Read PART SECOND - A YOUNG MAN OF FORTY of The Well-Beloved, free online book, by Thomas Hardy, on ReadCentral.com.

’Since Love will needs that I shall love
Of very force I must agree: 
And since no chance may it remove
In wealth and in adversity
I shall alway myself apply
To serve and suffer patiently.’ 

&-Sir T. Wyatt.

CHAPTER I - The old phantom becomes distinct

In the course of these long years Pierston’s artistic emotions were abruptly suspended by the news of his father’s sudden death at Sandbourne, whither the stone-merchant had gone for a change of air by the advice of his physician.

Mr. Pierston, senior, it must be admitted, had been something miserly in his home life, as Marcia had so rashly reminded his son.  But he had never stinted Jocelyn.  He had been rather a hard taskmaster, though as a paymaster trustworthy; a ready-money man, just and ungenerous.  To every one’s surprise, the capital he had accumulated in the stone trade was of large amount for a business so unostentatiously carried on-much larger than Jocelyn had ever regarded as possible.  While the son had been modelling and chipping his ephemeral fancies into perennial shapes, the father had been persistently chiselling for half a century at the crude original matter of those shapes, the stern, isolated rock in the Channel; and by the aid of his cranes and pulleys, his trolleys and his boats, had sent off his spoil to all parts of Great Britain.  When Jocelyn had wound up everything and disposed of the business, as recommended by his father’s will, he found himself enabled to add about eighty thousand pounds to the twelve thousand which he already possessed from professional and other sources./p>

After arranging for the sale of some freehold properties in the island other than quarries-for he did not intend to reside there-he returned to town.  He often wondered what had become of Marcia.  He had promised never to trouble her; nor for a whole twenty years had he done so; though he had often sighed for her as a friend of sterling common sense in practical difficulties.

Her parents were, he believed, dead; and she, he knew, had never gone back to the isle.  Possibly she had formed some new tie abroad, and had made it next to impossible to discover her by her old name.

A reposeful time ensued.  Almost his first entry into society after his father’s death occurred one evening, when, for want of knowing what better to do, he responded to an invitation sent by one of the few ladies of rank whom he numbered among his friends, and set out in a cab for the square wherein she lived during three or four months of the year.

The hansom turned the corner, and he obtained a raking view of the houses along the north side, of which hers was one, with the familiar linkman at the door.  There were Chinese lanterns, too, on the balcony.  He perceived in a moment that the customary ‘small and early’ reception had resolved itself on this occasion into something very like great and late.  He remembered that there had just been a political crisis, which accounted for the enlargement of the Countess of Channelcliffe’s assembly; for hers was one of the neutral or non-political houses at which party politics are more freely agitated than at the professedly party gatherings.

There was such a string of carriages that Pierston did not wait to take his turn at the door, but unobtrusively alighted some yards off and walked forward.  He had to pause a moment behind the wall of spectators which barred his way, and as he paused some ladies in white cloaks crossed from their carriages to the door on the carpet laid for the purpose.  He had not seen their faces, nothing of them but vague forms, and yet he was suddenly seized with a presentiment.  Its gist was that he might be going to re-encounter the Well-Beloved that night:  after her recent long hiding she meant to reappear and intoxicate him.  That liquid sparkle of her eye, that lingual music, that turn of the head, how well he knew it all, despite the many superficial changes, and how instantly he would recognize it under whatever complexion, contour, accent, height, or carriage that it might choose to masquerade!

Pierston’s other conjecture, that the night was to be a lively political one, received confirmation as soon as he reached the hall, where a simmer of excitement was perceptible as surplus or overflow from above down the staircase-a feature which he had always noticed to be present when any climax or sensation had been reached in the world of party and faction.

‘And where have you been keeping yourself so long, young man?’ said his hostess archly, when he had shaken hands with her. (Pierston was always regarded as a young man, though he was now about forty.) ’O yes, of course, I remember,’ she added, looking serious in a moment at thought of his loss.  The Countess was a woman with a good-natured manner verging on that oft-claimed feminine quality, humour, and was quickly sympathetic.

She then began to tell him of a scandal in the political side to which she nominally belonged, one that had come out of the present crisis; and that, as for herself, she had sworn to abjure politics for ever on account of it, so that he was to regard her forthwith as a more neutral householder than ever.  By this time some more people had surged upstairs, and Pierston prepared to move on.

‘You are looking for somebody-I can see that,’ said she.

‘Yes-a lady,’ said Pierston.

‘Tell me her name, and I’ll try to think if she’s here.’

‘I cannot; I don’t know it,’ he said.

‘Indeed!  What is she like?’

‘I cannot describe her, not even her complexion or dress.’

Lady Channelcliffe looked a pout, as if she thought he were teasing her, and he moved on in the current.  The fact was that, for a moment, Pierston fancied he had made the sensational discovery that the One he was in search of lurked in the person of the very hostess he had conversed with, who was charming always, and particularly charming to-night; he was just feeling an incipient consternation at the possibility of such a jade’s trick in his Beloved, who had once before chosen to embody herself as a married woman, though, happily, at that time with no serious results.  However, he felt that he had been mistaken, and that the fancy had been solely owing to the highly charged electric condition in which he had arrived by reason of his recent isolation.

The whole set of rooms formed one great utterance of the opinions of the hour.  The gods of party were present with their embattled seraphim, but the brilliancy of manner and form in the handling of public questions was only less conspicuous than the paucity of original ideas.  No principles of wise government had place in any mind, a blunt and jolly personalism as to the Ins and Outs animating all.  But Jocelyn’s interest did not run in this stream:  he was like a stone in a purling brook, waiting for some peculiar floating object to be brought towards him and to stick upon his mental surface.

Thus looking for the next new version of the fair figure, he did not consider at the moment, though he had done so at other times, that this presentiment of meeting her was, of all presentiments, just the sort of one to work out its own fulfilment.

He looked for her in the knot of persons gathered round a past Prime Minister who was standing in the middle of the largest room discoursing in the genial, almost jovial, manner natural to him at these times.  The two or three ladies forming his audience had been joined by another in black and white, and it was on her that Pierston’s attention was directed, as well as the great statesman’s, whose first sheer gaze at her, expressing ‘Who are you?’ almost audibly, changed into an interested, listening look as the few words she spoke were uttered-for the Minister differed from many of his standing in being extremely careful not to interrupt a timid speaker, giving way in an instant if anybody else began with him.  Nobody knew better than himself that all may learn, and his manner was that of an unconceited man who could catch an idea readily, even if he could not undertake to create one.

The lady told her little story-whatever it was Jocelyn could not hear it-the statesman laughed:  ‘Haugh-haugh-haugh!’

The lady blushed.  Jocelyn, wrought up to a high tension by the aforesaid presentiment that his Shelleyan ‘One-shape-of-many-names’ was about to reappear, paid little heed to the others, watching for a full view of the lady who had won his attention.

That lady remained for the present partially screened by her neighbours.  A diversion was caused by Lady Channelcliffe bringing up somebody to present to the ex-Minister; the ladies got mixed, and Jocelyn lost sight of the one whom he was beginning to suspect as the stealthily returned absentee.

He looked for her in a kindly young lady of the house, his hostess’s relation, who appeared to more advantage that night than she had ever done before-in a sky-blue dress, which had nothing between it and the fair skin of her neck, lending her an unusually soft and sylph-like aspect.  She saw him, and they converged.  Her look of ’What do you think of me now?’ was suggested, he knew, by the thought that the last time they met she had appeared under the disadvantage of mourning clothes, on a wet day in a country-house, where everybody was cross.

’I have some new photographs, and I want you to tell me whether they are good,’ she said.  ‘Mind you are to tell me truly, and no favour.’

She produced the pictures from an adjoining drawer, and they sat down together upon an ottoman for the purpose of examination.  The portraits, taken by the last fashionable photographer, were very good, and he told her so; but as he spoke and compared them his mind was fixed on something else than the mere judgment.  He wondered whether the elusive one were indeed in the frame of this girl.

He looked up at her.  To his surprise, her mind, too, was on other things bent than on the pictures.  Her eyes were glancing away to distant people, she was apparently considering the effect she was producing upon them by this cosy tete-a-tete with Pierston, and upon one in particular, a man of thirty, of military appearance, whom Pierston did not know.  Quite convinced now that no phantom belonging to him was contained in the outlines of the present young lady, he could coolly survey her as he responded.  They were both doing the same thing-each was pretending to be deeply interested in what the other was talking about, the attention of the two alike flitting away to other corners of the room even when the very point of their discourse was pending.

No, he had not seen Her yet.  He was not going to see her, apparently, to-night; she was scared away by the twanging political atmosphere.  But he still moved on searchingly, hardly heeding certain spectral imps other than Aphroditean, who always haunted these places, and jeeringly pointed out that under the white hair of this or that ribanded old man, with a forehead grown wrinkled over treaties which had swayed the fortunes of Europe, with a voice which had numbered sovereigns among its respectful listeners, might be a heart that would go inside a nut-shell; that beneath this or that white rope of pearl and pink bosom, might lie the half-lung which had, by hook or by crook, to sustain its possessor above-ground till the wedding-day.

At that moment he encountered his amiable host, and almost simultaneously caught sight of the lady who had at first attracted him and then had disappeared.  Their eyes met, far off as they were from each other.  Pierston laughed inwardly:  it was only in ticklish excitement as to whether this was to prove a true trouvaille, and with no instinct to mirth; for when under the eyes of his Jill-o’-the-Wisp he was more inclined to palpitate like a sheep in a fair.

However, for the minute he had to converse with his host, Lord Channelcliffe, and almost the first thing that friend said to him was:  ’Who is that pretty woman in the black dress with the white fluff about it and the pearl necklace?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Jocelyn, with incipient jealousy:  ’I was just going to ask the same thing.’

‘O, we shall find out presently, I suppose.  I daresay my wife knows.’  They had parted, when a hand came upon his shoulder.  Lord Channelcliffe had turned back for an instant:  ’I find she is the granddaughter of my father’s old friend, the last Lord Hengistbury.  Her name is Mrs.-Mrs. Pine-Avon; she lost her husband two or three years ago, very shortly after their marriage.’

Lord Channelcliffe became absorbed into some adjoining dignitary of the Church, and Pierston was left to pursue his quest alone.  A young friend of his-the Lady Mabella Buttermead, who appeared in a cloud of muslin and was going on to a ball-had been brought against him by the tide.  A warm-hearted, emotional girl was Lady Mabella, who laughed at the humorousness of being alive.  She asked him whither he was bent, and he told her.

‘O yes, I know her very well!’ said Lady Mabella eagerly.  ’She told me one day that she particularly wished to meet you.  Poor thing-so sad-she lost her husband.  Well, it was a long time ago now, certainly.  Women ought not to marry and lay themselves open to such catastrophes, ought they, Mr. Pierston? I never shall.  I am determined never to run such a risk!  Now, do you think I shall?’

‘Marry?  O no; never,’ said Pierston drily.

‘That’s very satisfying.’  But Mabella was scarcely comfortable under his answer, even though jestingly returned, and she added:  ’But sometimes I think I may, just for the fun of it.  Now we’ll steer across to her, and catch her, and I’ll introduce you.  But we shall never get to her at this rate!’

’Never, unless we adopt “the ugly rush,” like the citizens who follow the Lord Mayor’s Show.’

They talked, and inched towards the desired one, who, as she discoursed with a neighbour, seemed to be of those-

     ‘Female forms, whose gestures beam with mind,’

seen by the poet in his Vision of the Golden City of Islam.

Their progress was continually checked.  Pierston was as he had sometimes seemed to be in a dream, unable to advance towards the object of pursuit unless he could have gathered up his feet into the air.  After ten minutes given to a preoccupied regard of shoulder-blades, back hair, glittering headgear, neck-napes, moles, hairpins, pearl-powder, pimples, minerals cut into facets of many-coloured rays, necklace-clasps, fans, stays, the seven styles of elbow and arm, the thirteen varieties of ear; and by using the toes of his dress-boots as coulters with which he ploughed his way and that of Lady Mabella in the direction they were aiming at, he drew near to Mrs. Pine-Avon, who was drinking a cup of tea in the back drawing-room.

’My dear Nichola, we thought we should never get to you, because it is worse to-night, owing to these dreadful politics!  But we’ve done it.’  And she proceeded to tell her friend of Pierston’s existence hard by.

It seemed that the widow really did wish to know him, and that Lady Mabella Buttermead had not indulged in one of the too frequent inventions in that kind.  When the youngest of the trio had made the pair acquainted with each other she left them to talk to a younger man than the sculptor.

Mrs. Pine-Avon’s black velvets and silks, with their white accompaniments, finely set off the exceeding fairness of her neck and shoulders, which, though unwhitened artificially, were without a speck or blemish of the least degree.  The gentle, thoughtful creature she had looked from a distance she now proved herself to be; she held also sound rather than current opinions on the plastic arts, and was the first intellectual woman he had seen there that night, except one or two as aforesaid.

They soon became well acquainted, and at a pause in their conversation noticed the fresh excitement caused by the arrival of some late comers with more news.  The latter had been brought by a rippling, bright-eyed lady in black, who made the men listen to her, whether they would or no.

‘I am glad I am an outsider,’ said Jocelyn’s acquaintance, now seated on a sofa beside which he was standing.  ’I wouldn’t be like my cousin, over there, for the world.  She thinks her husband will be turned out at the next election, and she’s quite wild.’

’Yes; it is mostly the women who are the gamesters; the men only the cards.  The pity is that politics are looked on as being a game for politicians, just as cricket is a game for cricketers; not as the serious duties of political trustees.’

’How few of us ever think or feel that “the nation of every country dwells in the cottage,” as somebody says!’

‘Yes.  Though I wonder to hear you quote that.’

’O-I am of no party, though my relations are.  There can be only one best course at all times, and the wisdom of the nation should be directed to finding it, instead of zigzagging in two courses, according to the will of the party which happens to have the upper hand.’

Having started thus, they found no difficulty in agreeing on many points.  When Pierston went downstairs from that assembly at a quarter to one, and passed under the steaming nostrils of an ambassador’s horses to a hansom which waited for him against the railing of the square, he had an impression that the Beloved had re-emerged from the shadows, without any hint or initiative from him-to whom, indeed, such re-emergence was an unquestionably awkward thing.

IIn this he was aware, however, that though it might be now, as heretofore, the Loved who danced before him, it was the Goddess behind her who pulled the string of that Jumping Jill.  He had lately been trying his artist hand again on the Dea’s form in every conceivable phase and mood.  He had become a one-part man-a presenter of her only.  But his efforts had resulted in failures.  In her implacable vanity she might be punishing him anew for presenting her so deplorably.

CHAPTER II - She draws close and satisfies

He could not forget Mrs. Pine-Avon’s eyes, though he remembered nothing of her other facial details.  They were round, inquiring, luminous.  How that chestnut hair of hers had shone:  it required no tiara to set it off, like that of the dowager he had seen there, who had put ten thousand pounds upon her head to make herself look worse than she would have appeared with the ninepenny muslin cap of a servant woman.

