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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Life's Morning - Chapter 16. Renunciation
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A Life's Morning - Chapter 16. Renunciation Post by :26chris Category :Long Stories Author :George Gissing Date :May 2012 Read :2039

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A Life's Morning - Chapter 16. Renunciation

CHAPTER XVI. RENUNCIATION

When Emily returned from the wastes of ravaged mind, and while yet the images of memory were hardly distinguished from the ghosts of delirious dream, the picture that haunted her with most persistency, with an objective reality the more impressive the clearer her thought became, was one which she could least comprehend or account for. She saw lying before her a closely muffled form, the outline seeming to declare it that of a man. The struggle of new-born consciousness was to associate such a vision with the events which had preceded her illness. Perchance for a day, perchance only for an hour, however long the unmeasured transition from darkness to the dawn of self-knowledge, she suffered the oppression of this mechanical questioning. At length the presence of her mother by the bedside became a fact, and it led on to the thought of her father. Her eyes moved in search for him.

The act of speech, in health a mere emphasis of thought, was only to be attained by repetition of efforts; several times she believed herself to have spoken whilst silence still pressed her lips. Only when the recollection of her last waking day was complete, and when the absence of her father from the room linked itself to memory of her anguished waiting for him, did she succeed in uttering the words which represented her fear. Her mother was bending over her, aware of the new light in her questioning eyes.

'Where's father?' Emily asked.

'You shall see him, dear,' was the reply. 'Don't speak.'

'He came home?'

'Yes, he came home.'

Emily fell back into thought; this great fear allayed, the only now, like an angel coming from afar over dark waters, past continued to rebuild itself within her mind. And now, there gleamed the image of her love. It had been expelled from memory by the all-possessing woe of those last hours; it returned like a soothing warmth, an assuagement of pain. As though soul-easing music sounded about her, she again lost her hold on outward things and sank into a natural sleep.

Mrs. Hood feared the next waking. The question about her father, she attributed to Emily's incomplete command of her faculties, for she had not doubted that the muffled figure on the couch had been consciously seen by the girl and understood. Yet with waking the error prolonged itself; it became evident at length that Emily knew nothing of her coming down to the sitting-room, and still had to learn that her father no longer lived. It was a new suffering under which the poor woman gave way. Already her natural affliction was complicated with a sense of painful mysteries; in her delirium, Emily had uttered words which there was no explaining, but which proved that there had been some hidden connection between her mental trouble and her father's failure to return at the usual hour. Dagworthy's name she had spoken frequently, and with words which called to mind the sum of money her father had somehow procured. Mrs. Hood had no strength to face trials such as these. As long as her child's life seemed in danger, she strove with a mother's predominant instinct to defend it; but her powers failed as Emily passed out of peril. Her outlook became blank; physical exhaustion joined with mental suffering began to render her incapable of further efforts. Fortunately, Mrs. Baxendale perceived this in time. A nurse was provided, in addition to the one who had assisted Mrs. Hood, and the mother became herself the object of care.

Emily had been told that her father was ill, but this fiction it was soon impossible to maintain. Three days after the last reported conversation between Wilfrid and Mrs. Baxendale, it was determined that the latter must take upon herself the office of telling Emily the truth. Mrs. Hood implored her to do so; the poor mother was sinking into a state which scarcely left her the command of her mind, and, though she could not sustain the duty herself, it was her harassing desire that it might quickly be performed. So at length the revelation was made, made with all the forbearance and strengthening tenderness of which a strong-souled woman is capable. But the first syllables prepared Emily for the whole truth. A secret dread, which she had not dared to confess to herself on that last evening, though probably it brought about the crisis in her suffering, and which the false assurances recently given her had perhaps not wholly overcome, rushed forth as soon as evil was hinted at. The softened statement that her father had been stricken down by a natural malady did not for a moment deceive her. She closed her eyes; the pillows which supported her were scarcely whiter than her face. But she was soon able to speak with perfect self-control.

