Зображення сторінки

you a poet acknowledged by the world ?' This was dreadful.

He had published nothing. And yet there were those little poems, which his friends carried in their bosoms, over which he had spent so many hours. But most certainly he could not show these to a lady so little advanced in the principles of his school.

• Then, Mr. Rondelet,' said Miranda, I am at a loss to know on what grounds your claims for superiority resti'

This was a decisive question. It demanded decision. But Rondelet rose from the chair in which he had endured this cross-examination, with as much dignity as he could assume. Standing gives a speaker a certain advantage.

'I will endeavour to explain,' he said.

Oh! Miranda,' cooed Desdemona, in the softest and most sympathetic of murmurs,

Mr. Rondelet will explain. Oh yes ; one always declared that he was a really superior man. One felt that if you wanted to know anything, you only had to ask him. How charming of him to explain.'

But Paul Rondelet thought he de. tected the faintest possible sarcasm in her accents, and he hated Desdemona for the moment with a hate inextinguishable.

* You have placed me, doubtless unintentionally, in an exceedingly difficult position,' he said, with an artificial smile.

Such a superiority as you imagine, Miss Dalmeny I did not claim. You misunderstood me.' Oh! Miranda,' purred Desde

* You misunderstood him.' • What I meant was this,' he said. 'I belong to the school which possesses the Higher Criticism.'

Oh!' said Desdemona, clasping her hands.

Paul Rondelet began to hate this woman worse than ever.

"Our standard of Art is different from, and far above, that recognized

by the world; we have our own canons; we write for each other in our own language; we speak for each other. It is not our business to produce, but if we do produce, it is after many years of thought, and whether it is only a small essay, or a single sheaf of sonnets, it is a production which marks an epoch in the development of Art.'

• Are there many of these productions yet before the world ?' pursued Miranda. " As yet none.

Some are carried about by ourselves for our own delight.'

Miranda put down her paper-knife. Her face'was quite hard and stern. " You are a critic.

Really, Mr. Rondelet, I never before heard so singular a proposal. You offer me, in return for my hand, to impart to me -the Higher Criticism.'

Looked at in this cold, passionless way, the proposal did not indeed appear attractive even to the

proposer. "What else can you give me, Mr. Rondelet, beside the cold air of the Higher Levels? Do you love me?'

She asked this question in a businesslike manner, which was at the same time most irritating. Never before in all his life had Paul Rondelet felt himself ridiculous.

"I thought,' he said that you were superior to the vulgar

.. the vulgar

Here Miranda interrupted him.

• The vulgar desire of being loved by my husband ? Not at all, Mr. Rondelet, I assure you.

I should, on the other hand, expect it.'

• In the common sense of the word, he went on, stammering, I suppose

But it is impossible for a man of my school to affect more than the esteem which one cultivated mind feels for another.'

'I am glad you have told me the exact truth,' she said. One likes to find respect for the truth even on your height. But tell me more, Mr. Rondelet. Do you wish to marry me

[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

only because you esteem me, or is there any other motive ?'

He hesitated, dropped his eye-glass, blushed, and lost his head altogether.

At this moment, standing limp and shattered before his interrogator, Paul Rondelet of Lothian looked like a guilty schoolboy.

· Are you rich, Mr. Rondelet ?' I I-I am not,' he replied.

You have your Fellowship, I believe. Is that all ?'

· That is all,' said Paul Rondelet.

He felt more limp, more like a guilty schoolboy, as he answered these questions.

* And when that ceases you will have nothing. I heard from Alan that it would cease in a few months.'

Yes,' said Paul Rondelet.
. And after ?'
I do not know.'

Do you think it worthy of a member of your school to look on marriage as a means of maintaining himself in ease?'

• It is not that,' he replied, eagerly --not that I mean-not-altogether that. It is true that-in fact-any man might look forward to-to-?

"Come, Mr. Rondelet,' said Miranda, 'I am sure this conversation is painful to you. Let us stop. As for my answer, you may readily guess it.'

He hung his head, and tried in yain to put up his eye-glass.

Let us be friends, Mr. Rondelet,' she went on, holding out her hand.

He took it feebly.

'You will get show the world that you have ability apart from the Higher Criticism, I am sure. Besides, a leader ought to teach.'

That is not our creed,' murmured Paul Rondelet, trying to reassert himself; 'we live our own life to ourselves. Let others see it and imitate as if they can.'

But how, with no income, will you live the life { Can criticism, even of the highest, provide you with what you have taught yourself to consider

necessaries ? Must you not think how you will live any life at all ?'

*I do not know,' groaned the unfortunate man.

· Will you write for the papers ? '
He shuddered.

' Am I to give my thoughts to the vulgar herd to read over their breakfasts?' It was no use being angry with the

His conceit was sublime. But Miranda spoke with impatience.

