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CHAPTER I.--SHE MISSES HER SISTER
July 7.--I wander about the house in a mood of unutterable sadness, for
my dear sister Caroline has left home to-day with my mother, and I shall
not see them again for several weeks. They have accepted a long-standing
invitation to visit some old friends of ours, the Marlets, who live at
Versailles for cheapness--my mother thinking that it will be for the good
of Caroline to see a little of France and Paris. But I don't quite like
her going. I fear she may lose some of that childlike simplicity and
gentleness which so characterize her, and have been nourished by the
seclusion of our life here. Her solicitude about her pony before
starting was quite touching, and she made me promise to visit it daily,
and see that it came to no harm.
Caroline gone abroad, and I left here! It is the reverse of an ordinary
situation, for good or ill-luck has mostly ordained that I should be the
absent one. Mother will be quite tired out by the young enthusiasm of
Caroline. She will demand to be taken everywhere--to Paris continually,
of course; to all the stock shrines of history's devotees; to palaces and
prisons; to kings' tombs and queens' tombs; to cemeteries and picture-
galleries, and royal hunting forests. My poor mother, having gone over
most of this ground many times before, will perhaps not find the
perambulation so exhilarating as will Caroline herself. I wish I could
have gone with them. I would not have minded having my legs walked off
to please Caroline. But this regret is absurd: I could not, of course,
leave my father with not a soul in the house to attend to the calls of
the parishioners or to pour out his tea.
July 15.--A letter from Caroline to-day. It is very strange that she
tells me nothing which I expected her to tell--only trivial details. She
seems dazzled by the brilliancy of Paris--which no doubt appears still
more brilliant to her from the fact of her only being able to obtain
occasional glimpses of it. She would see that Paris, too, has a seamy
side if you live there. I was not aware that the Marlets knew so many
people. If, as mother has said, they went to reside at Versailles for
reasons of economy, they will not effect much in that direction while
they make a practice of entertaining all the acquaintances who happen to
be in their neighbourhood. They do not confine their hospitalities to
English people, either. I wonder who this M. de la Feste is, in whom
Caroline says my mother is so much interested.
July 18.--Another letter from Caroline. I have learnt from this epistle,
that M. Charles de la Feste is 'only one of the many friends of the
Marlets'; that though a Frenchman by birth, and now again temporarily at
Versailles, he has lived in England many many years; that he is a
talented landscape and marine painter, and has exhibited at the Salon,
and I think in London. His style and subjects are considered somewhat
peculiar in Paris--rather English than Continental. I have not as yet
learnt his age, or his condition, married or single. From the tone and
nature of her remarks about him he sometimes seems to be a middle-aged
family man, sometimes quite the reverse. From his nomadic habits I
should say the latter is the most likely. He has travelled and seen a
great deal, she tells me, and knows more about English literature than
she knows herself.
July 21.--Letter from Caroline. Query: Is 'a friend of ours and the
Marlets,' of whom she now anonymously and mysteriously speaks, the same
personage as the 'M. de la Feste' of her former letters? He must be the
same, I think, from his pursuits. If so, whence this sudden change of
tone? . . . I have been lost in thought for at least a quarter of an hour
since writing the preceding sentence. Suppose my dear sister is falling
in love with this young man--there is no longer any doubt about his age;
what a very awkward, risky thing for her! I do hope that my mother has
an eye on these proceedings. But, then, poor mother never sees the drift
of anything: she is in truth less of a mother to Caroline than I am. If
I were there, how jealously I would watch him, and ascertain his designs!
I am of a stronger nature than Caroline. How I have supported her in the
past through her little troubles and great griefs! Is she agitated at
the presence of this, to her, new and strange feeling? But I am assuming
her to be desperately in love, when I have no proof of anything of the
kind. He may be merely a casual friend, of whom I shall hear no more.
July 24.--Then he is a bachelor, as I suspected. 'If M. de la Feste ever
marries he will,' etc. So she writes. They are getting into close
quarters, obviously. Also, 'Something to keep my hair smooth, which M.
de la Feste told me he had found useful for the tips of his moustache.'
Very naively related this; and with how much unconsciousness of the
intimacy between them that the remark reveals! But my mother--what can
she be doing? Does she know of this? And if so, why does she not allude
to it in her letters to my father? . . . I have been to look at
Caroline's pony, in obedience to her reiterated request that I would not
miss a day in seeing that she was well cared for. Anxious as Caroline
was about this pony of hers before starting, she now never mentioned the
poor animal once in her letters. The image of her pet suffers from
August 3.--Caroline's forgetfulness of her pony has naturally enough
extended to me, her sister. It is ten days since she last wrote, and but
for a note from my mother I should not know if she were dead or alive.
CHAPTER II.--NEWS INTERESTING AND SERIOUS
August 5.--A cloud of letters. A letter from Caroline, another from
mother; also one from each to my father.
The probability to which all the intelligence from my sister has pointed
of late turns out to be a fact. There is an engagement, or almost an
engagement, announced between my dear Caroline and M. de la Feste--to
Caroline's sublime happiness, and my mother's entire satisfaction; as
well as to that of the Marlets. They and my mother seem to know all
about the young man--which is more than I do, though a little extended
information about him, considering that I am Caroline's elder sister,
would not have been amiss. I half feel with my father, who is much
surprised, and, I am sure, not altogether satisfied, that he should not
have been consulted at all before matters reached such a definite stage,
though he is too amiable to say so openly. I don't quite say that a good
thing should have been hindered for the sake of our opinion, if it is a
good thing; but the announcement comes very suddenly. It must have been
foreseen by my mother for some time that this upshot was probable, and
Caroline might have told me more distinctly that M. de la Feste was her
lover, instead of alluding so mysteriously to him as only a friend of the
Marlets, and lately dropping his name altogether. My father, without
exactly objecting to him as a Frenchman, 'wishes he were of English or
some other reasonable nationality for one's son-in-law,' but I tell him
that the demarcations of races, kingdoms, and creeds, are wearing down
every day, that patriotism is a sort of vice, and that the character of
the individual is all we need think about in this case. I wonder if, in
the event of their marriage, he will continue to live at Versailles, or
if he will come to England.
August 7.--A supplemental letter from Caroline, answering, by
anticipation, some of the aforesaid queries. She tells me that
'Charles,' though he makes Versailles his present home, is by no means
bound by his profession to continue there; that he will live just where
she wishes, provided it be not too far from some centre of thought, art,
and civilization. My mother and herself both think that the marriage
should not take place till next year. He exhibits landscapes and canal
scenery every year, she says; so I suppose he is popular, and that his
income is sufficient to keep them in comfort. If not, I do not see why
my father could not settle something more on them than he had intended,
and diminish by a little what he had proposed for me, whilst it was
imagined that I should be the first to stand in need of such.
'Of engaging manner, attractive appearance, and virtuous character,' is
the reply I receive from her in answer to my request for a personal
description. That is vague enough, and I would rather have had one
definite fact of complexion, voice, deed, or opinion. But of course she
has no eye now for material qualities; she cannot see him as he is. She
sees him irradiated with glories such as never appertained and never will
appertain to any man, foreign, English, or Colonial. To think that
Caroline, two years my junior, and so childlike as to be five years my
junior in nature, should be engaged to be married before me. But that is
what happens in families more often than we are apt to remember.
