The Quest of Sorrow
By Ada Leverson
IT is rather strange, in a man of my temperament, that I did not
discover the void in my life until I was eighteen years old.
And then I found out that I had missed a beautiful and wonderful
I had never known grief. Sadness had shunned me, pain had
left me untouched ; I could hardly imagine the sensation of being
unhappy. And the desire arose in me to have this experience ;
without which, it seemed to me, that I was not complete. I
wanted to be miserable, despairing : a Pessimist ! I craved to
feel that gnawing fox, Anxiety, at my heart ; I wanted my
friends (most of whom had been, at some time or other, more or
less heartbroken) to press my hand with sympathetic looks, to
avoid the subject of my trouble, from delicacy ; or, better still, to
have long, hopeless talks with me about it, at midnight. I thirsted
for salt tears ; I longed to clasp Sorrow in my arms and press her
pale lips to mine.
Now this wish was not so easily fulfilled as might be supposed,
for I was born with those natural and accidental advantages that
militate most against failure and depression. There was my
appearance. I have a face that rarely passes unnoticed (I suppose
a man may admit, without conceit, that he is not repulsive), and
the exclamation, ” What a beautiful boy ! ” is one that I have
been accustomed to hear from my earliest childhood to the present
I might, indeed, have known the sordid and wearing cares con—
nected with financial matters, for my father was morbidly economical
with regard to me. But, when I was only seventeen, my uncle
died, leaving me all his property, when I instantly left my father’s
house (I am bound to say, in justice to him, that he made not the
smallest objection) and took the rooms I now occupy, which I
was able to arrange in harmony with my temperament. In their
resolute effort to be neither uninterestingly commonplace nor
conventionally bizarre (I detest—do not you ?—the ready-made
exotic) but at once simple and elaborate, severe and florid, they
are an interesting result of my complex aspirations, and the
astonishing patience of a bewildered decorator. (I think every-
thing in a room should not be entirely correct ; and I had some
trouble to get a marble mantel -piece of a sufficiently debased
design.) Here I was able to lead that life of leisure and con-
templation for which I was formed and had those successes—social
and artistic—that now began to pall upon me.
The religious doubts, from which I am told the youth of the
middle classes often suffers, were, again, denied me. I might
have had some mental conflicts, have revelled in the sense of
rebellion, have shed bitter tears when my faiths crumbled to
ashes. But I can never be insensible to incense ; and there
must, I feel, be something organically wrong about the man who
is not impressed by the organ. I love religious rites and cere-
monies, and on the other hand, I was an agnostic at five years old.
Also, I don t think it matters. So here there is no chance for me.
To be miserable one must desire the unattainable. And of
the fair women who, from time to time, have appealed to my
heart, my imagination, etc., every one, without a single exception,
has been kindness itself to me. Many others, indeed, for whom
I have no time, or perhaps no inclination, write me those
letters which are so difficult to answer. How can one sit down
and write, ” My dear lady—I am so sorry, but I am really too
busy ? ”
And with, perhaps, two appointments in one day—a light
comedy one, say, in the Park, and serious sentiment coming to
see one at one s rooms—to say nothing of the thread of a flirtation
to be taken up at dinner and having perhaps to make a jealous
scene of reproaches to some one of whom one has grown tired,
in the evening—you must admit I had a sufficiently occupied
I had heard much of the pangs of disappointed ambition, and
I now turned my thoughts in that direction. A failure in
literature would be excellent. I had no time to write a play
bad enough to be refused by every manager in London, or to be
hissed off the stage ; but I sometimes wrote verses. If I arranged
to have a poem rejected I might get a glimpse of the feelings of
the unsuccessful. So I wrote a poem. It was beautiful, but that
I couldn’t help, and I carefully refrained from sending it to any of
the more literary reviews or magazines, for there it would have
stood no chance of rejection. I therefore sent it to a common-
place, barbarous periodical, that appealed only to the masses ;
feeling sure it would not be understood, and that I should taste
the bitterness of Philistine scorn.
Here is the little poem—if you care to look at it. I called it
The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. T
Among the blue of Hyacinth s golden bells
(Sad is the Spring, more sad the new-mown hay),
Thou art most surely less than least divine,
Like a white Poppy, or a Sea-shell grey.
I dream in joy that thou art nearly mine ;
Love’s gift and grace, pale as this golden day,
Outlasting Hollyhocks, and Heliotrope
(Sad is the Spring, bitter the new-mown hay).
The wandering wild west wind, in salt-sweet hope,
With glad red roses, gems the woodland way.
A bird sings, twittering in the dim air’s
Amid the mad Mimosa’s scented spray,
Among the Asphodel, and Eglantine,
” Sad is the Spring, but sweet the new-mown hay.”
I had not heard from the editor, and was anticipating the
return of my poem, accompanied by some expressions of ignorant
contempt that would harrow my feelings, when it happened that
I took up the frivolous periodical. Fancy my surprise when
there, on the front page, was my poem—signed, as my things are
always signed,” Lys de la Valtie” Of course I could not repress
the immediate exhilaration produced by seeing oneself in print ;
and when I went home I found a letter, thanking me for the
amusing parody on a certain modern school of verse—and enclosing
A parody ! And I had written it in all seriousness !
