Leonard wondered and praised. He kissed his blushing ministrant gratefully, and they sat down in joy to their abstemious meal; when suddenly his face was overclouded,—there shot through him the remembrance of Dr. Morgan's words, "The little girl can't stay with you,—wrong and nonsensical. I think I know a lady who will take charge of her."
"Ah," cried Leonard, sorrowfully, "how could I forget?" And he told Helen what grieved him. Helen at first exclaimed that she would not go. Leonard, rejoiced, then began to talk as usual of his great prospects; and, hastily finishing his meal, as if there were no time to lose, sat down at once to his papers. Then Helen contemplated him sadly, as he bent over his delightful work. And when, lifting his radiant eyes from his manuscripts, he exclaimed, "No, no, you shall not go. This must succeed,—and we shall live together in some pretty cottage, where we can see more than one tree,"—then Helen sighed, and did not answer this time, "No, I will not go."
Shortly after she stole from the room, and into her own; and there, kneeling down, she prayed, and her prayer was somewhat this, "Guard me against my own selfish heart; may I never be a burden to him who has shielded me."
Perhaps as the Creator looks down on this world, whose wondrous beauty beams on us more and more, in proportion as our science would take it from poetry into law,—perhaps He beholds nothing so beautiful as the pure heart of a simple loving child.
Leonard went out the next day with his precious manuscripts. He had read sufficient of modern literature to know the names of the principal London publishers; and to these he took his way with a bold step, though a beating heart.
That day he was out longer than the last; and when he returned, and came into the little room, Helen uttered a cry, for she scarcely recognized him,—there was on his face so deep, so silent, and so concentrated a despondency. He sat down listlessly, and did not kiss her this time, as she stole towards him. He felt so humbled. He was a king deposed.
He take charge of another life! He!
She coaxed him at last into communicating his day's chronicle. The reader beforehand knows too well what it must be to need detailed repetition. Most of the publishers had absolutely refused to look at his manuscripts; one or two had good-naturedly glanced over and returned them at once with a civil word or two of flat rejection. One publisher alone—himself a man of letters, and who in youth had gone through the same bitter process of disillusion that now awaited the village genius—volunteered some kindly though stern explanation and counsel to the unhappy boy. This gentleman read a portion of Leonard's principal poem with attention, and even with frank admiration. He could appreciate the rare promise that it manifested. He sympathized with the boy's history, and even with his hopes; and then he said, in bidding him farewell,
"If I publish this poem for you, speaking as a trader, I shall be a considerable loser. Did I publish all I admire, out of sympathy with the author, I should be a ruined man. But suppose that, impressed as I really am with the evidence of no common poetic gifts in this manuscript, I publish it, not as a trader, but a lover of literature, I shall in reality, I fear, render you a great disservice, and perhaps unfit your whole life for the exertions on which you must rely for independence."
"How, sir?" cried Leonard. "Not that I would ask you to injure yourself for me," he added, with proud tears in his eyes.
"How, my young friend? I will explain. There is enough talent in these verses to induce very flattering reviews in some of the literary journals. You will read these, find yourself proclaimed a poet, will cry 'I am on the road to fame.' You will come to me, 'And my poem, how does it sell?' I shall point to some groaning shelf, and say, 'Not twenty copies! The journals may praise, but the public will not buy it.' 'But you will have got a name,' you say. Yes, a name as a poet just sufficiently known to make every man in practical business disinclined to give fair trial to your talents in a single department of positive life; none like to employ poets;—a name that will not put a penny in your purse,—worse still, that will operate as a barrier against every escape into the ways whereby men get to fortune. But having once tasted praise, you will continue to sigh for it: you will perhaps never again get a publisher to bring forth a poem, but you will hanker round the purlieus of the Muses, scribble for periodicals, fall at last into a bookseller's drudge. Profits will be so precarious and uncertain, that to avoid debt may be impossible; then, you who now seem so ingenuous and so proud, will sink deeper still into the literary mendicant, begging, borrowing—"
"Never! never! never!" cried Leonard, veiling his face with his hands.
"Such would have been my career," continued the publisher; "but I luckily had a rich relative, a trader, whose calling I despised as a boy, who kindly forgave my folly, bound me as an apprentice, and here I am; and now I can afford to write books as well as sell them.
"Young man, you must have respectable relations,—go by their advice and counsel; cling fast to some positive calling. Be anything in this city rather than poet by profession."
"And how, sir, have there ever been poets? Had they other callings?"
"Read their biography, and then—envy them!"
Leonard was silent a moment; but lifting his head, answered loud and quickly, "I have read their biography. True, their lot was poverty,—perhaps hunger. Sir, I—envy them!"
"Poverty and hunger are small evils," answered the bookseller, with a grave, kind smile. "There are worse,—debt and degradation, and—despair."
"No, sir, no, you exaggerate; these last are not the lot of all poets."
"Right, for most of our greatest poets had some private means of their own. And for others—why, all who have put into a lottery have not drawn blanks. But who could advise another man to set his whole hope of fortune on the chance of a prize in a lottery? And such a lottery!" groaned the publisher, glancing towards sheets and reams of dead authors, lying, like lead, upon his shelves.
Leonard clutched his manuscripts to his heart, and hurried away.
"Yes," he muttered, as Helen clung to him, and tried to console,—"yes, you were right: London is very vast, very strong, and very cruel;" and his head sank lower and lower yet upon his bosom.
The door was flung widely open, and in, unannounced, walked Dr. Morgan.
The child turned to him, and at the sight of his face she remembered her father; and the tears that for Leonard's sake she had been trying to suppress found way.
The good doctor soon gained all the confidence of these two young hearts; and after listening to Leonard's story of his paradise lost in a day, he patted him on the shoulder and said, "Well, you will call on me on Monday, and we will see. Meanwhile, borrow these of me!"—and he tried to slip three sovereigns into the boy's hand. Leonard was indignant. The bookseller's warning flashed on him. Mendicancy! Oh, no, he had not yet come to that! He was almost rude and savage in his rejection; and the doctor did not like him the less for it.
"You are an obstinate mule," said the homoeopathist, reluctantly putting up his sovereigns. "Will you work at something practical and prosy, and let the poetry rest a while?"
"Yes," said Leonard, doggedly. "I will work."
"Very well, then. I know an honest bookseller, and he shall give you some employment; and meanwhile, at all events, you will be among books, and that will be some comfort."
Leonard's eyes brightened. "A great comfort, sir." He pressed the hand he had before put aside to his grateful heart.
"But," resumed the doctor, seriously, "you really feel a strong predisposition to make verses?"
"I did, sir."
"Very bad symptom indeed, and must be stopped before a relapse! Here, I have cured three prophets and ten poets with this novel specific."
While thus speaking he had got out his book and a globule. "Agaricus muscarius dissolved in a tumbler of distilled water,—teaspoonful whenever the fit comes on. Sir, it would have cured Milton himself."
"And now for you, my child," turning to Helen, "I have found a lady who will be very kind to you. Not a menial situation. She wants some one to read to her and tend on her; she is old and has no children. She wants a companion, and prefers a girl of your age to one older. Will this suit you?"
Leonard walked away.
Helen got close to the doctor's ear, and whispered, "No, I cannot leave him now,—he is so sad."
"Cott!" grunted the doctor, "you two must have been reading 'Paul and Virginia.' If I could but stay in England, I would try what ignatia would do in this case,—interesting experiment! Listen to me, little girl, and go out of the room, you, sir."
Leonard, averting his face, obeyed. Helen made an involuntary step after him; the doctor detained and drew her on his knee.
"What's your Christian name?—I forget."
"Helen, listen. In a year or two you will be a young woman, and it would be very wrong then to live alone with that young man. Meanwhile you have no right to cripple all his energies. He must not have you leaning on his right arm,—you would weigh it down. I am going away, and when I am gone there will be no one to help you, if you reject the friend I offer you. Do as I tell you, for a little girl so peculiarly susceptible (a thorough pulsatilla constitution) cannot be obstinate and egotistical."
"Let me see him cared for and happy, sir," said she, firmly, "and I will go where you wish."
"He shall be so; and to-morrow, while he is out, I will come and fetch you. Nothing so painful as leave-taking, shakes the nervous system, and is a mere waste of the animal economy."
Helen sobbed aloud; then, writhing from the doctor, she exclaimed, "But he may know where I am? We may see each other sometimes? Ah, sir, it was at my father's grave that we first met, and I think Heaven sent him to me. Do not part us forever."
"I should have a heart of stone if I did," cried the doctor, vehemently; "and Miss Starke shall let him come and visit you once a week. I'll give her something to make her. She is naturally indifferent to others. I will alter her whole constitution, and melt her into sympathy—with rhododendron and arsenic!"
Before he went the doctor wrote a line to "Mr. Prickett, Bookseller, Holborn," and told Leonard to take it the next morning, as addressed. "I will call on Prickett myself tonight and prepare him for your visit. But I hope and trust you will only have to stay there a few days."
He then turned the conversation, to communicate his plans for Helen. Miss Starke lived at Highgate,—a worthy woman, stiff and prim, as old maids sometimes are; but just the place for a little girl like Helen, and Leonard should certainly be allowed to call and see her.
