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Alma-Tadema, Laurence / The Wings of Icarus Being the Life of one Emilia Fletcher
THE WINGS OF ICARUS

BEING

THE LIFE OF ONE EMILIA FLETCHER


AS REVEALED BY HERSELF IN

I. THIRTY-FIVE LETTERS

WRITTEN TO CONSTANCE NORRIS BETWEEN JULY 18TH, 188-,
AND MARCH 26TH OF THE FOLLOWING YEAR

II. A FRAGMENTARY JOURNAL

III. A POSTSCRIPT


BY


LAURENCE ALMA TADEMA



New York

MACMILLAN AND COMPANY

AND LONDON

1894




THE WINGS OF ICARUS.




THE LETTERS.




LETTER I.


FLETCHER'S HALL, GRAYSMILL,
July 18th.

_Dear and Beloved Constance_,--What shall I say to you? Here I sit,
in a strange room, in a strange land,--and my life lies behind me.
It is close upon midnight, and very dark. I can see nothing out of
window. The air is hot and heavy, the moths flutter round my candle;
I cannot save them all. I am trying to write you a letter--do you
understand? Oh, but I have no thoughts, only visions! Three there
are that rise before me, sometimes separately, sometimes all
together.

I see you, Mrs. Norris. We are standing on the platform, side by
side; people leaning out of window in my night-gown, watching the
mists rise in the valley. The air is very sweet here in England; I
see oceans of trees, great stretches of heath and meadow. Surely,
surely one ought to be happy in this beautiful world! I shall dress
quickly and go out. This letter, such as it is, shall go to you by
the first post, and to-night I shall write again, when I myself know
something of my surroundings. Good-bye then for the present, my best
and dearest.

EMILIA.




LETTER II.


July 19.

It is just half-past ten, my Constance; the two old ladies have gone
to bed. I am getting on very well, on the whole, although I had the
misfortune to keep them waiting three-quarters of an hour for
breakfast this morning. It was so beautiful out of doors, and I was
so happy roaming in field and wood,--happy with the happiness
sunshine can lay atop of the greatest sorrow,--that I stayed out
till nearly ten o'clock. I had taken some milk and bread in the
kitchen before starting, not realising that breakfast here is a
solemn meal. Poor old souls! they were too polite to begin without
me, and I found them positively drooping with hunger.

All the rancour that I had harboured in my heart this many a year
against my father's stepmother has vanished into thin air. One
glance at the old lady's delicate weak face, at her diffident eyes
and nervous fingers, dispelled once and forever any preconceived
idea that she might have helped him in his ardent difficult boyhood,
stood between him and his father in his day of disgrace. Had she
been a woman of mettle, I could never have forgiven her the neutral
part she played; but she stands there cleared by her very impotence.

I think she was nervous of meeting me, last night; she said
something confused about my poor papa, about her husband's severity,
adding that she was sorry not to have known my mamma, but supposed I
must be like her, as I looked quite the foreigner with my black
eyes. Her whole manner towards me is almost painful in its humility;
this morning she begged me to let her live with me, and die in this
house, saying she did not care to go and live with her son; upon
which I of course assured her that she must still consider
everything her own, and the scene ended in kisses and a
pocket-handkerchief.

There is something very touching about an old woman's hand; I felt
myself much more moved than the occasion warranted when she held me
with her trembling fingers, moving them nervously up and down, so
that I felt the small weak bones under the skin, all soft,
full-veined, and wrinkled.

Her sister, Caroline Seymour, is younger, probably not more than
sixty, and very active. She has a bright, bird-like face, over which
flits from time to time a sad little gleam of lost beauty. Her
fingers are always busy, and the beads in her cap bob up and down
incessantly as she bends over her fancy-work. Poor old souls--poor
old children! I think my grandfather must have led them a life;
there is a peacefulness upon them that suggests deliverance. He has
been dead just five weeks.

