Chapter 160165096

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleTWO LETTERS.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160165096
Full Date1882-12-23
Page Number1
Corrections7
Word Count2405
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-07
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleCadenabbia
article text

CADENABBIA.

By the Author ot "How I Fawned my Opals," &c.

CHAPTER 1

TWO LETTERS.

(From Mrs. Algernon Westlake to Miss

Genevieve Gray.)

" My Dear Gen—Can you come to me for a few months ? We returned last week bearing spoils from Japan and trophies from the farthest Indies. We careered through Italy, and loitered at a German Spa. But child, don't for Heaven's sake expect me to give any connected details of our wanderings. All I remember are crowds upon crowds of chattering, pushing, excited people every where, making one realize how true it is that 'Every prospect pleases and only man is vile.' Oh yes, and there was a lovely piece of mosaic somewhere or other that made a quiet bower of beauty for the imagination to which the poor fragment left to me has often gladly retreated. Algernon is now quite satisfied that the Brahmins in reality pay no taxes, and that the land in Bengal belongs legally to the Zemindars. If you consider these as rather meagre results for a whole year's unquiet wandering on the face of the globe, come and feast your eyes on a Corot—one of those landscapes where the colours of the earth and sky curiously unite —the white fleecy clouds above blanching the green of leaves and grass; where the swaying restless trees take an uncertain outline against the white sky—a landscape in which the painter has caught in the sudden agree ment of changing lights and flitting shadows —a beauty that is almost too delicate for por traiture, and has also given the sense of im pending movement and the impression of a shifting and changing world. Such, as far as I can remember it, is the profound criticism made by a sucking art critic on our purchase. Our hearts expanded with pardonable pride on hearing of ail the wonderful-—bah! what is the use of pretending. I can at this moment

feel ycur big quiet eyes resting on my face in perplexed enquiry. Of course I am better. Do I not still live? And who that lives through the profound monotony of 365 days after the heart is broken can still be con sidered incurable? In that time one must have eaten hundreds of dinners, admired bonnets, and chattered like a ' wilderness of monkeys.' But oh. Gen, I know what Heine meant when he said, ' I have lived—only ask me not how.' Ask me not how the quiet twilight and the delicate amber of the dawn have been alike hateful—how solitude has been intolerable, and the society of my kind an insanity. How eloquently the moralist

and the preachers have dwelt on the evils of prosperity—the hardening effects of too great happiness. But what are these compared to the demoralizing effect of a great grief ? In my greatest affluence of happiness I have never been shut up completely in the con templation of myself and my feelings and heartaches as I have since Muriel died.

"Oh, my Muriel! Yes, let me speak to you a little now about her, while the mood is upon me. I would sooner write to you than speak to you of her when we meet. For you will come I know. It was on a Wed nesday evening. We were going out to the opera—on my way I stepped into the nursery. Instead of being asleep, as usual, Muriel was sitting up in her little cot, flushed and talkative, asking nurse to tell her about the White Princess. She stretched out her wee hands to me and laughed with pleasure, and then gravely asked me to be a growed-up lady and comes to visit her and Belinda, who was forthwith dragged by one leg from under the

pillow. Belinda's nose was shattered, her locks were scanty, and her pink silk dress far from stainless. But all younger dolls were peremptorily discarded by Muriel in favour of this old favourite. ' Belinda and me dot a headache, muzzer, and you come to sec us, and say Nurse, they's dot to sit up all night."' A sudden fear smote me. I stayed with her till she fell asleep. That hour of play and babblement and soft baby endear ments—how remorselessly every detail comes back to me. Gen, you remember the habit Muriel had of putting her little flower soft- hands on one's face and softly stroking each cheek. It seems as if I could never cry again—I have wept so much just only to recall that simple little trick. I suppose it was better to go away; bnt, oh my God, how cruel, how unreasonably, need lessly cruel it seemed when 1 used to waken up in the chill, drear midnight to hear the rain pattering overhead and know that thousands and thousands of miles away they had buried my darling away from me fojr ever. And then constantly in my dreams those soft baby fingers used to stray over my face, till I was so often cheated by awakening, that even in my sleep I could feel no momentary tbrob of joy. ' Think of her, my dear, as

einless angel in Heaven for evermore,' said stout, placid, immovably, orthodox Mrs.

Melton solemnly, when we met for a few minutes in a New York crowd. But, oh Gen, when I want to feel Muriel close, close in my arms, her rose-leaf cheek tight against mine, my poor earthly heart sinks too far and too heavily to allow me to picture her mentally in the remote Heaven of conven tional creeds. I was born too late in the century or I have some hereditary taint of materialism which renders faith in a future life a physical impossibility to me. When I try to look beyond it is like bruising oneself in the dark against an insurmountable unyielding wall. Have you seen those little Japanese birds in silk crape on cardboard, in pale downy pink, softest grey and white, and most ethereal of azure? They are made with outspread wings and little heads erect, as if about to float above the splendours of the midday sky; but they are designed for decorative purposes, and to serve this they are deftly pinned by the wings. Ah yes, we still have our passionate aspirations, our lingering hopes, but when sorrow and' leaden eyed despairs' seize on us 'we find that the

wings which should bear us upward are merely decorative, fantastic ornaments,

fashioned by the hand of priest and poet, . . . Bring your zither with you; you will

sing me your old Provencal songs of rose-red lilies, of the world gone maying, of the breath

of spring wandering over vine-tressed hills, of the musk rose 'full of dewy vine,' of anything save the old, old story . of human loss and love, of change and disease, and, worse than all, disillusion. Oh, I am

