Contents:NOVELS. Fast and Loose. The Touchstone. The Valley of Decision. Sanctuary. The House of Mirth. Madame de Treymes. Fruit of the Tree. Ethan Frome. The Reef. The Custom of the Country. Summer. The Marne. The Age of Innocence. The Glimpses of the Moon.STORIES. The Greater Inclination. Crucial Instances. The Descent of Man and other stories. The Hermit and the Wild Woman and other stories. Tales of Men and Ghosts. Xingu, and other Stories.POEMS. Artemis to Actæon, and Other Verse. Uncollected Poems.NON-FICTION. The Decoration of Houses. Italian Villas and Their Gardens. Italian Backgrounds. A Motor-Flight through France. Fighting France from Dunkerque to Belport French Ways and Their Meaning. In Morocco. The Writing of Fiction. A Backward Glance.
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The Complete Works of
Fast and Loose.
The Valley of Decision.
The House of Mirth.
Madame de Treymes.
Fruit of the Tree.
The Custom of the Country.
The Age of Innocence.
The Glimpses of the Moon.
The Greater Inclination.
The Descent of Man and other stories.
The Hermit and the Wild Woman and other stories.
Tales of Men and Ghosts.
Xingu, and other Stories.
Artemis to Actæon, and Other Verse.
The Decoration of Houses.
Italian Villas and Their Gardens.
A Motor-Flight through France.
Fighting France from Dunkerque to Belport
French Ways and Their Meaning.
The Writing of Fiction.
A Backward Glance.
Index of Stories.
A Novelette By David Olivieri
written 1876/77, University Press of Virginia, 1977.
“Let woman beware
How she plays fast & loose thus with human despair
And the storm in man’s heart.”
Robert Lytton: Lucile.
[The text follows the 1993 University Press of Virginia edition.]
fast and loose.
I. Hearts and Diamonds.
II. Enter Lord Breton.
IV. The End of the Idyl.
V. Lady Breton of Lowood.
VI. At Rome.
VII. The Luckiest Man in London.
VIII. Jack the Avenger.
IX. Madeline Graham.
X. At Interlaken.
XI. The End of the Season.
XII. Poor Teresina.
XIII. Villa Doria-Pamfili.
XIV. Left Alone.
XV. A Summons.
XVI. Too Late.
Dedication To Cornelie
“[Donna] beata e bella” [illegible] Quinta. (October 1876)
Hearts & Diamonds.
“’Tis best to be off with the old love
Before you are on with the new!”
A dismal Autumn afternoon in the country. Without, a soft drizzle falling on yellow leaves & damp ground; within, two people playing chess by the window of the fire-lighted drawing-room at Holly Lodge. Now, when two people play chess on a rainy afternoon, tête-à-tête in a room with the door shut, they are likely to be either very much bored, or rather dangerously interested; & in this case, with all respect to romance, they appeared overcome by the profoundest ennui. The lady—a girl of about 18, plump & soft as a partridge, with vivacious brown eyes, & a cheek like a sun-warmed peach—occasionally stifled a yawn, as her antagonist, curling a slight blonde moustache (the usual sign of masculine perplexity) sat absently meditating a move on which the game, in his eyes, appeared to depend; & at last, pushing aside her chair, she rose & stood looking out of the window, as though even the dreary Autumn prospect had more attraction for her than the handsome face on the other side of the chess-board. Her movement seemed to shake her companion out of his reverie, for he rose also, & looking over her shoulder, at the soft, misty rain, observed rather languidly, “Cheerful weather!” “Horrid!” said the girl, stamping her foot. “I am dying of stagnation.” “Don’t you mean to finish the game?” “If you choose. I don’t care.” “Nor I—It’s decidedly a bore.” No answer. The bright brown eyes & the lazy blue ones stared out of the window for the space of five slow minutes. Then the girl said: “Guy!” “My liege!” “You’re not very amusing this afternoon.” “Neither are you, my own!” “Gallant for a lover!” she cried, pouting & turning away from the window. “How can I amuse a stone wall? I might talk all day!” She had a way of tossing her pretty little head, & drawing her soft white forehead, that was quite irresistible. Guy, as the most natural thing in the world, put his arm about her, but was met with a sharp, “Don’t! You know I hate to be taken hold of, Sir! Oh, I shall die of ennui if this weather holds.” Guy whistled, & went to lean against the fireplace; while his betrothed stood in the middle of the room, the very picture of “I-won’t-be-amused” crossness. “Delightful!” she said, presently. “Really, your conversation today displays your wit & genius to a remarkable degree.” “If I talk to you, you scold, Georgie,” said the lover, pathetically. “No, I don’t! I only scold when you twist your arms around me.” “I can’t do one without the other!” Georgie laughed. “You do say nice things, Guy! But you’re a bore this afternoon, nevertheless.” “Isn’t everything a bore?” “I believe so. Oh, I should be another person gallopping over the downs on Rochester! ‘What’s his name is himself again!’ Shall we be able to hunt tomorrow?” “Ask the clerk of the weather,” said Guy, rather dismally. “Guy! I do believe you’re going to sleep! Doesn’t it rouse you to think of a tear ’cross country after the hounds? Oh, Guy, a red coat makes my blood run faster!” “Does it?—Georgie, have you got ‘Je l’ai perdu’—the thing I sent you from London?” “Yes—somewhere.” “I am going to sing,” said Guy. “What a treat!” “As you don’t object to my smoking, I thought you mightn’t mind my singing.” “Well,” said Georgie, mischievously, “I don’t suppose it does matter much which sense is offended. What are you going to sing?” Guy, without answering, began to hunt through a pile of music, & at last laid a copy of “The ballad to Celia” on the piano-rack. Georgie sat down, & while he leaned against the piano, struck a few prelude-chords; then he began to sing in a rich barytone, Ben Jonson’s sweet old lines. At the end of the first stanza, Georgie shut the piano with a bang. “I will not play if you sing so detestably out of time, tune & everything. Do make yourself disagreeable in some less noisy way.” “I think I shall make myself agreeable—by saying goodbye.” “Very well, do!” “Georgie—what is the matter?” He took her little hand as he spoke, but she wrenched it away, stamping her foot again. “Dont & dont & dont! I’m as cross as I can be & I won’t make friends!” she cried in a sort of childish passion, running away from him to the other end of the room. He stood for a moment, twirling his moustache; then, taking up his hat, said, “Goodbye.” “Goodbye—Are you very angry?” she said, coming a step or two nearer, & looking up through her soft lashes. “No, I suppose not. I believe I have been boring you confoundedly.” “I suppose I have been very cross.” “Not more than I deserved, probably. I am going to London for a few days. Will you give me your hand for goodbye?” She stood still a moment, looking at him thoughtfully; then put out her hand. “Ah, Guy, I am a worthless little thing,” she said, softly, as he took it. It was her left hand & a ring set with diamonds twinkled on it. “Worth all the world to me!” he answered; then lifted the hand to his lips & turned away. As his receding steps sounded through the hall, Georgie Rivers, taking a screen from the mantel-piece, sat down on the rug before the fire, with a thoughtful face out of which all the sauciness had vanished. As she watched the fire-light play on her ring, she began to think half-aloud as her childish fashion was; but Guy was cantering along the high road to West Adamsborough, & if there had been anyone to tell him what she said, he would [have] laughed—& [have] doubted it. As there was no one, however, Georgie kept her meditations to herself. “I know he thinks me a coquette,” she whispered, leaning her head against her hand, “& he thinks I like to trifle with him—perhaps he is angry—(he looks very handsome when he is angry) but he doesn’t know—how should he?