But the old house will see quiet days enough now. I have wandered
all over it, and find it a beautiful place in itself, although it is
so stuffed with wool-work, vile china, gildings, wax flowers, and
indescribable mantel-piece atrocities, that there is not a simple or
restful corner anywhere. Yet I find myself touched by its very
hideousness, when I think that it probably looked even so, smelt
even so stale and sweet, in the days of my dear father's boyhood.
There is a picture in the large drawing-room that gives me infinite
pleasure. It is a portrait of my own grandmother with papa in a
white frock on her knees, and my poor Aunt Fanny beside her, a neat
little smiling girl in pink, with very long drawers. There is
something in the young mother's face that, at first sight, made my
father's smile rise clearly to my memory. I have since tried to
recall the vision, but in vain.

My father's half-brother, George Fletcher, a widower with a large
family, who lives four miles from here, came to see me this
afternoon, and I took a great dislike to him. (Did I hear you say
"Of course"?) But really, dearest, these introductions are very
painful; it is most unpleasant to have the undesirable stranger
thrust upon one in the guise of friend and protector, to find
oneself standing on a footing of inevitable familiarity with people
whose hands one had rather not touch. He kissed me, Constantia, but
he certainly will not do so again. Fortunately, I like my two old
ladies; things might be worse.

To-morrow my lawyer comes from London to speak to me on business. I
shall be glad when the interview is over, for I understand nothing
at all about business matters. I can indeed barely grasp the fact
that I have come into possession of land and money. Heaven only
knows what I am to do with it all.

Write to me; write soon. You seem further away from me to-day than
you did last night; and yet I should miss you more if I could
realise my own existence. Can you make your way through these
contradictions? It seems to me this evening that I, Emilia, am still
beside you, that some one else sits here in exile with nothing
written on the page of her future, not even by the finger of Hope.
Good night, dearest.

Yours ever and always,
EMILIA.




LETTER III.


FLETCHER'S HALL, GRAYSMILL,
July 26th.

What do you think stepped in with my bath this morning? A long
narrow letter sealed with a heart. I kissed the blue stamp and
spread the three dear sheets out on my pillow. Oimé, Constantia, how
I love you! But why write about _me_? Why waste pen and ink
wondering how I am? Tell me about yourself, tell me all you do, and
all you think; tell me how many different hats you wore on
Wednesday, and how you misspent your time on Thursday; tell me of
all the nonsense that is poured into your ears, of all the rubbish
you read; tell me even how many times your mother wakes you in the
night to ask if you are sleeping well. I long for you so that the
very faults of your life are dear to me, even those for which I most
reprove you when you are near.

Let me see: it is past midday with you; you and your mother are out
walking. I hear you both.

"Constance," says Mrs. Rayner, "put up your parasol!"

"Thanks, mother," you reply; "I like to feel the sun."

"You'll freckle."

"Through this thick veil and all the powder?"

"You'll freckle, I tell you. Put up your parasol."

"Oh, mother, do let me be!"

Here Mrs. Rayner wrenches the parasol out of your hands and puts it
up with a jerk; you take it, heaving a very loud sigh, upon which
your mother seizes it again and pops it down.

"Very well, be as freckled as you please; what does it matter to me,
after all? It's so pretty to have freckles, isn't it? Please
yourself! Only I warn you that you'll look like a fig before the
year's out!"

Oh, dear me, it seems I'm in good spirits to-day! Why not, with your
letter in my pocket? I am sitting out of doors in the woods. I love
this place, apart from its own beauty; I like to think of my father
out here in the open, dreaming his young dreams. Indoors in the old
house I am often miserable, with a misery beyond my own, remembering
how he suffered once between those walls.

No, I am not really in good spirits, although there comes now and
again a little gust of light-heartedness. You know me. For the rest,
I hate myself, I am a worm. The empire of myself is lost; I am
sitting low on the ground, where my troubles laid me, letting what
may run over me. I hate myself both for my abject hopelessness and
for my incapacity to take comfort at the hands of those about me.
But oh! the deadliness of their life is past description; they have
neither breadth nor health in their thoughts. I am not speaking of
the old women; their lives are at an end; they sit as little
children there, simple of heart; what they were I ask not, nor boots
it now, for their day is done. But George Fletcher and his family,
and my various more distant relatives, and my neighbours far and
near--oh, I shall never be able to live here! Believe me; you will
soon see me back. Good people, mind you, one and all, according to
their lights; God-fearing, law-abiding, nothing questioning, one and
all. I shall soon expect to see the earth stand still and roll
backwards. Yes; there they trot upon life's highway, chained
together, dragging each other along; not one of them dares stop to
pick a flower lest the others should tread on his fingers and toes.
And they are so swaddled up in customs and conventions, baby-learned
forms of speech and bearing, that there is nothing to be seen of the
real man and woman; indeed, I cannot say that I have yet found a
mummy worth unrolling. Yesterday a kind of cousin brought her
children to see me. There was a small girl who had already learned,
poor wretch, to play her little part, to quell the impulses of her
young heart, to tune her tongue to a given pitch. She sat on the
edge of her chair, feigning indifference to everything, from Chinese
chessmen to gingerbread-nuts; it was a positive relief to me when
her younger brother, who has not yet learned the most necessary
falsehoods, yelled lustily and smashed a tea-cup. I should have been
glad to do both myself.

