Leonard's first idea was that his uncle had repented, and sent in search of him. But the butler seemed as much surprised at the rencontre as himself: that personage, indeed, the fatigues of the day being over, was accompanying one of Mr. Gunter's waiters to the public-house (at which the latter had secured his lodging), having discovered an old friend in the waiter, and proposing to regale himself with a cheerful glass, and—THAT of course—abuse of his present situation.
"Mr. Fairfield!" exclaimed the butler, while the waiter walked discreetly on.
Leonard looked, and said nothing. The butler began to think that some apology was due for leaving his plate and his pantry, and that he might as well secure Leonard's propitiatory influence with his master.
"Please, sir," said he, touching his hat, "I was just a showing Mr. Giles the way to the Blue Bells, where he puts up for the night. I hope my master will not be offended. If you are a going back, sir, would you kindly mention it?"
"I am not going back, Jarvis," answered Leonard, after a pause; "I am leaving Mr. Avenel's house, to accompany my mother,—rather suddenly. I should be very much obliged to you if you would bring some things of mine to me at the Blue Bells. I will give you the list, if you will step with me to the inn."
Without waiting for a reply, Leonard then turned towards the inn, and made his humble inventory: item, the clothes he had brought with him from the Casino; item, the knapsack that had contained them; item, a few books, ditto; item, Dr. Riccabocca's watch; item, sundry manuscripts, on which the young student now built all his hopes of fame and fortune. This list he put into Mr. Jarvis's hand.
"Sir," said the butler, twirling the paper between his finger and thumb, "you're not a going for long, I hope?" and he looked on the face of the young man, who had always been "civil spoken to him," with as much curiosity and as much compassion as so apathetic and princely a personage could experience in matters affecting a family less aristocratic than he had hitherto condescended to serve.
"Yes," said Leonard, simply and briefly; "and your master will no doubt excuse you for rendering me this service." Mr. Jarvis postponed for the present his glass and chat with the waiter, and went back at once to Mr. Avenel. That gentleman, still seated in his library, had not been aware of the butler's absence; and when Mr. Jarvis entered and told him that he had met Mr. Fairfield, and communicating the commission with which he was intrusted, asked leave to execute it, Mr. Avenel felt the man's inquisitive eye was on him, and conceived new wrath against Leonard for a new humiliation to his pride. It was awkward to give no explanation of his nephew's departure, still more awkward to explain. After a short pause, Mr. Avenel said sullenly, "My nephew is going away on business for some time,—do what he tells you;" and then turned his back, and lighted his cigar.
"That beast of a boy," said he, soliloquizing, "either means this as an affront, or an overture: if an affront, he is, indeed, well got rid of; if an overture, he will soon make a more respectful and proper one. After all, I can't have too little of relations till I have fairly secured Mrs. M'Catchley. An Honourable! I wonder if that makes me an Honourable too? This cursed Debrett contains no practical information on those points."
The next morning the clothes and the watch with which Mr. Avenel presented Leonard were returned, with a note meant to express gratitude, but certainly written with very little knowledge of the world; and so full of that somewhat over-resentful pride which had in earlier life made Leonard fly from Hazeldean, and refuse all apology to Randal, that it is not to be wondered at that Mr. Avenel's last remorseful feelings evaporated in ire. "I hope he will starve!" said the uncle, vindictively.
"Listen to me, my dear mother," said Leonard the next morning, as, with knapsack on his shoulder and Mrs. Fairfield on his arm, he walked along the high road; "I do assure you from my heart that I do not regret the loss of favours which I see plainly would have crushed out of me the very sense of independence. But do not fear for me; I have education and energy,—I shall do well for myself, trust me.—No, I cannot, it is true, go back to our cottage; I cannot be a gardener again. Don't ask me,—I should be discontented, miserable. But I will go up to London! That's the place to make a fortune and a name: I will make both. Oh, yes, trust me, I will. You shall soon be proud of your Leonard; and then we will always live together,—always! Don't cry."
"But what can you do in Lunnon,—such a big place, Lenny?"
"What! Every year does not some lad leave our village, and go and seek his fortune, taking with him but health and strong hands? I have these, and I have more: I have brains and thoughts and hopes, that—again I say, No, no; never fear for me!"
The boy threw back his head proudly; there was something sublime in his young trust in the future.
"Well. But you will write to Mr. Dale or to me? I will get Mr. Dale or the good mounseer (now I know they were not agin me) to read your letters."
"I will, indeed!"
"And, boy, you have nothing in your pockets. We have paid Dick; these, at least, are my own, after paying the coach fare." And she would thrust a sovereign and some shillings into Leonard's waistcoat pocket.
After some resistance, he was forced to consent.
"And there's a sixpence with a hole in it. Don't part with that, Lenny; it will bring thee good luck."
Thus talking, they gained the inn where the three roads met, and from which a coach went direct to the Casino. And here, without entering the inn, they sat on the greensward by the hedgerow, waiting the arrival of the coach—Mrs. Fairfield was much subdued in spirits, and there was evidently on her mind something uneasy,—some struggle with her conscience. She not only upbraided herself for her rash visit, but she kept talking of her dead Mark. And what would he say of her, if he could see her in heaven?
"It was so selfish in me, Lenny."
"Pooh, pooh! Has not a mother a right to her child?"
"Ay, ay, ay!" cried Mrs. Fairfield. "I do love you as a child,—my own child. But if I was not your mother, after all, Lenny, and cost you all this—oh, what would you say of me then?"
"Not my own mother!" said Leonard, laughing as he kissed her. "Well, I don't know what I should say then differently from what I say now,—that you, who brought me up and nursed and cherished me, had a right to my home and my heart, wherever I was."
"Bless thee!" cried Mrs. Fairfield, as she pressed him to her heart. "But it weighs here,—it weighs," she said, starting up.
At that instant the coach appeared, and Leonard ran forward to inquire if there was an outside place. Then there was a short bustle while the horses were being changed; and Mrs. Fairfield was lifted up to the roof of the vehicle, so all further private conversation between her and Leonard ceased. But as the coach whirled away, and she waved her hand to the boy, who stood on the road-side gazing after her, she still murmured, "It weighs here,—it weighs!"
Leonard walked sturdily on in the high road to the Great City. The day was calm and sunlit, but with a gentle breeze from gray hills at the distance; and with each mile that he passed, his step seemed to grow more firm, and his front more elate. Oh, it is such joy in youth to be alone with one's daydreams! And youth feels so glorious a vigour in the sense of its own strength, though the world be before and—against it! Removed from that chilling counting-house, from the imperious will of a patron and master, all friendless, but all independent, the young adventurer felt a new being, felt his grand nature as Man. And on the Man rushed the genius long interdicted and thrust aside,—rushing back, with the first breath of adversity, to console—no! the Man needed not consolation,—to kindle, to animate, to rejoice! If there is a being in the world worthy of our envy, after we have grown wise philosophers of the fireside, it is not the palled voluptuary, nor the careworn statesman, nor even the great prince of arts and letters, already crowned with the laurel, whose leaves are as fit for poison as for garlands; it is the young child of adventure and hope. Ay, and the emptier his purse, ten to one but the richer his heart, and the wider the domains which his fancy enjoys as he goes on with kingly step to the Future.
Not till towards the evening did our adventurer slacken his pace and think of rest and refreshment. There, then, lay before him on either side the road those wide patches of uninclosed land which in England often denote the entrance to a village. Presently one or two neat cottages came in sight; then a small farmhouse, with its yard and barns. And some way farther yet, he saw the sign swinging before an inn of some pretensions,—the sort of inn often found on a long stage between two great towns commonly called "The Halfway House." But the inn stood back from the road, having its own separate sward in front, whereon was a great beech-tree (from which the sign extended) and a rustic arbour; so that to gain the inn, the coaches that stopped there took a sweep from the main thoroughfare. Between our pedestrian and the inn there stood, naked and alone, on the common land, a church; our ancestors never would have chosen that site for it; therefore it was a modern church,—modern Gothic; handsome to an eye not versed in the attributes of ecclesiastical architecture, very barbarous to an eye that was. Somehow or other the church looked cold and raw and uninviting. It looked a church for show,—much too big for the scattered hamlet, and void of all the venerable associations which give their peculiar and unspeakable atmosphere of piety to the churches in which succeeding generations have knelt and worshipped. Leonard paused and surveyed the edifice with an unlearned but poetical gaze; it dissatisfied him. And he was yet pondering why, when a young girl passed slowly before him, her eyes fixed on the ground, opened the little gate that led into the churchyard, and vanished. He did not see the child's face; but there was something in her movements so utterly listless, forlorn, and sad that his heart was touched. What did she there? He approached the low wall with a noiseless step, and looked over it wistfully.
There by a grave, evidently quite recent, with no wooden tomb nor tombstone like the rest, the little girl had thrown herself, and she was sobbing loud and passionately. Leonard opened the gate, and approached her with a soft step. Mingled with her sobs, he heard broken sentences, wild and vain, as all human sorrowings over graves must be.
"Father! oh, Father, do you not really hear me? I am so lone, so lone! Take me to you,—take me!" And she buried her face in the deep grass.
"Poor child!" said Leonard, in a half whisper,—"he is not there. Look above!"