—that I mean to break it off. I ought to have done it today, & I might have ended that beginning of a quarrel by giving him back the ring; but, oh dear, I wish—I wish I didn’t care for him quite so much. He is so cool & handsome! And he is the only man I ever knew who neither despises me nor is afraid of me. Oh, Georgie, Georgie, you miserable little fool! I didn’t mean to let him kiss my hand; he surprised me into it, just as he surprised me into accepting him. He always puts me off my guard, somehow! But it must be done. Perhaps I am in love with him, but I hope I haven’t quite lost my common sense. It must be done, I say! I declare, I shall make an utter goose of myself in a minute! Where’s that letter?” She put her hand into her pocket, & brought out an envelope, pompously sealed with a large coat of arms & motto; &, drawing out the folded sheet which it contained, slowly read aloud these words, written in a crabbed, old-fashioned hand:
My dear Miss Rivers: Ever since I was honoured by an introduction to you, my admiration for your charms & accomplishments has increased; & I have been sufficiently marked by your favour to hope that what I am about to say may not seem an entirely unwarrantable liberty. Although we are separated by many years, I do not perceive why that should be an obstacle to a happy union; & I therefore venture to beg that, if the profoundest admiration & respect can awaken responsive sentiments in your own bosom, you will honour me with your hand. I shall await with impatience your reply to my proposals, & am, my dear Miss Rivers, with deep esteem, Your faithful Servant
Georgie folded the letter again, & went on with her reflections in this wise. “I suppose I should have let him know that I was engaged to Guy, but it was so jolly to have an old Lord dangling about one, head over ears in love, &, figuratively speaking, going down on his noble, gouty knees every time one came into the room. And I really didn’t think it would come to a climax so soon! I marked him by my favour, did I? And the poor old creature has got tipsy, like an old blue-bottle on a little drop of syrup. He is really in love with me! Me, Georgie Rivers, a wicked, fast, flirtatious little pauper—a lazy, luxurious coquette! Oh, Guy, Guy!—I mean, Oh, Lord Breton, Lord—ha? what’s the matter?” For something dropped close by Georgie’s ring, that sparkled as clearly in the fire-light as its own diamonds. “Crying! Crying! I thought I had no heart. I have always been told so. Ah, the horrid thing.” She brushed the bright thing that was not a diamond away, but just then her eyes brimmed over with two more, & she was obliged to dry them with her pocket handkerchief, talking on all the while. “This is too ridiculous. Georgie getting sentimental! Georgie booh-hoohing over a lover, when she’s got a real, live Lord, with a deer-park, & a house in London & ever so much a year, at her feet! What else have I always wished for? But, come, I will think of it calmly. Say I am in love with Guy (if I have no heart, how can I love anybody?) say I am in love with him. He is poor, rather extravagant, lazy & just as luxurious as I am. Now, what should we live on? I should have to mend my clothes, & do the shopping, & I should never ride or dance or do anything worth living for any more; but there would be pinching & patching & starvation (politely called economy) & I should get cross, & Guy would get cross, & we should fight, fight, fight! Now—take the other side of the picture. First, Lord B. is really in love with me. Second, he is venerable, sleepy & fixed in his own ruts, & would give me twice as much liberty as a younger man; third, I should have three fine houses, plenty of horses & as many dresses as I could wear, (& I have a large capacity in that way!) & nothing to do but coquet with all the handsome boys whose heads I chose to turn; fourth, I should be Lady Breton of Lowood, & the first lady in the county! Hurrah!” As Georgie ended this resumé of the advantages of her ancient suitor, she clapped her hands together & jumped up from the hearth-rug. “It must be done. I am sure Guy & I could never be happy together, & I shall write & tell him so, the sooner the better. I suppose Mamma will be a little scandalized, but I can settle that. And when shall I ever have such a chance again?” She reopened Lord Breton’s letter, read it for the third time, & then went up to the writing table that stood between the two windows. “The sooner the better, the sooner the better,” she repeated, as she sat down & took out a sheet of paper stamped with the Rivers crest. She dipped her pen in ink, dated the blank sheet—& then paused a moment, with contracting eye-brows. “No. I suppose that I must write to Guy first. What shall I say? It is so hard … I … hush, you little idiot! Are you going to change your mind again?” With this self-addressed rebuke, she re-dipped her pen, & began to write hastily—
Dear Guy: I am sure we can never be happy as anything but friends, & I send you back the ring which will be far better on someone else’s hand. You will get over your fancy, & I shall Always be, Your Affectionate Cousin G.R.
To Guy Hastings Esqr.
It was soon over, & she laid the pen down & pushed the paper away quickly, covering her eyes with her hand. The clock, striking the hour on the chimney-piece, roused her with a start. “I suppose I had better take this ring off,” she said, slowly, gazing at the hoop of diamonds. “There is no use in hesitating—or the battle is lost. There—what is it, a ring? It will be replaced by another (with bigger diamonds) tomorrow afternoon.” She drew it off hurriedly, as though the operation were painful, & then looked at her unadorned hand. “You change owners, poor little hand!” she said softly. Then she kissed the ring & laid it away. After that it was easier to go on with her next note, though she wrote two copies before she was satisfied that it was proper to be sent to the great Lord Breton.
