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Everything is Possible to Will

Chapter IV. Unsophisticated

page 39

Chapter IV. Unsophisticated.

Aren't you impatient to hear that Zee has caught some faint echo of the music of the spheres? Fancy a girl possessing twenty years as wedding portion unlettered in affairs of the heart! In setting up her standard of excellence, she must have flown over the heads of the entire bachelor order; and yet she was capable of complete abandonment where the affections were concerned, but withal so given to look before she leaped, that she could not “fall in love,” as the stupid phrase is, with her eyes shut, nor be beguiled into taking thorns for roses, nor gall for honey. Mental blind-man's buff had no charms for her, and yet had she used her brains as well as she used her eyes she would have had no history.

There never was a moment that Wrax was not free to take himself off and plight his troth to some more gifted, more enchanting fair one. With every-day girls he was the prince of song and story, and they were ready to champion him to the world's end and a little beyond it; deeming him most unlucky in his choice, they queried what he could see in that odd girl to bind him her willing slave. It is certain, however, that she had hooked her fish securely enough to draw in and pay out her line in a way exceeding tantalising to the ill-fated gudgeon.35 And it is equally certain that Wrax was one of those undisciplined yet essentially masculine beings who must pursue, even though it be a will-o-the-wisp. Hence, if Zee had loved him with all the bent of ungoverned inclination caprice would have been her safest weapon of attack, that the retiring modesty and delicate shrinking of page 40 supposed doubtful affection might have lent piquancy to the pursuit.

A dear old aunt, who is sitting on some one's foot-stool in the New Jerusalem, used to shake her curls at Zee, and try to read her a lesson; but she invariably cajoled the antiquated belle, whose beaux had slipped through her fingers, into such a betrayal of her own weaknesses that the auntie was fairly ruled out of court as censor. If but once started on her theme of themes, the doting old lady expatiated, with fervid eloquence, on the ecstacy of the “first kiss of love,” declaring there was no other sensation like unto it, and that it could be experienced but once in a life-time. The auntie took that “first kiss” with her to the skies—all that remained of it, at any rate. Zee protested, irreverently, that “kisses had been given to her in such round dozens that she knew no difference between the first and the last, so that the superlatively sweet kiss was yet in store for her. That, in fact, she preferred motto kisses to the essence of two lips, the former being good to eat, but the latter good for nothing.”

Merlee, having early bewitched a cousin of Wrax, their affinities led the cousins, quite naturally, to the door of the fateful dwelling; but once over its threshold their lines diverged. The cousin's mystic course was so calmly serene, that he could afford to joke at Wrax's expense, and entertained the girls, at subsequent trysts, with his (Wrax's) wild vagaries, when led agate by a frown of the vixenish Zee, whose spirit unwittingly kept the woe-begone lover hovering on the confines of her, to him, boundless realm.

The March lion and lamb, at whose dictation Zee came into the world dancing a reel, were each by turns rampant in her; and clearly she would not have suited Wrax had she been one of the flat and stale sort. It may be that in those moments of intense absorption—in which, according to the cousin's account, Wrax was wont to indulge—his better nature triumphed, and he communed with himself much as follows: “Aye, Zee, I cannot tell what thou art to me. I never had faith in a living soul until I knew thee. Oh, would that I page 41 were more worthy of thee! Thou inspirest me with the noblest ambition of which I am capable; but I am weaker than thou knowest, and my better self prompts me to acknowledge my sins. But, oh, I dare not risk the confession. If thou shouldst scorn me I am lost: to part thee and me would be to wrench my being asunder. When once thou art the presiding genius of my hearth, thou shalt be to me wisdom and strength. If thou couldst but give me thine unquestioning love, how full of content life would be! that thou canst not is more my fault than thine. Woe is me! Guilt often skirts despair. Alas, my Zela!”

True, most true, foolish Wrax! thy guilty secret stains thee more than thou knowest, going deeper and deeper into thy nature the longer thou concealest it. Be a man! Trust Zee; she will neither betray nor desert thee. Her tender susceptibilities are ever sending out feelers for solid rock in thy character, to which she fain would cling tenaciously; but an empty void in thyself throws her back stranded when she longs to trust.

