It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly
Considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly
builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through
patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of
it; Ignorance, wanting its day's dinner, lights a fire with the
record, and gives a flavor to its one roast with the burned souls of
many generations. Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and
multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various
with a new six days' work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with
a firkin of oil and a match and an easy "Let there not be," and the
many-colored creation is shriveled up in blackness. Of a truth,
Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a
conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a
blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to
seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good,
and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon. And looking
at life parcel-wise, in the growth of a single lot, who having a
practiced vision may not see that ignorance of the true bond between
events, and false conceit of means whereby sequences may be compelled
--like that falsity of eyesight which overlooks the gradations of
distance, seeing that which is afar off as if it were within a step or
a grasp--precipitates the mistaken soul on destruction?
It was half-past ten in the morning when Gwendolen Harleth, after her gloomy journey from Leubronn, arrived at the station from which she must drive to Offendene. No carriage or friend was awaiting her, for in the telegram she had sent from Dover she had mentioned a later train, and in her impatience of lingering at a London station she had set off without picturing what it would be to arrive unannounced at half an hour's drive from home--at one of those stations which have been fixed on not as near anywhere, but as equidistant from everywhere. Deposited as a _femme sole_ with her large trunks, and having to wait while a vehicle was being got from the large-sized lantern called the Railway Inn, Gwendolen felt that the dirty paint in the waiting-room, the dusty decanter of flat water, and the texts in large letters calling on her to repent and be converted, were part of the dreary prospect opened by her family troubles; and she hurried away to the outer door looking toward the lane and fields. But here the very gleams of sunshine seemed melancholy, for the autumnal leaves and grass were shivering, and the wind was turning up the feathers of a cock and two croaking hens which had doubtless parted with their grown-up offspring and did not know what to do with themselves. The railway official also seemed without resources, and his innocent demeanor in observing Gwendolen and her trunks was rendered intolerable by the cast in his eye; especially since, being a new man, he did not know her, and must conclude that she was not very high in the world. The vehicle--a dirty old barouche--was within sight, and was being slowly prepared by an elderly laborer. Contemptible details these, to make part of a history; yet the turn of most lives is hardly to be accounted for without them. They are continually entering with cumulative force into a mood until it gets the mass and momentum of a theory or a motive. Even philosophy is not quite free from such determining influences; and to be dropped solitary at an ugly, irrelevant-looking spot, with a sense of no income on the mind, might well prompt a man to discouraging speculation on the origin of things and the reason of a world where a subtle thinker found himself so badly off. How much more might such trifles tell on a young lady equipped for society with a fastidious taste, an Indian shawl over her arm, some twenty cubic feet of trunks by her side, and a mortal dislike to the new consciousness of poverty which was stimulating her imagination of disagreeables? At any rate they told heavily on poor Gwendolen, and helped to quell her resistant spirit. What was the good of living in the midst of hardships, ugliness, and humiliation? This was the beginning of being at home again, and it was a sample of what she had to expect.
Here was the theme on which her discontent rung its sad changes during her slow drive in the uneasy barouche, with one great trunk squeezing the meek driver, and the other fastened with a rope on the seat in front of her. Her ruling vision all the way from Leubronn had been that the family would go abroad again; for of course there must be some little income left--her mamma did not mean that they would have literally nothing. To go to a dull place abroad and live poorly, was the dismal future that threatened her: she had seen plenty of poor English people abroad and imagined herself plunged in the despised dullness of their ill-plenished lives, with Alice, Bertha, Fanny and Isabel all growing up in tediousness around her, while she advanced toward thirty and her mamma got more and more melancholy. But she did not mean to submit, and let misfortune do what it would with her: she had not yet quite believed in the misfortune; but weariness and disgust with this wretched arrival had begun to affect her like an uncomfortable waking, worse than the uneasy dreams which had gone before. The self-delight with which she had kissed her image in the glass had faded before the sense of futility in being anything whatever--charming, clever, resolute--what was the good of it all? Events might turn out anyhow, and men were hateful. Yes, men were hateful. But in these last hours, a certain change had come over their meaning. It is one thing to hate stolen goods, and another thing to hate them the more because their being stolen hinders us from making use of them. Gwendolen had begun to be angry with Grandcourt for being what had hindered her from marrying him, angry with him as the cause of her present dreary lot.
But the slow drive was nearly at an end, and the lumbering vehicle coming up the avenue was within sight of the windows. A figure appearing under the portico brought a rush of new and less selfish feeling in Gwendolen, and when springing from the carriage she saw the dear beautiful face with fresh lines of sadness in it, she threw her arms round her mother's neck, and for the moment felt all sorrows only in relation to her mother's feeling about them.
Behind, of course, were the sad faces of the four superfluous girls, each, poor thing--like those other many thousand sisters of us all--having her peculiar world which was of no importance to any one else, but all of them feeling Gwendolen's presence to be somehow a relenting of misfortune: where Gwendolen was, something interesting would happen; even her hurried submission to their kisses, and "Now go away, girls," carried the sort of comfort which all weakness finds in decision and authoritativeness. Good Miss Merry, whose air of meek depression, hitherto held unaccountable in a governess affectionately attached to the family, was now at the general level of circumstances, did not expect any greeting, but busied herself with the trunks and the coachman's pay; while Mrs. Davilow and Gwendolen hastened up-stairs and shut themselves in the black and yellow bedroom.
