Obrázky na stránke
[ocr errors]

• My husband . . . Mrs. Carr. Have


been in to see the children, Bernhardt?'

· Yes, yes.'

Herr Bankier Stein stepped lightly over the parquet as though he lived in chronic dread of wakening one of his babes, and stooped over his wife, kissing her on either cheek. The two whispered together. Marion Carr looked away. Then the boy-husband sank in a chair, and taking up his wife's ball of silk began unwinding it.

• You will entangle it, Bernhardt.'
* Have you been out to-day?'

Marion Carr, with a nervous feeling of expectancy, waited for the inevitable, 'Oh, no.'

It came.

Oh, no. But I walked in the garden for an hour. The gardener has been digging.'

• Have the children been well ?'

Oh, yes. Victor has been naughty. I whipped his tiny fist till it was quite red. He is very intelligent. He was good at once. He must learn to obey. He is six months old.'

And Felicitas ?'
* Is too funny. She has been talking English to the Fräulein. '

And Karl ??

* He has a cold. He played too long in the garden, and he will not wear a hat. I was obliged to punish him. He had only bread and water for his dinner.'

• What time is supper?'
* At eight o'clock. It is that now. Are you hungry?'

• No, but'... Herr Bankier Stein turned his gaze upon Marion Carr, who quickly and somewhat nervously turned her eyes full upon Frau Bankier Stein.

* Perhaps Mrs. Carr is hungry.'
Mrs. Carr was not hungry.
And at that moment a servant announced supper.

Frau Bankier laid down her knitting, breathed quickly through her mouth, then rose, and with a cold invitation to the English woman passed on into the dining-room, leaving Marion Carr and Herr Bankier to follow.

And the festive meal began. It was a nondescript feast of cold meat served in exquisite china, but put on the table in a haphazard way and with table-linen which had seen service before that day. Marion Carr laid her serviette on one side. Frau Bankier Stein looked calmly on, then turned her head and said irritably to the maid who waited:

Bring another serviette.'

The meal proceeded, with a maid waiting in irresolute fashion, with constant spasmodic starts and nervous appeals to the 'gnädige Frau. There was little conversation in any language. There were intervals of dead silence, with connubial interludes between husband and wife, and longer looks between mistress and maid. Marion Carr drank her weak lukewarm tea and pursued the advantage of thought. As yet there had been no ' psychological' moments, and for this she was truly grateful. At that moment, as ill-luck would have it, Marion Carr glanced up at Frau Bankier Stein, who, with a show of fatigue, pushed her plate away, leaned both arms on the table, and made an unpardonable noise with her teeth, utterly unconscious of the fact that there was anything Gothic in her manners.

Marion coloured to the roots of her hair and the boy-husband said something to his wife in angry accents. The unmannerly noise was repeated this time with a cool stare at the stranger at the table. The situation was now so uncomfortable, that to ease the tension Marion Carr plunged into talk with her host. When she liked, which was not often, she could talk well. Moreover, she had a fatal habit of appearing intensely interested in her interlocutor. Herr Bankier Stein appeared grateful for the timely assistance, and began to speak of his experiences in America, ignoring his wife in the conversation. When Marion Carr turned her gaze, she intercepted a look from Frau Bankier Stein which startled her.

Her high cheek bones were crimson, and her expression provokingly and intentionally rude in the extreme. In another moment, with a furious look at her wondering husband, she pushed back her chair, flung her serviette on the table, and made a rush into the adjoining room, shutting the tail of her gown in the door. Without a moment's loss of time, Marion Carr followed the young fury.

She had flung herself petulantly down in the depths of a rocking chair and had crossed her arms, and was swinging one slippered foot with her eyes closed. Marion Carr approached her, and quietly said:

* I fear you are ill, Frau Bankier. Can I get you anything?'

There was no response. Herr Bankier Stein was timidly looking in at the door in boyish distress and embarrassment.

Timidly he approached his wife and whispered in her ear.
* Perhaps--a little water,' Marion Carr suggested.

He flew into the dining-room and presently returned with a glass and a caraffe-upsetting the water in his clumsy eagerness.

Drink some water,' he whispered to his wife.
Frau Bankier Stein opened her eyes and smiled unpleasantly.

Do drink a little water,' said Marion Carr. * Shall I ring for your maid, Frau Bankier ?'

Drink more water,' said the husband, losing his patience, though anything more unlike a fainting woman than Frau Bankier Stein at that moment it would have been difficult to conceive. She looked up into her husband's face, then bent her head and sipped the water. By this time she had apparently come to her senses, and to a sane decision of mind—if she had not arrived also at the conclusion that she had brought ridicule on her husband, and made herself egregiously absurd. She sat upright-and smiled.

* You are better?' said the Englishwoman, dryly.

‘Oh, yes, the room was too hot. Will you open one of the windows, Bernhardt?'

