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Miss Brown. Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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page: 305

BOOK VII.

page: 307

CHAPTER I.

THE notion that a man was waiting, thirsting for her love, would have been enough for many a woman in Anne’s position—many a woman more gifted than Anne, and more conscious of her gifts, especially if the man who thus tacitly implored her to love and kindle love in him, were, like Hamlin, the former object of passionate worship. But with Anne Brown it was different. Some few women seem to be born to have been men, or at least not to have been women. To them love, if it come, will be an absorbing passion, but a passion only of brief duration, the mere momentary diversion into a personal and individual channel of a force which constitutes the whole moral and intellectual existence, whose object is an unattain‐ page: 308 able unattainable ideal of excellence, and whose field is the whole of the world in which there is injustice, and callousness, and evil. Such women may be very happy if they love a man with their eyes open—love him as a mere secondary concern, as a mere trusty companion in the struggle after the ideal; but if they love in a man what momentarily seems to be that ideal, if they love with all the force of their nature, a terrible reaction of vacuity and despair must soon come. As with their lovers and husbands, so also with their children: they cannot blissfully concentrate all their passion upon them; such love will soon become narrow and bitter for them. They are indeed sent into the world (if any of us is ever sent for any purpose) to be its Joans of Arc—to kindle from their pure passion a fire of enthusiasm as passionate, but purer than it is given to men to kindle: they are not intended to be, except as a utilisation of what is fatally wasted, either wives or mothers. Masculine women, mere men in disguise, they are not: the very page: 309 strength and purity of their nature, its intensity as of some undiluted spirit, is dependent upon their cleaner and narrower woman’s nature, upon their narrowness and obstinacy of woman’s mind; they are, and can only be, true women; but women without woman’s instincts and wants, sexless—women made not for man but for humankind. Anne Brown was one of these. She had no idea that she was of this strange, rare stuff of heroines; she had no notion that she was at all superior to the ordinary run of her sex; indeed it was her perfect ignorance of her own exceptional nature which caused most of her wretchedness, making her at once more impatient with the weakness of others, and more impatient with her own difficulty of being satisfied. Love, therefore, was not for her a happiness, nor an ideal, nor even a compensation. In an intensely earnest nature like hers, a few years are worth a lifetime: everything is understood, endured much sooner; all that can be felt, for pleasure or pain, is rapidly exhausted, and the character remains page: 310 early, with all its human lusts and vanities burnt out like the gases in green wood, ready to become the fuel for unindividual ideal passion. So at twenty‐three, Anne had, so to speak, loved out her love, her passionate adoring love, as she had dreamed out the dreams of her life; anything that might still come would be but a faint momentary flicker of sentiment, a detail in her life, and no more.

So when Hamlin had, in his veiled way, made her to understand what he hoped, what he desired, what he expected, what (she could not help saying to herself) he had bargained for, of her,—the thought of this love, which she could no longer feel, and which she was expected to give—of this love which was to be merely the highest selfish pleasure, the most precious (because the most refined), æsthetic lust of a selfish æsthetic voluptuary, Anne experienced a sense of horror and self‐debasement. So this was what Hamlin was waiting for—this which made him play that comedy of respectful distant adoration, of freedom of page: 311 choice in her, of absence of all rights in himself—this that her solid mass of soul should slowly take fire, and smoulder, and, leaping up in inextinguishable flame, set him also ablaze.

Hitherto Anne had been unhappy from her isolation, from her gradual discovery that the man whom she had loved as an ideal of nobility must be scorned as a mere weak‐spirited and morbid‐minded artistic automaton,—a mind creating beautiful things from sheer blind necessity, as a violin gives out beautiful sounds, but soulless, like the mere instrument of wood and string. She had been unhappy because she was alone, terribly alone; but now she was unhappy because she had discovered that she was in bondage, surrounded by walls, a slave. And now that she yearned for the icy sense of isolation with which she had lived a few weeks back, as a prisoner in a fortress might yearn for the desert, she found also that she could no longer drift on indifferent, enduring the present, and hoping for the future. She could no longer vaguely say to page: 312 herself, as she had so often said before, that Hamlin might be redeemed, that he might yet become once more an object of her love: for it had become plain to her that her future was settled; that whatever Hamlin was, he was her master, her proprietor; and that, lovable or not lovable to her nature, he expected, counted upon her love.

