Among the heirs of Art, as is the division of the promised land, each
has to win his portion by hard fighting: the bestowal is after the
manner of prophecy, and is a title without possession. To carry the
map of an ungotten estate in your pocket is a poor sort of copyhold.
And in fancy to cast his shoe over Eden is little warrant that a man
shall ever set the sole of his foot on an acre of his own there.
The most obstinate beliefs that mortals entertain about themselves are
such as they have no evidence for beyond a constant, spontaneous
pulsing of their self-satisfaction--as it were a hidden seed of
madness, a confidence that they can move the world without precise
notion of standing-place or lever.
"Pray go to church, mamma," said Gwendolen the next morning. "I prefer seeing Herr Klesmer alone." (He had written in reply to her note that he would be with her at eleven.)
"That is hardly correct, I think," said Mrs. Davilow, anxiously.
"Our affairs are too serious for us to think of such nonsensical rules," said Gwendolen, contemptuously. "They are insulting as well as ridiculous."
"You would not mind Isabel sitting with you? She would be reading in a corner."
"No; she could not: she would bite her nails and stare. It would be too irritating. Trust my judgment, mamma, I must be alone, Take them all to church."
Gwendolen had her way, of course; only that Miss Merry and two of the girls stayed at home, to give the house a look of habitation by sitting at the dining-room windows.
It was a delicious Sunday morning. The melancholy waning sunshine of autumn rested on the half-strown grass and came mildly through the windows in slanting bands of brightness over the old furniture, and the glass panel that reflected the furniture; over the tapestried chairs with their faded flower-wreaths, the dark enigmatic pictures, the superannuated organ at which Gwendolen had pleased herself with acting Saint Cecelia on her first joyous arrival, the crowd of pallid, dusty knicknacks seen through the open doors of the antechamber where she had achieved the wearing of her Greek dress as Hermione. This last memory was just now very busy in her; for had not Klesmer then been struck with admiration of her pose and expression? Whatever he had said, whatever she imagined him to have thought, was at this moment pointed with keenest interest for her: perhaps she had never before in her life felt so inwardly dependent, so consciously in need of another person's opinion. There was a new fluttering of spirit within her, a new element of deliberation in her self-estimate which had hitherto been a blissful gift of intuition. Still it was the recurrent burden of her inward soliloquy that Klesmer had seen but little of her, and any unfavorable conclusion of his must have too narrow a foundation. She really felt clever enough for anything.
To fill up the time she collected her volumes and pieces of music, and laying them on the top of the piano, set herself to classify them. Then catching the reflection of her movements in the glass panel, she was diverted to the contemplation of the image there and walked toward it. Dressed in black, without a single ornament, and with the warm whiteness of her skin set off between her light-brown coronet of hair and her square-cut bodice, she might have tempted an artist to try again the Roman trick of a statue in black, white, and tawny marble. Seeing her image slowly advancing, she thought "I _am_ beautiful"--not exultingly, but with grave decision. Being beautiful was after all the condition on which she most needed external testimony. If any one objected to the turn of her nose or the form of her neck and chin, she had not the sense that she could presently show her power of attainment in these branches of feminine perfection.
There was not much time to fill up in this way before the sound of wheels, the loud ring, and the opening doors assured her that she was not by any accident to be disappointed. This slightly increased her inward flutter. In spite of her self-confidence, she dreaded Klesmer as part of that unmanageable world which was independent of her wishes--something vitriolic that would not cease to burn because you smiled or frowned at it. Poor thing! she was at a higher crisis of her woman's fate than in her last experience with Grandcourt. The questioning then, was whether she should take a particular man as a husband. The inmost fold of her questioning now was whether she need take a husband at all--whether she could not achieve substantially for herself and know gratified ambition without bondage.
Klesmer made his most deferential bow in the wide doorway of the antechamber--showing also the deference of the finest gray kerseymere trousers and perfect gloves (the 'masters of those who know' are happily altogether human). Gwendolen met him with unusual gravity, and holding out her hand said, "It is most kind of you to come, Herr Klesmer. I hope you have not thought me presumptuous."
"I took your wish as a command that did me honor," said Klesmer, with answering gravity. He was really putting by his own affairs in order to give his utmost attention to what Gwendolen might have to say; but his temperament was still in a state of excitation from the events of yesterday, likely enough to give his expressions a more than usually biting edge.
Gwendolen for once was under too great a strain of feeling to remember formalities. She continued standing near the piano, and Klesmer took his stand near the other end of it with his back to the light and his terribly omniscient eyes upon her. No affectation was of use, and she began without delay.
"I wish to consult you, Herr Klesmer. We have lost all our fortune; we have nothing. I must get my own bread, and I desire to provide for my mamma, so as to save her from any hardship. The only way I can think of-- and I should like it better than anything--is to be an actress--to go on the stage. But, of course, I should like to take a high position, and I thought--if you thought I could"--here Gwendolen became a little more nervous--"it would be better for me to be a singer--to study singing also."
Klesmer put down his hat upon the piano, and folded his arms as if to concentrate himself.
"I know," Gwendolen resumed, turning from pale to pink and back again--"I know that my method of singing is very defective; but I have been ill taught. I could be better taught; I could study. And you will understand my wish:--to sing and act too, like Grisi, is a much higher position. Naturally, I should wish to take as high rank as I can. And I can rely on your judgment. I am sure you will tell me the truth."
Gwendolen somehow had the conviction that now she made this serious appeal the truth would be favorable.
Still Klesmer did not speak. He drew off his gloves quickly, tossed them into his hat, rested his hands on his hips, and walked to the other end of the room. He was filled with compassion for this girl: he wanted to put a guard on his speech. When he turned again, he looked at her with a mild frown of inquiry, and said with gentle though quick utterance, "You have never seen anything, I think, of artists and their lives?--I mean of musicians, actors, artists of that kind?"
"Oh, no," said Gwendolen, not perturbed by a reference to this obvious fact in the history of a young lady hitherto well provided for.
