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Title: Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 07
Author: Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron, 1803-1873
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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BOOK VII.

  Words of dark import gave suspicion birth.--POTTER.



CHAPTER I.

  _Luce_.  Is the wind there?
           That makes for me.
  _Isab_.  Come, I forget a business.
                 _Wit without Money_.

LORD VARGRAVE'S travelling-carriage was at his door, and he himself was
putting on his greatcoat in his library, when Lord Saxingham entered.

"What! you are going into the country?"

"Yes; I wrote you word,--to see Lisle Court."

"Ay, true; I had forgot.  Somehow or other my memory is not so good as it
was.  But, let me see, Lisle Court is in -----shire.  Why, you will pass
within ten miles of C-----."

"C-----!  Shall I?  I am not much versed in the geography of
England,--never learned it at school.  As for Poland, Kamschatka, Mexico,
Madagascar, or any other place as to which knowledge would be _useful_, I
have every inch of the way at my finger's end.  But _a propos_ of C-----,
it is the town in which my late uncle made his fortune."

"Ah, so it is.  I recollect you were to have stood for C-----, but gave
it up to Staunch; very handsome in you.  Have you any interest there
still?"

"I think my ward has some tenants,--a street or two,--one called Richard
Street, and the other Templeton Place.  I had intended some weeks ago to
have gone down there, and seen what interest was still left to our
family; but Staunch himself told me that C----- was a sure card."

"So he thought; but he has been with me this morning in great alarm: he
now thinks he shall be thrown out.  A Mr. Winsley, who has a great deal
of interest there, and was a supporter of his, hangs back on account of
the ----- question.  This is unlucky, as Staunch is quite with _us_; and
if he were to rat now it would be most unfortunate."

"Winsley!  Winsley!--my poor uncle's right-hand man.  A great
brewer,--always chairman of the Templeton Committee.  I know the name,
though I never saw the man."

"If you could take C----- in your way?"

"To be sure.  Staunch must not be lost.  We cannot throw away a single
vote, much more one of such weight,--eighteen stone at the least!  I'll
stop at C----- on pretence of seeing after my ward's houses, and have a
quiet conference with Mr. Winsley.  Hem!  Peers must not interfere in
elections, eh?  Well, good-by: take care of yourself.  I shall be back in
a week, I hope,--perhaps less."

In a minute more Lord Vargrave and Mr. George Frederick Augustus Howard,
a slim young gentleman of high birth and connections, but who, having, as
a portionless cadet, his own way to make in the world, condescended to be
his lordship's private secretary, were rattling over the streets the
first stage to C-----.

It was late at night when Lord Vargrave arrived at the head inn of that
grave and respectable cathedral city, in which once Richard Templeton,
Esq.,--saint, banker, and politician,--had exercised his dictatorial
sway.  "Sic transit gloria mundi!"  As he warmed his hands by the fire in
the large wainscoted apartment into which he was shown, his eye met a
full length engraving of his uncle, with a roll of papers in his
hand,--meant for a parliamentary bill for the turnpike trusts in the
neighbourhood of C-----.  The sight brought back his recollections of
that pious and saturnine relation, and insensibly the minister's thoughts
flew to his death-bed, and to the strange secret which in that last hour
he had revealed to Lumley,--a secret which had done much in deepening
Lord Vargrave's contempt for the forms and conventionalities of decorous
life.  And here it may be mentioned--though in the course of this volume
a penetrating reader may have guessed as much--that, whatever that
secret, it did not refer expressly or exclusively to the late lord's
singular and ill-assorted marriage.  Upon that point much was still left
obscure to arouse Lumley's curiosity, had he been a man whose curiosity
was very vivacious.  But on this he felt but little interest.  He knew
enough to believe that no further information could benefit himself
personally; why should he trouble his head with what never would fill his
pockets?

An audible yawn from the slim secretary roused Lord Vargrave from his
revery.

"I envy you, my young friend," said he, good-humouredly.  "It is a
pleasure we lose as we grow older,--that of being sleepy.  However, 'to
bed,' as Lady Macbeth says.  Faith, I don't wonder the poor devil of a
thane was slow in going to bed with such a tigress.  Good-night to you."



CHAPTER II.

  MA fortune va prendre une face nouvelle.*
            RACINE. _Androm_., Act i. sc. 1.

  * "My fortune is about to take a turn."

THE next morning Vargrave inquired the way to Mr. Winsley's, and walked
alone to the house of the brewer.  The slim secretary went to inspect the
cathedral.

Mr. Winsley was a little, thickset man, with a civil but blunt
electioneering manner.  He started when he heard Lord Vargrave's name,
and bowed with great stiffness.  Vargrave saw at a glance that there was
some cause of grudge in the mind of the worthy man; nor did Mr. Winsley
long hesitate before he cleansed his bosom of its perilous stuff.

"This is an unexpected honour, my lord: I don't know how to account for
it."

"Why, Mr. Winsley, your friendship with my late uncle can, perhaps,
sufficiently explain and apologize for a visit from a nephew sincerely
attached to his memory."

"Humph!  I certainly did do all in my power to promote Mr. Templeton's
interests.  No man, I may say, did more; and yet I don't think it was
much thought of the moment he turned his back upon the electors of
C-----.  Not that I bear any malice; I am well to do, and value no man's
favour,--no man's, my lord!"

"You amaze me!  I always heard my poor uncle speak of you in the highest
terms."

"Oh, well, it don't signify; pray say no more of it.  Can I offer your
lordship a glass of wine?"

