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and the evening passed, but she never mentioned your name. went to bed at her usual hour, had the house bolted, and to my question about you as she passed the nursery on her way to her room merely responded, 'She has gone, I suppose, to find her level. 'She would have found it long enough ago but for Lorton.' I happened to be in the room when the postman came with the two letters. I read mine and then. looked at Madame your aunt, who was reading one which I suspected was from you. She wore her spectacles, read the letter through to the very end-it was a crossed letter, madame, was it not ?"-I nodded"and then she folded it up, tore it with an unmoved countenance into ever so many little pieces, and flung them into the fire. After which she composedly removed her spectacles, and, without a tremor in her voice, said: 'I suppose they want you back?' 'Yes, madame.' 'Then,' said she, 'the sooner you go the better. I am breathing a very foul air, and shall be suffocated if I do not taint of it.""
clear my house of every
I felt relieved by this story. My heart swelled with indignation, and my old dislike for my aunt renewed itself with all its bitterness. Had she wept, had she but expressed one word of sorrow, I should have felt pained and found a keen reproach in her regret at my departure. But her language, her unconcern, of which I knew the savagery so well, left us quits.
For the first six months of my married life my days were a perpetual honeymoon. Major Rivers was all tenderness, all passion. He showered gifts upon me; treated me like an empress, acted towards me like a slave. He seemed to find an inexhaustible pleasure in my society provoked me by his loving badinage into my most characteristic moods, to win from me remarks of which he declared the quaintness to be soothing to him as the notes of a dulcimer. I gloried in his praise, and the reciprocal passion urged me into never wearying efforts to sustain his love at the mark where I had found it. As a horsewoman I succeeded after some trials in acquitting myself capitally, and became his constant companion in long excursions into the adjoining country. Our proximity to London was convenient for the entertainments of the capital, and we frequently visited the operas and the theatres. But it was as his fireside companion that he seemed to find most pleasure in my company. I read to him, played to him, opened my heart to him in conversation with a childish earnestness of meaning which delighted him. I found him well read in books: a fair linguist and furtively studied that I might be able to help on the long talks he loved to indulge in on those curiosities of literature which the pencil-marked pages in his library showed he had studied. I was a splendid listener; and this useful accomplishment was made profitable by my having a mind sufficiently well stored to comprehend very well all that he could talk about.
Those natural fears which I had felt at first in consequence of the insecurity of my position as a wife were dispelled. As my intimacy with his character increased I lost the suspicions which the least fancied coolness towards me inspired. In my young days I had sometimes regretted my want of beauty, imagining that my plainness would banish me beyond the circle of love; and envied Kate for her eyes, her beautiful hair, her lovely mouth, and her dainty complexion. I had contrasted my own appearance with the exquisite beauties of the ladies in the novels over which I pored; and although here and there I had come across a plain heroine who had been rewarded after three volumes of misery by a happy marriage, I felt that the exceptional instances of fiction were in no wise applicable to life, and that I might prepare myself for a career of dull unchequered maidenhood. Now, however, that I was the wife of the man I loved, I over and over again congratulated myself on my want of beauty; for I knew that a much more durable quality than good looks had brought me a husband, and that it was the mind and not the face upon which the maintenance of his love depended.
Major Rivers had a fine voice-a rich baritone-but he could not play. Many an evening, when the twilight filled the room with a cool mysterious light, he would make me seat myself at the piano, and with his left hand reposing on the back of my neck accompany with his voice the melodies which I would play, knowing how he loved them. In the faint light, as he sang with his gleaming eyes fixed upon the deep sky melting into stars, his face took a severity of beauty. He abandoned himself to the music and the poetry of the song he sung, and I seemed to feel his hand tremble in sympathetic unison with the impassioned accents of his rich deep chant. At such moments I appeared to lose my personality; my soul abandoned me, to mingle and sing with his. I realised the intense mysticism of the German fancy that between two souls the union is sometimes so complete that the identity of the weaker soul is lost in its absorption by the stronger.
There was one trouble that haunted and depressed me, however, in this period of my life, which you may easily guess. It was the social position I occupied at Newtown. I was certain that Major Rivers knew several families at Newtown, though he rarely mentioned their names. But, with the exception of one presently to be mentioned, nobody ever called at Chester House. At times, when I had been out riding with the Major, I would observe him sometimes lift his hat to a passing carriage, but to my question "Who was that ?" the invariable answer was "Oh, the wife of a city man, not worth twopence to know," or "A family I have met, heaven knows where." Now, altogether unsophisticated as I was-as my bucolic life at Lorton had left me-I had never seriously thought upon, for I had never positively guessed, the sort of treatment I must be prepared to meet from society after
my marriage with Major Rivers. I knew that by marrying my sister's husband I was violating the law; but I did not know that I should be offending society. I had to learn that.
The discovery wounded me to the quick. It did not make me regret my marriage, but it made me despise my judgment for not having foreseen the situation.
But if my humiliated pride filled me with bitterness I was also terrified and dejected by the fear that this banning of myself by society might come to influence my husband's sentiments towards me. I had enough sagacity to guess how vastly married life was controlled by society; how generally the violation of decorum by a woman was recriminated upon her by the man for whom she had sacrificed her name and purity. An early passion may wilfully ignore restraint; but a matured love will in the end take its tone from decorum.
Studiously as I laboured to conceal my discovery from the Major his keen eye detected my depression, and his sagacity divined the cause. After I had been playing to him one evening, I left the piano and walked towards the window full of meditation. He came and stood beside me.
"What is there in this prospect," he said, pointing towards the garden, "which makes my little one so sad?"
"I am not sad."
"Yes you are. A troublesome thought has crept into your mind. Tell me this mental disease that I may minister to it."
