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The Island of Fantasy
CHAPTER I. A MIND DISEASED.
CHAPTER II. DE RERUM PARVULA.
CHAPTER III. THE RECTOR’S ROMANCE.
CHAPTER IV. A MASTERPIECE OF NATURE.
CHAPTER V. CRISPIN IS PUZZLED.
CHAPTER VI. SUB ROSA.
CHAPTER VII. SOUVENT FEMME VARIE.
CHAPTER VIII. ENDYMION.
CHAPTER IX. THE PORTRAIT.
CHAPTER X. A MODERN IXION.
CHAPTER XI. THE CREED OF A MOTHER-IN-LAW.
CHAPTER XII. THE NEW ARGONAUTS.
CHAPTER XIII. THE PAST OF A POET.
CHAPTER XIV. THE DEVIL’S PHILOSOPHY.
CHAPTER XV. THE STORM.
CHAPTER XVI. MELNOS.
CHAPTER XVII. AN ISLAND KING.
CHAPTER XVIII. VENUS URANIA.
CHAPTER XIX. A MODERN ARCADIA.
CHAPTER XX. A DIFFICULT QUESTION.
CHAPTER XXI. CAPTAIN ALCIBIADES.
CHAPTER XXII. THE APPLE OF DISCORD.
CHAPTER XXIII. BACCHANALIA.
CHAPTER XXIV. THESPIAN.
CHAPTER XXV. OLYMPIAN.
CHAPTER XXVI. BEAUTIFUL PARIS, EVIL-HEARTED PARIS.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE ALTAR INSCRIBED ΘΕΌΝ.
CHAPTER XXVIII. PUNIC FAITH.
CHAPTER XXIX. A ROLLING STONE.
CHAPTER XXX. KEEPING VIGIL.
CHAPTER XXXI. THE BATTLE OF TROGLODYTES.
CHAPTER XXXII. THE WARNING OF HEPHAISTOS.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE INVOCATION OF ARTEMIS.
CHAPTER XXXIV. A MODERN THERMOPYLÆ.
CHAPTER XXXV. A COUNCIL OF WAR.
CHAPTER XXXVI. THE FORLORN HOPE.
CHAPTER XXXVII. UNDER THE UNION JACK.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE PREY OF THE GODS.
CHAPTER XXXIX. JUSTINIAN’S REVENGE.
CHAPTER XL. DEATH PAYS ALL DEBTS.
Your Eastern drugs, your spices, your perfumes,
Are all in vain;
They cannot snatch my soul from out its glooms,
Nor soothe the brain.
My mind is dark as cycle-sealèd tombs,
And must remain
In darkness till the light of God illumes
Its black inane.
It was eight o’clock on a still summer evening, and, the ladies having retired, two men were lingering in a pleasant, indolent fashion over their wine in the dining-room of Roylands Grange. To be exact, only the elder gentleman was paying any attention to his port, for the young man who sat at the head of the table stared vaguely on his empty glass, and at his equally empty plate, as if his thoughts were miles away, which was precisely the case. Youth was moody, age was cheerful, for, while the former indulged in a brown study, the latter cracked nuts and sipped wine, with a just appreciation of the excellence of both. Judging from this outward aspect of things, there was something wrong with Maurice Roylands, for if reverend age in the presentable person of Rector Carriston could be merry, there appeared to be no very feasible reason why unthinking youth should be so ineffably dreary. Yet woe was writ largely on the comely face of the moody young man, and he joined but listlessly in the jocund conversation of his companion, which was punctuated in a very marked manner by the cracking of filberts.
Outside, a magical twilight brooded over the landscape, and the chill odors of eve floated from a thousand sleeping flowers into the mellow atmosphere of the room, which was irradiated by the soft gleam of many wax candles rising white and slender from amid the pale roses adorning the dinner-table. All was pleasant, peaceful, and infinitely charming; yet Maurice Roylands, aged thirty, healthy, wealthy, and not at all bad-looking, sat moodily frowning at his untasted dessert, as though he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders.
In truth, Mr. Roylands, with the usual self-worship of latter-day youth, thought he was being very hardly treated by Destiny, as that all-powerful goddess had given him everything calculated to make a mortal happy, save the capability of being happy. This was undeniably hard, and might be called the very irony of fate, for one might as well offer a sumptuous banquet to a dyspeptic, as give a man all the means of enjoyment, without the faculty of taking advantage of such good fortune. Roylands had considerable artistic power, an income of nearly six thousand a year, a fine house, friends innumerable—of the summer season sort; yet he neither cared about nor valued these blessings, for the simple reason that he was heartily sick of them, one and all. He would have been happier digging a patch of ground for his daily bread, than thus idling through life on an independent income, for Ennui, twin sister of Care, had taken possession of his soul, and in the midst of all his comforts he was thoroughly unhappy.
The proverb that “The rich are more miserable than the poor,” is but a trite one on which to preach a sermon, for did not Solomon say all that there was to be said in the matter? It was an easier task to write a new play on the theme of Hamlet, than to compose a novel discourse on the “All is vanity” text; for on some subjects the final word has been said, and he who preaches thereon says nothing new, but only repeats the ideas of former orators, who in their turn doubtless reiterated the sayings of still earlier preachers, and so on back to Father Adam, to whom the wily serpent possibly delivered a sermon on the cynically wise saying illustrated so exhaustively by Solomon ben David. Therefore, to remark that Maurice was miserable amid all his splendors is a plagiarism, and they who desire to study the original version for themselves must read Ecclesiastes, which gives a minute analysis of the whole question, with cruelly true comments thereon.