"No, I am much obliged to you; but we really must set this little matter
right.  You know that after his marriage my uncle never revisited C-----;
and that shortly before his death he sold the greater part of his
interest in this city.  His young wife, I suppose, liked the
neighbourhood of London; and when elderly gentlemen _do_ marry, you know
they are no longer their own masters; but if you had ever come to
Fulham--ah! then, indeed, my uncle would have rejoiced to see his old
friend."

"Your lordship thinks so," said Mr. Winsley with a sardonic smile.  "You
are mistaken; I did call at Fulham; and though I sent in my card, Lord
Vargrave's servant (he was then My Lord) brought back word that his
lordship was not at home."

"But that must have been true; he was out, you may depend on it."

"I saw him at the window, my lord," said Mr. Winsley, taking a pinch of
snuff.

"Oh, the deuce!  I'm in for it," thought Lumley.--"Very strange, indeed!
but how can you account for it?  Ah, perhaps the health of Lady
Vargrave--she was so very delicate then, and my poor uncle lived for
her--you know that he left all his fortune to Miss Cameron?"

"Miss Cameron!  Who is she, my lord?"

"Why, his daughter-in-law; Lady Vargrave was a widow,--a Mrs. Cameron."

"Mrs. Cam--I remember now,--they put Cameron in the newspapers; but I
thought it was a mistake.  But, perhaps" (added Winsley, with a sneer of
peculiar malignity),--"perhaps, when your worthy uncle thought of being a
peer, he did not like to have it known that he married so much beneath
him."

"You quite mistake, my dear sir; my uncle never denied that Mrs. Cameron
was a lady of no fortune or connections,--widow to some poor Scotch
gentleman, who died I think in India."

"He left her very ill off, poor thing; but she had a great deal of merit,
and worked hard; she taught my girls to play--"

"Your girls! did Mrs. Cameron ever reside in C-----?"

"To be sure; but she was then called Mrs. Butler--just as pretty a name
to my fancy."

"You must make a mistake: my uncle married this lady in Devonshire."

"Very possibly," quoth the brewer, doggedly.  "Mrs. Butler left the town
with her little girl some time before Mr. Templeton married."

"Well, you are wiser than I am," said Lumley, forcing a smile.  "But how
can you be sure that Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Cameron are one and the same
person?  You did not go into the house, you could not have seen Lady
Vargrave" (and here Lumley shrewdly guessed--if the tale were true--at
the cause of his uncle's exclusion of his old acquaintance).

"No! but I saw her ladyship on the lawn," said Mr. Winsley, with another
sardonic smile; "and I asked the porter at the lodge as I went out if
that was Lady Vargrave, and he said, 'yes.' However, my lord, bygones are
bygones,--I bear no malice; your uncle was a good man: and if he had but
said to me, 'Winsley, don't say a word about Mrs. Butler,' he might have
reckoned on me just as much as when in his elections he used to put five
thousand pounds in my hands, and say, 'Winsley, no bribery,--it is
wicked; let this be given in charity.'  Did any one ever know how that
money went?  Was your uncle ever accused of corruption?  But, my lord,
surely you will take some refreshment?"

"No, indeed; but if you will let me dine with you tomorrow, you'll oblige
me much; and, whatever my uncle's faults (and latterly, poor man, he was
hardly in his senses; what a will he made!) let not the nephew suffer for
them.  Come, Mr. Winsley," and Lumley held out his hand with enchanting
frankness, "you know my motives are disinterested; I have no
parliamentary interest to serve, we have no constituents for our Hospital
of Incurables; and--oh! that's right,--we're friends, I see!  Now I must
go and look after my ward's houses.  Let me see, the agent's name
is--is--"

"Perkins, I think, my lord," said Mr. Winsley, thoroughly softened by the
charm of Vargrave's words and manner.  "Let me put on my hat, and show
you his house."

"Will you?  That's very kind; give me all the election news by the
way--you know I was once within an ace of being your member."

Vargrave learned from his new friend some further particulars relative to
Mrs. Butler's humble habits and homely mode of life at C-----, which
served completely to explain to him why his proud and worldly uncle had
so carefully abstained from all intercourse with that city, and had
prevented the nephew from standing for its vacant representation.  It
seemed, however, that Winsley--whose resentment was not of a very active
or violent kind--had not communicated the discovery he had made to his
fellow townspeople; but had contented himself with hints and aphorisms,
whenever he had heard the subject of Mr. Templeton's marriage discussed,
which had led the gossips of the place to imagine that he had made a much
worse selection than he really had.  As to the accuracy of Winsley's
assertion, Vargrave, though surprised at first, had but little doubt on
consideration, especially when he heard that Mrs. Butler's principal
patroness had been the Mrs. Leslie, now the intimate friend of Lady
Vargrave.  But what had been the career, what the earlier condition and
struggles of this simple and interesting creature?  With her appearance
at C-----, commenced all that surmise could invent.  Not greater was the
mystery that wrapped the apparition of Manco Capac by the lake Titiaca,
than that which shrouded the places and the trials whence the lowly
teacher of music had emerged amidst the streets of C------.

Weary, and somewhat careless, of conjecture, Lord Vargrave, in dining
with Mr. Winsley, turned the conversation upon the business on which he
had principally undertaken his journey,--namely, the meditated purchase
of Lisle Court.

"I myself am not a very good judge of landed property," said Vargrave; "I
wish I knew of an experienced surveyor to look over the farms and timber:
can you help me to such a one?"

Mr. Winsley smiled, and glanced at a rosy-cheeked young lady, who
simpered and turned away.  "I think my daughter could recommend one to
your lordship, if she dared."

"Oh, Pa!"

"I see.  Well, Miss Winsley, I will take no recommendation but yours."

Miss Winsley made an effort.

"Indeed, my lord, I have always heard Mr. Robert Hobbs considered very
clever in his profession."

