I Pass overall the details of polite 'shock,' affected sorrow, and feigne_ympathy of society at my wife's sudden death. No one was really grieved abou_t,—men raised their eyebrows, shrugged their shoulders, lit extra cigarette_nd dismissed the subject as too unpleasant and depressing to dwel_pon,—women were glad of the removal of a too beautiful and too much admire_ival, and the majority of fashionable folk delighted in having something
'thrilling' to talk about in the tragic circumstances of her end. As a rule,
people are seldom or never unselfish enough to be honestly sorry for th_vanishment of some leading or brilliant figure from their midst,—the vacanc_eaves room for the pushing in of smaller fry. Be sure that if you ar_nhappily celebrated for either beauty, wit, intellect, or all three together,
half society wishes you dead already, and the other half tries to make you a_retched as possible while you are alive. To be missed at all when you die,
some one must love you very deeply and unselfishly; and deep unselfish love i_arer to find among mortals than a pearl in a dust-bin.
Thanks to my abundance of cash, everything concerning Sibyl's suicide wa_dmirably managed. In consideration of her social position as an Earl'_aughter, two doctors certified (on my paying them very handsome fees) tha_ers was a 'death by misadventure,'—namely, through taking an accidenta_verdose of a powerful sleeping draught. It was the best report to make,—an_he most respectable. It gave the penny press an opportunity of moralizing o_he dangers that lurked in sleeping draughts generally,—and Tom, Dick, an_arry all wrote letters to their favourite periodicals (signing their names i_ull) giving _their_ opinions as to the nature of sleeping draughts, so tha_or a week at least the ordinary dullness of the newspapers was quit_nlivened by ungrammatical _gratis '_ copy.' The conventionalities of law,
decency and order were throughout scrupulously observed and complie_ith,—everybody was paid (which was the chief thing), and everybody was, _elieve, satisfied with what they managed to make out of the death-payment.
The funeral gave joy to the souls of all undertakers,—it was so expensive an_mpressive. The florist's trade gained something of an impetus by th_nnumerable orders received for wreaths and crosses made of the costlies_lowers. When the coffin was carried to the grave, it could not be seen fo_he load of blossoms that covered it. And amid all the 'cards' and 'lovin_okens' and ' farewell dearests' and 'not-lost-but-gone-befores' that tickete_he white masses of lilies, gardenias and roses which were supposed t_ymbolize the innocence and sweetness of the poisoned corpse they were sent t_dorn, there was not one honest regret,—not one unfeigned expression of tru_orrow. Lord Elton made a sufficiently striking figure of dignified parenta_oe, but on the whole I think he was not sorry for his daughter's death, sinc_he only opposing obstacle to his marriage with Diana Chesney was now removed.
I fancy Diana herself was sorry, so far as such a frivolous little America_ould be sorry for anything,—perhaps, however, it would be more correct to sa_hat she was frightened. Sibyl's sudden end startled and troubled her,—but _m not sure that it grieved her. There is such a difference between unselfis_rief, and the mere sense of nervous personal shock! Miss Charlotte Fitzro_ook the news of her niece's death with that admirable fortitude whic_requently characterizes religious spinsters of a certain age. She put by he_nitting,—said 'God's will be done !' and sent for her favourite clergyman. H_ame, stayed with her some hours drinking strong tea,— and the next morning a_hurch administered to her the communion. This done, Miss Fitzroy went on th_lameless and even tenor of her way, wearing the same virtuously distresse_xpression as usual, and showed no further sign of feeling. I, as th_fflicted millionaire-husband, was no doubt the most interesting figure on th_cene; I was, I know, very well got up, thanks to my tailor, and to th_ffectionate care of the chief undertaker who handed me my black gloves on th_ay of the funeral with servile solicitude, but in my heart I felt myself t_e a far better actor than Henry Irving, and if only for my admirable mimicr_f heart-break, more fully worthy of the acolade. Lucio did not attend th_bsequies,—he wrote me a brief note of sympathy from town, and hinted that h_as sure I could understand his reasons for not being present. I di_nderstand of course,—and appreciated his respect, as I thought, for me and m_eelings,—yet strange and incongruous as it may seem, I never longed so muc_or his company as I did then! However,—we had a glorious burial of my fai_nd false lady,—prancing horses drew coroneted carriages in a long defile dow_he pretty Warwickshire lanes to the grey old church, picturesque an_eaceful, where the clergyman and his assistants in newly-washed surplices,
met the flower-laden coffin, and with the usual conventional mumblings,
consigned it to the dust. There were even press-reporters present, who no_nly described the scene as it did _not_ happen, but who also sent fanc_ketches, to their respective journals, of the church as it did _not_ exist.
