The Unclassed by George Gissing
Chapter XVIII. The Enderbys
Some twenty years before the date we have reached, the Rev. Paul Enderby, a handsome young man, endowed with moral and intellectual qualities considerably above the average, lived and worked in a certain small town of Yorkshire.
He had been here for two years, an unmarried man; now it was made known that this state of things was to come to an end; moreover, to the disappointment of not a few households, it was understood that the future Mrs. Enderby had been chosen from among his own people, in London. The lady came, and there was a field-day of criticism. Mrs. Enderby looked very young, and was undeniably pretty; she had accomplishments, and evidently liked to exhibit them before her homely visitors. She exaggerated the refinement of her utterance that it might all the more strike off against the local accent. It soon became clear that she would be anything but an assistance to her husband in his parochial work; one or two attempts were made, apparently with good will, at intercourse with the poor parishioners, but the enterprise was distinctly a failure; it had to be definitively given up. Presently a child was born in the parsonage, and for a little while the young mother's attention was satisfactorily engaged at home. The child was a girl and received the name of Maud.
Paul Enderby struggled to bate no jot of his former activity, but a change was obvious to all. No less obvious the reason of it. Mrs. Enderby's reckless extravagance had soon involved her husband in great difficulties. He was growing haggard; his health was failing; his activity shrank within the narrowest possible limits; he shunned men's gaze.
Yet all at once there happened something which revived much of his old zeal, and, in spite of everything, brought him once more prominently forward. A calamity had visited the town. By a great explosion in a neighbouring colliery, numbers of homes had been rendered destitute, and aid of every kind was imperatively called for on all sides. In former times, Paul Enderby would have been just the man for this occasion, and even now he was not wanting. Extensive subscriptions were raised, and he, as chief man in the committee which had been formed, had chief control of the funds. People said afterwards that they had often remarked something singular in his manner as he went about in these duties. Whether that was true or not, something more than singular happened when, some two months later, accounts were being investigated and cleared up. Late one evening, Mr. Enderby left home,--and never returned to it. It was very soon known that he must have appropriated to his own use considerable sums which had reached his hands for charitable purposes, and the scandal was terrific. Mrs. Enderby and her child disappeared in a day or two. It was said that ladies from London had come and fetched her away, and she was no more heard of in that little town.
Miss Bygrave, an elder sister of Mrs. Enderby, had received a letter from Paul summoning her to the wife's aid: and this letter, dated from Liverpool, after disclosing in a few words the whole situation, went on to say that the writer, though he would never more be seen by those who knew him, would not fail to send his wife what money he could as often as he could. And, after half a year, sums had begun to be remitted, in envelopes bearing a Californian postmark. They were not much use, however, to Mrs. Enderby. A few days after her arrival at her home in London, she had been discovered hanging, with a rope round her neck, from a nail behind her bedroom door. Cut down in time, her life was saved, but reason had forsaken her. She was taken away to an asylum, and remained there for five years.
By that time, she seemed to have quite recovered. Her home was now to be with her sister, Theresa Bygrave. Her child, Maud Enderby, was nearly seven years old. Mrs. Enderby returned to the world not quite the same woman as when she left it. She had never lacked character, and this now showed itself in one immutable resolution. Having found that the child had learnt nothing of its parents, she determined that this ignorance should continue; or rather that it should be exchanged for the belief that those parents were both long dead. She dwelt apart, supported by her sister. Finally, after ten years' absence, Paul Enderby returned to England, and lived again with his wife. But Maud, their daughter, still believed herself alone in the world, save for her aunt, Miss Bygrave.
At the time when Waymark and Ida were together at Hastings, Mrs. Enderby called one evening at Miss Bygrave's house--the house of Maud's childhood, still distinguished by the same coldness, bareness and gloom, the same silence echoing to a strange footfall. Theresa Bygrave had not greatly altered; tall, upright, clad in the plainest black garment, she walked into the room with silent dignity, and listened to a suggestion made by her brother-in-law.
"We have talked it over again," said Paul, "and we have decided to take this step."
He paused and watched the listener's face eagerly, glancing quickly away as soon as she looked up.
