The House of Enchantments
The love borne by the painter, Thomas Lawrence, for Sarah Siddons' daughters veered first toward one and then toward the other, in most amazing fashion, and so love, pathos, tragedy and humor are amazingly intermingled.
OF ALL the pictures in the National Gallery, London, there is none of more beauty and distinction than that of the immortal actress, Sarah Siddons. She looks the very great lady she so often played.
The noble poise of the head in its curved hat of black with drooping ostrich plumes, the stately throat pillaring the beautiful face all proclaim her Queen of the stage, the Tragic Muse whom Gainsborough chose her to represent in the finest of his portraits. There he inscribed his name on the hem of her robe in proud humility, saying thus he would choose to go down to posterity, the recorder of that magnificent beauty and genius.
Those who read of her triumphs little know the sorrows which rent her heart in the stormy romance which befell her two daughters, gifted like herself with all the beauty and swift sensitiveness of the surprising Kemble family from which she sprang.
This, imaginatively treated, is the story of that strange business, absolutely true except that I have compressed its wild romance into a shorter time than it really occupied. The excerpts from letters are all authentic and are taken from the admirable book of the Siddons-Lawrence correspondence edited by Mr. Oswald Knapp—-a book which would interest those who wish to follow the minuter details of this strange romance of the great artist. Sir Thomas Lawrence.
IT WAS spring-time in London, and even Great Marlborough Street had its share. It has been said that there is no street in London from which a tree cannot be seen, and from the tall, narrow windows of the great Mrs. Siddons’s house a lime tree was visible, its delicate green leaves not yet soiled with smoke and soot. The sparrows chirped and twittered about it and as far as it could be seen its misty ethereal flutter was an image of hope.
The two Siddons girls sat by the window, tightly closed because Maria took cold so easily, and longed for woods and daffodils far away in the blue distances of Surrey. Still, there were reasons why London had its charm for both just now.
So there they sat in the pale sunshine which London takes for spring gold.
Two sisters, not alike in coloring, very / -, ■ '
different in expression, yet with the subtle all-pervading likeness through which kindred blood speaks. Sally, the older, clear-featured as a Greek nymph, with dark and beautiful hair piled upon her little head, looked out into a happy world through full-orbed eyes so deeply and heavily fringed that the first glance might guess them black instead of their true violet blue. Her lips, faintly pink as the petals of a China rose were all sweet music and gentle laughter. We know, for we have her portrait drawn by the hand of a lover, and that lover later to be the great Sir Thomas Lawrence.
There she smiles in immortal charm, little foreseeing the story to be remembered in looking upon her fair face. Hush!—she is about to sing— exquisitely, as she did in life. But no—the music is all done.
Her sister, Maria, glows beside her, a stormy beauty, angry dark eyes and lips red as a pomegranate blossom. Her features also have the clear-cut Kemble beauty which they inherit from their beautiful mother, but it is the eyes—the eyes that absorb every other interest in Maria’s face. With them she might have what features she would and yet be the one magnet in a room to draw the glances of men and women. They were too large for the small, pale face in which they burned, too hungry, too eager, too secret; théy overweighted her. They bespoke a personality that overflowed the slender vessel of her body. The very air about her was magnetic with quiverings of fear and hope and passionate resolve—too passionate for so young a girl. It is to be observed how often the word “too” is to be used in writing of Maria Siddons. But if it seems exaggerated we have her portrait also drawn by the hand of a lover. And that is the true testimony to her tragedy.
Did she bring it on herself? Who can tell? Love has his victims, and she was one, and dragged another with her. That is all that can be said.
nPHEY sat awhile sil^ ent, Sally reading and Maria staring at the tree in a dream too absorbed for her years. At last, Sally looking up, put a marker in her book and laid it by. She spoke in a low, penetrating voice, never to be forgotten if once heard—another heritage from the actor-Kembles. That family set its trademark, for so it may be called, deep on every one of its branches. Either of those girls might well have been an actress if r their mother had so
willed, but she knew better than most the perils and weariness of the player’s life, and the very mention of such a possibility was’Torbidden.’7 The mother was the breadwinner in that household and held to her right to govern in consequence. A benevolent despot, but a despot all the same. The father a very ordinary, sometimes agreeable actor, a little astray among the birds of Paradise of the cèlebrated Kemble connection. He did his best but found it a little fatiguing.
“My mamma should be here in about ten minutes,” said Sally, looking at the small gold repeater at hér girdle. She stood up and yawned, stretching her arms apart, and disclosing all the lovely lines of her siim young figure beneath her short-waisted gown. “What are you thinking of, Maria? I don’t comprehend how
A novelette, complete in this issue, by the famous Canadian who wrote “The Divine Lady” and
“The Glorious Apollo”
you can sit hour after hour staring into nothing. What have you in your head now?”
She added nothing to those two words, and never looked at Sally.
If she had, she would have seen a faint blush rising in her face. She, too, was silentî Far in the distance came the sound of horses’ hoofs.
She appeared to be listening to that and to have no interest in Maria’s answer. In reality she was considering what could be said to Mrs. Siddons about that very matter when she should arrive from the tour in the Midlands where she had been playing to rapturous houses for a month.
“It’s no use pretending, Sally,” cried Maria suddenly, fixing her with those burning eyes, “because, if you think you’ve hid it from me you’re entirely mistaken.
You’ve engaged yourself to Thomas Lawrence and well may you be frightened to tell our mamma! He’s in debt— his people look to him for support. Did you expect mamma to work for him as well as for all the rest of us? Goodness knows she scarcely gets a minute of rest now.
Is she to shoulder Lawrence as well as—”
But Sally cut her short with a certain sweet authority.
“Maria, you’re a foolish, headstrong girl and don’t care what you say. Thomas Lawrence has a genius that the world very soon will acknowledge, and mamma, who made her own way up the ladder, won’t despise him because he was not born with a gold spoon in his mouth. If he and I love one another—”
Maria looked at her with a mocking spirit in either black eye.
“Love! You may love him, Sally. Love comes easy to you, but it comes easier still to Mr. Lawrence. An artist—a man with a face like his—why, all the women in London will fall in love with him. He can’t keep his eyes off a beautiful face—and why should he? It’s his trade to love it. That man is a born lover—of beauty. Not of any one woman.”
She flung the words like knives, willing to wound. Sally put them by with quiet dignity.
“You don’t know Mr. Lawrence so well as you think— anyway, you’re but a child. You don’t understand these matters.”
Maria glared at her and was silent. Seen thus the two resembled Blake’s line—
“Girls of mild silver and of furious gold,” as though he had written it for them.
The horses came nearer and Sally ran down the stairs, fleet-footed, to be at the door to welcome her mother, Maria starting to follow.
But she stopped, pressing her hand to her heart as if in pain, and leaned against the wall, panting.
“0, why can’t I hold my tongue?” she gasped. “It half kills me—and my poor Sally that’s so good to me! I think the devil gets into me and makes me mad. O, if only Lawrence would go away and never come back! If only I had never seen him—nor Sally either.”
She stood a moment, doing her best to subdue the bright color that had rushed into her cheeks, and closed her eyes with an expression of pain as steps came up the stairs and a voice so like Sally’s and her own that the three might easily be confused.
“But where’s my sweet Maria? Why wasn’t she downstairs?” it said.
She pulled herself together then and went to meet her mother.
ONE feels as if court heralds should announce with silver trumpets anything so lovely and imperial. She held her head like a queen; she walked like a goddess. The long folds of her cloak falling about her took on the character of classic drapery. She stretched her arms maternal and was Demeter welcoming her lost Persephone. She smiled her exquisite smile and became Euphrosyne. There was no pose, no expression, that was not lovely on this lady and even her beautiful daughters paled before her noble beauty. With the flush of pleasure on her cheek she might easily have been Sally’s elder sister and indeed there were not many years between them.
Because there must needs be spots on the sun it was said the grace that melted from one lovely poise to another was not spontaneous; that she cultivated the majesty of demeanor and words which arrested even passers-by with astonishment, and indeed at this very moment a story was running round London of a man found impossibly dead in his bureau, of all places, and Mrs. Siddons’s majestic comment—“Poor man! How gat he there?” But who could censure such divinity? and it is owned that even the studied may become the natural with long usage.
She folded Maria in her arms and then held her off to look at her.
“Too thin, my child. What have you been doing to
yourself? Now, Sally, you know I left you in charge Has she had her milk, her nourishment? Has she rested sufficiently? Her hands are hot and feverish.”
“She has done all I could make her do, mamma. But Maria is not easy to command.”
