Everything is Possible to Will.
Chapter III. Pursued
Chapter III. Pursued.
A Quick, pleasant sail landed Zee in Edinburgh's fair city, and she was welcomed by friends who received her with the deference due to a woman, and thus removed, in a measure, the diffidence natural to her in her intercourse with strangers. The new world, too, necessarily opened the eyes of her mind, receptive as it was of impressions. With Scotch lassies she was directly at one, and quite too ready to join in their trifling and small talk; but at the bachelor order of Scotia's sons she looked askance: they were older, and of a different stamp from her beaux of yore, limited, as they were, to a select few.
To a womanly-looking girl, slightly elevated in the social scale, Wrax's youth was one of the disadvantages under which he labored. To him out of sight was not out of mind as concerned Zee, for she quickly received a letter from him, with a glumness which boded no good to the writer, whose preference flattered her vanity, but never so much as ruffled the surface of deeper feeling. Wrax's habitual wariness had deserted him at the wrong moment, or he never would have written that “Mamma had no doubt that Zee would be glad to hear from him.” Writing that sentence sealed his doom. Zee was such a touch-me-not in the matter of the affections, that she would have recoiled from one for whom she had a liking, could he have presumed upon it; and Wrax, having long since won the mother over to his side by showering upon her attentions which he deemed it unwise to pay to either daughter, Zee feared, not without reason, that in her desire to secure the prize the mother had assured Wrax that he was safe on the score of her daughter's page 28 affections. Zee must be something more than grateful for the honor put upon her, reasoned the old folks. Not so Zee, odd fish that she was; the possibility of Wrax having made sure of her love would have quenched the spark had there been one kindled. Yet was she no flirt; liberty she loved, license pleased her not.
Receiving letters from Wrax, and answering the same, soon became exceedingly distasteful to Zee. Still she shrank from wounding his vanity sufficiently to enlighten him as to the unwelcome fact. Here Sadai came to the rescue, telling him the state of affairs in tones no doubt tender as true. Letters legitimately dolorous, for and against a further correspondence, at length, to Zee's relief, closed all communication between herself and Wrax. What a blow to the scheming lover, who believed he had the bird in his hand! But however piqued his vanity might be, Zee believed he would soon solace himself with another.
Having experienced the pangs of unrequited love, Sadai could offer the rejected heartfelt sympathy. What could be more natural than that she should fill the niche left vacant by Zee, who would have esteemed the fates most propitious had they made the pair affinities for aye. But, alas, they were playing at cross-purposes—fire-eaters, both of them, with nought but themselves to consume. Wrax battled with his despair alone. Love's cross-current ran none the smoother for Sadai, in whose lacerated bosom hope's last ray died.
To her parents, who esteemed Wrax a king among men, Zee's rejection of him had given great offence; and in writing to her they never once, during her twelve months' absence, failed to “pity her blindness,” or grieve that she “stood in her own light.” Wrax himself (there was good stuff in Wrax) kept the wound open. He had never forsaken the old home, never forsaken the old love; nor did he attempt to conceal the joy Zee's anticipated return home afforded him. She, on the contrary, being averse to a renewal of the severed friendship, and knowing that her return home was urged in the belief that she “could not fail to love Wrax on better acquaintance,” preferred remaining at page 29 a distance, and forth with advertised for a situation as useful companion to a lady, mentioning her English birth and desire to travel.
But no situation being offered to Zee's liking, home she must go, nothing loth except for Wrax; and knowing he desired to meet her in London, she purposely made her return from the North uncertain. Hence, when she did at last land in that ocean of bewilderment, the modern Babylon, with its sea of absorbed stone-wall faces, a sickening sense of insignificance crept over her, such as youth in its travels must ever feel (did, at least, in those days); and owing to an inculcated distrust of strangers, lavish attentions from them would but have aggravated her sense of loneliness. Grateful for such companionship as her luggage afforded, she, without much ado, gathered her silent friends around her, hailed a cab, and bidding adieu to the motley throng, stepped gladly off the public stage into a cosy English home once more.
