Evidently our brain contains something akin both to a photographic plate and a phonographic cylinder, and many other things of the same kind not yet discovered; not a sight or a sound or a smell is lost; not a taste or a feeling or an emotion. Unconscious memory records them all, without our even heeding what goes on around us beyond the things that attract our immediate interest or attention.
Thus night after night I saw reacted before me scenes not only fairly remembered, but scenes utterly forgotten, and yet as unmistakably true as the remembered ones, and all bathed in that ineffable light, the light of other days—the light that never was on sea or land, and yet the light of absolute truth.
How it transcends in value as well as in beauty the garish light of common day, by which poor humanity has hitherto been content to live and die, disdaining through lack of knowledge the shadow for the substance, the spirit for the matter! I verified the truth of these sleeping experiences in every detail: old family letters I had preserved, and which I studied on awaking, confirmed what I had seen and heard in my dream; old stories explained themselves. It was all by-gone truth, garnered in some remote corner of the brain, and brought out of the dim past as I willed, and made actual once more.
And strange to say, and most inexplicable, I saw it all as an independent spectator, an outsider, not as an actor going again through scenes in which he has played a part before!
Yet many things perplexed and puzzled me.
For instance, Gogo's back, and the back of his head, when I stood behind him, were as visible and apparently as true to life as his face, and I had never seen his back or the back of his head; it was much later in life that I learned the secret of two mirrors. And then, when Gogo went out of the room, sometimes apparently passing through me as he did so and coming out at the other side (with a momentary blurring of the dream), the rest would go on talking just as reasonably, as naturally, as before. Could the trees and walls and furniture have had ears and eyes, those long-vanished trees and walls and furniture that existed now only in my sleeping brain, and have retained the sound and shape and meaning of all that passed when Gogo, my only conceivable remembrancer, was away?
Francoise, the cook, would come into the drawing-room to discuss the dinner with my mother when Gogo was at school; and I would hear the orders given, and later I would assist at the eating of the meal (to which Gogo would invariably do ample justice), and it was just as my mother had ordered. Mystery of mysteries!
What a pleasant life it was they led together, these ghosts of a by-gone time! Such a genial, smooth, easygoing, happy-go-lucky state of things—half bourgeois, half Bohemian, and yet with a well-marked simplicity, refinement, and distinction of bearing and speech that were quite aristocratic.
The servants (only three—Therese the house-maid, Francoise the cook, and English Sarah, who had been my nurse and was now my mother's maid) were on the kindliest and most familiar terms with us, and talked to us like friends, and interested themselves in our concerns, and we in theirs; I noticed that they always wished us each good-morning and good-night—a pretty French fashion of the Passy bourgeoisie in Louis Philippe's time (he was a bourgeois king).
Our cuisine was bourgeoise also. Peter Ibbetson's mouth watered (after his tenpenny London dinner) to see and smell the steam of "soupe a la bonne femme," "soupe aux choux," "pot au feu," "blanquette de veau," "boeuf a la mode," "cotelettes de porc a la sauce piquante," "vinaigrette de boeuf bouilli"—that endless variety of good things on which French people grow fat so young—and most excellent claret (at one franc a bottle in those happy days): its bouquet seemed to fill the room as soon as the cork was drawn!
Sometimes, such a repast ended, "le beau Pasquier," in the fulness of his heart, would suddenly let off impossible fireworks of vocalization, ascending rockets of chromatic notes which would explode softly very high up and come down in full cadences, trills, roulades, like beautiful colored stars; and Therese would exclaim, "Ah, q'c'est beau!" as if she had been present at a real pyrotechnic display; and Therese was quite right. I have never heard the like from any human throat, and should not have believed it possible. Only Joachim's violin can do such beautiful things so beautifully.
Or else he would tell us of wolves he had shot in Brittany, or wild-boars in Burgundy—for he was a great sportsman—or of his adventures as a garde du corps of Charles Dix, or of the wonderful inventions that were so soon to bring us fame and fortune; and he would loyally drink to Henri Cinq; and he was so droll and buoyant and witty that it was as good to hear him speak as to hear him sing.
But there was another and a sad side to all this strange comedy of vanished lives.
They built castles in the air, and made plans, and talked of all the wealth and happiness that would be theirs when my father's ship came home, and of all the good they would do, pathetically unconscious of the near future; which, of course, was all past history to their loving audience of one.
And then my tears would flow with the unbearable ache of love and pity combined; they would fall and dry on the waxed floors of my old home in Passy, and I would find them still wet on my pillow in Pentonville when I woke.
* * * * *
Soon I discovered by practice that I was able for a second or two to be more than a mere spectator—to be an actor once more; to turn myself (Ibbetson) into my old self (Gogo), and thus be touched and caressed by those I had so loved. My mother kissed me and I felt it; just as long as I could hold my breath I could walk hand in hand with Madame Seraskier, or feel Mimsey's small weight on my back and her arms round my neck for four or five yards as I walked, before blurring the dream; and the blur would soon pass away, if it did not wake me, and I was Peter Ibbetson once more, walking and sitting among them, hearing them talk and laugh, watching them at their meals, in their walks; listening to my father's songs, my mother's sweet playing, and always unseen and unheeded by them. Moreover, I soon learned to touch things without sensibly blurring the dream. I would cull a rose, and stick it in my buttonhole, and there it remained—but lo! the very rose I had just culled was still on the rose-bush also! I would pick up a stone and throw it at the wall, where it disappeared without a sound—and the very same stone still lay at my feet, however often I might pick it up and throw it!
No waking joy in the world can give, can equal in intensity, these complex joys I had when asleep; waking joys seem so slight, so vague in comparison—so much escapes the senses through lack of concentration and undivided attention—the waking perceptions are so blunt.
It was a life within a life—an intenser life—in which the fresh perceptions of childhood combined with the magic of dream-land, and in which there was but one unsatisfied longing; but its name was Lion.
It was the passionate longing to meet the Duchess of Towers once more in that land of dreams.
* * * * *
Thus for a time I went on, more solitary than ever, but well compensated for all my loneliness by this strange new life that had opened itself to me, and never ceasing to marvel and rejoice—when one morning I received a note from Lady Cray, who wanted some stables built at Cray, their country-seat in Hertfordshire, and begged I would go there for the day and night.
I was bound to accept this invitation, as a mere matter of business, of course; as a friend, Lady Cray seemed to have dropped me long ago, "like a 'ot potato," blissfully unconscious that it was I who had dropped her.
But she received me as a friend—an old friend. All my shyness and snobbery fell from me at the mere touch of her hand.
I had arrived at Cray early in the afternoon, and had immediately set about my work, which took several hours, so that I got to the house only just in time to dress for dinner.
When I came into the drawing-room there were several people there, and Lady Cray presented me to a young lady, the vicar's daughter, whom I was to take in to dinner.
I was very much impressed on being told by her that the company assembled in the drawing-room included no less a person than Sir Edwin Landseer. Many years ago I had copied an engraving of one of his pictures for Mimsey Seraskier. It was called "The Challenge," or "Coming Events cast their Shadows before Them." I feasted my eyes on the wondrous little man, who seemed extremely chatty and genial, and quite unembarrassed by his fame.
A guest was late, and Lord Cray, who seemed somewhat peevishly impatient for his food, exclaimed—
"Mary wouldn't be Mary if she were punctual!"
Just then Mary came in—and Mary was no less a person than the Duchess of Towers!
My knees trembled under me; but there was no time to give way to any such tender weakness. Lord Cray walked away with her; the procession filed into the dining room, and somewhere at the end of it my young vicaress and myself.
The duchess sat a long way from me, but I met her glance for a moment, and fancied I saw again in it that glimmer of kindly recognition.
My neighbor, who was charming, asked me if I did not think the Duchess of Towers the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
I assented with right good-will, and was told that she was as good as she was beautiful, and as clever as she was good (as if I did not know it); that she would give away the very clothes off her back; that there was no trouble she would not take for others; that she did not get on well with her husband, who drank, and was altogether bad and vile; that she had a great sorrow—an only child, an idiot, to whom she was devoted, and who would some day be the Duke of Towers; that she was highly accomplished, a great linguist, a great musician, and about the most popular woman in all English society.
Ah! Who loved the Duchess of Towers better than this poor scribe, in whose soul she lived and shone like a bright particular star—like the sun; and who, without his knowing, was being rapidly drawn into the sphere of her attraction, as Lintot called it; one day to be finally absorbed, I trust, forever!
"And who was this wonderful Duchess of Towers before she married?" I asked.
"She was a Miss Seraskier. Her father was a Hungarian, a physician, and a political reformer—a most charming person; that's where she gets her manners. Her mother, whom she lost when she was quite a child, was a very beautiful Irish girl of good family, a first cousin of Lord Cray's—a Miss Desmond, who ran away with the interesting patriot. They lived somewhere near Paris. It was there that Madame Seraskier died of cholera—... What is the matter—are you ill?"