The girl did not heed him; he put his arm round her waist gently; she made a gesture of impatience and anger, but she would not turn her face, and she clung to the grave with her hands.
After clear, sunny days the dews fall more heavily; and now, as the sun set, the herbage was bathed in a vaporous haze,—a dim mist rose around. The young man seated himself beside her, and tried to draw the child to his breast. Then she turned eagerly, indignantly, and pushed him aside with jealous arms. He profaned the grave! He understood her with his deep poet-heart, and rose. There was a pause. Leonard was the first to break it.
"Come to your home with me, my child, and we will talk of him by the way."
"Him! Who are you? You did not know him!" said the girl, still with anger. "Go away! Why do you disturb me? I do no one harm. Go! go!"
"You do yourself harm, and that will grieve him if he sees you yonder! Come!"
The child looked at him through her blinding tears, and his face softened and soothed her.
"Go!" she said, very plaintively, and in subdued accents. "I will but stay a minute more. I—I have so much to say yet."
Leonard left the churchyard, and waited without; and in a short time the child came forth, waived him aside as he approached her, and hurried away. He followed her at a distance, and saw her disappear within the inn.
"Hip-Hip-Hurrah!" Such was the sound that greeted our young traveller as he reached the inn door,—a sound joyous in itself, but sadly out of harmony with the feelings which the child sobbing on the tombless grave had left at his heart. The sound came from within, and was followed by thumps and stamps, and the jingle of glasses. A strong odour of tobacco was wafted to his olfactory sense. He hesitated a moment at the threshold.
Before him, on benches under the beech-tree and within the arbour, were grouped sundry athletic forms with "pipes in the liberal air."
The landlady, as she passed across the passage to the taproom, caught sight of his form at the doorway, and came forward. Leonard still stood irresolute. He would have gone on his way, but for the child: she had interested him strongly.
"You seem full, ma'am," said he. "Can I have accommodation for the night?"
"Why, indeed, sir," said the landlady, civilly, "I can give you a bedroom, but I don't know where to put you meanwhile. The two parlours and the tap-room and the kitchen are all choke-full. There has been a great cattle-fair in the neighbourhood, and I suppose we have as many as fifty farmers and drovers stopping here."
"As to that, ma'am, I can sit in the bedroom you are kind enough to give me; and if it does not cause you much trouble to let me have some tea there, I should be glad; but I can wait your leisure. Do not put yourself out of the way for me."
The landlady was touched by a consideration she was not much habituated to receive from her bluff customers. "You speak very handsome, sir, and we will do our best to serve you, if you will excuse all faults. This way, sir." Leonard lowered his knapsack, stepped into the passage, with some difficulty forced his way through a knot of sturdy giants in top-boots or leathern gaiters, who were swarining in and out the tap-room, and followed his hostess upstairs to a little bedroom at the top of the house.
"It is small, sir, and high," said the hostess, apologetically. "But there be four gentlemen farmers that have come a great distance, and all the first floor is engaged; you will be more out of the noise here."
"Nothing can suit me better. But, stay,—pardon me;" and Leonard, glancing at the garb of the hostess, observed she was not in mourning. "A little girl whom I saw in the churchyard yonder, weeping very bitterly—is she a relation of yours? Poor child! she seems to have deeper feelings than are common at her age."
"Ah, sir," said the landlady, putting the corner of her apron to her eyes, "it is a very sad story. I don't know what to do. Her father was taken ill on his way to Lunnon, and stopped here, and has been buried four days. And the poor little girl seems to have no relations—and where is she to go? Laryer Jones says we must pass her to Marybone parish, where her father lived last; and what's to become of her then? My heart bleeds to think on it."
Here there rose such an uproar from below, that it was evident some quarrel had broken out; and the hostess, recalled to her duties, hastened to carry thither her propitiatory influences.
Leonard seated himself pensively by the little lattice. Here was some one more alone in the world than he; and she, poor orphan, had no stout man's heart to grapple with fate, and no golden manuscripts that were to be as the "Open-Sesame" to the treasures of Aladdin. By and by, the hostess brought him up a tray with tea and other refreshments, and Leonard resumed his inquiries. "No relatives?" said he; "surely the child must have some kinsfolk in London? Did her father leave no directions, or was he in possession of his faculties?"
"Yes, sir; he was quite reasonable like to the last. And I asked him if he had not anything on his mind, and he said, 'I have.' And I said, 'Your little girl, sir?' And he answered me, 'Yes, ma'am;' and laying his head on his pillow, he wept very quietly. I could not say more myself, for it set me off to see him cry so meekly; but my husband is harder nor I, and he said, 'Cheer up, Mr. Digby; had not you better write to your friends?'
"'Friends!' said the gentleman, in such a voice! 'Friends I have but one, and I am going to Him! I cannot take her there!' Then he seemed suddenly to recollect himself, and called for his clothes, and rummaged in the pockets as if looking for some address, and could not find it. He seemed a forgetful kind of gentleman, and his hands were what I call helpless hands, sir! And then he gasped out, 'Stop, stop! I never had the address. Write to Lord Les—', something like Lord Lester, but we could not make out the name. Indeed he did not finish it, for there was a rush of blood to his lips; and though he seemed sensible when he recovered (and knew us and his little girl too, till he went off smiling), he never spoke word more."
"Poor man," said Leonard, wiping his eyes. "But his little girl surely remembers the name that he did not finish?"
"No. She says he must have meant a gentleman whom they had met in the Park not long ago, who was very kind to her father, and was Lord something; but she don't remember the name, for she never saw him before or since, and her father talked very little about any one lately, but thought he should find some kind friends at Screwstown, and travelled down there with her from Lunnon. But she supposes he was disappointed, for he went out, came back, and merely told her to put up the things, as they must go back to Lunnon. And on his way there he—died. Hush, what's that? I hope she did not overhear us. No, we were talking low. She has the next room to your'n, sir. I thought I heard her sobbing. Hush!"
"In the next room? I hear nothing. Well, with your leave, I will speak to her before I quit you. And had her father no money with him?"
"Yes, a few sovereigns, sir; they paid for his funeral, and there is a little left still,—enough to take her to town; for my husband said, says he, 'Hannah, the widow gave her mite, and we must not take the orphan's;' and my husband is a hard man, too, sir—bless him!"
"Let me take your hand, ma'am. God reward you both."
"La, sir! why, even Dr. Dosewell said, rather grumpily though, 'Never mind my bill; but don't call me up at six o'clock in the morning again, without knowing a little more about people.' And I never afore knew Dr. Dosewell go without his bill being paid. He said it was a trick o' the other doctor to spite him."
"What other doctor?"
"Oh, a very good gentleman, who got out with Mr. Digby when he was taken ill, and stayed till the next morning; and our doctor says his name is Morgan, and he lives in Lunnou, and is a homy—something."
"Homicide," suggested Leonard, ignorantly.
"Ah, homicide; something like that, only a deal longer and worse. But he left some of the tiniest little balls you ever see, sir, to give the child; but, bless you, they did her no good,—how should they?"
"Tiny balls, oh—homoeopathist—I understand. And the doctor was kind to her; perhaps he may help her. Have you written to him?"
"But we don't know his address, and Lunnon is a vast place, sir."
"I am going to London and will find it out."
"Ah, sir, you seem very kind; and sin' she must go to Lunnon (for what can we do with her here?—she's too genteel for service), I wish she was going with you."
"With me!" said Leonard, startled,—"with me! Well, why not?"
"I am sure she comes of good blood, sir. You would have known her father was quite the gentleman, only to see him die, sir. He went off so kind and civil like, as if he was ashamed to give so much trouble,—quite a gentleman, if ever there was one. And so are you, sir, I'm sure," said the land lady, courtesying; "I know what gentlefolk be. I've been a housekeeper in the first of families in this very shire, sir, though I can't say I've served in Lunnon; and so, as gentlefolks know each other, I 've no doubt you could find out her relations. Dear, dear! Coming, coming!"
Here there were loud cries for the hostess, and she hurried away. The farmers and drovers were beginning to depart, and their bills were to be made out and paid. Leonard saw his hostess no more that night. The last Hip-hip-hurrah was heard,—some toast, perhaps to the health of the county members,—and the chamber of woe beside Leonard's rattled with the shout. By and by, silence gradually succeeded the various dissonant sounds below. The carts and gigs rolled away; the clatter of hoofs on the road ceased; there was then a dumb dull sound as of locking-up, and low, humming voices below, and footsteps mounting the stairs to bed, with now and then a drunken hiccough or maudlin laugh, as some conquered votary of Bacchus was fairly carried up to his domicile.
All, then, at last was silent, just as the clock from the church sounded the stroke of eleven.
Leonard, meanwhile, had been looking over his manuscripts. There was first a project for an improvement on the steam-engine,—a project that had long lain in his mind, begun with the first knowledge of mechanics that he had gleaned from his purchases of the tinker. He put that aside now,—it required too great an effort of the reasoning faculty to re-examine.
