NOEL had not been
many days in
So he gladly availed himself of a summons from his solicitor to return to London, leaving Margaret equally assured of his devotion, James of his friendship, and Sophia in the dark as to the mystery of the lives around her.
‘We shall return home together in the spring,’ said the latter to Noel as he took his leave; and then you must all come to Linnwood for a month before we go up to London for the season.’ you it had been agreed between Maynard and Noel that it would be better to delay the return to Mexico until the country became more settled.
Back in his
she was affected by James’s narrow
Since Mr Tresham’s death his affairs had been put into Chancery, and there they seemed likely to remain; for Noel would make no step towards either payment or compromise, and the hostile Banks either would not or dared not accept the challenge to produce their minutes. Finding this to be the case, his lawyers said to him, ‘Wait,’ and he waited, nothing loath to be free from work that was little congenial to him, and to pursue his own occupation. Once only was his interest aroused. An attempt was made to bring the Mexican property into the list of his uncle’s assets, by representing that the deed of gift was executed subsequently to his being in difficulties. This was a matter that most seriously affected James and Margaret, and Noel set himself to work with an energy and determination that surprised and delighted his lawyers, and was rewarded by being enabled to establish the deed most satisfactorily, and without letting those who were most concerned be made aware of their danger.
Early in May he received this letter from Sophia Bevan: –
‘A few days more, dear Edmund, and I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you. A real relief it will be to me, I assure you, after my long and painful proximity to wedded incongruity.
I never knew before what wonderful beings men and women are; or rather what wonderful complexities matrimony is capable of effecting. Here, in James and Margaret, are the two best and noblest natures I know; and, taking them separately, I am in love with each of them: yet, combined, they can’t combine. Like two prime elements, each is perfect and complete by itself, but seems absolutely incapable of affinity or union with the other. The odd part of it is, that I verily believe both do their very best to promote the desired accord, the absence of which constitutes the misery of their lives. I begin to think that it is possible to try overmuch to be good. Here is a triumph for you over poor me. You always insisted on spontaneousness being the essential basis of everything desirable, and laughed at my belief in the omnipotence of Will in the case of feeling. I suppose I do not know what love is, and have in my imagination substituted getting-on-comfortably-together for it. I only hope I never may know what love is, if the presence or the lack of it is to put me in the position I am lamenting. Margaret is ever silent and patient. It is through the half-utterances of James that I am forced to see in her a picture of affection mingled with repulsion; and in him, of idolatry mingled alternately with anger and remorse. She loves him with a love that he rejects. He loves her with a passion that she cannot comprehend. I never before appreciated the beauty of Divorce. Not, mind you, that I think it applicable to their case; at least now; though it is impossible to say how far the idea of such a resource being available might in the first instance have educated him into reason and moderation. They prefer to suffer on, and attempt impossible conquests, she over herself, he over her, rather than finally admit their failure. There is something beyond the enactment, conventional or ecclesiastical, that binds them. They are as far above paying regard to fetters of that kind, as they are above vulgar expedients. I doubt if they really know what it is that keeps them together. I believe that it is, unconsciously to them, the bond of parenthood; and that but for this he would release – no, not release, – force her from him, for she would not quit him without compulsion, at least for her own sake. His one solace is that he believes her to be, by some defect of nature, incapable of love. In the agony of his mortification he has even said that he wished she might experience the passion, no matter for whom, and then she would
pity and, perchance, love him! I have exhausted my imagination in devising remedies, and think now that their best chance of happiness lies in a separation that shall continue until they are both old enough to have lost their individual angles.
‘He is really an extraordinary man, and it was the most perverse fate that, of all natures in the world, brought two such as these together. Only fate that created the dilemma can solve it. I never fail to learn from him something deeper and broader than I can find elsewhere. He has given me most admirable advice about my pet project which I will not now repeat. Get him away from his personal engrossments, and no man surpasses him. But I can see that he often allows his own experience to influence his philosophy. My university, he says, will be invaluable for those women who are by temperament disqualified for marriage. He would have me introduce a system of what he calls “spinsterial fellowships.” He thinks it essential that women be made as independent and able to take care of themselves as men are; and that they should have such ample resource of occupation as to lead them to regard marriage as but one out of many careers open to them; in fact, just as men do. So that if a woman feel that she has no vocation for matrimony she may withdraw herself from being a temptation and attraction to men, to a sphere of usefulness among her own sex. I suppose he thinks that Margaret would have gone to such a university as a student, and remained there all her life as fellow and tutor.
‘Sometimes his bitterness shows itself in quaint sarcasms on the people and thinks we see on our route. His religious and scientific ideas are oddly mixed up together, so that I can never make out exactly what his belief is. He expresses a scientific view of prayer, and says he sees no reason why spiritual forces should not effect physical results. It is only necessary to postulate an additional imponderable medium, say like that which is the agent in attraction or electricity, and amenable to the human will or wish, to be able to comprehend the mind’s acting at a distance. The phenomena of sympathy, antipathy, presentiments, and the like, belong to a region of which nothing is yet known: and denial is just as unphilosophic as assertion, ridicule as credulity, concerning them. Prayer may be but a link in the chain of natural causes, the desire that prompts it being itself the sign and agent of a tendency toward the end desired, and essential to such end.
‘He was talking in this way while we were driving through an Austrian village, when something about the carriage gave way, and we had to stop for repairs. The workmen were very stupid, and the peasants who flocked round us were certainly of painfully unintelligent countenances. James said that he never goes among country folk without thinking of the injunction to the Disciples. “Like them, we have only to go into a village to ‘find an ass tied’ in the bondage of hopeless ignorance and superstition. The villagers, or ‘pagans,’ or ‘heathens,’ remained in their old habits out of sheer stupidity, long after the cities became Christian. And they will remain Christian for the same reason long after the cities have proceeded to the next phase in religious development. So that the Christians will in turn appear as ‘pagans.’ ”
‘We came by
‘The voyage down the
“A fitting symbol of the system that exalts celibacy and forbids to marry?”
‘We purpose to be at home in just ten days hence, going direct by Havre and Southampton. Do, if you can possibly manage it, meet us at Linnwood on our arrival.’