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Title: Lucretia — Complete
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.

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LUCRETIA

By Edward Bulwer Lytton



PREFACE TO THE EDITION OF 1853.

“Lucretia; or, The Children of Night,” was begun simultaneously with
“The Caxtons: a Family Picture.” The two fictions were intended as
pendants; both serving, amongst other collateral aims and objects, to
show the influence of home education, of early circumstance and example,
upon after character and conduct. “Lucretia” was completed and published
before “The Caxtons.” The moral design of the first was misunderstood
and assailed; that of the last was generally acknowledged and approved:
the moral design in both was nevertheless precisely the same. But in
one it was sought through the darker side of human nature; in the other
through the more sunny and cheerful: one shows the evil, the other the
salutary influences, of early circumstance and training. Necessarily,
therefore, the first resorts to the tragic elements of awe and
distress,--the second to the comic elements of humour and agreeable
emotion. These differences serve to explain the different reception that
awaited the two, and may teach us how little the real conception of an
author is known, and how little it is cared for; we judge, not by the
purpose he conceives, but according as the impressions he effects are
pleasurable or painful. But while I cannot acquiesce in much of the
hostile criticism this fiction produced at its first appearance, I
readily allow that as a mere question of art the story might have been
improved in itself, and rendered more acceptable to the reader, by
diminishing the gloom of the catastrophe. In this edition I have
endeavoured to do so; and the victim whose fate in the former cast
of the work most revolted the reader, as a violation of the trite but
amiable law of Poetical Justice, is saved from the hands of the Children
of Night. Perhaps, whatever the faults of this work, it equals most of
its companions in the sustainment of interest, and in that coincidence
between the gradual development of motive or passion, and the sequences
of external events constituting plot, which mainly distinguish the
physical awe of tragedy from the coarse horrors of melodrama. I trust at
least that I shall now find few readers who will not readily acknowledge
that the delineation of crime has only been employed for the grave
and impressive purpose which brings it within the due province of the
poet,--as an element of terror and a warning to the heart.

LONDON, December 7.



PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.

It is somewhere about four years since I appeared before the public as
the writer of a fiction, which I then intimated would probably be my
last; but bad habits are stronger than good intentions. When Fabricio,
in his hospital, resolved upon abjuring the vocation of the Poet, he
was, in truth, recommencing his desperate career by a Farewell to the
Muses,--I need not apply the allusion.

I must own, however, that there had long been a desire in my mind to
trace, in some work or other, the strange and secret ways through which
that Arch-ruler of Civilization, familiarly called “Money,” insinuates
itself into our thoughts and motives, our hearts and actions; affecting
those who undervalue as those who overestimate its importance; ruining
virtues in the spendthrift no less than engendering vices in the miser.
But when I half implied my farewell to the character of a novelist,
I had imagined that this conception might be best worked out upon
the stage. After some unpublished and imperfect attempts towards so
realizing my design, I found either that the subject was too wide for
the limits of the Drama, or that I wanted that faculty of concentration
which alone enables the dramatist to compress multiform varieties into
a very limited compass. With this design, I desired to unite some
exhibition of what seems to me a principal vice in the hot and emulous
chase for happiness or fame, fortune or knowledge, which is almost
synonymous with the cant phrase of “the March of Intellect,” in that
crisis of society to which we have arrived. The vice I allude to is
Impatience. That eager desire to press forward, not so much to conquer
obstacles as to elude them; that gambling with the solemn destinies
of life, seeking ever to set success upon the chance of a die; that
hastening from the wish conceived to the end accomplished; that thirst
after quick returns to ingenious toil, and breathless spurrings along
short cuts to the goal, which we see everywhere around us, from the
Mechanics’ Institute to the Stock Market,--beginning in education with
the primers of infancy, deluging us with “Philosophies for the Million”
 and “Sciences made Easy;” characterizing the books of our writers,
the speeches of our statesmen, no less than the dealings of our
speculators,--seem, I confess, to me to constitute a very diseased and
very general symptom of the times. I hold that the greatest friend to
man is labour; that knowledge without toil, if possible, were worthless;
that toil in pursuit of knowledge is the best knowledge we can attain;
that the continuous effort for fame is nobler than fame itself; that it
is not wealth suddenly acquired which is deserving of homage, but
the virtues which a man exercises in the slow pursuit of wealth,--the
abilities so called forth, the self-denials so imposed; in a word, that
Labour and Patience are the true schoolmasters on earth. While occupied
with these ideas and this belief, whether right or wrong, and slowly
convinced that it was only in that species of composition with which I
was most familiar that I could work out some portion of the plan that
I began to contemplate, I became acquainted with the histories of two
criminals existing in our own age,--so remarkable, whether from the
extent and darkness of the guilt committed, whether from the glittering
accomplishments and lively temper of the one, the profound knowledge and
intellectual capacities of the other, that the examination and analysis
of characters so perverted became a study full of intense, if gloomy,
interest.

In these persons there appear to have been as few redeemable points as
can be found in Human Nature, so far as such points may be traced in the
kindly instincts and generous passions which do sometimes accompany
the perpetration of great crimes, and, without excusing the individual,
vindicate the species. Yet, on the other hand, their sanguinary
wickedness was not the dull ferocity of brutes; it was accompanied with
instruction and culture,--nay, it seemed to me, on studying their lives
and pondering over their own letters, that through their cultivation
itself we could arrive at the secret of the ruthless and atrocious
pre-eminence in evil these Children of Night had attained; that here
the monster vanished into the mortal, and the phenomena that seemed
aberrations from Nature were explained.

I could not resist the temptation of reducing to a tale the materials
which had so engrossed my interest and tasked my inquiries. And in
this attempt, various incidental opportunities have occurred, if not of
completely carrying out, still of incidentally illustrating, my earlier
design,--of showing the influence of Mammon upon our most secret selves,
of reproving the impatience which is engendered by a civilization that,
with much of the good, brings all the evils of competition, and of
tracing throughout, all the influences of early household life upon our
subsequent conduct and career. In such incidental bearings the moral
may doubtless be more obvious than in the delineation of the darker and
rarer crime which forms the staple of my narrative. For in extraordinary
guilt we are slow to recognize ordinary warnings,--we say to the
peaceful conscience, “This concerns thee not!” whereas at each instance
of familiar fault and commonplace error we own a direct and sensible
admonition. Yet in the portraiture of gigantic crime, poets have rightly
found their sphere and fulfilled their destiny of teachers. Those
terrible truths which appall us in the guilt of Macbeth or the villany
of Iago, have their moral uses not less than the popular infirmities of
Tom Jones, or the every-day hypocrisy of Blifil. Incredible as it may
seem, the crimes herein related took place within the last seventeen
years. There has been no exaggeration as to their extent, no great
departure from their details; the means employed, even that which seems
most far-fetched,--the instrument of the poisoned ring,--have their
foundation in literal facts. Nor have I much altered the social position
of the criminals, nor in the least overrated their attainments and
intelligence. In those more salient essentials which will most, perhaps,
provoke the Reader’s incredulous wonder, I narrate a history, not invent
a fiction [These criminals were not, however, in actual life, as in
the novel, intimates and accomplices. Their crimes were of similar
character, effected by similar agencies, and committed at dates which
embrace their several careers of guilt within the same period; but I
have no authority to suppose that the one was known to the other.]. All
that Romance which our own time affords is not more the romance than the
philosophy of the time. Tragedy never quits the world,--it surrounds us
everywhere. We have but to look, wakeful and vigilant, abroad, and
from the age of Pelops to that of Borgia, the same crimes, though under
different garbs, will stalk on our paths. Each age comprehends in itself
specimens of every virtue and every vice which has ever inspired our
love or moved our horror.

LONDON, November 1, 1846.



CONTENTS

PART THE FIRST

PROLOGUE TO PART THE FIRST

CHAPTER I A Family Group II Lucretia III Conferences IV Guy’s Oak V
Household Treason VI The Will VII The Engagement VIII The Discovery IX A
Soul without Hope X The Reconciliation between Father and Son

EPILOGUE TO PART THE FIRST

PART THE SECOND

PROLOGUE TO PART THE SECOND

I The Coronation II Love at First Sight III Early Training for an
Upright Gentleman IV John Ardworth V The Weavers and the Woof VI The
Lawyer and the Body-snatcher VII The Rape of the Mattress VIII Percival
visits Lucretia IX The Rose beneath the Upas X The Rattle of the Snake
XI Love and Innocence XII Sudden Celebrity and Patient Hope XIII
The Loss of the Crossing XIV News from Grabman XV Varieties XVI The
Invitation to Laughton XVII The Waking of the Serpent XVIII Retrospect
XIX Mr. Grabman’s Adventures XX More of Mrs. Joplin XXI Beck’s Discovery
XXII The Tapestry Chamber XXIII The Shades on the Dial XXIV Murder,
towards his Design, moves like a Ghost XXV The Messenger speeds XXVI The
Spy flies XXVII Lucretia regains her Son XXVIII The Lots vanish within
the Urn

EPILOGUE TO PART THE SECOND



PART THE FIRST.



PROLOGUE TO PART THE FIRST.

In an apartment at Paris, one morning during the Reign of Terror, a man,
whose age might be somewhat under thirty, sat before a table covered
with papers, arranged and labelled with the methodical precision of a
mind fond of order and habituated to business. Behind him rose a tall
bookcase surmounted with a bust of Robespierre, and the shelves were
filled chiefly with works of a scientific character, amongst which the
greater number were on chemistry and medicine. There were to be seen
also many rare books on alchemy, the great Italian historians, some
English philosophical treatises, and a few manuscripts in Arabic. The
absence from this collection of the stormy literature of the day seemed
to denote that the owner was a quiet student, living apart from the
strife and passions of the Revolution. This supposition was, however,
disproved by certain papers on the table, which were formally and
laconically labelled “Reports on Lyons,” and by packets of letters in
the handwritings of Robespierre and Couthon. At one of the windows a
young boy was earnestly engaged in some occupation which appeared to
excite the curiosity of the person just described; for this last, after
examining the child’s movements for a few moments with a silent scrutiny
that betrayed but little of the half-complacent, half-melancholy
affection with which busy man is apt to regard childhood, rose
noiselessly from his seat, approached the boy, and looked over his
shoulder unobserved. In a crevice of the wood by the window, a huge
black spider had formed his web; the child had just discovered another
spider, and placed it in the meshes: he was watching the result of his
operations. The intrusive spider stood motionless in the midst of the
web, as if fascinated. The rightful possessor was also quiescent; but
a very fine ear might have caught a low, humming sound, which probably
augured no hospitable intentions to the invader. Anon, the stranger
insect seemed suddenly to awake from its amaze; it evinced alarm, and
turned to fly; the huge spider darted forward; the boy uttered a chuckle
of delight. The man’s pale lip curled into a sinister sneer, and
he glided back to his seat. There, leaning his face on his hand, he
continued to contemplate the child. That child might have furnished to
an artist a fitting subject for fair and blooming infancy. His light
hair, tinged deeply, it is true, with red, hung in sleek and glittering
abundance down his neck and shoulders. His features, seen in profile,
were delicately and almost femininely proportioned; health glowed on
his cheek, and his form, slight though it was, gave promise of singular
activity and vigour. His dress was fantastic, and betrayed the taste of
some fondly foolish mother; but the fine linen, trimmed with lace, was
rumpled and stained, the velvet jacket unbrushed, the shoes soiled with
dust,--slight tokens these of neglect, but serving to show that the
foolish fondness which had invented the dress had not of late presided
over the toilet.

“Child,” said the man, first in French; and observing that the boy
heeded him not,--“child,” he repeated in English, which he spoke well,
though with a foreign accent, “child!”

The boy turned quickly.

“Has the great spider devoured the small one?”

“No, sir,” said the boy, colouring; “the small one has had the best of
it.”

The tone and heightened complexion of the child seemed to give meaning
to his words,--at least, so the man thought, for a slight frown passed
over his high, thoughtful brow.

“Spiders, then,” he said, after a short pause, “are different from men;
with us, the small do not get the better of the great. Hum! do you still
miss your mother?”

“Oh, yes!” and the boy advanced eagerly to the table.

“Well, you will see her once again.”

“When?”

The man looked towards a clock on the mantelpiece,--“Before that clock
strikes. Now, go back to your spiders.” The child looked irresolute and
disinclined to obey; but a stern and terrible expression gathered slowly
over the man’s face, and the boy, growing pale as he remarked it, crept
back to the window.

The father--for such was the relation the owner of the room bore to
the child--drew paper and ink towards him, and wrote for some minutes
rapidly. Then starting up, he glanced at the clock, took his hat and
cloak, which lay on a chair beside, drew up the collar of the mantle
till it almost concealed his countenance, and said, “Now, boy, come
with me; I have promised to show you an execution: I am going to keep my
promise. Come!”

The boy clapped his hands with joy; and you might see then, child as
he was, that those fair features were capable of a cruel and ferocious
expression. The character of the whole face changed. He caught up his
gay cap and plume, and followed his father into the streets.

Silently the two took their way towards the Barriere du Trone. At a
distance they saw the crowd growing thick and dense as throng after
throng hurried past them, and the dreadful guillotine rose high in the
light blue air. As they came into the skirts of the mob, the father, for
the first time, took his child’s hand. “I must get you a good place for
the show,” he said, with a quiet smile.

There was something in the grave, staid, courteous, yet haughty bearing
of the man that made the crowd give way as he passed. They got near the
dismal scene, and obtained entrance into a wagon already crowded with
eager spectators.

And now they heard at a distance the harsh and lumbering roll of the
tumbril that bore the victims, and the tramp of the horses which guarded
the procession of death. The boy’s whole attention was absorbed in
expectation of the spectacle, and his ear was perhaps less accustomed
to French, though born and reared in France, than to the language of
his mother’s lips,--and she was English; thus he did not hear or heed
certain observations of the bystanders, which made his father’s pale
cheek grow paler.

“What is the batch to-day?” quoth a butcher in the wagon. “Scarce worth
the baking,--only two; but one, they say, is an aristocrat,--a ci-devant
marquis,” answered a carpenter. “Ah, a marquis! Bon! And the other?”

“Only a dancer, but a pretty one, it is true; I could pity her, but
she is English.” And as he pronounced the last word, with a tone of
inexpressible contempt, the butcher spat, as if in nausea.

“Mort diable! a spy of Pitt’s, no doubt. What did they discover?”

A man, better dressed than the rest, turned round with a smile, and
answered: “Nothing worse than a lover, I believe; but that lover was a
proscrit. The ci-devant marquis was caught disguised in her apartment.
She betrayed for him a good, easy friend of the people who had long
loved her, and revenge is sweet.”

The man whom we have accompanied, nervously twitched up the collar of
his cloak, and his compressed lips told that he felt the anguish of the
laugh that circled round him.

“They are coming! There they are!” cried the boy, in ecstatic
excitement.

“That’s the way to bring up citizens,” said the butcher, patting the
child’s shoulder, and opening a still better view for him at the edge of
the wagon.

The crowd now abruptly gave way. The tumbril was in sight. A man, young
and handsome, standing erect and with folded arms in the fatal vehicle,
looked along the mob with an eye of careless scorn. Though he wore the
dress of a workman, the most unpractised glance could detect, in his
mien and bearing, one of the hated noblesse, whose characteristics came
out even more forcibly at the hour of death. On the lip was that
smile of gay and insolent levity, on the brow that gallant if reckless
contempt of physical danger, which had signalized the hero-coxcombs
of the old regime. Even the rude dress was worn with a certain air
of foppery, and the bright hair was carefully adjusted, as if for the
holiday of the headsman. As the eyes of the young noble wandered over
the fierce faces of that horrible assembly, while a roar of hideous
triumph answered the look, in which for the last time the gentilhomme
spoke his scorn of the canaille, the child’s father lowered the collar
of his cloak, and slowly raised his hat from his brow. The eye of the
marquis rested upon the countenance thus abruptly shown to him, and
which suddenly became individualized amongst the crowd,--that eye
instantly lost its calm contempt. A shudder passed visibly over his
frame, and his cheek grew blanched with terror. The mob saw the change,
but not the cause, and loud and louder rose their triumphant yell. The
sound recalled the pride of the young noble; he started, lifted his
crest erect, and sought again to meet the look which had appalled him.
But he could no longer single it out among the crowd. Hat and cloak once
more hid the face of the foe, and crowds of eager heads intercepted
the view. The young marquis’s lips muttered; he bent down, and then the
crowd caught sight of his companion, who was being lifted up from
the bottom of the tumbril, where she had flung herself in horror and
despair. The crowd grew still in a moment as the pale face of one,
familiar to most of them, turned wildly from place to place in the
dreadful scene, vainly and madly through its silence imploring life and
pity. How often had the sight of that face, not then pale and haggard,
but wreathed with rosy smiles, sufficed to draw down the applause of the
crowded theatre; how, then, had those breasts, now fevered by the thirst
of blood, held hearts spellbound by the airy movements of that exquisite
form writhing now in no stage-mime agony! Plaything of the city, minion
to the light amusement of the hour, frail child of Cytherea and the
Graces, what relentless fate has conducted thee to the shambles?
Butterfly of the summer, why should a nation rise to break thee upon
the wheel? A sense of the mockery of such an execution, of the horrible
burlesque that would sacrifice to the necessities of a mighty people so
slight an offering, made itself felt among the crowd. There was a low
murmur of shame and indignation. The dangerous sympathy of the mob was
perceived by the officer in attendance. Hastily he made the sign to
the headsman, and as he did so, a child’s cry was heard in the English
tongue,--“Mother! Mother!” The father’s hand grasped the child’s arm
with an iron pressure; the crowd swam before the boy’s eyes; the air
seemed to stifle him, and become blood-red; only through the hum and
the tramp and the roll of the drums he heard a low voice hiss in his ear
“Learn how they perish who betray me!”

As the father said these words, again his face was bare, and the woman,
whose ear amidst the dull insanity of fear had caught the cry of her
child’s voice, saw that face, and fell back insensible in the arms of
the headsman.



CHAPTER I. A FAMILY GROUP.

One July evening, at the commencement of the present century, several
persons were somewhat picturesquely grouped along an old-fashioned
terrace which skirted the garden-side of a manor-house that had
considerable pretensions to baronial dignity. The architecture was of
the most enriched and elaborate style belonging to the reign of James
the First: the porch, opening on the terrace, with its mullion window
above, was encased with pilasters and reliefs at once ornamental
and massive; and the large square tower in which it was placed was
surmounted by a stone falcon, whose talons griped fiercely a scutcheon
blazoned with the five-pointed stars which heralds recognize as the arms
of St. John. On either side this tower extended long wings, the dark
brickwork of which was relieved with noble stone casements and carved
pediments; the high roof was partially concealed by a balustrade
perforated not inelegantly into arabesque designs; and what
architects call “the sky line” was broken with imposing effect by tall
chimney-shafts of various form and fashion. These wings terminated in
angular towers similar to the centre, though kept duly subordinate to
it both in size and decoration, and crowned with stone cupolas. A low
balustrade, of later date than that which adorned the roof, relieved by
vases and statues, bordered the terrace, from which a double flight of
steps descended to a smooth lawn, intersected by broad gravel-walks,
shadowed by vast and stately cedars, and gently and gradually mingling
with the wilder scenery of the park, from which it was only divided by a
ha-ha.

Upon the terrace, and under cover of a temporary awning, sat the owner,
Sir Miles St. John of Laughton, a comely old man, dressed with
faithful precision to the costume which he had been taught to consider
appropriate to his rank of gentleman, and which was not yet wholly
obsolete and eccentric. His hair, still thick and luxuriant, was
carefully powdered, and collected into a club behind; his nether man
attired in gray breeches and pearl-coloured silk stockings; his vest
of silk, opening wide at the breast, and showing a profusion of frill,
slightly sprinkled with the pulvilio of his favourite Martinique; his
three-cornered hat, placed on a stool at his side, with a gold-headed
crutch-cane (hat made rather to be carried in the hand than worn on the
head), the diamond in his shirt-breast, the diamond on his finger, the
ruffles at his wrist,--all bespoke the gallant who had chatted with
Lord Chesterfield and supped with Mrs. Clive. On a table before him
were placed two or three decanters of wine, the fruits of the season, an
enamelled snuff-box in which was set the portrait of a female (perhaps
the Chloe or Phyllis of his early love-ditties), a lighted taper, a
small china jar containing tobacco, and three or four pipes of homely
clay,--for cherry-sticks and meerschaums were not then in fashion, and
Sir Miles St. John, once a gay and sparkling beau, now a popular country
gentleman, great at county meetings and sheep-shearing festivals, had
taken to smoking, as in harmony with his bucolic transformation. An old
setter lay dozing at his feet; a small spaniel--old, too--was sauntering
lazily in the immediate neighbourhood, looking gravely out for such
stray bits of biscuit as had been thrown forth to provoke him to
exercise, and which hitherto had escaped his attention. Half seated,
half reclined on the balustrade, apart from the baronet, but within
reach of his conversation, lolled a man in the prime of life, with an
air of unmistakable and sovereign elegance and distinction. Mr. Vernon
was a guest from London; and the London man,--the man of clubs and
dinners and routs, of noon loungings through Bond Street, and nights
spent with the Prince of Wales,--seemed stamped not more upon the
careful carelessness of his dress, and upon the worn expression of his
delicate features, than upon the listless ennui, which, characterizing
both his face and attitude, appeared to take pity on himself for having
been entrapped into the country.

Yet we should convey an erroneous impression of Mr. Vernon if we
designed, by the words “listless ennui,” to depict the slumberous
insipidity of more modern affectation; it was not the ennui of a man
to whom ennui is habitual, it was rather the indolent prostration that
fills up the intervals of excitement. At that day the word blast was
unknown; men had not enough sentiment for satiety. There was a kind of
Bacchanalian fury in the life led by those leaders of fashion, among
whom Mr. Vernon was not the least distinguished; it was a day of deep
drinking, of high play, of jovial, reckless dissipation, of
strong appetite for fun and riot, of four-in-hand coachmanship, of
prize-fighting, of a strange sort of barbarous manliness that strained
every nerve of the constitution,--a race of life in which three fourths
of the competitors died half-way in the hippodrome. What is now the
Dandy was then the Buck; and something of the Buck, though subdued by
a chaster taste than fell to the ordinary members of his class, was
apparent in Mr. Vernon’s costume as well as air. Intricate folds of
muslin, arranged in prodigious bows and ends, formed the cravat, which
Brummell had not yet arisen to reform; his hat, of a very peculiar
shape, low at the crown and broad at the brim, was worn with an air of
devil-me-care defiance; his watch-chain, garnished with a profusion of
rings and seals, hung low from his white waistcoat; and the adaptation
of his nankeen inexpressibles to his well-shaped limbs was a masterpiece
of art. His whole dress and air was not what could properly be called
foppish, it was rather what at that time was called “rakish.” Few could
so closely approach vulgarity without being vulgar: of that privileged
few, Mr. Vernon was one of the elect.

Farther on, and near the steps descending into the garden, stood a man
in an attitude of profound abstraction, his arms folded, his eyes bent
on the ground, his brows slightly contracted; his dress was a plain
black surtout, and pantaloons of the same colour. Something both in the
fashion of the dress, and still more in the face of the man, bespoke the
foreigner.

Sir Miles St. John was an accomplished person for that time of day. He
had made the grand tour; he had bought pictures and statues; he spoke
and wrote well in the modern languages; and being rich, hospitable,
social, and not averse from the reputation of a patron, he had opened
his house freely to the host of emigrants whom the French Revolution had
driven to our coasts. Olivier Dalibard, a man of considerable learning
and rare scientific attainments, had been tutor in the house of the
Marquis de G----, a French nobleman known many years before to the old
baronet. The marquis and his family had been among the first emigres at
the outbreak of the Revolution. The tutor had remained behind; for at
that time no danger appeared to threaten those who pretended to no other
aristocracy than that of letters. Contrary, as he said, with repentant
modesty, to his own inclinations, he had been compelled, not only for
his own safety, but for that of his friends, to take some part in the
subsequent events of the Revolution,--a part far from sincere, though
so well had he simulated the patriot that he had won the personal
favour and protection of Robespierre; nor till the fall of that virtuous
exterminator had he withdrawn from the game of politics and effected
in disguise his escape to England. As, whether from kindly or other
motives, he had employed the power of his position in the esteem of
Robespierre to save certain noble heads from the guillotine,--amongst
others, the two brothers of the Marquis de G----, he was received with
grateful welcome by his former patrons, who readily pardoned his career
of Jacobinism from their belief in his excuses and their obligations to
the services which that very career had enabled him to render to their
kindred. Olivier Dalibard had accompanied the marquis and his family in
one of the frequent visits they paid to Laughton; and when the marquis
finally quitted England, and fixed his refuge at Vienna, with some
connections of his wife’s, he felt a lively satisfaction at the thought
of leaving his friend honourably, if unambitiously, provided for as
secretary and librarian to Sir Miles St. John. In fact, the scholar,
who possessed considerable powers of fascination, had won no less favour
with the English baronet than he had with the French dictator. He played
well both at chess and backgammon; he was an extraordinary accountant;
he had a variety of information upon all points that rendered him more
convenient than any cyclopaedia in Sir Miles’s library; and as he spoke
both English and Italian with a correctness and fluency extremely rare
in a Frenchman, he was of considerable service in teaching languages
to, as well as directing the general literary education of, Sir Miles’s
favourite niece, whom we shall take an early opportunity to describe at
length.

Nevertheless, there had been one serious obstacle to Dalibard’s
acceptance of the appointment offered to him by Sir Miles. Dalibard had
under his charge a young orphan boy of some ten or twelve years old,--a
boy whom Sir Miles was not long in suspecting to be the scholar’s son.
This child had come from France with Dalibard, and while the marquis’s
family were in London, remained under the eye and care of his guardian
or father, whichever was the true connection between the two. But this
superintendence became impossible if Dalibard settled in Hampshire with
Sir Miles St. John, and the boy remained in London; nor, though the
generous old gentleman offered to pay for the child’s schooling, would
Dalibard consent to part with him. At last the matter was arranged: the
boy was invited to Laughton on a visit, and was so lively, yet so well
mannered, that he became a favourite, and was now fairly quartered
in the house with his reputed father; and not to make an unnecessary
mystery of this connection, such was in truth the relationship between
Olivier Dalibard and Honore Gabriel Varney,--a name significant of the
double and illegitimate origin: a French father, an English mother.
Dropping, however, the purely French appellation of Honore, he went
familiarly by that of Gabriel. Half-way down the steps stood the lad,
pencil and tablet in hand, sketching. Let us look over his shoulder: it
is his father’s likeness,--a countenance in itself not very remarkable
at the first glance, for the features were small; but when examined,
it was one that most persons, women especially, would have pronounced
handsome, and to which none could deny the higher praise of thought
and intellect. A native of Provence, with some Italian blood in his
veins,--for his grandfather, a merchant of Marseilles, had married into
a Florentine family settled at Leghorn,--the dark complexion common
with those in the South had been subdued, probably by the habits of the
student, into a bronze and steadfast paleness which seemed almost fair
by the contrast of the dark hair which he wore unpowdered, and the
still darker brows which hung thick and prominent over clear gray eyes.
Compared with the features, the skull was disproportionally large, both
behind and before; and a physiognomist would have drawn conclusions more
favourable to the power than the tenderness of the Provencal’s character
from the compact closeness of the lips and the breadth and massiveness
of the iron jaw. But the son’s sketch exaggerated every feature, and
gave to the expression a malignant and terrible irony not now, at least,
apparent in the quiet and meditative aspect. Gabriel himself, as he
stood, would have been a more tempting study to many an artist. It is
true that he was small for his years; but his frame had a vigour in
its light proportions which came from a premature and almost adolescent
symmetry of shape and muscular development. The countenance, however,
had much of effeminate beauty: the long hair reached the shoulders, but
did not curl,--straight, fine, and glossy as a girl’s, and in colour
of the pale auburn, tinged with red, which rarely alters in hue as
childhood matures to man; the complexion was dazzlingly clear and fair.
Nevertheless, there was something so hard in the lip, so bold, though
not open, in the brow, that the girlishness of complexion, and even of
outline, could not leave, on the whole, an impression of effeminacy. All
the hereditary keenness and intelligence were stamped upon his face at
that moment; but the expression had also a large share of the very irony
and malice which he had conveyed to his caricature. The drawing itself
was wonderfully vigorous and distinct; showing great artistic promise,
and done with the rapidity and ease which betrayed practice. Suddenly
his father turned, and with as sudden a quickness the boy concealed his
tablet in his vest; and the sinister expression of his face smoothed
into a timorous smile as his eye encountered Dalibard’s. The father
beckoned to the boy, who approached with alacrity. “Gabriel,” whispered
the Frenchman, in his own tongue, “where are they at this moment?”

The boy pointed silently towards one of the cedars. Dalibard mused an
instant, and then, slowly descending the steps, took his noiseless way
over the smooth turf towards the tree. Its boughs drooped low and spread
wide; and not till he was within a few paces of the spot could his eye
perceive two forms seated on a bench under the dark green canopy. He
then paused and contemplated them.

The one was a young man whose simple dress and subdued air strongly
contrasted the artificial graces and the modish languor of Mr. Vernon;
but though wholly without that nameless distinction which sometimes
characterizes those conscious of pure race and habituated to the
atmosphere of courts, he had at least Nature’s stamp of aristocracy in
a form eminently noble, and features of manly, but surpassing beauty,
which were not rendered less engaging by an expression of modest
timidity. He seemed to be listening with thoughtful respect to his
companion, a young female by his side, who was speaking to him with an
earnestness visible in her gestures and her animated countenance. And
though there was much to notice in the various persons scattered
over the scene, not one, perhaps,--not the graceful Vernon, not the
thoughtful scholar, nor his fair-haired, hard-lipped son, not even
the handsome listener she addressed,--no, not one there would so have
arrested the eye, whether of a physiognomist or a casual observer, as
that young girl, Sir Miles St. John’s favourite niece and presumptive
heiress.

But as at that moment the expression of her face differed from that
habitual to it, we defer its description.

“Do not,” such were her words to her companion,--“do not alarm yourself
by exaggerating the difficulties; do not even contemplate them: those be
my care. Mainwaring, when I loved you; when, seeing that your diffidence
or your pride forbade you to be the first to speak, I overstepped the
modesty or the dissimulation of my sex; when I said, ‘Forget that I am
the reputed heiress of Laughton, see in me but the faults and merits of
the human being, of the wild unregulated girl, see in me but Lucretia
Clavering’” (here her cheeks blushed, and her voice sank into a lower
and more tremulous whisper) “‘and love her if you can!’--when I went
thus far, do not think I had not measured all the difficulties in the
way of our union, and felt that I could surmount them.”

“But,” answered Mainwaring, hesitatingly, “can you conceive it
possible that your uncle ever will consent? Is not pride--the pride
of family--almost the leading attribute of his character? Did he not
discard your mother--his own sister--from his house and heart for no
other offence but a second marriage which he deemed beneath her? Has he
ever even consented to see, much less to receive, your half-sister, the
child of that marriage? Is not his very affection for you interwoven
with his pride in you, with his belief in your ambition? Has he not
summoned your cousin, Mr. Vernon, for the obvious purpose of favouring
a suit which he considers worthy of you, and which, if successful, will
unite the two branches of his ancient house? How is it possible that he
can ever hear without a scorn and indignation which would be fatal
to your fortunes that your heart has presumed to choose, in William
Mainwaring, a man without ancestry or career?”

“Not without career,” interrupted Lucretia, proudly. “Do you think if
you were master of Laughton that your career would not be more brilliant
than that of yon indolent, luxurious coxcomb? Do you think that I could
have been poor-hearted enough to love you if I had not recognized in
you energies and talents that correspond with my own ambition? For I am
ambitious, as you know, and therefore my mind, as well as my heart, went
with my love for you.”

“Ah, Lucretia, but can Sir Miles St. John see my future rise in my
present obscurity?”

“I do not say that he can, or will; but if you love me, we can wait. Do
not fear the rivalry of Mr. Vernon. I shall know how to free myself from
so tame a peril. We can wait,--my uncle is old; his habits preclude the
chance of a much longer life; he has already had severe attacks. We
are young, dear Mainwaring: what is a year or two to those who hope?”
 Mainwaring’s face fell, and a displeasing chill passed through his
veins. Could this young creature, her uncle’s petted and trusted
darling, she who should be the soother of his infirmities, the prop
of his age, the sincerest mourner at his grave, weigh coldly thus the
chances of his death, and point at once to the altar and the tomb?

He was saved from the embarrassment of reply by Dalibard’s approach.

“More than half an hour absent,” said the scholar, in his own language,
with a smile; and drawing out his watch, he placed it before their
eyes. “Do you not think that all will miss you? Do you suppose, Miss
Clavering, that your uncle has not ere this asked for his fair niece?
Come, and forestall him.” He offered his arm to Lucretia as he spoke.
She hesitated a moment, and then, turning to Mainwaring, held out her
hand. He pressed it, though scarcely with a lover’s warmth; and as she
walked back to the terrace with Dalibard, the young man struck slowly
into the opposite direction, and passing by a gate over a foot-bridge
that led from the ha-ha into the park, bent his way towards a lake which
gleamed below at some distance, half-concealed by groves of venerable
trees rich with the prodigal boughs of summer. Meanwhile, as they
passed towards the house, Dalibard, still using his native tongue, thus
accosted his pupil:--

“You must pardon me if I think more of your interests than you do; and
pardon me no less if I encroach on your secrets and alarm your pride.
This young man,--can you be guilty of the folly of more than a passing
caprice for his society, of more than the amusement of playing with his
vanity? Even if that be all, beware of entangling yourself in your own
meshes.”

“You do in truth offend me,” said Lucretia, with calm haughtiness, “and
you have not the right thus to speak to me.”

“Not the right,” repeated the Provencal, mournfully, “not the right!
Then, indeed, I am mistaken in my pupil. Do you consider that I would
have lowered my pride to remain here as a dependent; that, conscious of
attainments, and perhaps of abilities, that should win their way, even
in exile, to distinction, I would have frittered away my life in
these rustic shades,--if I had not formed in you a deep and absorbing
interest? In that interest I ground my right to warn and counsel you. I
saw, or fancied I saw, in you a mind congenial to my own; a mind above
the frivolities of your sex,--a mind, in short, with the grasp and
energy of a man’s. You were then but a child, you are scarcely yet a
woman; yet have I not given to your intellect the strong food on which
the statesmen of Florence fed their pupil-princes, or the noble Jesuits
the noble men who were destined to extend the secret empire of the
imperishable Loyola?”

“You gave me the taste for a knowledge rare in my sex, I own,” answered
Lucretia, with a slight tone of regret in her voice: “and in the
knowledge you have communicated I felt a charm that at times seems to
me to be only fatal. You have confounded in my mind evil and good, or
rather, you have left both good and evil as dead ashes, as the dust and
cinder of a crucible. You have made intellect the only conscience. Of
late, I wish that my tutor had been a village priest!”

“Of late, since you have listened to the pastorals of that meek
Corydon!”

“Dare you despise him? And for what? That he is good and honest?”

“I despise him, not because he is good and honest, but because he is
of the common herd of men, without aim or character. And it is for this
youth that you will sacrifice your fortunes, your ambition, the station
you were born to fill and have been reared to improve,--this youth in
whom there is nothing but the lap-dog’s merit, sleekness and beauty! Ay,
frown,--the frown betrays you; you love him!”

“And if I do?” said Lucretia, raising her tall form to its utmost
height, and haughtily facing her inquisitor,--“and, if I do, what then?
Is he unworthy of me? Converse with him, and you will find that the
noble form conceals as high a spirit. He wants but wealth: I can give it
to him. If his temper is gentle, I can prompt and guide it to fame and
power. He at least has education and eloquence and mind. What has Mr.
Vernon?”

“Mr. Vernon? I did not speak of him!”

Lucretia gazed hard upon the Provencal’s countenance,--gazed with that
unpitying air of triumph with which a woman who detects a power over
the heart she does not desire to conquer exults in defeating the reasons
that heart appears to her to prompt. “No,” she said in a calm voice, to
which the venom of secret irony gave stinging significance,--“no, you
spoke not of Mr. Vernon; you thought that if I looked round, if I looked
nearer, I might have a fairer choice.”

“You are cruel, you are unjust,” said Dalibard, falteringly. “If I
once presumed for a moment, have I repeated my offence? But,” he added
hurriedly, “in me,--much as you appear to despise me,--in me, at
least, you would have risked none of the dangers that beset you if you
seriously set your heart on Mainwaring.”

“You think my uncle would be proud to give my hand to M. Olivier
Dalibard?”

“I think and I know,” answered the Provencal, gravely, and disregarding
the taunt, “that if you had deigned to render me--poor exile that
I am!--the most enviable of men, you had still been the heiress of
Laughton.”

“So you have said and urged,” said Lucretia, with evident curiosity
in her voice; “yet how, and by what art,--wise and subtle as you
are,--could you have won my uncle’s consent?”

“That is my secret,” returned Dalibard, gloomily; “and since the madness
I indulged is forever over; since I have so schooled my heart that
nothing, despite your sarcasm, save an affectionate interest which I may
call paternal rests there,--let us pass from this painful subject. Oh,
my dear pupil, be warned in time; know love for what it really is, in
the dark and complicated history of actual life,--a brief enchantment,
not to be disdained, but not to be considered the all-in all. Look round
the world; contemplate all those who have married from passion: ten
years afterwards, whither has the passion flown? With a few, indeed,
where there is community of object and character, new excitements, new
aims and hopes, spring up; and having first taken root in passion, the
passion continues to shoot out in their fresh stems and fibres. But
deceive yourself not; there is no such community between you and
Mainwaring. What you call his goodness, you will learn hereafter to
despise as feeble; and what in reality is your mental power he soon, too
soon, will shudder at as unwomanly and hateful.”

“Hold!” cried Lucretia, tremulously. “Hold! and if he does, I shall owe
his hate to you,--to your lessons; to your deadly influence!”

“Lucretia, no; the seeds were in you. Can cultivation force from the
soil that which it is against the nature of the soil to bear?”

“I will pluck out the weeds! I will transform myself!”

“Child, I defy you!” said the scholar, with a smile that gave to his
face the expression his son had conveyed to it. “I have warned you, and
my task is done.” With that he bowed, and leaving her, was soon by the
side of Sir Miles St. John; and the baronet and his librarian, a few
moments after, entered the house and sat down to chess.

But during the dialogues we have sketched, we must not suppose that Sir
Miles himself had been so wholly absorbed in the sensual gratification
bestowed upon Europe by the immortal Raleigh as to neglect his guest and
kinsman.

“And so, Charley Vernon, it is not the fashion to smoke in Lunnon.” Thus
Sir Miles pronounced the word, according to the Euphuism of his youth,
and which, even at that day, still lingered in courtly jargon.

“No, sir. However, to console us, we have most other vices in full
force.”

“I don’t doubt it; they say the prince’s set exhaust life pretty
quickly.”

“It certainly requires the fortune of an earl and the constitution of a
prize-fighter to live with him.”

“Yet methinks, Master Charley, you have neither the one nor the other.”

“And therefore I see before me, and at no very great distance, the Bench
and--a consumption!” answered Vernon, suppressing a slight yawn.

“‘T is a pity, for you had a fine estate, properly managed; and in spite
of your faults, you have the heart of a true gentleman. Come, come!” and
the old man spoke with tenderness, “you are young enough yet to reform.
A prudent marriage and a good wife will save both your health and your
acres.”

“If you think so highly of marriage, my dear Sir Miles, it is a wonder
you did not add to your precepts the value of your example.”

“Jackanapes! I had not your infirmities: I never was a spendthrift, and
I have a constitution of iron!” There was a pause. “Charles,” continued
Sir Miles, musingly, “there is many an earl with a less fortune than the
conjoined estates of Vernon Grange and Laughton Hall. You must already
have understood me: it is my intention to leave my estates to Lucretia;
it is my wish, nevertheless, to think you will not be the worse for my
will. Frankly, if you can like my niece, win her; settle here while I
live, put the Grange to nurse, and recruit yourself by fresh air and
field-sports. Zounds, Charles, I love you, and that’s the truth! Give me
your hand!”

“And a grateful heart with it, sir,” said Vernon, warmly, evidently
affected, as he started from his indolent position and took the hand
extended to him. “Believe me, I do not covet your wealth, nor do I envy
my cousin anything so much as the first place in your regard.”

“Prettily said, my boy, and I don’t suspect you of insincerity. What
think you, then, of my plan?”

Mr. Vernon seemed embarrassed; but recovering himself with his usual
ease, he replied archly: “Perhaps, sir, it will be of little use to know
what I think of your plan; my fair cousin may have upset it already.”

“Ha, sir! let me look at you. So, so! you are not jesting. What the
deuce do you mean? ‘Gad, man, speak out!”

“Do you not think that Mr. Monderling--Mandolin--what’s his name,
eh?--do you not think that he is a very handsome young fellow?” said Mr.
Vernon, drawing out his snuffbox and offering it to his kinsman.

“Damn your snuff,” quoth Sir Miles, in great choler, as he rejected the
proffered courtesy with a vehemence that sent half the contents of the
box upon the joint eyes and noses of the two canine favourites dozing
at his feet. The setter started up in an agony; the spaniel wheezed and
sniffled and ran off, stopping every moment to take his head between his
paws. The old gentleman continued without heeding the sufferings of his
dumb friends,--a symptom of rare discomposure on his part.

“Do you mean to insinuate, Mr. Vernon, that my niece--my elder niece,
Lucretia Clavering--condescends to notice the looks, good or bad, of
Mr. Mainwaring? ‘Sdeath, sir, he is the son of a land-agent! Sir, he is
intended for trade! Sir, his highest ambition is to be partner in some
fifth-rate mercantile house!”

“My dear Sir Miles,” replied Mr. Vernon, as he continued to brush away,
with his scented handkerchief, such portions of the prince’s mixture as
his nankeen inexpressibles had diverted from the sensual organs of Dash
and Ponto--“my dear Sir Miles, ca n’empeche pas le sentiment!”

“Empeche the fiddlestick! You don’t know Lucretia. There are many girls,
indeed, who might not be trusted near any handsome flute-playing spark,
with black eyes and white teeth; but Lucretia is not one of those; she
has spirit and ambition that would never stoop to a mesalliance; she has
the mind and will of a queen,--old Queen Bess, I believe.”

“That is saying much for her talent, sir; but if so, Heaven help her
intended! I am duly grateful for the blessings you propose me!”

Despite his anger, the old gentleman could not help smiling.

“Why, to confess the truth, she is hard to manage; but we men of the
world know how to govern women, I hope,--much more how to break in a
girl scarce out of her teens. As for this fancy of yours, it is sheer
folly: Lucretia knows my mind. She has seen her mother’s fate; she has
seen her sister an exile from my house. Why? For no fault of hers, poor
thing, but because she is the child of disgrace, and the mother’s sin is
visited on her daughter’s head. I am a good-natured man, I fancy, as
men go; but I am old-fashioned enough to care for my race. If Lucretia
demeaned herself to love, to encourage, that lad, why, I would strike
her from my will, and put your name where I have placed hers.”

“Sir,” said Vernon, gravely, and throwing aside all affectation of
manner, “this becomes serious; and I have no right even to whisper a
doubt by which it now seems I might benefit. I think it imprudent, if
you wish Miss Clavering to regard me impartially as a suitor to her
hand, to throw her, at her age, in the way of a man far superior to
myself, and to most men, in personal advantages,--a man more of her own
years, well educated, well mannered, with no evidence of his inferior
birth in his appearance or his breeding. I have not the least ground for
supposing that he has made the slightest impression on Miss Clavering,
and if he has, it would be, perhaps, but a girl’s innocent and
thoughtless fancy, easily shaken off by time and worldly reflection; but
pardon me if I say bluntly that should that be so, you would be wholly
unjustified in punishing, even in blaming, her,--it is yourself you must
blame for your own carelessness and that forgetful blindness to human
nature and youthful emotions which, I must say, is the less pardonable
in one who has known the world so intimately.”

“Charles Vernon,” said the old baronet, “give me your hand again! I was
right, at least, when I said you had the heart of a true gentleman. Drop
this subject for the present. Who has just left Lucretia yonder?”

“Your protege, the Frenchman.”

“Ah, he, at least, is not blind; go and join Lucretia!”

Vernon bowed, emptied the remains of the Madeira into a tumbler, drank
the contents at a draught, and sauntered towards Lucretia; but she,
perceiving his approach, crossed abruptly into one of the alleys that
led to the other side of the house, and he was either too indifferent or
too well-bred to force upon her the companionship which she so evidently
shunned. He threw himself at length upon one of the benches on the lawn,
and leaning his head upon his hand, fell into reflections which, had he
spoken, would have shaped themselves somewhat thus into words:--

“If I must take that girl as the price of this fair heritage, shall I
gain or lose? I grant that she has the finest neck and shoulders I ever
saw out of marble; but far from being in love with her, she gives me a
feeling like fear and aversion. Add to this that she has evidently no
kinder sentiment for me than I for her; and if she once had a heart,
that young gentleman has long since coaxed it away. Pleasant auspices,
these, for matrimony to a poor invalid who wishes at least to decline
and to die in peace! Moreover, if I were rich enough to marry as I
pleased; if I were what, perhaps, I ought to be, heir to Laughton,--why,
there is a certain sweet Mary in the world, whose eyes are softer than
Lucretia Clavering’s. But that is a dream! On the other hand, if I do
not win this girl, and my poor kinsman give her all, or nearly all, his
possessions, Vernon Grange goes to the usurers, and the king will find
a lodging for myself. What does it matter? I cannot live above two or
three years at the most, and can only hope, therefore, that dear stout
old Sir Miles may outlive me. At thirty-three I have worn out fortune
and life; little pleasure could Laughton give me,--brief pain the Bench.
‘Fore Gad, the philosophy of the thing is on the whole against sour
looks and the noose!” Thus deciding in the progress of his revery, he
smiled, and changed his position. The sun had set, the twilight was
over, the moon rose in splendour from amidst a thick copse of mingled
beech and oak; the beams fell full on the face of the muser, and the
face seemed yet paler and the exhaustion of premature decay yet more
evident, by that still and melancholy light: all ruins gain dignity by
the moon. This was a ruin nobler than that which painters place on their
canvas,--the ruin, not of stone and brick, but of humanity and spirit;
the wreck of man prematurely old, not stricken by great sorrow, not
bowed by great toil, but fretted and mined away by small pleasures and
poor excitements,--small and poor, but daily, hourly, momently at their
gnome-like work. Something of the gravity and the true lesson of the
hour and scene, perhaps, forced itself upon a mind little given to
sentiment, for Vernon rose languidly and muttered,--

“My poor mother hoped better things from me. It is well, after all, that
it is broken off with Mary. Why should there be any one to weep for me?
I can the better die smiling, as I have lived.”

Meanwhile, as it is necessary we should follow each of the principal
characters we have introduced through the course of an evening more
or less eventful in the destiny of all, we return to Mainwaring and
accompany him to the lake at the bottom of the park, which he reached as
its smooth surface glistened in the last beams of the sun. He saw, as he
neared the water, the fish sporting in the pellucid tide; the dragonfly
darted and hovered in the air; the tedded grass beneath his feet gave
forth the fragrance of crushed thyme and clover; the swan paused, as
if slumbering on the wave; the linnet and finch sang still from the
neighbouring copses; and the heavy bees were winging their way home with
a drowsy murmur. All around were images of that unspeakable peace which
Nature whispers to those attuned to her music; all fitted to lull, but
not to deject, the spirit,--images dear to the holiday of the world-worn
man, to the contemplation of serene and retired age, to the boyhood of
poets, to the youth of lovers. But Mainwaring’s step was heavy, and his
brow clouded, and Nature that evening was dumb to him. At the margin of
the lake stood a solitary angler who now, his evening’s task done,
was employed in leisurely disjointing his rod and whistling with much
sweetness an air from one of Izaak Walton’s songs. Mainwaring reached
the angler and laid his hand on his shoulder.

“What sport, Ardworth?”

“A few large roach with the fly, and one pike with a gudgeon,--a noble
fellow! Look at him! He was lying under the reeds yonder; I saw his
green back, and teased him into biting. A heavenly evening! I wonder you
did not follow my example, and escape from a set where neither you nor I
can feel very much at home, to this green banquet of Nature, in which at
least no man sits below the salt-cellar. The birds are an older family
than the St. Johns, but they don’t throw their pedigree in our teeth,
Mainwaring.”

“Nay, nay, my good friend, you wrong old Sir Miles; proud he is, no
doubt, but neither you nor I have had to complain of his insolence.”

“Of his insolence, certainly not; of his condescension, yes! Hang it,
William, it is his very politeness that galls me. Don’t you observe that
with Vernon, or Lord A----, or Lord B----, or Mr. C----, he is easy and
off-hand; calls them by their names, pats them on the shoulder, rates
them, and swears at them if they vex him. But with you and me and his
French parasite, it is all stately decorum and punctilious courtesy:
‘Mr. Mainwaring, I am delighted to see you;’ ‘Mr. Ardworth, as you are
so near, dare I ask you to ring the bell?’ ‘Monsieur Dalibard, with the
utmost deference, I venture to disagree with you.’ However, don’t let
my foolish susceptibility ruffle your pride. And you, too, have a worthy
object in view, which might well detain you from roach and jack-fish.
Have you stolen your interview with the superb Lucretia?”

“Yes, stolen, as you say; and, like all thieves not thoroughly hardened,
I am ashamed of my gains.”

“Sit down, my boy,--this is a bank in ten thousand; there, that old root
to lean your elbow on, this soft moss for your cushion: sit down and
confess. You have something on your mind that preys on you; we are old
college friends,--out with it!”

“There is no resisting you, Ardworth,” said Mainwaring, smiling, and
drawn from his reserve and his gloom by the frank good-humour of his
companion. “I should like, I own, to make a clean breast of it; and
perhaps I may profit by your advice. You know, in the first place, that
after I left college, my father, seeing me indisposed for the Church, to
which he had always destined me in his own heart, and for which, indeed,
he had gone out of his way to maintain me at the University, gave me the
choice of his own business as a surveyor and land-agent, or of entering
into the mercantile profession. I chose the latter, and went to
Southampton, where we have a relation in business, to be initiated
into the elementary mysteries. There I became acquainted with a good
clergyman and his wife, and in that house I passed a great part of my
time.”

“With the hope, I trust, on better consideration, of gratifying your
father’s ambition and learning how to starve with gentility on a cure.”

“Not much of that, I fear.”

“Then the clergyman had a daughter?”

“You are nearer the mark now,” said Mainwaring, colouring,--“though it
was not his daughter. A young lady lived in his family, not even
related to him; she was placed there with a certain allowance by a rich
relation. In a word, I admired, perhaps I loved, this young person; but
she was without an independence, and I not yet provided even with
the substitute of money,--a profession. I fancied (do not laugh at my
vanity) that my feelings might be returned. I was in alarm for her as
well as myself; I sounded the clergyman as to the chance of obtaining
the consent of her rich relation, and was informed that he thought it
hopeless. I felt I had no right to invite her to poverty and ruin, and
still less to entangle further (if I had chanced to touch at all) her
affection. I made an excuse to my father to leave the town, and returned
home.”

“Prudent and honourable enough, so far; unlike me,--I should have run
off with the girl, if she loved me, and old Plutus, the rascal, might
have done his worst against Cupid. But I interrupt you.”

“I came back when the county was greatly agitated,--public meetings,
speeches, mobs; a sharp election going on. My father had always taken
keen interest in politics; he was of the same party as Sir Miles,
who, you know, is red-hot upon politics. I was easily led--partly by
ambition, partly by the effect of example, partly by the hope to give a
new turn to my thoughts--to make an appearance in public.”

“And a devilish creditable one too! Why, man, your speeches have been
quoted with rapture by the London papers. Horribly aristocratic and
Pittish, it is true,--I think differently; but every man to his taste.
Well--”

“My attempts, such as they were, procured me the favour of Sir Miles. He
had long been acquainted with my father, who had helped him in his own
elections years ago. He seemed cordially delighted to patronize the son;
he invited me to visit him at Laughton, and hinted to my father that I
was formed for something better than a counting-house: my poor father
was intoxicated. In a word, here I am; here, often for days, almost
weeks, together, have I been a guest, always welcomed.”

“You pause. This is the primordium,--now comes the confession, eh?”

“Why, one half the confession is over. It was my most unmerited
fortune to attract the notice of Miss Clavering. Do not fancy me so
self-conceited as to imagine that I should ever have presumed so high,
but for--”

“But for encouragement,--I understand! Well, she is a magnificent
creature, in her way, and I do not wonder that she drove the poor little
girl at Southampton out of your thoughts.”

“Ah! but there is the sore,--I am not sure that she has done so.
Ardworth, I may trust you?”

“With everything but half-a-guinea. I would not promise to be rock
against so great a temptation!” and Ardworth turned his empty pockets
inside out.

“Tush! be serious, or I go.”

“Serious! With pockets like these, the devil’s in it if I am not
serious. Perge, precor.”

“Ardworth, then,” said Mainwaring, with great emotion, “I confide to you
the secret trouble of my heart. This girl at Southampton is Lucretia’s
sister,--her half-sister; the rich relation on whose allowance she lives
is Sir Miles St. John.”

“Whew! my own poor dear little cousin, by the father’s side! Mainwaring,
I trust you have not deceived me; you have not amused yourself with
breaking Susan’s heart? For a heart, and an honest, simple, English
girl’s heart she has.”

“Heaven forbid! I tell you I have never even declared my love; and if
love it were, I trust it is over. But when Sir Miles was first kind to
me, first invited me, I own I had the hope to win his esteem; and since
he had always made so strong and cruel a distinction between Lucretia
and Susan, I thought it not impossible that he might consent at last to
my union with the niece he had refused to receive and acknowledge. But
even while the hope was in me, I was drawn on, I was entangled, I was
spell-bound, I know not how or why; but, to close my confidence, while
still doubtful whether my own heart is free from the remembrance of the
one sister, I am pledged to the other.”

Ardworth looked down gravely and remained silent. He was a joyous,
careless, reckless youth, with unsteady character and pursuits, and
with something of vague poetry, much of unaccommodating pride about his
nature,--one of those youths little likely to do what is called well in
the world; not persevering enough for an independent career, too blunt
and honest for a servile one. But it was in the very disposition of such
a person to judge somewhat harshly of Mainwaring’s disclosure, and not
easily to comprehend what, after all, was very natural,--how a young
man, new to life, timid by character, and of an extreme susceptibility
to the fear of giving pain, had, in the surprise, the gratitude, the
emotion, of an avowed attachment from a girl far above him in worldly
position, been forced, by receiving, to seem, at least, to return her
affection. And, indeed, though not wholly insensible to the brilliant
prospects opened to him in such a connection, yet, to do him justice,
Mainwaring would have been equally entangled by a similar avowal from
a girl more his equal in the world. It was rather from an amiability
bordering upon weakness, than from any more degrading moral
imperfections, that he had been betrayed into a position which neither
contented his heart nor satisfied his conscience.

With far less ability than his friend, Ardworth had more force and
steadiness in his nature, and was wholly free from that morbid delicacy
of temperament to which susceptible and shy persons owe much of their
errors and misfortunes. He said, therefore, after a long pause: “My
good fellow, to be plain with you, I cannot say that your confession
has improved you in my estimation; but that is perhaps because of the
bluntness of my understanding. I could quite comprehend your forgetting
Susan (and, after all, I am left in doubt as to the extent of her
conquest over you) for the very different charms of her sister. On the
other hand, I could still better understand that, having once fancied
Susan, you could not be commanded into love for Lucretia. But I do
not comprehend your feeling love for one, and making love to the
other,--which is the long and short of the business.”

“That is not exactly the true statement,” answered Mainwaring, with
a powerful effort at composure. “There are moments when, listening to
Lucretia, when, charmed by that softness which, contrasting the rest of
her character, she exhibits to none but me, struck by her great mental
powers, proud of an unsought triumph over such a being, I feel as if
I could love none but her; then suddenly her mood changes,--she utters
sentiments that chill and revolt me; the very beauty seems vanished from
her face. I recall with a sigh the simple sweetness of Susan, and I feel
as if I deceived both my mistress and myself. Perhaps, however, all
the circumstances of this connection tend to increase my doubts. It is
humiliating to me to know that I woo clandestinely and upon sufferance;
that I am stealing, as it were, into a fortune; that I am eating Sir
Miles’s bread, and yet counting upon his death; and this shame in myself
may make me unconsciously unjust to Lucretia. But it is useless to
reprove me for what is past; and though I at first imagined you could
advise me for the future, I now see, too clearly, that no advice could
avail.”

“I grant that too; for all you require is to make up your mind to be
fairly off with the old love, or fairly on with the new. However, now
you have stated your case thus frankly, if you permit me, I will take
advantage of the strange chance of finding myself here, and watch,
ponder, and counsel, if I can. This Lucretia, I own it, puzzles and
perplexes me; but though no Oedipus, I will not take fright at the
sphinx. I suppose now it is time to return. They expect some of the
neighbours to drink tea, and I must doff my fishing-jacket. Come!”

As they strolled towards the house, Ardworth broke a silence which had
lasted for some moments.

“And how is that dear good Fielden? I ought to have guessed him at once,
when you spoke of your clergyman and his young charge; but I did not
know he was at Southampton.”

“He has exchanged his living for a year, on account of his wife’s
health, and rather, I think also, with the wish to bring poor Susan
nearer to Laughton, in the chance of her uncle seeing her. But you are,
then, acquainted with Fielden?”

“Acquainted!--my best friend. He was my tutor, and prepared me for Caius
College. I owe him, not only the little learning I have, but the little
good that is left in me. I owe to him apparently, also, whatever chance
of bettering my prospects may arise from my visit to Laughton.”

“Notwithstanding our intimacy, we have, like most young men not related,
spoken so little of our family matters that I do not now understand how
you are cousin to Susan, nor what, to my surprise and delight, brought
you hither three days ago.”

“Faith, my story is easier to explain than your own, William. Here
goes!”

But as Ardworth’s recital partially involves references to family
matters not yet sufficiently known to the reader, we must be pardoned if
we assume to ourselves his task of narrator, and necessarily enlarge on
his details.

The branch of the illustrious family of St. John represented by Sir
Miles, diverged from the parent stem of the Lords of Bletshoe. With them
it placed at the summit of its pedigree the name of William de St. John,
the Conqueror’s favourite and trusted warrior, and Oliva de Filgiers.
With them it blazoned the latter alliance, which gave to Sir Oliver St.
John the lands of Bletshoe by the hand of Margaret Beauchamp (by her
second marriage with the Duke of Somerset), grandmother to Henry VII. In
the following generation, the younger son of a younger son had founded,
partly by offices of state, partly by marriage with a wealthy heiress, a
house of his own; and in the reign of James the First, the St. Johns of
Laughton ranked amongst the chief gentlemen of Hampshire. From that
time till the accession of George III the family, though it remained
untitled, had added to its consequence by intermarriages of considerable
dignity,--chosen, indeed, with a disregard for money uncommon amongst
the English aristocracy; so that the estate was but little enlarged
since the reign of James, though profiting, of course, by improved
cultivation and the different value of money. On the other hand, perhaps
there were scarcely ten families in the country who could boast of a
similar directness of descent on all sides from the proudest and noblest
aristocracy of the soil; and Sir Miles St. John, by blood, was, almost
at the distance of eight centuries, as pure a Norman as his ancestral
William. His grandfather, nevertheless, had deviated from the usual
disinterested practice of the family, and had married an heiress who
brought the quarterings of Vernon to the crowded escutcheon, and with
these quarterings an estate of some 4,000 pounds a year popularly known
by the name of Vernon Grange. This rare occurrence did not add to the
domestic happiness of the contracting parties, nor did it lead to the
ultimate increase of the Laughton possessions. Two sons were born. To
the elder was destined the father’s inheritance,--to the younger the
maternal property. One house is not large enough for two heirs. Nothing
could exceed the pride of the father as a St. John, except the pride of
the mother as a Vernon. Jealousies between the two sons began early
and rankled deep; nor was there peace at Laughton till the younger had
carried away from its rental the lands of Vernon Grange; and the
elder remained just where his predecessors stood in point of
possessions,--sole lord of Laughton sole. The elder son, Sir Miles’s
father, had been, indeed, so chafed by the rivalry with his brother that
in disgust he had run away and thrown himself, at the age of fourteen,
into the navy. By accident or by merit he rose high in that profession,
acquired name and fame, and lost an eye and an arm,--for which he was
gazetted, at the same time, an admiral and a baronet.

Thus mutilated and dignified, Sir George St. John retired from
the profession; and finding himself unmarried, and haunted by the
apprehension that if he died childless, Laughton would pass to his
brother’s heirs, he resolved upon consigning his remains to the nuptial
couch, previous to the surer peace of the family vault. At the age
of fifty-nine, the grim veteran succeeded in finding a young lady of
unblemished descent and much marked with the small-pox, who consented to
accept the only hand which Sir George had to offer. From this marriage
sprang a numerous family; but all died in early childhood, frightened
to death, said the neighbours, by their tender parents (considered the
ugliest couple in the county), except one boy (the present Sir Miles)
and one daughter, many years younger, destined to become Lucretia’s
mother. Sir Miles came early into his property; and although the
softening advance of civilization, with the liberal effects of travel
and a long residence in cities, took from him that provincial austerity
of pride which is only seen in stanch perfection amongst the lords of a
village, he was yet little less susceptible to the duties of maintaining
his lineage pure as its representation had descended to him than the
most superb of his predecessors. But owing, it was said, to an early
disappointment, he led, during youth and manhood, a roving and desultory
life, and so put off from year to year the grand experiment matrimonial,
until he arrived at old age, with the philosophical determination
to select from the other branches of his house the successor to the
heritage of St. John. In thus arrogating to himself a right to neglect
his proper duties as head of a family, he found his excuse in adopting
his niece Lucretia. His sister had chosen for her first husband a friend
and neighbour of his own, a younger son, of unexceptionable birth and
of very agreeable manners in society. But this gentleman contrived to
render her life so miserable that, though he died fifteen months after
their marriage, his widow could scarcely be expected to mourn long for
him. A year after Mr. Clavering’s death, Mrs. Clavering married again,
under the mistaken notion that she had the right to choose for herself.
She married Dr. Mivers, the provincial physician who had attended her
husband in his last illness,--a gentleman by education, manners, and
profession, but unhappily the son of a silk-mercer. Sir Miles never
forgave this connection. By her first marriage, Sir Miles’s sister had
one daughter, Lucretia; by her second marriage, another daughter, named
Susan. She survived somewhat more than a year the birth of the latter.
On her death, Sir Miles formally (through his agent) applied to Dr.
Mivers for his eldest niece, Lucretia Clavering, and the physician
did not think himself justified in withholding from her the probable
advantages of a transfer from his own roof to that of her wealthy uncle.
He himself had been no worldly gainer by his connection; his practice
had suffered materially from the sympathy which was felt by the
county families for the supposed wrongs of Sir Miles St. John, who was
personally not only popular, but esteemed, nor less so on account of his
pride,--too dignified to refer even to his domestic annoyances, except
to his most familiar associates; to them, indeed, Sir Miles had said,
briefly, that he considered a physician who abused his entrance into
a noble family by stealing into its alliance was a character in whose
punishment all society had an interest. The words were repeated; they
were thought just. Those who ventured to suggest that Mrs. Clavering, as
a widow, was a free agent, were regarded with suspicion. It was the
time when French principles were just beginning to be held in horror,
especially in the provinces, and when everything that encroached
upon the rights and prejudices of the high born was called “a French
principle.” Dr. Mivers was as much scouted as if he had been a
sans-culotte. Obliged to quit the county, he settled at a distance;
but he had a career to commence again; his wife’s death enfeebled his
spirits and damped his exertions. He did little more than earn a bare
subsistence, and died at last, when his only daughter was fourteen,
poor and embarrassed On his death-bed he wrote a letter to Sir Miles
reminding him that, after all, Susan was his sister’s child, gently
vindicating himself from the unmerited charge of treachery, which had
blasted his fortunes and left his orphan penniless, and closing with a
touching yet a manly appeal to the sole relative left to befriend her.
The clergyman who had attended him in his dying moments took charge of
this letter; he brought it in person to Laughton, and delivered it to
Sir Miles. Whatever his errors, the old baronet was no common man. He
was not vindictive, though he could not be called forgiving. He had
considered his conduct to his sister a duty owed to his name and
ancestors; she had placed herself and her youngest child out of the pale
of his family. He would not receive as his niece the grand-daughter of
a silk-mercer. The relationship was extinct, as, in certain countries,
nobility is forfeited by a union with an inferior class. But, niece or
not, here was a claim to humanity and benevolence, and never yet had
appeal been made by suffering to his heart and purse in vain.

He bowed his head over the letter as his eye came to the last line, and
remained silent so long that the clergyman at last, moved and hopeful,
approached and took his hand. It was the impulse of a good man and a
good priest. Sir Miles looked up in surprise; but the calm, pitying face
bent on him repelled all return of pride.

“Sir,” he said tremulously, and he pressed the hand that grasped his
own, “I thank you. I am not fit at this moment to decide what to do;
to-morrow you shall know. And the man died poor,--not in want, not in
want?”

“Comfort yourself, worthy sir; he had at the last all that sickness
and death require, except one assurance, which I ventured to whisper
to him,--I trust not too rashly,--that his daughter would not be left
unprotected. And I pray you to reflect, my dear sir, that--”

Sir Miles did not wait for the conclusion of the sentence; he rose
abruptly, and left the room. Mr. Fielden (so the good priest was named)
felt confident of the success of his mission; but to win it the more
support, he sought Lucretia. She was then seventeen: it is an age when
the heart is peculiarly open to the household ties,--to the memory of
a mother, to the sweet name of sister. He sought this girl, he told his
tale, and pleaded the sister’s cause. Lucretia heard in silence: neither
eye nor lip betrayed emotion; but her colour went and came. This was the
only sign that she was moved: moved, but how? Fielden’s experience in
the human heart could not guess. When he had done, she went quietly to
her desk (it was in her own room that the conference took place), she
unlocked it with a deliberate hand, she took from it a pocketbook and a
case of jewels which Sir Miles had given her on her last birthday. “Let
my sister have these; while I live she shall not want!”

“My dear young lady, it is not these things that she asks from you,--it
is your affection, your sisterly heart, your intercession with her
natural protector; these, in her name, I ask for,--‘non gemmis, neque
purpura venale, nec auro!’”

Lucretia then, still without apparent emotion, raised to the good man’s
face deep, penetrating, but unrevealing eyes, and said slowly,--

“Is my sister like my mother, who, they say, was handsome?”

Much startled by this question, Fielden answered: “I never saw your
mother, my dear; but your sister gives promise of more than common
comeliness.”

Lucretia’s brows grew slightly compressed. “And her education has been,
of course, neglected?”

“Certainly, in some points,--mathematics, for instance, and theology;
but she knows what ladies generally know,--French and Italian, and such
like. Dr. Mivers was not unlearned in the polite letters. Oh, trust me,
my dear young lady, she will not disgrace your family; she will justify
your uncle’s favour. Plead for her!” And the good man clasped his hands.

Lucretia’s eyes fell musingly on the ground; but she resumed, after a
short pause,--

“What does my uncle himself say?”

“Only that he will decide to-morrow.”

“I will see him;” and Lucretia left the room as for that object.
But when she had gained the stairs, she paused at the large embayed
casement, which formed a niche in the landing-place, and gazed over the
broad domains beyond; a stern smile settled, then, upon her lips,--the
smile seemed to say, “In this inheritance I will have no rival.”

Lucretia’s influence with Sir Miles was great, but here it was not
needed. Before she saw him he had decided on his course. Her precocious
and apparently intuitive knowledge of character detected at a glance
the safety with which she might intercede. She did so, and was chid into
silence.

The next morning, Sir Miles took the priest’s arm and walked with him
into the gardens.

“Mr. Fielden,” he said, with the air of a man who has chosen his course,
and deprecates all attempt to make him swerve from it, “if I followed my
own selfish wishes, I should take home this poor child. Stay, sir, and
hear me,--I am no hypocrite, and I speak honestly. I like young faces; I
have no family of my own. I love Lucretia, and I am proud of her; but a
girl brought up in adversity might be a better nurse and a more docile
companion,--let that pass. I have reflected, and I feel that I cannot
set to Lucretia--set to children unborn--the example of indifference
to a name degraded and a race adulterated; you may call this pride
or prejudice,--I view it differently. There are duties due from an
individual, duties due from a nation, duties due from a family; as my
ancestors thought, so think I. They left me the charge of their name, as
the fief-rent by which I hold their lands. ‘Sdeath, sir!--Pardon me the
expletive; I was about to say that if I am now a childless old man, it
is because I have myself known temptation and resisted. I loved, and
denied myself what I believed my best chance of happiness, because the
object of my attachment was not my equal. That was a bitter struggle,--I
triumphed, and I rejoice at it, though the result was to leave all
thoughts of wedlock elsewhere odious and repugnant. These principles of
action have made a part of my creed as gentleman, if not as Christian.
Now to the point. I beseech you to find a fitting and reputable home
for Miss--Miss Mivers,” the lip slightly curled as the name was said;
“I shall provide suitably for her maintenance. When she marries, I will
dower her, provided only and always that her choice fall upon one who
will not still further degrade her lineage on her mother’s side,--in a
word, if she select a gentleman. Mr. Fielden, on this subject I have no
more to say.”

In vain the good clergyman, whose very conscience, as well as reason,
was shocked by the deliberate and argumentative manner with which
the baronet had treated the abandonment of his sister’s child as an
absolutely moral, almost religious, duty,--in vain he exerted himself
to repel such sophisms and put the matter in its true light. It was easy
for him to move Sir Miles’s heart,--that was ever gentle; that was
moved already: but the crotchet in his head was impregnable. The
more touchingly he painted poor Susan’s unfriended youth, her sweet
character, and promising virtues, the more Sir Miles St. John considered
himself a martyr to his principles, and the more obstinate in the
martyrdom he became. “Poor thing! poor child!” he said often, and
brushed a tear from his eyes; “a thousand pities! Well, well, I hope she
will be happy! Mind, money shall never stand in the way if she have a
suitable offer!”

This was all the worthy clergyman, after an hour’s eloquence, could
extract from him. Out of breath and out of patience, he gave in at last;
and the baronet, still holding his reluctant arm, led him back towards
the house. After a prolonged pause, Sir Miles said abruptly: “I have
been thinking that I may have unwittingly injured this man,--this
Mivers,--while I deemed only that he injured me. As to reparation to
his daughter, that is settled; and after all, though I do not publicly
acknowledge her, she is half my own niece.”

“Half?”

“Half,--the father’s side doesn’t count, of course; and, rigidly
speaking, the relationship is perhaps forfeited on the other. However,
that half of it I grant. Zooks, sir, I say I grant it! I beg you ten
thousand pardons for my vehemence. To return,--perhaps I can show at
least that I bear no malice to this poor doctor. He has relations of his
own,--silk mercers; trade has reverses. How are they off?”

Perfectly perplexed by this very contradictory and paradoxical, yet, to
one better acquainted with Sir Miles, very characteristic, benevolence,
Fielden was some time before he answered. “Those members of Dr. Mivers’s
family who are in trade are sufficiently prosperous; they have paid his
debts,--they, Sir Miles, will receive his daughter.”

“By no means!” cried Sir Miles, quickly; then, recovering himself, he
added, “or, if you think that advisable, of course all interference on
my part is withdrawn.”

“Festina lente!--not so quick, Sir Miles. I do not yet say that it
is advisable,--not because they are silk-mercers, the which, I humbly
conceive, is no sin to exclude them from gratitude for their proffered
kindness, but because Susan, poor child, having been brought up in
different habits, may feel a little strange, at least at first, with--”

“Strange, yes; I should hope so!” interrupted Sir Miles, taking snuff
with much energy. “And, by the way, I am thinking that it would be well
if you and Mrs. Fielden--you are married, sir? That is right; clergymen
all marry!--if you and Mrs. Fielden would take charge of her yourselves,
it would be a great comfort to me to think her so well placed. We
differ, sir, but I respect you. Think of this. Well, then, the doctor
has left no relations that I can aid in any way?”

“Strange man!” muttered Fielden. “Yes; I must not let one poor youth
lose the opportunity offered by your--your--”

“Never mind what; proceed. One poor youth,--in the shop, of course?”

“No; and by his father’s side (since you so esteem such vanities) of an
ancient family,--a sister of Dr. Mivers married Captain Ardworth.”

“Ardworth,--a goodish name; Ardworth of Yorkshire?”

“Yes, of that family. It was, of course, an imprudent marriage,
contracted while he was only an ensign. His family did not reject him,
Sir Miles.”

“Sir, Ardworth is a good squire’s family, but the name is Saxon; there
is no difference in race between the head of the Ardworths, if he were
a duke, and my gardener, John Hodge,--Saxon and Saxon, both. His family
did not reject him; go on.”

“But he was a younger son in a large family; both himself and his wife
have known all the distresses common, they tell me, to the poverty of
a soldier who has no resource but his pay. They have a son. Dr. Mivers,
though so poor himself, took this boy, for he loved his sister dearly,
and meant to bring him up to his own profession. Death frustrated this
intention. The boy is high-spirited and deserving.”

“Let his education be completed; send him to the University; and I will
see that he is put into some career of which his father’s family would
approve. You need not mention to any one my intentions in this respect,
not even to the lad. And now, Mr. Fielden, I have done my duty,--at
least, I think so. The longer you honour my house, the more I shall be
pleased and grateful; but this topic, allow me most respectfully to say,
needs and bears no further comment. Have you seen the last news from the
army?”

“The army! Oh, fie, Sir Miles, I must speak one word more. May not my
poor Susan have at least the comfort to embrace her sister?”

Sir Miles paused a moment, and struck his crutch-stick thrice firmly on
the ground.

“I see no great objection to that; but by the address of this letter,
the poor girl is too far from Laughton to send Lucretia to her.”

“I can obviate that objection, Sir Miles. It is my wish to continue
to Susan her present home amongst my own children. My wife loves her
dearly; and had you consented to give her the shelter of your own roof,
I am sure I should not have seen a smile in the house for a month after.
If you permit this plan, as indeed you honoured me by suggesting it, I
can pass through Southampton on my way to my own living in Devonshire,
and Miss Clavering can visit her sister there.”

“Let it be so,” said Sir Miles, briefly; and so the conversation closed.

Some weeks afterwards, Lucretia went in her uncle’s carriage, with four
post-horses, with her maid and her footman,--went in the state and pomp
of heiress to Laughton,--to the small lodging-house in which the kind
pastor crowded his children and his young guest. She stayed there some
days. She did not weep when she embraced Susan, she did not weep when
she took leave of her; but she showed no want of actual kindness, though
the kindness was formal and stately. On her return, Sir Miles forbore to
question; but he looked as if he expected, and would willingly permit,
her to speak on what might naturally be uppermost at her heart.
Lucretia, however, remained silent, till at last the baronet, colouring,
as if ashamed of his curiosity, said,--

“Is your sister like your mother?”

“You forget, sir, I can have no recollection of my mother.”

“Your mother had a strong family likeness to myself.”

“She is not like you; they say she is like Dr. Mivers.”

“Oh!” said the baronet, and he asked no more.

The sisters did not meet again; a few letters passed between them, but
the correspondence gradually ceased.

Young Ardworth went to college, prepared by Mr. Fielden, who was no
ordinary scholar, and an accurate and profound mathematician,--a more
important requisite than classical learning in a tutor for Cambridge.
But Ardworth was idle, and perhaps even dissipated. He took a common
degree, and made some debts, which were paid by Sir Miles without a
murmur. A few letters then passed between the baronet and the clergyman
as to Ardworth’s future destiny; the latter owned that his pupil was not
persevering enough for the Bar, nor steady enough for the Church. These
were no great faults in Sir Miles’s eyes. He resolved, after an effort,
to judge himself of the capacities of the young man, and so came the
invitation to Laughton. Ardworth was greatly surprised when Fielden
communicated to him this invitation, for hitherto he had not conceived
the slightest suspicion of his benefactor; he had rather, and naturally,
supposed that some relation of his father’s had paid for his maintenance
at the University, and he knew enough of the family history to look upon
Sir Miles as the proudest of men. How was it, then, that he, who would
not receive the daughter of Dr. Mivers, his own niece, would invite the
nephew of Dr. Mivers, who was no relation to him? However, his curiosity
was excited, and Fielden was urgent that he should go; to Laughton,
therefore, had he gone.

We have now brought down to the opening of our narrative the general
records of the family it concerns; we have reserved our account of the
rearing and the character of the personage most important, perhaps, in
the development of its events,--Lucretia Clavering,--in order to place
singly before the reader the portrait of her dark, misguided, and
ill-boding youth.



CHAPTER II. LUCRETIA.

When Lucretia first came to the house of Sir Miles St. John she was
an infant about four years old. The baronet then lived principally
in London, with occasional visits rather to the Continent or a
watering-place than to his own family mansion. He did not pay any minute
attention to his little ward, satisfied that her nurse was sedulous, and
her nursery airy and commodious. When, at the age of seven, she began
to interest him, and he himself, approaching old age, began seriously
to consider whether he should select her as his heiress, for hitherto
he had not formed any decided or definite notions on the matter, he was
startled by a temper so vehement, so self-willed and sternly imperious,
so obstinately bent upon attaining its object, so indifferently
contemptuous of warning, reproof, coaxing, or punishment, that her
governess honestly came to him in despair.

The management of this unmanageable child interested Sir Miles. It
caused him to think of Lucretia seriously; it caused him to have her
much in his society, and always in his thoughts. The result was, that by
amusing and occupying him, she forced a stronger hold on his affections
than she might have done had she been more like the ordinary run of
commonplace children. Of all dogs, there is no dog that so attaches a
master as a dog that snarls at everybody else,--that no other hand can
venture to pat with impunity; of all horses, there is none which so
flatters the rider, from Alexander downwards, as a horse that nobody
else can ride. Extend this principle to the human species, and you may
understand why Lucretia became so dear to Sir Miles St. John,--she got
at his heart through his vanity. For though, at times, her brow darkened
and her eye flashed even at his remonstrance, she was yet no sooner
in his society than she made a marked distinction between him and the
subordinates who had hitherto sought to control her. Was this affection?
He thought so. Alas! what parent can trace the workings of a child’s
mind,--springs moved by an idle word from a nurse; a whispered
conference between hirelings. Was it possible that Lucretia had not
often been menaced, as the direst evil that could befall her, with her
uncle’s displeasure; that long before she could be sensible of mere
worldly loss or profit, she was not impressed with a vague sense of Sir
Miles’s power over her fate,--nay, when trampling, in childish wrath and
scorn, upon some menial’s irritable feelings, was it possible that she
had not been told that, but for Sir Miles, she would be little better
than a servant herself? Be this as it may, all weakness is prone to
dissimulate; and rare and happy is the child whose feelings are as pure
and transparent as the fond parent deems them. There is something
in children, too, which seems like an instinctive deference to the
aristocratic appearances which sway the world. Sir Miles’s stately
person, his imposing dress, the respect with which he was surrounded,
all tended to beget notions of superiority and power, to which it was no
shame to succumb, as it was to Miss Black, the governess, whom the
maids answered pertly, or Martha, the nurse, whom Miss Black snubbed if
Lucretia tore her frock.

Sir Miles’s affection once won, his penetration not, perhaps, blinded
to her more evident faults, but his self-love soothed towards regarding
them leniently, there was much in Lucretia’s external gifts which
justified the predilection of the haughty man. As a child she was
beautiful, and, perhaps from her very imperfections of temper, her
beauty had that air of distinction which the love of command is apt to
confer. If Sir Miles was with his friends when Lucretia swept into the
room, he was pleased to hear them call her their little “princess,” and
was pleased yet more at a certain dignified tranquillity with which she
received their caresses or their toys, and which he regarded as the
sign of a superior mind; nor was it long, indeed, before what we call “a
superior mind” developed itself in the young Lucretia. All children are
quick till they are set methodically to study; but Lucretia’s quickness
defied even that numbing ordeal, by which half of us are rendered
dunces. Rapidity and precision in all the tasks set to her, in the
comprehension of all the explanations given to her questions, evinced
singular powers of readiness and reasoning.

As she grew older, she became more reserved and thoughtful. Seeing but
few children of her own age, and mixing intimately with none, her mind
was debarred from the usual objects which distract the vivacity, the
restless and wondrous observation, of childhood. She came in and out
of Sir Miles’s library of a morning, or his drawing-room of an evening,
till her hour for rest, with unquestioned and sometimes unnoticed
freedom; she listened to the conversation around her, and formed her own
conclusions unchecked. It has a great influence upon a child, whether
for good or for evil, to mix early and habitually with those grown
up,--for good to the mere intellect always; the evil depends upon the
character and discretion of those the child sees and hears. “Reverence
the greatest is due to the children,” exclaims the wisest of the Romans
[Cicero. The sentiment is borrowed by Juvenal.],--that is to say, that
we must revere the candour and inexperience and innocence of their
minds.

Now, Sir Miles’s habitual associates were persons of the
world,--well-bred and decorous, indeed, before children, as the best of
the old school were, avoiding all anecdotes; all allusions, for which
the prudent matron would send her girls out of the room; but with that
reserve speaking of the world as the world goes: if talking of young
A----, calculating carelessly what he would have when old A----, his
father, died; naturally giving to wealth and station and ability their
fixed importance in life; not over-apt to single out for eulogium some
quiet goodness; rather inclined to speak with irony of pretensions to
virtue; rarely speaking but with respect of the worldly seemings which
rule mankind. All these had their inevitable effect upon that keen,
quick, yet moody and reflective intellect.

Sir Miles removed at last to Laughton. He gave up London,--why, he
acknowledged not to himself; but it was because he had outlived his age.
Most of his old set were gone; new hours, new habits, had stolen in.
He had ceased to be of importance as a marrying man, as a personage
of fashion; his health was impaired; he shrank from the fatigues of a
contested election; he resigned his seat in parliament for his native
county; and once settled at Laughton, the life there soothed and
flattered him,--there all his former claims to distinction were still
fresh. He amused himself by collecting, in his old halls and chambers,
his statues and pictures, and felt that, without fatigue or trouble, he
was a greater man at Laughton in his old age than he had been in London
during his youth.

