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Moth and Rust; Together with Geoffrey's Wife and The Pitfall By Mary Cholmondeley Characters: 9278

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"O mighty love, O passion and desire,

That bound the cord."

-The Heptameron.

Janet's mother had died when Janet was a toddling child. It is observable in the natural history of heroines that their mothers almost invariably do die when the heroines to whom they have given birth are toddling children. Had Di Vernon a mother, or Evelina, or Jane Eyre, or Diana of the Crossways, or Aurora Leigh? Dear Elizabeth Bennett certainly had one whom we shall not quickly forget-but Elizabeth is an exception. She only proves the rule for the majority of heroines. Fathers they have sometimes, generally of a feeble or callous temperament, never of any use in extricating their daughters from the entanglements that early beset them. And occasionally they have chivalrous or disreputable brothers.

So it is with a modest confidence in the equipment of my heroine that I now present her to the reader denuded of both parents, and domiciled under the roof of a brother who was not only disreputable in the imagination of Mrs Trefusis, but, as I hate half measures, was so in reality.

If Janet had been an introspective person, if she had ever asked herself whence she came and whither she was going, if the cruelty of life and nature had ever forced themselves upon her notice, if the apparent incompleteness of this pretty world had ever daunted her, I think she must have been a very unhappy woman. Her surroundings were vulgar, coarse, without a redeeming gleam of culture, even in its crudest forms, without a spark of refined affection. Nevertheless her life grew up white and clean in it, as a hyacinth will build its fragrant bell tower in the window of a tavern, in a stale atmosphere of smoke and beer and alcohol. Janet was self-contained as a hyacinth. She unfolded from within. She asked no questions of life. That she had had a happy, contented existence was obvious; an existence spent much in the open air, in which tranquil, practical duties well within her reach had been all that had been required of her. Her brother Fred, several years older than herself, had one redeeming point. He was fond of her and proud of her. He did not understand her, but she was what he called "a good sort."

Janet was one of those blessed women-whose number seems to diminish, while that of her highly-strung sisters painfully increases-who make no large demand on life, or on their fellow-creatures. She took both as they came. Her uprightness and integrity were her own, as was the simple religion which she followed blindfold. She expected little of others, and exacted nothing. She had, of course, had lovers in plenty. She wished to be married and to have children-many children. In her quiet ruminating mind she had names ready for a family of ten. But until George came she had always said "No." When pressed by her brother as to why some particularly eligible parti-such as Mr Gorst, the successful trainer-had been refused, she could never put forward any adequate reason, and would say at last that she was very happy as she was.

Then George came, a different kind of man from any she had known, at least different from any in his class who had offered marriage. He represented to her all that was absent from her own surroundings-refinement, culture. I don't know what Janet can have meant by culture, but years later, when she had picked up words like "culture" and "development," and scattered them across her conversation, she told me he had represented all these glories to her. And he was a little straighter than the business men she associated with, a good deal straighter than her brother. Perhaps, after all, that was the first attraction he had for her. Janet was straight herself. She fell in love with George.

"L'amour est une source na?ve." It was a very na?ve spring in Janet's heart, though it welled up from a considerable depth; a spring not even to be poisoned by her brother's outrageous delight at the engagement, or his congratulations on the wisdom of her previous steadfast refusal of the eligible Mr Gorst.

"This beats all," he said; "I never thought you would pull it off, Janet. I thought he was too big a fish to land. And to think you will queen it at Easthope Park."

Janet was not in the least perturbed by her brother's remarks. She was accustomed to them. He always talked like that. She vaguely supposed she should some day "queen it" at Easthope. The expression did not offend her. The reflection in her mind was: "George must love me very much to have chosen me, when all the most splendid ladies in the land would be glad to have him."

And now, as she walked on this Sunday

afternoon in the long, quiet gardens of Easthope, she felt her cup was full. She looked at her affianced George with shy adoration from under the brim of her violent new hat, and made soft answers to him when he spoke.

George was not a great talker. He trusted mainly to an occasional ejaculation, his meaning aided by pointing with a stick.

A covey of partridges ran with one consent across the smooth lawn at a little distance.

"Jolly little beggars," said George, with explanatory stick.

She liked the flowers best, but he did not, so he took her down to the pool below the rose garden, where the eager brook ran through a grating, making a little water prison in which solemn, portly personages might be seen moving.

"See 'em?" said George, pointing as usual.

"Yes," said Janet.

"That's a three-pounder."

"Yes."

That was all the stream said to them.

She lingered once more in the rose-garden when he would have drawn her onwards towards the ferrets, and George, willing to humour her, got out his knife and chose a rose for her. Has any woman really lived who has not stood once in silence in the June sunshine with her lover, and watched him pick for her a red rose which is not as other roses, a rose which understands? Amid all the world of roses, did the raiment of God touch just that one, as He walked in His garden in the cool of the evening? And did the Divine love imprisoned in it reach forth towards the human love of the two lovers, and blend them for a moment with itself?

"You are my rose," said George, and he put his arm round her, and drew her to him with a rough tenderness.

"Yes," said Janet, not knowing to what she said "yes," but vaguely assenting to him in everything. And they leaned together by the sun-dial, soft cheek against tanned cheek, soft hand in hard hand.

Could anything in life be more commonplace than two lovers and a rose? Have we not seen such groups portrayed on lozenge-boxes, and on the wrappers of French plums?

And yet, what remains commonplace if Love but touch it as he passes?

Let Memory open her worn picture-book, where it opens of itself, and make answer.

* * *

Anne saw the lovers, but they did not see her, as she ran down the steps cut in the turf to the little bridge across the trout stream. She had left Mrs Trefusis composed into a resigned nap, and she felt at liberty to carry her aching spirit to seek comfort and patience by the brook.

Anne, the restrained, disciplined, dignified woman of the world, threw herself down on her face in the short, sun-warm grass.

Is the heart ever really tamed? As the years pass we learn to keep it behind bolts and bars. We marshal it forth on set occasions, to work manacled under our eyes, and then goad it back to its cell again. But is it ever anything but a caged Arab of the desert, a wild fierce prisoner in chains, a captive Samson with shorn locks which grow again, who may one day snap his fetters, and pull down the house over our heads.

Anne set her teeth. Her passionate heart beat hard against the kind bosom of the earth. How we return to her, our Mother Earth, when life is too difficult or too beautiful for us! How we fling ourselves upon her breast, upon her solitude, finding courage to encounter joy, insight to bear sorrow. First faint foreshadowing of the time when we, "short-lived as fire, and fading as the dew," shall go back to her entirely.

Anne lay very still. She did not cry. She knew better than that. Tears are for the young. She hid her convulsed face in her hands, and shuddered violently from time to time.

How long was she to bear it? How long was she to drag herself by sheer force through the days, endless hour by hour? How long was she to hate the dawn? How long was she to endure this intermittent agony, which released her only to return? Was there to be no reprieve from the invasion of this one thought? Was there no escape from this man? Was not her old friend the robin on his side? The meadowsweet feathered the hedgerow. The white clover was in the grass, together with the little purple orchid. Were they not all his confederates? Had he bribed the robin to sing of him, and the scent in the white clover against her cheek to goad her back to acute remembrance of him, and the pine-trees to speak continually of him?

"He is rich enough," said poor Anne to herself, with something between a laugh and a sob.

But he had not bribed the brook. Tormented spirits ere now have walked in dry places, seeking rest and finding none. But has any outcast from happiness sought rest by running water, and found it not?

* * *

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