes that of the man she is wedded to, marriage must he slavery. Against slavery all right thinkers revolt, and though torture be the price of resistance, torture must he dared. Though the only road to freedom lie through the gates of death, those gates must be passed, for freedom is indispensable. Then, monsieur, I would resist as bar as my strength permitted; when that strength failed I should he sure of a refuge. Death would certainly screen me both from had laws and their consequences.
'Voluntary death, Frances?'
'No, monsieur. I'd have courage to live out every throe of anguish fate assigned me, and principle to contend for justice and liberty to the last.'
'I see you would have made no patient Grizzle. And now, supposing fate had merely assigned you the lot of an old maid, what then? How would you have liked celibacy?'
'Not much, certainly. An old maid's life must doubtless be void and vapid, her heart strained and empty. Had I been an old maid, I should have spent existence in efforts to fill the void and ease the aching. I should have probably failed, and died weary and disappointed, despised and of no account, like other single women. But I'm not an old maid,' she added quickly. 'I should have been, though, but for my master. I should never have suited any man but Professor Crimsworth -- no other gentleman, French, English, or Belgian, would have thought me amiable or handsome; and I doubt whether I should have cared for the approbation of many others, if I could have obtained it. Now, I have been Professor Crimsworth's wife eight years, and what is he in my eyes? Is he honourable, beloved --' She stopped; her voice was cut off, her eyes suddenly suffused. She and I were standing side by side. She threw her arms round me, and strained me to her heart with passionate earnestness. The energy of her whole being glowed in her dark and then dilated eye, and crimsoned her animated cheek. Her look and movement were like inspiration; in one there was such a flash, in the other such a power. Half an hour afterwards, when she had become calm I asked where all that wild vigour was gone which had transformed her erewhile and made her glance so thrilling and ardent, her action so rapid and strong. She looked down, smiling softly and passively.
'I cannot tell where it is gone, monsieur,' said she. 'but I know that, whenever it is wanted, it will come back again.'
Behold us now at the close of the ten years, and we have realized an independence. The rapidity with which we attained this end had its origin in three reasons. Firstly, we worked so hard for it; secondly, we had no encumbrances to delay success; thirdly, as soon as we had capital to invest, two well-skilled counsellors, one in Belgium, one in England -- namely, Vandenhuten and Hunsden -- gave us each a word of advice as to the sort of investment to be chosen. The suggestion made was judicious; and, being promptly acted on, the result proved gainful -- I need not say how gainful. I communicated details to Messrs. Vandenhuten and Hunsden. Nobody else can be interested in hearing them.
Accounts being wound up, and our professional connection disposed of, we both agreed that, as Mammon was not our master, nor his service that in which we desired to spend our lives, as our desires were temperate, and our habits unostentatious, we had now abundance to live on, abundance to leave our boy, and should besides always have a balance on hand which, properly managed by right sympathy and unselfish activity, might help Philanthropy in her enterprises, and put solace into the hand of Charity.
To England we now resolved to take wing. We arrived there safely. Frances realized the dream of her lifetime. We spent a whole summer and autumn in travelling from end to end of the British Islands, and afterwards passed a winter in London. Then we thought it high time to fix our residence. My heart yearned towards my native county of --shire; and it is in --shire I now live; it is in the library of my own home I am now writing. That home lies amid a sequestered and rather hilly region, thirty miles removed from X--; a region whose verdure the smoke of mills has not yet sullied, whose waters still rim pure, whose swells of moorland preserve in some ferny glens that lie between them the very primal wildness of nature, her moss, her bracken, her blue-bells, her scents of reed and heather, her free and fresh breezes. My house is a picturesque and not too spacious dwelling, with low and long windows, a trellised and leaf-veiled porch over the front door, just now, on this summer evening, looking like an arch of roses and ivy. The garden is chiefly laid out in lawn, formed of the sod of the hills, with herbage short and soft as moss, full of its own peculiar flowers, tiny and starlike, embedded in the minute embroidery of their fine foliage. At the bottom of the sloping garden there is a wicket, which opens upon a lane as green as the lawn, very long, shady, and little frequented. On the turf of this lane generally appear the first daisies of spring -- whence its name, Daisy Lane, serving also as a distinction to the house.
