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Undine. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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IT WAS a white lifeless face that Cousin Jonathan brought with him to Greenwood. So ghastly and pale that even Mrs. Goodman and Miss Mell, if they were not moved to pity, could not find it in their hearts to exercise their tongues upon it.

All day Undine used to wander in the old wood that lay between Cousin Jonathan's house and the village; used to wander there when the dried leaves were falling down in showers and piling themselves up in little grave-like heaps at the roots of the great trees; used to look at them and fancy, with a kind of apathetic pleasure, that, when the spring came with its young green, she, like the leaves, would have vanished away. She thought her heart was broken. Perhaps it was; but she did not know that hearts are only Time's china cups—china cups which the old father is forever throwing hither and thither, cracking and smashing in his wild reckless way, and then carefully picking up and cementing so cleverly that the old scar does not even show. They may ring a little dead if you strike them—but that is all.

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Not knowing this, Undine wondered at herself when she found out that she intended to live, and to grow strong, and pretty too.

Then the women in the village began to say malicious things, and to find out that she was stupid and conceited and unchildlike; but she cared nothing for what they said, and read her books and curled herself up to dream for hours among the roots of her favorite old tree by the little bridge in the woods. At first they were sad, unearthly dreams, but when the year grew older and the golden colour came creeping over the hills, it crept into her dreams also; and she would sit there smiling and glad; then she would wonder at herself and go home slowly, thinking of the dark lonely house and the Goldenlight that was buried there forever.

Cousin Jonathan tried to cheer her, buying books for her, a horse, dresses and trinkets, and everything wherewith man seeks to comfort and delight the heart of womankind. But, as his wife remarked to Miss Mell, he might as well have saved his money and spared himself the trouble: she never showed the least pleasure at receiving his prettiest gift, except it happened to be a book that pleased her, and then it was only in a staid, old-womanish way.

Three years had passed by, and Undine the child had changed into Undine the woman—pretty, very pretty, even Miss Mell was obliged to allow that, “for those who like that style of beauty.” But she page: 84 was stupid, terribly stupid and old-fashioned. All her female acquaintances were agreed on this point. The most ravishing dress could not win even a glance, the most delicious piece of scandal the least attention. No little party or picnic, however heart-subduing in person or purse the gentlemen who were to be there, could ever awaken in her the faintest enthusiasm. People left off having anything to do with her at last.

“I'm terribly anxious about her,” Mrs. Barnacles would say. “It's not that she is old; she is a mere child; but I don't see what's to make her change; and if no one ever sees her, who's to marry her?” Mrs. Barnacles was a yellow-faced big-nosed invalid, who passed her life on a sofa and was apt to take a dyspeptic view of things. “She has need of all her good looks, if she is to go off; men don't take readily to those queer, dull sorts of girls; and with those idiotic ideas of hers, on religious matters, too, half the men would not have her as a gift.”

“Of course they would not,” Miss Mell would here strike in; “and I believe it's all put on too—her not going to chapel and all the rest of it—just to be peculiar. It's all nonsense. What does she know about such things? For clever learned men it's all very well, but a stupid child like her ought to be well whipped and fed on bread and water for six months; that would take the nonsense out of her better than anything else.”

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“Yes,” Mrs. Barnacles would assent, “for men it's all very well, as you say; but a woman, and one who lives on charity, ought to keep them to herself if she has ideas of that unwomanly kind.”

She used to tell Undine all this, to her face, sometimes: “Go to chapel and give up reading those nonsensical books, and act like other people even if you don't think like them. It won't answer, it won't answer at all; and you had better give up all this sort of thing before it's too late. You'll repent it if you don't.”

Then Undine, half bitter, half indifferent, would get away from her to the dear old world of inanimate nature, which never calls us queer and strange or advises us to wear a mask. It was well for her that she cared for that at least, for dark loveless times had fallen on her, and she cared for nothing else. Cousin Jonathan was good to her, did all in his power for her, but she liked him less as the years went on. She had never loved him, and the intellectual help which he had been able to give her ceased to be a bond between them when she had reached his ground and even passed beyond him. So now Cousin Jonathan shared the fate common to all lovers, and gave out his gold, such as it was, for dust.