When Roylands ten years before had gone to London, against the desire of his father, to take up the profession—if it can be called so—of a sculptor, he was full of energy and ambition. He had fully determined to set the Thames on fire by the creation of statues worthy of Canova, to make a great name in the artistic world, to become a member of the Academy, to inaugurate a new era in the history of English sculpture; so, with all this glory before him, he turned his back on the flesh-pots of Egypt and went to dwell in the land of Bohemia. In order to bring the lad to his senses, Roylands senior refused to aid him with a shilling until he gave up the pitiful trade—in this country squire’s opinion—of chipping figures out of marble. Supplies being thus stopped, Maurice suffered greatly in those artistic days for lack of an assured income; yet in spite of all his deprivations, he was very happy in Bohemia until he lived down his enthusiasms. When matters came to that pass, the wine of life lost its zest for this young man, and he became a victim to melancholia, that terrible disease for which there is rarely—if any cure. He lived because he did not agree with Addison’s Cato regarding the virtues of self-destruction, but as far as actual dying went it mattered to him neither one way nor the other. If he had done but little good during his life, at least he had done but little harm, so, thinking he could scarcely be punished severely for such a negative existence, he was quite willing to leave this world he found so dreary, provided the entrance into the next one was not of too painful a nature.
It is a bad thing for a young man to thus take to the pessimistic school of philosophy as exemplified by Schopenhauer, as, having nothing to look back at, nothing to look forward to, and nothing to hold on by, the scheme of his life falls into a ruinous condition, so, being without the safety anchor of Hope, he drifts aimlessly through existence, a nuisance to himself and to every one around him. Maurice, listless and despairing, did no more work than was absolutely necessary to earn a bare subsistence, and lived his life in a semi-dreamy, semi-lethargic condition, with no very distinct idea as to what was to be the ultimate end of all this dreariness. When night fell he was then more at rest, for in sleep he found a certain amount of compensation for the woes of his waking hours. As to his modelling, he took a positive dislike to it, and for this reason improved but little in his work during the last years of his Bohemian existence. Profoundly disgusted, without any positive reason, with himself, his art, the world, and his fellow-men, heaven only knows what would have become of him, had not an event happened which, by placing him in a new position, seemed to promise his redemption from the gloomy prison of melancholia.
The event in question was none other than the death of his father, and Maurice, as in duty bound, came down to the funeral. When the will of the late Squire was read, it was discovered that, with the exception of one or two trifling bequests, all the real and personal property was left to his only son; thus this fortunate young man at the age of thirty found himself independent of the world for the rest of his days, provided always he did not squander his paternal acres, a thing he had not the slightest intention of doing. Maurice had no leanings towards what is vulgarly termed a “fast life,” for he detested horse-racing, cared but little for wine, and neither cards nor women possessed any fascination for him. Not that he was a model young man by any means, but his tastes were too refined, his nature too intellectual, to admit of his finding pleasure in drinking, gaming, and their concomitants. As to love, he did not know the meaning of the word,—at least not the real meaning,—which was rather a mistake, as it would certainly have given him an interest in life, and perhaps have prevented him yielding so readily to the influence of “black care,” which even the genial Venusian knew something about, seeing he made her an equestrian.
Of course, he was sorry for the death of his father, but there had been so little real sympathy between them, that he could not absolutely look upon the event as an irreparable calamity. Maurice had always loved his mother more than his father, and when she died as he was leaving home for college he was indeed inconsolable; but he saw the remains of the late Mr. Roylands duly committed to the family vault without any violent display of grief, after which he returned to live the life of a country gentleman at the Grange, and wonder what would be the upshot of this new phase of his existence.
Solitude was abhorrent to him, as his thoughts were so miserable; therefore, for the sake of having some one to drive away the evil spirit, he invited his aunt, the Hon. Mrs. Dengelton, to stay at the Grange for a week or so. She came without hesitation, and brought her daughter Eunice also, upon which Maurice, finding two women more than an unhappy bachelor could put up with, asked the new poet Crispin, for whom he had a great liking, to come down to Roylands, which that young man did very willingly, as he was in love with Eunice, a state of things half guessed and wholly hated by Mrs. Dengelton, who much desired her daughter to marry the new Squire.
On this special evening, the Rev. Stephen Carriston, Rector of Roylands, had come to dinner, and, Crispin having retired to the drawing-room with the ladies, he found himself alone with his former pupil, much to his satisfaction, as he wished greatly to have a quiet talk with Maurice. Mr. Carriston was the oldest friend the young man had, having been his tutor in the long ago, and prepared him for college. Whatever success Maurice gained at Oxford—and such success was not inconsiderable—was due to the admirable way in which he had been coached by the rubicund divine.
Certainly the Rector loved the good things of this life, and looked as if he did, which is surely pardonable enough, especially in a bachelor; for at sixty-five years of age the Rector was still single, and much beloved by his parishioners, to whom he preached short, pithy sermons on the actions of their daily lives, which was assuredly much better than muddling their dull brains with theological hair-splitting. Being very fond of Maurice, he was greatly concerned to see the marked change which six years of London life had made in the young fellow. The merry, ambitious lad, who had departed so full of resolution to succeed, had now returned a weary-looking, worn-out man; and as the Rector, during the intervals of his nut-cracking, glanced at his former pupil, he was struck by the extreme melancholy which pervaded the whole face. Comely it was certainly, of the fresh-colored Saxon type, but the color had long since left those haggard cheeks, there were deep lines in the high forehead, the mouth was drawn downward in a dismal fashion under the trim mustache, and from the eyes looked forth an unhappy soul.
Yes, the Rector was considerably puzzled to account for this change, and resolved to find out what ailed the lad, but he hardly knew how to set about this delicate task, the more so, as he feared the consolations of religion would do but little good in this case; for Maurice, without being absolutely a sceptic, yet held opinions of a heterodox type, quite at variance with the declarations of the Thirty-Nine Articles in which the good Rector so firmly believed.
At length Mr. Carriston grew weary of cracking nuts and sipping port wine without the digestive aid of pleasant conversation, and therefore began to talk to his quondam pupil, with the firm determination to keep on talking until he discovered the secret of the young man’s melancholy.
“Are you not going to fill your glass, Maurice?”
“No, thank you, sir. I am rather tired of port.”
“Inexplicable creature!” said the Rector, holding up his glass to the light. “Ah, well, ‘De gustibus,’ my dear lad. I have no doubt you can finish the quotation. Why not try claret?”
“I’m tired of claret.”
“It seems to me, sir,” observed Mr. Carriston leisurely, “that you are tired of all things.”
