An Imaginative Woman - by Thomas Hardy
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William Marchmill had finished his inquiries for lodgings at the
well-known watering-place of Solentsea in Upper Wessex, he returned to the
hotel to find his wife. She, with the children, had rambled along the
shore, and Marchmill followed in the direction indicated by the
"By Jove, how
far you've gone! I am quite out of breath," Marchmill said, rather
impatiently, when he came up with his wife, who was reading as she walked,
the three children being considerably further ahead with the
Mrs. Marchmill started out of the
reverie into which the book had thrown her. "Yes," she said, "you've been
such a long time. I was tired of staying in that dreary hotel. But I am
sorry if you have wanted me, Will?"
have had trouble to suit myself. When you see the airy and comfortable
rooms heard of, you find they are stuffy and uncomfortable. Will you come
and see if what I've fixed on will do? There is not much room, I am
afraid; but I can light on nothing better. The town is rather
The pair left the children and nurse to
continue their ramble, and went back together.
In age well-balanced, in personal appearance fairly matched, and in
domestic requirements conformable, in temper this couple differed, though
even here they did not often clash, he being equable, if not lymphatic,
and she decidedly nervous and sanguine. It was to their tastes and
fancies, those smallest, greatest particulars, that no common denominator
could be applied. Marchmill considered his wife's likes and inclinations
somewhat silly; she considered his sordid and material. The husband's
business was that of a gunmaker in a thriving city northwards, and his
soul was in that business always; the lady was best characterised by that
superannuated phrase of elegance "a votary of the muse." An
impressionable, palpitating creature was Ella, shrinking humanely from
detailed knowledge of her husband's trade whenever she reflected that
everything he manufactured had for its purpose the destruction of life.
She could only recover her equanimity by assuring herself that some, at
least, of his weapons were sooner or later used for the extermination of
horrid vermin and animals almost as cruel to their inferiors in species as
human beings were to theirs.
She had never
antecedently regarded this occupation of his as any objection to having
him for a husband. Indeed, the necessity of getting life-leased at all
cost, a cardinal virtue which all good mothers teach, kept her from
thinking of it at all till she had closed with William, had passed the
honeymoon, and reached the reflecting stage. Then, like a person who has
stumbled upon some object in the dark, she wondered what she had got;
mentally walked round it, estimated it; whether it were rare or common;
contained gold, silver, or lead; were a clog or a pedestal, everything to
her or nothing.
She came to some vague conclusions, and since then had kept her heart
alive by pitying her proprietor's obtuseness and want of refinement,
pitying herself, and letting off her delicate and ethereal emotions in
imaginative occupations, daydreams, and night-sighs, which perhaps would
not much have disturbed William if he had known of
Her figure was small, elegant, and
slight in build, tripping, or rather bounding, in movement. She was
dark-eyed, and had that marvellously bright and liquid sparkle in each
pupil which characterises persons of Ella's cast of soul, and is too often
a cause of heartache to the possessor's male friends, ultimately sometimes
to herself. Her husband was a tall, long-featured man, with a brown beard;
he had a pondering regard; and was, it must be added, usually kind and
tolerant to her. He spoke in squarely shaped sentences, and was supremely
satisfied with a condition of sublunary things which made weapons a
Husband and wife walked till they
had reached the house they were in search of, which stood in a terrace
facing the sea, and was fronted by a small garden of windproof and
salt-proof evergreens, stone steps leading up to the porch. It had its
number in the row, but, being rather larger than the rest, was in addition
sedulously distinguished as Coburg House by its landlady, though everybody
else called it "Thirteen, New Parade." The spot was bright and lively now;
but in winter it became necessary to place sandbags against the door, and
to stuff up the keyhole against the wind and rain, which had worn the
paint so thin that the priming and knotting showed
The householder, who had been
watching for the gentleman's return, met them in the passage, and showed
the rooms. She informed them that she was a professional man's widow, left
in needy circumstances by the rather sudden death of her husband, and she
spoke anxiously of the conveniences of the
Mrs. Marchmill said that she
liked the situation and the house; but, it being small, there would not be
accommodation enough, unless she could have all the
The landlady mused with an air of
disappointment. She wanted the visitors to be her tenants very badly, she
said, with obvious honesty. But unfortunately two of the rooms were
occupied permanently by a bachelor gentleman. He did not pay season
prices, it was true; but as he kept on his apartments all the year round,
and was an extremely nice and interesting young man, who gave no trouble,
she did not like to turn him out for a month's "let," even at a high
figure. "Perhaps, however," she added, "he might offer to go for a
They would not hear of this, and went back to the hotel, intending to
proceed to the agent's to inquire further. Hardly had they sat down to tea
when the landlady called. Her gentleman, she said, had been so obliging as
to offer to give up his rooms three or four weeks rather than drive the
"It is very kind, but we won't
inconvenience him in that way," said the
"O, it won't inconvenience him, I
assure you!" said the landlady eloquently. "You see, he's a different sort
of young man from most - dreamy, solitary, rather melancholy - and he
cares more to be here when the south-westerly gales are beating against
the door, and the sea washes over the Parade, and there's not a soul in
the place, than he does now in the season. He'd just as soon be where, in
fact, he's going temporarily to a little cottage on the Island opposite,
for a change." She hoped therefore that they would
The Marchmill family accordingly took
possession of the house next day, and it seemed to suit them very well.