• There is no common herd. We are all men and women together. Believe me, Mr. Rondelet, you have lived too long in Oxford. The air of Lothian College is unwholesome. Go out of it at once, and fight among the rest, and do your little to help the world along. God knows we want all the help we can get.' He only stared in a helpless way.

Your level ?' she asked, with a little laugh. You will find it where you find your strength. Perhaps, some day, when other people are ready to place you above them, you will be ashamed of ever thinking yourself on a higher level than the rest. Your school? That is a paltry and a selfish school which begins with scorn for the ignorant. The common herd ?' -she stamped her foot with impatience—'why, we are all one common herd together : some richer, poorer, and some a little stronger. And there is only one hope for the world that men and women help each other, as Alan Dunlop has set himself to help his people.'

The tears came into her eyes for a moment, but she brushed them

away, and made a gesture of dismissal. The crushed Fellow of Lothian obeyed the gesture, and, without a word, withdrew.

Miranda remained where she stood for a few moments, silent, tearful

'I compared him with Alan,' she said. "Oh! the little creature that he showed beside our glorious Alan !'

• You are a queen, Miranda,' said Desdemona, "and Alan is-'


"What is Alan ?' she asked, with a little laugh.

'He is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'


* Sinful brother, part in peace.'


and fruit--'I have to read a very sad letter. The Order of Thelema has been imposed upon. You will all be sorry to learn that Brother Peregrine has traded upon our credulity, and intruded himself upon us under false pretences.

There was considerable sensation. Desdemona, with the deliberation acquired on the stage, proceeded slowly to unfold a letter and lay it open. You know how they do it: a quick movement of the hand breaks the seal; a look up to the first circle expresses expectation, terror, or joy; the letter is torn from the envelope ; that is thrown to the ground; both hands are used to unfold it, and one smooths it out. Then, with another glance, but at the pit this time, the letter is brought to the focus of the eye, and read slowly.

That is the stage method. Desdemona could not help adopting it under the present circumstances. She read it with a running commentary:

N that Thursday evening, when

Refectory bell rang, it was dis covered that no fewer than four of the Brothers were absent, an event remarkable in the chronicles of the Abbey.

Alan Dunlop, who, during this week, his last of celibacy, naturally devoted his evenings entirely to his bride, was one.

His father was present, however-no unworthy substitute. Tom Caledon was absent, too. Where was Tom ?

Every body quite naturally looked to Nelly.

'Tom has gone to town on business,' said Nelly quietly.

Then, without any apparent reason, she blushed vehemently, so that the monastic fraternity smiled.

Mr. Paul Rondelet was absent. The reason of this was that he was perfecting a grand scheme which he proposed to lay before Alan immediately. Also, his interest in the Abbey had greatly diminished since Miranda's few plain words.

And where was Brother Peregrine -the man who had been so useful in keeping things going, who had been everywhere at once, and was Desdemona's right-hand man for invention, as Tom Caledon had been for execution? Where was Brother Peregrine, who had been for three months the devoted follower of Nelly ? Had she refused bim?

After dinner,' said Desdemona, I will tell you what has become of Brother Peregrine'

* I have,' she said, when the inner man had been refreshed, and there was nothing on the table but claret

«« Dear Sister Desdemona "-he has the audacity to call me sister after what has happened 1-"For the last time, before laying aside the mon. astic garb, which I never ought to have assumed, I venture to address you by a title under which you will always be remembered by me"-I dare say he will remember all of us by our monastic names, the wretch!

“I am not, I confess with shame, legally entitled to the status and position under the pretence of which I took your vows. By the statutes, the Abbey receives none but the unmarried "-here there was a general movement of surprise—""except in your own case ”—and I am a widow, said Desdemona.

«« Such an exception I knew could not be made in my own case; it would have been idle to ask or to expect it.

And yet the truth was, and is, that I bave the misfortune of being a married man."

There was a profound sensation, One or two laughed—they were of the masculine order. The Sisters looked indignant. Cecilia said it was shameful, and asked what punishment could be inflicted on such a monk.

He is not only a false pretender,' she cried, but he is unfaithful to his vows, because he derides the state of matrimony.'

Then Nelly's sweet voice was lifted up, and every body felt that she had a special right to be heard.

'Yes,' she said, “it is quite true. He told me so himself this morning. You all thought he was paying his addresses to me. So did I. So did Tom. It made him jealous.'

'Yes,' said Miranda, 'we all know that. But can we punish him, and how?'

I have punished him already,' said Nelly.

She blushed and kept her eyes on ber plate.

'I think you will all understand when I tell you that I have made him promise to call upon mamma,' she murmured. He will call to-morrow morning.'