"And you still wish me to break it to Maud, and in the way you said?"
"If you will.--But I do so wish you would let me know your own thoughts about this. You have so much claim to be considered. Maud is in reality yours far more than she is ours. Will it--do you think now it will really be for our own happiness? Will the explanation you are able to give be satisfactory to her? What will be her attitude towards us? You know her character--you understand her."
"If the future could be all as calm as the past year has been," said Miss Bygrave, "I should have nothing to urge against your wishes."
"And this will contribute to it," exclaimed Enderby. "This would give Emily the very support she needs."
Miss Bygrave looked into his face, which had a pleading earnestness, and a deep pity lay in her eyes.
"Let it be so," she said with decision. "I myself have much hope from Maud's influence. I will write and tell her not to renew her engagement, and she will be with us at the end of September."
"But you will not tell her anything till she comes?"
Miss Bygrave lived in all but complete severance from the world. When Maud Enderby was at school, she felt strongly and painfully the contrast between her own home life and that of her companions. The girl withdrew into solitary reading and thinking; grew ever more afraid of the world; and by degrees sought more of her aunt's confidence, feeling that here was a soul that had long since attained to the peace which she was vainly seeking.
But it was with effort that Miss Bygrave brought herself to speak to another of her form of faith. After that Christmas night when she addressed Maud for the first time on matters of religion, she had said no second word; she waited the effect of her teaching, and the girl's spontaneous recurrence to the subject. There was something in the very air of the still, chill house favourable to ascetic gravity. A young girl, living under such circumstances, must either pine away, eating her own heart, or become a mystic, and find her daily food in religious meditation.
Only when her niece was seventeen years old did Miss Bygrave speak to her of worldly affairs. Her own income, she explained, was but just sufficient for their needs, and would terminate upon her death; had Maud thought at all of what course she would choose when the time for decision came? Naturally, only one thing could suggest itself to the girl's mind, and that was to become a teacher. To begin with, she took subordinate work in the school where she had been a pupil; later, she obtained the engagement at Dr. Tootle's.
An education of this kind, working upon Maud Enderby's natural temperament, resulted in an abnormal character, the chief trait of which was remarkable as being in contradiction to the spirit of her time. She was oppressed with the consciousness of sin. Every most natural impulse of her own heart she regarded as a temptation to be resisted with all her strength. Her ideal was the same as Miss Bygrave's, but she could not pursue it with the latter's assured calm; at every moment the voice of her youth spoke within her, and became to her the voice of the enemy. Her faith was scarcely capable of formulation in creeds; her sins were not of omission or commission in the literal sense; it was an attitude of soul which she sought to attain, though ever falling away. What little she saw of the world in London, and afterwards at her home by the sea-side, only served to increase the trouble of her conscience, by making her more aware of her own weakness. For instance, the matter of her correspondence with Waymark. In very truth, the chief reason why she had given him the permission he asked of her was, that before so sudden and unexpected a demand she found herself confused and helpless; had she been able to reflect, the temptation would probably have been resisted, for the pleasantness of the thought made her regard it as a grave temptation. Casuistry and sophistical reasoning with her own heart ensued, to the increase of her morbid sensitiveness; she persuaded herself that greater insight into the world's evil would be of aid in her struggle, and so the contents of Waymark's first letter led her to a continuance of the correspondence. A power of strong and gloomy description which she showed in her letters, and which impressed Waymark, afforded the key to her sufferings; her soul in reality was that of an artist, and, whereas the artist should be free from everything like moral prepossession, Maud's aesthetic sensibilities were in perpetual conflict with her moral convictions. She could not understand herself, seeing that her opportunities had never allowed her to obtain an idea of the artistic character. This irrepressible delight and interest in the active life of the world, what could it be but the tendency to evil, most strongly developed? These heart-burnings whenever she witnessed men and women rejoicing in the exercise of their natural affections, what could that be but the proneness to evil in its grossest form?