He glanced less hastily over a collection of essays on various subjects,—some that he thought indifferent, some that he thought good. He then lingered over a collection of verses written in his best hand with loving care,—verses first inspired by his perusal of Nora's melancholy memorials. These verses were as a diary of his heart and his fancy,—those deep, unwitnessed struggles which the boyhood of all more thoughtful natures has passed in its bright yet murky storm of the cloud and the lightning-flash, though but few boys pause to record the crisis from which slowly emerges Man. And these first desultory grapplings with the fugitive airy images that flit through the dim chambers of the brain had become with each effort more sustained and vigorous, till the phantoms were spelled, the flying ones arrested, the Immaterial seized, and clothed with Form. Gazing on his last effort, Leonard felt that there at length spoke forth the poet. It was a work which though as yet but half completed, came from a strong hand; not that shadow trembling on unsteady waters, which is but the pale reflex and imitation of some bright mind, sphered out of reach and afar, but an original substance,—a life, a thing of the Creative Faculty,—breathing back already the breath it had received. This work had paused during Leonard's residence with Mr. Avenel, or had only now and then, in stealth, and at night, received a rare touch. Now, as with a fresh eye he reperused it, and with that strange, innocent admiration, not of self—for a man's work is not, alas! himself,—it is the beautified and idealized essence, extracted he knows not how from his own human elements of clay; admiration known but to poets,—their purest delight, often their sole reward. And then with a warmer and more earthly beat of his full heart, he rushed in fancy to the Great City, where all rivers of fame meet, but not to be merged and lost, sallying forth again, individualized and separate, to flow through that one vast Thought of God which we call THE WORLD.
He put up his papers; and opened his window, as was his ordinary custom, before he retired to rest,—for he had many odd habits; and he loved to look out into the night when he prayed. His soul seemed to escape from the body—to mount on the air, to gain more rapid access to the far Throne in the Infinite—when his breath went forth among the winds, and his eyes rested fixed on the stars of heaven.
So the boy prayed silently; and after his prayer he was about, lingeringly, to close the lattice, when he heard distinctly sobs close at hand. He paused, and held his breath, then looked gently out; the casement next his own was also open. Someone was also at watch by that casement,—perhaps also praying. He listened yet more intently, and caught, soft and low, the words, "Father, Father, do you hear me now?"
Leonard opened his door and stole towards that of the room adjoining; for his first natural impulse had been to enter and console. But when his touch was on the handle, he drew back. Child though the mourner was, her sorrows were rendered yet more sacred from intrusion by her sex. Something, he knew not what, in his young ignorance, withheld him from the threshold. To have crossed it then would have seemed to him profanation. So he returned, and for hours yet he occasionally heard the sobs, till they died away, and childhood wept itself to sleep.
But the next morning, when he heard his neighbour astir, he knocked gently at her door: there was no answer. He entered softly, and saw her seated very listlessly in the centre of the room,—as if it had no familiar nook or corner as the rooms of home have, her hands drooping on her lap, and her eyes gazing desolately on the floor. Then he approached and spoke to her.
Helen was very subdued, and very silent. Her tears seemed dried up; and it was long before she gave sign or token that she heeded him. At length, however, he gradually succeeded in rousing her interest; and the first symptom of his success was in the quiver of her lip, and the overflow of her downcast eyes.
By little and little he wormed himself into her confidence; and she told him in broken whispers her simple story. But what moved him the most was, that beyond her sense of loneliness she did not seem to feel her own unprotected state. She mourned the object she had nursed and heeded and cherished, for she had been rather the protectress than the protected to the helpless dead. He could not gain from her any more satisfactory information than the landlady had already imparted, as to her friends and prospects; but she permitted him passively to look among the effects her father had left, save only that, if his hand touched something that seemed to her associations especially holy, she waved him back, or drew it quickly away. There were many bills receipted in the name of Captain Digby, old yellow faded music-scores for the flute, extracts of Parts from Prompt Books, gay parts of lively comedies, in which heroes have so noble a contempt for money,—fit heroes for a Sheridan and a Farquhar; close by these were several pawnbroker's tickets; and, not arrayed smoothly, but crumpled up, as if with an indignant nervous clutch of the helpless hands, some two or three letters. He asked Helen's permission to glance at these, for they might afford a clew to friends. Helen gave the permission by a silent bend of the head. The letters, however, were but short and freezing answers from what appeared to be distant connections or former friends, or persons to whom the deceased had applied for some situation. They were all very disheartening in their tone. Leonard next endeavoured to refresh Helen's memory as to the name of the nobleman which had been last on her father's lips; but there he failed wholly. For it may be remembered that Lord L'Estrange, when he pressed his loan on Mr. Digby, and subsequently told that gentleman to address him at Mr. Egerton's, had, from a natural delicacy, sent the child on, that she might not witness the charity bestowed on the father; and Helen said truly that Mr. Digby had sunk latterly into an habitual silence on all his affairs. She might have heard her father mention the name, but she had not treasured it up; all she could say was, that she should know the stranger again if she met him, and his dog too. Seeing that the child had grown calm, Leonard was then going to leave the room, in order to confer with the hostess, when she rose suddenly, though noiselessly, and put her little hand in his, as if to detain him. She did not say a word; the action said all,—said, "Do not desert me." And Leonard's heart rushed to his lips, and he answered to the action, as he bent down, and kissed her cheek, "Orphan, will you go with me? We have one Father yet to both of us, and He will guide us on earth. I am fatherless like you." She raised her eyes to his, looked at him long, and then leaned her head confidingly on his strong young shoulder.
At noon that same day the young man and the child were on their road to London. The host had at first a little demurred at trusting Helen to so young a companion; but Leonard, in his happy ignorance, had talked so sanguinely of finding out this lord, or some adequate protectors for the child; and in so grand a strain, though with all sincerity, had spoken of his own great prospects in the metropolis (he did not say what they were!) that had he been the craftiest impostor he could not more have taken in the rustic host. And while the landlady still cherished the illusive fancy that all gentlefolks must know each other in London, as they did in a county, the landlord believed, at least, that a young man so respectably dressed, although but a foot-traveller, who talked in so confident a tone, and who was so willing to undertake what might be rather a burdensome charge, unless he saw how to rid himself of it, would be sure to have friends older and wiser than himself, who would judge what could best be done for the orphan.
And what was the host to do with her? Better this volunteered escort, at least, than vaguely passing her on from parish to parish, and leaving her friendless at last in the streets of London. Helen, too, smiled for the first time on being asked her wishes, and again put her hand in Leonard's. In short, so it was settled.
The little girl made up a bundle of the things she most prized or needed. Leonard did not feel the additional load, as he slung it to his knapsack; the rest of the luggage was to be sent to London as soon as Leonard wrote (which he promised to do soon) and gave an address.
Helen paid her last visit to the churchyard; and she joined her companion as he stood on the road, without the solemn precincts. And now they had gone on some hours; and when he asked her if she were tired, she still answered "No." But Leonard was merciful, and made their day's journey short; and it took them some days to reach London. By the long lonely way they grew so intimate, at the end of the second day, they called each other brother and sister; and Leonard, to his delight, found that as her grief, with the bodily movement and the change of scene, subsided from its first intenseness and its insensibility to other impressions, she developed a quickness of comprehension far beyond her years. Poor child! that had been forced upon her by Necessity. And she understood him in his spiritual consolations, half poetical, half religious; and she listened to his own tale, and the story of his self-education and solitary struggles,—those, too, she understood. But when he burst out with his enthusiasm, his glorious hopes, his confidence in the fate before them, then she would shake her head very quietly and very sadly. Did she comprehend them! Alas! perhaps too well. She knew more as to real life than he did. Leonard was at first their joint treasurer; but before the second day was over, Helen seemed to discover that he was too lavish; and she told him so, with a prudent grave look, putting her hand on his arm as he was about to enter an inn to dine; and the gravity would have been comic, but that the eyes through their moisture were so meek and grateful. She felt he was about to incur that ruinous extravagance on her account. Somehow or other, the purse found its way into her keeping, and then she looked proud and in her natural element.
Ah! what happy meals under her care were provided; so much more enjoyable than in dull, sanded inn-parlours, swarming with flies, and reeking with stale tobacco. She would leave him at the entrance of a village, bound forward, and cater, and return with a little basket and a pretty blue jug—which she had bought on the road,—the last filled with new milk; the first with new bread, and some special dainty in radishes or water-tresses. And she had such a talent for finding out the prettiest spot whereon to halt and dine: sometimes in the heart of a wood,—so still, it was like a forest in fairy tales, the hare stealing through the alleys, or the squirrel peeping at them from the boughs; sometimes by a little brawling stream, with the fishes seen under the clear wave, and shooting round the crumbs thrown to them. They made an Arcadia of the dull road up to their dread Thermopylae, the war against the million that waited them on the other side of their pass through Tempo.
"Shall we be as happy when we are great?" said Leonard, in his grand simplicity.
Helen sighed, and the wise little head was shaken.
