by Thomas Hardy
CHAPTER I.--SHE MISSES HER SISTER
July 7.--I wander about the house in a mood of unutterable sadness,
for my dear sister Caroline has left home to-day with my mother, and
I shall not see them again for several weeks. They have accepted a
long-standing invitation to visit some old friends of ours, the
Marlets, who live at Versailles for cheapness--my mother thinking
that it will be for the good of Caroline to see a little of France
and Paris. But I don't quite like her going. I fear she may lose
some of that childlike simplicity and gentleness which so
characterize her, and have been nourished by the seclusion of our
life here. Her solicitude about her pony before starting was quite
touching, and she made me promise to visit it daily, and see that it
came to no harm.
Caroline gone abroad, and I left here! It is the reverse of an
ordinary situation, for good or ill-luck has mostly ordained that I
should be the absent one. Mother will be quite tired out by the
young enthusiasm of Caroline. She will demand to be taken
everywhere--to Paris continually, of course; to all the stock shrines
of history's devotees; to palaces and prisons; to kings' tombs and
queens' tombs; to cemeteries and picture-galleries, and royal hunting
forests. My poor mother, having gone over most of this ground many
times before, will perhaps not find the perambulation so exhilarating
as will Caroline herself. I wish I could have gone with them. I
would not have minded having my legs walked off to please Caroline.
But this regret is absurd: I could not, of course, leave my father
with not a soul in the house to attend to the calls of the
parishioners or to pour out his tea.
July 15.--A letter from Caroline to-day. It is very strange that she
tells me nothing which I expected her to tell--only trivial details.
She seems dazzled by the brilliancy of Paris--which no doubt appears
still more brilliant to her from the fact of her only being able to
obtain occasional glimpses of it. She would see that Paris, too, has
a seamy side if you live there. I was not aware that the Marlets
knew so many people. If, as mother has said, they went to reside at
Versailles for reasons of economy, they will not effect much in that
direction while they make a practice of entertaining all the
acquaintances who happen to be in their neighbourhood. They do not
confine their hospitalities to English people, either. I wonder who
this M. de la Feste is, in whom Caroline says my mother is so much
July 18.--Another letter from Caroline. I have learnt from this
epistle, that M. Charles de la Feste is 'only one of the many friends
of the Marlets'; that though a Frenchman by birth, and now again
temporarily at Versailles, he has lived in England many many years;
that he is a talented landscape and marine painter, and has exhibited
at the Salon, and I think in London. His style and subjects are
considered somewhat peculiar in Paris--rather English than
Continental. I have not as yet learnt his age, or his condition,
married or single. From the tone and nature of her remarks about him
he sometimes seems to be a middle-aged family man, sometimes quite
the reverse. From his nomadic habits I should say the latter is the
most likely. He has travelled and seen a great deal, she tells me,
and knows more about English literature than she knows herself.
July 21.--Letter from Caroline. Query: Is 'a friend of ours and the
Marlets,' of whom she now anonymously and mysteriously speaks, the
same personage as the 'M. de la Feste' of her former letters? He
must be the same, I think, from his pursuits. If so, whence this
sudden change of tone? . . . I have been lost in thought for at least
a quarter of an hour since writing the preceding sentence. Suppose
my dear sister is falling in love with this young man--there is no
longer any doubt about his age; what a very awkward, risky thing for
her! I do hope that my mother has an eye on these proceedings. But,
then, poor mother never sees the drift of anything: she is in truth
less of a mother to Caroline than I am. If I were there, how
jealously I would watch him, and ascertain his designs!
I am of a stronger nature than Caroline. How I have supported her in
the past through her little troubles and great griefs! Is she
agitated at the presence of this, to her, new and strange feeling?
But I am assuming her to be desperately in love, when I have no proof
of anything of the kind. He may be merely a casual friend, of whom I
shall hear no more.
July 24.--Then he IS a bachelor, as I suspected. 'If M. de la Feste
ever marries he will,' etc. So she writes. They are getting into
close quarters, obviously. Also, 'Something to keep my hair smooth,
which M. de la Feste told me he had found useful for the tips of his
moustache.' Very naively related this; and with how much
unconsciousness of the intimacy between them that the remark reveals!
But my mother--what can she be doing? Does she know of this? And if
so, why does she not allude to it in her letters to my father? . . .
I have been to look at Caroline's pony, in obedience to her
reiterated request that I would not miss a day in seeing that she was
well cared for. Anxious as Caroline was about this pony of hers
before starting, she now never mentioned the poor animal once in her
letters. The image of her pet suffers from displacement.
August 3.--Caroline's forgetfulness of her pony has naturally enough
extended to me, her sister. It is ten days since she last wrote, and
but for a note from my mother I should not know if she were dead or
CHAPTER II.--NEWS INTERESTING AND SERIOUS
August 5.--A cloud of letters. A letter from Caroline, another from
mother; also one from each to my father.
The probability to which all the intelligence from my sister has
pointed of late turns out to be a fact. There is an engagement, or
almost an engagement, announced between my dear Caroline and M. de la
Feste--to Caroline's sublime happiness, and my mother's entire
satisfaction; as well as to that of the Marlets. They and my mother
seem to know all about the young man--which is more than I do, though
a little extended information about him, considering that I am
Caroline's elder sister, would not have been amiss. I half feel with
my father, who is much surprised, and, I am sure, not altogether
satisfied, that he should not have been consulted at all before
matters reached such a definite stage, though he is too amiable to
say so openly. I don't quite say that a good thing should have been
hindered for the sake of our opinion, if it is a good thing; but the
announcement comes very suddenly. It must have been foreseen by my
mother for some time that this upshot was probable, and Caroline
might have told me more distinctly that M. de la Feste was her lover,
instead of alluding so mysteriously to him as only a friend of the
Marlets, and lately dropping his name altogether. My father, without
exactly objecting to him as a Frenchman, 'wishes he were of English
or some other reasonable nationality for one's son-in-law,' but I
tell him that the demarcations of races, kingdoms, and creeds, are
wearing down every day, that patriotism is a sort of vice, and that
the character of the individual is all we need think about in this
case. I wonder if, in the event of their marriage, he will continue
to live at Versailles, or if he will come to England.
August 7.--A supplemental letter from Caroline, answering, by
anticipation, some of the aforesaid queries. She tells me that
'Charles,' though he makes Versailles his present home, is by no
means bound by his profession to continue there; that he will live
just where she wishes, provided it be not too far from some centre of
thought, art, and civilization. My mother and herself both think
that the marriage should not take place till next year. He exhibits
landscapes and canal scenery every year, she says; so I suppose he is
popular, and that his income is sufficient to keep them in comfort.
If not, I do not see why my father could not settle something more on
them than he had intended, and diminish by a little what he had
proposed for me, whilst it was imagined that I should be the first to
stand in need of such.
'Of engaging manner, attractive appearance, and virtuous character,'
is the reply I receive from her in answer to my request for a
personal description. That is vague enough, and I would rather have
had one definite fact of complexion, voice, deed, or opinion. But of
course she has no eye now for material qualities; she cannot see him
as he is. She sees him irradiated with glories such as never
appertained and never will appertain to any man, foreign, English, or
Colonial. To think that Caroline, two years my junior, and so
childlike as to be five years my junior in nature, should be engaged
to be married before me. But that is what happens in families more
often than we are apt to remember.
August 16.--Interesting news to-day. Charles, she says, has pleaded
that their marriage may just as well be this year as next; and he
seems to have nearly converted my mother to the same way of thinking.
