University of Virginia Library


Page 203


“Heart! what's that?

“Oh, a thing servant-maids have, and break for John the

If Meredith could have borne off his charming
heiress-cousin, his love for Isabella might have
gone to the moon, or to any other repository of lost
and forgotten things. But, balked in that pursuit,
it resumed its empire over him. He passed a
feverish, sleepless night, revolving the past, and
reconsidering Isabella's every word and look during
their interview of the preceding evening; and
finally, he came to a conclusion not unnatural (for
few persons give others credit for less of a given
infirmity than they themselves possess), that Isabella's
vanity had been wounded by the conviction
that she had been, for a time, superseded by
Bes ie Lee; and that the ground he had thus lost
might, by a dexterous manœuvre, be regained.
Engrossed with his next move, he appeared at
breakfast-table as usual, attentive to his mother,
and polite to Lady Anne, who, anxious to express
her good-will, was more than ordinarily kind; and
Mrs. Meredith concluded that if matters had not
gone as far as she had hoped, they were going on
swimmingly. The breakfast finished, Lady Anne


Page 204
ran away from her aunt's annoying devotions to
the Linwoods, and Meredith retired to his own
room to write, after weighing and sifting each
word, the following note to Isabella. He did not
send it, however, till he had taken the precaution
to precede it by a written request to Lady Anne
(with whom he had found out too late that honest
dealing was far the safest) that she would, on no
account—he asked it for her own sake—communicate
to any one their parting scene of the preceding
evening. His evil star ruled the ascendant,
and Lady Anne received the note too late.

To Miss Linwood.

“Montaigne says, and says truly, that `toutes
passions que se laissent, gouster et digerer ne
sont que mediocres;
' but how would he—how
shall I characterize a passion which has swallowed
up every other passion, desire, and affection of my
nature—has grown and thriven upon that which
would have seemed fatal to its existence!

“Isabella, these are not hollow phrases; you
know they are not; and be not angry at my boldness;
I know your heart responds to them, and,
though I was stretched on the rack to obtain this
knowledge, I thank my tormentors. Yes, by
Heaven! I would not exchange that one instant of
intoxicating, bewildering joy, when, even in the
presence of witnesses, and such witnesses! you
confessed you had loved me, for ages of a common


Page 205
existence. Thank Heaven, too, the precious confession
was not through the hackneyed medium of
words. Such a sentiment is not born in your
bosom to die. I judge from my own inferior nature.
I have loved on steadily, through absence,
coldness, disdain, caprice (pardon me, my proud,
my adored Isabella), in spite of the canker and
rust of delay after delay; in spite of all the assaults
of those temptations to which the young
and fortunate are exposed. Can I estimate your
heart at a lower rate than my own?

“As to that silly scene last evening, though it
stung me at the moment, and goaded me to an unmeaning
impertinence, yet, on a review of it, do
you not perceive that we were both the dupes of a
little dramatic effect? and that there is no reality
in the matter, except so far as concerns the lost
wits of the crazed girl, and the very natural affliction
of her well-meaning brother, whose unjust
and hasty indignation towards me, being the result
of false impressions, I most heartily forgive.

“As to poor Bessie Lee, I can only say, God help
her! I am most sincerely sorry for her; but neither
you nor I can be surprised that she should be the
dupe of her lively imagination, and the victim of
her nervous temperament. I ask but one word in
reply. Say you will see me at any hour you
choose; and, for God's sake, Isabella, secure our
interview from interruption.”

In half an hour, and just as Meredith was sallying


Page 206
forth to allay his restlessness by a walk in the
open air, he met his messenger with a note from
Miss Linwood. He turned back, entered the unoccupied
drawing-room, and read the following:—


“I have received your note, Jasper; I do not
reply to it hastily; hours of watchfulness and reflection
at the bedside of my friend have given the
maturity of years to my present feeling. I have
loved you,
I confess it now; not by a treacherous
blush, but calmly, deliberately, in my own handwriting,
without faltering or emotion of any sort.
Yes, I have loved you, if a sentiment springing
from a most attachable nature, originating in the
accidental intercourse of childhood, fostered by
pride, nurtured by flattery, and exaggerated by an
excited imagination, can be called love.

“I have loved you, if a sentiment struggling
with doubt and distrust, seeking for rest and finding
none, becoming fainter and fainter in the dawning
light of truth, and vanishing, like an exhalation
in the full day, can be called love.