'Was he brought home wrapped in something?' she asked. 'With his face covered?'

'He was, Emily.'

'How and where did I see him? For I know I did see him.'

'Your mother has told me that you rose from your bed, and went to the room below. She did not realise that you were unconscious; she believed that you knew of this.'

This was her dread vision. As if to protect herself from it, she raised her hand and laid it across her eyes. Then it fell again to the coverlet--thin, flower-like hand, which in its translucency of flesh seemed to have been created by spirit for its chosen abode.

When silence had lasted some moments--

'Now that I know he is dead,' Emily resumed--oh, the sad music of the last word!--'I can bear to hear the manner of it without disguise. Will you tell me the whole truth, Mrs. Baxendale?'

It was spoken like herself. Ever clinging to sincerity, ever ready to face the truth of things, in how many a matter of less moment had the girl spoken with just this directness, inspiring respect in all who heard her clear, candid voice.

Mrs. Baxendale sank her eyes, and hesitated.

'He died by his own hand,' Emily said, below her breath.

The lady kept silence. Emily again closed her eyes, and, as she so lay, felt warm lips touch her forehead.

Mrs. Baxendale believed for a moment that the sufferer had lost consciousness, but the utterance of her name caused Emily to raise her lids.

'Why did he do this?' she asked, regarding her friend fixedly.

'No one can say, dear.'

Emily drew a deep sigh; a gleam passed over her face.

'There was an inquest?' she asked.

'Yes.'

'Is it possible for me to see a newspaper in which it was reported?'

'If you really desire it,' said Mrs. Baxendale, with hesitation.

'I do; I wish to read it. Will you do me that great kindness?'

'I will bring it you in a day or two. But would it not be better to delay--'

'Is there anything,' Emily asked quickly, 'that you have kept from me?'

'Nothing; nothing.'

'Then I need not put off reading it. I have borne the worst.'

As Mrs. Baxendale left the house, she was passed at a short distance along the road by a man on horseback. This rider gave a sign to the coachman to stop, and a moment after presented himself at the window of the brougham. It was Dagworthy; he wished to have news of Mrs. and Miss Hood. The lady gave him full information.

'I fear I could not see Mrs. Hood?' Dagworthy said.

'Oh, she is far too ill!' was the reply.

Having assured himself on this point, Dagworthy took his leave, and, when the carriage was remote, rode to the house. He made fast the reins to the gate, entered, and knocked at the door. A girl who did subordinate work for the nurses opened.

'I want you,' Dagworthy said, 'to give this note at once to Miss Hood. You understand?--to Miss Hood. Will you do so?'

'I will, sir.'

He went away, and, immediately after, Emily was reading these lines:

'I wish to tell you that no one has heard, and no one ever will, of the circumstances you would desire to have unknown. I send this as soon as you are able to receive it. You will know from whom it comes.'

She knew, and the message aided her. The shook of what she had just heard was not, in its immediate effect, as severe as others had feared it would be. Perhaps Emily's own sojourn at the gates of death lessened the distance between her and him who had passed them; perhaps the vast misery which lay behind her, the darkness threatening in the future, brought first to her mind death's attribute of deliverance. This, in the hours that followed, she strove to dwell upon nothing could touch her father now, he was safe from trouble. But, as the current in her veins grew warmer, as life held her with a stronger hand and made her once more participant in his fears and desires, that apparition of the motionless veiled form haunted her with access of horror. If she slept it came into her dreams, and her waking thoughts strove with hideous wilfulness to unmuffle that dead face. When horror failed, its place was taken by a grief so intense that it shook the fabric of her being. She had no relapse in health, but convalescence was severed from all its natural joys; she grew stronger only to mourn more passionately. In imagination she followed her father through the hours of despair which must have ensued on his interview with Dagworthy. She pictured his struggle between desire to return home, to find comfort among those he loved, and the bitter shame which forbade it. How had he spent the time? Did he wander out of the town to lonely places, until daylight failed? Did he then come back under the shadow of the night, come back all but to the very door of his dwelling, make one last effort to face those within, pass on in blind agony? Was he on the heath at the very hour when she crossed it to go to Dagworthy's house? Oh, had that been his figure which, as she hurried past, she had seen moving in the darkness of the quarry?