I made out that I was faint from the heat, and concealed as well as I could the flood of emotion and bewilderment that overwhelmed me.
I dared not look again at the Duchess of Towers.
"Oh! little Mimsey dear, with your poor thin arms round my neck, and your cold, pale cheek against mine. I felt them there only last night! To have grown into such a splendid vision of female health and strength and beauty as this—with that enchanting, ever-ready laugh and smile! Why, of course, those eyes, so lashless then, so thickly fringed to-day!—how could I have mistaken them? Ah, Mimsey, you never smiled or laughed in those days, or I should have known your eyes again! Is it possible—is it possible?"
Thus I went on to myself till the ladies left, my fair young companion expressing her kind anxiety and polite hope that I would soon be myself again.
I sat silent till it was time to join the ladies (I could not even follow the witty and brilliant anecdotes of the great painter, who held the table); and then I went up to my room. I could not face her again so soon after what I had heard.
The good Lord Cray came to make kind inquiries, but I soon satisfied him that my indisposition was nothing. He stayed on, however, and talked; his dinner seemed to have done him a great deal of good, and he wanted to smoke (and somebody to smoke with), which he had not been able to do in the dining-room on account of some reverend old bishop who was present. So he rolled himself a little cigarette, like a Frenchman, and puffed away to his heart's content.
He little guessed how his humble architect wished him away, until he began to talk of the Duchess of Towers—"Mary Towers," as he called her—and to tell me how "Towers" deserved to be kicked, and whipped at the cart's tail. "Why, she's the best and most beautiful woman in England, and as sharp as a needle! If it hadn't been for her, he'd have been in the bankruptcy court long ago," etc. "There's not a duchess in England that's fit to hold the candle to her, either for looks or brains, or breedin' either. Her mother (the loveliest woman that ever lived, except Mary) was a connection of mine; that's where she gets her manners!" etc.
Thus did this noble earl make music for me—sweet and bitter music.
Mary! It is a heavenly name, especially on English lips, and spelled in the English mode with the adorable y! Great men have had a passion for it—Byron, Shelley, Burns. But none, methinks, a greater passion than I, nor with such good cause.
And yet there must be a bad Mary now and then, here or there, and even an ugly one. Indeed, there was once a Bloody Mary who was both! It seems incredible!
Mary, indeed! Why not Hecuba? For what was I to the Duchess of Towers?
When I was alone again I went to bed, and tried to sleep on my back, with my arms up, in the hope of a true dream; but sleep would not come, and I passed a white night, as the French say. I rose early and walked about the park, and tried to interest my self in the stables till it was breakfast-time. Nobody was up, and I breakfasted alone with Lady Cray, who was as kind as she could be. I do not think she could have found me a very witty companion. And then I went back to the stables to think, and fell into a doze.
At about twelve I heard the sound of wooden balls, and found a lawn where some people were playing "croquet." It was quite a new game, and a few years later became the fashion.
I sat down under a large weeping-ash close to the lawn; it was like a tent, with chairs and tables underneath.
Presently Lady Cray came there with the Duchess of Towers. I wanted to fly, but was rooted to the spot.
Lady Cray presented me, and almost immediately a servant came with a message for her, and I was left with the One Woman in the World! My heart was in my mouth, my throat was dry, my pulse was beating in my temples.
She asked me, in the most natural manner, if I played "croquet."
"Yes—no—at least, sometimes—that is, I never of it—oh—I forget!" I groaned at my idiocy and hid my face in my hands. She asked if I were still unwell, and I said no; and then she began to talk quite easily about anything, everything, till I felt more at my ease.
Her voice! I had never heard it well but in a dream, and it was the same—a very rich and modulated voice—low—contralto, with many varied and delightful inflexions; and she used more action in speaking than the generality of Englishwomen, thereby reminding me of Madame Seraskier. I noticed that her hands were long and very narrow, and also her feet, and remembered that Mimsey's were like that—they were considered poor Mimsey's only beauty. I also noticed an almost imperceptible scar on her left temple, and remembered with a thrill that I had noticed it in my dream as we walked up the avenue together. In waking life I had never been near enough to her to notice a small scar, and Mimsey had no scar of the kind in the old days—of that I felt sure, for I had seen much of Mimsey lately.
I grew more accustomed to the situation, and ventured to say that I had once met her at Lady Cray's in London.
"Oh yes; I remember. Giulia Grisi sand the 'Willow Song.'" And then she crinkled up her eyes, and laughed, and blushed, and went on: "I noticed you standing in a corner, under the famous Gainsborough. You reminded me of a dear little French boy I once knew who was very kind to me when I was a little girl in France, and whose father you happen to be like. But I found that you were Mr. Ibbetson, an English architect, and, Lady Cray tells me, a very rising one"
"I was a little French boy once. I had to change my name to please a relative, and become English—that is, I was always really English, you know."
"Good Heavens, what an extraordinary thing! What was your name, then?"
"Pasquier-Gogo Pasquier!" I groaned, and the tears came into my eyes, and I looked away. The duchess made no answer, and when I turned and looked at her she was looking at me, very pale, her lips quite white, her hands tightly clasped in her lap, and trembling all over.
I said, "You used to be little Mimsey Seraskier, and I used to carry you pickaback!"
"Oh don't! oh don't!" she said, and began to cry.
I got up and walked about under the ash-tree till she had dried her eyes. The croquet-players were intent upon their game.
I again sat down beside her; she had dried her eyes, and at length she said—
"What a dreadful thing it was about your poor father and mother, and my dear mother! Do you remember her? She died a week after you left. I went to Russia with papa—Dr. Seraskier. What a terrible break-up it all was!"
And then we gradually fell to talking quite naturally about old times, and dear dead people. She never took her eyes off mine. After a while I said—
"I went to Passy, and found everything changed and built over. It nearly drove me mad to see. I went to St. Cloud, and saw you driving with the Empress of the French. That night I had such an extraordinary dream! I dreamed I was floundering about the Rue de la Pompe, and had just got to the avenue gate, and you were there."
"Good heavens!" she whispered, and turned white again, and trembled all over, "what do you mean?"
"Yes," I said, "you came to my rescue. I was pursued by gnomes and horrors."
She. "Good heavens! by—by two little jailers, a man and his wife, who danced and were trying to hem you in?"
It was now my turn to ejaculate "Good heavens!" We both shook and trembled together.
I said: "You gave me your hand, and all came straight at once. My old school rose in place of the jail."
She. "With a yellow omnibus? And boys going off to their premiere communion?"
I. "Yes; and there was a crowd—le Pere et la Mere Francois, and Madame Liard, the grocer's wife, and—and Mimsey Seraskier, with her cropped head. And an organ was playing a tune I knew quite well, but cannot now recall." ...
She. "Wasn't it 'Maman, les p'tits bateaux?'"
I. Oh, of course!
"'Maman, les p'tits bateaux Qui vont sur l'eau, Ont-ils des jambes?'"
She. "That's it!"
"'Eh oui, petit beta! S'ils n'avaient pas Ils n'march'raient pas!'"
She sank back in her chair, pale and prostrate. After a while—
She. "And then I gave you good advice about how to dream true, and we got to my old house, and I tried to make you read the letters on the portico, and you read them wrong, and I laughed."
I. "Yes; I read 'Tete Noire.' Wasn't it idiotic?"
She. "And then I touched you again and you read 'Parvis Notre Dame.'"
I. "Yes! and you touched me again, and I read 'Parva sed Apta'—small but fit."
She. "Is that what it means? Why, when you were a boy, you told me sed apta was all one word, and was the Latin for 'Pavilion.' I believed it ever since, and thought 'Parva sed Apta' meant petit pavillon!"
I. "I blush for my bad Latin! After this you gave me good advice again, about not touching anything or picking flowers. I never have. And then you went away into the park—the light went out of my life, sleeping or waking. I have never been able to dream of you since. I don't suppose I shall ever meet you again after to-day!"
After this we were silent for a long time, though I hummed and hawed now and then, and tried to speak. I was sick with the conflict of my feelings. At length she said—
"Dear Mr. Ibbetson, this is all so extraordinary that I must go away and think it all over. I cannot tell you what it has been to me to meet you once more. And that double dream, common to us both! Oh, I am dazed beyond expression, and feel as if I were dreaming now—except that this all seems so unreal and impossible—so untrue! We had better part now. I don't know if I shall ever meet you again. You will be often in my thoughts, but never in my dreams again—that, at least, I can command—nor I in yours; it must not be. My poor father taught me how to dream before he died, that I might find innocent consolation in dreams for my waking troubles, which are many and great, as his were. If I can see that any good may come of it, I will write—but no—you must not expect a letter. I will now say good-bye and leave you. You go to-day, do you not? That is best. I think this had better be a final adieu. I cannot tell you of what interest you are to me and always have been. I thought you had died long ago. We shall often think of each other—that is inevitable—but never, never dream. That will not do.
