Sir Henry had posted all night, and it was ten in the morning when he reached Leamington. He directed the postilion to drive to his hotel, but it happened that on his way he had to pass Mrs. Vernon's door.
As the carriage turned a corner, which was distant some hundred yards from Mrs. Vernon's house, Sir Henry was surprised by a momentary check on the part of his driver.
It had rained heavily during the early part of the day. The glasses were up, and so bespattered with the mud and rain, that it was impossible to see through them. Sir Henry let them down; saw a confused mass of carriages; and could clearly discern a mourning coach.
He did not give himself time to breathe his misgivings; but flung the door open, and sprang from his seat into the road. It was still three or four doors from Mrs. Vernon's house, and he prayed to God that his fears might be groundless.
As he approached nearer, it was evident that there was unusual bustle about that house. Delme grasped the iron railing, and clung to it for support; but with every sense keenly alive to aught that might dispel, or confirm that horrible suspicion.
Two old women, dressed in the characteristic red cloak of the English peasant, were earnestly conversing together—their baskets of eggs and flowers being laid on a step of one of the adjacent houses.
"So you knowed her, Betsy Farmer?"
"Lord a mercy!" responded the other, "I ha' knowed Miss July since she wa' the height of my basket. Ay! and many's the bunch of flowers she ha' had from me. That was afore the family went to the sea side. Well! it's a matter o' five year, sin' she comed up to me one morning—so grown as I'd never ha' known her. But she knowed me, and asked all about me. And I just told her all my troubles, and how I had lost my good man. And sure enough sin' that day she ha' stood my friend, and gived me soup and flannels for the little uns, and put my Bess to service, and took me through all the bad Christmas'. Poor dear soul! she ha' gone now! and may the Lord bless her and all as good as she!"
The poor woman, who felt the loss of her benefactress, put the corner of her apron to her eyes.
Sir Henry strode forward.
Mutes were on each side of the front step. A servant threw open the door of the breakfast room, and Delme mechanically entered it. It was filled with strangers; on some of these the spruce undertaker was fitting silk scarfs; while others were busy at the breakfast table.
An ominous whisper ran through the apartment.
"Sir Henry Delme?" said the rosy-cheeked clergyman, enquiringly, as he laid down his egg spoon, and turned towards him.
"I trust you received my letter. Women are so utterly helpless in these matters; and poor Mrs. Vernon was quite overpowered."
Delme turned away to master his emotion.
At this moment, a friendly hand was laid on his shoulder, and Mrs. Vernon's maid, with her eyes red from weeping, beckoned him up stairs.
He mechanically obeyed her—reeled into an inner drawing room—and stood in the presence of the bereaved mother.
Mrs. Vernon was ordinarily the very picture of neatness. Now she sat with her feet on a footstool—her head almost touching her lap—her silver hair all loose and dishevelled. It seemed to Delme as if age had suddenly come upon her.
She rose as he entered, and with wild hysterical sobs, threw herself into his arms.
"My son I my son! that should have been. Our angel is gone—gone!"
Delme tried to speak, but his tongue clove to his mouth, and the hysteric globe rose to his throat.
Suddenly he heard the sound of wheels, and of heavy footsteps on the stairs.
He imprinted a kiss on the old woman's forehead—it was his farewell for ever!—gave her to the care of the maid servant—and rushed from the room.
He was stopped on the landing of the staircase by the coffin of her he loved so well. The bearers stopped for an instant; they felt that this was no common greeting. Part of the pall was already turned back. Delme removed its head with trembling hand.
"Julia Vernon. aetate 22."
He dropped the velvet with a groan, and was only saved from falling by the timely aid of the old butler, whose face was as sorrowful as his own.
But there was a duty yet to be performed, and Delme followed the corpse.
The first mourning coach was just drawn up. An intended occupant had already his foot on the step.
"This place is mine!" said Sir Henry in a hollow voice.