One afternoon late in the summer Undine sat half buried among the long grass at the foot of her old tree. Mill's Political Economy, with its face turned page: 86 to the ground, lay at her feet, while a little black beetle scudded hither and thither among its pages, all unnoticed. Her hands were busily employed in picking off small bits of dried bark from the trunk of the old tree; while her thoughts were in the same key, and as sweet and impossible of fulfilment, as ever were little Ellie's when she sat alone 'mid the beeches in the meadow.

It may be true that the man who has never dreamed with his eyes open never can know what disappointment means; but it is also true that he never knows what heaven is like. Undine's stay there was not of long duration, for by and by Cousin Jonathan came sauntering through the woods in search of her.

She was so enwrapped in her own thoughts that she did not notice his presence till his hand had been passed softly over her hair.

“Where are your thoughts wandering?” he asked as he seated himself softly beside her on one of the great knotted roots of the old tree which had forced its way out of the ground.

“Nowhere,” Undine answered wearily.

“That is the answer you always make me now,” he said, very gravely; “you don't make a friend of me now as you used to, Undine.”

“Because I can't. There never was much sympathy between us on any subject; there is none now.”

“It is you who do not understand me,” he an- answered page: 87 swered, passing his fingers softly through her hair and letting his hand rest on the back of her neck.

There was something in the action, simple as it was, that she did not like; and a feeling of disgust came, as it had often done lately when he kissed or caressed his little daughter, as he called her.

She threw his hand from her as she would a toad's claw, and sprang lightly to her feet.

“What is the matter?” he asked, looking up at her with his serene blue eyes; and Undine felt ashamed of her ingratitude and foolishness.

“Nothing is the matter,” she answered, laughing, “only I am not quite so old as you and believe in perpetual motion.”

Standing on tiptoe, she caught one of the overhanging boughs and swayed herself gently backwards and forwards. Cousin Jonathan thought, as he looked at her, that never, even on that first day when he saw her standing with her little naked feet upon the rocks, had she looked so deliciously lovely: as round, as downy and inviting as any golden peach that ever schoolboy eyes looked at and, looking, thirsted for, because it was unattainable.

“How dared you intrude upon me in my private residence!” she said, still laughing. “Is it not enough to make me disagreeable? Why don't you wait till I invite you?”

“I should have to wait a long time, I fear,” he replied, still looking at her.

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“Perhaps so, but death may make me more agreeable and sociable; and, as I am sure to die long before you, when you hear that I have departed this life you may come and hold converse with my spirit under this tree. I mean to haunt it, if the old monster does not quite dissolve me into nothingness.” She rattled on thus, not knowing what to say and not wishing to be silent.

“You have a queer mind,” said Cousin Jonathan. “As surely as you seem to be in one of your merry moods, you drag in some grim and ghostly thing to spoil it all. I don't believe you know what it is to be gladly happy.”