Now the question was, ought he to see her again?  He had his doubts.  But, unfortunately for discretion, just when he was coming out of the rooms he had encountered an old lady of seventy, his friend Mrs. Brightwalton-the Honourable Mrs. Brightwalton-and she had hastily asked him to dinner for the day after the morrow, stating in the honest way he knew so well that she had heard he was out of town, or she would have asked him two or three weeks ago.  Now, of all social things that Pierston liked it was to be asked to dinner off-hand, as a stopgap in place of some bishop, earl, or Under-Secretary who couldn’t come, and when the invitation was supplemented by the tidings that the lady who had so impressed him was to be one of the guests, he had promised instantly./p>

At the dinner, he took down Mrs. Pine-Avon upon his arm and talked to nobody else during the meal.  Afterwards they kept apart awhile in the drawing-room for form’s sake; but eventually gravitated together again, and finished the evening in each other’s company.  When, shortly after eleven, he came away, he felt almost certain that within those luminous grey eyes the One of his eternal fidelity had verily taken lodgings-and for a long lease.  But this was not all.  At parting, he had, almost involuntarily, given her hand a pressure of a peculiar and indescribable kind; a little response from her, like a mere pulsation, of the same sort, told him that the impression she had made upon him was reciprocated.  She was, in a word, willing to go on.

But was he able?

There had not been much harm in the flirtation thus far; but did she know his history, the curse upon his nature?-that he was the Wandering Jew of the love-world, how restlessly ideal his fancies were, how the artist in him had consumed the wooer, how he was in constant dread lest he should wrong some woman twice as good as himself by seeming to mean what he fain would mean but could not, how useless he was likely to be for practical steps towards householding, though he was all the while pining for domestic life.  He was now over forty, she was probably thirty; and he dared not make unmeaning love with the careless selfishness of a younger man.  It was unfair to go further without telling her, even though, hitherto, such explicitness had not been absolutely demanded.

He determined to call immediately on the New Incarnation.

She lived not far from the long, fashionable Hamptonshire Square, and he went thither with expectations of having a highly emotional time, at least.  But somehow the very bell-pull seemed cold, although she had so earnestly asked him to come.

As the house spoke, so spoke the occupant, much to the astonishment of the sculptor.  The doors he passed through seemed as if they had not been opened for a month; and entering the large drawing-room, he beheld, in an arm-chair, in the far distance, a lady whom he journeyed across the carpet to reach, and ultimately did reach.  To be sure it was Mrs. Nichola Pine-Avon, but frosted over indescribably.  Raising her eyes in a slightly inquiring manner from the book she was reading, she leant back in the chair, as if soaking herself in luxurious sensations which had nothing to do with him, and replied to his greeting with a few commonplace words.

The unfortunate Jocelyn, though recuperative to a degree, was at first terribly upset by this reception.  He had distinctly begun to love Nichola, and he felt sick and almost resentful.  But happily his affection was incipient as yet, and a sudden sense of the ridiculous in his own position carried him to the verge of risibility during the scene.  She signified a chair, and began the critical study of some rings she wore.

They talked over the day’s news, and then an organ began to grind outside.  The tune was a rollicking air he had heard at some music-hall; and, by way of a diversion, he asked her if she knew the composition.

‘No, I don’t!’ she replied.

‘Now, I’ll tell you all about it,’ said he gravely.  ’It is based on a sound old melody called “The Jilt’s Hornpipe.”  Just as they turn Madeira into port in the space of a single night, so this old air has been taken and doctored, and twisted about, and brought out as a new popular ditty.’

‘Indeed!’

’If you are in the habit of going much to the music-halls or the burlesque theatres-’

‘Yes?’

‘You would find this is often done, with excellent effect.’

She thawed a little, and then they went on to talk about her house, which had been newly painted, and decorated with greenish-blue satin up to the height of a person’s head-an arrangement that somewhat improved her slightly faded, though still pretty, face, and was helped by the awnings over the windows.

‘Yes; I have had my house some years,’ she observed complacently, ’and I like it better every year.’

‘Don’t you feel lonely in it sometimes?’

‘O never!’

However, before he rose she grew friendly to some degree, and when he left, just after the arrival of three opportune young ladies she seemed regretful.  She asked him to come again; and he thought he would tell the truth.  ‘No:  I shall not care to come again,’ he answered, in a tone inaudible to the young ladies.

She followed him to the door.  ‘What an uncivil thing to say!’ she murmured in surprise.

‘It is rather uncivil.  Good-bye,’ said Pierston.

As a punishment she did not ring the bell, but left him to find his way out as he could.  ‘Now what the devil this means I cannot tell,’ he said to himself, reflecting stock-still for a moment on the stairs.  And yet the meaning was staring him in the face.

Meanwhile one of the three young ladies had said, ’What interesting man was that, with his lovely head of hair?  I saw him at Lady Channelcliffe’s the other night.’

‘Jocelyn Pierston.’

’O, Nichola, that is too bad!  To let him go in that shabby way, when I would have given anything to know him!  I have wanted to know him ever since I found out how much his experiences had dictated his statuary, and I discovered them by seeing in a Jersey paper of the marriage of a person supposed to be his wife, who ran off with him many years ago, don’t you know, and then wouldn’t marry him, in obedience to some novel social principles she had invented for herself.’

‘O! didn’t he marry her?’ said Mrs. Pine-Avon, with a start.  ’Why, I heard only yesterday that he did, though they have lived apart ever since.’

‘Quite a mistake,’ said the young lady.  ’How I wish I could run after him!’

But Jocelyn was receding from the pretty widow’s house with long strides.  He went out very little during the next few days, but about a week later he kept an engagement to dine with Lady Iris Speedwell, whom he never neglected, because she was the brightest hostess in London.

By some accident he arrived rather early.  Lady Iris had left the drawing-room for a moment to see that all was right in the dining-room, and when he was shown in there stood alone in the lamplight Nichola Pine-Avon.  She had been the first arrival.  He had not in the least expected to meet her there, further than that, in a general sense, at Lady Iris’s you expected to meet everybody.

She had just come out of the cloak-room, and was so tender and even apologetic that he had not the heart to be other than friendly.  As the other guests dropped in, the pair retreated into a shady corner, and she talked beside him till all moved off for the eating and drinking.

He had not been appointed to take her across to the dining-room, but at the table found her exactly opposite.  She looked very charming between the candles, and then suddenly it dawned upon him that her previous manner must have originated in some false report about Marcia, of whose existence he had not heard for years.  Anyhow, he was not disposed to resent an inexplicability in womankind, having found that it usually arose independently of fact, reason, probability, or his own deserts.

So he dined on, catching her eyes and the few pretty words she made opportunity to project across the table to him now and then.  He was courteously responsive only, but Mrs. Pine-Avon herself distinctly made advances.  He re-admired her, while at the same time her conduct in her own house had been enough to check his confidence-enough even to make him doubt if the Well-Beloved really resided within those contours, or had ever been more than the most transitory passenger through that interesting and accomplished soul.

He was pondering this question, yet growing decidedly moved by the playful pathos of her attitude when, by chance, searching his pocket for his handkerchief, something crackled, and he felt there an unopened letter, which had arrived at the moment he was leaving his house, and he had slipped into his coat to read in the cab as he drove along.  Pierston drew it sufficiently forth to observe by the post-mark that it came from his natal isle.  Having hardly a correspondent in that part of the world now he began to conjecture on the possible sender.

The lady on his right, whom he had brought in, was a leading actress of the town-indeed, of the United Kingdom and America, for that matter-a creature in airy clothing, translucent, like a balsam or sea-anemone, without shadows, and in movement as responsive as some highly lubricated, many-wired machine, which, if one presses a particular spring, flies open and reveals its works.  The spring in the present case was the artistic commendation she deserved and craved.  At this particular moment she was engaged with the man on her own right, a representative of Family, who talked positively and hollowly, as if shouting down a vista of five hundred years from the Feudal past.  The lady on Jocelyn’s left, wife of a Lord Justice of Appeal, was in like manner talking to her companion on the outer side; so that, for the time, he was left to himself.  He took advantage of the opportunity, drew out his letter, and read it as it lay upon his napkin, nobody observing him, so far as he was aware.

It came from the wife of one of his father’s former workmen, and was concerning her son, whom she begged Jocelyn to recommend as candidate for some post in town that she wished him to fill.  But the end of the letter was what arrested him-

&’You will be sorry to hear, Sir, that dear little Avice Caro, as we used to call her in her maiden days, is dead.  She married her cousin, if you do mind, and went away from here for a good-few years, but was left a widow, and came back a twelvemonth ago; since when she faltered and faltered, and now she is gone.’

CHAPTER III - She becomes an inaccessible ghost

By imperceptible and slow degrees the scene at the dinner-table receded into the background, behind the vivid presentment of Avice Caro, and the old, old scenes on Isle Vindilia which were inseparable from her personality.  The dining room was real no more, dissolving under the bold stony promontory and the incoming West Sea.  The handsome marchioness in geranium-red and diamonds, who was visible to him on his host’s right hand opposite, became one of the glowing vermilion sunsets that he had watched so many times over Deadman’s Bay, with the form of Avice in the foreground.  Between his eyes and the judge who sat next to Nichola, with a chin so raw that he must have shaved every quarter of an hour during the day, intruded the face of Avice, as she had glanced at him in their last parting.  The crannied features of the evergreen society lady, who, if she had been a few years older, would have been as old-fashioned as her daughter, shaped themselves to the dusty quarries of his and Avice’s parents, down which he had clambered with Avice hundreds of times.  The ivy trailing about the table-cloth, the lights in the tall candlesticks, and the bunches of flowers, were transmuted into the ivies of the cliff-built Castle, the tufts of seaweed, and the lighthouses on the isle.  The salt airs of the ocean killed the smell of the viands, and instead of the clatter of voices came the monologue of the tide off the Beal.

More than all, Nichola Pine-Avon lost the blooming radiance which she had latterly acquired; she became a woman of his acquaintance with no distinctive traits; she seemed to grow material, a superficies of flesh and bone merely, a person of lines and surfaces; she was a language in living cipher no more./p>

When the ladies had withdrawn it was just the same.  The soul of Avice-the only woman he had never loved of those who had loved him-surrounded him like a firmament.  Art drew near to him in the person of one of the most distinguished of portrait painters; but there was only one painter for Jocelyn-his own memory.  All that was eminent in European surgery addressed him in the person of that harmless and unassuming fogey whose hands had been inside the bodies of hundreds of living men; but the lily-white corpse of an obscure country-girl chilled the interest of discourse with such a king of operators.

Reaching the drawing-room he talked to his hostess.  Though she had entertained three-and-twenty guests at her table that night she had known not only what every one of them was saying and doing throughout the repast, but what every one was thinking.  So, being an old friend, she said quietly, ’What has been troubling you?  Something has, I know.  I have been travelling over your face and have seen it there.’

Nothing could less express the meaning his recent news had for him than a statement of its facts.  He told of the opening of the letter and the discovery of the death of an old acquaintance.

‘The only woman whom I never rightly valued, I may almost say!’ he added; ‘and therefore the only one I shall ever regret!’

Whether she considered it a sufficient explanation or not the woman of experiences accepted it as such.  She was the single lady of his circle whom nothing erratic in his doings could surprise, and he often gave her stray ends of his confidence thus with perfect safety.

He did not go near Mrs. Pine-Avon again; he could not:  and on leaving the house walked abstractedly along the streets till he found himself at his own door.  In his room he sat down, and placing his hands behind his head thought his thoughts anew.

At one side of the room stood an escritoire, and from a lower drawer therein he took out a small box tightly nailed down.  He forced the cover with the poker.  The box contained a variety of odds and ends, which Pierston had thrown into it from time to time in past years for future sorting-an intention that he had never carried out.  From the melancholy mass of papers, faded photographs, seals, diaries, withered flowers, and such like, Jocelyn drew a little portrait, one taken on glass in the primitive days of photography, and framed with tinsel in the commonest way.

It was Avice Caro, as she had appeared during the summer month or two which he had spent with her on the island twenty years before this time, her young lips pursed up, her hands meekly folded.  The effect of the glass was to lend to the picture much of the softness characteristic of the original.  He remembered when it was taken-during one afternoon they had spent together at a neighbouring watering-place, when he had suggested her sitting to a touting artist on the sands, there being nothing else for them to do.  A long contemplation of the likeness completed in his emotions what the letter had begun.  He loved the woman dead and inaccessible as he had never loved her in life.  He had thought of her but at distant intervals during the twenty years since that parting occurred, and only as somebody he could have wedded.  Yet now the times of youthful friendship with her, in which he had learnt every note of her innocent nature, flamed up into a yearning and passionate attachment, embittered by regret beyond words.

That kiss which had offended his dignity, which she had so childishly given him before her consciousness of womanhood had been awakened; what he would have offered to have a quarter of it now!

Pierston was almost angry with himself for his feelings of this night, so unreasonably, motivelessly strong were they towards the lost young playmate.  ‘How senseless of me!’ he said, as he lay in his lonely bed.  She had been another man’s wife almost the whole time since he was estranged from her, and now she was a corpse.  Yet the absurdity did not make his grief the less:  and the consciousness of the intrinsic, almost radiant, purity of this newsprung affection for a flown spirit forbade him to check it.  The flesh was absent altogether; it was love rarefied and refined to its highest attar.  He had felt nothing like it before.

The next afternoon he went down to the club; not his large club, where the men hardly spoke to each other, but the homely one where they told stories of an afternoon, and were not ashamed to confess among themselves to personal weaknesses and follies, knowing well that such secrets would go no further.  But he could not tell this.  So volatile and intangible was the story that to convey it in words would have been as hard as to cage a perfume.

They observed his altered manner, and said he was in love.  Pierston admitted that he was; and there it ended.  When he reached home he looked out of his bed-room window, and began to consider in what direction from where he stood that darling little figure lay.  It was straight across there, under the young pale moon.  The symbol signified well.  The divinity of the silver bow was not more excellently pure than she, the lost, had been.  Under that moon was the island of Ancient Slingers, and on the island a house, framed from mullions to chimney-top like the isle itself, of stone.  Inside the window, the moonlight irradiating her winding-sheet, lay Avice, reached only by the faint noises inherent in the isle; the tink-tink of the chisels in the quarries, the surging of the tides in the Bay, and the muffled grumbling of the currents in the never-pacified Race.

He began to divine the truth.  Avice, the departed one, though she had come short of inspiring a passion, had yet possessed a ground-quality absent from her rivals, without which it seemed that a fixed and full-rounded constancy to a woman could not flourish in him.  Like his own, her family had been islanders for centuries-from Norman, Anglian, Roman, Balearic-British times.  Hence in her nature, as in his, was some mysterious ingredient sucked from the isle; otherwise a racial instinct necessary to the absolute unison of a pair.  Thus, though he might never love a woman of the island race, for lack in her of the desired refinement, he could not love long a kimberlin-a woman other than of the island race, for her lack of this groundwork of character.