The cortege proceeded; and Delme, giddy and confused, heard solemn words spoken over his affianced one, and he waited, till even the coffin could he discerned no more.
Thompson, who had followed his master, assisted him into his carriage, placed himself beside him, and ordered the driver to proceed to the hotel. But Delme gave a quick impetuous motion of the hand, which the domestic understood well; and the horses' heads were turned towards the metropolis.
The mourner tarried not, even to bid his sister farewell; but sought once more his brother's grave. Some friendly hand had kept its turf smooth; no footsteps, save the innocent ones of children, had pressed its grassy mound. It was clothed with soft daisies and drooping harebells. The sun seemed to shine on that spot, to bid the wanderer be contented and at rest.
But as yet there was no rest for Delme. And he stood beside the marble slab, beneath which lay Acme Frascati. The downy moss—soft as herself—was luxuriating there; and the cry of the cicalas was pleasant to the ear; and the image of the young Greek girl, as in a vivid picture, rose to his mind's eye. She was not attired in her white cymar; nor was her head wreathed with monumental amaranths;—health was on her cheek, fond smiles on her pouting lip, and tender love swimming in her melting glance.
His own griefs came back on Delme; he groaned aloud. He traversed the deserts, he crossed lofty mountains, he knew thirst and privations. He was scoffed at and spat upon in an infidel country—he was tossed on the ocean—he shook hands with danger.
He visited our wide Oriental possessions; and sojourned amid the spicy islands of the Indian Archipelago, where vegetation attains a magnificence unknown elsewhere, and animal life partakes of this unexampled exuberance,—where flowers of the most exquisite colours and fragrance charm the senses by day, and delicious plants saturate the air with their odours by night.
Delme extended his wanderings to the rarely visited "many isles," which stud the vast Pacific, and found that there too were fruitful and smiling regions.
But not on the desert—nor on the mountains—nor in the land of the Moslem—-nor on tempestuous seas—nor in those verdant islets, which seem to breathe of Paradise, to greet the wearied traveller; could Delme's restless spirit find an abiding place, his thirst for foreign travel be slaked, or his heart know peace.
He madly sought oblivion, which could not be accorded him.
"Then I consider'd life in all its forms, Of vegetables first, next zoophytes, The tribe that dwells upon the confine strange 'Twixt plants and fish; some are there from their mouth Spit out their progeny, and some that breed, By suckers from their base or tubercles, Sea-hedgehog, madrepore, sea-ruff, or pad, Fungus, or sponge, or that gelatinous fish, That taken from its element at once Stinks, melts, and dies a fluid; so from these, Through many a tribe of less equivocal life, Dividual or insect, up I ranged, From sentient to percipient, small advance, Next to intelligent, to rational next, So to half spiritual human kind, And what is more, is more than man may know. Last came the troublesome question—What am I?"
* * * * *
"And vain were the hat, the staff, and stole, And all outward signs were a snare, Unless the pilgrim's endanger'd soul Were inwardly clothed with prayer.
"But the pilgrim prays—and then trials are light— For prayer to him on his way, Resembles the pillar of fire by night, And the guiding cloud by day.
"And salvation's helm the pilgrim wears, Or vain were all other dress; And the shield of faith the pilgrim bears, With the breastplate of righteousness.
"At length his tears all wiped away; He enters the City of Light; And how gladly he changes his gown of grey, For Zion's robe of white."
It was on the 22nd of October, 1836, that an emissary from his sister, sought Sir Henry Delme. It was at the antipodes to his ancestral home; in Australia, that wonderful country, which—belied and calumniated, as she has hitherto been—presents some anomalous and creditable features.
For her population, she is the wealthiest, the most enterprising, the most orderly and loyal, of our British possessions. There, is the aristocracy of wealth, to an unprecedented degree, subservient to the aristocracy of virtue. While she is stigmatised as the cloacae of Britain, the philosopher looks into the future, and already beholds a nation, perpetuating the language of the brave and free; when the parent stock has perhaps ceased to be an empire; or is lingering on, like modern Greece, in the hopeless languor of decay and decrepitude.