“Perhaps not. I know that when I was a child and used to romp most wildly and do mad things that none of the others dared, it was just because I was not happy. Whenever my thoughts and miseries were too great for me, I used to let off steam by doing something terribly naughty; and when I had been lying awake all night under my bed, in the greatest agony about my sins and other people's, I used to get up and have the most desperate of romps all by myself. I remember one day, when I was only seven years old, having the story of Cain and Abel for my Sunday lesson. It made a great impression on me. If God accepted Abel's sacrifice not because of its value but because of his faith, why, if I only had faith, should not fire come down page: 89 from heaven upon my sacrifice at Wilge Kloof. 1 I could think of nothing else for days, and so I waited till one day when I was very hungry and there was very nice meat for dinner. I thought the sacrifice must be one that had cost me something; so I would not touch a mouthful, but saved the nice little chop that was put on my plate till dinner was done and everyone had gone to take their siesta. It was a broiling day, but I went out to the shady side of the house and collected twelve little flat stones and piled them up neatly in a square heap; then I put my meat down on them and kneeled down to pray. I trembled with ecstatic joy when the prayer was finished, for I felt sure that, when I looked up, the flames would have descended and devoured my fatty chop. I was almost afraid to raise my eyes. When I looked up and saw the chop lying just as I had left it, I felt astonished, but my faith was not at all shaken, and I set to work again, praying with all my might. I looked up again after a long time, thinking I would see the chop and perhaps the stones themselves, like Elijah, licked up by the heavenly fire; but it was just as I had left it, only the sun had made the fat melt a little and run down the stones. I kept on praying till the people in the house began to stir, and then I threw down the altar and gave the chop to the dogs, and felt ever so wicked and miserable as I walked up and down in

1Wilge Kloof—pronounced Vilgerkloof. Wilge means willow.

page: 90 the shade of the house. I knew I had prayed with faith, and I thought the only reason why the fire had not come was because God hated me, as he had done Cain. By and by I went down to walk by the kraals, and saw one of the Kaffir girls fetching cattle dung to smear the floor of the house with. I thought smearing must be delightful work, and I could not bear to think about my poor altar and my chop any more; so I found a hard flat piece of ground at the back of the kraal, fetched some water in a broken oil can, and mixed up the water with the dung nicely, just as I had seen the black girls do. I worked so hard that in half an hour I had smeared a place the size of a room, and my clothes and face too. I was just beginning to feel quite better and as though I did not care so much that my offering had been rejected, when some one came and caught me in the middle of my dirt and happiness, and I was perched up on the top of a great box till bedtime.”

Undine paused to take breath at the end of this long relation. She did not care much for Cousin Jonathan's company nowadays, and the fear that he would feel it and be pained made her very voluble generally.

“You have changed strangely since those old days,” he said. “I don't think you are troubled with too much faith now; you believe in nothing under the sun.”

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“That only proves what I said just now,” she answered. “You don't understand me. I believe more truly in some things than you do.”

“In what, for instance?”

“Oh, in more than one. You said yesterday that there was no such thing as a love that must live while the soul lives; that wrong or neglect can change the love that can be felt but once in a lifetime for one human being and which is the best of earthly things. You pooh-poohed it and called it dreaming, not reasoning. I merely return the compliment.”

Cousin Jonathan did not like this enthusiastic speech, and smiled a sneering sort of smile. Beautiful men and women can afford to sneer; Cousin Jonathans cannot, and he looked grotesquely ugly as he did so.

“With your magnificent intellect and your profound reasoning faculties whereby you profess to test everything, one might almost expect you to show a somewhat deeper knowledge of life and human nature. But after all you are only a child, and will grow wiser, when you have seen more of the world, than to believe that love can live without hope or return, any more than a body without food or air.”

Undine hated to be told she was but a child and had no knowledge of the world, because there was so much of truth in the assertion. The little man page: 92 knew this and therefore he told her so, for he felt angry with her that afternoon, though he hardly knew why and his blue eyes never showed it.

“You read all manner of trash and sentimentality till your mind is completely enervated; you came down here this afternoon to read some of Mrs. Browning's poetry and effete nonsense, I have no doubt.”

“There lies what I have been reading,” she said, pointing to where Mill still lay upon the ground. “There is nothing very sentimental in that, I fancy.”

“You are likely to get just as much good from this style of reading as from the other,” he replied as he picked up the book.

“You are difficult to please, my old father,” she said as she caught the bough again and rocked herself gracefully to and fro.

Difficult to please! Of course he was. There was one thing in the world that would have pleased him, and that thing he could not have. The little man felt, as he sat there among the long grass, with his mild angel eyes and his seeking mouth, as though he could have killed her, for he knew that she would never love him. She hung as far from his reach as the rose that hangs on the topmost branch of a bush is from the worm that creeps up and down on the rotten leaves below. He hated her, and yet he loved her with a love that had grown with her opening beauty and her softening figure, as the worm grows page: 93 while the rose but swells. It is a long way from the dirt to the rose; but may it not be climbed?