I must unpack my books. A Broadwood is on its way from London; in a
few days I hope to have made unto myself some kind of oasis in this
desert. I have taken possession of the two rooms on the topmost
floor that were my father's nurseries; and there, with my things
about me, I mean to be happy against all odds.

Good-bye for to-day. Do you remember this morning a fortnight ago?
It might be last year--it might be yesterday! How strange is the
beat of Time's wings!

Your EMILIA.




LETTER IV.


GRAYSMILL, August 2d.

Now that's the kind of letter I like to have! Only my heart sickens
for thee. At each word I hear your voice; at every pause, the little
ripples that run away with it so sweetly. I cannot even find it in
me to scold you for your many follies. Young woman, I don't approve
of you, but you are the sweetest creature that ever walked this
earth. Thanks be where thanks are due that I am a woman; you would
have been my bane had I been born a man!

But, to be serious, I have been thinking things out; you must leave
your mother, Constance, and come to me. You have lived this kind of
life long enough; and--believe me, my dearest--you are not strong
enough to bear it longer unharmed.

Shall I be a little cruel to you? Well, my own, I think that if you
looked into your heart, searchingly and truly, as you always declare
you know not how, you would find that it is more cowardice than duty
binds you to Mrs. Rayner. She bore you, you say, she brought you
up--Good Lord! and how! If you were not a pearl among women, what
would you be by this time? No, you know as well as I do that it is
cowardice, not duty, prevents you from taking this step.

I shall never forget what you said to me once, when first I knew
you; it was in Florence, and we were leaning out of window in my
room. I remember it the better because it was during this
conversation that I ventured to put my arm round your waist for the
first time.

"Now I call this pleasant!" you said. "Here am I looking out of
window with a nice girl's arm round my waist, and right away from my
mother. She doesn't even know where I am!"

I loved my mother so much that this shocked me extremely, and I told
you so. You flushed, I remember, and cried:--

"Oh, but you don't know what my life is! You don't know what it is
to long with all your might to get away from somebody, somebody who
has hung over you ever since you were born, so that she seemed to
stand between you and the very air you breathed." And then you told
me about your marriage; how, in order to be free from her, you took
the husband, rich and infamous, into whose arms she threw you in
your innocence; how, at the end of a few months, you returned home
doubly a slave, to be crushed, year in, year out, by love that
showed itself almost as hate; bound now in such a way that if any
other love were offered you, you could not take it.

And how old are you now? Twenty-four. Still her puppet, her doll,
for that is what you are; she dresses and undresses you from morning
till night, then struts up and down the streets of Europe, showing
her pretty plaything. You say she has no thought but you, loves you
so much that it would break her heart if you left her. Look here,
Constance: you knew my mother; you know then what it means to live
nobly and truly in the light of a greater goodness than the world
yet understands. God, or whoever made you, made your soul very
white; how dare you let the smuts fall upon it? How dare you tread
among falsehoods, you that have heard of Truth?

Try, my dearest, try to be brave; surely it is the duty of each one
of us to live the noblest life he can. The world is so beautiful! It
is only ourselves and our mistakes that lie foul upon it. When the
most holy of human ties, defying nature, becomes the bane of those
it binds, it is better to break it than to let one's life cast a
daily blot, as it were, on the sanctity of motherhood and the love
of the child.

