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MY FIRST AND LAST NOVEL.
You asked me once if I had ever had a secret from my husband. Answering "Yes," I promised some day to tell you all about it: I will do
When we were first married, and for a time afterwards, we were poor; neither of us were used to poverty. I was the youngest, and had been the pet, of a large family; I was inexperienced in every way, and somewhat spoiled by indulgence. Kenelm, my husband, was several years older than his little wife; he was good, grave, and wise; there was something in his character that made people afraid of him; when he courted me, my sisters held him in awe; yet, strangely enough, I, coward as I was in most respects, felt nothing of this awe till afterwards, but treated him with girlish audacity and tyranny. I knew my power.
I must not allow myself to tell you of our happiness during the first months after our marriage; that has nothing to do with this story; for then I had not the ghost of a secret from my husband. It is true that I was forced to be very quiet during the earlier part of the day, when the scratching of Kenelm's pen was almost the only sound to be heard in our house; but I indemnified myself in the evening for the morning's silence. I dearly loved to talk to Kenelm! I used then to show him the innermost thought of my heart he was so gentle and reverent, and in return gave me his full confidence, sometimes speaking to me of things far beyond my comprehension, gladdening me by saying that often a few random words of mine would suggest the solutions of perplexities over which he had long pondered!
Well, we were poor. I had twenty pounds a-year; for the rest we depended upon my husband's earnings. We had married in the spring; the following winter Kenelm fell ill, very ill. Necessarily his illness increased our expenses; and I, without any regard to cost, or any thought of whose labour must pay for all, pro
cured everything that I fancied might please him or do him good. When he was convalescent, the doctor ordered him not to write for months to come. I understood his smile as he listened to this decree; it smote me with sharp, sudden pain; I remember I ran away to weep.
I must write, my child; we are in debt, we want money." This was all his answer to my tearful remonstrance, when long, long before he was strong, I saw him settle down to work.
For the first time I shrank away from his mild glance; for the first time the deep tenderness of his tone sounded to me as a reproach.
I went from his study into the garden. It was spring; but I paid no heed to the loveliness of the sunny morning. To-day I was too miserable to weep, for the first time in my life perhaps. I stood, leaning my head against a tree, absorbed in selfreproachful thought-knowing, for the first time, how dreadful a thing it was to want money.
I had one friend living near; she had been Kenelm's friend for years and years, but now she was especially mine. It chanced that she passed our gate that morning, and, seeing me, came in for a few mo
"You, Minnie, of all women in the world, to look upon this sweet day with so sad a face! What ails you, dear? Kenelm is getting well."
"But he will be ill again. The doctor says he should have change and perfect rest, and-he is at work. I have been extravagant-we want money." She was grave immediately.
"Poor dear!" she said; "no wonder you are not merry-Oh, that money!" She softly stroked my hand, and fell into meditative silence.
Presently she cried, quite abruptly, Minnie, you shall write a novel ! I started, and blushed as if she had proposed to me to commit a crime.
"Yes," she repeated, "you shall
write a novel. I have a little leisure -nothing else, alas !-at your service -you write, I will revise and manage all besides."
"Would he not like it? Ah! perhaps not I had forgotten. Good, almost perfect as he is, he has his prejudices."
"But if I could write a book! If I could earn enough money to take him to the sea-side-I would risk the rest. I will not be afraid; I will try and write a novel-only he shall never know unless I succeed."
"Is it well to have a secret from your husband ?”
"Just this one. I must try. It would be so glorious if I were to succeed."
"You should know best. But, Minnie, I had rather you told him."
"No, no, no; not unless I succeed. What makes you think that I can write a book?"
"I have seen little attempts of yours-do not blush-and bits, only bits, of your letters to Kenelm. If Mrs Kenelm Cameron writes her book as simply and fervently as Minnie Grey wrote her love-letters, it will do always provided that, before she begins it, she quite makes up her mind what it is to be about." "That is the puzzle."
"It will not long remain so, if the book is destined to be written. I am going from home; you shall have my address; let me help you in any way I can."