I mention this simply to show how thoroughly all 'proper forms' were carrie_ut and conceded to. After the ceremony all we 'mourners' went back t_illowsmere to luncheon, and I well remember that Lord Elton told me a new an_risque_ joke over a glass of port before the meal was finished. Th_ndertakers had a sort of festive banquet in the servants' hall,—and takin_verything into due consideration, my wife's death gave a great deal o_leasure to many people, and put useful money into several ready pockets. Sh_ad left no blank in society that could not be easily filled up,—she wa_erely one butterfly out of thousands, more daintily colored perhaps and mor_estless in flight,—but never judged as more than up to the butterfl_tandard. I said no one gave her an honest regret, but I was wrong. Mavi_lare was genuinely, almost passionately grieved. She sent no flowers for th_offin, but she came to the funeral by herself, and stood a little apar_aiting silently till the grave was covered in,—and then, just as the
'fashionable' train of mourners were leaving the churchyard, she advanced an_laced a white cross of her own garden-lilies across the newly-turned brow_ould. I noticed her action, and determined that before I left Willowsmere fo_he East with Lucio (for my journey had only been postponed a week or two o_ccount of Sibyl's death) she should know all.
The day came when I carried out this resolve. It was a rainy and chil_fternoon, and I found Mavis in her study, sitting beside a bright log fir_ith her small terrier in her lap and her faithful St Bernard stretched at he_eet. She was absorbed in a book,—and over her watched the marble Pallas,
inflexible and austere. As I entered she rose, and putting down the volume an_er pet dog together, she advanced to meet me with an intense sympathy in he_lear eyes, and a wordless pity in the tremulous lines of her sweet mouth. I_as charming to see how sorry she felt for me,—and it was odd that I could no_eel sorry for myself. After a few words of embarrassed greeting I sat dow_nd watched her silently, while she arranged the logs in the fire to make the_urn brighter, and for the moment avoided my gaze.
"I suppose you know"—I began with harsh abruptness— "that the sleeping-draugh_tory is a polite fiction? You know that my wife poisoned hersel_ntentionally?"
Mavis looked at me with a troubled and compassionate expression.
"I feared it was so—" … she began nervously.
"Oh there is nothing either to fear or to hope," I said with some violence.
_"She didit._ And can you guess why she did it? Because she was mad with he_wn wickedness and sensuality,—because she loved with a guilty love, my frien_ucio Rimanez."
Mavis gave a little cry as of pain, and sat down white and trembling.
"You can read quickly, I am sure," I went on. "Part of the profession o_iterature is the ability to skim books and manuscripts rapidly, and grasp th_hole gist of them in a few minutes,—read _this_ —" and I handed her th_olled-up pages of Sibyl's dying declaration. "Let me stay here, while yo_earn from that what sort of a woman she was, and judge whether, despite he_eauty, she is worth a regret."
"Pardon me," said Mavis gently—"I would rather not read what was not meant fo_y eyes."
"But it _is_ meant for your eyes," I retorted impatiently. "It is meant fo_verybody's eyes apparently,—it is addressed *
to nobody in particular. There is a mention of you in it. I beg—nay I comman_ou to read it!—I want your opinion on it,—your advice; you may possibl_uggest, after perusal, the proper sort of epitaph I ought to inscribe on th_onument I am going to build to her sacred and dear memory."
I covered my face with one hand to hide the bitter smile which I knew betraye_y thoughts, and pushed the manuscript towards her. Very reluctantly she too_t,—and slowly unrolling it, began to read. For several minutes there was _ilence, broken only by the crackling of the logs on the fire, and the regula_reathing of the dogs who now both lay stretched comfortably in front of th_ood blaze. I looked covertly at the woman whose fame I had envied,—at th_irlish figure, the coronal of soft hair,—the delicate, drooping sensitiv_ace,—the small white classic hand that held the written sheets of paper s_irmly yet so tenderly,—the very hand of the Greek marble Psyche;—and _hought what short-sighted asses some literary men are who suppose they ca_ucceed in shutting out women like Mavis Clare from winning everything tha_ame or fortune can offer. Such a head as hers, albeit covered with locks fai_nd caressable, was not meant, in its fine shape and compactness, fo_ubmission to inferior intelligences, whether masculine or feminine,— tha_etermined little chin, which the firelight delicately outlined, was a visibl_eclaration of the strength of will and the indomitably high ambition of it_wner,—and yet, … the soft eyes,—the tender mouth,—did not these suggest th_weetest love, the purest passion that ever found place in a woman's heart? _ost myself in dreamy musing,—I thought of many things that had little to d_ith either my own past or present. I realized that now and then at rar_ntervals God makes a woman of genius with a thinker's brain and an angel'_oul, and that such an one is bound to be a destiny to all mortals les_ivinely endowed, and a glory to the world in which she dwells. S_onsidering, I studied Mavis Clare's face and form,—I saw her eyes fill wit_ears as she read on;—why should she weep, I wondered, over that 'las_ocument' which had left me unmoved and callous? I was startled almost as i_rom sleep when her voice, thrilling with pain, disturbed the stillness,—sh_prang up, gazing at me as if she saw some horrible vision.
"Oh, are you so blind," she cried, "as not to see what this means? Can you no_nderstand? Do you not know your worst enemy ?''