Come to me; live with me in peace awhile! We will think and read
together, master ourselves, and find some path to tread. I, too, am
in need of resolution. Whilst my dear mother lived, she held me by
the hand. You know how, when two walk together, the weaker
unconsciously leaves it to the stronger to lead the way? Well, so it
was with me; and now I must learn to find my path alone. I know now
what she meant when she said that the first use to which a man must
put his courage is to being himself.

All good be with you, dear heart.

EMILIA.




LETTER V.


GRAYSMILL, August 7th.

Dearest, I wrote you such a stern letter the other day, that I feel
I must write again before the week comes round. It was, after all, a
silly promise we made each other to write just once a week, neither
more nor less. This time I write at odds with myself. It's all very
well to talk about sincerity, it baffles one completely at times;
there isn't a greater liar under the sun at this moment than Emilia
Fletcher. My outward life is all out of tune with my inward self.
Perhaps if you saw me with my old ladies, you would say: "Quite
right; please them by all means, sit with them, drive with them,
make small talk, listen to their little tales. It pleases them, and
it doesn't harm you." But I answer: Is it right? Is it not rank
hypocrisy? Is affection won by false pretences worth the having? I
tell you, I am playing a part all day long. I read to them out of
books that I either despise or abhor; I play to them music unworthy
of the name; I nod my head in acquiescence when my very soul cries
no. Nor is that all; I take my place each morning in the centre of
the room, open the Bible, and in pious voice, I, Infidel, read forth
the prayers that are to strengthen the household through the day.
When, at a given point, all the maid-servants rise, whirl round in
their calico gowns and turn their demure backs to me as they kneel
in a row, I know not whether to laugh or cry. O Constance, it is
infamous of me! And why do I do it? Out of consideration for them?
out of kind-heartedness? Not a bit of it! Vanity, my dear; sheer
vanity. If they cared for me less, if I did not feel that they
almost worship me, holding out their old hands to me for all the
pleasure that their day still may bring, would I do it? No; for then
I should not care, as I feel I do now, to keep their good opinion,
even at the expense of making myself appear better, according to
their lights, than I really am. I am a worm; I never thought I could
sink so low. It was so easy to live in tune with Truth beside my
mother; but she was Truth's high-priestess; she never swerved from
the straight path.

I went to church last Sunday; there's a confession! Another such act
of cowardice, and I am lost. It never entered my head, of course, to
go the first Sunday I was here; and as it so happened that I had a
headache that day, no comment was made upon my absence. But on
Saturday the vicar said something about "to-morrow"; Uncle George
invited himself to dinner after service; and when Aunt Caroline
asked me, at breakfast on Sunday, what hat I was going to put on, I
replied, "The small one," and followed her like a lamb. I don't know
what to do now. This afternoon, the good little old lady asked me to
call with her on a friend whose father died last week, and I went,
Heaven knows why. I was well served out. There they sat a mortal
hour, blowing their noses and praising their God, until I could have
shrieked. When I had safely seen Aunt Caroline home, I set off for a
long walk in the gloaming; the silent earth was stretched in peace
beneath the deepening sky, the moon rose among great clouds that
floated like dragons' ghosts upon the blue. And I cried out within
myself for very pain that I who had perception of these things
should live so lying and so false a life. Perhaps I am not quite
myself yet; so much sorrow came to me at once that all my strength
has left me. But it is cowardly to make excuses.

I hear you: "There you go, old wise-bones! Here's a storm in a
tea-cup! It's much better to behave properly _out_side anyway, than
to hurt people's feelings and make them think worse of you than they
need, by showing them what a wicked infidel you are. Besides, what
does it matter?"

Little one, do you remember how we shocked each other that Christmas
morning in Florence, when we made a round of the churches together?
I can see you still, you pretty thing, crossing yourself at the door
of Santa Maria Novella. With all the strictness of my nineteen years
I was simply horrified.

"Constance!" I cried, "what on earth are you doing?"

"I don't like to be left in the cold," you replied; "if there are
any blessings going, I may as well have my share."

"But, dearest," said I, "you don't believe in it!"

"Of course I don't, but it may be true, for all that; how do we
know? Do let me enjoy myself, you dear old granny! The stale water
may not do me any good, but it won't do me any harm either, now will
it?"

Oh, dear, how the smell of the church comes back with the remembered
words! It was a long time ago. Dear and sweet one, I must not think
of you too much, I long for you so.

