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I was a separate creature at once from the child, without aims or central and guiding passion: I had no interest in the years when I had not truly known Désirée. Henceforth the world was changed, and this great love coloured everything: giving a new life to the studies, which were to make me worthier her: to the games which, at every moment of animation or triumph, seemed to me at once transacted under her eye, where I conquered for her, or if not, her fancied consolation was the victory: to the first friendships of school, pursued with the greater warmth, because I felt that how much ever I might love friends, it was still with a passion differing in essential nature from that which the burning blush of the soul made me conscious of at the least recollection of Désirée. And there is one characteristic of youth which gave a peculiar force and exquisiteness of delight to such recollections.
VII As years advance, and we learn what life is, the common-places of existence strike most men less. We have trodden the daily round so often, that we lose almost the sense of the dust and the monotony: we are at home in the office ; we have learned to like Lombard Street. And then we recognise that it is so with others also. Every day in palace, or counting-house, or cottage, is filled up with a succession of what to the most indolent and independent are nothing less than daily tasks and inevitable. Since this burden of uniform iteration is laid on all, our former envy of those we had once fancied exempt diminishes. We do not perhaps desire wealth less, but we are always more aware of the limitations under which wealth increases happiness : of its narrow power, whilst procuring much, to bestow what to most men is the pleasure of pleasures, novelty :
versamur ibidem atque insumus usque, nec nova vivendo procuditur ulla voluptas. But in boyhood, unbent as yet to the yoke of custom and credulous of an eternity of change, we were sensitive to the monotonous spaces in life, and felt its commonplaceness with a strange intensity. The mind is nearer Nature then, the taste and senses unconsciously more refined, more instinctively fastidious, than when in later life our faculties have been dulled by iteration of experiences, distracted by a thousand arguments. Many a rough English lad, all animal as he seems to foreign critics, incapable of appreciating our noble public education, carries with him to that little arena of clamorous warfare a heart almost too delicately alive to the peace of home and its images of female tenderness : and amidst wild games, or during the first intoxicating glimpses of the glorious ancient world unfolded · like a banner' before him, thinks of the field and forest he has left as of an imperial palace; a liberty he has surrendered. He does not regret the resumption of study, or find no animation in the return to river or football field : it is the repeated and unswerving routine, the something too well known and hackneyed in every circumstance (I put it to readers' recollections), which depresses him.
VIII But how glorious the contrast, to turn in thought from the midst of that narrow circle of Common-place over-familiar, to the image of Désirée! I feel the subtle sweetness of the fancy now, as I recall those days, in what seems at least all its original freshness. Around were the well-known faces of hearty companions, the rough, the out-speaking, the careless contemporaries, the din, the shouting voices, the reckless murmur, the long room with its worn and dismal formality of furniture, the ragged
benches, scattered books, diagrams dark with neglect, dustlurid air: and at a thought, in the centre of all, that golden vision which appeared almost bodily immanent by the force and passion of loving remembrance: that treasure which was all one's own, and yet seemed, by some mysterious magic, transfused into all around it ; omnipresent as Nature to the youthful Wordsworth, by process of a diviner Pantheism. The desk before me was fretted with a hundred initials ; my own, I remember, cut on a scale I. thought of magnitude hitherto unreached. I dared not
I give Désirée's such honours ; I wrote her name everywhere, and effaced it: the very form of the letters, as they disappeared, assumed a talismanic and individual life, a look of superhuman sweetness. If I saw them repeated, as in the initials of a name on a book's title-page, or abroad anywhere in the street, they gave a sanctity to the place of their occurrence ; they smiled on me for delight and for encouragement.
IX Again, on any occasion of school-festivity, joyous union for games, or talk, or excursion with the friends of the day, there was yet a further and special happiness to withdraw the mind from circumstances of present pleasure, recalling the moments when I had seen Désirée last. This was a triumph of irony; a contrast that truly seemed, whatever the joy of the moment, between earth and heaven.
I might think of many such scenes. ... 0! let me pause here an instant,—for we then met often.
How one afternoon she had consecrated by exhibition of the toys and treasures of a girl's childhood : a birthday watch-chain I remember especially, because in far other days I saw it again by chance, and the sight pierced me: how we had interchanged little gifts : how I had stolen with success (and my heart swelled with pride at the little ruse, not
worth commemoration) one relic of nearer personality: the name written by the hand. . . . Lately I lighted on the torn fragment, in one of those reliquaries of the past that gather round us as the faith and fire of youth grow feeble; the dreadful drawer which we think we shall never open again by choice, and under some sad impulse open at last without necessity. The paper, gazed at once with such fond intensity that her countenance had appeared often to look out on me from the letters, was covered also with many prayers for Désirée, remembrances dated at each famous city on journeys through France and Italy. I looked : I read these defeated supplications : but I could not recall her face now; but I could pray no longer.
It was not so in those ages of faith. In the expectant silence of the central cricket-field, in the hubbub of the classroom (to venture on one picture more), I saw a village church near the sea, and Darling and I were together in the little Gothic crypt, and wandering over the roof, or touching hands as I aided her blithe ascent to the highest tower : and how I drove her home through narrow lane and common-place street, and we talked of friends, and books, and sky, and scenery, and everything together, and I could so little doubt of love for love, childhood's blessed faith, that I never inquired whether her eyes answered mine with an equal animation. • How often, and what words she
spoke !' the breezes should have borne them, or fancy fools me, within the golden halls of heaven. ... These thoughts were my waking dream amongst young companions : as I looked at their happy faces, an eternity of their joys, it seemed, was far outweighed by one instant of my happiness.
X The events of those days were trivial, little things truly, although the little things of love ; it is not the facts,
as I have said, but the glory of their investing sensations I wish to narrate. Yet one there was so special, so delightful from the accident of its occurrence, that I cannot pass by the bitter pleasure of recording it. I had returned (for two or three years have now passed) from a college success, to be welcomed at school with the honours set apart on such conjunctures for schoolboys. There was the feast at the Master's house, the congratulation of the seniors, the welcome from those already successful ; a little intoxication of pleasure; a sense of first entry on real life. And, this concluded, without I found the blither and more demonstrative greeting from my comrades, shouts, and brave good wishes, and warm hands clasped in mine, and the rude and animated procession which carried me in triumph round the playing field. But on that afternoon, by a coincidence heartfelt and striking the more, because sight of her, as we passed childhood but had not reached independent years (with the further impediment of school-residence), had now grown rarer, a far other triumph awaited me. That was the
beyond beyond', to take Imogen's phrase, an hour with Désirée. Who would pretend to recall the words spoken, and fifteen years intervening? But she had come to give me joy of my success ; it was enough : I fell down in spirit, and worshipped the dear child whose lightsome glee and sorrise parolette' of congratulation were more animating than contest, more satisfying than victory.
XI In those years she was not only, as one said felicitously of his love, plus femme que les autres': Désirée was all womanhood to me. When with others, I laughed to myself in triumph to think by what immeasurable space any
other was distanced from her. I might have met the ladies of Arthur's court,