This agent had arrived from England, a very short period before; and, accredited with a packet, containing various communications from Emily and Clarendon, accompanied by the miniatures of their children, with little silky curls attached to each, proceeded an expectant guest, to Sir Henry Delme's temporary residence. Early dawn saw him pacing the deck of a steam vessel; and regarding with great surprise, the opposite banks of Hunter's River, up which the vessel was gliding.
A rich dark soil, of great depth, bespoke uncommon fertility; while the varieties of the gum tree—then quite new to him—with their bark of every diversity of colour, gave a primeval grandeur to the scene.
Each moment brought in sight the location of some enterprising settler, which, ever varying in appearance, in importance, and in extent yet told the same tale of difficulties overcome, and success ensuing.
On his reaching the township, near the head of the navigation, this agent found horses waiting for him:—he was addressed by a well-appointed groom—our old friend Thompson—who touched his hat respectfully, and mentioned the name, he was already prepared for by his Sydney advices.
Suffice it, that Sir Henry was no longer the Baronet, and that the name of Delme was a strange one in his household.
Their route skirted the banks of one of those rivers, which, diverging from that mine of wealth, the Hunter, wind into the bowels of the land, like a vein of gold.
That emissary will not soon forget his lovely ride. His eye, wearied with gazing on the wide expanse of ocean, feasted on the rich and novel landscape. They rode alternately, through cleared lands, studded with rich farms, waving with luxuriant crops of wheat and rye; and again, through regions, where the axe had never resounded, but where eucalypti, and bastard box, and forest oak with its rough acorn, towered above beauteous wild flowers, whose forms and varieties were associated in the mind of the stranger, with some of the most precious and valued flowers which adorn British conservatories.
The russet Certhia, with outspread fluttering wing, pecked at the smooth bark, and preying on some destructive insect, really preserved what it seemed to injure. The larger parrots, travelling in pairs, screamed their passing salutation, as they displayed their bright plumage to the sun; while hundreds, of a smaller kind, with crimson shoulder, were concealed amid the green leaves; and, as they rode beneath them, babbled—like frolicsome children of the forest—a rude, but to themselves a not unmeaning dialogue.
The superb warblers, ornaments alike to the bush or the garden, flitted cheerily from bough to bough. Strangely mated are they! The male, in suit of black velvet, trimmed with sky blue, looks like a knight, attired for a palace festival:—while his lady-love—she resembles some peasant girl, silent and grateful, clothed in modest kirtle of sober brown.
As he reined in his horse, to examine these at leisure, how melodiously came on his ear, the clear, ceaseless, silver tinkle of the bell-bird; this sound ever and anon chequered by the bold chock-ee-chock! of the bald-headed friar. They had proceeded very leisurely, and the sun was already declining, when Thompson, pointing to an abrupt path, motioned him to descend, and at the same time, gave the peculiar cry, known in the colony as the cooi; a cry which was as promptly answered. It was not until he was close to the edge of the river, that the stranger understood its purport.
A punt was rapidly approaching from the opposite bank. An athletic aboriginal native, in an attitude that seemed studiedly graceful, was bending to the stout rope, which, attached to either side of the river, served to propel the punt. He had been spearing fish; for his wife, or gin, or queen—for she was born such, and contradicted in her person the old adage,
"There's a difference between A beggar and a queen"—
was drawing the barb of a spear from the bleeding side of a struggling mullet. She sat at the bottom of the boat, with a blanket closely wound round her. She was young, and her looks were not unpleasing. Her thickly-matted hair was ornamented with kangaroo teeth; and to her shoulder, closely clung a native tailless bear, whose appearance could not do otherwise than excite a smile. With convex staring eyes—hairless nose—and white ruff of fur round his face—he very closely resembled in physiognomy, some grey-whiskered guzzling citizen. The well-trained horses gave no trouble, as they entered the punt; and the smiling boatman, displaying his teeth to Thompson, but without speaking, commenced warping the punt to the opposite side of the river. They were half way across, ere the guest observed the mansion of the friend he sought. It stood on the summit of the hill, on the left; beneath which the river made a very abrupt bend. The house itself resembled the common weather-boarded cottage of the early settler,—wide verandah was over the front entrance,—and two small rooms, the exact width of this, jutted out on either side of it.
