"Because two years ago he sent for his mother. She went to him."
"Is that all?"
"It is enough; for he would not have sent for her if he could not maintain her."
Here the Hazeldeans entered, arm-in-arm, and the fat butler announced dinner.
The squire was unusually taciturn, Mrs. Hazeldean thoughtful, Mrs. Dale languid and headachy. The parson, who seldom enjoyed the luxury of converse with a scholar, save when he quarrelled with Dr. Riccaboeca, was animated by Randal's repute for ability into a great desire for argument.
"A glass of wine, Mr. Leslie. You were saying, before dinner, that burlesque Greek is not a knowledge very much in power at present. Pray, Sir, what knowledge is in power?"
RANDAL (laconically).—"Practical knowledge."
PARSON (candidly).—"Well, I suppose that is the most available sort of knowledge, in a worldly point of view. How does one learn it? Do books help?"
RANDAL.—"According as they are read, they help or injure."
PARSON.—"How should they be read in order to help?"
RANDAL.—"Read specially to apply to purposes that lead to power."
PARSON (very much struck with Randal's pithy and Spartan logic).—"Upon my word, Sir, you express yourself very well. I must own that I began these questions in the hope of differing from you; for I like an argument."
"That he does," growled the squire; "the most contradictory creature!"
PARSON.—"Argument is the salt of talk. But now I am afraid I must agree with you, which I was not at all prepared for."
Randal bowed and answered, "No two men of our education can dispute upon the application of knowledge."
PARSON (pricking up his ears).—"Eh?—what to?"
RANDAL.—"Power, of course."
PARSON (overjoyed).—"Power!—the vulgarest application of it, or the loftiest? But you mean the loftiest?"
RANDAL (in his turn interested and interrogative).—"What do you call the loftiest, and what the vulgarest?"
PARSON.—"The vulgarest, self-interest; the loftiest, beneficence."
Randal suppressed the half-disdainful smile that rose to his lip.
"You speak, Sir, as a clergyman should do. I admire your sentiment, and adopt it; but I fear that the knowledge which aims only at beneficence very rarely in this world gets any power at all."
SQUIRE (seriously).—"That's true; I never get my own way when I want to do a kindness, and Stirn always gets his when he insists on something diabolically brutal and harsh."
PARSON.—"Pray, Mr. Leslie, what does intellectual power refined to the utmost, but entirely stripped of beneficence, most resemble?"
RANDAL.—"Resemble?—I can hardly say. Some very great man—almost any very great man—who has baffled all his foes, and attained all his ends."
PARSON.—"I doubt if any man has ever become very great who has not meant to be beneficent, though he might err in the means. Caesar was naturally beneficent, and so was Alexander. But intellectual power refined to the utmost, and wholly void of beneficence, resembles only one being, and that, sir, is the Principle of Evil."
RANDAL (startled).—"Do you mean the Devil?"
PARSON.—"Yes, Sir, the Devil; and even he, Sir, did not succeed! Even he, Sir, is what your great men would call a most decided failure."
MRS. DALE.—"My dear, my dear!"
PARSON.—"Our religion proves it, my love; he was an angel, and he fell."
There was a solemn pause. Randal was more impressed than he liked to own to himself. By this time the dinner was over, and the servants had retired. Harry glanced at Carry. Carry smoothed her gown and rose.
The gentlemen remained over their wine; and the parson, satisfied with what he deemed a clencher upon his favourite subject of discussion, changed the subject to lighter topics, till, happening to fall upon tithes, the squire struck in, and by dint of loudness of voice, and truculence of brow, fairly overwhelmed both his guests, and proved to his own satisfaction that tithes were an unjust and unchristianlike usurpation on the part of the Church generally, and a most especial and iniquitous infliction upon the Hazeldean estates in particular.
On entering the drawing-room, Randal found the two ladies seated close together, in a position much more appropriate to the familiarity of their school-days than to the politeness of the friendship now existing between them. Mrs. Hazeldean's hand hung affectionately over Carry's shoulder, and both those fair English faces were bent over the same book. It was pretty to see these sober matrons, so different from each other in character and aspect, thus unconsciously restored to the intimacy of happy maiden youth by the golden link of some Magician from the still land of Truth or Fancy, brought together in heart, as each eye rested on the same thought; closer and closer, as sympathy, lost in the actual world, grew out of that world which unites in one bond of feeling the readers of some gentle book.
"And what work interests you so much?" asked Randal, pausing by the table.
"One you have read, of course," replied Mrs. Dale, putting a book-mark embroidered by herself into the page, and handing the volume to Randal. "It has made a great sensation, I believe."
Randal glanced at the title of the work. "True," said he, "I have heard much of it in London, but I have not yet had time to read it."
MRS. DALE.—"I can lend it to you, if you like to look over it to-night, and you can leave it for me with Mrs. Hazeldean."
PARSON (approaching).—"Oh, that book!—yes, you must read it. I do not know a work more instructive."
RANDAL.—"Instructive! Certainly I will read it then. But I thought it was a mere work of amusement,—of fancy. It seems so as I look over it."
PARSON.—"So is the 'Vicar of Wakefield;' yet what book more instructive?"
RANDAL.—"I should not have said that of the 'Vicar of Wakefield.' A pretty book enough, though the story is most improbable. But how is it instructive?"
PARSON.—"By its results: it leaves us happier and better. What can any instruction do more? Some works instruct through the head, some through the heart. The last reach the widest circle, and often produce the most genial influence on the character. This book belongs to the last. You will grant my proposition when you have read it."
Randal smiled and took the volume.
MRS. DALE.—"Is the author known yet?"
RANDAL.—"I have heard it ascribed to many writers, but I believe no one has claimed it."
PARSON.—"I think it must have been written by my old college friend, Professor Moss, the naturalist,—its descriptions of scenery are so accurate."
MRS. DALE.—"La, Charles dear! that snuffy, tiresome, prosy professor? How can you talk such nonsense? I am sure the author must be young, there is so much freshness of feeling."
MRS. HAZELDEAN (positively).—"Yes, certainly, young."
PARSON (no less positively).—"I should say just the contrary. Its tone is too serene, and its style too simple, for a young man. Besides, I don't know any young man who would send me his book, and this book has been sent me, very handsomely bound, too, you see. Depend upon it Moss is the loan—quite his turn of mind."
MRS. DALE.—"You are too provoking, Charles dear! Mr. Moss is so remarkably plain, too."
RANDAL.—"Must an author be handsome?"
PARSON.—"Ha! ha! Answer that if you can, Carry." Carry remained mute and disdainful.
SQUIRE (with great naivete).—"Well, I don't think there's much in the book, whoever wrote it; for I've read it myself, and understand every word of it."
MRS. DALE.—"I don't see why you should suppose it was written by a man at all. For my part, I think it must be a woman."
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"Yes, there's a passage about maternal affection, which only a woman could have written."
PARSON.—"Pooh! pooh! I should like to see a woman who could have written that description of an August evening before a thunderstorm; every wild-flower in the hedgerow exactly the flowers of August, every sign in the air exactly those of the month. Bless you! a woman would have filled the hedge with violets and cowslips. Nobody else but my friend Moss could have written that description."
SQUIRE.—"I don't know; there's a simile about the waste of corn-seed in hand-sowing, which makes me think he must be a farmer!"
MRS. DALE (scornfully).—"A farmer! In hobnailed shoes, I suppose! I say it is a woman."
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"A WOMAN, and A MOTHER!"
PARSON.—"A middle-aged man, and a naturalist."
SQUIRE.—"No, no, Parson, certainly a young man; for that love-scene puts me in mind of my own young days, when I would have given my ears to tell Harry how handsome I thought her; and all I could say was, 'Fine weather for the crops, Miss.' Yes, a young man and a farmer. I should not wonder if he had held the plough himself."
RANDAL (who had been turning over the pages).—"This sketch of Night in London comes from a man who has lived the life of cities and looked at wealth with the eyes of poverty. Not bad! I will read the book."
"Strange," said the parson, smiling, "that this little work should so have entered into our minds, suggested to all of us different ideas, yet equally charmed all,—given a new and fresh current to our dull country life, animated us as with the sight of a world in our breasts we had never seen before save in dreams: a little work like this by a man we don't know and never may! Well, that knowledge is power, and a noble one!"
"A sort of power, certainly, sir," said Randal, candidly; and that night, when Randal retired to his own room, he suspended his schemes and projects, and read, as he rarely did, without an object to gain by the reading.
The work surprised him by the pleasure it gave. Its charm lay in the writer's calm enjoyment of the beautiful. It seemed like some happy soul sunning itself in the light of its own thoughts. Its power was so tranquil and even, that it was only a critic who could perceive how much force and vigour were necessary to sustain the wing that floated aloft with so imperceptible an effort. There was no one faculty predominating tyrannically over the others; all seemed proportioned in the felicitous symmetry of a nature rounded, integral, and complete. And when the work was closed, it left behind it a tender warmth that played round the heart of the reader and vivified feelings which seemed unknown before. Randal laid down the book softly; and for five minutes the ignoble and base purposes to which his own knowledge was applied stood before him, naked and unmasked.
"Tut!" said he, wrenching himself violently away from the benign influence, "it was not to sympathize with Hector, but to conquer with Achilles, that Alexander of Macedon kept Homer under his pillow. Such should be the true use of books to him who has the practical world to subdue; let parsons and women construe it otherwise, as they may!"
And the Principle of Evil descended again upon the intellect from which the guide of Beneficence was gone.
Randal rose at the sound of the first breakfast-bell, and on the staircase met Mrs. Haaeldean. He gave her back the book; and as he was about to speak, she beckoned to him to follow her into a little morning-room appropriated to herself,—no boudoir of white and gold, with pictures by Watteau, but lined with large walnut-tree presses, that held the old heirloom linen, strewed with lavender, stores for the housekeeper, and medicines for the poor.
Seating herself on a large chair in this sanctum, Mrs. Hazeldean looked formidably at home.
"Pray," said the lady, coming at once to the point, with her usual straightforward candour, "what is all this you have been saying to my husband as to the possibility of Frank's marrying a foreigner?"
