By Edward Bulwer Lytton
TO COUNT ALFRED D'ORSAY.
MY DEAR COUNT D'ORSAY,
When the parentage of Godolphin was still unconfessed and unknown, you were pleased to encourage his first struggles with the world: Now, will you permit the father he has just discovered to re-introduce him to your notice? I am sorry to say, however, that my unfilial offspring, having been so long disowned, is not sufficiently grateful for being acknowledged at last: he says that he belongs to a very numerous family, and, wishing to be distinguished from his brothers, desires not only to reclaim your acquaintance, but to borrow your name. Nothing less will content his ambition than the most public opportunity in his power of parading his obligations to the most accomplished gentleman of our time. Will you, then, allow him to make his new appearance in the world under your wing, and thus suffer the son as well as the father to attest the kindness of your heart and to boast the honour of your friendship?
Believe me, My dear Count d'Orsay, With the sincerest regard, Yours, very faithfully and truly, E. B. L.
PREFACE TO GODOLPHIN.
In the Prefaces to this edition of my works, I have occasionally so far availed myself of that privilege of self-criticism which the French comic writer, Mons. Picord, maintains or exemplifies in the collection of his plays,—as, if not actually to sit in judgment on my own performances, still to insinuate some excuse for their faults by extenuatory depositions as to their character and intentions. Indeed, a writer looking back to the past is unconsciously inclined to think that he may separate himself from those children of his brain which have long gone forth to the world; and though he may not expatiate on the merits his paternal affection would ascribe to them, that he may speak at least of the mode in which they were trained and reared—of the hopes he cherished, or the objects he entertained, when he finally dismissed them to the opinions of others and the ordeal of Fate or Time.
For my part, I own that even when I have thought but little of the value of a work, I have always felt an interest in the author's account of its origin and formation, and, willing to suppose that what thus affords a gratification to my own curiosity, may not be wholly unattractive to others, I shall thus continue from time to time to play the Showman to my own machinery, and explain the principle of the mainspring and the movement of the wheels.
This novel was begun somewhere in the third year of my authorship, and completed in the fourth. It was, therefore, composed almost simultaneously with Eugene Aram, and afforded to me at least some relief from the gloom of that village tragedy. It is needless to observe how dissimilar in point of scene, character, and fable, the one is from the other; yet they are alike in this—that both attempt to deal with one of the most striking problems in the spiritual history of man, viz., the frustration or abuse of power in a superior intellect originally inclined to good. Perhaps there is no problem that more fascinates the attention of a man of some earnestness at that period of his life, when his eye first disengages itself from the external phenomena around him, and his curiosity leads him to examine the cause and account for the effect;—when, to cite reverently the words of the wisest, "He applies his heart to know and to search, and to seek out wisdom and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness."
In Eugene Aram, the natural career of genius is arrested by a single crime; in Godolphin, a mind of inferior order, but more fanciful colouring, is wasted away by the indulgence of those morbid sentiments which are the nourishment of egotism, and the gradual influence of the frivolities which make the business of the idle. Here the Demon tempts or destroys the hermit in his solitary cell. There, he glides amidst the pomps and vanities of the world, and whispers away the soul in the voice of his soft familiars, Indolence and Pleasure.
Of all my numerous novels, Pelham and Godolphin are the only ones which take their absolute groundwork in what is called "The Fashionable World." I have sought in each to make the general composition in some harmony with the principal figure in the foreground. Pelham is represented as almost wholly unsusceptible to the more poetical influences. He has the physical compound, which, versatile and joyous, amalgamates easily with the world—he views life with the lenient philosophy that Horace commends in Aristippus: he laughs at the follies he shares; and is ever ready to turn into uses ultimately (if indirectly) serious, the frivolities that only serve to sharpen his wit, and augment that peculiar expression which we term "knowledge of the world." In a word, dispel all his fopperies, real or assumed, he is still the active man of crowds and cities, determined to succeed, and gifted with the ordinary qualities of success. Godolphin, on the contrary, is the man of poetical temperament, out of his place alike among the trifling idlers and the bustling actors of the world—wanting the stimulus of necessity—or the higher motive which springs from benevolence, to give energy to his powers, or definite purpose to his fluctuating desires; not strong enough to break the bonds that confine his genius—not supple enough to accommodate its movements to their purpose. He is the moral antipodes to Pelham. In evading the struggles of the world, he grows indifferent to its duties—he strives with no obstacles—he can triumph in no career. Represented as possessing mental qualities of a higher and a richer nature than those to which Pelham can pretend, he is also represented as very inferior to him in constitution of character, and he is certainly a more ordinary type of the intellectual trifler.
The characters grouped around Godolphin are those with which such a man usually associates his life. They are designed to have a certain grace—a certain harmony with one form or the other of his twofold temperament:—viz., either its conventional elegance of taste, or its constitutional poetry of idea. But all alike are brought under varying operations of similar influences; or whether in Saville, Constance, Fanny, or Lucilla—the picture presented is still the picture of gifts misapplied—of life misunderstood. The Preacher who exclaimed, "Vanity of vanities! all is vanity," perhaps solved his own mournful saying, when he added elsewhere, "This only have I found, that God made men upright—but they have sought out many inventions."
This work was first published anonymously, and for that reason perhaps it has been slow in attaining to its rightful station amongst its brethren—whose parentage at first was openly acknowledged. If compared with Pelham, it might lose, at the first glance, but would perhaps gain on any attentive reperusal.
For although it must follow from the inherent difference in the design of the two works thus referred to, that in Godolphin there can be little of the satire or vivacity which have given popularity to its predecessor, yet, on the other hand, in Godolphin there ought to be a more faithful illustration of the even polish that belongs to luxurious life,—of the satiety that pleasure inflicts upon such of its votaries as are worthy of a higher service. The subject selected cannot adroit the same facility for observation of things that lie on the surface—but it may well lend itself to subtler investigation of character—allow more attempt at pathos, and more appeal to reflection.
Regarded as a story, the defects of Godolphin most apparent to myself, are in the manner in which Lucilla is re-introduced in the later chapters, and in the final catastrophe of the hero. There is an exaggerated romance in the one, and the admission of accident as a crowning agency in the other, which my maturer judgment would certainly condemn, and which at all events appear to me out of keeping with the natural events, and the more patient investigation of moral causes and their consequences, from which the previous interest of the tale is sought to be attained. On the other hand, if I may presume to conjecture the most probable claim to favour which the work, regarded as a whole, may possess—it may possibly be found in a tolerably accurate description of certain phases of modern civilisation, and in the suggestion of some truths that may be worth considering in our examination of social influences or individual conduct.
THE DEATH-BED OF JOHN VERNON.—HIS DYING WORDS.—DESCRIPTION OF HIS DAUGHTER, THE HEROINE.—THE OATH.
"Is the night calm, Constance?"
"Beautiful! the moon is up."
"Open the shutters wider, there. It is a beautiful night. How beautiful! Come hither, my child."
The rich moonlight that now shone through the windows streamed on little that it could invest with poetical attraction. The room was small, though not squalid in its character and appliances. The bed-curtains, of a dull chintz, were drawn back, and showed the form of a man, past middle age, propped by pillows, and bearing on his countenance the marks of approaching death. But what a countenance it still was! The broad, pale, lofty brow; the fine, straight, Grecian nose; the short, curved lip; the full, dimpled chin; the stamp of genius in every line and lineament;—these still defied disease, or rather borrowed from its very ghastliness a more impressive majesty. Beside the bed was a table spread with books of a motley character. Here an abstruse system of Calculations on Finance; there a volume of wild Bacchanalian Songs; here the lofty aspirations of Plato's Phoedon; and there the last speech of some County Paris on a Malt Tax: old newspapers and dusty pamphlets completed the intellectual litter; and above them rose, mournfully enough, the tall, spectral form of a half-emptied phial, and a chamber-candlestick, crested by its extinguisher.
A light step approached the bedside, and opposite the dying man now stood a girl, who might have seen her thirteenth year. But her features—of an exceeding, and what may be termed a regal beauty—were as fully developed as those of one who had told twice her years; and not a trace of the bloom or the softness of girlhood could be marked on her countenance. Her complexion was pale as the whitest marble, but clear, and lustrous; and her raven hair, parted over her brow in a fashion then uncommon, increased the statue-like and classic effect of her noble features. The expression of her countenance seemed cold, sedate, and somewhat stern; but it might, in some measure, have belied her heart; for, when turned to the moonlight, you might see that her eyes were filled with tears, though she did not weep; and you might tell by the quivering of her lip, that a little hesitation in replying to any remark from the sufferer arose from her difficulty in commanding her emotions.
"Constance," said the invalid, after a pause, in which he seemed to have been gazing with a quiet heart on the soft skies, that, blue and eloquent with stars, he beheld through the unclosed windows:—"Constance, the hour is coming; I feel it by signs which I cannot mistake. I shall die this night."
"Oh, God!—my father!—my dear, dear father!" broke from Constance's lips; "do not speak thus—do not—I will go to Doctor ——"
"No, child, no!—I loathe—I detest the thought of help. They denied it me while it was yet time. They left me to starve or to rot in gaol, or to hang myself! They left me like a dog, and like a dog I will die! I would not have one iota taken from the justice—the deadly and dooming weight of my dying curse." Here violent spasms broke on the speech of the sufferer; and when, by medicine and his daughter's attentions, he had recovered, he said, in a lower and calmer key:—"Is all quiet below, Constance? Are all in bed? The landlady—the servants—our fellow-lodgers?"