"You are--pardon me," said Klesmer, again pausing near the piano--"in coming to a conclusion on such a matter as this, everything must be taken into consideration--you are perhaps twenty?"
"I am twenty-one," said Gwendolen, a slight fear rising in her. "Do you think I am too old?"
Klesmer pouted his under lip and shook his long fingers upward in a manner totally enigmatic.
"Many persons begin later than others," said Gwendolen, betrayed by her habitual consciousness of having valuable information to bestow.
Klesmer took no notice, but said with more studied gentleness than ever, "You have probably not thought of an artistic career until now: you did not entertain the notion, the longing--what shall I say?--you did not wish yourself an actress, or anything of that sort, till the present trouble?"
"Not exactly: but I was fond of acting. I have acted; you saw me, if you remember--you saw me here in charades, and as Hermione," said Gwendolen, really fearing that Klesmer had forgotten.
"Yes, yes," he answered quickly, "I remember--I remember perfectly," and again walked to the other end of the room, It was difficult for him to refrain from this kind of movement when he was in any argument either audible or silent.
Gwendolen felt that she was being weighed. The delay was unpleasant. But she did not yet conceive that the scale could dip on the wrong side, and it seemed to her only graceful to say, "I shall be very much obliged to you for taking the trouble to give me your advice, whatever it maybe."
"Miss Harleth," said Klesmer, turning toward her and speaking with a slight increase of accent, "I will veil nothing from you in this matter. I should reckon myself guilty if I put a false visage on things--made them too black or too white. The gods have a curse for him who willingly tells another the wrong road. And if I misled one who is so young, so beautiful --who, I trust, will find her happiness along the right road, I should regard myself as a--_Boesewicht_." In the last word Klesmer's voice had dropped to a loud whisper.
Gwendolen felt a sinking of heart under this unexpected solemnity, and kept a sort of fascinated gaze on Klesmer's face, as he went on.
"You are a beautiful young lady--you have been brought up in ease--you have done what you would--you have not said to yourself, 'I must know this exactly,' 'I must understand this exactly,' 'I must do this exactly,'"--in uttering these three terrible _musts_, Klesmer lifted up three long fingers in succession. "In sum, you have not been called upon to be anything but a charming young lady, whom it is an impoliteness to find fault with."
He paused an instant; then resting his fingers on his hips again, and thrusting out his powerful chin, he said--
"Well, then, with that preparation, you wish to try the life of an artist; you wish to try a life of arduous, unceasing work, and--uncertain praise. Your praise would have to be earned, like your bread; and both would come slowly, scantily--what do I say?--they may hardly come at all."
This tone of discouragement, which Klesmer had hoped might suffice without anything more unpleasant, roused some resistance in Gwendolen. With a slight turn of her head away from him, and an air of pique, she said--
"I thought that you, being an artist, would consider the life one of the most honorable and delightful. And if I can do nothing better?--I suppose I can put up with the same risks as other people do."
"Do nothing better?" said Klesmer, a little fired. "No, my dear Miss Harleth, you could do nothing better--neither man nor woman could do anything better--if you could do what was best or good of its kind. I am not decrying the life of the true artist. I am exalting it. I say, it is out of the reach of any but choice organizations--natures framed to love perfection and to labor for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to wait, to say, I am not yet worthy, but she--Art, my mistress--is worthy, and I will live to merit her. An honorable life? Yes. But the honor comes from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honor in donning the life as a livery."
Some excitement of yesterday had revived in Klesmer and hurried him into speech a little aloof from his immediate friendly purpose. He had wished as delicately as possible to rouse in Gwendolen a sense of her unfitness for a perilous, difficult course; but it was his wont to be angry with the pretensions of incompetence, and he was in danger of getting chafed. Conscious of this, he paused suddenly. But Gwendolen's chief impression was that he had not yet denied her the power of doing what would be good of its kind. Klesmer's fervor seemed to be a sort of glamor such as he was prone to throw over things in general; and what she desired to assure him of was that she was not afraid of some preliminary hardships. The belief that to present herself in public on the stage must produce an effect such as she had been used to feel certain of in private life; was like a bit of her flesh--it was not to be peeled off readily, but must come with blood and pain. She said, in a tone of some insistance--
"I am quite prepared to bear hardships at first. Of course no one can become celebrated all at once. And it is not necessary that every one should be first-rate--either actresses or singers. If you would be so kind as to tell me what steps I should take, I shall have the courage to take them. I don't mind going up hill. It will be easier than the dead level of being a governess. I will take any steps you recommend."
Klesmer was convinced now that he must speak plainly.
"I will tell you the steps, not that I recommend, but that will be forced upon you. It is all one, so far, what your goal will be--excellence, celebrity, second, third rateness--it is all one. You must go to town under the protection of your mother. You must put yourself under training --musical, dramatic, theatrical:--whatever you desire to do you have to learn"--here Gwendolen looked as if she were going to speak, but Klesmer lifted up his hand and said, decisively, "I know. You have exercised your talents--you recite--you sing--from the drawing-room _standpunkt_. My dear Fraeulein, you must unlearn all that. You have not yet conceived what excellence is: you must unlearn your mistaken admirations. You must know what you have to strive for, and then you must subdue your mind and body to unbroken discipline. Your mind, I say. For you must not be thinking of celebrity: put that candle out of your eyes, and look only at excellence. You would of course earn nothing--you could get no engagement for a long while. You would need money for yourself and your family. But that," here Klesmer frowned and shook his fingers as if to dismiss a triviality, "that could perhaps be found."
Gwendolen turned pink and pale during this speech. Her pride had felt a terrible knife-edge, and the last sentence only made the smart keener. She was conscious of appearing moved, and tried to escape from her weakness by suddenly walking to a seat and pointing out a chair to Klesmer. He did not take it, but turned a little in order to face her and leaned against the piano. At that moment she wished that she had not sent for him: this first experience of being taken on some other ground than that of her social rank and her beauty was becoming bitter to her. Klesmer, preoccupied with a serious purpose, went on without change of tone.