After luncheon Mr. Marchmill strolled out toward the pier, and Mrs.
Marchmill, having despatched the children to their outdoor amusements on
the sands, settled herself in more completely, examining this and that
article, and testing the reflecting powers of the mirror in the wardrobe
In the small back sitting room, which
had been the young bachelor's, she found furniture of a more personal
nature than in the rest. Shabby books, of correct rather than rare
editions, were piled up in a queerly reserved manner in corners, as if the
previous occupant had not conceived the possibility that any incoming
person of the season's bringing could care to look inside them. The
landlady hovered on the threshold to rectify anything that Mrs. Marchmill
might not find to her satisfaction.
this my own little room," said the latter, "because the books are here. By
the way, the person who has left seems to have a good many. He won't mind
my reading some of them, Mrs. Hooper, I hope?"
"O, dear no, ma'am. Yes, he has a good many. You see, he is in the
literary line himself somewhat. He is a poet - yes, really a poet - and he
has a little income of his own, which is enough to write verses on, but
not enough for cutting a figure, even if he cared to."
"A Poet! O, I did not know that."
Marchmill opened one of the books, and saw the owner's name written on the
title-page. "Dear me!" she continued; "I know his name very well - Robert
Trewe - of course I do; and his writings! And it is his rooms we have
taken, and him we have turned out of his
Ella Marchmill, sitting down alone a
few minutes later, thought with interested surprise of Robert Trewe. Her
own latter history will best explain that interest. Herself the only
daughter of a struggling man of letters, she had during the last year or
two taken to writing poems, in an endeavour to find a congenial channel in
which let flow her painfully embayed emotions, whose former limpidity and
sparkle seemed departing in the stagnation caused by the routine of a
practical household and the gloom of bearing children to a commonplace
father. These poems, subscribed with masculine pseudonym, had appeared in
various obscure magazines, and in two cases in rather prominent ones. In
the second of the latter the page which bore her effusion at the bottom,
in smallish print, bore at the top, in large print, a few verses on the
same subject by this very man, Robert Trewe. Both of them, had, in fact,
been struck by a tragic incident reported in the daily papers, and had
used it simultaneously as an inspiration, the editor remarking in a note
upon the coincidence, and that the excellence of both poems prompted him
to give them together.
After that event Ella,
otherwise "John Ivy," had watched with much attention the appearance
anywhere in print of verse bearing the signature of Robert Trewe, who,
with a man's unsusceptibility on the question of sex, had never once
thought of passing himself off as a woman. To be sure, Mrs. Marchmill had
satisfied herself with a sort of reason for doing the contrary in her
case; since nobody might believe in her inspiration if they found that the
sentiments came from a pushing tradesman's wife, from the mother of three
children by a matter-of-fact small-arms
Trewe's verse contrasted with
that of the rank and file of recent minor poets in being impassioned
rather than ingenious, luxuriant rather than finished. Neither symbolist
nor decadent, he was a pessimist in so far as that character applies to a
man who looks at the worst contingencies as well as the best in the human
condition. Being little attracted by excellences of form and rhythm apart
from content, he sometimes, when feeling outran his artistic speed,
perpetrated sonnets in the loosely rhymed Elizabethan fashion, which every
right-minded reviewer said he ought not to have done.
With sad and hopeless envy Ella Marchmill had often and often scanned the
rival poet's work, so much stronger as it always was than her own feeble
lines. She had imitated him, and her inability to touch his level would
send her into fits of despondency. Months passed away thus, till she
observed from the publishers' list that Trewe had collected his fugitive
pieces into a volume, which was duly issued, and was much or little
praised according to chance, and had a sale quite sufficient to pay for
This step onward had suggested
to John Ivy the idea of collecting her pieces also, or at any rate of
making up a book of her rhymes by adding many in manuscript to the few
that had seen the light, for she had been able to get no great number into
print. A ruinous charge was made for costs of publication; a few reviews
noticed her poor little volume; but nobody talked of it, nobody bought it,
and it fell dead in a fortnight - if it had ever been
The author's thoughts were diverted to
another groove just then by the discovery that she was going to have a
third child, and the collapse of her poetical venture had perhaps less
effect upon her mind than it might have done if she had been domestically
unoccupied. Her husband had paid the publisher's bill with the doctor's,
and there it all had ended for the time. But, though less than a poet of
her century, Ella was more than a mere multiplier of her kind, and
latterly she had begun to feel the old afflatus once more. And now by an
odd conjunction she found herself in the rooms of Robert
She thoughtfully rose from her chair
and searched the apartment with the interest of a fellow-tradesman. Yes,
the volume of his own verse was among the rest. Though quite familiar with
its contents, she read it here as if it spoke aloud to her, then called up
Mrs. Hooper, the landlady, for some trivial service, and inquired again
about the young man.
"Well, I'm sure you'd be
interested in him, ma'am, if you could see him, only he's so shy that I
don't suppose you will." Mrs. Hooper seemed nothing loth to minister to
her tenant's curiosity about her predecessor. "Lived here long? Yes,
nearly two years. He keeps on his rooms even when he's not here: the soft
air of this place suits his chest, and he likes to be able to come back at
any time. He is mostly writing or reading, and doesn't see many people,
though, for the matter of that, he is such a good, kind young fellow that
folks would only be too glad to be friendly with him if they knew him. You
don't meet kind-hearted people everyday."