I do not myself see any reason for delay, beyond the standing one of
my father having as yet had no opportunity of forming an opinion upon
the man, the time, or anything. However, he takes his lot very
quietly, and they are coming home to talk the question over with us;
Caroline having decided not to make any positive arrangements for
this change of state till she has seen me. Subject to my own and my
father's approval, she says, they are inclined to settle the date of
the wedding for November, three months from the present time, that it
shall take place here in the village, that I, of course, shall be
bridesmaid, and many other particulars. She draws an artless picture
of the probable effect upon the minds of the villagers of this
romantic performance in the chancel of our old church, in which she
is to be chief actor--the foreign gentleman dropping down like a god
from the skies, picking her up, and triumphantly carrying her off.
Her only grief will be separation from me, but this is to be assuaged
by my going and staying with her for long months at a time. This
simple prattle is very sweet to me, my dear sister, but I cannot help
feeling sad at the occasion of it. In the nature of things it is
obvious that I shall never be to you again what I hitherto have been:
your guide, counsellor, and most familiar friend.
M. de la Feste does certainly seem to be all that one could desire as
protector to a sensitive fragile child like Caroline, and for that I
am thankful. Still, I must remember that I see him as yet only
through her eyes. For her sake I am intensely anxious to meet him,
and scrutinise him through and through, and learn what the man is
really made of who is to have such a treasure in his keeping. The
engagement has certainly been formed a little precipitately; I quite
agree with my father in that: still, good and happy marriages have
been made in a hurry before now, and mother seems well satisfied.
August 20.--A terrible announcement came this morning; and we are in
deep trouble. I have been quite unable to steady my thoughts on
anything to-day till now--half-past eleven at night--and I only
attempt writing these notes because I am too restless to remain idle,
and there is nothing but waiting and waiting left for me to do.
Mother has been taken dangerously ill at Versailles: they were
within a day or two of starting; but all thought of leaving must now
be postponed, for she cannot possibly be moved in her present state.
I don't like the sound of haemorrhage at all in a woman of her full
habit, and Caroline and the Marlets have not exaggerated their
accounts I am certain. On the receipt of the letter my father
instantly decided to go to her, and I have been occupied all day in
getting him off, for as he calculates on being absent several days,
there have been many matters for him to arrange before setting out--
the chief being to find some one who will do duty for him next
Sunday--a quest of no small difficulty at such short notice; but at
last poor old feeble Mr. Dugdale has agreed to attempt it, with Mr.
Highman, the Scripture reader, to assist him in the lessons.
I fain would have gone with my father to escape the irksome anxiety
of awaiting her; but somebody had to stay, and I could best be
spared. George has driven him to the station to meet the last train
by which he will catch the midnight boat, and reach Havre some time
in the morning. He hates the sea, and a night passage in particular.
I hope he will get there without mishap of any kind; but I feel
anxious for him, stay-at-home as he is, and unable to cope with any
difficulty. Such an errand, too; the journey will be sad enough at
best. I almost think I ought to have been the one to go to her.
August 21.--I nearly fell asleep of heaviness of spirit last night
over my writing. My father must have reached Paris by this time; and
now here comes a letter . . .
Later.--The letter was to express an earnest hope that my father had
set out. My poor mother is sinking, they fear. What will become of
Caroline? O, how I wish I could see mother; why could not both have
Later.--I get up from my chair, and walk from window to window, and
then come and write a line. I cannot even divine how poor Caroline's
marriage is to be carried out if mother dies. I pray that father may
have got there in time to talk to her and receive some directions
from her about Caroline and M. de la Feste--a man whom neither my
father nor I have seen. I, who might be useful in this emergency, am
doomed to stay here, waiting in suspense.
August 23.--A letter from my father containing the sad news that my
mother's spirit has flown. Poor little Caroline is heart-broken--she
was always more my mother's pet than I was. It is some comfort to
know that my father arrived in time to hear from her own lips her
strongly expressed wish that Caroline's marriage should be solemnized
as soon as possible. M. de la Feste seems to have been a great
favourite of my dear mother's; and I suppose it now becomes almost a
sacred duty of my father to accept him as a son-in-law without
CHAPTER III.--HER GLOOM LIGHTENS A LITTLE
September 10.--I have inserted nothing in my diary for more than a
fortnight. Events have been altogether too sad for me to have the
spirit to put them on paper. And yet there comes a time when the act
of recording one's trouble is recognized as a welcome method of
dwelling upon it . . .
My dear mother has been brought home and buried here in the parish.
It was not so much her own wish that this should be done as my
father's, who particularly desired that she should lie in the family
vault beside his first wife. I saw them side by side before the
vault was closed--two women beloved by one man. As I stood, and
Caroline by my side, I fell into a sort of dream, and had an odd
fancy that Caroline and I might be also beloved of one, and lie like
these together--an impossibility, of course, being sisters. When I
awoke from my reverie Caroline took my hand and said it was time to
September 14.--The wedding is indefinitely postponed. Caroline is
like a girl awakening in the middle of a somnambulistic experience,
and does not realize where she is, or how she stands. She walks
about silently, and I cannot tell her thoughts, as I used to do. It
was her own doing to write to M. de la Feste and tell him that the
wedding could not possibly take place this autumn as originally
planned. There is something depressing in this long postponement if
she is to marry him at all; and yet I do not see how it could be
October 20.--I have had so much to occupy me in consoling Caroline
that I have been continually overlooking my diary. Her life was much
nearer to my mother's than mine was. She has never, as I, lived away
from home long enough to become self-dependent, and hence in her
first loss, and all that it involved, she drooped like a rain-beaten
lily. But she is of a nature whose wounds soon heal, even though
they may be deep, and the supreme poignancy of her sorrow has already
My father is of opinion that the wedding should not be delayed too
long. While at Versailles he made the acquaintance of M. de la
Feste, and though they had but a short and hurried communion with
each other, he was much impressed by M. de la Feste's disposition and
conduct, and is strongly in favour of his suit. It is odd that
Caroline's betrothed should influence in his favour all who come near
him. His portrait, which dear Caroline has shown me, exhibits him to
be of a physique that partly accounts for this: but there must be
something more than mere appearance, and it is probably some sort of
glamour or fascinating power--the quality which prevented Caroline
from describing him to me with any accuracy of detail. At the same
time, I see from the photograph that his face and head are remarkably
well formed; and though the contours of his mouth are hidden by his
moustache, his arched brows show well the romantic disposition of a
true lover and painter of Nature. I think that the owner of such a
face as this must be tender and sympathetic and true.
October 30.--As my sister's grief for her mother becomes more and
more calmed, her love for M. de la Feste begins to reassume its
former absorbing command of her. She thinks of him incessantly, and
writes whole treatises to him by way of letters. Her blank
disappointment at his announcement of his inability to pay us a visit
quite so soon as he had promised, was quite tragic. I, too, am
disappointed, for I wanted to see and estimate him. But having
arranged to go to Holland to seize some aerial effects for his
pictures, which are only to be obtained at this time of the autumn,
he is obliged to postpone his journey this way, which is now to be
made early in the new year. I think myself that he ought to have
come at all sacrifices, considering Caroline's recent loss, the sad
postponement of what she was looking forward to, and her single-
minded affection for him. Still, who knows; his professional success
is important. Moreover, she is cheerful, and hopeful, and the delay
will soon be overpast.