Yours in endless love,
EMILIA.




LETTER VI.


FLETCHER'S HALL, August 12th.

You must do as you think best. You know that I long for you, that
the thought of your wasted life is constant pain to me. Think again,
think every day, and if ever you can make up your mind to leave Mrs.
Rayner, you know that I am here, that all I have is yours also. I
shall say no more.

So you have seen him, and he asked after me. Well. What was he doing
in Homburg, I wonder? Not that I care. I really believe, Constance,
that I care no longer. And yet it so happens that last night I
thought of him a good deal. It came about so. Grandmamma had gone to
bed, and I went into Aunt Caroline's room to light her candles.
There are some little water-colours round the mirror that she
painted as a girl. I stopped to look at them, and the poor soul took
them down one by one to show me. There was a story attached to each,
and her eyes brightened with remembrance of the past. Most of the
little pictures were different views of the same house. Suddenly she
gave a little smile.

"Wait a minute; I'll show you another picture, Milly--my best
picture." (They will call me Milly; there's no help for it.) "I have
never shown it to any one before, but you are a good girl; I think I
should like to show it to you."

She cleared a space upon her dressing-table, lighted a third
candle, a fourth, making a little illumination; then from her
wardrobe she brought an old desk, and unlocked it solemnly with a
key that always hangs upon her watch-chain. The desk was full of
treasures,--letters, flowers, ends of ribbon, all neatly labelled.
She opened a little case and placed in my hands the portrait of a
young man.

I hardly knew how to take it. "It is beautiful," I said; "what a
handsome face!" Then the veil of silence and old age fell from her
heart; she told me the whole tale. Nothing new, of course. She had
loved, and--strange to say!--the man had done likewise; they were
engaged, but because his family was not equal to hers in birth, her
brother-in-law, my grandfather, would not hear of the match, and
obliged her to break it off. Yet another sin to add to his score!

"I think," said I, "that you should have married him, all the same."

The old woman blew her nose, rose, and kissed me.

"You are the first that ever told me so," she said; "I think so,
too."

It was past midnight when I left her, and I must confess that my own
eyes were not dry.

"Is he still alive?" I asked, as I reached the door.

The old woman smiled.

"I don't know," she said, "but I shall know in good time; please God
we shall soon meet again in a better land."

I lay awake a long time in the night, marvelling at her constancy
and her faith. But then I wept to think how many women, even as she,
have held one only flower in their hands, clung to it still when
colour and scent were gone, refusing to pluck another; wept, too, to
think how many such as she are buoyed up by a hope I cannot share. I
wonder what it feels like, this implicit faith in an after life! It
must make a difference, even in love. Perhaps we who believe in one
life only cling with the greater passion to what we love, seeing
that, once lost, we have no hope of re-possession.

Well, it's a sad world. But a funny one, too. I was quite shy of
meeting Aunt Caroline again this morning, lest the remembrance of
what she had told me over-night should make her feel ill at ease;
lest, in fact, she had repented of her confidence. And I stood quite
a while outside the breakfast-room door, like a fool. But as I
entered, her beaded cap was bobbing over an uplifted dish-cover.

"Oh, good morning, Milly!" she said. "No, sister, it's not Upton's
fault. The bacon's beautiful, only cook can't cut a rasher."

And again I was in my common dilemma; I didn't know whether to laugh
or cry.

Good-bye, sweetest; take care of yourself.




LETTER VII.


GRAYSMILL, August 20th.


Good evening, Mrs. Norris. I am in a very good temper,--and you?
(N.B. I had an extra letter this morning; somebody spoils me.)