This new feeling made Anne’s life—that life which was so completely a life of the world within, not of the world without—insupportable in a new way. Isolated she could live, but not caged. Her whole soul sickened; she no longer thought of trying to influence Hamlin, of trying to help others; all her energies were concentrated upon helping, upon freeing herself.

“There is something the matter with Anne Brown,” said Sacha one day to her cousin. “What is it?”

“Miss Brown always looks very serious,” answered Hamlin, affecting indifference. “She has a tragic sort of face even when she is quite page: 313 happy. It is one of her great peculiarities, and to me her charms; but for some time I could not realise that she was really happy.”

“That’s not it,” cried Madame Elaguine, impatiently. “I know Anne when she’s happy and Anne when she’s unhappy. She doesn’t look merely grave and tragic as she used to—she looks perplexed, and pained, and worried; she’s not happy in her life.”

“Miss Brown,” said Edmund Lewis, in his drawling, clammy voice, fixing his conquering eyes on Madame Elaguine with a quiet, insolent smile—“Miss Brown is a woman, although she looks like a goddess; and even goddesses, you know, could not help being women too.”

The Russian laughed. “Always the fatuity of these men!” she cried, and turned contemptuously on her heel.

Hamlin did not answer, but a feeling of satisfaction came over him. Anne was unhappy; and in a nature like hers, he said to himself, love must be unhappiness. But when he saw Lewis and his cousin alone he felt page: 314 annoyed; and he fell upon their spiritualistic practices with a perfect rabidness of scorn.

Anne little knew that she was watched; she did not care what might or might not be thought of her by Sacha Elaguine, by Chough, by Edmund Lewis, by any of these people whom she despised; and as to Hamlin, an instinct told her that he would never guess what it was that troubled her. So Anne kept her pain to herself; but sometimes the despair of being thus enslaved became too strong for endurance, and she longed for some one to whom to confide it. Every word, every look, every piece of attention, every show of indifference on Hamlin’s part, seemed to mean the same thing: that he expected her to love him—everything seemed to allude and point to that. The only women with whom she was at all really intimate were the Leighs; but Anne could not say a word to them, could not ask their advice. She could never, she thought, make either of these girls enter into her situation, comprehend her feelings, make page: 315 her understand that she was not ungrateful, and that Hamlin was not ungenerous. Yet she felt the terrible need of some one to counsel her—to take some of the frightful responsibility either of ingratitude or of degradation from off her—to show her either how to get out of the situation, or how to submit to it. Such a person there was—a person who might help her, who might even understand her; but something told Anne that she must not have recourse to him, to her cousin Dick. Perhaps it was vanity, perhaps a knowledge that Richard Brown would triumph over this miserable ending to what he had always opposed; a fear lest he might misunderstand Hamlin, and bespatter what was the one beautiful thing in his life—his raising up of Anne. For it was a curious point that, contemptible as Hamlin had become to Anne, and unworthy in her own eyes of her love, she could not endure the idea of any one else understanding this, of any one else attacking Hamlin. None of them, she felt, could understand what page: 316 Hamlin had done for her; what he had been—nay, what, as a beloved piece of the past, he still was—to her; only she could measure what she owed to him, and only she, therefore, might weigh the bad in him against the good. For even when she was most overcome with the sense of the moral prison which was closing round her, to cripple her life and break her spirit, Anne could not wish that the past had been otherwise—that she had never met Hamlin, never contracted a debt towards him, never loved him. Bleak and dark as might be the present, she would not ever have given up that past,—that sudden flaming up of her life, that one spell of hope and trustfulness, and admiration and love, which must serve her for all her existence: to have had that was always sweet, to have been given it was always a reason for gratitude. Moreover, Anne could not now contemplate what she would have been had she never met Hamlin. To her stern and idealising nature, to have remained without knowledge, with‐ page: 317 out without responsibility, without sympathy, without sense of right or wrong, morally only half developed, only half alive, as she had been during her earlier girlhood, was unendurable. She would not, for all the pain and humiliation which it might cost her, have forfeited the finer fibre, the clearer vision which had shown her that she was indebted therefor to a man whom she despised. No; she could not, even in thought, relinquish the past. But what of the future? The question laid hold of Anne’s mind, and for some weeks rode it like an incubus. How many of us have thus let a hopeless problem get hold of our whole nature, and make it move, day after day, week after week, in the frightful treadmill of its vicious circle?