CHAPTER IV.--SHE BEHOLDS THE ATTRACTIVE STRANGER
February 16.--We have had such a dull life here all the winter that I
have found nothing important enough to set down, and broke off my
journal accordingly. I resume it now to make an entry on the subject
of dear Caroline's future. It seems that she was too grieved,
immediately after the loss of our mother, to answer definitely the
question of M. de la Feste how long the postponement was to be; then,
afterwards, it was agreed that the matter should be discussed on his
autumn visit; but as he did not come, it has remained in abeyance
till this week, when Caroline, with the greatest simplicity and
confidence, has written to him without any further pressure on his
part, and told him that she is quite ready to fix the time, and will
do so as soon as he arrives to see her. She is a little frightened
now, lest it should seem forward in her to have revived the subject
of her own accord; but she may assume that his question has been
waiting on for an answer ever since, and that she has, therefore,
acted only within her promise. In truth, the secret at the bottom of
it all is that she is somewhat saddened because he has not latterly
reminded her of the pause in their affairs--that, in short, his
original impatience to possess her is not now found to animate him so
obviously. I suppose that he loves her as much as ever; indeed, I am
sure he must do so, seeing how lovable she is. It is mostly thus
with all men when women are out of their sight; they grow negligent.
Caroline must have patience, and remember that a man of his genius
has many and important calls upon his time. In justice to her I must
add that she does remember it fairly well, and has as much patience
as any girl ever had in the circumstances. He hopes to come at the
beginning of April at latest. Well, when he comes we shall see him.
April 5.--I think that what M. de la Feste writes is reasonable
enough, though Caroline looks heart-sick about it. It is hardly
worth while for him to cross all the way to England and back just
now, while the sea is so turbulent, seeing that he will be obliged,
in any event, to come in May, when he has to be in London for
professional purposes, at which time he can take us easily on his way
both coming and going. When Caroline becomes his wife she will be
more practical, no doubt; but she is such a child as yet that there
is no contenting her with reasons. However, the time will pass
quickly, there being so much to do in preparing a trousseau for her,
which must now be put in hand in order that we may have plenty of
leisure to get it ready. On no account must Caroline be married in
half-mourning; I am sure that mother, could she know, would not wish
it, and it is odd that Caroline should be so intractably persistent
on this point, when she is usually so yielding.
April 30.--This month has flown on swallow's wings. We are in a
great state of excitement--I as much as she--I cannot quite tell why.
He is really coming in ten days, he says.
May 9. Four p.m.--I am so agitated I can scarcely write, and yet am
particularly impelled to do so before leaving my room. It is the
unexpected shape of an expected event which has caused my absurd
excitement, which proves me almost as much a school-girl as Caroline.
M. de la Feste was not, as we understood, to have come till to-
morrow; but he is here--just arrived. All household directions have
devolved upon me, for my father, not thinking M. de la Feste would
appear before us for another four-and-twenty hours, left home before
post time to attend a distant consecration; and hence Caroline and I
were in no small excitement when Charles's letter was opened, and we
read that he had been unexpectedly favoured in the dispatch of his
studio work, and would follow his letter in a few hours. We sent the
covered carriage to meet the train indicated, and waited like two
newly strung harps for the first sound of the returning wheels. At
last we heard them on the gravel; and the question arose who was to
receive him. It was, strictly speaking, my duty; but I felt timid; I
could not help shirking it, and insisted that Caroline should go
down. She did not, however, go near the door as she usually does
when anybody is expected, but waited palpitating in the drawing-room.
He little thought when he saw the silent hall, and the apparently
deserted house, how that house was at the very same moment alive and
throbbing with interest under the surface. I stood at the back of
the upper landing, where nobody could see me from downstairs, and
heard him walk across the hall--a lighter step than my father's--and
heard him then go into the drawing-room, and the servant shut the
door behind him and go away.
What a pretty lover's meeting they must have had in there all to
themselves! Caroline's sweet face looking up from her black gown--
how it must have touched him. I know she wept very much, for I heard
her; and her eyes will be red afterwards, and no wonder, poor dear,
though she is no doubt happy. I can imagine what she is telling him
while I write this--her fears lest anything should have happened to
prevent his coming after all--gentle, smiling reproaches for his long
delay; and things of that sort. His two portmanteaus are at this
moment crossing the landing on the way to his room. I wonder if I
ought to go down.
A little later.--I have seen him! It was not at all in the way that
I intended to encounter him, and I am vexed. Just after his
portmanteaus were brought up I went out from my room to descend,
when, at the moment of stepping towards the first stair, my eyes were
caught by an object in the hall below, and I paused for an instant,
till I saw that it was a bundle of canvas and sticks, composing a
sketching tent and easel. At the same nick of time the drawing-room
door opened and the affianced pair came out. They were saying they
would go into the garden; and he waited a moment while she put on her
hat. My idea was to let them pass on without seeing me, since they
seemed not to want my company, but I had got too far on the landing
to retreat; he looked up, and stood staring at me--engrossed to a
dream-like fixity. Thereupon I, too, instead of advancing as I ought
to have done, stood moonstruck and awkward, and before I could gather
my weak senses sufficiently to descend, she had called him, and they
went out by the garden door together. I then thought of following
them, but have changed my mind, and come here to jot down these few
lines. It is all I am fit for . . .
He is even more handsome than I expected. I was right in feeling he
must have an attraction beyond that of form: it appeared even in
that momentary glance. How happy Caroline ought to be. But I must,
of course, go down to be ready with tea in the drawing-room by the
time they come indoors.
11 p.m.--I have made the acquaintance of M. de la Feste; and I seem
to be another woman from the effect of it. I cannot describe why
this should be so, but conversation with him seems to expand the
view, and open the heart, and raise one as upon stilts to wider
prospects. He has a good intellectual forehead, perfect eyebrows,
dark hair and eyes, an animated manner, and a persuasive voice. His
voice is soft in quality--too soft for a man, perhaps; and yet on
second thoughts I would not have it less so. We have been talking of
his art: I had no notion that art demanded such sacrifices or such
tender devotion; or that there were two roads for choice within its
precincts, the road of vulgar money-making, and the road of high aims
and consequent inappreciation for many long years by the public.
That he has adopted the latter need not be said to those who
understand him. It is a blessing for Caroline that she has been
chosen by such a man, and she ought not to lament at postponements
and delays, since they have arisen unavoidably. Whether he finds
hers a sufficiently rich nature, intellectually and emotionally, for
his own, I know not, but he seems occasionally to be disappointed at
her simple views of things. Does he really feel such love for her at
this moment as he no doubt believes himself to be feeling, and as he
no doubt hopes to feel for the remainder of his life towards her?
It was a curious thing he told me when we were left for a few minutes
alone; that Caroline had alluded so slightly to me in her
conversation and letters that he had not realized my presence in the
house here at all. But, of course, it was only natural that she
should write and talk most about herself. I suppose it was on
account of the fact of his being taken in some measure unawares, that
I caught him on two or three occasions regarding me fixedly in a way
that disquieted me somewhat, having been lately in so little society;
till my glance aroused him from his reverie, and he looked elsewhere
in some confusion. It was fortunate that he did so, and thus failed
to notice my own. It shows that he, too, is not particularly a
May 10.--Have had another interesting conversation with M. de la
Feste on schools of landscape painting in the drawing-room after
dinner this evening--my father having fallen asleep, and left nobody
but Caroline and myself for Charles to talk to. I did not mean to
say so much to him, and had taken a volume of Modern Painters from
the bookcase to occupy myself with, while leaving the two lovers to
themselves; but he would include me in his audience, and I was
obliged to lay the book aside. However, I insisted on keeping
Caroline in the conversation, though her views on pictorial art were
only too charmingly crude and primitive.
