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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 3. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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page: 290

CHAPTER IX.

TOO much pain had been crowded of late years into my life for even my robust physique to bear. My strength had been over-strained, and the penalty had to be paid sooner or later. After the death of this dearest child of my hope and love I fell dangerously ill; the cause being a chill; and Mrs. Barry came daily to look after me, as an uncertificated Sister of Mercy. My wife was away on a lecturing tour in the North; and as we did not correspond when she was absent, she did not know of my illness until it was over, else I am sure that she would have done her duty to me as page: 291 faithfully as to any other. Thus it was that my dear dead boy's second mother came about me as my caretaker; and it was then that I got to know her as she was.

I scarcely know how to describe Felicia Barry. She was one of those women who, close on fifty as they are, all men wish were under thirty and most forget that they are not. She had never been supremely handsome, but must have always been beautiful; and she was beautiful even now. She had retained the luxuriance of her glossy brown hair, the brightness of her dark grey eyes, the graceful outlines of her tall and generous figure, the delicacy of her well-shaped hands and the sensitiveness of her skin. She blushed as easily as if she had been sixteen; and she was one of those rare Englishwomen whose faces smile from lip to brow, and whose eyes laugh with their mouth. She had the charm of two ages and seemed to be of neither. With the fresh enthusiasm of a girl she page: 292 united the patience and knowledge, the tender sympathies and generous maternity, of a woman. Men loved her with passion, and little children went willingly into her arms, as if she had been a new mother, recognised before known. Young men and women made her their confidant and trusted to her sympathy, not in vain. Even when they had confided to her what was weak, or what was wrong, she helped them with her strength, her pity, her purity, her resolve. Tender and beneficent as the gentle rain which falls alike on the just and on the unjust, she knew no shrinking, no repulsion from those who failed the higher law—save for the two crimes of treachery and cruelty. With these she held no terms. For all the rest her pity overlapped repugnance.

Wherever she went she gave sympathy and garnered love—kinswoman of the whole human race as she was. Of all women ever known to me, she was the page: 293 most many-sided and with the largest amount of emotional vitality. She always reminded me of the Venus of Milo; and her character harmonized with her form.

Her life had been sorrowful enough in its acted history; but her philosophy admitted of no closed tombs by the roadside where Love crouches in eternal mourning; of no slow marchings to the sound of a funeral hymn up the endless pathway of despair. While she lived, she used to say with me, she must conquer her sorrow or it would conquer her. She could not exist in that dull Nifleheim of melancholy where so many torpid souls find a weary kind of stagnant home; she must be out in the full sunshine, blessing others, and in thus blessing, blessed. She must love, if not in one form then in another—as wife or as mother, as sister or as friend, as equal or as protectress; and sometimes—but very rarely—as a willing and voluntary subordinate. Her life had been too inde- independent page: 294 pendent, her character was too strongly individual, her affections were too opulent and her activities were too highly energized for this last phase to be either frequent or possible with her. Even where she loved, she held her own; and, should her views chance to be at cross-corners with those of the man for whom, however, she would have died if need be, she kept true both to her principles and her love, and did not suffer the one to eat into nor undermine the other. Where she gave with most lavish prodigality, she always kept in reserve that inner citadel of conscience which no one can yield up without the loss of honour.

This is a doctrine unacceptable to men in general; for almost all believe, if even they do not openly maintain, that a woman's love rightfully includes her mental subjection; and that ‘she to God through him’ is in very truth the norm of wholesome human life.

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When I first knew Mrs. Barry, she was free, for the first time since she had been eighteen. She had been married at that age to a strange, unreal kind of man, who must have been more like a learned gnome than an average human being. He was an algebraic equation, not a man; a vitalized theorem, not a laughing, weeping, living creature, with passions, pleasures, weaknesses and virtues like the rest. He was not even personable, being tall, lean, dried up, even when he was young; and his temper was as perverse as his person was unlovely. But he was phenomenally learned; and his masterly intelligence won the girl's imagination.