Apprising the home-birds of her safe arrival, Zee was careful to leave her return to rusticity an open question, to escape that dreadful Wrax. The crest pertaining to her family name is a lion rampant. The fickle month of March presided at her nativity; hence, “mad as a March hare” may explain Zee's manifold peculiarities. She had proved as invulnerable to the wiles of the canny Scot as to those of the Englishman, Zee might, perchance, have loved, but her “object” was so singularly obtuse, that Cupid's scratch in her case healed in a day or two; she kept the reins of heart and mind too well in hand to canter down love's steep incline, there to perish in a sea of neglect. Zee and the willow parted company ere she was once under its baneful shade, and leaving Auld Reekie scot free was so much in favor of the absent lover.
Hungering for news of the March hare, Wrax lingered wistfully about the charmed home-circle, and hearing from the fountain-head that he might hope to see his idol in a few days at most, the railway-station thenceforward became his post of observation. From many a train he turned away heart-sick, but his page 30 attendance failed not, until the “object of all in creation most dear” alighted from one of the carriages, when he stepped aside perforce to hide a sudden tremulousness; and as for Zee, she dared look neither to the right nor left, lest a stray glance should rest on him.
At home once more, loving greeting fell on her ear; but she had barely time to give a kiss all round and lay aside her wraps before she was “wanted downstairs.” Downstairs she went, to meet whom do you guess? Why, Wrax, of course. Yes, all alone in the little parlor the pair met face to face, and Zee was not simpleton enough to run away. Wrax was not given to rhapsodising, and may not have put his welcome home in so many words; there was, nevertheless, a world of content in his manner. Tacitly ignoring the past, they talked long and learnedly, no doubt; for Zee, having gained by the varied experience travel affords, was every inch a woman, possessing a quiet confidence equal to any emergency; nor would Wrax, although less travel-stained, have owned to lacking the eighth of an inch of manhood. He had, indeed, acquired a suavity of voice and manner, seeming to defy dispute; yet Zee did presume to differ from him in much that he advanced. And he told her at a later date that at that first interview he had thought her “greatly changed”—not for the better, she opined.
The fact was, the girl had leaped into the woman, and he had not been there to allow the always critical transformation to take place imperceptibly. And more than this, Zee had changed grievously; she had become conventional—traitor to the higher, truer life in seeking the good-will of her fellows, rather than their good, as will presently appear.
Much of the trepidation she felt in again meeting with Wrax arose from the fear that he had worshipped an ideal Zee, and that the veritable flesh and blood would dispel the illusion. What if her cherished experiences, in rubbing off the blush-rose of simple innocence, had substituted the gaudy poppy? What if his idol proved to be of brass, his rare gem a worthless page 31 bauble; and he, in flinging her from him, with a Spartan-like heroism for which she had not given him credit, should cast his own fetters around herself, and leave her to fade away, a love-lorn maiden, while he stood a little beyond, upright, gazing with gratified scorn on the fatal trammels in which he consigned her to the blest shades of forgetfulness, whence he had himself but now emerged? Zee was exceedingly sensitive on this point, and it was excusable, remembering the mother's knife-cutting superstition, which was to leave one of the twain out in the cold.
Notwithstanding certain nervous twitchings as to whether she is fire-proof, she will doubtless hold her own against Wrax's graces of person and position, unless he love her still, and seek her in right earnest, in which case it is devoutly to be hoped that she will inhale that spiritual ether, which neither comes nor goes at our bidding.
Congratulating himself on the coast being clear, Wrax resolved to go in and win, or at least to keep other suitors at bay until his case proved hopeless. And having the run of the house, he unceremoniously popped in upon Zee at early morn and dewy eve, hoping to find her as neat in her household duties, as with book or needle in the parlor. By the way, does the god consult the happiness of himself or of his goddess, when he goes prying into her scrubbing, cooking and sewing qualifications? What if she were to return the compliment, and starting on a voyage of discovery on her own account, overhauled his private affairs to satisfy herself that he was the Simon Pure he represented himself to be? Is the prying less necessary in the one case than in the other? Once let the goddess become a thoughtful woman, and she will take certain of the prying gender down from their high horse.