Was he asking himself this question as he sat looking at her? Undine thought he looked ugly and strangely out of place among the dreamy flowering grasses on which were dancing the sunbeams which had made their way through the thick foliage. The little brook that murmured all the more sweetly, because almost buried out of sight—he could not understand what it was saying, and why had he come to disturb her quiet? Her conscience was just beginning to give her the most unpleasant twinges for thinking so ungratefully of one who had done more for her than any other being, when steps and voices coming over the bridge made her look round. There were two gentlemen crossing it, and Cousin Jonathan rose to his feet and went to meet them. He introduced them to Undine as the Mr. Blairs, father and son. There must have been at least thirty years' difference in their ages, yet as far as form and feature went there was a strong resemblance between them. Both were short and very broadly built, with round noses, round faces, blue eyes, scant beard, and sandy-coloured hair; but here the resemblance ended. In place of a painfully flexible and sensitive mouth, and eyes more soft and melting than a woman's, the father had thick, firm, pressed lips that told of a strong animal nature and an iron will, while the eyes above were so cold and dead that the great page: 94 stone in his breast-pin gave out more light and warmth than they did.

The path through the woods allowed only of two abreast; Undine had what half the girls of Greenwood would have given their little fingers to gain, a long walk and tête-à-tête with Mr. Henry Blair.

“Are you fond of reading?” he asked her, noticing the book in her hands. When a man opens conversation by this remark you may make pretty sure of one of three things—he wants education, he thinks you a fool, or he is one himself. Undine decided at a glance that neither of the first two was the case, and that consequently the last must be.

“At times,” she answered him, in a very indifferent voice. Books were her meat and drink, her friends and lovers, but she was not going to tell him so.

“You have Mill's Political Economy here, I see,” he remarked. “I am just going through his works with very great pleasure. They are beautiful, are they not?”

“Very,” said Undine, smiling inwardly.

Her companion then went on to state how he delighted in reading, how he spent his whole time in it. There was no work of note in English, French, German or Greek that she could mention, which he had not read. He liked philosophy, he revelled in poetry, he studied history, he worshipped science. He was a wonderful man, with a brain crammed as page: 95 full of facts and ideas as a brain could be; and yet not one of them had ever been able to reach him. Just the backboneless, warm-hearted, weak character which nature had given him he had, and would have to the end of his days. 'Tis small use trying to graft an orange tree on to a Coonie. 1 If you have no thought of your own, those of other men will find nothing to which they can fasten themselves; and you will have to carry them about with you—if carry them you will—much as you do your rings and your gloves, rightfully or wrongfully yours, as the case may be; but always outside of you, and never part of you.

So Undine walked beside her companion, with his black-blue woman's eyes and his soft voice, feeling a kindly contempt for him, in spite of his infinite superiority to herself in knowledge and acquirements of every kind.

“What do you think of them?” said Cousin Jonathan, when after a somewhat lengthy call their visitors had taken their departure.

“Nothing,” said Undine. “The son has not a bone in his whole composition, and the father is all bone, or something harder.”

Cousin Jonathan smiled, not displeased to hear her express her disapprobation of other men.

“I wonder if you ever did meet anyone whom you approved of,” he remarked, smoothing her soft hair.

1The “c” is a click. Coonie is a tree (shrub).

page: 96 “You are quite right with regard to the father, however; he is not troubled with too much tenderness of heart. The first time he married it was to a lady of very good family, whom he married just on account of her blood. He led her a very fine life, and when she died at the end of two years he married a woman who was immensely rich and whom he liked still less and treated still worse. She left him all her money when she died; but I believe he hates her son, who was here this afternoon, just because he is hers. I never saw them together before.”

