Now, when about to commence the present chapter on the Varieties of Life, this masterpiece of thoughtful art forced itself on my recollection, and illustrated what I designed to convey. In the surface of every age it is often that which but amuses for the moment the ordinary children of pleasant existence, the Edwards and the Clarences (be they kings and dukes, or simplest of simple subjects), which afterwards towers out as the great serious epoch of the time. When we look back upon human records, how the eye settles upon WRITERS as the main landmarks of the past! We talk of the age of Augustus, of Elizabeth, of Louis XIV., of Anne, as the notable eras of the world. Why? Because it is their writers who have made them so. Intervals between one age of authors and another lie unnoticed, as the flats and common lands of uncultured history. And yet, strange to say, when these authors are living amongst us, they occupy a very small portion of our thoughts, and fill up but desultory interstices in the bitumen and tufo wherefrom we build up the Babylon of our lives. So it is, and perhaps so it should be, whether it pleases the conceit of penmen or not. Life is meant to be active; and books, though they give the action to future generations, administer but to the holiday of the present.
And so, with this long preface, I turn suddenly from the Randals and the Egertons, and the Levys, Avenels, and Peschieras, from the plots and passions of practical life, and drop the reader suddenly into one of those obscure retreats wherein Thought weaves, from unnoticed moments, a new link to the chain that unites the ages.
Within a small room, the single window of which opened on a fanciful and fairy-like garden that has been before described, sat a young man alone. He had been writing; the ink was not dry on his manuscript, but his thoughts had been suddenly interrupted from his work, and his eyes, now lifted from the letter which had occasioned that interruption, sparkled with delight. "He will come," exclaimed the young man; "come here,—to the home which I owe to him. I have not been unworthy of his friendship. And she—" his breast heaved, but the joy faded from his face. "Oh, strange, strange, that I feel sad at the thought to see her again! See her—Ah, no! my own comforting Helen, my own Child-angel! Her I can never see again! The grown woman—that is not my Helen. And yet—and yet," he resumed after a pause, "if ever she read the pages in which thought flowed and trembled under her distant starry light, if ever she see how her image has rested with me, and feel that, while others believe that I invent, I have but remembered, will she not, for a moment, be my own Helen again? Again, in heart and in fancy, stand by my side on the desolate bridge, hand in hand, orphans both, as we stood in the days so sorrowful, yet, as I recall them, so sweet? Helen in England—it is a dream!"
He rose, half-consciously, and went to the window. The fountain played merrily before his eyes, and the birds in the aviary carolled loud to his ear. "And in this house," he murmured, "I saw her last! And there, where the fountain now throws its spray on high,—there her benefactor and mine told me that I was to lose her, that I might win—fame. Alas!"
At this time a woman, whose dress was somewhat above her mien and air, which, though not without a certain respectability, were very homely, entered the room; and seeing the young man standing thus thoughtful by the window, paused. She was used to his habits; and since his success in life, had learned to respect them. So she did not disturb his revery, but began softly to arrange the room, dusting, with the corner of her apron, the various articles of furniture, putting a stray chair or two in its right place, but not touching a single paper. Virtuous woman, and rare as virtuous!
The young man turned at last, with a deep, yet not altogether painful sigh,
"My dear mother, good day to you. Ah, you do well to make the room look its best. Happy news! I expect a visitor!"
"Dear me, Leonard, will he want lunch—or what?"
"Nay, I think not, Mother. It is he to whom we owe all,—'Haec otia fecit.' Pardon my Latin; it is Lord L'Estrange."
The face of Mrs. Fairfield (the reader has long since divined the name) changed instantly, and betrayed a nervous twitch of all the muscles, which gave her a family likeness to old Mrs. Avenel.
"Do not be alarmed, Mother. He is the kindest—"
"Don't talk so; I can't bear it!" cried Mrs. Fairfield.
"No wonder you are affected by the recollection of all his benefits. But when once you have seen him, you will find yourself ever after at your ease. And so, pray smile and look as good as you are; for I am proud of your open honest look when you are pleased, Mother. And he must see your heart in your face, as I do."
