The Lawyer’s First Tale: Primitiæ or Third Cousins
‘Dearest of boys, please come to-day,
Papa and mama have bid me say,
They hope you’ll dine with us at three;
They will be out till then, you see,
But you will start at once, you know,
And come as fast as you can go.
Next week they hope you’ll come and stay
Some time before you go away.
Dear boy, how pleasant it will be,
Ever your dearest Emily!’
Twelve years of age was I, and she
Fourteen, when thus she wrote to me,
A schoolboy, with an uncle spending
My holidays, then nearly ending.
My uncle lived the mountain o’er,
A rector, and a bachelor;
The vicarage was by the sea,
That was the home of Emily:
The windows to the front looked down
Across a single-streeted town,
Far as to where Worms-head was seen,
Dim with ten watery miles between;
The Carnedd mountains on the right
With stony masses filled the sight;
To left the open sea; the bay
In a blue plain before you lay.
A garden, full of fruit, extends,
Stone-walled, above the house, and ends
With a locked door, that by a porch
Admits to churchyard and to church;
Farm-buildings nearer on one side,
And glebe, and then the countrywide.
I and my cousin Emily
Were cousins in the third degree;
My mother near of kin was reckoned
To hers, who was my mother’s second:
My cousinship I held from her.
Such an amount of girls there were,
At first one really was perplexed:
’Twas Patty first, and Lydia next,
And Emily the third, and then,
Philippa, Phoebe, Mary Gwen.
Six were they, you perceive, in all;
And portraits fading on the wall,
Grandmothers, heroines of old,
And aunts of aunts, with scrolls that told
Their names and dates, were there to show
Why these had all been christened so.
The crowd of blooming daughters fair
Scarce let you see the mother there,
And by her husband, large and tall,
She looked a little shrunk and small;
Although my mother used to tell
That once she was a county belle:
Busied she seemed, and half-distress’d
For him and them to do the best.
The vicar was of bulk and thewes.
Six feet he stood within his shoes,
And every inch of all a man;
Ecclesiast on the ancient plan,
Unforced by any party rule
His native character to school;
In ancient learning not unread,
But had few doctrines in his head;
Dissenters truly he abhorr’d,
They never had his gracious word.
He ne’er was bitter or unkind,
But positively spoke his mind.
Their piety he could not bear,
A sneaking snivelling set they were:
Their tricks and meanness fired his blood;
Up for his Church he stoutly stood.
No worldly aim had he in life
To set him with himself at strife;
A spade a spade he freely named,
And of his joke was not ashamed,
Made it and laughed at it, be sure,
With young and old, and rich and poor.
His sermons frequently he took
Out of some standard reverend book;
They seemed a little strange, indeed,
But were not likely to mislead.
Others he gave that were his own,
The difference could be quickly known.
Though sorry not to have a boy,
His daughters were his perfect joy;
He plagued them, oft drew tears from each,
Was bold and hasty in his speech;
All through the house you heard him call,
He had his vocatives for all:
Patty Patina, Pat became,
Lydia took Languish with her name,
Philippa was the Gentle Queen,
And Phoebe, Madam Proserpine;
The pseudonyms for Mary Gwen
Varied with every week again;
But Emily, of all the set,
Emilia called, was most the pet.
Soon as her messenger had come,
I started from my uncle’s home,
On an old pony scrambling down
Over the mountain to the town.
My cousins met me at the door,
And some behind, and some before,
Kissed me all round and kissed again,
The happy custom there and then,
From Patty down to Mary Gwen.
Three hours we had, and spent in play
About the garden and the hay;
We sat upon the half-built stack;
And when ’twas time for hurrying back,
Slyly away the others hied,
And took the ladder from the side;
Emily there, alone with me,
Was left in close captivity;
But down the stack at last I slid,
And found the ladder they had hid.
I left at six; again I went
Soon after and a fortnight spent:
Drawing, by Patty I was taught,
But could not be to music brought;
I showed them how to play at chess,
I argued with the governess;
I called them stupid; why, to me
’Twas evident as A B C;
Were not the reasons such and such?