Now what shall I tell you, Inquisitiveness? Indeed, I tell you all
there is to tell. You complain that I never speak about the people
I meet; that's true enough. When I find myself in their company, I
make the best of it, but I never think about them between whiles.
As for Uncle George, why, I dislike him thoroughly. He is handsome
in his way, and looks remarkably young,--not that that is exactly a
crime! One of my principal objections to his person is a kind of
bachelor smartness he carries about with him. It is quite
ridiculous to see him with his daughters, the eldest of whom is
just eighteen and engaged to be married. There is nothing of the
simplicity of the country gentleman about him,--a simplicity that
in many cases covers a multitude of faults. No, I shall never be
able to bear him,--neither his juvenility, his jewelry, nor his
whiskers--certainly never the scent on his handkerchief! Ouf! I
hate him altogether. I promise you that when I find a human being
with whom I can exchange an idea, whose thoughts have even wandered
half a mile beyond the parish, I shall apprize you of the fact.
Meanwhile, dearest, you must put up with my company, as I myself am
learning to do. It seems to me almost that I need no one else! I
sit here in my room, out there in the woods, and I am content. I
read a great deal; I have just re-read the "Volsunga Saga," and
have begun Tolstoi's "Cossacks." I am trying, too, to continue my
mother's translation of "Prometheus," but the difference between my
work and hers is so great that I sometimes lose heart. However, I
shall try to finish it. Her beautiful face and yours look down at
me from the shelf above my writing-table, amidst a wealth of
flowers; and, as I look up, I can see the sun setting behind the
beech-trees, for I sit beside the window. The sky is full of hope,
the little clouds are glowing with colour, the trees with fulness
of life; a blackbird is singing his heart out in the willow by the
pond. I must needs believe that life is worth living....

I have watched all the pink fade from the sky; the mottled clouds
are grey and sleepy-looking. I have turned away. You are smiling
very sweetly up there; my table is strewn with things her hand has
touched,--I am not quite alone.

Well, good night. I must go down to my dear old ladies and read to
them a while before they go to bed.

Your EMILIA.




LETTER VIII.


GRAYSMILL, September 4th.

You are a sweet to write so often, and I am a wretched niggard that
deserves not one half of what you give. I began to write several
times--of course you know that. Take care of yourself; the thought
of your coughing troubles me; each time I think of you I hear you
cough, and it makes me miserable. I met a child on the Common
yesterday, with hair your colour that fell back in thick curls from
a forehead almost as white as yours. Need I say that I kissed her?
Poor mite, she had such dirty clothes! She told me where she lives;
I must make inquiries about her mother. I might be able to help. The
existence of poverty is just beginning to dawn upon me. It is
strange how long one can live with one's eyes entirely closed to
certain things. In Italy I never thought about it; I sometimes felt
sorry for a beggar, but never quite believed in poverty as an actual
state; it merely seemed a rather disreputable but picturesque
profession. Here in England I have come face to face with
destitution; with hunger, labour, sweat, and barren joylessness. My
first thought was that money might set all this straight; I made
Uncle George laugh by seriously suggesting that I should give of my
superfluity to every cottage. Most people here visit the poor; I
went with Aunt Caroline at first and saw it all. I soon gave it up.
I cannot walk boldly into free human beings' homes and poke my nose
into their privacy; I cannot speak to them of the Lord's will and
persuade them that all is for the best. I can only give them money.
Little Mrs. Dobb, the rector's wife, thanked me with tears in her
eyes for a sum I placed in her hands yesterday. They say she does a
great deal of good, and if my money and her religion can work
together, by all means let it be so.

Meanwhile I ask myself every day: What is the use of Emilia
Fletcher? I really cannot see why I ever was born; my perceptions
are keen, but keener than my capabilities. I shall never be able to
do anything to help the world; yet I see so much that might be
done. I shall not ever be able to lead that life of simple truth,
of absolute fidelity to high-set aims, which I yet believe it must
be in every man's power to live. Which is the more to be
despised--he who perceives a higher path and lacks the resolution
to adhere to it, or he who trots along the common road out of sheer
short-sightedness? Clearly the first. I am a worm. (You have
probably heard this before.)

Well, I am not a very gay companion; I shall leave you for to-day,
sweetest.

EMILIA.




LETTER IX.


Sunday evening.

I have made a fool of myself; and yet I am happier to-night than I
have been this many a day, for I have at least shown myself honest.
I did it foolishly, thoughtlessly, I know, and yet,--well, I don't
regret it.