"Mr. Robert Hobbs is my man!  His good health--and a fair wife to him."

Miss Winsley glanced at Mamma, and then at a younger sister; and then
there was a titter, and then a fluttering, and then a rising, and Mr.
Winsley, Lord Vargrave, and the slim secretary were left alone.

"Really, my lord," said the host, resettling himself, and pushing the
wine, "though you have guessed our little family arrangement, and I have
some interest in the recommendation, since Margaret will be Mrs. Robert
Hobbs in a few weeks, yet I do not know a more acute, intelligent young
man anywhere.  Highly respectable, with an independent fortune; his
father is lately dead, and made at least thirty thousand pounds in trade.
His brother Edward is also dead; so he has the bulk of the property, and
he follows his profession merely for amusement.  He would consider it a
great honour."

"And where does he live?"

"Oh, not in this county,--a long way off; close to -----; but it is all
in your lordship's road.  A very nice house he has, too.  I have known
his family since I was a boy; it is astonishing how his father improved
the place,--it was a poor little lath-and-plaster cottage when the late
Mr. Hobbs bought it, and it is now a very excellent family house."

"Well, you shall give me the address and a letter of introduction, and so
much for that matter.  But to return to politics;" and here Lord Vargrave
ran eloquently on, till Mr. Winsley thought him the only man in the world
who could save the country from that utter annihilation, the possibility
of which he had never even suspected before.

It may be as well to add, that, on wishing Lord Vargrave good-night, Mr.
Winsley whispered in his ear, "Your lordship's friend, Lord Staunch, need
be under no apprehension,--we are all right!"



CHAPTER III.

  THIS is the house, sir.--_Love's Pilgrimage_, Act iv, sc. 2.

            Redeunt Saturnia regna.*--VIRGIL.

  * "A former state of things returns."

THE next morning, Lumley and his slender companion were rolling rapidly
over the same road on which, sixteen years ago, way-worn and weary, Alice
Darvil had first met with Mrs. Leslie; they were talking about a new
opera-dancer as they whirled by the very spot.

It was about five o'clock in the afternoon, the next day, when the
carriage stopped at a cast-iron gate, on which was inscribed this
epigraph, "Hobbs' lodge--Ring the Bell."

"A snug place enough," said Lord Vargrave, as they were waiting the
arrival of the footman to unbar the gate.

"Yes," said Mr. Howard.  "If a retired Cit could be transformed into a
house, such is the house he would be."

Poor Dale Cottage,--the home of Poetry and Passion!  But change visits
the Commonplace as well as the Romantic.  Since Alice had pressed to that
cold grating her wistful eyes, time had wrought his allotted revolutions;
the old had died, the young grown up.  Of the children playing on the
lawn, death had claimed some, and marriage others,--and the holiday of
youth was gone for all.

The servant opened the gate.  Mr. Robert Hobbs was at home; he had
friends with him,--he was engaged; Lord Vargrave sent in his card, and
the introductory letter from Mr. Winsley.  In two seconds, these missives
brought to the gate Mr. Robert Hobbs himself, a smart young man, with a
black stock, red whiskers, and an eye-glass pendant to a hair-chain which
was possibly _a gage d'amour_ from Miss Margaret Winsley.

A profusion of bows, compliments, apologies, etc., the carriage drove up
the sweep, and Lord Vargrave descended, and was immediately ushered into
Mr. Hobbs's private room.  The slim secretary followed, and sat silent,
melancholy, and upright, while the peer affably explained his wants and
wishes to the surveyor.

Mr. Hobbs was well acquainted with the locality of Lisle Court, which was
little more than thirty miles distant, he should be proud to accompany
Lord Vargrave thither the next morning.  But, might he venture, might he
dare, might he presume--a gentleman who lived at the town of ----- was to
dine with him that day; a gentleman of the most profound knowledge of
agricultural affairs; a gentleman who knew every farm, almost every acre,
belonging to Colonel Maltravers; if his lordship could be induced to
waive ceremony, and dine with Mr. Hobbs; it might be really useful to
meet this gentleman.  The slim secretary, who was very hungry, and who
thought he sniffed an uncommonly savoury smell, looked up from his boots.
Lord Vargrave smiled.

"My young friend here is too great an admirer of Mrs. Hobbs--who is to
be--not to feel anxious to make the acquaintance of any member of the
family she is to enter."

Mr. George Frederick Augustus Howard blushed indignant refutation of the
calumnious charge.  Vargrave continued,--"As for me, I shall be delighted
to meet any friends of yours, and am greatly obliged for your
consideration.  We may dismiss the postboys, Howard; and what time shall
we summon them,--ten o'clock?"

"If your lordship would condescend to accept a bed, we can accommodate
your lordship and this gentleman, and start at any hour in the morning
that--"

"So be it," interrupted Vargrave.  "You speak like a man of business.
Howard, be so kind as to order the horses for six o'clock to-morrow.
We'll breakfast at Lisle Court."

This matter settled, Lord Vargrave and Mr. Howard were shown into their
respective apartments.  Travelling dresses were changed, the dinner put
back, and the fish over-boiled; but what mattered common fish, when Mr.
Hobbs had just caught such a big one?  Of what consequence he should be
henceforth and ever!  A peer, a minister, a stranger to the county,--to
come all this way to consult _him_! to be _his_ guest! to be shown off,
and patted, and trotted out before all the rest of the company!  Mr.
Hobbs was a made man!  Careless of all this, ever at home with any one,
and delighted, perhaps, to escape a _tete-a-tete_ with Mr. Howard in a
strange inn, Vargrave lounged into the drawing-room, and was formally
presented to the expectant family and the famishing guests.