The change in Zee, real or fancied, which Wrax saw, failed to deter him from remaining her devoted knight in season and out of season; at her best and at her worst, she was his one particular star, and she honored his unwavering constancy, not a little gratified to find herself at a premium still. Being no longer desirous page 32 of concealing his devotion to his morning and evening star, he ceased to require a discreet third person to join them in their rambles. At home and abroad, at all times and places, without any ostensible reason, Wrax cropped up, observing which curious coincidence, the little daughter of a lady, visiting at Zee's home, inquired of her mamma, in all the innocence of her short life: “Mamma, why does that young man follow us about everywhere?” She, happy child, never lived to understand magnetism.
All too soon, as the months wore on, Zee allowed herself to drift into an engagement with Wrax. How could she help it, indeed? how was she to throw away so tried and steady a regard? If love is assumed when an engagement is entered upon, Zee, to please the friends who had grieved over her previous “error of judgment,” no less than to please Wrax himself, had said “Yes” when she ought to have said “No,” but lacked the moral courage so to do. Gladly would she have schooled her heart to fondness, and have given him of her best; but she did not know how to set about it, as, indeed, how should she? It is not given us to love when and whom we will; the combustion must be spontaneous; love, like womankind, refuses to be drilled. The best, the most receptive of both sexes, often suffer most from the fitful Cupid, who laughs at his empty quiver and random shots.
Wrax's faith in Zee's pledged word was such that he was content with ever so slight a hope of winning her love, nor feared the frustration of his wildest anticipations. But since flirting no longer whetted the edge of their intercourse, there was in his attentions too much of the dumb-show of the faithful doggie to be agreeable. His earlier hair-breath escape had so deadened his courage, that the Dick-Turpin sort of lover, which would have suited our spirited Black Bess, was not forthcoming. Zee is now the one to want a third party in their perumbulations; not that she is more nice than wise, but that she may have the diversion of watching another skipping about collecting the treasures the hedgerows supplied, and she often coaxed Merlee to accompany them. On page 33 the road out, gathering mosses and wild flowers affoled delightful amusement; but in the deepening twilight such resources failing her, Merlee pronounced “lover's pace, three miles in four hours,” wearisome to a degree, and left the pair to edify each other in silence.
Walking, demurely, by Wrax's side, with her hand locked on his arm, and receiving merely “Yes” or “No,” with any number of “looks of love,” as Sadai would have said, in response to her sallies of wit and wisdom, this was little less than purgatory to the quick-silver girl, who was like tow, that any spark but Wrax's could set on fire. No wonder she used the nettle occasionally, and longed to hop off and leave him in the lurch, for he must have been inexcusably slow to have remained dumb with such a merry sprite by his side. The scenery amid which they roamed ought to have made star-gazing delightful work even to the most sluggish clodpole. But though a rustic like Zee, Wrax's tastes were not pastoral; he hadn't a soul above bricks and mortar; he craved “life,” the “life” found in the bustling, fever-breeding city. For an object in nature to claim even a passing notice from him was a nine days' wonder; Zee kept a queerly-twisted bit of thorn for years, because he had given it to her and called it “curious.”
The time has arrived for Sadai and Iva to start a young ladies' boarding-school in their native town, Zee being appointed commissioner-in-chief of the sewing-basket, etc. So youthful a firm was it (its head being but one-and-twenty) that a matronly servant became at once an institution; and grave deliberation was held as to whether a “follower,” in the person of Wrax, could be permitted to desecrate the virtuous domicile. The father said, laughingly, to Wrax: “I can't think how you find the courage to go courting among such girls. I never could have done it.” Nor was the father the only man who thought the elder girls (Merlee was head man to the old folk) a formidable trio to attack, the furies where the graces should be, perhaps. But Sadai and Iva protested that Wrax, having the worst on his side, there was nothing for page 34 anyone to fear; whereas Wrax may have questioned whether “the worst” in her pranks was as much on his side as were her accommodating sisters. But no; Zee's heart was tender, if her treatment was mettlesome; he thought himself more to be envied than pitied; her teasing was so pleasing, there could not be too much of it.