To-morrow, if fine, we are all three going to Wherryborne Wood, where
Charles will give us practical illustrations of the principles of
coloring that he has enumerated to-night. I am determined not to
occupy his attention to the exclusion of Caroline, and my plan is
that when we are in the dense part of the wood I will lag behind, and
slip away, and leave them to return by themselves. I suppose the
reason of his attentiveness to me lies in his simply wishing to win
the good opinion of one who is so closely united to Caroline, and so
likely to influence her good opinion of him.
May 11. Late.--I cannot sleep, and in desperation have lit my candle
and taken up my pen. My restlessness is occasioned by what has
occurred to-day, which at first I did not mean to write down, or
trust to any heart but my own. We went to Wherryborne Wood--
Caroline, Charles and I, as we had intended--and walked all three
along the green track through the midst, Charles in the middle
between Caroline and myself. Presently I found that, as usual, he
and I were the only talkers, Caroline amusing herself by observing
birds and squirrels as she walked docilely alongside her betrothed.
Having noticed this I dropped behind at the first opportunity and
slipped among the trees, in a direction in which I knew I should find
another path that would take me home. Upon this track I by and by
emerged, and walked along it in silent thought till, at a bend, I
suddenly encountered M. de la Feste standing stock still and smiling
thoughtfully at me.
'Where is Caroline?' said I.
'Only a little way off,' says he. 'When we missed you from behind us
we thought you might have mistaken the direction we had followed, so
she has gone one way to find you and I have come this way.'
We then went back to find Caroline, but could not discover her
anywhere, and the upshot was that he and I were wandering about the
woods alone for more than an hour. On reaching home we found she had
given us up after searching a little while, and arrived there some
time before. I should not be so disturbed by the incident if I had
not perceived that, during her absence from us, he did not make any
earnest effort to rediscover her; and in answer to my repeated
expressions of wonder as to whither she could have wandered he only
said, 'Oh, she's quite safe; she told me she knew the way home from
any part of this wood. Let us go on with our talk. I assure you I
value this privilege of being with one I so much admire more than you
imagine;' and other things of that kind. I was so foolish as to show
a little perturbation--I cannot tell why I did not control myself;
and I think he noticed that I was not cool. Caroline has, with her
simple good faith, thought nothing of the occurrence; yet altogether
I am not satisfied.
CHAPTER V.--HER SITUATION IS A TRYING ONE
May 15.--The more I think of it day after day, the more convinced I
am that my suspicions are true. He is too interested in me--well, in
plain words, loves me; or, not to degrade that phrase, has a wild
passion for me; and his affection for Caroline is that towards a
sister only. That is the distressing truth; how it has come about I
cannot tell, and it wears upon me.
A hundred little circumstances have revealed this to me, and the
longer I dwell upon it the more agitating does the consideration
become. Heaven only can help me out of the terrible difficulty in
which this places me. I have done nothing to encourage him to be
faithless to her. I have studiously kept out of his way; have
persistently refused to be a third in their interviews. Yet all to
no purpose. Some fatality has seemed to rule, ever since he came to
the house, that this disastrous inversion of things should arise. If
I had only foreseen the possibility of it before he arrived, how
gladly would I have departed on some visit or other to the meanest
friend to hinder such an apparent treachery. But I blindly welcomed
him--indeed, made myself particularly agreeable to him for her sake.
There is no possibility of my suspicions being wrong; not until they
have reached absolute certainty have I dared even to admit the truth
to myself. His conduct to-day would have proved them true had I
entertained no previous apprehensions. Some photographs of myself
came for me by post, and they were handed round at the breakfast
table and criticised. I put them temporarily on a side table, and
did not remember them until an hour afterwards when I was in my own
room. On going to fetch them I discovered him standing at the table
with his back towards the door bending over the photographs, one of
which he raised to his lips.
The witnessing this act so frightened me that I crept away to escape
observation. It was the climax to a series of slight and significant
actions all tending to the same conclusion. The question for me now
is, what am I to do? To go away is what first occurs to me, but what
reason can I give Caroline and my father for such a step; besides, it
might precipitate some sort of catastrophe by driving Charles to
desperation. For the present, therefore, I have decided that I can
only wait, though his contiguity is strangely disturbing to me now,
and I hardly retain strength of mind to encounter him. How will the
distressing complication end?
May 19.--And so it has come! My mere avoidance of him has
precipitated the worst issue--a declaration. I had occasion to go
into the kitchen garden to gather some of the double ragged-robins
which grew in a corner there. Almost as soon as I had entered I
heard footsteps without. The door opened and shut, and I turned to
behold him just inside it. As the garden is closed by four walls and
the gardener was absent, the spot ensured absolute privacy. He came
along the path by the asparagus-bed, and overtook me.
'You know why I come, Alicia?' said he, in a tremulous voice.
I said nothing, and hung my head, for by his tone I did know.
'Yes,' he went on, 'it is you I love; my sentiment towards your
sister is one of affection too, but protective, tutelary affection--
no more. Say what you will I cannot help it. I mistook my feeling
for her, and I know how much I am to blame for my want of self-
knowledge. I have fought against this discovery night and day; but
it cannot be concealed. Why did I ever see you, since I could not
see you till I had committed myself? At the moment my eyes beheld
you on that day of my arrival, I said, "This is the woman for whom my
manhood has waited." Ever since an unaccountable fascination has
riveted my heart to you. Answer one word!'
'O, M. de la Feste!' I burst out. What I said more I cannot
remember, but I suppose that the misery I was in showed pretty
plainly, for he said, 'Something must be done to let her know;
perhaps I have mistaken her affection, too; but all depends upon what
'I cannot tell what I feel,' said I, 'except that this seems terrible
treachery; and every moment that I stay with you here makes it worse!
. . . Try to keep faith with her--her young heart is tender;
believe me there is no mistake in the quality of her love for you.
Would there were! This would kill her if she knew it!'
He sighed heavily. 'She ought never to be my wife,' he said.
'Leaving my own happiness out of the question, it would be a cruelty
to her to unite her to me.'
I said I could not hear such words from him, and begged him in tears
to go away; he obeyed, and I heard the garden door shut behind him.
What is to be the end of the announcement, and the fate of Caroline?
May 20.--I put a good deal on paper yesterday, and yet not all. I
was, in truth, hoping against hope, against conviction, against too
conscious self-judgment. I scarcely dare own the truth now, yet it
relieves my aching heart to set it down. Yes, I love him--that is
the dreadful fact, and I can no longer parry, evade, or deny it to
myself though to the rest of the world it can never be owned. I love
Caroline's betrothed, and he loves me. It is no yesterday's passion,
cultivated by our converse; it came at first sight, independently of
my will; and my talk with him yesterday made rather against it than
for it, but, alas, did not quench it. God forgive us both for this
May 25.--All is vague; our courses shapeless. He comes and goes,
being occupied, ostensibly at least, with sketching in his tent in
the wood. Whether he and she see each other privately I cannot tell,
but I rather think they do not; that she sadly awaits him, and he
does not appear. Not a sign from him that my repulse has done him
any good, or that he will endeavour to keep faith with her. O, if I
only had the compulsion of a god, and the self-sacrifice of a martyr!
May 31.--It has all ended--or rather this act of the sad drama has
ended--in nothing. He has left us. No day for the fulfilment of the
engagement with Caroline is named, my father not being the man to
press any one on such a matter, or, indeed, to interfere in any way.