"All, my father."
"Ay; then I shall die happy. Thank Heaven, you are my only nurse and attendant. I remember the day when I was ill after one of their rude debauches. Ill!—a sick headache—a fit of the spleen—a spoiled lapdog's illness! Well: they wanted me that night to support one of their paltry measures—their parliamentary measures. And I had a prince feeling my pulse, and a duke mixing my draught, and a dozen earls sending their doctors to me. I was of use to them then! Poor me! Read me that note, Constance—Flamborough's note. Do you hesitate? Read it, I say!"
Constance trembled and complied.
"My dear Vernon,
"I am really au desespoir to hear of your melancholy state;—so sorry I cannot assist you: but you know my embarrassed circumstances. By the by, I saw his Royal Highness yesterday. 'Poor Vernon!' said he; 'would a hundred pounds do him any good?' So we don't forget you, mon cher. Ah! how we missed you at the Beefsteak! Never shall we know again so glorious a bona vivant. You would laugh to hear L—— attempting to echo your old jokes. But time presses: I must be off to the House. You know what a motion it is! Would to Heaven you were to bring it on instead of that ass T——. Adieu! I wish I could come and see you; but it would break my heart. Can I send you any books from Hookham's?
"This is the man whom I made Secretary of State," said Vernon. "Very well!—oh, it's very well,—very well indeed. Let me kiss thee, my girl. Poor Constance! You will have good friends when I am dead! they will be proud enough to be kind to Vernon's daughter, when Death has shown them that Vernon is a loss. You are very handsome. Your poor mother's eyes and hair—my father's splendid brow and lip; and your figure, even now so stately! They will court you: you will have lords and great men enough at your feet; but you will never forget this night, nor the agony of your father's death-bed face, and the brand they have burned in his heart. And now, Constance, give me the Bible in which you read to me this morning: that will do:—stand away from the light and fix your eyes on mine, and listen as if your soul were in your ears.
"When I was a young man, toiling my way to fortune through the labours of the Bar,—prudent, cautious, indefatigable, confident of success,—certain lords, who heard I possessed genius, and thought I might become their tool, came to me, and besought me to enter parliament. I told them I was poor—was lately married—that my public ambition must not be encouraged at the expense of my private fortunes. They answered, that they pledged themselves those fortunes should be their care. I yielded; I deserted my profession; I obeyed their wishes; I became famous—and a ruined man! They could not dine without me; they could not sup without me; they could not get drunk without me; no pleasure was sweet but in my company. What mattered it that, while I ministered to their amusement, I was necessarily heaping debt upon debt—accumulating miseries for future years—laying up bankruptcy, and care, and shame, and a broken heart, and an early death? But listen, Constance! Are you listening?—attentively?—Well! note now, I am a just man. I do not blame my noble friends, my gentle patrons, for this. No: if I were forgetful of my interests, if I preferred their pleasure to my happiness and honour, that was any crime, and I deserve the punishment! But, look you,—time went by, and my constitution was broken; debts came upon me; I could not pay; men mistrusted my word; my name in the country fell: With my health, my genius deserted me; I was no longer useful to my party; I lost my seat in parliament; and when I was on a sick-bed—you remember it, Constancy—the bailiffs came, and tore me away for a paltry debt—the value of one of those suppers the Prince used to beg me to give him. From that time my familiars forsook me!—not a visit, not a kind act, not a service for him whose day of work was over! 'Poor Vernon's character was gone! Shockingly involved—could not perform his promises to his creditors—always so extravagant—quite unprincipled—must give him up!'
"In those sentences lies the secret of their conduct. They did not remember that for them, by them, the character was gone, the promises broken, the ruin incurred! They thought not how I had served them; how my best years had been devoted to advance them—to ennoble their cause in the lying page of History! All this was not thought of: my life was reduced to two epochs—that of use to them—that not. During the first, I was honoured; during the last, I was left to starve—to rot! Who freed me from prison?—who protects me now? One of my 'party'—my 'noble friends'—my 'honourable, right honourable friends'? No! a tradesman whom I once served in my holyday, and who alone, of all the world, forgets me not in my penance. You see gratitude, friendship, spring up only in middle life; they grow not in high stations!
"And now, come nearer, for my voice falters, and I would have these words distinctly heard. Child, girl as you are—you I consider pledged to record, to fulfil my desire—my curse! Lay your hand on mine: swear that through life to death,—swear! You speak not! repeat my words after me:"—Constance obeyed:—"through life to death; through good, through ill, through weakness, through power, you will devote yourself to humble, to abase that party from whom your father received ingratitude, mortification, and death! Swear that you will not marry a poor and powerless man, who cannot minister to the ends of that solemn retribution I invoke! Swear that you will seek to marry from amongst the great; not through love, not through ambition, but through hate, and for revenge! You will seek to rise that you may humble those who have betrayed me! In the social walks of life you will delight to gall their vanities in state intrigues, you will embrace every measure that can bring them to their eternal downfall. For this great end you will pursue all means. What! you hesitate? Repeat, repeat, repeat!—You will lie, cringe, fawn, and think vice not vice, if it bring you one jot nearer to Revenge! With this curse on my foes, I entwine my blessing, dear, dear Constance, on you,—you, who have nursed, watched, all but saved me! God, God bless you, my child!" And Vernon burst into tears.
It was two hours after this singular scene, and exactly in the third hour of morning, that Vernon woke from a short and troubled sleep. The grey dawn (for the time was the height of summer) already began to labour through the shades and against the stars of night. A raw and comfortless chill crept over the earth, and saddened the air in the death-chamber. Constance sat by her father's bed, her eyes fixed upon him, and her cheek more wan than ever by the pale light of that crude and cheerless dawn. When Vernon woke, his eyes, glazed with death, rolled faintly towards her, fixing and dimming in their sockets as they gazed;—his throat rattled. But for one moment his voice found vent; a ray shot across his countenance as he uttered his last words—words that sank at once and eternally to the core of his daughter's heart—words that ruled her life, and sealed her destiny: "Constance, remember—the Oath—Revenge!"
REMARK ON THE TENURE OF LIFE.—THE COFFINS OF GREAT MEN SELDOM NEGLECTED.—CONSTANCE TAKES REFUGE WITH LADY ERPINGHAM.—THE HEROINE'S ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CHARACTER.-THE MANOEUVRING TEMPERAMENT.
What a strange life this is! what puppets we are! How terrible an enigma is Fate! I never set my foot without my door, but what the fearful darkness that broods over the next moment rushes upon me. How awful an event may hang over our hearts! The sword is always above us, seen or invisible!
And with this life—this scene of darkness and dreadsome men would have us so contented as to desire, to ask for no other!
Constance was now without a near relation in the world. But her father predicted rightly: vanity supplied the place of affection. Vernon, who for eighteen months preceding his death had struggled with the sharpest afflictions of want—Vernon, deserted in life by all, was interred with the insulting ceremonials of pomp and state. Six nobles bore his pall: long trains of carriages attended his funeral: the journals were filled with outlines of his biography and lamentations at his decease. They buried him in Westminster Abbey, and they made subscriptions for a monument in the very best sort of marble. Lady Erpingham, a distant connection of the deceased, invited Constance to live with her; and Constance of course consented, for she had no alternative.
On the day that she arrived at Lady Erpingham's house, in Hill Street, there were several persons present in the drawing-room.
"I fear, poor girl," said Lady Erpingham,—for they were talking of Constance's expected arrival,—"I fear that she will be quite abashed by seeing so many of us, and under such unhappy circumstances."
"How old is she?" asked a beauty.
"About thirteen, I believe."
"I have not seen her since she was seven years old. She promised then to be very beautiful: but she was a remarkably shy, silent child."
"Miss Vernon," said the groom of the chambers, throwing open the door.
With the slow step and self-possessed air of womanhood, but with a far haughtier and far colder mien than women commonly assume, Constance Vernon walked through the long apartment, and greeted her future guardian. Though every eye was on her, she did not blush; though the Queens of the London World were round her, her gait and air were more royal than all. Every one present experienced a revulsion of feeling. They were prepared for pity; this was no case in which pity could be given. Even the words of protection died on Lady Erpingham's lip, and she it was who felt bashful and disconcerted.
I intend to pass rapidly over the years that elapsed till Constance became a woman. Let us glance at her education. Vernon had not only had her instructed in the French and Italian; but, a deep and impassioned scholar himself, he had taught her the elements of the two great languages of the ancient world. The treasures of those languages she afterwards conquered of her own accord.
Lady Erpingham had one daughter, who married when Constance had reached the age of sixteen. The advantages Lady Eleanor Erpingham possessed in her masters and her governess Constance shared. Miss Vernon drew well, and sang divinely; but she made no very great proficiency in the science of music. To say truth, her mind was somewhat too stern, and somewhat too intent on other subjects, to surrender to that most jealous of accomplishments the exclusive devotion it requires.
