The Novel on Blue Paper - Chapter 15
JOHN LEAVES HOME
Arthur lay abed the next morning, happy enough, and John sat with him at his breakfast, with the feeling (fit enough in any case for the day after a merrymaking) that life had got very commonplace and stupid, and longing sorely for something startling to happen, but doing his best to carry on something of talk with his brother, and going every now and then to the open window, and leaning out of it in a restless manner. At last came the short sharp double ring at the bell that indicated the postman.
John started, though it may easily be believed that the lads’ correspondence was so small that neither of them need expect a letter because of that. Nevertheless, on this occasion a letter was brought up presently, and given to John, who said:
‘Well, by Jove, here’s a letter from father!’ and tore it open eagerly, and with some apprehension too, which latter Arthur rather more than shared.
‘What is it, old fellow?’ he said, before John could have half read it through.
‘Why,’ said John, after he had hastily skimmed through to the end, ‘it’s a case of “good-bye”’—and he threw him the letter, which ran thus:
My dear John,You remember my telling you last time I saw you that you must make your choice of a business.
Well, you must choose at once, for I have just got a letter from Godby telling me that the place in the Russian house is just vacant. If you take my advice you will take it. Godby’s friend will push you, and by the time you are twenty-one you might put your Mother’s money into the affair, and become a junior partner—i.e. always if you work hard these four years, and learn the business.If you determine to go, it must be at once; Godby has asked you to go and stay with him for a couple of days before you go up. That will be about as much as they will allow you, but he will put you up to things in London, for he is a good-natured fellow, and likes young people better than I do. Write to him at once. Mr Jackson has instructions to get a lodging for you, and to pay you. Godby will tell you all about that; you are old enough to see about all you want with the housekeeper; tell her to give you money to get up to London.
There—work hard, and try to make money. You will find the making of it more amusing than anything else, besides all the amusement you can buy with it. Don't get into a mess. I did, when I was young, and that has tainted my position ever since. If you think this queer for a parson, I can’t help it—I am not
[Morris’s manuscript breaks off here. The final section, as he explained to Louie Baldwin, ‘begins with the letter of the elder brother to the younger, on getting his letter telling how he was going to bid for the girl in marriage.’ This, presumably, would be four or five years later.]
... You say I shall not be surprised, perhaps. Surprised! Why, when I was down there with you the whole air seemed full of this. It lurked in dark corners in the twilight, and the dark throbbed with it as I lay alone on my bed, till I felt as if it would burst out into a cry; and as I went up in the train the noise of the wheels and engine seemed to be telling the world of it; and when the murkiness of London drew near, there it seemed to be lying in wait for us. As I hurried up the stairs, and as I lay awake in the night, I told myself the story over and over again, till I could lie still no more, and yet was too weak to get up. Look—I am writing nonsense to you—but how could I be astonished?
And now I will talk sense, and give you advice—and believe me, for whatever reason, I am inspired to-night, and if you follow my advice all will be well with you. If otherwise, if you let any half-heartedness deceive you, it will be better for you to grow miserable and die, than to be contented and live. Again, you think me mad—forgive it, but read on—if you are sure, as you say you are, that Clara loves you and that you love her, heed nothing, heed nobody, but live your life through with her, crushing everything that comes in your way—everything—unless, perhaps, there was somebody who loved her better than yourself. Yet as you will not be able to imagine that, if you truly love her, the first word stands.
Everything, and everybody—I do not understand why you should hesitate. As to Father, why, if had loved us as passionately as one reads of sometimes, I would say ‘disregard him’—so there is no need to say that as he loves us little enough, that as his whole life is mingled with some blind hatred—be sorry for him, as I am—love him, as I cannot—and thrust him aside from out your path. What else is there? Clara’s mother? Make her yield, man, make her yield! She is weak and sentimental—a long face or two, a little crying, and the thing is done; and she will have no grief, only a little discomfort—let her bear it! There is not much need to pity her.
Well, I won’t do you the injustice to think you really care what the world will say, nor think that she, with those eyes, that body that her soul has made, can care; and so you have nothing left—for you shall have, at the worst, two-thirds of any money I can make, and if you are poor, how sweet your ambition to get on will be, when it is for her! Bah! why need I preach to you about that? O, you are happy—what need of me to call on God to bless you? For be sure that his blessings are showered down on the strong lucky people who come near enough to the fire to thrust in their hands and snatch the gold out of it. They cannot heed, if they would, the wailing or the silent misery of those who are old, or blind, or weak with the horrible fever of longing that can never be satisfied.
