A Tranquil time now ensued; a time which, though I knew it not, was just tha_ingular pause so frequently observed in nature before a storm, and in huma_ife before a crushing calamity. I put aside all troublesome and harassin_houghts, and became oblivious of everything save my own personal satisfactio_n the renewal of the comradeship between myself and Lucio. We walke_ogether, rode together, and passed most of our days in each other's compan_;_ nevertheless, though I gave my friend much of my closest confidence _ever spoke to him of the moral obliquities and perversions I had discovere_n Sibyl's character,—not out of any consideration for Sibyl, but simpl_ecause I knew by instinct what his reply would be. He would have no sympath_ith my feelings. His keen sense of sarcasm would over-rule his friendship, and he would retort upon me with the question, What business had I, bein_mperfect myself, to expect perfection in my wife? Like many others of my se_ had the notion that I, as man, could do all I pleased, when I pleased an_ow I pleased; I could sink to a level lower than that of the beasts if _hose,—but all the same I had the right to demand from my wife the mos_lawless purity, to mate with my defilement. I was aware how Lucio would trea_his form of arrogant egoism, and with what mocking laughter he would receiv_ny expression of ideas from me on the subject of morality in woman. So I wa_areful to let no hint of my actual position escape me, and I comported mysel_n all occasions to Sibyl with special tenderness and consideration, thoug_he, I thought, appeared rather to resent my playing the part of lover-husban_oo openly. She was herself, in Lucio's presence, strangely erratic of humour, by turns brilliant and mournful, sometimes merry, and anon depressed: ye_ever had she displayed a more captivating grace and charm of
manner. How foolish and blind I was all the while !—how dead to any perceptio_f the formation and sequence of events! Absorbed in gross material pleasures, I ignored all the hidden forces that make the history of an individual life n_ess than of a whole nation, and looked upon each day that dawned almost as i_t had been my own creation and possession, to waste as I thought fit,—neve_onsidering that days are but so many white leaflets from God's chronicle o_uman life, whereon we place our mark, good or bad, for the just and exac_umming-up of our thoughts and deeds hereafter. Had any one dared to say thi_ruth to me then, I should have bade him go and preach nonsense to children,— but _now,_ when I recall those white leaves of days that were unrolle_efore me fresh and blank with every sunrise, and with which I did nothin_ave scrawl my own Ego in a foul smudge across each one, I tremble, an_nwardly pray that I may never be forced to send back my self-written record.
Yet of what use is it to pray against eternal Law? It is eternal Law that w_hall ourselves count up our own misdeeds at the final reckoning,—hence it i_o wonder that many are found who prefer not to believe in a future afte_eath. Rightly do such esteem it better to die utterly than be forced to liv_gain and look back upon the wilful evil they have done!
October ripened slowly and almost imperceptibly towards its end, and the tree_ut on their gorgeous autumnal tints of burning crimson and gold. The weathe_emained fine and warm, and what the French Canadians poetically term the
'Summer of all Saints' gave us bright days and cloudless moonlit evenings. Th_ir was so mild that we were always able to take our coffee after dinner o_he terrace overlooking the lawn in front of the drawing-room,—and it was o_ne of these balmy nights that I was the interested spectator of a strang_cene between Lucio and Mavis Clare,—a scene I should have thought impossibl_f occurrence had I not myself witnessed it. Mavis had dined at Willowsmere; she very rarely so honoured us; and there were a few other guests besides. W_ad lingered over the coffee longer than usual, for Mavis had given an extr_harm to the conversation by her eloquent vivacity and bright humour, and al_resent were anxious to hear, see and know as much of the brilliant novelis_s possible. But when a full golden moon rose in mellow splendour over th_ree-tops, my wife suggested a stroll in the grounds, and everyone agreeing t_he proposal with delight, we started,—more or less together,—some in couples, some in groups of three or four. After a little desultory rambling, however, the party got separated in the rose-gardens and adjacent shrubberies, and _ound myself alone. I turned back to the house to get my cigar-case which _ad left on a table in the library, and passing out again in another directio_ strolled slowly across the grass, smoking as I went, towards the river, th_ilver gleam of which could clearly be discerned through the fast-thinnin_oliage overhanging its banks. I had almost reached the path that followed th_ourse of the winding water when I was brought to a standstill by the sound o_oices,— one a man's, low and persuasive,—the other a woman's, tender, grav_nd somewhat tremulous. Neither voice could be mistaken; I recognised Lucio'_ich penetrating tones, and the sweet _vibrante_ accents of Mavis Clare. Ou_f sheer surprise I paused,—had Lucio fallen in love, I wondered, halfsmiling?—was I about to discover that the supposed 'womanhater' had bee_amed and caught at last? By Mavis too !— little Mavis, who was not beautifu_ccording to accepted standards, but who had something more than beauty t_nravish a proud and unbelieving soul. Here, as my thoughts ran on, I wa_onscious of a foolish sense of jealousy,—why should he choose Mavis, _hought, out of all women in the world? Could he not leave her in peace wit_er dreams, her books and her flowers?—safe under the pure, wise, impassiv_aze of Pallas Athene, whose cool brows were never fevered by a touch o_assion? Something more than curiosity now impelled me to listen, and _autiously advanced a step or two towards the shadow of a broad elm where _ould see without being seen. Yes, there was Rimanez, standing erect wit_olded arms, his dark, sad, inscrutable eyes fixed on Mavis, who stoo_pposite to him a few paces off, looking at him in her turn with an expressio_f mingled fascination and fear.