“Has he any other children?” asked Undine.

“Yes, Albert, his eldest. In my pedagogue days, before I married Mrs. Barnacles, he was my pupil. He is here now, and is sure to call and see me in a day or two.”

Albert Blair! Yes, that was the name of the man Miss Mell had talked about as having been saved by a girl from drowning. Albert Blair—yes, that was the name; then she took up her book and thought no more about it.

Next morning Undine rose early and took her morning walk onto the little hill that lay behind Cousin Jonathan's house. The grass was still heavy with the great glittering dewdrops, and the fresh clear air reminded her of the mornings in her old African home when she used to get up early and go to pray behind the little koppie. There it was page: 97 so still and beautiful that it was easy to pray and to believe in God's love. She wondered if the dew lying on the English grass were really as lovely as the great drops that used to stand trembling on the bushes and silvery ice-plants among the stones of the koppie. Her thoughts went back to those old days—not longingly, for there hung over the memory of her childhood little of that free gladness which to most men causes it to lie behind them, a land of light and song, to be looked back at across the thirsty steppes of life with vain longing and sore regret. She had looked out onto the world with eyes too grave and earnest ever since the time when, a little child of six years, she had kissed the leaves and cried among the thorn bushes, because when chopped down and burnt they would die forever. She had found griefs and mysteries where other children see only playthings, and had passed a tearful solitary childhood in a home of love and plenty. There was no wish for their return in the eyes that looked back to those days; but they had about them that subtle charm which death alone gives to men or times. With all its intense solitude, its tears and doubts and bitter prayers, there had been hours of happiness in her childish life, hours when the heavens had seemed open and the angels of God had descended, and ascended from the earth.

Her thoughts wandered on from those old days to the first year of her life in England, to the glad page: 98 love that had lived before her and which had been so suddenly put out.

The impression those days had made upon her, extinguishing all hope, all faith, all trust, had somewhat faded, but a strange deadness seemed to have settled down upon her; and, with an intellect vigorous and alive, it seemed as though all emotional vitality had died within her.

Cousin Jonathan had said, “You believe in nothing.” He might with as much truth have added, “and love nothing.” Not Cousin Jonathan's extinction or disappearance into fire and brimstone, or that of anyone else, would now have cost her one tear; and even for herself she had but a kind of apathetic indifference. In a way, it might be, she loved her books and nature; but her feeling for Spencer's First Principles was not like the love which had poured itself out in hot kisses on the leaves and cover of her little brown Testament.

It was the sense of this coldness and deadness that made the days of passion and feeling look so beautiful to her now, and that almost brought the long-stranger tears into her eyes as she looked down on the glittering dew and thought of those early mornings behind the koppie. Agony, anything, would be better than this dreadful coldness and indifference. Would it never end, never break? If only I could love something, she thought, as she passed slowly over the wet grass. To love some- something page: 99 thing, to believe in something, to worship something, even if that something were only herself—to look at something with eyes other than those of calm indifference—it would be worth sleepless nights of tears and prayer.

She walked on with her eyes fixed on the ground, and was surprised when she looked up to find herself at the top of the hill. It was not a very stirring or striking scene that lay before her, but calm and bright. At the foot of the little hill on which she stood lay Cousin Jonathan's house, and beyond that the little wood in which grew her old tree. The white houses of the village were visible on the other side of it, and beyond that again the large mansion of the Blairs with its roof glittering in the sunshine. Not a soul was to be seen except at the edge of the wood, where a man and woman were standing. It looked as though the woman's head were resting on his arm, but they soon parted; he turned back among the trees, while the woman took the little path that led straight up the hill. Undine sat down, listlessly watching her as she came nearer; then she saw it was not a face she knew or had ever seen before in Greenwood. 'Twas a young face like those that sometimes haunted Undine's waking dreams and made her wish she were a painter, to fix them everlastingly on canvas. The woman was of more than middle height, with a magnificently developed yet graceful figure; her features were page: 100 regular and almost of a Jewish cast, while her long curled eyelashes drooped over cheeks as dark and brilliantly coloured as the rare hothouse flowers she wore in her bosom. Undine looked at her as she passed, filled with genuine admiration, but the woman seemed quite unconscious of her presence. She loves some one, and she is happy, thought Undine; if I could love I would be happy too.

