(from "The Cosmopolitan" Vol.
XVIII Number 1. November 1894)
ENGLAND boasts half a hundred
country - houses more magnificent than Peveril, but it would be hard to
name one more charmingly situated, or more typically English. Duquesne,
in his "County History of Cornwall." published in 1771, and dedicated,
with permission, to his most Gracious Majesty. George III, gives several
engravings of it, and retails, at some length, the history of the Peverils.
who have lived there, he tells us, since the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Sir Vivian Peveril, Knight, built the house, and Queen Bess once honored
it by sleeping there. He was a great favorite of hers, and it is related
that she played on the spinet, to the delectation of him, his wife, and
the guests assembled, after dinner that evening. Under George II, the honor
of a baronetcy was conferred upon the then head of the family, and in 1766
the son of the first baronet was created Baron Peveril by George III, to
whom, as I have stated, Duquesne's "County History of Cornwall" is dedicated.
The house lay blinking in the August
heat, through its windows darkened with Venetian blinds, and over the terrace,
ran a long strip of awning, in red and white stripes, under which, at this
moment, Lady Violet and others were having tea.
Peveril stands about a mile from
the north coast, and six miles north of Truro. Bygone Peverils, who sleep
in marble peace in the church and church-yard of the village, have planted
what must once have been a windswept down, with trees to harbor their pheasants,
right as far as the edge of the sandstone cliff, against which the Atlantic
lies and suns itself in summer, and on which it springs like a hungry tiger
when the north winds in winter, or the westerly gale of autumn, have wakened
it. The house itself lies in a furrow of the great down, and the roar of
the waves comes to it, faintly and dreamily, increasing almost, by sense
of contrast, its own immunity from the unquiet winds. A gray terrace runs
along the south side of the house, built in the Georgian style, and, no
doubt, was the work of the first Baron Peveril, who, perhaps, felt that
his house ought to record the honors done to him. While the Peverils
were baronets, they could do without a terrace; but a peer was a peer.
He seems to have been a pompous old gentleman, for he always insisted that
the villagers should stand bareheaded when he passed; the mere raising
of the hat was not sufficiently respectful.
But it is not of Vivian Peveril,
first Baron Peveril, that I mean to tell you, but of Vivian Peveril, fourth
baron, and particularly of John Peveril, his younger brother, of John's
wife, Lady Violet, and their little son, Jack.
Lord Peveril was a bachelor,
and John, who was first secretary in Her Majesty's embassy at Constantinople,
usually spent some weeks of his leave at Peveril with his wife. Peveril
was always glad to have them there, and took a great interest in Jack,
as heir apparent to the property.
John was leaving for London that
evening, on his way to Constantinople, but Lady Violet and Jack were not
coming with him, for the ostensible reason that the heat would be bad for
the child, and for the unspoken reason that, for some time, they had found
each other's company a little irksome. The marriage, for some undefinable
reason, had been an unhappy one, and they had gradually drifted apart.
Their courtship had been brief and ardent; the man had fallen in love with
a beautiful girl, the girl had fancied herself in love with a handsome
man. The world had said that it was a splendid match for the daughter of
a penniless earl, for John Peveril was certain, on the one hand, to be
heir to an enormous property, and, on the other hand, to rise to the top
of his profession.
Lady Violet stirred her tea languidly;
the heat was very oppressive, and she felt sure there was a thunderstorm
coining up. Peveril, on the other hand, never found anything oppressive,
and this hot summer was an unmixed boon for the farmers. Mrs. Riviere,
who was the third, shared Lord Peveril's power of finding everything enjoyable,
but Lady Violet found Mrs. Riviere even more oppressive than the approaching
thunderstorm. However, Lord Stapleton was coming that evening, her husband
was going away, and a thunderstorm would clear the air.
It is darkest before dawn," she
reflected, "and it is nearly morning!" It was an inspiring thought,
and she roused herself.
"John and your husband haven't
come in yet, have they?" she said to Mrs. Riviere.
"No, they are still fishing.