The note finally ran thus:
My dear Lord Breton: I was much flattered by your offer, which I accept, remaining Yours truly (I shall be at home tomorrow afternoon.) Georgina Rivers.
“Like answering a dinner-invitation,” commented Georgie; “but I can’t make it longer. I don’t know what to say!”
Enter Lord Breton.
“Auld Robin Gray cam ‘a courtin’ me.”
Let it be understood by the reader, in justice to Miss Rivers, that, before she despatched the note with which our last chapter closes, she shewed it to her mother. As she had expected, that lady offered some feeble opposition to her daughter’s bold stroke. It was early the next morning & Mrs. Rivers—a nervous invalid, of the complainingly resigned sort—was still in her bedroom, though the younger members of the family, Kate, Julia & Tom, had breakfasted & been called to their lessons, by Miss Blackstone, their governess. Georgie therefore found her mother alone, when she entered with the answer to Lord Breton’s letter in her hand; & it was easy, after one glance at the small figure on the couch, with faded hair, pink lids & yielding wrinkles about the mouth, to see why, though “Mamma would be a little scandalized” it would be easy to “settle that.” If Mrs. Rivers had ever been a beauty much mourning & malady had effaced all traces thereof from her gentle, sallow face framed in a heavy widow’s cap; she was one of those meek, shrinking women who seem always overwhelmed by their clothes, & indeed by circumstances in general. She greeted her daughter’s entrance with a faint smile, & observed in a thin, timid voice “that it was a beautiful morning.” “Yes,” said Georgie, kissing her, “jolly for hunting. How did you sleep, little Mamma?” “Oh, well enough, my dear—as well as I could have hoped,” said Mrs. Rivers, sighing. “Of course Peters forgot my sleeping-draught when he went into West Adamsborough yesterday, but what else could I expect?” “I am very sorry! The man never had his proper allowance of brains.” “Nay, my dear, I do not complain.” “But I do,” said Georgie, impatiently. “I hate to be resigned!” “My child!” “You know I do, Mamma. But I want to speak to you now. Will Payson be coming in for anything?” “Indeed I can’t tell, my dear.” (Mrs. Rivers was never in her life known to express a positive opinion on any subject.) “Very well, then” [then,”] said Georgie, “I will make sure.” She locked the door, & then came & sat down at her mother’s feet. “Now, Mamma, I am going to shock you,” she said. “Oh, my dear, I hope not.” “But I tell you that I am,” persisted Georgie. “Now listen. I have decided that I shouldn’t be happy with Guy, & I have written to tell him so.” Mrs. Rivers looked startled. “What has happened, my love?” she asked anxiously. “I hope you have not been quarrelling. Guy is a good boy.” “No, we have not been quarrelling—at least, not exactly. But I have thought it all over. Guy & I would never get on. And I am going to accept Lord Breton!” “Good gracious, my dear!” cried Mrs. Rivers, in mingled horror & admiration at her daughter’s sudden decision. “But what will Guy say? … Have you reflected? …” “I have set Guy free; therefore I am at liberty to accept Lord Breton.” “But—so soon? I don’t understand,” said poor Mrs. Rivers, in humble perplexity. “Of course the engagement will not be announced at once; but Lord Breton’s letter requires an answer & I have written it.” She handed the note to her mother, who looked over it with her usual doubtful frown, but whose only comment was a meek suggestion that it was very short. “I can’t write four pages to say I’ll accept him,” said Georgie, sharply; & Mrs. Rivers, reflecting that her unusual crossness was probably due to concealed agitation, only said mildly, “but poor Guy.” “Why do you pity Guy, Mamma? He will be rid of me, & if he is really in love with me—why, men get over those things very quickly.” “But I cannot help thinking, my dear …” “Don’t, Mamma!” cried Georgie, passionately, “don’t think. I have made up my mind, & if you talk all day you can only make me cry.” The last word was almost a sob, & Georgie turned sharply away from her mother. “I am afraid you are unhappy, darling child.” “Why should I be?” burst out Georgie, with sudden fierceness. “Don’t be so foolish Mamma! Why should I be unhappy? It is my own choice, & I don’t want to be pitied!” She ran out of the room as she ended, & Mrs. Rivers’ anxious ears heard her bedroom door slam a moment later. The note was sent duly, that morning; & in the afternoon the various members of the family saw, from their respective windows, Lord Breton of Lowood ride up to the door of Holly Lodge. Georgie, with an unusual colour in her face, which was set off by the drooping ruffle of lace about her soft throat, came in to her mother’s room for a kiss & a word or two. Now that Guy’s ring had really been sent back, she seemed to have nerved herself to go through the day resolutely; & with a quick, firm step, & her head higher than its wont she went downstairs to meet her suitor. Lord Breton was leaning against the mantel-piece where Guy had stood yesterday; & it would have been hard to find a greater contrast to that handsome young gentleman than Georgie’s noble lover. Fifty-eight years of what is commonly called hard living had left heavy traces on what in its day was known as a fine figure; & in the Lord Breton whom some few could remember as “that gay young buck” the present generation saw nothing but a gray gouty old gentleman, who evidently enjoyed his port wine & sherry generously. He came forward as Georgie entered, & bending over her hand (it was not the hand that Guy had kissed) said, pompously: “I need not say how deeply I feel the honour you confer on me, Miss Rivers. This is indeed a happy day!” “Thank you,” said Georgie, with a wild desire to draw her hand away; “you are very kind, Lord Breton.” “No, no,” returned his lordship affably; “I only rejoice in being allowed to call mine a young lady so abundantly endowed with every charm as Miss Rivers—as—May I call you Georgina?” Georgie started; no one had ever called her by her name, preferring the boyish abbreviation which seemed to suit her lively, plump prettiness best; but, after all, it was better he should not call her as Guy did. Georgina was more suitable for the future Lady Breton. “You have won the right to do so,” she said, as she sat down, & Lord Breton took a chair opposite, at an admiring distance. “A most precious right,” he replied, conjuring up the ghost of what some might recall as a fascinating smile; but which was more like a bland leer to the eye unassisted by memory. “Let me assure you,” he continued, “that I know how little a man of my advanced years deserves to claim the attention of a young lady in the lovely bloom of youth; but—ahem—I hope that the name, the title—& above all the respect & esteem which I lay at her feet may