We two girls are, in fact, quite defenceless in a case of this kind;
lovers may come when they choose, and desert when they choose; poor
father is too urbane to utter a word of remonstrance or inquiry.
Moreover, as the approved of my dead mother, M. de la Feste has a
sort of autocratic power with my father, who holds it unkind to her
memory to have an opinion about him. I, feeling it my duty, asked M.
de la Feste at the last moment about the engagement, in a voice I
could not keep firm.
'Since the death of your mother all has been indefinite--all!' he
said gloomily. That was the whole. Possibly, Wherryborne Rectory
may see him no more.
June 7 .--M. de la Feste has written--one letter to her, one to me.
Hers could not have been very warm, for she did not brighten on
reading it. Mine was an ordinary note of friendship, filling an
ordinary sheet of paper, which I handed over to Caroline when I had
finished looking it through. But there was a scrap of paper in the
bottom of the envelope, which I dared not show any one. This scrap
is his real letter: I scanned it alone in my room, trembling, hot
and cold by turns. He tells me he is very wretched; that he deplores
what has happened, but was helpless. Why did I let him see me, if
only to make him faithless. Alas, alas!
June 21 .--My dear Caroline has lost appetite, spirits, health. Hope
deferred maketh the heart sick. His letters to her grow colder--if
indeed he has written more than one. He has refrained from writing
again to me--he knows it is no use. Altogether the situation that he
and she and I are in is melancholy in the extreme. Why are human
hearts so perverse?
CHAPTER VI.--HER INGENUITY INSTIGATES HER
September 19.--Three months of anxious care--till at length I have
taken the extreme step of writing to him. Our chief distress has
been caused by the state of poor Caroline, who, after sinking by
degrees into such extreme weakness as to make it doubtful if she can
ever recover full vigour, has to-day been taken much worse. Her
position is very critical. The doctor says plainly that she is dying
of a broken heart--and that even the removal of the cause may not now
restore her. Ought I to have written to Charles sooner? But how
could I when she forbade me? It was her pride only which instigated
her, and I should not have obeyed.
Sept. 26.--Charles has arrived and has seen her. He is shocked,
conscience-stricken, remorseful. I have told him that he can do no
good beyond cheering her by his presence. I do not know what he
thinks of proposing to her if she gets better, but he says little to
her at present: indeed he dares not: his words agitate her
Sept. 28.--After a struggle between duty and selfishness, such as I
pray to Heaven I may never have to undergo again, I have asked him
for pity's sake to make her his wife, here and now, as she lies. I
said to him that the poor child would not trouble him long; and such
a solemnization would soothe her last hours as nothing else could do.
He said that he would willingly do so, and had thought of it himself;
but for one forbidding reason: in the event of her death as his wife
he can never marry me, her sister, according to our laws. I started
at his words. He went on: 'On the other hand, if I were sure that
immediate marriage with me would save her life, I would not refuse,
for possibly I might after a while, and out of sight of you, make
myself fairly content with one of so sweet a disposition as hers; but
if, as is probable, neither my marrying her nor any other act can
avail to save her life, by so doing I lose both her and you.' I
could not answer him.
Sept. 29.--He continued firm in his reasons for refusal till this
morning, and then I became possessed with an idea, which I at once
propounded to him. It was that he should at least consent to a FORM
of marriage with Caroline, in consideration of her love; a form which
need not be a legal union, but one which would satisfy her sick and
enfeebled soul. Such things have been done, and the sentiment of
feeling herself his would inexpressibly comfort her mind, I am sure.
Then, if she is taken from us, I should not have lost the power of
becoming his lawful wife at some future day, if it indeed should be
deemed expedient; if, on the other hand, she lives, he can on her
recovery inform her of the incompleteness of their marriage contract,
the ceremony can be repeated, and I can, and I am sure willingly
would, avoid troubling them with my presence till grey hairs and
wrinkles make his unfortunate passion for me a thing of the past. I
put all this before him; but he demurred.
Sept. 30.--I have urged him again. He says he will consider. It is
no time to mince matters, and as a further inducement I have offered
to enter into a solemn engagement to marry him myself a year after
Sept. 30. Later.--An agitating interview. He says he will agree to
whatever I propose, the three possibilities and our contingent acts
being recorded as follows: First, in the event of dear Caroline
being taken from us, I marry him on the expiration of a year:
Second, in the forlorn chance of her recovery I take upon myself the
responsibility of explaining to Caroline the true nature of the
ceremony he has gone through with her, that it was done at my
suggestion to make her happy at once, before a special licence could
be obtained, and that a public ceremony at church is awaiting her:
Third, in the unlikely event of her cooling, and refusing to repeat
the ceremony with him, I leave England, join him abroad, and there
wed him, agreeing not to live in England again till Caroline has
either married another or regards her attachment to Charles as a
bygone matter. I have thought over these conditions, and have agreed
to them all as they stand.
11 p.m.--I do not much like this scheme, after all. For one thing, I
have just sounded my father on it before parting with him for the
night, my impression having been that he would see no objection. But
he says he could on no account countenance any such unreal
proceeding; however good our intentions, and even though the poor
girl were dying, it would not be right. So I sadly seek my pillow.
October 1.--I am sure my father is wrong in his view. Why is it not
right, if it would be balm to Caroline's wounded soul, and if a real
ceremony is absolutely refused by Charles--moreover is hardly
practicable in the difficulty of getting a special licence, if he
were agreed? My father does not know, or will not believe, that
Caroline's attachment has been the cause of her hopeless condition.
But that it is so, and that the form of words would give her
inexpressible happiness, I know well; for I whispered tentatively in
her ear on such marriages, and the effect was great. Henceforth my
father cannot be taken into confidence on the subject of Caroline.
He does not understand her.
12 o'clock noon.--I have taken advantage of my father's absence to-
day to confide my secret notion to a thoughtful young man, who called
here this morning to speak to my father. He is the Mr. Theophilus
Higham, of whom I have already had occasion to speak--a Scripture
reader in the next town, and is soon going to be ordained. I told
him the pitiable case, and my remedy. He says ardently that he will
assist me--would do anything for me (he is, in truth, an admirer of
mine); he sees no wrong in such an act of charity. He is coming
again to the house this afternoon before my father returns, to carry
out the idea. I have spoken to Charles, who promises to be ready. I
must now break the news to Caroline.
11 o'clock p.m.--I have been in too much excitement till now to set
down the result. We have accomplished our plan; and though I feel
like a guilty sinner, I am glad. My father, of course, is not to be
informed as yet. Caroline has had a seraphic expression upon her
wasted, transparent face ever since. I should hardly be surprised if
it really saved her life even now, and rendered a legitimate union
necessary between them. In that case my father can be informed of
the whole proceeding, and in the face of such wonderful success
cannot disapprove. Meanwhile poor Charles has not lost the
possibility of taking unworthy me to fill her place should she--.
But I cannot contemplate that alternative unmoved, and will not write
it. Charles left for the South of Europe immediately after the
ceremony. He was in a high-strung, throbbing, almost wild state of
mind at first, but grew calmer under my exhortations. I had to pay
the penalty of receiving a farewell kiss from him, which I much
regret, considering its meaning; but he took me so unexpectedly, and
in a moment was gone.
