Chapter 33




COURTSHIP IN EARNEST.


I do not care to dwell upon what followed. Christmas was a merry day to all but the major, who did not like the engagement any better than before. He found refuge and consolation with Mark. The boy was merry in a mild, reflected way, because the rest were merry, but preferred his own room with "dear Majie," to the drawing-room with the grand lady. He would steal from it, assured that in a moment the major would be after him, to keep him company, and tell him such stories!

Lord Gartley now began to make love with full intent and purpose. "How could she listen to him!" says this and that reader? I can but echo the exclamation, "How could she!" To explain the thing is more than I am bound to undertake. As I may have said twenty times before, how this woman will have this man is one of the deeper mysteries of the world--yea, of the maker of the world, perhaps. One thing I may fairly suggest--that where men see no reason why a woman should love this or that man, she may see something in him which they do not see, or do not value as she does. Alas for her if she only imagines it! Another thing we may be sure of--that in few cases does the woman see what the men know: much of that which is manifest to the eyes of the male world, is by the male world scrupulously hidden from the female. One thing more I would touch upon which men are more likely never to have thought of than to have forgotten: that the love which a beautiful woman gives a man, is in itself not an atom more precious than that which a plain woman gives. In the two hearts they are the same, if the hearts be like; if not, the advantage may well be with the plain woman. The love of a beautiful woman is no more thrown away than the love of the plainest. The same holds with regard to women of differing intellectual developments or endowment. But when a woman of high hopes and aims--a woman filled with eternal aspirations after life, and unity with her divine original gives herself to such a one as lord Gartley, I cannot help thinking she must have seriously mistaken some things both in him and in herself, the consequence, probably, of some self-sufficiency, ambition, or other fault in her, which requires the correction of suffering.

Hester found her lover now very pleasant. If sometimes he struck a jarring chord, she was always able to find some way of accounting for it, or explaining it away--if not entirely to her satisfaction, yet so far that she was able to go on hoping everything, and for the present to put off any further consideration of the particular phenomenon to the time when, like most self-deceiving women, she scarcely doubted she would have greater influence over him--namely, the time when, man and wife, they would be one flesh. But where there is not already a far deeper unity than marriage can give, marriage itself can do little to bring two souls together--may do much to drive them asunder.

She began to put him in training, as she thought, for the help he was to give her with her loved poor. "What a silly!" exclaims a common-minded girl-reader. "That was not the way to land her fish!" But let those who are content to have fishy husbands, net or hook and land them as they can; a woman has more in herself than any husband can give her, though he may take much from her. Lord Gartley had no real conception of her outlook on life, and regarded all her endeavor as born of the desire to perfect his voice and singing. With such teaching he must, he imagined, soon become her worthy equal. He had no notion of the sort of thing genius is. Few have. They think of it as something supreme in itself, whereas it is altogether dependent on truth in the inward parts. It may last for a time separated from truth, but it dies its life, not lives it. Its utterance depends on enthusiasm; all enthusiasm depends on love and nobility of purpose; and love and nobility depend upon truth--that is, live truth. Not millions of years, without an utter regeneration of nature, could make such a man as Gartley sing like Hester. His faculties were in the power of decay, therefore of the things that pass; Hester was of the powers that give life, and keep things going and growing. She sang because of the song that was in her soul. Her music came out of her being, not out of her brain and her throat. If such a one as Gartley can sing, there is no reason why he should be kept singing. In all the arts the man who does not reach to higher things falls away from the things he has. The love of money will ruin poet, painter, or musician.

For Hester the days now passed in pleasure. I fear the closer contact with lord Gartley, different he was in her thought from what he was in his own best, influenced at least the rate of her growth towards the upper regions. We cannot be heart and soul and self in the company of the evil--and the untrue is the evil, however beheld as an angel of light in the mirage of our loving eyes, without sad loss. Her prayers were not so fervent, her aspirations not so strong. I see again the curl on the lip of a certain kind of girl-reader! Her judgment here is but foolishness. She is much too low in the creation yet, be she as high-born and beautiful as a heathen goddess, to understand the things of which I am writing. But she has got to understand them--they are not mine--and the understanding may come in dread pain, and dire dismay. Hester was one of those who in their chambers are not alone, but with him who seeth in secret; and not to get so near to God in her chamber --I can but speak in human figure--did not argue well for the new relationship. But the Lord is mindful of his own. He does not forget because we forget. Horror and pain may come, but not because he forgets--nay, just because he does not forget. That is a thing God never does.