With this, Leonard put his arm round the widow's neck and kissed her. She clung to him fondly for a moment, and he felt her tremble from head to foot. Then she broke from his embrace, and hurried out of the room. Leonard thought perhaps she had gone to improve her dress, or to carry her housewife energies to the decoration of the other rooms; for "the house" was Mrs. Fairfield's hobby and passion; and now that she worked no more, save for her amusement, it was her main occupation. The hours she contrived to spend daily in bustling about those little rooms, and leaving everything therein to all appearance precisely the same, were among the marvels in life which the genius of Leonard had never comprehended. But she was always so delighted when Mr. Norreys, or some rare visitor came, and said,—Mr. Norreys never failed to do so,-"How neatly all is kept here. What could Leonard do without you, Mrs. Fairfield?"
And, to Norreys's infinite amusement, Mrs. Fairfield always returned the same answer. "'Deed, sir, and thank you kindly, but 't is my belief that the drawin'-room would be awful dusty."
Once more left alone, Leonard's mind returned to the state of revery, and his face assumed the expression that had now become to it habitual. Thus seen, he was changed much since we last beheld him. His cheek was more pale and thin, his lips more firmly compressed, his eye more fixed and abstract. You could detect, if I may borrow a touching French expression, that "Sorrow had passed by there." But the melancholy on his countenance was ineffably sweet and serene, and on his ample forehead there was that power, so rarely seen in early youth,—the power that has conquered, and betrays its conquests but in calm. The period of doubt, of struggle, of defiance, was gone, perhaps forever; genius and soul were reconciled to human life. It was a face most lovable; so gentle and peaceful in its character. No want of fire; on the contrary, the fire was so clear and so steadfast, that it conveyed but the impression of light. The candour of boyhood, the simplicity of the villager, were still there,—refined by intelligence, but intelligence that seemed to have traversed through knowledge, not with the 'footstep, but the wing, unsullied by the mire, tending towards the star, seeking through the various grades of Being but the lovelier forms of truth and goodness; at home, as should be the Art that consummates the Beautiful,—
"In den heitern Regionen Wo die reinen Formen wohnen."
[At home—"In the serene regions Where dwell the pure forms."]
From this revery Leonard did not seek to rouse himself, till the bell at the garden gate rang loud and shrill; and then starting up and hurrying into the hall, his hand was grasped in Harley's.
A full and happy hour passed away in Harley's questions and Leonard's answers,—the dialogue that naturally ensued between the two, on the first interview after an absence of years so eventful to the younger man.
The history of Leonard during this interval was almost solely internal, the struggle of intellect with its own difficulties, the wanderings of imagination through its own adventurous worlds.
The first aim of Norreys, in preparing the mind of his pupil for its vocation, had been to establish the equilibrium of its powers, to calm into harmony the elements rudely shaken by the trials and passions of the old hard outer life.
The theory of Norreys was briefly this: The education of a superior human being is but the development of ideas in one for the benefit of others. To this end, attention should be directed,—1st, To the value of the ideas collected; 2dly, To their discipline; 3dly, To their expression. For the first, acquirement is necessary; for the second, discipline; for the third, art. The first comprehends knowledge purely intellectual, whether derived from observation, memory, reflection, books, or men, Aristotle or Fleet Street. The second demands training, not only intellectual, but moral; the purifying and exaltation of motives; the formation of habits; in which method is but a part of a divine and harmonious symmetry, a union of intellect and conscience. Ideas of value, stored by the first process; marshalled into force, and placed under guidance, by the second,—it is the result of the third, to place them before the world in the most attractive or commanding form. This may be done by actions no less than words; but the adaptation of means to end, the passage of ideas from the brain of one man into the lives and souls of all, no less in action than in books, requires study. Action has its art as well as literature. Here Norreys had but to deal with the calling of the scholar, the formation of the writer, and so to guide the perceptions towards those varieties in the sublime and beautiful, the just combination of which is at once CREATION. Man himself is but a combination of elements. He who combines in nature, creates in art. Such, very succinctly and inadequately expressed, was the system upon which Norreys proceeded to regulate and perfect the great native powers of his pupil; and though the reader may perhaps say that no system laid down by another can either form genius or dictate to its results, yet probably nine-tenths at least of those in whom we recognize the luminaries of our race have passed, unconsciously to themselves (for self-education is rarely conscious of its phases), through each of these processes. And no one who pauses to reflect will deny, that according to this theory, illustrated by a man of vast experience, profound knowledge, and exquisite taste, the struggles of genius would be infinitely lessened, its vision cleared and strengthened, and the distance between effort and success notably abridged.
Norreys, however, was far too deep a reasoner to fall into the error of modern teachers, who suppose that education can dispense with labour. No mind becomes muscular without rude and early exercise. Labour should be strenuous, but in right directions. All that we can do for it is to save the waste of time in blundering into needless toils.