“I am—including myself.”
“Strange! A young man of thirty years of age, sound of mind and body, who is fortunate enough to inherit six thousand a year, ought to be happy.”
“Money does not bring happiness.”
“Ah, that proverb is quite worn out,” replied the Rector cheerily; “try another, my boy, try another.”
Maurice, leaning forward with a sigh, took a handful of nuts, which he proceeded to crack in a listless fashion. The Rector said nothing, but waited for Maurice to speak, which he was obliged to do out of courtesy, although much disinclined to resume the argument.
“I’ve tried everything, and I’m tired of everything.”
“Even of that marble-chipping you call art?”
“I am more tired of that than of anything else,” said Maurice emphatically.
“A bad case,” murmured the Rector, shaking his gray head; “a very bad case, which needs curing. ‘Nothing’s new! Nothing’s true! And no matter,’ says my Oxford fine gentleman. Maurice, I must assert my privilege as an old friend, and reason with you in this matter. I am sadly afraid, my dear lad, that you need whipping.”
The ghost of a smile played over the tired face of the young man, and he assented heartily to the observation of his old tutor—nay, even added an amendment thereto.
“I do, sir, I do!” he said sombrely; “we all need whipping more or less—men, women, and children.”
“I am afraid the last-named get the most of it,” replied Carriston, with dry humor.
“With the birch, yes. But ’tis not so pleasant to be whipped by Fate.”
“My dear lad, you cannot say she has whipped you.”
“To continue your illustration, Rector, there are several modes of whipping,—the birch which pains the skin, poverty which pains the body, and despair which pains the soul. The latter is my case. I have health, wealth, and youth; but I feel the stings of the rod all the same.”
“Yes?” queried Carriston interrogatively; “in what way?”
“I have not the capability of enjoying the blessings I possess.”
“How so? Explain this riddle.”
“I cannot explain it. I simply take no pleasure in life. Rich or poor, old or young, well or ill, I would still be as miserable as I am now.”
“Hum! Let us look at the question from three points of view—comprehensive points. The legal, the medicinal, the religious. One of these, if properly applied, will surely solve the enigma.”
“I doubt it.”
“Ah, that is because you have made up your mind to doubt. ‘None so blind as those who won’t see.’”
“Who is quoting proverbs now, Mr. Carriston?”
“I am, sir, even I who dislike such arid chips of wisdom; but ’tis an excellent proverb, which has borne the wear and tear of centuries. Come now, Maurice, are you in any trouble connected with money? are you involved in any law-suit, or—or—well,” said the Rector, delicately eying his glass, “I hardly know how to put it,—er—er—are you involved in any love affair?”
“No; my worldly position is all right, and I am not mixed up in any feminine trouble.”
“Good! That settles the legal point. Now for the medical. Your liver must be out of order.”
“I assure you, sir, I never felt better in my life.”
Mr. Carriston’s face now assumed a grave expression as he put the last question to his host.
“And the religious point?”
“I am not troubled on that score, sir.”
The Rev. Stephen looked doubtful.
“Whatever my religious views may be,” resumed Maurice, seeing the Rector was but half convinced, “and I am afraid they can hardly be called orthodox, I at least can safely say that my past life is not open to misconstruction.”
“Good! Good! I always had confidence in you, Maurice. Yours is not the nature to find pleasure in gutter-raking. Well, it seems that none of those three points meet the case. Can you not give me some understandable reason for this melancholy which renders your life so bitter?”
“No. I went to London full of joy, energy, and ambition; but in some way—I cannot tell you how—I lost all those feelings. First joy departed, then ambition fled away, and with these two feelings absent I felt no further energy to do anything. It may be satiety, certainly. I have explored the heights and depths of London life, I have read books new and old, I have studied as far as in me lay my fellow-men, I have tried to fall in love with my fellow-women—and failed dismally. In fact, Mr. Carriston, I have exhausted the world, and find it as empty as this.”
He held up a nut which he had just cracked, and it contained no kernel—an apt illustration of his wasted life.
The rector shook his head again in some perplexity, and filled himself another glass of port, while Maurice, rising from his seat, sauntered to the window, and looked absently at the peaceful scene before him. The moon, rising slowly over the tree-tops, flooded the landscape with her pale gleam, so that the gazer could see the glimmer of the white marble statues far down in the dewy darkness of the lawn, the sombre woods black against the clear sky, and away in the distance the thin streak of silver, which told of the restless ocean. A salt wind was blowing overland from thence, and, dilating his nostrils, opening his mouth, he inhaled the vivifying breeze in long breaths, while dully in his ears sounded the sullen thunder of the far-away billows rolling backward in sheets of shattered foam.
“Oh, Mother Nature! Demeter! Tellus! Isis!” he murmured, half closing his eyes; “tis only from thee I can hope to gain a panacea for this gnawing pain of life. I am weary of the world, tired of this aimless existence, but to thee will I fly to seek solace in thine healing balms.”
It was the rector who spoke, and the sound of his mellow voice roused the young man from his dreaming; therefore, resuming his normal manner, he lighted a cigarette and prepared to listen to the conversation of his old tutor.
“Are you still as good a German scholar as you used to be?” asked the rector deliberately.
“Not quite. My German, like myself, has grown somewhat rusty.”
“Can you translate the word Selbstschmerz?”
“Yes; that is about as good an English equivalent as can be found. Well, that is what you are suffering from.”
“Oh, wise physician,” retorted Roylands, with irony. “I know the cause of the disease myself, but what of the cure?”
“You must fall in love.”
“No one can fall in love to order.”
“Well, you must make the attempt at all events,” said Carriston, with a genial laugh; “it is the only cure for your disease.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Because it is your egotism makes you miserable. You care for no one but yourself, and are therefore bound to suffer from such selfishness. True happiness lies in self-abnegation, a virtue which all men preach, but few men practise. ‘Every man,’ says Goethe, ‘thinks himself the centre of the universe.’ This is true—particularly true in your case. You have been so much taken up with your own woes and troubles that you have had no time to see those of your fellow-creatures, and such exclusive analysis of one’s inner life leads naturally to self-sickness. You are torturing yourself by yourself; you have destroyed the sense of pleasure, and can therefore see nothing good on God’s earth. You would like to cut the Gordian knot by death, but have neither the courage nor resolution to make away with yourself. Oh, I know the reason of such hesitation.