"It is nothing indeed," I said, eager to avert a painful discussion. "Nonsense. There is always a cause for a dimmed eye and a pale cheek. But she's going to be stubborn, like she was when I wanted her to marry me."
He bent his head in the attitude of listening. But I did not speak.
"Maggie, you are a little fool to allow the opinions of others to distress you. If you are satisfied with yourself it is enough."
"I see you have guessed the secret of my depression. I might indignantly repudiate your suspicion. But I will be wise and confess that you are right."
"That's brave. I love your candour. You don't like being avoided by society. You think it desperately hard, as a wife, a lady, and a clever girl, you should be shunned by a set of people who have not virtue enough to comprehend your impropriety. . . .
"Do not think to gratify me by abusing them," I exclaimed. "I do not wish you to think that I lay so much stress upon these neighbours' conduct as to make them worthy of my sneers or my anger." "Come. You are dissatisfied with them: and your dissatisfaction would vent itself in no end of satire if it were not suppressed by the might of your pride. But your feelings towards them are wholly and
laudably right. You have a heart with talent and virtue enough in it not only to stock the whole tribe with wit and propriety to last them to their deathbeds, but to carry over for the next generation. Of course, you are impatient of their scorn-this scorn of fools-and so am I ; only my contempt is so true, so sterling, so altogether natural to me, that my impatience dies in its presence like a gnat in the heat of a flame." "You insist upon making me out impatient. I am not impatient. I confess to being troubled-and by them, if you like; but in such a remote sense as to give them but a very very little share in the creation of my depression."
"I know what's coming-and will anticipate it. You think their conduct will influence mine ?"
I looked him full in the eyes: could read there only truth and love: and laying my head against his breast murmured, "I have thought so sometimes but I cannot think it when I meet your eyes. You do love me-nothing can alter your love
'How good-natured I am," he said, caressing my hair with his hand, "to endure the insults of my little woman's suspicions without a single harsh word. Do you think that my sentiments repose on no surer foundation than the opinions of society? Why, at that rate, you would place the most poetic piece of idealism my heart could shadow forth at the mercy of an old woman's sneer. No, no, little one. Love like mine is not to be put to flight by society.
By this sort of conversation he endeavoured to reassure me, and succeeded. At the same time I was struck by the lawless sentiments he entertained. I had believed at first that his hard democratic opinions, and his republican, almost fanatical, hostility to the law, were assumed for the purpose of winning me. To a girl whom he wanted, but whom he could not legally marry, it was of course necessary that he should make use of every argument to disprove the reasonableness of the law that obstructed our desires. But though I clearly understood his motives, I was glad of his excuses. I needed, to satisfy myself, a better reason for my conduct than my love. I do not deny that I found enough common-sense in his arguments to induce me to suffer my love to take its course without any restraint on my conscience.
But after several conversations with him on topics which forced him to proclaim his sentiments, I soon discovered, by the consistent manner in which he argued upon and maintained his opinions, that he really. entertained them. Do not mistake his lawlessness. It was not of the type made familiar to us by the incoherent sentimentalism of the Laras and Corsairs of poetry. It was of a deeper order. Yet it was not misanthropy. He had not enough Christianity in him to make him hate. I gathered from his language that the prevailing sense in his heart was that of the surpassing littleness of men. When with him in the streets of London, for example, the pavements crowded, the
roadway full of equipages, this sentiment has taken the expression of the bitterest irony. A crowd of persons always assumed the form of a satire in his eyes. He degraded mankind, their laws, their aspirations, and their works, to a condition of contemptible littleness far below the dream of Swift in his conception of Lilliput. In truth, he surveyed life with too keen an eye for the ridiculous. Man, in his estimation, was a puppet, who, with ignoble pride, had advanced himself as the standard of all things. He examined the standard, and found that its applications reduced creation to the pitifullest farce.
"Genius," he would say, "is the only thing that can be respected in this world for it is the only illustration the world offers of the desire of the human mind to enlarge the boundaries of thought, and to give scope for the play of something bigger than the mortality to which the spectacle of the streets, the church, the mart, and the senate has accustomed us. There must be an incessant roar of true Homeric laughter in heaven," he would exclaim, "at our theories and our practices on earth. The irony of nature in her displays suggests this eternal merriment. What is there above, or below, or beneath us, that man admires more than himself? I can give a painter a cheque to produce me a sunset of red paint, canvas, and gas-light, that will excite a roar of rapturous admiration from a crowd. I shall set this same crowd to watch a real sunset, and instead of looking and admiring they shall stare at each other. If I were among the gods my laughter would be the loudest; but being one of a race of animals who look upon Magna Charta as a grand achievement. I am satisfied to remain silent.
Of his religious "convictions" I ascertained nothing. He often accompanied me to church-listened to the sermons of the clergyman, a simple-minded preacher with a truly affectionate love of platitudes, with close attention; and then, as we returned home, would comment upon these discourses with the intense irony of simulated interest in their teaching.
Shall I confess that his sentiments partially influenced me?—that I found in me, as time went on, a perceptible decay of that reverence which in the young heart is the foundation of virtue? I hope, I trust, I believe, that to my religious self I remained true. I speak of my feelings towards my fellow toilers, my fellow mourners, in this sad, this seldom smiling world. My love softened my mind to the admission of his influence in his views of men; my pride as a woman, humiliated by the slights and scorns of the people by whom I was surrounded, communicated the needful impulse to receive and digest the imparted bitterness of his teaching.
One day he returned home with a friend of his, a young baronet, named Sir Geoffry Hamlyn. The fact of no one ever visiting me made me very cold, almost haughty, in my manners towards all with whom I