Helston, my schoolfellow, but much
My senior, in a yacht came o’er,
His uncle with him, from the shore
Under Worms-head: to take a sail
He pressed them, but could not prevail;
Mania was timid, durst not go,
Papa was rather gruff with no.
Helston. no sooner was afloat,
We made a party in a boat,
And rowed to Sea-Mew Island out,
And landed there and roved about:
And I and Emily out of reach,
Strayed from the rest along the beach.
Turning to look into a cave
She stood, when suddenly a wave
Ran up; I caught her by the. frock,
And pulled her out, and o’er a rock,
So doing, stumbled, rolled, and fell.
She knelt down, I remember well,
Bid me where I was hurt to tell,
And kissed me three times as I lay;
But I jumped up and limped away.
The next was my departing day.
Patty arranged it all with me
To send next year to Emily
A valentine. I wrote and sent;
For the fourteenth it duly went.
On the fourteenth what should there be
But one from Emily to me;
The postmark left it plain to see.
Mine, though they praised it at the time,
Was but a formal piece of rhyme.
She sent me one that she had bought;
’Twas stupid of her, as I thought:
Why not have written one? She wrote,
However, soon, this little note.
‘Dearest of boys, of course ’twas you;
You printed, but your hand I knew,
And verses too, how did you learn?
I can’t send any in return.
Papa declares they are not bad
That’s praise from him and I’m so glad,
Because you know no one can be
I’d rather have to write to me.
‘Our governess is going away,
We’re so distressed she cannot stay:
Mama had made it quite a rule
We none of us should go to school.
But what to do they do not know,
Papa protests it must be so.
Lydia and I may have to go;
Patty will try to teach the rest,
Mama agrees it will be best.
Dear boy, good-bye, I am, you see,
Ever your dearest Emily.
We want to know, so write and tell,
If you’d a valentine as well’
Five tardy years were fully spent
Ere next my cousins’ way I went;
With Christmas then I came to see
My uncle in his rectory:
But they the town had left; no more
Were in the vicarage of yore.
When time his sixtieth year had brought,
An easier cure the vicar sought:
A country parsonage was made
Sufficient, amply, with the aid
Of mortar here and there, and bricks,
For him and wife and children six.
Though neighbours now, there scarce was light
To see them and return ere night.
Emily wrote: how glad they were
To hear of my arrival there;
Mama had bid her say that all
The house was crowded for the ball
Till Tuesday, but if I would come,
She thought that they could find me room;
The week with them I then should spend,
But really must the ball attend;
‘Dear cousin, you have been away
For such an age, pray don’t delay,
But come and do not lose a day.’
A schoolboy still, but now, indeed,
About to college to proceed,
Dancing was, let it be confess’d,
To me no pleasure at the best:
Of girls and of their lovely looks
I thought not, busy with my books.
Still, though a little ill-content,
Upon the Monday morn I went:
My cousins, each and all, I found
Wondrously grown! They kissed me round,
And so affectionate and good
They were, it could not be withstood.
Emily, I was so surprised,
At first I hardly recognised;
Her face so formed and rounded now,
Such knowledge in her eyes and brow;
For all I read and thought I knew,
She could divine me through and through.
Where had she been, and what had done,
I asked, such victory to have won?
She had not studied, had not read,
Seemed to have little in her head,
Yet of herself the right and true,
As of her own experience knew.
Straight from her eyes her judgments flew,
Like absolute decrees they ran,
From mine on such a different plan.
A simple county country ball
It was to be, not grand at all;
And cousins four with me would dance,
And keep me well in countenance.
And there were people there to be
Who knew of old my family,
Friends of my friends I heard and knew,
And tried; but no, it would not do.
Somehow it seemed a sort of thing
To which my strength I could not bring;
The music scarcely touched my ears,
The figures fluttered me with fears.
I talked, but had not aught to say,
Danced, my instructions to obey;
E’en when with beautiful good-will
Emilia through the long quadrille
Conducted me, alas the day,
Ten times I wished myself away.