Full of intellectual ardour and living in a home curiously arid and unsympathetic, she believed that in Josiah Barry she had found one who would be more than her guide, greater than her master—one who would be like some archangel carrying her through the upper air into the highest and page: 296 purest regions possible to human thought. For she was inexperienced enough to imagine that the moral nature keeps even step with intellectual perception, and that the man who most clearly discerns an ethical law is sure to most faithfully translate it into daily action. She loved the ideal man projected on the screen of her fancy—she fashioned the crystal out of the earth; and she married Mr. Barry, believing that she was marrying the moral best of which humanity is capable. She found instead that she had married a magnificent intellectual synthesis; but something out of which all that is most lovable, most valuable in living human nature has been taken.

He married her for the strange pride which some have to be the public possessor of a beautiful woman. He did not love her; and he did not give himself the trouble of feigning what he did not feel. After he had married her, he did not care to con- continue page: 297 tinue to instruct her, as he had done in the beginning of things—by which indeed the whole affair had come about. He neither associated her with his studies nor directed her own; and the interest which he had taken in the girl's improvement fell off into worse than indifference for the wife's. It descended to contempt, set round with brutality. When she asked his opinion on any purely literary matter, his better judgment on a point of history say, or his help in a stiff bit of translation—he would tell her to play with her doll, if he were simply contemptuous, or to leave him alone and not talk of things she had not wit to understand, if he were more savage and discourteous than usual. At no time did he care to please nor to gratify her. And only when they were together in public did he treat her with courtesy or show her such attentions as western civilization has accustomed women to expect from the men with whom they are connected. And page: 298 then his courtesy was so excessive, his attentions were so exaggerated, that all the natural truth and sincerity of the woman rebelled against the falsehood.

Thus she put herself in the wrong with others by her want of response to that which they looked on as the expression of faithful love, and which she felt to be an insult as well as a pretence.

They lived together for about six years; after which, by mutual consent, they separated—he living in London, she at Richmond. She had a small income of her own, just enough to keep her above actual want. What more she needed she worked for; and her work was of such quality as soon gave her more than mere comfort. When her father died she came in for her share of a fine property, by which her comfort was lifted into affluence. And just before I knew her, her husband had left the world he neither helped forward nor adorned, and the woman page: 299 whom the law had made his prisoner on parole was free, when it was too late to make use of her liberty.

Mrs. Barry was to me the type of the Ideal Woman. She knew all the harmonies and all the discords of human life, and in her own person she had touched many of its deepest chords. She had suffered much, as must needs have been, but she had enjoyed more; and she remembered her pleasures while she let her sorrows fade away like ghosts in the dawn. Married as she had been at eighteen, and married to a phantasm, not a reality—at twenty-four thrown on herself for guidance, protection and support—young, beautiful, and what Americans would call alive and magnetic—greatly loved and greatly censured—in her own nature one to whom love was life and life was love—it can easily be imagined what she had suffered, what she had been made to endure and forced to renounce. But she was ‘semper page: 300 virent,’ because she was strong, hopeful and unselfish. More than once she had lost the central treasure which had made her life desirable, but she had never owned herself defeated. Again and again beaten down like an Amazon to her knee, again and again she had risen up unconquered, to renew the fight with sorrow and disappointment—with personal pain and social peril.

Through all her hard and heavy trials she had kept her power of loving, of trusting, of sympathizing, of self-giving; and her great rich heart had never been drained. Like Hera, who renewed her youth when she bathed in the fountain of Canathus, Mrs. Barry renewed the spring-time of her mind and heart when she bathed in the fountain of a new emotion—an unexhausted duty—a fresh study. She lived only for knowledge and humanity—to learn, to do good, to give happiness. While there was one unhappy person in the world to bring back page: 301 to peace—one child to educate into a noble man or worthy woman—one sorrow to soothe—one desolate heart to cheer—she used often to say life would not have lost its charm for her. When she could no longer do good, then let her die, but not till then. And if ever that day should come, then she would indeed die, for then her work would be done. But she was far from that time yet—rich, unexhausted as she was.

It is impossible for me to say how much I admired this woman—this modern Demeter—this great Mother of Sorrows and Harvester of Love. If she renewed her own youth by loving, she renewed that of others by causing them to love. And especially did she renew mine. She seemed to knit up in herself all the poetry and vitality of my past life—to be a kind of microcosm, containing in her own person the qualities which had been divided among others, and repeating the experiences page: 302 which had been scattered among those others. My physical sense could not refuse to see that, marvellously conserved as she was—beautiful as she still was—she yet was no longer absolutely young. Fifty, however good, is always fifty. But to my mind, to my heart, she was old no more than nature is old, than the sun is old to the fire-worshipper, than Ceres was old to the Roman who laid corn before her altar as his father and grandfather had done before him. What Ninon de l'Enclos was in a baser, Felicia Barry was in a nobler sense; and the lines of their experience ran parallel—on different planes.