RANDAL.—"Would you be as averse to such a notion as Mr. Hazeldean is?"
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"You ask me a question, instead of answering mine."
Randal was greatly put out in his fence by these rude thrusts. For indeed he had a double purpose to serve,—first, thoroughly to know if Frank's marriage with a woman like Madame di Negra would irritate the squire sufficiently to endanger the son's inheritance; and, secondly, to prevent Mr. and Mrs. Hazeldean believing seriously that such a marriage was to be apprehended, lest they should prematurely address Frank on the subject, and frustrate the marriage itself. Yet, withal, he must so express himself, that he could not be afterwards accused by the parents of disguising matters. In his talk to the squire the preceding day, he had gone a little too far,—further than he would have done but for his desire of escaping the cattle-shed and short-horns. While he mused, Mrs. Hazeldean observed him with her honest sensible eyes, and finally exclaimed,
"Out with it, Mr. Leslie!"
"Out with what, my dear madam? The squire has sadly exaggerated the importance of what was said mainly in jest. But I will own to you plainly, that Frank has appeared to me a little smitten with a certain fair Italian."
"Italian!" cried Mrs. Hazeldean. "Well, I said so from the first. Italian!—that's all, is it?" and she smiled. Randal was more and more perplexed. The pupil of his eye contracted, as it does when we retreat into ourselves, and think, watch, and keep guard.
"And perhaps," resumed Mrs. Hazeldean, with a very sunny expression of countenance, "you have noticed this in Frank since he was here?"
"It is true," murmured Randal; "but I think his heart or his fancy was touched even before."
"Very natural," said Mrs. Hazeldean; "how could he help it?—such a beautiful creature! Well, I must not ask you to tell Frank's secrets; but I guess the object of attraction; and though she will have no fortune to speak of, and it is not such a match as he might form, still she is so amiable, and has been so well brought up, and is so little like one's general notions of a Roman Catholic, that I think I could persuade Hazeldean into giving his consent."
"Ah," said Randal, drawing a long breath, and beginning, with his practised acuteness, to detect Mrs. Ilazeldean's error, "I am very much relieved and rejoiced to hear this; and I may venture to give Frank some hope, if I find him disheartened and desponding, poor fellow?"
"I think you may," replied Mrs. Hazeldean, laughing pleasantly. "But you should not have frightened poor William so, hinting that the lady knew very little English. She has an accent, to be sure; but she speaks our tongue very prettily. I always forget that she 's not English born! Ha, ha, poor William!"
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"We had once thought of another match for Frank,—a girl of good English family."
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"No; that's an old whim of Hazeldean's. But I doubt if the Sticktorights would ever merge their property in ours. Bless you! it would be all off the moment they came to settlements, and had to give up the right of way. We thought of a very different match; but there's no dictating to young hearts, Mr. Leslie."
RANDAL.—"Indeed no, Mrs. Hazeldean. But since we now understand each other so well, excuse me if I suggest that you had better leave things to themselves, and not write to Frank on the subject. Young hearts, you know, are often stimulated by apparent difficulties, and grow cool when the obstacle vanishes."
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"Very possibly; it was not so with Hazeldean and me. But I shall not write to Frank on the subject for a different reason—though I would consent to the match, and so would William; yet we both would rather, after all, that Frank married an Englishwoman, and a Protestant. We will not, therefore, do anything to encourage the idea. But if Frank's happiness becomes really at stake, then we will step in. In short, we would neither encourage nor oppose. You understand?"
"And in the mean while, it is quite right that Frank should see the world, and try to distract his mind, or at least to know it. And I dare say it has been some thought of that kind which has prevented his coming here."
Randal, dreading a further and plainer eclaircissement, now rose, and saying, "Pardon me, but I must hurry over breakfast, and be back in time to catch the coach"—offered his arm to his hostess, and led her into the breakfast-parlour. Devouring his meal, as if in great haste, he then mounted his horse, and, taking cordial leave of his entertainers, trotted briskly away.
All things favoured his project,—even chance had befriended him in Mrs. Hazeldean's mistake. She had, not unnaturally, supposed Violante to have captivated Frank on his last visit to the Hall. Thus, while Randal had certified his own mind that nothing could more exasperate the squire than an alliance with Madame di Negra, he could yet assure Frank that Mrs. Hazeldean was all on his side. And when the error was discovered, Mrs. Hazeldean would only have to blame herself for it. Still more successful had his diplomacy proved with the Riccaboccas: he had ascertained the secret he had come to discover; he should induce the Italian to remove to the neighbourhood of London; and if Violante were the great heiress he suspected her to prove, whom else of her own age would she see but him? And the old Leslie domains to be sold in two years—a portion of the dowry might purchase them! Flushed by the triumph of his craft, all former vacillations of conscience ceased. In high and fervent spirits he passed the Casino, the garden of which was solitary and deserted, reached his home, and, telling Oliver to be studious, and Juliet to be patient, walked thence to meet the coach and regain the capital.
Violante was seated in her own little room, and looking from the window on the terrace that stretched below. The day was warm for the time of year. The orange-trees had been removed under shelter for the approach of winter; but where they had stood sat Mrs. Riccabocca at work. In the belvidere, Riccabocca himself was conversing with his favourite servant. But the casements and the door of the belvidere were open; and where they sat, both wife and daughter could see the padrone leaning against the wall, with his arms folded and his eyes fixed on the floor; while Jackeymo, with one finger on his master's arm, was talking to him with visible earnestness. And the daughter from the window and the wife from her work directed tender, anxious eyes towards the still, thoughtful form so dear to both. For the last day or two, Riccabocca had been peculiarly abstracted, even to gloom. Each felt there was something stirring at his heart,—neither, as yet, knew what.
Violante's room silently revealed the nature of the education by which her character had been formed. Save a sketchbook, which lay open on a desk at hand, and which showed talent exquisitely taught (for in this Riccabocca had been her teacher), there was nothing that spoke of the ordinary female accomplishments. No piano stood open, no harp occupied yon nook, which seemed made for one; no broidery-frame, nor implements of work, betrayed the usual and graceful resources of a girl; but ranged on shelves against the wall were the best writers in English, Italian, and French; and these betokened an extent of reading, that he who wishes for a companion to his mind in the sweet commune of woman, which softens and refines all it gives and takes in interchange, will never condemn as masculine. You had but to look into Violante's face to see how noble was the intelligence that brought soul to those lovely features. Nothing hard, nothing dry and stern was there. Even as you detected knowledge, it was lost in the gentleness of grace. In fact, whatever she gained in the graver kinds of information became transmuted, through her heart and her fancy, into spiritual, golden stores. Give her some tedious and arid history, her imagination seized upon beauties other readers had passed by, and, like the eye of the artist, detected everywhere the Picturesque. Something in her mind seemed to reject all that was mean and commonplace, and to bring out all that was rare and elevated in whatever it received. Living so apart from all companions of her age, she scarcely belonged to the present time. She dwelt in the Past, as Sabrina in her crystal well. Images of chivalry, of the Beautiful and the Heroic,—such as, in reading the silvery line of Tasso, rise before us, softening force and valour into love and song,—haunted the reveries of the fair Italian maid.
Tell us not that the Past, examined by cold Philosophy, was no better and no loftier than the Present: it is not thus seen by pure and generous eyes. Let the Past perish, when it ceases to reflect on its magic mirror the beautiful Romance which is its noblest reality, though perchance but the shadow of Delusion.
Yet Violante was not merely the dreamer. In her, life was so puissant and rich, that action seemed necessary to its glorious development,—action, but still in the woman's sphere,—action to bless and to refine and to exalt all around her, and to pour whatever else of ambition was left unsatisfied into sympathy with the aspirations of man. Despite her father's fears of the bleak air of England, in that air she had strengthened the delicate health of her childhood. Her elastic step, her eyes full of sweetness and light, her bloom, at once soft and luxuriant,—all spoke of the vital powers fit to sustain a mind of such exquisite mould, and the emotions of a heart that, once aroused, could ennoble the passions of the South with the purity and devotion of the North. Solitude makes some natures more timid, some more bold. Violante was fearless. When she spoke, her eyes frankly met your own; and she was so ignorant of evil, that as yet she seemed nearly unacquainted with shame. From this courage, combined with affluence of idea, came a delightful flow of happy converse. Though possessing so imperfectly the accomplishments ordinarily taught to young women, and which may be cultured to the utmost, and yet leave the thoughts so barren, and the talk so vapid, she had that accomplishment which most pleases the taste, and commands the love, of the man of talent; especially if his talent be not so actively employed as to make him desire only relaxation where he seeks companionship,—the accomplishment of facility in intellectual interchange, the charm that clothes in musical words beautiful womanly ideas.
"I hear him sigh at this distance," said Violante, softly, as she still watched her father; "and methinks this is a new grief, and not for his country. He spoke twice yesterday of that dear English friend, and wished that he were here."
As she said this, unconsciously the virgin blushed, her hands drooped on her knee, and she fell herself into thought as profound as her father's, but less gloomy. From her arrival in England, Violante had been taught a grateful interest in the name of Harley L'Estrange. Her father, preserving a silence that seemed disdain of all his old Italian intimates, had been pleased to converse with open heart of the Englishman who had saved where countrymen had betrayed. He spoke of the soldier, then in the full bloom of youth, who, unconsoled by fame, had nursed the memory of some hidden sorrow amidst the pine-trees that cast their shadow over the sunny Italian lake; how Riccabocca, then honoured and happy, had courted from his seclusion the English signore, then the mourner and the voluntary exile; how they had grown friends amidst the landscapes in which her eyes had opened to the day; how Harley had vainly warned him from the rash schemes in which he had sought to reconstruct in an hour the ruins of weary ages; how, when abandoned, deserted, proscribed, pursued, he had fled for life, the infant Violante clasped to his bosom, the English soldier had given him refuge, baffled the pursuers, armed his servants, accompanied the fugitive at night towards the defile in the Apennines, and, when the emissaries of a perfidious enemy, hot in the chase, came near, had said, "You have your child to save! Fly on! Another league, and you are beyond the borders. We will delay the foes with parley; they will not harm us." And not till escape was gained did the father know that the English friend had delayed the foe, not by parley, but by the sword, holding the pass against numbers, with a breast as dauntless as Bayard's on the glorious bridge.