"Now, what sort of issue might be fairly expected from all this self- denial? You would ask that. It is right that your eyes should be open to it. I will tell you truthfully. This issue would be uncertain, and, most probably, would not be worth much."
At these relentless words Klesmer put out his lip and looked through his spectacles with the air of a monster impenetrable by beauty.
Gwendolen's eyes began to burn, but the dread of showing weakness urged her to added self-control. She compelled herself to say, in a hard tone--
"You think I want talent, or am too old to begin."
Klesmer made a sort of hum, and then descended on an emphatic "Yes! The desire and the training should have begun seven years ago--or a good deal earlier. A mountebank's child who helps her father to earn shillings when she is six years old--a child that inherits a singing throat from a long line of choristers and learns to sing as it learns to talk, has a likelier beginning. Any great achievement in acting or in music grows with the growth. Whenever an artist has been able to say, 'I came, I saw, I conquered,' it has been at the end of patient practice. Genius at first is little more than a great capacity for receiving discipline. Singing and acting, like the fine dexterity of the juggler with his cups and balls, require a shaping of the organs toward a finer and finer certainty of effect. Your muscles--your whole frame--must go like a watch, true, true to a hair. That is the work of spring-time, before habits have been determined."
"I did not pretend to genius," said Gwendolen, still feeling that she might somehow do what Klesmer wanted to represent as impossible. "I only suppose that I might have a little talent--enough to improve."
"I don't deny that," said Klesmer. "If you had been put in the right track some years ago and had worked well you might now have made a public singer, though I don't think your voice would have counted for much in public. For the stage your personal charms and intelligence might then have told without the present drawback of inexperience--lack of discipline--lack of instruction."
Certainly Klesmer seemed cruel, but his feeling was the reverse of cruel. Our speech, even when we are most single-minded, can never take its line absolutely from one impulse; but Klesmer's was, as far as possible, directed by compassion for poor Gwendolen's ignorant eagerness to enter on a course of which he saw all the miserable details with a definiteness which he could not if he would have conveyed to her mind.
Gwendolen, however, was not convinced. Her self-opinion rallied, and since the counselor whom she had called in gave a decision of such severe peremptoriness, she was tempted to think that his judgment was not only fallible but biased. It occurred to her that a simpler and wiser step for her to have taken would have been to send a letter through the post to the manager of a London theatre, asking him to make an appointment. She would make no further reference to her singing; Klesmer, she saw, had set himself against her singing. But she felt equal to arguing with him about her going on the stage, and she answered in a resistant tone--
"I understood, of course, that no one can be a finished actress at once. It may be impossible to tell beforehand whether I should succeed; but that seems to me a reason why I should try. I should have thought that I might have taken an engagement at a theatre meanwhile, so as to earn money and study at the same time."
"Can't be done, my dear Miss Harleth--I speak plainly--it can't be done. I must clear your mind of these notions which have no more resemblance to reality than a pantomime. Ladies and gentlemen think that when they have made their toilet and drawn on their gloves they are as presentable on the stage as in a drawing-room. No manager thinks that. With all your grace and charm, if you were to present yourself as an aspirant to the stage, a manager would either require you to pay as an amateur for being allowed to perform or he would tell you to go and be taught--trained to bear yourself on the stage, as a horse, however beautiful, must be trained for the circus; to say nothing of that study which would enable you to personate a character consistently, and animate it with the natural language of face, gesture, and tone. For you to get an engagement fit for you straight away is out of the question."
"I really cannot understand that," said Gwendolen, rather haughtily--then, checking herself, she added in another tone--"I shall be obliged to you if you will explain how it is that such poor actresses get engaged. I have been to the theatre several times, and I am sure there were actresses who seemed to me to act not at all well and who were quite plain."
"Ah, my dear Miss Harleth, that is the easy criticism of the buyer. We who buy slippers toss away this pair and the other as clumsy; but there went an apprenticeship to the making of them. Excuse me; you could not at present teach one of those actresses; but there is certainly much that she could teach you. For example, she can pitch her voice so as to be heard: ten to one you could not do it till after many trials. Merely to stand and move on the stage is an art--requires practice. It is understood that we are not now talking of a _comparse_ in a petty theatre who earns the wages of a needle-woman. That is out of the question for you."
"Of course I must earn more than that," said Gwendolen, with a sense of wincing rather than of being refuted, "but I think I could soon learn to do tolerably well all those little things you have mentioned. I am not so very stupid. And even in Paris, I am sure, I saw two actresses playing important ladies' parts who were not at all ladies and quite ugly. I suppose I have no particular talent, but I _must_ think it is an advantage, even on the stage, to be a lady and not a perfect fright."
"Ah, let us understand each other," said Klesmer, with a flash of new meaning. "I was speaking of what you would have to go through if you aimed at becoming a real artist--if you took music and the drama as a higher vocation in which you would strive after excellence. On that head, what I have said stands fast. You would find--after your education in doing things slackly for one-and-twenty years--great difficulties in study; you would find mortifications in the treatment you would get when you presented yourself on the footing of skill. You would be subjected to tests; people would no longer feign not to see your blunders. You would at first only be accepted on trial. You would have to bear what I may call a glaring insignificance: any success must be won by the utmost patience. You would have to keep your place in a crowd, and after all it is likely you would lose it and get out of sight. If you determine to face these hardships and still try, you will have the dignity of a high purpose, even though you may have chosen unfortunately. You will have some merit, though you may win no prize. You have asked my judgment on your chances of winning. I don't pretend to speak absolutely; but measuring probabilities, my judgment is:--you will hardly achieve more than mediocrity."
Klesmer had delivered himself with emphatic rapidity, and now paused a moment. Gwendolen was motionless, looking at her hands, which lay over each other on her lap, till the deep-toned, long-drawn "_But_," with which he resumed, had a startling effect, and made her look at him again.