"Dear Mr. Ibbetson, I wish you all the good that one human being can wish another. And now goodbye, and may God in heaven bless you!"
She rose, trembling and white, and her eyes wet with tears, and wrung both my hands, and left me as she had left me in the dream.
The light went out of my life, and I was once more alone—more wretchedly and miserably alone than if I had never met her.
I went back to Pentonville, and outwardly took up the thread of my monotonous existence, and ate, drank, and worked, and went about as usual, but as one in an ordinary dream. For now dreams—true dreams—had become the only reality for me.
So great, so inconceivable and unexampled a wonder had been wrought in a dream that all the conditions of life had been altered and reversed.
I and another human being had met—actually and really met—in a double dream, a dream common to us both, and clasped each other's hands! And each had spoken words to the other which neither ever would or ever could forget.
And this other human being and I had been enshrined in each other's memory for years—since childhood—and were now linked together by a tie so marvellous, an experience so unprecedented, that neither could ever well be out of the other's thoughts as long as life and sense and memory lasted.
Her very self, as we talked to each other under the ash-tree at Cray, was less vividly present to me than that other and still dearer self of hers with whom I had walked up the avenue in that balmy dream atmosphere, where we had lived and moved and had our being together for a few short moments, yet each believing the other at the time to be a mere figment of his own (and her) sleeping imagination; such stuff as dreams are made of!
And lo! it was all true—as true as the common experience of every-day life—more (ten times more), because through our keener and more exalted sense perceptions, and less divided attention, we were more conscious of each other's real inner being—linked closer together for a space—than two mortals had probably ever been since the world began.
That clasp of the hands in the dream—how infinitely more it had conveyed of one to the other than even that sad farewell clasp at Cray!
In my poor outer life I waited in vain for a letter; in vain I haunted the parks and streets—the street where she lived—in the hope of seeing her once more. The house was shut; she was away—in America, as I afterwards learned—with her husband and child.
At night, in the familiar scenes I had learned so well to conjure up, I explored every nook and corner with the same yearning desire to find a trace of her. I was hardly ever away from "Parva sed Apta." There were Madame Seraskier and Mimsey and the major, and my mother and Gogo, at all times, in and out, and of course as unconscious of my solid presence as though I had never existed. And as I looked at Mimsey and her mother I wondered at my obtuseness in not recognizing at the very first glance who the Duchess of Towers had been, and whose daughter. The height, the voice, the eyes, certain tricks of gait and gesture—how could I have failed to know her again after such recent dream opportunities?
And Seraskier, towering among them all, as his daughter now towered among women. I saw that he lived again in his daughter; his was the smile that closed up the eyes, as hers did; had Mimsey ever smiled in those days, I should have known her again by this very characteristic trait.
Of this daughter of his (the Mimsey of the past years, not the duchess of to-day) I never now could have enough, and made her go through again and again all the scenes with Gogo, so dear to my remembrance, and to hers. I was, in fact, the Prince Charmant, of whose unseen attendance she had been conscious in some inconceivable way. What a strange foresight! But where was the fee Tarapatapoum? Never there during this year of unutterable longing; she had said it; never, never again should I be in her dream, or she in mine, however constantly we might dwell in each other's thoughts.
So sped a twelvemonth after that last meeting in the flesh at Gray.
* * * * *
And now with an unwilling heart and most reluctant pen, I must come to the great calamity of my life which I will endeavor to tell in as few words as possible.
The reader, if he has been good enough to read without skipping, will remember the handsome Mrs. Deane, to whom I fancied I lost my heart, in Hopshire, a few years back.
I had not seen her since—had, indeed, almost forgotten her—but had heard vaguely that she had left Hopshire, and come to London, and married a wealthy man much older than herself.
Well, one day I was in Hyde Park, gazing at the people in the drive, when a spick-and-span and very brand-new open carriage went by, and in it sad Mrs. Deane (that was), all alone in her glory, and looking very sulky indeed. She recognized me and bowed, and I bowed back again, with just a moment's little flutter of the heart—an involuntary tribute to auld lang syne—and went on my way, wondering that I could ever had admired her so.
Presently, to my surprise, I was touched on the elbow. It was Mrs. Deane again—I will call her Mrs. Deane still. She had got out and followed me on foot. It was her wish that I should drive round the park with her and talk of old times. I obeyed, and for the first and last time found myself forming part of that proud and gay procession I had so often watched with curious eyes.
She seemed anxious to know whether I had ever made it up with Colonel Ibbetson, and pleased to hear that I had not, and that I probably never should, and that my feeling against him was strong and bitter and likely to last.
She appeared to hate him very much.
She inquired kindly after myself and my prospects in life, but did not seem deeply interested in my answers—until later, when I talked of my French life, and my dear father and mother, when she listened with eager sympathy, and I was much touched. She asked if I had portraits of them; I had—most excellent miniatures; and when we parted I had promised to call upon her next afternoon, and bring these miniatures with me.
She seemed a languid woman, much ennuyee, and evidently without a large circle of acquaintance. She told me I was the only person in the whole park whom she had bowed to that day. Her husband was in Hamburg, and she was going to meet him in Paris in a day or two.
I had not so many friends but what I felt rather glad than otherwise to have met her, and willingly called, as I had promised, with the portraits.
She lived in a large, new house, magnificently up near the Marble Arch. She was quite alone when I called, and asked me immediately if I had brought the miniatures; and looked at them quite eagerly, and then at me, and exclaimed—
"Good heavens, you are your father's very image!"
Indeed, I had always been considered so.
Both his eyebrows and mine, especially, met in a singular and characteristic fashion at the bridge of the nose, and she seemed much struck by this. He was represented in the uniform of Charles X's gardes du corps, in which he had served for two years, and had acquired the nickname of "le beau Pasquier." Mrs. Deane seemed never to tire of gazing at it, and remarked that my father "must have been the very ideal of a young girl's dream" (an indirect compliment which made me blush after what she had just said of the likeness between us. I almost began to wonder whether she was going to try and make a fool of me again, as she had so successfully done a few years ago).
Then she became interested again in my early life and recollections, and wanted to know whether my parents were fond of each other. They were a most devoted and lover-like pair, and had loved each other at first sight and until death, and I told her so; and so on until I became quite excited, and imagined she must know of some good fortune to which I was entitled, and had been kept out of by the machinations of a wicked uncle.
For I had long discovered in my dreams that he had been my father's bitterest enemy and the main cause of his financial ruin, by selfish, heartless, and dishonest deeds too complicated to explain here—a regular Shylock.
I had found this out by listening (in my dreams) to long conversations between my father and mother in the old drawing-room at Passy, while Gogo was absorbed in his book; and every word that had passed through Gogo's inattentive ears into his otherwise preoccupied little brain had been recorded there as in a phonograph, and was now repeated over and over again for Peter Ibbetson, as he sat unnoticed among them.
I asked her, jokingly, if she had discovered that I was the rightful heir to Ibbetson Hall by any chance.
She replied that nothing would give her greater pleasure, but there was no such good fortune in store for either her or me; that she had discovered long ago that Colonel Ibbetson was the greatest blackguard unhung, and nothing new she might discover could make him worse.
I then remembered how he would often speak of her, even to me, and hint and insinuate things which were no doubt untrue, and which I disbelieved. Not that the question of their truth or untruth made him any the less despicable and vile for telling.
She asked me if he had ever spoken of her to me, and after much persuasion and cunning cross-examination I told her as much of the truth as I dared, and she became a tigress. She assured me that he had managed so to injure and compromise her in Hopshire that she and her mother had to leave, and she swore to me most solemnly (and I thoroughly believe she spoke the truth) that there had never been any relation between them that she could not have owned to before the whole world.
She had wished to marry him, it is true, for his wealth and position; for both she and her mother were very poor, and often hard put to it to make both ends meet and keep up a decent appearance before the world; and he had singled her out and paid her marked attention from the first, and given her every reason to believe that his attentions were serious and honorable.
At this juncture her mother came in, Mrs. Glyn, and we renewed our old acquaintance. She had quite forgiven me my school-boy admiration for her daughter; all her power of hating, like her daughter's, had concentrated itself on Ibbetson; and as I listened to the long story of their wrongs and his infamy, I grew to hate him worse than ever, and was ready to be their champion on the spot, and to take up their quarrel there and then.
But this would not do, it appeared, for their name must nevermore be in any way mixed up with his.
Then suddenly Mrs. Glyn asked me if I knew when he went to India.