"Ah, he's kind-hearted . . . and good."
he'll oblige me in anything if I ask him. 'Mr. Trewe,' I say to him
sometimes, you are rather out of spirits.' 'Well, I am, Mrs. Hooper,'
he'll say, 'though I don't know how you should find it out.' 'Why not take
a little change?' I ask. Then in a day or two he'll say that he will take
a trip to Paris, or Norway, or somewhere; and I assure you he comes back
all the better for it."
"Ah, indeed! His is a
sensitive nature, no doubt."
"Yes. Still he's
odd in some things. Once when he had finished a poem of his composition
late at night he walked up and down the room rehearsing it; and the floors
being so thin - jerry-built houses, you know, though I say it myself - he
kept me awake up above him till I wished him further . . . . But we get on
This was but the beginning of a
series of conversations about the rising poet as the days went on. On one
of these occasions Mrs. Hooper drew Ella's attention to what she had not
noticed before: minute scribblings in pencil on the wallpaper behind the
curtains at the head of the bed.
"O! let me
look," said Mrs. Marchmill, unable to conceal a rush of tender curiosity
as she bent her pretty face close to the wall.
"These," said Mrs. Hooper, with the manner of a woman who knew things,
"are the very beginnings and first thoughts of his verses. He has tried to
rub most of them out, but you can read them still. My belief is that he
wakes up in the night, you know, with some rhyme in his head, and jots it
down there on the wall lest he should forget it by the morning. Some of
these very lines you see here I have seen afterwards in print in the
magazines. Some are newer; indeed, I have not seen that one before. It
must have been done only a few days ago."
yes! . . . "
Ella Marchmill flushed without
knowing why, and suddenly wished her companion would go away, now that the
information was imparted. An indescribable consciousness of personal
interest rather than literary made her anxious to read the inscription
alone; and she accordingly waited till she could do so, with a sense that
a great store of emotion would be enjoyed in the act.
Perhaps because the sea was choppy outside the Island, Ella's husband
found it much pleasanter to go sailing and steaming about without his
wife, who was a bad sailor, than with her. He did not disdain to go thus
alone on board the steamboats of the cheap-trippers, where there was
dancing by moonlight, and where the couples would come suddenly down with
a lurch into each other's arms; for, as he blandly told her, the company
was too mixed for him to take her amid such scenes. Thus, while this
thriving manufacturer got a great deal of change and sea-air out of his
sojourn here, the life, external at least, of Ella was monotonous enough,
and mainly consisted in passing a certain number of hours each day in
bathing and walking up and down a stretch of shore. But the poetic impulse
having again waxed strong, she was possessed by an inner flame which left
her hardly conscious of what was proceeding around
She had read till she knew by heart
Trewe's last little volume of verses, and spent a great deal of time in
vainly attempting to rival some of them, till, in her failure, she burst
into tears. The personal element in the magnetic attraction exercised by
this circumambient, unapproachable master of hers was so much stronger
than the intellectual and abstract that she could not understand it. To be
sure, she was surrounded noon and night by his customary environment,
which literally whispered of him to her at every moment; but he was a man
she had never seen, and that all that moved her was the instinct to
specialise a waiting emotion on the first fit thing that came to hand did
not, of course, suggest itself to Ella.
natural way of passion under the too practical conditions which
civilisation has devised for its fruition, her husband's love for her had
not survived, except in the form of fitful friendship, anymore than, or
even so much as, her own for him; and, being a woman of very living
ardours, that required sustenance of some sort, they were beginning to
feed on this chancing material, which was, indeed, of a quality far better
than chance usually offers.
One day the
children had been playing hide-and-seek in a closet, whence, in their
excitement they pulled out some clothing. Mrs. Hooper explained that it
belonged to Mr. Trewe, and hung it up in the closet again. Possessed of
her fantasy, Ella went later in the afternoon, when nobody was in that
part of the house, opened the closet, unhitched one of the articles, a
mackintosh, and put it on, with the waterproof cap belonging to
"The mantle of Elijah!" she said. "Would it might inspire me to rival him,
glorious genius that he is!"
Her eyes always
grew wet when she thought like that, and she turned to look at herself in
the glass. His heart had beat inside that coat, and his brain had worked
under that hat at levels of thought she would never reach. The
consciousness of her weakness beside him made her feel quite sick. Before
she had got the things off her the door opened, and her husband entered
"What the devil -
She blushed, and removed
"I found them in the closet here," she
said, "and put them on in a freak. What have I else to do? You are always
"Always away? Well . .
That evening she had a further talk with
the landlady, who might herself have nourished a half-tender regard for
the poet, so ready was she to discourse ardently about
"You are interested in Mr. Trewe, I know,
ma'am," she said; "and he has just sent to say that he is going to call
tomorrow afternoon to look up some books of his that he wants, if I'll be
in, and he may select them from your room?"
"You could very well meet Mr. Trewe
then, if you'd like to be in the way!"
promised with secret delight, and went to bed musing of
Next morning her husband observed: "I've
been thinking of what you said, Ell: that I have gone about a good deal
and left you without much to amuse you. Perhaps it's true. Today, as
there's not much sea, I'll take you with me on board the
For the first time in her experience
of such an offer Ella was not glad. But she accepted it for the moment.