I went to church this morning for the last time. I went with Aunt
Caroline, as usual, but, as I knelt beside her on entering the pew,
I was seized with a great horror of myself. There was I, hypocrite,
with silent lips and silent heart, feigning to share in the simple
fervour around me, denying my own faith, insulting that of another.
However, I sat and knelt and stood and went through all the forms
along with the rest. The sunlight streamed in at the windows, and
lay coloured on the dusty floor, on bowed head and Sunday bonnet;
through one little white window, just opposite me, I could see a
sparrow bobbing up and down on the ivy. Then away sailed my spirit,
through the church wall, over the meadows, and into the copse; I
pushed my way through the underwood, and picked up a leaf here and
there, listening to the gentle voice of the wood-pigeon. And
then--you know there is one thought into which all thoughts
resolve--I walked with you, dearest, on the hilltops by Fiesole;
she, too, was there, and you both laughed at me because I tried to
dig up a wild orchid with a flint, and got my hands so dirty.

Then we had that long talk about the possibility of an after-life,
which began with the bulb of the orchid--do you remember?

"Nothing is lost in Nature," said my mother. "There is no such thing
as annihilation; death is surely transubstantiation."

"Perhaps then, after all," said I, "the noblest part of us, the
self, that invisible core which we call soul, is just a drop, as it
were, in a great soul-ocean, whose waves wrap creation, and into
which we shall fall. What's the matter, Constantia?"

"I can't listen to you any more, you prosy things; you make me
melancholy. Go and be waves if you like, you two; I'm going to have
white wings and be an angel!"

* * * * *

"I believe in God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth."

These words roused me with a hard and sudden shock. I had completely
forgotten where I was; I looked about me, half dazed, and saw
everyone standing except myself. Must I, too, rise and say the
Creed? I did not hesitate, because I did not think. I simply stood
up and left the church.

After dinner I went to the rectory; I felt that my former hypocrisy
and cowardice must be atoned for without delay. Besides, as Goethe's
mother used to say, there is no need to stare at the devil, it is
better to swallow him whole. Well, I went to Mr. Dobb, and confessed
myself. He was less shocked at my disbelief than I had expected, but
my profession of it troubled him considerably. He spoke a great deal
about example, about the leading of the masses, and altogether seems
to hold avowed lack of faith, a greater sin than feigned belief.

Of course he had plenty to say on the subject; he seems to be an
honest man, and I must admit that much of what I heard impressed me.
I envied him the ease with which he spoke, the ready-coined language
he was free to use. I could find no words in which to prove that I,
too, had a religion. I wonder, shall I ever be able to tell another
what it is that I feel, as by means of a sixth sense, when earth and
heaven are fairest, when poets sing their best and music is most
divine, when the souls of men and women leap to their eyes and their
hearts lie bare; then something within me smiles and shivers, and I
say, "This--this is God!"

Oh, it is all very well to talk of being sincere! Again and yet
again I must say it. For the lips cannot speak what the spirit
feels. And then,--why, I spoiled my truthful day by a lie at the
end. How could I go to those two old dears and say, "I cannot pray
with you or go to church any more, I am an infidel." How could I? I
said instead, "My mother brought me up in a different faith; I tried
to go to your church, but I cannot, and I think you would not wish
me to act against my conscience in so sacred a matter, so we will go
our ways."

Oh, what a struggling world it is! And how weary one becomes of the
incessant strife when those upon whose hearts one might lean are far
away, unknown, or dead! Oh, I am very lonely. What is life without
love? It is not to be borne. Do you remember what it was to lie in
your cot, to watch the firelight on the ceiling, feeling the
darkness without; and, as you lay snug in your little world within
the world, to see your mother lean over your pillow, a great
Heaven-roof of love,--to be lifted, weak and small and trustful, in
her arms, to feel your weary head pressed close against her breast?
O Constance, I would give all--my very eyesight--to feel an arm
about me in the dark, to yield up Self, to rest. We women are poor
wretches; no man would ever feel so, I think.

Good night; my candle has burned low in the socket, the paper is
flaring already, I shall have to undress in the dark.

Good night, dearest.
E




LETTER X.


GRAYSMILL, September 20th.