I could satisfy her, for I knew that it was just after my parents' marriage, nearly a year before my birth; upon which she gave the exact date of his departure with his regiment, and the name of the transport, and everything; and also, to my surprise, the date of my parents' marriage at Marylebone Church, and of my baptism there fifteen months later—just fourteen weeks after my birth in Passy. I was growing quite bewildered with all this knowledge of my affairs, and wondered more and more.
We sat silent for a while, the two women looking at each other and at me and at the miniatures. It was getting grewsome. What could it all mean?
Presently Mrs. Glyn, at a nod from her daughter, addressed me thus:
"Mr. Ibbetson, your uncle, as you call him, though he is not your uncle, is a very terrible villain, and has done you and your parents a very foul wrong. Before I tell you what it is (and I think you ought to know) you must give me your word of honor that you will do or say nothing that will get our name publicly mixed up in any way with Colonel Ibbetson's. The injury to my daughter, now she is happily married to an excellent man, would be irreparable."
With a beating heart I solemnly gave the required assurance.
"Then, Mr. Ibbetson, it is right that you should know that Colonel Ibbetson, when he was paying his infamous addresses to my daughter, gave her unmistakably to understand that you were his natural son, by his cousin, Miss Catherine Biddulph, afterwards Madame Pasquier de la Mariere!"
"Oh, oh, oh!" I cried, "surely you must be mistaken—he knew it was impossible—he had been refused by my mother three times—he went to India nearly a year before I was born—he—"
Then Mrs. Deane said, producing an old letter from her pocket:
"Do you know his handwriting and his crest? Do you happen to recollect once bringing me a note from at Ibbetson Hall? Here it is," and she handed it to me. It was unmistakably his, and I remembered it at once, and this is what it said:
"For Heaven's sake, dear friend, don't breathe a word to any living soul of what you were clever enough to guess last night! There is a likeness, of course.
"Poor Antinoues! He is quite ignorant of the true relationship, which has caused me many a pang of shame and remorse....
"'Que voulez-vous? Elle etait ravissaure!' ... We were cousins, much thrown together; 'both were so young, and one so beautiful!' ... I was but a penniless cornet in those days—hardly more than a boy. Happily an unsuspecting Frenchman of good family was there who had loved her long, and she married him. 'Il etait temps!' ...
"Can you forgive me this 'entrainement de jeunesse?' I have repented in sackcloth and ashes, and made what reparation I could by adopting and giving my name to one who is a perpetual reminder to me of a moment's infatuation. He little knows, poor boy, and never will, I hope. 'Il n'a plus que moi au monde!'
"Burn this as soon as you have read it, and never let the subject be mentioned between us again.
"R. ('Qui sait aimer')."
Here was a thunderbolt out of the blue!
I sat stunned and saw scarlet, and felt as if I should see scarlet forever.
After a long silence, during which I could feel my pulse beat to bursting-point in my temples, Mrs. Glyn said:
"Now, Mr. Ibbetson, I hope you will do nothing rash—nothing that can bring my daughter's name into any quarrel between yourself and your uncle. For the sake of your mother's good name, you will be prudent, I know. If he could speak like this of his cousin, with whom he had been in love when he was young, what lies would he not tell of my poor daughter? He has—terrible lies! Oh, what we have suffered! When he wrote that letter I believe he really meant to marry her. He had the greatest trust in her, or he would never have committed himself so foolishly."
"Does he know of this letter's existing?" I asked.
"No. When he and my daughter quarrelled she sent him back his letters—all but this one, which she told him she had burned immediately after reading it, as he had told her to do."
"May I keep it?"
"Yes. I know you may be trusted, and my daughter's name has been removed from the outside, as you see. No one but ourselves has ever seen it, nor have we mentioned to a soul what it contains, as we never believed it for a moment. Two or three years ago we had the curiosity to find out when and where your parents had married, and when you were born, and when he went to India, it was no surprise to us at all. We then tried to find you, but soon gave it up, and thought it better to leave matters alone. Then we heard he was in mischief again—just the same sort of mischief; and then my daughter saw you in the park, and we concluded you ought to know."
Such was the gist of that memorable conversation, which I have condensed as much as I could.
When I left these two ladies I walked twice rapidly round the park. I saw scarlet often during that walk. Perhaps I looked scarlet. I remember people staring at me.
Then I went straight to Lintot's, with the impulse to tell him my trouble and ask his advice.
He was away from home, and I waited in his smoking-room for a while, reading the letter over and over again.
Then I decided not to tell him, and left the house, taking with me as I did so (but without any definite purpose) a heavy loaded stick, a most formidable weapon, even in the hands of a boy, and which I myself had given to Lintot on his last birthday. [Greek: Anagkae]!
Then I went to my usual eating-house near the circus and dined. To the surprise of the waiting-maid, I drank a quart of bitter ale and two glasses of sherry. It was my custom to drink water. She plied me with questions as to whether I was ill or in trouble. I answered her no, and at last begged she would leave me alone.
Ibbetson lived in St. James's Street. I went there. He was out. It was nine o'clock, and his servant seemed uncertain when he would return. I came back at ten. He was not yet home, and the servant, after thinking a while, and looking up and down the street, and finding my appearance decent and by no means dangerous, asked me to go upstairs and wait, as I told him it was a matter of great importance.
So I went and sat in my uncle's drawing-room and waited.
The servant came with me and lit the candles, and remarked on the weather, and handed me the Saturday Review and Punch. I must have looked quite natural—as I tried to look—and he left me.
I saw a Malay creese on the mantel-piece and hid it behind a picture-frame. I locked a door leading to another drawing-room where there was a grand piano, and above it a trophy of swords, daggers, battle-axes, etc., and put the key in my pocket.
The key of the room where I waited was inside the door.
All this time I had a vague idea of possible violence on his part, but no idea of killing him. I felt far too strong for that. Indeed, I had a feeling of quiet, irresistible strength—the result of suppressed excitement.
I sat down and meditated all I would say. I had settled it over and over again, and read and reread the fatal letter.
The servant came up with glasses and soda-water. I trembled lest he should observe that the door to the other room was locked, but he did not. He opened the window and looked up and down the street. Presently he said, "Here's the colonel at last, sir," and went down to open the door.
I heard him come in and speak to his servant. Then he came straight up, humming "la donna e mobile," and walked in with just the jaunty, airy manner I remembered. He was in evening dress, and very little changed. He seemed much surprised to see me, and turned very white.
"Well, my Apollo of the T square, pourquoi cet honneur? Have you come, like a dutiful nephew, to humble yourself and beg for forgiveness?"
I forgot all I meant to say (indeed, nothing happened as I had meant), but rose and said, "I have come to have a talk with you," as quietly as I could, though with a thick voice.
He seemed uneasy, and went towards the door.
I got there before him, and closed it, and locked it, and put the key in my pocket.
He darted to the other door and found it locked.
Then he went to the mantel-piece and looked for the creese, and not finding it, he turned round with his back to the fireplace and his arms akimbo, and tried to look very contemptuous and determined. His chin was quite white under his dyed mustache—like wax—and his eyes blinked nervously.
I walked up to him and said: "You told Mrs. Deane that I was your natural son."
"It's a lie! Who told you so?"
"She did—this afternoon."
"It's a lie—a spiteful invention of a cast-off mistress!"
"She never was your mistress!"
"You fool! I suppose she told you that too. Leave the room, you pitiful green jackass, or I'll have you turned out," and he rang the bell.
"Do you know your own handwriting?" I said, and handed him the letter.
He read a line or two and gasped out that it was a forgery, and rang the bell again, and looked again behind the clock for his creese. Then he lit the letter at a candle and threw it in the fireplace, where it blazed out.
I made no attempt to prevent him.
The servant tried to open the door, and Ibbetson went to the window and called out for the police. I rushed to the picture where I had hidden the creese, and threw it on the table. Then I swung him away from the window by his coat-tails, and told him to defend himself, pointing to the creese.
He seized it, and stood on the defensive; the servant had apparently run down-stairs for assistance.
"Now, then," I said, "down on your knees, you infamous cur, and confess; it's your only chance."
"Confess what, you fool?"
"That you're a coward and a liar; that you wrote that letter; that Mrs. Deane was no more your mistress than my mother was!"
There was a sound of people running up-stairs. He listened a moment and hissed out:
"They both were, you idiot! How can I tell for certain whether you are my son or not? It all comes to the same. Of course I wrote the letter. Come on, you cowardly assassin, you bastard parricide!" ... and he advanced on me with his creese low down in his right hand, the point upward, and made a thrust, shrieking out, "Break open the door! quick!" They did; but too late!
I saw crimson!
He missed me, and I brought down my stick on his left arm, which he held over his head, and then on his head, and he fell, crying:
"O my God! O Christ!"
I struck him again on his head as he was falling, and once again when he was on the ground. It seemed to crash right in.
That is why and how I killed Uncle Ibbetson.
"Grouille, greve, greve, grouille, File, file, ma quenouille! File sa corde au bourreau Qui siffle dans le preau..."
