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Title: Lucretia — Volume 05
Author: Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lucretia — Volume 05" ***

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CHAPTER VII.

THE RAPE OF THE MATTRESS.

That Mr. Grabman slept calmly that night is probable enough, for his gin-
bottle was empty the next morning; and it was with eyes more than usually
heavy that he dozily followed the movements of Beck, who, according to
custom, opened the shutters of the little den adjoining his sitting-room,
brushed his clothes, made his fire, set on the kettle to boil, and laid
his breakfast things, preparatory to his own departure to the duties of
the day.  Stretching himself, however, and shaking off slumber, as the
remembrance of the enterprise he had undertaken glanced pleasantly across
him, Grabman sat up in his bed and said, in a voice that, if not maudlin,
was affectionate, and if not affectionate, was maudlin,--

"Beck, you are a good fellow.  You have faults, you are human,--humanism
est errare; which means that you some times scorch my muffins.  But, take
you all in all, you are a kind creature.  Beck, I am going into the
country for some days.  I shall leave my key in the hole in the wall,--
you know; take care of it when you come in.  You were out late last
night, my poor fellow.  Very wrong!  Look well to yourself, or who knows?
You may be clutched by that blackguard resurrection-man, No. 7.  Well,
well, to think of that Jason's foolhardiness!  But he's the worse devil
of the two.  Eh! what was I saying?  And always give a look into my room
every night before you go to roost. The place swarms with cracksmen, and
one can't be too cautious.  Lucky dog, you, to have nothing to be robbed
of!"

Beck winced at that last remark.  Grabman did not seem to notice his
confusion, and proceeded, as he put on his stockings: "And, Beck, you are
a good fellow, and have served me faithfully; when I come back, I will
bring you something handsome,--a backey-box or--who knows?--a beautiful
silver watch.  Meanwhile, I think--let me see--yes, I can give you this
elegant pair of small-clothes.  Put out my best,--the black ones.  And
now, Beck, I'll not keep you any longer."

The poor sweep, with many pulls at his forelock, acknowledged the
munificent donation; and having finished all his preparations, hastened
first to his room, to examine at leisure, and with great admiration, the
drab small-clothes.  "Room," indeed, we can scarcely style the wretched
enclosure which Beck called his own.  It was at the top of the house,
under the roof, and hot--oh, so hot--in the summer!  It had one small
begrimed window, through which the light of heaven never came, for the
parapet, beneath which ran the choked gutter, prevented that; but the
rain and the wind came in.  So sometimes, through four glassless frames,
came a fugitive tom-cat.  As for the rats, they held the place as their
own.  Accustomed to Beck, they cared nothing for him.

They were the Mayors of that Palace; he only le roi faineant.  They ran
over his bed at night; he often felt them on his face, and was convinced
they would have eaten him, if there had been anything worth eating upon
his bones; still, perhaps out of precaution rather than charity, he
generally left them a potato or two, or a crust of bread, to take off the
edge of their appetites.  But Beck was far better off than most who
occupied the various settlements in that Alsatia,--he had his room to
himself.  That was necessary to his sole luxury,--the inspection of his
treasury, the safety of his mattress; for it he paid, without grumbling,
what he thought was a very high rent.  To this hole in the roof there was
no lock,--for a very good reason, there was no door to it.  You went up a
ladder, as you would go into a loft.  Now, it had often been matter of
much intense cogitation to Beck whether or not he should have a door to
his chamber; and the result of the cogitation was invariably the same,--
he dared not!  What should he want with a door,--a door with a lock to
it?  For one followed as a consequence to the other.  Such a novel piece
of grandeur would be an ostentatious advertisement that he had something
to guard.  He could have no pretence for it on the ground that he was
intruded on by neighbours; no step but his own was ever caught by him
ascending that ladder; it led to no other room.  All the offices required
for the lodgment he performed himself.  His supposed poverty was a better
safeguard than doors of iron.  Besides this, a door, if dangerous, would
be superfluous; the moment it was suspected that Beck had something worth
guarding, that moment all the picklocks and skeleton keys in the
neighbourhood would be in a jingle.  And a cracksman of high repute
lodged already on the ground-floor.  So Beck's treasure, like the bird's
nest, was deposited as much out of sight as his instinct could contrive;
and the locks and bolts of civilized men were equally dispensed with by
bird and Beck.

On a rusty nail the sweep suspended the drab small-clothes, stroked them
down lovingly, and murmured, "They be 's too good for I; I should like to
pop 'em!  But vould n't that be a shame?  Beck, be n't you be a
hungrateful beast to go for to think of nothin' but the tin, ven your
'art ought to varm with hemotion?  I vill vear 'em ven I vaits on him.
Ven he sees his own smalls bringing in the muffins, he will say, 'Beck,
you becomes 'em!'"

Fraught with this noble resolution, the sweep caught up his broom, crept
down the ladder, and with a furtive glance at the door of the room in
which the cracksman lived, let himself out and shambled his way to his
crossing.  Grabman, in the mean while, dressed himself with more care
than usual, shaved his beard from a four days' crop, and while seated at
his breakfast, read attentively over the notes which Varney had left to
him, pausing at times to make his own pencil memoranda.  He then packed
up such few articles as so moderate a worshipper of the Graces might
require, deposited them in an old blue brief-bag, and this done, he
opened his door, and creeping to the threshold, listened carefully.
Below, a few sounds might be heard,--here, the wail of a child; there,
the shrill scold of a woman in that accent above all others adapted to
scold,--the Irish.  Farther down still, the deep bass oath of the
choleric resurrection-man; but above, all was silent.  Only one floor
intervened between Grabman's apartment and the ladder that led to Beck's
loft.  And the inmates of that room gave no sound of life.  Grabman took
courage, and shuffling off his shoes, ascended the stairs; he passed the
closed door of the room above; he seized the ladder with a shaking hand;
he mounted, step after step; he stood in Beck's room.

Now, O Nicholas Grabman! some moralists may be harsh enough to condemn
thee for what thou art doing,--kneeling yonder in the dim light, by that
curtainless pallet, with greedy fingers feeling here and there, and a
placid, self-hugging smile upon thy pale lips.  That poor vagabond whom
thou art about to despoil has served thee well and faithfully, has borne
with thine ill-humours, thy sarcasms, thy swearings, thy kicks, and
buffets; often, when in the bestial sleep of drunkenness he has found
thee stretched helpless on thy floor, with a kindly hand he has moved
away the sharp fender, too near that knavish head, now bent on his ruin,
or closed the open window, lest the keen air, that thy breath tainted,
should visit thee with rheum and fever.  Small has been his guerdon for
uncomplaining sacrifice of the few hours spared to this weary drudge from
his daily toil,--small, but gratefully received.  And if Beck had been
taught to pray, he would have prayed for thee as for a good man, O
miserable sinner!  And thou art going now, Nicholas Grabman, upon an
enterprise which promises thee large gains, and thy purse is filled; and
thou wantest nothing for thy wants or thy swinish luxuries.  Why should
those shaking fingers itch for the poor beggar-man's hoards?

But hadst thou been bound on an errand that would have given thee a
million, thou wouldst not have left unrifled that secret store which thy
prying eye had discovered, and thy hungry heart had coveted.  No; since
one night,--fatal, alas! to the owner of loft and treasure, when, needing
Beck for some service, and fearing to call aloud (for the resurrection-
man in the floor below thee, whose oaths even now ascend to thine ear,
sleeps ill, and has threatened to make thee mute forever if thou
disturbest him in the few nights in which his dismal calling suffers him
to sleep at all), thou didst creep up the ladder, and didst see the
unconscious miser at his nightly work, and after the sight didst steal
down again, smiling,--no; since that night, no schoolboy ever more
rootedly and ruthlessly set his mind upon nest of linnet than thine was
set upon the stores in Beck's mattress.

And yet why, O lawyer, should rigid moralists blame thee more than such
of thy tribe as live, honoured and respectable, upon the frail and the
poor?  Who among them ever left loft or mattress while a rap could be
wrung from either?  Matters it to Astraea whether the spoliation be made
thus nakedly and briefly, or by all the acknowledged forms in which, item
on item, six-and-eightpence on six-and-eightpence, the inexorable hand
closes at length on the last farthing of duped despair?  Not--Heaven
forbid!--that we make thee, foul Nicholas Grabman, a type for all the
class called attorneys-at-law!  Noble hearts, liberal minds, are there
amongst that brotherhood, we know and have experienced; but a type art
thou of those whom want and error and need have proved--alas! too well--
the lawyers of the poor.  And even while we write, and even while ye
read, many a Grabman steals from helpless toil the savings of a life.

Ye poor hoards,--darling delights of your otherwise joyless owner,--how
easily has his very fondness made ye the prey of the spoiler!  How
gleefully, when the pence swelled into a shilling, have they been
exchanged into the new bright piece of silver, the newest and brightest
that could be got; then the shillings into crowns, then the crowns into
gold,--got slyly and at a distance, and contemplated with what rapture;
so that at last the total lay manageable and light in its radiant
compass.  And what a total! what a surprise to Grabman!  Had it been but
a sixpence, he would have taken it; but to grasp sovereigns by the
handful, it was too much for him; and as he rose, he positively laughed,
from a sense of fun.

But amongst his booty there was found one thing that specially moved his
mirth: it was a child's coral, with its little bells.  Who could have
given Beck such a bauble, or how Beck could have refrained from turning
it into money, would have been a fit matter for speculation.  But it was
not that at which Grabman chuckled; he laughed, first because it was an
emblem of the utter childishness and folly of the creature he was leaving
penniless, and secondly, because it furnished his ready wit with a
capital contrivance to shift Beck's indignation from his own shoulders to
a party more liable to suspicion.  He left the coral on the floor near
the bed, stole down the ladder, reached his own room, took up his brief-
bag, locked his door, slipped the key in the rat-hole, where the trusty,
plundered Beck alone could find it, and went boldly downstairs; passing
successively the doors within which still stormed the resurrection-man,
still wailed the child, still shrieked the Irish shrew, he paused at the
ground-floor occupied by Bill the cracksman and his long-fingered,
slender, quick-eyed imps, trained already to pass through broken window-
panes, on their precocious progress to the hulks.

The door was open, and gave a pleasant sight of the worthy family within.
Bill himself, a stout-looking fellow with a florid, jolly countenance,
and a pipe in his mouth, was sitting at his window, with his brawny legs
lolling on a table covered with the remains of a very tolerable
breakfast. Four small Bills were employed in certain sports which, no
doubt, according to the fashionable mode of education, instilled useful
lessons under the artful guise of playful amusement.  Against the wall,
at one corner of the room, was affixed a row of bells, from which were
suspended exceedingly tempting apples by slender wires.  Two of the boys
were engaged in the innocent entertainment of extricating the apples
without occasioning any alarm from the bells; a third was amusing himself
at a table, covered with mock rings and trinkets, in a way that seemed
really surprising; with the end of a finger, dipped probably in some
glutinous matter, he just touched one of the gewgaws, and lo, it
vanished!--vanished so magically that the quickest eye could scarcely
trace whither; sometimes up a cuff, sometimes into a shoe,--here, there,
anywhere, except back again upon the table.  The fourth, an urchin
apparently about five years old,--he might be much younger, judging from
his stunted size; somewhat older, judging from the vicious acuteness of
his face,--on the floor under his father's chair, was diving his little
hand into the paternal pockets in search for a marble sportively hidden
in those capacious recesses.  On the rising geniuses around him Bill the
cracksman looked, and his father's heart was proud.  Pausing at the
threshold, Grabman looked in and said cheerfully, "Good-day to you; good-
day to you all, my little dears."

"Ah, Grabman," said Bill, rising, and making a bow,--for Bill valued
himself much on his politeness,--"come to blow a cloud, eh?  Bob," this
to the eldest born, "manners, sir; wipe your nose, and set a chair for
the gent."

"Many thanks to you, Bill, but I can't stay now; I have a long journey to
take.  But, bless my soul, how stupid I am!  I have forgotten my clothes-
brush.  I knew there was some thing on my mind all the way I was coming
downstairs.  I was saying, 'Grabman, there is something forgotten! '"

"I know what that 'ere feelin' is," said Bill, thoughtfully; "I had it
myself the night afore last; and sure enough, when I got to the ----.
But that's neither here nor there.  Bob, run upstairs and fetch down Mr.
Grabman's clothes-brush.  'T is the least you can do for a gent who saved
your father from the fate of them 'ere innocent apples.  Your fist,
Grabman.  I have a heart in my buzzom; cut me open, and you will find
there `Halibi, and Grabman!'  Give Bob your key."

"The brush is not in my room," answered Grabman; "it is at the top of the
house, up the ladder, in Beck's loft,--Beck, the sweeper.  The stupid dog
always keeps it there, and forgot to give it me.  Sorry to occasion my
friend Bob so much trouble."

"Bob has a soul above trouble; his father's heart beats in his buzzom.
Bob, track the dancers.  Up like a lark, and down like a dump."

Bob grinned, made a mow at Mr. Grabman, and scampered up the stairs.

"You never attends our free-and-easy," said Bill; "but we toasts you with
three times three, and up standing.  "'T is a hungrateful world!  But
some men has a heart; and to those who has a heart, Grabman is a trump!"

"I am sure, whenever I can do you a service, you may reckon on me.
Meanwhile, if you could get that cursed bullying fellow who lives under
me to be a little more civil, you would oblige me."

"Under you?  No. 7?  No. 7, is it?  Grabman, h-am I a man?  Is this a h-
arm, and this a bunch of fives?  I dares do all that does become a man;
but No. 7 is a body-snatcher!  No. 7 has bullied me, and I bore it!  No.
7 might whop me, and this h-arm would let him whop!  He lives with graves
and churchyards and stiff 'uns, that damnable No. 7!  Ask some'at else,
Grabman.  I dares not touch No. 7 any more than the ghostesses."

Grabman sneered as he saw that Bill, stout rogue as he was, turned pale
while he spoke; but at that moment Bob reappeared with the clothes-brush,
which the ex-attorney thrust into his pocket, and shaking Bill by the
hand, and patting Bob on the head, he set out on his journey.

Bill reseated himself, muttering, "Bully a body-snatcher!  Drot that
Grabman, does he want to get rid of poor Bill?"

Meanwhile Bob exhibited slyly, to his second brother, the sight of Beck's
stolen coral.  The children took care not to show it to their father.
They were already inspired by the laudable ambition to set up in business
on their own account.



CHAPTER VIII.

PERCIVAL VISITS LUCRETIA.

Having once ascertained the house in which Helen lived, it was no
difficult matter for St. John to learn the name of the guardian whom Beck
had supposed to be her mother.  No common delight mingled with Percival's
amaze when in that name he recognized one borne by his own kinswoman.
Very little indeed of the family history was known to him.  Neither his
father nor his mother ever willingly conversed of the fallen heiress,--it
was a subject which the children had felt to be proscribed; but in the
neighbourhood, Percival had of course heard some mention of Lucretia as
the haughty and accomplished Miss Clavering, who had, to the astonishment
of all, stooped to a mesalliance with her uncle's French librarian.  That
her loss of the St. John property, the succession of Percival's father,
were unexpected by the villagers and squires around, and perhaps set down
to the caprice of Sir Miles, or to an intellect impaired by apoplectic
attacks, it was not likely that he should have heard.  The rich have the
polish of their education, and the poor that instinctive tact, so
wonderful amongst the agricultural peasantry, to prevent such unmannerly
disclosures or unwelcome hints; and both by rich and poor, the Vernon St.
Johns were too popular and respected for wanton allusions to subjects
calculated to pain them.  All, therefore, that Percival knew of his
relation was that she had resided from infancy with Sir Miles; that after
their uncle's death she had married an inferior in rank, of the name of
Dalibard, and settled abroad; that she was a person of peculiar manners,
and, he had heard somewhere, of rare gifts.  He had been unable to learn
the name of the young lady staying with Madame Dalibard; he had learned
only that she went by some other name, and was not the daughter of the
lady who rented the house.  Certainly it was possible that this last
might not be his kinswoman, after all.  The name, though strange to
English ears, and not common in France, was no sufficient warrant for
Percival's high spirits at the thought that he had now won legitimate and
regular access to the house; still, it allowed him to call, it furnished
a fair excuse for a visit.

How long he was at his toilet that day, poor boy!  How sedulously, with
comb and brush, he sought to smooth into straight precision that
luxuriant labyrinth of jetty curls, which had never cost him a thought
before!  Gil Blas says that the toilet is a pleasure to the young, though
a labour to the old; Percival St. John's toilet was no pleasure to him
that anxious morning.

At last he tore himself, dissatisfied and desperate, from the glass,
caught his hat and his whip, threw himself on his horse, and rode, at
first very fast, and at last very slowly, to the old, decayed, shabby,
neglected house that lay hid, like the poverty of fallen pride, amidst
the trim villas and smart cottages of fair and flourishing Brompton.

The same servant who had opened the gate to Ardworth appeared to his
summons, and after eying him for some moments with a listless, stupid
stare, said: "You'll be after some mistake!" and turned away.

"Stop, stop!" cried Percival, trying to intrude himself through the gate;
but the servant blocked up the entrance sturdily.  "It is no mistake at
all, my good lady.  I have come to see Madame Dalibard, my--my relation!"

"Your relation!" and again the woman stared at Percival with a look
through the dull vacancy of which some distrust was dimly perceptible.
"Bide a bit there, and give us your name."

Percival gave his card to the servant with his sweetest and most
persuasive smile.  She took it with one hand, and with the other turned
the key in the gate, leaving Percival outside.  It was five minutes
before she returned; and she then, with the same prim, smileless
expression of countenance, opened the gate and motioned him to follow.

The kind-hearted boy sighed as he cast a glance at the desolate and
poverty-stricken appearance of the house, and thought within himself:
"Ah, pray Heaven she may be my relation; and then I shall have the right
to find her and that sweet girl a very different home!"  The old woman
threw open the drawing-room door, and Percival was in the presence of his
deadliest foe!  The armchair was turned towards the entrance, and from
amidst the coverings that hid the form, the remarkable countenance of
Madame Dalibard emerged, sharp and earnest, directly fronting the
intruder.