The master had thus first employed his neophyte in arranging and compiling materials for a great critical work in which Norreys himself was engaged. In this stage of scholastic preparation, Leonard was necessarily led to the acquisition of languages, for which he had great aptitude; the foundations of a large and comprehensive erudition were solidly constructed. He traced by the ploughshare the walls of the destined city. Habits of accuracy and of generalization became formed insensibly; and that precious faculty which seizes, amidst accumulated materials, those that serve the object for which they are explored,—that faculty which quadruples all force, by concentrating it on one point,—once roused into action, gave purpose to every toil and quickness to each perception. But Norreys did not confine his pupil solely to the mute world of a library; he introduced him to some of the first minds in arts, science, and letters, and active life. "These," said he, "are the living ideas of the present, out of which books for the future will be written: study them; and here, as in the volumes of the past, diligently amass and deliberately compile."
By degrees Norreys led on that young ardent mind from the selection of ideas to their aesthetic analysis,—from compilation to criticism; but criticism severe, close, and logical,—a reason for each word of praise or of blame. Led in this stage of his career to examine into the laws of beauty, a new light broke upon his mind; from amidst the masses of marble he had piled around him rose the vision of the statue.
And so, suddenly, one day Norreys said to him, "I need a compiler no longer,—maintain yourself by your own creations." And Leonard wrote, and a work flowered up from the seed deep buried, and the soil well cleared to the rays of the sun and the healthful influence of expanded air.
That first work did not penetrate to a very wide circle of readers, not from any perceptible fault of its own—there is luck in these things; the first anonymous work of an original genius is rarely at once eminently successful. But the more experienced recognized the promise of the book. Publishers, who have an instinct in the discovery of available talent, which often forestalls the appreciation of the public, volunteered liberal offers. "Be fully successful this time," said Norreys; "think not of models nor of style. Strike at once at the common human heart,—throw away the corks, swim out boldly. One word more,—never write a page till you have walked from your room to Temple Bar, and, mingling with men, and reading the human face, learn why great poets have mostly passed their lives in cities."
Thus Leonard wrote again, and woke one morning to find himself famous. So far as the chances of all professions dependent on health will permit, present independence, and, with foresight and economy, the prospects of future competence were secured.
"And, indeed," said Leonard, concluding a longer but a simpler narrative than is here told,—"indeed, there is some chance that I may obtain at once a sum that will leave me free for the rest of my life to select my own subjects, and write without care for remuneration. This is what I call the true (and, perhaps, alas! the rare) independence of him who devotes himself to letters. Norreys, having seen my boyish plan for the improvement of certain machinery in the steam engine, insisted on my giving much time to mechanics. The study that once pleased me so greatly now seemed dull; but I went into it with good heart; and the result is, that I have improved so far on my original idea, that my scheme has met the approbation of one of our most scientific engineers: and I am assured that the patent for it will be purchased of me upon terms which I am ashamed to name to you, so disproportioned do they seem to the value of so simple a discovery. Meanwhile, I am already rich enough to have realized the two dreams of my heart,—to make a home in the cottage where I had last seen you and Helen—I mean Miss Digby; and to invite to that home her who had sheltered my infancy."
"Your mother, where is she? Let me see her."
Leonard ran out to call the widow, but to his surprise and vexation learned that she had quitted the house before L'Estrange arrived.
He came back, perplexed how to explain what seemed ungracious and ungrateful, and spoke with hesitating lip and flushed cheek of the widow's natural timidity and sense of her own homely station. "And so overpowered is she," added Leonard, "by the recollection of all that we owe to you, that she never hears your name without agitation or tears, and trembled like a leaf at the thought of seeing you."
"Ha!" said Harley, with visible emotion. "Is it so?" And he bent down, shading his face with his hand. "And," he renewed, after a pause, but not looking up—"and you ascribe this fear of seeing me, this agitation at my name, solely to an exaggerated sense of—of the circumstances attending my acquaintance with yourself?"
"And, perhaps, to a sort of shame that the mother of one you have made her proud of is but a peasant."
"That is all?" said Harley, earnestly, now looking up and fixing eyes in which stood tears upon Leonard's ingenuous brow.
"Oh, my dear Lord, what else can it be? Do not judge her harshly."
L'Estrange arose abruptly, pressed Leonard's hand, muttered something not audible, and then drawing his young friend's arm in his, led him into the garden, and turned the conversation back to its former topics.