“You say truly. Bessie Lee is the dupe of a
too lively imagination, and the victim of a nervous
temperament. To these you might have added,
an exquisitely organized frame, and a conscience
too susceptible for a creature liable to the mistakes
of humanity. Oh, how despicable, how cruel, was
the vanity that could risk the happiness of such a
creature for its own gratification! I have wept


Page 207
bitterly over her; I should scarcely have pitied
her, had she been the unresisting slave and victim
of a misplaced and unrequited passion.

“After what I have written, you will perceive
that you need neither seek nor avoid an interview
with me; that the only emotion you can now excite,
is a devout gratitude that our former interviews
were interrupted, and circumstances were
made strong enough to prevail over my weakness.

Isabella Linwood.
“P.S.—I have detained my messenger, and
opened my note to add, that your cousin has just
come in, and with a confidence befitting her frank
nature, has communicated to me the farce with
which you followed up the tragedy of last evening.”

Meredith felt, what was in truth quite evident,
that Isabella Linwood was herself again. He
threw the note from him in a paroxysm of vexation,
disappointment, and utter and hopeless mortification;
and covering his face with his hands, he endured
one of those moments that occur even in this
life, when the sins, follies, and failures of by-gone
years are felt with the vividness and acuteness of
the actual and present, and memory and conscience
are endued with supernatural energy and retributive

What a capacity of penal suffering has the All-wise
infused into the moral nature of man, even
the weakest!


Page 208
“The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Meredith was roused by the soft fall of a footstep.
He started, and saw Helen Ruthven, who
had just entered, and was in the act of picking up
the note he had thrown down. She looked at the
superscription, then at Meredith. Her lustrous
eyes suffused with tears, and the tears formed into
actual drops, and rolled down her cheeks. “Oh,
happy, most happy Isabella Linwood!” she exclaimed.
Meredith took the note from her and
threw it into the fire. Miss Ruthven stared at him,
and lifted up her hands with an unfeigned emotion
of astonishment. After a moment's pause, she
added, “I still say, most happy Isabella Linwood.
And yet, if she cannot estimate the worth of the
priceless kingdom she sways, is she most happy?
You do not answer me; and you, of all the world,
cannot.” Meredith did not reply by word; but
Miss Ruthven's quick eye perceived the cloud clearing
from his brow; and she ventured to try the
effect of a stronger light. “I cannot comprehend
this girl,” she continued; “she is a riddle—an insolvable
riddle to me. A passionless mortal seems
to me to approach nearer to a monster than to a
divinity deserving your idolatry, Meredith. She
cannot be the cold, apathetic, statue-like person she

“And why not, Miss Ruthven?”

“Simply because a passionless being cannot inspire


Page 209
passion—and yet—and yet, if she were a
marble statue, your love should have been the
Promethean touch to infuse a soul. Pardon me—
pity me, if I speak too plainly; there are moments
when the heart will burst the barriers of prudence
—there are moments of desperation, of self-abandonment.
I cannot be bound by those petty axioms
and frigid rules that shackle my sex—I cannot
weigh my words—I must pour out my heart, even
though this prodigality of its treasures `naught
enriches you, and makes me poor indeed!' ”

Helen Ruthven's broken sentences were linked
together by expressive glances and effective pauses.
She gave to her words all the force of intonation
and emphasis, which produce the effect of polish
on metal, making it dazzling, without adding an
iota to its intrinsic value. Meredith lent a most
attentive ear, mentally comparing the while Miss
Ruthven's lavished sensibilities to Isabella's jealous
reserve. He should have discriminated between
the generosity that gives what is nothing worth,
and the fidelity that watches over an immortal
treasure; but vanity wraps itself in impenetrable
darkness. He only felt that he was in a labyrinth
of which Helen Ruthven held the clew; and that
he was in the process of preparation to follow
whithersoever she willed to lead him.

We let the curtain fall here; we have no taste
for showing off the infirm of our own sex. We
were willing to supply some intimations that might


Page 210
be available to our ingenuous and all-believing
young male friends; but we would not reveal to
our fair and true-hearted readers the flatteries, pretences,
false assumptions, and elaborate blandishments,
by which a hackneyed woman of the world
dupes and beguiles; and at last (obeying the inflexible
law of reaping as she sows) pays the penalty
of her folly in a life of matrimonial union without
affection—a wretched destiny, well fitting those
who profane the sanctuary of the affections with
hypocritical worship.

While the web is spinning around Meredith, we
leave him with the wish that all the Helen Ruthvens
in the world may have as fair game as Jasper