"So," she said slowly, and, as it were, devouring him with her keen,
steadfast eyes,--"so you are Percival St. John!  Welcome!  I did not know
that we should ever meet.  I have not sought you, you seek me!  Strange--
yes, strange--that the young and the rich should seek the suffering and
the poor!"

Surprised and embarrassed by this singular greeting, Percival halted
abruptly in the middle of the room; and there was something inexpressibly
winning in his shy, yet graceful confusion.  It seemed, with silent
eloquence, to apologize and to deprecate.  And when, in his silvery
voice, scarcely yet tuned to the fulness of manhood, he said feelingly,
"Forgive me, madam, but my mother is not in England," the excuse evinced
such delicacy of idea, so exquisite a sense of high breeding, that the
calm assurance of worldly ease could not have more attested the chivalry
of the native gentleman.

"I have nothing to forgive, Mr. St. John," said Lucretia, with a softened
manner.  "Pardon me rather that my infirmities do not allow me to rise to
receive you.  This seat,--here,--next to me.  You have a strong likeness
to your father."

Percival received this last remark as a compliment, and bowed.  Then, as
he lifted his ingenuous brow, he took for the first time a steady view of
his new-found relation.  The peculiarities of Lucretia's countenance in
youth had naturally deepened with middle age.  The contour, always too
sharp and pronounced, was now strong and bony as a man's; the line
between the eyebrows was hollowed into a furrow.  The eye retained its
old uneasy, sinister, sidelong glance, or at rare moments (as when
Percival entered), its searching penetration and assured command; but the
eyelids themselves, red and injected, as with grief or vigil, gave
something haggard and wild, whether to glance or gaze.  Despite the
paralysis of the frame, the face, though pale and thin, showed no bodily
decay.  A vigour surpassing the strength of woman might still be seen in
the play of the bold muscles, the firmness of the contracted lips.  What
physicians call "vitality," and trace at once (if experienced) on the
physiognomy as the prognostic of long life, undulated restlessly in every
aspect of the face, every movement of those thin, nervous hands, which,
contrasting the rest of that motionless form, never seemed to be at rest.
The teeth were still white and regular, as in youth; and when they shone
out in speaking, gave a strange, unnatural freshness to a face otherwise
so worn.

As Percival gazed, and, while gazing, saw those wandering eyes bent down,
and yet felt they watched him, a thrill almost of fear shot through his
heart.  Nevertheless, so much more impressionable was he to charitable
and trustful than to suspicious and timid emotions that when Madame
Dalibard, suddenly looking up and shaking her head gently, said, "You see
but a sad wreck, young kinsman," all those instincts, which Nature itself
seemed to dictate for self-preservation, vanished into heavenly
tenderness and pity.

"Ah!" he said, rising, and pressing one of those deadly hands in both his
own, while tears rose to his eyes,--"Ah! since you call me kinsman, I
have all a kinsman's privileges. You must have the best advice, the most
skilful surgeons.  Oh, you will recover; you must not despond."

Lucretia's lips moved uneasily.  This kindness took her by surprise.  She
turned desperately away from the human gleam that shot across the
sevenfold gloom of her soul.  "Do not think of me," she said, with a
forced smile; "it is my peculiarity not to like allusion to myself,
though this time I provoked it.  Speak to me of the old cedar-trees at
Laughton,--do they stand still?  You are the master of Laughton now!  It
is a noble heritage!"

Then St. John, thinking to please her, talked of the old manor-house,
described the improvements made by his father, spoke gayly of those which
he himself contemplated; and as he ran on, Lucretia's brow, a moment
ruffled, grew smooth and smoother, and the gloom settled back upon her
soul.

All at once she interrupted him.  "How did you discover me?  Was it
through Mr. Varney?  I bade him not mention me: yet how else could you
learn?"  As she spoke, there was an anxious trouble in her tone, which
increased while she observed that St. John looked confused.

"Why," he began hesitatingly, and brushing his hat with his hand, "why--
perhaps you may have heard from the--that is--I think there is a young
----.  Ah, it is you, it is you!  I see you once again!"  And springing
up, he was at the side of Helen, who at that instant had entered the
room, and now, her eyes downcast, her cheeks blushing, her breast gently
heaving, heard, but answered not that passionate burst of joy.

Startled, Madame Dalibard (her hands firmly grasping the sides of her
chair) contemplated the two.  She had heard nothing, guessed nothing of
their former meeting.  All that had passed before between them was
unknown to her.  Yet there was evidence unmistakable, conclusive: the son
of her despoiler loved the daughter of her rival; and--if the virgin
heart speaks by the outward sign--those downcast eyes, those blushing
cheeks, that heaving breast, told that he did not love in vain!

Before her lurid and murderous gaze, as if to defy her, the two
inheritors of a revenge unglutted by the grave stood, united mysteriously
together.  Up, from the vast ocean of her hate, rose that poor isle of
love; there, unconscious of the horror around them, the victims found
their footing!  How beautiful at that hour their youth; their very
ignorance of their own emotions; their innocent gladness; their sweet
trouble!  The fell gazer drew a long breath of fiendlike complacency and
glee, and her hands opened wide, and then slowly closed, as if she felt
them in her grasp.



CHAPTER IX.

THE ROSE BENEATH THE UPAS.

And from that day Percival had his privileged entry into Madame
Dalibard's house.  The little narrative of the circumstances connected
with his first meeting with Helen, partly drawn from Percival, partly
afterwards from Helen (with blushing and faltered excuses from the latter
for not having mentioned before an incident that might, perhaps
needlessly, vex or alarm her aunt in so delicate a state of health), was
received by Lucretia with rare graciousness.  The connection, not only
between herself and Percival, but between Percival and Helen, was allowed
and even dwelt upon by Madame Dalibard as a natural reason for permitting
the artless intimacy which immediately sprang up between these young
persons.  She permitted Percival to call daily, to remain for hours, to
share in their simple meals, to wander alone with Helen in the garden,
assist her to bind up the ragged flowers, and sit by her in the old ivy-
grown arbour when their work was done.  She affected to look upon them
both as children, and to leave to them that happy familiarity which
childhood only sanctions, and compared to which the affection of maturer
years seems at once coarse and cold.

As they grew more familiar, the differences and similarities in their
characters came out, and nothing more delightful than the harmony into
which even the contrasts blended ever invited the guardian angel to pause
and smile.  As flowers in some trained parterre relieve each other, now
softening, now heightening, each several hue, till all unite in one
concord of interwoven beauty, so these two blooming natures, brought
together, seemed, where varying still, to melt and fuse their affluences
into one wealth of innocence and sweetness.  Both had a native buoyancy
and cheerfulness of spirit, a noble trustfulness in others, a singular
candour and freshness of mind and feeling.  But beneath the gayety of
Helen there was a soft and holy under-stream of thoughtful melancholy, a
high and religious sentiment, that vibrated more exquisitely to the
subtle mysteries of creation, the solemn unison between the bright world
without and the grave destinies of that world within (which is an
imperishable soul), than the lighter and more vivid youthfulness of
Percival had yet conceived.  In him lay the germs of the active mortal
who might win distinction in the bold career we run upon the surface of
the earth.  In her there was that finer and more spiritual essence which
lifts the poet to the golden atmosphere of dreams, and reveals in
glimpses to the saint the choral Populace of Heaven.  We do not say that
Helen would ever have found the utterance of the poet, that her reveries,
undefined and unanalyzed, could have taken the sharp, clear form of
words; for to the poet practically developed and made manifest to the
world, many other gifts besides the mere poetic sense are needed,--stern
study, and logical generalization of scattered truths, and patient
observation of the characters of men, and the wisdom that comes from
sorrow and passion, and a sage's experience of things actual, embracing
the dark secrets of human infirmity and crime.  But despite all that has
been said in disparagement or disbelief of "mute, inglorious Miltons," we
maintain that there are natures in which the divinest element of poetry
exists, the purer and more delicate for escaping from bodily form and
evaporating from the coarser vessels into which the poet, so called, must
pour the ethereal fluid.  There is a certain virtue within us,
comprehending our subtlest and noblest emotions, which is poetry while
untold, and grows pale and poor in proportion as we strain it into poems.
Nay, it may be said of this airy property of our inmost being that, more
or less, it departs from us according as we give it forth into the world,
even, as only by the loss of its particles, the rose wastes its perfume
on the air.  So this more spiritual sensibility dwelt in Helen as the
latent mesmerism in water, as the invisible fairy in an enchanted ring.
It was an essence or divinity, shrined and shrouded in herself, which
gave her more intimate and vital union with all the influences of the
universe, a companion to her loneliness, an angel hymning low to her own
listening soul.  This made her enjoyment of Nature, in its merest
trifles, exquisite and profound; this gave to her tenderness of heart all
the delicious and sportive variety love borrows from imagination; this
lifted her piety above the mere forms of conventional religion, and
breathed into her prayers the ecstasy of the saint.

But Helen was not the less filled with the sweet humanities of her age
and sex; her very gravity was tinged with rosy light, as a western cloud
with the sun.  She had sportiveness and caprice, and even whim, as the
butterfly, though the emblem of the soul, still flutters wantonly over
every wild-flower, and expands its glowing wings on the sides of the
beaten road.  And with a sense of weakness in the common world (growing
out of her very strength in nobler atmospheres), she leaned the more
trustfully on the strong arm of her young adorer, not fancying that the
difference between them arose from superiority in her; but rather as a
bird, once tamed, flies at the sight of the hawk to the breast of its
owner, so from each airy flight into the loftier heaven, let but the
thought of danger daunt her wing, and, as in a more powerful nature, she
took refuge on that fostering heart.

The love between these children--for so, if not literally in years, in
their newness to all that steals the freshness and the dew from maturer
life they may be rightly called--was such as befitted those whose souls
have not forfeited the Eden.  It was more like the love of fairies than
of human beings.  They showed it to each other innocently and frankly;
yet of love as we of the grosser creation call it, with its impatient
pains and burning hopes, they never spoke nor dreamed.  It was an
unutterable, ecstatic fondness, a clinging to each other in thought,
desire, and heart, a joy more than mortal in each other's presence; yet,
in parting, not that idle and empty sorrow which unfits the weak for the
homelier demands on time and life, and this because of the wondrous trust
in themselves and in the future, which made a main part of their
credulous, happy natures.  Neither felt fear nor jealousy, or if jealousy
came, it was the pretty, childlike jealousies which have no sting,--of
the bird, if Helen listened to its note too long; of the flower, if
Percival left Helen's side too quickly to tie up its drooping petals or
refresh its dusty leaves.  Close by the stir of the great city, with all
its fret and chafe and storm of life, in the desolate garden of that
sombre house, and under the withering eyes of relentless Crime, revived
the Arcady of old,--the scene vocal to the reeds of idyllist and
shepherd; and in the midst of the iron Tragedy, harmlessly and
unconsciously arose the strain of the Pastoral Music.

It would be a vain effort to describe the state of Lucretia's mind while
she watched the progress of the affection she had favoured, and gazed on
the spectacle of the fearless happiness she had promoted.  The image of a
felicity at once so great and so holy wore to her gloomy sight the aspect
of a mocking Fury.  It rose in contrast to her own ghastly and crime-
stained life; it did not upbraid her conscience with guilt so loudly as
it scoffed at her intellect for folly.  These children, playing on the
verge of life, how much more of life's true secret did they already know
than she, with all her vast native powers and wasted realms of blackened
and charred experience!  For what had she studied, and schemed, and
calculated, and toiled, and sinned?  As a conqueror stricken unto death
would render up all the regions vanquished by his sword for one drop of
water to his burning lips, how gladly would she have given all the
knowledge bought with blood and fire, to feel one moment as those
children felt!  Then, from out her silent and grim despair, stood forth,
fierce and prominent, the great fiend, Revenge.

By a monomania not uncommon to those who have made self the centre of
being, Lucretia referred to her own sullen history of wrong and passion
all that bore analogy to it, however distant.  She had never been
enabled, without an intolerable pang of hate and envy, to contemplate
courtship and love in others.  From the rudest shape to the most refined,
that master-passion in the existence, at least of woman,--reminding her
of her own brief episode of human tenderness and devotion,--opened every
wound and wrung every fibre of a heart that, while crime had indurated it
to most emotions, memory still left morbidly sensitive to one.  But if
tortured by the sight of love in those who had had no connection with her
fate, who stood apart from her lurid orbit and were gazed upon only afar
(as a lost soul, from the abyss, sees the gleam of angels' wings within
some planet it never has explored), how ineffably more fierce and
intolerable was the wrath that seized her when, in her haunted
imagination, she saw all Susan's rapture at the vows of Mainwaring
mantling in Helen's face!  All that might have disarmed a heart as hard,
but less diseased, less preoccupied by revenge, only irritated more the
consuming hate of that inexorable spirit.  Helen's seraphic purity, her
exquisite, overflowing kindness, ever forgetting self, her airy
cheerfulness, even her very moods of melancholy, calm and seemingly
causeless as they were, perpetually galled and blistered that writhing,
preternatural susceptibility which is formed by the consciousness of
infamy, the dreary egotism of one cut off from the charities of the
world, with whom all mirth is sardonic convulsion, all sadness rayless
and unresigned despair.

Of the two, Percival inspired her with feelings the most akin to
humanity.  For him, despite her bitter memories of his father, she felt
something of compassion, and shrank from the touch of his frank hand in
remorse.  She had often need to whisper to herself that his life was an
obstacle to the heritage of the son of whom, as we have seen, she was in
search, and whom, indeed, she believed she had already found in John
Ardworth; that it was not in wrath and in vengeance that this victim was
to be swept into the grave, but as an indispensable sacrifice to a
cherished object, a determined policy.  As, in the studies of her youth,
she had adopted the Machiavelism of ancient State-craft as a rule
admissible in private life, so she seemed scarcely to admit as a crime
that which was but the removal of a barrier between her aim and her end.
Before she had become personally acquainted with Percival she had
rejected all occasion to know him.  She had suffered Varney to call upon
him as the old protege of Sir Miles, and to wind into his intimacy,
meaning to leave to her accomplice, when the hour should arrive, the
dread task of destruction.  This not from cowardice, for Gabriel had once
rightly described her when he said that if she lived with shadows she
could quell them, but simply because, more intellectually unsparing than
constitutionally cruel (save where the old vindictive memories thoroughly
unsexed her), this was a victim whose pangs she desired not to witness,
over whose fate it was no luxury to gloat and revel.  She wished not to
see nor to know him living, only to learn that he was no more, and that
Helen alone stood between Laughton and her son.  Now that he had himself,
as if with predestined feet, crossed her threshold, that he, like Helen,
had delivered himself into her toils, the hideous guilt, before removed
from her hands, became haunting, fronted her face to face, and filled her
with a superstitious awe.

Meanwhile, her outward manner to both her meditated victims, if moody and
fitful at times, was not such as would have provoked suspicion even in
less credulous hearts.  From the first entry of Helen under her roof she
had been formal and measured in her welcome,--kept her, as it were,
aloof, and affected no prodigal superfluity of dissimulation; but she had
never been positively harsh or unkind in word or in deed, and had coldly
excused herself for the repulsiveness of her manner.

"I am irritable," she said, "from long suffering, I am unsocial from
habitual solitude; do not expect from me the fondness and warmth that
should belong to our relationship.  Do not harass yourself with vain
solicitude for one whom all seeming attention but reminds more painfully
of infirmity, and who, even thus stricken down, would be independent of
all cares not bought and paid for.  Be satisfied to live here in all
reasonable liberty, to follow your own habits and caprices uncontrolled.
Regard me but as a piece of necessary furniture.  You can never displease
me but when you notice that I live and suffer."

If Helen wept bitterly at these hard words when first spoken, it was not
with anger that her loving heart was so thrown back upon herself.  On the
contrary, she became inspired with a compassion so great that it took the
character of reverence.  She regarded this very coldness as a mournful
dignity.  She felt grateful that one who could thus dispense with, should
yet have sought her.  She had heard her mother say that she had been
under great obligations to Lucretia; and now, when she was forbidden to
repay them even by a kiss on those weary eyelids, a daughter's hand to
that sleepless pillow; when she saw that the barrier first imposed was
irremovable, that no time diminished the distance her aunt set between
them, that the least approach to the tenderness of service beyond the
most casual offices really seemed but to fret those excitable nerves, and
fever the hand that she ventured timorously to clasp,--she retreated into
herself with a sad amaze that increased her pity and heightened her
respect.  To her, love seemed so necessary a thing in the helplessness of
human life, even when blessed with health and youth, that this rejection
of all love in one so bowed and crippled, struck her imagination as
something sublime in its dreary grandeur and stoic pride of independence.
She regarded it as of old a tender and pious nun would have regarded the
asceticism of some sanctified recluse,--as Theresa (had she lived in the
same age) might have regarded Saint Simeon Stylites existing aloft from
human sympathy on the roofless summit of his column of stone; and with
this feeling she sought to inspire Percival.  He had the heart to enter
into her compassion, but not the imagination to sympathize with her
reverence.  Even the repugnant awe that he had first conceived for Madame
Dalibard, so bold was he by temperament, he had long since cast off; he
recognized only the moroseness and petulance of an habitual invalid, and
shook playfully his glossy curls when Helen, with her sweet seriousness,
insisted on his recognizing more.

To this house few, indeed, were the visitors admitted.  The Miverses,
whom the benevolent officiousness of Mr. Fielden had originally sent
thither to see their young kinswoman, now and then came to press Helen to
join some party to the theatre or Vauxhall, or a picnic in Richmond Park;
but when they found their overtures, which had at first been politely
accepted by Madame Dalibard, were rejected, they gradually ceased their
visits, wounded and indignant.