Leonard's heart yearned to ask after Helen, and yet something withheld him from doing so, till, seeing Harley did not volunteer to speak of her, he could not resist his impulse. "And Helen—Miss Digby—is she much changed?"
"Changed, no—yes; very much."
"Very much!" Leonard sighed.
"I shall see her again?"
"Certainly," said Harley, in a tone of surprise. "How can you doubt it? And I reserve to you the pleasure of saying that you are renowned. You blush; well, I will say that for you. But you shall give her your books."
"She has not yet read them, then?—not the last? The first was not worthy of her attention," said Leonard, disappointed. "She has only just arrived in England; and, though your books reached me in Germany, she was not then with me. When I have settled some business that will take me from town, I shall present you to her and my mother." There was a certain embarrassment in Harley's voice as he spoke; and, turning round abruptly, he exclaimed, "But you have shown poetry even here. I could not have conceived that so much beauty could be drawn from what appeared to me the most commonplace of all suburban gardens. Why, surely, where that charming fountain now plays stood the rude bench in which I read your verses."
"It is true; I wished to unite all together my happiest associations. I think I told you, my Lord, in one of my letters, that I had owed a very happy, yet very struggling time in my boyhood to the singular kindness and generous instructions of a foreigner whom I served. This fountain is copied from one that I made in his garden, and by the margin of which many a summer day I have sat and dreamed of fame and knowledge."
"True, you told me of that; and your foreigner will be pleased to hear of your success, and no less so of your grateful recollections. By the way, you did not mention his name."
"Riccabocca! My own dear and noble friend!—is it possible? One of my reasons for returning to England is connected with him. You shall go down with me and see him. I meant to start this evening."
"My dear Lord," said Leonard, "I think that you may spare yourself so long a journey. I have reason to suspect that Signor Riccabocca is my nearest neighbour. Two days ago I was in the garden, when suddenly lifting my eyes to yon hillock I perceived the form of a man seated amongst the brushwood; and though I could not see his features, there was something in the very outline of his figure and his peculiar posture, that irresistibly reminded me of Riccabocca. I hastened out of the garden and ascended the hill, but he was gone. My suspicions were so strong that I caused inquiry to be made at the different shops scattered about, and learned that a family consisting of a gentleman, his wife, and daughter had lately come to live in a house that you must have passed in your way hither, standing a little back from the road, surrounded by high walls; and though they were said to be English, yet from the description given to me of the gentleman's person by one who had noticed it, by the fact of a foreign servant in their employ, and by the very name 'Richmouth,' assigned to the newcomers, I can scarcely doubt that it is the family you seek."
"And you have not called to ascertain?"
"Pardon me, but the family so evidently shunning observation (no one but the master himself ever seen without the walls), the adoption of another name too, led me to infer that Signor Riccabocca has some strong motive for concealment; and now, with my improved knowledge of life, and recalling all the past, I cannot but suppose that Riccabocca was not what he appeared. Hence, I have hesitated on formally obtruding myself upon his secrets, whatever they be, and have rather watched for some chance occasion to meet him in his walks."
"You did right, my dear Leonard; but my reasons for seeing my old friend forbid all scruples of delicacy, and I will go at once to his house."
"You will tell me, my Lord, if I am right."
"I hope to be allowed to do so. Pray, stay at home till I return. And now, ere I go, one question more: You indulge conjectures as to Riccabocca, because he has changed his name,—why have you dropped your own?"
"I wished to have no name," said Leonard, colouring deeply, "but that which I could make myself."
"Proud poet, this I can comprehend. But from what reason did you assume the strange and fantastic name of Oran?"
The flush on Leonard's face became deeper. "My Lord," said he, in a low voice, "it is a childish fancy of mine; it is an anagram."
"At a time when my cravings after knowledge were likely much to mislead, and perhaps undo me, I chanced on some poems that suddenly affected my whole mind, and led me up into purer air; and I was told that these poems were written in youth by one who had beauty and genius,—one who was in her grave,—a relation of my own, and her familiar name was Nora—"
"Ah," again ejaculated Lord L'Estrange, and his arm pressed heavily upon Leonard's.
"So, somehow or other," continued the young author, falteringly, "I wished that if ever I won to a poet's fame, it might be to my own heart, at least, associated with this name of Nora; with her whom death had robbed of the fame that she might otherwise have won; with her who—"
He paused, greatly agitated.
Harley was no less so. But, as if by a sudden impulse, the soldier bent down his manly head and kissed the poet's brow; then he hastened to the gate, flung himself on his horse, and rode away.