"Never mind, mamma dear," said Gwendolen, tenderly pressing her handkerchief against the tears that were rolling down Mrs. Davilow's cheeks. "Never mind. I don't mind. I will do something. I will be something. Things will come right. It seemed worse because I was away. Come now! you must be glad because I am here."
Gwendolen felt every word of that speech. A rush of compassionate tenderness stirred all her capability of generous resolution; and the self-confident projects which had vaguely glanced before her during her journey sprang instantaneously into new definiteness. Suddenly she seemed to perceive how she could be "something." It was one of her best moments, and the fond mother, forgetting everything below that tide mark, looked at her with a sort of adoration. She said--
"Bless you, my good, good darling! I can be happy, if you can!"
But later in the day there was an ebb; the old slippery rocks, the old weedy places reappeared. Naturally, there was a shrinking of courage as misfortune ceased to be a mere announcement, and began to disclose itself as a grievous tyrannical inmate. At first--that ugly drive at an end--it was still Offendene that Gwendolen had come home to, and all surroundings of immediate consequence to her were still there to secure her personal ease; the roomy stillness of the large solid house while she rested; all the luxuries of her toilet cared for without trouble to her; and a little tray with her favorite food brought to her in private. For she had said, "Keep them all away from us to-day, mamma. Let you and me be alone together."
When Gwendolen came down into the drawing-room, fresh as a newly-dipped swan, and sat leaning against the cushions of the settee beside her mamma, their misfortune had not yet turned its face and breath upon her. She felt prepared to hear everything, and began in a tone of deliberate intention--
"What have you thought of doing, exactly, mamma?"
"Oh, my dear, the next thing to be done is to move away from this house. Mr. Haynes most fortunately is as glad to have it now as he would have been when we took it. Lord Brackenshaw's agent is to arrange everything with him to the best advantage for us: Bazley, you know; not at all an ill-natured man."
"I cannot help thinking that Lord Brackenshaw would let you stay here rent-free, mamma," said Gwendolen, whose talents had not been applied to business so much as to discernment of the admiration excited by her charms.
"My dear child, Lord Brackenshaw is in Scotland, and knows nothing about us. Neither your uncle nor I would choose to apply to him. Besides, what could we do in this house without servants, and without money to warm it? The sooner we are out the better. We have nothing to carry but our clothes, you know?"
"I suppose you mean to go abroad, then?" said Gwendolen. After all, this is what she had familiarized her mind with.
"Oh, no, dear, no. How could we travel? You never did learn anything about income and expenses," said Mrs. Davilow, trying to smile, and putting her hand on Gwendolen's as she added, mournfully, "that makes it so much harder for you, my pet."
"But where are we to go?" said Gwendolen, with a trace of sharpness in her tone. She felt a new current of fear passing through her.
"It is all decided. A little furniture is to be got in from the rectory-- all that can be spared." Mrs. Davilow hesitated. She dreaded the reality for herself less than the shock she must give to Gwendolen, who looked at her with tense expectancy, but was silent.
"It is Sawyer's Cottage we are to go to."
At first, Gwendolen remained silent, paling with anger--justifiable anger, in her opinion. Then she said with haughtiness--
"That is impossible. Something else than that ought to have been thought of. My uncle ought not to allow that. I will not submit to it."
"My sweet child, what else could have been thought of? Your uncle, I am sure, is as kind as he can be: but he is suffering himself; he has his family to bring up. And do you quite understand? You must remember--we have nothing. We shall have absolutely nothing except what he and my sister give us. They have been as wise and active a possible, and we must try to earn something. I and the girls are going to work a table-cloth border for the Ladies' Charity at Winchester, and a communion cloth that the parishioners are to present to Pennicote Church."
Mrs. Davilow went into these details timidly: but how else was she to bring the fact of their position home to this poor child who, alas! must submit at present, whatever might be in the background for her? and she herself had a superstition that there must be something better in the background.
"But surely somewhere else than Sawyer's Cottage might have been found," Gwendolen persisted--taken hold of (as if in a nightmare) by the image of this house where an exciseman had lived.
"No, indeed, dear. You know houses are scarce, and we may be thankful to get anything so private. It is not so very bad. There are two little parlors and four bedrooms. You shall sit alone whenever you like."
The ebb of sympathetic care for her mamma had gone so low just now, that Gwendolen took no notice of these deprecatory words.
"I cannot conceive that all your property is gone at once, mamma. How can you be sure in so short a time? It is not a week since you wrote to me."
"The first news came much earlier, dear. But I would not spoil your pleasure till it was quite necessary."
"Oh, how vexatious!" said Gwendolen, coloring with fresh anger. "If I had known, I could have brought home the money I had won: and for want of knowing, I stayed and lost it. I had nearly two hundred pounds, and it would have done for us to live on a little while, till I could carry out some plan." She paused an instant and then added more impetuously, "Everything has gone against me. People have come near me only to blight me."