But she, invested with a dower
Of conscious, scarce-exerted power,
Emilia, so, I know not why,
They called her now, not Emily,
Amid the living, heaving throng,
Sedately, somewhat, moved along
Serenely, somewhat, in the dance
Mingled, divining at a glance,
And reading every countenance;
Not stately she, nor grand nor tall,
Yet looked as if controlling all
The fluctuations of the ball;
Her subjects ready at her call
All others, she a queen, her throne
Preparing, and her title known,
Though not yet taken as her own.
O wonderful! I still can see,
And twice she came and danced with me.
She asked me of my school, and what
Those prizes were that I had got,
And what we learnt, and ‘oh,’ she said,
‘How much to carry in one’s head,’
And I must be upon my guard,
And really must not work too hard:
Who were my friends I and did I go
Ever to balls? I told her no:
She said, ‘I really like them so;
But then I am a girl; and dear,
You like your friends at school, I fear,
Better than anybody here.’
How long had she left school, I asked,
Two years, she told me, and I tasked
My faltering speech to learn about
Her life, but could not bring it out:
This while the dancers round us flew.
Helston, whom formerly I knew,
My schoolfellow, was at the ball,
A man full-statured, fair and tall,
Helston of Helston now they said,
Heir to his uncle, who was dead;
In the army, too: he danced with three
Of the four sisters. Emily
Refused him once, to dance with me.
How long it seemed! and yet at one
We left, before ’twas nearly done:
How thankful I! the journey through
I talked to them with spirits new;
And the brief sleep of closing night
Brought a sensation of delight,
Which, when I woke, was exquisite.
The music moving in my brain
I felt; in the gay crowd again
Half felt, half saw the girlish bands,
On their white skirts their white-gloved hands,
Advance, retreat, and yet advance,
And mingle in the mingling dance.
The impulse had arrived at last,
When the opportunity was past.
Breakfast my soft sensations first
With livelier passages dispersed.
Reposing in his country home,
Which half luxurious had become,
Gay was their father, loudly flung
His guests and blushing girls among,
His jokes; and she, their mother, too,
Less anxious seemed, with less to do,
Her daughters aiding. As the day
Advanced, the others went away,
But I must absolutely stay,
The girls cried out: I stayed and let
Myself be once more half their pet,
Although a little on the fret.
How ill our boyhood understands
Incipient manhood’s strong demands!
Boys have such troubles of their own,
As none, they fancy, e’er have known,
Such as to speak of, or to tell,
They hold, were unendurable:
Religious, social, of all kinds,
That tear and agitate their minds.
A thousand thoughts within me stirred,
Of which I could not speak a word;
Strange efforts after something new,
Which I was wretched not to do;
Passions, ambitions lay and lurked,
Wants, counter-wants, obscurely worked
Without their names, and unexplained.
And where had Emily obtained
Assurance, and had ascertained?
How strange, how far behind was I,
And how it came, I asked, and why?
How was it, and how could it be,
And what was all that worked in me?
They used to scold me when I read,
And bade me talk to them instead;
When I absconded to my room,
To fetch me out they used to come;
Oft by myself I went to walk,
But, by degrees, was got to talk.
The year had cheerfully begun,
With more than winter’s wonted sun,
Mountains, in the green garden ways,
Gleamed through the laurel and the bays.
I well remember letting out
One day, as there I looked about,
While they of girls discoursing sat,
This one how sweet, how lovely that,
That I could greater pleasure take
In looking on Llynidwil lake
Than on the fairest female face:
They could not understand: a place!
Incomprehensible it seemed;
Philippa looked as if she dreamed,
Patty and Lydia loud exclaimed,
And I already was ashamed,
When Emily asked, half apart,
If to the lake I’d given my heart;
And did the lake, she wished to learn,
My tender sentiment return.
For music, too, I would not care,
Which was an infinite despair:
When Lydia took her seat to play,
I read a book, or walked away.
I was not quite composed, I own,
Except when with the girls alone;
Looked to their father still with fear
Of how to him I must appear;
And was entirely put to shame,
When once some rough he-cousins came.
