This book might be called also The Triumph of Love. Bertha was looking out of window, at the bleakness of the day. The sky was sombre and the clouds heavy and low; the neglected carriage-drive was swept by the bitter wind, and the elm-trees that bordered it were bare of leaf, their naked branches shivering with horror of the cold. It was the end of November, and the day was utterly cheerless. The dying year seemed to have cast over all Nature the terror of death; the imagination would not bring to the wearied mind thoughts of the merciful sunshine, thoughts of the Spring coming as a maiden to scatter from her baskets the flowers and the green leaves.
Bertha turned round and looked at her aunt, cutting the leaves of a new Spectator. Wondering what books to get down from Mudie’s, Miss Ley read the autumn lists and the laudatory expressions which the adroitness of publishers extracts from unfavourable reviews.
“You’re very restless this afternoon, Bertha,” she remarked, in answer to the girl’s steady gaze.
“I think I shall walk down to the gate.”
“You’ve already visited the gate twice in the last hour. Do you find in it something alarmingly novel?”
Bertha did not reply, but turned again to the window: the scene in the last two hours had fixed itself upon her mind with monotonous accuracy.
“What are you thinking about, Aunt Polly?” she asked suddenly, turning back to her aunt and catching the eyes fixed upon her.
“I was thinking that one must be very penetrative to discover a woman’s emotions from the view of her back hair.”
Bertha laughed: “I don’t think I have any emotions to discover. I feel ...” she sought for some way of expressing the sensation—“I feel as if I should like to take my hair down.”
Miss Ley made no rejoinder, but looked again at her paper. She hardly wondered what her niece meant, having long ceased to be astonished at Bertha’s ways and doings; indeed, her only surprise was that they never sufficiently corroborated the common opinion that Bertha was an independent young woman from whom anything might be expected. In the three years they had spent together since the death of Bertha’s father the two women had learned to tolerate one another extremely well. Their mutual affection was mild and perfectly respectable, in every way becoming to fastidious persons bound together by ties of convenience and decorum.... Miss Ley, called to the deathbed of her brother in Italy, made Bertha’s acquaintance over the dead man’s grave, and the girl was then too old and of too independent character to accept a stranger’s authority; nor had Miss Ley the smallest desire to exert authority over any one. She was a very indolent woman, who wished nothing more than to leave people alone and be left alone by them. But if it was obviously her duty to take charge of an orphan niece, it was also an advantage that Bertha was eighteen, and, but for the conventions of decent society, could very well take charge of herself. Miss Ley was not unthankful to a merciful Providence on the discovery that her ward had every intention of going her own way, and none whatever of hanging about the skirts of a maiden aunt who was passionately devoted to her liberty.
They travelled on the Continent, seeing many churches, pictures, and cities, in the examination of which their chief aim appeared to be to conceal from one another the emotions they felt. Like the Red Indian who will suffer the most horrid tortures without wincing, Miss Ley would have thought it highly disgraceful to display feeling at some touching scene. She used polite cynicism as a cloak for sentimentality, laughing that she might not cry—and her want of originality herein, the old repetition of Grimaldi’s doubleness, made her snigger at herself. She felt that tears were unbecoming and foolish.
“Weeping makes a fright even of a good-looking woman,” she said, “but if she is ugly they make her simply repulsive.”
To be continue in this ebook