"My worst enemy?" I echoed amazed. "You surprise me, Mavis,—what have I, or m_nemies or friends to do with my wife's last confession? She raved,—betwee_oison and passion, she could not tell, as you see by her final words, whethe_he was dead or alive,—and her writing at all under such stress o_ircumstances was a phenomenal effort,—but it has nothing to do with m_ersonally."
"For God's sake do not be so hard-hearted," said Mavis passionately. "To m_hese last words of Sibyl's,—poor, tortured, miserable girl!—are beyond al_xpression horrible and appalling. Do you mean to tell me you have no belie_n a future life?"
"None." I answered with conviction. "Then this is nothing to you?—this solem_ssurance of hers that she is not dead, but living again,—living too, i_ndescribable misery !—you do not believe it?"
"Does anyone believe the ravings of the dying!" I answered. "She was, as _ave said, suffering the torments of poison and passion,—and in those torment_rote as one tormented… ."
"Is it impossible to convince you of the truth?" asked Mavis solemnly. "Ar_ou so diseased in your spiritual perceptions as not to _know,_ beyond _oubt, that this world is but the shadow of the Other Worlds awaiting us? _ssure you, as I live, you will have that terrible knowledge forced upon yo_ome day! I am aware of your theories,—your wife had the same beliefs o_ather non-beliefs as yourself,— yet _she_ h«
nothing will ever help you. You are in the power of your enemy!"
"Of whom are you speaking, Mavis?" I asked astonished, observing that sh_tood like one suddenly appalled in a dream, her eyes fixed musingly o_acancy, and her lips trembling apart.
"Your enemy—your enemy!" she repeated with energy. "It seems to me as if hi_hadow stood near you now! Listen to this voice from the dead—Sibyl's voice
!—what does she say?—' _O God, have mercy! … I know who claims my worship no_nd drags me into yonder rolling world of flame … his name is_—' ''
"Well!" I interrupted eagerly. "She breaks off there; his name is ''
"Lucio Rimanez!" said Mavis in a thrilling tone. "I do not know from whence h_ame,—but I take God to witness my belief that he is a worker of evil,—a fien_n beautiful human shape,—a destroyer and a corrupter! The curse of him fel_n Sibyl the moment she met him,—the same curse rests on you! Leave him if yo_re wise,—take your chance of escape while it remains to you,—and never le_im see your face again!"
She spoke with a kind of breathless haste as though impelled by a force no_er own,—I stared at her amazed, and in a manner irritated.
"Such a course of action would be impossible tome, Mavis," I said somewha_oldly. "The Prince Rimanez is my best friend—no man ever had a better;—an_is loyalty to me has been put to a severe test under which most men woul_ave failed. I have not told you all."
And I related in a few words the scene I had witnessed between my wife an_ucio in the music-gallery at Willowsmere. She listened,—but with an eviden_ffort,—and pushing back her clustering hair from her brows, she sighe_eavily.
"I am sorry,—but it does not alter my conviction," she said. "I look upon you_est friend as your worst foe. And I feel you do not realize the awfu_alamity of your wife's death in its true aspect. Will you forgive me if I as_ou to leave me now?—Lady Sibyl's letter has affected me terribly— I feel _annot speak about it any more… . I wish I had not read it… ."
She broke off with a little half-suppressed sob,—I saw she was unnerved, an_aking the manuscript from her hand I said half-banteringly—
"You cannot then suggest an epitaph for my wife's monument?"
She turned upon me with a grand gesture of reproach.
"Yes I can!" she replied in a low indignant voice. "Inscribe it as—' From _itiless hand to a broken heart!' That will suit the dead girl, and you,—th_iving man!"
Her rustling gown swept across my feet,—she passed me and was gone. Stupefie_y her sudden anger and equally sudden departure I stood inert,—the St Bernar_ose from the hearthrug and glowered at me suspiciously, evidently wishing m_o take my leave,—Pallas Athene stared, as usual, through me and beyond me i_ boundless scorn,—all the various objects in this quiet study seemed silentl_o eject me as an undesired occupant. I looked round it once longingly as _ired outcast may look on a peaceful garden and wish in vain to enter.
"How like her sex she is after all!" I said half aloud. "She blames _me_ fo_eing pitiless,—and forgets that Sibyl was the sinner,—not I! No matter ho_uilty a woman may be, she generally manages to secure a certain amount o_ympathy, —a man is always left out in the cold."
A shuddering sense of loneliness oppressed me as my eyes wandered round th_estful room. The odour of lilies was in the air, exhaled, so I fancied, fro_he delicate and dainty personality of Mavis herself.
"If I had only known her first,—and loved her!" I murmured, as I turned awa_t last and left the house. But then I remembered I had hated her before _ver met her,—and not only had I hated her, but I had villified an_isrepresented her work with a scurrilous pen under the shield of anonymity,
and out of sheer malice,—thus giving her in the public sight the greates_roof of her own genius a gifted woman can ever win,—man's envy!