Jack is with them, too. I think Jack's a perfect darling. So
forward for his age, too, let's see - he's just seven, isn't he?''
"Jack was nine last birthday,"
remarked his mother.
"Only fancy! Yes, dear me! He's
the image of his father!"
Lady Violet flushed just perceptibly,
and turned to her brother-in-law.
"Peveril, I think I shan't go
to see John off. The heat is so oppressive. So the wagonette
will be all he wants. There's plenty of room for his luggage and his man
"Very good; I'm just going in,
and I'll tell them the cart won't be wanted. Is your head bad, Violet?"
"Oh, no; I'm only hot, and rather
"But Jack wanted to see his father
"I think Jack had better stop
at home." said Lady Violet. "It is an absurd custom, seeing people
Peveril said nothing in reply,
and went indoors. He had hardly gone in, when Mr. Riviere and the
two others came back from the river. Jack caught sight of his mother at
the far end of the terrace and ran toward her. She frowned a little
as he rushed noisily up to her, and drew her skirts away from his little,
"Mummie, I caught two trouts;
and may I have them for supper? Mr. Riviere helped me with one, but I caught
the other all my very own self"
He ran off to the creel which
his father had put down, and returned with two diminutive fish.
"Yes, dear, take them in to cook,"
said his mother: '' they are quite beautiful. And get nurse to change your
boots and stockings.
You are in an awful mess. Oh,
Jack, do be careful! You've soiled my dress! Run along."
"Mummie, I'm going to the station
to see father off. Will you come, too?"
"No, dear, you had better not
go. It will be too late. You must have your supper, and go to bed."
John had strolled up by this
"Why shouldn't the boy go, Violet?
He'll be back by half-past seven."
Lady Violet rose, without looking
at her husband.
"Just as you like. I don't
think I shall come. Parting speeches are not in my line, nor in yours,
She walked slowly towards the
house, but he followed her.
"There are several things I want
to speak to you about," he said.
Lady Violet stopped.
"Let's walk to the end of the
"Are they not fit for publication?"
she asked, looking towards Mr. Riviere.
''I do not choose to publish
them. I haven't had a word with you for days. Firstly, when do you propose
to join me?"
''I think I shall come out in
November. We can get on alone till then, I should think."
"I hope so. Don't stop later
than that, or else people will begin to talk. That would annoy me excessively.''
He spoke quite calmly, and without
a touch of annoyance in look or voice. She glanced at him a moment without
"Of course, we must not let that
happen. If you think better, I will come a little earlier.''
"No. I think there is no need.
How long do you stop here?"
"About a fortnight; after that
I shall go home.''
"Lord Stapleton comes to-night,
does he not?"
Violet raised her eyebrows.
"Yes" she said, "he comes by
the same train as you leave by. Why?"
"It would annoy me excessively
if people began to talk," he said
"It would annoy me, too.
But you needn't he nervous."
"I'm not nervous, or I shouldn't
leave you behind here." he said. "Then there's Jack."
"Jack must go to school in September,"
she said. "He can spend his Christmas at home, or here. It is absurd
that he should follow us out to Constantinople for a couple of weeks'."
"I think you might put off his
going to school for another term. He's only just nine. Then he could come
out with you in November."
"I don't agree with you.
Jack is a great nuisance at Constantinople. Now he is quite old enough
to go to school. Consult Peveril if you like."
"I suppose that means you have
already consulted him, and he agrees with you."
Violet bit her lip.
"That happens to be the case,"
she said, " but it doesn't make your saying it less offensive."
"I did not mean to be offensive,"
he said. "The inference I drew was a very natural one."
Violet sat silent a moment, her
gray eyes rested on her husband's face.
"I am not going to quarrel with
you," she said. "There is nothing so bourgeois as quarrelling. What
shall we settle about Jack?"
"I have stated my opinion."
"And I mine. We disagree: we
often do disagree, but there is always some arrangement possible. Peveril
agrees with me. Would you like to consult anybody else?"