During the expiring bachelorship of Mr. Robert Hobbs, his sister, Mrs.
Tiddy (to whom the reader was first introduced as a bride gathering the
wisdom of economy and large joints from the frugal lips of her mamma),
officiated as lady of the house,--a comely matron, and well-preserved,--
except that she had lost a front tooth,--in a jaundiced satinet gown,
with a fall of British blonde, and a tucker of the same, Mr. Tiddy being
a starch man, and not willing that the luxuriant charms of Mrs. T.
should be too temptingly exposed!  There was also Mr. Tiddy, whom his
wife had married for love, and who was now well to do,--a fine-looking
man, with large whiskers, and a Roman nose, a little awry. Moreover,
there was a Miss Biddy or Bridget Hobbs, a young lady of four or five
and twenty, who was considering whether she might ask Lord Vargrave to
write something in her album, and who cast a bashful look of admiration
at the slim secretary, as he now sauntered into the room, in a black
coat, black waistcoat, black trousers, and a black neckcloth, with a
black pin,--looking much like an ebony cane split half-way up.  Miss
Biddy was a fair young lady, a _leetle_ faded, with uncommonly thin arms
and white satin shoes, on which the slim secretary cast his eyes and--
shuddered!

In addition to the family group were the Rector of -----, an agreeable
man, who published sermons and poetry; also Sir William Jekyll, who was
employing Mr. Hobbs to make a map of an estate he had just purchased;
also two country squires and their two wives; moreover, the physician of
the neighbouring town,--a remarkably tall man, who wore spectacles and
told anecdotes; and, lastly, Mr. Onslow, the gentleman to whom Mr. Hobbs
had referred,--an elderly man of prepossessing exterior, of high repute
as the most efficient magistrate, the best farmer, and the most sensible
person in the neighbourhood.  This made the party, to each individual of
which the great man bowed and smiled; and the great man's secretary bent,
condescendingly, three joints of his backbone.

The bell was now rung, dinner announced.  Sir William Jekyll led the way
with one of the she-squires, and Lord Vargrave offered his arm to the
portly Mrs. Tiddy.

Vargrave, as usual, was the life of the feast.  Mr. Howard, who sat next
to Miss Bridget, conversed with her between the courses, "in dumb show."
Mr. Onslow and the physician played second and third to Lord Vargrave.
When the dinner was over, and the ladies had retired, Vargrave found
himself seated next to Mr. Onslow, and discovered in his neighbour a most
agreeable companion.  They talked principally about Lisle Court, and from
Colonel Maltravers the conversation turned naturally upon Ernest.
Vargrave proclaimed his early intimacy with the latter gentleman,
complained, feelingly, that politics had divided them of late, and told
two or three anecdotes of their youthful adventures in the East.  Mr.
Onslow listened to him with much attention.

"I made the acquaintance of Mr. Maltravers many years ago," said he, "and
upon a very delicate occasion.  I was greatly interested in him; I never
saw one so young (for he was then but a boy) manifest feelings so deep.
By the dates you have referred to, your acquaintance with him must have
commenced very shortly after mine.  Was he at that time cheerful, in good
spirits?"

"No, indeed; hypochondriacal to the greatest degree."

"Your lordship's intimacy with him, and the confidence that generally
exists between young men, induce me to suppose that he may have told you
a little romance connected with his early years."

Lumley paused to consider; and this conversation, which had been carried
on apart, was suddenly broken into by the tall doctor, who wanted to know
whether his lordship had ever heard the anecdote about Lord Thurlow and
the late king.  The anecdote was as long as the doctor himself; and when
it was over, the gentlemen adjourned to the drawing-room, and all
conversation was immediately drowned by "Row, brothers, row," which had
only been suspended till the arrival of Mr. Tiddy, who had a fine bass
voice.

Alas! eighteen years ago, in that spot of earth, Alice Darvil had first
caught the soul of music from the lips of Genius and of Love!  But better
as it is,--less romantic, but more proper,--as Hobbs' Lodge was less
pretty, but more safe from the winds and rains, than Dale Cottage.

Miss Bridget ventured to ask the good-humoured Lord Vargrave if he sang.
"Not I, Miss Hobbs; but Howard, there!--ah, if you heard _him_!"  The
consequence of this hint was, that the unhappy secretary, who, alone, in
a distant corner, was unconsciously refreshing his fancy with some cool
weak coffee, was instantly beset with applications from Miss Bridget,
Mrs. Tiddy, Mr. Tiddy, and the tall doctor, to favour the company with a
specimen of his talents.  Mr. Howard could sing,--he could even play the
guitar.  But to sing at Hobbs' Lodge, to sing to the accompaniment of
Mrs. Tiddy, to have his gentle tenor crushed to death in a glee by the
heavy splayfoot of Mr. Tiddy's manly bass--the thought was insufferable!
He faltered forth assurances of his ignorance, and hastened to bury his
resentment in the retirement of a remote sofa.  Vargrave, who had
forgotten the significant question of Mr. Onslow, renewed in a whisper
his conversation with that gentleman relative to the meditated
investment, while Mr. and Mrs. Tiddy sang "Come dwell with me;" and
Onslow was so pleased with his new acquaintance, that he volunteered to
make a fourth in Lumley's carriage the next morning, and accompany him to
Lisle Court.  This settled, the party soon afterwards broke up.  At
midnight Lord Vargrave was fast asleep; and Mr. Howard, tossing
restlessly to and fro on his melancholy couch, was revolving all the
hardships that await a native of St. James's, who ventures forth among--

            "The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
             Do grow beneath their shoulders!"



CHAPTER IV.

  BUT how were these doubts to be changed into absolute certainty?
                      EDGAR HUNTLEY.