Its site however was commanding. The house stood on an eminence, and from the windows, a long reach of the river was visible. At the top of the brow of the hill, extended a range of English rose trees, in full flower. The bank, which might be about thirty yards in front of these, was clothed with foliage to the water's edge.
There might be seen the fragrant mimosa—the abundant acacia—the swamp oak, which would have been styled a fir, had not the first exiles to Australia found twined round its boughs, the misletoe, with its many home associations—the elegant cedar—the close-growing mangrove—and strange parasitical plants, pushing through huge fungi, and clasping with the remorseless strength of the wrestler, and with the round crunching folds of the boa, the trees they were gradually to supplant and destroy.
Suddenly, the quick finger of the black pointed to an object close beside the punt. A bill, as of a bird, and apparently of the duck tribe, protruded above the surface of the water. For an instant, small, black, piercing eyes peered towards them: but as the quadruped, for such it was, prepared to dive in affright, the unerring shot of a rifle splashed the water on the cheek of the stranger—the body rolled slowly over—the legs stiffened—a sluggish stream of dark blood tainted the surrounding wave—and the ferryman, extending his careless hand, threw the victim to his companion, at the same time addressing a few words to her in their native language.
The guest had little difficulty, in recognising the uncouth form of the ornithorhynchus, or water-mole; but he turned with yet more eagerness, towards the spot, whence that shot had proceeded. On the summit of the steep bank, leaning on his rifle, stood Sir Henry Delme.
His form was still commanding—there was something in the air with which the cap was worn—and in the strap round his Swiss blouse—that bespoke the soldier and the gentleman: but his face was sadly attenuated—the lower jaw appeared to have fallen in—and his hair was very grey.
He received his guest with a cordial and sincere welcome. While the latter delivered his packet the native who had warped the punt over, came up with the dead platypus,
"Well, Boomeroo! is it a female?"
"No, massa! full grown—with large spur!"
Sir Henry saw that his guest was puzzled by this dialogue, and good-naturedly showed him the distinguishing characteristic of the male ornithorhynchus—the spur on the hinder foot, which is hollow, and transmits an envenomed liquid, secreted by a gland on the inner surface of the thigh.
In November, of the year preceding, a burrow of the animal had been opened on the bank of the river, which contained the dam, and three live young ones;—there were many points, yet to be determined relative to its interior organization; and it was on this account, that Sir Henry was anxious to obtain a female specimen at this particular period. As he spoke, Delme introduced the stranger to his study, which might more aptly be styled a museum;—applied some spirits of wine to the platypus, and placing it under a bell-glass for the morrow's examination, left him turning over his collection of birds, while he perused his valued home letters.
It was with unmixed pleasure, knowing as he did his melancholy history, that the stranger found Sir Henry Delme engaged in pursuits, which it was evident he was following up with no common enthusiasm. In truth, a mere accidental circumstance,—the difficulty of obtaining a vessel at one of the Indian Islands for any port,—had at first brought him to Australia, a country regarding which he had felt little curiosity. The strange varieties, however, of its animal kingdom, had interested him;—he was struck with the rapid strides that that country has made in half a century—and he continued from month to month to occupy the house where his friend had now found him.
To the stranger's eye, the eye of a novice, the well arranged specimens of birds of the most beautiful plumage—of animals, chiefly marsupial, of the most singular developement—of glittering insects—and of deep coloured shells; were attractive wonders enough; but from the skeletons beside these, it was quite clear, that Delme had acquired considerable knowledge as to the internal construction of the animals themselves—that he had studied the subsisting relations, between the mechanism and the movements—the structure, and its varied functions.