But of all her attractions, and of all the evidences of her cultivated mind, none equalled the extraordinary grace of her conversation. Wholly disregarding the conventional leading-strings in which the minds of young ladies are accustomed to be held—leading-strings, disguised by the name of "proper diffidence" and "becoming modesty,"—she never scrupled to share, nay, to lead, discussions even of a grave and solid nature. Still less did she scruple to adorn the common trifles that make the sum of conversation with the fascinations of a wit, which, playful, yet deep, rivalled even the paternal source from which it was inherited.
It seems sometimes odd enough to me, that while young ladies are so sedulously taught the accomplishments that a husband disregards, they are never taught the great one he would prize. They are taught to be exhibitors; he wants a companion. He wants neither a singing animal, nor a drawing animal, nor a dancing animal: he wants a talking animal. But to talk they are never taught; all they know of conversation is slander, and that "comes by nature."
But Constance did talk beautifully; not like a pedant, or a blue, or a Frenchwoman. A child would have been as much charmed with her as a scholar; but both would have been charmed. Her father's eloquence had descended to her; but in him eloquence commanded, in her it won. There was another trait she possessed in common with her father: Vernon (as most disappointed men are wont) had done the world injustice by his accusations. It was not his poverty and his distresses alone which had induced his party to look coolly on his declining day. They were not without some apparent excuse for desertion—they doubted his sincerity. It is true that it was without actual cause. No modern politician had ever been more consistent. He had refused bribes, though poor; and place, though ambitious. But he was essentially—here is the secret—essentially an intriguant. Bred in the old school of policy, he thought that manoeuvring was wisdom, and duplicity the art of governing. Like Lysander,(1) he loved plotting, yet neglected self-interest. There was not a man less open, or more honest. This character, so rare in all countries, is especially so in England. Your blunt squires, your politicians at Bellamy's, do not comprehend it. They saw in Vernon the arts which deceive enemies, and they dreaded lest, though his friends, they themselves should be deceived. This disposition, so fatal to Vernon, his daughter inherited. With a dark, bold, and passionate genius, which in a man would have led to the highest enterprises, she linked the feminine love of secrecy and scheming. To borrow again from Plutarch and Lysander, "When the skin of the lion fell short, she was quite of opinion that it should be eked out with the fox's."
(1) Plutarch's Life of Lysander.
THE HERO INTRODUCED TO OUR READER'S NOTICE.—DIALOGUE BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HIS FATHER.—PERCY GODOLPHIN's CHARACTER AS A BOY.—THE CATASTROPHE OF HIS SCHOOL LIFE.
"Percy, remember that it is to-morrow you will return to school," said Mr. Godolphin to his only son.
Percy pouted, and after a momentary silence replied, "No, father, I think I shall go to Mr. Saville's. He has asked me to spend a month with him; and he says rightly that I shall learn more with him than at Dr. Shallowell's, where I am already head of the sixth form."
"Mr. Saville is a coxcomb, and you are another!" replied the father, who, dressed in an old flannel dressing-gown, with a worn velvet cap on his head, and cowering gloomily over a wretched fire, seemed no bad personification of that mixture of half-hypochondriac, half-miser, which he was in reality. "Don't talk to me of going to town, sir, or—"
"Father," interrupted Percy, in a cool and nonchalant tone, as he folded his arms, and looked straight and shrewdly on the paternal face—"father, let us understand each other. My schooling, I suppose, is rather an expensive affair?"
"You may well say that, sir! Expensive!—It is frightful, horrible, ruinous!—Expensive! Twenty pounds a year board and Latin; five guineas washing; five more for writing and arithmetic. Sir, if I were not resolved that you should not want education, though you may want fortune, I should—yes, I should—what do you mean, sir?—you are laughing! Is this your respect, your gratitude to your father?"
A slight shade fell over the bright and intelligent countenance of the boy.
"Don't let us talk of gratitude," said he sadly; "Heaven knows what either you or I have to be grateful for! Fortune has left to your proud name but these bare walls and a handful of barren acres; to me she gave a father's affection—not such as Nature had made it, but cramped and soured by misfortunes."
Here Percy paused, and his father seemed also struck and affected. "Let us," renewed in a lighter strain this singular boy, who might have passed, by some months, his sixteenth year,—"let us see if we cannot accommodate matters to our mutual satisfaction. You can ill afford my schooling, and I am resolved that at school I will not stay. Saville is a relation of ours; he has taken a fancy to me; he has even hinted that he may leave me his fortune; and he has promised, at least, to afford me a home and his tuition as long as I like. Give me free passport hereafter to come and go as I list, and I in turn, will engage never to cost you another shilling. Come, sir, shall it be a compact?"
"You wound me, Percy," said the father, with a mournful pride in his tone; "I have not deserved this, at least from you. You know not, boy—you know not all that has hardened this heart; but to you it has not been hard, and a taunt from you—yes, that is the serpent's tooth!"
Percy in an instant was at his father's feet; he seized both his hands, and burst into a passionate fit of tears. "Forgive me," he said, in broken words; "I—I meant not to taunt you. I am but a giddy boy!—send me to school!—do with me as you will!"
"Ay," said the old man, shaking his head gently, "you know not what pain a son's bitter word can send to a parent's heart. But it is all natural, perfectly natural! You would reproach me with a love of money, it is the sin to which youth is the least lenient. But what! can I look round the world and not see its value, its necessity? Year after year, from my first manhood, I have toiled and toiled to preserve from the hammer these last remnants of my ancestor's remains. Year after year fortune has slipped from my grasp; and, after all my efforts, and towards the close of a long life, I stand on the very verge of penury. But you cannot tell—no man whose heart is not seared with many years can tell or can appreciate, the motives that have formed my character. You, however,"—and his voice softened as he laid his hand on his son's head, "you, however,—the gay, the bold, the young,—should not have your brow crossed and your eye dimmed by the cares that surround me. Go! I will accompany you to town; I will see Saville myself. If he be one with whom my son can, at so tender an age, be safely trusted, you shall pay him the visit you wish."
Percy would have replied but his father checked him; and before the end of the evening, the father had resolved to forget as much as he pleased of the conversation.
The elder Godolphin was one of those characters on whom it is vain to attempt making a permanent impression. The habits of his mind were durably formed: like waters, they yielded to any sudden intrusion, but closed instantly again. Early in life he had been taught that he ought to marry an heiress for the benefit of his estate—his ancestral estate; the restoration of which he had been bred to consider the grand object and ambition of life. His views had been strangely baffled; but the more they were thwarted the more pertinaciously he clung to them. Naturally kind, generous, and social, he had sunk, at length, into the anchorite and the miser. All other speculations that should retrieve his ancestral honours had failed: but there is one speculation that never fails—the speculation of saving! It was to this that he now indissolubly attached himself. At moments he was open to all his old habits; but such moments were rare and few. A cold, hard, frosty penuriousness was his prevalent characteristic. He had sent this son, with eighteen pence in his pocket, to a school of twenty pounds a-year; where, naturally enough, he learned nothing but mischief and cricket: yet he conceived that his son owed him eternal obligations.
Luckily for Percy, he was an especial favourite with a certain not uncelebrated character of the name of Saville; and Saville claimed the privilege of a relation to supply him with money and receive him at his home. Wild, passionate, fond to excess of pleasure, the young Godolphin caught eagerly at these occasional visits; and at each his mind, keen and penetrating as it naturally was, took new flights, and revelled in new views. He was already the leader of his school, the torment of the master, and the lover of the master's daughter. He was sixteen years old, but a character. A secret pride, a secret bitterness, and an open wit and recklessness of bearing, rendered him to all seeming a boy more endowed with energies than affections. Yet a kind word from a friend's lips was never without its effect on him, and he might have been led by the silk while he would have snapped the chain. But these were his boyish traits of mind: the world soon altered them.
The subject of the visit to Saville was not again touched upon. A little reflection showed Mr. Godolphin how nugatory were the promises of a schoolboy that he should not cost his father another shilling; and he knew that Saville's house was not exactly the spot in which economy was best learned. He thought it, therefore, more prudent that his son should return to school.
To school went Percy Godolphin; and about three weeks afterwards, Percy Godolphin was condemned to expulsion for returning, with considerable unction, a slap in the face that he had received from Dr. Shallowell. Instead of waiting for his father's arrival, Percy made up a small bundle of clothes, let himself drop, by the help of the bed-curtains, from the window of the room in which he was confined, and towards the close of a fine summer's evening, found himself on the highroad between and London, with independence at his heart and (Saville's last gift) ten guineas in his pocket.
PERCY'S FIRST ADVENTURE AS A FREE AGENT.
It was a fine, picturesque outline of road on which the young outcast found himself journeying, whither he neither knew nor cared. His heart was full of enterprise and the unfledged valour of inexperience. He had proceeded several miles, and the dusk of the evening was setting in, when he observed a stage-coach crawling heavily up a hill, a little ahead of him, and a tall, well-shaped man, walking alongside of it, and gesticulating somewhat violently. Godolphin remarked him with some curiosity; and the man, turning abruptly round, perceived, and in his turn noticed very inquisitively, the person and aspect of the young traveller.
"And how now?" said he, presently, and in an agreeable, though familiar and unceremonious tone of voice; "whither are you bound this time of day?"