Lucretia was then thirteen. Three years afterwards, Olivier Dalibard
was established in the house; and from that time a great change became
noticeable in her. The irregular vehemence of her temper gradually
subsided, and was replaced by an habitual self-command which rendered
the rare deviations from it more effective and imposing. Her pride
changed its character wholly and permanently; no word, no look of scorn
to the low-born and the poor escaped her. The masculine studies which
her erudite tutor opened to a grasping and inquisitive mind, elevated
her very errors above the petty distinctions of class. She imbibed
earnestly what Dalibard assumed or felt,--the more dangerous pride of
the fallen angel,--and set up the intellect as a deity. All belonging
to the mere study of mind charmed and enchained her; but active and
practical in her very reveries, if she brooded, it was to scheme, to
plot, to weave, web, and mesh, and to smile in haughty triumph at
her own ingenuity and daring. The first lesson of mere worldly wisdom
teaches us to command temper; it was worldly wisdom that made the once
impetuous girl calm, tranquil, and serene. Sir Miles was pleased by
a change that removed from Lucretia’s outward character its chief
blot,--perhaps, as his frame declined, he sighed sometimes to think
that with so much majesty there appeared but little tenderness; he took,
however, the merits with the faults, and was content upon the whole.

If the Provencal had taken more than common pains with his young pupil,
the pains were not solely disinterested. In plunging her mind amidst
that profound corruption which belongs only to intellect cultivated
in scorn of good and in suppression of heart, he had his own views to
serve. He watched the age when the passions ripen, and he grasped at
the fruit which his training sought to mature. In the human heart ill
regulated there is a dark desire for the forbidden. This Lucretia felt;
this her studies cherished, and her thoughts brooded over. She detected,
with the quickness of her sex, the preceptor’s stealthy aim. She
started not at the danger. Proud of her mastery over herself, she rather
triumphed in luring on into weakness this master-intelligence which had
lighted up her own,--to see her slave in her teacher; to despise or to
pity him whom she had first contemplated with awe. And with this mere
pride of the understanding might be connected that of the sex; she had
attained the years when woman is curious to know and to sound her power.
To inflame Dalibard’s cupidity or ambition was easy; but to touch his
heart,--that marble heart!--this had its dignity and its charm. Strange
to say, she succeeded; the passion, as well as interests, of this
dangerous and able man became enlisted in his hopes. And now the game
played between them had a terror in its suspense; for if Dalibard
penetrated not into the recesses of his pupil’s complicated nature, she
was far from having yet sounded the hell that lay, black and devouring,
beneath his own. Not through her affections,--those he scarce hoped
for,--but through her inexperience, her vanity, her passions, he
contemplated the path to his victory over her soul and her fate. And so
resolute, so wily, so unscrupulous was this person, who had played upon
all the subtlest keys and chords in the scale of turbulent life, that,
despite the lofty smile with which Lucretia at length heard and repelled
his suit, he had no fear of the ultimate issue, when all his projects
were traversed, all his mines and stratagems abruptly brought to a
close, by an event which he had wholly unforeseen,--the appearance of
a rival; the ardent and almost purifying love, which, escaping a while
from all the demons he had evoked, she had, with a girl’s frank heart
and impulse, conceived for Mainwaring. And here, indeed, was the great
crisis in Lucretia’s life and destiny. So interwoven with her nature had
become the hard calculations of the understanding; so habitual to her
now was the zest for scheming, which revels in the play and vivacity of
intrigue and plot, and which Shakspeare has perhaps intended chiefly to
depict in the villany of Iago,--that it is probable Lucretia could never
become a character thoroughly amiable and honest. But with a happy and
well-placed love, her ambition might have had legitimate vents; her
restless energies, the woman’s natural field in sympathies for another.
The heart, once opened, softens by use; gradually and unconsciously
the interchange of affection, the companionship with an upright and
ingenuous mind (for virtue is not only beautiful, it is contagious),
might have had their redeeming and hallowing influence. Happier, indeed,
had it been, if her choice had fallen upon a more commanding and lofty
nature! But perhaps it was the very meekness and susceptibility of
Mainwaring’s temper, relieved from feebleness by his talents, which,
once in play, were undeniably great, that pleased her by contrast with
her own hardness of spirit and despotism of will.

That Sir Miles should have been blind to the position of the lovers is
less disparaging to his penetration than it may appear; for the very
imprudence with which Lucretia abandoned herself to the society of
Mainwaring during his visits at Laughton took a resemblance to candour.
Sir Miles knew his niece to be more than commonly clever and well
informed; that she, like him, should feel that the conversation of a
superior young man was a relief to the ordinary babble of their country
neighbours, was natural enough; and if now and then a doubt, a fear, had
crossed his mind and rendered him more touched than he liked to own by
Vernon’s remarks, it had vanished upon perceiving that Lucretia never
seemed a shade more pensive in Mainwaring’s absence. The listlessness
and the melancholy which are apt to accompany love, especially where
unpropitiously placed, were not visible on the surface of this strong
nature. In truth, once assured that Mainwaring returned her affection,
Lucretia reposed on the future with a calm and resolute confidence; and
her customary dissimulation closed like an unruffled sea over all the
undercurrents that met and played below. Still, Sir Miles’s attention
once, however slightly, aroused to the recollection that Lucretia was
at the age when woman naturally meditates upon love and marriage, had
suggested, afresh and more vividly, a project which had before been
indistinctly conceived,--namely, the union of the divided branches of
his house, by the marriage of the last male of the Vernons with the
heiress of the St. Johns. Sir Miles had seen much of Vernon himself at
various intervals; he had been present at his christening, though he had
refused to be his godfather, for fear of raising undue expectations; he
had visited and munificently “tipped” him at Eton; he had accompanied
him to his quarters when he joined the prince’s regiment; he had come
often in contact with him when, at the death of his father, Vernon
retired from the army and blazed in the front ranks of metropolitan
fashion; he had given him counsel and had even lent him money. Vernon’s
spendthrift habits and dissipated if not dissolute life had certainly
confirmed the old baronet in his intentions to trust the lands of
Laughton to the lesser risk which property incurs in the hands of
a female, if tightly settled on her, than in the more colossal and
multiform luxuries of an expensive man; and to do him justice, during
the flush of Vernon’s riotous career he had shrunk from the thought of
confiding the happiness of his niece to so unstable a partner. But of
late, whether from his impaired health or his broken fortunes, Vernon’s
follies had been less glaring. He had now arrived at the mature age of
thirty-three, when wild oats may reasonably be sown. The composed and
steadfast character of Lucretia might serve to guide and direct him; and
Sir Miles was one of those who hold the doctrine that a reformed rake
makes the best husband. Add to this, there was nothing in Vernon’s
reputation--once allowing that his thirst for pleasure was slaked--which
could excite serious apprehensions. Through all his difficulties, he had
maintained his honour unblemished; a thousand traits of amiability and
kindness of heart made him popular and beloved. He was nobody’s enemy
but his own. His very distresses--the prospect of his ruin, if left
unassisted by Sir Miles’s testamentary dispositions--were arguments
in his favour. And, after all, though Lucretia was a nearer relation,
Vernon was in truth the direct male heir, and according to the usual
prejudices of family, therefore, the fitter representative of the
ancient line. With these feelings and views, he had invited Vernon to
his house, and we have seen already that his favourable impressions had
been confirmed by the visit.

And here we must say that Vernon himself had been brought up in boyhood
and youth to regard himself the presumptive inheritor of Laughton. It
had been, from time immemorial, the custom of the St. Johns to pass by
the claims of females in the settlement of the entails; from male to
male the estate had gone, furnishing warriors to the army, and senators
to the State. And if when Lucretia first came to Sir Miles’s house the
bright prospect seemed somewhat obscure, still the mesalliance of the
mother, and Sir Miles’s obstinate resentment thereat, seemed to warrant
the supposition that he would probably only leave to the orphan the
usual portion of a daughter of the house, and that the lands would go
in their ordinary destination. This belief, adopted passively, and as a
thing of course, had had a very prejudicial effect upon Vernon’s career.
What mattered that he overenjoyed his youth, that the subordinate
property of the Vernons, a paltry four or five thousand pounds a year,
went a little too fast,--the splendid estates of Laughton would recover
all. From this dream he had only been awakened, two or three years
before, by an attachment he had formed to the portionless daughter of
an earl; and the Grange being too far encumbered to allow him the proper
settlements which the lady’s family required, it became a matter of
importance to ascertain Sir Miles’s intentions. Too delicate himself to
sound them, he had prevailed upon the earl, who was well acquainted with
Sir Miles, to take Laughton in his way to his own seat in Dorsetshire,
and, without betraying the grounds of his interest in the question,
learn carelessly, as it were, the views of the wealthy man. The result
had been a severe and terrible disappointment. Sir Miles had then fully
determined upon constituting Lucretia his heiress; and with the usual
openness of his character, he had plainly said so upon the very first
covert and polished allusion to the subject which the earl slyly made.
This discovery, in breaking off all hopes of a union with Lady Mary
Stanville, had crushed more than mercenary expectations. It affected,
through his heart, Vernon’s health and spirits; it rankled deep, and
was resented at first as a fatal injury. But Vernon’s native nobility of
disposition gradually softened an indignation which his reason convinced
him was groundless and unjust. Sir Miles had never encouraged the
expectations which Vernon’s family and himself had unthinkingly formed.
The baronet was master of his own fortune, and after all, was it not
more natural that he should prefer the child he had brought up and
reared, to a distant relation, little more than an acquaintance, simply
because man succeeded to man in the mouldy pedigree of the St. Johns?
And, Mary fairly lost to him, his constitutional indifference to money,
a certain French levity of temper, a persuasion that his life was
nearing its wasted close, had left him without regret, as without
resentment, at his kinsman’s decision. His boyish affection for the
hearty, generous old gentleman returned, and though he abhorred the
country, he had, without a single interested thought or calculation,
cordially accepted the baronet’s hospitable overtures, and deserted, for
the wilds of Hampshire, “the sweet shady side of Pall-Mall.”

We may now enter the drawing-room at Laughton, in which were already
assembled several of the families residing in the more immediate
neighbourhood, and who sociably dropped in to chat around the national
tea-table, play a rubber at whist, or make up, by the help of two or
three children and two or three grandpapas, a merry country-dance; for
in that happy day people were much more sociable than they are now in
the houses of our rural Thanes. Our country seats became bustling and
animated after the Birthday; many even of the more important families
resided, indeed, all the year round on their estates. The Continent was
closed to us; the fastidious exclusiveness which comes from habitual
residence in cities had not made that demarcation, in castes and in
talk, between neighbour and neighbour, which exists now. Our squires
were less educated, less refined, but more hospitable and unassuming.
In a word, there was what does not exist now, except in some districts
remote from London,--a rural society for those who sought it.

The party, as we enter, is grouped somewhat thus. But first we must cast
a glance at the room itself, which rarely failed to be the first object
to attract a stranger’s notice. It was a long, and not particularly
well-proportioned apartment,--according, at least, to modern
notions,--for it had rather the appearance of two rooms thrown into one.
At the distance of about thirty-five feet, the walls, before somewhat
narrow, were met by an arch, supported by carved pilasters, which opened
into a space nearly double the width of the previous part of the room,
with a domed ceiling and an embayed window of such depth that the recess
almost formed a chamber in itself. But both these divisions of the
apartment corresponded exactly in point of decoration,--they had the
same small panelling, painted a very light green, which seemed almost
white by candlelight, each compartment wrought with an arabesque; the
same enriched frieze and cornice; they had the same high mantelpieces,
ascending to the ceiling, with the arms of St. John in bold relief. They
had, too, the same old-fashioned and venerable furniture, draperies
of thick figured velvet, with immense chairs and sofas to
correspond,--interspersed, it is true, with more modern and commodious
inventions of the upholsterer’s art, in grave stuffed leather or lively
chintz. Two windows, nearly as deep as that in the farther division,
broke the outline of the former one, and helped to give that irregular
and nooky appearance to the apartment which took all discomfort from
its extent, and furnished all convenience for solitary study or detached
flirtation. With little respect for the carved work of the panels, the
walls were covered with pictures brought by Sir Miles from Italy; here
and there marble busts and statues gave lightness to the character of
the room, and harmonized well with that half-Italian mode of decoration
which belongs to the period of James the First. The shape of the
chamber, in its divisions, lent itself admirably to that friendly and
sociable intermixture of amusements which reconciles the tastes of young
and old. In the first division, near the fireplace, Sir Miles, seated
in his easy-chair, and sheltered from the opening door by a seven-fold
tapestry screen, was still at chess with his librarian. At a little
distance a middle-aged gentleman and three turbaned matrons were cutting
in at whist, shilling points, with a half-crown bet optional, and not
much ventured on. On tables, drawn into the recesses of the windows,
were the day’s newspapers, Gilray’s caricatures, the last new
publications, and such other ingenious suggestions to chit-chat. And
round these tables grouped those who had not yet found elsewhere their
evening’s amusement,--two or three shy young clergymen, the parish
doctor, four or five squires who felt great interest in politics, but
never dreamed of the extravagance of taking in a daily paper, and who
now, monopolizing all the journals they could find, began fairly with
the heroic resolution to skip nothing, from the first advertisement to
the printer’s name. Amidst one of these groups Mainwaring had bashfully
ensconced himself. In the farther division, the chandelier, suspended
from the domed ceiling, threw its cheerful light over a large circular
table below, on which gleamed the ponderous tea-urn of massive silver,
with its usual accompaniments. Nor were wanting there, in addition to
those airy nothings, sliced infinitesimally, from a French roll,
the more substantial and now exiled cheer of cakes,--plum and seed,
Yorkshire and saffron,--attesting the light hand of the housekeeper and
the strong digestion of the guests. Round this table were seated, in
full gossip, the maids and the matrons, with a slight sprinkling of
the bolder young gentlemen who had been taught to please the fair. The
warmth of the evening allowed the upper casement to be opened and the
curtains drawn aside, and the July moonlight feebly struggled against
the blaze of the lights within. At this table it was Miss Clavering’s
obvious duty to preside; but that was a complaisance to which she rarely
condescended. Nevertheless, she had her own way of doing the honour of
her uncle’s house, which was not without courtesy and grace; to glide
from one to the other, exchange a few friendly words, see that each
set had its well-known amusements, and, finally, sit quietly down to
converse with some who, from gravity or age, appeared most to neglect
or be neglected by the rest, was her ordinary, and not unpopular mode of
welcoming the guests at Laughton,--not unpopular; for she thus avoided
all interference with the flirtations and conquests of humbler damsels,
whom her station and her endowments might otherwise have crossed or
humbled, while she insured the good word of the old, to whom the young
are seldom so attentive. But if a stranger of more than provincial
repute chanced to be present; if some stray member of parliament, or
barrister on the circuit, or wandering artist, accompanied any of the
neighbours,--to him Lucretia gave more earnest and undivided attention.
Him she sought to draw into a conversation deeper than the usual babble,
and with her calm, searching eyes, bent on him while he spoke, seemed to
fathom the intellect she set in play. But as yet, this evening, she had
not made her appearance,--a sin against etiquette very unusual in her.
Perhaps her recent conversation with Dalibard had absorbed her thoughts
to forgetfulness of the less important demands on her attention. Her
absence had not interfered with the gayety at the tea-table, which
was frank even to noisiness as it centred round the laughing face of
Ardworth, who, though unknown to most or all of the ladies present,
beyond a brief introduction to one or two of the first comers from Sir
Miles (as the host had risen from his chess to bid them welcome), had
already contrived to make himself perfectly at home and outrageously
popular. Niched between two bouncing lasses, he had commenced
acquaintance with them in a strain of familiar drollery and fun, which
had soon broadened its circle, and now embraced the whole group in
the happy contagion of good-humour and young animal spirits. Gabriel,
allowed to sit up later than his usual hour, had not, as might have been
expected, attached himself to this circle, nor indeed to any; he might
be seen moving quietly about,--now contemplating the pictures on the
wall with a curious eye; now pausing at the whist-table, and noting the
game with the interest of an embryo gamester; now throwing himself on an
ottoman, and trying to coax towards him Dash or Ponto,--trying in vain,
for both the dogs abhorred him; yet still, through all this general
movement, had any one taken the pains to observe him closely, it might
have been sufficiently apparent that his keen, bright, restless eye,
from the corner of its long, sly lids, roved chiefly towards the three
persons whom he approached the least,--his father, Mainwaring, and Mr.
Vernon. This last had ensconced himself apart from all, in the angle
formed by one of the pilasters of the arch that divided the room, so
that he was in command, as it were, of both sections. Reclined, with the
careless grace that seemed inseparable from every attitude and motion of
his person, in one of the great velvet chairs, with a book in his hand,
which, to say truth, was turned upside down, but in the lecture of which
he seemed absorbed, he heard at one hand the mirthful laughter that
circled round young Ardworth, or, in its pauses, caught, on the other
side, muttered exclamations from the grave whist-players: “If you
had but trumped that diamond, ma’am!” “Bless me, sir, it was the best
heart!” And somehow or other, both the laughter and the exclamations
affected him alike with what then was called “the spleen,”--for the one
reminded him of his own young days of joyless, careless mirth, of which
his mechanical gayety now was but a mocking ghost; and the other seemed
a satire, a parody, on the fierce but noiseless rapture of gaming,
through which his passions had passed, when thousands had slipped away
with a bland smile, provoking not one of those natural ebullitions
of emotion which there accompanied the loss of a shilling point. And
besides this, Vernon had been so accustomed to the success of the
drawing-room, to be a somebody and a something in the company of wits
and princes, that he felt, for the first time, a sense of insignificance
in this provincial circle. Those fat squires had heard nothing of Mr.
Vernon, except that he would not have Laughton,--he had no acres, no
vote in their county; he was a nobody to them. Those ruddy maidens,
though now and then, indeed, one or two might steal an admiring glance
at a figure of elegance so unusual, regarded him not with the female
interest he had been accustomed to inspire. They felt instinctively that
he could be nothing to them, nor they to him,--a mere London fop, and
not half so handsome as Squires Bluff and Chuff.

Rousing himself from this little vexation to his vanity with a conscious
smile at his own weakness, Vernon turned his looks towards the door,
waiting for Lucretia’s entrance, and since her uncle’s address to him,
feeling that new and indescribable interest in her appearance which is
apt to steal into every breast when what was before but an indifferent
acquaintance, is suddenly enhaloed with the light of a possible wife.
At length the door opened, and Lucretia entered. Mr. Vernon lowered
his book, and gazed with an earnestness that partook both of doubt and
admiration.

Lucretia Clavering was tall,--tall beyond what is admitted to be tall
in woman; but in her height there was nothing either awkward or
masculine,--a figure more perfect never served for model to a sculptor.
The dress at that day, unbecoming as we now deem it, was not to her--at
least, on the whole disadvantageous. The short waist gave greater
sweep to her majestic length of limb, while the classic thinness of the
drapery betrayed the exact proportion and the exquisite contour. The
arms then were worn bare almost to the shoulder, and Lucretia’s arms
were not more faultless in shape than dazzling in their snowy colour;
the stately neck, the falling shoulders, the firm, slight, yet rounded
bust,--all would have charmed equally the artist and the sensualist.
Fortunately, the sole defect of her form was not apparent at a distance:
that defect was in the hand; it had not the usual faults of female
youthfulness,--the superfluity of flesh, the too rosy healthfulness
of colour,--on the contrary, it was small and thin; but it was,
nevertheless, more the hand of a man than a woman: the shape had a man’s
nervous distinctness, the veins swelled like sinews, the joints of the
fingers were marked and prominent. In that hand it almost seemed as if
the iron force of the character betrayed itself. But, as we have said,
this slight defect, which few, if seen, would hypercritically notice,
could not, of course, be perceptible as she moved slowly up the room;
and Vernon’s eye, glancing over the noble figure, rested upon the
face. Was it handsome? Was it repelling? Strange that in feature it
had pretensions to the highest order of beauty, and yet even that
experienced connoisseur in female charms was almost as puzzled what
sentence to pronounce. The hair, as was the fashion of the day,
clustered in profuse curls over the forehead, but could not conceal a
slight line or wrinkle between the brows; and this line, rare in women
at any age, rare even in men at hers, gave an expression at once of
thought and sternness to the whole face. The eyebrows themselves were
straight, and not strongly marked, a shade or two perhaps too light,--a
fault still more apparent in the lashes; the eyes were large, full,
and though bright, astonishingly calm and deep,--at least in ordinary
moments; yet withal they wanted the charm of that steadfast and open
look which goes at once to the heart and invites its trust,--their
expression was rather vague and abstracted. She usually looked aslant
while she spoke, and this, which with some appears but shyness, in
one so self-collected had an air of falsehood. But when, at times, if
earnest, and bent rather on examining those she addressed than guarding
herself from penetration, she fixed those eyes upon you with sudden and
direct scrutiny, the gaze impressed you powerfully, and haunted you
with a strange spell. The eye itself was of a peculiar and displeasing
colour,--not blue, nor gray, nor black, nor hazel, but rather of that
cat-like green which is drowsy in the light, and vivid in the shade.
The profile was purely Greek, and so seen, Lucretia’s beauty seemed
incontestable; but in front face, and still more when inclined between
the two, all the features took a sharpness that, however regular, had
something chilling and severe: the mouth was small, but the lips were
thin and pale, and had an expression of effort and contraction which
added to the distrust that her sidelong glance was calculated to
inspire. The teeth were dazzlingly white, but sharp and thin, and the
eye-teeth were much longer than the rest. The complexion was pale,
but without much delicacy,--the paleness seemed not natural to it, but
rather that hue which study and late vigils give to men; so that she
wanted the freshness and bloom of youth, and looked older than she
was,--an effect confirmed by an absence of roundness in the cheek not
noticeable in the profile, but rendering the front face somewhat
harsh as well as sharp. In a word, the face and the figure were not in
harmony: the figure prevented you from pronouncing her to be masculine;
the face took from the figure the charm of feminacy. It was the head of
the young Augustus upon the form of Agrippina. One touch more, and
we close a description which already perhaps the reader may consider
frivolously minute. If you had placed before the mouth and lower part of
the face a mask or bandage, the whole character of the upper face would
have changed at once,--the eye lost its glittering falseness, the brow
its sinister contraction; you would have pronounced the face not only
beautiful, but sweet and womanly. Take that bandage suddenly away and
the change would have startled you, and startled you the more because
you could detect no sufficient defect or disproportion in the lower part
of the countenance to explain it. It was as if the mouth was the key
to the whole: the key nothing without the text, the text uncomprehended
without the key.

Such, then, was Lucretia Clavering in outward appearance at the age of
twenty,--striking to the most careless eye; interesting and perplexing
the student in that dark language never yet deciphered,--the human
countenance. The reader must have observed that the effect every face
that he remarks for the first time produces is different from the
impression it leaves upon him when habitually seen. Perhaps no two
persons differ more from each other than does the same countenance in
our earliest recollection of it from the countenance regarded in the
familiarity of repeated intercourse. And this was especially the case
with Lucretia Clavering’s: the first impulse of nearly all who beheld it
was distrust that partook of fear; it almost inspired you with a sense
of danger. The judgment rose up against it; the heart set itself on its
guard. But this uneasy sentiment soon died away, with most observers, in
admiration at the chiselled outline, which, like the Grecian
sculpture, gained the more the more it was examined, in respect for the
intellectual power of the expression, and in fascinated pleasure at the
charm of a smile, rarely employed, it is true, but the more attractive
both for that reason and for its sudden effect in giving brightness and
persuasion to an aspect that needed them so much. It was literally like
the abrupt breaking out of a sunbeam; and the repellent impression of
the face thus familiarized away, the matchless form took its natural
influence; so that while one who but saw Lucretia for a moment might
have pronounced her almost plain, and certainly not prepossessing in
appearance, those with whom she lived, those whom she sought to please,
those who saw her daily, united in acknowledgment of her beauty; and
if they still felt awe, attributed it only to the force of her
understanding.

As she now came midway up the room, Gabriel started from his seat and
ran to her caressingly. Lucretia bent down, and placed her hand upon his
fair locks. As she did so, he whispered,--

“Mr. Vernon has been watching for you.”

“Hush! Where is your father?”

“Behind the screen, at chess with Sir Miles.”

“With Sir Miles!” and Lucretia’s eye fell, with the direct gaze we have
before referred to, upon the boy’s face.

“I have been looking over them pretty often,” said he, meaningly: “they
have talked of nothing but the game.” Lucretia lifted her head, and
glanced round with her furtive eye; the boy divined the search, and
with a scarce perceptible gesture pointed her attention to Mainwaring’s
retreat. Her vivid smile passed over her lips as she bowed slightly to
her lover, and then, withdrawing the hand which Gabriel had taken in his
own, she moved on, passed Vernon with a commonplace word or two, and was
soon exchanging greetings with the gay merry-makers in the farther
part of the room. A few minutes afterwards, the servants entered, the
tea-table was removed, chairs were thrust back, a single lady of a
certain age volunteered her services at the piano, and dancing began
within the ample space which the arch fenced off from the whist-players.
Vernon had watched his opportunity, and at the first sound of the piano
had gained Lucretia’s side, and with grave politeness pre-engaged her
hand for the opening dance.

At that day, though it is not so very long ago, gentlemen were not
ashamed to dance, and to dance well; it was no languid saunter through
a quadrille; it was fair, deliberate, skilful dancing amongst the
courtly,--free, bounding movement amongst the gay.

Vernon, as might be expected, was the most admired performer of the
evening; but he was thinking very little of the notice he at last
excited, he was employing such ingenuity as his experience of life
supplied to the deficiencies of a very imperfect education, limited to
the little flogged into him at Eton, in deciphering the character and
getting at the heart of his fair partner.

“I wonder you do not make Sir Miles take you to London, my cousin, if
you will allow me to call you so. You ought to have been presented.”

“I have no wish to go to London yet.”

“Yet!” said Mr. Vernon, with the somewhat fade gallantry of his day;
“beauty even like yours has little time to spare.”

“Hands across, hands across!” cried Mr. Ardworth.

“And,” continued Mr. Vernon, as soon as a pause was permitted to him,
“there is a song which the prince sings, written by some sensible
old-fashioned fellow, which says,--

“‘Gather your rosebuds while you may, For time is still a flying.”’

“You have obeyed the moral of the song yourself, I believe, Mr. Vernon.”

“Call me cousin, or Charles,--Charley, if you like, as most of my
friends do; nobody ever calls me Mr. Vernon,--I don’t know myself by
that name.”

“Down the middle; we are all waiting for you,” shouted Ardworth.

And down the middle, with wondrous grace, glided the exquisite nankeens
of Charley Vernon.

The dance now, thanks to Ardworth, became too animated and riotous to
allow more than a few broken monosyllables till Vernon and his partner
gained the end of the set, and then, flirting his partner’s fan, he
recommenced,--

“Seriously, my cousin, you must sometimes feel very much moped here.”

“Never!” answered Lucretia. Not once yet had her eye rested on Mr.
Vernon. She felt that she was sounded.

“Yet I am sure you have a taste for the pomps and vanities. Aha! there
is ambition under those careless curls,” said Mr. Vernon, with his easy,
adorable impertinence.

Lucretia winced.

“But if I were ambitious, what field for ambition could I find in
London?”

“The same as Alexander,--empire, my cousin.”

“You forget that I am not a man. Man, indeed, may hope for an empire. It
is something to be a Pitt, or even a Warren Hastings.”

Mr. Vernon stared. Was this stupidity, or what?

“A woman has an empire more undisputed than Mr. Pitt’s, and more
pitiless than that of Governor Hastings.”

“Oh, pardon me, Mr. Vernon--”

“Charles, if you please.”

Lucretia’s brow darkened.

“Pardon me,” she repeated; “but these compliments, if such they are
meant to be, meet a very ungrateful return. A woman’s empire over gauzes
and ribbons, over tea-tables and drums, over fops and coquettes, is not
worth a journey from Laughton to London.”

“You think you can despise admiration?”

“What you mean by admiration,--yes.”

“And love too?” said Vernon, in a whisper.

Now Lucretia at once and abruptly raised her eyes to her partner. Was he
aiming at her secret? Was he hinting at intentions of his own? The look
chilled Vernon, and he turned away his head.

Suddenly, then, in pursuance of a new train of ideas, Lucretia altered
her manner to him. She had detected what before she had surmised.
This sudden familiarity on his part arose from notions her uncle had
instilled,--the visitor had been incited to become the suitor. Her
penetration into character, which from childhood had been her passionate
study, told her that on that light, polished, fearless nature scorn
would have slight effect; to meet the familiarity would be the best
means to secure a friend, to disarm a wooer. She changed then her
manner; she summoned up her extraordinary craft; she accepted the
intimacy held out to her, not to unguard herself, but to lay open her
opponent. It became necessary to her to know this man, to have such
power as the knowledge might give her. Insensibly and gradually she led
her companion away from his design of approaching her own secrets or
character, into frank talk about himself. All unconsciously he began
to lay bare to his listener the infirmities of his erring, open heart.
Silently she looked down, and plumbed them all,--the frivolity, the
recklessness, the half gay, half mournful sense of waste and ruin.
There, blooming amongst the wrecks, she saw the fairest flowers of
noble manhood profuse and fragrant still,--generosity and courage and
disregard for self. Spendthrift and gambler on one side the medal;
gentleman and soldier on the other. Beside this maimed and imperfect
nature she measured her own prepared and profound intellect, and as she
listened, her smile became more bland and frequent. She could afford to
be gracious; she felt superiority, scorn, and safety.

As this seeming intimacy had matured, Vernon and his partner had
quitted the dance, and were conversing apart in the recess of one of the
windows, which the newspaper readers had deserted, in the part of the
room where Sir Miles and Dalibard, still seated, were about to commence
their third game at chess. The baronet’s hand ceased from the task of
arranging his pawns; his eye was upon the pair; and then, after a long
and complacent gaze, it looked round without discovering the object it
sought.

“I am about to task your kindness most improperly, Monsieur Dalibard,”
 said Sir Miles, with that politeness so displeasing to Ardworth, “but
will you do me the favour to move aside that fold of the screen? I wish
for a better view of our young people. Thank you very much.”

Sir Miles now discovered Mainwaring, and observed that, far from
regarding with self-betraying jealousy the apparent flirtation going
on between Lucretia and her kinsman, he was engaged in animated
conversation with the chairman of the quarter sessions. Sir Miles was
satisfied, and ranged his pawns. All this time, and indeed ever since
they had sat down to play, the Provencal had been waiting, with the
patience that belonged to his character, for some observation from Sir
Miles on the subject which, his sagacity perceived, was engrossing his
thoughts. There had been about the old gentleman a fidgety restlessness
which showed that something was on his mind. His eyes had been
frequently turned towards his niece since her entrance; once or twice
he had cleared his throat and hemmed,--his usual prelude to some
more important communication; and Dalibard had heard him muttering to
himself, and fancied he caught the name of “Mainwaring.” And indeed the
baronet had been repeatedly on the verge of sounding his secretary,
and as often had been checked both by pride in himself and pride for
Lucretia. It seemed to him beneath his own dignity and hers even to
hint to an inferior a fear, a doubt, of the heiress of Laughton. Olivier
Dalibard could easily have led on his patron, he could easily, if he
pleased it, have dropped words to instil suspicion and prompt question;
but that was not his object,--he rather shunned than courted any
reference to himself upon the matter; for he knew that Lucretia, if
she could suppose that he, however indirectly, had betrayed her to her
uncle, would at once declare his own suit to her, and so procure his
immediate dismissal; while, aware of her powers of dissimulation and her
influence over her uncle, he feared that a single word from her would
suffice to remove all suspicion in Sir Miles, however ingeniously
implanted, and however truthfully grounded. But all the while, under his
apparent calm, his mind was busy and his passions burning.

“Pshaw! your old play,--the bishop again,” said Sir Miles, laughing, as
he moved a knight to frustrate his adversary’s supposed plan; and then,
turning back, he once more contemplated the growing familiarity between
Vernon and his niece. This time he could not contain his pleasure.
“Dalibard, my dear sir,” he said, rubbing his hands, “look yonder: they
would make a handsome couple!”

“Who, sir?” said the Provencal, looking another way, with dogged
stupidity.

“Who? Damn it, man! Nay, pray forgive my ill manners, but I felt glad,
sir, and proud, sir. Who? Charley Vernon and Lucretia Clavering.”

“Assuredly, yes. Do you think that there is a chance of so happy an
event?”

“Why, it depends only on Lucretia; I shall never force her.” Here Sir
Miles stopped, for Gabriel, unperceived before, picked up his patron’s
pocket-handkerchief.

Olivier Dalibard’s gray eyes rested coldly on his son. “You are not
dancing to-night, my boy. Go; I like to see you amused.”

The boy obeyed at once, as he always did, the paternal commands. He
found a partner, and joined a dance just begun; and in the midst of the
dance, Honore Gabriel Varney seemed a new being,--not Ardworth himself
so thoroughly entered into the enjoyment of the exercise, the lights,
the music. With brilliant eyes and dilated nostrils, he seemed
prematurely to feel all that is exciting and voluptuous in that
exhilaration which to childhood is usually so innocent. His glances
followed the fairest form; his clasp lingered in the softest hand; his
voice trembled as the warm breath of his partner came on his cheeks.

Meanwhile the conversation between the chess-players continued.

“Yes,” said the baronet, “it depends only on Lucretia. And she seems
pleased with Vernon: who would not be?”

“Your penetration rarely deceives you, sir. I own I think with you. Does
Mr. Vernon know that you would permit the alliance?”

“Yes; but--” the baronet stopped short.

“You were saying, but--But what, Sir Miles?”

“Why, the dog affected diffidence; he had some fear lest he should not
win her affections. But luckily, at least, they are disengaged.”

Dalibard looked grave, and his eye, as if involuntarily, glanced towards
Mainwaring. As ill-luck would have it, the young man had then ceased his
conversation with the chairman of the quarter sessions, and with arms
folded, brow contracted, and looks, earnest, anxious, and intent, was
contemplating the whispered conference between Lucretia and Vernon.

Sir Miles’s eye had followed his secretary’s, and his face changed. His
hand fell on the chess board and upset half the men; he uttered a very
audible “Zounds!”

“I think, Sir Miles,” said the Provencal, rising, as if conscious that
Sir Miles wished to play no more,--“I think that if you spoke soon to
Miss Clavering as to your views with regard to Mr. Vernon, it might
ripen matters; for I have heard it said by French mothers--and our
Frenchwomen understand the female heart, sir--that a girl having no
other affection is often prepossessed at once in favour of a man whom
she knows beforehand is prepared to woo and to win her, whereas without
that knowledge he would have seemed but an ordinary acquaintance.”

“It is shrewdly said, my dear Monsieur Dalibard; and for more reasons
than one, the sooner I speak to her the better. Lend me your arm. It is
time for supper; I see the dance is over.”

Passing by the place where Mainwaring still leaned, the baronet looked
at him fixedly. The young man did not notice the gaze. Sir Miles touched
him gently. He started as from a revery.

“You have not danced, Mr. Mainwaring.”

“I dance so seldom, Sir Miles,” said Mainwaring, colouring.

“Ah! you employ your head more than your heels, young gentleman,--very
right; I must speak to you to-morrow. Well, ladies, I hope you have
enjoyed yourselves? My dear Mrs. Vesey, you and I are old friends, you
know; many a minuet we have danced together, eh? We can’t dance now,
but we can walk arm-in-arm together still. Honour me. And your little
grandson--vaccinated, eh? Wonderful invention! To supper, ladies, to
supper!”

The company were gone. The lights were out,--all save the lights of
heaven; and they came bright and still through the casements. Moonbeam
and Starbeam, they seemed now to have the old house to themselves. In
came the rays, brighter and longer and bolder, like fairies that march,
rank upon rank, into their kingdom of solitude. Down the oak stairs,
from the casements, blazoned with heraldry, moved the rays, creepingly,
fearfully. On the armour in the hall clustered the rays boldly and
brightly, till the steel shone out like a mirror. In the library, long
and low, they just entered, stopped short: it was no place for their
play. In the drawing-room, now deserted, they were more curious and
adventurous. Through the large window, still open, they came in freely
and archly, as if to spy what had caused such disorder; the stiff chairs
out of place, the smooth floor despoiled of its carpet, that flower
dropped on the ground, that scarf forgotten on the table,--the rays
lingered upon them all. Up and down through the house, from the base to
the roof, roved the children of the air, and found but two spirits awake
amidst the slumber of the rest.

In that tower to the east, in the tapestry chamber with the large gilded
bed in the recess, came the rays, tamed and wan, as if scared by the
grosser light on the table. By that table sat a girl, her brow leaning
on one hand; in the other she held a rose,--it is a love-token:
exchanged with its sister rose, by stealth, in mute sign of reproach for
doubt excited,--an assurance and a reconciliation. A love-token!--shrink
not, ye rays; there is something akin to you in love. But see,--the hand
closes convulsively on the flower; it hides it not in the breast; it
lifts it not to the lip: it throws it passionately aside. “How long!”
 muttered the girl, impetuously,--“how long! And to think that will here
cannot shorten an hour!” Then she rose, and walked to and fro, and each
time she gained a certain niche in the chamber she paused, and then
irresolutely passed on again. What is in that niche? Only books. What
can books teach thee, pale girl? The step treads firmer; this time
it halts more resolved. The hand that clasped the flower takes down a
volume. The girl sits again before the light. See, O rays! what is the
volume? Moon and Starbeam, ye love what lovers read by the lamp in the
loneliness. No love-ditty this; no yet holier lesson to patience, and
moral to hope. What hast thou, young girl, strong in health and rich in
years, with the lore of the leech,--with prognostics and symptoms and
diseases? She is tracing with hard eyes the signs that precede the grim
enemy in his most sudden approach,--the habits that invite him, the
warnings that he gives. He whose wealth shall make her free has twice
had the visiting shock; he starves not, he lives frae! She closes the
volume, and, musing, metes him out the hours and days he has to live.
Shrink back, ye rays! The love is disenhallowed; while the hand was on
the rose, the thought was on the charnel.

Yonder, in the opposite tower, in the small casement near the roof, came
the rays. Childhood is asleep. Moon and Starbeam, ye love the slumbers
of the child! The door opens, a dark figure steals noiselessly in. The
father comes to look on the sleep of his son. Holy tenderness, if this
be all! “Gabriel, wake!” said a low, stern voice, and a rough hand shook
the sleeper.

The sharpest test of those nerves upon which depends the mere animal
courage is to be roused suddenly, in the depth of night, by a violent
hand. The impulse of Gabriel, thus startled, was neither of timidity
nor surprise. It was that of some Spartan boy not new to danger; with a
slight cry and a fierce spring, the son’s hand clutched at the father’s
throat. Dalibard shook him off with an effort, and a smile, half in
approval, half in irony, played by the moonlight over his lips.

“Blood will out, young tiger,” said he. “Hush, and hear me!”

“Is it you, Father?” said Gabriel. “I thought, I dreamed--”

“No matter; think, dream always that man should be prepared for defence
from peril!”

“Gabriel,” and the pale scholar seated himself on the bed, “turn your
face to mine,--nearer; let the moon fall on it; lift your eyes; look
at me--so! Are you not playing false to me? Are you not Lucretia’s spy,
while you are pretending to be mine? It is so; your eye betrays you.
Now, heed me; you have a mind beyond your years. Do you love best the
miserable garret in London, the hard fare and squalid dress, or
your lodgment here, the sense of luxury, the sight of splendour, the
atmosphere of wealth? You have the choice before you.”

“I choose, as you would have me, then,” said the boy, “the last.”

“I believe you. Attend! You do not love me,--that is natural; you are
the son of Clara Varney! You have supposed that in loving Lucretia
Clavering you might vex or thwart me, you scarce knew how; and Lucretia
Clavering has gold and gifts and soft words and promises to bribe
withal. I now tell you openly my plan with regard to this girl: it is
my aim to marry her; to be master of this house and these lands. If
I succeed, you share them with me. By betraying me, word or look, to
Lucretia, you frustrate this aim; you plot against our rise and to our
ruin. Deem not that you could escape my fall; if I am driven hence,--as
you might drive me,--you share my fate; and mark me, you are delivered
up to my revenge! You cease to be my son,--you are my foe. Child! you
know me.”

The boy, bold as he was, shuddered; but after a pause so brief that a
breath scarce passed between his silence and his words, he replied with
emphasis,--

“Father, you have read my heart. I have been persuaded by Lucretia (for
she bewitches me) to watch you,--at least, when you are with Sir Miles.
I knew that this was mixed up with Mr. Mainwaring. Now that you have
made me understand your own views, I will be true to you,--true without
threats.”

The father looked hard on him, and seemed satisfied with the gaze.
“Remember, at least, that your future rests upon your truth; that is no
threat,--that is a thought of hope. Now sleep or muse on it.” He dropped
the curtain which his hand had drawn aside, and stole from the room
as noiselessly as he had entered. The boy slept no more. Deceit and
cupidity and corrupt ambition were at work in his brain. Shrink back,
Moon and Starbeam! On that child’s brow play the demons who had followed
the father’s step to his bed of sleep.

Back to his own room, close at hand, crept Olivier Dalibard. The walls
were lined with books,--many in language and deep in lore. Moon and
Starbeam, ye love the midnight solitude of the scholar! The Provencal
stole to the casement, and looked forth. All was serene,--breathless
trees and gleaming sculpture and whitened sward, girdled by the mass of
shadow. Of what thought the man? Not of the present loveliness which
the scene gave to his eye, nor of the future mysteries which the stars
should whisper to the soul. Gloomily over a stormy and a hideous past
roved the memory, stored with fraud and foul with crime,--plan upon
plan, schemed with ruthless wisdom, followed up by remorseless daring,
and yet all now a ruin and a blank; an intellect at war with good,
and the good had conquered! But the conviction neither touched the
conscience nor enlightened the reason; he felt, it is true, a moody
sense of impotence, but it brought rage, not despondency. It was not
that he submitted to Good as too powerful to oppose, but that he deemed
he had not yet gained all the mastery over the arsenal of Evil. And evil
he called it not. Good and evil to him were but subordinate genii at the
command of Mind; they were the slaves of the lamp. But had he got at the
true secret of the lamp itself? “How is it,” he thought, as he turned
impatiently from the casement, “that I am baffled here where my fortunes
seemed most assured? Here the mind has been of my own training, and
prepared by nature to my hand; here all opportunity has smiled. And
suddenly the merest commonplace in the vulgar lives of mortals,--an
unlooked-for rival; rival, too, of the mould I had taught her to
despise; one of the stock gallants of a comedy, no character but youth
and fair looks,--yea, the lover of the stage starts up, and the fabric
of years is overthrown.” As he thus mused, he placed his hand upon
a small box on one of the tables. “Yet within this,” resumed his
soliloquy, and he struck the lid, that gave back a dull sound,--“within
this I hold the keys of life and death! Fool! the power does not
reach to the heart, except to still it. Verily and indeed were the
old heathens mistaken? Are there no philters to change the current of
desire? But touch one chord in a girl’s affection, and all the rest is
mine, all, all, lands, station, power, all the rest are in the opening
of this lid!”

Hide in the cloud, O Moon! shrink back, ye Stars! send not your holy,
pure, and trouble-lulling light to the countenance blanched and livid
with the thoughts of murder.



CHAPTER III. CONFERENCES.

The next day Sir Miles did not appear at breakfast,--not that he was
unwell, but that he meditated holding certain audiences, and on such
occasions the good old gentleman liked to prepare himself. He belonged
to a school in which, amidst much that was hearty and convivial, there
was much also that nowadays would seem stiff and formal, contrasting the
other school immediately succeeding him, which Mr. Vernon represented,
and of which the Charles Surface of Sheridan is a faithful and admirable
type. The room that Sir Miles appropriated to himself was, properly
speaking, the state apartment, called, in the old inventories, “King
James’s chamber;” it was on the first floor, communicating with the
picture-gallery, which at the farther end opened upon a corridor
admitting to the principal bedrooms. As Sir Miles cared nothing for
holiday state, he had unscrupulously taken his cubiculum in this
chamber, which was really the handsomest in the house, except the
banquet-hall, placed his bed in one angle with a huge screen before it,
filled up the space with his Italian antiquities and curiosities; and
fixed his favourite pictures on the faded gilt leather panelled on the
walls. His main motive in this was the communication with the adjoining
gallery, which, when the weather was unfavourable, furnished ample
room for his habitual walk. He knew how many strides by the help of his
crutch made a mile, and this was convenient. Moreover, he liked to
look, when alone, on those old portraits of his ancestors, which he
had religiously conserved in their places, preferring to thrust his
Florentine and Venetian masterpieces into bedrooms and parlours,
rather than to dislodge from the gallery the stiff ruffs, doublets, and
farthingales of his predecessors. It was whispered in the house that
the baronet, whenever he had to reprove a tenant or lecture a dependant,
took care to have him brought to his sanctum, through the full length of
this gallery, so that the victim might be duly prepared and awed by the
imposing effect of so stately a journey, and the grave faces of all the
generations of St. John, which could not fail to impress him with the
dignity of the family, and alarm him at the prospect of the injured
frown of its representative. Across this gallery now, following the
steps of the powdered valet, strode young Ardworth, staring now and then
at some portrait more than usually grim, more often wondering why his
boots, that never creaked before, should creak on those particular
boards, and feeling a quiet curiosity, without the least mixture of fear
or awe as to what old Squaretoes intended to say to him. But all feeling
of irreverence ceased when, shown into the baronet’s room, and the door
closed, Sir Miles rose with a smile, and cordially shaking his hand,
said, dropping the punctilious courtesy of Mister: “Ardworth, sir, if I
had a little prejudice against you before you came, you have conquered
it. You are a fine, manly, spirited fellow, sir; and you have an old
man’s good wishes,--which are no bad beginning to a young man’s good
fortune.”

The colour rushed over Ardworth’s forehead, and a tear sprang to his
eyes. He felt a rising at his throat as he stammered out some not very
audible reply.

“I wished to see you, young gentleman, that I might judge myself what
you would like best, and what would best fit you. Your father is in the
army: what say you to a pair of colours?”

“Oh, Sir Miles, that is my utmost ambition! Anything but law, except the
Church; anything but the Church, except the desk and a counter!”

The baronet, much pleased, gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. “Ha,
ha! we gentlemen, you see (for the Ardworths are very well born, very),
we gentlemen understand each other! Between you and me, I never liked
the law, never thought a man of birth should belong to it. Take money
for lying,--shabby, shocking! Don’t let that go any farther! The
Church-Mother Church--I honour her! Church and State go together! But
one ought to be very good to preach to others,--better than you and I
are, eh? ha, ha! Well, then, you like the army,--there’s a letter for
you to the Horse Guards. Go up to town; your business is done. And, as
for your outfit,--read this little book at your leisure.” And Sir Miles
thrust a pocketbook into Ardworth’s hand.

“But pardon me,” said the young man, much bewildered. “What claim have
I, Sir Miles, to such generosity? I know that my uncle offended you.”

“Sir, that’s the claim!” said Sir Miles, gravely. “I cannot live long,”
 he added, with a touch of melancholy in his voice; “let me die in peace
with all! Perhaps I injured your uncle,--who knows but, if so, he hears
and pardons me now?”

“Oh, Sir Miles!” exclaimed the thoughtless, generous-hearted young man;
“and my little playfellow, Susan, your own niece!”

Sir Miles drew back haughtily; but the burst that offended him rose
so evidently from the heart, was so excusable from its motive and the
youth’s ignorance of the world, that his frown soon vanished as he said,
calmly and gravely,--

“No man, my good sir, can allow to others the right to touch on his
family affairs; I trust I shall be just to the poor young lady. And so,
if we never meet again, let us think well of each other. Go, my boy;
serve your king and your country!”

“I will do my best, Sir Miles, if only to merit your kindness.”

“Stay a moment: you are intimate, I find, with young Mainwaring?”

“An old college friendship, Sir Miles.”

“The army will not do for him, eh?”

“He is too clever for it, sir.”

“Ah, he’d make a lawyer, I suppose,--glib tongue enough, and can talk
well; and lie, if he’s paid for it?”

“I don’t know how lawyers regard those matters, Sir Miles; but if you
don’t make him a lawyer, I am sure you must leave him an honest man.”

“Really and truly--”

“Upon my honour I think so.”

“Good-day to you, and good luck. You must catch the coach at the lodge;
for I see by the papers that, in spite of all the talk about peace, they
are raising regiments like wildfire.”

With very different feelings from those with which he had entered the
room, Ardworth quitted it. He hurried into his own chamber to thrust
his clothes into his portmanteau, and while thus employed, Mainwaring
entered.

“Joy, my dear fellow, wish me joy! I am going to town,--into the army;
abroad; to be shot at, thank Heaven! That dear old gentleman! Just throw
me that coat, will you?”

A very few more words sufficed to explain what had passed to Mainwaring.
He sighed when his friend had finished: “I wish I were going with you!”

“Do you? Sir Miles has only got to write another letter to the Horse
Guards. But no, you are meant to be something better than food for
powder; and, besides, your Lucretia! Hang it, I am sorry I cannot stay
to examine her as I had promised; but I have seen enough to know that
she certainly loves you. Ah, when she changed flowers with you, you did
not think I saw you,--sly, was not I? Pshaw! She was only playing with
Vernon. But still, do you know, Will, now that Sir Miles has spoken to
me so, that I could have sobbed, ‘God bless you, my old boy!’ ‘pon
my life, I could! Now, do you know that I feel enraged with you for
abetting that girl to deceive him?”

“I am enraged with myself; and--”

Here a servant entered, and informed Mainwaring that he had been
searching for him; Sir Miles requested to see him in his room.
Mainwaring started like a culprit.

“Never fear,” whispered Ardworth; “he has no suspicion of you, I’m
sure. Shake hands. When shall we meet again? Is it not odd, I, who am
a republican by theory, taking King George’s pay to fight against the
French? No use stopping now to moralize on such contradictions. John,
Tom,--what’s your name?--here, my man, here, throw that portmanteau
on your shoulder and come to the lodge.” And so, full of health, hope,
vivacity, and spirit, John Walter Ardworth departed on his career.

Meanwhile Mainwaring slowly took his way to Sir Miles. As he approached
the gallery, he met Lucretia, who was coming from her own room. “Sir
Miles has sent for me,” he said meaningly. He had time for no more, for
the valet was at the door of the gallery, waiting to usher him to his
host. “Ha! you will say not a word that can betray us; guard your
looks too!” whispered Lucretia, hurriedly; “afterwards, join me by the
cedars.” She passed on towards the staircase, and glanced at the large
clock that was placed there. “Past eleven! Vernon is never up before
twelve. I must see him before my uncle sends for me, as he will send
if he suspects--” She paused, went back to her room, rang for her maid,
dressed as for walking, and said carelessly, “If Sir Miles wants me,
I am gone to the rectory, and shall probably return by the village, so
that I shall be back about one.” Towards the rectory, indeed, Lucretia
bent her way; but half-way there, turned back, and passing through the
plantation at the rear of the house, awaited Mainwaring on the bench
beneath the cedars. He was not long before he joined her. His face was
sad and thoughtful; and when he seated himself by her side, it was with
a weariness of spirit that alarmed her.

“Well,” said she, fearfully, and she placed her hand on his.

“Oh, Lucretia,” he exclaimed, as he pressed that hand with an emotion
that came from other passions than love, “we, or rather I, have done
great wrong. I have been leading you to betray your uncle’s trust, to
convert your gratitude to him into hypocrisy. I have been unworthy of
myself. I am poor, I am humbly born, but till I came here, I was rich
and proud in honour. I am not so now. Lucretia, pardon me, pardon me!
Let the dream be over; we must not sin thus; for it is sin, and the
worst of sin,--treachery. We must part: forget me!”

“Forget you! Never, never, never!” cried Lucretia, with suppressed but
most earnest vehemence, her breast heaving, her hands, as he dropped the
one he held, clasped together, her eyes full of tears,--transformed at
once into softness, meekness, even while racked by passion and despair.

“Oh, William, say anything,--reproach, chide, despise me, for mine is
all the fault; say anything but that word ‘part.’ I have chosen you, I
have sought you out, I have wooed you, if you will; be it so. I cling
to you, you are my all,--all that saves me from--from myself,” she added
falteringly, and in a hollow voice. “Your love--you know not what it is
to me! I scarcely knew it myself before. I feel what it is now, when you
say ‘part.’”

Agitated and tortured, Mainwaring writhed at these burning words, bent
his face low, and covered it with his hands.

He felt her clasp struggling to withdraw them, yielded, and saw her
kneeling at his feet. His manhood and his gratitude and his heart all
moved by that sight in one so haughty, he opened his arms, and she fell
on his breast. “You will never say ‘part’ again, William!” she gasped
convulsively.

“But what are we to do?”

“Say, first, what has passed between you and my uncle.”

“Little to relate; for I can repeat words, not tones and looks.
Sir Miles spoke to me, at first kindly and encouragingly, about my
prospects, said it was time that I should fix myself, added a few
words, with menacing emphasis, against what he called ‘idle dreams and
desultory ambition,’ and observing that I changed countenance,--for I
felt that I did,--his manner became more cold and severe. Lucretia,
if he has not detected our secret, he more than suspects my--my
presumption. Finally, he said dryly, that I had better return home,
consult with my father, and that if I preferred entering into the
service of the Government to any mercantile profession, he thought
he had sufficient interest to promote my views. But, clearly and
distinctly, he left on my mind one impression,--that my visits here are
over.”

“Did he allude to me--to Mr. Vernon?”

“Ah, Lucretia! do you know him so little,--his delicacy, his pride?”

Lucretia was silent, and Mainwaring continued:--

“I felt that I was dismissed. I took my leave of your uncle; I came
hither with the intention to say farewell forever.”

“Hush! hush! that thought is over. And you return to your
father’s,--perhaps better so: it is but hope deferred; and in your
absence I can the more easily allay all suspicion, if suspicion exist.
But I must write to you; we must correspond. William, dear William,
write often,--write kindly; tell me, in every letter, that you love
me,--that you love only me; that you will be patient, and confide.”

“Dear Lucretia,” said Mainwaring, tenderly, and moved by the pathos
of her earnest and imploring voice, “but you forget: the bag is always
brought first to Sir Miles; he will recognize my hand. And to whom can
you trust your own letters?”

“True,” replied Lucretia, despondingly; and there was a pause. Suddenly
she lifted her head, and cried: “But your father’s house is not far from
this,--not ten miles; we can find a spot at the remote end of the park,
near the path through the great wood: there I can leave my letters;
there I can find yours.”

“But it must be seldom. If any of Sir Miles’s servants see me, if--”

“Oh, William, William, this is not the language of love!”

“Forgive me,--I think of you!”

“Love thinks of nothing but itself; it is tyrannical, absorbing,--it
forgets even the object loved; it feeds on danger; it strengthens by
obstacles,” said Lucretia, tossing her hair from her forehead, and with
an expression of dark and wild power on her brow and in her eyes. “Fear
not for me; I am sufficient guard upon myself. Even while I speak, I
think,--yes, I have thought of the very spot. You remember that hollow
oak at the bottom of the dell, in which Guy St. John, the Cavalier, is
said to have hid himself from Fairfax’s soldiers? Every Monday I will
leave a letter in that hollow; every Tuesday you can search for it, and
leave your own. This is but once a week; there is no risk here.”

Mainwaring’s conscience still smote him, but he had not the strength to
resist the energy of Lucretia. The force of her character seized upon
the weak part of his own,--its gentleness, its fear of inflicting
pain, its reluctance to say “No,”--that simple cause of misery to the
over-timid. A few sentences more, full of courage, confidence, and
passion, on the part of the woman, of constraint and yet of soothed and
grateful affection on that of the man, and the affianced parted.

Mainwaring had already given orders to have his trunks sent to him at
his father’s; and, a hardy pedestrian by habit, he now struck across the
park, passed the dell and the hollow tree, commonly called “Guy’s Oak,”
 and across woodland and fields golden with ripening corn, took his way
to the town, in the centre of which, square, solid, and imposing,
stood the respectable residence of his bustling, active, electioneering
father.

Lucretia’s eye followed a form as fair as ever captivated maiden’s
glance, till it was out of sight; and then, as she emerged from the
shade of the cedars into the more open space of the garden, her usual
thoughtful composure was restored to her steadfast countenance. On the
terrace, she caught sight of Vernon, who had just quitted his own room,
where he always breakfasted alone, and who was now languidly stretched
on a bench, and basking in the sun. Like all who have abused life,
Vernon was not the same man in the early part of the day. The spirits
that rose to temperate heat the third hour after noon, and expanded into
glow when the lights shone over gay carousers, at morning were flat and
exhausted. With hollow eyes and that weary fall of the muscles of the
cheeks which betrays the votary of Bacchus,--the convivial three-bottle
man,--Charley Vernon forced a smile, meant to be airy and impertinent,
to his pale lips, as he rose with effort, and extended three fingers to
his cousin.

“Where have you been hiding? Catching bloom from the roses? You have the
prettiest shade of colour,--just enough; not a hue too much. And there
is Sir Miles’s valet gone to the rectory, and the fat footman puffing
away towards the village, and I, like a faithful warden, from my post at
the castle, all looking out for the truant.”

“But who wants me, cousin?” said Lucretia, with the full blaze of her
rare and captivating smile.

“The knight of Laughton confessedly wants thee, O damsel! The knight of
the Bleeding Heart may want thee more,--dare he own it?”

And with a hand that trembled a little, not with love, at least, it
trembled always a little before the Madeira at luncheon,--he lifted hers
to his lips.

“Compliments again,--words, idle words!” said Lucretia, looking down
bashfully.

“How can I convince thee of my sincerity, unless thou takest my life as
its pledge, maid of Laughton?”

And very much tired of standing, Charley Vernon drew her gently to
the bench and seated himself by her side. Lucretia’s eyes were still
downcast, and she remained silent; Vernon, suppressing a yawn, felt
that he was bound to continue. There was nothing very formidable in
Lucretia’s manner.

“‘Fore Gad!” thought he, “I suppose I must take the heiress after all;
the sooner ‘t is over, the sooner I can get back to Brook Street.”

“It is premature, my fair cousin,” said he, aloud,--“premature, after
less than a week’s visit, and only some fourteen or fifteen hours’
permitted friendship and intimacy, to say what is uppermost in my
thoughts; but we spendthrifts are provokingly handsome! Sir Miles, your
good uncle, is pleased to forgive all my follies and faults upon one
condition,--that you will take on yourself the task to reform me. Will
you, my fair cousin? Such as I am, you behold me. I am no sinner in the
disguise of a saint. My fortune is spent, my health is not strong; but
a young widow’s is no mournful position. I am gay when I am well,
good-tempered when ailing. I never betrayed a trust,--can you trust me
with yourself?”

This was a long speech, and Charley Vernon felt pleased that it was
over. There was much in it that would have touched a heart even closed
to him, and a little genuine emotion had given light to his eyes, and
color to his cheek. Amidst all the ravages of dissipation, there was
something interesting in his countenance, and manly in his tone and
his gesture. But Lucretia was only sensible to one part of his
confession,--her uncle consented to his suit. This was all of which
she desired to be assured, and against this she now sought to screen
herself.

“Your candour, Mr. Vernon,” she said, avoiding his eye, “deserves
candour in me; I cannot affect to misunderstand you. But you take me by
surprise; I was so unprepared for this. Give me time,--I must reflect.”

“Reflection is dull work in the country; you can reflect more amusingly
in town, my fair cousin.”

“I will wait, then, till I find myself in town.”

“Ah, you make me the happiest, the most grateful of men,” cried
Mr. Vernon, rising, with a semi-genuflection which seemed to imply,
“Consider yourself knelt to,”--just as a courteous assailer, with a
motion of the hand, implies, “Consider yourself horsewhipped.”

Lucretia, who, with all her intellect, had no capacity for humour,
recoiled, and looked up in positive surprise.

“I do not understand you, Mr. Vernon,” she said, with austere gravity.

“Allow me the bliss of flattering myself that you, at least, are
understood,” replied Charley Vernon, with imperturbable assurance. “You
will wait to reflect till you are in town,--that is to say, the day
after our honeymoon, when you awake in Mayfair.”

Before Lucretia could reply, she saw the indefatigable valet formally
approaching, with the anticipated message that Sir Miles requested to
see her. She replied hurriedly to this last, that she would be with her
uncle immediately; and when he had again disappeared within the porch,
she said, with a constrained effort at frankness,--

“Mr. Vernon, if I have misunderstood your words, I think I do not
mistake your character. You cannot wish to take advantage of my
affection for my uncle, and the passive obedience I owe to him, to
force me into a step of which--of which--I have not yet sufficiently
considered the results. If you really desire that my feelings should be
consulted, that I should not--pardon me--consider myself sacrificed to
the family pride of my guardian and the interests of my suitor--”

“Madam!” exclaimed Vernon, reddening.

Pleased with the irritating effect her words had produced, Lucretia
continued calmly, “If, in a word, I am to be a free agent in a choice
on which my happiness depends, forbear to urge Sir Miles further at
present; forbear to press your suit upon me. Give me the delay of a few
months; I shall know how to appreciate your delicacy.”

“Miss Clavering,” answered Vernon, with a touch of the St. John
haughtiness, “I am in despair that you should even think so grave an
appeal to my honour necessary. I am well aware of your expectations and
my poverty. And, believe me, I would rather rot in a prison than enrich
myself by forcing your inclinations. You have but to say the word, and
I will (as becomes me as a man and gentleman) screen you from all chance
of Sir Miles’s displeasure, by taking it on myself to decline an honour
of which I feel, indeed, very undeserving.”

“But I have offended you,” said Lucretia, softly, while she turned aside
to conceal the glad light of her eyes,--“pardon me; and to prove that
you do so, give me your arm to my uncle’s room.”

Vernon, with rather more of Sir Miles’s antiquated stiffness than his
own rakish ease, offered his arm, with a profound reverence, to his
cousin, and they took their way to the house. Not till they had passed
up the stairs, and were even in the gallery, did further words pass
between them. Then Vernon said,--

“But what is your wish, Miss Clavering? On what footing shall I remain
here?”

“Will you suffer me to dictate?” replied Lucretia, stopping short with
well-feigned confusion, as if suddenly aware that the right to dictate
gives the right to hope.

“Ah, consider me at least your slave!” whispered Vernon, as, his
eye resting on the contour of that matchless neck, partially and
advantageously turned from him, he began, with his constitutional
admiration of the sex, to feel interested in a pursuit that now seemed,
after piquing, to flatter his self-love.

“Then I will use the privilege when we meet again,” answered Lucretia;
and drawing her arm gently from his, she passed on to her uncle, leaving
Vernon midway in the gallery.

Those faded portraits looked down on her with that melancholy gloom
which the effigies of our dead ancestors seem mysteriously to acquire.
To noble and aspiring spirits, no homily to truth and honour and fair
ambition is more eloquent than the mute and melancholy canvas from which
our fathers, made, by death, our household gods, contemplate us still.
They appear to confide to us the charge of their unblemished names. They
speak to us from the grave, and heard aright, the pride of family is the
guardian angel of its heirs. But Lucretia, with her hard and scholastic
mind, despised as the veriest weakness all the poetry that belongs
to the sense of a pure descent. It was because she was proud as the
proudest in herself that she had nothing but contempt for the virtue,
the valour, or the wisdom of those that had gone before. So, with a
brain busy with guile and stratagem, she trod on, beneath the eyes of
the simple and spotless Dead.

Vernon, thus left alone, mused a few moments on what had passed between
himself and the heiress; and then, slowly retracing his steps, his eye
roved along the stately series of his line. “Faith!” he muttered, “if
my boyhood had been passed in this old gallery, his Royal Highness would
have lost a good fellow and hard drinker, and his Majesty would have had
perhaps a more distinguished soldier,--certainly a worthier subject. If
I marry this lady, and we are blessed with a son, he shall walk through
this gallery once a day before he is flogged into Latin!”

Lucretia’s interview with her uncle was a masterpiece of art. What pity
that such craft and subtlety were wasted in our little day, and on such
petty objects; under the Medici, that spirit had gone far to the shaping
of history. Sure, from her uncle’s openness, that he would plunge at
once into the subject for which she deemed she was summoned, she evinced
no repugnance when, tenderly kissing her, he asked if Charles Vernon had
a chance of winning favour in her eyes. She knew that she was safe in
saying “No;” that her uncle would never force her inclinations,--safe
so far as Vernon was concerned; but she desired more: she desired
thoroughly to quench all suspicion that her heart was pre-occupied;
entirely to remove from Sir Miles’s thoughts the image of Mainwaring;
and a denial of one suitor might quicken the baronet’s eyes to the
concealment of the other. Nor was this all; if Sir Miles was seriously
bent upon seeing her settled in marriage before his death, the dismissal
of Vernon might only expose her to the importunity of new candidates
more difficult to deal with. Vernon himself she could use as the shield
against the arrows of a host. Therefore, when Sir Miles repeated his
question, she answered, with much gentleness and seeming modest sense,
that Mr. Vernon had much that must prepossess in his favour; that in
addition to his own advantages he had one, the highest in her eyes,--her
uncle’s sanction and approval. But--and she hesitated with becoming and
natural diffidence--were not his habits unfixed and roving? So it was
said; she knew not herself,--she would trust her happiness to her uncle.
But if so, and if Mr. Vernon were really disposed to change, would it
not be prudent to try him,--try him where there was temptation, not in
the repose of Laughton, but amidst his own haunts of London? Sir Miles
had friends who would honestly inform him of the result. She did but
suggest this; she was too ready to leave all to her dear guardian’s
acuteness and experience.

Melted by her docility, and in high approval of the prudence which
betokened a more rational judgment than he himself had evinced, the
good old man clasped her to his breast and shed tears as he praised and
thanked her. She had decided, as she always did, for the best; Heaven
forbid that she should be wasted on an incorrigible man of pleasure!
“And,” said the frank-hearted gentleman, unable long to keep any thought
concealed,--“and to think that I could have wronged you for a moment, my
own noble child; that I could have been dolt enough to suppose that
the good looks of that boy Mainwaring might have caused you to forget
what--But you change colour!”--for, with all her dissimulation, Lucretia
loved too ardently not to shrink at that name thus suddenly pronounced.
“Oh,” continued the baronet, drawing her still nearer towards him, while
with one hand he put back her face, that he might read its expression
the more closely,--“oh, if it had been so,--if it be so, I will pity,
not blame you, for my neglect was the fault: pity you, for I have known
a similar struggle; admire you in pity, for you have the spirit of your
ancestors, and you will conquer the weakness. Speak! have I touched on
the truth? Speak without fear, child,--you have no mother; but in age a
man sometimes gets a mother’s heart.”

Startled and alarmed as the lark when the step nears its nest, Lucretia
summoned all the dark wile of her nature to mislead the intruder. “No,
uncle, no; I am not so unworthy. You misconceived my emotion.”

“Ah, you know that he has had the presumption to love you,--the
puppy!--and you feel the compassion you women always feel for such
offenders? Is that it?”

Rapidly Lucretia considered if it would be wise to leave that impression
on his mind. On one hand, it might account for a moment’s agitation; and
if Mainwaring were detected hovering near the domain, in the exchange of
their correspondence, it might appear but the idle, if hopeless, romance
of youth, which haunts the mere home of its object,--but no; on
the other hand, it left his banishment absolute and confirmed. Her
resolution was taken with a promptitude that made her pause not
perceptible.

“No, my dear uncle,” she said, so cheerfully that it removed all doubt
from the mind of her listener; “but M. Dalibard has rallied me on the
subject, and I was so angry with him that when you touched on it, I
thought more of my quarrel with him than of poor timid Mr. Mainwaring
himself. Come, now, own it, dear sir! M. Dalibard has instilled this
strange fancy into your head?”

“No, ‘S life; if he had taken such a liberty, I should have lost my
librarian. No, I assure you, it was rather Vernon; you know true love is
jealous.”

“Vernon!” thought Lucretia; “he must go, and at once.” Sliding from her
uncle’s arms to the stool at his feet, she then led the conversation
more familiarly back into the channel it had lost; and when at last
she escaped, it was with the understanding that, without promise or
compromise, Mr. Vernon should return to London at once, and be put upon
the ordeal through which she felt assured it was little likely he should
pass with success.



CHAPTER IV. GUY’S OAK.

Three weeks afterwards, the life at Laughton seemed restored to the
cheerful and somewhat monotonous tranquillity of its course, before
chafed and disturbed by the recent interruptions to the stream. Vernon
had departed, satisfied with the justice of the trial imposed on him,
and far too high-spirited to seek to extort from niece or uncle any
engagement beyond that which, to a nice sense of honour, the trial
itself imposed. His memory and his heart were still faithful to Mary;
but his senses, his fancy, his vanity, were a little involved in his
success with the heiress. Though so free from all mercenary meanness,
Mr. Vernon was still enough man of the world to be sensible of the
advantages of the alliance which had first been pressed on him by Sir
Miles, and from which Lucretia herself appeared not to be averse. The
season of London was over, but there was always a set, and that set the
one in which Charley Vernon principally moved, who found town fuller
than the country. Besides, he went occasionally to Brighton, which was
then to England what Baiae was to Rome. The prince was holding gay court
at the Pavilion, and that was the atmosphere which Vernon was habituated
to breathe. He was no parasite of royalty; he had that strong personal
affection to the prince which it is often the good fortune of royalty to
attract. Nothing is less founded than the complaint which poets put into
the lips of princes, that they have no friends,--it is, at least, their
own perverse fault if that be the case; a little amiability, a little of
frank kindness, goes so far when it emanates from the rays of a crown.
But Vernon was stronger than Lucretia deemed him; once contemplating the
prospect of a union which was to consign to his charge the happiness of
another, and feeling all that he should owe in such a marriage to the
confidence both of niece and uncle, he evinced steadier principles than
he had ever made manifest when he had only his own fortune to mar, and
his own happiness to trifle with. He joined his old companions, but he
kept aloof from their more dissipated pursuits. Beyond what was then
thought the venial error of too devout libations to Bacchus, Charley
Vernon seemed reformed.

Ardworth had joined a regiment which had departed for the field of
action. Mainwaring was still with his father, and had not yet announced
to Sir Miles any wish or project for the future.

Olivier Dalibard, as before, passed his mornings alone in his
chamber,--his noons and his evenings with Sir Miles. He avoided all
private conferences with Lucretia. She did not provoke them. Young
Gabriel amused himself in copying Sir Miles’s pictures, sketching from
Nature, scribbling in his room prose or verse, no matter which (he never
showed his lucubrations), pinching the dogs when he could catch them
alone, shooting the cats, if they appeared in the plantation, on
pretence of love for the young pheasants, sauntering into the cottages,
where he was a favourite because of his good looks, but where he always
contrived to leave the trace of his visits in disorder and mischief,
upsetting the tea-kettle and scalding the children, or, what he loved
dearly, setting two gossips by the ears. But these occupations were over
by the hour Lucretia left her apartment. From that time he never left
her out of view; and when encouraged to join her at his usual privileged
times, whether in the gardens at sunset or in her evening niche in
the drawing-room, he was sleek, silken, and caressing as Cupid, after
plaguing the Nymphs, at the feet of Psyche. These two strange persons
had indeed apparently that sort of sentimental familiarity which is
sometimes seen between a fair boy and a girl much older than himself;
but the attraction that drew them together was an indefinable instinct
of their similarity in many traits of their several characters,--the
whelp leopard sported fearlessly around the she-panther. Before
Olivier’s midnight conference with his son, Gabriel had drawn close and
closer to Lucretia, as an ally against his father; for that father he
cherished feelings which, beneath the most docile obedience, concealed
horror and hate, and something of the ferocity of revenge. And if young
Varney loved any one on earth except himself, it was Lucretia Clavering.
She had administered to his ruling passions, which were for effect
and display; she had devised the dress which set off to the utmost his
exterior, and gave it that picturesque and artistic appearance which he
had sighed for in his study of the portraits of Titian and Vandyke. She
supplied him (for in money she was generous) with enough to gratify and
forestall every boyish caprice; and this liberality now turned against
her, for it had increased into a settled vice his natural taste for
extravagance, and made all other considerations subordinate to that
of feeding his cupidity. She praised his drawings, which, though
self-taught, were indeed extraordinary, predicted his fame as an
artist, lifted him into consequence amongst the guests by her notice and
eulogies, and what, perhaps, won him more than all, he felt that it
was to her--to Dalibard’s desire to conceal before her his more cruel
propensities--that he owed his father’s change from the most refined
severity to the most paternal gentleness.

And thus he had repaid her, as she expected, by a devotion which she
trusted to employ against her tutor himself, should the baffled aspirant
become the scheming rival and the secret foe. But now,--thoroughly aware
of the gravity of his father’s objects, seeing before him the chance
of a settled establishment at Laughton, a positive and influential
connection with Lucretia; and on the other hand a return to the poverty
he recalled with disgust, and the terrors of his father’s solitary
malice and revenge,--he entered fully into Dalibard’s sombre plans,
and without scruple or remorse, would have abetted any harm to his
benefactress. Thus craft, doomed to have accomplices in craft,
resembles the spider, whose web, spread indeed for the fly, attracts the
fellow-spider that shall thrust it forth, and profit by the meshes it
has woven for a victim, to surrender to a master.

Already young Varney, set quietly and ceaselessly to spy every movement
of Lucretia’s, had reported to his father two visits to the most retired
part of the park; but he had not yet ventured near enough to discover
the exact spot, and his very watch on Lucretia had prevented
the detection of Mainwaring himself in his stealthy exchange of
correspondence. Dalibard bade him continue his watch, without hinting at
his ulterior intentions, for, indeed, in these he was not decided. Even
should he discover any communication between Lucretia and Mainwaring,
how reveal it to Sir Miles without forever precluding himself from the
chance of profiting by the betrayal? Could Lucretia ever forgive the
injury, and could she fail to detect the hand that inflicted it? His
only hope was in the removal of Mainwaring from his path by other
agencies than his own, and (by an appearance of generosity and
self-abandonment, in keeping her secret and submitting to his fate) he
trusted to regain the confidence she now withheld from him, and use it
to his advantage when the time came to defend himself from Vernon. For
he had learned from Sir Miles the passive understanding with respect
to that candidate for her hand; and he felt assured that had Mainwaring
never existed, could he cease to exist for her hopes, Lucretia, despite
her dissimulation, would succumb to one she feared but respected, rather
than one she evidently trifled with and despised.

“But the course to be taken must be adopted after the evidence is
collected,” thought the subtle schemer, and he tranquilly continued his
chess with the baronet.

Before, however, Gabriel could make any further discoveries, an event
occurred which excited very different emotions amongst those it more
immediately interested.

Sir Miles had, during the last twelve months, been visited by two
seizures, seemingly of an apoplectic character. Whether they were
apoplexy, or the less alarming attacks that arise from some more gentle
congestion, occasioned by free living and indolent habits, was matter
of doubt with his physician,--not a very skilful, though a very
formal, man. Country doctors were not then the same able, educated, and
scientific class that they are now rapidly becoming. Sir Miles himself
so stoutly and so eagerly repudiated the least hint of the more
unfavourable interpretation that the doctor, if not convinced by his
patient, was awed from expressing plainly a contrary opinion. There are
certain persons who will dismiss their physician if he tells them the
truth: Sir Miles was one of them.

In his character there was a weakness not uncommon to the proud. He
did not fear death, but he shrank from the thought that others should
calculate on his dying. He was fond of his power, though he exercised
it gently: he knew that the power of wealth and station is enfeebled in
proportion as its dependants can foresee the date of its transfer. He
dreaded, too, the comments which are always made on those visited by his
peculiar disease: “Poor Sir Miles! an apoplectic fit. His intellect
must be very much shaken; he revoked at whist last night,--memory sadly
impaired!” This may be a pitiable foible; but heroes and statesmen have
had it most: pardon it in the proud old man! He enjoined the physician
to state throughout the house and the neighbourhood that the attacks
were wholly innocent and unimportant. The physician did so, and was
generally believed; for Sir Miles seemed as lively and as vigorous
after them as before. Two persons alone were not deceived,--Dalibard
and Lucretia. The first, at an earlier part of his life, had studied
pathology with the profound research and ingenious application which he
brought to bear upon all he undertook. He whispered from the first to
Lucretia,--“Unless your uncle changes his habits, takes exercise, and
forbears wine and the table, his days are numbered.”

And when this intelligence was first conveyed to her, before she had
become acquainted with Mainwaring, Lucretia felt the shock of a grief
sudden and sincere. We have seen how these better sentiments changed
as human life became an obstacle in her way. In her character, what
phrenologists call “destructiveness,” in the comprehensive sense of the
word, was superlatively developed. She had not actual cruelty; she was
not bloodthirsty: those vices belong to a different cast of character.
She was rather deliberately and intellectually unsparing. A goal was
before her; she must march to it: all in the way were but hostile
impediments. At first, however, Sir Miles was not in the way, except to
fortune, and for that, as avarice was not her leading vice, she could
well wait; therefore, at this hint of the Provencal’s she ventured to
urge her uncle to abstinence and exercise. But Sir Miles was touchy on
the subject; he feared the interpretations which great change of habits
might suggest. The memory of the fearful warning died away, and he felt
as well as before; for, save an old rheumatic gout (which had long since
left him with no other apparent evil but a lameness in the joints that
rendered exercise unwelcome and painful), he possessed one of those
comfortable, and often treacherous, constitutions which evince no
displeasure at irregularities, and bear all liberties with philosophical
composure. Accordingly, he would have his own way; and he contrived
to coax or to force his doctor into an authority on his side: wine was
necessary to his constitution; much exercise was a dangerous fatigue.
The second attack, following four months after the first, was less
alarming, and Sir Miles fancied it concealed even from his niece; but
three nights after his recovery, the old baronet sat musing alone for
some time in his own room before he retired to rest. Then he rose,
opened his desk, and read his will attentively, locked it up with a
slight sigh, and took down his Bible. The next morning he despatched
the letters which summoned Ardworth and Vernon to his house; and as he
quitted his room, his look lingered with melancholy fondness upon the
portraits in the gallery. No one was by the old man to interpret these
slight signs, in which lay a world of meaning.

A few weeks after Vernon had left the house, and in the midst of the
restored tranquillity we have described, it so happened that Sir Miles’s
physician, after dining at the Hall, had been summoned to attend one of
the children at the neighbouring rectory; and there he spent the night.
A little before daybreak his slumbers were disturbed; he was recalled
in all haste to Laughton Hall. For the third time, he found Sir Miles
speechless. Dalibard was by his bedside. Lucretia had not been made
aware of the seizure; for Sir Miles had previously told his valet (who
of late slept in the same room) never to alarm Miss Clavering if he was
taken ill. The doctor was about to apply his usual remedies; but when he
drew forth his lancet, Dalibard placed his hand on the physician’s arm.

“Not this time,” he said slowly, and with emphasis; “it will be his
death.”

“Pooh, sir!” said the doctor, disdainfully.

“Do so, then; bleed him, and take the responsibility. I have studied
medicine,--I know these symptoms. In this case the apoplexy may
spare,--the lancet kills.”

The physician drew back dismayed and doubtful.

“What would you do, then?”

“Wait three minutes longer the effect of the cataplasms I have applied.
If they fail--”

“Ay, then?”

“A chill bath and vigorous friction.”

“Sir, I will never permit it.”

“Then murder your patient your own way.”

All this while Sir Miles lay senseless, his eyes wide open, his
teeth locked. The doctor drew near, looked at the lancet, and said
irresolutely,--

“Your practice is new to me; but if you have studied medicine, that’s
another matter. Will you guarantee the success of your plan?”

“Yes.”

“Mind, I wash my hands of it; I take Mr. Jones to witness;” and he
appealed to the valet.

“Call up the footman and lift your master,” said Dalibard; and the
doctor, glancing round, saw that a bath, filled some seven or eight
inches deep with water, stood already prepared in the room. Perplexed
and irresolute, he offered no obstacle to Dalibard’s movements. The
body, seemingly lifeless, was placed in the bath; and the servants,
under Dalibard’s directions, applied vigorous and incessant friction.
Several minutes elapsed before any favourable symptom took place. At
length Sir Miles heaved a deep sigh, and the eyes moved; a minute or two
more, and the teeth chattered; the blood, set in motion, appeared on the
surface of the skin; life ebbed back. The danger was passed, the
dark foe driven from the citadel. Sir Miles spoke audibly, though
incoherently, as he was taken back to his bed, warmly covered up, the
lights removed, noise forbidden, and Dalibard and the doctor remained in
silence by the bedside.

“Rich man,” thought Dalibard, “thine hour is not yet come; thy wealth
must not pass to the boy Mainwaring.” Sir Miles’s recovery, under the
care of Dalibard, who now had his own way, was as rapid and complete as
before. Lucretia when she heard, the next morning, of the attack, felt,
we dare not say a guilty joy, but a terrible and feverish agitation.
Sir Miles himself, informed by his valet of Dalibard’s wrestle with the
doctor, felt a profound gratitude and reverent wonder for the simple
means to which he probably owed his restoration; and he listened, with
a docility which Dalibard was not prepared to expect, to his learned
secretary’s urgent admonitions as to the life he must lead if he desired
to live at all. Convinced, at last, that wine and good cheer had not
blockaded out the enemy, and having to do, in Olivier Dalibard, with a
very different temper from the doctor’s, he assented with a tolerable
grace to the trial of a strict regimen and to daily exercise in the
open air. Dalibard now became constantly with him; the increase of his
influence was as natural as it was apparent. Lucretia trembled; she
divined a danger in his power, now separate from her own, and which
threatened to be independent of it. She became abstracted and uneasy;
jealousy of the Provencal possessed her. She began to meditate schemes
for his downfall. At this time, Sir Miles received the following letter
from Mr. Fielden:--

SOUTHAMPTON, Aug. 20, 1801.