Lord L'Estrange did not proceed at once to Riecabocca's house. He was under the influence of a remembrance too deep and too strong to yield easily to the lukewarm claim of friendship. He rode fast and far; and impossible it would be to define the feelings that passed through a mind so acutely sensitive, and so rootedly tenacious of all affections. When, recalling his duty to the Italian, he once more struck into the road to Norwood, the slow pace of his horse was significant of his own exhausted spirits; a deep dejection had succeeded to feverish excitement. "Vain task," he murmured, "to wean myself from the dead! Yet I am now betrothed to another; and she, with all her virtues, is not the one to—" He stopped short in generous self-rebuke. "Too late to think of that! Now, all that should remain to me is to insure the happiness of the life to which I have pledged my own. But—" He sighed as he so murmured. On reaching the vicinity of Riccabocca's house, he put up his horse at a little inn, and proceeded on foot across the heathland towards the dull square building, which Leonard's description had sufficed to indicate as the exile's new home. It was long before any one answered his summons at the gate. Not till he had thrice rung did he hear a heavy step on the gravel walk within; then the wicket within the gate was partially drawn aside, a dark eye gleamed out, and a voice in imperfect English asked who was there.
"Lord L'Estrange; and if I am right as to the person I seek, that name will at once admit me."
The door flew open as did that of the mystic cavern at the sound of "Open, Sesame;" and Giacomo, almost weeping with joyous emotion, exclaimed in Italian, "The good Lord! Holy San Giacomo! thou hast heard me at last! We are safe now." And dropping the blunderbuss with which he had taken the precaution to arm himself, he lifted Harley's hand to his lips, in the affectionate greeting familiar to his countrymen.
"And the padrone?" asked Harley, as he entered the jealous precincts.
"Oh, he is just gone out; but he will not be long. You will wait for him?"
"Certainly. What lady is that I see at the far end of the garden?"
"Bless her, it is our signorina. I will run and tell her you are come."
"That I am come; but she cannot know me even by name."
"Ah, Excellency, can you think so? Many and many a time has she talked to me of you, and I have heard her pray to the holy Madonna to bless you, and in a voice so sweet—"
"Stay, I will present myself to her. Go into the house, and we will wait without for the padrone. Nay, I need the air, my friend." Harley, as he said this, broke from Giacomo, and approached Violante.
The poor child, in her solitary walk in the obscurer parts of the dull garden, had escaped the eye of Giacomo when he had gone forth to answer the bell; and she, unconscious of the fears of which she was the object, had felt something of youthful curiosity at the summons at the gate, and the sight of a stranger in close and friendly conference with the unsocial Giacomo.
As Harley now neared her with that singular grace of movement which belonged to him, a thrill shot through her heart, she knew not why. She did not recognize his likeness to the sketch taken by her father from his recollections of Harley's early youth. She did not guess who he was; and yet she felt herself colour, and, naturally fearless though she was, turned away with a vague alarm.
"Pardon my want of ceremony, Signorina," said Harley, in Italian; "but I am so old a friend of your father's that I cannot feel as a stranger to yourself."
Then Violante lifted to him her dark eyes so intelligent and so innocent,—eyes full of surprise, but not displeased surprise. And Harley himself stood amazed, and almost abashed, by the rich and marvellous beauty that beamed upon him. "My father's friend," she said hesitatingly, "and I never to have seen you!"
"Ah, Signorina," said Harley (and something of its native humour, half arch, half sad, played round his lip), "you are mistaken there; you have seen me before, and you received me much more kindly then."
"Signor!" said Violante, more and more surprised, and with a yet richer colour on her cheeks.
Harley, who had now recovered from the first effect of her beauty, and who regarded her as men of his years and character are apt to regard ladies in their teens, as more child than woman, suffered himself to be amused by her perplexity; for it was in his nature that the graver and more mournful he felt at heart, the more he sought to give play and whim to his spirits.
"Indeed, Signorina," said he, demurely, "you insisted then on placing one of those fair hands in mine; the other (forgive me the fidelity of my recollections) was affectionately thrown around my neck."
"Signor!" again exclaimed Violante; but this time there was anger in her voice as well as surprise, and nothing could be more charming than her look of pride and resentment.
