Page images

just now, and certain stories we know of him, little Alma is probably better without his acquaintance than with it.”

"Hallo! if we go by bonnes fortunes and such-like reputations, are you a much more eligible friend for her than the Colonel ?"

"Not at all. I have been no saint, God knows; en même temps, I am, thank Heaven, a man of honour, and with the trust Tressillian, of whom Sabretasche knew nothing, placed in me when he wrote that letter, and my knowledge of him in my boyhood, to say nothing of her own guilelessness and unprotected position, the child would be as safe with me as with her brother, even if I had not done with love and all its madness."


Done with love at thirty-five! But De Vigne meant what he said fully, at the least then he meant and he believed it. He had vowed never to surrender himself to even a passing taste of that delirium which had already cost him so much, and meant to devote his life to the Service, which he had loved from the day he entered it, and which could alone give him the excitement and the action he coveted. Done with love at thirty-five! I looked at him as the fire-light shone on his face, with its haughty lines and its passionate eyes, and I thought he would one day reap the folly of his defiance, as he had already done of his surrender to the passion he now renounced. He did not think much about the little Tressillian, possibly; still she was to a degree a source of interest to him; she appealed to his kindness and his generosity, the only two levers by which De Vigne, so long won by his eye and his passions and his impulses, was now to be moved. Boughton Tressillian had been kind to him in his boyhood, it would have been impossible to his nature not to have returned the kindness to Boughton Tressillian's little pet, now that the once heiress of Weive Hurst was moneyless, forsaken, friendless, and all alone in the world, dependent, poor child, upon her own exertions for a livelihood, and exposed to all the peines fortes et dures of poverty. Alma was calculated to disarm him, too. He never thought of her as what she really was, a most fascinating woman, but as what she really was too, a playful, winning child, familiarly fond of him from gratitude and memory, but gifted with an intelligence so singularly deep, keen, liberal, and cultured, that absolutely in talking to her he forgot her sex, and spoke to her and listened to her as he would have done to any man who chanced to have a turn of mind and a liberality of opinion akin to his own. To the line of Victor Hugo's, which I already applied to Alma, "Homme par la pensée et femme par le cœur," one might have added, "et enfant par la franchise de l'esprit et l'abandon de la gaîté." She was lively as one of her own pet kittens; she had all that elasticity of spirit, that wildness of gaiety, which it is a great error to suppose do not very generally accompany intellects clearer and hearts deeper than those of the common herd; and lively as she was in her triste and uncongenial life, she would have been joyous indeed in a happy one, such as most girls at her early age lead. This in itself was the greatest attraction to De Vigne; his own nature was joyous, his spirits high, till they were crushed and chilled by his fatal marriage; he had that love of fun in him which is latent in all sweet and anti-morbid characters; he liked life and spirit in his dogs, his horses, in everything; he liked them especially in women, whom he had always sought in proportion as they amused him. Alma's vivacity amused him and refreshed him; and where he had been amused,

De Vigne had always gone, without any thought of possible consequences to himself.

He went to see her three or four times. Once he stopped there en route to lunch at the Star and Garter; once he went to go over Strawberry Hill with her, amused with the romantic souvenirs she poured into his ear; once or twice he went over to see her in the early noon. Whenever he had been in town he had been in the habit of spending an hour or two occasionally in Richmond Park or Windsor Forest in the morning, to have a snatch of the fresh woodland air amidst the hurry and heat of the season; and seven miles was soon covered with his slashing stride, that had carried him across the Himalayas and the Pyrenees, up the Tyrol, and over the Col du Géant. About a month after we had chanced on the little Tressillian, the day looked sunny and bright, and when he had done his breakfast and his Times, De Vigne, who was fond of walking, took his stick, whistled his terriers, and walked across to Richmond before any of his set were up, or, at least, visible, thinking to himself he would go and see the little Tressillian. At the gate he met her, just coming out of the garden.

[ocr errors]

Going for a walk?" asked De Vigne, as Alma welcomed him with that cordial épanchement du cœur natural to her with those whom she liked and was pleased to see.

"Yes, I was; but that is no consequence, and certainly no deprivation, this cold day. Do come in and talk to me." "No, thank I will walk and talk with like. I was if you, you going to take a look at the park after I had asked you how you were, so we can go together."


They did go together. Alma delighted to have him for her companion; and very naturally, too, for there were few women in town, however admired and supercilious, who would not have liked two hours' tête-à-tête with De Vigne, though few would have shown it him so innocently and naturally. Alma, though with her Southern blood and her Lorave habits she did not admire walking in cold weather, enjoyed herself this morning, with the dogs scampering before her and De Vigne talking to her, while the wind blew a bright rose-colour into her cheeks, and her dark blue eyes beamed with the amusement and gladness inherent in her nature.

"Are you not very dull here, Alma?" he asked her, as they walked along through the park.