When she sat doing her needlework in Mrs. Barnacles' room that morning, she asked her who the beautiful stranger was; for that lady was kept well informed in the doings and sayings of all Greenwood by the indefatigable Miss Mell.

“You must mean Alice Brown, I think,” said Mrs. Barnacles, after a moment's consideration; “they say she is growing more and more beautiful. It's very queer, but whenever the Blairs are here, she is. Generally she lives with her grandmother.”

“I should like to know her,” said Undine.

“Oh, they are only common people,” said Mrs. Barnacles. “We don't associate with them.”

That afternoon Harry Blair put in his appearance. As a rule he was careless enough about his dress to be mistaken for the greatest genius living; but on that afternoon he had arrayed himself with punctilious care, and had come to invite Cousin Jonathan and Undine to look at some fine pictures which had just arrived. Undine had said she was fond of pictures, and these were really beautiful.

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Of course she could not refuse to go; and Cousin Jonathan went, for he followed her steps as smoke follows a train.

George Blair was a rich man, and no miser; a man who valued his money only for the status it gave him in the eyes of his fellow men and the ease and luxury it might bring him. The erection and adornment of this house at Greenwood had been the employment and delight of the last twelve years. He would pay away hundreds of pounds for a picture or a statue that was said to be good, though he was about as well able to understand the one or the other as would have been one of the thoroughbreds that stood in his stable.

It was the first time Undine had been in the house, for during the three years she had been in Greenwood the owner had been travelling abroad. It was aristocratic to travel on the Continent, therefore he went. He had married his first wife because she knew who her great-grandfather was. He would have sold his own soul to be thought refined and of blue blood, but he never succeeded in producing the desired impression.

Perhaps it was the sense that where he so deplorably failed his eldest son was by gift of nature preeminently successful, that gave rise to the feeling of dislike he entertained for him. This, if not so strong as the feeling with which he regarded his younger son, was to say the least unfatherly.

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It half amused, half disgusted Undine to see the little bloated, leaden-eyed creature standing among the elegancies and beauties which his money had bought, talking of my pictures. My pictures! As if anything with a trace of beauty could ever belong to him. He might lay out his money for them; and if they were pictures they might hang on his walls, if they were women (a luxury in which he still largely indulged) he might dress them richly and buy their smiles and obedience; but possess them—never! The flesh-incrusted soul that looked out through the hard blue eyes in their setting of red fat, would know nothing of the possession of that which had beauty. Undine thought as she looked at him how unenviable was the fate of both women and pictures. But she soon forgot him before a large oil painting. It represented a battlefield. Horses and riders, dying and dead, lay around in wild confusion, while in the foreground, stretched out upon a heap of the slain, lay the figure of a man gorgeously clad in the knightly costume of the olden days. His plumed helmet lay at his side, filled with blood; and the beautiful face, so faultless in feature, so pitilessly hard in expression, was turned upward to the dark evening sky. At his feet, clasping them with both hands while it crouched upon the ground, was the figure of a woman, its delicate and voluptuous development being hardly concealed by the coarse, scanty clothing it wore. On the face there page: 103 was a wild look almost of joy, though the lines about the mouth were those of speechless agony.

“You seem fascinated by this picture,” said Harry Blair, gently, as he stood behind her. “It is my favourite also, but I confess I like it only because of the woman's face; I can make nothing out of it.”

“It seems to me to tell its own story,” answered Undine, speaking softly, as though more to herself than to him. “He was a noble, high-blooded lord, and she a poor serf, with only her soul and beautiful body to give him. He hardly cared to take them, though it was for nothing; and now, in the hour of death, she has followed him and found him lying dead; and she is crouching at his feet in agony because he is gone, and in wild joy because he is hers alone now, hers and no other's, if only that she may lie at his feet and die there.”

