by Sarah Grand
BY SARAH GRAND
“L'esprit ne nous garantit pas
des sottises de notre humeur.”—VAUVENARGUES
You will ask me, perhaps, even you who are all charity, why parts of
this book are what they are. I can only answer with another question:
Why are we what we are? But I warn you that it would not be fair to
take any of Ideala's opinions, here given, as final. Much of what she
thought was the mere effervescence of a strong mind in a state of
fermentation, a mind passing successively through the three stages of
the process; the vinous, alcoholic, or excitable stage; the
acetous, jaundiced, or embittered stage; and the putrefactive, or unwholesome stage; and also embodying, at different times, the
characteristics of all three. But, even during its worst phase, it was
an earnest mind, seeking the truth diligently, and not to be blamed for
stumbling upon good and bad together by the way. It is, in fact, not a
perfect, but a transitional state which I offer for your consideration,
a state which has its repulsive features, but which, it may be hoped,
would result in a beautiful deposit, when at last the inevitable
effervescence had subsided.
But why exhibit the details of the process, you may ask. To
encourage others, of course. What help is there in the contemplation of
perfection ready made? It only disheartens us. We should lay down our
arms, we should struggle no longer, we should be hopeless, despairing,
reckless, if we never had a glimpse of growth, of those “stepping-stones of their dead selves” upon which men mount to higher things. The
imperfections must be studied, because it is only from the details of
the process that anything can be learned. Putting aside the people who
criticise, not with a view to mending matters, but because a
... low desire
Not to seem lowest makes them level all;
the people who judge, who condemn, who have no mercy on any faults
and failings but their own, and who,
... if they find
Some stain or blemish in a name of note,
Not grieving that their greatest are so small,
Inflate themselves with some insane delight,
and would ostracise a neighbour for the first offence by ruling that
one mistake must mar a life—anybody's life but their own, of course;
who have no peace in themselves, no habit of sweet thought; whose lives
are one long agony of excitement, objection, envy, hate, and unrest;
the decently clad devils of society who may be known by their eternal
carping, and who are already in torment, and doing their utmost to drag
others after them. Putting them aside, as any one may who has the
courage to face them—for they are terrible cowards—and taking the
best of us, and the best intentioned among us, we find that all are apt
to make some one trait in the characters, some one trick in the
manners, some one incident in the lives of people we meet the text of
an objection to the whole person. And a state of objection is a
miserable state, and a dangerous one, because it stops our growth by
robbing us of half our power to love, in which lies all our strength,
and which, with the delight of being loved, is the one thing worth
living for. When we know in ourselves that love is heaven, and hate is
hell, and all the intervals of like and dislike are antechambers to
either, we possess the key to joy and sorrow, by which alone we can
attain to the mystery that may not be mentioned here, but beyond which
ecstasy awaits us.
This is why such details are necessary.
Doctors-spiritual must face the horrors of the dissecting-room, and
learn before they can cure or teach; and even we, poor feeble
creatures, who have no strength, however great our desire, to do
either, can help at least a little by not hindering, if we attend to
our own mental health, which we shall do all the better for knowing
something of our moral anatomy, and the diseases to which it is liable.
We hate and despise in our ignorance, and grow weak; but love and pity
thrive on knowledge, and to love and pity we owe all the beauty of
life, and all our highest power.
“It is that life of custom and accident in which many of us pass
much of our time in this world; that life in which we do what we have
not purposed, and speak what we do not mean, and assent to what we do
not understand; that life which is overlaid by the weight of things
external to it, and is moulded by them, instead of assimilating them;
that which, instead of growing and blossoming under any wholesome dew,
is crystallised over with it, as with hoar frost, and becomes to the
true life what an arborescence is to a tree, a candied agglomeration of
thoughts and habits foreign to it, brittle, obstinate, and icy, which
can neither bend nor grow, but must be crushed and broken to bits if it
stands in our way. All men are liable to be in some degree frost-bitten
in this sort; all are partly encumbered and crusted over with idle
matter; only, if they have real life in them, they are always breaking
this bark away in noble rents, until it becomes, like the black strips
upon the birch tree, only a witness of their own inward strength.”
She came among us without flourish of trumpets. She just slipped
into her place, almost unnoticed, but once she was settled there it
seemed as if we had got something we had wanted all our lives, and we
should have missed her as you would miss the thrushes in the spring, or
any other sweet familiar thing. But what the secret of her charm was I
cannot say. She was full of inconsistencies. She disliked ostentation,
and never wore those ornamental fidgets ladies delight in, but she
would take a piece of priceless lace to cover her head when she went to
water her flowers. And she said rings were a mistake; if your hands
were ugly they drew attention to them, if pretty they hid their beauty;
yet she wore half-a-dozen worthless ones habitually for the love of
those who gave them, to her. It was said that she was striking in
appearance, but cold and indifferent in manner. Some, on whom she had
never turned her eyes, called her repellent. But it was noticed that
men who took her down to dinner, or had any other opportunity of
talking to her, were never very positive in, what they said of her
afterwards. She made every one, men and women alike, feel, and she did
it unconsciously. Without effort, without eccentricity, without
anything you could name or define, she impressed you, and she held you
—or at least she held me, always—expectant. Nothing about her
ever seemed to be of the present. When she talked she made you wonder
what her past had been, and when she was silent you began to speculate
about her future. But she did not talk much as a rule, and when she did
speak it was always some subject of interest, some fact that she wanted
to ascertain accurately, or some beautiful idea, that occupied her; she
had absolutely no small talk for any but her most intimate friends,
whom she was wont at times to amuse with an endless stock of anecdotes
and quaint observations; and this made people of limited capacity hard
on her. Some of these called her a cold, ambitious, unsympathetic
woman; and perhaps, from their point of view, she was so. She certainly
aspired to something far above them, and had nothing but scorn for the
dead level of dull mediocrity from which they would not try to rise.
“To be distinguished among these people,” she once said, “it is only
necessary to have one's heart
Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love.
There is no need to do anything; if you have the right
feeling you may be as passive as a cow, and still excel them all,
for they never thrill to a noble thought.”
“Then, pity them,” I said.
“No, despise them,” she answered. “Pity is for affliction, for such
shortcomings as are hereditary and can hardly be remedied—for the
taint in nature which is all but hopeless. But these people are not
afflicted. They could do better if they would. They know the higher
walk, and deliberately pursue the lower. Their whole feeling is for
themselves, and such things as have power to move them through the
flesh only. I would almost rather sin on the impulse of a generous but
misguided nature, and have the power to appreciate and the will to be
better, than live a perfect, loveless woman, caring only for myself,
like these. I should do more good.”
They called Ideala unsympathetic, yet I have known her silent from
excess of sympathy. She could walk with you, reading your heart and
soul, sorrowing and rejoicing with you, and make you feel without a
word that she did so. It was this power to sympathise, and the longing
she had to find good in everything, that made her forgive the faults
that were patent in a nature with which she was finally brought into
contact, for the sake of the virtues which she discovered hidden away
deep down under a slowly hardening crust of that kind of self-indulgence which mars a man.
But her own life was set to a tune that admitted of endless
variations. Sometimes it was difficult even for those who knew her best
to detect the original melody among the clashing cords that concealed
it; but, let it be hidden as it might, one felt that it would resolve
itself eventually, through many a jarring modulation and startling
cadence, perhaps, back to the perfect key.
I saw her first at a garden party. She scarcely noticed me when we
were introduced. There were great masses of white cloud drifting up
over the blue above the garden, and she was wholly occupied with them
when she could watch them without rudeness to those about her; and even
when she was obliged to look away, I could see that she was still
thinking of the sky. “Do you live much in cloudland?” I asked, and felt
for a moment I had said a silly thing; but she turned to me quickly,
and looked at me for the first time as if she saw me—and when I say
she looked at me, I mean something more than an ordinary look, for
Ideala's eyes were a wonder, affecting you as a poem does which has
power to exalt.
“Ah, you feel it too,” she said. “Are they not beautiful? Will you
sit beside me here? You can see the river as well—down there, beneath
I thought she would have talked after that, but she did not. When I
spoke to her once or twice she answered absently; and presently she
forgot me altogether, and began to sing to herself softly:
Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,
Thy tribute wave deliver;
No more by thee my steps shall be
For ever and for ever.
Then suddenly recollecting herself, she stopped, and exclaimed, in
much confusion, “O please forgive me! That stupid thing has been
running in my head all day—and it is a way I have. I always forget
people and begin to sing.”
She did not see in the least that her apology might have been
considered an adding of insult to injury, and, of course, I was careful
not to let her know that I thought it so, although I must confess that
for a moment I felt just a trifle aggrieved. I thought my presence had
bored her, and was surprised to see, when I got up to go, that she
would rather have had me stay.
She cared little for people in general, and had few likings. It was
love with her if anything; but those whom she loved once she loved
always, never changing in her affection for them, however badly they
might treat her. And she had the power of liking people for themselves,
regardless of their feeling for her; indeed, her indifference on this
score was curious. I once heard a lady say to her: “You are one of the
few young married ladies whom I dare chaperon in these degenerate days.
No degree of admiration or worship ever seems to touch you. Is it real
or pretended, your unconsciousness?”
“Unconsciousness of what?”
“Of the feeling you excite.”
“The feeling I excite?” Ideala seemed to think a moment; then
she answered gravely: “I do not think I am conscious of anything that
relates to myself, personally, in my intercourse with people. They are
ideas to me for the most part—men especially so.”
That way she had of forgetting people's presence was one of her
peculiarities. If she liked you she was content just to have you there,
but she never showed it except by a regretful glance when you went
away. She was very absent, too. One day I found her with a big, awkward
volume on her knee, heated, excited, and evidently put out.
“Is anything the matter?” I wanted to know.
“O yes,” she answered desperately; “I've lost my pen, and I'm
writing for the mail.”
“Why, where are you looking for it?” I asked.
She glanced at me, and then at the book.
“I—I believe,” she faltered, “I was looking for it among the p's in
the French dictionary.”
On another occasion I watched her revising a manuscript. As she
wrote her emendations she gummed them on over the old copy, and she was
so absorbed that at last she put the gum-brush into the ink-bottle.
Discovering her mistake, she gave a little disconcerted sort of laugh,
and took the brush away to wash it. She returned presently, examining
it critically to see if it were perfectly cleansed, and having
satisfied herself, she carefully put it back in the ink-bottle.
But perhaps the funniest instance of this peculiarity of hers was
one that happened in the Grosvenor Gallery on a certain occasion. She
had been busy with her catalogue, doing the pictures conscientiously,
and not talking at all, when suddenly she burst out laughing.
“Do you know what I have been doing?” she said. “I wanted to know
who that man is”—indicating a gentleman of peculiar appearance in the
crowd—“and I have been looking all over him for his number, that I
might hunt up his name in the catalogue!”
Her way of seeing analogies as plausible as the obvious relation of
p to pen, and of acting on wholly wrong conclusions deduced from most
unexceptionable premises, was another characteristic. She always blamed
her early education, or rather want of education, for it. “If I had
been taught to think,” she said, “when my memory was being burdened
with historical anecdotes torn from the text, and other useless scraps
of knowledge, I should be able to see both sides of a subject, and
judge rationally, now. As it is, I never see more than one side at a
time, and when I have mastered that, I feel like the old judge in some
Greek play, who, when he had heard one party to a suit, begged that the
other would not speak as it would only poggle what was then clear to
But in this Ideala was not quite fair to herself.
It was not always—although, unfortunately, it was oftenest at
critical moments—that she was beset with this inability to see more
than one side of a subject at a time. The odd thing about it was that
one never knew which side, the pathetic or the humorous, would strike
her. Generally, however, it was the one that related least to herself
personally. This self-forgetfulness, with a keen sense of the
ludicrous, led her sometimes, when she had anything amusing to relate,
to overlook considerations which would have kept other people silent.
“I saw a pair of horses running away with a heavy wagon the other
day,” she told us once. “It was in Cross Street, and there was a child
in the way—there always is a child in the way!—and, as there was no
one else to do it, I ran into the road to remove that child. I had to
pull it aside quickly, and there was no time to say 'Allow me'—in
fact, there was no time for anything—and in my hurry I lost my balance
and fell in the mud, and the wagon came tearing over me. It was an
unpleasant sensation, but I wasn't hurt, you know; neither the wheels
nor the horses touched me. I got very dirty, though, and I have no
doubt I looked as ridiculous as I felt, and for that I expected to be
tenderly dealt with; but when I went to ask after the child, a few days
later, a neighbour told me that its mother was out, and it was a good
thing too, as she had been heard to declare she would 'go for that lady
the next time she saw her, for flingin' of her bairn about!'“
When she had told the story, Ideala was horrified to find that the
fact, which she had overlooked, of her having risked her life to save
the child struck us all much more forcibly than the ingratitude that
Although her sense of humour was keen, it was not always, as I said
before, the humorous side of a subject that struck her. I found her one
day looking utterly miserable.
“What has happened?” I asked. “You look sad.”
“And I feel sad,” she answered. “I was just thinking what a pity it
is those gay, pleasure-loving, flower-clad people of Hawaii are dying
She was quite in earnest, and could not be made to see that there
was anything droll in her mourning poignantly for a people so remote.
Another instance of her absent-mindedness recurs to me. The incident
was related at our house one evening, in Ideala's presence, by Mr.
Lloyd, a mutual friend. A clever drawing by another friend, of Ideala
trying to force a cabman to take ten shillings for a half-crown fare—
one of the great fears of her life being the chance of not giving
people of that kind as much as they expected—had caused Ideala to
protest that she did understand money matters.
“O yes, we all know that your capacity for business is quite
extraordinary,” Mr. Lloyd said, with a smile that meant something. And
then, addressing us all, he asked: “Did I ever tell you about her
coming to borrow five shillings from me one day? Shall I tell, Ideala?”
“You may, if you like,” Ideala answered, getting very red. “But the
story is not interesting.”
We all began to be anxious to hear it.
“Judge for yourselves,” Mr. Lloyd said. “One day the head clerk came
into my private room at the Bank, looking perplexed and discomfited.
'Please, sir' he said, 'a lady wishes to see you.' 'A lady,' I
answered. 'Ladies have no business here. What does she want?' 'She
would not say, sir, and she would not send in her name. She said it did
not matter.' I began to wonder what I had been doing. 'What is she
like?' I asked. He looked all round as if in search of a simile, and
then he answered: 'Well, sir, she's more like a picture than anything.'
'Show her in,' I said.”
Here the story was interrupted by a shout of laughter. He laughed a
“I should have been polite in any case,” he declared,
apologetically. “The clerk ushered in a lady whose extreme
embarrassment made me sorry for her. She changed colour half-a-dozen
times in as many seconds, and then she hurled her errand at my head in
these words, without any previous preparation to break the blow: 'Mr.
Lloyd, can you lend me five shillings?' and before I had recovered she
continued—'I came in by train this morning, and I've lost my purse,
and can't get back if you won't help me—at least I think I've lost my
purse. I took it out to give sixpence to a beggar—and—and here is the
sixpence!' and she held it out to me. She had given her purse to the
beggar and carried the sixpence off in triumph. You may well say 'Oh,
“And Mr. Lloyd was so very good as to take me to the station, and
see me into the train,” Ideala murmured; “and he gave me his bank-book
to amuse me on the journey, and carried Huxley's Elementary
Physiology, which I had come in to buy, off in triumph!”
But with all her self-forgetfulness there were moments in which she
showed that she must have thought deeply about herself, weighing her
own individuality against others, to see what place she occupied in her
own age, and how she stood with regard to the ages that had gone
before; yet even this she seemed to have done in a selfless way, having
apparently examined herself coolly, critically, fairly, as she might
have examined any other specimen of humanity in which she felt an
interest, unbiassed by any special regard.
“People always want to know if I write, or paint, or play, or what I
do,” she once said to me. “They all expect me to do something. My
function is not to do, but to be. I make no poetry. I am a poem—if you
read me aright.”
And again, in a moment of despondency, she said, “I am one of the
weary women of the nineteenth century. No other age could have produced
When she said she did nothing she must have meant she was not great
in anything, for her time was all occupied, and those things in which
she was interested were never so well done without her help. If any
crying abuse were brought to light in the old Cathedral city; if any
large measure of reform were set on foot; if the local papers suddenly
became eloquent in favour of some good movement, and adroit in their
powers of persuasion; if burdens had to be lifted from the oppressed,
and the weak defended against great odds, you might be sure that Ideala
was busy, and her work could be detected in it all. And she was
especially active when efforts were being made to find amusement for
the people. “That is what they want, poor things,” she would say.
“Their lives are such a dreary round of dull monotonous toil, and they
have so little sun to cheer them. They ought to be taught to laugh, and
have the brightness put into themselves, and then it would seem as if
they had been relieved of half the atmospheric pressure beneath which
they groan. Think what your own life would be if day day after day
brought you nothing but toil; if you had nothing to look back upon,
nothing to look forward to, but the labour that makes a machine of you,
deadening the power to care, and holding mind and body in the galling
bondage and weariness of everlasting routine.”
She thought laughter an unfailing specific for most of the ills of
life. “We can none of us be thankful enough for the sensation,” she
said. “Nothing relieves the mental oppression, which does such moral
and physical harm, like mirth; of course, I mean legitimate laughter,
not levity, nor the ill-natured rejoicing of small minds in such
subjects for sorrow as their neighbours' faults, follies, and mistakes.
What I am thinking of is the pleasure without excitement which there is
in sympathetic intercourse with those large, loving natures that
elevate, and the laughter without bitterness which is always a part of
Like most people whose goodness is neither affected nor acquired,
but natural to them, Ideala saw no merit in her own works, and would
not take the credit she deserved for them; nor would she have had her
good deeds known at all if she could have helped it. But knowledge of
these things leaks out somehow, although probably not a third of what
she did will ever be even suspected.
Speaking to me of women one day, she said: “Certainly they are
vainqueurs des vainqueurs de la terre in any sense they choose; but
the pity of it is that they do not choose to exercise their power for
good to any great extent. I agree with Madame Bernier—if it were
Madame Bernier—who said: 'L'ignorance où les femmes sont de leurs
devoirs, l'abus qu'elles font de leur puissance, leur font perdre le
plus beau et le plus précieux de leurs avantages, celui d'être utiles.'
But hundreds of other quotations will occur to you, written by
thoughtful men and women in all ages, and all to the same effect; it is
impossible to over-estimate their restraining and refining influence as
the companions and mothers of men—and almost equally impossible to
make them realise their responsibility or care to use their strength. I
would have every woman feel herself a power for good in the land—and
if only half of them did, what a world of difference it would make to
everybody's health and happiness! But women should, as a rule, be
silent powers. There are, of course, occasions when they must
speak—and all honour to those who do so when the need arises—but our
influence is most felt when it is quietly persistent and unobtrusive.
There is no social reform that we might not accomplish if we agreed
among ourselves to do it, and then worked, each of us using her
influence to that end in her own family, and among her own friends,
only. I once induced some ladies to try a little experiment to prove
this. At that time the gentlemen of our respective families were all
wearing a certain kind of necktie. We agreed to banish the necktie, and
in a month it had disappeared, and not one of those gentlemen was ever
able to tell us why he had given it up. We don't deserve much credit
for our ingenuity, though,” she added, lightly. “Men are so easily
managed. All you have to do is to feed them and flatter them.”
“I think that hardly fair,” I commented.
“What? The feeding and flattering?”
“No, the conspiracy.”
“Well, that occurred to me too—afterwards, when it was too late to
do anything but repent. At the time, I own, I thought of nothing but
the success of the experiment as an example and proof of our
“You considered one side of the subject only, as per usual, when you
are eager and interested,” I softly insinuated.
She frowned at me thoughtfully; then, after a pause, she resumed:
“Ah, yes! You may be sure there is a great deal of good motive power in
women, but most of it is lost for want of knowledge and means to apply
it. It works like the sails of a windmill not attached to the
machinery, which whirl round and round with incredible velocity and
every evidence of strength, but serve no better purpose than to show
which way the wind blows.”
This question of the position of women in our own day occupied her a
“The women of my time,” she said to me once, “are in an unsettled
state, it may be a state of transition. Much that made life worth
having has lost its charm for them. The old interests pall upon them.
Occupations that used to be the great business of their lives are now
thought trivial, and are left to children and to servants. Principles
accepted since the beginning of time have been called in question.
Weariness and distrust have taken the place of peace and content, and
doubt and dissatisfaction are the order of the day. Women want
something; they are determined to have it, too; and doubtless they
would get it if only they knew what it is that they want. They are
struggling to arrive at something, but opinions differ widely as to
what that something ought to be; and the result is that they have
divided themselves into three classes, not exactly distinct: they
dovetail into each other so nicely that it is hard to say where the
influence of the one set ends and the other begins. There are, first of
all, the women who in their struggles for political power have done so
much to unsex us. They have tried to force themselves into unnatural
positions, and the consequence has been about as pleasing and edifying
as an attempt to make a goose sing. They clamour for change, mistaking
change for progress. But don't let the puzzling dovetail confuse you.
The people I speak of are not those who have so nobly devoted
themselves to the removal of the wrongs of women, though they work
together. But the object of all this class is good. They wish to raise
us, and what they want, for the most part, is a little more common
sense—as is shown in their system of education, for instance, which
cultivates the intellectual at the expense of the physical powers,
girls being crammed as boys (to their great let and hindrance also) are
crammed, just when nature wants all their strength to assist their
growth; the result of which becomes periodically apparent when a number
of amiable young ladies are let loose on society without hair or teeth.
But the thing they clamour for most is equality. There is a great deal
to be said in favour of placing the sexes on an equal footing, and if
social conventions are stronger and more admirable than natural
instincts—and doubtless they are—the thing should be done; but the
innate perversity of women make it difficult—for, I know this, that
whatever the position of a true woman, and however much she may clamour
for equality with men in general, the man she herself loves in
particular will always be her master.
“But such ridicule as this party has brought upon itself would not
have mattered so much had nothing worse come of it. Unfortunately,
there seems to be no neutral ground for us women: we either do good or
harm; and I hold that first class responsible for the existence of
those people who clamour for change of any kind, regardless of the
consequences. Their ideas, shorn of all good intention, have resulted
in the production of a new creature; and have made it possible for
women who have the faults of both sexes and the virtues of neither to
mix in society. The bad work done by the influence of this second class
is only too apparent. It is to them we owe the fact that there is less
refinement, less courtesy, less of the really good breeding which shows
itself in kindness and consideration for others, and, Heaven help us!
even less modesty among us now than there was some years ago.”
“These are the women, too, who spend their time and talents on the
production of cleverly written books of the most corrupt tendency.
Their works are a special feature of the age, and are doubly dangerous
because they have the art of making the worst ideas attractive, by
presenting them in forms too refined and beautiful to shock even the
“Besides these two classes there is the third, which is more
difficult to define. It is the one on which our hope rests. The women
who belong to it are dissatisfied like the others, but they are less
decided, and therefore their dissatisfaction takes no positive shape.
They also want something, and go this way and that as if in search of
it, but they are not really trying for anything in particular. They do
good and evil indiscriminately, and for the same motive: they find
distraction in doing something—anything. But the desire to do good is
latent in all of them; show them the way, and it will make itself
“But what is the reason of all this dissatisfaction?” I asked. “Why
don't you go to your husbands and brothers to be set right, as of old?”
“Ah! when you ask me that, you get to the first cause of the
trouble,” she answered. “The truth is that we have lost faith in our
men. They claim some superiority for themselves, but we find none. The
age requires people to practise what they preach, and yet expects us to
be guided by the counsels of those whose own lives, we know, have
rendered them contemptible. They are not fit to guide us, and we are
not fit to go alone. I suppose we shall come to an understanding
eventually— either they must be raised or we must be lowered. It is
for the death of manliness we women mourn. We marry, and find we have
taken upon ourselves misery, and lifelong widowhood of the mind and
moral nature. Do you wonder that some of us ask: Why should we keep
ourselves pure if impurity is to be our bedfellow? You make us breathe
corruption, and wonder that we lose our health.”
“But why do you talk of the death of manliness? Men have as much
courage now as they ever had.”
“Oh, of course—mere animal courage; there is plenty of that, but
that is nothing. A cat will fight for her kittens. It is moral courage
that makes a man, and where do you find it now? Are men self-denying?
Are they scrupulous to a shadow of the truth? Are they disinterested?
How many gentlemen have you met in the course of your life? I
know about half a dozen.”
“What do you call a gentleman, then?” I asked in surprise. “What
makes a man one?”
“Why, truth and affection, of course,” she answered; “the one is the
most ennobling, and the other the most refining quality. As a child I
used to think ladies and gentlemen never told stories; it was only the
common people who were dis-honourable, and that was what made them
common. Hélas! one lives and learns!”
“I don't think the world is worse than it ever was,” I said, drily.
“Not worse, when we know so much better!” she answered with scorn.
“Not worse when we have learnt to see so clearly, and most of us
It is our will
Which thus enchains us to permitted ill!
It is nearly two thousand years since Christianity began its work,
and it is still unaccomplished. Do you know, I sometimes think that all
this talk of virtue, and teaching of religion, is a kind of practical
joke, gravely kept up to find a church parade of respectability for
States, a profession for hundreds, and a means of influencing men by
making a tender point in their nervous system to be touched, as with a
rod, when necessary—a rod that is held over them always in terrorem! We all talk about morality; but try some measure of reform, and you
will find that every man sees the necessity of it for his neighbour
only. Goodness is happiness, and sin is disease. The truism is as old
as the hills, and as evident; but if men were in earnest, do you
suppose they would go on for ever choosing sin and its ghastly
companion as they do? Do you know, there are moments when I think that
even their reverence for the purity of women is a sham. For why do they
keep us pure? Is it not to make each morsel more delicious for
themselves, that sense and sentiment may be satisfied together, and
their own pleasure made more complete? Individuals may be in earnest,
but the great bulk of mankind is a hypocrite. When the history of this
age is written, moral cowardice and self-indulgence will be found to
have been the most striking characteristics of the people. There is no
truth to be found in the inward parts.”
But Ideala did not often adopt this tone, and she would herself
check other people who were preparing to assume it. She had a favourite
quotation, adroitly mangled, to suit such occasions. “When we begin to
inculcate morality as a science, we must discard moralising as a
method,” she declared; and she would also beg us to stop the hysteria.
“It is the mortal malady of all well-beloved measures,” she said; “and
it spreads to an epidemic if the infected ones are not suppressed at
once to prevent contagion.”
But, although she spoke so positively when taken out of herself by
the interest and importance of a subject, she had no very high opinion
of her own judgment and power to decide. A little more self-esteem
would have been good for her; she was too diffident, “I have not come
across people on whose knowledge I could rely,” she told me. “I have
been obliged to study alone, and to form my opinions for myself out of
such scraps of information as I have had the capacity to acquire from
reading and observation. I am, therefore, always prepared to find
myself mistaken, even when I am surest about a thing—for
What am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry!
In practice, too, she frequently, albeit unconsciously, diverged
from her theories to some considerable extent; as on one occasion,
when, after talking long and earnestly of the sin of selfishness, she
absently picked up a paper I had just cut with intent to enjoy myself,
took it away with her to the drawing-room, and sat on it for the rest
of the morning—as I afterwards heard.
Ideala held that dignity and calm are essential in a woman, but,
like the rest of the world, she found it hard to attain to her own
standard of excellence. Her bursts of enthusiasm were followed by fits
of depression, and these again by periods of indifference, when it was
hard to rouse her to interest in anything. She always said, and was
probably right, that want of proper discipline in childhood was the
reason of this variableness, which she deplored, but could neither
combat nor conceal. Temperament must also have had something to do with
it. Her nervous system was too highly strung, she was too sensitive,
too emotional, too intense. She reflected phases of feeling with which
she was brought into contact as a lake reflects the sky above it, and
the bird that skims across it, and the boats that rest upon its breast;
yet, like the lake's, her own nature remained unchanged; it might be
darkened by shadows, and lashed by tempests till it raged, but the pure
element showed divinely even in its wrath, and the passion of it was
expended always to some good end.
But even her love of the beautiful was carried to excess. It was a
passion with her which would, in a sturdier age, have been considered a
vice. She delighted in the scent of flowers, the song of the thrushes
in the spring; colour, and beautiful forms. Doubtless the emotion they
caused her was pure enough, and it was natural that, highly bred,
cultivated, and refined as she was, she should feel these delicate,
sensuous pleasures in a greater degree than lower natures do. There was
danger, however, in the over-education of the senses, which made their
ready response inevitable, but neither limited the subjects, nor
regulated the degree, to which they should respond. But it would be
hard in any case to say where cultivation of love for the beautiful
should end, and to determine the exact point at which the result ceases
to be intellectual and begins to be sensual.
I have sat and watched Ideala lolling at an open window in the
summer. The house stood on a hill, a river wound through the valley
below, and beyond the river—the land sloped up again, green and dotted
with trees, to a range of low hills, crested with a fringe of wood.
“Do you know what there is beyond those hills?” Ideala asked me
once, abruptly. “I don't know; but I love to believe that the
sea is there, and that the sun is sinking into it now. Sometimes I
fancy I can hear it murmur.”
And then followed a long silence. And the scent of mignonette and
roses blew in upon her, and the twilight deepened, and I saw her grow
pale with pleasure when the nightingale began to sing—and then I stole
away and never was missed. She would lie in a long chair for hours like
that, scarcely moving, and never speaking. At first I used to wonder
what she thought about; but afterwards I knew that at such times she
did not think, she only felt.
I have some pictures of her as she was then, dressed in a gown of
some quaint blue and white Japanese material, with her white throat
bare—I was just going to catalogue her charms, but it seems indelicate
to describe a woman, point by point, like a horse that is for sale. I
have some other pictures of her, too, as she appeared to me one hot
summer when I was painting a picture by the river, and she used to come
down the towing-path to watch me work, and sit beside me on the grass
for hours together, talking, reading aloud, reciting, or silent,
according to her mood, but always interesting. It was then I learnt to
know her best. And I am always glad to think of her as I used to see
her then, coming towards me in one particular grey frock she wore,
tight-fitting and perfect, yet with no detail evident. It was like an
expression of herself, that dress, so quiet to all seeming, and yet so
rich in material, and so complex in design. The wonder and the beauty
of it grew upon you, and never failed of its effect.
When I first knew Ideala her religious opinions were all unsettled.
“I neither believe nor disbelieve,” she told me; “I am in a state of
don't know; or perhaps it would be more exact to say that I both doubt
and believe at one and the same time. I go indifferently to either
church, Protestant or Catholic, and am thankful when any note of music,
or thrill of feeling in the voice, or noble sentiment, elevates me so
that I can pray. But I am told that both Catholics and Protestants
consider me a weak waverer, and call me incorrigible. Sometimes I
cannot pray for months together, and when I do it is generally to ask
for something I want, not to praise or give thanks. But what a blank it
is when one cannot pray; when one has lost the power to conceive that
there is a something greater than man, to whom man is nevertheless all
in all, and to whom we may look for comfort in all times of our
tribulation, and for sympathy in all times of our wealth! To be able to
give thanks to God when one is happy is the most rapturous, and to be
able to call upon Him in the day of trouble is the most blessed, state
of mind I know. Yet I believe we should only pray for the possible. The
leafless tree may pray for the time of buds and blossoms; will the time
come the sooner? Perhaps not, but it will come.”
“I must confess,” she said on another occasion, “that I do have
moments of pure scepticism; but when I cannot believe in the existence
of a God, and a Beyond, I feel as if the sky were nearer, and weighed
upon me, so that I could not lift my head.”
She thought religion consisted much more in doing right than in
believing right, and set morality above faith; but I think she had a
leaning towards the Roman Catholic religion nevertheless.
“It is a grand old faith,” she said, “only it has certain
ramifications with which I should always quarrel, notably that of the
Sacred Heart with which Catholics deface their lovely Lady in the
churches. I always feel that such bad art cannot be good religion. When
the Roman Catholic religion commanded respect it expressed itself
better—as in the days when it carved itself in harmonies of solid
stone, and wrote itself in tint and tone on glowing canvases, and
learnt to speak in thundering mass and mighty hymns of praise! There
are people who think these new shoots good as a sign of life in the
tree, and this consideration might perhaps make their appearance
welcome; but a great deal of strength is expended on their production,
and it would be just as well to lop them off again. The old tree wants
pruning and cutting back occasionally, and it is a false sentiment that
is letting it fall to decay for the sake of these struggling branches.
“There is another thing, too, for which we should all quarrel with
the Catholic religion. I think the fact his already been noticed by
some writer; at all events, it is evident enough to have occurred to
any one. I mean the fact that the Church, by its narrow views about
education, and its most unspiritual ambition for itself, has retarded
the world's progress for centuries by interfering with the law of
natural selection. As a matter of course for ages all the best men went
into the Church; it was the only career open to them; and so they left
At our house, on another occasion, when the Roman Catholic religion
happened to be under discussion, she launched forth some observations
in her usual emphatic way. There were only two strangers present, a
lady and her husband. Ideala asked the lady, who was sitting next to
her, if she were a Catholic, to which the lady answered “No;” and
Ideala, satisfied, proceeded to remark: “It may be the true religion,
but it certainly is not the religion of truth. The doctrine of
expediency, or the latitude they allow themselves on the score of
expediency—I don't quite know how they put it—but it has much to
answer for. I never find that my Roman Catholic friends are true, as my
Protestant friends are. There is always a something kept back, a
reservation; a want of straightforwardness, even when there is no
positive deception—I can't describe the thing I mean, but it is quite
perceptible, and causes an uneasy feeling of distrust, which is all the
more tormenting from its vagueness and want of definition. The
low-class Roman Catholics, I find, never hesitate if a lie will serve
their purpose; and Roman Catholic servants are notoriously
untrustworthy. That, of course, proves nothing, for one knows that
low-class people of any religion are not to be depended on—still,
there is no doubt that one finds deception more rife among Catholics
than among Protestants, and one wonders why, if the religion is not to
My sister, Claudia, had tried to catch Ideala's eye, and stop her,
but in vain; and the lady next her broke out the moment she paused:
“Indeed, you are quite wrong. You cannot have known many Catholics.
They are not untrue.”
“O yes, I have known numbers,” Ideala answered; “I speak from
experience. Yet it always seems to me that the Roman Catholic religion
is good for individuals. There is pleasure in it, and help and comfort
for them. But then it is death to the progress of nations, and the
question is: Would an individual be justified in adding a unit more for
his own benefit to a system which would ruin his country? I think not.”
Here, however, she stopped, seeing at last that something was wrong.
“What dreadful mistake did I make this evening?” she asked me
afterwards. “Mrs. Jervois declared she wasn't a Catholic.”
“But her husband is,” I answered; “and he heard every word.”
Not long afterwards Mrs. Jervois wrote and told us she had entered
the Catholic Church. “I had, in fact, been received before I went to
you,” she confessed.
“There!” Ideala exclaimed. “It is just what I said. A want of common
honesty is a part of the religion; and you see she had begun to
practise it while she was here.”
“What an eternal lie it is they preach when they tell us life is not
worth having,” she said to me once, speaking of preachers generally. “I
have heard an oleosaccharine priest preach for an hour on this subject,
detailing the worthlessness of all earthly pleasures, with which he
seemed to be intimately acquainted—his appearance making one suspect
that he had not even yet exhausted them all himself—and giving a
florid account of the glories of the life to come, about which he
appeared to know as much but to care less; just as if heaven might not
begin on earth if only men would let it.”
One day I had to warn her about acting so often on impulse. She
heard what I had to say very good-naturedly, and, after thinking about
it for a while, she said: “What a pity it is one never sees an impulse
coming. It is impossible to know whether they arise from below, or
descend from above. I always find if I act on one that it has arisen;
and as surely if I leave it alone it proves to have been a good
opportunity lost. And how curiously our thoughts go on, often so
irrespective of ourselves. I was in a Roman Catholic church the other
day, and the priest—a friend of mine, who looks like the last of the
Mohicans minus the feathers in his hair; but a good man, with nice,
soft, velvety brown eyes—preached most impressively. He told us that
the Lord was there—there on that very altar, ready to answer our
prayers; and, oh dear! when I came to think of it, there were so many
of my prayers waiting to be answered! I 'felt like' presenting them all
over again, it seemed such a good opportunity. And then they sang the
O salutaris Hostia divinely— so divinely that I thought if the
Lord really had been there He would certainly have made them sing it
again—and I could not pray any more after that. You call this rank
irreverence, do you not? I do. And I wish I had not thought it.
Yet it was one of those involuntary tricks of the mind for which I
cannot believe that we are to be held responsible. Theologians would
say it was a temptation of the devil, but they are wrong. The first
cause of these mental lapses is to be found in some habit of levity,
acquired young, and not easily got rid of, but still not hopeless. But
prevention is better than cure, and children should be taught
right-mindedness early. I wish I had been. Happy is the child who is
started in life with a set of fixed principles, and the power to
I used to wish that there might be a universal religion, but Ideala
did not share my feeling on this subject. “I suppose it is a fine
idea,” she said; “but while minds run in so many different grooves, it
seems to me far finer for one system of morality to have found
expressions enough to satisfy nearly everybody.”