Harley smiled again, but with so much kindly sweetness, that the anger vanished at once, or rather Violante felt angry with herself that she was no longer angry with him. But she had looked so beautiful in her anger, that Harley wished, perhaps, to see her angry again. So, composing his lips from their propitiatory smile, he resumed gravely,
"Your flatterers will tell you, Signorina, that you are much improved since then, but I liked you better as you were; not but what I hope to return some day what you then so generously pressed upon me."
"Pressed upon you!—I? Signor, you are under some strange mistake."
"Alas! no; but the female heart is so capricious and fickle! You pressed it upon me, I assure you. I own that I was not loath to accept it."
"Pressed it! Pressed what?"
"Your kiss, my child," said Harley; and then added, with a serious tenderness, "and I again say that I hope to return it some day, when I see you, by the side of father and of husband, in your native land,—the fairest bride on whom the skies of Italy ever smiled! And now, pardon a hermit and a soldier for his rude jests, and give your hand, in token of that pardon, to Harley L'Estrange."
Violante, who at the first words of his address had recoiled, with a vague belief that the stranger was out of his mind, sprang forward as it closed, and in all the vivid enthusiasm of her nature pressed the hand held out to her with both her own. "Harley L'Estrange! the preserver of my father's life!" she cried; and her eyes were fixed on his with such evident gratitude and reverence, that Harley felt at once confused and delighted. She did not think at that instant of the hero of her dreams,—she thought but of him who had saved her father. But, as his eyes sank before her own, and his head, uncovered, bowed over the hand he held, she recognized the likeness to the features on which she had so often gazed. The first bloom of youth was gone, but enough of youth still remained to soften the lapse of years, and to leave to manhood the attractions which charm the eye. Instinctively she withdrew her hands from his clasp, and in her turn looked down.
In this pause of embarrassment to both, Riccabocca let himself into the garden by his own latch-key, and, startled to see a man by the side of Violante, sprang forward with an abrupt and angry cry. Harley heard, and turned.
As if restored to courage and self-possession by the sense of her father's presence, Violante again took the hand of the visitor. "Father," she said simply, "it is he,—he is come at last." And then, retiring a few steps, she contemplated them both; and her face was radiant with happiness, as if something, long silently missed and looked for, was as silently found, and life had no more a want, nor the heart a void.
UPON THIS FACT,—THAT THE WORLD IS STILL MUCH THE SAME AS IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN.
It is observed by a very pleasant writer, read nowadays only by the brave pertinacious few who still struggle hard to rescue from the House of Pluto the souls of departed authors, jostled and chased as those souls are by the noisy footsteps of the living,—it is observed by the admirable Charron, that "judgment and wisdom is not only the best, but the happiest portion God Almighty hath distributed amongst men; for though this distribution be made with a very uneven hand, yet nobody thinks himself stinted or ill-dealt with, but he that hath never so little is contented in this respect."
And, certainly, the present narrative may serve in notable illustration of the remark so dryly made by the witty and wise preacher. For whether our friend Riccabocca deduce theories for daily life from the great folio of Machiavelli; or that promising young gentleman, Mr. Randal Leslie, interpret the power of knowledge into the art of being too knowing for dull honest folks to cope with him; or acute Dick Avenel push his way up the social ascent with a blow for those before, and a kick for those behind him, after the approved fashion of your strong New Man; or Baron Levy—that cynical impersonation of Gold—compare himself to the Magnetic Rock in the Arabian tale, to which the nails in every ship that approaches the influence of the loadstone fly from the planks, and a shipwreck per day adds its waifs to the Rock,—questionless, at least; it is, that each of those personages believes that Providence has bestowed on him an elder son's inheritance of wisdom. Nor, were we to glance towards the obscurer paths of life, should we find good Parson Dale deem himself worse off than the rest of the world in this precious commodity,—as, indeed, he has signally evinced of late in that shrewd guess of his touching Professor Moss. Even plain Squire Hazeldean takes it for granted that he could teach Audley Egerton a thing or two worth knowing in politics; Mr. Stirn thinks that there is no branch of useful lore on which he could not instruct the squire; while Sprott the tinker, with his bag full of tracts and lucifer matches, regards the whole framework of modern society, from a rick to a constitution, with the profound disdain of a revolutionary philosopher. Considering that every individual thus brings into the stock of the world so vast a share of intelligence, it cannot but excite our wonder to find that Oxenstiern is popularly held to be right when he said, "See, my son, how little wisdom it requires to govern States,"—that is, Men! That so many millions of persons, each with a profound assurance that he is possessed of an exalted sagacity, should concur in the ascendancy of a few inferior intellects, according to a few stupid, prosy, matter-of-fact rules as old as the hills, is a phenomenon very discreditable to the spirit and energy of the aggregate human species! It creates no surprise that one sensible watch-dog should control the movements of a flock of silly grass-eating sheep; but that two or three silly grass-eating sheep should give the law to whole flocks of such mighty sensible watch-dogs—Diavolo! Dr. Riecabocca, explain that, if you can! And wonderfully strange it is, that notwithstanding all the march of enlightenment, notwithstanding our progressive discoveries in the laws of Nature, our railways, steam-engines, animal magnetism, and electrobiology,—we have never made any improvement that is generally acknowledged, since men ceased to be troglodytes and nomads, in the old-fashioned gamut of flats and sharps, which attunes into irregular social jog-trot all the generations that pass from the cradle to the grave; still, "the desire for something have have not" impels all the energies that keep us in movement, for good or for ill, according to the checks or the directions of each favourite desire.