So sang the old hag in Notre Dame de Paris!
So sang to me night and day, for many nights and days, the thin small voice that always went piping inside me, now to one tune, now to another, but always the same words—that terrible refrain that used to haunt me so when I was a school-boy at Bluefriars!
Oh, to be a school-boy again in a long gray coat and ridiculous pink stockings—innocent and free—with Esmeralda for my only love, and Athos and Porthos and D'Artagnan for my bosom friends, and no worse tribulation than to be told on a Saturday afternoon that the third volume was in hand—volume trois en lecture'.
* * * * *
Sometimes, I remember, I could hardly sleep on a Sunday night, for pity of the poor wretch who was to be hanged close by on Monday morning, and it has come to that with me!
* * * * *
Oh, Mary, Mary, Duchess of Towers, sweet friend of my childhood, and love of my life, what must you think of me now?
* * * * *
How blessed are the faithful! How good it must be to trust in God and heaven, and the forgiveness of sin, and be as a little child in all but innocence! A whole career of crime wiped out in a moment by just one cheap little mental act of faith at the eleventh hour, in the extreme terror of well-merited dissolution; and all the evil one has worked through life (that goes on breeding evil for ages to come) taken off one's shoulders like a filthy garment, and just cast aside, anywhere, anyhow, for the infecting of others—who do not count.
What matter if it be a fool's paradise? Paradise is paradise, for whoever owns it!
* * * * *
They say a Sicilian drum-major, during the French occupation of Palermo, was sentenced to be shot. He was a well-known coward, and it was feared he would disgrace his country at the last moment in the presence of the French soldiers, who had a way of being shot with a good grace and a light heart: they had grown accustomed to it.
For the honor of Sicily his confessor told him, in the strictest confidence, that his sentence was a mock one, and that he would be fired at with blank cartridges.
It was a pious fraud. All but two of the twelve cartridges had bullets, and he fell, riddled through and through. No Frenchman ever died with a lighter heart, a better grace. He was superb, and the national honor was saved.
Thrice happy Sicilian drum-major, if the story be true! That trust in blank cartridges was his paradise.
* * * * *
Oh, it is uphill work to be a stoic when the moment comes and the tug! But when the tug lasts for more than a moment—days and nights, days and nights! Oh, happy Sicilian drum-major!
* * * * *
Pray? Yes, I will pray night and morning, and all day long, to whatever there is left of inherited strength and courage in that luckless, misbegotten waif, Peter Ibbetson; that it may bear him up a little while yet; that he may not disgrace himself in the dock or on the gallows.
* * * * *
Repent? Yes, of many things. But of the thing for which I am here? Never!
* * * * *
It is a ghastly thing to be judge and jury and executioner all in one, and for a private and personal wrong—to condemn and strike and kill.
Pity comes after—when it is too late, fortunately—the wretched weakness of pity! Pooh! no Calcraft will ever pity me, and I do not want him to.
* * * * *
He had his long, snaky knife against my stick; he, too, was a big strong man, well skilled in self-defence! Down he went, and I struck him again and again. "O my God! O Christ!" he shrieked....
"It will ring in my heart and my ears till I die—till I die!"
* * * * *
There was no time to lose—no time to think for the best. It is all for the best as it is. What might he not have said if he had lived!
* * * * *
Thank Heaven, pity is not remorse or shame; and what crime could well be worse than his? To rob one's dearly beloved dead of their fair shame!
* * * * *
He might have been mad, perhaps, and have grown in time to believe the lies he told himself. Such things have been. But such a madman should no more be suffered to live than a mad dog. The only way to kill the lie was to kill the liar—that is, if one can ever kill a lie!
* * * * *
Poor worm! after all, he could not help it, I suppose! he was built like that! and I was built to kill him for it, and be hanged.' [Greek: Anagkae]!
What an exit for "Gogo—gentil petit Gogo!"
* * * * *
Just opposite that wall, on the other side, was once a small tripe and trotter shop, kept by a most lovely daughter of the people, so fair and good in my eyes that I would have asked her to be my wife. What would she think of me now? That I should have dared to aspire! What a King Cophetua!
* * * * *
What does everybody think? I can never breathe the real cause to a soul. Only two women know the truth, and they will take good care not to tell. Thank Heaven for that!
What matters what anybody thinks? "It will be all the same as a hundred years hence." That is the most sensible proverb ever invented.
* * * * *
* * * * *
The judge puts on the black cap, and it is all for you! Every eye is fixed on you, so big and young and strong and full of life! Ugh!
* * * * *
They pinion you, and you have to walk and be a man, and the chaplain exhorts and prays and tries to comfort. Then a sea of faces; people opposite, who have been eating and drinking and making merry, waiting for you! A cap is pulled over your eyes—oh, horror! horror! horror!
* * * * *
"Heureux tambour-major de Sicile!"
* * * * *
"Il faut laver son ligne sale en famille, et c'est ce que j'ai fait. Mais ca va ma couter cher!"
* * * * *
Would I do it all over again? Oh, let me hope, yes!
* * * * *
Ah, he died too quick; I dealt him those four blows in less than as many seconds. It was five minutes, perhaps—or, at the most, ten—from the moment he came into the room to that when I finished him and was caught red-handed. And I—what a long agony!
Oh, that I might once more dream a "true dream," and see my dear people once more! But it seems that I have lost the power of dreaming true since that fatal night. I try and try, but it will not come. My dreams are dreadful; and, oh, the waking!
* * * * *
After all, my life hitherto, but for a few happy years of childhood, has not been worth living; it is most unlikely that it ever would have been, had I lived to a hundred! Oh, Mary! Mary!
* * * * *
And penal servitude! Better any death than that. It is good that my secret must die with me—that there will be no extenuating circumstances, no recommendation to mercy, no commutation of the swift penalty of death.
"File, file... File sa corde au bourreau!"
By such monotonous thoughts, and others as dreary and hopeless, recurring again and again in the same dull round, I beguiled the terrible time that intervened between Ibbetson's death and my trial at the Old Bailey.
It all seems very trivial and unimportant now—not worth recording—even hard to remember.
But at the time my misery was so great, my terror of the gallows so poignant, that each day I thought I must die of sheer grief before another twenty-four hours could possibly pass over me.
The intolerable strain would grow more and more severe till a climax of tension was reached, and a hysterical burst of tears would relieve me for a while, and I would feel reconciled to my fate, and able to face death like a man.... Then the anguish would gradually steal over me again, and the uncontrollable weakness of the flesh....
And each of these two opposite moods, while it lasted, made the other seem impossible, and as if it never could come back again; yet back it came with the regularity of a tide—the most harrowing seesaw that ever was.
I had always been unstable like that; but whereas I had hitherto oscillated between high elation and despondency, it was now from a dumb, resigned despair to the wildest agony and terror.
I sought in vain for the only comfort it was in me to seek; but when, overdone with suffering, I fell asleep at last, I could no longer dream true; I could dream only as other wretches dream.
I always dreamed those two little dancing, deformed jailers, man and wife, had got me at last; and that I shrieked aloud for my beloved duchess to succor me, as they ran me in, each butting at me sideways, and showing their toothless gums in a black smile, and poisoning me with their hot sour breath! The gate was there, and the avenue, all distorted and quite unlike; and, opposite, a jail; but no powerful Duchess of Towers to wave the horror away.
* * * * *
It will be remembered by some, perhaps, how short was my trial.
The plea of "not guilty" was entered for me. The defence set up was insanity, based on the absence of any adequate motive. This defence was soon disposed of by the prosecution; witnesses to my sanity were not wanting, and motives enough were found in my past relations with Colonel Ibbetson to "make me—a violent, morose, and vindictive-natured man—imbrue my hands in the gore of my relative and benefactor—a man old enough to be my father—who, indeed, might have been my father, for the love he had bestowed upon me, with his honored name, when I was left a penniless, foreign orphan on his hands."
Here I laughed loud and long, and made a most painful impression, as is duly recorded in the reports of the trial.
The jury found me guilty quite early in the afternoon of the second day, without leaving the box; and I, "preserving to the last the callous and unmoved demeanor I had borne all through the trial," was duly sentenced to death without any hope of mercy, but with an expression of regret on the part of the judge—a famous hanging judge—that a man of my education and promise should be brought by his own evil nature and uncontrollable passions to so deplorable an end.
Now whether the worst of certainties is better than suspense—whether my nerves of pain had been so exercised during the period preceding my trial that I had really become callous, as they say a man's back does after a certain number of strokes from the "cat"—certain it was that I knew the worst, and acquiesced in it with a surprised sense of actual relief, and found it in me to feel it not unbearable.
Such, at least, was my mood that night. I made the most of it. It was almost happiness by comparison with what I had gone through. I remember eating with a heartiness that surprised me. I could have gone straight from my dinner to the gallows, and died with a light heart and a good grace—like a Sicilian drum-major.
