The Pursuit of the
Well Beloved by Thomas Hardy
PART FIRST. A
YOUNG MAN OF
CHAPTER II. A
CHAPTER III. THE
ASSUMED TO BE A
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER V. A
CHAPTER VI. ON
CHAPTER VII. HER
CHAPTER VIII. A
PHENOMENA IN THE
CHAPTER X. THE
CHAPTER XI. SHE
DRAWS CLOSE, AND
CHAPTER XII. SHE
PART SECOND. A
YOUNG MAN OF
SHE THREATENS TO
CHAPTER XIV. THE
CHAPTER XV. THE
PAST SHINES IN
CHAPTER XVI. THE
HIS OWN SOUL
CHAPTER XIX. SHE
FAILS TO VANISH
CHAPTER XX. A
DOES NOT DULL
CHAPTER XXI. A
VISION AND HIM.
BETWEEN HIM AND
SHE IS FINALLY
PART THIRD. A
YOUNG MAN OF
SHE RETURNS FOR
THE NEW SEASON.
CHAPTER XXV. THE
BURNS ITSELF IN.
CHAPTER XXVI. HE
MAKES A DASH FOR
HE POSSESSES IT:
HE POSSESSES IT
POSSESSES IT: HE
CHAPTER XXX. HE
HE BECOMES AWARE
The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved. A Sketch of a Temperament.
PART FIRST. A YOUNG MAN OF TWENTY.
CHAPTER I. RELICS.
Once—and that not long ago—there was a young sculptor who had
not quite made a great name; and pending that event he lived on a small
income allowed him by his father, an inartistic man of trade and
The sculptor was not engaged in his art on one particular midnight
in the summer season, when, having packed up such luggage as he might
require for a sojourn in the country, he sat down in his temporary
rooms in a London square to destroy a mass of papers that he did not
wish to carry with him and objected to leave behind.
Among them were several packets of love-letters, in sundry hands.
He took the first bundle, laid it in the grate, lit a match under
it, and waited. The bundle of hard, close-lying note sheets would not
He cut the string, loosened the letters, and kindled another match.
The flames illuminated the handwriting, which sufficiently recalled to
his knowledge her from whom that batch had come, and enabled him to
read tender words and fragments of sentences addressed to him in his
teens by the writer. Many of the sentiments, he was ashamed to think,
he had availed himself of in some attempts at lyric verse, as having in
them that living fire which no lucubration can reach. The edges of some
of the sheets began to be browned by the flame; but they would not in
this cold grate light up and consume as he had expected.
By this time he had begun to experience a sentimental feeling for
the letters, though, till the present evening, he had not once thought
of them for a twelvemonth. He had no longer heart to burn them. That
packet, at least, he would preserve for the writer's sake,
notwithstanding that the person of the writer, wherever she might be,
was now but as an empty shell which had once contained his ideal for a
transient time. He drew the letters from the grate, shook them clean,
and laid them aside.
The next package was in a contrasting hand—thick and rotund,
generated by a scratching quill. A school-girl she: he had never much
cared for her; and her effusions were unceremoniously tumbled in.
The young man repeated the match-lighting process, stirring the
letters with the poker. Some flamed, but the majority remained clean
and legible as when written. Her handwriting had been so large and inky
that she had spread over a multitude of sheets a very small quantity of
thought and affection; and the bundle, made up of only a short
correspondence, was enormous. There was no destroying it in a hurry,
unless a fiery furnace into which to thrust it could have been
Suddenly there arose a little fizzle in the dull flicker: something
other than paper was burning. It was hair—her hair.
"Good heavens!" said the budding sculptor to himself. "How can I be
such a brute? I am burning her—part of her form—many of whose
curves as remembered by me I have worked into statuettes and tried to
sell. I cannot do it—at any rate, to-night."
All that remained of the bundle—by far the greater part— he
hastily withdrew from the grate, shook the feathery black scales of
paper-ash from the pages, refastened them, and put them back for
He looked at the other packages. One signed in round-hand, one in
long-hand, one in square-hand, one in pointed-hand, crippled and
pinched. She had been much older than he. They all showed affection
which once had lived, though now it was past and gone. No, he could not
burn them here and alone.
What could he do with them? He would take them with him, and
reconsider their existence. But all his luggage was packed; in his
portmanteaus and hand baggage not a square inch of room remained. At
last he took his summer overcoat, which he would certainly not require
to use till wet weather recommenced, rolled it hastily round the lumps
of undying affection, strapped the whole compactly together, and,
flinging it down beside his portmanteaus, went to bed.
CHAPTER II. A SUPPOSITITIOUS
PRESENTMENT OF HER.
About two o'clock the next day he was ascending the steep roadway
which led from the village of Slopeway Well to the summit of the rocky
peninsula, called an island, that juts out like the head of a flamingo
into the English Channel, and is connected with the mainland of Wessex
by a long, thin beach of pebbles, representing the neck of the bird.
He recollected that it was two years and eight months since he had
paid his last visit to his father at this, his birthplace, the
intervening time having been spent amid many contrasting scenes at home
and abroad. What had seemed natural in the isle when he left it now
looked quaint and odd amid these later impressions. The houses above
houses, one man's doorstep rising behind his neighbour's chimney, the
gardens hung up by one hedge to the sky, the unity of the whole island
as a solid and single block of stone four miles long, were no longer
familiar and commonplace ideas. All now stood dazzlingly clean and
white against the blue sea, the sun flashing on the stratified façades
of rock— The melancholy ruins Of cancelled cycles. ...
Prodigious shapes Huddled in grey annihilation.
After a laborious clamber he reached the top, and walked along the
plateau towards East Wake. The road was glaring and dusty as always,
and, drawing near-to his father's house, he sat down in the sun.
He stretched out his hand upon the rock beside him. It felt warm.
That was the island's personal temperature. He listened, and heard
sounds: nick-nick, saw-saw-saw. Those were the island's voice—the
noises of the quarrymen and stone-sawyers.
Opposite to the spot on which he sat was a roomy cottage or
homestead. Like the island, it was all of stone, not only in walls but
in window-frames, roof, chimneys, fence, stile, pig-sties and stable,
He remembered who had used to live there—and probably lived there
now—the Caro family, the roan-mare Caros, as they were called to
distinguish them from other branches of the same family, there being
but half-a-dozen christian and surnames in the whole island. He crossed
the road and looked in at the open doorway. Yes, there they were still.
Mrs. Caro, who had seen him from the window, met him in the entry,
and there an old-fashioned greeting took place. A moment after a door
leading from the back rooms was thrown open, and a young girl of about
seventeen or eighteen came bounding in.
"Why, 'tis dear Joce!" she burst out joyfully. And running up to
him, she seized his hand and kissed him before he was aware of her
The demonstration was sweet enough from the owner of such an
affectionate pair of bright hazel eyes and brown tresses of hair. But
it was so sudden, so unexpected, that he winced for a moment quite
involuntarily; and there was some constraint in the manner in which he
returned her kiss, and said, "My pretty little Avice, how do you do
after so long?"
For a few seconds her impulsive innocence hardly noticed his start
of surprise; but Mrs. Caro, the girl's mother, had observed it
instantly. With a pained face she turned to her daughter severely—
"Avice—my dear Avice! Why—what are you doing? Don't you know
that you've grown up to be a woman since Jocelyn—Mr. Pearston—was
last down here? Of course you mustn't do now as you used to do three or
four years ago."
The awkwardness which had arisen was hardly removed by Pearston's
assurance that he quite expected her to keep up the practice of her
childhood, followed by several minutes of conversation on general
subjects. He was vexed from his soul that his unaware movement should
so have betrayed him. At his leaving he repeated that if Avice regarded
him other than as she used to do, he would never forgive her; but
though they parted good friends her regret at the incident was visible
in her face. Jocelyn passed out into the road and onward to his
father's house hard by. The mother and daughter were left alone.
"I was quite astonished at 'ee, my child!" exclaimed the elder. "A
young man from London and the Continent, used now to the strictest
company manners, and ladies who a'most think it vulgar to smile broad!
How could ye do it, Avice?"
"I—I didn't think about how I was altered," said the
conscience-stricken girl. "I used to kiss him, and he used to kiss me
before he went away."
"But that was years ago, my dear!"
"O, yes, and for the moment I forgot! He seemed just the same to me
as he used to be."
"Well, it can't be helped now. You must be careful in the future."
Meanwhile Jocelyn Pearston had gone onward to his father's; but the
latter, having received no warning of his son's intended visit, was not
at home to receive him. Jocelyn looked round the familiar premises,
glanced across the way at the great yard within which eternal saws were
going to and fro upon eternal blocks of stone—the very same saws and
the very same blocks that he had seen there when last in the island, so
it seemed to him—and then passed through the dwelling into the back
Like all the gardens in the isle, it was surrounded by a wall of
dry-jointed spawls, and at its further extremity it ran out into a
corner, which adjoined the garden of the Caros. He had no sooner
reached this spot than he became aware of a murmuring and sobbing on
the other side of the wall. The voice he recognised in a moment as
Avice's, and she seemed to be confiding her trouble to some young
friend of her own sex.
"O, what shall I do! what shall I do!" she was saying bitterly. "So
bold as it was—so shameless! How could I think of such a thing! He
will never forgive me—never. Never like me again. He'll think me a
forward hussy, and yet—and yet I quite forgot how much I had grown.
But that he'll never believe." The accents were those of one who had
for the first time become conscious of her womanhood as an unwonted
possession which shamed and frightened her.
"Did he seem angry at it?" inquired the friend.
"O, no—not angry! Worse. Cold and haughty. O, he's such a
fashionable person now—not at all an island man. But there's no use
in talking of it. I wish I was dead!"
Pearston retreated as quickly as he could. The incident which had
brought such pain to this innocent soul was now beginning to be a
source of considerable pleasure to him. He returned to the house, and
when his father had come back and they had shared a meal together
Jocelyn again went out, full of an earnest desire to soothe his young
neighbour's grief in a way she little expected; though, to tell the
truth, his affection for her was rather that of a friend than of a
lover, and he felt by no means sure that the migratory, elusive
idealisation he called his Love was going to take up her abode in the
body of Avice Caro.
CHAPTER III. THE INCARNATION IS
ASSUMED TO BE A TRUE ONE.
It was difficult to meet her again, even though on this lump of rock
the difficulty lay as a rule rather in avoidance than in encountering.
But Avice had been transformed into a very different kind of young
woman by the self-consciousness engendered of her impulsive greeting,
and, notwithstanding their propinquity, he could not meet her, try as
he would. No sooner did he appear an inch beyond his father's door than
she was to earth like a fox—that is, she bolted upstairs to her room.
Anxious to soothe her after his recent slight, he could not stand
these evasions long. The manners of the isle were primitive and
straightforward, even among the well-to-do, and noting her
disappearance one day he followed her into the house and onward to the
foot of the stairs.
"Avice!" he called.
"Yes, Mr. Pearston."
"Why do you run upstairs like that?"
"O—only because I wanted to come up for something."
"Well, if you've got it, can't you come down again?"
"No, I can't very well."
"Come, dear Avice. That's what you are, you know."
There was no response.
"Well, if you won't, you won't!" he continued. "I don't want to
bother you." And Pearston went away.
He had hardly left the door when Mrs. Caro's servant ran out to ask
him if he had left his coat behind him when he called on the day of his
arrival. They had found it in the house, and had not been sure whose it
"O, yes, it is mine," said Jocelyn, hastily. "I forgot it."
The great coat was strapped up round the letters just as he had
arranged it; but he wondered as he walked on whether Mrs. Caro or Avice
had looked inside as a means of identification. Determining to run no
further risks, he set about destroying the letters there and then. To
burn them in a grate was an endless task. He went into the garden,
threw them down, made a loose heap of a portion, and put a match to the
By the help of a pitchfork to stir them about he was fairly
successful, though as soon as he ceased to stir they ceased to burn. He
was deeply occupied in the business of feeding the fire from the
adjoining heap when he heard a voice behind him.
"Mr. Pearston—I wasn't angry with you just now. When you were gone
I thought—you might mistake me, and I felt I could do no less than
come and assure you of my friendship still."
Turning he saw the blushing face of Avice immediately behind him.
"You are a good, dear girl!" said he, impulsively, as he threw down
the pitchfork, and seizing her hand, set upon her cheek the kiss that
should have been the response to hers on the day of his coming.
"Darling Avice!" he said, "forgive me for the slight that day! Say
you do. Come, now!"
She blushed, looked rather than spoke her forgiveness, and shrank
away, sitting down upon a squared stone, around which the unburnt
sheets of paper were strewn, With some embarrassment at her presence he
withdrew another handful from the collection and threw it on the flames.
"What are you burning?" she asked.
"O, only some papers I hadn't time to destroy before I left town,
and which I forgot till to-day that I had brought with me."
"Ah, that was the parcel you left at our house, perhaps?"
She scanned more closely the packets scattered round her. "They are
letters, in different handwritings."
"O, Joce—Mr. Pearston—they are in women's hands; they are
He did not answer for a moment, during which interval a sudden
sadness overspread her face, which had just before blushed so
significantly under his caress. She bent her head and covered her eyes
with her hands. "I see—I see now!" she whispered, "I am—only
one—in a long, long row!"
From the white sheets of paper round about her seemed to rise the
ghosts of Isabella, Florence, Winifred, Lucy, Jane, and
Evangeline—each writer from her own bundle respectively —and Maud
and Dorothea from the flames. He hardly knew what to say to the new
personality in the presence of the old. Then a sudden sense of what a
good and sincere girl Avice was overpowered the spectres, and, rushing
up to her and kneeling down upon the letters, he exclaimed, "Avice,
dear Avice!—I say to you what I have never said to one of them, or to
any other woman, living or dead, 'Will you have me as your husband?'"
"Ah!—I am only one of many!"
"You are not, dear. You knew me when I was young, and they
didn't—at least, not many of them. Still, what does it matter? We
must gain experience."
Somehow or other her objections were got over, and, though she did
not give an immediate assent, she agreed to meet him later in the
afternoon, when she walked with him to the southern point of the island
called the Beal, or, by strangers, the Bill, pausing over the
treacherous cavern known as Cave Hole, into which the sea roared and
splashed now as it had done when they visited it together as children.
To steady herself while looking in he offered her his arm, and she took
it, for the first time, as a woman, for the hundredth time as his old
They rambled on to the lighthouses, where they would have lingered
longer if Avice had not suddenly remembered that she had to recite
poetry from a platform that very evening at Slopeway Well, one of the
villages on the island—the village that had advanced to be almost a
"Recite!" said he. "Who'd have thought anybody or anything could
recite down here except the reciter we hear away there—the never
"O, but we are quite intellectual now," she said. "In the winter
particularly. But, Jocelyn—don't come to the recitation, will you? It
would spoil my performance if you were there, and I want to be as good
as the rest."
"I won't if you really wish me not to. But I shall meet you at the
door and bring you home."
"Yes!" she said, looking up into his face; and they hastened back
together. Avice was perfectly happy now; she could never have believed
at the time of her despair on the day of his coming that she would ever
be so happy. When they reached the east side of the isle they were
compelled to part at once, that she might be soon enough to take her
place on the platform. Pearston went home, and after dark, when he
thought it would be about the hour for accompanying her back, he went
along the middle road northward to Slopeway Well.
He was full of misgiving. He had known Avice Caro so well of old
that his feeling for her now was rather one of friendship than love;
and what he had said to her in a moment of impulse that morning rather
appalled him in its consequences. Not that either of the women who had
attracted him successively would be likely to rise inconveniently
between them. For he had quite disabused his mind of the old-fashioned
assumption that the idol of a man's fancy was an integral part of the
personality in which it might be located for a long or a short while.
To his intrinsic Well-Beloved he had always been faithful; but she
had had many embodiments. Each individuality known as Lucy, Jane,
Florence, Evangeline, or what-not, had been merely a transient
condition of her. He did not recognise this as an excuse or as a
defence, but as a fact simply. Essentially she was perhaps of no
tangible substance; a spirit, a dream, a frenzy, a conception, an
aroma, an epitomised sex, a light of the eye, a parting of the lips.
God only knew what she really was; Pearston did not. He knew that he
loved the Protean creature wherever he found her, whether with blue
eyes, black eyes, or brown; whether presenting herself as tall,
fragile, or plump. She was never in two places at once; but hitherto
she had never been in one place long. She was indescribable, unless by
saying she was a mood of himself.
By making this clear to himself some time before this date, he had
escaped a good deal of ugly reproach which he might otherwise have
incurred from his own judgment, as being the very embodiment of
fickleness. It was simply that she who always attracted him, and led
him whither she would, as by a silken thread, had not remained the
occupant of the same fleshly tabernacle throughout her career so far.
Whether she would ultimately settle down into one, he could not say.
Had he felt that she had now taken up her abode in Avice, he would
have tried to believe that this was the terminal spot of her
migrations, and have been content to abide by his words. But did he
love Avice—see the Well-Beloved made manifest in Avice at all? The
question was somewhat disturbing.
He had reached the brow of the hill, and descended towards Slopeway,
where in the long straight street he soon found the lighted hall. The
performance was not yet over; and by going round to the side of the
building and standing on a slope he could see the interior as far down
as the platform level. Avice's turn, or second turn, came on almost
immediately. Her pretty embarrassment on facing the audience rather won
him away from his doubts. She was, in truth, what is called a "nice"
girl; pretty, certainly, but above all things nice—one of the class
with whom the risks of matrimony approximate most nearly to nil. Her
intelligent eyes, her broad forehead, her thoughtful carriage, ensured
one thing, that of all the girls he had known he had never met one with
more charming and solid qualities than Avice Caro's. This was not a
mere conjecture —he had known her long and thoroughly, her every mood
A heavy wagon passing without drowned her small, soft voice for him;
but the audience were pleased, and she blushed at their applause. He
now took his station at the door, and when the people had done pouring
out he found her within awaiting him.
They climbed homeward slowly by the Old Road, Pearston dragging
himself up the steep by the iron hand-rail, and pulling Avice after him
upon his arm. Reaching the top, they turned and stood still. To the
left of them the sky was streaked like a fan with the lighthouse rays,
and in their front, at periods of a quarter of a minute, there arose a
deep, hollow stroke, like the single beat of a drum, the intervals
being filled with a long-drawn rattling, as of bones between huge
canine jaws. It was Deadman's Bay, rising and falling against the
The kiss that evening was not on Avice's initiative. Her former
demonstrativeness seemed to have increased her present reserve.
However, to-day was the beginning of a pleasant month passed mainly in
each other's society by the pair. He found that she could not only
recite poetry at intellectual gatherings, but play the piano fairly,
and sing to her own accompaniment.
He observed that every aim of those who had brought her up had been
to get her away mentally as far as possible from her natural and
individual life as an inhabitant of a peculiar isle; to make her an
exact copy of tens of thousands of other people, in whose circumstances
there was nothing special, distinctive, or picturesque; to teach her to
forget all the experiences of her ancestors; to drown the local ballads
by songs purchased at the Budmouth fashionable music sellers', and the
local vocabulary by a governess-tongue of no country at all. She lived
in a house that would have been the fortune of an artist, and learned
to draw London suburban villas from printed copies.
Avice had seen all this before he pointed it out, but, with a girl's
tractability, had acquiesced. By constitution she was local to the
bone, but she could not escape the tendency of the age.
The time for Jocelyn's departure drew near, and she looked forward
to it sadly, but screnely, their engagement being now a settled thing.
Pearston thought of the local custom on such occasions, which had
prevailed in both his and her family for centuries, both being of the
old stock of the isle. The influx of "kimberlins," or "foreigners" (as
strangers were called), had led in a large measure to its
discontinuance; but underneath the veneer of Avice's education many an
old-fashioned idea lay slumbering, and he wondered if, in her natural
melancholy at his leaving, she expected any such ceremony as a formal
ratification of their betrothal, according to the precedent of their
sires and grandsires.
To scent her views on the point he asked her to meet him in the old
Hope churchyard one evening at seven o'clock.
CHAPTER IV. THE LONELY PEDESTRIAN.
The Hope churchyard lay in a dell formed by a landslip ages ago, and
the church had long been a ruin. At the hour appointed she descended
the rocks and found him waiting at the foot of them.
They wandered hither and thither in the shades, and the solemnity of
the spot and the absence of daylight assisted him in sounding her mind
on a subject which could not be approached with levity.
He found that, in common with all the islanders born, she knew of
the observance. But it was obvious that, in view of herself as a modern
young woman, she had never expected it to arise as a practical question
between him and her. Some of the working quarriers kept it up, but
nobody else, she said. Jocelyn hastened to inform her that he only
wished to consult her desires as to the terms of their engagement, and
not knowing how far she respected the island's history, felt bound to
mention it; though urge it he did not.
"Well," said he; "here we are, arrived at the fag-end of my holiday.
What a pleasant surprise my old home, which I have thought not worth
coming to see for more than two years, had in store for me!"
"You must go to-morrow?" she said uneasily.
"Yes." He reflected, and decided that instead of leaving in the
daytime he would defer his departure till the night mailtrain from
Budmouth. He had hardly looked into his father's quarries, and this
would give him time to do so, and enable her, if she chose, to
accompany him a little way. If she would agree, he purposed to send on
his luggage to the aforesaid watering-place; and ask her to walk with
him along the beach as far as to Henry the Eighth's Castle above the
sands, where they could stay and see the moon rise over the sea. He
would see her nearly all the way back, and there would be ample time
after that for him to catch the last train.
"You can reserve your answer till to-morrow," he added.
She hesitated. "I understand you to mean, dear Jocelyn," she said,
"that my accompanying you to the castle would signify that I conform to
the custom of working the spell?"
"Well, yes," he answered.
"I will think it over to-morrow, and ask mother if I ought to, and
decide," said she. "I fear it is heathen and ungodly."
After spending the next day with his father in the quarries, Jocelyn
prepared to leave, and at the time appointed set out from the stone
house of his birth in this stone isle to walk to Budmouth-Regis by the
path along the beach, Avice having some time earlier gone down to see
some friends at Slopeway Well, which was halfway towards the spot of
their proposed tryst. The descent soon brought him to the pebble bank,
and leaving behind him the last houses of the isle, and the ruins of
the village destroyed by the November gale of 1824, he struck out along
the narrow thread of land. When he had walked a hundred yards he
stopped, turned aside to the pebble ridge which walled out the sea, and
sat down to wait for her.
Between him and the lights of the ships riding at anchor in the
roadstead two men passed slowly in the direction he intended to pursue.
One of them recognised Jocelyn, and bade him good-night, adding. "Wish
you joy, Sir, of your choice, and hope the wedding will be soon?"
"Thank you, Seaborn. Well—we shall see what Christmas will do
towards bringing it about."
"My wife opened upon it this mornen: 'Please God, I'll up and see
that there wedden,' says she, 'knowing 'em both from their crawling
The men moved on, and when they were out of Pearston's hearing the
one who had not spoken said to his friend, "Who was that young
kimberlin? He don't seem an islander."
"O, he is, though, every inch o' en. He's Mr. Jocelyn Pearston, the
stone-merchant's only son up at East Wake. He's to be married to a
stylish young body, whose mother, a widow, carries on the same business
as well as she can; but their trade is not a twentieth part of
Pearston's. He's worth thousands and thousands, they say, though 'a do
live on in the same wold way up in the same wold house. His son is
doing great things in London as a image-carver; and I can mind when, as
a boy, 'a first took to carving soldiers out o' bits o' stone from the
soft bed of his father's quarries; and then 'a made a set o' stonen
chess-men, and so 'a got on. He's quite the gent in London, they tell
me; and the wonder is that 'a cared to come back here and pick up
little Avice Caro-nice maid as she is notwithstanding. ... Hullo!
there's to be a change in the weather soon."
Meanwhile, the subject of their remarks waited at the appointed
place till seven o'clock, the hour named between himself and his
affianced, had struck. Almost at the moment he saw a figure coming
forward from the last lamp at the bottom of the hill. She meant, then,
to conform to the custom. But the figure speedily resolved itself into
that of a boy, who, advancing to Jocelyn, inquired if he were Mr.
Pearston, and handed him a note
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER IV. (Continued.) THE LONELY
When the boy had gone Jocelyn retraced his steps to the last lamp,
and read, in Avice's hand—
"My Dearest,—I shall be sorry if I grieve you at all, but I have
thought over your inquiry, and cannot agree to conform to the old pagan
custom (or whatever it is) of the isle. I did not expect you to ask me
so suddenly, or I should have been more positive at the time it was
mentioned. As I am quite aware that you merely asked, and did not press
me, I know that this decision will not disturb you for long, that you
will understand my feelings, and, above all, think the better of me in
time to come.
"And if we were unfortunate in the trial of it we could never marry,
could we, honourably? This is an objection which I am sure you have not
thought of, and will, I know, share with me.
"I am sorry that the custom, uncivilised as it is, which has
prevailed in our families on both sides for so many centuries should
thus be brought to an end by me, and I am the more sorry in that it
prevents my bidding you farewell. However, you will come again soon,
will you not, dear Jocelyn? and then the time will soon draw on when no
more farewells will be required.—Always and ever yours, "Avice."
Jocelyn, having read the letter, pondered awhile: and then, finding
that the evening seemed louring, yet feeling indisposed to go back and
hire a vehicle, he went on quickly alone. In such an exposed spot the
night wind was gusty, and the sea behind the pebble barrier kicked and
flounced in complex rhythms, which could be translated equally well as
shocks of battle or shouts of thanksgiving.
Presently on the pale road before him he discerned a figure, the
figure of a woman. He remembered that a woman passed him while he was
reading Avice's letter by the last lamp, and now he was overtaking her.
He did hope for a moment that it might be Avice, with a changed
mind. But it was not she, nor anybody like her. It was a taller,
squarer form than that of his betrothed, and, although the season was
only autumn, she was wrapped in furs, or in thick and heavy clothing of
He soon advanced abreast of her, and could get glimpses of her
profile against the roadstead lights. It was dignified, arresting, that
of a very June. Nothing more classical had he ever seen. She walked at
a swinging pace, yet with such ease and power that there was but little
difference in their rate of speed for several minutes; and during this
time he regarded and conjectured. However, he was about to pass her by
when she suddenly turned and addressed him.
"Mr. Pearston, I think, of East Wake?"
He assented, and could just discern what a handsome, commanding,
imperious face it was—quite of a piece with the proud tones of her
voice. She was a new type altogether in his experience; and her accent
was not so local as Avice's.
"Can you tell me the time, please?"
He looked at his watch by the aid of a light, and in telling her
that it was a quarter past seven observed, by the momentary gleam of
his match, that her eyes looked a little red and chafed, as if with
"Mr. Pearston, will you forgive what will appear very strange to
you, I dare say? That is, may I ask you to lend me some money for a day
or two? I have been so foolish as to leave my purse on the
dressing-table at home."
It did appear strange: and yet there were features in the young
lady's personality which assured him in a moment that she was not an
impostor. He yielded to her request, and put his hand in his pocket.
Here it remained for a moment. How much did she mean by the words "some
money." The Junonian quality of her form and manner made him throw
himself by an impulse into harmony with her, and he responded regally.
He scented a romance. He handed her five pounds.
His munificence caused her no apparent surprise. "It is quite
enough, thank you," she remarked quietly, as he announced the sum, lest
she should be unable to see it for herself.
While overtaking and conversing with her he had not observed that
the rising wind, which had proceeded from puffing to growling, and from
growling to screeching, with the accustomed suddenness of its changes
here, had at length brought what it promised by these vagaries—rain.
The drops, which at first hit their left cheeks like the pellets of a
popgun, soon assumed the character of a raking fusillade from the bank
adjoining, one shot of which was sufficiently smart to go through
Jocelyn's sleeve. The tall girl turned, and seemed to be somewhat
concerned at an onset which she had plainly not foreseen before her
"We must take shelter," said Jocelyn.
"But where?" said she.
To windward was the long, monotonous bank, too obtusely piled to
afford a screen, over which they could hear the canine crunching of
pebbles by the sea without; on their right stretched the inner bay or
roadstead, the distant riding lights now dim and glimmering; behind
them a faint spark here and there in the lower sky showed where the
island rose; before there was nothing definite, and could be nothing,
till they reached a house by the bridge, a mile farther on, Henry the
Eighth's Castle being a little farther still.
But just within the summit of the bank, whither it had apparently
been hauled to be out of the way of the waves, was one of the local
boats called lerrets, bottom upwards. As soon as they saw it the pair
ran up the pebbly slope towards it by a simultaneous impulse. They then
perceived that it had lain there a long time, and were comforted to
find it capable of affording more protection than anybody would have
expected in a distant view. It formed a shelter or store for the
fishermen, the bottom of the lerret being tarred as a roof. By creeping
under the bows, which overhung the bank to leeward, they made their way
within, where, upon some thwarts, oars, and other fragmentary woodwork,
lay a mass of dry netting—a whole scine. Upon this they scrambled and
sat down, through inability to stand upright.
CHAPTER V. A CHARGE.
The rain feel upon the keel of the old lerret like corn thrown in
handfuls by some colossal sower, and darkness set in to its full shade.
They sat so close to each other that he could feel her furs against
him. Neither had spoken since they left the roadway till she said, with
attempted unconcern: "This is unfortunate."
He admitted that it was, and found, after a few further remarks had
passed, that she certainly had been weeping, there being a suppressed
gasp of passionateness in her utterance now and then.
"It is more unfortunate for you, perhaps, than for me," he said,
"and I am very sorry that it should be so."
She replied nothing to this, and he added that it was rather a
desolate place for a woman, alone and afoot. ... He hoped nothing
serious had happened to drag her out at such an untoward time.
At first she seemed not at all disposed to show any candour on her
own affairs, and he was left to conjecture as to her history and name
and how she could possibly have known him. But, as the rain gave not
the least sign of cessation, he observed: "I think we shall have to
"Never!" said she, and the firmness with which she closed her lips
was audible in the word.
"Why not?" he inquired.
"There are good reasons."
"I cannot understand how you should know me, while I have no
knowledge of you."
"Oh, you know me—about me, at least."
"Indeed, I don't. How should I? You are a kimberlin."
"I am not. I am an islander—or was, rather. ... Haven't you heard
of the Best-Bed Stone Company?"
"I should think so! They tried to ruin my father by getting away his
trade—or, at least, the founder of the company did—old Bencomb."
"He's my father!"
"Indeed. I am sorry I should have spoken so disrespectfully of him,
for I never knew him personally. After making over his large business
to the company, he retired, I believe, to London?"
"Yes. Our house, or rather his, not mine, is at South Kensington. We
have lived there for years. But we have been tenants of the New Castle,
on the island here, this season. We took it for a month or two of the
owner, who is away."
"Then I have been staying quite near you, Miss Bencomb. My father's
is a comparatively humble residence hard by."
"But he could afford a much bigger one if he chose."
"You have heard so? I don't know. He doesn't tell me much of his
"My father," she burst out suddenly, "is always scolding me for my
extravagance! And he has been doing it to-day more than ever. He said I
go shopping to simply a diabolical extent, and exceed my allowance!"
"Was that this evening?"
"Yes. And then it reached such a storm of passion between us that I
pretended to retire to my room for the rest of the evening, but I
slipped out; and I am never going back home again."
"What will you do?"
"I shall go first to my aunt in London; and if she won't have me,
I'll work for a living. I have left my father for ever! What I should
have done if I had not met you I cannot tell— I must have walked all
the way to London, I suppose. Now I shall take the train as soon as I
reach the mainland."
"If you ever do in this hurricane."
"I must sit here till it ceases."
And there on the nets they sat. Pearston knew of old Bencomb as his
father's bitterest enemy, who had made a great fortune by swallowing up
the small stone-merchants, but had found Jocelyn's sire a trifle too
big to digest—the latter being, in fact, the chief rival of the
Best-Bed Company to that day. Jocelyn thought it strange that he should
be thrown by fate into a position to play the son of the Montagues to
this daughter of the Capulets.
As they talked there was a mutual instinct to drop their voices, and
on this account the roar of the storm necessitated their drawing quite
close to each other. Something tender came into their tones as time
went on, and they forgot the lapse of time. It was quite late when she
started up, alarmed at her position.
"Rain or no rain, I stay no longer," she said.
"Do come back," said he, taking her hand. "I'll return with you. My
train has gone."
"No; I shall go on, and get a lodging in Budmouth town, if ever I
"It is so late that there will be no house open, except a little
place near the station where you won't care to stay. However, if you
are determined I will show you the way. I cannot leave you. It would be
too awkward for you to go there alone."
She persisted, and they started through the twanging and spinning
storm. The sea rolled and rose so high on their left, and was so near
them on their right, that it seemed as if they were traversing its
bottom like the children of Israel. Nothing but the frail bank of
pebbles divided them from the raging gulf without, and at every bang of
the tide against it the ground shook, the shingle clashed, the spray
rose vertically, and was blown over their heads. Quantities of
sea-water trickled through the pebble wall, and ran in rivulets across
their path to join the sea within.
They had not realised the force of the elements till now,
Pedestrians had often been blown into the sea hereabout and drowned,
owing to a sudden breach in the bank, which, however, had something of
a spectral quality in being able to close up and join itself together
again after any disruption. Her clothing offered more resistance to the
wind than his, and she was consequently in the greater danger.
It was impossible to refuse his proffered aid. First he gave his
arm, but the wind tore them apart as easily as coupled cherries. He
steadied her bodily by encircling her waist with his arm; and she made
Somewhere about this time—it might have been sooner, it might have
been later—he became distinctly conscious of a sensation which, in
its incipient and unrecognised form, had lurked within him from some
unnoticed moment when he was sitting close to her under the lerret.
Though a young man, he was too old a hand not to know what this was,
and felt considerably alarmed. It meant a possible migration of the
Well-Beloved. It had not, however, taken place; and he went on thinking
how soft and warm she was in her fur covering, as he held her so
tightly; the only dry spots in the clothing of either being her left
side and his right, where they excluded the rain by their mutual
As soon as they had crossed the ferry-bridge there was a little more
shelter, but he did not relinquish his hold till she requested him.
They passed the ruined castle, and having left the island far behind
them drew near to the outskirts of the neighbouring watering-place.
Into it they plodded without pause, crossing the harbour bridge about
midnight, wet to the skin.
He pitied her, and, while he wondered at it, admired her
determination. The houses facing the bay now sheltered them completely,
and they reached the vicinity of the railway terminus (which it was at
this date) without difficulty. As he had said, there was only one house
open hereabout, a little temperance hotel, where the people stayed up
for the arrival of the morning mail and passengers from the Channel
boat. Their application for admission led to the withdrawal of a bolt,
and they stood within the gaslight of the modern world.
He could see now that though she was such a fine figure, quite as
tall as himself, she was not much more than a schoolgirl in years. Her
face was certainly striking, though rather by its imperiousness than
its beauty; and the beating of the wind and rain and spray had inflamed
her cheeks to peony hues.
She persisted in the determination to go on to London by an early
morning train, and he therefore offered advice on lesser matters only.
"In that case," he said, "you must go on to your room and send down
your things, that they may be dried by the fire immediately, or they
will not be ready. I will tell the servant to do this, and send you up
something to eat."
