Mount Royal: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3
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"Why should we pore over moths and zoophytes, and puzzle our brains with long Greek and Latin names," demanded Jessie, "when our own species affords an inexhaustible variety of creatures, all infinitely interesting. These Vandeleur girls are as new to me as if they had dropped from Mars or Saturn."
Life, therefore, to all outward seeming, went very pleasantly at Mount Royal. A perfectly appointed house in which money is spent lavishly can hardly fail to be agreeable to those casual inmates who have nothing to do with its maintenance. To Dopsy and Mopsy Mount Royal was a terrestrial paradise. They had never imagined an existence so entirely blissful. This perfumed atmosphere Ц this unfailing procession of luxurious meals Ц no cold mutton to hang on hand Ц no beggarly mutation from bacon to bloater and bloater to bacon at breakfast-time Ц no wolf at the door.
"To think that money can make all this difference," exclaimed Mopsy, as she sat with Dopsy on a heather-covered knoll waiting for the shooters to join them at luncheon, while the servants grouped themselves respectfully a little way off with the break and horses. "Won't it be too dreadful to have to go home again?"
"Loathsome!" said Dopsy, whose conversational strength consisted in the liberal use of about half a dozen vigorous epithets.
"I wish there were some rich young men staying here, that one might get a chance of promotion."
"Rich men never marry poor girls," answered Mopsy, dejectedly, "unless the girl is a famous beauty or a favourite actress. You and I are nothing. Heaven only knows what is to become of us when the pater dies. Jack will never be able to give us free quarters. We shall have to go out as shop girls. We're a great deal too ignorant for governesses."
"I shall go on the stage," said Dopsy, with decision. "I may not be handsome Ц but I can sing in tune, and my feet and ankles have always been my strong point. All the rest is leather and prunella, as Shakespeare says."
"I shall engage myself to Spiers and Pond," said Mopsy. "It must be a more lively life, and doesn't require either voice or ankles Ц which I" Ц rather vindictively Ц "do not possess. Of course Jack won't like it Ц but I can't help that."
Thus, in the face of all that is loveliest and most poetical in Nature Ц the dreamy moorland Ц the distant sea Ц the Lion-rock with the afternoon sunshine on it Ц the blue boundless sky Ц and one far-away sail, silvered with light, standing out against the low dark line of Lundy Island Ц debated Mopsy and Dopsy, waiting with keen appetites for the game pasty, and the welcome bottle or two of Mo?t, which they were to share with the sportsmen.
While these damsels thus beguiled the autumn afternoon, Christabel and Jessie had sallied out alone for one of their old rambles; such a solitary walk as had been their delight in the careless long ago, before ever passionate love, and sorrow, his handmaiden, came to Mount Royal.
Mrs.Torrington and three other guests had left that morning; the Vandeleurs, and Reginald Montagu, a free and easy little war-office clerk, were now the only visitors at Mount Royal, and Mrs. Tregonell was free to lead her own life Ц so with Jessie and Randie for company, she started at noontide for Tintagel. She could never weary of the walk by the cliffs Ц or even of the quiet country road with its blossoming hedgerows and boundless outlook. Every step of the way, every tint on field or meadow, every change in sky and sea was familiar to her, but she loved them all.
They had loitered in their ramble by the cliffs, talking a good deal of the past, for Jessie was now the only listener to whom Christabel could freely open her heart, and she loved to talk with her of the days that were gone, and of her first lover. Of their love and of their parting she never spoke Ц to talk of those things might have seemed treason in the wedded wife Ц but she loved to talk of the man himself Ц of his opinions, his ideas, the stories he had told them in their many rambles Ц his creed, his dreams Ц speaking of him always as "Mr. Hamleigh," and just as she might have spoken of any clever and intimate friend, lost to her, through adverse circumstance, for ever. It is hardly likely, since they talked of him so often when they were alone, that they spoke of him more on this day than usual: but it seemed to them afterwards as if they had done so Ц and as if their conversation in somewise forecast that which was to happen before yonder sun had dipped behind the wave.
They climbed the castle hill, and seated themselves on a low fragment of wall with their faces seaward. There was a lovely light on the sea, scarcely a breath of wind to curl the edges of the long waves which rolled slowly in and slid over the dark rocks in shining slabs of emerald-tinted water. Here and there deep purple patches showed where the sea-weed grew thickest, and here and there the dark outline of a convocation of shags stood out sharply above the crest of a rock.
"It was on just such a day that we first brought Mr. Hamleigh to this place," said Christabel.
"Yes, our Cornish autumns are almost always lovely, and this year the weather is particularly mild," answered Jessie, in her matter-of-fact way. She always put on this air when she saw Christabel drifting into dangerous feeling. "I shouldn't wonder if we were to have a second crop of strawberries this year."
"Do you remember how we talked of Tristan and Iseult Ц poor Iseult?"
"Poor Marc, I think."
"Marc? One can't pity him. He was an ingrate, and a coward."
"He was a man and a husband," retorted Jessie; "and he seems to have been badly treated all round."
"Whither does he wander now?" said Christabel, softly repeating lines learnt long ago.
"Poor Iseult of the White Hand," said a voice at Christabel's shoulder, "after all was not her lot the saddest Ц had not she the best claim to our pity?"
Christabel started, turned, and she and Angus Hamleigh looked in each other's faces in the clear bright light. It was over four years since they had parted, tenderly, fondly, as plighted husband and wife, locked in each other's arms, promising each other speedy reunion, ineffably happy in their assurance of a future to be spent together: and now they met with pale cheeks, and lips dressed in a society smile Ц eyes Ц to which tears would have been a glad relief Ц assuming a careless astonishment.
