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23. Vashti
To wonder sadly, did I say? No: a new influence began to act upon my life, and sadness,
for a certain space, was held at bay. Conceive a dell, deep-hollowed in forest secrecy; it
lies in dimness and mist: its turf is dank, its herbage pale and humid. A storm or an axe
makes a wide gap amongst the oak trees; the breeze sweeps in; the sun looks down; the
sad, cold dell becomes a deep cup of lustre; high summer pours her blue glory and her
golden light out of that beauteous sky, which till now the starved hollow never saw.
A new creed became mine - a belief in happiness.
It was three weeks since the adventure of the garret, and I possessed in that case, box,
drawer upstairs, casketed with that first letter, four companions like to it, traced by the
same firm pen, sealed with the same clear seal, full of the same vital comfort. Vital
comfort it seemed to me then: I read them in after years; they were kind letters enough -
pleasing letters, because composed by one well pleased; in the two last there were three
or four closing lines half gay, half tender, 'by feeling touched, but not subdued.' Time,
dear reader, mellowed them to a beverage of this mild quality; but when I first tasted their
elixir, fresh from the fount so honoured, it seemed juice of a divine vintage. a draught
which Hebe might fill, and the very gods approve.
Does the reader, remembering what was said some pages back, care to ask how I
answered these letters: whether under the dry, stinting check of Reason, or according to
the full, liberal impulse of Feeling?
To speak truth, I compromised matters; I served two masters: I bowed down in the house
of Rimmon, and lifted the heart at another shrine. I wrote to these letters two answers -
one for my own relief, the other for Graham's perusal.
To begin with: Feeling and I turned Reason out of doors, drew against her bar and bolt,
then we sat down, spread our paper, dipped in the ink an eager pen, and, with deep
enjoyment, poured out our sincere heart. When we had done - when two sheets were
covered with the language of a strongly adherent affection, a rooted and active gratitude -
(once, for all, in this parenthesis, I disclaim, with the utmost scorn, every sneaking
suspicion of what are called 'warmer feelings:' women do not entertain these 'warmer
feelings' where, from the commencement, through the whole progress of an acquaintance,
they have never once been cheated of the conviction that to do so would be to commit a
mortal absurdity: nobody ever launches into Love unless he has seen or dreamed the
rising of Hope's star over love's troubled waters) when, then, I had given expression to a
closely clinging and deeply honouring attachment - an attachment that wanted to attract
to itself and take to its own lot all that was painful in the destiny of its object; that would,
if it could have absorbed and conducted away all storms and lightnings from an existence
viewed with a passion of solicitude - then, just at that moment, the doors of my heart
would shake, bolt and bar would yield, Reason would leap in vigorous and revengeful,