The time for setting out drew near, and she went to get ready. She stood
reflecting. The longing to see the poet she was now distinctly in love
with overpowered all other considerations.
don't want to go," she said to herself. "I can't bear to be away! And I
She told her husband that she had
changed her mind about wishing to sail. He was indifferent, and went his
For the rest of the day the house was
quiet, the children having gone out upon the sands. The blinds waved in
the sunshine to the soft, steady stroke of the sea beyond the wall; and
the notes of the Green Silesian band, a troop of foreign gentlemen hired
for the season, had drawn almost all the residents and promenaders away
from the vicinity of Coburg House. A knock was audible at the
Mrs. Marchmill did not hear any servant go to answer it, and she became
impatient. The books were in the room where she sat; but nobody came up.
She rang the bell.
"There is some person
waiting at the door," she said.
"O, no, ma'am.
He's gone long ago. I answered it," the servant replied, and Mrs. Hooper
came in herself.
"So disappointing!" she said.
"Mr. Trewe not coming after all!"
"But I heard
him knock, I fancy!"
"No; that was somebody
inquiring for lodgings who came to the wrong house. I tell you that Mr.
Trewe sent a note just before lunch to say I needn't get any tea for him,
as he should not require the books, and wouldn't come to select
Ella was miserable, and for a long time
could not even reread his mournful ballad on "Severed Lives," so aching
was her erratic little heart, and so tearful her eyes. When the children
came in with wet stockings, and ran up to her to tell her of their
adventures, she could not feel that she cared about them half as much as
"Mrs. Hooper, have you a photograph of
- the gentleman who lived here?" She was getting to be curiously shy in
mentioning his name.
"Why, yes. It's in the
ornamental frame on the mantelpiece in your own bedroom,
"No; the Royal Duke and Duchess are in
"Yes, so they are; but he's behind
them. He belongs rightly to that frame, which I bought on purpose; but as
he went away he said: "Cover me up from those strangers that are coming,
for God's sake. I don't want them staring at me, and I am sure they won't
want me staring at them." So I slipped in the Duke and Duchess temporarily
in front of him, as they had no frame, and Royalties are more suitable for
letting furnished than a private young man. If you take 'em out you'll see
him under. Lord, ma'am, he wouldn't mind if he knew it! He didn't think
the next tenant would be such an attractive lady as you, or he wouldn't
have thought of hiding himself, perhaps."
he handsome?" she asked timidly.
"I call him
so. Some, perhaps, wouldn't."
"Should I?" she
asked, with eagerness.
"I think you would,
though some would say he's more striking than handsome; a large-eyed
thoughtful fellow, you know, with a very electric flash in his eye when he
looks round quickly, such as you'd expect a poet to be who doesn't get his
living by it."
"How old is he?"
"Several years older than
yourself, ma'am; about thirty -one or two, I
Ella was a matter of fact, a few
months over thirty herself; but she did not look nearly so much. Though so
immature in nature, she was entering on that tract of life in which
emotional women begin to suspect that last love may be stronger than first
love; and she would soon, alas, enter on the still more melancholy tract
when at least the vainer ones of her sex shrink from receiving a male
visitor otherwise than with their backs to the window or the blinds half
down. She reflected on Mrs. Hooper's remark, and said no more about
Just then a telegram was brought up. It
came from her husband, who had gone down the Channel as far as Budmouth
with his friends in the yacht, and would not be able to get back till next
After her light dinner Ella idled about
the shore with the children till dusk, thinking of the yet uncovered
photograph in her room, with a serene sense of in which this something
ecstatic to come. For, with the subtle luxuriousness of fancy in which
this young woman was an adept, on learning that her husband was to be
absent that night she had refrained from incontinently rushing upstairs
and opening the picture-frame, preferring to reserve the inspection till
she could be alone, and a more romantic tinge be imparted to the occasion
by silence, candles, solemn sea and stars outside, than was afforded by
the garish afternoon sunlight.
had been sent to bed, and Ella soon followed, though it was not yet ten
o'clock. To gratify her passionate curiosity she now made her
preparations, first getting rid of superfluous garments and putting on her
dressing-gown, then arranging a chair in front of the table and reading
several pages of Trewe's tenderest utterances. Next she fetched the
portrait-frame to the light, opened the back, took out the likeness, and
set it up before her.
It was a striking countenance to look upon.
The poet wore a luxuriant black moustache and imperial, and a slouched hat
which shaded the forehead. The large dark eyes described by the landlady
showed an unlimited capacity for misery, they looked out from beneath
well-shaped brows as if they were reading the universe in the microcosm of
the confronter's face, and were not altogether overjoyed at what the
Ella murmured in her lowest, richest, tenderest tone: "And it's you who've
so cruelly eclipsed me these many times!"
she gazed long at the portrait she fell into thought, till her eyes filled
with tears, and she touched the cardboard with her lips. Then she laughed
with a nervous lightness, and wiped her eyes.
She thought how wicked she was, a woman having a husband and three
children, to let her mind stray to a stranger in this unconscionable
manner. No, he was not a stranger! She knew his thoughts and feelings as
well as she knew her own; they were, in fact, the self-same thoughts and
feelings as hers, which her husband distinctly lacked; perhaps luckily for
himself, considering that he had to provide for family
"He's nearer my real self, he's more
intimate with the real me than Will is, after all, even though I've never
seen him," she said.