Among the "people" she was including Deronda. If he had not interfered in her life she would have gone to the gaming-table again with a few napoleons, and might have won back her losses.
"We must resign ourselves to the will of Providence, my child," said poor Mrs. Davilow, startled by this revelation of the gambling, but not daring to say more. She felt sure that "people" meant Grandcourt, about whom her lips were sealed. And Gwendolen answered immediately--
"But I don't resign myself. I shall do what I can against it. What is the good of calling the people's wickedness Providence? You said in your letter it was Mr. Lassman's fault we had lost our money. Has he run away with it all?"
"No, dear, you don't understand. There were great speculations: he meant to gain. It was all about mines and things of that sort. He risked too much."
"I don't call that Providence: it was his improvidence with our money, and he ought to be punished. Can't we go to law and recover our fortune? My uncle ought to take measures, and not sit down by such wrongs. We ought to go to law."
"My dear child, law can never bring back money lost in that way. Your uncle says it is milk spilled upon the ground. Besides, one must have a fortune to get any law: there is no law for people who are ruined. And our money has only gone along with other's people's. We are not the only sufferers: others have to resign themselves besides us."
"But I don't resign myself to live at Sawyer's Cottage and see you working for sixpences and shillings because of that. I shall not do it. I shall do what is more befitting our rank and education."
"I am sure your uncle and all of us will approve of that, dear, and admire you the more for it," said Mrs. Davilow, glad of an unexpected opening for speaking on a difficult subject. "I didn't mean that you should resign yourself to worse when anything better offered itself. Both your uncle and aunt have felt that your abilities and education were a fortune for you, and they have already heard of something within your reach."
"What is that, mamma?" some of Gwendolen's anger gave way to interest, and she was not without romantic conjectures.
"There are two situations that offer themselves. One is in a bishop's family, where there are three daughters, and the other is in quite a high class of school; and in both, your French, and music, and dancing--and then your manners and habits as a lady, are exactly what is wanted. Each is a hundred a year--and--just for the present,"--Mrs. Davilow had become frightened and hesitating,--"to save you from the petty, common way of living that we must go to--you would perhaps accept one of the two."
"What! be like Miss Graves at Madame Meunier's? No."
"I think, myself, that Dr. Monpert's would be more suitable. There could be no hardship in a bishop's family."
"Excuse me, mamma. There are hardships everywhere for a governess. And I don't see that it would be pleasanter to be looked down on in a bishop's family than in any other. Besides, you know very well I hate teaching. Fancy me shut up with three awkward girls something like Alice! I would rather emigrate than be a governess."
What it precisely was to emigrate, Gwendolen was not called on to explain. Mrs. Davilow was mute, seeing no outlet, and thinking with dread of the collision that might happen when Gwendolen had to meet her uncle and aunt. There was an air of reticence in Gwendolen's haughty, resistant speeches which implied that she had a definite plan in reserve; and her practical ignorance continually exhibited, could not nullify the mother's belief in the effectiveness of that forcible will and daring which had held mastery over herself.
"I have some ornaments, mamma, and I could sell them," said Gwendolen. "They would make a sum: I want a little sum--just to go on with. I dare say Marshall, at Wanchester, would take them: I know he showed me some bracelets once that he said he had bought from a lady. Jocosa might go and ask him. Jocosa is going to leave us, of course. But she might do that first."
"She would do anything she could, poor, dear soul. I have not told you yet--she wanted me to take all her savings--her three hundred pounds. I tell her to set up a little school. It will be hard for her to go into a new family now she has been so long with us."
"Oh, recommend her for the bishop's daughter's," said Gwendolen, with a sudden gleam of laughter in her face. "I am sure she will do better than I should."
"Do take care not to say such things to your uncle," said Mrs. Davilow. "He will be hurt at your despising what he has exerted himself about. But I dare say you have something else in your mind that he might not disapprove, if you consulted him."
"There is some one else I want to consult first. Are the Arrowpoint's at Quetcham still, and is Herr Klesmer there? But I daresay you know nothing about it, poor, dear mamma. Can Jeffries go on horseback with a note?"
"Oh, my dear, Jefferies is not here, and the dealer has taken the horses. But some one could go for us from Leek's farm. The Arrowpoints are at Quetcham, I know. Miss Arrowpoint left her card the other day: I could not see her. But I don't know about Herr Klesmer. Do you want to send before to-morrow?"
"Yes, as soon as possible. I will write a note," said Gwendolen, rising.
"What can you be thinking of, Gwen?" said Mrs. Davilow, relieved in the midst of her wonderment by signs of alacrity and better humor.
"Don't mind what, there's a dear, good mamma," said Gwendolen, reseating herself a moment to give atoning caresses. "I mean to do something. Never mind what until it is all settled. And then you shall be comforted. The dear face!--it is ten years older in these three weeks. Now, now, now! don't cry"--Gwendolen, holding her mamma's head with both hands, kissed the trembling eyelids. "But mind you don't contradict me or put hindrances in my way. I must decide for myself. I cannot be dictated to by my uncle or any one else. My life is my own affair. And I think"--here her tone took an edge of scorn--"I think I can do better for you than let you live in Sawyer's Cottage."
