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grace is a rarer gift, and indeed it is only a few times in life that one sees anywhere a beauty that really controls us with a permanent charm. One should remember such personal loveliness, as one recalls some particular moonlight or sunset, with a special and concentrated joy, which the multiplicity of fainter impressions cannot disturb. When in those days we used to read, in Petrarch's one hundred and twentythird sonnet, that he had once beheld on earth angelic manners and celestial charms, whose very remembrance was a delight and an affliction, since all else that he beheld seemed dream and shadow, we could easily fancy that nature had certain permanent attributes which accompanied the name of Laura.
Our Laura had that rich brunette beauty before which the mere snow and roses of the blonde must always seem wan and unimpassioned. In the superb suffusions of her cheek there seemed to flow a tide of passions and powers, which might have been tumultuous in a meaner woman, but over which, in her, the clear and brilliant eyes, and the sweet, proud mouth, presided in unbroken calm. These superb tints implied resources only, not a struggle. With this torrent from the tropics in her veins, she was the most equable person I ever saw; and had a supreme and delicate good-sense, which, if not supplying the place of genius, at least comprehended its work. Not intellectually gifted herself, perhaps, she seemed the cause of gifts in others, and furnished the atmosphere in which all showed their best. With the steady and thoughtful enthusiasm of her Puritan ancestors, she combined that grace which is so rare among their descendants, a grace which fascinated the humblest, while it would have been just the same in the society of kings. And her person had the equipoise and symmetry of her mind. While abounding in separate points of beauty, each a source of distinct and peculiar pleasure, — as the outline of her temples, the white line that parted her night-black
hair, the bend of her wrists, the moulding of her finger-tips, yet these details were lost in the overwhelming gracefulness of her presence, and the atmosphere of charm which she diffused over all human life.
A few days passed rapidly by us. We walked and rode and boated and read. Little Marian came and went, a living sunbeam, a self-sufficing thing. It was soon obvious that she was far less demonstrative towards her parents than towards me; while her mother, gracious to her as to all, yet rarely caressed her, and Kenmure, though habitually kind, seemed rather to ignore her existence, and could scarcely tolerate that she should for one instant preoccupy his wife. For Laura he lived, and she must live for him. He had a studio, which I rarely entered and Marian never, while Laura was constantly there; and after the first cordiality was past, I observed that their daily expeditions were always arranged for two. The weather was beautiful, and they led the wildest outdoor life, cruising all day or all night among the islands, regardless of hours, and, as it sometimes seemed to me, of health. No matter: Kenmure liked it, and what he liked she loved. When at home, they were chiefly in the studio, he painting, modelling, poetizing perhaps, and she inseparably united with him in all. It was very beautiful, this unworldly and passionate love, and I could have borne to be omitted in their daily plans, since little Marian was left to me, save that it seemed so strange to omit her also. Besides, there grew to be something a little oppressive in this peculiar atmosphere; it was like living in a greenhouse.
Yet they always spoke in the simplest way of this absorbing passion, as of something about which no reticence was needed; it was too sacred not to be mentioned; it would be wrong not to utter freely to all the world what was doubtless the best thing the world possessed. Thus Kenmure made Laura his model in all his art; not to coin her into wealth or fame, he would have scorned it; he would have valued fame
and wealth only as instruments for proclaiming her. Looking simply at these two lovers, then, it seemed as if no human union could be more noble or stainless. Yet so far as others were concerned, it sometimes seemed to me a kind of duplex selfishness, so profound and so undisguised as to make one shudder. "Is it," I asked myself at such moments, “a great consecration, or a great crime?" But something must be allowed, perhaps, for my own private dissatisfactions in Marian's behalf.
I had easily persuaded Janet to let me have a peep every night at my darling, as she slept; and once I was surprised to find Laura sitting by the small white bed. Graceful and beautiful as she always was, she never before had seemed to me so lovely, for she never had seemed quite like a mother. But I could not demand a sweeter look of tenderness than that with which she now gazed upon her child.