Such was Pierston’s view of things.  Another fancy of his, an artist’s superstition merely, may be mentioned.  The Caros, like some other local families, suggested a Roman lineage, more or less grafted on the stock of the Slingers.  Their features recalled those of the Italian peasantry to any one as familiar as he was with them; and there were evidences that the Roman colonists had been populous and long-abiding in and near this corner of Britain.  Tradition urged that a temple to Venus once stood at the top of the Roman road leading up into the isle; and possibly one to the love-goddess of the Slingers antedated this.  What so natural as that the true star of his soul would be found nowhere but in one of the old island breed?

After dinner his old friend Somers came in to smoke, and when they had talked a little while Somers alluded casually to some place at which they would meet on the morrow.

‘I sha’n’t be there,’ said Pierston.

‘But you promised?’

‘Yes.  But I shall be at the island-looking at a dead woman’s grave.’  As he spoke his eyes turned, and remained fixed on a table near.  Somers followed the direction of his glance to a photograph on a stand.

‘Is that she?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Rather a bygone affair, then?’

Pierston acknowledged it.  ’She’s the only sweetheart I ever slighted,
Alfred,’ he said.  ’Because she’s the only one I ought to have cared for. 
That’s just the fool I have always been.’

’But if she’s dead and buried, you can go to her grave at any time as well as now, to keep up the sentiment.’

‘I don’t know that she’s buried.’

‘But to-morrow-the Academy night!  Of all days why go then?’

‘I don’t care about the Academy.’

’Pierston-you are our only inspired sculptor.  You are our Praxiteles, or rather our Lysippus.  You are almost the only man of this generation who has been able to mould and chisel forms living enough to draw the idle public away from the popular paintings into the usually deserted Lecture-room, and people who have seen your last pieces of stuff say there has been nothing like them since sixteen hundred and-since the sculptors ‘of the great race’ lived and died-whenever that was.  Well, then, for the sake of others you ought not to rush off to that God-forgotten sea-rock just when you are wanted in town, all for a woman you last saw a hundred years ago.’

‘No-it was only nineteen and three quarters,’ replied his friend, with abstracted literalness.  He went the next morning.

Since the days of his youth a railway had been constructed along the pebble bank, so that, except when the rails were washed away by the tides, which was rather often, the peninsula was quickly accessible.  At two o’clock in the afternoon he was rattled along by this new means of locomotion, under the familiar monotonous line of bran-coloured stones, and he soon emerged from the station, which stood as a strange exotic among the black lerrets, the ruins of the washed-away village, and the white cubes of oolite, just come to view after burial through unreckonable geologic years.

In entering upon the pebble beach the train had passed close to the ruins of Henry the Eighth’s or Sandsfoot Castle, whither Avice was to have accompanied him on the night of his departure.  Had she appeared the primitive betrothal, with its natural result, would probably have taken place; and, as no islander had ever been known to break that compact, she would have become his wife.

Ascending the steep incline to where the quarrymen were chipping just as they had formerly done, and within sound of the great stone saws, he looked southward towards the Beal.

The level line of the sea horizon rose above the surface of the isle, a ruffled patch in mid-distance as usual marking the Race, whence many a Lycidas had gone

     ‘Visiting the bottom of the monstrous world;’

but had not been blest with a poet as a friend.  Against the stretch of water, where a school of mackerel twinkled in the afternoon light, was defined, in addition to the distant lighthouse, a church with its tower, standing about a quarter of a mile off, near the edge of the cliff.  The churchyard gravestones could be seen in profile against the same vast spread of watery babble and unrest.

Among the graves moved the form of a man clothed in a white sheet, which the wind blew and flapped coldly every now and then.  Near him moved six men bearing a long box, and two or three persons in black followed.  The coffin, with its twelve legs, crawled across the isle, while around and beneath it the flashing lights from the sea and the school of mackerel were reflected; a fishing-boat, far out in the Channel, being momentarily discernible under the coffin also.

The procession wandered round to a particular corner, and halted, and paused there a long while in the wind, the sea behind them, the surplice of the priest still blowing.  Jocelyn stood with his hat off:  he was present, though he was a quarter of a mile off; and he seemed to hear the words that were being said, though nothing but the wind was audible.

He instinctively knew that it was none other than Avice whom he was seeing interred; his Avice, as he now began presumptuously to call her.  Presently the little group withdrew from before the sea-shine, and disappeared.

He felt himself unable to go further in that direction, and turning aside went aimlessly across the open land, visiting the various spots that he had formerly visited with her.  But, as if tethered to the churchyard by a cord, he was still conscious of being at the end of a radius whose pivot was the grave of Avice Caro; and as the dusk thickened he closed upon his centre and entered the churchyard gate.

NNot a soul was now within the precincts.  The grave, newly shaped, was easily discoverable behind the church, and when the same young moon arose which he had observed the previous evening from his window in London he could see the yet fresh foot-marks of the mourners and bearers.  The breeze had fallen to a calm with the setting of the sun:  the lighthouse had opened its glaring eye, and, disinclined to leave a spot sublimed both by early association and present regret, he moved back to the church-wall, warm from the afternoon sun, and sat down upon a window-sill facing the grave.

CHAPTER IV - She threatens to resume corporeal substance

The lispings of the sea beneath the cliffs were all the sounds that reached him, for the quarries were silent now.  How long he sat here lonely and thinking he did not know.  Neither did he know, though he felt drowsy, whether inexpectant sadness-that gentle soporific-lulled him into a short sleep, so that he lost count of time and consciousness of incident.  But during some minute or minutes he seemed to see Avice Caro herself, bending over and then withdrawing from her grave in the light of the moon.

She seemed not a year older, not a digit less slender, not a line more angular than when he had parted from her twenty years earlier, in the lane hard by.  A renascent reasoning on the impossibility of such a phenomenon as this being more than a dream-fancy roused him with a start from his heaviness./p> ‘I must have been asleep,’ he said.

Yet she had seemed so real.  Pierston however dismissed the strange impression, arguing that even if the information sent him of Avice’s death should be false-a thing incredible-that sweet friend of his youth, despite the transfiguring effects of moonlight, would not now look the same as she had appeared nineteen or twenty years ago.  Were what he saw substantial flesh, it must have been some other person than Avice Caro.

Having satisfied his sentiment by coming to the graveside there was nothing more for him to do in the island, and he decided to return to London that night.  But some time remaining still on his hands, Jocelyn by a natural instinct turned his feet in the direction of East Quarriers, the village of his birth and of hers.  Passing the market-square he pursued the arm of road to ‘Sylvania Castle,’ a private mansion of comparatively modern date, in whose grounds stood the single plantation of trees of which the isle could boast.  The cottages extended close to the walls of the enclosure, and one of the last of these dwellings had been Avice’s, in which, as it was her freehold, she possibly had died.

To reach it he passed the gates of ‘Sylvania,’ and observed above the lawn wall a board announcing that the house was to be let furnished.  A few steps further revealed the cottage which with its quaint and massive stone features of two or three centuries’ antiquity, was capable even now of longer resistance to the rasp of Time than ordinary new erections.  His attention was drawn to the window, still unblinded, though a lamp lit the room.  He stepped back against the wall opposite, and gazed in.

At a table covered with a white cloth a young woman stood putting tea-things away into a corner-cupboard.  She was in all respects the Avice he had lost, the girl he had seen in the churchyard and had fancied to be the illusion of a dream.  And though there was this time no doubt about her reality, the isolation of her position in the silent house lent her a curiously startling aspect.  Divining the explanation he waited for footsteps, and in a few moments a quarryman passed him on his journey home.  Pierston inquired of the man concerning the spectacle.

’O yes, sir; that’s poor Mrs. Caro’s only daughter, and it must be lonely for her there to-night, poor maid!  Yes, good-now; she’s the very daps of her mother-that’s what everybody says.’

‘But how does she come to be so lonely?’

’One of her brothers went to sea and was drowned, and t’other is in America.’

‘They were quarryowners at one time?’

The quarryman ‘pitched his nitch,’ and explained to the seeming stranger that there had been three families thereabouts in the stone trade, who had got much involved with each other in the last generation.  They were the Bencombs, the Pierstons, and the Caros.  The Bencombs strained their utmost to outlift the other two, and partially succeeded.  They grew enormously rich, sold out, and disappeared altogether from the island which had been their making.  The Pierstons kept a dogged middle course, throve without show or noise, and also retired in their turn.  The Caros were pulled completely down in the competition with the other two, and when Widow Caro’s daughter married her cousin Jim Caro, he tried to regain for the family its original place in the three-cornered struggle.  He took contracts at less than he could profit by, speculated more and more, till at last the crash came; he was sold up, went away, and later on came back to live in this little cottage, which was his wife’s by inheritance.  There he remained till his death; and now his widow was gone.  Hardships had helped on her end.

The quarryman proceeded on his way, and Pierston, deeply remorseful, knocked at the door of the minute freehold.  The girl herself opened it, lamp in hand.

‘Avice!’ he said tenderly; ‘Avice Caro!’ even now unable to get over the strange feeling that he was twenty years younger, addressing Avice the forsaken.

‘Ann, sir,’ said she.

‘Ah, your name is not the same as your mother’s!’

‘My second name is.  And my surname.  Poor mother married her cousin.’

’As everybody does here....  Well, Ann or otherwise, you are Avice to me.  And you have lost her now?’

‘I have, sir.’

She spoke in the very same sweet voice that he had listened to a score of years before, and bent eyes of the same familiar hazel inquiringly upon him.

‘I knew your mother at one time,’ he said; ’and learning of her death and burial I took the liberty of calling upon you.  You will forgive a stranger doing that?’

‘Yes,’ she said dispassionately, and glancing round the room:  ’This was mother’s own house, and now it is mine.  I am sorry not to be in mourning on the night of her funeral, but I have just been to put some flowers on her grave, and I took it off afore going that the damp mid not spoil the crape.  You see, she was bad a long time, and I have to be careful, and do washing and ironing for a living.  She hurt her side with wringing up the large sheets she had to wash for the Castle folks here.’

‘I hope you won’t hurt yourself doing it, my dear.’

’O no, that I sha’n’t!  There’s Charl Woollat, and Sammy Scribben, and Ted Gibsey, and lots o’ young chaps; they’ll wring anything for me if they happen to come along.  But I can hardly trust ’em.  Sam Scribben t’other day twisted a linen tablecloth into two pieces, for all the world as if it had been a pipe-light.  They never know when to stop in their wringing.’

The voice truly was his Avice’s; but Avice the Second was clearly more matter-of-fact, unreflecting, less cultivated than her mother had been.  This Avice would never recite poetry from any platform, local or other, with enthusiastic appreciation of its fire.  There was a disappointment in his recognition of this; yet she touched him as few had done:  he could not bear to go away.  ‘How old are you?’ he asked.

‘Going in nineteen.’

It was about the age of her double, Avice the First, when he and she had strolled together over the cliffs during the engagement.  But he was now forty, if a day.  She before him was an uneducated laundress, and he was a sculptor and a Royal Academician, with a fortune and a reputation.  Yet why was it an unpleasant sensation to him just then to recollect that he was two score?

HHe could find no further excuse for remaining, and having still half-an-hour to spare he went round by the road to the other or west side of the last-century ‘Sylvania Castle,’ and came to the furthest house out there on the cliff.  It was his early home.  Used in the summer as a lodging-house for visitors, it now stood empty and silent, the evening wind swaying the euonymus and tamarisk boughs in the front-the only evergreen shrubs that could weather the whipping salt gales which sped past the walls.  Opposite the house, far out at sea, the familiar lightship winked from the sandbank, and all at once there came to him a wild wish-that, instead of having an artist’s reputation, he could be living here an illiterate and unknown man, wooing, and in a fair way of winning, the pretty laundress in the cottage hard by.

CHAPTER V - The resumption Takes place

Having returned to London he mechanically resumed his customary life; but he was not really living there.  The phantom of Avice, now grown to be warm flesh and blood, held his mind afar.  He thought of nothing but the isle, and Avice the Second dwelling therein-inhaling its salt breath, stroked by its singing rains and by the haunted atmosphere of Roman Venus about and around the site of her perished temple there.  The very defects in the country girl became charms as viewed from town.

Nothing now pleased him so much as to spend that portion of the afternoon which he devoted to out-door exercise, in haunting the purlieus of the wharves along the Thames, where the stone of his native rock was unshipped from the coasting-craft that had brought it thither.  He would pass inside the great gates of these landing-places on the right or left bank, contemplate the white cubes and oblongs, imbibe their associations, call up the genius loci whence they came, and almost forget that he was in London./p>

One afternoon he was walking away from the mud-splashed entrance to one of the wharves, when his attention was drawn to a female form on the opposite side of the way, going towards the spot he had just left.  She was somewhat small, slight, and graceful; her attire alone would have been enough to attract him, being simple and countrified to picturesqueness; but he was more than attracted by her strong resemblance to Avice Caro the younger-Ann Avice, as she had said she was called.

Before she had receded a hundred yards he felt certain that it was Avice indeed; and his unifying mood of the afternoon was now so intense that the lost and the found Avice seemed essentially the same person.  Their external likeness to each other-probably owing to the cousinship between the elder and her husband-went far to nourish the fantasy.  He hastily turned, and rediscovered the girl among the pedestrians.  She kept on her way to the wharf, where, looking inquiringly around her for a few seconds, with the manner of one unaccustomed to the locality, she opened the gate and disappeared.

Pierston also went up to the gate and entered.  She had crossed to the landing-place, beyond which a lumpy craft lay moored.  Drawing nearer, he discovered her to be engaged in conversation with the skipper and an elderly woman-both come straight from the oolitic isle, as was apparent in a moment from their accent.  Pierston felt no hesitation in making himself known as a native, the ruptured engagement between Avice’s mother and himself twenty years before having been known to few or none now living.

The present embodiment of Avice recognized him, and with the artless candour of her race and years explained the situation, though that was rather his duty as an intruder than hers.

‘This is Cap’n Kibbs, sir, a distant relation of father’s,’ she said.  ’And this is Mrs. Kibbs.  We’ve come up from the island wi’en just for a trip, and are going to sail back wi’en Wednesday.’

‘O, I see.  And where are you staying?’

‘Here-on board.’

‘What, you live on board entirely?’

‘Yes.’

‘Lord, sir,’ broke in Mrs. Kibbs, ‘I should be afeard o’ my life to tine my eyes among these here kimberlins at night-time; and even by day, if so be I venture into the streets, I nowhen forget how many turnings to the right and to the left ‘tis to get back to Job’s vessel-do I, Job?’

The skipper nodded confirmation.

‘You are safer ashore than afloat,’ said Pierston, ’especially in the Channel, with these winds and those heavy blocks of stone.’