After dinner, Sir Henry Delme, who appeared to think that the bearer of his despatches had conferred on him a lasting favour, threw off his habitual reserve, and delighted and interested him with his tales of foreign travel.
As the night wore on, the conversation reverted to his sister and his home. It was evident, that what remained for the living of that crushed heart, was with Emily and Clarendon, and their children; perhaps more than all, with his young heir and god-son, Henry Delme Gage. The very colour of that sunny lock of hair, gave rise to much speculation: and it seemed as if he would never be wearied, of listening to the minutest description of the dawning of intellect, in a precocious little fellow of barely five years of age.
Encouraged by his evident feeling, and observing many more comforts about him, than he had been led to expect from his previous errant habits; his guest ventured to express his hope, that Sir Henry might yet return to England.
"My good friend!" replied he, "for I must call you such now, for I know not when I have experienced such unalloyed satisfaction, as you have conferred on me this night, by conversing so freely of those I love; I certainly never can forget that I am the last male of an ancient race, and that those who are nearest and dearest to me, are divided from me by a wide waste of waters. I have learnt to suffer with more patience than I had ever hoped for; and, it may be,—although I have hardly breathed the thought to myself—it may yet be accorded me to revisit that ancient chapel, and to dwell once more in that familiar mansion."
His guest was overcome by his emotion, and pressed his hand with warmth, as he made his day's journey the excuse for an early retirement.
Sleep soon visited his eyelids, for the ride, to one fresh from a sea voyage, had brought with it a wholesome weariness. He was aroused from his slumbers, by the deep sonorous accents as of a man reading Spanish.
The light streamed from an adjacent room, through the chinks of a partition. He started up alike forgetful of Delme, his ride, and his arrival in Australia; conceiving that he was again at the mercy of the waves, in his narrow comfortless cabin.
That light, however, brought the stranger back to the wanderer, and his griefs.
Beside a small table, strewn with his lately received English letters, knelt Sir Henry Delme. The stranger had seen condemned criminals pray with becoming fervour; and devotees of many a creed lift up their hearts to heaven; but never had he witnessed a more contrite or a humbler spirit imprinted on the features of mortal man, than then shed its radiance on that sorrowful, but noble face.
Strange as it may appear, he knew not whether the words themselves really caught his ear, or whether the motion of the lips expressed them—but this he did know, that every syllable seemed to reach his heart, and impress him with a mystic thrill,
"OR EVER THE SILVER CORD BE LOOSED, OR THE GOLDEN BOWL BE BROKEN, OR THE PITCHER BE BROKEN AT THE FOUNTAIN, OR THE WHEEL BROKEN AT THE CISTERN. THEN SHALL THE DUST RETURN TO THE EARTH AS IT WAS: AND THE SPIRIT SHALL RETURN UNTO GOD WHO GAVE IT."
The Wanderer's Return.
"And he had learn'd to love—I know not why, For this in such as him seems strange of mood,— The helpless looks of blooming infancy, Even in its earliest nurture; what subdued, To change like this, a mind so far imbued With scorn of man, it little boots to know; But thus it was; and though in solitude Small power the nipp'd affections have to grow, In him this glow'd when all beside had ceased to glow."
Within a period of two months, from the interview we have described, the stranger found that his arguments had not been thrown away; as he shook Sir Henry's hand on the deck of a vessel bound for Valparaiso. His love of travel and of excitement, had induced such an habitual restlessness, that Delme was not prepared at once to embark for England. He crossed the Cordillera de los Andes—traversed the Pampas of Buenos Ayres—and finally embarked for his native land.
It was the height of summer, when the carriage which bore the long absent owner to his ancestral home, neared the ancient moss-grown lodge.