Certain it was that Lucretia had at one time eagerly caught at their
well-meant civilities to Helen,--now she as abruptly declined them.  Why?
It would be hard to plumb into all the black secrets of that heart.  It
would have been but natural to her, who shrank from dooming Helen to no
worse calamity than a virgin's grave, to have designed to throw her into
such uncongenial guidance, amidst all the manifold temptations of the
corrupt city,--to have suffered her to be seen and to be ensnared by
those gallants ever on the watch for defenceless beauty; and to contrast
with their elegance of mien and fatal flatteries the grossness of the
companions selected for her, and the unloving discomfort of the home into
which she had been thrown.  But now that St. John had appeared, that
Helen's heart and fancy were steeled alike against more dangerous
temptation, the object to be obtained from the pressing courtesy of Mrs.
Mivers existed no more.  The vengeance flowed into other channels.

The only other visitors at the house were John Ardworth and Gabriel
Varney.

Madame Dalibard watched vigilantly the countenance and manner of Ardworth
when, after presenting him to Percival, she whispered: "I am glad you
assured me as to your sentiments for Helen.  She had found there the
lover you wished for her,--'gay and handsome as herself.'"

And in the sudden paleness that overspread Ardworth's face, in his
compressed lips and convulsive start, she read with unspeakable rage the
untold secret of his heart, till the rage gave way to complacency at the
thought that the last insult to her wrongs was spared her,--that her son
(as son she believed he was) could not now, at least, be the successful
suitor of her loathed sister's loathed child.  Her discovery, perhaps,
confirmed her in her countenance to Percival's progressive wooing, and
half reconciled her to the pangs it inflicted on herself.

At the first introduction Ardworth had scarcely glanced at Percival.  He
regarded him but as the sleek flutterer in the sunshine of fortune.  And
for the idle, the gay, the fair, the well-dressed and wealthy, the sturdy
workman of his own rough way felt something of the uncharitable disdain
which the laborious have-nots too usually entertain for the prosperous
haves.  But the moment the unwelcome intelligence of Madame Dalibard was
conveyed to him, the smooth-faced boy swelled into dignity and
importance.

Yet it was not merely as a rival that that strong, manly heart, after the
first natural agony, regarded Percival.  No, he looked upon him less with
anger than with interest,--as the one in whom Helen's happiness was
henceforth to be invested.  And to Madame Dalibard's astonishment,--for
this nature was wholly new to her experience,--she saw him, even in that
first interview, composing his rough face to smiles, smoothing his bluff,
imperious accents into courtesy, listening patiently, watching benignly,
and at last thrusting his large hand frankly forth, griping Percival's
slender fingers in his own; and then, with an indistinct chuckle that
seemed half laugh and half groan, as if he did not dare to trust himself
further, he made his wonted unceremonious nod, and strode hurriedly from
the room.

But he came again and again, almost daily, for about a fortnight.
Sometimes, without entering the house, he would join the young people in
the garden, assist them with awkward hands in their playful work on the
garden, or sit with them in the ivied bower; and warming more and more
each time he came, talk at last with the cordial frankness of an elder
brother.  There was no disguise in this; he began to love Percival,--what
would seem more strange to the superficial, to admire him.  Genius has a
quick perception of the moral qualities; genius, which, differing thus
from mere talent, is more allied to the heart than to the head,
sympathizes genially with goodness.  Ardworth respected that young,
ingenuous, unpolluted mind; he himself felt better and purer in its
atmosphere.  Much of the affection he cherished for Helen passed thus
beautifully and nobly into his sentiments for the one whom Helen not
unworthily preferred.  And they grew so fond of him,--as the young and
gentle ever will grow fond of genius, however rough, once admitted to its
companionship!

Percival by this time had recalled to his mind where he had first seen
that strong-featured, dark-browed countenance, and he gayly reminded
Ardworth of his discourtesy, on the brow of the hill which commanded the
view of London.  That reminiscence made his new friend writhe; for then,
amidst all his ambitious visions of the future, he had seen Helen in the
distance,--the reward of every labour, the fairest star in his horizon.
But he strove stoutly against the regret of the illusion lost; the
vivendi causae were left him still, and for the nymph that had glided
from his clasp, he clung at least to the laurel that was left in her
place.  In the folds of his robust fortitude Ardworth thus wrapped his
secret.  Neither of his young playmates suspected it.  He would have
disdained himself if he had so poisoned their pleasure.  That he suffered
when alone, much and bitterly, is not to be denied; but in that masculine
and complete being, Love took but its legitimate rank amidst the passions
and cares of man.  It soured no existence, it broke no heart; the wind
swept some blossoms from the bough, and tossed wildly the agitated
branches from root to summit, but the trunk stood firm.

In some of these visits to Madame Dalibard's, Ardworth renewed with her
the more private conversation which had so unsettled his past convictions
as to his birth, and so disturbed the calm, strong currents of his mind.
He was chiefly anxious to learn what conjectures Madame Dalibard had
formed as to his parentage, and what ground there was for belief that he
was near in blood to herself, or that he was born to a station less
dependent on continuous exertion; but on these points the dark sibyl
preserved an obstinate silence.  She was satisfied with the hints she had
already thrown out, and absolutely refused to say more till better
authorized by the inquiries she had set on foot.  Artfully she turned
from these topics of closer and more household interest to those on which
she had previously insisted, connected with the general knowledge of
mankind, and the complicated science of practical life.  To fire his
genius, wing his energies, inflame his ambition above that slow,
laborious drudgery to which he had linked the chances of his career, and
which her fiery and rapid intellect was wholly unable to comprehend--save
as a waste of life for uncertain and distant objects--became her task.
And she saw with delight that Ardworth listened to her more assentingly
than he had done at first. In truth, the pain shut within his heart, the
conflict waged keenly between his reason and his passion, unfitted him
for the time for mere mechanical employment, in which his genius could
afford him no consolation.  Now, genius is given to man, not only to
enlighten others, but to comfort as well as to elevate himself.  Thus, in
all the sorrows of actual existence, the man is doubly inclined to turn
to his genius for distraction.  Harassed in this world of action, he
knocks at the gate of that world of idea or fancy which he is privileged
to enter; he escapes from the clay to the spirit.  And rarely, till some
great grief comes, does the man in whom the celestial fire is lodged know
all the gift of which he is possessed.  At last Ardworth's visits ceased
abruptly.  He shut himself up once more in his chambers; but the law
books were laid aside.

Varney, who generally contrived to call when Ardworth was not there,
seldom interrupted the lovers in their little paradise of the garden; but
he took occasion to ripen and cement his intimacy with Percival.
Sometimes he walked or (if St. John had his cabriolet) drove home and
dined with him, tete-a-tete, in Curzon Street; and as he made Helen his
chief subject of conversation, Percival could not but esteem him amongst
the most agreeable of men.  With Helen, when Percival was not there,
Varney held some secret conferences,--secret even from Percival.  Two or
three times, before the hour in which Percival was accustomed to come,
they had been out together; and Helen's face looked more cheerful than
usual on their return.  It was not surprising that Gabriel Varney, so
displeasing to a man like Ardworth, should have won little less favour
with Helen than with Percival; for, to say nothing of an ease and suavity
of manner which stole into the confidence of those in whom to confide was
a natural propensity, his various acquisitions and talents, imposing from
the surface over which they spread, and the glitter which they made, had
an inevitable effect upon a mind so susceptible as Helen's to admiration
for art and respect for knowledge.  But what chiefly conciliated her to
Varney, whom she regarded, moreover, as her aunt's most intimate friend,
was that she was persuaded he was unhappy, and wronged by the world of
fortune.  Varney had a habit of so representing himself,--of dwelling
with a bitter eloquence, which his natural malignity made forcible, on
the injustice of the world to superior intellect.  He was a great accuser
of Fate.  It is the illogical weakness of some evil natures to lay all
their crimes, and the consequences of crime, upon Destiny.  There was a
heat, a vigour, a rush of words, and a readiness of strong, if trite,
imagery in what Varney said that deceived the young into the monstrous
error that he was an enthusiast,--misanthropical, perhaps, but only so
from enthusiasm.  How could Helen, whose slightest thought, when a star
broke forth from the cloud, or a bird sung suddenly from the copse, had
more of wisdom and of poetry than all Varney's gaudy and painted seemings
ever could even mimic,--how could she be so deceived?  Yet so it was.
Here stood a man whose youth she supposed had been devoted to refined and
elevating pursuits, gifted, neglected, disappointed, solitary, and
unhappy.  She saw little beyond.  You had but to touch her pity to win
her interest and to excite her trust. Of anything further, even had
Percival never existed, she could not have dreamed.  It was because a
secret and undefinable repugnance, in the midst of pity, trust, and
friendship, put Varney altogether out of the light of a possible lover,
that all those sentiments were so easily kindled.  This repugnance arose
not from the disparity between their years; it was rather that nameless
uncongeniality which does not forbid friendship, but is irreconcilable
with love.  To do Varney justice, he never offered to reconcile the two.
Not for love did he secretly confer with Helen; not for love did his
heart beat against the hand which reposed so carelessly on his murderous
arm.



CHAPTER X.

THE RATTLE OF THE SNAKE.

The progress of affection between natures like those of Percival and
Helen, favoured by free and constant intercourse, was naturally rapid.
It was scarcely five weeks from the day he had first seen Helen, and he
already regarded her as his plighted bride.  During the earlier days of
his courtship, Percival, enamoured and absorbed for the first time in his
life, did not hasten to make his mother the confidante of his happiness.
He had written but twice; and though he said briefly, in the second
letter, that he had discovered two relations, both interesting and one
charming, he had deferred naming them or entering into detail.  This not
alone from that indescribable coyness which all have experienced in
addressing even those with whom they are most intimate, in the early,
half-unrevealed, and mystic emotions of first love, but because Lady
Diary's letters had been so full of her sister's declining health, of her
own anxieties and fears, that he had shrunk from giving her a new subject
of anxiety; and a confidence full of hope and joy seemed to him unfeeling
and unseasonable.  He knew how necessarily uneasy and restless an avowal
that his heart was seriously engaged to one she had never seen, would
make that tender mother, and that his confession would rather add to her
cares than produce sympathy with his transports.  But now, feeling
impatient for his mother's assent to the formal proposals which had
become due to Madame Dalibard and Helen, and taking advantage of the
letter last received from her, which gave more cheering accounts of her
sister, and expressed curiosity for further explanation as to his half
disclosure, he wrote at length, and cleared his breast of all its
secrets.  It was the same day in which he wrote this confession and
pleaded his cause that we accompany him to the house of his sweet
mistress, and leave him by her side, in the accustomed garden.  Within,
Madame Dalibard, whose chair was set by the window, bent over certain
letters, which she took, one by one, from her desk and read slowly,
lifting her eyes from time to time and glancing towards the young people
as they walked, hand in hand, round the small demesnes, now hid by the
fading foliage, now emerging into view.  Those letters were the early
love-epistles of William Mainwaring.  She had not recurred to them for
years.  Perhaps she now felt that food necessary to the sustainment of
her fiendish designs.  It was a strange spectacle to see this being, so
full of vital energy, mobile and restless as a serpent, condemned to that
helpless decrepitude, chained to the uneasy seat, not as in the resigned
and passive imbecility of extreme age, but rather as one whom in the
prime of life the rack has broken, leaving the limbs inert, the mind
active, the form as one dead, the heart with superabundant vigour,--a,
cripple's impotence and a Titan's will!  What, in that dreary
imprisonment and amidst the silence she habitually preserved, passed
through the caverns of that breast, one can no more conjecture than one
can count the blasts that sweep and rage through the hollows of
impenetrable rock, or the elements that conflict in the bosom of the
volcano, everlastingly at work.  She had read and replaced the letters,
and leaning her cheek on her hand, was gazing vacantly on the wall, when
Varney intruded on that dismal solitude.

He closed the door after him with more than usual care; and drawing a
seat close to Lucretia, said, "Belle-mere, the time has arrived for you
to act; my part is wellnigh closed."

"Ay," said Lucretia, wearily, "what is the news you bring?"

"First," replied Varney, and as he spoke, he shut the window, as if his
whisper could possibly be heard without,--"first, all this business
connected with Helen is at length arranged.  You know when, agreeably to
your permission, I first suggested to her, as it were casually, that you
were so reduced in fortune that I trembled to regard your future; that
you had years ago sacrificed nearly half your pecuniary resources to
maintain her parents,--she of herself reminded me that she was entitled,
when of age, to a sum far exceeding all her wants, and--"

"That I might be a pensioner on the child of William Mainwaring and Susan
Mivers," interrupted Lucretia.  "I know that, and thank her not.  Pass
on."

"And you know, too, that in the course of my conversation with the girl I
let out also incidentally that, even so, you were dependent on the
chances of her life; that if she died (and youth itself is mortal) before
she was of age, the sum left her by her grandfather would revert to her
father's family; and so, by hints, I drew her on to ask if there was no
mode by which, in case of her death, she might insure subsistence to you.
So that you see the whole scheme was made at her own prompting.  I did
but, as a man of business, suggest the means,--an insurance on her life."

"Varney, these details are hateful.  I do not doubt that you have done
all to forestall inquiry and elude risk.  The girl has insured her life
to the amount of her fortune?"

"To that amount only?  Pooh!  Her death will buy more than that.  As no
one single office will insure for more than 5,000 pounds, and as it was
easy to persuade her that such offices were liable to failure, and that
it was usual to insure in several, and for a larger amount than the sum
desired, I got her to enter herself at three of the principal offices.
The amount paid to us on her death will be 15,000 pounds.  It will be
paid (and here I have followed the best legal advice) in trust to me for
your benefit.  Hence, therefore, even if our researches fail us, if no
son of yours can be found, with sufficient evidence to prove, against the
keen interests and bought advocates of heirs-at-law, the right to
Laughton, this girl will repay us well, will replace what I have taken,
at the risk of my neck, perhaps,--certainly at the risk of the hulks,--
from the capital of my uncle's legacy, will refund what we have spent on
the inquiry; and the residue will secure to you an independence sufficing
for your wants almost for life, and to me what will purchase with
economy," and Varney smiled, "a year or so of a gentleman's idle
pleasures.  Are you satisfied thus far?"

"She will die happy and innocent," muttered Lucretia, with the growl of
demoniac disappointment.

"Will you wait, then, till my forgery is detected, and I have no power to
buy the silence of the trustees,--wait till I am in prison, and on a
trial for life and death?  Reflect, every day, every hour, of delay is
fraught with peril.  But if my safety is nothing compared to the
refinement of your revenge, will you wait till Helen marries Percival St.
John?  You start!  But can you suppose that this innocent love-play will
not pass rapidly to its denouement?  It is but yesterday that Percival
confided to me that he should write this very day to his mother, and
communicate all his feelings and his hopes; that he waited but her assent
to propose formally for Helen.  Now one of two things must happen.
Either this mother, haughty and vain as lady-mothers mostly are, may
refuse consent to her son's marriage with the daughter of a disgraced
banker and the niece of that Lucretia Dalibard whom her husband would not
admit beneath his roof--"

"Hold, sir!" exclaimed Lucretia, haughtily; and amidst all the passions
that darkened her countenance and degraded her soul, some flash of her
ancestral spirit shot across her brow.  But it passed quickly, and she
added, with fierce composure, "You are right; go on!"

"Either-and pardon me for an insult that comes not from me--either this
will be the case: Lady Mary St. John will hasten back in alarm to London;
she exercises extraordinary control over her son; she may withdraw him
from us altogether, from me as well as you, and the occasion now
presented to us may be lost (who knows?) forever,--or she may be a weak
and fond woman; may be detained in Italy by her sister's illness; may be
anxious that the last lineal descendant of the St. Johns should marry
betimes, and, moved by her darling's prayers, may consent at once to the
union.  Or a third course, which Percival thinks the most probable, and
which, though most unwelcome to us of all, I had wellnigh forgotten, may
be adopted.  She may come to England, and in order to judge her son's
choice with her own eyes, may withdraw Helen from your roof to hers.  At
all events, delays are dangerous,--dangerous, putting aside my personal
interest, and regarding only your own object,--may bring to our acts new
and searching eyes; may cut us off from the habitual presence either of
Percival or Helen, or both; or surround them, at the first breath of
illness, with prying friends and formidable precautions.  The birds now
are in our hands.  Why then open the cage and bid them fly, in order to
spread the net?  This morning all the final documents with the Insurance
Companies are completed.  It remains for me but to pay the first
quarterly premiums.  For that I think I am prepared, without drawing
further on your hoards or my own scanty resources, which Grabman will
take care to drain fast enough."

"And Percival St. John?" said Madame Dalibard.  "We want no idle
sacrifices.  If my son be not found, we need not that boy's ghost amongst
those who haunt us."

"Surely not," said Varney; "and for my part, he may be more useful to me
alive than dead.  There is no insurance on his life, and a rich friend
(credulous greenhorn that he is!) is scarcely of that flock of geese
which it were wise to slay from the mere hope of a golden egg.  Percival
St. John is your victim, not mine; not till you give the order would I
lift a finger to harm him."

"Yes, let him live, unless my son be found to me," said Madame Dalibard,
almost exultingly,--"let him live to forget yon fair-faced fool, leaning
now, see you, so delightedly on his arm, and fancying eternity in the
hollow vows of love; let him live to wrong and abandon her by
forgetfulness, though even in the grave; to laugh at his boyish dreams,--
to sully her memory in the arms of harlots!  Oh, if the dead can suffer,
let him live, that she may feel beyond the grave his inconstancy and his
fall.  Methinks that that thought will comfort me if Vincent be no more,
and I stand childless in the world!"

"It is so settled, then," said Varney, ever ready to clinch the business
that promised gold, and relieve his apprehensions of the detection of his
fraud.  "And now to your noiseless hands, as soon as may be, I consign
the girl; she has lived long enough!"



CHAPTER XI.

LOVE AND INNOCENCE.

During this conference between these execrable and ravening birds of
night and prey, Helen and her boy-lover were thus conversing in the
garden; while the autumn sun--for it was in the second week of October--
broke pleasantly through the yellowing leaves of the tranquil shrubs, and
the flowers, which should have died with the gone summer, still fresh by
tender care, despite the lateness of the season, smiled gratefully as
their light footsteps passed.