A pity which at times grew too vast for the soul to contain absorbed her life, the pity which overwhelms and crushes, which threatens reason. That he should have lived through long years of the most patient endurance, keeping ever a hope, a faith, so simple-hearted, so void of bitter feeling, so kindly disposed to all men--only to be vanquished at length by a moment of inexplicable weakness, only to creep aside, and hide his shame, and die. Her father, whom it was her heart's longing to tend and cherish through the brighter days of his age--lying there in his grave, where no voice could reach him, remote for ever from the solace of loving kindness, his death a perpetuation of woe. The cruelty of fate had exhausted itself; what had the world to show more pitiful than this?

No light ever came to her countenance; no faintest smile ever touched her lips. Through the hours, through the days, she lay heedless of things around her, solely occupied with the past, with affliction, with remorse. Had it not been in her power to save him? A word from her, and at this moment he would have been living in cheerfulness such as he had never known. She would have had but to turn her head, and his smile would have met her; the rare laugh, so touching to her always, would have become less rare; his struggles would have been over. She had willed that he should die, had sent him forth relentlessly to his last trial, to his forsaken end. Without a leave-taking he had gone forth; his last look had been at her blank windows. That hour was passed into eternity, and with it the better part of her life.

On the first day that she rose from her bed, she went, with the nurse's aid, to her mother's room. What she saw there was a new shock; her mother's face had aged incredibly, and wore a look of such feeble intelligence that to meet her eyes was more than painful. Upon the artificial maintenance of her strength throughout Emily's illness had followed a collapse of the vital powers; it seemed doubtful whether she would ever regain her normal state of mind and body. She knew her daughter, and, when Emily kissed her, the muscles of her haggard face contracted in what was meant for a smile; but she could not use her voice above a whisper, and her words were seldom consequent.

Two days later Mrs. Baxendale again paid a visit. Emily was sitting in her bed-room, unoccupied, on her countenance the sorrow-stricken gravity which never quitted it. The visitor, when she had made her inquiries, seemed to prepare herself to speak of some subject at once important and cheerful.

'For a fortnight,' she said, 'I have had staying with me someone whom you will be glad to hear of--your nearest friend.'

Emily raised her eyes slowly to the speaker's face; clearly she understood, but was accustoming herself to this unexpected relation between Mrs. Baxendale and Wilfrid.

'Mr. Athel came from Switzerland as soon as he heard of your illness.'

'How did he hear?' Emily inquired, gravely.

'My niece, Miss Redwing, whom you knew, happened to be visiting me. She wrote to Mrs. Rossall.'

Emily was silent. The lines of her mouth showed a slight tremor, but no colour sought her cheeks. The news was affecting her strongly, but only in the way in which she now received every impression; physical weakness had the effect of reducing outward demonstration of feeling, and her spiritual condition favoured passiveness.

'He has asked me to give you a letter, Emily,' pursued Mrs. Baxendale, saddened by the sight of such intense sadness.

Emily took the letter, and laid it on a table near her, murmuring her thanks.

'He is well?' she asked, as the other did not speak.

'Quite; his holiday has completely restored him. You can't think how glad I am to have come to know him, and to have him near me. Such excellent friends we are! You can think how anxious he has been; and his father scarcely less so. The inquiries have been constant. The others have just got home; Mr. Athel had a letter from London this morning. The little girls send you a message; I believe you will find the letter enclosed.'

At the mention of the twins, the slightest smile came upon Emily's lips.

'You are fond of them, I see,' said the lady. 'That they ire fond of you, needs no telling. Oh, and Clara writes from Germany to ask if she may write to you yet. Shall I let her?'