Sally was clinging fondly to her mother’s arm.
“It’s my mind won’t rest,” Maria explained, with her eyes on the ground. “I lie down as my mamma ordered but my mind won’t lie down. It runs, it flies, it soars—” “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!” quoted Mrs. Siddons, half laughing. It was believed that she almost discoursed in passages from Shakespeare and cultivated this habit as setting forth her lofty attainments. “But what has my child upon her conscience?”
Maria flushed up again. Fragile as a lily, every emotion painted itself in heart’s blood on those thin cheeks.
“Conscience-—no! Imagination, that’s what troubles me. I’m always in lands I shall never see. Moonstruck —that’s me! 0, mamma, why weren’t you like everyone else, solid, wholesome like a suet dumpling, instead of a queen with a heart of fire. Then your poor daughter might have had a chance to be placid and dull. But, no, no! You’re the marvelousest, most beautiful mother in all the world, and what wonder it runs mad after you!” She threw herself into her mother's arms and kissed her fiercely, Mrs. Siddons smiling at the delicious flattery. Sally looked on with her own quiet.
“Carter is bringing tea, mamma. Sit here till it comes and tell us about the tour. I don’t need to ask if ’twas successful.”
“Money poured forth like water,” said Mrs. Siddons, disengaging her cloak with one of her ample gestures.
‘Crowds beyond compare. A Roman triumph. I know not when I have so felt the parts—not so driven them home to breathless houses. If matters go thus ’twill not be so long before I bid farewell to the stage and settle down in peace to what I really love—my daughters and domesticities.”
Poor lady—easier said than done. Her stage needed neither curtain nor footlights. It would be wherever two or three were gathered together with herself in the midst of them. The Kembles were, so to speak, born in the purple, nurtured in the green room—how should they ever shake it off? But it was a Kemble legend that placid retirement was what they really panted for—one and all. They only obliged the public meanwhile.
“And what news have my nestlings for me?” was the next question. “Your father? Your brothers? Cecilia, my infant?”
All the family events were carefully detailed by Sally, while the Tragic Muse sipped her tea and luxuriously stretched forth her long limbs to rest. She had a man’s joy in coming to this peaceful haven, a man’s sense of pride in its comforts well earned by her own hard work.
MR. SIDDONS might be rheumatic and betake himself to Bath and its healing fountains, but still the house was safe, supported on her strong shoulders, and still the sons could be put out in the world, and Sally and Maria wear their silks and gauzes while the beautiful breadwinner toiled on the prickly paths of the touring :star. What wonder her success was sweet to her? “And have you had many visitors?” she asked at
last. “Has Mrs. Piozzi been here? And Lawrence?’
Sally hastened to explain that Mrs. Piozzi had taken her to Ranelagh and many sights and pleasures. As for Lawrence—her voice faltered.
Maria flung herself into the pause.
“Sally won’t tell you, mamma, but she should! He has been here day in, day out. And Sally and he are engaged. And if—”
“Engaged? My child, my daughter, what is this?” cried Mrs. Siddons in blank verse. And rçlapsed immediately into the homelier vein. “Heavens! What on earth will your papa say?”
There was a most uncomfortable silence—Sally pale and quiet, Maria quivering from the dart she had launched, and Mrs. Siddons looking from one to the other in consternation. The piece of cake fell from her hand, and the silky spaniel at her feet devoured it placidly. She set her cup down with a quick, nervous gesture.
“Sally, speak, i command you. Is your sister outstepping the limits of truth? I did fear at one time there had been attentions, and watched with anxiety. But this—I really refuse to believe it until your own lips confirm the fact.”
Sally looked at her with pleading eyes of darkest blue.
“Mamma, I think Maria should have left this to me. My last thought was to hide it though I would not write for ’twas impossible to explain without seeing you. Maria shouldn’t say we are engaged, for how could that be unless you had consented?-—but he says he loves me, and I love him.”
Mrs.Siddons wrung her hands in the Lady Constance gesture. Not that she was not dreadfully perturbed, but her emotion must always take the most beautiful, most disciplined expression. What on earth would Mr. Siddons say? Even if a father does not pay the household bills he is still a father, and neither once nor twice had “Sid” lifted up his voice in the wilderness against the unfortunate proximity of that handsome young Lawrence’s studio in Greek Street. Not even the most prophetic parent can foresee the future, and if anyone had told Mr. Siddons that he beheld the celebrated Sir Thomas, President of the Royal Academy, sought, followed, flattered by the greatest, in the handsome, debt-burdened artist of Green Street, he would have smiled superior and bolted his hall door the faster. But what can a man do against the united women of his household?
Nothing. Mrs. Siddons cared little about the future, but she almost adored the handsome, irresponsible creature who regarded her beauty and genius as something to be watched, studied, and worshipped as the very exposition of divine loveliness on earth. He was always at the house, hanging about them, luxurious as a tame cat, laughing with her and her daughters, nursing and drawing the baby Cecilia, sketching the beautiful three singly or together in every attitude that caught his eye, taking them, one and all, as heaven-sent inspirations for all he ever hoped to offer the world as the fruits of his own genius.
It was a family joke that he was in love with the whole family from the mother downward, and certainly if any ingredient of that three-fold philtre had been withdrawn his art would have been so much the poorer. But there was a kind of unwritten law that the love was to be always thus divided, not concentrated. It was to spread like mellow sunshine over all the happy household, and Lawrence must remain an honorary son and brother, more assiduous, worshipping and tender than any brother could be, and as safe, as reliable.
In vain Mr. Siddons had warned and protested.
“It’s very unlike your usual good sense, Sarah, to have that young Lawrence perpetually hanging atout the house. He’s the handsomest young fool I ever clapped an eye on, and the most inflammable. As sure as I sit here there’ll be trouble with the girls. It isn’t in a woman’s nature to resist the way he looks at ’em.”
“Ah, that’s just where it’s safe, Sid,” cried Mrs. Siddons. “The way he looks at them both, as you say. I own if he looked at either with that peculiar expression of his, half ardent, half melancholy, I should have my fears. But he’s just the same be it Sally or Maria or even their old mother—”
“Well, all I can say is—Take warning! That kind of man goes through the world breaking hearts and losing his own, and the danger is that he really does lose it and thinks every time that he has lost it for ever. Don’t I know the kind! He’s six times more dangerous than the average rake, because he’ll honestly believe himself in love and the unfortunate object of his passion will see him through his own eyes and believe it too. I’d as soon have a Charles Surface in the house as he, and sooner. Not half so dangerous. This kind always thinks he’s caught the Adorable, and then he goes on to the next.”
But Mrs. Siddons had never attached any importance to Sid’s judgment, considering him rather a dull earthbound individual—and her daughters were her own charge and not his. Now the blow had fallen.
“Sally, you alarm me more than I can say,” she said gravely. “Sure you mistake Lawrence altogether. I dare be sworn he loves you, but so he does me, and Maria. I trust in God so pleasant and innocent a relationship is not to be spoiled by any foolish coquetry on your part.”
Maria listened, hungry-eyed, while the pink on Sally’s cheek deepened.
“I don’t know that my mother ever had cause to accuse me of coquetry. I know he loves you and Maria, and ’tis natural I should love him the better for that, but I am his choice, the choice of his heart, and though he and I know there can be no talk of marriage yet and though there’s no fixed engagement, still—”
“Impossible,” cried Mrs. Siddons again. “I had an ill-divining heart as I returned. A sense of misfortune beset me. Sally, I beseech you view the matter with your own good sense and let it be buried in oblivion. Let us return to the pleasing innocence of the old days.
I can’t face your papa with it. I can’t indeed.”
Silence that covered no consent on Sally’s part. She touched her mother’s hand softly but said not a word. After a while—“Mamma, you’re tired, and no wonder. I would not have you troubled now. Let it rest and he shall talk to you and you’ll consider. But now, come upstairs and take off your bonnet and I’ll unpack and you’ll tell me your triumphs. Put it all away for awhile.” Mrs. Siddons suffered herself to be led out of the room and presently a closing door and light feet overhead told that Sally had the matter in hand and was providing for her mother’s comfort. Maria moved to the window again and stood looking out, leaning against the sash and restlessly watching the lime tree and its sparrows.
QUICK feet on the stairs and the door opened softly and a head came round the corner, a young man’s head, light and bright and most beautiful.
“Has she come, Maria? Am I in time to welcome her?” Maria swung round and all her face flamed into dangerous loveliness. Well might poor Sid foresee the consequences of such a presence in his house!