At last they came within easy reach of London; but Leonard had resolved not to enter the metropolis fatigued and exhausted, as a wanderer needing refuge, but fresh and elate, as a conqueror coming in triumph to take possession of the capital. Therefore they halted early in the evening of the day preceding this imperial entry, about six miles from the metropolis, in the neighbourhood of Ealing (for by that route lay their way). They were not tired on arriving at their inn. The weather was singularly lovely, with that combination of softness and brilliancy which is only known to the rare true summer days of England; all below so green, above so blue,—days of which we have about six in the year, and recall vaguely when we read of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, of Damsel and Knight in Spenser's golden Summer Song, or of Jacques, dropped under the oak-tree, watching the deer amidst the dells of Ardennes. So, after a little pause at their inn, they strolled forth, not for travel but pleasure, towards the cool of sunset, passing by the grounds that once belonged to the Duke of Kent, and catching a glimpse of the shrubs and lawns of that beautiful domain through the lodge-gates; then they crossed into some fields, and came to a little rivulet called the Brent. Helen had been more sad that day than on any during their journey,—perhaps because, on approaching London, the memory of her father became more vivid; perhaps from her precocious knowledge of life, and her foreboding of what was to befall them, children that they both were. But Leonard was selfish that day; he could not be influenced by his companion's sorrow; he was so full of his own sense of being, and he already caught from the atmosphere the fever that belongs to anxious capitals.
"Sit here, sister," said he, imperiously, throwing himself under the shade of a pollard-tree that overhung the winding brook, "sit here and talk."
He flung off his hat, tossed back his rich curls, and sprinkled his brow from the stream that eddied round the roots of the tree that bulged out, bald and gnarled, from the bank and delved into the waves below. Helen quietly obeyed him, and nestled close to his side.
"And so this London is really very vast,—VERY?" he repeated inquisitively.
"Very," answered Helen, as, abstractedly, she plucked the cowslips near her, and let them fall into the running waters. "See how the flowers are carried down the stream! They are lost now. London is to us what the river is to the flowers, very vast, very strong;" and she added, after a pause, "very cruel!"
"Cruel! Ah, it has been so to you; but now—now I will take care of you!" he smiled triumphantly; and his smile was beautiful both in its pride and its kindness. It is astonishing how Leonard had altered since he had left his uncle's. He was both younger and older; for the sense of genius, when it snaps its shackles, makes us both older and wiser as to the world it soars to, younger and blinder as to the world it springs from.
"And it is not a very handsome city, either, you say?"
"Very ugly indeed," said Helen, with some fervour; "at least all I have seen of it."
"But there must be parts that are prettier than others? You say there are parks: why should not we lodge near them and look upon the green trees?"
"That would be nice," said Helen, almost joyously; "but—" and here the head was shaken—"there are no lodgings for us except in courts and alleys."
"Why?" echoed Helen, with a smile, and she held up the purse.
"Pooh! always that horrid purse; as if, too, we were not going to fill it! Did not I tell you the story of Fortunio? Well, at all events, we will go first to the neighbourhood where you last lived, and learn there all we can; and then the day after to-morrow I will see this Dr. Morgan, and find out the lord."
The tears started to Helen's soft eyes. "You want to get rid of me soon, brother."
"I! Ah, I feel so happy to have you with me it seems to me as if I had pined for you all my life, and you had come at last; for I never had brother nor sister nor any one to love, that was not older than myself, except—"
"Except the young lady you told me of," said Helen, turning away her face; for children are very jealous.
"Yes, I loved her, love her still. But that was different," said Leonard. "I could never have talked to her as to you: to you I open my whole heart; you are my little Muse, Helen: I confess to you my wild whims and fancies as frankly as if I were writing poetry." As he said this, a step was heard, and a shadow fell over the stream. A belated angler appeared on the margin, drawing his line impatiently across the water, as if to worry some dozing fish into a bite before it finally settled itself for the night. Absorbed in his occupation, the angler did not observe the young persons on the sward under the tree, and he halted there, close upon them.
"Curse that perch!" said he, aloud.
"Take care, sir," cried Leonard; for the man, in stepping back, nearly trod upon Helen.
The angler turned. "What 's the matter? Hist! you have frightened my perch. Keep still, can't you?"
Helen drew herself out of the way, and Leonard remained motionless. He remembered Jackeymo, and felt a sympathy for the angler.
"It is the most extraordinary perch, that!" muttered the stranger, soliloquizing. "It has the devil's own luck. It must have been born with a silver spoon in its mouth, that damned perch! I shall never catch it,—never! Ha! no, only a weed. I give it up." With this, he indignantly jerked his rod from the water and began to disjoint it. While leisurely engaged in this occupation, he turned to Leonard.
"Humph! are you intimately acquainted with this stream, sir?"
"No," answered Leonard. "I never saw it before."
ANGLER, (solemnly).—"Then, young man, take my advice, and do not give way to its fascinations. Sir, I am a martyr to this stream; it has been the Delilah of my existence."
LEONARD (interested, the last sentence seemed to him poetical).—"The Delilah! sir, the Delilah!"
ANGLER.—"The Delilah. Young man, listen, and be warned by example. When I was about your age, I first came to this stream to fish. Sir, on that fatal day, about three p.m., I hooked up a fish,—such a big one, it must have weighed a pound and a half. Sir, it was that length;" and the angler put finger to wrist. "And just when I had got it nearly ashore, by the very place where you are sitting, on that shelving bank, young man, the line broke, and the perch twisted himself among those roots, and—cacodaemon that he was—ran off, hook and all. Well, that fish haunted me; never before had I seen such a fish. Minnows I had caught in the Thames and elsewhere, also gudgeons, and occasionally a dace. But a fish like that—a PERCH, all his fins up, like the sails of a man-of-war—a monster perch,—a whale of a perch! No, never till then had I known what leviathans lie hid within the deeps. I could not sleep till I had returned; and again, sir,—I caught that perch. And this time I pulled him fairly out of the water. He escaped; and how did he escape? Sir, he left his eye behind him on the hook. Years, long years, have passed since then; but never shall I forget the agony of that moment."
LEONARD.—"To the perch, sir?"
ANGLER.—"Perch! agony to him! He enjoyed it. Agony to me! I gazed on that eye, and the eye looked as sly and as wicked as if it were laughing in my face. Well, sir, I had heard that there is no better bait for a perch than a perch's eye. I adjusted that eye on the hook, and dropped in the line gently. The water was unusually clear; in two minutes I saw that perch return. He approached the hook; he recognized his eye, frisked his tail, made a plunge, and, as I live, carried off the eye, safe and sound; and I saw him digesting it by the side of that water-lily. The mocking fiend! Seven times since that day, in the course of a varied and eventful life, have I caught that perch, and seven times has that perch escaped."
LEONARD (astonished).—"It can't be the same perch; perches are very tender fish. A hook inside of it, and an eye hooked out of it—no perch could withstand such havoc in its constitution."
ANGLER (with an appearance of awe).—"It does seem supernatural. But it is that perch; for hark ye, sir, there is ONLY ONE perch in the whole brook! All the years I have fished here, I have never caught another perch; and this solitary inmate of the watery element I know by sight better than I knew my own lost father. For each time that I have raised it out of the water, its profile has been turned to me, and I have seen with a shudder that it has had only—One Eye! It is a most mysterious and a most diabolical phenomenon, that perch! It has been the ruin of my prospects in life. I was offered a situation in Jamaica: I could not go with that perch left here in triumph. I might afterwards have had an appointinent in India, but I could not put the ocean between myself and that perch: thus have I frittered away my existence in the fatal metropolis of my native land. And once a week from February to December I come hither. Good heavens! if I should catch the perch at last, the occupation of my existence will be gone."
Leonard gazed curiously at the angler, as the last thus mournfully concluded. The ornate turn of his periods did not suit with his costume. He looked wofully threadbare and shabby,—a genteel sort of shabbiness too,—shabbiness in black. There was humour in the corners of his lip; and his hands, though they did not seem very clean—indeed his occupation was not friendly to such niceties—were those of a man who had not known manual labour. His face was pale and puffed, but the tip of the nose was red. He did not seem as if the watery element was as familiar to himself as to his Delilah, the perch.
"Such is Life!" recommenced the angler, in a moralizing tone, as he slid his rod into its canvas case. "If a man knew what it was to fish all one's life in a stream that has only one perch, to catch that one perch nine times in all, and nine times to see it fall back into the water, plump,—if a man knew what it was, why, then "—here the angler looked over his shoulder full at Leonard—"why then, young sir, he would know what human life is to vain ambition. Good-evening."
Away he went treading over the daisies and kingcups. Helen's eyes followed him wistfully.
"What a strange person!" said Leonard, laughing.
"I think he is a very wise one," murmured Helen; and she came close up to Leonard, and took his hand in both hers, as if she felt already that he was in need of the Comforter,—the line broken, and the perch lost!
At noon the next day, London stole upon them through a gloomy, thick, oppressive atmosphere; for where is it that we can say London bursts on the sight? It stole on them through one of its fairest and most gracious avenues of approach,—by the stately gardens of Kensington, along the side of Hyde Park, and so on towards Cumberland Gate.
Leonard was not the least struck. And yet with a very little money, and a very little taste, it would be easy to render this entrance to London as grand and as imposing as that to Paris from the Champs Elysees. As they came near the Edgware Road, Helen took her new brother by the hand and guided him; for she knew all that neighbourhood, and she was acquainted with a lodging near that occupied by her father (to that lodging itself she could not have gone for the world), where they might be housed cheaply.