Bernhardt strolled into the dining-room and opened a casement.

Frau Bankier Stein turned with an amiable air of languor to Marion Carr, who was still standing.

You will be tired, Mrs. Carr.'

'Yes, I am very tired, Frau Bankier. If you are quite recovered, and I can do nothing for you, I will beg leave to retire.'

Thankfully Marion Carr withdrew and left the boy-husband and the girl-fury together.



[ocr errors]

The most famous of autobiographies is, in one sense of the word, a piece of patchwork. Mr. Gibbon wrote the history of the Roman Empire, or of its decline and fall, once. He wrote the history of himself, or of his rise and progress, seven times.

One of these narratives is the merest fragment, so that they are usually called six. Gibbon died very suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of fifty-six. He had not made up his mind whether he would publish his own Memoirs in his own lifetime, though it seems, in spite of some natural hesitation on his part, most probable that he would have done

After his death his intimate friend, the first Lord Sheffield, assisted by his daughter, Miss Holroyd—the Maria,' as Gibbon calls her-afterwards Lady Stanley of Alderley, arranged and edited the book which has fascinated three generations. It is due to Lord Sheffield's memory to say that he practised no deception on the public. In his advertisement to the first edition of Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, dated the 6th of August, 1795, he says : The most important part consists of Memoirs of Mr. Gibbon's Life and Writings, a work which he seems to have projected with peculiar solicitude and attention, and of which he left six different sketches, all in his own handwriting. From all of these the following Memoirs have been carefully selected and put together.' It is impossible for any one familiar with these old volumes to read the sumptuously complete edition of Gibbon's Life and Letters now published by Mr. Murray and not be struck by Lord Sheffield's literary skill. Mr. Murray's edition cannot be too highly praised. It contains hundreds of new letters, besides all the seven versions of the Life. Mr. John Murray has himself performed the useful service of printing and explaining some brief and often enigmatical jottings appended to the Autobiography by its author himself. Mr. Rowland Prothero has enriched the Letters with a most interesting series of notes, which are always full enough and never too full. The present Lord Sheffield, the grandson of Gibbon's friend, acknowledges in a modest preface the assistance and encouragement he has received from Mr. Frederic Harrison, to whom, indeed, the appearance of these volumes is really due. The whole of the reading public, as well as Lord Sheffield, are deeply in Mr. Harrison's debt. Whatever literary treasures the year 1897 may have in store, even if they should include 'some precious, tender-hearted scroll of pure' Bacchylides, they will contain nothing of profounder interest or more permanent value than this splendid picture of Gibbon painted by himself.

Nevertheless, I adhere to my opinion that the first Lord Sheffield and his daughter did their work exceedingly well. Lord Sheffield, though an active, zealous, bustling politician, must have been a man of scholarly taste and trained judgment. It is more than interesting to see how Gibbon began, and altered, and erased, and began again, the counterfeit presentment of the person he most admired. But the Autobiography as known to the public for nearly a hundred years is really his, and its artistic perfection is due to the conscientiousness as well as to the ability of the editors.

· The Maria's' own letters, so recently published, are not at all in the Gibbonesque vein. When Mr. Gibbon described them as 'incomparable,' he used the language not of criticism, but of affection. They are forcible enough. It is too hot to swear any more,' she ingenuously remarks at the end of one of them, which was not, however, addressed to the historian. They abound in vigour and in high spirits, which are the most enviable if the least interesting of human characteristics. But their chief value is in their sketches of Gib,' and they should be read, irreverent as they are, in connexion with these volumes. “Mr. G.,' as in unconscious anticipation of another hero and another age she sometimes writes, was very much at home in Sheffield Place. He liked to be alone with the family. He hated country visitors and country dinner-parties, and the business or amusements of a country gentleman's life. “I detest your races, I abhor your assizes,' he wrote to Lord Sheffield. He was a sworn enemy to exercise, and when his hat was removed he did not miss it for a week. If he was not reading, he liked to sit in an arm-chair and talk, while Lady Sheffield listened, and Maria yawned or informed Miss Firth in a confidential note that she was a 'D. of a cat.'

Mr. Gibbon was much interested in his antecedents, if I may for once use that word in its proper sense.

He wanted to know all about everyone who had been directly or indirectly concerned in bringing him into the world. He would gladly have been richer, and few men valued money more. But it was a satisfaction to him to think that the fortune which might have been his had been swallowed up in no less conspicuous a misfortune than the South Sea Bubble. He rejoiced in an ancestor who had been Bluemantle Poursuivant, and even studied the principles of heraldry, which Mr. Lowe used to say was the only branch of knowledge not worth studying. The seventh and by far the briefest of the Autobiographical Sketches contains two famous genealogical passages, one of which appears in the History, and would have immortalised Fielding if Fielding bad not

« PredošláPokračovať »