It was naturally a great surprise to Maud when she received the letter from her aunt, which asked her not to continue her engagement into the new quarter, giving as a reason merely that the writer wished for her at home. It was even with something of dread and shrinking that she looked forward to a renewal of the old life. Still, it was enough that her aunt had need of her. On her return to London, she was met with strange revelations. Miss Bygrave's story had been agreed upon between herself and Paul. It had been deemed best to make Mrs. Enderby's insanity the explanation of Maud's removal from her parents, and the girl, stricken as she was with painful emotions, seemed to accept this undoubtingly.
The five years or so since Paul Enderby's reappearance in England seemed to have been not unprosperous. The house to which Maud was welcomed by her father and mother was not a large one, and not in a very fashionable locality, but it was furnished with elegance. Mrs. Enderby frequently had her hired brougham, and made use of it to move about a good deal where people see and are seen. Mr. Enderby's business was "in the City." How he had surmounted his difficulties was not very clear; his wife learned that he had brought with him from America a scheme for the utilisation of waste product in some obscure branch of manufacture, which had been so far successful as to supply him with a small capital. He seemed to work hard, leaving home at nine each morning, getting back to dinner at half-past six, and, as often as not, spending the evening away from home, and not returning till the small hours. He had the feverish eye of a man whose subsistence depends upon speculative acuteness and restless calculation. No doubt he was still so far the old Paul, that, whatever he undertook, he threw himself into it with surpassing vigour.
Mrs. Enderby was in her thirty-eighth year, and still handsome. Most men, at all events, would have called her so, for most men are attracted by a face which is long, delicate, characterless, and preserves late the self-conscious expression of a rather frivolous girl of seventeen. She had ideals of her own, which she pursued regardless of the course in which they led her; and these ideals were far from ignoble. To beauty of all kinds she was passionately sensitive. As a girl she had played the piano well, and, though the power had gone from long disuse, music was still her chief passion. Graceful ease, delicacy in her surroundings, freedom from domestic cares, the bloom of flowers, sweet scents--such things made up her existence. She loved her husband, and had once worshipped him; she loved her recovered daughter; but both affections were in her, so to speak, of aesthetic rather than of moral quality.
Intercourse between Maud and her parents, now that they lived together, was, as might have been expected, not altogether natural or easy. She came to them with boundless longings, ready to expend in a moment the love of a lifetime; they, on their side, were scarcely less full of warm anticipation; yet something prevented the complete expression of this mutual yearning. The fault was not in the father and mother if they hung back somewhat; in very truth, Maud's pure, noble countenance abashed them. This, their child, was so much the superior of them both; they felt it from the first moment, and could never master the consciousness. Maud mistook this for coldness; it checked and saddened her. Yet time brought about better things, though the ideal would never be attained. In her father, the girl found much to love; her mother she could not love as she had hoped, but she regarded her with a vast tenderness, often with deep compassion. Much of sympathy, moreover, there was between these two. Maud's artistic temperament was inherited from her mother, but she possessed it in a stronger degree, of purer quality, and under greater restraint. This restraint, however, did not long continue to be exercised as hitherto. Life for the first time was open before her, and the music which began to fill her ears, the splendour which shone into her eyes, gradually availed to still that inner voice which had so long spoken to her in dark admonishings. She could not resign herself absolutely to the new delight; it was still a conflict; but from the conflict itself she derived a kind of joy, born of the strength of her imagination.
Yes, there was one portion of the past which dwelt with her, and by degrees busied her thoughts more and more. The correspondence with Waymark had ceased, and by her own negligence. In those days of mental disturbance which preceded her return to London, his last letter had reached her, and this she had not replied to. It had been her turn to write, but she had not felt able to do so; it had seemed to her, indeed, that, with her return home, the correspondence would naturally come to an end; with a strange ignorance of herself, such as now and then darkens us, she had suddenly come to attach little value to the connection. Not improbably, Waymark's last two letters had been forced and lacking in interest. He had never said anything which could be construed into more than an expression of friendly interest, or intellectual sympathy. It may be that Maud's condition, dimly prophetic of the coming change, required more than this, and she conceived a certain dissatisfaction. Then came the great event, and for some weeks she scarcely thought of her correspondent. One day, however, she chanced upon the little packet of his letters, and read them through again. It was with new eyes. Thoughts spoke to her which had not been there on the first reading. Waymark had touched at times on art and kindred subjects, and only now could she understand his meaning. She felt that, in breaking off her connection with him, she had lost the one person who could give her entire sympathy; to whom she might have spoken with certainty of being understood, of all the novel ideas which possessed her; who, indeed, would have been invaluable as a guide in the unknown land she was treading. It was now almost the end of the year; more than three months had gone by since she received that last letter from him. Could she write now, and let him know that she was in London? She could not but give expression to her altered self; and would he be able to understand her? Yet,--she needed him; and there was something of her mother in the fretting to which she was now and then driven by the balked desire. At length she was on the point of writing a letter, with whatever result, when chance spared her the trouble.