"Yes. I am not of a sufficiently superior mind to see the charms of solitude," she answered, laughing. "I am tired of the life I lead. I admit it fully, though I suppose if I were philosophic I should not yearn after the pomps and vanities, alias the refinements and the pleasures, of existence. My days are monotonous. I cannot tell one from the other. I have no friends, no amusements, no society, nor can I obtain them in any way. I cannot make a fortune all at once. I cannot run up to some grande dame, and say to her, 'Introduce me into your circle; I want to belong to the crême de la crême.' I cannot free myself any more than a goldfinch caught and caged can free itself, and go back to its beloved chesnut boughs. Yes, Major De Vigne, I am very dull-I admit itexcept, indeed, when you come to see me."

"Poor little thing!" said De Vigne, involuntarily, as he pushed some brambles out of her path with his cane. "Well, you have read Monte

Christo! You must remember his last words."

"To me they are the

"Attendre et espérer' ?" repeated Alma. saddest words in human language. They are so seldom the joy-bells to herald a new future-they are so often the death-knell to a past wasted in futile striving and disappointed desire. Attendre et espérer!' How many beaux jours pass in trusting to those words; and when their trust be at last recompensed, how often the fulfilment comes too late to be enjoyed. It always irritates me to hear people say it is good for youth to bear privation; they can repose in their old age. Do those moralists never stop to remember what it is to have your youth marred by adverse circumstances, cramped by straitened means, passing away from you?-all your beaux jours, all the spring-time of your life, passing away without your being allowed to gather one of the flowers growing by its highway, gliding from your hands unblessed, unenjoyed, without a single glimpse of that insouciant gladness which seems its heritage-gliding, never to return? Attendre et espérer!' Ah! that is all very well for those who have some fixed goal in view-some aim which they will attain if they have but energy and patience enough to go steadily on to the end; but only to wait for an indefinite better fate, which year after year retreats still farther-only to hope against hope for what never comes, and in all probability will never come-that is not quite so easy."

"If it is not, it is the lot of all," answered De Vigne. "However favoured by fortune, take my word for it, no man's or woman's life turns out in any way what they dreamt and wished it in their première jeunesse. The young beauty at eighteen or twenty, entering the world with all her ideals hot-pressed from the leaves of Jocelyn or Evangeline, dreams of some romantic and love-blessed future, and, a season or two afterwards, ends in a marriage for position. In tender moments afterwards, no doubt she will now and then recal those bygone idyls of her girlhood with a sigh."

"But her fate is of her own carving," interrupted Alma. "She cannot charge life with the result of her own actions and ambitions."

"That does not follow. Education, custom, surroundings, the bias of her birth, the incitements of her friends, may all have had a good deal to do with it. But I was going to say that, though she may sigh, on the eternal principle that a bunch of currants we cannot have seems sweeter than a cluster of the finest hothouse grapes à la main, for the unfulfilled desires and visions of her youth, it is a great doubt whether she would have been a quarter so happy if they had been fulfilled. A love-match and a limited income would have banished her fancy for romance quite as effectually and more painfully than the entourages of wealth, prosaic though they may seem to you. But as for your attendre et espérer, I agree with you, nothing chafes and frets one more than waiting; it wears all the bloom off the fruit to waste all our golden hours gazing at it afar off, and longing for it with Tantalus thirst. It has never suited me. I have too often brushed the bloom off mine plucking them too soon; and, as for hope, she may figure well in Collins's ode; but as we go on in life, we know there is nothing more delusive than the flutter of her shadowy wings, which lead us on as the Willis of the German legends lure men, with their silvery hair and sylphide forms, to dance on the very border of their tombs. I agree with you, to wait for happiness is a living death, to hope for it is a dreamer's phantasy; but it is not like your usual doc


trine, you little enthusiast, who are still such a child that believe in the possible realisation of all your fond ideals. What were you saying to me the other day at Strawberry Hill about Chatterton, that if the poor boy had only had the courage to wait and hope, he might have reaped long years of honour and of fame ?"

"But Chatterton had an aim; and he had more; he had the godlike gift of genius, which gives to the hearts of all signalled by its touch a beauty and a glory that no wrong, no trial, no suffering can ever take away. I know he was goaded to madness by poverty. I know how bitter to that boy, with his fervid imaginings, his poet's longings, his beautiful day-dreams, must have been the weary fret of thinking what he should eat, and wherewithal he should be clothed, the jar and grind of every-day wants, of petty yet inexorable cares, so wearing even to most common and the most narrowed minds. I can well believe how they wore into his soul and bowed his young head down to the grave, as the only home that would open for him to rest from the cruel wear and jar of the world, that seemed so cold to him. At the same time, I wonder that he did not live for his works; that for their sake he did not suffer and endure; that the strong genius in him did not give him power and courage to struggle against all that strove to crush it; that he did not live to make the world acknowledge all that marked him out from the common herd. I know how he wearied of life; yet I wish he had conquered it. It always makes me sad to think genius should be trampled down by the injustice and the petty cruelties of the world. Genius should ever be stronger than its detractors. 'What is the use of my writing poetry that no one reads?" asked Shelley. Yet he knew that the time would come when it would be read by men wiser than those of his generation, and he wrote on, following the inspiration of his own divine gift. Men know and acknowledge now how divine a gift it was."