"But--there are certainly other ideas, other dispositions with which a young lady may take up an art that will bring her before the public. She may rely on the unquestioned power of her beauty as a passport. She may desire to exhibit herself to an admiration which dispenses with skill. This goes a certain way on the stage: not in music: but on the stage, beauty is taken when there is nothing more commanding to be had. Not without some drilling, however: as I have said before, technicalities have in any case to be mastered. But these excepted, we have here nothing to do with art. The woman who takes up this career is not an artist: she is usually one who thinks of entering on a luxurious life by a short and easy road--perhaps by marriage--that is her most brilliant chance, and the rarest. Still, her career will not be luxurious to begin with: she can hardly earn her own poor bread independently at once, and the indignities she will be liable to are such as I will not speak of."
"I desire to be independent," said Gwendolen, deeply stung and confusedly apprehending some scorn for herself in Klesmer's words. "That was my reason for asking whether I could not get an immediate engagement. Of course I cannot know how things go on about theatres. But I thought that I could have made myself independent. I have no money, and I will not accept help from any one."
Her wounded pride could not rest without making this disclaimer. It was intolerable to her that Klesmer should imagine her to have expected other help from him than advice.
"That is a hard saying for your friends," said Klesmer, recovering the gentleness of tone with which he had begun the conversation. "I have given you pain. That was inevitable. I was bound to put the truth, the unvarnished truth, before you. I have not said--I will not say--you will do wrong to choose the hard, climbing path of an endeavoring artist. You have to compare its difficulties with those of any less hazardous--any more private course which opens itself to you. If you take that more courageous resolve I will ask leave to shake hands with you on the strength of our freemasonry, where we are all vowed to the service of art, and to serve her by helping every fellow-servant."
Gwendolen was silent, again looking at her hands. She felt herself very far away from taking the resolve that would enforce acceptance; and after waiting an instant or two, Klesmer went on with deepened seriousness.
"Where there is the duty of service there must be the duty of accepting it. The question is not one of personal obligation. And in relation to practical matters immediately affecting your future--excuse my permitting myself to mention in confidence an affair of my own. I am expecting an event which would make it easy for me to exert myself on your behalf in furthering your opportunities of instruction and residence in London-- under the care, that is, of your family--without need for anxiety on your part. If you resolve to take art as a bread-study, you need only undertake the study at first; the bread will be found without trouble. The event I mean is my marriage--in fact--you will receive this as a matter of confidence--my marriage with Miss Arrowpoint, which will more than double such right as I have to be trusted by you as a friend. Your friendship will have greatly risen in value for _her_ by your having adopted that generous labor."
Gwendolen's face had begun to burn. That Klesmer was about to marry Miss Arrowpoint caused her no surprise, and at another moment she would have amused herself in quickly imagining the scenes that must have occurred at Quetcham. But what engrossed her feeling, what filled her imagination now, was the panorama of her own immediate future that Klesmer's words seemed to have unfolded. The suggestion of Miss Arrowpoint as a patroness was only another detail added to its repulsiveness: Klesmer's proposal to help her seemed an additional irritation after the humiliating judgment he had passed on her capabilities. His words had really bitten into her self- confidence and turned it into the pain of a bleeding wound; and the idea of presenting herself before other judges was now poisoned with the dread that they also might be harsh; they also would not recognize the talent she was conscious of. But she controlled herself, and rose from her seat before she made any answer. It seemed natural that she should pause. She went to the piano and looked absently at leaves of music, pinching up the corners. At last she turned toward Klesmer and said, with almost her usual air of proud equality, which in this interview had not been hitherto perceptible.
"I congratulate you sincerely, Herr Klesmer. I think I never saw any one so admirable as Miss Arrowpoint. And I have to thank you for every sort of kindness this morning. But I can't decide now. If I make the resolve you have spoken of, I will use your permission--I will let you know. But I fear the obstacles are too great. In any case, I am deeply obliged to you. It was very bold of me to ask you to take this trouble."
Klesmer's inward remark was, "She will never let me know." But with the most thorough respect in his manner, he said, "Command me at any time. There is an address on this card which will always find me with little delay."
When he had taken up his hat and was going to make his bow, Gwendolen's better self, conscious of an ingratitude which the clear-seeing Klesmer must have penetrated, made a desperate effort to find its way above the stifling layers of egoistic disappointment and irritation. Looking at him with a glance of the old gayety, she put out her hand, and said with a smile, "If I take the wrong road, it will not be because of your flattery."
"God forbid that you should take any road but one where you will find and give happiness!" said Klesmer, fervently. Then, in foreign fashion, he touched her fingers lightly with his lips, and in another minute she heard the sound of his departing wheels getting more distant on the gravel.
Gwendolen had never in her life felt so miserable. No sob came, no passion of tears, to relieve her. Her eyes were burning; and the noonday only brought into more dreary clearness the absence of interest from her life. All memories, all objects, the pieces of music displayed, the open piano-- the very reflection of herself in the glass--seemed no better than the packed-up shows of a departing fair. For the first time since her consciousness began, she was having a vision of herself on the common level, and had lost the innate sense that there were reasons why she should not be slighted, elbowed, jostled--treated like a passenger with a third-class ticket, in spite of private objections on her own part. She did not move about; the prospects begotten by disappointment were too oppressively preoccupying; she threw herself into the shadiest corner of a settee, and pressed her fingers over her burning eyelids. Every word that Klesmer had said seemed to have been branded into her memory, as most words are which bring with them a new set of impressions and make an epoch for us. Only a few hours before, the dawning smile of self-contentment rested on her lips as she vaguely imagined a future suited to her wishes: it seemed but the affair of a year or so for her to become the most approved Juliet of the time: or, if Klesmer encouraged her idea of being a singer, to proceed by more gradual steps to her place in the opera, while she won money and applause by occasional performances. Why not? At home, at school, among acquaintances, she had been used to have her conscious superiority admitted; and she had moved in a society where everything, from low arithmetic to high art, is of the amateur kind, politely supposed to fall short of perfection only because gentlemen and ladies are not obliged to do more than they like--otherwise they would probably give forth abler writings, and show themselves more commanding artists than any the world is at present obliged to put up with. The self-confident visions that had beguiled her were not of a highly exceptional kind; and she had at least shown some nationality in consulting the person who knew the most and had flattered her the least. In asking Klesmer's advice, however, she had rather been borne up by a belief in his latent admiration than bent on knowing anything more unfavorable that might have lain behind his slight objections to her singing; and the truth she had asked for, with an expectation that it would be agreeable, had come like a lacerating thong.