And since then, the same Englishman had never ceased to vindicate his name, to urge his cause; and if hope yet remained of restoration to land and honours, it was in that untiring zeal.
Hence, naturally and insensibly, this secluded and musing girl had associated all that she read in tales of romance and chivalry with the image of the brave and loyal stranger. He it was who animated her drearhs of the Past, and seemed born to be, in the destined hour, the deliverer of the Future. Around this image grouped all the charms that the fancy of virgin woman can raise from the enchanted lore of old Heroic Fable. Once in her early girlhood, her father (to satisfy her curiosity, eager for general description) had drawn from memory a sketch of the features of the Englishman,—drawn Harley, as he was in that first youth, flattered and idealized, no doubt, by art, and by partial gratitude, but still resembling him as he was then, while the deep mournfulness of recent sorrow yet shadowed and concentrated all the varying expressions of his countenance; and to look on him was to say, "So sad, yet so young!" Never did Violante pause to remember that the same years which ripened herself from infancy into woman were passing less gently over that smooth cheek and dreamy brow,—that the world might be altering the nature as time the aspect. To her the hero of the Ideal remained immortal in bloom and youth. Bright illusion, common to us all, where Poetry once hallows the human form! Who ever thinks of Petrarch as the old, timeworn man? 'Who does not see him as when he first gazed on Laura?—
"Ogni altra cosa ogni pensier va fore; E sol ivi con voi rimansi Amore!"
And Violante, thus absorbed in revery, forgot to keep watch on the belvidere. And the belvidere was now deserted. The wife, who had no other ideal to distract her thoughts, saw Riccabocca pass into the house.
The exile entered his daughter's room, and she started to feel his hand upon her locks and his kiss upon her brow. "My child!" cried Riccabocca, seating himself, "I have resolved to leave for a time this retreat, and to seek the neighbourhood of London."
"Ah, dear father, that, then, was your thought? But what can be your reason? Do not turn away; you know how care fully I have obeyed your command and kept your secret. Ah, you will confide in me."
"I do, indeed," returned Riccabocca, with emotion. "I leave this place in the fear lest my enemies discover me. I shall say to others that you are of an age to require teachers not to be obtained here, but I should like none to know where we go."
The Italian said these last words through his teeth, and hanging his head. He said them in shame.
"My mother—[so Violante always called Jemima]—my mother—you have spoken to her?"
"Not yet. THERE is the difficulty."
"No difficulty, for she loves you so well," replied Violante, with soft reproach. "Ah, why not also confide in her? Who so true, so good?"
"Good—I grant it!" exclaimed Riccabocca. "What then? 'Da cattiva Donna guardati, ed alla buona non fidar niente.'—[From the bad woman, guard thyself; to the good woman trust nothing.]—And if you must trust," added the abominable man, "trust her with anything but a secret!"
"Fie," said Violante, with arch reproach, for she knew her father's humours too well to interpret his horrible sentiments literally,—"fie on your consistency, Padre Carissimo. Do you not trust your secret to me?"
"You! A kitten is not a cat, and a girl is not a woman. Besides, the secret was already known to you, and I had no choice. Peace, Jemima will stay here for the present. See to what you wish to take with you; we shall leave to-night." Not waiting for an answer, Riccabocca hurried away, and with a firm step strode the terrace, and approached his wife. "Anima mia," said the pupil of Machiavelli, disguising in the tenderest words the cruellest intentions,—for one of his most cherished Italian proverbs was to the effect that there is no getting on with a mule or a woman unless you coax them,—"Anima mia, soul of my being, you have already seen that Violante mopes herself to death here."
"She, poor child! Oh, no!"
"She does, core of my heart,—she does, and is as ignorant of music as I am of tent-stitch."
"She sings beautifully."
"Just as birds do, against all the rules, and in defiance of gamut. Therefore, to come to the point, O treasure of my soul! I am going to take her with me for a short time, perhaps to Cheltenham or Brighton. We shall see."
"All places with you are the same to me, Alphonso. When shall we go?"
"We shall go to-night; but terrible as it is to part from you,—you—"
"Ah!" interrupted the wife, and covered her face with her hands.
Riccabocca, the wiliest and most relentless of men in his maxims, melted into absolute uxorial imbecility at the sight of that mute distress. He put his arm round his wife's waist, with genuine affection, and without a single proverb at his heart. "Carissima, do not grieve so; we shall be back soon, and travelling is expensive; rolling stones gather no moss, and there is so much to see to at home."
Mrs. Riccabocca gently escaped from her husband's arm. She withdrew her hands from her face and brushed away the tears that stood in her eyes.
"Alphonso," she said touchingly, "hear me! What you think good, that shall ever be good to me. But do not think that I grieve solely because of our parting. No; I grieve to think that, despite all these years in which I have been the partner of your hearth, and slept on your breast,—all these years in which I have had no thought but, however humbly, to do my duty to you and yours, and could have wished that you had read my heart, and seen there but yourself and your child,—I grieve to think that you still deem me as unworthy your trust as when you stood by my side at the altar."
"Trust!" repeated Riccabocca, startled and conscience-stricken; "why do you say 'trust'? In what have I distrusted you? I am sure," he continued, with the artful volubility of guilt, "that I never doubted your fidelity, hook-nosed, long-visaged foreigner though I be; never pryed into your letters; never inquired into your solitary walks; never heeded your flirtations with that good-looking Parson Dale; never kept the money; and never looked into the account-books!" Mrs. Riccabocca refused even a smile of contempt at these revolting evasions; nay, she seemed scarcely to hear them.
"Can you think," she resumed, pressing her hand on her heart to still its struggles for relief in sobs,—"can you think that I could have watched and thought and taxed my poor mind so constantly, to conjecture what might best soothe or please you, and not seen, long since, that you have secrets known to your daughter, your servant, not to me? Fear not,—the secrets cannot be evil, or you would not tell them to your innocent child. Besides, do I not know your nature; and do I not love you because I know it?—it is for something connected with those secrets that you leave your home. You think that I should be incautious, imprudent. You will not take me with you. Be it so. I go to prepare for your departure. Forgive me if I have displeased you, husband." Mrs. Riccabocca turned away; but a soft hand touched the Italian's arm. "O Father, can you resist this? Trust her! trust her!—I am a woman like her! I answer for her woman's faith. Be yourself,—ever nobler than all others, my own father."
"Diavolo! Never one door shuts but another opens," groaned Riccabocca. "Are you a fool, child? Don't you see that it was for your sake only I feared, and would be cautious?"
"For mine! Oh, then do not make me deem myself mean, and the cause of meanness. For mine! Am I not your daughter,—the descendant of men who never feared?" Violante looked sublime while she spoke; and as she ended she led her father gently on towards the door, which his wife had now gained.
"Jemima, wife mine! pardon, pardon," cried the Italian, whose heart had been yearning to repay such tenderness and devotion,—"come back to my breast—it has been long closed,—it shall be open to you now and forever."
In another moment the wife was in her right place,—on her husband's bosom; and Violante, beautiful peacemaker, stood smiling awhile at both, and then lifted her eyes gratefully to heaven and stole away.
On Randal's return to town, he heard mixed and contradictory rumours in the streets, and at the clubs, of the probable downfall of the Government at the approaching session of parliament. These rumours had sprung up suddenly, as if in an hour. True that, for some time, the sagacious had shaken their heads and said, "Ministers could not last." True, that certain changes in policy, a year or two before, had divided the party on which the Government depended, and strengthened that which opposed it. But still the more important members of that Government had been so long identified with official station, and there seemed so little power in the Opposition to form a Cabinet of names familiar to official ears, that the general public had anticipated, at most, a few partial changes. Rumour now went far beyond this. Randal, whose whole prospects at present were but reflections from the greatness of his patron, was alarmed. He sought Egerton, but the minister was impenetrable, and seemed calm, confident, and imperturbed. Somewhat relieved, Randal then set himself to work to find a safe home for Riccabocca; for the greater need to succeed in obtaining fortune there, if he failed in getting it through Egerton. He found a quiet house, detached and secluded, in the neighbourhood of Norwood. No vicinity more secure from espionage and remark. He wrote to Riccabocca, and communicated the address, adding fresh assurances of his own power to be of use. The next morning he was seated in his office, thinking very little of the details, that he mastered, however, with mechanical precision, when the minister who presided over that department of the public service sent for him into his private room, and begged him to take a letter to Egerton, with whom he wished to consult relative to a very important point to be decided in the Cabinet that day. "I want you to take it," said the minister, smiling (the minister was a frank homely man), "because you are in Mr. Egerton's confidence, and he may give you some verbal message besides a written reply. Egerton is often over cautious and brief in the litera scripta."
Randal went first to Egerton's neighbouring office—Egerton had not been there that day. He then took a cabriolet and drove to Grosvenor Square. A quiet-looking chariot was at the door. Mr. Egerton was at home; but the servant said, "Dr. F——- is with him, sir; and perhaps he may not like to be disturbed."
"What! is your master ill?"
"Not that I know of, sir. He never says he is ill. But he has looked poorly the last day or two."
Randal hesitated a moment; but his commission might be important, and Egerton was a man who so held the maxim that health and all else must give way to business, that he resolved to enter; and, unannounced and unceremoniously, as was his wont, he opened the door of the library. He started as he did so. Audley Egerton was leaning back on the sofa, and the doctor, on his knees before him, was applying the stethoscope to his breast. Egerton's eyes were partially closed as the door opened. But at the noise he sprang up, nearly oversetting the doctor. "Who's that? How dare you?" he exclaimed, in a voice of great anger. Then recognizing Randal, he changed colour, bit his lip, and muttered dryly, "I beg pardon for my abruptness; what do you want, Mr. Leslie?"
"This letter from Lord—; I was told to deliver it immediately into your own hands. I beg pardon—"
"There is no cause," said Egerton, coldly. "I have had a slight attack of bronchitis; and as parliament meets so soon, I must take advice from my doctor, if I would be heard by the reporters. Lay the letter on the table, and be kind enough to wait for my reply."