It terminates (the lane I mean) in a valley full of wood; which wood -- chiefly oak and beech -- spreads shadowy about the vicinage of a very old mansion, one of the Flizabethan structures, much larger, as well as more antique than Daisy Lane, the property and residence of an individual familiar both to me and to the reader. Yes, in Hunsden Wood -- for so are those glades and that gray building, with many gables and more chimneys, named -- abides Yorke Hunsden, still unmarried, never, I suppose, having yet found his ideal, though I know at least a score of young ladies within a circuit of forty miles who would he willing to assist him in the search.
The estate fell to him by the death of his father, five years since. He has given up trade, after having made by it sufficient to pay off some encumbrances by which the family heritage was burdened. I say he abides here, but I do not think he is resident above five months out of the twelve. He wanders from land to land, and spends some part of each winter in town. He frequently brings visitors with him when he comes to --shire, and these visitors are often foreigners. Sometimes he has a German metaphysician, sometimes a French savant. He had once a dissatisfied and savage-looking Italian, who neither sang nor played, and of whom Frances affirmed that he had 'tout l'air d'un conspirateur.'
What English guests Hunsden invites are all either men of Birmingham or Manchester -- hard men, seemingly knit up in one thought, whose talk is of free trade. The foreign visitors, too, are politicians. They take a wider theme -- European progress -- the spread of liberal sentiments over the Continent; on their mental tablets, the names of Russia, Austria, and the Pope are inscribed in red ink. I have heard some of them talk vigorous sense -- yea, I have been present at polyglot discussions in the old, oak-lined dining- room at Hunsden Wood, where a singular insight was given of the sentiments entertained by resolute minds respecting old northern despotisms and older southern superstitions; also, I have heard much twaddle, enounced chiefly in French and Deutsch, but let that pass. Hunsden himself tolerated the drivelling theorists; with the practical men he seemed leagued hand and heart.
When Hunsden is staying alone at the Wood (which seldom happens) he generally find his way two or three times a week to Daisy Lane. He has a philanthropic motive for coming to smoke his cigar in our porch on summer evenings. He says he does it to kill the earwigs amongst the roses, with which insects, but for his benevolent fumigations, he intimates we should certainly be overrun. On wet days, too, we are almost sure to see him. According to him, it gets on time to work me into lunacy by treading on my mental corns, or to force from Mrs. Crimsworth revelations of the dragon within her by insulting the memory of Hofer and Tell.
We also go frequently to Hunsden Wood, and both I and Frances relish a visit there highly. If there are other guests, their characters are an interesting study; their conversation is exciting and strange. The absence of all local narrowness both in the host and his chosen society gives a metropolitan, almost a cosmopolitan, freedom and largeness to the talk. Hunsden himself is a polite man in his own house. He has, when he chooses to employ it, an inexhaustible power of entertaining guests. His very mansion, too, is interesting; the rooms look storied, the passages legendary, the low- ceiled chambers with their long rows of diamond-paned lattices have an old-world, haunted air. In his travels he has collected store of articles of vertu, which are well and tastefully disposed in his panelled or tapestried rooms. I have seen there one or two pictures and one or two pieces of statuary which many an aristocratic connoisseur might have envied.
When I and Frances have dined and spent an evening with Hunsden, he often walks home with us. His wood is large, and some of the timber is old and of huge growth. There are winding ways in it which, pursued through glade and brake, make the walk back to Daisy Lane a somewhat long one. Many a time, when we have had the benefit of a full moon, and when the night has been mild and balmy, when, moreover, a certain nightingale has been singing, and a certain stream, bid in alders, has lent the song a soft accompaniment, the remote church-bell of the one hamlet in a district of ten miles has tolled midnight ere the lord of the wood left us at our porch. Free-flowing was his talk at such hours, and far more quiet and gentle than in the daytime and before numbers. He would then forget politics and discussion, and would dwell on the past times of his house, on his family history, on himself and his own feelings -- subjects each and all invested with a peculiar zest, for they were each and all unique. One glorious night in June, after I had been taunting him about his ideal bride, and asking him when she would come and graft her foreign beauty on the old Hunsden oak, he answered suddenly, --
'You call her ideal; but see, here is her shadow, and there cannot be a shadow without a substance.'