compensate—” he paused, & evidently wondered that Georgie did not reply to this sublime condescension; but as she was silent, he was forced to take up the thread of his speech. “As I said in my letter, you will remember, Miss … Ah … Georgina—as I said in my letter, I do not see why difference of age should be an obstacle to a happy union; & as—ahem—& since your views so happily coincide with mine, permit me to—to adorn this lovely hand with—a—with—” here Lord Breton, finding that his eloquence had for the moment run dry, supplied the lack of speech by action, & producing a brilliant ruby set in large diamonds, slipped it on Georgie’s passive hand. “I hope you will accept this, as a slight token of—of …” “It is very beautiful,” said Georgie, colouring with pleasure, as the dark fire of the ruby set off the whiteness of her hand. “You are most generous. But you will forgive me if I do not wear it, at least in public. I should prefer not to have the engagement announced at once.” Lord Breton looked justly astonished, as he might have done if a crossing-sweeper to whom he had tossed a shilling had flung it back in his face. “May I ask why this—this secrecy must be preserved?” he said, in a tone of profound, but suppressed, indignation; remembering, just in time, that though the wife is a legitimate object of wrath, it is wise to restrain one’s self during courtship. “I am going to shew you what a spoiled child I am, by refusing to tell you,” said Georgie, putting on an air of imperious mischievousness to hide her growing agitation, “& I know you will humour me. I am so used to having my own way, that it might be dangerous to deprive me of it!” If she had not said this with a most enchanting smile, naughty & yet appealing, Lord Breton might not have been so easily appeased; but being charmed with this pretty display of wilfulness (as men are apt to be before marriage) & concluding that her mother might have something to do with the obstruction she would not name, he only said, with a bow, “The loss is on my side, however! I shall count the days until I can proclaim to the world what a prize I have won.” Georgie laughed; a sweet, little bird-like laugh, which was as resistless as her pout. “You pay me so many compliments that I shall be more spoiled than ever! But you will not have to wait long, I promise you.” “No waiting can be very long while I am privileged to enjoy your companionship,” said Lord Breton, rising to the moment triumphantly. “Oh, for shame! Worse & worse!” cried Georgie. “But I think Mamma is in the study. Won’t you come in & see her?”
——“There can be no reason
Why, when quietly munching your dry-toast & butter
Your nerves should be suddenly thrown in a flutter
At the sight of a neat little letter addressed
In a woman’s handwriting.”
Robert Lytton: Lucile.
Guy Hastings was finishing an unusually late breakfast at his favourite resort in London, Swift’s Club, St. James St., on the morning after his parting with Georgie, when a note addressed in her well-known hand, with its girlish affectation of masculiness, was handed to him by a Club servant. Although he was surprised that she should have written so soon, (she seldom, during his trips to London, wrote to him at all) he was not excited by any stronger emotion than surprise & slight curiosity, for the words that passed between them the day before had appeared to him nothing more than a lover’s quarrel developed by bad weather & ennui & he was too well accustomed to unaccountable phases in his cousin’s April character to imagine that anything serious could be its consequence. A man, however, who is as deeply in love as Guy was, does not have a letter in the beloved one’s handwriting long unopened; & though a pile of other envelopes “To Guy Hastings Esqr.” were pushed aside until fuller leisure after breakfast, he broke Georgie’s seal at once. One glance at the hurriedly written lines sufficed to change the aspect of life completely. At first there came a sense of blank bewilderment, followed, upon reflection, by indignation at this undeserved slight; & these emotions combined were enough to make him turn from the breakfast-table, thrusting the package which contained the ring into his breast-pocket, to escape from the clatter & movement of the breakfast room. One might have supposed that every member of the club would be off shooting, fishing, hunting or travelling at this unfashionable time, but of course, as Guy went down to take refuge in the reading-room he was fastened upon by a veteran club bore, who talked to him for half an hour by the clock, while all the time Georgie’s note was burning in his pocket. At last the bore discovered that he had an engagement, & with deep regret (more for Guy’s sake than his own) was obliged to break off in the midst of an Indian anecdote; but he was replaced almost immediately by Capt. Doublequick of the __th, who always had a new scandal to feast his friends on, & now for dearth of listeners, came to tell Guy the fullest details of “that affair with young Wiggins & the little French Marquise.” This delectable history, embellished with the Capt.’s usual art, lasted fully another half hour; & Guy was in the last stages of slow torture when the unconscious Doublequick espied a solitary man at the other end of the room who had not heard all about “young Wiggins.” Left to himself, Guy, with the masculine instinct of being always as comfortable as possible, settled himself in an armchair, & reread Georgie’s note, slowly, carefully & repeatedly, as though he fancied it might be an optical delusion after all. But it was one of Georgie’s virtues to write a clear hand. The cruel words were there, & remained the same, read them as he would. At last, as he sat half-stupidly staring at the few lines, a purpose formed itself within him to write at once & ask the meaning of them. Think as he would, he could not remember having, by word or act, justified Georgie in sending him such a letter; & he concluded that the best thing & the simplest he could do, was to demand an explanation. He loved her too deeply & reverently to believe that she could mean to throw him over thus; he thought he knew the depths & shallows of her character, & though he was not blind to her faults, he would never have accused her, even in the thought, of such unwarranted heartlessness. Having determined, then, on this first step, he called for pen & paper, & after tearing up several half-written sheets, folded & sealed this letter.
What have I done to deserve the note I got from you this morning? Why do you send the ring back? God knows I love you better than anyone on earth, & if I am at fault, it is ignorantly. If you have found out you don’t care for me, tell me so—but for Heaven’s sake don’t throw me over in this way without a word of explanation. G.H. Miss Rivers. Holly Lodge, Morley-near-W. Adamsbro.