A few more words, and Mrs. Baxendale rose. Emily retained her hand.

'You have not yet had from me one word of gratitude, Mrs. Baxendale,' she said. 'Indeed, I have no words in which to thank you.'

The lady kissed her forehead, pressed the thin hand again, and went for a few moments to Mrs. Hood's room before departing.

It was nearly an hour before Emily took up the letter to open it. When at length she did so, she found that it covered only a small sheet of notepaper. Enclosed was a letter from Mr. Athel, announcing the family's arrival in London, asking in a kind tone for the latest news, and repeating the message from the twins of which Mrs. Baxendale had spoken. Wilfrid wrote with admirable delicacy and feeling; he forgot himself wholly in her affliction, and only in those simplest words which can still be made the most powerful uttered the tenderness which he hoped might speak some comfort to her heart. He did not ask to see her; would she not bid him come to her in her own good time? And only if her strength rendered it quite easy, he begged for one word of reply. Mrs. Baxendale would visit her again very shortly, and to her the answer could be given.

Emily returned the writings to their envelope, and sat through the day as she had sat since morning, scarcely ever moving, without heed of things that were said or done in the room. Before quitting the chair for her bed, she went to spend a quarter of an hour by her mother, whose hand she held throughout the time. Mrs. Hood lay in the same state of semi-consciousness alternating with sleep. In the night she generally wandered a little. But she did not seem to suffer pain.

To-night Emily could not sleep; hitherto her rest had been profound between sunset and early morning. As she had sat through the day, so she lay now, her eyes fixed in the same intent gaze, as on something unfolding itself before her. When the nurses had ceased to move about, the house was wrapped in a stillness more complete than of old, for the clock had not been touched since the night when the weight fell. In the room you might have heard now and then a deep sigh, such sigh as comes from a soul overcharged.

Mrs. Baxendale allowed one day to intervene, then came again. She did not directly speak of Wilfrid, and only when she sat in significant silence, Emily said:

'To-morrow I shall go downstairs. Will you ask Mr. Athel to come and see me?'

'Gladly I will. At what hour shall he come?'

'I shall be down by eleven.'

Later in the day, Mrs. Cartwright and Jessie called. Hitherto Emily had begged that no one might be admitted save Mrs. Baxendale; she felt it would be unkindness to refuse her friends any longer, and the visitors came up and sat for a while with her. Both were awed by the face which met them; they talked scarcely above a whisper, and were sadly troubled by the necessity of keeping awatch upon their tongues.

Emily was now able to descend the stairs without difficulty. The first sight of the little parlour cost her a renewal of her keenest suffering. There was the couch on which his dead body had been placed; that the chair in which he always rested after tea before going up to the laboratory; in a little frame on the mantelpiece was his likeness, an old one and much faded. She moved about, laying her hand on this object and that; she took the seat by the window where she had waited each evening, till she saw him at the gate, to rise at once and open to him. She had not shed tears since that last day of his life, and now it was only a passing mist that dimmed her eyes. Her sorrow was not of the kind which so relieves itself.

She had come down early, in order to spend some time in the room before Wilfrid's arrival. She sat in her father's chair, once more in the attitude of motionless brooding. But her countenance was not as self-controlled as during the past days; emotions, struggles, at work within her found their outward expression. At times she breathed quickly, as if in pain; often her eyes closed. In her worn face, the features marked themselves with strong significance; it was beauty of a kind only to be felt by a soul in sympathy with her own. To others she would have appeared the image of stern woe. The gentleness which had been so readily observable beneath her habitual gravity was absorbed in the severity of her suffering and spiritual conflicts; only a touching suggestion of endurance, of weakness bearing up against terrible fatality, made its plea to tenderness. Withal, she looked no older than in the days of her happiness; a young life, a young heart, smitten with unutterable woe.

When the sound of the opening gate made itself heard, she lay back for a moment in the very sickness of pain it recalled the past so vividly, and chilled her heart with the fear of what she had now before her. She stood, as soon as the knock came at the front door, and kept the same position as Wilfrid entered.