She had very decided views about what heaven ought to be.
“The mere material notion of abundance of gold and precious stones,
which appealed to the early churchmen, has no charm for us,” she
declared. “We must have new powers of perception, and new pleasures
provided for us, such, for instance, as Mr. Andrew Lang suggests in an
exquisite little poem about the Homeric Phæacia—the land whose
inhabitants were friends of the gods, a sort of heaven upon earth.” And
then she quoted:
The languid sunset, mother of roses,
Lingers, a light on the magic seas;
The wide fire flames as a flower uncloses;
Heavy with odour and loose to the breeze.
* * * * *
The strange flowers' perfume turns to singing,
Heard afar over moonlit seas;
The siren's song, grown faint with winging,
Falls in scent on the cedar trees.
“Those lines were the first to make me grasp the possibility of
having new faculties added to our old ones in another state of
existence,” she said, “faculties which should give us a deeper insight
into the nature of things, and enable us to discover new pleasures in
the unity which may be expected to underlie beauty and excellence in
all their manifestations, as Mr. Norman Pearson puts it. Did you ever
read that paper of his, 'After Death,' in the Nineteenth Century
? It embodies what I had long felt, but could never grasp before I found
his admirable expression of it. 'I can see no reason,' he says, in one
passage in particular which I remember word for word, I think, it gives
me such pleasure to recall it—'I can see no reason for supposing that
some such insight would be impossible to the quickened faculties of
a higher development. With a nature material so far as the existence of
those faculties might require, but spiritual to the highest degree in
their exercise and enjoyment: under physical conditions which might
render us practically independent of space, and actually
free from the host of physical evils to which we are now exposed, we
might well attain a consummation of happiness, generally akin to
that for which we now strive, but idealised into something like
perfection. The faculties which would enable us to obtain a deeper and
truer view of all the manifestations of cosmic energy would at the same
time reveal to us new forms of beauty, new possibilities of pleasure on
every side: and—to take a single instance—the emotions to which the
sight of Niagara now appeals might then be gratified by a contemplation
of the fierce grandeur of some sun's chromosphere or the calmer glories
of its corona.' That satisfies, does it not?” she added, with a sigh.
“It suggests such infinite possibilities.”
* * * * *
One day, when she was making herself miserable for want of a
religion, I tried to comfort her by talking of the different people
whose lives had been good and pure and noble, although they had had no
“I suppose my principles are right,” she said; “but if they are,
they have come right by accident. The children of the people are sent
to Sunday-schools, and taught the difference between right and wrong;
we seem to be expected to know it instinctively. I think if I had
learnt I might have profited, because I cling so fondly to the one
principle I ever heard clearly enunciated. It was on the sin of
shooting foxes; and I cannot tell you the horror I have of the crime,
even down to the present day. But, now I think of it, I did receive two
other scraps of religious training. My governess taught me the Ten
Commandments by making me say them after her when I was eating bread
and sugar for breakfast before going to church on Sunday. The thought
of them always brings back the flavour of bread and sugar. And the
other scrap I got from a clergyman to whom I was sent on a single
occasion when I was thought old enough to be confirmed. He asked me
which was the commandment with promise, and I didn't know, so he told
me; and then I made him laugh about a horse of mine that used to have
great fun trying to break my neck, and after that he said I should do.
I did not agree with him, however, and I positively refused to be
confirmed until I knew more about it. My mother said I was the most
disagreeable child she had ever known, which was probably true, but as
an argument it failed to convince. It was her last remark on the
subject, happily, and after that the thing was allowed to drop.”
Ideala was fourteen when she refused to be confirmed for
conscientious scruples, and although she made light of it in this way,
she had suffered a good deal and been severely punished at the time for
her refusal, but vainly, for she never gave in.
In after-life she held, of course, that Christianity was the highest
moral revelation the world had ever known; but when she saw that legal
right was not always moral right, I think she began to look for a
By baptism she belonged to the Church of England, but she seems to
have thought of the Sacrament always with the idea of
transubstantiation in her mind. She spoke of it reverently, but had
never been able to take it, and for a curious reason: she said the idea
of it nauseated her. She felt that the elements were unnatural food,
and therefore she could not touch them—and this feeling never left her
but once, when she was dangerously ill, and yearned, as she told me,
for the Sacrament more than for life and health. Day and night the
longing never left her; but, not having been confirmed, she did not
like to ask for it, and as she recovered the old feeling gradually
Religious difficulties always tormented her more or less. As she
grew older she felt with Shelley that belief is involuntary, and a man
is neither to be praised nor blamed for it; and she was always ready to
acknowledge with Sir Philip Sidney that “Reason cannot show itself more
reasonable than to leave reasoning on things above reason,” but
nevertheless her mind did not rest.
I have also heard her quote, “Credulity is the man's weakness, but
the child's strength,” and add that in matters of faith and religion we
are all children, and I have thought at times that she had been able to
leave it so; but something always fell from her sooner or later which
showed that the old trouble was rankling still—as when she told me
once: “I have never heard the Divine voice which has called you and all
my friends. I listen for it, but it does not speak. I call, but there
is no reply. I wait, but it does not come. The heaven of heavens is
dark to me, and the yearning of my soul meets no response. Will it be
so for ever?”
No, not for ever—but she was led by tortuous ways, and left to work
out her own salvation in very fear and trembling, till the dear human
love was given to her in pity to help her to know something of that
which is Divine. And then, I hope, above the trouble of her senses, and
the turmoil of the world, the Divine voice did call her, and she was
able at last to hear.
Ideala often recurred to the subject of work for women.
“There are so many thousands of us,” she said, “who have no object
in life, and nothing to make us take it seriously. My own is a case in
point. I am not necessary, even to my husband. There is nothing I am
bound to do for him, or that he requires of me, nothing but to be
agreeable when he is with me, which would not interfere with a serious
occupation if I had one, and is scarcely interest enough in life for an
energetic woman. My household duties take, on an average, half an hour
a day; and everything in our house is done regularly, and well done. My
social duties may be got through at odd moments, and the more of a
pastime I make them the better I fulfil them; and, with the exception
of these, there is nothing in my life that I cannot have done for me by
some one better able to do it than I am. And even if I had children I
should not be much more occupied, for the things they ought to learn
from their mothers are best taught by example. For all practical
purposes, parents, as a rule, are bad masters for any but very young
children. They err on the side of over severity or the reverse. So you
see I have no obligations of consequence, and there is, therefore,
nothing in my life to inspire a sense of responsibility. And all this
seems to me a grievous waste of Me. I remember Lord Wensum telling me,
when we discussed this subject, that he was travelling once with a
well-known editor, and, noticing the number of villas that had sprung
up of late years along the whole line of rail they were on, he said: 'I
wonder what the ladies in those villas do with their time? I suppose
their social duties are limited, and they are too well off to be
obliged to trouble themselves about anything.' 'It is the existence of
those villas,' the editor answered, 'that makes the present profession
of the novelist possible.' But I think,” said Ideala, “that those women
might find something better to do than to make a profession for
“But you do a good deal yourself, Ideala,” I ventured.
“Yes, in a purposeless way. All my acts are isolated; it would make
little difference if they had never been done.”
“Then you are not content, after all, to be merely a poem?” I said,
maliciously. “You would like to do as well as to be?”
She laughed. Then, after a little, she said earnestly: “Do you know,
I always feel as if I could do something—teach something—or
help others in a small way with some work of importance. I never
believe I was born just to live and die. But I have a queer feeling
about it. I am sure I shall be made to go down into some great depth of
sin and misery myself, in order to learn what it is I have to teach.”
She loved music, and painting, and poetry, and science, and none of
her loves were barren. She embraced them each in turn with an ardour
that resulted in the production of an offspring—a song, a picture, a
poem, or book on some most serious subject, and all worthy of note. But
she was inconstant, and these children of her thought or fancy were
generally isolated efforts that marked the culminating point of her
devotion, and lessened her interest if they did not exhaust her
Perhaps, though, I wrong her when I call her inconstant. It seems to
me now that each new interest was a step by which she mounted upwards,
learning to sympathise practically and perfectly with all men in their
work as she passed them on her way to find her own.
She knew the poor of the place well, and took a lively interest in
all that concerned them; and occasionally she would confide some of her
own odd observations and reflections to me.
“On Sunday morning all the women wash their doorsteps,” she told me;
“I think it is part of their religion.”
And on another occasion she said: “They have such lovely children
here, and such swarms of them. I am always hard on the women with
lovely children. People say it is envy, hatred, malice, and all
uncharitableness, that makes me so; but it really is because I think
women who have nice children should be better than other women. It
would be worse for one of them to do a wrong thing than for poor
This conclusion may be quarrelled with as illogical, but the feeling
that led to it was beautiful beyond question; and, indeed, all her
ideas on that subject were beautiful.
She went once, soon after she came among us, to comfort a lady in
the neighbourhood who had lost a baby at its birth.
“It is sad that you should lose your child,” Ideala said to her;
“but you are better off than I am, for I never knew what it was to be a
She would have thought it a privilege to have experienced even the
sorrows of maternity.
Talking about the people, she told me: “They draw such nice
distinctions. They speak of 'a lady' and 'a real lady.' A 'real lady'
is a person who gives no trouble. If Mrs. Vanbrugh wants anything from
the butcher, and he has already sent to her house once that day, she
does not expect him to send again; she sends to him—and she is 'a real
lady.' Mrs. Stanton is also thoughtful, but she is something more; she
is sociable and kind, and talks to them all in a friendly way, just as
if they were human beings; and she is something more than 'a real
lady'—she's 'a real nice lady.'
“Do you know Mrs. Polter at the fish-shop? What a fine-looking woman
she is! Middle-aged, intelligent, and a very good specimen of her
class, I should think. She has eight children already, and would
consider the ninth a further blessing. Her husband is a good-looking
man, too, and most devoted. In fact, they are quite an ideal pair with
their eight children and their fish-shop. He had to go to Yarmouth the
other day to buy bloaters, and while he was away she went by the five
o'clock train every morning to choose the day's supply of fish for the
shop, and he was quite unhappy about it. He was afraid she would
'overdo' herself, and rather than that should happen he desired her to
let the business go to the—ahem! He made her write every day to say
how she was, and was wretched till he returned to relieve her of her
arduous duties. She made friends with me during the scarlet fever
epidemic. Number eight was a baby then, and she was afraid he might
catch the disease and be taken to the hospital and die for want of her;
and I sympathised strongly with her denunciations of the cruelty of the
act. Fancy taking little babies from their mothers! Barbarous, don't
you think it? One day a lady came into the shop while I was there. She
was dressed in a bright pink costume, with a large hat all smothered in
pink feathers. I thought of the Queen of Sheba, and felt alarmed. Mrs.
Polter told me afterwards she was 'just a lady,' rolling in recently
acquired wealth, and 'as hard to please as if she had never washed her
own doorstep.' It was then I learnt the difference between 'a lady' and
'a real lady.'“
One of Ideala's exploits got into the paper somehow, and she was
annoyed about it, and anxious to make us believe the account of the
risk she ran had been greatly exaggerated. I was present when she gave
her own version of the story, which was characteristic in every way.
“I heard frantic cries from the river,” she said. “Some one was
shrieking, 'The child will be drowned!' and I ran to see what was the
matter. A man was tearing up and down on the bank, a child was
struggling in the water, and as there was nobody else to be seen he
looked to me for assistance! I advised him to go in and bring
the child out, but the idea did not appear to commend itself to him, so
he took to running up and down again, bawling, 'The child will be
drowned!' And indeed it seemed very likely; so I was obliged to go in
and bring it out myself. The man was overjoyed when I restored it to
him. He clasped it in his arms with every demonstration of affection;
and then he looked at me and became embarrassed. He evidently felt that
he ought to say something, but the difficulty was what to say. At last
a bright idea seemed to strike him. His countenance cleared, and he
spoke with much feeling. 'I am afraid you are rather wet,' he observed;
and then he left me, and a sympathetic landlady, who keeps a little
public-house by the river, and had witnessed the occurrence, took me in
and dried me. She gave me whisky and hot water, and entertained me for
the rest of the afternoon. She is a remarkable woman, and I should
visit her often were it not for her love of, and faith in, whisky and
hot water. I tell her there are five things which make the nose red—
viz., cold, tight-lacing, disease of the right side of the heart,
dyspepsia, and alcohol, and the greatest of these is alcohol; but she
says a little colour anywhere would be an improvement to me, and I feel
that I can have nothing in common with a woman who has such bad taste
in the distribution of colour.”
Ideala's notions of propriety were altogether unconventional. She
never could be made to understand that it was not the proper thing to
talk familiarly to any one she met, and discuss any subject they were
equal to with them.
“It is good for people to talk, and natural, and therefore proper,”
she said. “If I can give pleasure to a stranger by doing so, or he can
give pleasure to me, it would not be right to keep silent.”
She carried this idea of her duty to her neighbour rather far
I remember her telling me once about two old gentlemen she had
travelled with the day before.
“The sun came in and bothered me, and one of them offered to draw
the blind,” she said, “and he remarked it was rather a treat to see the
sun, we have so little of it now; and I said that was true, and told
him how I pitied the farmers. I had to stay in my room the other day
with a bad cold, and I amused myself watching one of them at work in
some fields opposite. The state of his mind was expressed by his boots.
On Monday the sun was shining, the air was mild, and it seemed as if we
were going to have a continuance of fine weather, and the farmer
appeared of a cheerful countenance, and his boots were polished and
laced. On Tuesday there was an east wind, veering south, with showers,
and his boots were laced, but not polished. On Wednesday there was
frost, fog, and gloom, and they were neither laced nor polished. On
Thursday there was a snowstorm, and he had no boots at all on; and
after that I did not see him, and I wondered if he had committed
suicide—in which case I thought the jury might almost have brought in
a verdict of 'justifiable felo-de-se.' And when I told that
story the other old gentleman shut his book, and began to talk too. And
I said I thought the weather was much colder than it used to be, for I
could remember wearing muslin dresses in May, and I could not wear them
at all now; but I did not know if the change were in the climate or in
myself—perhaps a little of both—though, indeed, I knew that, to a
certain extent, it was in the climate, which had been very much altered
in different districts by drainage, and cutting, or planting—altered
for the better, however, as a rule. And one old gentleman had heard
that before, but did not understand it exactly, so I explained it to
him; and then I talked about changes of climate in general, and the
formation of beds of coal, and the ice period, and sun-spots, and the
theory of comets, and about my husband getting up to see the last one,
and going out in a felt hat and dressing-gown with a bed-candle to look
for it—and about that dream of mine, did I tell you? I dreamt the
comet came into our drawing-room, and the leg of a Chinese table turned
into a snake and snorted at it, and the comet looked so taken aback
that I woke myself with a shout of laughter. And then we talked of
popular superstitions about comets, and dreams, and
ghosts—particularly ghosts, and I told a number of creepy stories, and
one old gentleman pretended he didn't believe in them, but he did, and
so did the other without any pretence; and we talked about Darwinism,
and the nature of the soul, and Nihilism, and the state of
society—and—and a few other things. And they were such dear
delightful old gentlemen, and they knew such a lot, and were so clever;
and one of them was a Railway Director, and the other couldn't let his
farms, and was bothered about his pheasants, and wanted to have the
trains altered to suit him. I should so like to meet them both again.”
“And how long did all this take, Ideala?”
“Oh, some hours. I fancy their dreams would be rather confused last
night,” she added, naively.
“Poor old gentlemen!” said I.
This sociability and inclination to talk the matter out, and, I may
say, a certain amount of innocence and lack of worldly wisdom into the
bargain, betrayed her occasionally into small improprieties of conduct
that were not to be excused, and would possibly not have been forgiven
in any one but Ideala. But such things were allowed in her as certain
things are allowed in certain people—not because the things are right
in themselves, but because the people who do them see no harm in them.
There are people, too, who seem to enjoy the privilege of making wrong
right by doing it. Society, however, only accords this privilege to a
limited and distinguished few.
When Ideala saw for herself that she had done an unjustifiable thing
she was very ready to confess it. I always fancied she had some latent
idea of making atonement in that way. It never mattered how much a
story told against herself, nor how much malicious people might make of
it to her discredit; she told all, inimitably, and with scrupulous
fidelity to fact.
One day she was standing waiting for a train at the station at York,
and in her absent way she fixed her eyes on a gentleman who was walking
about the platform.
Presently he went up to her, and, without any apology or show of
respect, remarked: “I am sure I have seen you before.”
“Probably,” Ideala rejoined, as if the occurrence were the most
natural thing in the world, “but I do not remember you. Perhaps if I
heard your name——?”
“Oh, I don't suppose you ever heard my name,” he said.
“In that case I can never have known you,” she answered, calmly. “I
never know any one except by name. I suppose you are an Englishman?”
“Yes,” he said, eagerly; “I am in the 5th——”
“Ah, I thought so,” she interrupted, placidly. “Englishmen in the
5th, and some other regiments, are apt to have but the one idea——”
“And that is?”
“And that is a bad one.”
He looked at her for a moment, and then, hat in hand, he made her a
low bow, and left her without another word.
“I think he felt ill, and went to have some refreshment,” she added,
when she told me.
From what happened afterwards I am sure that at the time she had no
idea of the real significance of the position in which she found
herself placed on this occasion. But, as a rule, if she did or said the
wrong thing, she became painfully conscious of the fact immediately
afterwards—indeed, it was generally afterwards that she grasped
the full meaning of most things. She was ready with repartee without
being in the least quick of understanding; she had to think things
over, and even then she was not sure to do the right thing next time.
“Mr. Graves is ten years younger than his wife,” she told me once,
“and only fancy what I said one day. It was in his studio, and she was
there. I declared a woman could have no sense of propriety at all who
married a man younger than herself—that no good could possibly come of
such marriages—and a lot more. Then I suddenly remembered, and you can
imagine my feelings! But what do you think I did? I went there the next
year, and said the same thing again exactly!”
When we were a small party of intimate friends, and Ideala was quite
at her ease with us, it was pleasant to see her lolling, a little
languidly as was her wont (for physically her energy was fitful), in
the corner of a couch, looking happy and interested, her face, which
was sad in repose, lit up for the time with amusement, as she quietly
listened to our talk, and observed all that was going on around her.
Even when she did not speak a word she somehow managed to make her
presence felt, and, as a rule, she spoke little on these occasions. But
sometimes we managed to draw her out, and sometimes she would burst
forth suddenly of her own accord, with a torrent of eloquence that
silenced us all; and even when she was utterly wrong she charmed us.
Her chance observations were generally noteworthy either for their
sense or their humour. It was only her sense of humour, I think, that
saved her from being sentimental; but she gave expression to it in
season and out of season, and would let it carry her too far sometimes,
for she made enemies for herself more than once by the way she exposed
the absurdity of certain things to the very people who believed in
them. Every lapse of this kind caused her infinite regret, but the
fault seemed incurable: she was always either repenting of it or
committing it, although, having so many quirks of her own, she felt
that she, of all people in the world, should have dealt most tenderly
with the weaknesses of others.
She knew how narrowly she escaped being sentimental, and would often
joke about her danger in that respect. “This lovely summer weather
makes me sickly sentimental,” she told me once. “I feel like the
heroine of a three-volume novel written by a young lady of eighteen,
and I think continually of him. I don't know in the least who
he is, but that makes no difference. The thought of him delights
me, and I want to write long letters to him, and make verses about him
the whole day long. And he wants me to be good.”
She had two or three pet abominations of her own, any allusion to
which was sure to make her outrageous—false sentiment and affectation
of any kind were amongst them. She had little habits, too, that we were
all pleased to fall in with. Sitting in the corner of a couch, and of
one couch in particular in every house, was one of these; and people
got into the way of giving up that seat to her whenever she appeared. I
think it would have puzzled us all to say why or wherefore, for she
never said or looked anything that could make us think she wished to
appropriate it; she simply took it as a matter of course when it was
offered to her, and probably did not know that she invariably sat
there. Ideala was a splendid horsewoman, and swam like a fish; but she
was not good at tennis or games of any kind, and she did not dance, for
a curious reason: she objected to be touched by people for whom she had
no special affection. She even disliked to shake hands, and often
wished some one would put the custom out of fashion. With regard to
dancing I have heard her say, too, that she sympathised entirely with
the Oriental feeling on the subject. She thought it delightful to be
danced to, to lie still with a pleasant companion near her who would
not talk too much, and listen to the music, and enjoy the poetry of
motion coolly and at ease. “I love to see the 'dancers dancing in
tune,'“ she said; “but to have to dance myself would be as great a
bother as to have to cook my dinner as well as eat it. I suppose it is
a healthy amusement—indeed, I know it is when you take it as I do; for
when all you people come down the morning after a dance with haggard
eyes and no power to do anything, I am as fresh as a lark, and have
decidedly the best of it.”
She was not good at games because she was not ambitious. She did not
care to have her skill commended, and was content to lose or win with
equal indifference—so long as only the honour of the thing was
involved; but when the stakes were more material she showed a vice of
which she was quite conscious.
“I daren't play for money,” she said to me. “I never have, and I
have always said that I never will. All the women of my family are born
gamblers. My mother has often told me that regularly, when she was a
girl, the day after she received her allowance she had either doubled
it or lost it all; and before she was twenty she hadn't a jewel worth
anything in her possession—and my aunts were as bad. One of them
staked herself one night to a gentleman she was playing with, and he
won, and married her. Gambling was more the custom then than it is now,
but for me it is as much in the air as if it were still the fashion.
When there is any talk of play I feel fascinated, and when I see a pack
of cards the temptation is so irresistible that I have often to go away
to save my resolution.”
Which made me think of a favourite quotation of Lessing's from
Minna:—“Tout les gens d'esprit aiment le jeu à la folie.”
Ideala's low esteem for “mere animal courage” was probably due to
the fact that she possessed it herself in a high degree. Yet soon after
I met her I began to suspect, and was afterwards convinced, that
something in her manner which had puzzled me at first arose from fear.
There was that in her life which made her afraid of the world, which
would, had it guessed the truth, have pryed with curious eyes into her
sorrow, and found an interest in seeing her suffer. The trouble was her
husband. She rarely spoke of him herself, and I think I ought to follow
her example, and say as little about him as possible. He was jealous of
her, jealous of her popularity, and jealous of every one who approached
her. He carried it so far that she scarcely dared to show a preference,
and was even obliged to be cold and reserved with some of her best
friends. I was a privileged person, allowed to be intimate with her
from the first, partly because I insisted on it when I saw how matters
stood, and partly because my position and reputation gave me a right to
insist. I never had occasion to brave insults for her sake, but, like
many others, I would have done so had it been necessary. Her friends
were constantly being driven from her on one pretext or another. People
would have taken her part readily enough had she complained, but
complaint was contrary to her nature and her principles. Some, who
suspected the truth, blamed her reticence; but I always thought it
right, and on one occasion when we approached the subject indirectly I
told her “Silence is best.” I ought to have qualified the advice, for
she carried it too far, and was silent afterwards when she should have
spoken—that is to say, when it had become evident that endurance was
useless and degrading.
She fought hard to preserve her dignity, and was determined that “as
the husband is, the wife is,” should not be true in her case. But he
did lower her insensibly, nevertheless. As her life became more and
more unendurable she became a little reckless in speech; it was a sort
of safety-valve by means of which she regained her composure, and I
soon began to recognise the sign, and to judge of the amount she had
suffered by the length to which she afterwards went in search of
relief, and the extent to which suffering made her untrue to herself.
As a rule, when with him, she was yielding, but she had fits of
determination, too, when she knew she was right. One night, as they
were driving home from a ball together, her husband suddenly declared
that he would not allow her to be one of the patronesses of a fancy
fair which was to be held for a charitable purpose, although she had
already consented and he had made no objection at the time.
“But why may I not?” Ideala asked.
“Because I object. Do you hear? I will not have it, and you must
“I must decline to obey any such arbitrary injunction,” she
He detained her on the doorstep until the carriage had driven round
to the stables.
“Now, are you going to obey me?” he asked.
“Yes, if you give me a reason for what you require,” she answered,
“Oh, you are obstinate, are you?” he rejoined, in a jeering tone.
“Well, stay in the garden and think it over. Perhaps reflection will
make you more dutiful. I shall tell your maid you will not want her
to-night. When you have made up your mind you can ring.” And so saying
he walked into the house and shut the door upon her.
It was a summer night, but Ideala felt chilly with only a thin shawl
over her ball dress. She walked about as long as she could, but fatigue
overcame her at last, and she was obliged to lie down on one of the
garden seats. She wrapped the train of her dress round her shoulders,
and lay looking up at the stars. The air was heavy with the scent of
flowers. The night was very still. Once or twice the rush of a passing
train in the distance became audible; and the ceaseless, solemn,
inarticulate murmur of the night was broken by a nightingale that sang
out at intervals, divinely.
Ideala never thought of submitting; she simply lay there, waiting
without expecting. The night air overcame her more and more with a
sense of fatigue, but she could not sleep. She saw the darkness fade
and the dawn appear, and when at last the servants began to move in the
house she watched her opportunity and slipped in unobserved. She went
to one of the spare rooms, undressed, rang, and got into bed. When the
bell was answered she ordered a hot bath and hot coffee immediately.
The maid supposed she had slept there, and seemed surprised; but as her
mistress offered no explanation she could make no remark; and so the
But I do not think Ideala suffered much on that occasion. Her strong
young womanhood saved her somewhat—and there was a charm for her in
the beauty of the night and the novelty of her position, which a less
healthy organism would not have appreciated, had it been able to
discover it—at such a time.
Ideala had been married eight years, and two months after that night
the long-delayed hope of her life, which she had begun to believe was
beyond hope, was at last realised. Her child was a boy, and her joy in
him is something that one is glad to have seen. But it was short-lived.
I do not know if her husband were jealous of her happiness, or if he
thought the child was more to her than he was, or if he were merely
making a proposition, by way of experiment, which he never meant to
carry into effect—probably the latter. At all events, he went to her
one day when the child was about six weeks old, and told her he thought
she must give up nursing him.
The mother's nature was up in arms in a moment. I suppose she had
not quite regained her strength, for she had been very ill, and, being
weak, she was excitable.
“I will not give my baby up! How can you think it?” she exclaimed.
“Oh, well,” he answered, coolly, “just as you like, you know. But I
should think you'd better—for the child's sake, at least.”
“It isn't true. I don't believe it,” she said, piteously.
“Ask the doctor, then;” and he sauntered out, smiling, and perhaps
not dreaming that she would.
But “for the child's sake” had alarmed Ideala, and she sent for the
doctor. It was hours before he could come to her, and, in the meantime,
not knowing that her state of mind would affect the child, she had
fidgeted and fretted herself into a fever, and when the doctor saw her,
he could only confirm her husband's verdict.
“I am afraid you must give up nursing,” he said. “You are in such a
nervous state it will do the child harm. But he's such a fine fellow!
He'll thrive all right—you needn't be frightened.”
Ideala said nothing, but she sat in her own room night after night
for a week, and heard the child crying for her, and could not go to
him— and even when he did not cry she fancied she heard him still. I
think as the milk slowly and painfully left her, her last spark of
affection for her husband dried up too.
The child died of diphtheria some time afterwards, and in a little
while, Ideala, who was then in her twenty-sixth year, returned to her
old pursuits, and no one ever knew what she felt about it:
For, it is with feelings as with waters—
The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb!
My widowed sister, Claudia, was one of Ideala's most intimate
friends. She was a good deal older than Ideala, whom she loved as a
mother loves a naughty child, for ever finding fault with her, but
ready to be up in arms in a moment if any one else ventured to do
likewise. She was inclined to quarrel with me because, although I never
doubted Ideala's truth and earnestness (no one could), knowing her weak
point, I feared for her. I thought if all the passion in her were ever
focussed on one object she would do something extravagant—a prediction
which Claudia, with good intent, rashly repeated to her once.
Claudia was mistress of my house, and she and I had agreed from the
first that, whatever happened, we would watch over Ideala and befriend
My sister was one of the people who thought it would have been
better for Ideala to have talked of her troubles. When I praised
Ideala's loyalty, and her uncomplaining devotion to an uncongenial
duty, Claudia said: “Loyalty is all very well; but I don't see much
merit in a life- long devotion to a bad cause. If there were any good
to be done by it, it would be different, of course; but, as it is,
Ideala is simply sacrificing herself for nothing—and worse, she is
setting a bad example by showing men they need not mend their manners
since wives will endure anything. It is immoral for a woman to live
with such a husband. I don't understand Ideala's meekness; it amounts
to weakness sometimes, I think. I believe if he struck her she would
say, 'Thank you,' and fetch him his slippers. I feel sure she thinks
some unknown defect in herself is at the bottom of all his misdeeds.”
“I don't think she knows half as much about his misdeeds as we do,”
“Then I think it would be a charity to enlighten her,” Claudia
answered, decidedly. “One can't touch pitch without being defiled, and
when it is too late we shall find she has suffered 'some taint in
nature,' in spite of herself. Will you kindly take us to the Palace
this evening? The Bishop wants us to go in after dinner, and Ideala has
promised to come too.”
Ideala was fastidious about her dress, and being in one of her moods
that evening she teased Claudia unmercifully, on the way to the Palace,
about a blue woollen shawl she was wearing. “A delicate and refined
nature expresses itself by nothing more certainly than elegant wraps,”
she said, parodying another famous dictum; “and I should not like to be
able to understand the state of mind a lady was in when she bought
herself a blue woollen shawl; but I could believe she was suffering at
the time from a temporary aberration of intellect—only, if she wore it
afterwards the thing would be quite inexplicable.” Claudia drew the
wrap round her with dignity, and made no reply; then Ideala laughed and
turned to me. “Certainly your friend,” she said, alluding to a young
sculptor who was staying with me, “can 'invest his portraits with
artistic merit.' Claudia's likeness in the Exhibition is capital, and
the fame of it is being noised abroad with a vengeance. But I think
something should be done to stop the little newspaper-boy nuisance: the
reports they spread are quite alarming.”
“Ideala, what nonsense are you talking about sculptors and
newspaper- boys?” Claudia exclaimed.
“I'll tell you,” said Ideala. “There was a small boy with a big
voice standing at the corner of the market-place this afternoon. He had
a sheaf of evening papers under his arm, and was yelling with much
enthusiasm to an edified crowd:—'Noose of the War! Hawful mutilation
of the dead! Fearful collision in the Channel! Eighty-eight lives lost!
Narrative of survivors! Thrilling details! Shindy in Parl'ment! Hirish
members to the front again! 'Orrible haccident in our own town! The
Lady Claudia's bust!'“
“Ideala, how dare you?”—but just then the carriage stopped,
and we had to get out.
The good Bishop met us in the hall. Ideala positively declined to go
upstairs when he asked her.
“It is too much trouble,” she said, not seeing in her absence what
was meant. “I would rather leave my things here.”
“But I am afraid I must trouble you,” the Bishop answered, in
despair. “The fact is, my wife is not so well this evening, and she was
afraid of the cold, and is staying in her own sitting-room.”
The “sitting-room” was a snug apartment, warm, cosy, luxurious, and
we found a genial little party of intimate acquaintances there when we
arrived. Ideala's husband was not one of them. He did not take her out
much at that time. Probably he was engaged in some private pursuit of
his own, and insisted on her going everywhere alone to keep her out of
the way. A little while before he would scarcely allow her to pay a
call without him. But, as a rule, whatever his mood was, she did as he
wished—and provoked him sometimes, I think, by her patient compliance;
a little resistance would have made the exercise of his authority more
When we entered the sitting-room “an ominous silence feel on the
group,” which was broken at last by one of the ladies remarking that a
kind heart was an admirable thing. Another agreed, and made some
observations on the merits of self-sacrifice generally.
“But some people are not satisfied with merely doing a good
deed,” a gentleman declared, with profound gravity. “They think there
is no merit in it if they do not suffer for it in some way themselves.”
There was a good deal more of this kind of thing, and we were
beginning to feel rather out of it, when presently the preternatural
gravity of the party was broken by a laugh, and then it was explained.
Ideala had gone to a neighbouring town one day by train, and before
she started a poor woman got into the carriage. The woman had a
third-class ticket, but she was evidently ill, and when the guard came
and wanted to turn her out, Ideala took pity on her, insisted on
changing tickets, and travelled third class herself. The woman had been
to the Palace, and described the incident to the Bishop's wife that
morning, and she had just told her guests, wondering who the lady could
have been, and they in turn had put their heads together and decided
that there was no one in the community but Ideala who would have done
the thing in that way.
“But what else could I have done?” she asked, when she saw we were
laughing at her.
“Well, my dear,” said the Bishop, who always treated her with the
kind indulgence that is accorded to a favourite child, “you might have
paid the difference for the woman, and travelled comfortably yourself,
don't you know?”
Ideala never thought of that!
Presently the dear old Bishop nestled back in his chair, and with a
benign glance round, which, his scapegrace son said, meant: “Bless you,
my children! Be happy and good in your own way, but don't make a
noise!” he sank into a gentle doze, and the rest of the party relapsed
into trivial gossip, some of which I give for what it is worth by way
of illustration. It shows Ideala at about her worst, but marks a period
in her career, a turning-point for the better. She was seldom bitter,
and still more rarely frivolous, after that night.
“Clare Turner will take none of the blame of that affair on his own
shoulders,” some one remarked.
“Mr. Clare Turner is the little boy who always said 'It wasn't me!'
grown up,” Ideala decided, from the corner of her couch. “He is a sort
of two-reason man.”
“How do you mean 'a two-reason man,' Ideala?”
“Well, he has only two reasons for everything; one is his reason for
doing anything he likes himself, which is always a good one; and the
other is his reason why the rest of the world should not do likewise,
which is equally clear—to himself. He thinks there should be one law
for him and another for everybody else. I don't believe in him.”
“Nor I,” said one of the gentlemen. “Underhand bowling was all he
was celebrated for at school; he bowled most frightful sneaks all the
time he was there.”
“Talking about Clare Turner,” Charlie Lloyd put in, “I've brought a
new book of poems—author unknown. I picked it up at the station
to-day. There's one thing in it, called 'The Passion of Delysle,' that
seems to be intense; but I've only just glanced at it, and don't really
know what it's like. Shall I read it?”
“Oh, do!” was the general exclamation, and we all settled ourselves
to enjoy the following treat.
Charlie began softly:
O day and night! Oh day and night! and is this madness?
O day and night! O day and night! and is this joy?
Whence comes this bursting sense of life, and love, and
This pain of pleasure, perfected, without alloy?
Lo, flowing past me are the restless rivers,
Or swelling round me is the boundless sea;
Or else the widening waste of sand that quivers
In shining stretches, shuts the world from me—
Or seems to shut it, while I would that what it seems might be.
O day and night! O day and night! this mountain island,
This saintly shrine, this fort—I scarce know what 'tis yet—
This sand, or sea-girt, rocky, town-clad, church-crown'd
This dull and rugged gem in golden deserts set,
Has some delicious, unknown charm to hold me,
To draw me to itself and keep me here;
The old grey walls, it seems, with joy enfold me—
Or is it I that make the dead stones dear,
And send the throbbing summer in my blood thro' all things near?
O day and night! O day and night! where else do flowers
Open their velvet lids like these to greet the light?
Or raise such sun-kissed lips aglow to meet cool showers?
Or cast more subtle scents abroad upon the night?
These trees and trailing weeds that climb the cliff-side steep,
The dusky pine trees, draped with wreaths of vine,
Make bowers where love might lie and list the sea-voice deep,
And drink the perfumed air, the light, like wine,
Which threads intoxication through these hot, glad veins of mine.
O day and night! O day and night! I sought this haven,
From place and power, and wealth I flew in search of rest;
They forced and bound me to a hard, detested craven,
Who mocked my loathing with his head upon my breast.
With deathless love I moaned for my young lover;
To make me great they drove him from my side,
And foully wrought with shame his name to cover—
My boy, my lord, my prince! In vain they lied!
But should I always suffer for their false, inhuman pride?
O day and night! O day and night! I left them flying,
I fled by day and night as flies the nomad breeze,
Across the silent land when light to dark was dying,
And onward like a spirit lost across the seas;
And on from sea and shore thro' apple-orchards blooming,
Till all things melted in a moving haze;
And on with rush and ring by tower and townlet glooming,
By wood, and field, and hill, by verdant ways,
While dawn to mid-day drew, and noon was lost in sunset blaze.
O day and night! O day and night! light once more waxing,
Still on with courage high, tho' strength was well-nigh spent;
Grim spectres of pursuit the wearied brain perplexing,
Fear-fraught, but ever met with spirit dedolent.
The landscape reeled, there came a sense of slumber,
And myriad shadows rose and wanned and waned,
And flitting figures, visions without number,
Took shape above the land till sight was pained,
And floated round me till at last the longed-for goal I gained.
O day and night! O day and night! with rest abounding,
The soothing sinking down on hard-earned holy rest,
With grateful ease that grew from all the calm surrounding,
A languid, dreamful ease, my soul became possessed.