"I do not see what anybody else
has got to do with it. I don't think it would do the boy any good to he
sent in September; as far as his good is concerned, it would be equally
satisfactory if he went at Christmas or Easter. And I wish to have
him at Constantinople. I an very fond of Jack."
"He is reaching that age when
children are tiresome. All children are cubs at certain ages, and the fact
that he is my child doesn't blind me to the fact that he is a cub, too.
He will he very happy at school, and he will learn not to be a cub."
John Peveril looked at his watch.
"I cannot wait any longer, I
am afraid," he said. "I have only just time to change and catch my train.
You must settle the matter as you please."
He turned to leave her. The sun
was already near its setting, and the horizontal rays caught all the amber
lights in her hair and turned them into gold. Her cold, perfect mouth
was slightly parted, and her eyebrows were drawn down frowning. He had
never seen her look so beautiful, and had never felt her so utterly alien
But before he quite turned, he
"It is good-by, then," he said.
"I can't say more about Jack, but I will leave you to do as you please.
Violet, you are more beautiful than ever. Won't you say good-by to me!"
A sudden regret, which he had
not felt for years, sprang up in his breast. Their alienation had been
so gradual that he could not put his finger on any moment, or any day,
and say: "here it began." They were both so accustomed to their mutual
separation, that any change would have seemed unreal and almost unwished
for. They lived their own lives, and they had become entirely used to their
relations. But in spite of it all, his impulse was strong. He was
a man, she a very blatant woman, and nothing, not even tedium ennui, weary
daily intercourse, can quite kill that legitimate spell.
She turned to him with a look
"Yes, why should I not say good-by?
Good-by, John. I hope it won't be too frightfully hot in Constantinople.
I shall see you again in November. Good-by!"
He kissed her lightly on the
forehead, and went in. But she remained where he had left her, and
his regret woke in her a vague wonder. Could they not have made a better
job of it all? Had they not lost something? Yet, had it been in their
power to keep what they had lost?
The mood did not last long, but
no mood is without its effect. The least sound, the vibration of a bird's
wing through the air, the chirp of a grasshopper in summer grass, sets
in motion waves of sound which girdle the earth, and every thought that
passes through our minds sets its mark there, and is always capable of
growing up and bearing fruit.
Whether or no it was Violet's
fault that people had an opportunity of talking about her and Lord Stapleton,
it was at any rate to her credit that they did not avail themselves of
that privilege. Slander and gossip always passed her by with folded
wing and mute tongue. It may partly have been that the world in which
she lived was a little afraid of her, but apart from that she was somehow
one of those women who seems to defy criticism or comment. "She may
or may not have a heart," they said; "but she has a very beautiful head,
and the colour of her hair is certainly natural."
"Yes, John went this afternoon,"
she was saying; "I shall follow him in November. I hate Constantinople."
She and Lord Stapleton were sitting
out after dinner, that evening, on the terrace, and enjoying the cool air.
The thunderstorm had broken while they were at dinner, and Violet's sense
of oppression had taken wings with it, or with the wagonette which had
carried her husband to the station.
"Why follow him in November,
then," asked Lord Stapleton.
Violet turned towards him.
His boyish, beardless face was tanned by the weather, for he had just come
home from a yachting tour. He was a young man of about thirty years of
age, and perfectly imperturbable.
"Why?'' she echoed, "because
- because I must. There are many very disagreeable things in life, and
in Constantinople is one of them."
"I should have thought you were
exactly the woman to deny that there need be any disagreeables in life,
to say that all disagreeables are of one's own making."
"Certainly, all disagreeables
are of one's own making. Constantinople is of my own making."
"Will you let me take you there
in the yacht?"
"I don't see why I shouldn't
say 'yes' but I don't think I shall."
Stapleton bent forward towards
"Ah, do say 'yes','" he said.
"I expect I shall have to take
Jack, too" she said. "His father wants him, and he was mean enough to say
that he would leave it entirely to me, whether he came or not, so I suppose
I shall have to take him. I do hate people giving me my own way in that
manner. It means one has to do what they wish. But I'm afraid Jack wouldn't
do for a chaperon in any case."