Every night Anne lay down to sleep with her doubts half solved, her mind half made up, only to wake up the next day with all her doubts reinforced and all her resolutions scattered. Such a condition is not due to weakness or indecision of character; nay, it is page: 318 probably only the earnest minds, the most capable of serious decisions, who can thus go on living in suspense, resisting the temptation of a decision, enduring the monotonous recurrence of a struggle of motives and of thought; it is the effort, this frightful mental instability, at retaining moral life where life would easily be extinguished; it is the weary tramp up and down with cold cramped limbs of the prisoner who knows that were he to stop, were he to lie down, he would have rest, but also death. Almost unintentionally Anne kept asking herself what steps she could take to be free. She used, in moments of weakness and weariness of heart, to go over schemes of independence, to indulge in day‐dreams of self‐supporting liberty. She who, a few months ago, had dreamed of raising the lower classes, of spreading higher knowledge and ideals among them, of awakening the more fortunate parts of society to their sense of responsibility,—she whose whole energy had been taken up in silent projects for bettering, no matter how page: 319 little, the world, bettering the poor by making them think and enjoy, bettering the rich by making them feel; giving the shop‐girls of the Women’s Club a glimpse into the world of imagination, and giving Hamlin a glimpse into the world of reality,—she was now thinking of how she might earn her bread, how she might live as a teacher or a governess. Talking with the Leighs and her cousin, she used shyly, and with a desire to deceive very foreign to her, to put questions, seemingly purely abstract, as to what a poor girl with a certain amount of education could best do—as to what was required of a schoolmistress or a governess. And, while telling herself that it was all useless—that she was bound by the past, however much she might try and cut herself loose from the present—Anne mechanically gave her time to studying, no longer to be more worthy of Hamlin, or more useful in the world, but to enable herself to gain a livelihood if . . . Ah! well, when she asked herself plainly what that “if” meant, page: 320 she had to answer that she scarcely knew: if the slave‐owner should say to his slave,“ Go—I am tired of you;” if the man who had bought the precious statue or picture should weary of it and wish to exchange it. And Anne had to admit to herself that Hamlin was not the man to feel or act like this. Nay sometimes, when she had indulged in a day‐dream of freedom—when she had let herself go to the vain belief that Hamlin would one day awaken to the sense that this woman was not his ideal, as she had awakened to the sense that he was not hers—when she had worked out the details of her half‐starving life of independence, her return to her old drudgery (but with a freer spirit), her hard struggle as a teacher of little children, or a shop‐girl, or at best a schoolmistress,—the recollection of the past would suddenly overpower her—the recollection of what she had been, what she had hoped—the recollection of her love of that debt which she was now devising a means of paying off,—and poor Anne would burst into tears. But that debt, she page: 321 felt, could not be paid off. She might support herself in the future, but how could she get rid of the past? If she lived on dry bread for the rest of her life, Hamlin would still have done for her what she believed that no other man had ever done for a woman; if she could save up every penny of earnings and place before him all that he had ever spent for her education, would it not be the basest, vilest mockery and cheat, and could she repay the love which he had felt, the trustfulness which he had shown? Repay it she never could; for love and trustfulness she could not give in return; and she must ever remain in his debt, remain his to do his bidding. And yet at times the question arose in her, What right had she to pay a debt at the price of her honour? To become Hamlin’s wife when she did not love him, to pretend love which she did not feel, this was in Anne’s eyes, measured by her stern measure of right and wrong, a prostitution; and could it be honourable to let herself be dishonoured? But Anne cast page: 322 this thought behind her; Hamlin, by binding only himself and leaving her free, had by his chivalrous generosity really bound her; if to possess her, and as much of her life and love as she could give, would make Hamlin happy, he had a right to it.

The strain, Anne felt, was becoming too much for her; this question of her own future, of her own dignity and undignity, was swallowing up her whole nature, neither more nor less than the nature of Hamlin and his friend was swallowed up by their æsthetical feelings. Anne recognised, with terror, that she was deteriorating; that she was beginning to care nothing for others in this preoccupation about herself; and that such a thing should happen—that she too should lose her more generous feelings—was a greater degradation than any other which could come over her. This shame and this misfortune alone it was in her power to prevent, and she determined to prevent it. She did her best to put aside all questions of her own future, to accustom herself to wait for page: 323 what might happen, what she might be summoned to do, and she threw herself with more ardour than ever (trying to escape from the contamination, not merely, as before, of the selfishness of others, but of her own) into such studies and questions as concerned wider interests than her own.