The hoarse sea-wind comes soughing, sighing, singing,
Its constant message from the patient waves.
While high above cathedral bells were ringing,
Or falling voices chanted hymns of praise,
And all the land seemed filled with peace and promised length of
* * * * *
O day and night! O day and night! once, all unheeding,
By sun and summer wind with tender touch caressed,
I wandered where the strains, the sacred strains, were
And, kneeling in the fane, my thoughts to prayer addressed.
And softly rose the murmur'd organ mystery,
And swell'd around the colonnaded aisle,
Where smiled the pictured saints of holy history
On prostrate penitents who prayed the while:
I could not pray there, but I felt that God Himself might smile.
O day and night! O day and night! while I was kneeling
There came the strangest sense of some loved presence near;
A re-awakening rush of well-remembered feeling
Thrill'd thro' me, held me still, with vague expectant fear.
Half turn'd from me, there stood beside the altar,
Where incense-clouds nigh veiled him from my sight,
A fair-haired priest—my quicken'd heart-beats falter!
Or is he priest, or is he acolyte,
Or layman devotee who prays in novice robes bedight?
O day and night! O day and night! whence comes this feeling?
For all unreal seem day and night and life and death,
And all unreal the hope that sets my senses reeling,
And stills my pulse an instant, checks my lab'ring breath.
Yet louder rolls the mighty organ thund'ring.
And downward slopes a beam of light divine,
The perfumed clouds are cleft: he looks up wond'ring—
Looks up—what does he there before the shrine?
He could not give himself to God, for he is mine, is mine!
O day and night! O day and night! I go forth trembling,
He did not meet my eyes, he never saw my face.
My bosom swells with joy and jealousy resembling
A war of good and evil waged in a holy place.
No longer soft the day, the sun in splendour
Pours all his might upon this green incline;
I lie and watch the cirrus clouds surrender,
Their glowing forms to one hot kiss resign—
How could he give himself to God when he is mine, is mine?
O day and night! O day and night! beneath your glory
The crimson flood of life itself has turned to fire!
The rugged brows of those old rocks, storm-rent and hoary,
Are quivering in their grim surprise at my desire.
The mother earth, throbbing with pain and pleasure,
Would sink her voices for the languid noon,
But light airs wake a reckless madd'ning measure,
And wavelets dance and sparkle to the tune.
And mock the mocking malice of yon day-dimm'd gibbous moon.
* * * * *
O day and night! O day and night! a fisher maiden
Is wand'ring up the path to where unseen I lie;
She comes with some light spoil from off the shore beladen.
And softly singing of the sea goes slowly by.
And slowly rise great sun-tipped white cloud masses,
Sublimely still their shadows flit and flee:
How silently the work of nature passes—
The roll of worlds, the growth of flower and tree!
Angels of God in heaven! give him to me! give him to me!
O day and night! O day and night! the hours rolling
Bring ev'ry one its change, its song, or chant, or chime:
Now solemnly their sounds a distant death-knell tolling.
And now the bells above beat forth the flight of time.
I lie, unconsciously each trifle noting,
The far-off sailors toiling on the quay,
Or o'er the sand a broad-wing'd sea-bird floating,
Or passing hum of honey-laden'd bee—
Angels of God in heaven! give him to me! give him to me!
O day and night! O day and night! the scene surrounding
Grows dim and all unreal beneath the sunset glow;
And all the heat and rage pass into peace abounding,
I moan, I fear no more, but wait, while still tears flow.
The warm sweet airs scarce move the flowerets slender,
A pause and hush have settled on the sea,
A bird trills forth its love-song low and tender:
O bird rejoice! thy love and thou art free-
Angels of God in heaven! give him to me! give him to me!
* * * * *
O day and night! O day and night! ye knew it ever!
Ye saw it written in the world's first golden prime!
And smiled your giant smile at all my rash endeavour
To snatch the cup unfill'd from out the hand of Time.
He comes, O day and night! Spirits attending,
Swift formless messengers my ev'ry sense apprise!
He comes! the bright fair head o'er some old book low bending
Dear Lord, at last! his eyes have met my eyes—
Gleam of light goes quivering across the happy skies!
* * * * *
O day and night! O day and night! Love sits between us.
Far out the rising tide comas sweeping o'er the sand.
The murmurous pine trees lend their purple shade to screen us,
And breathe their fragrant sighs above the quiet land.
And, like a sigh, the sunset blaze is over,
The folding grey has veiled its colours bright;
While swift from view fade out the gulls that hover,
As round us sinks at last, on pinions light,
The dark and radiant clarity of the beautiful still night.
O day and night! O day and night! no words are spoken.
Such pleasant joy profound no words could well express:
His wand'ring fingers smooth my hair in silent token,
And all my being answers to the tender mute caress.
My head is resting on his breast for pillow,
And as by music moved my soul is thrill'd;
Flow on and clasp the land, O bursting billow!
O breezes, tell the mountains many-rill'd!
Our hearts now know each other, and our hope is all-fulfill'd.
O day and night! O day and night! no shadow crosses
This long'd-for solemn hour of all-forgetful bliss;
No chilling thought, or stalking dread arising, tosses
A poison'd drop of bitterness to spoil the ling'ring kiss:
No mem'ries past or future fears assailing—
As soon might doubt bedim the stars that shine!
Or souls released reach Paradise bewailing
The end of pain, and clemency divine:
The glorious present holds us: I am his and he is mine!”
* * * * *
O day and night! O day and night! and was it madness?
Lo! all is changing, even sky, and sea, and shore;
The heaving water ebbs itself away in sadness,
The waves receding sigh, “Delight returns no more!”
Far down the East the dawn is dimly burning,
Its first chill breath has shivered thro' my frame,
And with the light comes cruel Thought returning,
The air seems full of voices speaking blame;
Another day commences, but the world is not the same!
O day and night! O day and night! its rashes pass'd us,
We stand upon the brink and watch, the strong deep tide,
And shrink already from the howls that soon must blast us,
The world that sins unchidden, and the laws that would divide.
“O Love, they rest in peace whom ocean covers!”
One plunge, one clasp supernal, one long kiss!
Then downward, like those old Italian lovers.
Descend for ever through the long abyss,
And float together, happy, all eternity like this!
The charm of the reader's voice had held us spellbound, and the poem
was well received; but after the usual compliments there was a pause,
and then Ideala burst out impetuously: “I am sick of those old Italian
lovers,” she said; “they float into everything. Their story is the
essence with which two-thirds of our love literature is flavoured. We
should never have received them in society; why do we tolerate them in
books? I like my company to be respectable even there; and when an
author asks me to admire and sympathise with such people he insults
“They must be brought in, though, for the sake of contrast,”
“They should be kept in their proper place, then,” she answered.
“You may choose what you please to point a moral, but for pity's sake
be careful about what you use to adorn a tale.”
“Moral or no moral,” said the young sculptor, “I think a new poem of
any kind a thing to be thankful for.”
“And do you call that kind of thing new?” said Ideala. “I should say
it was a fine compound of all the poems of the kind, and several other
kinds, that have ever been written, with a dash of the peculiarly
refined immorality of our own times, from which nothing is sacred;
thrown in to make weight. Such writing,
Like a new disease, unknown to men,
Creeps, no precaution used, among the crowd,
. . . . . . . . . . . and saps
The fealty of our friends, and stirs the pulse
With devil's leaps, and poisons half the young.
It is the feeling of the day accurately defined. Nobody sighs for
love and peace now. The cry is for the indulgence of some fiery passion
for an hour, and then, perdition!—if you like—since that is the
recognised price of it.”
“Our loves are more intense than they used to be,” said the
“Love!” Ideala answered. “Oh, do not desecrate 'the eternal
God-word, love!' There is little enough of that in the business that
goes by its name now-a-days. I am a lady—I cannot use the right word.
But it is none the less the thing I mean because it calls blasphemously
on God Almighty to help it to fulfil itself.”
“Well,” said Charlie Lloyd, deprecatingly, “I didn't offer this, you
know, as an admirable specimen of what our day can produce. I told you
I hadn't read it, and now that I have I don't suppose any one has
offered it to the public as a serious expression of sentiment.”
“You do not think people write books about what they really feel?”
said Ideala. “I believe they do when the feeling is shameful. If you
want to keep a secret, publish the exact truth in a book, and nobody
will believe a word of it. I think people who publish such productions
should be burned on a pile of their own works.”
“The writer is young, doubtless,” I said, apologetically. It gives
one a shock to hear a woman say harsh things.
“He was evidently not too young to have bad thoughts,” said Claudia,
supporting her friend; “and he was certainly old enough to know
“He!” ejaculated Ideala. “It is far more likely to be she. Do
you read the reviews? You will find that all the most objectionable
books are written by women—and condemned by men who lift up their
voices now, as they have done from time immemorial, and insist that we
should do as they say, and not as they do.”
“I am afraid you are right,” said Charlie Lloyd. “So many of our
best women—I mean the women who are likely to make most impression on
the age—are going that way now.”
“But what horrid things you say, Ideala,” one of the ladies chimed
in, “and you make everybody else say horrid things. That 'Passion of
Delysle' is not a bit worse than Tennyson's 'Fatima'—and there's a lot
more in it—that part about 'the roll of worlds,' you know, is quite
“I always liked that idea,” Ideala observed.
“And—and—” the lady continued, “where she looks at everything, you
know. She was very properly seeking distraction, and found it for a
moment in the contemplation of nature, and that softened her mood, so
that when the inevitable rush of recollection comes and forces the
thought of him back upon her, her feeling finds expression in a prayer
—instead of—instead of—”
“A blasphemous remonstrance,” Ideala put in. “Oh, I don't deny that
there is just enough to be said in favour of all these things to make
them sell—and this one has two unusual points of interest. It opens
with a riddle, and the lady's lover is a priest, which gives an
additional zest to the charm of wrong-doing, a sauce piquante
for jaded appetites.”
“Why do you call the opening verses a riddle?” said Charlie Lloyd.
“Because I fancy no one will ever guess what kind of a place it
This mountain island,
This saintly shrine, this fort—
I forget how it goes on.”
“Oh, the description of the place is not bad,” Charlie answered,
after reading it over again to himself. “It would do for the Mont St.
Michael in Normandy.”
“Well, let that pass, then,” said Ideala; “also the dear familiar
'subtle scents abroad upon the night.' But what does she mean by 'On
with rush and ring'?”
“She means the train, obviously.”
“What an outlandish periphrasis! And how about
The rugged brows of those old rocks, storm-rent and hoary,
Are quivering in their grim surprise?”
“That is a 'pathetic fallacy.' She is not speaking of the things as
they were, but as they appeared to her excited fancy. She chronicles
her own death, though——”
“So did Moses,” said Ideala. “If you really want to justify 'The
Passion of Delysle' I can help you. You see she was dreadfully badly
treated by her friends, poor thing! and her marriage after all was no
marriage, because she loved another man all the time; and your husband
isn't properly your husband if you don't love him, love being the only
possible sanctification—in fact, the only true marriage. And then her
lover, thinking he had lost her, became a priest, and vows made under a
misapprehension like that cannot be binding—it would be too much to
expect us to suffer always for such mistakes. And then the world—but
we all know how cruel the world is! And appearances were sadly against
them, poor things! No one would ever have believed that they had stayed
out all night to discuss their religious experiences. Suicide is
shocking, of course; but still, when people are driven to it like that,
we can only be sorry for them, and hope they will never do it again!”
She nestled back more comfortably on her couch, and then continued in
an altered tone: “But it is appalling to think of the quantity of
machine-made verses like those that are imposed on the public year by
year, verses the mere result of much reading and writing, without a
scrap of inspiration in them, and as far removed from even schoolboy
efforts of genius, as an oleograph is from an oil painting. Poets are
as rare now as prophets, and inspiration has left us for our sins. I
think any fairly educated one of us, with a tolerable memory and the
habit of composition, could write that 'Passion of Delysle' again in
“Oh, could they, though!” said Ralph, the son of the house. “I dare
bet anything you couldn't do it yourself in twice the time.”
“Dare you?” she answered, with a little smile. “Well, to adopt your
elegant phraseology, Master Ralph, I bet I will produce the same story,
with the same conclusion, but a different moral, in an hour—since you
allow me twice the time I named—if I may be permitted to write it in
blank verse, that is, and of course, with the understanding that what I
write is not intended to be anything but mere versified prose.”
“Done with you!” cried Ralph.
“Hush—h—h!” his mother exclaimed, deprecatingly. “Betting, and
before the Bishop, too!”
“What the Bishop don't know will do him no harm, Ma,” said the youth
in a stage whisper. “Sit down, Ideala, and begin. It's ten minutes to
The Bishop slept serenely; conversation flagged; and Ideala wrote
steadily for about three-quarters of an hour; then she gathered up the
manuscript, rose from the table, and returned to her old seat.
“'The Passion of Delysle' has become 'The Choice,'“ she said. “Will
you read it for me, Mr. Lloyd? I think it should have that advantage,
Charlie took the manuscript, and read:
Once on a time, not very long gone by,
A noble lady had a noble choice.
The daughter of an ancient house was she,
Beauty, and wealth, and highest rank were hers,
But love was not, for of a proud, cold race
Her people were, caring for nought but lands,
Riches, and power; holding all tender thoughts
As weakly folly, only fit for babes.
The lady learnt their creed; her heart seem'd hard—
She thought it so; and when the moment came
To choose 'twixt love, young love, and pride of place,
She still'd an unwonted feeling that would rise,
And saying calmly: “I have got no heart,
And love is vain!” she chose to be the wife
Of sinful age, corruption, and untruth,
Scorning the steadfast love of one who yearn'd
To win her from the crooked paths she trod,
And break the sordid chains that bound her soul,
And sweep the defiling dust of common thoughts
From out her mind, until it shone at last
With large imaginings of God and good.
She chose: no more they met: her life was pass'd
In constant round of pomp and proud display.
But when he went, and never more there came
The love-sad eyes to question and entreat,
The voice of music praising noble deeds,
The graceful presence and the golden hair,
She miss'd the boy; but scoff'd at first and said:
“One misses all things, common pets one spurn'd,
Good slaves and bad alike when both are gone,—
A small thing makes the habit of a life!”
But days wore on, and adulation palled.
She knew not what she lack'd, nor that she loath'd
The hollow semblance, the dull mockery,
Which she had gain'd for joy by choosing rank,
And money's worth, instead of peace and love.
Yet ever as the long days grew to months
More heavy hung the time, moved slower by.
And all things troubled her and gave her pain,
And morning, noon, and night the thought would rise,
And grew insistent when she would not hear:
“One loved me! out of all this crowd but one!
And he is gone, and I have driven him forth!”
Then in the silent solitude of night
An old weird story that she once had heard
Tormented her; a story speaking much
Of a rock-island on the Norman coast,
A mountain peak rising from barren sand,
Or standing sea-girt when the tide returns,
And beaten by the winds on ev'ry side,
With wall'd-in town, and castle on the height,
And high above the castle, strangely placed,
A grey cathedral with its summit tipp'd
By a gold figure of St. Michael crown'd,
With burnished wings and flashing sword that shone
A beacon in the sunset, seen for miles,
As tho' the Archangel floated in the air.
The castle and the church a sanctuary
And refuge were, to which men often fled
For rest or safety, finding what they sought.
And as the lady thought about the place,
A notion came that she would like to kneel
And pray for peace at that far lonely shrine.
The longing grew: she rested not nor slept.
And should she fly and leave her wretched wealth?
And if she fled she never could return;
Yet if she stay'd she felt that she should die.
So go or stay meant misery for her—
But misery is lessened when we move.
Yes, she would go! and then she laugh'd to think
Of the wild fury of her harsh old Lord
When he should wake one day and find her gone—
Laugh'd! the first time for long and weary months.
By Mont St. Michael, on the Norman coast,
A restless river, changing oft its course,
Flows sullenly; and racehorse-like the tide,
Which, going, leaves a wilderness of sand.
Comes rushing back, a foam-topp'd, wat'ry wall;
And those who, wand'ring, 'scape the quicksand's grip,
Are often caught and drown'd ere help can come.
But fair the prospect from the Mount when bright
The sunshine falls on Avranches far away,
A white town straggling o'er a verdant hill;
And on the tree-clad country toward the west,
On apple orchards, and the fairy bloom
Of feath'ry tam'risk bushes on the shore;
Whilst high above in silent majesty
Of hue and form the floating clouds support
The far-extending vault of azure sky
Such was the shrine the lady sought, and there
In mute appeal for what she lack'd she knelt,
Not knowing what she lack'd; but finding peace
Steal o'er her soul there as she faintly heard
The slow and solemn chanting of the priests,
The mild monotony of murmured prayers,
And hush of pauses when she seemed to feel
The heart she deem'd so hard was melting fast,
And listen'd to a voice within her say—
“Love is not vain! Love all things and rejoice!”
And found warm tears were stealing down her cheeks.
The mystery of love, of love, of love,
Of hope, of joy, of life itself, she felt;
The crown of life, which she had sacrificed
In scornful pride for lust of power and place.
The lady bow'd her head, and o'er her swept
A wave of anguish, and she knew despair.
“Could I but see him once again!” she moan'd,
“See him, and beg forgiveness, and then die!”
Did the Archangel Michael, standing there
Upon her left, in shining silver, hear?
Who knows? Her prayer was answer'd like a flash;
For at that moment, clear and sweet o'er all
The mingled music of the chanting choir,
There rose a voice that thrill'd her inmost soul:
It breathed a blessing; utter'd soft a prayer.
No need to look: and yet she look'd, and saw
A hooded monk before the altar kneel,
A graceful presence, tho' in sordid dress.
And as she gazed the cowl slipp'd back and show'd
(But dimly thro' the incense-perfumed cloud)
A pure pale face, a golden tonsured head,
And blue eyes raised to heaven. Then the truth
Was there reveal'd to her that he had left
The world to watch and pray for such as she.
Out of the castled-gate she hurried forth:
What matter'd where she went, to east or west?
What matter'd peasant's warning that the sand
Was shifting ever, and the rushing tide
Gave them no quarter whom it overtook?
'Twas death she courted, and with heedless step
Onward to meet it swift the lady fled.
Death is so beautiful at such a time,
When all the land in summer sunshine lies,
And lapse of distant waves breaks pleasantly
The silence with a soothing dreamy sound,
And danger seems no nearer than the sky,
He tempts us from afar with hope of rest.
She hurried on in search of death, nor heard
That eager footsteps followed where she went.
The voice that call'd her was not real, she thought,
But a sweet portion of a strange sweet dream—
For now the terrible anguish quickly pass'd,
And sense of peace at hand was all she felt.
Ah! that was real. She turn'd and saw,
Nor saw a moment till she felt his grasp
Strong and determined on her rounded arm.
“Thou shalt not die!” he cried. “What madness this?”
“Madness!” she echoed: “nay, my love, 'tis bliss—
The first my life has known—to stand here still
With thee beside me, and to wait for death.
I know my heart at last, but all too late!
I may not love thee, I another's wife;
Thou mayst not love me, thou hast wedded heaven.
We cannot be together in this world;
I cannot live alone and know thee here.
And thou art troubled! I for beneath that garb
Thy heart beats ever hot with love for me;
For love will not be quell'd by monkish vows.
But all things change in death! so let us die
Thus, hand in hand, and so together pass,
And be together thro' eternity!”
There was a struggle in the young monk's breast;
He would not meet her pleading eyes and yield,
But gazing up to heaven prayed for strength,
Strength to resist, and guidance how to act,
For death like that with her was luring—sweet—
A strong temptation, but he must resist,
And strive to save and show her how to live.
“We cannot make hereafter for ourselves,”
He answered softly; “all that we can do
Is so to live that we shall win reward
Of praise, and peace, and happy life to come.
Thy duty lies before thee; so does mine.
Let each return, and toil and watch and pray,
Knowing each other's heart is fix'd on heaven.
And do the good we can; not seeking death
Nor shunning it, but living pure and true,
With conscience clear to meet our God at last,
And win each other for our great reward.”
The moving music of his words sank deep
Her alter'd heart thrill'd high to holy thoughts.
“Be thou my guide,” she said. “My duty now
Shall bring me peace; so shall I toil like thee
To win the love I yearn for in the end.”
It might not be. The treach'rous, working sand
Already clutched their feet, and check'd their speed;
And dancing, sparkling, like a joyful thing,
A glitt'ring, glassy wall of foam-fleck'd wave
Towards them glided with that fatal speed
You cannot mark because it is so swift.
No use to struggle now: no time to fly!
He clasp'd her to him: “God hath will'd it thus.
Courage, my sister!” “Is this death?” she cried.
“Yes, this is death.” “It is not death, but joy!”
And as she spoke the spot where they were seen
Became a wat'ry waste of battling waves:
While high above the summer sun shone on—
A passing seabird hoarsely shriek'd along!
All things were changed, with that vast change which makes
It seem as tho' nought else had ever been.
“Well done, Ideala!” said Ralph, patronisingly; “you certainly have
a memory, and are quite as good at patchwork as the author of
'Delysle.' I could criticise on another count, but taking into
consideration time, place, circumstances, and the female intellect, I
refrain. That is the generous sort of creature I am. So, without
expressing my own opinion further—except to remark that, though I
don't think much of either of them, personally I prefer 'Delysle.' The
other is wholesomer, doubtless, for those who like a mild diet. Milk
and water doesn't agree with me. But I put it to the vote. Ladies and
gentlemen, do you or do you not consider that this lady has won her
“Oh, won it, most decidedly!” we all agreed.
“By-the-by, what was the bet?” I asked.
“My Pa's gaiters against Ideala's blue stockings. I regret to say
that circumstances over which I have no control”—and he glanced at the
unconscious Bishop—“prevent the immediate payment of my debt—unless,
indeed, he has a second pair;” and he left the room hurriedly as if to
He did not come back to us that evening, but I believe he was to be
heard of later at the sign of the “Billiard and Cue.”
“Well,” said the young sculptor, returning to the old point of
departure, “for my own part, I find much that is elevating in modern
“So do I,” said Ideala; “I find much that raises me on stilts.”
“But even that eminence would enable you to look over other people's
heads and beyond.”
“It would,” she answered, “if human nature didn't desire a sense of
security; but, as it is, when I am artificially set up, I find that all
I can do is to look at my own feet, and tremble lest I fall. Modern
literature stimulates; it doesn't nourish. It makes you feel like a
giant for a moment, but leaves you crushed like a worm, and without
faith, without love, without hope. It excites you pleasurably, and when
you see life through its medium you never suspect that the vision is
distorted. It makes you think the Iconoclast the greatest hero, and
causes you to feel that you share his glory when you help him with your
approval to overthrow all the images you ever cherished; but when the
work of destruction is over, and you look about you once more with
sober eyes, you find you have sacrificed your all for nothing. Your
false guide fails you when you want him most. He robs you, and leaves
you hungry, thirsty, and alone in the wilderness to which he has
beguiled you. There is no need for new theories of Life and Religion;
all we require is strength and courage to perfect the old ones.
[Footnote: She quite changed her mind upon this subject eventually, and
held that there was not only need of new theories, but good hope that
we should have them.] What the mind wants is food it can grow upon, not
stimulants which inflate it for a time with a fancied sense of power
that has no real existence. But I have small hope for our nation when I
think of the sparkling trash that the mind of the multitude daily
imbibes and craves for. I mean our novels. What a fine affectation of
goodness there is in most of them! And what a perfect moral is tacked
on to them!—like the balayeuse at the bottom of a lady's dress;
but, like the balayeuse, it is only meant to be a protection and
a finish, and, however precious it may be, it suffers from contact with
the dirt, and sooner or later has to be cut out and cast aside, soiled
and useless. Some doggerel a friend of mine scribbled on one book in
particular describes dozens of popular novels exactly:
O what a beautiful history!
Think what temptations they passed!
Each one more cruelly trying,
More tempting, indeed, than the last.
And what a lesson it teaches;
No passion from evil's exempted—
Whilst admiring the moral it preaches,
It makes you quite long to be tempted.
I agree with those who tell us that society is breaking up, or will
break up unless something is done at once to stop the dissolution. We
have no high ideals of anything. Marriage itself is a mere commercial
treaty, and only professional preachers speak of it in other terms—and
those young people, with a passion for each other, who are about to be
united—a passion that dies the death inevitably for want of knowledge,
and wholesome principle, and self-control to support it. Some of us
like our bargains better than others, but you can judge of the
estimation in which marriage is held when you see how much happiness
people generally find in it. If men and women were kept apart, and made
to live purely from their cradles, they would still scarcely be fit for
marriage; yet any man thinks he may marry, and never cares to be the
nobler or the better for it. And when you see that this, the only
perfect state, the most sacred bond of union between man and woman, is
everywhere lightly considered, don't you think there is reason in the
fear that we are falling on bad times? Oh, don't quote the Romans to
me, and the Inevitable. We know better than the Romans, and could do
better if we chose. But we have to mourn for the death of our manhood!
Where is our manhood? Where are our men? Is there any wonder that we
are losing what is best in life when only women are left to defend it?
Believe me, the degradation of marriage is the tune to which the whole
fabric of society is going to pieces——”
“Eh, what!” exclaimed the Bishop, waking up with a start—“whole
fabric of society going to pieces? Nonsense! When so many people come
to church. And then look at all the societies at work for the—for
the— ah—prevention of everything. Why, I belong to a dozen at least
myself; the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Rational Dress
Reform, for doing away with petticoats—no, by-the-by, it is my wife
who belongs to that. But, at any rate, everything is being done that
should be done, and you talk nonsense, my dear”—looking at Ideala
severely— “because you don't know anything about it.”
“The faults we are hardest on in others are those we are most
conscious of in ourselves—perhaps because we know how easy it would be
to conquer them,” Ideala observed vaguely.
“Oh, come, now, my dear,” said the Bishop, beaming round on all of
us, “you must not believe what you hear about society being in such a
bad state. I know idle people say so, and it is very wrong of them.
Why, I never see anything wrong.”
“Of course not,” said Ideala. “We are all on our best behaviour
The Bishop patted his apron good-humouredly. “Well, now, take
yourself for example,” he said. “I am sure you never do
wrong—tell stories, you know, and that kind of thing.”
“Haven't I, though!” she answered, mischievously. “Not that it was
much use, for I always repented and confessed; and now I have abandoned
the practice to the best of my ability. It is horrid to feel you don't
deserve the confidence that is placed in you, Bishop, isn't it?”
“Ideala!” Claudia protested.
The Bishop looked puzzled.
“I can assure you I have suffered agonies of remorse because, in an
idle moment, I deceived my cat—a big, comfortable creature, who used
to come to me every day to be fed, and preferred to eat out of my hand.
He was greedy, though, and snapped, and one day I offered him a piece
of preserved ginger, and he dashed at it as usual, and swallowed it
before he knew what it was. Then he just looked at me and walked away.
He trusted me, and I had deceived him. It was an unpardonable breach of
confidence, and I have always felt that I never could look that cat in
the face again.”
The Bishop smiled and sighed at the little reminiscence. “I think
you are right, though, in one way, Ideala,” he presently observed. “The
powers of Light and Darkness are certainly having a hard fight for it
in our day; but we have every reason to hope.
Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill.”
“And, granted that the popular literature of the day is corrupt,”
the young sculptor put in, “and that the standard of society is being
yearly lowered by it, still there is Art——”
“But there is so little of it,” said Ideala; “I mean so little that
elevates. Most of the subjects chosen are not worth painting; and what
profit is there in contemplating a thing that is neither grand nor
beautiful in itself, nor suggestive, by association, of anything that
is grand or beautiful? The pictures one generally sees are not
calculated to suggest anything to the minds that need suggestion most.
The technical part may be good and gratifying to those who understand
it, but that is the mere trade of the thing. We prefer to see it well
done, of course, but if the canvas has nothing but the paint to
recommend it, the artist might have saved himself the trouble of
putting it on, for all the good it does or the pleasure it gives.”
“Oh, Ideala, do you know nothing of the charm of colour?” asked a
lady who painted.
“I do,” said Ideala, “but I may be supposed to have enjoyed
exceptional advantages. And it is hardly charm we want to elevate us.
There will always be enough in all conscience to appeal to the senses.
But there is an absence even of charm.”
“Many a noble thought has been expressed in a coat of colour,” said
“I know it has,” Ideala answered; “and all best thoughts give
pleasure. I have been so thrilled by a noble idea, well expressed, that
I could do nothing but sit with closed eyes and revel in the joy of it.
But if such an idea were placed before you, and you did not know the
language in which it was written, what good would it do you? An
uneducated person seeing a picture of a donkey in a field sees only a
donkey in a field, however well it may be painted; and I fancy very
exceptional ability would be required to make any of us think a grey
donkey sublime, or believe an ordinary green field to be one of the
“Talking about charm,” the sculptor broke in, enthusiastically, “I
suppose you haven't seen the new picture, 'Venus getting into the
Bath?' That is a feast of colour, and realism, if you like! She is
standing beside the bath with a dreamy look on her face. Her lovely
eyes are fixed on the water. One arched and blue-veined foot is
slightly raised as if the touch of the marble chilled her. Her limbs
are in an easy attitude, and beautifully modelled. She is represented
as a slight young girl, and the figure stands out in exquisite nudity
from a background of Pompeian red, and the dark green of myrtles. With
one hand she is holding aloft the masses of her rich brown hair—the
attitude suggests the stretching of the muscles after repose; with the
other”—but here his memory failed him. “What is she doing with
her other hand?”
“Scratching herself!” slipped from Ideala, involuntarily, to her own
horror and the delight of some. But she recovered herself quickly, and
turning to the good Bishop, who was looking mildly astonished and much
amused, she said: “There, my Lord, is an instance of the corrupt state
of society in our own day. You see, even your restraining presence
doesn't always keep us in order. I hope,” she whispered to me, “I'm not
going to be made the horrid example to prove the truth of all my
Soon after this the party broke up. Claudia returned in her wraps to
say good-night to the Bishop's wife.
“Claudia!” Ideala exclaimed, “you have forgotten that detestable old
Claudia tried to stop her with a significant gesture, but in vain.
Ideala was obtuse.
“Claudia came out this evening in the most extraordinary covering I
ever saw a lady wear,” she said to the Bishop's wife. “I really think
she must have borrowed it from one of the maids.”
“I am afraid you must mean the blue shawl I lent to Lady Claudia the
other evening,” the Bishop's wife replied, with a hurt smile.
“Oh!” said Ideala, disconcerted for a moment. “But, really,
Bishopess, you deserve to be upbraided. You should set a better
example, and not provoke us to scorn on the subject of your shawls.”
Later, when I was alone with my sister, I said: “Ideala did nothing
but put her foot in it this evening. What was the matter with her? I
never heard her speak so strongly before, except when she was alone
with us. And I don't think she ought to discuss such subjects with such
people; it is hardly delicate.”
Claudia sighed wearily. “Who knows what pain is at the bottom of it
all?” she said. “But one thing always puzzles me. Ideala rails at evils
that never hurt her, and yet she speaks of marriage, which has been her
bane, as if it were a holy and perfect state, upon which it is a
privilege to enter.”
“Plenty of people have condemned marriage simply because their own
experience of it has been unfortunate,” I answered; “but Ideala is
above that. She will let no petty personal mishap prejudice her
judgment on the subject. She sees and feels the possibility of infinite
happiness in marriage when there is such love and such devotion on both
sides as she herself could have brought to it; and she understands that
her own unhappy experience need only be exceptional.”
“I wish it were!” sighed Claudia.
Some years later, Ideala confessed to me that she had written “The
Passion of Delysle” herself, but had had no idea of its significance
until she heard it read aloud that night, and then, as she elegantly
expressed it, she could have cut her throat with shame and
mortification, which I consider a warning to young ladies not to trust
to their poetical inspirations, for—if the shade of Shelley will
pardon the conclusion—alas! apparently, they know not what they
do when they write verses!
“I can't think how you could have criticised it like that, Ideala,”
I said, “now that I know you wrote it.”
“Neither can I,” she answered.
“You ought to have confessed you had written it, or have said
nothing about it,” I told her, frankly.
“Yes,” she assented. “Not doing so was a kind of falsehood. But
neither course occurred to me.” And then she explained: “I never see
the meaning of what I write till the light of public opinion is turned
upon it, or some cold critic comes and damps my enthusiasm. When a
subject possesses me, and shapes itself into verse, it boils in my
brain, and my pen is the only way of escape for it, the one
safety-valve I have to ease the pressure. And I can't judge of its
merits myself for long enough after it is written, because the
boiling begins again, you see, whenever I read it, and then there is
such a steam of feeling I cannot see to think. For the verses, however
poor they appear to you, contain for me the whole poem as I have it in
my inner consciousness. It is beautiful as it exists there, but the
power of expression is lacking. If only I could make you feel it as I
do, I should be the greatest poet alive.”
It was a trick of Ideala's to miss the true import of a thing—often
an act of her own—until the occasion had passed, or to see it
strangely distorted, as she frequently did at this time—though that
gradually ceased altogether as she grew older; but it was this
peculiarity, so strongly marked in her, which first helped me to
comprehend a curious trait there is in the moral nature of men and
women while it is still in process of development. Many men, Frenchmen
especially, have thought the trait peculiar to women. La Bruyére
declares that “Women have no principles as men understand the word.
They are guided by their feelings, and have full faith in their guide.
Their notions of propriety and impropriety, right and wrong, they get
from the little world embraced by their affections.” And Alphonse Karr
says: “Never attempt to prove anything to a woman: she believes only
according to her feelings. Endeavour to please and persuade: she may
yield to the person who reasons with her, not to his
arguments”—opinions, however, which apply to men as often as not, and
only to the young, impressible, passionate, and imperfectly educated of
either sex. But there is scarcely a generalisation for one sex which
does not apply equally to the other, so perfectly alike in nature are
men and women. The difference is only in circumstance. Reverse the
position of the sexes, require men to be modest and obedient, and they
will develop every woman's weakness in a generation. If a man would
comprehend a woman, let him consider himself; the woman has the same
joys, sorrows, hopes, fears, pleasures, and passions—expressed in
another way, that is all. But, certainly, for a long time Ideala's
guide was her feeling about a thing. I have often said to her, when at
last she decided to take some step which had obviously been the only
course open to her from the first: “But, Ideala, why have you
hesitated so long? You knew it was right to begin with.”
“Yes,” she would answer, “I knew it was right; but I have
only just now felt that it was.”
She had never thought of acting on the mere cold knowledge. For
feeling to knowledge, in young minds, is like the match to a fire laid
in a grate; knowledge without feeling being as cheerless and impotent
as the fire unlit.
A little while after that evening at the Palace we learnt to our
dismay that Ideala's husband had taken a house in one of the rough
manufacturing districts, to which he meant to remove immediately.
Business was the pretext, as he had money in some great ironworks
there; but I think the nearness of a large city, where a man of his
stamp would be able to indulge all his tastes without let or hindrance,
had something to do with the change.
Ideala had kept up very well while she was among us, but soon after
she went away we gathered from the tone of her letters that there was a
change in her which alarmed us. Her health, which had hitherto been
splendid, seemed to be giving way, and it was evident that her new
position did not please her, and that, even after she had been there
for months, she continued to feel herself “a stranger in a strange
land.” The people were uncongenial, and I think it likely they regarded
Ideala's oddities with some suspicion, and did not take to her as we
had done. She had not that extreme youth which had been her excuse when
she came to us, and which, somehow, we had not missed when she lost it;
and her habitual reserve on all matters that immediately concerned
herself must also have tended to make her unpopular with people whose
predominant quality was “an eminent curiosity.”
“They are far above books,” Ideala wrote to Claudia; “what they
study is each other, and in the pursuit of this branch of knowledge
they are indefatigable. When they can get nothing out of me about
myself, they question me about my husband and friends, and it is in
vain that I answer them with those words of wisdom (I feel sure I
misquote them)— 'All that is mine own is yours till the end of my
life; but the secret of my friend is not mine own'—they persevere.
“Our house is near the town, Eighteen big chimneys darken our
daylight and deluge us with smuts when the wind brings the smoke, our
way; and besides the smoke we are subject to unsavoury vapours from
chemical works in the other direction, so that when the wind shifts we
only exchange evils. They say these chemical fumes are not unwholesome,
and quote the death-rate, which is lower than any other place of the
size in England. In fact, scarcely anybody dies here. They go away as
soon as they begin to feel ill—perhaps that accounts for it. But those
horrid chemical fumes have a great deal to answer for. They have killed
the trees for miles around. It is the oaks that suffer principally. The
tops are nipped first, and then they gradually die downwards till the
whole tree is decayed all through. The absence of trees makes the
country bleak and desolate, and I cannot help thinking the unlovely
surroundings affect us all. The people themselves are unlovely in
thought, and word, and deed; but I have found a good deal of rough
kindliness amongst them nevertheless. They did mob me on one occasion,
and made most unkind remarks about my nether garments, when I was
obliged to walk through the town in my riding habit; but, as a rule,
the mill girls merely observe 'That's a lady,' and let me go by
unmolested—unless I happen to be carrying flowers. They do so love
flowers, poor things and I cannot resist their pathetic entreaties when
they beg for 'One, missus, on'y one!' Some of my lady friends are not
let off so easily as I am. The girls chaff them unmercifully about
their dress and personal peculiarities, and if they show signs of
annoyance they call them names that are not to be repeated. The mill
girls wear bright-coloured gowns, white aprons, and nothing on their
heads. If a policeman catches them at any mischief they either clatter
off in their clogs with shrieks of laughter, or knock him down and kick
him most unmercifully. They are as strong as men, and as beautiful,
some of them, as saints; but they are very unsaintlike creatures
really—irresponsible, and with little or no idea of right and wrong.
