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Doctor's Wife, The

CHAPTER XXII.

"MY LOVE'S A NOBLE MADNESS."

Mr. Lansdell did not seem in a hurry to make any demonstration of his return to Mordred. He did not affect any secrecy, it is true; but he shut himself a good deal in his own rooms, and seldom went out except to walk in the direction of Lord Thurston's oak, whither Mrs. Gilbert also rambled in the chilly spring afternoons, and where Mr. Lansdell and the Doctor's Wife met each other very frequently: not quite by accident now; for, at parting, Roland would say, with supreme carelessness, "I suppose you will be walking this way to-morrow,—it is the only walk worth taking hereabouts,—and I'll bring you the other volume."

Lord Ruysdale and his daughter were still at Lowlands; but Mr. Lansdell did not betake himself thither to pay his respects to his uncle and cousin, as he should most certainly have done in common courtesy. He did not go near the grey old mansion where the Earl and his daughter vegetated in gloomy and economical state; but Lady Gwendoline heard from her maid that Mr. Lansdell had come home; and bitterly resented his neglect. She resented it still more bitterly by-and-by, when the maid, who was a little faded like her mistress, and perhaps a little spiteful into the bargain, let drop a scrap of news she had gleaned in the servants' hall. Mr. Lansdell had been seen walking on the Graybridge road with Mrs. Gilbert, the doctor's wife; "and it wasn't the first time either; and people do say it looks odd when a gentleman like Mr. Lansdell is seen walking and talking oftentimes with such as her."

The maid saw her mistress's face turn pale in the glass. No matter what the rank or station or sex of poor Othello; he or she is never suffered to be at peace, or to be happy—knowing nothing. There is always "mine ancient," male or female, as the case may be, to bring home the freshest information about the delinquent.

"I have no wish to hear the servants' gossip about my cousin's movements," Lady Gwendoline said, with supreme hauteur. "He is the master of his own actions, and free to go where he pleases and with whom he pleases."

"I'm sure I beg pardon, my lady, and meant no offence," the maid answered, meekly. "But she don't like it for all that," the damsel thought, with an inward chuckle.

Roland Lansdell kept himself aloof from his kindred; but he was not suffered to go his own way unmolested. The road to perdition is not quite so smooth and flower-bestrewn a path as we are sometimes taught to believe. A merciful hand often flings stumbling-blocks and hindering brambles in our way. It is our own fault if we insist upon clambering over the rocky barriers, and scrambling through the briery hedges, in a mad eagerness to reach the goal. Roland had started upon the fatal descent, and was of course going at that rapid rate at which we always travel downhill; but the road was not all clear for him. Charles Raymond of Conventford was amongst the people who heard accidentally of the young man's return; and about a week after Roland's arrival, the kindly philosopher presented himself at the Priory, and was fortunate enough to find his kinsman at home. In spite of Mr. Lansdell's desire to be at his ease, there was some restraint in his manner as he greeted his old friend.

"I am very glad to see you, Raymond," he said. "I should have ridden over to Conventford in a day or two. I've come home, you see."

"Yes, and I am very sorry to see it. This is a breach of good faith, Roland."

"Of what faith? with whom?"

"With me," answered Mr. Raymond, gravely. "You promised me that you would go away."

"I did; and I went away."

"And now you have come back again."

"Yes," replied Mr. Lansdell, folding his arms and looking full at his kinsman, with an ominous smile upon his face,—"yes; the fact is a little too evident for the basis of an argument. I have come back."

Mr. Raymond was silent for a minute or so. The younger man stood with his back against the angle of the embayed window, and he never took his eyes from his friend's face. There was something like defiance in the expression of his face, and even in his attitude, as he stood with folded arms leaning against the wainscot.

"I hope, Roland, that since you have come home, it is because the reason which took you away from this place has ceased to exist. You come back because you are cured. I cannot imagine it to be otherwise, Roland; I cannot believe that you have broken faith with me."

"What if I have come home because I find my disease is past all cure! What if I have kept faith with you, and have tried to forget, and come back at last because I cannot!"

"Roland!"

"Ah! it is a foolish fever, is it not? very foolish, very contemptible to the solemn-faced doctor who looks on and watches the wretched patient tossing and writhing, and listens to his delirious ravings. Have you ever seen a man in the agonies of delirium tremens, catching imaginary flies, and shrieking about imps and demons capering on his counterpane? What a pitiful disease it is!—only the effect of a few extra bottles of brandy: but you can't cure it. You may despise the sufferer, but you shrink back terror-stricken before the might of the disease. You've done your duty, doctor: you tried honestly to cure my fever, and I submitted honestly to your remedies: but you're only a quack, after all: and you pretended—what all charlatans pretend—to be able to cure the incurable."