"I think he'd make a very good
one," said Stapleton.
Violet leaned hack in her chair.
"I suppose I ought to be shocked
at you making such a suggestion, but I'm not easily shocked. My emotions
are not easily reused. It is a great misfortune."
"I don't think it is all a misfortune,"
said Stapleton; "just the contrary, in fact."
"I was speaking generally, not
of this particular case," said Violet. "In general, it is a great misfortune.
What it means is, that few things really interest me, or excite me.
It is more amusing to be shocked than to be indifferent. Doctors say that
in a few generations we shan't have teeth or toes, because we never use
then, and I don't think we shall have emotions, either You see, duelling
has gone out. If one man makes love to another man's wife, they don't go
out and shoot each other, but they lunch together at the club, and talk
it over. Jealousy has gone out, and, I think, love is going out, too. There
is a general deterioration of the emotions going on."
Stapleton was listening intently.
"I am not sure that I agree with
you," he said.
"Oh, I am right, I am certainly
right," she replied. "This is rather an unconventional conversation;
but it doesn't matter. I am very fond of you. Why shouldn't I say
so? I'm sure you have often told me you are very fond of me, and, what
is more important, you interest me and amuse me. But-but-"
Stapleton flung himself back
in his chair.
"There is always that 'but,'"
he said. "Why shouldn't we cast everything to the winds? What on earth
matters beside that?"
"Oh, my dear friend," said Violet,
"a great deal matters! I was passionately in love with my husband when
I married him, and now I was wondering, only this afternoon, what has happened
to my love. Scientists tell us that nothing can perish - a thing seems
to be destroyed, but it has only gone elsewhere. I wish, I sincerely wish,
I could lay my hand on it again. It is delightful to be in love with your
"Do you mean that?" he asked.
"Certainly, I mean it.
I never say things I do not mean, and, beside, the fact is so patently
Lord Stapleton rose.
"I had better not have come,"
Violet opened her eyes in wonder.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"To say that one wishes a thing was so, is equivalent to saying it is not.
It is another instance of the decay of the emotions. Like our teeth, they
don't last all our lives; only, unfortunately, we can't get a new set.
We don't know where the manufactory is. If I knew that, I would go there
to-morrow, and get a false set."
"A false set," he repeated.
"They would be quite as useful
as the original set," she said, "and - and nobody could tell the difference.
One would soon adjust oneself - they might be uncomfortable for a day or
two, but not for long. Let's go indoors; they will be wondering where we
Violet woke next morning into
a sense of quickened interests. She was fond of Lord Stapleton, as
she had told him; but, what was better, he amused her. She was quite certain
that she was not in the least in love with him; he never quickened her
pulse by one beat, and she liked him best when they talked of wholly indifferent
things. She felt that, if she had been free, she would have married him,
because the trial she had given to the plan of marrying the man she was
in love with had failed. Passion had burned itself out, and left,
not friendliness, not even indifference, but almost aversion. When she
was with her husband, she felt as she felt when her nerves were a little
out of order; the least thing irritated her. If he left the door open,
she wondered why he could not have shut it; if he shut it, she was annoyed
that he had not left it as it was.
She did not even say, or think,
that it was his fault - such things were nobody's fault. He was a standing
cause of irritation to her, that was true; but her own sensibilities were
just as much to blame - possibly the blame lay with them alone - as the
qualities in him which irritated her.
"If one applies a match to a
train of gunpowder," she thought, "it will go off. It was not the match
which explodes, nor would the gunpowder explode without it. It is
simply the combination of the two, because they are made that way, and
to call it their fault would be absurd."
And as November drew nearer,
the prospect of Constantinople, from being distasteful, grew to be impossible.
She had not sent Jack to school, but had determined to take him with her.
But one morning she wrote to her husband. "He is not stupid," she thought
to herself; "he will understand what I mean very well." She said that she
was sure Constantinople would not agree with her; it was very raw and unpleasant
in winter, and she was thinking of remaining in England, and spending a
month at St. Moritz.