One morning in December, she went with her mother to an exhibition of pictures in Bond Street. Such visits had been common of late; Mrs. Enderby could rarely occupy herself at home, and pictures, as everything beautiful, always attracted her. They had been in the gallery a few minutes only, when Maud recognised Waymark close at hand. He was looking closely at a canvas, and seemed quite unaware of her proximity. She laid her hand on her mother's arm, and spoke in a nervous whisper.
"Mother, I know that gentleman."
"This one?" asked Mrs. Enderby, indicating Waymark, with a smile. She showed no surprise, any more than she would have done had Maud been only her friend.
"Yes. If he should notice me, may I introduce him to you? He was at the school where I taught a year ago."
"Why, certainly, my love," replied her mother, with cheerful assent. "It is quite natural that you should have acquaintances I should like to know. Shall I ask him to come and see us?"
There was no opportunity of answering. Waymark, in moving on, had glanced round at the groups of people, and his eye had fallen on Maud. He seemed uncertain; looked quickly away; glanced again, and, meeting her eyes, raised his hat, though still without conviction in his face. Maud came naturally forward a step or two, and they shook hands; then at once she introduced him to her mother. No one ever experienced awkward pauses in Mrs. Enderby's presence; conversation linked itself with perfect ease, and in a minute they were examining the pictures together. Mrs. Enderby had made up her mind with regard to her new acquaintance in one or two gleams of her quick eyes, and then talked on in an eager, intelligent way, full of contagious enthusiasm, which soon brought out Waymark's best powers. Maud said very little. Whenever it was possible unobserved, she gazed at Waymark's face. She found herself thinking that, in external appearance, he had improved since she last saw him. He had no longer that hungry, discontented look to which she had grown accustomed in the upper schoolroom at Dr. Tootle's; his eye seemed at once quieter and keener; his complexion was brighter; the habitual frown had somewhat smoothed away. Then, he was more careful in the matter of dress. On the whole, it seemed probable that his circumstances had changed for the better.
Waymark, on his side, whilst he talked, was not less full of speculation about Maud. For the change in her appearance was certainly much more noticeable than it could be in his own. Not only that she had put aside her sad-coloured and poor raiment for a costume of tasteful and attractive simplicity--this, of course, her mother's doing--but the look of shrinking, almost of fear, which he had been wont to see on her face, was entirely gone. Her eyes seemed for ever intelligent of new meanings; she was pale, but with the pallor of eager, joy-bringing thought. There was something pathetic in this new-born face; the lips seemed still to speak of past sorrows, or, it might be, to hold unspoken a sad fate half-foreseen.
If this renewal of acquaintanceship came just at the right time for Maud, it was no less welcome to Waymark. When he wrote his last letter to her, it had proceeded more from a sense of obligation than any natural impulse. For he was then only just recovering from a period of something like despair. His pursuit of Ida Starr to London had been fruitless. It was true that she had left her former abode, and the landlady professed to be ignorant of her new one, though she admitted that she had seen Ida scarcely two hours before Waymark's arrival. He wrote, but had no reply. His only comfort was an ever-rising suspicion of the truth (as he would learn it later), but fears were, on the whole, strongest within him. Confidence in her he had not. All the reflections of that last evening on Hastings pier lived and re-lived in his mind; outcome of the cynicism which was a marked feature in his development, and at the same time tending to confirm it. She had been summoned back suddenly by a letter; who but a simpleton could doubt what that meant? He thought of Sally, of course, and the step she had taken; but could he draw conclusions about Ida from Sally, and did ever two such instances come within a man's experience? To Sally herself he had naturally had recourse, but in vain. She said that she knew nothing of the lost girl. So Waymark fought it out, to the result of weariness; then plunged into his work again, and had regained very much his ordinary state of mind when Maud Enderby unexpectedly came before him.