She assented to his proposal, without, however, showing any marks of
gratitude, and when she had gone Pearston dispatched her the light
supper promised by the sleepy girl who was "night porter" at this
establishment. He felt ravenously hungry himself, and set about drying
his clothes as well as he could, and eating at the same time.
At first he was in doubt what to do, but soon decided to stay where
he was till the morrow. By the aid of some temporary wraps and some
slippers from the cupboard, he was contriving to make himself
comfortable when the maid-servant came downstairs with a damp armful of
Pearston withdrew from the fire. The maid-servant knelt down before
the blaze and held up with extended arms one of the habiliments of the
Juno upstairs, from which a cloud of steam began to rise. As she knelt,
the girl nodded forward, recovered herself, and nodded again.
"You are sleepy, my girl," said Pearston.
"Yes, Sir; I have been up a long time. When nobody comes I lie down
on the couch in the other room."
"Then I'll relieve you of that; go and lie down in the other room,
just as if we were not here. I'll dry the clothing and put the articles
here in a heap, which you can take up to the young lady in the morning."
The "night porter" thanked him and left the room, and he soon heard
her snoring from the adjoining apartment. Then Jocelyn opened
proceedings, overhauling the mystic robes and extending them one by
one. As the steam went up he fell into a delicious reverie, and
regarded the fair white linen that screened his face from the fire with
a curious interest. His eyes traced the pattern of the wondrous flowers
and leaves in the delicate lace-work, the wheels, rockets, quatrefoils,
and spirals of the embroidery, all the while that their owner above was
little thinking of the care he was taking that she should not get cold.
The fabrics seemed almost part and parcel of her queenly person. He
again became conscious of the germ with which he had been impregnated.
The Well-Beloved was moving house—had gone over to the wearer of this
He kissed each of the articles of apparel, and in the course of ten
minutes adored her.
And how about little Avice Caro? He did not think of her as before.
He was not sure that he had ever seen the Well-Beloved in that
friend of his youth, solicitous as he was for her welfare. But, loving
her or not, he perceived that the spirit, emanation, idealism, which
called itself his Love was flitting stealthily from some remoter figure
to the near one in the chamber overhead.
But he must carry out his engagement to marry Avice. True, she had
not kept her engagement to meet him this evening, and the irrevocable
ratification of their betrothal had not been reached. Still, he was
bound to marry her.
CHAPTER VI. ON THE BRINK.
Miss Bencomb was leaving the hotel for the station, which was quite
near at hand. At Jocelyn's suggestion she wrote a telegram to inform
her father that she had gone to her aunt's, with a view to allaying
anxiety and deterring pursuit. They walked together to the platform and
bade each other good-bye; each obtained a ticket independently, and
Jocelyn got his luggage from the cloak-room.
On the platform they encountered each other again, and there was a
light in their glances at each other which said, as by a flash
telegraph: "We are bound for the same town, why not enter the same
She took a corner seat, with her back to the engine; he sat
opposite. The guard looked in, thought they were lovers, and did not
show other travellers into that compartment. They talked on strictly
ordinary matters; what she thought he did not know, but at every
stopping station he dreaded intrusion. Before they were halfway to
London the event he had just begun to realise was a patent fact. The
Beloved was again embodied; she filled every fibre and curve of this
woman's form. His heart had clean gone out to her.
Drawing near Waterloo Bridge Station was like drawing near Doomsday.
How should he leave her in the turmoil of a London street? She seemed
quite unprepared for the rattle of the scene. He asked her where her
"Bayswater," said Miss Bencomb.
He called a cab, and proposed that she should share it till they
arrived at her aunt's, whose residence lay not much out of the way to
his own. Try as he would he could not ascertain if she understood his
feelings, but she assented to his offer and entered the vehicle.
"We are old friends," he said, as they drove onward.
"Indeed, we are," she answered, without smiling.
"But hereditarily we are mortal enemies, dear Juliet."
"Yes—What did you say?"
"I said Juliet."
She laughed in a half-proud way, and murmured: "Your father is my
father's enemy, and my father is mine. Yes, it is so." And then their
eyes caught each other's glance. "My queenly darling!" he burst out;
"instead of going to your aunt's, will you come and marry me?"
A flush covered her over, which seemed skin to a flush of rage. It
was not exactly that, but she was excited. She did not answer, and he
feared he had mortally offended her dignity. Perhaps she had only made
use of him as a convenient aid to her intentions. However, he went on—
"Your father would not be able to reclaim you, then? After all, this
is not so precipitate as it seems. You know all about me, my history,
my prospects. I know all about you. Our families have been neighbours
on that isle for hundreds of years, though you are now such a London
"Will you ever be a Royal Academician?" she asked musingly, her
excitement having calmed down.
"I hope to be—I will be, if you will be my wife."
She looked at him long.
"Think what a short way out of your difficulty this would be," he
replied. "No bother about aunts, no fetching home by an angry father."
It seemed to decide her. She yielded to his embrace.
"How long will it take to marry?" Miss Bencomb asked, with obvious
"We could do it to-morrow. I could get to Doctors' Commons by noon
to-day, and the license would be ready by to-morrow morning."
"I won't go to my aunt's; I will be an independent woman. I have
been reprimanded as if I were a child of six. I'll be your wife if it
is as easy as you say."
They stopped the cab while they held a consultation. Pearston had
rooms and a studio in the neighbourhood of Campden Hill; but it would
be hardly desirable to take her thither till they were married. They
decided to go to an hotel.
Changing their direction, therefore, they went back to the Strand,
and soon ensconced themselves as Mr. and Miss Pearston in one of the
establishments off that thoroughfare. Jocelyn then left her and
proceeded on his errand eastward.
It was about three o'clock when, having arranged all preliminaries
necessitated by this sudden change of front, he began strolling slowly
back; he felt bewildered, and to walk was a relief. Gazing occasionally
into this shop window and that, he called a hansom as by an
inspiration, and directed the driver to "Mellstock Gardens." Arrived
here, he rang the bell of a studio, and in a minute or two it was
answered by a young man in shirt-sleeves, about his own age, with a
great square palette on his left thumb.
"Oh, you, Pearston! I thought you were in the country. Come in. I'm
awfully glad to see you. I am here in town finishing off a painting for
an American customer, who wants to take it back with him."
Pearston followed his friend into the painting-room, where a pretty
young woman was sitting sewing. At a signal from the painter she
disappeared without speaking.
"I can see from your face you have something to say; so we'll have
it all to ourselves. What 'll you drink?"
"Oh! it doesn't matter what, so that it is alcohol in some shape or
form. ... Now, Somers, you must just listen to me, for I have something
Pearston had sat down in an armchair, and Somers had resumed his
painting. When a servant had brought in brandy to soothe Pearston's
nerves, and soda to take off the injurious effects of the brandy, and
milk to take off the depleting effects of the soda, Jocelyn began his
narrative, addressing it rather to Somers' chimney-piece, and Somers'
antique clock, and Somers' Persian rugs, than to Somers himself, who
stood at his picture a little behind his friend.
"Before I tell you what has happened to me," Pearston said, "I want
to let you know the manner of man I am."
"Lord—I know already."
"No, you don't. This is to be a sort of Apologia pro vitâ meâ."
"Very well. Fire away!"
CHAPTER VII. HER EARLIER
"You, Somers, are not, I know, one of those who continue in bondage
to the gigantic cosmopolitan superstition that the Beloved One of any
man always, or even usually, remains in one corporeal nook or shell for
any great length of time. If I am wrong, and you do still hold to that
ancient error—well, my story will seem rather queer."
"Suppose you say some men, not any man."
"All right—I'll say one man, this man only, if you are so
particular. The Beloved of this one man, then, has had many
incarnations—too many to describe in detail. Each shape, or
embodiment, has been a temporary residence only, into which she has
entered, lived in a while, and made her exit from, leaving the
substance, so far as I have been concerned, a corpse. Now, there is no
spiritualistic nonsense in this—it is simple fact, put in the plain
form that the correct and conventional public are afraid of. So much
for the principle."
"Good. Go on."
"Well; the first embodiment of her occurred, so nearly as I can
recollect, when I was about the age of nine. Her vehicle was a little
blue-eyed girl of eight or so, one of a family of eleven, with flaxen
hair about her shoulders, which attempted to curl, but ignominiously
failed, hanging like chimney-crooks only. This defect used rather to
trouble me; and, in short, was, I believe, one of the main reasons of
my Beloved's departure from that tenement. I cannot remember with any
exactness when the departure occurred. I know it was after I had kissed
my little friend in a garden-seat on a hot noontide, under a Chinese
umbrella, which we had opened over us as we sat, that passers through
East Wake might not observe our marks of affection, forgetting that our
screen must attract more attention than our persons.
"When the whole dream came to an end through her father leaving the
island, I thought my Well-Beloved had gone for ever (being then in the
unpractised condition of Adam at sight of the first sunset). But she
had not. Laura had gone for ever, but not my Best-Beloved.
"For some months after I had done crying for the flaxen-haired
edition of her, my Love did not reappear. Then she came suddenly,
unexpectedly, in a situation I should never have predicted. I was
standing on the kerbstone of the pavement in Budmouth-Regis, outside
the Preparatory School, looking across towards the sea, when a
middle-aged gentleman on horseback, and beside him a young lady, also
mounted, passed down the street. The girl turned her head,
and—possibly because I was gaping at her in awkward admiration, or
smiling myself—smiled at me. Having ridden a few paces, she looked
round again and smiled.
"It was enough, more than enough, to set me on fire. I understood in
a moment the information conveyed to me by my emotion—the
Well-Beloved had reappeared. This second form in which it had pleased
her to take up her abode was quite a young woman's, darker in
complexion than the first. Her hair, also worn in a knot, was of an
ordinary brown, and so, I think, were her eyes, but the niceties of her
features were not to be gathered so cursorily. However, there sat my
coveted one, re-embodied; and, bidding my schoolmates a hasty farewell
as soon as I could do so without suspicion, I hurried along the
Esplanade in the direction she and her father had ridden. But they had
put their horses to a center, and I could not see which way they had
gone. In the greatest misery I turned down a side street, but was soon
elevated to a state of excitement by seeing the same pair galloping
towards me. Flushing up to my hair, I stopped and heroically faced her
as she passed. She smiled again, but, alas! upon my Love's cheek there
was no blush of passion for me."
Pearston paused, and drank his glass, as he lived for a brief moment
in the scene he had conjured up.
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER VII. (Continued.)
Somers was in a mood to reserve his comments, and Jocelyn
"That afternoon I idled about the streets, looking for her in vain.
When I next saw one of the boys who had been with me at her first
passing I stealthily reminded him of the incident, and asked if he knew
"'O yes,' he said. 'That was Colonel Targe and his daughter Elsie.'
"'How old do you think she is?' said I, a sense of disparity in our
ages disturbing my mind.
"'O—nineteen, I think they say. She's going to be married the day
after to-morrow to Captain Popp of the 501st, and they are ordered off
to India at once.'
"The grief which I experienced at this intelligence was such that at
dusk I went away to the edge of the harbour, intending to put an end to
myself there and then. But I had been told that crabs had been found
clinging to the dead faces of persons who had fallen in thereabout,
leisurely eating them, and the idea of such an unpleasant contingency
deferred me. I should state that the marriage of my Beloved concerned
me little; it was her departure that broke my heart. I never saw her
"Though I had already learnt that the absence of the corporeal
matter did not involve the absence of the informing spirit. I could
scarce bring myself to believe that in this case it was possible for
her to return to my view without the form she had last inhabited.
"But she did.
"It was not, however, till after a space of time during which I
passed through that bearish age in boys, their early teens, when girls
are their especial contempt. I was about seventeen, and was sitting one
evening over a cup of tea in a restaurant of the aforesaid
watering-place, when opposite me a lady took her seat with a little
girl. We looked at each other awhile, the child made advances, till I
said: 'She's a good little thing.'
The lady assented, and made a further remark.
"'She has the soft dark eyes of her mother,' said I.
"'Do you think her eyes are good?' asks the lady, as if she had not
heard what she had heard most—the last three words of my opinion.
"'Yes—for copies,' said I, regarding her.
"After this we got on very well. She informed me that her husband
had gone out in a yacht, and I said it was a pity he didn't take her
with him for the airing. She gradually disclosed herself in the
character of a deserted young wife, and later on I met her in the
street without the child. She was going to the landing-stage to meet
her husband, so she told me; but she did not know the way.
"I offered to show her, and did so, I will not go into particulars,
but I afterwards saw her several times, and soon discovered that the
Beloved (as to whose whereabouts I had been at fault so long) lurked
here. Though why she had chosen this tantalising situation of an
inaccessible matron's form when so many others offered, it was beyond
me to discover. The whole affair ended innocently enough, when the lady
left the town with her husband and child: she seemed to regard our
acquaintance as a flirtation: yet it was anything but a flirtation for
"After this, the Well-Beloved put herself in evidence with greater
and greater frequency, and it would be impossible for me to give you
details of her various incarnations. She came nine times in the course
of the two or three ensuing years. Four times she masqueraded as a
brunette, twice as a palehaired creature, and two or three times under
a complexion neither light nor dark. Sometimes she was a tall, fine
girl. More often, I think, she preferred to slip into the skin of a
lithe airy being, of no great stature. I grew so accustomed to these
exits and entrances that I resigned myself to them quite passively,
talked to her, kissed her, corresponded with her, ached for her, in
each of her several guises. So it went on until a month ago. And then
for the first time I was puzzled. She either had, or she had not,
entered the person of Avice Caro, a young girl I had known from
infancy. Upon the whole, I have decided that, after all, she did not
enter the form of Avice Care, because I retain so great a respect for
Pearston here gave in brief the history of his revived comradeship
with Avice, the verge of the engagement to which they had reached, and
its unexpected rupture by him, merely through his meeting with a woman
into whom the Well-Beloved unmistakably moved under his very eyes—by
name Miss Marcia Bencomb. He described their spontaneous decision to
marry offhand; and then he put it to Somers whether he ought to marry
or not-her or anybody else—in such circumstances.
"Certainly not," said Somers. "Though, if anybody, little Avice. But
not even her. You are like other men, only rather worse. Essentially,
all men are fickle, like you; but not with such activity, such
"My dear Somers, fickle is not the word. Fickleness means getting
weary of a thing while the thing remains the same. But I am faithful to
what I fancy each woman to be till I come to close quarters with her. I
have ever been faithful to the elusive ideal creature whom I have never
been able to get a firm hold of, unless I have done so now. And let me
tell you that her flitting from each to each individual has been
anything but a pleasure for me—certainly not a wanton game of my
instigation. Somers, to see the creature whom you have thought perfect,
divine, lose under your very gaze the divinity which has informed her,
grow commonplace, turn from flame to ashes, from a radiant vitality to
a corpse, is anything but a pleasure for any man, and has been nothing
less than a racking spectacle for me. Each mournful emptied shape
stands ever alter like the nest of some beautiful bird from which the
inhabitant has departed and left it to fill with Snow. I have been
ready to weep when I have looked in a face for Her I used to see there,
and can see Her there no more."
"You ought not to marry," repeated Somers.
"Then no man ought."
"No man ought—there you've hit it," replied the painter.
Pearston soon after took his leave. A friend's advice not to embark
on matrimony is just the feather-weight required to turn the scale and
make a man do it. He quickly returned to Miss Bencomb.
She was different now. Anxiety had visibly brought her down a notch
or two, undone a few degrees of that haughty curl which her lip could
occasionally assume. "How long you have been away!" she moaned
tearfully, leaning her face against his shoulder.
"Never mind, darling. It is all arranged," said he.
CHAPTER VIII. A MISCALCULATION.
The pair had been married two months, and had just returned from a
Continental trip to Pearston's house in Hintock Road, Kensington. They
were getting through the heavy task of opening a heap of letters and
papers which had accumulated since the last batch had been forwarded.
Pearston was filled with zest for availing himself to the utmost of
the artistic stimulus afforded by London—that great and enlightened
city, which dedicates its squares, streets, and parks to figure-heads
and fainéants, and a lane at the East-End to Shakspere; and, with a
view to showing its sympathy with a more rapid form of mental elevation
than results from the tedious process of picture-gazing, makes its
taverns the Sunday resort by closing its museums. Nevertheless, for
them it was London or nowhere, and here they were going to make the
best of their recent matrimonial plunge.
Marcia's parents, finding from the newspapers what had happened, put
as hopeful a face as they could on the matter, but did not communicate
with the truants. In birth the pair were about equal, but Marcia's
family had gained a start in the accumulation of wealth and in the
initiation of social distinction, which lent a colour to the feeling
that the advantages of the match had been mainly on one side.
Nevertheless, Pearston was a sculptor rising to fame by fairly rapid
strides; and potentially the marriage was not a bad one for a woman
who, beyond being the probable successor to a stone-merchant's
considerable fortune, had no exceptional opportunities.
Among their letters was one for her, in which she was informed that
her father and mother had gone to spend the winter in the Riviera and
Italy. On this particular morning, as on most mornings, the London
atmosphere was of a neat drab with the twenty-ninth fog of the season,
and Marcia looked out of the window as far as she could see, which was
two feet, and sighed. She had been eight weeks Pearston's wife.
"I should have been in the City of Flowers by this time if"—
"You hadn't been so foolish as to marry me," laughed Jocelyn.
She opened another letter.
"Good gracious!" she exclaimed, and burst into laughter.
"What is it?" asked her husband.
Marcia began to read the letter aloud. It came from an old lover of
hers, an army man, who stated that he was on his way home to claim his
darling, according to her plighted word.
She was half risible—half concerned. "What shall I do?" she said.
"Do? It seems to me that there is only one thing to do, and that a
very obvious thing. Tell him as soon as possible that you are already
She accordingly wrote out a reply to that effect, Jocelyn helping
her to make the phrases as gentle as possible.
"I repeat" (the letter concluded) "that I had quite forgotten! I am
deeply sorry; but that is the truth. I have told my husband everything,
and he is looking over my shoulder as I write."
Said Jocelyn, when he saw this set down; "You might leave out the
last stab at the poor fellow."
"Stab, indeed! It isn't such a thing. Why does he come bothering me?
Jocelyn, you ought to be very proud that I have put it in. You said the
other day I was conceited in declaring I might have married that
science-man I spoke of; but now you see there was yet another
He, impatiently, "Well, no more about that. To my mind this is a
decidedly unpleasant degrading business, though you treat it so
lightly. Making a fool of a man! You ought to have remembered."
"H'm—or ought to have married him?"
"Yes. I wonder if I should have suffered much in that alternative?"
"I only did half what you did."
"What was that?"
"I only proved false through forgetfulness, but you were false
"Don't vex me about her, or I shall regret the falseness, as you
call it—for more reasons than one."
By degrees Pearston fell into his customary round of existence; his
profession occupied him to the exclusion of domestic affairs; but with
Marcia life began to be rather dull. Her parents were not resentful or
bitter, but they were not very warm. They had returned to London, and,
while willing to receive Marcia at their house, refrained from calling
on the young couple. Pearston was a little sarcastic at their obvious
estimate of him, and Marcia took umbrage at his sarcasm.
"I am one deserving of satire, if anybody! What a foolish girl I was
to run away from a father for such a trumpery reason as a little
scolding because I had exceeded my allowance!"
"I advised you to go back."
"In a sort of way; not in the right tone. You spoke most
contemptuously of my father as a merchant."
"I couldn't speak otherwise of such a man."
"Such a man! What have you to say against him?"
"A very great deal, if it comes to that. I know that at one time he
made it the business of his life to ruin my father."
"It is not true, Sir! That narrow, grovelling miser be ruined by an
open-handed man like my father! It is like your misrepresentations to
"By God! Marcia, you do exasperate me! I could give you every step
of the proceeding in detail—the getting the quarries, the
"It is untrue! There was no such proceeding!"
Pearston, without replying for a moment, gazed at the fine picture
of scorn that his Juno-wife's face and dark eyes presented.
"I ought to have known it," he murmured.
"That such a face as that meant temper."
She left the room. Some days after the subject was renewed by their
seeing in a local paper an announcement of the marriage of Avice Caro
with her cousin. Jocelyn remembered him, though but indistinctly. He
had been the manager of her mother's quarries since her father's death,
and had recently been thrown much in her company.
Jocelyn sat in a reverie.
"You spoke of my temper the other day," said she. "Do you think
temper had nothing to do with your dear Avice's quick marriage?"
"She was not 'dear,' not dear enough, at any rate, to me."
"Unfortunately for me."
"Well, yes, I ought to have married her, because she was the only
woman I never loved. But instead of wedding Rosaline, Romeo must needs
go marrying Juliet; and that's where he made the mistake. A fortunate
thing for the affections of those two that they died. In a month or two
the enmity of their families would have proved a fruitful source of
dissension; Juliet would have lived with her people, he with his; the
subject would have split them as much as it has split us."
Thus it began and continued in the home of these hastily wedded
ones. Sometimes it was worse, far worse, than a hot quarrel. There was
a calm, cold reasoning in their discussions, and they talked in
complete accord of the curse of matrimony. In their ill-matched
junction on the strength of a two or three days' passion they felt the
full irksomeness of a formal tie which, as so many have discovered, did
not become necessary till it was a cruelty to them.
A legal marriage it was, but not a true marriage. In the night they
heard sardonic voices and laughter in the wind at the ludicrous
facility afforded them by events for taking a step in two days which
they could not retrace in a lifetime, despite their mutual desire as
the two persons solely concerned.
Marcia's haughty temper unfolded in the direction of irascibility
when she beheld clearly in what a trap she had been ensnared. She was
her husband's property, like one of his statues that he could not sell.
"Was there ever anything more absurd in history," she said bitterly to
him one day, "than that grey-headed legislators from time immemorial
should have gravely based inflexible laws upon the ridiculous dream of
young people that a transient mutual desire for each other was going to
last for ever!"
Jocelyn saw that the slow and mournful departure of the Well-Beloved
from the form at his side was hastened, to one of his unfortunate
temperament, by the tie that was supposed to hinder it. He thought
sometimes that if the law had ordained separate residences, with
periodical visitations strictly limited to Sundays and holidays as the
rigorous matrimonial condition, he might have got on with Mercia,
despite her Quos egos and high-handed rulings; indeed, in such
circumstances those traits would not have been unattractive to him. But
love's dewy freshness could not live under a vertical sun, and that
gradual substitution of friendship, which is indispensable and,
perhaps, usual in marriage, was not possible with natures so jarring as
There followed a long period of dreary calm, and then the storm
which had been gathering under its silence burst forth with unmitigated
The Well-Beloved had quite vanished away. What had become of her
Pearston knew not, but not a line of her was any longer discoverable in
Marcia's contours, not a sound of her in Marcia's accents. Having
entered into a signed and sealed contract to do no such thing, he would
not in honour look about to discover the other's lurking-place; but he
sometimes trembled at the thought of what would become of that solemn
covenant if she were suddenly to disclose herself and confront him
before he was aware. Once or twice he fancied that he saw her in the
distance—at the end of a street, on the far sands of a shore, in a
window, or at the opposite side of railway station; but he always
religiously turned on his heel and walked the other way (especially if
Marcia was with him).
There came a day when she returned from visiting her mother at
Kensington, bringing the news that, travel having benefited her
father's health so markedly on the last occasion, her parents had
decided on a tour round the world, and a possible stay with her uncle,
who was a banker in San Francisco. Since retiring from his large
business, old Mr. Bencomb had not known what to do with his leisure.
They were going to let their house on a lease or sell it outright,
rating London life as dreary by comparison with cosmopolitan freedom
and an absence of responsibility in the conduct of the world's affairs.
"And here am I chained to London!" Marcia added. "You said you were
going to revisit Rome and Athens, but you don't. I wish I could go with
"Go, in Heaven's name! I don't hinder you," said he. "You are
always, it seems to me, dwelling upon the inconveniences I have caused
you by marrying you, and thereby interfering with your natural life.
Why doesn't your father come and talk over his project like a man, and
perhaps I could arrange to go with them."
"That would be treachery to your own dear parent, so cruelly robbed
by my wicked one."
"Now, no more of that, Marcia! ... Though it is true enough."
"It is not!"
"It is. I have the papers to prove it."
"I tell you it is not so, Sir!" she cried. "It was an honest trade
rivalry. Don't you be so fond of your insinuations! A miserly, grasping
"Upon my soul, Marcia, I won't hear you, or anybody else, call my
father names! Why, you mean woman, we are partly living, aren't we, at
this very moment, upon what he allows me; and you can put your tongue
to such an expression as that!"
"And you can put your tongue to call me a mean hussy!"
Jocelyn sprang up to leave the room, and her anger being
culminative, she caught up the first thing she could seize, which
happened to be one of his statuettes, and flung it at his head. The
figure missed him, but struck the wall, and fell broken to atoms. The
sight of his darling little work irretrievably ruined so exasperated
Pearston that he rushed back, took her by the shoulders, and shook her:
after which he went out of the room, put on his hat, and departed for
CHAPTER IX. FAMILIAR PHENOMENA IN
After four years of common residence, diversified by drawingroom
incidents of this lively character, these two irreconcilables parted by
common consent. The voyage of Marcia's parents had implanted in them a
zest for the New World, already the home of some relatives; Marcia's
father, a man still in full vigour of life except at intervals, found
occupation for the leisure which the sale of his business afforded him
in investing capital in undertakings commensurate with the scale of the
country wherein they were to be carried out; and when in the
development of these schemes he again rejoined his brother in the
Western States Marcia accompanied him.
The separation was quite of an informal kind, each merely promising
the other never to intrude into that other's life again, by written
word or personal presence: its object being to undo, as far as lay in
their power, the mischief that misapprehension of each other's
characters had effected during the past few years.
Marcia declared she would never return to England, but would make
her home with her uncle on the Pacific shore. "And for my part," she
added in this her last letter to him, "I fail to see why, in making
each our own home, we should not make our own matrimonial laws if we
choose. This may seem an advanced view, but I am not ashamed of
advanced views. If I strictly confine myself to one hemisphere, and
you, as I expect you to do, confine yourself to the other, any new tie
we may form can affect nobody but ourselves. As I shall feel myself at
liberty to form such, I accord the same liberty to you."
Whether the advanced idea were a Parthian fling of defiance, which
she had no intention whatever of acting on, or whether it were written
coolly, as a possible contingency, with an eye on the jilted Indian
captain, Pearston had no means of knowing.
A long period of outward stagnation followed the break-up of his
house and home. During the interval Jocelyn threw into creations that
ever-bubbling spring of emotion which, without some conduit into space,
will surge upwards and ruin a man. It was probably owing to this,
certainly not on account of any care or anxiety for such a result, that
he was successful in his art, successful by a seemingly sudden spurt,
which carried him at one bound over the hindrances of years.
He prospered without effort. He was an A. R. A.
But recognitions of this sort, social distinctions, which he had
once coveted so keenly, seemed to have no utility for him now.
Pearston, now practically a bachelor, was floating in society without
any soul anchorage or spot that he could call his own; and, for want of
a domestic centre, round which honours might crystallize, they
dispersed in impalpable vapour without accumulating or adding specific
gravity to his material position.
He would have gone on working with his chisel with just as much zest
if his creations had been doomed to be seen by no mortal eye but his
own. By reason of this indifference to the popular reception of his
dream-figures he acquired a curious artistic aplomb that carried him
through the gusts of opinion without suffering them to disturb his
The study of beauty was his only joy. In the streets he would
observe a face, or a fraction of a face, which seemed to express to a
hair's-breadth in mutable flesh what he was at that moment wishing to
express in durable shape. He would dodge and follow the owner like a
detective; in omnibus, in cab, in steam-boat, through crowds, into
shops, churches, theatres, public-houses, and slums—mostly, when at
close quarters, to be disappointed for his pains.
In these beauty-chases he sometimes cast his eye across the Thames
to the wharves on the south side, and to that particular one whereat
his father's tons of freestone were daily landed from the ketches of
the south coast. He could occasionally discern lying there those white
blocks, persistently nibbled by his parent from that island rock in the
English Channel all familiar to Jocelyn, so persistently as if in time
his father would nibble it all away.
One thing it passed him to understand: on what field of observation
the poets and philosophers based their assumption that the passion of
love was intensest in youth and burnt lower as the years advanced. It
was possibly because of his utter domestic loneliness, but it was
certainly the fact, that during the years which followed his wife's
departure, when he was drifting along from five-and-twenty to
five-and-thirty years of age, Pearston occasionally loved with an
ardour— though, it is true, also with a self-control—unknown to
him when he was green in judgment.
The Well-Beloved—now again on earth—was always existing
somewhere near him. For months he would find her on the stage of a
theatre: then she would flit away, leaving the poor, empty carcase that
had lodged her to mumm on as best it could without her—a sorry lay
figure to his eyes, heaped with imperfections and sullied with
commonplace. She would reappear, it might be, in an at first unnoticed
lady, met at some fashionable "crush," exhibition, bazaar, or dinner;
to flit from her, in turn, after a few months, and stand as a graceful
shop-girl at some large drapery establishment or other into which he
had strayed on an unaccustomed errand. Then she would forsake this
figure and redisclose herself in the guise of some popular authoress,
pianiste, or fiddleress, at whose shrine he would worship for perhaps a
twelvemonth. Once she was a dancing-girl at the Royal Moorish Palace of
Varieties, though during her whole continuance at that establishment he
never once exchanged a word with his Beloved, nor did she while there
ever dream of his existence. He knew that a ten-minutes' conversation
in the wings with the substance would send the elusive phantom
scurrying fearfully away into some other even less accessible
She was a blonde, a brunette, tall, petite, svelte,
straightfeatured, full, curvilinear. Only one quality remained
unalterable in her: her instability of tenure. In Börne's phrase,
nothing was permanent in her but change.
"It is odd," he said to himself, "that this experience of mine, or
idiosyncrasy, or whatever it is, which would be sheer waste of time for
other men, creates sober business for me." For all these dreams he
translated into marble, and found that by them he was hitting a public
taste he had never deliberately aimed at, and mostly despised. He was,
in short, in danger of drifting away from a solid artistic reputation
to a popularity which might possibly be as brief as it would be
brilliant and exciting.
"You will be caught some day, my friend," Somers would occasionally
observe to him. "I don't mean to say entangled in anything
discreditable, for I admit that you are in practice a moral man; I mean
the process will be reversed. Some woman, whose Well-Beloved flits
about as yours does now, will catch your eye, and you'll stick to her
like a limpet, while she follows her phantom and leaves you to ache as
"You may be right, but I think you are wrong," said Pearston. "As
flesh she dies daily, like the Apostle's material self; because when I
grapple with the reality she's no longer in it, so that I cannot stick
to one incarnation if I would."
"Wait till you are older," said Somers.
But Pearston's artistic emotions were abruptly suspended by the news
of his father's sudden death at Sandbourne, whither the merchant had
lately gone for a change of air by the advice of his physician.
CHAPTER X. THE OLD PHANTOM BECOMES
Mr. Pearston, senior, it must be admitted, had been something
miserly in his home life. But he had never stinted his son. He had been
rather a hard taskmaster, though, as a paymaster, trustworthy; a
ready-money man, just and ungenerous. To everyone's surprise, the
capital he had accumulated in the stone trade was of large amount for a
business so unostentatiously carried on—much larger than Jocelyn had
ever regarded as possible. While the son had been modelling and
chipping his ephemeral fancies into perennial shape, the father had
been persistently chiselling for half a century at the original matter
of those shapes, the stern, isolated rock in the Channel; and by the
aid of his cranes and pulleys, his trolleys and his boats, had sent off
his spoil to all parts of Great Britain. When Jocelyn had would up
everything and disposed of the business, as recommended by his father's
will, he found himself enabled to add about eighty thousand pounds to
the twelve thousand which he already possessed from professional and
After arranging for the sale of some freehold properties in the
island other than quarries—for he did not intend to reside there—he
returned to town. He had promised his wife never to trouble her again;
nor for a whole dozen years had he done so; but in this access of means
he considered that it behoved him to make inquiries, so as to ascertain
if she wished for an allowance.
Neither letters nor advertisements brought any tidings. Nothing more
could be done without personal search; and that he resolved to make the
year following, if he heard nothing of her earlier. Her parents were,
he believed, dead; possibly she had formed the new tie of which she
had spoken, and had no wish to be recognised by her old name.
A reposeful time ensued. His first entry into society after his
father's death occurred one evening, when, for want of knowing what
better to do, he responded to a card of invitation sent by one of the
few ladies of rank whom he numbered among his friends, and set out in a
cab for the square wherein she lived during three or four months of the
The hansom turned the corner, and he obtained a raking view of the
houses along the north side, of which hers was one, with the familiar
linkman at the door. There were Chinese lanterns, too, on the balcony.
He perceived in a moment that the customary "small and early" reception
had resolved itself on this occasion into something very like large and
late. He remembered that there had just been a political crisis, which
accounted for the enlargement of the Countess of Channelcliffe's
assembly; for hers was one of the neutral or non-political houses at
which more politics are agitated than at the professedly party
There was such a string of carriages that Pearston did not wait to
take his turn at the door, but alighted some yards off and walked
forward. He had to stay a moment behind the wall of spectators which
barred his way, and as he paused some ladies in white cloaks crossed
from their carriages to the door on the carpet laid for the purpose. He
had not seen their faces, nothing of them but vague forms, and yet he
was suddenly seized with a presentiment. Its gist was that he might be
going to re-encounter the Well-Beloved that night: after her long, long
hiding she meant to reappear and intoxicate him. That liquid sparkle of
the eye, that lingual music, that turn of the head, how well he knew it
all, despite the many superficial changes, and how instantly he would
recognise it under whatever complexion, contour, accent, height, or
carriage that it might choose to masquerade!
Pearston's other conjecture, that the night was to be a lively one,
received confirmation as soon as he reached the hall, where a simmer of
excitement was perceptible as the surplus or overflow from above down
the staircase—a feature which he had always noticed to be present
when any climax or sensation had been reached in the political world.
"And where have you been keeping yourself so long, young man?" said
his hostess, archly, when he had shaken hands with her. Pearston was
always regarded as a young man. "Oh, yes, of course, I remember," she
added, looking serious in a moment at thought of his loss. The Countess
was a woman with a good-natured manner, verging on that oft-claimed
feminine quality, humour, and was quickly sympathetic. She then began
to tell him of a scandal in the political side to which she nominally
belonged, that had come out of the present crisis, and that, having
sworn to abjure politics for ever on account of it, he was to regard
her as a neutral householder forthwith. By this time some more people
had surged upstairs, and Pearston prepared to move on.
"You are looking for somebody—I can see that," said she.
"Yes—a lady," said Pearston.
"Tell me her name, and I'll try to think if she's here,"
"I cannot; I don't know it," he said.
"What is she like?"
"I cannot describe her, not even her dress."
Lady Channelcliffe looked a pout, as if she thought he were teasing
her, and he moved on in the current. The fact was that, for a moment,
Pearston fancied he had discovered her he was in search of lurking in
the person of the very hostess he had conversed with, who was charming
always, and particularly charming to-night; he was just feeling an
incipient consternation at the possibility of such a jade's trick in
his Well-Beloved, who had once before chosen to embody herself as a
married woman, though, happily, at that time with no serious results.