He was startled at the sight of her, but in an instant was holding both her hands, gazing deep into her eyes with an ecstasy of tenderness. He kissed her lips, and, as he did so, felt a shudder in the hands he pressed. A few whispered words were all that he could speak; Emily kept silence. Then he sat near to her; her hand was still in his, but gave no sign of responsive affection, and was very cold.

'It was kind to let me see you so soon,' he said. Her fixed look of hard suffering began to impress him painfully, even with a kind of fear. Emily's face at this moment was that of one who is only half sensible to words spoken. Now she herself spoke for the first time.

'You will forgive me that I did not write. It would have been better, perhaps; it would have been easier to me. Yet why should I fear to say to you, face to face, what I have to say?'

The last sentence was like self-questioning uttered aloud; her eyes were fixed on him, and with appeal which searched his heart.

'Fear to say to me?' Wilfrid repeated, gravely, though without apprehension. 'Has your suffering made strangers of us?'

'Not in the way you mean, but it has so changed my life that I cannot meet you as I should have done.' Her utterance quickened; her voice lost its steadiness. 'Will you be very generous to me--as good and noble as it is in your heart to be? I ask you to give me back my promise--to release me.

'Emily!'

He gazed at her in bewilderment. His thought was that she was not herself; her manner since his entrance seemed to confirm it; the tortured lines of her face seemed to express illusory fears.

'Emily! Do you know what you say, dearest?'

'Yes; I know what I say, and I know how hard you find it to believe me. If I could explain to you what it is that makes this change, you would not wonder at it, you would understand, you would see that I am doing the only thing I can do. But I cannot give you my reasons; that must be my sad secret to the end of my life. You feel you have a claim to hear the truth; indeed, indeed, you have; but you will be forbearing and generous. Release me, Wilfrid; I ask it as the last and greatest proof of the love you gave me.'

He rose with a gesture of desperation.

'Emily, I cannot bear this! You are ill, my own darling; I should have waited till you were stronger. I should have left you more time to turn your thoughts to me from these terrible things you have passed through.' He flung himself by her side, grasping her hands passionately. 'Dear one, how you have suffered! It kills me to look into your face. I won't speak; let me only stay by you, like this, for a few minutes. Will not my love calm you--love the purest and tenderest that man ever felt? I would die to heal your heart of its grief!'

With a great sob of uttermost anguish, she put back his hands, rose from the chair, and stood apart. Wilfrid rose and gazed at her in dread. Had the last calamity of human nature fallen upon her? He looked about, as if for aid. Emily read his thoughts perfectly; they helped her to a desperate composure.

'Wilfrid,' she said, 'do I speak like one not in her perfect mind?'

'I cannot say. Your words are meaningless to me. You are not the Emily I knew.'

'I am not,' was her sad answer. 'If you can bring yourself to believe that truth, you will spare yourself and me.'

'What do you mean when you say that?' he asked, his voice intensified in suppression. 'If you are in full command of yourself, if your memory holds all the past, what can have made of you another being? We dare not play with words at a time such as this. Tell me at least one thing. Do I know what it was that caused your illness?'

'I don't understand you.'

Her eyes examined him with fear.

'I mean, Emily--was it solely due to that shock you received? Or was there any previous distress?'

'Has anything led you to think there was?' she asked, urgently.

'Mrs. Baxendale tells me you--Emily, why have I to pain you in this way?'

'But tell me--tell me What did she say?'

'That on coming to yourself you did not know of your father's death.'

'It is true; I did not. My illness began before.'

Wilfrid stood with his eyes on the ground.

'Tell me, again,' she said. 'What else did Mrs. Baxendale say?'

'Nothing. Her surprise when she heard this from your mother was as great as mine when it was repeated to me.'

