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Etext by Ian Hillman
ONCE upon a time (as if he had lived in a fairy tale) there was a very interesting young man. This is not a fairy tale, and yet our young man was, in some respects, as pretty a fellow as any fairy prince. I call him interesting because his type of character is one I have always found it agreeable to observe. If you fail to consider him so, I shall be willing to confess that the fault is mine and not his; I shall have told my story with too little skill.
His name was Benvolio; that is, it was not; but we shall call him so for the sake both of convenience and of picturesqueness. He was more than twenty-five years old, but he was not yet thirty-five; he had a little property; he followed no regular profession. His personal appearance was in the highest degree prepossessing. Having said this, it were perhaps well that I should let you——you especially, madam——suppose that he exactly corresponded to your idea of a well-favoured young man; but I am bound to explain definitely wherein it was that he resembled a fairy prince, and I need furthermore to make a record of certain little peculiarities and anomalies in which it is probable that your brilliant conception would be deficient. Benvolio was slim and fair, with clustering locks, remarkably fine eyes, and such a frank, expressive smile that, on the journey through life, it was almost as serviceable to its owner as the magic key, or the enchanted ring, or the wishing-cap, or any other bauble of necromantic properties. Unfortunately this charming smile was not always at his command, and its place was sometimes occupied by a very dusky and ill-conditioned frown, which rendered the young man no service whatever——not even that of frightening people; for though it expressed extreme irritation and impatience, it was characterized by the brevity of contempt, and the only revenge upon disagreeable things and offensive people that it seemed to express a desire for on Benvolio's part was that of forgetting and ignoring them with the utmost possible celerity. It never made any one tremble, though now and then it perhaps made sensitive people murmur an imprecation or two. You might have supposed from Benvolio's manner, when he was in good humour (which was the greater part of the time), from his brilliant, intelligent glance, from his easy, irresponsible step, and in especial from the sweet, clear, lingering, caressing tone of his voice——the voice as it were of a man whose fortune has been made for him, and who assumes, a trifle egotistically, that the rest of the world is equally at leisure to share with him the sweets of life, to pluck the wayside flowers, and chase the butterflies afield——you might have supposed, I say, from all this luxurious assurance of demeanour, that our hero really had the wishing-cap sitting invisible on his handsome brow, or was obliged only to close his knuckles together a moment to exert an effective pressure upon the magic ring. The young man, I have said, was compounded of many anomalies; I may say more exactly that he was a tissue of absolute contradictions. He did possess the magic ring, in a certain fashion; he possessed, in other words, the poetic imagination.. Everything that fancy could do for him was done in perfection. It gave him immense satisfactions; it transfigured the world; it made very common objects sometimes seem. radiantly beautiful, and it converted beautiful ones into infinite sources of intoxication. Benvolio had what is called the poetic temperament. It is rather out of fashion to describe a man in these terms; but I believe, in spite of much evidence to the contrary, that there are poets still; and if we may call a spade a spade, why should we not call such a person as Benvolio a poet?
These contradictions that I speak of ran through his whole nature, and they were perfectly apparent in his habits, in his manners, in his conversation, and even in his person. It was as if the souls of two very different men had been thrown together in the same mould and they had agreed, for convenience sake, to use the very vulgar phrase of the day, to run the machine in alternation. The machine with Benvolio was always the imagination; but in his different moods it kept a very different tune. To an acute observer his face itself would have betrayed these variations; and it is certain that his dress, his talk, his way of spending his time, one day and another, abundantly indicated them. Sometimes he looked very young——rosy, radiant, blooming, younger than his years. Then suddenly, as the light struck his head in a particular manner, you would see that his golden locks contained a surprising number of silver threads; and with your attention quickened by this discovery, you would proceed to detect something grave and discreet in his smile——something vague and ghostly, like the dim adumbration of the darker half of the lunar disk. You might have met Benvolio, in certain moods, dressed like a man of the highest fashion——wearing his hat on his ear, a rose in his buttonhole, a wonderful intaglio or an antique Syracusan coin, by way of a pin, in his cravat. Then, on the morrow, you would have espied him braving the sunshine in a rusty scholars coat, with his hat pulled over his brow——a costume wholly at odds with flowers and gems. It was all a matter of fancy; but his fancy was a weather-cock and faced east or west, as the wind blew. His conversation matched his coat and trowsers; he talked one day the talk of the town; he chattered, he gossiped, he asked questions and told stories; you would have said that he was a charming fellow for a dinner party or the pauses of a cotillion. The next he either talked philosophy or politics, or said nothing at all; he was absent and indifferent; he was thinking his own thoughts; he had a book in his pocket, and evidently he was composing one in his head. At home he lived in two chambers. One was an immense room hung with pictures, lined with books, draped with rugs and tapestries, decorated with a multitude of ingenious devices (for of all these things he was very fond); the other, his sleeping-room, was almost as bare as a monastic cell. It had a meagre little strip of carpet on the floor, and a dozen well-thumbed volumes of classic poets and sages on the mantel-shelf. On the wall hung three or four coarsely engraved portraits of the most exemplary of these worthies; these were the only ornaments. But the room had the charm of a great window, in a deep embrasure, looking out upon a tangled, silent, moss-grown garden, and in the embrasure stood the little ink-blotted table at which Benvolio did most of his poetic scribbling. The windows of his sumptuous sitting-room commanded a wide public square, where people were always passing and lounging, where military music used to play on vernal nights, and half the life of the great town went forward. At the risk of your thinking our hero a sad idler, I will say that he spent an inordinate amount of time in gazing out of these windows (on either side), with his elbows on the sill. The garden did not belong to the house which he inhabited, but to a neighbouring one, and the proprietor, a graceless old miser, was very chary of permits to visit his domain. But Benvolio's fancy used to wander through the alleys without stirring the long arms of the untended plants, and to bend over the heavy-headed flowers without leaving a footprint on their beds. It was here that his happiest thoughts came to him——that inspiration (as we may say, speaking of a man of the poetic temperament) descended upon him in silence, and for certain divine, appreciable moments stood poised along the course of his scratching quill It was not, however, that he had not spent some very charming hours in the larger, richer apartment. He used to receive his friends there sometimes in great numbers, sometimes at boisterous, many-voiced suppers, which lasted far into the night. When these entertainments were over he never made a direct transition to his little scholars cell, with its garden view. He went out and wandered for an hour through the dark, sleeping streets of the town, ridding himself of the fumes of wine, and feeling not at all, tipsy, but intensely, portentously sober. More than once, when he came back and prepared to go to bed, he had seen the first faint glow of dawn trembling upward over the tree tops of his garden. His friends, coming to see him, often found the greater room empty, and, advancing, pounded at the door of his chamber. But he frequently kept quiet, not desiring in the least to see them, knowing exactly what they were going to say, and not thinking it worth hearing. Then, hearing them stride away, and the outer door close behind them, he would come forth and take a turn in his slippers, over his Persian carpets, and glance out of the window and see his defeated visitant stand scratching his chin in the sunny square, and then laugh lightly to himself——as is said to be the habit of the scribbling tribe in moments of production.
Although he had a family he enjoyed extreme liberty. His family was so large, his brothers and sisters so numerous, that he could absent himself constantly and be little missed. Sometimes he used this privilege freely; he tired of people whom he had seen very often, and he had seen, of course, an immense deal of his family. At others he was extremely domestic; he suddenly found solitude depressing, and it seemed to him that if one sought society as a refuge, one needed to be on familiar terms with it, and that with no one was familiarity so natural as among people who had grown up at a common fireside. Nevertheless it frequently occurred to him——for sooner or later everything occurred to him——that he was too independent and irresponsible; that he would be happier if his hands were sometimes tied, so long as the knot were not too tight. His curiosity about all things was great, and he satisfied it largely whenever the occasion offered itself; but as the years went by this pursuit of impartial science appeared to produce a singular result. He became conscious of an intellectual condition similar to that of a palate which has lost its relish. To a man with a disordered appetite all things taste alike, and so it seemed to Benvolio that his imagination was losing its sense of a better and a worse. It had still its glowing moments, its feasts and its holidays; but, on the whole, the spectacle of human life was growing flat and stale. This is simply a wordy way of expressing that pregnantly synthetic fact——Benvolio was blasé. He knew it, he knew it betimes, and he regretted it acutely. He believed that such a consummation was not absolutely necessary——especially at his time of life; for he said to himself that there must be a way of using ones faculties which will keep their edges sharp. There was a certain possible economy in ones dealings with life which would make the two ends meet at the last. What was it? The wise man's duty was to find it out. One of its rudiments, he believed, was that one grows tired of ones self sooner than of anything else in the world. Idleness, every one admitted, was the greatest of follies; but idleness was subtle and exacted tribute under a hundred plausible disguises. One was often idle when one seemed to be ardently occupied; one was always idle (it might be concluded) when one's occupations had not a high aim. One was idle therefore when one was working simply for one's self. Curiosity for curiosity's sake, art for art's sake, these were essentially broken-winded steeds. Ennui was at the end of everything that did not entangle us somehow with human life. To get entangled, therefore, pondered Benvolio, should be the wise man's aim. Poor Benvolio had to ponder all this, because, as I say, he was a poet and not a man of action. A fine fellow of the latter stamp would have solved the problem without knowing it, and bequeathed to his fellow men not cold formulas but vivid examples. But Benvolio had often said to himself that he was born to imagine great things not to do them; and he had said this by no means sadly, for, on the whole, he was very well content with his portion. Imagine them he determined he would, and on a most magnificent scale. He would entangle himself at least in a mesh of work——work of the most profound and elaborate sort. He would handle great ideas, he would enunciate great truths, he would write immortal verses. In all this there was a large amount of talent and a liberal share of ambition. I will not say that Benvolio was a man of genius; it may seem to make the distinction too cheap; but he was at any rate a man with an intellectual passion; and if, being near him, you had been able to listen intently enough, he would, like the great people of his craft, have seemed to emit something of that vague, magical murmur——the voice of the infinite——which lurks in the involutions of a sea-shell. He himself, by the way, had once made use of this little simile, and had written a poem in which it was melodiously set forth that the poetic minds scattered about the world correspond to the little shells one picks up on the beach, all resonant with the echo of ocean. The whole thing was of course rounded off with the sands of time, the waves of history, and other harmonious conceits.