Little Marian lay with one brown, plump hand visible from its full white sleeve, while the other nestled half hid beneath the sheet, grasping a pair of blue morocco shoes, the last acquisition of her favorite doll. Drooping from beneath the pillow hung a handful of scarlet poppies, which the child had wished to place under her head, in the very superfluous project of putting herself to sleep thereby. Her soft brown hair was scattered on the sheet, her black lashes lay motionless upon the olive cheeks. Laura wished to move her, that I might see her the better.
"You will wake her," exclaimed I, in alarm.
"Wake this little dormouse?" Laura lightly answered. "Impossible."
And, twining her arms about her, the young mother lifted the child from the bed, three or four times, dropping her again heavily each time, while the healthy little creature remained utterly undisturbed, breathing the same quiet breath. I watched Laura with amazement; she seemed transformed.
She gayly returned my eager look, and then, seeming suddenly to pene
trate its meaning, cast down her radiant eyes, while the color mounted into her cheeks. "You thought," she said, almost sternly, "that I did not love my child.”
"No," I said, half untruthfully.
"I can hardly wonder," she continued, more sadly, "for it is only what I have said to myself a thousand times. Sometimes I think that I have lived in a dream, and one that few share with me. I have questioned others, and never yet found a woman who did not admit that her child was more to her, in her secret soul, than her husband. What can they mean? Such a thought is foreign to my
"Why separate the two?" I asked.
"I must separate them," she answered, with the air of one driven to bay by her own self-reproaching. "I had, like other young girls, my dream of love and marriage. Unlike all the rest, I believe, my visions were fulfilled. The reality was more than the imagination; and I thought it would be so with my love for my child. The first cry of that baby told the difference to my ear. I knew it all from that moment; the bliss which had been mine as a wife would never be mine as a mother. If I had not known what it was to love my husband, I might have been content with my love for Marian. But look at that exquisite creature as she lies there asleep, and then think that I, her mother, should desert her if she were dying, for aught I know, at one word from him!"
"Your feeling is morbid," I said, hardly knowing what to answer.
"What good does it serve to know that?" she said, defiantly. "I say it to myself every day. Once when she was ill, and was given back to me in all the precious helplessness of babyhood, there was such a strange sweetness in it, I thought the charm might remain; but it vanished when she could run about once more. And she is such a healthy, self-reliant little thing,” added Laura, glancing toward the bed with a momentary look of motherly pride that seemed strangely out of place amid these self
Her color mounted higher yet; she had a look of pride, almost of haughtiAll else seemed forgotten; she had turned away from the child's little bed, as if it had no existence. It flashed upon me that something of the poison of her artificial atmosphere was reaching her already.
Kenmure's step was heard in the hall, and, with fire in her eyes, she hastened to meet him. I seemed actually to breathe freer after the departure of that enchanting woman, in danger of perishing inwardly, I said to myself, in an air too lavishly perfumed. Bending over Marian, I wondered if it were indeed possible that a perfectly healthy life had sprung from that union too intense and too absorbed. Yet I had often noticed that the child seemed to wear the temperaments of both her parents as a kind of playful disguise, and to peep at you, now out of the one, now from the other, showing that she had her own individual life behind.
As if by some infantine instinct, the darling turned in her sleep, and came unconsciously nearer me. With a halffeeling of self-reproach, I drew around my neck, inch by inch, the little arms that tightened with a delicious thrill; and so I half reclined there till I myself dozed, and the watchful Janet, looking in, warned me away. Crossing the entry to my own chamber, I heard Kenmure and Laura down stairs, but I knew that I should be superfluous, and felt that I was sleepy.