She laid his book and
picture on the table at the bedside, and when she was reclining on the
pillow she re-read those of Robert Trewe's verses which she had marked
from time to time as most touching and true. Putting these aside she set
up the photograph on its edge upon the coverlet, and contemplated it as
she lay. Then she scanned again by the light of the candle the
half-obliterated pencillings on the wallpaper beside her head. There they
were - phrases, couplets, bouts-rimes, beginnings and middles of lines,
ideas in the rough, like Shelley's scraps, and the least of them so
intense, so sweet, so palpitating, that it seemed as if his very breath,
warm and loving, fanned her cheeks from those walls, walls that had
surrounded his head times and times as they surrounded her own now. He
must often have put up his hand so - with the pencil in it. Yes, the
writing was sideways, as it would be if executed by one who extended his
These inscribed shapes of the poet's
world, "Forms more real than living man, Nurslings of immortality," were,
no doubt, the thoughts and spirit-strivings which had come to him in the
dead of night, when he could let himself go and have no fear of the frost
of criticism. No doubt they had often been written up hastily by the light
of the moon, the rays of the lamp, in the blue-grey dawn, in full daylight
perhaps never. And now her hair was dragging where his arm had lain when
he secured the fugitive fancies; she was sleeping on a poet's lips,
immersed in the very essence of him, permeated by his spirit as by an
While she was dreaming the minutes away thus, a footstep came upon the
stairs, and in a moment she heard her husband's heavy step on the landing
"Ell, where are
What possessed her she could not have
described, but, with an instinctive objection to let her husband know what
she had been doing, she slipped the photograph under the pillow just as he
flung open the door with the air of a man who had dined not
"O, I beg pardon," said William
Marchmill. "Have you a headache? I am afraid I have disturbed
"No, I've not got a headache," said she.
"How is it you've come?"
"Well, we found we
could get back in very good time after all, and I didn't want to make
another day of it, because of going somewhere else
"Shall I come down
"O, no. I'm as tired as a dog. I've
had a good feed, and I shall turn in straight off. I want to get out at
six o'clock tomorrow if I can . . . . I shan't disturb you by my getting
up; it will be long before you are awake." And he came forward into the
While her eyes followed his movements,
Ella softly pushed the photograph further out of
"Sure you're not ill?" he asked,
bending over her.
"Never mind that." And he stooped and
kissed her. "I wanted to be with you tonight."
Next morning Marchmill was called at six o'clock; and in waking and
yawning he heard him muttering to himself. "What the deuce is this that's
been crackling under me so?" Imagining her asleep he searched round him
and withdrew something. Through her half-opened eyes she perceived it to
be Mr. Trewe.
"Well, I'm damned!" her husband
"What, dear?" said
"O, you are awake? Ha!
"What do you
"Some bloke's photograph - a friend of
our landlady's, I suppose. I wonder how it came here; whisked off the
mantelpiece by accident perhaps when they were making the
"I was looking at it yesterday, and it
must have dropped in then."
"O, he's a friend
of yours? Bless his picturesque heart!"
loyalty to the object of her admiration could not endure to hear him
ridiculed. "He's a clever man!" she said, with a tremor in her gentle
voice which she herself felt to be absurdly uncalled for. "He is a rising
poet - the gentleman who occupied two of these rooms before we came,
though I've never seen him."
"How do you know, if you've never seen him?"
"Mrs. Hooper told me when she showed me the
"O, well, I must up and be off. I
shall be home rather early. Sorry I can't take you today dear. Mind the
children don't go getting drowned."
Mrs. Marchmill inquired if Mr. Trewe were likely to call at any other
"Yes," said Mrs. Hooper. "He's coming
this day week to stay with a friend near here till you leave. He'll be
sure to call."
Marchmill did return quite
early in the afternoon; and, opening some letters which had arrived in his
absence, declared suddenly that he and his family would have to leave a
week earlier than they had expected to do - in short, in three
"Surely we can stay a week longer?" she
pleaded. "I like it here."
"I don't. It is
getting rather slow."
"Then you might leave me
and the children!"
"How perverse you are, Ell!
What's the use? And have to come to fetch you! No: we'll all return
together; and we'll make out our time in North Wales or Brighton a little
later on. Besides, you've three days longer
It seemed to be her doom not to meet the
man for whose rival talent she had a despairing admiration, and to whose
person she was now absolutely attached. Yet she determined to make a last
effort; and having gathered from her landlady that Trewe was living in a
lonely spot not far from the fashionable town on the Island opposite, she
crossed over in the packet from the neighbouring pier the following
What a useless journey it was! Ella
knew but vaguely where the house stood, and when she fancied she had found
it, and ventured to inquire of a pedestrian if he lived there, the answer
returned by the man was that he did not know. And if he did live there,
how could she call upon him? Some women might have the assurance to do it,
but she had not. How crazy he would think her. She might have asked him to
call upon her, perhaps; but she had not the courage for that, either. She
lingered mournfully about the picturesque seaside eminence till it was
time to return to the town and enter the steamer for recrossing, reaching
home for dinner without having been greatly missed.
At the last moment, unexpectedly enough, her husband said that he should
have no objection to letting her and the children stay on till the end of
the week, since she wished to do so, if she felt herself able to get home
without him. She concealed the pleasure this extension of time gave her;
and Marchmill went off the next morning alone.
But the week passed, and Trewe did not call.
