My manuscript lay before me, set in
order by Clara’s careful hand. I slowly
turned over the leaves one by one; but my eye only
fell mechanically on the writing. Yet one day
since, and how much ambition, how much hope, how many
of my heart’s dearest sensations and my mind’s
highest thoughts dwelt in those poor paper leaves,
in those little crabbed marks of pen and ink!
Now I could look on them indifferently almost
as a stranger would have looked. The days of calm
study, of steady toil of thought, seemed departed for
ever. Stirring ideas; store of knowledge patiently
heaped up; visions of better sights than this world
can show, falling freshly and sunnily over the pages
of my first book; all these were past and gone withered
up by the hot breath of the senses doomed
by a paltry fate, whose germ was the accident of an
I hastily put the manuscript aside.
My unexpected interview with Clara had calmed the
turbulent sensations of the evening: but the fatal
influence of the dark beauty remained with me still.
How could I write?
I sat down at the open window.
It was at the back of the house, and looked out on
a strip of garden London garden a
close-shut dungeon for nature, where stunted trees
and drooping flowers seemed visibly pining for the
free air and sunlight of the country, in their sooty
atmosphere, amid their prison of high brick walls.
But the place gave room for the air to blow in it,
and distanced the tumult of the busy streets.
The moon was up, shined round tenderly by a little
border-work of pale yellow light. Elsewhere,
the awful void of night was starless; the dark lustre
of space shone without a cloud.
A presentiment arose within me, that
in this still and solitary hour would occur my decisive,
my final struggle with myself. I felt that my
heart’s life or death was set on the hazard of
This new love that was in me; this
giant sensation of a day’s growth, was first
love. Hitherto, I had been heart-whole. I
had known nothing of the passion, which is the absorbing
passion of humanity. No woman had ever before
stood between me and my ambitions, my occupations,
my amusements. No woman had ever before inspired
me with the sensations which I now felt.
In trying to realise my position,
there was this one question to consider; was I still
strong enough to resist the temptation which accident
had thrown in my way? I had this one incentive
to resistance: the conviction that, if I succumbed,
as far as my family prospects were concerned, I should
be a ruined man.
I knew my father’s character
well: I knew how far his affections and his sympathies
might prevail over his prejudices even over
his principles in some peculiar cases;
and this very knowledge convinced me that the consequences
of a degrading marriage contracted by his son (degrading
in regard to rank), would be terrible: fatal to
one, perhaps to both. Every other irregularity every
other offence even he might sooner or later
forgive. This irregularity, this offence,
never never, though his heart broke in the
struggle. I was as sure of it, as I was of my
own existence at that moment.
I loved her! All that I felt,
all that I knew, was summed up in those few words!
Deteriorating as my passion was in its effect on the
exercise of my mental powers, and on my candour and
sense of duty in my intercourse with home, it was
a pure feeling towards her. This is truth.
If I lay on my death-bed, at the present moment, and
knew that, at the Judgment Day, I should be tried
by the truth or falsehood of the lines just written,
I could say with my last breath: So be it; let
But what mattered my love for her?
However worthy of it she might be, I had misplaced
it, because chance the same chance which
might have given her station and family had
placed her in a rank of life far too far below
mine. As the daughter of a “gentleman,”
my father’s welcome, my father’s affection,
would have been bestowed on her, when I took her home
as my wife. As the daughter of a tradesman, my
father’s anger, my father’s misery, my
own ruin perhaps besides, would be the fatal dower
that a marriage would confer on her. What made
all this difference? A social prejudice.
Yes: but a prejudice which had been a principle nay,
more, a religion in our house, since my
birth; and for centuries before it.
(How strange that foresight of love
which precipitates the future into the present!