"Too old--should have begun seven years ago--you will not, at best, achieve more than mediocrity--hard, incessant work, uncertain praise-- bread coming slowly, scantily, perhaps not at all--mortifications, people no longer feigning not to see your blunders--glaring insignificance"--all these phrases rankled in her; and even more galling was the hint that she could only be accepted on the stage as a beauty who hoped to get a husband. The "indignities" that she might be visited with had no very definite form for her, but the mere association of anything called "indignity" with herself, roused a resentful alarm. And along with the vaguer images which were raised by those biting words, came the precise conception of disagreeables which her experience enabled her to imagine. How could she take her mamma and the four sisters to London? if it were not possible for her to earn money at once? And as for submitting to be a _protege_, and asking her mamma to submit with her to the humiliation of being supported by Miss Arrowpoint--that was as bad as being a governess; nay, worse; for suppose the end of all her study to be as worthless as Klesmer clearly expected it to be, the sense of favors received and never repaid, would embitter the miseries of disappointment. Klesmer doubtless had magnificent ideas about helping artists; but how could he know the feelings of ladies in such matters? It was all over: she had entertained a mistaken hope; and there was an end of it.
"An end of it!" said Gwendolen, aloud, starting from her seat as she heard the steps and voices of her mamma and sisters coming in from church. She hurried to the piano and began gathering together her pieces of music with assumed diligence, while the expression on her pale face and in her burning eyes was what would have suited a woman enduring a wrong which she might not resent, but would probably revenge.
"Well, my darling," said gentle Mrs. Davilow, entering, "I see by the wheel-marks that Klesmer has been here. Have you been satisfied with the interview?" She had some guesses as to its object, but felt timid about implying them.
"Satisfied, mamma? oh, yes," said Gwendolen, in a high, hard tone, for which she must be excused, because she dreaded a scene of emotion. If she did not set herself resolutely to feign proud indifference, she felt that she must fall into a passionate outburst of despair, which would cut her mamma more deeply than all the rest of their calamities.
"Your uncle and aunt were disappointed at not seeing you," said Mrs. Davilow, coming near the piano, and watching Gwendolen's movements. "I only said that you wanted rest."
"Quite right, mamma," said Gwendolen, in the same tone, turning to put away some music.
"Am I not to know anything now, Gwendolen? Am I always to be in the dark?" said Mrs. Davilow, too keenly sensitive to her daughter's manner and expression not to fear that something painful had occurred.
"There is really nothing to tell now, mamma," said Gwendolen, in a still higher voice. "I had a mistaken idea about something I could do. Herr Klesmer has undeceived me. That is all."
"Don't look and speak in that way, my dear child: I cannot bear it," said Mrs. Davilow, breaking down. She felt an undefinable terror.
Gwendolen looked at her a moment in silence, biting her inner lip; then she went up to her, and putting her hands on her mamma's shoulders, said, with a drop in her voice to the lowest undertone, "Mamma, don't speak to me now. It is useless to cry and waste our strength over what can't be altered. You will live at Sawyer's Cottage, and I am going to the bishop's daughters. There is no more to be said. Things cannot be altered, and who cares? It makes no difference to any one else what we do. We must try not to care ourselves. We must not give way. I dread giving way. Help me to be quiet."
Mrs. Davilow was like a frightened child under her daughter's face and voice; her tears were arrested and she went away in silence.
"I question things but do not find
One that will answer to my mind:
And all the world appears unkind."
Gwendolen was glad that she had got through her interview with Klesmer before meeting her uncle and aunt. She had made up her mind now that there were only disagreeables before her, and she felt able to maintain a dogged calm in the face of any humiliation that might be proposed.
The meeting did not happen until the Monday, when Gwendolen went to the rectory with her mamma. They had called at Sawyer's Cottage by the way, and had seen every cranny of the narrow rooms in a mid-day light, unsoftened by blinds and curtains; for the furnishing to be done by gleanings from the rectory had not yet begun.
"How _shall_ you endure it, mamma?" said Gwendolen, as they walked away. She had not opened her lips while they were looking round at the bare walls and floors, and the little garden with the cabbage-stalks, and the yew arbor all dust and cobwebs within. "You and the four girls all in that closet of a room, with the green and yellow paper pressing on your eyes? And without me?"
"It will be some comfort that you have not to bear it too, dear."
"If it were not that I must get some money, I would rather be there than go to be a governess."
"Don't set yourself against it beforehand, Gwendolen. If you go to the palace you will have every luxury about you. And you know how much you have always cared for that. You will not find it so hard as going up and down those steep narrow stairs, and hearing the crockery rattle through the house, and the dear girls talking."
"It is like a bad dream," said Gwendolen, impetuously. "I cannot believe that my uncle will let you go to such a place. He ought to have taken some other steps."
"Don't be unreasonable, dear child. What could he have done?"
"That was for him to find out. It seems to me a very extraordinary world if people in our position must sink in this way all at once," said Gwendolen, the other worlds with which she was conversant being constructed with a sense of fitness that arranged her own future agreeably.
It was her temper that framed her sentences under this entirely new pressure of evils: she could have spoken more suitably on the vicissitudes in other people's lives, though it was never her aspiration to express herself virtuously so much as cleverly--a point to be remembered in extenuation of her words, which were usually worse than she was.