As my regret with Arthur was that he had not been my son, so my sorrow with Mrs. Barry was that she had not been my sister, seeing that she could never have been my wife. To have lived with her would have been to have lived in such intellectual and emotional opulence as would have compensated me for all I had lost. To have con- contributed page: 303 tributed to her happiness would have been the culmination of my own.

Her own history might be told in a phrase. ‘He was impatient, and he would not wait.’ Had he had self-control, it would certainly have been waiting for a whole life-time—but the reward at the end? Would not that have repaid him? He thought so now, when he sat by the hearth which gave him only the tie of a home with none of its deeper harmonies nor sweeter sentiments. Loving Felicia, but irritated and indignant at the obstacles between them, he suddenly flung off his wiser love, his better constancy, and married a woman who had nothing but her prettiness to recommend her. And marriage needs more than a pretty face to keep it fresh and wholesome! Besides, his past career had not been one to fit him for domestic life, save under exceptional conditions.

Handsome, clever, reckless and restless, page: 304 he had lived a stormy life, and had plunged up to the hilt in personal adventures and passionate emotions. He had been a great traveller and a famous sportsman; and, what with shipwrecks, savages, lion hunts and rogue elephants, dusky loves and crowned caprices, the note-book of his memory was pretty well filled, and not much was left for him to learn. But his charm for women was the wonderful strain of chivalrous tenderness and knightly loyalty which ran through a character where strength bordered on brutality, and where the violence of the darker passions made that gentler strain so much the more remarkable. He loved animals and children, was a good comrade with men and a devoted admirer of women. He never betrayed those who trusted him; and he had been trusted by more than the world either knew or suspected.

He had also had heavy losses and misfortunes; and this gave him the key to page: 305 woman's love by the way of her sympathy. Perhaps this had been the strongest link of all those which had bound him to Mrs. Barry. Be that as it may, she had loved him, and he her; but the patience which would have carried her triumphantly through a life-long trial failed him, and he threw away the chance of that which would have been his recompense for all time, had he had but enough courage and constancy of hope to have held on.

I knew what she suffered now, when the final snapping of the shadowy link between her and her husband gave her useless freedom. My own experience was the key which unlocked all problems of love and pain. If only he had waited! Fretting under his self-imposed yoke; unable to respect, but having no cause to repudiate, the light-minded little feather-head, who kept substantially straight because she had not intensity enough to go wrong; offended in his pride and dignity by the appearance page: 306 of things, his wife seeming to be ever on the verge of toppling over into the abyss on the dangerous edge of which she danced; knowing what he had lost; loving Mrs. Barry now as much as he had loved her in the beginning—he too was to be pitied; though naturally I had not so much sympathy for him as for her, arbiter of his own destiny as he had been—‘the careful pilot of his proper woe.’ But she knew how to bear with the dignity of self-control the sorrow which no effort of the will, no energy of action, could change into joy. Strong as she was to love, and sensitive to suffering, she was yet stronger to resist the demoralization of despair. And that light-minded, feeble-willed Helen has no better friend than the woman whom her husband loves in sorrow and who loves him in silence—keeping her faith to him deep in that centre of the heart which no time nor outward circumstance touches, even with the lightest hand.

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To me too she is a friend. And with this I am bound to be content. But sometimes, when I think of what might have been, I feel that smarting of the eyes which follows on the aching of the heart; and then I have to bestir myself and press back into the depths thoughts which only weaken and unman myself and do no good to anyone. Patience, hope, courage and the resolve never to be beaten and always to press forward—these are better than regrets. If we cannot have the noonday sun, is it wise to disdain the moonlight? Direct splendour the one, reflected glory the other; but is not that reflection better than the dead darkness of the sky where hang only clouds that drop down rain? For the noontide sun of love I am given only the pale beauty of the moon. So let it be. To my litany of thanksgiving I can add also this clause—gratitude for the simple friendship of the woman whose love would have given me new life.

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