He had led us from the depth of the 'winding way' into a glade from whence the beeches withdrew, leaving it open to the sky. An unclouded moon poured her light into this glade and Hunsden held out under her beam an ivory miniature.
Frances, with eagerness, examined it first; then she gave it to me -- still, however, pushing her little face close to mine, and seeking in my eyes what I thought of the portrait. I thought it represented a very handsome and very individual-looking female face, with, as he had once said, 'straight and harmonious features.' It was dark; the hair, raven-black, swept not only from the brow, but from the temples -- seemed thrust away carelessly, as if such beauty dispensed with, nay, despised arrangement. The Italian eye looked straight into you, and an independent, determined eye it was; the mouth was as firm as fine, the chin ditto. On the back of the miniature was gilded 'Lucia.'
'That is a real head,' was my conclusion.
'I think so,' he replied. 'All was real in Lucia.'
'And she was somebody you would have liked to marry, but could not?'
'I should certainly have liked to marry her, and that I have not done so is a proof that I could not.'
He repossessed himself of the miniature, now again in Frances' hand, and put it away.
'What do you think of it?' he asked of my wife, as he buttoned his coat over it.
'I am sure Lucia once wore chains and broke them,' was the strange answer. 'I do not mean matrimonial chains,' she added, correcting herself, as if she feared misinterpretation 'but social chains of some sort. The face is that of one who has made an effort, and a successful and triumphant effort, to wrest some vigorous and valued faculty from insupportable constraint; and when Lucia's faculty got free, I am certain it spread wide pinions and carried her higher than --' She hesitated.
'Than what?' demanded Hunsden.
'Than les convenances permitted you to follow.'
'I think you grow spiteful -- impertinent.'
'Lucia has trodden the stage,' continued Frances. 'You never seriously thought of marrying her. You admired her originality, her fearlessness, her energy of body and mind; you delighted in her talent, whatever that was, whether song, dance, or dramatic representation; you worshipped her beauty, which was of the sort after your own heart; but I am sure she filled a sphere from whence you would never have thought of taking a wife.'
'Ingenious,' remarked Hunsden; 'whether true or not is another question. Meantime, don't you feel your little lamp of a spirit wax very pale beside such a girandole as Lucia's?'
'Candid, at least; and the professor will soon be dissatisfied with the dim light you give?'
'Will you, monsieur?'
'My sight was always too weak to endure a blaze, Frances.' And we had now reached the wicket.
I said, a few pages back, that this is a sweet summer evening. It is; there has been a series of lovely days, and this is the loveliest. The hay is just carried from my fields, its perfume still lingers in the air. Frances proposed to me, an hour or two since, to take tea out on the lawn. I see the round table, loaded with china, placed under a certain beech. Hunsden is expected -- nay, I hear he is come; there is his voice, laying down the law on some point with authority; that of Frances replies. She opposes him, of course. They are disputing about Victor, of whom Hunsden affirms that his mother is making a milksop. Mrs. Crimsworth retaliates --
'Better a thousand times he should be a milksop than what he (Hunsden) calls a "a fine lad."' And, moreover, she says that if Hunsden were to become a fixture in the neighbourhood, and were not a mere comet, coming and going no one knows how, when, where, or why, she should he quite uneasy till she had got Victor away to school at least a hundred miles off, for that with his mutinous maxims and unpractical dogmas he would ruin a score of children.
I have a word to say of Victor ere I shut this manuscript in my desk; but it must be a brief one, for I hear the tinkle of silver on porcelain.
Victor is as little of a pretty child as I am of a handsome man, or his mother of a fine woman. He is pale and spare, with large eyes, as dark as those of Frances, and as deeply set as mine. His shape is symmetrical enough, but slight; his health is good. I never saw a child smile less than he does, nor one who knits such a formidable brow when sitting over a book that interests him, or while listening to tales of adventure, peril, or wonder, narrated by his mother, Hunsden, or myself. But though still, he is not unhappy; though serious, not morose. He has a susceptibility to pleasurable sensations almost too keen, for it amounts to enthusiasm. He learned to read in the old-fashioned way out of a spelling-book at his mother's knee; and as he got on without driving by that method, she thought it unnecessary to buy him ivory letters, or to try any of the other inducements to learning now deemed indispensable. When he could read, he became a glutton of books, and is so still. His toys have been few, and he has never wanted more. For those he possesses he seems to have contracted a partiality amounting to affection. This feeling, directed towards one or two living animals of the house, strengthens almost to a passion.