Oct. 6.--She certainly is better, and even when she found that
Charles had been suddenly obliged to leave, she received the news
quite cheerfully. The doctor says that her apparent improvement may
be delusive; but I think our impressing upon her the necessity of
keeping what has occurred a secret from papa, and everybody, helps to
give her a zest for life.
Oct. 8.--She is still mending. I am glad to have saved her--my only
sister--if I have done so; though I shall now never become Charles's
CHAPTER VII.--A SURPRISE AWAITS HER
Feb. 5.--Writing has been absolutely impossible for a long while; but
I now reach a stage at which it seems possible to jot down a line.
Caroline's recovery, extending over four months, has been very
engrossing; at first slow, latterly rapid. But a fearful
complication of affairs attends it!
O what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
Charles has written reproachfully to me from Venice, where he is. He
says how can he fulfil in the real what he has enacted in the
counterfeit, while he still loves me? Yet how, on the other hand,
can he leave it unfulfilled? All this time I have not told her, and
up to this minute she believes that he has indeed taken her for
better, for worse, till death them do part. It is a harassing
position for me, and all three. In the awful approach of death,
one's judgment loses its balance, and we do anything to meet the
exigencies of the moment, with a single eye to the one who excites
our sympathy, and from whom we seem on the brink of being separated
Had he really married her at that time all would be settled now. But
he took too much thought; she might have died, and then he had his
reason. If indeed it had turned out so, I should now be perhaps a
sad woman; but not a tempest-tossed one . . . The possibility of his
claiming me after all is what lies at the root of my agitation.
Everything hangs by a thread. Suppose I tell her the marriage was a
mockery; suppose she is indignant with me and with him for the
deception--and then? Otherwise, suppose she is not indignant but
forgives all; he is bound to marry her; and honour constrains me to
urge him thereto, in spite of what he protests, and to smooth the way
to this issue by my method of informing her. I have meant to tell
her the last month--ever since she has been strong enough to bear
such tidings; but I have been without the power--the moral force.
Surely I must write, and get him to come and assist me.
March 14.--She continually wonders why he does not come, the five
months of his enforced absence having expired; and still more she
wonders why he does not write oftener. His last letter was cold, she
says, and she fears he regrets his marriage, which he may only have
celebrated with her for pity's sake, thinking she was sure to die.
It makes one's heart bleed to hear her hovering thus so near the
truth, and yet never discerning its actual shape.
A minor trouble besets me, too, in the person of the young Scripture
reader, whose conscience pricks him for the part he played. Surely I
am punished, if ever woman were, for a too ingenious perversion of
her better judgment!
April 2.--She is practically well. The faint pink revives in her
cheek, though it is not quite so full as heretofore. But she still
wonders what she can have done to offend 'her dear husband,' and I
have been obliged to tell the smallest part of the truth--an
unimportant fragment of the whole, in fact, I said that I feared for
the moment he might regret the precipitancy of the act, which her
illness caused, his affairs not having been quite sufficiently
advanced for marriage just then, though he will doubtless come to her
as soon as he has a home ready. Meanwhile I have written to him,
peremptorily, to come and relieve me in this awful dilemma. He will
find no note of love in that.
April 10.--To my alarm the letter I lately addressed to him at
Venice, where he is staying, as well as the last one she sent him,
have received no reply. She thinks he is ill. I do not quite think
that, but I wish we could hear from him. Perhaps the peremptoriness
of my words had offended him; it grieves me to think it possible.
_I_ offend him! But too much of this. I MUST tell her the truth, or
she may in her ignorance commit herself to some course or other that
may be ruinously compromising. She said plaintively just now that if
he could see her, and know how occupied with him and him alone is her
every waking hour, she is sure he would forgive her the wicked
presumption of becoming his wife. Very sweet all that, and touching.
I could not conceal my tears.
April 15.--The house is in confusion; my father is angry and
distressed, and I am distracted. Caroline has disappeared--gone away
secretly. I cannot help thinking that I know where she is gone to.
How guilty I seem, and how innocent she! O that I had told her
1 o'clock.--No trace of her as yet. We find also that the little
waiting-maid we have here in training has disappeared with Caroline,
and there is not much doubt that Caroline, fearing to travel alone,
has induced this girl to go with her as companion. I am almost sure
she has started in desperation to find him, and that Venice is her
goal. Why should she run away, if not to join her husband, as she
thinks him? Now that I consider, there have been indications of this
wish in her for days, as in birds of passage there lurk signs of
their incipient intention; and yet I did not think she would have
taken such an extreme step, unaided, and without consulting me. I
can only jot down the bare facts--I have no time for reflections.
But fancy Caroline travelling across the continent of Europe with a
chit of a girl, who will be more of a charge than an assistance!
They will be a mark for every marauder who encounters them.
Evening: 8 o'clock.--Yes, it is as I surmised. She has gone to join
him. A note posted by her in Budmouth Regis at daybreak has reached
me this afternoon--thanks to the fortunate chance of one of the
servants calling for letters in town to-day, or I should not have got
it until to-morrow. She merely asserts her determination of going to
him, and has started privately, that nothing may hinder her; stating
nothing about her route. That such a gentle thing should suddenly
become so calmly resolute quite surprises me. Alas, he may have left
Venice--she may not find him for weeks--may not at all.
My father, on learning the facts, bade me at once have everything
ready by nine this evening, in time to drive to the train that meets
the night steam-boat. This I have done, and there being an hour to
spare before we start, I relieve the suspense of waiting by taking up
my pen. He says overtake her we must, and calls Charles the hardest
of names. He believes, of course, that she is merely an infatuated
girl rushing off to meet her lover; and how can the wretched I tell
him that she is more, and in a sense better than that--yet not
sufficiently more and better to make this flight to Charles anything
but a still greater danger to her than a mere lover's impulse. We
shall go by way of Paris, and we think we may overtake her there. I
hear my father walking restlessly up and down the hall, and can write
CHAPTER VIII.--SHE TRAVELS IN PURSUIT
April 16. Evening, Paris, Hotel --.--There is no overtaking her at
this place; but she has been here, as I thought, no other hotel in
Paris being known to her. We go on to-morrow morning.
April 18. Venice.--A morning of adventures and emotions which leave
me sick and weary, and yet unable to sleep, though I have lain down
on the sofa of my room for more than an hour in the attempt. I
therefore make up my diary to date in a hurried fashion, for the sake
of the riddance it affords to ideas which otherwise remain suspended
hotly in the brain.
We arrived here this morning in broad sunlight, which lit up the sea-
girt buildings as we approached so that they seemed like a city of
cork floating raft-like on the smooth, blue deep. But I only glanced
from the carriage window at the lovely scene, and we were soon across
the intervening water and inside the railway station. When we got to
the front steps the row of black gondolas and the shouts of the
gondoliers so bewildered my father that he was understood to require
two gondolas instead of one with two oars, and so I found him in one
and myself in another. We got this righted after a while, and were
rowed at once to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni where M. de la
Feste had been staying when we last heard from him, the way being
down the Grand Canal for some distance, under the Rialto, and then by
narrow canals which eventually brought us under the Bridge of Sighs--
harmonious to our moods!--and out again into open water. The scene
was purity itself as to colour, but it was cruel that I should behold
it for the first time under such circumstances.
As soon as I entered the hotel, which is an old-fashioned place, like
most places here, where people are taken en pension as well as the
ordinary way, I rushed to the framed list of visitors hanging in the
hall, and in a moment I saw Charles's name upon it among the rest.