One scarcely believes that they have souls—and I am always surprised
to find that anything not cruel and coarse can survive in the hearts of
people, begrimed, body and mind, like these, by their hard
surroundings; but it is there, nevertheless—the human nature, and the
poetry, and the something ready to thrill to better things. A gentleman
has a lovely place not far from us, where the trees have been spared by
a miracle. Nightingales seldom wander so far north, but a few years ago
a stray one was heard there, and the wonder and the beauty of its voice
brought hundreds from the mills and crowded streets to hear it sing.
Special trains were run from the neighbouring city to accommodate the
crowds that came nightly to wait in the moonlight and listen; and an
enterprising trader set up a stall, and sold gingerbeer. The story ends
there, but I like it, don't you? especially the gingerbeer part of it.
It was told me by one who remembers the circumstance.
“My greatest pleasure in life is in my flowers, they are dearer to
me than any I ever had before, because they are all so delicate, and
require such infinite care and tenderness to keep them alive in this
uncongenial climate. I have my thrushes also—two, which I stole from a
nest in a wood one moonlight night, and brought up by hand on bread and
milk and scraped beef. I had to get up at daylight, and feed them every
hour until dark; but the clergy will not allow that this obligation was
a proper excuse for staying away from church, and just now I am unhappy
in the feeling that their religion must be inhuman. But my thrushes
have well repaid the trouble. They call me when I go into the room, and
come to me when I open the door of their cage, and perch on my
shoulder. One of them, Israfil, sings divinely. People who come to hear
him see only a little brown bird with speckled breast, and call him a
thrush; but I know he is Israfil, 'the angel of song, and most
melodious of God's creatures;' and he thinks that I have wings.
He told me so!
“I wish you would send me a basket of snails packed up in lettuce
leaves. I don't know why, but I can find none here, and I cannot hear
of one ever having been seen in the county. But please do not send them
unless you are quite sure you can spare them.”
“Ideala is trying to hide herself behind these pretty trivialities,”
Claudia said. “I always suspect that there is something more wrong than
usual when she adopts this playful tone and childlike simplicity of
“It must be trying to have a friend who believes so little in one as
you do in Ideala,” I answered.
“Oh, how exasperating you are!” Claudia exclaimed. “You know what I
mean quite well enough.”
Later, Ideala wrote: “You are anxious about my health. The fact is,
I have developed a most extraordinary talent for taking cold. I went by
train to see the museum in the city the other day. I took off my cloak
while I was there, and stayed an hour, and when I came away, the
antiquary, who knew I was a precious specimen, wrapped me up carefully
himself. Nevertheless I caught cold. Then I went to stay with some
people near here who clamoured much for the pleasure of my company.
They live in a palace and are entertaining. The lady's papa took me in
to dinner he first evening. He asked me about Major Gorst, and wanted
to know, in an impressive tone of voice, if I had heard that he was the
next heir but one to the Hearldom of Cathcourt.
“The next day my hostess said to her husband: 'Dearest, do let me
ride Oscar,' and he replied: 'No, my darling, I can't till I know he's
safe. I must get some one to try him first'—and he looked at
me—'Perhaps you wouldn't mind?'
“They had never seen me on horseback, and I was longing to
distinguish myself. I did distinguish myself. Oscar was a merry horse,
but one never knew how he would take things. The first bridge we came
to—I was 'sitting easy to a canter' with my foot out of the stirrup
and my leg over the third crutch—a bad habit I learnt from a
foreign friend—and an express train rushed by. Oscar went on abruptly,
but I remained. The next difficulty was at a brook. We ought to have
crossed it together; but Oscar changed his mind at the last moment, so
he remained and I went on. And after that we came to cross-roads, and
had a difference of opinion about which was the right one. That ended
in our coming over together, which made me feel solemn—disheartened,
in fact—and then I thought we should never understand each other and
be friends, so I gave him up. I did not talk much about riding to those
people after that.
“But I wore my summer habit that day, and of course I caught cold.
And when that was nearly well I went downstairs to be civil to some
people who had driven a long way to see me. The drawing-room was damp
from disuse, and the fire had only just been lighted—and of course I
caught cold. When that was better I went for a drive. The wind was
east, and the carriage was open—and of course I caught cold. I don't
know how it may strike you, but argument seems to me useless when a
person has such a constitution.”
“Can you read between the lines of that letter?” Claudia asked me.
“She seems to be dreadfully don't care,” I said.
“Exactly. She is more reckless, and therefore more miserable, than
she used to be. I wouldn't live with him.”
“Ideala won't shirk her duty because it is hard and unpalatable,” I
“I believe she likes it!” Claudia exclaimed; and then, smiling at
her own inconsistency, she explained, “I mean if she really is
miserable she ought to speak and let us do something.”
“It is contrary to her principles. She would think it wrong to
disturb your mind for a moment because her own life is a burden
to her. That is why she always tries to seem happy, and is cheerful on
the surface. If she made lament, we should suffer in sympathy, and all
the more because there is so very little we could do to help her.
Silence is best. If she ever gives way, she will not be able to bear it
“But why should she bear it?” Claudia demanded.
“It is her duty.”
“I know she thinks so, and is sacrificing her life to that
principle. But will you kindly tell me where a woman's duty to her
husband ends and her duty to herself begins? I suppose you will allow
that she has a duty to herself? And the line should be drawn
Claudia's mind was a sort of boomerang just then, returning
inevitably to this point of departure; but I could make no suggestion
that satisfied her. And I was uneasy myself. Ideala refused to come to
us, and had made some excuse to prevent it when Claudia offered to go
to her. This puzzled me; but we induced her at last to promise to meet
us in London in May. It was April then, and we thought if she could be
persuaded to stay two months of the season in town with us, and go with
us afterwards to a place of mine in the North which she loved, she
would probably recover her health and spirits.
In the meantime, however, something decisive happened, as we
It seems that after they left our neighbourhood Ideala had, by
accident, made a number of small discoveries about her husband which
had the effect of destroying any remnant of respect she may still have
felt for him. She found that he was in the habit of examining her
private papers in her absence, and that he had opened her letters and
resealed them. His manner to her was unctuous as a rule; but she knew
he lied to her without hesitation if it suited his purpose—and that
alone would have been enough to destroy her liking for him, for it is
not in the nature of such a woman to love a man who has looked her in
the face and lied to her.
These things, and the loneliness he brought upon her by driving from
her the few people with whom she had any intellectual fellowship, she
would have borne in the old uncomplaining way, but he did not stop
One day she drove into town with a friend who got out to do some
shopping. Ideala waited in the carriage, which had stopped opposite a
public-house, and from where she sat she could see the little sitting-room behind the bar, and its occupants. They were her husband and the
barmaid, who was sitting on his knee.
Ideala arranged her parasol so that they might not see her if they
chanced to look that way, and calmly resumed the conversation when her
She dined alone with her husband that evening, and talked as usual,
telling him all she had done and what news there was in the paper, as
she always did, to save him the trouble of reading it. In return he
told her he had been at the ironworks all day, only leaving them in
time to dress for dinner, a piece of news she received with a still
countenance, and her soft eyes fixed on the fire.
She was standing on the hearth at the time, and as he spoke he laid
his hand upon her shoulder caressingly, but she could not bear it. Her
powers of endurance were at an end, and for the first time she shrank
from him openly.
“How you do loathe me, Ideala,” he exclaimed.
“Yes, I loathe you,” she answered.
And then, in a sudden burst of rage, he raised his hand and struck
Ideala's determination to be faithful to what she conceived to be
her duty had kept her quiet hitherto, but now a sense of personal
degradation made her desperate, and she forgot all that. Her first
impulse was to consult somebody, to speak and find means to put an end
to her misery; but I was not there, and to whom should she go for
advice. Her impatience brooked no delay. She must see some one
instantly. She thought of the Rector of the parish, but felt he would
not do. He was a fine-looking, well-mannered old gentleman, much
engaged in scientific pursuits, who always spoke of the Deity as if he
were on intimate terms with Him, and had probably never been asked to
administer any but the most formal kind of spiritual consolation in his
The training and experience of a Roman Catholic priest, accustoming
them as it does to deal with every phase of human suffering and
passion, would have been more useful to her in such an emergency, but
she knew none of the priests in that district, and did not think of
going to them. But while she was considering the matter, as if by
inspiration, she remembered something an acquaintance had lately
written to her. This lady was a person for whom she felt much respect,
and that doubtless influenced her decision considerably. The lady
wrote: “It must be convenient to be only twenty minutes by train from
such a big place. I suppose you go over for shopping, &c.? When you are
there again I wish you would go and see my cousin Lorrimer. He is
Adviser in General at the Great Hospital—a responsible position; and I
am sure, if you go, he will be glad to do the honours of the place,
which is most interesting.”
Ideala had felt from the first that she would rather consult a
stranger who would be disinterested and unprejudiced. This gentleman's
name promised well for him, for he belonged to people whose integrity
was well known; and his position vouched for his ability—and also for
his age to Ideala, whose imagination had pictured a learned old
gentleman, bald, spectacled, benevolent, full of knowledge of the
world, “wise saws and modern instances.” No one, she thought, could be
better suited for her purpose; and accordingly, next day, after
attending to her household duties, she went by an early train to
The Great Hospital had been founded by an eccentric old gentleman of
enormous wealth for an entirely original purpose. He observed that
great buildings were erected everywhere to receive patients suffering
from all imaginable bodily ills, chronic mania, of course, when the
brain was diseased, being one of them; but no one had thought of making
provision for such troubles, mental, moral, and religious, as affect
the mind; and he held that such suffering was as real, and, without
proper treatment, as incurable and disastrous, as any form of physical
ailment. He therefore determined to found an hospital for these unhappy
ones, which should contain every requisite that Divine Revelation had
suggested, or human ingenuity could devise, for the promotion of peace
of mind. The idea had grown out of some great mental trouble with which
he himself had been afflicted in early life, and for which the world,
as it was, could offer him no relief.
The first thing he did towards the carrying out of his plan was to
buy a site for his hospital near a growing town on the banks of a big
river. The building was to be surrounded by green fields, for the
colour is refreshing; and within sight of a great volume of calmly
flowing water, the silent power of which is solemn and tranquillising
to the spirit; and human society was to be within easy reach, for many
people find it beneficial. As soon as he had found the site, which was
entirely satisfactory, he set about maturing his plan for the building.
Such a scheme could not be carried out in a moment, and he spent thirty
years in travelling to study human nature, and architecture, and all
else that should help to bring his work to perfection. At the end of
thirty years he had finished a plan for the building to his own entire
satisfaction; but Mr. Ruskin had been growing up in the meantime, and
had begun to write, and the founder, happening to come across his works
by accident one day, discovered his own ideas to be wrong from
beginning to end. However, as it was the Truth he was aiming at, and
not a justification of himself, he calmly burnt his plans, put his
fingers in his ears (figuratively speaking) that he might not hear the
rest of the world bray, and for ten years more devoted himself to the
study of Mr. Ruskin. At the end of that time he knew something about
proportion, about masses and intervals of light and shade; about the
grandeur and sublimity of size, and the grace and beauty of ornament;
about depth and harmony of colour, and all the other wonders that make
one sick with longing to behold them; and when he had mastered all this
he determined to begin at the very beginning, that is to say, with the
walls that were to enclose his vast experiment. Everything was to be
real, everything was to be solid, everything had to be endowed with a
power of expression that could not fail of its effect. And as soon as
he felt he might safely begin, he hastened away to inspect the long
neglected site for his wonderful building. But here an unexpected check
awaited him. While he himself had been so hard at work, his future
neighbours had not been idle. The town had grown to a city; the river's
banks were crowded with wharves and human habitations; the river itself
cradled a fleet on its bosom, its waters, once so sublimely clear and
still, were turbid and yellow, befouled by the city sewers, and useful
only; and all that remained to remind him of what had once been were a
few acres of weeds enclosed by an iron railing—an eyesore to the
inhabitants of that region, as the Corporation told him, with a polite
hope that he would either build on it soon or leave it alone, which was
their diplomatic way of requesting him to hand the lot over to
themselves. And this he might have done had they said “Please;” but
when he found the young city so ignorant, he thought it his duty to
teach it manners, so he took a year or two more to consider the matter.
Then he perceived that if he built his house on the site as it was now
he should do even more good than he had intended, for the constant
contemplation of such a stately pile would help to elevate the citizens
outside the building, while those within might find comfort in seeing
themselves surrounded by even greater misery than their own.
And so the building rose and grew to perfection, and they found
after all that no better site could have been chosen for it; for from
every side as you approached it, it was seen to advantage, and the
majesty and power of it were made manifest. Outside, the design was so
evident in its grandeur that the mind was not wearied and perplexed by
an effort to understand; it was simply elevated to a state of enjoyment
bordering on exaltation—exaltation without excitement, and near akin
to peace. And the interior of the building as you entered it maintained
this first impression. Such ornament as there was touched you, as the
clouds do, with a sense of suitability that left nothing to be desired.
Art was so perfectly hidden that there seemed to have been no striving
for effect in decoration or construction, it looked like a work of
Nature, accomplished without effort, and beautiful without design; and
the mind brought under its influence, and left free of conjecture, was
gently compelled to revel in the peace which harmonious surroundings
insensibly produce. Disturbing thoughts vanished as being too common
and mean, too human, for such a place, and the spirit was soothed with
a sense of repose—of sensuous restfulness, really, for the pleasure,
as intended, affected the senses more than the intellect, which could
here make holiday. Work-wearied brains were thus eased from pressure,
and minds a prey to doubts and other disturbing thoughts which impaired
their strength, if they did not render them useless, were at once
relieved. And this was the beginning of the treatment which was
afterwards continued in other parts of the building, and by other
means, until the cure was complete—arrangements being made for the
removal of cases that proved to be hopeless to those older
establishments which have long existed at the expense of the country,
or as the outcomes of private enterprise.
Of course the staff of such a place had to be formed of men of a
high order. Some of these had been patients themselves, and had been
chosen on that account, it being thought that those who had suffered
from certain ills would be apt to detect the symptoms in others, and
able to devise remedies for them, which proved to be the case. The
establishment was munificently endowed and liberally supported, and the
Master, as he was reverently called, lived just long enough to see that
it was a success.
He had not thought of extending the charity to women, being under
the impression that no such provision was necessary for them. He
acknowledged that they had a large share of physical suffering to
endure, but asserted that Nature, to preserve her balance, must have
arranged their minds so as to render them incapable of suffering in any
other way. Sentimentality, hysteria, and silliness, he said, were at
the bottom of all their mental troubles, which did not, therefore,
merit serious attention.
But of all this Ideala knew little or nothing when she went there,
except that the Great Hospital existed for some learned purpose. She
felt the power of the place, however, preoccupied as she was, and
stopped involuntarily when she saw the building, ceasing for a moment
to be conscious of anything but the awe and admiration it inspired.
Then she passed up the broad steps, beneath the massive pillars of the
portico, and entered the hall. A man-servant took her card to Mr.
Lorrimer, and, returning presently, requested her to follow him. They
left the great hall by a flight of low steps at the end of it, and,
turning to the right, passed through glass doors into quite another
part of the building. A long, dimly-lighted gallery led away into the
distance. A few doors opened on to it, and at one of these the servant
stopped and knocked. A tall gentleman opened the door himself, and,
begging Ideala to enter, bade her be seated at a writing-table which
stood in the middle of the room, and himself took the chair in front of
it, and looked at Ideala's card which lay before him. Another
gentleman, whom Lorrimer introduced as “My brother Julian,” lounged on
a high-backed chair at the other side of the table. The room was a good
size, but so crowded with things that there was scarcely space to turn
round. The light fell full upon Lorrimer as he sat facing the window,
and Ideala saw a fair man of about thirty, not at all the sort of man
she had imagined, and quite impossible for her purpose.
An awkward pause followed her entrance. She was unable to tell him
the real reason of her visit, and at a loss to invent a fictitious one.
“I don't suppose you know in the least who I am,” she said, seeing
that he glanced at her card again, and then she explained, telling him
what his cousin had written to her.
“And you would like to see the Hospital?” he asked.
He rose, took down a bunch of keys, and requested her to follow him.
She felt no interest in the place, and knew it was a bore to him to
show it to her; but the thing had to be done. He led her through halls
and lecture-rooms, places of recreation and places for work; he showed
her picture galleries, statuary, the library, and a museum, and told
her the plan of it all clearly, like one reciting a lesson, and
indifferently, like one performing a task that must be got through
somehow, but making it all most interesting, nevertheless.
Ideala began to be taken out of herself.
“What a delightful place!” she said, when they came to the library.
“And there is a whole row of books I want to consult. How I should like
to come and read them.”
“Oh, pray do,” he answered, “whenever you like. Ladies frequently do
so. You have only to write and tell me when you wish to come, and I
will see that you are properly attended to.”
“Thank you,” Ideala rejoined. “It is just the very thing for me, for
I am writing a little book, and cannot get on till I have consulted
some authorities on the subject.” In the museum they stopped to look at
“Oh, happy mummy!” burst from Ideala, involuntarily.
“Why?” asked Lorrimer, aroused from his apathy.
“It has done with it all, you know,” she answered.
Then he turned and looked at her, and she saw that he was something
more than cold, pale-faced, and indifferent, which had been her first
idea of him. His eyes were large, dark grey, and penetrating. She would
have called his face fine, rather than handsome; but the upper part was
certainly beautiful, in spite of some hard lines on it. There was
something in the expression, more than in the formation, of the mouth
and chin, however, that did not satisfy. His head and throat were
splendid; the former narrowed a little at the back, but the forehead
made up for the defect, which was not striking. He made Ideala think of
Tito Melema and of Bayard.
That remark of hers having broken the ice, they began to talk like
human beings with something in common. But Ideala's mood was not
calculated to produce a good impression. The failure of her enterprise
brought on a fit of recklessness such as we understood, and she said
some things which must have made a stranger think her peculiar.
Lorrimer had begun to be amused before they returned to the great
entrance hall. Once or twice he looked at her curiously. “What sort of
a person are you, I wonder?” he was thinking,
“I was dying of dulness,” she said, telling him about the place she
came from, “and so I came to see you.”
He left her for a moment, but presently returned with his brother.
“You had better come and have some luncheon before you go back,” he
And she went.
As they left the building Lorrimer asked her: “Where on earth did my
cousin meet you?”—with the slightest possible emphasis. Ideala
understood him, and laughed.
“Upon my word I don't know who introduced her,” she answered,
standing on her dignity nevertheless. “I can't remember.”
They went to the refreshment-room at the station. It was crowded,
but they managed to get a table to themselves. There was a vacant seat
at it, and an old gentleman begged to be allowed to occupy it as there
was no other in the room. The three chatted while they waited, each
hiding him, or her, self beneath the light froth of easy conversation;
and people, not accustomed to look on the surface for signs of what is
working beneath, would have thought them merry enough. As she began to
know her companions better, Ideala was more and more drawn to Lorrimer.
His brother, who was a dark man, and very different in character, did
not attract her.
The old gentleman, meanwhile, was absorbed in his newspaper, and he
marked his enjoyment of it by inhaling his breath and exhaling it again
in that particular way which is called “blowing like a porpoise.”
Lorrimer, by an intelligent glance, expressed what he thought of the
peculiarity to Ideala, who remarked: “It is the next gale developing
dangerous energy on its way to the North British and Norwegian coasts.”
The laugh that followed caused the old gentleman to fold up his
paper, and look benignly at the young people over his pince-nez.
It was early in the season, and peas were a rare and forced
vegetable. A small dish of them was brought, and handed to the
dangerous gale, who absently took them all.
“You have taken all the peas, sir; allow me to give you all the
pepper,” said Lorrimer, dexterously suiting the action to the word.
The dangerous gale, though disconcerted at first, was finally moved
“Ah, young people! young people!” he said, and sighed—and being a
merry and wise old gentleman, he found pleasure in their pleasure, and
entered into their mood, little suspecting that Black Care was one of
the party, or that a black bruise which would have aroused all the pity
and indignation of his honest old heart, had he seen it, was almost
under his eyes.
And they all loved him.
Presently he rose to go; but before he departed, he observed,
looking kindly at Ideala and Lorrimer; “You're a handsome pair, my
dears! Let me congratulate you; and may your children have the mother's
sweetness and the father's strength, and may the love you have for each
other last for ever—there's nothing like it. Thank God for it, and
remember Him always—and keep yourselves unspotted from the world.” And
so saying, he went his way in peace.
“Dear embarrassing old man!” said Lorrimer, regretfully. “I wish I
hadn't spilt the pepper on his plate.
“Is there a chance for Lorrimer?” his brother asked.
But Ideala only stared at him. There was something in his tone that
made her feel ill at ease, and brought back the recollection of her
misery in a moment. Then all at once she became depressed, and both the
young men noticed it.
“I'm afraid you're rather down about something,” Julian said. “You'd
better tell us what it is. Perhaps we could cheer you up. And I'm a
lawyer, you know. I might be able to help you.”
Lorrimer was looking at her, and seemed to wait for her to speak;
but she only showed by a change of expression that the fact of his
brother being a lawyer possessed a special interest for her.
“If you will trust us,” he said at last, “perhaps we can help
“I wish I could,” she answered, wistfully; “I came to tell you.”
“This sounds serious,” Julian said, lightly. “You will have to begin
at the beginning, you know. Come, Lorrimer, we'll go down the river.
And,” to Ideala, “you might tell us all about it on the way, you know.”
“Yes, come,” said Lorrimer. Ideala rose to accompany them without a
thought. It all came about so easily that no question of propriety
suggested itself—and if any had occurred to her she would probably
have considered it an insult to these gentlemen to suppose they would
allow her to put herself in a questionable position; and when Julian
lit a cigarette without asking her permission, she was surprised.
On the way to the river Ideala's spirits rose again, and they all
talked lightly, making a jest of everything; but while they were
waiting for a boat, Julian took up a bunch of charms that were attached
to Ideala's watch-chain and began to examine them coolly, and the
unwonted familiarity startled her. With a sudden revulsion of feeling
she turned to Lorrimer. She was annoyed by the slight indignity, and
also a little frightened. Whatever Lorrimer may have thought of her
before, he understood her look now, and his whole manner changed.
Julian left them for a moment. “I am so ashamed of myself,”
Ideala said. “I have made some dreadful mistake. I have done something
“I am very sorry for you,” he answered, gravely—and then, to his
brother, who had returned—“You can go on if you like. I am going
“Oh, we can't go on without you,” Ideala inter-posed; “and I would
rather go back too.”
They began to retrace their steps, and Lorrimer, as they walked,
managed, with a few adroit questions, to learn from Ideala that the
trouble had something to do with her husband.
“Regy Beaumont is coming to me this afternoon,” he said to his
brother. “Would you mind being there to receive him?”
They exchanged glances, and Julian took his leave.
“Now, tell me,” Lorrimer said to Ideala.
But an unconquerable fit of shyness came over her the moment they
were left alone together. “I cannot tell you,” she answered. “It is too
dreadful to speak of.”
“Your husband has done you some great wrong?” he said.
“Something for which you can get legal redress?”
“And that made you desperate?”
“And what did you do?” He put the question abruptly, startling
Ideala, as he had intended.
“I? Oh, I—did nothing,” she stammered. There was a pause.
“My ideal of marriage is a high one,” he said at last, “and I should
be very hard on any short-comings of that kind.”
Ideala longed to confide in him, but her shyness continued, and she
walked by his side like one in a dream.
He took her to the station, and when they parted he said, “You will
write and tell me?”
Ideala looked up. There were no hard lines in his face now; he was
“Yes, I will write,” she answered, almost in a whisper.
And then the train, “with rush and ring,” bore her away through the
spring-country; but she neither saw the young green of the hedgerows,
nor “the young lambs bleating in the meadows,” nor the broad river as
she passed it, nor the fleecy clouds that flecked the blue. She was not
really conscious of anything for the moment, but that sudden great
unspeakable uplifting of the spirit, which is joy.
The following week Ideala came to London, but not to us—she had
promised to stay with some other people first. She wrote three times to
Lorrimer while she was with them—first to thank him for his kindness,
to which he replied briefly, begging her to confide in him, and let him
In her second letter Ideala told him what had occurred. His reply
was business-like. He urged her to let him consult his legal friends
about her case; pointed out that she could not be expected to remain
with her husband now; and showed her that she would not have to suffer
much from all the publicity which was necessary to free her from him.
She replied that her first impulse had been to obtain legal redress,
but that now she could not make up her mind to face the publicity. She
would see him, however, when she returned, and consult him about it;
and she would also like to consult those books in the library. Her
buoyant spirit was already recovering under the influence of a new
interest in life.
Lorrimer's answer was formal, as his other notes had been. He begged
her to make any use of the library she pleased, only to let him know
when to expect her, that she might have no trouble with the officials;
and offered her any other help in his power.
In the meantime my sister Claudia had seen Ideala, and had been
pleased to find her, not looking well, certainly, but just as cheerful
as usual. “It is evident the place does not agree with her,” Claudia
said; “but a few weeks with us will set her all right again.”
They drove in the park together one afternoon, and talked, as usual,
of many things, the state of society being one of them. This was a
subject upon which my sister descanted frequently, and it was from her
that Ideala learnt all she knew of it.
“Can you wonder,” Claudia said on this occasion, “that men are
immoral when ladies in society rather pride themselves than otherwise
on imitating the demi-monde?”
“Have you ever noticed,” Ideala answered, indirectly, “how
frequently a word or phrase which you know quite well by sight, but
have never thought of and do not understand, is suddenly brought home
to you as it were? You come across it everywhere, and at last take the
trouble to find out what it means in self-defence. That expression—
demi- monde—has begun to haunt me since I came to town, and I feel
I shall be obliged to look it up at once to stop the nuisance. We went
to a theatre the other night, and when we were settled there I saw my
husband in the stalls with a lady in flame-coloured robes. I didn't
know he was in town. The rest of our party saw him, too, and the
gentlemen had a mysterious little consultation at the back of the box.
Then one of them left us, but returned almost immediately, and told us
the carriage had not gone, and hadn't we better try some other theatre
—the piece at that one was not so good as they had supposed. But I
knew they had taken a lot of trouble, entirely on my account, to get a
box there, as I had expressed a wish to see that particular piece, and
I said I had come to enjoy it, and meant to. I did enjoy it, too. It
was so absorbing that I forgot all about my husband, and don't know
when he left the theatre. I only know that he disappeared without
coming near us. When we got back, Lilian came to my room and told me
they were all saying downstairs that I had behaved splendidly, and I
said I was delighted to hear it, particularly as I did not know how, or
when, or where, I had come to deserve such praise. And then she asked
me if I knew who it was my husband was with. I said, no; some
alderman's wife, I supposed. 'Nothing half so good,' she answered.
'That woman is notorious: she is one of the demimonde!' 'Well,'
I said, 'I don't suppose she is in society.' And then Lilian said,
'Good gracious, Ideala! how can you be so tranquil? You must
care. I think you are the most extraordinary person I ever met.' And I
told her that the only extraordinary thing about me just then was a
great 'exposition of sleep' that had come upon me. And then she left
me; but she told me afterwards that she thought I was acting, and came
back later to see if I really could sleep.”
“And you did sleep, Ideala?”
“Like a top—why not? But now you are following suit with your ill-conducted people, and your demi-monde. I want to know what you
mean by that phrase?”
Then Claudia explained it to her.
“But I thought all that had ended with the Roman Empire,” Ideala
Claudia laughed, and then went on without pity, describing the class
as they sink lower and lower, and cruelly omitting no detail that might
complete the picture.
“But the men are as bad,” said Ideala.
“Oh, as bad, yes!” was the answer.
Ideala was pale with disgust. “And we have to touch them!” she said.
Her ignorance of this phase of life had been so complete, and her
faith in those about her so perfect, that the shock of this dreadful
revelation was almost too much for her. At first, as the carriage drove
on through the crowded streets, she saw in every woman's face a
hopeless degradation, and in every man's eyes a loathsome sin; and she
exclaimed, as another woman had exclaimed on a similar occasion: “Oh,
Claudia! why did you tell me? It is too dreadful. I cannot bear to know
“How a woman can be at once so clever and such a fool as you are,
Ideala, puzzles me,” Claudia remonstrated, not unkindly.
She had warmed as she went on, and forgot in her indignation to take
advantage of this long-looked-for opportunity to speak to Ideala about
her own troubles; and afterwards, when she showed an inclination to
open the subject, Ideala put her off with a jest.
“'Le mariage est beau pour les amants et utile pour les saints,
'“ she quoted, lightly. “Class me with the saints, and talk of something
A few days later Claudia came to me in dismay.
“What do you think?” she said. “Ideala is not coming to us at all!
She says she must go back at once.”
“Go back!” I exclaimed, “and why?”
“She is going to write something, for which she requires to read a
great deal, and she says she must go back to work.”
“But that is nonsense,” I protested. “She can work as much as she
likes here—I can even help her.”
“I know that,” Claudia answered; “but she spoke so positively I
could not insist. I suppose the truth is her husband has ordered her
back, and she is going to be a good, obedient child, as usual.”
“Does she seem at all unhappy?”
“No, and that is the strange part of it. She has coolly broken I
don't know how many other engagements to return at once, and instead of
seeming disappointed, she simply 'glows and is glad.' She says nothing,
but I can see it. I don't know what on earth she is up to now.” And
Claudia left the room, frowning and perplexed.
When I heard she was not unhappy, this sudden whim of Ideala's did
not disturb me much; indeed, I was rather glad to think she had found
something to be enthusiastic about. Her fits of enthusiasm were rarer
now, and I thought this symptom of one a good sign. It was odd, though,
that I had not seen her while she was in town. I was half inclined to
believe she had avoided me.
To give the story continuity it will be necessary to piece the
events together as they followed. Many of them only came to my
knowledge some time after they occurred, and even then I was left to
surmise a good deal; but I am able now, with the help of papers that
have lately come into my possession, to verify most of my conjectures
and arrange the details.
The summer weather had begun now. Laburnums and lilacs were in full
flower, the air was sweet with scent and song, and to one who had borne
the heavy winter with a heavy heart, but was able at last to lay down a
load of care, the transition must have been like a sudden change from
painful sickness to perfect health. Ideala went to the Great Hospital
at once. She had written to fix a day, and Lorrimer was waiting for
her. She was not taken to his room, however, as on the previous
occasion, but to another part of the building, a long gallery hung with
pictures, where she found him superintending the arrangement of some
precious things in cabinets. Ideala looked better and younger that day
in her summer dress than she had done in her heavy winter wraps on the
occasion of their first meeting; but when she found herself face to
face with Lorrimer she began to tremble, and was overcome with
nervousness in a way that was new to her. He saw the change in her
appearance and manner at a glance, and, smiling slightly, begged her to
follow him, and led the way through long passages and many doors,
passing numbers of people, to his own room. He spoke to her once or
twice on the way, but she was only able to answer confusedly, in a
voice that was rendered strident by the great effort she had to make to
control it. He busied himself with some papers for a few minutes when
they reached his room, to give her time to recover herself, and then he
said, standing with his back to the fireplace, looking down at her, and
speaking in a tone that was even more musical and caressing than she
remembered it: “Well, and how are you? And how has it been with you
since your return?”
“I am utterly shaken and unnerved, as you see,” she answered; then
added passionately: “I cannot bear my life; it is too hateful.”
“There is no need to bear it,” he said. “Nothing is easier than to
get a separation after what has occurred. Was there any witness?”
“No; and I don't think any one in the house suspects that there is
anything wrong. And none of my friends know. I have never told them. I
wonder why I told you?”
“You wanted me to help you,” he suggested.
“I don't think I did,” she said. “How could I want you to help me
when I don't mean to do anything? I fancy I told you because I was
afraid you would think me a little mad that day, and I would rather you
knew the truth than think me mad. I don't mean to try for a separation.
I can't leave him entirely to his own devices. If I did, he would
certainly go from bad to worse.”
“And if you don't what will become of you? I think much more of such
a life would make you reckless.”
She was silent for a little, then she exclaimed: “Help me not to
grow reckless. I am so alone.”
He took her hands and looked down into her eyes. A sudden deep flush
spread over his face, smoothing out all the lines, as she had seen it
do once before, and transforming him.
“It is like walking on the edge of a precipice in the dark,” he said
in a low voice, and his grasp tightened as he spoke.
There was something mesmeric in his touch that overpowered Ideala.
She felt a change in herself at the moment, and she was never the same
“I will help you, if I can,” he said, after another pause, and then
he let her go.
After that they talked for some time. He tried to persuade her to
reconsider her decision and leave her husband. He honestly believed it
was the best thing she could do, and told her why he thought so. She
acknowledged the wisdom of his advice, but declined to follow it, and
he was somewhat puzzled, for the reasons she gave were hardly enough to
account for her determination. They wandered away from that subject at
last, however, and talked of many other things. He told Ideala of his
first coming to the Great Hospital as a patient, and gave her some of
the details of his own case, and told her enough of his private history
to arouse her sympathy and interest; but of the nature of these
confidences I know nothing. Ideala felt in honour bound not to repeat
them, as they were made to her in the course of a private conversation,
and she was always scrupulously faithful to all such trusts. I know,
however, that he was a man who had suffered acutely, both from unhappy
circumstances and from those troubles of the mind which beset clever
men at the outset of their career, and sometimes never leave them
entirely at peace. But this man was something more than a clever man;
he was a man in a thousand. He had in a strong degree all that is worst
and best in a man. The highest and most spiritual aspirations warred in
him with the most carnal impulses, and he spent his days in fighting to
attain to the one and subdue the other.
Ideala had never known a man like this man. His talents, his rapid
changes of mood, as sense or conscience got the upper hand, and his
versatility charmed her imagination and excited her interest; and he
had, besides, that magnetic power over her by which it is given to some
men to compel people of certain temperaments to their will. While she
was with him he could have made her believe that black was white, and
not only believe it, but be glad to think that it was so; and he always
compelled her to say exactly what she had in her mind at the moment,
even when it was something that she would very much rather not have
“But I am forgetting my other object in coming,” Ideala broke off at
last. “May I look at the books?”
Lorrimer took out his watch. “You ought to have some lunch first,”
he said. “If you will come now and have some, we can return and look at
the books afterwards.”
Ideala acquiesced, fearing it was his own lunch time, and knowing it
would detain him if she did not accompany him.
Ladies not being allowed to lunch at the Great Hospital, they went,
as before, to the station close by, and sat down side by side,
perfectly happy together, chatting, laughing, talking about their
childhood, and making those trifling confidences which go so far to
promote intimacy, and are often the first evidence of affection. Now
and then they touched on graver matters. He upheld all that was old,
and believed we can have no better institutions in the future than
those which have already existed in the past. Ideala had begun to think
“I am sure it is a mistake to be for ever looking back to the past
for precedents,” she said. “The past has its charm, of course, but it
is the charm of the charnel house—it is the dead past, and what was
good for one age is bad for another.”
“As one man's meat is another man's poison?” he said.
“Proverbs prove nothing,” she answered lightly. “Have you noticed
that they go in pairs? There is always one for each side of an
argument. 'One man's meat is another man's poison' is met by 'What is
sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander'—and so on. But don't you
think it absurd to cling to old customs that are dying a natural death?
Learn of the past, if you like, but live in the present, and make your
laws to meet its needs. It is this eternal waiting on the past to copy
it rather than to be warned by its failures, to do as it did, under the
impression, apparently, that we must succeed better than it did,
following in its footsteps though we know they led to ruin once, and,
because the way was pleasant, being surprised to find that it must end
again in disaster—it is this abandonment of all hope of finding new
and efficacious remedies for the old diseases of society that has
checked our progress for hundreds of years, and will keep the world in
some respects just as it was at the time of the Crucifixion. For my own
part, I cannot see that history does repeat itself, except in trifling
details, and in the lives of unimportant individuals.
“I think,” he rejoined, “if you have studied the decline of the
Roman Empire, you must have seen a striking analogy between that and
our own history at the present time. With the exception of changes of
manners, which only affect the surface of society, we are in much the
same state now as the Romans were then.”
“I know many people say so, and believe it,” Ideala answered; “and
there is evidence enough to prove it to people who are trying to arrive
at a foregone conclusion; but it is not the resemblances we should look
to, but the differences. It is in them that our hope lies, and they
seem to me to be essential. Take the one grand difference that has been
made by the teaching for hundreds of years of the perfect morality of
the Christian religion! Do you think it possible for men, while they
cling to it, to 'reel back into the beast and be no more'?”