Yet Emily from all distress
Could reinstate me, more or less;
How pleasant by her side to walk,
How beautiful to let her talk,
How charming I yet, by slow degrees
I got impatient, ill at ease;
Half glad, half wretched, when at last
The visit ended, and ’t was past.
Next year I went and spent a week,
And certainly had learnt to speak;
My chains I forcibly had broke,
And now too much indeed I spoke.
A mother sick and seldom seen
A grief for many months had been,
Their father too was feebler, years
Were heavy, and there had been fears
Some months ago; and he was vexed
With party heats and all perplexed
With an upheaving modern change
To him and his old wisdom strange.
The daughters all were there, not one
Had yet to other duties run,
Their father, people used to say,
Frightened the wooers all away;
As vines around an ancient stem,
They clung and clustered upon him,
Him loved and tended; above all,
Emilia, ever at his call.
But I was intellectual;
I talked in high superior tone
Of things the girls had never known,
Far wiser to have let alone;
Things which the father knew in short
By country clerical report;
I talked of much I thought I knew,
Used all my college wit anew,
A little on my fancy drew;
Religion, politics, O me!
No subject great enough could be.
In vain, more weak in spirit grown,
At times he tried to put me down.
I own it was the want, in part,
Of any discipline of heart.
It was, now hard at work again,
The busy argufying brain
Of the prize schoolboy; but, indeed,
Much more, if right the thing I read,
It was the instinctive wish to try
And, above all things, not be shy.
Alas! it did not do at all;
Ill went the visit, ill the ball;
Each hour I felt myself grow worse,
With every effort more perverse.
I tried to change; too hard, indeed,
I tried, and never could succeed.
Out of sheer spite an extra day
I stayed; but when I went away,
Alas, the farewells were not warm,
The kissing was the merest form;
Emilia was distraite and sad,
And everything was bad as bad.
O had some happy chance fall’n out,
To turn the thing just round about,
In time at least to give anew
The old affectionate adieu!
A little thing, a word, a jest,
A laugh, had set us all at rest;
But nothing came. I went away,
And could have really cried that day,
So vexed, for I had meant so well,
Yet everything so ill befell,
And why and how I could not tell.
Our wounds in youth soon close and heal,
Or seem to close; young people feel,
And suffer greatly, I believe,
But then they can’t profess to grieve:
Their pleasures occupy them more,
And they have so much time before.
At twenty life appeared to me
A sort of vague infinity;
And though of changes still I heard,
Real changes had not yet occurred
And all things were, or would be, well,
And nothing irremediable.
The youth for his degrees that reads
Beyond it nothing knows or needs;
Nor till ’tis over wakes to see
The busy world’s reality.
One visit brief I made again
In autumn next but one, and then
All better found. With Mary Gwen
I talked, a schoolgirl just about
To leave this winter and come out.
Patty and Lydia were away,
And a strange sort of distance lay
Betwixt me and Emilia.
She sought me less, and I was shy.
And yet this time I think that I
More subtly felt, more saw, more knew
The beauty into which she grew;
More understood the meanings now
Of the still eyes and rounded brow,
And could, perhaps, have told you how
The intellect that crowns our race
To more than beauty in her face
Was changed. But I confuse from hence
The later and the earlier sense.
Have you the Giesbach seen? a fall
In Switzerland you say, that’s all;
That, and an inn, from which proceeds
A path that to the Faulhorn leads,
From whence you see the world of snows.
Few see how perfect in repose,
White green, the lake lies deeply set,
Where, slowly purifying yet,
The icy river-floods retain
A something of the glacier stain.
Steep cliffs arise the waters o’er,
The Giesbach leads you to a shore,
And to one still sequestered bay
I found elsewhere a scrambling way.
Above, the loftier heights ascend,
And level platforms here extend
The mountains and the cliffs between,
With firs and grassy spaces green,
And little dips and knolls to show
In part or whole the lake below;
And all exactly at the height
To make the pictures exquisite.