And, notwithstanding the keen sense of her own bruises, she was capable of some compunction when her uncle and aunt received her with a more affectionate kindness than they had ever shown before. She could not but be struck by the dignified cheerfulness with which they talked of the necessary economies in their way of living, and in the education of the boys. Mr. Gascoigne's worth of character, a little obscured by worldly opportunities--as the poetic beauty of women is obscured by the demands of fashionable dressing--showed itself to great advantage under this sudden reduction of fortune. Prompt and methodical, he had set himself not only to put down his carriage, but to reconsider his worn suits of clothes, to leave off meat for breakfast, to do without periodicals, to get Edwy from school and arrange hours of study for all the boys under himself, and to order the whole establishment on the sparest footing possible. For all healthy people economy has its pleasures; and the rector's spirit had spread through the household. Mrs. Gascoigne and Anna, who always made papa their model, really did not miss anything they cared about for themselves, and in all sincerity felt that the saddest part of the family losses was the change for Mrs. Davilow and her children.
Anna for the first time could merge her resentment on behalf of Rex in her sympathy with Gwendolen; and Mrs. Gascoigne was disposed to hope that trouble would have a salutary effect on her niece, without thinking it her duty to add any bitters by way of increasing the salutariness. They had both been busy devising how to get blinds and curtains for the cottage out of the household stores; but with delicate feeling they left these matters in the back-ground, and talked at first of Gwendolen's journey, and the comfort it was to her mamma to have her at home again.
In fact there was nothing for Gwendolen to take as a justification for extending her discontent with events to the persons immediately around her, and she felt shaken into a more alert attention, as if by a call to drill that everybody else was obeying, when her uncle began in a voice of firm kindness to talk to her of the efforts he had been making to get her a situation which would offer her as many advantages as possible. Mr. Gascoigne had not forgotten Grandcourt, but the possibility of further advances from that quarter was something too vague for a man of his good sense to be determined by it: uncertainties of that kind must not now slacken his action in doing the best he could for his niece under actual conditions.
"I felt that there was no time to be lost, Gwendolen; for a position in a good family where you will have some consideration is not to be had at a moment's notice. And however long we waited we could hardly find one where you would be better off than at Bishop Mompert's. I am known to both him and Mrs. Mompert, and that of course is an advantage to you. Our correspondence has gone on favorably; but I cannot be surprised that Mrs. Mompert wishes to see you before making an absolute engagement. She thinks of arranging for you to meet her at Wanchester when she is on her way to town. I dare say you will feel the interview rather trying for you, my dear; but you will have a little time to prepare your mind."
"Do you know _why_ she wants to see me, uncle?" said Gwendolen, whose mind had quickly gone over various reasons that an imaginary Mrs. Mompert with three daughters might be supposed to entertain, reasons all of a disagreeable kind to the person presenting herself for inspection.
The rector smiled. "Don't be alarmed, my dear. She would like to have a more precise idea of you than my report can give. And a mother is naturally scrupulous about a companion for her daughters. I have told her you are very young. But she herself exercises a close supervision over her daughters' education, and that makes her less anxious as to age. She is a woman of taste and also of strict principle, and objects to having a French person in the house. I feel sure that she will think your manners and accomplishments as good as she is likely to find; and over the religious and moral tone of the education she, and indeed the bishop himself, will preside."
Gwendolen dared not answer, but the repression of her decided dislike to the whole prospect sent an unusually deep flush over her face and neck, subsiding as quickly as it came. Anna, full of tender fears, put her little hand into her cousin's, and Mr. Gascoigne was too kind a man not to conceive something of the trial which this sudden change must be for a girl like Gwendolen. Bent on giving a cheerful view of things, he went on, in an easy tone of remark, not as if answering supposed objections--
"I think so highly of the position, that I should have been tempted to try and get it for Anna, if she had been at all likely to meet Mrs. Mompert's wants. It is really a home, with a continuance of education in the highest sense: 'governess' is a misnomer. The bishop's views are of a more decidedly Low Church color than my own--he is a close friend of Lord Grampian's; but, though privately strict, he is not by any means narrow in public matters. Indeed, he has created as little dislike in his diocese as any bishop on the bench. He has always remained friendly to me, though before his promotion, when he was an incumbent of this diocese, we had a little controversy about the Bible Society."
The rector's words were too pregnant with satisfactory meaning to himself for him to imagine the effect they produced in the mind of his niece. "Continuance of education"--"bishop's views"--"privately strict"--"Bible Society,"--it was as if he had introduced a few snakes at large for the instruction of ladies who regarded them as all alike furnished with poison-bags, and, biting or stinging, according to convenience. To Gwendolen, already shrinking from the prospect open to her, such phrases came like the growing heat of a burning glass--not at all as the links of persuasive reflection which they formed for the good uncle. She began, desperately, to seek an alternative.
"There was another situation, I think, mamma spoke of?" she said, with determined self-mastery.
'"Yes," said the rector, in rather a depreciatory tone; "but that is in a school. I should not have the same satisfaction in your taking that. It would be much harder work, you are aware, and not so good in any other respect. Besides, you have not an equal chance of getting it."
"Oh dear no," said Mrs. Gascoigne, "it would be much less appropriate, You might not have a bedroom to yourself." And Gwendolen's memories of school suggested other particulars which forced her to admit to herself that this alternative would be no relief. She turned to her uncle again and said, apparently in acceptance of his ideas--
"When is Mrs. Mompert likely to send for me?"
"That is rather uncertain, but she has promised not to entertain any other proposal till she has seen you. She has entered with much feeling into your position. It will be within the next fortnight, probably. But I must be off now. I am going to let part of my glebe uncommonly well."
The rector ended very cheerfully, leaving the room with the satisfactory conviction that Gwendolen was going to adapt herself to circumstances like a girl of good sense. Having spoken appropriately, he naturally supposed that the effects would be appropriate; being accustomed, as a household and parish authority, to be asked to "speak to" refractory persons, with the understanding that the measure was morally coercive.
"What a stay Henry is to us all?" said Mrs. Gascoigne, when her husband had left the room.