Every one of those few words came straight from Guy’s heart; for Georgie Rivers had been his one “grande passion,” & his love for her perhaps the noblest, strongest feeling he was capable of. Indeed, I am disposed to think that the life of “a man about town” (the life which Guy had led since his college days five years before) is apt to blunt every kind of feeling into a well-bred monotone of ennui, & it is a wonder to me that he had preserved so strong & intact the capacity of really “falling in love.” Of course, he had had a dozen little affaires de coeurs here & there before his heart was really touched; a man who lives as fast & free as Guy Hastings had done, seldom escapes without “the least little touch of the spleen”—but he had outgrown them one after another as people do outgrow those inevitable diseases, until the fatal malady seized him in the shape of his pretty cousin. His love for her had influenced his whole life, & blent itself into his one real talent, for painting, so that he sketched her bewitching little head a thousand & one times, & looked forward in the future, after his marriage, to turning his brush to account, selling his pictures high, &, in the still dimmer To-be becoming an R.A. How many an idle amateur has dreamed in this fashion! Meanwhile, he had enjoyed himself, made love to her, & lived neither better nor worse than a hundred other young men of that large class delightful for acquaintance, but dangerous for matrimony, whom susceptible young ladies call “fascinating” & anxious mothers “fast.” Now, though like takes to like, it is seldom that two people of the same social tastes fall in love with each other; Mr. Rapid, who has been in all the escapades going, & connected with a good many of the most popular scandals, is attracted by Miss Slow, just out of a religious boarding-school, with downcast eyes & monosyllabic conversation; Miss Rapid, who has always been what Punch calls “a leetle fast,” settles down to domesticity with good, meek-minded Mr. Slow. Such is the time-honoured law of contrasts. But Guy Hastings & Georgie were one of those rare exceptions said to prove the rule which they defy. If Guy had tasted the good things of life generously, his cousin was certainly not wanting in a spice of fastness. Yet these two sinners fell mutually in love at first sight, & remained in that ecstatic condition until Georgie’s unaccountable note seemed to turn the world temporarily upside-down. That unaccountable note! After answering it & calling for a servant to post his answer, he thrust it away in his pocket, & since “there was no help for it,” resolved to make the best of the matter by forgetting it as quickly as possible. There are few young men who do not turn with an instinct of abhorrence from the contemplation of anything painful; & some possess the art of “drowning dull care” completely. Guy, however, could not shake his disagreeable companion off; & he must have shewed it in his face, for as he was leaving the club, in the forlorn hope of finding some note or message from Georgie at his rooms, a familiar voice called out “Hullo, Guy Fawkes, my boy! I didn’t know you were in town! Had a row? What makes your mustachios look so horridly dejected?” “Jack Egerton!” exclaimed Guy, turning to face the speaker, a short, wiry-built little man with reddish whiskers & honest gray eyes, who laid a hand on his shoulder, & gravely scanned him at arm’s length. Guy laughed rather uneasily. No man likes to think that another has guessed his inmost feelings at first sight. “Yes,” said Egerton, slowly, “your Fortunatus purse has run out again, & Poole has too much sense to send that blue frock coat home, or you’ve had a row about some pretty little votary of the drama, & been O jolly thrashed—or—Araminta, or Chloe or Belinda (we won’t say which) has been shewing you some charming phase in her character usually reserved for post-nuptial display. Come now, Knight of the Dolorous Visage, which is it?” Jack Egerton (commonly called Jack-All, from his wonderful capacity for doing everything, knowing everybody & being everywhere) although by some years Guy’s senior, had known him at Cambridge (poor Jack was there through several sets of new men) & had struck up a warm friendship with him which nothing since had shaken. Egerton shared Guy’s artistic inclinations, & was like him “a man about town,” & a general favourite, so that the similarity of their life had thrown them together ever since they forsook the shade of Alma Mater, Jack steering the “young Duke” as he always called Guy, out of many a scrape, & Guy replenishing Jack’s purse when his own would allow of such liberality. Guy then, who would not have betrayed himself to any other living man, found it a great relief to unburden his woes to Jack Egerton, knowing that he possessed the rare talent of keeping other people’s secrets as jealously as his own. “Hang it, there is a row,” said the lover, pulling the dejected moustache. “But for Heaven’s sake come out of this place. We shall be seized upon by some proses in a minute. Come along.” He ran his arm through Egerton’s, & the two sallied forth into the streets, making for the deserted region of Belgravia. It was not until they were in the most silent part of that dreary Sahara between the iron railings of a Duke who was off in Scotland, & the shut windows of an Earl who had gone to Italy, that Jack, who knew his companion “au fond,” broke the silence by, “Well, my boy?” Guy glared suspiciously at a dirty rag-picker who was expressing to himself & his ragbag the deepest astonishment “that them two young swells should be ’ere at this time o’ year”; but even that innocent offender soon passed by, & left him secure to make his confession in entire privacy. “Look here” he said, taking Georgie’s note from his pocket & handing it to Egerton. (Although the engagement between them, which had been of short duration, was kept private, he was shrewd enough to guess that his friend knew of it.) Jack, leaning against the Duke’s railings, perused the short letter slowly; then folded it up & relieved himself by a low whistle. “Well?” groaned Guy, striking his stick sharply against His grace’s area-gate, “What do you think of that? Of course you know that we were engaged, & she always said she cared for me, & all that—until that thing came this morning.” Jack looked meditatively at his friend. “I beg pardon,” he said, slowly, “but did you have a row when you last saw her?” “No, upon my honour none that I was conscious of! It was yesterday—beastly weather, you remember, & we were a little cross, but we made it up all right—at least, I thought so.” “Of course you thought so,” said Jack, calmly; “The question is, who provoked the quarrel?” “God knows—if there was a quarrel—I did not. I would go to the ends of the earth for her, Jack!” “Then—excuse me again, old boy—then she tried to pick a quarrel?” Guy paused—it seemed treason to breathe a word against his lady, & yet he could not but recall how strange her behaviour had been—“I—I believe I bored her,” he stammered, not caring to meet Jack’s eyes. “Did she tell you so?” “Well—yes; but, you know, she often chaffs, & I thought—I thought …” “You thought it was a little love-quarrel to kill time, eh?” said Jack, in his short, penetrating way. “Well, my dear boy, so it might have been, but I don’t think it was.” “What do you think then?” said Guy, anxiously. “Don’t be afraid to tell me, old fellow.” “Look here, then. You are a handsome young gaillard—just the sort that women like, the worse luck for you!—& I haven’t a doubt your cousin (she shall not be named) fell in love with you. But—taking a slight liberty with the proverb—“fall in love in haste, repent at leisure”—How much have you got to support a wife on?” “Deucedly little,” said Guy, bitterly. “Exactly. And you like to live like a swell, & have plenty of money to pitch in the gutter, when society requires it of you. Now, I dare say your cousin knows this.” “Well?” “Well—& she has more good sense & just as much heart as most young ladies of our advanced civilization. She has had the wit to see what you, poor fool, sublimely overlooked—that what is comfort for one is pinching for two (or—ahem! three)—& the greater wit to tell you so before it is too late.” Jack paused, & looked Guy directly in the face. “Do you understand?” “I don’t know … I … for Heaven’s sake, Jack, out with it,” groaned the lover. Jack’s look was of such deep, kindly pity as we cast on a child, whom we are going to tell that its goldfish is dead or its favourite toy broken. “My poor boy,” he said, gently, “don’t you see that you have been—jilted?”—
The End of the Idyl.