O, how beautiful you must think the world: Stop, though! are you sure that she loves you as you love her? Nay, do not be indignant—find out without blinding yourself how the matter goes; and if you find she does not—then—why then, still strive with all your might to get her, to be with her—if not for many years, yet for a year; if not for a year, for a month; if not for a month, for a week—for a day, for an hour, a minute—do anything, stoop to any humiliation, tell any lie, commit any treachery—but do not die, as—as some people must, with your love barren and unsatisfied, when you can make it otherwise. Do not hesitate on the score of her happiness. If you feel real love, you must know that you really think the whole world exists only to minister to your passion. O, think of the happiness, if you can feel this and be satisfied. Yes! even without any return, it is happiness. It is worth passing through all the pain that clings about it—and if you do not feel this, you are not in love, and the desire you have will pass away into something else—into friendship, or into disgust, or hatred—how should I know or care which? What does it matter? All is either love or not love. There is nothing between. Everything else—friendship, kindness, goodness, is a shadow and a lie.
P.S. This is a wild letter; but it is all I can write just now. Do not be frightened of me when I meet you next, and tell Clara I wrote kindly to you, and was very glad that you were going to be married. You see, I am so anxious that the only two people I love in the world, or ever shall love, should be quite happy, quite without a cloud on their love. Tell dear Clara that I advised you to carry the matter through if you were in torment in spite of everything.
P.P.S. I must come and see you soon. Good-bye. J.R.
Arthur's face grew pale enough as he read his letter, and when he had done it he walked up and down the room many times, but without saying a word, without indeed forming one in his heart. At last he walked out of the house, and straight to Leaser Farm.
There he found Clara and her mother sitting together, and, after the first greeting, sat down with no attempt to make talk, and answered at random to Mrs Mason's anxious questions about his health. Clara sat silent for a little time, and presently said to him quite abruptly:
'Come out with me, Arthur. I want to show you something.'
He rose without a word, and though Mrs Mason would have followed them, Clara's bluntness, and a tone of resolute sternness in her voice, stopped her; and she sat there alone in great agitation.
When the two had got among the low-hanging lime boughs Clara turned round on him, and said:
'What has gone wrong, Arthur?'
He caught hold of her hand and began nursing it to his breast, and the colour had come back to his cheeks again as he answered:
'Nothing—nothing. I wrote to John and have an answer—it was so kind.
'She turned deadly pale. 'What's the matter? Is he ill?' she said.
She was still pale. 'Arthur,' she said, 'are you telling me the whole truth? I mean, are you breaking some dreadful thing to me? Don't torment me! It isn't kind to do those sort of things—you know I love you.'
'O my darling,' he cried, drawing her to him, 'and how I love you! there is not a word more of his letter to tell you than that—and that he seemed tremendously excited about it. And if I looked pale and anxious just now, it was because I had quite made up my mind to tell my father all about it, and that we must be married at once—and it was a little apprehension, and a great deal of excitement, that's it. O, my own sweet, and my cowardice and nervousness has made you suffer—dear, I wish you could hurt me in return for it, but I know you are too kind, and cannot.'
He trembled all over with pleasure as he spoke, for her cheek touched his, and while he stood dreaming in his old way, he felt her sigh, and then her lips had stolen round to his, and there was no pang in his heart but of longing still unsatisfied, as they kissed together there.
'I am so glad he was pleased,' she said, as they walked back to the house, 'and now you're going to tell mother all about it.'
'Yes,' he said dreamily.
'You know,' she said, 'I haven't told her about it, but I am sure she knows that something has happened. I must make her happy, Arthur—she has always been so kind to me, and I know you are fond of her.'
'Yes, very much,' said Arthur, and they went hand in hand into the room, where indeed there was little need to say much, for Mrs Mason met them half-way as soon as Arthur had opened his mouth; and perhaps the two lovers were a little ashamed of her raptures—Arthur, at all events.
Arthur went away in the evening scarcely feeling the ground he trod on, and kissing over and over again some little love tokens she had given him—a glove, and a little silk handkerchief she used to wear round her neck. Yet ever and anon came a thought that was like the shadow of a crime on him—this, that he was glad she had not asked to see John's letter.
And for her, she said to herself aloud when she was alone: ‘I wish I had asked to see John's letter.' And then again presently: 'No, I cannot now, after that unlucky speech about its being the whole truth. He would think I half suspected something wrong, and it would look ugly, and not as if I were his love.'
[The manuscript ends here]
Prepared by Matthew Runkle, 2014.