I had now, indeed, become always superfluous when they were together, though never when they were apart. Even they must be separated sometimes, and then each sought me, in order to discourse about the other. Kenmure showed me every sketch he had ever made of Laura. There she was, in all the wonderful range of her beauty, — in clay, in cameo, in pencil, in water-color, in oils. He showed me also his poems, and, at last, a longer one, for which pencil and graver had alike been laid aside. All these he kept in a great cabinet she had brought with her to their housekeeping; and it seemed to me that he also treasured every flower she had dropped, every slender glove she had worn, every ribbon from her hair. I could not wonder. Who would not thrill at the touch of some such memorial of Mary of Scotland, or of Heloise? and what was all the regal beauty of the past to him? Every room always seemed adorned when she was in it, empty when she had gone, save that the trace of her still seemed left on everything, and all appeared but as a garment she had worn. It seemed that even her great mirror must retain, film over film, each reflection of her least movement, the turning of her head, the ungloving of her hand. Strange! that, with all this intoxicating presence, she yet led a life so free from self, so simple, so absorbed, that all trace of consciousness was excluded, and she seemed unsophisticated as her own child.
As we were once thus employed in the studio, I asked Kenmure, abruptly, if he never shrank from the publicity he was thus giving Laura. "Madame Récamier was not quite pleased," I said, "that Canova had modelled her bust, even from imagination. Do you never shrink from permitting irreverent eyes to look on Laura's beauty? Think of men as you know them. Would you give each of them her miniature, perhaps to go with them into scenes of riot and shame?"
"Would to Heaven I could!" said he, passionately. "What else could save them, if that did not? · God lets
his sun shine on the evil and on the good, but the evil need it most."
There was a pause; and then I ventured to ask him a question that had been many times upon my lips unspoken.
"Does it never occur to you," I said, "that Laura cannot live on earth forever?"
"You cannot disturb me about that," he answered, not sadly, but with a set, stern look, as if fencing for the hundredth time against an antagonist who was foredoomed to be his master in the end.. "Laura will outlive me; she must outlive me. I am so sure of it, that, every time I come near her, I pray that I may not be paralyzed, and die outside her arms. Yet, in any event, what can I do but what I am doing,-devote my whole soul to the perpetuation of her beauty, through art? It is my only dream. What else is worth doing? It is for this I have tried, through sculpture, through painting, through verse, to depict her as she is. Thus far I have failed. Why have I failed? Is it because I have not lived a life sufficiently absorbed in her? or is it that there is no permitted way by which, after God has reclaimed her, the tradition of her perfect loveliness may be retained on earth?"
The blinds of the piazza doorway opened, the sweet sea-air came in, the low and level rays of yellow sunset entered as softly as if the breeze were their chariot; and softer and stiller and sweeter than light or air, little Marian stood on the threshold. She had been in the fields with Janet, who had woven for her breeze-blown hair a wreath of the wild gerardia blossoms, whose purple beauty had reminded the good Scotchwoman of her own native heather. In her arms the child bore, like a little
gleaner, a great sheaf of graceful golden-rod, as large as her grasp could bear. In all the artist's visions he had seen nothing so aerial, so lovely; in all his passionate portraitures of his idol, he had delineated nothing so like to her. Marian's cheeks mantled with rich and wine-like tints, her hair took a halo
from the sunbeams, her lips parted over the little milk-white teeth; she looked at us with her mother's eyes. I turned to Kenmure to see if he could resist the influence.
He scarcely gave her a glance. "Go, Marian," he said, not impatiently, for he was too thoroughly courteous ever to be ungracious, even to a child, — but with a steady indifference that cut me with more pain than if he had struck her.
The sun dropped behind the horizon, the halo faded from the shining hair, and every ray of light from the childish face. There came in its place that deep, wondering sadness which is more pathetic than any maturer sorrow, —just as a child's illness touches our hearts more than that of man or woman, it seems so premature and so plaintive. She turned away; it was the very first time I had ever seen the little face drawn down, or the tears gathering in the eyes. By some kind providence, the mother met Marian on the piazza, herself flushed and beautiful with walking, and caught the little thing in her arms with unwonted tenderness. It was enough for the elastic child. After one moment of such bliss she could go to Janet, go anywhere; and when the same graceful presence came in to us in the studio, we also could ask no more.