‘Well,’ said Cap’n Kibbs, after privately clearing something from his mouth, ’as to the winds, there idden much danger in them at this time o’ year.  ’Tis the ocean-bound steamers that make the risk to craft like ours.  If you happen to be in their course, under you go-cut clane in two pieces, and they never lying-to to haul in your carcases, and nobody to tell the tale.’

Pierston turned to Avice, wanting to say much to her, yet not knowing what to say.  He lamely remarked at last:  ’You go back the same way, Avice?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Well, take care of yourself afloat.’

‘O yes.’

‘I hope-I may see you again soon-and talk to you.’

‘I hope so, sir.’

He could not get further, and after a while Pierston left them, and went away thinking of Avice more than ever.

The next day he mentally timed them down the river, allowing for the pause to take in ballast, and on the Wednesday pictured the sail down the open sea.  That night he thought of the little craft under the bows of the huge steam-vessels, powerless to make itself seen or heard, and Avice, now growing inexpressibly dear, sleeping in her little berth at the mercy of a thousand chance catastrophes.

Honest perception had told him that this Avice, fairer than her mother in face and form, was her inferior in soul and understanding.  Yet the fervour which the first could never kindle in him was, almost to his alarm, burning up now.  He began to have misgivings as to some queer trick that his migratory Beloved was about to play him, or rather the capricious Divinity behind that ideal lady.

A gigantic satire upon the mutations of his nymph during the past twenty years seemed looming in the distance.  A forsaking of the accomplished and well-connected Mrs. Pine-Avon for the little laundress, under the traction of some mystic magnet which had nothing to do with reason-surely that was the form of the satire.

But it was recklessly pleasant to leave the suspicion unrecognized as yet, and follow the lead.

IIn thinking how best to do this Pierston recollected that, as was customary when the summer-time approached, Sylvania Castle had been advertised for letting furnished.  A solitary dreamer like himself, whose wants all lay in an artistic and ideal direction, did not require such gaunt accommodation as the aforesaid residence offered; but the spot was all, and the expenses of a few months of tenancy therein he could well afford.  A letter to the agent was dispatched that night, and in a few days Jocelyn found himself the temporary possessor of a place which he had never seen the inside of since his childhood, and had then deemed the abode of unpleasant ghosts.

CHAPTER VI - The past Shines in the present

It was the evening of Pierston’s arrival at Sylvania Castle, a dignified manor-house in a nook by the cliffs, with modern castellations and battlements; and he had walked through the rooms, about the lawn, and into the surrounding plantation of elms, which on this island of treeless rock lent a unique character to the enclosure.  In name, nature, and accessories the property within the girdling wall formed a complete antithesis to everything in its precincts.  To find other trees between Pebble-bank and Beal, it was necessary to recede a little in time-to dig down to a loose stratum of the underlying stone-beds, where a forest of conifers lay as petrifactions, their heads all in one direction, as blown down by a gale in the Secondary geologic epoch.

Dusk had closed in, and he now proceeded with what was, after all, the real business of his sojourn.  The two servants who had been left to take care of the house were in their own quarters, and he went out unobserved.  Crossing a hollow overhung by the budding boughs he approached an empty garden-house of Elizabethan design, which stood on the outer wall of the grounds, and commanded by a window the fronts of the nearest cottages.  Among them was the home of the resuscitated Avice./p>

He had chosen this moment for his outlook through knowing that the villagers were in no hurry to pull down their blinds at nightfall.  And, as he had divined, the inside of the young woman’s living-room was visible to him as formerly, illuminated by the rays of its own lamp.

A subdued thumping came every now and then from the apartment.  She was ironing linen on a flannel table-cloth, a row of such apparel hanging on a clothes-horse by the fire.  Her face had been pale when he encountered her, but now it was warm and pink with her exertions and the heat of the stove.  Yet it was in perfect and passionless repose, which imparted a Minerva cast to the profile.  When she glanced up, her linéaments seemed to have all the soul and heart that had characterized her mother’s, and had been with her a true index of the spirit within.  Could it be possible that in this case the manifestation was fictitious?  He had met with many such examples of hereditary persistence without the qualities signified by the traits.  He unconsciously hoped that it was at least not entirely so here.

The room was less furnished than when he had last beheld it.  The ‘bo-fet,’ or double corner-cupboard, where the china was formerly kept, had disappeared, its place being taken by a plain board.  The tall old clock, with its ancient oak carcase, arched brow, and humorous mouth, was also not to be seen, a cheap, white-dialled specimen doing its work.  What these displacements might betoken saddened his humanity less than it cheered his primitive instinct in pointing out how her necessities might bring them together.

Having fixed his residence near her for some lengthy time he felt in no hurry to obtrude his presence just now, and went indoors.  That this girl’s frame was doomed to be a real embodiment of that olden seductive one-that Protean dream-creature, who had never seen fit to irradiate the mother’s image till it became a mere memory after dissolution-he doubted less every moment.

There was an uneasiness in recognizing such.  There was something abnormal in his present proclivity.  A certain sanity had, after all, accompanied his former idealizing passions:  the Beloved had seldom informed a personality which, while enrapturing his soul, simultaneously shocked his intellect.  A change, perhaps, had come.

It was a fine morning on the morrow.  Walking in the grounds towards the gate he saw Avice entering his hired castle with a broad oval wicker-basket covered with a white cloth, which burden she bore round to the back door.  Of course, she washed for his own household:  he had not thought of that.  In the morning sunlight she appeared rather as a sylph than as a washerwoman; and he could not but think that the slightness of her figure was as ill adapted to this occupation as her mother’s had been.

But, after all, it was not the washerwoman that he saw now.  In front of her, on the surface of her, was shining out that more real, more inter-penetrating being whom he knew so well!  The occupation of the subserving minion, the blemishes of the temporary creature who formed the background, were of the same account in the presentation of the indispensable one as the supporting posts and framework in a pyrotechnic display.

She left the house and went homeward by a path of which he was not aware, having probably changed her course because she had seen him standing there.  It meant nothing, for she had hardly become acquainted with him; yet that she should have avoided him was a new experience.  He had no opportunity for a further study of her by distant observation, and hit upon a pretext for bringing her face to face with him.  He found fault with his linen, and directed that the laundress should be sent for.

‘She is rather young, poor little thing,’ said the housemaid apologetically.  ’But since her mother’s death she has enough to do to keep above water, and we make shift with her.  But I’ll tell her, sir.’

‘I will see her myself.  Send her in when she comes,’ said Pierston.

One morning, accordingly, when he was answering a spiteful criticism of a late work of his, he was told that she waited his pleasure in the hall.  He went out.

‘About the washing,’ said the sculptor stiffly.  ’I am a very particular person, and I wish no preparation of lime to be used.’

‘I didn’t know folks used it,’ replied the maiden, in a scared and reserved tone, without looking at him.

‘That’s all right.  And then, the mangling smashes the buttons.’

‘I haven’t got a mangle, sir,’ she murmured.

‘Ah! that’s satisfactory.  And I object to so much borax in the starch.’

‘I don’t put any,’ Avice returned in the same close way; ’never heard the name o’t afore!’

‘O I see.’

All this time Pierston was thinking of the girl-or as the scientific might say, Nature was working her plans for the next generation under the cloak of a dialogue on linen.  He could not read her individual character, owing to the confusing effect of her likeness to a woman whom he had valued too late.  He could not help seeing in her all that he knew of another, and veiling in her all that did not harmonize with his sense of metempsychosis.

The girl seemed to think of nothing but the business in hand.  She had answered to the point, and was hardly aware of his sex or of his shape.

‘I knew your mother, Avice,’ he said.  ‘You remember my telling you so?’

‘Yes.’

’Well-I have taken this house for two or three months, and you will be very useful to me.  You still live just outside the wall?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the self-contained girl.

Demurely and dispassionately she turned to leave-this pretty creature with features so still.  There was something strange in seeing move off thus that form which he knew passing well, she who was once so throbbingly alive to his presence that, not many yards from this spot, she had flung her arms round him and given him a kiss which, despised in its freshness, had revived in him latterly as the dearest kiss of all his life.  And now this ‘daps’ of her mother (as they called her in the dialect here), this perfect copy, why did she turn away?

‘Your mother was a refined and well-informed woman, I think I remember?’

‘She was, sir; everybody said so.’

‘I hope you resemble her.’

She archly shook her head, and drew warily away.

’O! one thing more, Avice.  I have not brought much linen, so you must come to the house every day.’

‘Very good, sir.’

‘You won’t forget that?’

‘O no.’

Then he let her go.  He was a town man, and she an artless islander, yet he had opened himself out, like a sea-anemone, without disturbing the epiderm of her nature.  It was monstrous that a maiden who had assumed the personality of her of his tenderest memory should be so impervious.  Perhaps it was he who was wanting.  Avice might be Passion masking as Indifference, because he was so many years older in outward show.

This brought him to the root of it.  In his heart he was not a day older than when he had wooed the mother at the daughter’s present age.  His record moved on with the years, his sentiments stood still.

When he beheld those of his fellows who were defined as buffers and fogeys-imperturbable, matter-of-fact, slightly ridiculous beings, past masters in the art of populating homes, schools, and colleges, and present adepts in the science of giving away brides-how he envied them, assuming them to feel as they appeared to feel, with their commerce and their politics, their glasses and their pipes.  They had got past the distracting currents of passionateness, and were in the calm waters of middle-aged philosophy.  But he, their contemporary, was tossed like a cork hither and thither upon the crest of every fancy, precisely as he had been tossed when he was half his present age, with the burden now of double pain to himself in his growing vision of all as vanity.

Avice had gone, and he saw her no more that day.  Since he could not again call upon her, she was as inaccessible as if she had entered the military citadel on the hill-top beyond them.

In the evening he went out and paced down the lane to the Red King’s castle overhanging the cliff, beside whose age the castle he occupied was but a thing of yesterday.  Below the castle precipice lay enormous blocks, which had fallen from it, and several of them were carved over with names and initials.  He knew the spot and the old trick well, and by searching in the faint moon-rays he found a pair of names which, as a boy, he himself had cut.  They were ‘Avice’ and ’Jocelyn’-Avice Caro’s and his own.  The letters were now nearly worn away by the weather and the brine.  But close by, in quite fresh letters, stood ‘Ann Avice,’ coupled with the name ‘Isaac.’  They could not have been there more than two or three years, and the ‘Ann Avice’ was probably Avice the Second.  Who was Isaac?  Some boy admirer of her child-time doubtless.

He retraced his steps, and passed the Caros’ house towards his own.  The revivified Avice animated the dwelling, and the light within the room fell upon the window.  She was just inside that blind.

Whenever she unexpectedly came to the castle he started, and lost placidity.  It was not at her presence as such, but at the new condition, which seemed to have something sinister in it.  On the other hand, the most abrupt encounter with him moved her to no emotion as it had moved her prototype in the old days.  She was indifferent to, almost unconscious of, his propinquity.  He was no more than a statue to her; she was a growing fire to him.

A sudden Sapphic terror of love would ever and anon come upon the sculptor, when his matured reflecting powers would insist upon informing him of the fearful lapse from reasonableness that lay in this infatuation.  It threw him into a sweat.  What if now, at last, he were doomed to do penance for his past emotional wanderings (in a material sense) by being chained in fatal fidelity to an object that his intellect despised?  One night he dreamt that he saw dimly masking behind that young countenance ‘the Weaver of Wiles’ herself, ’with all her subtle face laughing aloud.’

However, the Well-Beloved was alive again, had been lost and was found.  He was amazed at the change of front in himself.  She had worn the guise of strange women; she had been a woman of every class, from the dignified daughter of some ecclesiastic or peer to a Nubian Almeh with her handkerchief, undulating to the beats of the tom-tom; but all these embodiments had been endowed with a certain smartness, either of the flesh or spirit:  some with wit, a few with talent, and even genius.  But the new impersonation had apparently nothing beyond sex and prettiness.  She knew not how to sport a fan or handkerchief, hardly how to pull on a glove.

BBut her limited life was innocent, and that went far.  Poor little Avice! her mother’s image:  there it all lay.  After all, her parentage was as good as his own; it was misfortune that had sent her down to this.  Odd as it seemed to him, her limitations were largely what he loved her for.  Her rejuvenating power over him had ineffable charm.  He felt as he had felt when standing beside her predecessor; but, alas! he was twenty years further on towards the shade.

CHAPTER VII - The new becomes established

A few mornings later he was looking through an upper back window over a screened part of the garden.  The door beneath him opened, and a figure appeared tripping forth.  She went round out of sight to where the gardener was at work, and presently returned with a bunch of green stuff fluttering in each hand.  It was Avice, her dark hair now braided up snugly under a cap.  She sailed on with a rapt and unconscious face, her thoughts a thousand removes from him.

How she had suddenly come to be an inmate of his own house he could not understand, till he recalled the fact that he had given the castle servants a whole holiday to attend a review of the yeomanry in the watering-place over the bay, on their stating that they could provide a temporary substitute to stay in the house.  They had evidently called in Avice.  To his great pleasure he discovered their opinion of his requirements to be such a mean one that they had called in no one else./p>

The Spirit, as she seemed to him, brought his lunch into the room where he was writing, and he beheld her uncover it.  She went to the window to adjust a blind which had slipped, and he had a good view of her profile.  It was not unlike that of one of the three goddesses in Rubens’s ‘Judgment of Paris,’ and in contour was nigh perfection.  But it was in her full face that the vision of her mother was most apparent.

‘Did you cook all this, Avice?’ he asked, arousing himself.

She turned and half-smiled, merely murmuring, ‘Yes, sir.’

Well he knew the arrangement of those white teeth.  In the junction of two of the upper ones there was a slight irregularity; no stranger would have noticed it, nor would he, but that he knew of the same mark in her mother’s mouth, and looked for it here.  Till Avice the Second had revealed it this moment by her smile, he had never beheld that mark since the parting from Avice the First, when she had smiled under his kiss as the copy had done now.

Next morning, when dressing, he heard her through the ricketty floor of the building engaged in conversation with the other servants.  Having by this time regularly installed herself as the exponent of the Long-pursued-as one who, by no initiative of his own, had been chosen by some superior Power as the vehicle of her next debut, she attracted him by the cadences of her voice; she would suddenly drop it to a rich whisper of roguishness, when the slight rural monotony of its narrative speech disappeared, and soul and heart-or what seemed soul and heart-resounded.  The charm lay in the intervals, using that word in its musical sense.  She would say a few syllables in one note, and end her sentence in a soft modulation upwards, then downwards, then into her own note again.  The curve of sound was as artistic as any line of beauty ever struck by his pencil-as satisfying as the curves of her who was the World’s Desire.

The subject of her discourse he cared nothing about-it was no more his interest than his concern.  He took special pains that in catching her voice he might not comprehend her words.  To the tones he had a right, none to the articulations.  By degrees he could not exist long without this sound.

On Sunday evening he found that she went to church.  He followed behind her over the open road, keeping his eye on the little hat with its bunch of cock’s feathers as on a star.  When she had passed in Pierston observed her position and took a seat behind her.