BUT (as you are naturally expecting to hear) Benvolio knew perfectly well that there is one way of getting entangled which is far more effectual than any other——the way that a charming woman points out. Benvolio was of course in love. Who was his mistress, you ask (I flatter myself with some impatience), and was she pretty, was she kind, was he successful? Hereby hangs my tale, which I must relate categorically.
Benvolio's mistress was a lady whom (as I cannot tell you her real name) it will be quite in keeping to speak of as the Countess. The Countess was a young widow, who had some time since divested herself of her mourning weeds——which indeed she had never worn but very lightly. She was rich, extremely pretty, and free to do as pleased her. She was passionately fond of pleasure and admiration, and they gushed forth at her feet in unceasing streams. Her beauty was not of the conventional type, but it was dazzlingly brilliant; few faces were more expressive, more fascinating. Hers was never the same for two days together; it reflected her momentary circumstances with extraordinary vividness, and in knowing her you had the advantage of knowing a dozen different women. She was clever and accomplished, and had the credit of being perfectly amiable; indeed, it was difficult to imagine a person combining a greater number of the precious gifts of nature and fortune. She represented felicity, gaiety, success; she was made to charm, to play a part, to exert a sway. She lived in a great house, behind high verdure-muffled walls, where other Countesses, in other years, had been the charm and the envy of their time. It was an antiquated quarter, into which the tide of commerce had lately begun to roll heavily; but the turbid waves of trade broke in vain against the Countess's enclosure, and if in her garden and her drawing-room you heard the deep uproar of the city, it was only as a vague undertone to sweeter things——to music, and witty talk, and tender dialogue. There was something very striking in this unyielding, elegant privacy, in the midst of public toil and traffic.
Benvolio was a great deal at this lady's house; he rarely desired better entertainment. I spoke just now of privacy; but privacy was not what he found there, nor what he wished to find. He went there when he wished to learn with the least trouble what was going on in the world, for the talk of the people the Countess generally had about her was an epitome of the gossip, the rumours, the interests, the hopes and fears of polite society. She was a thoroughly liberal hostess; all she asked was to be entertained; if you would contribute to the common fund of amusement, of discussion, you were a welcome guest. Sooner or later, among your fellow-guests, you encountered every one of consequence. There were frivolous people and wise people; people whose fortune was in their pockets, and people whose fortune was in their brains; people deeply concerned in public affairs, and people concerned only with the fit of their garments or with the number of the people who looked round when their names were announced. Benvolio, who liked a large and various social spectacle, appreciated all this; but he was best pleased, as a general thing, when he found the Countess alone. This was often his fortune, for the simple reason that when the Countess expected him, she invariably had herself refused to every one else. This is almost an answer to your inquiry whether Benvolio was successful in his suit. As yet, strictly speaking, there was no suit. Benvolio had never made love to the Countess. This sounds very strange, but it is nevertheless true. He was in love with her; he thought her the most charming creature conceivable; he spent hours with her alone by her own orders; he had had opportunity——he had been up to his neck in opportunity——and yet he had never said to her, as would have seemed so natural, “Dear Countess, I beseech you to be my wife.” If you are surprised, I may also confide to you that the Countess was; and surprise under the circumstances very easily became displeasure. It is by no means certain that if Benvolio had made the little speech we have just imagined, the Countess would have fallen into his arms, confessed to a mutual flame, and rung in finis to our tale, with the wedding bells. But she nevertheless expected him in civility to pay her this supreme compliment. Her answer would be what it might be; but his silence was a permanent offence. Every man, roughly speaking, had asked the Countess to marry him, and every man had been told that she was much obliged, but had no idea of marrying. Now here, with the one man who failed to ask her, she had a great idea of it, and his forbearance gave her more to think about than all the importunities of all her other suitors. The truth was she liked Benvolio extremely, and his independence rendered him excellent service. The Countess had a very lively fancy, and she had fingered, nimbly enough, the volume of the young man's merits. She was by nature a trifle cold; she rarely lost her head; she measured each step as she took it; she had had little fancies and incipient passions; but on the whole she had thought much more about love than felt it. She had often tried to form an image mentally of the sort of man it would be well for her to love——for so it was she expressed it. She had succeeded but indifferently, and her imagination had gone a-begging until the day she met Benvolio. Then it seemed to her that her quest was ended——her prize gained. This nervous, ardent, deep-eyed youth struck her as the harmonious counterpart of her own facile personality. This conviction rested with the Countess on a fine sense of propriety which it would be vain to attempt to analyse; he was different from herself and from the other men who surrounded her, and to be complete it seemed to her that she ought to have something of that sort in her train. In the old days she would have had it in the person of a troubadour or a knight-errant; now, a woman who was in her own right a considerable social figure might conveniently annex it in the form of a husband. I don't know how good a judge the Countess was of such matters, but she believed that the world would hear of Benvolio. She had beauty, ancestry, money, luxury, but she had not genius; and if genius was to be had, why not secure it, and complete the list? This is doubtless a rather coarse statement of the Countess's argument; but you have it thrown in gratis, as it were; for all I am bound to tell you is that this charming young woman took a fancy to this clever young man, and that she used to cry sometimes for a quarter of a minute when she imagined he didn't care for her. Her tears were wasted, because he did care for her——more even than she would have imagined if she had taken a favourable view of the case. But Benvolio, I cannot too much repeat, was an exceedingly complex character, and there was many a hiatus in the logic of his conduct. The Countess charmed him, excited him, interested him; he did her abundant justice——more than justice; but at the end of all he felt that she failed to satisfy him. If a man could have half a dozen wives——and Benvolio had once maintained, poetically, that he ought to have——the Countess would do very well for one of them——possibly even for the best of them. But she would not serve for all seasons and all moods; she needed a complement, an alternative——what the French call a repoussoir. One day he was going to see her, knowing that he was expected. There was to be a number of other people in fact, a very brilliant assembly; but Benvolio knew that a certain touch of the hand, a certain glance of the eye, a certain caress of the voice, would be reserved for him alone. Happy Benvolio, you will say, to be going about the world with such charming secrets as this locked up in his young heart! Happy Benvolio indeed; but mark how he trifled with his happiness. He went to the Countess's gate, but he went no further; he stopped, stood there a moment, frowning intensely, and biting the finger of his glove; then suddenly he turned and strode away in the opposite direction. He walked and walked and left the town behind him. He went his way till he reached the country, and here he bent his steps toward a little wood which he knew very well, and whither indeed, on a spring afternoon, when she had taken a fancy to play at shepherd and shepherdess, he had once come with the Countess. He flung himself on the grass, on the edge of the wood——not in the same place where he had lain at the Countess's feet, pulling sonnets put of his pocket and reading them one by one; a little stream flowed beside him; opposite, the sun was declining; the distant city lay before him, lifting its towers and chimneys against the reddening western sky. The twilight fell and deepened and the stars came out. Benvolio lay there thinking that he preferred them to the Countess's wax candles. He went back to town in a farmers wagon, talking with the honest rustic who drove it.
Very much in this way, when he had been on the point of knocking at the gate of the Countess's heart and asking ardently to be admitted, he had paused, stood frowning, and then turned short and rambled away into solitude. She never knew how near, two or three times, he had come. Two or three times she had accused him of being rude, and this was nothing but the backward swing of the pendulum. One day it seemed to her that he was altogether too vexatious, and she reproached herself with her good nature. She had made herself too cheap; such conduct was beneath her dignity; she would take another tone. She closed her door to him, and bade her people say, whenever he came, that she was engaged. At first Benvolio only wondered. Oddly enough, he was not what is commonly called sensitive; he never supposed you meant to offend him; not being at all impertinent himself, he was not on the wait for impertinence in others. Only, when he fairly caught you in the act he was immensely disgusted. Therefore, as I say, he simply wondered what had suddenly made the Countess so busy; then he remembered certain other charming persons whom he knew, and went to see how the world wagged with them. But they rendered the Countess eminent service: she gained by comparison, and Benvolio began to miss her. All that other charming women were who led the life of the world (as it is called) the Countess was in a superior, in a perfect degree; she was the ripest fruit of a high civilization; her companions and rivals, beside her, had but a pallid bloom, an acrid savour. Benvolio had a relish in all things for the best, and he found himself breathing sighs under the Countess's darkened windows. He wrote to her asking why in the world she treated him so cruelly, and then she knew that her charm was working. She was careful not to answer his letter, and to have him refused at her gate as inexorably as ever. It is an ill wind that blows nobody good, and Benvolio, one night after his dismissal, wandered about the moonlit streets till nearly morning, composing the finest verses he had ever produced. The subscribers to the magazine to which he sent them were at least the gainers. But unlike many poets, Benvolio did not on this occasion bury his passion in his poem; or if he did, its ghost was stalking abroad the very next night. He went again to the Countess's gate, and again it was closed in his face. So, after a very moderate amount of hesitation, he bravely (and with a dexterity which surprised him), scaled her garden wall and dropped down in the moonshine, upon her lawn. I don't know whether she was expecting him, but if she had been, the matter could not have been better arranged. She was sitting in a little niche of shrubbery, with no protector but a microscopic lap-dog. She pretended to be scandalized at his audacity, but his audacity carried the hour. This time certainly, thought the Countess, he will make his declaration. He didn't jump that wall, at the risk of his neck, simply to ask me for a cup of tea. Not a bit of it; Benvolio was devoted, but he was not more explicit than before. He declared that this was the happiest hour of his life; that there was a charming air of romance in his position; that honestly, he thanked the Countess for having made him desperate; that he would never come to see her again but by the garden wall; that something, to-night——what was it?——was vastly becoming to her; that he devoutly hoped she would receive no one else; that his admiration for her was unbounded; that the stars, finally, had a curious pink light! He looked at her, through the flower-scented dusk, with admiring eyes; but he looked at the stars as well; he threw back his head and folded his arms, and let the conversation flag while he examined the constellations. He observed also the long shafts of light proceeding from the windows of the house, as they fell upon the lawn and played among the shrubbery. The Countess had always thought him a strange man, but tonight she thought him stranger than ever. She became satirical, and the point of her satire was that he was after all but a dull fellow; that his admiration was a poor compliment; that he would do well to turn his attention to astronomy! In answer to this he came perhaps (to the Countess's sense) as near as he had ever come to making a declaration.
