Ethel Churchill/Chapter 97

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We might have been!—these are but common words,
    And yet they make the sum of life's bewailing;
They are the echo of those finer chords,
    Whose music life deplores when unavailing,—
                                    We might have been!

Alas! how different from what we are,
    Had we but known the bitter path before us!
But feelings, hopes, and fancies, left afar,
    What in the wide, bleak world can e'er restore us?—
                                    We might have been!

It is now a fortnight since I have seen him! How often have I wished that he had been of our party here; and yet but for this absence, I should never have had his letters; I should never have known him as I now do. What a world of thought and of feeling have they not revealed! Till now, I never did him justice. I have sometimes thought him, in conversation, too merely amusing; too ready to laugh at enthusiasm,—at what is most true and generous in our nature. How wrong I was! wit, with him, was only the sparkle of the waters which hide precious things in the depths below. I can enter into the sensitiveness which is fain to keep that which it prizes most dearly, hidden from a cold and mocking world. I enter completely into his scorn of our present state of society, so false, so mean; and yet I was scarcely prepared for this dark misanthropy, which dissects so unsparingly, and throws its cold, searching light, into all the miserable retreats of our small vanities and absurd pretensions.

How false we are, how unkind! I do not find that I can quite force myself to follow in the track of his glorious aspirations for the future, but how I respect him for the belief! Will the time ever come, when men will feel that the mind and the heart must work in concert, and that we must look around and afar for our happiness; that our great mistake has been, the narrow circle to which we are content to limit good? Alas! there is a weight upon my spirits; my wings are of wax, they melt in the effort that would seek the heavens. But much of this originates in my own peculiar position: it is a hard one, and a false one!

I love Sir George Kingston; love him with all that is most tender in my feelings, most generous in my thoughts. I could be happy only to know his happiness. Had we met in earlier years, my existence would at once have found its object; there would not have been this perpetual struggle between myself and my circumstances. Too late do I find that affection is woman's only element; to love, to look up, is her destiny; and, if unfulfilled, nothing can supply its place. Life has no real business for her beyond the sweet beating of her own heart dwelling in the shadow of another's. She may crowd her days with gaiety, variety, and what are called amusements; she will do so only to find their insufficiency. She needs the strength of duty, and the interest of affection. But I—I tremble at my happiness! my life is a struggle with my feelings and my circumstances! Sometimes I wish that I had never seen him, and then I have not courage to deny myself what has been such an unutterable source of enjoyment.

It is strange, but I love him best in his absence! then my imagination creates all that it wishes; all that I admire in him grows the richer for memory's setting: then I can imagine an existence that enables me to show my utter devotion without a fault. I start back with sudden horror, when I remember what even he may think of me. The love which should be my pride, the dearest hope which earth can raise to heaven, to me is degradation and misery. The deceit that I practise towards Lord Marchmont sinks me to his own level. I despise him: alas! I should rather despise myself.

She flung the pen down, and began to pace the room with those hurried steps which so often indicate the troubled mind, the inward suffering—fear, mingled with remorse: there was, unconfessed even to herself, a still and hushed dread that the worst was yet to come. Lady Marchmont already began to shrink from the future.