August 16.--Interesting news to-day. Charles, she says, has pleaded that
their marriage may just as well be this year as next; and he seems to
have nearly converted my mother to the same way of thinking. I do not
myself see any reason for delay, beyond the standing one of my father
having as yet had no opportunity of forming an opinion upon the man, the
time, or anything. However, he takes his lot very quietly, and they are
coming home to talk the question over with us; Caroline having decided
not to make any positive arrangements for this change of state till she
has seen me. Subject to my own and my father's approval, she says, they
are inclined to settle the date of the wedding for November, three months
from the present time, that it shall take place here in the village, that
I, of course, shall be bridesmaid, and many other particulars. She draws
an artless picture of the probable effect upon the minds of the villagers
of this romantic performance in the chancel of our old church, in which
she is to be chief actor--the foreign gentleman dropping down like a god
from the skies, picking her up, and triumphantly carrying her off. Her
only grief will be separation from me, but this is to be assuaged by my
going and staying with her for long months at a time. This simple
prattle is very sweet to me, my dear sister, but I cannot help feeling
sad at the occasion of it. In the nature of things it is obvious that I
shall never be to you again what I hitherto have been: your guide,
counsellor, and most familiar friend.
M. de la Feste does certainly seem to be all that one could desire as
protector to a sensitive fragile child like Caroline, and for that I am
thankful. Still, I must remember that I see him as yet only through her
eyes. For her sake I am intensely anxious to meet him, and scrutinise
him through and through, and learn what the man is really made of who is
to have such a treasure in his keeping. The engagement has certainly
been formed a little precipitately; I quite agree with my father in that:
still, good and happy marriages have been made in a hurry before now, and
mother seems well satisfied.
August 20.--A terrible announcement came this morning; and we are in deep
trouble. I have been quite unable to steady my thoughts on anything to-
day till now--half-past eleven at night--and I only attempt writing these
notes because I am too restless to remain idle, and there is nothing but
waiting and waiting left for me to do. Mother has been taken dangerously
ill at Versailles: they were within a day or two of starting; but all
thought of leaving must now be postponed, for she cannot possibly be
moved in her present state. I don't like the sound of haemorrhage at all
in a woman of her full habit, and Caroline and the Marlets have not
exaggerated their accounts I am certain. On the receipt of the letter my
father instantly decided to go to her, and I have been occupied all day
in getting him off, for as he calculates on being absent several days,
there have been many matters for him to arrange before setting out--the
chief being to find some one who will do duty for him next Sunday--a
quest of no small difficulty at such short notice; but at last poor old
feeble Mr. Dugdale has agreed to attempt it, with Mr. Highman, the
Scripture reader, to assist him in the lessons.
I fain would have gone with my father to escape the irksome anxiety of
awaiting her; but somebody had to stay, and I could best be spared.
George has driven him to the station to meet the last train by which he
will catch the midnight boat, and reach Havre some time in the morning.
He hates the sea, and a night passage in particular. I hope he will get
there without mishap of any kind; but I feel anxious for him, stay-at-
home as he is, and unable to cope with any difficulty. Such an errand,
too; the journey will be sad enough at best. I almost think I ought to
have been the one to go to her.
August 21.--I nearly fell asleep of heaviness of spirit last night over
my writing. My father must have reached Paris by this time; and now here
comes a letter . . .
Later.--The letter was to express an earnest hope that my father had set
out. My poor mother is sinking, they fear. What will become of
Caroline? O, how I wish I could see mother; why could not both have
Later.--I get up from my chair, and walk from window to window, and then
come and write a line. I cannot even divine how poor Caroline's marriage
is to be carried out if mother dies. I pray that father may have got
there in time to talk to her and receive some directions from her about
Caroline and M. de la Feste--a man whom neither my father nor I have
seen. I, who might be useful in this emergency, am doomed to stay here,
waiting in suspense.
August 23.--A letter from my father containing the sad news that my
mother's spirit has flown. Poor little Caroline is heart-broken--she was
always more my mother's pet than I was. It is some comfort to know that
my father arrived in time to hear from her own lips her strongly
expressed wish that Caroline's marriage should be solemnized as soon as
possible. M. de la Feste seems to have been a great favourite of my dear
mother's; and I suppose it now becomes almost a sacred duty of my father
to accept him as a son-in-law without criticism.
CHAPTER III.--HER GLOOM LIGHTENS A LITTLE
September 10.--I have inserted nothing in my diary for more than a
fortnight. Events have been altogether too sad for me to have the spirit
to put them on paper. And yet there comes a time when the act of
recording one's trouble is recognized as a welcome method of dwelling
upon it . . .
My dear mother has been brought home and buried here in the parish. It
was not so much her own wish that this should be done as my father's, who
particularly desired that she should lie in the family vault beside his
first wife. I saw them side by side before the vault was closed--two
women beloved by one man. As I stood, and Caroline by my side, I fell
into a sort of dream, and had an odd fancy that Caroline and I might be
also beloved of one, and lie like these together--an impossibility, of
course, being sisters. When I awoke from my reverie Caroline took my
hand and said it was time to leave.
September 14.--The wedding is indefinitely postponed. Caroline is like a
girl awakening in the middle of a somnambulistic experience, and does not
realize where she is, or how she stands. She walks about silently, and I
cannot tell her thoughts, as I used to do. It was her own doing to write
to M. de la Feste and tell him that the wedding could not possibly take
place this autumn as originally planned. There is something depressing
in this long postponement if she is to marry him at all; and yet I do not
see how it could be avoided.
October 20.--I have had so much to occupy me in consoling Caroline that I
have been continually overlooking my diary. Her life was much nearer to
my mother's than mine was. She has never, as I, lived away from home
long enough to become self-dependent, and hence in her first loss, and
all that it involved, she drooped like a rain-beaten lily. But she is of
a nature whose wounds soon heal, even though they may be deep, and the
supreme poignancy of her sorrow has already passed.
My father is of opinion that the wedding should not be delayed too long.
While at Versailles he made the acquaintance of M. de la Feste, and
though they had but a short and hurried communion with each other, he was
much impressed by M. de la Feste's disposition and conduct, and is
strongly in favour of his suit. It is odd that Caroline's betrothed
should influence in his favour all who come near him. His portrait,
which dear Caroline has shown me, exhibits him to be of a physique that
partly accounts for this: but there must be something more than mere
appearance, and it is probably some sort of glamour or fascinating
power--the quality which prevented Caroline from describing him to me
with any accuracy of detail. At the same time, I see from the photograph
that his face and head are remarkably well formed; and though the
contours of his mouth are hidden by his moustache, his arched brows show
well the romantic disposition of a true lover and painter of Nature. I
think that the owner of such a face as this must be tender and
sympathetic and true.
October 30.--As my sister's grief for her mother becomes more and more
calmed, her love for M. de la Feste begins to reassume its former
absorbing command of her. She thinks of him incessantly, and writes
whole treatises to him by way of letters. Her blank disappointment at
his announcement of his inability to pay us a visit quite so soon as he
had promised, was quite tragic. I, too, am disappointed, for I wanted to
see and estimate him. But having arranged to go to Holland to seize some
aerial effects for his pictures, which are only to be obtained at this
time of the autumn, he is obliged to postpone his journey this way, which
is now to be made early in the new year. I think myself that he ought to
have come at all sacrifices, considering Caroline's recent loss, the sad
postponement of what she was looking forward to, and her single-minded
affection for him. Still, who knows; his professional success is
important. Moreover, she is cheerful, and hopeful, and the delay will
soon be overpast.