"You have always trusted me,"
the letter went on, "and I am sure you will believe me now, when I tell
you that it is not because I find England, or anyone in England, attractive,
that I have decided not to come, but because I really cannot face the thought
of spending another year at Constantinople. Please make this clear
to your chief, and others. I should think lungs, or something of the sort
would answer the purpose. I am going to St. Moritz. I didn't
send Jack to school, but intended to bring him with me out to Constantinople.
He had, therefore, better join you at once. Francois will go with him.
He is really at the cub age; but you don't seem to mind that. You see we
don't get on very well together. I irritate you as much you irritate me,
and we are clever enough to avoid any possibility of scandal. I should
be infinitely annoyed if people began to talk, and I don't intend that
they shall." John answered the letter at once. Every one was desolated
- he most of all - that she was not coming; but, no doubt, she was wise
to spend the winter at St. Moritz. Indeed, it would be criminal to come
to Constantinople. Let Jack come at once - it was an excellent idea of
Violet read the letter twice,
and then put it down, and thought about it. He had fallen in with her wishes
exactly; he had behaved exactly as she had hoped. He had not made unreasonable
objections, or alluded to les convenances, in any way. But - but - what
was it she did not like about the letter? If he had expressed any regret,
if he had implied blame, she would have been furious "Every one is desolated
- I most of all" that was where the sting came in; but why it stung her
she could not say.
Anyhow, she had her own way.
Jack was sent off at once, charmed at the prospect of seeing his father,
and she was free. She would go abroad, she determined, early in December;
several friends of hers were going to St. Moritz, and she would go with
them. That crisp, renovating cold was too delicious; she would skate
all day, and there were always a certain number of amusing people there.
She feIt like a boy who has been on the point of going back to school,
when he hears- that an extra week of holiday has suddenly been given.
But her husband's letter - the
more she thought about it, the stronger her feeling grew; and the stronger
it grew, the more it puzzled her. He had behaved charmingly; she
did him the justice to confess that he almost always did behave charmingly,
and yet she was angry with him. She had told him, quite plainly, that she
wished not to be with him that winter, and he had replied that he thought
her arrangement an admirable one. That, at least, was the meaning of it,
if one stripped the husk off. Yet, again, that vague feeling, half-of
wonder, half of regret, came over her.
Jack went to school at Christmas,
but before Easter an event had happened which brought John Peveril back
to England. Early in February, Lord Peveril had been attacked by the prevalent
influenza, which had settled on his lungs, and within a fortnight of the
time he was taken ill, he was dead. His brother had come back from Constantinople,
and Violet from St. Moritz, which she was not enjoying quite as much as
she had intended to do. The air, no doubt, was charming, but one cannot
remain in a state of permanent rapture over air. The skating was good:
but when no one talked about anything but skating and consumption, from
morning till night, it was apt to pall. Worst of all, Mrs. Riviere had
been out there, and had driven Violet nearly wild.
"'Yes - what were you going to say?"
She and her husband had gone
to Peveril for the funeral, and after that came up to London. He had decided
to throw up his profession and settle down in England. It would still be
some years before he got an embassy, even with the best of luck, and the
strictest observance of the decimation of only the fittest; meanwhile,
it was hardly possible to leave everything, for an indefinite number of
years, in the hands of an agent.
He and Violet did not, of course,
go out at all, and one evening they were sitting alone, after dinner. Violet
was more pleased to be in England again than she cared to say, and she
was feeling particularly content. Jack had gone back to school that
afternoon, and it was of Jack she was thinking now.
"How he has grown," she said,
"since last September."
Lord Peveril looked up from the
paper be was reading.
"Who? Jack? I suppose you notice
it more than I."
"I think you were right about
him," she said. "I remember you wanted to take him out with you,
and I wanted to send him to school."
"My dear Violet, what a concession!"
She had risen from her seat,
and was looking at a photograph of Jack, which had come home that day.
"He'll be exactly like you,"
she said, half to herself.
"He's more like poor Vivian,
I think," said her husband.