They looked at one another and smiled. Everybody at once concluded that things would be made unpleasant for this sinful Brother. Then Desdemona went on reading the letter :

delightful months? The Sisters are more charming than, with my unfortunate experience, seemed possible for ladies; wedlock under such circumstances would not, I feel convinced

but I have no right to speak of such things. If they are disposed to be angry with me, they may perhaps reflect upon my situation, and accord me their pity

"“ I bid farewell to the Abbey with the deepest regret. As my wife proposes to remain in England for the education of her children, I shall return to India immediately. Indeed, I have already taken steps, by means of the Submarine Telegraph Company, to ensure the reception of an urgent message calling me back by the next boat, to look after my estates. I shall therefore reside in Assam until my family shall have completed their education, and, with their mother, return to India. I hope, then, to get back to England. I may explain, if anybody is curious about my history, that the plantation is very large and lucrative, and that it was originally her own.

66. Your sorrowful and afflicted Brother,


""I have the misfortune of being a married man. My wife and children, whom I left in India, her native country, have now arrived, and are at the Langham Hotel. She has found out my address, most unfortunately, and writes me word that unless I return to London instantly, she will come down here. To spare the Order a visit from that lady, I am on the point of returning to town without loss of time.

"" Will you kindly assure the Fraternity that, while I feel that nothing can possibly excuse my conduct, I shall always rejoice in a deception which enabled me to enjoy three most

A Resolution was passed that Brother Peregrine's name should be without further delay erased from the list of the Fraternity : and that he should no more be mentioned in any of their Functions or Rejoicings. But there was some sympathy expressed, and, perhaps, had the Brother pleaded his own defence in person, he might have obtained forgiveness

But there would be few more Functions. The end of the Abbey—of this particular branch of the Order of Thelema-was rapidly approaching, though no one realized it except Desdemona.

In all the histories of human communities which I have read, this of the Abbey of Thelema is the only one in which petty jealousies, ambitions, and desire to rule have found no place.


Miranda was absolute Queen, Desdemona was Prime Minister, or First Vizier ; she was also Directress of Ceremonies. Alan, by universal consent, acted as Orator, while Brother Bayard, the stately, was with equal unanimity appointed Herald, whenever a splendid person of that description was required. There were committees, no governing bodies, no elections, nothing to raise ambitious hopes or revolutionary, designs. It would be worth the while of Club Committees to imitate the constitution of the Abbey. There must be some clubs where more is thought of the candidate himself than of his subscription. In the Abbey of Thelema were none of those who disturb and vex club life-among those who talked were neither down-criers, nor slanderers, nor stabbers in the back ; none were jealous one of the other-none were anxious that his neighbour should fail —there were

no petty ambitionsthere was no talk of money or desire of küdos. Could we get such a club in London—could we keep it in its original purity-could we ensure the retirement of a discordant member – we should call into existence the means of making the most despondent of philosophers find joy in life.

' It is a delightful place, Desdemona,' said Lord Alwyne ; but, unless an experienced eye is wrong, there will shortly be many changes. They go when they marry, do they not, your Brothers and Sisters ?'

· Alas! yes,' sighed Desdemona. The monastic vows do not contemplate continued residence. Ind the wedding ring takes a Sister into the outer world.'

He was indignant, he was humiliated; but it was absurd to suppose that the ignorance of a girl was to make him disbelieve in himself. Not at all. What he was before Miranda treated him with such unworthy_estimate, such he was still. Was he, Paul Rondelet of Lothian, to be cast down because Miss Dalmeny, a mere country girl, did not know who and what he was? Certainly not; he was saddened, naturally. Perhaps he had thought that his reputation extended even to so low a stratum of culture as that of the Abbey ; perhaps he had hoped that the name of Rondelet was known in wider circles. It was a pity, a grievous pity, he thought. He might have made a charming home, on the newest principles, of Dalmeny Hall; he was eminently a man to grace, as it had never before been graced, the position of country squire; and that might have been his position had Miranda taken him on his own estimate, without wanting to measure him by the ordinary standards of what he had done. What he had done, indeed ! What he had thought, would have been the proper question. But until Research is endowed, he felt, with sadness, men like himself have no proper chance.

Meantime, he set to work with vigour to elaborate an idea which was at once to ensure his immortality and to prove his greatness. No doubt there was a touch of rancune, a desire to show Miranda what kind of man she had contemptuously refused. He dined in his own cell, read over his scheme by the rosy light of a bottle of Château Laffitte, gave it the finishing touches, and at nine o'clock sallied forth, manuscript in pocket, in search of Alan Dunlop

His idea was based, financially speaking, on the grand fact that Alan was rich. Rich men are needful for the help of those who are poor. To submit an idea to a rich man, provided he be capable of receiving an idea, is to do him the great service of

[blocks in formation]
« НазадПродовжити »