‘’Tis better to endure the ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.’
I have no doubt that is your feeling about the hereafter. Well, with all this you feel you are in prison and cannot escape, because a last remnant of manliness forbids you opening the only door by which you can go hence. Therefore you are forced to remain on earth, and condemned yourself to supply the tortures from which you suffer. Have I not described your condition accurately?”
“You have,” replied Maurice, rather astonished at the rector’s penetration. “I do torture myself, I know, but that is because I cannot escape from my own thoughts. Pin-pricks hurt more than cannon balls, and incessant worries are far more painful than great calamities. But all you have said touches on the disease only, it does not say how the cure you propose will benefit me.”
He had come back to his seat, and was now leaning forward with folded arms, looking at the benevolent face of his friend. The discussion, having roused his interest, made him forget himself for the moment, and with such forgetfulness the moody look passed away from his face. The rector saw this, and immediately made use of it as a point in his favor.
“Ah, if you could but behold yourself in the glass at this moment,” he said approvingly, “you would see the point I am aiming at without need of further discussion. I have interested you, and consequently you have forgotten for the moment your self-torture. That is what love will do. If you love a woman, she will fill your whole soul, your whole being, and give you an interest in life. What she admires you will admire, what she takes an interest in you will take an interest in; and thus, being busy with other things, you will forget to worry your brains about your own perfections or imperfections. And if you are happy enough to become a father, children will give you a great interest in life, and you will find that God has appointed you work to do which is ready to your hand. When you discover the work, aided by wife and children, you will do it, and thus be happy. Remember those fine words of Burns,—
‘To make a happy fireside clime
For weans and wife,
That’s the true pathos and sublime
Of human life.’”
“What you say sounds fine but dull. I don’t care about such wearisome domesticity.”
“What you call wearisome domesticity,” said the Rector in a voice of emotion, “is the happiest state in which a man can find himself. Home, wife, children, domestic love, domestic consolations—what more can the heart of man desire? Laurel crowns cure no aching head, but the gentle kiss of a loved wife in time of trouble is indeed balm in Gilead.”
Maurice looked at the old man in amazement, for never had he seen him so moved.
“You speak feelingly, Rector,” he said at length, with a certain hesitation.
“I speak as I feel,” replied Carriston with a sigh. “I also have my story, old and unromantic-looking as I am. Come over to the Rectory to-morrow, my dear lad, and I willtell you something which will make you see how foolish it is to be miserable in God’s beautiful world.”
“I am afraid it will give you pain.”
“No; it will not give me pain. What was my greatest sorrow is now my greatest consolation. You will come and see me to-morrow?”
“If you wish it.”
“I do wish it.”
“Then I will come.”
There was silence for a few moments, each of them being occupied with his own thoughts. The Rector was evidently thinking of that old romance which had stirred him to such an unwonted display of emotion; and Maurice saw for the first time in his selfish life that other men had sorrows as well as he, and that he was not the only person in the world who suffered from Selbstschmerz.
“But come, Maurice,” said the Rector, after a pause, “I was talking about curing you by marriage.”
“Well, marriage in your case, I hope, will be love,” observed Carriston, a trifle reproachfully. “I would be sorry indeed to see you make any woman your wife unless it was for true love’s sake.”
“Well, whom do you want me to love?”
“Ah, that is for you to decide. But, if I may make a suggestion, I should say, Eunice.”
“She is a charming girl. Highly educated, good-looking”—
“But so prim.”
“Oh, that is but a suspicion of old maidism, which will wear off after a month or two of married life.”
“Do you think she would make me a good wife?”
“I am sure of it.”
“So am I,” said Maurice, with a faint sneer. “She would look well at the head of my table; she would always be dressed to perfection; she would doubtless be an excellent mother; but there is one great bar to our union.”
“And that is?”
“We only love each other as cousins.”
“It may grow into a warmer feeling.”
“I’m certain it won’t; and, Rector,” continued Maurice, laying his hand on the old man’s arm, “could you advise me to have a mother-in-law like Mrs. Dengelton?”
The Rector laughed heartily, and Maurice joined in his mirth, much to Carriston’s delight.
“Ah, now you are more like the boy I knew!” he said, slipping his arm into that of Roylands, and leading him to the door; “did I not tell you I would cure you? I will complete the cure to-morrow.”
“But it might give you pain.”
“No, no; don’t think about that,” said Carriston hastily. “If I can do you a service, I don’t mind a passing twinge of regret. But here we are at the drawing-room door. Let us join the ladies.”
“By the way,” said the Rector, placing his hand on Roylands as he was about to open the door, “who is Crispin?”
“Every one in London has been trying to find that out for the last two years.”
“What is he?”
“The new poet; the coming Tennyson, the future Browning. No one knows who he is, or where he comes from. He is called Crispin tout court.”
“A most perplexing person. Are you quite sure”—
“If he is fit for respectable society? Oh yes. He goes everywhere in London. Like Disraeli, he stands on his head, for his genius—and he has great genius—has opened all the drawing-rooms of Belgravia to him. Oh, he is quite proper.”
“Still, still!” objected the Rector.
“Well, what objection have you yet to him, my dear sir?”
“I’m afraid, I’m afraid,” whispered Carriston, looking apprehensively at Maurice, “that he loves Eunice.”
“Oh, I’m not so old but what I can see the signs and tokens of love; and, placed on my guard by a casual glance, I noticed Eunice and your poet particularly at dinner.”
“In that case,” said Maurice coolly, “I’m afraid Crispin will have to put up with Mrs. Dengelton as a mother-in-law.”
The Rector laughed again, and they entered the drawing-room.
The smallest actions in a life
Betray the calm or inward strife:
From idle straws, as persons know,
One learns the way the breezes blow;
You love those Florentine mosaics,
Yet tiny stones the picture makes.