Violet put the photograph down.
"Nonsense! He's not a bit like
Vivian! How did you enjoy Constantinople this winter?"
"Oh, it was like what it always
is - the same people gave the same parties, and one tripped up against
the same dogs in the same streets. We all talked about exactly the
same things as we talked about last year. Those things don't ever
amuse me much. I expect you enjoyed yourself more at St. Moritz than
you would have with me!"
"Possibly; but I don't know.
St. Moritz bored me, rather. Every one who wasn't consumptive talked about
combined figures, and every one who was, talked about temperature.
I bought a temperature thermometer, and took mine for a few days; but it
was always normal."
"It's a great blessing to be
normal," said he.
Violet walked up to the fire,
and warmed her hands.
"I don't think I agree with you,"
Peveril put down his paper.
"I don't think you ever agree
Violet stopped quite still for
a moment. The bitterness of her husband's tone surprised her.
"What is the matter?" she said,
"Everything is the matter. I
told you that the people at Constantinople all talked about the same things
as they always did. That is not true: they talked about something they
have never talked about before, and about which they will never talk again.
I did not mean to tell you, but you force it on me!"
"What was that?"
"They talked about you and Stapleton."
"You are intolerable. How dare
you say such things to me?"
"I am telling you the truth."
"Then, why did you not tell me
to come, and put a stop to it?"
"I did not suppose you would
wish to come. And if I had sent for you, it would have implied that I thought
there was some truth in it."
"But did you not stop it?" said
"Naturally, they did not say
these things to me; but, of course, in a place like that, they got round.
When I heard of it, I stopped it."
"How did you stop it?"
"I insulted the man I knew had
said it openly, and he challenged me."
"Challenged you? To a duel, do
"That is the natural course in
such cases," said Peveril.
Violet knelt down by him.
"John, why didn't you tell me?
Tell me now."
"There is not much to tell.
I was not touched, but he will walk lame for a time."
Violet came a little nearer,
and put her hand on his knee.
"Why did you do it? Did you know…
and, oh, why didn't you tell me? Who was the man?"
"It doesn't concern you. If it
did, I would tell you."
"John, you shouldn't have done
it. Supposing you had been shot?"
"Don't make a scene, Violet.
It is all over. I could do no less. You don't seem to realize
He stopped suddenly, and rose,
shaking her hand off rather roughly. She remained where she was;
but her eyes were troubled, and her mouth quivered a little at the corners.
"You don't seem to realise that
I hold a certain position to you. If you imagine men can talk lightly of
you, like that, without my interfering, you are wrong. I hold a certain
place in your life, and nothing can alter that; and as long as I hold that
place I shall do for you what I am bound to do. See, Violet, you are my
wife. You may regret it, but you can't help it now."
He stopped opposite to her, but
came no nearer.
"But a duel!" she said. "It is
so absurd - duelling has quite gone out."
"That is your theory, I know.
I have proved that you are wrong."
Violet got up, and laid her hand
tremblingly on his shoulder; but he stood quite still and made no sign.
"But it was so rash and absurd,"
"I could do nothing else.
When I married you it became my privilege to defend you from certain things,
and also to keep myself from them, and it cannot ever be in your power
to make that privilege less than a duty. It must always be my duty."
"Duty?" she echoed. "What
is duty? Surely, duty is a smaller thing than that?"
Two tears slowly gathered in
her eyes. Her hand trembled more and more. But he did not answer
her, and after a moment she went on, speaking slowly, for the words were
"John, you should not have done
it. You don't know about me…. I am not worth it. I am blameless about Stapleton
- I needn't tell you that, need I? - but I have not been so loyal to you.
I have not been tempted to be disloyal; the temptation simply has not met
me; but I have remained loyal to you, I think, only because of that…. I
have only once fallen in love; there has never been more than one man to
whom I would have given myself. That was when I met you."
Her voice broke suddenly.
"Ah, my dear, help me! Oh, say
you will help me!"…
The sobs she had been restraining
over-mastered her, and she flung her arm around him in a passionate fit