Leonard listened and made no opposition,—now that his day-dream was dispelled, he had no right to pretend to be Helen's protector. He could have prayed her to share his wealth and his fame; his penury and his drudgery—no.
It was a very sorrowful evening,—that between the adventurer and the child. They sat up late, till their candle had burned down to the socket; neither did they talk much; but his hand clasped hers all the time, and her head pillowed it self on his shoulder. I fear when they parted it was not for sleep.
And when Leonard went forth the next morning, Helen stood at the street door watching him depart—slowly, slowly. No doubt, in that humble lane there were many sad hearts; but no heart so heavy as that of the still, quiet child, when the form she had watched was to be seen no more, and, still standing on the desolate threshold, she gazed into space, and all was vacant.
Mr. Prickett was a believer in homeeopathy, and declared, to the indignation of all the apothecaries round Holborn, that he had been cured of a chronic rheumatism by Dr. Morgan. The good doctor had, as he promised, seen Mr. Prickett when he left Leonard, and asked him as a favour to find some light occupation for the boy, that would serve as an excuse for a modest weekly salary. "It will not be for long," said the doctor: "his relations are respectable and well off. I will write to his grandparents, and in a few days I hope to relieve you of the charge. Of course, if you don't want him, I will repay what he costs meanwhile."
Mr. Prickett, thus prepared for Leonard, received him very graciously; and, after a few questions, said Leonard was just the person he wanted to assist him in cataloguing his books, and offered him most handsomely L1 a week for the task.
Plunged at once into a world of books vaster than he had ever before won admission to, that old divine dream of knowledge, out of which poetry had sprung, returned to the village student at the very sight of the venerable volumes. The collection of Mr. Prickett was, however, in reality by no means large; but it comprised not only the ordinary standard works, but several curious and rare ones. And Leonard paused in making the catalogue, and took many a hasty snatch of the contents of each tome, as it passed through his hands. The bookseller, who was an enthusiast for old books, was pleased to see a kindred feeling (which his shop-boy had never exhibited) in his new assistant; and he talked about rare editions and scarce copies, and initiated Leonard into many of the mysteries of the bibliographist.
Nothing could be more dark and dingy than the shop. There was a booth outside, containing cheap books and odd volumes, round which there was always an attentive group; within, a gas-lamp burned night and day.
But time passed quickly to Leonard. He missed not the green fields, he forgot his disappointments, he ceased to remember even Helen. O strange passion of knowledge! nothing like thee for strength and devotion!
Mr. Prickett was a bachelor, and asked Leonard to dine with him on a cold shoulder of mutton. During dinner the shop-boy kept the shop, and Mr. Prickett was really pleasant, as well as loquacious. He took a liking to Leonard, and Leonard told him his adventures with the publishers, at which Mr. Prickett rubbed his hands and laughed, as at a capital joke. "Oh, give up poetry, and stick to a shop," cried he; "and to cure you forever of the mad whim to be author, I'll just lend you the 'Life and Works of Chatterton.' You may take it home with you and read before you go to bed. You'll come back quite a new man to-morrow."
Not till night, when the shop was closed, did Leonard return to his lodging. And when he entered the room, he was struck to the soul by the silence, by the void. Helen was gone!
There was a rose-tree in its pot on the table at which he wrote, and by it a scrap of paper, on which was written,
DEAR, dear brother Leonard, God bless you. I will let you know when we can meet again. Take care of this rose, Brother, and don't forget poor
Over the word "forget" there was a big round blistered spot that nearly effaced the word.
Leonard leaned his face on his hands, and for the first time in his life he felt what solitude really is. He could not stay long in the room. He walked out again, and wandered objectless to and fro the streets. He passed that stiller and humbler neighbourhood, he mixed with the throng that swarmed in the more populous thoroughfares. Hundreds and thousands passed him by, and still—still such solitude.
He came back, lighted his candle, and resolutely drew forth the "Chatterton" which the bookseller had lent him. It was an old edition, in one thick volume. It had evidently belonged to some contemporary of the poet's,—apparently an inhabitant of Bristol,—some one who had gathered up many anecdotes respecting Chatterton's habits, and who appeared even to have seen him, nay, been in his company; for the book was interleaved, and the leaves covered with notes and remarks, in a stiff clear hand,—all evincing personal knowledge of the mournful immortal dead. At first, Leonard read with an effort; then the strange and fierce spell of that dread life seized upon him,—seized with pain and gloom and terror,—this boy dying by his own hand, about the age Leonard had attained himself. This wondrous boy, of a genius beyond all comparison the greatest that ever yet was developed and extinguished at the age of eighteen,—self-taught, self-struggling, self-immolated. Nothing in literature like that life and that death!
With intense interest Leonard perused the tale of the brilliant imposture, which had been so harshly and so absurdly construed into the crime of a forgery, and which was (if not wholly innocent) so akin to the literary devices always in other cases viewed with indulgence, and exhibiting, in this, intellectual qualities in themselves so amazing,—such patience, such forethought, such labour, such courage, such ingenuity,—the qualities that, well directed, make men great, not only in books, but action. And, turning from the history of the imposture to the poems themselves, the young reader bent before their beauty, literally awed and breathless. How this strange Bristol boy tamed and mastered his rude and motley materials into a music that comprehended every tune and key, from the simplest to the sublimest! He turned back to the biography; he read on; he saw the proud, daring, mournful spirit alone in the Great City, like himself. He followed its dismal career, he saw it falling with bruised and soiled wings into the mire. He turned again to the later works, wrung forth as tasks for bread,—the satires without moral grandeur, the politics without honest faith. He shuddered and sickened as he read. True, even here his poet mind appreciated (what perhaps only poets can) the divine fire that burned fitfully through that meaner and more sordid fuel,—he still traced in those crude, hasty, bitter offerings to dire Necessity the hand of the young giant who had built up the stately verse of Rowley. But alas! how different from that "mighty line." How all serenity and joy had fled from these later exercises of art degraded into journey-work! Then rapidly came on the catastrophe,—the closed doors, the poison, the suicide, the manuscripts torn by the hands of despairing wrath, and strewed round the corpse upon the funereal floors. It was terrible! The spectre of the Titan boy (as described in the notes written on the margin), with his haughty brow, his cynic smile, his lustrous eyes, haunted all the night the baffled and solitary child of song.
It will often happen that what ought to turn the human mind from some peculiar tendency produces the opposite effect. One would think that the perusal in the newspaper of some crime and capital punishment would warn away all who had ever meditated the crime, or dreaded the chance of detection. Yet it is well known to us that many a criminal is made by pondering over the fate of some predecessor in guilt. There is a fascination in the Dark and Forbidden, which, strange to say, is only lost in fiction. No man is more inclined to murder his nephews, or stifle his wife, after reading "Richard the Third" or "Othello." It is the reality that is necessary to constitute the danger of contagion. Now, it was this reality in the fate and life and crowning suicide of Chatterton that forced itself upon Leonard's thoughts, and sat there like a visible evil thing, gathering evil like cloud around it. There was much in the dead poet's character, his trials, and his doom, that stood out to Leonard like a bold and colossal shadow of himself and his fate. Alas! the book seller, in one respect, had said truly. Leonard came back to him the next day a new man; and it seemed even to himself as if he had lost a good angel in losing Helen. "Oh, that she had been by my side!" thought he. "Oh, that I could have felt the touch of her confiding hand; that, looking up from the scathed and dreary ruin of this life, that had sublimely lifted itself from the plain, and sought to tower aloft from a deluge, her mild look had spoken to me of innocent, humble, unaspiring childhood! Ah! If indeed I were still necessary to her,—still the sole guardian and protector,—then could I say to myself; 'Thou must not despair and die! Thou hast her to live and to strive for.' But no, no! Only this vast and terrible London,—the solitude of the dreary garret, and those lustrous eyes, glaring alike through the throng and through the solitude."
On the following Monday Dr. Morgan's shabby man-servant opened the door to a young man in whom he did not at first remember a former visitor. A few days before, embrowned with healthful travel, serene light in his eye, simple trust on his careless lip, Leonard Fairfield had stood at that threshold. Now again he stood there, pale and haggard, with a cheek already hollowed into those deep anxious lines that speak of working thoughts and sleepless nights; and a settled sullen gloom resting heavily on his whole aspect.
"I call by appointment," said the boy, testily, as the servant stood irresolute. The man gave way. "Master is just gone out to a patient: please to wait, sir;" and he showed him into the little parlour. In a few moments, two other patients were admitted. These were women, and they began talking very loud. They disturbed Leonard's unsocial thoughts. He saw that the door into the doctor's receiving-room was half open, and, ignorant of the etiquette which holds such penetralia as sacred, he walked in to escape from the gossips. He threw himself into the doctor's own wellworn chair, and muttered to himself, "Why did he tell me to come? What new can he think of for me? And if a favour, should I take it? He has given me the means of bread by work: that is all I have a right to ask from him, from any man,—all I should accept."