"It is no business of yours, friend," said the boy with the proud petulance of his age; "mind what belongs to yourself."
"You are sharp on me, young sir," returned the other; "but it is our business to be loquacious. Know, sir,"—and the stranger frowned—"that we have ordered many a taller fellow than yourself to execution for a much smaller insolence than you seem capable of."
A laugh from the coach caused Godolphin to lift up his eyes, and he saw the door of the vehicle half-open, as if for coolness, and an arch female face looking down on him.
"You are merry on me, I see," said Percy; "come out, and I'll be even with you, pretty one."
The lady laughed yet more loudly at the premature gallantry of the traveller; but the man, without heeding her, and laying his hand on Percy's shoulder, said—
"Pray, sir, do you live at B——?" naming the town they were now approaching.
"Not I," said Godolphin, freeing himself from the intrusion.
"You will, perhaps, sleep there?"
"Perhaps I shall."
"You are too young to travel alone."
"And you are too old to make such impertinent remarks," retorted Godolphin, reddening with anger.
"Faith, I like this spirit, my Hotspur," said the stranger, coolly. "If you are really going to put up for the night at B——, suppose we sup together?"
"And who and what are you?" asked Percy, bluntly.
"Anything and everything! in other words, an actor!"
"And the young lady——?'
"Is our prima donna. In fact, except the driver, the coach holds none but the ladies and gentlemen of our company. We have made an excellent harvest at A——, and we are now on our way to the theatre at B——; pretty theatre it is, too, and has been known to hold seventy-one pounds eight shillings." Here the actor fell into a reverie; and Percy, moving nearer to the coach-door, glanced at the damsel, who returned the look with a laugh which, though coquettish, was too low and musical to be called cold.
"So that gentleman, so free and easy in his manners, is not your husband?"
"Heaven forbid! Do you think I should be so gay if he were? But, pooh! what can you know of married life? No!" she continued, with a pretty air of mock dignity; "I am the Belvidera, the Calista, of the company; above all control, all husbanding, and reaping thirty-three shillings a week."
"But are you above lovers as well as husbands?" asked Percy with a rakish air, borrowed from Saville.
"Bless the boy! No: but then my lovers must be at least as tall, and at least as rich, and, I am afraid, at least as old, as myself."
"Don't frighten yourself, my dear," returned Percy; "I was not about to make love to you."
"Were you not? Yes, you were, and you know it. But why will you not sup with us?"
"Why not, indeed?" thought Percy, as the idea, thus more enticingly put than it was at first, pressed upon him. "If you ask me," he said, "I will."
"I do ask you, then," said the actress; and here the hero of the company turned abruptly round with a theatrical start, and exclaimed, "To sup or not to sup? that is the question."
"To sup, sir," said Godolphin.
"Very well! I am glad to hear it. Had you not better mount and rest yourself in the coach? You can take my place—I am studying a new part. We have two miles farther to B—— yet."
Percy accepted the invitation, and was soon by the side of the pretty actress. The horses broke into a slow trot, and thus delighted with his adventure, the son of the ascetic Godolphin, the pupil of the courtly Saville, entered the town of B——, and commenced his first independent campaign in the great world.
THE MUMMERS.—GODOLPHIN IN LOVE.—THE EFFECT OF FANNY MILLINGER'S ACTING UPON HIM.—THE TWO OFFERS.—GODOLPHIN QUITS THE PLAYERS.
Our travellers stopped at the first inn in the outskirts of the town. Here they were shown into a large room on the ground-floor, sanded, with a long table in the centre; and, before the supper was served, Percy had leisure to examine all the companions with whom he had associated himself.
In the first place, there was an old gentleman, of the age of sixty-three, in a bob-wig, and inclined to be stout, who always played the lover. He was equally excellent in the pensive Romeo and the bustling Rapid. He had an ill way of talking off the stage, partly because he had lost all his front teeth: a circumstance which made him avoid, in general, those parts in which he had to force a great deal of laughter. Next, there was a little girl, of about fourteen, who played angels, fairies, and, at a pinch, was very effective as an old woman. Thirdly, there was our free-and-easy cavalier, who, having a loud voice and a manly presence, usually performed the tyrant. He was great in Macbeth, greater in Bombastes Furioso. Fourthly, came this gentleman's wife, a pretty, slatternish woman, much painted. She usually performed the second female—the confidante, the chambermaid—the Emilia to the Desdemona. And fifthly, was Percy's new inamorata,—a girl of about one-and-twenty, fair, with a nez retrousse: beautiful auburn hair, that was always a little dishevelled; the prettiest mouth, teeth, and dimple imaginable; a natural colour; and a person that promised to incline hereafter towards that roundness of proportion which is more dear to the sensual than the romantic. This girl, whose name was Fanny Millinger, was of so frank, good-humoured, and lively a turn, that she was the idol of the whole company, and her superiority in acting was never made a matter of jealousy. Actors may believe this, or not, as they please.
"But is this all your company?" said Percy.
"All? no!" replied Fanny, taking off her bonnet, and curling up her tresses by the help of a dim glass. "The rest are provided at the theatre along with the candle-snuffer and scene-shifters part of the fixed property. Why won't you take to the stage? I wish you would! you would make a very respectable—page."
"Upon my word!" said Percy, exceedingly offended.
"Come, come!" cried the actress, clapping her hands, and perfectly unheeding his displeasure—"why don't you help me off with my cloak?—why don't you set me a chair?—why don't you take this great box out of my way?—why don't you——Heaven help me!" and she stamped her little foot quite seriously on the floor. "A pretty person for a lover you are!"
"Oho! then I am a lover, you acknowledge?"
"Nonsense!—get a chair next me at supper."
The young Godolphin was perfectly fascinated by the lively actress; and it was with no small interest that he stationed himself the following night in the stage-box of the little theatre at ——, to see how his Fanny acted. The house was tolerably well filled, and the play was She Stoops to Conquer. The male parts were, on the whole, respectably managed; though Percy was somewhat surprised to observe that a man, who had joined the corps that morning, blessed with the most solemn countenance in the world—a fine Roman nose, and a forehead like a sage's—was now dressed in nankeen tights, and a coat without skirts, splitting the sides of the gallery in the part of Tony Lumpkin. But into the heroine, Fanny Millinger threw a grace, a sweetness, a simple, yet dignified spirit of trite love that at once charmed and astonished all present. The applause was unbounded; and Percy Godolphin felt proud of himself for having admired one whom every one else seemed also resolved upon admiring.
When the comedy was finished, he went behind the scenes, and for the first time felt the rank which intellect bestows. This idle girl, with whom he had before been so familiar; who had seemed to him, boy as he was, only made for jesting and coquetry, and trifling, he now felt to be raised to a sudden eminence that startled and abashed him. He became shy and awkward, and stood at a distance stealing a glance towards her, but without the courage to approach and compliment her.
The quick eye of the actress detected the effect she had produced. She was naturally pleased at it, and coming up to Godolphin, she touched his shoulder, and with a smile rendered still more brilliant by the rouge yet unwashed from the dimpled cheeks, said—"Well, most awkward swain? no flattery ready for me? Go to! you won't suit me: get yourself another empress."
"You have pleased me into respecting you," said Godolphin.
There was a delicacy in the expression that was very characteristic of the real mind of the speaker, though that mind was not yet developed; and the pretty actress was touched by it at the moment, though, despite the grace of her acting, she was by nature far too volatile to think it at all advantageous to be respected in the long run. She did not act in the afterpiece, and Godolphin escorted her home to the inn.
So long as his ten guineas lasted—which the reader will conceive was not very long—Godolphin stayed with the gay troop, as the welcome lover of its chief ornament. To her he confided his name and history: she laughed heartily at the latter—for she was one of Venus's true children, fond of striking mirth out of all subjects. "But what," said she, patting his cheek affectionately, "what should hinder you from joining us for a little while? I could teach you to be an actor in three lessons. Come now, attend! It is but a mere series of tricks, this art that seems to you so admirable."
Godolphin grew embarrassed. There was in him a sort of hidden pride that could never endure to subject itself to the censure of others. He had no propensity to imitation, and he had a strong susceptibility to the ridiculous. These traits of mind thus early developed—which in later life prevented his ever finding fit scope for his natural powers, which made him too proud to bustle, and too philosophical to shine—were of service to him on this occasion, and preserved him from the danger into which he might otherwise have fallen. He could not be persuaded to act: the fair Fanny gave up the attempt in despair. "Yet stay with us," said she, tenderly, "and share my poor earnings."
Godolphin started; and in the wonderful contradictions of the proud human heart, this generous offer from the poor actress gave him a distaste, a displeasure, that almost reconciled him to parting from her. It seemed to open to him at once the equivocal mode of life he had entered upon. "No, Fanny," said he, after a pause, "I am here because I resolved to be independent: I cannot, therefore, choose dependence."
"Miss Millinger is wanted instantly for rehearsal," said the little girl who acted fairies and old women, putting her head suddenly into the room.
"Bless me!" cried Fanny, starting up; "is it so late? Well, I must go now. Good-bye! look in upon us—do!"
But Godolphin, moody and thoughtful, walked into the street; and lo! the first thing that greeted his eyes was a handbill on the wall, describing his own person, and offering twenty guineas reward for his detention. "Let him return to his afflicted parent," was the conclusion of the bill, "and all shall be forgiven."