"I have asked you, Mavis Clare," said Lucio slowly, "to let me serve you. Yo_ave genius,—a rare quality in a woman,—and I would advance your fortunes. _hould not be what I am if I did not try to persuade you to let me help o_our career. You are not rich,—I could show you how to become so. You have _reat fame—that I grant; but you have many enemies and slanderers who are fo_ver trying to pull you down from the throne you have won. I could bring thes_o your feet and make them your slaves. With your intellectual power, you_ersonal grace and gifts of temperament, I could, if you would let me guid_ou, give you such far-reaching influence, as no woman has possessed in thi_entury. I am no boaster,—I can do what I say and more; and I ask nothing fro_ou in return except that you should follow my advice implicitly. My advice, let me tell you, is not difficult to follow; most people find it easy!"
His expression of face, I thought, was very singular as he spoke,—it was s_aggard, dreary and woe-begone that one might have imagined he was making som_roposal that was particularly repugnant to him, instead of offering t_erform the benevolent action of helping a hard-working literary woman t_chieve greater wealth and distinction. I waited expectantly for Mavis t_eply.
"You are very good, Prince Rimanez," she said, after a little pause, "to tak_ny thought for me at all. I cannot imagine why you should do so; for I a_eally nothing to you. I have of course heard from Mr Tempest of your grea_ealth and influence, and I have no doubt you mean kindly. But I have neve_wed anything to any one,—no one has ever helped me,—I have helped myself, an_till prefer to do so. And really I have nothing to wish for,—except—when th_ime comes—a happy death. It is true I am not rich,—but then I do not want t_e rich. I would not be the possessor of wealth for all the world! To b_urrounded with sycophants and flatterers,—never to be able to distinguis_alse friends from true,—to be loved for what you _have,_ and not for wha_ou _are !_—oh no, it would be misery to me! And I have never craved fo_ower,—except perhaps the power to win love. And that I have,—many people lov_y books, and through my books love me,—I _feel_ their love, though I ma_ever see or know them personally. But I am so conscious of their sympath_hat I love them in return without the necessity of personal acquaintance.
They have hearts which respond to _my_ heart,—that is all the power I car_bout."
"You forget your numerous enemies!" said Lucio, still morosely regarding her.
"No, I do not forget them," she returned, "But I forgive them. They can do m_o harm. As long as I do not lower myself, no one else can lower me. If my ow_onscience is clear, no reproaches can wound. My life is open to all,— peopl_an see how I live and what I do. I try to do well,— but if there are thos_ho think I do ill, I am sorry, and if my faults can be amended I shall b_lad to amend them. One must have enemies in this world,—that is, if one make_ny sort of position,—people without enemies are generally nonentities. Al_ho succeed in winning some little place of independence must expect th_rudging enmity of hundreds who cannot find even the smallest foothold, an_re therefore failures in the battle of life,—I pity these sincerely, and whe_hey say or write cruel things of me, I know it is only spleen an_isappointment that moves both their tongues and pens, and I freely pardo_hem. They cannot hurt or hinder me,— in fact, no one can hurt or hinder m_ut myself."
I heard the trees rustle slightly,—a branch cracked,—and peering through th_eaves I saw that Lucio had advanced a step closer to where Mavis stood. _aint smile was on his face, softening it wonderfully and giving an almos_upernatural light to his beautiful dark features.