Evidently literary failure was not for me. After all, what I
wanted most was an affair of the heart, a disappointment in love,
an unrequited affection. And these, for some reason or other,
never seemed to come my way.
One morning I was engaged with Collins, my servant, in
putting some slight final touches to my toilette, when my two
friends, Freddy Thompson and Claude de Verney, walked into my
They were at school with me, and I am fond of them both, for
different reasons. Freddy is in the Army ; he is two-and-twenty,
brusque, slangy, tender-hearted, and devoted to me. De Verney
has nothing to do with this story at all, but I may mention that
he was noted for his rosy cheeks, his collection of jewels, his repu-
tation for having formerly taken morphia, his epicurism, his passion
for private theatricals, and his extraordinary touchiness. One
never knew what he would take offence at. He was always being
hurt, and writing letters beginning : ” Dear Mr. Carington ” or
” Dear Sir “—(he usually called me Cecil), ” I believe it is
customary when a gentleman dines at your table,” etc.
I never took the slightest notice, and then he would apologise.
He was always begging my pardon and always thanking me,
though I never did anything at all to deserve either his anger or
” Hallo, old chap,” Freddy exclaimed, ” you look rather down
in the mouth. What s the row ? ”
” I am enamoured of Sorrow,” I said, with a sigh.
” Got the hump eh ?—Poor old boy. Well, I can t help
being cheery, all the same. I’ve got some ripping news to tell
“Collins,” I said, “take away this eau-de-cologne. It’s
corked. Now, Freddy,” as the servant left the room, “your
“I’m engaged to Miss Sinclair. Her governor has given in at
last. What price that ? . . . I’m tremendously pleased, don’t
you know, because it s been going on for some time, and I’m
awfully mashed, and all that.”
Miss Sinclair ! I remembered her—a romantic, fluffy blonde,
improbably pretty, with dreamy eyes and golden hair, all poetry
Such a contrast to Freddy ! One associated her with pink
chiffon, Chopin’s nocturnes, and photographs by Mendelssohn.
” I congratulate you, my dear child,” I was just saying, when
an idea occurred to me. Why shouldn’t I fall in love with Miss
Sinclair ? What could be more tragic than a hopeless attachment
to the woman who was engaged to my dearest friend ? It seemed
the very thing I had been waiting for.
“I have met her. You must take me to see her, to offer my
congratulations,” I said.
Freddy accepted with enthusiasm.
A day or two after, we called. Alice Sinclair was looking
perfectly charming, and it seemed no difficult task that I had set
myself. She was sweet to me as Freddy’s great friend—and we
spoke of him while Freddy talked to her mother.
” How fortunate some men are ! ” I said, with a deep sigh.
” Why do you say that ? ”
” Because you’re so beautiful,” I answered, in a low voice, and
in my earlier manner—that is to say, as though the exclamation
had broken from me involuntarily.
She laughed, blushed, I think, and turned to Freddy. The
rest of the visit I sat silent and as though abstracted, gazing at
her. Her mother tried, with well-meaning platitudes, to rouse
me from what she supposed to be my boyish shyness. . . .
What happened in the next few weeks is rather difficult to
describe. I saw Miss Sinclair again and again, and lost no oppor-
tunity of expressing my admiration ; for I have a theory that if
you make love to a woman long enough, and ardently enough,
you are sure to get rather fond of her at last. I was progressing
splendidly ; I often felt almost sad, and very nearly succeeded
at times in being a little jealous of Freddy.
On one occasion—it was a warm day at the end of the season,
I remember—we had gone to skate at that absurd modern place
where the ice is as artificial as the people, and much more polished.
Freddy, who was an excellent skater, had undertaken to teach
Alice’s little sister, and I was guiding her own graceful move
ments. She had just remarked that I seemed very fond of skating,
and I had answered that I was—on thin ice—when she stumbled
and fell. . . . She hurt her ankle a little— a very little, she said.
” Oh, Miss Sinclair—’Alice’—I am sure you are hurt ! ” I
cried, with tears of anxiety in my voice. ” You ought to rest—I
am sure you ought to go home and rest.”
Freddy came up, there was some discussion, some demur, and
finally it was decided that, as the injury was indeed very slight,
Freddy should remain and finish his lesson. And I was allowed
to take her home.
We were in a little brougham ; delightfully near together.
She leaned her pretty head, I thought, a little on one side—my
side. I was wearing violets in my button-hole. Perhaps she was
tired, or faint.
” How are you feeling now, dear Miss Sinclair ? ”
” Much better—thanks ! “
” I am afraid you are suffering. . . . I shall never forgot what
I felt when you fell !—My heart ceased beating ! ”
” It’s very sweet of you. But, it’s really nothing.”
” How precious these few moments with you are ! I should
like to drive with you for ever ! Through life—to eternity ! ”
” Really ! What a funny boy you are ! ” she said softly.
“Ah, if you only knew, Miss Sinclair, how—how I envy
“Oh, Mr. Carington ! ”
“Don’t call me Mr. Carington. It’s so cold—so ceremonious.
