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Before the next Monday, he had learned the outlets of the hall, and the relations of its divisions to its doors. But he fared no better, for whether again he mistook the door or not, he did not see Barbara come out. He had been with her, however, through all the concert; there was reason to hope she would be often present, and every time there would be a chance of his getting near her! The following Monday, nevertheless, she was not in the house: had she been, he said to himself, his eyes would of themselves have found her.
A fortnight passed, and Richard had not again seen Barbara. He began to think she must have gone home. A gentleman was with her the first night, whom he took for her father; the second, Arthur Lestrange was by her side: neither of them had he seen since.
Then the thought suggested itself that she might have come to London to prepare for her marriage with Mr. Lestrange. She must of course be married some day! He had always taken that for granted, but now, for the first time somehow, the thought came near enough to burn. He did not attempt to analyze his feelings; he was too miserable to care for his feelings. The thought was as terrible as if it had been quite new. It was not a live thought before; now it was alive and until now he had not known misery. That Barbara should die, seemed nothing beside it! Death was no evil! Whether there was a world beyond it or not, it was the one friend of the race! In death at last, outworn, tortured humanity would find repose!--or if not, what followed could not, at worst, be worse than what went before! It must be better, for the one misery of miseries would be to live in the same world with Barbara married: She was out of sight of him, far as princess or queen--or angel, if there were such a being; but the thought that she should marry a common, outside man, who knew no more what things were precious than the lowest fellow in the slums, was a pain he could neither stifle nor endure. Could a woman like Barbara for an instant entertain the notion? If she loved a man worthy of her, then--he thought, as so many have for a moment thought--he could bear the torture of it! But for such patience in prospect men are generally indebted to the fact that the man is not likely to appear, or, at least, has not yet come in sight. In vain he persuaded himself that Barbara would no more listen to such a suitor, than a man could ever show himself on the level of her love. That Barbara would marry Lestrange grew more and more likely as he regarded the idea. Mortgrange and Wylder Hall were conveniently near, and he had heard his grandfather suppose that Barbara must one day inherit the latter! The thought was a growing torment. His heart sank into a draw-well of misery, out of which the rope of thinking could draw up nothing but suicide. But as often as the bucket rose thus laden, Richard cast its content from him. It was cowardly to hide one's head in the sand of death. So long as he was able to stand, why should he lie down? If a morrow was on the way, why not see what the morrow would bring? why not look the apparition in the face, though for him it brought no dawn!
Once more the loud complaint against life awoke and raged. What an evil, what a wrong was life! Who had dared force the thing upon him? What being, potent in ill, had presumed to call him from the blessed regions of negation, the solemn quiet of being and knowing nothing, and compel him to live without, nay against his will, in misery such as only an imagination keen to look upon suffering, could have embodied or even invented? Alas, there was no help! If he lifted his hand against the life he hated, he might but rush into a region of torture more exquisite! For might not the life-compelling tyrant, offended that he should desire to cease, fix him in eternal beholding of his love and his hate folded in one--to sicken, yet never faint, in aeonian pain, such as life essential only could feel! He rebelled against the highest as if the highest were the lowest--as if the power that could create a heart for bliss, might gloat on its sufferings.
Again and again he would take the side of God against himself: but always there was the undeniable, the inexplicable misery! Whence came it? It could not come from himself, for he hated it? and if God did not cause, yet he could prevent it! Then he remembered how blessed he had been but a few days before; how ready to justify God; how willing to believe he had reason in all he did: alas for his nature, for his humanity! clothed in his own joy, he was generous to trust God with the bliss of others; the cold blast of the world once again swept over him, and he stood complaining against him more bitterly than ever.
It is a notable argument, surely, against the existence of God, that they who believe in him, believe in him so wretchedly! So many carry themselves to him like peevish children! Richard half believed in God, only to complain of him altogether! Were it not better to deny him altogether, saying that such things being, he cannot be, than to murmur and rebel as against one high and hard?
But I bethink me: is it not better to complain if one but complain to God himself? Does he not then draw nigh to God with what truth is in him? And will he not then fare as Job, to whom God drew nigh in return, and set his heart at rest?
For him who complains and comes not near, who shall plead?--The Son of the Father, saying, "They know not what they do."
He began to wonder whether even an all-mighty and all-good God would be able to contrive such a world as no somebody in it would ever complain of. What if he had plans too large for the vision of men to take in, and they were uncomfortable to their own blame, because, not seeing them, they would trust him for nothing? He knew unworthy men full of complaint against an economy that would not let them live like demons, and be blessed as seraphs! Why should not a man at least wait and see what the possible being was about to do with him, perhaps for him, before he accused or denied him? At worst he would be no worse for the waiting!