'It is true,' Emily repeated, more calmly, as if relieved. 'I don't try to conceal that there is a reason I may not speak of. Will you not believe that it is strong enough to change my life? If I did not tell you this, you might indeed refuse to listen to me, thinking I was not myself. I cannot tell you more--I cannot, I cannot!'

She pressed her palms upon her forehead; it throbbed with pain scarcely to be borne. Wilfrid, after a moment of wretched hesitation, said gravely:

'What _you forbid me to ask, I may not even wish to know. I have come to regard your will as the seal upon everything that is true and right. Knowing this, seeing me here before you with my best hopes at stake, do you tell me that something has happened which makes the bond between us of no effect, which lays upon you a duty superior to that of the pledge you gave me?'

She met his gaze, and answered firmly, 'I do.'

'Some duty,' he continued, with quivering voice, 'compared with which the sacredness of our love is nothing?'

She trembled from head to foot; then, as if clutching at a last help, said:

'I do not love you.'

And she waited with her head bowed. Wilfrid, taking up his hat, went to her and offered his hand. When hers was given:

'Raise your eyes and look at me, Emily.'

She did so.

'You are still in the shadow of a great grief, and it may well be that all other things seem trivial. I wish to respect you to the uttermost, and I will try to conceive that there is a motive high enough to justify you. But those last words must be repeated--when time has come to your aid--before I can regard them as final.'

He released her hand, and left her....

What was her first sensation, when the door had closed, then the gate without, and Wilfrid in very deed was gone? Was it hopeless misery, failure, dread foresight of the life which she still must live? Rather her mood was that of the martyr who has held firm to the last wrench of torture, who feels that agony is overcome and fear of self surpassed. This possibility had there ever been in Emily, though associating with such variant instincts. Circumstances had brought the occasion which weighed one part of her nature against the other, and with this result.

You may not judge her coldly; yet it is possible to indicate those points which connect her enthusiasm of sacrifice with the reasonings and emotions of the impartial mind. In the moment that she heard of her father's self-destruction, she knew that her own destiny was cast; the struggle with desire, with arguments of her self-love, with claims of others, this also she foresaw and measured. Her resolve came of the interaction of intense feeling, feeling which only process of time could reduce from its morbid predominance, and that idealism which was the keynote of her personality. It was not that she condemned herself for having refused to pay the price which would have saved her father; she may have done so in her wildest paroxysms of grief, but in the silences which ensued she knew that there is an arbiter above natural affection, and that not with impunity could a life be purchased by the death of a soul. She had refused; it might be she would still have refused had she foreseen the worst; but could she move on over her father's body to a life of joy? Not only did piety forbid it; the compassionate voice of her heart cried against what she deemed such cruelty. Her father was dead; nothing that she did henceforth would concern him for good or ill; none the less in her eyes was his claim upon her, the claim of one she had tenderly loved calling to her for pity from that desolate grave. Which of us entirely out-reasons that surviving claim of the beloved dead? Which of us would, in his purest hour, desire to do so? She could not save him, but, as she valued her most precious human privileges, she dared not taste the fruits of life of which he was for ever robbed. Between her and happiness loomed that agonising face, She might disregard it, might close her eyes and press on, might live down the old sacred pity and give herself to absorbing bliss what would be the true value of that she gained? Nay, it was idle to affect that she had the choice. She felt that the first memory of that face in the midst of enjoyment would break her heart. Those last dark hours of his she must live and relive in her own mind. Dead? He was dead? Oh, did not the very tones of his voice linger in the rooms where she sat? Could she not see him enter, hold to her his hand, bend and kiss her? Did she not fancy constantly that his foot sounded on the floor above her, up in the bare little room, where she had parted from him unkindly? Why, death meant but little, for at any moment he was in truth standing by her. Years of unhappiness, and then to be put aside and forgotten as soon as the heavy clods of earth had fallen upon him? To think of that was to be driven almost to madness by the impotence of grief. Rather than allow a joy to tempt her thought, she would cast life from her and be his companion in that narrow home.