Anne’s earnest nature, lacking the happy faculty of being absorbed by present feelings, had always been very subject to a dull moral pain at the evil in the world, storms from the great Sahara of misery which would lower over her own oasis of happiness, clogging its atmosphere and blighting its greenness. But now her efforts not to brood over her own unhappiness, resulted merely in her brooding almost unceasingly over the unhappiness of others. And gradually, to the sense of the misery of the world, became superadded the terrible sense of the injustice of that world’s arrangements: from being indignant with the callousness of men, Anne became indignant, with the same cold and sombre indignation, page: 324 at the callousness of God. She felt herself alone, isolated, separated not only from the men and women surrounding her, but separated in spirit from the whole scheme of things. And to her, the greater part of whose life was in her aspirations, this gradual removal of anything to which to aspire, this gradual destruction of every ideal with which to sympathise, such a condition of moral loneliness was, as Anne once said to her cousin, worse than death.

Richard Brown had somehow, that day, been more sympathising with Anne than usual. Had she not been too much engrossed, she might have noticed that he watched her face, listened to her words, not merely now with gentleness and friendliness, but with a kind of suppressed admiration and wonder.

“Nothing is so bad as death,” answered Richard; “because, once dead, we can no longer feel, we can no longer judge, or sympathise, or strive.”

Anne looked up from the frock which she page: 325 was making for one of the little Choughs, whose wardrobe was getting into a lamentable condition.

“I don’t mean that we are so useful when we are dead, but we are less unhappy. You talk of feeling, and sympathising, and judging, and striving: what can we feel, and sympathise with, and judge, except the miserableness of men, and their weakness and badness, and the horrible arrangement of the world which makes them such? and after what can we strive, except vainly to release ourselves from that abominable order of the world?”

Richard Brown looked at Anne for a moment in silence. He was a singularly unæsthetic man, and confusing beauty with mere utility, he had never well understood the beauty which artistic people chose to see in this strange, uncommon, sombre face, so unlike that of any one else, and which seemed to have no prototype either in man or woman. But now he felt that Anne was beautiful, and very beautiful.

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“All mankind is gradually releasing itself from what you call this evil arrangement of the world,” he answered; “or rather, the very perception that such an arrangement is evil is teaching mankind,—I mean all that much of mankind which makes the rest move on, to rearrange the world, and out of the bad to make the good.”

Anne shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.

“Why was the arrangement made if it was evil?” she asked.

“Because,” said her cousin, watching her face as he let his words drop—“because there was no sense of good and evil at the beginning; because it is only man who has conceived that the pleasure of others is good, and the pain of others is evil; and because, therefore, only man can be expected to reorganise the world so that the good of others be sought and the evil of others avoided. It is only man living with men, and feeling their miseries in his own, and their happiness in his own, who can be page: 327 anxious for justice and impatient of injustice. How can you expect it of nature?”

Anne did not answer, but remained for a moment with her hands folded over her work, looking out of the window. Outside there was only yellow fog, and leafless spectral branches; yet her onyx‐grey eyes opened slowly, as if she were taking in some faint but glorious vision.

“What right have you to expect such feelings except from men and women?” went on Brown; “the gods, you know, have other things to do. I suppose,” he added bitterly, “that they had a godlike life like their representatives, the poets and artists, on earth, creating only for their amusement, and keeping every disagreeable sight, or sound, or feeling, or suspicion away from them.”

Anne was accustomed to such hits at Hamlin; they were too true to be refuted, and too spiteful to be accepted; and now she was too much absorbed to notice any of them.

“I don’t know exactly what you are driving page: 328 at, Dick,” she said. “I don’t understand your theory about man and God, and right and wrong; it is misty to me. But still it seems—I don’t know how—as if, could I only understand it, it would make a great difference to me.”

“It must make a great difference to every honest person. You have no religion, Anne.”

“No. I thought religion was all bosh; merely a sort of silly pretty delusion, like love and all that;” and Anne thought bitterly how her own only religion, her love for Hamlin, her desire to become worthy of his goodness, had lamentably betrayed her.

“Without religion life is death,” said Brown, with his positivistic solemnity.

Anne looked at him contemptuously; she had so often heard people talk solemnly like that. Did not Hamlin talk in that way about the religion of beauty, and Dennistoun about the religion of love, by which he meant lust?

“It is all very fine; but I don’t much be‐ page: 329 lieve believe in religions. There is nothing worth worshipping; all is fetish, at best half silver and half clay.”

