The String of Pearls/Chapter 15
XV The Second Interview Between Johanna and the Colonel in the Temple GardensEdit
Now that there was a great object to be gained by a second interview with Colonel Jeffery, the anxiety of Johanna Oakley to have it became extremely great, and she counted the very hours until the period should arrive when she could again proceed to the Temple-gardens with something like a certainty of finding him.
The object, of course, was to ask him for a description of Mr Thornhill, sufficiently accurate to enable her to come to something like a positive conclusion, as to whether she ought to call him to her own mind as Mark Ingestrie or not.
And Colonel Jeffery was not a bit the less anxious to see her, than she was to look upon him; for, although in diverse lands he had looked upon many a fair face, and heard many a voice that had sounded soft and musical to his ears, he had seen none that, to his mind, was so fair, and had heard no voice that he had considered really so musical and charming to listen to as Johanna Oakley's.
A man of more admirable and strict sense of honour than Colonel Jeffery could not have been found, and therefore it was that he allowed himself to admire the beautiful, under any circumstances, because he knew that his admiration was of no dangerous quality, but that, on the contrary, it was one of those feelings which might exist in a bosom such as his, quite undebased by a meaner influence.
We think it necessary, however, before he has his second interview with Johanna Oakley, to give such an explanation of his thoughts and feelings as is in our power.
When first he met her, the purity of her mind, and the genuine and beautiful candour of all she said, struck him most forcibly, as well as her great beauty, which could not fail to be extremely manifest.
After that he began to reason with himself as to what ought to be his feelings with regard to her - namely, what portion of these ought to be suppressed, and what ought to be encouraged.
If Mark Ingestrie were dead, there was not a shadow of interference or dishonour in him, Colonel Jeffery, loving the beautiful girl, who was surely not to be shut out of the pale of all affections, because the first person to whom her heart had warmed, with a pure and holy passion, was no more.
'It may be,' he thought, 'that she is incapable of feeling a sentiment which can at all approach that which once she felt; but still she may be happy and serene, and may pass many joyous hours as the wife of another.'
He did not positively make these reflections, as applicable to himself, although they had a tendency that way, and he was fast verging on a state of mind which might induce him to give them a more actual application.
He did not tell himself that he loved her - no, the word 'admiration' took the place of the more powerful term; but then, can we not doubt that, at this time, the germ of a very pure and holy affection was lighted up in the heart of Colonel Jeffery, for the beautiful creature, who had suffered the pangs of so much disappointment, and who loved one so well, who, we almost fear, if he was living, was scarcely the sort of person fully to requite such an affection.
But we know so little of Mark Ingestrie, and there appears to be so much doubt as to whether he be alive or dead, that we should not prejudge him upon such very insufficient evidence.
Johanna Oakley did think of taking Arabella Wilmot with her to this meeting with Colonel Jeffery, but she abandoned the idea, because it really looked as if she was either afraid of him, or afraid of herself, so she resolved to go alone; and when the hour of appointment came, she was there walking upon that broad, gravelled path, which has been trodden by some of the best, and some of the most eminent, as well as some of the worst of human beings.
It was not likely that with the feelings of Colonel Jeffery towards her, he should keep her waiting. Indeed, he was there a good hour before the time, and his only great dread was, that she might not come.
He had some reason for this dread, because it will be readily recollected by the reader, that she had not positively promised to come; so that all he had was a hope that way tending and nothing farther.
As minute after minute had passed away, she came not, although the time had not really arrived; his apprehension that she would not give him the meeting, had grown in his mind, almost to a certainty, when he saw her timidly advancing along the garden walk.
He rose to meet her at once, and for a few moments after he had greeted her with kind civility she could do nothing but look enquiringly in his face, to know if he had any news to tell her of the object of her anxious solicitude.
'I have heard nothing, Miss Oakley,' he said, 'that can give you any satisfaction, concerning the fate of Mr Thornhill, but we have much suspicion - I say we, because I have taken a friend into my confidence - that something serious must have happened to him, and that the barber, Sweeney Todd, in Fleet-street, at whose door the dog so mysteriously took his post, knows something of that circumstance, be it what it may.'