In uttering this last sentence Gwendolen again rose, and went to a desk where she wrote the following note to Klesmer:--
Miss Harleth presents her compliments to Herr Klesmer, and ventures
to request of him the very great favor that he will call upon her, if
possible, to-morrow. Her reason for presuming so far on his kindness
is of a very serious nature. Unfortunate family circumstances have
obliged her to take a course in which she can only turn for advice to
the great knowledge and judgment of Herr Klesmer.
"Pray get this sent to Quetcham at once, mamma," said Gwendolen, as she addressed the letter. "The man must be told to wait for an answer. Let no time be lost."
For the moment, the absorbing purpose was to get the letter dispatched; but when she had been assured on this point, another anxiety arose and kept her in a state of uneasy excitement. If Klesmer happened not to be at Quetcham, what could she do next? Gwendolen's belief in her star, so to speak, had had some bruises. Things had gone against her. A splendid marriage which presented itself within reach had shown a hideous flaw. The chances of roulette had not adjusted themselves to her claims; and a man of whom she knew nothing had thrust himself between her and her intentions. The conduct of those uninteresting people who managed the business of the world had been culpable just in the points most injurious to her in particular. Gwendolen Harleth, with all her beauty and conscious force, felt the close threats of humiliation: for the first time the conditions of this world seemed to her like a hurrying roaring crowd in which she had got astray, no more cared for and protected than a myriad of other girls, in spite of its being a peculiar hardship to her. If Klesmer were not at Quetcham--that would be all of a piece with the rest: the unwelcome negative urged itself as a probability, and set her brain working at desperate alternatives which might deliver her from Sawyer's Cottage or the ultimate necessity of "taking a situation," a phrase that summed up for her the disagreeables most wounding to her pride, most irksome to her tastes; at least so far as her experience enabled her to imagine disagreeables.
Still Klesmer might be there, and Gwendolen thought of the result in that case with a hopefulness which even cast a satisfactory light over her peculiar troubles, as what might well enter into the biography of celebrities and remarkable persons. And if she had heard her immediate acquaintances cross-examined as to whether they thought her remarkable, the first who said "No" would have surprised her.
We please our fancy with ideal webs
Of innovation, but our life meanwhile
Is in the loom, where busy passion plies
The shuttle to and fro, and gives our deeds
The accustomed pattern.
Gwendolen's note, coming "pat betwixt too early and too late," was put into Klesmer's hands just when he was leaving Quetcham, and in order to meet her appeal to his kindness he, with some inconvenience to himself spent the night at Wanchester. There were reasons why he would not remain at Quetcham.
That magnificent mansion, fitted with regard to the greatest expense, had in fact became too hot for him, its owners having, like some great politicians, been astonished at an insurrection against the established order of things, which we plain people after the event can perceive to have been prepared under their very noses.
There were as usual many guests in the house, and among them one in whom Miss Arrowpoint foresaw a new pretender to her hand: a political man of good family who confidently expected a peerage, and felt on public grounds that he required a larger fortune to support the title properly. Heiresses vary, and persons interested in one of them beforehand are prepared to find that she is too yellow or too red, tall and toppling or short and square, violent and capricious or moony and insipid; but in every case it is taken for granted that she will consider herself an appendage to her fortune, and marry where others think her fortunes ought to go. Nature, however, not only accommodates herself ill to our favorite practices by making "only children" daughters, but also now and then endows the misplaced daughter with a clear head and a strong will. The Arrowpoints had already felt some anxiety owing to these endowments of their Catherine. She would not accept the view of her social duty which required her to marry a needy nobleman or a commoner on the ladder toward nobility; and they were not without uneasiness concerning her persistence in declining suitable offers. As to the possibility of her being in love with Klesmer they were not at all uneasy--a very common sort of blindness. For in general mortals have a great power of being astonished at the presence of an effect toward which they have done everything, and at the absence of an effect toward which they had done nothing but desire it. Parents are astonished at the ignorance of their sons, though they have used the most time-honored and expensive means of securing it; husbands and wives are mutually astonished at the loss of affection which they have taken no pains to keep; and all of us in our turn are apt to be astonished that our neighbors do not admire us. In this way it happens that the truth seems highly improbable. The truth is something different from the habitual lazy combinations begotten by our wishes. The Arrowpoints' hour of astonishment was come.
When there is a passion between an heiress and a proud independent- spirited man, it is difficult for them to come to an understanding; but the difficulties are likely to be overcome unless the proud man secures himself by a constant _alibi_. Brief meetings after studied absence are potent in disclosure: but more potent still is frequent companionship, with full sympathy in taste and admirable qualities on both sides; especially where the one is in the position of teacher and the other is delightedly conscious of receptive ability which also gives the teacher delight. The situation is famous in history, and has no less charm now than it had in the days of Abelard.