Call me Cecil. Won’t you?”
“Very well, Cecil.”
” Do you think it treacherous to Freddy for me to envy him—
to tell you so ?”
” Yes, I am afraid it is ; a little.”
“Oh no. I don t think it is.—How are you feeling now,
Alice ? ”
“Much better, thanks very much.” . . .
Suddenly, to my own surprise and entirely without pre-medita-
tion, I kissed her—as it were, accidentally. It seemed so shocking,
that we both pretended I hadn’t, and entirely ignored the fact :
continuing to argue as to whether or not it was treacherous to say
I envied Freddy. … I insisted on treating her as an invalid,
and lifted her out of the carriage, while she laughed nervously.
It struck me that I was not unhappy yet. But that would come.
The next evening we met at a dance. She was wearing flowers
that Freddy had sent her ; but among them she had fastened one
or two of the violets I had worn in my button-hole. I smiled,
amused at the coquetry. No doubt she would laugh at me when
she thought she had completely turned my head. She fancied me
a child !
a child ! Perhaps, on her wedding-day, I should be miserable at
. . . “How tragic, how terrible it is to long for the im-
possible ! ”
We were sitting out, on the balcony. Freddy was in the ball-
room, dancing. He was an excellent dancer.
“Impossible ! ” she said ; and I thought she looked at
strangely. ” But you don t really, really—”
” Love you ? ” I exclaimed, lyrically. ” But with all my soul !
My life is blighted for ever, but don t think of me. It doesn’t
matter in the least. It may kill me, of course ; but never mind.
Sometimes, I believe, people do live on with a broken heart,
” My dance, I think,” and a tiresome partner claimed her.
Even that night, I couldn t believe, try as I would, that life
held for me no further possibilities of joy. . . .
About half-past “one the next day, just as I was getting up, I
received a thunderbolt in the form of a letter from Alice.
Would it be believed that this absurd, romantic, literal, beautiful
person wrote to say she had actually broken off her engagement
with Freddy ? She could not bear to blight my young life ; she
returned my affection ; she was waiting to hear from me.
Much agitated, I hid my face in my hands. What ! was I
never to get away from success—never to know the luxury of an
unrequited attachment ? Of course, I realised, now, that I had
been deceiving myself ; that I had only liked her enough to wish
to make her care for me ; that I had striven, unconsciously, to
that end. The instant I knew she loved me all my interest was
gone. My passion had been entirely imaginary. I cared nothing,
absolutely nothing, for her. It was impossible to exceed my
indifference. And Freddy ! Because I yearned for sorrow, was
that a reason that I should plunge others into it ? Because I wished
to weep, were my friends not to rejoice ? How terrible to have
wrecked Freddy s life, by taking away from him something that I
didn’t want myself !
The only course was to tell her the whole truth, and implore
her to make it up with poor Freddy. It was extremely compli-
cated. How was I to make her see that I had been trying for a
broken heart ; that I wanted my life blighted ?
I wrote, endeavouring to explain, and be frank. It was a most
touching letter, but the inevitable, uncontrollable desire for the
beaurôle crept, I fear, into it and I fancy I represented myself, in
my firm resolve not to marry her whatever happened—as rather
generous and self-denying. It was a heart-breaking letter, and
moved me to tears when I read it.
This is how it ended :
. . . . ” You have my fervent prayers for your happiness, and it
may be that some day you and Freddy, walking in the daisied fields
together, under God s beautiful sunlight, may speak not unkindly of
the lonely exile.
” Yes, exile. For to-morrow I leave England. To-morrow I go to
bury myself in some remote spot—perhaps to Trouville—where I can
hide my heart and pray unceasingly for your welfare and that of the
dear, dear friend of my youth and manhood.
” Yours and his, devotedly, till death and after,
” CECIL CARINGTON.”
It was not a bit like my style. But how difficult it is not to
fall into the tone that accords best with the temperament of the
person to whom one is writing !
I was rather dreading an interview with poor Freddy. To be
misunderstood by him would have been really rather tragic. But
even here, good fortune pursued me. Alice s letter breaking off
the engagement had been written in such mysterious terms, that
it was quite impossible for the simple Freddy to make head or tail
of it. So that when he appeared, just after my letter (which had
infuriated her)—Alice threw herself into his arms, begging him
to forgive her ; pretending—women have these subtleties— that it
had been a boutade about some trifle.
But I think Freddy had a suspicion that I had been “mashed,”
as he would say, on his fiancée, and thought vaguely that I had
done something rather splendid in going away.
If he had only stopped to think, he would have realised
that there was nothing very extraordinary in “leaving England” in the
beginning of August ; and he knew I .had arranged to spend the
summer holidays in France with De Verney. Still, he fancies I
acted nobly. Alice doesn’t.
And so I resigned myself, seeing, indeed, that Grief was the one
thing life meant to deny me. And on the golden sands, with the
gay striped bathers of Trouville, I was content to linger with
laughter on my lips, seeking for Sorrow no more.
Leverson, Ada. “The Quest of Sorrow.” The Yellow Book, vol. 8, January 1896, pp. 325-335. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV8_leverson_quest/