But just then the sky, so dull and overcast since morning, seemed one mass of black cloud. There suddenly came on a violent storm of rain. The boy and girl took refuge in a covered mews, in a street running out of the Edgware Road. This shelter soon became crowded; the two young pilgrims crept close to the wall, apart from the rest, Leonard's arm round Helen's waist, sheltering her from the rain that the strong wind contending with it beat in through the passage. Presently a young gentleman of better mien and dress than the other refugees entered, not hastily, but rather with a slow and proud step, as if, though he deigned to take shelter, he scorned to run to it. He glanced somewhat haughtily at the assembled group, passed on through the midst of it, came near Leonard, took off his hat, and shook the rain from its brim. His head thus uncovered, left all his features exposed; and the village youth recognized, at the first glance, his old victorious assailant on the green at Hazeldean.
Yet Randal Leslie was altered. His dark cheek was as thin as in boyhood, and even yet more wasted by intense study and night vigils; but the expression of his face was at once more refined and manly, and there was a steady concentrated light in his eye, like that of one who has been in the habit of bringing all his thoughts to one point. He looked older than he was. He was dressed simply in black, a colour which became him; and altogether his aspect and figure were, not showy indeed, but distinguished. He looked to the common eye a gentleman; and to the more observant a scholar.
Helter-skelter! pell-mell! the group in the passage now pressed each on each, now scattered on all sides, making way, rushing down the mews, against the walls, as a fiery horse darted under shelter. The rider, a young man with a very handsome face, and dressed with that peculiar care which we commonly call dandyism, cried out, good-humouredly, "Don't be afraid; the horse sha'n't hurt any of you. A thousand pardons—so ho! so ho!" He patted the horse, and it stood as still as a statue, filling up the centre of the passage. The groups resettled; Randal approached the rider.
"Ah, is it indeed Randal Leslie?"
Frank was off his horse in a moment, and the bridle was consigned to the care of a slim 'prentice-boy holding a bundle.
"My dear fellow, how glad I am to see you. How lucky it was that I should turn in here. Not like me either, for I don't much care for a ducking. Staying in town, Randal?"
"Yes; at your uncle's, Mr. Egerton. I have left Oxford."
"But you have not taken your degree, I think? We Etonians all considered you booked for a double-first. Oh, we have been so proud of your fame,—you carried off all the prizes."
"Not all; but some, certainly. Mr. Egerton offered me my choice,—to stay for my degree, or to enter at once into the Foreign Office. I preferred the end to the means. For, after all, what good are academical honours but as the entrance to life? To enter now is to save a step in a long way, Frank."
"Ah, you were always ambitious, and you will make a great figure, I am sure."
"Perhaps so—if I work for it. Knowledge is power." Leonard started.
"And you!" resumed Randal, looking with some curious attention at his old schoolfellow. "You never came to Oxford. I did hear you were going into the army."
"I am in the Guards," said Frank, trying hard not to look too conceited as he made that acknowledgment. "The governor pished a little, and would rather I had come to live with him in the old Hall, and take to farming. Time enough for that, eh? By Jove, Randal, how pleasant a thing is life in London! Do you go to Almack's to-night?"
"No; Wednesday is a holiday in the House. There is a great parliamentary dinner at Mr. Egerton's. He is in the Cabinet now, you know; but you don't see much of your uncle, I think."
"Our sets are different," said the young gentleman, in a tone of voice worthy of Brummel. "All those parliamentary fellows are devilish dull. The rain's over. I don't know whether the governor would like me to call at Grosvenor Square; but pray come and see me. Here's my card to remind you; you must dine at our mess. Such capital fellows! What day will you fix?"
"I will call and let you know. Don't you find it rather expensive in the Guards? I remember that you thought the governor, as you call him, used to chafe a little when you wrote for more pocket-money; and the only time I ever saw you with tears in your eyes was when Mr. Hazeldean, in sending you L5, reminded you that his estates were not entailed,—were at his own disposal, and they should never go to an extravagant spendthrift. It was not a pleasant threat that, Frank."
"Oh!" cried the young man, colouring deeply. "It was not the threat that pained me; it was that my father could think so meanly of me as to fancy that—Well, well, but those were schoolboy days. And my father was always more generous than I deserved. We must see a great deal of each other, Randal. How good-natured you were at Eton, making my longs and shorts for me; I shall never forget it. Do call soon."
Frank swung himself into his saddle, and rewarded the slim youth with half-a-crown,—a largess four times more ample than his father would have deemed sufficient. A jerk of the reins and a touch of the heel, off bounded the fiery horse and the gay young rider. Randal mused, and as the rain had now ceased, the passengers under shelter dispersed and went their way. Only Randal, Leonard, and Helen remained behind. Then, as Randal, still musing, lifted his eyes, they fell full upon Leonard's face. He started, passed his hand quickly over his brow, looked again, hard and piercingly; and the change in his pale cheek to a shade still paler, a quick compression and nervous gnawing of his lip, showed that he too recognized an old foe. Then his glance ran over Leonard's dress, which was somewhat dust-stained, but far above the class amongst which the peasant was born. Randal raised his brows in surprise, and with a smile slightly supercilious—the smile stung Leonard—and with a slow step, Randal left the passage, and took his way towards Grosvenor Square. The Entrance of Ambition was clear to him.
Then the little girl once more took Leonard by the hand, and led him through rows of humble, obscure, dreary streets. It seemed almost like an allegory personified, as the sad, silent child led on the penniless and low-born adventurer of genius by the squalid shops and through the winding lanes, which grew meaner and meaner, till both their forms vanished from the view.
"But do come; change your dress, return and dine with me; you will have just time, Harley. You will meet the most eminent men of our party; surely they are worth your study, philosopher that you affect to be."
Thus said Audley Egerton to Lord L'Estrange, with whom he had been riding (after the toils of his office). The two gentlemen were in Audley's library,—Mr. Egerton, as usual, buttoned up, seated in his chair, in the erect posture of a man who scorns "inglorious ease;" Harley, as usual, thrown at length on the sofa., his long hair in careless curls, his neckcloth loose, his habiliments flowing simplex mundit is, indeed, his grace all his own; seemingly negligent, never slovenly; at ease everywhere and with every one, even with Mr. Audley Egerton, who chilled or awed the ease out of most people.
"Nay, my dear Audley, forgive me. But your eminent men are all men of one idea, and that not a diverting one, politics! politics! politics! The storm in the saucer."
"But what is your life, Harley?—the saucer without the storm?"
"Do you know, that's very well said, Audley? I did not think you had so much liveliness of repartee. Life! life! it is insipid, it is shallow,—no launching Argosies in the saucer. Audley, I have the oddest fancy—"
"That of course," said Audley, dryly; "you never had any other. What is the new one?"
HARLEY (with great gravity).—"Do you believe in Mesmerism?"
HARLEY.—"If it were in the power of an animal magnetizer to get me out of my own skin into somebody's else! That's my fancy! I am so tired of myself,—so tired! I have run through all my ideas,—know every one of them by heart. When some pretentious impostor of an idea perks itself up and says, 'Look at me,—I 'm a new acquaintance,' I just give it a nod, and say 'Not at all, you have only got a new coat on; you are the same old wretch that has bored me these last twenty years; get away.' But if one could be in a new skin, if I could be for half-an-hour your tall porter, or one of your eminent matter-of-fact men, I should then really travel into a new world.' Every man's brain must be a world in itself, eh? If I could but make a parochial settlement even in yours, Audley,—run over all your thoughts and sensations. Upon my life, I 'll go and talk to that French mesmerizer about it."
[If, at the date in which Lord L'Estrange held this conversation with Mr. Egerton, Alfred de Musset had written his comedies, we should suspect that his lordship had plagiarized from one of them the whimsical idea that he here vents upon Audley. In repeating it, the author at least cannot escape from the charge of obligation to a writer whose humour is sufficiently opulent to justify the loan.]
AUDLEY (who does not seem to like the notion of having his thoughts and sensations rummaged, even by his friend, and even in fancy)—"Pooh, pooh, pooh! Do talk like a man of sense."
HARLEY.—"Man of sense! Where shall I find a model? I don't know a man of sense!—never met such a creature. Don't believe it ever existed. At one time I thought Socrates must have been a man of sense: a delusion; he would stand gazing into the air, and talking to his Genius from sunrise to sunset. Is that like a man of sense? Poor Audley! how puzzled he looks! Well, I'll try and talk sense to oblige you. And first" (here Harley raised himself on his elbow),—"first, is it true, as I have heard vaguely, that you are paying court to the sister of that infamous Italian traitor?"
"Madame di Negra? No: I am not paying court to her," answered Audley, with a cold smile. "But she is very handsome; she is very clever; she is useful to me,—I need not say how or why; that belongs to my metier as a politician. But I think, if you will take my advice, or get your friend to take it, I could obtain from her brother, through my influence with her, some liberal concessions to your exile. She is very anxious to know where he is."
"You have not told her?"
"No; I promised you I would keep that secret."
"Be sure you do; it is only for some mischief, some snare, that she could desire such information. Concessions! pooh! This is no question of concessions, but of rights."
"I think you should leave your friend to judge of that."
"Well, I will write to him. Meanwhile, beware of this woman. I have heard much of her abroad, and she has the character of her brother for duplicity and—"
"Beauty," interrupted Audley, turning the conversation with practised adroitness. "I am told that the count is one of the handsomest men in Europe, much handsomer than his sister still, though nearly twice her age. Tut, tut, Harley; fear not for me. I am proof against all feminine attractions. This heart is dead."