"Fair philosopher, you are almost a feminine Marcus Aurelius in your estimat_f men and things," he said _;_ "but— you are still a woman—and there is on_hing lacking to your life of sublime and calm contentment—a thing at whos_ouch philosophy fails, and wisdom withers at its root. Love, Mavis Clare !—lover's love, devoted love, blindly passionate,—this has not been yours a_et to win. No heart beats against your own,—no tender arms caress you,—yo_re alone! Men are for the most part afraid of you,—being brute fool_hemselves, they like their women to be brute fools also,—and they grudge yo_our keen intellect,—your serene independence. Yet which is best ?—th_doration of a brute fool, or the loneliness pertaining to a spirit aloft o_ome snowy mountain-peak, with no companions but the stars? Think of it!—th_ears will pass, and you must needs grow old,—and with the years will com_hat solitary neglect which makes age bitter. Now, you will doubtless wonde_t my words—yet believe me I speak the truth when I say that I can give yo_ove—not _my_ love, for I love none,—but I can bring to your feet th_roudest men in any country of the world as suitors for your hand. You shal_ave your choice of them and your own time for choosing,—and whomsoever yo_ove, him you shall wed, … why—what is wrong with you that you shrink from m_hus?"
For she had retreated, and was gazing at him in a kind of horror.
"You terrify me!" she faltered,—and as the moonlight fell upon her I could se_hat she was very pale. ''Such promises are incredible—impossible! You spea_s if you were more than human! I do not understand you, Prince Rimanez,—yo_re different to anyone I ever met, and … and … something in me stronger tha_yself warns me against you. What are you ?—why do you talk to me s_trangely? Pardon me if I seem ungrateful … oh, let
F 10 29
us go in—it is getting quite late I am sure, and I am cold … "
She trembled violently, and caught at the branch of a tree to stead_erself,—Rimanez stood immovably still, regarding her with a fixed and almos_ournful gaze.
"You say my life is lonely," she went on reluctantly, and with a note o_athos in her sweet voice, "and you suggest love and marriage as the only joy_hat can make a woman happy. You may be right. I do not presume to assert tha_ou are wrong. I have many married women friends—but I would not change my lo_ith any one of them. I have dreamed of love,—but because I have not realize_y dream I am not the less content. If it is God's will that I should be alon_ll my days, I shall not murmur, for my solitude is not actual loneliness.
Work is a good comrade,—then I have books, and flowers and birds,—I am neve_eally lonely. And that I shall fully realize my dream of love one day I a_ure,—if not here, then hereafter. I can wait!"
As she spoke she looked up to the placid heavens where one or two star_winkled through the arching boughs,—her face expressed angelic confidence an_erfect peace,—and Rimanez advancing a step or two, fully confronted her wit_ strange light of exultation in his eyes.
"True,—you can wait, Mavis Clare !" he said in deep clear tones from which al_adness had fled. "You can afford to wait! Tell me,—think for a moment,—ca_ou remember me? Is there a time on which you can look back, and looking, se_y face, not here but elsewhere? Think! Did you ever see me long ago—in a fa_phere of beauty and light, when you were an Angel, Mavis,—and I was—not wha_ am now! How you tremble! You need not fear me,—I would not harm you for _housand worlds! I talk wildly at times, I know;—I think of things that ar_ast,—long, long past,— and I am filled with regrets that burn my soul wit_iercer heat than fire. And so neither world's wealth, world's power, no_orld's love will tempt you, Mavis!—and you,—a woman! You are a living miracl_hen,—as miraculous as the drop of undefiled dew which reflects in its tin_ircumference all the colours of the sky, and sinks into the earth sweetly, carrying moisture and refreshment where it falls! I can do nothing for you—yo_ill not have my aid—you reject my service? Then as I may not help you, yo_ust help _me_ /''—and dropping before her, he reverently took her hand an_issed it. "I ask a very little thing of you; pray for me! I know you ar_ccustomed to pray, so it will be no trouble to you,— _you_ believe God hear_ou,—and when I look at you, / believe it too. Only a pure woman can mak_aith possible to man. Pray for me then, as one who has fallen from his highe_nd better self,—who strives, but who may not attain,—who labours under heav_unishment,—who would fain reach Heaven, but who by the cursed will of man, and man alone, is kept in Hell. Pray for me, Mavis Clare! promise it!—and s_hall you lift me a step nearer the glory I have lost!"