sick of a form of existence where the only sight we catch of Joy is when his hand is ever at his lips bidding adieu. Have you any old romances that deal with an impossible but beautiful world, full of men and women who bear no more resemblance to ourselves than the birds on a Chinese fan bear to the fat, comfortable hens that lay our eggs for break fast? If so, bring them. Do you remember our old delight in the Pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan, that palace of magic, girdled round with walls and towers, where 'Alph, the sacred river,ran through caverns measure less to man?' Bring that too, not the un- finished fragment, but the whole stately edifice, in a neat little manuscript roll in your portmanteau. But whatever you bring or leave, mind you bring your own dear old self. If you have forgotten one single cadence of that full rippling laugh, or one of the ' quips and cranks,' or the droll mimicries that used to make me thank Heaven there were so many fools in the world to mimick—why, never look me in the face again. But anyhow write to tell me you are coming."

{From Miss Genevieve Gray to Mrs. Alger

non Westlake.)

" My dear Clarice—You have given me a horrid pain in the ligament that binds the soul to the body. I almost long to die to prove that your morbid fears are a snare and a delusion from the evil one. But at first when I read your letter a cold thrill went through my body, my heart was sick, and all the wheels of being slow. Outside it was so dreary; the whole sky was covered with a pall of thick opaque grey clouds—not a break, not a shiver in them, and the great masses of trees under that sunless sky to the right, and to the left, and all around our home seemed sere and withered, as if one were 'down by the rank turn of Auber.'

In the ghost-haunted woodland of Weir, under such a sky, with such a letter as yours, one could well believe that we are all miserable sinners, whose 'lives are fading like blades of bitter grass in fruitless fields.' My mother sat knitting one of those soft fine shawls, which she gives to some of her con sumptive old women every winter. My father was glancing over a file of English newspapers, every now and then reading bits to us aloud. How absurd it seemed to be so much concerned about kingdoms and empires that are to burst like bubbles and then disappear—about the deaths in one place and the snow in another! I could think of nothing but the eternal extermination of all, and the ghastly texts about our turning into worms became insupportable. 'Father,' I said suddenly,' don't you think it would be better to be cremated than buried ?' 'Bless my soul, what puts such thoughts into the girl's head?' cried my father, looking at my mother half

reproachfully as he pushed up his spectacles, while the colour deepened in his dear benevolent face. In a moment I realized how unpardonable it was to shock the even flow of cheerful thoughts in an optimistic elderly man's breast by such a question. I meekly retreated within myself; but next morning the first thought on awaking was— Poor Clarice! has she yet recovered Muriel? For the moment that my eyes met the light I had recovered my soul; the darkness was over and gone. At my window nodded a goodly company of glorious Sofrano roses. Oh, Clarice, our wings are not made of painted crape, to he fastened with a pin into the rhyme of a wandering minstrel, and to lend impressiveness to the litanies of dogmatic creeds. You know that for all life the sun- shine must be whiter and the earth more precious because for a little time your Muriel, with her glad eyes and her sunny smile, lived with you. We get horribly hurt, and our limed wings cleave close to earth, but tbey are with us still.

" Yes, I come in three weeks, and I make no promises except as to the zither; but I have discovered that French chansons are a mockery when accompanied by that instrument. So I shall sing old Scotch and German ballads chiefly, and now and then you may hear something of a woman wailing for her demon lover—of a man whose heart is broken because death or treachery has snatched from him his love. No, I am not equal to drawing an artificial roBe screen over the darkened horizon, and you must let me talk to you sometimes of Muriel.

"Ah, my dear Clarice, how I thought of you night after night when the sounds of life had died away, and the night with its hush and Its array of solemn stars was all round. I lived over again the old days when we in- vented plays in the arbour, and the place swarmed with chivalric knights who went to ride abroad, redressing human wrongs. Do you remember how your stories always ended tragically? If a maid lost her lover she straightway turned her face to the wall and died; if a hero, was bereaved he looked no more upon one of Eve's daughters; if , king was defeated he never again held

up his head. I, afflicted by such a monotony of grief now and then, sug- gested that the afflicted ones might yet find balm for their wounds; but you, strong in your convictions and your few years of seniority, sternly refused to give way. But after all is said and done, after we have exhausted the range of pessimism and hurled

all the hard names we can find at the human race—down to calling it protoplasm—we have to come back to the old standpoint of making the best of life, taking it like matrimony— for better for worse. Do you rememher a story in some French memoir or other con- cerning a great general of cooks, whose ducal master gave a sumptuous fète to Louis XIV.? A grand supper was served in a garden of jonquils. There were some un expected guests, and food ran short at a table or two. This discomfited the great chef, though it was at the twenty-fifth table the joint ran short, not at the King's. He wandered about sleepless, and at 4 o'clock in the morning a small purveyor arrived with

two loads of fish. Was that all? The cook had sent to all the seaport towns of France for fish, and he turned dizzy at the thought of running so short. He waited a little time, but no more fish appeared. At last, unable to survive the disgrace, he went to his room and ran a sword through his heart. As he lay dead the fish came pouring in from every side. There is some thing prosaic in recalling the story in the face of a great sorrow, but the narrative has. always clung to my memory as an instance of the way in which our impatience and self- love make us fall foul of life all round when some of the sorrows common to humanity have overtaken us. After the darkest night comes the morning—the moist, warm, glitter ing, budding, melodious hour, that takes down the narrow walls of my soul, and extends its life and pulsation to the very horizon."