"True," answered De Vigne ; " wrestle with fate, and it will bless you, is a wise and a right counsel; still here and there in that wrestling-match it is possible to get a croc en jambe, which leaves us at the mercy Fate, do what we may to resist her. Men of genius have very rarely been appreciated in their own time. Too often nations spend wealth upon a monument to him whom they let die for want of a shilling. Too many, like Cervantes, have lacked bread while they penned what served to make their country honoured and illustrious. They could write of him :

Porque se digua qua uno mano herida

Pudo dar à su dueño eterna vida;

but they could leave him to poverty for all that. Johnson must dine behind the screen, while Beau Nash reigns King of the Wells. It must ever be so, as long as the world is divided as it is into twenty who like ombre and basset, small-talk and shoe-buckles, to only one here and there who cares for satire and wisdom. A prophet has no honour in his own country, still less in his own time; but if the prophets be true and wise men, they will not look for honour, but follow Philip Sydney's counsel, look in their own hearts and write, and leave the seed of their brain as ploughmen the corn in the furrows-content that it will bring forth a harvest at the last, if it be ripe, good wheat."

"Yet it is sad if they are forced to see only the dark and barren earth, and the golden harvest only rise to wave over their tomb ?"

[ocr errors]

"It is; but, petite, there are few things not sad in life, and one of the saddest of them is, as Emerson says, 'the madness with which the passing age mischooses the object on which all candles shine, and all eyes are turned,' registering every trifle touching Elizabeth, and Leicester, and Essex, and passing over, without a note, the popular player, in whom none foresees the poet of the human race.' The populace who crowded to look at Charles and Louise de Kerroualle coming to Hampton never knew or thought of Cromwell's Latin secretary, dictating in his study, old, blind, and poor. Well, it only shows us what fools men are, either to court the world or care for it! A propos of célèbres, Alma, you, vouée as you are to historic associations, should never be dull here, with all the souvenirs that are round Richmond and Twickenham."

"Ah!" said Alma, turning her bright beaming face on him, "how often I think of them all!—of the talk round that little deal table in the grotto, spiced with the same wit that gave its sting to the Dunciad and its sparkle to the Essay; of Swift, with his brilliant azure eyes, and his wonderful satire, and his exigeant selfish man-like loves; of Mrs. Clive, with her humorous stories; and Harry Fielding, laughing as he wrote the scenes men still cite as masterpieces, and packing away his papers to eat his scrag of mutton as gleefully as if it were an entremêt; and Walpole, with his mediæval tastes and modern fashions, fitting up a Gothic chapel and writing for a Paris suit, publishing Otranto,' and talking scandales in Boodle's how often I think of them!"

[ocr errors]

"You need not tell me that," laughed De Vigne. "I have not forgotten all your romantic souvenirs at the mere view of the sites of Strawberry Hill and Pope's villa. With your historic passion, you live in the past. Well! it is safer and less deceptive, if not less visionary, than living in the future.”


Perhaps I do both; yet I have little to hope from the future." "Why?" said De Vigne, kindly. "Who knows but what one of your old favourites, the fairies, may bring good gifts to their little queen? We will hope so, at least."

Alma shook her head. "I am afraid not. The only fairy that has any power now is Money, and the good gifts the gods give us now-a-days only go to those who have golden coffers to put them in. Yes, I do live in the past; my future I cannot trust. I very seldom look at it, save in wild delicious fancies, which, I fear, will never come true; but the pastI love to go back to it, with its quaint Vandyke portraits, and its rich Velasquez colouring, and its chiar'oscuro of time, which gives it a dim golden haze that was probably never its own. I think the company of Commines and Froissart, Saint-Simon, and Hervey, and Walpole, better, after all, than many of the circles of modern society. I like to go back into the past through the quaint word-painting of an old chronicle, or the deep rich hues of a Murillo or a Velasquez. I love those dim yet brilliant pictures of bygone days that poetry and history weave together. They are all living to me, those grave and stately signori who condemned Faliero; those silent resolute Netherlanders who gathered in the marketplace to see Lamoral d'Egmont die with his Golden Fleece around his neck, the gift of his tiger-king; those gay and glittering crowds of haughty noblesse that filled the palaces of the Bourbons, and laughed at the malicious wit of Athenais de Montespan, with her 'dove's eye and

« PreviousContinue »