On Saturday morning the remaining members of the Marchmill family departed
from the place which had been productive of so much fervour in her. The
dreary, dreary train; the sun shining in moted beams upon the hot
cushions; the dusty permanent way; the mean rows of wire - these things
were her accompaniment: while out of the window the deep blue sea-levels
disappeared from her gaze, and with them her poet's home. Heavy-hearted,
she tried to read, and wept instead.
Marchmill was in a thriving way of business, and he and his family lived
in a large new house, which stood in rather extensive grounds a few miles
outside the midland city wherein he carried on his trade. Ella's life was
lonely here, as the suburban life is apt to be, particularly at certain
seasons; and she had ample time to indulge her taste for lyric and elegiac
composition. She had hardly got back when she encountered a piece by
Robert Trewe in the new number of her favourite magazine, which must have
been written almost immediately before her visit to Solentsea, for it
contained the very couplet she had seen pencilled on the wallpaper by the
bed, and Mrs. Hooper had declared to be recent. Ella could resist no
longer, but seizing a pen impulsively, wrote to him as a brother-poet,
using the name of John Ivy, congratulating him in her letter on his
triumphant executions in meter and rhythm of thoughts that moved his soul,
as compared with her own brow-beaten efforts in the same pathetic
To this address there came a response
in a few days, little as she had dared to hope for it - a civil and brief
note, in which the young poet stated that, though he was not well
acquainted with Mr. Ivy's verse, he recalled the name as being one he had
seen attached to some very promising pieces; that he was glad to gain Mr.
Ivy's acquaintance by letter, and should certainly look with much interest
for his productions in the future.
There must have been something juvenile or timid in her own epistle, as
one ostensibly coming from a man, she declared to herself; for Trewe quite
adopted the tone of an elder and superior in this reply. But what did it
matter? He had replied; he had written to her with his own hand from that
very room she knew so well, for he was now back again in his
The correspondence thus begun was
continued for two months or more, Ella Marchmill sending him from time to
time some that she considered to be the best her pieces, which he very
kindly accepted, though he did not say he sedulously read them, nor did he
send her any of his own in return. Ella would have been more hurt at this
than she was if she had not known that Trewe laboured under the impression
that she was one of his own sex.
situation was unsatisfactory. A flattering little voice told her that,
were he only to see her, matters would be otherwise. No doubt she would
have helped on this by making a frank confession of womanhood, to begin
with, if something had not appeared, to her delight, to render it
unnecessary. A friend of her husband's, the editor of the most important
newspaper in their city and county, who was dining with them one day,
observed during their conversation about the poet that his (the editor's)
brother the landscape-painter was a friend of Mr. Trewe's, and that the
two men were at that very moment in Wales
Ella was slightly acquainted with
the editor's brother. The next morning down she sat and wrote, inviting
him to stay at her house for a short time on his way back, and to bring
with him, if practicable, his companion Mr. Trewe, whose acquaintance she
was anxious to make. The answer arrived after some few days. Her
correspondent and his friend Trewe would have much satisfaction in
accepting her invitation on their way southward, which would be on such
and such a day in the following week.
blithe and buoyant. Her scheme had succeeded; her beloved though as yet
unseen was coming. "Behold, he standeth behind our wall; he looked forth
at the windows, showing himself through the lattice," she thought
ecstatically. "And, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the
flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
But it was necessary to consider the details of lodging and feeding him.
This she did most solicitously, and awaited the pregnant day and
It was about five in the afternoon when
she heard a ring at the door and the editor's brother's voice in the hall.
Poetess as she was, or as she thought herself, she had not been too
sublime that day to dress with infinite trouble in a fashionable robe of
rich material, having a faint resemblance to the chiton of the Greeks, a
style just then in vogue among ladies of an artistic and romantic turn,
which had been obtained by Ella of her Bond Street dressmaker when she was
last in London. Her visitor entered the drawing room. She looked toward
his rear; nobody else came through the door. Where, in the name of the God
of Love, was Robert Trewe?
"O, I'm sorry,"
said the painter, after their introductory words had been spoken. "Trewe
is a curious fellow, you know, Mrs. Marchmill. He said he'd come; then he
said he couldn't. He's rather dusty. We've been doing a few miles with
knapsacks, you know; and he wanted to get on
"He - he's not
"He's not; and he asked me to make
"When did you p-p-part from
him?" she asked, her nether lip starting off quivering so much that it was
like a tremolo-stop opened in her speech. She longed to run away from this
dreadful bore and cry her eyes out.
in the turnpike road yonder there."
has actually gone past my gates?"
we got to them - handsome gates they are, too, the finest bit of modern
wrought-iron work I have seen - when we came to them we stopped, talking
there a little while, and then he wished me goodbye and went on. The truth
is, he's a little bit depressed just now, and doesn't want to see anybody.
He's a very good fellow, and a warm friend, but a little uncertain and
gloomy sometimes; he thinks too much of things. His poetry is rather too
erotic and passionate, you know, for some tastes; and he has just come in
for a terrible slating from the ---- Review that was published yesterday;
he saw a copy of it at the station by accident. Perhaps you've read
"So much the better. O, it is not worth
thinking of; just one of those articles written to order, to please the
narrow-minded set of subscribers upon whom the circulation depends. But
he's upset by it. He says it is the misrepresentation that hurts him so;
that, though he can stand a fair attack, he can't stand lies that he's
powerless to refute and stop from spreading. That's just Trewe's weak
point. He lives so much by himself that these things affect him much more
than they would if he were in the bustle of fashionable or commercial
life. So he wouldn't come here, making the excuse that it all looked so
new and monied - if you'll pardon -- "
he must have known - there was sympathy here! Has he never said anything
about getting letters from this address?"