Mr. Hunsden gave him a mastiff cub, which he called Yorke, after the donor. It grew to a superb dog, whose fierceness, however, was' much modified by the companionship and caresses of its young master. He would go nowhere, do nothing without Yorke. Yorke lay at his feet while he learned his lessons, played with him in the garden, walked with him in the lane and wood, sat near his chair at meals, was fed always by his own hand, was the first thing he sought in the morning, the last he left at night. Yorke accompanied Mr. Hunsden one day to X--, and was bitten in the street by a dog in a rabid state. As soon as Hunsden had brought him home, and had informed me of the circumstance, I went into the yard and shot him where he lay licking his wound. He was dead in an instant. He had not seen me level the gun; I stood behind him. I had scarcely been ten minutes in the house, when my ear was struck with sounds of anguish. I repaired to the yard once more, for they proceeded thence. Victor was kneeling beside his dead mastiff, bent over it, embracing its bull-like neck, and lost in a passion of the wildest woe. He saw me.
'O papa, I'll never forgive you! I'll never forgive you!' was his exclamation. 'You shot Yorke; I saw it from the window. I never believed you could be so cruel. I can love you no more!' I had much ado to explain to him with a steady voice the stem necessity of the deed. He still, with that inconsolable and bitter accent which I cannot render, but which pierced my heart, repeated, --
'He might have been cured -- you should have tried -- you should have burnt the wound with a hot iron, or covered it with caustic. You gave no time; and now it is too late -- he is dead!'
He sank fairly down on the senseless carcass. I waited patiently a long while, till his grief had somewhat exhausted him; and then I lifted him in my arms and carried him to his mother, sure that she would comfort him best. She had witnessed the whole scene from a window. She would not come out for fear of increasing my difficulties by her emotion, but she was ready now to receive him. She took him to her kind heart, and on to her gentle lap; consoled him but with her lips, her eyes, her soft embrace, for some time; and then, when his sobs diminished, told him that Yorke had felt no pain in dying, and that if he had been left to expire naturally, his end would have been most horrible; above all, she told him that I was not cruel (for that idea seemed to give exquisite pain to poor Victor), that it was my affection for Yorke and him which had made me act so, and that I was now almost heartbroken to see him weep thus bitterly.
Victor would have been no true son of his father had these considerations, these reasons, breathed in so low, so sweet a tone, married to caresses so benign, so tender, to looks so inspired with pitying sympathy, produced no effect on him. They did produce an effect. He grew calmer, rested his face on her shoulder, and lay still in her arms. Looking up shortly, he asked his mother to tell him over again what she had said about Yorke having suffered no pain, and my not being cruel. The balmy words being repeated, he again pillowed his cheek on her breast, and was again tranquil.
Some hours after, he came to me in my library, asked if I forgave him, and desired to be reconciled. I drew the lad to my side, and there I kept him a good while, and had much talk with him, in the course of which he disclosed many points of feeling and thought I approved of in my son. I found, it is true, few elements of the 'good fellow' or the 'fine fellow' in him, scant sparkles of the spirit which loves to flash over the wine cup, or which kindles the passions to a destroying fire; but I saw in the soil of his heart healthy and swelling germs of compassion, affection, fidelity. I discovered in the garden of his intellect a rich growth of wholesome principles; reason, justice, moral courage, promised, if not blighted, a fertile bearing. So I bestowed on his large forehead, and on his cheek -- still pale with tears -- a proud and contented kiss and sent him away comforted. Yet I saw him the next day la id on the mound under which Yorke had been buried, his face covered with his hands. He was melancholy for some weeks, and more than a year elapsed before he would listen to any proposal of having another dog.