Complying with this rule’s demand,
Whate’er is meant you’ll understand,
So follow carefully this chatter,
And you’ll discover what’s the matter.
The three persons who occupied the drawing-room were all employed according to their different natures, for Crispin, being an ardent musician, was seated at the piano, playing softly. Eunice, who rarely spoke, was listening, and the Hon. Mrs. Dengelton was talking as usual. She was always talking, but never by any chance said anything worth listening to. With her it was all quantity and no quality. For, wherever she was, in drawing-room, theatre, or park, her sharp strident voice could be heard all over the place. Certainly she was silent in church, but it must have been an effort for her to hold her tongue, and she fully made up for it when she was outside the door, by chattering all the way home. Scandal said she had talked her husband dead and her daughter silent; and certainly the Hon. Guy Dengelton was safe in the family vault, while Eunice, as a rule, said very little. Mrs. Dengelton knew every one and everything, and, were it the fashion to write memoirs, after the mode of the eighteenth century, she could have produced a book which would have made a sensation, and been suppressed—after the first edition. Owing to her incessant stream of small talk, she was known in society as “The Parrot,” a name which exactly fitted her, as she had a hook nose, beady eyes, and always dressed in gay colors. Add to this description her esprit, as she called it, but which scandal said was French for the vulgar American word “jaw,” and you have a faithful portrait of the most dreaded woman in London.
Reasons? Two! She knew stories about every one, which she retailed to their friends at the pitch of her voice; and she was always hunting for a husband for Eunice. Eldestsons had a horror of her, and the announcement that Mrs. Dengelton was to be at any special ball was sufficient to keep all the eligible young men away. Consequently, no one asked “The Parrot” to a dance unless the invitation was dragged out of them; but Mrs. Dengelton was skilful at such work, and went out a good deal during the season. Hitherto she had not been successful in her husband-hunting, as no one would marry Eunice, with the chance of having Mrs. Dengelton as mother-in-law. Crispin certainly was daring enough to pay his addresses, but Crispin had neither name, title, nor family, nothing but his genius, and Mrs. Dengelton therefore frowned on his suit. When Maurice came in for the Roylands estate, his aunt thought it would be splendid for Eunice to marry her first cousin, “just to keep the property in the family,” as Mrs. Dengelton put it, though how such a saying applied in this case it is rather difficult to see. However, The Parrot gladly accepted her nephew’s invitation,—when she arrived, he regretted having asked her—and came down with Eunice, with the firm determination to talk Maurice into matrimony.
She was very angry when Crispin arrived, and forbade Eunice to encourage the young man, but she could scarcely turn him out of the house, as she would have liked to do, so put up with his presence as best she could, and never lost an opportunity of saying disagreeable things to him in a covert fashion.
Eunice herself was a charmingly pretty girl, who very much resented the way in which her mother put her up to auction, but, being rather weak-willed, could not combat Mrs. Dengelton’s determination, and submitted quietly to be dragged about all over the place, with the hope that some day a modern St. George would deliver her from this dragon.
St. George, long looked for, unexpectedly appeared one day in the person of Crispin, and, though Mrs. Dengelton laughed at the idea of her daughter throwing herself away on a pauper, Eunice, nevertheless, fell in love with the poet. Crispin would have married her at once, but, in spite of her anxiety to get beyond the clack of Mrs. Dengelton’s tongue, she was too much afraid of that strong-willed lady to break out into open mutiny, so poor St. George had to adore her in secret, lest the dragon should pounce down on him.
Crispin! Who ever heard of such a name? Being the more singular as it had neither head nor tail. If he had been Henry Crispin, or Crispin Jones, people could have put up with the oddness of the sound; but Crispin, all alone by itself, sounded heathenish, to say the least of it. No one knew who Crispin was, or where he came from, for he had suddenly flashed like a meteor into literary London, two years previous, with a book of brilliant poems, which made a great success. For once the critics were unanimous in praising good work, and pronounced “The Roses of Shiraz, and Other Poems” to be the finest series of poetical Eastern tales since Lord Byron had enchanted the world with “The Giaour” and “The Bride of Abydos.” For the critics’ praise or blame Crispin seemed to care but little, nor did he satisfy the curiosity of those up to date people who desired to meet him. Sometimes he would appear in a Belgravian drawing-room, but only for a moment, and would then leave England for a tour in his beloved East. Just when the world would begin to forget him, he would suddenly reappear in society, and fascinate one and all by his charming manners. Handsome some he was not, being small and dark, but he was as lithe as a serpent, and his dark eyes flashed with the fierce fire of genius. All sorts of stories were told about him, and none of them were correct, though Mrs. Dengelton was ready to swear to the truth of at least half a dozen. In fact, he puzzled society very much, and, as society always takes to that which is not understandable, Crispin was quite the lion of the season.
An article called “The Lord Byron of our days” appeared in a leading society paper, which retailed wonders about this unknown poet; but Crispin neither contradicted nor affirmed the truth of these statements, therefore became more of a puzzle than ever. He was a brilliant musician; he talked several languages, and seemed to have been all over the world; but beyond this he was a mystery. To no one, not even to Maurice, who was his closest friend, did he tell the story of his life, and even Mrs. Dengelton, who was an adept at finding out things people did not want known, could make nothing of him.
Then Crispin met Eunice, and all his heart went out to this dainty, dark-haired girl, who spoke so seldom, but whose eyes and gestures were so eloquent. “The Fairy of Midnight,” he called her, and often wondered how such a woman as Mrs. Dengelton ever came to have so silent and lovely a daughter. To Crispin, steeped in the lore of the East, she was like a Peri, and her love inspired him with wondrous love poems, some of which appeared in The Nineteenth Century and The Fortnightly Review. Whether he told her who he was is doubtful—if he did, Eunice never betrayed his confidence, for she was a woman who could keep a secret, which was a miracle, seeing her mother was such a gossip. They loved and suffered in silence with such discretion, that even keen-eyed Mrs. Dengelton did not guess the understanding which existed between them, and was hard at work trying to arrange a marriage with Maurice, quite unaware that her meek daughter had made up her mind to marry no one but this mysterious Crispin.