There are many women who would have bewitched Gartley more, yet great was his delight in the presence and converse of Hester, and he yielded himself with pleasing grace. Inclined to rebel at times when wearied with her demands on his attention and endeavour, he yet condescended to them with something of the playfulness with which one would humour a child: he would have a sweet revenge by and by! His turn would come soon, and he would have to instruct her in many things she was now ignorant of! She had never moved in his great world: he must teach her its laws, instruct her how to shine, how to make the most of herself, how to do honour to his choice! He had but the vaguest idea of the folly that possessed her. He thought of her relation to the poor but as a passing--indeed a past phase of a hitherto objectless life. Anything beyond a little easy benevolence would be impossible to the wife of lord Gartley! That she should contemplate the pursuit of her former objects with even greater freedom and devotion than before, would have seemed to him a thing utterly incredible. And Hester would have been equally staggered to find he had so failed to understand her after the way she had opened her heart to him. To imagine that for anything she would forsake the work she had been sent to do! So things went on upon a mutual misunderstanding--to make a bull for my purpose--each in the common meaning of the word getting more and more in love with the other every day, while in reality they were separating farther and farther, in as much as each one was revelling in thoughts that were alien to the other. An occasional blasting doubt would cross the mind of Hester, but she banished it like an evil spectre.

Miss Vavasor continued the most pleasant and unexacting of guests. Her perfect breeding, sustained by a quiet temper and kindly disposition, was easily, by simple hearts, taken for the sweetness it only simulated. To people like Miss Vavasor does the thought never occur--what if the thing they find it so necessary to simulate should actually in itself be indispensable? What if their necessity of simulating it comes of its absolute necessity!

She found the company of the major agreeable in the slow time she had for her nephew's sake to pass with such primitive people, and was glad of what she might otherwise have counted barely endurable. For Mr. Raymount, he would not leave what he counted his work for any goddess in creation: Hester had got her fixedness of purpose through him, and its direction through her mother. But it was well he did not give Miss Vavasor much of his company: if they had been alone together for a quarter of an hour, they would have parted sworn foes, hating each other almost as much as is possible without having loved. So the major, instead of putting a stop to the unworthy alliance, found himself actually furthering the affair, doing his part with the lady on whom the success of the enemy depended. He was still now and then tempted to break through and have a hideous revenge; but, with no great sense of personal dignity to restrain him, he was really a man of honour and behaved like one, curbing himself with no little severity.

So the time went on till after the twelfth night, when Miss Vavasor took her leave for a round of visits, and lord Gartley went up to town, with intention thereafter to pay a visit to his property, such as it was. He would return to Yrndale in three weeks or a month, when the final arrangements for the marriage would be made.

A correspondence naturally commenced, and Hester, unwarned by former experience, received his first letter joyfully. But, the letter read, lo, there was the same disappointment as of old! And as the first letter, so the last and all between. In Hester's presence, she suggesting and leading, he would utter what seemed to indicate the presence of what she would have in him; but alone in his room, without guide to his thoughts, without the stimulus of her presence or the sense of her moral atmosphere, the best things he could write were poor enough; they had no bones in them, and no other fire than that which the thought of Hester's loveliness could supply. So his letters were not inspiriting. They absorbed her atmosphere and after each followed a period of mental asphyxy. Had they been those of a person indifferent to her, she would have called them stupid, thrown them down, and thought no more of them. As it was, I doubt if she read many of them twice over. But all would be well, she said to herself, when they met again. It was her absence that oppressed him, poor fellow! He was out of spirits, and could not write! He had not the faculty for writing that some had! Her father had told her of men that were excellent talkers, but set them down pen in hand and not a thought would come! Was it not to his praise rather than blame? Was not the presence of a man's own kind the best inspirer of his speech? It was his loving human nature--she would have persuaded herself, but never quite succeeded--that made utterance in a letter impossible to him. Yet she would have liked a little genuine, definite response to the things she wrote! He seemed to have nothing to say from himself! He would assent and echo, but any response was always such as to make her doubt whether she had written plainly, invariably suggesting things of this world and not of the unseen, the world of thought and being. And when she mentioned work he always replied as if she meant an undefined something called doing good. He never doubted the failure of that foolish concert of ladies and gentlemen given to the riff-raff of London, had taught her that whether man be equal in the sight of God or not, any attempt on the part of their natural superiors to treat them as such could not but be disastrous.




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