And her character brought it about that the very strength of her love for Wilfrid acted as another impulse to renunciation. Which had been the stronger motive in her refusal to sacrifice herself--the preservation of her chaste womanhood, or the inability to give up him she loved? Could she, at the tribunal of her conscience, affirm that her decision had held no mixture of the less pure? Nay, had she not known that revolt of self in which she had maintained that the individual love was supreme, that no title of inferiority became it? She saw now more clearly than then the impossibility of distinguishing those two motives, or of weighing the higher and the lower elements of her love. One way there was, and one way only, of proving to herself that she had not fallen below the worthiness which purest love demanded, that she had indeed offered to Wilfrid a soul whose life was chastity--and that must be utterly to renounce love's earthly reward, and in spirit to be faithful to him while her life lasted. The pain of such renunciation was twofold, for did she not visit him with equal affliction? Had she the right to do that? The question was importunate, and she held it a temptation of her weaker self. Wilfrid would bear with her. He was of noble nature, and her mere assurance of a supreme duty would outweigh his personal suffering. On him lay no obligation of faithfulness to his first love; a man, with the world before him, he would, as was right, find another to share his life. To think that was no light test of steadfastness in Emily the image of Wilfrid loving and loved by another woman wrung the sinews of her heart. That she must keep from her mind; that was more than her strength could face and conquer. It should be enough to love him for ever, without hope, without desire. Faithfulness would cost her no effort to purify herself in ideal devotion would be her sustenance, her solace.

What of her religion of beauty, the faith which had seen its end in the nourishment of every instinct demanding loveliness within and without? What of the ideal which saw the crown of life in passion triumphant, which dreaded imperfectness, which allowed the claims of sense equally with those of spirit, both having their indispensable part in the complete existence? Had it not conspicuously failed where religion should be most efficient? She understood now the timidity which had ever lurked behind her acceptance of that view of life. She had never been able entirely to divest herself of the feeling that her exaltation in beauty-worship was a mood born of sunny days, that it would fail amid shocks of misfortune and prove a mockery in the hour of the soul's dire need. It shared in the unreality of her life in wealthy houses, amid the luxury which appertained only to fortune's favourites, which surrounded her only by chance. She had presumptuously taken to herself the religion of her superiors, of those to whom fate allowed the assurance of peace, of guarded leisure wherein to cultivate the richer and sweeter flowers of their nature. How artificial had been the delights with which she soothed herself! Here, all the time, was the reality; here in this poor home, brooded over by the curse of poverty, whence should come shame and woe and death. What to her now were the elegance of art, the loveliness of nature? Beauty had been touched by mortality, and its hues were of the corpse, of the grave. Would the music of a verse ever again fill her with rapture? How meaningless were all such toys of thought to one whose path lay through the valley of desolation!

Thus did Emily think and feel in this sombre season, the passionate force of her imagination making itself the law of life and the arbiter of her destiny. She could not take counsel with time; her temperament knew nothing of that compromise with ardours and impulses which is the wisdom of disillusion. Circumstances willed that she should suffer by the nobleness of her instincts those endowments which might in a happier lot have exalted her to such perfection of calm joy as humanity may attain, were fated to be the source of misery inconceivable by natures less finely cast.

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A Life's Morning - Chapter 15. Mrs. Baxendale's Quests A Life's Morning - Chapter 15. Mrs. Baxendale's Quests

A Life's Morning - Chapter 15. Mrs. Baxendale's Quests
CHAPTER XV. MRS. BAXENDALE'S QUESTSA servant went to Banbrigg each morning for tidings; Emily, so the report said, moved steadily towards recovery. On the second day after Wilfrid's arrival Mrs. Baxendale took him with her in the brougham, and let him wait for her whilst she made a call upon Mrs. Hood; Wilfrid saw an upper window of which the blind was down against the sun, and would gladly have lingered within sight of it. Beatrice had excused herself from accompanying the two. 'I believe,' Mrs. Baxendale said on the way, 'she has gone to some special service at St. Luke's.'
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