But this kind of comparison had not occurred to the Arrowpoints when they first engaged Klesmer to come down to Quetcham. To have a first-rate musician in your house is a privilege of wealth; Catherine's musical talent demanded every advantage; and she particularly desired to use her quieter time in the country for more thorough study. Klesmer was not yet a Liszt, understood to be adored by ladies of all European countries with the exception of Lapland: and even with that understanding it did not follow that he would make proposals to an heiress. No musician of honor would do so. Still less was it conceivable that Catherine would give him the slightest pretext for such daring. The large check that Mr. Arrowpoint was to draw in Klesmer's name seemed to make him as safe an inmate as a footman. Where marriage is inconceivable, a girl's sentiments are safe.
Klesmer was eminently a man of honor, but marriages rarely begin with formal proposals, and moreover, Catherine's limit of the conceivable did not exactly correspond with her mother's.
Outsiders might have been more apt to think that Klesmer's position was dangerous for himself if Miss Arrowpoint had been an acknowledged beauty; not taking into account that the most powerful of all beauty is that which reveals itself after sympathy and not before it. There is a charm of eye and lip which comes with every little phrase that certifies delicate perception or fine judgment, with every unostentatious word or smile that shows a heart awake to others; and no sweep of garment or turn of figure is more satisfying than that which enters as a restoration of confidence that one person is present on whom no intention will be lost. What dignity of meaning, goes on gathering in frowns and laughs which are never observed in the wrong place; what suffused adorableness in a human frame where there is a mind that can flash out comprehension and hands that can execute finely! The more obvious beauty, also adorable sometimes--one may say it without blasphemy--begins by being an apology for folly, and ends like other apologies in becoming tiresome by iteration; and that Klesmer, though very susceptible to it, should have a passionate attachment to Miss Arrowpoint, was no more a paradox than any other triumph of a manifold sympathy over a monotonous attraction. We object less to be taxed with the enslaving excess of our passions than with our deficiency in wider passion; but if the truth were known, our reputed intensity is often the dullness of not knowing what else to do with ourselves. Tannhaeuser, one suspects, was a knight of ill-furnished imagination, hardly of larger discourse than a heavy Guardsman; Merlin had certainly seen his best days, and was merely repeating himself, when he fell into that hopeless captivity; and we know that Ulysses felt so manifest an _ennui_ under similar circumstances that Calypso herself furthered his departure. There is indeed a report that he afterward left Penelope; but since she was habitually absorbed in worsted work, and it was probably from her that Telemachus got his mean, pettifogging disposition, always anxious about the property and the daily consumption of meat, no inference can be drawn from this already dubious scandal as to the relation between companionship and constancy.
Klesmer was as versatile and fascinating as a young Ulysses on a sufficient acquaintance--one whom nature seemed to have first made generously and then to have added music as a dominant power using all the abundant rest, and, as in Mendelssohn, finding expression for itself not only in the highest finish of execution, but in that fervor of creative work and theoretic belief which pierces devoted purpose. His foibles of arrogance and vanity did not exceed such as may be found in the best English families; and Catherine Arrowpoint had no corresponding restlessness to clash with his: notwithstanding her native kindliness she was perhaps too coolly firm and self-sustained. But she was one of those satisfactory creatures whose intercourse has the charm of discovery; whose integrity of faculty and expression begets a wish to know what they will say on all subjects or how they will perform whatever they undertake; so that they end by raising not only a continual expectation but a continual sense of fulfillment--the systole and diastole of blissful companionship. In such cases the outward presentment easily becomes what the image is to the worshipper. It was not long before the two became aware that each was interesting to the other; but the "how far" remained a matter of doubt. Klesmer did not conceive that Miss Arrowpoint was likely to think of him as a possible lover, and she was not accustomed to think of herself as likely to stir more than a friendly regard, or to fear the expression of more from any man who was not enamored of her fortune. Each was content to suffer some unshared sense of denial for the sake of loving the other's society a little too well; and under these conditions no need had been felt to restrict Klesmer's visits for the last year either in country or in town. He knew very well that if Miss Arrowpoint had been poor he would have made ardent love to her instead of sending a storm through the piano, or folding his arms and pouring out a hyperbolical tirade about something as impersonal as the north pole; and she was not less aware that if it had been possible for Klesmer to wish for her hand she would have found overmastering reasons for giving it to him. Here was the safety of full cups, which are as secure from overflow as the half-empty, always supposing no disturbance. Naturally, silent feeling had not remained at the same point any more than the stealthly dial-hand, and in the present visit to Quetcham, Klesmer had begun to think that he would not come again; while Catherine was more sensitive to his frequent _brusquerie_, which she rather resented as a needless effort to assert his footing of superior in every sense except the conventional.