I took leave of her absently, already pondering what my book was to be about.
For three days and three nights I continued to ponder this matter. When Kenelm asked of what I was thinking, I blushed, giving the stupid answer, "Nothing particular." He looked surprised, but said nothing
Now, in all that follows, it may seem to you that if I had given the matter a playful turn, and if my husband had trusted me as he ought to have done, no unhappiness would have ensued. It was not in my power to think of my secret lightlydirectly I had a secret from my husband, I turned coward, and became morbidly timid in his presence. And he-he did not suspect me of wrong
doing-it was my want of confidence towards him that he mourned. I think I have heard Kenelm say that it is in the natures acted upon, not in the acts themselves, that the elements of Tragedy and Comedy are contained. I suppose we each acted as it was
our nature to act.
When those three days and nights of meditation had proved fruitless, I drowned my hope in tears. I had found no subject of which I felt competent to treat, no cause to advocate, and I despaired.
A day or two afterwards an acquaintance sent us tickets for a concert in the evening she called for
My husband was not well enough to go-I hated to go without him; but he sent me because he thought that I was beginning to pine in a too quiet life. I felt very ungrateful towards the friend who carried me off, so sorely against my will.
It was a "classical" concert of instrumental music: I loved such music. Yet by-and-by I found that I was not listening to it. I was writing-nay, rather contemplatingmy book! It did not suggest itself to me bit by bit, but I seemed to grasp it all-plot, purpose, incident
at once. I literally hugged myself under cover of my little white cloak, and said, "This will do."
"Exquisite is it not?" my companion exclaimed, thinking I had spoken to her in praise of the music. Her glance dwelt wonderingly on my excited face.
Now I was only anxious to get home. I dreaded that I might forget. Fortunately my friend was sleepy during the drive-the rapid motion continued the excitement the music had produced. When we stopped at my gate, and the lady woke up to say Good-night," I astonished her by the fervour of my "Thank you! you do not know what you have done for me."
Are you such an enthusiast?" she asked. "Had I known it, I would have sent you tickets before. I will remember you in future - goodnight."
I let myself into the house. I had made Kenelm promise not to sit up, and had ordered Ann to go to bed. How glad I was of this!
The lamp and the fire burned in
the parlour, and the little supper-tray stood ready.
I had made no noise; I stole up to my room, found Kenelm asleep, looking very wan and worn; I bent down and kissed him lightly, then ran
In the parlour I sat down to write, and I wrote-hour after hour. When the lamp went out, I looked up in consternation--it was growing light. Very carefully I gathered together my precious sheets; I put them within a book (a cookery book, I remember), and hid that at the bottom of my work-table. I crept to bed cold, tired, and happy, but did not fall asleep till broad daylight.
When I woke, Kenelm stood by my bedside with my breakfast upon a tray. "Is it late?" I asked, starting
Nearly eleven, love. Did you enjoy the concert, Minnie?"
"The concert-oh yes!" Then as I recalled everything, I felt as if he must find out my secret by looking at me, and I turned away yawning.
Not quite awake yet, sleepy one," he commented.
How I was to manage to write in the daytime, was the problem that occupied me while I dressed.
When I was ready, I went to Kenelm in his study. "Must you write to-day?" I asked.
"Yes, I must. Let us dine at four-I will write till then. After dinner we will have a walk. Do not feel anxious, love-I am stronger." "Can I do nothing for you this morning?"
He had resumed his pen, and I went away. We had an unfurnished room in our house. I was soon locked into that. I spread my paper on a box, a box that had gone with us on our wedding journey, and crouched upon the floor to write. I left off just in time to prepare for dinner-to smoothe my hair, dip my hot brow in water, and wash the ink-stains off my fingers.
"I wanted you to stitch up my manuscript, Minnie," Kenelm said; "but as I didn't find you in the house, I contrived to do it myself. I suppose you have been working in the garden-too hard, I think; you look flushed."
"My face is rather hot. Now, where shall we walk this evening?" I asked, and began to talk hurriedly of primroses, violets, blue-bells, and the probability of our finding them in the fields around.