CHAPTER IV.--SHE BEHOLDS THE ATTRACTIVE STRANGER
February 16.--We have had such a dull life here all the winter that I
have found nothing important enough to set down, and broke off my journal
accordingly. I resume it now to make an entry on the subject of dear
Caroline's future. It seems that she was too grieved, immediately after
the loss of our mother, to answer definitely the question of M. de la
Feste how long the postponement was to be; then, afterwards, it was
agreed that the matter should be discussed on his autumn visit; but as he
did not come, it has remained in abeyance till this week, when Caroline,
with the greatest simplicity and confidence, has written to him without
any further pressure on his part, and told him that she is quite ready to
fix the time, and will do so as soon as he arrives to see her. She is a
little frightened now, lest it should seem forward in her to have revived
the subject of her own accord; but she may assume that his question has
been waiting on for an answer ever since, and that she has, therefore,
acted only within her promise. In truth, the secret at the bottom of it
all is that she is somewhat saddened because he has not latterly reminded
her of the pause in their affairs--that, in short, his original
impatience to possess her is not now found to animate him so obviously. I
suppose that he loves her as much as ever; indeed, I am sure he must do
so, seeing how lovable she is. It is mostly thus with all men when women
are out of their sight; they grow negligent. Caroline must have
patience, and remember that a man of his genius has many and important
calls upon his time. In justice to her I must add that she does remember
it fairly well, and has as much patience as any girl ever had in the
circumstances. He hopes to come at the beginning of April at latest.
Well, when he comes we shall see him.
April 5.--I think that what M. de la Feste writes is reasonable enough,
though Caroline looks heart-sick about it. It is hardly worth while for
him to cross all the way to England and back just now, while the sea is
so turbulent, seeing that he will be obliged, in any event, to come in
May, when he has to be in London for professional purposes, at which time
he can take us easily on his way both coming and going. When Caroline
becomes his wife she will be more practical, no doubt; but she is such a
child as yet that there is no contenting her with reasons. However, the
time will pass quickly, there being so much to do in preparing a
trousseau for her, which must now be put in hand in order that we may
have plenty of leisure to get it ready. On no account must Caroline be
married in half-mourning; I am sure that mother, could she know, would
not wish it, and it is odd that Caroline should be so intractably
persistent on this point, when she is usually so yielding.
April 30.--This month has flown on swallow's wings. We are in a great
state of excitement--I as much as she--I cannot quite tell why. He is
really coming in ten days, he says.
May 9. Four p.m.--I am so agitated I can scarcely write, and yet am
particularly impelled to do so before leaving my room. It is the
unexpected shape of an expected event which has caused my absurd
excitement, which proves me almost as much a school-girl as Caroline.
M. de la Feste was not, as we understood, to have come till to-morrow;
but he is here--just arrived. All household directions have devolved
upon me, for my father, not thinking M. de la Feste would appear before
us for another four-and-twenty hours, left home before post time to
attend a distant consecration; and hence Caroline and I were in no small
excitement when Charles's letter was opened, and we read that he had been
unexpectedly favoured in the dispatch of his studio work, and would
follow his letter in a few hours. We sent the covered carriage to meet
the train indicated, and waited like two newly strung harps for the first
sound of the returning wheels. At last we heard them on the gravel; and
the question arose who was to receive him. It was, strictly speaking, my
duty; but I felt timid; I could not help shirking it, and insisted that
Caroline should go down. She did not, however, go near the door as she
usually does when anybody is expected, but waited palpitating in the
drawing-room. He little thought when he saw the silent hall, and the
apparently deserted house, how that house was at the very same moment
alive and throbbing with interest under the surface. I stood at the back
of the upper landing, where nobody could see me from downstairs, and
heard him walk across the hall--a lighter step than my father's--and
heard him then go into the drawing-room, and the servant shut the door
behind him and go away.
What a pretty lover's meeting they must have had in there all to
themselves! Caroline's sweet face looking up from her black gown--how it
must have touched him. I know she wept very much, for I heard her; and
her eyes will be red afterwards, and no wonder, poor dear, though she is
no doubt happy. I can imagine what she is telling him while I write
this--her fears lest anything should have happened to prevent his coming
after all--gentle, smiling reproaches for his long delay; and things of
that sort. His two portmanteaus are at this moment crossing the landing
on the way to his room. I wonder if I ought to go down.
A little later.--I have seen him! It was not at all in the way that I
intended to encounter him, and I am vexed. Just after his portmanteaus
were brought up I went out from my room to descend, when, at the moment
of stepping towards the first stair, my eyes were caught by an object in
the hall below, and I paused for an instant, till I saw that it was a
bundle of canvas and sticks, composing a sketching tent and easel. At
the same nick of time the drawing-room door opened and the affianced pair
came out. They were saying they would go into the garden; and he waited
a moment while she put on her hat. My idea was to let them pass on
without seeing me, since they seemed not to want my company, but I had
got too far on the landing to retreat; he looked up, and stood staring at
me--engrossed to a dream-like fixity. Thereupon I, too, instead of
advancing as I ought to have done, stood moonstruck and awkward, and
before I could gather my weak senses sufficiently to descend, she had
called him, and they went out by the garden door together. I then
thought of following them, but have changed my mind, and come here to jot
down these few lines. It is all I am fit for . . .
He is even more handsome than I expected. I was right in feeling he must
have an attraction beyond that of form: it appeared even in that
momentary glance. How happy Caroline ought to be. But I must, of
course, go down to be ready with tea in the drawing-room by the time they
11 p.m.--I have made the acquaintance of M. de la Feste; and I seem to be
another woman from the effect of it. I cannot describe why this should
be so, but conversation with him seems to expand the view, and open the
heart, and raise one as upon stilts to wider prospects. He has a good
intellectual forehead, perfect eyebrows, dark hair and eyes, an animated
manner, and a persuasive voice. His voice is soft in quality--too soft
for a man, perhaps; and yet on second thoughts I would not have it less
so. We have been talking of his art: I had no notion that art demanded
such sacrifices or such tender devotion; or that there were two roads for
choice within its precincts, the road of vulgar money-making, and the
road of high aims and consequent inappreciation for many long years by
the public. That he has adopted the latter need not be said to those who
understand him. It is a blessing for Caroline that she has been chosen
by such a man, and she ought not to lament at postponements and delays,
since they have arisen unavoidably. Whether he finds hers a sufficiently
rich nature, intellectually and emotionally, for his own, I know not, but
he seems occasionally to be disappointed at her simple views of things.
Does he really feel such love for her at this moment as he no doubt
believes himself to be feeling, and as he no doubt hopes to feel for the
remainder of his life towards her?
It was a curious thing he told me when we were left for a few minutes
alone; that Caroline had alluded so slightly to me in her conversation
and letters that he had not realized my presence in the house here at
all. But, of course, it was only natural that she should write and talk
most about herself. I suppose it was on account of the fact of his being
taken in some measure unawares, that I caught him on two or three
occasions regarding me fixedly in a way that disquieted me somewhat,
having been lately in so little society; till my glance aroused him from
his reverie, and he looked elsewhere in some confusion. It was fortunate
that he did so, and thus failed to notice my own. It shows that he, too,
is not particularly a society person.
May 10.--Have had another interesting conversation with M. de la Feste on
schools of landscape painting in the drawing-room after dinner this
evening--my father having fallen asleep, and left nobody but Caroline and
myself for Charles to talk to. I did not mean to say so much to him, and
had taken a volume of Modern Painters from the bookcase to occupy myself
with, while leaving the two lovers to themselves; but he would include me
in his audience, and I was obliged to lay the book aside. However, I
insisted on keeping Caroline in the conversation, though her views on
pictorial art were only too charmingly crude and primitive.