“You don’t believe in any religion, Anne, because you have never tried to find one.”

“I have looked in the Gospel, and in the ‘Imitation of Christ,’ and in my own heart, Dick; and what I have found there is ignored in the scheme on which the world is made; because I have read there of love and justice and mercy, and I have not found the love and justice and mercy which presided over creation.”

“I told you that the world was not made by man, and that it is man who has conceived good and evil. I always told you, Anne, that it was a great pity that you should read only books upon details of science, like political economy and so forth, and refuse to get general ideas of what is and what is not the belief of our age.”

“Detail knowledge—I mean knowledge of political economy and physiology and so forth—is useful; it can be applied, it can serve to page: 330 make people a little less wretched. What is the use of your general ideas? Oh, I know; the religion of truth, the worship of ideas, &c., &c. I don’t see that it is a bit nobler to worship truth than to worship beauty; your religion of science is only another form of selfish æstheticism: your friends hanker after knowledge, as my friends hanker after beautiful pictures, and music, and poetry, and women; and as my people dignify their appetites with the name of religion of beauty, so do yours sanctify theirs as the worship of truth. All that merely makes the world more cold and black in my eyes.”

“These general ideas,” answered Brown, “are what prevent me from being as wretched as you are. Do you call that useless?”

“That is just what Mr Hamlin says about beauty, and Chough about the Eternal Feminine. But I don’t see that the world gains by this devotion.”

“I know nothing of Hamlin’s or Chough’s page: 331 opinions,” interrupted Brown, impatiently; “but I know that if you permit yourself to continue in this kind of pessimism you will enervate your soul, Anne. It seems very noble and austere, and all that sort of bosh; but there is just the same fascination in it as there is in any morbid excitement, and just the same debasement of the individual in indulging therein.”

His words seemed to go through Anne. Was she becoming selfish, weak, self‐indulgent? The terror of it sickened her. And was everything, however noble it seemed—love, beauty, nay, even her indignation at the world’s evil—only a snare?

“Will you teach me, Dick?” she said, after a moment. “I don’t much believe in your religion—positivism, I suppose it is—for all religions seem to me to turn out, oh, so empty, after promising so much. But if you will tell me, or give me books to read, you know I will do my best to understand.”

“You are a noble girl, Anne,” said Brown page: 332 half audibly, fixing his eyes on Anne’s. “I did not think there was a woman so strong, and truthful, and fair‐minded as you—well—in the whole world.”

“You always think people base, Dick,” she answered sadly. “It is a wretched mistake, but not so bad a one for yourself as always to think them noble.”

Richard Brown lent Anne a number of books, and he often came of an evening when Hamlin was gone to Madame Elaguine’s spiritual séances (for despite his scepticism he found himself attracted by the mysticism with which Edmund Lewis had easily infected his cousin), and talked them over with her. He took her also to hear the lectures of a friend of his, a red‐haired young man of genius, dying of consumption, who had for truth and righteousness a passion such as other men may have for sport, and who was the chief preacher of the secular and scientific religion with which Brown was imbued, and with which he was seeking to imbue Anne. Anne page: 333 was not so quick in being converted as her cousin had expected; she was slow of thought, and her earnestness, her honesty, perhaps also a painful remembrance of so many other deluded hopes, made her sceptical. But, little by little, Anne was converted; and, as her cousin had foretold, she was happier. The world and its contradictions became simpler in her eyes, and she became once more confident of good. Moreover, what Brown never guessed, her new faith in the triumph of right, her new belief in the necessity of doing one’s duty for the sake of mankind and of progress, had at once given her a more serene determination to accomplish her duty towards Hamlin; and, what was more important, it had taken away her thoughts a little from her own position of impotence and isolation and probable degradation. And perhaps, unconsciously also to Anne, she felt less isolated now: she felt as if in this rough, brutal, vain philanthropist, who was so honest, for all his petty vanity, and who was so desirous page: 334 of her good, despite all his former contemptuousness, she had gained what she had never had, and had yet always vaguely wanted,—some one for her to understand and to understand her, to help and be helped by—not an ideal being to adore as she had adored Hamlin, but a good, wholesome, strong reality whom she could love as a brother.

“I owe a great deal to you, dear old Dick,” she said one day, taking his hand; “I am so glad I would not let you continue to despise me.”

Brown flushed, and his cynical smile failed him. “Despise you? Oh Anne, how could I—” he exclaimed. But suddenly he checked himself.

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