Engaged in the study of her ear and the nape of her white neck, he suddenly became aware of the presence of a lady still further ahead in the aisle, whose attire, though of black materials in the quietest form, was of a cut which rather suggested London than this Ultima Thule.  For the minute he forgot, in his curiosity, that Avice intervened.  The lady turned her head somewhat, and, though she was veiled with unusual thickness for the season, he seemed to recognize Nichola Pine-Avon in the form.

Why should Mrs. Pine-Avon be there?  Pierston asked himself, if it should, indeed, be she.

The end of the service saw his attention again concentrated on Avice to such a degree that at the critical moment of moving out he forgot the mysterious lady in front of her, and found that she had left the church by the side-door.  Supposing it to have been Mrs. Pine-Avon, she would probably be discovered staying at one of the hotels at the watering-place over the bay, and to have come along the Pebble-bank to the island as so many did, for an evening drive.  For the present, however, the explanation was not forthcoming; and he did not seek it.

When he emerged from the church the great placid eye of the lighthouse at the Beal Point was open, and he moved thitherward a few steps to escape Nichola, or her double, and the rest of the congregation.  Turning at length, he hastened homeward along the now deserted trackway, intending to overtake the revitalized Avice.  But he could see nothing of her, and concluded that she had walked too fast for him.  Arrived at his own gate he paused a moment, and perceived that Avice’s little freehold was still in darkness.  She had not come.

He retraced his steps, but could not find her, the only persons on the road being a man and his wife, as he knew them to be though he could not see them, from the words of the man-

’If you had not a’ready married me, you’d cut my acquaintance!  That’s a pretty thing for a wife to say!’

The remark struck his ear unpleasantly, and by-and-by he went back again.  Avice’s cottage was now lighted:  she must have come round by the other road.  Satisfied that she was safely domiciled for the night he opened the gate of Sylvania Castle and retired to his room also.

Eastward from the grounds the cliffs were rugged and the view of the opposite coast picturesque in the extreme.  A little door from the lawn gave him immediate access to the rocks and shore on this side.  Without the door was a dip-well of pure water, which possibly had supplied the inmates of the adjoining and now ruinous Red King’s castle at the time of its erection.  On a sunny morning he was meditating here when he discerned a figure on the shore below spreading white linen upon the pebbly strand.

Jocelyn descended.  Avice, as he had supposed, had now returned to her own occupation.  Her shapely pink arms, though slight, were plump enough to show dimples at the elbows, and were set off by her purple cotton print, which the shore-breeze licked and tantalized.  He stood near, without speaking.  The wind dragged a shirt-sleeve from the ‘popple’ or pebble which held it down.  Pierston stooped and put a heavier one in its place.

‘Thank you,’ she said quietly.  She turned up her hazel eyes, and seemed gratified to perceive that her assistant was Pierston.  She had plainly been so wrapped in her own thoughts-gloomy thoughts, by their signs-that she had not considered him till then.

The young girl continued to converse with him in friendly frankness, showing neither ardour nor shyness.  As for love-it was evidently further from her mind than even death and dissolution.

When one of the sheets became intractable Jocelyn said, ’Do you hold it down, and I’ll put the popples.’

She acquiesced, and in placing a pebble his hand touched hers.

It was a young hand, rather long and thin, a little damp and coddled from her slopping.  In setting down the last stone he laid it, by a pure accident, rather heavily on her fingers.

‘I am very, very sorry!’ Jocelyn exclaimed.  ’O, I have bruised the skin, Avice!’ He seized her fingers to examine the damage done.

‘No, sir, you haven’t!’ she cried luminously, allowing him to retain her hand without the least objection.  ’Why-that’s where I scratched it this morning with a pin.  You didn’t hurt me a bit with the popple-stone!’

Although her gown was purple, there was a little black crape bow upon each arm.  He knew what it meant, and it saddened him.  ’Do you ever visit your mother’s grave?’ he asked.

‘Yes, sir, sometimes.  I am going there tonight to water the daisies.’

She had now finished here, and they parted.  That evening, when the sky was red, he emerged by the garden-door and passed her house.  The blinds were not down, and he could see her sewing within.  While he paused she sprang up as if she had forgotten the hour, and tossed on her hat.  Jocelyn strode ahead and round the corner, and was halfway up the straggling street before he discerned her little figure behind him.

He hastened past the lads and young women with clinking buckets who were drawing water from the fountains by the wayside, and took the direction of the church.  With the disappearance of the sun the lighthouse had again set up its flame against the sky, the dark church rising in the foreground.  Here he allowed her to overtake him.

‘You loved your mother much?’ said Jocelyn.

‘I did, sir; of course I did,’ said the girl, who tripped so lightly that it seemed he might have carried her on his hand.

Pierston wished to say, ‘So did I,’ but did not like to disclose events which she, apparently, never guessed.  Avice fell into thought, and continued-

’Mother had a very sad life for some time when she was about as old as I. I should not like mine to be as hers.  Her young man proved false to her because she wouldn’t agree to meet him one night, and it grieved mother almost all her life.  I wouldn’t ha’ fretted about him, if I’d been she.  She would never name his name, but I know he was a wicked, cruel man; and I hate to think of him.’

After this he could not go into the churchyard with her, and walked onward alone to the south of the isle.  He was wretched for hours.  Yet he would not have stood where he did stand in the ranks of an imaginative profession if he had not been at the mercy of every haunting of the fancy that can beset man.  It was in his weaknesses as a citizen and a national-unit that his strength lay as an artist, and he felt it childish to complain of susceptibilities not only innate but cultivated.

But he was paying dearly enough for his Liliths.  He saw a terrible vengeance ahead.  What had he done to be tormented like this?  The Beloved, after flitting from Nichola Pine-Avon to the phantom of a dead woman whom he never adored in her lifetime, had taken up her abode in the living representative of the dead, with a permanence of hold which the absolute indifference of that little brown-eyed representative only seemed to intensify.

Did he really wish to proceed to marriage with this chit of a girl?  He did:  the wish had come at last.  It was true that as he studied her he saw defects in addition to her social insufficiencies.  Judgment, hoodwinked as it was, told him that she was colder in nature, commoner in character, than that well read, bright little woman Avice the First.  But twenty years make a difference in ideals, and the added demands of middle-age in physical form are more than balanced by its concessions as to the spiritual content.  He looked at himself in the glass, and felt glad at those inner deficiencies in Avice which formerly would have impelled him to reject her.

There was a strange difference in his regard of his present folly and of his love in his youthful time.  Now he could be mad with method, knowing it to be madness:  then he was compelled to make believe his madness wisdom.  In those days any flash of reason upon his loved one’s imperfections was blurred over hastily and with fear.  Such penetrative vision now did not cool him.  He knew he was the creature of a tendency; and passively acquiesced.

To use a practical eye, it appeared that, as he had once thought, this Caro family-though it might not for centuries, or ever, furbish up an individual nature which would exactly, ideally, supplement his own imperfect one and round with it the perfect whole-was yet the only family he had ever met, or was likely to meet, which possessed the materials for her making.  It was as if the Caros had found the clay but not the potter, while other families whose daughters might attract him had found the potter but not the clay.

CHAPTER VIII - His own soul confronts him

From his roomy castle and its grounds and the cliffs hard by he could command every move and aspect of her who was the rejuvenated Spirit of the Past to him-in the effulgence of whom all sordid details were disregarded.

Among other things he observed that she was often anxious when it rained.  If, after a wet day, a golden streak appeared in the sky over Deadman’s Bay, under a lid of cloud, her manner was joyous and her tread light./p>

This puzzled him; and he found that if he endeavoured to encounter her at these times she shunned him-stealthily and subtly, but unmistakably.  One evening, when she had left her cottage and tripped off in the direction of the under-hill townlet, he set out by the same route, resolved to await her return along the high roadway which stretched between that place and East Quarriers.

He reached the top of the old road where it makes a sudden descent to the townlet, but she did not appear.  Turning back, he sauntered along till he had nearly reached his own house again.  Then he retraced his steps, and in the dim night he walked backwards and forwards on the bare and lofty convex of the isle; the stars above and around him, the lighthouse on duty at the distant point, the lightship winking from the sandbank, the combing of the pebble beach by the tide beneath, the church away south-westward, where the island fathers lay.

He walked the wild summit till his legs ached, and his heart ached-till he seemed to hear on the upper wind the stones of the slingers whizzing past, and the voices of the invaders who annihilated them, and married their wives and daughters, and produced Avice as the ultimate flower of the combined stocks.  Still she did not come.  It was more than foolish to wait, yet he could not help waiting.  At length he discerned a dot of a figure, which he knew to be hers rather by its motion than by its shape.

How incomparably the immaterial dream dwarfed the grandest of substantial things, when here, between those three sublimities-the sky, the rock, and the ocean-the minute personality of this washer-girl filled his consciousness to its extremest boundary, and the stupendous inanimate scene shrank to a corner therein.

But all at once the approaching figure had disappeared.  He looked about; she had certainly vanished.  At one side of the road was a low wall, but she could not have gone behind that without considerable trouble and singular conduct.  He looked behind him; she had reappeared further on the road.

Jocelyn Pierston hurried after; and, discerning his movement, Avice stood still.  When he came up, she was slily shaking with restrained laughter.

‘Well, what does this mean, my dear girl?’ he asked.

Her inner mirth escaping in spite of her she turned askance and said:  ‘When you was following me to Street o’ Wells, two hours ago, I looked round and saw you, and huddied behind a stone!  You passed and brushed my frock without seeing me.  And when, on my way backalong, I saw you waiting hereabout again, I slipped over the wall, and ran past you!  If I had not stopped and looked round at ’ee, you would never have catched me!’

‘What did you do that for, you elf!’

‘That you shouldn’t find me.’

‘That’s not exactly a reason.  Give another, dear Avice,’ he said, as he turned and walked beside her homeward.

She hesitated.  ‘Come!’ he urged again.

‘’Twas because I thought you wanted to be my young man,’ she answered.

‘What a wild thought of yours!  Supposing I did, wouldn’t you have me?’

‘Not now....  And not for long, even if it had been sooner than now.’

‘Why?’

‘If I tell you, you won’t laugh at me or let anybody else know?’

‘Never.’

‘Then I will tell you,’ she said quite seriously. ’’Tis because I get tired o’ my lovers as soon as I get to know them well.  What I see in one young man for a while soon leaves him and goes into another yonder, and I follow, and then what I admire fades out of him and springs up somewhere else; and so I follow on, and never fix to one.  I have loved fifteen a’ready!  Yes, fifteen, I am almost ashamed to say,’ she repeated, laughing.  ’I can’t help it, sir, I assure you.  Of course it is really, to me, the same one all through, on’y I can’t catch him!’ She added anxiously, ‘You won’t tell anybody o’ this in me, will you, sir?  Because if it were known I am afraid no man would like me.’

Pierston was surprised into stillness.  Here was this obscure and almost illiterate girl engaged in the pursuit of the impossible ideal, just as he had been himself doing for the last twenty years.  She was doing it quite involuntarily, by sheer necessity of her organization, puzzled all the while at her own instinct.  He suddenly thought of its bearing upon himself, and said, with a sinking heart-

‘Am I-one of them?’

She pondered critically.

‘You was; for a week; when I first saw you.’

‘Only a week?’

‘About that.’

‘What made the being of your fancy forsake my form and go elsewhere?’

‘Well-though you seemed handsome and gentlemanly at first-’

‘Yes?’

‘I found you too old soon after.’

‘You are a candid young person.’

‘But you asked me, sir!’ she expostulated.

’I did; and, having been answered, I won’t intrude upon you longer.  So cut along home as fast as you can.  It is getting late.’

When she had passed out of earshot he also followed homewards.  This seeking of the Well-Beloved was, then, of the nature of a knife which could cut two ways.  To be the seeker was one thing:  to be one of the corpses from which the ideal inhabitant had departed was another; and this was what he had become now, in the mockery of new Days.

The startling parallel in the idiosyncracies of Avice and himself-evinced by the elusiveness of the Beloved with her as with him-meant probably that there had been some remote ancestor common to both families, from whom the trait had latently descended and recrudesced.  But the result was none the less disconcerting.

Drawing near his own gate he smelt tobacco, and could discern two figures in the side lane leading past Avice’s door.  They did not, however, enter her house, but strolled onward to the narrow pass conducting to Red-King Castle and the sea.  He was in momentary heaviness at the thought that they might be Avice with a worthless lover, but a faintly argumentative tone from the man informed him that they were the same married couple going homeward whom he had encountered on a previous occasion.

The next day he gave the servants a half-holiday to get the pretty Avice into the castle again for a few hours, the better to observe her.  While she was pulling down the blinds at sunset a whistle of peculiar quality came from some point on the cliffs outside the lawn.  He observed that her colour rose slightly, though she bustled about as if she had noticed nothing.

PPierston suddenly suspected that she had not only fifteen past admirers but a current one.  Still, he might be mistaken.  Stimulated now by ancient memories and present tenderness to use every effort to make her his wife, despite her conventional unfitness, he strung himself up to sift this mystery.  If he could only win her-and how could a country girl refuse such an opportunity?-he could pack her off to school for two or three years, marry her, enlarge her mind by a little travel, and take his chance of the rest.  As to her want of ardour for him-so sadly in contrast with her sainted mother’s affection-a man twenty years older than his bride could expect no better, and he would be well content to put up with it in the pleasure of possessing one in whom seemed to linger as an aroma all the charm of his youth and his early home.

CHAPTER IX - Juxtapositions

It was a sad and leaden afternoon, and Pierston paced up the long, steep pass or street of the Wells.  On either side of the road young girls stood with pitchers at the fountains which bubbled there, and behind the houses forming the propylaea of the rock rose the massive forehead of the Isle-crested at this part with its enormous ramparts as with a mural crown.

As you approach the upper end of the street all progress seems about to be checked by the almost vertical face of the escarpment.  Into it your track apparently runs point-blank:  a confronting mass which, if it were to slip down, would overwhelm the whole town.  But in a moment you find that the road, the old Roman highway into the peninsula, turns at a sharp angle when it reaches the base of the scarp, and ascends in the stiffest of inclines to the right.  To the left there is also another ascending road, modern, almost as steep as the first, and perfectly straight.  This is the road to the forts./p>

Pierston arrived at the forking of the ways, and paused for breath.  Before turning to the right, his proper and picturesque course, he looked up the uninteresting left road to the fortifications.  It was new, long, white, regular, tapering to a vanishing point, like a lesson in perspective.  About a quarter of the way up a girl was resting beside a basket of white linen:  and by the shape of her hat and the nature of her burden he recognized her.

She did not see him, and abandoning the right-hand course he slowly ascended the incline she had taken.  He observed that her attention was absorbed by something aloft.  He followed the direction of her gaze.  Above them towered the green-grey mountain of grassy stone, here levelled at the top by military art.  The skyline was broken every now and then by a little peg-like object-a sentry-box; and near one of these a small red spot kept creeping backwards and forwards monotonously against the heavy sky.