However, he felt that he had been mistaken, and that the fancy had been
solely owing to the highly charged electric condition in which he had
arrived by reason of his recent isolation.
The whole set of rooms formed one great utterance of the opinions of
the hour. The high gods of party were present, and the brilliancy of
style and form in their handling of public questions was only less
conspicuous than the paucity of their original ideas. But Jocelyn's
mind did not run in this stream: he was like a stone in a brook,
waiting for some peculiar floating object to be brought towards him and
to stick upon his surface.
He was looking for the next new version of the fair one, and he did
not consider at the moment, though he had done so at other times, that
this presentiment of meeting her was, of all presentiments, just the
sort of one to work out its own fulfilment.
He looked for her in the knot of persons gathered round an
ex-Cabinet Minister of very high rank indeed, who was standing in the
middle of the largest room discoursing in the genial, almost jovial,
manner natural to him at these times. The two or three ladies forming
his audience had been joined by another, and it was on her that
Pearston's attention was directed, as well as the great statesman's,
whose first sheer gaze at her, expressing "Who are you?" almost
audibly, changed into an interested, listening look as the few works
she spoke were uttered—for the ex-Minister differed from many of his
standing in being extremely careful not to interrupt a timid speaker,
giving way in an instant if anybody else began with him. Nobody knew
better than himself his own limitations, and his manner was that of a
man who could catch an idea readily, even if he could not create one.
The lady told her little story—whatever it was Jocelyn could not
hear it—the ex-Cabinet Minister laughed: "Haugh-haugh-haugh!"
The lady blushed. Jocelyn, wrought up to a high tension by the
aforesaid presentiment that his Shelleyan "One-shape-of-many-names"
was about to reappear, paid little heed to the man of State, watching
for a full view of the lady who had won his attention.
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER X. (Continued.) THE OLD
PHANTOM BECOMES DISTINCT.
That lady remained for the present partially screened by her
neighbours. A diversion was caused by Lady Channelcliffe bringing up
somebody to present to the political Jove; the ladies got mixed, and
Jocelyn lost sight of the one whom he was beginning to suspect as the
stealthily returned absentee.
He looked for her in the young lady of the house, his hostess's
younger sister, who appeared to more advantage that night than she had
ever done before—in a sky-blue dress, which had nothing between it
and the fair skin of her neck, lending her an unusually soft and
sylph-like aspect. She saw him, and they converged. Her look of "What
do you think of me now?" was suggested, he knew, by the thought that
the last time they met she had appeared under the disadvantage of
mourning costume, on a wet day in a country-house, where everybody was
"I have some new photographs, and I want you to tell me whether they
are good," she said. "Mind, you are to tell me truly, and no favour."
She produced the pictures from an adjoining drawer, and they sat
down together upon an ottoman for the purpose of examination. The
portraits, taken by the last fashionable photographer, were very good,
and he told her so; but as he spoke and compared them his mind was
fixed on something else than the mere judgment. He wondered whether the
elusive one were indeed in the frame of this girl.
He looked up at her. To his surprise, her mind, too, was on other
things bent than on the pictures. Her eyes were glancing away to
distant people, she was visibly considering the effect she was
producing upon them by this cosy tête-à-tête with Pearston, and upon
one in particular, a man of thirty, of military appearance, whom
Pearston did not know. Quite convinced now that no phantom belonging to
him was continued in the outlines of the present young lady, he could
coolly criticise her as he talked. They were both doing the same
thing—each was pretending to be deeply interested in what the other
was talking about, the attention of the two alike flitting away to
other corners of the room when the very point of the discourse was
No, he had not seen Her yet. He was not going to see Her,
apparently, to-night; she was scared away by the twanging political
atmosphere. But he still moved on searchingly, speaking to those he
knew. Under the white hair of that ribanded old man was a forehead
grown wrinkled over treaties that had swayed the fortunes of Europe;
under the forehead spoke a voice which had numbered sovereigns and
heirs- apparent among its listeners; under the voice was a heart that
would go inside a hazel-nut shell. Beneath those white ropes of pearls
was the pink bosom; beneath the pink bosom, the half-lung which had, by
hook or by crook, to sustain its possessor above ground till the
At that moment he encountered his amiable host, and almost
simultaneously caught sight of the lady who had at first attracted him
and then had disappeared. Their eyes met, far off as they were from
each other. Pearston laughed inwardly: it was only in ticklish
excitement as to whether this was to prove a true trouvaille, and with
no instinct to mirth, for when under the eyes of his Jill-o'-the-Wisp
he ever palpitated like a sheep in a fair.
However, for the minute he had to converse with his host, Lord
Channelcliffe, and almost the first thing the Earl said to him was:
"Who is that pretty woman in the black dress with the white fluff about
it and the pearl necklace?"
"I don't know," said Jocelyn, with incipient jealousy; "I was just
going to ask the same thing."
"O, we shall find out presently, I suppose. I daresay my wife
knows." They had parted, when a hand came upon his shoulder. Lord
Channelcliffe had turned back for an instant: "I find she is the
granddaughter of my father's old friend, the last Lord Hengistbury. Her
name is Mrs.—Mrs. Pine-Avon; she lost her husband two or three years
ago, very shortly after their marriage."
Lord Channelcliffe became absorbed into some adjoining dignitary of
the Church, and Pearston was left to pursue his quest alone. A young
friend of his—the Lady Mabella Buttermead, who appeared in a cloud of
muslin and was going on to a ball—had been brought against him by the
tide. A warm-hearted, emotional girl was Lady Mabella, who laughed at
the humorousness of being alive; she asked him whither he was bent, and
he told her.
"O yes, I know her very well!" said Lady Mabella, eagerly. "She told
me one day that she particularly wished to meet you. Poor thing—so
sad—she lost her husband. Well, it was a long time ago now,
certainly. Women ought not to marry and lay themselves open to such
catastrophes, ought they, Mr. Pearston? I never shall. I am determined
never to run such a risk! Now, do you think I shall?"
"Marry? O no; never," said Pearston, drily.
"That's very comforting. But sometimes I think I may, just for the
fun of it. ... Now we'll steer across to her, and catch her, and I'll
introduce you. But we shall never get to her at this rate!"
"Never, unless we adopt 'the ugly rush,' like the citizens who
follow the Lord Mayor's Show."
They talked, and inched towards the desired one, who, as she talked
to a neighbour, seemed one of those— Female forms, whose gestures
beam with mind, seen by the poet in his Vision of the Golden City of
Their progress was continually checked. Pearston was, as he had
sometimes seemed to be in a dream, unable to advance towards the
object of pursuit unless he could have gathered up his feet into the
air. After ten minutes given to a preoccupied study of shoulder-blades,
back hair, glittering headgear, napes of necks, moles, hairpins,
pearl-powder, pimples, strange minerals cut into facets of all colours
and rays, necklaceclasps, fans, stays, the seven styles of elbow and
arm, the thirteen varieties of ear; and by using the toes of his
dress-boots as coulters with which he ploughed his way and that of Lady
Mabella in the direction they were aiming at, he drew near to Mrs.
Pine-Avon, who was drinking a cup of tea in the back drawing-room.
"My dear Nichola, we thought we should never get to you, because it
is worse to-night, owing to these dreadful politics! But we've done
it."And she proceeded to tell her friend of Pearston's existence hard
It seemed that the widow really did wish to know him, and that Lady
Mabella Buttermead had not indulged in one of the too-frequent
inventions in that kind. When the youngest of the trio had made them
acquainted with each other, she left them to talk to a younger man than
Mrs. Pine-Avon's black velvets and silks, with their white
accompaniments, finely set off the exceeding fairness of her neck and
shoulders, which, though unwhitened artificially, were without a speck
or blemish of the least degree. The gentle, thoughtful creature she had
looked from a distance she now proved herself to be; she held also
sound rather than current opinions on the plastic arts, and was the
first intellectual woman he had seen there that night, except the
They soon became well acquainted, and at a pause in their
conversation noticed the new excitement caused by the arrival of some
late comers with more news. The latter had been brought by a rippling,
bright-eyed lady in black, who made the men listen to her, whether they
would or no.
"I am glad I am an outsider," said Jocelyn's acquaintance, now
seated on a sofa beside which he was standing. "I wouldn't be like my
cousin, over there, for the world. She thinks her husband will be
turned out at the next election, and she's quite wild."
"Yes; it is mostly the women who are the gamesters; the men only the
cards. The pity is that politics are looked on as being a game for
politicians, just as cricket is a game for cricketers; not as the
serious duties of political trustees."
"How few of us ever think or feel that 'the nation of every country
dwells in the cottage,' as somebody says!"
"Yes. Though I wonder to hear you quote that."
"O—I am of no party, though my relations are. There can be only
one best course, and the wisdom of the nation should be directed to
Having started thus, they found no difficulty in agreeing on many
points. When Pearston went downstairs from that assembly at a quarter
to one, and passed under the steaming nostrils of an ambassador's
horses to a hansom which waited for him against the railing of the
square, he had an impression that the Beloved had re-emerged from the
shadows, without any hint or initiative from him—to whom, indeed,
such re-emergence was an unquestionably awkward thing.
CHAPTER XI. SHE DRAWS CLOSE, AND
He could not forget her eyes, though he remembered nothing of her
general facial detail. They were round, inquiring, luminous. How that
chestnut hair of hers had shone: it required no tiara to set it off,
like that of the dowager he had seen there, who had put ten thousand
pounds upon her head to make herself look worse than she would have
appeared with the ninepenny muslin cap of a servant woman.
Now the question was, ought he to see her again? He had his doubts.
But, unfortunately for discretion, just when he was coming out of the
rooms he had encountered an old lady of seventy, his friend Mrs.
Brightwalton—the Honourable Mrs. Brightwalton—and she had hastily
asked him to dinner for the day after the morrow, stating in the honest
way he knew so well that she had heard he was out of town, or she would
have asked him two or three weeks ago. Now, of all social things that
Pearston liked it was to be asked to dinner off-hand, as a stopgap in
place of some bishop, duke, or Secretary of State who couldn't come,
and when the invitation was supplemented by the information that the
lady who had so impressed him was to be one of the guests, he had
At the dinner, he took Mrs. Pine-Avon down upon his arm, and talked
to nobody else during the meal. Afterwards they kept apart awhile in
the drawing-room for form's sake; but eventually gravitated together
again, and finished the evening in each other's company. When, shortly
after eleven, he came away, he felt almost certain that within those
luminous grey eyes his Aphrodite had verily taken lodgings—and for a
long lease. But this was not all. At parting, he had, almost
involuntarily, given her hand a pressure of a peculiar and
indescribable kind; a little response from her, like a mere pulsation,
of the same sort told him that the impression she had made upon him was
reciprocated. She was, in a word, willing to go on.
But was he able?
There had not been much harm in the flirtation thus far; but did
she know his history, and that of his wife, and of the separation a
dozen years ago, and his ignorance of whether Marcia were dead or
alive? He was now a man over forty, she was probably thirty; and he
dared not make meaningless love with the carelessness of a younger man.
It was impossible to go further without telling her, even though,
hitherto, such explicitness had not been absolutely demanded. Yet, for
himself, he had a strong conviction that Marcia had ceased to be.
He determined to call immediately on the New Incarnation.
She lived not far from the long, fashionable Hamptonshire Square,
and he went thither with expectations of having a highly emotional time
at least. But somehow the very bell-pull seemed cold, although she had
so earnestly asked him to come.
As the house spoke, so spoke the occupant, much to the astonishment
of the sculptor. The doors he passed through seemed as if they had not
been opened for a month; and, entering the drawing-room, he beheld, in
an easy-chair in the far distance, a lady whom he journeyed to reach,
and ultimately did reach. To be sure it was Mrs. Nichola Pine-Avon, but
frosted over indescribably. Raising her eyes in a slightly inquiring
manner from the book she was reading, she leant back in the chair, as
if soaking herself in luxurious sensations which had nothing to do with
him, and replied to his greeting with a few commonplace words.
Now, the unfortunate Jocelyn, though recuperative to a degree, was
at first terribly upset by this reception. He had distinctly begun to
love Nichola, and he felt sick and almost tearful. But happily his
affection was incipient as yet, and a sense of the ridiculous which
suddenly appeared in his own position carried him to the verge of
risibility during the scene. She signified a chair, and began the
critical study of some rings she wore.
They talked over the day's news, and then an organ began to grind
outside. The tune was a rollicking air he had heard at some music-hall;
and, by way of a diversion, he asked her if she knew the composition.
"Naow, I don't!" she replied.
"Now, I'll tell you all about it," said he, gravely. "It is based on
a sound old melody and song called 'Calder Fair.' Just as they turn
Madeira into port in the space of a single night, so this old air has
been taken and doctored, and twisted about, and brought out as a new
"If you are in the habit of going much to the music-halls or the
"You would find this is often done, with excellent effect."
She thawed a little, and then they went on to talk about her house,
which had been newly painted, and decorated with greenish-blue satin up
to the height of a person's head—an arrangement that somewhat
improved her slightly faded, though still pretty, face, and was helped
by the awnings over the windows.
"Yes; I have had my house five years," she observed complacently,
"and I like it better every year."
"You have only had it two years, if you deduct the three years you
let it to some friends of mine, whom I have often called on in this
very room, my darling," he said to himself —but not to her.
However, before he rose she grew friendly to some degree, and when
he left, just after the arrival of three opportune young ladies, he
thought she seemed regretful. She asked him to come again; and he
thought he would tell the truth. "No; I shall not come again," he
answered, in a tone inaudible to the young ladies.
She followed him to the door. "What an uncivil thing to say!" she
murmured, in surprise.
"It is rather uncivil. Good-bye," said Pearston.
As a punishment she did not ring the bell, but left him to find his
way out as he could. "What this means I cannot tell," he said to
himself. And yet the meaning was staring him in the face.
Meanwhile one of the three young ladies had said, "What interesting
man was that, with his lovely head of hair? I saw him at Lady
Channelcliffe's the other night."
"Oh, Nichola, that is too bad! To let him go in that shabby way,
when I would have given anything to know him! I have wanted to know him
ever since I found out how much his experiences had dictated his
statuary, and I discovered them by seeing in an American paper of the
death of a person supposed to be his wife, who left him many years ago,
don't you know, and had been living with somebody under another name,
according to some novel social principles she had invented for herself."
"O! is she dead?" said Mrs. Pine-Avon, with a start. "Why, I heard
only yesterday that it was probable she was alive."
"She is believed to have died two or three years ago," said the
young lady. "How I wish I could run after him!"
But Jocelyn was receding from the pretty widow's house with long
strides. He went out very little during the next few days, but about a
week later he kept an engagement to dine with Lady Iris Speedwell, whom
he never neglected, because she was the brightest hostess in London.
By some accident he arrived rather early. Lady Iris had left the
drawing-room for a moment to see that all was right in the dining-room,
and when he was shown in there stood alone in the lamplight Nichola
Pine-Avon. She had been the first arrival. He had not in the least
expected to meet her there, further than that, in a general sense, at
Lady Iris's you expected to meet everybody.
She had just come out of the cloak-room, and was so tender and even
apologetic that he had not the heart to be other than friendly. As the
other guests dropped in, the pair retreated into a shady corner, and
she talked beside him till all moved off for the eating and drinking.
He had not been appointed to take her across to the dining-room, but
at the table found her exactly opposite to him. She looked very
charming between the candles, and then suddenly it dawned upon him that
her previous manner must have originated in some false report about his
late wife, of whose death he had been credibly, though not absolutely,
assured a couple of years before this time. Anyhow, he was not disposed
to resent an inexplicability in womankind, having found that it usually
arose independently of fact, reason, probability, or his own deserts.
So he dined on, catching her eyes and the few pretty words she made
opportunity to project across the table to him now and then. He was
courteously responsive only, but Mrs. Pine-Avon herself distinctly made
advances. He readmired her, while at the same time her conduct in her
own house had been enough to check his confidence—enough even to make
him doubt if the Well-Beloved really resided within those contours or
had ever been more than the most transitory passenger through that
interesting and accomplished soul.
He was pondering this question, yet growing decidedly moved by the
playful pathos of her attitude, when, by chance, searching his pocket
for his handkerchief, something crackled, and he felt there an unopened
letter, which had arrived at the moment he was leaving his house, and
he had slipped into his coat to read in the cab as he drove along.
Pearston drew it sufficiently forth to observe by the post-mark that it
came from his natal isle. Having hardly a correspondent in that part of
the world now, he began to conjecture on the possible sender.
The lady on his right, whom he had brought in, was a leading actress
of the town—indeed, of the United Kingdom and America, for that
matter—a creature in airy clothing, translucent, like a balsam or
sea-anemone, without shadows, and in movement as responsive as some
highly lubricated many-wired machine, which, if one presses a
particular spring, flies open and reveals its works. The spring in the
present case was the artistic commendation she deserved. At this
particular moment she was engaged with the man on her own right, a
representative of Family, who talked positively and hollowly, as if
shouting down a vista of five hundred years from the Feudal past. The
lady on Jocelyn's left, wife of a Lord Justice of Appeal, was in like
manner talking to her companion on the outer side; so that, for the
time, he was left to himself. He took advantage of the opportunity,
drew out his letter, and read it as it lay upon his napkin, nobody
observing him, so far as he was aware.
It came from the wife of one of his father's formerworkmen, and was
concerning her son, whom she begged Jocelyn to recommend as candidate
for some post in town she wished him to fill. But the end of the letter
was what arrested him—
"You will be sorry to hear, Sir, that dear little Avice Caro, as we
used to call her in her maiden days, is dead. She married her cousin,
if you do mind, and went away from here for some years, but was left a
widow, and came back a twelvemonth ago; since when she began to falter,
and now is gone."
CHAPTER XII. SHE BECOMES AN
By imperceptible and slow degrees the scene at the dinnertable
seemed to recede into the background behind the more distinct
presentment of Avice Caro and the old, old scenes on the stone island
which were inseparable from her personality. The handsome Marchioness
in geranium-red and diamonds, who was visible to him on his host's
right hand opposite, became as one of the misty vermilion sunsets that
he had watched so many times over the West Bay, with the form of Avice
in the foreground. Between his eyes and the judge who sat next to
Nichola, with a chin so raw that he must have shaved every quarter of
an hour during the day, intruded the face of Avice, as she had glanced
at him in their last parting. The old society lady, who, if she had
been a few years older, would have been as old-fashioned as her
daughter, suggested the powdery, dusty quarries of his and Avice's
parents, down which he had clambered with Avice hundreds of times. The
ivy trailing about the table-cloth, the lights in the tall silver
candlesticks, and the bunches of flowers, mixed in with the ivies and
the flower-beds of the castle on the isle and the lighthouses down at
More than all, Nichola Pine-Avon gradually lost the radiance which
she had latterly acquired; she became a woman of his acquaintance with
no distinctive traits; she seemed to grow material, a superficies of
flesh and bone merely; she was a person of lines and surfaces, a
language in living cypher—no more.
When the ladies had withdrawn it was just the same. The soul of
Avice—the only woman he had never loved (of those who had loved
him)—surrounded him like a firmament. Art drew near to him in the
person of one of the most distinguished of portrait-painters; but there
was only one painter for Jocelyn—his own memory. All that was eminent
in European surgery addressed him in the person of that harmless and
unassuming fogey whose hands had been inside the bodies of hundreds of
living men, but the lily-white corpse of an obscure country girl
chilled the interest of discourse with such a king of operators.
Reaching the drawing-room he talked to his hostess. Though she had
entertained twenty guests at her table that night she had known not
only what every one of them was saying and doing throughout the repast,
but what every one was thinking. So, being an old friend, she said
quietly, "What has been troubling you? Something has, I know."
Nothing could less express the meaning his recent information had
for him than a statement of its facts. He told of the opening of the
letter and the discovery of the death of an old acquaintance.
"The only woman whom I never loved, I may almost say!" he added,
smiling; "and therefore the only one I shall ever regret!"
Whether she considered it a sufficient explanation or not, the woman
of the world accepted it as such. She was the single lady of his circle
whom nothing erratic in his doings could surprise, and he often gave
her stray ends of his confidence thus with perfect safety.
He did not go near Mrs. Pine-Avon again; he could not: and on
leaving the house walked abstractedly along the streets till he found
himself at his own door. In his own room he sat down, and placing his
hands behind his head thought his thoughts anew.
At one side of the room stood an escritoire, and presently going to
a lower drawer of the same he took out a small box tightly nailed down.
He forced the cover with the poker. The box contained a multifarious
variety of odds and ends, which Pearston had thrown into it from time
to time in years gone by for future sorting—an intention that he had
never carried out. From the melancholy mass of papers, faded
photographs, seals, diaries, withered flowers, and such like, Jocelyn
drew a little portrait, one taken on glass in the more primitive days
of photography, and framed with tinsel in the commonest way.
It was Avice Caro, as she had appeared during the summer month or
two which he had spent with her on the island twenty years before that
time, her young lips pursed up, her hands meekly folded. The effect of
the glass was to lend to the picture much of the softness
characteristic of the original. He remembered when it was
taken—during one afternoon they had spent together at the
neighbouring watering-place, when he had suggested her sitting to a
touting artist on the sands, there being nothing else for them to do. A
long contemplation of the likeness completed in his emotions what the
letter had begun. He loved the woman dead and inaccessible as he had
never loved her in life. He had unceremoniously forsaken her on the eve
of what would have become an irrevocable engagement, because he did not
love her; and it had been, in one view, the kindest thing he could have
done, though the harshest, no spark of passion existing. He had thought
of her but at distant intervals during the whole nineteen years since
that parting occurred, and only as somebody he could have wedded. Yet
now the years of youthful friendship with her, in which he had learnt
every fibre of her innocent nature, flamed up into a yearning and
passionate attachment, embittered by regret beyond words.
That kiss which had offended his dignity, which she had so
childishly given him before her consciousness of womanhood had been
awakened, what he would have given to have a quarter of it now!
Pearston was almost angry with himself for his feelings of this
night, so unreasonably, motivelessly strong were they towards that lost
young playmate. "How senseless of me!" he said, as he lay in his
lonely bed. She had been another man's wife almost the whole time since
he had been estranged from her, and now she was a corpse. Yet the
absurdity did not make his grief the less: and the consciousness of the
intrinsic, almost radiant, purity of this new-sprung affection for a
flown spirit forbade him to check it. The flesh was absent altogether;
it was love rarefied and refined to its highest attar. He had felt
nothing like it before.
The next afternoon he went down to his club; not his large club,
where the men hardly spoke to each other, but the smaller one, where
they told stories of an afternoon, and were not ashamed to confess
among themselves to the most extraordinary personal weaknesses and
follies, knowing well that such secrets would go no further. But he
could not tell this; so volatile and intangible was the story, that to
convey it in words would have been as hard as to cage a perfume.
They observed his altered manner, and said he was in love. Pearston
admitted that he was; and there it ended. When he reached home he
looked out of his bed-room window, and began to consider in what
direction from where he stood that darling little figure lay. It was
straight across there, under that young pale moon. The symbol signified
well. The divinity of the silver bow was not more excellently pure than
she, the lost, had been. Under that moon was an island of stone, and on
the island a house, framed from mullions to ridge-tile like the isle
itself, of stone. Inside the window, the moonlight irradiating her
winding-sheet, lay Avice, reached only by the faint noises inherent in
the isle; the tink-tink of the chisels in the quarries, the surging of
the sea in the Bay, and the muffled grumbling of the waves in the
After dinner his old friend Somers came in to smoke, and when they
had talked a little while Somers alluded casually to some place at
which they would meet on the morrow.
"I sha'n't be there," said Pearston.
"But you promised."
"Yes. But I shall be at the island—looking at a dead woman's
grave." As he spoke his eyes turned, and remained fixed on a table
near. Somers followed the direction of his glance to a photograph on a
"Is that she?" he asked.
"Rather a bygone affair, then?"
Pearston acknowledged it. "She's the only sweetheart I never loved,
Alfred," he said. "Because she's the only one I ought to have loved.
That's just the fool I have always been."
"But if she's dead and buried, you can go to her grave at any time
as well as now, to keep up the sentiment."
"I don't know that she's buried."
"But to-morrow—the Academy night! Of all days why go then?"
"I don't care about the Academy."
"Pearston—you are our only inspired sculptor. You are our
Praxiteles. You are almost the only man of this generation who has been
able to mould and chisel forms living enough to draw the idle public
away from the popular genre paintings into the usually deserted
lecture-room, and people who have seen your last piece of stuff say
there has been nothing like it since sixteen hundred and—since the
sculptors 'of the great race' lived and died. Well, then, for the sake
of others you ought not to rush off to that Godforgotten island just
when you are wanted in town, all for a woman you last saw a hundred
"No—it was only nineteen," replied his friend, with abstracted
literalness. He went the next morning.
Since the days of his youth a railway had been constructed along the
pebble bank, so that, except when the rails were washed away by the
tides, which was rather often, the peninsula was directly accessible.
At two o'clock in the afternoon he was rattled along under the familiar
monotonous line of bran-coloured stones, and emerged from the station
among the black lerrets and the white cubes of ashlar.
In entering upon the pebble beach the train had passed close to the
ruins of Henry the Eighth's castle, whither Avice was to have
accompanied him on the night of his departure. Had she appeared the
betrothal would have taken place; and, as no islander had ever been
known to break that compact, she would have become his wife.
Ascending the steep incline to where the quarrymen were chipping
just as they had formerly done, and within sound of the great stone
saws, he looked southward towards the Beal.
The level line of the sea horizon rose above the surface of the
isle; and against the stretch of water, where a school of mackerel
twinkled in the afternoon light, was defined, in addition to the
distant lighthouse, a church with its tower, standing about a quarter
of a mile off, near the edge of the cliff. The churchyard gravestones
could be seen in profile against the same vast spread of watery babble
Among the graves moved the form of a man clad in a white sheet,
which the wind blew aside every now and then, revealing dark trousers
under. Near him moved six men bearing a long box, and two or three
persons in black followed. The coffin, with its twelve legs, looked
like a large insect crawling across the isle, under whose belly the
flashing lights from the sea and school of mackerel were reflected; a
fishing-boat, far out in the Channel, being momentarily discernible
through the opening.
The procession wandered round to a particular corner, and halted,
and stood there a long while in the wind, the sea behind them, the
surplice of the priest still blowing. Jocelyn stood with his hat off:
he was present, though he was a quarter of a mile off; and he seemed to
hear the words that were being said, though nothing but the wind was
He instinctively knew that it was none other than Avice whom he was
seeing interred; his Avice, as he now began presumptuously to call her.
Presently the little group withdrew from before the sea, and
He felt himself unable to go farther in that direction, and turning
aside went aimlessly across the open land, visiting the various spots
that he had formerly visited with her. But, as if tethered to the
churchyard by a cord, he was still conscious of being at the end of a
radius whose pivot was the grave of Avice Caro; and as the dusk
thickened he closed upon his centre and entered the churchyard gate.
Not a soul was now within the precincts. The grave, newly shaped,
was easily discoverable behind the church, and when the same young moon
arose which he had observed the previous evening from his window in
London he could see the yet fresh foot-marks of the mourners and
bearers. The breeze had fallen to a calm with the setting of the sun:
the lighthouse had opened its glaring eye, and, disinclined to leave a
spot sublimed both by early association and present regret, he moved
back to the church wall, warm from the afternoon sun, and sat down upon
a window-sill facing the grave.
End of Part First.
PART SECOND. A YOUNG MAN OF FORTY
CHAPTER XIII. SHE THREATENS TO
RESUME CORPOREAL SUBSTANCE.
The lispings of the sea beneath the cliffs were all the sounds that
reached him, for the quarries were silent now. How long he sat here
leaning and thinking he did not know. Neither did he know, though he
felt drowsy, whether inexpectant sadness—that gentle
soporific—lulled him into a short sleep, so that he lost count of
time and consciousness of realities. But all of a sudden he seemed to
see A vice Caro herself, standing beside her own grave in the light of
She seemed not a year older, not a digit less slender, not a line
more angular than when he had parted from her, twenty years earlier, in
the lane hard by. A dim renascent reasoning on the impossibility of
such a phenomenon as this being more than a dream-fancy roused him with
a start from his heaviness.
"I must have been asleep!" he said.
The outline of the grave was as distinct as before he had dozed, but
nobody stood there. Yet she had seemed so real. Pearston resolutely
dismissed the strange impression, arguing that even if the information
sent him of Avice's death should have been false—a thing
incredible—that sweet friend of his youth, despite the transfiguring
effects of moonlight, would not have looked the same as she had
appeared nineteen or twenty years ago.
Having satisfied his sentiment by coming to the graveside, there was
nothing more for him to do in the island, and he decided to return to
London that night. But, some time remaining still on his hands, as soon
as he arrived at the junction of roads Jocelyn, by a natural instinct,
turned his feet in the direction of East Wake, the village of his birth
and of hers. Passing the market-square he pursued the arm of road to
Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle, a private mansion of comparatively modern
date, in whose grounds stood the single plantation of trees of which
the isle could boast. The cottages extended close to the walls of the
enclosure, and one of the last of these dwellings had been Avice's, in
which, as it was her freehold, she possibly had died.
To reach it he passed the gates of Dell-i'-th'-rock, and observed
above the lawn-wall a board announcing that the house was to be let
furnished. A few steps farther revealed the cottage which, with its
quaint and massive stone features of two or three centuries' antiquity,
was capable even now of longer resistance to the rasp of Time than
ordinary new erections. His attention was drawn to the window, which
was unblinded, though a lamp lit the room within. He stepped back
against the wall opposite, and gazed intently.
At a table covered with a white cloth a young woman stood putting
tea-things away into a corner-cupboard. She was in all respects the
Avice he had lost, the girl he had seen in the churchyard and had
fancied to be the illusion of a dream. And though there was this time
no doubt about her reality, the isolation of her position in the silent
room lent her a curiously startling aspect. Divining the explanation,
he waited for footsteps, and in a few moments a quarryman passed him on
his journey homeward. Pearston inquired of him concerning the spectacle.
"O yes, Sir; that's poor Mr. Caro's only daughter, and it must be
lonely for her there to-night, poor maid! Yes, goodnow; she's the very
daps of her mother—that's what everybody says."
"But how does she come to be so lonely? They were quarryowners at
The quarryman "pitched his nitch," and explained to the supposed
stranger that there had been three families thereabouts in the stone
trade, who had got much involved with each other in the last
generation. They were the Bencombs, the Pearstons, and the Caros. The
Bencombs strained their utmost to outlift the other two, and partially
succeeded. They grew enormously rich, sold out, and retired to London.
The Pearstons kept a dogged middle course, throve without show or
noise, and also retired in their turn. The Caros were pulled completely
down in the competition with the other two, and when Widow Caro's
daughter married her cousin Jim Caro he tried to regain for the family
its original place in the three-cornered struggle. He took contracts at
less than he could profit from, speculated more and more, till at last
the crash came and he was sold up, went away, and later on came back to
live in this little cottage, which was his wife's by inheritance. There
he reamained till his death; and now his widow was gone. Hardships had
helped on her end.
The quarryman proceeded on his way, and Pearston, deeply remorseful,
knocked at the door of the minute freehold. The girl herself opened it,
lamp in hand.
"Avice!" he said tenderly; "Avice Caro!" even now unable to get over
the strange feeling that he was twenty years younger, addressing Avice
"Yes, Sir," said she.
"Ah, your name is the same as your mother's!"
"Yes. Both my names. Poor mother married her cousin."
"And you have lost her now?"
"I have, Sir."
She spoke in the very same sweet voice that he had listened to a
score of years before, and bent eyes of the same familiar hazel
inquiringly upon him.
"I knew your mother at one time," he said; "and learning of her
death and burial I took the liberty of calling upon you. You will
forgive a stranger doing that?"
"Yes," she said dispassionately, and glancing round the room: "this
was mother's own house, and now it is mine. I am sorry not to be in
mourning on the night of her funeral, but I have just been to put some
flowers on her grave, and I took it off afore going that the damp mid
not spoil the crape. You see, she was bad a long time, and I have to be
careful, and do washing and ironing for a living. She hurt her side
with wringing up the large sheets she had to wash for the Castle folks
"I hope you won't hurt yourself doing it, my dear."
"O no, that I sha'n't! There's Charl Woollat, and Sammy Wayes, and
Ted Gibsey, and lots o' young chaps; they'll wring anything for me if
they happen to come along. But I can hardly trust 'em. Sam Wayes
t'other day twisted a linen tablecloth into two pieces, for all the
world as if it had been a pipe-light. They never know when to stop in
The voice truly was his Avice's; but Avice the Second was more
matter-of-fact, unreflecting, less cultivated than her mother had been.
This Avice would never recite poetry from any platform, local or other,
with enthusiastic appreciation of its fire. There was a little
disappointment in recognising this; yet she touched him as few had
done: he could not bear to go away. "How old are you?" he asked.
"Going in nineteen."
It was about the age of her double, Avice the First, when he and she
had strolled together over the cliffs during the engagement. But he was
now forty, if a day. She before him was an uneducated laundress, and he
was a sculptor with a fortune and a reputation. Yet why was it an
unpleasant sensation to him just then to recollect that he was two
He could find no further excuse for remaining, and having still
half-an-hour to spare he went round by the road to the west side of the
modern castle, and came to the last house out there on the cliff. It
was his early home. Used in the summer as a lodging-house for visitors,
it now stood empty and silent, the evening wind swaying the euonymus
and tamarisk boughs in the front—the only evergreen shrubs that could
weather the salt sea gales which raked past the walls. Opposite the
house, far out at sea, the familiar light-ship winked from the
sand-bank, and all at once there came to him a wild wish—that,
instead of having an artist's reputation, he could be living here an
illiterate and unknown man, wooing, and in a fair way of winning, the
pretty laundress in the cottage hard by.
CHAPTER XIV. THE RESUMPTION TAKES
Having returned to London, he mechanically resumed his customary
life; but he was not really living there. The phantom of Avice, now
grown to be warm flesh and blood, held his mind afar. He thought of
nothing but the isle, and Avice the Second dwelling therin. The very
defects in the country girl became charms as viewed from town.
Nothing now pleased him so much as to spend that portion of the
afternoon which he devoted to out-door exercise in haunting the
purlieus of the wharves along the Thames, where the stone of his native
isle was unshipped from the coasting-craft that had brought it thither.
He would pass inside the great gates of these landing-places on the
right or left bank, and contemplate the white cubes and oblongs, imbibe
their associations, call up the genius loci whence they came, and
almost forgot that he was in London.
One afternoon he was walking away from the mud-splashed entrance to
one of the wharves, when his attention was drawn to a female form on
the opposite side of the way, going towards the spot he had just left.
She was somewhat small, slight, and graceful; her attire alone would
have been enough to attract him, being simple and countrified to
picturesqueness; but he was more than attracted by her strong
resemblance to Avice Caro.