"Nay, nay; it is not for you to speak thus,—leave that to me. But even I will not say it. The heart never dies. And you; what have you lost?—a wife; true: an excellent, noble-hearted woman. But was it love that you felt for her? Enviable man, have you ever loved?"
"Perhaps not, Harley," said Audley, with a sombre aspect and in dejected accents; "very few men ever have loved, at least as you mean by the word. But there are other passions than love that kill the heart, and reduce us to mechanism."
While Egerton spoke, Harley turned aside, and his breast heaved. There was a short silence; Audley was the first to break it.
"Speaking of my lost wife, I am sorry that you do not approve what I have done for her young kinsman, Randal Leslie."
HARLEY (recovering himself with an effort).—"Is it true kindness to bid him exchange manly independence for the protection of an official patron?"
AUDLEV.—"I did not bid him. I gave him his choice. At his age, I should have chosen as he has done."
HARLEY.—"I trust not; I think better of you. But answer me one question frankly, and then I will ask another. Do you mean to make this young man your heir?"
AUDLEY (with a slight embarrassment).—"Heir, pooh! I am young still. I may live as long as he—time enough to think of that."
HARLEY.—"Then now to my second question. Have you told this youth plainly that he may look to you for influence, but not for wealth?"
AUDLEY (firmly).—"I think I have; but I shall repeat it more emphatically."
HARLEY.—"Then I am satisfied as to your conduct, but not as to his. For he has too acute an intellect not to know what it is to forfeit independence; and, depend on it, he has made his calculations, and would throw you into the bargain in any balance that he could strike in his favour. You go by your experience in judging men; I by my instincts. Nature warns us as it does the inferior animals,—only we are too conceited, we bipeds, to heed her. My instincts of soldier and gentleman recoil from that old young man. He has the soul of the Jesuit. I see it in his eye, I hear it in the tread of his foot; volto sciolto he has not; i pensieri stretti he has. Hist! I hear now his step in the hall. I should know it from a thousand. That's his very touch on the handle of the door."
Randal Leslie entered. Harley—who, despite his disregard for forms, and his dislike to Randal, was too high-bred not to be polite to his junior in age or inferior in rank-rose and bowed. But his bright piercing eyes did not soften as they caught and bore down the deeper and more latent fire in Randal's. Harley did not resume his seat, but moved to the mantelpiece, and leaned against it.
RANDAL.—"I have fulfilled your commissions, Mr. Egerton. I went first to Maida Hill, and saw Mr. Burley. I gave him the check, but he said it was too much, and he should return half to the banker; he will write the article as you suggested. I then—"
AUDLEY.—"Enough, Randal! we will not fatigue Lord L'Estrange with these little details of a life that displeases him,—the life political."
HARLEY.—"But these details do not displease me; they reconcile me to my own life. Go on, pray, Mr. Leslie."
Randal had too much tact to need the cautioning glance of Mr. Egerton. He did not continue, but said with a soft voice, "Do you think, Lord L'Estrange, that the contemplation of the mode of life pursued by others can reconcile a man to his own, if he had before thought it needed a reconciler?" Harley looked pleased, for the question was ironical; and if there was a thing in the world be abhorred, it was flattery.
"Recollect your Lucretius, Mr. Leslie, the Suave mare, etc., 'pleasant from the cliff to see the mariners tossed on the ocean.' Faith, I think that sight reconciles one to the cliff, though, before, one might have been teased by the splash from the spray, and deafened by the scream of the sea-gulls. But I leave you, Audley. Strange that I have heard no more of my soldier! Remember I have your promise when I come to claim it. Good-by, Mr. Leslie, I hope that Burley's article will be worth the check."
Lord L'Estrange mounted his horse, which was still at the door, and rode through the Park. But he was no longer now unknown by sight. Bows and nods saluted him on every side.
"Alas, I am found out, then," said he to himself. "That terrible Duchess of Knaresborough, too—I must fly my country." He pushed his horse into a canter, and was soon out of the Park. As he dismounted at his father's sequestered house, you would have hardly supposed him the same whimsical, fantastic, but deep and subtle humourist that delighted in perplexing the material Audley, for his expressive face was unutterably serious. But the moment he came into the presence of his parents, the countenance was again lighted and cheerful. It brightened the whole room like sunshine.
"Mr. Leslie," said Egerton, when Harley had left the library, "you did not act with your usual discretion in touching upon matters connected with politics in the presence of a third party."
"I feel that already, sir; my excuse is, that I held Lord L'Estrange to be your most intimate friend."
"A public man, Mr. Leslie, would ill serve his country if he were not especially reserved towards his private friends—when they do not belong to his party."
"But pardon me my ignorance. Lord Lansmere is so well known to be one of your supporters, that I fancied his son must share his sentiments, and be in your confidence."
Egerton's brows slightly contracted, and gave a stern expression to a countenance always firm and decided. He however answered in a mild tone,
"At the entrance into political life, Mr. Leslie, there is nothing in which a young man of your talents should be more on his guard than thinking for himself; he will nearly always think wrong. And I believe that is one reason why young men of talent disappoint their friends, and remain so long out of office."
A haughty flush passed over Randal's brow, and faded away quickly; he bowed in silence.
Egerton resumed, as if in explanation, and even in kindly apology,
"Look at Lord L'Estrange himself. What young man could come into life with brighter auspices? Rank, wealth, high animal spirits (a great advantage those same spirits, Mr. Leslie), courage, self-possession, scholarship as brilliant perhaps as your own; and now see how his life is wasted! Why? He always thought fit to think for himself. He could never be broken into harness, and never will be. The state coach, Mr. Leslie, requires that all the horses should pull together."
"With submission, sir," answered Randal, "I should think that there were other reasons why Lord L'Estrange, whatever be his talents—and of these you must be indeed an adequate judge—would never do anything in public life."
"Ay, and what?" said Egerton, quickly.
"First," said Randal, shrewdly, "private life has done too much for him. What could public life give to one who needs nothing? Born at the top of the social ladder, why should he put himself voluntarily at the last step, for the sake of climbing up again? And secondly, Lord L'Estrange seems to me a man in whose organization sentiment usurps too large a share for practical existence."
"You have a keen eye," said Audley, with some admiration,—"keen for one so young. Poor Harley!"
Mr. Egerton's last words were said to himself. He resumed quickly,
"There is something on my mind, my young friend. Let us be frank with each other. I placed before you fairly the advantages and disadvantages of the choice I gave you. To take your degree with such honours as no doubt you would have won, to obtain your fellowship, to go to the Bar, with those credentials in favour of your talents,—this was one career. To come at once into public life, to profit by my experience, avail yourself of my interest, to take the chances of rise or fall with a party,—this was another. You chose the last. But in so doing, there was a consideration which might weigh with you, and on which, in stating your reasons for your option, you were silent."
"What is that, sir?"
"You might have counted on my fortune, should the chances of party fail you: speak, and without shame if so; it would be natural in a young man, who comes from the elder branch of the House whose heiress was my wife."
"You wound me, Mr. Egerton," said Randal, turning away.
Mr. Egerton's cold glance followed Randal's movements; the face was hid from the glance, and the statesman's eye rested on the figure, which is often as self-betraying as the countenance itself. Randal baffled Mr. Egerton's penetration,—the young man's emotion might be honest pride and pained and generous feeling, or it might be something else. Egerton continued slowly,
"Once for all, then, distinctly and emphatically, I say, never count upon that; count upon all else that I can do for you, and forgive me when I advise harshly or censure coldly; ascribe this to my interest in your career. Moreover, before decision becomes irrevocable, I wish you to know practically all that is disagreeable or even humiliating in the first subordinate steps of him who, without wealth or station, would rise in public life. I will not consider your choice settled till the end of a year at least,—your name will be kept on the college books till then; if on experience you should prefer to return to Oxford, and pursue the slower but surer path to independence and distinction, you can. And now give me your hand, Mr. Leslie, in sign that you forgive my bluntness: it is time to dress."
Randal, with his face still averted, extended his hand. Mr. Egerton held it a moment, then dropping it, left the room. Randal turned as the door closed; and there was in his dark face a power of sinister passion, that justified all Harley's warnings. His lips moved, but not audibly; then as if struck by a sudden thought, he followed Egerton into the hall.
"Sir," said he, "I forgot to say, that on returning from Maida Hill, I took shelter from the rain under a covered passage, and there I met unexpectedly with your nephew, Frank Hazeldean."
"Ah!" said Egerton, indifferently, "a fine young man; in the Guards. It is a pity that my brother has such antiquated political notions; he should put his son into parliament, and under my guidance; I could push him. Well, and what said Frank?"
"He invited me to call on him. I remember that you once rather cautioned me against too intimate an acquaintance with those who have not got their fortunes to make."
"Because they are idle, and idleness is contagious. Right,—better not to be too intimate with a young Guardsman."
"Then you would not have me call on him, sir? We were rather friends at Eton; and if I wholly reject his overtures, might he not think that you—"
"I!" interrupted Egerton. "Ah, true; my brother might think I bore him a grudge; absurd. Call then, and ask the young man here. Yet still, I do not advise intimacy." Egerton turned into his dressing-room. "Sir," said his valet, who was in waiting, "Mr. Levy is here,—he says by appointment; and Mr. Grinders is also just come from the country."