Then he divined that she had a soldier-lover.

She turned her head, saw him, and took up her clothes-basket to continue the ascent.  The steepness was such that to climb it unencumbered was a breathless business; the linen made her task a cruelty to her.  ’You’ll never get to the forts with that weight,’ he said.  ‘Give it to me.’

But she would not, and he stood still, watching her as she panted up the way; for the moment an irradiated being, the epitome of a whole sex:  by the beams of his own infatuation

beheld her not as she really was, as she was even to himself sometimes.  But to the soldier what was she?  Smaller and smaller she waned up the rigid mathematical road, still gazing at the soldier aloft, as Pierston gazed at her.  He could just discern sentinels springing up at the different coigns of vantage that she passed, but seeing who she was they did not intercept her; and presently she crossed the drawbridge over the enormous chasm surrounding the forts, passed the sentries there also, and disappeared through the arch into the interior.  Pierston could not see the sentry now, and there occurred to him the hateful idea that this scarlet rival was meeting and talking freely to her, the unprotected orphan girl of his sweet original Avice; perhaps, relieved of duty, escorting her across the interior, carrying her basket, her tender body encircled by his arm.

‘What the devil are you staring at, as if you were in a trance?’

Pierston turned his head:  and there stood his old friend Somers-still looking the long-leased bachelor that he was.

’I might say what the devil do you do here? if I weren’t so glad to see you.’

Somers said that he had come to see what was detaining his friend in such an out-of-the-way place at that time of year, and incidentally to get some fresh air into his own lungs.  Pierston made him welcome, and they went towards Sylvania Castle.

’You were staring, as far as I could see, at a pretty little washerwoman with a basket of clothes?’ resumed the painter.

’Yes; it was that to you, but not to me.  Behind the mere pretty island-girl (to the world) is, in my eye, the Idea, in Platonic phraseology-the essence and epitome of all that is desirable in this existence....  I am under a doom, Somers.  Yes, I am under a doom.  To have been always following a phantom whom I saw in woman after woman while she was at a distance, but vanishing away on close approach, was bad enough; but now the terrible thing is that the phantom does not vanish, but stays to tantalize me even when I am near enough to see what it is!  That girl holds me, though my eyes are open, and though I see that I am a fool!’

Somers regarded the visionary look of his friend, which rather intensified than decreased as his years wore on, but made no further remark.  When they reached the castle Somers gazed round upon the scenery, and Pierston, signifying the quaint little Elizabethan cottage, said:  ‘That’s where she lives.’

’What a romantic place!-and this island altogether.  A man might love a scarecrow or turnip-lantern here.’

’But a woman mightn’t.  Scenery doesn’t impress them, though they pretend it does.  This girl is as fickle as-’

‘You once were.’

’Exactly-from your point of view.  She has told me so-candidly.  And it hits me hard.’

Somers stood still in sudden thought.  ’Well-that is a strange turning of the tables!’ he said.  ‘But you wouldn’t really marry her, Pierston?’

’I would-to-morrow.  Why shouldn’t I?  What are fame and name and society to me-a descendant of wreckers and smugglers, like her.  Besides, I know what she’s made of, my boy, to her innermost fibre; I know the perfect and pure quarry she was dug from:  and that gives a man confidence.’

‘Then you’ll win.’

While they were sitting after dinner that evening their quiet discourse was interrupted by the long low whistle from the cliffs without.  Somers took no notice, but Pierston marked it.  That whistle always occurred at the same time in the evening when Avice was helping in the house.  He excused himself for a moment to his visitor and went out upon the dark lawn.  A crunching of feet upon the gravel mixed in with the articulation of the sea-steps light as if they were winged.  And he supposed, two minutes later, that the mouth of some hulking fellow was upon hers, which he himself hardly ventured to look at, so touching was its young beauty.

Hearing people about-among others the before-mentioned married couple quarrelling, the woman’s tones having a kinship to Avice’s own-he returned to the house.  Next day Somers roamed abroad to look for scenery for a marine painting, and, going out to seek him, Pierston met Avice.

‘So you have a lover, my lady!’ he said severely.  She admitted that it was the fact.  ‘You won’t stick to him,’ he continued.

‘I think I may to this one,’ said she, in a meaning tone that he failed to fathom then.  ‘He deserted me once, but he won’t again.’

‘I suppose he’s a wonderful sort of fellow?’

‘He’s good enough for me.’

‘So handsome, no doubt.’

‘Handsome enough for me.’

‘So refined and respectable.’

‘Refined and respectable enough for me.’

He could not disturb her equanimity, and let her pass.  The next day was Sunday, and Somers having chosen his view at the other end of the island, Pierston determined in the afternoon to see Avice’s lover.  He found that she had left her cottage stronghold, and went on towards the lighthouses at the Beal.  Turning back when he had reached the nearest, he saw on the lonely road between the quarries a young man evidently connected with the stone trade, with Avice the Second upon his arm.

She looked prettily guilty and blushed a little under his glance.  The man’s was one of the typical island physiognomies-his features energetic and wary in their expression, and half covered with a close, crisp black beard.  Pierston fancied that out of his keen dark eyes there glimmered a dry sense of humour at the situation.

If so, Avice must have told him of Pierston’s symptoms of tenderness.  This girl, whom, for her dear mother’s sake more than for her own unquestionable attractiveness, he would have guarded as the apple of his eye, how could she estimate him so flippantly!

The mortification of having brought himself to this position with the antitype, by his early slight of the type, blinded him for the moment to what struck him a short time after.  The man upon whose arm she hung was not a soldier.  What, then, became of her entranced gaze at the sentinel?  She could hardly have transferred her affections so promptly; or, to give her the benefit of his own theory, her Beloved could scarcely have flitted from frame to frame in so very brief an interval.  And which of them had been he who whistled softly in the dusk to her?

Without further attempt to find Alfred Somers Pierston walked homeward, moodily thinking that the desire to make reparation to the original woman by wedding and enriching the copy-which lent such an unprecedented permanence to his new love-was thwarted, as if by set intention of his destiny.

At the door of the grounds about the castle there stood a carriage.  He observed that it was not one of the homely flys from the under-hill town, but apparently from the popular resort across the bay.  Wondering why the visitor had not driven in he entered, to find in the drawing-room Nichola Pine-Avon.

At his first glance upon her, fashionably dressed and graceful in movement, she seemed beautiful; at the second, when he observed that her face was pale and agitated, she seemed pathetic likewise.  Altogether, she was now a very different figure from her who, sitting in her chair with such finished composure, had snubbed him in her drawing-room in Hamptonshire Square.

‘You are surprised at this?  Of course you are!’ she said, in a low, pleading voice, languidly lifting her heavy eyelids, while he was holding her hand.  ’But I couldn’t help it!  I know I have done something to offend you-have I not?  O! what can it be, that you have come away to this outlandish rock, to live with barbarians in the midst of the London season?’

‘You have not offended me, dear Mrs. Pine-Avon,’ he said.  ’How sorry I am that you should have supposed it!  Yet I am glad, too, that your fancy should have done me the good turn of bringing you here to see me.’

‘I am staying at Budmouth-Regis,’ she explained.

‘Then I did see you at a church-service here a little while back?’

She blushed faintly upon her pallor, and she sighed.  Their eyes met.  ‘Well,’ she said at last, ’I don’t know why I shouldn’t show the virtue of candour.  You know what it means.  I was the stronger once; now I am the weaker.  Whatever pain I may have given you in the ups and downs of our acquaintance I am sorry for, and would willingly repair all errors of the past by-being amenable to reason in the future.’

It was impossible that Jocelyn should not feel a tender impulsion towards this attractive and once independent woman, who from every worldly point of view was an excellent match for him-a superior match, indeed, except in money.  He took her hand again and held it awhile, and a faint wave of gladness seemed to flow through her.  But no-he could go no further.  That island girl, in her coquettish Sunday frock and little hat with its bunch of cock’s feathers held him as by strands of Manila rope.  He dropped Nichola’s hand.

‘I am leaving Budmouth to-morrow,’ she said.  ’That was why I felt I must call.  You did not know I had been there all through the Whitsun holidays?’

‘I did not, indeed; or I should have come to see you.’.

‘I didn’t like to write.  I wish I had, now!’

‘I wish you had, too, dear Mrs. Pine-Avon.’

But it was ‘Nichola’ that she wanted to be.  As they reached the landau he told her that he should be back in town himself again soon, and would call immediately.  At the moment of his words Avice Caro, now alone, passed close along by the carriage on the other side, towards her house hard at hand.  She did not turn head or eye to the pair:  they seemed to be in her view objects of indifference.

Pierston became cold as a stone.  The chill towards Nichola that the presence of the girl,-sprite, witch, troll that she was-brought with it came like a doom.  He knew what a fool he was, as he had said.  But he was powerless in the grasp of the idealizing passion.  He cared more for Avice’s finger-tips than for Mrs. Pine-Avon’s whole personality.

Perhaps Nichola saw it, for she said mournfully:  ’Now I have done all I could!  I felt that the only counterpoise to my cruelty to you in my drawing-room would be to come as a suppliant to yours.’

‘It is most handsome and noble of you, my very dear friend!’ said he, with an emotion of courtesy rather than of enthusiasm.

Then adieux were spoken, and she drove away.  But Pierston saw only the retreating Avice, and knew that he was helpless in her hands.  The church of the island had risen near the foundations of the Pagan temple, and a Christian emanation from the former might be wrathfully torturing him through the very false gods to whom he had devoted himself both in his craft, like Demetrius of Ephesus, and in his heart.  Perhaps Divine punishment for his idolâtries had come.

Pierston had not turned far back towards the castle when he was overtaken by Somers and the man who carried his painting lumber.  They paced together to the door; the man deposited the articles and went away, and the two walked up and down before entering.

‘I met an extremely interesting woman in the road out there,’ said the painter./p> ‘Ah, she is!  A sprite, a sylph; Psyche indeed!’

‘I was struck with her.’

‘It shows how beauty will out through the homeliest guise.’

’Yes, it will; though not always.  And this case doesn’t prove it, for the lady’s attire was in the latest and most approved taste.’

‘Oh, you mean the lady who was driving?’

’Of course.  What, were you thinking of the pretty little cottage-girl outside here?  I did meet her, but what’s she?  Very well for one’s picture, though hardly for one’s fireside.  This lady-’

’Is Mrs. Pine-Avon.  A kind, proud woman, who’ll do what people with no pride would not condescend to think of.  She is leaving Budmouth to-morrow, and she drove across to see me.  You know how things seemed to be going with us at one time?  But I am no good to any woman.  She’s been very generous towards me, which I’ve not been to her....  She’ll ultimately throw herself away upon some wretch unworthy of her, no doubt.’

‘Do you think so?’ murmured Somers.  After a while he said abruptly, ‘I’ll marry her myself, if she’ll have me.  I like the look of her.’

’I wish you would, Alfred, or rather could!  She has long had an idea of slipping out of the world of fashion into the world of art.  She is a woman of individuality and earnest instincts.  I am in real trouble about her.  I won’t say she can be won-it would be ungenerous of me to say that.  But try.  I can bring you together easily.’

‘I’ll marry her, if she’s willing!’ With the phlegmatic dogmatism that was part of him, Somers added:  ’When you have decided to marry, take the first nice woman you meet.  They are all alike.’

‘Well-you don’t know her yet,’ replied Jocelyn, who could give praise where he could not give love.

’But you do, and I’ll take her on the strength of your judgment.  Is she really handsome?-I had but the merest glance.  But I know she is, or she wouldn’t have caught your discriminating eye.’

‘You may take my word for it; she looks as well at hand as afar.’

‘What colour are her eyes?’

’Her eyes?  I don’t go much in for colour, being professionally sworn to form.  But, let me see-grey; and her hair rather light than dark brown.’

‘I wanted something darker,’ said Somers airily.  ’There are so many fair models among native Englishwomen.  Still, blondes are useful property!...  Well, well; this is flippancy.  But I liked the look of her.’

Somers had gone back to town.  It was a wet day on the little peninsula:  but Pierston walked out as far as the garden-house of his hired castle, where he sat down and smoked.  This erection being on the boundary-wall of his property his ear could now and then catch the tones of Avice’s voice from her open-doored cottage in the lane which skirted his fence; and he noticed that there were no modulations in it.  He knew why that was.  She wished to go out, and could not.  He had observed before that when she was planning an outing a particular note would come into her voice during the preceding hours:  a dove’s roundness of sound; no doubt the effect upon her voice of her thoughts of her lover, or lovers.  Yet the latter it could not be.  She was pure and singlehearted:  half an eye could see that.  Whence, then, the two men?  Possibly the quarrier was a relation.

There seemed reason in this when, going out into the lane, he encountered one of the red jackets he had been thinking of.  Soldiers were seldom seen in this outer part of the isle:  their beat from the forts, when on pleasure, was in the opposite direction, and this man must have had a special reason for coming hither.  Pierston surveyed him.  He was a round-faced, good-humoured fellow to look at, having two little pieces of moustache on his upper lip, like a pair of minnows rampant, and small black eyes, over which the Glengarry cap straddled flat.  It was a hateful idea that her tender cheek should be kissed by the lips of this heavy young man, who had never been sublimed by a single battle, even with defenceless savages.

The soldier went before her house, looked at the door, and moved on down the crooked way to the cliffs, where there was a path back to the forts.  But he did not adopt it, returning by the way he had come.  This showed his wish to pass the house again.  She gave no sign, however, and the soldier disappeared.

Pierston could not be satisfied that Avice was in the house, and he crossed over to the front of her little freehold and tapped at the door, which stood ajar.

Nobody came:  hearing a slight movement within he crossed the threshold.  Avice was there alone, sitting on a low stool in a dark corner, as though she wished to be unobserved by any casual passer-by.  She looked up at him without emotion or apparent surprise; but he could then see that she was crying.  The view, for the first time, of distress in an unprotected young girl towards whom he felt drawn by ties of extraordinary delicacy and tenderness, moved Pierston beyond measure.  He entered without ceremony.

‘Avice, my dear girl!’ he said.  ‘Something is the matter!’

She looked assent, and he went on:  ’Now tell me all about it.  Perhaps I can help you.  Come, tell me.’

‘I can’t!’ she murmured.  ’Grammer Stockwool is upstairs, and she’ll hear!’ Mrs. Stockwool was the old woman who had come to live with the girl for company since her mother’s death.

‘Then come into my garden opposite.  There we shall be quite private.’

She rose, put on her hat, and accompanied him to the door.  Here she asked him if the lane were empty, and on his assuring her that it was she crossed over and entered with him through the garden-wall.

The place was a shady and secluded one, though through the boughs the sea could be seen quite near at hand, its moanings being distinctly audible.  A water-drop from a tree fell here and there, but the rain was not enough to hurt them.

‘Now let me hear it,’ he said soothingly.  ’You may tell me with the greatest freedom.  I was a friend of your mother’s, you know.  That is, I knew her; and I’ll be a friend of yours.’