I resolved to write the whole true story to the Duchess of Towers, with an avowal of my long and hopeless adoration for her, and the expression of a hope that she would try to think of me only as her old playfellow, and as she had known me before this terrible disaster. And thinking of the letter I would write till very late, I fell asleep in my cell, with two warders to watch over me; and then—Another phase of my inner life began.
* * * * *
Without effort, without let or hindrance of any kind, I was at the avenue gate.
The pink and white may, the lilacs and laburnums were in full bloom, the sun made golden paths everywhere. The warm air was full of fragrance, and alive with all the buzz and chirp of early summer.
I was half crying with joy to reach the land of my true dreams again, to feel at home once more—chez moi! chez moi!
La Mere Francois sat peeling potatoes at the door of her loge; she was singing a little song about cinq sous, sinq sous, pour monter notre menage. I had forgotten it, but it all came back now.
The facetious postman, Yverdon, went in at the gate of my old garden; the bell rang as he pushed it, and I followed him.
Under the apple-tree, which was putting forth shoots of blossom in profusion, sat my mother and Monsieur le Major. My mother took the letter from the postman's hand as he said, "Pour Vous? Oh yes, Madame Pasquier, God sev ze Kveen!" and paid the postage. It was from Colonel Ibbetson, then in Ireland, and not yet a colonel.
Medor lay snoring on the grass, and Gogo and Mimsey were looking at the pictures in the musee des familles.
In a garden chair lolled Dr. Seraskier, apparently asleep, with his long porcelain pipe across his knees.
Madame Seraskier, in a yellow nankeen gown with gigot sleeves, was cutting curl-papers out of the Constitutionnel.
I gazed on them all with unutterable tenderness. I was gazing on them perhaps for the last time.
I called out to them by name.
"Oh, speak to me, beloved shades! Oh, my father! oh, mother, I want you so desperately! Come out of the past for a few seconds, and give me some words of comfort! I'm in such woful plight! If you could only know ..."
But they could neither hear nor see me.
Then suddenly another figure stepped forth from behind the apple-tree—no old-fashioned, unsubstantial shadow of by-gone days that one can only see and hear, and that cannot hear and see one back again; but one in all the splendid fulness of life, a pillar of help and strength—Mary, Duchess of Towers!
I fell on my knees as she came to me with both hands extended.
"Oh, Mr. Ibbetson, I have been seeking and waiting for you here night after night! I have been frantic! If you hadn't come at last, I must have thrown everything to the winds, and gone to see you in Newgate, waking and before the world, to have a talk with you—an abboccamento. I suppose you couldn't sleep, or were unable to dream."
I could not answer at first. I could only cover her hands with kisses, as I felt her warm life-current mixing with mine—a rapture!
And then I said—
"I swear to you by all I hold most sacred—by my mother's memory and yours—by yourself—that I never meant to take Ibbetson's life, or even strike him; the miserable blow was dealt...."
"As if you need tell me that! As if I didn't know you of old, my poor friend, kindest and gentlest of men! Why, I am holding your hands, and see into the very depths of your heart!"
(I put down all she said as she said it. Of course I am not, and never have been, what her old affectionate regard made me seem in her eyes, any more than I am the bloodthirsty monster I passed for. Woman-like, she was the slave of her predilections.)
"And now, Mr. Ibbetson," she went on, "let me first of all tell you, for a certainty, that the sentence will be commuted. I saw the Home Secretary three or four hours ago. The real cause of your deplorable quarrel with your uncle is an open secret. His character is well known. A Mrs. Gregory (whom you knew in Hopshire as Mrs. Deane) has been with the Home Secretary this afternoon. Your chivalrous reticence at the trial...."
"Oh," I interrupted, "I don't care to live any longer! Now that I have met you once more, and that you have forgiven me and think well of me in spite of everything, I am ready to die. There has never been anybody but you in the world for me—never a ghost of a woman, never even a friend since my mother died and yours. Between that time and the night I first saw you at Lady Cray's concert, I can scarcely be said to have lived at all. I fed on scraps of remembrance. You see I have no talent for making new friends, but oh, such a genius for fidelity to old ones! I was waiting for Mimsey to come back again, I suppose, the one survivor to me of that sweet time, and when she came at last I was too stupid to recognize her. She suddenly blazed and dazzled into my poor life like a meteor, and filled it with a maddening love and pain. I don't know which of the two has been the sweetest; both have been my life. You cannot realize what it has been. Trust me, I have lived my fill. I am ready and willing to die. It is the only perfect consummation I can think of. Nothing can ever equal this moment—nothing on earth or in heaven. And if I were free to-morrow, life would not be worth having without you. I would not take it as a gift."
She sat down by me on the grass with her hands clasped across her knees, close to the unconscious shadows of our kith and kin, within hearing of their happy talk and laughter.
Suddenly we both heard Mimsey say to Gogo—
"O, ils sont joliment bien ensemble, le Prince Charmant et la fee Tarapatapoum!"
We looked at each other and actually laughed aloud. The duchess said—
"Was there ever, since the world began, such a muse en scene, and for such a meeting, Mr. Ibbetson? Think of it! Conceive it! I arranged it all. I chose a day when they were all together. As they would say in America, I am the boss of this particular dream."
And she laughed again, through her tears, that enchanting ripple of a laugh that closed her eyes and made her so irresistible.
"Was there ever," said I—"ever since the world began, such ecstasy as I feel now? After this what can there be for me but death—well earned and well paid for? Welcome and lovely death!"
"You have not yet thought, Mr. Ibbetson—you have not realized what life may have in store for you if—if all you have said about your affection for me is true. Oh, it is too terrible for me to think of, I know, that you, scarcely more than a boy, should have to spend the rest of your life in miserable confinement and unprofitable monotonous toil. But there is another side to that picture.
"Now listen to your old friend's story—poor little Mimsey's confession. I will make it as short as I can.
"Do you remember when you first saw me, a sickly, plain, sad little girl, at the avenue gate, twenty years ago?
"Le Pere Francois was killing a fowl—cutting its throat with a clasp-knife—and the poor thing struggled frantically in his grasp as its blood flowed into the gutter. A group of boys were looking on in great glee, and all the while Pere Francois was gossiping with M. le Cure, who didn't seem to mind in the least. I was fainting with pity and horror. Suddenly you came out of the school opposite with Alfred and Charlie Plunket, and saw it all, and in a fit of noble rage you called Pere Francois a 'sacred pig of assassin'—which, as you know, is very rude in French—and struck him as near his face as you could reach.
"Have you forgotten that? Ah, I haven't! It was not an effectual deed, perhaps, and certainly came too late to save the fowl. Besides, Pere Francois struck you back again, and left some of the fowl's blood on your cheek. It was a baptism! You became on the spot my hero—my angel of light. Look at Gogo over there. Is he beautiful enough? That was you, Mr. Ibbetson.
"M. le Cure said something about 'ces Anglais' who go mad if a man whips his horse, and yet pay people to box each other to death. Don't you really remember? Oh, the recollection to me!
"And that little language we invented and used to talk so fluently! Don't you rappel it to yourself? 'Ne le recollectes tu pas?' as we would have said in those days, for it used to be thee and thou with us then.
"Well, at all events, you must remember how for five happy years we were so often together; how you drew for me, read to me, played with me; took my part in everything, right or wrong; carried me pickaback when I was tired. Your drawings—I have them all. And oh! you were so funny sometimes! How you used to make mamma laugh, and M. le Major! Just look at Gogo again. Have you forgotten what he is doing now? I haven't.... He has just changed the musee des familles for the Penny Magazine, and is explaining Hogarth's pictures of the 'Idle and Industrious Apprentices' to Mimsey, and they are both agreed that the idle one is much the less objectionable of the two!
"Mimsey looks passive enough, with her thumb in her mouth, doesn't she? Her little heart is so full of gratitude and love for Gogo that she can't speak. She can only suck her thumb. Poor, sick, ungainly child! She would like to be Gogo's slave—she would die for Gogo. And her mother adores Gogo too; she is almost jealous of dear Madame Pasquier for having so sweet a son. In just one minute from now, when she has cut that last curl-paper, poor long-dead mamma will call Gogo to her and give him a good 'Irish hug,' and make him happy for a week. Wait a minute and see. There! What did I tell you?
"Well, all that came to an end. Madame Pasquier went away and never came back, and so did Gogo. Monsieur and Madame Pasquier were dead, and dear mamma died in a week from the cholera. Poor heartbroken Mimsey was taken away to St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Leipsic, Venice, all over Europe, by her father, as heart-broken as herself.
"It was her wish and her father's that she should become a pianist by profession, and she studied hard for many years in almost every capital, and under almost every master in Europe, and she gave promise of success.