"He is indeed," said Mrs. Davilow, cordially. "I think cheerfulness is a fortune in itself. I wish I had it."
"And Rex is just like him," said Mrs. Gascoigne. "I must tell you the comfort we have had in a letter from him. I must read you a little bit," she added, taking the letter from her pocket, while Anna looked rather frightened--she did not know why, except that it had been a rule with her not to mention Rex before Gwendolen.
The proud mother ran her eyes over the letter, seeking for sentences to read aloud. But apparently she had found it sown with what might seem to be closer allusions than she desired to the recent past, for she looked up, folding the letter, and saying--
"However, he tells us that our trouble has made a man of him; he sees a reason for any amount of work: he means to get a fellowship, to take pupils, to set one of his brothers going, to be everything that is most remarkable. The letter is full of fun--just like him. He says, 'Tell mother she has put out an advertisement for a jolly good hard-working son, in time to hinder me from taking ship; and I offer myself for the place.' The letter came on Friday. I never saw my husband so much moved by anything since Rex was born. It seemed a gain to balance our loss."
This letter, in fact, was what had helped both Mrs. Gascoigne and Anna to show Gwendolen an unmixed kindliness; and she herself felt very amiably about it, smiling at Anna, and pinching her chin, as much as to say, "Nothing is wrong with you now, is it?" She had no gratuitously ill- natured feeling, or egoistic pleasure in making men miserable. She only had an intense objection to their making her miserable.
But when the talk turned on furniture for the cottage Gwendolen was not roused to show even a languid interest. She thought that she had done as much as could be expected of her this morning, and indeed felt at an heroic pitch in keeping to herself the struggle that was going on within her. The recoil of her mind from the only definite prospect allowed her, was stronger than even she had imagined beforehand. The idea of presenting herself before Mrs. Mompert in the first instance, to be approved or disapproved, came as pressure on an already painful bruise; even as a governess, it appeared she was to be tested and was liable to rejection. After she had done herself the violence to accept the bishop and his wife, they were still to consider whether they would accept her; it was at her peril that she was to look, speak, or be silent. And even when she had entered on her dismal task of self-constraint in the society of three girls whom she was bound incessantly to edify, the same process of inspection was to go on: there was always to be Mrs. Mompert's supervision; always something or other would be expected of her to which she had not the slightest inclination; and perhaps the bishop would examine her on serious topics. Gwendolen, lately used to the social successes of a handsome girl, whose lively venturesomeness of talk has the effect of wit, and who six weeks before would have pitied the dullness of the bishop rather than have been embarrassed by him, saw the life before her as an entrance into a penitentiary. Wild thoughts of running away to be an actress, in spite of Klesmer, came to her with the lure of freedom; but his words still hung heavily on her soul; they had alarmed her pride and even her maidenly dignity: dimly she conceived herself getting amongst vulgar people who would treat her with rude familiarity--odious men, whose grins and smirks would not be seen through the strong grating of polite society. Gwendolen's daring was not in the least that of the adventuress; the demand to be held a lady was in her very marrow; and when she had dreamed that she might be the heroine of the gaming-table, it was with the understanding that no one should treat her with the less consideration, or presume to look at her with irony as Deronda had done. To be protected and petted, and to have her susceptibilities consulted in every detail, had gone along with her food and clothing as matters of course in her life: even without any such warning as Klesmer's she could not have thought it an attractive freedom to be thrown in solitary dependence on the doubtful civility of strangers. The endurance of the episcopal penitentiary was less repulsive than that; though here too she would certainly never be petted or have her susceptibilities consulted. Her rebellion against this hard necessity which had come just to her of all people in the world--to her whom all circumstances had concurred in preparing for something quite different--was exaggerated instead of diminished as one hour followed another, with the imagination of what she might have expected in her lot and what it was actually to be. The family troubles, she thought, were easier for every one than for her--even for poor dear mamma, because she had always used herself to not enjoying. As to hoping that if she went to the Momperts' and was patient a little while, things might get better--it would be stupid to entertain hopes for herself after all that had happened: her talents, it appeared, would never be recognized as anything remarkable, and there was not a single direction in which probability seemed to flatter her wishes. Some beautiful girls who, like her, had read romances where even plain governesses are centres of attraction and are sought in marriage, might have solaced themselves a little by transporting such pictures into their own future; but even if Gwendolen's experience had led her to dwell on love-making and marriage as her elysium, her heart was too much oppressed by what was near to her, in both the past and the future, for her to project her anticipations very far off. She had a world-nausea upon her, and saw no reason all through her life why she should wish to live. No religious view of trouble helped her: her troubles had in her opinion all been caused by other people's disagreeable or wicked conduct; and there was really nothing pleasant to be counted on in the world: that was her feeling; everything else she had heard said about trouble was mere phrase-making not attractive enough for her to have caught it up and repeated it. As to the sweetness of labor and fulfilled claims; the interest of inward and outward activity; the impersonal delights of life as a perpetual discovery; the dues of courage, fortitude, industry, which it is mere baseness not to pay toward the common burden; the supreme worth of the teacher's vocation;--these, even if they had been eloquently preached to her, could have been no more than faintly apprehended doctrines: the fact which wrought upon her was her invariable observation that for a lady to become a governess--to "take a situation"-- was to descend in life and to be treated at best with a compassionate patronage. And poor Gwendolen had never dissociated happiness from personal pre-eminence and _eclat_. That where these threatened to forsake her, she should take life to be hardly worth the having, cannot make her so unlike the rest of us, men or women, that we should cast her out of our compassion; our moments of temptation to a mean opinion of things in general being usually dependent on some susceptibility about ourselves and some dullness to subjects which every one else would consider more important. Surely a young creature is pitiable who has the labyrinth of life before her and no clue--to whom distrust in herself and her good fortune has come as a sudden shock, like a rent across the path that she was treading carelessly.