THE next morning, while it was yet dark, Lord Vargrave's carriage picked
up Mr. Onslow at the door of a large old-fashioned house, at the entrance
of the manufacturing town of -----.  The party were silent and sleepy
till they arrived at Lisle Court.  The sun had then appeared, the morning
was clear, the air frosty and bracing; and as, after traversing a noble
park, a superb quadrangular pile of brick flanked by huge square turrets
coped with stone broke upon the gaze of Lord Vargrave, his worldly heart
swelled within him, and the image of Evelyn became inexpressibly lovely
and seductive.

Though the housekeeper was not prepared for Vargrave's arrival at so
early an hour, yet he had been daily expected: the logs soon burned
bright in the ample hearth of the breakfast-room; the urn hissed, the
cutlets smoked; and while the rest of the party gathered round the fire,
and unmuffled themselves of cloaks and shawl-handkerchiefs, Vargrave
seized upon the housekeeper, traversed with delighted steps the
magnificent suite of rooms, gazed on the pictures, admired the state
bed-chambers, peeped into the offices, and recognized in all a mansion
worthy of a Peer of England,--but which a more prudent man would have
thought, with a sigh, required careful management of the rent-roll raised
from the property adequately to equip and maintain.  Such an idea did not
cross the mind of Vargrave; he only thought how much he should be
honoured and envied, when, as Secretary of State, he should yearly fill
those feudal chambers with the pride and rank of England!  It was
characteristic of the extraordinary sanguineness and self-confidence of
Vargrave, that he entirely overlooked one slight obstacle to this
prospect, in the determined refusal of Evelyn to accept that passionate
homage which he offered to--her fortune!

When breakfast was over the steward was called in, and the party, mounted
upon ponies, set out to reconnoitre.  After spending the short day most
agreeably in looking over the gardens, pleasure-grounds, park, and
home-farm, and settling to visit the more distant parts of the property
the next day, the party were returning home to dine, when Vargrave's eye
caught the glittering _whim_ of Sir Gregory Gubbins.

He pointed it out to Mr. Onslow, and laughed much at hearing of the
annoyance it occasioned to Colonel Maltravers.  "Thus," said Lumley, "do
we all crumple the rose-leaf under us, and quarrel with couches the most
luxuriant!  As for me, I will wager, that were this property mine, or my
ward's, in three weeks we should have won the heart of Sir Gregory, made
him pull down his _whim_, and coaxed him out of his interest in the city
of -----.  A good seat for you, Howard, some day or other."

"Sir Gregory has prodigiously bad taste," said Mr. Hobbs.  "For my part,
I think that there ought to be a certain modest simplicity in the display
of wealth got in business,--that was my poor father's maxim."

"Ah!" said Vargrave, "Hobbs' Lodge is a specimen.  Who was your
predecessor in that charming retreat?"

"Why, the place--then called Dale Cottage--belonged to a Mr. Berners, a
rich bachelor in business, who was rich enough not to mind what people
said of him, and kept a lady there.  She ran off from him, and he then
let it to some young man--a stranger, very eccentric, I hear--a Mr.--Mr.
Butler--and he, too, gave the cottage an unlawful attraction,--a most
beautiful girl, I have heard."

"Butler!" echoed Vargrave,--"Butler!  Butler!"  Lumley recollected that
such had been the real name of Mrs. Cameron.

Onslow looked hard at Vargrave.

"You recognize the name, my lord," said he in a whisper, as Hobbs had
turned to address himself to Mr. Howard.  "I thought you very discreet
when I asked you, last night, if you remembered the early follies of your
friend."  A suspicion at once flashed upon the quick mind of Vargrave:
Butler was a name on the mother's side in the family of Maltravers; the
gloom of Ernest when he first knew him, the boy's hints that the gloom
was connected with the affections, the extraordinary and single
accomplishment of Lady Vargrave in that art of which Maltravers was so
consummate a master, the similarity of name,--all taken in conjunction
with the meaning question of Mr. Onslow, were enough to suggest to
Vargrave that he might be on the verge of a family secret, the knowledge
of which could be turned to advantage.  He took care not to confess his
ignorance, but artfully proceeded to draw out Mr. Onslow's
communications.

"Why, it is true," said he, "that Maltravers and I had no secrets.  Ah,
we were wild fellows then!  The name of Butler is in his family, eh?"

"It is.  I see you know all."

"Yes; he told me the story, but it is eighteen years ago.  Do refresh my
memory.  Howard, my good fellow, just ride on and expedite dinner: Mr.
Hobbs, will you go with Mr. What's-his-name, the steward, and look over
the maps, out-goings, etc.?  Now, Mr. Onslow--so Maltravers took the
cottage, and a lady with it?--ay, I remember."

Mr. Onslow (who was in fact that magistrate to whom Ernest had confided
his name and committed the search after Alice, and who was really anxious
to know if any tidings of the poor girl had ever been ascertained) here
related that history with which the reader is acquainted,--the robbery of
the cottage, the disappearance of Alice, the suspicions that connected
that disappearance with her ruffian father, the despair and search of
Maltravers.  He added that Ernest, both before his departure from
England, and on his return, had written to him to learn if Alice had ever
been heard of; the replies of the magistrate were unsatisfactory.  "And
do you think, my lord, that Mr. Maltravers has never to this day
ascertained what became of the poor young woman?"

"Why, let me see,--what was her name?"

The magistrate thought a moment, and replied, "Alice Darvil."

"Alice!" exclaimed  Vargrave.  "Alice!"--aware that such was the
Christian name of his uncle's wife, and now almost convinced of the truth
of his first vague suspicion.

"You seem to know the name?"

"Of Alice; yes--but not Darvil.  No, no; I believe he has never heard of
the girl to this hour.  Nor you either?"