During school vacation a full-fledged Cockney fell from the clouds into this charming dovecote, or rather, on discovering what its inmates were, he made something more than a half-way house of the old home, constituting himself knight-errant to the girls. Being a bachelor and related to Ruby by marriage, he at once found grace with Zee, who named him “My man Friday.” Well as he might know his great Babylon he was as green as to what life in the woods might mean as any country cousin could desire, and his verdancy served Zee to perfection. He loved a lark, so did she; but “She must keep the ball rolling,” he said (and she was willing to take him at his word), “if he were to find a charm in the dreary wilds of fell and flood.” Oh, fie! he all but annihilated himself at starting, by hinting that the country could be “dreary.” Zee told him that “to become a spick and span Hodge he must be dying with love for hedges and ditches, thrushes and witches, while sighing for a lodge in some vast wilderness,” which he devoutly “hoped he might never possess, unless someone,” who shall be nameless, “consented to be the patron saint of his hermitage.” He thenceforth caught her cue (some men are pure clay in some hands), only stipulating that she should give him her company without stint, and he would yield himself unreservedly to her tuition of rustic mysteries.
Oh, delightful! Zee had at last found someone after her own heart, ravelling out and rippling over with a jollity which spurned all bounds and set priggishness at defiance; and with mischief throbbing in her every nerve, she clapped her hands in exuberant gladness; and, oh, on how many a wild-goose chase she sent her faithful swain, deigning only to laugh at him for his pains. Friday, nevertheless, professed to meet her page 35 admiration for nature, animate and inanimate, with like enthusiasm. Zee lived in clover for the nonce; and in all boating, nutting, and lily-gathering parties he was the doughty knight, and she the dainty maiden surrounded by a fairy circlet of far-reaching spells, all the powers of the air assisting at her conjuring.
Just now a nutting expedition is in the wind, and merry voices chant their names; they heed not; good-natured, half-baked simpletons may gather nuts and throw them to Zee to crack, or leave her free to while away the time of her smoke-dried city guest with resplendent visions which wrap them in delirious daydreams as they revel in the sweet woodland scenes and scents. But when once she lays aside her mystic wand, she is her own slap-dash self again, scrambling after nuts with an energy which kept Friday, who was step-and-fetch-it according to order, on thorns, so completely, indeed, did sundry significant nods from Zee unhinge his nerves, that he was never so supremely happy as when she was in dreamland. And seated on a throne of his improvising, himself in all humility at her feet, she indulged his humor by building marble halls in the air, and all her spidery webs are herring-boned with golden thread. Now she glides along avenues stretching further than eye can scan, to the mansion of many turrets deeply embowered in shrubberies. There are the broad gravel walks, mossy terraces, close-shaven lawns with choice floral glories; a fountain, too, and fish, silver and gold; a lake, also, in the distance, with swans sailing on its bosom—beauties grouped in rich profusion to captivate the senses, making of this and that enchanted castle a fit habitation for the gods of earth. The fair creatures seen sauntering down the sloping lawn in sweeping trains of stiff brocade are Mistress Sadai, Mistress Iva, and Mistress Merlee, accompanied by all the adjuncts which serve to adorn quality ladies—a screeching peacock, pet poodles, and a monkey in a silken vest—the latter pet is no fiction, Jacko and Zee are bosom friends. If the scene and the damsels are too stately, Zee, shedding over them her rollicking humor, quickly changes them into blithe, sprightly belles, to each of whom she page 36 apportions a serving-woman, a splendid equipage with outriders, and caps all with lordly suitors and subsequent jubilations.