"You have come back with the intention of remaining, then, Roland?"

"C'est selon! I have no present idea of remaining here very long."

"And in the meantime you allow people to see you walking the Graybridge road and loitering about Thurston's Crag with Mrs. Gilbert. Do you know that already that unhappy girl's name is compromised? The Graybridge people are beginning to couple her name with yours."

Mr. Lansdell laughed aloud, but not with the pleasant laugh which was common to him.

"Did you ever look in a British atlas for Graybridge-on-the-Wayverne?" he asked. "There are some atlases which do not give the name of the place at all: in others you'll find a little black dot, with the word 'Graybridge' printed in very small letters. The 'British Gazetteer' will tell you that Graybridge is interesting on account of its church, which, &c. &c.; that an omnibus plies to and fro between the village and Warncliffe station; and that the nearest market-town is Wareham. In all the literature of the world, that's about all the student can learn of Graybridge. What an affliction it must be to a traveller in the Upper Pyrenees, or on the banks of the Amazon, to know that people at Graybridge mix his name sometimes with their tea-table gossip! What an enduring torture for a loiterer in fair Grecian isles—an idle dreamer beside the blue depths of a Southern sea—to know that Graybridge disapproves of him!"

"I had better go away, Roland," Mr. Raymond said, looking at his kinsman with a sad reproachful gaze, and stretching out his hand to take up the hat and gloves he had thrown upon a chair near him; "I can do no good here."

"You cannot separate me from the woman I love," answered Roland, boldly. "I am a scoundrel, I suppose; but I am not a hypocrite. I might tell you a lie, and send you away hoodwinked and happy. No, Raymond, I will not do that. If I am foolish and wicked, I have not sinned deliberately. I have striven against my folly and my wickedness. When you talked to me that night at Waverly, you only echoed the reproaches of my own conscience. I accepted your counsel, and ran away. My love for Isabel Gilbert was only a brief infatuation, I thought, which would wear itself out like other infatuations, with time and absence. I went away, fully resolved never to look upon her face again; and then, and then only, I knew how truly and how dearly I loved her. I went from place to place; but I could no more fly from her image than from my own soul. In vain I argued with myself—as better men have done before my time—that this woman was in no way superior to other women. Day by day I took my lesson deeper to heart. I cannot talk of these things to you. There is a kind of profanation in such a discussion. I can only tell you that I came back to England with a rooted purpose in my mind. Do not thrust yourself upon me; you have done your duty, and may wash your hands of me with Christian-like self-satisfaction; you have nothing further to do in this gal�re."

"Oh, Roland, that you should ever come to talk to me like this! Have you no sense of truth or honour? not even the common instinct of a gentleman? Have you no feeling for that poor honest-hearted fellow who has judged you by his own simple standard, and has trusted you implicitly? have you no feeling for him, Roland?"'

"Yes, I am very sorry for him; I am sorry for the grand mistake of his life. But do you think he could ever be happy with that woman? I have seen them together, and know the meaning of that grand word 'union' as applied to them. All the width of the universe cannot divide them more entirely than they are divided now. They have not one single sentiment in common. Charles Raymond, I tell you I am not entirely a villain; I do still possess some lingering remnant of that common instinct of which you spoke just now. If I had seen Isabel Gilbert happy with a husband who loved her, and understood her, and was loved by her, I would have held myself aloof from her pure presence; I would have stifled every thought that was a wrong to that holy union. I am not base enough to steal the lamp which lights a good man's home. But if I find a man who has taken possession of a peerless jewel, as ignorant of its value, and as powerless to appreciate its beauty, as a soldier who drags a Raffaelle from the innermost shrine of some ransacked cathedral and makes a knapsack for himself out of the painted canvas; if I find a pig trampling pearls under his ruthless feet,—am I to leave the gems for ever in his sty, in my punctilious dread that I may hurt the feelings of the animal by taking his unvalued treasure away from him?"

"Other men have argued as you argue to-day, Roland," answered Mr. Raymond. "Other men have reasoned as you reason, Roland; but they have not the less brought anguish and remorse upon themselves and upon the victims of their sin. Did not Rousseau declare that the first man who enclosed a lot of ground and called it 'mine' was the enemy of the human race? You young philosophers of our modern day twist the argument another way, and are ready to avow that the man who marries a pretty woman is the foe to all unmarried mankind. He should have held himself aloof, and waited till the man arrived upon the scene,—the man with poetic sympathies and sublime appreciation of womanly grace and beauty, and all manner of hazy attributes which are supposed to be acceptable to sentimental womanhood. Bah, Roland! all this is very well on toned paper, in a pretty little hot-pressed volume published by Messrs. Moxon; but the universe was never organized for the special happiness of poets. There must be jog-trot existences, and commonplace contentment, and simple every-day households, in which husbands and wives love each other, and do their duty to each other in a plain prosaic manner. Life can't be all rapture and poetry. Ah, Roland, it has pleased you of late years to play the cynic. Let your cynicism save you now. Is it worth while to do a great wrong, to commit a terrible sin, for the sake of a pretty face and a pair of black eyes—for the gratification of a passing folly?"