The statement was risky, if he wished her not to suspect him of being her mother’s false one.  But that lover’s name appeared to be unknown to the present Avice.

‘I can’t tell you, sir,’ she replied unwillingly; ’except that it has to do with my own changeableness.  The rest is the secret of somebody else.’

‘I am sorry for that,’ said he.

’I am getting to care for one I ought not to think of, and it means ruin.  I ought to get away!’.

‘You mean from the island?’

‘Yes.’

Pierston reflected.  His presence in London had been desired for some time; yet he had delayed going because of his new solicitudes here.  But to go and take her with him would afford him opportunity of watching over her, tending her mind, and developing it; while it might remove her from some looming danger.  It was a somewhat awkward guardianship for him, as a lonely man, to carry out; still, it could be done.  He asked her abruptly if she would really like to go away for a while.

‘I like best to stay here,’ she answered.  ’Still, I should not mind going somewhere, because I think I ought to.’

‘Would you like London?’

Avice’s face lost its weeping shape.  ‘How could that be?’ she said.

’I have been thinking that you could come to my house and make yourself useful in some way.  I rent just now one of those new places called flats, which you may have heard of; and I have a studio at the back.’

’I haven’t heard of ’em,’ she said without interest.

’Well, I have two servants there, and as my man has a holiday you can help them for a month or two.’

‘Would polishing furniture be any good?  I can do that.’

’I haven’t much furniture that requires polishing.  But you can clear away plaster and clay messes in the studio, and chippings of stone, and help me in modelling, and dust all my Venus failures, and hands and heads and feet and bones, and other objects.’

She was startled, yet attracted by the novelty of the proposal.

‘Only for a time?’ she said.

‘Only for a time.  As short as you like, and as long.’

The deliberate manner in which, after the first surprise, Avice discussed the arrangements that he suggested, might have told him how far was any feeling for himself beyond friendship, and possibly gratitude, from agitating her breast.  Yet there was nothing extravagant in the discrepancy between their ages, and he hoped, after shaping her to himself, to win her.  What had grieved her to tears she would not more particularly tell.

She had naturally not much need of preparation, but she made even less preparation than he would have expected her to require.  She seemed eager to be off immediately, and not a soul was to know of her departure.  Why, if she were in love and at first averse to leave the island, she should be so precipitate now he failed to understand.

BBut he took great care to compromise in no way a girl in whom his interest was as protective as it was passionate.  He accordingly left her to get out of the island alone, awaiting her at a station a few miles up the railway, where, discovering himself to her through the carriage-window, he entered the next compartment, his frame pervaded by a glow which was almost joy at having for the first time in his charge one who inherited the flesh and bore the name so early associated with his own, and at the prospect of putting things right which had been wrong through many years.

CHAPTER XI - The image persists

It was dark when the four-wheeled cab wherein he had brought Avice from the station stood at the entrance to the pile of flats of which Pierston occupied one floor-rarer then as residences in London than they are now.  Leaving Avice to alight and get the luggage taken in by the porter Pierston went upstairs.  To his surprise his floor was silent, and on entering with a latchkey the rooms were all in darkness.  He descended to the hall, where Avice was standing helpless beside the luggage, while the porter was outside with the cabman.

‘Do you know what has become of my servants?’ asked Jocelyn

’What-and ain’t they there, saur?  Ah, then my belief is that what I suspected is thrue!  You didn’t leave your wine-cellar unlocked, did you, saur, by no mistake?’

Pierston considered.  He thought he might have left the key with his elder servant, whom he had believed he could trust, especially as the cellar was not well stocked.

’Ah, then it was so!  She’s been very queer, saur, this last week or two.  O yes, sending messages down the spakin’-tube which were like madness itself, and ordering us this and that, till we would take no notice at all.  I see them both go out last night, and possibly they went for a holiday not expecting ye, or maybe for good!  Shure, if ye’d written, saur, I’d ha’ got the place ready, ye being out of a man, too, though it’s not me duty at all!’

When Pierston got to his floor again he found that the cellar door was open; some bottles were standing empty that had been full, and many abstracted altogether.  All other articles in the house, however, appeared to be intact.  His letter to his housekeeper lay in the box as the postman had left it.

By this time the luggage had been sent up in the lift; and Avice, like so much more luggage, stood at the door, the hall-porter behind offering his assistance.

‘Come here, Avice,’ said the sculptor.  ’What shall we do now?  Here’s a pretty state of affairs!’

Avice could suggest nothing, till she was struck with the bright thought that she should light a fire.

’Light a fire?-ah, yes....  I wonder if we could manage.  This is an odd coincidence-and awkward!’ he murmured.  ‘Very well, light a fire.’

‘Is this the kitchen, sir, all mixed up with the parlours?’

‘Yes.’

’Then I think I can do all that’s wanted here for a bit; at any rate, till you can get help, sir.  At least, I could if I could find the fuel-house.  ‘Tis no such big place as I thought!’

‘That’s right:  take courage!’ said he with a tender smile.  ’Now, I’ll dine out this evening, and leave the place for you to arrange as best you can with the help of the porter’s wife downstairs.’

This Pierston accordingly did, and so their common residence began.  Feeling more and more strongly that some danger awaited her in her native island he determined not to send her back till the lover or lovers who seemed to trouble her should have cooled off.  He was quite willing to take the risk of his action thus far in his solicitous regard for her.

It was a dual solitude, indeed; for, though Pierston and Avice were the only two people in the flat, they did not keep each other company, the former being as scrupulously fearful of going near her now that he had the opportunity as he had been prompt to seek her when he had none.  They lived in silence, his messages to her being frequently written on scraps of paper deposited where she could see them.  It was not without a pang that he noted her unconsciousness of their isolated position-a position to which, had she experienced any reciprocity of sentiment, she would readily have been alive.

Considering that, though not profound, she was hardly a matter-of-fact girl as that phrase is commonly understood, she was exasperating in the matter-of-fact quality of her responses to the friendly remarks which would escape him in spite of himself, as well as in her general conduct.  Whenever he formed some culinary excuse for walking across the few yards of tessellated hall which separated his room from the kitchen, and spoke through the doorway to her, she answered, ‘Yes, sir,’ or ‘No, sir,’ without turning her eyes from the particular work that she was engaged in.

In the usual course he would have obtained a couple of properly qualified servants immediately; but he lived on with the one, or rather the less than one, that this cottage-girl afforded.  It had been his almost invariable custom to dine at one of his clubs.  Now he sat at home over the miserable chop or steak to which he limited himself in dread lest she should complain of there being too much work for one person, and demand to be sent home.  A charwoman came every two or three days, effecting an extraordinary consumption of food and alcoholic liquids:  yet it was not for this that Pierston dreaded her presence, but lest, in conversing with Avice, she should open the girl’s eyes to the oddity of her situation.  Avice could see for herself that there must have been two or three servants in the flat during his former residence there:  but his reasons for doing without them seemed never to strike her.

His intention had been to keep her occupied exclusively at the studio, but accident had modified this.  However, he sent her round one morning, and entering himself shortly after found her engaged in wiping the layers of dust from the casts and models.

The colour of the dust never ceased to amaze her.  ’It is like the hold of a Budmouth collier,’ she said, ’and the beautiful faces of these clay people are quite spoilt by it.’

‘I suppose you’ll marry some day, Avice?’ remarked Pierston, as he regarded her thoughtfully.

‘Some do and some don’t,’ she said, with a reserved smile, still attending to the casts.’

‘You are very offhand,’ said he.

She archly weighed that remark without further speech.  It was tantalizing conduct in the face of his instinct to cherish her; especially when he regarded the charm of her bending profile; the well-characterized though softly lined nose, the round chin with, as it were, a second leap in its curve to the throat, and the sweep of the eyelashes over the rosy cheek during the sedulously lowered glance.  How futilely he had laboured to express the character of that face in clay, and, while catching it in substance, had yet lost something that was essential!

That evening after dusk, in the stress of writing letters, he sent her out for stamps.  She had been absent some quarter of an hour when, suddenly drawing himself up from over his writing-table, it flashed upon him that he had absolutely forgotten her total ignorance of London.

The head post-office, to which he had sent her because it was late, was two or three streets off, and he had made his request in the most general manner, which she had acceded to with alacrity enough.  How could he have done such an unreflecting thing?

Pierston went to the window.  It was half-past nine o’clock, and owing to her absence the blinds were not down.  He opened the casement and stepped out upon the balcony.  The green shade of his lamp screened its rays from the gloom without.  Over the opposite square the moon hung, and to the right there stretched a long street, filled with a diminishing array of lamps, some single, some in clusters, among them an occasional blue or red one.  From a corner came the notes of a piano-organ strumming out a stirring march of Rossini’s.  The shadowy black figures of pedestrians moved up, down, and across the embrowned roadway.  Above the roofs was a bank of livid mist, and higher a greenish-blue sky, in which stars were visible, though its lower part was still pale with daylight, against which rose chimney-pots in the form of elbows, prongs, and fists.

From the whole scene proceeded a ground rumble, miles in extent, upon which individual rattles, voices, a tin whistle, the bark of a dog, rode like bubbles on a sea.  The whole noise impressed him with the sense that no one in its enormous mass ever required rest.

In this illimitable ocean of humanity there was a unit of existence, his Avice, wandering alone.

Pierston looked at his watch.  She had been gone half an hour.  It was impossible to distinguish her at this distance, even if she approached.  He came inside, and putting on his hat determined to go out and seek her.  He reached the end of the street, and there was nothing of her to be seen.  She had the option of two or three routes from this point to the post-office; yet he plunged at random into one, till he reached the office to find it quite deserted.  Almost distracted now by his anxiety for her he retreated as rapidly as he had come, regaining home only to find that she had not returned.

He recollected telling her that if she should ever lose her way she must call a cab and drive home.  It occurred to him that this was what she would do now.  He again went out upon the balcony; the dignified street in which he lived was almost vacant, and the lamps stood like placed sentinels awaiting some procession which tarried long.  At a point under him where the road was torn up there stood a red light, and at the corner two men were talking in leisurely repose, as if sunning themselves at noonday.  Lovers of a feline disposition, who were never seen by daylight, joked and darted at each other in and out of area gates.

His attention was fixed on the cabs, and he held his breath as the hollow clap of each horse’s hoofs drew near the front of the house, only to go onward into the square.  The two lamps of each vehicle afar dilated with its near approach, and seemed to swerve towards him.  It was Avice surely?  No, it passed by.

AAlmost frantic he again descended and let himself out of the house, moving towards a more central part, where the roar still continued.  Before emerging into the noisy thoroughfare he observed a small figure approaching leisurely along the opposite side, and hastened across to find it was she.

CHAPTER XII  - A grille descends between

‘O Avice!’ he cried, with the tenderly subdued scolding of a mother.  ‘What is this you have done to alarm me so!’

She seemed unconscious of having done anything, and was altogether surprised at his anxiety.  In his relief he did not speak further till he asked her suddenly if she would take his arm since she must be tired./p>

‘O no, sir!’ she assured him, ’I am not a bit tired, and I don’t require any help at all, thank you.’

They went upstairs without using the lift, and he let her and himself in with his latchkey.  She entered the kitchen, and he, following, sat down in a chair there.

‘Where have you been?’ he said, with almost angered concern on his face.  ‘You ought not to have been absent more than ten minutes.’

’I knew there was nothing for me to do, and thought I should like to see a little of London,’ she replied naively.  ’So when I had got the stamps I went on into the fashionable streets, where ladies are all walking about just as if it were daytime!  ’Twas for all the world like coming home by night from Martinmas Fair at the Street o’ Wells, only more genteel.’

’O Avice, Avice, you must not go out like this!  Don’t you know that I am responsible for your safety?  I am your-well, guardian, in fact, and am bound by law and morals, and I don’t know what-all, to deliver you up to your native island without a scratch or blemish.  And yet you indulge in such a midnight vagary as this!’

’But I am sure, sir, the gentlemen in the street were more respectable than they are anywhere at home!  They were dressed in the latest fashion, and would have scorned to do me any harm; and as to their love-making, I never heard anything so polite before.’

’Well, you must not do it again.  I’ll tell you some day why.  What’s that you have in your hand?’

’A mouse-trap.  There are lots of mice in this kitchen-sooty mice, not clean like ours-and I thought I’d try to catch them.  That was what I went so far to buy, as there were no shops open just about here.  I’ll set it now.’

She proceeded at once to do so, and Pierston remained in his seat regarding the operation, which seemed entirely to engross her.  It was extraordinary, indeed, to observe how she wilfully limited her interests; with what content she received the ordinary things that life offered, and persistently refused to behold what an infinitely extended life lay open to her through him.  If she had only said the word he would have got a licence and married her the next morning.  Was it possible that she did not perceive this tendency in him?  She could hardly be a woman if she did not; and in her airy, elusive, offhand demeanour she was very much of a woman indeed.

‘It only holds one mouse,’ he said absently.

‘But I shall hear it throw in the night, and set it again.’

He sighed and left her to her own resources and retired to rest, though he felt no tendency to sleep.  At some small hour of the darkness, owing, possibly, to some intervening door being left open, he heard the mouse-trap click.  Another light sleeper must have heard it too, for almost immediately after the pit-pat of naked feet, accompanied by the brushing of drapery, was audible along the passage towards the kitchen.  After her absence in that apartment long enough to reset the trap, he was startled by a scream from the same quarter.  Pierston sprang out of bed, jumped into his dressing-gown, and hastened in the direction of the cry.

Avice, barefooted and wrapped in a shawl, was standing in a chair; the mouse-trap lay on the floor, the mouse running round and round in its neighbourhood.

‘I was trying to take en out,’ said she excitedly, ’and he got away from me!’

Pierston secured the mouse while she remained standing on the chair.  Then, having set the trap anew, his feeling burst out petulantly-

’A girl like you to throw yourself away upon such a commonplace fellow as that quarryman!  Why do you do it!’

Her mind was so intently fixed upon the matter in hand that it was some moments before she caught his irrelevant subject.  ’Because I am a foolish girl,’ she said quietly.

‘What!  Don’t you love him?’ said Jocelyn, with a surprised stare up at her as she stood, in her concern appearing the very Avice who had kissed him twenty years earlier.

‘It is not much use to talk about that,’ said she.

‘Then, is it the soldier?’

‘Yes, though I have never spoken to him.’

‘Never spoken to the soldier?’

‘Never.’

‘Has either one treated you badly-deceived you?’

‘No.  Certainly not.’

’Well, I can’t make you out; and I don’t wish to know more than you choose to tell me.  Come, Avice, why not tell me exactly how things are?’

‘Not now, sir!’ she said, her pretty pink face and brown eyes turned in simple appeal to him from her pedestal.  ’I will tell you all to-morrow; an that I will!’