I listened, petrified with amazement. Could this be Lucio? —the mocking, careless, cynical scoffer I knew, as I thought, so well ?—was it really he wh_nelt thus like a repentant sinner, abasing his proud head before a woman? _aw Mavis release her hand from his, the while she stood looking down upon hi_n alarm and bewilderment. Presently she spoke in sweet yet tremulous accents—
"Since you desire it so earnestly, I promise," she said. "I will pray that th_trange and bitter sorrow which seems to consume you may be removed from you_ife ''
"Sorrow!" he echoed, interrupting her and springing to his feet with a_mpassioned gesture. "Woman,—genius,— angel,—whatever you are, do not speak o_one_ sorrow for me! I have a thousand thousand sorrows !—aye a millio_illion, that are as little flames about my heart, and as deeply seated as th_entres of the universe! The foul and filthy crimes of men,—the base deceit_nd cruelties of women,—the ruthless, murderous ingratitude of children,—th_corn of good, the martyrdom of intellect, the selfishness, the avarice, th_ensuality of human life, the hideous blasphemy and sin of the creature to th_reator,—these are _my_ endless sorrows !— these keep me wretched and i_hains when I would fain be free. These create hell around me, and endles_orture, —these bind and crush me and pervert my being till I become what _are not name to myself or to others. And yet, … as the eternal God is m_itness, … I do not think I am as bad as the worst man living! I may tempt, but I do not pursue,—I take the lead in many lives, yet I make the way I go s_lain that those who follow me do so by their own choice and free will mor_han by my persuasion!" He paused,—then continued in a softer tone—"You loo_fraid of me,—but be assured you never had less cause for terror. You hav_ruth and purity—I honour both. You will have none of my advice or assistanc_n the making of your life's history,—to-night therefore we part, to meet n_ore on earth. Never again, Mavis Clare !—no, not through all your quiet day_f sweet and contented existence will I cross your path,—before Heaven I swea_t!"
"But why?" asked Mavis gently, approaching him now as she spoke, with a sof_race of movement, and laying her hand on his arm—" why do you speak with suc_ passion of selfreproach? What dark cloud is on your mind? Surely you have _oble nature,—and I feel that I have wronged you in my thoughts, … you mus_orgive me—I have mistrusted you"
"You do well to mistrust me!" he answered, and with these words he caught bot_er hands and held them in his own, looking at her full in the face with eye_hat flashed like jewels. "Your instinct teaches you rightly. Would there wer_any more like you to doubt me and repel me! One word,—if, when I am gone, yo_ver think of me, think that I am more to be pitied than the veriest paralyze_nd starving wretch that ever crawled on earth,—for he, perchance, ha_ope—and I have none. And when you pray for me,—for I hold you to thi_romise,—pray for one who dares not pray for himself. You know the words,
'Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil'? To-night you have bee_ed into temptation, though you knew it not, but you have delivered yoursel_rom evil as only a true soul can. And now farewell! In life I shall see yo_o more:—in death,—well, I have attended many death-beds in response to th_nvitations of the moribund, but I shall not be present at yours! Perhaps, when your parting spirit is on the verge between darkness and light, you ma_now who I was and am,—and you may thank God with your last breath that w_arted to-night—as we do now—forever!"
He loosened his grasp of her,—she fell back from him, pale and terrified,—fo_here was something now in the dark beauty of his face that was unnatural an_ppalling. A sombre shadow clouded his brows,—his eyes had gleams in them a_f fire,—and a smile was on his lips, half tender, half cruel. His strang_xpression moved even me to a sense of fear, and I shivered with sudden cold, though the air was warm and balmy. Slowly retreating, Mavis moved away, looking round at him now and then as she went, in wistful wonder an_larm,—till in a minute or two her slight figure, in its shimmering silke_hite robe, had vanished among the trees. I lingered, hesitating and uncertai_hat to do,—then finally determining to get back to the house if possibl_ithout being noticed, I made one step, when Lucio's voice, scarcely raised, addressed me—
"Well, eavesdropper! Why did you not come out of the shadow of that elm-tre_nd see the play to better advantage?"
Surprised and confused, I advanced, mumbling some unintelligible excuse.
"You saw a pretty bit of acting here," he went on, striking a match an_ighting a cigar the while he regarded me coolly, his eyes twinkling wit_heir usual mockery. "You know my theory, that all men and all women ar_urchasable for gold? Well, I wanted to try Mavis Clare. She rejected all m_dvantageous offers, as you must have heard, and I could only make matter_mooth by asking her to pray for me. That I did this very melodramatically _ope you will admit? A woman of that dreamy idealistic temperament alway_ikes to imagine that there is a man who is grateful for her prayers!"
"You seemed very much in earnest about it!" I said, vexed with myself that h_ad caught me spying.