“Dear lady,” he said, “you don't begin to know how much I admire you!”
She left her place at this, and walked about her lawn, looking at him askance while he talked, trailing her embroidered robe over the grass, and fingering the folded petals of her flowers. He made a sort of sentimental profession of faith; he assured her that she represented his ideal of a certain sort of woman. This last phrase made her pause a moment and stare at him, wide-eyed. “Oh, I mean the finest sort,” he cried——"the sort that exerts the widest sway. You represent the world and everything that the world can give, and you represent them at their best——in their most generous, most graceful, most inspiring form. If a man were a revolutionist, you would reconcile him to society. You are a divine embodiment of all the amenities, the refinements, the complexities of life! You are the flower of urbanity, of culture, of tradition! You are the product of so many influences that it widens one's horizon to know you; of you too it is true that to admire you is a liberal education! Your charm is irresistible; I never approach you without feeling it.”
Compliments agreed with the Countess, as we may say; they not only made her happier, but they made her better. It became a matter of conscience with her to deserve them. These were magnificent ones, and she was by no means indifferent to them. Her cheek faintly flushed, her eyes vaguely glowed, and though her beauty, in the literal sense, was questionable, all that Benvolio said of her had never seemed more true. He said more in the same strain, and she listened without interrupting him. But at last she suddenly became impatient; it seemed to her that this was after all a tolerably inexpensive sort of tribute. But she did not betray her impatience with any petulance; she simply shook her finger a moment, to enjoin silence, and then she said, in a voice of extreme gentleness——"You have too much imagination!” He answered that to do her perfect justice, he had too little. To this she replied that it was not of her any longer he was talking; he had left her far behind. He was spinning fancies about some highly subtilized figment of his brain. The best answer to this, it seemed to Benvolio, was to seize her hand and kiss it. I don't know what the Countess thought of this form of argument; I incline to think it both pleased and vexed her; it was at once too much and too little. She snatched her hand away and went rapidly into the house. Although Benvolio immediately followed her, he was unable to overtake her; she had retired into impenetrable seclusion. A short time afterward she left town and went for the summer to an estate which she possessed in a distant part of the country.
BENVOLIO was extremely fond of the country, but he remained in town after all his friends had departed. Many of them made him say he would come and see them. He promised, or half promised, but when he reflected that in almost every case he would find a house full of fellow-guests, to whose pursuits he would have to conform, and that if he rambled away with a valued duodecimo in his pocket to spend the morning alone in the woods, he would be denounced as a marplot and a selfish brute, he felt no great desire to pack his bag. He had, as we know, his moods of expansion and of contraction; he had been tolerably expansive for many months past, and now the tide of contraction had set in. And then I suspect the foolish fellow had no money to travel withal. He had lately put all his available funds into the purchase of a picture——an estimable work of the Venetian school, suddenly thrown into the market. It was offered for a moderate sum, and Benvolio, who was one of the first to see it, secured it and hung it triumphantly in his room. It had all the classic Venetian glow, and he used to lie on his divan by the hour, gazing at it. It had, indeed, a peculiar property, of which I have known no other example. Most pictures that are remarkable for their colour (especially if they have been painted a couple of centuries) need a flood of sunshine on the canvas to bring it out.. But this one seemed to have a hidden radiance of its own, which showed brightest when the room was half darkened. When Benvolio wished especially to enjoy his treasure he dropped his Venetian blinds, and the picture glowed forth into the cool dusk with enchanting effect. It represented, in a fantastic way, the story of Perseus and Andromeda——the beautiful naked maiden chained to a rock, on which, with picturesque incongruity, a wild fig-tree was growing; the green Adriatic tumbling at her feet, and a splendid brown-limbed youth in a curious helmet hovering near her on a winged horse. The journey his fancy made as he lay and looked at his picture Benvolio preferred to any journey he might make by the public conveyances.
But he resorted for entertainment, as he had often done before, to the windows overlooking the old garden behind his house. As the summer deepened of course the charm of the garden increased. It grew more tangled and bosky and mossy, and sent forth sweeter and heavier odours into the neighbouring air. It was a perfect solitude: Benvolio had never seen a visitor there. One day, therefore, at this time, it puzzled him most agreeably to perceive a young girl sitting under one of the trees. She sat there a long time, and though she was at a distance, he managed, by looking long enough, to make out that she was pretty. She was dressed in black, and when she left her place her step had a kind of nun-like gentleness and demureness. Although she was alone, she seemed shy and half-startled. She wandered away and disappeared from sight, save that here and there he saw her white parasol gleaming in the gaps of the foliage. Then she came back to her seat under the great tree, and remained there for some time, arranging in her lap certain flowers that she had gathered. Then she rose again and vanished, and Benvolio waited in vain for her return. She had evidently gone into the house. The next day he saw her again, and the next, and the next. On these occasions she had a book in her hand, and she sat in her former place a long time, and read it with an air of great attention. Now and then she raised her head and glanced toward the house as if to keep something in sight which divided her care; and once or twice she laid down her book and tripped away to her hidden duties with a lighter step than she had shown the first day. Benvolio had a fancy that she had an invalid parent, or a relation of some kind, who was unable to walk, and had been moved into a window overlooking the garden. She always took up her book again when she came back, and bent her pretty head over it with charming earnestness. Benvolio had already discovered that her head was pretty. He fancied it resembled a certain exquisite little head on a Greek silver coin which lay, with several others, in an agate cup on his table. You see he had also already taken to fancying, and I offer this as the excuse for his staring at his modest neighbour by the hour in this inordinately idle fashion. But he was not really idle, because he was——I can't say falling in love with her: he knew her too little for that, and besides, he was in love with the Countess——but because he was at any rate cudgelling his brains about her. Who was she? what was she? why had he never seen her before? The house in which she apparently lived was on another street from Benvolio's own, but he went out of his way on purpose to look at it. It was an ancient, grey, sad-faced structure, with grated windows on the ground floor; it looked like a convent or a prison. Over a wall, beside it, there tumbled into the street some stray tendrils of a wild vine from Benvolio's garden. Suddenly Benvolio began to fancy that the book the young girl in the garden was reading was none other than a volume of his own, put forth some six months before. His volume had a white cover and so had this; white covers are rather rare, and there was nothing impossible either in this young lady's reading his book or in her finding it interesting. Very many other women had done the same. Benvolio's neighbour had a pencil in her pocket, which she every now and then drew forth, to make with it a little mark on her page. This quiet gesture gave the young man an exquisite pleasure.
I am ashamed to say how much time he spent, for a week, at his window. Every day the young girl came into the garden. At last there befell a rainy day——a long, warm summer's rain——and she staid within doors. He missed her quite acutely, and wondered, half smiling, half-frowning, at her absence making such a difference with him. He actually depended upon her. He didn't know her name; he knew neither the colour of her eyes nor the shade of her hair, nor the sound of her voice; it was very likely that if he were to meet her face to face elsewhere, he would not recognize her. But she interested him; he liked her; he found her little indefinite, black-dressed figure sympathetic. He used to find the Countess sympathetic, and certainly the Countess was as unlike this quiet garden nymph as she could very well be and be yet a charming woman. Benvolio's sympathies, as we know, were broad. After the rain the young girl came out again, and now she had another book, having apparently finished Benvolio's. He was gratified to observe that she bestowed upon this one a much more wandering attention. Sometimes she let it drop listlessly at her side, and seemed to lose herself in maidenly reverie. Was she thinking how much more beautiful Benvolio's verses were than others of the day? Was she perhaps repeating them to herself? It charmed Benvolio to suppose she might be; for he was not spoiled in this respect. The Countess knew none of his poetry by heart; she was nothing of a reader. She had his book on her table, but he once noticed that half the leaves were uncut.
After a couple of days of sunshine the rain came back again, to our hero's infinite annoyance, and this time it lasted several days. The garden lay dripping and desolate; its charm had quite departed. These days passed gloomily for Benvolio; he decided that rainy weather, in summer, in town, was intolerable. He began to think of the Countess again. He was sure that over her broad lands the summer sun was shining. He saw them, in envious fancy, studded with joyous Watteau groups, feasting and making music under the shade of ancestral beeches. What a charming life! he thought——what brilliant, enchanted, memorable days! He had said the very reverse of all this, as you remember, three weeks before. I don't know that he had ever formulated the idea that men of imagination are not bound to be consistent, but he certainly conformed to its spirit. We are not, however, by any means at the end of his inconsistencies. He immediately wrote a letter to the Countess asking her if he might pay her a visit.