"Yes, yes, he has, from John Ivy - perhaps a relative of yours, he
thought, visiting here at the time?"
"Did he -
like Ivy, did he say?"
"Well, I don't know
that he took any great interest in Ivy."
in his poems?"
"Or in his poems - so far as I
know, that is."
Robert Trewe took no interest
in her house, in her poems, or in their writer. As soon as she could get
away she went into the nursery and tried to let off her emotion by
unnecessarily kissing the children, till she had a sudden sense of disgust
at being reminded how plain-looking they were, like their
The obtuse and single-minded
landscape-painter never once perceived from her conversation that it was
only Trewe she wanted, and not himself. He made the best of his visit,
seeming to enjoy the society of Ella's husband, who also took a great
fancy to him, and showed him everywhere about the neighbourhood, neither
of them noticing Ella's mood.
The painter had
been gone only a day or two when, while sitting upstairs alone one
morning, she glanced over the London paper just arrived, and read the
"SUICIDE OF A POET -
Mr. Robert Trewe, who has been favourably known for some years as one of
our rising lyrists, committed suicide at his lodgings at Solentsea on
Saturday evening last by shooting himself in the right temple with a
revolver. Readers hardly need to be reminded that Mr. Trewe recently
attracted the attention of a much wider public than had hitherto known
him, by his new volume of verse, mostly of an impassioned kind, entitled
'Lyrics to a Woman Unknown,' which has been already favourably noticed in
these pages for the extraordinary gamut of feeling it traverses, and which
has been made the subject of a severe, if not ferocious, criticism in the
---- Review. It is supposed, though not certainly known, that the article
may have partially conduced to the sad act, as a copy of the review in
question was found on his writing-table; and he has been observed to be in
a somewhat depressed state of mind since the critique
Then came the report of the inquest, at which the following letter was
read, it having been addressed to a friend at a distance:
"Dear ---- , Before these lines reach your
hands I shall be delivered from the inconveniences of seeing, hearing, and
knowing more of the things around me. I will not trouble you by giving my
reasons for the step I have taken, though I can assure you they were sound
and logical. Perhaps had I been blessed with a mother, or a sister, or a
female friend of another sort tenderly devoted to me, I might have thought
it worthwhile to continue my present existence. I have long dreamt of such
an unattainable creature, as you know; and she, this undiscoverable,
elusive one, inspired my last volume; the imaginary woman alone, for, in
spite of what has been said in some quarters, there is no real woman
behind the title. She has continued to the last unrevealed, unmet, unwon.
I think it desirable to mention this in order that no blame may attach to
any real woman as having been the cause of my decease by cruel or cavalier
treatment of me. Tell my landlady that I am sorry to have caused her this
unpleasantness; but my occupancy of the rooms will soon be forgotten.
There are ample funds in my name at the bank to pay all expenses. R.
Ella sat for a while as if stunned,
then rushed into the adjoining chamber and flung herself upon her face on
Her grief and distraction shook her
to pieces; and she lay in this frenzy of sorrow for more than an hour.
Broken words came every now and then from her quivering lips: "O, if he
had only known of me - known of me - me! . . . O, if I had only once met
him - only once; and put my hand upon his hot forehead - kissed him - let
him know how I loved him - that I would have suffered shame and scorn,
would have lived and died, for him! Perhaps it would have saved his dear
life! . . . But no - it was not allowed! God is a jealous God; and that
happiness was not for him and me!"
All possibilities were over; the meeting was stultified. Yet it was almost
visible to her in her fantasy even now, though it could never be
substantiated - "The hour which might have been, yet might not be, Which
man's and woman's heart conceived and bore, Yet whereof life was
She wrote to the landlady at
Solentsea in the third person, in as subdued a style as she could command,
enclosing a postal order for a sovereign, and informing Mrs. Hooper that
Mrs. Marchmill had seen in the papers the sad account of the poet's death,
and having been, as Mrs. Hooper was aware, much interested in Mr. Trewe
during her stay at Coburg House, she would be obliged if Mrs. Hooper could
obtain a small portion of his hair before his coffin was closed down, and
send it her as a memorial of him, as also the photograph that was in the
By the return-post a letter arrived
containing what had been requested. Ella wept over the portrait and
secured it in her private drawer; the lock of hair she tied with white
ribbon and put in her bosom, whence she drew it and kissed it every now
and then in some unobserved nook.
matter?" said her husband, looking up from his newspaper on one of these
occasions. "Crying over something? A lock of hair? Whose is
"He's dead!" she
"I don't want to tell you, Will, just now, unless you insist!" she said, a
sob hanging heavy in her voice.
"Do you mind my refusing? I will tell
"It doesn't matter in the least,
He walked away whistling a few
bars of no tune in particular; and when he had got down to his factory in
the city the subject came into Marchmill's head
He, too, was aware that a suicide had
taken place recently at the house they had occupied at Solentsea. Having
seen the volume of poems in his wife's hand of late, and heard fragments
of the landlady's conversation about Trewe when they were her tenants, he
all at once said to himself, "Why of course it's he! How the devil did she
get to know him? What sly animals women are!"
Then he placidly dismissed the matter, and went on with his daily affairs.