“A very desirable fate, certainly,” said a voice behind her that was far too melodious and well modulated to be that of either Harry Blair or Cousin Jonathan, whom they had left in the next room.

Undine looked round quickly from her slaughtered knight and passion-filled maiden to behold, standing behind her, that “Piece of divine perfection” as his lady admirers were wont to call him—Mr. Albert Blair.

He was a man of somewhat more than six feet in height, with a lithe graceful figure and a head of beautiful yellow-brown curls. His moustaches, of page: 104 the same colour, were so delicately curled that one felt surprised to see the firm powerful lips under them. His features were delicately chiselled, and from the regular white teeth to the small round ear there was neither fault nor flaw to be found in him, unless it were his eyes. They were of a pale cold blue, and would not have been small had he not habitually kept the lids more than half closed. There was nothing lost by that proceeding certainly, for when now and then on rare occasions he lifted them, the gleam shot forth was as icy and chilling as a moonbeam falling on a glacier. It was one of these that fell on Undine as she looked round, and it instantly froze her. She knew without looking at him that the cold light was falling on the small rent in her glove and on her ruffled hair which she had not smoothed before coming out.

There are some men and women in whose society we instantly feel a sublime indifference as to the cut of a coat, the dust on our sleeve, or the sit of our necktie; while there are others who, the moment we see them, set us running over all the flaws and defects in costume and person, from the want of blacking on our boots to the broken nail on our forefinger. There are men and women in whose presence we seem to be released from ourselves and to be possessed of ideas and powers of expression which till then we never dreamed of; while others seem to shrivel us up and leave us standing without page: 105 an idea or a correct word in all our vocabulary on which we can lay hands. One of these latter was Albert Blair.

Everyone on whom the cold beam fell felt awkward, ill-dressed, and ignorant. Elegant dandies felt in his presence that their whiskers were too long, the set of their coats execrable, and their way of handling a cane simply clownish and disgraceful. Ladies, however well contented they had been with their own appearance the moment before, discovered that their dress was all in shocking taste, their knuckles were too large and their sleeves too short, when the blue eyes were turned upon them. And Undine in the hour that followed thought of nothing but her split glove and ruffled hair and, while she stared at the pictures, saw as little of their meaning as did the Piece-of-perfection who walked at her side, with his deferential manner and his disagreeable eyes, passing commonplace conventional remarks upon all they looked at.

It was a great relief to her to get away from him into the fresh evening air, and walk down the green lane between Cousin Jonathan and Harry Blair.

An hour or two later that young gentleman was seated in the smoking-room, with Mrs. Browning's Portuguese Sonnets open before him. His feet were drawn up under his chair, his elbows rested on the table, his head was stretched forward, and his great eyes fixed on vacancy. His brother Albert was at the page: 106 other end of the room, reclining in an easy-chair with his legs stretched over another. His glass, lamp, an elegant cigar-stand, and a pile of blue papers lay at his side on a small round table.

Presently he took the cigar from between his lips and, throwing down the last of the blue papers, said with one of his graceful inimitable little yawns: “You seem to find your book singularly entertaining this evening. You have not looked at it once in the last half hour.”

His brother started, and answered quickly, “Quite as entertaining as those everlasting blue papers of yours”; and then added, after a pause, “Don't you think Miss Bock is very like the woman in that picture?”

“What woman, and what picture? You should try and be a little more explicit if you wish for an answer,” said Albert Blair, now really closing his eyes and puffing the blue smoke softly through his lips.

“Of course—I mean the picture we were looking at when you came up this afternoon,” responded his brother, in a tone that very clearly showed how unwelcome that coming up had been.

“Yes, possibly there is a resemblance; but your divinity has not nearly such a delicate hand; and a good hand ranks next to a good figure,” retorted his brother, calmly.