While thus soliloquizing, his eye fell on a letter lying open on the table. He started. He recognized the handwriting,—the same as that of the letter which had inclosed. L50 to his mother,—the letter of his grandparents. He saw his own name: he saw something more,—words that made his heart stand still, and his blood seem like ice in his veins. As he thus stood aghast, a hand was laid on the letter, and a voice, in an angry growl, muttered, "How dare you come into my room, and pe reading my letters? Er-r-r!"
Leonard placed his own hand on the doctor's firmly, and said, in a fierce tone, "This letter relates to me, belongs to me, crushes me. I have seen enough to know that. I demand to read all,—learn all."
The doctor looked round, and seeing the door into the waiting-room still open, kicked it to with his foot, and then said, under his breath, "What have you read? Tell me the truth."
"Two lines only, and I am called—I am called—" Leonard's frame shook from head to foot, and the veins on his forehead swelled like cords. He could not complete the sentence. It seemed as if an ocean was rolling up through his brain, and roaring in his ears. The doctor saw at a glance that there was physical danger in his state, and hastily and soothingly answered, "Sit down, sit down; calm yourself; you shall know all,—read all; drink this water;" and he poured into a tumbler of the pure liquid a drop or two from a tiny phial.
Leonard obeyed mechanically, for he was no longer able to stand. He closed his eyes, and for a minute or two life seemed to pass from him; then he recovered, and saw the good doctor's gaze fixed on him with great compassion. He silently stretched forth his hand towards the letter. "Wait a few moments," said the physician, judiciously, "and hear me meanwhile. It is very unfortunate you should have seen a letter never meant for your eye, and containing allusions to a secret you were never to have known. But if I tell you more, will you promise me, on your word of honour, that you will hold the confidence sacred from Mrs. Fairfield, the Avenels,—from all? I myself am pledged to conceal a secret, which I can only share with you on the same condition."
"There is nothing," announced Leonard, indistinctly, and with a bitter smile on his lip,—"nothing, it seems, that I should be proud to boast of. Yes, I promise; the letter, the letter!"
The doctor placed it in Leonard's right hand, and quietly slipped to the wrist of the left his forefinger and thumb, as physicians are said to do when a victim is stretched on the rack. "Pulse decreasing," he muttered; "wonderful thing, aconite!" Meanwhile Leonard read as follows, faults in spelling and all:—
SIR,—I received your favur duly, and am glad to hear that the pore boy is safe and Well. But he has been behaving ill, and ungrateful to my good son Richard, who is a credit to the whole Famuly and has made himself a Gentleman and Was very kind and good to the boy, not knowing who and What he is—God forbid! I don't want never to see him again—the boy. Pore John was ill and Restless for days afterwards. John is a pore cretur now, and has had paralyticks. And he Talked of nothing but Nora—the boy's eyes were so like his Mother's. I cannot, cannot see the Child of Shame. He can't cum here—for our Lord's sake, sir, don't ask it—he can't, so Respectable as we've always been!—and such disgrace! Base born! base born! Keep him where he is, bind him prentis, I'll pay anything for That. You says, sir, he's clever, and quick at learning; so did Parson Dale, and wanted him to go to Collidge and make a Figur,—then all would cum out. It would be my death, sir; I could not sleep in my grave, sir. Nora, that we were all so proud of. Sinful creturs that we are! Nora's good name that we've saved, now gone, gone. And Richard, who is so grand, and who was so fond of pore, pore Nora! He would not hold up his Head again. Don't let him make a Figur in the world; let him be a tradesman, as we were afore him,—any trade he takes to,—and not cross us no more while he lives. Then I shall pray for him, and wish him happy. And have not we had enuff of bringing up children to be above their birth? Nora, that I used to say was like the first lady o' the land-oh, but we were rightly punished! So now, sir, I leave all to you, and will Pay all you want for the boy. And be sure that the secret's kept. For we have never heard from the father, and, at leest, no one knows that Nora has a living son but I and my daughter Jane, and Parson Dale and you—and you Two are good Gentlemen—and Jane will keep her word, and I am old, and shall be in my grave Soon, but I hope it won't be while pore John needs me. What could he do without me? And if that got wind, it would kill me straght, sir. Pore John is a helpless cretur, God bless him. So no more from your servant in all dooty,
Leonard laid down this letter very calmly, and, except by a slight heaving at his breast, and a deathlike whiteness of his lips, the emotions he felt were undetected. And it is a proof how much exquisite goodness there was in his heart that the first words he spoke were, "Thank Heaven!"
The doctor did not expect that thanksgiving, and he was so startled that he exclaimed, "For what?"
"I have nothing to pity or excuse in the woman I knew and honoured as a mother. I am not her son—her-" He stopped short.
"No: but don't be hard on your true mother,—poor Nora!"
Leonard staggered, and then burst into a sudden paroxysm of tears.
"Oh, my own mother! my dead mother! Thou for whom I felt so mysterious a love,—thou from whom I took this poet soul! pardon me, pardon me! Hard on thee! Would that thou wert living yet, that I might comfort thee! What thou must have suffered!"
These words were sobbed forth in broken gasps from the depth of his heart. Then he caught up the letter again, and his thoughts were changed as his eyes fell upon the writer's shame and fear, as it were, of his very existence. All his native haughtiness returned to him. His crest rose, his tears dried. "Tell her," he said, with astern, unfaltering voice, "tell Mrs. Avenel that she is obeyed; that I will never seek her roof, never cross her path, never disgrace her wealthy son. But tell her, also, that I will choose my own way in life,—that I will not take from her a bribe for concealment. Tell her that I am nameless, and will yet make a name."
A name! Was this but an idle boast, or was it one of those flashes of conviction which are never belied, lighting up our future for one lurid instant, and then fading into darkness?
"I do not doubt it, my prave poy," said Dr. Morgan, growing exceedingly Welsh in his excitement; "and perhaps you may find a father, who—"
"Father! who is he, what is he? He lives, then! But he has deserted me,—he must have betrayed her! I need him not. The law gives me no father."
The last words were said with a return of bitter anguish: then, in a calmer tone, he resumed, "But I should know who he is—as another one whose path I may not cross."
Dr. Morgan looked embarrassed, and paused in deliberation. "Nay," said he, at length, "as you know so much, it is surely best that you should know all."
The doctor then proceeded to detail, with some circumlocution, what we will here repeat from his account more succinctly.
Nora Avenel, while yet very young, left her native village, or rather the house of Lady Lansinere, by whom she had been educated and brought up, in order to accept the place of companion to a lady in London. One evening she suddenly presented herself at her father's house, and at the first sight of her mother's face she fell down insensible. She was carried to bed. Dr. Morgan (then the chief medical practitioner of the town) was sent for. That night Leonard came into the world, and his mother died. She never recovered her senses, never spoke intelligibly from the time she entered the house. "And never, therefore, named your father," said Dr. Morgan. "We knew not who he was."
"And how," cried Leonard, fiercely,—"how have they dared to slander this dead mother? How knew they that I—was—was—was not the child of wedlock?"
"There was no wedding-ring on Nora's finger, never any rumour of her marriage; her strange and sudden appearance at her father's house; her emotions on entrance, so unlike those natural to a wife returning to a parent's home,—these are all the evidence against her. But Mrs. Avenel deemed them strong, and so did I. You have a right to think we judged too harshly,—perhaps we did."
"And no inquiries were ever made?" said Leonard, mournfully, and after a long silence,—"no inquiries to learn who was the father of the motherless child?"
"Inquiries! Mrs. Avenel would have died first. Your grandmother's nature is very rigid. Had she come from princes, from Cadwallader himself," said the Welshman, "she could not more have shrunk from the thought of dishonour. Even over her dead child, the child she had loved the best, she thought but how to save that child's name and memory from suspicion. There was luckily no servant in the house, only Mark Fairfield and his wife (Nora's sister): they had arrived the same day on a visit.
"Mrs. Fairfield was nursing her own infant two or three months old; she took charge of you; Nora was buried and the secret kept. None out of the family knew of it but myself and the curate of the town,—Mr. Dale. The day after your birth, Mrs. Fairfield, to prevent discovery, moved to a village at some distance. There her child died; and when she returned to Hazeldean, where her husband was settled, you passed as the son she had lost. Mark, I know, was as a father to you, for he had loved Nora: they had been children together."
"And she came to London,—London is strong and cruel," muttered Leonard. "She was friendless and deceived. I see all,—I desire to know no more. This father—he must in deed have been like those whom I have read of in books. To love, to wrong her,—that I can conceive; but then to leave, to abandon; no visit to her grave, no remorse, no search for his own child. Well, well; Mrs. Avenel was right. Let us think of him no more."
The man-servant knocked at the door, and then put in his head. "Sir, the ladies are getting very impatient, and say they'll go."
"Sir," said Leonard, with a strange calm return to the things about him, "I ask your pardon for taking up your time so long. I go now. I will never mention to my moth—I mean to Mrs. Fairfield—what I have learned, nor to any one. I will work my way somehow. If Mr. Prickett will keep me, I will stay with him at present; but I repeat, I cannot take Mrs. Avenel's money and be bound apprentice. Sir, you have been good and patient with me,—Heaven reward you."