"Yes, Helen," said Percival,--"yes, you will love my mother, for she is
one of those people who seem to attract love, as if it were a property
belonging to them.  Even my dog Beau (you know how fond Beau is of me!)
always nestles at her feet when we are at home.  I own she has pride, but
it is a pride that never offended any one.  You know there are some
flowers that we call proud.  The pride of the flower is not more harmless
than my mother's.  But perhaps pride is not the right word,--it is rather
the aversion to anything low or mean, the admiration for everything pure
and high.  Ah, how that very pride--if pride it be--will make her love
you, my Helen!"

"You need not tell me," said Helen, smiling seriously, "that I shall love
your mother,--I love her already; nay, from the first moment you said you
had a mother, my heart leaped to her.  Your mother,--if ever you are
really jealous, it must be of her!  But that she should love me,--that is
what I doubt and fear.  For if you were my brother, Percival, I should be
so ambitious for you.  A nymph must rise from the stream, a sylphid from
the rose, before I could allow another to steal you from my side.  And if
I think I should feel this only as your sister, what can be precious
enough to satisfy a mother?"

"You, and you only," answered Percival, with his blithesome laugh,--"you,
my sweet Helen, much better than nymph or sylphid, about whom, between
ourselves, I never cared three straws, even in a poem.  How pleased you
will be with Laughton!  Do you know, I was lying awake all last night to
consider what room you would like best for your own?  And at last I have
decided.  Come, listen,--it opens from the music-gallery that overhangs
the hall.  From the window you overlook the southern side of the park,
and catch a view of the lake beyond.  There are two niches in the wall,--
one for your piano, one for your favourite books.  It is just large
enough to hold four persons with ease,--our mother and myself, your aunt,
whom by that time we shall have petted into good humour; and if we can
coax Ardworth there,--the best good fellow that ever lived,--I think our
party will be complete.  By the way, I am uneasy about Ardworth, it is so
long since we have seen him; I have called three times,--nay, five,--but
his odd-looking clerk always swears he is not at home.  Tell me, Helen,
now you know him so well,--tell me how I can serve him?  You know, I am
so terribly rich (at least, I shall be in a month or two), I can never
get through my money, unless my friends will help me.  And is it not
shocking that that noble fellow should be so poor, and yet suffer me to
call him 'friend,' as if in friendship one man should want everything,
and the other nothing?  Still, I don't know how to venture to propose.
Come, you understand me, Helen; let us lay our wise heads together and
make him well off, in spite of himself."

It was in this loose boyish talk of Percival that he had found the way,
not only to Helen's heart, but to her soul.  For in this she (grand,
undeveloped poetess!) recognized a nobler poetry than we chain to
rhythm,--the poetry of generous deeds.  She yearned to kiss the warm hand
she held, and drew nearer to his side as she answered: "And sometimes,
dear, dear Percival, you wonder why I would rather listen to you than to
all Mr. Varney's bitter eloquence, or even to my dear cousin's aspiring
ambition.  They talk well, but it is of themselves; while you--"

Percival blushed, and checked her.

"Well," she said,--"well, to your question.  Alas! you know little of my
cousin if you think all our arts could decoy him out of his rugged
independence; and much as I love him, I could not wish it.  But do not
fear for him; he is one of those who are born to succeed, and without
help."

"How do you know that, pretty prophetess?" said Percival, with the
superior air of manhood.  "I have seen more of the world than you have,
and I cannot see why Ardworth should succeed, as you call it; or, if so,
why he should succeed less if he swung his hammock in a better berth than
that hole in Gray's Inn, and would just let me keep him a cab and groom."

Had Percival talked of keeping John Ardworth an elephant and a palaquin,
Helen could not have been more amused.  She clapped her little hands in a
delight that provoked Percival, and laughed out loud.  Then, seeing her
boy-lover's lip pouted petulantly, and his brow was overcast, she said,
more seriously,--

"Do you not know what it is to feel convinced of something which you
cannot explain?  Well, I feel this as to my cousin's fame and fortunes.
Surely, too, you must feel it, you scarce know why, when he speaks of
that future which seems so dim and so far to me, as of something that
belonged to him."

"Very true, Helen," said Percival; "he lays it out like the map of his
estate.  One can't laugh when he says so carelessly: 'At such an age I
shall lead my circuit; at such an age I shall be rich; at such an age I
shall enter parliament; and beyond that I shall look as yet--no farther.'
And, poor fellow, then he will be forty-three!  And in the mean while to
suffer such privations!"

"There are no privations to one who lives in the future," said Helen,
with that noble intuition into lofty natures which at times flashed from
her childish simplicity, foreshadowing what, if Heaven spare her life,
her maturer intellect may develop; "for Ardworth there is no such thing
as poverty.  He is as rich in his hopes as we are in--"  She stopped
short, blushed, and continued, with downcast looks: "As well might you
pity me in these walks, so dreary without you.  I do not live in them, I
live in my thoughts of you."

Her voice trembled with emotion in those last words.  She slid from
Percival's arm, and timidly sat down (and he beside her) on a little
mound under the single chestnut-tree, that threw its shade over the
garden.

Both were silent for some moments,--Percival, with grateful ecstasy;
Helen, with one of those sudden fits of mysterious melancholy to which
her nature was so subjected.

He was the first to speak.  "Helen," he said gravely, "since I have known
you, I feel as if life were a more solemn thing than I ever regarded it
before.  It seems to me as if a new and more arduous duty were added to
those for which I was prepared,--a duty, Helen, to become worthy of you!
Will you smile?  No, you will not smile if I say I have had my brief
moments of ambition.  Sometimes as a boy, with Plutarch in my hand,
stretched idly under the old cedar-trees at Laughton; sometimes as a
sailor, when, becalmed on the Atlantic, and my ears freshly filled with
tales of Collingwood and Nelson, I stole from my comrades and leaned
musingly over the boundless sea.  But when this ample heritage passed to
me, when I had no more my own fortunes to make, my own rank to build up,
such dreams became less and less frequent.  Is it not true that wealth
makes us contented to be obscure?  Yes; I understand, while I speak, why
poverty itself befriends, not cripples, Ardworth's energies.  But since I
have known you, dearest Helen, those dreams return more vividly than
ever.  He who claims you should be--must be--something nobler than the
crowd.  Helen,"--and he rose by an irresistible and restless impulse,--"I
shall not be contented till you are as proud of your choice as I of
mine!"

It seemed, as Percival spoke and looked, as if boyhood were cast from him
forever.  The unusual weight and gravity of his words, to which his tone
gave even eloquence; the steady flash of his dark eyes; his erect,
elastic form,--all had the dignity of man.  Helen gazed on him silently,
and with a heart so full that words would not come, and tears overflowed
instead.

That sight sobered him at once; he knelt down beside her, threw his arms
around her,--it was his first embrace,--and kissed the tears away.

"How have I distressed you?  Why do you weep?"

"Let me weep on, Percival, dear Percival!  These tears are like prayers,-
-they speak to Heaven--and of you!"

A step came noiselessly over the grass, and between the lovers and the
sunlight stood Gabriel Varney.



CHAPTER XII.

SUDDEN CELEBRITY AND PATIENT HOPE.

Percival was unusually gloomy and abstracted in his way to town that day,
though Varney was his companion, and in the full play of those animal
spirits which he owed to his unrivalled physical organization and the
obtuseness of his conscience.  Seeing, at length, that his gayety did not
communicate itself to Percival, he paused, and looked at him
suspiciously.  A falling leaf startles the steed, and a shadow the guilty
man.

"You are sad, Percival," he said inquiringly.  "What has disturbed you?"

"It is nothing,--or, at least, would seem nothing to you," answered
Percival, with an effort to smile, for I have heard you laugh at the
doctrine of presentiments.  We sailors are more superstitious."

"What presentiment can you possibly entertain?" asked Varney, more
anxiously than Percival could have anticipated.

"Presentiments are not so easily defined, Varney.  But, in truth, poor
Helen has infected me.  Have you not remarked that, gay as she habitually
is, some shadow comes over her so suddenly that one cannot trace the
cause?"

"My dear Percival," said Varney, after a short pause, "what you say does
not surprise me.  It would be false kindness to conceal from you that I
have heard Madame Dalibard say that her mother was, when about her age,
threatened with consumptive symptoms; but she lived many years
afterwards.  Nay, nay, rally yourself; Helen's appearance, despite the
extreme purity of her complexion, is not that of one threatened by the
terrible malady of our climate.  The young are often haunted with the
idea of early death.  As we grow older, that thought is less cherished;
in youth it is a sort of luxury.  To this mournful idea (which you see
you have remarked as well as I) we must attribute not only Helen's
occasional melancholy, but a generosity of forethought which I cannot
deny myself the pleasure of communicating to you, though her delicacy
would be shocked at my indiscretion.  You know how helpless her aunt is.
Well, Helen, who is entitled, when of age, to a moderate competence, has
persuaded me to insure her life and accept a trust to hold the moneys (if
ever unhappily due) for the benefit of my mother-in-law, so that Madame
Dalibard may not be left destitute if her niece die before she is twenty-
one.  How like Helen, is it not?"

Percival was too overcome to answer.

Varney resumed: "I entreat you not to mention this to Helen; it would
offend her modesty to have the secret of her good deeds thus betrayed by
one to whom alone she confided them.  I could not resist her entreaties,
though, entre nous, it cripples me not a little to advance for her the
necessary sums for the premiums.  Apropos, this brings me to a point on
which I feel, as the vulgar idiom goes, 'very awkward,'--as I always do
in these confounded money-matters.  But you were good enough to ask me to
paint you a couple of pictures for Laughton.  Now, if you could let me
have some portion of the sum, whatever it be (for I don't price my
paintings to you), it would very much oblige me."

Percival turned away his face as he wrung Varney's hand, and muttered,
with a choked voice: "Let me have my share in Helen's divine forethought.
Good Heavens! she, so young, to look thus beyond the grave, always for
others--for others!"

Callous as the wretch was, Percival's emotion and his proposal struck
Varney with a sentiment like compunction.  He had designed to appropriate
the lover's gold as it was now offered; but that Percival himself should
propose it, blind to the grave to which that gold paved the way, was a
horror not counted in those to which his fell cupidity and his goading
apprehensions had familiarized his conscience.

"No," he said, with one of those wayward scruples to which the blackest
criminals are sometimes susceptible,--"no.  I have promised Helen to
regard this as a loan to her, which she is to repay me when of age.  What
you may advance me is for the pictures.  I have a right to do as I please
with what is bought by my own labour.  And the subjects of the pictures,
what shall they be?"

"For one picture try and recall Helen's aspect and attitude when you came
to us in the garden, and entitle your subject: 'The Foreboding.'"

"Hem!" said Varney, hesitatingly.  "And the other subject?"

"Wait for that till the joy-bells at Laughton have welcomed a bride, and
then--and then, Varney," added Percival, with something of his natural
joyous smile, "you must take the expression as you find it.  Once under
my care, and, please Heaven, the one picture shall laughingly upbraid the
other!"

As this was said, the cabriolet stopped at Percival's door.  Varney dined
with him that day; and if the conversation flagged, it did not revert to
the subject which had so darkened the bright spirits of the host, and so
tried the hypocrisy of the guest. When Varney left, which he did as soon
as the dinner was concluded, Percival silently put a check into his
hands, to a greater amount than Varney had anticipated even from his
generosity.

"This is for four pictures, not two," he said, shaking his head; and
then, with his characteristic conceit, he added: "Well, some years hence
the world shall not call them overpaid.  Adieu, my Medici; a dozen such
men, and Art would revive in England."

When he was left alone, Percival sat down, and leaning his face on both
hands, gave way to the gloom which his native manliness and the delicacy
that belongs to true affection had made him struggle not to indulge in
the presence of another.  Never had he so loved Helen as in that hour;
never had he so intimately and intensely felt her matchless worth.  The
image of her unselfish, quiet, melancholy consideration for that austere,
uncaressing, unsympathizing relation, under whose shade her young heart
must have withered, seemed to him filled with a celestial pathos.  And he
almost hated Varney that the cynic painter could have talked of it with
that business-like phlegm.  The evening deepened; the tranquil street
grew still; the air seemed close; the solitude oppressed him; he rose
abruptly, seized his hat, and went forth slowly, and still with a heavy
heart.

As he entered Piccadilly, on the broad step of that house successively
inhabited by the Duke of Queensberry and Lord Hertford,--on the step of
that mansion up which so many footsteps light with wanton pleasure have
gayly trod, Percival's eye fell upon a wretched, squalid, ragged object,
doubled up, as it were, in that last despondency which has ceased to beg,
that has no care to steal, that has no wish to live.  Percival halted,
and touched the outcast.

"What is the matter, my poor fellow?  Take care; the policeman will not
suffer you to rest here.  Come, cheer up, I say!  There is something to
find you a better lodging!"

The silver fell unheeded on the stones.  The thing of rags did not even
raise its head, but a low, broken voice muttered,--

"It be too late now; let 'em take me to prison, let 'em send me 'cross
the sea to Buttany, let 'em hang me, if they please.  I be 's good for
nothin' now,--nothin'!"

Altered as the voice was, it struck Percival as familiar.  He looked down
and caught a view of the drooping face.  "Up, man, up!" he said cheerily.
"See, Providence sends you an old friend in need, to teach you never to
despair again."

The hearty accent, more than the words, touched and aroused the poor
creature.  He rose mechanically, and a sickly, grateful smile passed over
his wasted features as he recognized St. John.

"Come!  how is this?  I have always understood that to keep a crossing
was a flourishing trade nowadays."

"I 'as no crossin'.  I 'as sold her!" groaned Beck.  "I be's good for
nothin' now but to cadge about the streets, and steal, and filch, and
hang like the rest on us!  Thank you kindly, sir," and Beck pulled his
forelock, "but, please your honour, I vould rather make an ind on it!"

"Pooh, pooh! didn't I tell you when you wanted a friend to come to me?
Why did you doubt me, foolish fellow?  Pick up those shillings; get a bed
and a supper.  Come and see me to-morrow at nine o'clock; you know
where,--the same house in Curzon Street; you shall tell me then your
whole story, and it shall go hard but I'll buy you another crossing, or
get you something just as good."

Poor Beck swayed a moment or two on his slender legs like a drunken man,
and then, suddenly falling on his knees, he kissed the hem of his
benefactor's garment, and fairly wept.  Those tears relieved him; they
seemed to wash the drought of despair from his heart.

"Hush, hush! or we shall have a crowd round us.  You'll not forget, my
poor friend, No.---- Curzon Street,--nine to-morrow.  Make haste now, and
get food and rest; you look, indeed, as if you wanted them.  Ah, would to
Heaven all the poverty in this huge city stood here in thy person, and we
could aid it as easily as I can thee!"

Percival had moved on as he said those last words, and looking back, he
had the satisfaction to see that Beck was slowly crawling after him, and
had escaped the grim question of a very portly policeman, who had no
doubt expressed a natural indignation at the audacity of so ragged a
skeleton not keeping itself respectably at home in its churchyard.

Entering one of the clubs in St. James's Street, Percival found a small
knot of politicians in eager conversation respecting a new book which had
been published but a day or two before, but which had already seized the
public attention with that strong grasp which constitutes always an era
in an author's life, sometimes an epoch in a nation's literature.  The
newspapers were full of extracts from the work,--the gossips, of
conjecture as to the authorship.  We need scarcely say that a book which
makes this kind of sensation must hit some popular feeling of the hour,
supply some popular want.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, therefore,
its character is political; it was so in the present instance.  It may be
remembered that that year parliament sat during great part of the month
of October, that it was the year in which the Reform Bill was rejected by
the House of Lords, and that public feeling in our time had never been so
keenly excited.  This work appeared during the short interval between the
rejection of the Bill and the prorogation of parliament [Parliament was
prorogued October 20th; the bill rejected by the Lords, October 8th].
And what made it more remarkable was, that while stamped with the passion
of the time, there was a weight of calm and stern reasoning embodied in
its vigorous periods, which gave to the arguments of the advocate
something of the impartiality of the judge.  Unusually abstracted and
unsocial,--for, despite his youth and that peculiar bashfulness before
noticed, he was generally alive enough to all that passed around him,--
Percival paid little attention to the comments that circulated round the
easy-chairs in his vicinity, till a subordinate in the administration,
with whom he was slightly acquainted, pushed a small volume towards him
and said,--"You have seen this, of course, St. John?  Ten to one you do
not guess the author.  It is certainly not B----m, though the Lord
Chancellor has energy enough for anything.  R---- says it has a touch of
S----r."

"Could M----y have written it?" asked a young member of parliament,
timidly.

"M----y!  Very like his matchless style, to be sure!  You can have read
very little of M----y, I should think," said the subordinate, with the
true sneer of an official and a critic.

The young member could have slunk into a nutshell.  Percival, with very
languid interest, glanced over the volume.  But despite his mood, and his
moderate affection for political writings, the passage he opened upon
struck and seized him unawares.  Though the sneer of the official was
just, and the style was not comparable to M----y's (whose is?), still,
the steady rush of strong words, strong with strong thoughts, heaped
massively together, showed the ease of genius and the gravity of thought.
The absence of all effeminate glitter, the iron grapple with the pith and
substance of the argument opposed, seemed familiar to Percival.  He
thought he heard the deep bass of John Ardworth's earnest voice when some
truth roused his advocacy, or some falsehood provoked his wrath.  He put
down the book, bewildered.  Could it be the obscure, briefless lawyer in
Gray's Inn (that very morning the object of his young pity) who was thus
lifted into fame?  He smiled at his own credulity.  But he listened with
more attention to the enthusiastic praises that circled round, and the
various guesses which accompanied them.  Soon, however, his former gloom
returned,--the Babel began to chafe and weary him.  He rose, and went
forth again into the air.  He strolled on without purpose, but
mechanically, into the street where he had first seen Helen.  He paused a
few moments under the colonnade which faced Beck's old deserted crossing.
His pause attracted the notice of one of the unhappy beings whom we
suffer to pollute our streets and rot in our hospitals.  She approached
and spoke to him,--to him whose heart was so full of Helen!  He
shuddered, and strode on.  At length he paused before the twin towers of
Westminster Abbey, on which the moon rested in solemn splendour; and in
that space one man only shared his solitude.  A figure with folded arms
leaned against the iron rails near the statue of Canning, and his gaze
comprehended in one view the walls of the Parliament, in which all
passions wage their war, and the glorious abbey, which gives a Walhalla
to the great.  The utter stillness of the figure, so in unison with the
stillness of the scene, had upon Percival more effect than would have
been produced by the most clamorous crowd.  He looked round curiously as
he passed, and uttered an exclamation as he recognized John Ardworth.