DEAR SIR MILES,--You will remember that I informed you when I arrived
at Southampton with my dear young charge; and Susan has twice written
to her sister, implying the request which she lacked the courage, seeing
that she is timid, expressly to urge, that Miss Clavering might again be
permitted to visit her. Miss Clavering has answered as might be expected
from the propinquity of the relationship; but she has perhaps the same
fears of offending you that actuate her sister. But now, since the
worthy clergyman who had undertaken my parochial duties has found the
air insalubrious, and prays me not to enforce the engagement by which we
had exchanged our several charges for the space of a calendar year, I am
reluctantly compelled to return home,--my dear wife, thank Heaven, being
already restored to health, which is an unspeakable mercy; and I am
sure I cannot be sufficiently grateful to Providence, which has not only
provided me with a liberal independence of more than 200 pounds a year,
but the best of wives and the most dutiful of children,--possessions
that I venture to call “the riches of the heart.” Now, I pray you, my
dear Sir Miles, to gratify these two deserving young persons, and to
suffer Miss Lucretia incontinently to visit her sister. Counting on your
consent, thus boldly demanded, I have already prepared an apartment for
Miss Clavering; and Susan is busy in what, though I do not know much of
such feminine matters, the whole house declares to be a most beautiful
and fanciful toilet-cover, with roses and forget-me-nots cut out of
muslin, and two large silk tassels, which cost her three shillings and
fourpence. I cannot conclude without thanking you from my heart for your
noble kindness to young Ardworth. He is so full of ardour and spirit
that I remember, poor lad, when I left him, as I thought, hard at
work on that well-known problem of Euclid vulgarly called the Asses’
Bridge,--I found him describing a figure of 8 on the village pond, which
was only just frozen over! Poor lad! Heaven will take care of him, I
know, as it does of all who take no care of themselves. Ah, Sir Miles,
if you could but see Susan,--such a nurse, too, in illness! I have the
honour to be, Sir Miles,

Your most humble, poor servant, to command,

MATTHEW FIELDEN.

Sir Miles put this letter in his niece’s hand, and said kindly, “Why not
have gone to see your sister before? I should not have been angry. Go,
my child, as soon as you like. To-morrow is Sunday,--no travelling that
day; but the next, the carriage shall be at your order.”

Lucretia hesitated a moment. To leave Dalibard in sole possession of the
field, even for a few days, was a thought of alarm; but what evil could
he do in that time? And her pulse beat quickly: Mainwaring could come
to Southampton; she should see him again, after more than six weeks’
absence! She had so much to relate and to hear; she fancied his last
letter had been colder and shorter; she yearned to hear him say, with
his own lips, that he loved her still. This idea banished or prevailed
over all others. She thanked her uncle cheerfully and gayly, and the
journey was settled.

“Be at watch early on Monday,” said Olivier to his son.

Monday came; the baronet had ordered the carriage to be at the door
at ten. A little before eight, Lucretia stole out, and took her way to
Guy’s Oak. Gabriel had placed himself in readiness; he had climbed a
tree at the bottom of the park (near the place where hitherto he had
lost sight of her); she passed under it,--on through a dark grove of
pollard oaks. When she was at a sufficient distance, the boy dropped
from his perch; with the stealth of an Indian he crept on her trace,
following from tree to tree, always sheltered, always watchful. He saw
her pause at the dell and look round; she descended into the hollow;
he slunk through the fern; he gained the marge of the dell, and looked
down,--she was lost to his sight. At length, to his surprise, he saw the
gleam of her robe emerge from the hollow of a tree,--her head stooped
as she came through the aperture; he had time to shrink back amongst the
fern; she passed on hurriedly, the same way she had taken, back to the
house; then into the dell crept the boy. Guy’s Oak, vast and venerable,
with gnarled green boughs below, and sere branches above, that told that
its day of fall was decreed at last, rose high from the abyss of
the hollow, high and far-seen amidst the trees that stood on the
vantage-ground above,--even as a great name soars the loftier when it
springs from the grave. A dark and irregular fissure gave entrance
to the heart of the oak. The boy glided in and looked round; he saw
nothing, yet something there must be. The rays of the early sun did not
penetrate into the hollow, it was as dim as a cave. He felt slowly in
every crevice, and a startled moth or two flew out. It was not for moths
that the girl had come to Guy’s Oak! He drew back, at last, in despair;
as he did so, he heard a low sound close at hand,--a low, murmuring,
angry sound, like a hiss; he looked round, and through the dark, two
burning eyes fixed his own: he had startled a snake from its bed. He
drew out in time, as the reptile sprang; but now his task, search, and
object were forgotten. With the versatility of a child, his thoughts
were all on the enemy he had provoked. That zest of prey which is
inherent in man’s breast, which makes him love the sport and the chase,
and maddens boyhood and age with the passion for slaughter, leaped up
within him; anything of danger and contest and excitement gave Gabriel
Varney a strange fever of pleasure. He sprang up the sides of the dell,
climbed the park pales on which it bordered, was in the wood where the
young shoots rose green and strong from the underwood. To cut a staff
for the strife, to descend again into the dell, creep again through
the fissure, look round for those vengeful eyes, was quick done as the
joyous play of the impulse. The poor snake had slid down in content and
fancied security; its young, perhaps, were not far off; its wrath had
been the instinct Nature gives to the mother. It hath done thee no harm
yet, boy; leave it in peace! The young hunter had no ear to such whisper
of prudence or mercy. Dim and blind in the fissure, he struck the ground
and the tree with his stick, shouted out, bade the eyes gleam, and
defied them. Whether or not the reptile had spent its ire in the first
fruitless spring, and this unlooked-for return of the intruder rather
daunted than exasperated, we leave those better versed in natural
history to conjecture; but instead of obeying the challenge and courting
the contest, it glided by the sides of the oak, close to the very feet
of its foe, and emerging into the light, dragged its gray coils through
the grass; but its hiss still betrayed it. Gabriel sprang through the
fissure and struck at the craven, insulting it with a laugh of scorn
as he struck. Suddenly it halted, suddenly reared its crest; the throat
swelled with venom, the tongue darted out, and again, green as emeralds,
glared the spite of its eyes. No fear felt Gabriel Varney; his arm was
averted; he gazed, spelled and admiringly, with the eye of an artist.
Had he had pencil and tablet at that moment, he would have dropped his
weapon for the sketch, though the snake had been as deadly as the viper
of Sumatra. The sight sank into his memory, to be reproduced often by
the wild, morbid fancies of his hand. Scarce a moment, however, had he
for the gaze; the reptile sprang, and fell, baffled and bruised by
the involuntary blow of its enemy. As it writhed on the grass, how its
colours came out; how graceful were the movements of its pain! And still
the boy gazed, till the eye was sated and the cruelty returned. A blow,
a second, a third,--all the beauty is gone; shapeless, and clotted with
gore, that elegant head; mangled and dissevered the airy spires of that
delicate shape, which had glanced in its circling involutions, free
and winding as a poet’s thought through his verse. The boy trampled the
quivering relics into the sod, with a fierce animal joy of conquest, and
turned once more towards the hollow, for a last almost hopeless survey.
Lo, his object was found! In his search for the snake, either his staff
or his foot had disturbed a layer of moss in the corner; the faint ray,
ere he entered the hollow, gleamed upon something white. He emerged from
the cavity with a letter in his hand; he read the address, thrust it
into his bosom, and as stealthily, but more rapidly, than he had come,
took his way to his father.



CHAPTER V. HOUSEHOLD TREASON.

The Provencal took the letter from his son’s hand, and looked at him
with an approbation half-complacent, half-ironical. “Mon fils!” said he,
patting the boy’s head gently, “why should we not be friends? We want
each other; we have the strong world to fight against.”

“Not if you are master of this place.”

“Well answered,--no; then we shall have the strong world on our side,
and shall have only rogues and the poor to make war upon.” Then, with a
quiet gesture, he dismissed his son, and gazed slowly on the letter.
His pulse, which was usually low, quickened, and his lips were tightly
compressed; he shrank from the contents with a jealous pang; as a
light quivers strugglingly in a noxious vault, love descended into that
hideous breast, gleamed upon dreary horrors, and warred with the noxious
atmosphere: but it shone still. To this dangerous man, every art that
gives power to the household traitor was familiar: he had no fear that
the violated seals should betray the fraud which gave the contents to
the eye that, at length, steadily fell upon the following lines:--

DEAREST, AND EVER DEAREST,--Where art thou at this moment? What are
thy thoughts,--are they upon me? I write this at the dead of night. I
picture you to myself as my hand glides over the paper. I think I see
you, as you look on these words, and envy them the gaze of those dark
eyes. Press your lips to the paper. Do you feel the kiss that I leave
there? Well, well! it will not be for long now that we shall be divided.
Oh, what joy, when I think that I am about to see you! Two days more,
at most three, and we shall meet, shall we not? I am going to see my
sister. I subjoin my address. Come, come, come; I thirst to see you once
more. And I did well to say, “Wait, and be patient;” we shall not wait
long: before the year is out I shall be free. My uncle has had another
and more deadly attack. I see its trace in his face, in his step, in his
whole form and bearing. The only obstacle between us is fading away.
Can I grieve when I think it,--grieve when life with you spreads smiling
beyond the old man’s grave? And why should age, that has survived all
passion, stand with its chilling frown, and the miserable prejudices the
world has not conquered, but strengthened into a creed,--why should
age stand between youth and youth? I feel your mild eyes rebuke me as
I write. But chide me not that on earth I see only you. And it will be
mine to give you wealth and rank! Mine to see the homage of my own heart
reflected from the crowd who bow, not to the statue, but the pedestal.
Oh, how I shall enjoy your revenge upon the proud! For I have drawn
no pastoral scenes in my picture of the future. No; I see you leading
senates, and duping fools. I shall be by your side, your partner, step
after step, as you mount the height, for I am ambitious, you know,
William; and not less because I love,--rather ten thousand times more
so. I would not have you born great and noble, for what then could we
look to,--what use all my schemes, and my plans, and aspirings? Fortune,
accident, would have taken from us the great zest of life, which is
desire.

When I see you, I shall tell you that I have some fears of Olivier
Dalibard; he has evidently some wily project in view. He, who never
interfered before with the blundering physician, now thrusts him aside,
affects to have saved the old man, attends him always. Dares he think to
win an influence, to turn against me,--against us? Happily, when I shall
come back, my uncle will probably be restored to the false strength
which deceives him; he will have less need of Dalibard; and then--then
let the Frenchman beware! I have already a plot to turn his schemes
to his own banishment. Come to Southampton, then, as soon as you
can,--perhaps the day you receive this; on Wednesday, at farthest. Your
last letter implies blame of my policy with respect to Vernon. Again I
say, it is necessary to amuse my uncle to the last. Before Vernon can
advance a claim, there will be weeping at Laughton. I shall weep, too,
perhaps; but there will be joy in those tears, as well as sorrow,--for
then, when I clasp thy hand, I can murmur, “It is mine at last, and
forever!”

Adieu! No, not adieu,--to our meeting, my lover, my beloved! Thy
LUCRETIA.

An hour after Miss Clavering had departed on her visit, Dalibard
returned the letter to his son, the seal seemingly unbroken, and bade
him replace it in the hollow of the tree, but sufficiently in sight to
betray itself to the first that entered. He then communicated the plan
he had formed for its detection,--a plan which would prevent Lucretia
ever suspecting the agency of his son or himself; and this done, he
joined Sir Miles in the gallery. Hitherto, in addition to his other
apprehensions in revealing to the baronet Lucretia’s clandestine
intimacy with Mainwaring, Dalibard had shrunk from the thought that
the disclosure would lose her the heritage which had first tempted his
avarice or ambition; but now his jealous and his vindictive passions
were aroused, and his whole plan of strategy was changed. He must crush
Lucretia, or she would crush him, as her threats declared. To ruin her
in Sir Miles’s eyes, to expel her from his house, might not, after all,
weaken his own position, even with regard to power over herself. If
he remained firmly established at Laughton, he could affect
intercession,--he could delay, at least, any precipitate union with
Mainwaring, by practising on the ambition which he still saw at work
beneath her love; he might become a necessary ally; and then--why, then,
his ironical smile glanced across his lips. But beyond this, his quick
eye saw fair prospects to self-interest: Lucretia banished; the heritage
not hers; the will to be altered; Dalibard esteemed indispensable to the
life of the baronet. Come, there was hope here,--not for the heritage,
indeed, but at least for a munificent bequest.

At noon, some visitors, bringing strangers from London whom Sir
Miles had invited to see the house (which was one of the lions of the
neighbourhood, though not professedly a show-place), were expected.
Aware of this, Dalibard prayed the baronet to rest quiet till his
company arrived, and then he said carelessly,--

“It will be a healthful diversion to your spirits to accompany them a
little in the park; you can go in your garden-chair; you will have new
companions to talk with by the way; and it is always warm and sunny at
the slope of the hill, towards the bottom of the park.”

Sir Miles assented cheerfully; the guests came, strolled over the house,
admired the pictures and the armour and the hall and the staircase,
paid due respect to the substantial old-fashioned luncheon, and
then, refreshed, and in great good-humour, acquiesced in Sir Miles’s
proposition to saunter through the park.

The poor baronet was more lively than usual. The younger people
clustered gayly round his chair (which was wheeled by his valet),
smiling at his jests and charmed with his courteous high-breeding.
A little in the rear walked Gabriel, paying special attention to the
prettiest and merriest girl of the company, who was a great favourite
with Sir Miles,--perhaps for those reasons.

“What a delightful old gentleman!” said the young lady. “How I envy Miss
Clavering such an uncle!”

“Ah, but you are a little out of favour to-day, I can tell you,” said
Gabriel, laughingly; “you were close by Sir Miles when we went through
the picture-gallery, and you never asked him the history of the old
knight in the buff doublet and blue sash.”

“Dear me, what of that?”

“Why, that was brave Colonel Guy St. John, the Cavalier, the pride and
boast of Sir Miles; you know his weakness. He looked so displeased when
you said, ‘What a droll-looking figure!’ I was on thorns for you!”

“What a pity! I would not offend dear Sir Miles for the world.”

“Well, it’s easy to make it up with him. Go and tell him that he must
take you to see Guy’s Oak, in the dell; that you have heard so much
about it; and when you get him on his hobby, it is hard if you can’t
make your peace.”

“Oh, I’ll certainly do it, Master Varney;” and the young lady lost no
time in obeying the hint. Gabriel had set other tongues on the same
cry, so that there was a general exclamation when the girl named the
subject,--“Oh, Guy’s Oak, by all means!”

Much pleased with the enthusiasm this memorial of his pet ancestor
produced, Sir Miles led the way to the dell, and pausing as he reached
the verge, said,--

“I fear I cannot do you the honours; it is too steep for my chair to
descend safely.”

Gabriel whispered the fair companion whose side he still kept to.

“Now, my dear Sir Miles,” cried the girl, “I positively won’t stir
without you; I am sure we could get down the chair without a jolt. Look
there, how nicely the ground slopes! Jane, Lucy, my dears, let us take
charge of Sir Miles. Now, then.”

The gallant old gentleman would have marched to the breach in such
guidance; he kissed the fair hands that lay so temptingly on his chair,
and then, rising with some difficulty, said,--

“No, my dears, you have made me so young again that I think I can walk
down the steep with the best of you.”

So, leaning partly on his valet, and by the help of the hands extended
to him, step after step, Sir Miles, with well-disguised effort, reached
the huge roots of the oak.

“The hollow then was much smaller,” said he, “so he was not so easily
detected as a man would be now, the damned crop-ears--I beg pardon, my
dears; the rascally rebels--poked their swords through the fissure, and
two went, one through his jerkin, one through his arm; but he took care
not to swear at the liberty, and they went away, not suspecting him.”

While thus speaking, the young people were already playfully struggling
which should first enter the oak. Two got precedence, and went in and
out, one after the other. Gabriel breathed hard. “The blind owlets!”
 thought he; “and I put the letter where a mole would have seen it!”

“You know the spell when you enter an oak-tree where the fairies have
been,” he whispered to the fair object of his notice. “You must turn
round three times, look carefully on the ground, and you will see the
face you love best. If I was but a little older, how I should pray--”

“Nonsense!” said the girl, blushing, as she now slid through the crowd,
and went timidly in; presently she uttered a little exclamation.

The gallant Sir Miles stooped down to see what was the matter, and
offering his hand as she came out, was startled to see her holding a
letter.

“Only think what I have found!” said the girl. “What a strange place for
a post-office! Bless me! It is directed to Mr. Mainwaring!”

“Mr. Mainwaring!” cried three or four voices; but the baronet’s was
mute. His eye recognized Lucretia’s hand; his tongue clove to the roof
of his mouth; the blood surged, like a sea, in his temples; his face
became purple. Suddenly Gabriel, peeping over the girl’s shoulder,
snatched away the letter.

“It is my letter,--it is mine! What a shame in Mainwaring not to have
come for it as he promised!”

Sir Miles looked round and breathed more freely.

“Yours, Master Varney!” said the young lady, astonished. “What can make
your letters to Mr. Mainwaring such a secret?”

“Oh! you’ll laugh at me; but--but--I wrote a poem on Guy’s Oak, and Mr.
Mainwaring promised to get it into the county paper for me; and as he
was to pass close by the park pales, through the wood yonder, on his way
to D---- last Saturday, we agreed that I should leave it here; but he
has forgotten his promise, I see.”

Sir Miles grasped the boy’s arm with a convulsive pressure of gratitude.
There was a general cry for Gabriel to read his poem on the spot; but
the boy looked sheepish, and hung down his head, and seemed rather more
disposed to cry than to recite. Sir Miles, with an effort at simulation
that all his long practice of the world never could have nerved him
to, unexcited by a motive less strong than the honour of his blood and
house, came to the relief of the young wit that had just come to his
own.

“Nay,” he said, almost calmly, “I know our young poet is too shy to
oblige you. I will take charge of your verses, Master Gabriel;” and with
a grave air of command, he took the letter from the boy and placed it in
his pocket.

The return to the house was less gay than the visit to the oak. The
baronet himself made a feverish effort to appear blithe and debonair as
before; but it was not successful. Fortunately, the carriages were all
at the door as they reached the house, and luncheon being over, nothing
delayed the parting compliments of the guests. As the last carriage
drove away, Sir Miles beckoned to Gabriel, and bade him follow him into
his room.

When there, he dismissed his valet and said,--

“You know, then, who wrote this letter. Have you been in the secret
of the correspondence? Speak the truth, my dear boy; it shall cost you
nothing.”

“Oh, Sir Miles!” cried Gabriel, earnestly, “I know nothing whatever
beyond this,--that I saw the hand of my dear, kind Miss Lucretia; that
I felt, I hardly knew why, that both you and she would not have those
people discover it, which they would if the letter had been circulated
from one to the other, for some one would have known the hand as well
as myself, and therefore I spoke, without thinking, the first thing that
came into my head.”

“You--you have obliged me and my niece, sir,” said the baronet,
tremulously; and then, with a forced and sickly smile, he added: “Some
foolish vagary of Lucretia, I suppose; I must scold her for it. Say
nothing about it, however, to any one.”

“Oh, no, sir!”

“Good-by, my dear Gabriel!”

“And that boy saved the honour of my niece’s name,--my mother’s
grandchild! O God! this is bitter,--in my old age too!”

He bowed his head over his hands, and tears forced themselves through
his fingers. He was long before he had courage to read the letter,
though he little foreboded all the shock that it would give him. It was
the first letter, not destined to himself, of which he had ever broken
the seal. Even that recollection made the honourable old man pause; but
his duty was plain and evident, as head of the house and guardian to his
niece. Thrice he wiped his spectacles; still they were dim, still the
tears would come. He rose tremblingly, walked to the window, and saw
the stately deer grouped in the distance, saw the church spire that rose
above the burial vault of his ancestors, and his heart sank deeper and
deeper as he muttered: “Vain pride! pride!” Then he crept to the door
and locked it, and at last, seating himself firmly, as a wounded man to
some terrible operation, he read the letter.

Heaven support thee, old man! thou hast to pass through the bitterest
trial which honour and affection can undergo,--household treason. When
the wife lifts high the blushless front and brazens out her guilt; when
the child, with loud voice, throws off all control and makes boast of
disobedience,--man revolts at the audacity; his spirit arms against
his wrong: its face, at least, is bare; the blow, if sacrilegious, is
direct. But when mild words and soft kisses conceal the worst foe Fate
can arm; when amidst the confidence of the heart starts up the form of
Perfidy; when out from the reptile swells the fiend in its terror; when
the breast on which man leaned for comfort has taken counsel to deceive
him; when he learns that, day after day, the life entwined with his own
has been a lie and a stage-mime,--he feels not the softness of grief,
nor the absorption of rage; it is mightier than grief, and more
withering than rage,--it is a horror that appalls. The heart does not
bleed, the tears do not flow, as in woes to which humanity is commonly
subjected; it is as if something that violates the course of nature
had taken place,--something monstrous and out of all thought and
forewarning; for the domestic traitor is a being apart from the orbit of
criminals: the felon has no fear of his innocent children; with a price
on his head, he lays it in safety on the bosom of his wife. In his home,
the ablest man, the most subtle and suspecting, can be as much a dupe as
the simplest. Were it not so as the rule, and the exceptions most rare,
this world were the riot of a hell!

And therefore it is that to the household perfidy, in all lands, in all
ages, God’s curse seems to cleave, and to God’s curse man abandons it;
he does not honour it by hate, still less will he lighten and share
the guilt by descending to revenge. He turns aside with a sickness
and loathing, and leaves Nature to purify from the earth the ghastly
phenomenon she abhors.

Old man, that she wilfully deceived thee, that she abused thy belief
and denied to thy question and profaned maidenhood to stealth,--all this
might have galled thee; but to these wrongs old men are subjected,--they
give mirth to our farces; maid and lover are privileged impostors. But
to have counted the sands in thine hour-glass, to have sat by thy side,
marvelling when the worms should have thee, and looked smiling on
thy face for the signs of the death-writ--Die quick, old man; the
executioner hungers for the fee!

There were no tears in those eyes when they came to the close; the
letter fell noiselessly to the floor, and the head sank on the breast,
and the hands drooped upon the poor crippled limbs, whose crawl in the
sunshine hard youth had grudged. He felt humbled, stunned, crushed; the
pride was clean gone from him; the cruel words struck home. Worse than a
cipher, did he then but cumber the earth? At that moment old Ponto, the
setter, shook himself, looked up, and laid his head in his master’s lap;
and Dash, jealous, rose also, and sprang, not actively, for Dash was
old, too, upon his knees, and licked the numbed, drooping hands. Now,
people praise the fidelity of dogs till the theme is worn out; but
nobody knows what a dog is, unless he has been deceived by men,--then,
that honest face; then, that sincere caress; then, that coaxing whine
that never lied! Well, then,--what then? A dog is long-lived if he live
to ten years,--small career this to truth and friendship! Now, when Sir
Miles felt that he was not deserted, and his look met those four fond
eyes, fixed with that strange wistfulness which in our hours of trouble
the eyes of a dog sympathizingly assume, an odd thought for a sensible
man passed into him, showing, more than pages of sombre elegy, how deep
was the sudden misanthropy that blackened the world around. “When I am
dead,” ran that thought, “is there one human being whom I can trust to
take charge of the old man’s dogs?”

So, let the scene close!



CHAPTER VI. THE WILL


The next day, or rather the next evening, Sir Miles St. John was seated
before his unshared chicken,--seated alone, and vaguely surprised at
himself, in a large, comfortable room in his old hotel, Hanover Square.
Yes, he had escaped. Hast thou, O Reader, tasted the luxury of escape
from a home where the charm is broken,--where Distrust looks askant from
the Lares? In vain had Dalibard remonstrated, conjured up dangers, and
asked at least to accompany him. Excepting his dogs and his old valet,
who was too like a dog in his fond fidelity to rank amongst bipeds, Sir
Miles did not wish to have about him a single face familiar at Laughton,
Dalibard especially. Lucretia’s letter had hinted at plans and designs
in Dalibard. It might be unjust, it might be ungrateful; but he grew
sick at the thought that he was the centre-stone of stratagems and
plots. The smooth face of the Provencal took a wily expression in his
eyes; nay, he thought his very footmen watched his steps as if to count
how long before they followed his bier. So, breaking from all roughly,
with a shake of his head and a laconic assertion of business in
London, he got into his carriage,--his own old bachelor’s lumbering
travelling-carriage,--and bade the post-boys drive fast, fast! Then,
when he felt alone,--quite alone,--and the gates of the lodge swung
behind him, he rubbed his hands with a schoolboy’s glee, and chuckled
aloud, as if he enjoyed, not only the sense, but the fun of his safety;
as if he had done something prodigiously cunning and clever.

So when he saw himself snug in his old, well-remembered hotel, in the
same room as of yore, when returned, brisk and gay, from the breezes of
Weymouth or the brouillards of Paris, he thought he shook hands again
with his youth. Age and lameness, apoplexy and treason, all were
forgotten for the moment. And when, as the excitement died, those grim
spectres came back again to his thoughts, they found their victim braced
and prepared, standing erect on that hearth for whose hospitality he
paid his guinea a day,--his front proud and defying. He felt yet that
he had fortune and power, that a movement of his hand could raise and
strike down, that at the verge of the tomb he was armed, to punish or
reward, with the balance and the sword. Tripped in the smug waiter, and
announced “Mr. Parchmount.”

“Set a chair, and show him in.” The lawyer entered.

“My dear Sir Miles, this is indeed a surprise! What has brought you to
town?”

“The common whim of the old, sir. I would alter my will.”

Three days did lawyer and client devote to the task; for Sir Miles was
minute, and Mr. Parchmount was precise, and little difficulties arose,
and changes in the first outline were made, and Sir Miles, from the very
depth of his disgust, desired not to act only from passion. In that last
deed of his life, the old man was sublime. He sought to rise out of
the mortal, fix his eyes on the Great Judge, weigh circumstances and
excuses, and keep justice even and serene.

Meanwhile, unconscious of the train laid afar, Lucretia reposed on
the mine,--reposed, indeed, is not the word; for she was agitated and
restless that Mainwaring had not obeyed her summons. She wrote to him
again from Southampton the third day of her arrival; but before his
answer came she received this short epistle from London:--

“Mr. Parchmount presents his compliments to Miss Clavering, and, by
desire of Sir Miles St. John, requests her not to return to Laughton.
Miss Clavering will hear further in a few days, when Sir Miles has
concluded the business that has brought him to London.”

This letter, if it excited much curiosity, did not produce alarm. It
was natural that Sir Miles should be busy in winding up his affairs; his
journey to London for that purpose was no ill omen to her prospects,
and her thoughts flew back to the one subject that tyrannized over them.
Mainwaring’s reply, which came two days afterwards, disquieted her much
more. He had not found the letter she had left for him in the tree. He
was full of apprehensions; he condemned the imprudence of calling on her
at Mr. Fielden’s; he begged her to renounce the idea of such a risk.
He would return again to Guy’s Oak and search more narrowly: had she
changed the spot where the former letters were placed? Yet now, not even
the non-receipt of her letter, which she ascribed to the care with which
she had concealed it amidst the dry leaves and moss, disturbed her
so much as the evident constraint with which Mainwaring wrote,--the
cautious and lukewarm remonstrance which answered her passionate appeal.
It may be that her very doubts, at times, of Mainwaring’s affection
had increased the ardour of her own attachment; for in some natures the
excitement of fear deepens love more than the calmness of trust. Now
with the doubt for the first time flashed the resentment, and her
answer to Mainwaring was vehement and imperious. But the next day came
a messenger express from London, with a letter from Mr. Parchmount that
arrested for the moment even the fierce current of love.

When the task had been completed,--the will signed, sealed, and
delivered,--the old man had felt a load lifted from his heart. Three or
four of his old friends, bons vivants like himself, had seen his arrival
duly proclaimed in the newspapers, and had hastened to welcome him.
Warmed by the genial sight of faces associated with the frank joys
of his youth, Sir Miles, if he did not forget the prudent counsels of
Dalibard, conceived a proud bitterness of joy in despising them. Why
take such care of the worn-out carcass? His will was made. What was
left to life so peculiarly attractive? He invited his friends to a feast
worthy of old. Seasoned revellers were they, with a free gout for a vent
to all indulgence. So they came; and they drank, and they laughed, and
they talked back their young days. They saw not the nervous irritation,
the strain on the spirits, the heated membrane of the brain, which made
Sir Miles the most jovial of all. It was a night of nights; the old
fellows were lifted back into their chariots or sedans. Sir Miles
alone seemed as steady and sober as if he had supped with Diogenes. His
servant, whose respectful admonitions had been awed into silence, lent
him his arm to bed, but Sir Miles scarcely touched it. The next morning,
when the servant (who slept in the same room) awoke, to his surprise
the glare of a candle streamed on his eyes. He rubbed them: could he
see right? Sir Miles was seated at the table; he must have got up and
lighted a candle to write,--noiselessly, indeed. The servant looked and
looked, and the stillness of Sir Miles awed him: he was seated on an
armchair, leaning back. As awe succeeded to suspicion, he sprang up,
approached his master, took his hand: it was cold, and fell heavily from
his clasp. Sir Miles must have been dead for hours.

The pen lay on the ground, where it had dropped from the hand; the
letter on the table was scarcely commenced: the words ran thus,--

“LUCRETIA,--You will return no more to my house. You are free as if I
were dead; but I shall be just. Would that I had been so to your mother,
to your sister! But I am old now, as you say, and--”

To one who could have seen into that poor proud heart at the moment
the hand paused forever, what remained unwritten would have been clear.
There was, first, the sharp struggle to conquer loathing repugnance, and
address at all the false and degraded one; then came the sharp sting of
ingratitude; then the idea of the life grudged and the grave desired;
then the stout victory over scorn, the resolution to be just; then the
reproach of the conscience that for so far less an offence the sister
had been thrown aside, the comfort, perhaps, found in her gentle and
neglected child obstinately repelled; then the conviction of all earthly
vanity and nothingness,--the look on into life, with the chilling
sentiment that affection was gone, that he could never trust again,
that he was too old to open his arms to new ties; and then, before felt
singly, all these thoughts united, and snapped the cord.

In announcing his mournful intelligence, with more feeling than might
have been expected from a lawyer (but even his lawyer loved Sir Miles),
Mr. Parchmount observed that “as the deceased lay at a hotel, and as
Miss Clavering’s presence would not be needed in the performance of
the last rites, she would probably forbear the journey to town.
Nevertheless, as it was Sir Miles’s wish that the will should be opened
as soon as possible after his death, and it would doubtless contain
instructions as to his funeral, it would be well that Miss Clavering and
her sister should immediately depute some one to attend the reading
of the testament on their behalf. Perhaps Mr. Fielden would kindly
undertake that melancholy office.”

To do justice to Lucretia, it must be said that her first emotions,
on the receipt of this letter, were those of a poignant and remorseful
grief, for which she was unprepared. But how different it is to count
on what shall follow death, and to know that death has come! Susan’s
sobbing sympathy availed not, nor Mr. Fielden’s pious and tearful
exhortations; her own sinful thoughts and hopes came back to her,
haunting and stern as furies. She insisted at first upon going to
London, gazing once more on the clay,--nay, the carriage was at the
door, for all yielded to her vehemence; but then her heart misgave her:
she did not dare to face the dead. Conscience waved her back from the
solemn offices of nature; she hid her face with her hands, shrank again
into her room; and Mr. Fielden, assuming unbidden the responsibility,
went alone.

Only Vernon (summoned from Brighton), the good clergyman, and the
lawyer, to whom, as sole executor, the will was addressed, and in whose
custody it had been left, were present when the seal of the testament
was broken. The will was long, as is common when the dust that it
disposes of covers some fourteen or fifteen thousand acres. But out of
the mass of technicalities and repetitions these points of interest rose
salient: To Charles Vernon, of Vernon Grange, Esq., and his heirs by
him lawfully begotten, were left all the lands and woods and manors
that covered that space in the Hampshire map known by the name of the
“Laughton property,” on condition that he and his heirs assumed the
name and arms of St. John; and on the failure of Mr. Vernon’s issue, the
estate passed, first (with the same conditions) to the issue of Susan
Mivers; next to that of Lucretia Clavering. There the entail ceased; and
the contingency fell to the rival ingenuity of lawyers in hunting out,
amongst the remote and forgotten descendants of some ancient St. John,
the heir-at-law. To Lucretia Clavering, without a word of endearment,
was bequeathed 10,000 pounds,--the usual portion which the house of St.
John had allotted to its daughters; to Susan Mivers the same sum, but
with the addition of these words, withheld from her sister: “and my
blessing!” To Olivier Dalibard an annuity of 200 pounds a year; to
Honore Gabriel Varney, 3,000 pounds; to the Rev. Matthew Fielden, 4,000
pounds; and the same sum to John Walter Ardworth. To his favourite
servant, Henry Jones, an ample provision, and the charge of his dogs
Dash and Ponto, with an allowance therefor, to be paid weekly, and cease
at their deaths. Poor old man! he made it the interest of their guardian
not to grudge their lease of life. To his other attendants, suitable and
munificent bequests, proportioned to the length of their services.
For his body, he desired it to be buried in the vault of his ancestors
without pomp, but without a pretence to a humility which he had not
manifested in life; and he requested that a small miniature in his
writing-desk should be placed in his coffin. That last injunction was
more than a sentiment,--it bespoke the moral conviction of the happiness
the original might have conferred on his life. Of that happiness his
pride had deprived him; nor did he repent, for he had deemed pride a
duty. But the mute likeness, buried in his grave,--that told the might
of the sacrifice he had made! Death removes all distinctions, and in the
coffin the Lord of Laughton might choose his partner.

When the will had been read, Mr. Parchmount produced two letters, one
addressed, in the hand of the deceased, to Mr. Vernon, the other in
the lawyer’s own hand to Miss Clavering. The last enclosed the fragment
found on Sir Miles’s table, and her own letter to Mainwaring, redirected
to her in Sir Miles’s boldest and stateliest autograph. He had, no
doubt, meant to return it in the letter left uncompleted.

The letter to Vernon contained a copy of Lucretia’s fatal epistle, and
the following lines to Vernon himself:--

MY DEAR CHARLES,--With much deliberation, and with natural reluctance to
reveal to you my niece’s shame, I feel it my duty to transmit to you the
accompanying enclosure, copied from the original with my own hand, which
the task sullied.

I do so first, because otherwise you might, as I should have done
in your place, feel bound in honour to persist in the offer of your
hand,--feel bound the more, because Miss Clavering is not my heiress;
secondly, because had her attachment been stronger than her interest,
and she had refused your offer, you might still have deemed her hardly
and capriciously dealt with by me, and not only sought to augment her
portion, but have profaned the house of my ancestors by receiving
her there as an honoured and welcome relative and guest. Now, Charles
Vernon, I believe, to the utmost of my poor judgment, I have done what
is right and just. I have taken into consideration that this young
person has been brought up as a daughter of my house, and what the
daughters of my house have received, I bequeath her. I put aside, as far
as I can, all resentment of mere family pride; I show that I do so, when
I repair my harshness to my poor sister, and leave both her children the
same provision. And if you exceed what I have done for Lucretia, unless,
on more dispassionate consideration than I can give, you conscientiously
think me wrong, you insult my memory--and impugn my justice. Be it in
this as your conscience dictates; but I entreat, I adjure, I command,
at least that you never knowingly admit by a hearth, hitherto sacred
to unblemished truth and honour, a person who has desecrated it
with treason. As gentleman to gentleman, I impose on you this solemn
injunction. I could have wished to leave that young woman’s children
barred from the entail; but our old tree has so few branches! You
are unwedded; Susan too. I must take my chance that Miss Clavering’s
children, if ever they inherit, do not imitate the mother. I conclude
she will wed that Mainwaring; her children will have a low-born father.
Well, her race at least is pure,--Clavering and St. John are names to
guarantee faith and honour; yet you see what she is! Charles Vernon, if
her issue inherit the soul of gentlemen, it must come, after all, not
from the well-born mother! I have lived to say this,--I who--But perhaps
if we had looked more closely into the pedigree of those Claverings--.

Marry yourself,--marry soon, Charles Vernon, my dear kinsman; keep the
old house in the old line, and true to its old fame. Be kind and good to
my poor; don’t strain on the tenants. By the way, Farmer Strongbow owes
three years’ rent,--I forgive him. Pension him off; he can do no good to
the land, but he was born on it, and must not fall on the parish. But to
be kind and good to the poor, not to strain the tenants, you must learn
not to waste, my dear Charles. A needy man can never be generous without
being unjust. How give, if you are in debt? You will think of this
now,--now,--while your good heart is soft, while your feelings are
moved. Charley Vernon, I think you will shed a tear when you see my
armchair still and empty. And I would have left you the care of my dogs,
but you are thoughtless, and will go much to London, and they are used
to the country now. Old Jones will have a cottage in the village,--he
has promised to live there; drop in now and then, and see poor Ponto
and Dash. It is late, and old friends come to dine here. So, if anything
happens to me, and we don’t meet again, good-by, and God bless you.

Your affectionate kinsman, MILES ST. JOHN.



CHAPTER VII. THE ENGAGEMENT.

It is somewhat less than three months after the death of Sir Miles
St. John; November reigns in London. And “reigns” seems scarcely a
metaphorical expression as applied to the sullen, absolute sway which
that dreary month (first in the dynasty of Winter) spreads over the
passive, dejected city.

Elsewhere in England, November is no such gloomy, grim fellow as he is
described. Over the brown glebes and changed woods in the country, his
still face looks contemplative and mild; and he has soft smiles, too,
at times,--lighting up his taxed vassals the groves; gleaming where
the leaves still cling to the boughs, and reflected in dimples from the
waves which still glide free from his chains. But as a conqueror who
makes his home in the capital, weighs down with hard policy the mutinous
citizens long ere his iron influence is felt in the province, so the
first tyrant of Winter has only rigour and frowns for London. The very
aspect of the wayfarers has the look of men newly enslaved: cloaked
and muffled, they steal to and fro through the dismal fogs. Even the
children creep timidly through the streets; the carriages go cautious
and hearse-like along; daylight is dim and obscure; the town is not
filled, nor the brisk mirth of Christmas commenced; the unsocial shadows
flit amidst the mist, like men on the eve of a fatal conspiracy. Each
other month in London has its charms for the experienced. Even from
August to October, when The Season lies dormant, and Fashion forbids her
sons to be seen within hearing of Bow, the true lover of London finds
pleasure still at hand, if he search for her duly. There are the early
walks through the parks and green Kensington Gardens, which now change
their character of resort, and seem rural and countrylike, but yet with
more life than the country; for on the benches beneath the trees, and
along the sward, and up the malls, are living beings enough to interest
the eye and divert the thoughts, if you are a guesser into character,
and amateur of the human face,--fresh nursery-maid and playful children;
and the old shabby-genteel, buttoned-up officer, musing on half-pay, as
he sits alone in some alcove of Kenna, or leans pensive over the rail
of the vacant Ring; and early tradesman, or clerk from the suburban
lodging, trudging brisk to his business,--for business never ceases in
London. Then at noon, what delight to escape to the banks at Putney or
Richmond,--the row up the river; the fishing punt; the ease at your inn
till dark! or if this tempt not, still Autumn shines clear and calm over
the roofs, where the smoke has a holiday; and how clean gleam the vistas
through the tranquillized thoroughfares; and as you saunter along, you
have all London to yourself, Andrew Selkirk, but with the mart of
the world for your desert. And when October comes on, it has one
characteristic of spring,--life busily returns to the city; you see the
shops bustling up, trade flowing back. As birds scent the April, so the
children of commerce plume their wings and prepare for the first slack
returns of the season. But November! Strange the taste, stout the lungs,
grief-defying the heart, of the visitor who finds charms and joy in a
London November.

In a small lodging-house in Bulstrode Street, Manchester Square,
grouped a family in mourning who had had the temerity to come to town
in November, for the purpose, no doubt, of raising their spirits. In the
dull, small drawing-room of the dull, small house we introduce to you,
first, a middle-aged gentleman whose dress showed what dress now fails
to show,--his profession. Nobody could mistake the cut of the cloth and
the shape of the hat, for he had just come in from a walk, and not
from discourtesy, but abstraction, the broad brim still shadowed his
pleasant, placid face. Parson spoke out in him, from beaver to buckle.
By the coal fire, where, through volumes of smoke, fussed and flickered
a pretension to flame, sat a middle-aged lady, whom, without being a
conjurer, you would pronounce at once to be wife to the parson; and
sundry children sat on stools all about her, with one book between
them, and a low whispered murmur from their two or three pursed-up
lips, announcing that that book was superfluous. By the last of three
dim-looking windows, made dimmer by brown moreen draperies, edged
genteelly with black cotton velvet, stood a girl of very soft and
pensive expression of features,--pretty unquestionably, excessively
pretty; but there was something so delicate and elegant about her,--the
bend of her head, the shape of her slight figure, the little fair hands
crossed one on each other, as the face mournfully and listlessly turned
to the window, that “pretty” would have seemed a word of praise too
often proffered to milliner and serving-maid. Nevertheless, it was
perhaps the right one: “handsome” would have implied something statelier
and more commanding; “beautiful,” greater regularity of feature, or
richness of colouring. The parson, who since his entrance had been
walking up and down the small room with his hands behind him, glanced
now and then at the young lady, but not speaking, at length paused
from that monotonous exercise by the chair of his wife, and touched
her shoulder. She stopped from her work, which, more engrossing than
elegant, was nothing less than what is technically called “the taking
in” of a certain blue jacket, which was about to pass from Matthew,
the eldest born, to David, the second, and looked up at her husband
affectionately. Her husband, however, spoke not; he only made a sign,
partly with his eyebrow, partly with a jerk of his thumb over his right
shoulder, in the direction of the young lady we have described, and then
completed the pantomime with a melancholy shake of the head. The wife
turned round and looked hard, the scissors horizontally raised in one
hand, while the other reposed on the cuff of the jacket. At this moment
a low knock was heard at the street-door. The worthy pair saw the girl
shrink back, with a kind of tremulous movement; presently there came the
sound of a footstep below, the creak of a hinge on the ground-floor, and
again all was silent.

“That is Mr. Mainwaring’s knock,” said one of the children.

The girl left the room abruptly, and, light as was her step, they heard
her steal up the stairs.

“My dears,” said the parson, “it wants an hour yet to dark; you may go
and walk in the square.”

“‘T is so dull in that ugly square, and they won’t let us into the
green. I am sure we’d rather stay here,” said one of the children, as
spokesman for the rest; and they all nestled closer round the hearth.

“But, my dears,” said the parson, simply, “I want to talk alone with
your mother. However, if you like best to go and keep quiet in your own
room, you may do so.”

“Or we can go into Susan’s?”

“No,” said the parson; “you must not disturb Susan.”

“She never used to care about being disturbed. I wonder what’s come to
her?”

The parson made no rejoinder to this half-petulant question. The
children consulted together a moment, and resolved that the square,
though so dull, was less dull than their own little attic. That being
decided, it was the mother’s turn to address them. And though Mr.
Fielden was as anxious and fond as most fathers, he grew a little
impatient before comforters, kerchiefs, and muffettees were arranged,
and minute exordiums as to the danger of crossing the street, and the
risk of patting strange dogs, etc., were half-way concluded; with a
shrug and a smile, he at length fairly pushed out the children, shut the
door, and drew his chair close to his wife’s.

“My dear,” he began at once, “I am extremely uneasy about that poor
girl.”

“What, Miss Clavering? Indeed, she eats almost nothing at all, and sits
so moping alone; but she sees Mr. Mainwaring every day. What can we do?
She is so proud, I’m afraid of her.”

“My dear, I was not thinking of Miss Clavering, though I did not
interrupt you, for it is very true that she is much to be pitied.”

“And I am sure it was for her sake alone that you agreed to Susan’s
request, and got Blackman to do duty for you at the vicarage, while we
all came up here, in hopes London town would divert her. We left all at
sixes and sevens; and I should not at all wonder if John made away with
the apples.”

“But, I say,” resumed the parson, without heeding that mournful
foreboding,--“I say, I was then only thinking of Susan. You see how pale
and sad she is grown.”

“Why, she is so very soft-hearted, and she must feel for her sister.”

“But her sister, though she thinks much, and keeps aloof from us, is not
sad herself, only reserved. On the contrary. I believe she has now got
over even poor Sir Miles’s death.”

“And the loss of the great property!”

“Fie, Mary!” said Mr. Fielden, almost austerely.

Mary looked down, rebuked, for she was not one of the high-spirited
wives who despise their husbands for goodness.

“I beg pardon, my dear,” she said meekly; “it was very wrong in me; but
I cannot--do what I will--I cannot like that Miss Clavering.”

“The more need to judge her with charity. And if what I fear is the
case, I’m sure we can’t feel too much compassion for the poor blinded
young lady.”

“Bless my heart, Mr. Fielden, what is it you mean?”

The parson looked round, to be sure the door was quite closed, and
replied, in a whisper: “I mean, that I fear William Mainwaring loves,
not Lucretia, but Susan.”

The scissors fell from the hand of Mrs. Fielden; and though one point
stuck in the ground, and the other point threatened war upon flounces
and toes, strange to say, she did not even stoop to remove the
chevaux-de-frise.

“Why, then, he’s a most false-hearted young man!”

“To blame, certainly,” said Fielden; “I don’t say to the
contrary,--though I like the young man, and am sure that he’s more timid
than false. I may now tell you--for I want your advice, Mary--what I
kept secret before. When Mainwaring visited us, many months ago, at
Southampton, he confessed to me that he felt warmly for Susan, and asked
if I thought Sir Miles would consent. I knew too well how proud the
poor old gentleman was, to give him any such hopes. So he left, very
honourably. You remember, after he went, that Susan’s spirits were
low,--you remarked it.”

“Yes, indeed, I remember. But when the first shock of Sir Miles’s death
was over, she got back her sweet colour, and looked cheerful enough.”

“Because, perhaps, then she felt that she had a fortune to bestow on Mr.
Mainwaring, and thought all obstacle was over.”

“Why, how clever you are! How did you get at her thoughts?”

“My own folly,--my own rash folly,” almost groaned Mr. Fielden. “For
not guessing that Mr. Mainwaring could have got engaged meanwhile to
Lucretia, and suspecting how it was with Susan’s poor little heart, I
let out, in a jest--Heaven forgive me!--what William had said; and the
dear child blushed, and kissed me, and--why, a day or two after, when it
was fixed that we should come up to London, Lucretia informed me, with
her freezing politeness, that she was to marry Mainwaring herself as
soon as her first mourning was over.”

“Poor, dear, dear Susan!”

“Susan behaved like an angel; and when I broached it to her, I thought
she was calm; and I am sure she prayed with her whole heart that both
might be happy.”

“I’m sure she did. What is to be done? I understand it all now. Dear
me, dear me! a sad piece of work indeed.” And Mrs. Fielden abstractedly
picked up the scissors.

“It was not till our coming to town, and Mr. Mainwaring’s visits to
Lucretia, that her strength gave way.”

“A hard sight to bear,--I never could have borne it, my love. If I had
seen you paying court to another, I should have--I don’t know what I
should have done! But what an artful wretch this young Mainwaring must
be.”

“Not very artful; for you see that he looks even sadder than Susan.
He got entangled somehow, to be sure. Perhaps he had given up Susan in
despair; and Miss Clavering, if haughty, is no doubt a very superior
young lady; and, I dare say, it is only now in seeing them both
together, and comparing the two, that he feels what a treasure he has
lost. Well, what do you advise, Mary? Mainwaring, no doubt, is bound in
honour to Miss Clavering; but she will be sure to discover, sooner or
later, the state of his feelings, and then I tremble for both. I’m sure
she will never be happy, while he will be wretched; and Susan--I dare
not think upon Susan; she has a cough that goes to my heart.”

“So she has; that cough--you don’t know the money I spend on
black-currant jelly! What’s my advice? Why, I’d speak to Miss Clavering
at once, if I dared. I’m sure love will never break her heart; and she’s
so proud, she’d throw him off without a sigh, if she knew how things
stood.”

“I believe you are right,” said Mr. Fielden; “for truth is the best
policy, after all. Still, it’s scarce my business to meddle; and if it
were not for Susan--Well, well, I must think of it, and pray Heaven to
direct me.”

This conference suffices to explain to the reader the stage to which
the history of Lucretia had arrived. Willingly we pass over what it were
scarcely possible to describe,--her first shock at the fall from the
expectations of her life; fortune, rank, and what she valued more than
either, power, crushed at a blow. From the dark and sullen despair into
which she was first plunged, she was roused into hope, into something
like joy, by Mainwaring’s letters. Never had they been so warm and so
tender; for the young man felt not only poignant remorse that he had
been the cause of her downfall (though she broke it to him with more
delicacy than might have been expected from the state of her feelings
and the hardness of her character), but he felt also imperiously
the obligations which her loss rendered more binding than ever. He
persuaded, he urged, he forced himself into affection; and probably
without a murmur of his heart, he would have gone with her to the altar,
and, once wedded, custom and duty would have strengthened the chain
imposed on himself, had it not been for Lucretia’s fatal eagerness to
see him, to come up to London, where she induced him to meet her,--for
with her came Susan; and in Susan’s averted face and trembling hand and
mute avoidance of his eye, he read all which the poor dissembler fancied
she concealed. But the die was cast, the union announced, the time
fixed, and day by day he came to the house, to leave it in anguish
and despair. A feeling they shared in common caused these two unhappy
persons to shun each other. Mainwaring rarely came into the usual
sitting-room of the family; and when he did so, chiefly in the evening,
Susan usually took refuge in her own room. If they met, it was by
accident, on the stairs, or at the sudden opening of a door; then not
only no word, but scarcely even a look was exchanged: neither had the
courage to face the other. Perhaps, of the two, this reserve weighed
most on Susan; perhaps she most yearned to break the silence,--for she
thought she divined the cause of Mainwaring’s gloomy and mute constraint
in the upbraidings of his conscience, which might doubtless recall, if
no positive pledge to Susan, at least those words and tones which betray
the one heart, and seek to allure the other; and the profound melancholy
stamped on his whole person, apparent even to her hurried glance,
touched her with a compassion free from all the bitterness of selfish
reproach. She fancied she could die happy if she could remove that cloud
from his brow, that shadow from his conscience. Die; for she thought not
of life. She loved gently, quietly,--not with the vehement passion that
belongs to stronger natures; but it was the love of which the young and
the pure have died. The face of the Genius was calm and soft; and only
by the lowering of the hand do you see that the torch burns out, and
that the image too serene for earthly love is the genius of loving
Death.

Absorbed in the egotism of her passion (increased, as is ever the case
with women, even the worst, by the sacrifices it had cost her), and if
that passion paused, by the energy of her ambition, which already began
to scheme and reconstruct new scaffolds to repair the ruined walls of
the past,--Lucretia as yet had not detected what was so apparent to the
simple sense of Mr. Fielden. That Mainwaring was grave and thoughtful
and abstracted, she ascribed only to his grief at the thought of her
loss, and his anxieties for her altered future; and in her efforts to
console him, her attempts to convince him that greatness in England did
not consist only in lands and manors,--that in the higher walks of life
which conduct to the Temple of Renown, the leaders of the procession
are the aristocracy of knowledge and of intellect,--she so betrayed, not
generous emulation and high-souled aspiring, but the dark, unscrupulous,
tortuous ambition of cunning, stratagem, and intrigue, that instead
of feeling grateful and encouraged, he shuddered and revolted. How,
accompanied and led by a spirit which he felt to be stronger and more
commanding than his own,--how preserve the whiteness of his soul, the
uprightness of his honour? Already he felt himself debased. But in the
still trial of domestic intercourse, with the daily, hourly dripping on
the stone, in the many struggles between truth and falsehood, guile
and candour, which men--and, above all, ambitious men--must wage,
what darker angel would whisper him in his monitor? Still, he was
bound,--bound with an iron band; he writhed, but dreamed not of escape.

The day after that of Fielden’s conference with his wife, an unexpected
visitor came to the house. Olivier Dalibard called. He had not seen
Lucretia since she had left Laughton, nor had any correspondence passed
between them. He came at dusk, just after Mainwaring’s daily visit was
over, and Lucretia was still in the parlour, which she had appropriated
to herself. Her brow contracted as his name was announced, and the
maid-servant lighted the candle on the table, stirred the fire, and gave
a tug at the curtains. Her eye, glancing from his, round the mean room,
with its dingy horsehair furniture, involuntarily implied the contrast
between the past state and the present, which his sight could scarcely
help to impress on her. But she welcomed him with her usual stately
composure, and without reference to what had been. Dalibard was secretly
anxious to discover if she suspected himself of any agency in the
detection of the eventful letter; and assured by her manner that no
such thought was yet harboured, he thought it best to imitate her own
reserve. He assumed, however, a manner that, far more respectful than
he ever before observed to his pupil, was nevertheless sufficiently kind
and familiar to restore them gradually to their old footing; and that
he succeeded was apparent, when, after a pause, Lucretia said abruptly:
“How did Sir Miles St. John discover my correspondence with Mr.
Mainwaring?”

“Is it possible that you are ignorant? Ah, how--how should you know it?”
 And Dalibard so simply explained the occurrence, in which, indeed, it
was impossible to trace the hand that had moved springs which seemed
so entirely set at work by an accident, that despite the extreme
suspiciousness of her nature, Lucretia did not see a pretence for
accusing him. Indeed, when he related the little subterfuge of Gabriel,
his attempt to save her by taking the letter on himself, she felt
thankful to the boy, and deemed Gabriel’s conduct quite in keeping with
his attachment to herself. And this accounted satisfactorily for the
only circumstance that had ever troubled her with a doubt,--namely, the
legacy left to Gabriel. She knew enough of Sir Miles to be aware that he
would be grateful to any one who had saved the name of his niece,
even while most embittered against her, from the shame attached to
clandestine correspondence.

“It is strange, nevertheless,” said she, thoughtfully, after a pause,
“that the girl should have detected the letter, concealed as it was by
the leaves that covered it.”

“But,” answered Dalibard, readily, “you see two or three persons had
entered before, and their feet must have displaced the leaves.”

“Possibly; the evil is now past recall.”

“And Mr. Mainwaring? Do you still adhere to one who has cost you so
much, poor child?”

“In three months more I shall be his wife.”

Dalibard sighed deeply, but offered no remonstrance.

“Well,” he said, taking her hand with mingled reverence and
affection,--“well, I oppose your inclinations no more, for now there
is nothing to risk; you are mistress of your own fortune; and since
Mainwaring has talents, that fortune will suffice for a career. Are
you at length convinced that I have conquered my folly; that I was
disinterested when I incurred your displeasure? If so, can you restore
to me your friendship? You will have some struggle with the world, and,
with my long experience of men and life, even I, the poor exile, may
assist you.”

And so thought Lucretia; for with some dread of Dalibard’s craft, she
yet credited his attachment to herself, and she felt profound admiration
for an intelligence more consummate and accomplished than any ever
yet submitted to her comprehension. From that time, Dalibard became
an habitual visitor at the house; he never interfered with Lucretia’s
interviews with Mainwaring; he took the union for granted, and conversed
with her cheerfully on the prospects before her; he ingratiated himself
with the Fieldens, played with the children, made himself at home, and
in the evenings when Mainwaring, as often as he could find the excuse,
absented himself from the family circle, he contrived to draw Lucretia
into more social intercourse with her homely companions than she had
before condescended to admit. Good Mr. Fielden rejoiced; here was the
very person,--the old friend of Sir Miles, the preceptor of Lucretia
herself, evidently most attached to her, having influence over her,--the
very person to whom to confide his embarrassment. One day, therefore,
when Dalibard had touched his heart by noticing the paleness of Susan,
he took him aside and told him all. “And now,” concluded the pastor,
hoping he had found one to relieve him of his dreaded and ungracious
task, “don’t you think that I--or rather you--as so old a friend, should
speak frankly to Miss Clavering herself?”

“No, indeed,” said the Provencal, quickly; “if we spoke to her, she
would disbelieve us. She would no doubt appeal to Mainwaring, and
Mainwaring would have no choice but to contradict us. Once put on his
guard, he would control his very sadness. Lucretia, offended, might
leave your house, and certainly she would regard her sister as having
influenced your confession,--a position unworthy Miss Mivers. But do not
fear: if the evil be so, it carries with it its inevitable remedy. Let
Lucretia discover it herself; but, pardon me, she must have seen, at
your first reception of Mainwaring, that he had before been acquainted
with you?”

“She was not in the room when we first received Mainwaring; and I have
always been distant to him, as you may suppose, for I felt disappointed
and displeased. Of course, however, she is aware that we knew him before
she did. What of that?”

“Why, do you think, then, he told her at Laughton of this
acquaintance,--that he spoke of Susan? I suspect not.”

“I cannot say, I am sure,” said Mr. Fielden.

“Ask her that question accidentally; and for the rest, be discreet, my
dear sir. I thank you for your confidence. I will watch well over my
poor young pupil. She must not, indeed, be sacrificed to a man whose
affections are engaged elsewhere.”

Dalibard trod on air as he left the house; his very countenance had
changed; he seemed ten years younger. It was evening; and suddenly, as
he came into Oxford Street, he encountered a knot of young men--noisy
and laughing loud--obstructing the pavement, breaking jests on the more
sober passengers, and attracting the especial and admiring attention of
sundry ladies in plumed hats and scarlet pelisses; for the streets then
enjoyed a gay liberty which has vanished from London with the lanterns
of the watchmen. Noisiest and most conspicuous of these descendants of
the Mohawks, the sleek and orderly scholar beheld the childish figure
of his son. Nor did Gabriel shrink from his father’s eye, stern and
scornful as it was, but rather braved the glance with an impudent leer.

Right, however, in the midst of the group, strode the Provencal, and
laying his hand very gently on the boy’s shoulder, he said: “My son,
come with me.”

Gabriel looked irresolute, and glanced at his companions. Delighted at
the prospect of a scene, they now gathered round, with countenances
and gestures that seemed little disposed to acknowledge the parental
authority.

“Gentlemen,” said Dalibard, turning a shade more pale, for though
morally most resolute, physically he was not brave,--“gentlemen, I must
beg you to excuse me; this child is my son!”

“But Art is his mother,” replied a tall, raw-boned young man, with
long tawny hair streaming down from a hat very much battered. “At the
juvenile age, the child is consigned to the mother! Have I said it?” and
he turned round theatrically to his comrades.

“Bravo!” cried the rest, clapping their hands.

“Down with all tyrants and fathers! hip, hip, Hurrah!” and the hideous
diapason nearly split the drum of the ears into which it resounded.

“Gabriel,” whispered the father, “you had better follow me, had you not?
Reflect!” So saying, he bowed low to the unpropitious assembly, and as
if yielding the victory, stepped aside and crossed over towards Bond
Street.

Before the din of derision and triumph died away, Dalibard looked back,
and saw Gabriel behind him.

“Approach, sir,” he said; and as the boy stood still, he added, “I
promise peace if you will accept it.”

“Peace, then,” answered Gabriel, and he joined his father’s side.

“So,” said Dalibard, “when I consented to your studying Art, as you
call it, under your mother’s most respectable brother, I ought to have
contemplated what would be the natural and becoming companions of the
rising Raphael I have given to the world.”

“I own, sir,” replied Gabriel, demurely, “that they are riotous fellows;
but some of them are clever, and--”

“And excessively drunk,” interrupted Dalibard, examining the gait of his
son. “Do you learn that accomplishment also, by way of steadying your
hand for the easel?”

“No, sir; I like wine well enough, but I would not be drunk for the
world. I see people when they are drunk are mere fools,--let out their
secrets, and show themselves up.”

“Well said,” replied the father, almost admiringly. “But a truce with
this bantering, Gabriel. Can you imagine that I will permit you any
longer to remain with that vagabond Varney and yon crew of vauriens? You
will come home with me; and if you must be a painter, I will look out
for a more trustworthy master.”

“I shall stay where I am,” answered Gabriel, firmly, and compressing his
lips with a force that left them bloodless.

“What, boy? Do I hear right? Dare you disobey me? Dare you defy?”

“Not in your house, so I will not enter it again.” Dalibard laughed
mockingly.

“Peste! but this is modest! You are not of age yet, Mr. Varney; you are
not free from a father’s tyrannical control.”

“The law does not own you as my father, I am told, sir. You have said my
name rightly,--it is Varney, not Dalibard. We have no rights over each
other; so at least says Tom Passmore, and his father’s a lawyer!”

Dalibard’s hand griped his son’s arm fiercely. Despite his pain, which
was acute, the child uttered no cry; but he growled beneath his teeth,
“Beware! beware! or my mother’s son may avenge her death!”

Dalibard removed his hand, and staggered as if struck. Gliding from his
side, Gabriel seized the occasion to escape; he paused, however, midway
in the dull, lamp-lit kennel when he saw himself out of reach, and then
approaching cautiously, said: “I know. I am a boy, but you have made me
man enough to take care of myself. Mr. Varney, my uncle, will maintain
me; when of age, old Sir Miles has provided for me. Leave me in peace,
treat me as free, and I will visit you, help you when you want me,
obey you still,--yes, follow your instructions; for I know you are,” he
paused, “you are wise. But if you seek again to make me your slave, you
will only find your foe. Good-night; and remember that a bastard has no
father!”

With these words he moved on, and hurrying down the street, turned the
corner and vanished.

Dalibard remained motionless for some minutes; at length he muttered:
“Ay, let him go, he is dangerous! What son ever revolted even from the
worst father, and throve in life? Food for the gibbet! What matters?”

When next Dalibard visited Lucretia, his manner was changed; the
cheerfulness he had before assumed gave place to a kind of melancholy
compassion; he no longer entered into her plans for the future, but
would look at her mournfully, start up, and walk away. She would have
attributed the change to some return of his ancient passion, but she
heard him once murmur with unspeakable pity, “Poor child, poor child!” A
vague apprehension seized her,--first, indeed, caught from some remarks
dropped by Mr. Fielden, which were less discreet than Dalibard had
recommended. A day or two afterwards, she asked Mainwaring, carelessly,
why he had never spoken to her at Laughton of his acquaintance with
Fielden.

“You asked me that before,” he said, somewhat sullenly.

“Did I? I forget! But how was it? Tell me again.”

“I scarcely know,” he replied confusedly; “we were always talking of
each other or poor Sir Miles,--our own hopes and fears.”

This was true, and a lover’s natural excuse. In the present of love all
the past is forgotten.

“Still,” said Lucretia, with her sidelong glance,--“still, as you must
have seen much of my own sister--”

Mainwaring, while she spoke, was at work on a button on his gaiter
(gaiters were then worn tight at the ankle); the effort brought the
blood to his forehead.

“But,” he said, still stooping at his occupation, “you were so little
intimate with your sister; I feared to offend. Family differences are so
difficult to approach.”

Lucretia was satisfied at the moment; for so vast was her stake in
Mainwaring’s heart, so did her whole heart and soul grapple to the rock
left serene amidst the deluge, that she habitually and resolutely thrust
from her mind all the doubts that at times invaded it.

“I know,” she would often say to herself,--“I know he does not love as
I do; but man never can, never ought to love as woman! Were I a man,
I should scorn myself if I could be so absorbed in one emotion as I am
proud to be now,--I, poor woman! I know,” again she would think,--“I
know how suspicious and distrustful I am; I must not distrust him,--I
shall only irritate, I may lose him: I dare not distrust,--it would be
too dreadful.”

Thus, as a system vigorously embraced by a determined mind, she had
schooled and forced herself into reliance on her lover. His words now,
we say, satisfied her at the moment; but afterwards, in absence, they
were recalled, in spite of herself,--in the midst of fears, shapeless
and undefined. Involuntarily she began to examine the countenance, the
movements, of her sister,--to court Susan’s society more than she had
done; for her previous indifference had now deepened into bitterness.
Susan, the neglected and despised, had become her equal,--nay, more
than her equal: Susan’s children would have precedence to her own in the
heritage of Laughton! Hitherto she had never deigned to talk to her in
the sweet familiarity of sisters so placed; never deigned to confide to
her those feelings for her future husband which burned lone and ardent
in the close vault of her guarded heart. Now, however, she began to name
him, wind her arm into Susan’s, talk of love and home, and the days to
come; and as she spoke, she read the workings of her sister’s face.
That part of the secret grew clear almost at the first glance. Susan
loved,--loved William Mainwaring; but was it not a love hopeless and
unreturned? Might not this be the cause that had made Mainwaring so
reserved? He might have seen, or conjectured, a conquest he had not
sought; and hence, with manly delicacy, he had avoided naming Susan to
Lucretia; and now, perhaps, sought the excuses which at times had chafed
and wounded her for not joining the household circle. If one of those
who glance over these pages chances to be a person more than usually
able and acute,--a person who has loved and been deceived,--he or she,
no matter which, will perhaps recall those first moments when the doubt,
long put off, insisted to be heard. A weak and foolish heart gives way
to the doubt at once; not so the subtler and more powerful,--it rather,
on the contrary, recalls all the little circumstances that justify trust
and make head against suspicion; it will not render the citadel at the
mere sound of the trumpet; it arms all its forces, and bars its gates
on the foe. Hence it is that the persons most easy to dupe in matters of
affection are usually those most astute in the larger affairs of
life. Moliere, reading every riddle in the vast complexities of human
character, and clinging, in self-imposed credulity, to his profligate
wife, is a type of a striking truth. Still, a foreboding, a warning
instinct withheld Lucretia from plumbing farther into the deeps of her
own fears. So horrible was the thought that she had been deceived, that
rather than face it, she would have preferred to deceive herself.
This poor, bad heart shrank from inquiry, it trembled at the idea of
condemnation. She hailed, with a sentiment of release that partook of
rapture, Susan’s abrupt announcement one morning that she had accepted
an invitation from some relations of her father to spend some time with
them at their villa near Hampstead; she was to go the end of the week.
Lucretia hailed it, though she saw the cause,--Susan shrank from
the name of Mainwaring on Lucretia’s lips; shrank from the familiar
intercourse so ruthlessly forced on her! With a bright eye, that day,
Lucretia met her lover; yet she would not tell him of Susan’s intended
departure, she had not the courage.

Dalibard was foiled. This contradiction in Lucretia’s temper, so
suspicious, so determined, puzzled even his penetration. He saw that
bolder tactics were required. He waylaid Mainwaring on the young man’s
way to his lodgings, and after talking to him on indifferent matters,
asked him carelessly whether he did not think Susan far gone in a
decline. Affecting not to notice the convulsive start with which the
question was received, he went on,--

“There is evidently something on her mind; I observe that her eyes are
often red, as with weeping, poor girl. Perhaps some silly love-affair.
However, we shall not see her again before your marriage; she is going
away in a day or two. The change of air may possibly yet restore her,--I
own, though, I fear the worst. At this time of the year, and in your
climate, such complaints as I take hers to be are rapid. Good-day. We
may meet this evening.”

Terror-stricken at these barbarous words, Mainwaring no sooner reached
his lodging than he wrote and despatched a note to Fielden, entreating
him to call.

The vicar obeyed the summons, and found Mainwaring in a state of mind
bordering on distraction. Nor when Susan was named did Fielden’s words
take the shape of comfort; for he himself was seriously alarmed for
her health. The sound of her low cough rang in his ears, and he rather
heightened than removed the picture which haunted Mainwaring,--Susan
stricken, dying, broken-hearted!

Tortured both in heart and conscience, Mainwaring felt as if he had but
one wish left in the world,--to see Susan once more. What to say,
he scarce knew; but for her to depart,--depart perhaps to her grave,
believing him coldly indifferent,--for her not to know at least his
struggles, and pronounce his pardon, was a thought beyond endurance.
After such an interview both would have new fortitude,--each would
unite in encouraging the other in the only step left to honour. And this
desire he urged upon Fielden with all the eloquence of passionate grief
as he entreated him to permit and procure one last conference with
Susan. But this, the plain sense and straightforward conscience of the
good man long refused. If Mainwaring had been left in the position to
explain his heart to Lucretia, it would not have been for Fielden
to object; but to have a clandestine interview with one sister while
betrothed to the other, bore in itself a character too equivocal to meet
with the simple vicar’s approval.

“What can you apprehend?” exclaimed the young man, almost fiercely;
for, harassed and tortured, his mild nature was driven to bay. “Can you
suppose that I shall encourage my own misery by the guilty pleadings
of unavailing love? All that I ask is the luxury--yes, the luxury, long
unknown to me, of candour--to place fairly and manfully before Susan the
position in which fate has involved me. Can you suppose that we shall
not both take comfort and strength from each other? Our duty is plain
and obvious; but it grows less painful, encouraged by the lips of a
companion in suffering. I tell you fairly that see Susan I will and
must. I will watch round her home, wherever it be, hour after hour; come
what may, I will find my occasion. Is it not better that the interview
should be under your roof, within the same walls which shelter her
sister? There, the place itself imposes restraint on despair. Oh, sir,
this is no time for formal scruples; be merciful, I beseech you, not to
me, but to Susan. I judge of her by myself. I know that I shall go to
the altar more resigned to the future if for once I can give vent to
what weighs upon my heart. She will then see, as I do, that the path
before me is inevitable; she will compose herself to face the fate that
compels us. We shall swear tacitly to each other, not to love, but
to conquer love. Believe me, sir, I am not selfish in this prayer; an
instinct, the intuition which human grief has into the secrets of human
grief, assures me that that which I ask is the best consolation you can
afford to Susan. You own she is ill,--suffering. Are not your fears for
her very life--O Heaven? for her very life--gravely awakened? And yet
you see we have been silent to each other! Can speech be more fatal in
its results than silence? Oh, for her sake, hear me!”

The good man’s tears fell fast. His scruples were shaken; there was
truth in what Mainwaring urged. He did not yield, but he promised to
reflect, and inform Mainwaring, by a line, in the evening. Finding this
was all he could effect, the young man at last suffered him to leave
the house, and Fielden hastened to take counsel of Dalibard; that wily
persuader soon reasoned away Mr. Fielden’s last faint objection. It now
only remained to procure Susan’s assent to the interview, and to arrange
that it should be undisturbed. Mr. Fielden should take out the children
the next morning. Dalibard volunteered to contrive the absence of
Lucretia at the hour appointed. Mrs. Fielden alone should remain within,
and might, if it were judged proper, be present at the interview,
which was fixed for the forenoon in the usual drawing-room. Nothing but
Susan’s consent was now necessary, and Mr. Fielden ascended to her room.
He knocked twice,--no sweet voice bade him enter; he opened the door
gently,--Susan was in prayer. At the opposite corner of the room, by the
side of her bed, she knelt, her face buried in her hands, and he heard,
low and indistinct, the murmur broken by the sob. But gradually, as he
stood unperceived, sob and murmur ceased,--prayer had its customary and
blessed effect with the pure and earnest. And when Susan rose, though
the tears yet rolled down her cheeks, the face was serene as an angel’s.

The pastor approached and took her hand; a blush then broke over her
countenance,--she trembled, and her eyes fell on the ground. “My child,”
 he said solemnly, “God will hear you!” And after those words there was a
long silence. He then drew her passively towards a seat, and sat down
by her, embarrassed how to begin. At length he said, looking somewhat
aside, “Mr. Mainwaring has made me a request,--a prayer which relates
to you, and which I refer to you. He asks you to grant him an interview
before you leave us,--to-morrow, if you will. I refused at first,--I am
in doubt still; for, my dear, I have always found that when the feelings
move us, our duty becomes less clear to the human heart,--corrupt, we
know, but still it is often a safer guide than our reason. I never knew
reason unerring, except in mathematics; we have no Euclid,” and the good
man smiled mournfully, “in the problems of real life. I will not urge
you one way or the other; I put the case before you: Would it, as the
young man says, give you comfort and strength to see him once again
while, while--in short, before your sister is--I mean before--that is,
would it soothe you now, to have an unreserved communication with him?
He implores it. What shall I answer?”

“This trial, too!” muttered Susan, almost inaudibly,--“this trial which
I once yearned for;” and the hand clasped in Fielden’s was as cold as
ice. Then, turning her eyes to her guardian somewhat wildly, she cried:
“But to what end, what object? Why should he wish to see me?”

“To take greater courage to do his duty; to feel less unhappy at--at--”

“I will see him,” interrupted Susan, firmly,--“he is right; it will
strengthen both. I will see him!”

“But human nature is weak, my child; if my heart be so now, what will be
yours?”

“Fear me not,” answered Susan, with a sad, wandering smile; and she
repeated vacantly: “I will see him!”

The good man looked at her, threw his arms round her wasted form, and
lifting up his eyes, his lips stirred with such half-syllabled words as
fathers breathe on high.



CHAPTER VIII. THE DISCOVERY.

Dalibard had undertaken to get Lucretia from the house,--in fact,
her approaching marriage rendered necessary a communication with Mr.
Parchmount, as executor to her uncle’s will, relative to the transfer
of her portion; and she had asked Dalibard to accompany her thither; for
her pride shrank from receiving the lawyer in the shabby parlour of the
shabby lodging-house; she therefore, that evening, fixed the next day,
before noon, for the visit. A carriage was hired for the occasion, and
when it drove off, Mr. Fielden took his children a walk to Primrose
Hill, and called, as was agreed, on Mainwaring by the way.

The carriage had scarcely rattled fifty yards through the street when
Dalibard fixed his eyes with deep and solemn commiseration on Lucretia.
Hitherto, with masterly art, he had kept aloof from direct explanations
with his pupil; he knew that she would distrust no one like himself. The
plot was now ripened, and it was time for the main agent to conduct the
catastrophe. The look was so expressive that Lucretia felt a chill at
her heart, and could not, help exclaiming, “What has happened? You have
some terrible tidings to communicate!”

“I have indeed to say that which may, perhaps, cause you to hate me
forever; as we hate those who report our afflictions. I must endure
this; I have struggled long between my indignation and my compassion.
Rouse up your strong mind, and hear me. Mainwaring loves your sister!”

Lucretia uttered a cry that seemed scarcely to come from a human
voice,--

“No, no!” she gasped out; “do not tell me. I will hear no more; I will
not believe you!”

With an inexpressible pity and softness in his tone, this man, whose
career had given him such profound experience in the frailties of the
human heart, continued: “I do not ask you to believe me, Lucretia;
I would not now speak, if you had not the opportunity to convince
yourself. Even those with whom you live are false to you; at this moment
they have arranged all, for Mainwaring to steal, in your absence, to
your sister. In a few moments more he will be with her; if you yourself
would learn what passes between them, you have the power.”

“I have--I have not--not--the courage; drive on--faster--faster.”

Dalibard again was foiled. In this strange cowardice there was something
so terrible, yet so touching, that it became sublime,--it was the grasp
of a drowning soul at the last plank.

“You are right perhaps,” he said, after a pause; and wisely forbearing
all taunt and resistance, he left the heart to its own workings.

Suddenly, Lucretia caught at the check-string. “Stop,” she
exclaimed,--“stop! I will not, I cannot, endure this suspense to last
through a life! I will learn the worst. Bid him drive back.”

“We must descend and walk; you forget we must enter unsuspected;” and
Dalibard, as the carriage stopped, opened the door and let down the
steps.

Lucretia recoiled, then pressing one hand to her heart, she descended,
without touching the arm held out to her. Dalibard bade the coachman
wait, and they walked back to the house.

“Yes, he may see her,” exclaimed Lucretia, her face brightening. “Ah,
there you have not deceived me; I see your stratagem,--I despise it;
I know she loves him; she has sought this interview. He is so mild and
gentle, so fearful to give pain; he has consented, from pity,--that is
all. Is he not pledged to me? He, so candid, so ingenuous! There must
be truth somewhere in the world. If he is false, where find truth? Dark
man, must I look for it in you,--you?”

“It is not my truth I require you to test; I pretend not to truth
universal; I can be true to one, as you may yet discover. But I own your
belief is not impossible; my interest in you may have made me rash and
unjust,--what you may overhear, far from destroying, may confirm forever
your happiness. Would that it may be so!”

“It must be so,” returned Lucretia, with a fearful gloom on her brow and
in her accent; “I will interpret every word to my own salvation.”

Dalibard’s countenance changed, despite his usual control over it. He
had set all his chances upon this cast, and it was more hazardous than
he had deemed. He had counted too much upon the jealousy of common
natures. After all, how little to the ear of one resolved to deceive
herself might pass between these two young persons, meeting not to avow
attachment, but to take courage from each other! What restraint might
they impose on their feelings! Still, the game must be played out.

As they now neared the house, Dalibard looked carefully round, lest they
should encounter Mainwaring on his way to it. He had counted on arriving
before the young man could get there.

“But,” said Lucretia, breaking silence, with an ironical
smile,--“but--for your tender anxiety for me has, no doubt, provided all
means and contrivance, all necessary aids to baseness and eavesdropping,
that can assure my happiness--how am I to be present at this interview?”

“I have provided, as you say,” answered Dalibard, in the tone of a man
deeply hurt, “those means which I, who have found the world one foe and
one traitor, deemed the best to distinguish falsehood from truth. I have
arranged that we shall enter the house unsuspected. Mainwaring and your
sister will be in the drawing-room; the room next to it will be vacant,
as Mr. Fielden is from home: there is but a glass-door between the two
chambers.”

“Enough, enough!” and Lucretia turned round and placed her hand lightly
on the Provencal’s arm. “The next hour will decide whether the means you
suggest to learn truth and defend safety will be familiar or loathsome
to me for life,--will decide whether trust is a madness; whether you, my
youth’s teacher, are the wisest of men, or only the most dangerous.”

“Believe me, or not, when I say I would rather the decision should
condemn me; for I, too, have need of confidence in men.”

Nothing further was said; the dull street was quiet and desolate as
usual. Dalibard had taken with him the key of the house-door. The door
opened noiselessly; they were in the house. Mainwaring’s cloak was in
the hall; he had arrived a few moments before them. Dalibard pointed
silently to that evidence in favour of his tale. Lucretia bowed her head
but with a look that implied defiance; and (still without a word) she
ascended the stairs, and entered the room appointed for concealment.
But as she entered, at the farther corner of the chamber she saw Mrs.
Fielden seated,--seated, remote and out of hearing. The good-natured
woman had yielded to Mainwaring’s prayer, and Susan’s silent look that
enforced it, to let their interview be unwitnessed. She did not perceive
Lucretia till the last walked glidingly, but firmly, up to her, placed
a burning hand on her lips, and whispered: “Hush, betray me not; my
happiness for life--Susan’s--his--are at stake; I must hear what passes:
it is my fate that is deciding. Hush! I command; for I have the right.”

Mrs. Fielden was awed and startled; and before she could recover even
breath, Lucretia had quitted her side and taken her post at the fatal
door. She lifted the corner of the curtain from the glass panel, and
looked in.

Mainwaring was seated at a little distance from Susan, whose face was
turned from her. Mainwaring’s countenance was in full view. But it
was Susan’s voice that met her ear; and though sweet and low, it
was distinct, and even firm. It was evident from the words that the
conference had but just begun.

“Indeed, Mr. Mainwaring, you have nothing to explain, nothing of which
to accuse yourself. It was not for this, believe me,”--and here Susan
turned her face, and its aspect of heavenly innocence met the dry, lurid
eye of the unseen witness,--“not for this, believe me, that I consented
to see you. If I did so, it was only because I thought, because I feared
from your manner, when we met at times, still more from your evident
avoidance to meet me at all, that you were unhappy (for I know you kind
and honest),--unhappy at the thought that you had wounded me, and my
heart could not bear that, nor, perhaps, my pride either. That you
should have forgotten me--”

“Forgotten you!”

“That you should have been captivated,” continued Susan, in a more
hurried tone, “by one so superior to me in all things as Lucretia, is
very natural. I thought, then--thought only--that nothing could cloud
your happiness but some reproach of a conscience too sensitive. For this
I have met you,--met you without a thought which Lucretia would have a
right to blame, could she read my heart; met you,” and the voice for the
first time faltered, “that I might say, ‘Be at peace; it is your sister
that addresses you. Requite Lucretia’s love,--it is deep and strong;
give her, as she gives to you, a whole heart; and in your happiness
I, your sister--sister to both--I shall be blest.’” With a smile
inexpressibly touching and ingenuous, she held out her hand as she
ceased. Mainwaring sprang forward, and despite her struggle, pressed it
to his lips, his heart.

“Oh,” he exclaimed, in broken accents, which gradually became more clear
and loud, “what--what have I lost!--lost forever! No, no, I will be
worthy of you! I do not, I dare not, say that I love you still! I feel
what I owe to Lucretia. How I became first ensnared, infatuated; how,
with your image graven so deeply here--”

“Mainwaring--Mr. Mainwaring--I must not hear you. Is this your promise?”

“Yes, you must hear me yet. How I became engaged to your sister,--so
different indeed from you,--I start in amaze and bewilderment when I
seek to conjecture. But so it was. For me she has forfeited fortune,
rank, all which that proud, stern heart so prized and coveted. Heaven is
my witness how I have struggled to repay her affection with my own! If I
cannot succeed, at least all that faith and gratitude can give are hers.
Yes, when I leave you, comforted by your forgiveness, your prayers, I
shall have strength to tear you from my heart; it is my duty, my fate.
With a firm step I will go to these abhorred nuptials. Oh, shudder not,
turn not away. Forgive the word; but I must speak,--my heart will out;
yes, abhorred nuptials! Between my grave and the altar, would--would
that I had a choice!”

From this burst, which in vain from time to time Susan had sought to
check, Mainwaring was startled by an apparition which froze his veins,
as a ghost from the grave. The door was thrown open, and Lucretia stood
in the aperture,--stood, gazing on him, face to face; and her own was
so colourless, so rigid, so locked in its livid and awful solemnity of
aspect that it was, indeed, as one risen from the dead.

Dismayed by the abrupt cry and the changed face of her lover, Susan
turned and beheld her sister. With the impulse of the pierced and loving
heart, which divined all the agony inflicted, she sprang to Lucretia’s
side, she fell to the ground and clasped her knees.

“Do not heed, do not believe him; it is but the frenzy of a moment. He
spoke but to deceive me,--me, who loved him once! Mine alone, mine is
the crime. He knows all your worth. Pity--pity--pity on yourself, on
him, on me!”