The doctor was too moved to answer. He wrung Leonard's hand, and in another minute the door closed upon the nameless boy. He stood alone in the streets of London; and the sun flashed on him, red and menacing, like the eye of a foe!
Leonard did not appear at the shop of Mr. Prickett that day. Needless it is to say where he wandered, what he suffered, what thought, what felt. All within was storm. Late at night he returned to his solitary lodging. On his table, neglected since the morning, was Helen's rose-tree. It looked parched and fading. His heart smote him: he watered the poor plant,—perhaps with his tears.
Meanwhile Dr. Morgan, after some debate with himself whether or not to apprise Mrs. Avenel of Leonard's discovery and message, resolved to spare her an uneasiness and alarm that might be dangerous to her health, and unnecessary in itself. He replied shortly, that she need not fear Leonard's coming to her house; that he was disinclined to bind himself an apprentice, but that he was provided for at present; and in a few weeks, when Dr. Morgan heard more of him through the tradesman by whom he was employed, the doctor would write to her from Germany. He then went to Mr. Prickett's, told the willing bookseller to keep the young man for the present,—to be kind to him, watch over his habits and conduct, and report to the doctor in his new home, on the Rhine, what avocation he thought Leonard would be best suited for, and most inclined to adopt. The charitable Welshman divided with the bookseller the salary given to Leonard, and left a quarter of his moiety in advance. It is true that he knew he should be repaid on applying to Mrs. Avenel; but being a man of independent spirit himself, he so sympathized with Leonard's present feelings, that he felt as if he should degrade the boy did he maintain him, even secretly, out of Mrs. Avenel's money,—money intended not to raise, but keep him down in life. At the worst, it was a sum the doctor could afford, and he had brought the boy into the world. Having thus, as he thought, safely provided for his two young charges, Helen and Leonard, the doctor then gave himself up to his final preparations for departure. He left a short note for Leonard with Mr. Prickett, containing some brief advice, some kind cheering; a postscript to the effect that he had not communicated to Mrs. Avenel the information Leonard had acquired, and that it were best to leave her in that ignorance; and six small powders to be dissolved in water, and a teaspoonful every fourth hour,—"Sovereign against rage and sombre thoughts," wrote the doctor.
By the evening of the next day Dr. Morgan, accompanied by his pet patient with the chronic tic, whom he had talked into exile, was on the steamboat on his way to Ostend.
Leonard resumed his life at Mr. Prickett's; but the change in him did not escape the bookseller. All his ingenuous simplicity had deserted him. He was very distant and very taciturn; he seemed to have grown much older. I shall not attempt to analyze metaphysically this change. By the help of such words as Leonard may himself occasionally let fall, the reader will dive into the boy's heart, and see how there the change had worked, and is working still. The happy, dreamy peasant-genius gazing on Glory with inebriate, undazzled eyes is no more. It is a man, suddenly cut off from the old household holy ties,—conscious of great powers, and confronted on all sides by barriers of iron, alone with hard Reality and scornful London; and if he catches a glimpse of the lost Helicon, he sees, where he saw the Muse, a pale melancholy spirit veiling its face in shame,—the ghost of the mournful mother, whose child has no name, not even the humblest, among the family of men.
On the second evening after Dr. Morgan's departure, as Leonard was just about to leave the shop, a customer stepped in with a book in his hand, which he had snatched from the shop-boy, who was removing the volumes for the night from the booth without.
"Mr. Prickett, Mr. Prickett!" said the customer, "I am ashamed of you. You presume to put upon this work, in two volumes, the sum of eight shillings."
Mr. Prickett stepped forth from the Cimmerian gloom of some recess, and cried, "What! Mr. Burley, is that you? But for your voice, I should not have known you."
"Man is like a book, Mr. Prickett; the commonalty only look to his binding. I am better bound, it is very true." Leonard glanced towards the speaker, who now stood under the gas-lamp, and thought he recognized his face. He looked again. Yes; it was the perch-fisher whom he had met on the banks of the Brent, and who had warned him of the lost fish and the broken line.
MR. BURLEY (continuing).—"But the 'Art of Thinking'!—you charge eight shillings for the 'Art of Thinking.'"
MR. PRICKETT.—"Cheap enough, Mr. Burley. A very clean copy."
MR. BURLEY.—"Usurer! I sold it to you for three shillings. It is more than one hundred and fifty per cent you propose to gain from my 'Art of Thinking.'"
MR. PRICKETT (stuttering and taken aback).—"You sold it to me! Ah, now I remember. But it was more than three shillings I gave. You forget,—two glasses of brandy-and-water."
MR. BURLEY.—"Hospitality, sir, is not to be priced. If you sell your hospitality, you are not worthy to possess my 'Art of Thinking.' I resume it. There are three shillings, and a shilling more for interest. No; on second thoughts, instead of that shilling, I will return your hospitality: and the first time you come my way you shall have two glasses of brandy-and-water."
Mr. Prickett did not look pleased, but he made no objection; and Mr. Burley put the book into his pocket, and turned to examine the shelves. He bought an old jest-book, a stray volume of the Comedies of Destouches, paid for them, put them also into his pocket, and was sauntering out, when he perceived Leonard, who was now standing at the doorway.
"Hem! who is that?" he asked, whispering Mr. Prickett. "A young assistant of mine, and very clever."
Mr. Burley scanned Leonard from top to toe.
"We have met before, sir. But you look as if you had returned to the Brent, and been fishing for my perch."
"Possibly, sir," answered Leonard. "But my line is tough, and is not yet broken, though the fish drags it amongst the weeds, and buries itself in the mud."
He lifted his hat, bowed slightly, and walked on.
"He is clever," said Mr. Burley to the bookseller: "he understands allegory."
MR. PRICKETT.—"Poor youth! He came to town with the idea of turning author: you know what that is, Mr. Burley."
MR. BURLEY (with an air of superb dignity).—"Bibliopole, yes! An author is a being between gods and men, who ought to be lodged in a palace, and entertained at the public charge upon ortolans and Tokay. He should be kept lapped in down, and curtained with silken awnings from the cares of life, have nothing to do but to write books upon tables of cedar, and fish for perch from a gilded galley. And that 's what will come to pass when the ages lose their barbarism and know their benefactors. Meanwhile, sir, I invite you to my rooms, and will regale you upon brandy-and-water as long as I can pay for it; and when I cannot—you shall regale me."
Mr. Prickett muttered, "A very bad bargain indeed," as Mr. Burley, with his chin in the air, stepped into the street.
At first Leonard had always returned home through the crowded thoroughfares,—the contact of numbers had animated his spirits. But the last two days, since the discovery of his birth, he had taken his way down the comparatively unpeopled path of the New Road.
He had just gained that part of this outskirt in which the statuaries and tomb-makers exhibit their gloomy wares, furniture alike for gardens and for graves,—and, pausing, contemplated a column, on which was placed an urn, half covered with a funeral mantle, when his shoulder was lightly tapped, and, turning quickly, he saw Mr. Burley standing behind him.
"Excuse me, sir, but you understand perch-fishing; and since we find ourselves on the same road, I should like to be better acquainted with you. I hear you once wished to be an author. I am one."
Leonard had never before, to his knowledge, seen an author, and a mournful smile passed his lips as he surveyed the perch-fisher.
Mr. Burley was indeed very differently attired since the first interview by the brooklet. He looked much less like an author,—but more perhaps like a perch-fisher. He had a new white hat, stuck on one side of his head, a new green overcoat, new gray trousers, and new boots. In his hand was a whalebone stick, with a silver handle. Nothing could be more vagrant, devil-me-Garish, and, to use a slang word, tigerish, than his whole air. Yet, vulgar as was his costume, he did not himself seem vulgar, but rather eccentric, lawless,—something out of the pale of convention. His face looked more pale and more puffed than before, the tip of his nose redder; but the spark in his eye was of a livelier light, and there was self-enjoyment in the corners of his sensual, humorous lip.
"You are an author, sir," repeated Leonard. "Well; and what is your report of the calling? Yonder column props an urn. The column is tall, and the urn is graceful. But it looks out of place by the roadside: what say you?"
MR. BURLEY.—"It would look better in the churchyard."
LEONARD.—"So I was thinking. And you are an author!"
MR. BURLEY.—"Ah, I said you had a quick sense of allegory. And so you think an author looks better in a churchyard, when you see him but as a muffled urn under the moonshine, than standing beneath the gas-lamp in a white hat, and with a red tip to his nose. Abstractedly, you are right. But, with your leave, the author would rather be where he is. Let us walk on." The two men felt an interest in each other, and they walked some yards in silence.
"To return to the urn," said Mr. Burley,—"you think of fame and churchyards. Natural enough, before illusion dies; but I think of the moment, of existence,—and I laugh at fame. Fame, sir—not worth a glass of cold-without! And as for a glass of warm, with sugar—and five shillings in one's pocket to spend as one pleases—what is there in Westminster Abbey to compare with it?"
"Talk on, sir,—I should like to hear you talk. Let me listen and hold my tongue." Leonard pulled his hat over his brows, and gave up his moody, questioning, turbulent mind to his new acquaintance.