Let no one take my word for this young man nor think my description the art of a writer who will have none but stars among his actors. It seldom happens that the hero is truly heroic and I will own that Lawrence might have been homely and yet as dangerous to feminine peace. But his contemporaries bear witness that Luck had been his fairy godmother and had fallen in love with him herself. Artists declared that they wished no better model for warrior or young god—face and figure alike perfect—an exquisite fencer and dancer. Writers spoke of his quick sensibilities where their art was concerned, musicians hailed him as a brilliant violinist and singer. And women—women knew too well, though they too little understood, his instant susceptibility to charms of theirs and found him irresistible. And this was Thomas Lawrence whose pictures are still the jewels of the great collectors. Even now his fascination lingers vicarious in the portraits he painted and the world cannot forget him if it would.
“You’re never too late nor too early,” she said. “Always just right. Sally is with her upstairs and they’ll be here presently. Sit down.”
“Was the tour a success? But indeed I’ve seen some of the journals. What else could it be? Your mother’s a feast for the real Olympians, Maria—not only for the gallery gods. I don’t suppose there was ever such a woman with such beauty and genius combined, in all the world’s history from beginning to end. Heavens, such elegance! If the Queen could enter a room like your mamma-—it’s the short torso and the length from knee to ankle that does it. You have it too, Maria. Sally has it—and it makes you three Graces. Graces indeed! Not one of them had your mother’s great, lovely eyes of velvet brown, and Sally’s blue—the real ocean blue—not harebell, and—
"And mine?” asked the girl, cutting short his rhapsody and fixing him with two deep wells of darkness, tragic in their midnight lashes.
“Stop—Stay one minute!” he cried, diving into his pocket for a small sketching block. “Maria, you’re divine like that—divine. Unbend your upper lip. Let it tremble a little—your small face—your eyes overflow it with darkness, and the lashes—droop them more. ‘The pensive maid—’ What is it Cowley says? No— don’t stir. I never saw you so lovely.”
But the praised eyes brimmed over, the lip quivered in bitter earnest and putting up two thin hands for a shield she sobbed and could not cease.
“Good God, what have I done! Monster that I am!” Down went the block, the pencil after it, and Lawrence was on his knees before her chair.
“Maria, don’t cry. My poor, poor girl!”
“I’m not your poor girl. I’m nobody’s girl.” Her . words were breathless with sobs. “Sally has you, and
she’s mamma’s favorite. I can’t help loving her myself, and no one, no one loves me.”
“But we all love you,” he protested. “Who in the world could help loving anything so beautiful? Your eyes—0, if you could see your own eyes, and the stars they are in the cloudy lashes when you look up. And even Sally’s mouth is not so exquisite as the tiny dimples you have at each corner—just there—where the lips are so finely cut.”
He touched them like a lover, a butterfly touch that set her quivering.
“But you know you mustn’t cry, Maria. It makes you ill and then you’re not so perfect.” '
She passed that by, gazing at him mournfully with tears gemming the silky lashes. There was a desolate sweetness in her expression that went to his heart.
“Don’t look like that, I beseech you, child.” He took her hand and pressed it against his heart. “When Sally and I are married you shall be often with us and I’ll paint you—”
“Cruel, cruel!” she said and snatched her hand away, drawing back in her chair. She leaned her head against the velvet and fixed him with a silent gaze. How many things it spoke! His heart knew that language too well. Still kneeling he looked up at her and so they remained for what seemed a long time to both. Presently she rose. He caught her hand and kissed it as she went by, but she never looked back and passing out closed the door and left him alone.
HE CAME in again at evening time when the family sat about the round table and Maria made tea in the heavy old silver tea-pot, eclipsed by the massive urn presented to Lady Macbeth by a parcel of enthusiasts. A steam like that from the Witches’ caldron, but more innocent, veiled her face as he entered and her little greeting passed unnoticed amid the general stir.
Sid was cold. He would have liked that first evening of his wife’s return to be a family gathering, and Harry Siddons, the only son at home, had never been one of Lawrence’s following. Site’s pinch of snuff was deliberative.
“We scarcely expected to see you to-night, Mr. Lawrence,” said he. “Very obliging of you to drop in.” “Bright shines the sun that welcomes Mortimer!” Mrs. Siddons put in, nervously bridging the chasm. But Lawrence was never one to see a rebuff unless it suited him. He drew up his chair and took his cup from Maria and shot a glance at Sally and besieged the eldest of the Graces with eager questions as to her triumphs.
“0 that I had seen you!” he said. “There’s not a performance of yours, madam, that I would miss if inclination would but carry me. Each one missed is an inspiration lost. ’Tis to breathe a diviner air, to move in the large utterance of the early Gods. 0, madam, what has the world done to be worthy of such genius!” His eyes glowed on her, and though Sid grunted she could not resist the homage of words and look. There is no doubt that Mrs. Siddons, though after a different fashion from her two daughters, was also bewitched and swept off her stately feet into the rapids of devotion and admiration for these dangerous fascinations.
It is a singular fact, but true, that in their secret hearts Mrs. Siddons, Sally, and Maria, each believed herself to be the object of his deepest admiration, conceal it how he would. Naturally, in the mother’s case she admitted the seeking of youth to youth, yet imagined it was the radiance of her own gifts and graces which had been the first magnet to draw him to their circle. Indeed it may well have been so, and some who knew, protested that it was the Kemble type he found irresistible whether in either daughter or the more lovely mother, who was but fourteen years his senior when all’s said and done.
Matters halted for a few days over the engagement, he pressing nothing, and Sally agreeing that the discussion should be postponed until her mother was better prepared to deal with it.
It was then that she was called away for a fortnight to help Mrs. Piozzi, whose daughter Cecilia was taken suddenly ill. Sally was the one whom all turned to in trouble though she was none too strong herself from the asthma which troubled her at odd times. She saw Lawrence alone for a few minutes in the drawing room before she started in the Piozzi carriage.
His arm was about her and her head on his shoulder. “Mamma has promised to speak to papa when I get back, dearest. I wouldn’t hurry her for she is so frightened of his hearing it. I grieve for the delay, but she does so much for us all that I couldn’t press her, could I? And yet I wish—I wish he knew.”
Was it a dim instinct in Sally’s mind that the thing would be safer when Lawrence was bound openly? Hardly that, and yet—could she ever feel sure of such a wonderful lover until he was all her own? Must not every woman who saw him envy, hate her for her miraculous good fortune?
“My treasure, no, you couldn’t press her. Don’t overweary yourself, and remember your Lawrence’s
heart beats only for you night and day until he holds you in his arms again.”
Tenderest, fondest kisses, a moisture in his eyes that matched the dew in her own, and so they parted. It is safe to say there was never a doubt in Sally’s heart as she climbed sadly into the tall carriage at the door.
The fortnight lengthened into three weeks and still Mrs. Piozzi wrote that Sally was absolutely necessary to Cecilia’s cure.
“Of Sally I say ‘She’s all the comfort the Gods will diet me with.’ Sally is my darling daughter.” So shewrote and so the time went on.
’ I 'HE afternoon before her return Mrs. Siddons was refreshing her memory of the part of Mrs. Haller in the drawing room, walking up and down, pleading with passion before the marble-topped table in the corner,, hurling defiance at the crimson damask curtains anc? fixing the sofa with eyes that implored and threatened. To the full she carried out Garrick’s precept that theman who cannot make love as rapturously in rehearsal to an armchair as to the finest woman in Europe wilt never be an actor, and therefore she reserved none of her effects for Drury Lane but was as great in her own seclusion as on the famous boards.
This woman’s genius has almost obscured her beauty in the minds of men, but for the moment, to the one unseen watcher, it seemed that this was genius in itself, supreme and unapproachable. She turned at the end of the long room and advanced, her slender length of limb giving her a goddess-like height which appeared to dilate in her passion to something more than human. The eyes might be velvet in repose, but excited they glared and sparkled in their deep setting like the very jewels of the soul. Her full bosom swelled to her exultation. She flung up one lovely arm and—but the watcher could endure it in silence no longer. He threw the door open and entered, as transported ás herself— deep calling to deep.
“Madam—madam!” he panted, and for the moment could say no more. Then—“You needed not even to speak. Your whole body is music, terrible, triumphant, soft as flutes, poignant as violins, majestic as trumpets and muffled drums. In you all the Muses meet! 0, madam, in all this world is none like you, nor has ever been.”
Descending instantly to earth with the quick transition of the player she smiled imperial upon her young adorer. “Come in, Lawrence. I did not guess I had a listener.”' “But I interrupt.”