"It is not a passing folly," returned Mr. Lansdell, fiercely. "I was willing to think that it was so last autumn, when I took your advice and went away from this place. I know better now. If there is depth and truth anywhere in the universe, there is depth and truth in my love for Isabel Gilbert. Do not talk to me, Raymond. The arguments which would have weight with other men, have no power with me. It is my fault or my misfortune that I cannot believe in the things in which other men believe. Above all, I cannot believe in formulas. I cannot believe that a few words shuffled over by a parson at Conventford last January twelvemonth can be strong enough to separate me for ever from the woman I love, and who loves me. Yes, she loves me, Raymond!" cried the young man, his face lighting up suddenly with a smile, which imparted a warmth to his dark complexion like the rich glow of a Murillo. "She loves me, my beautiful unvalued blossom, that I found blooming all alone and unnoticed in a desert—she loves me. If I had discovered coldness or indifference, coquetry or pretence of any kind in her manner the other day when I came home, I would have gone back even then; I would have acknowledged my mistake, and would have gone away to suffer alone. My dear old Raymond, it is your duty, I know, to lecture me and argue with me; but I tell you again it is only wasted labour; I am past all that. Try to pity me, and sympathize with me, if you can. Solitude is not such a pleasant thing, and people do not go through the world alone without some sufficient reason for their loneliness. There must have been some sorrow in your life, dear old friend, some mistake, some disappointment. Remember that, and have pity upon me."

Mr. Raymond was silent for some minutes; he sat with his face shaded with his hand, and the hand was slightly tremulous.

"There was a sorrow in my life, Roland," he said by-and-by, "a deep and lasting one; and it is the memory of that sorrow which makes you so dear to me; but it was a sorrow in which shame had no part. I am proud to think that I suffered, and suffered silently. I think you can guess, Roland, why you have always been, and always must be, as dear to me as my own son."

"I can," answered the young man, holding out his hand, "you loved my mother."

"I did, Roland, and stood aloof and saw her married to the man she loved. I held her in my arms and blessed her on her wedding-day in the church yonder; but never from that hour to this have I ceased to love and honour her. I have worshipped a shadow all my life; but her image was nearer and dearer to me than the living beauty of other women. I can sympathize with a wasted love, Roland; but I cannot sympathize with a love that seeks to degrade its object."

"Degrade her!" cried Roland; "degrade Isabel! There can be no degradation in such a love as mine. But, you see, we think differently, we see things from a different point of view. You look through the spectacles of Graybridge, and see an elopement, a scandal, a paragraph in the county papers. I recognize only the immortal right of two free souls, who know that they have been created for each other."

"Do you ever think of your mother, Roland? I remember how dearly she loved you, and how proud she was of the qualities that made you worthy to be her son. Do you ever think of her as a living presence, conscious of your sorrows, compassionate of your sins? I think, if you considered her thus, Roland, as I do,—she has never been dead to me; she is the ideal in my life, and lifts my life above its common level,—if you thought of her as I do, I don't think you could hold to the bad purpose that has brought you back to this place."

"If I believed what you believe," cried Mr. Lansdell, with sudden animation, "I should be a different man from what I am—a better man than you are, perhaps. I sometimes wonder at such as you, who believe in all the glories of unseen worlds, and yet are so eager and so worldly in all your doings upon this shabby commonplace earth. If I believed, I think I should be blinded and intoxicated by the splendour of my heritage; I would turn Trappist, and live in a dumb rapture from year's end to year's end. I would go and hide myself amid the mountain-tops, high up amongst the eagles and the stars, and ponder upon my glory. But you see it is my misfortune not to believe in that beautiful fable. I must take my life as it is; and if, after ten foolish, unprofitable years, Fate brings one little chance of supreme happiness in my way, who shall tell me to withhold my hand? who shall forbid me to grasp my treasure?"

Mr. Raymond was not a man to be easily put off. He stayed at Mordred for the remainder of the day and dined with his young cousin, and sat talking with him until late at night; but he went away at last with a sad countenance and a heavy heart. Roland's disease was past the cure of philosophy. What chance have Friar Lawrence and philosophy ever had against Miss Capulet's Grecian nose and dark Italian eyes, the balmy air of a warm Southern night, the low harmonious murmur of a girlish voice, the gleaming of a white arm on a moonlit balcony?



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