Randal withdrew. He had never seen a physician in that house before, and it seemed surprising that Egerton should even take a medical opinion upon a slight attack. While waiting in the ante-room there was a knock at the street door, and presently a gentleman, exceedingly well dressed, was shown in, and honoured Randal with an easy and half-familiar bow. Randal remembered to have met this personage at dinner, and at the house of a young nobleman of high fashion, but had not been introduced to him, and did not even know him by name. The visitor was better informed.
"Our friend Egerton is busy, I hear, Mr. Leslie," said he, arranging the camellia in his button-hole.
"Our friend Egerton!" It must be a very great man to say "Our friend Egerton."
"He will not be engaged long, I dare say," returned Randal, glancing his shrewd inquiring eye over the stranger's person.
"I trust not; my time is almost as precious as his own. I was not so fortunate as to be presented to you when we met at Lord Spendquick's. Good fellow, Spendquick; and decidedly clever."
Lord Spendquick was usually esteemed a gentleman without three ideas.
In the mean while the visitor had taken out a card from an embossed morocco case, and now presented it to Randal, who read thereon, "Baron Levy, No.—, Bruton St."
The name was not unknown to Randal. It was a name too often on the lips of men of fashion not to have reached the ears of an habitue of good society.
Mr. Levy had been a solicitor by profession. He had of late years relinquished his ostensible calling: and not long since, in consequence of some services towards the negotiation of a loan, had been created a baron by one of the German kings. The wealth of Mr. Levy was said to be only equalled by his good-nature to all who were in want of a temporary loan, and with sound expectations of repaying it some day or other.
You seldom saw a finer-looking man than Baron Levy, about the same age as Egerton, but looking younger: so well preserved, such magnificent black whiskers, such superb teeth! Despite his name and his dark complexion, he did not, however, resemble a Jew,—at least externally; and, in fact, he was not a Jew on the father's side, but the natural son of a rich English grand seigneur, by a Hebrew lady of distinction—in the opera. After his birth, this lady had married a German trader of her own persuasion, and her husband had been prevailed upon, for the convenience of all parties, to adopt his wife's son, and accord to him his own Hebrew name. Mr. Levy, senior, was soon left a widower, and then the real father, though never actually owning the boy, had shown him great attention,—had him frequently at his house, initiated him betimes into his own high-born society, for which the boy showed great taste. But when my Lord died, and left but a moderate legacy to the younger Levy, who was then about eighteen, that ambiguous person was articled to an attorney by his putative sire, who shortly afterwards returned to his native land, and was buried at Prague, where his tombstone may yet be seen. Young Levy, however, contrived to do very well without him. His real birth was generally known, and rather advantageous to him in a social point of view. His legacy enabled him to become a partner where he had been a clerk, and his practice became great amongst the fashionable classes of society. Indeed he was so useful, so pleasant, so much a man of the world, that he grew intimate with his clients,—chiefly young men of rank; was on good terms with both Jew and Christian; and being neither one nor the other, resembled (to use Sheridan's incomparable simile) the blank page between the Old and the New Testament.
Vulgar some might call Mr. Levy from his assurance, but it was not the vulgarity of a man accustomed to low and coarse society,—rather the mauvais ton of a person not sure of his own position, but who has resolved to swagger into the best one he can get. When it is remembered that he had made his way in the world, and gleaned together an immense fortune, it is needless to add that he was as sharp as a needle, and as hard as a flint. No man had had more friends, and no man had stuck by them more firmly—so long as there was a pound in their pockets!
Something of this character had Randal heard of the baron, and he now gazed, first at his card, and then at him with—admiration.
"I met a friend of yours at Borrowell's the other day," resumed the baron,—"young Hazeldean. Careful fellow—quite a man of the world."
As this was the last praise poor Frank deserved, Randal again smiled.
The baron went on: "I hear, Mr. Leslie, that you have much influence over this same Hazeldean. His affairs are in a sad state. I should be very happy to be of use to him, as a relation of my friend Egerton's; but he understands business so well that he despises my advice."
"I am sure you do him injustice."
"Injustice! I honour his caution. I say to every man, 'Don't come to me: I can get you money on much easier terms than any one else; and what's the result! You come so often that you ruin yourself; whereas a regular usurer without conscience frightens you. 'Cent percent,' you say; 'oh, I must pull in.' If you have influence over your friend, tell him to stick to his bill-brokers, and have nothing to do with Baron Levy."
Here the minister's bell rung, and Randal, looking through the window, saw Dr. F——- walking to his carriage, which had made way for Baron Levy's splendid cabriolet,—a cabriolet in the most perfect taste, baron's coronet on the dark-brown panels, horse black, with such action! harness just relieved with plating. The servant now entered, and requested Randal to step in; and addressing the baron, assured him that he would not be detained a minute.
"Leslie," said the minister, sealing a note, "take this back to Lord ———, and say that I shall be with him in an hour."
"No other message?—he seemed to expect one."
"I dare say he did. Well, my letter is official, my message is not: beg him to see Mr. ——- before we meet,—he will understand,—all rests upon that interview."
Egerton then, extending the letter, resumed gravely, "Of course you will not mention to any one that Dr. F——- was with me: the health of public men is not to be suspected. Hum,—were you in your own room or the ante-room?"
"The ante-room, sir."
Egerton's brow contracted slightly. "And Mr. Levy was there, eh?"
"Baron! true. Come to plague me about the Mexican loan, I suppose. I will keep you no longer."
Randal, much meditating, left the house, and re-entered his hack cab. The baron was admitted to the statesman's presence.
Egerton had thrown himself at full length on the sofa, a position exceedingly rare with him; and about his whole air and manner, as Levy entered, there was something singularly different from that stateliness of port common to the austere legislator. The very tone of his voice was different. It was as if the statesman, the man of business, had vanished; it was rather the man of fashion and the idler who, nodding languidly to his visitor, said, "Levy, what money can I have for a year?"
"The estate will bear very little more. My dear fellow, that last election was the very devil. You cannot go on thus much longer."
"My dear fellow!" Baron Levy hailed Audley Egerton as "my dear fellow"! And Audley Egerton, perhaps, saw nothing strange in the words, though his lip curled.
"I shall not want to go on thus much longer," answered Egerton, as the curl on his lip changed to a gloomy smile. "The estate must, meanwhile, bear L5,000 more."
"A hard pull on it. You had really better sell."
"I cannot afford to sell at present. I cannot afford men to say, 'Audley Egerton is done up,—his property is for sale.'"
"It is very sad when one thinks what a rich man you have been—and may be yet!"
"Be yet! How?"
Baron Levy glanced towards the thick mahogany doors,—thick and impervious, as should be the doors of statesmen. "Why, you know that, with three words from you, I could produce an effect upon the stocks of three nations, that might give us each a hundred thousand pounds. We would go shares."
"Levy," said Egerton, coldly, though a deep blush overspread his face, "you are a scoundrel; that is your look-out. I interfere with no man's tastes and conscience. I don't intend to be a scoundrel myself. I have told you that long ago."
The usurer's brows darkened, but he dispelled the cloud with an easy laugh.
"Well," said he, "you are neither wise nor complimentary, but you shall have the money. But yet, would it not be better," added Levy, with emphasis, "to borrow it without interest, of your friend L'Estrange?"
Egerton started as if stung.
"You mean to taunt me, sir!" he exclaimed passionately. "I accept pecuniary favours from Lord L'Estrange!—I!"
"Tut, my dear Egerton, I dare say my Lord would not think so ill now of that act in your life which—"
"Hold!" exclaimed Egerton, writhing. "Hold!"
He stopped, and paced the room, muttering, in broken sentences, "To blush before this man! Chastisement, chastisement!"
Levy gazed on him with hard and sinister eyes. The minister turned abruptly.
"Look you, Levy," said he, with forced composure, "you hate me—why, I know not."
"Hate you! How have I shown hatred? Would you ever have lived in this palace, and ruled this country as one of the most influential of its ministers, but for my management, my whispers to the wealthy Miss Leslie? Come, but for me what would you have been,—perhaps a beggar."
"What shall I be now, if I live? And this fortune which my marriage brought to me—it has passed for the main part into your hands. Be patient, you will have it all ere long. But there is one man in the world who has loved me from a boy, and woe to you if ever he learn that he has the right to despise me!"
"Egerton, my good fellow," said Levy, with great composure, "you need not threaten me, for what interest can I possibly have in tale-telling to Lord L'Estrange? Again, dismiss from your mind the absurd thought that I hate you. True, you snub me in private, you cut me in public, you refuse to come to my dinners, you'll not ask me to your own; still, there is no man I like better, nor would more willingly serve. When do you want the L5,000?"
"Perhaps in one month, perhaps not for three or four. Let it be ready when required."
"Enough; depend on it. Have you any other commands?"
"I will take my leave, then. By-the-by, what do you suppose the Hazeldean rental is worth—net?"
"I don't know, nor care. You have no designs upon that too?"
"Well, I like keeping up family connections. Mr. Frank seems a liberal young gentleman."
Before Egerton could answer, the baron had glided to the door, and, nodding pleasantly, vanished with that nod. Egerton remained, standing on his solitary hearth. A drear, single man's room it was, from wall to wall, despite its fretted ceilings and official pomp of Brahmah escritoires and red boxes. Drear and cheerless,—no trace of woman's habitation, no vestige of intruding, happy children. There stood the austere man alone. And then with a deep sigh he muttered, "Thank Heaven, not for long,—it will not last long."
Repeating those words, he mechanically locked up his papers, and pressed his hand to his heart for an instant, as if a spasm had shot through it.
"So—I must shun all emotion!" said he, shaking his head gently.
In five minutes more Audley Egerton was in the streets, his mien erect, and his step firm as ever.
"That man is made of bronze," said a leader of the Opposition to a friend as they rode past the minister. "What would I not give for his nerves!"
ON PUBLIC LIFE.
Now that I am fairly in the heart of my story, these preliminary chapters must shrink into comparatively small dimensions, and not encroach upon the space required by the various personages whose acquaintance I have picked up here and there, and who are now all crowding upon me like poor relations to whom one has unadvisedly given a general invitation, and who descend upon one simultaneously about Christmas time. Where they are to be stowed, and what is to become of them all, Heaven knows; in the mean while, the reader will have already observed that the Caxton Family themselves are turned out of their own rooms, sent a packing, in order to make way for the new comers.