“No, I was near done. And besides—come in and close the door. Sally returns to-morrow and I want a word with you. There’s a good deal to be settled beforeI speak to Mr. Siddons.”
The red flushed up in his handsome cheek, and he obeyed, awkwardly enough for a man of such polished behavior. The Tragic Muse perceived it and softened her majesty.
“Sit by me here, much must be said and heard.”
It is true that Lawrence was always somewhat alarmed when Mrs. Siddons dropped—no, soared—into blank verse, yet less than most for he knew her household ways intimately. But he had especial reasons for alarm on this occasion, and all his looks implored mercy.
“Madam, your most humble and adoring servant. Have pity on a lover.”
“My Sally’s lover and my hoped for son shall never want sympathy from me—but my dear Lawrence will understand that there are difficulties that we must face. Money, though mere dross and distasteful in most connections and especially in this, must be considered, and Mr. Siddons is an excellent father and will demand to know your exact pecuniary status.”
“Madam, my solitary hope is in you. If you are on my side I must succeed—if not, the failure of all my earthly hopes is certain. And surely one of the strongest of these was to be bound to you by some tender tie which would give me the daily opportunity to feed on your beauty and genius, and—”
“My dear boy, you rhapsodize, and forget that you speak to a woman who if once passable is now—”
“I won’t hear such blasphemy even from you,” cries the adorer, “and if any man said such a villainy my fist is ready for him, and if a woman I should decline her acquaintance. And—”
Could it be possible that Mr. Lawrence was playing for time while he softened the judge-to-be with his blandishments? Who can tell? But Mrs. Siddons could be practical in household affairs. She shook her head and smiled, but proceeded.
“Sally returns to-morrow, and though like the best of daughters she postponed this matter till my mind should be more settled, it is her due that I should now be prepared to lay it before her father. Therefore, my dear sir, I must beg you will be candid with me that we may concert together—”
“Candid, Madam, as the sunlight, as your own soul, indeed I will be.”
^He caught her hand in both his, and held it, gazing Continued on page 42
Continued from page 12
at her with that passionate melancholy which Mr. Siddons had disparaged. She could not guess what was coming and half prepared to withdraw her hand, especially on the words that followed.
“I have made a mistake so terrible, so, so horrifying in its enormity that I scarce know how to explain it and no condonation is possible. Madam, I loved, I love your Sally with all the devotion of a certain side of my nature, but not with the whole. That whole is reserved for another.”
Mrs. Siddons withdrew her hand with decision. It could not be supposed possible—and yet! He understood her motion and leaned forward so that he almost appeared to kneel. He hurried his words out.
“Madam, in Sally’s deplored absence I have been thrown much with Maria. I know not—how can a man explain these windings of the heart? But—in short I have discovered ’tis Maria I love, with all the unbounded, unsounded passion of a nature, alas, too passionate for control.”
Mrs. Siddons stared at him, her mouth slightly open, like the most undistinguished mother in England.
“Good God, Mr. Lawrence, you’re mad!” was what she said.
“Mad indeed I am, and bad—if it be badness to inflict pain on the most angelic of human creatures. But what am I to do? Surely Maria’s mother will admit her to be as deserving of love as even_ Sally, and if I say her whole heart is mine—”
“But it has no business to be!” cried Mrs._ Siddons in much agitation. “Why, this is the most painful, unheard of proceeding I ever experienced in the whole course of my existence. I was prepared to mention Sally to Mr. Siddons, for she is equable and sweet-tempered and better formed to meet the trials of life. But Maria—all fire and weakness and nervous energy, and health as frail as a cobweb— I would no more face him with it than I would walk barefoot to York! O, Lawrence, you have shockingly abused our hospitality!”
It occurred to her at the moment that Sid’s first remark must inevitably be “I told you so!” and that there could be no possible rejoinder—a position which was not likely to commend itself to Mrs. Siddons. It put a force into her accents to which Lawrence was a stranger so far as it concerned himself, and he sat cowed and drooping while she paced about the room in mingled anger and perplexity which really brought home his enormities to him for the first time.
He pleaded, he protested, he entreated mercy for Maria, and heaped all the blame on himself—a position which she accepted outwardly though thinking with dread of Maria’s ungoverned impulses. She was the more alarmed because emotion with the girl always meant inroads on her frail health, and her cough, her sleepless nights, were anxiety enough without any addition. At last, gathering herself together she told him flatly that she neither could nor would mention such a madness to Mr. Siddons. She must take her own time, must consider, must watch the affair. She would sanction no engagement, his visits must be much less frequent, and so forth.
“Maria will die if she doesn’t see me,” said the lover, leaning disconsolately against the window. “And surely, madam, you who know how to sound every heart-string must know very well that many a man has been blind to his feelings
before this. I can’t tell how any man can keep his brain cleár in this enchanting house, with such beauty and genius ever before him that he knows not where to look or turn. Sally is an angel of beauty and goodness. There’s no man alive worthy of her. I’ll run any despicable wretch through the heart who says otherwise. But Maria—all spirit and fire and passion!—0 Madam, she’s your true daughter. Her life may not be a very long one—she feels, loves too deeply for her delicate body. 0 then I beseech you, I beseech you, let that life be a happy one—•”
And so forth, now with pleading lips and eyes, and urgent ejaculations and every expression that could appeal to the sentimentalism that he and the great actress shared. That was the worst of it—they understood one another’s temperament so perfectly that where another mother might have been frantic with rage and miscomprehension Mrs. Siddons could make allowances which her husband, moving on a slower orbit, would never even remotely comprehend. To him Lawrence would always be an impertinent puppy who believed he might pick and choose at his pleasure—to his wife, a radiant young sun-god who could scarcely be blamed because more dew drops than one reflected his light back to him in a passion of rainbow colors. Who could be entirely surprised?
It was the worse for Lawrence and herself and infinitely the worse for her daughters that she understood him so well. But even to herself she would not admit this.
“And how I am to tell Sally I don’t know!” she said despairingly, drooping in loveliest melancholy in her chair,— “’Tis a miserable case for a mother. But happiness—quiet domestic happiness such as my soul pants fori has never been my lot—never will be!”
Both Lawrence and Mrs. Siddons had convinced themselves that this was their inmost desire, yet both would have died of it in a month. It was not without reason that Mr. Siddons later betook himself to residence in Bath in search of the calm that his wife protested she desired beyond all earthly blessings. It was, however, a plant which could not flourish in Great Marlborough Street. Sensitive feelings, miscomprehensions, passionate and high-strung sentiments, all the tropic flowers of the emotions grew there in strong luxuriance, but peaceful domestic bliss needs common groùnd, less tumultuous vibrations of nervous sensibility, and some sense of humor is necessary.
Lawrence did not offer to relieve Mrs. Siddons of the task of making known to Sally the change in her prospects.
“It will come more soothingly from her mother,” he said with deep feeling.
IT WAS only after he had gone away in the depths of dejection that she realized how slightly she had reproached him for his caprice. It was perhaps only in human nature that she should be the more_ severe in dealing with the other culprit—Maria—-whom she found in her room, leaning from the open window—a risk strictly forbidden in view of her cough—-and gazing down the street after Lawrence with a strained passion that put the finish to her mother’s anxiety.
Useless to detail the scene which followed.
“Cruel, unthinking girl!” was the mildest term appliëd to her, and not even as Volumnia had Mrs. Siddons displayed a more terrible, maternal majesty than when she towered over the weeping Maria and reproached her with “the desecrated grey hairs of a. parent’s anguish.” She felt all she said at the moment, even to passion, but Maria, with so much of the same temperament could, like Lawrence, comprehend that the very violence of these emotions set a bound to them, and was by no means hopeless though she wept until her hands were shaking, her body convulsed with sobs, the doctor obliged to be summoned, and her mother, embracing her frantically, as terrified as she had been indignant.
All this in the true Siddons manner on both sides.
Mr. Siddons was merely informed that Maria was ill and want forth placidly to seek his midday repast elsewhere. There is much to be said for stupidity, especially in a house of enchantments like that in Great Marlborough Street. How else should nature preserve her balance? If
everyone could comprehend what is to be said on the other side, and see a hundred aspects of every subject instead of one fair and square, where would be consistency of opinion and steadiness of purpose? It is because the English are as phlegmatic as they are worthy that they have dominated the world, and Mr. Siddons was a typical Englishman. Consequently he dined in peace while Mrs. Siddons wept upon the sofa, remembering a hundred forcible remonstrances she should have addressed to Lawrence and had not.
