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The Well - Beloved

She Becomes An Inaccessible Ghost
By imperceptible and slow degrees the scene at the dinner-table receded into the
background, behind the vivid presentment of Avice Caro, and the old, old scenes on Isle
Vindilia which were inseparable from her personality. The dining room was real no more,
dissolving under the bold stony promontory and the incoming West Sea. The handsome
marchioness in geranium-red and diamonds, who was visible to him on his host's right
hand opposite, became one of the glowing vermilion sunsets that he had watched so
many times over Deadman's Bay, with the form of Avice in the foreground. Between his
eyes and the judge who sat next to Nichola, with a chin so raw that he must have shaved
every quarter of an hour during the day, intruded the face of Avice, as she had glanced at
him in their last parting. The crannied features of the evergreen society lady, who, if she
had been a few years older, would have been as old-fashioned as her daughter, shaped
themselves to the dusty quarries of his and Avice's parents, down which he had
clambered with Avice hundreds of times. The ivy trailing about the table-cloth, the lights
in the tall candlesticks, and the bunches of flowers, were transmuted into the ivies of the
cliff-built Castle, the tufts of seaweed, and the lighthouses on the isle. The salt airs of the
ocean killed the smell of the viands, and instead of the clatter of voices came the
monologue of the tide off the Beal.
More than all, Nichola Pine-Avon lost the blooming radiance which she had latterly
acquired; she became a woman of his acquaintance with no distinctive traits; she seemed
to grow material, a superficies of flesh and bone merely, a person of lines and surfaces;
she was a language in living cipher no more.
When the ladies had withdrawn it was just the same. The soul of Avice- -the only woman
he had NEVER loved of those who had loved him-- surrounded him like a firmament. Art
drew near to him in the person of one of the most distinguished of portrait painters; but
there was only one painter for Jocelyn--his own memory. All that was eminent in
European surgery addressed him in the person of that harmless and unassuming fogey
whose hands had been inside the bodies of hundreds of living men; but the lily-white
corpse of an obscure country-girl chilled the interest of discourse with such a king of
operators.
Reaching the drawing-room he talked to his hostess. Though she had entertained three-
and-twenty guests at her table that night she had known not only what every one of them
was saying and doing throughout the repast, but what every one was thinking. So, being
an old friend, she said quietly, 'What has been troubling you? Something has, I know. I
have been travelling over your face and have seen it there.'
Nothing could less express the meaning his recent news had for him than a statement of
its facts. He told of the opening of the letter and the discovery of the death of an old
acquaintance.
 
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