But to proceed: Note the heading to the present Chapter, "ON PUBLIC LIFE,"—a thesis pertinent to this portion of my narrative; and if somewhat trite in itself, the greater is the stimulus to suggest thereon some original hints for reflection.
Were you ever in public life, my dear reader? I don't mean, by that question, to ask whether you were ever Lord Chancellor, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, or even a member of the House of Commons. An author hopes to find readers far beyond that very egregious but very limited segment of the Great Circle. Were you ever a busy man in your vestry, active in a municipal corporation, one of a committee for furthering the interests of an enlightened candidate for your native burgh, town, or shire,—in a word, did you ever resign your private comforts as men in order to share the public troubles of mankind? If ever you have so far departed from the Lucretian philosophy, just look back—was it life at all that you lived? Were you an individual distinct existence,—a passenger in the railway,—or were you merely an indistinct portion of that common flame which heated the boiler and generated the steam that set off the monster train?—very hot, very active, very useful, no doubt; but all your identity fused in flame, and all your forces vanishing in gas.
And do you think the people in the railway carriages care for you? Do you think that the gentleman in the worsted wrapper is saying to his neighbour with the striped rug on his comfortable knees, "How grateful we ought to be for that fiery particle which is crackling and hissing under the boiler. It helps us on a fraction of an inch from Vauxhall to Putney!" Not a bit of it. Ten to one but he is saying, "Not sixteen miles an hour! What the deuce is the matter with the stoker?"
Look at our friend Audley Egerton. You have just had a glimpse of the real being that struggles under the huge copper; you have heard the hollow sound of the rich man's coffers under the tap of Baron Levy's friendly knuckle, heard the strong man's heart give out its dull warning sound to the scientific ear of Dr. F——-. And away once more vanishes the separate existence, lost again in the flame that heats the boiler, and the smoke that curls into air from the grimy furnace.
Look to it, O Public Man, whoever thou art, and whatsoever thy degree,—see if thou canst not compound matters, so as to keep a little nook apart for thy private life; that is, for thyself! Let the Great Popkins Question not absorb wholly the individual soul of thee, as Smith or Johnson. Don't so entirely consume thyself under that insatiable boiler, that when thy poor little monad rushes out from the sooty furnace, and arrives at the stars, thou mayest find no vocation for thee there, and feel as if thou hadst nothing to do amidst the still splendours of the Infinite. I don't deny to thee the uses of "Public Life;" I grant that it is much to have helped to carry that Great Popkins Question; but Private Life, my friend, is the life of thy private soul; and there may be matters concerned with that which, on consideration, thou mayest allow cannot be wholly mixed up with the Great Popkins Question, and were not finally settled when thou didst exclaim, "I have not lived in vain,—the Popkins Question is carried at last!" Oh, immortal soul, for one quarter of an hour per diem de-Popkinize thine immortality!
It had not been without much persuasion on the part of Jackeymo that Riccabocca had consented to settle himself in the house which Randal had recommended to him. Not that the exile conceived any suspicion of the young man beyond that which he might have shared with Jackeymo, namely, that Randal's interest in the father was increased by a very natural and excusable admiration of the daughter; but the Italian had the pride common to misfortune,—he did not like to be indebted to others, and he shrank from the pity of those to whom it was known that he had held a higher station in his own land. These scruples gave way to the strength of his affection for his daughter and his dread of his foe. Good men, however able and brave, who have suffered from the wicked, are apt to form exaggerated notions of the power that has prevailed against them. Jackeymo had conceived a superstitious terror of Peschiera; and Riccabocca, though by no means addicted to superstition, still had a certain creep of the flesh whenever he thought of his foe.
But Riccabocca—than whom no man was more physically brave, and no man, in some respects, more morally timid—feared the count less as a foe than as a gallant. He remembered his kinsman's surpassing beauty, the power he had obtained over women. He knew him versed in every art that corrupts, and wholly void of the conscience that deters. And Riccabocca had unhappily nursed himself into so poor an estimate of the female character, that even the pure and lofty nature of Violante did not seem to him a sufficient safeguard against the craft and determination of a practised and remorseless intriguer. But of all the precautions he could take, none appeared more likely to conduce to safety than his establishing a friendly communication with one who professed to be able to get at all the count's plans and movements, and who could apprise Riccabocca at once should his retreat be discovered. "Forewarned is forearmed," said he to himself, in one of the proverbs common to all nations. However, as with his usual sagacity he came to reflect upon the alarming intelligence conveyed to him by Randal, namely, that the count sought his daughter's hand, he divined that there was some strong personal interest under such ambition; and what could be that interest save the probability of Riccabocca's ultimate admission to the Imperial grace, and the count's desire to assure himself of the heritage to an estate that he might be permitted to retain no more? Riccabocca was not indeed aware of the condition (not according to usual customs in Austria) on which the count held the forfeited domains. He knew not that they had been granted merely on pleasure; but he was too well aware of Peschiera's nature to suppose that he would woo a bride without a dower, or be moved by remorse in any overture of reconciliation. He felt assured too—and this increased all his fears—that Peschiera would never venture to seek an interview with himself; all the count's designs on Violante would be dark, secret, and clandestine. He was perplexed and tormented by the doubt whether or not to express openly to Violante his apprehensions of the nature of the danger to be apprehended. He had told her vaguely that it was for her sake that he desired secrecy and concealment. But that might mean anything: what danger to himself would not menace her? Yet to say more was so contrary to a man of his Italian notions and Machiavellian maxims! To say to a young girl, "There is a man come over to England on purpose to woo and win you. For Heaven's sake take care of him; he is diabolically handsome; he never fails where he sets his heart.—Cospetto!" cried the doctor, aloud, as these admonitions shaped themselves to speech in the camera obscura of his brain; "such a warning would have undone a Cornelia while she was yet an innocent spinster." No, he resolved to say nothing to Violante of the count's intention, only to keep guard, and make himself and Jackeymo all eyes and all ears.
The house Randal had selected pleased Riccabocca at first glance. It stood alone, upon a little eminence; its upper windows commanded the high road. It had been a school, and was surrounded by high walls, which contained a garden and lawn sufficiently large for exercise. The garden doors were thick, fortified by strong bolts, and had a little wicket lattice, shut and opened at pleasure, from which Jackeymo could inspect all visitors before he permitted them to enter.
An old female servant from the neighbourhood was cautiously hired; Riccabocca renounced his Italian name, and abjured his origin. He spoke English sufficiently well to think he could pass as an Englishman. He called himself Mr. Richmouth (a liberal translation of Riccabocca). He bought a blunderbuss, two pairs of pistols, and a huge housedog. Thus provided for, he allowed Jackeymo to write a line to Randal and communicate his arrival.
Randal lost no time in calling. With his usual adaptability and his powers of dissimulation, he contrived easily to please Mrs. Riccabocca, and to increase the good opinion the exile was disposed to form of him. He engaged Violante in conversation on Italy and its poets. He promised to bring her books. He began, though more distantly than he could have desired,—for her sweet stateliness awed him,—the preliminaries of courtship. He established himself at once as a familiar guest, riding down daily in the dusk of evening, after the toils of office, and returning at night. In four or five days he thought he had made great progress with all. Riccabocca watched him narrowly, and grew absorbed in thought after every visit. At length one night, when he and Mrs. Riccabocca were alone in the drawing-room, Violante having retired to rest, he thus spoke as he filled his pipe,—
"Happy is the man who has no children! Thrice happy he who has no girls!"
"My dear Alphonso!" said the wife, looking up from the waistband to which she was attaching a neat mother-o'-pearl button. She said no more; it was the sharpest rebuke she was in the custom of administering to her husband's cynical and odious observations. Riccabocca lighted his pipe with a thread paper, gave three great puffs, and resumed,
"One blunderbuss, four pistols, and a house-dog called Pompey, who would have made mincemeat of Julius Caesar!"
"He certainly eats a great deal, does Pompey!" said Mrs. Riccabocca, simply. "But if he relieves your mind!"
"He does not relieve it in the least, ma'am," groaned Riccabocca; "and that is the point I am coming to. This is a most harassing life, and a most undignified life. And I who have only asked from Heaven dignity and repose! But if Violante were once married, I should want neither blunderbuss, pistol, nor Pompey. And it is that which would relieve my mind, cara mia,—Pompey only relieves my larder."
Now Riccabocca had been more communicative to Jemima than he had been to Violante. Having once trusted her with one secret, he had every motive to trust her with another; and he had accordingly spoken out his fears of the Count di Peschiera. Therefore she answered, laying down the work, and taking her husband's hand tenderly,
"Indeed, my love, since you dread so much (though I own that I must think unreasonably) this wicked, dangerous man, it would be the happiest thing in the world to see dear Violante well married; because, you see, if she is married to one person she cannot be married to another; and all fear of this count, as you say, would be at an end."
"You cannot express yourself better. It is a great comfort to unbosom one's-self to a wife, after all," quoth Riccabocca.
"But," said the wife, after a grateful kiss,—"but where and how can we find a husband suitable to the rank of your daughter?"
"There! there! there!" cried Riccabocca, pushing back his chair to the farther end of the room, "that comes of unbosoming one's-self! Out flies one secret; it is opening the lid of Pandora's box; one is betrayed, ruined, undone!"
"Why, there's not a soul that can hear us!" said Mrs. Riccabocca, soothingly.
"'That's chance, ma'am! If you once contract the habit of blabbing out a secret when nobody's by, how on earth can you resist it when you have the pleasurable excitement of telling it to all the world? Vanity, vanity,—woman's vanity! Woman never could withstand rank,—never!" The doctor went on railing for a quarter of an hour, and was very reluctantly appeased by Mrs. Riccabocca's repeated and tearful assurances that she would never even whisper to herself that her husband had ever held any other rank than that of doctor. Riccabocca, with a dubious shake of the head, renewed,
"I have done with all pomp and pretension. Besides, the young man is a born gentleman: he seems in good circumstances; he has energy and latent ambition; he is akin to L'Estrange's intimate friend: he seems attached to Violante. I don't think it probable that we could do better. Nay, if Peschiera fears that I shall be restored to my country, and I learn the wherefore, and the ground to take, through this young man—why, gratitude is the first virtue of the noble!"
