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Anne, during the ensuing month, had her first experience since childhood of home life. Mrs. Ogilvy lay on a sofa in one of her great cool rooms all day, but she made no complaint and diffused an atmosphere of peace and gentleness throughout the house. The younger children were pretty creatures, well trained by their English governess, and Mr. Ogilvy, richly coloured by sun and port, spent much of his time on horseback; amiable at home when his will was not crossed. The large stone house, painted a dazzling white, and surrounded by a grove of tropical trees, stood so high on the mountain that the garden terraces behind it finished at the entrance to the evergreen forest. It was fitted up with every Antillian luxury: fine mahogany furniture—the only wood that defied the boring of the West Indian worm—light cane chairs, polished floors of pitch pine, innumerable cabinets filled with bibelôts collected during many English visits, tables covered with newspapers and magazines, the least possible drapery, and a good library. In the garden was a pavilion enclosing a marble swimming tank. Plates of luscious fruits and cooling drinks were constantly passed about by the coloured servants, who looked as if they had even less to do than their masters. Anne was given a large room at the top of the house from which she could see the water, the white road where the negro women, with great baskets on their heads and followed by their brood, passed the fine carriages from Bath House; and, on all sides, save above, the rich cane fields. Byam Warner came to breakfast and remained to dinner.
Miss Ogilvy was in her element. To use her own expression, Nevis and Bath House were in an uproar. The unforeseen engagement following on the heels of the famous poet’s transformation, the haughty departure of Mrs. Nunn, and the manifest approval of Lady Hunsdon and Lady Constance, who called assiduously at The Grange, the distinguished ancestry and appearance of Miss Percy, and the fact that the wedding was to take place on the island instead of in London, combined to make a sensation such as Nevis had not known since the marriage of Nelson and Mrs. Nisbet in 1787. Strange memories of Byam Warner were dismissed. He was a great poet and Nevis’s very own. Never had Nevis so loved Medora. The Grange overflowed with visitors every afternoon, the piano tinkled out dance music half the night.
It was quite a week before Lord Hunsdon called at the Grange, nor did Anne and Medora meet him, even when lunching at Bath House. But one morning he rode out, and after a few moments of constrained politeness in the drawing-room, deliberately asked Anne to walk with him in the garden. She followed him with some apprehension. He was pale, his lips were more closely pressed, his eyes more round and burning, than ever.
When they were beyond the range of Miss Medora’s attentive eye, he began abruptly:
“I have not come here before, dear Miss Percy, because I had to conquer my selfish disappointment. You cannot fail to know what my own hopes were. But I have conquered and we will never allude to the matter again. My friendship for Warner is now uppermost and it is of him I wish to speak.”
“Last night I sat late with him. He is full of hope, of youth—renewed youth must seem a wonderful possession to a man: we are so prone to let it slip by unheeded! Well, he is changed. I never hoped for half as much. He tells me that the demon has fled. He has never a sting of its tail. That may be because he never really craved drink save when writing—until these last years. It is this I wish to talk to you about. You have the most solemn responsibility that ever descended upon a woman: a beautiful soul, a beautiful mind in your keeping. If you ever relax your vigilance—ever love him less——”
“I never shall.”
“No,” he said with a sigh, “I don’t fancy you will. But you must never leave him. He is not weak in one sense, but in loneliness he might turn to composition again, and there could be but one result.”
“But if he had done without stimulant for a long while—was quite happy—well, do not you think I might be stimulant enough?” She laughed and blushed, but she brought it out.
Lord Hunsdon shook his head. “No, I do not believe that even you could work that miracle. I have known him since we were at Cambridge together, and I am convinced that there is some strange lack in that marvellous brain which renders his creative faculty helpless until fired by alcohol. If the human brain is a mystery how much more so is genius? Much is said and written, but we are none the wiser. But this peculiar fact I do know. The island records and traditions tell us that all his forefathers save one were abstemious, dignified, normal men, mentally active and important. But his grandfather, who spent the greater part of his time in London, was one of the most dissolute men of the Regency. He was a wit at court, a personal friend of the Prince Regent. There was no form of dissipation he did not cultivate, and he died of excess at a comparatively early age. By what would seem to be a special tinkering of the devil with the work of Almighty God those lusts have taken possession of one section of Byam Warner’s brain only, diseased it, redistributed its particles in a manner that has resulted in the abnormal faculty we call genius, but deprived it of that final energy which would permit those great powers to find their outlet without artificial stimulant. These may be fanciful ideas, but they have become fixed in my mind, and I have come here to-day to ask you to make me a solemn promise.”
“That you will never permit him to write again. You are not the woman to loosen your hold on a man’s strongest feelings when the novelty has passed. You can hold, influence him, forever. When you see signs of recurring life in that faculty, divert him and it will subside. He has fame enough. Nor do I think that he was ever untowardly ambitious. You—you can always persuade him to let the pen alone.”
“But you make no allowance for those creative energies. They may still be very strong, demand their rights. That cry may in time be as irresistible as any of his more normal instincts.”
“He has written enough,” said Lord Hunsdon firmly. “He must rest on his laurels. You must persuade him that he cannot add to his fame. With feminine arts you will induce him to believe that it is best to let well alone.”
“I have given little thought to all this——”
“But you will now! Give me your promise, dear Miss Percy, or I cannot leave this island in peace.”
“But do you believe that Byam Warner will be content to settle down for the rest of his mortal life to an existence of mere domestic happiness?”
“By no means. He delights in literature, and although he is well read, there are tomes which not even a Bacon could master in one lifetime. Moreover, he should buy back his cane fields. That would keep him much out of doors, as overseers are of little more worth than negroes.” Then Lord Hunsdon had an inspiration. “Encourage him to write prose. There need be no fury of creation in that. The greater part of his mind is capable of accomplishing anything unassisted. Interest him in politics. He is a Tory and he loves me. Remind him constantly of the Whig inferno from which we have just emerged. I am sure he would write political pamphlets of incomparable influence. I have never heard Warner talk politics, but I don’t doubt that his mind would illuminate that subject as it does everything else it touches. Fill the house with quarterlies and newspapers.”
“He might write a political romance, after the pattern of Disraeli,” said Anne, who wondered why Lord Hunsdon did not take to romantic composition himself.
“Oh, not fiction, not by any means. Work that requires the exercise of the merely intellectual powers, not that fatal creative-spot. But will you promise, Miss Percy? Will you permit me to make sure that you understand your solemn responsibility?”
He faced her, his eyes flashing with that fanatical fire that would have sent him to the stake three centuries since. They seemed to retreat, become minute, bore through her. Anne, whose mind was in confusion, and not a little angered, stirred uneasily, but she replied in a calm decided tone.
“I fully realise my responsibility. Make no doubt of that. I know what I have done, what I am undertaking, I shall live for him, never for myself. I promise you that, if you think the promise necessary.”
“And you will never let him write another line of poetry?”
“Not if I believed it would do him more hurt than good.”
“That is not enough,” cried Hunsdon passionately. “You must be unconditional. One surrender and he is lost. If it were a mere case of brandy while he was writing—but you have not the least idea what it leads to. He is transformed, another man—not a man at all. And when he emerged, did he enter that horror again, he would loathe himself as he never did before. He would be without one shred of self-respect. I shudder to think what would be the final result.”
“You will admit that as his wife I may find better opportunities to understand that complicated nature than you have had.”
“Will you not make me that promise?”
“I will only promise to be guided by my judgment, not by my feelings. I hear Byam’s voice. After all, it is hardly fair to talk him over like this.”
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