Godolphin crept back to his apartment; wrote a long, affectionate letter to Fanny; inclosed her his watch, as the only keepsake in his power; gave her his address at Saville's; and then, towards dusk, once more sallied forth, and took a place in the mail for London. He had no money for his passage, but his appearance was such that the coachman readily trusted him; and the next morning at daybreak he was under Saville's roof.
PERCY GODOLPHIN THE GUEST OF SAVILLE.—HE ENTERS THE LIFE-GUARDS AND BECOMES THE FASHION.
"And so," said Saville, laughing, "you really gave them the slip: excellent! But I envy you your adventures with the player folk. 'Gad! if I were some years younger, I would join them myself; I should act Sir Pertinax Macsycophant famously; I have a touch of the mime in me. Well! but what do you propose to do?—live with me?—eh!"
"Why, I think that might be the best, and certainly it would be the pleasantest mode of passing my life. But——"
"Why, I can scarcely quarter myself on your courtesy; I should soon grow discontented. So I shall write to my father, whom I, kindly and considerately, by the way, informed of my safety the very first day of my arrival at B——. I told him to direct his letters to your house; but I regret to find that the handbill which so frightened me from my propriety is the only notice he has deigned to take of my whereabout. I shall write to him therefore again, begging him to let me enter the army. It is not a profession I much fancy; but what then! I shall be my own master."
"Very well said!" answered Saville; "and here I hope I can serve you. If your father will pay the lawful sum for a commission in the Guards, why, I think I have interest to get you in for that sum alone—no trifling favour."
Godolphin was enchanted at this proposal, and instantly wrote to his father, urging it strongly upon him; Saville, in a separate epistle, seconded the motion. "You see," wrote the latter, "you see, my dear sir, that your son is a wild, resolute scapegrace. You can do nothing with him by schools and coercion: put him to discipline in the king's service, and condemn him to live on his pay. It is a cheap mode, after all, of providing for a reprobate; and as he will have the good fortune to enter the army at so early an age, by the time he is thirty, he may be a colonel on full pay. Seriously, this is the best thing you can do with him,—unless you have a living in your family."
The old gentleman was much discomposed by these letters, and by his son's previous elopement. He could not, however, but foresee, that if he resisted the boy's wishes, he was likely to have a troublesome time of it. Scrape after scrape, difficulty following difficulty, might ensue, all costing both anxiety and money. The present offer furnished him with a fair excuse for ridding himself, for a long time to come, of further provision for his offspring; and now growing daily more and more attached to the indolent routine of solitary economies in which he moved, he was glad of an opportunity to deliver himself from future interruption, and surrender his whole soul to his favourite occupation.
At length, after a fortnight's delay and meditation, he wrote shortly to Saville and his son; saying, after much reproach to the latter, that if the commission could really be purchased at the sum specified he was willing to make a sacrifice, for which he must pinch himself, and conclude the business. This touched the son, but Saville laughed him out of the twinge of good feeling; and very shortly afterwards, Percy Godolphin was gazetted as a cornet in the —— Life-Guards.
The life of a soldier, in peace, is indolent enough, Heaven knows! Percy liked the new uniforms and the new horses—all of which were bought on credit. He liked his new companions; he liked balls; he liked flirting; he did not dislike Hyde Park from four o'clock till six; and he was not very much bored by drills and parade. It was much to his credit in the world that he was the protege of a man who had so great a character for profligacy and gambling as Augustus Saville; and under such auspices he found himself launched at once into the full tide of "good society."
Young, romantic, high-spirited—with the classic features of an Antinous, and a very pretty knack of complimenting and writing verses—Percy Godolphin soon became, while yet more fit in years for the nursery than the world, "the curled darling" of that wide class of high-born women who have nothing to do but to hear love made to them, and who, all artifice themselves, think the love sweetest which springs from the most natural source. They like boyhood when it is not bashful; and from sixteen to twenty, a Juan need scarcely go to Seville to find a Julia.
But love was not the worst danger that menaced the intoxicated boy. Saville, the most seductive of tutors—Saville who, in his wit; his bon ton, his control over the great world, seemed as a god to all less elevated and less aspiring,—Saville was Godolphin's constant companion; and Saville was worse than a profligate—he was a gambler! One would think that gaming was the last vice that could fascinate the young: its avarice, its grasping, its hideous selfishness, its cold, calculating meanness, would, one might imagine, scare away all who have yet other and softer deities to worship. But, in fact, the fault of youth is that it can rarely resist whatever is the Mode. Gaming, in all countries, is the vice of an aristocracy. The young find it already established in the best circles; they are enticed by the habit of others, and ruined when the habit becomes their own.
"You look feverish, Percy," said Saville, as he met his pupil in the Park. "I don't wonder at it; you lost infernally last night."
"More than I can pay," replied Percy, with a quivering lip.
"No! you shall pay it to-morrow, for you shall go shares with me to-night. Observe," continued Saville, lowering his voice, "I never lose."
"Never, unless by design. I play at no game where chance only presides. Whist is my favourite game: it is not popular: I am sorry for it. I take up with other games,—I am forced to do it; but, even at rouge et noir, I carry about with me the rules of whist. I calculate—I remember."
"I never play at that," said Saville, solemnly. "It is the devil's game; it defies skill. Forsake hazard, and let me teach you ecarte; it is coming into fashion."
Saville took great pains with Godolphin; and Godolphin, who was by nature of a contemplative, not hasty mood, was no superficial disciple. As his biographer, I grieve to confess, that he became, though a punctiliously honest, a wise and fortunate gamester; and thus he eked out betimes the slender profits of a subaltern's pay.
This was the first great deterioration in Percy's mind—a mind which ought to have made him a very different being from what he became, but which no vice, no evil example, could ever entirely pervert.
SAVILLE EXCUSED FOR HAVING HUMAN AFFECTIONS.—GODOLPHIN SEES ONE WHOM HE NEVER SEES AGAIN.—THE NEW ACTRESS.
Saville was deemed the consummate man of the world—wise and heartless. How came he to take such gratuitous pains with the boy Godolphin? In the first place, Saville had no legitimate children; Godolphin was his relation; in the second place it may be observed that hackneyed and sated men of the world are fond of the young, in whom they recognise something—a better something belonging to themselves. In Godolphin's gentleness and courage, Saville thought he saw the mirror of his own crusted urbanity and scheming perseverance; in Godolphin's fine imagination and subtle intellect he beheld his own cunning and hypocrisy. The boy's popularity flattered him; the boy's conversation amused. No man is so heartless but that he is capable of strong likings, when they do not put him much out of his way; it was this sort of liking that Saville had for Godolphin. Besides, there was yet another reason for attachment, which might at first seem too delicate to actuate the refined voluptuary; but examined closely, the delicacy vanished. Saville had loved, at least had offered his hand to—Godolphin's mother (she was supposed an heiress!) He thought he had just missed being Godolphin's father: his vanity made him like to show the boy what a much better father he would have been than the one that Providence had given him. His resentment, too, against the accepted suitor, made him love to exercise a little spiteful revenge against Godolphin's father; he was glad to show that the son preferred where the mother rejected. All these motives combined made Saville take, as it were, to the young Percy; and being rich, and habitually profuse, though prudent, and a shrewd speculator withal, the pecuniary part of his kindness cost him no pain. But Godolphin, who was not ostentatious, did not trust himself largely to the capricious fount of the worldling's generosity. Fortune smiled on her boyish votary; and during the short time he was obliged to cultivate her favours, showered on him at least a sufficiency for support, or even for display.
Crowded with fine people, and blazing with light, were the rooms of the Countess of B——, as, flushed from a late dinner at Saville's, young Godolphin made his appearance in the scene. He was not of those numerous gentlemen, the stock-flowers of the parterre, who stick themselves up against walls in the panoply of neckclothed silence. He came not to balls from the vulgar motive of being seen there in the most conspicuous situation—a motive so apparent among the stiff exquisites of England. He came to amuse himself; and if he found no one capable of amusing him, he saw no necessity in staying. He was always seen, therefore, conversing or dancing, or listening to music—or he was not seen at all.
In exchanging a few words with a Colonel D——, a noted roue and gamester, he observed, gazing on him very intently—and as Percy thought, very rudely—an old gentleman in a dress of the last century. Turn where he would, Godolphin could not rid himself of the gaze; so at length he met it with a look of equal scrutiny and courage. The old gentleman slowly approached. "Percy Godolphin, I think?" said he.
"That is my name, sir," replied Percy. "Yours——"
"No matter! Yet stay! you shall know it. I am Henry Johnstone—old Harry Johnstone. You have heard of him?—your father's first cousin. Well, I grieve, young sir, to find that you associate with that rascal Saville—Nay, never interrupt me sir!—I grieve to find that you, thus young, thus unguarded, are left to be ruined in heart and corrupted in nature by any one who will take the trouble! Yet I like your countenance!—I like your countenance!—it is open, yet thoughtful; frank, and yet it has something of melancholy. You have not Charles's coloured hair; but you are much younger—much. I am glad I have seen you; I came here on purpose; good-night!"—and without waiting for an answer, the old man disappeared.