"You speak, then, of Mr. Leslie?"
"To be sure—of whom else?"
Mrs. Riccabocca leaned her cheek on her hand thoughtfully. "Now you have told me that, I will observe him with different eyes."
"Anima mia, I don't see how the difference of your eyes will alter the object they look upon!" grumbled Riccabocca, shaking the ashes out of his pipe.
"The object alters when we see it in a different point of view!" replied Jemima, modestly. "This thread does very well when I look at it in order to sew on a button, but I should say it would never do to tie up Pompey in his Kennel."
"Reasoning by illustration, upon my soul!" ejaculated Riccabocca, amazed.
"And," continued Jemima, "when I am to regard one who is to constitute the happiness of that dear child, and for life, can I regard him as I would the pleasant guest of an evening? Ah, trust me, Alphonso; I don't pretend to be wise like you; but when a woman considers what a man is likely to prove to woman,—his sincerity, his honour, his heart,—oh, trust me, she is wiser than the wisest man!"
Riccabocca continued to gaze on Jemima with unaffected admiration and surprise. And certainly, to use his phrase, since he had unbosomed himself to his better half, since he had confided in her, consulted with her, her sense had seemed to quicken, her whole mind to expand.
"My dear," said the sage, "I vow and declare that Machiavelli was a fool to you. And I have been as dull as the chair I sit upon, to deny myself so many years the comfort and counsel of such a—But, corpo di Bacco! forget all about rank; and so now to bed.—One must not holloa till one's out of the wood," muttered the ungrateful, suspicious villain, as he lighted the chamber candle.
RICCABOCCA could not confine himself to the precincts within the walls to which he condemned Violante. Resuming his spectacles, and wrapped in his cloak, he occasionally sallied forth upon a kind of outwatch or reconnoitring expedition,—restricting himself, however, to the immediate neighbourhood, and never going quite out of sight of his house. His favourite walk was to the summit of a hillock overgrown with stunted bush-wood. Here he would sit himself musingly, often till the hoofs of Randal's horse rang on the winding road, as the sun set, over fading herbage, red and vaporous, in autumnal skies. Just below the hillock, and not two hundred yards from his own house, was the only other habitation in view,—a charming, thoroughly English cottage, though somewhat imitated from the Swiss, with gable ends, thatched roof, and pretty, projecting casements, opening through creepers and climbing roses. From his height he commanded the gardens of this cottage, and his eye of artist was pleased, from the first sight, with the beauty which some exquisite taste had given to the ground. Even in that cheerless season of the year, the garden wore a summer smile; the evergreens were so bright and various, and the few flow ers still left so hardy and so healthful. Facing the south, a colonnade, or covered gallery, of rustic woodwork had been formed, and creeping plants, lately set, were already beginning to clothe its columns. Opposite to this colonnade there was a fountain which reminded Riccabocca of his own at the deserted Casino. It was indeed singularly like it; the same circular shape, the same girdle of flowers around it. But the jet from it varied every day, fantastic and multiform, like the sports of a Naiad,—sometimes shooting up like a tree, sometimes shaped as a convolvulus, sometimes tossing from its silver spray a flower of vermilion, or a fruit of gold,—as if at play with its toy like a happy child. And near the fountain was a large aviary, large enough to enclose a tree. The Italian could just catch a gleam of rich colour from the wings of the birds, as they glanced to and fro within the network, and could hear their songs, contrasting the silence of the freer populace of air, whom the coming winter had already stilled.
Riccabocca's eye, so alive to all aspects of beauty, luxuriated in the view of this garden. Its pleasantness had a charm that stole him from his anxious fear and melancholy memories.
He never saw but two forms within the demesnes, and he could not distinguish their features. One was a woman, who seemed to him of staid manner and homely appearance: she was seen but rarely. The other a man, often pacing to and fro the colonnade, with frequent pauses before the playful fountain, or the birds that sang louder as he approached. This latter form would then disappear within a room, the glass door of which was at the extreme end of the colonnade; and if the door were left open, Riccabocca could catch a glimpse of the figure bending over a table covered with books.
Always, however, before the sun set, the man would step forth more briskly, and occupy himself with the garden, often working at it with good heart, as if at a task of delight; and then, too, the woman would come out, and stand by as if talking to her companion. Riccabocca's curiosity grew aroused. He bade Jemima inquire of the old maid-servant who lived at the cottage, and heard that its owner was a Mr. Oran,—a quiet gentleman, and fond of his book.
While Riccabocca thus amused himself, Randal had not been prevented, either by his official cares or his schemes on Violante's heart and fortune, from furthering the project that was to unite Frank Hazeldean and Beatrice di Negra. Indeed, as to the first, a ray of hope was sufficient to fire the ardent and unsuspecting lover. And Randal's artful misrepresentation of his conference with Mrs. Hazeldean removed all fear of parental displeasure from a mind always too disposed to give itself up to the temptation of the moment. Beatrice, though her feelings for Frank were not those of love, became more and more influenced by Randal's arguments and representations, the more especially as her brother grew morose, and even menacing, as days slipped on, and she could give no clew to the retreat of those whom he sought for. Her debts, too, were really urgent. As Randal's profound knowledge of human infirmity had shrewdly conjectured, the scruples of honour and pride, that had made her declare she would not bring to a husband her own encumbrances, began to yield to the pressure of necessity. She listened already, with but faint objections, when Randal urged her not to wait for the uncertain discovery that was to secure her dowry, but by a private marriage with Frank escape at once into freedom and security. While, though he had first held out to young Hazeldean the inducement of Beatrice's dowry as a reason of self-justification in the eyes of the squire, it was still easier to drop that inducement, which had always rather damped than fired the high spirit and generous heart of the poor Guardsman. And Randal could conscientiously say, that when he had asked the squire if he expected fortune with Frank's bride, the squire had replied, "I don't care." Thus encouraged by his friend and his own heart, and the softening manner of a woman who might have charmed many a colder, and fooled many a wiser man, Frank rapidly yielded to the snares held out for his perdition. And though as yet he honestly shrank from proposing to Beatrice or himself a marriage without the consent, and even the knowledge, of his parents, yet Randal was quite content to leave a nature, however good, so thoroughly impulsive and undisciplined, to the influences of the first strong passion it had ever known. Meanwhile, it was so easy to dissuade Frank from even giving a hint to the folks at home. "For," said the wily and able traitor, "though we may be sure of Mrs. Hazeldean's consent, and her power over your father, when the step is once taken, yet we cannot count for certain on the squire, he is so choleric and hasty. He might hurry to town, see Madame di Negra, blurt out some passionate, rude expressions, which would wake her resentment, and cause her instant rejection. And it might be too late if he repented afterwards, as he would be sure to do."
Meanwhile Randal Leslie gave a dinner at the Clarendon Hotel (an extravagance most contrary to his habits), and invited Frank, Mr. Borrowell, and Baron Levy.
But this house-spider, which glided with so much ease after its flies, through webs so numerous and mazy, had yet to amuse Madame di Negra with assurances that the fugitives sought for would sooner or later be discovered. Though Randal baffled and eluded her suspicion that he was already acquainted with the exiles ("the persons he had thought of were," he said, "quite different from her description;" and he even presented to her an old singing-master and a sallow-faced daughter, as the Italians who had caused his mistake), it was necessary for Beatrice to prove the sincerity of the aid she had promised to her brother, and to introduce Randal to the count. It was no less desirable to Randal to know, and even win the confidence of this man—his rival.
The two met at Madame di Negra's house. There is something very strange, and almost mesmerical, in the rapport between two evil natures. Bring two honest men together, and it is ten to one if they recognize each other as honest; differences in temper, manner, even politics, may make each misjudge the other. But bring together two men unprincipled and perverted—men who, if born in a cellar, would have been food for the hulks or gallows—and they understand each other by instant sympathy. The eyes of Franzini, Count of Peschiera, and Randal Leslie no sooner met than a gleam of intelligence shot from both. They talked on indifferent subjects,—weather, gossip, politics,—what not. They bowed and they smiled; but all the while, each was watching, plumbing the other's heart, each measuring his strength with his companion; each inly saying, "This is a very remarkable rascal; am I a match for him?" It was at dinner they met; and following the English fashion, Madame di Negra left them alone with their wine.
Then, for the first time, Count di Peschiera cautiously and adroitly made a covered push towards the object of the meeting.
"You have never been abroad, my dear sir? You must contrive to visit me at Vienna. I grant the splendour of your London world; but, honestly speaking, it wants the freedom of ours,—a freedom which unites gayety with polish. For as your society is mixed, there are pretension and effort with those who have no right to be in it, and artificial condescension and chilling arrogance with those who have to keep their inferiors at a certain distance. With us, all being of fixed rank and acknowledged birth, familiarity is at once established. Hence," added the count, with his French lively smile,—"hence there is no place like Vienna for a young man, no place like Vienna for bonnes fortunes."
"Those make the paradise of the idle," replied Randal, "but the purgatory of the busy. I confess frankly to you, my dear count, that I have as little of the leisure which becomes the aspirer to bonnes fortunes as I have the personal graces which obtain them without an effort;" and he inclined his head as in compliment.
"So," thought the count, "woman is not his weak side. What is?"
"Morbleu! my dear Mr. Leslie, had I thought as you do some years since, I had saved myself from many a trouble. After all, Ambition is the best mistress to woo; for with her there is always the hope, and never the possession."
"Ambition, Count," replied Randal, still guarding himself in dry sententiousness, "is the luxury of the rich, and the necessity of the poor."
"Aha," thought the count, "it comes, as I anticipated from the first,—comes to the bribe." He passed the wine to Randal, filling his own glass, and draining it carelessly; "Sur mon ame, mon cher," said the count, "luxury is ever pleasanter than necessity; and I am resolved at least to give Ambition a trial; je vais me refugier dans le sein du bonheur domestique,—a married life and a settled home. Peste! If it were not for ambition, one would die of ennui. A propos, my dear sir, I have to thank you for promising my sister your aid in finding a near and dear kinsman of mine, who has taken refuge in your country, and hides himself even from me."