Before she had receded a hundred yards he felt absolutely certain
that it was Avice indeed; and his dreamy, fanciful mood of the
afternoon was now so intense that the lost and the found Avice seemed
essentially the same person. Their external likeness to each
other—probably owing to the cousinship between the elder and her
husband—went far to nourish the fantasy. He hastily turned, and
rediscovered the girl among the pedestrians. She kept on her way to the
wharf, where, looking inquiringly around her for a few seconds, with
the manner of one unaccustomed to the locality, she opened the gate and
Pearston also went up to the gate and entered. She had crossed to
the landing-place, beyond which a lumpy craft lay moored. Drawing
nearer, he discovered her to be engaged in conversation with the
skipper and an elderly woman—both come straight from the oolitic
isle, as was apparent in a moment from their accent. Pearston felt no
hesitation in making himself known as a native, the ruptured engagement
between Avice's mother and himself twenty years before having been
known to few or none now living.
The present embodiment of Avice recognised him, and with the artless
candour of her race and years explained the situation, though that was
rather his duty as an intruder than hers.
"This is Cap'n Kibbs, a distant relation of poor father's," she
said. "And this is Mrs. Kibbs. We've come up from the island wi'en just
for a trip, and are going to sail back wi'en Wednesday."
"O, I see! And where are you staying?"
"What, you live on board entirely?"
"Lord, Sir," broke in Mrs. Kibbs, "I should be afeard o' my life to
tine my eyes among these here kimberlins at nighttime; and even by
day, if so be I venture into the streets, I nowhen forget how many
turnings to the right and to the left 'tis to get back to Ike's
vessel—do I, Ike?"
The skipper nodded confirmation.
"You are safer ashore than afloat," said Pearston, "especially in
the Channel, with these winds and those heavy blocks of stone."
"Well," said Cap'n Kibbs, after privately clearing something from
his mouth, "as to the winds, there idden much danger in them at this
time o' year. 'Tis the ocean-bound steamers that make the risk to craft
like ours. If you happen to be in their course, under you go—cut
clane in two pieces, and they never stopping to pick up your carcases,
and nobody to tell the tale."
Pearston turned to Avice, wanting to say much to her, yet not
knowing what to say. He lamely remarked at last: "You go back the same
"Well, take care of yourself afloat."
"I hope—I may see you again soon—and talk to you."
"I hope so, Sir."
He could not get further, and after a while Pearston left them, and
went away thinking of Avice more than ever.
The next day he mentally timed them down the river, allowing for the
pause to take in ballast, and on the Wednesday pictured the sail down
the open sea. That night he thought of the little craft under the bows
of the huge steam-vessels, powerless to make itself seen or heard, and
Avice, now growing inexpressively dear, sleeping in her little berth at
the mercy of a thousand chance catastrophes.
Honest perception had told him that this Avice, fairer than her
mother in face and form, was her inferior in soul and understanding.
Yet the fervour which the first could never kindle in him was, almost
to his alarm, burning up now. He began to have misgivings as to some
queer trick that his migratory Well-Beloved was about to play him.
A gigantic satire upon the mutations of his nympholepsy during the
past twenty years seemed looming in the distance. A forsaking of the
accomplished and well-connected Mrs. Pine-Avon for the little
laundress, under the traction of some mystic magnet which had nothing
to do with reason—surely that was the form of the satire.
But it was recklessly pleasant to leave this suspicion unrecognised
as yet and follow the lead.
In thinking how best to do this Pearston recollected that, as was
customary when the summer-time approached, Dell-o'-th'-rock Castle had
been advertised for letting furnished. A solitary dreamer like himself,
whose wants all lay in an artistic and ideal direction, did not require
such gaunt accommodation as the aforesaid residence offered; but the
spot was all, and the expenses of a few months of tenancy therein he
could well afford. A letter to the agent was dispatched that night, and
in a few days Jocelyn found himself the temporary possessor of a place
which he had never seen the inside of since his childhood, and had then
deemed the abode of unpleasant ghosts.
CHAPTER XV. THE PAST SHINES IN THE
It was the evening of Pearston's arrival at Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle,
an ordinary manor-house on the brink of the sea; and he had walked
through the rooms, about the lawn, and into the surrounding plantation
of elms, which on this island of treeless rock lent a unique character
to the enclosure. To find other trees thereon, it was necessary to
recede a little in time—to dig down to a loose stratum of the
underlying stone-beds, where a forest of conifers lay as petrifactions,
their heads all in one direction, as blown down by a gale in the
secondary geologic epoch.
Dusk had closed in, and he now proceeded with what was, after all,
the real business of his sojourn. The two servants who had been left to
take care of the house were in their own quarters, and he went out
unobserved. Crossing a hollow overhung by the budding boughs he
approached an empty garden-house of Elizabethan design, which stood on
the outer wall of the grounds, and commanded by a window the fronts of
the nearest cottagés. Among them was the home of the resuscitated Avice.
He had chosen this moment for his outlook through knowing that the
inhabitants of the village were in no hurry to pull down their blinds
at nightfall. And, as he had divined, the interior of the young woman's
living-room was distinctly visible to him as illuminated by the rays of
its own lamp.
A subdued thumping came every now and then from the apartment. She
was ironing linen on a flannel table-cloth, a row of such articles
hanging on a clothes-horse by the fire. Her face had been pale when he
formerly encountered her, but now it was warm and pink with her
exertions and the heat of the stove. Yet it was in perfect and
passionless repose, which imparted a Minerva cast to the profile. When
she glanced up her lineaments seemed to have all the soul and heart
that had characterised her mother's, and had been with her a true index
of the spirit within. Could it be possible that in this case the
manifestation was fictitious? He had met with many such examples of
hereditary persistence without the qualities signified by the traits.
He unconsciously hoped that it was at least not entirely so here.
The room was less furnished than when he had last beheld it. The
"bo-fet," or double corner-cupboard, where the china was formerly kept,
had disappeared, its place being taken by a plain board. The tall old
clock, with its ancient oak carcase, arched brow, and humorous mouth,
was also not to be seen, a cheap, white-dialled specimen doing its
work. What these displacements betokened saddened his humanity less
than it cheered his primitive instinct in pointing out how her
necessity for aid might bring them together.
Having fixed himself near her for some lengthy time he felt in no
hurry to obtrude his presence, and went indoors. That this girl's frame
was doomed to be a real embodiment of that olden, seductive one—that
Protean dream-creature, who had never seen fit to irradiate the
mother's image till it became a mere memory after dissolution—he
doubted less every moment.
There was still an uneasiness in recognising this. There was
something abnormal in his present proclivity. A certain sanity had,
after all, accompanied his former passions: the Beloved had seldom
informed a personality which, while enrapturing his soul,
simultaneously shocked his intellect. A change, perhaps, had come.
It was a fine morning on the morrow. Walking in the grounds towards,
the gate he saw Avice entering to the house with a broad oval
wicker-basket covered with a white cloth; and she bore her burden
round to the back door. Of course, she washed for his own household: he
had not thought of that. In the morning sunlight she appeared rather as
a sylph than as a washerwoman; and he could not but think that the
slightness of her figure was as ill adapted to this occupation as her
mother's had been.
But, after all, it was not the washerwoman that he saw now. In front
of her, on the surface of her, was shining out that more real, more
penetrating being whom he knew so well! The occupation of the
subserving woman, the blemishes of the temporary creature who formed
the background, were of no more account in the presentation than the
posts and framework which support a pyrotechnic display.
She left the house and went homeward by a path of which he was not
aware, having probably changed her route because she had seen him
standing there. It meant nothing, for she had hardly become acquainted
with him; yet that she should have avoided him was a new experience. He
found no opportunity for a further study of her by distant observation,
and hit upon a pretext for bringing her face to face with him. He found
fault with his linen, and directed that the laundress should be sent
"She is rather young, poor little thing," said the housemaid,
apologetically. "But since her mother's death she has enough to do to
keep above water, and we make shift with her. But I'll tell her, Sir."
"I will see her myself. Send her in when she comes," said Pearston.
One morning, accordingly, when he was answering a spiteful criticism
of a late work of his, he was told that she waited his pleasure in the
hall. He went out.
"About the washing," said the sculptor, stiffly. "I am a very
particular person, and I wish no preparation of lime to be used."
"I didn't know folks used it," replied the maiden, in a shy and
reserved tone, without looking at him.
"That's all right. And then, the mangling smashes the buttons."
"I haven't got a mangle, Sir," she murmured.
"Ah! that's satisfactory. And I object to so much borax in the
"I never put any—never heard o't," Avice returned in the same
"O I see."
All this time Pearston was thinking of the girl—that is to say.
Nature was working her plans for producing the next generation under
the cloak of a dialogue on linen. He could not read her individual
character owing to the confusing effect of her likeness to a woman whom
he had valued too late. He could not help seeing in her all that he
knew of another, and veiling in her all that did not harmonise with his
sense of metempsychosis.
The girl seemed to think of nothing but the business in hand. She
answered to the point, and was not aware of his sex or of his shape.
"I knew your mother, Avice," he said. "You remember my telling you
"Well—I have taken this house for two or three months, and you
will be very useful to me. You still live just outside the wall?"
"Yes, Sir," said the self-contained girl.
Demurely and dispassionatety she turned to leave—this pretty
creature with features so still. There was something strange in seeing
that from which he knew passing well move off thus, she who was in past
years so throbbingly alive to his presence that, not many yards from
this spot, she had flung her arms tenderly round him and given him a
kiss which, despised in its freshness, had revived in him latterly as
the dearest kiss of all his life. And now this "daps" of her mother,
this perfect copy, why did she turn away?
"Your mother was a refined and well-informed woman, I think I
"She was, Sir: everybody says so."
"I hope you resemble her."
She archly shook her head, and drew warily away.
"O! one thing more, Avice. I have not brought much linen, so you
must come to the house every day."
"Very good, Sir."
"You won't forget that?"
Then he let her go. He was a town man, and she an artless islander,
yet he had opened himself out without disturbing the epiderm of her
nature. It was monstrous that a maiden who had literally assumed the
personality of the woman he loved with such tender memory should be so
impervious. Perhaps it was he who was wanting. She might be Venus
masking as Minerva, because he was so many years older in outward show.
This brought him to the root of it. In his heart he was not a day
older than when he had wooed the mother at the daughter's present age.
His record moved on with the years, his sentiments stood still.
When he beheld the class of his fellow-subjects defined as buffers
and fogeys—imperturbable, matter-of-fact, slightly ridiculous beings,
past masters in the art of populating homes, schools, and colleges, and
present adepts in the science of giving away brides—how he envied
them, assuming them to feel as they appeared to feel, with their
commerce and their politics, their glasses and their pipes. They had
got past the distracting currents of passionateness, and were in the
calm waters of middle-aged philosophy. But he, their contemporary
almost, was tossed like a cork hither and thither upon the crest of
every fancy, precisely as he had been tossed when he was half his
present age, with the added condition now of double pain to himself.
Avice had gone, and he saw her no more that day. Since he could not
again call upon her, she was as inaccessible as if she had entered the
military citadel on the hilltop beyond them.
In the evening he went out and paced down the lane to the Red King's
castle, beside whose age the castle he occupied was but a thing of
yesterday. Below the castle precipice lay enormous blocks, which had
fallen from it, and several of them were carved over with names and
initials. He knew the spot and the old trick well, and by searching in
the faint moonrays he found a pair of such names which, as an ambitious
boy, he himself had cut. They were "Avice" and "Jocelyn"—Avice Caro's
and his own. The letters were now nearly worn away by the weather and
the brine. But close by, in quite fresh letters, stood another "Avice,"
coupled with the name "George." They could not have been there more
than two or three years, and the "Avice" was probably Avice the Second.
Who was George? Some boy admirer of her child-time doubtless.
He retraced his steps, and passed the Caros' house towards his own.
The revivified Avice animated the dwelling, and the light within the
room fell upon the window. She was just inside that blind.
Whenever she unexpectedly came to the castle he started, and even
trembled. It was not at her presence, but at the new condition, which
seemed to have something sinister in it. On the other hand, the most
abrupt encounter with him moved her to no emotion as it had moved her
prototype in the old days. She was indifferent to, almost unconscious
of, his propinquity. He was no more than a statue to her; she was a
growing fire to him.
A sudden Sapphic terror of love would ever and anon come upon the
sculptor, when his matured reasoning powers would insist upon informing
him of the fearful lapse from dignity that lay in this infatuation. It
threw him into a sweat. What if now, at last, he were doomed to do
penance for his past emotional wanderings (in a material sense), by
being chained in fatal fidelity to an object that his intellect
despised? Sometimes he thought he saw dimly visioned in that young face
"the white, implacable Aphrodite."
However, the Well-Beloved was alive again; had been lost and was
found. He was amazed at the change of front in himself. She had worn
the guise of strange women; she had been a woman of every class, from
the dignified daughter of some ecclesiastic or peer to a Nubian Almeh
with her handkerchiefs undulating to the beat of the tom-tom; but all
these embodiments had been endowed with a certain smartness, either of
the flesh or spirit: some with wit, a few with talent, and even genius.
But the new impersonation had apparently nothing beyond sex and
prettiness. She knew not how to sport a fan or handkerchief, hardly how
to pull on a glove.
But her limited life was innocent, and that went far. Poor little
Avice! her mother's image: there it all lay. After all, her parentage
was as good as his own; it was misfortune that had sent her down to
this. Odd as it seemed to him, her limitations were largely what he
loved her for. Her rejuvenating power over him had ineffable charm. He
felt as he had felt when standing beside her predecessor; but, alas! he
was twenty years further onward into the shade.
CHAPTER XVI. THE NEW BECOMES
A few mornings later he was looking through an upper back window
over a screened part of the garden. The door beneath him opened, and a
figure appeared tripping forth. She went round out of sight to where
the gardener was at work, and presently returned with a bunch of green
stuff fluttering in each hand. It was Avice, her dark hair now braided
up snugly under a cap. She sailed on with a rapt and unconscious face,
her thoughts a thousand removes from him.
How she had suddenly come to be an inmate of his own house he could
not understand, till he recalled the fact that he had given the castle
servants a whole holiday to attend a review of the yeomanry in the
watering-place over the bay, on their stating that they could provide a
temporary substitute to stay in the house. They had evidently called in
Avice. To his great pleasure he discovered their opinion of his
requirements to be such a mean one that they had called in no one else.
The spirit, as she seemed to him, brought his lunch into the room
where he was writing, and he beheld her uncover it. She went to the
window to adjust a blind which had slipped, and he had a good view of
her profile. It was not unlike that of one of the three goddesses in
Rubens's "Judgment of Paris," and in contour was nigh perfection. But
it was in her full face that the vision of her mother was most apparent.
"Did you cook all this, Avice?" he asked, arousing himself.
She turned and smiled, merely murmuring, "Yes, Sir."
Well he knew the arrangement of those white teeth! In the junction
of two of the upper ones there was a slight irregularity; no stranger
would have noticed it, nor would he, but that he knew of the same mark
in her mother's mouth, and looked for it here. Till Avice the Second
had revealed it this moment by her smile, he had never beheld that mark
since the parting from Avice the First, when she had smiled under his
kiss as the copy had done now.
Next morning, when dressing, he heard her through the ricketty floor
of the old building engaged in conversation with the other servants,
who had come, back, though she had not gone.
By this time she had regularly installed herself in his heart as the
new exponent of the Well-Beloved—as one who, by no initiative of his
own, had been chosen as the vehicle of her next début. He was struck
with the exquisite cadences of her voice rather than by its tone; she
would suddenly drop it to a rich whisper of roguishness, when the
slight rural monotony of its narrative speech disappeared, and soul and
heart—or what seemed soul and heart—resounded. The charm lay in the
intervals, using that word in its musical sense. She would say a few
syllables in one note, and end her sentence in a soft modulation
upwards, then downwards, then into her own note again. The curve of
sound was as artistic as any line of beauty ever struck by the
pencil—as satisfying as the curves of her who was the world's desire.
The subject of her discourse he cared nothing about—it was no more
his interest than his concern. He took special pains that in catching
her voice he might not comprehend her words. To the tones he had a
right, none to the articulations. By degrees he could not exist long
without this sound.
On Sunday evening he found that she went to church. He followed
behind her over the open road, keeping his eye on the little hat with
its bunch of cock's feathers as on a star. When she had passed in
Pearston observed her position and took a seat behind her.
Engaged in the study of her ear and the nape of her white neck, he
suddenly became aware of the presence of a lady still farther ahead in
the aisle, whose attire, though of black materials in the quietest
form, was of a cut which rather suggested London than this Ultima
Thule. For the minute he forgot, in his curiosity, that Avice
intervened. The lady turned her head somewhat, and, though she was
veiled with unusual thickness for the season, he seemed to recognise
Mrs. Pine-Avon in the form.
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER XVI. (Continued.) THE NEW
Why should Mrs. Pine-Avon be there? Pearston asked himself. If it
should, indeed, be she, he could hardly assume that she had come on his
The end of the service found his attention again concentrated on
Avice to such a degree that at the critical moment he overlooked the
mysterious lady in front of her, and learnt that she had left the
church by the side-door. Supposing it to have been Mrs. Pine-Avon, she
would probably be discovered staying at one of the hotels at the
watering-place over the bay, and to have come along the Pebble Bank, as
so many did, for an evening drive. For the present, however, the
explanation was not forthcoming; and he did not seek it.
When he emerged from the church the great placid eye of the
lighthouse at the Beal Point was open, and he moved thitherward a few
steps to escape Nichola Pine-Avon, or her double, and the rest of the
congregation. Turning at length, he hastened homeward along the now
deserted trackway, intending to overtake his revitalised Avice. But he
could see nothing of her, and concluded that she had walked too fast
for him. Arriving at his own gate, he paused a moment, and perceived
that Avice's little freehold was still in darkness. She had not come.
He retraced his steps, but could not find her, the only persons on
the road being a man and his wife, as he knew them to be, though he
could not see them, from the words of the man—
"If you had not already married me, you would cut my acquaintance!
That's a pretty thing for a wife to say!"
The remark reminded him unpleasantly of his own experiences, and
presently he went back again. Avice's cottage was now lighted: she must
have come round by the other road. Satisfied that she was safely
domiciled for the night, he opened the gate of Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle,
and retired to his room also.
Eastward from the grounds the cliffs were rugged and the view of the
opposite coast picturesque in the extreme. A little door from the lawn
gave him immediate access to the rocks and shore on this side. Without
the door was a dip-well of pure water, which possibly had supplied the
inmates of the adjoining and now ruinous Red King's Castle in the time
of the Crusades. On a sunny morning he was meditating here, when he
discerned a figure on the shore below spreading white linen upon the
Jocelyn descended. It was Avice, as he had supposed, she having now
returned to her own occupation. Her shapely pink arms, though slight,
were plump enough to show dimples at the elbows, and were set off by
her purple cotton print, which the shore-breeze licked and tantalised.
He stood near, without speaking. The wind dragged a shirt-sleeve from
the pebble which held it down. Pearston stooped and put a heavier one
in its place.
"Thank you," she said quietly. She then turned up her hazel eyes,
and seemed gratified to perceive that her assistant was Pearston. She
had plainly been so wrapped in her own thoughts that she had not
considered him till then.
The young girl continued to converse with him in friendly frankness,
showing neither ardour nor shyness. As for love— it was evidently
further from her thoughts than even death and dissolution.
When one of the sheets became intractable Jocelyn said, "Do you hold
it down, and I'll put the pebbles."
She acquiesced, and in placing a pebble his hand touched hers.
It was a young hand, rather long and thin, a little damp and coddled
from her slopping. In setting down the last stone, he laid it, by a
pure accident, rather heavily on her fingers.
"I am very, very sorry!" Jocelyn exclaimed. "O, I have bruised the
skin, Avice!" Saying which he seized her fingers to examine the damage
"No, Sir, you haven't!" she cried luminously, allowing him to retain
her hand for examination without the least objection. "Why—that's
where I scratched it this morning with a pin. You didn't hurt me a bit
with the popple-stone."
Although her gown was purple, there was a little black crape bow
upon each arm. He knew what it meant, and it saddened him. "Do you ever
visit your mother's grave?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir, sometimes. I am going there to-night to water the
She had now finished here, and they parted. That evening, when the
sky was red, he emerged by the garden-door and passed her house. The
blinds were not down, and he could see her sewing within. While he
paused she sprang up as if she had forgotten the hour, and tossed on
her hat. Jocelyn strode ahead and round the corner, and was halfway up
the straggling street before he discerned her little figure behind him.
He hastened past the lads and young women with clinking buckets who
were drawing water from the fountains by the wayside, and took the
direction of the church. With the disappearance of the sun the
lighthouse had set up its star against the sky, the dark church rising
in the foreground. Here he allowed her to overtake him.
"You loved your mother much?" said Jocelyn.
"I did, Sir; of course I did," said the girl, who tripped so lightly
that it seemed he might have carried her on his hand.
Pearston wished to say, "So did I," but did not like to disclose
events which she, apparently, did not guess. Avice fell into thought,
"Mother had a very sad life for some time when she was about as old
as I. I should not like mine to be as hers. Her young man proved false
to her because she wouldn't agree to island custom, and it grieved
mother almost all her life. I wouldn't ha' fretted about him, if I'd
been she. She would never mention his name, but I think he was a
wicked, cruel man; and I hate to think of him."
After this he could not go into the churchyard with her, and walked
onward alone to the south of the isle. He was wretched all night. He
would not have stood where he did stand in the ranks of an imaginative
profession if he had not been at the mercy of every sentiment of fancy
that can beset man. It was in his weaknesses as a citizen and a
national unit that his strength lay as an artist, and he felt it
childish to complain of susceptibilities not only innate but cultivated.
He saw a terrible vengeance ahead. What had he done to offend the
cruel Aphrodite that she should scheme this thing against him? The
Well-Beloved, after flitting from the frame of Nichola Pine-Avon to the
phantom of a dead woman whom he never adored in her lifetime, had taken
up her abode in the living representative of that phantom with a
permanence of hold which the absolute indifference of that little
brown-eyed representative only seemed to intensify.
Did he really wish to proceed to marriage with this chit of a girl?
He certainly did. It was true that as he studied her more closely he
saw defects in addition to her social insufficiencies. His judgment,
hoodwinked as it was, told him that she was colder in her nature,
commoner in her character, than that well-read, bright little woman
Avice the First. But twenty years make a difference in ideals, and the
added demands of middle-age in physical form are more than balanced by
its concessions as to the spiritual content. He looked at himself in
the glass, and felt glad at those inner deficiencies in Avice which
formerly would have impelled him to reject her.
There was a strange difference in his regard of his present folly
and of his love in his youthful time. Now he could be mad with method,
knowing it to be madness: then he was compelled to make-believe his
madness wisdom. In those days any flash of reason upon his loved one's
imperfections was blurred over hastily and with fear. Such penetrative
vision now did not cool him. He knew he was the creature of a tendency;
and indulged himself in continuing the pleasant glide.
CHAPTER XVII. HIS OWN SOUL CONFRONTS
From his castle and its grounds and the cliffs hard by he could
command every move and aspect of her who was the rejuvenated Spirit of
the Past to him—in the effulgence of whom all sordid details were
Among other things, he observed that she was often anxious when it
rained. If, after a wet day, a golden streak appeared in the sky over
the West Bay, under a lid of cloud, her manner was joyous and her tread
This puzzled him; and he soon found that if he endeavoured to
encounter her she shunned him—stealthily and subtly, but
unmistakably. He determined to find out the meaning of this avoidance.
One evening, accordingly, when she had left her cottage and tripped off
in the direction of Slopeway Well, he set out by the same route,
resolved to await her return along the high and level roadway which
stretched between that place and East Wake.
He reached the top of the old road where it makes a sudden descent
to the townlet, but she did not appear. Turning back, he sauntered
along till he had nearly reached his own house again. Then he retraced
his steps, and thus, in the still night, he walked backwards and
forwards on the bare and lofty level; the stars above him, the two
lighthouses on the distant point, the lightship winking from the
sandbank, the combing of the pebble-beach by the tide audible from
beneath, the church away south-westward, where the original Avice lay.
He walked till his legs ached, and still she did not come. It was
more than foolish to wait, yet he could not help waiting. At length he
discerned a dot of a figure, which he knew to be hers rather by its
motion than by its shape.
How strange this prepossession was! How incomparably the immaterial
dream dwarfed the grandest of substantial things, when here, between
those three sublimities—the sky, the rock, and the sea—the minute
personality of this washergirl filled his consciousness to its
extremest boundary, and the stupendous inanimate scene shrank to a
But all at once the approaching figure had disappeared. He looked
about; she had certainly vanished. At one side of the road was a low
wall, but she could not have gone behind that without considerable
trouble and singular conduct. He looked behind him; she had reappeared
farther on the road.
Jocelyn, desperate, ran after; and, discerning his movement, Avice
stood still. When he came up, she was slily shaking with restrained
"Well, what does this mean, my dear girl?" he asked.
Her inner mirth bursting out in spite of her, she turned askance and
said: "When you was following me to Slopeway Well, two hours ago, I
looked round and saw 'ee, and hid behind a stone! You passed and
brushed my frock without seeing me. And when, on my way backalong, I
saw you waiting here about again, I slipped over the wall, and ran past
you! If I had not stopped and looked round at 'ee, you would never have
"What did you do that for, you elf!"
"That you shouldn't find me."
"That's not exactly a reason. Give another, dear Avice," he sa'd,
as he turned and walked beside her homeward.
She hesitated. "Come!" he urged again.
"'Twas because I thought you wanted to be my young man," she
"What a wild thought of yours! Supposing I did, wouldn't you have
"Not now. ... And not for long, even if it had been sooner than now."
"If I tell you, you won't laugh at me or let anybody else know?"
"Then I will tell you," she said quite seriously. "'Tis because I
get tired o' my lovers as soon as I get to know them well. What I see
in one young man for a while soon leaves him and goes into another
yonder, and I follow, and then what I adore fades out of him and
springs up somewhere else; and so I fellow on, and never fix to one. I
have loved fifteen already! Yes, fifteen, I am almost ashamed to say,"
she repeated laughing. "I can't help it, Sir, I assure you. Of course
it is really, to me, the same one all through, only I can't catch him!"
She added anxiously, "You won't tell anybody of this in me, will you,
Sir? Because if it were known I am afraid nobody would marry me when I
wish to marry."
Pearston was surprised into stillness. Here was this obscure and
almost illiterate girl engaged in the pursuit of the impossible ideal,
just as he had been himself doing for the last twenty years. She, like
him, was doing it quite involuntarily, by sheer necessity of her
organisation, puzzled all the while at her own instinct. He suddenly
thought of its bearing upon himself, and said, with a sinking heart—
"Am I—one of them?"
She pondered critically.
"You was—for a week; when I first saw you."
"Only a week?"
"What made the being of your fancy forsake my form and go elsewhere?"
"Well—though you seemed handsome and gentlemanly at first"—
"I found you too old soon after."
"You are a candid young person."
"But you asked me, Sir!" she expostulated.
"I did; and, having been answered, I won't intrude upon you longer.
So cut along home as fast as you can. It is getting late."
When she had passed out of earshot he also followed homewards. This
pursuit of the Well-Beloved was, then, of the nature of a knife which
could cut two ways. To be the pursuer was one thing: to be one of the
corpses from which the ideal inhabitant had departed was another; and
this was what he was now, in the mockery of fate.
Drawing near his own gate he smelt tobacco, and could just discern
two figures in the side lane leading past Avice's door. They did not,
however, enter her house, but strolled onward to the narrow pass
conducting to Red King Castle and the sea. He was in momentary
heart-sickness at the thought that they might be Avice with a lover,
but a faintly argumentative tone from the man informed him that they
were the same married couple going homeward whom he had encountered on
a previous occasion.
The next day he gave one of the servants a half-holiday on purpose
to get Avice into the castle again for a few hours, the better to
observe her. While she was pulling down the blinds at sunset a whistle
of peculiar quality came from some point on the cliffs outside the
lawn. He observed that her colour rose slightly, though she bustled
about as if she had noticed nothing.
Pearston suddenly suspected that she had not only fifteen past
admirers but a current one. Still, he might be mistaken. Stimulated now
by ancient memory and present passion to use every effort to make her
his wife, despite her conventional unfitness, he strung himself up to
sift this mystery. If he could only win her—and how could a country
girl refuse such an opportunity? He could pack her off to school for
two or three years, marry her, enlarge her mind by a little travel, and
take his chance of the rest. As to her want of ardour for him—so
sadly in contrast with her sainted mother's affection— a man twenty
years older than his bride could expect no better, and he would be well
content to put up with it in the pleasure of possessing one in whom
seemed to linger as an aroma all the charm of his youth and his early
CHAPTER XVIII. JUKTAPOSITIONS.
It was a sad and leaden afternoon, and Pearston paced up the long,
steep street of Slopeway Well. On both sides of the road young girls
stood with pitchers at the fountains which bubbled up there, and behind
the houses rose the massive summit of the isle—crowned with its
As you approach the upper end of the street all progress seems about
to be prevented by the almost vertical face of the escarpment, into
which your track apparently runs pointblank: a confronting mass which,
if it were to slip down, would overwhelm the whole town. But in a
moment you find that the road, the old Roman highway into the
peninsula, turn; at a sharp angle when it reaches the base of the
scarp, and ascends in a stiff incline to the right. To the left there
is also another ascending road, modern, as steep as the first, and
perfectly straight. This is the road to the forts.
Pearston arrived at the forking of the ways, and paused for breath.
Before turning to the right, his proper course, he looked up the left
road to the fortifications. It was long, white, regular, tapering to a
vanishing point, like a lesson in perspective. About a quarter of the
way up a girl was resting beside a basket of white linen; and by the
shape of her hat and the nature of her burden he recognised her to be
She did not see him, and abandoning the right-hand course he slowly
ascended the incline she had taken. Drawing near, he observed that her
attention was absorbed by something aloft. He followed the direction of
her gaze. Above them towered the green-grey mountain of grassy stone,
here levelled at the top by military art. The sky-line was broken every
now and then by a little peg-like object-a sentry-box; and near one of
these a small red spot kept creeping backwards and forwards
monotonously against the heavy sky.
Then he divined that she had a soldier lover.
She turned her head, saw him, and took up her clothesbasket to
continue the ascent. The steepness was such that to climb it
unencumbered was a breathless business; the linen made her task a
cruelty to her. "You'll never get to the forts with that weight," he
said. "Give it to me."
But she would not, and he stood still, watching her as she panted up
the way; for the moment an irradiated being, the epitome of a whole
sex: by the beams of his own infatuation— ... robed in such
exceeding glory That he beheld her not; not, that is, as she really
was, even to himself sometimes. But to the soldier what was she?
Smaller and smaller she waned up the rigid mathematical road, still
gazing up at the soldier aloft, as Pearston gazed up at her. He could
just discern sentinels springing up at the different coigns of vantage
as she passed, but seeing who she was they did not intereept her; and
presently she crossed the drawbridge over the enormous chasm
surrounding the forts, passed the sentries there also, and disappeared
through the arch into the interior. Pearston could not see the sentry
now, and there occurred to him the hateful idea that this scarlet rival
was meeting and talking freely to her; perhaps, relieved of duty,
escorting her across the interior, carrying her basket, her tender body
encircled by his arm.
"What the devil are you staring at, as if you were in a trance?"
Pearston turned his head; and there stood his old friend
Somers—still looking the long-leased bachelor he was.
"I might say what the devil do you do here, if I weren't so glad to
Somers said that he had come to see what was detaining his friend in
such an out-of-the-way place at that time of year, and incidentally to
get some fresh air into his own lungs. Pearston made him welcome, and
they went towards Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle.
"You were staring, as far as I could see, at a pretty little
washerwoman with a basket of clothes?" resumed the painter.
"Yes; it was that to you, but not to me. Behind the mere pretty
island-girl (to the world) is, in my eye, the Idea, in Platonic
phraseology—the essence and epitome of all that is desirable in this
existence. ... I am under a curse, Somers. Yes, I am under a curse. To
be always following a phantom which I saw in woman after women while
she was at a distance, but vanishing away on close approach, was bad
enough; but now the terrible thing is that the phantom does not vanish,
but stays to tantalise me even when I am near enough to see that it is
a phantom! That girl holds me, though my eyes are open and I see that I
am a fool!"
Somers regarded the visionary look of his friend, which rather
intensified than decreased as his years wore on, but made no further
remark. When they reached the castle Somers gazed round upon the
scenery, and Pearston, signifying the quaint little Elizabethan
cottage, said, "That's where she lives."
"What a romantic place altogether! A man might love a scarecrow or
"But a woman mightn't. Scenery doesn't impress them. This girl is as
"You once were."
"Exactly. She has told me so—candidly. And it hits me hard."
Somers stood still in sudden thought. "Well—that is a strange
turning of the tables!" he said. "But you wouldn't really marry her,
"I would—to-morrow. Why shouldn't I? What are fame and name and
society to me?"
"Then you'll win."
While they were sitting after dinner that evening their quiet
discourse was interrupted by the long low whistle from the cliffs
without. Somers took no notice, but Pearston started. That whistle
always occurred at the same point of time in the evening: then she was
helping again in the house. Aphrodite's own messenger in a
kitchen—was there ever such satire to a man of art! He excused
himself for a moment to his visitor and went out upon the dark lawn. A
crunching of light feet upon the gravel mixed in with the articulation
of the sea—steps light as if they were winged. And then he knew two
minutes later that the mouth of some hulking fellow was upon hers,
which he himself hardly ventured to look at, so touching was its young
Hearing people about—among others a couple quarrelling, for there
were rough as well as gentle people here in the island—he returned to
the house. Next day Somers roamed abroad to look for scencry for a
marine painting, and, going out to seek him, Pearston met Avice.
"So you have a lover, my lady!" he said severely, to which she
admitted that it was the fact. "You won't stick to him," he continued.
"I think I may this one," said she. "He deserted me once, but he
"I suppose he's a wonderful sort of fellow?"
"He's good enough for me."
"So handsome no doubt."
"Handsome enough for me."
"So refined and respectable."
"Refined and respectable enough for me."
He could not disturb her equanimity, and let her pass. The next day
was Sunday, and Somers having chosen his view at the other end of the
island, Pearston determined to see Avice's lover. In the afternoon he
found that she had left her cottage stronghold, and, divining the
direction they would be likely to take, went on towards the lighthouses
at the Beal. Turning when he had reached the nearest, he presently saw
on the lonely road between the quarries a young man, evidently
connected with the stone trade, with a girl upon his arm, in whom he
soon recognised Avice the Second.
She looked prettily guilty and blushed a little under his glance.
The man's was one of the typical island physiognomies— his features
energetic and wary in their expression, and half covered with a close,
crisp black beard. Pearston fancied that out of his keen dark eyes
there glimmered a dry humour at the situation, as though he meant to
say: "Isn't this a joke, Sir? I've got the pretty girl and you've got
If so, Avice must have told him of Pearston's symptoms of
tenderness. This girl, whom, for her dear mother's sake almost more
than for her own attractiveness, he would have guarded as the apple of
his eye, how could she estimate him so flippantly!