To-morrow, if fine, we are all three going to Wherryborne Wood, where
Charles will give us practical illustrations of the principles of
coloring that he has enumerated to-night. I am determined not to occupy
his attention to the exclusion of Caroline, and my plan is that when we
are in the dense part of the wood I will lag behind, and slip away, and
leave them to return by themselves. I suppose the reason of his
attentiveness to me lies in his simply wishing to win the good opinion of
one who is so closely united to Caroline, and so likely to influence her
good opinion of him.
May 11. Late.--I cannot sleep, and in desperation have lit my candle and
taken up my pen. My restlessness is occasioned by what has occurred to-
day, which at first I did not mean to write down, or trust to any heart
but my own. We went to Wherryborne Wood--Caroline, Charles and I, as we
had intended--and walked all three along the green track through the
midst, Charles in the middle between Caroline and myself. Presently I
found that, as usual, he and I were the only talkers, Caroline amusing
herself by observing birds and squirrels as she walked docilely alongside
her betrothed. Having noticed this I dropped behind at the first
opportunity and slipped among the trees, in a direction in which I knew I
should find another path that would take me home. Upon this track I by
and by emerged, and walked along it in silent thought till, at a bend, I
suddenly encountered M. de la Feste standing stock still and smiling
thoughtfully at me.
'Where is Caroline?' said I.
'Only a little way off,' says he. 'When we missed you from behind us we
thought you might have mistaken the direction we had followed, so she has
gone one way to find you and I have come this way.'
We then went back to find Caroline, but could not discover her anywhere,
and the upshot was that he and I were wandering about the woods alone for
more than an hour. On reaching home we found she had given us up after
searching a little while, and arrived there some time before. I should
not be so disturbed by the incident if I had not perceived that, during
her absence from us, he did not make any earnest effort to rediscover
her; and in answer to my repeated expressions of wonder as to whither she
could have wandered he only said, 'Oh, she's quite safe; she told me she
knew the way home from any part of this wood. Let us go on with our
talk. I assure you I value this privilege of being with one I so much
admire more than you imagine;' and other things of that kind. I was so
foolish as to show a little perturbation--I cannot tell why I did not
control myself; and I think he noticed that I was not cool. Caroline
has, with her simple good faith, thought nothing of the occurrence; yet
altogether I am not satisfied.
CHAPTER V.--HER SITUATION IS A TRYING ONE
May 15.--The more I think of it day after day, the more convinced I am
that my suspicions are true. He is too interested in me--well, in plain
words, loves me; or, not to degrade that phrase, has a wild passion for
me; and his affection for Caroline is that towards a sister only. That
is the distressing truth; how it has come about I cannot tell, and it
wears upon me.
A hundred little circumstances have revealed this to me, and the longer I
dwell upon it the more agitating does the consideration become. Heaven
only can help me out of the terrible difficulty in which this places me.
I have done nothing to encourage him to be faithless to her. I have
studiously kept out of his way; have persistently refused to be a third
in their interviews. Yet all to no purpose. Some fatality has seemed to
rule, ever since he came to the house, that this disastrous inversion of
things should arise. If I had only foreseen the possibility of it before
he arrived, how gladly would I have departed on some visit or other to
the meanest friend to hinder such an apparent treachery. But I blindly
welcomed him--indeed, made myself particularly agreeable to him for her
There is no possibility of my suspicions being wrong; not until they have
reached absolute certainty have I dared even to admit the truth to
myself. His conduct to-day would have proved them true had I entertained
no previous apprehensions. Some photographs of myself came for me by
post, and they were handed round at the breakfast table and criticised. I
put them temporarily on a side table, and did not remember them until an
hour afterwards when I was in my own room. On going to fetch them I
discovered him standing at the table with his back towards the door
bending over the photographs, one of which he raised to his lips.
The witnessing this act so frightened me that I crept away to escape
observation. It was the climax to a series of slight and significant
actions all tending to the same conclusion. The question for me now is,
what am I to do? To go away is what first occurs to me, but what reason
can I give Caroline and my father for such a step; besides, it might
precipitate some sort of catastrophe by driving Charles to desperation.
For the present, therefore, I have decided that I can only wait, though
his contiguity is strangely disturbing to me now, and I hardly retain
strength of mind to encounter him. How will the distressing complication
May 19.--And so it has come! My mere avoidance of him has precipitated
the worst issue--a declaration. I had occasion to go into the kitchen
garden to gather some of the double ragged-robins which grew in a corner
there. Almost as soon as I had entered I heard footsteps without. The
door opened and shut, and I turned to behold him just inside it. As the
garden is closed by four walls and the gardener was absent, the spot
ensured absolute privacy. He came along the path by the asparagus-bed,
and overtook me.
'You know why I come, Alicia?' said he, in a tremulous voice.
I said nothing, and hung my head, for by his tone I did know.
'Yes,' he went on, 'it is you I love; my sentiment towards your sister is
one of affection too, but protective, tutelary affection--no more. Say
what you will I cannot help it. I mistook my feeling for her, and I know
how much I am to blame for my want of self-knowledge. I have fought
against this discovery night and day; but it cannot be concealed. Why
did I ever see you, since I could not see you till I had committed
myself? At the moment my eyes beheld you on that day of my arrival, I
said, "This is the woman for whom my manhood has waited." Ever since an
unaccountable fascination has riveted my heart to you. Answer one word!'
'O, M. de la Feste!' I burst out. What I said more I cannot remember,
but I suppose that the misery I was in showed pretty plainly, for he
said, 'Something must be done to let her know; perhaps I have mistaken
her affection, too; but all depends upon what you feel.'
'I cannot tell what I feel,' said I, 'except that this seems terrible
treachery; and every moment that I stay with you here makes it worse! . .
. Try to keep faith with her--her young heart is tender; believe me
there is no mistake in the quality of her love for you. Would there
were! This would kill her if she knew it!'
He sighed heavily. 'She ought never to be my wife,' he said. 'Leaving
my own happiness out of the question, it would be a cruelty to her to
unite her to me.'
I said I could not hear such words from him, and begged him in tears to
go away; he obeyed, and I heard the garden door shut behind him. What is
to be the end of the announcement, and the fate of Caroline?
May 20.--I put a good deal on paper yesterday, and yet not all. I was,
in truth, hoping against hope, against conviction, against too conscious
self-judgment. I scarcely dare own the truth now, yet it relieves my
aching heart to set it down. Yes, I love him--that is the dreadful fact,
and I can no longer parry, evade, or deny it to myself though to the rest
of the world it can never be owned. I love Caroline's betrothed, and he
loves me. It is no yesterday's passion, cultivated by our converse; it
came at first sight, independently of my will; and my talk with him
yesterday made rather against it than for it, but, alas, did not quench
it. God forgive us both for this terrible treachery.
May 25.--All is vague; our courses shapeless. He comes and goes, being
occupied, ostensibly at least, with sketching in his tent in the wood.
Whether he and she see each other privately I cannot tell, but I rather
think they do not; that she sadly awaits him, and he does not appear. Not
a sign from him that my repulse has done him any good, or that he will
endeavour to keep faith with her. O, if I only had the compulsion of a
god, and the self-sacrifice of a martyr!
