The Well - Beloved
An Old Tabernacle In A New Aspect
The October day thickened into dusk, and Jocelyn sat musing beside the corpse of Mrs.
Pierston. Avice having gone away nobody knew whither, he had acted as the nearest
friend of the family, and attended as well as he could to the sombre duties necessitated by
her mother's decease. It was doubtful, indeed, if anybody else were in a position to do so.
Of Avice the Second's two brothers, one had been drowned at sea, and the other had
emigrated, while her only child besides the present Avice had died in infancy. As for her
friends, she had become so absorbed in her ambitious and nearly accomplished design of
marrying her daughter to Jocelyn, that she had gradually completed that estrangement
between herself and the other islanders which had been begun so long ago as when, a
young woman, she had herself been asked by Pierston to marry him. On her tantalizing
inability to accept the honour offered, she and her husband had been set up in a matter-of-
fact business in the stone trade by her patron, but that unforgettable request in the London
studio had made her feel ever since a refined kinship with sculpture, and a proportionate
aloofness from mere quarrying, which was, perhaps, no more than a venial weakness in
Avice the Second. Her daughter's objection to Jocelyn she could never understand. To her
own eye he was no older than when he had proposed to her.
As he sat darkling here the ghostly outlines of former shapes taken by his Love came
round their sister the unconscious corpse, confronting him from the wall in sad array, like
the pictured Trojan women beheld by AEneas on the walls of Carthage. Many of them he
had idealized in bust and in figure from time to time, but it was not as such that he
remembered and reanimated them now; rather was it in all their natural circumstances,
weaknesses, and stains. And then as he came to himself their voices grew fainter; they
had all gone off on their different careers, and he was left here alone.
The probable ridicule that would result to him from the events of the day he did not mind
in itself at all. But he would fain have removed the misapprehensions on which it would
be based. That, however, was impossible. Nobody would ever know the truth about him;
what it was he had sought that had so eluded, tantalized, and escaped him; what it was
that had led him such a dance, and had at last, as he believed just now in the freshness of
his loss, been discovered in the girl who had left him. It was not the flesh; he had never
knelt low to that. Not a woman in the world had been wrecked by him, though he had
been impassioned by so many. Nobody would guess the further sentiment--the cordial
loving-kindness--which had lain behind what had seemed to him the enraptured
fulfilment of a pleasing destiny postponed for forty years. His attraction to the third
Avice would be regarded by the world as the selfish designs of an elderly man on a maid.
His life seemed no longer a professional man's experience, but a ghost story; and he
would fain have vanished from his haunts on this critical afternoon, as the rest had done.
He desired to sleep away his tendencies, to make something happen which would put an
end to his bondage to beauty in the ideal.