The overpowering sense of humiliation at having brought himself to
this position with the antitype, by his early slight of her who was the
type, blinded him for the moment to what struck him with sudden
surprise a short time after. The man upon whose arm she hung was not a
solider. What, then, became of her entranced gaze at the sentinel? She
could hardly have transferred her affections so promptly; or, to give
her the benefit of his own theory, her Well-Beloved could scarcely have
fitted from frame to frame in so very brief an interval. And which of
them, then, had been he who whistled softly in the dusk to her?
On account of this puzzling incident he did not attempt to seek out
Alfred Somers, but walked homeward, moodily thinking that the strong
desire to make reparation to the original woman by wedding and
enriching the copy—which lent such an unprecedented permanence to his
new love—was thwarted, as if by set intention of his destiny.
At the door of the grounds about the castle there stood a carriage.
He observed that it was not one of the flys from Slopeway Well, but
that it came apparently from the fashionable town across the bay.
Wondering why the visitor had not driven in, he entered, to find in the
drawing-room no other person than Nichola Pine-Avon.
At his first glance upon her, fashionably dressed and graceful in
movement, she seemed beautiful; at the second, when he observed that
her face was pale and agitated, she seemed pathetic likewise.
Altogether, she was now a very different figure from her who, sitting
in the chair with such finished composure, had snubbed him in her
drawing-room in Hamptonshire Square.
"You are surprised at this? Of course you are!" she said in a low,
pleading voice, as she languidly lifted her heavy eyelids while he was
holding her hand. "But I couldn't help it! I know I have done something
to offend you—have I not? Oh! what can it be, that you have come away
to this outlandish rock to live with barbarians in the midst of the
"You have not offended me, my dear Mrs. Pine-Avon," he said. "How
very sorry I am that you should have supposed it! Yet I am glad, too,
that your supposition should have done me the good turn of bringing you
here to see me."
"I am staying at Budmouth-Regis," she explained.
"Then I did see you at a church service here a little while back?"
She blushed faintly upon her pallor, and she sighed. Then their eyes
met. "Well," she said at last, "I don't know why I shouldn't show the
virtue of candour. You know what it means. I was the stronger once; now
I am the weaker. Whatever pain I may have given you in the ups and
downs of our acquaintance I am sorry for, and—would willingly repair
all errors of the past by—being amenable to reason in the future."
It was impossible that jocelyn should not feel a tender impulsion
towards this attractive and once independent woman, who from every
worldly point of view was an excellent match for him—a superior
match, indeed. He took her hand again and held it awhile, and a faint
wave of gladness seemed to flow through her. But no—he could go no
further. That island girl, in her coquettish Sunday frock and little
hat with its bunch of hen's feathers held him as by strands of Manilla
rope. He dropped Nichola's hand.
"I am leaving Budmouth to-morrow," she said. "That was why I felt I
must call. You did not know I had been there through the Whitsun
"I did not, indeed: or I should have come to see you."
"I didn't like to write. I wish I had, now!"
"I wish you had, too, dear Mrs. Pine-Avon."
But it was "Nichola" that she wanted to be. As they reached the
landau he told her that he should be back in town himself again soon,
and would call immediately. At the moment of his words Avice Caro, now
alone, passed close along by the carriage on the other side, towards
her house hard at hand. She did not turn head or eye to the pair: they
seemed to be in her view objects of absolute indifference.
Pearston became cold as a stone. The sudden chill towards Nichola
that the presence of the girl,—sprite, witch, elf that she
was—brought with it came well-nigh like a doom. In common speech, he
knew what a fool he was. But he was utterly powerless in the grasp of
this other passion. He cared more for Avice's finger-tips than for Mrs.
Pine-Avon's whole personality.
Perhaps Nichola saw it, for she said mournfully: "Now I have done
all I could! I felt that the only counterpoise to my cruelty to you in
my drawing-room would be to come as a suppliant to yours."
"It is most handsome and noble of you," said he, with courtesy
rather than enthusiasm.
Then adieux were spoken, and she drove away. But Pearston saw only
the retreating Avice, and knew that his punishment for his erratic
idolatries had come.
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER XIX. SHE FAILS TO VANISH
WHEN CLOSELY CONFRONTED.
Pearston had not turned far back towards the castle when he was
overtaken by Somers and the man who carried his painting lumber. They
paced together to the door; the man deposited the articles and went
away, and the two walked up and down before entering.
"I met an extremely interesting woman in the road out there," said
"Ah, she is! A sprite, a sylph—Psyche indeed!"
"I was struck with her."
"It shows how beauty will out through the homeliest guise."
"Yes, it will; though not always. And this case doesn't prove it,
for the lady's attire was in the latest and most approved taste."
"O! you mean the lady who was driving?"
"Of course. What! were you thinking of the little cottage girl
outside here? I did meet her, but what's she? Very well for one's
picture, though hardly for one's fireside. This lady"—
"Is Mrs. Pine-Avon. A kind, proud woman, who'll do what people with
no pride would not condescend to think of. She is leaving Budmouth
to-morrow, and she drove across to see me. You know how things seemed
to be going with us at one time. But I am no good to any woman. She's
been very generous towards me, which I've not been to her. ... She'll
ultimately throw herself away upon some wretch unworthy of her, no
"Do you think so?" murmured Somers. After a while he said abruptly,
"I 'll marry her myself, if she'll have me. I like the look of her."
"I wish you would, Alfred, or rather could! She has long had an idea
of slipping out of the world of fashion into the world of art. She is a
woman of individuality and earnest instincts. I am in real trouble
about her. I won't say she can be won—it would be ungenerous of me to
say that. But try. I can bring you together easily."
"I'll marry her, if she's willing." With the phlegmatic dogmatism
that was part of him, Somers added: "When you have decided to marry,
take the first nice woman you meet. They are all alike."
"Well—you don't know her yet," replied Jocelyn, who could at least
give praise where he could not give love.
"But you do, and I'll take her on the strength of your judgment. Is
she really pretty?—I had but the merest glance. But I know she is, or
she wouldn't have caught your discriminating eye."
"You may take my word for it; she looks as well at hand as afar."
"What colour are her eyes?"
"Her eyes? I don't go much into colour, being professionally sworn
to form. But, let me see—grey; and her hair rather light than dark
"I wanted something darker," said Somers, airily. "There are so many
fair models among native Englishwomen. Still, blondes are useful
property ... Well, well; this is flippancy! But I liked the look of
Somers had gone back to town. It was a wet day on the little
peninsula; but Pearston walked out as far as the garden-house of his
hired castle, where he sat down and smoked. This erection being on the
boundary-wall of his property, his ear could now and then catch the
tones of Avice's voice from her open-doored cottage, a few yards off in
the lane which skirted his fence; and he noticed that there were no
modulations in it. He knew why that was. She wished to go out, and
could not. He had observed before that when she was planning an outing
a particular note would come into her voice during the preceding hours:
a dove's roundness of sound; no doubt the effect upon her voice of her
thoughts of her lover, or lovers. Yet the latter it could not be. She
was absolutely single-hearted: half an eye could see that. Whence,
then, the two men? Possibly the quarrier was a relation?
There seemed reason in this, especially when, going out into the
lane, he encountered one of the very red-jackets he had been thinking
of. Soldiers were seldom seen in this outer part of the isle; their
beat from the forts, when on pleasure bent, was usually in the opposite
direction, and this man must have had a special reason for coming
hither. Pearston surveyed him. He was a round-faced, beer-blown fellow,
having two little pieces of moustache on his upper lip, like a pair of
minnows rampant, and small black eyes, over which the Glengarry cap
straddled flat. It was altogether a hateful idea that her tender cheek
should be kissed by the lips of this thick and heavy young man, who had
never been sublimed by a single battle, even with defenceless savages.
He went before her house, looked at the door, and passed on down the
crooked way to the cliffs, where there was a path back to the forts.
But he did not adopt it, returning by the way he had come. This showed
his wish to pass the house anew. She gave no sign, however, and the
Pearston could not be satisfied that Avice was in the house, and in
an uncontrollable impulse he crossed over to the front of her little
freehold, and tapped at the door, which stood ajar.
Nobody came, and, hearing a slight movement within, he crossed the
threshold. Avice was there alone, sitting on a low stool in a dark
corner, as though she wished to be unobserved by any casual passer-by.
She looked up at him without emotion or apparent surprise; but he could
then see that she was crying. The view, for the first time, of distress
in an unprotected young girl, towards whom he felt drawn by ties of
extraordinary delicacy and tenderness, moved Pearston beyond measure.
He entered without ceremony.
"Avice, my dear girl!" he said. "Something is the matter!"
She looked a passive assent, and he went on: "Now tell me all about
it. Perhaps I can help you. Come, tell me."
"I can't!" she murmured. "Grammer Stockwool is upstairs, and she'll
hear!" (Mrs. Stockwool was the old woman who had lived with the girl
for company since her mother's death.)
"Then come into my garden opposite. There we shall be quite private."
In answer to this she rose, put on her hat, and accompanied him to
the door. Here she asked him if the lane were empty, and on his looking
up and down and assuring her that it was, she crossed over and entered
with him through the gardenwall.
The place was a shady and secluded one, though through the boughs
the sea could be seen quite near at hand, below the edge of the cliff,
its moanings being distinctly audible. A water-drop from a tree fell
here and there, but the rain was not enough to hurt them.
"Now let me hear it," he said soothingly. "You may tell me with the
greatest freedom. I was a friend of your mother's, you know. That is, I
knew her; and I'll be a friend of yours."
The statement was risky, since he wished her not to suspect him of
being her mother's false one. But that lover's name appeared to be
entirely unknown to the present Avice.
"I can't tell you, Sir," she replied unwillingly; "except that it
has to do with my own changeableness—the failing I owned to you, if
it is a failing. The rest is the secret of somebody else."
"I am sorry for that," said he.
"I am getting to care for one I ought not to think of. I wish I
could get away!"
"You mean from the island?"
Pearston reflected. His presence in London had been desirable for
some time; yet he had delayed going because this spot had latterly
become endeared to him—partly by old memories revived, partly by
their re-embodiment in the new form at his side. But to go and take her
with him would afford him opportunity for watching over her, tending
her mind, and developing it; while it might remove her from some
looming danger. It was a somewhat awkward guardianship for him, as a
lonely man, to carry out; still, it could be done. He asked her
abruptly if she would like to go away for a while.
"I like best to stay here," she answered. "Still, I should not mind
going somewhere, because I think I ought to."
"Would you like London?"
Avice's face lost its weeping shape. "How could that be?" she said.
"I have been thinking that you could come to my house and make
yourself useful in some way. I rent just now one of those new places
called flats, which you may have heard of; and I have a studio at the
"I haven't heard of 'em," she said without interest.
"Well, I have two servants there, and you can help them for a month
"Would polishing furniture be any good? I can do that."
"I haven't much furniture that requires polishing. But you can clear
away plaster and clay messes in the studio, and chippings of stone, and
help me in modelling, and dust casts of hands and heads and feet and
bones, and other objects."
She was startled, yet attracted, almost fascinated by the novelty of
"Only for a time?" she said.
"Only for a time. As short as you like, and as long."
The deliberate manner in which, after the first surprise, Avice
discussed the arrangements that he suggested, might have told him how
far any feeling for himself beyond friendship, and possibly gratitude,
was from occupying her breast. But there was nothing really extravagant
in the discrepancy between their ages, and he hoped, after shaping her
to himself, to win her. What had grieved her to tears she would not
more particularly tell.
There was naturally not much need of preparation for Avice, and she
seemed willing, and even anxious, to start, making less preparation
than, being a woman, he would have expected her to require. He could
not quite understand why, if she were in love and had felt at first
averse to leave the island, she should be so precipitate now. Above
all, not a soul was to know of her departure.
Fancying her wishes on this point to be based on her fear of rumour,
he took great care to compromise in no way a girl in whom his interest
was as protective as it was passionate. Pearston accordingly left her
to get out of the island alone, but he awaited her at a station a few
miles up the railway, where, discovering himself to her through the
carriage-window, he entered the next compartment, his frame pervaded by
a glow which was almost joy at having for the first time in his charge
one who inherited the flesh and bore the name so early associated with
his own, and only not united to him through the merest trick of time.
A sense of putting things right which had been wrong through many
years sustained Pearston in the face of this too obviously unusual step
of bestowing so much attention upon one who, in a worldly view, would
at the best be a clog upon his social and artistic activities, should
these, which had now slept for some while, again awaken.
CHAPTER XX. A HOMELY MEDIUM DOES NOT
DULL THE IMAGE.
It was dark when the four-wheeled cab wherein he had brought Avice
from the station stood at the entrance-door to the pile of flats of
which Pearston occupied one floor—then less common as residences in
London than they are now. Leaving Avice to alight and get the luggage
brought in with the assistance of the porter, Pearston went upstairs.
To his surprise his floor was silent, and on entering with a latchkey
the rooms were all in darkness. He descended to the hall, where Avice
was standing helpless beside the luggage, while the porter was outside
with the cabman.
"Do you know what has become of my servants?" asked Jocelyn.
"What—and ain't they there, Saur? Ah, then my belief is that what
I suspected is thrue! You didn't leave your winecellar unlocked, did
you, Saur, by no mistake?"
Pearston considered. He thought he might have left the key with his
elder servant, whom he had believed he could trust, especially as the
cellar was not well stocked.
"Ah, then it was so! She's been very queer, Saur, this last week or
two. O, yes, sending messages down the spakin'tube which were like
madness itself, and ordering us this and that, till we would take no
notice at all. I see the housemaid go out one morning, and possibly she
went for good! Shure, if ye 'd writtèn, Saur, I'd ha' got the place
ready, though it's not me duty at all!"
When Pearston got to his floor again he found that the cellar-door
was open; some bottles were standing empty that had been full, and many
abstracted altogether. All other articles in the house, however,
appeared to be intact. His letter to his housekeeper lay in the box as
the postman had left it.
By this time the luggage had been sent up in the lift; and Avice,
like so much more luggage, stood at the door, the hallporter behind
offering his assistance.
"Come here, Avice,"said the sculptor. "What shall we do now? Here's
a pretty state of affairs!"
Avice could suggest nothing till she was struck with the bright
thought that she should light a fire.
"Light a fire?—ah, yes! ... I wonder if we could manage. This is
an odd coincidence—and awkward!" he murmured. "Very well, light a
"Is this the kitchen, Sir, all mixed up with the parlours?"
"Then I think I can do all that's wanted here for a bit; at any
rate, till you can get help, Sir. At least, I could if I could find the
fuel-house. 'Tis no such big place as I thought!"
"That's right: take courage!" said he with a tender smile."Now, I'll
dine out this evening, and leave the place for you to arrange as best
you can with the help of the porter's wife downstairs."
This Pearston accordingly did, and so their common residence began.
Feeling more and more strongly that some danger awaited her in her
native island he determined not to send her back till the lover or
lovers who seemed to trouble her should have cooled off. He was quite
willing to take the risk of his action thus far in his solicitous
regard for her.
It was a dual solitude, indeed; for, though Pearston and Avice were
the only two people in the flat, they did not keep each other company,
the former being as scrupulously fearful of going near her now that he
had the opportunity as he had been prompt to seek her when he had none.
They lived in silence, his messages to her being frequently written on
scraps of paper deposited where she could see them. It was not without
a pang that he saw her unconsciousness of their isolated position—a
position to which, had she experienced any reciprocity of sentiment,
she would readily have been alive.
Considering that, though not profound, she was hardly a
matter-of-fact girl, as that phrase is commonly understood, she was
exasperating in the matter-of-fact quality of her responses to the
occasional friendly remarks which would escape him in spite of himself,
as well as in her general conduct. Whenever he formed some culinary
excuse for walking across the two yards' width of passage which
separated his room from the kitchen and spoke through the doorway to
her, she answered, "Yes, Sir," or "No, Sir," without turning her eyes
from the particular work that she was engaged in.
In the usual course he would have obtained a couple of properly
qualified new servants immediately; but he lived on with the one, or
rather the less than one, that the person of this cottage-girl
afforded. It had been his almost invariable custom to dine at one of
his clubs. Now he sat at home over the miserable chop or steak to which
he limited himself in dread lest she should complain of there being too
much work for one person, and demand to be sent home. A charwoman came
every two or three days, effecting an extraordinary consumption of food
and alcoholic liquids: Pearston dreaded her presence, lest in
conversing with Avice she should open the girl's eyes to the oddity of
her situation. Avice could see for herself that there must have been
two or three servants in the flat during his former residence there;
but his reasons for doing without them seemed never to strike her.
His original intention had been to keep her occupied exclusively at
the studio, but accident had modified this. However, he sent her round
one morning, and entering himself shortly after, found her engaged in
wiping the layers of dust from the casts and models.
The colour of this dust never ceased to amaze her. "It is like the
hold of a collier," she said, "and the beautiful faces of these clay
people are quite spoilt by it."
"I suppose you'll marry some day, Avice?" remarked Pearston, without
replying, as he regarded her thoughtfully.
"Some do and some don't," she said, with a reserved smile, still
attending to the casts.
"You are very offhand," said he.
She archly weighed that remark without further speech. It was
tantalising conduct in the face of his instinct to cherish her;
especially when he regarded the charm of her bending profile; the
well-characterised though softly lined nose, the round chin with, as it
were, a second leap in its curve to the throat, and the sweep of the
eyelashes over the cheek during the sedulously lowered glance. How
futilely he had laboured to express the character of that face in clay,
and, while catching it in substance, had yet lost something that was
essential to it!
That evening at dusk, in the stress of writing letters, he sent her
out for stamps. She had been absent some quarter of an hour, when,
suddenly drawing himself up from over his writing-table, it flashed
upon him that he had absolutely forgotten her total ignorance of London.
The head post-office, to which he had sent her, was two or three
streets off, and he had made his request in the most general manner,
which she had acceded to with alacrity enough. How could he have done
such an unreflecting thing?
Pearston went to the window. It was about nine o'clock, and, owing
to her absence, the blinds were not down. He opened it, and stepped out
upon the balcony. The green shade of his lamp screened its rays from
the gloom without. Over the opposite square a young moon hung, and to
the right there stretched a long street, filled with a diminishing
array of lamps, some single, some in clusters, among them an occasional
blue or red one. From a corner came the notes of a piano-organ
strumming out a stirring march of Donizetti's. The shadowy black
figures of pedestrians moved up, down, and across the embrowned
roadway. Above the roofs was a bank of livid mist, and higher a
greenish-blue sky, in which stars were visible, though its lower part
was still pale with daylight, against which rose chimney-pots, in the
form of elbows, prongs, and fists.
From the whole scene proceeded a ground rumble, miles in extent,
amid which individual rattles, voices, a tin whistle, the bark of a
dog, made themselves heard. The whole noise impressed him with the
sense that no one in its enormous mass imagined rest to be ever
In this illimitable ocean of humanity there was a unit of existence,
his Avice, wandering alone.
Pearston looked at his watch. She had been gone half an hour. It was
impossible to distinguish her at this distance, even if she approached.
He came inside, and putting on his hat, determined to go out and seek
her. He reached the end of the street, and there was nothing of her to
be seen. She had the option of two or three routes from this point to
the postoffice; yet he plunged at random into one, till he reached the
office, to find it quite deserted. Almost distracted now by his anxiety
for her, he retreated as rapidly as he had come, but regained home only
to find that she had not returned.
He suddenly recollected telling her that if she should ever lose her
way she must call a cab and drive home. It occurred to him that this
was what she would do now. He again went out upon the balcony; the
dignified street in which he lived was now almost vacated and silent,
and the lamps stood like placed sentinels waiting for some procession
to pass which did not arrive. At a point where the road was torn up
there stood a red light, and at the corner two men were talking in
leisurely repose, as if sunning themselves at noonday. Lovers of a
feline disposition, who were never seen by daylight, joked and darted
at each other as they passed.
His attention was fixed on the cabs, and he held his breath as the
hollow clap-clap of each horse's hoofs drew near the front of the
house, only to go onward into the square. The two lamps of each vehicle
in the far distance dilated with its approach, and seemed to swerve
towards him. It was she surely? No, it passed by.
Almost frantic, he again descended, and let himself out of the
house, moving towards a more central part, where the roar still
continued. Before emerging into the noisy thoroughfare he observed a
small figure approaching leisurely along the opposite side, and
hastened across to find it was she.
CHAPTER XXI. A GRILLE DESCENDS
BETWEEN THE VISION AND HIM.
"O, Avice!" he cried, with the tenderly subdued scolding of a
mother. "What is this you have done to alarm me so!"
She seemed quite unconscious of having done anything, and was
altogether surprised at his anxiety. In his relief he did not speak
further for a while; then asked her suddenly if she would take his arm,
since she must be tired.
"O no, Sir!" she assured him, "I am not a bit tired, and I don't
require any help at all, thank you."
They went upstairs together without using the lift, and he let her
and himself in with his latchkey. She entered the kitchen, and he,
following, sat down in a chair there.
"Where have you been?" he said, renewing the subject with almost
angered concern on his face. "You ought not to have been absent more
than ten minutes."
"I knew there was nothing for me to do, and thought I should like to
see a little of London," she replied naïvely. "So when I had got the
stamps I went on into the fashionable streets, where folks are all
walking about just as if it were daytime. 'Twas for all the world like
coming home by night from Martinmas Fair at Slopeway Well."
"O, Avice, Avice, you must not go out like this! Don't you know that
I am responsible for your safety? I am your—well, guardian, in fact,
and am bound by law and morals, and I don't know what-all, to deliver
you up to your native island without a scratch or blemish. And yet you
indulge in such a midnight vagary as this!"
"But I am sure, Sir, the people in the street were more respectable
than they are at Slopeway Well! They were dressed in the latest
fashion, and would have scorned to do me any harm; and as for their
love-making to a body, I never heard anything so polite before!"
"Well, you must not do it again. I'll tell you some day why. What's
that you have in your hand?"
"A mouse-trap. There are lots of mice in this kitchen, and I thought
I'd try to catch them. That was what I went so far to buy, as there
were no shops open just about here. I'll set it now."
She proceeded at once to do so, and Pearston remained in his seat
regarding the operation, which seemed entirely to engross her. It was
extraordinary, indeed, to observe how she wilfully limited her
interests; with what content she received the ordinary thing that life
offered, and persistently refused to behold what an infinitely extended
life lay open to her through him. If she had only said the word, he
would have got a license and married her the next morning. Was it
possible that she did not perceive this tendency in him? She could
hardly be a woman if she did not; and in her airy, elusive, offhand
demeanour she was very much of a woman indeed.
"It only holds one mouse," he said absently.
"But I shall hear it throw in the night, and set it again."
He sighed, and left her to her own resources and retired to rest,
though he felt no tendency to sleep. At some small hour of the
darkness, owing, possibly, to some intervening door being left open, he
heard the mouse-trap click. Another light sleeper must have heard it
too, for almost immediately after the pit-pat of naked feet,
accompanied by the brushing of drapery, was audible along the passage
towards the kitchen. After an absence of the pit-patting figure in that
apartment long enough to reset the trap, he was startled by a scream
from the same quarter. Pearston sprang out of bed, jumped into his
dressing-gown, and hastened in the direction of the cry.
Avice, barefooted and wrapped in a shawl, was standing in a chair;
the mouse-trap lay on the floor, the mouse running round and round in
"I was trying to take him out," said she, excitedly, "and he got
away from me!"
Pearston secured the mouse while she remained standing on the chair.
Then, having set the trap anew, his feeling burst out petulantly—
"A girl like you to throw yourself away upon such a commonplace
fellow as that quarryman! Why do you do it?"
Her mind was so intently fixed upon the matter in hand that it was
some moments before she caught his irrelevant subject. "Because I am a
foolish girl," she said quietly.
"What! Don't you love him?" said Jocelyn, with a surprised stare up
at her as she stood, in her concern appearing the very Avice who had
kissed him twenty years earlier.
"It is not much use to talk about that," said she.
"Then, is it the soldier?"
"Yes, though I have never spoken to him."
"Never spoken to the soldier?"
"Has either one treated you badly—deceived you?"
"No. Certainly not."
"Well, I can't make you out; and I don't wish to know more than you
choose to tell me. Come, Avice, why not tell me exactly how things are?"
"Not now, Sir!" she entreated, her pretty pink face and brown eyes
turned in simple appeal to him. "I will tell you all to-morrow; indeed
He retreated to his own apartment and lay down meditating. Some
quarter of an hour after she had retreated to hers the mouse-trap
clicked again, and Pearston raised himself on his elbow to listen. The
place was so still and the jerrybuilt door-panels so thin that he could
hear the mouse jumping about inside the wires of the trap. But he heard
no footstep this time. Disliking the idea of the little creature's
misery, he again arose, proceeded to the kitchen with a light, and put
the mouse to a merciful death. Returning, he listened once more. He
could see in the far distance the door of Avice's room; but that
thoughtful housewife had not heard the second capture. From the room
came a soft breathing like that of an infant.
He entered his own chamber and reclined himself gloomily enough. Her
freedom from all consciousness of him, the aspect of the deserted
kitchen, the cold grate, impressed him with a deeper sense of
loneliness than he had ever felt before.
Foolish he was, indeed, to be the slave of this young creature! Her
defencelessness, her freedom from the least thought that there lurked
any danger in this propinquity, were in fact secondary safeguards, not
much less strong than that of her being her mother's image, against any
risk to her from him. Yet it was out of this that his depression came.
At sight of her the nest morning Pearston felt that must put an end
to such a state of things. He sent Avice of the studio, wrote to an
agent for a couple of servants, and then went round to his work. Avice
was busy righting all that she was allowed to touch. It was the girl's
delight to be occupied among the models and casts, which for the first
time she regarded with the wistful interest of a soul struggling to
receive ideas of the beautiful, vaguely discerned yet ever eluding her.
That brightness in her mother's mind, which might have descended to the
second Avice with the maternal face and form, had been dimmed by
admixture with the mediocrity of her father's. By one who remembered
like Pearston the dual organisation could be often seen wrestling
They were alone in the studio, and his feelings found vent. Putting
his arms round her, he said, "My darling, sweet little Avice! I want to
ask you something—surely you guess what? I want to know this: will
you be married to me, and live here with me always and ever?"
"O, Mr. Pearston, what nonsense!"
"Nonsense?" said he, shrinking somewhat.
"Well, why? Am I too old? Surely there's no serious difference?"
"O no—I should not mind that if it came to marrying. The
difference is not much for husband and wife, though it is rather much
for lovers keeping company."
She struggled to get free, and when in the movement she knocked down
the Empress Faustina's head he did not try to retain her. He saw that
she was not only surprised but a little alarmed.
"You haven't said why it is nonsense!" he remarked tartly.
"Why, I didn't know you was thinking of me any longer like that! I
hadn't any thought of it! And all alone here! What shall I do?"
"Say yes, my pretty Avice. We'll then go out and be married at once,
and nobody be any the wiser."
She shook her head. "I couldn't, Sir."
"It would be well for you. You don't like me, perhaps?"
"Yes I do. But not in that sort of say—quite. Still, I might have
got to do it in time, if"—
"Well, then, try," he said warmly. "Your mother did!"
No sooner had the words slipped out than Pearston would have
recalled them. He had felt in a moment that they were hazardous.
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER XXI. (Continued). A GRILLE
DESCENDS BETWEEN HIM AND THE VISION.
"Mother loved you?" said Avice, incredulously gazing at him.
"Yes," he murmured.
"You were not her false young man, surely? That one who"—
"Yes, yes! Say no more about it."
"Who ran away from her?"
"Then I can never, never like you again! I didn't know it was a
"It wasn't a gentleman, then."
"O, Sir, please go away! I can't bear the sight of 'ee at this
moment! Perhaps I shall get to—to like you as I did; but"—
"No; I'm d—d if I'll go away," said Pearston, thoroughly
irritated. "I have been candid with you; you ought to be the same with
"What do you want me to tell?"
"Enough to make it clear to me why you don't accept this offer.
Everything you have said yet is a reason for the reverse. Now, my dear,
I am not angry."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not. Now what is your reason?"
"The name of it is Isaac Pearston, down home."
"I mean he courted me, and led me on to island custom, and then I
went to chapel one morning and married him in secret, because mother
didn't care about him; and I didn't either by that time. And then he
quarrelled with me; and just before you and I came to London he went
away to Australia. Then I saw a soldier; I never knew his name, but I
fell in love with him because I am so quick at that! Still, as it was
wrong. I tried not to think of him, and wouldn't look at him when he
passed. But it made me cry very much that I mustn't. I was then very
miserable, and you asked me to come to London. I didn't care what I did
with myself, and I came."
"Heaven above us!" said Pearston, his pale and distressed face
showing with what a shock this announcement had come. "Why have you
done such extraordinary things? Or, rather, why didn't you tell me of
this before? Then, at the present moment you are the wife of a man who
is in Australia, whom you do not love at all; but instead of him love a
soldier whom you have never spoken to; while I have nearly brought
scandal upon us both by your letting me love you! Really, you are a
very wicked young woman!"
"No, I am not!" she pouted.
Still, Avice looked pale and rather frightened, and did not lift her
eyes from the floor. "I said it was nonsense in you to want to have
me!" she went on, "and, even if I hadn't been married to that horrid
Isaac Pearston, I couldn't have married you after you told me that you
were the man who ran away from my mother."
"I have paid the penalty!" he said sadly. "Men of my sort always get
the worst of it in the end. Now, Avice—I'll call you dear Avice for
your mother's sake and not for your own—I must see what I can do to
help you out of the difficulty that unquestionably you are in. Why
can't you love your husband now you have married him?"
Avice looked aside at the statuary as if the subtleties of her
organisation were not very easy to define.
"Was he that black-bearded typical local character I saw you walking
with one Sunday? The same surname as mine, though, of course, you don't
notice that in a place where there are only half-a-dozen surnames?"
"Yes, that was like. It was that evening we disagreed. He scolded me
again, and I answered him, and the next day he went away."
"Well, as I say, I must consider what it will be best to do for you
in this. The first thing, it seems to me, will be to get your husband
She impatiently shrugged her shoulders. "I don't like him!"
"Then why did you marry him?"
"I was obliged to, according to the custom, after walking wi' 'en."
"Oh, it is only a tiff between you, I dare say. I'll start him in
business if he 'll come. ... Is the cottage at home still in your
"Yes, it is my freehold. Grammer Stockwool is taking care o'it for
"Good. And back there you go straightway, my pretty Madam, and wait
till your husband comes to make it up with you."
"I won't go! I don't want him to come!" she sobbed.
"I want to stay here, or anywhere, except where he can come!"
"You'll get over that. Now, go indoors, there's a dear Avice, and be
ready in one hour, waiting in the hall for me."
"I don't want to!"
"But I say you shall."
She found it was no use to disobey. Precisely at the moment
appointed he met her there himself, burdened only with a valise and
umbrella, she with a box and other things. Directing the porter to put
Avice and her belongings into a four-wheeled cab for the railway
station, he walked out of the door, and kept looking behind till he saw
the cab approaching. He then entered beside the astonished girl, and
onward they went together.
They sat opposite each other in an empty compartment, and the
tedious railway journey began. Whenever he looked at her the girl's
eyes filled with tears, and at last she wept outright. "I don't want to
go to him!" she sobbed in a repressed voice.
Pearston was almost as much distressed as she. "Why did you put
yourself and me in such a position?" he said bitterly. "It is no use to
regret it now! And I can't say that I do. It affords me a way out of a
trying position. Even if you had not been married to him you would not
have married me!"
"Yes, I would, sir."
"What! You would? You said you wouldn't not long ago."
"I like you better now! I like you more and more!"
Pearston sighed, for emotionally he was not much older than she.
That hitch in his development, rendering him the most lopsided of God's
creatures, was his standing misfortune. Little more passed between the
twain on that wretched, never-to-be-forgotten day. Aphrodite was
punishing him simply, as she knew but too well how to punish her
votaries when they reverted from the ephemeral to the stable mood. This
curse of his heart not aging while his frame moved naturally onward,
when was it to end? Perhaps only with life.
His first act the day after depositing her in her own house was to
go to the chapel where, by her statement, the marriage had been
solemnised, and make sure of the fact. Perhaps he felt an illogical
hope that she might be free, even then, in the tarnished condition
which such freedom would have involved. However, there stood the words
distinctly: Isaac Pearston, Avice Caro, son and daughter of So-and-so,
married on such a day, signed by the contracting parties, the
officiating minister, and the two witnesses.
CHAPTER XXII. SHE IS FINALLY
ENSHROUDED FROM SIGHT.
One evening in early winter, when the air was dry and gusty, the
dark little lane which divided the grounds of Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle
from the cottage of Avice, and led down to the adjoining ruin of Red
King Castle, was paced by a solitary man. The cottage was the centre of
his beat; its western limit being the gates of the former residence,
its eastern the drawbridge of the ruin. The few other cottages
thereabout—all as if carved from the solid rock—were in darkness,
but from the upper window of Avice's tiny freehold glimmered a light.
Its rays were repeated from the far-distant sea by the lightship lying
moored over the shambles quicksand, which brought mysteriousness and
domesticity into the position of balanced opposites.
The sea murmured—more than murmured—among the boulders below the
ruins, a louder roll of its tide being timed at regular intervals.
These sounds were accompanied by an equally periodic moan from the
interior of the cottage chamber; so that the articulate heave of water
and the articulate heave of life seemed but differing utterances of the
self-same troubled Being—which in one sense they were.
Pearston—for the man in the lane was he—would look from
lightship to cottage window; then back again. Soon an infant's wail of
the very feeblest was also audible in the house. He started from his
easy pacing, and went again westward, standing at the elbow of the lane
a long time. Then the peace of the sleeping village which lay that way
was broken by light wheels and the trot of a horse. Pearston went back
to the cottage gate and awaited the arrival of the vehicle.
It was a light cart, and a man jumped down as it stopped. He was in
a broad-brimmed hat, under which no more of him could be perceived than
that he wore a black beard, clipped like a thorn fence—a typical
aspect in the island.
"You are Avice's husband?" asked the sculptor, quickly.
The man replied that he was, in the local accent. "I 've just come
in by the last train," he added. "I couldn't get here avore."
"Well," and Pearston, "your coming means that you are willing to
make it up with her?"
"Ay, I don't know but I be," said the man. "Mid so well do that as
"If you do, thoroughly, a good business in your old line awaits you
here in the island."
"Wi' all my heart, then," said the man. His voice was energetic, and
though slightly touchy, it showed, on the whole, a disposition to set
The driver of the trap was paid off, and Jocelyn and Isaac Pearston,
undoubtedly scions of a common stock in this isle of
intermarriages—entered the house. Nobody was in the ground-floor
room, in the exact centre of which stood a square table, and in the
exact centre of the table a lamp, the apartment having the appearance
of being rigidly swept and set in order for an event of interest.
The woman who lived in the house with Avice now came downstairs, and
to the inquiry of the comers she replied that matters were progressing
favourably, but that nobody could be allowed to go upstairs just then.