A friend of mine once said to a millionaire, whom he saw forever engaged in making money which he never seemed to have any pleasure in spending, "Pray, Mr ——, will you answer me one question: You are said to have two millions, and you spend L600 a year. In order to rest and enjoy, what will content you?"
"A little more," answered the millionaire. That "little more" is the mainspring of civilization. Nobody ever gets it!
"Philus," saith a Latin writer, "was not so rich as Laelius; Laelius was not so rich as Scipio; Scipio was not so rich as Crassus; and Crassus was not so rich—as he wished to be!" If John Bull were once contented, Manchester might shut up its mills. It is the "little more" that makes a mere trifle of the National Debt!—Long life to it!
Still, mend our law-books as we will, one is forced to confess that knaves are often seen in fine linen, and honest men in the most shabby old rags; and still, notwithstanding the exceptions, knavery is a very hazardous game, and honesty, on the whole, by far the best policy. Still, most of the Ten Commandments remain at the core of all the Pandects and Institutes that keep our hands off our neighbours' throats, wives, and pockets; still, every year shows that the parson's maxim—"non quieta movere "—is as prudent for the health of communities as when Apollo recommended his votaries not to rake up a fever by stirring the Lake Camarina; still, people, thank Heaven, decline to reside in parallelograms, and the surest token that we live under a free government is when we are governed by persons whom we have a full right to imply, by our censure and ridicule, are blockheads compared to ourselves! Stop that delightful privilege, and, by Jove! sir, there is neither pleasure nor honour in being governed at all! You might as well be—a Frenchman!
The Italian and his friend are closeted together.
"And why have you left your home in ——-shire, and why this new change of name?"
"Peschiera is in England."
"I know it."
"And bent on discovering me; and, it is said, of stealing from me my child."
"He has had the assurance to lay wagers that he will win the hand of your heiress. I know that too; and therefore I have come to England,—first to baffle his design—for I do not think your fears altogether exaggerated,—and next to learn from you how to follow up a clew which, unless I am too sanguine, may lead to his ruin, and your unconditional restoration. Listen to me. You are aware that, after the skirmish with Peschiera's armed hirelings sent in search of you, I received a polite message from the Austrian government, requesting me to leave its Italian domains. Now, as I hold it the obvious duty of any foreigner admitted to the hospitality of a State, to refrain from all participation in its civil disturbances, so I thought my honour assailed at this intimation, and went at once to Vienna, to explain to the minister there (to whom I was personally known), that though I had, as became man to man, aided to protect a refugee, who had taken shelter under my roof, from the infuriated soldiers at the command of his private foe, I had not only not shared in any attempt at revolt, but dissuaded, as far as I could, my Italian friends from their enterprise; and that because, without discussing its merits, I believed, as a military man and a cool spectator, the enterprise could only terminate in fruitless bloodshed. I was enabled to establish my explanation by satisfactory proof; and my acquaintance with the minister assumed something of the character of friendship. I was then in a position to advocate your cause, and to state your original reluctance to enter into the plots of the insurgents. I admitted freely that you had such natural desire for the independence of your native land, that, had the standard of Italy been boldly hoisted by its legitimate chiefs, or at the common uprising of its whole people, you would have been found in the van, amidst the ranks of your countrymen; but I maintained that you would never have shared in a conspiracy frantic in itself, and defiled by the lawless schemes and sordid ambition of its main projectors, had you not been betrayed and decoyed into it by the misrepresentations and domestic treachery of your kinsman,—the very man who denounced you. Unfortunately, of this statement I had no proof but your own word. I made, however, so far an impression in your favour, and, it may be, against the traitor, that your property was not confiscated to the State, nor handed over, upon the plea of your civil death, to your kinsman."