And John Burley talked on. A dangerous and fascinating talk it was,—the talk of a great intellect fallen; a serpent trailing its length on the ground, and showing bright, shifting, glorious hues, as it grovelled,—a serpent, yet without the serpent's guile. If John Burley deceived and tempted, he meant it not,—he crawled and glittered alike honestly. No dove could be more simple.
Laughing at fame, he yet dwelt with an eloquent enthusiasm on the joy of composition. "What do I care what men without are to say and think of the words that gush forth on my page?" cried he. "If you think of the public, of urns, and laurels, while you write, you are no genius; you are not fit to be an author. I write because it rejoices me, because it is my nature. Written, I care no more what becomes of it than the lark for the effect that the song has on the peasant it wakes to the plough. The poet, like the lark, sings 'from his watch-tower in the skies.' Is this true?"
"Yes, very true!"
"What can rob us of this joy? The bookseller will not buy; the public will not read. Let them sleep at the foot of the ladder of the angels,—we climb it all the same. And then one settles down into such good-tempered Lucianic contempt for men. One wants so little from them, when one knows what one's self is worth, and what they are. They are just worth the coin one can extract from them, in order to live.
"Our life—that is worth so much to us. And then their joys, so vulgar to them, we can make them golden and kingly. Do you suppose Burns drinking at the alehouse, with his boors around him, was drinking, like them, only beer and whiskey? No, he was drinking nectar; he was imbibing his own ambrosial thoughts,—shaking with the laughter of the gods. The coarse human liquid was just needed to unlock his spirit from the clay,—take it from jerkin and corduroys, and wrap it in the 'singing robes' that floated wide in the skies: the beer or the whiskey needed but for that, and then it changed at once into the drink of Hebe. But come, you have not known this life,—you have not seen it. Come, give me this night. I have moneys about me,—I will fling them abroad as liberally as Alexander himself, when he left to his share but hope. Come!"
"To my throne. On that throne last sat Edmund Kean, mighty mime! I am his successor. We will see whether in truth these wild sons of genius, who are cited but 'to point a moral and adorn a tale,' were objects of compassion. Sober-suited tits to lament over a Savage or a Morland, a Porson and a Burns!"
"Or a Chatterton," said Leonard, gloomily.
"Chatterton was an impostor in all things; he feigned excesses that he never knew. He a bacchanalian, a royster! HE! No. We will talk of him. Come!"
The Room! And the smoke-reek, and the gas glare of it! The whitewash of the walls, and the prints thereon of the actors in their mime-robes, and stage postures,—actors as far back as their own lost Augustan era, when the stage was a real living influence on the manners and the age! There was Betterton, in wig and gown,—as Cato, moralizing on the soul's eternity, and halting between Plato and the dagger. There was Woodward as "The Fine Gentleman," with the inimitable rake-hell in which the heroes of Wycherly and Congreve and Farquhar live again. There was jovial Quin as Falstaff, with round buckler and "fair round belly." There was Colley Cibber in brocade, taking snuff as with "his Lord," the thumb and forefinger raised in air, and looking at you for applause. There was Macklin as Shylock, with knife in hand: and Kemble in the solemn weeds of the Dane; and Kean in the place of honour over the chimneypiece.
When we are suddenly taken from practical life, with its real workday men, and presented to the portraits of those sole heroes of a world Fantastic and Phantasmal, in the garments wherein they did "strut and fret their hour upon the stage," verily there is something in the sight that moves an inner sense within ourselves,—for all of us have an inner sense of some existence, apart from the one that wears away our days: an existence that, afar from St. James's and St. Giles's, the Law Courts and Exchange, goes its way in terror or mirth, in smiles or in tears, through a vague magic-land of the poets. There, see those actors—they are the men who lived it—to whom our world was the false one, to whom the Imaginary was the Actual! And did Shakspeare himself, in his life, ever hearken to such applause as thundered round the personators of his airy images? Vague children of the most transient of the arts, fleet shadows on running waters, though thrown down from the steadfast stars, were ye not happier than we who live in the Real? How strange you must feel in the great circuit that ye now take through eternity! No prompt-books, no lamps, no acting Congreve and Shakspeare there! For what parts in the skies have your studies on the earth fitted you? Your ultimate destinies are very puzzling. Hail to your effigies, and pass we on!
There, too, on the whitewashed walls, were admitted the portraits of ruder rivals in the arena of fame,—yet they, too, had known an applause warmer than his age gave to Shakspeare; the Champions of the Ring,—Cribb and Molyneux and Dutch Sam. Interspersed with these was an old print of Newmarket in the early part of the last century, and sundry engravings from Hogarth. But poets, oh, they were there too! poets who might be supposed to have been sufficiently good fellows to be at home with such companions,—Shakspeare, of course, with his placid forehead; Ben Jonson, with his heavy scowl; Burns and Byron cheek by jowl. But the strangest of all these heterogeneous specimens of graphic art was a full-length print of William Pitt!—William Pitt, the austere and imperious. What the deuce did he do there amongst prize-fighters and actors and poets? It seemed an insult to his grand memory. Nevertheless there he was, very erect, and with a look of ineffable disgust in his upturned nostrils. The portraits on the sordid walls were very like the crambo in the minds of ordinary men,—very like the motley pictures of the FAMOUS hung up in your parlour, O my Public! Actors and prize-fighters, poets and statesmen, all without congruity and fitness, all whom you have been to see or to hear for a moment, and whose names have stared out in your newspapers, O my public!
And the company? Indescribable! Comedians, from small theatres, out of employ; pale, haggard-looking boys, probably the sons of worthy traders, trying their best to break their fathers' hearts; here and there the marked features of a Jew. Now and then you might see the curious puzzled face of some greenhorn about town, or perhaps a Cantab; and men of grave age, and grayhaired, were there, and amongst them a wondrous proportion of carbuncled faces and bottle-noses. And when John Burley entered, there was a shout that made William Pitt shake in his frame. Such stamping and hallooing, and such hurrahs for "Burley John." And the gentleman who had filled the great high leathern chair in his absence gave it up to John Burley; and Leonard, with his grave, observant eye, and lip half sad and half scornful, placed himself by the side of his introducer. There was a nameless, expectant stir through the assembly, as there is in the pit of the opera when some great singer advances to the lamps, and begins, "Di tanti palpiti." Time flies. Look at the Dutch clock over the door. Half-an-hour. John Burley begins to warm. A yet quicker light begins to break from his Eye; his voice has a mellow luscious roll in it.
"He will be grand to-night," whispered a thin man, who looked like a tailor, seated on the other side of Leonard. Time flies,—an hour. Look again at the Dutch clock. John Burley is grand, he is in his zenith, at his culminating point. What magnificent drollery! what luxuriant humour! How the Rabelais shakes in his easy-chair! Under the rush and the roar of this fun (what word else shall describe it?) the man's intellect is as clear as gold sand under a river. Such wit and such truth, and, at times, such a flood of quick eloquence! All now are listeners,—silent, save in applause.
And Leonard listened too. Not, as he would some nights ago, in innocent unquestioning delight. No; his mind has passed through great sorrow, great passion, and it comes out unsettled, inquiring, eager, brooding over joy itself as over a problem. And the drink circulates, and faces change; and there are gabbling and babbling; and Burley's head sinks in his bosom, and he is silent. And up starts a wild, dissolute, bacchanalian glee for seven voices. And the smoke-reek grows denser and thicker, and the gaslight looks dizzy through the haze. And John Burley's eyes reel.
Look again at the Dutch clock. Two hours have gone. John Burley has broken out again from his silence, his voice thick and husky, and his laugh cracked; and he talks, O ye gods! such rubbish and ribaldry; and the listeners roar aloud, and think it finer than before. And Leonard, who had hitherto been measuring himself in his mind against the giant, and saying inly, "He soars out of my reach," finds the giant shrink smaller and smaller, and saith to himself, "He is but of man's common standard after all!"
Look again at the Dutch clock. Three hours have passed. Is John Burley now of man's common standard? Man himself seems to have vanished from the scene,—his soul stolen from him, his form gone away with the fumes of the smoke, and the nauseous steam from that fiery bowl. And Leonard looked round, and saw but the swine of Circe,—some on the floor, some staggering against the walls, some hugging each other on the tables, some fighting, some bawling, some weeping. The divine spark had fled from the human face; the Beast is everywhere growing more and more out of the thing that had been Man. And John Burley, still unconquered, but clean lost to his senses, fancies himself a preacher, and drawls forth the most lugubrious sermon upon the brevity of life that mortal ever beard, accompanied with unctuous sobs; and now and then in the midst of balderdash gleams out a gorgeous sentence, that Jeremy Taylor might have envied, drivelling away again into a cadence below the rhetoric of a Muggletonian. And the waiters choked up the doorway, listening and laughing, and prepared to call cabs and coaches; and suddenly some one turned off the gaslight, and all was dark as pitch,—howls and laughter, as of the damned, ringing through the Pandemonium. Out from the black atmosphere stepped the boy-poet; and the still stars rushed on his sight, as they looked over the grimy roof-tops.