"You, Percival!" said Ardworth.  "A strange meeting-place at this hour!
What can bring you hither?"

"Only whim, I fear; and you?" as Percival linked his arm into Ardworth's.

"Twenty years hence I will tell you what brought me hither!" answered
Ardworth, moving slowly back towards Whitehall.

"If we are alive then!"

"We live till our destinies below are fulfilled; till our uses have
passed from us in this sphere, and rise to benefit another.  For the soul
is as a sun, but with this noble distinction,--the sun is confined in its
career; day after day it visits the same lands, gilds the same planets or
rather, as the astronomers hold, stands, the motionless centre of moving
worlds.  But the soul, when it sinks into seeming darkness and the deep,
rises to new destinies, fresh regions unvisited before.  What we call
Eternity, may be but an endless series of those transitions which men
call 'deaths,' abandonments of home after home, ever to fairer scenes and
loftier heights.  Age after age, the spirit, that glorious Nomad, may
shift its tent, fated not to rest in the dull Elysium of the Heathen, but
carrying with it evermore its elements,--Activity and Desire.  Why should
the soul ever repose?  God, its Principle, reposes never.  While we
speak, new worlds are sparkling forth, suns are throwing off their
nebulae, nebulae are hardening into worlds.  The Almighty proves his
existence by creating.  Think you that Plato is at rest, and Shakspeare
only basking on a sun-cloud?  Labour is the very essence of spirit, as of
divinity; labour is the purgatory of the erring; it may become the hell
of the wicked, but labour is not less the heaven of the good!"

Ardworth spoke with unusual earnestness and passion, and his idea of the
future was emblematic of his own active nature; for each of us is wisely
left to shape out, amidst the impenetrable mists, his own ideal of the
Hereafter.  The warrior child of the biting North placed his Hela amid
snows, and his Himmel in the banquets of victorious war; the son of the
East, parched by relentless summer,--his hell amidst fire, and his
elysium by cooling streams; the weary peasant sighs through life for
rest, and rest awaits his vision beyond the grave; the workman of
genius,--ever ardent, ever young,--honours toil as the glorious
development of being, and springs refreshed over the abyss of the grave,
to follow, from star to star, the progress that seems to him at once the
supreme felicity and the necessary law.  So be it with the fantasy of
each!  Wisdom that is infallible, and love that never sleeps, watch over
the darkness, and bid darkness be, that we may dream!

"Alas!" said the young listener, "what reproof do you not convey to
those, like me, who, devoid of the power which gives results to every
toil, have little left to them in life, but to idle life away.  All have
not the gift to write, or harangue, or speculate, or--"

"Friend," interrupted Ardworth, bluntly, "do not belie yourself.  There
lives not a man on earth--out of a lunatic asylum--who has not in him the
power to do good.  What can writers, haranguers, or speculators do more
than that?  Have you ever entered a cottage, ever travelled in a coach,
ever talked with a peasant in the field, or loitered with a mechanic at
the loom, and not found that each of those men had a talent you had not,
knew some things you knew not?  The most useless creature that ever
yawned at a club, or counted the vermin on his rags under the suns of
Calabria, has no excuse for want of intellect.  What men want is not
talent, it is purpose,--in other words, not the power to achieve, but the
will to labour.  You, Percival St. John,--you affect to despond, lest you
should not have your uses; you, with that fresh, warm heart; you, with
that pure enthusiasm for what is fresh and good; you, who can even admire
a thing like Varney, because, through the tawdry man, you recognize art
and skill, even though wasted in spoiling canvas; you, who have only to
live as you feel, in order to diffuse blessings all around you,--fie,
foolish boy! you will own your error when I tell you why I come from my
rooms at Gray's Inn to see the walls in which Hampden, a plain country
squire like you, shook with plain words the tyranny of eight hundred
years."

"Ardworth, I will not wait your time to tell me what took you yonder.  I
have penetrated a secret that you, not kindly, kept from me.  This
morning you rose and found yourself famous; this evening you have come to
gaze upon the scene of the career to which that fame will more rapidly
conduct you--"

"And upon the tomb which the proudest ambition I can form on earth must
content itself to win!  A poor conclusion, if all ended here!"

"I am right, however," said Percival, with boyish pleasure.  "It is you
whose praises have just filled my ears.  You, dear, dear Ardworth!  How
rejoiced I am!"

Ardworth pressed heartily the hand extended to him: "I should have
trusted you with my secret to-morrow, Percival; as it is, keep it for the
present.  A craving of my nature has been satisfied, a grief has found
distraction.  As for the rest, any child that throws a stone into the
water with all his force can make a splash; but he would be a fool indeed
if he supposed that the splash was a sign that he had turned a stream."

Here Ardworth ceased abruptly; and Percival, engrossed by a bright idea,
which had suddenly occurred to him, exclaimed,--

"Ardworth, your desire, your ambition, is to enter parliament; there must
be a dissolution shortly,--the success of your book will render you
acceptable to many a popular constituency.  All you can want is a sum for
the necessary expenses.  Borrow that sum from me; repay me when you are
in the Cabinet, or attorney-general.  It shall be so!"

A look so bright that even by that dull lamplight the glow of the cheek,
the brilliancy of the eye were visible, flashed over Ardworth's face.  He
felt at that moment what ambitious man must feel when the object he has
seen dimly and afar is placed within his grasp; but his reason was proof
even against that strong temptation.

He passed his arm round the boy's slender waist, and drew him to his
heart with grateful affection as he replied,--"And what, if now in
parliament, giving up my career,--with no regular means of subsistence,--
what could I be but a venal adventurer?  Place would become so vitally
necessary to me that I should feed but a dangerous war between my
conscience and my wants.  In chasing Fame, the shadow, I should lose the
substance, Independence.  Why, that very thought would paralyze my
tongue.  No, no, my generous friend.  As labour is the arch elevator of
man, so patience is the essence of labour.  First let me build the
foundation; I may then calculate the height of my tower.  First let me be
independent of the great; I will then be the champion of the lowly.
Hold!  Tempt me no more; do not lure me to the loss of self-esteem.  And
now, Percival," resumed Ardworth, in the tone of one who wishes to plunge
into some utterly new current of thought, "let us forget for awhile these
solemn aspirations, and be frolicsome and human.  'Nemo mortalium omnibus
horis sapit.'  'Neque semper arcum tendit Apollo.'  What say you to a
cigar?"

Percival stared.  He was not yet familiarized to the eccentric whims of
his friend.

"Hot negus and a cigar!" repeated Ardworth, while a smile, full of
drollery, played round the corners of his lips and twinkled in his deep-
set eyes.

"Are you serious?"

"Not serious; I have been serious enough," and Ardworth sighed, "for the
last three weeks.  Who goes 'to Corinth to be sage,' or to the Cider
Cellar to be serious?"

"I subscribe, then, to the negus and cigar," said Percival, smiling; and
he had no cause to repent his compliance as he accompanied Ardworth to
one of the resorts favoured by that strange person in his rare hours of
relaxation.

For, seated at his favourite table, which happened, luckily, to be
vacant, with his head thrown carelessly back, and his negus steaming
before him, John Ardworth continued to pour forth, till the clock struck
three, jest upon jest, pun upon pun, broad drollery upon broad drollery,
without flagging, without intermission, so varied, so copious, so ready,
so irresistible that Percival was transported out of all his melancholy
in enjoying, for the first time in his life, the exuberant gayety of a
grave mind once set free,--all its intellect sparkling into wit, all its
passion rushing into humour.  And this was the man he had pitied,
supposed to have no sunny side to his life!  How much greater had been
his compassion and his wonder if he could have known all that had passed,
within the last few weeks, through that gloomy, yet silent breast, which,
by the very breadth of its mirth, showed what must be the depth of its
sadness!



CHAPTER XIII.

THE LOSS OF THE CROSSING.

Despite the lateness of the hour before he got to rest, Percival had
already breakfasted, when his valet informed him, with raised,
supercilious eyebrows, that an uncommon ragged sort of a person insisted
that he had been told to call.  Though Beck had been at the house before,
and the valet had admitted him, so much thinner, so much more ragged was
he now, that the trim servant--no close observer of such folk--did not
recognize him.  However, at Percival's order, too well-bred to show
surprise, he ushered Beck up with much civility; and St. John was
painfully struck with the ravages a few weeks had made upon the sweeper's
countenance.  The lines were so deeply ploughed, the dry hair looked so
thin, and was so sown with gray that Beck might have beat all Farren's
skill in the part of an old man.

The poor sweeper's tale, extricated from its peculiar phraseology, was
simple enough, and soon told.  He had returned home at night to find his
hoards stolen, and the labour of his life overthrown.  How he passed that
night he did not very well remember.  We may well suppose that the little
reason he possessed was wellnigh bereft from him.  No suspicion of the
exact thief crossed his perturbed mind.  Bad as Grabman's character might
be, he held a respectable position compared with the other lodgers in the
house.  Bill the cracksman, naturally and by vocation, suggested the hand
that had despoiled him: how hope for redress or extort surrender from
such a quarter?  Mechanically, however, when the hour arrived to return
to his day's task, he stole down the stairs, and lo, at the very door of
the house Bill's children were at play, and in the hand of the eldest he
recognized what he called his "curril."

"Your curril!" interrupted St. John.

"Yes, curril,--vot the little 'uns bite afore they gets their teethin'."

St. John smiled, and supposing that Beck had some time or other been
puerile enough to purchase such a bauble, nodded to him to continue.  To
seize upon the urchin, and, in spite of kicks, bites, shrieks, or
scratches, repossess himself of his treasure, was the feat of a moment.
The brat's clamour drew out the father; and to him Beck (pocketing the
coral, that its golden bells might not attract the more experienced eye
and influence the more formidable greediness of the paternal thief)
loudly, and at first fearlessly, appealed.  Him he charged and accused
and threatened with all vengeance, human and divine.  Then, changing his
tone, he implored, he wept, he knelt.  As soon as the startled cracksman
recovered his astonishment at such audacity, and comprehended the nature
of the charge against himself and his family, he felt the more indignant
from a strange and unfamiliar consciousness of innocence.  Seizing Beck
by the nape of the neck, with a dexterous application of hand and foot he
sent him spinning into the kennel.

"Go to Jericho, mud-scraper!" cried Bill, in a voice of thunder; "and if
ever thou sayst such a vopper agin,--'sparaging the characters of them
'ere motherless babes,--I'll seal thee up in a 'tato-sack, and sell thee
for fiv'pence to No. 7, the great body-snatcher.  Take care how I ever
sets eyes agin on thy h-ugly mug!"

With that Bill clapped to the door, and Beck, frightened out of his wits,
crawled from the kennel and, bruised and smarting, crept to his crossing.
But he was unable to discharge his duties that day; his ill-fed,
miserable frame was too weak for the stroke he had received.  Long before
dusk he sneaked away, and dreading to return to his lodging, lest, since
nothing now was left worth robbing but his carcass, Bill might keep his
word and sell that to the body-snatcher, he took refuge under the only
roof where he felt he could sleep in safety.

And here we must pause to explain.  In our first introduction of Beck we
contented ourselves with implying to the ingenious and practised reader
that his heart might still be large enough to hold something besides his
crossing.  Now, in one of the small alleys that have their vent in the
great stream of Fleet Street there dwelt an old widow-woman who eked out
her existence by charing,--an industrious, drudging creature, whose sole
occupation, since her husband, the journeyman bricklayer, fell from a
scaffold, and, breaking his neck, left her happily childless as well as
penniless, had been scrubbing stone floors and cleaning out dingy houses
when about to be let,--charing, in a word.  And in this vocation had she
kept body and soul together till a bad rheumatism and old age had put an
end to her utilities and entitled her to the receipt of two shillings
weekly from parochial munificence.  Between this old woman and Beck there
was a mysterious tie, so mysterious that he did not well comprehend it
himself.  Sometimes he called her "mammy," sometimes "the h-old crittur."
But certain it is that to her he was indebted for that name which he
bore, to the puzzlement of St. Giles's.  Becky Carruthers was the name of
the old woman; but Becky was one of those good creatures who are always
called by their Christian names, and never rise into the importance of
the surname and the dignity of "Mistress;" lopping off the last syllable
of the familiar appellation, the outcast christened himself "Beck."

"And," said St. John, who in the course of question and answer had got
thus far into the marrow of the sweeper's narrative, "is not this good
woman really your mother?"

"Mother!" echoed Beck, with disdain; "no, I 'as a gritter mother nor she.
Sint Poll's is my mother.  But the h-old crittur tuk care on me."

"I really don't understand you.  St. Paul's is your mother?  How?"

Beck shook his head mysteriously, and without answering the question,
resumed the tale, which we must thus paraphrastically continue to
deliver.

When he was a little more than six years old, Beck began to earn his own
livelihood, by running errands, holding horses, scraping together pence
and halfpence.  Betimes, his passion for saving began; at first with a
good and unselfish motive,--that of surprising "mammy" at the week's end.
But when "mammy," who then gained enough for herself, patted his head and
called him "good boy," and bade him save for his own uses, and told him
what a great thing it would be if he could lay by a pretty penny against
he was a man, he turned miser on his own account; and the miserable
luxury grew upon him.  At last, by the permission of the police
inspector, strengthened by that of the owner of the contiguous house, he
made his great step in life, and succeeded a deceased negro in the
dignity and emoluments of the memorable crossing.  From that hour he felt
himself fulfilling his proper destiny.  But poor Becky, alas! had already
fallen into the sere and yellow leaf; with her decline, her good
qualities were impaired.  She took to drinking,--not to positive
intoxication, but to making herself "comfortable;" and, to satisfy her
craving, Beck, waking betimes one morning, saw her emptying his pockets.
Then he resolved, quietly and without upbraiding her, to remove to a
safer lodging.  To save had become the imperative necessity of his
existence.  But to do him justice, Beck had a glimmering sense of what
was due to the "h-old crittur."  Every Saturday evening he called at her
house and deposited with her a certain sum, not large even in proportion
to his earnings, but which seemed to the poor ignorant miser, who grudged
every farthing to himself, an enormous deduction from his total, and a
sum sufficient for every possible want of humankind, even to satiety.
And now, in returning, despoiled of all save the few pence he had
collected that day, it is but fair to him to add that not his least
bitter pang was in the remembrance that this was the only Saturday on
which, for the first time, the weekly stipend would fail.

But so ill and so wretched did he look when he reached her little room
that "mammy" forgot all thought of herself; and when he had told his
tale, so kind was her comforting, so unselfish her sympathy, that his
heart smote him for his old parsimony, for his hard resentment at her
single act of peculation.  Had not she the right to all he made?  But
remorse and grief alike soon vanished in the fever that now seized him;
for several days he was insensible; and when he recovered sufficiently to
be made aware of what was around him, he saw the widow seated beside him,
within four bare walls.  Everything, except the bed he slept on, had been
sold to support him in his illness.  As soon as he could totter forth,
Beck hastened to his crossing.  Alas! it was preoccupied.  His absence
had led to ambitious usurpation.  A one-legged, sturdy sailor had mounted
his throne, and wielded his sceptre.  The decorum of the street forbade
altercation to the contending parties; but the sailor referred discussion
to a meeting at a flash house in the Rookery that evening.  There a jury
was appointed, and the case opened.  By the conventional laws that
regulate this useful community, Beck was still in his rights; his
reappearance sufficed to restore his claims, and an appeal to the
policeman would no doubt re-establish his authority.  But Beck was still
so ill and so feeble that he had a melancholy persuasion that he could
not suitably perform the duties of his office; and when the sailor, not a
bad fellow on the whole, offered to pay down on the nail what really
seemed a very liberal sum for Beck's peaceful surrender of his rights,
the poor wretch thought of the bare walls at his "mammy's," of the long,
dreary interval that must elapse, even if able to work, before the
furniture pawned could be redeemed by the daily profits of his post, and
with a groan he held out his hand and concluded the bargain.

Creeping home to his "h-old crittur," he threw the purchase money into
her lap; then, broken-hearted and in despair, he slunk forth again in a
sort of vague, dreamy hope that the law, which abhors vagabonds, would
seize and finish him.

When this tale was done, Percival did not neglect the gentle task of
admonition, which the poor sweeper's softened heart and dull remorse made
easier.  He pointed out, in soft tones, how the avarice he had indulged
had been perhaps mercifully chastised, and drew no ineloquent picture of
the vicious miseries of the confirmed miser.  Beck listened humbly and
respectfully; though so little did he understand of mercy and Providence
and vice that the diviner part of the homily was quite lost on him.
However, he confessed penitently that "the mattress had made him vorse
nor a beast to the h-old crittur;" and that "he was cured of saving to
the end of his days."

"And now," said Percival, "as you really seem not strong enough to bear
this out-of-door work (the winter coming on, too), what say you to
entering into my service?  I want some help in my stables.  The work is
easy enough, and you are used to horses, you know, in a sort of a way."

Beck hesitated, and looked a moment undecided.  At last he said, "Please
your honour, if I bean't strong enough for the crossin', I 'se afeared
I'm too h-ailing to sarve you.  And voud n't I be vorse nor a wiper to
take your vages and not vork for 'em h-as I h-ought?"