"Tell Mr. Grinders to come in first," said Egerton, seating himself. "You need not wait; I can dress without you. Tell Mr. Levy I will see him in five minutes."
Mr. Grinders was steward to Audley Egerton.
Mr. Levy was a handsome man, who wore a camellia in his button-hole; drove, in his cabriolet, a high-stepping horse that had cost L200; was well known to young men of fashion, and considered by their fathers a very dangerous acquaintance.
As the company assembled in the drawing-rooms, Mr. Egerton introduced Randal Leslie to his eminent friends in a way that greatly contrasted the distant and admonitory manner which he had exhibited to him in private. The presentation was made with that cordiality and that gracious respect, by which those who are in station command notice for those who have their station yet to win.
"My dear lord, let me introduce to you a kinsman of my late wife's" (in a whisper),—"the heir to the elder branch of her family. Stanmore, this is Mr. Leslie, of whom I spoke to you. You, who were so distinguished at Oxford, will not like him the worse for the prizes he gained there. Duke, let me present to you Mr. Leslie. The duchess is angry with me for deserting her balls; I shall hope to make my peace, by providing myself with a younger and livelier substitute. Ah, Mr. Howard, here is a young gentleman just fresh from Oxford, who will tell us all about the new sect springing up there. He has not wasted his time on billiards and horses."
Leslie was received with all that charming courtesy which is the To Kalon of an aristocracy.
After dinner, conversation settled on politics. Randal listened with attention, and in silence, till Egerton drew him gently out; just enough, and no more,—just enough to make his intelligence evident, and without subjecting him to the charge of laying down the law. Egerton knew how to draw out young men,—a difficult art. It was one reason why he was so peculiarly popular with the more rising members of his party.
The party broke up early.
"We are in time for Almack's," said Egerton, glancing at the clock, "and I have a voucher for you; come."
Randal followed his patron into the carriage. By the way Egerton thus addressed him,
"I shall introduce you to the principal leaders of society; know them and study them: I do not advise you to attempt to do more,—that is, to attempt to become the fashion. It is a very expensive ambition: some men it helps, most men it ruins. On the whole, you have better cards in your hands. Dance or not as it pleases you; don't flirt. If you flirt people will inquire into your fortune,—an inquiry that will do you little good; and flirting entangles a young man into marrying. That would never do. Here we are."
In two minutes more they were in the great ballroom, and Randal's eyes were dazzled with the lights, the diamonds, the blaze of beauty. Audley presented him in quick succession to some dozen ladies, and then disappeared amidst the crowd. Randal was not at a loss: he was without shyness; or if he had that disabling infirmity, he concealed it. He answered the languid questions put to him with a certain spirit that kept up talk, and left a favourable impression of his agreeable qualities. But the lady with whom he got on the best was one who had no daughters out, a handsome and witty woman of the world,—Lady Frederick Coniers.
"It is your first ball at Almack's then, Mr. Leslie?"
"And you have not secured a partner? Shall I find you one? What do you think of that pretty girl in pink?"
"I see her—but I cannot think of her."
"You are rather, perhaps, like a diplomatist in a new court, and your first object is to know who is who."
"I confess that on beginning to study the history of my own day I should like to distinguish the portraits that illustrate the memoir."
"Give me your arm, then, and we will come into the next room. We shall see the different notabilites enter one by one, and observe without being observed. This is the least I can do for a friend of Mr. Egerton's."
"Mr. Egerton, then," said Randal,—as they threaded their way through the space without the rope that protected the dancers,—"Mr. Egerton has had the good fortune to win your esteem even for his friends, however obscure?"
"Why, to say truth, I think no one whom Mr. Egerton calls his friend need long remain obscure, if he has the ambition to be otherwise; for Mr. Egerton holds it a maxim never to forget a friend nor a service."
"Ah, indeed!" said Randal, surprised.
"And therefore," continued Lady Frederick, "as he passes through life, friends gather round him. He will rise even higher yet. Gratitude, Mr. Leslie, is a very good policy."
"Hem," muttered Mr. Leslie.
They had now gained the room where tea and bread and butter were the homely refreshments to the habitues of what at that day was the most exclusive assembly in London. They ensconced themselves in a corner by a window, and Lady Frederick performed her task of cicerone with lively ease, accompanying each notice of the various persons who passed panoramically before them with sketch and anecdote, sometimes good-natured, generally satirical, always graphic and amusing.
By and by Frank Hazeldean, having on his arm a young lady of haughty air and with high though delicate features, came to the tea-table.
"The last new Guardsman," said Lady Frederick; "very handsome, and not yet quite spoiled. But he has got into a dangerous set."
RANDAL.—"The young lady with him is handsome enough to be dangerous."
LADY FREDERICK (laughing).—"No danger for him there,—as yet at least. Lady Mary (the Duke of Knaresborough's daughter) is only in her second year. The first year, nothing under an earl; the second, nothing under a baron. It will be full four years before she comes down to a commoner. Mr. Hazeldean's danger is of another kind. He lives much with men who are not exactly mauvais ton, but certainly not of the best taste. Yet he is very young; he may extricate himself,—leaving half his fortune behind him. What, he nods to you! You know him?"
"Very well; he is nephew to Mr. Egerton."
"Indeed! I did not know that. Hazeldean is a new name in London. I heard his father was a plain country gentleman, of good fortune, but not that he was related to Mr. Egerton."
"Will Mr. Egerton pay the young gentleman's debts? He has no sons himself."
RANDAL.—"Mr. Egerton's fortune comes from his wife, from my family,—from a Leslie, not from a Hazeldean." Lady Frederick turned sharply, looked at Randal's countenance with more attention than she had yet vouchsafed to it, and tried to talk of the Leslies. Randal was very short there.
An hour afterwards, Randal, who had not danced, was still in the refreshment-room, but Lady Frederick had long quitted him. He was talking with some old Etonians who had recognized him, when there entered a lady of very remarkable appearance, and a murmur passed through the room as she appeared.
She might be three or four and twenty. She was dressed in black velvet, which contrasted with the alabaster whiteness of her throat and the clear paleness of her complexion, while it set off the diamonds with which she was profusely covered. Her hair was of the deepest jet, and worn simply braided. Her eyes, too, were dark and brilliant, her features regular and striking; but their expression, when in repose, was not prepossessing to such as love modesty and softness in the looks of woman. But when she spoke and smiled, there was so much spirit and vivacity in the countenance, so much fascination in the smile, that all which might before have marred the effect of her beauty strangely and suddenly disappeared.
"Who is that very handsome woman?" asked Randal. "An Italian,—a Marchesa something," said one of the Etonians.
"Di Negra," suggested another, who had been abroad: "she is a widow; her husband was of the great Genoese family of Negra,—a younger branch of it."
Several men now gathered thickly around the fair Italian. A few ladies of the highest rank spoke to her, but with a more distant courtesy than ladies of high rank usually show to foreigners of such quality as Madame di Negra. Ladies of rank less elevated seemed rather shy of her,—that might be from jealousy. As Randal gazed at the marchesa with more admiration than any woman, perhaps, had before excited in him, he heard a voice near him say,
"Oh, Madame di Negra is resolved to settle amongst us, and marry an Englishman."
"If she can find one sufficiently courageous," returned a female voice.
"Well, she's trying hard for Egerton, and he has courage enough for anything."
The female voice replied, with a laugh, "Mr Egerton knows the world too well, and has resisted too many temptations to be—"
"Hush! there he is."
Egerton came into the room with his usual firm step and erect mien. Randal observed that a quick glance was exchanged between him and the marchesa; but the minister passed her by with a bow.
Still Randal watched, and, ten minutes afterwards, Egerton and the marchesa were seated apart in the very same convenient nook that Randal and Lady Frederick had occupied an hour or so before.
"Is this the reason why Mr. Egerton so insultingly warns me against counting on his fortune?" muttered Randal. "Does he mean to marry again?"
Unjust suspicion!—for, at that moment, these were the words that Audley Egerton was dropping forth from his lips of bronze,
"Nay, dear madam, do not ascribe to my frank admiration more gallantry than it merits. Your conversation charms me, your beauty delights me; your society is as a holiday that I look forward to in the fatigues of my life. But I have done with love, and I shall never marry again."
"You almost pique me into trying to win, in order to reject you," said the Italian, with a flash from her bright eyes.
"I defy even you," answered Audley, with his cold hard smile. "But to return to the point. You have more influence, at least, over this subtle ambassador; and the secret we speak of I rely on you to obtain me. Ah, Madam, let us rest friends. You see I have conquered the unjust prejudices against you; you are received and feted everywhere, as becomes your birth and your attractions. Rely on me ever, as I on you. But I shall excite too much envy if I stay here longer, and am vain enough to think that I may injure you if I provoke the gossip of the ill-natured. As the avowed friend, I can serve you; as the supposed lover, No—" Audley rose as he said this, and, standing by the chair, added carelessly, "—propos, the sum you do me the honour to borrow will be paid to your bankers to-morrow."
"A thousand thanks! my brother will hasten to repay you."
Audley bowed. "Your brother, I hope, will repay me in person, not before. When does he come?"