By this time Ella at home had come to a determination. Mrs. Hooper, in
sending the hair and photograph, had informed her of the day of the
funeral; and as the morning and noon wore on an overpowering wish to know
where they were laying him took possession of the sympathetic woman.
Caring very little now what her husband or any one else might think of her
eccentricities, she wrote Marchmill a brief note, stating that she was
called away for the afternoon and evening, but would return on the
following morning. This she left on his desk, and having given the same
information to the servants, went out of the house on foot.
When Mr. Marchmill reached home early in the afternoon the servants looked
anxious. The nurse took him privately aside, and hinted that her
mistress's sadness during the past few days had been such that she feared
she had gone out to drown herself. Marchmill reflected. Upon the whole he
thought that she had not done that. Without saying whither he was bound he
also started off, telling them not to sit up for him. He drove to the
railway-station, and took a ticket for
It was dark when he reached the
place, though he had come by a fast train, and he knew that if his wife
had preceded him thither it could only have been by a slower train,
arriving not a great while before his own. The season at Solentsea was now
past: the parade was gloomy, and the flys were few and cheap. He asked the
way to the Cemetery, and soon reached it. The gate was locked, but the
keeper let him in, declaring, however, that there was nobody within the
precincts. Although it was not late, the autumnal darkness had now become
intense; and he found some difficulty in keeping to the serpentine path
which led to the quarter where, as the man had told him, the one or two
interments for the day had taken place. He stepped upon the grass, and,
stumbling over some pegs, stooped now and then to discern if possible a
figure against the sky. He could see none; but lighting on a spot where
the soil was trodden, beheld a crouching object beside a newly made grave.
She heard him, and sprang up.
"Ell, how silly
this is!" he said indignantly. "Running away from home - I never heard
such a thing! Of course I am not jealous of this unfortunate man; but it
is too ridiculous that you, a married woman with three children and a
fourth coming, should go losing your head like this over a dead lover! . .
. Do you know you were locked in? You might not have been able to get out
She did not
"I hope it didn't go far between you
and him, for your own sake."
"Don't insult me,
"Mind, I won't have anymore of this
sort of thing; do you hear?"
"Very well," she said.
He drew her arm within
his own, and conducted her out of the Cemetery. It was impossible to get
back that night; and not wishing to be recognised in their present sorry
condition he took her to a miserable little coffee-house close to the
station, whence they departed early in the morning, travelling almost
without speaking, under the sense that it was one of those dreary
situations occurring in married life which words could not mend, and
reaching their own door at noon.
passed, and neither of the twain ever ventured to start a conversation
upon this episode. Ella seemed to be only too frequently in a sad and
listless mood, which might almost have been called pining. The time was
approaching when she would have to undergo the stress of childbirth for a
fourth time, and that apparently did not tend to raise her
"I don't think I shall get over it
this time!" she said one day.
childish foreboding! Why shouldn't it be as well now as
She shook her head. "I feel almost sure
I am going to die; and I should be glad, if it were not for Nelly, and
Frank, and Tiny."
"You'll soon find somebody to fill my
place," she murmured, with a sad smile. "And you'll have a perfect right
to; I assure you of that."
"Ell, you are not
thinking still about that - poetical friend of
She neither admitted nor denied the
charge. "I am not going to get over my illness this time," she reiterated.
"Something tells me I shan't."
This view of
things was rather a bad beginning, as it usually is; and, in fact, six
weeks later, in the month of May, she was lying in her room, pulseless and
bloodless, with hardly strength enough left to follow up one feeble breath
with another, the infant for whose unnecessary life she was slowly parting
with her own being fat and well. Just before her death she spoke to
Marchmill softly: --
"Will, I want to confess
to you the entire circumstances of that - about you know what - that time
we visited Solentsea. I can't tell what possessed me - how I could forget
you so, my husband! But I had got into a morbid state: I thought you had
been unkind; that you had neglected me; that you weren't up to my
intellectual level, while he was, and far above it. I wanted a fuller
appreciator, perhaps, rather than another lover--"
She could get no further then for very exhaustion; and she went off in
sudden collapse a few hours later, without having said anything more to
her husband on the subject of her love for the poet. William Marchmill, in
truth, like most husbands of several years' standing, was little disturbed
by retrospective jealousies, and had not shown the least anxiety to press
her for confessions concerning a man dead and gone beyond any power of
inconveniencing him more.
But when she had
been buried a couple of years it chanced one day that, in turning over
some forgotten papers that he wished to destroy before his second wife
entered the house, he lighted on a lock of hair in an envelope, with the
photograph of the deceased poet, a date being written on the back in his
late wife's hand. It was that of the time they spent at
Marchmill looked long and musingly
at the hair and portrait, for something struck him. Fetching the little
boy who had been the death of his mother, now a noisy toddler, he took him
on his knee, held the lock of hair against the child's head, and set up
the photograph on the table behind, so that he could closely compare the
features each countenance presented. By a known but inexplicable trick of
Nature there were undoubtedly strong traces of resemblance to the man Ella
had never seen; the dreamy and peculiar expression of the poet's face sat,
as the transmitted idea, upon the child's, and the hair was of the same
"I'm damned if I didn't think so!"
murmured Marchmill. "Then she did play me false with that fellow at the
lodgings! Let me see: the dates - the second week in August . . . the
third week in May. . . . Yes . . . yes. . . . Get away, you poor little
brat! You are nothing to me!"