He led her to a seat as he spoke, and when she had recovered sufficiently the agitation of her feelings to speak, she said in a timid, hesitating voice, 'Had Mr Thornhill fair hair, and large, clear, grey eyes?'
'Yes, he had such; and, I think, his smile was the most singularly beautiful I ever beheld in a man.'
'Heaven help me!' said Johanna.
'Have you any reason for asking that question regarding Thornhill?'
'God grant, I had not; but alas! I have indeed. I feel that, in Thornhill, I must recognise Mark Ingestrie himself.'
'You astonish me.'
'It must be so, it must be so; you have described him to me, and I cannot doubt it; Mark Ingestrie and Thornhill are one; I knew that he was going to change his name when he went upon that wild adventure to the Indian sea. I was well aware of that fact.'
'I cannot think, Miss Oakley, that you are correct in that supposition. There are many things which induce me to think otherwise; and the first and foremost of them is, that the ingenuous character of Mr Thornhill forbids the likelihood of such a thing occurring. You may depend on it it is not - cannot be, as you suppose.
'The proofs are too strong for me, and I find I dare not doubt them. It is so, Colonel Jeffery, as time, perchance, may show; it is sad, very sad, to think that it is so, but I dare not doubt it, now that you have described him to me exactly as he lived.'
'I must own, that in giving an opinion on such a point to you, I may be accused of arrogance and assumption, for I have had no description of Mark Ingestrie, and never saw him; and although you never saw certainly Mr Thornhill, yet I have described him to you, and therefore you are able to judge from that description something of him.'
'I am indeed, and I cannot - dare not doubt. It is horrible to be positive on this point to me, because I do fear with you that something dreadful has occurred, and that the barber in Fleet-street could unravel a frightful secret, if he chose, connected with Mark Ingestrie's fate.'
'I do sincerely hope from my heart that you are wrong; I hope it, because I tell you frankly, dim and obscure as is the hope that Mark Ingestrie may have been picked up from the wreck of his vessel, it is yet stronger than the supposition that Thornhill has escaped the murderous hands of Sweeney Todd, the barber.'
Johanna looked in his face so imploringly, and with such an expression of hopelessness, that it was most sad indeed to see her, and quite involuntarily he exclaimed, 'If the sacrifice of my life would be to you a relief, and save you from the pangs you suffer, believe me, it should be made.'
She started as she said, 'No, no; Heaven knows enough has been sacrificed already - more than enough, much more than enough. But do not suppose that I am ungrateful for the generous interest you have taken in me. Do not suppose that I think any the less of the generosity and nobility of soul that would offer a sacrifice, because it is one I would hesitate to accept. No, believe me, Colonel Jeffery, that among the few names that are enrolled in my breast - and such to me will ever be honoured - remember yours will be found while I live, but that will not be long - but that will not be long.'
'Nay, do not speak so despairingly.'
'Have I not cause for despair?'
'Cause have you for great grief, but yet scarcely for despair. You are young yet, and let me entertain a hope that even if a feeling of regret may mingle with your future thoughts, time will achieve something in tempering your sorrow, and if not great happiness, you may know great serenity.'
'I dare not hope it, but I know your words are kindly spoken, and most kindly meant.
'You may well assure yourself that they are so.'
'I will ascertain his fate, or perish.'
'You alarm me by those words, as well as by your manner of uttering them. Let me implore you, Miss Oakley, to attempt nothing rash; remember how weak and inefficient must be the exertions of a young girl like yourself, one who knows so little of the world, and can really understand so little of its wickedness.'
'Affection conquers all obstacles, and the weakest and most inefficient girl that ever stepped, if she have strong within her that love which, in all its sacred intensity, knows no fear, shall indeed accomplish much. I feel that in such a cause, I could shake off all girlish terrors and ordinary alarms; and if there be danger, I would ask, what is life to me without all that could adorn it, and make it beautiful?'