Godolphin, recovering from his surprise, recollected that he had often heard his father speak of a rich and eccentric relation named Johnstone. This singular interview made a strong but momentary impression on him. He intended to seek out the old man's residence; but one thing or another drove away the fulfilment of the intention, and in this world the relations never met again.
Percy, now musingly gliding through the crowd, sank into a seat beside a lady of forty-five, who sometimes amused herself in making love to him—because there could be no harm in such a mere boy!—and presently afterwards, a Lord George Somebody, sauntering up, asked the lady if he had not seen her at the play on the previous night.
"O, yes! we went to see the new actress. How pretty she is!—so unaffected too;—how well she sings!"
"Pretty well—er!" replied Lord George, passing his hand through his hair. "Very nice girl—er!—good ankles. Devilish hot—er, is it not—er—er? What a bore this is: eh! Ah! Godolphin! don't forget Wattier's—er!" and his lordship er'd himself off.
"What actress is this?"
"Oh, a very good one indeed!—came out in The Belle's Stratagem. We are going to see her to-morrow; will you dine with us early, and be our cavalier?"
"Nothing will please me more! Your ladyship has dropped your handkerchief."
"Thank you!" said the lady, bending till her hair touched Godolphin's cheek, and gently pressing the hand that was extended to her. It was a wonder that Godolphin never became a coxcomb.
He dined at Wattier's the next day according to appointment: he went to the play; and at the moment his eye first turned to the stage, a universal burst of applause indicated the entrance of the new actress—Fanny Millinger!
GODOLPHIN'S PASSION FOR THE STAGE.—THE DIFFERENCE IT ENGENDERED IN HIS HABITS OF LIFE.
Now this event produced a great influence over Godolphin's habits—and I suppose, therefore, I may add, over his character. He renewed his acquaintance with the lively actress.
"What a change!" cried both.
"The strolling player risen into celebrity!"
"And the runaway boy polished into fashion!"
"You are handsomer than ever, Fanny."
"I return the compliment," replied Fanny; with a curtsey.
And now Godolphin became a constant attendant at the theatre. This led him into a mode of life quite different from that which he had lately cultivated.
There are in London two sets of idle men: one set, the butterflies of balls; the loungers of the regular walks of society; diners out; the "old familiar faces," seen everywhere, known to every one: the other set, a more wild, irregular, careless race; who go little into parties, and vote balls a nuisance; who live in clubs; frequent theatres; drive about late o' nights in mysterious-looking vehicles and enjoy a vast acquaintance among the Aspasias of pleasure. These are the men who are the critics of theatricals: black-neckclothed and well-booted, they sit in their boxes and decide on the ankles of a dancer or the voice of a singer. They have a smattering of literature, and use a great deal of French in their conversation: they have something of romance in their composition, and have been known to marry for love. In short, there is in their whole nature, a more roving, liberal, Continental character of dissipation, than belongs to the cold, tame, dull, prim, hedge-clipped indolence of more national exquisitism. Into this set, out of the other set, fell young Godolphin; and oh! the merry mornings at actresses' houses; the jovial suppers after the play; the buoyancy, the brilliancy, the esprit, with which the hours, from midnight to cockcrow, were often pelted with rose-leaves and drowned in Rhenish.
By degrees, however, as Godolphin warmed into his attendance at the playhouses, the fine intellectual something that lay yet undestroyed at his heart stirred up emotions which he felt his more vulgar associates were unfitted to share.
There is that in theatrical representation which perpetually awakens whatever romance belongs to our character. The magic lights; the pomp of scene; the palace, the camp; the forest; the midnight wold; the moonlight reflected on the water; the melody of the tragic rhythm; the grace of the comic wit; the strange art that give such meaning to the poet's lightest word;—the fair, false, exciting life that is detailed before us—crowding into some three little hours all that our most busy ambition could desire—love, enterprise, war, glory! the kindling exaggeration of the sentiments which belong to the stage—like our own in our boldest moments: all these appeals to our finer senses are not made in vain. Our taste for castle-building and visions deepens upon us; and we chew a mental opium which stagnates all the other faculties, but wakens that of the ideal.
Godolphin was peculiarly fascinated by the stage; he loved to steal away from his companions, and, alone, and unheeded, to feast his mind on the unreal stream of existence that mirrored images so beautiful. And oh! while yet we are young—while yet the dew lingers on the green leaf of spring—while all the brighter, the more enterprising part of the future is to come—while we know not whether the true life may not be visionary and excited as the false—how deep and rich a transport is it to see, to feel, to hear Shakspeare's conceptions made actual, though all imperfectly, and only for an hour! Sweet Arden! are we in thy forest?—thy "shadowy groves and unfrequented glens"? Rosalind, Jaques, Orlando, have you indeed a being upon earth! Ah! this is true enchantment! and when we turn back to life, we turn from the colours which the Claude glass breathes over a winter's landscape to the nakedness of the landscape itself!
THE LEGACY.—A NEW DEFORMITY IN SAVILLE.—THE NATURE OF WORLDLY LIAISONS.—GODOLPHIN LEAVES ENGLAND.
But then, it is not always a sustainer of the stage delusion to be enamoured of an actress: it takes us too much behind the scenes. Godolphin felt this so strongly that he liked those plays least in which Fanny performed. Off the stage her character had so little romance, that he could not deceive himself into the romance of her character before the lamps. Luckily, however, Fanny did not attempt Shakspeare. She was inimitable in vaudeville, in farce, and in the lighter comedy; but she had prudently abandoned tragedy in deserting the barn. She was a girl of much talent and quickness, and discovered exactly the paths in which her vanity could walk without being wounded. And there was a simplicity, a frankness, about her manner, that made her a most agreeable companion.
The attachment between her and Godolphin was not very violent; it was a silken tie, which opportunity could knit and snap a hundred times over without doing much wrong to the hearts it so lightly united. Over Godolphin the attachment itself had no influence, while the effects of the attachment had an influence so great.
One night, after an absence from town of two or three days Godolphin returned home from the theatre, and found among the letters waiting his arrival one from his father. It was edged with black; the seal, too, was black. Godolphin's heart misgave him: tremblingly he opened it, and read as follows:
"I have news for you, which I do not know whether I should call good or bad. On the one hand, your cousin, that old oddity, Harry Johnstone, is dead, and has left you, out of his immense fortune, the poor sum of twenty thousand pounds. But mark! on condition that you leave the Guards, and either reside with me, or at least leave London, till your majority is attained. If you refuse these conditions you lose the legacy. It is rather strange that this curious character should take such pains with your morals, and yet not leave me a single shilling. But justice is out of fashion nowadays; your showy virtues only are the rage. I beg, if you choose to come down here, that you will get me twelve yards of house-flannel; I inclose a pattern of the quality. Snugg, in Oxford Street, near Tottenham Court Road, is my man. It is certainly a handsome thing in old Johnstone: but so odd to omit me. How did you get acquainted with him? The twenty thousand pounds will, however, do much for the poor property. Pray take care of it, Percy,—pray do.
"I have had a touch of the gout, for the first time. I have been too luxurious: by proper abstinence, I trust to bring it down. Compliments to that smooth rogue, Saville.
"Your affectionate, A. G.
"P. S.—Discharged Old Sally for flirting with the butcher's boy: flirtations of that sort make meat weigh much heavier. Bess is my only she-helpmate now, besides the old creature who shows the ruins: so much the better. What an eccentric creature that Johnstone was! I hate eccentric people."
The letter fell from Percy's hands. And this, then, was the issue of his single interview with the poor old man! It was events like these, wayward and strange (events which chequered his whole life), that, secretly to himself, tinged Godolphin's character with superstition. He afterwards dealt con amore with fatalities and influences.
You may be sure that he did not sleep much that night. Early the next morning he sought Saville, and imparted to him the intelligence he had received.
"Droll enough!" said Saville, languidly, and more than a little displeased at this generosity to Godolphin from another; for, like all small-hearted persons, he was jealous; "droll enough! Hem! and you never knew him but once, and then he abused me! I wonder at that; I was very obliging to his vulgar son."
"What! he had a son, then?"
"Some two-legged creature of that sort, raw and bony, dropped into London, like a ptarmigan, wild, and scared out of his wits. Old Johnstone was in the country, taking care of his wife, who had lost the use of her limbs ever since she had been married;—caught a violent—husband—the first day of wedlock! The boy, sole son and heir, came up to town at the age of discretion; got introduced to me; I patronised him; brought him into a decent degree of fashion; played a few games at cards with him; won some money; would not win any more; advised him to leave off; too young to play; neglected my advice; went on, and, d—n the fellow! if he did not cut his throat one morning; and the father, to my astonishment, laid the blame upon me!"
Godolphin stood appalled in speechless disgust. He never loved Saville from that hour.
"In fact," resumed Saville, carelessly, "he had lost very considerably. His father was a stern, hard man, and the poor boy was frightened at the thought of his displeasure. I suppose Monsieur Papa imagined me a sort of moral ogre, eating up all the little youths that fall in my way! since he leaves you twenty thousand pounds on condition that you take care of yourself and shun the castle I live in. Well, well! 'tis all very flattering! And where will you go? To Spain?"