He called upon the Enderbys, and was soon invited to dine, which necessitated the purchase of a dress suit. On the appointed evening, he found Maud and her mother in a little drawing-room, which had a pleasant air of ease and refinement. It was a new sensation for Waymark as he sank into a soft chair, and, in speaking, lowered his voice, to suit the quietness of the room. The soft lamp-light spreading through the coloured shade, the just perceptible odour of scent when Mrs. Enderby stirred, the crackling of the welcome fire, filled him with a sense of luxury to which he was not accustomed. He looked at Maud. She was beautiful in her evening dress; and, marking the grave, sweet thoughtfulness of her face, the grace of her movements, the air of purity which clung about her, his mind turned to Ida Starr, and experienced a shock at the comparison. Where was Ida at this moment? The mere possibilities which such a question brought before his mind made him uneasy, almost as if he had forgotten himself and uttered aloud some word all unfit for ladies' ears. The feeling was a novel one, and, in afterwards recalling it, he could smile rather contemptuously, If we are enraptured with one particular flower, shall we necessarily despise another, whose beauty and perfume happen to be of quite a different kind?
Mr. Enderby appeared, followed by another gentleman. Waymark noticed an unpleasant heat in the hand held out to him; there was a flush in Paul's cheeks, too, and his eyes were very bright. He greeted the visitor with somewhat excessive warmth, then turned and introduced his companion, by the name of Mr. Rudge.
Waymark observed that this gentleman and his hostess were on terms of lively intimacy. They talked much throughout the evening.
During the three months that followed, Waymark's intercourse with the Enderbys was pretty frequent. Mrs. Enderby asked few questions about him, and Maud was silent after she had explained Waymark's position, so far as she was acquainted with it, and how she had come to know him. To both parents, the fact of Maud's friendship was a quite sufficient guarantee, so possessed were they with a conviction of the trustworthiness of her judgment, and the moral value of her impulses. In Waymark's character there was something which women found very attractive; strength and individuality are perhaps the words that best express what it was, though these qualities would not in themselves have sufficed to give him his influence, without a certain gracefulness of inward homage which manifested itself when he talked with women, a suggestion, too, of underlying passion which works subtly on a woman's imagination. There was nothing commonplace in his appearance and manner; one divined in him a past out of the ordinary range of experiences, and felt the promise of a future which would, in one way or another, be remarkable.
The more Waymark saw of Maud Enderby the more completely did he yield to the fascination of her character. In her presence he enjoyed a strange calm of spirit. For the first time he knew a woman who by no word or look or motion could stir in him a cynical thought. Here was something higher than himself, a nature which he had to confess transcended the limits of his judgment, a soul with insight possibly for ever denied to himself. He was often pained by the deference with which she sought his opinion or counsel; the words in which he replied to her sounded so hollow; he became so often and so keenly sensible of his insincerity,--a quality which, with others, he could consciously rely upon as a resource, but which, before Maud, stung him. He was driven to balance judgments, to hesitate in replies, to search his own heart, as perhaps never before.
Artificial good humour, affected interest, mock sympathy, were as far from her as was the least taint of indelicacy; every word she uttered rang true, and her very phrases had that musical fall which only associates itself with beautiful and honest thought. She never exhibited gaiety, or a spirit of fun, but could raise a smile by an exquisite shade of humour--humour which, as the best is, was more than half sadness. Nor was she fond of mixing with people whom she did not know well; when there was company at dinner, she generally begged to be allowed to dine alone. Though always anxious to give pleasure to her parents, she was most happy when nothing drew her from her own room; there she would read and dream through hours There were times when the old dreaded feelings took revenge; night-wakings, when she lay in cold anguish, yearning for the dawn. She was not yet strong enough to face past and future, secured in attained conviction. As yet, she could not stir beyond the present, and in the enjoyment of the present was her strength.