'This, indeed, is the very enthusiasm of affection, when believe me, it will lead you to some excess - to some romantic exercise of feeling, such as will bring great danger in its train, to the unhappiness of those who love you.
'Those who love me - who is there to love me now?'
'Johanna Oakley, I dare not and will not utter words that come thronging to my lips, but which I fear might be unwelcome to your ears; I will not say that I can answer the questions you have asked, because it would sound ungenerous at such a time as this, when you have met me to talk of the fate of another. Oh! forgive me, that hurried away by the feeling of a moment, I have uttered these words, for I meant not to utter them.'
Johanna looked at him in silence, and it might be that there was the slightest possible tinge of reproach in her look, but it was very slight, for one glance at that ingenuous countenance would be sufficient to convince the most sceptical of the truth and single-mindedness of its owner: of this, there could be no doubt whatever, and if anything in the shape of a reproach was upon the point of coming from her lips, she forbore to utter it.
'May I hope,' he added, 'that I have not lowered myself in your esteem, Miss Oakley, by what I have said?'
'I hope,' she said gently, 'you will continue to be my friend.'
She laid an emphasis on the word 'friend', and he fully understood what she meant to imply thereby, and after a moment's pause said,-
'Heaven forbid, that ever by word, or by action, Johanna, I should do aught to deprive myself of that privilege. Let me be your friend, since -'
He left the sentence unfinished, but if he had added the words -'since I can do no more', he could not have made it more evident to Johanna that those were the words he intended to utter.
'And now,' he added, 'that I hope and trust we understand each other better than we did, and you are willing to call me by the name of friend, let me once more ask you, by the privilege of such a title, to be careful of yourself, and not to risk much in order that you may perhaps have some remote chance of achieving very little.'
'But can I endure this dreadful suspense?'
'It is, alas! too common an affliction on human nature, Johanna. Pardon me for addressing you as Johanna.'
'Nay, it requires no excuse. I am accustomed so to be addressed by all who feel a kindly interest for me. Call me Johanna if you will, and I shall feel a greater assurance of your friendship and your esteem.
'I will then avail myself of that permission, and again and again I will entreat you to leave to me the task of making what attempts may be made to discover the fate of Mr Thornhill. There must be danger even in enquiring for him, if he has met with any foul play, and therefore I ask you to let that danger be mine.'
Johanna asked herself if she should or not tell him of the scheme of operations that had been suggested by Arabella Wilmot, but, somehow or another, she shrank most wonderfully from so doing, both on account of the censure which she concluded he would be likely to cast upon it, and the romantic, strange nature of the plan itself, so she said, gently and quickly,-
'I shall attempt nothing that shall not have some possibility of success attending it. I will be careful, you may depend, for many considerations. My father, I know, centres all his affections in me, and for his sake I will be careful.'
'I shall be content then, and now may I hope that this day week I may see you here again, in order that I may tell you if I have made any discovery, and that you may tell me the same; for my interest in Thornhill is that of a sincere friend, to say nothing of the deep interest in your happiness which I feel, and which has now become an element in the transaction of the highest value.'
'I will come,' said Johanna, 'if I can come.'
'You do not doubt?'
'No, no. I will come, and I hope to bring you some news of him in whom you are so much interested. It shall be no fault of mine if I come not.'
He walked with her from the gardens, and together they passed the shop of Sweeney Todd, but the door was close shut, and they saw nothing of the barber, or that of the poor boy, his apprentice, who was so much to be pitied.
He parted with Johanna near to her father's house, and he walked slowly away with his mind so fully impressed with the excellence and beauty of the spectacle-maker's daughter, that it was quite clear, as long as he lived, he would not be able to rid himself of the favourable impression she had made upon him.
'I love her,' he said; 'I love her, but she seems in no respect willing to enchain her affections. Alas! how sad it is for me that the being whom, above all others, I could wish to call my own, instead of being a joy to me, I have only encountered that she might impart a pang to my heart. Beautiful and excellent Johanna, I love you, but I can see that your own affections are withered for ever.'