Meanwhile enters the expectant peer, Mr. Bult, an esteemed party man who, rather neutral in private life, had strong opinions concerning the districts of the Niger, was much at home also in Brazils, spoke with decision of affairs in the South Seas, was studious of his Parliamentary and itinerant speeches, and had the general solidity and suffusive pinkness of a healthy Briton on the central table-land of life. Catherine, aware of a tacit understanding that he was an undeniable husband for an heiress, had nothing to say against him but that he was thoroughly tiresome to her. Mr. Bult was amiably confident, and had no idea that his insensibility to counterpoint could ever be reckoned against him. Klesmer he hardly regarded in the light of a serious human being who ought to have a vote; and he did not mind Miss Arrowpoint's addiction to music any more than her probable expenses in antique lace. He was consequently a little amazed at an after-dinner outburst of Klesmer's on the lack of idealism in English politics, which left all mutuality between distant races to be determined simply by the need of a market; the crusades, to his mind, had at least this excuse, that they had a banner of sentiment round which generous feelings could rally: of course, the scoundrels rallied too, but what then? they rally in equal force round your advertisement van of "Buy cheap, sell dear." On this theme Klesmer's eloquence, gesticulatory and other, went on for a little while like stray fireworks accidentally ignited, and then sank into immovable silence. Mr. Bult was not surprised that Klesmer's opinions should be flighty, but was astonished at his command of English idiom and his ability to put a point in a way that would have told at a constituents' dinner--to be accounted for probably by his being a Pole, or a Czech, or something of that fermenting sort, in a state of political refugeeism which had obliged him to make a profession of his music; and that evening in the drawing-room he for the first time went up to Klesmer at the piano, Miss Arrowpoint being near, and said--
"I had no idea before that you were a political man."
Klesmer's only answer was to fold his arms, put out his nether lip, and stare at Mr. Bult.
"You must have been used to public speaking. You speak uncommonly well, though I don't agree with you. From what you said about sentiment, I fancy you are a Panslavist."
"No; my name is Elijah. I am the Wandering Jew," said Klesmer, flashing a smile at Miss Arrowpoint, and suddenly making a mysterious, wind-like rush backward and forward on the piano. Mr. Bult felt this buffoonery rather offensive and Polish, but--Miss Arrowpoint being there--did not like to move away.
"Herr Klesmer has cosmopolitan ideas," said Miss Arrowpoint, trying to make the best of the situation. "He looks forward to a fusion of races."
"With all my heart," said Mr. Bult, willing to be gracious. "I was sure he had too much talent to be a mere musician."
"Ah, sir, you are under some mistake there," said Klesmer, firing up. "No man has too much talent to be a musician. Most men have too little. A creative artist is no more a mere musician than a great statesman is a mere politician. We are not ingenious puppets, sir, who live in a box and look out on the world only when it is gaping for amusement. We help to rule the nations and make the age as much as any other public men. We count ourselves on level benches with legislators. And a man who speaks effectively through music is compelled to something more difficult than parliamentary eloquence."
With the last word Klesmer wheeled from the piano and walked away.
Miss Arrowpoint colored, and Mr. Bult observed, with his usual phlegmatic stolidity, "Your pianist does not think small beer of himself."
"Herr Klesmer is something more than a pianist," said Miss Arrowpoint, apologetically. "He is a great musician in the fullest sense of the word. He will rank with Schubert and Mendelssohn."
"Ah, you ladies understand these things," said Mr. Bult, none the less convinced that these things were frivolous because Klesmer had shown himself a coxcomb.
Catherine, always sorry when Klesmer gave himself airs, found an opportunity the next day in the music-room to say, "Why were you so heated last night with Mr. Bult? He meant no harm."
"You wish me to be complaisant to him?" said Klesmer, rather fiercely.
"I think it is hardly worth your while to be other than civil."
"You find no difficulty in tolerating him, then?--you have a respect for a political platitudinarian as insensible as an ox to everything he can't turn into political capital. You think his monumental obtuseness suited to the dignity of the English gentleman."
"I did not say that."
"You mean that I acted without dignity, and you are offended with me."
"Now you are slightly nearer the truth," said Catherine, smiling.
"Then I had better put my burial-clothes in my portmanteau and set off at once."
"I don't see that. If I have to bear your criticism of my operetta, you should not mind my criticism of your impatience."
"But I do mind it. You would have wished me to take his ignorant impertinence about a 'mere musician' without letting him know his place. I am to hear my gods blasphemed as well as myself insulted. But I beg pardon. It is impossible you should see the matter as I do. Even you can't understand the wrath of the artist: he is of another caste for you."
"That is true," said Catherine, with some betrayal of feeling. "He is of a caste to which I look up--a caste above mine."
Klesmer, who had been seated at a table looking over scores, started up and walked to a little distance, from which he said--
"That is finely felt--I am grateful. But I had better go, all the same. I have made up my mind to go, for good and all. You can get on exceedingly well without me: your operetta is on wheels--it will go of itself. And your Mr. Bull's company fits me 'wie die Faust ins Auge.' I am neglecting my engagements. I must go off to St. Petersburg."
There was no answer.
"You agree with me that I had better go?" said Klesmer, with some irritation.
"Certainly; if that is what your business and feeling prompt. I have only to wonder that you have consented to give us so much of your time in the last year. There must be treble the interest to you anywhere else. I have never thought of you consenting to come here as anything else than a sacrifice."
"Why should I make the sacrifice?" said Klesmer, going to seat himself at the piano, and touching the keys so as to give with the delicacy of an echo in the far distance a melody which he had set to Heine's "Ich hab' dich geliebet und liebe dich noch."