We had music and moonlight, and were happy. The atmosphere seemed more human, less unreal. Going up stairs at last, I looked in at the nursery, and found my pet seeming rather flushed, and I fancied that she stirred uneasily. It passed, whatever it was; for next morning she came in to wake me, looking, as usual, as if a new heaven and earth had been coined purposely for her since she went to sleep. We had our usual long and important discourse, this time tending to protracted narrative, of the Mother-Goose description, until, if it had been possible for any human being to be late for breakfast in that house, we should have been the offenders. But she ultimately went down stairs on my shoulder, and, as Kenmure and Laura were out rowing, the
baby put me in her own place, sat in her mother's chair, and ruled me with a rod of iron. How wonderful was the instinct by which this little creature, who so seldom heard one word of parental severity or parental fondness, yet knew so thoroughly the language of both! Had I been the most depraved of children, or the most angelic, I could not have been more sternly excluded from the sugar-bowl, or more overwhelmed with compensating kisses.
Later on that day, while little Marian was taking the very profoundest nap that ever a baby was blessed with, (she had a pretty way of dropping asleep in unexpected corners of the house, like a kitten,) I somehow strayed into a confidential talk with Janet about her mistress. I was rather troubled to find that all her loyalty was for Laura, with nothing left for Kenmure, whom indeed she seemed to regard as a sort of objectionable altar, on which her darlings were being sacrificed. When she came to particulars, certain stray fears of my own were confirmed. It seemed that Laura's constitution was not fit, Janet averred, to bear these irregular hours, early and late; and she plaintively dwelt on the untasted oatmeal in the morning, the insufficient luncheon, the precarious dinner, the excessive walking, the evening damps. There was coming to be a look about her such as her mother had, who died at thirty. As for Marian - but here the complaint suddenly stopped; it would have required far stronger provocation to extract from the faithful soul one word that might seem to reflect on Laura.
Another year, and her forebodings had come true. It is needless to dwell on the interval. Since then I have sometimes felt a regret almost insatiable, in the thought that I should have been absent while all that gracious beauty seemed fading and dissolving like a cloud; and yet at other times it has appeared a relief to think that Laura would ever remain to me in the fulness of her beauty, not a tint faded, not a lineament changed. With all my
efforts, I arrived only in time to accompany Kenmure home at night, after the funeral service. We paused at the door of the empty house,— how empty! I hesitated, but Kenmure motioned to me to follow him in.
We passed through the hall and went up stairs. Janet met us at the head of the stairway, and asked me if I would go in to look at little Marian, who was sleeping. I begged Kenmure to go also, but he refused, almost savagely, and went on with heavy step into Laura's deserted room.
Almost the moment I entered the child's chamber, she waked up suddenly, looked at me, and said, “I know you, you are my friend." She never would call me her cousin, I was always her friend. Then she sat up in bed, with her eyes wide open, and said, as if stating a problem which had been put by for my solution, “I should like to see my mother."
How our hearts are rent by the unquestioning faith of children, when they come to test the love which has so often worked what seemed to them miracles, and ask of it miracles indeed! I tried to explain to her the continued existence of her beautiful mother, and she listened to it as if her eyes drank in all that I could say, and more. But the apparent distance between earth and heaven baffled her baby mind, as it so often and so sadly baffles the thoughts of us elders. I wondered what precise change seemed to her to have taken place. This allfascinating Laura, whom she adored, and who had yet never been to her what other women are to their darlings, — did heaven seem to put her farther off, or bring her more near? I could never know. The healthy child had no morbid questionings; and as she had come into the world to be a sunbeam, she must not fail of that mission. She was
kicking about the bed, by this time, in her nightgown, and holding her pink little toes in all sorts of difficult attitudes, when she suddenly said, looking me full in the face: "If my mother was so high up that she had her feet upon