"And so, wandering from one place to another, she became a young woman—a greatly petted and spoiled and made-much-of young woman, Mr. Ibbetson, although she says it who shouldn't; and had many suitors of all kinds and countries.
"But the heroic and angelic Gogo, with his lovely straight nose, and his hair aux enfants d'Edouard, and his dear little white silk chimney-pot hat and Eton jacket, was always enshrined in her memory, in her inmost heart, as the incarnation of all that was beautiful and brave and good. But alas! what had become of this Gogo in the mean time? Ah, he was never even heard of—he was dead!
"Well, this long-legged, tender-hearted, grown-up young Mimsey of nineteen was attracted by a very witty and accomplished English attache at Vienna—a Mr. Harcourt, who seemed deeply in love with her, and wished her to be his wife.
"He was not rich, but Dr. Seraskier liked and trusted him so much that he dispossessed himself of almost everything he had to enable this young couple to marry—and they did. And truth compels me to admit that for a year they were very happy and contented with fate and each other.
"Then a great misfortune befell them both. In a most unexpected manner, through four or five consecutive deaths in Mr. Harcourt's family, he became, first, Lord Harcourt, and then the Duke of Towers. And since then, Mr. Ibbetson, I have not had an hour's peace or happiness.
"In the first place a son was born to me—a cripple, poor dear! and deformed from his birth; and as he grew older it soon became evident that he was also born without a mind.
"Then my unfortunate husband changed completely; he drank and gambled and worse, till we came to live together as strangers, and only spoke to each other in public and before the world...."
"Ah," I said, "you were still a great lady—an English duchess!"
I could not endure the thought of that happy twelvemonth with that bestial duke! I, sober, chaste, and clean—of all but blood, alas!—and a condemned convict!
Oh, Mr. Ibbetson, you must make no mistake about me! I was never intended by nature for a duchess—especially an English one. Not but what, if dukes and duchesses are necessary, the English are the best—and, of course, by dukes and duchesses I mean all that upper-ten-thousand in England which calls itself 'society'—as if there were no other worth speaking of. Some of them are almost angelic, but they are not for outsiders like me. Perpetual hunting and shooting and fishing and horseracing—eating, drinking, and killing, and making love—eternal court gossip and tittle-tattle—the Prince—the Queen—whom and what the Queen likes, whom and what she doesn't!—tame English party politics—the Church—a Church that doesn't know its own mind, in spite of its deans, bishops, archbishops, and their wives and daughters—and all their silly, solemn sense of social rank and dignity! Endless small-talk, dinners, and drums, and no society from year's end to year's end but each other! Ah, one must be caught young, and put in harness early, to lead such an existence as that and be content! And I had met and known such men and women with my father! They were something to know!
There is another society in London and elsewhere—a freemasonry of intellect and culture and hard work—la haute boheme du talent—men and women whose names are or ought to be household words all over the world; many of them are good friends of mine, both here and abroad; and that society, which was good enough for my father and mother, is quite good enough for me.
I am a republican, Mr. Ibbetson—a cosmopolite—a born Bohemian!
"'Mon grand pere etait rossignol; Ma grand mere etait hirondelle!"
Look at my dear people there—look at your dear people! What waifs and strays, until their ship comes home, which we know it never will! Our fathers forever racking their five wits in the pursuit of an idea! Our mothers forever racking theirs to save money and make both ends meet!... Why, Mr. Ibbetson, you are nearer to the rossignol than I am. Do you remember your father's voice? Shall I ever forget it! He sang to me only last night, and in the midst of my harrowing anxiety about you I was beguiled into listening outside the window. He sang Rossini's 'Cujus Animam.' He was the nightingale; that was his vocation, if he could but have known it. And you are my brother Bohemian; that is yours! ... Ah, my vocation! It was to be the wife of some busy brain-worker—man of science—conspirator—writer—artist—architect, if you like; to fence him round and shield him from all the little worries and troubles and petty vexations of life. I am a woman of business par excellence—a manager, and all that. He would have had a warm, well-ordered little nest to come home to after hunting his idea!
"Well, I thought myself the most unhappy woman alive, and wrapped myself up in my affection for my much-afflicted little son; and as I held him to my breast, and vainly tried to warm and mesmerize him into feeling and intelligence, Gogo came back into my heart, and I was forever thinking, 'Oh, if I had a son like Gogo what a happy woman I should be!' and pitied Madame Pasquier for dying and leaving him so soon, for I had just begun to dream true, and had seen Gogo and his sweet mother once again.
"And then one night—one never-to-be-forgotten night—I went to Lady Gray's concert, and saw you standing in a corner by yourself; and I thought, with a leap of my heart, 'Why, that must be Gogo, grown dark, and with a beard and mustache like a Frenchman!' But alas, I found that you were only a Mr. Ibbetson, Lady Cray's architect, whom she had asked to her house because he was 'quite the handsomest young man she had ever seen!'
"You needn't laugh. You looked very nice, I assure you!
"Well, Mr. Ibbetson, although you were not Gogo, you became suddenly so interesting to me that I never forgot you—you were never quite out of my mind. I wanted to counsel and advise you, and take you by the hand, and be an elder sister to you, for I felt myself already older than you in the world and its ways. I wanted to be twenty years older still, and to have you for my son. I don't know what I wanted! You seemed so lonely, and fresh, and unspotted from the world, among all those smart worldlings, and yet so big and strong and square and invincible—oh, so strong! And then you looked at me with such sincere and sweet and chivalrous admiration and sympathy—there, I cannot speak of it—and then you were so like what Gogo might have become! Oh, you made as warm and devoted a friend of me at first sight as any one might desire!
"And at the same time you made me feel so self-conscious and shy that I dared not ask to be introduced to you—I, who scarcely know what shyness is.
"Dear Giulia Grisi sang '_Sedut' al Pie d' un' Salice,' and that tune has always been associated in my mind with your tongue ever since, and always will be. Your dear mother used to play it on the harp. Do you remember?
"Then came that extraordinary dream, which you remember as well as I do: wasn't it a wonder? You see, my dear father had learned a strange secret of the brain—how in sleep to recall past things and people and places as they had once been seen or known by him—even unremembered things. He called it 'dreaming true,' and by long practice, he told me, he had brought the art of doing this to perfection. It was the one consolation of his troubled life to go over and over again in sleep all his happy youth and childhood, and the few short years he had spent with his beloved young wife. And before he died, when he saw I had become so unhappy that life seemed to have no longer any possible hope of pleasure for me, he taught me his very simple secret.
"Thus have I revisited in sleep every place I have ever lived in, and especially this, the beloved spot where I first as a little girl knew you!"
That night when we met again in our common dream I was looking at the boys from Saindou's school going to their premiere communion, and thinking very much of you, as I had seen you, when awake, a few hours before, looking out of the window at the 'Tete Noire;' when you suddenly appeared in great seeming trouble and walking like a tipsy man; and my vision was disturbed by the shadow of a prison—alas! alas!—and two little jailers jingling their keys and trying to hem you in.
My emotion at seeing you again so soon was so great that I nearly woke. But I rescued you from your imaginary terrors and held you by the hand. You remember all the rest.
I could not understand why you should be in my dream, as I had almost always dreamed true—that is, about things that had been in my life—not about things that might be; nor could I account for the solidity of your hand, nor understand why you didn't fade away when I took it, and blur the dream. It was a most perplexing mystery that troubled many hours of both my waking and sleeping life. Then came that meeting with you at Cray, and part of the mystery was accounted for, for you were my old friend Gogo, after all. But it is still a mystery, an awful mystery, that two people should meet as we are meeting now in one and the same dream—should dovetail so accurately into each other's brains. What a link between us two, Mr. Ibbetson, already linked by such memories!
After meeting you at Cray I felt that I must never meet you again, either waking or dreaming. The discovery that you were Gogo, after all, combined with the preoccupation which as a mere stranger you had already caused me for so long, created such a disturbance in my spirit that—that—there, you must try and imagine it for yourself.
Even before that revelation at Cray I had often known you were here in my dream, and I had carefully avoided you ... though little dreaming you were here in your own dream too! Often from that little dormer-window up there I have seen you wandering about the park and avenue in seeming search of me, and wondered why and how you came. You drove me into attics and servants' bedrooms to conceal myself from you. It was quite a game of hide-and-seek—cache-cache, as we used to call it.
But after our meeting at Cray I felt there must be no more cache-cache; I avoided coming here at all; you drove me away altogether.
Now try to imagine what I felt when the news of your terrible quarrel with Mr. Ibbetson burst upon the world. I was beside myself! I came here night after night; I looked for you everywhere—in the park, in the Bois de Boulogne, at the Mare d'Auteuil, at St. Cloud—in every place I could think of! And now here you are at last—at last!
Hush! Don't speak yet! I have soon done!