After placing chairs and viands for them she retreated, and they sat
down, the candle between them—the lover of the sufferer above, who
had no right to her, and the man who had every right to her, but did
not love her. Engaging in desultory and fragmentary conversation, they
listened to the trampling of feet on the floorboards
overhead—Pearston full of anxiety and attentiveness, Ike awaiting the
course of nature calmly.
Soon they heard the feeble bleats repeated, and then the local
practitioner descended and entered the room.
"How is she now?" said Pearston, the more taciturn Ike looking up
with him for the answer that he felt would serve for two as well as for
"Doing well, remarkably well," replied the professional gentleman,
with a manner of having said it before; and his vehicle not being at
the door he sat down and shared some refreshment with the others. When
he had departed Mrs. Stockwool again stepped down, and informed them
that Ike's presence had been made known to his wife.
The truant quarrier seemed rather inclined to stay where he was and
finish the mug of ale, but Pearston quickened him, and he ascended the
staircase. As soon as the room was empty Pearston leant with his elbows
on the table, and covered his face with his hands.
Ike was absent no great time. Descending with a proprietary mien
that had been lacking before, he invited Pearston to ascend likewise,
since she had stated that she would like to see him. Pearston went up
the crooked old steps, the husband remaining below.
Avice looked brighter and happier than he had expected to find her,
and was apparently very much fortified by the pink little lump at her
side. She held out her hand to him.
"I just wanted to tell 'ee—I thought it would be no harm to see
you, though 'tis rather soon—to tell 'ee how very much I thank you
for getting me settled again with Ike. He is very glad to come home
again, too, he says. Yes, you've done a good many kind things for me,
Whether she were really glad, or whether the words were expressed as
a matter of duty, Pearston did not attempt to learn.
He merely said that he valued her thanks. "Now, Avice." he added
tenderly, "I resign my guardianship of you. I hope to see your husband
in a sound little business here in a very short time."
"I hope so—for baby's sake," she said, with a bright sigh. "Would
you—like to see her, Sir?"
"The baby? O, yes ... your baby! You must christen her Avice."
"Yes—so I will," she murmured readily, and disclosed the infant
with some timidity. "I hope you forgive me, Sir, for concealing my
"If you forgive me for making love to you."
"Yes. How were you to know! I wish"—
Pearston bade her good-bye, kissing her hand; turned from her and
the incipient being whom he was to meet again under very altered
conditions, and left the bed-chamber with a tear in his eye.
"Here endeth that dream!" said he.
Hymen, in secret or overt guise, seemed to haunt Pearston just at
this time with undignified mockery which savoured rather of Harlequin
than of the torch-bearer. Two days after parting in a lone island from
the girl he so solicitously loved he met in Piccadilly his friend
Somers, hastening along with a deeply preoccupied face.
"My dear fellow," said Somers, "what do you think! I was charged not
to tell you yet, but, hang it! I may just as well make a clean breast
of it now as later."
"What—you are not going to ..."began Pearston, with a sort of
"Yes. What I said on impulse I am about to carry out in cold blood.
Nichola and I began in jest and ended in earnest. We are going to take
one mother next month for good and all."
END OF PART SECOND.
PART THIRD. A YOUNG MAN OF FIFTY-NINE.
CHAPTER XXIII. SHE RETURNS FOR THE
Nearly twenty years had closed over the events which came to a
settlement with the reunion of the second Avice and her husband; and
the peninsula called an island looked just the same as before; though
many who had formerly projected their daily shadows over its unrelieved
whiteness ceased now to disturb the colourless sunlight there.
The general change, nevertheless, was small. The silent ships came
and went from the wharf, the chisels clinked in the quarries; file
after file of whitey-brown horses, in strings of eight or ten,
painfully dragged the square blocks of stone down the hill on the
antediluvian wooden wheels just as usual. The lightship winked every
night from the quicksands to the Beal Lantern, and the Beal Lantern
glared through its eyeglass on the ship. The canine gnawing audible on
the Pebble Bank had been repeated ever since at each tide, but the
pebbles remained undevoured.
Men drank, smoked, and spat in the inns with only a few degrees more
of adulteration in their refreshments and a trifle less dialect in
their speech than of yore. One figure had never since been seen on the
Channel rock, the form of Pearston, the sculptor, whose first use of
the chisel that rock had instigated.
He had lived abroad a great deal, and, in fact, at this very date he
was staying at an hotel in Rome. Though he had not once set eyes on
Avice since parting from her in the room with her firstborn, he had
managed to obtain tidings of her from time to time during the interval.
In this way pearston learnt that shortly after their resumption of a
common life in her house Ike had ill-used her, till, the business to
which the sculptor had assisted him chancing to prosper, he became
immersed in its details, and allowed Avice to pursue her domestic
courses without interference, initiating that kind of reconciliation
which is so calm and durable, having as its chief ingredient neither
hate nor love, but a dense, all-embracing indifference.
At first Pearston had sent her sums of money privately, fearing lest
her husband should deny her material comforts; but he soon found. to
his great relief, that such help was unnecessary, social ambition
having prompted Ike to set up as quite a gentleman-islander, and to
allow Avice a scope for show which he would never have allowed in more
Being in Rome, as aforesaid, Pearston returned one evening to his
hotel to dine, after spending the afternoon among the busts in the long
gallery of the Vatican. The unconscious habit, common to so many
people, of tracing likes in unlikes had often led him to discern, or to
fancy he discerned in the Roman atmosphere in its lights, and shades
and particularly in its reflected or secondary lights. something
resembling the atmosphere of his native promontory. Perhaps it was that
in each case the eye was mostly resting on stone—that here, in the
Eternal City, there were quarries of ruins like the quarries of maiden
rock at home.
This being in his mind when he sat down to dinner at the common
table, he was surprised to hear an American gentleman, who sat
opposite, mention the name of Pearston's birthplace. The American was
talking to a friend about a lady who had been a fellow-passenger with
him in their voyage over. They were wondering whether she had been
successful in her quest, which was for some near relation, who had
lived in the before-mentioned isle, of which she also was a native.
Pearston was instantly struck with the perception that these facts,
though general, were in accord with the history of his long-lost wife,
Marcia. To be sure they did not go far: and he hardly though that she
would be likely to hunt him up after more than thirty years of
separation. Still, he was impressed enough to resolve to exchange a
word with the strangers so soon as he could get opportunity.
He could not well attract their attention through the plants upon
the wide table, and even if he had been able, to do so in public was
not advisable. He waited on till dinner was over at the table d'hôte,
and when the strangers withdrew Pearston withdrew in their rear.
They were not in the drawing-room, whither they had seemed to go. On
inquiry, Pearston found that they had gone out. There was no chance of
discovering them, but Pearston, stirred to restlessness by their
remarks, wandered up and down the Piazza di Spagna, thinking they might
return. The streets below were immersed in shade, the front of the
church at the top was flooded with orange light, the gloom of evening
gradually intensifying on the broad, long flight of steps, which
foot-passengers incessantly ascended and descended with the
insignificance of ants.
Getting back to the hotel he learnt that the Americans had only
dropped in to dine, and were staying elsewhere. Briefly. he saw no more
of them; but, on reflection, he was not deeply concerned at this, for
by going straight back home he could easily ascertain on the isle
itself if his wife had indeed arrived there. It seemed impossible: what
earthly woman, going off in a freak as his wife had done, would have
kept silence so long unless she had returned to dust; or, if indeed
living, how should she bring herself to come back to him now?
Nevertheless, he felt it to be his duty to ascertain what truth
might lie in this chance fancy; and about a week later he stood once
more at the foot of the familiar steep whereon the houses of Slopeway
Well were perched like pigeons on a roof-side.
He pursued his inquiries as privately as possible, for his intention
was to make himself known here no more. As he had ceased since his last
residence here to wear his beard in the island fashion, nobody
recognised him, though he had aged but little under the inactivity of
twenty years. Nothing had been heard of any such lady, the nearest
approach to a visit of the kind being that made by a woman whom a
flyman had driven over the island in search of a family now dead. As
this lady did not answer to the description, and the persons she sought
were bearers of another name, Pearston concluded he had got to the
bottom of the matter in considering it a casual correspondence only.
In returning to the town and station at eventide his attention was
attracted by the busy doings around a quarry which lay at a distance on
his left; he observed several men on the spot whom he might recognise.
He was inclined to cross thither, feeling sure that the quarry was Ike
Pearston's, and stood looking in that direction, where the numerous
black hoisting-cranes scattered over the central plateau of the island
had the appearance of a swarm of daddy-longlegs resting there. The way
across was rugged, and nothing would be gained by making himself known.
He proceeded on his way, having no real wish at present to encounter
Avice's husband or friends.
At the station he found he had to wait a little while. Presently
other people who had come from Top o' Hill (the summit of the rock was
thus called) also entered the booking-office, and they were talking
reflectively about an accident which had happened a week or two before.
The name that caught his car caused him to turn quickly to one of the
"Who do you say saw killed?" Pearston asked.
"Mr. Isaac Pearston—Castleway Pearston as we did call 'n—' cause
there's so many Isaac pearstons—was killed in his own quarry."
While Jocelyn stood silent at this intelligence the men went on
conversing among themselves.
"I said to 'en that morning, 'Don't th' stand there, for Heaven's
sake!' Born in a quarry a'most, you'd ha' thought he'd ha' known, if
anybody would. But he was a man who'd never listen to argument—that
one must say, though 'a 's squatted. He went away shortly after, and we
didn't expect to see 'en again that day. But 'a did come back, worse
luck for 'n: and that was how it ended."
More details of the catastrophe and circumstances of the victim's
life were given, from which Pearston gathered that though the Avice who
had once been his Avice was now a widow, she had friends and
sympathisers about her which would render any attention on his part at
this juncture unnecessary. He therefore mechanically took his seat in
the train and remained musing during the run along the Pebble Bank and
round to the watering-place five miles off, at which he had taken up
his quarters for a few days.
Here, as he stayed on, he heard further rumours of the accident:
till Avice, who had been little in his mind of late, began to take up a
somewhat distinct position there. He was fully aware that since his
earlier manhood a change had come over his regard of woman. Once the
individual had been nothing more to him than the temporary
abiding-place of the typical or ideal: now his heart showed an
extraordinary fidelity to the specimen, with all her pathetic flaws of
detail; which, indeed, so far from sending him further, increased his
tenderness. This maturer feeling. Though more noble and generous, was
less convenient, for the warmth of passion remained as in youth without
the recuperative intervals which had accompanied evanescence.
The revived emotion detained him long and yet longer at this spot,
where he could see the island that was Avice's home lying like a great
snail upon the sea across the bay. It was the spring of the year; local
steamers had begun to run, and he was never tired of standing on the
thinly occupied deck of one of these as it skirted the island and
revealed to him on the cliffs far up its height the ruin of Red King
Castle, behind which the little village of East Wake lay.
Thus matters went on, if they did not rather stand still, for at
least a month before Pearston had the courage of his romanticism, and
ventured to seek out Avice. Even when he did go he was so afraid that
he had intruded upon her too soon as to approach with unwonted
diffidence. He need have shown no such concern.
The first surprise was to find that she had long ceased to live in
the little freehold cottage she had occupied of old. In answer to his
inquiries he was directed along the road to the west of the modern
castle, past the entrance on that side, and onward to the very house
that had once been his own home. There it stood as of yore, facing up
the Channel, a comfortable roomy structure, the euonymus and other
shrubs, which alone would stand in the teeth of the salt wind, living
on at about the same stature in front of it; but the paint-work much
renewed. A thriving man had resided there of late, evidently.
The widow in mourning who received him in the front parlour was,
alas! but the sorry shadow of Avice the Second. How could he have
fancied otherwise after twenty years? Yet he had been led to fancy
otherwise, almost without knowing it, by feeling himself unaltered.
Indeed, curiously enough, nearly the first words she said to him were;
"Why—you are just the same!"
"Just the same. Yes, I am, Avice," he answered sadly: for this
inability to ossify with the rest of his generation threw him out of
proportion with the time. Moreover, while wearing the aspect of comedy,
it was of the nature of tragedy.
"It is well to be you," she went on. "I have had troubles to take
the bloom off me!"
"Yes; I have heard of them."
She continued to regard him curiously, with humorous interest; and
he knew what was passing in her mind: that this man, to whom she had
formerly looked up to as to a person for in advance of her along the
lane of life, seemed now to be a well-adjusted contemporary, the pair
of them observing the world with fairly level eyes.
He had come to her with love for a vision which, on reaching her, he
found to have departed; and, though fairly weaned by the natural
reality, he was so far staunch as to linger on hankeringly. They talked
of past days, his old attachment, which she had then despised, being
now far more absorbing and present to her than to himself.
She unmistakably won upon him as he sat on. A curious closeness to
her had been produced in his imagination by the discovery that she was
passing her life within the house of his own childhood. Her similar
surname meant little here; but it was also his, and, added to the
identity of domicile, there was a strong suggestiveness about the
"This is where I used to sit when my parents occupied the house," he
said, placing himself beside that corner of the fireplace which
commanded a view through the window. "I could see a bough of tamarisk
wave outside at that time, and, beyond the bough, the same abrupt
grassy waste towards the sea, and at night the same old lightship
blinking far out there. Place yourself on the spot, to please me."
She set her chair where he indicated, and Pearston stood close
beside her, directing her gaze to the familiar objects he had regarded
thence as a boy. her head and face— the latter thoughtful and worn
enough, poor thing, to suggest a married life none too
comfortable—were close to his breast, and, with a few inches further
incline, would have touched it.
"And now you are the inhabitant; I the visitor," he said. "I am glad
to see you here—so glad, Avice! You are fairly well provided for—I
think I may assume that?" He looked round the room at the solid
mahogany furniture, and at the modern piano and show bookcase.
"Yes, Ike left me comfortable. 'Twas he who thought of removing from
my cottage to this larger house. He bought it, and I can live here as
long as I choose to."
Apart from the decline of his adoration to friendship, there seemed
to be a general convergence of positions which suggested that he might
make amends for the old desertion by proposing to this Avice when a
meet time should arrive. It he did not love her as he had done when she
was a slim thing catching mice in his rooms in London, he could surely
be content at his age with comradeship. The feeling that he really
could be thus content was so convincing that he almost believed the
luxury of getting old and reposeful was coming to his restless,
wandering heart at last.
"Now, Avice," he began archly, "I feel, of course, your situation at
present, and Heaven forbid that I should say anything premature. But
your life with your late husband has been such that I think it no harm
to put an idea into your mind, as regards the future, for you to turn
over—not too seriously—just for what it is worth. It originated, so
far as it concerns you personally, with the sight of you in that
cottage round the corner, nineteen or twenty years ago, when I became
tenant of the castle opposite. But that was not the very beginning. The
very beginning was a score of years before that, when I, a young fellow
of nineteen, coming home here, from London, to see my father,
encountered a tender woman as like you as your double; was much
attracted by her as I saw her day after day flit past this window; till
I made it my business to accompany her in her walks awhile. I, as you
know, was not a staunch fellow, and it all ended badly. But better late
than never. ..."
"Ah! there she is!" suddenly exclaimed Avice, whose attention had
wandered somewhat from his retrospective discourse. She was looking
from the window towards the cliffs, where, upon the open ground quite
near at hand, a slender female form was seen rambling along. "She is
out for a walk," Avice continued. "I wonder if she is going to call
here this afternoon? She is living at the castle, opposite, as
"Yes. Her education was very thorough—better even than her
grandmother's I was the neglected one, and Isaac and myself both vowed
that there should be no complaint on that score about her. We
christened her Avice, to keep up the name, as you requested. I wish you
could speak to her— I am sure you would like her."
"Is that the baby?" faltered Jocelyn.
"Yes, the baby."
The person signified, now much nearer, was a still more modernized,
up-to-date edition of the two Avices of that blood with whom he had
been involved more or less for the last forty years. A ladylike little
creature was she—almost elegant. She wore a large-disked sun-hat,
with a brim like a wheel whose spokes were radiating folds of muslin
lining the brim, a black margin beyond the muslin being the felloe,
Beneath this brim her hair was massed low upon her brow, the colour of
the thick tresses bring obviously, from her complexion, repeated in the
irises of her large, deep eyes. Her rather nervous lips were thin and
closed, so that they only appeared as a delicate red line. A changeable
temperament was shown by that mouth— quick transitions from
affection to aversion, from a pout to a smile.
It was Avice the Third.
(To be continued)
CHAPTER XXIV. MISGIVINGS ON THIS
Jocelyn and the second Avice continued to gaze ardently at her.
"Ah! she is not coming in now; she hasn't time," said the mother,
with some disappointment. "She means to run across in the evening."
The girl, in fact, went past and on till she was out of sight.
Pearston stood as in a dream. It was the very girl, in all essential
particulars, and without the absence of a single charm, who had kissed
him forty years before. When he turned his head from the window his
eyes fell again upon the old Avice at his side. Before but the relic of
the Well-Beloved, she had now become its empty shrine. Warm friendship,
indeed, be felt for her; but whatever that might have done towards the
instauration of a former dream was now hopelessly barred by the rivalry
of the thing itself in the guise of a lineal successor.
Pearston, who had been about to leave, sat down again on being
timidly asked if he would stay and have a cup of tea. He hardly knew
what he did for a moment; a dim thought that Avice—the renewed
Avice—might come into the house after all made his reseating himself
an act of spontaneity.
How he contrived to attenuate and disperse the subject he had opened
up with the new Avice's mother, Pearston never exactly knew. Perhaps
she saw more than he thought she saw—read something in his
face—knew that about his nature which he gave her no credit for
knowing. Anyhow, the conversation took the form of a friendly gossip
from that minute, his remarks being often given while his mind was
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that a chill passed through
Jocelyn when there had been time for reflection. The sedulous study of
his art without any counterbalancing practical pursuit had nourished
and developed his natural responsiveness to impressions; he now felt
that his old trouble, his doom—his curse, indeed, he had sometimes
called it—was come back again. Aphrodite was not yet propitiated for
that original sin against her image in the person of Avice the First,
and now, at the age of nine-and-fifty, he was urged on and on like the
Jew Ahasuerus—or, in the phrase of the islanders themselves, like a
The Goddess, an abstraction to the general, was a very real
personage indeed to Pearston. He had watched the marble image of her
which stood in his working-room under all changes of light and
shade—in the brightening of morning, in the blackening of eve, in
moonlight, in lamplight; every line and curve of her body none,
naturally, knew better than he; and, though not quite a belief, it was
a fancy, a superstition, that the three Avices were somehow
interpenetrated with her essence.
"And the next Avice—your daughter," he said stumblingly; "she is,
you say, a governess at the castle opposite."
Mrs. Pearston reaffirmed the fact, adding that the girl often slept
at home because she (the speaker) was so lonely. She often thought she
would like to keep her daughter at home altogether.
"She plays that instrument, I suppose?" said Pearston, regarding the
"Yes, she plays beautifully; she had the best instruction that
masters could give her. She was educated at Sandbourne."
"Which room does she sleep in when at home?" he asked curiously.
"The little one over this."
It had been his own. "Strange," he murmured.
He finished tea, and sat after tea, but the youthful Avice did not
arrive. With the Avice present he conversed as the old friend—no
more. At last it grew dusk, and Pearston could not possibly find an
excuse for staying longer.
"I hope to make the acquaintance—of your daughter," he said in
leaving, knowing that he might have said with equal truth, "of my new
"I hope you will," she said simply. "This evening she evidently has
gone for a walk instead of coming here."
He went out of the house, but felt in no mood just then to get back
to his lodgings in the town on the mainland. He lingered about upon the
undulating ground for a long while, thinking of the extraordinary
reproduction of the original girl in this new form he had seen, and of
himself as of a foolish dreamer in being so suddenly fascinated by the
renewed image in a personality not one-third his age. As a physical
fact, no doubt, the preservation of the likeness was no uncommon thing
here, but it helped the dream.
Passing round the walls of the new castle, he deviated from his
homeward track by turning down the familiar little lane which led to
the ruined castle of the Red King. It took him past the cottage in
which the new Avice was born, from whose precincts he had heard her
first infantine cry. Pausing, he saw in the west behind him the new
moon growing distinct upon the glow.
He was subject to gigantic superstitions. In spite of himself, the
sight of the new moon, his chosen tutelary goddess, as representing, by
her so-called inconstancy, his own idea of a migratory Well-Beloved,
made him start as if his sweetheart in the flesh had suddenly looked
over the horizon at him. In a crowd secretly, or in solitude boldly, he
ever bowed the knee three times to this divinity on her first
appearance monthly and directed a soft kiss toward her shining shape.
He feared Aphrodite, but Selene he cherished. All this did he, a man of
fifty-nine! Truly the curse (if it were not a blessing) was far from
having spent itself yet.
In the other direction the castle ruins rose against the sea. He
went on towards these, around which he had played as a boy, and stood
by the walls at the edge of the cliff pondering. There was no wind and
but little tide, and he thought he could hear from years ago a voice
that he knew. It certainly was a voice, but it came from the rocks
beneath the castle ruin.
A silence followed, and nobody came. The voice spoke again; "John
Neither was this summons attended to. The cry continued, with more
entreaty: "William Scribben!"
The voice was that of a Pearston—there could be no doubt of
it—Avice's, probably. Something or other seemed to be detaining her
down there, against her will. A sloping path beneath the beetling cliff
and the castle walls rising sheer from its summit led down to the
lower, level whence the voice proceeded. Pearston followed the pathway,
and soon beheld a girl in light clothing—the same he had seen through
the window—standing upon one of the rocks, apparently unable to move.
Pearston hastened across to her.
"O, thank you for coming!" she murmured with some timidity. "I have
met with an awkward mishap. I live near here, and am not frightened
really. My foot has become jammed in a crevice of the rock, and I
cannot get it out, try how I will. What shall I do!"
Pearston stooped and examined the cause of discomfiture. "I think if
you can take your boot off," he said, "your foot might slip out,
leaving the boot behind."
She tried to act upon this advice, but could not do so effectually.
Pearston then experimented by slipping his hand into the crevice till
he could just reach the buttons of her boot, which, however, he could
not unfasten any more than she. Taking his penknife from his pocket, he
tried again, and cut off the buttons one by one. The boot unfastened,
and out slipped the foot.
"O, how glad I am!" she cried joyfully. "I was fearing I should have
to stay here all night. How can I thank you enough?"
Pearston was tugging to withdraw the boot, but no force that he
could exercise would move it. At last she said: "Don't try any longer.
It is not far to the house. I can walk in my stocking."
"I'll assist you in," he said gallantly.
She said she did not want help, nevertheless allowed him to help her
on the unshod side. As they moved on she explained that she had come
out through the garden door, had been standing on the boulders to look
at something out at sea just discernible in the evening light as
assisted by the moon, and, in jumping down, had wedged her foot as he
had found it.
Whatever Pearston's years might have made him look by day, in the
dusk of evening he was fairly presentable as a pleasing man of no
marked antiquity, his outline differing but little from what it had
been when he was half his years. He was well preserved, still upright,
trimly shaven, agile in movement; wore a tightly buttoned suit which
set off a naturally slight figure; in brief, he might have been of any
age as he appeared to her at this moment. She talked to him with the
co-equality of one who assumed him to be not far ahead of her own
generation; and, as the growing darkness obscured him more and more, he
adopted her assumption of his age with increasing boldness of tone.
The flippant, harmless freedom of the watering-place Miss, which
Avice had plainly acquired during her sojourn at the Sandbourne school,
helped Pearston considerably in this rôle of jeune premier, which he
was only too ready to play at any time. Not a word did he say about
being a native of the island; still more carefully did he conceal the
fact of his having courted her grandmother, and engaged himself to
marry that attractive lady.
He found that she had come out upon the rocks through the same
little private door from the lawn of the modern castle which had
frequently afforded him egress to the same spot in years long past.
Pearston accompanied her across the ground almost to the entrance of
the mansion—the place being now far better kept and planted than when
he had rented it as a lonely tenant; almost, indeed, restored to the
order and neatness which had characterised it when he was a boy.
She was too inexperienced to be reserved, and during this little
climb, leaning upon his arm, there was time for a great deal of
confidence. When he had bidden her farewell, and she had entered,
leaving him in the dark, a rush of sadness through Pearston's soul
swept down all the temporary pleasure he had found in the charming
girl's company. Had Mephistopheles pheles sprung from the ground there
and then with an offer to Jocelyn of restoration to youth on the usual
terms of his firm, the sculptor certainly might have consented to sell
that part of himself of which he felt less immediate need than of a
ruddy lip and cheek and an unmarked brow.
But what could only have been treated as a folly by outsiders was
almost a sorrow for him. Why was he born with such a temperament? And
this concatenated interest could hardly have arisen, even with
Pearston, but for a conflux of circumstances only possible here. The
three Avices, the second much like the first, the third actually a
double of the first, were the outcome of the immemorial island customs
of intermarriage and of prenuptial union, under which conditions the
type of feature was almost uniform from parent to child through
generations: so that, till quite latterly, to have seen one native man
and woman was to have seen the whole population of that isolated rock,
so nearly cut off from the mainland. His own predisposition and the
consciousness of his early faithlessness did all the rest.
He turned gloomily away, and let himself out of the precincts.
Before walking along the couple of miles of road which would conduct
him to the little station at Slopeway Well, he redescended to the rocks
whereon he had found her, and searched about for the fissure which had
made a prisoner of this belated edition of the Well-Beloved. Kneeling
down beside the spot, he inserted his hand, and ultimately, by much
wriggling, withdrew the little boot. He examined it thoughtfully —by
touch rather than by sight—put it in his pocket, and followed the
stony route to Slopeway Well.
CHAPTER XXV. THE RENEWED IMAGE BURNS
There was nothing to hinder Pearston in calling upon the new Avice's
mother as often as he should choose, beyond the five miles of
intervening railway, and two additional miles of clambering over the
heights of the island. Two days later, therefore, Pearston repeated his
journey and knocked about tea-time at the widow's door.
As he had expected, the daughter was not at home. He sat down beside
the old sweetheart who, having eclipsed her mother in past days, had
now eclipsed herself in her child. Jocelyn produced the girl's boot
from his pocket.
"The, 'tis you who helped Avice out of her predicament?" said Mrs.
Pearston, with surprise.
"Yes, my dear friend; and perhaps I shall ask you to help me out of
mine before I have done. But never mind that now. What did she tell you
about the adventure?"
Mrs. Pearston was looking thoughtfully upon him. "Well, 'tis rather
strange it should have been you, Sir," she replied slowly. "She seemed
to be a good deal interested. I thought it might have been a younger
man—a much younger man."
"It might have been, as far as feeling were concerned. .. Now,
Avice, I'll to the point at once. Virtually I have known your daughter
any number of years. When I talk to her I can anticipate every turn of
her thought, every sentiment, every act, so long did I study those
things in your mother and in you. Therefore I do not require to learn
her; she was learnt by me in her previous existences. Now, don't be
shocked: I am willing to marry her—I should be overjoyed to do it if
there would be nothing preposterous about it, or that would seem like a
man making himself too much of a fool, and so degrading her in
consenting. I can make her comparatively rich, as you know, and I would
indulge her every whim. There is the idea, bluntly put. It would set
right something in my mind that has been wrong for forty years. After
my death she would have plenty of freedom and plenty of means to enjoy
Mrs. Isaac Pearston seemed only a little surprised; certainly not
"Well, if I didn't think you might be a bit taken with her!" she
murmured archly. "Knowing your sort of mind, from my little affair with
'ee years ago, nothing you could do in this way would astonish me."
"But you don't think badly of me for it?"
"Not at all; but, or course, it would depend upon what she felt. ...
I would rather have her marry a younger man."
"And suppose a satisfactory younger man should not appear?"
Mrs. Pearston showed in her face that she fully recognised the
difference between a bird in hand and a better bird in the bush. She
looked him curiously up and down.
"I know you would make anybody a very nice husband." she said
presently. "I know that you would be nicer than many men half your age;
and, though there is a great deal of difference between you and her,
there have been more unequal marriages, that's true. Speaking as her
mother, I can say that I shouldn't object to you, Sir, for her,
provided she liked you. That is where the difficulty would lie."
"I wish you would help me to get over that difficulty," he said
gently. "Remember, I brought back a truant husband to you twenty years
"Yes, you did," she assented; "and, though I may say no great things
as to happiness came of it, I've always seen that your intentions
towards me were none the less noble on that account. I would do for you
what I would do for no other man, and there is one reason in particular
which would incline me to help you with Avice—that I should feel
absolutely certain I was helping her to a kind husband."
"Well, that would remain to be seen. I would, at any rate, try to be
worthy of your opinion. Come, Avice, for old times' sake, you must help
me. You never felt anything but friendship in those days, you know, and
that makes it easy and proper for you to do me a good turn now."
After a little more conversation his old friend was won to promise
that she really would do everything that lay in her power. And, as if
to show her good faith in this promise, she asked him to wait till
later in the evening, when Avice might possibly run across to see her.
Pearston, who fancied he had won the younger Avice's interest, at
least, by the part he had played upon the rocks the week before, had a
dread of encountering her in full light till he should have advanced a
little further in her regard. He accordingly was perplexed at this
proposal, and, seeing his hesitation, Mrs. Pearston suggested that they
should walk together in the direction whence Avice would come, if she
came at all.
He welcomed this idea, and in a few minutes they started, strolling
along under the now strong moonlight, and when they reached the gates
of Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle, turning back again towards the house. After
two or three such walks up and down, the gate of the castle grounds
clicked, and a form came forth which proved to be Avice the younger.
As soon as they met the girl recognised in her mother's companion
the gentleman who had helped her on the shore, and she seemed really
glad to find that her chivalrous assistant was claimed by her parent as
an old friend. She remembered hearing something about this worthy
London man of talent and position, whose ancestry were people of her
own isle, and possibly, from the name, of a common stock with her own.
"And you have actually lived in the castle yourself, Mr. Pearston?"
asked Avice the daughter, presently, with her innocent young voice.
"Was it long ago?"
"Yes, it was some time ago," replied the sculptor, with a sinking at
his heart lest she should say how long.
"It must have been when I was away—or when I was very little?"
"I don't think you were away."
"But I don't think I could have been here?"
"No, perhaps you couldn't have been here."
"I think she was here, but too small to remember," said Avice's
They talked in this general way till they reached Mrs. Pearston's
house; but Jocelyn resisted both the widow's invitation and the desire
of his own heart, and went away without entering. To risk, by visibly
confronting her, the advantage that he had already gained, or fancied
he had gained, with the re-incarnate Avice required more courage than
he could claim in his present mood.
Such evening promenades as these were frequent during the waxing of
that summer moon. On one occasion, as they were all good walkers, it
was arranged that they should meet halfway between the island and the
town in which Pearston had lodgings. It was impossible that by this
time the pretty young governess should not have 'guessed the ultimate
reason of these rambles to be a matrimonial intention; but she inclined
to the belief that the widow rather than herself was the object of
Pearston's regard; though why this educated and apparently wealthy man
should be attracted by her mother— whose homeliness was apparent
enough to the girl's more modern training—she could not comprehend.
They met accordingly in the middle of the Pebble Bank, Pearston
coming from the mainland, and the women from the peninsular rock.
Crossing the wooden bridge which connected the bank with the shore
proper, they moved in the direction of Henry the Eighth's Castle, on
the verge of the sand cliff. Like the Red King's Castle on the island,
the interior was open to the sky, and when they entered and the full
moon streamed down upon them over the edge of the enclosing masonry the
whole present reality faded from Jocelyn's mind under the press of
memories. Neither of his companions guessed what Pearston, that ancient
youth, was thinking of. It was in this very spot that he was to have
met the grandmother of the girl at his side, and in which he would have
met her had she chosen to keep the appointment. The consequence of that
meeting would have been the old-fashioned betrothal or island
custom—discontinued in these days—from which he could not have
receded. It might—nay, it must— have changed the whole current of
Instead of that, forty years had passed—forty years of severance
from Avice, till a secondly renewed copy of his sweetheart had arisen
to fill her place. But he, alas, was not renewed. And of all this the
pretty young face at his side, idealised by the moon's rays, knew
Taking advantage of the younger woman's retreat to view the sea
through an opening of the walls, Pearston appealed to her mother in a
whisper: "Have you ever given her a hint of what my meaning is? No?
Then I think you might, if you really have no objection."
Mrs. Pearston, as the widow, was far from being so coldly disposed
in her own person towards her friend as in the days when he wanted to
marry her. Had she now been the object of his pursuit, he would not
have needed to ask her twice. But like a good mother she stifled all
this, and said she would sound Avice there and then.
"Avice, my dear," she said, when the girl returned from the
window-gap, "what do you think of Mr. Pearston paying his addresses to
you—coming courting, as I call it in my old fashioned way. Supposing
he were to, would you encourage him?"
"To me, mother?" said Avice, with an inquiring laugh, "I
thought—he meant you!"
"O, no, he doesn't mean me," said her mother, hastily. "He is
nothing more than my friend."
"I don't want any addresses," said the daughter.
"He is a man in society, and would take you to an elegant house in
London suited to your education, instead of leaving you to mope here."
"I should like that well enough," replied Avice, carelessly.
"Then give him some encouragement."
"I don't care enough about him to do any encouraging. It is his
business, I should think, to do all."
She spoke in her lightest vein; but the result was that when
Pearston, who had discreetly withdrawn, returned to them, she walked
docilely, though perhaps gloomily, beside him, her mother dropping to
the rear. They came to a rugged descent, and Pearston took her hand to
help her. She allowed him to retain it when they arrived on level
Altogether it was not an unsuccessful evening for the man with the
unanchored heart, though possibly initial success meant worse for him
in the long run than initial failure. There was nothing marvellous in
the fact of her tractability thus far. In his, modern dress and style,
under the rays of the moon, he looked a very presentable gentleman
indeed, while his knowledge of art and his travelled manners were not
without their attractions for a girl who with one hand touched the
educated middle-class and with the other the rude and simple
inhabitants of the isle. Her intensely modern sympathies were quickened
by her peculiar outlook.
Pearston was almost ashamed of the brightness of his ardour for her.
He would have been quite ashamed if there had not existed a redeeming
quality in the substratum of old pathetic memory by which such love had
been created—which still permeated it, rendering it the tenderest,
most anxious, most protective instinct he had ever known. It may have
had in its composition too much of the old boyish fervour that had
characterised such affection when he was cherry-cheeked and slender in
the waist as a girl; it was all this feeling of youth, and more.
He was not exactly old, he said to himself the next morning as he
regarded his face in the glass. And he looked considerably younger than
he was. But there was history in his face—distinct chapters of it;
his brow was not that blank page it once had been. He knew the origin
of that line in his forehead; it had been ploughed in the course of a
month or two by a crisis in his matrimonial trouble. He remembered the
coming of this pale wiry hair; it had been brought by the illness in
Rome, when he had wished each night that he might never wake again.
This wrinkled corner, that drawn bit of skin, they had resulted from
those months of despondency when all seemed going against his art, his
strength, his love. "You cannot live your life and keep it, Jocelyn,"
he said. Time was against him and love, and time would probably win.