Fanny Porter, who was now married, and had a thriving babe at her breast, started with surprise; as, throwing open the gate, she recognised in the care-worn man with bronzed face and silver hair, her well known and beloved master. As the carriage neared the chapel, it struck Sir Henry, that it would be but prudent, to inform Clarendon of his near approach; in order that he might prepare Emily for the meeting. He ordered the postilion to pull up—tore a leaf from his memorandum book—and wrote a few lines to Clarendon, despatching Thompson in advance. He turned into the chapel, and as he approached its altar, the bridal scene, enacted there nearly seven years back, seemed to rise palpably before him.
But the tomb of Sir Reginald Delme, with its velvet dusty banner—the marble monument of his mother, with the bust above it, whose naked eye seemed turned towards him—his withered heart and hopes soon darkened his recollections of that bright hour. With agitated emotions, Sir Henry left the chapel; and in a spirit of impatience, strode towards the mansion, intending to meet the returning domestic. His feelings were strange, various, and not easily defined.
He was awakened from his day-dream by the sound of children's voices, which sound he instinctively followed, until he reached the old orchard. It was such an orchard, as might be planted by an old Delme, ere any Linnean or Loudonean horticulturist had decided that slopes are best for the sun, that terraces are an economical saving of ground, that valleys must be swamps, and that blights are vulgar errors. The orchard at Delme was strikingly unscientific; but the old stock contrived to bear good fruit. The pippins, golden and russet—the pears, jargonelle and good-christian—the cherries, both black and white heart—still thrived; while under their shade, grew hips, haws, crabs, sloes, and blackberries, happy to be shaded from rain, dews, and fierce sun-shine, and unenvious of roses, cherries, apples, damsons, and mulberries; their self-defended, and more aristocratic cousins.
Sir Henry stopped unseen at the gate of the orchard, and for some minutes looked on the almost fairy group, whose voices had led him thither.
Lying on the bank, which enclosed the orchard, was a blue-eyed rosy-cheeked little girl;—the ground ashes had been cut down; and her laughing face was pillowed on the violets and oxlips, that burst from between the roots. She was preparing to take another roll into the clayey ditch below. Another little girl was gazing at the child from within the orchard; half doubtful whether she should encourage or check her. One pale-blue slipper and her little sock were half sunk in the clay, while the veiny and pink-soled foot, the large lids half closed over her deep blue eyes, the finger thrust between her red and pouting lips, her bonnet thrown back and hanging by the strings round her swelling throat, her hair dishevelled and stuck with oxlips, primroses, cowslips, violets, and daisies; and wreathed with the spring-holly, or butcher's-broom—made her a perfect picture of English beauty, and of childish anxiety and indecision.
Beside her stood a boy older than herself, and evidently as perplexed. There was Julia perched cock-horse on the bank—there was Emily, her hair undone, her bonnet crashed, with one shoe and stocking lost—and yet he had promised Mamma, that if she would but once trust his sisters to him, that he would bring them home, "with such a pretty basket of spring-flowers."
The beautiful blossoms of the cherry hung around the boy—the bees buzzed in its bells—the apple and pear blossoms shook their fragrance in the warm air—and the shadows of the flying clouds hurried like wings over the bright green grass. The boy had dropped his basket of fresh-blown flowers at his feet—tears were trembling in his eye-lids, as he gazed on his sisters. His look was that of George.
"Childhood too has its sorrows," said Sir Henry, half aloud, "even when seeking joy on a bank of primroses. Why should I then repine?"
The boy started as he heard and saw the stranger:—he involuntarily put one foot forward in an attitude of childish defiance: but children are keen physiognomists, and there was nothing but affection beaming from that mournful face.
"My boy!" said Delme, and his eyes were moist, "did you ever hear of your Uncle Henry?"
"Emily! Emily! Julia!" exclaimed the little fellow, as he rushed into Sir Henry's arms, "here is Uncle Henry, my god-papa, and he will help us to reach the blackberries."
We need follow the wanderer no further. It is true that in his youth he had not known sympathy; in his manhood he had experienced sorrow; but it is a pleasure to us to reflect, that despair is not the companion of his old age.