Lucretia’s eyes fell with the glare of a fiend upon the imploring face
lifted to her own. Her lips moved, but no sound was audible. At length
she drew herself from her sister’s clasp, and walked steadily up to
Mainwaring. She surveyed him with a calm and cruel gaze, as if she
enjoyed his shame and terror. Before, however, she spoke, Mrs. Fielden,
who had watched, as one spellbound, Lucretia’s movements, and, without
hearing what had passed, had the full foreboding of what would ensue,
but had not stirred till Lucretia herself terminated the suspense and
broke the charm of her awe,--before she spoke, Mrs. Fielden rushed in,
and giving vent to her agitation in loud sobs, as she threw her arms
round Susan, who was still kneeling on the floor, brought something of
grotesque to the more tragic and fearful character of the scene.

“My uncle was right; there is neither courage nor honour in the
low-born! He, the schemer, too, is right. All hollow,--all false!” Thus
said Lucretia, with a strange sort of musing accent, at first scornful,
at last only quietly abstracted. “Rise, sir,” she then added, with her
most imperious tone; “do you not hear your Susan weep? Do you fear in my
presence to console her? Coward to her, as forsworn to me! Go, sir, you
are free!”

“Hear me,” faltered Mainwaring, attempting to seize her hand; “I do not
ask you to forgive; but--”

“Forgive, sir!” interrupted Lucretia, rearing her head, and with a look
of freezing and unspeakable majesty. “There is only one person here who
needs a pardon; but her fault is inexpiable: it is the woman who stooped
beneath her--”

With these words, hurled from her with a scorn which crushed while it
galled, she mechanically drew round her form her black mantle; her eye
glanced on the deep mourning of the garment, and her memory recalled
all that love had cost her; but she added no other reproach. Slowly she
turned away. Passing Susan, who lay senseless in Mrs. Fielden’s arms,
she paused, and kissed her forehead.

“When she recovers, madam,” she said to Mrs. Fielden, who was moved and
astonished by this softness, “say that Lucretia Clavering uttered a vow
when she kissed the brow of William Mainwaring’s future wife!”

Olivier Dalibard was still seated in the parlour below when Lucretia
entered. Her face yet retained its almost unearthly rigidity and calm;
but a sort of darkness had come over its ashen pallor,--that shade so
indescribable, which is seen in the human face, after long illness, a
day or two before death. Dalibard was appalled; for he had too often
seen that hue in the dying not to recognize it now. His emotion was
sufficiently genuine to give more than usual earnestness to his voice
and gesture, as he poured out every word that spoke sympathy and
soothing. For a long time Lucretia did not seem to hear him; at last her
face softened,--the ice broke.

“Motherless, friendless, lone, alone forever, undone, undone!” she
murmured. Her head sank upon the shoulder of her fearful counsellor,
unconscious of its resting-place, and she burst into tears,--tears which
perhaps saved her reason or her life.



CHAPTER IX. A SOUL WITHOUT HOPE.

When Mr. Fielden returned home, Lucretia had quitted the house. She left
a line for him in her usual bold, clear handwriting, referring him to
his wife for explanation of the reasons that forbade a further residence
beneath his roof. She had removed to an hotel until she had leisure to
arrange her plans for the future. In a few months she should be of age;
and in the meanwhile, who now living claimed authority over her? For the
rest, she added, “I repeat what I told Mr. Mainwaring: all engagement
between us is at an end; he will not insult me either by letter or by
visit. It is natural that I should at present shrink from seeing Susan
Mivers. Hereafter, if permitted, I will visit Mrs. Mainwaring.”

Though all had chanced as Mr. Fielden had desired (if, as he once half
meditated, he had spoken to Lucretia herself); though a marriage that
could have brought happiness to none, and would have made the misery of
two, was at an end,--he yet felt a bitter pang, almost of remorse, when
he learned what had occurred. And Lucretia, before secretly disliked
(if any one he could dislike), became dear to him at once, by sorrow
and compassion. Forgetting every other person, he hurried to the hotel
Lucretia had chosen; but her coldness deceived and her pride repelled
him. She listened dryly to all he said, and merely replied: “I feel only
gratitude at my escape. Let this subject now close forever.”

Mr. Fielden left her presence with less anxious and commiserating
feelings,--perhaps all had chanced for the best. And on returning home,
his whole mind became absorbed in alarm for Susan. She was delirious,
and in great danger; it was many weeks before she recovered. Meanwhile,
Lucretia had removed into private apartments, of which she withheld the
address. During this time, therefore, they lost sight of her.

If amidst the punishments with which the sombre imagination of poets has
diversified the Realm of the tortured Shadows, it had depicted some soul
condemned to look evermore down into an abyss, all change to its gaze
forbidden, chasm upon chasm yawning deeper and deeper, darker and
darker, endless and infinite, so that, eternally gazing, the soul
became, as it were, a part of the abyss,--such an image would symbol
forth the state of Lucretia’s mind.

It was not the mere desolation of one whom love has abandoned and
betrayed. In the abyss were mingled inextricably together the gloom of
the past and of the future,--there, the broken fortunes, the crushed
ambition, the ruin of the worldly expectations long inseparable from her
schemes; and amidst them, the angry shade of the more than father, whose
heart she had wrung, and whose old age she had speeded to the grave.
These sacrifices to love, while love was left to her, might have haunted
her at moments; but a smile, a word, a glance, banished the regret and
the remorse. Now, love being razed out of life, the ruins of all else
loomed dismal amidst the darkness; and a voice rose up, whispering: “Lo,
fool, what thou hast lost because thou didst believe and love!” And this
thought grasped together the two worlds of being,--the what has been,
and the what shall be. All hope seemed stricken from the future, as
a man strikes from the calculations of his income the returns from a
property irrevocably lost. At her age but few of her sex have parted
with religion; but even such mechanical faith as the lessons of her
childhood, and the constrained conformities with Christian ceremonies,
had instilled, had long since melted away in the hard scholastic
scepticism of her fatal tutor,--a scepticism which had won, with little
effort, a reason delighting in the maze of doubt, and easily narrowed
into the cramped and iron logic of disbelief by an intellect that
scorned to submit where it failed to comprehend. Nor had faith given
place to those large moral truths from which philosophy has sought to
restore the proud statue of Pagan Virtue as a substitute for the meek
symbol of the Christian cross. By temperament unsocial, nor readily
moved to the genial and benevolent, that absolute egotism in which
Olivier Dalibard centred his dreary ethics seemed sanctioned to Lucretia
by her studies into the motives of man and the history of the world. She
had read the chronicles of States and the memoirs of statesmen, and
seen how craft carries on the movements of an age. Those Viscontis,
Castruccios, and Medici; those Richelieus and Mazarins and De Retzs;
those Loyolas and Mohammeds and Cromwells; those Monks and Godolphins;
those Markboroughs and Walpoles; those founders of history and
dynasties and sects; those leaders and dupers of men, greater or lesser,
corrupters or corrupt, all standing out prominent and renowned from
the guiltless and laurelless obscure,--seemed to win, by the homage of
posterity, the rewards that attend the deceivers of their time. By a
superb arrogance of generalization, she transferred into private life,
and the rule of commonplace actions, the policy that, to the abasement
of honour, has so often triumphed in the guidance of States. Therefore,
betimes, the whole frame of society was changed to her eye, from the
calm aspect it wears to those who live united with their kind; she
viewed all seemings with suspicion; and before she had entered the
world, prepared to live in it as a conspirator in a city convulsed,
spying and espied, schemed against and scheming,--here the crown for the
crafty, there the axe for the outwitted.

But her love--for love is trust--had led her half way forth from this
maze of the intellect. That fair youth of inexperience and candour which
seemed to bloom out in the face of her betrothed; his very shrinking
from the schemes so natural to her that to her they seemed even
innocent; his apparent reliance on mere masculine ability, with the
plain aids of perseverance and honesty,--all had an attraction that
plucked her back from herself. If she clung to him firmly, blindly,
credulously, it was not as the lover alone. In the lover she beheld the
good angel. Had he only died to her, still the angel smile would have
survived and warned. But the man had not died; the angel itself had
deceived; the wings could uphold her no more,--they had touched the
mire, and were sullied with the soil; with the stain, was forfeited the
strength. All was deceit and hollowness and treachery. Lone again in the
universe rose the eternal I. So down into the abyss she looked, depth
upon depth, and the darkness had no relief, and the deep had no end.

Olivier Dalibard alone, of all she knew, was admitted to her seclusion.
He played his part as might be expected from the singular patience and
penetration which belonged to the genius of his character. He forbore
the most distant allusion to his attachment or his hopes. He evinced
sympathy rather by imitating her silence, than attempts to console. When
he spoke, he sought to interest her mind more than to heal directly the
deep wounds of her heart. There is always, to the afflicted, a certain
charm in the depth and bitterness of eloquent misanthropy. And Dalibard,
who professed not to be a man-hater, but a world-scorner, had powers of
language and of reasoning commensurate with his astute intellect and his
profound research. His society became not only a relief, it grew almost
a want, to that stern sorrower. But whether alarmed or not by the
influence she felt him gradually acquiring, or whether, through some
haughty desire to rise once more aloft from the state of her rival and
her lover, she made one sudden effort to grasp at the rank from which
she had been hurled. The only living person whose connection could
re-open to her the great world, with its splendours and its scope to
ambition, was Charles Vernon. She scarcely admitted to her own mind
the idea that she would now accept, if offered, the suit she had before
despised; she did not even contemplate the renewal of that suit,--though
there was something in the gallant and disinterested character of
Vernon which should have made her believe he would regard their
altered fortunes rather as a claim on his honour than a release to his
engagements. But hitherto no communication had passed between them;
and this was strange if he retained the same intentions which he
had announced at Laughton. Putting aside, we say, however, all such
considerations, Vernon had sought her friendship, called her “cousin,”
 enforced the distant relationship between them. Not as lover, but as
kinsman,--the only kinsman of her own rank she possessed,--his position
in the world, his connections, his brilliant range of acquaintance, made
his counsel for her future plans, his aid in the re-establishment of her
consequence (if not--as wealthy, still as well-born), and her admission
amongst her equals, of price and value. It was worth sounding the depth
of the friendship he had offered, even if his love had passed away with
the fortune on which doubtless it had been based.

She took a bold step,--she wrote to Vernon: not even to allude to what
had passed between them; her pride forbade such unwomanly vulgarity.
The baseness that was in her took at least a more delicate exterior. She
wrote to him simply and distantly, to state that there were some books
and trifles of hers left at Laughton, which she prized beyond their
trivial value, and to request, as she believed him to be absent from
the Hall, permission to call at her old home, in her way to a visit in
a neighbouring county, and point out to whomsoever he might appoint to
meet her, the effects she deemed herself privileged to claim. The letter
was one merely of business, but it was a sufficient test of the friendly
feelings of her former suitor.

She sent this letter to Vernon’s house in London, and the next day came
the answer.

Vernon, we must own, entirely sympathized with Sir Miles in the solemn
injunctions the old man had bequeathed. Immediately after the death of
one to whom we owe gratitude and love, all his desires take a sanctity
irresistible and ineffable; we adopt his affection, his dislikes,
his obligations, and his wrongs. And after he had read the copy of
Lucretia’s letter, inclosed to him by Sir Miles, the conquest the poor
baronet had made over resentment and vindictive emotion, the evident
effort at passionless justice with which he had provided becomingly
for his niece, while he cancelled her claims as his heiress, had filled
Vernon with a reverence for his wishes and decisions that silenced all
those inclinations to over-generosity which an unexpected inheritance
is apt to create towards the less fortunate expectants. Nevertheless,
Lucretia’s direct application, her formal appeal to his common courtesy
as host and kinsman, perplexed greatly a man ever accustomed to a
certain chivalry towards the sex; the usual frankness of his disposition
suggested, however, plain dealing as the best escape from his dilemma,
and therefore he answered thus:--

MADAM,--Under other circumstances it would have given me no common
pleasure to place the house that you so long inhabited again at your
disposal; and I feel so painfully the position which my refusal of
your request inflicts upon me, that rather than resort to excuses and
pretexts, which, while conveying an impression of my sincerity, would
seem almost like an insult to yourself, I venture frankly to inform you
that it was the dying wish of my lamented kinsman, in consequence of
a letter which came under his eye, that the welcome you had hitherto
received at Laughton should be withdrawn. Pardon me, Madam, if I express
myself thus bluntly; it is somewhat necessary to the vindication of my
character in your eyes, both as regards the honour of your request
and my tacit resignation of hopes fervently but too presumptuously
entertained. In this most painful candour, Heaven forbid that I
should add wantonly to your self-reproaches for the fault of youth and
inexperience, which I should be the last person to judge rigidly, and
which, had Sir Miles’s life been spared, you would doubtless have amply
repaired. The feelings which actuated Sir Miles in his latter days might
have changed; but the injunction those feelings prompted I am bound to
respect.

For the mere matter of business on which you have done me the honour
to address me, I have only to say that any orders you may give to the
steward, or transmit through any person you may send to the Hall,
with regard to the effects you so naturally desire to claim, shall be
implicitly obeyed.

And believe me, Madam (though I do not presume to add those expressions
which might rather heighten the offence I fear this letter will give
you), that the assurance of your happiness in the choice you have made,
and which now no obstacle can oppose, will considerably--lighten
the pain with which I shall long recall my ungracious reply to your
communication.

I have the honour to be, etc., C. VERNON ST. JOHN.

BROOK STREET, Dec. 28, 18--.

The receipt of such a letter could hardly add to the profounder grief
which preyed in the innermost core of Lucretia’s heart; but in repelling
the effort she had made to distract that grief by ambition, it blackened
the sullen despondency with which she regarded the future. As the insect
in the hollow snare of the ant-lion, she felt that there was no footing
up the sides of the cave into which she had fallen; the sand gave way to
the step. But despondency in her brought no meekness; the cloud did not
descend in rain; resting over the horizon, its darkness was tinged with
the fires which it fed. The heart, already so embittered, was stung and
mortified into intolerable shame and wrath. From the home that should
have been hers, in which, as acknowledged heiress, she had smiled down
on the ruined Vernon, she was banished by him who had supplanted her,
as one worthless and polluted. Though, from motives of obvious delicacy,
Vernon had not said expressly that he had seen the letter to Mainwaring,
the unfamiliar and formal tone which he assumed indirectly declared
it, and betrayed the impression it had made, in spite of his reserve.
A living man then was in possession of a secret which justified his
disdain, and that man was master of Laughton! The suppressed rage
which embraced the lost lover extended darkly over this witness to
that baffled and miserable love. But what availed rage against either?
Abandoned and despoiled, she was powerless to avenge. It was at this
time, when her prospects seemed most dark, her pride was most crushed,
and her despair of the future at its height, that she turned to Dalibard
as the only friend left to her under the sun. Even the vices she
perceived in him became merits, for they forbade him to despise her. And
now, this man rose suddenly into another and higher aspect of character.
Of late, though equally deferential to her, there had been something
more lofty in his mien, more assured on his brow; gleams of a secret
satisfaction, even of a joy, that he appeared anxious to suppress, as
ill in harmony with her causes for dejection, broke out in his looks
and words. At length, one day, after some preparatory hesitation, he
informed her that he was free to return to France; that even without
the peace between England and France, which (known under the name of
the Peace of Amiens) had been just concluded, he should have crossed the
Channel. The advocacy and interest of friends whom he had left at Paris
had already brought him under the special notice of the wonderful man
who then governed France, and who sought to unite in its service every
description and variety of intellect. He should return to France, and
then--why, then, the ladder was on the walls of Fortune and the foot
planted on the step! As he spoke, confidently and sanguinely, with the
verve and assurance of an able man who sees clear the path to his goal,
as he sketched with rapid precision the nature of his prospects and his
hopes, all that subtle wisdom which had before often seemed but vague
and general, took practical shape and interest, thus applied to the
actual circumstances of men; the spirit of intrigue, which seemed mean
when employed on mean things, swelled into statesmanship and masterly
genius to the listener when she saw it linked with the large objects of
masculine ambition. Insensibly, therefore, her attention became earnest,
her mind aroused. The vision of a field, afar from the scenes of
her humiliation and despair,--a field for energy, stratagem, and
contest,--invited her restless intelligence. As Dalibard had profoundly
calculated, there was no new channel for her affections,--the source was
dried up, and the parched sands heaped over it; but while the heart lay
dormant, the mind rose sleepless, chafed, and perturbed. Through the
mind, he indirectly addressed and subtly wooed her.

“Such,” he said, as he rose to take leave, “such is the career to which
I could depart with joy if I did not depart alone!”

“Alone!” that word, more than once that day, Lucretia repeated to
herself--“alone!” And what career was left to her?--she, too, alone!

In certain stages of great grief our natures yearn for excitement. This
has made some men gamblers; it has made even women drunkards,--it had
effect over the serene calm and would-be divinity of the poet-sage. When
his son dies, Goethe does not mourn, he plunges into the absorption of
a study uncultivated before. But in the great contest of life, in
the whirlpool of actual affairs, the stricken heart finds all,--the
gambling, the inebriation, and the study.

We pause here. We have pursued long enough that patient analysis, with
all the food for reflection that it possibly affords, to which we were
insensibly led on by an interest, dark and fascinating, that grew more
and more upon us as we proceeded in our research into the early history
of a person fated to pervert no ordinary powers into no commonplace
guilt.

The charm is concluded, the circle closed round; the self-guided seeker
after knowledge has gained the fiend for the familiar.



CHAPTER X. THE RECONCILIATION BETWEEN FATHER AND SON.

We pass over an interval of some months.

A painter stood at work at the easel, his human model before him. He
was employed on a nymph,--the Nymph Galatea. The subject had been taken
before by Salvator, whose genius found all its elements in the
wild rocks, gnarled, fantastic trees, and gushing waterfalls of the
landscape; in the huge ugliness of Polyphemus the lover; in the grace
and suavity and unconscious abandonment of the nymph, sleeking her
tresses dripping from the bath. The painter, on a larger canvas (for
Salvator’s picture, at least the one we have seen, is among the small
sketches of the great artistic creator of the romantic and grotesque),
had transferred the subject of the master; but he had left subordinate
the landscape and the giant, to concentrate all his art on the person of
the nymph. Middle-aged was the painter, in truth; but he looked old.
His hair, though long, was gray and thin; his face was bloated by
intemperance; and his hand trembled much, though, from habit, no trace
of the tremor was visible in his work.

A boy, near at hand, was also employed on the same subject, with a rough
chalk and a bold freedom of touch. He was sketching his design of a
Galatea and Polyphemus on the wall; for the wall was only whitewashed,
and covered already with the multiform vagaries whether of master or
pupils,--caricatures and demigods, hands and feet, torsos and monsters,
and Venuses. The rude creations, all mutilated, jarring, and mingled,
gave a cynical, mocking, devil-may-care kind of aspect to the sanctum of
art. It was like the dissection-room of the anatomist. The boy’s sketch
was more in harmony with the walls of the studio than the canvas of the
master. His nymph, accurately drawn, from the undressed proportions of
the model, down to the waist, terminated in the scales of a fish. The
forked branches of the trees stretched weird and imp-like as the hands
of skeletons. Polyphemus, peering over the rocks, had the leer of a
demon; and in his gross features there was a certain distorted, hideous
likeness of the grave and symmetrical lineaments of Olivier Dalibard.

All around was slovenly, squalid, and poverty-stricken,--rickety,
worn-out, rush-bottom chairs; unsold, unfinished pictures, pell-mell
in the corner, covered with dust; broken casts of plaster; a lay-figure
battered in its basket-work arms, with its doll-like face all smudged
and besmeared. A pot of porter and a noggin of gin on a stained deal
table, accompanied by two or three broken, smoke-blackened pipes, some
tattered song-books, and old numbers of the “Covent Garden Magazine,”
 betrayed the tastes of the artist, and accounted for the shaking hand
and the bloated form. A jovial, disorderly, vagrant dog of a painter was
Tom Varney. A bachelor, of course; humorous and droll; a boon companion,
and a terrible borrower. Clever enough in his calling; with pains and
some method, he had easily gained subsistence and established a name;
but he had one trick that soon ruined him in the business part of his
profession. He took a fourth of his price in advance; and having once
clutched the money, the poor customer might go hang for his picture.
The only things Tom Varney ever fairly completed were those for which
no order had been given; for in them, somehow or other, his fancy became
interested, and on them he lavished the gusto which he really possessed.
But the subjects were rarely salable. Nymphs and deities undraperied
have few worshippers in England amongst the buyers of “furniture
pictures.” And, to say truth, nymph and deity had usually a very
equivocal look; and if they came from the gods, you would swear it was
the gods of the galleries of Drury. When Tom Varney sold a picture,
he lived upon clover till the money was gone. But the poorer and less
steady alumni of the rising school, especially those at war with the
Academy, from which Varney was excluded, pitied, despised, yet liked
and courted him withal. In addition to his good qualities of blithe
song-singer, droll story-teller, and stanch Bacchanalian, Tom Varney was
liberally good-natured in communicating instruction really valuable to
those who knew how to avail themselves of a knowledge he had made almost
worthless to himself. He was a shrewd, though good-natured critic, had
many little secrets of colouring and composition, which an invitation to
supper, or the loan of ten shillings, was sufficient to bribe from him.
Ragged, out of elbows, unshaven, and slipshod, he still had his set
amongst the gay and the young,--a precious master, a profitable set for
his nephew, Master Honore Gabriel! But the poor rapscallion had a heart
larger than many honest, painstaking men. As soon as Gabriel had found
him out, and entreated refuge from his fear of his father, the painter
clasped him tight in his great slovenly arms, sold a Venus half-price to
buy him a bed and a washstand, and swore a tremendous oath that the son
of his poor guillotined sister should share the last shilling in his
pocket, the last drop in his can.

Gabriel, fresh from the cheer of Laughton, and spoiled by the prodigal
gifts of Lucretia, had little gratitude for shillings and porter.
Nevertheless, he condescended to take what he could get, while he
sighed, from the depths of a heart in which cupidity and vanity had
become the predominant rulers, for a destiny more worthy his genius, and
more in keeping with the sphere from which he had descended.

The boy finished his sketch, with an impudent wink at the model, flung
himself back on his chair, folded his arms, cast a discontented glance
at the whitened seams of the sleeves, and soon seemed lost in his own
reflections. The painter worked on in silence. The model, whom Gabriel’s
wink had aroused, half-flattered, half-indignant for a moment, lapsed
into a doze. Outside the window, you heard the song of a canary,--a
dingy, smoke-coloured canary that seemed shedding its plumes, for they
were as ragged as the garments of its master; still, it contrived to
sing, trill-trill-trill-trill-trill, as blithely as if free in its
native woods, or pampered by fair hands in a gilded cage. The bird was
the only true artist there, it sang as the poet sings,--to obey its
nature and vent its heart. Trill-trill-trillela-la-la-trill-trill, went
the song,--louder, gayer than usual; for there was a gleam of April
sunshine struggling over the rooftops. The song at length roused up
Gabriel; he turned his chair round, laid his head on one side, listened,
and looked curiously at the bird.

At length an idea seemed to cross him; he rose, opened the window, drew
in the cage, placed it on the chair, then took up one of his uncle’s
pipes, walked to the fireplace, and thrust the shank of the pipe into
the bars. When it was red-hot he took it out by the bowl, having first
protected his hand from the heat by wrapping round it his handkerchief;
this done, he returned to the cage. His movements had wakened up the
dozing model. She eyed them at first with dull curiosity, then with
lively suspicion; and presently starting up with an exclamation such as
no novelist but Fielding dare put into the mouth of a female,--much less
a nymph of such renown as Galatea,--she sprang across the room, wellnigh
upsetting easel and painter, and fastened firm hold on Gabriel’s
shoulders.

“The varment!” she cried vehemently; “the good-for-nothing varment! If
it had been a jay, or a nasty raven, well and good; but a poor little
canary!”

“Hoity-toity! what are you about, nephew? What’s the matter?” said Tom
Varney, coming up to the strife. And, indeed, it was time; for Gabriel’s
teeth were set in his catlike jaws, and the glowing point of the
pipe-shank was within an inch of the cheek of the model.

“What’s the matter?” replied Gabriel, suddenly; “why, I was only going
to try a little experiment.”

“An experiment? Not on my canary, poor dear little thing! The hours and
hours that creature has strained its throat to say ‘Sing and be merry,’
when I had not a rap in my pocket! It would have made a stone feel to
hear it.”

“But I think I can make it sing much better than ever,--only just let me
try! They say that if you put out the eyes of a canary, it--”

Gabriel was not allowed to conclude his sentence; for here rose that
clamour of horror and indignation from both painter and model which
usually greets the announcement of every philosophical discovery,--at
least, when about to be practically applied; and in the midst of the
hubbub, the poor little canary, who had been fluttering about the cage
to escape the hand of the benevolent operator, set up no longer the
cheerful trill-trillela-la-trill, but a scared and heart-breaking
chirp,--a shrill, terrified twit-twit-twitter-twit.

“Damn the bird! Hold your tongues!” cried Gabriel Varney, reluctantly
giving way, but still eying the bird with the scientific regret with
which the illustrious Majendie might contemplate a dog which some brute
of a master refused to disembowel for the good of the colics of mankind.

The model seized on the cage, shut the door of the wires, and carried it
off. Tom Varney drained the rest of his porter, and wiped his forehead
with the sleeve of his coat.

“And to use my pipe for such cruelty! Boy, boy, I could not have
believed it! But you were not in earnest; oh, no, impossible! Sukey, my
love--Galatea the divine--calm thy breast; Cupid did but jest.

‘Cupid is the God of Laughter, Quip and jest and joke, sir.’”

“If you don’t whip the little wretch within an inch of his life, he’ll
have a gallows end on’t,” replied Galatea.

“Go, Cupid, go and kiss Galatea, and make your peace.

`Oh, leave a kiss within the cup, And I’ll not ask for wine.’

And ‘t is no use asking for wine, or for gin either,--not a drop in the
noggin!”

All this while Gabriel, disdaining the recommendations held forth to
him, was employed in brushing his jacket with a very mangy-looking
brush; and when he had completed that operation he approached his uncle,
and coolly thrust his hands into that gentleman’s waistcoat-pockets.

“Uncle, what have you done with those seven shillings? I am going out to
spend the day.”

“If you give them to him, Tom, I’ll scratch your eyes out,” cried the
model; “and then we’ll see how you’ll sing. Whip him, I say, whip him!”

But, strange to say, this liberty of the boy quite reopened the heart
of his uncle,--it was a pleasure to him, who put his hands so habitually
into other people’s pockets, to be invested with the novel grandeur
of the man sponged upon. “That’s right, Cupid, son of Cytherea; all’s
common property amongst friends. Seven shillings, I have ‘em not. ‘They
now are five who once were seven;’ but such as they are, we’ll share.

‘Let old Timotheus yield the prize, Or both divide the crown.’”

“Crowns bear no division, my uncle,” said Gabriel, dryly; and he
pocketed the five shillings. Then, having first secured his escape by
gaining the threshold, he suddenly seized one of the rickety chairs by
its leg, and regardless of the gallantries due to the sex, sent it right
against the model, who was shaking her fist at him. A scream and a
fall and a sharp twit from the cage, which was hurled nearly into the
fireplace, told that the missive had taken effect. Gabriel did not wait
for the probable reaction; he was in the streets in an instant. “This
won’t do,” he muttered to himself; “there is no getting on here. Foolish
drunken vagabond! no good to be got from him. My father is terrible, but
he will make his way in the world. Umph! if I were but his match,--and
why not? I am brave, and he is not. There’s fun, too, in danger.”

Thus musing, he took his way to Dalibard’s lodgings. His father was at
home. Now, though they were but lodgings, and the street not in fashion,
Olivier Dalibard’s apartments had an air of refinement, and even
elegance, that contrasted both the wretched squalor of the abode Gabriel
had just left and the meanness of Dalibard’s former quarters in London,
The change seemed to imply that the Provencal had already made some way
in the world. And, truth to say, at all times, even in the lowest ebb
of his fortunes, there was that indescribable neatness and formality of
precision about all the exterior seemings of the ci-devant friend of
the prim Robespierre which belong to those in whom order and method are
strongly developed,--qualities which give even to neediness a certain
dignity. As the room and its owner met the eye of Gabriel, on whose
senses all externals had considerable influence, the ungrateful young
ruffian recalled the kind, tattered, slovenly uncle, whose purse he had
just emptied, without one feeling milder than disgust. Olivier Dalibard,
always careful, if simple, in his dress, with his brow of grave
intellectual power, and his mien imposing, not only from its calm, but
from that nameless refinement which rarely fails to give to the student
the air of a gentleman,--Olivier Dalibard he might dread, he might even
detest; but he was not ashamed of him.

“I said I would visit you, sir, if you would permit me,” said Gabriel,
in a tone of respect, not unmingled with some defiance, as if in doubt
of his reception.

The father’s slow full eye, so different from the sidelong, furtive
glance of Lucretia, turned on the son, as if to penetrate his very
heart.

“You look pale and haggard, child; you are fast losing your health
and beauty. Good gifts these, not to be wasted before they can be
duly employed. But you have taken your choice. Be an artist,--copy Tom
Varney, and prosper.” Gabriel remained silent, with his eyes on the
floor.

“You come in time for my farewell,” resumed Dalibard. “It is a comfort,
at least, that I leave your youth so honourably protected. I am about to
return to my country; my career is once more before me!”

“Your country,--to Paris?”

“There are fine pictures in the Louvre,--a good place to inspire an
artist!”

“You go alone, Father!”

“You forget, young gentleman, you disown me as father! Go alone! I
thought I told you in the times of our confidence, that I should marry
Lucretia Clavering. I rarely fail in my plans. She has lost Laughton,
it is true; but 10,000 pounds will make a fair commencement to fortune,
even at Paris. Well, what do you want with me, worthy godson of Honore
Gabriel Mirabeau?”

“Sir, if you will let me, I will go with you.”

Dalibard shaded his brow with his hand, and reflected on the filial
proposal. On the one hand, it might be convenient, and would certainly
be economical, to rid himself evermore of the mutinous son who had
already thrown off his authority; on the other hand, there was much
in Gabriel, mutinous and even menacing as he had lately become, that
promised an unscrupulous tool or a sharp-witted accomplice, with
interests that every year the ready youth would more and more discover
were bound up in his plotting father’s. This last consideration, joined,
if not to affection, still to habit,--to the link between blood and
blood, which even the hardest find it difficult to sever,--prevailed. He
extended his pale hand to Gabriel, and said gently,--

“I will take you, if we rightly understand each other. Once again in my
power, I might constrain you to my will, it is true. But I rather confer
with you as man to man than as man to boy.”

“It is the best way,” said Gabriel, firmly.

“I will use no harshness, inflict no punishment,--unless, indeed, amply
merited by stubborn disobedience or wilful deceit. But if I meet with
these, better rot on a dunghill than come with me! I ask implicit
confidence in all my suggestions, prompt submission to all my requests.
Grant me but these, and I promise to consult your fortune as my own, to
gratify your tastes as far as my means will allow, to grudge not your
pleasures, and when the age for ambition comes, to aid your rise if I
rise myself,--nay, if well contented with you, to remove the blot from
your birth, by acknowledging and adopting you formally as my son.”

“Agreed! and I thank you,” said Gabriel. “And Lucretia is going? Oh, I
so long to see her!”

“See her--not yet; but next week.”

“Do not fear that I should let out about the letter. I should betray
myself if I did,” said the boy, bluntly betraying his guess at his
father’s delay.

The evil scholar smiled.

“You will do well to keep it secret for your own sake; for mine, I
should not fear. Gabriel, go back now to your master,--you do right,
like the rats, to run from the falling house. Next week I will send for
you, Gabriel!”

Not, however, back to the studio went the boy. He sauntered leisurely
through the gayest streets, eyed the shops and the equipages, the fair
women and the well-dressed men,--eyed with envy and longings and visions
of pomps and vanities to come; then, when the day began to close, he
sought out a young painter, the wildest and maddest of the crew to whom
his uncle had presented their future comrade and rival, and went with
this youth, at half-price, to the theatre, not to gaze on the actors
or study the play, but to stroll in the saloon. A supper in the
Finish completed the void in his pockets, and concluded his day’s rank
experience of life. By the gray dawn he stole back to his bed, and as
he laid himself down, he thought with avid pleasure of Paris, its gay
gardens and brilliant shops and crowded streets; he thought, too, of
his father’s calm confidence of success, of the triumph that already
had attended his wiles,--a confidence and a triumph which, exciting
his reverence and rousing his emulation, had decided his resolution.
He thought, too, of Lucretia with something of affection, recalled her
praises and bribes, her frequent mediation with his father, and felt
that they should have need of each other. Oh, no, he never would tell
her of the snare laid at Guy’s Oak,--never, not even if incensed with
his father. An instinct told him that that offence could never be
forgiven, and that, henceforth, Lucretia’s was a destiny bound up in his
own. He thought, too, of Dalibard’s warning and threat. But with fear
itself came a strange excitement of pleasure,--to grapple, if necessary,
he a mere child, with such a man! His heart swelled at the thought. So
at last he fell asleep, and dreamed that he saw his mother’s trunkless
face dripping gore and frowning on him,--dreamed that he heard her say:
“Goest thou to the scene of my execution only to fawn upon my murderer?”
 Then a nightmare of horrors, of scaffolds and executioners and grinning
mobs and agonized faces, came on him,--dark, confused, and indistinct.
And he woke, with his hair standing on end, and beard below, in the
rising sun, the merry song of the poor canary,--trill-lill-lill,
trill-trill-lill-lill-la! Did he feel glad that his cruel hand had been
stayed?



EPILOGUE TO PART THE FIRST.

It is a year since the November day on which Lucretia Clavering quitted
the roof of Mr. Fielden. And first we must recall the eye of the reader
to the old-fashioned terrace at Laughton,--the jutting porch, the quaint
balustrades, the broad, dark, changeless cedars on the lawn beyond. The
day is calm, clear, and mild, for November in the country is often a
gentle month. On that terrace walked Charles Vernon, now known by his
new name of St. John. Is it the change of name that has so changed the
person? Can the wand of the Herald’s Office have filled up the hollows
of the cheek, and replaced by elastic vigour the listless languor of
the tread? No; there is another and a better cause for that healthful
change. Mr. Vernon St. John is not alone,--a fair companion leans on his
arm. See, she pauses to press closer to his side, gaze on his face, and
whisper, “We did well to have hope and faith!”

The husband’s faith had not been so unshaken as his Mary’s, and a slight
blush passed over his cheek as he thought of his concession to Sir
Miles’s wishes, and his overtures to Lucretia Clavering. Still, that
fault had been fairly acknowledged to his wife, and she felt, the moment
she had spoken, that she had committed an indiscretion; nevertheless,
with an arch touch of womanly malice she added softly,--

“And Miss Clavering, you persist in saying, was not really handsome?”

“My love,” replied the husband, gravely, “you would oblige me by not
recalling the very painful recollections connected with that name. Let
it never be mentioned in this house.”

Lady Mary bowed her graceful head in submission; she understood
Charles’s feelings. For though he had not shown her Sir Miles’s letter
and its enclosure, he had communicated enough to account for the
unexpected heritage, and to lessen his wife’s compassion for the
disappointed heiress. Nevertheless, she comprehended that her husband
felt an uneasy twinge at the idea that he was compelled to act hardly
to the one whose hopes he had supplanted. Lucretia’s banishment from
Laughton was a just humiliation, but it humbled a generous heart to
inflict the sentence. Thus, on all accounts, the remembrance of Lucretia
was painful and unwelcome to the successor of Sir Miles. There was a
silence; Lady Mary pressed her husband’s hand.

“It is strange,” said he, giving vent to his thoughts at that tender
sign of sympathy in his feeling,--“strange that, after all, she did not
marry Mainwaring, but fixed her choice on that subtle Frenchman. But
she has settled abroad now, perhaps for life; a great relief to my mind.
Yes, let us never recur to her.”

“Fortunately,” said Lady Mary, with some hesitation, “she does not seem
to have created much interest here. The poor seldom name her to me, and
our neighbours only with surprise at her marriage. In another year she
will be forgotten!”

Mr. St. John sighed. Perhaps he felt how much more easily he had been
forgotten, were he the banished one, Lucretia the possessor! His
light nature, however, soon escaped from all thoughts and sources of
annoyance, and he listened with complacent attention to Lady Mary’s
gentle plans for the poor, and the children’s school, and the cottages
that ought to be repaired, and the labourers that ought to be employed.
For though it may seem singular, Vernon St. John, insensibly influenced
by his wife’s meek superiority, and corrected by her pure companionship,
had begun to feel the charm of innocent occupations,--more, perhaps,
than if he had been accustomed to the larger and loftier excitements of
life, and missed that stir of intellect which is the element of those
who have warred in the democracy of letters, or contended for the
leadership of States. He had begun already to think that the country was
no such exile after all. Naturally benevolent, he had taught himself to
share the occupations his Mary had already found in the busy “luxury of
doing good,” and to conceive that brotherhood of charity which usually
unites the lord of the village with its poor.

“I think, what with hunting once a week,--I will not venture more
till my pain in the side is quite gone,--and with the help of some old
friends at Christmas, we can get through the winter very well, Mary.”

“Ah, those old friends, I dread them more than the hunting!”

“But we’ll have your grave father and your dear, precise, excellent
mother to keep us in order. And if I sit more than half an hour after
dinner, the old butler shall pull me out by the ears. Mary, what do
you say to thinning the grove yonder? We shall get a better view of the
landscape beyond. No, hang it! dear old Sir Miles loved his trees better
than the prospect; I won’t lop a bough. But that avenue we are planting
will be certainly a noble improvement--”

“Fifty years hence, Charles!”

“It is our duty to think of posterity,” answered the ci-devant
spendthrift, with a gravity that was actually pompous. “But hark! is
that two o’clock? Three, by Jove! How time flies! and my new bullocks
that I was to see at two! Come down to the farm, that’s my own Mary. Ah,
your fine ladies are not such bad housewives after all!”

“And your fine gentlemen--”

“Capital farmers! I had no idea till last week that a prize ox was so
interesting an animal. One lives to learn. Put me in mind, by the by, to
write to Coke about his sheep.”

“This way, dear Charles; we can go round by the village,--and see poor
Ponto and Dash.”

The tears rushed to Mr. St. John’s eyes. “If poor Sir Miles could have
known you!” he said, with a sigh; and though the gardeners were at work
on the lawn, he bowed his head and kissed the blushing cheek of his wife
as heartily as if he had been really a farmer.

From the terrace at Laughton, turn to the humbler abode of our old
friend the vicar,--the same day, the same hour. Here also the scene is
without doors,--we are in the garden of the vicarage; the children are
playing at hide-and-seek amongst the espaliers which screen the winding
gravel-walks from the esculents more dear to Ceres than to Flora. The
vicar is seated in his little parlour, from which a glazed door admits
into the garden. The door is now open, and the good man has paused from
his work (he had just discovered a new emendation in the first chorus of
the “Medea”) to look out at the rosy faces that gleam to and fro across
the scene. His wife, with a basket in her hand, is standing without the
door, but a little aside, not to obstruct the view.

“It does one’s heart good to see them,” said the vicar, “little dears!”

“Yes, they ought to be dear at this time of the year,” observed Mrs.
Fielden, who was absorbed in the contents of the basket.

“And so fresh!”

“Fresh, indeed,--how different from London! In London they were not fit
to be seen,--as old as---I am sure I can’t guess how old they were. But
you see here they are new laid every morning!”

“My dear,” said Mr. Fielden, opening his eyes,--“new laid every
morning!”

“Two dozen and four.”

“Two dozen and four! What on earth are you talking about, Mrs. Fielden?”

“Why, the eggs, to be sure, my love!”

“Oh,” said the vicar, “two dozen and four! You alarmed me a little;
‘t is of no consequence,--only my foolish mistake. Always prudent and
saving, my dear Sarah,--just as if poor Sir Miles had not left us that
munificent fortune, I may call it.”

“It will not go very far when we have our young ones to settle. And
David is very extravagant already; he has torn such a hole in his
jacket!”

At this moment up the gravel-walk two young persons came in sight. The
children darted across them, whooping and laughing, and vanished in the
further recess of the garden.

“All is for the best, blind mortals that we are; all is for the best,”
 said the vicar, musingly, as his eyes rested upon the approaching pair.

“Certainly, my love; you are always right, and it is wicked to grumble.
Still, if you saw what a hole it was,--past patching, I fear!”

“Look round,” said Mr. Fielden, benevolently. “How we grieved for them
both; how wroth we were with William,--how sad for Susan! And now see
them; they will be the better man and wife for their trial.”

“Has Susan then consented? I was almost afraid she never would consent.
How often have I been almost angry with her, poor lamb, when I have
heard her accuse herself of causing her sister’s unhappiness, and
declare with sobs that she felt it a crime to think of William
Mainwaring as a husband.”

“I trust I have reasoned her out of a morbid sensibility which, while
it could not have rendered Lucretia the happier, must have insured the
wretchedness of herself and William. But if Lucretia had not married,
and so forever closed the door on William’s repentance (that is,
supposing he did repent), I believe poor Susan would rather have died of
a broken heart than have given her hand to Mainwaring.”

“It was an odd marriage of that proud young lady’s, after all,” said
Mrs. Fielden,--“so much older than she; a foreigner, too!”

“But he is a very pleasant man, and they have known each other so long.
I did not, however, quite like a sort of cunning he showed, when I came
to reflect on it, in bringing Lucretia back to the house; it looks as if
he had laid a trap for her from the first.”

“Ten thousand pounds,--a great catch for a foreigner!” observed Mrs.
Fielden, with the shrewd instinct of her sex; and then she added, in the
spirit of a prudent sympathy equally characteristic: “But I think you
say Mr. Parchmount persuaded her to allow half to be settled on herself.
That will be a hold on him.”

“A bad hold, if that be all, Sarah. There is a better,--he is a learned
man and a scholar. Scholars are naturally domestic, and make good
husbands.”

“But you know he must be a papist!” said Mrs. Fielden.

“Umph!” muttered the vicar, irresolutely.

While the worthy couple were thus conversing, Susan and her lover, not
having finished their conference, had turned back through the winding
walk.

“Indeed,” said William, drawing her arm closer to his side, “these
scruples, these fears, are cruel to me as well as to yourself. If you
were no longer existing, I could be nothing to your sister. Nay, even
were she not married, you must know enough of her pride to be assured
that I can retain no place in her affections. What has chanced was not
our crime. Perhaps Heaven designed to save not only us, but herself,
from the certain misery of nuptials so inauspicious!”

“If she would but answer one of my letters!” sighed Susan; “or if I
could but know that she were happy and contented!”

“Your letters must have miscarried,--you are not sure even of her
address. Rely upon it, she is happy. Do you think that she would a
second time have ‘stooped beneath her’”--Mainwaring’s lip writhed as he
repeated that phrase--“if her feelings had not been involved? I would
not wrong your sister,--I shall ever feel gratitude for the past, and
remorse for my own shameful weakness; still, I must think that the
nature of her attachment to me was more ardent than lasting.”

“Ah, William, how can you know her heart?”

“By comparing it with yours. Oh, there indeed I may anchor my faith!
Susan, we were formed for each other! Our natures are alike, save that
yours, despite its surpassing sweetness, has greater strength in its
simple candour. You will be my guide to good. Without you I should have
no aim in life, no courage to front the contests of this world. Ah, this
hand trembles still!”

“William, William, I cannot repress a foreboding, a superstition! At
night I am haunted with that pale face as I saw it last,--pale with
suppressed despair. Oh, if ever Lucretia could have need of us,--need of
our services, our affections,--if we could but repair the grief we have
caused her!”

Susan’s head sank on her lover’s shoulder. She had said “need of us,”
 “need of our services.” In those simple monosyllables the union was
pledged, the identity of their lots in the dark urn was implied.

From this scene turn again; the slide shifts in the lantern,--we are
at Paris. In the antechamber at the Tuileries a crowd of expectant
courtiers and adventurers gaze upon a figure who passes with modest and
downcast eyes through the throng; he has just left the closet of the
First Consul.

“Par Dieu!” said B----, “power, like misery, makes us acquainted with
strange bedfellows. I should like to hear what the First Consul can have
to say to Olivier Dalibard.”

Fouche, who at that period was scheming for the return to his old
dignities of minister of police, smiled slightly, and answered: “In
a time when the air is filled with daggers, one who was familiar with
Robespierre has his uses. Olivier Dalibard is a remarkable man. He is
one of those children of the Revolution whom that great mother is bound
to save.”

“By betraying his brethren?” said B----, dryly.

“I do not allow the inference. The simple fact is that Dalibard has
spent many years in England; he has married an Englishwoman of birth and
connections; he knows well the English language and the English people;
and just now when the First Consul is so anxious to approfondir the
popular feelings of that strange nation, with whose government he is
compelled to go to war, he may naturally have much to say to so acute an
observer as Olivier Dalibard.”

“Um!” said B----; “with such patronage, Robespierre’s friend should hold
his head somewhat higher!”

Meanwhile, Olivier Dalibard, crossing the gardens of the palace, took
his way to the Faubourg St. Germain. There was no change in the aspect
of this man: the same meditative tranquillity characterized his downward
eyes and bonded brow; the same precise simplicity of dress which had
pleased the prim taste of Robespierre gave decorum to his slender,
stooping form. No expression more cheerful, no footstep more elastic,
bespoke the exile’s return to his native land, or the sanguine
expectations of Intellect restored to a career. Yet, to all appearance,
the prospects of Dalibard were bright and promising. The First Consul
was at that stage of his greatness when he sought to employ in his
service all such talent as the Revolution had made manifest, provided
only that it was not stained with notorious bloodshed, or too strongly
associated with the Jacobin clubs. His quick eye seemed to have
discovered already the abilities of Dalibard, and to have appreciated
the sagacity and knowledge of men which had enabled this subtle person
to obtain the friendship of Robespierre, without sharing in his crimes.
He had been frequently closeted with Bonaparte; he was in the declared
favour of Fouche, who, though not at that period at the head of the
police, was too necessary amidst the dangers of the time, deepened as
they were by the rumours of some terrible and profound conspiracy, to
be laid aside, as the First Consul had at one moment designed. One
man alone, of those high in the State, appeared to distrust Olivier
Dalibard,--the celebrated Cambaceres. But with his aid the Provencal
could dispense. What was the secret of Dalibard’s power? Was it, in
truth, owing solely to his native talent, and his acquired experience,
especially of England? Was it by honourable means that he had won the
ear of the First Consul? We may be sure of the contrary; for it is a
striking attribute of men once thoroughly tainted by the indulgence of
vicious schemes and stratagems that they become wholly blinded to those
plain paths of ambition which common-sense makes manifest to ordinary
ability. If we regard narrowly the lives of great criminals, we are
often very much startled by the extraordinary acuteness, the profound
calculation, the patient, meditative energy which they have employed
upon the conception and execution of a crime. We feel inclined to think
that such intellectual power would have commanded great distinction,
worthily used and guided; but we never find that these great criminals
seem to have been sensible of the opportunities to real eminence which
they have thrown away. Often we observe that there have been before
them vistas into worldly greatness which, by no uncommon prudence and
exertion, would have conducted honest men half as clever to fame and
power; but, with a strange obliquity of vision, they appear to have
looked from these broad clear avenues into some dark, tangled defile, in
which, by the subtlest ingenuity, and through the most besetting perils,
they might attain at last to the success of a fraud or the enjoyment of
a vice. In crime once indulged there is a wonderful fascination, and the
fascination is, not rarely, great in proportion to the intellect of the
criminal. There is always hope of reform for a dull, uneducated, stolid
man, led by accident or temptation into guilt; but where a man of great
ability, and highly educated, besots himself in the intoxication of dark
and terrible excitements, takes impure delight in tortuous and slimy
ways, the good angel abandons him forever.

Olivier Dalibard walked musingly on, gained a house in one of the
most desolate quarters of the abandoned faubourg, mounted the spacious
stairs, and rang at the door of an attic next the roof. After some
moments the door was slowly and cautiously opened, and two small, fierce
eyes, peering through a mass of black, tangled curls, gleamed through
the aperture. The gaze seemed satisfactory.

“Enter, friend,” said the inmate, with a sort of complacent grunt; and
as Dalibard obeyed, the man reclosed and barred the door.

The room was bare to beggary; the ceiling, low and sloping, was
blackened with smoke. A wretched bed, two chairs, a table, a strong
chest, a small cracked looking-glass, completed the inventory. The dress
of the occupier was not in keeping with the chamber; true that it was
not such as was worn by the wealthier classes, but it betokened no sign
of poverty. A blue coat with high collar, and half of military fashion,
was buttoned tight over a chest of vast girth; the nether garments
were of leather, scrupulously clean, and solid, heavy riding-boots came
half-way up the thigh. A more sturdy, stalwart, strong-built knave
never excited the admiration which physical power always has a right
to command; and Dalibard gazed on him with envy. The pale scholar
absolutely sighed as he thought what an auxiliary to his own scheming
mind would have been so tough a frame!

But even less in form than face did the man of thews and sinews contrast
the man of wile and craft. Opposite that high forehead, with its massive
development of organs, scowled the low front of one to whom thought
was unfamiliar,--protuberant, indeed, over the shaggy brows, where
phrenologists place the seats of practical perception, strongly marked
in some of the brutes, as in the dog, but almost literally void of those
higher organs by which we reason and imagine and construct. But in rich
atonement for such deficiency, all the animal reigned triumphant in
the immense mass and width of the skull behind. And as the hair, long
before, curled in close rings to the nape of the bull-like neck, you saw
before you one of those useful instruments to ambition and fraud which
recoil at no danger, comprehend no crime, are not without certain good
qualities, under virtuous guidance,--for they have the fidelity, the
obedience, the stubborn courage of the animal,--but which, under evil
control, turn those very qualities to unsparing evil: bull-dogs to rend
the foe, as bull-dogs to defend the master.

For some moments the two men gazed, silently at each other. At length
Dalibard said, with an air of calm superiority,--

“My friend, it is time that I should be presented to the chiefs of your
party!”

“Chiefs, par tous les diables!” growled the other; “we Chouans are all
chiefs, when it comes to blows. You have seen my credentials; you know
that I am a man to be trusted: what more do you need?”

“For myself nothing; but my friends are more scrupulous. I have
sounded, as I promised, the heads of the old Jacobin party, and they are
favourable. This upstart soldier, who has suddenly seized in his iron
grasp all the fruits of the Revolution, is as hateful to them as to you.
But que voulez vous, mon cher? men are men! It is one thing to destroy
Bonaparte; it is another thing to restore the Bourbons. How can the
Jacobin chiefs depend on your assurance, or my own, that the Bourbons
will forget the old offences and reward the new service? You apprise
me--so do your credentials--that a prince of the blood is engaged in
this enterprise, that he will appear at the proper season. Put me in
direct communication with this representative of the Bourbons, and I
promise in return, if his assurances are satisfactory, that you shall
have an emeute, to be felt from Paris to Marseilles. If you cannot do
this, I am useless; and I withdraw--”

“Withdraw! Garde a vous, Monsieur le Savant! No man withdraws alive from
a conspiracy like ours.”

We have said before that Olivier Dalibard was not physically brave; and
the look of the Chouan, as those words were said, would have frozen
the blood of many a bolder man. But the habitual hypocrisy of Dalibard
enabled him to disguise his fear, and he replied dryly,--

“Monsieur le Chouan, it is not by threats that you will gain adherents
to a desperate cause, which, on the contrary, requires mild words and
flattering inducements. If you commit a violence,--a murder,--mon cher,
Paris is not Bretagne; we have a police: you will be discovered.”

“Ha, ha! What then? Do you think I fear the guillotine?”

“For yourself, no; but for your leaders, yes! If you are discovered, and
arrested for crime, do you fancy that the police will not recognize the
right arm of the terrible George Cadoudal; that they will not guess
that Cadoudal is at Paris; that Cadoudal will not accompany you to the
guillotine?”

The Chouan’s face fell. Olivier watched him, and pursued his advantage.

“I asked you to introduce to me this shadow of a prince, under which
you would march to a counter-revolution. But I will be more easily
contented. Present me to George Cadoudal, the hero of Morbihan; he is a
man in whom I can trust, and with whom I can deal. What, you hesitate?
How do you suppose enterprises of this nature can be carried on? If,
from fear and distrust of each other, the man you would employ cannot
meet the chief who directs him, there will be delay, confusion, panic,
and you will all perish by the executioner. And for me, Pierre Guillot,
consider my position. I am in some favour with the First Consul; I have
a station of respectability,--a career lies before me. Can you think
that I will hazard these, with my head to boot, like a rash child?
Do you suppose that, in entering into this terrible contest, I would
consent to treat only with subordinates? Do not deceive yourself. Again,
I say, tell your employers that they must confer with me directly, or je
m’en lave les mains.”

“I will repeat what you say,” answered Guillot, sullenly, “Is this all?”

“All for the present,” said Dalibard, slowly drawing on his gloves, and
retreating towards the door. The Chouan watched him with a suspicious
and sinister eye; and as the Provencal’s hand was on the latch, he laid
his own rough grasp on Dalibard’s shoulder,--

“I know not how it is, Monsieur Dalibard, but I mistrust you.”

“Distrust is natural and prudent to all who conspire,” replied the
scholar, quietly. “I do not ask you to confide in me. Your employers
bade you seek me: I have mentioned my conditions; let them decide.”

“You carry it off well, Monsieur Dalibard, and I am under a solemn oath,
which poor George made me take, knowing me to be a hot-headed, honest
fellow,--mauvaise tete, if you will,--that I will keep my hand off
pistol and knife upon mere suspicion; that nothing less than his word,
or than clear and positive proof of treachery, shall put me out of good
humour and into warm blood. But bear this with you, Monsieur Dalibard:
if I once discover that you use our secrets to betray them; should
George see you, and one hair of his head come to injury through your
hands,--I will wring your neck as a housewife wrings a pullet’s.”

“I don’t doubt your strength or your ferocity, Pierre Guillot; but my
neck will be safe: you have enough to do to take care of your own. Au
revoir.”

With a tone and look of calm and fearless irony, the scholar thus spoke,
and left the room; but when he was on the stairs, he paused, and caught
at the balustrade,--the sickness as of terror at some danger past, or
to be, came over him; and this contrast between the self-command,
or simulation, which belongs to moral courage, and the feebleness of
natural and constitutional cowardice, would have been sublime if shown
in a noble cause. In one so corrupt, it but betrayed a nature doubly
formidable; for treachery and murder hatch their brood amidst the folds
of a hypocrite’s cowardice.

While thus the interview is going on between Dalibard and the
conspirator, we must bestow a glance upon the Provencal’s home.

In an apartment in one of the principal streets between the Boulevards
and the Rue St. Honore, a boy and a woman sat side by side, conversing
in whispers. The boy was Gabriel Varney, the woman Lucretia Dalibard.
The apartment was furnished in the then modern taste, which affected
classical forms; and though not without a certain elegance, had
something meagre and comfortless in its splendid tripods and thin-legged
chairs. There was in the apartment that air which bespeaks the struggle
for appearances,--that struggle familiar to those of limited income and
vain aspirings, who want the taste which smooths all inequalities and
gives a smile to home; that taste which affection seems to prompt,
if not to create, which shows itself in a thousand nameless, costless
trifles, each a grace. No sign was there of the household cares or
industry of women. No flowers, no music, no embroidery-frame, no
work-table. Lucretia had none of the sweet feminine habits which betray
so lovelily the whereabout of women. All was formal and precise, like
rooms which we enter and leave,--not those in which we settle and dwell.

Lucretia herself is changed; her air is more assured, her complexion
more pale, the evil character of her mouth more firm and pronounced.

Gabriel, still a mere boy in years, has a premature look of man. The
down shades his lip. His dress, though showy and theatrical, is no
longer that of boyhood. His rounded cheek has grown thin, as with the
care and thought which beset the anxious step of youth on entering into
life.

Both, as before remarked, spoke in whispers; both from time to time
glanced fearfully at the door; both felt that they belonged to a hearth
round which smile not the jocund graces of trust and love and the
heart’s open ease.

“But,” said Gabriel,--“but if you would be safe, my father must have no
secrets hid from you.”

“I do not know that he has. He speaks to me frankly of his hopes, of the
share he has in the discovery of the plot against the First Consul, of
his interviews with Pierre Guillot, the Breton.”

“Ah, because there your courage supports him, and your acuteness assists
his own. Such secrets belong to his public life, his political schemes;
with those he will trust you. It is his private life, his private
projects, you must know.”

“But what does he conceal from me? Apart from politics, his whole mind
seems bent on the very natural object of securing intimacy with his rich
cousin, M. Bellanger, from whom he has a right to expect so large an
inheritance.”

“Bellanger is rich, but he is not much older than my father.”

“He has bad health.”

“No,” said Gabriel, with a downcast eye and a strange smile, “he has not
bad health; but he may not be long-lived.”

“How do you mean?” asked Lucretia, sinking her voice into a still lower
whisper, while a shudder, she scarce knew why, passed over her frame.

“What does my father do,” resumed Gabriel, “in that room at the top of
the house? Does he tell you that secret?”

“He makes experiments in chemistry. You know that that was always his
favourite study. You smile again! Gabriel, do not smile so; it appalls
me. Do you think there is some mystery in that chamber?”

“It matters not what we think, belle-mere; it matters much what we know.
If I were you, I would know what is in that chamber. I repeat, to be
safe, you must have all his secrets, or none. Hush, that is his step!”

The door-handle turned noiselessly, and Olivier entered. His look
fell on his son’s face, which betrayed only apparent surprise at his
unexpected return. He then glanced at Lucretia’s, which was, as usual,
cold and impenetrable.

“Gabriel,” said Dalibard, gently, “I have come in for you. I have
promised to take you to spend the day at M. Bellanger’s; you are a great
favourite with Madame. Come, my boy. I shall be back soon, Lucretia. I
shall but drop in to leave Gabriel at my cousin’s.”

Gabriel rose cheerfully, as if only alive to the expectation of the
bon-bons and compliments he received habitually from Madame Bellanger.

“And you can take your drawing implements with you,” continued Dalibard.
“This good M. Bellanger has given you permission to copy his Poussin.”

“His Poussin! Ah, that is placed in his bedroom [It is scarcely
necessary to observe that bedchambers in Paris, when forming part of the
suite of reception-rooms, are often decorated no less elaborately than
the other apartments], is it not?”

“Yes,” answered Dalibard, briefly.

Gabriel lifted his sharp, bright eyes to his father’s face. Dalibard
turned away.

“Come!” he said with some impatience; and the boy took up his hat.

In another minute Lucretia was alone.

“Alone,” in an English home, is a word implying no dreary solitude to
an accomplished woman; but alone in that foreign land, alone in those
half-furnished, desolate apartments,--few books, no musical instruments,
no companions during the day to drop in,--that loneliness was wearying.
And that mind so morbidly active! In the old Scottish legend, the spirit
that serves the wizard must be kept constantly employed; suspend its
work for a moment, and it rends the enchanter. It is so with minds that
crave for excitement, and live, without relief of heart and affection,
on the hard tasks of the intellect.

Lucretia mused over Gabriel’s words and warning: “To be safe, you must
know all his secrets, or none.” What was the secret which Dalibard had
not communicated to her?

She rose, stole up the cold, cheerless stairs, and ascended to the attic
which Dalibard had lately hired. It was locked; and she observed that
the lock was small,--so small that the key might be worn in a ring. She
descended, and entered her husband’s usual cabinet, which adjoined the
sitting-room. All the books which the house contained were there,--a few
works on metaphysics, Spinoza in especial, the great Italian histories,
some volumes of statistics, many on physical and mechanical
philosophy, and one or two works of biography and memoirs. No light
literature,--that grace and flower of human culture, that best
philosophy of all, humanizing us with gentle art, making us wise through
the humours, elevated through the passions, tender in the affections of
our kind. She took out one of the volumes that seemed less arid than the
rest, for she was weary of her own thoughts, and began to read. To
her surprise, the first passage she opened was singularly interesting,
though the title was nothing more seductive than the “Life of a
Physician of Padua in the Sixteenth Century.” It related to that
singular epoch of terror in Italy when some mysterious disease,
varying in a thousand symptoms, baffled all remedy, and long defied all
conjecture,--a disease attacking chiefly the heads of families, father
and husband; rarely women. In one city, seven hundred husbands perished,
but not one wife! The disease was poison. The hero of the memoir was one
of the earlier discoverers of the true cause of this household epidemic.
He had been a chief authority in a commission of inquiry. Startling
were the details given in the work,--the anecdotes, the histories, the
astonishing craft brought daily to bear on the victim, the wondrous
perfidy of the subtle means, the variation of the certain murder,--here
swift as epilepsy, there slow and wasting as long decline. The lecture
was absorbing; and absorbed in the book Lucretia still was, when she
heard Dalibard’s voice behind: he was looking over her shoulder.

“A strange selection for so fair a student! En fant, play not with such
weapons.”

“But is this all true?”

“True, though scarce a fragment of the truth. The physician was a sorry
chemist and a worse philosopher. He blundered in his analysis of
the means; and if I remember rightly, he whines like a priest at the
motives,--for see you not what was really the cause of this spreading
pestilence? It was the Saturnalia of the Weak,--a burst of mocking
license against the Strong; it was more,--it was the innate force of the
individual waging war against the many.”

“I do not understand you.”

“No? In that age, husbands were indeed lords of the household; they
married mere children for their lands; they neglected and betrayed them;
they were inexorable if the wife committed the faults set before her for
example. Suddenly the wife found herself armed against her tyrant. His
life was in her hands. So the weak had no mercy on the strong. But man,
too, was then, even more than now, a lonely wrestler in a crowded arena.
Brute force alone gave him distinction in courts; wealth alone brought
him justice in the halls, or gave him safety in his home. Suddenly the
frail puny lean saw that he could reach the mortal part of his giant
foe. The noiseless sling was in his hand,--it smote Goliath from afar.
Suddenly the poor man, ground to the dust, spat upon by contempt, saw
through the crowd of richer kinsmen, who shunned and bade him rot; saw
those whose death made him heir to lordship and gold and palaces and
power and esteem. As a worm through a wardrobe, that man ate through
velvet and ermine, and gnawed out the hearts that beat in his way. No.
A great intellect can comprehend these criminals, and account for
the crime. It is a mighty thing to feel in one’s self that one is an
army,--more than an army! What thousands and millions of men, with
trumpet and banner, and under the sanction of glory, strive to
do,--destroy a foe,--that, with little more than an effort of the
will,--with a drop, a grain, for all his arsenal,--one man can do!”

There was a horrible enthusiasm about this reasoning devil as he spoke
thus; his crest rose, his breast expanded. That animation which a noble
thought gives to generous hearts kindled in the face of the apologist
for the darkest and basest of human crimes. Lucretia shuddered; but her
gloomy imagination was spelled; there was an interest mingled with her
terror.

“Hush! you appall me,” she said at last, timidly. “But, happily, this
fearful art exists no more to tempt and destroy?”

“As a more philosophical discovery, it might be amusing to a chemist to
learn exactly what were the compounds of those ancient poisons,” said
Dalibard, not directly answering the implied question. “Portions of
the art are indeed lost, unless, as I suspect, there is much credulous
exaggeration in the accounts transmitted to us. To kill by a flower,
a pair of gloves, a soap-ball,--kill by means which elude all possible
suspicion,--is it credible? What say you? An amusing research, indeed,
if one had leisure! But enough of this now; it grows late. We dine
with M. de----; he wishes to let his hotel. Why, Lucretia, if we knew
a little of this old art, par Dieu! we could soon hire the hotel! Well,
well; perhaps we may survive my cousin Jean Bellanger!”

Three days afterwards, Lucretia stood by her husband’s side in the
secret chamber. From the hour when she left it, a change was perceptible
in her countenance, which gradually removed from it the character
of youth. Paler the cheek could scarce become, nor more cold the
discontented, restless eye. But it was as if some great care had settled
on her brow, and contracted yet more the stern outline of the lips.
Gabriel noted the alteration, but he did not attempt to win her
confidence. He was occupied rather in considering, first, if it were
well for him to sound deeper into the mystery he suspected; and,
secondly, to what extent, and on what terms, it became his interest to
aid the designs in which, by Dalibard’s hints and kindly treatment, he
foresaw that he was meant to participate.

A word now on the rich kinsman of the Dalibards. Jean Bellanger had been
one of those prudent Republicans who had put the Revolution to profit.
By birth a Marseillais, he had settled in Paris, as an epicier, about
the year 1785, and had distinguished himself by the adaptability and
finesse which become those who fish in such troubled waters. He had
sided with Mirabeau, next with Vergniaud and the Girondins. These he
forsook in time for Danton, whose facile corruptibility made him a
seductive patron. He was a large purchaser in the sale of the emigrant
property; he obtained a contract for the supply of the army in the
Netherlands; he abandoned Danton as he had abandoned the Girondins, but
without taking any active part in the after-proceedings of the Jacobins.
His next connection was with Tallien and Barras, and he enriched himself
yet more under the Directory than he had done in the earlier stages
of the Revolution. Under cover of an appearance of bonhomie and good
humour, a frank laugh and an open countenance, Jean Bellanger had always
retained general popularity and good-will, and was one of those whom
the policy of the First Consul led him to conciliate. He had long since
retired from the more vulgar departments of trade, but continued to
flourish as an army contractor. He had a large hotel and a splendid
establishment; he was one of the great capitalists of Paris. The
relationship between Dalibard and Bellanger was not very close,--it was
that of cousins twice removed; and during Dalibard’s previous residence
at Paris, each embracing different parties, and each eager in his
career, the blood-tie between them had not been much thought of, though
they were good friends, and each respected the other for the discretion
with which he had kept aloof from the more sanguinary excesses of the
time. As Bellanger was not many years older than Dalibard; as the former
had but just married in the year 1791, and had naturally before him the
prospect of a family; as his fortunes at that time, though rising, were
unconfirmed; and as some nearer relations stood between them, in
the shape of two promising, sturdy nephews,--Dalibard had not
then calculated on any inheritance from his cousin. On his return,
circumstances were widely altered: Bellanger had been married some
years, and no issue had blessed his nuptials. His nephews, draughted
into the conscription, had perished in Egypt. Dalibard apparently became
his nearest relative.

To avarice or to worldly ambition there was undoubtedly something very
dazzling in the prospect thus opened to the eyes of Olivier Dalibard.
The contractor’s splendid mode of living, vying with that of the
fermier-general of old, the colossal masses of capital by which he
backed and supported speculations that varied with an ingenuity rendered
practical and profound by experience, inflamed into fever the morbid
restlessness of fancy and intellect which characterized the evil
scholar; for that restlessness seemed to supply to his nature vices not
constitutional to it. Dalibard had not the avarice that belongs either
to a miser or a spendthrift. In his youth, his books and the simple
desires of an abstract student sufficed to his wants, and a habit of
method and order, a mechanical calculation which accompanied all his
acts, from the least to the greatest, preserved him, even when
most poor, from neediness and want. Nor was he by nature vain and
ostentatious,--those infirmities accompany a larger and more luxurious
nature. His philosophy rather despised, than inclined to, show. Yet
since to plot and to scheme made his sole amusement, his absorbing
excitement, so a man wrapped in himself, and with no generous ends
in view, has little to plot or to scheme for but objects of worldly
aggrandizement. In this Dalibard resembled one whom the intoxication of
gambling has mastered, who neither wants nor greatly prizes the stake,
but who has grown wedded to the venture for it. It was a madness like
that of a certain rich nobleman in our own country who, with more money
than he could spend, and with a skill in all games where skill enters
that would have secured him success of itself, having learned the art of
cheating, could not resist its indulgence. No hazard, no warning, could
restrain him,--cheat he must; the propensity became iron-strong as a
Greek destiny.

That the possible chance of an inheritance so magnificent should dazzle
Lucretia and Gabriel, was yet more natural; for in them it appealed
to more direct and eloquent, though not more powerful, propensities.
Gabriel had every vice which the greed of gain most irritates and
excites. Intense covetousness lay at the core of his heart; he had
the sensual temperament, which yearns for every enjoyment, and takes
pleasure in every pomp and show of life. Lucretia, with a hardness of
mind that disdained luxury, and a certain grandeur (if such a word may
be applied to one so perverted) that was incompatible with the sordid
infirmities of the miser, had a determined and insatiable ambition, to
which gold was a necessary instrument. Wedded to one she loved, like
Mainwaring, the ambition, as we have said in a former chapter, could
have lived in another, and become devoted to intellectual efforts, in
the nobler desire for power based on fame and genius. But now she had
the gloomy cravings of one fallen, and the uneasy desire to restore
herself to a lost position; she fed as an aliment upon scorn to
bitterness of all beings and all things around her. She was gnawed by
that false fever which riots in those who seek by outward seemings
and distinctions to console themselves for the want of their own
self-esteem, or who, despising the world with which they are brought in
contact, sigh for those worldly advantages which alone justify to the
world itself their contempt.

To these diseased infirmities of vanity or pride, whether exhibited in
Gabriel or Lucretia, Dalibard administered without apparent effort, not
only by his conversation, but his habits of life. He mixed with those
much wealthier than himself, but not better born; those who, in the
hot and fierce ferment of that new society, were rising fast into new
aristocracy,--the fortunate soldiers, daring speculators, plunderers of
many an argosy that had been wrecked in the Great Storm. Every one about
them was actuated by the keen desire “to make a fortune;” the desire
was contagious. They were not absolutely poor in the proper sense of the
word “poverty,” with Dalibard’s annuity and the interest of Lucretia’s
fortune; but they were poor compared to those with whom they
associated,--poor enough for discontent. Thus, the image of the mighty
wealth from which, perhaps, but a single life divided them, became
horribly haunting. To Gabriel’s sensual vision the image presented
itself in the shape of unlimited pleasure and prodigal riot; to Lucretia
it wore the solemn majesty of power; to Dalibard himself it was but the
Eureka of a calculation,--the palpable reward of wile and scheme and
dexterous combinations. The devil had temptations suited to each.

Meanwhile, the Dalibards were more and more with the Bellangers. Olivier
glided in to talk of the chances and changes of the State and the
market. Lucretia sat for hours listening mutely to the contractor’s
boasts of past frauds, or submitting to the martyrdom of his victorious
games at tric-trac. Gabriel, a spoiled darling, copied the pictures on
the walls, complimented Madame, flattered Monsieur, and fawned on both
for trinkets and crowns. Like three birds of night and omen, these three
evil natures settled on the rich man’s roof.

Was the rich man himself blind to the motives which budded forth into
such attentive affection? His penetration was too acute, his ill opinion
of mankind too strong, perhaps, for such amiable self-delusions. But
he took all in good part; availed himself of Dalibard’s hints and
suggestions as to the employment of his capital; was polite to Lucretia,
and readily condemned her to be beaten at tric-trac; while he accepted
with bonhomie Gabriel’s spirited copies of his pictures. But at times
there was a gleam of satire and malice in his round gray eyes, and
an inward chuckle at the caresses and flatteries he received, which
perplexed Dalibard and humbled Lucretia. Had his wealth been wholly at
his own disposal, these signs would have been inauspicious; but the
new law was strict, and the bulk of Bellanger’s property could not be
alienated from his nearest kin. Was not Dalibard the nearest?

These hopes and speculations did not, as we have seen, absorb the
restless and rank energies of Dalibard’s crooked, but capacious and
grasping intellect. Patiently and ingeniously he pursued his main
political object,--the detection of that audacious and complicated
conspiracy against the First Consul, which ended in the tragic deaths of
Pichegru, the Duc d’Enghien, and the erring but illustrious hero of La
Vendee, George Cadoudal. In the midst of these dark plots for personal
aggrandizement and political fortune, we leave, for the moment, the
sombre, sullen soul of Olivier Dalibard.

Time has passed on, and spring is over the world. The seeds buried
in the earth burst to flower; but man’s breast knoweth not the sweet
division of the seasons. In winter or summer, autumn or spring alike,
his thoughts sow the germs of his actions, and day after day his destiny
gathers in her harvests.

The joy-bells ring clear through the groves of Laughton,--an heir is
born to the old name and fair lands of St. John. And, as usual, the
present race welcomes merrily in that which shall succeed and replace
it,--that which shall thrust the enjoyers down into the black graves,
and wrest from them the pleasant goods of the world. The joy-bell of
birth is a note of warning to the knell for the dead; it wakes the
worms beneath the mould: the new-born, every year that it grows and
flourishes, speeds the parent to their feast. Yet who can predict that
the infant shall become the heir? Who can tell that Death sits not side
by side with the nurse at the cradle? Can the mother’s hand measure out
the woof of the Parcae, or the father’s eye detect through the darkness
of the morrow the gleam of the fatal shears?

It is market-day at a town in the midland districts of England. There
Trade takes its healthiest and most animated form. You see not the
stunted form and hollow eye of the mechanic,--poor slave of
the capitalist, poor agent and victim of the arch disequalizer,
Civilization. There strides the burly form of the farmer; there waits
the ruddy hind with his flock; there, patient, sits the miller with his
samples of corn; there, in the booths, gleam the humble wares which form
the luxuries of cottage and farm. The thronging of men, and the clacking
of whips, and the dull sound of wagon or dray, that parts the crowd as
it passes, and the lowing of herds and the bleating of sheep,--all are
sounds of movement and bustle, yet blend with the pastoral associations
of the primitive commerce, when the link between market and farm was
visible and direct.

Towards one large house in the centre of the brisk life ebbing on, you
might see stream after stream pour its way. The large doors swinging
light on their hinges, the gilt letters that shine above the threshold,
the windows, with their shutters outside cased in iron and studded with
nails, announce that that house is the bank of the town. Come in with
that yeoman whose broad face tells its tale, sheepish and down-eyed,--he
has come, not to invest, but to borrow. What matters? War is breaking
out anew, to bring the time of high prices and paper money and credit.
Honest yeoman, you will not be refused. He scratches his rough head,
pulls a leg, as he calls it, when the clerk leans over the counter, and
asks to see “Muster Mawnering hisself.” The clerk points to the little
office-room of the new junior partner, who has brought 10,000 pounds and
a clear head to the firm. And the yeoman’s great boots creak heavily in.
I told you so, honest yeoman; you come out with a smile on your brown
face, and your hand, that might fell an ox, buttons up your huge
breeches pocket. You will ride home with a light heart; go and dine, and
be merry.

The yeoman tramps to the ordinary; plates clatter, tongues wag, and the
borrower’s full heart finds vent in a good word for that kind “Muster
Mawnering.” For a wonder, all join in the praise. “He’s an honour to the
town; he’s a pride to the country. Thof he’s such a friend at a pinch,
he’s a rale mon of business. He’ll make the baunk worth a million! And
how well he spoke at the great county meeting about the war, and the
laund, and them bloodthirsty Mounseers! If their members were loike him,
Muster Fox would look small!”

The day declines; the town empties; whiskeys, horses, and carts are
giving life to the roads and the lanes; and the market is deserted, and
the bank is shut up, and William Mainwaring walks back to his home at
the skirts of the town. Not villa nor cottage, that plain English
house, with its cheerful face of red brick, and its solid squareness of
shape,--a symbol of substance in the fortunes of the owner! Yet as he
passes, he sees through the distant trees the hall of the member for the
town. He pauses a moment, and sighs unquietly. That pause and that sigh
betray the germ of ambition and discontent. Why should not he, who
can speak so well, be member for the town, instead of that stammering
squire? But his reason has soon silenced the querulous murmur. He
hastens his step,--he is at home! And there, in the neat-furnished
drawing-room, which looks on the garden behind, hisses the welcoming
tea-urn; and the piano is open, and there is a packet of new books on
the table; and, best of all, there is the glad face of the sweet English
wife. The happy scene was characteristic of the time, just when the
simpler and more innocent luxuries of the higher class spread, not to
spoil, but refine the middle. The dress, air, mien, movements of the
young couple; the unassuming, suppressed, sober elegance of the house;
the flower-garden, the books, and the music, evidences of cultivated
taste, not signals of display,--all bespoke the gentle fusion of ranks
before rude and uneducated wealth, made in looms and lucky hits, rushed
in to separate forever the gentleman from the parvenu.

Spring smiles over Paris, over the spires of Notre Dame and the crowded
alleys of the Tuileries, over thousands and thousands eager, joyous,
aspiring, reckless,--the New Race of France, bound to one man’s destiny,
children of glory and of carnage, whose blood the wolf and the vulture
scent, hungry, from afar!

The conspiracy against the life of the First Consul has been detected
and defeated. Pichegru is in prison, George Cadoudal awaits his trial,
the Duc d’Enghien sleeps in his bloody grave; the imperial crown is
prepared for the great soldier, and the great soldier’s creatures
bask in the noonday sun. Olivier Dalibard is in high and lucrative
employment; his rise is ascribed to his talents, his opinions. No
service connected with the detection of the conspiracy is traced or
traceable by the public eye. If such exist, it is known but to those who
have no desire to reveal it. The old apartments are retained, but they
are no longer dreary and comfortless and deserted. They are gay with
draperies and ormolu and mirrors; and Madame Dalibard has her nights of
reception, and Monsieur Dalibard has already his troops of clients. In
that gigantic concentration of egotism which under Napoleon is called
the State, Dalibard has found his place. He has served to swell the
power of the unit, and the cipher gains importance by its position in
the sum.

Jean Bellanger is no more. He died, not suddenly, and yet of some quick
disease,--nervous exhaustion; his schemes, they said, had worn him out.
But the state of Dalibard, though prosperous, is not that of the heir
to the dead millionnaire. What mistake is this? The bulk of that wealth
must go to the nearest kin,--so runs the law. But the will is read;
and, for the first time, Olivier Dalibard learns that the dead man had
a son,--a son by a former marriage,--the marriage undeclared, unknown,
amidst the riot of the Revolution; for the wife was the daughter of a
proscrit. The son had been reared at a distance, put to school at Lyons,
and unavowed to the second wife, who had brought an ample dower, and
whom that discovery might have deterred from the altar. Unacknowledged
through life, in death at least the son’s rights are proclaimed; and
Olivier Dalibard feels that Jean Bellanger has died in vain! For days
has the pale Provencal been closeted with lawyers; but there is no hope
in litigation. The proofs of the marriage, the birth, the identity, come
out clear and clearer; and the beardless schoolboy at Lyons reaps all
the profit of those nameless schemes and that mysterious death. Olivier
Dalibard desires the friendship, the intimacy of the heir; but the heir
is consigned to the guardianship of a merchant at Lyons, near of kin to
his mother, and the guardian responds but coldly to Olivier’s letters.
Suddenly the defeated aspirant seems reconciled to his loss. The
widow Bellanger has her own separate fortune, and it is large beyond
expectation. In addition to the wealth she brought the deceased, his
affection had led him to invest vast sums in her name. The widow then
is rich,--rich as the heir himself. She is still fair. Poor woman, she
needs consolation! But, meanwhile, the nights of Olivier Dalibard are
disturbed and broken. His eye in the daytime is haggard and anxious; he
is seldom seen on foot in the streets. Fear is his companion by day, and
sits at night on his pillow. The Chouan, Pierre Guillot, who looked to
George Cadoudal as a god, knows that George Cadoudal has been betrayed,
and suspects Olivier Dalibard; and the Chouan has an arm of iron, and a
heart steeled against all mercy. Oh, how the pale scholar thirsted
for that Chouan’s blood! With what relentless pertinacity, with what
ingenious research, he had set all the hounds of the police upon the
track of that single man! How notably he had failed! An avenger lived;
and Olivier Dalibard started at his own shadow on the wall. But he did
not the less continue to plot and to intrigue--nay, such occupation
became more necessary, as an escape from himself.

And in the mean while, Olivier Dalibard sought to take courage from the
recollection that the Chouan had taken an oath (and he knew that oaths
are held sacred with the Bretons) that he would keep his hand from his
knife unless he had clear evidence of treachery; such evidence existed,
but only in Dalibard’s desk or the archives of Fouche. Tush, he was
safe! And so, when from dreams of fear he started at the depth of night,
so his bolder wife would whisper to him with firm, uncaressing lips:
“Olivier Dalibard, thou fearest the living: dost thou never fear the
dead? Thy dreams are haunted with a spectre. Why takes it not the
accusing shape of thy mouldering kinsman?” and Dalibard would answer,
for he was a philosopher in his cowardice: “Il n’y a que les morts qui
ne reviennent pas.”

It is the notable convenience of us narrators to represent, by what
is called “soliloquy,” the thoughts, the interior of the personages we
describe. And this is almost the master-work of the tale-teller,--that
is, if the soliloquy be really in words, what self-commune is in the dim
and tangled recesses of the human heart! But to this privilege we are
rarely admitted in the case of Olivier Dalibard, for he rarely communed
with himself. A sort of mental calculation, it is true, eternally
went on within him, like the wheels of a destiny; but it had become a
mechanical operation, seldom disturbed by that consciousness of thought,
with its struggles of fear and doubt, conscience and crime, which
gives its appalling interest to the soliloquy of tragedy. Amidst the
tremendous secrecy of that profound intellect, as at the bottom of
a sea, only monstrous images of terror, things of prey, stirred in
cold-blooded and devouring life; but into these deeps Olivier himself
did not dive. He did not face his own soul; his outer life and his
inner life seemed separate individualities, just as, in some complicated
State, the social machine goes on through all its numberless cycles
of vice and dread, whatever the acts of the government, which is the
representative of the State, and stands for the State in the shallow
judgment of history.

Before this time Olivier Dalibard’s manner to his son had greatly
changed from the indifference it betrayed in England,--it was kind and
affectionate, almost caressing; while, on the other hand, Gabriel, as if
in possession of some secret which gave him power over his father, took
a more careless and independent tone, often absented himself from the
house for days together, joined the revels of young profligates
older than himself, with whom he had formed acquaintance, indulged in
spendthrift expenses, and plunged prematurely into the stream of vicious
pleasure that oozed through the mud of Paris.