His thinking was stopped by a sudden flood of self-contempt. Was Barbara to live alone that he might think of her in peace! He was a selfish, disgraceful, degraded animal, deserving all he suffered, and ten times more! What did it matter whether he was happy or not, if it was well with her! Was he a man, and could he not endure! Here was a possible nobility! here a whole world wherein to be divine! A man was free to sacrifice his happiness: for him, he had nothing but his crowned sorrow; he would sacrifice that! Had anyone ever sacrificed his sorrow to his love? Would it not be a new and strange sacrifice? To know that he suffered would make her a little unhappy: for her sake he would not be unhappy! He would at least for her sake fight with his grief; he would live to love her still, if never more to look on her face. In after eternal years, if ever once more they met, he would tell her how for her sake he had lived in peace, and neither died nor gone mad! Yea, for her sake, he would still seek her God, if haply he might find him! Was there not a possible hope that he would justify to him, even in his heart, his ways with men, and his ways with himself among his fellows? What if there was a way so much higher than ours, as to include all the seeming right and seeming wrong in one radiance of righteousness! The idea was scarce conceivable; it was not one he could illustrate to himself; but, as a thought transcending flesh and blood, better and truer than what we are able to think of as truth, he would try to hold by it! Things that we are right in thinking bad, must be bad to God as well as to us; but may there not be things so far above us, that we cannot take them in, and they seem bad because they are so far above us in goodness that we see them partially and untruly? There must be room in his wisdom for us to mistake! He would try to trust! He would say, "If thou art my father, be my father, and comfort thy child. Perhaps thou hast some way! Perhaps things are not as thou wouldst have them, and thou art doing what can be done to set them right! If thou art indeed true to thy own, it were hard not to be believed--hard that one of thine own should not trust thee, should not give thee time to make things clear, should behave to thee as if thou wouldst not explain, when it is that we are unable to understand!"
He was thinking with himself thus, as he walked home, late one Monday night, from the concert, to which had come none of the singing birds of his own forests to meet and make merry with the song-birds of the violins. Like a chaos of music without form and void, the sweet sounds had stormed and billowed against him, and he had left the door of his late paradise hardly in better mood than if it had been the church of the Rev. Theodore Gosport, who for the traditions of men made the word of God of small effect!
He was walking westward, with his eyes on the ground, along the broad pavement on the house-side of Piccadilly, lost half in misery, half in thought, when he was stopped by a little crowd about an awning that stretched across the footway. The same instant rose a murmur of admiration, and down the steps from the door came tripping, the very Allegra of motion, the same Barbara to whose mould his being seemed to have shaped itself. He stood silent as death, but something made her cast a look on him, and she saw the large eyes of his suffering fixed on her. She gave a short musical cry, and turning darted through the crowd, leaving her escort at the foot of the steps.
"Richard!" she cried, and catching hold of his hand, laid her other hand on his shoulder--then suddenly became aware of the gazing faces, not all pleasant to look upon, that came crowding closer about them.
She pulled him toward a brougham that stood at the curbstone.
"Jump in," she whispered. Then turning to the gentleman, who in a bewildered way fancied she had caught a prodigal brother in the crowd, "Good-night, Mr. Cleveland," she said: "thank you!"
One moment Richard hesitated; but he saw that neither place nor time allowed anything but obedience, and when she turned again, he was already seated.
"Home!" she said to the coachman as she got in, for she had no attendant.
"I must talk fast," she began, "and so must you; we have not far to go together.--Why did you not write to me?"
"I did write."
"Did you!" exclaimed Barbara.
"I did indeed."
"Then what could you think of me?"
"I thought nothing you would not like me to think. I was sure there was an explanation!"
"That of course! You knew that!--But how ill you look!"
"It is from not seeing you any more at the concerts," answered Richard.
"Tell me your address, and I will write to you. But do not write to me. When shall you be at the hall again?"
"Next Monday. I am there every Monday."
"I shall be there, and will take your answer from your hand in the crush as I come out by the Regent-street door."
She pulled the coachman's string.
"Now you must go," she said. "Thank God I have seen you! Tell me when you write if you know anything of Alice."
She gave him her hand. He got out, closed the door, took off his hat, and stood for minutes uncovered in the cold clear night, hardly sure whether he had indeed been side by side with Barbara, or in a heavenly trance.
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