That was an exquisite evening. As we wandered about the lanes and meadows, Kenelm sometimes leant on me, I sometimes on him; and I said to myself, "So it should be in life; why should my husband work always, and I sit idle all my days?"
That was very well; but, alas! as I worked I lost sight of my good motive in the absorbing interest of my work-forgot all my little daily cares for Kenelm while I struggled to achieve a grand good for him.
My husband came home healthily tired. That night he slept soundly, and I could not sleep; so I rose-I could not resist the impulse to continue my work; again it was the daylight that warned me to my bed.
Kenelm told me at breakfast that he must go into town, and should not get home till evening. He had not incurred this fatigue since his illness, and was not fit for it. I did not think of this then; I did not offer to go for him, or beg to go with him ; I thought joyfully of the long day before me. He left home at ten, to return at seven.
I told Ann to say that I was engaged if any one should call, and I locked myself into the empty chamber. I uttered a cry of joy as I began my work-I had such delight in it.
I left off to pretend to dine, but I had no appetite, and soon recommenced.
Towards the end of the afternoon I found I could go on no longer. My temples burned, and yet I felt as if numbed by excessive cold, and my head began to ache intensely.
Kenelm was late; it was getting dusky when he came, and I shunned what little light there was. He was tired, and after tea lay upon the couch; I sat beside him on a low seat, and rested my aching head on his breast.
By-and-by Ann came in with the lamp, and then Kenelm asked me to read to him. I rose with some difficulty, I felt so weak and weary. Unwittingly I turned my face full to the light as I opened the new book he
had brought home, and his eyes were upon me as they generally were, as I had formerly loved to have them. "Minnie!" he exclaimed- then started up and came to nie. He took my hands and gazed into my face. This time I was not sorry to feel thick blushes covering my pallor. Somewhat pettishly I cried-" You startle me, Kenelm," and I tried to turn away. He would not let me. "You look wretchedly ill, Minnie. You have been crying much againso soon! What is it that troubles you? My poor child must tell me!" "I have nothing to tell you-you are foolish-nothing troubles me!" But he continued to gaze at me so tenderly, so sorrowfully, that I could not bear it. To convince him that nothing was the matter, I burst into tears and sobbed upon his bosom, for he folded me in his arms.
I thought that all was overmy secret would out, or my heart would break; but he questioned me no more, only soothed and caressed me. Next morning I rejoiced that my secret was still in my keeping.
When I went down into the parlour, Kenelm held a visiting-card in his hand, at which he was looking with surprise.
"My friend Ashtower here yesterday, and you did not tell me! You asked him to come again, I hope; you are well aware that I have long desired to see him."
I paused at the door with a face expressing blank consternation. "I -did not know," I faltered.
Yes; I was afraid of Kenelm-his eyes perused my face keenly.
"You did not know-it was Ann's fault, then. This is very vexatious.” He was about to ring the bell.
Stay!" I cried; "it was not her fault. I told her if anybody came, to say I was engaged; of course she did not know that I would have seen your friend! Till this moment I did not know he had been here."
"And why, my dear wife, would you see nobody yesterday?"
"Don't say my dear wife' in that horrid way. I suppose I was not in the humour for company, as you had left me alone!" I took refuge in a kind of petulant naughtiness, pouted, and made an unnecessary noise with the cups and saucers.
"My husband did not speak for some time. Then he said, with a measured mildness that I well understood, "I think, Minnie, that you owe me some slight explanation. trust that your good sense will lead you to offer me such. As I am confident that my wife cannot act in a way of which she has need to be ashamed, I do not understand her having any mystery."
I had heard people say that sometimes my husband appeared to hide an iron hand beneath a velvet glove. I recalled the saying now, and asked myself indignantly if he meant to make me feel the smooth inflexibility of his character. I was angry with him.
I offered no word of apology, but remained silent. I could not eat; the first mouthful seemed like to choke me. This made me seem all
the more sullen.