Professing great love for water parties in tiny pleasure boats manned by inexperienced rowers, Friday, the cheat, is doomed to figure at one such party. What is more delightful, when the nerves are in tune, than sailing, as our friends did, on a narrow meandering river, screened from the sun's fierce rays by a steep bank over which the tangling vines, woodbine and convolvulus, spread their all-encircling arms, while a wide expanse of richly wooded hill and dale lies peacefully before them? Here and there the margin of the river is dyed blue by the bright-eyed forget-me-not, some of which flowers the gallant Friday must present to Zee; and, lest he should be supplanted, the Cockney, in his insane haste to reach them, set one foot on land, thereby sending the cockleshell of a boat a foot or two farther from the water's edge than was agreeable. And there was Friday, with one foot on land and one on sea, somewhere, anywhere between heaven and earth but where he wished to be! A stalwart arm, however, pushed the boat in, so that our exquisite saved his skin and his courage by jumping to land.
In those, to Friday, truly awful moments, when he had the rare felicity of seeing his manly form mirrored in the pellucid waters expecting to explore the realms of the finny tribes perforce, the saucy Zee did not even smile; but the instant he was safe her laugh rang out loud and clear. And talking loudly of payment aside, Friday—would you believe it?—in all the primitive ignorance of his Cockney education, positively accredited Zee with having all but slipped the boat from beneath him. No. He trusted to the treacherous waves instead of the faithful Zela, who said it was almost to be regretted that he had not fallen into the water in the act of clutching the flowers and taken them, poetically, down with him to kiss the slimy bed of the river, then to have thrown them to her as he rose to the surface with “Forget-me-not” on his despairing lips, when she would have earned the Humane Society's medal by frantic efforts to page 37 save him by means of her cambric pocket-handker-chief.
Aye! what a dance she led the dear fellow! yet never was there a more harmless pair of goody-two-shoes. Friday did sometimes lose his senses, raving about “bright eyes,” etc., when Zee would add, with an archness that made him bound off to a safe distance, “aquiline nose, damask cheek, ruby lips, pearly teeth, dimpled chin, swanlike neck,” so on and so forth. Still, never did Friday whisper tender word, nor by any kind of casuistry attempt to spell “opportunity.” Whether or not he knew of her engagement, she did, and that sufficed. Wrax must have been absent on leave surely, as never so much as his shadow was seen; and even admitting that Zee went to the end of her tether, she did not play football with Friday's heart, nor did he play with hers.
The father being rather much of a prude, anything ever so little askew looked ugly to him; and hearing of Zee's “flirtation,” he quickly brought her to book. Girls and boys had a wholesome dread of being closeted with the duty-loving. duty-doing father, whose verdict of “guilty” was equivalent to being sent to Coventry till self-reproach died a natural death. Now Zee's turn had come, and the father wound up his lecture by saying that “Mr.—was not worthy to wipe the dust from Wrax's feet.” The highest commendation he could offer.
Zee questioned not his verdict. She liked Mercury well in its way, but Friday, who was so much laughing-gas, never could have touched the deeply-earnest side of her nature; he was, nevertheless, a host in himself, whereas Wrax was miserably prosaic. Still, in a fair contest, the latter would have carried off the prize, since if there was more stolidity in Wrax there was, Zee thought, also more solidity, and she esteemed gravity above levity. Wrax, too, inquired what such “goings on” meant, but was silenced by a word from Zee.
In truth, the existing social relations between the sexes are as monstrous as if their interests were antagonistic, not identical—their purposes impure, page 38 not pure. When there is no passion to confess nor to conceal, much pleasant and profitable intercourse between the sexes is possible, but ungoverned passion is a betrayer. The one unanswerable argument against the prevailing animalism is for women to be bright, clever and incorruptibly good. But so long as the generality of women are what they are, men are likely to treat them as toys, if nothing worse. To gauge their worth, take away their love of ease, of dress, of cant and scandal, and what remains—what soul is there?