In spite of her healthy frame, her irreconcilable repugnance affected her even physically; she felt a sort of numbness and could set about nothing; the least urgency, even that she should take her meals, was an irritation to her; the speech of others on any subject seemed unreasonable, because it did not include her feeling and was an ignorant claim on her. It was not in her nature to busy herself with the fancies of suicide to which disappointed young people are prone: what occupied and exasperated her was the sense that there was nothing for her but to live in a way she hated. She avoided going to the rectory again: it was too intolerable to have to look and talk as if she were compliant; and she could not exert herself to show interest about the furniture of that horrible cottage. Miss Merry was staying on purpose to help, and such people as Jocosa liked that sort of thing. Her mother had to make excuses for her not appearing, even when Anna came to see her. For that calm which Gwendolen had promised herself to maintain had changed into sick motivelessness: she thought, "I suppose I shall begin to pretend by-and-by, but why should I do it now?"
Her mother watched her with silent distress; and, lapsing into the habit of indulgent tenderness, she began to think what she imagined that Gwendolen was thinking, and to wish that everything should give way to the possibility of making her darling less miserable.
One day when she was in the black and yellow bedroom and her mother was lingering there under the pretext of considering and arranging Gwendolen's articles of dress, she suddenly roused herself to fetch the casket which contained the ornaments.
"Mamma," she began, glancing over the upper layer, "I had forgotten these things. Why didn't you remind me of them? Do see about getting them sold. You will not mind about parting with them. You gave them all to me long ago."
She lifted the upper tray and looked below.
"If we can do without them, darling, I would rather keep them for you," said Mrs. Davilow, seating herself beside Gwendolen with a feeling of relief that she was beginning to talk about something. The usual relation between them had become reversed. It was now the mother who tried to cheer the daughter. "Why, how came you to put that pocket handkerchief in here?"
It was the handkerchief with the corner torn off which Gwendolen had thrust in with the turquoise necklace.
"It happened to be with the necklace--I was in a hurry." said Gwendolen, taking the handkerchief away and putting it in her pocket. "Don't sell the necklace, mamma," she added, a new feeling having come over her about that rescue of it which had formerly been so offensive.
"No, dear, no; it was made out of your dear father's chain. And I should prefer not selling the other things. None of them are of any great value. All my best ornaments were taken from me long ago."
Mrs. Davilow colored. She usually avoided any reference to such facts about Gwendolen's step-father as that he had carried off his wife's jewelry and disposed of it. After a moment's pause she went on--
"And these things have not been reckoned on for any expenses. Carry them with you."
"That would be quite useless, mamma," said Gwendolen, coldly. "Governesses don't wear ornaments. You had better get me a gray frieze livery and a straw poke, such as my aunt's charity children wear."
"No, dear, no; don't take that view of it. I feel sure the Momperts will like you the better for being graceful and elegant."
"I am not at all sure what the Momperts will like me to be. It is enough that I am expected to be what they like," said Gwendolen bitterly.
"If there is anything you would object to less--anything that could be done--instead of your going to the bishop's, do say so, Gwendolen. Tell me what is in your heart. I will try for anything you wish," said the mother, beseechingly. "Don't keep things away from me. Let us bear them together."
"Oh, mamma, there is nothing to tell. I can't do anything better. I must think myself fortunate if they will have me. I shall get some money for you. That is the only thing I have to think of. I shall not spend any money this year: you will have all the eighty pounds. I don't know how far that will go in housekeeping; but you need not stitch your poor fingers to the bone, and stare away all the sight that the tears have left in your dear eyes."
Gwendolen did not give any caresses with her words as she had been used to do. She did not even look at her mother, but was looking at the turquoise necklace as she turned it over her fingers.
"Bless you for your tenderness, my good darling!" said Mrs. Davilow, with tears in her eyes. "Don't despair because there are clouds now. You are so young. There may be great happiness in store for you yet."
"I don't see any reason for expecting it, mamma," said Gwendolen, in a hard tone; and Mrs. Davilow was silent, thinking as she had often thought before--"What did happen between her and Mr. Grandcourt?"
"I _will_ keep this necklace, mamma," said Gwendolen, laying it apart and then closing the casket. "But do get the other things sold, even if they will not bring much. Ask my uncle what to do with them. I shall certainly not use them again. I am going to take the veil. I wonder if all the poor wretches who have ever taken it felt as I do."
"Don't exaggerate evils, dear."
"How can any one know that I exaggerate, when I am speaking of my own feeling? I did not say what any one else felt."
She took out the torn handkerchief from her pocket again, and wrapped it deliberately round the necklace. Mrs. Davilow observed the action with some surprise, but the tone of her last words discouraged her from asking any question.
The "feeling" Gwendolen spoke of with an air of tragedy was not to be explained by the mere fact that she was going to be a governess: she was possessed by a spirit of general disappointment. It was not simply that she had a distaste for what she was called on to do: the distaste spread itself over the world outside her penitentiary, since she saw nothing very pleasant in it that seemed attainable by her even if she were free. Naturally her grievances did not seem to her smaller than some of her male contemporaries held theirs to be when they felt a profession too narrow for their powers, and had an _a priori_ conviction that it was not worth while to put forth their latent abilities. Because her education had been less expensive than theirs, it did not follow that she should have wider emotions or a keener intellectual vision. Her griefs were feminine; but to her as a woman they were not the less hard to bear, and she felt an equal right to the Promethean tone.
But the movement of mind which led her to keep the necklace, to fold it up in the handkerchief, and rise to put it in her _necessaire_, where she had first placed it when it had been returned to her, was more peculiar, and what would be called less reasonable. It came from that streak of superstition in her which attached itself both to her confidence and her terror--a superstition which lingers in an intense personality even in spite of theory and science; any dread or hope for self being stronger than all reasons for or against it. Why she should suddenly determine not to part with the necklace was not much clearer to her than why she should sometimes have been frightened to find herself in the fields alone: she had a confused state of emotion about Deronda--was it wounded pride and resentment, or a certain awe and exceptional trust? It was something vague and yet mastering, which impelled her to this action about the necklace. There, is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.