Six months ago I lost my poor little son, and, much as I loved him, I cannot wish him back again. In a fortnight I shall be legally separated from my wretched husband—I shall be quite alone in the world! And then, Mr. Ibbetson—oh, then, dearest friend that child or woman ever had—every hour that I can steal from my waking existence shall henceforward be devoted to you as long as both of us live, and sleep the same hours out of the twenty-four. My one object and endeavor shall be to make up for the wreck of your sweet and valuable young life. 'Stone walls shall not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage!' [And here she laughed and cried together, so that her eyes, closing up, squeezed out her tears, and I thought, "Oh, that I might drink them!"]
And now I will leave you. I am a weak and loving woman, and must not stay by your side till I can do so without too much self-reproach.
And indeed I feel I shall soon fall awake from sheer exhaustion of joy. Oh, selfish and jealous wretch that I am, to talk of joy!
"I cannot help rejoicing that no other woman can be to you what I hope to be. No other woman can ever come near you! I am your tyrant and your slave—your calamity has made you mine forever; but all my life—all—all—shall be spent in trying to make you forget yours, and I think I shall succeed."
"Oh, don't make such dreadful haste!" I exclaimed. "Am I dreaming true? What is to prove all this to me when I wake? Either I am the most abject and wretched of men, or life will never have another unhappy moment. How am I to know?'
"Listen. Do you remember 'Parva sed Apta, le petit pavilion,' as you used to call it? That is still my home when I am here. It shall be yours, if you like, when the time comes. You will find much to interest you there. Well, to-morrow early, in your cell, you will receive from me an envelope with a slip of paper in it, containing some violets, and the words 'Parva sed Apta—a bientot' written in violet ink. Will that convince you?"
"Oh yes, yes!"
"Well, then, give me your hands, dearest and best—both hands! I shall soon be here again, by this apple-tree; I shall count the hours. Good-bye!" and she was gone, and I woke.
I woke to the gaslit darkness of my cell. It was just before dawn. One of the warders asked me civilly if I wanted anything, and gave me a drink of water.
I thanked him quietly, and recalled what had just happened to me, with a wonder, an ecstasy, for which I can find no words.
No, it had not been a dream—of that I felt quite sure—not in any one single respect; there had been nothing of the dream about it except its transcendent, ineffable enchantment.
Every inflexion of that beloved voice, with its scarcely perceptible foreign accent that I had never noticed before; every animated gesture, with its subtle reminiscence of both her father and her mother; her black dress trimmed with gray; her black and gray hat; the scent of sandal-wood about her—all were more distinctly and vividly impressed upon me than if she had just been actually, and in the flesh, at my bedside. Her tones still rang in my ears. My eyes were full of her: now her profile, so pure and chiselled; now her full face, with her gray eyes (sometimes tender and grave and wet with tears, sometimes half closed in laughter) fixed on mine; her lithe sweet body curved forward, as she sat and clasped her knees; her arched and slender smooth straight feet so delicately shod, that seemed now and then to beat time to her story....
And then that strange sense of the transfusion of life at the touching of the hands! Oh, it was no dream! Though what it was I cannot tell....
I turned on my side, happy beyond expression, and fell asleep again—a dreamless sleep that lasted till I was woke and told to dress.
Some breakfast was brought to me, and _with it an envelope, open, which contained some violets, and a slip of paper, scented with sandal-wood, on which were written, in violet ink, the words—
"Parva sed Apla—a bientot! Tarapatapoum."_
I will pass over the time that elapsed between my sentence and its commutation; the ministrations and exhortations of the good chaplain; the kind and touching farewells of Mr. and Mrs. Lintot, who had also believed that I was Ibbetson's son (I undeceived them); the visit of my old friend Mrs. Deane ... and her strange passion of gratitude and admiration.
I have no doubt it would all be interesting enough, if properly remembered and ably told. But it was all too much like a dream—anybody's dream—not one of mine—all too slight and flimsy to have left an abiding remembrance, or to matter much.
In due time I was removed to the jail at——, and bade farewell to the world, and adapted myself to the conditions of my new outer life with a good grace and with a very light heart.
The prison routine, leaving the brain so free and unoccupied; the healthy labor, the pure air, the plain, wholesome food were delightful to me—a much-needed daily mental rest after the tumultuous emotions of each night.
For I was soon back again in Passy, where I spent every hour of my sleep, you may be sure, never very far from the old apple-tree, which went through all its changes, from bare bough to tender shoots and blossoms, from blossom to ripe fruit, from fruit to yellow falling leaf, and then to bare boughs again, and all in a few peaceful nights, which were my days. I flatter myself by this time that I know the habits of a French apple-tree, and its caterpillars!
And all the dear people I loved, and of whom I could never tire, were about—all but one. The One!
At last she arrived. The garden door was pushed, the bell rang, and she came across the lawn, radiant and tall and swift, and opened wide her arms. And there, with our little world around us—all that we had ever loved and cared for, but quite unseen and unheard by them—for the first time in my life since my mother and Madame Seraskier had died I held a woman in my arms, and she pressed her lips to mine.
Round and round the lawn we walked and talked, as we had often done fifteen, sixteen, twenty years ago. There were many things to say. "The Charming Prince" and the "Fairy Tarapatapoum" were "prettily well together"—at last!
The time sped quickly—far too quickly. I said—
"You told me I should see your house—'Parva sed Apta'—that I should find much to interest me there." ...
She blushed a little and smiled, and said—
"You mustn't expect too much," and we soon found ourselves walking thither up the avenue. Thus we had often walked as children, and once—a memorable once—besides.
There stood the little white house with its golden legend, as I had seen it a thousand times when a boy—a hundred since.
How sweet and small it looked in the mellow sunshine! We mounted the stone perron, and opened the door and entered. My heart beat violently.
Everything was as it had always been, as far as I could see. Dr. Seraskier sat in a chair by the window reading Schiller, and took no notice of us. His hair moved in the gentle breeze. Overhead we heard the rooms being swept and the beds made.
I followed her into a little lumber-room, where I did not remember to have been before; it was full of odds and ends.
"Why have you brought me here?" I asked.
She laughed and said—
"Open the door in the wall opposite."
There was no door, and I said so.
Then she took my hand, and lo! there was a door! And she pushed, and we entered another suite of apartments that never could have been there before; there had never been room for them—nor ever could have been—in all Passy!
"Come," she said, laughing and blushing at once; for she seemed nervous and excited and shy—do you remember—
'And Neuha led her Torquil by the hand, And waved along the vault her flaming brand!'
—do you remember your little drawing out of The Island, in the green morocco Byron? Here it is, in the top drawer of this beautiful cabinet. Here are all the drawings you ever did for me—plain and colored—with dates, explanations, etc., all written by myself—l'album de la fee Tarapatapoum. They are only duplicates. I have the real ones at my house in Hampshire.
The cabinet also is a duplicate;—isn't it a beauty?—it's from the Czar's Winter Palace. Everything here is a duplicate, more or less. See, this is a little dining-room;—did you ever see anything so perfect?—it is the famous salle a manger of Princesse de Chevagne. I never use it, except now and then to eat a slice of English household bread with French butter and 'cassonade.' Little Mimsey, out there, does so sometimes, when Gogo brings her one, and it makes big Mimsey's mouth water to see her, so she has to go and do likewise. Would you like a slice?
You see the cloth is spread, deux couverts. There is a bottle of famous champagne from Mr. De Rothschild's; there's plenty more where that came from. The flowers are from Chatsworth, and this is a lobster salad for you. Papa was great at lobster salads and taught me. I mixed it myself a fortnight ago, and, as you see, it is as fresh and sweet as if I had only just made it, and the flowers haven't faded a bit.
Here are cigarettes and pipes and cigars. I hope they are good. I don't smoke myself.
Isn't all the furniture rare and beautiful? I have robbed every palace in Europe of its very best, and yet the owners are not a penny the worse. You should see up-stairs.
Look at those pictures—the very pick of Raphael and Titian and Velasquez. Look at that piano—I have heard Liszt play upon it over and over again, in Leipsic!
Here is my library. Every book I ever read is there, and every binding I ever admired. I don't often read them, but I dust them carefully. I've arranged that dust shall fall on them in the usual way to make it real, and remind one of the outer life one is so glad to leave. All has to be taken very seriously here, and one must put one's self to a little trouble. See, here is my father's microscope, and under it a small spider caught on the premises by myself. It is still alive. It seems cruel, doesn't it? but it only exists in our brains.
Look at the dress I've got on—feel it; how every detail is worked out. And you have unconsciously done the same: that's the suit you wore that morning at Cray under the ash-tree—the nicest suit I ever saw. Here is a spot of ink on your sleeve as real as can be (bravo!). And this button is coming off—quite right; I will sew it on with a dream needle, and dream thread, and a dream thimble!