“But are men clinging to it?”
“Yes, in a way, for it has insensibly become a part of all of us,
and has made it possible for us to show whole communities of moral
philosophers now in a generation; the ancients had only an occasional
one in a century.”
“But such a one!”
“The old moral philosophers were grand, certainly, but not grander
than our own men are, of whom we only hear less because there are so
many more of them.”
“But do you mean to say society is less sinful than it was?”
“There is one section of society at the present day, they tell me,
which is most desperately wicked. It is worse than any class was when
the world was young, because it knows so much better. But I believe the
bulk of the people like right so well that they only want a strong
impulse to make them follow it. I feel sure sometimes that we are all
living on the brink of a great change for the better, and that there is
only one thing wanting now—a great calamity, or a great teacher—to
startle us out of our apathy and set us to work. We are not bold
enough. We should try more experiments; they can but fail, and if they
do, we should still have learnt something from them. But I do not think
we shall fail for ever. What we want is somewhere, and must be found
“They tried some experiments with the marriage laws in France once,”
Lorrimer observed, tentatively.
“Yes, and failed contemptibly because their motive was contemptible.
They did not want to improve society, but to make self-indulgence
possible without shame. I think our own marriage laws might be
“People are trying to improve them,” he said, with a slight laugh.
“A friend of mine has just married a girl who objected to take the oath
of obedience. How absurd it is for a girl of nineteen to imagine she
knows better than all the ages.” “I think,” said Ideala, “that it is
more absurd for 'all the ages' to subscribe to an oath which something
stronger than themselves makes it impossible for half of them to keep.
Strength of character must decide the question of place in a household
as it does elsewhere; and it is surely folly to require, and useless to
insist on, the submission of the strong to the weak. The marriage oath
is farcical. A woman is made to swear to love a man who will probably
prove unlovable, to honour a man who is as likely as not to be
undeserving of honour, and to obey a man who may be incapable of
judging what is best either for himself or her. I have no respect for
the ages that uphold such nonsense. There was never any need to bind us
with an oath. If men were all they ought to be, wouldn't we obey them
gladly? To be able to do so is all we ask.”
“Well, it is a difficult question,” he answered, “and I don't think
we need trouble ourselves about it any way. Do you like flowers?”
“Yes,” she burst out in another tone; “and easy chairs, and
pictures, and china, and everything that is beautiful, and all sensual
She said it, but she knew in a moment that she had used the wrong
word, and was covered with confusion.
Lorrimer looked at her and laughed.
“And so do I,” he said.
“Oh! if only I could unsay that!” thought Ideala; but the word had
gone forth, and was already garnered against her.
Then came an awful moment for her—the moment of going and paying.
It was hateful to let him pay for her lunch, but she could not help it.
She was seized with one of those fits of shyness which made it just a
degree less painful to allow it than to make the effort to prevent it.
They returned to Lorrimer's room and pored together over a
catalogue, looking up the books she wanted. When they had found their
names and numbers Lorrimer sent for them from the library, but it was
too late to do anything that day, and so she rose to go.
Lorrimer walked with her to the station, and saw her into the train.
On the way they talked of little children. He loved them as she did.
“A friend of mine,” he said, “has the most beautiful child I ever
saw. Just to look at it makes me feel a better man.”
In the days that followed a singular change came over Ideala. No
external circumstance affected her. She moved like one in a dream;
thought had ceased for her; all life was one delicious sensation, and
at times she could not bear the delight of it in silence. She would
tell it in low songs in the twilight; she would make her piano speak it
in a hundred chords: and it would burst from her in some sudden glow of
enthusiasm that made people wonder—the apparent cause being too slight
to account for it. While this lasted nothing hurt her. She saw the
sufferings of others unmoved. She met her husband's brutalities with a
smiling countenance, and bore the physical discomfort of a bad sprain
without much consciousness of pain. And she knew nothing of time, and
never asked herself to what she owed this joy.
The utter forgetfulness of everything that came upon her when she
was alone was almost incredible. One evening she spent two hours in
walking a distance she might easily have done in forty minutes. She had
been to see a sick person, and when she found herself in the fresh air,
after having spent some time in a small, close room, the dream-like
feeling came over her, and her spirit was uplifted with inexpressible
gladness. The summer air was sweet and warm, a light rain was falling,
and she took off her hat and wandered on, looking up, but noting
nothing, and singing Schubert's “Hark! hark! the lark,” to herself
softly as she came. A man standing at a cottage door begged her to go
in and shelter. She looked at him, and her face was radiant—the
rain-drops sparkled on her hair. He was only a working man, “clay—and
common clay,” but the light in her eyes passed through him, and the
memory of her stayed with him, a thing apart from his daily life, held
sacred, and not to be described. A man might live a hundred years and
never see a woman look like that.
“I did not know it was raining,” she said. “It is only light rain,
and the air is so sweet, and the glow down there in the west is like
heaven. How beautiful life is!”
“Ay, lady!” he answered, and stood there spellbound, watching her as
she passed on slowly, and listening to her singing as she went.
A few days later she saw Lorrimer again. She found him in his room
this time. He knew she was coming, and flushed with pleasure when he
met her at the door. Ideala was not nervous; it all seemed a matter of
course to her now. The books he had got for her from the library were
where she had left them. He placed a chair for her beside his
writing-table, and then went on with his own work. She had understood
that she was to read in the library, but she did not think of that now;
she simply acquiesced in this arrangement as she would have done in any
other he might have made for her. A secretary was busy in another part
of the room when she entered, but after awhile he left them. Then
Lorrimer looked up and smiled.
“You are looking better to-day,” he said. “Tell me what you have
been doing since I saw you.”
“Lotus-eating,” she answered. “How lovely the summer is! Since I saw
you I have wanted to do nothing but rest and dream.”
“You have been happy, then?”
“Is he kind to you?”
“Oh—he! He is just the same. There is no change in my life. The
change is in me.”
“Then you mean to be happy in spite of him? I call that the
beginning of wisdom. I know two other ladies who hate their husbands,
and they manage to enjoy life pretty well. And I don't see why you
should be miserable always because you happen to have married the wrong
man. How was it you married him? Were you very much in love with him?”
“No, not in the least.”
“Not even 'spooney,' as you call it. I was very young at the time.
Very young girls know nothing of love and marriage.”
“Very young,” he repeated thoughtfully. He was drawing figures with
his pen on the blotting-paper before him. “But why did you marry him,
“I can give you no reason—except that I was not happy at home.”
“You all say that,” slipped from him, with a gesture of impatience.
“I wish I had been more original,” said Ideala.
She took up her book again, and he resumed his writing, and for some
time there was silence. But Ideala's attention wandered. She began to
examine the room, which was, as usual, in a state of disorder. One side
of it was lined with cabinets of various sizes and periods. Labels
indicated the contents of some of them. Only one picture hung on that
side of the room—it was the portrait of a gentleman—but several
others stood on the ground against the cabinets. The walls were painted
some dark colour. A Japanese screen was drawn across the door, and
beside it was a hard narrow settee covered with dark green velvet.
Books were piled upon it, and heavily embroidered foreign stuffs, and
near it a number of Japanese drawings stood on a stand. The mantelpiece
was crowded with an odd mixture of china and other curios, all looking
as if they had just been unpacked. Above it another picture was hung, a
steel engraving. The writing-table by which they sat was nearly in the
middle of the room. In the window was another table, covered also with
a miscellaneous collection of curios; and on every other available
article of furniture books were piled. The high backs of the chairs
were elaborately carved, the seats being of the same green velvet as
the settee. A high wire-guard surrounded the fire place, and this
unusual precaution made one think, that the contents of the room must
be precious. The occupant of this apartment might have been an artist,
a man of letters, or a virtuoso—probably the latter; but whatever he
was, it was evident that his study was a workshop, and not a showroom.
From the room Ideala looked to her companion. He was writing
rapidly, and seemed absorbed in his subject. He was frowning slightly,
his face was pale and set, and he looked older by ten years than when
he had spoken last, and seemed cold and unimpassioned as a judge; but
Ideala thought again that the face was a fine one.
Presently he became conscious of her earnest gaze. He did not look
up, but every feature softened, and a warm glow spread from forehead to
chin; it was as if a deep shadow had been lifted, and a younger, but
less noble, man revealed.
“How you change!” Ideala exclaimed—“not from day to day, but from
moment to moment. You are like two men. I wish I could get behind that
horrid veil of flesh that hides you from me. I want to see your soul.”
He smiled. “You are getting tired,” he said. “Do let me persuade you
to come and have some lunch. When you begin to speculate, I know you
have done enough.”
But Ideala could not go through the ordeal of who should pay for
lunch again. She preferred to starve. The camaraderie between
them was mental enough to be manlike already, but only as long as there
was no question of material outlay.
“Mayn't I stay here and read?” she said. “I can have something
by-and- by, when I want it. Do go and leave me.”
And he was obliged to go at last, wondering somewhat at her want of
When he returned she was still working diligently, and they spent
the rest of the afternoon together, reading, writing, and chatting,
until it was time for Ideala to go. Lorrimer saw her into her train,
and fixed another day for her to return and go on with her work.
And so the thing became a settled arrangement. Whenever she could
spare the time she went and worked beside him, and he was always the
same, kindly, considerate, helping her now and then, but not, as a
rule, interfering with her. She just came and went as she pleased, and
as she would have done had he been her brother. Sometimes they were
alone together for hours, sometimes his secretary worked in the room
with them, and always there were people coming and going. There was
nothing to suggest a thought of impropriety, and they were soon on
quarrelling terms, falling out about a great many things—which is
always the sign of a good understanding; but after the first they
touched on no dangerous subject for a long time. At last, however,
there came a change. Ideala noticed one day that Lorrimer was restless
“Am I interfering with your work to-day?” she said. “Do tell me. Any
other day will suit me just as well.”
“Oh, no,” he answered. “I am lazy, that is all. How are you getting
on? Let me see.” And he took the paper she was engaged upon, and looked
She watched him, and saw that he was not reading, although he held
it before his eyes for some time. He was paler than usual, and there
was a look of indecision in his face, very unlike its habitual
expression, which was serene and self-contained.
Looking up all at once, he met her eyes fixed on him frankly and
affectionately, but he did not respond to her smile.
“How do you suppose all this is going to end?” he said, abruptly.
“Won't it do?” she answered, thinking of her paper. “Had I better
give it up, or re-write it?”
He threw the paper down with a gesture of impatience, and got up;
and then, as if ashamed of his irritability, he took it again, and gave
it back to her. In doing so his hand accidentally touched hers.
“How cold you are,” he said. “Let me warm your hands for you.”
“They are benumbed,” she answered, letting him take them and rub
After a moment he said, without looking at her, “Do you know, it is
very good of you to come here like this.”
“Why?” she asked. “It suits my own convenience.”
“I know. But it is refreshing to find some one who will suit their
own convenience so.” “That sounds as if it were not the right thing to
do!” she exclaimed.
“Nonsense!” he answered. “You misunderstand me.”
Ideala withdrew her hands hastily, and half rose.
“What is the matter?” he said. “Come, don't be idle! You should have
mastered that book by this time.”
But Ideala was disturbed. “I can't read,” she said. “Tell me what
you thought of me when I came to you that first day? I fancied you were
old. And I have been afraid since, in spite of your cousin's
suggestion, that you may have considered it odd of me to introduce
myself like that.”
“Oh, it is quite customary here,” he answered. “But even if it had
not been, we can't all be bound by the same common laws. The ordinary
stars and planets have an ordinary course mapped out for them, and they
daren't diverge an inch. But every now and then a comet comes and goes
its own eccentric way, and all the lesser lights wonder and admire and
let it go.”
“That would be very fine for us if only we were comets among the
stars,” she said.
“Oh, you might condescend to claim a kindred with them,” he answered
“The only heavenly body I ever feel akin to is one of those meteors
that flash and fall,” she said. “They go their own way, too, do they
not, and are lost?” “There is no question of being lost here,” he
interposed. “The most scrupulous have made an exception in favour of
one person, and the world has not blamed them. After having endured so
much you are entitled to some relaxation. I should do as I liked now,
if I were you.”
She looked at him inquiringly. It seemed as if he were not
expressing himself, but trying the effect of what he said upon her.
He was sitting in his usual place now, drawing figures on the
“You have read, I suppose?” he added, after a pause, and without
looking up. “I wish I had never read anything,” she exclaimed
passionately. “I wish I could neither read, write, nor think.”
But the trouble now was, if only she could have recognised it, that
she did not think; she only felt.
She got up and went to the mantelpiece; he remained where he was,
sitting with his back to her. Presently she began to look at the china,
absently at first, but afterwards with interest. There were some new
specimens, just unpacked, and all crowded together.
“What a lovely lotus-leaf,” she said at last. “Satsuma, I
suppose—no, Kioto; but what a good specimen. And it is broken, too.
What a pity! I should so like to mend it.”
“Would you?” he said, rousing himself. “Then you shall.”
He went to one of the cabinets and got out the materials, and in a
few minutes they were bending busily over the broken plaque, as
interested and eager about it as if no subject of more vital importance
had ever distracted them. They were like two children together, often
as quarrelsome, always as inconsequent; happy hard at work, and equally
happy idling; apt to torment each other at times about trifles, but
always ready to forget and forgive, and with that habit in common of
forgetting everything utterly but the occupation of the moment.
They talked on now for a little longer, but not brilliantly. They
were both considered brilliant in conversation, but somehow on these
occasions neither of them shone. I suppose when two such bright and
shining lights come together they put each other out.
Then it was time for Ideala to go. A bitter wind met them in the
face on their way to the station, and before they had gone far Ideala
noticed that Lorrimer's mood had changed again. His face grew pale, his
step less elastic, his manner cold and formal. All the brightness, all
the sympathy, which made their intimacy seem the most natural, because
it was the pleasantest, thing in the world to Ideala, had gone; he was
like a man seized with a sudden fit of remorse, disgusted with himself,
and moved to repent.
“I should bear with your husband, if I were you,” he said at last,
breaking the silence. “He behaves like a brute, but I dare say he can't
help it. A man can't help his temperament, and probably you provoke him
more than you think.”
Ideala was surprised, it was so long since they had mentioned her
husband. “I fear I am provoking,” she answered, humbly. “But how am I
to help it? I have tried so hard, and for so long, to be patient. And I
only want to do right.”
They were parting then, and he looked down at her in silence for
some seconds, and when Ideala saw the expression of his face, her heart
sank. In that one moment she realised all that his friendship had been
to her, and foresaw the terrible blank there would be for her if it
should ever end. That there was any danger, that there could be
anything but friendship between men and women who must not marry, had
not even yet occurred to her. Her intimacy with myself had prepared the
way for Lorrimer, and made this new intimacy seem also perfectly right.
“What is the matter with you to-day?” she said. “What spirit of
dissatisfaction has got hold of you?”
“I am dissatisfied,” he said, raising his hat, and brushing
his hand back over his hair. Then he looked at her. “Why don't you help
me?” he asked.
“How can I help you?” she answered. “I don't understand you.”
“You ought to. I wish to goodness you did”—and then his face
cleared. “But you will come again,” he added, in the old way. “I shall
expect you soon.”
And so he let her go; and Ideala was glad, because an unpleasant jar
was over. She did not trouble herself about his private worries; if he
wished her to know he would tell her. Lorrimer had a temper—but then
she had known that all along; and Lorrimer was Lorrimer—that was all
He let her go, somewhat bewildered, and not understanding herself or
him, nor caring to understand, only happy, dangerously happy. The train
bore her through an enchanted region of brightness and summer, and,
although the power of thought was for the moment suspended, she was
conscious of this, and her own delight was like the unreasoning
pleasure of earth when the sun is upon it.
There was no carriage to meet her at the station, and she set off to
walk home. It was the first time she had been alone on foot in the
squalid disorderly streets of that dingy place, and her way, which she
was not quite sure of, took her through some of the worst of them. They
were filled with loud-laughing uncleanly women, and skulking hang-dog-looking men, and the grime-clogged atmosphere was heavy with foul
odours; but she noticed nothing of this. The golden glow the sun made
in his efforts to shine through the clouds of smoke might have been a
visible expression of her own ecstatic feeling, and she would have
thought so at any other time, but now she never saw it.
In a somewhat open and more lonely part of the road she met a tramp,
a great rude, hulking, common fellow, with fine blue eyes. He stopped
in the middle of the road and stared at Ideala as she came up to him,
walking, as usual, with a slight undulating movement that made you
think of a yacht in a breeze, her face up-raised and her lips parted.
He took off his cap as she approached. The gesture attracted her
attention, and, thinking he wanted to beg or ask some question, she
stopped and looked at him inquiringly.
“Well, you are a nice lady!” he exclaimed.
He hadn't the gift of language, but she saw the soul of a man in his
eyes, and she understood him.
“Thank you,” she answered, and passed on, unsurprised.
In the next street a breathless creature came running after her, a
tawdry, painted, dishevelled girl. She stopped Ideala and stood
panting, with hot dry lips, and eyes full of animal suffering. Her
clothes exhaled the smell of some vile scent that was overpowering.
Involuntarily Ideala shrank from her, and all the joy left her face.
“I've run”—the girl gasped—“such a way—they said you'd gone this
road. I've waited about all day to catch you. Come, for God's sake!”
“There's a girl dying”—and she clutched Ideala's arm, trying to
drag her along with her—“or she would die and have done with it, but
she can't till she's seen you. She've something on her mind—something
to tell you. Come, my lady, come, for the love of the Lord and the
Blessed Virgin. No harm'll happen to you.” Ideala made a gesture. “Show
me the way,” she said. “But you don't seem able to walk. There's an
empty cab coming. Get in and tell the man where to drive to.”
They stopped at a row of many-storeyed houses in a low by-street. A
stout elderly woman with an evil countenance met them at the door. She
began some speech in a cringing tone to Ideala, but the tawdry girl
pushed her aside rudely.
“Hold your jaw, and get out of the way,” she said. “I'll show the
The woman muttered something which Ideala fortunately did not hear,
and let them pass. They went upstairs to the very top of the house, and
entered a low room, furnished with a broken chair and a small bed only.
On the bed lay a girl, who, in spite of disease and approaching death,
looked not more than twenty, and was probably two years younger. She
turned her haggard face to the door as it opened, and a gleam of
satisfaction caused her eyes to dilate when she saw Ideala. They were
large dark eyes, but her face was so distorted with suffering and
discoloured by disease, it was impossible to imagine what it once had
“Here she is, Polly,” said the Tawdry One, triumphantly. “I said I'd
bring her, now didn't I?”
Ideala knelt down by the bed.
“My! but you're a game un!” said the Tawdry One, admiringly. “You
ain't afraid of catching nothing! Now, I'd have asked what was up
before I'd have done that; and I wouldn't touch her with the tongs, nor
stay in the room with her was it ever so. You just holler when you want
me and I'll come back.” And so saying she left them.
“You are not afraid to touch me—you don't mind?” said the dying
girl when Ideala had taken off her gloves, and knelt, holding her
“Afraid? Mind?” Ideala whispered, her eyes full of pity. “I only
wish you would let me do something for you.”
At that moment they were startled by an uproar downstairs. A man and
woman were quarrelling at the top of their voices. At first only their
tones were audible, but these grew more distinct, and in a few seconds
Ideala could hear what was said, and it was evident that the combatants
“I tell you the lady's all right,” the woman Ideala had seen
downstairs was heard to shriek, with sundry vile epithets. “Polly's
dying, and she've come to visit her.”
“Seein' 's believin',” the man rejoined, doggedly. “Just show me the
lady and shut up, you foul-mouthed devil you.”
The door was flung open, and there stood the fat harridan, and
towering over her was a great red-haired policeman, who seemed both
relieved and abashed when he saw Ideala.
“What is the meaning of this?” she said, rising, and drawing herself
up indignantly. “Don't you see how ill this girl is? Such an uproar at
such a time is indecent.”
The woman shrank from her gaze and slunk away. The policeman wiped
his hot face with a red handkerchief.
“I saw the girl fetch you here, ma'am,” he said, apologetically,
“and I thought it was a trap. It ain't safe for a woman, let alone a
lady, to come to no such a place. I'll just wait and see you safe out
He shut the door, and Ideala heard him walking up and down on the
The dying girl seemed scarcely conscious of what was passing. Ideala
looked round for something to revive her. There was not even a cup of
water in the room. She knelt once more beside the bed, and raised her
in her arms, and let her head rest on her shoulder. All the mother in
her was throbbing with tenderness for this poor outcast. The girl drew
a long deep sigh.
“Could you take anything?” Ideala asked.
“No, lady, not now. The thirst was awful awhile ago, and I cried and
cried, although I knew no one would listen to me, or come if they
heard. They'd rather we'd die when we get ill. It's a bad thing for the
house.” She could only speak in gasps.
“And what have you had?” Ideala asked.
“The scarlet fever, ma'am. There's an awful bad kind about, and I
caught it. They all die that gets it.”
Ideala drew her closer, and laid her own cool cheek on her damp
“Tell me why you wished to see me,” she said. “You are so good,” the
girl answered—“I thought you'd better know—and get—away from—that
low brute.” Ideala understood, and would fain have stopped the story,
but it seemed a relief to the girl to speak, and so she listened. It
was the old story, the old story aggravated by every incident that
could make it more repulsive—and her husband was the hero of it.
“Shall I go to hell?” the girl asked, shrinking closer.
“For these Christ died,” Ideala murmured. The words flashed through
her mind, and the meaning of them was new to her. Her heart was wrung
for the desolate girl, dying alone in sin and sorrow without a creature
to care for her—dying alone in the arms of a strange woman, with a
policeman outside guarding her. Ideala cried in her heart with an
exceeding bitter cry: “God do so to him, and more also.”
“Pray for me, lady.”
But Ideala could not pray with a curse on her lips—and, besides,
the power to pray had been taken from her for many a weary day before
that. She thought of the policeman, and called him in.
“See, she is dying,” she said, looking up at him helplessly; “and
she has asked me to pray, and I can't. Will you?”
And, quite simply and reverently, as if it had been part of his
ordinary duty, he took off his helmet and knelt down, a great rough-looking man in a hideous dress, and prayed: “Dear Lord, forgive her!”
They were the last words she heard.
The people seemed to have deserted the house. Even the Tawdry One
had disappeared, and Ideala was obliged to lay out the poor dear girl
herself, and make her ready for decent burial. As soon as she could
leave the place she went, escorted by the policeman, to the fever
hospital to have her things fumigated. The risk of infection had not
troubled her till she remembered the likelihood of taking it to others,
but as soon as she thought of that she took the necessary precautions
to prevent it. She sent a message from the hospital to her maid,
telling her to pack up some things and meet her at the station in time
for the mail at eleven o'clock that night. She had thought of some
friends who lived a nine hours' journey from her home, and had
determined to go to them for a time.
She wrote to her husband also from the hospital. “The girl, Mary
Morris, died of scarlet fever this afternoon in the house to which you
sent her when you were tired of her,” she said. “I was with her when
she died. I am going to the Trelawneys to-night; but at present I have
formed no plans for the future.”
During the first few days of her stay with the Trelawneys she just
lived from hour to hour, not thinking of anything, past, present, or to
come; but out of this apathy a desire grew by degrees. She wanted to
see Lorrimer. She could speak to him, and she was sure he would help
and advise her. She wrote to him, telling him she particularly wished
to see him on a certain day, and asking him to meet her at the station,
adding by way of postscript: “I do not think I quite know what you
meant when you advised me to go my own way; but if any wrong-doing were
part of the programme I should not be able to carry it out. However, I
feel sure that you would be the last person in the world to let me do
wrong, even if I were inclined to.”
She knew that her husband was away from home, and her intention had
been to sleep there that night, and go on to Lorrimer the next morning;
but she had been misinformed about the trains, and after many changes
and tedious waits, she found herself alone in the middle of the night
at a little railway junction, with no chance of a train to take her on
for several hours; and what was worse, without money enough in her
purse to pay her bill if she went to an hotel. The waiting-rooms were
all closed for the night, and there seemed nothing for it but to wander
about the station till the train came and released her. She told her
dilemma to an old Scotch inspector who was waiting to see what she
meant to do. He gave the matter his best consideration, but it
evidently perplexed him.
“If you was a box,” he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “we
could put you in the left-luggage office.”
“But I am not a box,” Ideala answered, as if only the most positive
denial would prevent mistake on the subject.
It was raining hard, and bitterly cold. Only part of the platform
was roofed in, and every now and then a gust of wind splashed the
raindrops into their faces as they stood beside Ideala's luggage in a
circle of yellow light cast upwards by a lantern which the inspector
had put on the ground at their feet.
“There's me and Tom, the porter,” he said at last; “we've got to
wait for the two o'clock down and the four o'clock up. Tom, he'll come
'ome and sit over the kitchen fire with me. I suppose, now, you
wouldn't like to do that?”
“Indeed I should be very glad to,” Ideala answered; “that is,” she
added quickly, “if it would not inconvenience you.”
He made an inexplicable gesture, and seemed to consider the matter
“I'll just put this here luggage in the office,” he said,
shouldering a box and taking up a portmanteau; but he muttered as he
went: “It's a pity, now, you wasn't luggage.”
Ideala followed him meekly from the luggage-office out into the
lane, and down a country path to a little cottage. The door opened into
the kitchen, and a young man in a porter's uniform was sitting over a
cheery fire reading a newspaper by the light of a tallow candle. The
kitchen was large for the size of the house. Besides the door they had
entered by there were two others, both closed. The walls were panelled
from floor to ceiling with wood darkened by age. Several of the panels
were doors of cupboards that projected slightly from the wall, and
shelves had been sunk in flush with it, and placed angle-wise in the
corners. The shelves were covered with old china. There was a row of
brass candlesticks of good design on the high mantelpiece, and more
china stood behind them. On a panel above the mantelpiece a curious
design of dogs and horses in a wood had been carved with much patience
and some skill. The furniture of the place was an old oak table
standing in the window—the window itself had a deep sill, on which was
arranged a row of flower-pots, from which a faint perfume came at
intervals—a long narrow oak chest, carved and polished, with the date,
1700, on the side of it, a settle, and a dresser covered with the
ordinary crockery used by poor people. The brick floor was rudded
and sanded, the hearthstone was yellow, and the part under the grate
was white. One high-backed old-fashioned chair stood on each side of
the hearth. Tom the Porter was sitting in one of them, and at his elbow
was a small round table with a pipe, tobacco jar, and two or three
books upon it. A square table in the middle of the room was laid out
for supper, with a dish, two plates, a beer mug, and half a loaf of
bread. Some potatoes were roasting on the hob.
“The old woman's asleep, I expects. You'll mind and not make a
noise,” the inspector said to Ideala, as if he were warning a child to
Tom the Porter rose, and gazed at the lady with his mouth open in a
state of astonishment that was justified by the time and place of her
advent; but he offered her his chair with the courtesy of a gentleman,
and the old inspector bade her make herself at home, which she did by
removing her hat and wraps and taking off her gloves. In a higher
sphere of life those two men would have stared her out of countenance,
but Tom the Porter and the old inspector, not from want of
appreciation, but from the refinement that seems natural to people who
come of an old stock, whatever their station, and have had china and
carved oak in their possession from one generation to another—forebore
even to look at her lest she should be embarrassed by their curiosity.
They did the honours of the house with dignity, and without vulgar
apology for a state of things that was natural to them, and Ideala at
once adapted herself to the circumstances, and burnt her fingers while
attending to the baked potatoes, which Tom had somewhat neglected.
She always declared afterwards that there was nothing so good in the
world as baked potatoes and salt, provided the company was agreeable;
and now and then she would thrill us with reminiscences of that
evening's entertainment—with wonderful accounts of railway accidents—
and of one in particular that happened on a pitch-dark night when fires
had to be made to light the workers as they toiled fearfully amongst
the wreck of the trains, searching for the mangled and mutilated, the
dying and the dead, while the air was filled with horrid shrieks and
For it seems these three, when they had finished the baked potatoes,
drew their chairs to the fire and talked. And one can well imagine what
Ideala's stories were—her tales of the Japanese with whom she had
lived; of Chinese prisons into which she had peeped; of earthquakes,
tornadoes and shipwrecks, and other perils by land and sea, all told in
a voice that thrilled you, whatever it said. Tom the Porter and the old
Scotch inspector were in luck that night, and they knew it. When at
last it was time for Ideala to go, and in return for her thanks for his
kind hospitality, and the contents of her purse, which had rather more
in it than she had fancied, the inspector expressed his appreciation
with an earnest smack.
“Well,” he said, “you're rare good company. I shan't mind when you
come along this way again.”
The train was late in arriving, and she had only time to rush up to
the house, change her dress, and return to the station to catch the one
by which she had asked Lorrimer to meet her. Perhaps it was the thought
of what she had come to tell him that made her heart beat nervously as
the train drew up at her destination, and she leant forward to look for
him among the people on the platform. She looked in vain—he was not
there. Something, of course, had happened to detain him; doubtless he
had sent a message to explain. She waited a little, but nobody appeared
to be looking for her. Then she left the station and walked in the
direction of the Hospital, thinking he had missed the train, and she
should probably meet him on the way. Her nervousness increased as she
went. She was not used to be alone in crowded streets, and she began to
feel faint and bewildered. Her heart seemed to stop whenever she saw a
fair- headed man, but she reached the Hospital at last, and no Lorrimer
had met her.
Then a new fear disturbed her. Perhaps he was ill. She went up to
the door, and there, just coming out, Lorrimer's secretary met her.
“I was just coming to meet you, madam,” he said; “I am sorry I am
too late. Mr. Lorrimer has been detained by visitors, and sent me to
apologise for his absence. If you will be so good as to come to the
library, he will join you there as soon as he is disengaged.”
When she was settled in the library a servant brought her books to
her. She had not come to read, but work was the daily habit of her
life, and she went on now, mechanically, but carefully as usual, though
with a curious sinking of the heart, and benumbing sense of loss and
pain. As she came along in the train she had been thinking how it would
amuse Lorrimer to hear of her night's adventure, and of the relief it
would be to tell him of all the other things she had come to tell; but
now she felt like one bidden to a bridal, and brought to a burial.
People were going and coming continually in the library. A gentleman
sat at a table near her, busily writing. Servants went backwards and
forwards with books. Another gentleman came in and looked at her
curiously, and then went away. She began to feel uncomfortable, and
wondered what was keeping Lorrimer so long. She thought, too, of
leaving the place at once, and going back by an earlier train than she
had intended, but it would hardly have been polite. A servant came and
told her the library was closed to visitors at two.
“I am waiting for Mr. Lorrimer,” she said.
“Oh, in that case——” and the man withdrew. The name was an open
sesame to all parts of the building.
At last he came. She rose with a great sense of relief.
“Let me take your books,” he said.
“I have done with them,” she answered.
And without another word he led the way to his own room.
They took their accustomed seats.
“I am sorry I could not meet you,” he said. “I hope you do not think
me rude. Some wretched people turned up at the last moment, and wanted
to see everything. Just look at the room!”
Every cabinet seemed to have been ransacked, and treasures of all
kinds were lying about in most admired disorder. Lorrimer looked round
him desperately, and pushed his hat back from his forehead. Ideala
smiled. It was so like him to forget he had it on.
Outside a heavy thundercloud gathered and darkened the room.
Presently big drops of rain splashed against the window, and it began
to lighten. Long claps of thunder rolled and muttered incessantly away
in the distance, and every now and then one would burst directly above
them, as it seemed, with splendid effect.
Lorrimer looked up at the window straight before him, and played
with a pen; and Ideala, half turning her back to him, sat silent also,
watching the storm.
There were some high houses opposite of which only the upper storeys
were visible. Two children were playing in a dangerous position at an
open window in one of them. Above the houses a strip of sky, heavy and
dark and changeful, was all that showed. Ideala felt cold and faint.
The long fast and fatigue were beginning to tell upon her. She was
nervous, too; the silence was oppressive, but she could not break it.
She felt some inexplicable change in her relations with Lorrimer which
made it impossible to speak. Furtively she watched him, trying to
discover if he felt it too. The look of age was on his face, and it was
clouded with discontent. Anxiously she sought some sign of sickness to
account for it. But, no. There was no trace of physical suffering; the
trouble was mental.
“You are not looking well,” Lorrimer said at last. “I suppose you
have been starving yourself since I saw you. You have had no lunch
to-day again. You will kill yourself if you go on like that. I was
speaking about you to a doctor the other day. He said you could not
fast as you do without taking something—stimulants or
sedatives.” Ideala winced. “What an insulting thing to say,” she
exclaimed, indignantly. “I will not allow you to adopt that tone with
me. You have no right to scold me.”
“I have, and shall,” he retorted. “I suppose you want to kill
yourself. Perhaps it is the best thing people can do who hate their
“I don't hate my life; I don't want to die,” she rejoined.
“The other day you said you loathed your life.”
“You are accusing me of inconsistency,” she said. “You! who are in
two states of mind every time I see you!” She got up. “And I do
mean what I say,” she resumed. “I loathed the old life, but that is
done with. I am living a new life now——”
He turned to look at her, red chasing white from his face at every
breath; then, yielding to an irresistible impulse, he went to her,
grasped her folded hands in both of his, and looked into her eyes for
one burning moment. The hot blood flamed to her face. She was startled.
“Don't let us quarrel,” he said, hoarsely.
“Why do you try to?” she retorted. “It is always you who begin.”
“I think you want pluck,” he said.
“Oh, no; not that,” she answered.
“Just now you do.”
“Then I think you want discernment,” she retorted with spirit.
And so they went on, as if neither of them had ever heard of such a
thing as conventional propriety.
Lorrimer did not answer that last remark. He was standing at a
little distance from her, watching her. Ideala was looking grave.
“What is your conscience troubling you about now?” he asked. “I
never listen to my conscience.”
“I don't believe you,” she answered, promptly.
“That is polite,” he observed.
Then there was another pause.
“It must be time for me to go,” she said at last.
The rain was still falling in torrents.
“Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “You mustn't go yet. Your train does not
leave for another hour. Why do you want to go?”
She was struggling with the button of a glove, and he went to help
her, but she repulsed him, half unconsciously, as she would have
brushed off a troublesome fly.
The gesture irritated him.
“I cannot believe you are not conscientious,” she said, with a frown
of intentness. “When a man of talent ceases to be true, he loses half
He turned from her coldly, sat down at the writing table, and began
Ideala was still putting on her gloves.
Outside, the rain fell lightly now, and the clouds were clearing.
The children were still playing at the open window of the house
opposite. Lorrimer had often been obliged to answer notes when she was
there; she thought nothing of that; but he was a long time, and at last
she interrupted him. “Forgive me if I disturb you,” she said, “but I am
afraid I shall miss my train.”
“Oh, pardon me,” he answered, jumping up, and looking at his watch.
“But it is not nearly time yet. I cannot understand why you are in such
a hurry to-day.”
“Yet you know that I always go when I have done my work,” she said.
“You have done unusually early then,” he replied; “and I wish to
goodness I had.” He looked round the room pettishly, like a schoolboy
out of temper. “I shall have to put all these things away when you're
gone—a task I hate, but nobody can do it but myself.”
“Why wait till I've gone? Let me help you,” said Ideala.
His countenance cleared, and they set to work merrily, he explaining
the curious histories of coins and cameos, of ancient gems, ornaments
of gold and silver, and valuable intaglios, as they returned them to
their places. Both forgot everything in the interest of the collection;
so that, when the last tray was completed, they were surprised to find
that two trains had gone while they were busy, and another had become
due, and there was only time to jump into a hansom to catch it.
Lorrimer was still irritable.
“Why on earth does a lady always carry her purse in her hand?” he
said, as they drove along.
Ideala laughed, and put hers in her pocket.
“When are you coming to go on with your work?” he asked.
“I will write and fix a day,” she said.
“I shall be away a good deal for the next three weeks,” he
continued. “The twenty-third or twenty-sixth would be the most
convenient days for me, if they would suit you.”
“Thank you,” she answered, and hurried down the platform, without
having said a word or given a thought to what she had come to say.
And then at last the twenty-four hours' fasting, fatigue, and mental
suffering overcame her. A little later she was lying insensible on the
floor of her room, and she was alone. The servants had not seen her
enter, and there was not a creature near her to help her.
Ideala was unable to exert herself for many days after this. At
last, however, she began to think of work again, and of Lorrimer. She
was uneasy about him. He had not been himself on that last occasion.
Something was wrong, she could not think what, but she felt anxious;
and out of her anxiety arose an intense longing to see him again. So
she wrote, first of all fixing the twenty-third for her visit; but when
the day came she found herself unequal to the exertion, and wrote
again, begging him to expect her on the twenty-sixth instead.