Most exquisite they seemed to me,
When, a year after my degree,
Passing upon my journey home
From Greece, and Sicily, and Rome,
I stayed at that minute hotel
Six days, or eight, I cannot tell.
Twelve months had led me fairly through
The old world surviving in the new.
From Rome with joy I passed to Greece,
To Athens and the Peloponnese;
Saluted with supreme delight
The Parthenon-surmounted height;
In huts at Delphi made abode,
And in Arcadian valleys rode;
Counted the towns that lie like slain
Upon the wide Bœotian plain;
With wonder in the spacious gloom
Stood of the Mycenæan tomb;
From the Acrocorinth watched the day
Light the eastern and the western bay.
Constantinople then had seen,
Where, by her cypresses, the queen
Of the East sees flow through portals wide
The steady streaming Scythian tide;
And after, from Scamander’s mouth,
Went up to Troy, and to the South,
To Lycia, Caria, pressed, atwhiles
Outvoyaging to Egean isles.
To see the things, which, sick with doubt.
And comment, one had learnt about,
Was like clear morning after night,.
Or raising of the blind to sight.
Aware it might be first and last,
I did it eagerly and fast,
And took unsparingly my fill.
The impetus of travel still
Urged me, but laden, half oppress’d,
Here lighting on a place of rest,
I yielded, asked not if ’twere best.
Pleasant it was, reposing here,
To sum the experience of the year,
And let the accumulated gain
Assort itself upon the brain.
Travel’s a miniature life,
Travel is evermore a strife,
Where he must run who would obtain.
’Tis a perpetual loss and gain;
For sloth and error dear we pay,
By luck and effort win our way,
And both have need of every day.
Each day has got its sight to see,
Each day must put to profit be;
Pleasant, when seen are all the sights,
To let them think themselves to rights.
I on the Giesbach turf reclined,
Half watched this process in my mind;
Watched the stream purifying slow,
In me and in the lake below:
And then began to think of home,
And possibilities to come.
Brienz, on our Brienzer See
From Interlaken every day
A steamer seeks, and at our pier
Lets out a crowd to see things here;
Up a steep path they pant and strive;
When to the level they arrive,
Dispersing, hither, thither, run,
For all must rapidly be done,
And seek, with questioning and din,
Some the cascade, and some the inn,
The waterfall, for if you look,
You find it printed in the book
That man or woman, so inclined,
May pass the very fall behind;
So many feet there intervene
The rock and flying jet between;
The inn, ’tis also in the plan
(For tourist is a hungry man),
And a small salle repeats by rote,
A daily task of table d’hôte,
Where broth and meat, and country wine,
Assure the strangers that they dine;
Do it they must, while they have power,
For in three-quarters of an hour
Back comes the steamer from Brienz,
And with one clear departure hence
The quietude is more intense.
It was my custom at the top
To stand and see them clambering up,
Then take advantage of the start,
And pass into the woods apart:
It happened, and I know not why,
I once returned too speedily;
And, seeing women still and men,
Was swerving to the woods again,
But for a moment stopped to seize
A glance at some one near the trees;
A figure full, but full of grace,
Its movement beautified the place.
It turns, advances, comes my way;
What do I see, what do I say I
Yet, to a statelier beauty grown,
It is, it can be, she alone!
O mountains round! O heaven above!
It is Emilia, whom I love;
‘Emilia, whom I love,’ the word
Rose to my lips, as yet unheard,
When she, whose colour flushed, to red,
In a soft voice, ‘My husband,’ said;
And Helston came up with his hand,
And both of them took mine; but stand
And talk they could not, they must go;
The steamer rang her bell below;
How curious that I did not know!
They were to go and stay at Thun,
Could I come there and see them soon?
And shortly were returning home,
And when would I to Helston come?
Thus down we went, I put them in;
Off went the steamer with a din,
And on the pier I stood and eyed
The bridegroom, seated by the bride,
Emilia closing to his side.
She wrote from Helston; begged I’d come
And see her in her husband’s home.
I went, and bound by double vow,
Not only wife, but mother now,
I found her, lovely as of old,
O, rather, lovelier manifold.