"Oh, he has again postponed his visit to London; he is so much needed in Vienna. But while we are talking of him, allow me to ask if your friend, Lord L'Estrange, is indeed still so bitter against that poor brother of mine?"
"Still the same."
"It is shameful!" cried the Italian, with warmth; "what has my brother ever done to him that he should actually intrigue against the count in his own court?"
"Intrigue! I think you wrong Lord L'Estrange; he but represented what he believed to be the truth, in defence of a ruined exile."
"And you will not tell me where that exile is, or if his daughter still lives?"
"My dear marchesa, I have called you friend, therefore I will not aid L'Estrange to injure you or yours. But I call L'Estrange a friend also; and I cannot violate the trust that—" Audley stopped short, and bit his lip. "You understand me," he resumed, with a more genial smile than usual; and he took his leave.
The Italian's brows met as her eye followed him; then, as she too rose, that eye encountered Randal's.
"That young man has the eye of an Italian," said the marchesa to herself, as she passed by him into the ballroom.
Leonard and Helen settled themselves in two little chambers in a small lane. The neighbourhood was dull enough, the accommodation humble; but their landlady had a smile. That was the reason, perhaps, why Helen chose the lodgings: a smile is not always found on the face of a landlady when the lodger is poor. And out of their windows they caught sight of a green tree, an elm, that grew up fair and tall in a carpenter's yard at the rear. That tree was like another smile to the place. They saw the birds come and go to its shelter; and they even heard, when a breeze arose, the pleasant murmur of its boughs.
Leonard went the same evening to Captain Digby's old lodgings, but he could learn there no intelligence of friends or protectors for Helen. The people were rude and surly, and said that the captain still owed them L1 17s. The claim, however, seemed very disputable, and was stoutly denied by Helen. The next morning Leonard set out in search of Dr. Morgan. He thought his best plan was to inquire the address of the doctor at the nearest chemist's, and the chemist civilly looked into the "Court Guide," and referred him to a house in Bulstrode Street, Manchester Square. To this street Leonard contrived to find his way, much marvelling at the meanness of London: Screwstown seemed to him the handsomer town of the two.
A shabby man-servant opened the door, and Leonard remarked that the narrow passage was choked with boxes, trunks, and various articles of furniture. He was shown into a small room containing a very large round table, whereon were sundry works on homoeopathy, Parry's "Cymbrian Plutarch," Davies's "Celtic Researches," and a Sunday news paper. An engraved portrait of the illustrious Hahnemann occupied the place of honour over the chimneypiece. In a few minutes the door to an inner room opened, and Dr. Morgan appeared, and said politely, "Come in, sir."
The doctor seated himself at a desk, looked hastily at Leonard, and then at a great chronometer lying on the table. "My time's short, sir,—going abroad: and now that I am going, patients flock to me. Too late. London will repent its apathy. Let it!"
The doctor paused majestically, and not remarking on Leonard's face the consternation he had anticipated, he repeated peevishly, "I am going abroad, sir, but I will make a synopsis of your case, and leave it to my successor. Hum!
"Hair chestnut; eyes—what colour? Look this way,—blue, dark blue. Hem! Constitution nervous. What are the symptoms?"
"Sir," began Leonard, "a little girl—"
DR. MORGAN (impatiently).—"Little girl; never mind the history of your sufferings; stick to the symptoms,—stick to the symptoms."
LEONARD.—"YOU mistake me, Doctor, I have nothing the matter with me. A little girl—"
DR. MORGAN.—"Girl again! I understand! it is she who is ill. Shall I go to her? She must describe her own symptoms,—I can't judge from your talk. You'll be telling me she has consumption, or dyspepsia, or some such disease that don't exist: mere allopathic inventions,—symptoms, sir, symptoms."
LEONARD (forcing his way).—"You attended her poor father, Captain Digby, when he was taken ill in the coach with you. He is dead, and his child is an orphan."
DR. MORGAN (fumbling in his medical pocket-book).—"Orphan! nothing for orphans, especially if inconsolable, like aconite and chamomilla."
[It may be necessary to observe that homoeopathy professes to deal with our moral affections as well as with our physical maladies, and has a globule for every sorrow.]
With some difficulty Leonard succeeded in bringing Helen to the recollection of the homoeopathist, stating how he came in charge of her, and why he sought Dr. Morgan.
The doctor was much moved.
"But, really," said he, after a pause, "I don't see how I can help the poor child. I know nothing of her relations. This Lord Les—whatever his name is—I know of no lords in London. I knew lords, and physicked them too, when I was a blundering allopathist. There was the Earl of Lansmere,—has had many a blue pill from me, sinner that I was. His son was wiser; never would take physic. Very clever boy was Lord L'Estrange—"
"Lord L'Estrange! that name begins with Les—"
"Stuff! He's always abroad,—shows his sense. I'm going abroad too. No development for science in this horrid city,—full of prejudices, sir, and given up to the most barbarous allopathical and phlebotomical propensities. I am going to the land of Hahnemann, sir,—sold my good-will, lease, and furniture, and have bought in on the Rhine. Natural life there, sir,—homeeopathy needs nature: dine at one o'clock, get up at four, tea little known, and science appreciated. But I forget. Cott! what can I do for the orphan?"
"Well, sir," said Leonard, rising, "Heaven will give me strength to support her."
The doctor looked at the young man attentively. "And yet," said he, in a gentler voice, "you, young man, are, by your account, a perfect stranger to her, or were so when you undertook to bring her to London. You have a good heart, always keep it. Very healthy thing, sir, a good heart,—that is, when not carried to excess. But you have friends of your own in town?"
LEONARD.—"Not yet, sir; I hope to make them."
DOCTOR.—"Pless me, you do? How?—I can't make any."
Leonard coloured and hung his head. He longed to say, "Authors find friends in their readers,—I am going to be an author." But he felt that the reply would savour of presumption, and held his tongue.
The doctor continued to examine him, and with friendly interest. "You say you walked up to London: was that from choice or economy?"
DOCTOR.—"Sit down again, and let us talk. I can give you a quarter of an hour, and I'll see if I can help either of you, provided you tell me all the symptoms,—I mean all the particulars."
Then, with that peculiar adroitness which belongs to experience in the medical profession, Dr. Morgan, who was really an acute and able man, proceeded to put his questions, and soon extracted from Leonard the boy's history and hopes. But when the doctor, in admiration at a simplicity which contrasted so evident an intelligence, finally asked him his name and connections, and Leonard told them, the homoeopathist actually started. "Leonard Fairfield, grandson of my old friend, John Avenel of Lansmere! I must shake you by the hand. Brought up by Mrs. Fairfield!—
"Ah, now I look, strong family likeness,—very strong"
The tears stood in the doctor's eyes. "Poor Nora!" said he.
"Nora! Did you know my aunt?"
"Your aunt! Ah! ah! yes, yes! Poor Nora! she died almost in these arms,—so young, so beautiful. I remember it as if yesterday."
The doctor brushed his hand across his eyes, and swallowed a globule; and before the boy knew what he was about, had, in his benevolence, thrust another between Leonard's quivering lips.
A knock was heard at the door.
"Ha! that 's my great patient," cried the doctor, recovering his self-possession,—"must see him. A chronic case, excellent patient,—tic, sir, tic. Puzzling and interesting. If I could take that tic with me, I should ask nothing more from Heaven. Call again on Monday; I may have something to tell you then as to yourself. The little girl can't stay with you,—wrong and nonsensical! I will see after her. Leave me your address,—write it here. I think I know a lady who will take charge of her. Good-by. Monday next, ten o'clock." With this, the doctor thrust out Leonard, and ushered in his grand patient, whom he was very anxious to take with him to the banks of the Rhine.
Leonard had now only to discover the nobleman whose name had been so vaguely uttered by poor Captain Digby. He had again recourse to the "Court Guide;" and finding the address of two or three lords the first syllable of whose titles seemed similar to that repeated to him, and all living pretty near to each other, in the regions of Mayfair, he ascertained his way to that quarter, and, exercising his mother-wit, inquired at the neighbouring shops as to the personal appearance of these noblemen. Out of consideration for his rusticity, he got very civil and clear answers; but none of the lords in question corresponded with the description given by Helen. One was old, another was exceedingly corpulent, a third was bedridden,—none of them was known to keep a great dog. It is needless to say that the name of L'Estrange (no habitant of London) was not in the "Court Guide." And Dr. Morgan's assertion that that person was always abroad unluckily dismissed from Leonard's mind the name the homoeopathist had so casually mentioned. But Helen was not disappointed when her young protector returned late in the day, and told her of his ill-success. Poor child! she was so pleased in her heart not to be separated from her new brother; and Leonard was touched to see how she had contrived, in his absence, to give a certain comfort and cheerful grace to the bare room devoted to himself. She had arranged his few books and papers so neatly, near the window, in sight of the one green elm. She had coaxed the smiling landlady out of one or two extra articles of furniture, especially a walnut-tree bureau, and some odds and ends of ribbon, with which last she had looped up the curtains. Even the old rush-bottom chairs had a strange air of elegance, from the mode in which they were placed. The fairies had given sweet Helen the art that adorns a home, and brings out a smile from the dingiest corner of hut and attic.