This story affected Percy sensibly. He regretted deeply that he had not sought out the bereaved father, and been of some comfort to his later hours. He appreciated all that warmth of sympathy, that delicacy of heart, which had made the old man compassionate his young relation's unfriended lot, and couple his gift with a condition, likely perhaps, to limit Percy's desires to the independence thus bestowed, and certain to remove his more tender years from a scene of constant contagion. Thus melancholy and thoughtful, Godolphin repaired to the house of the now famous, the now admired Miss Millinger.
Fanny received the good news of his fortune with a smile, and the bad news of his departure from England with a tear. There are some attachments, of which we so easily sound the depth, that the one never thinks of exacting from the other the sacrifices that seemed inevitable to more earnest affections. Fanny never dreamed of leaving her theatrical career, and accompanying Godolphin; Godolphin never dreamed of demanding it. These are the connections of the great world: my good reader, learn the great world as you look at them!
All was soon settled. Godolphin was easily disembarrassed of his commission. Six hundred a year from his fortune was allowed him during his minority. He insisted on sharing this allowance with his father; the moiety left to himself was quite sufficient for all that a man so young could require. At the age of little more than seventeen, but with a character which premature independence had half formed, and also half enervated, the young Godolphin saw the shores of England recede before him, and felt himself alone in the universe—the lord of his own fate.
THE EDUCATION OF CONSTANCE'S MIND.
Meanwhile, Constance Vernon grew up in womanhood and beauty. All around her contributed to feed that stern remembrance which her father's dying words had bequeathed. Naturally proud, quick, susceptible, she felt slights, often merely incidental, with a deep and brooding resentment. The forlorn and dependent girl could not, indeed, fail to meet with many bitter proofs that her situation was not forgotten by a world in which prosperity and station are the cardinal virtues. Many a loud whisper, many an intentional "aside," reached her haughty ear, and coloured her pale cheek. Such accidents increased her early-formed asperity of thought; chilled the gushing flood of her young affections; and sharpened, with a relentless edge, her bitter and caustic hatred to a society she deemed at once insolent and worthless. To a taste intuitively fine and noble the essential vulgarities—the fierceness to-day, the cringing to-morrow; the veneration for power; the indifference to virtue, which characterised the framers and rulers of "society"—could not but bring contempt as well as anger; and amidst the brilliant circles, to which so many aspirers looked up with hopeless ambition, Constance moved only to ridicule, to loathe, to despise.
So strong, so constantly nourished, was this sentiment of contempt, that it lasted with equal bitterness when Constance afterwards became the queen and presider over that great world in which she now shone—to dazzle, but not to rule. What at first might have seemed an exaggerated and insane prayer on the part of her father, grew, as her experience ripened, a natural and laudable command. She was thrown entirely with that party amongst whom were his early friends and his late deserters. She resolved to humble the crested arrogance around her, as much from her own desire, as from the wish to obey and avenge her father. From contempt for rank rose naturally the ambition of rank. The young beauty resolved, to banish love from her heart; to devote herself to one aim and object; to win title and station, that she might be able to give power and permanence to her disdain of those qualities in others; and in the secrecy of night she repeated the vow which had consoled her father's death-bed, and solemnly resolved to crush love within her heart and marry solely for station and for power.
As the daughter of so celebrated a politician, it was natural that Constance should take interest in politics. She lent to every discussion of state events an eager and thirsty ear. She embraced with masculine ardour such sentiments as were then considered the extreme of liberality; and she looked on that career which society limits to man, as the noblest, the loftiest in the world. She regretted that she was a woman, and prevented from personally carrying into effect the sentiments she passionately espoused. Meanwhile, she did not neglect, nor suffer to rust, the bright weapon of a wit which embodied at times all the biting energies of her contempt. To insolence she retorted sarcasm; and, early able to see that society, like virtue, must be trampled upon in order to yield forth its incense, she rose into respect by the hauteur of her manner, the bluntness of her satire, the independence of her mind, far more than by her various accomplishments and her unrivalled beauty.
Of Lady Erpingham she had nothing to complain; kind, easy, and characterless, her protectress sometimes wounded her by carelessness, but never through design; on the contrary, the Countess at once loved and admired her, and was as anxious that her protegee should form a brilliant alliance as if she had been her own daughter. Constance, therefore, loved Lady Erpingham with sincere and earnest warmth, and endeavoured to forget all the commonplaces and littlenesses which made up the mind of her protectress, and which, otherwise, would have been precisely of that nature to which one like Constance would have been the least indulgent.
CONVERSATION BETWEEN LADY ERPINGHAM AND CONSTANCE.—FURTHER PARTICULARS OF GODOLPHIN'S FAMILY, ETC.
Lady Erpingham was a widow; her jointure, for she had been an heiress and a duke's daughter, was large; and the noblest mansion of all the various seats possessed by the wealthy and powerful house of Erpingham had been allotted by her late lord for her widowed residence. Thither she went punctually on the first of every August, and quitted it punctually on the eighth of every January.
It was some years after the date of Godolphin's departure from England, and the summer following the spring in which Constance had been "brought out;" and, after a debut of such splendour that at this day (many years subsequent to that period) the sensation she created is not only a matter of remembrance but of conversation, Constance, despite the triumph of her vanity, was not displeased to seek some refuge, even from admiration, among the shades of Wendover Castle.
"When," said she one morning, as she was walking with Lady Erpingham upon a terrace beneath the windows of the castle, which overlooked the country for miles,—"when will you go with me, dear Lady Erpingham, to see those ruins of which I have heard so much and so often, and which I have never been able to persuade you to visit? Look! the day is so clear that we can see their outline now—there, to the right of that church!—they cannot be so very far from Wendover."
"Godolphin Priory is about twelve miles off," said Lady Erpingham; "but it may seem nearer, for it is situated on the highest spot of the county. Poor Arthur Godolphin! he is lately dead!" Lady Erpingham sighed.
"I never heard you speak of him before."
"There might be a reason for my silence, Constance. He was the person, of all whom I ever saw, who appeared to me when I was at your age, the most fascinating. Not, Constance, that I was in love with him, or that he gave me any reason to become so through gratitude for any affection on his part. It was a girl's fancy, idle and short-lived—nothing more!"
"And the young Godolphin—the boy who, at so early an age, has made himself known for his eccentric life abroad?"
"Is his son; the present owner of those ruins, and, I fear, of little more, unless it be the remains of a legacy received from a relation."
"Was the father extravagant, then?"
"Not he! But his father had exceeded a patrimony greatly involved, and greatly reduced from its ancient importance. All the lands we see yonder—-those villages, those woods—once belonged to the Godolphins. They were the most ancient and the most powerful family in this part of England; but the estates dwindled away with each successive generation, and when Arthur Godolphin, my Godolphin, succeeded to the property, nothing was left for him but the choice of three evils—a profession, obscurity, or a wealthy marriage. My father, who had long destined me for Lord Erpingham, insinuated that it was in me that Mr. Godolphin wished to find the resource I have last mentioned, and that in such resource was my only attraction in his eyes. I have some reason to believe he proposed to the Duke; but he was silent to me, from whom, girl as I was, he might have been less certain of refusal."
"What did he at last?"
"Married a lady who was supposed to be an heiress; but he had scarcely enjoyed her fortune a year before it became the subject of a lawsuit. He lost the cause and the dowry; and, what was worse, the expenses of litigation, and the sums he was obliged to refund, reduced him to what, for a man of his rank, might be considered absolute poverty. He was thoroughly chagrined and soured by this event; retired to those ruins, or rather to the small cottage that adjoins them, and there lived to the day of his death, shunning society, and certainly not exceeding his income."
"I understand you: he became parsimonious."
"To the excess which his neighbours called miserly."
"And his wife?"
"Poor woman! she was a mere fine lady, and died, I believe, of the same vexation which nipped, not the life, but the heart of her husband."
"Had they only one son?"
"Only the present owner: Percy, I think—yes, Percy; it was his mother's surname—Percy Godolphin."
"And how came this poor boy to be thrown so early on the world? Did he quarrel with Mr. Godolphin?"
"I believe not: but when Percy was about sixteen, he left the obscure school at which he was educated, and resided for some little time with a relation, Augustus Saville. He stayed with him in London for about a year, and went everywhere with him, though so mere a boy. His manners were, I well remember, assured and formed. A relation left him some moderate legacy, and afterwards he went abroad alone."
"But the ruins! The late Mr. Godolphin, notwithstanding his reserve, did not object to indulging the curiosity of his neighbours."
"No: he was proud of the interest the ruins of his hereditary mansion so generally excited,—proud of their celebrity in print-shops and in tours; but he himself was never seen. The cottage in which he lived, though it adjoins the ruins, was, of course, sacred from intrusion, and is so walled in, that that great delight of English visitors at show-places—peeping in at windows—was utterly forbidden. However that be, during Mr. Godolphin's life, I never had courage to visit what, to me, would have been a melancholy scene now, the pain would be somewhat less; and since you wish it, suppose we drive over and visit the ruins to-morrow? It is the regular day for seeing them, by the by."
"Not, dear Lady Erpingham, if it give you the least—"
"My sweet girl," interrupted Lady Erpingham, when a servant approached to announce visitors at the castle.
"Will you go into the saloon, Constance?" said the elder lady, as, thinking still of love and Arthur Godolphin, she took her way to her dressing-room to renovate her rouge.