He did not reply. He was generally overwhelmed with correspondence,
and she had therefore begged him not to do so if the days she named
Up to this time she had never heard Lorrimer mentioned by any one;
but now, suddenly, his name seemed to be in everybody's mouth. She
thought of him incessantly herself, and it was as if the strength of
her own mind compelled all other minds to think of him while she was
present, and to yield to her will and tell her all they knew. For,
curiously enough, she had begun to want to know about him. I call it
curious, because she was so confiding so unsuspicious, and also so
penetrating, she never seemed to care to know more of people than she
learnt from intercourse with them. But with regard to Lorrimer, she had
evidently begun to distrust her own judgment, which is significant.
One night, at a dinner-party, she was thinking of a gratuitous piece
of information an old woman, who brought her some milk on one occasion
at the Great Hospital, had given her. Ideala had noticed that the old
woman had a bad cough, and had asked her, in her usual kindly way, if
she were subject to it, and what she did for it, remarking that the
north country air was trying to people with delicate chests, and warmer
clothing and greater care were more necessary there than in the south;
and thereupon the old woman had launched forth, as such people will
upon the slightest provocation, with minute details of her own
sufferings, and the sufferings of all the people she ever knew, from
“the bronchitis” during the winter and spring, Mr. Lorrimer being
included among the number.
“Does Mr. Lorrimer suffer in that way?” Ideala had asked with
“Indeed, yes,” was the answer, given with many shakings of the head
and that air of importance and pleasure which vulgar bearers of bad
news assume. “He was very bad in the spring. He coughed so as never
was, and had to give in at last and keep his room, which he should have
done at first; but it takes a deal to make him give in, for he takes no
care of hisself though not strong, and we were in a way! Eh! but
it would be a bad thing for this place if anything happened to Mr.
Lorrimer!” Ideala gave the woman half-a-crown.
“People may have bronchitis without being delicate,” she asserted.
“Mr. Lorrimer is very kind to all of you, I suppose?” “If I was to tell
you all his good deeds, ma'am,” the woman said, impressively, “I'd not
have done before to-morrow morning. But as to his not being delicate,”
she continued—in the hope, perhaps, of scoring another on that point—
“why, it just depends on what you call delicate.”
Ideala absently gave her another half-crown, and another after that,
but she could not get her to say that Mr. Lorrimer's chest was strong.
Later, when Lorrimerre turned, and they were both at work, he was
interrupted in the middle of some cynical remarks on over-population,
and the good it would do to check it by allowing the spread of
epidemics and encouraging men to kill each other, by the arrival of
another old woman in great distress.
His manner changed in a moment. “I am afraid he is worse,” he said
to her most kindly.
She could only shake her head.
“There is the order,” he went on, giving her a paper—“get him these
things at once, and tell him I will come as soon as I am disengaged.”
When they were alone again, Ideala looked at Lorrimer and laughed.
“Another instance, I shrewdly suspect, of the difference between theory
and practice,” she observed.
He brushed his hand back over his forehead and hair, a trifle
disconcerted. “He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow,”
“And one can approve of capital punishment without having the nerve
to see it inflicted, I suppose,” Ideala commented, “and be convinced
that it would be good for the human race to have a certain number of
their children drowned, like kittens, every year, and yet not be able
to see a single one disposed of in that way without risking one's own
life to save it. Verily, I have heard this often, and yet I think I am
more surprised to find it true than if I had never been warned! But
that is always the way. Things surprise us just as much as we expect
them to. When we went up the river to Canton and saw the Pagoda, we all
exclaimed, 'Why, it is just like the pictures—river, and junks, and
all!' If we had not seen the pictures I believe we should scarcely have
noticed it, and certainly we should not have been surprised at all.”
“Haven't you done being surprised yet?” Lorrimer asked.
“No. Have you?”
“Quite. Nothing ever surprises me.”
“I have read somewhere,” she said, trying hard to recall the
passage, “that fast men, stupid men (I think), and rascals,
profess to feel no surprise at anything.”
The colour flew over his face, he seemed about to speak, but took up
his pen again as if the thing were not worth the trouble of a word, and
went on with his work. The habit of treating men as ideas is not to be
got rid of in a moment, and it was only when she thought it over at
dinner this evening that she saw anything to hurt him in what she had
said. Now that she did think of it, however, it certainly seemed
natural that he should object to being classed in any category which
included fast men, stupid men, or rascals; but even while she blamed
herself, and credited him with much forbearance in that he had allowed
her rudeness to pass unpunished, she was conscious of the existence, in
that substratum of thought which goes on continually irrespective of
our will, of a doubt as to whether he might not after all be one of
these—say, a fast man. For what did she know about him?
Nothing, except that his manners were agreeable. True, she had heard of
his good deeds, and there is never smoke without fire; but a man may
balance his accounts, and many men do, in that way, topping up the
scale of good deeds pretty high when the bad ones on the other side
threaten to turn it; and, seeing that she knew nothing definitely about
his private character, suppose she had been deceived in him? But, no!
The thing was impossible. And just as she thought it, a gentleman,
sitting opposite, one whom she had not met before, looked across the
table and asked her if she knew Mr. Lorrimer.
“I have seen him,” she answered, with a burning blush, being taken
“He's a charming fellow—don't you think so?”
“Yes, I think so,” she agreed, with an indescribable sense of
And the next day a young clergyman whom she stopped to speak to in
the street began at once about Lorrimer. “I met him at dinner the other
night,” he said. “I suppose you know him? There is much truth in 'birds
of a feather.' He fascinated us all with his talk of art and
literature. He gave us such new ideas—described such varied
experiences, and all with such grace and power.”
“Yes,” she answered, thoughtfully. “I believe he is brilliant.”
“Many people are that,” was the reply, given with hearty enthusiasm;
“but Lorrimer is something more. He is good. He makes you feel it, and
know it, and believe in him, without ever saying a word about himself.”
“Ah!” she sighed, “there is power in that. What lovely summer
weather! It makes me dream. Don't you love the time of nasturtiums?
Their pungent scent, and their colours? They seem to penetrate and glow
through everything, and make the time their own.”
And so she left him.
But that same day, an old gentleman, who came from another county,
and looked as if he had come from another century—an old gentleman
with curious wavy hair, parted in the middle, who worshipped the Idol
of Days—the past and all that belonged to it—and, for evening dress,
wore knee-breeches, frilled shirt, black silk stockings, and diamond
buckles in his shoes; and had a bijou house, filled with a thousand
relics of his Idol of Days, where noble ladies were wont to loll and
listen to him, and drink tea out of his wonderful cups, and love him—
so it was said—this gentleman called on Ideala. He came to charm and
to be charmed; and he, of all people in the world the one from whom she
would least have expected it, although she knew they had met, began to
sing Lorrimer's praises.
“He raises the tone of everything he is engaged upon,” this
gentleman said. “He has not quite kept faith with me about a matter he
promised to look into for me a year ago, but doubtless he is busy. I
suppose you know him?”
“Yes, I know him. He seems to be very much above the average.”
“Oh, very much above the average,” was the warm response. “He's a
charming fellow, and a thoroughly good fellow, too.”
This was the chorus to everything, and there was only one
dissentient voice—that of a man who admired Ideala, and was a good
soul himself, having gone out of his way to pay her trifling
attentions, and even found occasion to do her some small acts of
kindness. He began with the rest to praise Lorrimer, but when he saw he
was doing so at his own expense, by diverting her attention from
himself to his subject, he somewhat lowered his tone.
“Every one seems to like Mr. Lorrimer,” Ideala said.
“O yes, he's certainly a nice fellow; but he puts a lot of side on.”
“And well he may, being so very good and well-beloved,” she
“So spoilt and conceited, you might say,” was the rejoinder; but she
felt that there was jealousy in the tone, and only laughed.
“What an interesting face he has,” a lady remarked, who was having
tea with Ideala, tete-a-tete, one afternoon, and had brought the
conversation round to Lorrimer, as seemed inevitable in those days. “He
must make a charming portrait.”
“Yes, it is a fine face,” Ideala answered, dreamily—“a face for a
bust in white marble; a face from out of the long ago—not Greek, but
Roman —of the time when men were passing from a strong, simple, manly,
into a luxuriously effeminate, self-indulgent stage; the face of a man
who is midway between the two extremes, and a prey to the desires of
both. I wish I had been his mother.”
“His mother was a noble woman.”
“I know; but she was not omniscient, and she never could have
understood the boy. I daresay he was not enough of an ugly duckling to
attract special attention, and with many other chicks in the brood he
could not have more than the rest, and yet he required it. He ought to
have been an only child. If he had been mine, I should have known what
his dreaminess meant, why he loved to wander away and be alone; what
was the conflict that began in his cradle—or earlier. Surely a mother
must remember what there was in her mind to influence her child; she
must have the key to all that is wrong in him; she must know if his
soul is likely to be at war with his senses.” And then Ideala forgot
her listener, and burst out with one of those curious flashes of
insight, irrespective of all knowledge, to which she was subject: “If I
were only a soul to be saved, he would save me; but I am also a body to
be loved, and whether he loves me or not, he suffers. It is the eternal
conflict of mind and matter, spirit and flesh, two prisoners chained
together—the one despising the other, yet ruled by him, and
subservient to the needs of his lower nature.”
The lady stared at her.
“You know Mr. Lorrimer very well, then, I suppose?” she remarked.
“Let me see,” said Ideala, awaking from her trance, “that is a
question I often ask myself. And sometimes I say I do know him
very well, and sometimes I say I don't. I go to the Great Hospital
frequently to read, and to look up information, and he helps me. He is
a man who makes an instant impression, but he is many-sided, and, now
you ask me, I think on the whole that I do not know him well. I should
not be surprised to hear any number of the most contradictory things
“It is not a nice character to have,” the lady said.
“No,” Ideala answered, “not at all nice, but very interesting.”
When at last the day arrived she felt an unusual impatience to see
him. And she was in a strange flutter of nervous excitement. Should she
tell him of those things which she had not been able to confide to him
on the last occasion of their meeting? Could she? No; impossible! But
she must see him, nevertheless. The desire was imperative.
The servant she had been accustomed to see met her at the door of
the Great Hospital. She fancied he looked at her peculiarly. He said he
had heard something about Mr. Lorrimer being absent that day, but he
would inquire. He left her, and, returning in a few minutes, told her
Mr. Lorrimer was not there.
“Did he leave no note, no message for me?” Ideala asked, faintly.
“No, madam, nothing,” was the reply.
For quite three months we heard nothing of Ideala, but we were not
alarmed, as she often neglected us in this way when she was busy. At
last, however, Claudia received a note from her, written in pencil, and
in her usual style.
“It has been dull down here to a degree,” she said. “I am beginning
to think we are all too respectable. Are respectability and imbecility
nearly allied, I wonder? But don't tell me; I don't want to know. All
the trouble in the world comes from knowing too much. And then, I'm so
dreadfully clever! If people take the trouble to explain things to me,
I am sure to acquire some of the information they try to impart. I
heard of the block system the other day. It sounded mysterious. I like
mystery, and I went about in daily dread of having it all made plain to
me by some officious person. One day I was sitting on a rail above the
line watching the trains. A workman came and sat down near me. It is
very hard to have a workman sit down near you and not to talk to him,
so we talked. And before I knew what was coming, he had explained the
whole of that block system to me. Only fancy! and I may never forget
it! It is quite disheartening.
“He said he was a pointsman, and I asked him if he would send a
train down a wrong line for fifty pounds. He said fifty pounds was a
large sum, and he had a mother depending on him! The people here are
delicious. I think I shall write a book about them some day.
“Have you felt the fascination of the trains? My favourite seat here
is a lovely spot just above where they pass. I can look down on them,
and into them. The line winds, rather, through meadows and between
banks, where wild flowers grow; and under an ivied bridge or two, and
by some woods. And the trains rush past—some slow, some fast; and now
and then comes one that is just a flash and roar, and I cling to the
railing for a moment till it passes, and quiver with excitement,
feeling as if I must be swept away. I look at the carriage windows,
too, trying to catch a glimpse of the people, and I always hope to see
a face I know. In that lies all the charm.
“I seem to be expected in town, and some Scotch friends have asked
me to pay them a visit en route. I should like to go that way
above everything; one would see so much more of the country! But I
daren't go to London while the Bishop is there. He is making a dead set
at me again (confirmation this time), and I am afraid if he heard of my
arrival he would do something rash—dance down the Row in his gaiters,
perhaps—which might excite comment even if people knew what he was
And then she went on to say she had been a little out of sorts, and
very lazy, and she thought the north country air would brace her
nerves, and, if we would have her, she would like to go to us at once.
She arrived late one afternoon, and I did not see her until she came
down to the drawing-room dressed for dinner.
I had not thought anything of her illness, she made so light of it,
and I was therefore startled beyond measure when she appeared.
“Why, my dear!” I exclaimed, involuntarily, “what have they done to
you? You're a perfect wreck!”
“Well, so I thought,” she answered; “but I did not like to
tell you. I was afraid you might think I was trying to make much of
myself— wrecks are so interesting.”
There was a large party staying in the house, and I had no
opportunity of speaking to her that evening; but the next morning she
came into my studio with a brave assumption of her old manner. I cannot
tell how it was that I knew in a moment she had broken down, but I did
know it, and I could only look at her. Perhaps something in my look
showed her she had betrayed herself, for all at once her false
composure forsook her, and she stretched out her hands to me with a
piteous little gesture:
“What am I to do?” she said. “Will it always be like this?”
But I could not help her. I turned to the picture I was working at,
and went on painting without a word. By-and-by she recovered herself,
and began to talk of other things.
I blamed myself afterwards. I ought to have let her tell me then;
but I had no notion of the truth. I only thought of her husband, and I
selfishly shrank from encouraging her to speak. Complaint seemed to be
beneath her. But I know now that she never wanted to make any complaint
of him to me. It was of her new acquaintance that she longed to tell
me. She had settled the difficulty with her husband without consulting
any one. She had returned to his house, and remained there as his wife,
nominally, and because he particularly wished that the world should
know nothing of the rupture. I believe that she had done it sorely
against the grain, and only because he represented that by so doing she
would save his reputation. But from that time forward she would accept
nothing from him but house-room, for she held that no high-minded woman
could take anything from a man to whom she was bound by no tie more
sacred than that of a mere legal contract.
She was very quiet when she first came to us, but beyond that I
noticed nothing unusual in her manner, and after the first I was
inclined to think that being out of health accounted for everything. My
sister Claudia, however, was not so easily deceived. She declared that
Ideala was suffering from some serious trouble, either mental or
bodily; and as the days wore on and there was no change for the better
in her, but rather the contrary, I began to share Claudia's anxiety.
Ideala grew paler and thinner, and more nervous. She was oftenest
depressed, but occasionally had unnatural bursts of hilarity that would
end suddenly in long fits of brooding.
It seems she had at first believed that Lorrimer's absence was an
intentional slight, and the humiliation, coming as it did upon the long
train of troubles which had weakened her already both in body and mind,
nearly killed her. She had been lying for weeks between life and death,
and we had known nothing of it. But as her strength returned she began
to think she had been unjust to Lorrimer. She could account for his
absence in many ways. He had been called out suddenly, and had left no
message because he expected to be back before she arrived, but had been
detained; or perhaps he had left a message with one of the servants
whom she had not seen—there were so many about the place; or it was
just possible that he had never received her letter at all—a certain
number are lost in the post every day; and altogether it was more
difficult to think badly of him than to believe that there had been
some mistake. But still there was a doubt in her mind, and she bore the
torment of it rather than ask for an explanation which might only
confirm her worst fears.
About a month after she came to us, Ideala caught a bad cold. The
doctor said her chest was very delicate. There was no disease, but she
required great care, and must not go out of doors. Soon afterwards he
ordered her to remain in two rooms, and my sister had a favourite
sitting-room turned into a bedroom for her. It opened into the blue
drawing-room, and we took to sitting there in the evening, so that
Ideala might join us without change of temperature. Ideala had always
been careless about her health, and we expected some trouble with her
now, but she acquiesced in all our arrangements without a word. It was
easy to see, however, that her docility arose from indifference. The
one idea possessed her, and she cared for nothing else. Did he, or did
he not, mean it? was the question she asked herself, morning, noon, and
night, till at last she could bear it no longer. Anything was better
than suspense. She must write to him, she must know the truth one way
or the other.
I had stayed up in the blue drawing-room to read one night after the
rest of the party had gone to their rooms, but my mind wandered from
the book. Ideala had been very still that evening, and I could not help
thinking about her. Once or twice I had caught her looking at me
intently. It seemed as if she had something to say, but when I went to
speak to her she answered quite at random. I was much troubled about
her, and something happened presently which did not tend to set my mind
at rest. The room was large, and the fire, though bright, and one
shaded lamp standing on a low table, left the greater part of it in
shadow. When I gave up the attempt to read, I had gone to the farther
end of it to lie on a sofa which was quite in the shade. About midnight
the door into Ideala's room opened and she stood on the threshold with
a loose white wrapper round her. She could not see me, and I ought to
have spoken and let her know I was there, but I was startled at first
by her sudden appearance, and afterwards I was afraid of startling her.
She was so nervous and fragile then that a very little might have led
to serious consequences. I did not like to play the spy, but it was a
choice of two evils, and I thought she had come for a book or
something, and would go directly, and if she did discover me she would
suppose me to be asleep. She walked about the room, however, for a
little in an objectless way; then she sank down on the floor with a low
moan beside a chair, and hid her face on her arm. Presently she looked
up, and I saw she held something in her hand. It was a gold crucifix,
and she fixed her eyes on it. The lamplight fell on her face, and I
could see that it was drawn and haggard. Claudia had maintained
latterly that her illness arose more from mental than from physical
trouble; did this explain it? And was it a religious difficulty?
A weary while she remained in the same attitude, gazing at the
crucifix; but evidently there was no pity for her pain, and no relief.
She neither prayed nor wept, and scarcely moved; and I dared not. At
last, however, a great drowsiness came over me; and when I awoke I
almost thought I had dreamt it all, for the daylight was streaming in,
and I was alone.
Later in the day when I saw Ideala she had just finished writing a
“Shall I take it down for you?” I asked. “The man will come for the
She handed it to me without a word. On the way downstairs I saw that
it was addressed to Lorrimer, of whom I had not then heard, but somehow
I could not help thinking that this letter had something to do with
what I had seen the night before.
For a day or two after that Ideala seemed better. Then she grew
restless, which was a new phase of her malady; she had been so still
before; and soon it was evident that she was devoured by anxiety which
she could not conceal. I felt sure she was expecting someone, or
something, that never came. For days she wandered up and down, up and
down, and she neither ate nor slept.
One afternoon I went to ask if she had any letters for the post. At
first she said she had not, then she wanted to know how soon the post
was going. In a few minutes, I told her. She sat down on the impulse of
the moment, and hurriedly wrote a note, which she handed to me. It was
addressed to Lorrimer; but I asked no questions.
Two days afterwards a single letter came by the post for Ideala. I
took it to her myself, and saw in a moment that it was what she had
waited for so anxiously: the cruel suspense was over at last.
That evening she was radiant; but she told us she must go home next
day, and we were thunderstruck. It was the depth of winter; the weather
was bitterly cold, and she had not been out of the house for months,
and under the circumstances to take such a journey was utter madness.
But we remonstrated in vain. She was determined to go, and she went.
In a few days she returned to us, and we were amazed at the change
in her. Her voice was clear again, her step elastic, her complexion had
recovered some of its brilliancy; there was a light in her eyes that I
had never seen there before, and about her lips a perpetual smile
hovered. She was tranquil again, and self-possessed; but she was more
than that—she was happy. One could see it in the very poise of her
figure when she crossed the room.
“This is delightful, is it not?” Claudia whispered to me in the
drawing-room on the evening of her return.
“Delightful,” I answered; but I was puzzled. Ideala's variableness
was all on the surface, and I felt sure that this sudden change, which
looked like ease after agony, meant something serious.
She did not keep me long in suspense. The next morning she came to
my studio door and looked in shyly.
“Come in,” I said. “I have been expecting you,” and then I went on
with my painting. I saw she had something to tell me, and thought, as
she was evidently embarrassed, it would be easier for her to speak if I
did not look at her. “I hope you are going to stay with us some time
now, Ideala,” I added, glancing up at her as she came and looked over
my shoulder at the picture.
Her face clouded. “I—I am afraid not,” she answered, hesitating,
and nervously fidgeting with some paint brushes that lay on a table
“I am afraid you will not want me when you know what I am going to
do. I only came back to tell you.”
My heart stood still. “To tell me! Why, what are you going to do?”
“It is very hard to tell you,” she faltered. “You and Claudia are my
dearest friends, and I cannot bear to give you pain. But I must tell
you at once. It is only right that you should know—especially as you
I turned to look at her, but she could not meet my eyes.
“Give us pain! Disapprove!” I exclaimed. “What on earth do you mean,
Ideala? What are you going to do?”
“An immoral thing,” she answered.
“Good heavens!” I exclaimed, throwing down my palette, and rising to
confront her. “I don't believe it.”
“I mean,” she stammered—the blood rushing into her face and then
leaving her white as she spoke—“something which you will consider so.
“I cannot believe it,” I reiterated.
“But it is true. He says so.”
“He—who, in God's name?”
“And who on earth is Lorrimer?”
“That is what I came to tell you,” she answered, faintly.
I gathered up my palette and brushes, and sat down to my easel
“Tell me, then,” I said, as calmly as I could.
I pretended to paint, and after a little while, still standing
behind me so that I could not see her face, she began in a low voice,
and told me, with her habitual accuracy, all that had passed between
“And what did you think when you found he was not there?” I asked,
for at that point she had stopped.
“At first I thought he did not want to see me, and had gone away on
purpose,” she answered; “then I was ill; but after that, when I began
to get better, I was afraid I had been unjust to him. There might have
been some mistake, and I was half inclined to go and see, but I was
frightened. And every day the longing grew, and I used to sit and look
at my watch, and think—'I could be there in an hour;' or, 'I might be
with him in forty minutes.' But I never went. And after a while I could
not bear it any longer, and so I came to you. But the thought of him
came with me, and the desire to know the truth grew and grew, until at
last I could bear that no longer either, and then I wrote; and day
after day I waited, and no answer came; and then I was sure he had done
it on purpose, but yet I could not bear to think it of him. And I began
not to know what people said when they spoke to me, and I think I
should have killed myself; but I come of an old race, you know, and
none of us ever did a cowardly thing, and I would rather suffer for
ever than be the first—noblesse oblige. I don't deserve much
credit for that, though, for I knew I should die if I did not see him
again—die of grief, and shame, and humiliation because of what I had
written, for as the days passed, and no answer came, I was afraid I had
said too much, and he had misunderstood me, and would despise me. If I
had only been sure that he did not want to see me again, of course I
should never have written; but so many people have lost their only
chance of happiness because they had not the courage to find out the
truth in some such doubtful matter; and I did believe in him so
—I could not think he would do a low thing. I was in a
difficult position, and I did what I thought was right; but when no
answer came to my letter I began to doubt, and then in a moment of
rage, feeling myself insulted, I wrote again. Yet I don't know what
made me write. It was an impulse—the sort of thing that makes one
scream when one is hurt. It does no good, but the cry is out before you
can think of that. All I said was: 'I understand your silence. You are
cruel and unjust. But I can keep my word, and if I live for nothing
else, I promise that I will make you respect me yet.' I never expected
him to answer that second note, but he did, at once. And he offered to
come here and explain—he was dreadfully distressed. But I preferred to
go to him.”
“And you went?”
“Yes. And I was frightened, and he was very kind.”
By degrees she told me much of what had passed at that interview.
She seemed to have had no thought of anything but her desire to see
him, and have her mind set at rest, until she found herself face to
face with him, and then she was assailed by all kinds of doubts and
fears; but he had put her at her ease in five minutes—and in five
minutes more she had forgotten everything in the rapid change of ideas,
the delightful intellectual contest and communion, which had made his
companionship everything to her. She did just remember to ask him why
he had not answered her first letter.
He searched about amongst a pile of newly-arrived documents on his
writing table. “There it is,” he said, showing her the letter covered
with stamps and postmarks. “It only arrived this morning—just in time,
though, to speak for itself. I was abroad when you wrote, and it was
sent after me, and has followed me from place to place as you see, so
that I got your second letter first. You might have known there was
“Pardon me,” Ideala answered. “I ought to have known.”
And then she had looked up at him and smiled, and never another
doubt had occurred to her.
“But, Ideala,” I said to her, “you used the word 'immoral' just now.
You were talking at random, surely? You are nervous. For heaven's sake
collect yourself, and tell me what all this means.”
“No, I am not nervous,” she answered. “See! my hand is quite steady.
It is you who are trembling. I am calm now, and relieved, because I
have told you. But, oh! I am so sorry to give you pain.”
“I do not yet understand,” I answered, hoarsely.
“He wants me to give up everything, and go to him,” she said; “but
he would not accept my consent until he had explained, and made me
understand exactly what I was doing. 'The world will consider it an
immoral thing,' he said, 'and so it would be if the arrangement were
not to be permanent. But any contract which men and women hold to be
binding on themselves should be sufficient now, and will be sufficient
again, as it used to be in the old days, provided we can show good
cause why any previous contract should be broken. You must believe
that. You must be thoroughly satisfied now. For if your conscience were
to trouble you afterwards—your troublesome conscience which keeps you
busy regretting nearly everything you do, but never warns you in time
to stop you—if you were to have any scruples, then there would be no
peace for either of us, and you had better give me up at once.'“
“And what did you say, Ideala?”
“I said, perhaps I had. I was beginning to be frightened again.”
“And how did it end?”
“He made me go home and consider.”
“Yes. And what then?” I demanded impatiently.
“And next day he came to me—to know my decision—and—and—I was
satisfied. I cannot live without him.” I groaned aloud. What was I to
say? What could I do? An arrangement of this sort is carefully
concealed, as a rule, by the people concerned, and denied if
discovered; but here were a lady and gentleman prepared, not only to
take the step, but to justify it—under somewhat peculiar
circumstances, certainly—and carefully making their friends acquainted
with their intention beforehand, as if it were an ordinary engagement.
I knew Ideala, and could understand her being over-persuaded. Something
of the kind was what I had always feared for her. But, Lorrimer—what
sort of a man was he? I own that I was strongly prejudiced against him
from the moment she pronounced his name, and all she had told me of him
subsequently only confirmed the prejudice.
“Why was he not there that day to receive you?” I asked at last.
“I don't know,” she said. “I quite forgot about that. And I suppose
he forgot too,” she added, “since he never told me.”
“Oh, Ideala!” I exclaimed, “how like you that is! It is most
important that you should know whether he intended to slight you on
that occasion or not. It is the key to his whole action in this
“But supposing he did mean to be rude? I should have to forgive him,
you know, because I have been rude to him—often. He does not approve
of my conduct always, by any means,” she placidly assured me.
“And does he, of all people in the world, presume to sit in judgment
on you?” I answered, indignantly. “I always thought you the most
extraordinary person in the world, Ideala, until I heard of this—
“Hush!” she protested, as if I had blasphemed. “You must not speak
of him like that. He is a gentleman—as true and loyal as you
are yourself. And he is everything to me.”
But these assurances were only what I had expected from Ideala, and
in no way altered my opinion of Mr. Lorrimer. I knew Ideala's peculiar
conscience well. She might do what all the world would consider wrong
on occasion; but she would never do so until she had persuaded herself
that wrong was right—for her at all events.
“He may be everything to you, but he has lowered you, Ideala,” I
resumed, thinking it best not to spare her.
“I was degraded when I met him.”
“Circumstances cannot degrade us until they make us act unworthily,”
“Oh, no, he has not lowered me,” she persisted; “quite the contrary.
I have only begun to know the difference between right and wrong since
I met him, and to understand how absolutely necessary for our happiness
is right-doing, even in the veriest trifle. And there is one thing that
I must always be grateful to him for—I can pray now. But I belied
myself to him nevertheless. He asked me if I ever prayed, and I was
shy; I could not tell him, because I only prayed for him. It was easier
to say that sometimes I reviled. Ah! why can we not be true to
“But I can't always pray,” she went on sorrowfully; “only sometimes;
generally when I am in church. The thought of him comes over me then,
and a great longing to have him beside me, kneeling, with his heart
made tender, and his soul purified and uplifted to God as mine is,
possesses me—a longing so great that it fills my whole being, and
finds a voice: 'My God! my God! give him to me!'“
“'Angels of God in heaven! give him to me! give him to me!'“ I
“Yes, I remember,” she rejoined, “I said it in my arrogant
ignorance. I did not understand, and this is different.”
“It is always different in our own case,” I answered. “Do you
remember that passage Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes from Lord Bacon:
'Moral qualities rule the world, but at short distances the senses are
despotic'? it seems to me that when you call upon God in that spirit
you are worshipping Him with your senses only.”
“Then I believe it is possible to make the senses the means of
saving the soul at critical times,” she answered; “and at all events I
know this, that I more earnestly desire to be a good woman now than I
ever did before.”
“It would be a dangerous doctrine,” I began.
“Only in cases where the previous moral development had not been of
a high order,” she interrupted. I felt it was useless to pursue that
part of the subject, so I waited a little, and then I said: “Am I to
understand, then, that you are going to give up your position in
society, and all your friends, for the sake of this one man, who
probably does not care for you, who certainly does not respect you, and
of whom you know nothing? Verily, he has gained an easy victory! But,
of course, you know now what his object has been from the first.”
“I know what you mean,” she answered, indignantly; “but you are
quite wrong; he does care for me. And if I give up my position in
society for his sake, he is worth it, and I am content. And it is my
own doing, too. I know that there cannot be one law for me and another
for all the other women in the world, and if I break through a social
convention I am prepared to abide by the consequences. Do you want to
make me believe that his sympathy was pretended, that he deliberately
planned— something I have no word to express—and would have carried
out his plan absolutely in cold blood, without a spark of affection for
me? It would be hard to believe it of any man; it is impossible to
believe it of him. He is a man of strong passions, if you will, but of
noble purpose; and if I make a sacrifice for him, he will be making one
for me also. He may have been betrayed at times by grief, or other
mental pain, which weakened his moral nature for the moment, and left
him at the mercy of bad impulses; but I can believe such impulses were
isolated, and any action they led him into was bitterly repented of;
and no one will ever make me alter my conviction that I wronged him
when I doubted him, even for a moment.”
“This is all very well, Ideala,” I said, trying not to irritate her
by direct opposition, “if you appeared to him as you appear to me. Do
you think you did? Was there anything in your conduct that might have
given him a low estimate of your character to begin with? Anything that
might have led him to doubt your honesty, and think, when you made your
confession, that you were trying to get up a little play in which you
intended him to take a leading part? That you merely wished to ease
your mind from some inevitable sense of shame in wrong-doing by finding
an excuse for yourself to begin with—an excuse by which you would
excite his interest and sympathy, and save yourself from his contempt?”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, “could he—could any one—think such a thing
“Such things are being done every day, Ideala, and a man of the
world would naturally be on his guard against deception. If he thought
he was being deceived, do you think it likely he would feel bound to be
“But he did believe in me,” she declared, passionately.
“He pretended to; it was part of the play. You see he only kept it
up until he thoroughly understood you, and then his real feelings
appeared, and he was rude to you. For I call his absence on that
occasion distinctly rude, and intentionally so too, since he sent no
“He was only rude to me to save me from myself, then, as Lancelot
was rude to Elaine,” she answered.
“Or is it not just possible that he was disappointed when he found
you better than he had supposed? that he felt he had wasted his time
for nothing, and was irritated——”
She interrupted me. “I forgive you,” she said, “because you do not
know him. But I shall never convince you. You are prejudiced. You do
not think ill of me: why do you think ill of him?”
I made no answer, and she was silent for a little. Then she began
again, recurring to the point at issue:
“If he did slight me on that occasion,” she said—“and I maintain
that he did not—but if he did, it was accidentally done.”
“The evidence is against him,” I answered, drily.
“Many innocent persons have suffered because it was,” she said, with
“You are infatuated,” I answered, roughly. And then my heart sent up
an exceeding great and bitter cry: “Ideala! Ideala! how did it ever
come to this?”
She was silent. But her eyes were bright once more, her figure was
erect, there was new life in her—I could see that—and never a doubt.
She was satisfied. She was happy.
“Must I give you up?” she said at last, tentatively.
“No, you must give him up,” I answered.
“Ah, that is impossible!” she cried. “We were made for each other.
We cannot live apart.”
“Ideala,” I exclaimed, exasperated, “he never believed in you. He
thought you were as so many women of our set are, and he showed it, if
only you could have understood, when you saw him at the Hospital on
that last occasion. You felt that there was some change, as you say
yourself, and that was it. You talked to him of truth then, and it
irritated him as the devil quoting Scripture might be supposed to
irritate; and when you went back again he showed what he thought of you
by his unexplained absence. He thought you were not worth
consideration, and he gave you none.”
“It would have been paying himself a very poor compliment if he had
thought that only a corrupt woman could care for him,” she answered,
confidently. “But, I tell you, I am sure there is some satisfactory
explanation of that business. I only wish I had remembered to ask for
it, that I might satisfy you now. And, at any rate,” she added,
“whatever he may have thought, he knows better by this time.”
I could say no more. Baffled and sick at heart, I left her,
wondering if some happy inspiration would come before it was too late,
and help me to save her yet.
I went to consult my sister Claudia. The blow was a heavy one for
her also; but I was surprised to find that she did not share my
contempt for the person whom I considered responsible for all this
“Ideala is no common character herself,” Claudia argued; “and it
isn't likely that a common character would fascinate her as this man
“Will you speak to her, Claudia, and see what your influence will
“It is no use my speaking to her,” she answered, disconsolately.
“Ideala is a much cleverer woman than I am. She would make me laugh at
my own advice in five minutes. And, besides, if she be infatuated, as
you say she is, she will be only too glad to be allowed to talk about
him, and that will strengthen her feeling for him. No. She has chosen
you for her confidant, and you had better talk to her yourself—and may
you succeed!” she added, laying her head on the table beside which she
was sitting, and giving way to a burst of grief.
I tried to comfort her, but I had little hope myself, and I could
not speak at all confidently.
“I believe,” Claudia said, before we parted, “that there is nothing
for her now but a choice of two evils. If she gives him up she will
never care for anything again, and if she does not, she will have done
an unjustifiable thing; and life after that for such a woman as Ideala
would be like one of those fairy gifts which were bestowed subject to
some burdensome condition that made the good of them null and void.”
I did not meet Ideala again until the evening, and then I was not
sorry to see that her manner was less serene. It was just possible that
she had been thinking over what I had said, and that some of the doubts
I had suggested were beginning to disturb her perfect security.
After dinner she brought the conversation round to those social laws
which govern our lives arbitrarily. I did not see what she was driving
at, neither did the good old Bishop, who was one of the party, nor a
lawyer who was also present.
“You want to know something,” said the latter. “What is it? You must
state your case clearly.”
“I want to know if a thing can be legally right and morally wrong,”
“Of course not,” the Bishop rashly asserted.
“That depends,” the lawyer said, cautiously.
“If I signed a contract,” Ideala explained, “and found out
afterwards that those who induced me to become a party to it had kept
me in ignorance of the most important clause in it, so that I really
did not know to what I was committing myself, would you call that a
“I should say that people had not dealt uprightly with you,” the
Bishop answered; “but there might be nothing in the clause to which you
“But suppose there was something in the clause to which I
very strongly objected, something of which my conscience disapproved,
something that was repugnant to my whole moral nature; and suppose I
was forced by the law to fulfil it nevertheless, should you say that
was a moral contract? Should you not say that in acting against my
conscience I acted immorally?”
We all fell into the trap, and looked an encouraging assent.
“And in that case,” she continued, “I suppose my duty would be to
evade the law, and act on my conscience?”
The Bishop looked puzzled.
“I should only be doing what the early martyrs had to do,” she
“That is true,” he rejoined, with evident relief.
“But I don't see what particular contract you are thinking of,” said
“The marriage contract,” Ideala answered, calmly.
This announcement created a sensation.
The lawyer laughed: the Bishop looked grave.
“Oh, but you cannot describe marriage in that way,” he declared,
“Humph!” the lawyer observed, meditatively. “I am afraid I must beg
to differ from your Lordship. Many women might describe their marriages
in that way with perfect accuracy.”
“Marriages are made in heaven!” the Bishop ejaculated, feebly.
“Let us hope that some are, dear Bishop.” Claudia sweetly observed,
and all the married people in the room looked “Amen” at her.
“I think an ideal of marriage should be fixed by law, and lectures
given in all the colleges to teach it,” Ideala went on; “and a standard
of excellence ought to be set up for people to attain to before they
could be allowed to marry. They should be obliged to pass examinations
on the subject, and fit themselves for the perfect state by a perfect
life. It should be made a reward for merit, and a goal towards which
goodness only could carry us. Then marriages might seem to have been
made in heaven, and the blessing of God would sanctify a happy union,
instead of being impiously pronounced in order to ratify a business
transaction, or sanction the indulgence of a passing fancy. But only
the love that lasts can sanctify marriage, and a marriage without such
love is an immoral contract.”