Sitting at the piano, Crispin was playing a wild Eastern air with the soft pedal down, and looking at Eunice, whose eyes responded eloquently to his glances. Neither of them paid much attention to the chatter of The Parrot, who was quite ignorant of the love-making going on under her nose, for both Eunice and Crispin had arrived at the stage of complete union of souls which renders words superfluous while eyes can talk.
Mrs. Dengelton was doing a parrot in beadwork for a screen, and the gaudy bird might have passed for her portrait, so like her did it seem. Luckily, the beadwork parrot could not talk, but its creator could, and did, with as few pauses as possible.
“As I was saying, my dear Eunice, there is something very strange about this silence of my dear nephew. I’ve no doubt it is smoking too much,—so many young men smoke in that dreadful place, Bloomsbury, where he lived,—or perhaps he feels a little out of society after living so long away from it. Oh, I know Bloomsbury! Yes! I sometimes visit the poor there. How strange I never came across poor dear Maurice! He is so sadly altered, not gay like he used to be. I do not really think he knows how to laugh, and”—
At this moment, as if to give the lie to Mrs. Dengelton’s assertion, her nephew entered the room, laughing, in company with the Rector; but the good lady did not know that she was the cause of this hilarity, and at once began to deluge the new-comers with the fountain of her small talk.
“Now, my dear Rector and my dear Maurice, what are you laughing at? Is it some amusing joke? Oh, I am sure it is! Eunice, Mr. Crispin, we are going to be told something funny”—
“But really, my dear lady,” began the Rector, with uplifted hand, “I”—
“Now you need not tell me it is not funny, because it has made Maurice laugh, and he has been as grave as a judge since we came down. I was just saying to Eunice when you came in”—
“My dear aunt, the joke is not worth telling you,” said Maurice, in desperation cutting her short.
“Ah, I knew there was a joke! Do tell it to Eunice! She is so fond of amusing stories, especially from you.”
Maurice flushed angrily.
“I don’t tell amusing stories,” he said curtly, and walked across to the piano.
“Such a bad temper!” sighed the Parrot, shaking her head; “so like his poor dear father, who foamed at the mouth when in a rage.”
“Oh, come, not so bad as that,” said the Rector good-naturedly.
“My dear Rector, I assure you I have seen Austin”—And then Mrs. Dengelton began a long, rambling story, which had no beginning and certainly did not appear to have an end, for she droned on until the poor Rector was quite weary, and was much put to to conceal his yawns.
Meanwhile, Maurice, remembering what the Rector had told him about the young couple, looked keenly at the poet and then at his cousin, at which inspection they naturally felt somewhat embarrassed.
“Yes?” said Eunice at length, in an interrogative fashion.
“Oh, nothing, nothing!” he responded hastily; “I was only wondering what you were talking about.”
“We were not talking at all,” said Crispin, running his fingers over the keys; “on the contrary, we were listening to Mrs. Dengelton.”
Maurice smiled absently, and tugged moodily at his mustache.
“You have a charming place here, Roylands,” remarked Crispin, more for the sake of saying something than for the importance of the remark; “I would like to settle down in this quiet village.”
“You!” said Maurice in astonishment; “the bird of passage who is never off the wing! Why, you would die of ennui in a week.”
“Ah, that depends on the company,” answered Crispin, stealing a glance at Eunice, who sat silently playing with her fan.
“I am afraid I am not very lively company,” observed Maurice, with a sigh, not noticing the glance; “there is so little to talk about nowadays.”
“I’m tired of poetry.”
“Too much music is dreary. I heard such a lot in London.”
“Then you must love scandal.”
“Ah, that is a hint that my dear aunt can amuse me.”
“Maurice!” said Eunice, with a frown.
“Now don’t be angry, my dear cousin. Talking scandal is a very harmless occupation, and, as the Rector seems interested, I think I will go and hear the latest story of Belgravia. But, Crispin, I wish you would take my cousin on to the terrace—the sky is worth looking at with moon and clouds.”
Crispin darted a look of gratitude at him, and Maurice, delighted at thus foiling his aunt’s schemes, went off to hear that lady’s conversation.
The two lovers at the piano were afraid to move for a time, lest they should attract Mrs. Dengelton’s attention, and thus be stopped from leaving the room; but when they saw her deep in conversation with the two gentlemen, they stole quietly to the French window at the end of the room, through which they speedily gained the terrace.
“Do you feel cold, Eunice?” asked Crispin, noticing his companion shiver.
“Wait a moment, then. Your mother left a shawl near the window, I’ll fetch it to you at once.”
“Take care she does not see you.”
“Not much fear of that; she has an audience, and is happy.”
He went off laughing quietly; and Eunice, leaning on the balustrade of the terrace, stared at the wonderful beauty of the sky. Away in the west shone the silver round of the moon, and below her were gigantic black clouds, the edges of which were tipped with light. They looked like gigantic rocks piled up from earth to heaven, and above them shone the serene planet in an expanse of blue, as if she scorned their efforts to veil her face. Far below Eunice heard the musical splash of the fountains, and the chill odors of flowers floated upward, as though drawn by the spell of her beauty. She looked wonderfully lovely with her delicate face turned upward to the moon, and so thought Crispin, as he came lightly along the terrace with the fleecy shawl over his arm.
“I shall no longer call you the Fairy of Midnight,” he whispered, wrapping the shawl round her shoulders; “your name will be the ‘Moon Elf.’”
“Ah, what a charming title for a fairy story!” said Eunice, who was anything but silent when away from her mother. “Why do you not write a fairy story?”
“Because I am living one now.”
“No; I am speaking the truth. I adore a lovely princess, who is guarded by an elderly dragon breathing the fire of scandal”—
“You must not talk of my mother like that.”
“Then I will not. She is the most charming lady I know.”
“What! You are not pleased at that? My dearest Eunice, how cruel you are! But indeed I do not love your mother. She will not let me marry you.”