Shortly after he had sent his letter the weather mended, and he went out to take a walk. The sun was near setting; the streets were all ruddy and golden with its light, and the scattered rain-clouds, broken into a thousand little particles, were flecking the sky like a shower of opals and amethysts. Benvolio stopped, as he sauntered along, to gossip a while with his friend the bookseller. The bookseller was a foreigner and a man of taste; his shop was on the corner of the great square. When Benvolio went in he was serving a lady, and the lady was dressed in black. Benvolio just now found it natural to notice a lady who was dressed in black, and the fact that this lady's face was averted made observation at once more easy and more fruitless. But at last her errand was finished; she had been ordering several books, and the bookseller was writing down their names. Then she turned round, and Benvolio saw her face, He stood staring at her most inconsiderately, for he felt an immediate certainty that she was the bookish damsel of the garden. She gave a glance round the shop, at the books on the walls, at the prints and busts, the apparatus of learning, in various forms, that it contained, and then, with the gentle, half-furtive step which Benvolio now knew so well, she took her departure. Benvolio seized the startled bookseller by the two hands and besieged him with questions. The bookseller, however, was able to answer but few of them. The young girl had been in his shop but once before, and had simply left an address, without any name. It was the address of which Benvolio had assured himself. The books she had ordered were all learned works disquisitions on philosophy, on history, on the natural sciences. She seemed an expert in such matters. For some of the volumes that she had just bespoken the bookseller was to send to foreign countries; the others were to be despatched that evening to the address which the young girl had left. As Benvolio stood there the bibliophilist gathered these latter together, and while he was so engaged he uttered a little cry of distress: one of the volumes of a set was missing. The book was a rare one, and it would be hard to repair the loss. Benvolio on the instant had an inspiration; he demanded leave of his friend to act as messenger: he would carry the books, as if he came from the shop, and he would explain the absence of the lost volume, and the booksellers views about replacing it, far better than one of the hirelings. He asked leave, I say, but he did not wait till it was given: he snatched up the pile of books and strode triumphantly away!
AS there was no name on the parcel, Benvolio, on reaching the old grey house, over the wall of whose court an adventurous creeper stretched its long arm into the street, found himself wondering in what terms he should ask to have speech of the person for whom the books were intended. At any hazard he was determined not to retreat until he had caught a glimpse of the interior and its inhabitants; for this was the same man, you must remember, who had scaled the moonlit wall of the Countess's garden. An old serving woman in a quaint cap answered his summons, and stood blinking out at the fading daylight from a little wrinkled white face, as if she had never been compelled to take so direct a look at it before. He informed her that he had come from the booksellers, and that he had been charged with a personal message for the venerable gentleman who had bespoken the parcel. Might he crave license to speak with him? This obsequious phrase was an improvisation of the moment: of course it was hit or miss. But Benvolio had an indefinable conviction that it was rightly aimed; the only thing that surprised him was the quiet complaisance of the old woman.
“If it's on a bookish errand you come, sir,” she said with a little wheezy sigh, “I suppose I only do my duty in admitting you!”
She led him into the house, through various dusky chambers, and at last ushered him into an apartment of which the side opposite to the door was occupied by a broad, low casement. Through its small old panes there came a green dim light——the light of the low western sun shining through the wet trees of the famous garden. Everything else was ancient and brown; the walls were covered with tiers upon tiers of books. Near the window, in the still twilight, sat two persons, one of whom rose as Benvolio came in. This was the young girl of the garden——the young girl of an hour since at the booksellers. The other was an old man who turned his head, but otherwise sat quite still.
Both his movements and his stillness immediately announced to Benvolio's fine sense that he was blind. In his quality of poet Benvolio was inventive; a brain that is constantly cudgelled for rhymes is tolerably alert. In a few moments, therefore, he had given a vigorous push to the wheel of fortune. Various things had happened. He had made a soft, respectful speech, he hardly knew about what; and the old man had told him he had a delectable voice——a voice that seemed to belong rather to a person of education than to a tradesman's porter. Benvolio confessed to having picked up an education, and the old man had thereupon bidden the young girl offer him a seat. Benvolio chose his seat where he could see her, as she sat at the low-browed casement. The bookseller on the square thought it likely Benvolio would come back that evening and give him an account of his errand, and before he closed his shop he looked up and down the street, to see whether the young man was approaching. Benvolio came, but the shop was closed. He didn't notice it: he walked three times round the great Place without noticing it. He was thinking of something else. He had sat all the evening with the blind old scholar and his daughter, and he was thinking intently, ardently of them. When I say of them, of course I mean of the daughter.
A few days afterward he got a note from the Countess saying it would give her pleasure to receive his visit. He immediately wrote to her that, with a thousand regrets, he found himself urgently occupied in town and must beg leave to defer his departure for a day or two. The regrets were perfectly sincere, but the plea was none the less valid. Benvolio had become deeply interested in his tranquil neighbours, and, for the moment, a certain way the young girl had of looking at him——fixing her eyes, first, with a little vague, half-absent smile, on an imaginary point above his head, and then slowly dropping them till they met his own——was quite sufficient to make him happy. He had called once more on her father, and once more, and yet once more, and he had a vivid prevision that he would often call again. He had been in the garden and found its mild mouldiness even more delightful on a nearer view. He had pulled off his very ill-fitting mask, and let his neighbours know that his trade was not to carry parcels, but to scribble verses. The old man had never heard of his verses; he read nothing that had been published later than the sixth century; and nowadays he could read only with his daughters eyes. Benvolio had seen the little white volume on the table, and assured himself it was his own; and he noted the fact that in spite of its well-thumbed air, the young girl had never given her father a hint of its contents. I said just now that several things had happened in the first half hour of Benvolio's first visit. One of them was that this modest maiden fell most positively in love with him. What happened when she learned that he was the author of the little white volume I hardly know how to express; her innocent passion, I suppose, passed from the positive to the superlative degree. Benvolio possessed an old quarto volume, bound in Russia leather, about which there clung an agreeable pungent odour. In this old quarto he kept a sort of diary——if that can be called a diary in which a whole year had sometimes been allowed to pass without an entry. On the other hand, there were some interminable records of a single day. Turning it over you would have chanced, not infrequently, upon the name of the Countess; and at this time you would have observed on every page some mention of. the Professor and of a certain person named Scholastica. Scholastica, we immediately guess, was the Professors daughter. Very likely this was not her own name, but it was the name by which Benvolio preferred to know her, and we needn't be more exact than he. By this time of course he knew a great deal about her, and about her venerable sire. The Professor, before the loss of his eyesight and his health, had been one of the stateliest pillars of the University. He was now an old man; he had married late in life. When his infirmities came upon him he gave up his chair and his classes and buried himself in his library. He made his daughter his reader and his secretary, and his prodigious memory assisted her clear young voice and her steady-moving pen. He was held in great honour in the scholastic world; learned men came from afar to consult the blind sage, and to appeal to his wisdom as to the ultimate law. The University settled a pension upon him, and he dwelt in a dusky corner, among the academic shades. The pension was small, but the old scholar and the young girl lived with conventual simplicity. It so happened, however, that he had a brother, or rather a half brother, who was not a bookish man, save as regarded his ledger and daybook. This personage had made money in trade, and had retired, wifeless and childless, into the old grey house attached to Benvolio's garden. He had the reputation of a skinflint, a curmudgeon, a bloodless old miser who spent his days in shuffling about his mouldy old house, making his pockets jingle, and his nights in lifting his money-bags out of trapdoors, and counting over his hoard. He was nothing but a chilling shadow, an evil name, a pretext for a curse: no one had ever seen him, much less crossed his threshold. But it seemed that he had a soft spot in his heart. He wrote one day to his brother, whom he had not seen for years, that the rumour had come to him that he was blind, infirm, and poor; that he himself had a large house with a garden behind it, and that if the Professor was not too proud, he was welcome to come and lodge there. The Professor had come in this way a few weeks before, and though it would seem that to a sightless old ascetic all lodgings might be the same, he took a great satisfaction in this one. His daughter found it a paradise, compared with their two narrow chambers under the old gable of the University, where, amid the constant coming and going of students, a young girl was compelled to lead a cloistered life.
Benvolio had assigned as his motive for intrusion, when he had been obliged to confess to his real character, an irresistible desire to ask the old man's opinion on certain knotty points of philosophy. This was a pardonable fiction, for the event, at any rate, justified it. Benvolio, when he was fairly launched in a philosophical discussion, forgot that there was anything in the world but metaphysics; he revelled in transcendent abstractions, and became unconscious of all concrete things even of that most brilliant of concrete things, the Countess. He longed to embark on a voyage of discovery on the great sea of pure reason. He knew that from such voyages the deep-browed adventurer rarely returns; but if he finds an El Dorado of thought, why should he regret the dusky world of fact? Benvolio had much high discourse with the Professor, who was a devout Neo-Platonist, and whose venerable wit had spun to subtler tenuity the ethereal speculations of the Alexandrian school. Benvolio at this season vowed that study and science were the only game in life worth the candle, and wondered how he could ever for an instant have thought otherwise. He turned off a little poem in the style of Milton's “Penseroso", which, if it had not quite the merit of that famous effusion, was at least the young mans s own happiest performance. When Benvolio liked a thing he liked it as a whole——it appealed to all his senses. He relished its accidents, its accessories, its material envelope. In the satisfaction he took in his visits to the Professor it would have been hard to say where the charm of philosophy began or ended. If it began with a glimpse of the old mans mild, sightless blue eyes, sitting fixed beneath his shaggy white brows like patches of pale winter sky under a high-piled cloud, it hardly ended before it reached the little black bow on Scholastica's slipper; and certainly it had taken a comprehensive sweep in the interval. There was nothing in his friends that the appreciative fellow did not feel an immense kindness for. Their seclusion, their stillness, their super-simple notions of the world and the worlds ways, the faint, musty perfume of the University which hovered about them, their brown old apartment, impenetrable to the rumours of the town——all these things were part of the charm. Then the essence of it perhaps was that in this silent, simple life the intellectual key, if you touched it, was so finely resonant. In the way of thought there was nothing into which his friends were not initiated——nothing they could not understand. The mellow light of their low-browed room, streaked with the moted rays that slanted past the dusky bookshelves, was the atmosphere of culture. All this made them, humble folk as they were, not so simple as they at first appeared. They, too, in their own fashion, knew the world; they were not people to be patronized; to visit them was not a condescension but a privilege.