Well, Leonard, this is the first time thou hast shown that thou hast in thee the iron out of which true manhood is forged and shaped. Thou hast the power to resist. Forth, unebriate, unpolluted, he came from the orgy, as yon star above him came from the cloud.
He had a latch-key to his lodgings. He let himself in and walked noiselessly up the creaking wooden stair. It was dawn. He passed on to his window and threw it open. The green elm-tree from the carpenter's yard looked as fresh and fair as if rooted in solitude, leagues away from the smoke of Babylon.
"Nature, Nature!" murmured Leonard, "I hear thy voice now. This stills, this strengthens. But the struggle is very dread. Here, despair of life,—there, faith in life. Nature thinks of neither, and lives serenely on."
By and by a bird slid softly from the heart of the tree, and dropped on the ground below out of sight. But Leonard heard its carol. It awoke its companions; wings began to glance in the air, and the clouds grew red towards the east.
Leonard sighed and left the window. On the table, near Helen's rose-tree, which he bent over wistfully, lay a letter. He had not observed it before. It was in Helen's hand. He took it to the light, and read it by the pure, healthful gleams of morn:—
Oh, my dear brother Leonard, will this find you well, and (more happy I dare not say, but) less sad than when we parted? I write kneeling, so that it seems to me as if I wrote and prayed at the same time. You may come and see me to-morrow evening, Leonard. Do come, do,—we shall walk together in this pretty garden; and there is an arbour all covered with jessamine and honeysuckle, from which we can look down on London. I have looked from it so many times,— so many—trying if I can guess the roofs in our poor little street, and fancying that I do see the dear elm-tree.
Miss Starke is very kind to me; and I think after I have seen you, that I shall be happy here,—that is, if you are happy.
Your own grateful sister,
P. S.—Any one will direct you to our house; it lies to the left near the top of the hill, a little way down a lane that is overhung on one side with chestnut-trees and lilacs. I shall be watching for you at the gate.
Leonard's brow softened, he looked again like his former self. Up from the dark sea at his heart smiled the meek face of a child, and the waves lay still as at the charm of a spirit.
"And what is Mr. Burley, and what has he written?" asked Leonard of Mr. Prickett, when he returned to the shop.
Let us reply to that question in our own words, for we know more about Mr. Burley than Mr. Prickett does.
John Burley was the only son of a poor clergyman, in a village near Ealing, who had scraped and saved and pinched, to send his son to an excellent provincial school in a northern county, and thence to college. At the latter, during his first year, young Burley was remarked by the undergraduates for his thick shoes and coarse linen, and remarkable to the authorities for his assiduity and learning. The highest hopes were entertained of him by the tutors and examiners. At the beginning of the second year his high animal spirits, before kept down by study, broke out. Reading had become easy to him. He knocked off his tasks with a facile stroke, as it were. He gave up his leisure hours to Symposia by no means Socratical. He fell into an idle, hard-drinking set. He got into all kinds of scrapes. The authorities were at first kind and forbearing in their admonitions, for they respected his abilities, and still hoped he might become an honour to the University. But at last he went drunk into a formal examination, and sent in papers, after the manner of Aristophanes, containing capital jokes upon the Dons and Big-wigs themselves. The offence was the greater and seemed the more premeditated for being clothed in Greek. John Burley was expelled. He went home to his father's a miserable man, for, with all his follies, he had a good heart. Removed from ill example, his life for a year was blameless. He got admitted as usher into the school in which he had received instruction as a pupil. This school was in a large town. John Burley became member of a club formed among the tradesmen, and spent three evenings a week there. His astonishing convivial and conversational powers began to declare themselves. He grew the oracle of the club; and, from being the most sober, peaceful assembly in which grave fathers of a family ever smoked a pipe or sipped a glass, it grew under Mr. Burley's auspices the parent of revels as frolicking and frantic as those out of which the old Greek Goat Song ever tipsily rose. This would not do. There was a great riot in the streets one night, and the next morning the usher was dismissed. Fortunately for John Burley's conscience, his father had died before this happened,—died believing in the reform of his son. During his ushership Mr. Burley had scraped acquaintance with the editor of the county newspaper, and given him some capital political articles; for Burley was, like Parr and Porson, a notable politician. The editor furnished him with letters to the journalists in London, and John came to the metropolis and got employed on a very respectable newspaper. At college he had known Audley Egerton, though but slightly: that gentleman was then just rising into repute in parliament. Burley sympathized with some question on which Audley had distinguished himself, and wrote a very good article thereon,—an article so good that Egerton inquired into the authorship, found out Burley, and resolved in his own mind to provide for him whenever he himself came into office. But Burley was a man whom it was impossible to provide for. He soon lost his connection with the news paper. First, he was so irregular that he could never be depended upon. Secondly, he had strange, honest, eccentric twists of thinking, that could coalesce with the thoughts of no party in the long run. An article of his, inadvertently admitted, had horrified all the proprietors, staff, and readers of the paper. It was diametrically opposite to the principles the paper advocated, and compared its pet politician to Catiline. Then John Burley shut himself up and wrote books. He wrote two or three books, very clever, but not at all to the popular taste,—abstract and learned, full of whims that were caviare to the multitude, and larded with Greek. Nevertheless they obtained for him a little money, and among literary men some reputation. Now Audley Egerton came into power, and got him, though with great difficulty,—for there were many prejudices against this scampish, harum-scarum son of the Muses,—a place in a public office. He kept it about a month, and then voluntarily resigned it. "My crust of bread and liberty!" quoth John Burley, and he vanished into a garret. From that time to the present he lived—Heaven knows how! Literature is a business, like everything else; John Burley grew more and more incapable of business. "He could not do task-work," he said; he wrote when the whim seized him, or when the last penny was in his pouch, or when he was actually in the spunging-house or the Fleet,—migrations which occurred to him, on an average, twice a year. He could generally sell what he had actually written, but no one would engage him beforehand. Editors of magazines and other periodicals were very glad to have his articles, on the condition that they were anonymous; and his style was not necessarily detected, for he could vary it with the facility of a practised pen. Audley Egerton continued his best supporter, for there were certain questions on which no one wrote with such force as John Burley,—questions connected with the metaphysics of politics, such as law reform and economical science. And Audley Egerton was the only man John Burley put himself out of the way to serve, and for whom he would give up a drinking bout and do task-work; for John Burley was grateful by nature, and he felt that Egerton had really tried to befriend him. Indeed, it was true, as he had stated to Leonard by the Brent, that even after he had resigned his desk in the London office, he had had the offer of an appointment in Jamaica, and a place in India, from the minister. But probably there were other charms then than those exercised by the one-eyed perch that kept him to the neighbourhood of London. With all his grave faults of character and conduct, John Burley was not without the fine qualities of a large nature. He was most resolutely his own enemy, it is true, but he could hardly be said to be any one else's. Even when he criticised some more fortunate writer, he was good-humoured in his very satire: he had no bile, no envy. And as for freedom from malignant personalities, he might have been a model to all critics. I must except politics, however, for in these he could be rabid and savage. He had a passion for independence, which, though pushed to excess, was not without grandeur. No lick-platter, no parasite, no toad-eater, no literary beggar, no hunter after patronage and subscriptions; even in his dealings with Audley Egerton, he insisted on naming the price for his labours. He took a price, because, as the papers required by Audley demanded much reading and detail, which was not at all to his taste, he considered himself entitled fairly to something more than the editor of the journal wherein the papers appeared was in the habit of giving. But he assessed this extra price himself, and as he would have done to a bookseller. And when in debt and in prison, though he knew a line to Egerton would have extricated him, he never wrote that line. He would depend alone on his pen,—dipped it hastily in the ink, and scrawled himself free. The most debased point about him was certainly the incorrigible vice of drinking, and with it the usual concomitant of that vice,—the love of low company. To be King of the Bohemians, to dazzle by his wild humour, and sometimes to exalt by his fanciful eloquence, the rude, gross natures that gathered round him,—this was a royalty that repaid him for all sacrifice of solid dignity; a foolscap crown that he would not have changed for an emperor's diadem. Indeed, to appreciate rightly the talents of John Burley, it was necessary to hear him talk on such occasions. As a writer, after all, he was now only capable of unequal desultory efforts; but as a talker, in his own wild way, he was original and matchless. And the gift of talk is one of the most dangerous gifts a man can possess for his own sake,—the applause is so immediate, and gained with so little labour. Lower and lower and lower had sunk John Burley, not only in the opinion of all who knew his name, but in the habitual exercise of his talents. And this seemed wilfully—from choice. He would write for some unstamped journal of the populace, out of the pale of the law, for pence, when he could have got pounds from journals of high repute. He was very fond of scribbling off penny ballads, and then standing in the street to hear them sung. He actually once made himself the poet of an advertising tailor, and enjoyed it excessively. But that did not last long, for John Burley was a Pittite,—not a Tory, he used to say, but a Pittite. And if you had heard him talk of Pitt, you would never have known what to make of that great statesman. He treated him as the German commentators do Shakspeare, and invested him with all imaginary meanings and objects, that would have turned the grand practical man into a sibyl. Well, he was a Pittite; the tailor a fanatic for Thelwall and Cobbett. Mr. Burley wrote a poem wherein Britannia appeared to the tailor, complimented him highly on the art he exhibited in adorning the persons of her sons; and bestowing upon him a gigantic mantle, said that he, and he alone, might be enabled to fit it to the shoulders of living men. The rest of the poem was occupied in Mr. Snip's unavailing attempts to adjust this mantle to the eminent politicians of the day, when, just as he had sunk down in despair, Britannia reappeared to him, and consoled him with the information that he had done all mortal man could do, and that she had only desired to convince pigmies that no human art could adjust to THEIR proportions the mantle of William Pitt. Sic itur ad astra,—she went back to the stars, mantle and all! Mr. Snip was exceedingly indignant at this allegorical effusion, and with wrathful shears cut the tie between himself and his poet.