One morning Dalibard, returning from a visit to Madame Bellanger, found
Gabriel alone in the salon, contemplating his fair face and gay dress in
one of the mirrors, and smoothing down the hair, which he wore long
and sleek, as in the portraits of Raphael. Dalibard’s lip curled at the
boy’s coxcombry,--though such tastes he himself had fostered, according
to his ruling principles, that to govern, you must find a foible, or
instil it; but the sneer changed into a smile.

“Are you satisfied with yourself, joli garcon?” he said, with saturnine
playfulness.

“At least, sir, I hope that you will not be ashamed of me when you
formally legitimatize me as your son. The time has come, you know, to
keep your promise.”

“And it shall be kept, do not fear. But first I have an employment for
you,--a mission; your first embassy, Gabriel.”

“I listen, sir.”

“I have to send to England a communication of the utmost
importance--public importance--to the secret agent of the French
government. We are on the eve of a descent on England. We are in
correspondence with some in London on whom we count for support. A
man might be suspected and searched,--mind, searched. You, a boy, with
English name and speech, will be my safest envoy. Bonaparte approves my
selection. On your return, he permits me to present you to him. He loves
the rising generation. In a few days you will be prepared to start.”

Despite the calm tone of the father, so had the son, from the instinct
of fear and self-preservation, studied every accent, every glance of
Olivier,--so had he constituted himself a spy upon the heart whose
perfidy was ever armed, that he detected at once in the proposal some
scheme hostile to his interests. He made, however, no opposition to the
plan suggested; and seemingly satisfied with his obedience, the father
dismissed him.

As soon as he was in the streets, Gabriel went straight to the house
of Madame Bellanger. The hotel had been purchased in her name, and she
therefore retained it. Since her husband’s death he had avoided that
house, before so familiar to him; and now he grew pale and breathed hard
as he passed by the porter’s lodge up the lofty stairs.

He knew of his father’s recent and constant visits at the house; and
without conjecturing precisely what were Olivier’s designs, he connected
them, in the natural and acquired shrewdness he possessed, with
the wealthy widow. He resolved to watch, observe, and draw his own
conclusions. As he entered Madame Bellanger’s room rather abruptly, he
observed her push aside amongst her papers something she had been gazing
on,--something which sparkled to his eyes. He sat himself down close to
her with the caressing manner he usually adopted towards women; and in
the midst of the babbling talk with which ladies generally honour
boys, he suddenly, as if by accident, displaced the papers, and saw his
father’s miniature set in brilliants. The start of the widow, her blush,
and her exclamation strengthened the light that flashed upon his mind.
“Oh, ho! I see now,” he said laughing, “why my father is always praising
black hair; and--nay, nay--gentlemen may admire ladies in Paris,
surely?”

“Pooh, my dear child, your father is an old friend of my poor husband,
and a near relation too! But, Gabriel, mon petit ange, you had better
not say at home that you have seen this picture; Madame Dalibard might
be foolish enough to be angry.”

“To be sure not. I have kept a secret before now!” and again the boy’s
cheek grew pale, and he looked hurriedly round.

“And you are very fond of Madame Dalibard too; so you must not vex her.”

“Who says I’m fond of Madame Dalibard? A stepmother!”

“Why, your father, of course,--il est si bon, ce pauvre Dalibard; and
all men like cheerful faces. But then, poor lady,--an Englishwoman, so
strange here; very natural she should fret, and with bad health, too.”

“Bad health! Ah, I remember! She, also, does not seem likely to live
long!”

“So your poor father apprehends. Well, well; how uncertain life is! Who
would have thought dear Bellanger would have--”

Gabriel rose hastily, and interrupted the widow’s pathetic reflections.
“I only ran in to say Bon jour. I must leave you now.”

“Adieu, my dear boy,--not a word on the miniature! By the by, here’s a
shirt-pin for you,--tu es joli comme un amour.”

All was clear now to Gabriel; it was necessary to get rid of him, and
forever. Dalibard might dread his attachment to Lucretia,--he would
dread still more his closer intimacy with the widow of Bellanger, should
that widow wed again, and Dalibard, freed like her (by what means?), be
her choice! Into that abyss of wickedness, fathomless to the innocent,
the young villanous eye plunged, and surveyed the ground; a terror
seized on him,--a terror of life and death. Would Dalibard spare even
his own son, if that son had the power to injure? This mission, was it
exile only,--only a fall back to the old squalor of his uncle’s studio;
only the laying aside of a useless tool? Or was it a snare to the
grave? Demon as Dalibard was, doubtless the boy wronged him. But guilt
construes guilt for the worst.

Gabriel had formerly enjoyed the thought to match himself, should danger
come, with Dalibard; the hour had come, and he felt his impotence. Brave
his father, and refuse to leave France! From that, even his reckless
hardihood shrank, as from inevitable destruction. But to depart,--be the
poor victim and dupe; after having been let loose amongst the riot
of pleasure, to return to labour and privation,--from that option his
vanity and his senses vindictively revolted. And Lucretia, the only
being who seemed to have a human kindness to him! Through all the
vicious egotism of his nature, he had some grateful sentiments for her;
and even the egotism assisted that unwonted amiability, for he felt
that, Lucretia gone, he had no hold on his father’s house, that the home
of her successor never would be his. While thus brooding, he lifted his
eyes, and saw Dalibard pass in his carriage towards the Tuileries.
The house, then, was clear; he could see Lucretia alone. He formed his
resolution at once, and turned homewards. As he did so, he observed a
man at the angle of the street, whose eyes followed Dalibard’s carriage
with an expression of unmistakable hate and revenge; but scarcely had he
marked the countenance, before the man, looking hurriedly round, darted
away, and was lost amongst the crowd.

Now, that countenance was not quite unfamiliar to Gabriel. He had seen
it before, as he saw it now,--hastily, and, as it were, by fearful
snatches. Once he had marked, on returning home at twilight, a figure
lurking by the house; and something, in the quickness with which
it turned from his gaze, joined to his knowledge of Dalibard’s
apprehensions, made him mention the circumstance to his father when he
entered. Dalibard bade him hasten with a note, written hurriedly, to an
agent of the police, whom he kept lodged near at hand. The man was still
on the threshold when the boy went out on this errand, and he caught a
glimpse of his face; but before the police-agent reached the spot, the
ill-omened apparition had vanished. Gabriel now, as his eye rested full
upon that threatening brow and those burning eyes, was convinced that he
saw before him the terrible Pierre Guillot, whose very name blenched
his father’s cheek. When the figure retreated, he resolved at once
to pursue. He hurried through the crowd amidst which the man had
disappeared, and looked eagerly into the faces of those he jostled;
sometimes at the distance he caught sight of a figure which appeared to
resemble the one which he pursued, but the likeness faded on approach.
The chase, however, vague and desultory as it was, led him on till his
way was lost amongst labyrinths of narrow and unfamiliar streets. Heated
and thirsty, he paused, at last, before a small cafe, entered to ask for
a draught of lemonade, and behold, chance had favoured him! The man he
sought was seated there before a bottle of wine, and intently reading
the newspaper. Gabriel sat himself down at the adjoining table. In a
few moments the man was joined by a newcomer; the two conversed, but
in whispers so low that Gabriel was unable to hear their conversation,
though he caught more than once the name of “George.” Both the men were
violently excited, and the expression of their countenances was menacing
and sinister. The first comer pointed often to the newspaper, and read
passages from it to his companion. This suggested to Gabriel the demand
for another journal. When the waiter brought it to him, his eye rested
upon a long paragraph, in which the name of George Cadoudal frequently
occurred. In fact, all the journals of the day were filled with
speculations on the conspiracy and trial of that fiery martyr to an
erring adaptation of a noble principle. Gabriel knew that his father had
had a principal share in the detection of the defeated enterprise; and
his previous persuasions were confirmed.

His sense of hearing grew sharper by continued effort, and at length
he heard the first comer say distinctly, “If I were but sure that I
had brought this fate upon George by introducing to him that accursed
Dalibard; if my oath did but justify me, I would--” The concluding
sentence was lost. A few moments after, the two men rose, and from the
familiar words that passed between them and the master of the cafe, who
approached, himself, to receive the reckoning, the shrewd boy perceived
that the place was no unaccustomed haunt. He crept nearer and nearer;
and as the landlord shook hands with his customer, he heard distinctly
the former address him by the name of “Guillot.” When the men withdrew,
Gabriel followed them at a distance (taking care first to impress on his
memory the name of the cafe, and the street in which it was placed) and,
as he thought, unobserved; he was mistaken. Suddenly, in one street
more solitary than the rest, the man whom he was mainly bent on tracking
turned round, advanced to Gabriel, who was on the other side of the
street, and laid his hand upon him so abruptly that the boy was fairly
taken by surprise.

“Who bade you follow us?” said he, with so dark and fell an expression
of countenance that even Gabriel’s courage failed him. “No evasion,
no lies; speak out, and at once;” and the grasp tightened on the boy’s
throat.

Gabriel’s readiness of resource and presence of mind did not long
forsake him.

“Loose your hold, and I will tell you--you stifle me.” The man slightly
relaxed his grasp, and Gabriel said quickly “My mother perished on the
guillotine in the Reign of Terror; I am for the Bourbons. I thought I
overheard words which showed sympathy for poor George, the brave Chouan.
I followed you; for I thought I was following friends.”

The man smiled as he fixed his steady eye upon the unflinching child.
“My poor lad,” he said gently, “I believe you,--pardon me; but follow
us no more,--we are dangerous!” He waved his hand, and strode away and
rejoined his companion, and Gabriel reluctantly abandoned the pursuit
and went homeward. It was long before he reached his father’s house, for
he had strayed into a strange quarter of Paris, and had frequently to
inquire the way. At length he reached home, and ascended the stairs to
a small room in which Lucretia usually sat, and which was divided by a
narrow corridor from the sleeping-chamber of herself and Dalibard. His
stepmother, leaning her cheek upon her hand, was seated by the window,
so absorbed in some gloomy thoughts, which cast over her rigid face
a shade, intense and solemn as despair, that she did not perceive the
approach of the boy till he threw his arms round her neck, and then she
started as in alarm.

“You! only you,” she said, with a constrained smile; “see, my nerves are
not so strong as they were.”

“You are disturbed, belle-mere,--has he been vexing you?”

“He--Dalibard? No, indeed; we were only this morning discussing matters
of business.”

“Business,--that means money.”

“Truly,” said Lucretia, “money does make the staple of life’s business.
In spite of his new appointment, your father needs some sums in
hand,--favours are to be bought, opportunities for speculation occur,
and--”

“And my father,” interrupted Gabriel, “wishes your consent to raise the
rest of your portion?”

Lucretia looked surprised, but answered quietly: “He had my consent
long since; but the trustees to the marriage-settlement--mere men
of business, my uncle’s bankers; for I had lost all claim on my
kindred--refuse, or at least interpose such difficulties as amount to
refusal.”

“But that reply came some days since,” said Gabriel, musingly.

“How did you know,--did your father tell you?”

“Poor belle-mere!” said Gabriel, almost with pity; “can you live in this
house and not watch all that passes,--every stranger, every message,
every letter? But what, then, does he wish with you?”

“He has suggested my returning to England and seeing the trustees
myself. His interest can obtain my passport.”

“And you have refused?”

“I have not consented.”

“Consent!--hush!--your maid; Marie is not waiting without;” and Gabriel
rose and looked forth. “No, confound these doors! none close as they
ought in this house. Is it not a clause in your settlement that the half
of your fortune now invested goes to the survivor?”

“It is,” replied Lucretia, struck and thrilled at the question. “How,
again, did you know this?”

“I saw my father reading the copy. If you die first, then, he has all.
If he merely wanted the money, he would not send you away.”

There was a terrible pause. Gabriel resumed: “I trust you, it may be,
with my life; but I will speak out. My father goes much to Bellanger’s
widow; she is rich and weak. Come to England! Yes, come; for he is
about to dismiss me. He fears that I shall be in the way, to warn you,
perhaps, or to--to--In short, both of us are in his way. He gives you an
escape. Once in England, the war which is breaking out will prevent your
return. He will twist the laws of divorce to his favour; he will marry
again! What then? He spares you what remains of your fortune; he
spares your life. Remain here,--cross his schemes, and--No, no; come to
England,--safer anywhere than here!”

As he spoke, great changes had passed over Lucretia’s countenance. At
first it was the flash of conviction, then the stunned shock of horror;
now she rose, rose to her full height, and there was a livid and
deadly light in her eyes,--the light of conscious courage and power and
revenge. “Fool,” she muttered, “with all his craft! Fool, fool! As if,
in the war of household perfidy, the woman did not always conquer! Man’s
only chance is to be mailed in honour.”

“But,” said Gabriel, overhearing her, “but you do not remember what it
is. There is nothing you can see and guard against. It is not like an
enemy face to face; it is death in the food, in the air, in the touch.
You stretch out your arms in the dark, you feel nothing, and you die!
Oh, do not fancy that I have not thought well (for I am almost a man
now) if there were no means to resist,--there are none! As well make
head against the plague,--it is in the atmosphere. Come to England, and
return. Live poorly, if you must, but live--but live!”

“Return to England poor and despised, and bound still to him, or a
disgraced and divorced wife,--disgraced by the low-born dependant on my
kinsman’s house,--and fawn perhaps upon my sister and her husband for
bread! Never! I am at my post, and I will not fly.”

“Brave, brave!” said the boy, clapping his hands, and sincerely moved by
a daring superior to his own; “I wish I could help you!”

Lucretia’s eye rested on him with the full gaze, so rare in its looks.
She drew him to her and kissed his brow. “Boy, through life, whatever
our guilt and its doom, we are bound to each other. I may yet live
to have wealth; if so, it is yours as a son’s. I may be iron to
others,--never to you. Enough of this; I must reflect!” She passed her
hands over her eyes a moment, and resumed: “You would help me in my
self-defence; I think you can. You have been more alert in your watch
than I have. You must have means I have not secured. Your father guards
well all his papers.”

“I have keys to every desk. My foot passed the threshold of that room
under the roof before yours. But no; his powers can never be yours!
He has never confided to you half his secrets. He has antidotes for
every--every--”

“Hist! what noise is that? Only the shower on the casements. No, no,
child, that is not my object. Cadoudal’s conspiracy! Your father has
letters from Fouche which show how he has betrayed others who are
stronger to avenge than a woman and a boy.”

“Well?”

“I would have those letters. Give me the keys. But hold! Gabriel,
Gabriel, you may yet misjudge him. This woman--wife to the dead man--his
wife! Horror! Have you no proofs of what you imply?”

“Proofs!” echoed Gabriel, in a tone of wonder; “I can but see and
conjecture. You are warned, watch and decide for yourself. But again I
say, come to England; I shall go!”

Without reply, Lucretia took the keys from Gabriel’s half-reluctant
hand, and passed into her husband’s writing-room. When she had entered,
she locked the door. She passed at once to a huge secretary, of which
the key was small as a fairy’s work. She opened it with ease by one
of the counterfeits. No love-correspondence--the first object of her
search, for she was woman--met her eye. What need of letters, when
interviews were so facile? But she soon found a document that told all
which love-letters could tell,--it was an account of the moneys and
possessions of Madame Bellanger; and there were pencil notes on the
margin: “Vautran will give four hundred thousand francs for the lands
in Auvergne,--to be accepted. Consult on the power of sale granted to
a second husband. Query, if there is no chance of the heir-at-law
disputing the moneys invested in Madame B.’s name,”--and such memoranda
as a man notes down in the schedule of properties about to be his own.
In these inscriptions there was a hideous mockery of all love; like the
blue lights of corruption, they showed the black vault of the heart. The
pale reader saw what her own attractions had been, and, fallen as
she was, she smiled superior in her bitterness of scorn. Arranged
methodically with the precision of business, she found the letters she
next looked for; one recognizing Dalibard’s services in the detection of
the conspiracy, and authorizing him to employ the police in the search
of Pierre Guillot, sufficed for her purpose. She withdrew, and secreted
it. She was about to lock up the secretary, when her eye fell on the
title of a small manuscript volume in a corner; and as shet read, she
pressed one hand convulsively to her heart, while twice with the other
she grasped the volume, and twice withdrew the grasp. The title ran
harmlessly thus: “Philosophical and Chemical Inquiries into the Nature
and Materials of the Poisons in Use between the Fourteenth and Sixteenth
Centuries.” Hurriedly, and at last as if doubtful of herself, she left
the manuscript, closed the secretary, and returned to Gabriel.

“You have got the paper you seek?” he said.

“Yes.”

“Then whatever you do, you must be quick; he will soon discover the
loss.”

“I will be quick.”

“It is I whom he will suspect,” said Gabriel, in alarm, as that thought
struck him. “No, for my sake do not take the letter till I am gone. Do
not fear in the mean time; he will do nothing against you while I am
here.”

“I will replace the letter till then,” said Lucretia, meekly. “You have
a right to my first thoughts.” So she went back, and Gabriel (suspicious
perhaps) crept after her.

As she replaced the document, he pointed to the manuscript which had
tempted her. “I have seen that before; how I longed for it! If anything
ever happens to him, I claim that as my legacy.”

Their hands met as he said this, and grasped each other convulsively;
Lucretia relocked the secretary, and when she gained the next room,
she tottered to a chair. Her strong nerves gave way for the moment; she
uttered no cry, but by the whiteness of her face, Gabriel saw that she
was senseless,--senseless for a minute or so; scarcely more. But the
return to consciousness with a clenched hand, and a brow of defiance,
and a stare of mingled desperation and dismay, seemed rather the awaking
from some frightful dream of violence and struggle than the slow,
languid recovery from the faintness of a swoon. Yes, henceforth, to
sleep was to couch by a serpent,--to breathe was to listen for the
avalanche! Thou who didst trifle so wantonly with Treason, now gravely
front the grim comrade thou hast won; thou scheming desecrator of the
Household Gods, now learn, to the last page of dark knowledge, what the
hearth is without them!

Gabriel was strangely moved as he beheld that proud and solitary
despair. An instinct of nature had hitherto checked him from actively
aiding Lucretia in that struggle with his father which could but end
in the destruction of one or the other. He had contented himself with
forewarnings, with hints, with indirect suggestions; but now all his
sympathy was so strongly roused on her behalf that the last faint
scruple of filial conscience vanished into the abyss of blood over which
stood that lonely Titaness. He drew near, and clasping her hand, said,
in a quick and broken voice,--

“Listen! You know where to find proof of my fa--that is, of Dalibard’s
treason to the conspirators, you know the name of the man he dreads as
an avenger, and you know that he waits but the proof to strike; but
you do not know where to find that man, if his revenge is wanting for
yourself. The police have not hunted him out: how can you? Accident has
made me acquainted with one of his haunts. Give me a single promise, and
I will put you at least upon that clew,--weak, perhaps, but as yet the
sole one to be followed. Promise me that, only in defence of your own
life, not for mere jealousy, you will avail yourself of the knowledge,
and you shall know all I do!”

“Do you think,” said Lucretia, in a calm, cold voice, “that it is for
jealousy, which is love, that I would murder all hope, all peace? For we
have here”--and she smote her breast--“here, if not elsewhere, a heaven
and a hell! Son, I will not harm your father, except in self-defence.
But tell me nothing that may make the son a party in the father’s doom.”

“The father slew the mother,” muttered Gabriel, between his clenched
teeth; “and to me, you have wellnigh supplied her place. Strike, if need
be, in her name! If you are driven to want the arm of Pierre Guillot,
seek news of him at the Cafe Dufour, Rue S----, Boulevard du Temple. Be
calm now; I hear your husband’s step.”

A few days more, and Gabriel is gone! Wife and husband are alone with
each other. Lucretia has refused to depart. Then that mute coma of
horror, that suspense of two foes in the conflict of death; for
the subtle, prying eye of Olivier Dalibard sees that he himself is
suspected,--further he shuns from sifting! Glance fastens on glance, and
then hurries smilingly away. From the cup grins a skeleton, at the board
warns a spectre. But how kind still the words, and how gentle the tone;
and they lie down side by side in the marriage-bed,--brain plotting
against brain, heart loathing heart. It is a duel of life and death
between those sworn through life and beyond death at the altar. But it
is carried on with all the forms and courtesies of duel in the age of
chivalry. No conjugal wrangling, no slip of the tongue; the oil is on
the surface of the wave,--the monsters in the hell of the abyss war
invisibly below. At length, a dull torpor creeps over the woman; she
feels the taint in her veins,--the slow victory is begun. What mattered
all her vigilance and caution? Vainly glide from the fangs of the
serpent,--his very breath suffices to destroy! Pure seems the draught
and wholesome the viand,--that master of the science of murder needs
not the means of the bungler! Then, keen and strong from the creeping
lethargy started the fierce instinct of self and the ruthless impulse of
revenge. Not too late yet to escape; for those subtle banes, that are to
defy all detection, work but slowly to their end.

One evening a woman, closely mantled, stood at watch by the angle of a
wall. The light came dim and muffled from the window of a cafe hard at
hand; the reflection slept amidst the shadows on the dark pavement, and
save a solitary lamp swung at distance in the vista over the centre of
the narrow street, no ray broke the gloom. The night was clouded and
starless, the wind moaned in gusts, and the rain fell heavily; but the
gloom and the loneliness did not appall the eye, and the wind did not
chill the heart, and the rain fell unheeded on the head of the woman at
her post. At times she paused in her slow, sentry-like pace to and fro,
to look through the window of the cafe, and her gaze fell always on
one figure seated apart from the rest. At length her pulse beat more
quickly, and the patient lips smiled sternly. The figure had risen
to depart. A man came out and walked quickly up the street; the woman
approached, and when the man was under the single lamp swung aloft, he
felt his arm touched: the woman was at his side, and looking steadily
into his face--

“You are Pierre Guillot, the Breton, the friend of George Cadoudal. Will
you be his avenger?”

The Chouan’s first impulse had been to place his hand in his vest, and
something shone bright in the lamp-light, clasped in those iron fingers.
The voice and the manner reassured him, and he answered readily,--

“I am he whom you seek, and I only live to avenge.”

“Read, then, and act,” answered the woman, as she placed a paper in his
hands.

At Laughton the babe is on the breast of the fair mother, and the
father sits beside the bed; and mother and father dispute almost angrily
whether mother or father those soft, rounded features of slumbering
infancy resemble most. At the red house, near the market-town, there is
a hospitable bustle. William is home earlier than usual. Within the last
hour, Susan has been thrice into every room. Husband and wife are
now watching at the window. The good Fieldens, with a coach full of
children, are expected, every moment, on a week’s visit at least.

In the cafe in the Boulevard du Temple sit Pierre Guillot, the Chouan,
and another of the old band of brigands whom George Cadoudal had
mustered in Paris. There is an expression of content on Guillot’s
countenance,--it seems more open than usual, and there is a complacent
smile on his lips. He is whispering low to his friend in the intervals
of eating,--an employment pursued with the hearty gusto of a hungry man.
But his friend does not seem to sympathize with the cheerful feelings
of his comrade; he is pale, and there is terror on his face; and you may
see that the journal in his hand trembles like a leaf.

In the gardens of the Tuileries some score or so of gossips group
together.

“And no news of the murderer?” asked one.

“No; but the man who had been friend to Robespierre must have made
secret enemies enough.”

“Ce pauvre Dalibard! He was not mixed up with the Terrorists,
nevertheless.”

“Ah, but the more deadly for that, perhaps; a sly man was Olivier
Dalibard!”

“What’s the matter?” said an employee, lounging up to the group. “Are
you talking of Olivier Dalibard? It is but the other day he had Marsan’s
appointment. He is now to have Pleyel’s. I heard it two days ago; a
capital thing! Peste! il ira loin. We shall have him a senator soon.”

“Speak for yourself,” quoth a ci-devant abbe, with a laugh; “I should be
sorry to see him again soon, wherever he be.”

“Plait-il? I don’t understand you!”

“Don’t you know that Olivier Dalibard is murdered, found stabbed,--in
his own house, too!”

“Ciel! Pray tell me all you know. His place, then, is vacant!”

“Why, it seems that Dalibard, who had been brought up to medicine, was
still fond of chemical experiments. He hired a room at the top of the
house for such scientific amusements. He was accustomed to spend part
of his nights there. They found him at morning bathed in his blood, with
three ghastly wounds in his side, and his fingers cut to the bone. He
had struggled hard with the knife that butchered him.”

“In his own house!” said a lawyer. “Some servant or spendthrift heir.”

“He has no heir but young Bellanger, who will be riche a millions, and
is now but a schoolboy at Lyons. No; it seems that the window was left
open, and that it communicates with the rooftops. There the murderer had
entered, and by that way escaped; for they found the leads of the gutter
dabbled with blood. The next house was uninhabited,--easy enough to get
in there, and lie perdu till night.”

“Hum!” said the lawyer. “But the assassin could only have learned
Dalibard’s habits from some one in the house. Was the deceased married?”

“Oh, yes,--to an Englishwoman.”

“She had lovers, perhaps?”

“Pooh, lovers! The happiest couple ever known; you should have seen them
together! I dined there last week.”

“It is strange,” said the lawyer.

“And he was getting on so well,” muttered a hungry-looking man.

“And his place is vacant!” repeated the employee, as he quitted the
crowd abstractedly.

In the house of Olivier Dalibard sits Lucretia alone, and in her own
usual morning-room. The officer appointed to such tasks by the
French law has performed his visit, and made his notes, and expressed
condolence with the widow, and promised justice and retribution, and
placed his seal on the locks till the representatives of the heir-at-law
shall arrive; and the heir-at-law is the very boy who had succeeded
so unexpectedly to the wealth of Jean Bellanger the contractor! But
Lucretia has obtained beforehand all she wishes to save from the rest.
An open box is on the floor, into which her hand drops noiselessly a
volume in manuscript. On the forefinger of that hand is a ring, larger
and more massive than those usually worn by women,--by Lucretia never
worn before. Why should that ring have been selected with such care from
the dead man’s hoards? Why so precious the dull opal in that cumbrous
setting? From the hand the volume drops without sound into the box, as
those whom the secrets of the volume instruct you to destroy may drop
without noise into the grave. The trace of some illness, recent and
deep, nor conquered yet, has ploughed lines in that young countenance,
and dimmed the light of those searching eyes. Yet courage! the poison
is arrested, the poisoner is no more. Minds like thine, stern woman, are
cased in coffers of steel, and the rust as yet has gnawed no deeper than
the surface. So over that face, stamped with bodily suffering, plays a
calm smile of triumph. The schemer has baffled the schemer! Turn now
to the right, pass by that narrow corridor: you are in the
marriage-chamber; the windows are closed; tall tapers burn at the foot
of the bed. Now go back to that narrow corridor. Disregarded, thrown
aside, are a cloth and a besom: the cloth is wet still; but here and
there the red stains are dry, and clotted as with bloody glue; and the
hairs of the besom start up, torn and ragged, as if the bristles had
a sense of some horror, as if things inanimate still partook of men’s
dread at men’s deeds. If you passed through the corridor and saw in
the shadow of the wall that homeliest of instruments cast away and
forgotten, you would smile at the slatternly housework. But if you knew
that a corpse had been borne down those stairs to the left,--borne along
those floors to that marriage-bed,--with the blood oozing and gushing
and plashing below as the bearers passed with their burden, then
straight that dead thing would take the awe of the dead being; it told
its own tale of violence and murder; it had dabbled in the gore of the
violated clay; it had become an evidence of the crime. No wonder that
its hairs bristled up, sharp and ragged, in the shadow of the wall.

The first part of the tragedy ends; let fall the curtain. When next it
rises, years will have passed away, graves uncounted will have wrought
fresh hollows in our merry sepulchre,--sweet earth! Take a sand from
the shore, take a drop from the ocean,--less than sand-grain and drop in
man’s planet one Death and one Crime! On the map, trace all oceans,
and search out every shore,--more than seas, more than lands, in God’s
balance shall weigh one Death and one Crime!



PART THE SECOND.



PROLOGUE TO PART THE SECOND.

The century has advanced. The rush of the deluge has ebbed back; the old
landmarks have reappeared; the dynasties Napoleon willed into life have
crumbled to the dust; the plough has passed over Waterloo; autumn after
autumn the harvests have glittered on that grave of an empire. Through
the immense ocean of universal change we look back on the single
track which our frail boat has cut through the waste. As a star shines
impartially over the measureless expanse, though it seems to gild but
one broken line into each eye, so, as our memory gazes on the past, the
light spreads not over all the breadth of the waste where nations have
battled and argosies gone down,--it falls narrow and confined along the
single course we have taken; we lean over the small raft on which
we float, and see the sparkles but reflected from the waves that it
divides.

On the terrace at Laughton but one step paces slowly. The bride clings
not now to the bridegroom’s arm. Though pale and worn, it is still
the same gentle face; but the blush of woman’s love has gone from it
evermore.

Charles Vernon (to call him still by the name in which he is best known
to us) sleeps in the vault of the St. Johns. He had lived longer than he
himself had expected, than his physician had hoped,--lived, cheerful and
happy, amidst quiet pursuits and innocent excitements. Three sons had
blessed his hearth, to mourn over his grave. But the two elder were
delicate and sickly. They did not long survive him, and died within a
few months of each other. The third seemed formed of a different
mould and constitution from his brethren. To him descended the ancient
heritage of Laughton, and he promised to enjoy it long.

It is Vernon’s widow who walks alone in the stately terrace; sad still,
for she loved well the choice of her youth, and she misses yet the
children in the grave. From the date of Vernon’s death, she wore
mourning without and within; and the sorrows that came later broke more
the bruised reed,--sad still, but resigned. One son survives, and earth
yet has the troubled hopes and the holy fears of affection. Though that
son be afar, in sport or in earnest, in pleasure or in toil, working out
his destiny as man, still that step is less solitary than it seems. When
does the son’s image not walk beside the mother? Though she lives in
seclusion, though the gay world tempts no more, the gay world is yet
linked to her thoughts. From the distance she hears its murmurs in
music. Her fancy still mingles with the crowd, and follows on, to her
eye, outshining all the rest. Never vain in herself, she is vain now of
another; and the small triumphs of the young and well-born seem trophies
of renown to the eyes so tenderly deceived.

In the old-fashioned market-town still the business goes on, still the
doors of the bank open and close every moment on the great day of the
week; but the names over the threshold are partially changed. The junior
partner is busy no more at the desk; not wholly forgotten, if his name
still is spoken, it is not with thankfulness and praise. A something
rests on the name,--that something which dims and attaints; not proven,
not certain, but suspected and dubious. The head shakes, the voice
whispers; and the attorney now lives in the solid red house at the verge
of the town.

In the vicarage, Time, the old scythe-bearer, has not paused from his
work. Still employed on Greek texts, little changed, save that his hair
is gray and that some lines in his kindly face tell of sorrows as
of years, the vicar sits in his parlour; but the children no longer,
blithe-voiced and rose-cheeked, dart through the rustling espaliers.
Those children, grave men or staid matrons (save one whom Death chose,
and therefore now of all best beloved!) are at their posts in the world.
The young ones are flown from the nest, and, with anxious wings, here
and there, search food in their turn for their young. But the blithe
voice and rose-cheek of the child make not that loss which the hearth
misses the most. From childhood to manhood, and from manhood to
departure, the natural changes are gradual and prepared. The absence
most missed is that household life which presided, which kept things in
order, and must be coaxed if a chair were displaced. That providence
in trifles, that clasp of small links, that dear, bustling agency,--now
pleased, now complaining,--dear alike in each change of its humour;
that active life which has no self of its own; like the mind of a poet,
though its prose be the humblest, transferring self into others, with
its right to be cross, and its charter to scold; for the motive is
clear,--it takes what it loves too anxiously to heart. The door of the
parlour is open, the garden-path still passes before the threshold; but
no step now has full right to halt at the door and interrupt the grave
thought on Greek texts; no small talk on details and wise sayings
chimes in with the wrath of “Medea.” The Prudent Genius is gone from the
household; and perhaps as the good scholar now wearily pauses, and looks
out on the silent garden, he would have given with joy all that Athens
produced, from Aeschylus to Plato, to hear again from the old familiar
lips the lament on torn jackets, or the statistical economy of eggs.

But see, though the wife is no more, though the children have departed,
the vicar’s home is not utterly desolate. See, along the same walk on
which William soothed Susan’s fears and won her consent,--see, what
fairy advances? Is it Susan returned to youth? How like! Yet look again,
and how unlike! The same, the pure, candid regard; the same, the clear,
limpid blue of the eye; the same, that fair hue of the hair,--light,
but not auburn; more subdued, more harmonious than that equivocal colour
which too nearly approaches to red. But how much more blooming and
joyous than Susan’s is that exquisite face in which all Hebe smiles
forth; how much airier the tread, light with health; how much rounder,
if slighter still, the wave of that undulating form! She smiles, her
lips move, she is conversing with herself; she cannot be all silent,
even when alone, for the sunny gladness of her nature must have vent
like a bird’s. But do not fancy that that gladness speaks the levity
which comes from the absence of thought; it is rather from the depth
of thought that it springs, as from the depth of a sea comes its music.
See, while she pauses and listens, with her finger half-raised to her
lip, as amidst that careless jubilee of birds she hears a note more
grave and sustained,--the nightingale singing by day (as sometimes,
though rarely, he is heard,--perhaps because he misses his mate; perhaps
because he sees from his bower the creeping form of some foe to his
race),--see, as she listens now to that plaintive, low-chanted warble,
how quickly the smile is sobered, how the shade, soft and pensive,
steals over the brow. It is but the mystic sympathy with Nature that
bestows the smile or the shade. In that heart lightly moved beats the
fine sense of the poet. It is the exquisite sensibility of the nerves
that sends its blithe play to those spirits, and from the clearness of
the atmosphere comes, warm and ethereal, the ray of that light.

And does the roof of the pastor give shelter to Helen Mainwaring’s
youth? Has Death taken from her the natural protectors? Those forms
which we saw so full of youth and youth’s heart in that very spot, has
the grave closed on them yet? Yet! How few attain to the age of the
Psalmist! Twenty-seven years have passed since that date: how often, in
those years, have the dark doors opened for the young as for the old!
William Mainwaring died first, careworn and shamebowed; the blot on his
name had cankered into his heart. Susan’s life, always precarious, had
struggled on, while he lived, by the strong power of affection and will;
she would not die, for who then could console him? But at his death the
power gave way. She lingered, but lingered dyingly, for three years; and
then, for the first time since William’s death, she smiled: that smile
remained on the lips of the corpse. They had had many trials, that young
couple whom we left so prosperous and happy. Not till many years after
their marriage had one sweet consoler been born to them. In the season
of poverty and shame and grief it came; and there was no pride on
Mainwaring’s brow when they placed his first-born in his arms. By her
will, the widow consigned Helen to the joint guardianship of Mr. Fielden
and her sister; but the latter was abroad, her address unknown, so
the vicar for two years had had sole charge of the orphan. She was not
unprovided for. The sum that Susan brought to her husband had been long
since gone, it is true,--lost in the calamity which had wrecked William
Mainwaring’s name and blighted his prospects; but Helen’s grandfather,
the landagent, had died some time subsequent to that event, and, indeed,
just before William’s death. He had never forgiven his son the stain on
his name,--never assisted, never even seen him since that fatal day;
but he left to Helen a sum of about 8,000 pounds; for she, at least, was
innocent. In Mr. Fielden’s eyes, Helen was therefore an heiress. And who
amongst his small range of acquaintance was good enough for her?--not
only so richly portioned, but so lovely,--accomplished, too; for her
parents had of late years lived chiefly in France, and languages there
are easily learned, and masters cheap. Mr. Fielden knew but one, whom
Providence had also consigned to his charge,--the supposed son of his
old pupil Ardworth; but though a tender affection existed between the
two young persons, it seemed too like that of brother and sister to
afford much ground for Mr. Fielden’s anxiety or hope.

From his window the vicar observed the still attitude of the young
orphan for a few moments; then he pushed aside his books, rose, and
approached her. At the sound of his tread she woke from her revery and
bounded lightly towards him.

“Ah, you would not see me before!” she said, in a voice in which there
was the slightest possible foreign accent, which betrayed the country in
which her childhood had been passed; “I peeped in twice at the window.
I wanted you so much to walk to the village. But you will come now, will
you not?” added the girl, coaxingly, as she looked up at him under the
shade of her straw hat.

“And what do you want in the village, my pretty Helen?”

“Why, you know it is fair day, and you promised Bessie that you would
buy her a fairing,--to say nothing of me.”

“Very true, and I ought to look in; it will help to keep the poor people
from drinking. A clergyman should mix with his parishioners in their
holidays. We must not associate our office only with grief and sickness
and preaching. We will go. And what fairing are you to have?”

“Oh, something very brilliant, I promise you! I have formed grand
notions of a fair. I am sure it must be like the bazaars we read of last
night in that charming ‘Tour in the East.’”

The vicar smiled, half benignly, half anxiously. “My dear child, it is
so like you to suppose a village fair must be an Eastern bazaar. If you
always thus judge of things by your fancy, how this sober world will
deceive you, poor Helen!”

“It is not my fault; ne me grondez pas, mechant,” answered Helen,
hanging her head. “But come, sir, allow, at least, that if I let my
romance, as you call it, run away with me now and then, I can still
content myself with the reality. What, you shake your head still? Don’t
you remember the sparrow?”

“Ha! ha! yes,--the sparrow that the pedlar sold you for a goldfinch; and
you were so proud of your purchase, and wondered so much why you could
not coax the goldfinch to sing, till at last the paint wore away, and it
was only a poor little sparrow!”

“Go on! Confess: did I fret then? Was I not as pleased with my dear
sparrow as I should have been with the prettiest goldfinch that ever
sang? Does not the sparrow follow me about and nestle on my shoulder,
dear little thing? And I was right after all; for if I had not fancied
it a goldfinch, I should not have bought it, perhaps. But now I would
not change it for a goldfinch,--no, not even for that nightingale I
heard just now. So let me still fancy the poor fair a bazaar; it is a
double pleasure, first to fancy the bazaar, and then to be surprised at
the fair.”

“You argue well,” said the vicar, as they now entered the village; “I
really think, in spite of all your turn for poetry and Goldsmith and
Cowper, that you would take as kindly to mathematics as your cousin John
Ardworth, poor lad!

“Not if mathematics have made him so grave, and so churlish, I was
going to say; but that word does him wrong, dear cousin, so kind and so
rough!”

“It is not mathematics that are to blame if he is grave and
absorbed,” said the vicar, with a sigh; “it is the two cares that gnaw
most,--poverty and ambition.”

“Nay, do not sigh; it must be such a pleasure to feel, as he does, that
one must triumph at last!”

“Umph! John must have nearly reached London by this time,” said Mr.
Fielden, “for he is a stout walker, and this is the third day since he
left us. Well, now that he is about fairly to be called to the Bar, I
hope that his fever will cool, and he will settle calmly to work. I have
felt great pain for him during this last visit.”

“Pain! But why?”

“My dear, do you remember what I read to you both from Sir William
Temple the night before John left us?”

Helen put her hand to her brow, and with a readiness which showed a
memory equally quick and retentive, replied, “Yes; was it not to this
effect? I am not sure of the exact words: ‘To have something we have
not, and be something we are not, is the root of all evil.’”

“Well remembered, my darling!”

“Ah, but,” said Helen, archly, “I remember too what my cousin replied:
‘If Sir William Temple had practised his theory, he would not have been
ambassador at the Hague, or--”

“Pshaw! the boy’s always ready enough with his answers,” interrupted Mr.
Fielden, rather petulantly. “There’s the fair, my dear,--more in your
way, I see, than Sir William Temple’s philosophy.”

And Helen was right; the fair was no Eastern bazaar, but how delighted
that young, impressionable mind was, notwithstanding,--delighted with
the swings and the roundabouts, the shows, the booths, even down to
the gilt gingerbread kings and queens! All minds genuinely poetical
are peculiarly susceptible to movement,--that is, to the excitement
of numbers. If the movement is sincerely joyous, as in the mirth of a
village holiday, such a nature shares insensibly in the joy; but if the
movement is a false and spurious gayety, as in a state ball, where the
impassive face and languid step are out of harmony with the evident
object of the scene, then the nature we speak of feels chilled and
dejected. Hence it really is that the more delicate and ideal order
of minds soon grow inexpressibly weary of the hack routine of what are
called fashionable pleasures. Hence the same person most alive to a
dance on the green, would be without enjoyment at Almack’s. It was
not because one scene is a village green, and the other a room in King
Street, nor is it because the actors in the one are of the humble, in
the others of the noble class; but simply because the enjoyment in the
first is visible and hearty, because in the other it is a listless and
melancholy pretence. Helen fancied it was the swings and the booths
that gave her that innocent exhilaration,--it was not so; it was the
unconscious sympathy with the crowd around her. When the poetical nature
quits its own dreams for the actual world, it enters and transfuses
itself into the hearts and humours of others. The two wings of that
spirit which we call Genius are revery and sympathy. But poor little
Helen had no idea that she had genius. Whether chasing the butterfly or
talking fond fancies to her birds, or whether with earnest, musing
eyes watching the stars come forth, and the dark pine-trees gleam into
silver; whether with airy daydreams and credulous wonder poring over the
magic tales of Mirglip or Aladdin, or whether spellbound to awe by the
solemn woes of Lear, or following the blind great bard into “the heaven
of heavens, an earthly guest, to draw empyreal air,”--she obeyed but the
honest and varying impulse in each change of her pliant mood, and would
have ascribed with genuine humility to the vagaries of childhood that
prompt gathering of pleasure, that quick-shifting sport of the fancy by
which Nature binds to itself, in chains undulating as melody, the lively
senses of genius.

While Helen, leaning on the vicar’s arm, thus surrendered herself to the
innocent excitement of the moment, the vicar himself smiled and nodded
to his parishioners, or paused to exchange a friendly word or two with
the youngest or the eldest loiterers (those two extremes of mortality
which the Church so tenderly unites) whom the scene drew to its tempting
vortex, when a rough-haired lad, with a leather bag strapped across his
waist, turned from one of the gingerbread booths, and touching his hat,
said, “Please you, sir, I was a coming to your house with a letter.”

The vicar’s correspondence was confined and rare, despite his distant
children, for letters but a few years ago were costly luxuries to
persons of narrow income, and therefore the juvenile letter-carrier
who plied between the post-town and the village failed to excite in his
breast that indignation for being an hour or more behind his time which
would have animated one to whom the post brings the usual event of the
day. He took the letter from the boy’s hand, and paid for it with a
thrifty sigh as he glanced at a handwriting unfamiliar to him,--perhaps
from some clergyman poorer than himself. However, that was not the place
to read letters, so he put the epistle into his pocket, until Helen, who
watched his countenance to see when he grew tired of the scene, kindly
proposed to return home. As they gained a stile half-way, Mr. Fielden
remembered his letter, took it forth, and put on his spectacles. Helen
stooped over the bank to gather violets; the vicar seated himself on
the stile. As he again looked at the address, the handwriting, before
unfamiliar, seemed to grow indistinctly on his recollection. That bold,
firm hand--thin and fine as woman’s, but large and regular as man’s--was
too peculiar to be forgotten. He uttered a brief exclamation of surprise
and recognition, and hastily broke the seal. The contents ran thus:--

DEAR SIR,--So many years have passed since any communication has taken
place between us that the name of Lucretia Dalibard will seem more
strange to you than that of Lucretia Clavering. I have recently returned
to England after long residence abroad. I perceive by my deceased
sister’s will that she has confided her only daughter to my
guardianship, conjointly with yourself. I am anxious to participate
in that tender charge. I am alone in the world,--an habitual sufferer;
afflicted with a partial paralysis that deprives me of the use of my
limbs. In such circumstances, it is the more natural that I should turn
to the only relative left me. My journey to England has so exhausted
my strength, and all movement is so painful, that I must request you
to excuse me for not coming in person for my niece. Your benevolence,
however, will, I am sure, prompt you to afford me the comfort of her
society, and as soon as you can, contrive some suitable arrangement for
her journey. Begging you to express to Helen, in my name, the assurance
of such a welcome as is due from me to my sister’s child, and waiting
with great anxiety your reply, I am, dear Sir, Your very faithful
servant, LUCRETIA DALIBARD.

P. S. I can scarcely venture to ask you to bring Helen yourself to town,
but I should be glad if other inducements to take the journey afforded
me the pleasure of seeing you once again. I am anxious, in addition
to such details of my late sister as you may be enabled to give me, to
learn something of the history of her connection with Mr. Ardworth, in
whom I felt much interested years ago, and who, I am recently informed,
left an infant, his supposed son, under your care. So long absent from
England, how much have I to learn, and how little the mere gravestones
tell us of the dead!

While the vicar is absorbed in this letter, equally unwelcome and
unexpected; while, unconscious as the daughter of Ceres, gathering
flowers when the Hell King drew near, of the change that awaited her and
the grim presence that approached on her fate, Helen bends still
over the bank odorous with shrinking violets,--we turn where the new
generation equally invites our gaze, and make our first acquaintance
with two persons connected with the progress of our tale.

The britzska stopped. The servant, who had been gradually accumulating
present dust and future rheumatisms on the “bad eminence” of a
rumble-tumble, exposed to the nipping airs of an English sky, leaped to
the ground and opened the carriage-door.

“This is the best place for the view, sir,--a little to the right.”

Percival St. John threw aside his book (a volume of Voyages), whistled
to a spaniel dozing by his side, and descended lightly. Light was the
step of the young man, and merry was the bark of the dog, as it
chased from the road the startled sparrow, rising high into the clear
air,--favourites of Nature both, man and dog. You had but to glance at
Percival St. John to know at once that he was of the race that toils
not; the assured step spoke confidence in the world’s fair smile. No
care for the morrow dimmed the bold eye and the radiant bloom.

About the middle height,--his slight figure, yet undeveloped, seemed
not to have attained to its full growth,--the darkening down only just
shaded a cheek somewhat sunburned, though naturally fair, round which
locks black as jet played sportively in the fresh air; about him
altogether there was the inexpressible charm of happy youth. He scarcely
looked sixteen, though above four years older; but for his firm though
careless step, and the open fearlessness of his frank eye, you might
have almost taken him for a girl in men’s clothes,--not from effeminacy
of feature, but from the sparkling bloom of his youth, and from his
unmistakable newness to the cares and sins of man. A more delightful
vision of ingenuous boyhood opening into life under happy auspices never
inspired with pleased yet melancholy interest the eye of half-envious,
half-pitying age.

“And that,” mused Percival St. John,--“that is London! Oh for the Diable
Boiteux to unroof me those distant houses, and show me the pleasures
that lurk within! Ah, what long letters I shall have to write home! How
the dear old captain will laugh over them, and how my dear good mother
will put down her work and sigh! Home!--um, I miss it already. How
strange and grim, after all, the huge city seems!”

His glove fell to the ground, and his spaniel mumbled it into shreds.
The young man laughed, and throwing himself on the grass, played gayly
with the dog.

“Fie, Beau, sir, fie! gloves are indigestible. Restrain your appetite,
and we’ll lunch together at the Clarendon.”

At this moment there arrived at the same patch of greensward a
pedestrian some years older than Percival St. John,--a tall, muscular,
raw-boned, dust-covered, travel-stained pedestrian; one of your
pedestrians in good earnest,--no amateur in neat gambroon manufactured
by Inkson, who leaves his carriage behind him and walks on with his
fishing-rod by choice, but a sturdy wanderer, with thick shoes and
strapless trousers, a threadbare coat and a knapsack at his back. Yet,
withal, the young man had the air of a gentleman,--not gentleman as the
word is understood in St. James’s, the gentleman of the noble and idle
class, but the gentleman as the title is accorded, by courtesy, to all
to whom both education and the habit of mixing with educated persons
gives a claim to the distinction and imparts an air of refinement. The
new-comer was strongly built, at once lean and large,--far more strongly
built than Percival St. John, but without his look of cheerful and
comely health. His complexion had not the florid hues that should have
accompanied that strength of body; it was pale, though not sickly; the
expression grave, the lines deep, the face strongly marked. By his
side trotted painfully a wiry, yellowish, footsore Scotch terrier. Beau
sprang from his master’s caress, cocked his handsome head on one side,
and suspended in silent halt his right fore-paw. Percival cast over his
left shoulder a careless glance at the intruder. The last heeded neither
Beau nor Percival. He slipped his knapsack to the ground, and the Scotch
terrier sank upon it, and curled himself up into a ball. The wayfarer
folded his arms tightly upon his breast, heaved a short, unquiet sigh,
and cast over the giant city, from under deep-pent, lowering brows,
a look so earnest, so searching, so full of inexpressible, dogged,
determined power, that Percival, roused out of his gay indifference,
rose and regarded him with curious interest.

In the mean while Beau had very leisurely approached the bilious-looking
terrier; and after walking three times round him, with a stare and a
small sniff of superb impertinence, halted with great composure, and
lifting his hind leg--O Beau, Beau, Beau! your historian blushes for
your breeding, and, like Sterne’s recording angel, drops a tear upon the
stain which washes it from the register--but not, alas, from the back
of the bilious terrier! The space around was wide, Beau; you had all the
world to choose: why select so specially for insult the single spot
on which reposed the wornout and unoffending? O dainty Beau! O dainty
world! Own the truth, both of ye. There is something irresistibly
provocative of insult in the back of a shabby-looking dog! The poor
terrier, used to affronts, raised its heavy eyelids, and shot the gleam
of just indignation from its dark eyes. But it neither stirred nor
growled, and Beau, extremely pleased with his achievement, wagged his
tail in triumph and returned to his master,--perhaps, in parliamentary
phrase, to “report proceedings and ask leave to sit again.”

“I wonder,” soliloquized Percival St. John, “what that poor fellow is
thinking of? Perhaps he is poor; indeed, no doubt of it, now I look
again. And I so rich! I should like to--Hem! let’s see what he’s made
of.”

Herewith Percival approached, and with all a boy’s half-bashful,
half-saucy frankness, said: “A fine prospect, sir.” The pedestrian
started, and threw a rapid glance over the brilliant figure that
accosted him. Percival St. John was not to be abashed by stern looks;
but that glance might have abashed many a more experienced man. The
glance of a squire upon a corn-law missionary, of a Crockford dandy upon
a Regent Street tiger, could not have been more disdainful.

“Tush!” said the pedestrian, rudely, and turned upon his heel.

Percival coloured, and--shall we own it?--was boy enough to double his
fist. Little would he have been deterred by the brawn of those great
arms and the girth of that Herculean chest, if he had been quite sure
that it was a proper thing to resent pugilistically so discourteous a
monosyllable. The “tush!” stuck greatly in his throat. But the man, now
removed to the farther verge of the hill, looked so tranquil and so lost
in thought that the short-lived anger died.

“And after all, if I were as poor as he looks, I dare say I should be
just as proud,” muttered Percival. “However, it’s his own fault if he
goes to London on foot, when I might at least have given him a lift.
Come, Beau, sir.”

With his face still a little flushed, and his hat unconsciously cocked
fiercely on one side, Percival sauntered back to his britzska.

As in a whirl of dust the light carriage was borne by the four posters
down the hill, the pedestrian turned for an instant from the view before
to the cloud behind, and muttered: “Ay, a fine prospect for the rich,--a
noble field for the poor!” The tone in which those words were said told
volumes; there spoke the pride, the hope, the energy, the ambition which
make youth laborious, manhood prosperous, age renowned.

The stranger then threw himself on the sward, and continued his silent
and intent contemplation till the clouds grew red in the west. When,
then, he rose, his eye was bright, his mien erect, and a smile, playing
round his firm, full lips, stole the moody sternness from his hard
face. Throwing his knapsack once more on his back, John Ardworth went
resolutely on to the great vortex.



CHAPTER I. THE CORONATION.

The 8th of September, 1831, was a holiday in London. William the Fourth
received the crown of his ancestors in that mighty church in which the
most impressive monitors to human pomp are the monuments of the dead.
The dust of conquerors and statesmen, of the wise heads and the bold
hands that had guarded the thrones of departed kings, slept around; and
the great men of the Modern time were assembled in homage to the monarch
to whom the prowess and the liberty of generations had bequeathed an
empire in which the sun never sets. In the Abbey--thinking little of the
past, caring little for the future--the immense audience gazed eagerly
on the pageant that occurs but once in that division of history,--the
lifetime of a king. The assemblage was brilliant and imposing. The
galleries sparkled with the gems of women who still upheld the celebrity
for form and feature which, from the remotest times, has been awarded to
the great English race. Below, in their robes and coronets, were men
who neither in the senate nor the field have shamed their fathers.
Conspicuous amongst all for grandeur of mien and stature towered the
brothers of the king; while, commanding yet more the universal gaze,
were seen, here the eagle features of the old hero of Waterloo, and
there the majestic brow of the haughty statesman who was leading the
people (while the last of the Bourbons, whom Waterloo had restored to
the Tuileries, had left the orb and purple to the kindred house so fatal
to his name) through a stormy and perilous transition to a bloodless
revolution and a new charter.

Tier upon tier, in the division set apart for them, the members of the
Lower House moved and murmured above the pageant; and the coronation of
the new sovereign was connected in their minds with the great measure
which, still undecided, made at that time a link between the People
and the King, and arrayed against both, if not, indeed, the real
Aristocracy, at least the Chamber recognized by the Constitution as
its representative. Without the space was one dense mass. Houses,
from balcony to balcony, window to window, were filled as some immense
theatre. Up, through the long thoroughfare to Whitehall, the eye saw
that audience,--A PEOPLE; and the gaze was bounded at the spot where
Charles the First had passed from the banquet-house to the scaffold.

The ceremony was over, the procession had swept slowly by, the last
huzza had died away; and after staring a while upon Orator Hunt, who
had clambered up the iron palisade near Westminster Hall, to exhibit his
goodly person in his court attire, the serried crowds, hurrying from
the shower which then unseasonably descended, broke into large masses or
lengthening columns.

In that part of London which may be said to form a boundary between
its old and its new world, by which, on the one hand, you pass to
Westminster, or through that gorge of the Strand which leads along
endless rows of shops that have grown up on the sites of the
ancient halls of the Salisburys and the Exeters, the Buckinghams and
Southamptons; to the heart of the City built around the primeval palace
of the “Tower;” while, on the other hand, you pass into the new city of
aristocracy and letters, of art and fashion, embracing the whilom chase
of Marylebone, and the once sedge-grown waters of Pimlico,--by this
ignoble boundary (the crossing from the Opera House, at the bottom of
the Haymarket, to the commencement of Charing Cross) stood a person
whose discontented countenance was in singular contrast with the general
gayety and animation of the day. This person, O gentle reader, this
sour, querulous, discontented person, was a king, too, in his own walk!
None might dispute it. He feared no rebel; he was harassed by no reform;
he ruled without ministers. Tools he had; but when worn out, he replaced
them without a pension or a sigh. He lived by taxes, but they were
voluntary; and his Civil List was supplied without demand for the
redress of grievances. This person, nevertheless, not deposed, was
suspended from his empire for the day. He was pushed aside; he was
forgotten. He was not distinct from the crowd. Like Titus, he had lost
a day,--his vocation was gone. This person was the Sweeper of the
Crossing!

He was a character. He was young, in the fairest prime of youth; but it
was the face of an old man on young shoulders. His hair was long,
thin, and prematurely streaked with gray; his face was pale and deeply
furrowed; his eyes were hollow, and their stare gleamed, cold and
stolid, under his bent and shaggy brows. The figure was at once fragile
and ungainly, and the narrow shoulders curved in a perpetual stoop.
It was a person, once noticed, that you would easily remember, and
associate with some undefined, painful impression. The manner was
humble, but not meek; the voice was whining, but without pathos. There
was a meagre, passionless dulness about the aspect, though at times
it quickened into a kind of avid acuteness. No one knew by what human
parentage this personage came into the world. He had been reared by
the charity of a stranger, crept through childhood and misery and
rags mysteriously; and suddenly succeeded an old defunct negro in
the profitable crossing whereat he is now standing. All education was
unknown to him, so was all love. In those festive haunts at St. Giles’s
where he who would see “life in London” may often discover the boy who
has held his horse in the morning dancing merrily with his chosen damsel
at night, our sweeper’s character was austere as Charles the Twelfth’s.
And the poor creature had his good qualities. He was sensitively alive
to kindness,--little enough had been shown him to make the luxury the
more prized from its rarity! Though fond of money, he would part with it
(we do not say cheerfully, but part with it still),--not to mere want,
indeed (for he had been too pinched and starved himself, and had grown
too obtuse to pinching and to starving for the sensitiveness that
prompts to charity), but to any of his companions who had done him a
good service, or who had even warmed his dull heart by a friendly smile.
He was honest, too,--honest to the backbone. You might have trusted
him with gold untold. Through the heavy clod which man’s care had not
moulded, nor books enlightened, nor the priest’s solemn lore informed,
still natural rays from the great parent source of Deity struggled,
fitful and dim. He had no lawful name; none knew if sponsors had ever
stood security for his sins at the sacred fount. But he had christened
himself by the strange, unchristian like name of “Beck.” There he was,
then, seemingly without origin, parentage, or kindred tie,--a lonesome,
squalid, bloodless thing, which the great monster, London, seemed
to have spawned forth of its own self; one of its sickly, miserable,
rickety offspring, whom it puts out at nurse to Penury, at school to
Starvation, and, finally, and literally, gives them stones for bread,
with the option of the gallows or the dunghill when the desperate
offspring calls on the giant mother for return and home.

And this creature did love something,--loved, perhaps, some
fellow-being; of that hereafter, when we dive into the secrets of his
privacy. Meanwhile, openly and frankly, he loved his crossing; he was
proud of his crossing; he was grateful to his crossing. God help thee,
son of the street, why not? He had in it a double affection,--that of
serving and being served. He kept the crossing, if the crossing kept
him. He smiled at times to himself when he saw it lie fair and brilliant
amidst the mire around; it bestowed on him a sense of property! What
a man may feel for a fine estate in a ring fence, Beck felt for that
isthmus of the kennel which was subject to his broom. The coronation had
made one rebellious spirit when it swept the sweeper from his crossing.

He stood, then, half under the colonnade of the Opera House as the crowd
now rapidly grew thinner and more scattered: and when the last carriage
of a long string of vehicles had passed by, he muttered audibly,--

“It’ll take a deal of pains to make she right agin!”

“So you be’s ‘ere to-day, Beck!” said a ragamuffin boy, who, pushing and
scrambling through his betters, now halted, and wiped his forehead as he
looked at the sweeper. “Vy, ve are all out pleasuring. Vy von’t you come
with ve? Lots of fun!”

The sweeper scowled at the urchin, and made no answer, but began
sedulously to apply himself to the crossing.

“Vy, there isn’t another sweep in the streets, Beck. His Majesty King
Bill’s currynation makes all on us so ‘appy!”

“It has made she unkimmon dirty!” returned Beck, pointing to the dingy
crossing, scarce distinguished from the rest of the road.

The ragamuffin laughed.

“But ve be’s goin’ to ‘ave Reform now, Beck. The peopul’s to have their
rights and libties, hand the luds is to be put down, hand beefsteaks is
to be a penny a pound, and--”

“What good will that do to she?”

“Vy, man, ve shall take turn about, and sum vun helse will sveep
the crossings, and ve shall ride in sum vun helse’s coach and four,
p’r’aps,--cos vy? ve shall hall be hequals!”

“Hequals! I tells you vot, if you keeps jawing there, atween me and she,
I shall vop you, Joe,--cos vy? I be’s the biggest!” was the answer of
Beck the sweeper to Joe the ragamuffin.

The jovial Joe laughed aloud, snapped his fingers, threw up his ragged
cap with a shout for King Bill, and set off scampering and whooping to
join those festivities which Beck had so churlishly disdained.

Time crept on; evening began to close in, and Beck was still at his
crossing, when a young gentleman on horseback, who, after seeing the
procession, had stolen away for a quiet ride in the suburbs, reined in
close by the crossing, and looking round, as for some one to hold his
horse, could discover no loiterer worthy that honour except the solitary
Beck. So young was the rider that he seemed still a boy. On his smooth
countenance all that most prepossesses in early youth left its witching
stamp. A smile, at once gay and sweet, played on his lips. There was a
charm, even in a certain impatient petulance, in his quick eye and the
slight contraction of his delicate brows. Almaviva might well have been
jealous of such a page. He was the beau-ideal of Cherubino. He held up
his whip, with an arch sign, to the sweeper. “Follow, my man,” he said,
in a tone the very command of which sounded gentle, so blithe was
the movement of the lips, and so silvery the easy accent; and without
waiting, he cantered carelessly down Pall Mall.

The sweeper cast a rueful glance at his melancholy domain. But he
had gained but little that day, and the offer was too tempting to be
rejected. He heaved a sigh, shouldered his broom, and murmuring to
himself that he would give her a last brush before he retired for the
night, he put his long limbs into that swinging, shambling trot which
characterizes the motion of those professional jackals who, having once
caught sight of a groomless rider, fairly hunt him down, and appear when
he least expects it, the instant he dismounts. The young rider lightly
swung himself from his sleek, high-bred gray at the door of one of the
clubs in St. James’s Street, patted his horse’s neck, chucked the rein
to the sweeper, and sauntered into the house, whistling musically,--if
not from want of thought, certainly from want of care.

As he entered the club, two or three men, young indeed, but much older,
to appearance at least, than himself, who were dining together at the
same table, nodded to him their friendly greeting.

“Ah, Perce,” said one, “we have only just sat down; here is a seat for
you.”

The boy blushed shyly as he accepted the proposal, and the young men
made room for him at the table, with a smiling alacrity which showed
that his shyness was no hindrance to his popularity.

“Who,” said an elderly dandy, dining apart with one of his
contemporaries,--“who is that lad? One ought not to admit such mere boys
into the club.”

“He is the only surviving son of an old friend of ours,” answered the
other, dropping his eyeglass,--“young Percival St. John.”

“St. John! What! Vernon St. John’s son?”

“Yes.”

“He has not his father’s good air. These young fellows have a tone, a
something,--a want of self-possession, eh?”

“Very true. The fact is, that Percival was meant for the navy, and even
served as a mid for a year or so. He was a younger son, then,--third,
I think. The two elder ones died, and Master Percival walked into the
inheritance. I don’t think he is quite of age yet.”

“Of age! he does not look seventeen.”

“Oh, he is more than that; I remember him in his jacket at Laughton. A
fine property!”

“Ay, I don’t wonder those fellows are so civil to him. This claret is
corked! Everything is so bad at this d----d club,--no wonder, when a
troop of boys are let in! Enough to spoil any club; don’t know Larose
from Lafitte! Waiter!”

Meanwhile, the talk round the table at which sat Percival St. John was
animated, lively, and various,--the talk common with young idlers; of
horses, and steeplechases, and opera-dancers, and reigning beauties,
and good-humoured jests at each other. In all this babble there was a
freshness about Percival St. John’s conversation which showed that, as
yet, for him life had the zest of novelty. He was more at home about
horses and steeplechases than about opera-dancers and beauties and the
small scandals of town. Talk on these latter topics did not seem to
interest him, on the contrary, almost to pain. Shy and modest as a girl,
he coloured or looked aside when his more hardened friends boasted of
assignations and love-affairs. Spirited, gay, and manly enough in all
really manly points, the virgin bloom of innocence was yet visible in
his frank, charming manner; and often, out of respect for his delicacy,
some hearty son of pleasure stopped short in his narrative, or lost
the point of his anecdote. And yet so lovable was Percival in his good
humour, his naivete, his joyous entrance into innocent joy, that his
companions were scarcely conscious of the gene and restraint he
imposed on them. Those merry, dark eyes and that flashing smile
were conviviality of themselves. They brought with them a contagious
cheerfulness which compensated for the want of corruption.

Night had set in. St. John’s companions had departed to their several
haunts, and Percival himself stood on the steps of the club, resolving
that he would join the crowds that swept through the streets to gaze
on the illuminations, when he perceived Beck (still at the rein of his
dozing horse), whom he had quite forgotten till that moment. Laughing at
his own want of memory, Percival put some silver into Beck’s hand,--more
silver than Beck had ever before received for similar service,--and
said,--

“Well, my man, I suppose I can trust you to take my horse to his
stables,--No.----, the Mews, behind Curzon Street. Poor fellow, he wants
his supper,--and you, too, I suppose!”

Beck smiled a pale, hungry smile, and pulled his forelock politely.

“I can take the ‘oss werry safely, your ‘onor.”

“Take him, then, and good evening; but don’t get on, for your life.”

“Oh, no, sir; I never gets on,--‘t aint in my ways.”

And Beck slowly led the horse through the crowd, till he vanished from
Percival’s eyes.

Just then a man passing through the street paused as he saw the young
gentleman on the steps of the club, and said gayly, “Ah! how do you do?
Pretty faces in plenty out to-night. Which way are you going?”

“That is more than I can tell you, Mr. Varney. I was just thinking which
turn to take,--the right or the left.”

“Then let me be your guide;” and Varney offered his arm.

Percival accepted the courtesy, and the two walked on towards
Piccadilly. Many a kind glance from the milliners--and maid-servants
whom the illuminations drew abroad, roved, somewhat impartially, towards
St. John and his companion; but they dwelt longer on the last, for there
at least they were sure of a return. Varney, if not in his first youth,
was still in the prime of life, and Time had dealt with him so leniently
that he retained all the personal advantages of youth itself. His
complexion still was clear; and as only his upper lip, decorated with
a slight silken and well-trimmed mustache, was unshaven, the contour
of the face added to the juvenility of his appearance by the rounded
symmetry it betrayed. His hair escaped from his hat in fair unchanged
luxuriance. And the nervous figure, agile as a panther’s, though
broad-shouldered and deep-chested, denoted all the slightness and
elasticity of twenty-five, combined with the muscular power of forty.
His dress was rather fantastic,--too showy for the good taste which is
habitual to the English gentleman,--and there was a peculiarity in his
gait, almost approaching to a strut, which bespoke a desire of effect,
a consciousness of personal advantages, equally opposed to the mien
and manner of Percival’s usual companions; yet withal, even the most
fastidious would have hesitated to apply to Gabriel Varney the epithet
of “vulgar.” Many turned to look again, but it was not to remark the
dress or the slight swagger; an expression of reckless, sinister power
in the countenance, something of vigour and determination even in that
very walk, foppish as it would have been in most, made you sink all
observation of the mere externals, in a sentiment of curiosity towards
the man himself. He seemed a somebody,--not a somebody of conventional
rank, but a somebody of personal individuality; an artist, perhaps a
poet, or a soldier in some foreign service, but certainly a man whose
name you would expect to have heard of. Amongst the common mob of
passengers he stood out in marked and distinct relief.

“I feel at home in a crowd,” said Varney. “Do you understand me?”

“I think so,” answered Percival. “If ever I could become distinguished,
I, too, should feel at home in a crowd.”

“You have ambition, then; you mean to become distinguished?” asked
Varney, with a sharp, searching look.

There was a deeper and steadier flash than usual from Percival’s dark
eyes, and a manlier glow over his cheek, at Varney’s question. But he
was slow in answering; and when he did so, his manner had all its wonted
mixture of graceful bashfulness and gay candour.

“Our rise does not always depend on ourselves. We are not all born
great, nor do we all have ‘greatness thrust on us.’”

“One can be what one likes, with your fortune,” said Varney; and there
was a growl of envy in his voice.

“What, be a painter like you! Ha, ha!”

“Faith,” said Varney, “at least, if you could paint at all, you would
have what I have not,--praise and fame.”

Percival pressed kindly on Varney’s arm. “Courage! you will get justice
some day.”

Varney shook his head. “Bah! there is no such thing as justice; all are
underrated or overrated. Can you name one man who you think is estimated
by the public at his precise value? As for present popularity, it
depends on two qualities, each singly, or both united,--cowardice and
charlatanism; that is, servile compliance with the taste and opinion of
the moment, or a quack’s spasmodic efforts at originality. But why bore
you on such matters? There are things more attractive round us. A good
ankle that, eh? Why, pardon me, it is strange, but you don’t seem to
care much for women?”

“Oh, yes, I do,” said Percival, with a sly demureness. “I am very fond
of--my mother!”

“Very proper and filial,” said Varney, laughing; “and does your love for
the sex stop there?”

“Well, and in truth I fancy so,--pretty nearly. You know my grandmother
is not alive! But that is something really worth looking at!” And
Percival pointed, almost with a child’s delight, at an illumination more
brilliant than the rest.

“I suppose, when you come of age, you will have all the cedars at
Laughton hung with coloured lamps. Ah, you must ask me there some day; I
should so like to see the old place again.”

“You never saw it, I think you say, in my poor father’s time?”

“Never.”

“Yet you knew him.”

“But slightly.”

“And you never saw my mother?”

“No; but she seems to have such influence over you that I am sure she
must be a very superior person,--rather proud, I suppose.”

“Proud, no,--that is, not exactly proud, for she is very meek and very
affable. But yet--”

“‘But yet--’ You hesitate: she would not like you to be seen, perhaps,
walking in Piccadilly with Gabriel Varney, the natural son of old Sir
Miles’s librarian,--Gabriel Varney the painter; Gabriel Varney the
adventurer!”

“As long as Gabriel Varney is a man without stain on his character and
honour, my mother would only be pleased that I should know an able and
accomplished person, whatever his origin or parentage. But my mother
would be sad if she knew me intimate with a Bourbon or a Raphael, the
first in rank or the first in genius, if either prince or artist had
lost, or even sullied, his scutcheon of gentleman. In a word, she is
most sensitive as to honour and conscience; all else she disregards.”

“Hem!” Varney stooped down, as if examining the polish of his boot,
while he continued carelessly: “Impossible to walk the streets and keep
one’s boots out of the mire. Well--and you agree with your mother?”

“It would be strange if I did not. When I was scarcely four years old,
my poor father used to lead me through the long picture-gallery at
Laughton and say: ‘Walk through life as if those brave gentlemen looked
down on you.’ And,” added St. John, with his ingenuous smile, “my mother
would put in her word,--‘And those unstained women too, my Percival.’”

There was something noble and touching in the boy’s low accents as
he said this; it gave the key to his unusual modesty and his frank,
healthful innocence of character.

The devil in Varney’s lip sneered mockingly.

“My young friend, you have never loved yet. Do you think you ever
shall?”

“I have dreamed that I could love one day. But I can wait.”

Varney was about to reply, when he was accosted abruptly by three men
of that exaggerated style of dress and manner which is implied by the
vulgar appellation of “Tigrish.” Each of the three men had a cigar in
his mouth, each seemed flushed with wine. One wore long brass spurs and
immense mustaches; another was distinguished by an enormous surface of
black satin cravat, across which meandered a Pactolus of gold chain;
a third had his coat laced and braided a la Polonaise, and pinched and
padded a la Russe, with trousers shaped to the calf of a sinewy leg, and
a glass screwed into his right eye.

“Ah, Gabriel! ah, Varney! ah, prince of good fellows, well met! You sup
with us to-night at little Celeste’s; we were just going in search of
you.”

“Who’s your friend,--one of us?” whispered a second. And the third
screwed his arm tight and lovingly into Varney’s.

Gabriel, despite his habitual assurance, looked abashed foz a moment,
and would have extricated himself from cordialities not at that moment
welcome; but he saw that his friends were too far gone in their cups
to be easily shaken off, and he felt relieved when Percival, after a
dissatisfied glance at the three, said quietly: “I must detain you no
longer; I shall soon look in at your studio;” and without waiting for an
answer, slid off, and was lost among the crowd.

Varney walked on with his new-found friends, unheeding for some moments
their loose remarks and familiar banter. At length he shook off his
abstraction, and surrendering himself to the coarse humours of his
companions, soon eclipsed them all by the gusto of his slang and the
mocking profligacy of his sentiments; for here he no longer played a
part, or suppressed his grosser instincts. That uncurbed dominion of the
senses, to which his very boyhood had abandoned itself, found a willing
slave in the man. Even the talents themselves that he displayed came
from the cultivation of the sensual. His eye, studying externals, made
him a painter,--his ear, quick and practised, a musician. His wild,
prodigal fancy rioted on every excitement, and brought him in a vast
harvest of experience in knowledge of the frailties and the vices on
which it indulged its vagrant experiments. Men who over-cultivate the
art that connects itself with the senses, with little counterpoise from
the reason and pure intellect, are apt to be dissipated and irregular
in their lives. This is frequently noticeable in the biographies of
musicians, singers, and painters; less so in poets, because he who deals
with words, not signs and tones, must perpetually compare his senses
with the pure images of which the senses only see the appearances,--in a
word, he must employ his intellect, and his self-education must be large
and comprehensive. But with most real genius, however fed merely by the
senses,--most really great painters, singers, and musicians, however
easily led astray into temptation,--the richness of the soil throws
up abundant good qualities to countervail or redeem the evil; they are
usually compassionate, generous, sympathizing. That Varney had not such
beauties of soul and temperament it is unnecessary to add,--principally,
it is true, because of his nurture, education, parental example, the
utter corruption in which his childhood and youth had passed; partly
because he had no real genius,---it was a false apparition of the divine
spirit, reflected from the exquisite perfection of his frame (which
rendered all his senses so vigorous and acute) and his riotous fancy and
his fitful energy, which was capable at times of great application, but
not of definite purpose or earnest study. All about him was flashy
and hollow. He had not the natural subtlety and depth of mind that had
characterized his terrible father. The graft of the opera-dancer was
visible on the stock of the scholar; wholly without the habits of method
and order, without the patience, without the mathematical calculating
brain of Dalibard, he played wantonly with the horrible and loathsome
wickedness of which Olivier had made dark and solemn study. Extravagant
and lavish, he spent money as fast as he gained it; he threw away all
chances of eminence and career. In the midst of the direst plots of
his villany or the most energetic pursuit of his art, the poorest
excitement, the veriest bauble would draw him aside. His heart was with
Falri in the sty, his fancy with Aladdin in the palace. To make a show
was his darling object; he loved to create effect by his person, his
talk, his dress, as well as by his talents. Living from hand to mouth,
crimes through which it is not our intention to follow him had at times
made him rich to-day, for vices to make him poor again to-morrow.
What he called “luck,” or “his star,” had favoured him,--he was not
hanged!--he lived; and as the greater part of his unscrupulous career
had been conducted in foreign lands and under other names, in his own
name and in his own country, though something scarcely to be defined,
but equivocal and provocative of suspicion, made him displeasing to
the prudent, and vaguely alarmed the experience of the sober, still,
no positive accusation was attached to the general integrity of his
character, and the mere dissipation of his habits was naturally little
known out of his familiar circle. Hence he had the most presumptuous
confidence in himself,--a confidence native to his courage, and
confirmed by his experience. His conscience was so utterly obtuse that
he might almost be said to present the phenomenon of a man without
conscience at all. Unlike Conrad, he did not “know himself a villain;”
 all that he knew of himself was that he was a remarkably clever fellow,
without prejudice or superstition. That, with all his gifts, he had
not succeeded better in life, he ascribed carelessly to the surpassing
wisdom of his philosophy. He could have done better if he had enjoyed
himself less; but was not enjoyment the be-all and end-all of this
little life? More often, indeed, in the moods of his bitter envy, he
would lay the fault upon the world. How great he could have been, if he
had been rich and high-born! Oh, he was made to spend, not to save,--to
command, not to fawn! He was not formed to plod through the dull
mediocrities of fortune; he must toss up for the All or the Nothing! It
was no control over himself that made Varney now turn his thoughts from
certain grave designs on Percival St. John to the brutal debauchery of
his three companions,--rather, he then yielded most to his natural
self. And when the morning star rose over the night he passed with low
profligates and venal nymphs; when over the fragments on the board and
emptied bottles and drunken riot dawn gleamed and saw him in all the
pride of his magnificent organization and the cynicism of his measured
vice, fair, fresh, and blooming amidst those maudlin eyes and flushed
cheeks and reeling figures, laughing hideously over the spectacle he had
provoked, and kicking aside, with a devil’s scorn, the prostrate form of
the favoured partner whose head had rested on his bosom, as alone with
a steady step, he passed the threshold and walked into the fresh,
healthful air,--Gabriel Varney enjoyed the fell triumph of his hell-born
vanity, and revelled in his sentiment of superiority and power.

Meanwhile, on quitting Varney young Percival strolled on as the whim
directed him. Turning down the Haymarket, he gained the colonnade of
the Opera House. The crowd there was so dense that his footsteps were
arrested, and he leaned against one of the columns in admiration of the
various galaxies in view. In front blazed the rival stars of the United
Service Club and the Athenaeum; to the left, the quaint and peculiar
device which lighted up Northumberland House; to the right, the anchors,
cannons, and bombs which typified ingeniously the martial attributes of
the Ordnance Office.

At that moment there were three persons connected with this narrative
within a few feet of each other, distinguished from the multitude by the
feelings with which each regarded the scene, and felt the jostle of the
crowd. Percival St. John, in whom the harmless sense of pleasure was
yet vivid and unsatiated, caught from the assemblage only that physical
hilarity which heightened his own spirits. If in a character as yet so
undeveloped, to which the large passions and stern ends of life were
as yet unknown, stirred some deeper and more musing thoughts and
speculations, giving gravity to the habitual smile on his rosy lip, and
steadying the play of his sparkling eyes, he would have been at a loss
himself to explain the dim sentiment and the vague desire.

Screened by another column from the pressure of the mob, with his arms
folded on his breast, a man some few years older in point of
time,--many years older in point of character,--gazed (with thoughts how
turbulent,--with ambition how profound!) upon the dense and dark masses
that covered space and street far as the eye could reach. He, indeed,
could not have said, with Varney, that he was “at home in a crowd.” For
a crowd did not fill him with the sense of his own individual being
and importance, but grappled him to its mighty breast with the thousand
tissues of a common destiny. Who shall explain and disentangle those
high and restless and interwoven emotions with which intellectual
ambition, honourable and ardent, gazes upon that solemn thing with
which, in which, for which it lives and labours,--the Human Multitude?
To that abstracted, solitary man, the illumination, the festivity, the
curiosity, the holiday, were nothing, or but as fleeting phantoms and
vain seemings. In his heart’s eye he saw before him but the PEOPLE, the
shadow of an everlasting audience,--audience at once and judge.

And literally touching him as he stood, the ragged sweeper, who had
returned in vain to devote a last care to his beloved charge, stood
arrested with the rest, gazing joylessly on the blazing lamps, dead as
the stones he heeded, to the young vivacity of the one man, the solemn
visions of the other. So, O London, amidst the universal holiday to
monarch and to mob, in those three souls lived the three elements which,
duly mingled and administered, make thy vice and thy virtue, thy glory
and thy shame, thy labour and thy luxury; pervading the palace and the
street, the hospital and the prison,--enjoyment, which is pleasure;
energy, which is action; torpor, which is want!



CHAPTER II. LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.

Suddenly across the gaze of Percival St. John there flashed a face that
woke him from his abstraction, as a light awakes the sleeper. It was as
a recognition of something seen dimly before,--a truth coming out from
a dream. It was not the mere beauty of that face (and beautiful it
was) that arrested his eye and made his heart beat more quickly, it was
rather that nameless and inexplicable sympathy which constitutes love
at first sight,--a sort of impulse and instinct common to the dullest as
the quickest, the hardest reason as the liveliest fancy. Plain Cobbett,
seeing before the cottage-door, at her homeliest of house-work, the
girl of whom he said, “That girl should be my wife,” and Dante, first
thrilled by the vision of Beatrice,--are alike true types of a common
experience. Whatever of love sinks the deepest is felt at first sight;
it streams on us abrupt from the cloud, a lightning flash,--a destiny
revealed to us face to face.

Now, there was nothing poetical in the place or the circumstance, still
less in the companionship in which this fair creature startled the
virgin heart of that careless boy; she was leaning on the arm of a
stout, rosy-faced matron in a puce-coloured gown, who was flanked on the
other side by a very small, very spare man, with a very wee face, the
lower part of which was enveloped in an immense belcher. Besides these
two incumbrances, the stout lady contrived to carry in her hands an
umbrella, a basket, and a pair of pattens.

In the midst of the strange, unfamiliar emotion which his eye conveyed
to his heart, Percival’s ear was displeasingly jarred by the loud,
bluff, hearty voice of the girl’s female companion--

“Gracious me! if that is not John Ardworth. Who’d have thought it? Why,
John,--I say, John!” and lifting her umbrella horizontally, she poked
aside two city clerks in front of her, wheeled round the little man on
her left, upon whom the clerks simultaneously bestowed the appellation
of “feller,” and driving him, as being the sharpest and thinnest wedge
at hand, through a dense knot of some half-a-dozen gapers, while,
following his involuntary progress, she looked defiance on the
malcontents, she succeeded in clearing her way to the spot where stood
the young man she had discovered. The ambitious dreamer, for it was
he, thus detected and disturbed, looked embarrassed for a moment as the
stout lady, touching him with the umbrella, said,--

“Well, I declare if this is not too bad! You sent word that you should
not be able to come out with us to see the ‘luminations, and here you
are as large as life!”

“I did not think, at the moment you wrote to me, that-”

“Oh, stuff!” interrupted the stout woman, with a significant,
good-humoured shake of her head; “I know what’s what. Tell the truth,
and shame the gentleman who objects to showing his feet. You are a wild
fellow, John Ardworth, you are! You like looking after the pretty faces,
you do, you do--ha, ha, ha! very natural! So did you once,--did not you,
Mr. Mivers, did not you, eh? Men must be men,--they always are men, and
it’s my belief that men they always will be!”

With this sage conjecture into the future, the lady turned to Mr.
Mivers, who, thus appealed to, extricated with some difficulty his chin
from the folds of his belcher, and putting up his small face, said, in a
small voice, “Yes, I was a wild fellow once; but you have tamed me, you
have, Mrs. M.!”

And therewith the chin sank again into the belcher, and the small voice
died into a small sigh.

The stout lady glanced benignly at her spouse, and then resuming her
address, to which Ardworth listened with a half-frown and a half-smile,
observed encouragingly,--

“Yes, there’s nothing like a lawful wife to break a man in, as you
will find some day. Howsomever, your time’s not come for the altar, so
suppose you give Helen your arm, and come with us.”

“Do,” said Helen, in a sweet, coaxing voice.