In the Professor this was not surprising. He had passed fifty years in arduous study, and it was proper to his character and his office that he should be erudite, impressive, and venerable. But sweet Scholastica seemed to Benvolio at first almost grotesquely wise. She was an anomaly, a prodigy, a charming monstrosity. Charming, at any rate, she was, and as pretty, I must lose no more time in saying, as had seemed likely to Benvolio at his window. And yet, even on a nearer view, her prettiness shone forth slowly and half-dimly. It was as if it had been covered with a series of film-like veils, which had to be successively drawn aside. And then it was such a homely, shrinking, subtle prettiness, that Benvolio, in the private record I have mentioned, never thought of calling it by the arrogant name of beauty. He called it by no name at all; he contented himself with enjoying it——with looking into the young girls mild grey eyes and saying things, on purpose, that caused her candid smile to deepen until (like the broadening ripple of a lake) it reached a certain dimple in her left cheek. This was its maximum; no smile could do more, and Benvolio desired nothing better. Yet I cannot say he was in love with the young girl; he only liked her. But he liked her, no doubt, as a man likes a thing but once in his life. As he knew her better the oddity of her learning quite faded away; it seemed delightfully natural, and he only wondered why there were not more women of the same pattern. Scholastica had imbibed the wine of science instead of her mothers milk. Her mother had died in her infancy, leaving her cradled in an old folio, three-quarters opened, like a wide V. Her father had been her nurse, her playmate, her teacher, her life-long companion, her only friend. He taught her the Greek alphabet before she knew her own, and fed her with crumbs from his own scholastic revels. She had taken submissively what was given her, and, without knowing it, she grew up a learned maiden.
Benvolio perceived that she was not in the least a woman of genius. The passion for knowledge, of its own motion, would never have carried her far. But she had a clear, tranquil, natural mind, which gave back an exact, definite image of everything that was presented to it; the sort of intelligence, Benvolio said, which had been, as a minimum, every ones portion in the golden age, and would be again the golden mean in the millennium. And then she was so teachable, so diligent, so indefatigable. Slender and meagre as she was, and rather pale too, with being much within doors, she was never tired, she never had a headache, she never closed her book or laid down a pen with a sigh. For, helping a man, Benvolio thought it was an exquisite organism. What a work he might do on summer mornings and winter nights with that brightly demure little creature at his side, transcribing, recollecting, sympathizing! He wondered how much she cared for these things herself; whether a woman could care for them without being dry and harsh. It was in a great measure for information on this point that he used to question her eyes with the frequency that I have mentioned. But they never gave him a perfectly direct answer, and this was why he came and came again. They seemed to him to say, “If you could lead a students life for my sake, I could be a life-long household scribe for yours.” Was it divine philosophy that made Scholastica charming, or was it she that made philosophy divine? I cannot relate everything that came to pass between these young people, and I must leave a great deal to your imagination. The summer waned, and when the autumnal shadow began to gnaw the bright edge of the days, the quiet couple in the old grey house had expanded to a talkative trio. For Benvolio the days had passed very fast; the trio had talked of so many things. He had spent many an hour in the garden with the young girl, strolling in the weedy paths, or resting on a moss-grown bench. She was a delightful listener, because while she was perfectly deferential, she was also perfectly attentive. Benvolio had had women fix very beautiful eyes upon him, and watch with an air of ecstasy the movement of his lips, and yet had found them three minutes afterward quite incapable of saying what he was talking about. Scholastica followed him and, without effort or exultation, understood him.
YOU will say that my description of Benvolio has done him injustice, and that, far from being the sentimental weathercock I have depicted, he is proving himself a model of constancy. But mark the sequel. It was at this moment, precisely, that, one morning, having gone to bed the night before singing pæans to divine philosophy, he woke up with a headache, and in the worst of humours with it. He remembered Scholastica telling him that she never had headaches, and the memory quite annoyed him. He was in the mood for declaring her a neat little mechanical toy, wound up to turn pages and write a pretty hand, but with neither a head nor a heart that was capable of human ailments. He fell asleep again, and in one of those brief but vivid dreams that sometimes occur in the morning hours, he had a brilliant vision of the Countess. She was human beyond a doubt, and duly familiar with headaches and heartaches. He felt an irresistible desire to see her and to tell her that he adored her. This satisfaction was not unattainable, and before the day was over he was well on his way toward enjoying it. He found the Countess holding her usual court, and making a merry world of it. He had meant to stay with her a week; he staid two months——the most entertaining months of his life. I cannot pretend of course to enumerate the diversions of this fortunate circle, nor to say just how Benvolio spent every hour of his time. But if the summer had passed quickly with him, the autumn moved with a tread as light. He thought once in a while of Scholastica and her father once in a while, I say, when present occupations suffered his thoughts to wander. This was not often, for the Countess had always, as the phrase is, a dozen irons on the fire. You see the negative, with Benvolio, always implied as distinct a positive, and his excuse for being inconstant on one side was that he was at that time very constant on another. He developed at this period a talent as yet untried and unsuspected: he proved himself capable of writing brilliant dramatic poetry. The long autumn evenings, in a great country house, offered the ideal setting for the much-abused pastime known as private theatricals. The Countess had a theatre, and abundant material for a troupe of amateur players; all that was lacking was a play exactly adapted to her resources. She proposed to Benvolio to write one; the idea took his fancy; he shut himself up in the library, and in a week produced a masterpiece. He had found the subject one day when he was pulling over the Countess's books in an old MS. chronicle written by the chaplain of one of her late husbands ancestors. It was the germ of an admirable drama, and Benvolio enjoyed vastly the work of bringing it to maturity. All his genius, all his imagination went into it. This was their proper mission, he cried to himself the study of warm human passions, the painting of rich dramatic pictures, not the bald excogitation of cold metaphysical formulas. His play was acted with brilliant success, the Countess herself representing the heroine. Benvolio had never seen her act, and had no idea she possessed the talent; but she was inimitable, she was a natural artist. What gives charm to life, Benvolio hereupon said to himself, is the element of the unexpected, the unforeseen; and this one finds only in women of the Countess's type. And I should do wrong to imply that he here made an invidious comparison, because he did not even think of Scholastica. His play was repeated several times, and people were invited to see it from all the country round. There was a great bivouac of servants in the castle court; in the cold November nights a bonfire was lighted to keep the servants warm. It was a great triumph for Benvolio, and he frankly enjoyed it. He knew he enjoyed it, and how great a triumph it was, and he felt every disposition to drain the cup to the last drop. He relished his own elation, and found himself excellent company. He began immediately another drama——a comedy this time——and he was greatly interested to observe that when his work was fairly on the stocks he found himself regarding all the people about him as types and available figures. Everything paid tribute to his work; everything presented itself as possible material. Life, really, on these terms was becoming very interesting, and for several nights the laurels of Molière kept Benvolio awake.
Delightful as this was, however, it could not last for ever. At the beginning of the winter the Countess returned to town, and Benvolio came back with her, his unfinished comedy in his pocket. During much of the journey he was silent and abstracted, and the Countess supposed he was thinking of how he should make the most of that capital situation in his third act. The Countess's perspicuity was just sufficient to carry her so far——to lead her, in other words, into plausible wrong conjectures. Benvolio was really wondering what in the name of mystery had suddenly become of his inspiration, and why his comedy had turned as stale on his hands as the cracking of the post-boys whip. He looked out at the scrubby fields, the rusty woods, the sullen sky, and asked himself whether that was the world to which it had been but yesterday his high ambition to hold up the mirror. The Countess's dame de compagnie sat opposite to him in the carriage. Yesterday he thought her, with her pale, discreet face, and her eager movements that pretended to be indifferent, a finished specimen of an entertaining genus. To-day he could only say that if there was a whole genus, it was a thousand pities, for the poor lady struck him as miserably false and servile. The real seemed hideous; he felt homesick for his dear familiar rooms between the garden and the square, and he longed to get into them and bolt his door and bury himself in his old arm-chair and cultivate idealism for evermore. The first thing he actually did on getting into them was to go to the window and look out into the garden. It had greatly changed in his absence, and the old maimed statues, which all summer had been comfortably muffled in verdure, were now, by an odd contradiction of propriety, standing white and naked in the cold. I don't exactly know how soon it was that Benvolio went back to see his neighbours. It was after no great interval, and yet it was not immediately. He had a bad conscience, and he was wondering what he should say to them. It seemed to him now (though he had not thought of it sooner) that they might accuse him of neglecting them. He had cultivated their friendship, he had professed the highest esteem for them, and then he had turned his back on them without farewell, and without a word of explanation. He had not written to them; in truth, during his sojourn with the Countess, it would not have been hard for him to persuade himself that they were people he had only dreamed about, or read about, at most, in some old volume of memoirs. People of their value, he could now imagine them saying, were not to be taken up and dropped in that summary fashion; and if friendship was not to be friendship as they themselves understood it, it was better that he should forget them at once, for all time. It is perhaps too much to affirm that he could imagine them saying all this; they were too mild and civil, too unused to acting in self-defence. But they might easily receive him in a way that would irresistibly imply it, for a man of any delicacy. He felt profaned, dishonoured, almost contaminated; so that perhaps when he did at last return to his friends, it was because that was the simplest way to be purified. How did they receive him? I told you a good way back that Scholastica was in love with him, and you may arrange the scene in your fancy in any manner that best accords with this circumstance. Her forgiveness, of course, when once that chord was touched, was proportionate to her resentment. But Benvolio took refuge both from his own compunctions and from the young girls reproaches, in whatever form these were conveyed, in making a full confession of what he was pleased to call his frivolity. As he walked through the naked garden with Scholastica, kicking the wrinkled leaves, he told her the whole story of his sojourn with the Countess. The young girl listened with bright intentness, as she would have listened to some thrilling chapter of romance; but she neither sighed, nor looked wistful, nor seemed to envy the Countess, or to repine at her own dull fashion of life. It was all too remote for comparison; it was not, for Scholastica, among the things that might have been. Benvolio talked to her about the Countess, without reserve. If she liked it, he found on his side that it eased his mind; and as he said nothing that the Countess would not have been flattered by, there was no harm done. Although, however, Benvolio uttered nothing but praise of this distinguished lady, he was very frank in saying that she and her way of life always left him at the end in a worse humour than when they found him. They were very well in their way, he said, but their way was not his way, or could not be in the long run; for him, he was convinced, the only happiness was in seclusion, meditation, concentration. Scholastica answered that it gave her extreme pleasure to hear this, for it was her fathers belief that Benvolio had a great aptitude for philosophical research, and that it was a sacred duty with him to devote his days and his nights to it.