Like all girls similarly circumstanced, Zee had to pass the crucial test of an introduction to the family of her lover, whose sisters, educated by the Misses Smirke and Pout, had laid aside school drudgery when Zee commenced it. But distance, together with religious (nay, sectarian) differences — that fruitful bone of contention—separated the two families. Hence against Wrax's family Zee's ignorant prejudices were to some extent in arms. Nevertheless, as their intimacy ripened, its every member won her respect and confidence, as signally as Wrax had failed to do. And notwithstanding his apparent frankness towards herself respecting his own affairs, to his own immediate relatives, however reasonable were their inquiries in reference thereto, he equivocated with an unblushing effrontery which disgusted Zee, whose remonstrances on the subject were met with: “You don't know my family; I had better give the town-crier a shilling to publish my affairs than take them into my confidence.”

Zee was silenced, not satisfied, thinking: “If he deceives his own friends he may deceive me,” feeling page 42 confident, likewise, that in speaking thus slightingly of his family he was guilty of the grossest injustice towards them. Zee's father had taken his children, at an early age, into his confidence, and they made his joys and sorrows their own, nor ever abused his trust. Close would have applied to Zee, if to any one of his children; yet, try how she would, she failed utterly to excuse Wrax's unjustifiable secrecy. Indeed, his endless scene-shifting and prevarication, in reference to his own affairs, caused Zee at times to recoil from him with a loathing which made their engagement a stupid farce, likely to result in little happiness to either party. Besides which, a serious charge was preferred against him in his business transactions—which, however, fell through, reflecting more daniagingly on the man who made it than on Wrax himself, on whose part there had been more or less of indiscretion, but nothing remotely criminal. Pending the investigation of the matter, Zee, who was only too ready to write Wrax down guilty, peremptorily closed all communication between them, but on finding she had wronged him, penitently healed the breach. She not unfrequently made such blunders; yet on the whole her judgment was sound, though apt to be arrogant because she stood alone.

It would, nevertheless, be wrong to convey the impression that Zee perpetually snubbed Wrax. His society was acceptable when she succeeded in quieting inward misgivings as to whether he was or was not all that he ought to be. Despite his taciturnity, there was intellect equal to her need, but there was no repose in his character. He never appeared sufficient in himself for his own needs. Then his words, too, sometimes had a hollow ring in them that evinced the want in his character of which Zee was so painfully conscious, though unable to define.

In order to appreciate what follows, the reader must have sickened of all cold-blooded mortals, useless alike to God and man, who, affecting to despise “the grovelling cares of earth” and the beautiful robe yelept human nature, arrogate to themselves a saintliness which, if their pet shibboleth be refused, shows a face and a heart like a flint even to the excellent of the page 43 earth. And in justice to Wrax, to show the disadvantages under which he labored, it must be confessed that, in defiance of her better judgment, Zee had permitted herself to be talked into adopting the above order of saintliness.

The debased selfishness she presumed to call “religion”—a kind of top-dressing, to be put on and off at will, a something outside and apart from herself—blurred instead of beautifying her life, by instilling a contempt almost amounting to hatred towards “unbelievers.” And becoming, by “making a profession of religion,” a worse, not a better, woman—a Pharisee,36 exclusive and repelling—she lost much of the ingenuousness native to her, and substituted a conventional pretentiousness which taught her to shun, as she would shun the devil, all who were professedly less favored of heaven than herself, lest she should fly in the face of Providence and imperil her “precious, never-dying soul.”

How far this black heathenism, which she called “religion,” tinged her distrust of Wrax and raised a barrier between them, it is impossible to say. But in so far as Wrax refused to subscribe to her sectarianism he was better than she, and had he been a truer man, would have given Zee and her pietism—a mere cloak as it was, not her very self, as it ought to have been— the cold shoulder.

Zee's father was a Bethel-pillar, as was also a neighbor of his, a man Savage by name and by nature, and his God, thanks to his creed, was more savage than he. Such a father would have made a devil incarnate of Zee, probably. He had too much iron in his constitution—too much faith in the ramrod; whereas Zee's father, though rather straight-laced, was naturally a better man than any creed as then propounded could have made him. He had no creed; his religion was therefore vital, making his life, like the child's sky, “full of gimlet-holes, to let the glory through.” His words and deeds, based on the most chivalrous tenderness, were governed by strict rectitude down to the smallest act.