Ardworth bent down his rough, earnest face to Helen’s, and an evident
pleasure relaxed its thoughtful lines. “I cannot resist you,” he began,
and then he paused and frowned. “Pish!” he added, “I was talking folly;
but what head would not you turn? Resist you I must, for I am on my way
now to my drudgery. Ask me anything some years hence, when I have time
to be happy, and then see if I am the bear you now call me.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Mivers, emphatically, “are you coming, or are you not?
Don’t stand there shilly-shally.”

“Mrs. Mivers,” returned Ardworth, with a kind of sly humour, “I am sure
you would be very angry with your husband’s excellent shopmen if
that was the way they spoke to your customers. If some unhappy
dropper-in,--some lady who came to buy a yard or so of Irish,--was
suddenly dazzled, as I am, by a luxury wholly unforeseen and eagerly
coveted,--a splendid lace veil, or a ravishing cashmere, or whatever
else you ladies desiderate,--and while she was balancing between
prudence and temptation, your foreman exclaimed: `Don’t stand
shilly-shally’--come, I put it to you.”

“Stuff!” said Mrs. Mivers.

“Alas! unlike your imaginary customer (I hope so, at least, for the sake
of your till), prudence gets the better of me; unless,” added Ardworth,
irresolutely, and glancing at Helen,--“unless, indeed, you are not
sufficiently protected, and--”

“Purtected!” exclaimed Mrs. Mivers, in an indignant tone of
astonishment, and agitating the formidable umbrella; “as if I was not
enough, with the help of this here domestic commodity, to purtect a
dozen such. Purtected, indeed!”

“John is right, Mrs. M.,--business is business,” said Mr. Mivers. “Let
us move on; we stop the way, and those idle lads are listening to us,
and sniggering.”

“Sniggering!” exclaimed the gentle helpmate. “I should like to see
those who presume for to snigger;” and as she spoke, she threw a look
of defiance around her. Then, having thus satisfied her resentment,
she prepared to obey, as no doubt she always did, her lord and master.
Suddenly, with a practised movement, she wheeled round Mr. Mivers, and
taking care to protrude before him the sharp point of the umbrella, cut
her way through the crowd like the scythed car of the Ancient Britons,
and was soon lost amidst the throng, although her way might be guessed
by a slight ripple of peculiar agitation along the general stream,
accompanied by a prolonged murmur of reproach or expostulation which
gradually died in the distance.

Ardworth gazed after the fair form of Helen with a look of regret; and
when it vanished, with a slight start and a suppressed sigh he turned
away, and with the long, steady stride of a strong man, cleared his path
through the Strand towards the printing-office of a journal on which he
was responsibly engaged.

But Percival, who had caught much of the conversation that took place so
near him,--Percival, happy child of idleness and whim,--had no motive
of labour and occupation to stay the free impulse of his heart, and his
heart drew him on, with magnetic attraction, in the track of the first
being that had ever touched the sweet instincts of youth.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mivers was destined to learn--though perhaps the lesson
little availed her--that to get smoothly through this world it is
necessary to be supple as well as strong; and though, up to a certain
point, man or woman may force the way by poking umbrellas into people’s
ribs and treading mercilessly upon people’s toes, yet the endurance of
ribs and toes has its appointed limits.

Helen, half terrified, also half amused by her companion’s robust
resolution of purpose, had in Mrs. Mivers’s general courage and success
that confidence which the weak repose in the strong; and though whenever
she turned her eyes from the illuminations, she besought Mrs. Mivers to
be more gentle, yet, seeing that they had gone safely from St. Paul’s
to St. James’s, she had no distinct apprehension of any practically ill
results from the energies she was unable to mitigate. But now, having
just gained the end of St. James’s Street, Mrs. Mivers at last found her
match. The crowd here halted, thick and serried, to gaze in peace upon
the brilliant vista which the shops and clubs of that street presented.
Coaches and carriages had paused in their line, and immediately before
Mrs. Mivers stood three very thin, small women, whose dress bespoke them
to be of the humblest class.

“Make way, there; make way, my good women, make way!” cried Mrs. Mivers,
equally disdainful of the size and the rank of the obstructing parties.

“Arrah, and what shall we make way for the like of you, you old
busybody?” said one of the dames, turning round, and presenting a very
formidable squint to the broad optics of Mrs. Mivers.

Without deigning a reply, Mrs. Mivers had recourse to her usual
tactics. Umbrella and husband went right between two of the feminine
obstructives; and to the inconceivable astonishment and horror of the
assailant, husband and umbrella instantly vanished. The three small
furies had pounced upon both. They were torn from their natural owner;
they were hurried away; the stream behind, long fretted at the path so
abruptly made amidst it, closed in, joyous, with a thousand waves. Mrs.
Mivers and Helen were borne forward in one way, the umbrella and the
husband in the other; in the distance a small voice was heard: “Don’t
you! don’t! Be quiet! Mrs.--Mrs. M.! Oh, oh, Mrs. M.!” At that last
repetition of the beloved and familiar initial, uttered in a tone
of almost superhuman anguish, the conjugal heart of Mrs. Mivers was
afflicted beyond control.

“Wait here a moment, my dear; I’ll just give it them, that’s all!” And
in another moment Mrs. Mivers was heard bustling, scolding, till all
trace of her whereabout was gone from the eyes of Helen. Thus left
alone, in exceeding shame and dismay, the poor girl cast a glance
around. The glance was caught by two young men, whose station, in these
days when dress is an equivocal designator of rank, could not be guessed
by their exterior. They might be dandies from the west,--they might be
clerks from the east.

“By Jove,” exclaimed one, “that’s a sweet pretty girl!” and, by a sudden
movement of the crowd, they both found themselves close to Helen.

“Are you alone, my dear?” said a voice rudely familiar. Helen made no
reply; the tone of the voice frightened her. A gap in the mob showed
the space towards Cleveland Row, which, leading to no illuminations, was
vacant and solitary. She instantly made towards this spot; the two men
followed her, the bolder and elder one occasionally trying to catch hold
of her arm. At last, as she passed the last house to the left, a house
then owned by one who, at once far-sighted and impetuous, affable and
haughty, characterized alike by solid virtues and brilliant faults,
would, but for hollow friends, have triumphed over countless foes,
and enjoyed at last that brief day of stormy power for which statesmen
resign the health of manhood and the hope of age,--as she passed that
memorable mansion, she suddenly perceived that the space before her had
no thoroughfare; and, while she paused in dismay, her pursuers blockaded
her escape.

One of them now fairly seized her hand. “Nay, pretty one, why so cruel?
But one kiss,--only one!” He endeavoured to pass his arm round her waist
while he spoke. Helen eluded him, and darted forward, to find her way
stopped by her persecutor’s companion, when, to her astonishment,
a third person gently pushed aside the form that impeded her path,
approached, and looking mute defiance at the unchivalric molesters,
offered her his arm. Helen gave but one timid, hurrying glance to
her unexpected protector; something in his face, his air, his youth,
appealed at once to her confidence. Mechanically, and scarce knowing
what she did, she laid her trembling hand on the arm held out to her.

The two Lotharios looked foolish. One pulled up his shirt-collar, and
the other turned, with a forced laugh, on his heel. Boy as Percival
seemed, and little more than boy as he was, there was a dangerous fire
in his eye, and an expression of spirit and ready courage in his whole
countenance, which, if it did not awe his tall rivals, made them at
least unwilling to have a scene and provoke the interference of a
policeman; one of whom was now seen walking slowly up to the spot. They
therefore preserved a discomfited silence; and Percival St. John, with
his heart going ten knots a beat, sailed triumphantly off with his
prize.

Scarcely knowing whither he went, certainly forgetful of Mr. Mivers, in
his anxiety to escape at least from the crowd, Percival walked on till
he found himself with his fair charge under the trees of St. James’s
Park.

Then Helen, recovering herself, paused, and said, alarmed: “But this is
not my way; I must go back to the street!”

“How foolish I am! That is true,” said Percival, looking confused. “I--I
felt so happy to be with you, feel your hand on my arm, and think
that we were all by ourselves, that--that---But you have dropped your
flowers!”

And as a bouquet Helen wore, dislodged somehow or other, fell to the
ground, both stooped to pick it up, and their hands met. At that touch,
Percival felt a strange tremble, which perhaps communicated itself (for
such things are contagious) to his fair companion. Percival had got
the nosegay, and seemed willing to detain it; for he bent his face
lingeringly over the flowers. At length he turned his bright, ingenuous
eyes to Helen, and singling one rose from the rest, said beseechingly:
“May I keep this? See, it is not so fresh as the others.”

“I am sure, sir,” said Helen, colouring, and looking down, “I owe you so
much that I should be glad if a poor flower could repay it.”

“A poor flower! You don’t know what a prize this is to me!” Percival
placed the rose reverently in his bosom, and the two moved back slowly,
as if reluctant both, through the old palace-court into the street.

“Is that lady related to you?” asked Percival, looking another way, and
dreading the reply,--“not your mother, surely!”

“Oh, no! I have no mother!”

“Forgive me!” said Percival; for the tone of Helen’s voice told him that
he had touched the spring of a household sorrow. “And,” he added, with
a jealousy that he could scarcely restrain from making itself evident
in his accent, “that gentleman who spoke to you under the Colonnade,--I
have seen him before, but where I cannot remember. In fact, you have put
everything but yourself out of my head. Is he related to you?”

“He is my cousin.”

“Cousin!” repeated Percival, pouting a little; and again there was
silence.

“I don’t know how it is,” said Percival at last, and very gravely, as if
much perplexed by some abstruse thought, “but I feel as if I had known
you all my life. I never felt this for any one before.”

There was something so irresistibly innocent in the boy’s serious,
wondering tone as he said these words that a smile, in spite of herself,
broke out amongst the thousand dimples round Helen’s charming lips.
Perhaps the little witch felt a touch of coquetry for the first time.

Percival, who was looking sidelong into her face, saw the smile, and
said, drawing up his head, and shaking back his jetty curls: “I dare say
you are laughing at me as a mere boy; but I am older than I look. I
am sure I am much older than you are. Let me see, you are seventeen, I
suppose?”

Helen, getting more and more at her ease, nodded playful assent.

“And I am not far from twenty-one. Ah, you may well look surprised, but
so it is. An hour ago I felt a mere boy; now I shall never feel a boy
again!”

Once more there was a long pause, and before it was broken, they had
gained the very spot in which Helen had lost her friend.

“Why, bless us and save us!” exclaimed a voice “loud as a trumpet,” but
not “with a silver sound,” “there you are, after all;” and Mrs. Mivers
(husband and umbrella both regained) planted herself full before them.

“Oh, a pretty fright I have been in! And now to see you coming along as
cool as if nothing had happened; as if the humbrella had not lost its
hivory ‘andle,--it’s quite purvoking. Dear, dear, what we have gone
through! And who is this young gentleman, pray?”

Helen whispered some hesitating explanation, which Mrs. Mivers did not
seem to receive as graciously as Percival, poor fellow, had a right to
expect. She stared him full in the face, and shook her head suspiciously
when she saw him a little confused by the survey. Then, tucking Helen
tightly under her arm, she walked back towards the Haymarket, merely
saying to Percival,--

“Much obligated, and good-night. I have a long journey to take to set
down this here young lady; and the best thing we can all do is to get
home as fast as we can, and have a refreshing cup of tea--that’s my
mind, sir. Excuse me!”

Thus abruptly dismissed, poor Percival gazed wistfully on his Helen as
she was borne along, and was somewhat comforted at seeing her look
back with (as he thought) a touch of regret in her parting smile. Then
suddenly it flashed across him how sadly he had wasted his time. Novice
that he was, he had not even learned the name and address of his new
acquaintance. At that thought he hurried on through the crowd, but only
reached the object of his pursuit just in time to see her placed in a
coach, and to catch a full view of the luxuriant proportions of Mrs.
Mivers as she followed her into the vehicle.

As the lumbering conveyance (the only coach on the stand) heaved itself
into motion, Percival’s eye fell on the sweeper, who was still
leaning on his broom, and who, in grateful recognition of the unwonted
generosity that had repaid his service, touched his ragged hat, and
smiled drowsily on his young customer. Love sharpens the wit and
animates the timid; a thought worthy of the most experienced inspired
Percival St. John; he hurried to the sweeper, laid his hand on his
patchwork coat, and said breathlessly,--

“You see that coach turning into the square? Follow it,--find out where
it sets down. There’s a sovereign for you; another if you succeed. Call
and tell me your success. Number ---- Curzon Street! Off, like a shot!”

The sweeper nodded and grinned; it was possibly not his first commission
of a similar kind. He darted down the street; and Percival, following
him with equal speed, had the satisfaction to see him, as the coach
traversed St. James’s Square, comfortably seated on the footboard.

Beck, dull clod, knew nothing, cared nothing, felt nothing as to the
motives or purpose of his employer. Honest love or selfish vice, it was
the same to him. He saw only the one sovereign which, with astounded
eyes, he still gazed at on his palm, and the vision of the sovereign
that was yet to come.

“Scandit aeratas vitiosa naves Cura; nee turmas equitum relinquit.”

It was the Selfishness of London, calm and stolid, whether on the track
of innocence or at the command of guile.

At half-past ten o’clock Percival St. John was seated in his room, and
the sweeper stood at the threshold. Wealth and penury seemed brought
into visible contact in the persons of the visitor and the host. The
dwelling is held by some to give an index to the character of the owner;
if so, Percival’s apartments differed much from those generally favoured
by young men of rank and fortune. On the one hand, it had none of that
affectation of superior taste evinced in marqueterie and gilding, or
the more picturesque discomfort of high-backed chairs and mediaeval
curiosities which prevails in the daintier abodes of fastidious
bachelors; nor, on the other hand, had it the sporting character which
individualizes the ruder juveniles qui gaudent equis, betrayed by
engravings of racers and celebrated fox-hunts, relieved, perhaps, if
the Nimrod condescend to a cross of the Lovelace, with portraits of
figurantes, and ideals of French sentiment entitled, “Le Soir,” or “La
Reveillee,” “L’Espoir,” or “L’Abandon.” But the rooms had a physiognomy
of their own, from their exquisite neatness and cheerful simplicity.
The chintz draperies were lively with gay flowers; books filled up the
niches; here and there were small pictures, chiefly sea-pieces,--well
chosen, well placed.

There might, indeed, have been something almost effeminate in a certain
inexpressible purity of taste, and a cleanliness of detail that seemed
actually brilliant, had not the folding-doors allowed a glimpse of a
plainer apartment, with fencing-foils and boxing-gloves ranged on the
wall, and a cricket-bat resting carelessly in the corner. These gave a
redeeming air of manliness to the rooms; but it was the manliness of a
boy,--half-girl, if you please, in the purity of thought that pervaded
one room, all boy in the playful pursuits that were made manifest in the
other. Simple, however, as this abode really was, poor Beck had never
been admitted to the sight of anything half so fine. He stood at the
door for a moment, and stared about him, bewildered and dazzled. But his
natural torpor to things that concerned him not soon brought to him
the same stoicism that philosophy gives the strong; and after the first
surprise, his eye quietly settled on his employer. St. John rose eagerly
from the sofa, on which he had been contemplating the starlit treetops
of Chesterfield Gardens,--

“Well, well?” said Percival.

“Hold Brompton,” said Beck, with a brevity of word and clearness of
perception worthy a Spartan.

“Old Brompton?” repeated Percival, thinking the reply the most natural
in the world.

“In a big ‘ous by hisself,” continued Beck, “with a ‘igh vall in front.”

“You would know it again?”

“In course; he’s so wery peculiar.”

“He,--who?”

“Vy, the ‘ous. The young lady got out, and the hold folks driv back. I
did not go arter them!” and Beck looked sly.

“So! I must find out the name.”

“I axed at the public,” said Beck, proud of his diplomacy. “They keeps
a sarvant vot takes half a pint at her meals. The young lady’s mabe a
foriner.”

“A foreigner! Then she lives there with her mother?”

“So they s’pose at the public.”

“And the name?”

Beck shook his head. “‘T is a French ‘un, your honour; but the sarvant’s
is Martha.”

“You must meet me at Brompton, near the turnpike, tomorrow, and show me
the house.”

“Vy, I’s in bizness all day, please your honour.”

“In business?”’

“I’s the place of the crossing,” said Beck, with much dignity; “but
arter eight I goes vere I likes.”

“To-morrow evening, then, at half-past eight, by the turnpike.”

Beck pulled his forelock assentingly.

“There’s the sovereign I promised you, my poor fellow; much good may
it do you. Perhaps you have some father or mother whose heart it will
glad.”

“I never had no such thing,” replied Beck, turning the coin in his hand.

“Well, don’t spend it in drink.”

“I never drinks nothing but svipes.”

“Then,” said Percival, laughingly, “what, my good friend, will you ever
do with your money?”

Beck put his finger to his nose, sunk his voice into a whisper, and
replied solemnly: “I ‘as a mattris.”

“A mistress,” said Percival. “Oh, a sweetheart. Well, but if she’s a
good girl, and loves you, she’ll not let you spend your money on her.”

“I haint such a ninny as that,” said Beck, with majestic contempt. “I
‘spises the flat that is done brown by the blowens. I ‘as a mattris.”

“A mattress! a mattress! Well, what has that to do with the money?”

“Vy, I lines it.”

Percival looked puzzled. “Oh,” said he, after a thoughtful pause, and in
a tone of considerable compassion, “I understand: you sew your money in
your mattress. My poor, poor lad, you can do better than that! There are
the savings banks.”

Beck looked frightened. “I ‘opes your honour von’t tell no vun. I ‘opes
no vun von’t go for to put my tin vere I shall know nothing vatsomever
about it. Now, I knows vere it is, and I lays on it.”

“Do you sleep more soundly when you lie on your treasure?”

“No. It’s hodd,” said Beck, musingly, “but the more I lines it, the
vorse I sleeps.”

Percival laughed, but there was melancholy in his laughter; something
in the forlorn, benighted, fatherless, squalid miser went to the core of
his open, generous heart.

“Do you ever read your Bible,” said he, after a pause, “or even the
newspaper?”

“I does not read nothing; cos vy? I haint been made a scholard, like
swell Tim, as was lagged for a forgery.”

“You go to church on a Sunday?”

“Yes; I ‘as a weekly hingagement at the New Road.”

“What do you mean?”

“To see arter the gig of a gemman vot comes from ‘Igate.”

Percival lifted his brilliant eyes, and they were moistened with a
heavenly dew, on the dull face of his fellow-creature. Beck made a
scrape, looked round, shambled back to the door, and ran home, through
the lamp-lit streets of the great mart of the Christian universe, to sew
the gold in his mattress.



CHAPTER III. EARLY TRAINING FOR AN UPRIGHT GENTLEMAN.

Percival St. John had been brought up at home under the eye of his
mother and the care of an excellent man who had been tutor to himself
and his brothers. The tutor was not much of a classical scholar, for in
great measure he had educated himself; and he who does so, usually lacks
the polish and brilliancy of one whose footsteps have been led early
to the Temple of the Muses. In fact, Captain Greville was a gallant
soldier, with whom Vernon St. John had been acquainted in his own brief
military career, and whom circumstances had so reduced in life as to
compel him to sell his commission and live as he could. He had always
been known in his regiment as a reading man, and his authority looked up
to in all the disputes as to history and dates, and literary anecdotes,
which might occur at the mess-table. Vernon considered him the most
learned man of his acquaintance; and when, accidentally meeting him in
London, he learned his fallen fortunes, he congratulated himself on
a very brilliant idea when he suggested that Captain Greville should
assist him in the education of his boys and the management of his
estate. At first, all that Greville modestly undertook, with respect to
the former, and, indeed, was expected to do, was to prepare the young
gentlemen for Eton, to which Vernon, with the natural predilection of
an Eton man, destined his sons. But the sickly constitutions of the
two elder justified Lady Mary in her opposition to a public school; and
Percival conceived early so strong an affection for a sailor’s life that
the father’s intentions were frustrated. The two elder continued their
education at home, and Percival, at an earlier age than usual, went to
sea. The last was fortunate enough to have for his captain one of that
new race of naval officers who, well educated and accomplished, form a
notable contrast to the old heroes of Smollett. Percival, however,
had not been long in the service before the deaths of his two elder
brothers, preceded by that of his father, made him the head of his
ancient house, and the sole prop of his mother’s earthly hopes. He
conquered with a generous effort the passion for his noble profession,
which service had but confirmed, and returned home with his fresh,
childlike nature uncorrupted, his constitution strengthened, his lively
and impressionable mind braced by the experience of danger and the
habits of duty, and quietly resumed his reading under Captain Greville,
who moved from the Hall to a small house in the village.

Now, the education he had received, from first to last, was less adapted
prematurely to quicken his intellect and excite his imagination than to
warm his heart and elevate, while it chastened, his moral qualities; for
in Lady Mary there was, amidst singular sweetness of temper, a high cast
of character and thought. She was not what is commonly called clever,
and her experience of the world was limited, compared to that of most
women of similar rank who pass their lives in the vast theatre of
London. But she became superior by a certain single-heartedness which
made truth so habitual to her that the light in which she lived rendered
all objects around her clear. One who is always true in the great duties
of life is nearly always wise. And Vernon, when he had fairly buried his
faults, had felt a noble shame for the excesses into which they had
led him. Gradually more and more wedded to his home, he dropped his old
companions. He set grave guard on his talk (his habits now required
no guard), lest any of the ancient levity should taint the ears of his
children. Nothing is more common in parents than their desire that their
children should escape their faults. We scarcely know ourselves till
we have children; and then, if we love them duly, we look narrowly into
failings that become vices, when they serve as examples to the young.

The inborn gentleman, with the native courage and spirit and horror
of trick and falsehood which belong to that chivalrous abstraction,
survived almost alone in Vernon St. John; and his boys sprang up in the
atmosphere of generous sentiments and transparent truth. The tutor was
in harmony with the parents,--a soldier every inch of him; not a mere
disciplinarian, yet with a profound sense of duty, and a knowledge that
duty is to be found in attention to details. In inculcating the habit
of subordination, so graceful to the young, he knew how to make himself
beloved, and what is harder still, to be understood. The soul of this
poor soldier was white and unstained, as the arms of a maiden knight;
it was full of suppressed but lofty enthusiasm. He had been ill used,
whether by Fate or the Horse Guards; his career had been a failure; but
he was as loyal as if his hand held the field-marshal’s truncheon, and
the garter bound his knee. He was above all querulous discontent. From
him, no less than from his parents, Percival caught, not only a spirit
of honour worthy the antiqua fides of the poets, but that peculiar
cleanliness of thought, if the expression may be used, which belongs to
the ideal of youthful chivalry. In mere booklearning, Percival, as may
be supposed, was not very extensively read; but his mind, if not largely
stored, had a certain unity of culture, which gave it stability and
individualized its operations. Travels, voyages, narratives of heroic
adventure, biographies of great men, had made the favourite pasture of
his enthusiasm. To this was added the more stirring, and, perhaps, the
more genuine order of poets who make you feel and glow, rather than
doubt and ponder. He knew at least enough of Greek to enjoy old Homer;
and if he could have come but ill through a college examination into
Aeschylus and Sophocles, he had dwelt with fresh delight on the rushing
storm of spears in the “Seven before Thebes,” and wept over the heroic
calamities of Antigone. In science, he was no adept; but his clear
good sense and quick appreciation of positive truths had led him easily
through the elementary mathematics, and his somewhat martial spirit had
made him delight in the old captain’s lectures on military tactics. Had
he remained in the navy, Percival St. John would doubtless have been
distinguished. His talents fitted him for straightforward, manly action;
and he had a generous desire of distinction, vague, perhaps, the moment
he was taken from his profession, and curbed by his diffidence in
himself and his sense of deficiencies in the ordinary routine of purely
classical education. Still, he had in him all the elements of a true
man,--a man to go through life with a firm step and a clear conscience
and a gallant hope. Such a man may not win fame,--that is an accident;
but he must occupy no despicable place in the movement of the world.

It was at first intended to send Percival to Oxford; but for some reason
or other that design was abandoned. Perhaps Lady Mary, over cautious, as
mothers left alone sometimes are, feared the contagion to which a
young man of brilliant expectations and no studious turn is necessarily
exposed in all places of miscellaneous resort. So Percival was sent
abroad for two years, under the guardianship of Captain Greville. On his
return, at the age of nineteen, the great world lay before him, and
he longed ardently to enter. For a year Lady Mary’s fears and fond
anxieties detained him at Laughton; but though his great tenderness for
his mother withheld Percival from opposing her wishes by his own, this
interval of inaction affected visibly his health and spirits. Captain
Greville, a man of the world, saw the cause sooner than Lady Mary, and
one morning, earlier than usual, he walked up to the Hall.

The captain, with all his deference to the sex, was a plain man enough
when business was to be done. Like his great commander, he came to the
point in a few words.

“My dear Lady Mary, our boy must go to London,--we are killing him
here.”

“Mr. Greville!” cried Lady Mary, turning pale and putting aside her
embroidery,--“killing him?”

“Killing the man in him. I don’t mean to alarm you; I dare say his lungs
are sound enough, and that his heart would bear the stethoscope to the
satisfaction of the College of Surgeons. But, my dear ma’am, Percival is
to be a man; it is the man you are killing by keeping him tied to your
apron-string.”

“Oh, Mr. Greville, I am sure you don’t wish to wound me, but--”

“I beg ten thousand pardons. I am rough, but truth is rough sometimes.”

“It is not for my sake,” said the mother, warmly, and with tears in her
eyes, “that I have wished him to be here. If he is dull, can we not fill
the house for him?”

“Fill a thimble, my dear Lady Mary. Percival should have a plunge in the
ocean.”

“But he is so young yet,--that horrid London; such
temptations,--fatherless, too!”

“I have no fear of the result if Percival goes now, while his principles
are strong and his imagination is not inflamed; but if we keep him here
much longer against his bent, he will learn to brood and to muse, write
bad poetry perhaps, and think the world withheld from him a thousand
times more delightful than it is. This very dread of temptation
will provoke his curiosity, irritate his fancy, make him imagine the
temptation must be a very delightful thing. For the first time in my
life, ma’am, I have caught him sighing over fashionable novels, and
subscribing to the Southampton Circulating Library. Take my word for it,
it is time that Percival should begin life, and swim without corks.”

Lady Mary had a profound confidence in Greville’s judgment and affection
for Percival, and, like a sensible woman, she was aware of her own
weakness. She remained silent for a few moments, and then said, with an
effort,--

“You know how hateful London is to me now,--how unfit I am to return to
the hollow forms of its society; still, if you think it right, I will
take a house for the season, and Percival can still be under our eye.”

“No, ma’am,--pardon me,--that will be the surest way to make him either
discontented or hypocritical. A young man of his prospects and temper
can hardly be expected to chime in with all our sober, old-fashioned
habits. You will impose on him--if he is to conform to our hours and
notions and quiet set--a thousand irksome restraints; and what will
be the consequence? In a year he will be of age, and can throw us
off altogether, if he pleases. I know the boy; don’t seem to distrust
him,--he may be trusted. You place the true restraint on temptation when
you say to him: ‘We confide to you our dearest treasure,--your honour,
your morals, your conscience, yourself!’”

“But at least you will go with him, if it must be so,” said Lady Mary,
after a few timid arguments, from which, one by one, she was driven.

“I! What for? To be a jest of the young puppies he must know; to make
him ashamed of himself and me,--himself as a milksop, and me as a dry
nurse?”

“But this was not so abroad.”

“Abroad, ma’am, I gave him full swing I promise you; and when we went
abroad he was two years younger.”

“But he is a mere child still.”

“Child, Lady Mary! At his age I had gone through two sieges. There
are younger faces than his at a mess-room. Come, come! I know what you
fear,--he may commit some follies; very likely. He may be taken in,
and lose some money,--he can afford it, and he will get experience in
return. Vices he has none. I have seen him,--ay, with the vicious. Send
him out against the world like a saint of old, with his Bible in his
hand, and no spot on his robe. Let him see fairly what is, not stay here
to dream of what is not. And when he’s of age, ma’am, we must get him
an object, a pursuit; start him for the county, and make him serve the
State. He will understand that business pretty well. Tush! tush! what is
there to cry at?”

The captain prevailed. We don’t say that his advice would have been
equally judicious for all youths of Percival’s age; but he knew well
the nature to which he confided; he knew well how strong was that young
heart in its healthful simplicity and instinctive rectitude; and he
appreciated his manliness not too highly when he felt that all evident
props and aids would be but irritating tokens of distrust.

And thus, armed only with letters of introduction, his mother’s tearful
admonitions, and Greville’s experienced warnings, Percival St. John was
launched into London life. After the first month or so, Greville came
up to visit him, do him sundry kind, invisible offices amongst his
old friends, help him to equip his apartments, and mount his stud; and
wholly satisfied with the result of his experiment, returned in high
spirits, with flattering reports, to the anxious mother.

But, indeed, the tone of Percival’s letters would have been sufficient
to allay even maternal anxiety. He did not write, as sons are apt to
do, short excuses for not writing more at length, unsatisfactory
compressions of details (exciting worlds of conjecture) into a hurried
sentence. Frank and overflowing, those delightful epistles gave accounts
fresh from the first impressions of all he saw and did. There was a
racy, wholesome gusto in his enjoyment of novelty and independence. His
balls and his dinners and his cricket at Lord’s, his partners and his
companions, his general gayety, his occasional ennui, furnished ample
materials to one who felt he was corresponding with another heart, and
had nothing to fear or to conceal.

But about two months before this portion of our narrative opens with
the coronation, Lady Mary’s favourite sister, who had never married,
and who, by the death of her parents, was left alone in the worse than
widowhood of an old maid, had been ordered to Pisa for a complaint
that betrayed pulmonary symptoms; and Lady Mary, with her usual
unselfishness, conquered both her aversion to movement and her wish to
be in reach of her son, to accompany abroad this beloved and solitary
relative. Captain Greville was pressed into service as their joint
cavalier. And thus Percival’s habitual intercourse with his two
principal correspondents received a temporary check.



CHAPTER IV. JOHN ARDWORTH.

At noon the next day Beck, restored to his grandeur, was at the helm of
his state; Percival was vainly trying to be amused by the talk of two or
three loungers who did him the honour to smoke a cigar in his rooms; and
John Ardworth sat in his dingy cell in Gray’s Inn, with a pile of law
books on the table, and the daily newspapers carpeting a footstool of
Hansard’s Debates upon the floor,--no unusual combination of studies
amongst the poorer and more ardent students of the law, who often owe
their earliest, nor perhaps their least noble, earnings to employment
in the empire of the Press. By the power of a mind habituated to labour,
and backed by a frame of remarkable strength and endurance, Ardworth
grappled with his arid studies not the less manfully for a night mainly
spent in a printer’s office, and stinted to less than four hours’ actual
sleep. But that sleep was profound and refreshing as a peasant’s. The
nights thus devoted to the Press (he was employed in the sub-editing
of a daily journal), the mornings to the law, he kept distinct the two
separate callings with a stern subdivision of labour which in itself
proved the vigour of his energy and the resolution of his will. Early
compelled to shift for himself and carve out his own way, he had
obtained a small fellowship at the small college in which he had passed
his academic career. Previous to his arrival in London, by contributions
to political periodicals and a high reputation at that noble debating
society in Cambridge which has trained some of the most eminent
of living public men [Amongst those whom the “Union” almost
contemporaneously prepared for public life, and whose distinction has
kept the promise of their youth, we may mention the eminent barristers,
Messrs. Austin and Cockburn; and amongst statesmen, Lord Grey, Mr. C.
Buller, Mr. Charles Villiers, and Mr. Macaulay. Nor ought we to forget
those brilliant competitors for the prizes of the University, Dr.
Kennedy (now head-master of Shrewsbury School) and the late Winthrop M.
Praed.], he had established a name which was immediately useful to him
in obtaining employment on the Press. Like most young men of practical
ability, he was an eager politician. The popular passion of the
day kindled his enthusiasm and stirred the depths of his soul with
magnificent, though exaggerated, hopes in the destiny of his race. He
identified himself with the people; his stout heart beat loud in their
stormy cause. His compositions, if they wanted that knowledge of men,
that subtle comprehension of the true state of parties, that
happy temperance in which the crowning wisdom of statesmen must
consist,--qualities which experience alone can give,--excited
considerable attention by their bold eloquence and hardy logic.
They were suited to the time. But John Ardworth had that solidity of
understanding which betokens more than talent, and which is the usual
substratum of genius. He would not depend alone on the precarious and
often unhonoured toils of polemical literature for that distinction on
which he had fixed his steadfast heart. Patiently he plodded on through
the formal drudgeries of his new profession, lighting up dulness by his
own acute comprehension, weaving complexities into simple system by the
grasp of an intellect inured to generalize, and learning to love even
what was most distasteful, by the sense of difficulty overcome, and the
clearer vision which every step through the mists and up the hill gave
of the land beyond. Of what the superficial are apt to consider genius,
John Ardworth had but little. He had some imagination (for a true
thinker is never without that), but he had a very slight share of fancy.
He did not flirt with the Muses; on the granite of his mind few flowers
could spring. His style, rushing and earnest, admitted at times of a
humour not without delicacy,--though less delicate than forcible and
deep,--but it was little adorned with wit, and still less with poetry.
Yet Ardworth had genius, and genius ample and magnificent. There was
genius in that industrious energy so patient in the conquest of detail,
so triumphant in the perception of results. There was genius in that
kindly sympathy with mankind; genius in that stubborn determination to
succeed; genius in that vivid comprehension of affairs, and the large
interests of the world; genius fed in the labours of the closet, and
evinced the instant he was brought into contact with men,--evinced
in readiness of thought, grasp of memory, even in a rough, imperious
nature, which showed him born to speak strong truths, and in their name
to struggle and command.

Rough was this man often in his exterior, though really gentle and
kind-hearted. John Ardworth had sacrificed to no Graces; he would have
thrown Lord Chesterfield into a fever. Not that he was ever vulgar,
for vulgarity implies affectation of refinement; but he talked loud and
laughed loud if the whim seized him, and rubbed his great hands with a
boyish heartiness of glee if he discomfited an adversary in argument.
Or, sometimes, he would sit abstracted and moody, and answer briefly
and boorishly those who interrupted him. Young men were mostly afraid of
him, though he wanted but fame to have a set of admiring disciples. Old
men censured his presumption and recoiled from the novelty of his ideas.
Women alone liked and appreciated him, as, with their finer insight into
character, they generally do what is honest and sterling. Some strange
failings, too, had John Ardworth,--some of the usual vagaries and
contradictions of clever men. As a system, he was rigidly abstemious.
For days together he would drink nothing but water, eat nothing but
bread, or hard biscuit, or a couple of eggs; then, having wound up
some allotted portion of work, Ardworth would indulge what he called a
self-saturnalia,--would stride off with old college friends to an inn
in one of the suburbs, and spend, as he said triumphantly, “a day of
blessed debauch!” Innocent enough, for the most part, the debauch was,
consisting in cracking jests, stringing puns, a fish dinner, perhaps,
and an extra bottle or two of fiery port. Sometimes this jollity,
which was always loud and uproarious, found its scene in one of the
cider-cellars or midnight taverns; but Ardworth’s labours on the Press
made that latter dissipation extremely rare. These relaxations were
always succeeded by a mien more than usually grave, a manner more than
usually curt and ungracious, an application more than ever rigorous
and intense. John Ardworth was not a good-tempered man, but he was the
best-natured man that ever breathed. He was, like all ambitious persons,
very much occupied with self; and yet it would have been a ludicrous
misapplication of words to call him selfish. Even the desire of fame
which absorbed him was but a part of benevolence,--a desire to promote
justice and to serve his kind.

John Ardworth’s shaggy brows were bent over his open volumes when his
clerk entered noiselessly and placed on his table a letter which the
twopenny-postman had just delivered. With an impatient shrug of the
shoulders, Ardworth glanced towards the superscription; but his eye
became earnest and his interest aroused as he recognized the hand.
“Again!” he muttered. “What mystery is this? Who can feel such interest
in my fate?” He broke the seal and read as follows:--

Do you neglect my advice, or have you begun to act upon it? Are you
contented only with the slow process of mechanical application, or will
you make a triumphant effort to abridge your apprenticeship and emerge
at once into fame and power? I repeat that you fritter away your talents
and your opportunities upon this miserable task-work on a journal. I
am impatient for you. Come forward yourself, put your force and your
knowledge into some work of which the world may know the author. Day
after day I am examining into your destiny, and day after day I believe
more and more that you are not fated for the tedious drudgery to which
you doom your youth. I would have you great, but in the senate, not
a wretched casuist at the Bar. Appear in public as an individual
authority, not one of that nameless troop of shadows contemned while
dreaded as the Press. Write for renown. Go into the world, and make
friends. Soften your rugged bearing. Lift yourself above that herd whom
you call “the people.” What if you are born of the noble class! What if
your career is as gentleman, not plebeian Want not for money. Use what
I send you as the young and the well-born should use it; or let it at
least gain you a respite from toils for bread, and support you in your
struggle to emancipate yourself from obscurity into fame.

YOUR UNKNOWN FRIEND

A bank-note for 100 pounds dropped from the envelope as Ardworth
silently replaced the letter on the table.

Thrice before had he received communications in the same handwriting,
and much to the same effect. Certainly, to a mind of less strength there
would have been something very unsettling in those vague hints of a
station higher than he owned, of a future at variance with the toilsome
lot he had drawn from the urn; but after a single glance over his lone
position in all its bearings and probable expectations, Ardworth’s
steady sense shook off the slight disturbance such misty vaticinations
had effected. His mother’s family was indeed unknown to him, he was even
ignorant of her maiden name. But that very obscurity seemed unfavourable
to much hope from such a quarter. The connections with the rich and
well-born are seldom left obscure. From his father’s family he had not
one expectation. More had he been moved by exhortation now generally
repeated, but in a previous letter more precisely detailed; namely, to
appeal to the reading public in his acknowledged person, and by some
striking and original work. This idea he had often contemplated and
revolved; but partly the necessity of keeping pace with the many
exigencies of the hour had deterred him, and partly also the conviction
of his sober judgment that a man does himself no good at the Bar even by
the most brilliant distinction gained in discursive fields. He had the
natural yearning of the Restless Genius; and the Patient Genius (higher
power of the two) had suppressed the longing. Still, so far, the
whispers of his correspondent tempted and aroused. But hitherto he had
sought to persuade himself that the communications thus strangely forced
on him arose perhaps from idle motives,--a jest, it might be, of one
of his old college friends, or at best the vain enthusiasm of some more
credulous admirer. But the enclosure now sent to him forbade either of
these suppositions. Who that he knew could afford so costly a jest or
so extravagant a tribute? He was perplexed, and with his perplexity
was mixed a kind of fear. Plain, earnest, unromantic in the common
acceptation of the word, the mystery of this intermeddling with his
fate, this arrogation of the license to spy, the right to counsel, and
the privilege to bestow, gave him the uneasiness the bravest men may
feel at noises in the dark. That day he could apply no more, he could
not settle back to his Law Reports. He took two or three unquiet
turns up and down his smoke-dried cell, then locked up the letter and
enclosure, seized his hat, and strode, with his usual lusty, swinging
strides, into the open air.

But still the letter haunted him. “And if,” he said almost audibly,--“if
I were the heir to some higher station, why then I might have a heart
like idle men; and Helen, beloved Helen--” He paused, sighed, shook his
rough head, shaggy with neglected curls, and added: “As if even then
I could steal myself into a girl’s good graces! Man’s esteem I may
command, though poor; woman’s love could I win, though rich? Pooh! pooh!
every wood does not make a Mercury; and faith, the wood I am made of
will scarcely cut up into a lover.”

Nevertheless, though thus soliloquizing, Ardworth mechanically bent his
way towards Brompton, and halted, half-ashamed of himself, at the house
where Helen lodged with her aunt. It was a building that stood apart
from all the cottages and villas of that charming suburb, half-way down
a narrow lane, and enclosed by high, melancholy walls, deep set in
which a small door, with the paint blistered and weather-stained, gave
unfrequented entrance to the demesne. A woman servant of middle age and
starched, puritanical appearance answered the loud ring of the bell, and
Ardworth seemed a privileged visitor, for she asked him no question as,
with a slight nod and a smileless, stupid expression in a face otherwise
comely, she led the way across a paved path, much weed-grown, to the
house. That house itself had somewhat of a stern and sad exterior. It
was not ancient, yet it looked old from shabbiness and neglect. The
vine, loosened from the rusty nails, trailed rankly against the wall,
and fell in crawling branches over the ground. The house had once been
whitewashed; but the colour, worn off in great patches, distained with
damp, struggled here and there with the dingy, chipped bricks beneath.
There was no peculiar want of what is called “tenantable repair;” the
windows were whole, and doubtless the roof sheltered from the rain. But
the woodwork that encased the panes was decayed, and houseleek covered
the tiles. Altogether, there was that forlorn and cheerless aspect about
the place which chills the visitor, he defines not why. And Ardworth
steadied his usual careless step, and crept, as if timidly, up the
creaking stairs.

On entering the drawing-room, it seemed at first deserted; but the eye,
searching round, perceived something stir in the recess of a huge chair
set by the fireless hearth. And from amidst a mass of coverings a pale
face emerged, and a thin hand waved its welcome to the visitor.

Ardworth approached, pressed the hand, and drew a seat near to the
sufferer’s.

“You are better, I hope?” he said cordially, and yet in a tone of more
respect than was often perceptible in his deep, blunt voice.

“I am always the same,” was the quiet answer; “come nearer still. Your
visits cheer me.”

And as these last words were said, Madame Dalibard raised herself from
her recumbent posture and gazed long upon Ardworth’s face of power and
front of thought. “You overfatigue yourself, my poor kinsman,” she said,
with a certain tenderness; “you look already too old for your young
years.”

“That’s no disadvantage at the Bar.”

“Is the Bar your means, or your end?”

“My dear Madame Dalibard, it is my profession.”

“No, your profession is to rise. John Ardworth,” and the low voice
swelled in its volume, “you are bold, able, and aspiring; for this,
I love you,--love you almost--almost as a mother. Your fate,” she
continued hurriedly, “interests me; your energies inspire me with
admiration. Often I sit here for hours, musing over your destiny to be,
so that at times I may almost say that in your life I live.”

Ardworth looked embarrassed, and with an awkward attempt at compliment
he began, hesitatingly: “I should think too highly of myself if I could
really believe that you--”

“Tell me,” interrupted Madame Dalibard,--“we have had many conversations
upon grave and subtle matters; we have disputed on the secret mysteries
of the human mind; we have compared our several experiences of outward
life and the mechanism of the social world,--tell me, then, and frankly,
what do you think of me? Do you regard me merely as your sex is apt to
regard the woman who aspires to equal men,--a thing of borrowed phrases
and unsound ideas, feeble to guide, and unskilled to teach; or do you
recognize in this miserable body a mind of force not unworthy yours,
ruled by an experience larger than your own?”

“I think of you,” answered Ardworth, frankly, “as the most remarkable
woman I have ever met. Yet--do not be angry--I do not like to yield
to the influence which you gain over me when we meet. It disturbs my
convictions, it disquiets my reason; I do not settle back to my life so
easily after your breath has passed over it.”

“And yet,” said Lucretia, with a solemn sadness in her voice, “that
influence is but the natural power which cold maturity exercises on
ardent youth. It is my mournful ad vantage over you that disquiets your
happy calm. It is my experience that unsettles the fallacies which you
name ‘convictions.’ Let this pass. I asked your opinion of me, because
I wished to place at your service all that knowledge of life which I
possess. In proportion as you esteem me you will accept or reject my
counsels.”

“I have benefited by them already. It is the tone that you advised me
to assume that gave me an importance I had not before with that old
formalist whose paper I serve, and whose prejudices I shock; it is to
your criticisms that I owe the more practical turn of my writings, and
the greater hold they have taken on the public.”

“Trifles indeed, these,” said Madame Dalibard, with a half smile. “Let
them at least induce you to listen to me if I propose to make your path
more pleasant, yet your ascent more rapid.”

Ardworth knit his brows, and his countenance assumed an expression of
doubt and curiosity. However, he only replied, with a blunt laugh,--

“You must be wise indeed if you have discovered a royal road to
distinction.

‘Ah, who can tell how hard it is to climb The steep where Fame’s proud
temple shines afar!’

A more sensible exclamation than poets usually preface with their
whining ‘Ahs’ and ‘Ohs!’”

“What we are is nothing,” pursued Madame Dalibard; “what we seem is
much.”

Ardworth thrust his hands into his pockets and shook his head. The wise
woman continued, unheeding his dissent from her premises,--

“Everything you are taught to value has a likeness, and it is that
likeness which the world values. Take a man out of the streets, poor and
ragged, what will the world do with him? Send him to the workhouse, if
not to the jail. Ask a great painter to take that man’s portrait,--rags,
squalor, and all,--and kings will bid for the picture. You would thrust
the man from your doors, you would place the portrait in your palaces.
It is the same with qualities; the portrait is worth more than the
truth. What is virtue without character? But a man without virtue may
thrive on a character! What is genius without success? But how often you
bow to success without genius! John Ardworth, possess yourself of the
portraits,--win the character; seize the success.”

“Madame,” exclaimed Ardworth, rudely, “this is horrible!”

“Horrible it may be,” said Madame Dalibard, gently, and feeling,
perhaps, that she had gone too far; “but it is the world’s judgment.
Seem, then, as well as be. You have virtue, as I believe. Well, wrap
yourself in it--in your closet. Go into the world, and earn character.
If you have genius, let it comfort you. Rush into the crowd, and get
success.”

“Stop!” cried Ardworth; “I recognize you. How could I be so blind? It
is you who have written to me, and in the same strain; you have robbed
yourself,--you, poor sufferer,--to throw extravagance into these strong
hands. And why? What am I to you?” An expression of actual fondness
softened Lucretia’s face as she looked up at him and replied: “I will
tell you hereafter what you are to me. First, I confess that it is I
whose letters have perplexed, perhaps offended you. The sum that I sent
I do not miss. I have more,--will ever have more at your command; never
fear. Yes, I wish you to go into the world, not as a dependant, but as
an equal to the world’s favourites. I wish you to know more of men than
mere law-books teach you. I wish you to be in men’s mouths, create a
circle that shall talk of young Ardworth; that talk would travel to
those who can advance your career. The very possession of money in
certain stages of life gives assurance to the manner, gives attraction
to the address.”

“But,” said Ardworth, “all this is very well for some favourite of birth
and fortune; but for me--Yet speak, and plainly. You throw out hints
that I am what I know not, but something less dependent on his nerves
and his brain than is plain John Ardworth. What is it you mean?”

Madame Dalibard bent her face over her breast, and rocking herself in
her chair, seemed to muse for some moments before she answered.

“When I first came to England, some months ago, I desired naturally to
learn all the particulars of my family and kindred, from which my long
residence abroad had estranged me. John Walter Ardworth was related
to my half-sister; to me he was but a mere connection. However, I knew
something of his history, yet I did not know that he had a son. Shortly
before I came to England, I learned that one who passed for his son
had been brought up by Mr. Fielden, and from Mr. Fielden I have since
learned all the grounds for that belief from which you take the name of
Ardworth.”

Lucretia paused a moment; and after a glance at the impatient,
wondering, and eager countenance that bent intent upon her, she resumed:

“Your reputed father was, you are doubtless aware, of reckless and
extravagant habits. He had been put into the army by my uncle, and
he entered the profession with the careless buoyancy of his sanguine
nature. I remember those days,--that day! Well, to return--where
was I?--Walter Ardworth had the folly to entertain strong notions of
politics. He dreamed of being a soldier, and yet persuaded himself to
be a republican. His notions, so hateful in his profession, got wind; he
disguised nothing, he neglected the portraits of things,--appearances.
He excited the rancour of his commanding officer; for politics then,
more even than now, were implacable ministrants to hate. Occasion
presented itself. During the short Peace of Amiens he had been recalled.
He had to head a detachment of soldiers against some mob,--in Ireland, I
believe; he did not fire on the mob, according to orders,--so, at least,
it was said. John Walter Ardworth was tried by a court-martial, and
broke! But you know all this, perhaps?”

“My poor father! Only in part; I knew that he had been dismissed the
army,--I believed unjustly. He was a soldier, and yet he dared to think
for himself and be humane!”

“But my uncle had left him a legacy; it brought no blessing,--none of
that old man’s gold did. Where are they all now,--Dalibard, Susan, and
her fair-faced husband,--where? Vernon is in his grave,--but one son of
many left! Gabriel Varney lives, it is true, and I! But that gold,--yea,
in our hands there was a curse on it! Walter Ardworth had his legacy.
His nature was gay; if disgraced in his profession, he found men to pity
and praise him,--Fools of Party like himself. He lived joyously, drank
or gamed, or lent or borrowed,--what matters the wherefore? He was in
debt; he lived at last a wretched, shifting, fugitive life, snatching
bread where he could, with the bailiffs at his heels. Then, for a short
time, we met again.”

Lucretia’s brow grew black as night as her voice dropped at that last
sentence, and it was with a start that she continued,--

“In the midst of this hunted existence, Walter Ardworth appeared, late
one night, at Mr. Fielden’s with an infant. He seemed--so says Mr.
Fielden--ill, worn, and haggard. He entered into no explanations with
respect to the child that accompanied him, and retired at once to rest.
What follows, Mr. Fielden, at my request, has noted down. Read, and see
what claim you have to the honourable parentage so vaguely ascribed to
you.”

As she spoke, Madame Dalibard opened a box on her table, drew forth a
paper in Fielden’s writing, and placed it in Ardworth’s hand. After some
preliminary statement of the writer’s intimacy with the elder Ardworth,
and the appearance of the latter at his house, as related by Madame
Dalibard, etc., the document went on thus:--

The next day, when my poor guest was still in bed, my servant Hannah
came to advise me that two persons were without, waiting to see me.
As is my wont, I bade them be shown in. On their entrance (two rough,
farmer-looking men they were, who I thought might be coming to hire my
little pasture field), I prayed them to speak low, as a sick gentleman
was just overhead. Whereupon, and without saying a word further, the two
strangers made a rush from the room, leaving me dumb with amazement; in
a few moments I heard voices and a scuffle above. I recovered myself,
and thinking robbers had entered my peaceful house, I called out
lustily, when Hannah came in, and we both, taking courage, went
upstairs, and found that poor Walter was in the hands of these supposed
robbers, who in truth were but bailiffs. They would not trust him out
of their sight for a moment. However, he took it more pleasantly than I
could have supposed possible; prayed me in a whisper to take care of the
child, and I should soon hear from him again. In less than an hour he
was gone. Two days afterwards I received from him a hurried letter,
without address, of which this is a copy:--

DEAR FRIEND,--I slipped from the bailiffs, and here I am in a safe
little tavern in sight of the sea! Mother Country is a very bad parent
to me! Mother Brownrigg herself could scarcely be worse. I shall work
out my passage to some foreign land, and if I can recover my health
(sea-air is bracing), I don’t despair of getting my bread honestly,
somehow. If ever I can pay my debts, I may return. But, meanwhile, my
good old tutor, what will you think of me? You to whom my sole return
for so much pains, taken in vain, is another mouth to feed! And no money
to pay for the board! Yet you’ll not grudge the child a place at your
table, will you? No, nor kind, saving Mrs. Fielden either,--God bless
her tender, economical soul! You know quite enough of me to be sure that
I shall very soon either free you of the boy, or send you something to
prevent its being an encumbrance. I would say, love and pity the child
for my sake. But I own I feel---By Jove, I must be off; I hear the first
signal from the vessel that--

Yours in haste, J. W. A.

Young Ardworth stopped from the lecture, and sighed heavily. There
seemed to him in this letter worse than a mock gayety,--a certain levity
and recklessness which jarred on his own high principles. And the want
of affection for the child thus abandoned was evident,--not one fond
word. He resumed the statement with a gloomy and disheartened attention.

This was all I heard from my poor, erring Walter for more than three
years; but I knew, in spite of his follies, that his heart was sound at
bottom (the son’s eyes brightened here, and he kissed the paper), and
the child was no burden to us; we loved it, not only for Ardworth’s
sake, but for its own, and for charity’s and Christ’s. Ardworth’s second
letter was as follows:--

En iterum Crispinus! I am still alive, and getting on in the world,--ay,
and honestly too; I am no longer spending heedlessly; I am saving for my
debts, and I shall live, I trust, to pay off every farthing. First,
for my debt to you I send an order, not signed in my name, but equally
valid, on Messrs. Drummond, for 250 pounds. Repay yourself what the boy
has cost. Let him be educated to get his own living,--if clever, as a
scholar or a lawyer; if dull, as a tradesman. Whatever I may gain, he
will have his own way to make. I ought to tell you the story connected
with his birth; but it is one of pain and shame, and, on reflection, I
feel that I have no right to injure him by affixing to his early birth
an opprobrium of which he himself is guiltless. If ever I return to
England, you shall know all, and by your counsels I will abide. Love to
all your happy family. Your grateful FRIEND AND PUPIL. From this letter
I began to suspect that the poor boy was probably not born in wedlock,
and that Ardworth’s silence arose from his compunction. I conceived it
best never to mention this suspicion to John himself as he grew up. Why
should I afflict him by a doubt from which his own father shrank,
and which might only exist in my own inexperienced and uncharitable
interpretation of some vague words? When John was fourteen, I received
from Messrs. Drummond a further sum of 500 pounds, but without any
line from Ardworth, and only to the effect that Messrs. Drummond were
directed by a correspondent in Calcutta to pay me the said sum on behalf
of expenses incurred for the maintenance of the child left to my charge
by John Walter Ardworth. My young pupil had been two years at the
University when I received the letter of which this is a copy:--

“How are you? Still well, still happy? Let me hope so! I have not
written to you, dear old friend, but I have not been forgetful of you;
I have inquired of you through my correspondents, and have learned, from
time to time, such accounts as satisfied my grateful affection for you.
I find that you have given the boy my name. Well, let him bear it,--it
is nothing to boast of such as it became in my person; but, mind, I do
not, therefore, acknowledge him as my son. I wish him to think himself
without parents, without other aid in the career of life than his own
industry and talent--if talent he has. Let him go through the healthful
probation of toil; let him search for and find independence. Till he is
of age, 150 pounds per annum will be paid quarterly to your account for
him at Messrs. Drummond’s. If then, to set him up in any business or
profession, a sum of money be necessary, name the amount by a line,
signed A. B., Calcutta, to the care of Messrs. Drummond, and it will
reach and find me disposed to follow your instructions. But after that
time all further supply from me will cease. Do not suppose, because I
send this from India, that I am laden with rupees; all I can hope to
attain is a competence. That boy is not the only one who has claims
to share it. Even, therefore, if I had the wish to rear him to the
extravagant habits that ruined myself, I have not the power. Yes, let
him lean on his own strength. In the letter you send me, write fully of
your family, your sons, and write as to a man who can perhaps help them
in the world, and will be too happy thus in some slight degree to repay
all he owes you. You would smile approvingly if you saw me now,--a
steady, money-getting man, but still yours as ever.”

“P.S.--Do not let the boy write to me, nor give him this clew to my
address.”

On the receipt of this letter, I wrote fully to Ardworth about the
excellent promise and conduct of his poor neglected son. I told him
truly he was a son any father might be proud of, and rebuked, even to
harshness, Walter’s unseemly tone respecting him. One’s child is one’s
child, however the father may have wronged the mother. To this letter
I never received any answer. When John was of age, and had made himself
independent of want by obtaining a college fellowship, I spoke to him
about his prospects. I told him that his father, though residing abroad
and for some reason keeping himself concealed, had munificently paid
hitherto for his maintenance, and would lay down what might be necessary
to start him in business, or perhaps place him in the army, but that his
father might be better pleased if he could show a love of independence,
and henceforth maintain himself. I knew the boy I spoke to! John
thought as I did, and I never applied for another donation to the elder
Ardworth. The allowance ceased; John since then has maintained himself.
I have heard no more from his father, though I have written often to the
address he gave me. I begin to fear that he is dead. I once went up to
town and saw one of the heads of Messrs. Drummond’s firm, a very polite
gentleman, but he could give me no information, except that he obeyed
instructions from a correspondent at Calcutta,--one Mr. Macfarren.
Whereon I wrote to Mr. Macfarren, and asked him, as I thought very
pressingly, to tell me all he knew of poor Ardworth the elder. He
answered shortly that he knew of no such person at all, and that A. B.
was a French merchant, settled in Calcutta, who had been dead for above
two years. I now gave up all hopes of any further intelligence, and was
more convinced than ever that I had acted rightly in withholding from
poor John my correspondence with his father. The lad had been curious
and inquisitive naturally; but when I told him that I thought it my duty
to his father to be so reserved, he forebore to press me. I have only
to add, first, that by all the inquiries I could make of the surviving
members of Walter Ardworth’s family, it seemed their full belief that
he had never been married, and therefore I fear we must conclude that
he had no legitimate children,--which may account for, though it cannot
excuse, his neglect; and secondly, with respect to the sums received on
dear John’s account, I put them all by, capital and interest, deducting
only the expense of his first year at Cambridge (the which I could not
defray without injuring my own children), and it all stands in his name
at Messrs. Drummond’s, vested in the Three per Cents. That I have not
told him of this was by my poor dear wife’s advice; for she said, very
sensibly,--and she was a shrewd woman on money matters,--“If he knows he
has such a large sum all in the lump, who knows but he may grow idle and
extravagant, and spend it at once, like his father before him? Whereas,
some time or other he will want to marry, or need money for some
particular purpose,--then what a blessing it will be!”

However, my dear madam, as you know the world better than I do, you
can now do as you please, both as to communicating to John all the
information herein contained as to his parentage, and as to apprising
him of the large sum of which he is lawfully possessed.

MATTHEW FIELDEN.

P.S.--In justice to poor John Ardworth, and to show that whatever whim
he may have conceived about his own child, he had still a heart kind
enough to remember mine, though Heaven knows I said nothing about them
in my letters, my eldest boy received an offer of an excellent place in
a West India merchant’s house, and has got on to be chief clerk; and my
second son was presented to a living of 117 pounds a year by a gentleman
he never heard of. Though I never traced these good acts to Ardworth,
from whom else could they come?

Ardworth put down the paper without a word; and Lucretia, who had
watched him while he read, was struck with the self-control he evinced
when he came to the end of the disclosure. She laid her hand on his and
said,--

“Courage! you have lost nothing!”

“Nothing!” said Ardworth, with a bitter smile. “A father’s love and a
father’s name,--nothing!”

“But,” exclaimed Lucretia, “is this man your father? Does a father’s
heart beat in one line of those hard sentences? No, no; it seems to me
probable,--it seems to me almost certain, that you are--” She stopped,
and continued, with a calmer accent, “near to my own blood. I am now in
England, in London, to prosecute the inquiry built upon that hope. If
so, if so, you shall--” Madame Dalibard again stopped abruptly, and
there was something terrible in the very exultation of her countenance.
She drew a long breath, and resumed, with an evident effort at
self-command, “If so, I have a right to the interest I feel for
you. Suffer me yet to be silent as to the grounds of my belief,
and--and--love me a little in the mean while!”

Her voice trembled, as if with rushing tears, at these last words, and
there was almost an agony in the tone in which they were said, and in
the gesture of the clasped hands she held out to him.

Much moved (amidst all his mingled emotions at the tale thus made known
to him) by the manner and voice of the narrator, Ardworth bent down and
kissed the extended hands. Then he rose abruptly, walked to and fro the
room, muttering to himself, paused opposite the window, threw it open,
as for air, and, indeed, fairly gasped for breath. When he turned round,
however, his face was composed, and folding his arms on his large breast
with a sudden action, he said aloud, and yet rather to himself than to
his listener,--

“What matter, after all, by what name men call our fathers? We
ourselves make our own fate! Bastard or noble, not a jot care I. Give me
ancestors, I will not disgrace them; raze from my lot even the very name
of father, and my sons shall have an ancestor in me!”

As he thus spoke, there was a rough grandeur in his hard face and the
strong ease of his powerful form. And while thus standing and thus
looking, the door opened, and Varney walked in abruptly.

These two men had met occasionally at Madame Dalibard’s, but no intimacy
had been established between them. Varney was formal and distant to
Ardworth, and Ardworth felt a repugnance to Varney. With the instinct
of sound, sterling, weighty natures, he detected at once, and disliked
heartily, that something of gaudy, false, exaggerated, and hollow which
pervaded Gabriel Varney’s talk and manner,--even the trick of his walk
and the cut of his dress. And Ardworth wanted that boyish and beautiful
luxuriance of character which belonged to Percival St. John, easy to
please and to be pleased, and expanding into the warmth of admiration
for all talent and all distinction. For art, if not the highest,
Ardworth cared not a straw; it was nothing to him that Varney painted
and composed, and ran showily through the jargon of literary babble,
or toyed with the puzzles of unsatisfying metaphysics. He saw but a
charlatan, and he had not yet learned from experience what strength
and what danger lie hid in the boa parading its colours in the sun, and
shifting, in the sensual sportiveness of its being, from bough to bough.

Varney halted in the middle of the room as his eye rested first on
Ardworth, and then glanced towards Madame Dalibard. But Ardworth, jarred
from his revery or resolves by the sound of a voice discordant to his
ear at all times, especially in the mood which then possessed him,
scarcely returned Varney’s salutation, buttoned his coat over his
chest, seized his hat, and upsetting two chairs, and very considerably
disturbing the gravity of a round table, forced his way to Madame
Dalibard, pressed her hand, and said in a whisper, “I shall see you
again soon,” and vanished.

Varney, smoothing his hair with fingers that shone with rings, slid into
the seat next Madame Dalibard, which Ardworth had lately occupied, and
said: “If I were a Clytemnestra, I should dread an Orestes in such a
son!”

Madame Dalibard shot towards the speaker one of the sidelong, suspicious
glances which of old had characterized Lucretia, and said,--

“Clytemnestra was happy! The Furies slept to her crime, and haunted but
the avenger.”

“Hist!” said Varney.

The door opened, and Ardworth reappeared.

“I quite forgot what I half came to know. How is Helen? Did she return
home safe?”

“Safe--yes!”

“Dear girl, I am glad to hear it! Where is she? Not gone to those
Miverses again? I am no aristocrat, but why should one couple together
refinement and vulgarity?”

“Mr. Ardworth,” said Madame Dalibard, with haughty coldness, “my niece
is under my care, and you will permit me to judge for myself how to
discharge the trust. Mr. Mivers is her own relation,--a nearer one than
you are.”

Not at all abashed by the rebuke, Ardworth said carelessly: “Well, I
shall talk to you again on that subject. Meanwhile, pray give my love to
her,--Helen, I mean.”

Madame Dalibard half rose in her chair, then sank back again, motioning
with her hand to Ardworth to approach. Varney rose and walked to the
window, as if sensible that something was about to be said not meant for
his ear.

When Ardworth was close to her chair, Madame Dalibard grasped his
hand with a vigour that surprised him, and drawing him nearer still,
whispered as he bent down,--

“I will give Helen your love, if it is a cousin’s, or, if you will, a
brother’s love. Do you intend--do you feel--an other, a warmer love?
Speak, sir!” and drawing suddenly back, she gazed on his face with
a stern and menacing expression, her teeth set, and the lips firmly
pressed together.

Ardworth, though a little startled, and half angry, answered with the
low, ironical laugh not uncommon to him, “Pish! you ladies are apt to
think us men much greater fools than we are. A briefless lawyer is
not very inflammable tinder. Yes, a cousin’s love,--quite enough.
Poor little Helen! time enough to put other notions into her head; and
then--she will have a sweetheart, gay and handsome like herself!”

“Ay,” said Madame Dalibard, with a slight smile, “ay, I am satisfied.
Come soon.”

Ardworth nodded, and hurried down the stairs. As he gained the door, he
caught sight of Helen at a distance, bending over a flower-bed in the
neglected garden. He paused, irresolute, a moment. “No,” he muttered
to himself, “no; I am fit company only for myself! A long walk into the
fields, and then away with these mists round the Past and Future; the
Present at least is mine!”



CHAPTER V. THE WEAVERS AND THE WOOF.

“And what,” said Varney,--“what, while we are pursuing a fancied clew,
and seeking to provide first a name, and then a fortune for this young
lawyer,--what steps have you really taken to meet the danger that
menaces me,--to secure, if our inquiries fail, an independence for
yourself? Months have elapsed, and you have still shrunk from advancing
the great scheme upon which we built, when the daughter of Susan
Mainwaring was admitted to your hearth.”

“Why recall me, in these rare moments when I feel myself human
still,--why recall me back to the nethermost abyss of revenge and crime?
Oh, let me be sure that I have still a son! Even if John Ardworth, with
his gifts and energies, be denied to me, a son, though in rags, I will
give him wealth!--a son, though ignorant as the merest boor, I will
pour into his brain my dark wisdom! A son! a son! my heart swells at
the word. Ah, you sneer! Yes, my heart swells, but not with the mawkish
fondness of a feeble mother. In a son, I shall live again,--transmigrate
from this tortured and horrible life of mine; drink back my youth.
In him I shall rise from my fall,--strong in his power, great in his
grandeur. It is because I was born a woman,--had woman’s poor passions
and infirm weakness,--that I am what I am. I would transfer myself into
the soul of man,--man, who has the strength to act, and the privilege to
rise. Into the bronze of man’s nature I would pour the experience which
has broken, with its fierce elements, the puny vessel of clay. Yes,
Gabriel, in return for all I have done and sacrificed for you, I ask
but co-operation in that one hope of my shattered and storm-beat being.
Bear, forbear, await; risk not that hope by some wretched, peddling
crime which will bring on us both detection,--some wanton revelry in
guilt, which is not worth the terror that treads upon its heels.”

“You forget,” answered Varney, with a kind of submissive
sullenness,--for whatever had passed between these two persons in
their secret and fearful intimacy, there was still a power in Lucretia,
surviving her fall amidst the fiends, that impressed Varney with the
only respect he felt for man or woman,--“you forget strangely the nature
of our elaborate and master project when you speak of ‘peddling crime,’
or ‘wanton revelry’ in guilt! You forget, too, how every hour that we
waste deepens the peril that surrounds me, and may sweep from your side
the sole companion that can aid you in your objects,--nay, without whom
they must wholly fail. Let me speak first of that most urgent danger,
for your memory seems short and troubled, since you have learned only to
hope the recovery of your son. If this man Stubmore, in whom the trust
created by my uncle’s will is now vested, once comes to town, once
begins to bustle about his accursed projects of transferring the money
from the Bank of England, I tell you again and again that my forgery on
the bank will be detected, and that transportation will be the smallest
penalty inflicted. Part of the forgery, as you know, was committed on
your behalf, to find the moneys necessary for the research for your
son,--committed on the clear understanding that our project on Helen
should repay me, should enable me, perhaps undetected, to restore
the sums illegally abstracted, or, at the worst, to confess to
Stubmore--whose character I well know--that, oppressed by difficulties,
I had yielded to temptation, that I had forged his name (as I had forged
his father’s) as an authority to sell the capital from the bank, and
that now, in replacing the money, I repaid my error and threw myself on
his indulgence, on his silence. I say that I know enough of the man to
know that I should be thus cheaply saved, or at the worst, I should have
but to strengthen his compassion by a bribe to his avarice; but if I
cannot replace the money, I am lost.”

“Well, well,” said Lucretia; “the money you shall have, let me but find
my son, and--”

“Grant me patience!” cried Varney, impetuously. “But what can your son
do, if found, unless you endow him with the heritage of Laughton? To do
that, Helen, who comes next to Percival St. John in the course of
the entail, must cease to live! Have I not aided, am I not aiding you
hourly, in your grand objects? This evening I shall see a man whom I
have long lost sight of, but who has acquired in a lawyer’s life the
true scent after evidence: if that evidence exist, it shall be found. I
have just learned his address. By tomorrow he shall be on the track.
I have stinted myself to save from the results of the last forgery
the gold to whet his zeal. For the rest, as I have said, your design
involves the removal of two lives. Already over the one more difficult
to slay the shadow creeps and the pall hangs. I have won, as you wished,
and as was necessary, young St. John’s familiar acquaintance; when the
hour comes, he is in my hands.”

Lucretia smiled sternly. “So!” she said, between her ground teeth, “the
father forbade me the house that was my heritage! I have but to lift
a finger and breathe a word, and, desolate as I am, I thrust from
that home the son! The spoiler left me the world,--I leave his son the
grave!”

“But,” said Varney, doggedly pursuing his dreadful object, “why force
me to repeat that his is not the only life between you and your son’s
inheritance? St. John gone, Helen still remains. And what, if your
researches fail, are we to lose the rich harvest which Helen will yield
us,--a harvest you reap with the same sickle which gathers in your
revenge? Do you no longer see in Helen’s face the features of her
mother? Is the perfidy of William Mainwaring forgotten or forgiven?”

“Gabriel Varney,” said Lucretia, in a hollow and tremulous voice, “when
in that hour in which my whole being was revulsed, and I heard the cord
snap from the anchor, and saw the demons of the storm gather round my
bark; when in that hour I stooped calmly down and kissed my rival’s
brow,--I murmured an oath which seemed not inspired by my own soul, but
by an influence henceforth given to my fate: I vowed that the perfidy
dealt to me should be repaid; I vowed that the ruin of my own existence
should fall on the brow which I kissed. I vowed that if shame and
disgrace were to supply the inheritance I had forfeited, I would not
stand alone amidst the scorn of the pitiless world. In the vision of my
agony, I saw, afar, the altar dressed and the bride-chamber prepared;
and I breathed my curse, strong as prophecy, on the marriage-hearth and
the marriage-bed. Why dream, then, that I would rescue the loathed child
of that loathed union from your grasp? But is the time come? Yours may
be come: is mine?”

Something so awful there was in the look of his accomplice, so intense
in the hate of her low voice, that Varney, wretch as he was, and
contemplating at that very hour the foulest and most hideous guilt, drew
back, appalled.

Madame Dalibard resumed, and in a somewhat softer tone, but softened
only by the anguish of despair.

“Oh, had it been otherwise, what might I have been! Given over from that
hour to the very incarnation of plotting crime, none to resist the evil
impulse of my own maddening heart, the partner, forced on me by fate,
leading me deeper and deeper into the inextricable hell,--from that
hour fraud upon fraud, guilt upon guilt, infamy heaped on infamy, till
I stand a marvel to myself that the thunderbolt falls not, that Nature
thrusts not from her breast a living outrage on all her laws! Was I not
justified in the desire of retribution? Every step that I fell, every
glance that I gave to the gulf below, increased but in me the desire for
revenge. All my acts had flowed from one fount: should the stream roll
pollution, and the fount spring pure?”

“You have had your revenge on your rival and her husband.”

“I had it, and I passed on!” said Lucretia, with nostrils dilated as
with haughty triumph; “they were crushed, and I suffered them to live!
Nay, when, by chance, I heard of William Mainwaring’s death, I bowed
down my head, and I almost think I wept. The old days came back upon
me. Yes, I wept! But I had not destroyed their love. No, no; there I had
miserably failed. A pledge of that love lived. I had left their hearth
barren; Fate sent them a comfort which I had not foreseen. And suddenly
my hate returned, my wrongs rose again, my vengeance was not sated. The
love that had destroyed more than my life,--my soul,--rose again and
cursed me in the face of Helen. The oath which I took when I kissed my
rival’s brow, demanded another prey when I kissed the child of those
nuptials.”

“You are prepared at last, then, to act?” cried Varney, in a tone of
savage joy.

At that moment, close under the window, rose, sudden and sweet, the
voice of one singing,--the young voice of Helen. The words were so
distinct that they came to the ears of the dark-plotting and guilty
pair. In the song itself there was little to remark or peculiarly
apposite to the consciences of those who heard; yet in the extreme and
touching purity of the voice, and in the innocence of the general spirit
of the words, trite as might be the image they conveyed, there was
something that contrasted so fearfully their own thoughts and minds that
they sat silent, looking vacantly into each other’s faces, and shrinking
perhaps to turn their eyes within themselves.

HELEN’S HYMN.

Ye fade, yet still how sweet, ye Flowers! Your scent outlives the bloom!
So, Father, may my mortal hours Grow sweeter towards the tomb!

In withered leaves a healing cure The simple gleaners find; So may our
withered hopes endure In virtues left behind!

Oh, not to me be vainly given The lesson ye bestow, Of thoughts that
rise in sweets to Heaven, And turn to use below.

The song died, but still the listeners remained silent, till at length,
shaking off the effect, with his laugh of discordant irony, Varney
said,--

“Sweet innocence, fresh from the nursery! Would it not be sin to suffer
the world to mar it? You hear the prayer: why not grant it, and let the
flower ‘turn to use below’?”

“Ah, but could it wither first!” muttered Lucretia, with an accent of
suppressed rage. “Do you think that her--that his--daughter is to me but
a vulgar life to be sacrificed merely for gold? Imagine away your
sex, man! Women only know what I--such as I, woman still--feel in the
presence of the pure! Do you fancy that I should not have held death
a blessing if death could have found me in youth such as Helen is? Ah,
could she but live to suffer! Die! Well, since it must be, since my
son requires the sacrifice, do as you will with the victim that death
mercifully snatches from my grasp. I could have wished to prolong her
life, to load it with some fragment of the curse her parents heaped upon
me,--baffled love, and ruin, and despair! I could have hoped, in this
division of the spoil, that mine had been the vengeance, if yours the
gold. You want the life, I the heart,--the heart to torture first; and
then--why then more willingly than I do now, could I have thrown the
carcass to the jackal!”

“Listen!” began Varney; when the door opened and Helen herself stood
unconsciously smiling at the threshold.



CHAPTER VI. THE LAWYER AND THE BODY-SNATCHER.

That same evening Beck, according to appointment, met Percival and
showed him the dreary-looking house which held the fair stranger who had
so attracted his youthful fancy. And Percival looked at the high walls
with the sailor’s bold desire for adventure, while confused visions
reflected from plays, operas, and novels, in which scaling walls with
rope-ladders and dark-lanterns was represented as the natural vocation
of a lover, flitted across his brain; and certainly he gave a deep sigh
as his common-sense plucked him back from such romance. However, having
now ascertained the house, it would be easy to learn the name of its
inmates, and to watch or make his opportunity. As slowly and reluctantly
he walked back to the spot where he had left his cabriolet, he entered
into some desultory conversation with his strange guide; and the pity
he had before conceived for Beck increased upon him as he talked and
listened. This benighted mind, only illumined by a kind of miserable
astuteness and that “cunning of the belly” which is born of want to
engender avarice; this joyless temperament; this age in youth; this
living reproach, rising up from the stones of London against our social
indifference to the souls which wither and rot under the hard eyes
of science and the deaf ears of wealth,--had a pathos for his lively
sympathies and his fresh heart.

“If ever you want a friend, come to me,” said St. John, abruptly.

The sweeper stared, and a gleam of diviner nature, a ray of gratitude
and unselfish devotion, darted through the fog and darkness of his mind.
He stood, with his hat off, watching the wheels of the cabriolet as it
bore away the happy child of fortune, and then, shaking his head, as at
some puzzle that perplexed and defied his comprehension, strode back to
the town and bent his way homeward.

Between two and three hours after Percival thus parted from the sweeper,
a man whose dress was little in accordance with the scene in which we
present him, threaded his way through a foul labyrinth of alleys in the
worst part of St. Giles’s,--a neighbourhood, indeed, carefully shunned
at dusk by wealthy passengers; for here dwelt not only Penury in its
grimmest shape, but the desperate and dangerous guilt which is not to
be lightly encountered in its haunts and domiciles. Here children
imbibe vice with their mother’s milk. Here Prostitution, commencing with
childhood, grows fierce and sanguinary in the teens, and leagues with
theft and murder. Here slinks the pickpocket, here emerges the burglar,
here skulks the felon. Yet all about and all around, here, too, may
be found virtue in its rarest and noblest form,--virtue outshining
circumstance and defying temptation; the virtue of utter poverty, which
groans, and yet sins not. So interwoven are these webs of penury and
fraud that in one court your life is not safe; but turn to the right
hand, and in the other, you might sleep safely in that worse than Irish
shealing, though your pockets were full of gold. Through these haunts
the ragged and penniless may walk unfearing, for they have nothing to
dread from the lawless,--more, perhaps, from the law; but the wealthy,
the respectable, the spruce, the dainty, let them beware the spot,
unless the policeman is in sight or day is in the skies!

As this passenger, whose appearance, as we have implied, was certainly
not that of a denizen, turned into one of the alleys, a rough hand
seized him by the arm, and suddenly a group of girls and tatterdemalions
issued from a house, in which the lower shutters unclosed showed a light
burning, and surrounded him with a hoarse whoop.

The passenger whispered a word in the ear of the grim blackguard who had
seized him, and his arm was instantly released.

“Hist! a pal,--he has the catch,” said the blackguard, surlily. The
group gave way, and by the light of the clear starlit skies, and a
single lamp hung at the entrance of the alley, gazed upon the stranger.
But they made no effort to detain him; and as he disappeared in the
distant shadows, hastened back into the wretched hostlery where they had
been merry-making. Meanwhile, the stranger gained a narrow court, and
stopped before a house in one of its angles,--a house taller than the
rest, so much taller than the rest that it had the effect of a tower;
you would have supposed it (perhaps rightly) to be the last remains
of some ancient building of importance, around which, as population
thickened and fashion changed, the huts below it had insolently sprung
up. Quaint and massive pilasters, black with the mire and soot of
centuries, flanked the deep-set door; the windows were heavy with
mullions and transoms, and strongly barred in the lower floor; but few
of the panes were whole, and only here and there had any attempt been
made to keep out the wind and rain by rags, paper, old shoes, old hats,
and other ingenious contrivances. Beside the door was conveniently
placed a row of some ten or twelve bell-pulls, appertaining no doubt
to the various lodgments into which the building was subdivided. The
stranger did not seem very familiar with the appurtenances of the place.
He stood in some suspense as to the proper bell to select; but at last,
guided by a brass plate annexed to one of the pulls, which, though it
was too dark to decipher the inscription, denoted a claim to superior
gentility to the rest of that nameless class, he hazarded a tug, which
brought forth a ‘larum loud enough to startle the whole court from its
stillness.

In a minute or less, the casement in one of the upper stories opened, a
head peered forth, and one of those voices peculiar to low debauch--raw,
cracked, and hoarse--called out: “Who waits?”

“Is it you, Grabman?” asked the stranger, dubiously.

“Yes,--Nicholas Grabman, attorney-at-law, sir, at your service; and your
name?”

“Jason,” answered the stranger.

“Ho, there! ho, Beck!” cried the cracked voice to some one within; “go
down and open the door.”

In a few moments the heavy portal swung and creaked and yawned sullenly,
and a gaunt form, half-undressed, with an inch of a farthing rushlight
glimmering through a battered lantern in its hand, presented itself to
Jason. The last eyed the ragged porter sharply.

“Do you live here?”

“Yes,” answered Beck, with the cringe habitual to him. “H-up the ladder,
vith the rats, drat ‘em.”

“Well, lead on; hold up the lantern. A devil of a dark place this!”
 grumbled Jason, as he nearly stumbled over sundry broken chattels, and
gained a flight of rude, black, broken stairs, that creaked under his
tread.

“‘St! ‘st!” said Beck between his teeth, as the stranger, halting at the
second floor, demanded, in no gentle tones, whether Mr. Grabman lived in
the chimney-pots.

“‘St! ‘st! Don’t make such a rumpus, or No. 7 will be at you.”

“What do I care for No. 7? And who the devil is No. 7?”

“A body-snatcher!” whispered Beck, with a shudder. “He’s a dillicut
sleeper,--can’t abide having his night’s rest sp’ilt. And he’s the
houtrageoustest great cretur when he’s h-up in his tantrums; it makes
your ‘air stand on ind to ‘ear him!”

“I should like very much to hear him, then,” said the stranger,
curiously. And while he spoke, the door of No. 7 opened abruptly. A
huge head, covered with matted hair, was thrust for a moment through the
aperture, and two dull eyes, that seemed covered with a film like that
of the birds which feed on the dead, met the stranger’s bold, sparkling
orbs.

“Hell and fury!” bawled out the voice of this ogre, like a clap of near
thunder, “if you two keep tramp, tramp, there close at my door, I’ll
make you meat for the surgeons, b---- you!”

“Stop a moment, my civil friend,” said the stranger, advancing; “just
stand where you are: I should like to make a sketch of your head.”

That head protruded farther from the door, and with it an enormous
bulk of chest and shoulder. But the adventurous visitor was not to be
daunted. He took out, very coolly, a pencil and the back of a letter,
and began his sketch.

The body-snatcher stared at him an instant in mute astonishment; but
that operation and the composure of the artist were so new to him that
they actually inspired him with terror. He slunk back, banged to
the door; and the stranger, putting up his implements, said, with a
disdainful laugh, to Beck, who had slunk away into a corner,--

“No. 7 knows well how to take care of No. 1. Lead on, and be quick,
then!”

As they continued to mount, they heard the body-snatcher growling and
blaspheming in his den, and the sound made Beck clamber the quicker,
till at the next landing-place he took breath, threw open a door, and
Jason, pushing him aside, entered first.

The interior of the room bespoke better circumstances than might have
been supposed from the approach; the floor was covered with sundry
scraps of carpet, formerly of different hues and patterns, but mellowed
by time into one threadbare mass of grease and canvas. There was a good
fire on the hearth, though the night was warm; there were sundry volumes
piled round the walls, in the binding peculiar to law books; in a corner
stood a tall desk, of the fashion used by clerks, perched on tall, slim
legs, and companioned by a tall, slim stool. On a table before the fire
were scattered the remains of the nightly meal,--broiled bones, the
skeleton of a herring; and the steam rose from a tumbler containing a
liquid colourless as water, but poisonous as gin.