BUT when Sally returned, the situation was pitiable. Maria, by the doctor’s orders was in bed, and on no account to be agitated. Her eyes following her mother were lamps lit by fever. She could not control the trembling of her hands and all night her tolling cough had kept her awake. Her little head overweighted with black coils of hair, damp curls silkily dishevelled on her brow, her cheeks burning, her cough rending her, might have moved the heart of a stoic. Not a word had her mother uttered of what she should say to Sally, and though Maria dared not question with her lips, her eyes were an agony of suspense.
Sally arrived, and rushing to her bedside, kissed and caressed her, seeing nothing but the obvious, and then went upstairs to unpack, Mrs. Siddons following. At the door a choked cry from Maria stopped her—“Mamma?”—that was all, but Mrs. Siddons could not resist it. She turned and stooped over tenderly, pushing the curls off her brows.
“My child, my poor unhappy, erring child!”—she said, in a deep harmony like a goddess bending over a mortal. Then relapsing into humanity, “I’ll do my best, Maria, but not a word, not a word to anyone but me.”
It is needless to tell how she broke the sad tidings to Sally. It must be done immediately because Lawrence, hearing of Maria’s illness, might easily come hurrying in to satisfy his anxious mind. She might have spared herself that anxiety. He judged it far better to keep away until the matter should have been opened up to Sally, feeling that he might but make matters worse for all by intruding, and indeed his own mind was a storm-tossed sea.
Sally received the wound very unlike Maria. Not a word, not a movement. She sat, a fair breathing statue, in her chair, with an expression of mute suffering that pierced her mother’s heart. She heard all the explanations, all the setting forth of Maria’s pitiably frail health in the same silence. But her heart was not silent—it was a cave of wailing voices of desolation, of memories cruel and sweet. It is hard on a girl to lose her heart’s delight to another, and when that other is a sister it must needs sting the wound with vinegar and salt. She endured as long as she could, then rose and spoke.
“Mamma, you have done your best, what is there to say? Maria has always had what she wanted. Don’t I remember that when we were children my dollbaby was given her for fear she should cry and be ill! If she liked my gown better than her own I gave it. Now she asks my heart. That also I give for I know it is the truth that thwarting would kill her. Besides—if he cares for me no longer, I can’t withhold it if I would. But you will have so much pity for me as let me go away. I can’t stay to witness it—I’ll go to my friend, Sally Bird. Is not this reasonable?”
Folding an unresponsive Sally in her arms, Mrs. Siddons sobbed that it was. That she had taken the blow like a saint and martyr, that her whole heart bled for the patient sufferer. But Sally was not patient, far otherwise, the thing was so bitter to her that until she digested it, she could not speak her mind or discipline her vigorous will. That time would come later. Now she was exploring with silent gaze a new world—the world of sorrow henceforward to be her home.
She made no signs but shd, the linnetthroated singer of the family, gave up her singing. The House of Enchantments had lost its music—the first of many losses. She crept silently about the rooms in mute endurance.
BUT she did not go away. Maria became so ill that there could be no question of it. For two days her life was in danger, and both her parents needed Sally at every turn. On the fourth day Continued on page 45
Continued from page 43 Mrs. Siddons took a much-needed rest, and Sally, going down to the drawing room for a book, found Lawrence standing by the window. He was upon her before she could realize or retreat, and he had sprung forward and clasped her hands.
“Sally-—0 how I have yearned to see you. I dared not come before, but have thought of you night and day and if I could but—■”
“What do you want of me, Mr. Lawrence?” she demanded, leaving her hands in his as if it mattered nothing. “Maria is still very ill and my mamma is so tired that all now falls on me. I cannot delay.”
“You can delay to save the sanity of the most miserable villain on earth,” he whispered hoarsely. “0 Sally, never can your pure mind comprehend the tortures of a man who does evil and yet has the heart to feel his sins. Forgive me. Tell me you don’t suffer—that you have put the miscreant from the sanctuary of your heart. Tell me I am not odious in your eyes. Tell me—”
She drew her hands away then with quiet dignity.
“Do you not ask for Maria, Mr. Lawrence?”
“I do—I do. I scarcely know what I say, my soul is in such a tumult. How is the angelic sufferer?”
“Very ill, but now out of danger. The doctors have resolved that when she can be moved she must go to Clifton, to our friend Mrs. Pennington, who has written most feelingly offering to take care of her. ’Tis the more necessary as my mother’s next tour is due before long.”
“Thank God, thank all good influences that she recovers!” cried Lawrence. “But what of yourself? You look pale and sorrowful. 0 Sally, that a moment of madness—”
She put him gently aside.
“Mr. Lawrence, you’ll excuse me if I return to my sister. We have a nursekeeper, but she’s old and sleeps as much as she wakes. By calling at the door you can have what news you need of Maria. I shall desire Carter to tell you.”
SHE glided softly from the room, and he remained like a man stupefied. Had he forgotten how darkly, mysteriously blue were _ Sally’s eyes, with what a sweet serenity of womanly dignity she moved, not in the least resembling her mother’s majesties, and how far more adapted to household uses? To see her, even with this wrong between them, was to become sensible of an unheard music, some spiritual harmony. Maria stimulated—she lashed the passions to their utmost, ravaged them, tattered them, wasted her frail strength in tumults that called out all the emotion in his own nature and left him drained. Sally was infinitely soothing —like moonlight sleeping on the sea, with all the soft mysterious depths beneath lulled into tranquility but unfathomable. And for beauty—there he was bewildered. There were moments when what her own mother called “The dazzling, frightful sort of beauty of Maria,” swept him so completely away that he could neither take his eyes or his heart from her, the dazzlement catching him like the candle the moth until he became “One color and one splendor with the flame,” and so like other moths, he burnt his wings and extinguished the candle.
For Lawrence’s trouble was the overplus of feeling, not its lack, and now he suffered horribly. Perhaps to a man illness is always more or less repellent, the symptoms and the necessities hateful. The oppression on her chest was less, the cough more relaxed and so forth. Good news, but how can love flourish in an atmosphere of medicine bottles and poultices? Certainly his could not. And there was Sally, not so remote after that first interview, not so calm, trembling a little, flushing a little in his presence, holding herself away with too visible an effort.
AT LAST, when the anxiety about - Maria was relieved and her journey to Bristol near at hand, he came in one day, and found Sally in the drawing room surrounded by bowls of roses, for it was now late June, with a lap full of them for Maria’s bedside, and the perfume and flush of the roses in her adorable face.
He caught her wildly in his arms, crushing the white dimity and blue ribbons and the roses against him, and kissed her lips, insatiate.
“Sally, my heart’s darling,it was a mistake, a frightful error: It was you— always you. May God do so unto me and more also if aught but death part thee and me.”
Was it easy for her to remember those terrible seeking eyes upstairs? It had always been Sally’s conviction that the whole thing was a blunder and no more— that his heart was wholly hers and this supposed passion for Maria but a ripple on the surface of a great deep. The first question was—could she forgive? And that answered itself, for the warmth of his lips, his dear presence, the weakness concealed in such masculine strength and beauty were so sweet to her, that the very word forgiveness melted in love’s music from her mind. She clung to him as if they had never been separated and felt him all hers. Maria was wholly forgotten— Maria—whose unnaturally sharpened senses caught his voice in the room below and cruelly questioned as to who might be talking with him—what was the delay? The roses came up by a servant who let drop carelessly that Miss Siddons was with Mr. Lawrence and Madam about to join them.
Madam did join them presently, and then the fountains of the great deep were broken up indeed.
Sally, pale and resolved, confronted her, supported on Lawrence’s arm, and as Mrs. Siddons entered it needed no words to tell her the truth.
“No, no!” she cried, and put out her hands to ward it off. But that was impossible. It must be faced. Lawrence spoke more simply, after a more manly fashion than he had done before. It is probably true that he felt his constancy to Sally of more importance than his infidelity to Maria. At all events that was the view he pressed on the nearly distracted Mrs. Siddons. It was Sally who had been wronged, who must have justice done her. No doubt he deserved to be turned out of the house, to be ejected for ever and for both. That would have been Sid’s verdict. But here again Mrs. Siddons’s perfect understanding of his type, which was also her own, saved him. Sally, beautiful and good as an angel— who could marvel if he resumed his first fidelity? He had erred—terribly erred, but men were like that. Did not every day, every drama testify to it?
She spoke with anger that almost touched fury at one moment, then with despair as Maria crossed her mind. But Lawrence was at her feet, Sally’s arms, her faithful support in difficulty, about her, and gradually she softened and could not do otherwise.