“Through you, whom once I loved so well—
Through you my life will be accursed.”
Georgie had just come home from a ride to the meet with Lord Breton, on the day after her engagement to that venerable peer, when her mother called to her that there was a letter on her table upstairs in Guy’s handwriting. Georgie changed colour; she had not expected this, & had thought to cast off “the old love” more easily. It came now like a ghost that steals between the feaster & his wine-cup; a ghost of old wrongs that he thought to have laid long ago but that rises again & again to cast a shadow on life’s enjoyments. Georgie, however, determined to take the bull by the horns, & went up to her room at once; but she paused a moment before the pier-glass to smile back at the reflection of her trim figure in the dark folds of a faultless habit, & crowned by the most captivating little “topper” from under which a few little brown curls would escape, despite the precaution which Georgie of course always took to brush them back into their place. Then, setting her saucy, rosebud mouth firmly, she turned from the glass & opened Guy’s letter. If she had not been very angry at his having written at all, she might have been in danger of giving Lord Breton the slip, & coming back to her first choice; for she did love Guy, though such a poor, self-despising thing as love could have no legitimate place in the breast of the worldly-wise Miss Rivers! But she was angry with Guy, & having read his appeal tore it up, stamped her foot & nearly broke her riding-whip in the outburst of her rage. After that, she locked her door, & threw herself into what she called her “Crying-chair”; a comfortable, cushioned seat which had been the confidante of many a girlish fit of grief & passion. Having cried her eyes into the proper shade of pinkness, all the while complaining bitterly of Guy’s cruelty & the hardness of the world, & her own unhappy fate, she began to think that his letter must nevertheless be answered, & having bathed her injured lids and taken an encouraging look at Lord Breton’s ruby flashing on her left hand, she wrote thus:
My dear Guy: I don’t think I deserved your reproaches, or, if I did, you must see that I am not worth your love. But I will tell you everything plainly. Knowing (as I said before) that we could never be happy together, I have engaged myself to Lord Breton. You will thank me some day for finding our feelings out & releasing you before it was too late—though of course I expect you to be angry with me now. Believe me, I wish that we may always be friends; & it is for that reason that I speak to you so frankly. My engagement to Lord Breton will not be announced yet. With many wishes for your happiness, Yours
To Guy Hastings Esqr. Swift’s Club, Regent St. London W.
Georgie was clever & politic enough to know that such desperate measures were the only ones which could put an end to this unpleasant matter; but she was really sorry for Guy & wanted to make the note as kind & gentle as possible. Perhaps Guy felt the sting none the less that it was so adroitly sheathed in protestations of affection & unworthiness. He was alone in the motley apartment, half-studio, half smoking-room & study, which opened off his bedroom at his London lodgings. He had not had the heart to stay at the Club after he had breakfasted; but pocketed Georgie’s note (which was brought to him there) & went home at once. Inevitable business had detained him in town the day before, but he had determined to run down to West Adamsborough that morning, having prepared Georgie by his note. Now his plans, & indeed his whole life, seemed utterly changed. There comes a time in the experience of most men when their faith in womankind is shaken pretty nearly to its foundations; & that time came to Guy Hastings as he sat by his fire, with a bust of Pallas (adorned by a Greek cap & a faded blue breast-knot) presiding over him, & read his dismissal. But here I propose to spare my reader. I suppose every lover raves in the same rhetoric, when his mistress plays him false, & when to you, Sylvia, or you, Damon, that bitter day comes, you will know pretty accurately how Guy felt & what Guy said. Let us, then, pass over an hour, & reenter our hero’s domain with Jack Egerton, who, at about 11 o’clock, gave his sharp, short rap at the door of that sanctum. “Who the devil is it?” said Guy, savagely, starting at the sound. “Your Mentor.” “Jack?—Confound you!—Well, come in if you like.” “I do like, most decidedly,” said Egerton briskly, sending a puff of balmy Havana smoke before him as he entered. “What’s the matter now? I’ve been at Swift’s after you, & didn’t half expect to find you moping here.” “I don’t care where I am,” said Guy with a groan. “Sit down. What is the use of living?” “Shall I answer you from a scientific, theological or moral point of view?” “Neither. Don’t be a fool.” “Oh,” with a slight shrug, “I thought you might like me to keep you company.” Guy growled. “I don’t know whether you want to be kicked or not,” he said, glaring at poor Jack, “but I feel deucedly like trying it.” “Do, my dear fellow! If it will shake you out of this agreeable fit of the dumps I shall feel that it is not paying too dearly.” Guy was silent for a moment; then he picked up Georgie’s letter & held it at arm’s length, before his friend. “Look there,” he said. Jack nodded. “My death warrant.” He stooped down & pushed it deep into the smouldering coals—it burst into a clear flame, & then died out & turned to ashes. “Woman’s love,” observed Jack sententiously. Jack was a boasted misogynist, & if he had not pitied Guy from the depths of his honest heart, might have felt some lawful triumph in the stern way in which his favourite maxim, “Woman is false” was brought home to his long unbelieving friend; such a triumph as that classic bore, Mentor, doubtless experienced when Telemachus broke loose from the rosy toils of Calypso. “There,” he continued. “If you have the pluck to take your fancy—your passion—whatever you choose to call it, & burn it as you burned that paper, I have some hopes for you.” Guy sat staring absently at the red depths of the falling fire. “Did a woman ever serve you so, Jack?” he asked, suddenly, facing about & looking at Egerton sharply; but Jack did not flinch. “No,” he said in a voice of the profoundest scorn; “I never gave one of them a chance to do it. You might as well say, did I ever pick up a rattle-snake, let it twist round my arm & say: ‘Bite!’ No, decidedly not!” “Then you believe that all women are the same?” “What else have I always preached to you?” cried Jack, warming with his favourite subject. “What does Pope say? ‘Every woman is at heart a rake’! And Pope knew ’em. And I know ’em. Look here; your cousin is not the only woman you’ve had to do with. How did the others treat you? Ah—I remember the innkeeper’s daughter that vacation in Wales, my boy!” “Don’t,” said Guy reddening angrily. “It was my own fault. I was only a boy, & I was a fool to think I cared for the girl—that’s nothing. She is the only woman I ever loved!” “So much the better. The more limited one’s experience, the less harm it will do. Only guard yourself from repeating such a favourite folly.” “There’s no danger of that!” “I hope not,” said Egerton. “But I have got a plan to propose to you. After such a little complaint as you have been suffering from, change of scene & climate is considered the best cure. Come to Italy with me, old fellow!” “To Italy!” Guy repeated. “When? How soon?” “The day after tomorrow.” “But—I—I meant—I hoped … to see her again.” Jack rapped the floor impatiently with his stick. “What? Expose yourself to the contempt & insult, or still worse, the pity, of a woman who has jilted you? For Heaven’s sake, lad, keep hold of your senses!” “You think I oughtn’t to go, then?” said Guy, anxiously. “Go!—out of the fryingpan into the fire I should call it,” stormed Jack, pacing up & down the littered room. “No. He must be a poor-spirited fellow who swims back for salvation to the ship that his [has] pitched him overboard! No. Come abroad with me, as soon as you can get your traps together, & let the whole thing go to the deuce as fast as it can.” Jack paused to let his words take effect; & Guy sat, with his head leaning on his hand, still studying the ruins of the fire. At last he sprang up & caught his shrewd-headed friend by the hand. “By Jove, Jack, you’re right. What have we got to live for but our art? Come along. Let’s go to Italy—tomorrow, if you can, Jack!” And go they did, the next day. As his friends used to say of him, “Jack’s the fellow for an emergency.” His real, anxious affection for Guy, & his disinterested kind-heartedness conquered every obstacle to so hasty & unexpected a departure; & four days after he parted with Georgie in the drawing-room of Holly Lodge, Guy Hastings was on his way to Calais, looking forward, through the distorting spectacles of a disappointed love, to a long, dreary waste of life which was only one degree better than its alternative, the utter chaos of death.
Lady Breton of Lowood.
“A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”
Tennyson: Locksley Hall.
It is sometimes wonderful to me how little it takes to make people happy. How short a time is needed to bury a grief, how little is needed to cover it! What Salvandy once said in a political sense, “Nous dansons sur un volcan,” is equally true of life. We trip lightly over new graves & gulfs of sorrow & separation; we piece & patch & draw together the torn woof of our happiness; yet sometimes our silent sorrows break through the slight barrier we have built to ward them off, & look us sternly in the face—
A month after Guy Hastings & Egerton started on their wanderings southward, Miss Rivers’ engagement to Lord Breton of Lowood was made known to the fashionable world, & a month after that (during which the fashionable world had time to wag its tongue over the nine-day’s wonder of the old peer’s being caught by that “fast little chit”) Georgie became Lady Breton. As a county paper observed: “The brilliant espousals were celebrated with all the magnificence of wealth directed by taste.” Georgie, under her floating mist of lace went up the aisle with a slow step, & not a few noticed how intensely pale she was; but when she came out on her husband’s arm her colour had revived & she walked quickly & bouyantly. Of course Mrs. Rivers was in tears; & Kate & Julia, in their new rôle of bridemaids fluttered about everywhere; & Miss Blackstone put on a gown of Bismarck-coloured poplin (her favourite shade) & a bonnet of surprising form & rainbow tints, in honour of the occasion. But perhaps the real moment of Georgie’s triumph was when the carriage rolled through the grand gateways of Lowood, & after long windings through stately trees & slopes of shaven lawn, passed before the door of her new home. Her heart beat high as Lord Breton, helping her to descend, led her on his arm through the wide hall lined by servants; she felt now that no stakes would have been too high to win this exquisite moment of possessorship. A fortnight after this brought on the bright, busy Christmas season; & as Lord Breton was desirous of keeping it festively, invitations were sent out right & left. Georgie, although perhaps she had not as much liberty as she had dreamed, found her husband sufficiently indulgent, unless his express wishes were crossed; when, as the game-keeper once remarked, “His lordship were quite piqnacious.” She enjoyed, too, the character of Lady Bountiful, & the tribute of obsequious flattery which everybody is ready to pay to the mistress of a hospitable house; but it was not long before she felt that these passing triumphs, which her girlish fancy had exaggerated, palled on her in proportion as they became an understood part of her life; praise loses half its sweetness when it is expected. At first she would not confess to herself the great want that seemed to be growing undefinably into her life; but as the gulf widened, she could not overlook it. There is but one Lethe for those who are haunted by a life’s mistake; & Georgie plunged into it. I have hinted that she had had a reputation for fastness in her unmarried days; this reputation, which grew as much out of a natural vivacity & daring as out of anything marked in her conduct, grew to be a truth after she became Lady Breton. She dashed into the crowd to escape the ghosts that peopled her solitude with vague reproaches; & as the incompleteness of her mischosen life grew upon her day by day it gave new impetus to the sort of moral opium-eating which half-stifled memory. Lord Breton did not care to stay her; he took a certain pride in the glitter that his young wife’s daring manners carried with them; for in pretty women, fastness has always more or less fascination. And Georgie had to perfection the talent of being “fast.” She was never coarse, never loud, never disagreeably masculine; but there was a resistless, saucy élan about her that carried her a little beyond the average bounds laid for a lady’s behaviour. It seemed as though her life never stood still, but rushed on with the hurry & brawl of the streamlet that cannot hide the stones clogging its flow. Altogether, she fancied herself happy; but there were moments when she might have said, with Miss Ingelow: “My old sorrow wakes & cries”; moments when all the hubbub of the present could not drown the low reproach of the past. It was a very thin partition that divided Georgie from her skeleton.