No wonder that my noble, highminded husband looked grieved to the heart at such signs of childish perversity.
When, after breakfast, I sought the bare room, and locked myself in, I trembled taking home the moral that was evolving, without conscious effort of mine, from the story which I had called "A Wife's Secret."
I felt the possibility of my little troubles deepening and widening terribly. I cried passionately, "I will persevere; but I must finish soonI cannot bear this long."
I had taken it for granted that Kenelm had work to do; but when I had slipped down-stairs, just before dinner-time, I saw him lying on our little lawn, a book beside him. "This
"He is angry," I thought. is the first holiday on which he has done without me.'
When we met, I could not be gay or natural; I was constrained in manner, and felt weighed upon and weary.
The few days that followed were uncomfortable. Kenelm tried to resume his usual demeanour, but something was between us, and I was afraid of him. I wrote as much as I could without risk of detection, and forgot my own griefs during those hours.
I told myself that I would not, that I could not, give up, now that I had gone so far. Whenever I felt wavering and despondent, I pic
tured to myself my triumph. Kenelm's surprise, delight, gratitudethis would pay for all my pain.
There was surely no tedious lingering by the way in my book. I wrote in desperate haste to have finished it.
With Kenelm's many letters one morning came a letter for me. I received it from him, and blushed as I slipped it into my apron pocket. It was from my friend, in answer to a note I had sent her about my book.
By this time I had become morbidly nervous. I was haunted by a vague sense of wrong-doing, and a dread of being driven to tell a direct falsehood. I had had more than one terrible alarm of detection.
After pocketing my letter I carefully avoided looking towards my husband.
"Read this, Minnie," he said presently, putting one of the letters he had received before me.
"What shall you do, Kenelm ? Shall you go?" I asked, when I had finished. It was from one of my husband's brothers, begging his mediation with the stern old father, who had been bitterly offended-how, does not concern my story.
"Shall we go, you surely mean, Minnie."
I drooped my head; my work was nearly completed; it would be dreadful to me to leave it now. We had been so estranged lately, my longing to have done with this and every secret was very great; if I were left alone a day or two, it could be safely completed.
"Perhaps you are right, and I ought to go alone," Kenelm said, after a painful silence.
"I think you should. It is an expensive journey; your father does not like me, and".
"I had rather my wife had been thus eager that we should not sepaYou have prudence on your side, but-you are changed, Mary." He rose as he spoke.
"Do not say I am changed! Do not speak so! I cannot bear it!" I spoke passionately. He came to my side, sat down by me, and took my hand.
"If I am to be of any use, I should go to-day-at once," he began. "The
last few weeks, Minnie, something has divided us. Shall we not be one again before we part?"
I was silent; I did not raise my eyes. Perhaps in the struggle to appear unmoved, I looked obstinate and cross, for Kenelm's tone changed.
"That letter- remember, Mary, that I do not stoop to suspect you of wrong; it is simply your want of confidence that I deplore."
Suspect me of wrong, indeed!" I cried, again taking refuge in that petulant unreasonableness which baffles men sorely. "It is you, Kenelm, who have no confidence in me! You treat your wife as if she were a mere child."
"If the time is gone by when she loved to be so treated-when she made me her conscience and hid nothing from me-I must painfully learn how this changed wife desires that I should treat her."
He left the room; when he was gone I wept. But I was a little angry; or, as, passing his study-door on my way up-stairs to pack his clothes, I saw him seated at his study-table with his head bowed upon his hands, I could not have resisted the temptation to go to him and confess everything.
It was only by looking back afterwards that I could understand how much change he found in me-how many signs he saw that my thoughts were not all, or even chiefly, his-besides reading that in my often abstracted face. Many of my little duties were neglected, or performed by Ann; many minute cares for Kenelm omitted during those feverish weeks.
As I packed my husband's clothes, I shed some tears over them. When he was actually gone, after a most painfully calm leave-taking, I felt utterly miserable; I spent the day between crying and sleeping, and only thought of my book with disgust and loathing.
Next morning brought me a cor