Here was I thinking of her as my wife, before, perhaps,
she had a suspicion of the passion with which she
had inspired me vexing my heart, wearying
my thoughts, before I had even spoken to her, as if
the perilous discovery of our marriage were already
at hand! I have thought since how unnatural I
should have considered this, if I had read it in a
How could I best crush the desire
to see her, to speak to her, on the morrow? Should
I leave London, leave England, fly from the temptation,
no matter where, or at what sacrifice? Or should
I take refuge in my books the calm, changeless
old friends of my earliest fireside hours? Had
I resolution enough to wear my heart out by hard, serious,
slaving study? If I left London on the morrow,
could I feel secure, in my own conscience, that I
should not return the day after!
While, throughout the hours of the
night, I was thus vainly striving to hold calm counsel
with myself; the base thought never occurred to me,
which might have occurred to some other men, in my
position: Why marry the girl, because I love
her? Why, with my money, my station, my opportunities,
obstinately connect love and marriage as one idea;
and make a dilemma and a danger where neither need
exist? Had such a thought as this, in the faintest,
the most shadowy form, crossed my mind, I should have
shrunk from it, have shrunk from my self; with horror.
Whatever fresh degradations may be yet in store for
me, this one consoling and sanctifying remembrance
must still be mine. My love for Margaret Sherwin
was worthy to be offered to the purest and perfectest
woman that ever God created.
The night advanced the
noises faintly reaching me from the streets, sank
and ceased my lamp flickered and went out I
heard the carriage return with Clara from the ball the
first cold clouds of day rose and hid the waning orb
of the moon the air was cooled with its
morning freshness: the earth was purified with
its morning dew and still I sat by my open
window, striving with my burning love-thoughts of Margaret;
striving to think collectedly and usefully abandoned
to a struggle ever renewing, yet never changing; and
always hour after hour, a struggle in vain.
At last I began to think less and
less distinctly a few moments more, and
I sank into a restless, feverish slumber. Then
began another, and a more perilous ordeal for me the
ordeal of dreams. Thoughts and sensations which
had been more and more weakly restrained with each
succeeding hour of wakefulness, now rioted within me
in perfect liberation from all control.
This is what I dreamed:
I stood on a wide plain. On one
side, it was bounded by thick woods, whose dark secret
depths looked unfathomable to the eye: on the
other, by hills, ever rising higher and higher yet,
until they were lost in bright, beautifully white
clouds, gleaming in refulgent sunlight. On the
side above the woods, the sky was dark and vaporous.
It seemed as if some thick exhalation had arisen from
beneath the trees, and overspread the clear firmament
throughout this portion of the scene.
As I still stood on the plain and
looked around, I saw a woman coming towards me from
the wood. Her stature was tall; her black hair
flowed about her unconfined; her robe was of the dun
hue of the vapour and mist which hung above the trees,
and fell to her feet in dark thick folds. She
came on towards me swiftly and softly, passing over
the ground like cloud-shadows over the ripe corn-field
or the calm water.
I looked to the other side, towards
the hills; and there was another woman descending
from their bright summits; and her robe was white,
and pure, and glistening. Her face was illumined
with a light, like the light of the harvest-moon;
and her footsteps, as she descended the hills, left
a long track of brightness, that sparkled far behind
her, like the track of the stars when the winter night
is clear and cold. She came to the place where
the hills and the plain were joined together.
Then she stopped, and I knew that she was watching
me from afar off.
Meanwhile, the woman from the dark
wood still approached; never pausing on her path,
like the woman from the fair hills. And now I
could see her face plainly. Her eyes were lustrous
and fascinating, as the eyes of a serpent large,
dark and soft, as the eyes of the wild doe. Her
lips were parted with a languid smile; and she drew
back the long hair, which lay over her cheeks, her
neck, her bosom, while I was gazing on her.
Then, I felt as if a light were shining
on me from the other side. I turned to look,
and there was the woman from the hills beckoning me
away to ascend with her towards the bright clouds
above. Her arm, as she held it forth, shone fair,
even against the fair hills; and from her outstretched
hand came long thin rays of trembling light, which
penetrated to where I stood, cooling and calming wherever
they touched me.