"I should be most happy to assist in your search. As yet, however, I have only to regret that all my good wishes are fruitless. I should have thought, however, that a man of such rank had been easily found, even through the medium of your own ambassador."
"Our own ambassador is no very warm friend of mine; and the rank would be no clew, for it is clear that my kinsman has never assumed it since he quitted his country."
"He quitted it, I understand, not exactly from choice," said Randal, smiling. "Pardon my freedom and curiosity, but will you explain to me a little more than I learn from English rumour (which never accurately reports upon foreign matters still more notorious), how a person who had so much to lose, and so little to win, by revolution, could put himself into the same crazy boat with a crew of hair-brained adventurers and visionary professors."
"Professors!" repeated the count; "I think you have hit on the very answer to your question; not but what men of high birth were as mad as the canaille. I am the more willing to gratify your curiosity, since it will perhaps serve to guide your kind search in my favour. You must know, then, that my kinsman was not born the heir to the rank he obtained. He was but a distant relation to the head of the House which he afterwards represented. Brought up in an Italian university, he was distinguished for his learning and his eccentricities. There too, I suppose, brooding over old wives' tales about freedom, and so forth, he contracted his carbonaro, chimerical notions for the independence of Italy. Suddenly, by three deaths, he was elevated, while yet young, to a station and honours which might have satisfied any man in his senses. Que diable! what could the independence of Italy do for him? He and I were cousins; we had played together as boys; but our lives had been separated till his succession to rank brought us necessarily together. We became exceedingly intimate. And you may judge how I loved him," said the count, averting his eyes slightly from Randal's quiet, watchful gaze, "when I add, that I forgave him for enjoying a heritage that, but for him, had been mine."
"Ah, you were next heir?"
"And it is a hard trial to be very near a great fortune, and yet just to miss it."
"True," cried Randal, almost impetuously. The count now raised his eyes, and again the two men looked into each other's souls.
"Harder still, perhaps," resumed the count, after a short pause,—"harder still might it have been to some men to forgive the rival as well as the heir."
"A lady, who had been destined by her parents to myself, though we had never, I own, been formally betrothed, became the wife of my kinsman."
"Did he know of your pretensions?"
"I do him the justice to say he did not. He saw and fell in love with the young lady I speak of. Her parents were dazzled. Her father sent for me. He apologized, he explained; he set before me, mildly enough, certain youthful imprudences or errors of my own, as an excuse for his change of mind; and he asked me not only to resign all hope of his daughter, but to conceal from her new suitor that I had ever ventured to hope."
"And you consented?"
"That was generous. You must indeed have been much attached to your kinsman. As a lover, I cannot comprehend it; perhaps, my dear count, you may enable me to understand it better—as a man of the world."
"Well," said the count, with his most roue air, "I suppose we are both men of the world?"
"Both! certainly," replied Randal, just in the tone which Peachum might have used in courting the confidence of Lockit.
"As a man of the world, then, I own," said the count, playing with the rings on his fingers, "that if I could not marry the lady myself (and that seemed to me clear), it was very natural that I should wish to see her married to my wealthy kinsman."
"Very natural; it might bring your wealthy kinsman and yourself still closer together."
"This is really a very clever fellow!" thought the count, but he made no direct reply.
"Enfin, to cut short a long story, my cousin afterwards got entangled in attempts, the failure of which is historically known. His projects were detected, himself denounced. He fled, and the emperor, in sequestrating his estates, was pleased, with rare and singular clemency, to permit me, as his nearest kinsman, to enjoy the revenues of half those estates during the royal pleasure; nor was the other half formally confiscated. It was no doubt his Majesty's desire not to extinguish a great Italian name; and if my cousin and his child died in exile, why, of that name, I, a loyal subject of Austria,—I, Franzini, Count di Peschiera, would become the representative. Such, in a similar case, has been sometimes the Russian policy towards Polish insurgents."
"I comprehend perfectly; and I can also conceive that you, in profiting so largely, though so justly, by the fall of your kinsman, may have been exposed to much unpopularity, even to painful suspicion."
"Entre nous, mon cher, I care not a stiver for popularity; and as to suspicion, who is he that can escape from the calumny of the envious? But, unquestionably, it would be most desirable to unite the divided members of our house; and this union I can now effect by the consent of the emperor to my marriage with my kinsman's daughter. You see, therefore, why I have so great an interest in this research?"
"By the marriage articles you could no doubt secure the retention of the half you hold; and if you survive your kinsman, you would enjoy the whole. A most desirable marriage; and, if made, I suppose that would suffice to obtain your cousin's amnesty and grace?"
"You say it."
"But even without such marriage, since the emperor's clemency has been extended to so many of the proscribed, it is perhaps probable that your cousin might be restored?"
"It once seemed to me possible," said the count, reluctantly; "but since I have been in England, I think not. The recent revolution in France, the democratic spirit rising in Europe, tend to throw back the cause of a proscribed rebel. England swarms with revolutionists; my cousin's residence in this country is in itself suspicious. The suspicion is increased by his strange seclusion. There are many Italians here who would aver that they had met with him, and that he was still engaged in revolutionary projects."
"Ma foi, it comes to the same thing; 'les absents ont toujours tort.' I speak to a man of the world. No; without some such guarantee for his faith as his daughter's marriage with myself would give, his recall is improbable. By the heaven above us, it shall be impossible!" The count rose as he said this,—rose as if the mask of simulation had fairly fallen from the visage of crime; rose tall and towering, a very image of masculine power and strength, beside the slight, bended form and sickly face of the intellectual schemer. And had you seen them thus confronted and contrasted, you would have felt that if ever the time should come when the interest of the one would compel him openly to denounce or boldly to expose the other, the odds were that the brilliant and audacious reprobate would master the weaker nerve but superior wit of the furtive traitor. Randal was startled; but rising also, he said carelessly,
"What if this guarantee can no longer be given; what if, in despair of return, and in resignation to his altered fortunes, your cousin has already married his daughter to some English suitor?"
"Ah, that would indeed be, next to my own marriage with her, the most fortunate thing that could happen to myself."
"How? I don't understand!"
"Why, if my cousin has so abjured his birthright, and forsworn his rank; if this heritage, which is so dangerous from its grandeur, pass, in case of his pardon, to some obscure Englishman,—a foreigner, a native of a country that has no ties with ours, a country that is the very refuge of levellers and Carbonari—mort de ma vie! do you think that such would not annihilate all chance of my cousin's restoration, and be an excuse even in the eyes of Italy for formally conferring the sequestrated estates on an Italian? No; unless, indeed, the girl were to marry an Englishman of such name and birth and connection as would in themselves be a guarantee (and how in poverty is this likely?) I should go back to Vienna with a light heart, if I could say, 'My kinswoman is an Englishman's wife; shall her children be the heirs to a house so renowned for its lineage, and so formidable for its wealth?' Parbleu! if my cousin were but an adventurer, or merely a professor, he had been pardoned long ago. The great enjoy the honour not to be pardoned easily."
Randal fell into deep but brief thought. The count observed him, not face to face, but by the reflection of an opposite mirror. "This man knows something; this man is deliberating; this man can help me," thought the count.
But Randal said nothing to confirm these hypotheses. Recovering from his abstraction, he expressed courteously his satisfaction at the count's prospects, either way. "And since, after all," he added, "you mean so well to your cousin, it occurs to me that you might discover him by a very simple English process."
"Advertise that, if he will come to some place appointed, he will hear of something to his advantage."
The count shook his head. "He would suspect me, and not come."
"But he was intimate with you. He joined an insurrection; you were more prudent. You did not injure him, though you may have benefited yourself. Why should he shun you?"
"The conspirators forgive none who do not conspire; besides, to speak frankly, he thought I injured him."
"Could you not conciliate him through his wife—whom you resigned to him?"
"She is dead,—died before he left the country."
"Oh, that is unlucky! Still I think an advertisement might do good. Allow me to reflect on that subject. Shall we now join Madame la Marquise?"
On re-entering the drawing-room, the gentlemen found Beatrice in full dress, seated by the fire, and reading so intently that she did not remark them enter.
"What so interests you, ma seuur?—the last novel by Balzac, no doubt?"
Beatrice started, and, looking up, showed eyes that were full of tears. "Oh, no! no picture of miserable, vicious, Parisian life. This is beautiful; there is soul here."
Randal took up the book which the marchesa laid down; it was the same which had charmed the circle at Hazeldean, charmed the innocent and fresh-hearted, charmed now the wearied and tempted votaress of the world.
"Hum," murmured Randal; "the parson was right. This is power,—a sort of a power."
"How I should like to know the author! Who can he be? Can you guess?"
"Not I. Some old pedant in spectacles."
"I think not, I am sure not. Here beats a heart I have ever sighed to find, and never found."
"Oh, la naive enfant!" cried the count; "comme son imagination s'egare en reves enchantes. And to think that while you talk like an Arcadian, you are dressed like a princess."
"Ah, I forgot—the Austrian ambassador's. I shall not go to-night. This book unfits me for the artificial world."
"Just as you will, my sister. I shall go. I dislike the man, and he me; but ceremonies before men!"
"You are going to the Austrian Embassy?" said Randal. "I, too, shall be there. We shall meet." And he took his leave.
"I like your young friend prodigiously," said the count, yawning. "I am sure that he knows of the lost birds, and will stand to them like a pointer, if I can but make it his interest to do so. We shall see."
Randal arrived at the ambassador's before the count, and contrived to mix with the young noblemen attached to the embassy, and to whom he was known. Standing among these was a young Austrian, on his travels, of very high birth, and with an air of noble grace that suited the ideal of the old German chivalry. Randal was presented to him, and, after some talk on general topics, observed, "By the way, Prince, there is now in London a countryman of yours, with whom you are, doubtless, familiarly acquainted,—the Count di Peschiera."
"He is no countryman of mine. He is an Italian. I know him but by sight and by name," said the prince, stiffly.