"That is the mystery," said Catherine, not wanting to affect anything, but from mere agitation. From the same cause she was tearing a piece of paper into minute morsels, as if at a task of utmost multiplication imposed by a cruel fairy.
"You can conceive no motive?" said Klesmer, folding his arms.
"None that seems in the least probable."
"Then I shall tell you. It is because you are to me the chief woman in the world--the throned lady whose colors I carry between my heart and my armor."
Catherine's hands trembled so much that she could no longer tear the paper: still less could her lips utter a word. Klesmer went on--
"This would be the last impertinence in me, if I meant to found anything upon it. That is out of the question. I meant no such thing. But you once said it was your doom to suspect every man who courted you of being an adventurer, and what made you angriest was men's imputing to you the folly of believing that they courted you for your own sake. Did you not say so?"
"Very likely," was the answer, in a low murmur.
"It was a bitter word. Well, at least one man who has seen women as plenty as flowers in May has lingered about you for your own sake. And since he is one whom you can never marry, you will believe him. There is an argument in favor of some other man. But don't give yourself for a meal to a minotaur like Bult. I shall go now and pack. I shall make my excuses to Mrs. Arrowpoint." Klesmer rose as he ended, and walked quickly toward the door.
"You must take this heap of manuscript," then said Catherine, suddenly making a desperate effort. She had risen to fetch the heap from another table. Klesmer came back, and they had the length of the folio sheets between them.
"Why should I not marry the man who loves me, if I love him?" said Catherine. To her the effort was something like the leap of a woman from the deck into the lifeboat.
"It would be too hard--impossible--you could not carry it through. I am not worth what you would have to encounter. I will not accept the sacrifice. It would be thought a _mesalliance_ for you and I should be liable to the worst accusations."
"Is it the accusations you are afraid of? I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together."
The decisive word had been spoken: there was no doubt concerning the end willed by each: there only remained the way of arriving at it, and Catherine determined to take the straightest possible. She went to her father and mother in the library, and told them that she had promised to marry Klesmer.
Mrs. Arrowpoint's state of mind was pitiable. Imagine Jean Jacques, after his essay on the corrupting influence of the arts, waking up among children of nature who had no idea of grilling the raw bone they offered him for breakfast with the primitive flint knife; or Saint Just, after fervidly denouncing all recognition of pre-eminence, receiving a vote of thanks for the unbroken mediocrity of his speech, which warranted the dullest patriots in delivering themselves at equal length. Something of the same sort befell the authoress of "Tasso," when what she had safely demanded of the dead Leonora was enacted by her own Catherine. It is hard for us to live up to our own eloquence, and keep pace with our winged words, while we are treading the solid earth and are liable to heavy dining. Besides, it has long been understood that the proprieties of literature are not those of practical life. Mrs. Arrowpoint naturally wished for the best of everything. She not only liked to feel herself at a higher level of literary sentiment than the ladies with whom she associated; she wished not to be behind them in any point of social consideration. While Klesmer was seen in the light of a patronized musician, his peculiarities were picturesque and acceptable: but to see him by a sudden flash in the light of her son-in-law gave her a burning sense of what the world would say. And the poor lady had been used to represent her Catherine as a model of excellence.
Under the first shock she forgot everything but her anger, and snatched at any phrase that would serve as a weapon.
"If Klesmer has presumed to offer himself to you, your father shall horsewhip him off the premises. Pray, speak, Mr. Arrowpoint."
The father took his cigar from his mouth, and rose to the occasion by saying, "This will never do, Cath."
"Do!" cried Mrs. Arrowpoint; "who in their senses ever thought it would do? You might as well say poisoning and strangling will not do. It is a comedy you have got up, Catherine. Else you are mad."
"I am quite sane and serious, mamma, and Herr Klesmer is not to blame. He never thought of my marrying him. I found out that he loved me, and loving him, I told him I would marry him."
"Leave that unsaid, Catherine," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, bitterly. "Every one else will say that for you. You will be a public fable. Every one will say that you must have made an offer to a man who has been paid to come to the house--who is nobody knows what--a gypsy, a Jew, a mere bubble of the earth."
"Never mind, mamma," said Catherine, indignant in her turn. "We all know he is a genius--as Tasso was."
"Those times were not these, nor is Klesmer Tasso," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, getting more heated. "There is no sting in _that_ sarcasm, except the sting of undutifulness."
"I am sorry to hurt you, mamma. But I will not give up the happiness of my life to ideas that I don't believe in and customs I have no respect for."
"You have lost all sense of duty, then? You have forgotten that you are our only child--that it lies with you to place a great property in the right hands?"
"What are the right hands? My grandfather gained the property in trade."
"Mr. Arrowpoint, _will_ you sit by and hear this without speaking?"
"I am a gentleman, Cath. We expect you to marry a gentleman," said the father, exerting himself.
"And a man connected with the institutions of this country," said the mother. "A woman in your position has serious duties. Where duty and inclination clash, she must follow duty."
"I don't deny that," said Catherine, getting colder in proportion to her mother's heat. "But one may say very true things and apply them falsely. People can easily take the sacred word duty as a name for what they desire any one else to do."