"Why, of course!" he responded, thrusting his arm familiarly through mine. "_ad an audience! Two fastidious critics of dramatic art heard me rant m_antings,— I had to do my best!''
"Two critics?" I repeated perplexedly.
"Yes. You on one side,—Lady Sibyl on the other. Lady Sibyl rose, after th_ustom of fashionable beauties at the opera, before the last scene, in orde_o get home in good time for supper!"
He laughed wildly and discordantly, and I felt desperately uncomfortable.
"You must be mistaken, Lucio," I said. "That /listened I admit,—and it wa_rong of me to do so,—but my wife would never condescend … "
"Ah, then it must have been a sylph of the woods that glided out of the shado_ith a silken train behind her and diamonds in her hair," he retorted gaily.
"Tut, Geoffrey! —don't look so crestfallen. I have done with Mavis Clare an_he with me. I have not been making love to her,—I have simply, just to amus_yself, tested her character,—and I find it stronger than I thought. Th_ombat is over. She will never go my way,—nor, I fear, shall I ever go hers."
"Upon my word, Lucio," I said with some irritation, "your disposition seems t_row more and more erratic and singular every day!"
"Does it not!" he answered with a droll affectation of interested surprise i_imself. "I am a curious creature altogether! Wealth is mine and I care not _ot for it,—power is mine and I loathe its responsibility;—in fact, I woul_ather be anything but what I am. Look at the lights of your ' home, swee_ome,' Geoffrey!" this he said as we emerged from among the trees on to th_oonlit lawn, from whence could be seen the shining of the electric lamps i_he drawing-room. "Lady Sibyl is there,—an enchanting and perfect woman, wh_ives but to welcome you to her embracing arms! Fortunate man !—who would no_nvy you! Love !—who would, who could exist without it—save me! Who, in Europ_t least, would forego the delights of kissing (which the Japanese bythe-by_onsider a disgusting habit), without embraces,—and all those othe_ndearments which are supposed to dignify the progress of true love! One neve_ires of these things,—there is no satiety! I wish I could love somebody!"
"So you can, if you like," I said, with a little uneasy laugh.
"I cannot. It is not in me. You heard me tell Mavis Clare as much. I have i_n my power to make other people fall in love, somewhat after the dexterou_ashion practised by match-making mothers,—but for myself, love on this plane_s too low a thing—too brief in duration. Last night, in a dream, —I hav_trange dreams at times,—I saw one whom possibly I could love,—but she was _pirit, with eyes more lustrous than the morning, and a form as transparent a_lame;—she could sing sweetly, and I watched her soaring upwards and listene_o her song. It was a wild song, and to many mortal ears meaningless,—it wa_omething like this … " and his rich baritone pealed lusciously forth i_elodious tune—
Into the Light,
Into the heart of the fire, To the innermost core of the deathless flame
I ascend,—I aspire!
Under me rolls the whirling Earth With the noise of a myriad wheels that run
Ever round and about the sun,— Over me circles the splendid heaven Strewn with the stars of morn and even,
And I a queen
Of the air serene, Float with my flag-like wings unfurled, Alone—alone—'twixt God and the world I
Here he broke off with a laugh. "She was a strange Spirit," he said, "becaus_he could see nothing but herself ''twixt God and the world.' She wa_vidently quite unaware of the numerous existing barriers put up by mankin_etween themselves and their Maker. I wonder what unenlightened sphere sh_ame from!"
I looked at him in mingled wonder and impatience.
"You talk wildly," I said. "And you sing wildly,—of things that mean nothin_nd _are_ nothing."
He smiled, lifting his eyes to the moon, now shining her fullest an_rightest.
"True!" he replied. "Things which have meaning and are valuable, have all t_o with money or appetite, Geoffrey! There is no wider outlook evidently. Bu_e were speaking of love, and I hold that love should be eternal as hate. Her_ou have the substance of my religious creed if I have any,— that there ar_wo spiritual forces ruling the universe—love and hate,—and that thei_ncessant quarrel creates the general confusion of life. Both contend on_gainst the other,—and only at Judgment-Day will it be proved which is th_trongest. I am on the side of Hate myself,—for at present Hate has scored al_he victories worth winning, while Love has been so often martyred that ther_s only the poor ghost of it left on earth."
At that moment my wife's figure appeared at the drawingroom window, and Luci_hrew away his half-smoked cigar.
"Your guardian-angel beckons!" he said, looking at me with an odd expressio_f something like pity mingled with disdain. "Let us go in."