IT MAY seem strange that it never occurred to any one of the triad that the man’s nature was unstable as water; that no woman could trust him; that what he really pursued was beauty in all her moon-changes, and that to beauty and beauty only could he ever be faithful. No, they were all alike convinced, as the beauty-saturated temperament always is, that the last development is eternal, be it for bane or blessing.
When she had time to reflect only one idea emerged in perfect clarity in the mother’s mind—thankfulness that she had never told Sid the complexities of the strange love-affair. _ And as for Maria— alas, for Maria!-—it was becoming too sadly certain that her first lover would be her last.
She grew frailer and more exacting daily. The doctors pressed her retreat to the purer air of Clifton, and when that necessity was revealed to her, including, as it did, the separation from Lawrence, she sank into a kind of apathy which they hoped would numb the edge of the knife when the blow must be dealt.
It appeared to do so. She was so dulled in mind, so wearied in body that when her mother broke to her the news that Lawrence’s allegiance had returned to Sally, she took it as if in a dream. Indeed it dazed her.
“Poor Sally!” was all she said, and her head fell aside on her pillow and the miraculous black lashes shadowed a dying fire in her eyes. Then, very slowly;
“Poor Lawrence! Poor me!”
Another pause, then in the same languid dreaming voice;
“How strange it all is. How strange! I never thought—but then I was so young. The lines, mamma—I’ve heard you say them. Say them now. I want them. How does it begin-“As flies to wanton boys—■” Mrs. Siddons with tears in her voice repeated:
“As flies to wanton toys, so we to
f the Gods.
They slay us for their sport.”
and then broke down.
“0 my child, don’t talk like that. You’ll live to be happy with a beautiful young lover of your very own, and need be obliged to no one’s leavings—not even our dear Sally’s.”
Maria smiled from her dream, and said no more. She did not see Lawrence before she left for Clifton, where her mother settled her with the kind Mrs. Pennington before starting on the Midland tour. Mrs. Siddons’s mind was freer of anxiety. The girl had borne the journey well. She was to be permitted a little exercise, her appetite had improved, she had made no reference to Lawrence. “The justly admired daughter of Melpomene,” as the newspapers called the Tragic Muse, left her with more hope than had yet been her portion. And Sally and Lawrence were supremely happy in London where even the placid Sid’s supervision was removed, for he attended his brilliant wife as manager.
Sally indeed was inordinately happy. It breathes in the hurried notes she wrote to Lawrence:
“0 time, time, fly quickly till Thursday morning! I bought the ring for you, I have worn it, kissed it. You have it, keep it, love it.”
And now again her linnet voice was heard singing about the house. It was then she wrote to Lawrence.
“I never should have sung as I do had I never seen you. I never should have composed at all. The first song I set to music was that complaint of Thomson’s to the Nightingale. You then lived in my heart, in my head, in every idea. You did not love me then. But now — 0, mortification, grief, agony, are all forgot!”
What made the best half of her bliss was its security. Lawrence had been faithless once. He had suffered, suffered. Now she knew she was safe—never again would he risk that cold wind of desolation blowing between them. Her heart unfolded all its secret lovelinesses to him and he was supremely blessed.
BUT Destiny never sleeps. Even while they walked under the lime tree—its green now growing a little old and faded, a letter from the kind Mrs. Pennington was pursuing the mother. Maria was drooping terribly. The anxiety was very heavy—and more and worse, she was developing a fixed idea, obstinate, not to be argued with, that Sally must not, should not marry Lawrence. Into this flower of hate her long unnatural silence and brooding had blossomed. What was to be done?
Mrs. Siddons, distracted between her business and the entanglement, at once wrote to London commanding Sally to join her without a moment’s loss of time that she might discuss family matters with her, but otherwise throwing no light on the subject, and Sally much alarmed, after the tenderest farewell to Lawrence, joined her mother in Birmingham and in a day or two was despatched to Clifton.
Lawrence waited a little, hoping for a letter, fixed a certain mail as the limit, and, when it brought nothing, his ungovernable passion surged over, and an hour later he himself was on the way to Birmingham that he might see the mother and probe the mystery.
Was Miss Siddons there? he asked knocking loudly at the door of Mrs. Siddons’s lodgings. No, Miss had left the day before. What! and without a word to him! He was up the stair in a moment to confront Mrs. Siddons.
He found the poor woman trying to snatch a little rest in the parlor of her lodgings, and broke in on her unannounced, his face so wild and pale that at first she started up in terror and put her hand on the bell to ring for help. But the sight of her calmed him for a moment, and still more the sight of a letter open before her in the writing he knew so well. He choked down the hysteria in his throat.
“I will—I must know—why Sally has left without a word to me. What dreadful secret lies behind? I have rushed to you, Madam, without sleep or food to hear your sentence of life or death.”
Neither he nor Mrs. Siddons could discuss the matter calmly nor like ordinary people. Her great eyes dwelt on him with
sombre pity in the tragic pause before she spoke and bade him “Summon his fortitude to bear the stroke of doom,” an intimation that sent him into a paroxysm of rage, which she herself described afterwards as “the conduct of a wretched madman.”
He really was a madman for that moment of suspense and terror.
“Lawrence, I would have spared you if I could. My hèart was never merciless,” she said solemnly, “but you must now act as becomes a man. Sally has gone to Maria’s aid, and seeing the desperate condition of her health has resolved, unprompted by her who now addresses you, to break her engagement with you once and for all. She feels—”
Here he interrupted, and it can serve no purpose to record his ravings. One thought alone emerged clearly—that if Maria were doomed that could be no reason why Sally should be condemned to life-long misery.
Mrs. Siddons shook her head.
“Alas, my friend, you think not what you say! With what feelings can Sally behold the face of the man who has thus doomed her sister? Maria’s last hope oHife broke down when you deserted her. And Sally herself is frail. You know the asthmatic attacks which beset her when she i§ distressed bodily or mentally. Ask yourself as I entreat you whether she can hope for peace in your society. With her mother perfect calm can be assured, but in your care—”
“Calm—I can be calm as a summer’s day with my Sally!” raved the lover. “My nature is devoted to calm, and her sweet company—”
She looked at him sibyl-like, with deep mysterious eyes, as completely devoid of any sense of humor as himself.
“Young man, you little know your own weakness. You know not the domestic trials which have at length given me the serenity and self-control you lack. It is said by the great Dr. Johnson that the man must be a prodigy of virtue who does not tire of an ailing wife, and sad experience has taught me that repeated illness soon wearies them. In my own case, Mr. Siddons—but that concerns us not now. Sally’s decision is irrevocable. No, young man—no, I will not listen. Will you force me to solicit Mr. Siddons’s protection for his family?”
But it appeared that Lawrence was past caring what he forced her to. At last, nearly as frantic as himself, the poor lady rushed at the bell, seeing which Lawrence flung himself out of the room and downstairs. She snatched pen and ink and wrote an incoherent letter to Mrs. Pennington on the spot:
“My dear soul, Mr. L. has left without letting a soul know whither he is gone. His hopes with regard to Sally, I, with her own concurrence, told him were entirely at an end, rep -presenting at the same time the situation of her sister. I pray Godhisfrenzy may not impel him to some desperate action. Mr. Siddons knows nothing of all this. The situation of dear Sally when one recurs to her original partiality for this wretched madman, placing her in so delicate a situation, we thought it best to keep the matter entirely concealed. I hope it will always be a secret to Mr. S. as it could answer no end but to enrage him.
“If he should go to Clifton he will ruin himself for ever and make us the talk of the whole world. It is dreadful to think of, and the effect on my poor Maria. His mind is tortured, I suppose, with the thought of hasting her end.”
Lawrence was in Clifton before the letter. If Sid had been confided in, his robust stupidity might have been a strong wall of defence, but the unfortunate Mrs. Pennington was now to be put in the forefront of the battle in his place.
Lawrence was no sooner arrived in Clifton than he dashed off a letter to her in his best Dick Swiveller vein.
“Madam, If you are generous and delicate, not only the step I take will be excused, but you will render me the service I solicit. My name is Lawrence—a man charged (I trust untruly) with having inflicted pangs on one lovely Creature, which in their bitterest extent he himself now suffers from her sister. I love—-exist, but for Miss Siddons and am decisively rejected by her.
“I have confidence in requesting that you will at a fit but speedy mo-
ment give the enclosed paper into her own hands.