“No; she wants me to marry Maurice,” said Eunice, with a sigh.
“I am afraid that ambition will never be gratified. Maurice is our friend.”
“Do you think he knows we love one another?”
“I am sure he does. But he knows to-night for the first time; I saw it in his eyes when he looked at us.”
“How can he have guessed?”
“He did not guess. No; Roylands has never been in love, and only a lover can recognize the silent eloquence of love. But I think that keen-eyed old Rector”—
“What! Mr. Carriston? Impossible! How could he tell we loved one another?”
“Well, going by the theory I have propounded, he must have at one time of his life been in love himself, and therefore intuitively guessed our hidden romance.”
“But he is a bachelor.”
“Ah, then he has had a romance also! An extinct volcano perhaps.”
“Is not a volcano at all—at least, not so far as I know. He has never been in love yet, but he will be some day.”
“Pardon me, I cannot lift the veil of the future. But I admit Maurice with his melancholia puzzles me.”
“Well, you puzzle every one yourself. They call you the riddle of London.”
“I will explain my riddle self to you when we marry.”
“I am afraid that will never be.”
“Indeed it will,” he said gayly. “But you need not be afraid of my mystery; I have no Bluebeard chamber to keep locked, I assure you. Do you hesitate to marry me on account of my so-called mystery?”
“No; I trust you too much for that.”
At this moment the moon veiled her face discreetly behind a wandering cloud, and their lips met in a kiss—a kiss of pure and enduring love. Then Crispin tenderly wrapped the shawl closer round the shoulders of Eunice, and arm in arm they strolled up and down the terrace, talking of their present despairs, their future hopes, and their possible marriage.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Dengelton, quite unaware of the way in which all her matrimonial schemes were being baffled by this audacious poet, was holding forth to Maurice and the Rector on the subject of a family romance. For once in her life she proved interesting, for Maurice only knew the skeleton of Roylands by name, and was quite unaware of the reason it was locked up in the cupboard. It was wonderful what a lot of good the conversation of the Rector had done him, and now, having been once roused out of his melancholia, he was quite interested by the story which his aunt was telling. The Rev. Stephen Carriston noticed the bright look on his usually sad face, and was delighted thereat.
“I will complete the cure to-morrow,” he repeated to himself; and then prepared to listen to Mrs. Dengelton’s story, which interested him very much, the more so as he knew the principal actor concerned therein.
“Of course I only speak from hearsay, my dear Rector,” she said, laying aside her beadwork so as to give her eloquence every chance; “at the time these events took place I was just a baby in long clothes. You, Rector, perhaps know the story better than I do.”
“No; I had just left college when Rudolph Roylands ran away, but I knew him at the university.”
“Ah yes; of course. You were very friendly with both my brothers, I believe, so it is curious they never told you of their love for Rose Silverton.”
“Well—I heard something about it,” said the Rector, with a hesitating glance at Maurice.
“Oh, my dear Rector, I am going to say nothing against my sister-in-law. She was a very charming woman.”
“She was all that was good and pure,” remarked Maurice abruptly; annoyed, he knew not why, at the tone adopted by Mrs. Dengelton in speaking of his dead mother.
“Yes, I know she was. Still, my dear Maurice, you must pardon my plain speech, but she did flirt terribly with Rudolph.”
“My lost uncle? Ridiculous!”
“It is not ridiculous at all,” said the lady, drawing herself up; “it was on your mother’s account Rudolph left England.”
“Who said so?” demanded Maurice indignantly.
“Every one; even your father.”
Maurice was about to make some remark, when he caught sight of a warning look on Carriston’s face, therefore held his peace.
“What I was about to remark,” pursued Mrs. Dengelton, choosing her words carefully, “was that, when my brothers, Rudolph and Austin, came home,—the first from his regiment, the second from college,—they both fell in love with Rose Silverton, whose father was a retired captain in the army. Rudolph, as you know, Rector, was the heir to Roylands, and Captain Silverton naturally wanted Rose to marry him, as the match was such a good one. She, however, preferred Austin.”
“Love versus Money, and Love was triumphant,” said Maurice, smiling.
“If you put it like that, I suppose it was,” replied his aunt frigidly. “Well, Rose, as I have said, flirted considerably with Rudolph, though she loved my brother Austin best. Oh, you need not shake your head, Rector—Rose did flirt!”
“My dear aunt, spare the dead,” observed Maurice, with a groan, for this old lady was really terrible with her malignant tongue.
“I hope I am too good a churchwoman to speak evil of any one, dead or alive,” said Mrs. Dengelton, with dignity. “But I will make no further remarks if they are so displeasing to you, though why they should be displeasing I cannot conceive. Well, to gratify her father, Rose appeared to favor Rudolph, but in secret she met Austin. Such duplicity! I beg your pardon, Maurice, but it was duplicity.”
The Rector sighed, and Mrs. Dengelton looked curiously at him, as if she guessed the meaning of the sigh, then resumed her story without commenting thereon, to Carriston’s evident relief.
“Rudolph in some way came to hear of these stolen meetings, and surprised Austin walking with Rose one June evening. The brothers came, I regret to say, to blows, while Rose looked on in horror. Austin, being the younger and weaker, could not stand against the furious onslaught of Rudolph, who stunned him with a blow, then, thinking he had killed him, kissed Rose, who had fainted, and disappeared forever. He returned to London, left the army, and went away to the East, with a considerable sum of money which he inherited from his mother.”
“And my father and mother?” asked Maurice breathlessly.
“Were found by some laborers insensible; the one from fear, the other from the blow given to him by his brother. They were taken to their respective homes, and when Austin got well again, he married Rose in due course. I believe your father and mother were very happy in their married life, Maurice, but they were singularly unfortunate in the fate of their children. Your brothers and sisters, four of them born during the early period of the marriage, all died; and you, who came into the world nearly twenty years after the marriage, were the only child who lived.”
“And how long ago did all this happen, aunt?”
“Cannot you think it out for yourself?” said Mrs. Dengelton tartly. “You are now thirty-five; you were born—let me see—about fifteen years after the marriage, so altogether Rudolph disappeared fifty years ago.”