"He is of very ancient birth, I believe."
"Unquestionably. His ancestors were gentlemen."
"And very rich."
"Indeed! I have understood the contrary. He enjoys, it is true, a large revenue."
A young attache, less discreet than the prince; here observed, "Oh, Peschiera! poor fellow, he is too fond of play to be rich."
"And there is some chance that the kinsman whose revenue he holds may obtain his pardon, and re-enter into possession of his fortunes—so I hear, at least," said Randal, artfully.
"I shall be glad if it be true," said the prince, with decision; "and I speak the common sentiment at Vienna. That kinsman had a noble spirit, and was, I believe, equally duped and betrayed. Pardon me, sir; but we Austrians are not so bad as we are painted. Have you ever met in England the kinsman you speak of?"
"Never, though he is supposed to reside here; and the count tells me that he has a daughter."
"The count—ha! I heard something of a scheme,—a wager of that—that count's. A daughter! Poor girl! I hope she will escape his pursuit; for, no doubt, he pursues her."
"Possibly she may already have married an Englishman."
"I trust not," said the prince, seriously; "that might at present be a serious obstacle to her father's return."
"You think so?"
"There can be no doubt of it," interposed the attache, with a grand and positive air; "unless, indeed, the Englishman were of a rank equal to her own."
Here there was a slight, well-bred murmur and buzz at the door, for the Count di Peschiera himself was announced; and as he entered, his presence was so striking, and his beauty so dazzling, that whatever there might be to the prejudice of his character, it seemed instantly effaced or forgotten in that irresistible admiration which it is the prerogative of personal attributes alone to create.
The prince, with a slight curve of his lip at the groups that collected round the count, turned to Randal, and said, "Can you tell me if a distinguished countryman of yours is in England, Lord L'Estrange?"
"No, Prince, he is not. You know him?"
"He is acquainted with the count's kinsman; and perhaps from him you have learned to think so highly of that kinsman?"
The prince bowed, and answered as he moved away, "When one man of high honour vouches for another, he commands the belief of all."
"Certainly," soliloquized Randal, "I must not be precipitate. I was very near falling into a terrible trap. If I were to marry the girl, and only, by so doing, settle away her inheritance on Peschiera!—how hard it is to be sufficiently cautious in this world!"
While thus meditating, a member of parliament tapped him on the shoulder.
"Melancholy, Leslie! I lay a wager I guess your thoughts."
"Guess," answered Randal.
"You were thinking of the place you are so soon to lose."
"Soon to lose!"
"Why, if ministers go out, you could hardly keep it, I suppose."
This ominous and horrid member of parliament, Squire Hazeldean's favourite county member, Sir John, was one of those legislators especially odious to officials,—an independent "large-acred" member, who would no more take office himself than he would cut down the oaks in his park, and who had no bowels of human feeling for those who had opposite tastes and less magnificent means.
"Hem!" said Randal, rather surlily. "In the first place, Sir John, ministers are not going out."
"Oh, yes, they will go. You know I vote with them generally, and would willingly keep them in; but they are men of honour and spirit; and if they can't carry their measures, they must resign; otherwise, by Jove, I would turn round and vote them out myself!"
"I have no doubt you would, Sir John; you are quite capable of it; that rests with you and your constituents. But even if ministers did go out, I am but a poor subaltern in a public office,—I am no minister. Why should I go out too?
"Why? Hang it, Leslie, you are laughing at me. A young fellow like you could never be mean enough to stay in, under the very men who drove out your friend Egerton?"
"It is not usual for those in the public offices to retire with every change of government."
"Certainly not; but always those who are the relations of a retiring minister; always those who have been regarded as politicians, and who mean to enter parliament, as of course you will do at the next election. But you know that as well as I do,—you who are so decided a politician, the writer of that admirable pamphlet! I should not like to tell my friend Hazeldean, who has a sincere interest in you, that you ever doubted on a question of honour as plain as your A, B, C."
"Indeed, Sir John," said Randal, recovering his suavity, while he inly breathed a dire anathema on his county member, "I am so new to these things that what you say never struck me before. No doubt you must be right; at all events I cannot have a better guide and adviser than Mr. Egerton himself."
SIR JOHN.—"No, certainly; perfect gentleman, Egerton! I wish we could make it up with him and Hazeldean."
RANDAL (sighing).—"Ah, I wish we could!"
SIR JOHN.—"And some chance of it now; for the time is coming when all true men of the old school must stick together."
RANDAL.—"Wisely, admirably said, my dear Sir John. But, pardon me, I must pay my respects to the ambassador." Randal escaped, and passing on, saw the ambassador himself in the next room, conferring in a corner with Audley Egerton. The ambassador seemed very grave, Egerton calm and impenetrable, as usual. Presently the count passed by, and the ambassador bowed to him very stiffly.
As Randal, some time later, was searching for his cloak below, Audley Egerton unexpectedly joined him.
"Ah, Leslie," said the minister, with more kindness than usual, "if you don't think the night air too cold for you, let us walk home together. I have sent away the carriage."
This condescension in his patron was so singular, that it quite startled Randal, and gave him a presentiment of some evil. When they were in the street, Egerton, after a pause, began,
"My dear Mr. Leslie, it was my hope and belief that I had provided for you at least a competence; and that I might open to you, later, a career yet more brilliant. Hush! I don't doubt your gratitude; let me proceed. There is a possible chance, after certain decisions that the Government have come to, that we may be beaten in the House of Commons, and of course resign. I tell you this beforehand, for I wish you to have time to consider what, in that case, would be your best course. My power of serving you may then probably be over. It would, no doubt (seeing our close connection, and my views with regard to your future being so well known),—no doubt, he expected that you should give up the place you hold, and follow my fortunes for good or ill. But as I have no personal enemies with the opposite party, and as I have sufficient position in the world to uphold and sanction your choice, whatever it may be, if you think it more prudent to retain your place, tell me so openly, and I think I can contrive that you may do it without loss of character and credit. In that case, confine your ambition merely to rising gradually in your office, without mixing in politics. If, on the other hand, you should prefer to take your chance of my return to office, and so resign your present place; and, furthermore, should commit yourself to a policy that may then be not only in opposition but unpopular, I will do my best to introduce you into parliamentary life. I cannot say that I advise the latter."
Randal felt as a man feels after a severe fall,—he was literally stunned. At length he faltered out,—
"Can you think, sir, that I should ever desert your fortunes, your party, your cause?"
"My dear Leslie," replied the minister, "you are too young to have committed yourself to any men or to any party, except, indeed, in that unlucky pamphlet. This must not be an affair of sentiment, but of sense and reflection. Let us say no more on the point now; but by considering the pros and the cons, you can better judge what to do, should the time for option suddenly arrive."
"But I hope that time may not come."
"I hope so too, and most sincerely," said the minister, with deliberate and genuine emphasis.
"What could be so bad for the country?" ejaculated Pandal. "It does not seem to me possible, in the nature of things, that you and your party should ever go out!"
"And when we are once out, there will be plenty of wiseacres to say it is out of the nature of things that we should ever come in again. Here we are at the door."
Randal passed a sleepless night; but, indeed, he was one of those persons who neither need, nor are accustomed to, much sleep. However, towards morning, when dreams are said to be prophetic, he fell into a most delightful slumber, a slumber peopled by visions fitted to lure on, through labyrinths of law, predestined chancellors, or wreck upon the rocks of glory the inebriate souls of youthful ensigns; dreams from which Rood Hall emerged crowned with the towers of Belvoir or Raby, and looking over subject lands and manors wrested from the nefarious usurpation of Thornhills and Hazeldeans; dreams in which Audley Egerton's gold and power, rooms in Downing Street, and saloons in Grosvenor Square, had passed away to the smiling dreamer, as the empire of Chaldaea passed to Darius the Median. Why visions so belying the gloomy and anxious thoughts that preceded them should visit the pillow of Randal Leslie, surpasses my philosophy to conjecture. He yielded, however, passively to their spell, and was startled to hear the clock strike eleven as he descended the stairs to breakfast. He was vexed at the lateness of the hour, for he had meant to have taken advantage of the unwonted softness of Egerton, and drawn therefrom some promises or proffers to cheer the prospects which the minister had so chillingly expanded before him the preceding night; and it was only at breakfast that he usually found the opportunity of private conference with his busy patron. But Audley Egerton would be sure to have sallied forth; and so he had, only Randal was surprised to hear that he had gone out in his carriage, instead of on foot, as was his habit. Randal soon despatched his solitary meal, and with a new and sudden affection for his office, thitherwards bent his way. As he passed through Piccadilly, he heard behind a voice that had lately become familiar to him, and turning round, saw Baron Levy walking side by side, though not arm-in-arm, with a gentleman almost as smart as himself, but with a jauntier step and a brisker air,—a step that, like Diomed's, as described by Shakspeare,—
"Rises on the toe; that spirit of his In aspiration lifts him from the earth."
Indeed, one may judge of the spirits and disposition of a man by his ordinary gait and mien in walking. He who habitually pursues abstract thought looks down on the ground. He who is accustomed to sudden impulses, or is trying to seize upon some necessary recollection, looks up with a kind of jerk. He who is a steady, cautious, merely practical man, walks on deliberately, his eyes straight before him; and, even in his most musing moods, observes things around sufficiently to avoid a porter's knot or a butcher's tray. But the man with strong ganglions—of pushing, lively temperament, who, though practical, is yet speculative; the man who is emulous and active, and ever trying to rise in life; sanguine, alert, bold—walks with a spring, looks rather above the heads of his fellow-passengers, but with a quick, easy turn of his own, which is lightly set on his shoulders; his mouth is a little open, his eye is bright, rather restless, but penetrative, his port has something of defiance, his form is erect, but without stiffness. Such was the appearance of the baron's companion. And as Randal turned round at Levy's voice, the baron said to his companion, "A young man in the first circles—you should book him for your fair lady's parties. How d' ye do, Mr. Leslie? Let me introduce you to Mr. Richard Avenel." Then, as he hooked his arm into Randal's, he whispered, "Man of first-rate talent, monstrous rich, has two or three parliamentary seats in his pocket, wife gives parties,—her foible."