Thus, then, the reader has, we trust, a pretty good idea of John Burley,—a specimen of his genus not very common in any age, and now happily almost extinct, since authors of all degrees share in the general improvement in order, economy, and sober decorum, which has obtained in the national manners. Mr. Prickett, though entering into less historical detail than we have done, conveyed to Leonard a tolerably accurate notion of the man, representing him as a person of great powers and learning, who had thoroughly thrown himself away.
Leonard did not, however, see how much Mr. Burley himself was to be blamed for his waste of life; he could not conceive a man of genius voluntarily seating himself at the lowest step in the social ladder. He rather supposed he had been thrust down there by Necessity.
And when Mr. Prickett, concluding, said, "Well, I should think Burley would cure you of the desire to be an author even more than Chatterton," the young man answered gloomily, "Perhaps," and turned to the book-shelves.
With Mr. Prickett's consent, Leonard was released earlier than usual from his task, and a little before sunset he took his way to Highgate. He was fortunately directed to take the new road by the Regent's Park, and so on through a very green and smiling country. The walk, the freshness of the air, the songs of the birds, and, above all, when he had got half-way, the solitude of the road, served to rouse him from his stern and sombre meditations. And when he came into the lane overhung with chestnut-trees, and suddenly caught sight of Helen's watchful and then brightening face, as she stood by the wicket, and under the shadow of cool, murmurous boughs, the blood rushed gayly through his veins, and his heart beat loud and gratefully.
She drew him into the garden with such true childlike joy. Now behold them seated in the arbour,—a perfect bower of sweets and blossoms; the wilderness of roof-tops and spires stretching below, broad and far; London seen dim and silent, as in a dream.
She took his hat from his brows gently, and looked him in the face with tearful penetrating eyes.
She did not say, "You are changed." She said, "Why, why did I leave you?" and then turned away.
"Never mind me, Helen. I am man, and rudely born; speak of yourself. This lady is kind to you, then?"
"Does she not let me see you? Oh, very kind,—and look here."
Helen pointed to fruits and cakes set out on the table. "A feast, brother."
And she began to press her hospitality with pretty winning ways, more playful than was usual to her, and talking very fast, and with forced, but silvery, laughter.
By degrees she stole him from his gloom and reserve; and though he could not reveal to her the cause of his bitterest sorrow, he owned that he had suffered much. He would not have owned that to another living being. And then, quickly turning from this brief confession, with assurances that the worst was over, he sought to amuse her by speaking of his new acquaintance with the perch-fisher. But when he spoke of this man with a kind of reluctant admiration, mixed with compassionate yet gloomy interest, and drew a grotesque, though subdued, sketch of the wild scene in which he had been spectator, Helen grew alarmed and grave.
"Oh, brother, do not go there again,—do not see more of this bad man."
"Bad!—no! Hopeless and unhappy, he has stooped to stimulants and oblivion—but you cannot understand these things, my pretty preacher."
"Yes, I do, Leonard. What is the difference between being good and bad? The good do not yield to temptations, and the bad do."
The definition was so simple and so wise that Leonard was more struck with it than he might have been by the most elaborate sermon by Parson Dale.
"I have often murmured to myself since I lost you, 'Helen was my good angel; '—say on. For my heart is dark to myself, and while you speak light seems to dawn on it."
This praise so confused Helen that she was long before she could obey the command annexed to it. But, by little and little, words came to both more frankly. And then he told her the sad tale of Chatterton, and waited, anxious to hear her comments.
"Well," he said, seeing that she remained silent, "how can I hope, when this mighty genius laboured and despaired? What did he want, save birth and fortune and friends and human justice?"
"Did he pray to God?" asked Helen, drying her tears. Again Leonard was startled. In reading the life of Chatterton he had not much noted the scepticism, assumed or real, of the ill-fated aspirer to earthly immortality. At Helen's question, that scepticism struck him forcibly. "Why do you ask that, Helen?"
"Because, when we pray often, we grow so very, very patient," answered the child. "Perhaps, had he been patient a few months more, all would have been won by him, as it will be by you, brother, for you pray, and you will be patient."
Leonard bowed his head in deep thought, and this time the thought was not gloomy. Then out from that awful life there glowed another passage, which before he had not heeded duly, but regarded rather as one of the darkest mysteries in the fate of Chatterton.
At the very time the despairing poet had locked himself up in his garret, to dismiss his soul from its earthly ordeal, his genius had just found its way into the light of renown. Good and learned and powerful men were preparing to serve and save him. Another year—nay, perchance another month—and he might have stood acknowledged sublime in the foremost ranks of his age.
"Oh, Helen!" cried Leonard, raising his brows, from which the cloud had passed, "why, indeed, did you leave me?"
Helen started in her turn as he repeated this regret, and in her turn grew thoughtful. At length she asked him if he had written for the box which had belonged to her father and been left at the inn.
And Leonard, though a little chafed at what he thought a childish interruption to themes of graver interest, owned, with self-reproach, that he had forgotten to do so. Should he not write now to order the box to be sent to her at Miss Starke's?
"No; let it be sent to you. Take care of it. I should like to know that something of mine is with you; and perhaps I may not stay here long."
"Not stay here? That you must, my dear Helen,—at least as long as Miss Starke will keep you, and is kind. By and by" (added Leonard, with something of his former sanguine tone) "I may yet make my way, and we shall have our cottage to ourselves. But—oh, Helen!—I forgot—you wounded me; you left your money with me. I only found it in my drawers the other day. Fie! I have brought it back."
"It was not mine,—it is yours. We were to share together,—you paid all; and how can I want it here, too?" But Leonard was obstinate; and as Helen mournfully received back all that of fortune her father had bequeathed to her, a tall female figure stood at the entrance of the arbour, and said, in a voice that scattered all sentiment to the winds, "Young man, it is time to go."
"Already?" said Helen, with faltering accents, as she crept to Miss Starke's side while Leonard rose and bowed. "I am very grateful to you, madam," said he, with the grace that comes from all refinement of idea, "for allowing me to see Miss Helen. Do not let me abuse your kindness."
Miss Starke seemed struck with his look and manner, and made a stiff half courtesy.
A form more rigid than Miss Starke's it was hard to conceive. She was like the Grim White Woman in the nursery ballads. Yet, apparently, there was a good-nature in allowing the stranger to enter her trim garden, and providing for him and her little charge those fruits and cakes which belied her aspect. "May I go with him to the gate?" whispered Helen, as Leonard had already passed up the path.
"You may, child; but do not loiter. And then come back, and lock up the cakes and cherries, or Patty will get at them."
Helen ran after Leonard.
"Write to me, brother,—write to me; and do not, do not be friends with this man, who took you to that wicked, wicked place."
"Oh, Helen, I go from you strong enough to brave worse dangers than that," said Leonard, almost gayly.
They kissed each other at the little wicket gate, and parted.
Leonard walked home under the summer moonlight, and on entering his chamber looked first at his rose-tree. The leaves of yesterday's flowers lay strewn around it; but the tree had put forth new buds.
"Nature ever restores," said the young man. He paused a moment, and added, "Is it that Nature is very patient?" His sleep that night was not broken by the fearful dreams he had lately known. He rose refreshed, and went his way to his day's work,—not stealing along the less crowded paths, but with a firm step, through the throng of men. Be bold, adventurer,—thou hast more to suffer! Wilt thou sink? I look into thy heart, and I cannot answer.
MR. CAXTON UPON COURAGE AND PATIENCE.
"What is courage?" said my uncle Roland, rousing himself from a revery into which he had fallen, after the Sixth Book in this history had been read to our family circle.
"What is courage?" he repeated more earnestly. "Is it insensibility to fear? That may be the mere accident of constitution; and if so, there is no more merit in being courageous than in being this table."
"I am very glad to hear you speak thus," observed Mr. Caxton, "for I should not like to consider myself a coward; yet I am very sensible to fear in all dangers, bodily and moral."
"La, Austin, how can you say so?" cried my mother, firing up; "was it not only last week that you faced the great bull that was rushing after Blanche and the children?"
Blanche at that recollection stole to my father's chair, and, hanging over his shoulder, kissed his forehead.
MR. CAXTON (sublimely unmoved by these flatteries).—"I don't deny that I faced the bull, but I assert that I was horribly frightened."