"Your parent's desire makes no duty for you, then?"
"Yes, within reason. But before I give up the happiness of my life--"
"Catherine, Catherine, it will not be your happiness," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, in her most raven-like tones.
"Well, what seems to me my happiness--before I give it up, I must see some better reason than the wish that I should marry a nobleman, or a man who votes with a party that he may be turned into a nobleman. I feel at liberty to marry the man I love and think worthy, unless some higher duty forbids."
"And so it does, Catherine, though you are blinded and cannot see it. It is a woman's duty not to lower herself. You are lowering yourself. Mr. Arrowpoint, will you tell your daughter what is her duty?"
"You must see, Catherine, that Klesmer is not the man for you," said Mr. Arrowpoint. "He won't do at the head of estates. He has a deuced foreign look--is an unpractical man."
"I really can't see what that has to do with it, papa. The land of England has often passed into the hands of foreigners--Dutch soldiers, sons of foreign women of bad character:--if our land were sold to-morrow it would very likely pass into the hands of some foreign merchant on 'Change. It is in everybody's mouth that successful swindlers may buy up half the land in the country. How can I stem that tide?"
"It will never do to argue about marriage, Cath," said Mr. Arrowpoint. "It's no use getting up the subject like a parliamentary question. We must do as other people do. We must think of the nation and the public good."
"I can't see any public good concerned here, papa," said Catherine. "Why is it to be expected of any heiress that she should carry the property gained in trade into the hands of a certain class? That seems to be a ridiculous mishmash of superannuated customs and false ambition. I should call it a public evil. People had better make a new sort of public good by changing their ambitions."
"That is mere sophistry, Catherine," said Mrs. Arrowpoint. "Because you don't wish to marry a nobleman, you are not obliged to marry a mountebank or a charlatan."
"I cannot understand the application of such words, mamma."
"No, I dare say not," rejoined Mrs. Arrowpoint, with significant scorn. "You have got to a pitch at which we are not likely to understand each other."
"It can't be done, Cath," said Mr. Arrowpoint, wishing to substitute a better-humored reasoning for his wife's impetuosity. "A man like Klesmer can't marry such a property as yours. It can't be done."
"It certainly will not be done," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, imperiously. "Where is the man? Let him be fetched."
"I cannot fetch him to be insulted," said Catherine. "Nothing will be achieved by that."
"I suppose you would wish him to know that in marrying you he will not marry your fortune," said Mrs. Arrowpoint.
"Certainly; if it were so, I should wish him to know it."
"Then you had better fetch him."
Catherine only went into the music-room and said, "Come." She felt no need to prepare Klesmer.
"Herr Klesmer," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, with a rather contemptuous stateliness, "it is unnecessary to repeat what has passed between us and our daughter. Mr. Arrowpoint will tell you our resolution."
"Your marrying is out of the question," said Mr. Arrowpoint, rather too heavily weighted with his task, and standing in an embarrassment unrelieved by a cigar. "It is a wild scheme altogether. A man has been called out for less."
"You have taken a base advantage of our confidence," burst in Mrs. Arrowpoint, unable to carry out her purpose and leave the burden of speech to her husband.
Klesmer made a low bow in silent irony.
"The pretension is ridiculous. You had better give it up and leave the house at once," continued Mr. Arrowpoint. He wished to do without mentioning the money.
"I can give up nothing without reference to your daughter's wish," said Klesmer. "My engagement is to her."
"It is useless to discuss the question," said Mrs. Arrowpoint. "We shall never consent to the marriage. If Catherine disobeys us we shall disinherit her. You will not marry her fortune. It is right you should know that."
"Madam, her fortune has been the only thing I have had to regret about her. But I must ask her if she will not think the sacrifice greater than I am worthy of."
"It is no sacrifice to me," said Catherine, "except that I am sorry to hurt my father and mother. I have always felt my fortune to be a wretched fatality of my life."
"You mean to defy us, then?" said Mrs. Arrowpoint.
"I mean to marry Herr Klesmer," said Catherine, firmly.
"He had better not count on our relenting," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, whose manners suffered from that impunity in insult which has been reckoned among the privileges of women.
"Madam," said Klesmer, "certain reasons forbid me to retort. But understand that I consider it out of the power either of you, or of your fortune, to confer on me anything that I value. My rank as an artist is of my own winning, and I would not exchange it for any other. I am able to maintain your daughter, and I ask for no change in my life but her companionship."
"You will leave the house, however," said Mrs. Arrowpoint.
"I go at once," said Klesmer, bowing and quitting the room.
"Let there be no misunderstanding, mamma," said Catherine; "I consider myself engaged to Herr Klesmer, and I intend to marry him."
The mother turned her head away and waved her hand in sign of dismissal.
"It's all very fine," said Mr. Arrowpoint, when Catherine was gone; "but what the deuce are we to do with the property?"
"There is Harry Brendall. He can take the name."
"Harry Brendall will get through it all in no time," said Mr. Arrowpoint, relighting his cigar.
And thus, with nothing settled but the determination of the lovers, Klesmer had left Quetcham.