“And what is your own belief?” Benvolio asked, remembering that the young girl knew several of his poems by heart.
Her answer was very simple: “I believe you're a poet.”
“And a poet oughtn't to ruin the risk of turning pedant?”
“No,” she answered; “a poet ought to run all risks——even that one which for a poet, perhaps, is the most cruel. But he ought to evade them all!”
Benvolio took great satisfaction in hearing that the Professor deemed that he had in him the making of a philosopher, and it gave an impetus to the zeal with which he returned to work.
OF course even the most zealous student cannot work always, and often, after a very philosophical day, Benvolio spent with the Countess a very sentimental morning. It is my duty as a veracious historian not to conceal the fact that he discoursed to the Countess about Scholastica. He gave such a puzzling description of her that the Countess declared that she must be a delightfully quaint creature, and that it would be vastly amusing to know her. She hardly supposed Benvolio was in love with this little book-worm in petticoats, but to make sure——if that might be called making sure——she deliberately asked him. He said No; he hardly saw how he could be, since he was in love with the Countess herself! For a while this answer satisfied her, but as the winter went by she began to wonder whether there was not such a thing as a man being in love with two women at once. During many months that followed Benvolio led a kind of double life. Sometimes it charmed him and gave him an inspiring sense of personal power. He haunted the domicile of his gentle neighbours, and drank deep of philosophy, history, and all the garnered wisdom of the ages; and he made appearances as frequent in the Countess's drawing-room, where he played his part with magnificent zest and ardour. It was a life of alternation, and variation, and contrast, and it really a vigorous and elastic temperament. Sometimes his own seemed to him quite inadequate to the occasion——he felt fevered, bewildered, exhausted. But when it came to the point, it was impossible to give up either his worldly habits or his studious aspirations. Benvolio raged inwardly at the cruel limitations of the human mind, and declared it was a great outrage that a man should not be personally able to do everything he could imagine doing. I hardly know how she contrived it, but the Countess was at this time a more engaging woman than she had ever been. Her beauty acquired an ampler and richer cast, and she had a manner of looking at you, as she slowly turned away, which had lighted a hopeless flame in many a youthful breast. Benvolio one day felt in the mood for finishing his comedy, and the Countess and her friends acted it. Its success was no less brilliant than that of its predecessor, and the manager of the theatre immediately demanded the privilege of producing it. You will hardly believe me, however, when I tell you that on the night that his comedy was introduced to the public its eccentric author sat discussing the absolute and the relative with the Professor and his daughter. Benvolio had all winter been observing that Scholastica never looked so pretty as when she sat, of a winters night, plying a quiet needle in the mellow circle of a certain antique brass lamp. On the night in question he happened to fall a-thinking of this picture, and he tramped out across the snow for the express purpose of looking at it. It was sweeter even than his memory promised, and it drew every thought of his theatrical honours from his head. Scholastica gave him some tea, and her tea, for mysterious reasons, was delicious; better, strange to say, than that of the Countess, who, however, it must be added, recovered her ground in coffee. The Professors miserly brother owned a ship which made voyages to China, and brought him goodly chests of the incomparable plant. He sold the cargo for great sums, but he kept a chest for himself. It was always the best one, and he had at this time carefully measured a part of his annual quantum into a piece of flossy tissue paper, made it into a little parcel, and presented it to Scholastica. This is the secret history of Benvolio's fragrant cups. While he was drinking them on the night I speak of——I am ashamed to say how many he drank——his name, at the theatre, was being. tossed across the footlights to a brilliant, clamorous multitude, who hailed him as the redeemer of the national stage. But I am not sure that he even told his friends that his play was being acted. Indeed, this was hardly possible, for I meant to say just now that he had forgotten it.
It is very certain, however, that he enjoyed the criticisms the next day in the newspapers. Radiant and jubilant, he went to see the Countess. He found her looking terribly dark. She had been at the theatre, prepared to revel in his triumph——to place on his head with her own hand, as it were, the laurel awarded by the public; and his absence had seemed to her a sort of personal slight. Yet his triumph had nevertheless given her an exceeding pleasure, for it had been the seal of her secret hopes of him. Decidedly he was to be a great man, and this was not the moment for letting him go! At the same time there was something impressive in this extraordinary lapse in his eagerness——in his finding it so easy to forget his honours. It was only an intellectual Crœsus, the Countess said to herself, who could afford to keep so loose an account. But she insisted on knowing where he had been, and he told her he had been discussing philosophy and tea with the Professor.
“And was not the daughter there?” the Countess demanded.
“Most sensibly!” he cried. And then he added in a moment——"I don't know whether I ever told you, but she's almost as pretty as you.”
The Countess resented the compliment to Scholastica much more than she enjoyed the compliment to herself. She felt an extreme curiosity to see this inky-fingered little nobody, who was spoken of thus freely in the same breath with herself; and as she seldom failed, sooner or later, to compass her desires, she succeeded at last in catching a glimpse of her innocent rival. To do so she was obliged to set a great deal of machinery in motion. She made Benvolio give a lunch, in his rooms, to some ladies who professed a desire to see his works of art, and of whom she constituted herself the chaperon. She took care that he threw open the room that looked into the garden, and here, at the window, she spent much of her time. There was but a chance that Scholastica would come forth into the garden, but it was a chance worth staking something upon. The Countess gave to it time and temper, and she was finally rewarded. Scholastica came out. The poor girl strolled about for half an hour, in profound unconsciousness that the Countess's fine eyes were devouring her. The impression she made was singular. The Countess found her both pretty and ugly: she did not admire her herself, but she understood that Benvolio might. For herself personally she detested her, and when Scholastica went in and she turned away from the window, her first movement was to pass before a mirror, which showed her something that, impartially considered, seemed to her a thousand times more beautiful. The Countess made no comments, and took good care Benvolio did not suspect the trick she had played him. There was something more she promised herself to do, and she impatiently awaited her opportunity.
In the middle of the winter she announced to him that she was going to spend ten days in the country: she had received the most attractive accounts of the state of things on her estate. There had been great snowfalls, and the sleighing was magnificent; the lakes and streams were solidly frozen, there was an unclouded moon, and the resident gentry were skating, half the night, by torch-light. The Countess was passionately fond both of sleighing and skating, and she found this picture irresistible. And then she was charitable, and observed that it would be a kindness to the poor resident gentry, whose usual pleasures were of a frugal sort, to throw open her house and give a ball or two, with the village fiddlers. Perhaps even they might organize a bear-hunt——an entertainment at which, if properly conducted, a lady might be present as spectator. The Countess told Benvolio all this one day as he sat with her in her boudoir, in the fire-light, during the hour that precedes dinner. She had said more than once that he must decamp——that she must go and dress for dinner; but neither of them had moved. She did not invite him to go with her to the country; she only watched him as he sat gazing with a frown at the firelight——the crackling light of the great logs which had been cut in the Countess's bear-haunted forests. At last she rose impatiently, and fairly turned him out. After he had gone she stood for a moment looking at the fire with the tip of her foot on the fender. She had not to wait long; he came back within the minute——came back and begged her leave to go with her to the country——to skate with her in the crystal moonlight and dance with her to the sound of the village fiddles. It hardly matters in what terms his petition was granted: the notable point is that he made it. He was her only companion, and when they were established in the castle the hospitality extended to the resident gentry was less abundant than had been promised. Benvolio, however, did not complain of the absence of it, because, for the week or so, he was passionately in love with his hostess. They took long sleigh-rides and drank deep of the poetry of winter. The blue shadows on the snow, the cold amber lights in the west, the leafless twigs against the snow-charged sky, all gave them extraordinary pleasure. The nights were even better, when the great silver stars, before the moonrise, glittered on the polished ice, and the young Countess and her lover, firmly joining hands, launched themselves into motion and into the darkness and went skimming for miles with their winged steps. On their return, before the great chimney-place in the old library, they lingered a while and drank little cups of wine heated with spices. It was perhaps here, cup in hand——this point is uncertain——that Benvolio broke through the last bond of his reserve, and told the Countess that he loved her, in a manner that quite satisfied her. To be his in all solemnity, his only and his for ever——this he explicitly, passionately, imperiously demanded of her. After this she gave her ball to her country neighbours, and Benvolio danced, to a boisterous, swinging measure, with a dozen ruddy beauties dressed in the fashions of the year before last. The Countess danced with the lusty male counterparts of these damsels, but she found plenty of chances to watch Benvolio. Toward the end of the evening she saw him looking grave and bored, with very much such a frown in his forehead as when he had sat staring at the fire that last day in her boudoir. She said to herself for the hundredth time that he was the oddest of mortals.