ROLAND.—"The sense of honour which conquers fear is the true courage of chivalry: you could not run away when others were looking on,—no gentleman could."
MR. CAXTON.—"Fiddledee! It was not on my gentility that I stood, Captain. I should have run fast enough, if it had done any good. I stood upon my understanding. As the bull could run faster than I could, the only chance of escape was to make the brute as frightened as myself."
BLANCHE.—"Ah, you did not think of that; your only thought was to save me and the children."
MR. CAXTON.—"Possibly, my dear, very possibly, I might have been afraid for you too; but I was very much afraid for myself. However, luckily I had the umbrella, and I sprang it up and spread it forth in the animal's stupid eyes, hurling at him simultaneously the biggest lines I could think of in the First Chorus of the 'Seven against Thebes.' I began with ELEDEMNAS PEDIOPLOKTUPOS; and when I came to the grand howl of [A line in Greek], the beast stood appalled as at the roar of a lion. I shall never forget his amazed snort at the Greek. Then he kicked up his hind legs, and went bolt through the gap in the hedge. Thus, armed with AEschylus and the umbrella, I remained master of the field; but" (continued Mr. Caxton ingenuously) "I should not like to go through that half-minute again."
"No man would," said the captain, kindly. "I should be very sorry to face a bull myself, even with a bigger umbrella than yours, and even though I had AEschylus, and Homer to boot, at my fingers' ends."
MR. CAXTON.—"You would not have minded if it had been a Frenchman with a sword in his hand?"
CAPTAIN.—"Of course not. Rather liked it than otherwise," he added grimly.
MR. CAXTON.—"Yet many a Spanish matador, who does n't care a button for a bull, would take to his heels at the first lunge en carte from a Frenchman. Therefore, in fact, if courage be a matter of constitution, it is also a matter of custom. We face calmly the dangers we are habituated to, and recoil from those of which we have no familiar experience. I doubt if Marshal Turenue himself would have been quite at his ease on the tight-rope; and a rope-dancer, who seems disposed to scale the heavens with Titanic temerity, might possibly object to charge on a cannon."
CAPTAIN ROLAND.—"Still, either this is not the courage I mean, or it is another kind of it. I mean by courage that which is the especial force and dignity of the human character, without which there is no reliance on principle, no constancy in virtue,—a something," continued my uncle, gallantly, and with a half bow towards my mother, "which your sex shares with our own. When the lover, for instance, clasps the hand of his betrothed, and says, 'Wilt thou be true to me, in spite of absence and time, in spite of hazard and fortune, though my foes malign me, though thy friends may dissuade thee, and our lot in life may be rough and rude?' and when the betrothed answers, 'I will be true,' does not the lover trust to her courage as well as her love?"
"Admirably put, Roland," said my father. "But a propos of what do you puzzle us with these queries on courage?"
CAPTAIN ROLAND (with a slight blush).—"I was led to the inquiry (though perhaps it may be frivolous to take so much thought of what, no doubt, costs Pisistratus so little) by the last chapters in my nephew's story. I see this poor boy Leonard, alone with his fallen hopes (though very irrational they were) and his sense of shame. And I read his heart, I dare say, better than Pisistratus does, for I could feel like that boy if I had been in the same position; and conjecturing what he and thousands like him must go through, I asked myself, 'What can save him and them?' I answered, as a soldier would answer, 'Courage.' Very well. But pray; Austin, what is courage?"
MR. CAXTON (prudently backing out of a reply).—"Papae!' Brother, since you have just complimented the ladies on that quality, you had better address your question to them."
Blanche here leaned both hands on my father's chair, and said, looking down at first bashfully, but afterwards warming with the subject, "Do you not think, sir, that little Helen has already suggested, if not what is courage, what at least is the real essence of all courage that endures and conquers, that ennobles and hallows and redeems? Is it not PATIENCE, Father? And that is why we women have a courage of our own. Patience does not affect to be superior to fear, but at least it never admits despair."
PISISTRATUS.—"Kiss me, my Blanche, for you have come near to the truth which perplexed the soldier and puzzled the sage."
MR. CAXTON (tartly).—"If you mean me by the sage, I was not puzzled at all. Heaven knows you do right to inculcate patience,—it is a virtue very much required—in your readers. Nevertheless," added my father, softening with the enjoyment of his joke,—"nevertheless Blanche and Helen are quite right. Patience is the courage of the conqueror; it is the virtue, par excellence, of Man against Destiny,—of the One against the World, and of the Soul against Matter. Therefore this is the courage of the Gospel; and its importance in a social view—its importance to races and institutions—cannot be too earnestly inculcated. What is it that distinguishes the Anglo-Saxon from all other branches of the human family,—peoples deserts with his children and consigns to them the heritage of rising worlds? What but his faculty to brave, to suffer, to endure,—the patience that resists firmly and innovates slowly? Compare him with the Frenchman. The Frenchman has plenty of valour,—that there is no denying; but as for fortitude, he has not enough to cover the point of a pin. He is ready to rush out of the world if he is bitten by a flea."
CAPTAIN ROLAND.—"There was a case in the papers the other day, Austin, of a Frenchman who actually did destroy himself because he was so teased by the little creatures you speak of. He left a paper on his table, saying that 'life was not worth having at the price of such torments.'"
MR. CAXTON (solemnly).—"Sir, their whole political history, since the great meeting of the Tiers Etat, has been the history of men who would rather go to the devil than be bitten by a flea. It is the record of human impatience that seeks to force time, and expects to grow forests from the spawn of a mushroom. Wherefore, running through all extremes of constitutional experiment, when they are nearest to democracy they are next door to a despot; and all they have really done is to destroy whatever constitutes the foundation of every tolerable government. A constitutional monarchy cannot exist without aristocracy, nor a healthful republic endure with corruption of manners. The cry of equality is incompatible with civilization, which, of necessity, contrasts poverty with wealth; and, in short, whether it be an emperor or a mob I that is to rule, Force is the sole hope of order, and the government is but an army."
[Published more than a year before the date of the French empire under Louis Napoleon.]
"Impress, O Pisistratus! impress the value of patience as regards man and men. You touch there on the kernel of the social system,—the secret that fortifies the individual and disciplines the million. I care not, for my part, if you are tedious so long as you are earnest. Be minute and detailed. Let the real Human Life, in its war with Circumstance, stand out. Never mind if one can read you but slowly,—better chance of being less quickly forgotten. Patience, patience! By the soul of Epictetus, your readers shall set you an example."
Leonard had written twice to Mrs. Fairfield, twice to Riccabocca, and once to Mr. Dale; and the poor proud boy could not bear to betray his humiliation. He wrote as with cheerful spirits,—as if perfectly satisfied with his prospects. He said that he was well employed, in the midst of books, and that he had found kind friends. Then he turned from himself to write about those whom he addressed, and the affairs and interests of the quiet world wherein they lived. He did not give his own address, nor that of Mr. Prickett. He dated his letters from a small coffee-house near the bookseller's, to which he occasionally went for his simple meals. He had a motive in this. He did not desire to be found out. Mr. Dale replied for himself and for Mrs. Fairfield, to the epistles addressed to these two. Riccabocca wrote also.
Nothing could be more kind than the replies of both. They came to Leonard in a very dark period in his life, and they strengthened him in the noiseless battle with despair.
If there be a good in the world that we do without knowing it, without conjecturing the effect it may have upon a human soul; it is when we show kindness to the young in the first barren footpath up the mountain of life.
Leonard's face resumed its serenity in his intercourse with his employer; but he did not recover his boyish ingenuous frankness. The under-currents flowed again pure from the turbid soil and the splintered fragments uptorn from the deep; but they were still too strong and too rapid to allow transparency to the surface. And now he stood in the sublime world of books, still and earnest as a seer who invokes the dead; and thus, face to face with knowledge, hourly he discovered how little he knew. Mr. Prickett lent him such works as he selected and asked to take home with him. He spent whole nights in reading, and no longer desultorily. He read no more poetry, no more Lives of Poets. He read what poets must read if they desire to be great—Sapere principium et fons,—strict reasonings on the human mind; the relations between motive and conduct, thought and action; the grave and solemn truths of the past world; antiquities, history, philosophy. He was taken out of himself; he was carried along the ocean of the universe. In that ocean, O seeker, study the law of the tides; and seeing Chance nowhere, Thought presiding over all, Fate, that dread phantom, shall vanish from creation, and Providence alone be visible in heaven and on earth!
There was to be a considerable book-sale at a country house one day's journey from London. Mr. Prickett meant to have attended it on his own behalf, and that of several gentlemen who had given him commissions for purchase; but on the morning fixed for his departure, he was seized with a severe return of his old foe the rheumatism. He requested Leonard to attend instead of himself. Leonard went, and was absent for the three days during which the sale lasted. He returned late in the evening, and went at once to Mr. Prickett's house. The shop was closed; he knocked at the private entrance; a strange person opened the door to him, and in reply to his question if Mr. Prickett was at home, said, with a long and funereal face, "Young man, Mr. Prickett senior is gone to his long home, but Mr. Richard Prickett will see you."