“Marriage an immoral contract!” the Bishop exclaimed. “O dear! O
dear! This is not right, you know; this is not at all right. I must
make a note of this—I really must. You are in the habit of saying
things of this sort, my dear. I remember you said something like it
once before; and really it is not a subject to joke about. Such an idea
is quite pernicious; it must not be allowed to spread—even as a joke.
I wish, my dear, you had not promulgated it, even in that spirit. You
have—ah —a knack of making things seem plausible, and of giving
weight to opinions by the way you express them, although the opinions
themselves are quite erroneous, as on the present occasion. Some of
your ideas are so very mistaken, you know; and you really ought to
leave these matters to those who understand them, and can judge. It is
very dangerous to discuss such subjects, especially—ah—when you know
nothing about them, and—ah—cannot judge. I really must preach a
sermon on the subject. Let me see. Next Sunday—ah, yes; next Sunday,
if you will kindly come and hear me.”
We all thanked him as enthusiastically as we could.
Later, I found Ideala alone in one of the conservatories. She took
my arm affectionately, and we walked up and down for a time in silence.
She was smiling and happy; so happy, indeed, that I found it hard to
say anything to disturb her. For a moment I felt almost as she did
about the step she proposed to take. There had been little joy in her
life, and she had borne her cross long and bravely; what wonder that
she should rebel at last, and claim her reward?
“Do you remember how you used to talk about the women of the
nineteenth century, Ideala,” I said at last, “and describe the power
for good which they never use, and rail at them as artificial,
milliner-made, man-hunting, self-indulgent animals?“
“I know,” she answered; “and now you would say I am worse than any
of them? I used to have big ideas about woman and her mission; but I
always looked at the question broadly, as it affects the whole world;
now my vision is narrowed, and I see it only with regard to one
individual. But I am sure that is the right way to look at it. I think
every woman will have to answer for one man's soul, and it seems to me
that the noblest thing a woman can do is to devote her life to that
soul first of all—to raise it if it be low, to help it to peace if
peace be lacking, and to gather all the sunshine there is in the world
for it; and, after that, if her opportunities and powers allow her to
help others also, she should do what she can for them. I do not know
all the places which it is legitimate for women to fill in the world,
but it seems to me that they are many and various, and that the great
object in life for a woman is to help. To be a Pericles I see that a
man must have an Aspasia. Was Aspasia vile? some said so—yet she did a
nobler work, and was finer in her fall, if she fell, than many good
women in all the glory of uprightness are. And was she impure? then it
is strange that her mind was not corrupting in its influence. And was
she low? then whence came her power to raise others? It seems to me
that it only rests with ourselves to make any position in life, which
circumstances render it expedient for us to occupy, desirable.”
“And you propose to be an Aspasia to this modern Pericles?”
“If you like to put it so. The cases are not dissimilar, as there
was an obstacle in the way of their marriage also.”
“The law was the obstacle.”
“Yes; another of those laws which are more honoured in the breach
than in the observance. They might not marry because she came from
Miletus! and Lorrimer may not marry me because I came out of the house
of bondage. Unwise laws make immoral nations.”
“But you have gone about this business in such an extraordinary way,
Ideala,” I said. “You seem to have tried to make it appear as bad for
yourself as you can. Why did you not leave your husband when Lorrimer
advised you to?”
“If I had gone then I should have been obliged to live somewhere
else— a long way from Lorrimer; and I might never have seen him
“And do you mean to say you decided to endure a life that had become
hateful to you in every way, simply for the sake of seeing this
“Yes. Ah! you do not know how good he is, nor how he raises me! I
never knew the sort of creature I was until he told me. He said once,
when we quarrelled, that I was fanciful, sentimental, lackadaisical,
hysterical, and in an unhealthy state of mind, and yet—”
I made a gesture of impatience, and she stopped.
“But, Ideala,” I asked her, after a little pause, “have you never
felt that what you are doing is wrong?”
“I cannot say that exactly,” she answered. “I knew that certain
social conventions forbade the thing—at least I began to acknowledge
this to myself after a time. At first, you know, I thought of nothing.
I was wholly absorbed in my desire to see him; that excluded every
other consideration. Do you know what it is to be sure that a thing is
wrong, and yet not to be able to feel it so—to have your reason
acknowledge what your conscience does not confirm?”
I made no answer, and we were silent for a little; then she spoke
“One day when I was in Japan,” she said, “I was living up in the
hills at Hakone, a village on a lake three thousand feet above the
level of the sea. The Mayor of the village was entertaining me, and
whenever I went out he sent his son and several of his retainers as an
escort, that I might not be subject to annoyance or insult from
strangers. One day I was crossing the hills by a mountain-path there is
between Hakone and Mianoshita, and after I passed Ashynoyou, where the
sulphur springs are, I found myself in a dense fog. I could not see
anything distinctly three yards in front of me. Kashywaya and the other
men never walked with me; they used to hover about me, leaving me to
all intents and purposes alone if I preferred it. The Japanese are very
delicate in some things; it was weeks before I knew that I had a guard
of honour at all. On that particular day I lost sight of them
altogether, but I could hear them calling to each other through the
fog; and I sat down feeling very wretched and lonely. I thought how all
the beauty of life had been spoiled for me; how, past, present, and to
come, it was all a blank; and I wished in my heart that I might die,
and know no more. And, do you know, just at that moment the fog beneath
me parted, and I saw the sea, sapphire blue and dotted with boats, and
the sand a streak of silver, and the green earth, and a low horizon of
shining clouds, and over all the sun! Dear Lord in heaven! how glad a
sight it was!” She pressed her handkerchief to her eyes. “And I was
wandering,” she continued, “in some such mental mist, lost and
despairing, when Lorrimer came into my life, and changed everything for
me in a moment, like the sun. Would you have me believe that he was
sent to me then only for an evil purpose? That the good God, in whom I
scarcely believed until in His mercy He allowed me to feel love for one
of His creatures, and to realise through it the Divine love of which it
is surely the foreshadowing—would you have me believe myself degraded
by love so sent? Would you have me turn from it and call it sin, when I
feel that God Himself is the giver?”
I was silent, not knowing how to answer her.
Presently I asked: “But why not have a legal separation, a divorce,
from your husband now?”
“I cannot,” she answered, sadly. “At one time I had written proof of
his turpitude, but I could not make up my mind to use it then, and I
destroyed it eventually; so that now my word would be the only evidence
against him, and that would not do, I suppose, although you all know,
better than I do, I fancy, what his life has been.”
Other people had by this time come into the conservatory, and we
were therefore obliged to change the subject.
In the days that followed every one seemed to become conscious of
some impending trouble. We were all depressed, and one by one our party
left us, until at last only Ideala remained, for we had not the heart
to ask other guests, even if it had been expedient, and, under the
circumstances, Claudia did not consider it so.
Ideala spent much of her time in writing to Lorrimer. Some of these
letters were never sent. I fancy she wrote exactly as she felt, and
often feared when she had done so that she had been too frank. How
these two ever came to such an understanding I am at a loss to imagine,
and I have searched in vain for any clue to the mystery. Only one thing
is plain to me, that when at last Ideala understood her feeling for
Lorrimer, she cherished it. After she found that her husband had broken
every tie, disregarded every obligation, legal and moral, that bound
her to him, she seems to have considered herself free. But I feel quite
sure she had not acknowledged this, even to herself, when she returned
to Lorrimer, and that simply because she had not contemplated the
possibility of being asked to take any decided step. When the time
came, however, she apparently never questioned her right to act on this
fancied freedom. The circumstances under which they had met were
probably responsible for a great deal. The whole of their acquaintance
had had something unusual about it, which would naturally predispose
their minds to further unaccustomed issues when any question of right
or expediency arose. The restrictions which men and women have seen fit
to place upon their intercourse with each other are the outcome of ages
of experience, and they who disregard them bring upon themselves the
troubles against which those same restrictions, irksome at times as
they must be, are the only adequate defence.
One letter I have here shows something of the strength and
tenderness of Ideala's devotion; and I venture to think that, even
under the circumstances, it must be good for a man to have been loved
once in his life like that. The letter begins abruptly—“Oh, the
delight of being able to write to you,” she says, “without fear and
without constraint. If it were possible to step from the dreary
oppression of the northern midnight into the full blaze of the southern
noon, the transition would not be greater than is the sense of rest and
relief that has come to me after the weary days which are over. Do you
know, I never believed that any one person could be so much to another
as you are to me; that any one could be so happy as I am! I think I am
too happy. But, dear, I want you! I want you always; but most of
all when anything good or beautiful moves me; I feel nearer to you
then, and I know you would understand. Every good thought, every worthy
aspiration, everything that is best in me, and every possibility of
better things, seems due to your influence, and makes me crave for your
presence. You have been the one thing wanting to me my whole life long.
I believe that no soul is perfect alone, and that each of us must have
a partner-soul somewhere, kept apart from us—by false
marriages, perhaps, or distance, or death, but still to be ours, if not
in this state, then in some other, when both are perfect enough to make
the union possible. We are not all fit for that love which is the
beginning of heaven, and can have no end. [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy
footnote relocated to chapter end.] Does this seem fanciful to you? It
would comfort me if we were ever separated. If—I cannot tell
you how it makes my heart sink just to look at that word, although I
know it does not suggest anything that is possible in our case. What
power would take you from me now, when there is no one else in the
whole wide world for me but you? and always you! and only you!
You, with your ready sympathy and perfect refinement; your wit, your
rapid changes, your ideality, your kindness, your cruelty, and the
terrible discontent which makes you untrue to yourself. You are my
world. But unless I can be to you what you are to me, you will always
be one of the lonely ones. Tell me, again, that my absence makes a
blank in your life. You did not write the word, you only left a space,
and do you know how I filled it at first? 'It was such a relief
when you left off coming,' I read, and I raged at you.
“I have heard it said lately that you are fickle, but these people
do not understand you. You are true to your ideal, but the women you
have hitherto known were only so many imperfect realisations of it, and
so you went from one to the other, always searching, but never
satisfied. And you have it in you to be so much happier or so much more
miserable than other men—I should have trembled for you if your hopes
had never been realised.
“But what would satisfy you? I often long to be that mummy
you have in the Great Hospital, the one with the short nose and thick
lips. When you looked at me spirit and flesh would grow one with
delight, and I should come to life, and grow round and soft and warm
again, and talk to you of Thebes, and you would be enchanted with
me—you could not help it then. I should be so old, so very old, and
“Dear, how I laugh at my fears now, or rather, how I bless them. If
I had never known the horror of doubt, how could I have known what
certainty is? And I did doubt you; I dare acknowledge it now. I wonder
if you can understand what the shame of that doubt was? When I thought
your absence and your silence were intentional slights, I knew how they
felt when 'they called on the rocks to cover them, and I wished—oh,
how I wished!—that a thousand years had passed, and my spirit
could be at the place where we met, and see the pillars broken, and.
the ivy climbing over the ruins, and the lizards at home amongst them,
and the shameless sunlight making bare the spot where we stood.
“It was as if I had been punished for some awful unknown sin, and
when I seemed to be dying, and I dared not write to you, and all hope
of ever knowing the truth had departed, I used to exclaim in my misery:
'Verily, Lord, if Thy servant sinned she hath suffered! for the anguish
of death has been doubled, and the punishment of the lost has begun
while yet the tortured mind can make its lament and moan with the
“But all that bitter past only enhances the present.
“I wonder where you will be to-day. I believe you are always in that
room of yours. You only leave it to walk to the station with me, after
which you go back to it, and work there till it is dark; and then you
rest, waiting for the daylight, and when it comes you go to work again.
I cannot fancy you anywhere else. I should not like to realise that you
have an existence of which I can know nothing, a life through which I
cannot follow you, even in imagination.
“But sometimes you come to me, and then how glad I am! You come to
me and kiss me, and it is night and I am dreaming, and not ashamed.
“Yes, the days do drag on slowly, for after all I am never quite
happy, never at peace even, never for a moment, except when I am with
you. I am sorry I feel so, for it seems ungrateful in the face of all
the kindness and care that is being lavished on me by my friends. One
lady here has seven children—another instance of the unequal
distribution of the good things of this world. She has lent me one of
them to comfort me because I am jealous. He sleeps in my room, and is a
fair- haired boy, with eyes that remind me of you. Will he also, when
he grows up, have 'the conscience of a saint among his warring senses'?
I hope not, I should think when sense and conscience are equally
delicate, and apt to thrill simultaneously, life must be a burden.
Would such a state of things account for moods that vary perpetually, I
Here she breaks off, and I think these last reflections account for
the fact that the letter was never sent.
[Relocated Footnote: This passage might have been taken from Plato
verbatim, but Ideala had not read Plato at the time it was written. The
inborn passionate longing of the human soul for perfect companionship
doubtless accounts for the coincidence, which also shows how
deep-rooted and widely spread the hope of eventually obtaining the
desired companionship is. Some will maintain that the desire for such a
possibility has created the belief in it, but others claim to have met
their partner-souls, and to have become united by a bond so perfect
that even distance cannot sever it, there being some inexplicable means
of communication between the two, which enables each to know what
befalls the other wherever they may be. The idea might probably be
traced back to that account of Adam which describes him as androgynous,
or a higher union of man and woman—a union of all the attributes of
either, which, to punish Adam for a grievous fault, was subsequently
sundered into the contrast between man and woman, leaving each lonely,
imperfect, and vainly longing for the other.]
Ideala lingered unwillingly, but the reason of her reluctance to go
was not far to seek. Now that Lorrimer knew she loved him she was
ashamed to go back. It would have been bad enough had he been able to
come to her; but going to him was like reversing the natural order of
things and unsexing herself. I suppose, however, that she forgot her
shyness in her desire to be with him as the time went on, and the
effort it cost her to conquer her fear and go to him was not so
dreadful as the blank she would have been obliged to face had she
stayed away. At all events, she fixed a day at last, and one morning
she announced to us, sadly enough, that on the morrow she must say
farewell. She made the announcement just after breakfast, and Claudia
rose and left the room without a word. My sister had never been able to
speak to Ideala on the subject, but she did not cease to urge me to
expostulate, and she had suggested many arguments which had affected
Ideala, and made her unhappy, but without altering her determination.
I could not find a word to say to her that morning, and during the
slow hours of the long day that dragged itself on so wearily for all of
us, nothing new occurred to me.
“It will be a relief when it is over,” I said to my sister.
“Yes,” she answered; “it is worse than death.”
In the evening she came to my study and said: “Ideala is alone in
the south drawing-room. I wish you would go to her, and make a last
effort to dissuade her.”
I consented, hopelessly, and went.
Ideala was standing in a window, looking out listlessly. She was
very pale, and I could see that she had been weeping. I sat down near
the fire; and presently she came and sat on the floor beside me, and
laid her head against my knee. In all the years of my love for her she
had never been so close to me before, and I was glad to let her rest a
long, long time like that.
“Were you happy while you were with Lorrimer, Ideala?” I asked at
She did not answer at once, and when she did, it was almost in a
“No, never quite happy till this last time,” she said; “never
entirely at ease, even. It was when I left him, when I was alone and
could think of him, that the joy came.”
“There was nothing real in your pleasure, then,” I went on; “it was
purely imaginary—due to your trick of idealising everything and
everybody, you care for?”
“I do not know,” she said.
“Do you think it was the same with him?” I asked again—“I mean all
along. Did it always make him happy to have you there?”
“I cannot tell,” she said. “Yes, I think at times he was glad. But a
word would alter his mood, and then he would grow sad and silent.”
“Even on the last occasion?”
“No, not on the last occasion. He was happy then”—and she smiled at
the recollection—“ah, so happy! It was like new life to him, he was so
young, so fresh, so glad—like a boy.”
“But before, when his moods varied so often, did it ever seem to you
that he was troubled and dissatisfied with himself? that the intimacy
had begun on his part under a misapprehension, and that when he began
to know you better, he had tried to end it, and save you, by not seeing
you on that occasion?”
“Ah, that occasion again!” she ejaculated. “I forgot to tell
you, but I asked for an explanation just to satisfy you. Here it is!”
And she took a note from her pocket-book and handed it to me. It was
one which she had written to him.
“I do not understand,” I said.
“Read it,” she answered, “and you will find I asked him to expect me
on Monday, the 26th. It was a clerical error. Tuesday was the
26th, and I went on Tuesday. He waited for me the whole long Monday,
and that night he had to set off suddenly for the Continent on business
connected with the Great Hospital. He went, wondering what had detained
me, and expecting an explanation. When he returned he inquired, but
nobody could tell him whether I had been or not. So he waited, and
waited, as I did, expecting to hear, and as much perplexed and
distressed as I was, and as proud, for he never thought of writing to
me—nor did he think of looking at my note again until I wrote the
other day, and then he discovered the mistake. Now, are you satisfied?”
“About that—yes,” I answered, reluctantly. It was no relief to end
“But what did he mean when he talked of conscience and scruples?”
“He used to laugh at my 'troublesome conscience,' as he called it,”
she answered, evasively.
“Would he have known you had a conscience, do you think, if he had
had none himself?” I asked her. “Did he ever say anything that showed
he was yielding to a strong inclination which he could not justify and
would not conquer?”
“Oh, no!” she said; then added, undecidedly: “at least—he did say
once: 'Of course, in the opinion of the world the thing cannot be
justified,' but then he went on as if it had slipped from him
involuntarily: 'Bah! I am only doing as other men do.'“
“Which shows he was not exactly satisfied to be only as other men
“That is what I have often told you,” she said; “his ideal of life,
both for himself and others, is the highest possible, and he suffers
when he falls below it, or even belies himself with a word.”
“Passion never lasts, and love does not lead to evil,” I continued,
meditatively; “if you love him, Ideala, how will you bear to feel that
he has degraded himself by degrading you?”
“Oh! do not speak like that!” she exclaimed. “There is no
degradation in love. It is sin that degrades, and sin is something that
corrupts our minds, is it not? and makes us unfit for any good work,
and unwilling to undertake any. This is very different.”
“Ideala, do you remember telling me once that you had a strange
feeling about yourself? that you thought you would be made to go down
into some great depth of sin and suffering, in order to learn what it
is you have to teach?”
“Ah, yes!” she answered, “but I have not gone down. I must obey my
own conscience, not yours; and my conscience tells me the thing is
right which you hold to be wrong. I am quite willing to believe it
would be wrong for you, but for me it is clearly right. You said the
other day he had lowered me. What a fiction that is! In what have I
changed for the worse? Do I fail in any duty of life since I knew him
in which I previously succeeded? Oh, no! he has not lowered me! Love
like this rounds a life and brings it to perfection; it could not wreck
“But, Ideala, you are going to fail in a duty; you are going to fail
in the most important duty of your life—your duty to society.”
“I owe nothing to society,” she answered, obstinately.
“I have always admired you,” I pursued, “for not letting your own
experience warp your judgment. Oh, what a falling-off is here! I have
heard you wish to be something more than an independent unit of which
no account need be taken. How can we, any of us, say we owe nothing to
society, when we owe every pleasure in life to it? Do we owe nothing to
those who have gone before, and whom we have to thank for the music,
the painting, the poetry, and all the arts which would leave a big
blank in your life, Ideala, if they ceased to exist? You would
have been a mere savage now, without refinement enough to appreciate
that rose at your waistbelt, but for the labour and self-denial which
the hundreds and thousands who lived, and loved, and suffered in order
to make you what you are have bestowed on you, and on all of us. You
would not say, if you thought a moment, that society had done nothing
for you; and no one can honestly think that they owe it nothing in
return. It seems to me that a rigid observance of the laws which hold
society together, and make life possible for all of us, and pleasant
for some, is the least we can do; and do you know, Ideala, when a woman
ever thinks of doing what you propose to do, she has already gone down
to a low depth—of ingratitude, if of nothing else.”
“I do not propose to do anything that will injure any one,” she
answered, coldly. “I am free, am I not, to dispose of myself as I like
—to give myself to whomsoever I please?”
“We are none of us free in that sense of the word,” I replied.
“All are but parts of one stupendous whole
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
You are, as I know you have desired to be, part of a system, and an
important part. All the toil and trouble of the world, and all the work
which began with the life of man, is directed towards one great end—
the doing away with sin and suffering, and the establishment of purity
and peace. And this work seems almost hopeless, not because the
multitude do not approve of it, but because individuals are cowardly,
and will not do their share of it. Every act of yours has a meaning; it
either helps or hinders, what is being done to further this, the object
of life. Lately, Ideala, you have been talking wildly, without for a
moment considering the harm you may be doing. You have expressed
opinions which are calculated to make people discontented with things
as they are. You rob them of the content which has made them
comfortable heretofore, and yet you offer them nothing better in return
for it. You would have society turned topsy-turvy, and all for what?
Why, simply to make a wrong thing right for yourself! If your example
were followed by all the unhappy people in the world, how would it end,
do you think? There must be moral laws, and it is inevitable that they
should press hardly on individuals occasionally; but it is clearly the
duty of individuals to sacrifice themselves for the good of the
community at large.”
“I do not understand your morality,” she said. “Do you think that,
although I love another man, it would be right for me to go back and
live with my husband?”
“Right, but, under the circumstances, not advisable. And, at any
rate, nothing would make it moral for you to go to that other man.”
“Oh! do not fill my mind with doubt,” she pleaded, piteously. “I
love him. Let me go.”
I did not answer her, and after a while she began again,
passionately— “We are free agents in these things. Individuals
must know what is best for themselves. If I devote my life to him,
as I propose, who would be hurt by it? Should I be less pure-minded,
and would he be less upright in all his dealings? When things can be
legally right though morally wrong, can they not also be morally right
though legally wrong?”
“I have already tried to show you, Ideala,” I answered, preparing to
go over the old ground again, patiently, “that we none of us stand
alone, that we are all part of this great system, and that, in cases
like yours, individuals must suffer, must even be sacrificed, for the
good of the rest. When the sacrifice is voluntary, we call it noble.”
“If I go to him I shall have sacrificed a good deal.”
“You will have sacrificed others, not yourself. He is all the world
to you, Ideala; the loss would be nothing to the gain”—she hid her
face in her hands—“and what is required of you is self-sacrifice. And
surely it would be happier in the end for you to give him up now, than
to live to feel yourself a millstone round his neck.”
“I do not understand you,” she said, looking up quickly.
“The world, you see, will know nothing of the fine sentiments which
made you determine to take this step,” I said. “You will be spoken of
contemptuously, and he will be 'the fellow who is living with another
man's wife, don't you know,' and that will injure him in many ways.”
“Do you think so?” she asked, anxiously.
“I know it,” I replied. “And look at it from that or any other point
of view you like, and you must see you are making a mistake. A woman in
your position sets an example whether she will or not, and even if all
your best reasons for this step were made public, you would do harm by
it, for there are only too many people apt enough as it is at finding
specious excuses for their own shortcomings, who would be glad, if they
dared, to do likewise. And you would not gain your object after all.
You would neither be happy yourself, nor make Lorrimer happy. People
like you are sensitive about their honour—it is the sign of their
superiority; and the indulgence of love, even at the moment, and under
the most favourable circumstances of youth, beauty, and intellectual
equality, does not satisfy such natures, if the indulgence be not
regulated and sanctified by all that men and women have devised to make
their relations moral.”
This was my last argument, and when I had done she sat there for a
long time silent, resting her head against my knee, and scarcely
breathing. She was fighting it out with herself, and I thought it best
to leave her alone—besides, I had already said all there was to say;
repetition would only have irritated her, and there was nothing now for
it but to wait.
Outside, I could hear the dreary drip of raindrops; somewhere in the
room a clock ticked obtrusively; but it was long past midnight, and the
house was still. I thought that only the night and silence watched with
me, and waited upon the suffering of this one poor soul.
At last she moved, uttering a low moan, like one in pain.
“I do see it,” she said, almost in a whisper; “and I am willing to
give him up.”
“God in His mercy help you!” I prayed.
“And forgive me,” she answered, humbly.
She was quite exhausted, and passively submitted when I led her to
her room. I closed the shutters to keep out the cheerless dawn, and
made the fire burn up, and lit the lamps. She sat silently watching me,
and did not seem to think it odd that I should do this for her. She
clung to me then as a little child clings to its father, and, like a
father, I ministered to her, reverently, then left her, as I hoped, to
My sister opened her door as I passed. She was dressed, and had been
watching, too, the whole night long.
“Well?” she asked.
I kissed her. “It is well,” I answered; and she burst into tears.
“Can I go to her now?” she said.
“Yes, go.” I went to Claudia's room, and waited. After a long time
“She is quiet at last,” she told me, sorrowfully.
And so the long night ended.
Ideala had returned to us quite under the impression that if she
took the step she proposed we should think it right to cast her off;
and that little tentative: “Must I give you up?” was the only protest
she had offered. But such was not our intention. Far from it! We do not
forsake our friends in their bodily ailments, and we are poor, pitiful,
egotistical creatures indeed when we desert them for their mental and
moral maladies, leaving them to struggle against them and fight them
out or succumb to them alone, according to their strength and
circumstances. The world will forsake them fast enough, and that is
sufficient punishment—if they deserve punishment. Of course, Ideala
could never have come back to us as an honoured guest again, after
taking such a step, but she would have continued to fill the same place
in our affections, if not in our esteem.
“And you will drive everybody else away, and keep the house empty
all the year round, in order to be able to receive her—and Mr.
Lorrimer— whenever they choose to visit us,” Claudia had declared when
we discussed the subject.
That was not quite what I intended; but I had made Ideala understand
that nothing she could do would affect her intercourse with us. I told
her so at once, because I would not have her alter her determination
for any consideration but the highest. She might at the last have
hesitated to separate herself from us for ever; but I felt sure if that
were the case, and it was not a better motive entirely which deterred
her, she would not be satisfied eventually; and I know now that I was
Ideala wrote to Lorrimer, and when she had finished her letter I
found that she intended to impose a terrible task upon me.
“Until you know him yourself you will always misjudge him,” she
said. “I want you to take him my letter, and make his acquaintance.”
“It is the least you can do,” she pleaded. “I shall be easier in my
mind if you will. It will be better for him to see you, and hear all
the things I cannot tell him in my letter; and—and—if I must not see
him myself it will be a comfort to see somebody who has. Do go. I shall
be pained if you refuse.”
This decided me, and I went at once.
It was a long journey, the same that Ideala herself had taken under
such very different circumstances so short a time before. I thought of
her going in doubt and uncertainty, her own feelings colouring the
aspect of all she saw on the way; and returning in the first warm glow
of her great and unexpected joy—her new-found happiness which was
destined, alas! to be so short-lived. Miserable fate which robbed her
of all that would have made her life worth having—a husband on whom
she could rely; her child; and now the man upon whom she had been
prepared to lavish the long pent-up passion, the concentrated devotion
of her great and noble nature! Poor starved heart, crushed back upon
itself, suffering silently, suffering always, but never hardening—on
the contrary, growing tenderer for others the more it had to endure
itself! Would it always be so? Was there no peace on earth for Ideala?
No one who could be all her own? I felt responsible for this last hard
blow; had I done well? The rush and rattle of the train shaped itself
into a sort of sub-chorus to my thoughts as we sped through the
pleasant fields: Was it right? Was it right? Was it right? And I
saw Ideala, with soft, sad eyes, pleading—mutely pleading—pleading
always for some pleasure in life, some natural, womanly joy, while
youth and the power to love lasted. By an effort of will I banished the
question. I told myself that my action in the matter had been expedient
from every point of view; but presently
The rush of the grinding steel!
The thundering crank, and the mighty wheel!
took me to task again, and the chorus now became: Expediency
right! Expediency right! Expediency right! which, when I banished
it, resolved itself into: Cold, proud Puritan! Cold, proud Puritan!
for the rest of the way.
But the journey ended at last—though that was little relief with
the task I had before me still unaccomplished.
A bulbous functionary took my card to Lorrimer when I presented
myself at the Great Hospital next day, and returning presently informed
me that Mr. Lorrimer was disengaged, and would see me at once, if I
would be so good as to come this way. How familiar the whole proceeding
seemed! And how well I knew the place! the soothing silence, the
massive grandeur, the long, dimly lighted gallery to the right, the
door at which the servant stopped and knocked, the man who opened it,
and met my eyes fearlessly, bowing with natural grace, and bidding me
enter—a tall, fair man; self-contained and dignified; cold, pale, and
unimpassioned—so I thought—but my equal in every way: the man who was
“all the world” to Ideala.
When I saw him I understood.
* * * * *
Lorrimer, after dismissing his secretary, was the first to speak.
“You come to me from Ideala?” he said. “Is there anything wrong? Is
And I fancied he turned a trifle paler as the fear flashed through
I reassured him. “Physically she is better,” I said.
“But mentally?” he interposed. “You give her no peace.”
I was silent.
“I know you are no friend of mine,” he added.
“On the contrary,” I answered. “I hope I am the best friend you have
“I know what that means,” he said. “You have tried to dissuade
Ideala, and having failed, you have come here to use your influence
“No,” I answered. “I have not come to discuss the subject. I have
brought you a letter from Ideala at her special request, and I am ready
to take her any reply which you may think fit to send.”
I gave him the letter, and rose to go, but he detained me.
“Stay till I have read it, if you can spare me the time,” he said.
“It is just possible that there is something in it which we ought
I turned to the mantelpiece, and tried to interest myself in the
lovely things with which it was crowded; but never in my life did my
heart sink so for another; never have I endured such moments of pained
I heard him open the envelope; I heard the paper rustle as he turned
the page; and then there was silence—
Full of the city's stilly sound—
a moment only, but filled with
Something which possess'd
The darkness of the world, delight,
Life, anguish, death, immortal love.
Ceasing not, mingled, unrepress'd,
Apart from space, witholding time—
a moment's silence, and then a heavy fall. Lorrimer had fainted.
* * * * *
I stayed three days at the Great Hospital, three days of the most
delightful converse. At first, Lorrimer had rebelled, not realising
that Ideala's last decision was irrevocable.
“You have over-persuaded her,” he said.
“No,” I answered; “I have convinced her. And I shall convince you,
He pleaded for her pathetically, not for himself at all. “She has
had so little joy!” he said; using the very words that had occurred to
me. “And I wanted to silence her. I wanted to save her from her fate.
For she is une des cinq ou six creatures humaines qui naissent, dans
tout un siècle, pour aimer la vérité, et pour mourir sans avoir pu la
faire aimer des autres. She must suffer terribly if she goes on.”
This was a point upon which we differed. He would have given her the
natural joys of a woman—husband, home, children, friends, and only
such intellectual pursuits which are pleasant. I had always
hoped to see her at work in a wider field. But she was one of those
rare women who are born to fulfil both destinies at once, and worthily,
if only circumstances had made it possible for her to combine the two.
Before I had been with him many hours, I began to be sensible of
that difference of feeling on certain subjects which would have made
their union a veritable linking of the past to the future—his belief
that nothing can be better than what has been, and that the old
institutions revised are all that the world wants; and her faith in
future developments of all good ideas, and further discoveries never
yet imagined. For one thing, Lorrimer considered famine and war
inevitable scourges of the human race, necessary for the removal of the
surplus population, and useless to contend against, because destined to
recur, so long as there is a human race; but he would have limited
intellectual pursuits for women, because culture is held to prevent the
trouble for which the elder expedients only provided a cure—a point
upon which Ideala did not agree with him at all. “Nothing is more
disastrous to social prosperity,” she held, “or more likely to add to
the criminal classes, than families which are too large for their
parents to bring up, and educate comfortably, in their own station. If
the higher education of women is a natural check on over-production of
that kind, then encourage it thankfully as a merciful dispensation of
providence for the prevention of much misery. I can see no reason in
nature or ethics for a teeming population only brought into existence
to be removed by famine and war. Why, this old green ball of an earth
would roll on just as merrily without any of us.”
* * * * *
Lorrimer wrote to her at last. He had been obliged to acquiesce; and
I took Ideala his letter; but she, womanlike, though nothing would have
altered her decision, was not at first satisfied with his compliance.
It seemed to her too ready; and that made her doubt if she might not
have been to blame after all. They wrote to each other once again, and
when she received his last letter, she spoke to me about it.
“He must have seen it as you do from the first, for he has said no
word to alter my determination—rather the contrary,” she told me. “We
are not to meet again, nor to correspond; and doubtless it is a relief
to him to have the matter settled in this way; but one thing puzzles
me. In my last letter I bade him good-bye, adding 'since that is what
you wish,' and he has replied: 'I never said I wished it; will you
remember that?' I do remember it, and it comforts me; but why?”
I knew that Lorrimer had said little in order to make her sacrifice
as easy for her as possible; and I was silent, too, for the same
reason. I thought if she felt herself to blame, her pride would come to
the rescue, and make her loss appear rather inevitable than voluntary.
For, say what we will, we reconcile ourselves to the inevitable sooner
than to those sorrows which we might have saved ourselves had we deemed
“You insinuated once that it was all my fault,” she said. “Perhaps
it was—if fault there be. But if I tempted him, it must have been
generosity that made him yield to the temptation. He pitied me, and was
ready to make me happy by devoting himself to me, since that was what I
seemed to require. And I agree with you now. I don't think we should,
either of us, have found any real happiness in that way. But, oh, how I
long for him! for his friendship! for his companionship! for his love!
It is hard, hard, hard, if he does not miss me as I do him.”
Then I told her: “But he does. And he did not yield to your decision
until I had convinced him that he could never make you happy in such a
A great sigh of relief escaped her. And then I saw that I ought to
have been frank with her from the first. It strengthened her to know
that they still had something left to them in common, though that
something was only their grief.
I tried to comfort her by speaking of the many ways in which she
might still find happiness. She listened patiently until I was obliged
to stop for want of words, then she said:
“This is all very well, but you know you are talking nonsense. What
is the use of offering people everything but the one thing needful?
What I say to myself is:
Well, I have had my turn, have been
Raised from the darkness of the clod,
And for a glorious moment seen
The brightness of the skirts of God.
And I try to think I have no right to complain, but still I am not
better satisfied than the child that has eaten its cake and wants to
have it too. And I suppose there are many who would call me wretched,
and say that my life, with my sorrowful marriage—which was no
marriage, but a desecration of that holy state, and a sin—and my
hopeless love, is a broken life. Certainly I feel it so. And yet
I don't know. With his nature it seems to me that some wrong-doing was
inevitable. Do you think my suffering might be taken as expiation for
his sins? Do you think we are allowed the happiness of bearing each
other's burdens in that way if we will? If I were sure of that I should
not fancy, as I used to, that I had a work to do in the world; I should
know that my work is done, and that now I may rest. Ah, the blessing of
Not long after this a cruel rumour reached us, on good authority,
that Lorrimer was engaged to be married. I confess that my feeling
about it was one of unmitigated contempt for the man, and I trembled
for the effect of the news upon Ideala. She made no sign, however, when
first she heard it. I was surprised, and fear I showed that I was, in
spite of myself, for she spoke about it.
“You do not understand,” she said. “One event in his career is not
of more consequence to me than another, because all are of the greatest
consequence. But I have none of the dog-in-the-manger spirit. I think
there must be something almost maternal in my feeling for him, which is
why it does not change. Were I less constant it would prove that my
affection is of a lower kind, less enduring because less pure. I do not
care to talk about him, but I think of him always. I think of him as I
saw him last with the sun on him. Do you know his hair is like light
gold with the sun on it. Sometimes the memory of him fades a little,
and I cannot recall his features, and then I am tormented; but of
course he comes back to me—so vividly that I have started often when I
looked up and found myself alone, The desire to be with him never
lessens; it burns in me always, and is both a pain and a pleasure. But
my love is too great to be selfish. His wishes for himself are my
wishes, and what is best for him is happiest for me. Am I never
jealous? Jealous! No! Do you not know that he is mine, mine through
every change? Neither time nor distance separates us really. No common
tie can keep him from me. Let him be bound as and to whomsoever he
pleases, his soul is mine, and must return to me sooner or later. I
like him to be happy in any way that is right, for I know that what he
gives to others is not himself. I was not fit for the dear earthly
love, but perhaps, if I keep myself pure, body and soul, for him, I
shall be made worthy at last, and of something better. And my love is
so great it would draw him in spite of himself; but it will not be in
spite of himself, for he will find by-and-by that he cannot live with a
smaller soul, and then he will come to me. Do you not understand what I
want? His soul—purified, strengthened, ennobled—nothing less will
satisfy me; and his mother might ask as much. If I might be made the
means of saving it—” Then after a little pause, she added: “Ah, how
beautiful death is! He will be glad, as I should be now, to meet it—
and yet more glad! for then the end will have come for him, but I
should have still to wait.”
The rumour of Lorrimer's engagement, however, proved to be false. It
was another Lorrimer, a cousin of his.
“Lorrimer is restored to your good graces now, I suppose,” Claudia
said, in her half sarcastic way, when the mistake was explained. I had
not told her what was in my mind; she had read my thoughts. “You think
that a man whom Ideala has loved should consider himself sacred,” she
I did not answer. But I hold that all men who have felt or inspired
great love will be sanctified by it if there be any true nobility in
their nature; and I knew that one man, whom Ideala did not love, had
been so sanctified by love for her, and held himself sacred always.