But the woman from the woods still
came nearer and nearer, until I could feel her hot
breath on my face. Her eyes looked into mine,
and fascinated them, as she held out her arms to embrace
me. I touched her hand, and in an instant the
touch ran through me like fire, from head to foot.
Then, still looking intently on me with her wild bright
eyes, she clasped her supple arms round my neck, and
drew me a few paces away with her towards the wood.
I felt the rays of light that had
touched me from the beckoning hand, depart; and yet
once more I looked towards the woman from the hills.
She was ascending again towards the bright clouds,
and ever and anon she stopped and turned round, wringing
her hands and letting her head droop, as if in bitter
grief. The last time I saw her look towards me,
she was near the clouds. She covered her face
with her robe, and knelt down where she stood.
After this I discerned no more of her. For now
the woman from the woods clasped me more closely than
before, pressing her warm lips on mine; and it was
as if her long hair fell round us both, spreading
over my eyes like a veil, to hide from them the fair
hill-tops, and the woman who was walking onward to
the bright clouds above.
I was drawn along in the arms of the
dark woman, with my blood burning and my breath failing
me, until we entered the secret recesses that lay
amid the unfathomable depths of trees. There,
she encircled me in the folds of her dusky robe, and
laid her cheek close to mine, and murmured a mysterious
music in my ear, amid the midnight silence and darkness
of all around us. And I had no thought of returning
to the plain again; for I had forgotten the woman
from the fair hills, and had given myself up, heart,
and soul, and body, to the woman from the dark woods.
Here the dream ended, and I awoke.
It was broad daylight. The sun
shone brilliantly, the sky was cloudless. I looked
at my watch; it had stopped. Shortly afterwards
I heard the hall clock strike six.
My dream was vividly impressed on
my memory, especially the latter part of it.
Was it a warning of coming events, foreshadowed in
the wild visions of sleep? But to what purpose
could this dream, or indeed any dream, tend?
Why had it remained incomplete, failing to show me
the visionary consequences of my visionary actions?
What superstition to ask! What a waste of attention
to bestow it on such a trifle as a dream!
Still, this trifle had produced one
abiding result. I knew it not then; but I know
it now. As I looked out on the reviving, re-assuring
sunlight, it was easy enough for me to dismiss as ridiculous
from my mind, or rather from my conscience, the tendency
to see in the two shadowy forms of my dream, the types
of two real living beings, whose names almost trembled
into utterance on my lips; but I could not also dismiss
from my heart the love-images which that dream had
set up there for the worship of the senses. Those
results of the night still remained within me, growing
and strengthening with every minute.
If I had been told beforehand how
the mere sight of the morning would reanimate and
embolden me, I should have scouted the prediction as
too outrageous for consideration; yet so it was.
The moody and boding reflections, the fear and struggle
of the hours of darkness were gone with the daylight.
The love-thoughts of Margaret alone remained, and now
remained unquestioned and unopposed. Were my convictions
of a few hours since, like the night-mists that fade
before returning sunshine? I knew not. But
I was young; and each new morning is as much the new
life of youth, as the new life of Nature.
So I left my study and went out.
Consequences might come how they would, and when they
would; I thought of them no more. It seemed as
if I had cast off every melancholy thought, in leaving
my room; as if my heart had sprung up more elastic
than ever, after the burden that had been laid on
it during the night. Enjoyment for the present,
hope for the future, and chance and fortune to trust
in to the very last! This was my creed, as I
walked into the street, determined to see Margaret
again, and to tell her of my love before the day was
out. In the exhilaration of the fresh air and
the gay sunshine, I turned my steps towards Hollyoake
Square, almost as light-hearted as a boy let loose
from school, joyously repeating Shakespeare’s
lines as I went:
“Hope is a lover’s
staff; walk hence with that,
And manage it against despairing thoughts.”