On their return to the city she had frequent occasion to say it again. He looked at moments as if he had repented of his bargain——as if it did not at all suit him that his being the Countess's only lover should involve her being his only mistress. She deemed now that she had acquired the right to make him give an account of his time, and he did not conceal the fact that the first thing he had done after his return was to go to see his eccentric neighbours. She treated him hereupon to a passionate outburst of jealousy; called Scholastica a dozen harsh names——a dingy little Quakeress, a little underhand, hypocritical Puritan; demanded he should promise never to speak to her again, and summoned him to make a choice once for all. Would he belong to her, or to that odious little blue-stocking? It must be one thing or the other; he must take her or leave her; it was impossible she should have a lover who could be so little depended upon. The Countess did not say this made her unhappy, but she repeated a dozen times that it made her ridiculous. Benvolio turned very pale; she had never seen him so before; a great struggle was evidently taking place within him. A terrible scene was the consequence. He broke out into reproaches and imprecations; he accused the Countess of being his bad angel, of making him neglect his best faculties, mutilate his genius, squander his life; and yet he confessed that he was committed to her; that she fascinated him beyond resistance, and that, at any sacrifice, he must still be her slave. This confession gave the Countess uncommon satisfaction, and made up in a measure for the unflattering remarks that accompanied it. She on her side confessed——what she had always been too proud to acknowledge hitherto——that she cared vastly for him, and that she had waited for long months for him to say something of this kind. They parted on terms which it is hard to define——full mutual resentment and devotion, at once adoring and hating each other. All this was deep and stirring emotion, and Benvolio, as an artist, always in one way or another found his profit in emotion, even when it lacerated or suffocated him. There was, moreover, a sort of elation in having burnt his ship behind him, and vowed to seek his fortune, his intellectual fortune, in the tumult of the life and action. He did no work; his power of work, for the time at least, was paralysed. Sometimes this frightened him; it seemed as if his genius were dead, his career cut short; at other moments his faith soared supreme; he heard, in broken murmurs, the voice of the muse, and said to himself that he was only resting, waiting, storing up knowledge. Before long he felt tolerably tranquil again; ideas began to come to him, and the world to seem entertaining, He demanded of the Countess that, without further delay, their union should be solemnized. But the Countess, at that interview I have just related, had in spite of her high spirit received a great fright. Benvolio, stalking up and down with clinched hands and angry eyes, had seemed to her a terrible man to marry; and though she was conscious of a strong will of her own, as well as of robust nerves, she had shuddered at the thought that such scenes might recur. She had hitherto seen little but the mild and caressing, or at most the joyous and fantastic side of her friends disposition; but it now appeared that there was another side to be taken into account, and that if Benvolio had talked of sacrifices, these were not all to be made by him. They say the world likes its master- that a horse of high spirit likes being well ridden. This may be true in the long run; but the Countess,, who was essentially a woman of the world, was not yet prepared to surrender her own luxurious liberty in tribute. She admired Benvolio the more now that she was afraid of him, but at the same time she liked him a trifle less. She answered that of marriage was a very serious matter; that they had lately had a taste of each others tempers; that they had better wait a while longer; that she had made up her mind to travel for a year, and that she strongly recommended him to come with her, for travelling was notoriously an excellent test of friendship.
SHE went to Italy, and Benvolio went with her; but before he went he paid a visit to his other mistress. He flattered himself that he had burned his ships behind him, but the fire was still visibly smouldering. It is true, nevertheless, that he passed a very strange half-hour with Scholastica and her father. The young girl had greatly changed; she barely greeted him; she looked at him coldly. He had no idea her face could wear that look; it vexed him to find it there. He had not been to see her in many weeks, and he now came to tell her that he was going away for a year: it is true these were not conciliatory facts. But she had taught him to think that she possessed in perfection the art of trustful resignation, of unprotesting, cheerful patience——virtues that sat so gracefully on her bended brow that the thought of their being at any rate supremely becoming took the edge from his remorse at making them necessary. But now Scholastica looked older, as well as sadder, and decidedly not so pretty. Her figure was meagre, her movements angular, her complexion, even, not so pure as he had fancied. After the first minute he avoided her eye; it made her uncomfortable. Her voice she scarcely allowed him to hear. The Professor, as usual, was serene and frigid, impartial and transcendental. There was a chill in the air, a shadow between them. Benvolio went so far as to wonder that he had ever found a charm in the young girl, and his present disillusionment gave him even more anger than pain. He took leave abruptly and coldly, and puzzled his brain for a long time afterward over the mystery of Scholastica's reserve.
The Countess had said that travelling was a test of friendship; in this case friendship (or whatever the passion was to be called) bade fair for some time to resist the test. Benvolio passed six months of the liveliest felicity. The world has nothing better to offer to a man of sensibility than a first visit to Italy during those years of life when perception is at it's keenest, when discretion has arrived, and yet youth has not departed. He made with the Countess a long, slow progress through the lovely land, from the Alps to the Sicilian Sea; and it seemed to him that his imagination, his intellect, his genius, expanded with every breath and ripened with every glance. The Countess was in an almost equal ecstasy, and their sympathy was perfect in all points save the lady's somewhat indiscriminate predilection for assemblies and receptions. She had a thousand letters of introduction to deliver, and they entailed a vast deal of social exertion. Often, on balmy nights when he would have preferred to meditate among the ruins of the Forum, or to listen to the moonlit ripple of the Adriatic, Benvolio found himself dragged away to kiss the hand of a decayed princess, or to take a pinch from the snuff-box of an epicurean cardinal. But the cardinals, the princesses, the ruins, the warm southern tides which seemed the voice of history itself——these and a thousand other things resolved themselves into a vast pictorial spectacle——the very stuff that inspiration is made of. Everything he had written before coming to Italy now appeared to him worthless; this was the needful stamp; the consecration of talent. One day, however, this pure felicity was clouded; by a trifle you will say, possibly, but you must remember that in men of Benvolio's disposition primary impulses are almost always produced by trifles light as air. The Countess, speaking of the tone of voice of some one they had met, happened to say that it reminded her of the voice of that queer little woman at home——the daughter of the blind professor. Was this pure inadvertence, or was it malicious design? Benvolio never knew, though he immediately demanded of her, in surprise, when and where she had heard Scholastica's voice. His whole attention was aroused; the Countess perceived it, and for a moment she hesitated. Then she bravely proclaimed that she had seen the young girl in the musty old book-room where she spent her dreary lire. At these words, uttered in a profoundly mocking tone, Benvolio had an extraordinary sensation. He was walking with the Countess in the garden of a palace, and they had just approached the low balustrade of a terrace which commanded a magnificent view. On one side were violet Apennines, dotted here and there with a gleaming castle or convent; on the other stood the great palace through whose galleries the two had just been strolling, with it's walls incrusted with medallions and it's cornice charged with statues. But Benvolio's heart began to beat; the tears sprang to his eyes; the perfect landscape around him faded away and turned to nothing, and there rose before him, distinctly, vividly present, the old brown room that looked into the dull northern garden, tenanted by the quiet figures he had once told himself that he loved. He had a choking sensation and a sudden, overwhelming desire to return to his own country.
The Countess would say nothing more than that the fancy had taken her one day to go and see Scholastica. “I suppose I may go where I please!” she cried in the tone of the great lady who is accustomed to believe that her glance confers honour wherever it falls. “I'm sure I did her no harm. She's a good little creature, and its not her fault if she's so unfortunately plain.” Benvolio looked at her intently, but he saw that he would learn nothing from her that she did not choose to tell. As he stood there he was amazed to find how natural or at least how easy it was to disbelieve her. She had been with the young girl: that accounted for anything; it accounted abundantly for Scholastica's painful constraint. What had the Countess said and done? what infernal trick had she played upon the poor girls simplicity? He helplessly wondered, but he felt that she could be trusted to hit her mark. She had done him the honour to be jealous, and to alienate Scholastica she had invented some infernally plausible charge against himself. He felt sick and angry, and for a week he treated his companion with the coldest civility. The charm was broken, the cup of pleasure was drained. This remained no secret to the Countess, who was profoundly vexed at her own indiscretion. At last she abruptly told Benvolio that the test had failed; they must separate; he would please her by taking his leave. He asked no second permission, but bade her farewell in the midst of her little retinue, and went journeying out of Italy with no other company than his thick-swarming memories and projects.
The first thing he did on reaching home was to repair to the Professors abode. The old man's chair, for the first time, was empty, and Scholastica was not in the room. He went out into the garden, where, after wandering hither and thither, he found the young girl seated on a secluded bench. She was dressed, as usual, in black; but her head was drooping, her empty hands were folded, and her face was sadder even than when he had last seen her. If she had been changed then, she was doubly changed now. Benvolio looked round, and as the Professor was nowhere visible, he immediately guessed the cause of her affliction. The good old man had gone to join his immortal brothers, the classic sages, and Scholastica was utterly alone. She seemed frightened at seeing him, but he took her hand, and she let him sit down beside her. “Whatever you were once told that made you think ill of me is detestably false,” he said. “I have a boundless friendship for you, and now more than ever I should like to show it.” She slowly gathered courage to meet his eyes; she found them reassuring, and at last, though she never told him in what way her mind had been poisoned, she suffered him to believe that her old confidence had come back. She told him how her father had died and how, in spite of the high philosophical maxims he had bequeathed to her for her consolation, she felt very lonely and helpless. Her uncle had offered her a maintenance, meagre but sufficient; she had the old serving-woman to keep her company, and she meant to live where she was and occupy herself with collecting her father's papers and giving them to the world according to a plan for which he had left particular directions. She seemed irresistibly appealing and touching and yet full of secret dignity and self-support. Benvolio fell in love with her on the spot, and only abstained from telling her so because he remembered just in time that he had an engagement with the Countess which had not yet been formally rescinded. He paid her a long visit, and they went in together and rummaged over her fathers books and papers. The old scholar's literary memoranda proved to be extremely valuable. It would be a great work and a most interesting enterprise to give them to the world. When Scholastica heard Benvolio's high estimate of them her cheek began to glow and her spirit to revive. The present then was secure, she seemed to say to herself, and she would have occupation for many a month. He offered to give her every assistance in his power, and in consequence he came daily to see her. Scholastica lived so much out of the world that she was not obliged to trouble herself about gossip. Whatever jests were aimed at the young man for his visible devotion to a mysterious charmer, he was very sure that her ear was never wounded by base insinuations. The old serving-woman sat in a corner, nodding over her distaff, and the two friends held long confabulations over yellow manuscripts in which the commentary, it must be confessed, did not always adhere very closely to the text. Six months elapsed, and Benvolio found an ineffable charm in this mild mixture of sentiment and study. He had never in his life been so long of the same mind; it really seemed as if, as the phrase is, the fold was taken for ever, as if he had done with the world and were ready to live henceforth in the closet. He hardly thought of the Countess, and they had no correspondence. She was in Italy, in Greece, in the East, in the Holy Land, in places and situations that taxed the imagination.
