The Island of Fantasy_ A Romance
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Author of “When I Lived In Bohemia,” “The Mysteryof a Hansom Cab,” “The Man Who Vanished,” etc.
THE ISLAND OF FANTASY.
A MIND DISEASED.
It was eight o’clock on a still summer evening, and, theladies having retired, two men were lingering in a pleasant,indolent fashion over their wine in the dining-room of RoylandsGrange. To be exact, only the elder gentleman waspaying any attention to his port, for the young man who satat the head of the table stared vaguely on his empty glass,and at his equally empty plate, as if his thoughts were milesaway, which was precisely the case. Youth was moody, agewas cheerful, for, while the former indulged in a brown study,the latter cracked nuts and sipped wine, with a just appreciationof the excellence of both. Judging from this outwardaspect of things, there was something wrong with MauriceRoylands, for if reverend age in the presentable person ofRector Carriston could be merry, there appeared to be novery feasible reason why unthinking youth should be so ineffablydreary. Yet woe was writ largely on the comelyface of the moody young man, and he joined but listlessly inthe jocund conversation of his companion, which was punctuatedin a very marked manner by the cracking of filberts.
Outside, a magical twilight brooded over the landscape,and the chill odors of eve floated from a thousand sleeping10flowers into the mellow atmosphere of the room, which wasirradiated by the soft gleam of many wax candles risingwhite and slender from amid the pale roses adorning thedinner-table. All was pleasant, peaceful, and infinitelycharming; yet Maurice Roylands, aged thirty, healthy,wealthy, and not at all bad-looking, sat moodily frowningat his untasted dessert, as though he bore the weight of theworld on his shoulders.
In truth, Mr. Roylands, with the usual self-worship oflatter-day youth, thought he was being very hardly treatedby Destiny, as that all-powerful goddess had given himeverything calculated to make a mortal happy, save the capabilityof being happy. This was undeniably hard, and mightbe called the very irony of fate, for one might as well offera sumptuous banquet to a dyspeptic, as give a man all themeans of enjoyment, without the faculty of taking advantageof such good fortune. Roylands had considerable artisticpower, an income of nearly six thousand a year, a fine house,friends innumerable—of the summer season sort; yet heneither cared about nor valued these blessings, for the simplereason that he was heartily sick of them, one and all. Hewould have been happier digging a patch of ground for hisdaily bread, than thus idling through life on an independentincome, for Ennui, twin sister of Care, had taken possessionof his soul, and in the midst of all his comforts he was thoroughlyunhappy.
The proverb that “The rich are more miserable than thepoor,” is but a trite one on which to preach a sermon, for didnot Solomon say all that there was to be said in the matter?It was an easier task to write a new play on the theme ofHamlet, than to compose a novel discourse on the “All is vanity”text; for on some subjects the final word has been said,and he who preaches thereon says nothing new, but only repeatsthe ideas of former orators, who in their turn doubtlessreiterated the sayings of still earlier preachers, and so onback to Father Adam, to whom the wily serpent possiblydelivered a sermon on the cynically wise saying illustrated soexhaustively by Solomon ben David. Therefore, to remarkthat Maurice was miserable amid all his splendors is a plagiarism,and they who desire to study the original versionfor themselves must read Ecclesiastes, which gives a minuteanalysis of the whole question, with cruelly true commentsthereon.
When Roylands ten years before had gone to London,11against the desire of his father, to take up the profession—ifit can be called so—of a sculptor, he was full of energyand ambition. He had fully determined to set the Thameson fire by the creation of statues worthy of Canova, to makea great name in the artistic world, to become a member ofthe Academy, to inaugurate a new era in the history ofEnglish sculpture; so, with all this glory before him, heturned his back on the flesh-pots of Egypt and went to dwellin the land of Bohemia. In order to bring the lad to hissenses, Roylands senior refused to aid him with a shillinguntil he gave up the pitiful trade—in this country squire’sopinion—of chipping figures out of marble. Supplies beingthus stopped, Maurice suffered greatly in those artistic daysfor lack of an assured income; yet in spite of all his deprivations,he was very happy in Bohemia until he lived downhis enthusiasms. When matters came to that pass, thewine of life lost its zest for this young man, and he becamea victim to melancholia, that terrible disease for whichthere is rarely—if any cure. He lived because he did notagree with Addison’s Cato regarding the virtues of self-destruction,but as far as actual dying went it mattered tohim neither one way nor the other. If he had done butlittle good during his life, at least he had done but littleharm, so, thinking he could scarcely be punished severelyfor such a negative existence, he was quite willing to leavethis world he found so dreary, provided the entrance intothe next one was not of too painful a nature.