"You here, Mr. Hamleigh!" cried Jessie, seeing Christabel's lips quiver dumbly, as if in the vain attempt at words, and rushing to the rescue. "We were told you were in Russia."
"I have been in Russia. I spent last winter at Petersburg Ц the only place where caviare and Adelina Patti are to be enjoyed in perfection Ц and I spent a good deal of this summer that is just gone in the Caucasus."
"How nice!" exclaimed Jessie, as if he had been talking of Buxton or Malvern. "And did you really enjoy it?"
"Immensely. All I ever saw in Switzerland is as nothing compared with the gloomy grandeur of that mighty semicircle of mountain peaks, of which Elburz, the shining mountain, the throne of Ormuzd, occupies the centre."
"And how do you happen to be here Ц on this insignificant mound?" asked Jessie.
"Tintagel's surge-beat hill can never seem insignificant to me. National poetry has peopled it Ц while the Caucasus is only a desert."
"Are you touring?"
"No, I am staying with the Vicar of Trevena. He is an old friend of my father's: they were college chums; and Mr. Carlyon is always kind to me."
Mr. Carlyon was a new vicar, who had come to Trevena within the last two years.
"Shall you stay long?" asked Christabel, in tones which had a curiously flat sound, as of a voice produced by mechanism.
"I think not. It is a delicious place to stay at, but Ц "
"A little of it goes a long way," said Jessie.
"You have not quite anticipated my sentiments, Miss Bridgeman. I was going to say that unfortunately for me I have engagements in London which will prevent my staying here much longer."
"You are not looking over robust," said Jessie, touched with pity by the sad forecast which she saw in his faded eyes, his hollow cheeks, faintly tinged with hectic bloom. "I'm afraid the Caucasus was rather too severe a training for you."
"A little harder than the ordeal to which you submitted my locomotive powers some years ago," answered Angus, smiling; "but how can a man spend the strength of his manhood better than in beholding the wonders of creation? It is the best preparation for those still grander scenes which one faintly hopes to see by-and-by among the stars. According to the Platonic theory a man must train himself for immortality. He who goes straight from earthly feasts and junkettings will get a bad time in the under world, or may have to work out his purgation in some debased brute form."
"Poor fellow," thought Jessie, with a sigh, "I suppose that kind of feeling is his nearest approach to religion."
Christabel sat very still, looking steadily towards Lundy, as if the only desire in her mind were to identify yonder vague streak of purplish brown or brownish purple with the level strip of land chiefly given over to rabbits. Yet her heart was aching and throbbing passionately all the while; and the face at which she dared scarce look was vividly before her mental sight Ц sorely altered from the day she had last seen it smile upon her in love and confidence. But mixed with the heartache there was joy. To see him again, to hear his voice again Ц what could that be but happiness?
She knew that there was delight in being with him, and she told herself that she had no right to linger. She rose with an automatic air. "Come, Jessie," she said: and then she turned with an effort to the man whose love she had renounced, whose heart she had broken.
"Good-by!" she said, holding out her hand, and looking at him with calm, grave eyes. "I am very glad to have seen you again. I hope you always think of me as your friend?"
"Yes, Mrs. Tregonell, I can afford now to think of you as a friend," he answered, gravely, gently, holding her hand with a lingering grasp, and looking solemnly into the sweet pale face.
He shook hands cordially with Jessie Bridgeman; and they left him standing amidst the low grass-hidden graves of the unknown dead Ц a lonely figure looking seaward.
"Oh! Jessie, do you remember the day we first came here with him?" cried Christabel, as they went slowly down the steep winding path. The exclamation sounded almost like a cry of pain.
"Am I ever likely to forget it Ц or anything connected with him? You have given me no chance of that," retorted Miss Bridgeman, sharply.
"How bitterly you say that!"
"Can I help being bitter when I see you nursing morbid feelings? Am I to encourage you to dwell upon dangerous thoughts?"
"They are not dangerous. I have taught myself to think of Angus as a friend Ц and a friend only. If I could see him now and then Ц even as briefly as we saw him to-day Ц I think it would make me quite happy."
"You don't know what you are talking about!" said Jessie, angrily. "Certainly, you are not much like other women. You are a piece of icy propriety Ц your love is a kind of milk-and-watery sentiment, which would never lead you very far astray. I can fancy you behaving somewhat in the style of Werther's Charlotte Ц who is, to my mind, one of the most detestable women in fiction. Yes! Goethe has created two women who are the opposite poles of feeling Ц Gretchen and Lottie Ц and I would stake my faith that Gretchen the fallen has a higher place in heaven than Lottie the impeccable. I hate such dull purity, which is always lined with selfishness. The lover may slay himself in his anguish Ц but she Ц yes Ц Thackeray has said it Ц she goes on cutting bread and butter!"
Jessie gave a little hysterical laugh, which she accentuated by a leap from the narrow path where she had been walking to a boulder four or five feet below.
"How madly you talk, Jessie. You remind me of Scott's Fenella Ц and I believe you are almost as wild a creature," said Christabel.
"Yes! I suspect there is a spice of gipsy blood in my veins. I am subject to these occasional outbreaks Ц these revolts against Philistinism. Life is so steeped in respectability Ц the dull level morality which prompts every man to do what his neighbour thinks he ought to do, rather than to be set in motion by the fire that burns within him. This dread of one's neighbour Ц this slavish respect for public opinion Ц reduces life to mere mechanism Ц society to a stage play."