But she was our chief thought. I turned to the hall porter, and--
knowing that she would have travelled as 'Madame de la Feste'--I
asked for her under that name, without my father hearing. (He, poor
soul, was making confused inquiries outside the door about 'an
English lady,' as if there were not a score of English ladies at
'She has just come,' said the porter. 'Madame came by the very early
train this morning, when Monsieur was asleep, and she requested us
not to disturb him. She is now in her room.'
Whether Caroline had seen us from the window, or overheard me, I do
not know, but at that moment I heard footsteps on the bare marble
stairs, and she appeared in person descending.
'Caroline!' I exclaimed, 'why have you done this?' and rushed up to
She did not answer; but looked down to hide her emotion, which she
conquered after the lapse of a few seconds, putting on a practical
tone that belied her.
'I am just going to my husband,' she said. 'I have not yet seen him.
I have not been here long.' She condescended to give no further
reason for her movements, and made as if to move on. I implored her
to come into a private room where I could speak to her in confidence,
but she objected. However, the dining-room, close at hand, was quite
empty at this hour, and I got her inside and closed the door. I do
not know how I began my explanation, or how I ended it, but I told
her briefly and brokenly enough that the marriage was not real.
'Not real?' she said vacantly.
'It is not,' said I. 'You will find that it is all as I say.'
She could not believe my meaning even then. 'Not his wife?' she
cried. 'It is impossible. What am I, then?'
I added more details, and reiterated the reason for my conduct as
well as I could; but Heaven knows how very difficult I found it to
feel a jot more justification for it in my own mind than she did in
The revulsion of feeling, as soon as she really comprehended all, was
most distressing. After her grief had in some measure spent itself
she turned against both him and me.
'Why should have I been deceived like this?' she demanded, with a
bitter haughtiness of which I had not deemed such a tractable
creature capable. 'Do you suppose that ANYTHING could justify such
an imposition? What, O what a snare you have spread for me!'
I murmured, 'Your life seemed to require it,' but she did not hear
me. She sank down in a chair, covered her face, and then my father
came in. 'O, here you are!' he said. 'I could not find you. And
'And were YOU, papa, a party to this strange deed of kindness?'
'To what?' said he.
Then out it all came, and for the first time he was made acquainted
with the fact that the scheme for soothing her illness, which I had
sounded him upon, had been really carried out. In a moment he sided
with Caroline. My repeated assurance that my motive was good availed
less than nothing. In a minute or two Caroline arose and went
abruptly out of the room, and my father followed her, leaving me
alone to my reflections.
I was so bent upon finding Charles immediately that I did not notice
whither they went. The servants told me that M. de la Feste was just
outside smoking, and one of them went to look for him, I following;
but before we had gone many steps he came out of the hotel behind me.
I expected him to be amazed; but he showed no surprise at seeing me,
though he showed another kind of feeling to an extent which dismayed
me. I may have revealed something similar; but I struggled hard
against all emotion, and as soon as I could I told him she had come.
He simply said 'Yes' in a low voice.
'You know it, Charles?' said I.
'I have just learnt it,' he said.
'O, Charles,' I went on, 'having delayed completing your marriage
with her till now, I fear--it has become a serious position for us.
Why did you not reply to our letters?'
'I was purposing to reply in person: I did not know how to address
her on the point--how to address you. But what has become of her?'
'She has gone off with my father,' said I; 'indignant with you, and
He was silent: and I suggested that we should follow them, pointing
out the direction which I fancied their gondola had taken. As the
one we got into was doubly manned we soon came in view of their two
figures ahead of us, while they were not likely to observe us, our
boat having the 'felze' on, while theirs was uncovered. They shot
into a narrow canal just beyond the Giardino Reale, and by the time
we were floating up between its slimy walls we saw them getting out
of their gondola at the steps which lead up near the end of the Via
22 Marzo. When we reached the same spot they were walking up and
down the Via in consultation. Getting out he stood on the lower
steps watching them. I watched him. He seemed to fall into a
'Will you not go and speak to her?' said I at length.
He assented, and went forward. Still he did not hasten to join them,
but, screened by a projecting window, observed their musing converse.
At last he looked back at me; whereupon I pointed forward, and he in
obedience stepped out, and met them face to face. Caroline flushed
hot, bowed haughtily to him, turned away, and taking my father's arm
violently, led him off before he had had time to use his own
judgment. They disappeared into a narrow calle, or alley, leading to
the back of the buildings on the Grand Canal.
M. de la Feste came slowly back; as he stepped in beside me I
realized my position so vividly that my heart might almost have been
heard to beat. The third condition had arisen--the least expected by
either of us. She had refused him; he was free to claim me.
We returned in the boat together. He seemed quite absorbed till we
had turned the angle into the Grand Canal, when he broke the silence.
'She spoke very bitterly to you in the salle-a-manger,' he said. 'I
do not think she was quite warranted in speaking so to you, who had
nursed her so tenderly.'
'O, but I think she was,' I answered. 'It was there I told her what
had been done; she did not know till then.'
'She was very dignified--very striking,' he murmured. 'You were
'But how do you know what passed between us,' said I. He then told
me that he had seen and heard all. The dining-room was divided by
folding-doors from an inner portion, and he had been sitting in the
latter part when we entered the outer, so that our words were
'But, dear Alicia,' he went on, 'I was more impressed by the
affection of your apology to her than by anything else. And do you
know that now the conditions have arisen which give me liberty to
consider you my affianced?' I had been expecting this, but yet was
not prepared. I stammered out that we would not discuss it then.
'Why not?' said he. 'Do you know that we may marry here and now?
She has cast off both you and me.'
'It cannot be,' said I, firmly. 'She has not been fairly asked to be
your wife in fact--to repeat the service lawfully; and until that has
been done it would be grievous sin in me to accept you.'
I had not noticed where the gondoliers were rowing us. I suppose he
had given them some direction unheard by me, for as I resigned myself
in despairing indolence to the motion of the gondola, I perceived
that it was taking us up the Canal, and, turning into a side opening
near the Palazzo Grimani, drew up at some steps near the end of a
'Where are we?' said I.
'It is the Church of the Frari,' he replied. 'We might be married
there. At any rate, let us go inside, and grow calm, and decide what
When we had entered I found that whether a place to marry in or not,
it was one to depress. The word which Venice speaks most constantly-
-decay--was in a sense accentuated here. The whole large fabric
itself seemed sinking into an earth which was not solid enough to
bear it. Cobwebbed cracks zigzagged the walls, and similar webs
clouded the window-panes. A sickly-sweet smell pervaded the aisles.
After walking about with him a little while in embarrassing silences,
divided only by his cursory explanations of the monuments and other
objects, and almost fearing he might produce a marriage licence, I
went to a door in the south transept which opened into the sacristy.
I glanced through it, towards the small altar at the upper end. The
place was empty save of one figure; and she was kneeling here in
front of the beautiful altarpiece by Bellini. Beautiful though it
was she seemed not to see it. She was weeping and praying as though
her heart was broken. She was my sister Caroline. I beckoned to
Charles, and he came to my side, and looked through the door with me.
'Speak to her,' said I. 'She will forgive you.'
I gently pushed him through the doorway, and went back into the
transept, down the nave, and onward to the west door. There I saw my
father, to whom I spoke. He answered severely that, having first
obtained comfortable quarters in a pension on the Grand Canal, he had
gone back to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni to find me; but
that I was not there. He was now waiting for Caroline, to accompany
her back to the pension, at which she had requested to be left to
herself as much as possible till she could regain some composure.