May 31.--It has all ended--or rather this act of the sad drama has
ended--in nothing. He has left us. No day for the fulfilment of the
engagement with Caroline is named, my father not being the man to press
any one on such a matter, or, indeed, to interfere in any way. We two
girls are, in fact, quite defenceless in a case of this kind; lovers may
come when they choose, and desert when they choose; poor father is too
urbane to utter a word of remonstrance or inquiry. Moreover, as the
approved of my dead mother, M. de la Feste has a sort of autocratic power
with my father, who holds it unkind to her memory to have an opinion
about him. I, feeling it my duty, asked M. de la Feste at the last
moment about the engagement, in a voice I could not keep firm.
'Since the death of your mother all has been indefinite--all!' he said
gloomily. That was the whole. Possibly, Wherryborne Rectory may see him
June 7 .--M. de la Feste has written--one letter to her, one to me. Hers
could not have been very warm, for she did not brighten on reading it.
Mine was an ordinary note of friendship, filling an ordinary sheet of
paper, which I handed over to Caroline when I had finished looking it
through. But there was a scrap of paper in the bottom of the envelope,
which I dared not show any one. This scrap is his real letter: I scanned
it alone in my room, trembling, hot and cold by turns. He tells me he is
very wretched; that he deplores what has happened, but was helpless. Why
did I let him see me, if only to make him faithless. Alas, alas!
June 21 .--My dear Caroline has lost appetite, spirits, health. Hope
deferred maketh the heart sick. His letters to her grow colder--if
indeed he has written more than one. He has refrained from writing again
to me--he knows it is no use. Altogether the situation that he and she
and I are in is melancholy in the extreme. Why are human hearts so
CHAPTER VI.--HER INGENUITY INSTIGATES HER
September 19.--Three months of anxious care--till at length I have taken
the extreme step of writing to him. Our chief distress has been caused
by the state of poor Caroline, who, after sinking by degrees into such
extreme weakness as to make it doubtful if she can ever recover full
vigour, has to-day been taken much worse. Her position is very critical.
The doctor says plainly that she is dying of a broken heart--and that
even the removal of the cause may not now restore her. Ought I to have
written to Charles sooner? But how could I when she forbade me? It was
her pride only which instigated her, and I should not have obeyed.
Sept. 26.--Charles has arrived and has seen her. He is shocked,
conscience-stricken, remorseful. I have told him that he can do no good
beyond cheering her by his presence. I do not know what he thinks of
proposing to her if she gets better, but he says little to her at
present: indeed he dares not: his words agitate her dangerously.
Sept. 28.--After a struggle between duty and selfishness, such as I pray
to Heaven I may never have to undergo again, I have asked him for pity's
sake to make her his wife, here and now, as she lies. I said to him that
the poor child would not trouble him long; and such a solemnization would
soothe her last hours as nothing else could do. He said that he would
willingly do so, and had thought of it himself; but for one forbidding
reason: in the event of her death as his wife he can never marry me, her
sister, according to our laws. I started at his words. He went on: 'On
the other hand, if I were sure that immediate marriage with me would save
her life, I would not refuse, for possibly I might after a while, and out
of sight of you, make myself fairly content with one of so sweet a
disposition as hers; but if, as is probable, neither my marrying her nor
any other act can avail to save her life, by so doing I lose both her and
you.' I could not answer him.
Sept. 29.--He continued firm in his reasons for refusal till this
morning, and then I became possessed with an idea, which I at once
propounded to him. It was that he should at least consent to a form of
marriage with Caroline, in consideration of her love; a form which need
not be a legal union, but one which would satisfy her sick and enfeebled
soul. Such things have been done, and the sentiment of feeling herself
his would inexpressibly comfort her mind, I am sure. Then, if she is
taken from us, I should not have lost the power of becoming his lawful
wife at some future day, if it indeed should be deemed expedient; if, on
the other hand, she lives, he can on her recovery inform her of the
incompleteness of their marriage contract, the ceremony can be repeated,
and I can, and I am sure willingly would, avoid troubling them with my
presence till grey hairs and wrinkles make his unfortunate passion for me
a thing of the past. I put all this before him; but he demurred.
Sept. 30.--I have urged him again. He says he will consider. It is no
time to mince matters, and as a further inducement I have offered to
enter into a solemn engagement to marry him myself a year after her
Sept. 30. Later.--An agitating interview. He says he will agree to
whatever I propose, the three possibilities and our contingent acts being
recorded as follows: First, in the event of dear Caroline being taken
from us, I marry him on the expiration of a year: Second, in the forlorn
chance of her recovery I take upon myself the responsibility of
explaining to Caroline the true nature of the ceremony he has gone
through with her, that it was done at my suggestion to make her happy at
once, before a special licence could be obtained, and that a public
ceremony at church is awaiting her: Third, in the unlikely event of her
cooling, and refusing to repeat the ceremony with him, I leave England,
join him abroad, and there wed him, agreeing not to live in England again
till Caroline has either married another or regards her attachment to
Charles as a bygone matter. I have thought over these conditions, and
have agreed to them all as they stand.
11 p.m.--I do not much like this scheme, after all. For one thing, I
have just sounded my father on it before parting with him for the night,
my impression having been that he would see no objection. But he says he
could on no account countenance any such unreal proceeding; however good
our intentions, and even though the poor girl were dying, it would not be
right. So I sadly seek my pillow.
October 1.--I am sure my father is wrong in his view. Why is it not
right, if it would be balm to Caroline's wounded soul, and if a real
ceremony is absolutely refused by Charles--moreover is hardly practicable
in the difficulty of getting a special licence, if he were agreed? My
father does not know, or will not believe, that Caroline's attachment has
been the cause of her hopeless condition. But that it is so, and that
the form of words would give her inexpressible happiness, I know well;
for I whispered tentatively in her ear on such marriages, and the effect
was great. Henceforth my father cannot be taken into confidence on the
subject of Caroline. He does not understand her.
12 o'clock noon.--I have taken advantage of my father's absence to-day to
confide my secret notion to a thoughtful young man, who called here this
morning to speak to my father. He is the Mr. Theophilus Higham, of whom
I have already had occasion to speak--a Scripture reader in the next
town, and is soon going to be ordained. I told him the pitiable case,
and my remedy. He says ardently that he will assist me--would do
anything for me (he is, in truth, an admirer of mine); he sees no wrong
in such an act of charity. He is coming again to the house this
afternoon before my father returns, to carry out the idea. I have spoken
to Charles, who promises to be ready. I must now break the news to
11 o'clock p.m.--I have been in too much excitement till now to set down
the result. We have accomplished our plan; and though I feel like a
guilty sinner, I am glad. My father, of course, is not to be informed as
yet. Caroline has had a seraphic expression upon her wasted, transparent
face ever since. I should hardly be surprised if it really saved her
life even now, and rendered a legitimate union necessary between them. In
that case my father can be informed of the whole proceeding, and in the
face of such wonderful success cannot disapprove. Meanwhile poor Charles
has not lost the possibility of taking unworthy me to fill her place
should she--. But I cannot contemplate that alternative unmoved, and
will not write it. Charles left for the South of Europe immediately
after the ceremony. He was in a high-strung, throbbing, almost wild
state of mind at first, but grew calmer under my exhortations. I had to
pay the penalty of receiving a farewell kiss from him, which I much
regret, considering its meaning; but he took me so unexpectedly, and in a
moment was gone.
Oct. 6.--She certainly is better, and even when she found that Charles
had been suddenly obliged to leave, she received the news quite
cheerfully. The doctor says that her apparent improvement may be
delusive; but I think our impressing upon her the necessity of keeping
what has occurred a secret from papa, and everybody, helps to give her a
zest for life.