Her wifely sweet reserve unbroke,
Still frankly, tenderly, she spoke;
Asked me about myself, would hear
What I proposed to do this year;
At college why was I detained,
Was it the fellowship I’d gained?
I told her that I was not tied
Henceforward further to reside,
Yet very likely might stay on,
And lapse into a college don;
My fellowship itself would give
A competence on which to live,
And if I waited, who could tell,
I might be tutor too, as well.
Oh, but, she said, I must not stay,
College and school were only play;
I might be sick, perhaps, of praise,
But must not therefore waste my days!
Fellows grow indolent, and then
They may not do as other men,
And for your happiness in life,
Sometime you’ll wish to have a wife.
Languidly by her chair I sat,
But my eyes rather flashed at that.
I said, ‘Emilia, people change,
But yet, I own, I find it strange
To hear this common talk from you:
You speak, and some believe it true,
Just as if any wife would do;
Whoe’er one takes, ’tis much the same,
And love and so forth, but a name.’
She coloured. ‘What can I have said,
Or what could put it in your head?
Indeed, I had not in my mind
The faintest notion of the kind.’
I told her that I did not know
Her tone appeared to mean it so.
‘Emilia, when I’ve heard,’ I said,
‘How people match themselves and wed,
I’ve sometimes wished that both were dead.’
She turned a little pale. I woke
Some thought; what thought? but soft she spoke:
‘I’m sure that what you meant was good,
But, really, you misunderstood.
From point to point so quick you fly,
And are so vehement, and I,
As you remember, long ago,
Am stupid, certainly am slow.
And yet some things I seem to know;
I know it will be just a crime,
If you should waste your powers and time.
There is so much, I think, that you,
And no one equally, can do.’
‘It does not matter much,’ said I,
‘The things I thought of are gone by;
I’m quite content to wait to die.’
A sort of beauteous anger spread
Over her face. ‘O me!’ she said,
‘That you should sit and trifle so,
And you so utterly don’t know
How greatly you have yet to grow,
How wide your objects have to expand,
How much is yet an unknown land!
You’re twenty-three, I’m twenty-five,
And I am so much more alive.’
My eyes I shaded with my hand,
And almost lost my self-command,
I muttered something: ‘Yes, I see;
Two years have severed you from me.
O, Emily, was it ever told,’
I asked, ‘that souls are young and old?’
But she, continuing, ‘All the day
Were I to speak, I could but say
The one same thing the one same way.
Sometimes, indeed, I think, you know,’
And her tone suddenly was low,
That in a day we yet shall see,
You of my sisters and of me,
And of the things that used to be,
Will think, as you look back again,
With something not unlike disdain;.
So you your rightful place obtain,
That will to me be joy, not pain.’
Her voice still lower, lower fell,
I heard, just heard, each syllable.
‘But,’ in the tone she used before,
‘Don’t stay at college any more:
For others it perhaps may do,
I’m sure it will be bad for you.’
She softened me. The following day
We parted. As I went away
Her infant on her bosom lay,
And, as a mother might her boy,
I think she would with loving joy
Have kissed me; but I turned to go,
’Twas better not to have it so.
Next year achieved me some amends,
And once we met, and met as friends.
Friends, yet apart; I had not much
Valued her judgment, though to touch
Her words had power; yet, strangely still,
It had been cogent on my will.
As she had counselled, I had done,
And a new effort was begun.
Forth to the war of life I went,
Courageous, and not ill content.
‘Yours is the fault I opened thus again
A youthful, ancient, sentimental vein,’
He said, ‘and like Munchausen’s horn o’erflow
With liquefying tunes of long ago.
My wiser friend, who knows for what we live,
And what should seek, will his correction give.’
We all made thanks. ‘My tale were quickly told,’
The other said, ‘but the turned heavens behold;
The night two watches of the night is old,
The sinking stars their suasions urge for sleep,
My story for to-morrow night will keep.’
The evening after, when the day was stilled,
His promise thus the clergyman fulfilled.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.