I told him that it was useless to dwell on what was past, that I no
doubt had erred, that the remedy lay in the future and their
marriage. In this he quite agreed with me, and on my informing him
that M. de la Feste was at that moment with Caroline in the sacristy,
he assented to my proposal that we should leave them to themselves,
and return together to await them at the pension, where he had also
engaged a room for me. This we did, and going up to the chamber he
had chosen for me, which overlooked the Canal, I leant from the
window to watch for the gondola that should contain Charles and my
They were not long in coming. I recognized them by the colour of her
sunshade as soon as they turned the bend on my right hand. They were
side by side of necessity, but there was no conversation between
them, and I thought that she looked flushed and he pale. When they
were rowed in to the steps of our house he handed her up. I fancied
she might have refused his assistance, but she did not. Soon I heard
her pass my door, and wishing to know the result of their interview I
went downstairs, seeing that the gondola had not put off with him.
He was turning from the door, but not towards the water, intending
apparently to walk home by way of the calle which led into the Via 22
'Has she forgiven you?' said I.
'I have not asked her,' he said.
'But you are bound to do so,' I told him.
He paused, and then said, 'Alicia, let us understand each other. Do
you mean to tell me, once for all, that if your sister is willing to
become my wife you absolutely make way for her, and will not
entertain any thought of what I suggested to you any more?'
'I do tell you so,' said I with dry lips. 'You belong to her--how
can I do otherwise?'
'Yes; it is so; it is purely a question of honour,' he returned.
'Very well then, honour shall be my word, and not my love. I will
put the question to her frankly; if she says yes, the marriage shall
be. But not here. It shall be at your own house in England.'
'When?' said I.
'I will accompany her there,' he replied, 'and it shall be within a
week of her return. I have nothing to gain by delay. But I will not
answer for the consequences.'
'What do you mean?' said I. He made no reply, went away, and I came
back to my room.
CHAPTER IX.--SHE WITNESSES THE END
April 20. Milan, 10.30 p.m.--We are thus far on our way homeward.
I, being decidedly de trop, travel apart from the rest as much as I
can. Having dined at the hotel here, I went out by myself;
regardless of the proprieties, for I could not stay in. I walked at
a leisurely pace along the Via Allesandro Manzoni till my eye was
caught by the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and I entered under
the high glass arcades till I reached the central octagon, where I
sat down on one of a group of chairs placed there. Becoming
accustomed to the stream of promenaders, I soon observed, seated on
the chairs opposite, Caroline and Charles. This was the first
occasion on which I had seen them en tete-a-tete since my
conversation with him. She soon caught sight of me; averted her
eyes; then, apparently abandoning herself to an impulse, she jumped
up from her seat and came across to me. We had not spoken to each
other since the meeting in Venice.
'Alicia,' she said, sitting down by my side, 'Charles asks me to
forgive you, and I do forgive you.'
I pressed her hand, with tears in my eyes, and said, 'And do you
'Yes,' said she, shyly.
'And what's the result?' said I.
'We are to be married directly we reach home.'
This was almost the whole of our conversation; she walked home with
me, Charles following a little way behind, though she kept turning
her head, as if anxious that he should overtake us. 'Honour and not
love' seemed to ring in my ears. So matters stand. Caroline is
April 25.--We have reached home, Charles with us. Events are now
moving in silent speed, almost with velocity, indeed; and I sometimes
feel oppressed by the strange and preternatural ease which seems to
accompany their flow. Charles is staying at the neighbouring town;
he is only waiting for the marriage licence; when obtained he is to
come here, be quietly married to her, and carry her off. It is
rather resignation than content which sits on his face; but he has
not spoken a word more to me on the burning subject, or deviated one
hair's breadth from the course he laid down. They may be happy in
time to come: I hope so. But I cannot shake off depression.
May 6.--Eve of the wedding. Caroline is serenely happy, though not
blithe. But there is nothing to excite anxiety about her. I wish I
could say the same of him. He comes and goes like a ghost, and yet
nobody seems to observe this strangeness in his mien.
I could not help being here for the ceremony; but my absence would
have resulted in less disquiet on his part, I believe. However, I
may be wrong in attributing causes: my father simply says that
Charles and Caroline have as good a chance of being happy as other
people. Well, to-morrow settles all.
May 7.--They are married: we have just returned from church.
Charles looked so pale this morning that my father asked him if he
was ill. He said, 'No: only a slight headache;' and we started for
There was no hitch or hindrance; and the thing is done.
4 p.m.--They ought to have set out on their journey by this time; but
there is an unaccountable delay. Charles went out half-an-hour ago,
and has not yet returned. Caroline is waiting in the hall; but I am
dreadfully afraid they will miss the train. I suppose the trifling
hindrance is of no account; and yet I am full of misgivings . . .
Sept. 14.--Four months have passed; ONLY four months! It seems like
years. Can it be that only seventeen weeks ago I set on this paper
the fact of their marriage? I am now an aged woman by comparison!
On that never to be forgotten day we waited and waited, and Charles
did not return. At six o'clock, when poor little Caroline had gone
back to her room in a state of suspense impossible to describe, a man
who worked in the water-meadows came to the house and asked for my
father. He had an interview with him in the study. My father then
rang his bell, and sent for me. I went down; and I then learnt the
fatal news. Charles was no more. The waterman had been going to
shut down the hatches of a weir in the meads when he saw a hat on the
edge of the pool below, floating round and round in the eddy, and
looking into the pool saw something strange at the bottom. He knew
what it meant, and lowering the hatches so that the water was still,
could distinctly see the body. It is needless to write particulars
that were in the newspapers at the time. Charles was brought to the
house, but he was dead.
We all feared for Caroline; and she suffered much; but strange to
say, her suffering was purely of the nature of deep grief which found
relief in sobbing and tears. It came out at the inquest that Charles
had been accustomed to cross the meads to give an occasional half-
crown to an old man who lived on the opposite hill, who had once been
a landscape painter in an humble way till he lost his eyesight; and
it was assumed that he had gone thither for the same purpose to-day,
and to bid him farewell. On this information the coroner's jury
found that his death had been caused by misadventure; and everybody
believes to this hour that he was drowned while crossing the weir to
relieve the old man. Except one: she believes in no accident.
After the stunning effect of the first news, I thought it strange
that he should have chosen to go on such an errand at the last
moment, and to go personally, when there was so little time to spare,
since any gift could have been so easily sent by another hand.
Further reflection has convinced me that this step out of life was as
much a part of the day's plan as was the wedding in the church hard
by. They were the two halves of his complete intention when he gave
me on the Grand Canal that assurance which I shall never forget:
'Very well, then; honour shall be my word, not love. If she says
"Yes," the marriage shall be.'
I do not know why I should have made this entry at this particular
time; but it has occurred to me to do it--to complete, in a measure,
that part of my desultory chronicle which relates to the love-story
of my sister and Charles. She lives on meekly in her grief; and will
probably outlive it; while I--but never mind me.
CHAPTER X.--SHE ADDS A NOTE LONG AFTER
Five-years later.--I have lighted upon this old diary, which it has
interested me to look over, containing, as it does, records of the
time when life shone more warmly in my eye than it does now. I am
impelled to add one sentence to round off its record of the past.
About a year ago my sister Caroline, after a persistent wooing,
accepted the hand and heart of Theophilus Higham, once the blushing
young Scripture reader who assisted at the substitute for a marriage
I planned, and now the fully-ordained curate of the next parish. His
penitence for the part he played ended in love. We have all now made
atonement for our sins against her: may she be deceived no more.