What mere animals were some of the Bethel parsons page 44 of other days whom Zee's father entertained! Parsons were parsons once upon a time, and fared sumptuously, one of them being an abomination to the quizzical girl. How that fellow made the viands fly! and his potations were equally liberal. Zee declared he must have a second stomach, like “Jack the Giant Killer.” Elijah's ravens never could have satisfied him, unless kind heaven had taken away his appetite. And yet, with characteristic flippancy, he called himself a “pensioner on heaven's bounty for a morsel of bread and a cup of cold water.”

And there are children still to whom “religion,” so called, takes as grossly sensual forms as those of the Bethel parson and Bethel pilgrim of the Savage order, whose evil influences are never counteracted by the Christian's beautiful life. And for such children's sake, who are drifting no one knows whither, it were well to declare that our religion is what we are—true if we are true, false if we are false—since, if loved and lived, Christianity proper never fails to make men as gentle and tolerant as was its founder. To be thus relentlessly nailed to our colors will be fatal to all pretentiousness.

Even among the Savage order of men, despite their glaring inconsistencies, there is to the reflective mind a depth of misdirected conscientiousness which only needs to be turned to good account to make their characters as admirable as they are now too often execrable; and to good account it will be turned when once men understand that they have souls to form, in contradistinction to the popular notion of souls to save. The formed soul is the saved soul—formed through great inward tribulation—as will be carefully elaborated as the story proceeds.

However, despite the crape and bombazine37 in which the popular orthodoxy more or less enshrouded Zee's spirit, it is certain that with all her faults, and they were manifold, Wrax loved her for what she was in herself. Her very blemishes were the offshoots of a too richly abounding life. There was in her all the conceit which usually accompanies ignorance and good natural ability, ability her very stupidity evoked, against which page 45 stupidity her whole life was a conscious protest. Her self-love, too, was as pronounced as was that of her neighbors, and as bitterly as they she resented the wounding of it. But her truthfulness was acknowledged perforce. She was, indeed, made of such transparent stuff that deliberate, persistent wrong-doing was impossible to her, and her wide-awake habit of looking straight into one made common-place mortals wince to the depth of their deep self-complacency, and such soon shun the disturber of their peace. Hence a sympathising friend she found not, though she gave good entertainment.

So far, in truth, had she herself fallen short of her own standard of true living that she despised herself more than others were likely to despise her; and if some far-seeing spiritualist had invaded the girl's cob-webbed domain called heart or brain he would have discovered that her fear of fears was, not whether Wrax was good enough for her, but whether she was the right woman for him—whether someone else might not make him happier than she could ever do. And, dwelling reproachfully on her want of faith in herself no less than in him, Wrax endeavored to reason away her fears as quickly as they presented themselves; and Zee, forgetting herself after such remorseful seasons, tried the harder to believe in Wrax through and through. There was nothing, save his excessive secrecy and his injustice to his family, tangibly wrong in him to warrant Zee's dishonoring suspicions. He was correct and plausible to a fault, and she tried to persuade herself her suspicions were largely due to her inherent whip-and-scorpion-making nature. And yet what could it be, that vague undefined want in him which, phantom-like, filled her with apprehension even while it eluded her pursuit? She had laid many a ghost, but this one, when she least expected it, arose and dogged her footsteps.

Then, too, she silently grieved over the fact that those whom she believed to be better and wiser than herself, because everyone liked them, cheerfully ignored in Wrax the want of the “one thing needful” so necessary to herself, personal regard and his good page 46 prospects appearing to outweigh all other considerations. Although as incapable of guiding her own steps as the steps of another, Zee agonised over the right and wrong of every question, and the delicate perceptions of the similarly circumstanced only can understand the surgings of her soul, hungering for leave to love, yet baulked in its every effort to grasp hold of its ideal, of anything indeed. True love lies only in respect for its object, and respect has its roots in sincerity and truth—nowhere else. Urged repeatedly to take everything on trust in reference to Wrax and “religion “in particular, Zee rebelled, crying inwardly: “No; God has given me sight. Don't, for pity's sake, put out my eyes. Let me see my road and make the best of it, be it never so stony.” And so should say all girls with better results than did Zee, whose mental eyes, shame to herself, had been blinded by false teaching.