Oct. 8.--She is still mending. I am glad to have saved her--my only
sister--if I have done so; though I shall now never become Charles's
CHAPTER VII.--A SURPRISE AWAITS HER
Feb. 5.--Writing has been absolutely impossible for a long while; but I
now reach a stage at which it seems possible to jot down a line.
Caroline's recovery, extending over four months, has been very
engrossing; at first slow, latterly rapid. But a fearful complication of
affairs attends it!
O what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
Charles has written reproachfully to me from Venice, where he is. He
says how can he fulfil in the real what he has enacted in the
counterfeit, while he still loves me? Yet how, on the other hand, can he
leave it unfulfilled? All this time I have not told her, and up to this
minute she believes that he has indeed taken her for better, for worse,
till death them do part. It is a harassing position for me, and all
three. In the awful approach of death, one's judgment loses its balance,
and we do anything to meet the exigencies of the moment, with a single
eye to the one who excites our sympathy, and from whom we seem on the
brink of being separated for ever.
Had he really married her at that time all would be settled now. But he
took too much thought; she might have died, and then he had his reason.
If indeed it had turned out so, I should now be perhaps a sad woman; but
not a tempest-tossed one . . . The possibility of his claiming me after
all is what lies at the root of my agitation. Everything hangs by a
thread. Suppose I tell her the marriage was a mockery; suppose she is
indignant with me and with him for the deception--and then? Otherwise,
suppose she is not indignant but forgives all; he is bound to marry her;
and honour constrains me to urge him thereto, in spite of what he
protests, and to smooth the way to this issue by my method of informing
her. I have meant to tell her the last month--ever since she has been
strong enough to bear such tidings; but I have been without the power--the
moral force. Surely I must write, and get him to come and assist me.
March 14.--She continually wonders why he does not come, the five months
of his enforced absence having expired; and still more she wonders why he
does not write oftener. His last letter was cold, she says, and she
fears he regrets his marriage, which he may only have celebrated with her
for pity's sake, thinking she was sure to die. It makes one's heart
bleed to hear her hovering thus so near the truth, and yet never
discerning its actual shape.
A minor trouble besets me, too, in the person of the young Scripture
reader, whose conscience pricks him for the part he played. Surely I am
punished, if ever woman were, for a too ingenious perversion of her
April 2.--She is practically well. The faint pink revives in her cheek,
though it is not quite so full as heretofore. But she still wonders what
she can have done to offend 'her dear husband,' and I have been obliged
to tell the smallest part of the truth--an unimportant fragment of the
whole, in fact, I said that I feared for the moment he might regret the
precipitancy of the act, which her illness caused, his affairs not having
been quite sufficiently advanced for marriage just then, though he will
doubtless come to her as soon as he has a home ready. Meanwhile I have
written to him, peremptorily, to come and relieve me in this awful
dilemma. He will find no note of love in that.
April 10.--To my alarm the letter I lately addressed to him at Venice,
where he is staying, as well as the last one she sent him, have received
no reply. She thinks he is ill. I do not quite think that, but I wish
we could hear from him. Perhaps the peremptoriness of my words had
offended him; it grieves me to think it possible. I offend him! But too
much of this. I must tell her the truth, or she may in her ignorance
commit herself to some course or other that may be ruinously
compromising. She said plaintively just now that if he could see her,
and know how occupied with him and him alone is her every waking hour,
she is sure he would forgive her the wicked presumption of becoming his
wife. Very sweet all that, and touching. I could not conceal my tears.
April 15.--The house is in confusion; my father is angry and distressed,
and I am distracted. Caroline has disappeared--gone away secretly. I
cannot help thinking that I know where she is gone to. How guilty I
seem, and how innocent she! O that I had told her before now!
1 o'clock.--No trace of her as yet. We find also that the little waiting-
maid we have here in training has disappeared with Caroline, and there is
not much doubt that Caroline, fearing to travel alone, has induced this
girl to go with her as companion. I am almost sure she has started in
desperation to find him, and that Venice is her goal. Why should she run
away, if not to join her husband, as she thinks him? Now that I
consider, there have been indications of this wish in her for days, as in
birds of passage there lurk signs of their incipient intention; and yet I
did not think she would have taken such an extreme step, unaided, and
without consulting me. I can only jot down the bare facts--I have no
time for reflections. But fancy Caroline travelling across the continent
of Europe with a chit of a girl, who will be more of a charge than an
assistance! They will be a mark for every marauder who encounters them.
Evening: 8 o'clock.--Yes, it is as I surmised. She has gone to join him.
A note posted by her in Budmouth Regis at daybreak has reached me this
afternoon--thanks to the fortunate chance of one of the servants calling
for letters in town to-day, or I should not have got it until to-morrow.
She merely asserts her determination of going to him, and has started
privately, that nothing may hinder her; stating nothing about her route.
That such a gentle thing should suddenly become so calmly resolute quite
surprises me. Alas, he may have left Venice--she may not find him for
weeks--may not at all.
My father, on learning the facts, bade me at once have everything ready
by nine this evening, in time to drive to the train that meets the night
steam-boat. This I have done, and there being an hour to spare before we
start, I relieve the suspense of waiting by taking up my pen. He says
overtake her we must, and calls Charles the hardest of names. He
believes, of course, that she is merely an infatuated girl rushing off to
meet her lover; and how can the wretched I tell him that she is more, and
in a sense better than that--yet not sufficiently more and better to make
this flight to Charles anything but a still greater danger to her than a
mere lover's impulse. We shall go by way of Paris, and we think we may
overtake her there. I hear my father walking restlessly up and down the
hall, and can write no more.
CHAPTER VIII.--SHE TRAVELS IN PURSUIT
April 16. Evening, Paris, Hotel ---.--There is no overtaking her at this
place; but she has been here, as I thought, no other hotel in Paris being
known to her. We go on to-morrow morning.
April 18. Venice.--A morning of adventures and emotions which leave me
sick and weary, and yet unable to sleep, though I have lain down on the
sofa of my room for more than an hour in the attempt. I therefore make
up my diary to date in a hurried fashion, for the sake of the riddance it
affords to ideas which otherwise remain suspended hotly in the brain.
We arrived here this morning in broad sunlight, which lit up the sea-girt
buildings as we approached so that they seemed like a city of cork
floating raft-like on the smooth, blue deep. But I only glanced from the
carriage window at the lovely scene, and we were soon across the
intervening water and inside the railway station. When we got to the
front steps the row of black gondolas and the shouts of the gondoliers so
bewildered my father that he was understood to require two gondolas
instead of one with two oars, and so I found him in one and myself in
another. We got this righted after a while, and were rowed at once to
the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni where M. de la Feste had been
staying when we last heard from him, the way being down the Grand Canal
for some distance, under the Rialto, and then by narrow canals which
eventually brought us under the Bridge of Sighs--harmonious to our
moods!--and out again into open water. The scene was purity itself as to
colour, but it was cruel that I should behold it for the first time under
As soon as I entered the hotel, which is an old-fashioned place, like
most places here, where people are taken en pension as well as the
ordinary way, I rushed to the framed list of visitors hanging in the
hall, and in a moment I saw Charles's name upon it among the rest. But
she was our chief thought. I turned to the hall porter, and--knowing
that she would have travelled as 'Madame de la Feste'--I asked for her
under that name, without my father hearing. (He, poor soul, was making
confused inquiries outside the door about 'an English lady,' as if there
were not a score of English ladies at hand.)