One day, in the darkness of the vestibule, after he had left Scholastica, he was arrested by a little old man of sordid aspect, of whom he could make out hardly more than a pair of sharply-glowing little eyes and an immense bald head, polished like an ivory ball. He was a quite terrible little figure in his way, and Benvolio at first was frightened. “Mr. Poet,” said the old man, “let me say a single word. I give my niece a maintenance. She may do what she likes. But she forfeits every stiver of her allowance and her expectations if she is fool enough to marry a fellow who scribbles rhymes. I'm told they are sometimes an hour finding two that will match! Good evening, Mr. Poet!” Benvolio heard a sound like the faint jingle of loose coin in a trowsers pocket, and the old man abruptly retreated into his domiciliary gloom. Benvolio had never seen him before, and he had no wish ever to see him again. He had not proposed to himself to marry Scholastica, and even if he had, I am pretty sure he would now have taken the modest view of the matter, and decided that his hand and heart were an insufficient compensation for the forfeiture of a misers fortune. The young girl never spoke of her uncle: he lived quite alone apparently, haunting his upper chambers like a restless ghost, and sending her, by the old serving-woman, her slender monthly allowance, wrapped up in a piece of old newspaper. It was shortly after this that the Countess at last came back. Benvolio had been taking one of his long customary walks, and passing through the park on his way home, he had sat down on a bench to rest. In a few moments a carriage came rolling by; in it sat the Countess——beautiful, sombre, solitary. He rose with a ceremonious salute, and she went her way. But in five minutes she passed back again, and this time her carriage stopped. She gave him a single glance, and he got in. For a week afterward Scholastica vainly awaited him. What had happened? It had happened that though she had proved herself both false and cruel, the Countess again asserted her charm, and our precious hero again succumbed to it. But he resumed his visits to Scholastica after an interval of neglect not long enough to be unpardonable; the only difference was that now they were not so frequent.
My story draws to a close, for I am afraid you have already lost patience with our young man's eternal comings and goings. Another year ran its course, and the Professors manuscripts. were arranged in great piles and almost ready for the printer. Benvolio had had a constant hand in the work, and had found it exceedingly interesting; it involved inquiries and researches of the most stimulating and profitable kind. Scholastica was very happy. Her friend was often absent for many days, during which she knew he was leading the great world's life; but she had learned that if she patiently waited, the pendulum would swing back and he would reappear and bury himself in their books and papers and talk. And it was not all work and no play between them either; they talked of everything that came into their heads, and Benvolio by no means forbade himself to descant on those things touching which this sacred vow of personal ignorance had been taken for his companion. He took her wholly into his poetic confidence, and read her everything he had written since his return from Italy. The more he worked the more he desired to work; and so, at this time, occupied as he was with editing the Professors manuscripts, he had never been so productive on his own account. He wrote another drama, on an Italian subject, which was performed with magnificent success; and this he had discussed with Scholastica scene by scene and speech by speech. He proposed to her to come and see it acted from a covered box, where her seclusion would be complete. She seemed for an instant to feel the force of the temptation; then she shook her head with a frank smile, and said it was better not. The play was dedicated to the Countess, who had suggested the subject to him in Italy, where it had been imparted to her, as a family anecdote, by one of her old princesses. This easy, fruitful double life might have lasted for ever but for two most regrettable events. Might have lasted I say; you observe I do not affirm it positively. Scholastica became preoccupied and depressed; she was suffering a secret annoyance. She concealed it as far as she might from her friend, and with some success; for although he suspected something and questioned her, she persuaded him that it was his own fancy. In reality it was no fancy at all, but the very uncomfortable fact that her shabby old uncle, the miser, was making himself excessively disagreeable to her. He had told Benvolio that she might do as pleased her, but he had recently revoked this amiable concession. He informed her one day by means of an illegible note, scrawled with a blunt pencil, on the back of an old letter, that her beggarly friend the poet came to see her altogether too often; that he was determined she never should marry a crackbrained rhymester; and that before the sacrifice became too painful she would be so good as to dismiss Mr. Benvolio. This was accompanied by an intimation, more explicit than gracious, that he opened his money bags only for those who deferred to his incomparable wisdom. Scholastica was poor, and simple, and lonely; but she was proud, for all that, with a silent pride of her own, and her uncles charity, proffered on these terms, became intolerably bitter to her soul. She sent him word that she thanked him for his past liberality, but she would no longer be a charge upon him. She said to herself that she could work; she had a superior education; many women, she knew, supported themselves. She even found something inspiring in the idea of going out into the world of which she knew so little, to seek her fortune. Her great desire, however, was to keep her situation a secret from Benvolio, and to prevent his knowing the sacrifice she was making for him. This it is especially that proves she was proud. It so befell that circumstances made secrecy possible. I don't know whether the Countess had always an idea of marrying Benvolio, but her unquenchable vanity still suffered from the spectacle of his divided allegiance, and it suggested to her a truly malignant revenge. A brilliant political mission, for a particular purpose, was about to be despatched to a neighbouring government, and half a dozen young men of eminence were to be attached to it. The Countess had influence at court, and without saying anything to Benvolio, she immediately urged his claim to a post, on the ground of his distinguished services to literature. She pulled her wires so cleverly that in a very short time she had the pleasure of presenting him his appointment, on a great sheet of parchment, from which the royal seal dangled by a blue ribbon. It involved an exile of but a few weeks, and to this, with her eye on the sequel of her project, she was able to resign herself. Benvolio's imagination took fire at the thought of spending a month at a foreign court, in the very hotbed of consummate diplomacy; this was a phase of experience with which he was as yet unacquainted. He departed, and no sooner had he gone than the Countess, at a venture, waited upon Scholastica. She knew she was poor, and she believed that in spite of her homely virtues she would not, if the opportunity was placed in a certain light, prove implacably indisposed to better her fortunes. She knew nothing of the young girls contingent expectations from her uncle, and her interference, at this juncture, was simply a remarkable coincidence. She laid before her a proposal from a certain great lady, whose husband, an eminent general, had just been dubbed governor of an island on the other side of the globe. This lady desired a preceptress for her children; she had heard of Scholastica's merit, and she ventured to hope that she might persuade her to accompany her to the antipodes and reside in her family. The offer was brilliant; to Scholastica it seemed mysteriously and providentially opportune. Nevertheless she hesitated, and demanded time for reflection; without telling herself why, she wished to wait till Benvolio returned. He wrote her two or three letters, full of the echoes of his actual life, and without a word about the things that were nearer her own experience. The month elapsed, but he was still absent. Scholastica, who was in correspondence with the governors wife, delayed her decision from week to week. She had sold her fathers manuscripts to a publisher, at a very poor bargain, and gone, meanwhile, to live in a. convent. At last the governor's lady demanded her ultimatum. The poor girl scanned the horizon, and saw no rescuing friend; Benvolio was still at the court of Illyria! What she saw was the Countess's fine eyes eagerly watching her over the top of her fan. They seemed to contain a horrible menace, and to hold somehow her happiness at their mercy. Her heart sank; she gathered up her few possessions and set sail, with her illustrious protectors, for the antipodes. Shortly after her departure Benvolio returned. He felt a terrible pang of rage and grief when he learned that she had gone; he went to the Countess, prepared to accuse her of the basest treachery. But she checked his reproaches by arts that she had never gone so far as to use before, and promised him that if he would trust her, he should never miss that pale-eyed little governess. It can hardly be supposed that he believed her, but he appears to have been guilty of letting himself be persuaded without belief. For some time after this he almost lived with the Countess. He had, with infinite pains, purchased from his neighbour, the miser, the right of occupancy of the late Professor's apartment. The repulsive old man, in spite of his aversion to rhymesters, had not resisted the financial argument, and seemed greatly amazed that a poet should have a dollar to spend. Scholastica had left all things in their old places, but Benvolio, for the present, never went into the room. He turned the key in the door, and kept it in his waistcoat pocket, where, while he was with the Countess, his fingers fumbled with it. Several months rolled by, and the Countess's promise was not verified. He missed Scholastica intensely, and missed her more as time elapsed. He began at last to go to the old room with the garden, and to try to do some work there. He succeeded in a fashion, but it seemed dreary——doubly dreary when he reflected what it might have been. Suddenly he ceased to visit the Countess; a long time passed without her seeing him. She met him at another house, and had some remarkable words with him. She covered him with reproaches that were doubtless deserved, but he made her an answer that caused her to open her eyes and flush, and admit afterward that, for a clever woman, she had been a great fool. “Don't you see,” he said——"can't you imagine that I cared for you only by contrast? You took the trouble to kill the contrast, and with it you killed everything else. For a constancy I prefer this!” And he tapped his poletic brow. He never saw the Countess again. I rather regret now that I said at the beginning of my story that it was not to be a fairy tale; otherwise I should be at liberty to say, with harmonious geniality, that if Benvolio missed Scholastica he missed the Countess also, and led an extremely fretful and unproductive life, until one day he sailed for the antipodes and brought Scholastica home. After this he began to produce again; only, many people said, his poetry had become dismally dull. But excuse me; I am writing as if this were fairy tale!