All unconsciously to herself, however, matters were drawing to a close in Wrax's mind, and in demanding her release Zee had innocently rushed upon her doom, for Wrax urged marriage with a persistency which brooked no denial. Zee begged to defer her answer indefinitely, assigning sufficient reason for so doing, to which, however, Wrax refused to listen. Finally, Zee's consent was made subject to the approval of both families, which was too readily accorded to please her.

She knew instinctively that Wrax, ever infirm of purpose, was not strong to bear trouble, and feared to drive him to desperation. Nevertheless, the vital question opened a yawning chasm at her feet, from which she shrank back appalled. The risk was great, and great the stake. Wrax's happiness, no less than her own, hung in the balance; and she could not, however romantic, trust to marriage changing his nature. Only to the highest type of men, of whom Wrax was not, is the wife dearer than the bride. Zee remarked with intense pain that he wras not domestic in his tastes, that he disliked reading and the society of women, though he never wearied of her own; and long she pondered over how home was to be made attractive to such a man after its novelty had worn off. Too often the wife, in common with other treasures, page 47 loses value in possession, even though the oughts and crosses of married life make her incomparably more worthy of esteem than when, as a thoughtless young thing, the husband first won her.

Could she take him for better for worse with such a pretence of affection as hers seemed? For really she herself found it impossible to determine whether she did or did not love him. In all her helplessness, strength all gone, Zee promised to become Wrax's wife; and thenceforward until the marriage was consummated knew no peace, casting a gloom for a season over the coming event by refusing to hear it mooted. As to how many tears were shed by her silently and alone over the necessary preparations it were vain to conjecture. Her sadness, in truth, became too abiding to escape even casual observers, and a sister of Wrax demanded its cause of Sadai, who, with an impatient shrug, disposed of the question, saying: “Oh, it's just like Zee; she must be unlike everyone else.” Unreflecting Sadai!

The father and Zee—who is bound to accord the “quiet half hour” he requests—are to be closeted again, and Zee is to be placed martyr-like on the rack, a proceeding as painful to him as to her. Confessing that she was “a riddle to him,” the father deplored “the change which had come over her, deeming her cruelly unjust to Wrax, whose affection she had proved, and who was himself all that could be desired,” etc. Then followed various questions which naturally suggested themselves to the father, to each of which Zee gave an emphatic “No.” Then, with much loving counsel, the father urged; “Be your own merry self again, for no one can look forward with pleasure to an event which should be joyous so long as it is tabooed as if the bridal were a burial, the wedding-dress a shroud.”

Zee's words were few. Not even to her father would she whisper of her distrust, and her whole nature revolted against being regarded as a victim. Fancying that no one had a right to meddle with her sorrows, she deemed pity an impertinence, and would have none of it. She therefore hid—no one could do it page 48 better than she—a heavy heart under a glad countenance. And although to the reader is given a peep into Doubting Castle, to mere onlookers the girl appeared what she really was indeed, a buoyant, irrepressible spirit, riding the crest of every wave, though now and then dipping into the valley of humiliation on her own account.

But few men would envy the bridegroom of such a bride; yet Wrax knew it all, and his joy was boundless; he was content with such love as she had to offer, knowing full well her devotion to duty would be as unswerving as if inspired by love. To secure her at any price was his object, believing that his happiness would secure her own, as it would assuredly, if it were of the right kind.

Despite Zee's fruitless introspection of herself and of Wrax as far as practicable, the wedding-day was nigh at hand. The bride being involuntarily enshrined in all hearts for the nonce, a shimmering of beauty, real so long as it lasts however foreign to the object, encompasses her whose brow is adorned with the triple crown of love, honor, trust; whose self-forgetfulness renders her sufficiently consciously unconscious to be indifferent to spectators. Of whose number Zee was not, and now that her turn had come, she would not endure the gaze of familiar faces, but gained a tardy consent to “the knot” being tied in London, where privacy could be bought. She had taken a lively interest in the marriage of other girls —in the pretty gilt-gingerbread show, that is—and as hers was the first wedding in the family, she could not escape quite all the customary parade.