"I have not.  One little circumstance related to me by Mr. Hobbs, your
surveyor's father, gave me some uneasiness.  About two years after the
young woman disappeared, a girl, of very humble dress and appearance,
stopped at the gate of Hobbs' Lodge, and asked earnestly for Mr. Butler.
On hearing he was gone, she turned away, and was seen no more.  It seems
that this girl had an infant in her arms--which rather shocked the
propriety of Mr. and Mrs. Hobbs.  The old gentleman told me the
circumstance a few days after it happened, and I caused inquiry to be
made for the stranger; but she could not be discovered.  I thought at
first this possibly might be the lost Alice; but I learned that, during
his stay at the cottage, your friend--despite his error, which we will
not stop to excuse--had exercised so generous and wide a charity amongst
the poor in the town and neighbourhood, that it was a more probable
supposition of the two that the girl belonged to some family he had
formerly relieved, and her visit was that of a mendicant, not a mistress.
Accordingly, after much consideration, I resolved not to mention the
circumstances to Mr. Maltravers, when he wrote to me on his return from
the Continent.  A considerable time had then elapsed since the girl had
applied to Mr. Hobbs; all trace of her was lost; the incident might open
wounds that time must have nearly healed, might give false hopes--or,
what was worse, occasion a fresh and unfounded remorse at the idea of
Alice's destitution; it would, in fact, do no good, and might occasion
unnecessary pain.  I therefore suppressed all mention of it."

"You did right: and so the poor girl had an infant in her arms?--humph!
What sort of looking person was this Alice Darvil,--pretty, of course?"

"I never saw her; and none but the persons employed in the premises knew
her by sight; they described her as remarkably lovely."

"Fair and slight, with blue eyes, I suppose?--those are the orthodox
requisites of a heroine."

"Upon my word I forget; indeed I should never have remembered as much as
I do, if the celebrity of Mr. Maltravers, and the consequence of his
family in these parts, together with the sight of his own agony--the most
painful I ever witnessed--had not served to impress the whole affair very
deeply on my mind."

"Was the girl who appeared at the gate of Hobbs' Lodge described to you?"

"No; they scarcely observed her countenance, except that her complexion
was too fair for a gypsy's; yet, now I think of it, Mrs. Tiddy, who was
with her father when he told me the adventure, dwelt particularly on her
having (as you so pleasantly conjecture) fair hair and blue eyes.  Mrs.
Tiddy, being just married, was romantic at that day."

"Well, it is an odd tale; but life is full of odd tales.  Here we are at
the house; it really is a splendid old place!"



CHAPTER V.

  PENDENT opera interrupta.*--VIRGIL.

  * "The things begun are interrupted and suspended."

THE history Vargrave had heard he revolved much when he retired to rest.
He could not but allow that there was still little ground for more than
conjecture that Alice Darvil and Alice Lady Vargrave were one and the
same person.  It might, however, be of great importance to him to trace
this conjecture to certainty.  The knowledge of a secret of early sin and
degradation in one so pure, so spotless, as Lady Vargrave, might be of
immense service in giving him a power over her, which he could turn to
account with Evelyn.  How could he best prosecute further inquiry,--by
repairing at once to Brook-Green, or--the thought struck him--by visiting
and "pumping" Mrs. Leslie, the patroness of Mrs. Butler, of C-----, the
friend of Lady Vargrave?  It was worth trying the latter,--it was little
out of his way back to London.  His success in picking the brains of Mr.
Onslow of a secret encouraged him in the hope of equal success with Mrs.
Leslie.  He decided accordingly, and fell asleep to dream of Christmas
_battues_, royal visitors, the Cabinet, the premiership!  Well, no
possession equals the dream of it!  Sleep on, my lord! you would be
restless enough if you were to get all you want.

For the next three days, Lord Vargrave was employed in examining the
general outlines of the estate; and the result of this survey satisfied
him as to the expediency of the purchase.  On the third day, he was
several miles from the house when a heavy rain came on.  Lord Vargrave
was constitutionally hardy, and not having been much exposed to
visitations of the weather of late years, was not practically aware that
when a man is past forty, he cannot endure with impunity all that falls
innocuously on the elasticity of twenty-six.  He did not, therefore, heed
the rain that drenched him to the skin, and neglected to change his dress
till he had finished reading some letters and newspapers which awaited
his return at Lisle Court.  The consequence of this imprudence was, that
the next morning when he woke, Lord Vargrave found himself, for almost
the first time in his life, seriously ill.  His head ached violently,
cold shiverings shook his frame like an ague; the very strength of the
constitution on which the fever had begun to fasten itself augmented its
danger.  Lumley--the last man in the world to think of the possibility of
dying--fought up against his own sensations, ordered his post-horses, as
his visit of survey was now over, and scarcely even alluded to his
indisposition.  About an hour before he set off, his letters arrived; one
of these informed him that Caroline, accompanied by Evelyn, had already
arrived in Paris; the other was from Colonel Legard, respectfully
resigning his office, on the ground of an accession of fortune by the
sudden death of the admiral, and his intention to spend the ensuing year
in a Continental excursion.  This last letter occasioned Vargrave
considerable alarm; he had always felt a deep jealousy of the handsome
ex-guardsman, and he at once suspected that Legard was about to repair to
Paris as his rival.  He sighed, and looked round the spacious apartment,
and gazed on the wide prospects of grove and turf that extended from the
window, and said to himself, "Is another to snatch these from my grasp?"
His impatience to visit Mrs. Leslie, to gain ascendency over Lady
Vargrave, to repair to Paris, to scheme, to manoeuvre, to triumph,
accelerated the progress of the disease that was now burning in his
veins; and the hand that he held out to Mr. Hobbs, as he stepped into his
carriage, almost scorched the cold, plump, moist fingers of the surveyor.
Before six o'clock in the evening Lord Vargrave confessed reluctantly to
himself that he was too ill to proceed much farther.  "Howard," said he
then, breaking a silence that had lasted some hours, "don't be alarmed; I
feel that I am about to have a severe attack; I shall stop at M-----
(naming a large town they were approaching); I shall send for the best
physician the place affords; if I am delirious to-morrow, or unable to
give my own orders, have the kindness to send express for Dr.
Holland,--but don't leave me yourself, my good fellow.  At my age, it is
a hard thing to have no one in the world to care for me in illness;
d-----n affection when I am well!"