Victor learns fast. He must soon go to Eton, where, I suspect, his first year or two will be utter wretchedness. To leave me, his mother, and his home, will give his heart an agonized wrench. Then, the fagging will not suit him; but emulation, thirst after knowledge, the glory of success, will stir and reward him in time. Meantime, I feel in myself a strong repugnance to fix the hour which will uproot my sole olive branch and transplant it far from me; and, when I speak to Frances on the subject, I am heard with a kind of patient pain, as though I alluded to some fearful operation, at which her nature shudders, but from which her fortitude will not permit her to recoil. The step must, however, be taken, and it shall be; for, though Frances will not make a milksop of her son, she will accustom him to a style of treatment, a forbearance, a congenial tenderness, he will meet with from none else. She sees, as I also see, a something in Victor's temper -- a kind of electrical ardour and power -- which emits, now and then, ominous sparks. Hunsden calls it his spirit, and says it should not be curbed. I call it the leaven of the offending Adam, and consider that it should be, if not whipped out of him, at least soundly disciplined; and that he will be cheap of any amount of either bodily or mental suffering which will ground him radically in the art of self-control. Frances gives this something in her son's marked character no name; but when it appears in the grinding of his teeth, in the glittering of his eye, in the fierce revolt of feeling against disappointment, mischance, sudden sorrow, or supposed injustice, she folds him to her breast, or takes him to walk with her alone in the wood. Then she reasons with him like any philosopher, and to reason Victor is ever accessible; then she looks at him with eyes of love, and by love Victor can be infallibly subjugated. But will reason or love be the weapons with which in future the world will meet his violence? Oh, no! For that flash in his black eye, for that cloud on his bony brow, for that compression of his statuesque lips, the lad will some day get blows instead of blandishments, kicks instead of kisses. Then for the fit of mute fury which will sicken his body and madden his soul, then for the ordeal of merited and salutary suffering out of which he will come, I trust, a wiser and a better man!
I see him now. He stands by Hunsden, who is seated on the lawn under the beech. Hunsden's hand rests on the boy's collar, and he is instilling God knows what principles into his ear. Victor looks well just now, for he listens with a sort of smiling interest, He never looks so like his mother as when he smiles. Pity the sunshine breaks out so rarely! Victor has a preference for Hunsden, full as strong as I deem desirable, being considerably more potent, decided, and undiscriminating than any I ever entertained for that personage myself Frances, too, regards it with a sort of unexpressed anxiety; while her son leans on Hunsden's knee, or rests against his shoulder, she roves with restless movement round, like a dove guarding its young from a hovering hawk. She says she wishes Hunsden had children of his own, for then better know the danger of inciting their pride and their foibles.
Frances approaches my library window, puts honeysuckle which half covers it, and tells me tea is ready. Seeing that I continue busy, she enters the room, comes near me quietly, and puts her hand on my shoulder.
'Monsieur est trop applique.'
'I shall soon have done.'
She draws a chair near, and sits down to wait till I have finished. Her presence is as pleasant to my mind as the perfume of the fresh hay and spicy flowers, as the glow of the westering sun, as the repose of the midsummer eve are to my senses.
But Hunsden comes. I hear his step, and there he is, bending through the lattice, from which he has thrust away the woodbine with unsparing hand, disturbing two bees and a butterfly.
'Crimsworth! I say, Crimsworth! -- Take that pen out of his hand, mistress, and make him lift up his head.'
'Well, Hunsden? I hear you --'
'I was at X-- yesterday. Your brother Ned is getting richer than Croesus by railway speculations. They call him in the Piece Hall a stag of ten. And I have heard from Brown. M. and Madame Vandenhuten and Jean Baptiste talk of coming to see you next month. He mentions the Pelets too. He says their domestic harmony is not the finest in the world, but in business they are doing "on ne peut mieux," which circumstance, he concludes, will be a sufficient consolation to both for any little crosses in the affections. Why don't you invite the Pelets to --shire, Crimsworth? I should so like to see your first flame, Zoraide. -- Mistress, don't be jealous, but he loved that lady to distraction; I know it for a fact. -- Brown says she weighs twelve stones now. You see what you've lost, Mr. Professor. Now, monsieur and madame, if you don't come to tea, Victor and I will begin without you.'
Provided by Mitsuharu Matsuoka, Nagoya University, Japan.
20 November 1996.