"Pooh! we'll soon make you strong, my man.  Take my advice; don't let
your head run on the crossing.  That kind of industry exposes you to bad
company and bad thoughts."

"That's vot it is, sir," said Beck, assentingly, laying his dexter
forefinger on his sinister palm.

"Well! you are in my service, then.  Go downstairs now and get your
breakfast; by and by you shall show me your 'mammy's' house, and we'll
see what can be done for her."

Beck pressed his hands to his eyes, trying hard not to cry; but it was
too much for him; and as the valet, who appeared to Percival's summons,
led him down the stairs, his sobs were heard from attic to basement.



CHAPTER XIV.

NEWS FROM GRABMAN.

That day, opening thus auspiciously to Beck, was memorable also to other
and more prominent persons in this history.

Early in the forenoon a parcel was brought to Madame Dalibard which
contained Ardworth's already famous book, a goodly assortment of extracts
from the newspapers thereon, and the following letter from the young
author:--

You will see, by the accompanying packet, that your counsels have had
weight with me.  I have turned aside in my slow, legitimate career.  I
have, as you desired, made "men talk of me."  What solid benefit I may
reap from this I know not.  I shall not openly avow the book.  Such
notoriety cannot help meat the Bar.  But liberavi animam meam,--excuse my
pedantry,--I have let my soul free for a moment; I am now catching it
back to put bit and saddle on again.  I will not tell you how you have
disturbed me, how you have stung me into this premature rush amidst the
crowd, how, after robbing me of name and father, you have driven me to
this experiment with my own mind, to see if I was deceived when I groaned
to myself, "The Public shall give you a name, and Fame shall be your
mother."  I am satisfied with the experiment.  I know better now what is
in me, and I have regained my peace of mind.  If in the success of this
hasty work there be that which will gratify the interest you so kindly
take in me, deem that success your own; I owe it to you,--to your
revelations, to your admonitions.  I wait patiently your own time for
further disclosures; till then, the wheel must work on, and the grist be
ground.  Kind and generous friend, till now I would not wound you by
returning the sum you sent me,--nay, more, I knew I should please you by
devoting part of it to the risk of giving this essay to the world, and so
making its good fortune doubly your own work.  Now, when the publisher
smiles, and the shopmen bow, and I am acknowledged to have a bank in my
brains,--now, you cannot be offended to receive it back.  Adieu.  When my
mind is in train again, and I feel my step firm on the old dull road, I
will come to see you.  Till then, yours--by what name?  Open the
Biographical Dictionary at hazard, and send me one.     GRAY'S INN.

Not at the noble thoughts and the deep sympathy with mankind that glowed
through that work, over which Lucretia now tremulously hurried, did she
feel delight.  All that she recognized, or desired to recognize, were
those evidences of that kind of intellect which wins its way through the
world, and which, strong and unmistakable, rose up in every page of that
vigorous logic and commanding style.  The book was soon dropped, thus
read; the newspaper extracts pleased even more.

"This," she said audibly, in the freedom of her solitude, "this is the
son I asked for,--a son in whom I can rise; in whom I can exchange the
sense of crushing infamy for the old delicious ecstasy of pride!  For
this son can I do too much?  No; in what I may do for him methinks there
will be no remorse.  And he calls his success mine,--mine!"  Her nostrils
dilated, and her front rose erect.

In the midst of this exultation Varney found her; and before he could
communicate the business which had brought him, he had to listen, which
he did with the secret, gnawing envy that every other man's success
occasioned him, to her haughty self-felicitations.

He could not resist saying, with a sneer, when she paused, as if to ask
his sympathy,--

"All this is very fine, belle-mere; and yet I should hardly have thought
that coarse-featured, uncouth limb of the law, who seldom moves without
upsetting a chair, never laughs but the panes rattle in the window,--I
should hardly have thought him the precise person to gratify your pride,
or answer the family ideal of a gentleman and a St. John."

"Gabriel," said Lucretia, sternly, "you have a biting tongue, and it is
folly in me to resent those privileges which our fearful connection gives
you.  But this raillery--"

"Come, come, I was wrong;  forgive  it!" interrupted Varney, who,
dreading nothing else, dreaded much the rebuke of his grim stepmother.

"It is forgiven," said Lucretia, coldly, and with a slight wave of her
hand; then she added, with composure,--

"Long since--even while heiress of Laughton--I parted with mere pride in
the hollow seemings of distinction.  Had I not, should I have stooped to
William Mainwaring?  What I then respected, amidst all the degradations I
have known, I respect still,--talent, ambition, intellect, and will.  Do
you think I would exchange these in a son of mine for the mere graces
which a dancing-master can sell him?  Fear not.  Let us give but wealth
to that intellect, and the world will see no clumsiness in the movements
that march to its high places, and hear no discord in the laugh that
triumphs over fools.  But you have some news to communicate, or some
proposal to suggest."

"I have both," said Varney.  "In the first place, I have a letter from
Grabman!"

Lucretia's eyes sparkled, and she snatched eagerly at the letter her son-
in-law drew forth.

LIVERPOOL, October, 1831.

JASON,--I think I am on the road to success.  Having first possessed
myself of the fact, commemorated in the parish register, of the birth and
baptism of Alfred Braddell's son,--for we must proceed regularly in these
matters,--I next set my wits to work to trace that son's exodus from the
paternal mansion.  I have hunted up an old woman-servant, Jane Prior, who
lived with the Braddells.  She now thrives as a laundress; she is a rank
Puritan, and starches for the godly.  She was at first very wary and
reserved in her communications; but by siding with her prejudices and
humours, and by the intercession of the Rev. Mr. Graves (of her own
persuasion), I have got her to open her lips.  It seems that these
Braddells lived very unhappily; the husband, a pious dissenter, had
married a lady who turned out of a very different practice and belief.
Jane Prior pitied her master, and detested her mistress.  Some
circumstances in the conduct of Mrs. Braddell made the husband, who was
then in his last illness, resolve, from a point of conscience, to save
his child from what he deemed the contamination of her precepts and
example.  Mrs.  Braddell was absent from Liverpool on a visit, which was
thought very unfeeling by the husband's friends; during this time
Braddell was visited constantly by a gentleman (Mr. Ardworth), who
differed from him greatly in some things, and seemed one of the carnal,
but with whom agreement in politics (for they were both great politicians
and republicans) seems to have established a link.  One evening, when Mr.
Ardworth was in the house, Jane Prior, who was the only maidservant (for
they kept but two, and one had been just discharged), had been sent out
to the apothecary's.  On her return, Jane Prior, going into the nursery,
missed the infant: she thought it was with her master; but coming into
his room, Mr. Braddell told her to shut the door, informed her that he
had intrusted the boy to Mr. Ardworth, to be brought up in a righteous
and pious manner, and implored and commanded her to keep this a secret
from his wife, whom he was resolved, indeed, if he lived, not to receive
back into his house.  Braddell, however, did not survive more than two
days this event.  On his death, Mrs. Braddell returned; but circumstances
connected with the symptoms of his malady, and a strong impression which
haunted himself, and with which he had infected Jane Prior, that he had
been poisoned, led to a posthumous examination of his remains.  No trace
of poison was, however, discovered, and suspicions that had been directed
against his wife could not be substantiated by law; still, she was
regarded in so unfavourable a light by all who had known them both, she
met with such little kindness or sympathy in her widowhood, and had been
so openly denounced by Jane Prior, that it is not to be wondered at that
she left the place as soon as possible.  The house, indeed, was taken
from her; for Braddell's affairs were found in such confusion, and his
embarrassments so great, that everything was seized and sold off,--
nothing left for the widow nor for the child (if the last were ever
discovered.)

As may be supposed, Mrs. Braddell was at first very clamorous for the
lost child; but Jane Prior kept her promise and withheld all clew to it,
and Mrs. Braddell was forced to quit the place, in ignorance of what had
become of it.  Since then no one had heard of her; but Jane Prior says
that she is sure she has come to no good.  Now, though much of this may
be, no doubt, familiar to you, dear Jason, it is right, when I put the
evidence before you, that you should know and guard against what to
expect; and in any trial at law to prove the identity of Vincent
Braddell, Jane Prior must be a principal witness, and will certainly not
spare poor Mrs. Braddell.  For the main point, however,--namely, the
suspicion of poisoning her husband,--the inquest and verdict may set
aside all alarm.

My next researches have been directed on the track of Walter Ardworth,
after leaving Liverpool, which (I find by the books at the inn where he
lodged and was known) he did in debt to the innkeeper, the very night he
received the charge of the child.  Here, as yet, I am in fault; but I
have ascertained that a woman, one of the sect, of the name of Joplin,
living in a village fifteen miles from the town, had the care of some
infant, to replace her own, which she had lost. I am going to this
village to-morrow.  But I cannot expect much in that quarter, since it
would seem at variance with your more probable belief that Walter
Ardworth took the child at once to Mr. Fielden's.  However, you see I
have already gone very far in the evidence,--the birth of the child, the
delivery of the child to Ardworth.  I see a very pretty case already
before us, and I do not now doubt for a moment of ultimate success.
                       Yours,      N.  GRABMAN.

Lucretia read steadily, and with no change of countenance, to the last
line of the letter.  Then, as she put it down on the table before her,
she repeated, with a tone of deep exultation: "No doubt of ultimate
success!"

"You do not fear to brave all which the spite of this woman, Jane Prior,
may prompt her to say against you?" asked Varney.

Lucretia's brow fell.  "It is another torture," she said, "even to own my
marriage with a low-born hypocrite.  But I can endure it for the cause,"
she added, more haughtily.  "Nothing can really hurt me in these obsolete
aspersions and this vague scandal.  The inquest acquitted me, and the
world will be charitable to the mother of him who has wealth and rank and
that vigorous genius which, if proved in obscurity, shall command opinion
in renown."

"You are now, then, disposed at once to proceed to action.  For Helen all
is prepared,--the insurances are settled, the trust for which I hold them
on your behalf is signed and completed.  But for Percival St. John I
await your directions.  Will it be best first to prove your son's
identity, or when morally satisfied that that proof is forthcoming, to
remove betimes both the barriers to his inheritance?  If we tarry for the
last, the removal of St. John becomes more suspicious than it does at a
time when you have no visible interest in his death.  Besides, now we
have the occasion, or can make it, can we tell how long it will last?
Again, it will seem more natural that the lover should break his heart in
the first shock of--"

"Ay," interrupted Lucretia, "I would have all thought and contemplation
of crime at an end when, clasping my boy to my heart, I can say, 'Your
mother's inheritance is yours.' I would not have a murder before my eyes
when they should look only on the fair prospects beyond.  I would cast
back all the hideous images of horror into the rear of memory, so that
hope may for once visit me again undisturbed.  No, Gabriel, were I to
speak forever, you would comprehend not what I grasp at in a son.  It is
at a future!  Rolling a stone over the sepulchre of the past, it is a
resurrection into a fresh world; it is to know again one emotion not
impure, one scheme not criminal,--it is, in a word, to cease to be as
myself, to think in another soul, to hear my heart beat in another form.
All this I covet in a son.  And when all this should smile before me in
his image, shall I be plucked back again into my hell by the
consciousness that a new crime is to be done?  No; wade quickly through
the passage of blood, that we may dry our garments and breathe the air
upon the bank where sun shines and flowers bloom!"

"So be it, then," said Varney.  "Before the week is out, I must be under
the same roof as St. John.  Before the week is out, why not all meet in
the old halls of Laughton?"

"Ay, in the halls of Laughton.  On the hearth of our ancestors the deeds
done for our descendants look less dark."

"And first, to prepare the way, Helen should sicken in these fogs of
London, and want change of air."

"Place before me that desk.  I will read William Mainwaring's letters
again and again, till from every shadow in the past a voice comes forth,
'The child of your rival, your betrayer, your undoer, stands between the
daylight and your son!'"



CHAPTER XV.

VARIETIES.

Leaving the guilty pair to concert their schemes and indulge their
atrocious hopes, we accompany Percival to the hovel occupied by Becky
Carruthers.

On following Beck into the room she rented, Percival was greatly
surprised to find, seated comfortably on the only chair to be seen, no
less a person than the worthy Mrs. Mivers.  This good lady in her
spinster days had earned her own bread by hard work.  She had captivated
Mr. Mivers when but a simple housemaid in the service of one of his
relations.  And while this humble condition in her earlier life may
account for much in her language and manners which is nowadays
inconsonant with the breeding and education that characterize the wives
of opulent tradesmen, so perhaps the remembrance of it made her unusually
susceptible to the duties of charity.  For there is no class of society
more prone to pity and relieve the poor than females in domestic service;
and this virtue Mrs. Mivers had not laid aside, as many do, as soon as
she was in a condition to practise it with effect.  Mrs. Mivers blushed
scarlet on being detected in her visit of kindness, and hastened to
excuse herself by the information that she belonged to a society of
ladies for "The Bettering the Condition of the Poor," and that having
just been informed of Mrs. Becky's destitute state, she had looked in to
recommend her--a ventilator!

"It is quite shocking to see how little the poor attends to the proper
wentilating their houses.  No wonder there's so much typus about!" said
Mrs. Mivers.  "And for one-and-sixpence we can introduce a stream of h-
air that goes up the chimbly, and carries away all that it finds!".

"I 'umbly thank you, marm," said the poor bundle of rags that went by the
name of "Becky," as with some difficulty she contrived to stand in the
presence of the benevolent visitor; "but I am much afeard that the h-air
will make the rheumatiz very rumpatious!"

"On the contrary, on the contrary," said Mrs. Mivers, triumphantly; and
she proceeded philosophically to explain that all the fevers, aches,
pains, and physical ills that harass the poor arise from the want of an
air-trap in the chimney and a perforated network in the window-pane.
Becky listened patiently; for Mrs. Mivers was only a philosopher in her
talk, and she had proved herself anything but a philosopher in her
actions, by the spontaneous present of five shillings, and the promise of
a basket of victuals and some good wine to keep the cold wind she invited
to the apartment out of the stomach.

Percival imitated the silence of Becky, whose spirit was so bowed down by
an existence of drudgery that not even the sight of her foster-son could
draw her attention from the respect due to a superior.

"And is this poor cranky-looking cretur your son, Mrs. Becky?" said the
visitor, struck at last by the appearance of the ex-sweeper as he stood
at the threshold, hat in hand.

"No, indeed, marm," answered Becky; "I often says, says I: 'Child, you be
the son of Sint Poll's.'"

Beck smiled proudly.

"It was agin the grit church, marm ----  But it's a long story.  My poor
good man had not a long been dead,--as good a man as hever lived, marm,"
and Becky dropped a courtesy; "he fell off a scaffold, and pitched right
on his 'ead, or I should not have come on the parish, marm,--and that's
the truth on it!"

"Very well, I shall call and hear all about it; a sad case, I dare say.
You see, your husband should have subscribed to our Loan Society, and
then they'd have found him a 'andsome coffin, and given three pounds to
his widder.  But the poor are so benighted in these parts.  I'm sure,
sir, I can't guess what brought you here; but that's no business of mine.
And how are all at Old Brompton?" Here Mrs. Mivers bridled indignantly.
"There was a time when Miss Mainwaring was very glad to come and chat
with Mr. M. and myself; but now 'rum has riz,' as the saying is,--not but
what I dare say it's not her fault, poor thing!  That stiff aunt of
hers,--she need not look so high; pride and poverty, forsooth!"

While delivering these conciliatory sentences, Mrs. Mivers had gathered
up her gown, and was evidently in the bustle of departure.  As she now
nodded to Becky, Percival stepped up, and, with his irresistible smile,
offered her his arm.  Much surprised and much flattered, Mrs. Mivers
accepted it.  As she did so, he gently detained her while he said to
Becky,--"My good friend, I have brought you the poor lad to whom you have
been a mother, to tell you that good deeds find their reward sooner or
later.  As for him, make yourself easy; he will inform you of the new
step he has taken, and for you, good, kind-hearted creature, thank the
boy you brought up if your old age shall be made easy and cheerful.  Now,
Beck, silly lad, go and tell all to your nurse!  Take care of this step,
Mrs. Mivers."

As soon as he was in the street, Percival, who, if amused at the
ventilator, had seen the five shillings gleam on Becky's palm, and felt
that he had found under the puce-coloured gown a good woman's heart to
understand him, gave Mrs. Mivers a short sketch of poor Becky's history
and misfortunes, and so contrived to interest her in behalf of the nurse
that she willingly promised to become Percival's almoner, to execute his
commission, to improve the interior of Becky's abode, and distribute
weekly the liberal stipend he proposed to settle on the old widow.  They
had grown, indeed, quite friendly and intimate by the time he reached the
smart plate-glazed mahogany-coloured facade within which the flourishing
business of Mr. Mivers was carried on; and when, knocking at the private
door, promptly opened by a lemon-coloured page, she invited him upstairs,
it so chanced that the conversation had slid off to Helen, and Percival
was sufficiently interested to bow assent and to enter.

Though all the way up the stairs Mrs. Mivers, turning back at every other
step, did her best to impress upon her young visitor's mind the important
fact that they kept their household establishment at their "willer," and
that their apartments in Fleet Street were only a "conwenience," the
store set by the worthy housewife upon her goods and chattels was
sufficiently visible in the drugget that threaded its narrow way up the
gay Brussels stair-carpet, and in certain layers of paper which protected
from the profanation of immediate touch the mahogany hand-rail.  And
nothing could exceed the fostering care exhibited in the drawing-room,
when the door thrown open admitted a view of its damask moreen curtains,
pinned back from such impertinent sunbeams as could force their way
through the foggy air of the east into the windows, and the ells of
yellow muslin that guarded the frames, at least, of a collection of
coloured prints and two kit-kat portraitures of Mr. Mivers and his lady
from the perambulations of the flies.

But Percival's view of this interior was somewhat impeded by his portly
guide, who, uttering a little exclamation of surprise, stood motionless
on the threshold as she perceived Mr. Mivers seated by the hearth in
close conference with a gentleman whom she had never seen before.  At
that hour it was so rare an event in the life of Mr. Mivers to be found
in the drawing-room, and that he should have an acquaintance unknown to
his helpmate was a circumstance so much rarer still, that Mrs. Mivers may
well be forgiven for keeping St. John standing at the door till she had
recovered her amaze.