After this strange burst, which very much frightened Mr. Howard, Lumley
relapsed into silence, not broken till he reached M-----.  The best
physician was sent for; and the next morning, as he had half foreseen and
foretold, Lord Vargrave _was_ delirious!



CHAPTER VI.

  NOUGHT under Heaven so strongly doth allure
  The sense of man, and all his mind possess,
  As Beauty's love-bait.--SPENSER.

LEGARD was, as I have before intimated, a young man of generous and
excellent dispositions, though somewhat spoiled by the tenor of his
education, and the gay and reckless society which had administered tonics
to his vanity and opiates to his intellect.  The effect which the beauty,
the grace, the innocence of Evelyn had produced upon him had been most
deep and most salutary.  It had rendered dissipation tasteless and
insipid; it had made him look more deeply into his own heart, and into
the rules of life.  Though, partly from irksomeness of dependence upon an
uncle at once generous and ungracious, partly from a diffident and
feeling sense of his own inadequate pretensions to the hand of Miss
Cameron, and partly from the prior and acknowledged claims of Lord
Vargrave, he had accepted, half in despair, the appointment offered to
him, he still found it impossible to banish that image which had been the
first to engrave upon ardent and fresh affections an indelible
impression.  He secretly chafed at the thought that it was to a fortunate
rival that he owed the independence and the station he had acquired, and
resolved to seize an early opportunity to free himself from obligations
that he deeply regretted he had incurred.  At length he learned that Lord
Vargrave had been refused,--that Evelyn was free; and within a few days
from that intelligence, the admiral was seized with apoplexy; and Legard
suddenly found himself possessed, if not of wealth, at least of a
competence sufficient to redeem his character as a suitor from the
suspicion attached to a fortune-hunter and adventurer.  Despite the new
prospects opened to him by the death of his uncle, and despite the surly
caprice which had mingled with and alloyed the old admiral's kindness,
Legard was greatly shocked by his death; and his grateful and gentle
nature was at first only sensible to grief for the loss he had sustained.
But when, at last, recovering from his sorrow, he saw Evelyn disengaged
and free, and himself in a position honourably to contest her hand, he
could not resist the sweet and passionate hopes that broke upon him.  He
resigned, as we have seen, his official appointment, and set out for
Paris.  He reached that city a day or two after the arrival of Lord and
Lady Doltimore.  He found the former, who had not forgotten the cautions
of Vargrave, at first cold and distant; but partly from the indolent
habit of submitting to Legard's dictates on matters of taste, partly from
a liking to his society, and principally from the popular suffrages of
fashion, which had always been accorded to Legard, and which were
nowadays diminished by the news of his accession of fortune, Lord
Doltimore, weak and vain, speedily yielded to the influences of his old
associate, and Legard became quietly installed as the _enfant de la
maison_.  Caroline was not in this instance a very faithful ally to
Vargrave's views and policy.  In his singular _liaison_ with Lady
Doltimore, the crafty manoeuvrer had committed the vulgar fault of
intriguers: he had over-refined and had overreached himself.  At the
commencement of their strange and unprincipled intimacy, Vargrave had
had, perhaps, no other thought than that of piquing Evelyn, consoling his
vanity, amusing his _ennui_, and indulging rather his propensities as a
gallant than promoting his more serious objects as a man of the world.
By degrees, and especially at Knaresdean, Vargrave himself became deeply
entangled by an affair that he had never before contemplated as more
important than a passing diversion; instead of securing a friend to
assist him in his designs on Evelyn, he suddenly found that he had
obtained a mistress anxious for his love and jealous of his homage.  With
his usual promptitude and self-confidence, he was led at once to deliver
himself of all the ill-consequences of his rashness,--to get rid of
Caroline as a mistress, and to retain her as a tool, by marrying her to
Lord Doltimore.  By the great ascendancy which his character acquired
over her, and by her own worldly ambition, he succeeded in inducing her
to sacrifice all romance to a union that gave her rank and fortune; and
Vargrave then rested satisfied that the clever wife would not only secure
him a permanent power over the political influence and private fortune of
the weak husband, but also abet his designs in securing an alliance
equally desirable for himself.  Here it was that Vargrave's incapacity to
understand the refinements and scruples of a woman's affection and
nature, however guilty the one, and however worldly the other, foiled and
deceived him.  Caroline, though the wife of another, could not
contemplate without anguish a similar bondage for her lover; and having
something of the better qualities of her sex still left to her, she
recoiled from being an accomplice in arts that were to drive the young,
inexperienced, and guileless creature who called her "friend" into the
arms of a man who openly avowed the most mercenary motives, and who took
gods and men to witness that his heart was sacred to another.  Only in
Vargrave's presence were these scruples overmastered; but the moment he
was gone they returned in full force.  She had yielded, from positive
fear, to his commands that she should convey Evelyn to Paris; but she
trembled to think of the vague hints and dark menaces that Vargrave had
let fall as to ulterior proceedings, and was distracted at the thought of
being implicated in some villanous or rash design.  When, therefore, the
man whose rivalry Vargrave most feared was almost established at her
house, she made but a feeble resistance; she thought that, if Legard
should become a welcome and accepted suitor before Lumley arrived, the
latter would be forced to forego whatever hopes he yet cherished, and
that she should be delivered from a dilemma, the prospect of which
daunted and appalled her.  Added to this, Caroline was now, alas!
sensible that a fool is not so easily governed; her resistance to an
intimacy with Legard would have been of little avail: Doltimore, in these
matters, had an obstinate will of his own; and, whatever might once have
been Caroline's influence over her liege, certain it is that such
influence had been greatly impaired of late by the indulgence of a
temper, always irritable, and now daily more soured by regret, remorse,
contempt for her husband,--and the melancholy discovery that fortune,
youth, beauty, and station are no talismans against misery.