Blessings upon you, my sweet dearest; your birthday is the day of
days to me. How could I live without you? I am purely selfish when I
wish you perfect joy and a long golden life; it is almost like
praying for fine weather! All the strings of my heart go towards
you, Constance Norris, and are knotted in your bosom. Be happy, be
well, my darling, else I suffer. We shall not be apart on your next
birthday, I think. I have evolved a marvellous scheme. Your mother
is still young, and a very handsome woman; why don't you marry her?
Really, it's a plan worth attempting; couldn't you persuade one of
your numerous admirers to transfer his affections? Then, Constantia
mia, we two could live together. We should mostly live abroad,
following the sunshine; but for a part of the year we should stay
here in England. Don't wrinkle up your dear nose! You will be every
bit as much in love with the country as I am, when once you know it
well. I wish I could show it you now; the woods are changing colour,
'tis a glowing world, and your lungs have never tasted such air as
blows on Graysmill Heath. You would be very happy in the woods in
summer; you could lie down and bring your face on a level with the
flowers, and I should sit by and love you. There would be little
sunbeams piercing the roof of leaves and twinkling about us, and
just enough breeze to clear your brow of curls. O Constance! Why are
we so far apart? Only one life, and then parted! But one must not
think of such things.

I send you a little ring that I found the other day in Miltonhoe;
there is a kiss on the red stone, don't lose it.

Blessings upon you, my heart of gold.

EMILIA.




LETTER XI.


GRAYSMILL, October 5th.

Three several times have I begun to write to you, but I came to the
conclusion that it is better not to write at all than to give vent
to such feelings as mine. Besides, I had nothing, positively
nothing, to tell you. Furthermore, you did not deserve a letter.
However, as it is all too long since you honoured me with a
communication, Mrs. Norris, I feel I must write and remind you of my
existence. I am well, thank you, but the world's a dull place.

Grandmamma and Aunt Caroline--perhaps myself, who knows?--are in a
great state of excitement to-day because a niece of theirs is coming
here on a visit. I heard of her existence for the first time last
week, and immediately decided to invite her to Fletcher's Hall. For,
Constance, let me whisper it, the old ladies--bless their
hearts!--are killing me. This person, Ida Seymour by name, is a
spinster of some forty winters, a kind of roving, charitable star,
from what I gather, who spends her life visiting from place to place
with a trunkful of fancy work, pious books, and innocent sources of
amusement,--a fairy godmother to old ladies, pauper children, and
bazaars. My vanity has run its course, and I shall gladly yield the
place of honour to this worthy soul. May she stay long!

That is absolutely all the news I have for you, and, indeed, it is
more than you deserve; for you are about as lazy as you are sweet,
which is saying a good deal. If I don't get a letter to-morrow, I
shall be on the brink of despair. At the approach of post time, I am
nearly ill with anticipation, and afterwards fall headlong into
deepest melancholy.

Your ill-used
EMILIA.




LETTER XII.


GRAYSMILL, October 10th.

Sweet, your letter of Thursday comforted me wondrous much; but I
have something to tell you, and my impatience will not even let me
dwell on the joy it was to read words of yours again. Well;
yesterday was a dull day, the sky was covered all the morning, and
at dinner-time it began to rain. I sat in my room in the afternoon
and read "Richard Feverel" until, looking up from my book, I saw
that the rain had ceased. The wind had risen, and, in the west, a
hole had been poked through the grey mantle, showing the gilded edge
of a snowy cloud against a patch of blue. Out I ran, across the
garden and the little park that touches the heath, then through my
dear beechwood until I reached a certain clearing where the ground
goes sheer down at one's feet and where one may behold, over the
tree-tops, stretches of wood and meadow in the plain below. I sprang
on to a knoll, and there stood breathless, watching the rout of the
tumbled clouds.

Something started beside me,--I started also, for these woods are
always very lonely,--and, to my surprise, I saw a young man. Imagine
a very tall slight fellow, carelessly dressed, at one and the same
time graceful and ungainly,--I have come to the conclusion that he
is physically graceful, but that a certain shyness and nervousness
of temperament produce at times self-consciousness and awkwardness
of bearing. It is difficult to describe his face; I don't know
whether he is merely interesting or actually beautiful; here again
there is some discrepancy between flesh and spirit, for the features
are not regular, but the expression exquisite. I suppose he might be
considered plain; his nose is large, rather thin, and not straight;
his mouth is large but finely shaped; I think he smiles a little
crookedly. Anyway, his eyes are beautiful; they are set far apart,
and are strangely expressive. For the rest, he is more freckled than
any one I ever saw, and his hair--which is of no particular
colour--is rather long and thrown off the temples, save for one lock
that continually falls forward.



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