Meanwhile Mr. Mivers rose in some confusion, and was apparently about to
introduce his guest, when that gentleman coughed, and pinched the host's
arm significantly.  Mr. Mivers coughed also, and stammered out: "A
gentleman, Mrs. M.,--a friend; stay with us a day or two.  Much honoured,
hum!"

Mrs. Mivers stared and courtesied, and stared again.  But there was an
open, good-humoured smile in the face of the visitor, as he advanced and
took her hand, that attracted a heart very easily conciliated.  Seeing
that that was no moment for further explanation, she plumped herself into
a seat and said,--

"But bless us and save us, I am keeping you standing, Mr. St. John!"

"St. John!" repeated the visitor, with a vehemence that startled Mrs.
Mivers.  "Your name is St. John, sir,--related to the St. Johns of
Laughton?"

"Yes, indeed," answered Percival, with his shy, arch smile.  "Laughton at
present has no worthier owner than myself."

The gentleman made two strides to Percival and shook him heartily by the
hand.

"This is pleasant indeed!" he exclaimed.  "You must excuse my freedom;
but I knew well poor old Sir Miles, and my heart warms at the sight of
his representative."

Percival glanced at his new acquaintance, and on the whole was
prepossessed in his favour.  He seemed somewhere on the sunnier side of
fifty, with that superb yellow bronze of complexion which betokens long
residence under Eastern skies.  Deep wrinkles near the eyes, and a dark
circle round them, spoke of cares and fatigue, and perhaps dissipation.
But he had evidently a vigour of constitution that had borne him passably
through all; his frame was wiry and nervous; his eye bright and full of
life; and there was that abrupt, unsteady, mercurial restlessness in his
movements and manner which usually accompanies the man whose sanguine
temperament prompts him to concede to the impulse, and who is blessed or
cursed with a superabundance of energy, according as circumstance may
favour or judgment correct that equivocal gift of constitution.

Percival said something appropriate in reply to so much cordiality paid
to the account of the Sir Miles whom he had never seen, and seated
himself, colouring slightly under the influence of the fixed, pleased,
and earnest look still bent upon him.

Searching for something else to say, Percival asked Mrs. Mivers if she
had lately seen John Ardworth.

The guest, who had just reseated himself, turned his chair round at that
question with such vivacity that Mrs. Mivers heard it crack.  Her chairs
were not meant for such usage.  A shade fell over her rosy countenance as
she replied,--

"No, indeed (please, sir, them chairs is brittle)!  No, he is like Madame
at Brompton, and seldom condescends to favour us now.  It was but last
Sunday we asked him to dinner.  I am sure he need not turn up his nose at
our roast beef and pudding!"

Here Mr. Mivers was taken with a violent fit of coughing, which drew off
his wife's attention.  She was afraid he had taken cold.

The stranger took out a large snuff-box, inhaled a long pinch of snuff,
and said to St. John,--

"This Mr. John Ardworth, a pert enough jackanapes, I suppose,--a limb of
the law, eh?"

"Sir," said Percival, gravely, "John Ardworth is my particular friend.
It is clear that you know very little of him."

"That's true," said the stranger,--"'pon my life, that's very true.  But
I suppose he's like all lawyers,--cunning and tricky, conceited and
supercilious, full of prejudice and cant, and a red-hot Tory into the
bargain.  I know them, sir; I know them!"

"Well," answered St. John, half gayly, half angrily, "your general
experience serves you very little here; for Ardworth is exactly the
opposite of all you have described."

"Even in politics?"

"Why, I fear he is half a Radical,--certainly more than a Whig," answered
St. John, rather mournfully; for his own theories were all the other way,
notwithstanding his unpatriotic forgetfulness of them in his offer to
assist Ardworth's entrance into parliament.

"I am very glad to hear it," cried the stranger, again taking snuff.
"And this Madame at Brompton--perhaps I know her a little better than I
do young Mr. Ardworth--Mrs. Brad--I mean Madame Dalibard!" and the
stranger glanced at Mr. Mivers, who was slowly recovering from some
vigorous slaps on the back administered to him by his wife as a counter-
irritant to the cough.  "Is it true that she has lost the use of her
limbs?"

Percival shook his head.

"And takes care of poor Helen Mainwaring the orphan?  Well, well, that
looks amiable enough.  I must see; I must see!"

"Who shall I say inquired after her, when I see Madame Dalibard?" asked
Percival, with some curiosity.

"Who?  Oh, Mr. Tomkins.  She will not recollect him, though,"--and the
stranger laughed, and Mr. Mivers laughed too; and Mrs. Mivers, who,
indeed, always laughed when other people laughed, laughed also.  So
Percival thought he ought to laugh for the sake of good company, and all
laughed together as he arose and took leave.

He had not, however, got far from the house, on his way to his cabriolet,
which he had left by Temple Bar, when, somewhat to his surprise, he found
Mr. Tomkins at his elbow.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. St. John, but I have only just returned to
England, and on such occasions a man is apt to seem curious.  This young
lawyer ----  You see the elder Ardworth, a good-for-nothing scamp, was a
sort of friend of mine,--not exactly friend, indeed, for, by Jove, I
think he was a worse friend to me than he was to anybody else; still I
had a foolish interest for him, and should be glad to hear something more
about any one bearing his name than I can coax out of that droll little
linen draper.  You are really intimate with young Ardworth, eh?"

"Intimate! poor fellow, he will not let any one be that; he works too
hard to be social.  But I love him sincerely, and I admire him beyond
measure."

"The dog has industry, then;--that's good.  And does he make debts, like
that rascal, Ardworth senior?"

"Really, sir, I must say this tone with respect to Mr. Ardworth's father-
-"

"What the devil, sir!  Do you take the father's part as well as the
son's?"

"I don't know anything about Mr. Ardworth senior," said Percival,
pouting; "but I do know that my friend would not allow any one to speak
ill of his father in his presence; and I beg you, sir, to consider that
whatever would offend him must offend me."

"Gad's my life!  He's the luckiest young rogue to have such a friend.
Sir, I wish you a very good-day."

Mr. Tomkins took off his hat, bowed, and passing St. John with a rapid
step, was soon lost to his eye amongst the crowd hurrying westward.

But our business being now rather with him than Percival, we leave the
latter to mount his cabriolet, and we proceed with Mr. Mivers's mercurial
guest on his eccentric way through the throng.  There was an odd mixture
of thoughtful abstraction and quick observation in the soliloquy in which
this gentleman indulged, as he walked briskly on.

"A pretty young spark that St. John!  A look of his father, but
handsomer, and less affected.  I like him.  Fine shop that, very!  London
wonderfully improved.  A hookah in that window,--God bless me!--a real
hookah!  This is all very good news about that poor boy, very.  After
all, he is not to blame if his mother was such a damnable--I must
contrive to see and judge of him myself as soon as possible.  Can't trust
to others; too sharp for that.  What an ugly dog that is, looking after
me!  It is certainly a bailiff.  Hang it, what do I care for bailiffs?
Hem, hem!"  And the gentleman thrust his hands into his pockets, and
laughed, as the jingle of coin reached his ear through the din without.
"Well, I must make haste to decide; for really there is a very
troublesome piece of business before me.  Plague take her, what can have
become of the woman?  I shall have to hunt out a sharp lawyer.  But
John's a lawyer himself.  No, attorneys, I suppose, are the men.  Gad!
they were sharp enough when they had to hunt me.  What's that great bill
on the wall about?  'Down with the Lords!' Pooh, pooh!  Master John Bull,
you love lords a great deal too much for that.  A prettyish girl!
English women are very good-looking, certainly.  That Lucretia, what
shall I do, if ----  Ah, time enough to think of her when I have got over
that mighty stiff if!"

In such cogitations and mental remarks our traveller whiled away the time
till he found himself in Piccadilly.  There, a publisher's shop (and he
had that keen eye for shops which betrays the stranger in London), with
its new publications exposed at the window, attracted his notice.
Conspicuous amongst the rest was the open title-page of a book, at the
foot of which was placed a placard with the enticing words, "FOURTH
EDITION; JUST OUT," in red capitals.  The title of the work struck his
irritable, curious fancy; he walked into the shop, asked for the volume,
and while looking over the contents with muttered ejaculations, "Good!
capital!  Why, this reminds one of Horne Tooke!  What's the price?  Very
dear; must have it though,--must.  Ha, ha! home-thrust there!"--while
thus turning over the leaves, and rending them asunder with his
forefinger, regardless of the paper cutter extended to him by the
shopman, a gentleman, pushing by him, asked if the publisher was at home;
and as the shopman, bowing very low, answered "Yes," the new-comer darted
into a little recess behind the shop.  Mr. Tomkins, who had looked up
very angrily on being jostled so unceremoniously, started and changed
colour when he saw the face of the offender.  "Saints in heaven!" he
murmured almost audibly, "what a look of that woman; and yet--no--it is
gone!"

"Who is that gentleman?" he asked abruptly, as he paid for his book.

The shopman smiled, but answered, "I don't know, sir."

"That's a lie!  You would never bow so low to a man you did not know!"

The shopman smiled again.  "Why, sir, there are many who come to this
house who don't wish us to know them."

"Ah, I understand; you are political publishers,--afraid of libels, I
dare say.  Always the same thing in this cursed country; and then they
tell us we are 'free!'  So I suppose that gentleman has written something
William Pitt does not like.  But William Pitt--ha--he's dead!  Very true,
so he is!  Sir, this little book seems most excellent; but in my time, a
man would have been sent to Newgate for printing it."  While thus running
on, Mr. Tomkins had edged himself pretty close to the recess within which
the last-comer had disappeared; and there, seated on a high stool, he
contrived to read and to talk at the same time, but his eye and his ear
were both turned every instant towards the recess.

The shopman, little suspecting that in so very eccentric, garrulous a
person he was permitting a spy to encroach upon the secrets of the house,
continued to make up sundry parcels of the new publication which had so
enchanted his customer, while he expatiated on the prodigious sensation
the book had created, and while the customer himself had already caught
enough of the low conversation within the recess to be aware that the
author of the book was the very person who had so roused his curiosity.

Not till that gentleman, followed to the door by the polite publisher,
had quitted the shop, did Mr. Tomkins put this volume in his pocket, and,
with a familiar nod at the shopman, take himself off.

He was scarcely in the street when he saw Percival St. John leaning out
of his cabriolet and conversing with the author he had discovered.  He
halted a moment irresolute; but the young man, in whom our reader
recognizes John Ardworth, declining St. John's invitation to accompany
him to Brompton, resumed his way through the throng; the cabriolet drove
on; and Mr. Tomkins, though with a graver mien and a steadier step,
continued his desultory rambles.  Meanwhile, John Ardworth strode
gloomily back to his lonely chamber.

There, throwing himself on the well-worn chair before the crowded desk,
he buried his face in his hands, and for some minutes he felt all that
profound despondency peculiar to those who have won fame, to add to the
dark volume of experience the conviction of fame's nothingness.  For some
minutes he felt an illiberal and ungrateful envy of St. John, so fair, so
light-hearted, so favoured by fortune, so rich in friends,--in a mother's
love, and in Helen's half-plighted troth.  And he, from his very birth,
cut off from the social ties of blood; no mother's kiss to reward the
toils or gladden the sports of childhood; no father's cheering word up
the steep hill of man!  And Helen, for whose sake he had so often, when
his heart grew weary, nerved himself again to labour, saying, "Let me be
rich, let me be great, and then I will dare to tell Helen that I love
her!"--Helen smiling upon another, unconscious of his pangs!  What could
fame bestow in compensation?  What matter that strangers praised, and the
babble of the world's running stream lingered its brief moment round the
pebble in its way.  In the bitterness of his mood, he was unjust to his
rival.  All that exquisite but half-concealed treasure of imagination and
thought which lay beneath the surface of Helen's childlike smile he
believed that he alone--he, soul of power and son of genius--was worthy
to discover and to prize.  In the pride not unfrequent with that
kingliest of all aristocracies, the Chiefs of Intellect, he forgot the
grandeur which invests the attributes of the heart; forgot that, in the
lists of love, the heart is at least the equal of the mind.  In the
reaction that follows great excitement, Ardworth had morbidly felt, that
day, his utter solitude,--felt it in the streets through which he had
passed; in the home to which he had returned; the burning tears, shed for
the first time since childhood, forced themselves through his clasped
fingers.  At length he rose, with a strong effort at self-mastery, some
contempt of his weakness, and much remorse at his ungrateful envy.  He
gathered together the soiled manuscript and dingy proofs of his book, and
thrust them through the grimy bars of his grate; then, opening his desk,
he drew out a small packet, with tremulous fingers unfolding paper after
paper, and gazed, with eyes still moistened, on the relics kept till then
in the devotion of the only sentiment inspired by Eros that had ever,
perhaps, softened his iron nature.  These were two notes from Helen, some
violets she had once given him, and a little purse she had knitted for
him (with a playful prophecy of future fortunes) when he had last left
the vicarage.  Nor blame him, ye who, with more habitual romance of
temper, and richer fertility of imagination, can reconcile the tenderest
memories with the sternest duties, if he, with all his strength, felt
that the associations connected with those tokens would but enervate his
resolves and embitter his resignation.  You can guess not the extent of
the sacrifice, the bitterness of the pang, when, averting his head, he
dropped those relics on the hearth.  The evidence of the desultory
ambition, the tokens of the visionary love,--the same flame leaped up to
devour both!  It was as the funeral pyre of his youth!

"So," he said to himself, "let all that can divert me from the true ends
of my life consume!  Labour, take back your son."

An hour afterwards, and his clerk, returning home, found Ardworth
employed as calmly as usual on his Law Reports.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE INVITATION TO LAUGHTON.

That day, when he called at Brompton, Percival reported to Madame
Dalibard his interview with the eccentric Mr. Tomkins.  Lucretia seemed
chafed and disconcerted by the inquiries with which that gentleman had
honoured her, and as soon as Percival had gone, she sent for Varney.  He
did not come till late; she repeated to him what St. John had said of the
stranger.  Varney participated in her uneasy alarm.  The name, indeed,
was unknown to them, nor could they conjecture the bearer of so ordinary
a patronymic; but there had been secrets enough in Lucretia's life to
render her apprehensive of encountering those who had known her in
earlier years; and Varney feared lest any rumour reported to St. John
might create his mistrust, or lessen the hold obtained upon a victim
heretofore so unsuspicious.  They both agreed in the expediency of
withdrawing themselves and St. John as soon as possible from London, and
frustrating Percival's chance of closer intercourse with the stranger,
who had evidently aroused his curiosity.

The next day Helen was much indisposed; and the symptoms grew so grave
towards the evening that Madame Dalibard expressed alarm, and willingly
suffered Percival (who had only been permitted to see Helen for a few
minutes, when her lassitude was so extreme that she was obliged to retire
to her room) to go in search of a physician.  He returned with one of the
most eminent of the faculty.  On the way to Brompton, in reply to the
questions of Dr. ---- , Percival spoke of the dejection to which Helen
was occasionally subject, and this circumstance confirmed Dr. ---- ,
after he had seen his patient, in his view of the case.  In addition to
some feverish and inflammatory symptoms which he trusted his
prescriptions would speedily remove, he found great nervous debility, and
willingly fell in with the casual suggestion of Varney, who was present,
that a change of air would greatly improve Miss Mainwaring's general
health, as soon as the temporary acute attack had subsided.  He did not
regard the present complaint very seriously, and reassured poor Percival
by his cheerful mien and sanguine predictions.  Percival remained at the
house the whole day, and had the satisfaction, before he left, of hearing
that the remedies had already abated the fever, and that Helen had fallen
into a profound sleep.  Walking back to town with Varney, the last said
hesitatingly,--

"You were saying to me the other day that you feared you should have to
go for a few days both to Vernon Grange and to Laughton, as your steward
wished to point out to you some extensive alterations in the management
of your woods to commence this autumn.  As you were so soon coming of
age, Lady Mary desired that her directions should yield to your own.
Now, since Helen is recommended change of air, why not invite Madame
Dalibard to visit you at one of these places?  I would suggest Laughton.
My poor mother-in-law I know longs to revisit the scenes of her youth,
and you could not compliment or conciliate her more than by such an
invitation."

"Oh," said Percival, joyfully, "it would realize the fondest dream of my
heart to see Helen under the old roof-tree of Laughton; but as my mother
is abroad, and there is therefore no lady to receive them, perhaps--"

"Why," interrupted Varney, "Madame Dalibard herself is almost the very
person whom les bienseances might induce you to select to do the honours
of your house in Lady Mary's absence, not only as kinswoman to yourself,
but as the nearest surviving relative of Sir Miles,--the most immediate
descendant of the St. Johns; her mature years and decorum of life, her
joint kindred to Helen and yourself, surely remove every appearance of
impropriety."

"If she thinks so, certainly; I am no accurate judge of such formalities.
You could not oblige me more, Varney, than in pre-obtaining her consent
to the proposal.  Helen at Laughton!  Oh, blissful thought!"

"And in what air would she be so likely to revive?" said Varney; but his
voice was thick and husky.

The ideas thus presented to him almost banished anxiety from Percival's
breast. In a thousand delightful shapes they haunted him during the
sleepless night; and when, the next morning, he found that Helen was
surprisingly better, he pressed his invitation upon Madame Dalibard with
a warmth that made her cheek yet more pale, and the hand, which the boy
grasped as he pleaded, as cold as the dead.  But she briefly consented,
and Percival, allowed a brief interview with Helen, had the rapture to
see her smile in a delight as childlike as his own at the news he
communicated, and listen with swimming eye when he dwelt on the walks
they should take together amidst haunts to become henceforth dear to her
as to himself.  Fairyland dawned before them.