It was the gayest season of Paris; and to escape from herself, Caroline
plunged eagerly into the vortex of its dissipations.  If Doltimore's
heart was disappointed, his vanity was pleased at the admiration Caroline
excited; and he himself was of an age and temper to share in the pursuits
and amusements of his wife.  Into these gayeties, new to their
fascination, dazzled by their splendour, the young Evelyn entered with
her hostess; and ever by her side was the unequalled form of Legard.
Each of them in the bloom of youth, each of them at once formed to
please, and to be pleased by that fair Armida which we call the World,
there was, necessarily, a certain congeniality in their views and
sentiments, their occupations and their objects; nor was there, in all
that brilliant city, one more calculated to captivate the eye and fancy
than George Legard.  But still, to a certain degree diffident and
fearful, Legard never yet spoke of love; nor did their intimacy at this
time ripen to that point in which Evelyn could have asked herself if
there were danger in the society of Legard, or serious meaning in his
obvious admiration.  Whether that melancholy, to which Lady Vargrave had
alluded in her correspondence with Lumley, were occasioned by thoughts
connected with Maltravers, or unacknowledged recollections of Legard, it
remains for the acute reader himself to ascertain.

The Doltimores had been about three weeks in Paris; and for a fortnight
of that time Legard had been their constant guest, and half the inmate of
their hotel, when, on that night which has been commemorated in our last
book, Maltravers suddenly once more beheld the face of Evelyn, and in the
same hour learned that she was free.  He quitted Valerie's box; with a
burning pulse and a beating heart, joy and surprise and hope sparkling in
his eyes and brightening his whole aspect, he hastened to Evelyn's side.

It was at this time Legard, who sat behind Miss Cameron, unconscious of
the approach of a rival, happened by one of those chances which occur in
conversation to mention the name of Maltravers.  He asked Evelyn if she
had yet met him.

"What! is he, then, in Paris?" asked Evelyn, quickly.  "I heard, indeed,"
she continued, "that he left Burleigh for Paris, but imagined he had gone
on to Italy."

"No, he is still here; but he goes, I believe, little into the society
Lady Doltimore chiefly visits.  Is he one of your favourites, Miss
Cameron?"

There was a slight increase of colour in Evelyn's beautiful cheek, as she
answered,--

"Is it possible not to admire and be interested in one so gifted?"

"He has certainly noble and fine qualities," returned Legard; "but I
cannot feel at ease with him: a coldness, a _hauteur_, a measured
distance of manner, seem to forbid even esteem.  Yet _I_ ought not to say
so," he added, with a pang of self-reproach.

"No, indeed, you ought not to say so," said Evelyn, shaking her head with
a pretty affectation of anger; "for I know that you pretend to like what
I like, and admire what I admire; and I am an enthusiast in all that
relates to Mr. Maltravers!"

"I know that I would wish to see all things in life through Miss
Cameron's eyes," whispered Legard, softly; and this was the most meaning
speech he had ever yet made.

Evelyn turned away, and seemed absorbed in the opera; and at that instant
the door of the box opened, and Maltravers entered.

In her open, undisguised, youthful delight at seeing him again,
Maltravers felt, indeed, "as if Paradise were opened in her face."  In
his own agitated emotions, he scarcely noticed that Legard had risen and
resigned his seat to him; he availed himself of the civility, greeted his
old acquaintance with a smile and a bow, and in a few minutes he was in
deep converse with Evelyn.

Never had he so successfully exerted the singular, the master-fascination
that he could command at will,--the more powerful from its contrast to
his ordinary coldness.  In the very expression of his eyes, the very tone
of his voice, there was that in Maltravers, seen at his happier moments,
which irresistibly interested and absorbed your attention: he could make
you forget everything but himself, and the rich, easy, yet earnest
eloquence, which gave colour to his language and melody to his voice.  In
that hour of renewed intercourse with one who had at first awakened, if
not her heart, at least her imagination and her deeper thoughts, certain
it is that even Legard was not missed.  As she smiled and listened,
Evelyn dreamed not of the anguish she inflicted.  Leaning against the
box, Legard surveyed the absorbed attention of Evelyn, the adoring eyes
of Maltravers, with that utter and crushing wretchedness which no passion
but jealousy, and that only while it is yet a virgin agony, can bestow!
He had never before even dreamed of rivalry in such a quarter; but there
was that ineffable instinct, which lovers have, and which so seldom errs,
that told him at once that in Maltravers was the greatest obstacle his
passion could encounter.  He waited in hopes that Evelyn would take the
occasion to turn to him at least--when the fourth act closed.  She did
not; and, unable to constrain his emotions, and reply to the small-talk
of Lord Doltimore, he abruptly quitted the box.

When the opera was over, Maltravers offered his arm to Evelyn; she
accepted it, and then she looked round for Legard.  He was gone.





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