The room was squalid and dirty, and bespoke mean and slovenly habits;
but it did not bespeak penury and want, it had even an air of filthy
comfort of its own,--the comfort of the swine in its warm sty. The
occupant of the chamber was in keeping with the localities. Figure to
yourself a man of middle height, not thin, but void of all muscular
flesh,--bloated, puffed, unwholesome. He was dressed in a gray-flannel
gown and short breeches, the stockings wrinkled and distained, the feet
in slippers. The stomach was that of a portly man, the legs were those
of a skeleton; the cheeks full and swollen, like a ploughboy’s, but
livid, bespeckled, of a dull lead-colour, like a patient in the dropsy.
The head, covered in patches with thin, yellowish hair, gave some
promise of intellect, for the forehead was high, and appeared still more
so from partial baldness; the eyes, embedded in fat and wrinkled skin,
were small and lustreless, but they still had that acute look which
education and ability communicate to the human orb; the mouth most
showed the animal,--full-lipped, coarse, and sensual; while behind one
of two great ears stuck a pen.

You see before you, then, this slatternly figure,--slipshod,
half-clothed, with a sort of shabby demi-gentility about it, half
ragamuffin, half clerk; while in strong contrast appeared the new-comer,
scrupulously neat, new, with bright black-satin stock, coat cut jauntily
to the waist, varnished boots, kid gloves, and trim mustache.

Behind this sleek and comely personage, on knock-knees, in torn shirt
open at the throat, with apathetic, listless, unlighted face, stood the
lean and gawky Beck.

“Set a chair for the gentleman,” said the inmate of the chamber to Beck,
with a dignified wave of the hand.

“How do you do, Mr.--Mr.--humph--Jason? How do you do? Always smart and
blooming; the world thrives with you.”

“The world is a farm that thrives with all who till it properly,
Grabman,” answered Jason, dryly; and with his handkerchief he carefully
dusted the chair, on which he then daintily deposited his person.

“But who is your Ganymede, your valet, your gentleman-usher?”

“Oh, a lad about town who lodges above and does odd jobs for
me,--brushes my coat, cleans my shoes, and after his day’s work goes an
errand now and then. Make yourself scarce, Beck! Anatomy, vanish!”

Beck grinned, nodded, pulled hard at a flake of his hair, and closed the
door.

“One of your brotherhood, that?” asked Jason, carelessly.

“He, oaf? No,” said Grabman, with profound contempt in his sickly
visage. “He works for his bread,--instinct! Turnspits and truffle-dogs
and some silly men have it! What an age since we met! Shall I mix you a
tumbler?”

“You know I never drink your vile spirits; though in Champagne and
Bordeaux I am any man’s match.”

“And how the devil do you keep old black thoughts out of your mind by
those washy potations?”

“Old black thoughts--of what?”

“Of black actions, Jason. We have not met since you paid me for
recommending the nurse who attended your uncle in his last illness.”

“Well, poor coward?”

Grabman knit his thin eyebrows and gnawed his blubber lips.

“I am no coward, as you know.”

“Not when a thing is to be done, but after it is done. You brave the
substance, and tremble at the shadow. I dare say you see ugly goblins in
the dark, Grabman?”

“Ay, ay; but it is no use talking to you. You call yourself Jason
because of your yellow hair, or your love for the golden fleece; but
your old comrades call you ‘Rattlesnake,’ and you have its blood, as its
venom.”

“And its charm, man,” added Jason, with a strange smile, that, though
hypocritical and constrained, had yet a certain softness, and added
greatly to the comeliness of features which many might call beautiful,
and all would allow to be regular and symmetrical. “I shall find at
least ten love-letters on my table when I go home. But enough of these
fopperies, I am here on business.”

“Law, of course; I am your man. Who’s the victim?” and a hideous grin
on Grabman’s face contrasted the sleek smile that yet lingered upon his
visitor’s.

“No; something less hazardous, but not less lucrative than our old
practices. This is a business that may bring you hundreds, thousands;
that may take you from this hovel to speculate at the West End; that may
change your gin into Lafitte, and your herring into venison; that may
lift the broken attorney again upon the wheel,--again to roll down, it
may be; but that is your affair.”

“‘Fore Gad, open the case,” cried Grabman, eagerly, and shoving aside
the ignoble relics of his supper, he leaned his elbows on the table and
his chin on his damp palms, while eyes that positively brightened into
an expression of greedy and relentless intelligence were fixed upon his
visitor.

“The case runs thus,” said Jason. “Once upon a time there lived, at
an old house in Hampshire called Laughton, a wealthy baronet named St.
John. He was a bachelor, his estates at his own disposal. He had two
nieces and a more distant kinsman. His eldest niece lived with him,--she
was supposed to be destined for his heiress; circumstances needless
to relate brought upon this girl her uncle’s displeasure,--she was
dismissed his house. Shortly afterwards he died, leaving to his
kinsman--a Mr. Vernon--his estates, with remainder to Vernon’s issue,
and in default thereof, first to the issue of the younger niece, next to
that of the elder and disinherited one. The elder married, and was left
a widow without children. She married again, and had a son. Her second
husband, for some reason or other, conceived ill opinions of his wife.
In his last illness (he did not live long) he resolved to punish the
wife by robbing the mother. He sent away the son, nor have we been able
to discover him since. It is that son whom you are to find.”

“I see, I see; go on,” said Grabman. “This son is now the remainderman.
How lost? When? What year? What trace?”

“Patience. You will find in this paper the date of the loss and the age
of the child, then a mere infant. Now for the trace. This husband--did
I tell you his name? No? Alfred Braddell--had one friend more intimate
than the rest,--John Walter Ardworth, a cashiered officer, a ruined man,
pursued by bill-brokers, Jews, and bailiffs. To this man we have lately
had reason to believe that the child was given. Ardworth, however, was
shortly afterwards obliged to fly his creditors. We know that he went to
India; but if residing there, it must have been under some new name, and
we fear he is now dead. All our inquiries, at least after this man,
have been fruitless. Before he went abroad, he left with his old tutor a
child corresponding in age to that of Mrs. Braddell’s. In this child she
thinks she recognizes her son. All that you have to do is to trace his
identity by good legal evidence. Don’t smile in that foolish
way,--I mean sound, bona fide evidence that will stand the fire of
cross-examination; you know what that is! You will therefore find
out,--first, whether Braddell did consign his child to Ardworth, and,
if so, you must then follow Ardworth, with that child in his keeping,
to Matthew Fielden’s house, whose address you find noted in the paper I
gave you, together with many other memoranda as to Ardworth’s creditors
and those whom he is likely to have come across.”

“John Ardworth, I see!”

“John Walter Ardworth,--commonly called Walter; he, like me, preferred
to be known only by his second baptismal name. He, because of a
favourite Radical godfather; I, because Honore is an inconvenient
Gallicism. And perhaps when Honore Mirabeau (my godfather) went out
of fashion with the sans-culottes, my father thought Gabriel a safer
designation. Now I have told you all.”

“What is the mother’s maiden name?”

“Her maiden name was Clavering; she was married under that of Dalibard,
her first husband.”

“And,” said Grabman, looking over the notes in the paper given to him,
“it is at Liverpool that the husband died, and whence the child was sent
away?”

“It is so; to Liverpool you will go first. I tell you fairly, the task
is difficult, for hitherto it has foiled me. I knew but one man who,
without flattery, could succeed, and therefore I spared no pains to find
out Nicholas Grabman. You have the true ferret’s faculty; you, too, are
a lawyer, and snuff evidence in every breath. Find us a son,--a legal
son,--a son to be shown in a court of law, and the moment he steps into
the lands and the Hall of Laughton, you have five thousand pounds.”

“Can I have a bond to that effect?”

“My bond, I fear, is worth no more than my word. Trust to the last; if I
break it, you know enough of my secrets to hang me!”

“Don’t talk of hanging; I hate that subject. But stop. If found, does
this son succeed? Did this Mr. Vernon leave no heir; this other sister
continue single, or prove barren?”

“Oh, true! He, Mr. Vernon, who by will took the name of St. John, he
left issue; but only one son still survives, a minor and unmarried. The
sister, too, left a daughter; both are poor, sickly creatures,--their
lives not worth a straw. Never mind them. You find Vincent Braddell,
and he will not be long out of his property, nor you out of your 5,000
pounds! You see, under these circumstances a bond might become dangerous
evidence!”

Grabman emitted a fearful and tremulous chuckle,--a laugh like the laugh
of a superstitious man when you talk to him of ghosts and churchyards.
He chuckled, and his hair bristled. But after a pause, in which he
seemed to wrestle with his own conscience, he said: “Well, well, you are
a strange man, Jason; you love your joke. I have nothing to do except to
find out this ultimate remainderman; mind that!”

“Perfectly; nothing like subdivision of labour.”

“The search will be expensive.”

“There is oil for your wheels,” answered Jason, putting a note-book into
his confidant’s hands. “But mind you waste it not. No tricks, no false
play, with me; you know Jason, or, if you like the name better, you know
the Rattlesnake!”

“I will account for every penny,” said Grabman, eagerly, and clasping
his hands, while his pale face grew livid.

“I do not doubt it, my quill-driver. Look sharp, start to-morrow. Get
thyself decent clothes, be sober, cleanly, and respectable. Act as a man
who sees before him 5,000 pounds. And now, light me downstairs.”

With the candle in his hand, Grabman stole down the rugged steps even
more timorously than Beck had ascended them, and put his finger to his
mouth as they came in the dread vicinity of No. 7. But Jason, or rather
Gabriel Varney, with that fearless, reckless bravado of temper which,
while causing half his guilt, threw at times a false glitter over its
baseness, piqued by the cowardice of his comrade, gave a lusty kick at
the closed door, and shouted out: “Old grave-stealer, come out, and let
me finish your picture. Out, out! I say, out!” Grabman left the candle
on the steps, and made but three bounds to his own room.

At the third shout of his disturber the resurrection-man threw open his
door violently and appeared at the gap, the upward flare of the candle
showing the deep lines ploughed in his hideous face, and the immense
strength of his gigantic trunk and limbs. Slight, fair, and delicate as
he was, Varney eyed him deliberately, and trembled not.

“What do you want with me?” said the terrible voice, tremulous with
rage.

“Only to finish your portrait as Pluto. He was the god of Hell, you
know.”

The next moment the vast hand of the ogre hung like a great cloud over
Gabriel Varney. This last, ever on his guard, sprang aside, and the
light gleamed on the steel of a pistol. “Hands off! Or--”

The click of the pistol-cock finished the sentence. The ruffian halted.
A glare of disappointed fury gave a momentary lustre to his dull eyes.
“P’r’aps I shall meet you again one o’ these days, or nights, and I
shall know ye in ten thousand.”

“Nothing like a bird in the hand, Master Grave-stealer. Where can we
ever meet again?”

“P’r’aps in the fields, p’r’aps on the road, p’r’aps at the Old Bailey,
p’r’aps at the gallows, p’r’aps in the convict-ship. I knows what that
is! I was chained night and day once to a chap jist like you. Didn’t I
break his spurit; didn’t I spile his sleep! Ho, ho! you looks a bit less
varmently howdacious now, my flash cove!”

Varney hitherto had not known one pang of fear, one quicker beat of the
heart before. But the image presented to his irritable fancy (always
prone to brood over terrors),--the image of that companion chained to
him night and day,--suddenly quelled his courage; the image stood before
him palpably like the Oulos Oneiros,--the Evil Dream of the Greeks.

He breathed loud. The body-stealer’s stupid sense saw that he had
produced the usual effect of terror, which gratified his brutal
self-esteem; he retreated slowly, inch by inch, to the door, followed by
Varney’s appalled and staring eye, and closed it with such violence that
the candle was extinguished.

Varney, not daring,--yes, literally not daring,--to call aloud to
Grabman for another light, crept down the dark stairs with hurried,
ghostlike steps; and after groping at the door-handle with one hand,
while the other grasped his pistol with a strain of horror, he succeeded
at last in winning access to the street, and stood a moment to collect
himself in the open air,--the damps upon his forehead, and his limbs
trembling like one who has escaped by a hairbreadth the crash of a
falling house.



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.



CHAPTER XVIII. RETROSPECT.

We have now arrived at that stage in this history when it is necessary
to look back on the interval in Lucretia’s life,--between the death of
Dalibard, and her reintroduction in the second portion of our tale.

One day, without previous notice or warning, Lucretia arrived at William
Mainwaring’s house; she was in the deep weeds of widowhood, and that
garb of mourning sufficed to add Susan’s tenderest commiseration to the
warmth of her affectionate welcome. Lucretia appeared to have forgiven
the past, and to have conquered its more painful recollections; she was
gentle to Susan, though she rather suffered than returned her caresses;
she was open and frank to William. Both felt inexpressibly grateful for
her visit, the forgiveness it betokened, and the confidence it implied.
At this time no condition could be more promising and prosperous than
that of the young banker. From the first the most active partner in the
bank, he had now virtually almost monopolized the business. The senior
partner was old and infirm; the second had a bucolic turn, and was much
taken up by the care of a large farm he had recently purchased; so that
Mainwaring, more and more trusted and honoured, became the sole managing
administrator of the firm. Business throve in his able hands; and with
patient and steady perseverance there was little doubt but that, before
middle age was attained, his competence would have swelled into a
fortune sufficient to justify him in realizing the secret dream of his
heart,--the parliamentary representation of the town, in which he had
already secured the affection and esteem of the inhabitants.

It was not long before Lucretia detected the ambition William’s industry
but partially concealed; it was not long before, with the ascendency
natural to her will and her talents, she began to exercise considerable,
though unconscious, influence over a man in whom a thousand good
qualities and some great talents were unhappily accompanied by infirm
purpose and weak resolutions. The ordinary conversation of Lucretia
unsettled his mind and inflamed his vanity,--a conversation able,
aspiring, full both of knowledge drawn from books and of that experience
of public men which her residence in Paris (whereon, with its new and
greater Charlemagne, the eyes of the world were turned) had added to
her acquisitions in the lore of human life. Nothing more disturbs a mind
like William Mainwaring’s than that species of eloquence which rebukes
its patience in the present by inflaming all its hopes in the future.
Lucretia had none of the charming babble of women, none of that tender
interest in household details, in the minutiae of domestic life, which
relaxes the intellect while softening the heart. Hard and vigorous, her
sentences came forth in eternal appeal to the reason, or address to the
sterner passions in which love has no share. Beside this strong thinker,
poor Susan’s sweet talk seemed frivolous and inane. Her soft hold upon
Mainwaring loosened. He ceased to consult her upon business; he began to
repine that the partner of his lot could have little sympathy with his
dreams. More often and more bitterly now did his discontented glance, in
his way homeward, rove to the rooftops of the rural member for the town;
more eagerly did he read the parliamentary debates; more heavily did he
sigh at the thought of eloquence denied a vent, and ambition delayed in
its career.

When arrived at this state of mind, Lucretia’s conversation took a more
worldly, a more practical turn. Her knowledge of the speculators of
Paris instructed her pictures of bold ingenuity creating sudden
wealth; she spoke of fortunes made in a day,--of parvenus bursting into
millionnaires; of wealth as the necessary instrument of ambition, as the
arch ruler of the civilized world. Never once, be it observed, in these
temptations, did Lucretia address herself to the heart; the ordinary
channels of vulgar seduction were disdained by her. She would not have
stooped so low as Mainwaring’s love, could she have commanded or allured
it; she was willing to leave to Susan the husband reft from her own
passionate youth, but leave him with the brand on his brow and the worm
at his heart,--a scoff and a wreck.

At this time there was in that market-town one of those adventurous,
speculative men, who are the more dangerous impostors because imposed
upon by their own sanguine chimeras, who have a plausibility in their
calculations, an earnestness in their arguments, which account for
the dupes they daily make in our most sober and wary of civilized
communities. Unscrupulous in their means, yet really honest in the
belief that their objects can be attained, they are at once the rogues
and fanatics of Mammon. This person was held to have been fortunate
in some adroit speculations in the corn trade, and he was brought too
frequently into business with Mainwaring not to be a frequent visitor
at the house. In him Lucretia saw the very instrument of her design. She
led him on to talk of business as a game, of money as a realizer of cent
per cent; she drew him into details, she praised him, she admired. In
his presence she seemed only to hear him; in his absence, musingly, she
started from silence to exclaim on the acuteness of his genius and the
accuracy of his figures. Soon the tempter at Mainwaring’s heart gave
signification to these praises, soon this adventurer became his most
intimate friend. Scarcely knowing why, never ascribing the change to her
sister, poor Susan wept, amazed at Mainwaring’s transformation. No care
now for the new books from London, or the roses in the garden; the music
on the instrument was unheeded. Books, roses, music,--what are those
trifles to a man thinking upon cent per cent? Mainwaring’s very
countenance altered; it lost its frank, affectionate beauty: sullen,
abstracted, morose, it showed that some great care was at the core.
Then Lucretia herself began grievingly to notice the change to Susan;
gradually she altered her tone with regard to the speculator, and hinted
vague fears, and urged Susan’s remonstrance and warning. As she had
anticipated, warning and remonstrance came in vain to the man who,
comparing Lucretia’s mental power to Susan’s, had learned to despise the
unlearned, timid sense of the latter.

It is unnecessary to trace this change in Mainwaring step by step, or
to measure the time which sufficed to dazzle his reason and blind his
honour. In the midst of schemes and hopes which the lust of gold now
pervaded came a thunderbolt. An anonymous letter to the head partner
of the bank provoked suspicions that led to minute examination of the
accounts. It seemed that sums had been irregularly advanced (upon
bills drawn by men of straw) to the speculator by Mainwaring; and the
destination of these sums could be traced to gambling operations in
trade in which Mainwaring had a private interest and partnership. So
great, as we have said, had been the confidence placed in William’s
abilities and honour that the facilities afforded him in the disposal of
the joint stock far exceeded those usually granted to the partner of a
firm, and the breach of trust appeared the more flagrant from the extent
of the confidence misplaced. Meanwhile, William Mainwaring, though
as yet unconscious of the proceedings of his partners, was gnawed by
anxiety and remorse, not unmixed with hope. He depended upon the result
of a bold speculation in the purchase of shares in a Canal Company,
a bill for which was then before parliament, with (as he was led
to believe) a certainty of success. The sums he had, on his own
responsibility, abstracted from the joint account were devoted to this
adventure. But, to do him justice, he never dreamed of appropriating the
profits anticipated to himself. Though knowing that the bills on which
the moneys had been advanced were merely nominal deposits, he had
confidently calculated on the certainty of success for the speculations
to which the proceeds so obtained were devoted, and he looked forward
to the moment when he might avow what he had done, and justify it by
doubling the capital withdrawn. But to his inconceivable horror, the
bill of the Canal Company was rejected in the Lords; the shares bought
at a premium went down to zero; and to add to his perplexity, the
speculator abruptly disappeared from the town. In this crisis he was
summoned to meet his indignant associates.

The evidence against him was morally damning, if not legally conclusive.
The unhappy man heard all in the silence of despair. Crushed and
bewildered, he attempted no defence. He asked but an hour to sum up the
losses of the bank and his own; they amounted within a few hundreds to
the 10,000 pounds he had brought to the firm, and which, in the absence
of marriage-settlements, was entirely at his own disposal. This sum he
at once resigned to his associates, on condition that they should defray
from it his personal liabilities. The money thus repaid, his partners
naturally relinquished all further inquiry. They were moved by pity for
one so gifted and so fallen,--they even offered him a subordinate
but lucrative situation in the firm in which he had been partner;
but Mainwaring wanted the patience and resolution to work back the
redemption of his name,--perhaps, ultimately, of his fortunes. In the
fatal anguish of his shame and despair, he fled from the town; his
flight confirmed forever the rumours against him,--rumours worse than
the reality. It was long before he even admitted Susan to the knowledge
of the obscure refuge he had sought; there, at length, she joined him.
Meanwhile, what did Lucretia? She sold nearly half of her own fortune,
constituted principally of the moiety of her portion which, at
Dalibard’s death, had passed to herself as survivor, and partly of the
share in her deceased husband’s effects which the French law awarded to
her, and with the proceeds of this sum she purchased an annuity for her
victims. Was this strange generosity the act of mercy, the result
of repentance? No; it was one of the not least subtle and delicious
refinements of her revenge. To know him who had rejected her, the rival
who had supplanted, the miserable pensioners of her bounty, was dear to
her haughty and disdainful hate. The lust of power, ever stronger in her
than avarice, more than reconciled her to the sacrifice of gold. Yes,
here she, the despised, the degraded, had power still; her wrath had
ruined the fortunes of her victim, blasted the repute, embittered and
desolated evermore the future,--now her contemptuous charity fed the
wretched lives that she spared in scorn. She had no small difficulty,
it is true, in persuading Susan to accept this sacrifice, and she did
so only by sustaining her sister’s belief that the past could yet be
retrieved, that Mainwaring’s energies could yet rebuild their fortunes,
and that as the annuity was at any time redeemable, the aid therefore
was only temporary. With this understanding, Susan, overwhelmed with
gratitude, weeping and broken-hearted, departed to join the choice of
her youth. As the men deputed by the auctioneer to arrange and ticket
the furniture for sale entered the desolate house, Lucretia then, with
the step of a conqueror, passed from the threshold.

“Ah!” she murmured, as she paused, and gazed on the walls, “ah, they
were happy when I first entered those doors,--happy in each other’s
tranquil love; happier still when they deemed I had forgiven the wrong
and abjured the past! How honoured was then their home! How knew I then,
for the first time, what the home of love can be! And who had destroyed
for me, upon all the earth, a home like theirs? They on whom that home
smiled with its serene and taunting peace! I--I, the guest! I--I, the
abandoned, the betrayed,--what dark memories were on my soul, what a
hell boiled within my bosom! Well might those memories take each a voice
to accuse them; well, from that hell, might rise the Alecto! Their lives
were in my power, my fatal dowry at my command,--rapid death, or slow,
consuming torture; but to have seen each cheer the other to the grave,
lighting every downward step with the eyes of love,--vengeance so
urged would have fallen only on myself! Ha! deceiver, didst thou plume
thyself, forsooth, on spotless reputation? Didst thou stand, me by thy
side, amongst thy perjured household gods and talk of honour? Thy home,
it is reft from thee; thy reputation, it is a scoff; thine honour, it
is a ghost that shall haunt thee! Thy love, can it linger yet? Shall the
soft eyes of thy wife not burn into thy heart, and shame turn love into
loathing? Wrecks of my vengeance, minions of my bounty, I did well to
let ye live; I shake the dust from my feet on your threshold. Live on,
homeless, hopeless, and childless! The curse is fulfilled!”

From that hour Lucretia never paused from her career to inquire further
of her victims; she never entered into communication with either. They
knew not her address nor her fate, nor she theirs. As she had reckoned,
Mainwaring made no effort to recover himself from his fall. All the
high objects that had lured his ambition were gone from him evermore.
No place in the State, no authority in the senate, awaits in England the
man with a blighted name. For the lesser objects of life he had no heart
and no care. They lived in obscurity in a small village in Cornwall till
the Peace allowed them to remove to France; the rest of their fate is
known.

Meanwhile, Lucretia removed to one of those smaller Londons, resorts
of pleasure and idleness, with which rich England abounds, and in which
widows of limited income can make poverty seem less plebeian. And now,
to all those passions that had hitherto raged within her, a dismal
apathy succeeded. It was the great calm in her sea of life. The winds
fell, and the sails drooped. Her vengeance satisfied, that which she had
made so preternaturally the main object of existence, once fulfilled,
left her in youth objectless.

She strove at first to take pleasure in the society of the place; but
its frivolities and pettiness of purpose soon wearied that masculine
and grasping mind, already made insensible to the often healthful, often
innocent, excitement of trifles, by the terrible ordeal it had passed.
Can the touch of the hand, scorched by the burning iron, feel pleasure
in the softness of silk, or the light down of the cygnet’s plume? She
next sought such relief as study could afford; and her natural bent of
thought, and her desire to vindicate her deeds to herself, plunged
her into the fathomless abyss of metaphysical inquiry with the hope
to confirm into positive assurance her earlier scepticism,--with the
atheist’s hope to annihilate the soul, and banish the presiding God.
But no voice that could satisfy her reason came from those dreary deeps;
contradiction on contradiction met her in the maze. Only when, wearied
with book-lore, she turned her eyes to the visible Nature, and beheld
everywhere harmony, order, system, contrivance, art, did she start with
the amaze and awe of instinctive conviction, and the natural religion
revolted from her cheerless ethics. Then came one of those sudden
reactions common with strong passions and exploring minds, but more
common with women, however manlike, than with men. Had she lived in
Italy then, she had become a nun; for in this woman, unlike Varney and
Dalibard, the conscience could never be utterly silenced. In her choice
of evil, she found only torture to her spirit in all the respites
afforded to the occupations it indulged. When employed upon ill, remorse
gave way to the zest of scheming; when the ill was done, remorse came
with the repose.

It was in this peculiar period of her life that Lucretia, turning
everywhere, and desperately, for escape from the past, became acquainted
with some members of one of the most rigid of the sects of Dissent. At
first she permitted herself to know and commune with these persons
from a kind of contemptuous curiosity; she desired to encourage, in
contemplating them, her experience of the follies of human nature: but
in that crisis of her mind, in those struggles of her reason, whatever
showed that which she most yearned to discover,--namely, earnest
faith, rooted and genuine conviction, whether of annihilation or
of immortality, a philosophy that might reconcile her to crime by
destroying the providence of good, or a creed that could hold out the
hope of redeeming the past and exorcising sin by the mystery of a Divine
sacrifice,--had over her a power which she had not imagined or divined.
Gradually the intense convictions of her new associates disturbed and
infected her. Their affirmations that as we are born in wrath, so sin
is our second nature, our mysterious heritage, seemed, to her
understanding, willing to be blinded, to imply excuses for her past
misdeeds. Their assurances that the worst sinner may become the most
earnest saint; that through but one act of the will, resolute faith,
all redemption is to be found,--these affirmations and these assurances,
which have so often restored the guilty and remodelled the human heart,
made a salutary, if brief, impression upon her. Nor were the lives of
these Dissenters (for the most part austerely moral), nor the peace
and self-complacency which they evidently found in the satisfaction of
conscience and fulfilment of duty, without an influence over her that
for a while both chastened and soothed.

Hopeful of such a convert, the good teachers strove hard to confirm the
seeds springing up from the granite and amidst the weeds; and amongst
them came one man more eloquent, more seductive, than the rest,--Alfred
Braddell. This person, a trader at Liverpool, was one of those strange
living paradoxes that can rarely be found out of a commercial community.
He himself had been a convert to the sect, and like most converts,
he pushed his enthusiasm into the bigotry of the zealot; he saw no
salvation out of the pale into which he had entered. But though his
belief was sincere, it did not genially operate on his practical life;
with the most scrupulous attention to forms, he had the worldliness and
cunning of the carnal. He had abjured the vices of the softer senses,
but not that which so seldom wars on the decorums of outer life. He was
essentially a money-maker,--close, acute, keen, overreaching. Good works
with him were indeed as nothing,--faith the all in all. He was one of
the elect, and could not fall. Still, in this man there was all
the intensity which often characterizes a mind in proportion to the
narrowness of its compass; that intensity gave fire to his gloomy
eloquence, and strength to his obstinate will. He saw Lucretia, and his
zeal for her conversion soon expanded into love for her person; yet
that love was secondary to his covetousness. Though ostensibly in a
flourishing business, he was greatly distressed for money to carry on
operations which swelled beyond the reach of his capital; his fingers
itched for the sum which Lucretia had still at her disposal. But the
seeming sincerity of the man, the persuasion of his goodness, his
reputation for sanctity, deceived her; she believed herself honestly
and ardently beloved, and by one who could guide her back, if not to
happiness, at least to repose. She herself loved him not,--she could
love no more. But it seemed to her a luxury to find some one she could
trust, she could honour. If you had probed into the recesses of her mind
at that time, you would have found that no religious belief was there
settled,--only the desperate wish to believe; only the disturbance of
all previous infidelity; only a restless, gnawing desire to escape from
memory, to emerge from the gulf. In this troubled, impatient disorder
of mind and feeling, she hurried into a second marriage as fatal as the
first.

For a while she bore patiently all the privations of that ascetic
household, assisted in all those external formalities, centred all her
intellect within that iron range of existence. But no grace descended
on her soul,--no warm ray unlocked the ice of the well. Then, gradually
becoming aware of the niggardly meanness, of the harsh, uncharitable
judgments, of the decorous frauds that, with unconscious hypocrisy, her
husband concealed beneath the robes of sanctity, a weary disgust stole
over her,--it stole, it deepened, it increased; it became intolerable
when she discovered that Braddell had knowingly deceived her as to
his worldly substance. In that mood in which she had rushed into these
ominous nuptials, she had had no thought for vulgar advantages; had
Braddell been a beggar, she had married him as rashly. But he, with
the inability to comprehend a nature like hers,--dim not more to her
terrible vices than to the sinister grandeur which made their ordinary
atmosphere,--had descended cunningly to address the avarice he thought
as potent in others as himself, to enlarge on the worldly prosperity
with which Providence had blessed him; and now she saw that her dowry
alone had saved the crippled trader from the bankrupt list. With this
revolting discovery, with the scorn it produced, vanished all Lucretia’s
unstable visions of reform. She saw this man a saint amongst his
tribe, and would not believe in the virtues of his brethren, great and
unquestionable as they might have been proved to a more dispassionate
and humbler inquirer. The imposture she detected she deemed universal
in the circle in which she dwelt; and Satan once more smiled upon the
subject he regained. Lucretia became a mother; but their child formed no
endearing tie between the ill-assorted pair,--it rather embittered their
discord. Dimly even then, as she bent over the cradle, that vision,
which now, in the old house at Brompton, haunted her dreams and beckoned
her over seas of blood into the fancied future, was foreshadowed in the
face of her infant son. To be born again in that birth, to live only
in that life, to aspire as man may aspire, in that future man whom she
would train to knowledge and lead to power,--these were the feelings
with which that sombre mother gazed upon her babe. The idea that the
low-born, grovelling father had the sole right over that son’s destiny,
had the authority to cabin his mind in the walls of form, bind him down
to the sordid apprenticeship, debased, not dignified, by the solemn
mien, roused her indignant wrath; she sickened when Braddell touched her
child. All her pride of intellect, that had never slept, all her pride
of birth, long dormant, woke up to protect the heir of her ambition, the
descendant of her race, from the defilement of the father’s nurture.
Not long after her confinement, she formed a plan for escape; she
disappeared from the house with her child. Taking refuge in a cottage,
living on the sale of the few jewels she possessed, she was for some
weeks almost happy. But Braddell, less grieved by the loss than shocked
by the scandal, was indefatigable in his researches,--he discovered her
retreat. The scene between them was terrible. There was no resisting the
power which all civilized laws give to the rights of husband and father.
Before this man, whom she scorned so unutterably, Lucretia was impotent.
Then all the boiling passions long suppressed beneath that command of
temper which she owed both to habitual simulation and intense disdain,
rushed forth. Then she appalled the impostor with her indignant
denunciations of his hypocrisy, his meanness, and his guile. Then,
throwing off the mask she had worn, she hurled her anathema on his sect,
on his faith, with the same breath that smote his conscience and left it
wordless. She shocked all the notions he sincerely entertained, and he
stood awed by accusations from a blasphemer whom he dared not rebuke.
His rage broke at length from his awe. Stung, maddened by the scorn of
himself, his blood fired into juster indignation by her scoff at his
creed, he lost all self-possession and struck her to the ground. In the
midst of shame and dread at disclosure of his violence, which succeeded
the act so provoked, he was not less relieved than amazed when Lucretia,
rising slowly, laid her hand gently on his arm and said, “Repent not, it
is passed; fear not, I will be silent! Come, you are the stronger,--you
prevail. I will follow my child to your home.”

In this unexpected submission in one so imperious, Braddell’s imperfect
comprehension of character saw but fear, and his stupidity exulted in
his triumph. Lucretia returned with him. A few days afterwards Braddell
became ill; the illness increased,--slow, gradual, wearying. It broke
his spirit with his health; and then the steadfast imperiousness of
Lucretia’s stern will ruled and subjugated him. He cowered beneath her
haughty, searching gaze, he shivered at her sidelong, malignant glance;
but with this fear came necessarily hate, and this hate, sometimes
sufficing to vanquish the fear, spitefully evinced itself in thwarting
her legitimate control over her infant. He would have it (though he
had little real love for children) constantly with him, and affected to
contradict all her own orders to the servants, in the sphere in which
mothers arrogate most the right. Only on these occasions sometimes would
Lucretia lose her grim self-control, and threaten that her child yet
should be emancipated from his hands, should yet be taught the scorn for
hypocrites which he had taught herself. These words sank deep, not only
in the resentment, but in the conscience, of the husband. Meanwhile,
Lucretia scrupled not to evince her disdain of Braddell by markedly
abstaining from all the ceremonies she had before so rigidly observed.
The sect grew scandalized. Braddell did not abstain from making known
his causes of complaint. The haughty, imperious woman was condemned in
the community, and hated in the household.

It was at this time that Walter Ardworth, who was then striving to eke
out his means by political lectures (which in the earlier part of the
century found ready audience) in our great towns, came to Liverpool.
Braddell and Ardworth had been schoolfellows, and even at school embryo
politicians of congenial notions; and the conversion of the former to
one of the sects which had grown out of the old creeds, that, under
Cromwell, had broken the sceptre of the son of Belial and established
the Commonwealth of Saints, had only strengthened the republican tenets
of the sour fanatic. Ardworth called on Braddell, and was startled to
find in his schoolfellow’s wife the niece of his benefactor, Sir Miles
St. John. Now, Lucretia had never divulged her true parentage to her
husband. In a union so much beneath her birth, she had desired to
conceal from all her connections the fall of the once-honoured heiress.
She had descended, in search of peace, to obscurity; but her pride
revolted from the thought that her low-born husband might boast of her
connections and parade her descent to his level. Fortunately, as she
thought, she received Ardworth before he was admitted to her husband,
who now, growing feebler and feebler, usually kept his room. She stooped
to beseech Ardworth not to reveal her secret; and he, comprehending her
pride, as a man well-born himself, and pitying her pain, readily gave
his promise. At the first interview, Braddell evinced no pleasure in the
sight of his old schoolfellow. It was natural enough that one so precise
should be somewhat revolted by one so careless of all form. But when
Lucretia imprudently evinced satisfaction at his surly remarks on his
visitor; when he perceived that it would please her that he should not
cultivate the acquaintance offered him,--he was moved, by the spirit of
contradiction, and the spiteful delight even in frivolous annoyance, to
conciliate and court the intimacy he had at first disdained: and then,
by degrees, sympathy in political matters and old recollections of
sportive, careless boyhood cemented the intimacy into a more familiar
bond than the sectarian had contracted really with any of his late
associates.

Lucretia regarded this growing friendship with great uneasiness; the
uneasiness increased to alarm when one day, in the presence of Ardworth,
Braddell, writhing with a sudden spasm, said: “I cannot account for
these strange seizures; I think verily I am poisoned!” and his dull eye
rested on Lucretia’s pallid brow. She was unusually thoughtful for some
days after this remark; and one morning she informed her husband that
she had received the intelligence that a relation, from whom she
had pecuniary expectations, was dangerously ill, and requested his
permission to visit this sick kinsman, who dwelt in a distant county.
Braddell’s eyes brightened at the thought of her absence; with little
further questioning he consented; and Lucretia, sure perhaps that the
barb was in the side of her victim, and reckoning, it may be, on greater
freedom from suspicion if her husband died in her absence, left the
house. It was, indeed, to the neighbourhood of her kindred that she
went. In a private conversation with Ardworth, when questioning him of
his news of the present possessor of Laughton, he had informed her that
he had heard accidentally that Vernon’s two sons (Percival was not then
born) were sickly; and she went into Hampshire secretly and unknown, to
see what were really the chances that her son might yet become the lord
of her lost inheritance.

During this absence, Braddell, now gloomily aware that his days were
numbered, resolved to put into practice the idea long contemplated,
and even less favoured by his spite than justified by the genuine
convictions of his conscience. Whatever his faults, sincere at least in
his religious belief, he might well look with dread to the prospect of
the training and education his son would receive from the hands of a
mother who had blasphemed his sect and openly proclaimed her infidelity.
By will, it is true, he might create a trust, and appoint guardians to
his child. But to have lived under the same roof with his wife,--nay, to
have carried her back to that roof when she had left it,--afforded tacit
evidence that whatever the disagreement between them, her conduct could
hardly have merited her exclusion from the privileges of a mother.
The guardianship might therefore avail little to frustrate Lucretia’s
indirect contamination, if not her positive control. Besides, where
guardians are appointed, money must be left; and Braddell knew that
at his death his assets would be found insufficient for his debts. Who
would be guardian to a penniless infant? He resolved, therefore, to send
his child from his roof to some place where, if reared humbly, it might
at least be brought up in the right faith,--some place which might defy
the search and be beyond the perversion of the unbelieving mother. He
looked round, and discovered no instrument for his purpose that seemed
so ready as Walter Ardworth; for by this time he had thoroughly excited
the pity and touched the heart of that good-natured, easy man. His
representations of the misconduct of Lucretia were the more implicitly
believed by one who had always been secretly prepossessed against her;
who, admitted to household intimacy, was an eye-witness to her hard
indifference to her husband’s sufferings; who saw in her very request
not to betray her gentle birth, the shame she felt in her election; who
regarded with indignation her unfeeling desertion of Braddell in his
last moments, and who, besides all this, had some private misfortunes of
his own which made him the more ready listener to themes on the faults
of women; and had already, by mutual confidences, opened the hearts of
the two ancient schoolfellows to each other’s complaints and wrongs. The
only other confidant in the refuge selected for the child was a member
of the same community as Braddell, who kindly undertook to search for a
pious, godly woman, who, upon such pecuniary considerations as Braddell,
by robbing his creditors, could afford to bestow, would permanently
offer to the poor infant a mother’s home and a mother’s care. When this
woman was found, Braddell confided his child to Ardworth, with such
a sum as he could scrape together for its future maintenance. And to
Ardworth, rather than to his fellow-sectarian, this double trust was
given, because the latter feared scandal and misrepresentation if
he should be ostensibly mixed up in so equivocal a charge. Poor
and embarrassed as Walter Ardworth was, Braddell did not for once
misinterpret character when he placed the money in his hands; and this
because the characters we have known in transparent boyhood we have
known forever. Ardworth was reckless, and his whole life had been
wrecked, his whole nature materially degraded, by the want of common
thrift and prudence. His own money slipped through his fingers and left
him surrounded by creditors, whom, rigidly speaking, he thus defrauded;
but direct dishonesty was as wholly out of the chapter of his vices
as if he had been a man of the strictest principles and the steadiest
honour.

The child was gone, the father died, Lucretia returned, as we have seen
in Grabman’s letter, to the house of death, to meet suspicion, and cold
looks, and menial accusations, and an inquest on the dead; but through
all this the reft tigress mourned her stolen whelp. As soon as all
evidence against her was proved legally groundless, and she had leave to
depart, she searched blindly and frantically for her lost child; but in
vain. The utter and penniless destitution in which she was left by her
husband’s decease did not suffice to terminate her maddening chase. On
foot she wandered from village to village, and begged her way wherever a
false clew misled her steps.

At last, in reluctant despair, she resigned the pursuit, and found
herself one day in the midst of the streets of London, half-famished
and in rags; and before her suddenly, now grown into vigorous
youth,--blooming, sleek, and seemingly prosperous,--stood Gabriel
Varney. By her voice, as she approached and spoke, he recognized his
stepmother; and after a short pause of hesitation, he led her to his
home. It is not our purpose (for it is not necessary to those passages
of their lives from which we have selected the thread of our tale)
to follow these two, thus united, through their general career of
spoliation and crime. Birds of prey, they searched in human follies
and human errors for their food: sometimes severed, sometimes together,
their interests remained one. Varney profited by the mightier and
subtler genius of evil to which he had leashed himself; for, caring
little for luxuries, and dead to the softer senses, she abandoned to him
readily the larger share of their plunder. Under a variety of names and
disguises, through a succession of frauds, some vast and some mean, but
chiefly on the Continent, they had pursued their course, eluding all
danger and baffling all law.

Between three and four years before this period, Varney’s uncle, the
painter, by one of those unexpected caprices of fortune which sometimes
find heirs to a millionnaire at the weaver’s loom or the labourer’s
plough, had suddenly, by the death of a very distant kinsman whom he had
never seen, come into possession of a small estate, which he sold for
6,000 pounds. Retiring from all his profession, he lived as comfortably
as his shattered constitution permitted upon the interest of this sum;
and he wrote to his nephew, then at Paris, to communicate the good news
and offer the hospitality of his hearth. Varney hastened to London.
Shortly afterwards a nurse, recommended as an experienced, useful person
in her profession, by Nicholas Grabman, who in many a tortuous scheme
had been Gabriel’s confederate, was installed in the poor painter’s
house. From that time his infirmities increased. He died, as his doctor
said, “by abstaining from the stimulants to which his constitution had
been so long accustomed;” and Gabriel Varney was summoned to the reading
of the will. To his inconceivable disappointment, instead of bequeathing
to his nephew the free disposal of his 6,000 pounds, that sum was
assigned to trustees for the benefit of Gabriel and his children yet
unborn,--“An inducement,” said the poor testator, tenderly, “for the boy
to marry and reform!” So that the nephew could only enjoy the interest,
and had no control over the capital. The interest of 6,000 pounds
invested in the Bank of England was flocci nauci to the voluptuous
spendthrift, Gabriel Varney.

Now, these trustees were selected from the painter’s earlier and more
respectable associates, who had dropped him, it is true, in his days of
beggary and disrepute, but whom the fortune that made him respectable
had again conciliated. One of these trustees had lately retired to pass
the remainder of his days at Boulogne; the other was a hypochondriacal
valetudinarian,--neither of them, in short, a man of business. Gabriel
was left to draw out the interest of the money as it became periodically
due at the Bank of England. In a few months the trustee settled at
Boulogne died; the trust, of course, lapsed to Mr. Stubmore, the
valetudinarian survivor. Soon pinched by extravagances, and emboldened
by the character and helpless state of the surviving trustee, Varney
forged Mr. Stubmore’s signature to an order on the bank to sell out
such portion of the capital as his wants required. The impunity of one
offence begot courage for others, till the whole was well-nigh expended.
Upon these sums Varney had lived very pleasantly, and he saw with a deep
sigh the approaching failure of so facile a resource.

In one of the melancholy moods engendered by this reflection, Varney
happened to be in the very town in France in which the Mainwarings,
in their later years, had taken refuge, and from which Helen had been
removed to the roof of Mr. Fielden. By accident he heard the name, and,
his curiosity leading to further inquiries, learned that Helen was made
an heiress by the will of her grandfather. With this knowledge came
a thought of the most treacherous, the most miscreant, and the vilest
crime that even he yet had perpetrated; so black was it that for a while
he absolutely struggled against it. But in guilt there seems ever a
Necessity that urges on, step after step, to the last consummation.
Varney received a letter to inform him that the last surviving trustee
was no more, that the trust was therefore now centred in his son and
heir, that that gentleman was at present very busy in settling his own
affairs and examining into a very mismanaged property in Devonshire
which had devolved upon him, but that he hoped in a few months to
discharge, more efficiently than his father had done, the duties of
trustee, and that some more profitable investment than the Bank of
England would probably occur.

This new trustee was known personally to Varney,--a contemporary of his
own, and in earlier youth a pupil to his uncle. But, since then, he had
made way in life, and retired from the profession of art. This younger
Stubmore he knew to be a bustling, officious man of business, somewhat
greedy and covetous, but withal somewhat weak of purpose, good-natured
in the main, and with a little lukewarm kindness for Gabriel, as
a quondam fellow-pupil. That Stubmore would discover the fraud was
evident; that he would declare it, for his own sake, was evident also;
that the bank would prosecute, that Varney would be convicted, was no
less surely to be apprehended. There was only one chance left to the
forger: if he could get into his hands, and in time, before Stubmore’s
bustling interference, a sum sufficient to replace what had been
fraudulently taken, he might easily manage, he thought, to prevent
the forgery ever becoming known. Nay, if Stubmore, roused into strict
personal investigation by the new power of attorney which a new
investment in the bank would render necessary, should ascertain what had
occurred, his liabilities being now indemnified, and the money replaced,
Varney thought he could confidently rely on his ci-devant fellow-pupil’s
assent to wink at the forgery and hush up the matter. But this was
his only chance. How was the money to be gained? He thought of Helen’s
fortune, and the last scruple gave way to the imminence of his peril and
the urgency of his fears.

With this decision, he repaired to Lucretia, whose concurrence was
necessary to his designs. Long habits of crime had now deepened still
more the dark and stern colour of that dread woman’s sombre nature.
But through all that had ground the humanity from her soul, one human
sentiment, fearfully tainted and adulterated as it was, still struggled
for life,--the memory of the mother. It was by this, her least criminal
emotion, that Varney led her to the worst of her crimes. He offered to
sell out the remainder of the trust-money by a fresh act of forgery, to
devote such proceeds to the search for her lost Vincent; he revived
the hopes she had long since gloomily relinquished, till she began to
conceive the discovery easy and certain. He then brought before her the
prospect of that son’s succession to Laughton: but two lives now between
him and those broad lands,--those two lives associated with just cause
of revenge. Two lives! Lucretia till then did not know that Susan had
left a child, that a pledge of those nuptials, to which she imputed all
her infamy, existed to revive a jealousy never extinguished, appeal to
the hate that had grown out of her love. More readily than Varney had
anticipated, and with fierce exultation, she fell into his horrible
schemes.

Thus had she returned to England and claimed the guardianship of her
niece. Varney engaged a dull house in the suburb, and looking out for a
servant not likely to upset and betray, found the nurse who had watched
over his uncle’s last illness; but Lucretia, according to her invariable
practice, rejected all menial accomplices, reposed no confidence in
the tools of her black deeds. Feigning an infirmity that would mock all
suspicion of the hand that mixed the draught, and the step that stole to
the slumber, she defied the justice of earth, and stood alone under the
omniscience of Heaven.

Various considerations had delayed the execution of the atrocious deed
so coldly contemplated. Lucretia herself drew back, perhaps more daunted
by conscience than she herself was distinctly aware, and disguising
her scruples in those yet fouler refinements of hoped revenge which her
conversations with Varney have betrayed to the reader. The failure of
the earlier researches for the lost Vincent, the suspended activity
of Stubmore, left the more impatient murderer leisure to make the
acquaintance of St. John, steal into the confidence of Helen, and render
the insurances on the life of the latter less open to suspicion than if
effected immediately on her entrance into that shamble-house, and before
she could be supposed to form that affection for her aunt which made
probable so tender a forethought. These causes of delay now vanished,
the Parcae closed the abrupt woof, and lifted the impending shears.

Lucretia had long since dropped the name of Braddell. She shrank from
proclaiming those second spousals, sullied by the degradation to which
they had exposed her, and the suspicions implied in the inquest on her
husband, until the hour for acknowledging her son should arrive. She
resumed, therefore, the name of Dalibard, and by that we will continue
to call her. Nor was Varney uninfluential in dissuading her from
proclaiming her second marriage till occasion necessitated. If the son
were discovered, and proofs of his birth in the keeping of himself
and his accomplice, his avarice naturally suggested the expediency of
wringing from that son some pledge of adequate reward on succession to
an inheritance which they alone could secure to him; out of this fancied
fund not only Grabman, but his employer, was to be paid. The concealment
of the identity between Mrs. Braddell and Madame Dalibard might
facilitate such an arrangement. This idea Varney locked as yet in his
own breast. He did not dare to speak to Lucretia of the bargain he
ultimately meditated with her son.



CHAPTER XIX. MR. GRABMAN’S ADVENTURES.

The lackeys in their dress liveries stood at the porch of Laughton as
the postilions drove rapidly along the road, sweeping through venerable
groves, tinged with the hues of autumn, up to that stately pile. From
the window of the large, cumbrous vehicle which Percival, mindful of
Madame Dalibard’s infirmity, had hired for her special accommodation,
Lucretia looked keenly. On the slope of the hill grouped the deer, and
below, where the lake gleamed, the swan rested on the wave. Farther on
to the left, gaunt and stag-headed, rose, living still, from the depth
of the glen, Guy’s memorable oak. Coming now in sight, though at a
distance, the gray church-tower emerged from the surrounding masses of
solemn foliage. Suddenly the road curves round, and straight before her
(the rooks cawing above the turrets, the sun reflected from the vanes)
Lucretia gazes on the halls of Laughton. And didst thou not, O Guy’s
oak, murmur warning from thine oracular hollows? And thou who sleepest
below the church-tower, didst thou not turn, Miles St. John, in thy
grave, when, with such tender care, the young lord of Laughton bore that
silent guest across his threshold, and with credulous, moistened eyes,
welcomed Treason and Murder to his hearth?

There, at the porch, paused Helen, gazing with the rapt eye of the
poetess on the broad landscape, checkered by the vast shadows cast
from the setting sun. There, too, by her side lingered Varney, with an
artist’s eye for the stately scene, till a thought, not of art, changed
the face of the earth, and the view without mirrored back the Golgotha
of his soul.

Leave them thus; we must hurry on.

One day a traveller stopped his gig at a public-house in a village
in Lancashire. He chucked the rein to the hostler, and in reply to a
question what oats should be given to the horse, said, “Hay and water;
the beast is on job.” Then sauntering to the bar, he called for a glass
of raw brandy for himself; and while the host drew the spirit forth from
the tap, he asked carelessly if some years ago a woman of the name of
Joplin had not resided in the village.

“It is strange,” said the host, musingly. “What is strange?”

“Why, we have just had a gent asking the same question. I have only
been here nine year come December; but my old hostler was born in the
village, and never left it. So the gent had in the hostler, and he is
now gone into the village to pick up what else he can learn.”

This intelligence seemed to surprise and displease the traveller.

“What the deuce!” he muttered; “does Jason mistrust me? Has he set
another dog on the scent? Humph!” He drained off his brandy, and sallied
forth to confer with the hostler.

“Well, my friend,” said Mr. Grabman,--for the traveller was no other
than that worthy,--“well, so you remember Mrs. Joplin more than twenty
years ago, eh?”

“Yees, I guess; more than twenty years since she left the pleck
[Lancashire and Yorkshire synonym for place].”

“Ah, she seems to have been a restless body. She had a child with her?”

“Yees, I moind that.”

“And I dare say you heard her say the child was not her own,--that she
was paid well for it, eh?”

“Noa; my missus did not loike me to chaffer much with neighbour Joplin,
for she was but a bad ‘un,--pretty fease, too. She lived agin the wogh
[Anglice, wall] yonder, where you see that gent coming out.”

“Oho! that is the gent who was asking after Mrs. Joplin?”

“Yes; and he giv’ me half-a-croon!” said the clever hostler, holding out
his hand.

Mr. Grabman, too thoughtful, too jealous of his rival, to take the hint
at that moment, darted off, as fast as his thin legs could carry him,
towards the unwelcome interferer in his own business.

Approaching the gentleman,--a tall, powerful-looking young man,--he
somewhat softened his tone, and mechanically touched his hat as he
said,--

“What, sir, are you, too, in search of Mrs. Joplin?”

“Sir, I am,” answered the young man, eying Grabman deliberately; “and
you, I suppose, are the person I have found before me on the same
search,--first at Liverpool; next at C----, about fifteen miles from
that town; thirdly, at I----; and now we meet here. You have had the
start of me. What have you learned?”

Mr. Grabman smiled. “Softly, sir, softly. May I first ask--since open
questioning seems the order of the day--whether I have the honour to
address a brother practitioner,--one of the law, sir, one of the law?”

“I am one of the law.”

Mr. Grabman bowed and scowled.

“And may I make bold to ask the name of your client?”

“Certainly you may ask. Every man has a right to ask what he pleases, in
a civil way.”

“But you’ll not answer? Deep! Oh, I understand! Very good. But I am deep
too, sir. You know Mr. Varney, I suppose?”

The gentleman looked surprised. His bushy brows met over his steady,
sagacious eyes; but after a moment’s pause the expression of his face
cleared up.

“It is as I thought,” he said, half to himself. “Who else could have
had an interest in similar inquiries?--Sir,” he added, with a quick and
decided tone, “you are doubtless employed by Mr. Varney on behalf of
Madame Dalibard and in search of evidence connected with the loss of
an unhappy infant. I am on the same quest, and for the same end. The
interests of your client are mine. Two heads are better than one; let us
unite our ingenuity and endeavours.”

“And share the pec, I suppose?” said Grabman, dryly, buttoning up his
pockets.

“Whatever fee you may expect you will have, anyhow, whether I assist you
or not. I expect no fee, for mine is a personal interest, which I serve
gratuitously; but I can undertake to promise you, on my own part, more
than the ordinary professional reward for your co-operation.”

“Well, sir,” said Grabman, mollified, “you speak very much like a
gentleman. My feelings were hurt at first, I own. I am hasty, but I can
listen to reason. Will you walk back with me to the house you have just
left? And suppose we then turn in and have a chop together, and compare
notes.”

“Willingly,” answered the tall stranger, and the two inquisitors
amicably joined company. The result of their inquiries was not, however,
very satisfactory. No one knew whither Mrs. Joplin had gone, though all
agreed it was in company with a man of bad character and vagrant habits;
all agreed, too, in the vague recollection of the child, and some
remembered that it was dressed in clothes finer than would have been
natural to an infant legally and filially appertaining to Mrs. Joplin.
One old woman remembered that on her reproaching Mrs. Joplin for some
act of great cruelty to the poor babe, she replied that it was not her
flesh and blood, and that if she had not expected more than she had got,
she would never have undertaken the charge. On comparing the information
gleaned at the previous places of their research, they found an entire
agreement as to the character personally borne by Mrs. Joplin. At the
village to which their inquiry had been first directed, she was known as
a respectable, precise young woman, one of a small congregation of rigid
Dissenters. She had married a member of the sect, and borne him a child,
which died two weeks after birth. She was then seen nursing another
infant, though how she came by it none knew. Shortly after this,
her husband, a journeyman carpenter of good repute, died; but to the
surprise of the neighbours, Mrs. Joplin continued to live as comfortably
as before, and seemed not to miss the wages of her husband,--nay, she
rather now, as if before kept back by the prudence of the deceased,
launched into a less thrifty mode of life, and a gayety of dress at
variance both with the mourning her recent loss should have imposed, and
the austere tenets of her sect. This indecorum excited angry curiosity,
and drew down stern remonstrance. Mrs. Joplin, in apparent disgust at
this intermeddling with her affairs, withdrew from the village to a
small town, about twenty miles distant, and there set up a shop. But her
moral lapse became now confirmed; her life was notoriously abandoned,
and her house the resort of all the reprobates of the place. Whether her
means began to be exhausted, or the scandal she provoked attracted the
notice of the magistrates and imposed a check on her course, was not
very certain, but she sold off her goods suddenly, and was next tracked
to the village in which Mr. Grabman met his new coadjutor; and there,
though her conduct was less flagrant, and her expenses less reckless,
she made but a very unfavourable impression, which was confirmed by her
flight with an itinerant hawker of the lowest possible character. Seated
over their port wine, the two gentlemen compared their experiences,
and consulted on the best mode of remending the broken thread of their
research; when Mr. Grabman said coolly, “But, after all, I think it most
likely that we are not on the right scent. This bantling may not be the
one we search for.”

“Be not misled by that doubt. To arrive at the evidence we desire, we
must still track this wretched woman.”

“You are certain of that?”

“Certain.”

“Hem! Did you ever hear of a Mr. Walter Ardworth?”

“Yes, what of him?”

“Why, he can best tell us where to look for the child.”

“I am sure he would counsel as I do.”

“You know him, then?”

“I do.”

“What, he lives still?”

“I hope so.”

“Can you bring me across him?”

“If necessary.”

“And that young man, who goes by his name, brought up by Mr. Fielden?”

“Well, sir?”

“Is he not the son of Mr. Braddell?”

The stranger was silent, and, shading his face with his hand, seemed
buried in thought. He then rose, took up his candle, and said quietly,--

“Sir, I wish you good-evening. I have letters to write in my own room. I
will consider by to-morrow, if you stay till then, whether we can really
aid each other further, or whether we should pursue our researches
separately.” With these words he closed the door; and Mr. Grabman
remained baffled and bewildered.

However, he too had a letter to write; so, calling for pen, ink, and
paper, and a pint of brandy, he indited his complaints and his news to
Varney.

“Jason, (he began) are you playing me false? Have you set another man on
the track with a view to bilk me of my promised fee? Explain, or I throw
up the business.”

Herewith, Mr. Grabman gave a minute description of the stranger, and
related pretty accurately what had passed between that gentleman and
himself. He then added the progress of his own inquiries, and renewed,
as peremptorily as he dared, his demand for candour and plain dealing.
Now, it so happened that in stumbling upstairs to bed, Mr. Grabman
passed the room in which his mysterious fellow-seeker was lodged, and
as is the usage in hotels, a pair of boots stood outside the door, to
be cleaned betimes in the morning. Though somewhat drunk, Grabman still
preserved the rays of his habitual astuteness. A clever and a natural
idea shot across his brain, illuminating the fumes of the brandy; he
stooped, and while one hand on the wall steadied his footing, with the
other he fished up a boot, and peering within, saw legibly written:
“John Ardworth, Esq., Gray’s Inn.” At that sight he felt what a
philosopher feels at the sudden elucidation of a troublesome problem.
Downstairs again tottered Grabman, re-opened his letter, and wrote,--

“P.S.--I have wronged you, Jason, by my suspicions; never
mind,--jubilate! This interloper who made me so jealous, who think you
it is? Why, young Ardworth himself,--that is, the lad who goes by such
name. Now, is it not clear? Of course no one else has such interest
in learning his birth as the lost child himself,--here he is! If old
Ardworth lives (as he says), old Ardworth has set him to work on his own
business. But then, that Fielden,--rather a puzzler that! Yet--no. Now I
understand,--old Ardworth gave the boy to Mrs. Joplin, and took it away
from her again when he went to the parson’s. Now, certainly, it may
be quite necessary to prove,--first, that the boy he took from Mr.
Braddell’s he gave to Mrs. Joplin; secondly, that the boy he left with
Mr. Fielden was the same that he took again from that woman: therefore,
the necessity of finding out Mother Joplin, an essential witness. Q. E.
D., Master Jason!”

It was not till the sun had been some hours risen that Mr. Grabman
imitated that luminary’s example. When he did so, he found, somewhat to
his chagrin, that John Ardworth had long been gone. In fact, whatever
the motive that had led the latter on the search, he had succeeded in
gleaning from Grabman all that that person could communicate, and their
interview had inspired him with such disgust of the attorney, and so
small an opinion of the value of his co-operation (in which last
belief, perhaps, he was mistaken), that he had resolved to continue his
inquiries alone, and had already, in his early morning’s walk through
the village, ascertained that the man with whom Mrs. Joplin had quitted
the place had some time after been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment
in the county jail. Possibly the prison authorities might know something
to lead to his discovery, and through him the news of his paramour might
be gained.



CHAPTER XX. MORE OF MRS. JOPLIN.

One day, at the hour of noon, the court boasting the tall residence of
Mr. Grabman was startled from the quiet usually reigning there at broad
daylight by the appearance of two men, evidently no inhabitants of the
place. The squalid, ill-favoured denizens lounging before the doors
stared hard, and at the fuller view of one of the men, most of them
retreated hastily within. Then, in those houses, you might have heard
a murmur of consternation and alarm. The ferret was in the burrow,--a
Bow-Street officer in the court! The two men paused, looked round,
and stopping before the dingy towerlike house, selected the bell which
appealed to the inmates of the ground-floor, to the left. At that
summons Bill the cracksman imprudently presented a full view of his
countenance through his barred window; he drew it back with astonishing
celerity, but not in time to escape the eye of the Bow-Street runner.

“Open the door, Bill,--there’s nothing to fear; I have no summons
against you, ‘pon honour. You know I never deceive. Why should I? Open
the door, I say.”

No answer.

The officer tapped with his cane at the foul window.

“Bill, there’s a gentleman who comes to you for information, and he will
pay for it handsomely.”

Bill again appeared at the casement, and peeped forth very cautiously
through the bars.

“Bless my vitals, Mr. R----, and it is you, is it? What were you saying
about paying handsomely?”

“That your evidence is wanted,--not against a pal, man. It will hurt no
one, and put at least five guineas in your pocket.”

“Ten guineas,” said the Bow-Street officer’s companion. “You be’s a man
of honour, Mr. R----!” said Bill, emphatically; “and I scorns to doubt
you, so here goes.”

With that he withdrew from the window, and in another minute or so the
door was opened, and Bill, with a superb bow, asked his visitors into
his room.

In the interval, leisure had been given to the cracksman to remove all
trace of the wonted educational employment of his hopeful children. The
urchins were seated on the floor playing at push-pin; and the Bow-Street
officer benignly patted a pair of curly heads as he passed them, drew
a chair to the table, and wiping his forehead, sat down, quite at home.
Bill then deliberately seated himself, and unbuttoning his waistcoat,
permitted the butt-ends of a brace of pistols to be seen by his guests.
Mr. R----‘s companion seemed very unmoved by this significant action.
He bent one inquiring, steady look on the cracksman, which, as Bill
afterwards said, went through him “like a gimlet through a penny,” and
taking out a purse, through the network of which the sovereigns gleamed
pleasantly, placed it on the table and said,--

“This purse is yours if you will tell me what has become of a woman
named Joplin, with whom you left the village of ----, in Lancashire, in
the year 18--.”

“And,” put in Mr. R----, “the gentleman wants to know, with no view of
harming the woman. It will be to her own advantage to inform us where
she is.”

“‘Pon honour again?” said Bill.

“‘Pon honour!”

“Well, then, I has a heart in my buzzom, and if so be I can do a good
turn to the ‘oman wot I has loved and kep’ company with, why not?”

“Why not, indeed?” said Mr. R----. “And as we want to learn, not only
what has become of Mrs. Joplin, but what she did with the child she
carried off from ----, begin at the beginning and tell us all you know.”

Bill mused. “How much is there in the pus?”

“Eighteen sovereigns.”

“Make it twenty--you nod--twenty then? A bargain! Now I’ll go on right
ahead. You see as how, some months arter we--that is, Peggy Joplin and
self--left ----, I was put in quod in Lancaster jail; so I lost sight of
the blowen. When I got out and came to Lunnun, it was a matter of seven
year afore, all of a sudding, I came bang up agin her,--at the corner
of Common Garden. ‘Why, Bill!’ says she. ‘Why, Peggy!’ says I; and we
bussed each other like winky. ‘Shall us come together agin?’ says she.
‘Why, no,’ says I; ‘I has a wife wots a good ‘un, and gets her bread by
setting up as a widder with seven small childern. By the by, Peg, what’s
a come of your brat?’ for as you says, sir, Peg had a child put out to
her to nurse. Lor’, how she cuffed it! ‘The brat!’ says she, laughing
like mad, ‘oh, I got rid o’ that when you were in jail, Bill.’ ‘As how?’
says I. ‘Why, there was a woman begging agin St. Poll’s churchyard; so I
purtended to see a friend at a distance: “‘Old the babby a moment,” says
I, puffing and panting, “while I ketches my friend yonder.” So she ‘olds
the brat, and I never sees it agin; and there’s an ind of the bother!’
‘But won’t they ever ax for the child,--them as giv’ it you?’ ‘Oh, no,’
says Peg, ‘they left it too long for that, and all the tin was agone;
and one mouth is hard enough to feed in these days,--let by other folks’
bantlings.’ ‘Well,’ says I, ‘where do you hang out? I’ll pop in, in
a friendly way.’ So she tells me,--som’ere in Lambeth,--I forgets
hexactly; and many’s the good piece of work we ha’ done togither.”

“And where is she now?” asked Mr. R----‘s companion.

“I doesn’t know purcisely, but I can com’ at her. You see, when my poor
wife died, four year com’ Chris’mas, and left me with as fine a famuly,
though I says it, as h-old King Georgy himself walked afore, with his
gold-’eaded cane, on the terris at Vindsor,--all heights and all h-ages
to the babby in arms (for the little ‘un there warn’t above a year old,
and had been a brought up upon spoon-meat, with a dash o’ blueruin to
make him slim and ginteel); as for the bigger ‘uns wot you don’t see,
they be doin’ well in forin parts, Mr. R----!”

Mr. R. smiled significantly.

Bill resumed. “Where was I? Oh, when my wife died, I wanted sum ‘un to
take care of the childern, so I takes Peg into the ‘ous. But Lor’! how
she larrupped ‘em,--she has a cruel heart, has n’t she, Bob? Bob is a
‘cute child, Mr. R----. Just as I was a thinking of turning her out neck
an’ crop, a gemman what lodges aloft, wot be a laryer, and wot had just
saved my nick, Mr. R----, by proving a h-alibi, said, ‘That’s a
tidy body, your Peg!’ (for you see he was often a wisiting here, an’
h-indeed, sin’ then, he has taken our third floor, No. 9); ‘I’ve been
a speakin’ to her, and I find she has been a nuss to the sick. I has
a frind wots a h-uncle that’s ill: can you spare her, Bill, to attind
him?’ That I can,’ says I; ‘anything to obleedge.’ So Peg packs off, bag
and baggidge.”

“And what was the sick gentleman’s name?” asked Mr. R----‘s companion.

“It was one Mr. Warney,--a painter, wot lived at Clap’am. Since thin
I’ve lost sight of Peg; for we had ‘igh words about the childern, and
she was a spiteful ‘oman. But you can larn where she be at Mr. Warney’s,
if so be he’s still above ground.”

“And did this woman still go by the name of Joplin?”

Bill grinned: “She warn’t such a spooney as that,--that name was in your
black books too much, Mr. R----, for a ‘spectable nuss for sick bodies;
no, she was then called Martha Skeggs, what was her own mother’s name
afore marriage. Anything more, gemman?”

“I am satisfied,” said the younger visitor, rising; “there is the purse,
and Mr. R---- will bring you ten sovereigns in addition. Good-day to
you.”

Bill, with superabundant bows and flourishes, showed his visitors out,
and then, in high glee, he began to romp with his children; and the
whole family circle was in a state of uproarious enjoyment when the door
flew open, and in entered Grabman, his brief-bag in hand, dust-soiled
and unshaven.

“Aha, neighbour! your servant, your servant; just come back! Always so
merry; for the life of me, I couldn’t help looking in! Dear me, Bill,
why, you’re in luck!” and Mr. Grabman pointed to a pile of sovereigns
which Bill had emptied from the purse to count over and weigh on the tip
of his forefinger.

“Yes,” said Bill, sweeping the gold into his corduroy pocket; “and who
do you think brought me these shiners? Why, who but old Peggy, the ‘oman
wot you put out at Clapham.”

“Well, never mind Peggy, now, Bill; I want to ask you what you have done
with Margaret Joplin, whom, sly seducer that you are, you carried off
from--”

“Why, man, Peggy be Joplin, and Joplin be Peggy! And it’s for that piece
of noos that I got all them pretty new picters of his Majesty Bill,--my
namesake, God bliss ‘im!”

“D--n,” exclaimed Grabman, aghast; “the young chap’s spoiling my game
again!” And seizing up his brief-bag, he darted out of the house, in the
hope to arrive at least at Clapham before his competitors.



CHAPTER XXI. BECK’S DISCOVERY.

Under the cedar-trees at Laughton sat that accursed and abhorrent
being who sat there, young, impassioned, hopeful, as Lucretia
Clavering,--under the old cedar-trees, which, save that their vast
branches cast an imperceptibly broader shade over the mossy sward, the
irrevocable winters had left the same. Where, through the nether boughs
the autumn sunbeams came aslant, the windows, enriched by many a haughty
scutcheon, shone brightly against the western rays. From the flower-beds
in the quaint garden near at hand, the fresh yet tranquil air wafted
faint perfumes from the lingering heliotrope and fading rose. The
peacock perched dozily on the heavy balustrade; the blithe robin hopped
busily along the sun-track on the lawn; in the distance the tinkling
bells of the flock, the plaining low of some wandering heifer, while
breaking the silence, seemed still to blend with the repose. All images
around lent themselves to complete that picture of stately calm which is
the character of those old mansion-houses, which owner after owner has
loved and heeded, leaving to them the graces of antiquity, guarding them
from the desolation of decay.

Alone sat Lucretia under the cedar-trees, and her heart made dismal
contrast to the noble tranquillity that breathed around. From whatever
softening or repentant emotions which the scene of her youth might first
have awakened; from whatever of less unholy anguish which memory might
have caused when she first, once more, sat under those remembered
boughs, and, as a voice from a former world, some faint whisper of
youthful love sighed across the waste and ashes of her devastated
soul,--from all such rekindled humanities in the past she had now, with
gloomy power, wrenched herself away. Crime such as hers admits not long
the sentiment that softens remorse of gentler error. If there wakes one
moment from the past the warning and melancholy ghost, soon from that
abyss rises the Fury with the lifted scourge, and hunts on the frantic
footsteps towards the future. In the future, the haggard intellect of
crime must live, must involve itself mechanically in webs and meshes,
and lose past and present in the welcome atmosphere of darkness.

Thus while Lucretia sat, and her eyes rested upon the halls of her
youth, her mind overleaped the gulf that yet yawned between her and
the object on which she was bent. Already, in fancy, that home was hers
again, its present possessor swept away, the interloping race of Vernon
ending in one of those abrupt lines familiar to genealogists, which
branch out busily from the main tree, as if all pith and sap were
monopolized by them, continue for a single generation, and then shrink
into a printer’s bracket with the formal laconism, “Died without
issue.” Back, then, in the pedigree would turn the eye of some curious
descendant, and see the race continue in the posterity of Lucretia
Clavering.

With all her ineffable vices, mere cupidity had not, as we have often
seen, been a main characteristic of this fearful woman; and in her
design to endow, by the most determined guilt, her son with the heritage
of her ancestors, she had hitherto looked but little to mere mercenary
advantages for herself: but now, in the sight of that venerable and
broad domain, a covetousness, absolute in itself, broke forth. Could
she have gained it for her own use rather than her son’s, she would have
felt a greater zest in her ruthless purpose. She looked upon the scene
as a deposed monarch upon his usurped realm,--it was her right. The
early sense of possession in that inheritance returned to her.

Reluctantly would she even yield her claims to her child. Here, too,
in this atmosphere she tasted once more what had long been lost
to her,--the luxury of that dignified respect which surrounds the
well-born. Here she ceased to be the suspected adventuress, the
friendless outcast, the needy wrestler with hostile fortune, the
skulking enemy of the law. She rose at once, and without effort, to
her original state,--the honoured daughter of an illustrious house.
The homeliest welcome that greeted her from some aged but unforgotten
villager, the salutation of homage, the bated breath of humble
reverence,--even trifles like these were dear to her, and made her the
more resolute to retain them. In her calm, relentless onward vision she
saw herself enshrined in those halls, ruling in the delegated authority
of her son, safe evermore from prying suspicion and degrading need and
miserable guilt for miserable objects. Here, but one great crime, and
she resumed the majesty of her youth! While thus dwelling on the future,
her eye did not even turn from those sunlit towers to the forms below,
and more immediately inviting its survey. On the very spot where, at
the opening of this tale, sat Sir Miles St. John sharing his attention
between his dogs and his guest, sat now Helen Mainwaring; against the
balustrade where had lounged Charles Vernon, leaned Percival St. John;
and in the same place where he had stationed himself that eventful
evening, to distort, in his malignant sketch, the features of his
father, Gabriel Varney, with almost the same smile of irony upon his
lips, was engaged in transferring to his canvas a more faithful likeness
of the heir’s intended bride. Helen’s countenance, indeed, exhibited
comparatively but little of the ravages which the pernicious aliment,
administered so noiselessly, made upon the frame. The girl’s eye, it is
true, had sunk, and there was a languid heaviness in its look; but
the contour of the cheek was so naturally rounded, and the features so
delicately fine, that the fall of the muscles was less evident; and the
bright, warm hue of the complexion, and the pearly sparkle of the
teeth, still gave a fallacious freshness to the aspect. But as yet the
poisoners had forborne those ingredients which invade the springs of
life, resorting only to such as undermine the health and prepare the way
to unsuspected graves. Out of the infernal variety of the materials at
their command, they had selected a mixture which works by sustaining
perpetual fever; which gives little pain, little suffering, beyond that
of lassitude and thirst; which wastes like consumption, and yet puzzles
the physician, by betraying few or none of its ordinary symptoms. But
the disorder as yet was not incurable,--its progress would gradually
cease with the discontinuance of the venom.

Although October was far advanced, the day was as mild and warm as
August. But Percival, who had been watching Helen’s countenance with
the anxiety of love and fear, now proposed that the sitting should be
adjourned. The sun was declining, and it was certainly no longer safe
for Helen to be exposed to the air without exercise. He proposed that
they should walk through the garden, and Helen, rising cheerfully,
placed her hand on his arm. But she had scarcely descended the steps of
the terrace when she stopped short and breathed hard and painfully. The
spasm was soon over, and walking slowly on, they passed Lucretia with a
brief word or two, and were soon out of sight amongst the cedars.

“Lean more on my arm, Helen,” said Percival. “How strange it is that the
change of air has done so little for you, and our country doctor still
less! I should feel miserable indeed if Simmons, whom my mother always
considered very clever, did not assure me that there was no ground for
alarm,--that these symptoms were only nervous. Cheer up, Helen; sweet
love, cheer up!”

Helen raised her face and strove to smile; but the tears stood in her
eyes. “It would be hard to die now, Percival!” she said falteringly.

“To die--oh, Helen! No; we must not stay here longer,--the air is
certainly too keen for you. Perhaps your aunt will go to Italy. Why
not all go there, and seek my mother? And she will nurse you, Helen,
and--and--” He could not trust his voice farther.

Helen pressed his arm tenderly. “Forgive me, dear Percival, it is but at
moments that I feel so despondent; now, again, it is past. Ah, I so
long to see your mother! When shall you hear from her? Are you not
too sanguine? Do you really feel sure she will consent to so lowly a
choice?”

“Never doubt her affection, her appreciation of you,” answered Percival,
gladly, and hoping that Helen’s natural anxiety might be the latent
cause of her dejected spirits; “often, when talking of the future, under
these very cedars, my mother has said: ‘You have no cause to marry for
ambition,--marry only for your happiness.’ She never had a daughter: in
return for all her love, I shall give her that blessing.”

Thus talking, the lovers rambled on till the sun set, and then,
returning to the house, they found that Varney and Madame Dalibard
had preceded them. That evening Helen’s spirits rose to their natural
buoyancy, and Percival’s heart was once more set at ease by her silvery
laugh.

When, at their usual early hour, the rest of the family retired to
sleep, Percival remained in the drawing-room to write again, and at
length, to Lady Mary and Captain Greville. While thus engaged, his valet
entered to say that Beck, who had been out since the early morning, in
search of a horse that had strayed from one of the pastures, had just
returned with the animal, who had wandered nearly as far as Southampton.

“I am glad to hear it,” said Percival, abstractedly, and continuing his
letter.

The valet still lingered. Percival looked up in surprise. “If you
please, sir, you said you particularly wished to see Beck when he came
back.”

“I--oh, true! Tell him to wait; I will speak to him by and by. You need
not sit up for me; let Beck attend to the bell.”

The valet withdrew. Percival continued his letter, and filled page
after page and sheet after sheet; and when at length the letters, not
containing a tithe of what he wished to convey, were brought to a close,
he fell into a revery that lasted till the candles burned low, and the
clock from the turret tolled one. Starting up in surprise at the lapse
of time, Percival then, for the first time, remembered Beck, and rang
the bell.

The ci-devant sweeper, in his smart livery, appeared at the door.

“Beck, my poor fellow, I am ashamed to have kept you waiting so long;
but I received a letter this morning which relates to you. Let me
see,--I left it in my study upstairs. Ah, you’ll never find the way;
follow me,--I have some questions to put to you.”

“Nothin’ agin my carakter, I hopes, your honour,” said Beck, timidly.

“Oh, no!”

“Noos of the mattris, then?” exclaimed Beck, joyfully.

“Nor that either,” answered Percival, laughing, as he lighted the
chamber candlestick, and, followed by Beck, ascended the grand staircase
to a small room which, as it adjoined his sleeping apartment, he had
habitually used as his morning writing-room and study.

Percival had, indeed, received that day a letter which had occasioned
him much surprise; it was from John Ardworth, and ran thus:--

MY DEAR PERCIVAL,--It seems that you have taken into your service
a young man known only by the name of Beck. Is he now with you at
Laughton? If so, pray retain him, and suffer him to be in readiness to
come to me at a day’s notice if wanted, though it is probable enough
that I may rather come to you. At present, strange as it may seem to
you, I am detained in London by business connected with that important
personage. Will you ask him carelessly, as it were, in the mean while;
the following questions:--

First, how did he become possessed of a certain child’s coral which he
left at the house of one Becky Carruthers, in Cole’s Building?

Secondly, is he aware of any mark on his arm,--if so, will he describe
it?

Thirdly, how long has he known the said Becky Carruthers?

Fourthly, does he believe her to be honest and truthful?

Take a memorandum of his answers, and send it to me. I am pretty
well aware of what they are likely to be; but I desire you to put the
questions, that I may judge if there be any discrepancy between his
statement and that of Mrs. Carruthers. I have much to tell you, and am
eager to receive your kind congratulations upon an event that has given
me more happiness than the fugitive success of my little book. Tenderest
regards to Helen; and hoping soon to see you, Ever affectionately yours.

P.S.--Say not a word of the contents of this letter to Madame Dalibard,
Helen, or to any one except Beck. Caution him to the same discretion. If
you can’t trust to his silence, send him to town.

When the post brought this letter, Beck was already gone on his errand,
and after puzzling himself with vague conjectures, Percival’s mind had
been naturally too absorbed with his anxieties for Helen to recur much
to the subject.

Now, refreshing his memory with the contents of the letter, he drew pen
and ink before him, put the questions seriatim, noted down the answers
as desired, and smiling at Beck’s frightened curiosity to know who could
possibly care about such matters, and feeling confident (from that very
fright) of his discretion, dismissed the groom to his repose.

Beck had never been in that part of the house before; and when he got
into the corridor he became bewildered, and knew not which turn to take,
the right or the left. He had no candle with him; but the moon came
clear through a high and wide skylight: the light, however, gave him no
guide. While pausing, much perplexed, and not sure that he should even
know again the door of the room he had just quitted, if venturing to
apply to his young master for a clew through such a labyrinth, he was
inexpressibly startled and appalled by a sudden apparition. A door
at one end of the corridor opened noiselessly, and a figure, at first
scarcely distinguishable, for it was robed from head to foot in a black,
shapeless garb, scarcely giving even the outline of the human form,
stole forth. Beck rubbed his eyes and crept mechanically close within
the recess of one of the doors that communicated with the passage. The
figure advanced a few steps towards him; and what words can describe
his astonishment when he beheld thus erect, and in full possession of
physical power and motion, the palsied cripple whose chair he had often
seen wheeled into the garden, and whose unhappy state was the common
topic of comment in the servants’ hall! Yes, the moon from above shone
full upon that face which never, once seen, could be forgotten. And it
seemed more than mortally stern and pale, contrasted with the sable
of the strange garb, and beheld by that mournful light. Had a ghost,
indeed, risen from the dead, it could scarcely have appalled him more.
Madame Dalibard did not see the involuntary spy; for the recess in which
he had crept was on that side of the wall on which the moon’s shadow
was cast. With a quick step she turned into another room, opposite
that which she had quitted, the door of which stood ajar, and vanished
noiselessly as she had appeared.

Taught suspicion by his earlier acquaintance with the “night-side” of
human nature, Beck had good cause for it here. This detection of an
imposture most familiar to his experience,--that of a pretended cripple;
the hour of the night; the evil expression on the face of the deceitful
guest; Madame Dalibard’s familiar intimacy and near connection with
Varney,--Varney, the visitor to Grabman, who received no visitors but
those who desire, not to go to law, but to escape from its penalties;
Varney, who had dared to brave the resurrection man in his den, and who
seemed so fearlessly at home in abodes where nought but poverty could
protect the honest; Varney now, with that strange woman, an inmate of a
house in which the master was so young, so inexperienced, so liable to
be duped by his own generous nature,--all these ideas, vaguely combined,
inspired Beck with as vague a terror. Surely something, he knew not
what, was about to be perpetrated against his benefactor,--some scheme
of villany which it was his duty to detect. He breathed hard, formed
his resolves, and stealing on tiptoe, followed the shadowy form of the
poisoner through the half-opened doorway. The shutters of the room of
which he thus crossed the threshold were not closed,--the moon shone
in bright and still. He kept his body behind the door, peeping in with
straining, fearful stare. He saw Madame Dalibard standing beside a
bed round which the curtains were closed,--standing for a moment or so
motionless, and as if in the act of listening, with one hand on a
table beside the bed. He then saw her take from the folds of her dress
something white and glittering, and pour from it what appeared to him
but a drop or two, cautiously, slowly, into a phial on the table, from
which she withdrew the stopper; that done, she left the phial where she
had found it, again paused a moment, and turned towards the door. Beck
retreated hastily to his former hiding-place, and gained it in time.
Again the shadowy form passed him, and again the white face in the white
moonlight froze his blood with its fell and horrible expression. He
remained cowering and shrinking against the wall for some time, striving
to collect his wits, and considering what he should do. His first
thought was to go at once and inform St. John of what he had witnessed.
But the poor have a proverbial dread of deposing aught against a
superior. Madame Dalibard would deny his tale, the guest would be
believed against the menial,--he would be but dismissed with ignominy.
At that idea, he left his hiding-place, and crept along the corridor,
in the hope of finding some passage at the end which might lead to the
offices. But when he arrived at the other extremity, he was only met
by great folding-doors, which evidently communicated with the state
apartments; he must retrace his steps. He did so; and when he came to
the door which Madame Dalibard had entered, and which still stood ajar,
he had recovered some courage, and with courage, curiosity seized him.
For what purpose could the strange woman seek that room at night thus
feloniously? What could she have poured, and with such stealthy caution,
into the phial? Naturally and suddenly the idea of poison flashed across
him. Tales of such crime (as, indeed, of all crime) had necessarily
often thrilled the ear of the vagrant fellow-lodger with burglars and
outlaws. But poison to whom? Could it be meant for his benefactor? Could
St. John sleep in that room? Why not? The woman had sought the chamber
before her young host had retired to rest, and mingled her potion with
some medicinal draught. All fear vanished before the notion of danger
to his employer. He stole at once through the doorway, and noiselessly
approached the table on which yet lay the phial. His hand closed on it
firmly. He resolved to carry it away, and consider next morning what
next to do. At all events, it might contain some proof to back his tale
and justify his suspicions. When he came once more into the corridor, he
made a quick rush onwards, and luckily arrived at the staircase. There
the blood-red stains reflected on the stone floors from the blazoned
casements daunted him little less than the sight at which his hair still
bristled. He scarcely drew breath till he had got into his own little
crib, in the wing set apart for the stable-men, when, at length, he
fell into broken and agitated sleep,--the visions of all that had
successively disturbed him waking, united confusedly, as in one picture
of gloom and terror. He thought that he was in his old loft in St.
Giles’s, that the Gravestealer was wrestling with Varney for his body,
while he himself, lying powerless on his pallet, fancied he should be
safe as long as he could retain, as a talisman, his child’s coral, which
he clasped to his heart. Suddenly, in that black, shapeless garb, in
which he had beheld her, Madame Dalibard bent over him with her stern,
colourless face, and wrenched from him his charm. Then, ceasing his
struggle with his horrible antagonist, Varney laughed aloud, and the
Gravestealer seized him in his deadly arms.