But it was a relief to my mind to know that Lorrimer was not
unworthy. He was a distinguished man then, and I felt sure that he
would become still more distinguished eventually. He was not one of the
many who come and go, and are forgotten; but one of those destined to
live for ever
In minds made better by their presence.
The good in his nature was certainly as far above the average as
were his splendid abilities, and Ideala was right when she declared
that she could answer for his principles. It is impulse that is beyond
calculation, and for his own or another's impulses no wise man will
Ideala continued to droop.
“She will never get over it;” I said to Claudia one day, when we
were alone together.
“Indeed she will,” Claudia answered, confidently. “Out of the depth
of your profound ignorance of natural history do you speak, my brother.
I dread the reaction, though. When it comes she will be overwhelmed
with shame; but it will come. All this is only a phase. She is in a
state of transition now. It is her pride that makes her nurse her
grief, and will not let her give him up. She cannot bear to think that
she, of all women in the world, should have been the victim of anything
so trivial as a passing fancy. Not that it would have been a passing
fancy if they had not been separated; but as it is—why, no fire can
burn without fuel.”
Claudia had evidently changed her mind, and she might be right; but
my own fear was that her first impression would be justified, and that
Ideala would never be able to take a healthy interest in anything
“I cannot care,” was her constant complaint. “Nothing ever touches
me either painfully or pleasurably. Nothing will ever make me glad
She said this one evening when she was sitting alone with Claudia
and myself, and there was a long silence after she had finished
speaking, during which she sat in a dejected attitude, her face buried
in her hands.
All at once she looked up.
“It is very strange,” she said, “but half that feeling seems to have
gone with the expression of it.”
“I think,” Claudia decided, in her common-sense tone, “that you are
nursing this unholy passion, Ideala. You are afraid to give it up lest
there should be nothing left to you. Can you not free your mind from
the trammels of it, and grasp something higher, better, and nobler? Can
you not become mistress of yourself again, and enter on a larger life
which shall be full of love—not the narrow, selfish passion you are
cherishing for one, but that pure and holy love which only the best—
and such women as you may always be of the best—can feel for all? If
you could but get the fumes of this evil feeling out of yourself, you
would see, as we see, what a common thing it is, and you would
recognise, as we recognise, that your very expression of it is just
such as is given to it by every hysterical man or woman that has ever
experienced it. It is a physical condition caused by contact, and kept
up by your own perverse pleasure in it—nothing more. Every one grows
out of it in time, and any one with proper self-control could conquer
it. You are wavering yourself. You see, now that you have crystallised
the feeling into words, that it is a pitiful thing after all, that the
object is not worth such an expenditure of strength—certainly not
worth the sacrifice of your power to enjoy anything else. Such devotion
to the memory of a dead husband has been thought grand by some,
although for my part I can see nothing grand in any form of self-indulgence, whether it be the indulgence of sorrow or joy, which
narrows our sphere of usefulness, and causes us to neglect the claims
of those who love us upon our affection, and the claims of our fellow-creatures generally upon our consideration; but in your case it is
simply——” Claudia paused for want of a word.
“You would say it is simply degrading,” Ideala interposed. “I do not
feel it so. I glory in it.”
“I know,” said Claudia, pitilessly. “You all do.” And then she got
up, and laid her hand on Ideala's shoulder. “It is time,” she said,
“It is time, O passionate heart and morbid eye,
That old hysterical mock-disease should die.”
I hoped Claudia's plain speaking had made an impression, but for a
long time after that it seemed as if Ideala's interest in life had
really ended, that her sphere of usefulness had contracted, and that
she herself would become like the rest—a doer of unconnected trifles
that have meaning only as the straws have meaning which show which way
the current sets. One cannot help thinking how many of these
significant straws must go down to the ocean and be lost, their little
use unrecognised, their little labour unavailing: because it does so
little good merely to know which way the stream is setting, or what
ocean will receive it at last, if we have no power to profit by the
knowledge. At this time Ideala's own life was not unlike one of these
hapless straws, and it seemed a wretched failure of its early promise,
that ending as a straw on the common stream, when so little might have
made her influence in her own sphere like the river itself, strong and
beautiful. Those who loved her watched her in her trouble with eager
hope that some good might yet come of it; but the hope diminished
always as the days wore on. At first her mind had raged and stormed;
one could see it, though she said so little. Her renunciation was
perfect, but nevertheless she could not reconcile herself to it. She
would not go back, but she could not go on, and so she remained midway
between the past, which was hateful to her, and the future, which was a
blank, raging at both. But gradually the storm subsided; and then came
a period of calm, but whether it was the calm of apathy or the calm of
resignation it was hard to say—and meantime she lost her health again,
and became so fragile that my sister only expressed what I felt when
she was speaking of her one day, and said, sadly:
“Her cheek is so waxenly thin,
As if deathward 'twere whitening in,
And the cloud of her flesh, still more white,
Were clearing till soul is in sight.
* * * * *
Her large eyes too liquidly glister!
Her mouth is too red.
Have they kissed her—-
The angels that bend down to pull
Our buds of the Beautiful,
And whispered their own little Sister?”
We were anxious to take her abroad, but she would not accompany us.
She talked of going alone, but she did not go, and after a time we gave
up thinking about it. Then one day, quite suddenly, she said: “It is
time this old hysterical mock-disease should die,” and she told us that
she had at last decided to travel—somewhere; nothing more definite
than that, for she said she had no fixed plans. We concluded, however,
that she meant to be away some time, for she said something about
perils of the deep, and the uncertainty of life generally, and she
confided her private papers to my care, telling me to look at them if
they would interest me, and make what use of them I pleased; and that
was how those from which I have gathered much of her story came into my
possession. And then she left us, and for a whole year we heard nothing
of her—not one word. Claudia chafed a little, and complained, as women
will when things do not arrange themselves exactly as they would have
ordered them; but I was content to wait, and, because I expected
nothing, the time did not seem so long as perhaps it might have done.
We lived our usual life—part of the year in one of the eastern
counties, and part in London, and then we came north again. It was
winter weather, frosty and clear and bright, and I was tempted out a
great deal, taking long rides, begun before sunset and ending by
moonlight, and generally alone. And always when the world seemed most
beautiful I thought of Ideala, and how she had loved its
beauty—mountain and plain, flood and field, forest and flower, the
snow and the sunshine, and all the alternations of light and shade; the
wonders of form, and the depth and harmony of colour; the blue sky by
day, with its glories of sunrise and sunset; the dark sky by night,
with its moonlight and starlight—the sky always! that cloudland to
which, when we are wearied by the more monotonous earth, we had only to
lift our eyes and there the scene is changing for ever—the sky—and
In all its vague immensity!
Would she ever see it again in the old way? When she left us one
might have said of her mental state:
O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon—
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!
And where was she now? and was she learning to see again? I own I
sometimes had the presumption to think that if she had stayed with us I
might have helped her. It seemed hardly credible that she should be
able to stand alone at such a time, not to speak of the strength
required to take her out of herself. And was not the loneliness itself
an added misery? She never could bear to be alone, and I always thought
the worst trial of her married life was the mental solitude to which it
had reduced her by making her feel the necessity for reserve, even with
her best friends. Of course she had chosen to go alone; it was quite
her own doing; but I could not help thinking, uneasily at times, that
she would not have gone at all if she had not noticed how anxious we
were about her, and fancied she could relieve us of our trouble by
relieving us of her presence. That would have been so like Ideala! And
then my thoughts would wander off, recalling her numberless little
deeds of love, her perfect selflessness, and all the depth and beauty
of her great and tender nature, as we do recall such things of one who
has gone and will nevermore return, as in the old days, to make us
glad. There was the day I had seen her from the club window stoop to
pick up a little ragged barefooted child that was crying in the street,
and wrap her furs about it and carry it off, smiling and happy, in her
arms, with no more thought of the attention such an action would
attract than if she had been alone with her waif in the desert. But
many and many a time, and in many a way, she had made glad hearts by
deeds like that; and now where was she? And was there never a one in
the whole wide world to help her to bear her own sorrow and ease her
One evening in particular I had been more than usually tormented by
such thoughts. I had been blaming myself bitterly for having allowed
her to go away alone, and when I rode up to my own door I was conscious
of a half-formed resolution to follow her without delay and bring her
Claudia was standing on the steps in the crisp, fresh evening air,
apparently watching for me. She put her arms round my neck when I
alighted, and kissed me.
“Has she written?” I exclaimed, for Claudia was not demonstrative,
and this meant something.
“She is here,” was the answer.
My heart gave a great leap, but I could not ask if it were well with
her. I could only look at Claudia, and wonder if it were the moonlight
that made the expression of her face so singularly content and sweet. I
went into the lighted house, and being somewhat dazed and altogether
too eager to see her at once, I dressed for the evening, leisurely, and
then I went to find her. There was a change in the house already. It
was lighted from top to bottom as befits a time of rejoicing, and our
other guests, whom I passed in my search, seemed gayer—or I fancied
so. She was not among them, but I took the liberty of going to her
rooms and knocked at the sitting-room door, and entered. She rose to
receive me, stretching out her hands, and my first impression was that
she had grown; afterwards I understood that it was a change in the
fashion of her dress that made it appear so. She wore a long robe,
exquisitely draped, which was loose, but yet clung to her, and fell in
rich folds about her with a grace that satisfied. I cannot describe the
fashion of this robe, or the form, but I have seen one like it
somewhere—it must have been in a picture, or on a statue of a grand
heroic woman or a saint; and it suggested something womanly and strong,
but not to be defined.
It was Ideala, herself—not as she had been, but as I always hoped
she would be, and felt she might. She showed the change in every
gesture, but most of all in her clear and steady eyes, which made you
feel she had a purpose now, and a future yet before her. She looked as
women look when they know themselves entrusted with a work, and have
the courage and resolution to be true and worthy of their trust. She
was very gracious, but somehow in the first moment of our meeting I
felt abashed—abashed before this woman who had gone down to the verge
of dishonour, but whose goodness, with the vitality of all goodness,
had raised her again above the best; whose trouble had been to her,
because of this goodness, as is a painful operation which must be gone
through if the patient would ever be strong.
I fancy she thought me cold because my great respect made me shy,
and I hesitated to show her all the joy I felt.
“Won't you kiss me once after my long, long voyage?” she said,
holding up her face like a child to be kissed. And it made me
inexpressibly glad, to perceive that, while gaining in dignity and
purpose, her character had lost none of the childlike faith and
affection which had been one of the greatest charms of the old Ideala.
I could not help examining her curiously, looking for traces of a
conflict, for those lines of suffering which are generally left by
fierce mental troubles like scars after a battle, showing that the
fight has been no child's play, but a struggle for life or death. Such
a conflict there must have been, but all trace of it was swept away by
the wonderful peace that had succeeded it. Ideala looked younger,
certainly, but the change showed itself most in her perfect serenity,
and in the steadfast earnestness of her wonderful eyes.
But I had no time to talk to her, for Claudia, in diamonds and
velvet and lace—her donning of which is her one way of expressing a
satisfaction too deep for words—blazed in upon us. If it had occurred
so her, she would certainly have had the bells of the parish rung—
provided my authority as lay Rector could have accomplished such an
extravagance. She took us away with her now to join our other guests,
and when dinner was announced I offered Ideala my arm. She was silent
as we went, but looked about her with a grave little smile on her lips,
renewing her acquaintance with familiar objects, and noting every
change. And so busy was she with her own reflections, so thoroughly
absorbed, that, when we were seated at table, she put her serviette
beside her plate and her bread on her lap mechanically, and took up her
knife and fork to eat her soup. She seemed puzzled for a moment when
she found that the implements did not answer, and then she laughed!
Such a fresh, girlish laugh! It did one's heart good to hear her! Yes,
verily! Ideala was herself again, absent-mindedness and all.
And before dinner was over a wonderful thing had happened. For
whereas we had hitherto been the most commonplace and prosaic party
imaginable, getting along smoothly, taking no particular interest in
each other, or in anything else, and only remarkable for a degree of
dulness which would have astonished us by its bulk could it have been
weighed and measured—to-night, for no apparent reason, we suddenly
woke up and astounded ourselves by more originality than we had been
accustomed to believe was left in the world altogether—while something
put into our conversation just the right amount of polite friction to
act as a counter-irritant, so that, when we left the table, each felt
that he had been at his best—had been brilliant, in fact, and shone
with lustre enough to make any man happy.
Once in a London theatre I saw an actress walk across the stage. She
did not utter a word, she never looked at the audience, she was
apparently unconscious of everything but what she had in her own mind;
yet before she was half across the stage the people rose to their feet
with a roar. Ideala's coming amongst us had produced some such
startling effect; but her power was altogether occult. The
audience knew what the actress meant, but we did not understand Ideala,
and yet we applauded by laying our best before her, and acknowledged
the charm of her presence in every word. She spoke very little,
however. Indeed, I remember nothing she said until we went to the
drawing-room. On the way thither Claudia had picked up a crumpled
paper, and, glancing at it, had exclaimed—“Why, Ideala, here are some
of your verses! Do you still write verses?”
It was curious that we all spoke as if she had been away for years.
“Yes,” she answered, tranquilly; and Claudia coolly proceeded to
read the verses aloud, a difficult task, as they were scribbled in
pencil on half a sheet of note-paper, and were scarcely decipherable.
Ideala, meanwhile, listened, with calm eyes fixed on vacancy, like one
trying to be polite, but finding it hard for lack of interest.
“By Arno, when the tale was o'er,
At sunset, as in days of yore,
I wandered forth and dreamed.
The sky above, the town below.
The solemn river's silent flow,
The ancient story-haunts I know,
In varied colours gleamed.
By Arno calm my steps I stayed,
Just where the river's bank displayed
A tangled growth of weeds;
Tall houses near, and on the right
An arched bridge upreared its height,
And boats drew near, and passed from sight—
I heard the tramp of steeds.
I heard, and saw, but heeded not;
My feet were rooted to the spot,
A fancy checked my breath.
'Twas here that Tito lay, I knew.
His fair face upward to the blue,
His velvet tunic soaking through,
Most beautiful in death.
But Baldassarre was not there,
'Twas I that stooped to kiss the hair,
Besprent with ooze and dew.
Ah, God! light gold the locks caressed—
I saw no Greek in velvet dressed—
But wildly to my bosom pressed—
Not Tito, love, but you!
The massive, godlike head and throat
Belonged not to those days remote,
The fine grey eye—the limb;
It was the soul I know so well,
So full of earth, and heaven, and hell,
That came from out that time to dwell
In you and make you him.
And I, the victim of your smiles,
And I, the victim of your wiles,
My vengeance shall prevail.
The river Time shall float you nigh,
And earth and hell your soul shall fly.
And only heaven remain when I
The deed triumphant hail!”
It surprised me to find that Claudia could read those verses to the
end, their import—to me, at least—was so obvious. But Ideala
continued unmoved; and when the little buzz of friendly criticism had
subsided, she remarked, with unimpassioned directness:
“I am quite sure that all my verses are rubbish; but nevertheless
they delight me. I should feel dumb without the power to make verses;
it is a means of expression that satisfies when nothing else will. I
always carry my last about in my pocket. I know them by heart, of
course, but still it is a pleasure to read them; and so it continues
until I write some more; and then I immediately perceive that the old
ones are bad, and I destroy them—when I remember. Those were condemned
ages ago, so please oblige me, Claudia, by putting them into the fire.”
Claudia was about to obey, but I interposed. I had a fancy for
keeping those verses. They are rubbishy if you will; but the sentiment
which struggles to find expression in them is far from despicable.
No one smoked that evening; no one played billiards; no one cared
for music; we just sat round the fire in a circle, and talked.
“And where have you come from, Ideala?” was the first question.
“From China,” she answered.
There was a general exclamation. “I have been with the missionaries
in China,” she added.
“Oh, isn't it very strange, the life in China?” some one asked.
“It looks different,” she said, “but its feels like our own. To
begin with, one is struck by the strange appearance of the people, and
the quaint humour of their art; but when the first effect wears off,
and you learn to know them, you find after all that theirs is the same
human nature, only in another garb; the familiar old tune, as it were,
with a new set of variations. The like in unlikeness is common enough,
but still the finding of a remarkable similarity in things apparently
unlike continues to surprise us.”
“But, Ideala, you cannot compare the Chinese to ourselves! Think of
the state of degradation the people are in! Every crime is rife among
them —infanticide is quite common!”
“Yes,” said Ideala, as, if it were the most natural thing in the
world. “Yes, doubtless, the lower classes in China kill their children;
here, in certain districts, they insure them,” Ideala concluded
“But then,” said Claudia—“Oh! Ideala, I don't think you can
establish your parallel. We all know the sort of a life a Chinese lady
“When the lady is not at the head of her house it is certainly
vacuous,” Ideala agreed, “like the lives of our own ladies when they
are not forced to do anything. Why, at Scarborough this year they had
to take to changing their dresses four times a day; so you can imagine
how they languish for want of occupation.”
“Well, at all events, English girls are not sold into a hateful form
of slavery,” some one observed contentedly.
“Are they not?” Ideala rejoined with a flash. “I can assure you that
both women and men, fathers, husbands, and brothers, of the same class
in England, do sell their young girls—and I can prove it.”
“We have the pull over them in the matter of marriage, then. We
don't give our daughters away against their will as they do.”
“That is not a fair way of putting it. A Chinese girl expects to be
so disposed of, and accepts the arrangement as a matter of course. And
the system has its advantages. The girl has no illusions to be
shattered, she expects no new happiness in her married life, so that
any that comes to her is clear gain. As to our daughters' inclinations
not being forced, I suppose they are not, exactly. But have you never
been conscious of the tender pressure that is brought to bear when a
desirable suitor offers? Have you never seen a girl who won't marry
when she is wanted to, wincing from covert stabs, mourning over cold
looks, and made to feel outside everything—suffering a small martyrdom
under the general displeasure of all for whom she cares, her world,
without whose love life is a burden to her; whom she believes to know
best about everything? As Mrs. Bread said about Madame de Cintre: 'She
is a delicate creature, and they make her feel wicked'—and she ends by
thinking any sacrifice light at the moment, if only it wins her back
the affection and esteem of her friends.”
Ideala had been carried away by her earnestness, and now she stopped
abruptly, somewhat disconcerted to find every one listening to her. The
ladies sat with their eyes on the floor, the gentlemen exchanged
glances, but no one spoke for some time.
At last my sister made a move, and the spell was broken. We
separated for the night, and many were the lady-like whispers that
reached my ears, all ending in: “So like Ideala!”
But, as Ideala herself remarked on another occasion, “You can't
sweep a room that requires it without raising a dust; the thing is to
let the dust settle again, and then remove it.”
Claudia did not see the change in Ideala all at once. She said: “She
is looking her best, and is our own Ideala again—faults and all! How
she talked last night!”
“Just in the old way,” I agreed, “but with a difference; for in the
old days she talked at random, but now I feel sure she has a plan and a
purpose, and all that she says is part of it.”
This suggested new possibilities to Claudia, and when Ideala joined
us presently, she asked, abruptly: “Are you going back to China?”
Ideala answered deliberately: “I did think of becoming a
missionary—that was why I went out there. But I know all radical
reforms take time, and when I saw what the Chinese women were doing for
themselves, and compared their state with our own, it seemed to me that
there was work in plenty to be done at home, and so I returned.
Certainly, the Chinese women of the day bind their feet. When a girl is
seven or eight years old, her mother binds them for her, and everybody
approves, If the mother did otherwise, the girl herself would be the
first to reproach her when she grew up. It is wonderful how they endure
the torture; but public opinion has sanctioned the custom for
centuries, and made it as much a duty for a Chinese woman to have small
feet as it is for us to wear clothes! And yet they do a wonderful
thing. When they are taught how wrong the practice is, how it cripples
them, and weakens them, and renders them unfit for their work in the
world, they take off their bandages! Think of that! and remember that
they are timid and sensitive in a womanly way to a degree that is
painful. When I learnt that, and when I remembered that my countrywomen
bind every organ in their bodies, though they know the harm of it, and
public opinion is against it, I did not feel that I had time to stay
and teach the heathen. It seemed to me that there was work enough left
yet to do at home.”
“But, Ideala,” Claudia protested, “what is the use of drawing
degrading comparisons between ourselves and other nations? You gave
great offence last night.”
“I said more than I intended,” she answered; “I always do. It was
Tourgenieff, was it not, who said that the age of talkers must precede
the age of practical reformers? I seem to have been born in the age of
talkers. But I shall not say much more. Last night I did not really
intend to say anything. You led me on. But I do want to make
their hearts burn within them, and if I succeed, then I shall not care
about the offence. An English-woman is nothing if she is not patriotic.
She will not bear the humiliation, if she is made to see that she is
really no better, with all her opportunities, than a much-despised
Chinese. She would not like the contempt the women of that nation feel
for her if she were made to acknowledge the truth—that she deserved
it. And so much depends on our women now. There are plenty of people,
you know, who believe that no nation can get beyond a certain point of
prosperity, and that when it reaches that point it cannot stay there,
but must begin to go down again; and they say that the English nation
has now reached its extreme point. They compare it with Rome in the
days which immediately preceded her decline and fall—when men ceased
to be brave and self-denying, and became idle, luxurious, and
effeminate; and women traded on their weakness, and made light of their
evil deeds. It is a question of the sanctity of marriage now, as it was
in the days of the decline of Rome. De Quincey traces her fall to the
loosening of the marriage tie. He says that few indeed, if any, were
the obligations in a proper sense moral which pressed upon the
Roman. The main fountains of moral obligation had in Rome, by law or
custom, been thoroughly poisoned. Marriage had corrupted itself through
the facility of divorce, and through the consequences of that facility
(viz., levity in choosing, and fickleness in adhering to the choice),
into so exquisite a traffic of selfishness, that it could not yield so
much as a phantom model of sanctity. The relation of husband and wife
had, for all moral impressions, perished amongst the Romans. And,
although it is not quite so bad with ourselves at present, that is what
it is coming to.
“But there are two sides to every question, and the one which we
must by no means lose sight of just now is not that which shows the
respects in which we resemble the Romans, so much as the one which
shows the respects in which we differ from them. It is therein that our
hope lies. And we differ from them in two important respects. We differ
from them in the matter of experience, and in the use we are disposed
to make of our experiences. We are beginning to know the rocks upon
which they split, and we shall soon be making use of our knowledge to
steer clear of them. But there is another respect in which we differ
from all the older nations, not even excepting the Jewish. I mean
morality. We have the grandest and purest ideal of morality that was
ever preached upon earth, and, if we do but practise it, there is no
doubt that the promise will be fulfilled, and our days as a nation will
be prolonged with rejoicing.
“The future of the race has come to be a question of morality and a
question of health. Perhaps I should reverse it, and say a question of
health and morality, since the latter is so dependent on the former. We
want grander minds, and we must have grander bodies to contain them.
And it all rests with us women. To us is confided the care of the
little ones—of the young bodies and the young minds yet unformed. Ours
will be the joy of success or the shame of failure, and we should fit
ourselves for the task both morally and physically by the practice of
every virtue, and by every art known to the science and skill of man.”
“Englishwomen could not sit still and know that their lovely homes
will be wrecked eventually, and left desolate: that this country of
theirs will become a wilderness of ruin, such as Egypt is, but rank and
overgrown, its beauty of sweet grass and stately trees, and all its
rich luxuriance of flowers and fruits and foliage plants, only
accentuating the ruin—bearing witness to the neglect. No, our
greatness shall not depart. The decay may have begun, but it shall be
arrested. I am not afraid.”
“But if it is the fate of nations, Ideala——”
“I propose to conquer fate,” said Ideala. “Fate itself is no match
for one woman with a will, let alone for thousands! When horrid war is
threatened, men flock to fight for their country; and they volunteer
for every other arduous duty to be done. Do you think women are less
brave? No. When they realise the truth they will fight for it. They
will fly to arms. They will use the weapons with which Nature has
provided them; love, constancy, self-sacrifice, their intellectual
strength, and will. And so they will save the nation.”
Claudia, the unimaginative, sat silent and perplexed.
“I would join,” she said at last, “if I were quite sure——Oh,
Ideala! it is not a sort of Woman's Rights business, and all that, you
are going in for, is it? A woman can do good in her own sphere only.”
Ideala laughed. “But 'her own sphere' is such a very indefinite
phrase,” she observed. “It is nonsense, really. A woman may do anything
which she can do in a womanly way. They say that our brains are
lighter, and that therefore we must not be taught too much. But why not
educate us to the limit of our capacity, and leave it there? Why, if we
are inferior, should there be any fear of making us superior? We must
stop when we cannot go any further, and all this old-womanish cackle on
the subject, the everlasting trying to prove what is already said to be
proved—the looking for the square in space after laying it down as a
law that only the circle exists—is a curious way of showing us how to
control the 'exuberance of our own verbosity.' They say we shall not be
content when we get what we want, and there they are right, for as soon
as our own 'higher education' is secure we shall begin to clamour for
the higher education of men. For the prayer of every woman worth the
name is not 'Make me superior to my husband,' but, 'Lord, make my
husband superior to me!' Is there any more pitiful position in the
world than that of a right-minded woman who is her husband's superior,
and knows it! There is in every educated and refined woman an inborn
desire to submit, and she must do violence to what is best in herself
when she cannot. You know what the history of such marriages is. The
girl has been taught to expect to find a guide, philosopher, and friend
in her husband. He is to be head of the house and lord of her life and
liberty, sole arbiter on all occasions. It is right and convenient to
have him so; the world requires him to fill that position, and the wife
prefers that he should. But the probabilities are about equal that he,
being morally her inferior, will not be fit for it, and that,
therefore, she will find herself in a false position. There will then
be an interval of intense misery for the wife. Her education and
prejudices will make her try to submit at first to what her sense knows
to be impossible; but eventually she is forced out of her unnatural
position by circumstances. To save her house and family she must rebel,
take the reins of government into her own hands, and face life, a
disappointed and lonely woman.”
“Heaven help her!” said Claudia. “One knows that the future of a
woman in that state of mind is only a question of circumstance and
temperament; she may rise, but——”
Ideala looked up quickly. “But she may fall, you were going to say—
yes. But you know if she does it is her own fault. She must know
“She may not be quite mistress of herself at the time—she may be
fascinated; she may be led on!” I interposed, quickly. Claudia seemed
to have forgotten. “But one thing is certain, if she has any real good
in her she will always stop before it is too late.”
“I think,” said Claudia, “it would be better, after all, if women
were taught to expect to find themselves their husbands' equals—the
disappointment would not be so great if the husband proved inferior;
but when a woman has been led to look for so much, her imagination is
full of dreams in which he figures as an infallible being; she expects
him to be her refuge, support, and comfort at all times; and when a man
has such a height to fall from in any one's estimation, there can be
but little of him left if he does fall.”
Ideala sighed, and after a short pause she said: “I have been
wondering what makes it possible for a woman to love a man? Not the
flesh that she sees and can touch, though that may attract her as the
colour of the flower attracts. It must be the mind that is in him—the
scent of the flower, as it were. If she finds eventually that his mind
is corrupt, she must shrink from it as from any other form of
corruption, and finally abandon him on account of it, as she would
abandon the flower if she found its odour fetid—indeed, she has
already abandoned her husband when she acknowledges that he is not what
she thought him.” She paused a moment, and then went on passionately:
“I cannot tell you what it was—the battling day by day with a power
that was irresistible because it had to put forth no strength to
accomplish its work; it simply was itself, and by being itself it
lowered me. I cannot tell you what it was to feel myself going down,
and not to be able to help it, try as I would; to feel the gradual
change in my mind as it grew to harbour thoughts which were reflections
of his thoughts, low thoughts; and to be filled with ideas,
recollections of his conversations, which had caused me infinite
disgust at the time, but remained with me like the taste of a nauseous
drug, until I almost acquired a morbid liking for them. Oh, if I could
save other women from that!”
Claudia hastily interposed to divert her. “That is a good idea, the
higher education of men,” she said. “I don't know whether they have
abandoned hope, or whether they think themselves already perfect,
certain it is the idea of improving themselves does not seem to occur
to them often. And we want good men in society. If the clergy and
priests are good, it is only what is required of them, what everybody
expects, and, therefore, their goodness is accepted as a matter of
course, and is viewed as indifferently as other matters of course. One
good man in society has more effect as an example than ten priests.”
“But you have not told us what you propose to do, Ideala?” I said.
“I hope it is nothing unwomanly,” Claudia interposed, anxiously.
Ideala looked at her and laughed, and Claudia laughed too, the
moment after she had spoken. The fear of Ideala doing anything
unwomanly was absurd, even to herself.
“An unwomanly woman is such a dreadful creature,” Claudia added,
“Yes,” said Ideala, “but you should pity her. In nine cases out of
ten there is a great wrong or a great grief at the bottom of all her
unwomanliness—perhaps both; and if she shrieks you may be sure that
she is suffering; ease her pain, and she will be quiet enough. The
average woman who is happy in her marriage does not care to know more
of the world than she can learn in her own nursery, nor to see more of
it, as a rule, than she can see from her own garden gate. She is a
great power; but, unfortunately, there is so very little of her!
“What I want to do is to make women discontented—you have heard of
a noble spirit of discontent? I thought for a long time that everything
had been done that could be done to make the world better; but now I
see that there is still one thing more to be tried. Women have never
yet united to use their influence steadily and all together against
that of which they disapprove. They work too much for themselves, each
trying to make their own life happier. They have yet to learn to take a
wider view of things, and to be shown that the only way to gain their
end is by working for everybody else, with intent to make the whole
world better, which means happier. And in order to accomplish this they
must be taught that they have only to will it—each in her own
family and amongst her own friends; that, after having agreed with the
rest about what they mean to put down, they have only to go home and
use their influence to that end, quietly, consistently, and without
wavering, and the thing will be done. Our influence is like those
strong currents which run beneath the surface of the ocean without
disturbing it, and yet with irresistible force, and at a rate that may
be calculated. It is to help in the direction of that force that I am
going to devote my life. Do not imagine,” she went on hurriedly, “that
I think myself fit for such a work. I have had conscientious scruples—
been sorely troubled about my own unworthiness, which seemed to unfit
me for any good work. But now I see things differently. One may be made
an instrument for good without merit of one's own. So long as we do not
deceive ourselves by thinking we are worthy, and so long as we are
trying our best to become so, I think we may hope; I think we may even
know that we shall eventually——” She stopped and looked at me.
“Be made worthy,” said Claudia, kissing her; “and if it were not so,
Ideala, if everybody had to begin by being as good themselves as they
want others to be, there would be no good workers left in the world at
At this moment a noisy party burst in upon our grave debate and
carried Ideala off for a ride. We saw them leave the house, and watched
them ride away until the last glimpse of them was veiled by the misty
brightness of the frosty air and the morning sunshine.
“How well she looks!” Claudia exclaimed; “better than any of them.
She has quite recovered, and is none the worse.”
“I do not know about recovery,” I answered, dubiously. “She will
But Claudia interrupted hotly: “I know what you are going to say,
and I do wish you would leave off speaking of Ideala in that way. Any
one to hear you would suppose she had committed a sin, and you know
quite well that that was not the case. If she acted without common
prudence—and I will not deny that she did—it was entirely your own
fault. She has never been intimate with any man but yourself, and you
have made her believe that all men are like you. How could she harbour
suspicion when she did not know what to suspect? Of course she saw
everything wrongly and awry. The old life had become impossible to her,
and she nearly made a mistake as to what the new one should be, that
was all. I know she wavered for a moment, but the weakness was more
physical than moral, I think. Her vision was clouded at the time, but
as soon as she was restored to health she saw things clearly enough.
She is a great and good woman, pure-hearted and full of charity. God
bless her for all her tenderness, and for her wonderful power to love.
He alone can count the number who have reason to wish her well.”
“That is true,” I answered. “And I was merely going to remark, when
you interrupted me, that she will never think herself 'none the
“I don't see what difference that makes,” Claudia again interposed.
“She always did think herself least of the least when she thought of
herself at all, and that was not often. You are dwelling too long on
the past, really, and making too much of it. Men, when they are saints,
are twice as bad as women.”
I pointed out to my sister something confusing in her way of
expressing the fact, but my kindness seemed to exasperate her.
“You know what I mean quite well,” she said tartly.
“Yes, I know,” I rejoined; “but I wanted to help you to make
yourself intelligible to other people.”
Claudia made a gesture of impatience, but laughed, and left me; and
I remained for a long time thinking over all that Ideala had said, and
also thinking of her as she looked at the time; and the subject was so
inspiring that, although my strong point is landscape, in an ambitious
mood I began to paint an allegorical picture of her as a mother nursing
the Infant Goodness of the race. She saw it when it was nearly
finished, but did not recognise herself, and exclaimed; “What a gaunt
creature! and that baby weighs at least twelve stone!”
The picture was never finished.
We soon found that Ideala, having at last put her hand to the
plough, worked with a will, and although she was true to her principle
that a woman's best work is done beneath the surface, I think her own
labours will eventually make themselves felt with a good result in the
world. But the life she has chosen for herself is martyrdom, and her
womanly shrinking from the suffering she would alleviate is never
lessened by use. Yet she does not waver. Other women admire her
devotion, and follow in her footsteps; they do not doubt but that she
has chosen the better part; but I fancy that most men who have seen her
draw the little children about her and forget everything for a moment
but her delight in them, have felt that there must be something wrong
in the world when such a woman misses her vocation, and has to scatter
her love to the four winds of heaven, for want of an object upon which
to concentrate it in all its strength.
I do not know if her feeling for Lorrimer has changed. My sister
declares in her positive way that of course it has, completely; but my
sister is not always right. Ideala has never mentioned his name since
she returned to us, nor given us any other clue by which we could
judge. Only on one occasion, when some allusion was made to the course
she had intended to pursue in the past, she exclaimed: “Oh, how could
I!” and covered her face with her hands.
From where I sit just now I can see her walking up the avenue. She
is as straight as an arrow, young-looking, and fresh. Her step is firm
and light and elastic, and she moves with an easy grace only possible
when every muscle is unconstrained. Her dress is a work of art, light
in weight, but rich in colour and texture.
“What a beautiful woman!” I think involuntarily. I see her daily,
and pay her that tribute every time we meet, for—
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.
Her intellect and selflessness preserve her youth. She is changed,
certainly. She has arisen, and can return no more to the lower walks,
to the old purposeless life, and desultory ways; but yet she is the
same Ideala, and holds you always expectant—you, who see beneath the
surface. The world will call her cold and self-contained till the end,
and so she is and will be—a snow-crowned volcano, with wonderful force
of fire working within. And she will not stop where she is; there is
something yet to come—some further development—something more—
something beyond! and she makes you feel that there is. What she says
of other women is true of herself. “Do not stand in their way,” she
begs; “do not hinder them—above all, do not stop them. They are
running water; if you check them they stagnate, and you must suffer
yourself from their noisome exhalations. For the moral nature is like
water; it must have movement and air and sunshine to stay corruption
and keep it sweet and wholesome; and its movement is good works; its
air, faith in their efficiency; its sunshine, the evidence of this and
Comparative anatomists have proved that the human brain, from its
first appearance as a semi-fluid and shapeless mass, passes in
succession through the several structures that constitute the permanent
and perfect brains of fishes, reptiles, birds, and mammalia; but
ultimately it passes beyond them all, and acquires a marvellous
development of its own. And so it is with the human soul. It must rise
through analogous stages, and add to its own strength and beauty by
daily bread of love and thought, growing to greatness by help of these
aliments only, and reaching ultimately to such perfection as we cannot
divine, for the end is not here. But we might reach it sooner than we
do were it not for our own impatience. Growth is so exquisitely minute,
it bursts upon us an accomplished fact. We know this, and yet we would
see the process; and not seeing it we lose faith, waver, hesitate,
stop, and recoil—a going back pour mieux sauter it is with the
choicer spirit; but we all are deficient in hope, all have our
retrograde moments of despair. We do not look about us enough to see
what is being done for others, how they are progressing, by what
strange paths they are led. We keep our eyes on our own ground too
much, and, because we will not compare cheerfully, we think our own way
the roughest, our own journey the longest—if there be any end to it at
all! Yet all the time we might see the end if only we would look up.
And we need never despair and lag, need never be cold and comfortless,
if we would but love and remember.
For, while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far out, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main!
Ideala raises her eyes to mine now, and smiles as she passes beneath
Another woman—a woman whom Claudia had long refused to know—is
leaning on her arm, talking to her earnestly. And that is Ideala's
attitude always. She gathers the useless units of society about her,
and makes them worthy women. There is no kind of sorrow for which she
has not found comfort, no folly she has not been successful in
checking, no vice she has not managed to cure, and no form of despair
which she has not relieved with hope. Her own experiences have taught
her to sympathise with every phase of feeling, and be lenient to every
shortcoming and excess. Wherever she is you may be sure that another
woman is there also—some one with a sorrowful history, probably; and
you may be equally sure that she is leaning on Ideala. God bless her!