Harry looked fire and lightning at him, and the page: 107 Piece-of-perfection, who had a strange aptitude for seeing things without opening or at least appearing to open his eyes, said, as he puffed away serenely: “There is no occasion to excite yourself about what I say, my dear fellow. She is a very pretty little girl, an uncommonly pretty little girl; beats Lady Edith and her sister hollow; only rather too careless about her dress, and a little peculiar in her manner, that's all.”

To think of comparing her to Lady Edith, a die-away beauty with no more soul in her than a fly, and to speak of her with that cool air of superiority, was a crime on his brother's part which put into poor Harry's hand a strong inclination to send Mrs. Browning in her red morocco binding among his brother's curls.

Other books had been so sent for smaller offences in their boyish days, and the sender had been invariably knocked over and coolly kicked out of the room. He was not one of those to whom experience teaches much, still on this occasion he was wise enough to take himself out of the way of temptation; and making his way into the garden he paced up and down the paths in the moonlight. Surely that thing of grace and beauty which in two days had filled the whole circle of his existence—surely it was now in like manner wandering up and down under the dark trees around Cousin Jonathan's house. For had she not said in answer to his ques- question page: 108 tion that she loved walking alone and in the moonlight?

Now as it happened, on this particular evening Undine sat beside a little table darning Cousin Jonathan's stockings, listening and laughing at extracts from the daily papers and Punch, which the little man read aloud to her as he lay on the sofa.

When she stood up to put her work away he asked her what she thought of Mr. Blair number three.

“Think of him?” she answered. “He is only an equally proportioned mixture of ice and iron. With all his deference and politeness, he would freeze one or crush one to atoms with as little compunction as a fly, if one happened to stand in his path. I don't like his brother, I dislike the father, and I detest him,” said Undine, as she threw the last stocking into the basket and thought of her torn glove. She sat down to mend it when she got to her room.

“What a contemptible little wretch I am becoming!” she thought when she had finished it, “to allow such trivialities to break into my real life and drive out higher thought. Am I no better than other women after all? I've no heart; if I lose my head what is to become of me?” She felt weary of herself and disgusted, and she could not now lie down on the floor and pray, till in an agony or an ecstasy, she should forget herself. She had taken the first bite at the forbidden fruit, and could see that the terrors which had haunted her were but page: 109 the inevitable creations of the human mind, as it looked out in its ignorance on this world of suffering and wrong—could see that the visions which had entranced her were but the dreams of the human soul in its craving after happiness and truth. So much she saw; but saw no farther. Inevitably as to the soul in its search after its highest truth there comes a time of agony and of blood, so too there comes a time of deadness and of cold. The old life has been cut down to the roots, the new life has not yet arisen. So, too, in our childish vision of hell, we stand alone in a world of darkness and silence till the world around us and even we ourselves seem to become mere mocking shadows. Yet, could we know it, it is but the silence that comes before the dawning; it is but the darkness that comes before the day breaks; it is but the land of glittering glaciers that lies between us and the celestial city. And what if we should perish alone in its mist and cold? Better to die frozen, striving for the glorious golden city of God, up yonder—better than here, in the land of Egypt, with the flesh pots and the onions, the leeks and the garlic.

That evening, while Undine sat mending her glove, Albert Blair still leaned back in his chair, sipped his glass, and smoked with his half-closed eyes, making calculations and thinking hard all the while.

Unknown to his father and without capital, he page: 110 was speculating, as he himself would have allowed, in a rather wild and reckless manner. These speculations had for him the same irresistible fascination that the gaming table had for many, and only through their help, if ever, could he hope to free himself from his father's control—unless he should marry a rich wife; and to Albert Blair's proud palate a wife's bread would have tasted yet more bitter than a father's.

“Still, I must keep Lady Edith well in hand. If these speculations should fail, it must come to marrying her. She dresses in good taste and is in perfect style—but I would rather it were her sister,” he soliloquized.