"When I went away from the first Avice," he continued with whimsical
misery, "I had a presentiment that I should ache for it some day. And I
am aching—have ached ever since this jade of a Well-Beloved learnt
the unconscionable trick of inhabiting one image only."
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER XXVI. HE MAKES A DASH FOR
THE LAST INCARNATION.
This desultory courtship of a young girl by an old boy was
interrupted by the appearance of Somers and his wife and family on the
Budmouth Esplanade. Alfred Somers, once the youthful, picturesque as
his own paintings, was now a middleaged family man with
spectacles—spectacles worn, too, with the single object of seeing
through them—and a row of daughters tailing off to infancy, who at
present added appreciably to the income of the bathing-machine women
established along the sands.
Mrs. Somers—once the intellectual, emancipated Mrs. PineAvon
—had now retrograded to the petty and timid mental position of her
mother and grandmother, keeping sharp, strict regard as to the class of
society literature and art that reached the presence of her long
perspective of girls. She was another illustration of the sad fact that
the succeeding generations of women are seldom marked by cumulative
progressiveness, their advance as the girl being lost in their
recession as the matron; so that they move up and down the stream of
intellectual development like flotsam in a tidal estuary. This,
however, not by reason of their faults as individuals, but of their
misfortune as child-rearers.
The landscape-painter, now an Academician like Pearston
himself—rather popular than distinguished—had given up that
peculiar and personal taste in subjects which had marked him in times
past, executing instead many pleasing aspects of nature addressed to
the furnishing householder through the middling critic, and really very
good of their kind. In this way he received many large cheques from
persons of wealth in England and America, out of which he built himself
a sumptuous studio and an awkward house around it, and paid for the
education of the growing maidens.
The vision of Somers's humble position as jackal to this lion of a
family and house and studio and social reputation— Somers, to whom
strange conceits and wild imaginings were departed joys never to
return—led Pearston, as the painter's contemporary, to feel that he
ought to be one of the bygones likewise, and to put on an air of
unromantic bufferism. He refrained from entering Avice's peninsula for
the whole fortnight of Somers's stay in the neighbouring town, although
its grey poetical outline—"throned along the sea"—greeted his eyes
every morn and eve across the roadstead.
When the painter and his family had gone back from their bathing
holiday, he thought that he, too, would have the neighbourhood. To do
so, however, without wishing at least the elder Avice good-bye would be
unfriendly, considering the extent of their acquaintance. One evening,
therefore, knowing this time of day to suit her best, he took the
ten-minutes ride thither by the little railway-train, and arrived at
Mrs. Pearston's door just after dark.
A light shone from an upper chamber. On asking for his widowed
acquaintance he was informed that she was ill, seriously, though not
dangerously. While learning that her daughter was with her, and further
particulars, and doubting if he should go in, a message was sent down
to ask him to enter. His voice had been heard, and Mrs. Pearston would
like to see him.
He could not with any humanity refuse, but there flashed across his
mind the recollection that Avice the youngest had never yet really seen
him, had seen nothing more of him than an outline, which might have
appertained as easily to a man thirty years his junior as to himself,
and a countenance so renovated by faint moonlight as fairly to
correspond. It was with misgiving, therefore, that the sculptor
ascended the staircase and entered the little upper sitting-room, now
arranged as a sick chamber.
Mrs. Pearston reclined on a sofa, her face emaciated to a surprising
thinness for the comparatively short interval since her attack. "Come
in, Sir," she said, as soon as she saw him, holding out her hand.
"Don't let me frighten you."
Avice was seated beside her, reading. The girl jumped up, hardly
seeming to recognise him. "O! it's Mr. Pearston," she said in a
moment, adding quickly, with evident surprise and off her guard: "I
thought Mr. Pearston was"—
What she had thought he was did not pass her lips, and it remained a
riddle for Pearston until a new departure in her manner towards him
showed that the words "much younger" would have accurately ended the
sentence. Had Pearston not now confronted her anew, he might have
endured philosophically her changed opinion of him. But he was seeing
her again, and the rooted feeling of twenty years was revived.
Pearston now learnt for the first time that the widow had been
visited by sudden attacks of this sort not infrequently of late years.
They were due to some variety of angina pectoris, the latter paroxysms
having been the most severe. She was at the present moment out of pain,
though weak, exhausted, and nervous. She would not, however, converse
about herself, but took advantage of her daughter's absence from the
room to broach the subject most in her thoughts.
"Troubles and sickness change our views, Mr. Pearston," she said.
"What I felt no great wish for when you first named it, I have hoped
for a good deal since; and I have been so anxious; I am glad indeed
that you are come."
"My wanting to marry Avice, you mean, dear Mrs. Pearston?"
"Yes—that's it. I wonder if you are still in the same mind? You
are, Sir? Then I wish something could be done—to make her agree to
it—so as to get it settled. I feel so anxious as to what will become
of her. She is not a practical girl as I was— she would hardly like
now to settle down as an islander's wife; and to leave her living here
alone would trouble me."
"Nothing will happen to you yet, I hope, my dear old friend."
"Well, it is a risky complaint: and the attacks, when they come, are
so agonising that to endure them I ought to get rid of all outside
anxieties, folk say. Now—do you want her, Sir?"
"With all my soul! But she doesn't want me."
"I don't think she is so against you as you imagine. I fancy if it
were put to her plainly, now I am in this state, it might he done."
From this subject they lapsed into conversation on the early days of
their acquaintance, until Mrs. Pearston's daughter re-entered the room.
"Avice," said her mother, when the girl had been with them a few
minutes. "About this matter that I have talked over with you so many
times since my attack. Here is Mr. Pearston, and he wishes to be your
husband. He is much older than you; but, in spite of it, that you will
ever get a better husband I don't believe. Now, will you take him,
seeing the state I am in, and how naturally anxious I am to see you
settled before I die?"
"But you won't die, mother! You are getting better!"
"Just for the present only. Come, he is a good man and a clever man,
and a rich man. I want you much to be his wife. I can say no more."
Avice looked appealingly at the sculptor, and then on the floor.
"Does he really wish me to?" she asked almost inaudibly, turning as she
spoke to Pearston. "He has never quite said so to me."
"My dear one, how can you doubt it?" said Pearston, quickly. "But I
won't press you to marry me as a favour, against your feelings."
"I thought Mr. Pearston was younger!" she murmured to her mother.
"That counts for little, when you think how much there is on the
other side. Think of ourposition, and of his—a sculptor, with a
studio full of busts and statues that I have dusted in my time, and of
the beautiful studies you would be able to take up. Surely the life
would just suit you? Your education is wasted down here."
Avice did not care to argue. She was gentle as her grandmother had
been, and it was just a question of whether she must or must not. "I
think I can agree to marry him," she answered quietly, after some
thought. "I see that it would be a wise thing to do, and that you wish
it, and that Mr. Pearston really does—like me. So—so that"—
Pearston was not backward at this critical juncture, despite
unpleasant sensations of his own selfishness. But it was the historic
ingredient in this genealogical passion—if its continuity through
three generations may be so described—which appealed to his
perseverance at the expense of his wisdom. The mother was holding the
daughter's hand; she took Pearston's, and laid Avice's in it.
No more was said in argument, and the thing was regarded as
determined. Afterwards a noise was heard upon the window-panes, as of
fine sand thrown; and, lifting the blind, Pearston saw that the distant
light-ship winked with a bleared and indistinct eye. A drizzling rain
had come on with the night. He had intended to walk the two miles back
to the station, but it meant a drenching to do it now. He waited and
had supper; and, finding the weather no better, accepted Mrs.
Pearston's invitation to stay over the night.
The room he occupied was the one he had been accustomed to sleep in
as a boy, before his father had made his fortune, and before his own
name had been heard of outside the boundaries of the isle.
He slept but little, and in the first movement of the dawn sat up.
Why should he ever live in London or any other fashionable city if this
plan of marriage could be carried out? Surely, with this young wife,
the island would be the best place for him. It might be possible to
rent Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle as he had formerly done—better still to
buy it. And if life could offer him anything worth having, it would be
a home with Avice there on his native cliffs to the end of his days.
As he sat thus thinking, while the light increased, he discerned, a
short distance before him, a movement of something ghostly. His
position was facing the window, and he found that by chance the
looking-glass had swung itself vertical, so that what he saw was his
own shape. The person he appeared, by daylight, being chronologically
so far in advance of the person he felt himself to be, Pearston did not
care to regard that figure who now confronted him so mockingly. But the
question of age being pertinent just now, he could not give the object
up, and ultimately got out of bed under the weird fascination of the
reflection. Whether he had overwalked himself lately, or what he had
done, he knew not; but never had he seemed so aged by a score of years
as he was represented in the glass in that cold grey morning light.
While his soul was what it was, why should he have been encumbered with
that withering carcase, without the ability to shift it off for
another, as his ideal Well-Beloved had so frequently done?
By reason of her mother's illness Avice was now living in the house,
and, on going downstairs, he found that they were to breakfast en
tête-à-tête. She was not then in the room, but she entered in the
course of a few minutes. Pearston had already heard that the widow felt
better this morning, and, elated by the prospect of sitting with Avice
at this meal, he went forward to her joyously. As soon as she saw him
in the full stroke of day from the window she started; and he then
remembered that it was their first meeting under the solar rays.
She was so overcome that she turned and left the room for a moment,
as if she had forgotten something; when she re-entered she was visibly
pale. Indeed, so much was she affected that he thought she was going to
faint. She recovered herself, and apologised. She had been sitting up
the night before the last, she said, and was not quite so well as usual.
There may have been some partial truth in this; but Pearston could
not assure himself upon it. Avice soon grew friendly enough, and seemed
inclined to accept matter as they offered. Jocelyn himself, however,
could not get over that first start of hers. He ate scarce any
breakfast, and, rising abruptly from the table, said he would take a
walk on the cliffs as the morning was fine.
He did so, proceeding along the north-east heights for nearly a
mile. Should he give her up? His intention had been to go back to the
house in half an hour and pay a morning visit to the invalid; but by
not returning the plans of the previous evening might be allowed to
lapse silently, as mere pourparlers that had come to nothing in the
face of Avice's want of love for him. Pearston accordingly went
straight along, and in the course of three-quarters of an hour was at
Slopeway Well, where he entered the train for Budmouth.
Nothing occurred till the evening to inform him of how his flight
had been taken. Then a note arrived from Mrs. Pearston; it was written
in pencil, evidently as she lay.
"I am alarmed," she said, "at your going so sudden. Avice seems to
think she has offended you. She did not mean to do that, I am sure. It
makes me dreadfully anxious! Will you send a line? Surely you will not
desert us now—my heart is so set on my child's welfare."
"Back I go!" said Pearston, rising from his chair.
CHAPTER XXVII. HE DESPERATELY
CLUTCHES THE FORM.
It was the little upper room at Mrs. Pearston's, now fitted up as an
invalid's chamber, wherein the widow was still reclining. Though she
did not sit up, she was well enough to be left alone, and had been
occupying herself in sewing pieces of silk together, to form some
fantastic article, suggestive of a bazaar bargain or wedding present.
This needlework, however, lay neglected beside her now, while, lost in
thought, she gazed out of the window at the long up-Channel view which
the situation of the house afforded—not intentionally, but because
such a prospect was unavoidable.
A rustling and bustling about, audibly proceeding in a neighbouring
chamber, together with the invalid's desertion, denoted that something
unusual was afoot, absorbing the whole strength of the domicile.
Presently the accents of feminine voices, light and excited, mixed in
with the rustling movements; and then the door of Mrs. Pearston's room,
which had stood ajar, was pushed open, and Avice appeared before her
mother's eyes. She smiled as the matron regarded her, and, placing
herself at the foot of the couch, stood passively under scrutiny in a
charmingly statuesque pose.
"Yes—it does very well," said the mother. "Not too young—not too
Avice was dressed for immediate marriage, and well she looked in the
habiliments chosen, which had been of a kind to suit the simple style
proposed for the ceremony and the bridegroom's maturity. A
walking-dress of dove-coloured silk and a bonnet of somewhat similar
shade formed the costume, which, despite its prettiness, was, for a
bridal adornment, a cruel toning down of youthful charms that would
have done justice to the airiest tissues ever woven by art.
Avice's mother inquired if Mr. Pearston had arrived.
"No ... Yes—it is he," murmured Avice, as the noise of a vehicle
coming round by the wall of Dell-i'-th'-rock increased till it stopped
at the door below. In a few minutes footsteps briskly ascended the
stairs, and Pearston, wearing a white waistcoat and flower, was shown
into the sick-chamber.
He pressed the fingers of the invalid the hand she gave being light
and diaphanous as a falling leaf, as thin as if cut out in paper.
Avice, with a curious access of modesty, had stood somewhat behind the
door, and she vented a constrained little laugh when he kissed her on
the cheek. There was now only time to speak in business-like tones of
the formal matters in hand. Mrs. Pearston declared that she wished to
be left by herself, since she was unable to go and give her daughter
away; gloves were then put on, and the couple descended the stairs.
Below they were joined by a few local friends, and soon Mrs. Pearston
heard the bridal party go off to the church on the western cliff.
The house sank into sunny silence, disturbed only by the faint
noises of the two servants in the kitchen and the chipping and sawing
of the quarrymen afar. Mrs. Pearston timed the party's absence by the
clock on the mantel—five minutes to get along the crooked road
through East Wake, ten minutes longer going across to the west side of
the isle to Forne, where the church stood: the service, with entering,
signing, and coming out, half an hour, a quarter returning; about one
She had no compunctions about this marriage. She felt perfectly sure
that it was the best thing she could do for her girl. Not a young woman
in the island but was envying Avice at that moment, for Pearston was
still less than threescore —though, to be sure, not much less—a
good-looking man as yet, one whose history was generally known here;
also the exact figures of the fortune he had inherited from his father,
and the social standing he could claim—a standing which that fortune
would not have been large enough to procure unassisted by his
reputation in his art.
But Avice had been weak enough, as her mother knew, to indulge in
fancies for local youths from time to time; and Mrs. Pearston could not
help terrifying herself by the picture of a possible return of the
wedding party in consternation, declaring Avice recalcitrant at the
last moment, and still no wife. Yet to everyone, except, perhaps, Avice
herself Pearston was the most romantic of lovers. Indeed, was there
ever such a romance as that man embodied in his relations to her house?
Rejecting the first Avice, the second had rejected him, and to decline
upon the third with final achievement was an artistic and tender finish
to which it was ungrateful in anybody to be blind.
The widow thought that, after all, the second Avice might not have
rejected Pearston if destiny had not arranged that she should be
secretly united to another when the proposing moment came.
The sunny pattern of the window-panes on the carpet had moved some
way onward; fifty-five minutes had passed; the vehicles could be heard
returning, and a little colour came into Mrs. Pearston's pale check. It
it were all right and done, what a success, upon the whole, her life
would have been! She who had begun that life as a homely girl, a small
quarryowner's daughter, had sunk to the position of laundress; had
engaged in various menial occupations; had made an unhappy marriage for
love, which had, however, in the long run much improved her position;
was at last to see her daughter established on a good level of
affluence and refinement; and yet not as the wife of a "kimberlin," but
of one of their own race and sympathies.
There was a flutter downstairs denoting the entry of the returned
personages, and she heard them approaching to ascend. Two people were
ascending. In a moment or two they entered the room—Pearston and
Avice together. Each came forward and kissed her.
"All was got through easily and satisfactorily, without a single
hitch!" cried Pearston. "And here we are, a married couple, hastening
up to see you!"
"Have you been no worse all the time, mother?" asked Avice, with an
anxious waiving of the chief subject.
Mrs. Pearston said she had been quite easy, and as Avice persisted
in keeping away from the event just concluded to talk of her mother's
aliments, Jocelyn left them together. When he had gone from the room
the widow said, "Now I am contented and thankful, my dear. And I hope
you are the same."
"O, I have nothing to say against it!" the girl replied. "I suppose
it was necessary, and there's an end of it."
"What—don't you like your husband?"
"Yes—I like him well enough."
"Then have a contented mind."
"I have, mother."
The entry of friends put an end to further conversation of this
kind, and there followed the usual accompaniments of a simple country
wedding. The present tenants of Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle were among the
guests, out of respect for Pearston and liking for their gentle
governess. In the afternoon the newly married couple drove over the
crest of the island, down the long, steep street of Slopeway Well
(where they were recognised by nearly everyone), and onward to the
railway station at the foot of the hill, whence they started for London.
Pearston had taken a new red Queen Anne house, of the most approved
Kensington pattern, with a studio at the back, in which the only
noteworthy feature at present was a ropeladder for ascending to the
upper part. After a brief sojourn in the cathedral cities of the north
of England they returned to London in early September, to superintend
the fitting and furnishing of this residence.
It was a pleasant, reposeful time to be in town. There was nobody to
interrupt them in their proceedings, and, it being out of the season,
the largest tradesmen were as attentive to their wants as if those
firms had never before been honoured with a single customer whom they
really liked. The husband and wife, almost equally inexperienced—for
the sculptor had nearly forgotten what knowledge of householding he had
acquired earlier in life—could consider and practise thoroughly, in
their solitude, a species of skeleton-drill in receiving visitors when
the pair should announce themselves at home in the coming winter season.
Avice was charming, even if a little cold. He congratulated himself
yet more than other people congratulated him. She was somewhat like her
mother, whom he had loved in the flesh, but she was the image of her
grandmother, whom he had loved in the spirit—and, for that matter,
loved now. Only one criticism had he to pass upon his youthful partner:
though in outward semblance her grandame's self, she had not the first
Avice's candour of heart, but rather her mother's closeness. He never
knew exactly what she was thinking and feeling. Yet he seemed to have
such prescriptive rights in women of her blood that her occasional want
of confidence did not deeply trouble him.
It was one of those ripe and mellow afternoons that sometimes colour
London with their golden light at this time of the year, and produce
those marvellous sunset effects which, if they were not known to be
made up of kitchen coal-smoke and human and animal exhalations, would
be rapturously applauded. Behind the perpendicular, oblique, zigzagged,
and curved zinc tubes called "tall-boys," that formed a grey pattern
not unlike some early Gothic numerals against the sky, the men and
women on the tops of omnibuses saw an irradiation of topaz hues,
darkened here and there into richest russet.
Inside Pearston's new studio some gleams of the same light managed
to creep. There had been a sharp shower during the afternoon, and
Pearston, who had to take care of himself, had worn a pair of goloshes
on a short walk in the street. He noiselessly entered the studio, where
he knew he should find his wife awaiting him with tea. There she was,
seated beside the teapot of brown delf, which, as artists, they
affected, her back being towards him. She was holding her handkerchief
to her eyes, and then he saw that she was weeping silently.
In another moment he perceived that she was weeping over a book. By
this time she had heard him, and came forward. He made it appear that
he had not noticed her distress, and they discussed some arrangements
of furniture. When he had taken a cup of tea, she went away, leaving
the book behind her.
Pearston took it up. The volume was an old school-book;
Stièvenard's "Lectures Françuises," with her name in it as a pupil at
Budmouth High School, and date-markings denoting lessons taken at a
comparatively recent time, for Avice had been but a novice as governess
when he discovered her.
For a school-girl—which she virtually was—to weep over a
school-book was strange. Could she have been affected by some subject
in the readings? Impossible. Pearston fell to thinking, and the bloom
went off the process of furnishing, which he had undertaken so gaily.
Somehow, the bloom was disappearing from his marriage also. Yet he
loved Avice more and more tenderly; he feared sometimes that in the
solicitousness of his affection he was spoiling her by indulging her
He looked round the large and ambitious apartment, now becoming
clouded with shades, out of which the white and cadaverous
countenances of his studies, casts, and other lumber peered
meditatively at him, as if they were saying, "What are you going to do
now, old boy?" They had never looked like that while standing in his
past homely workshop, where all the real labours of his life had been
carried out. What should a man of his age, who had not for years done
anything to speak of—certainly not to add to his reputation as an
artist— want with a new place like this? It was all because of the
young wife, and she apparently did not want him.
CHAPTER XXVIII. HE POSSESSES IT: HE
POSSESSES IT NOT.
Pearston did not see Avice again till dinner-time. Then, as he
observed her nervously presiding over their limited table, he was
tempted to say, "Why are you troubled, my little dearest?" in tones
which disclosed that he was as troubled as she.
"Am I troubled?" she said, with a start, turning her gentle hazel
eyes upon him. "Yes, I suppose I am. It is because I have received a
letter—from an old friend—a person who used to be friendly."
"You didn't show it to me."
"No—I tore it up."
"I didn't care to have it—I didn't like it, so I destroyed it."
Pearston did not press her further on the subject, and she showed no
disposition to continue it. Avice retired rather early that evening,
and her husband went along the passage to the studio, ostensibly to
consider further how the fittings should be arranged. There he remained
pacing up and down a long while, musing deeply on many things, not the
least being the perception that to wed a woman is by no means the same
as to be united with her. His wife's corporcal frame was upstairs:
where her spiritual part lurked he could not tell.
At eleven o'clock he ascended also, and softly opened the chamber
door. Within he paused a moment. Avice was asleep, and his intent car
caught a sound of a little gasping sigh every now and then between her
breathings. When he moved forward his light awoke her; she started up
as if from a troublous dream, and regarded him with something in her
open eye and large pupils that was not unlike dread. It was so
unmistakable that Pearston felt half paralysed, coming, as it did,
after thoughts not too assuring; and, placing his candle on the table,
he sat down on the couch at the foot of the bed. All of a sudden he
felt that he had no moral right to go further. He had no business there.
He stayed and stayed, sitting there in his dressing-gown till the
candle had burnt low; she became conscious of his silence, and said,
"You rather startled me when you came in."
"I am sorry," said Pearston, "you looked as if you didn't like my
"Did I? I didn't know that."
"Avice, I am going to tell you something, if you are not too sleepy."
"O, no, I am not sleepy."
"I was once your mother's lover, and wanted to marry her—only she
wouldn't, or couldn't, marry me."
"How very strange;" said Avice, now thoroughly awake. "Mother has
never told me that. Yet, of course you might have been—you are quite
"O, yes, quite old enough;" he said grimly. "Almost too old."
"Too old for poor mother?" she said musingly. "How's that?"
"Because I rightly belonged to your grandmother."
"No! How can that be?"
"I was her lover likewise. I should have married her if I had gone
straight on instead of round the corner."
"But you couldn't, Jocelyn? You are not old enough? Why, how old are
you?—you have never told me."
"I am very old."
"My mother's, and my grandmother's," said she, looking at him no
longer as at a husband, or even a friend; but as at a strange
fossilised relic in human form. Pearston saw this; but he did not mean
to spare himself. In a sudden access of remorse he was determined to
pursue this to the bitter end— carried on by a wave of revolt
against the curse of never being allowed to grow old.
"Your mother's and your grandmother's lover," he repeated.
"And were you my great-grandmother's too?" she asked, with an
expectant interest that had overcome her personal feeling as his wife.
"No; not your great-grandmother's." He winced at that question,
unreflectingly as it had been put, perceiving that his information,
superadded to her previous sentiments, had already operated damagingly.
He went on, however, to repeat with a dogged calm: "But I am very old."
"I did not know it was so much!" she said, in an appalled murmur.
"You do not look so, and I thought that what you looked you were."
"No; I am very old," he unnecessarily reiterated. "And you—you are
A silence followed, his candle burnt still lower; he was waiting for
her to sleep, but she did not. Amid so much difference in their
accidents there was much resemblance in their essentials; he was as
sympathetically nervous as she, and the mere air itself seemed to bring
him the knowledge that she lay in a state of tension which was
indescribably more distressing than pain.
He knew that his cause was lost with her by his exaggerating their
contrasts. The verge of division, on which they long had trembled, she
had at last crossed. Pearston noiselessly arose, took up his candle,
and went out of the room. He had an impression that he might never
again enter that chamber.
He lay down in an adjoining room, and instead of sleeping tried
again to conjecture what had disturbed Avice, and, through her,
himself, so much as to drive him to court disaster. There seemed to be
something uncanny about London in its effect upon his marriage. He
began to hate the grimy city and his new house and his new studio, and
to wish he had not re-established himself so elaborately there. The
momentary defiance of his matrimonial fate which had led him to speak
as he had done in his wife's room now passed away, and he hoped again.
To take her back to his and her own native spot for a few weeks
seemed the most promising course for shaking off this nightmare which
sat upon them here. Her mother's persuasive powers might reconcile
Avice to her new position when nothing else would, notwithstanding the
unfortunate indiscretion of which in his despair he had been guilty,
that of revealing his past attachments. A good practical reason for
their return thither existed in the incomplete condition of their
house-furnishing here, and in the still unmending state of his
mother-in-law. Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle was now, unfortunately, occupied
by a permanent tenant, but there were some lodgings near which he
thought he might easily obtain.
When he encountered Avice the next morning there was a trace of
surprise in her face, but the distant, apprehensive look had not
altogether departed. Yet he would have sacrificed everything—his
artistic reputation itself—to give her pleasure. He feared that the
conversation of the previous night had established her to regard him as
a fearful curiosity; but regrets were too late now. He disclosed his
proposition to ran down to their old place.
"When?" she asked.
"Soon. Say to-day. I don't like being here among these
packing-cases, and the quicker we get away the better."
"I shall be glad to go," she said. "Perhaps mother is not so well,
and I should like to be near her."
Whatever had upset her, then, it had nothing to do with locality.
Pearston thereupon gave sufficient directions for the further
garnishing of his town house, and in the afternoon they set out for the
south-west by the familiar railway. Pearston stopped at Budmouth for
that night, sending on his wife to her mother's home in the isle, where
he promised to join her the next day.
(to be continued.)
CHAPTER XXVIII. (Continued.) HE
POSSESSES IT: HE POSSESSES IT NOT.
It was the first time they had slept under different roofs since
their marriage; and when she was gone, and the charm of her personality
was idealised by lack of the substance, he felt himself far less able
to bear the thought of an estrangement than when her corporcal presence
afforded trifling marks for criticism. And yet, concurrently, the
conviction grew that, whatever the rights with which the civil law had
empowered him, by no law of nature, of reason, had he any right to
partnership with Avice against her evident will.
The next day he set out for the island, longing, yet dreading, to
see her again. No sooner had he reached the top of the hill and passed
the forking of the ways than he discerned in the distance, on the way
he had not taken, a form which was unmistakably that of his wife,
apparently out on some trifling errand. To go back, take the other
road, and join her lest she should miss him, was the obvious thing to
do; yet he stood like one enervated, will-bereft, and ashamed. As he
stood a man came up, and, noticing his fixity, regarded him with
"A tidy little figure-of-fun that, Sir," said the man.
"Yes. A dainty little creature, like a fairy. ... Now, would you
assert, my friend, that a man has a right to force himself into her
presence at all times and seasons, to sit down at her table, to take
her hither and thither—all against her liking?"
"I thought so. And yet a man does it; for he has married her."
"Oh! She's his wife! That's a hoss of another colour. Ha, ha, ha!"
"I don't think it is," said Pearston.
The pedestrian disappeared, and Pearston, still glancing across the
quarries at the diverging road, saw that Avice had perceived him, and
was standing still, expecting his approach. He climbed over the low
side-wall and traversed the open ground to her side. Her young face
showed anxiety, and he knew that something had happened.
"I have been looking for you," she said. "I didn't exactly know the
time you were coming, or I should have sent somebody to meet the train.
Mother has suddenly got so much worse: it seems almost as though my
coming had caused it, but it cannot be that, of course, because she is
so glad. I am afraid—I am so much afraid she may not live! The change
in her has quite shocked me. You would hardly know her. And she has
kept it from us that she was not so well, because she would not disturb
our happiness. Happiness!"
The last word might have been construed in its relation to her
mother or to herself. Pearston was in a mood to suffer anything now,
and he did not mind which way she had intended it. They hastened onward
together—that is, side by side—with a lineal yard between them, for
she was never too ready to take his arm; and soon reached the house at
Mrs. Pearston the elder was evidently sinking. The hand she gave
him, which had formerly been as thin as a leaf, was now but a cobweb.
She was mentally quite at ease, and murmured to him that it was her
great comfort and thankfulness to feel that her child was well provided
for in the possession of such a good and kind husband.
Avice, her daughter, could not leave the house at night in such
circumstances, and, no room being ready for the reception of them as a
couple, Pearston left his wife by her mother's side and went out to a
lodging near at hand; accident thus making easy of continuance the
constraint in their relations which had begun in London.
CHAPTER XXIX. THE ELUSIVENESS
Pearston felt that he certainly had tried to be good and kind to the
little sylphlike thing he called his wife. He had been uniformly
attentive and courteous, had presented her with every pretty trifle and
fancy in the shape of art-works, jewellery, clothing, furniture, that
money could buy; had anticipated her every wish and whim in other ways.
But whether the primal act of marrying her had been goodness and
kindness was open to question.
The mother's life was prolonged but a very few days after this; and
they buried her not far from the spot where Avice the First had been
laid, in that old churchyard over the western cliffs, which was like a
miniature forest of oolite, the plethora of freestone in the locality
placing a carved memorial within the reach of all. It seemed to
Pearston but a season or two earlier that he had stood there in the
dusk after the first interment, when the vision of the then daughter
appeared, to pull him back to youth anew.
This sad office being performed he hastened up to town, leaving
Avice in her mother's late residence, which they now adopted as their
own country cottage. She liked remaining there, she said, and, having
taken care that she should have every attention, he did not hurry back
to her side. A feeling which many people might have called Quixotic was
acquiring such strength in him as to make future relations with his
charming prize a perplexing problem to a man whose pursuits had taught
him to regard impressions and sentiments as more cogent than legal
rights, and humours as more cogent than reasons.
It was, therefore, not until nearly a mouth had passed— during
which he had endeavoured to stifle his disappointment at being only the
nominal protector of Avice by attending to many long-neglected
things—that he found himself one evening at the seaport whence the
run into the peninsula was by a short line of railway. Nine o'clock,
however, had struck, and the last train had left twenty minutes
earlier. He felt stiff and chilly with sitting in the London train so
long, and, telegraphing to Avice to expect him late, resolved to walk
to her home by the old road, which he had not pursued for many, many
years, and which now lay bleached by the moonlight.
His course was over the bridge and through the old town, afterwards
skirting the cliffs, till there arose on his left hand, gaunt and bare
against the sea, the Tudor castle ruins where he had met his own
particular third Avice some time ago, the second Avice earlier; where
he would have met the first, and, but for chance, have shaped for
himself and the two others a different history. He duly crossed the
long framed and braced wooden bridge, its whiteness intensified now by
the rays, after which there lay before him the long, featureless road
within the pebble barrier that screened it from the outer sea. The bay
within lifted and dropped placidly under the moon; the pebble bank ran
straight ahead, diminishing in a haze, above which swelled the vast
rock that the line of pebbles seemed to tether. It was the place,
unchanged almost, that he had traversed in the rain beside the woman
whom he had rashly married in his first youth and inexperience.
He had reached about halfway between the island and the main shore
when a black spot appeared by the road in front of him, hitherto
absolutely deserted. Drawing forward, he found the object to be only
the figure of a man sitting upon the bank, his face towards the
moonlight. This was strong enough to show Pearston as he passed by that
his fellow-pedestrian was a young man of apparently five-and-twenty,
with a curly dark moustache. Pearston said "Goodnight!" and a reply
was returned to him in an accent which was not that of an Englishman.
Moreover, the voice was faint and shaken. Pearston halted.
"I hope you are not ill," he said.
"I am unwell," said the foreigner.
"Going my way?"
"Then let me help you onward."
He approached and assisted the stranger, who rose with some
difficulty. He was a well-dressed, gentlemanly young fellow, and beside
where he had been sitting a white handkerchief lay upon the dry pale
pebbles, the handkerchief being stained with what appeared to be blood.
"Have you been coughing?" said Pearston.
"No. I crossed this morning from Havre, and the seasickness brought
on a slight haemorrhage. It is not serious."
"I am not so sure about that," said Pearston.
He took the young man's arm, and together they pursued the remainder
of the level way to the foot of the isle, where began the little town
of Slopeway Well.
"How do you feel now?" Pearston asked. "Can I take you to any house
"No, no; I thank you," the stranger replied. "I have lodgings here,
which I secured by letter; but I missed the train, or I should have
been in them by this time. I am much better now, and require no more
attention. For that you have given me receive my deepest thanks and
"Well, accept my stick, at any rate—you will get along better, if
it is only a few steps."
This the young man did, and they parted. There was not a fly left at
the station, and, seeing that he would have to walk the remainder of
the distance, Pearston entered an inn a few yards up the street to get
some simple refreshment by which he might fortify himself for the
ascent. When he came out the young man had disappeared.
It was a pleasure indeed to Pearston when, drawing near to the house
which was now again his own dear home, he beheld a little figure
standing against the door, and presumably awaiting him. Avice, for it
was she, dutifully allowed him to kiss her when he reached her side,
though her nervousness, only too apparent, was that of a child towards
a parent who may prove stern.
While seated indoors at a supper of a more appetising character than
the inn had supplied, he became aware that Avice had left the room.
Thinking that she had gone upstairs to supervise preparations for his
accommodation, he sat on quietly musing and sipping his glass for
something like half an hour. Wondering then, for the first time, what
had become of her, he rose suddenly and began looking around. She was
quite near him, after all; only standing at the front door as she had
been doing when he arrived, gazing into the moonlight. But she was
agitated now, unmistakably.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I must go and see somebody who is ill—I feel I ought to go! And
yet—as you have just come—I suppose you don't approve of my going
"Who is the person?"
She did not give any name. "Somebody down that way," she said
indefinitely. "I only heard of it just now. It is not very far to the
"If you really wish to go, my dear, of course I don't object. I will
sit and await your coming back, if you prefer to go alone."
Avice replied by instantly taking advantage of the offer— putting
on a hat and cloak and starting forthwith. In leaving him she glanced
at him for a moment, as if expecting him to ask a further question. But
He continued alone, thinking how entirely her manner was that of one
to whom a question of doing anything was merely a question of
permission and not of judgment. When she had been gone some little
while, he observed that it was getting rather late. How absurd of her,
he thought, not to let him accompany her at such an hour! At length, in
a state bordering on irritation, he rose, and went out to look for her.
There was no sign of her returning along the road, though he
strolled on so far as to the bend round by the north entrance of
Dell-i'-th'-rock Castle. Beaching that entrance he stood still under
the trees and wall, being unsure by which way to expect her, and the
spot commanding the length of the village street or highway.
He was not aware how entirely invisible he had been standing till he
perceived two figures—one a man, walking by the aid of a stick, the
other a woman, from whom the man also derived some assistance. The
place was deserted, and their voices could be heard, though not the
words they were saying. The man spoke in a French accent, and he was
obviously the young invalid whom Pearston had assisted along the shore.
The woman was weeping. Her accents were so low and the fact was so
far from his expectation that Pearston did not at first dream of her
being his wife. Then he had a suspicion, and, as they had turned the
corner, he felt justified in following them.
They passed at the same show pace down the lane or gorge leading to
the old castle ruins. A heart-sickness had well-nigh prostrated the
unhappy Pearston by this time; he was no nearer to the third Avice than
he had been to the second and the first.