“By a profligate daring I might see Miss Siddons, but I cannot. Yet something I must do, and what better than at once repose a confidence in a woman of Sense and Honour, trust -implicitly to her candour, nor believe I shall suffer by it until the suffering comes. I have done it and perhaps all of my future happiness is at stake and in your Power. A letter directed to Mr. Jennings to be left till called for at Gloucester House will find me. You know it is right I should conceal my name.”
But if Lawrence were frenzied beyond the verge of the absurd, the matron wrote calmly. She appointed a meeting, and he hurled a palpitating reply through the twopenny post.
“My blessings to you. But do not say that I come to add to your distress and affliction. God knows I meant not that! Sally, dear angel, shall I indeed see you? Dearest, dearest friend, adieu! I will be composed. You shall see I can.”
BUT that unusual spectacle Mrs.
Pennington was not privileged to behold. We may see her in her neat drawing-room with prim Chippendale chairs ranged along the wall, a round and polished table in the middle, on the wall grandmothers in mob caps and modestly folded handkerchiefs over the bosom, a large porcelain bowl of pot-pourri by Mrs. Pennington’s black satin elbow, and Mrs. Pennington’s heart in a delicious thrill of agitation, half romantic pleasure, half alarm. But when the incandescent lover burst into the room she began to realize the nature of her task. He bowed at the door, then cast a searching glance about him.
“Your servant, madam. Miss Siddons not here?”
He stood and Mrs. Pennington instinctively rose to her feet.
“She is not here, sir. In the present agitating circumstances she preferred to make me her mouthpiece.”
“What? Have I been trailed here on a false pretence? Is it intended that the idol of my soul is not to hear my pleadings. For if so—”
“Pray be seated, Mr. Lawrence. You oblige me to stand. If you will be calm—” “What am I but calm! If I were to give a loose to the lava of the feelings within me, they would sear even your cold and discreet heart, madam. 0 the proprieties! -—and a man’s heart breaking!”
He flung out his arm with a passionate gesture which catching a vase of Bristol glass, hurled it in fragments to the ground.
“An emblem of my life!” he said sardonically, pushing the fragments together with his foot. “It shall be replaced today. No, madam, I will not sit. My feelings do not admit it-—and besides I have been deceived—I expected an interview with Miss Siddons, and though I raise no objection to your presence as a support to her sensitive spirits, I will not be balked.” He walked swiftly up and down the room, while the good Mrs. Pennington trying to keep a clear head in the whirlwind of passion, despaired of dealing with the handsomest, most unmanageable young man she had ever seen in her life. She could only sit down, and wonder if Sally, stationed in the dining room, could hear the storm through the folding doors. “If you would be calm, sir—”
“Calm! I am calm. How could I be calmer? Where is Miss Siddons?”
“She is in attendance on her dying sister, and if that intimation doesn’t calm you—”
“Fortunate Maria! Would that the oblivion of death awaited me also.”
“It awaits us all!” Mrs. Pennington austerely reminded him.
“But not now—not here! Yet it can: it shall! Mrs. Pennington, I solemnly vow before an all-seeing Almighty that unless Miss Siddons is produced this very instant I will die by my own hand at your feet!”
He paused, looking her wildly in the face. And whether he meant it in earnest or did not mean it, Mrs. Pennington could not for the life of her tell. Her conviction was that he was mad. What did one do with madmen? Pity? Sympathy? Ridicule?
“And furthermore, if I have not the sacred assurance from her own dear lips, now, here, this instant, that she will give
me her hand when Maria is released I will go through the house until I find her and she shall witness the death of a man who loved her to distraction. No—don’t doubt me, madam. Here is the awful means!’’ He showed her an end of something glittering within his pocket which Mrs. Pennington took to be a pistol. Terror gave her firmness. She permitted, a quiet smile of ridicule to play over her lips.
“No—no, Mr. Lawrence, I’m not to be frightened that way. I’ve seen such scenes much better acted before. Try it a second time! You might rant it a little more successfully. May we not have done with all this, and sit down to a comfortable talk when I can give you my reasons, and a glimmer—not more than a glimmer of hope?”
“A glimmer? O madam, a star in midnight to guide the weary wanderer? I’ll hear, I’ll listen. Curse my folly for alarming my good angel. Here, I am—composed, calm! Only speak.”
He flung himself into a low chair, leaning forward with clasped hands so unspeakably handsome, so unpardonably selfish, that whether to box his ears or weep for him Mrs. Pennington could not tell. But in measured accents she took up the tale.
“If I could see good sense and composure which made you worthy of such an angel as Sally, I might be prepared to be your advocate for an interview. I sympathize with you—”
“God bless you for that admission,” cried the lover, with an attempt upon her ‘hand.
“Yes, but only while you behave! (“I talked to him as if he were an infant!” she said later to Mrs. Siddons) “If you do,you shall have daily news of our dear invalid and—•”
“Of course I am very sorry for Maria, but she should govern herself for the sake of those about her. Indeed she should!” “So should others, Mr. Lawrence. What do I hear from Mrs. Siddons—” She extracted a letter from her pocket, and read aloud:
“I was so shaken by his wild transports yesterday that on rising to ring for some hartshorn and water I should have fallen upon the floor if he had not caught me at the instant, and was totally incapacitated to play at night.”
“Is this decent, Mr. Lawrence?”
“Was passion ever decent, Madam? Does the man love who can control himself?-—really, truly love? No, never! Love is a torrent. But Sally—Sally?”
“Cease the horrible desperation of your conduct, and you shall see her. So much I may promise. Now go. And—stay! I have a thought. You can’t come to the house, but I will meet you occasionally in the field behind ‘The Bear’ and give you news. That is, if you will be calm!”
WHAT was it in Lawrence that gained these women to toleration and pity? Perhaps the absurd youthfulness of his attitude, perhaps—God knows what! Women are like that. A man would have shaken or kicked him into decency.
But on this promise he consented to depart and got himself away, standing in the street to fix with a gloomy stare a window which he took for Sally’s. It was the housemaid’s, but the intention was all.
Mrs. Pennington wrote passionate pages to Mrs. Siddons, who responds in kind:
“O my dear friend, how my heart bleeds for all the trouble and anxiety you have and will endure on my account! I shudder to think on the effect the wretched madman’s frenzy has had on you.”
—and much more to the same effect.
As for Mrs. Pennington, she ended by catching the infection and sweeping into the full tide of romance, sousing in it, head over ears. They met and daily tidings were given of the sisters. Lawrence really exulted in his conquest of Mrs. Pennington’s aversion—as the proof of his power. He wrote to her:
“It made my Enemy, my Friend. Dear madam, and after this can you think of treating me as a common man?
“To take her in her heart’s extremest hate And yet to win her!’
“Not a fine broiling day that •comes but I shall be thinking of the Field behind ‘The Bear,’ and my much-enduring Friend trudging backwards and forwards for very life, regardless of complexion, fatigue or character (for the crowds that were looking at us!) and then flumping down, never minding what she be about, upon a dusty Bank, the shoes wore out, the legs unable to support her, and all but the kind heart exhausted in the effort! Was ever lovelorn shepherdess under the Hawthorn so interesting as Mrs. Pennington under that scrubbed oak, with not one atom of romance about her, as she says, and only the victim of it in others!”
Indeed, Lawrence was right. By this time Mrs. Pennington was as romancebitten as the rest and enjoying the tragedy to the full. She, like the rest, soothed him, helped him, suffered for him, and not one of them told him the truth about his absurdities and selfish madness —for to that it really towered. Sid would have dealt with him better.
Meanwhile for Maria the sands were running out swiftly now—not kindly nor peacefully, but in a hard resolve änd iixed purpose.
Lawrence cared nothing for her. Her passion for him he .had alluded to as “a sickly fancy.” He did not care whether she lived or died, except in so far as it affected his hopes with Sally.
Very well then!—a miserable dying girl would show him that she still had power— still could sway his fate. Worn out, little more than a child dying with all her beauty bruised and broken like a trampled flower, she had no fear of death—she believed there was mercy in that dim land for such as she and that, as she said to Mrs. Pennington, her severe sufferings would be sufficient expiation. That did not trouble her mind. She cast it all ■aside and then turned resolutely to her last earthly purpose. There was but a very little time left—the sands were falling away now with a dreadful swift smoothness and she had said little, reserving herself for the one indomitable -effort.