One day, when the last Christmas guests had departed from Lowood, & the new relay had not arrived, Lord Breton, who was shut up with a sharp attack of gout, sent a servant to Georgie’s dressing-room, to say that he would like to see my lady. She came to him at once, for even his company, & his slow, pompous speeches, were better than that dreadful solitude; although gout did not sweeten his temper. “My dear,” he said, “seeing that ivory chess-board in the drawing-room yesterday suggested to me an occupation while I am confined to my chair. I used to be a fair player once. Will you kindly have the board brought up?” As it happened, Georgie had not played a game of chess since the afternoon of her parting with Guy, & her husband’s words, breaking upon a train of sad thought (she had been alone nearly all day) jarred her strangely. “Chess!” she said, with a start. “Oh, I—I had rather not. Excuse me. I hate chess. Couldn’t we play something else?” Lord Breton looked surprised. “Is the game so repugnant to you that I may not ask you to gratify me this afternoon?” he asked, serenely; & Georgie felt almost ashamed of her weakness. “I beg your pardon,” she said. “I play very badly, & could only bore you.” “I think I can instruct you,” said Lord Breton, benignly; mistaking her aversion for humility, & delighted at the display of this wife-like virtue. “Oh, no, indeed. I am so stupid about those things. And I don’t like the game.” “I hoped you might conquer your dislike for my sake. You forget that I lead a more monotonous existence than yours, when confined by this unfortunate malady.” Lord Breton’s very tone spoke unutterable things; but if Georgie could have mastered her feeling, the spirit of opposition alone would have been enough to prick her on now. “I am sorry,” she said, coldly, “that my likes & dislikes are not under better control. I cannot play chess.” “You cannot, or will not?” “Whichever you please,” said Georgie, composedly. Lord Breton’s wrath became evident in the contraction of his heavy brows; that a man with his positive ideas about wifely submission, & marital authority, should have his reproofs answered thus! “I do not think,” he observed, “that you consider what you are saying.” “I seldom do,” said Georgia, with engaging frankness. “You know I am quite incorrigible.” “I confess, Lady Breton, I do not care for such trifling.” “I was afraid I was boring you. I am going to drive into Morley. Shall I order you any books from the library?” enquired Georgie, graciously. But as she rose to go, Lord Breton’s ire burst out. “Stay!” he exclaimed, turning red up to his rough eye-brows. “I repeat, Lady Breton, that I do not think you know what you are saying. This trivial evasion of so simple [a] request displeases me; & I must again ask you to sacrifice part of your afternoon to the claims of your husband.” Georgie, who [was] standing with her hand on the door, did not speak; but her eyes gave him back flash for flash. “Will you oblige me by ringing for the chess-board?” continued Lord Breton, rigidly. “Certainly. Perhaps you can get Williamson to play with you,” said Georgie, pulling the bell. (Williamson was my lord’s confidential valet.) “I beg your pardon. I believe I have already asked you to perform that function, Lady Breton.” “And I believe that I have already refused,” said Georgie, regaining her coolness in proportion as her husband grew more irate. At this moment, Williamson appeared, & Lord Breton ordered him to bring up the chessboard. When he was gone, Georgie saw that matters had gone too far for trifling. She had set her whole, strong will against playing the game, & she resolved that Lord Breton should know it at once. “I do not suppose,” she said, looking him directly in the face, “that you mean to drive me into obeying by force. Once for all, I cannot & I will not, do as you ask me. You have insulted me by speaking to me as if I were a perverse child, & not the head of your house; but I don’t mean to lose my temper. I know that gout is very trying.” With this Parthian shot, she turned & left the room. Lord Breton, boiling with rage, called after her—but what can a man tied to his chair with the gout do against a quick-witted strategist in petticoats? Lord Breton began to think that this wife-training was, after all, not mere child’s play. This was the first declaration of open war; but it put Lord Breton on the alert, & spurred Georgie into continual opposition. After all, she said to herself, quarrelling was better than [the] heavy monotony of peace; Lord Breton was perhaps not quite such a bore when worked into a genuine passion, as when trying to be ponderously gallant. Poor Georgie! When she appeared on her husband’s arm at the county balls & dinners in the flash of her diamonds & the rustle of her velvet & lace, it seemed a grand thing to be Lady Breton of Lowood; but often, after those very balls & dinners, when she had sent her hundred-eyed maid away, & stood before the mirror taking off her jewels, she felt that, like Cinderella, after one of those brief triumphs, she was going back to the ashes & rags of reality.
“I & he, Brothers in art.”
A large studio on the third floor of a Roman palazzo; a room littered & crowded & picturesque in its disorderliness, as only a studio can be. A white cast of Aphrodite relieved by a dull tapestry background representing a wan Susannah dipping her foot in the water, while two muddy-coloured elders glare through a time-eaten bough; an Italian stove surmounted by a coloured sporting print, a Toledo blade & a smashed Tyrolean hat; in one corner a lay-figure with the costumes of a nun, a brigand, a sultana & a Greek girl piled on indiscriminately; in another an easel holding a large canvas on which was roughly sketched the head of a handsome contadina. Such was the first mixed impression which the odd furnishing of the room gave to a newcomer; although a thousand lesser oddities, hung up, artist-fashion, everywhere, made a background of bright colours for these larger objects. It was a soft February day, & the window by which Guy Hastings sat (he was lounging on its broad, uncushioned sill) was opened; so that the draught blew the puffs from his cigarette hither & thither before his face. Jack Egerton, who shared the studio with him, was painting before a small easel, adding the last crimson touches to a wild Campagna sunset, & of course they kept the ball flying between them pretty steadily, as the one worked & the other watched. “That will be a success,” observed Guy, critically. “For whom did you say it was painted?” “A fellow named Graham, an English merchant, with about as much knowledge of art as you & I have of roadmaking. But it is such a delightful rarity to sell a picture, that I don’t care who gets it.” “How did he happen to be trapped?” Jack laughed. “Why, I met him at your handsome Marchese’s the other day, & she made a little speech about my superhuman genius, which led him to take some gracious notice of me. I hinted that he might have seen one of my pictures (that confounded thing that Vianelli’s had for a month) in a shop-window on the Corso, & he remembered it, & enquired the price. ‘Very sorry’ [sorry,’] said I, ‘but the thing is sold. To an English Earl, an amateur, whose name I am not at liberty to mention.’ He gobbled the bait at once, ordered this at a splendid price, & I ran down to Vianelli’s, let him into my little game, told him to send the picture home at once, & then sent some flowers to the Marchese!” Guy laughed heartily at his friend’s ruse, & then observed, “I wish you had mentioned that I
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