They reached the corner of the Red King's Castle, where there were
some large blocks of loose rock, carved with the initials of natives of
past generations. "Do you think it well to go farther?" asked the
woman, as if she were anxious that he should return.
"I fear I cannot," he said.
Pearston was now sure that Avice was the young man's companion, and
standing under the sheer face of the rock he found that it reflected
"Why did you come, after being away so long? How could I help
thinking you had given up all wish to—do what we planned, and had
decided to stay in your own country?"
The wind interfered for a moment; then he heard her repeat, like a
wounded bird, "Why did you come, Henri, after being absent so long, and
bring me and yourself into such trouble as this?"
Her notes of anguish so moved Pearston that he sank his jealousy in
pity of her. Whatever had happened, it had been against her will and
She soon remarked anxiously that she could not stay longer, and
begged her companion to seek the rest he needed. Pearston was obliged
to remain where he was till they had gone past.
"I am sorry I have no right to offer you shelter in my house," she
said. "But it is not because my husband is come that I may not do this.
I feel I must not—ought not—even though you are so ill as to make
it almost inhuman! O, it is hard for you, Henri: but what can I do!"
"It is not necessary. I have a lodging quite near, where I can stay
till to-morrow, and then I can get back to the station; and then—I
will see you no more—if it is your command."
"It is—it must be," said she.
They crept slowly back as far as to the north entrance of
Dell-i'-th'-rock, where their ways parted.
"Then I sha'n't see you again?" he said, facing her, and leaning on
"How can you!"
"I see your reason well enough, but it is no consolation to me. What
a blow! Who could expect it? To come so far, and to be so disappointed!
You broke an implicit promise, Avice, even if not a verbal one!"
"Don't reproach me, Henri! My poor mother— There, don't let us
talk of it. I couldn't have married you, dear. It would have grieved my
mother so. There, I am going! Can you really walk back?"
Perhaps he kissed her—more than once; perhaps he did not. There
were sniffings and sighings at least, and the young man went along the
north road. Avice stood awhile watching his feeble gait; then, as if
she could bear it no longer, walked wildly towards her own house.
CHAPTER XXX. HE BECOMES
Meanwhile, Pearston had entered the gate of the new castle
precincts, and, knowing the grounds well, hastened across them inside
the wall to the gate opening near their dwelling. He had just time to
slip over the way and reach the porch before she arrived round by the
"Where have you been so long, Avice?" sternly asked the man of
"I will tell you," said Sweet-and-Twenty, with breathless humility.
"I have kept you up, haven't I? And you so tired! I could not help it,
as you will say when I explain."
She accompanied him indoors, sat down without removing her hat or
cloak, and went on to him, as he seated himself opposite. "I have been
crying; you can see that, I dare say." While he regarded, she could
not repress renewed tears. "It has happened in this way. Just before
you arrived, a young man, whom I had not seen for two years, wrote to
me saying he was coming to the island to claim me. He—he had been my
lover" (here Avice's delicate lip and chin quivered) "when he lived
here in England. But I thought—he had deserted me. ... However, he
came, not knowing that I—that I— was m-married; not wishing to be
seen by anybody till he had found out if I was faithful, he sent a boy
with a message; and my name being still Pearston, he did not discover I
could not be his, and I had to go out to him and tell him. He had been
taken very unwell in crossing, and has not yet recovered, because the
sea-sickness caused him some internal bleeding." She continued, sobbing
outright: "I wish—he could see a doctor!"
"He shall see a doctor. I'll send one to him at his lodging, if
you'll tell me where that is."
"It is at the Green Mermaid."
"How did you get to know this young man originally?" asked
"He was the French master at B—B—Budmouth two or three years
ago," Twenty replied; "and I learnt of him, and"—
"Fell in love with him."
"I suppose I did. But he did with me—first!"
"And why, in the name of common-sense, didn't you marry him before
ever you saw me?"
"We would have married! Only mother thought—she was quite
wrong—she thought that as he was penniless and I should have a little
money he wanted me on that account. And she didn't like the idea of my
marrying a foreigner. Then he went away to his own country to see his
friends and get them to help him, so that he might be no poorer than I.
They, too, objected to his marrying. He then wrote to ray he would not
bind me, but if he did get rich and independent he would let me know.
As he didn't get richer, he was too honourable to write to me."
"Why did he come back, then?"
"He said he couldn't help it, because he kept thinking of me!" she
murmured. "I wish he hadn't come! But I am rightly punished for
thinking he could ever forget me! ... There was not time for me to
hinder his coming, and he didn't know how matters were till we stood
face to face."
Pearston could not help picturing the scene of the meeting of the
two young things and the moment of her sad announcement, under the
light of the moon.
"He'll go away to-morrow," she pleaded, "and I shall never see him
any more! I hope you'll forgive me, Sir. I am sure not to see him
again, because—because, if he reaches home alive, he'll soon die!"
Avice had spoken with great self-command up to this moment, but her
firmness gave way, and she burst into a violent fit of weeping.
"I can't—help crying—I know I ought not to—but I loved him
very much, and he loved me! And I didn't know he would come again!"
Pearston himself was affected to tears by her utter misery. The
results of this marriage were beginning to be bad enough for him; but
his was, at worst, a negative grief. To her it was direct and terrible.
He took her hand: She had been so frank in her speech, and honourable
in her conduct, that he was on her side as against himself.
"I do not blame you at all, dear one," he said. "You would be
justified in eloping with him, after such a trial. ... I wish I could
mend all this misery I have caused so unintentionally by my persistence
in a cruel blunder."
"I'll try—not to mind, Sir; and I'll do everything I can to forget
him—as I ought to do, I know. I could have done it better if he had
not been taken ill. O! do you think he'll die?"
"No, no. You must not trouble about that, my child. We'll get the
best advice for him if a doctor becomes necessary. I'll go and see him
this very night or to-morrow morning. What is he like? Have you a
photograph? You have, for certain!"
"I had one; but I destroyed it the day before I married you, because
I thought it was not well to keep it."
"Suppose you had never seen me, do you think you would have married
him now, since he has come back?"
"O, you can guess well enough—if he had not been too ill! And if
he had been too ill I should have nursed him— seeing how he is alone
here, without a friend; all because of me!"
"You shall nurse him now. Your having married me need not make any
difference at all."
Pearston's sense of his cruelty grew so strong that he could not
help kissing her forehead in pure sympathy, as if she were a child
under his care. Then he hastily went out—to smoke and think, he told
In the open space before the house he walked up and down, the
prospect eastward being bounded by the distance-line of the sea; so
faintly and delicately drawn, yet the most permanent of features in the
prospect. On the other side of him rose the front of his wife's home.
There was now a light in her chamber-window, showing that she had
retired for the night. The longer he looked the less was he able to
escape the conviction that he was the kill joy of that young life. To
any man it would have been an uneasy consideration; to him it was a
double and treble gloom of responsibility; for this life was the
quintessence of his own past life, the crowning evolution of the idea
expressed by the word "Avice," typifying the purest affection it had
ever been his lot to experience.
It was certainly an age of barbarism in which he lived: since,
whatever were his honest wish to right this ill matter, he could not do
it. More, a formal legal ceremony gave him the power at this moment, or
at any other, to force his presence upon that suffering girl.
Instead of re-entering Pearston walked along the few hundred yards
to the Green Mermaid. A light, too, was in an upper room of the small
inn. He wondered if it were Henri's bed-room, and entered the house,
though it was on the point of being closed.
To his inquiry of the landlord, a home-come sailor, if a gentleman
had taken a room there, an affirmative was returned. "A French
gent—Mr. Mons Leverre—him as used to teach in Budmouth. He's badish
wi' his stomach, and had to go to bed. We be going to take 'en up a cup
"Will you ask him if he can see me? Tell him I am a friend—that's
The sailor went upstairs, and on returning said that Mr. Mons
Leverre would be glad to see him. Pearston found his way to the chamber
where poor young "Mons" (as he had used to be called in Budmouth, from
the appearance of his name on the doorplate) welcomed him feebly from
his pillow. A handsome young man with a silken moustache and black
curly hair, he seemed little more than Avice's age, though he was
probably older, his large anxious eyes and nervous temperament
subtracting somewhat from his years. Having resided in this country
with few interruptions since he was fifteen, his English was nearly as
good as Pearston's.
"I come as a friend," said the latter. "We met an hour or two ago,
if you remember. I am the husband of Avice Pearston. Don't start or
disturb yourself. I bear you no illwill, my lad, on that account. I
have only come to inquire how you feel"
The young man confusedly replied that he had felt better since lying
down, and his visitor said that he would send a doctor on the morrow,
if only for his own satisfaction.
"But, Sir; why should you be anxious about me?"
"Never mind that. Now tell me frankly—Did you come from your own
country on purpose to see Avice?"
"Yes; but, Heaven! I didn't know my Avice was a wife! I came to
marry her!" He turned his face away to the wall, and murmured to
himself his regrets.
"Well, don't think too much of that just at present. If you would
like to see her again she shall come with me to-morrow."
"You are very kind!" cried the young man, turning back to Pearston
and seizing his hand. "Let me see her once— once only! I would not
wish to see her but once! I shall be well in a day or two. I shall
leave. I will never inconvenience you or her, Sir, any more afterwards."
Pearston bade him compose himself, ensured that he should be well
attended to, and paced back sadly to his own house, where he glanced up
at the window-blind that had been illuminated when he left. It was in
darkness now. He strained his eyes back towards the inn: that, too, was
dark. How wrong it was that there should stand a barrier, hard as the
stone isle itself, between a heart in that house and a heart in this!
Having entered he wrote a note to the local surgeon, asking him to
call at the Green Mermaid in the morning, and left it on the hall table
with a direction that it should be delivered early. Then he went softly
upstairs, and listened at the door of her room. She was not asleep, and
he heard her gasp and start when he accidentally brushed against the
handle. Pearston moved onward to the adjoining chamber, and what he
sighed to himself might have been aptly paraphrased by two lines from
"Troilus and Cressida"— I had good argument for kissing once. But
that's no argument for kissing now. Why should he not play the benign
giant to these two dwarfs, as they were in their emotional history,
with its one little year of love-tempest to his forty years of the
same? Because by that act of charity he would break the laws and
(To be continued)
CHAPTER XXXI. THE MAGNANIMOUS
It was in the full sunshine of next morning that the mockmarried
couple walked towards the inn. Avice looked up fearfully at her husband
from time to time. She could not understand her lord and master in any
other character than that of lording and mastering her. Her father's
bearing towards her mother had been only too often of that quality.
When they were reaching the inn-door the surgeon appeared on the
threshold, coming out. Pearston said to his wife: "Henri Leverre is to
be spoken of as a friend of ours, mind. Nobody will suspect your former
On inquiry the doctor informed them that his patient was restless.
The hæmorrhage was from the stomach—the direct result of sea-sickness
on predisposing conditions. He would have to be taken care of, and with
such care there was no reason why the malady should recur. He could
bear removal, and ought to be removed to a quieter place.
The young man was sitting up in bed gazing dreamily through the
window at the stretch of quarries and cranes it commanded. At sight of
Avice behind Pearston he blushed painfully. Avice blushed with equal
distress; and her husband went and looked out of the window.
When he turned his head the sorely tried pair had recovered some
apparent equanimity. She had, in fact, whispered to her lover: "My
husband knows everything. I told him— I felt bound to do so! He
trusts us, assuming that we have no other intention but to part for
ever; and we must act up to his expectations."
The conversation of the three was impersonal and flat enough: on the
state of France, on the profession of teachers of languages. Yet
Pearston could not resist an interest in the young man, which deepened
every moment. He was a transparency, a soul so slightly veiled that the
outer shaped itself to the inner like a tissue. At one moment he was
like the poet Keats, at another like Andrea del Sarto. The latter,
indeed, seemed to have returned to earth in him, the same poetry of
mien being set amid the same weaknesses.
In a solicitude for Henri Leverre which was almost paternal Jocelyn
could well-nigh sink his grief at being denied the affection of Avice.
That afternoon he obtained quiet lodgings for the young man in a house
across the way, and had him removed thither.
Every day Pearston visited the patient here, sometimes taking Avice
with him, though she always shrank from the ordeal. To all outward
seeming, Pearston was making a mistake by acting thus; but his conduct,
begun in waywardness as a possible remedy by surfeit for the malady of
the two unhappy ones, had been continued on other grounds, arising from
sympathy with them during the process.
"You think his recovery may now be reckoned on?" he said to the
doctor one day.
"Yes—from the hæmorrhage. But mentally he is not at rest. He is
unhappy, and that keeps him back. Something worries or grieves him.
These foreigners are much given to that. I gather that he has
quarrelled with his parents, and the thought of it may depress him."
It suddenly struck Pearston that Avice had begun to look wan and
leaden-eyed. He met her only at meals and during walks, on which
occasions she always looked up at him with misgiving, as if his plan of
never obtruding himself upon her were the illusive beginning of some
terrible scheme of vengeance upon her for loving illegally.
He was, in fact, pondering a scheme.
But the scheme which Pearston pondered was of a very different
nature from any sultanic determination to bring punishment upon the
head of his unhappy bride.
After casting about desperately for relief to his lately awakened
natural or moral sense, which began to be oppressed by the present most
improper situation ruling between himself and Avice—licensed as it
might be by engrossings, fees, stamps, and ceremonies—he had come to
a conclusion. He could not wean her by surfeit of the sick man; that
was obvious. And with the loss of this woman, his third Avice, he had
not much left in his life to care for. Pleasant illusions had one by
one been dissipated; he could see the black framework where the flaring
jets of the illumination had once dazzled his eyes; and the chief
satisfaction remaining to him now was that a man finds in setting his
house in order before departure.
Pearston was an artist, not a moralist, and his plan was
characteristic of his nature. It was based on the idea of resuscitating
his first wife, Marcia, in spirit and seeming, since he had never
received definite tidings of her decease. Thirty years of silence had
left him and others no moral doubt of her death, but he had never
received legal testimony of the event. It was by the channel of escape
this offered him that he proposed to restore his Avice, whom he loved
better than himself, to approximate happiness. Since his marriage with
her was a farce, why not treat it as a farce by playing another to
Coming down to breakfast one morning as usual he found Avice
awaiting him with that forlorn and hopeless smile of greeting upon her
face which cut his heart like a lash; and he was stimulated to take the
first step in her deliverance.
"As our relations are not what—I hope I they might have been," he
said as he sat down, "the news I have to tell you will not disturb your
mind so much as may be expected by other people. You will remember, of
course, how before our marriage we went into the question of my first
wife Marcia's existence, and decided that it was quite impossible she
should be living, though she was never proved to be dead."
"Yes," murmured Avice. And thereupon a strange light seemed to rise
and colour her face, such as sometimes comes over a landscape when
there are no direct rays to cause it. O, the quickness of thought! It
was the hope of release.
"I have reason to think the probability insufficient. That I ought
to ascertain her death beyond shadow of doubt. I am going to send
telegrams to the Western States of America and elsewhere, directing
search for her by advertisement. I shall probably start thither myself
soon—journeying first to Salt Lake City. If I find her I shall never
come back— never!"
A pause succeeded, in which the noises of their breakfasting seemed
"If you—don't find her?" said Avice then.
"I shall never come back in that case either."
She gazed up at him.
"In any case I will send you directions what to do. You will go on
living here on your own freehold, of course, till you hear from me. Not
living alone: I will find some suitable companion for you ... And, when
you find you are no wife of mine, you must promise me one thing: to
marry that lover of yours. He will soon recover, and I will make it
worth his while to wed you, in every sense."
"But I may not find I am no"—
"I am certain—from premonitions and other perceptions, which I
will not enter into now—I am morally certain that you will find
yourself free. What I more precisely wish you to promise is to marry
Henri promptly, without delay, immediately that you find yourself free."
"I do promise," she said humbly.
Notwithstanding the wilfully conjectural basis of the proposition
Pearston seemed to take it as a definite scheme which would work itself
out in fact, and work out well. He seemed to possess, concealed in his
mind, certain means of effectuation beyond more chances.
"Now go and tell the sick man what has been the subject of our
talk," he added kindly.
"You will go with me, Sir?"
"No, not this time. You may go alone now."
In about an hour she returned, looking flushed with a startling,
dreadful sense of ecstasy. She seemed trying to hide from herself the
reason why. What ground had her husband for this sudden conviction? He
must have had letters.
He met her at the door, where a fly was standing. "I am going up to
town again for a few days," he said. "On my way through Budmouth I will
get a quiet young person I know of there to come and stay with you.
Pearston entered the fly. Opposite the door of Henri's lodgings he
stopped and inquired how Mr. Leverre was.
"He's wonderful improved since Mrs. Pearston called. I went up just
after, and his face had quite a colour—quite healthy like."
Whether the woman thought it odd that Mrs. Pearston should have been
able to come and produce this mental effect, Jocelyn did not care to
ascertain, and, re-entering the vehicle, drove on.
CHAPTER XXXII. THE PURSUIT
His return was delayed till eighteen or twenty days had passed, and
on his way back over the isle to Avice's house he drew up at Leverre's
lodgings as he had done on his departing journey. The young man was in
the parlour reading. He appeared bright, and advanced in convalescence.
After Pearston's preliminary inquiries the young man with almost
childish ingenuousness of motive said, "Have you heard, Sir, of"—
"I have still further evidence that Avice will soon be free."
"A formal decree of nullity will be necessary to complete her
"No, no. I think not—in this particular case. I don't go back to
her home to live any more. I stay in these lodgings for a day or two,
and will have my things sent here. Your landlady has probably told you
that I wrote to her, and that she has let to me the parlour opposite to
this for the few days I shall be here in the isle before starting for
"You have had more specific information, Sir?"
"I have almost indubitable proof that—Avice will be free before
long. I shall rejoin my wife as soon as I reach my journey's end. I
know, beyond any moral doubt, where she is."
"You do, Sir! Where?"
"I won't say, for certain reasons. But I am going there."
"Salt Lake City?"
"No—not Salt Lake City. ... You know, Henri," he continued after a
pause, and his lower lip quivered as he spoke, "if Avice had loved me,
as I foolishly thought she might get to do, I should have—turned up
no old stones to hide under. But she loved you, I found; and to me
healthy natural instinct is true law, and not an Act of Parliament. So
I sheer off."
Leverre looked anxious for clearer explanations, but he did not
question further. Pearston—whose worn and dried-up face now fully
indexed his age, and indeed more than his age, continued calmly—
"Henri—as I may call you—I wish, as you will believe, above all
things that Avice may be happy in spite of this unfortunate marriage
with me. She is the outcome of my own emotional life, as I may say.
There is no doubt that it is within her power to be so. In addition to
her own little competency, a large sum of money—a fortune, in
short—has been settled upon her within the last few days, and upon
any possible children of hers. With that, and her beauty, she'll soon
be snapped up by some worthy man who pities her abnormal position."
"Sir, I love her—I love her dearly. Has she said anything to lead
you to think her husband will be other than myself?"
"It depends upon you."
"She will not desert me?"
"If she has promised not to. Haven't you asked her?"
"Not as yet. She would not have listened if I had. She is nominally
your wife as yet: and it seems premature—too venturesome, daring, to
hope, to think, that this idea you have suggested to us will be borne
out by fact. I have never known anything like it—can hardly believe
"You will see," said the now aged man. "Are you afraid to give an
undertaking on the contingency? If she becomes free, you will be her
husband if she consents?"
"I have said so," he replied fervently.
"You may set about your preparations at once." said Pearston, with
forced gaiety. "I go to join my truant wife. of thirty years ago."
"O that you may find her!"
"That's right. Express your feelings honestly. I like young men who
That night Pearston sat down and wrote a long letter to the only old
friend he had in the world, among so many acquaintances—Alfred
Somers, the landscape-painter—
"My dear Somers—
"You in your evenly flowing life will be surprised to hear of what
has been taking place in my rugged one—inwardly rugged, I mean, which
is the true ruggedness."
He thereupon proceeded to give a succinct account of what had
happened since his marriage with Avice, of which event Somers was
aware, having, in fact, been invited to the ceremony, though he had not
found it possible to come. First, the coldness of his young wife, which
he had supposed it to be a mere question of time to displace; his lack
of any suspicion that in such a remote and quiet existence she had
learnt the trick of having a lover before she was eighteen years old;
his discovery of his mistake through the return of the young man to
claim her, and the whole incidents which followed.
"Now," proceeded Pearston, "some husbands, I suppose, would have
sent the young man about his business, and put the young woman under
lock-and-key till she came to her senses. This was what I could not do.
At first I felt it to be a state of things for which there was no
remedy. But I considered that to allow everything to remain in statu
quo was inanimate, unhuman conduct, worthy only of a vegetable. It was
not only being indifferent to my own poor scrap of future happiness,
which mattered little, but to hers. And I soon entered with interest,
and even with zest, into an apparently, though not really, wild scheme,
which has recommended itself to me. This is no less than assuming the
existence of my wife Marcia, of whose death, as you know, there has
never been absolute proof, unless you consider that not having heard
her voice for more than thirty years to be absolute proof of the death
of a termagant spouse. Cases of this kind, if you analyse them, turn on
very curious points. My marriage with Avice is valid if I have a
reasonable belief in my first wife's death. Now, what man's belief is
fixed, and who shall enter into my mind and say what my belief is at
any particular time? The moment I have a reasonable belief that Marcia
lives Avice is not my wife, it seems to me. I have only therefore to
assume that belief and disappear, and she is free. That is what I have
decided to do.
"Don't attack me for casuistry, artifice, for contumelious treatment
of the laws of my country. A law which, in a particular instance,
results in physical cruelty to the innocent deserves to be evaded in
that instance if it can be done without injury to anyone. I want the
last of the three women, the last embodiment of Avice, to be happy at
any cost, and this is the only way of making her so, that I can see.
The only detail in my plan that I feel sorry for having been compelled
to adopt is the sending of bogus telegrams and advertisements, to
prevent my darling's suspicion of unreality. Poor child! but it is for
"During the last three weeks I have been arranging my affairs, and
shall now disappear for ever from England. My life probably will not be
long anywhere, it cannot be very long in the nature of things, and it
matters very little where I say my Nunc Dimittis.
"I shall probably find some kind and simple old nurse body or
housekeeper on the other side of the Atlantic, whom I can ask to share
my home, and call her Marcia, so as to make it all seem right if any
intelligence of my state of existence should be wafted across to this
side. To clinch the pious fraud I may think it worth while to send the
child Avice a cabinet photograph of this old soul and myself in one
picture, in which I appear standing behind her chair with my hand on
her shoulder, in the orthodox fashion of the irrevocably united.
"Destroy this document, for Avice's sake.
"My sincere regard and affection to you and all your household.
This was duly posted by himself that evening in the little
letter-box in the village square.
He went home to bed. Everything was done, even to the packing of his
portmanteau. Nothing remained for him but to depart—to an exile on
one of the four quarters of the globe, telegraph that he had found the
lost one, and be heard of in this isle no more.
But as he lay he asked himself, did he care for the additional score
of years which might, at the outside, be yet owing to him from Nature
on such conditions as these? The tædium vitæ—formerly such a stranger
to him, latterly grown familiar— seemed to intensify to violent
disgust. Such an ending to his little drama as he had ostensibly
sketched on Avice's behalf— was there not too distinct an attempt in
it to save his useless self as well as to save her?
His heaviness endured far into the night, and there was no sign of
"joy coming in the morning." At two o'clock he arose and dressed
himself. Then, sitting down, he penned a second letter to the same
"My dear Somers—
"When I posted to you the letter I wrote a few hours ago, I assumed
that I had the spirit and strength and desire to carry through an
ingenious device for human happiness, which I would have entered on
with the lightest of hearts forty years ago, or even twenty. But my
assumption turns out to be, after all, erroneous. I am no longer
spirited: I am weak. My youth, so faithful to me, so enduring, so long
regarded as my curse, has incontinently departed within the last few
weeks. I do not care for my scheme, which, in my distaste for it, now
appears as foolishly artificial as before it seemed simple and
"I abandon it for a better and a grander one—one more worthy of my
age, my outlook, and my opportunities. What that is you will know in a
It was now half-past two. Pearston's next action was to search his
pocket and open his card-case; but finding no card therein he wrote his
name and address on the first piece of paper that came to hand, and put
it in the case. Next, taking out his purse, he emptied some portion of
its contents into another piece of paper, which he folded round the
money, and placed on the table, directing it to his landlady, with the
words, "For rent and small bills." The remainder he rolled up in yet
another piece of paper, and directed that to a local charitable
He referred to an almanac, examining the tide-table. From this he
gathered that the tide was now at about the half-flow, and it suited
him fairly well.
Then he went out of the room, listening at his neighbour's door as
he passed. The young man was sleeping peacefully. Pearston descended
the stairs and went out, closing the door softly behind him.
The night was not so dark as he had expected it to be, and the
unresting and troubled being went along the road without hesitation
till he reached a well-known lonely house on the right hand beyond the
new castle—the farthest that way. This house contained the form which
was the last, most permanent, and sweetest incarnation of the
There was no light or sound to be recognised. Pearston paused before
the railing with his head bent upon his hand. Time was having his turn
of revenge now. Of all the shapes into which the Beloved one had
entered she had chosen to remain in this, whose owner was utterly
averse to him.
The place and these thoughts quicked his determination: he paused no
longer, but turned back by the way he had come, till he reached the
point near the north gate of the new castle, where the lane to the ruin
of the old castle branched off. This he followed as it wound down the
narrow defile spanned by the castle arch, a portion of which defile
was, doubtless, the original fosse of the fortress.
The sound of his own footsteps flapped back to him from the vertical
faces of the rock. A little farther and he emerged upon the open summit
of the lower cliffs, to his right being the sloping pathway leading
down to the little creek at their base.
Pearston descended, knowing the place so well that he found it
scarcely necessary to guide himself down by touching the vertical face
of stone on his right hand. Thus proceeding he arrived at the bottom,
and trod the few yards of shingle which here alone could be found on
this side of the island. Upon this confined beach there were drawn up
two or three fishing-boats and a few skiffs, beside them being a rough
slipway for launching. One of the latter he pushed down the slope,
floated it, and jumped into it without an oar.
The currents hereabout were strong and complicated. At a specific
moment in every flood tide there set in along the shore a reflux
contrary to the outer flow, called "the Southern" by the local
sailors. It was produced by the peculiar curves of the coast lying east
and west of the Beal; these bent southward in two back streams the
up-Channel flow on each side of the isle, which two streams united
outside the Beal and there met the direct tidal flow, the confluence of
the three currents making the surface of the sea at this point to boil
like a pot, even in calmest weather. It is called the Race.
Although the outer tide, therefore, was running towards the
mainland, the "Southern" ran in full force towards the Beal and the
Race beyond. Pearston's boat was caught by it in a few moments, as he
had known it would be; and thereupon the grey rocks rising near him,
and the grim stone forehead of the isle above, just discernible against
the sky, slid away from Pearston northwards.
He lay down in the bottom of the frail craft, gazing at the sky
above. The undulations increased in magnitude, and swung him higher and
lower. The boat rocked, received a smart slap of the waves now and
then, gyrated; so that the lightship, which stolidly winked at him from
the quicksand— the single object which told him his bearings—was
sometimes on his right hand and sometimes on his left. Nevertheless, he
could always discern from it that his course, whether stemwards or
sternwards, was steadily south, towards the Race.
The waves seemed to toss him roughly about, though there was really
but little lop on the sea. Presently he heard, or fancied he heard, a
new murmur from the distance, above the babble of waters immediately
about his cockleshell. It was the nearing voice of the Race. "Thank
God, I am near my journey's end," he said.
Yet he was not quite sure about its being the Race. But it did not
matter: the Race was sure to come, sooner or later: everything tended
thither. He now began to close his eyes. The boat soon shipped larger
and larger volumes of spray, and often a pailful came flat upon his
face. But he did not mind.
How long this state of jeopardy lasted Pearston hardly knew. It was
ended by a sudden crash, which threw him against some hard body,
striking his head. He was fully prepared for a liquid death, but a
death by concussion was so entirely unanticipated that the shock made
him cry out in a fierce resentment at the interruption to his design.
A bright light thereupon shone over him, and some voices shouted out
in the island dialect. He knew that the speakers were the lightship
men, and felt warm blood running down his head where it had been
struck. Then he found himself in the water grasping something; then he
was seized in turn, and hauled up. Then he saw faces, and bird-cages,
and rabbithutches, on a deck—a sort of floating menagerie; and then
he remembered no more.
CHAPTER XXXIII. HE BECOMES AWARE OF
When next Pearston knew that there was such a state as life. and
such an attribute of it as perceptiveness, that night of turbulence,
spiritual and physical, had a long time passed away. He was
lethargically conscious of lying in some soft bed, surrounded by
darkness and silence, a warm atmosphere hanging about him, his only
trouble being a sense of hugeness as regarded his head, which seemed to
be almost the whole of his person, absorbing the rest of his frame into
its circumference. Growing more and more conscious of himself, he
realised that this enormous head throbbed with a dull pain.
He again lost sense of himself. When he next was cognisant of
externals Pearston seemed to hear a whispered conversation going on
around him, and the touch of footsteps on a carpet. A dreamy state
followed, and a bandage about his head was loosened, and he opened his
The light in the apartment was so subdued that nothing around him
could be seen with any distinctness. A living figure was present,
moving about softly. He discerned that it was feminine, and this was
all for the time.
He was recalled to his surroundings by a voice murmuring the
inquiry: "Does the light try your eyes?"
The tones seemed familiar: they were rich in quality, as if they had
once been powerful. Yet he could not attach a personality to them,
though he knew they had been spoken by the woman who was nursing him.
Pearston murmured an answer, and tried to understand more of what
had happened. Then he felt uneasy, distressed, and stupid again.
Next day he was conscious of a sudden intellectual expansion. For
the first time since lying there he seemed to approximate to himself as
he had formerly been. Upon the whole, he felt glad that he had not been
annihilated by his own act. When he tried to speak he found that he
could do so without difficulty, and he said: "Where am I?"
"At your lodgings," the voice of the nurse replied. "At East Wake."
"Was I picked up and brought here?"
That voice—it was known to him absurdly well. Certainly it was.
Avice's it was not. As well as his pain would let him, he mentally
overhauled the years of his life. Only one woman in all his experience
had ever possessed precisely those tones, and he had assumed her to be
dead these thirty years, notwithstanding the sending out of bogus
advertisements for her to delude Avice into happiness.
Still, that was whose voice it was; and every minute added weight to
the conviction that his wife Marcia stood there.
She spoke again about the visit of the surgeon. Yes—it was his
Pearston was stupefied. Conjecture he could not, would not. It
sickened him to enter upon any kind of conjecture whatever. Enough that
she was there. As for more, it had always been possible that she should
have remained alive, and it was therefore not impossible that she
should be here.
She evidently did not know that he had recognised her, and spoke on
as the nurse merely. To reveal to her his discovery would have begotten
explanations, and he could not endure the thought of explanations. Thus
the two remained. Occasionally others came in—a surgeon, an
assistant. A conversation in whispers would follow outside the door.
But Marcia seemed always to remain at hand.
His mind had nothing else more prominent to fasten upon, and, the
room being still kept almost in darkness, he could not avoid adding her
fancied figure to the movements he heard. This process carried him
considerably backward in his own history. He thought of how he had met
this woman on the Pebble Bank, how they had travelled to London
together, had hastily married, had repented at leisure; and how
thereafter a curtain had dropped between them which had been virtually
death, despite a little lifting now. Yes, that very woman was in the
room with him, he felt sure.
Since he could not see her, he still continued to imaginatively
picture her. The stately, upright figure, the rather high colour, the
classical profile, the rather large handsome nose and somewhat
prominent though regular teeth, the full dark eye. In short, the
queenly—far too queenly—creature who had infatuated him when the
first Avice was despised and her successors unknown.
With her comings and goings in the gloom his fancy associated this
image so continually that it became not unpleasing to him as an artist
in form. The human essence was added when she rendered him the
attentions made necessary by his helplessness. But she always kept
herself in the remote distance of the room, obviously unaware as yet
that he knew her.
"When may I have the daylight let in upon me?" he asked of the
"Very soon," replied that gentleman. "But the wound is such that you
may lose your sight if you are allowed to strain it prematurely."
So he waited, Marcia being always in the background, watchful to
tenderness. He hoped she would never attempt to tell him how she came
there. He could not endure the thought of having to enter into such
details. At present he felt as if he were living in those early days of
his marriage with her.
His eyes, having been tested, were deemed able to bear the stress of
seeing clearly. Soft daylight was allowed to illuminate the room.
"Nurse," he said. "Let me see you. Why do you always keep behind my
She went to the window, through which the light had only been
allowed even now to enter between the blinds. Reaching it, she pulled
the blind up a little way, till the outer brightness fell full upon
her. An unexpected shock was the result. The face which had been
stamped upon his mind-sight by the voice, the face of Marcia forty
years ago, vanished utterly. In its place was a wrinkled crone, with a
pointed chin, her figure bowed, her hair as white as snow. To this the
once handsome face had been brought by the raspings, chisellings,
stewings, bakings, and freezings of forty years. The Juno of that day
was the Witch of Endor of this.
He must have shuddered at the discovery of what time had done,
possibly have uttered a slight gasp; at all events, she knew in some
way of the shock to his sensitiveness that her skeleton-figure caused
"I am sorry to shock you," she said. "But the moth cats the garment
somewhat in five-and-thirty years."
"Yes-yes! ... I am glad I am become an old man during the last
month. For now you have a right to be old also. ... Don't tell me why
you came to me. Still, I wonder why?"
"My life's little measure is nearly danced out. So is yours,
apparently. Therefore, when I saw your advertisements for me—proving
that you were still living—I thought we might as well make our final
bows and exits together. ... Ah!— who is that?" Somebody had tapped
at the door, and she crossed the room and opened it.
"Who was it?" he asked, when the door had closed again.
"Somebody with a telegram for me. Dear me! Curious that it should
come just now!"
"A telegram to inform me that the declaration of nullity as to the
marriage between you and Avice Pearston was pronounced this morning."
"At whose instigation was the petition made?"
"At mine. She asked me what she ought to do."
He put up his hand to tear open his wound, and bring eternal night
upon this lurid awakening. "But she is happy," he said. "And, as for
His wife passed by the mantelpiece, over which hung an enlarged
photograph of Avice, that he had brought thither when he left the other
house, as the single object which he cared to bring. The contrast of
the ancient Marcia's aspect, both with this portrait and with her own
fine former self, brought into his brain a sudden sense of the
grotesqueness of things. His wife was—not Avice, but that
parchment-covered skull moving about his room. An irresistible fit of
laughter, so violent as to be an agony, seized upon him, and started in
him with such momentum that he could not stop it. He laughed and
laughed, till he was almost too weak to draw breath.
Marcia hobbled up, frightened. "What's the matter?" she asked; and,
turning to a second nurse, "He is weak— hysterical."
"O—no, no! I—I—it is too, too droll—this ending to my
would-be romantic history!" Ho-ho-ho!