He retreated to his own room and lay down meditating.  Some quarter of an hour after she had retreated to hers the mouse-trap clicked again, and Pierston raised himself on his elbow to listen.  The place was so still and the jerry-built door-panels so thin that he could hear the mouse jumping about inside the wires of the trap.  But he heard no footstep this time.  As he was wakeful and restless he again arose, proceeded to the kitchen with a light, and removing the mouse reset the trap.  Returning he listened once more.  He could see in the far distance the door of Avice’s room; but that thoughtful housewife had not heard the second capture.  From the room came a soft breathing like that of an infant.

He entered his own chamber and reclined himself gloomily enough.  Her lack of all consciousness of him, the aspect of the deserted kitchen, the cold grate, impressed him with a deeper sense of loneliness than he had ever felt before.

Foolish he was, indeed, to be so devoted to this young woman.  Her defencelessness, her freedom from the least thought that there lurked a danger in their propinquity, were in fact secondary safeguards, not much less strong than that of her being her mother’s image, against risk to her from him.  Yet it was out of this that his depression came.

At sight of her the next morning Pierston felt that he must put an end to such a state of things.  He sent Avice off to the studio, wrote to an agent for a couple of servants, and then went round to his work.  Avice was busy righting all that she was allowed to touch.  It was the girl’s delight to be occupied among the models and casts, which for the first time she regarded with the wistful interest of a soul struggling to receive ideas of beauty vaguely discerned yet ever eluding her.  That brightness in her mother’s mind which might have descended to the second Avice with the maternal face and form, had been dimmed by admixture with the mediocrity of her father’s, and by one who remembered like Pierston the dual organization the opposites could be often seen wrestling internally.

They were alone in the studio, and his feelings found vent.  Putting his arms round her he said, ’My darling, sweet little Avice!  I want to ask you something-surely you guess what?  I want to know this:  will you be married to me, and live here with me always and ever?’

‘O, Mr. Pierston, what nonsense!’

‘Nonsense?’ said he, shrinking somewhat.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Well, why?  Am I too old?  Surely there’s no serious difference?’

’O no-I should not mind that if it came to marrying.  The difference is not much for husband and wife, though it is rather much for keeping company.’

She struggled to get free, and when in the movement she knocked down the Empress Faustina’s head he did not try to retain her.  He saw that she was not only surprised but a little alarmed.

‘You haven’t said why it is nonsense!’ he remarked tartly.

’Why, I didn’t know you was thinking of me like that.  I hadn’t any thought of it!  And all alone here!  What shall I do?’

’Say yes, my pretty Avice!  We’ll then go out and be married at once, and nobody be any the wiser.’

She shook her head.  ‘I couldn’t, sir.’

‘It would be well for you.  You don’t like me, perhaps?’

’Yes I do-very much.  But not in that sort of way-quite.  Still, I might have got to love you in time, if-’

‘Well, then, try,’ he said warmly.  ‘Your mother did!’

No sooner had the words slipped out than Pierston would have recalled them.  He had felt in a moment that they jeopardized his cause.

‘Mother loved you?’ said Avice, incredulously gazing at him.

‘Yes,’ he murmured.

‘You were not her false young man, surely?  That one who-’

‘Yes, yes!  Say no more about it.’

‘Who ran away from her?’

‘Almost.’

’Then I can never, never like you again!  I didn’t know it was a gentleman-I-I thought-’

‘It wasn’t a gentleman, then.’

’O, sir, please go away!  I can’t bear the sight of ’ee at this moment!  Perhaps I shall get to-to like you as I did; but-’

‘No; I’m d -d if I’ll go away!’ said Pierston, thoroughly irritated.  ‘I have been candid with you; you ought to be the same with me!’

‘What do you want me to tell?’

’Enough to make it clear to me why you don’t accept this offer. 
Everything you have said yet is a reason for the reverse.  Now, my dear,
I am not angry.’

‘Yes you are.’

‘No I’m not.  Now what is your reason?’

‘The name of it is Isaac Pierston, down home.’

‘How?’

’I mean he courted me, and led me on to island custom, and then I went to chapel one morning and married him in secret, because mother didn’t care about him; and I didn’t either by that time.  And then he quarrelled with me; and just before you and I came to London he went away to Guernsey.  Then I saw a soldier; I never knew his name, but I fell in love with him because I am so quick at that!  Still, as it was wrong, I tried not to think of him, and wouldn’t look at him when he passed.  But it made me cry very much that I mustn’t.  I was then very miserable, and you asked me to come to London.  I didn’t care what I did with myself, and I came.’

‘Heaven above us!’ said Pierston, his pale and distressed face showing with what a shock this announcement had come.  ’Why have you done such extraordinary things?  Or, rather, why didn’t you tell me of this before?  Then, at the present moment you are the wife of a man who is in Guernsey, whom you do not love at all; but instead of him love a soldier whom you have never spoken to; while I have nearly brought scandal upon us both by your letting me love you.  Really, you are a very wicked woman!’

‘No, I am not!’ she pouted.

Still, Avice looked pale and rather frightened, and did not lift her eyes from the floor.  ‘I said it was nonsense in you to want to have me!’ she went on, ’and, even if I hadn’t been married to that horrid Isaac Pierston, I couldn’t have married you after you told me that you was the man who ran away from my mother.’

‘I have paid the penalty!’ he said sadly.  ’Men of my sort always get the worst of it somehow.  Though I never did your mother any harm.  Now, Avice-I’ll call you dear Avice for your mother’s sake and not for your own-I must see what I can do to help you out of the difficulty that unquestionably you are in.  Why can’t you love your husband now you have married him?’

Avice looked aside at the statuary as if the subtleties of her organization were not very easy to define.

’Was he that black-bearded typical local character I saw you walking with one Sunday?  The same surname as mine; though, of course, you don’t notice that in a place where there are only half-a-dozen surnames?’

’Yes, that was Ike.  It was that evening we disagreed.  He scolded me, and I answered him (you must have heard us); and the next day he went away.’

’Well, as I say, I must consider what it will be best to do for you in this.  The first thing, it seems to me, will be to get your husband home.’

She impatiently shrugged her shoulders.  ‘I don’t like him!’

‘Then why did you marry him?’

‘I was obliged to, after we’d proved each other by island custom.’

’You shouldn’t have thought of such a thing.  It is ridiculous and out of date nowadays.’

’Ah, he’s so old-fashioned in his notions that he doesn’t think like that.  However, he’s gone.’

’Ah-it is only a tiff between you, I dare say.  I’ll start him in business if he’ll come....  Is the cottage at home still in your hands?’

‘Yes, it is my freehold.  Grammer Stockwool is taking care o’ it for me.’

’Good.  And back there you go straightway, my pretty madam, and wait till your husband comes to make it up with you.’

‘I won’t go!-I don’t want him to come!’ she sobbed.  ’I want to stay here with you, or anywhere, except where he can come!’

’You will get over that.  Now, go back to the flat, there’s a dear Avice, and be ready in one hour, waiting in the hall for me.’

‘I don’t want to!’

‘But I say you shall!’

She found it was no use to disobey.  Precisely at the moment appointed he met her there himself, burdened only with a valise and umbrella, she with a box and other things.  Directing the porter to put Avice and her belongings into a four-wheeled cab for the railway-station, he walked onward from the door, and kept looking behind, till he saw the cab approaching.  He then entered beside the astonished girl, and onward they went together.

They sat opposite each other in an empty compartment, and the tedious railway journey began.  Regarding her closely now by the light of her revelation he wondered at himself for never divining her secret.  Whenever he looked at her the girl’s eyes grew rebellious, and at last she wept.

‘I don’t want to go to him!’ she sobbed in a miserable voice.

Pierston was almost as much distressed as she.  ’Why did you put yourself and me in such a position?’ he said bitterly.  ’It is no use to regret it now!  And I can’t say that I do.  It affords me a way out of a trying position.  Even if you had not been married to him you would not have married me!’

‘Yes, I would, sir.’

‘What!  You would?  You said you wouldn’t not long ago.’

‘I like you better now!  I like you more and more!’

Pierston sighed, for emotionally he was not much older than she.  That hitch in his development, rendering him the most lopsided of God’s creatures, was his standing misfortune.  A proposal to her which crossed his mind was dismissed as disloyalty, particularly to an inexperienced fellow-islander and one who was by race and traditions almost a kinswoman.

Little more passed between the twain on that wretched, never-to-be-forgotten day.  Aphrodite, Ashtaroth, Freyja, or whoever the love-queen of his isle might have been, was punishing him sharply, as she knew but too well how to punish her votaries when they reverted from the ephemeral to the stable mood.  When was it to end-this curse of his heart not ageing while his frame moved naturally onward?  Perhaps only with life.

HHis first act the day after depositing her in her own house was to go to the chapel where, by her statement, the marriage had been solemnized, and make sure of the fact.  Perhaps he felt an illogical hope that she might be free, even then, in the tarnished condition which such freedom would have involved.  However, there stood the words distinctly:  Isaac Pierston, Ann Avice Caro, son and daughter of So-and-so, married on such a day, signed by the contracting parties, the officiating minister, and the two witnesses.

CHAPTER XIII.  - She is Enshrouded from sight

One evening in early winter, when the air was dry and gusty, the dark little lane which divided the grounds of Sylvania Castle from the cottage of Avice, and led down to the adjoining ruin of Red-King Castle, was paced by a solitary man.  The cottage was the centre of his beat; its western limit being the gates of the former residence, its eastern the drawbridge of the ruin.  The few other cottages thereabout-all as if carved from the solid rock-were in darkness, but from the upper window of Avice’s tiny freehold glimmered a light.  Its rays were repeated from the far-distant sea by the lightship lying moored over the mysterious Shambles quicksand, which brought tamelessness and domesticity into due position as balanced opposites.

The sea moaned-more than moaned-among the boulders below the ruins, a throe of its tide being timed to regular intervals.  These sounds were accompanied by an equally periodic moan from the interior of the cottage chamber; so that the articulate heave of water and the articulate heave of life seemed but differing utterances of the selfsame troubled terrestrial Being-which in one sense they were./p>

Pierston-for the man in the lane was he-would look from lightship to cottage window; then back again, as he waited there between the travail of the sea without, and the travail of the woman within.  Soon an infant’s wail of the very feeblest was also audible in the house.  He started from his easy pacing, and went again westward, standing at the elbow of the lane a long time.  Then the peace of the sleeping village which lay that way was broken by light wheels and the trot of a horse.  Pierston went back to the cottage gate and awaited the arrival of the vehicle.

It was a light cart, and a man jumped down as it stopped.  He was in a broad-brimmed hat, under which no more of him could be perceived than that he wore a black beard clipped like a yew fence-a typical aspect in the island.

‘You are Avice’s husband?’ asked the sculptor quickly.

The man replied that he was, in the local accent.  ’I’ve just come in by to-day’s boat,’ he added.  ’I couldn’t git here avore.  I had contracted for the job at Peter-Port, and had to see to’t to the end.’

‘Well,’ said Pierston, ’your coming means that you are willing to make it up with her?’

‘Ay, I don’t know but I be,’ said the man.  ’Mid so well do that as anything else!’

’If you do, thoroughly, a good business in your old line awaits you here in the island.’

‘Wi’ all my heart, then,’ said the man.  His voice was energetic, and, though slightly touchy, it showed, on the whole, a disposition to set things right.

The driver of the trap was paid off, and Jocelyn and Isaac Pierston-undoubtedly scions of a common stock in this isle of intermarriages, though they had no proof of it-entered the house.  Nobody was in the ground-floor room, in the centre of which stood a square table, in the centre of the table a little wool mat, and in the centre of the mat a lamp, the apartment having the appearance of being rigidly swept and set in order for an event of interest.

The woman who lived in the house with Avice now came downstairs, and to the inquiry of the comers she replied that matters were progressing favourably, but that nobody could be allowed to go upstairs just then.  After placing chairs and viands for them she retreated, and they sat down, the lamp between them-the lover of the sufferer above, who had no right to her, and the man who had every right to her, but did not love her.  Engaging in desultory and fragmentary conversation they listened to the trampling of feet on the floor-boards overhead-Pierston full of anxiety and attentiveness, Ike awaiting the course of nature calmly.

Soon they heard the feeble bleats repeated, and then the local practitioner descended and entered the room.

‘How is she now?’ said Pierston, the more taciturn Ike looking up with him for the answer that he felt would serve for two as well as for one.

‘Doing well, remarkably well,’ replied the professional gentleman, with a manner of having said it in other places; and his vehicle not being at the door he sat down and shared some refreshment with the others.  When he had departed Mrs. Stockwool again stepped down, and informed them that Ike’s presence had been made known to his wife.

The truant quarrier seemed rather inclined to stay where he was and finish the mug of ale, but Pierston quickened him, and he ascended the staircase.  As soon as the lower room was empty Pierston leant with his elbows on the table, and covered his face with his hands.

Ike was absent no great time.  Descending with a proprietary mien that had been lacking before, he invited Jocelyn to ascend likewise, since she had stated that she would like to see him.  Jocelyn went up the crooked old steps, the husband remaining below.

Avice, though white as the sheets, looked brighter and happier than he had expected to find her, and was apparently very much fortified by the pink little lump at her side.  She held out her hand to him.

’I just wanted to tell ‘ee,’ she said, striving against her feebleness, ’I thought it would be no harm to see you, though ’tis rather soon-to tell ’ee how very much I thank you for getting me settled again with Ike.  He is very glad to come home again, too, he says.  Yes, you’ve done a good many kind things for me, sir.’

Whether she were really glad, or whether the words were expressed as a matter of duty, Pierston did not attempt to learn.

He merely said that he valued her thanks.  ‘Now, Avice,’ he added tenderly, ’I resign my guardianship of you.  I hope to see your husband in a sound little business here in a very short time.’

‘I hope so-for baby’s sake,’ she said, with a bright sigh.  ’Would you-like to see her, sir?’

‘The baby?  O yes-your baby!  You must christen her Avice.’

‘Yes-so I will!’ she murmured readily, and disclosed the infant with some timidity.  ’I hope you forgive me, sir, for concealing my thoughtless marriage!’

‘If you forgive me for making love to you.’

‘Yes.  How were you to know!  I wish-’

Pierston bade her good-bye, kissing her hand; turned from her and the incipient being whom he was to meet again under very altered conditions, and left the bed-chamber with a tear in his eye.

‘Here endeth that dream!’ said he.

Hymen, in secret or overt guise, seemed to haunt Pierston just at this time with undignified mockery which savoured rather of Harlequin than of the torch-bearer.  Two days after parting in a lone island from the girl he had so disinterestedly loved he met in Piccadilly his friend Somers, wonderfully spruced up, and hastening along with a preoccupied face.

‘My dear fellow,’ said Somers, ’what do you think!  I was charged not to tell you, but, hang it!  I may just as well make a clean breast of it now as later.’

‘What-you are not going to...’ began Pierston, with divination.

’Yes.  What I said on impulse six months back I am about to carry out in cold blood.  Nichola and I began in jest and ended in earnest.  We are going to take one another next month for good and all.’