It would have been a pretty amusement to one of the lesser devils, if, during the early romance of Lady Erpingham's feelings towards Arthur Godolphin, he had foretold her the hour when she would tell how Arthur Godolphin died a miser—just five minutes before she repaired to the toilette to decorate the cheek of age for the heedless eyes of a common acquaintance. 'Tis the world's way! For my part, I would undertake to find a better world in that rookery opposite my windows.
DESCRIPTION OF GODOLPHIN'S HOUSE.—THE FIRST INTERVIEW.—ITS EFFECT ON CONSTANCE.
"But," asked Constance, as, the next day, Lady Erpinghain and herself were performing the appointed pilgrimage to the ruins of Godolphin Priory, "if the late Mr. Godolphin, as he grew in years, acquired a turn of mind so penurious, was he not enabled to leave his son some addition to the pied de terre we are about to visit?"
"He must certainly have left some ready money," answered Lady Erpinghain. "But is it, after all, likely that so young a man as Percy Godolphin could have lived in the manner he has done without incurring debts? It is most probable that he had some recourse to those persons so willing to encourage the young and extravagant, and that repayment to them will more than swallow up any savings his father might have amassed."
"True enough!" said Constance; and the conversation glided into remarks on avaricious fathers and prodigal sons. Constance was witty on the subject, and Lady Erpingham laughed herself into excellent humour.
It was considerably past noon when they arrived at the ruins.
The carriage stopped before a small inn, at the entrance of a dismantled park; and, taking advantage of the beauty of the day, Lady Erpingham and Constance walked slowly towards the remains of the Priory.
The scene, as they approached, was wild and picturesque in the extreme. A wide and glassy lake lay stretched beneath them: on the opposite side stood the ruins. The large oriel window—the Gothic arch—the broken, yet still majestic column, all embrowned and mossed with age, were still spared, and now mirrored themselves in the waveless and silent tide. Fragments of stone lay around, for some considerable distance, and the whole was backed by hills, covered with gloomy and thick woods of pine and fir. To the left, they saw the stream which fed the lake, stealing away through grassy banks, overgrown with the willow and pollard oak: and there, from one or two cottages, only caught in glimpses, thin wreaths of smoke rose in spires against the clear sky. To the right, the ground was broken into a thousand glens and hollows: the deer-loved fern, the golden broom, were scattered about profusely; and here and there were dense groves of pollards; or, at very rare intervals, some single tree decaying (for all round bore the seal of vassalage to Time), but mighty, and greenly venerable in its decay.
As they passed over a bridge that, on either side of the stream, emerged, as it were, from a thick copse, they caught a view of the small abode that adjoined the ruins. It seemed covered entirely with ivy; and, so far from diminishing, tended rather to increase the romantic and imposing effect of the crumbling pile from which it grew.
They opened a little gate at the other extremity of the bridge, and in a few minutes more, they stood at the entrance to the Priory.
It was an oak door, studded with nails. The jessamine grew upon either side; and, to descend to a commonplace matter, they had some difficulty in finding the bell among the leaves in which it was imbedded. When they had found and touched it, its clear and lively sound rang out in that still and lovely though desolate spot, with an effect startling and impressive from its contrast. There is something very fairy-like in the cheerful voice of a bell sounding among the wilder scenes of nature, particularly where Time advances his claim to the sovereignty of the landscape; for the cheerfulness is a little ghostly, and might serve well enough for a tocsin to the elvish hordes whom our footsteps may be supposed to disturb.
An old woman, in the neat peasant dress of our country, when, taking a little from the fashion of the last century (the cap and the kerchief), it assumes no ungraceful costume,—replied to their summons. She was the solitary cicerone of the place. She had lived there, a lone and childless widow, for thirty years; and, of all the persons I have ever seen, would furnish forth the best heroine to one of those pictures of homely life which Wordsworth has dignified with the partriarchal tenderness of his genius.
They wound a narrow passage, and came to the ruins of the great hall. Its gothic arches still sprang lightly upward on either side; and, opening a large stone box that stood in a recess, the old woman showed them the gloves, and the helmet, and the tattered banners, which had belonged to that Godolphin who had fought side by side with Sidney, when he, whose life—as the noblest of British lyrists hath somewhere said—was "poetry put into action,"(1) received his death-wound in the field of Zutphen.
Thence they ascended by the dilapidated and crumbling staircase, to a small room, in which the visitors were always expected to rest themselves, and enjoy the scene in the garden below. A large chasm yawned where the casement once was; and round this aperture the ivy wreathed itself in fantastic luxuriance. A sort of ladder, suspended from this chasm to the ground, afforded a convenience for those who were tempted to a short excursion by the view without.
And the view was tempting! A smooth green lawn, surrounded by shrubs and flowers, was ornamented in the centre by a fountain. The waters were, it is true, dried up; but the basin, and the "Triton with his wreathed shell," still remained. A little to the right was an old monkish sun-dial; and through the green vista you caught the glimpse of one of those gray, grotesque statues with which the taste of Elizabeth's day shamed the classic chisel.
There was something quiet and venerable about the whole place; and when the old woman said to Constance, "Would you not like, my lady, to walk down and look at the sun-dial and the fountain?" Constance felt she required nothing more to yield to her inclination. Lady Erpingham, less adventurous, remained in the ruined chamber; and the old woman, naturally enough, honoured the elder lady with her company.
Constance, therefore, descended the rude steps alone. As she paused by the fountain, an indescribable and delicious feeling of repose stole over a mind that seldom experienced any sentiment so natural or so soft. The hour, the stillness, the scene, all conspired to lull the heart into that dreaming and half-unconscious reverie in which poets would suppose the hermits of elder times to have wasted a life, indolent, and yet scarcely, after all, unwise. "Methinks," she inly soliloquised, "while I look around, I feel as if I could give up my objects of life; renounce my hopes; forget to be artificial and ambitious; live in these ruins, and," (whispered the spirit within,) "loved and loving, fulfil the ordinary doom of woman."
Indulging a mood, which the proud and restless Constance, who despised love as the poorest of human weaknesses, though easily susceptible to all other species of romance, had scarcely ever known before, she wandered away from the lawn into one of the alleys cut amidst the grove around. Caught by the murmur of an unseen brook, she tracked it through the trees, as its sound grew louder and louder on her ear, till at length it stole upon her sight. The sun, only winning through the trees at intervals, played capriciously upon the cold and dark waters as they glided on, and gave to her, as the same effect has done to a thousand poets, ample matter for a simile or a moral.
She approached the brook, and came unawares upon the figure of a young man, leaning against a stunted tree that overhung the waters, and occupied with the idle amusement of dropping pebbles in the stream. She saw only his profile; but that view is, in a fine countenance, almost always the most striking and impressive, and it was eminently so in the face before her. The stranger, who was scarcely removed from boyhood, was dressed in deep mourning. He seemed slight, and small of stature. A travelling cap of sables contrasted, not hid, light brown hair of singular richness and beauty. His features were of that pure and severe Greek of which the only fault is that in the very perfection of the chiselling of the features there seems something hard and stern. The complexion was pale, even to wanness; and the whole cast and contour of the head were full of intellect, and betokening that absorption of mind which cannot be marked in any one without exciting a certain vague curiosity and interest.
So dark and wondrous are the workings of our nature, that there are scarcely any of us, however light and unthinking, who would not be arrested by the countenance of one in deep reflection—who would not pause, and long to pierce into the mysteries that were agitating that world, most illimitable by nature, but often most narrowed by custom—the world within.
And this interest, powerful as it is, spelled and arrested Constance at once. She remained for a minute gazing on the countenance of the young stranger, and then she—the most self-possessed and stately of human creatures—blushing deeply, and confused though unseen, turned lightly away and stopped not on her road till she regained the old chamber and Lady Erpingham.
The old woman was descanting upon the merits of the late Lord of Godolphin Priory,—
"For though they called him close, and so forth, my lady, yet he was generous to others; it was only himself he pinched. But, to be sure, the present squire won't take after him there."
"Has Mr. Percy Godolphin been here lately?" asked Lady Erpingham.
"He is at the cottage now, my lady," replied the old woman. "He came two days ago."
"Is he like his father?"
"Oh! not near so fine-looking a gentleman! much smaller, and quite pale-like. He seems sickly: them foreign parts do nobody no good. He was as fine a lad at sixteen years old as ever I seed; but now he is not like the same thing."
So then it was evidently Percy Godolphin whom Constance had seen by the brook—the owner of a home without coffers, and estates without a rent-roll—the Percy Godolphin, of whom, before he had attained the age when others have left the college, or even the school, every one had learned to speak—some favourably, all with eagerness. Constance felt a vague interest respecting him spring up in her mind. She checked it, for it was a sin in her eye to think with interest on a man neither rich nor powerful; and as she quitted the ruins with Lady Erpingham, she communicated to the latter her adventure. She was, however, disingenuous; for though Godolphin's countenance was exactly of that cast which Constance most admired, she described him just as the old woman had done; and Lady Erpingham figured to herself, from the description, a little yellow man, with white hair and a turned-up nose. O Truth! what a hard path is thine! Does any keep it for three inches together in the commonest trifle?—and yet two sides of my library are filled with histories!