'She has just come,' said the porter. 'Madame came by the very early
train this morning, when Monsieur was asleep, and she requested us not to
disturb him. She is now in her room.'
Whether Caroline had seen us from the window, or overheard me, I do not
know, but at that moment I heard footsteps on the bare marble stairs, and
she appeared in person descending.
'Caroline!' I exclaimed, 'why have you done this?' and rushed up to her.
She did not answer; but looked down to hide her emotion, which she
conquered after the lapse of a few seconds, putting on a practical tone
that belied her.
'I am just going to my husband,' she said. 'I have not yet seen him. I
have not been here long.' She condescended to give no further reason for
her movements, and made as if to move on. I implored her to come into a
private room where I could speak to her in confidence, but she objected.
However, the dining-room, close at hand, was quite empty at this hour,
and I got her inside and closed the door. I do not know how I began my
explanation, or how I ended it, but I told her briefly and brokenly
enough that the marriage was not real.
'Not real?' she said vacantly.
'It is not,' said I. 'You will find that it is all as I say.'
She could not believe my meaning even then. 'Not his wife?' she cried.
'It is impossible. What am I, then?'
I added more details, and reiterated the reason for my conduct as well as
I could; but Heaven knows how very difficult I found it to feel a jot
more justification for it in my own mind than she did in hers.
The revulsion of feeling, as soon as she really comprehended all, was
most distressing. After her grief had in some measure spent itself she
turned against both him and me.
'Why should have I been deceived like this?' she demanded, with a bitter
haughtiness of which I had not deemed such a tractable creature capable.
'Do you suppose that anything could justify such an imposition? What, O
what a snare you have spread for me!'
I murmured, 'Your life seemed to require it,' but she did not hear me.
She sank down in a chair, covered her face, and then my father came in.
'O, here you are!' he said. 'I could not find you. And Caroline!'
'And were you, papa, a party to this strange deed of kindness?'
'To what?' said he.
Then out it all came, and for the first time he was made acquainted with
the fact that the scheme for soothing her illness, which I had sounded
him upon, had been really carried out. In a moment he sided with
Caroline. My repeated assurance that my motive was good availed less
than nothing. In a minute or two Caroline arose and went abruptly out of
the room, and my father followed her, leaving me alone to my reflections.
I was so bent upon finding Charles immediately that I did not notice
whither they went. The servants told me that M. de la Feste was just
outside smoking, and one of them went to look for him, I following; but
before we had gone many steps he came out of the hotel behind me. I
expected him to be amazed; but he showed no surprise at seeing me, though
he showed another kind of feeling to an extent which dismayed me. I may
have revealed something similar; but I struggled hard against all
emotion, and as soon as I could I told him she had come. He simply said
'Yes' in a low voice.
'You know it, Charles?' said I.
'I have just learnt it,' he said.
'O, Charles,' I went on, 'having delayed completing your marriage with
her till now, I fear--it has become a serious position for us. Why did
you not reply to our letters?'
'I was purposing to reply in person: I did not know how to address her on
the point--how to address you. But what has become of her?'
'She has gone off with my father,' said I; 'indignant with you, and
He was silent: and I suggested that we should follow them, pointing out
the direction which I fancied their gondola had taken. As the one we got
into was doubly manned we soon came in view of their two figures ahead of
us, while they were not likely to observe us, our boat having the 'felze'
on, while theirs was uncovered. They shot into a narrow canal just
beyond the Giardino Reale, and by the time we were floating up between
its slimy walls we saw them getting out of their gondola at the steps
which lead up near the end of the Via 22 Marzo. When we reached the same
spot they were walking up and down the Via in consultation. Getting out
he stood on the lower steps watching them. I watched him. He seemed to
fall into a reverie.
'Will you not go and speak to her?' said I at length.
He assented, and went forward. Still he did not hasten to join them,
but, screened by a projecting window, observed their musing converse. At
last he looked back at me; whereupon I pointed forward, and he in
obedience stepped out, and met them face to face. Caroline flushed hot,
bowed haughtily to him, turned away, and taking my father's arm
violently, led him off before he had had time to use his own judgment.
They disappeared into a narrow calle, or alley, leading to the back of
the buildings on the Grand Canal.
M. de la Feste came slowly back; as he stepped in beside me I realized my
position so vividly that my heart might almost have been heard to beat.
The third condition had arisen--the least expected by either of us. She
had refused him; he was free to claim me.
We returned in the boat together. He seemed quite absorbed till we had
turned the angle into the Grand Canal, when he broke the silence. 'She
spoke very bitterly to you in the salle-a-manger,' he said. 'I do not
think she was quite warranted in speaking so to you, who had nursed her
'O, but I think she was,' I answered. 'It was there I told her what had
been done; she did not know till then.'
'She was very dignified--very striking,' he murmured. 'You were more.'
'But how do you know what passed between us,' said I. He then told me
that he had seen and heard all. The dining-room was divided by folding-
doors from an inner portion, and he had been sitting in the latter part
when we entered the outer, so that our words were distinctly audible.
'But, dear Alicia,' he went on, 'I was more impressed by the affection of
your apology to her than by anything else. And do you know that now the
conditions have arisen which give me liberty to consider you my
affianced?' I had been expecting this, but yet was not prepared. I
stammered out that we would not discuss it then.
'Why not?' said he. 'Do you know that we may marry here and now? She
has cast off both you and me.'
'It cannot be,' said I, firmly. 'She has not been fairly asked to be
your wife in fact--to repeat the service lawfully; and until that has
been done it would be grievous sin in me to accept you.'
I had not noticed where the gondoliers were rowing us. I suppose he had
given them some direction unheard by me, for as I resigned myself in
despairing indolence to the motion of the gondola, I perceived that it
was taking us up the Canal, and, turning into a side opening near the
Palazzo Grimani, drew up at some steps near the end of a large church.
'Where are we?' said I.
'It is the Church of the Frari,' he replied. 'We might be married there.
At any rate, let us go inside, and grow calm, and decide what to do.'
When we had entered I found that whether a place to marry in or not, it
was one to depress. The word which Venice speaks most
constantly--decay--was in a sense accentuated here. The whole large
fabric itself seemed sinking into an earth which was not solid enough to
bear it. Cobwebbed cracks zigzagged the walls, and similar webs clouded
the window-panes. A sickly-sweet smell pervaded the aisles. After
walking about with him a little while in embarrassing silences, divided
only by his cursory explanations of the monuments and other objects, and
almost fearing he might produce a marriage licence, I went to a door in
the south transept which opened into the sacristy.
I glanced through it, towards the small altar at the upper end. The
place was empty save of one figure; and she was kneeling here in front of
the beautiful altarpiece by Bellini. Beautiful though it was she seemed
not to see it. She was weeping and praying as though her heart was
broken. She was my sister Caroline. I beckoned to Charles, and he came
to my side, and looked through the door with me.
'Speak to her,' said I. 'She will forgive you.'
I gently pushed him through the doorway, and went back into the transept,
down the nave, and onward to the west door. There I saw my father, to
whom I spoke. He answered severely that, having first obtained
comfortable quarters in a pension on the Grand Canal, he had gone back to
the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni to find me; but that I was not
there. He was now waiting for Caroline, to accompany her back to the
pension, at which she had requested to be left to herself as much as
possible till she could regain some composure.