It is a bad thing for a young man to thus take to the pessimisticschool of philosophy as exemplified by Schopenhauer,as, having nothing to look back at, nothing to look forwardto, and nothing to hold on by, the scheme of his life fallsinto a ruinous condition, so, being without the safety anchorof Hope, he drifts aimlessly through existence, a nuisance tohimself and to every one around him. Maurice, listless anddespairing, did no more work than was absolutely necessaryto earn a bare subsistence, and lived his life in a semi-dreamy,semi-lethargic condition, with no very distinct ideaas to what was to be the ultimate end of all this dreariness.When night fell he was then more at rest, for in sleep hefound a certain amount of compensation for the woes of hiswaking hours. As to his modelling, he took a positive disliketo it, and for this reason improved but little in his workduring the last years of his Bohemian existence. Profoundlydisgusted, without any positive reason, with himself, his art,12the world, and his fellow-men, heaven only knows whatwould have become of him, had not an event happenedwhich, by placing him in a new position, seemed to promisehis redemption from the gloomy prison of melancholia.
The event in question was none other than the death ofhis father, and Maurice, as in duty bound, came down to thefuneral. When the will of the late Squire was read, it wasdiscovered that, with the exception of one or two triflingbequests, all the real and personal property was left to hisonly son; thus this fortunate young man at the age of thirtyfound himself independent of the world for the rest of hisdays, provided always he did not squander his paternal acres,a thing he had not the slightest intention of doing. Mauricehad no leanings towards what is vulgarly termed a “fastlife,” for he detested horse-racing, cared but little for wine,and neither cards nor women possessed any fascination forhim. Not that he was a model young man by any means,but his tastes were too refined, his nature too intellectual, toadmit of his finding pleasure in drinking, gaming, and theirconcomitants. As to love, he did not know the meaning ofthe word,—at least not the real meaning,—which wasrather a mistake, as it would certainly have given him aninterest in life, and perhaps have prevented him yieldingso readily to the influence of “black care,” which even thegenial Venusian knew something about, seeing he made heran equestrian.
Of course, he was sorry for the death of his father, butthere had been so little real sympathy between them, thathe could not absolutely look upon the event as an irreparablecalamity. Maurice had always loved his mother morethan his father, and when she died as he was leaving homefor college he was indeed inconsolable; but he saw theremains of the late Mr. Roylands duly committed to thefamily vault without any violent display of grief, afterwhich he returned to live the life of a country gentleman atthe Grange, and wonder what would be the upshot of thisnew phase of his existence.
Solitude was abhorrent to him, as his thoughts were somiserable; therefore, for the sake of having some one todrive away the evil spirit, he invited his aunt, the Hon. Mrs.Dengelton, to stay at the Grange for a week or so. Shecame without hesitation, and brought her daughter Eunicealso, upon which Maurice, finding two women more than anunhappy bachelor could put up with, asked the new poet13Crispin, for whom he had a great liking, to come down toRoylands, which that young man did very willingly, as hewas in love with Eunice, a state of things half guessed andwholly hated by Mrs. Dengelton, who much desired herdaughter to marry the new Squire.
On this special evening, the Rev. Stephen Carriston, Rectorof Roylands, had come to dinner, and, Crispin havingretired to the drawing-room with the ladies, he found himselfalone with his former pupil, much to his satisfaction, as hewished greatly to have a quiet talk with Maurice. Mr. Carristonwas the oldest friend the young man had, having beenhis tutor in the long ago, and prepared him for college.Whatever success Maurice gained at Oxford—and suchsuccess was not inconsiderable—was due to