Very weary, very near the end, in the last sad reappearance of her passionate beauty, Sally, sitting by her, thought she slept, and prayed that the end might come in that peace. She sat, her own eyes fixed on the yellowing autumn trees before the window, watching the fluttering fall of the leaves in sorrowful silence. Her way lay dark before her. Only one light shone steady as a distant star—her love for Lawrence, obscured by black clouds of fear and remorse, for how could she look on the piteous sight before her without the ghastly knowledge that that and no other was the price to be paid for her joy? A dim almost vanishing hope that some day, somehow, all might come right was all that was left to her—but that was much, for it saved her from despair.
No sound, no motion, but when she stirred from her dream, Maria’s wide eyes were open and fixed on her with the strangest expression—yearning and terror combined. She thought the last moment had come and sprang up to call her mother.
But no—the faint hand held her, the great eyes entreated, and now—now the lips, burning with fever, were moving. “Sally, I must speak to you.”
“Yes, darling, darling—speak!”
She knelt and laid her cheek beside Maria’s—expecting some last precious words of love and pity.
“Sally, you must not, shall not marry him. He is a bad man. I can’t rest in my grave if you do. I sicken at his very name.”
The revulsion was so frightful that she drew herself apart, staring at Maria in horror. Her voice that had been but a whisper for days, was clear and strong, a Brilliant color burnt in her cheeks, her eyes flamed resplendent. This was the frightful beauty of which her mother had «poken, returning for the last time before it sank in ashes.
“You shall not go—you shall hear. Look at his work—look at me dying in torment, and say can you marry the man who has murdered me? 0 promise me, promise me, Sally, never to marry him. How. can I bear it? How can I rest if you do? And he will break your heart as he has mine.”
What could be said? She took the trembling hands in hers.
“My darling sister, don’t, don’t think of such things at such a time. Let me call our mother—you are worse, you are half killing yourself.”
“I am not worse. I am wonderfully, marvelously better. I may even get well. I feel it! Stay, Sally—-stay and promise me. It doesn’t agitate me, but I shall die now-—here, if you don’t promise. I may live if you will.”
“0 Maria—don’t tear my heart!” cried Sally. “You must know it’s impossible. I shall call my mother.”
The poor child took it to mean the marriage was impossible.
. “Then I am content—even content to die. Call my mother now,” she said and sank back on the pillow while Sally, pale and trembling, ran for her mother and Mrs. Pennington.
They came running also, and Maria, now sinking visibly, caught the last opportunity.
“Mama, Mrs. Pennington, Sally has promised me never, never to think of marrying him. How could she be happy with such a man? And as for me—Look at me! Sally, confirm your promise before them.”
Sally broke into wild weeping, scarcely to be heard for sobbing.
“I did not promise, dear, dying angel, but I will and do, if you require it—” What else was possible in the awful moment? _ And indeed looking at that helpless ruin, it seemed that joy could never again matter, but life must crawl on a broken wing henceforward let her promise what she would.
“Darling, Sally, I thank you, I love you. My dear mother, Mrs. Pennington, bear witness. Sally, give me your hand. You promise never to be his wife. Mother, Mrs. Pennington, lay your hands on hers. You understand? Bear witness! Sally, this promise is sacred. Remember me, and God bless you.”
She dominated the scene entirely and moved them as she would, and then— that last cruelty carried through with all the solemnity and feeling of a deep religious rite, she addressed herself patiently to death. The fire died slowly and her life darkened with it. The sweetest love and serenity looked up at them from her failing eyes. Her heart’s wish was satisfied, and as she turned from earth to heaven without fear she met the enfolding arms of the darkness and its veil fell solemnly about her.
MRS. PENNINGTON wrote to Lawrence when all was over.
“What after this, my friend, can you èay to Sally? She has entreated me to give you this detail, to say that the impression is sacred, indelible; that it cancels all bonds and she entreats you not to profane this awful season by a murmur. If you can sanctify passion with friendship, you may yet be dear to their hearts. When I looked at Her a few hours before she was shut for ever from our sight I beheld a strong character and expression of divinely solemn and grave composure, but not one trace of youth remaining.”
No, youth had died long before her death. It was not in youth to plan that last terrible vengeance, and so depart content.
But Lawrence raged on—more frantically than ever now that hope was done. He wrote like a madman.
“I have played deeply for her, and you think she still will escape me? I’ll tell you a secret. It is possible she may. Mark the end. You have all played your parts admirably. If the scene you have so accurately described is mentioned by you to one Human Being, I will pursue your name with execration.”
What should be the end of the story? Quiet passing into grave resignation a life devoted to memories sacred and terrible, friendship, but with that weeping ghost forever between them?
That is not life, especially with a man like Lawrence, a woman like Sally Siddons, She loved him. She thought of her promise later as one cruelly extorted by an agony more painful than the rack. She attributed its extortion to Maria’s unquenched passion of love and vengeance, and therefore her calm good sense felt that it was scarcely binding. And Lawrence behaved
exactly as he had behaved all through. She might have foreseen it.
For a short time he besieged her furiously, sparing her in nothing, and it seems that she must have relented. But after some vain attempts, many wild words, and a time which she thought very short, the Sun-god’s gold glance fell on other planets revolving about his orb and she knew it, slowly recognized that neither hope nor trust could be built on a heart that memory could not touch nor any fidelity hold.
Still—she loved him. She had the constancy he lacked.
“I have once or twice seen Mr. Lawrence by accident, and I thought I should have dropped, the Sunday before last in Kensington Gardens, when I passed him so close that I might have touched him. Whenever I meet his eyes with that glance that pierces through and through one, it is like an electric stroke to me. I have passed his door, too, the other day, and my heart sank.”
So she wrote to one she trusted. And again:
“I cannot shut my eyes to conviction. I see him as he is. Yet, 0 forgive me if I sometimes cast over him the brilliant veil of enchantment which hid his errors from our fascinated minds. I cannot help seeing him sometimes as he was, or rather as he appeared to be. It should be my constant prayer to be always kept at the same distance from that being whose fascination I have not the power to escape if I should be drawn within the circle of his magic.”
It should have been her prayer, but was it?
TT MATTERED little enough now, for another lover, one not to be repelled and whom no prayers could move, was drawing very near the weary girl. All things grew sadder to her one by one. A hand, awful but tender, was slowly extinguishing the few lights that lit a life grown too sad for endurance. None of the tempest which marked her sister’s going ruffled hers. She bore her sorrow with gentle dignity, complained little, hoped nothing, very gradually retreated within the fastness of her own soul and there faced the past with quiet fortitude. It was the easier because she knew that the future need not trouble her, and so, as it seemed, willing to grieve her friends as little as possible, she slipped out of life, and dying made no sign. It was five years since Maria’s stormy spirit'had fled, and she but twenty-seven.
But the world goes on and Sun-Gods shine though the flowers wither in the snow. That strange man carried through his life the cruel charm and faithless faithfulness to beauty which had wrecked the sisters. No heart could be steeled against him. Even their mother forgave him, though she knew well how soon even Sally was forgotten.
“These violent delights have violent ends,” she wrote to Mrs. Pennington.
And yet, before she died, she expressed the wish that Lawrence might be one of those to bear her to the grave. His spell was as strong upon her as on her daughters, though after a different fashion. Her feeling for him—how shall it be described? an adored son, all of whose weaknesses are sympathetically understood and loved, even when they wound to the bone?
HE NEVER married. Perhaps he had plucked the one lesson out of the House of Enchantments—that in his hands no woman’s happiness could be safe. Perhaps, and more likely, he felt that his own happiness could endure no bonds. So his adorations were facile as ever— there was even a scandal with Royalty itself, and all his ways were followed by women, worshipping, imploring, but in vain. Even as an old man his fascinations were dangerous and Fanny Kemble, cousin to the unhappy sisters, bears witness to their power.
It may seem that the Fates themselves made him their darling and Nemesis laid by her scourge. Beauty, fame, success, long life, a tomb in St. Paul’s Cathedral among the mighty beside Sir Joshua Reynolds. England mourned when her great Lawrence died. What was there left which he might have had and had not?
Self-mastery and the peace it brings, and yet another thing—the lightener of trouble, the radiance which no darkness can drown, that true humor which views itseif with as dispassionate laughter as it views others with pity and almost divine forbearance. He ran the gamut of all the emotions and sentiments, but of that quiet, hidden mirth like a brook hidden among the flowers there was never a trace. If he had possessed it his pictures would have been the greater, and tragedy for Mrs. Siddons (who was his very counterpart in that respect) might have been left on the boards, safely buttressed by the footlights.
So the House of Enchantments is left to darkness and silence, and all its beauty and genius lie in the dust. But it is from the dust that flowers renew their youth in spring, and in its very barrenness is written the word Resurgam, the word of hope immortal.