“And has not been heard of since?”
“No; all inquiries were made, but nothing came of them,” replied the lady, shaking her head. “I suppose Rudolph thought he had killed Austin, and left England to avoid arrest. At all events, not a soul has heard of him since. Where he went, no one knows; but by this time, I have no doubt he is dead.”
“Poor Uncle Rudolph, what an unhappy fate!” said Maurice thoughtfully.
“Ah, I always did blame Rose for that quarrel!” cried Mrs. Dengelton sourly.
“My mother”—began Maurice indignantly, when the Rector stopped him.
“Your mother was not to blame, my dear Maurice,” he said, rising to his feet. “I know more about this story than Mrs. Dengelton thinks.”
A sniff was the Hon. Mrs. Dengelton’s only reply, which was vulgar, but eloquent of disbelief.
Carriston’s face, generally ruddy, looked somewhat pale, and Maurice wondered what could be the reason for such a loss of color. The old man saw his inquiring look, and arose to take his leave.
“I must say good-night, my dear Maurice,” he said, giving his hand to Mrs. Dengelton. “I am not so young as I once was, and keep early hours.”
At this moment, as if guided by some happy fate, Eunice, in company with Crispin, entered the room at the back of Mrs. Dengelton, and returned to their seats without her having noticed their absence.
“Good-night, sir,” said Crispin, coming forward to shake hands with the Rector.
“How quiet you have been!” remarked Mrs. Dengelton suspiciously. “Where is my daughter?”
“Here, mamma;” and Eunice came forward in the demurest manner.
“Were you listening to my story?” asked her mother inquiringly,—“my story about your Uncle Rudolph leaving England?”
“No,” interposed Crispin quickly, before Eunice could speak; “we were discussing photographs on yonder sofa.”
“Photographs, eh?” said Mrs. Dengelton, with a frown, for she knew what looking over a photograph album meant in this case, but did not see her way to make further remark.
The Rector said good-night to every one, and then departed, accompanied by Maurice, who walked with him as far as the park gates. Here they separated, after Maurice had promised faithfully to call at the Rectory the next day, and the old clergyman went home, while his pupil returned to the Grange in a thoughtful manner.
“I wonder,” he said to himself, pausing for a moment in the shadowy avenue,—“I wonder if my uncle is still alive. If he is, I am wrongfully in possession of Roylands. Suppose he came back and claimed it, I would once more be penniless. Well,” he sighed, resuming his walk, “perhaps that would be the best thing that could happen, for work means happiness, and earning one’s bread forces a man to take a deep interest in life whether he will or no.”
In pity for our painful strife
God aids us from above,
And every mortal in his life
Plucks once the rose of love.
The flower may bloom, the flower may fade,
As love brings joys or woes,
Still in the heart of youth and maid
That sacred blossom grows.
’Tis cherished through declining years,
Amid death’s coming glooms,
And watered by regretful tears,
The flower eternal blooms.
Nor death that rose from us can part,
For when the body dies,
All broken on the broken heart,
That bud of heaven lies.
Roylands Rectory was a comfortable-looking house, distant about a mile from the Grange, and near the village, which was an extremely small one. Indeed, although the parish was large, the Rector’s congregation was not, and his clerical occupation did not entail much work. Nevertheless, Stephen Carriston did his best to attend to the spiritual welfare of the souls under his charge; and if the hardest day’s work still left him with plenty of spare time on his hands, that could hardly be called his fault. The Rector abhorred idleness, which is said to be the mother of all the vices, and managed to fill up his unoccupied hours in a sufficiently pleasant manner by indulging in occupations congenial to his tastes. He was now engaged in translating the comedies of Aristophanes into English verse, and found the biting wit of the great Athenian playwright very delightful after the dull brains of his parishioners. For the rest, he pottered about his garden and attended to his roses, which were the pride of his heart, as well they might be, seeing that his small plot of ground was a perfect bower of loveliness.
It is at this point that the pen fails and the brush should come in; for it would be simply impossible to give in bald prose an adequate description of the paradise of flowers contained within the red brick walls which enclosed the garden on three sides. The fourth side was the house, a quaint, low-roofed, old-fashioned place, with deep diamond-paned lattices, and stacks of curiously-twisted chimneys. Built in the reign of the Second Charles, it yet bore the date of its erection, 1666, the annus mirabilis of Dryden, when half London was swept away by the fire, and half its inhabitants by the plague. Rector Carriston liked this house,—nay, like is too weak a word, he loved it,—as its antiquity, matching with his own, pleased him; and besides, having resided within its red-tiled roof for over thirty years, it was natural that he should be deeply attached to its quaint walls and still quainter rooms.
But the garden! Oh, the garden was a miracle of beauty! And only Crispin, who deals in such lovelinesses, could describe its perfections, as he did indeed long afterwards, when the good Rector was dead, and could not read the glowing verse which eulogized his roses. Three moderately high brick walls, one running parallel to the high road, so that the Rector could keep a vigilant eye on the incomings and outgoings of his villagers, fenced in this modern garden of Alcinous, and these three walls were almost hidden by the foliage of peach and apricot and nectarine, for it was now midsummer, and nature was decked out in her gayest robes. A dial in the middle of the smooth lawn, with its warning motto, which the Rector did not believe, as Time only sauntered with him; a noble elm, wherein the thrush fluted daily, and a bower of greenery, in which the nightingale piped nightly: it was truly an ideal retreat, rendered still more perfect by the roses. The roses! Oh, the red, white, and yellow roses! How they bloomed in profusion under the old red wall, which drew the heat of the sun into its breast, and then showered it second-hand on the delicate, warmth-loving flowers. Great creamy buds, trembling amid their green leaves at the caress of the wind, gorgeously crimson blossoms burning incense to the hot sun, pale-tinted flowers, which flushed delicately at the dawn hour, and bright yellow orbs, which looked as though the touch of Midas had turned them into gold. All the bees for miles around knew that garden, and the finest honey in the neighborhood owed its existence to the constant visits they paid to that wilderness of sweets.