CHAPTER XXII. THE TAPESTRY CHAMBER.

When Beck woke the next morning, and gradually recalled all that had
so startled and appalled him the previous night, the grateful creature
felt, less by the process of reason than by a brute instinct, that in
the mysterious resuscitation and nocturnal wanderings of the pretended
paralytic, some danger menaced his master; he became anxious to learn
whether it was really St. John’s room Madame Dalibard stealthily
visited. A bright idea struck him; and in the course of the day, at
an hour when the family were out of doors, he contrived to coax the
good-natured valet, who had taken him under his special protection, to
show him over the house. He had heard the other servants say there was
such a power of fine things that a peep into the rooms was as good as
a show, and the valet felt pride in being cicerone even to Beck. After
having stared sufficiently at the banquet-hall and the drawing-room, the
armour, the busts, and the pictures, and listened, open-mouthed, to his
guide’s critical observations, Beck was led up the great stairs into
the old family picture-gallery, and into Sir Miles’s ancient room at the
end, which had been left undisturbed, with the bed still in the
angle; on returning thence, Beck found himself in the corridor which
communicated with the principal bedrooms, in which he had lost himself
the night before.

“And vot room be that vith the littul vite ‘ead h-over the door?” asked
Beck, pointing to the chamber from which Madame Dalibard had emerged.

“That white head, Master Beck, is Floorer the goddess; but a heathen
like you knows nothing about goddesses. Floorer has a half-moon in her
hair, you see, which shows that the idolatrous Turks worship her; for
the Turkish flag is a half-moon, as I have seen at Constantinople. I
have travelled, Beck.”

“And vot room be it? Is it the master’s?” persisted Beck.

“No, the pretty young lady, Miss Mainwaring, has it at present. There is
nothing to see in it. But that one opposite,” and the valet advanced
to the door through which Madame Dalibard had disappeared,--“that is
curious; and as Madame is out, we may just take a peep.” He opened
the door gently, and Beck looked in. “This, which is called the
turret-chamber, was Madame’s when she was a girl, I have heard old Bessy
say; so Master pops her there now. For my part, I’d rather sleep in your
little crib than have those great gruff-looking figures staring at me
by the firelight, and shaking their heads with every wind on a winter’s
night.” And the valet took a pinch of snuff as he drew Beck’s attention
to the faded tapestry on the walls. As they spoke, the draught between
the door and the window caused the gloomy arras to wave with a life-like
motion; and to those more superstitious than romantic, the chamber had
certainly no inviting aspect.

“I never sees these old tapestry rooms,” said the valet, “without
thinking of the story of the lady who, coming from a ball and taking off
her jewels, happened to look up, and saw an eye in one of the figures
which she felt sure was no peeper in worsted.”

“Vot vos it, then?” asked Beck, timidly lifting up the hangings, and
noticing that there was a considerable space between them and the wall,
which was filled up in part by closets and wardrobes set into the walls,
with intervals more than deep enough for the hiding-place of a man.

“Why,” answered the valet, “it was a thief. He had come for the jewels;
but the lady had the presence of mind to say aloud, as if to herself,
that she had forgotten something, slipped out of the room, locked the
door, called up the servants, and the thief--who was no less a person
than the under-butler--was nabbed.”

“And the French ‘oman sleeps ‘ere?” said Beck, musingly.

“French ‘oman! Master Beck, nothing’s so vulgar as these nicknames in
a first-rate situation. It is all very well when one lives with
skinflints, but with such a master as our’n, respect’s the go. Besides,
Madame is not a French ‘oman; she is one of the family,--and as old a
family it is, too, as e’er a lord’s in the three kingdoms. But come,
your curiosity is satisfied now, and you must trot back to your horses.”

As Beck returned to the stables, his mind yet more misgave him as to the
criminal designs of his master’s visitor. It was from Helen’s room that
the false cripple had walked, and the ill health of the poor young lady
was a general subject of compassionate comment. But Madame Dalibard was
Helen’s relation: from what motive could she harbour an evil thought
against her own niece? But still, if those drops were poured into the
healing draught for good, why so secretly? Once more he revolved the
idea of speaking to St. John: an accident dissuaded him from this
intention,--the only proof to back his tale was the mysterious phial he
had carried away; but unluckily, forgetting that it was in his pocket,
at a time when he flung off his coat to groom one of the horses, the
bottle struck against the corn-bin and broke; all the contents were
spilt. This incident made him suspend his intention, and wait till he
could obtain some fresh evidence of evil intentions. The day passed
without any other noticeable occurrence. The doctor called, found Helen
somewhat better, and ascribed it to his medicines, especially to the
effect of his tonic draught the first thing in the morning. Helen
smiled. “Nay, Doctor,” said she, “this morning, at least, it was
forgotten. I did not find it by my bedside. Don’t tell my aunt; she
would be so angry.” The doctor looked rather discomposed.

“Well,” said he, soon recovering his good humour, “since you are
certainly better to-day without the draught, discontinue it also
to-morrow. I will make an alteration for the day after.” So that
night Madame Dalibard visited in vain her niece’s chamber: Helen had a
reprieve.



CHAPTER XXIII. THE SHADES ON THE DIAL


The following morning was indeed eventful to the family at Laughton; and
as if conscious of what it brought forth, it rose dreary and sunless.
One heavy mist covered all the landscape, and a raw, drizzling rain fell
pattering through the yellow leaves.

Madame Dalibard, pleading her infirmities, rarely left her room before
noon, and Varney professed himself very irregular in his hours of
rising; the breakfast, therefore, afforded no social assembly to the
family, but each took that meal in the solitude of his or her own
chamber. Percival, in whom all habits partook of the healthfulness and
simplicity of his character, rose habitually early, and that day, in
spite of the weather, walked forth betimes to meet the person charged
with the letters from the post. He had done so for the last three or
four days, impatient to hear from his mother, and calculating that it
was full time to receive the expected answer to his confession and his
prayer. He met the messenger at the bottom of the park, not far from
Guy’s Oak. This day he was not disappointed. The letter-bag contained
three letters for himself,--two with the foreign postmark, the third in
Ardworth’s hand. It contained also a letter for Madame Dalibard, and two
for Varney.

Leaving the messenger to take these last to the Hall, Percival, with his
own prizes, plunged into the hollow of the glen before him, and, seating
himself at the foot of Guy’s Oak, through the vast branches of which the
rain scarcely came, and only in single, mournful drops, he opened first
the letter in his mother’s hand, and read as follows:--

MY DEAR, DEAR SON,--How can I express to you the alarm your letter has
given to me! So these, then, are the new relations you have discovered!
I fondly imagined that you were alluding to some of my own family, and
conjecturing who, amongst my many cousins, could have so captivated
your attention. These the new relations,--Lucretia Dalibard, Helen
Mainwaring! Percival, do you not know ---- No, you cannot know that
Helen Mainwaring is the daughter of a disgraced man, of one who (more
than suspected of fraud in the bank in which he was a partner) left his
country, condemned even by his own father. If you doubt this, you have
but to inquire at ----, not ten miles from Laughton, where the elder
Mainwaring resided. Ask there what became of William Mainwaring. And
Lucretia, you do not know that the dying prayer of her uncle, Sir Miles
St. John, was that she might never enter the house he bequeathed to
your father. Not till after my poor Charles’s death did I know the exact
cause for Sir Miles’s displeasure, though confident it was just; but
then amongst his papers I found the ungrateful letter which betrayed
thoughts so dark and passions so unwomanly that I blushed for my sex
to read it. Could it be possible that that poor old man’s prayers were
unheeded, that that treacherous step could ever cross your threshold,
that that cruel eye, which read with such barbarous joy the ravages of
death on a benefactor’s face, could rest on the hearth by which your
frank, truthful countenance has so often smiled away my tears, I should
feel indeed as if a thunder-cloud hung over the roof. No, if you marry
the niece, the aunt must be banished from your house. Good heavens! and
it is the daughter of William Mainwaring, the niece and ward of Lucretia
Dalibard, to whom you have given your faithful affection, whom you
single from the world as your wife! Oh, my son,--my beloved, my sole
surviving child,--do not think that I blame you, that my heart does
not bleed while I write thus; but I implore you on my knees to pause at
least, to suspend this intercourse till I myself can reach England. And
what then? Why, then, Percival, I promise, on my part, that I will see
your Helen with unprejudiced eyes, that I will put away from me, as
far as possible, all visions of disappointed pride,--the remembrance of
faults not her own,--and if she be as you say and think, I will take her
to my heart and call her ‘Daughter.’ Are you satisfied? If so, come to
me,--come at once, and take comfort from your mother’s lip. How I long
to be with you while you read this; how I tremble at the pain I so
rudely give you! But my poor sister still chains me here, I dare not
leave her, lest I should lose her last sigh. Come then, come; we will
console each other.

Your fond (how fond!) and sorrowing mother,

MARY ST. JOHN. SORRENTO, October 3, 1831.

P.S.--You see by this address that we have left Pisa for this place,
recommended by our physician; hence an unhappy delay of some days in my
reply. Ah, Percival, how sleepless will be my pillow till I hear from
you!

Long, very long, was it before St. John, mute and overwhelmed with the
sudden shock of his anguish, opened his other letters. The first was
from Captain Greville.

What trap have you fallen into, foolish boy? That you would get into
some silly scrape or another, was natural enough. But a scrape for life,
sir,--that is serious! But--God bless you for your candour, my Percival;
you have written to us in time--you are old-fashioned enough to think
that a mother’s consent is necessary to a young man’s union; and you
have left it in our power to save you yet. It is not every boyish fancy
that proves to be true love. But enough of this preaching; I shall
do better than write scolding letters,--I shall come and scold you in
person. My servant is at this very moment packing my portmanteau, the
laquais-de-place is gone to Naples for my passport. Almost as soon as
you receive this I shall be with you; and if I am a day or two later
than the mail, be patient: do not commit yourself further. Break your
heart if you please, but don’t implicate your honour. I shall come at
once to Curzon Street. Adieu! H. GREVILLE.

Ardworth’s letter was shorter than the others,--fortunately so, for
otherwise it had been unread:--

If I do not come to you myself the day after you receive this, dear
Percival,--which, indeed, is most probable,--I shall send you my proxy,
in one whom, for my sake, I know that you will kindly welcome. He will
undertake my task, and clear up all the mysteries with which, I trust,
my correspondence has thoroughly bewildered your lively imagination.
Yours ever, JOHN ARDWORTH. GRAY’S INN.

Little indeed did Percival’s imagination busy itself with the mysteries
of Ardworth’s correspondence. His mind scarcely took in the sense of the
words over which his eye mechanically wandered.

And the letter which narrated the visit of Madame Dalibard to the
house thus solemnly interdicted to her step was on its way to his
mother,--nay, by this time would almost have reached her! Greville was
on the road,--nay, as his tutor’s letter had been forwarded from London,
might perhaps be in Curzon Street that day. How desirable to see him
before he could reach Laughton, to prepare him for Madame Dalibard’s
visit, for Helen’s illness, explain the position in which he was
involved, and conciliate the old soldier’s rough, kind heart to his love
and his distress.

He did not dread the meeting with Greville,--he yearned for it. He
needed an adviser, a confidant, a friend. To dismiss abruptly his guests
from his house,--impossible; to abandon Helen because of her father’s
crime or her aunt’s fault (whatever that last might be, and no clear
detail of it was given),--that never entered his thoughts! Pure and
unsullied, the starry face of Helen shone the holier for the cloud
around it. An inexpressible and chivalrous compassion mingled with his
love and confirmed his faith. She, poor child, to suffer for the deeds
of others,--no. What availed his power as man, and dignity as gentleman,
if they could not wrap in their own shelter the one by whom such shelter
was now doubly needed? Thus, amidst all his emotions, firm and resolved
at least on one point, and beginning already to recover the hope of his
sanguine nature, from his reliance on his mother’s love, on the promises
that softened her disclosures and warnings, and on his conviction
that Helen had only to be seen for every scruple to give way, Percival
wandered back towards the house, and coming abruptly on the terrace, he
encountered Varney, who was leaning motionless against the balustrades,
with an open letter in his hand. Varney was deadly pale, and there was
the trace of some recent and gloomy agitation in the relaxed muscles
of his cheeks, usually so firmly rounded. But Percival did not heed his
appearance as he took him gravely by the arm, and leading him into the
garden, said, after a painful pause,--

“Varney, I am about to ask you two questions, which your close
connection with Madame Dalibard may enable you to answer, but in which,
from obvious motives, I must demand the strictest confidence. You will
not hint to her or to Helen what I am about to say?”

Varney stared uneasily on Percival’s serious countenance, and gave the
promise required.

“First, then, for what offence was Madame Dalibard expelled her uncle’s
house,--this house of Laughton?

“Secondly, what is the crime with which Mr. Mainwaring, Helen’s father,
is charged?”

“With regard to the first,” said Varney, recovering his composure, “I
thought I had already told you that Sir Miles was a proud man, and that
in consequence of discovering a girlish flirtation between his niece
Lucretia (now Madame Dalibard) and Mainwaring, who afterwards jilted her
for Helen’s mother, he altered his will; ‘expelled her his house’ is too
harsh a phrase. This is all I know. With regard to the second question,
no crime was ever brought home to William Mainwaring; he was suspected
of dealing improperly with the funds of the bank, and he repaid the
alleged deficit by the sacrifice of all he possessed.”

“This is the truth?” exclaimed Percival, joyfully.

“The plain truth, I believe; but why these questions at this moment? Ah,
you too, I see, have had letters,--I understand. Lady Mary gives these
reasons for withholding her consent.”

“Her consent is not withheld,” answered Percival; “but shall I own it?
Remember, I have your promise not to wound and offend Madame Dalibard by
the disclosure: my mother does refer to the subjects I have alluded to,
and Captain Greville, my old friend and tutor, is on his way to England;
perhaps to-morrow he may arrive at Laughton.”

“Ha!” said Varney, startled, “to-morrow! And what sort of a man is this
Captain Greville?”

“The best man possible for such a case as mine,--kind-hearted, yet
cool, sagacious; the finest observer, the quickest judge of
character,--nothing escapes him. Oh, one interview will suffice to show
him all Helen’s innocent and matchless excellence.”

“To-morrow! this man comes to-morrow!”

“All that I fear is,--for he is rather rough and blunt in his
manner,--all that I fear is his first surprise, and, dare I say
displeasure, at seeing this poor Madame Dalibard, whose faults, I fear,
were graver than you suppose, at the house from which her uncle--to
whom, indeed, I owe this inheritance--”

“I see, I see!” interrupted Varney, quickly. “And Madame Dalibard is the
most susceptible of women,--so well-born and so poor, so gifted and so
helpless; it is natural. Can you not write, and put off this Captain
Greville for a few days,--until, indeed, I can find some excuse for
terminating our visit?”

“But my letter may be hardly in time to reach him; he may be in town
to-day.”

“Go then to town at once; you can be back late at night, or at least
to-morrow. Anything better than wounding the pride of a woman on whom,
after all, you must depend for free and open intercourse with Helen.”

“That is exactly what I thought of; but what excuse--”

“Excuse,--a thousand! Every man coming of age into such a property has
business with his lawyers. Or why not say simply that you want to meet
a friend of yours who has just left your mother in Italy? In short, any
excuse suffices, and none can be offensive.”

“I will order my carriage instantly.”

“Right!” exclaimed Varney; and his eye followed the receding form of
Percival with a mixture of fierce exultation and anxious fear. Then,
turning towards the window of the turret-chamber in which Madame
Dalibard reposed, and seeing it still closed, he muttered an impatient
oath; but even while he did so, the shutters were slowly opened, and a
footman, stepping from the porch, approached Varney with a message that
Madame Dalibard would see him in five minutes, if he would then have the
goodness to ascend to her room.

Before that time was well expired, Varney was in the chamber. Madame
Dalibard was up and in her chair; and the unwonted joy which her
countenance evinced was in strong contrast with the sombre shade upon
her son-in-law’s brow, and the nervous quiver of his lip.

“Gabriel,” she said, as he drew near to her, “my son is found!”

“I know it,” he answered petulantly. “You! From whom?”

“From Grabman.”

“And I from a still better authority,--from Walter Ardworth himself. He
lives; he will restore my child!” She extended a letter while she spoke.
He, in return, gave her, not that still crumpled in his hand, but one
which he drew from his breast. These letters severally occupied both,
begun and finished almost in the same moment.

That from Grabman ran thus:--

DEAR JASON,--Toss up your hat and cry ‘hip, hip!’ At last, from person
to person, I have tracked the lost Vincent Braddell. He lives still! We
can maintain his identity in any court of law. Scarce in time for the
post, I have not a moment for further particulars. I shall employ the
next two days in reducing all the evidence to a regular digest, which I
will despatch to you. Meanwhile, prepare, as soon as may be, to put
me in possession of my fee,--5000 pounds; and my expedition merits
something more. Yours, NICHOLAS GRABMAN.

The letter from Ardworth was no less positive:--

MADAM,--In obedience to the commands of a dying friend, I took charge
of his infant and concealed its existence from his mother,--yourself.
On returning to England, I need not say that I was not unmindful of my
trust. Your son lives; and after mature reflection I have resolved to
restore him to your arms. In this I have been decided by what I have
heard, from one whom I can trust, of your altered habits, your decorous
life, your melancholy infirmities, and the generous protection you have
given to the orphan of my poor cousin Susan, my old friend Mainwaring.
Alfred Braddell himself, if it be permitted to him to look down and read
my motives, will pardon me, I venture to feel assured, this departure
from his injunctions. Whatever the faults which displeased him, they
have been amply chastised. And your son, grown to man, can no longer be
endangered by example, in tending the couch, or soothing the repentance
of his mother.

These words are severe; but you will pardon them in him who gives you
back your child. I shall venture to wait on you in person, with such
proofs as may satisfy you as to the identity of your son. I count on
arriving at Laughton to-morrow. Meanwhile, I simply sign myself by
a name in which you will recognize the kinsman to one branch of your
family, and the friend of your dead husband. J. WALTER ARDWORTH.

CRAVEN HOTEL, October, 1831.

“Well, and are you not rejoiced?” said Lucretia, gazing surprised on
Varney’s sullen and unsympathizing face.

“No! because time presses; because, even while discovering your son,
you may fail in securing his heritage; because, in the midst of your
triumph, I see Newgate opening to myself. Look you, I too have had my
news,--less pleasing than yours. This Stubmore (curse him!) writes me
word that he shall certainly be in town next month at farthest, and that
he meditates, immediately on his arrival, transferring the legacy from
the Bank of England to an excellent mortgage of which he has heard. Were
it not for this scheme of ours, nothing would be left for me but flight
and exile.”

“A month,--that is a long time. Do you think, now that my son is found,
and that son like John Ardworth (for there can be no doubt that my
surmise was right), with genius to make station the pedestal to
the power I dreamed of in my youth, but which my sex forbade me to
attain,--do you think I will keep him a month from his inheritance?
Before the month is out, you shall replace what you have taken, and
buy your trustee’s silence, if need be, either from the sums you have
insured, or from the rents of Laughton.”

“Lucretia,” said Varney, whose fresh colours had grown livid, “what is
to be done must be done at once. Percival St. John has heard from his
mother. Attend.” And Varney rapidly related the questions St. John had
put to him, the dreaded arrival of Captain Greville, the danger of
so keen an observer, the necessity, at all events, of abridging their
visit, the urgency of hastening the catastrophe to its close.

Lucretia listened in ominous and steadfast silence.

“But,” she said at last, “you have persuaded St. John to give this man
the meeting in London,--to put off his visit for the time. St. John will
return to us to-morrow. Well, and if he finds his Helen is no more! Two
nights ago I, for the first time, mingled in the morning draught that
which has no antidote and no cure. This night two drops more, and St.
John will return to find that Death is in the house before him. And
then for himself,--the sole remaining barrier between my son and this
inheritance,--for himself, why, grief sometimes kills suddenly; and
there be drugs whose effect simulates the death-stroke of grief.”

“Yet, yet, this rapidity, if necessary, is perilous. Nothing in Helen’s
state forbodes sudden death by natural means. The strangeness of two
deaths, both so young; Greville in England, if not here,--hastening down
to examine, to inquire. With such prepossessions against you, there must
be an inquest.”

“Well, and what can be discovered? It was I who shrank before,--it is
I who now urge despatch. I feel as in my proper home in these halls. I
would not leave them again but to my grave. I stand on the hearth of my
youth; I fight for my rights and my son’s! Perish those who oppose me!”

A fell energy and power were in the aspect of the murderess as she thus
spoke; and while her determination awed the inferior villany of Varney,
it served somewhat to mitigate his fears.

As in more detail they began to arrange their execrable plans, Percival,
while the horses were being harnessed to take him to the nearest
post-town, sought Helen, and found her in the little chamber which
he had described and appropriated as her own, when his fond fancy had
sketched the fair outline of the future.

This room had been originally fitted up for the private devotions of the
Roman Catholic wife of an ancestor in the reign of Charles II; and in
a recess, half veiled by a curtain, there still stood that holy symbol
which, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, no one sincerely penetrated
with the solemn pathos of sacred history can behold unmoved,--the Cross
of the Divine Agony. Before this holy symbol Helen stood in earnest
reverence. She did not kneel (for the forms of the religion in which
she had been reared were opposed to that posture of worship before the
graven image), but you could see in that countenance, eloquent at once
with the enthusiasm and the meekness of piety, that the soul was filled
with the memories and the hopes which, age after age, have consoled the
sufferer and inspired the martyr. The soul knelt to the idea, if the
knee bowed not to the image, embracing the tender grandeur of the
sacrifice and the vast inheritance opened to faith in the redemption.

The young man held his breath while he gazed. He was moved, and he was
awed. Slowly Helen turned towards him, and, smiling sweetly, held out
to him her hand. They seated themselves in silence in the depth of the
overhanging casement; and the mournful character of the scene without,
where dimly, through the misty rains, gloomed the dark foliage of the
cedars, made them insensibly draw closer to each other in the instinct
of love when the world frowns around it. Percival wanted the courage to
say that he had come to take farewell, though but for a day, and Helen
spoke first.

“I cannot guess why it is, Percival, but I am startled at the change I
feel in myself--no, not in health, dear Percival; I mean in mind--during
the last few months,--since, indeed, we have known each other. I
remember so well the morning in which my aunt’s letter arrived at the
dear vicarage. We were returning from the village fair, and my good
guardian was smiling at my notions of the world. I was then so giddy
and light and thoughtless, everything presented itself to me in such
gay colours, I scarcely believed in sorrow. And now I feel as if I were
awakened to a truer sense of nature,--of the ends of our being here; I
seem to know that life is a grave and solemn thing. Yet I am not less
happy, Percival. No, I think rather that I knew not true happiness till
I knew you. I have read somewhere that the slave is gay in his holiday
from toil; if you free him, if you educate him, the gayety vanishes,
and he cares no more for the dance under the palm-tree. But is he less
happy? So it is with me!”

“My sweet Helen, I would rather have one gay smile of old, the arch,
careless laugh which came so naturally from those rosy lips, than hear
you talk of happiness with that quiver in your voice,--those tears in
your eyes.”

“Yet gayety,” said Helen, thoughtfully, and in the strain of her pure,
truthful poetry of soul, “is only the light impression of the present
moment,--the play of the mere spirits; and happiness seems a forethought
of the future, spreading on, far and broad, over all time and space.”

“And you live, then, in the future at last; you have no misgivings now,
my Helen? Well, that comforts me. Say it, Helen,--say the future will be
ours!”

“It will, it will,--forever and forever,” said Helen, earnestly; and her
eyes involuntarily rested on the Cross.

In his younger spirit and less imaginative nature Percival did not
comprehend the depth of sadness implied in Helen’s answer; taking it
literally, he felt as if a load were lifted from his heart, and kissing
with rapture the hand he held, he exclaimed: “Yes, this shall soon, oh,
soon be mine! I fear nothing while you hope. You cannot guess how those
words have cheered me; for I am leaving you, though but for a few hours,
and I shall repeat those words, for they will ring in my ear, in my
heart, till we meet again.”

“Leaving me!” said Helen, turning pale, and her clasp on his hand
tightening. Poor child, she felt mysteriously a sentiment of protection
in his presence.

“But at most for a day. My old tutor, of whom we have so often
conversed, is on his way to England,--perhaps even now in London. He has
some wrong impressions against your aunt; his manner is blunt and rough.
It is necessary that I should see him before he comes hither,--you know
how susceptible is your aunt’s pride,--just to prepare him for meeting
her. You understand?”

“What impressions against my aunt? Does he even know her?” asked Helen.
And if such a sentiment as suspicion could cross that candid innocence
of mind, that sentiment towards this stern relation whose arms had never
embraced her, whose lips had never spoken of the past, whose history was
as a sealed volume, disturbed and disquieted her.

“It is because he has never known her that he does her wrong. Some old
story of her indiscretion as a girl, of her uncle’s displeasure,--what
matters now?” said Percival, shrinking sensitively from one disclosure
that might wound Helen in her kinswoman. “Meanwhile, dearest, you will
be prudent,--you will avoid this damp air, and keep quietly at home, and
amuse yourself, sweet fancier of the future, in planning how to improve
these old halls when they and their unworthy master are your own. God
bless you, God guard you, Helen!”

He rose, and with that loyal chivalry of love which felt respect the
more for the careless guardianship to which his Helen was intrusted, he
refrained from that parting kiss which their pure courtship warranted,
for which his lip yearned. But as he lingered, an irresistible impulse
moved Helen’s heart. Mechanically she opened her arms, and her head sank
upon his shoulder. In that embrace they remained some moments silent,
and an angel might unreprovingly have heard their hearts beat through
the stillness.

At length Percival tore himself from those arms which relaxed their
imploring hold reluctantly; she heard his hurried step descend the
stairs, and in a moment more the roll of the wheels in the court
without; a dreary sense, as of some utter desertion, some everlasting
bereavement, chilled and appalled her. She stood motionless, as if
turned to stone, on the floor; suddenly the touch of something warm on
her hand, a plaining whine, awoke her attention; Percival’s favourite
dog missed his master, and had slunk for refuge to her. The dread
sentiment of loneliness vanished in that humble companionship; and
seating herself on the ground, she took the dog in her arms, and bending
over it, wept in silence.



CHAPTER XXIV. MURDER, TOWARDS HIS DESIGN, MOVES LIKE A GHOST.

The reader will doubtless have observed the consummate art with which
the poisoner had hitherto advanced upon her prey. The design conceived
from afar, and executed with elaborate stealth, defied every chance of
detection against which the ingenuity of practised villany could guard.
Grant even that the deadly drugs should betray the nature of the death
they inflicted, that by some unconjectured secret in the science of
chemistry the presence of those vegetable compounds which had hitherto
baffled every known and positive test in the posthumous examination of
the most experienced surgeons, should be clearly ascertained, not
one suspicion seemed likely to fall upon the ministrant of death. The
medicines were never brought to Madame Dalibard, were never given by her
hand; nothing ever tasted by the victim could be tracked to her aunt.
The helpless condition of the cripple, which Lucretia had assumed,
forbade all notion even of her power of movement. Only in the dead of
night when, as she believed, every human eye that could watch her was
sealed in sleep, and then in those dark habiliments which (even as might
sometimes happen, if the victim herself were awake) a chance ray of
light struggling through chink or shutter could scarcely distinguish
from the general gloom, did she steal to the chamber and infuse the
colourless and tasteless liquid [The celebrated acqua di Tufania
(Tufania water) was wholly without taste or colour] in the morning
draught, meant to bring strength and healing. Grant that the draught was
untouched, that it was examined by the surgeon, that the fell admixture
could be detected, suspicion would wander anywhere rather than to that
crippled and helpless kinswoman who could not rise from her bed without
aid.

But now this patience was to be abandoned, the folds of the serpent were
to coil in one fell clasp upon its prey.

Fiend as Lucretia had become, and hardened as were all her resolves
by the discovery of her son, and her impatience to endow him with her
forfeited inheritance, she yet shrank from the face of Helen that day;
on the excuse of illness, she kept her room, and admitted only
Varney, who stole in from time to time, with creeping step and haggard
countenance, to sustain her courage or his own. And every time he
entered, he found Lucretia sitting with Walter Ardworth’s open letter in
her hand, and turning with a preternatural excitement that seemed
almost like aberration of mind, from the grim and horrid topic which
he invited, to thoughts of wealth and power and triumph and exulting
prophecies of the fame her son should achieve. He looked but on the
blackness of the gulf, and shuddered; her vision overleaped it, and
smiled on the misty palaces her fancy built beyond.

Late in the evening, before she retired to rest, Helen knocked gently at
her aunt’s door. A voice, quick and startled, bade her enter; she came
in, with her sweet, caressing look, and took Lucretia’s hand, which
struggled from the clasp. Bending over that haggard brow, she said
simply, yet to Lucretia’s ear the voice seemed that of command, “Let
me kiss you this night!” and her lips pressed that brow. The murderess
shuddered, and closed her eyes; when she opened them, the angel visitor
was gone.

Night deepened and deepened into those hours from the first of which
we number the morn, though night still is at her full. Moonbeam and
starbeam came through the casements shyly and fairylike as on that
night when the murderess was young and crimeless, in deed, if not in
thought,--that night when, in the book of Leechcraft, she meted out the
hours in which the life of her benefactor might still interpose between
her passion and its end. Along the stairs, through the hall, marched the
armies of light, noiseless and still and clear as the judgments of
God amidst the darkness and shadow of mortal destinies. In one chamber
alone, the folds, curtained close, forbade all but a single ray; that
ray came direct as the stream from a lantern; as the beam reflected back
from an eye,--as an eye it seemed watchful and steadfast through the
dark; it shot along the floor,--it fell at the foot of the bed.

Suddenly, in the exceeding hush, there was a strange and ghastly
sound,--it was the howl of a dog! Helen started from her sleep.
Percival’s dog had followed her into her room; it had coiled itself,
grateful for the kindness, at the foot of the bed. Now it was on the
pillow, she felt its heart beat against her hand,--it was trembling; its
hairs bristled up, and the howl changed into a shrill bark of terror and
wrath. Alarmed, she looked round; quickly between her and that ray
from the crevice a shapeless darkness passed, and was gone, so
undistinguishable, so without outline, that it had no likeness of any
living form; like a cloud, like a thought, like an omen, it came in
gloom, and it vanished.

Helen was seized with a superstitious terror; the dog continued to
tremble and growl low. All once more was still; the dog sighed itself
to rest. The stillness, the solitude, the glimmer of the moon,--all
contributed yet more to appall the enfeebled nerves of the listening,
shrinking girl. At length she buried her face under the clothes, and
towards daybreak fell into a broken, feverish sleep, haunted with
threatening dreams.



CHAPTER XXV. THE MESSENGER SPEEDS.

Towards the afternoon of the following day, an elderly gentleman was
seated in the coffee-room of an hotel at Southampton, engaged in writing
a letter, while the waiter in attendance was employed on the wires
that fettered the petulant spirit contained in a bottle of Schweppe’s
soda-water. There was something in the aspect of the old gentleman, and
in the very tone of his voice, that inspired respect, and the waiter had
cleared the other tables of their latest newspapers to place before
him. He had only just arrived by the packet from Havre, and even the
newspapers had not been to him that primary attraction they generally
constitute to the Englishman returning to his bustling native land,
which, somewhat to his surprise, has contrived to go on tolerably well
during his absence.

We use our privilege of looking over his shoulder while he writes:--

Here I am, then, dear Lady Mary, at Southampton, and within an easy
drive of the old Hall. A file of Galignani’s journals, which I found on
the road between Marseilles and Paris, informed me, under the head of
“fashionable movements,” that Percival St. John, Esquire, was gone to
his seat at Laughton. According to my customary tactics of marching at
once to the seat of action, I therefore made direct for Havre, instead
of crossing from Calais, and I suppose I shall find our young gentleman
engaged in the slaughter of hares and partridges. You see it is a good
sign that he can leave London. Keep up your spirits, my dear friend. If
Perce has been really duped and taken in,--as all you mothers are so apt
to fancy,--rely upon an old soldier to defeat the enemy and expose
the ruse. But if, after all, the girl is such as he describes and
believes,--innocent, artless, and worthy his affection,--oh, then I
range myself, with your own good heart, upon his side. Never will I
run the risk of unsettling a man’s whole character for life by wantonly
interfering with his affections. But there we are agreed.

In a few hours I shall be with our dear boy, and his whole heart
will come out clear and candid as when it beat under his midshipman’s
true-blue. In a day or two I shall make him take me to town, to
introduce me to the whole nest of them. Then I shall report progress.
Adieu, till then! Kind regards to your poor sister. I think we shall
have a mild winter. Not one warning twinge as yet of the old rheumatism.
Ever your devoted old friend and preux chevalier,

H. GREVILLE.

The captain had completed his letter, sipped his soda-water, and was
affixing to his communication his seal, when he heard the rattle of a
post-chaise without. Fancying it was the one he had ordered, he went
to the open window which looked on the street; but the chaise contained
travellers, only halting to change horses. Somewhat to his surprise,
and a little to his chagrin,--for the captain did not count on finding
company at the Hall,--he heard one of the travellers in the chaise ask
the distance to Laughton. The countenance of the questioner was
not familiar to him. But leaving the worthy captain to question the
landlord, without any satisfactory information, and to hasten the chaise
for himself, we accompany the travellers on their way to Laughton. There
were but two,--the proper complement of a post-chaise,--and they were
both of the ruder sex. The elder of the two was a man of middle age, but
whom the wear and tear of active life had evidently advanced towards the
state called elderly. But there was still abundant life in his quick,
dark eye; and that mercurial youthfulness of character which in some
happy constitutions seems to defy years and sorrow, evinced itself in
a rapid play of countenance and as much gesticulation as the narrow
confines of the vehicle and the position of a traveller will permit. The
younger man, far more grave in aspect and quiet in manner, leaned back
in the corner with folded arms, and listened with respectful attention
to his companion.

“Certainly, Dr. Johnson is right,--great happiness in an English
post-chaise properly driven; more exhilarating than a palanquin. ‘Post
equitem sedet atra cura,’--true only of such scrubby hacks as old Horace
could have known. Black Care does not sit behind English posters, eh,
my boy?” As he spoke this, the gentleman had twice let down the glass of
the vehicle, and twice put it up again.

“Yet,” he resumed, without noticing the brief, good-humoured reply of
his companion,--“yet this is an anxious business enough that we are
about. I don’t feel quite easy in my conscience. Poor Braddell’s
injunctions were very strict, and I disobey them. It is on your
responsibility, John!”

“I take it without hesitation. All the motives for so stern a severance
must have ceased, and is it not a sufficient punishment to find in that
hoped-for son a--”

“Poor woman!” interrupted the elder gentleman, in whom we begin to
recognize the soi-disant Mr. Tomkins; “true, indeed, too true. How well
I remember the impression Lucretia Clavering first produced on me; and
to think of her now as a miserable cripple! By Jove, you are right, sir!
Drive on, post-boy, quick, quick!”

There was a short silence.

The elder gentleman abruptly put his hand upon his companion’s arm.

“What consummate acuteness; what patient research you have shown! What
could I have done in this business without you? How often had that
garrulous Mrs. Mivers bored me with Becky Carruthers, and the coral, and
St. Paul’s, and not a suspicion came across me,--a word was sufficient
for you. And then to track this unfeeling old Joplin from place to
place till you find her absolutely a servant under the very roof of Mrs.
Braddell herself! Wonderful! Ah, boy, you will be an honour to the law
and to your country. And what a hard-hearted rascal you must think me to
have deserted you so long.”

“My dear father,” said John Ardworth, tenderly, “your love now
recompenses me for all. And ought I not rather to rejoice not to have
known the tale of a mother’s shame until I could half forget it on a
father’s breast?”

“John,” said the elder Ardworth, with a choking voice, “I ought to wear
sackcloth all my life for having given you such a mother. When I think
what I have suffered from the habit of carelessness in those confounded
money-matters [‘irritamenta malorum,’ indeed!), I have only one
consolation,--that my patient, noble son is free from my vice. You would
not believe what a well-principled, honourable fellow I was at your age;
and yet, how truly I said to my poor friend William Mainwaring one
day at Laughton (I remember it now) ‘Trust me with anything else but
half-a-guinea!’ Why, sir, it was that fault that threw me into low
company,--that brought me in contact with my innkeeper’s daughter at
Limerick. I fell in love, and I married (for, with all my faults, I was
never a seducer, John). I did not own my marriage; why should I?--my
relatives had cut me already. You were born, and, hunted poor devil as
I was, I forgot all by your cradle. Then, in the midst of my troubles,
that ungrateful woman deserted me; then I was led to believe that it was
not my own son whom I had kissed and blessed. Ah, but for that thought
should I have left you as I did? And even in infancy, you had the
features only of your mother. Then, when the death of the adulteress
set me free, and years afterwards, in India, I married again and had
new ties, my heart grew still harder to you. I excused myself by knowing
that at least you were cared for, and trained to good by a better
guide than I. But when, by so strange a hazard, the very priest who
had confessed your mother on her deathbed (she was a Catholic) came
to India, and (for he had known me at Limerick) recognized my altered
person, and obeying his penitent’s last injunctions, assured me that you
were my son,--oh, John, then, believe me, I hastened back to England
on the wings of remorse! Love you, boy! I have left at Madras three
children, young and fair, by a woman now in heaven, who never wronged
me, and, by my soul, John Ardworth, you are dearer to me than all!”

The father’s head drooped on his son’s breast as he spoke; then, dashing
away his tears, he resumed,--

“Ah, why would not Braddell permit me, as I proposed, to find for his
son the same guardianship as that to which I intrusted my own? But his
bigotry besotted him; a clergyman of the High Church,--that was worse
than an atheist. I had no choice left to me but the roof of that
she-hypocrite. Yet I ought to have come to England when I heard of
the child’s loss, braved duns and all; but I was money-making,
money-making,--retribution for money-wasting; and--well, it’s no use
repenting! And--and there is the lodge, the park, the old trees! Poor
Sir Miles!”



CHAPTER XXVI. THE SPY FLIES.

Meanwhile at Laughton there was confusion and alarm. Helen had found
herself more than usually unwell in the morning; towards noon, the maid
who attended her informed Madame Dalibard that she was afraid the poor
young lady had much fever, and inquired if the doctor should be sent
for. Madame Dalibard seemed surprised at the intelligence, and directed
her chair to be wheeled into her niece’s room, in order herself to judge
of Helen’s state. The maid, sure that the doctor would be summoned,
hastened to the stables, and seeing Beck, instructed him to saddle one
of the horses and to await further orders. Beck kept her a few moments
talking while he saddled his horse, and then followed her into the
house, observing that it would save time if he were close at hand.

“That is quite true,” said the maid, “and you may as well wait in the
corridor. Madame may wish to speak to you herself, and give you her own
message or note to the doctor.”

Beck, full of gloomy suspicions, gladly obeyed, and while the maid
entered the sick-chamber, stood anxiously without. Presently Varney
passed him, and knocked at Helen’s door; the maid half-opened it.

“How is Miss Mainwaring?” said he, eagerly.

“I fear she is worse, sir; but Madame Dalibard does not think there is
any danger.”

“No danger! I am glad; but pray ask Madame Dalibard to let me see her
for a few moments in her own room. If she come out, I will wheel her
chair to it. Whether there is danger or not, we had better send for
other advice than this country doctor, who has perhaps mistaken the
case; tell her I am very uneasy, and beg her to join me immediately.”

“I think you are quite right, sir,” said the maid, closing the door.

Varney then, turning round for the first time, noticed Beck, and said
roughly,--

“What do you do here? Wait below till you are sent for.”

Beck pulled his forelock, and retreated back, not in the direction of
the principal staircase, but towards that used by the servants, and
which his researches into the topography of the mansion had now made
known to him. To gain these back stairs he had to pass Lucretia’s room;
the door stood ajar; Varney’s face was turned from him. Beck breathed
hard, looked round, then crept within, and in a moment was behind the
folds of the tapestry.

Soon the chair in which sat Madame Dalibard was drawn by Varney himself
into the room.

Shutting the door with care, and turning the key, Gabriel said, with
low, suppressed passion,--

“Well; your mind seems wandering,--speak!”

“It is strange,” said Lucretia, in hollow tones, “can Nature turn
accomplice, and befriend us here?”

“Nature! did you not last night administer the--”

“No,” interrupted Lucretia. “No; she came into the room, she kissed
me here,--on the brow that even then was meditating murder. The kiss
burned; it burns still,--it eats into the brain like remorse. But I did
not yield; I read again her false father’s protestation of love; I read
again the letter announcing the discovery of my son, and remorse lay
still. I went forth as before, I stole into her chamber, I had the fatal
crystal in my hand--”

“Well, well!”

“And suddenly there came the fearful howl of a dog, and the dog’s fierce
eyes glared on me. I paused, I trembled; Helen started, woke, called
aloud. I turned and fled. The poison was not given.”

Varney ground his teeth. “But this illness! Ha! the effect, perhaps, of
the drops administered two nights ago.”

“No; this illness has no symptoms like those the poison should
bequeath,--it is but natural fever, a shock on the nerves; she told me
she had been wakened by the dog’s howl, and seen a dark form, like a
thing from the grave, creeping along the floor. But she is really ill;
send for the physician; there is nothing in her illness to betray the
hand of man. Be it as it may,--that kiss still burns; I will stir in
this no more. Do what you will yourself!”

“Fool, fool!” exclaimed Varney, almost rudely grasping her arm.
“Remember how much we have yet to prepare for, how much to do,--and the
time so short! Percival’s return,--perhaps this Greville’s arrival. Give
me the drugs; I will mix them for her in the potion the physician sends.
And when Percival returns,--his Helen dead or dying,--I will attend on
him! Silent still? Recall your son! Soon you will clasp him in your arms
as a beggar, or as the lord of Laughton!”

Lucretia shuddered, but did not rise; she drew forth a ring of keys from
her bosom, and pointed towards a secretary. Varney snatched the keys,
unlocked the secretary, seized the fatal casket, and sat down quietly
before it.

When the dire selections were made, and secreted about his person,
Varney rose, approached the fire, and blew the wood embers to a blaze.

“And now,” he said, with his icy irony of smile, “we may dismiss
these useful instruments,--perhaps forever. Though Walter Ardworth, in
restoring your son, leaves us dependent on that son’s filial affection,
and I may have, therefore, little to hope for from the succession, to
secure which I have risked and am again to risk my life, I yet trust to
that influence which you never fail to obtain over others. I take it for
granted that when these halls are Vincent Braddell’s, we shall have
no need of gold, nor of these pale alchemies. Perish, then, the mute
witnesses of our acts, the elements we have bowed to our will! No poison
shall be found in our hoards! Fire, consume your consuming children!”

As he spoke, he threw upon the hearth the contents of the casket,
and set his heel upon the logs. A bluish flame shot up, breaking into
countless sparks, and then died.

Lucretia watched him without speaking.

In coming back towards the table, Varney felt something hard beneath
his tread; he stooped, and picked up the ring which has before been
described as amongst the ghastly treasures of the casket, and which had
rolled on the floor almost to Lucretia’s feet, as he had emptied the
contents on the hearth.

“This, at least, need tell no tales,” said he; “a pity to destroy so
rare a piece of workmanship,--one, too, which we never can replace!”

“Ay,” said Lucretia, abstractedly; “and if detection comes, it may
secure a refuge from the gibbet. Give me the ring.”

“A refuge more terrible than the detection,” said Varney,--“beware of
such a thought,” as Lucretia, taking it from his hand, placed the ring
on her finger.

“And now I leave you for a while to recollect yourself,--to compose your
countenance and your thoughts. I will send for the physician.”

Lucretia, with her eyes fixed on the floor, did not heed him, and he
withdrew.

So motionless was her attitude, so still her very breathing, that the
unseen witness behind the tapestry, who, while struck with horror at
what he had overheard (the general purport of which it was impossible
that he could misunderstand), was parched with impatience to escape to
rescue his beloved master from his impending fate, and warn him of the
fate hovering nearer still over Helen, ventured to creep along the wall
to the threshold, to peer forth from the arras, and seeing her eyes
still downcast, to emerge, and place his hand on the door. At that very
moment Lucretia looked up, and saw him gliding from the tapestry; their
eyes met: his were fascinated as the bird’s by the snake’s. At the
sight, all her craft, her intellect, returned. With a glance, she
comprehended the terrible danger that awaited her. Before he was aware
of her movement, she was at his side; her hand on his own, her voice in
his ear.

“Stir not a step, utter not a sound, or you are--”

Beck did not suffer her to proceed. With the violence rather of fear
than of courage, he struck her to the ground; but she clung to him
still, and though rendered for the moment speechless by the suddenness
of the blow, her eyes took an expression of unspeakable cruelty and
fierceness. He struggled with all his might to shake her off; as he did
so, she placed feebly her other hand upon the wrist of the lifted arm
that had smitten her, and he felt a sharp pain, as if the nails had
fastened into the flesh. This but exasperated him to new efforts. He
extricated himself from her grasp, which relaxed as her lips writhed
into a smile of scorn and triumph, and, spurning her while she lay
before the threshold, he opened the door, sprang forward, and escaped.
No thought had he of tarrying in that House of Pelops, those human
shambles, of denouncing Murder in its lair; to fly to reach his master,
warn, and shield him,--that was the sole thought which crossed his
confused, bewildered brain.

It might be from four to five minutes that Lucretia, half-stunned,
half-senseless, lay upon those floors,--for besides the violence of her
fall, the shock of the struggle upon nerves weakened by the agony
of apprehension, occasioned by the imminent and unforeseen chance of
detection, paralyzed her wondrous vigour of mind and frame,--when Varney
entered.

“They tell me she sleeps,” he said, in hoarse, muttered accents, before
he saw the prostrate form at his very feet. But Varney’s step, Varney’s
voice, had awakened Lucretia’s reason to consciousness and the sense
of peril. Rising, though with effort, she related hurriedly what had
passed.

“Fly, fly!” she gasped, as she concluded. “Fly, to detain, to secrete,
this man somewhere for the next few hours. Silence him but till then;
I have done the rest!” and her finger pointed to the fatal ring. Varney
waited for no further words; he hurried out, and made at once to the
stables: his shrewdness conjectured that Beck would carry his tale
elsewhere. The groom was already gone (his fellows said) without a word,
but towards the lodge that led to the Southampton road. Varney ordered
the swiftest horse the stables held to be saddled, and said, as he
sprang on his back,--

“I, too, must go towards Southampton. The poor young lady! I must
prepare your master,--he is on his road back to us;” and the last word
was scarce out of his lips as the sparks flew from the flints under the
horse’s hoofs, and he spurred from the yard.

As he rode at full speed through the park, the villain’s mind sped more
rapidly than the animal he bestrode,--sped from fear to hope, hope
to assurance. Grant that the spy lived to tell his tale,--incoherent,
improbable as the tale would be,--who would believe it? How easy to
meet tale by tale! The man must own that he was secreted behind the
tapestry,--wherefore but to rob? Detected by Madame Dalibard, he had
coined this wretched fable. And the spy, too, could not live through the
day; he bore Death with him as he rode, he fed its force by his speed,
and the effects of the venom itself would be those of frenzy. Tush! his
tale, at best, would seem but the ravings of delirium. Still, it was
well to track him where he went,--delay him, if possible; and Varney’s
spurs plunged deep and deeper into the bleeding flanks: on desperately
scoured the horse. He passed the lodge; he was on the road; a chaise and
pair dashed by him; he heard not a voice exclaim “Varney!” he saw not
the wondering face of John Ardworth; bending over the tossing mane, he
was deaf, he was blind, to all without and around. A milestone glides
by, another, and a third. Ha! his eyes can see now. The object of his
chase is before him,--he views distinctly, on the brow of yon hill, the
horse and the rider, spurring fast, like himself. They descend the
hill, horse and horseman, and are snatched from his sight. Up the steep
strains the pursuer. He is at the summit. He sees the fugitive before
him, almost within hearing. Beck has slackened his steed; he seems
swaying to and fro in the saddle. Ho, ho! the barbed ring begins to work
in his veins. Varney looks round,--not another soul is in sight; a deep
wood skirts the road. Place and time seem to favour; Beck has reined in
his horse,--he bends low over the saddle, as if about to fall. Varney
utters a half-suppressed cry of triumph, shakes his reins, and spurs
on, when suddenly--by the curve of the road, hid before--another chaise
comes in sight, close where Beck had wearily halted.

The chaise stops; Varney pulls in, and draws aside to the hedgerow. Some
one within the vehicle is speaking to the fugitive! May it not be
St. John himself? To his rage and his terror, he sees Beck painfully
dismount from his horse, sees him totter to the door of the chaise, sees
a servant leap from the box and help him up the step, sees him enter. It
must be Percival on his return,--Percival, to whom he tells that story
of horror! Varney’s brute-like courage forsook him; his heart was
appalled. In one of those panics so common with that boldness which
is but animal, his sole thought became that of escape. He turned his
horse’s head to the fence, forced his way desperately through the
barrier, made into the wood, and sat there, cowering and listening, till
in another minute he heard the wheels rattle on, and the horses gallop
hard down the hill towards the park.

The autumn wind swept through the trees, it shook the branches of the
lofty ash that overhung the Accursed One. What observer of Nature knows
not that peculiar sound which the ash gives forth in the blast? Not
the solemn groan of the oak, not the hollow murmur of the beech, but
a shrill wail, a shriek as of a human voice in sharp anguish. Varney
shuddered, as if he had heard the death-cry of his intended victim.
Through briers and thickets, torn by the thorns, bruised by the boughs,
he plunged deeper and deeper into the wood, gained at length the main
path cut through it, found himself in a lane, and rode on, careless
whither, till he had reached a small town, about ten miles from
Laughton, where he resolved to wait till his nerves had recovered their
tone, and he could more calmly calculate the chances of safety.



CHAPTER XXVII. LUCRETIA REGAINS HER SON.

It seemed as if now, when danger became most imminent and present, that
that very danger served to restore to Lucretia Dalibard her faculties,
which during the earlier day had been steeped in a kind of dreary
stupor. The absolute necessity of playing out her execrable part with
all suitable and consistent hypocrisy, braced her into iron. But the
disguise she assumed was a supernatural effort, it stretched to cracking
every fibre of the brain; it seemed almost to herself as if, her object
once gained, either life or consciousness could hold out no more.

A chaise stopped at the porch; two gentlemen descended. The elder paused
irresolutely, and at length, taking out a card, inscribed “Mr. Walter
Ardworth,” said, “If Madame Dalibard can be spoken to for a moment, will
you give her this card?”

The footman hesitatingly stared at the card, and then invited the
gentleman into the hall while he took up the message. Not long had the
visitor to wait, pacing the dark oak floors and gazing on the faded
banners, before the servant reappeared: Madame Dalibard would see him.
He followed his guide up the stairs, while his young companion turned
from the hall, and seated himself musingly on one of the benches on the
deserted terrace.

Grasping the arms of her chair with both hands, her eyes fixed eagerly
on his face, Lucretia Dalibard awaited the welcome visitor.

Prepared as he had been for change, Walter was startled by the ghastly
alteration in Lucretia’s features, increased as it was at that moment by
all the emotions which raged within. He sank into the chair placed for
him opposite Lucretia, and clearing his throat, said falteringly,--

“I grieve indeed, Madame, that my visit, intended to bring but joy,
should chance thus inopportunely. The servant informed me as we came up
the stairs that your niece was ill; and I sympathize with your natural
anxiety,--Susan’s only child, too; poor Susan!”

“Sir,” said Lucretia, impatiently, “these moments are precious. Sir,
sir, my son,--my son!” and her eyes glanced to the door. “You have
brought with you a companion,--does he wait without? My son!”

“Madame, give me a moment’s patience. I will be brief, and compress what
in other moments might be a long narrative into a few sentences.”

Rapidly then Walter Ardworth passed over the details, unnecessary now to
repeat to the reader,--the injunctions of Braddell, the delivery of the
child to the woman selected by his fellow-sectarian (who, it seemed, by
John Ardworth’s recent inquiries, was afterwards expelled the community,
and who, there was reason to believe, had been the first seducer of the
woman thus recommended). No clew to the child’s parentage had been given
to the woman with the sum intrusted for his maintenance, which sum had
perhaps been the main cause of her reckless progress to infamy and ruin.
The narrator passed lightly over the neglect and cruelty of the
nurse, to her abandonment of the child when the money was exhausted.
Fortunately she had overlooked the coral round its neck. By that coral,
and by the initials V. B., which Ardworth had had the precaution to have
burned into the child’s wrist, the lost son had been discovered; the
nurse herself (found in the person of Martha Skeggs, Lucretia’s own
servant) had been confronted with the woman to whom she gave the child,
and recognized at once. Nor had it been difficult to obtain from her the
confession which completed the evidence.

“In this discovery,” concluded Ardworth, “the person I employed met your
own agent, and the last links in the chain they traced together. But to
that person--to his zeal and intelligence--you owe the happiness I
trust to give you. He sympathized with me the more that he knew you
personally, felt for your sorrows, and had a lingering belief that you
supposed him to be the child you yearned for. Madame, thank my son for
the restoration of your own!”

Without sound, Lucretia had listened to these details, though her
countenance changed fearfully as the narrator proceeded. But now she
groaned aloud and in agony.

“Nay, Madame,” said Ardworth, feelingly, and in some surprise, “surely
the discovery of your son should create gladder emotions! Though,
indeed, you will be prepared to find that the poor youth so reared wants
education and refinement, I have heard enough to convince me that his
dispositions are good and his heart grateful. Judge of this yourself; he
is in these walls, he is--”

“Abandoned by a harlot,--reared by a beggar! My son!” interrupted
Lucretia, in broken sentences. “Well, sir, have you discharged your
task! Well have you replaced a mother!” Before Ardworth could reply,
loud and rapid steps were heard in the corridor, and a voice, cracked,
indistinct, but vehement. The door was thrown open, and, half-supported
by Captain Greville, half dragging him along, his features convulsed,
whether by pain or passion, the spy upon Lucretia’s secrets, the
denouncer of her crime, tottered to the threshold. Pointing to where she
sat with his long, lean arm, Beck exclaimed, “Seize her! I ‘cuse her,
face to face, of the murder of her niece,--of--of I told you, sir--I
told you--”

“Madame,” said Captain Greville, “you stand charged by this witness
with the most terrible of human crimes. I judge you not. Your niece,
I rejoice to bear, yet lives. Pray God that her death be not traced
to those kindred hands!” Turning her eyes from one to the other with a
wandering stare, Lucretia Dalibard remained silent. But there was still
scorn on her lip, and defiance on her brow. At last she said slowly, and
to Ardworth,--

“Where is my son? You say he is within these walls. Call him forth to
protect his mother! Give me at least my son,--my son!”

Her last words were drowned by a fresh burst of fury from her denouncer.
In all the coarsest invective his education could supply, in all
the hideous vulgarities of his untutored dialect, in that uncurbed
licentiousness of tone, look, and manner which passion, once aroused,
gives to the dregs and scum of the populace, Beck poured forth his
frightful charges, his frantic execrations. In vain Captain Greville
strove to check him; in vain Walter Ardworth sought to draw him from
the room. But while the poor wretch--maddening not more with the
consciousness of the crime than with the excitement of the poison in
his blood--thus raved and stormed, a terrible suspicion crossed Walter
Ardworth; mechanically,--as his grasp was on the accuser’s arm,--he
bared the sleeve, and on the wrist were the dark-blue letters burned
into the skin and bearing witness to his identity with the lost Vincent
Braddell.

“Hold, hold!” he exclaimed then; “hold, unhappy man!--it is your mother
whom you denounce!”

Lucretia sprang up erect; her eyes seemed starting from her head. She
caught at the arm pointed towards her in wrath and menace, and there,
amidst those letters that proclaimed her son, was the small puncture,
surrounded by a livid circle, that announced her victim. In the same
instant she discovered her child in the man who was calling down upon
her head the hatred of Earth and the justice of Heaven, and knew herself
his murderess!

She dropped the arm, and sank back on the chair; and whether the poison
had now reached to the vitals, or whether so unwonted a passion in so
frail a frame sufficed for the death-stroke, Beck himself, with a low,
suffocated cry, slid from the hand of Ardworth, and tottering a step
or so, the blood gushed from his mouth over Lucretia’s robe; his head
drooped an instant, and, falling, rested first upon her lap, then struck
heavily upon the floor. The two men bent over him and raised him in
their arms; his eyes opened and closed, his throat rattled, and as he
fell back into their arms a corpse, a laugh rose close at hand,--it rang
through the walls, it was heard near and afar, above and below; not an
ear in that house that heard it not. In that laugh fled forever, till
the Judgment-day, from the blackened ruins of her lost soul, the reason
of the murderess-mother.



CHAPTER XXVIII. THE LOTS VANISH WITHIN THE URN.

Varney’s self-commune restored to him his constitutional audacity. He
returned to Laughton towards the evening, and held a long conference
with Greville. Fortunately for him, perhaps, and happily for all, Helen
had lost all more dangerous symptoms; and the physician, who was in
the house, saw in her state nothing not easily to be accounted for by
natural causes. Percival had arrived, had seen Helen,--no wonder she
was better! Both from him and from Helen, Madame Dalibard’s fearful
condition was for the present concealed. Ardworth’s story, and the fact
of Beck’s identity with Vincent Braddell, were also reserved for a later
occasion. The tale which Beck had poured into the ear of Greville (when,
recognizing the St. John livery, the captain stopped his chaise to
inquire if Percival were at the Hall, and when thrilled by the hideous
import of his broken reply, that gentleman had caused him to enter the
vehicle to explain himself further), Varney, with his wonted art and
address, contrived to strip of all probable semblance. Evidently the
poor lad had been already delirious; his story must be deemed the
nightmare of his disordered reason. Varney insisted upon surgical
examination as to the cause of his death. The membranes of the
brain were found surcharged with blood, as in cases of great mental
excitement; the slight puncture in the wrist, ascribed to the prick of
a rusty nail, provoked no suspicion. If some doubts remained still in
Greville’s acute mind, he was not eager to express, still less to
act upon them. Helen was declared to be out of danger; Percival was
safe,--why affix by minute inquiry into the alleged guilt of Madame
Dalibard (already so awfully affected by the death of her son and by the
loss of her reason) so foul a stain on the honoured family of St. John?
But Greville was naturally anxious to free the house as soon as possible
both of Varney and that ominous Lucretia, whose sojourn under its roof
seemed accursed. He therefore readily assented when Varney proposed, as
his obvious and personal duty, to take charge of his mother-in-law, and
remove her to London for immediate advice.

At the dead of the black-clouded night, no moon and no stars, the son
of Olivier Dalibard bore away the form of the once-formidable
Lucretia,--the form, for the mind was gone; that teeming, restless,
and fertile intellect, which had carried along the projects with the
preterhuman energies of the fiend, was hurled into night and chaos.
Manacled and bound, for at times her paroxysms were terrible, and all
partook of the destructive and murderous character which her faculties,
when present, had betrayed, she was placed in the vehicle by the
shrinking side of her accomplice.

Long before he arrived in London, Varney had got rid of his fearful
companion. His chaise had stopped at the iron gates of a large building
somewhat out of the main road, and the doors of the madhouse closed on
Lucretia Dalibard.

Varney then hastened to Dover, with intention of flight into France; he
was just about to step into the vessel, when he was tapped rudely on the
shoulder, and a determined voice said, “Mr. Gabriel Varney, you are my
prisoner!”

“For what? Some paltry debt?” said Varney, haughtily.

“For forgery on the Bank of England!”

Varney’s hand plunged into his vest. The officer seized it in time, and
wrested the blade from his grasp. Once arrested for an offence it
was impossible to disprove, although the very smallest of which his
conscience might charge him, Varney sank into the blackest despair.
Though he had often boasted, not only to others, but to his own vain
breast, of the easy courage with which, when life ceased to yield
enjoyment, he could dismiss it by the act of his own will; though he had
possessed himself of Lucretia’s murderous ring, and death, if fearful,
was therefore at his command,--self-destruction was the last thought
that occurred to him; that morbid excitability of fancy which, whether
in his art or in his deeds, had led him to strange delight in horror,
now served but to haunt him with the images of death in those ghastliest
shapes familiar to them who look only into the bottom of the charnel,
and see but the rat and the worm and the loathsome agencies of
corruption. It was not the despair of conscience that seized him, it was
the abject clinging to life; not the remorse of the soul,--that still
slept within him, too noble an agency for one so debased,--but the
gross physical terror. As the fear of the tiger, once aroused, is more
paralyzing than that of the deer, proportioned to the savageness of a
disposition to which fear is a novelty, so the very boldness of Varney,
coming only from the perfection of the nervous organization, and
unsupported by one moral sentiment, once struck down, was corrupted into
the vilest cowardice. With his audacity, his shrewdness forsook him.
Advised by his lawyer to plead guilty, he obeyed, and the sentence of
transportation for life gave him at first a feeling of reprieve; but
when his imagination began to picture, in the darkness of his cell,
all the true tortures of that penalty,--not so much, perhaps, to the
uneducated peasant-felon, inured to toil, and familiarized with
coarse companionship, as to one pampered like himself by all soft and
half-womanly indulgences,--the shaven hair, the convict’s dress, the
rigorous privation, the drudging toil, the exile, seemed as grim as the
grave. In the dotage of faculties smitten into drivelling, he wrote to
the Home Office, offering to disclose secrets connected with crimes that
had hitherto escaped or baffled justice, on condition that his sentence
might be repealed, or mitigated into the gentler forms of ordinary
transportation. No answer was returned to him, but his letter provoked
research. Circumstances connected with his uncle’s death, and with
various other dark passages in his life, sealed against him all hope of
a more merciful sentence; and when some acquaintances, whom his art
had made for him, and who, while grieving for his crime, saw in it
some excuses (ignorant of his feller deeds), sought to intercede in his
behalf, the reply of the Home Office was obvious: “He is a fortunate
man to have been tried and condemned for his least offence.” Not one
indulgence that could distinguish him from the most execrable ruffian
condemned to the same sentence was conceded.

The idea of the gibbet lost all its horror. Here was a gibbet for every
hour. No hope,--no escape. Already that Future Doom which comprehends
the “Forever” opened upon him black and fathomless. The hour-glass was
broken up, the hand of the timepiece was arrested. The Beyond stretched
before him without limit, without goal,--on into Annihilation or into
Hell.



EPILOGUE TO PART THE SECOND.

Stand, O Man! upon the hill-top in the stillness of the evening hour,
and gaze, not with joyous, but with contented eyes, upon the beautiful
world around thee. See where the mists, soft and dim, rise over the
green meadows, through which the rivulet steals its way. See where,
broadest and stillest, the wave expands to the full smile of the setting
sun, and the willow that trembles on the breeze, and the oak that stands
firm in the storm, are reflected back, peaceful both, from the clear
glass of the tides. See where, begirt by the gold of the harvests, and
backed by the pomp of a thousand groves, the roofs of the town bask,
noiseless, in the calm glow of the sky. Not a sound from those abodes
floats in discord to thine ear; only from the church-tower, soaring high
above the rest, perhaps faintly heard through the stillness, swells the
note of the holy bell. Along the mead low skims the swallow,--on the
wave the silver circlet, breaking into spray, shows the sport of the
fish. See the Earth, how serene, though all eloquent of activity and
life! See the Heavens, how benign, though dark clouds, by yon mountain,
blend the purple with the gold! Gaze contented, for Good is around
thee,--not joyous, for Evil is the shadow of Good! Let thy soul pierce
through the veil of the senses, and thy sight plunge deeper than the
surface which gives delight to thine eye. Below the glass of that river,
the pike darts on his prey; the circle in the wave, the soft plash
amongst the reeds, are but signs of Destroyer and Victim. In the ivy
round the oak by the margin, the owl hungers for the night, which shall
give its beak and its talons living food for its young; and the spray
of the willow trembles with the wing of the redbreast, whose bright eye
sees the worm on the sod. Canst thou count too, O Man! all the cares,
all the sins, that those noiseless rooftops conceal? With every curl of
that smoke to the sky, a human thought soars as dark, a human hope melts
as briefly. And the bell from the church-tower, that to thy ear gives
but music, perhaps knolls for the dead. The swallow but chases the
moth, and the cloud, that deepens the glory of the heaven and the sweet
shadows on the earth, nurses but the thunder that shall rend the grove,
and the storm that shall devastate the harvests. Not with fear, not with
doubt, recognize, O Mortal, the presence of Evil in the world. [Not,
indeed, that the evil here narrated is the ordinary evil of the
world,--the lesson it inculcates would be lost if so construed,--but
that the mystery of evil, whatever its degree, only increases the
necessity of faith in the vindication of the contrivance which requires
infinity for its range, and eternity for its consummation. It is in the
existence of evil that man finds his duties, and his soul its progress.]
Hush thy heart in the humbleness of awe, that its mirror may reflect as
serenely the shadow as the light. Vainly, for its moral, dost thou gaze
on the landscape, if thy soul puts no check on the dull delight of the
senses. Two wings only raise thee to the summit of Truth, where the
Cherub shall comfort the sorrow, where the Seraph shall enlighten
the joy. Dark as ebon spreads the one wing, white as snow gleams the
other,--mournful as thy reason when it descends into the deep; exulting
as thy faith when it springs to the day-star.

Beck sleeps in the churchyard of Laughton. He had lived to frustrate
the monstrous design intended to benefit himself, and to become the
instrument, while the victim, of the dread Eumenides. That done, his
life passed with the crimes that had gathered around, out of the sight
of mortals. Helen slowly regained her health in the atmosphere of love
and happiness; and Lady Mary soon learned to forget the fault of the
father in the virtues of the child. Married to Percival, Helen fulfilled
the destinies of woman’s genius, in calling forth into action man’s
earnest duties. She breathed into Percival’s warm, beneficent heart her
own more steadfast and divine intelligence. Like him she grew ambitious,
by her he became distinguished. While I write, fair children play under
the cedars of Laughton. And the husband tells the daughters to resemble
their mother; and the wife’s highest praise to the boys is: “You have
spoken truth, or done good, like your father.”

John Ardworth has not paused in his career, nor belied the promise
of his youth. Though the elder Ardworth, partly by his own exertions,
partly by his second marriage with the daughter of the French merchant
(through whose agency he had corresponded with Fielden), had realized a
moderate fortune, it but sufficed for his own wants and for the children
of his later nuptials, upon whom the bulk of it was settled. Hence,
happily perhaps for himself and others, the easy circumstances of his
father allowed to John Ardworth no exemption from labour. His success in
the single episode from active life to literature did not intoxicate
or mislead him. He knew that his real element was not in the field of
letters, but in the world of men. Not undervaluing the noble destinies
of the author, he felt that those destinies, if realized to the utmost,
demanded powers other than his own, and that man is only true to his
genius when the genius is at home in his career. He would not renounce
for a brief celebrity distant and solid fame. He continued for a few
years in patience and privation and confident self-reliance to drudge
on, till the occupation for the intellect fed by restraint, and the
learning accumulated by study, came and found the whole man developed
and prepared. Then he rose rapidly from step to step; then, still
retaining his high enthusiasm, he enlarged his sphere of action from
the cold practice of law into those vast social improvements which law,
rightly regarded, should lead and vivify and create. Then, and long
before the twenty years he had imposed on his probation had expired, he
gazed again upon the senate and the abbey, and saw the doors of the one
open to his resolute tread, and anticipated the glorious sepulchre which
heart and brain should win him in the other. John Ardworth has never
married. When Percival rebukes him for his celibacy, his lip quivers
slightly, and he applies himself with more dogged earnestness to his
studies or his career. But he never complains that his lot is lonely or
his affections void. For him who aspires, and for him who loves, life
may lead through the thorns, but it never stops in the desert.

On the minor personages involved in this history, there is little need
to dwell. Mr. Fielden, thanks to St. John, has obtained a much better
living in the rectory of Laughton, but has found new sources of pleasant
trouble for himself in seeking to drill into the mind of Percival’s
eldest son the elements of Euclid, and the principles of Latin syntax.

We may feel satisfied that the Miverses will go on much the same while
trade enriches without refining, and while, nevertheless, right feelings
in the common paths of duty may unite charitable emotions with graceless
language.

We may rest assured that the poor widow who had reared the lost son of
Lucretia received from the bounty of Percival all that could comfort her
for his death.

We have no need to track the dull crimes of Martha, or the quick,
cunning vices of Grabman, to their inevitable goals, in the hospital or
the prison, the dunghill or the gibbet.

Of the elder Ardworth our parting notice may be less brief. We first saw
him in sanguine and generous youth, with higher principles and clearer
insight into honour than William Mainwaring. We have seen him next
a spendthrift and a fugitive, his principles debased and his honour
dimmed. He presents to us no uncommon example of the corruption
engendered by that vulgar self-indulgence which mortgages the morrow
for the pleasures of to-day. No Deity presides where Prudence is absent.
Man, a world in himself, requires for the development of his faculties
patience, and for the balance of his actions, order. Even where he
had deemed himself most oppressively made the martyr,--namely, in the
profession of mere political opinions,--Walter Ardworth had but followed
out into theory the restless, uncalculating impatience which had brought
adversity on his manhood, and, despite his constitutional cheerfulness,
shadowed his age with remorse. The death of the child committed to his
charge long (perhaps to the last) embittered his pride in the son whom,
without merit of his own, Providence had spared to a brighter fate. But
for the faults which had banished him his country, and the habits which
had seared his sense of duty, could that child have been so abandoned,
and have so perished?

It remains only to cast our glance over the punishments which befell
the sensual villany of Varney, the intellectual corruption of his fell
stepmother.

These two persons had made a very trade of those crimes to which man’s
law awards death. They had said in their hearts that they would dare
the crime, but elude the penalty. By wonderful subtlety, craft, and
dexterity, which reduced guilt to a science, Providence seemed, as in
disdain of the vulgar instruments of common retribution, to concede to
them that which they had schemed for,--escape from the rope and gibbet.
Varney, saved from detection of his darker and more inexpiable crimes,
punished only for the least one, retained what had seemed to him the
master boon,--life. Safer still from the law, no mortal eye had plumbed
the profound night of Lucretia’s awful guilt. Murderess of husband and
son, the blinded law bade her go unscathed, unsuspected. Direct, as from
heaven, without a cloud, fell the thunderbolt. Is the life they have
saved worth the prizing? Doth the chalice, unspilt on the ground, not
return to the hand? Is the sudden pang of the hangman more fearful than
the doom which they breathe and bear? Look, and judge.

Behold that dark ship on the waters! Its burdens are not of Ormus and
Tyre. No goodly merchandise doth it waft over the wave, no blessing
cleaves to its sails; freighted with terror and with guilt, with remorse
and despair, or, more ghastly than either, the sullen apathy of souls
hardened into stone, it carries the dregs and offal of the old world
to populate the new. On a bench in that ship sit side by side two men,
companions assigned to each other. Pale, abject, cowering, all the
bravery rent from his garb, all the gay insolence vanished from his
brow,--can that hollow-eyed, haggard wretch be the same man whose senses
opened on every joy, whose nerves mocked at every peril? But beside him,
with a grin of vile glee on his features, all muscle and brawn in the
form, all malice, at once spiteful and dull, in the heavy eye, sits his
fit comrade, the Gravestealer! At the first glance each had recognized
each, and the prophecy and the vision rushed back upon the daintier
convict. If he seek to escape from him, the Gravestealer claims him as
a prey; he threatens him with his eye as a slave; he kicks him with his
hoof as they sit, and laughs at the writhings of the pain. Carry on your
gaze from the ship, hear the cry from the masthead, see the land arise
from the waste,--a land without hope. At first, despite the rigour of
the Home Office, the education and intelligence of Varney have their
price,--the sole crime for which he is convicted is not of the
darkest. He escapes from that hideous comrade; he can teach as
a schoolmaster,--let his brain work, not his hands. But the most
irredeemable of convicts are ever those of nurture and birth and culture
better than the ruffian rest. You may enlighten the clod, but the meteor
still must feed on the marsh; and the pride and the vanity work where
the crime itself seems to lose its occasion. Ever avid, ever grasping,
he falls, step by step, in the foul sink, and the colony sees in Gabriel
Varney its most pestilent rogue. Arch-convict amidst convicts, doubly
lost amongst the damned, they banish him to the sternest of the penal
settlements; they send him forth with the vilest to break stones upon
the roads. Shrivelled and bowed and old prematurely, see that sharp face
peering forth amongst that gang, scarcely human, see him cringe to the
lash of the scornful overseer, see the pairs chained together, night
and day! Ho, ho! his comrade hath found him again,--the Artist and the
Gravestealer leashed together! Conceive that fancy so nurtured by habit,
those tastes, so womanized by indulgence,--the one suggesting the very
horrors that are not; the other revolting at all toil as a torture.

But intellect, not all gone, though hourly dying heavily down to the
level of the brute, yet schemes for delivery and escape. Let the plot
ripen, and the heart bound; break his chain, set him free, send him
forth to the wilderness. Hark, the whoop of the wild men! See those
things that ape our species dance and gibber round the famishing, hunted
wretch. Hark, how he shrieks at the torture! How they tear and they
pinch and they burn and they rend him! They, too, spare his life,--it
is charmed. A Caliban amidst Calibans, they heap him with their burdens,
and feed him on their offal. Let him live; he loved life for himself; he
has cheated the gibbet,--LET HIM LIVE! Let him watch, let him once more
escape; all naked and mangled, let him wander back to the huts of his
gang. Lo, where he kneels, the foul tears streaming down, and cries
aloud: “I have broken all your laws, I will tell you all my crimes; I
ask but one sentence,--hang me up; let me die!” And from the gang groan
many voices: “Hang us up; let us die!” The overseer turns on his heel,
and Gabriel Varney again is chained to the laughing Gravestealer.

You enter those gates so jealously guarded, you pass, with a quick beat
of the heart, by those groups on the lawn, though they are harmless;
you follow your guide through those passages; where the open doors will
permit, you see the emperor brandish his sceptre of straw, hear the
speculator counting his millions, sigh where the maiden sits smiling the
return of her shipwrecked lover, or gravely shake the head and hurry on
where the fanatic raves his Apocalypse, and reigns in judgment on the
world; you pass by strong gates into corridors gloomier and more remote.
Nearer and nearer you hear the yell and the oath and blaspheming curse;
you are in the heart of the madhouse, where they chain those at once
cureless and dangerous,--who have but sense enough left them to smite
and to throttle and to murder. Your guide opens that door, massive as a
wall; you see (as we, who narrate, have seen her) Lucretia Dalibard,--a
grisly, squalid, ferocious mockery of a human being, more appalling
and more fallen than Dante ever fabled in his spectres, than Swift ever
scoffed in his Yahoos! Only, where all other feature seems to have lost
its stamp of humanity, still burns with unquenchable fever the red,
devouring eye. That eye never seems to sleep, or in sleep, the lid never
closes over it. As you shrink from its light, it seems to you as if the
mind, that had lost coherence and harmony, still retained latent and
incommunicable consciousness as its curse. For days, for weeks, that
awful maniac will preserve obstinate, unbroken silence; but as the eye
never closes, so the hands never rest,--they open and grasp, as if at
some palpable object on which they close, vicelike, as a bird’s talons
on its prey; sometimes they wander over that brow, where the furrows
seem torn as the thunder scars, as if to wipe from it a stain, or charm
from it a pang; sometimes they gather up the hem of that sordid robe,
and seem, for hours together, striving to rub from it a soil. Then, out
from prolonged silence, without cause or warning, will ring, peal after
peal (till the frame, exhausted with the effort sinks senseless into
stupor), the frightful laugh. But speech, intelligible and coherent,
those lips rarely yield. There are times, indeed, when the attendants
are persuaded that her mind in part returns to her; and those times
experience has taught them to watch with peculiar caution. The crisis
evinces itself by a change in the manner,--by a quick apprehension of
all that is said; by a straining, anxious look at the dismal walls; by
a soft, fawning docility; by murmured complaints of the chains that
fetter; and (though, as we have said, but very rarely) by prayers, that
seem rational, for greater ease and freedom.

In the earlier time of her dread captivity, perhaps when it was believed
at the asylum that she was a patient of condition, with friends who
cared for her state, and would liberally reward her cure, they in those
moments relaxed her confinement, and sought the gentler remedies their
art employs; but then invariably, and, it was said, with a cunning that
surpassed all the proverbial astuteness of the mad, she turned this
indulgence to the most deadly uses,--she crept to the pallet of some
adjacent sufferer weaker than herself, and the shrieks that brought the
attendants into the cell scarcely saved the intended victim from her
hands. It seemed, in those imperfectly lucid intervals, as if the reason
only returned to guide her to destroy,--only to animate the broken
mechanism into the beast of prey.

Years have now passed since her entrance within those walls. He who
placed her there never had returned. He had given a false name,--no clew
to him was obtained; the gold he had left was but the quarter’s pay.
When Varney had been first apprehended, Percival requested the younger
Ardworth to seek the forger in prison, and to question him as to Madame
Dalibard; but Varney was then so apprehensive that, even if still
insane, her very ravings might betray his share in her crimes, or still
more, if she recovered, that the remembrance of her son’s murder would
awaken the repentance and the confession of crushed despair, that the
wretch had judged it wiser to say that his accomplice was no more,--that
her insanity had already terminated in death. The place of her
confinement thus continued a secret locked in his own breast. Egotist
to the last, she was henceforth dead to him,--why not to the world?
Thus the partner of her crimes had cut off her sole resource, in the
compassion of her unconscious kindred; thus the gates of the living
world were shut to her evermore. Still, in a kind of compassion, or as
an object of experiment,--as a subject to be dealt with unscrupulously
in that living dissection-hall,--her grim jailers did not grudge her
an asylum. But, year after year, the attendance was more slovenly,
the treatment more harsh; and strange to say, while the features were
scarcely recognizable, while the form underwent all the change which
the shape suffers when mind deserts it, that prodigious vitality which
belonged to the temperament still survived. No signs of decay are yet
visible. Death, as if spurning the carcass, stands inexorably afar off.
Baffler of man’s law, thou, too, hast escaped with life! Not for thee
is the sentence, “Blood for blood!” Thou livest, thou mayst pass
the extremest boundaries of age. Live on, to wipe the blood from thy
robe,--LIVE ON!

Not for the coarse object of creating an idle terror, not for the
shock upon the nerves and the thrill of the grosser interest which the
narrative of crime creates, has this book been compiled from the
facts and materials afforded to the author. When the great German poet
describes, in not the least noble of his lyrics, the sudden apparition
of some “Monster Fate” in the circles of careless Joy, he assigns to him
who teaches the world, through parable or song, the right to invoke the
spectre. It is well to be awakened at times from the easy commonplace
that surrounds our habitual life; to cast broad and steady and patient
light on the darker secrets of the heart,--on the vaults and caverns of
the social state over which we build the market-place and the palace. We
recover from the dread and the awe and the half-incredulous wonder, to
set closer watch upon our inner and hidden selves. In him who cultivates
only the reason, and suffers the heart and the spirit to lie waste and
dead, who schemes and constructs, and revolves round the axle of self,
unwarmed by the affections, unpoised by the attraction of right, lies
the germ Fate might ripen into the guilt of Olivier Dalibard. Let him
who but lives through the senses, spreads the wings of the fancy in
the gaudy glare of enjoyment corrupted, avid to seize, and impatient
to toil, whose faculties are curbed but to the range of physical
perception, whose very courage is but the strength of the nerves, who
develops but the animal as he stifles the man,--let him gaze on the
villany of Varney, and startle to see some magnified shadow of himself
thrown dimly on the glass! Let those who, with powers to command and
passions to wing the powers, would sweep without scruple from the aim to
the end, who, trampling beneath their footprint of iron the humanities
that bloom up in their path, would march to success with the proud
stride of the destroyer, hear, in the laugh of yon maniac murderess, the
glee of the fiend they have wooed to their own souls! Guard well, O Heir
of Eternity, the portal of sin,--the thought! From the thought to the
deed, the subtler thy brain and the bolder thy courage, the briefer
and straighter is the way. Read these pages in disdain of
self-commune,--they shall revolt thee, not instruct; read them, looking
steadfastly within,--and how humble soever the art of the narrator, the
facts he narrates, like all history, shall teach by example. Every human
act, good or ill, is an angel to guide or to warn; and the deeds of the
worst have messages from Heaven to the listening hearts of the best.
Amidst the glens in the Apennine, in the lone wastes of Calabria, the
sign of the cross marks the spot where a deed of violence has been done;
on all that pass by the road, the symbol has varying effect: sometimes
it startles the conscience, sometimes it invokes the devotion; the
robber drops the blade, the priest counts the rosary. So is it with the
record of crime; and in the witness of Guilt, Man is thrilled with the
whisper of Religion.

Our acts our angels are, or good or ill, The fatal shadows that walk by
us still. FLETCHER.





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