The night before the bridal, herself and Merlee, like two nuns bent on an errand of mercy, slipped quietly from the home-nest to town—the world and his wife-being none the wiser for the flitting. If the bride is happy on whom the sun shines, what is the bride on whom the rain pours in sheets? What a morning that was! How could Dame Nature look so glum? Her sweetest caress should have made her child a concentrated sunbeam, rippling in a sea of gladness, for she is to stamp her seal—her one priceless gem of page 49 girlish innocence—on the soul of her betrothed, and to be to him henceforth life's guiding-star, shining with ever-increasing lustre. But the rain it raineth all the time, and in vain the eyes turn wistfully skywards to catch the Dutchman's tiny patch of blue. The very sparrows were drenched to the skin, and the leaves of the trees wept as if bewailing Zee's untimely end —the end of the first stage of life's journey.

It was, moreover, imperative, for some sufficient reason, that the ceremony should take place an hour earlier than arranged, which made the wedding doubtful for that day, since a telegram could not expedite matters; it would but cross country friends on their way to town. The uncle, whose house was to be the stage of the tragedy, at once so old and so new, fumed at express speed, until Zee—who fancied she had placed herself in God's hand, and was prepared for the fabled “slip” at the last moment—laughed him out of countenance.

There was no loophole for Zee to creep out of; for lo! the habitually unpunctual Wrax, the radiantly happy Wrax, had taken the precaution to travel overnight—the safer the nearer the beloved, on the outskirts of whose dwelling he hovered. Hurrah! here they come, the whole troop of wedding-guests, the good father bringing up the rear—guests arrayed in bridal finery, and so laden with flowers and the sunshine of surcharged hearts, as to put cloudland to the blush.

And presently the deed was done. The happy pair had stood together at the altar, and uttered, with becoming dignity, the irrevocable “I will,” Zee at least tremblingly realising her position.

After all was over Wrax confessed that he trembled only lest Zee should “show the white feather at the last moment.” Put him to open shame? That would not have been like Zee, she was too honorable for that; she had too long looked her fate, which she now accepted as the will of heaven, steadily in the face, for any such whimsical nonsense. The only hitch in the august proceedings was the non - arrival of Zee's brother, whom the missive telling of page 50 an earlier knot-tying had failed to reach. Expecting to cut a figure in the auspicious event by helping to tie the knot securely, the young swell, who was just beginning to “find himself,” and was consequently on short-commons as to knick-knacks, had had a white waistcoat made expressly for the occasion; this, since he had missed the treat of treats, looked like a ruinous piece of extravagance, the mention of which, together with the disappointment experienced, caused the tears to roll down the poor lad's cheeks, and his grief was so touchingly simple that Zee freely mingled pearly drops with his. But little was needed to open the flood-gates.

Having done her part bravely up to that moment, she was rewarded by the cheery though watery rays of the noonday sun, as they danced in and out amid the delicacies of the breakfast - table, seated in the centre of which the bride, on being addressed by her new title, let her eye unconsciously run the length of the board in search of the lady in question, and was suddenly brought to her senses, and was dyed in rose-bloom on observing that the entire party was ready to explode at her expense.

She had, of course, the honor of putting the knife into the cake “fit for a duchess,” the doing of which was followed by the usual complimentary toasts and speeches, all being hilarity until the newly-wed bade adieu to the glum, ungracious city. Not yet could Zee take Wrax for her all, she must have her favorite sister, Merlee, with them on their tour; and the trio spirited themselves out of sight without any demonstration of old shoes. The cream and flavor of the feast had departed; but the friends left behind, refusing to be extinguished, betook themselves with one accord to Richmond, where they were entertained full royally by expectant relatives. And nothing occurred to cloud the enjoyment of a silver-letter day.

35 A gullible person that bites at any bait or swallows anything. Named after the gudgeon fish, a small European fresh-water fish used for bait.

36 A person of character commonly attributed to the Pharisees in the New Testament: self-righteous, a hypocrite.

37 Bombazine is a fabric made of silk, or silk and wool. Black bombazine was once used for mourning wear, but the material went out of fashion by the beginning of the 20th century. Crape is a thin transparent gauze-like fabric without any twill, which was almost exclusively used for ladies’ mourning dresses and veils.