The visit of the physician justified Percival's heightened spirits.  All
the acuter symptoms had vanished already.  He sanctioned his patient's
departure from town as soon as Madame Dalibard's convenience would
permit, and recommended only a course of restorative medicines to
strengthen the nervous system, which was to commence with the following
morning, and be persisted in for some weeks.  He dwelt much on the effect
to be derived from taking these medicines the first thing in the day, as
soon as Helen woke.  Varney and Madame Dalibard exchanged a rapid glance.
Charmed with the success that in this instance had attended the skill of
the great physician, Percival, in his usual zealous benevolence, now
eagerly pressed upon Madame Dalibard the wisdom of consulting Dr. ----
for her own malady; and the doctor, putting on his spectacles and drawing
his chair nearer to the frowning cripple, began to question her of her
state.  But Madame Dalibard abruptly and discourteously put a stop to all
interrogatories: she had already exhausted all remedies art could
suggest; she had become reconciled to her deplorable infirmity, and lost
all faith in physicians.  Some day or other she might try the baths at
Egra, but till then she must be permitted to suffer undisturbed.

The doctor, by no means wishing to undertake a case of chronic paralysis,
rose smilingly, and with a liberal confession that the German baths were
sometimes extremely efficacious in such complaints, pressed Percival's
outstretched hand, then slipped his own into his pocket, and bowed his
way out of the room.

Relieved from all apprehension, Percival very good-humouredly received
the hint of Madame Dalibard that the excitement through which she had
gone for the last twenty-four hours rendered her unfit for his society,
and went home to write to Laughton and prepare all things for the
reception of his guests.  Varney accompanied him.  Percival found Beck in
the hall, already much altered, and embellished, by a new suit of livery.
The ex-sweeper stared hard at Varney, who, without recognizing, in so
smart a shape, the squalid tatterdemalion who had lighted him up the
stairs to Mr. Grabman's apartments, passed him by into Percival's little
study, on the ground-floor.

"Well, Beck," said Percival, ever mindful of others, and attributing his
groom's astonished gaze at Varney to his admiration of that gentleman's
showy exterior, "I shall send you down to the country to-morrow with two
of the horses; so you may have to-day to yourself to take leave of your
nurse.  I flatter myself you will find her rooms a little more
comfortable than they were yesterday."

Beck heard with a bursting heart; and his master, giving him a cheering
tap on the shoulder, left him to find his way into the streets and to
Becky's abode.

He found, indeed, that the last had already undergone the magic
transformation which is ever at the command of godlike wealth.  Mrs.
Mivers, who was naturally prompt and active, had had pleasure in
executing Percival's commission.  Early in the morning, floors had been
scrubbed, the windows cleaned, the ventilator fixed; then followed
porters with chairs and tables, and a wonderful Dutch clock, and new
bedding, and a bright piece of carpet; and then came two servants
belonging to Mrs. Mivers to arrange the chattels; and finally, when all
was nearly completed, the Avatar of Mrs. Mivers herself, to give the last
finish with her own mittened hands and in her own housewifely apron.

The good lady was still employed in ranging a set of teacups on the
shelves of the dresser when Beck entered; and his old nurse, in the
overflow of her gratitude, hobbled up to her foundling and threw her arms
round his neck.

"That's right!" said Mrs. Mivers, good-humouredly, turning round, and
wiping the tear from her eye.  "You ought to make much of him, poor lad,-
-he has turned out a godsend indeed; and, upon my word, he looks very
respectable in his new clothes.  But what is this,--a child's coral?" as,
opening a drawer in the dresser, she discovered Beck's treasure.  "Dear
me, it is a very handsome one; why, these bells look like gold!" and
suspicion of her protege's honesty for a moment contracted her thoughtful
brow.  "However on earth did you come by this, Mrs. Becky?"

"Sure and sartin," answered Becky, dropping her mutilated courtesy, "I
be's glad it be found now, instead of sum days afore, or I might have
been vicked enough to let it go with the rest to the pop-shop; and I'm
sure the times out of mind ven that 'ere boy was a h-urchin that I've
risted the timtashung and said, 'No, Becky Carruthers, that maun't go to
my h-uncle's!'"

"And why not, my good woman?"

"Lor' love you, marm, if that curril could speak, who knows vot it might
say,--eh, lad, who knows?  You sees, marm, my good man had not a long
been dead; I could not a get no vork no vays.  'Becky Carruthers,' says
I, 'you must go out in the streets a begging!'  I niver thought I should
a come to that.  But my poor husband, you sees, marm, fell from a
scaffol',--as good a man as hever--"

"Yes, yes, you told me all that before," said Mrs. Mivers, growing
impatient, and already diverted from her interest in the coral by a new
cargo, all bright from the tinman, which, indeed, no less
instantaneously, absorbed the admiration both of Beck and his nurse.  And
what with the inspection of these articles, and the comments each
provoked, the coral rested in peace on the dresser till Mrs. Mivers, when
just about to renew her inquiries, was startled by the sound of the Dutch
clock striking four,--a voice which reminded her of the lapse of time and
her own dinner-hour.  So, with many promises to call again and have a
good chat with her humble friend,  she took her departure, amidst the
blessings of Becky, and the less noisy, but not less grateful,
salutations of Beck.

Very happy was the evening these poor creatures passed together over
their first cup of tea from the new bright copper kettle and the almost
forgotten luxury of crumpets, in which their altered circumstances
permitted them without extravagance to indulge.  In the course of
conversation Beck communicated how much he had been astonished by
recognizing the visitor of Grabman, the provoker of the irritable grave-
stealer, in the familiar companion of his master; and when Becky told him
how often, in the domestic experience her vocation of charing had
accumulated, she had heard of the ruin brought on rich young men by
gamblers and sharpers, Beck promised to himself to keep a sharp eye on
Grabman's showy acquaintance.  "For master is but a babe, like," said he,
majestically; "and I'd be cut into mincemeat afore I'd let an 'air on his
'ead come to 'arm, if so be's h-as 'ow I could perwent it."

We need not say that his nurse confirmed him in these good resolutions.

"And now," said Beck, when the time came for parting, "you'll keep from
the gin-shop, old 'oman, and not shame the young master?"

"Sartin sure," answered Becky; "it is only ven vun is down in the vorld
that vun goes to the Ticker-shop.  Now, h-indeed,"--and she looked round
very proudly,--"I 'as a 'spectable stashion, and I vould n't go for to
lower it, and let 'em say that Becky Carruthers does not know how to
conduct herself.  The curril will be safe enuff now; but p'r'aps you had
best take it yourself, lad."

"Vot should I do vith it?  I've had enuff of the 'sponsibility.  Put it
up in a 'ankerchiff, and p'r'aps ven master gets married, and 'as a babby
vots teethin', he vil say, 'Thank ye, Beck, for your curril.' Vould not
that make us proud, mammy?"

Chuckling heartily at that vision, Beck kissed his nurse, and trying hard
to keep himself upright, and do credit to the dignity of his cloth,
returned to his new room over the stables.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE WAKING OF THE SERPENT.

And how, O Poet of the sad belief, and eloquence "like ebony, at once
dark and splendid [It was said of Tertullian that "his style was like
ebony, dark and splendid"]," how couldst thou, august Lucretius, deem it
but sweet to behold from the steep the strife of the great sea, or, safe
from the peril, gaze on the wrath of the battle, or, serene in the
temples of the wise, look afar on the wanderings of human error?  Is it
so sweet to survey the ills from which thou art delivered?  Shall not the
strong law of SYMPATHY find thee out, and thy heart rebuke thy
philosophy?  Not sweet, indeed, can be man's shelter in self when he says
to the storm, "I have no bark on the sea;" or to the gods of the battle,
"I have no son in the slaughter;" when he smiles unmoved upon Woe, and
murmurs, "Weep on, for these eyes know no tears;" when, unappalled, he
beholdeth the black deeds of crime, and cries to his conscience, "Thou
art calm."  Yet solemn is the sight to him who lives in all life,--seeks
for Nature in the storm, and Providence in the battle; loses self in the
woe; probes his heart in the crime; and owns no philosophy that sets him
free from the fetters of man.  Not in vain do we scan all the contrasts
in the large framework of civilized earth if we note "when the dust
groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together."  Range, O
Art, through all space, clasp together in extremes, shake idle wealth
from its lethargy, and bid States look in hovels where the teacher is
dumb, and Reason unweeded runs to rot!  Bid haughty Intellect pause in
its triumph, and doubt if intellect alone can deliver the soul from its
tempters!  Only that lives uncorrupt which preserves in all seasons the
human affections in which the breath of God breathes and is.  Go forth to
the world, O Art, go forth to the innocent, the guilty, the wise, and the
dull; go forth as the still voice of Fate!  Speak of the insecurity even
of goodness below; carry on the rapt vision of  suffering Virtue through
"the doors of the shadows of death;" show the dim revelation symbolled
forth in the Tragedy of old,--how incomplete is man's destiny, how
undeveloped is the justice divine, if Antigone sleep eternally in the
ribs of the rock, and Oedipus vanish forever in the Grove of the Furies.
Here below, "the waters are hid with a stone, and the face of the deep is
frozen;" but above liveth He "who can bind the sweet influence of the
Pleiades, and loose the bands of Orion."  Go with Fate over the bridge,
and she vanishes in the land beyond the gulf!  Behold where the Eternal
demands Eternity for the progress of His creatures and the vindication of
His justice!

It was past midnight, and Lucretia sat alone in her dreary room; her head
buried on her bosom, her eyes fixed on the ground, her hands resting on
her knees,--it was an image of inanimate prostration and decrepitude that
might have moved compassion to its depth.  The door opened, and Martha
entered, to assist Madame Dalibard, as usual, to retire to rest. Her
mistress slowly raised her eyes at the noise of the opening door, and
those eyes took their searching, penetrating acuteness as they fixed upon
the florid nor uncomely countenance of the waiting-woman.

In her starched cap, her sober-coloured stuff gown, in her prim, quiet
manner and a certain sanctified demureness of aspect, there was something
in the first appearance of this woman that impressed you with the notion
of respectability, and inspired confidence in those steady good qualities
which we seek in a trusty servant.  But more closely examined, an
habitual observer might have found much to qualify, perhaps to disturb,
his first prepossessions.  The exceeding lowness of the forehead, over
which that stiff, harsh hair was so puritanically parted; the severe
hardness of those thin, small lips, so pursed up and constrained; even a
certain dull cruelty in those light, cold blue eyes,--might have caused
an uneasy sentiment, almost approaching to fear.  The fat grocer's spoilt
child instinctively recoiled from her when she entered the shop to make
her household purchases; the old, gray-whiskered terrier dog at the
public-house slunk into the tap when she crossed the threshold.

Madame Dalibard silently suffered herself to be wheeled into the
adjoining bedroom, and the process of disrobing was nearly completed
before she said abruptly,--

"So you attended Mr. Varney's uncle in his last illness.  Did he suffer
much?"

"He was a poor creature at best," answered Martha; "but he gave me a deal
of trouble afore he went.  He was a scranny corpse when I strecked him
out."

Madame Dalibard shrank from the hands at that moment employed upon
herself, and said,--

"It was not, then, the first corpse you have laid out for the grave?"

"Not by many."

"And did any of those you so prepared die of the same complaint?"

"I can't say, I'm sure," returned Martha.  "I never inquires how folks
die; my bizness was to nurse 'em till all was over, and then to sit up.
As they say in my country, 'Riving Pike wears a hood when the weather
bodes ill.'"     [If Riving Pike do wear a hood,      The day, be sure,
will ne'er be good.                     A Lancashire Distich.]

"And when you sat up with Mr. Varney's uncle, did you feel no fear in the
dead of the night,--that corpse before you, no fear?"

"Young Mr. Varney said I should come to no harm.  Oh, he's a clever man!
What should I fear, ma'am?" answered Martha, with a horrid simplicity.

"You have belonged to a very religious sect, I think I have heard you
say,--a sect not unfamiliar to me; a sect to which great crime is very
rarely known?"

"Yes, ma'am, some of 'em be tame enough, but others be weel [whirlpool]
deep!"

"You do not believe what they taught you?"

"I did when I was young and silly."

"And what disturbed your belief?"

"Ma'am, the man what taught me, and my mother afore me, was the first I
ever kep' company with," answered Martha, without a change in her florid
hue, which seemed fixed in her cheek, as the red in an autumn leaf.
"After he had ruined me, as the girls say, he told me as how it was all
sham!"

"You loved him, then?"

"The man was well enough, ma'am, and he behaved handsome and got me a
husband.  I've known better days."

"You sleep well at night?"

"Yes, ma'am, thank you; I loves my bed."

"I have done with you," said Madame Dalibard, stifling a groan, as now,
placed in her bed, she turned to the wall.  Martha extinguished the
candle, leaving it on the table by the bed, with a book and a box of
matches, for Madame Dalibard was a bad sleeper, and often read in the
night.  She then drew the curtains and went her way.

It might be an hour after Martha had retired to rest that a hand was
stretched from the bed, that the candle was lighted, and Lucretia
Dalibard rose; with a sudden movement she threw aside the coverings, and
stood in her long night-gear on the floor.  Yes, the helpless, paralyzed
cripple rose, was on her feet,--tall, elastic, erect!  It was as a
resuscitation from the grave.  Never was change more startling than that
simple action effected,--not in the form alone, but the whole character
of the face.  The solitary light streamed upward on a countenance on
every line of which spoke sinister power and strong resolve.  If you had
ever seen her before in her false, crippled state, prostrate and
helpless, and could have seen her then,--those eyes, if haggard still,
now full of life and vigour; that frame, if spare, towering aloft in
commanding stature, perfect in its proportions as a Grecian image of
Nemesis,--your amaze would have merged into terror, so preternatural did
the transformation appear, so did aspect and bearing contradict the very
character of her sex, uniting the two elements most formidable in man or
in fiend,--wickedness and power.

She stood a moment motionless, breathing loud, as if it were a joy to
breathe free from restraint; and then, lifting the light, and gliding to
the adjoining room, she unlocked a bureau in the corner, and bent over a
small casket, which she opened with a secret spring.

Reader, cast back your eye to that passage in this history when Lucretia
Clavering took down the volume from the niche in the tapestried chamber
at Laughton, and numbered, in thought, the hours left to her uncle's
life.  Look back on the ungrateful thought; behold how it has swelled and
ripened into the guilty deed!  There, in that box, Death guards his
treasure crypt.  There, all the science of Hades numbers its murderous
inventions.  As she searched for the ingredients her design had pre-
selected, something heavier than those small packets she deranged fell to
the bottom of the box with a low and hollow sound.  She started at the
noise, and then smiled, in scorn of her momentary fear, as she took up
the ring that had occasioned the sound,--a ring plain and solid, like
those used as signets in the Middle Ages, with a large dull opal in the
centre.  What secret could that bauble have in common with its ghastly
companions in Death's crypt?  This had been found amongst Olivier's
papers; a note in that precious manuscript, which had given to the hands
of his successors the keys of the grave, had discovered the mystery of
its uses.  By the pressure of the hand, at the touch of a concealed
spring, a barbed point flew forth steeped in venom more deadly than the
Indian extracts from the bag of the cobar de capello,--a venom to which
no antidote is known, which no test can detect.  It corrupts the whole
mass of the blood; it mounts in frenzy and fire to the brain; it rends
the soul from the body in spasm and convulsion.  But examine the dead,
and how divine the effect of the cause!  How go back to the records of
the Borgias, and amidst all the scepticisms of times in which, happily,
such arts are unknown, unsuspected, learn from the hero of Machiavel how
a clasp of the hand can get rid of a foe!  Easier and more natural to
point to the living puncture in the skin, and the swollen flesh round it,
and dilate on the danger a rusty nail--nay, a pin--can engender when the
humours are peccant and the blood is impure!  The fabrication of that
bauble, the discovery of Borgia's device, was the masterpiece in the
science of Dalibard,--a curious and philosophical triumph of research,
hitherto unused by its inventor and his heirs; for that casket is rich in
the choice of more gentle materials: but the use yet may come.  As she
gazed on the ring, there was a complacent and proud expression on
Lucretia's face.

"Dumb token of Caesar Borgia," she murmured,--"him of the wisest head and
the boldest hand that ever grasped at empire, whom Machiavel, the
virtuous, rightly praised as the model of accomplished ambition!  Why
should I falter in the paths which he trod with his royal step, only
because my goal is not a throne?  Every circle is as complete in itself,
whether rounding a globule or a star.  Why groan in the belief that the
mind defiles itself by the darkness through which it glides on its
object, or the mire through which it ascends to the hill?  Murderer as he
was, poisoner, and fratricide, did blood clog his intellect, or crime
impoverish the luxury of his genius?  Was his verse less melodious [It is
well known that Caesar Borgia was both a munificent patron and an
exquisite appreciator of art; well known also are his powers of
persuasion but the general reader may not, perhaps, be acquainted with
the fact that this terrible criminal was also a poet], or his love of art
less intense, or his eloquence less persuasive, because he sought to
remove every barrier, revenge every wrong, crush every foe?"

In the wondrous corruption to which her mind had descended, thus murmured
Lucretia.  Intellect had been so long made her sole god that the very
monster of history was lifted to her reverence by his ruthless intellect
alone,--lifted in that mood of feverish excitement when conscience, often
less silenced, lay crushed, under the load of the deed to come, into an
example and a guide.

Though at times, when looking back, oppressed by the blackest despair, no
remorse of the past ever weakened those nerves when the Hour called up
its demon, and the Will ruled the rest of the human being as a machine.

She replaced the ring, she reclosed the casket, relocked its depository;
then passed again into the adjoining chamber.

A few minutes afterwards, and the dim light that stole from the heavens
(in which the moon was partially overcast) through the casement on the
staircase rested on a shapeless figure robed in black from head to foot,-
-a figure so obscure and undefinable in outline, so suited to the gloom
in its hue, so stealthy and rapid in its movements, that had you started
from sleep and seen it on your floor, you would perforce have deemed that
your fancy had befooled you!

Thus darkly, through the darkness, went the Poisoner to her prey.





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