I told him that it was useless to dwell on what was past, that I no doubt
had erred, that the remedy lay in the future and their marriage. In this
he quite agreed with me, and on my informing him that M. de la Feste was
at that moment with Caroline in the sacristy, he assented to my proposal
that we should leave them to themselves, and return together to await
them at the pension, where he had also engaged a room for me. This we
did, and going up to the chamber he had chosen for me, which overlooked
the Canal, I leant from the window to watch for the gondola that should
contain Charles and my sister.
They were not long in coming. I recognized them by the colour of her
sunshade as soon as they turned the bend on my right hand. They were
side by side of necessity, but there was no conversation between them,
and I thought that she looked flushed and he pale. When they were rowed
in to the steps of our house he handed her up. I fancied she might have
refused his assistance, but she did not. Soon I heard her pass my door,
and wishing to know the result of their interview I went downstairs,
seeing that the gondola had not put off with him. He was turning from
the door, but not towards the water, intending apparently to walk home by
way of the calle which led into the Via 22 Marzo.
'Has she forgiven you?' said I.
'I have not asked her,' he said.
'But you are bound to do so,' I told him.
He paused, and then said, 'Alicia, let us understand each other. Do you
mean to tell me, once for all, that if your sister is willing to become
my wife you absolutely make way for her, and will not entertain any
thought of what I suggested to you any more?'
'I do tell you so,' said I with dry lips. 'You belong to her--how can I
'Yes; it is so; it is purely a question of honour,' he returned. 'Very
well then, honour shall be my word, and not my love. I will put the
question to her frankly; if she says yes, the marriage shall be. But not
here. It shall be at your own house in England.'
'When?' said I.
'I will accompany her there,' he replied, 'and it shall be within a week
of her return. I have nothing to gain by delay. But I will not answer
for the consequences.'
'What do you mean?' said I. He made no reply, went away, and I came back
to my room.
CHAPTER IX.--SHE WITNESSES THE END
April 20. Milan, 10.30 p.m.--We are thus far on our way homeward. I,
being decidedly de trop, travel apart from the rest as much as I can.
Having dined at the hotel here, I went out by myself; regardless of the
proprieties, for I could not stay in. I walked at a leisurely pace along
the Via Allesandro Manzoni till my eye was caught by the grand Galleria
Vittorio Emanuele, and I entered under the high glass arcades till I
reached the central octagon, where I sat down on one of a group of chairs
placed there. Becoming accustomed to the stream of promenaders, I soon
observed, seated on the chairs opposite, Caroline and Charles. This was
the first occasion on which I had seen them en tete-a-tete since my
conversation with him. She soon caught sight of me; averted her eyes;
then, apparently abandoning herself to an impulse, she jumped up from her
seat and came across to me. We had not spoken to each other since the
meeting in Venice.
'Alicia,' she said, sitting down by my side, 'Charles asks me to forgive
you, and I do forgive you.'
I pressed her hand, with tears in my eyes, and said, 'And do you forgive
'Yes,' said she, shyly.
'And what's the result?' said I.
'We are to be married directly we reach home.'
This was almost the whole of our conversation; she walked home with me,
Charles following a little way behind, though she kept turning her head,
as if anxious that he should overtake us. 'Honour and not love' seemed
to ring in my ears. So matters stand. Caroline is again happy.
April 25.--We have reached home, Charles with us. Events are now moving
in silent speed, almost with velocity, indeed; and I sometimes feel
oppressed by the strange and preternatural ease which seems to accompany
their flow. Charles is staying at the neighbouring town; he is only
waiting for the marriage licence; when obtained he is to come here, be
quietly married to her, and carry her off. It is rather resignation than
content which sits on his face; but he has not spoken a word more to me
on the burning subject, or deviated one hair's breadth from the course he
laid down. They may be happy in time to come: I hope so. But I cannot
shake off depression.
May 6.--Eve of the wedding. Caroline is serenely happy, though not
blithe. But there is nothing to excite anxiety about her. I wish I
could say the same of him. He comes and goes like a ghost, and yet
nobody seems to observe this strangeness in his mien.
I could not help being here for the ceremony; but my absence would have
resulted in less disquiet on his part, I believe. However, I may be
wrong in attributing causes: my father simply says that Charles and
Caroline have as good a chance of being happy as other people. Well, to-
morrow settles all.
May 7.--They are married: we have just returned from church. Charles
looked so pale this morning that my father asked him if he was ill. He
said, 'No: only a slight headache;' and we started for the church.
There was no hitch or hindrance; and the thing is done.
4 p.m.--They ought to have set out on their journey by this time; but
there is an unaccountable delay. Charles went out half-an-hour ago, and
has not yet returned. Caroline is waiting in the hall; but I am
dreadfully afraid they will miss the train. I suppose the trifling
hindrance is of no account; and yet I am full of misgivings . . .
Sept. 14.--Four months have passed; only four months! It seems like
years. Can it be that only seventeen weeks ago I set on this paper the
fact of their marriage? I am now an aged woman by comparison!
On that never to be forgotten day we waited and waited, and Charles did
not return. At six o'clock, when poor little Caroline had gone back to
her room in a state of suspense impossible to describe, a man who worked
in the water-meadows came to the house and asked for my father. He had
an interview with him in the study. My father then rang his bell, and
sent for me. I went down; and I then learnt the fatal news. Charles was
no more. The waterman had been going to shut down the hatches of a weir
in the meads when he saw a hat on the edge of the pool below, floating
round and round in the eddy, and looking into the pool saw something
strange at the bottom. He knew what it meant, and lowering the hatches
so that the water was still, could distinctly see the body. It is
needless to write particulars that were in the newspapers at the time.
Charles was brought to the house, but he was dead.
We all feared for Caroline; and she suffered much; but strange to say,
her suffering was purely of the nature of deep grief which found relief
in sobbing and tears. It came out at the inquest that Charles had been
accustomed to cross the meads to give an occasional half-crown to an old
man who lived on the opposite hill, who had once been a landscape painter
in an humble way till he lost his eyesight; and it was assumed that he
had gone thither for the same purpose to-day, and to bid him farewell. On
this information the coroner's jury found that his death had been caused
by misadventure; and everybody believes to this hour that he was drowned
while crossing the weir to relieve the old man. Except one: she believes
in no accident. After the stunning effect of the first news, I thought
it strange that he should have chosen to go on such an errand at the last
moment, and to go personally, when there was so little time to spare,
since any gift could have been so easily sent by another hand. Further
reflection has convinced me that this step out of life was as much a part
of the day's plan as was the wedding in the church hard by. They were
the two halves of his complete intention when he gave me on the Grand
Canal that assurance which I shall never forget: 'Very well, then; honour
shall be my word, not love. If she says "Yes," the marriage shall be.'
I do not know why I should have made this entry at this particular time;
but it has occurred to me to do it--to complete, in a measure, that part
of my desultory chronicle which relates to the love-story of my sister
and Charles. She lives on meekly in her grief; and will probably outlive
it; while I--but never mind me.
CHAPTER X.--SHE ADDS A NOTE LONG AFTER
Five-years later.--I have lighted upon this old diary, which it has
interested me to look over, containing, as it does, records of the time
when life shone more warmly in my eye than it does now. I am impelled to
add one sentence to round off its record of the past. About a year ago
my sister Caroline, after a persistent wooing, accepted the hand and
heart of Theophilus Higham, once the blushing young Scripture reader who
assisted at the substitute for a marriage I planned, and now the fully-
ordained curate of the next parish. His penitence for the part he played
ended in love. We have all now made atonement for our sins against her:
may she be deceived no more.
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