"How!—I do not understand. Peschiera has the property?"
"He holds the revenues but of one half upon pleasure, and they would be withdrawn, could I succeed in establishing the case that exists against him. I was forbidden before to mention this to you; the minister, not inexcusably, submitted you to the probation of unconditional exile. Your grace might depend upon your own forbearance from further conspiracies—forgive the word. I need not say I was permitted to return to Lombardy. I found, on my arrival, that—that your unhappy wife had been to my house, and exhibited great despair at hearing of my departure."
Riccabocca knit his dark brows, and breathed hard.
"I did not judge it necessary to acquaint you with this circumstance, nor did it much affect me. I believed in her guilt—and what could now avail her remorse, if remorse she felt? Shortly afterwards, I heard that she was no more."
"Yes," muttered Riccabocca, "she died in the same year that I left Italy. It must be a strong reason that can excuse a friend for reminding me even that she once lived!"
"I come at once to that reason," said L'Estrange, gently. "This autumn I was roaming through Switzerland, and, in one of my pedestrian excursions amidst the mountains, I met with an accident, which confined me for some days to a sofa at a little inn in an obscure village. My hostess was an Italian; and as I had left my servant at a town at some distance, I required her attention till I could write to him to come to me. I was thankful for her cares, and amused by her Italian babble. We became very good friends. She told me she had been servant to a lady of great rank, who had died in Switzerland; and that, being enriched by the generosity of her mistress, she had married a Swiss innkeeper, and his people had become hers. My servant arrived, and my hostess learned my name, which she did not know before. She came into my room greatly agitated. In brief, this woman had been servant to your wife. She had accompanied her to my villa, and known of her anxiety to see me, as your friend. The Government had assigned to your wife your palace at Milan, with a competent income. She had refused to accept of either. Failing to see me, she had set off towards England, resolved upon seeing yourself; for the journals had stated that to England you had escaped."
"She dared! shameless! And see, but a moment before, I had forgotten all but her grave in a foreign soil,—and these tears had forgiven her," murmured the Italian.
"Let them forgive her still," said Harley, with all his exquisite sweetness of look and tone. "I resume. On entering Switzerland your wife's health, which you know was always delicate, gave way. To fatigue and anxiety succeeded fever, and delirium ensued. She had taken with her but this one female attendant—the sole one she could trust—on leaving home. She suspected Peschiera to have bribed her household. In the presence of this woman she raved of her innocence, in accents of terror and aversion denounced your kinsman, and called on you to vindicate her name and your own."
"Ravings indeed! Poor Paulina!" groaned Riccabocca, covering his face with both hands.
"But in her delirium there were lucid intervals. In one of these she rose, in spite of all her servants could do to restrain her, took from her desk several letters, and reading them over, exclaimed piteously, 'But how to get them to him; whom to trust? And his friend is gone!' Then an idea seemed suddenly to flash upon her, for she uttered a joyous exclamation, sat down, and wrote long and rapidly, enclosed what she wrote with all the letters, in one packet, which she sealed carefully, and bade her servant carry to the post, with many injunctions to take it with her own hand, and pay the charge on it. 'For oh!' said she (I repeat the words as my informant told them to me),—'for oh! this is my sole chance to prove to my husband that, though I have erred, I am not the guilty thing he believes me; the sole chance, too, to redeem my error, and restore, perhaps, to my husband his country, to my child her heritage.' The servant took the letter to the post; and when she returned, her lady was asleep, with a smile upon her face. But from that sleep she woke again delirious, and before the next morning her soul had fled." Here Riccabocca lifted one hand from his face and grasped Harley's arm, as if mutely beseeching him to pause. The heart of the man struggled hard with his pride and his philosophy; and it was long before Harley could lead him to regard the worldly prospects which this last communication from his wife might open to his ruined fortunes,—not, indeed, till Riccabocca had persuaded himself, and half persuaded Harley (for strong, indeed, was all presumption of guilt against the dead), that his wife's protestations of innocence from all but error had been but ravings.
"Be this as it may," said Harley, "there seems every reason to suppose that the letters enclosed were Peschiera's correspondence, and that, if so, these would establish the proof of his influence over your wife, and of his perfidious machinations against yourself. I resolved, before coming hither, to go round by Vienna. There I heard, with dismay, that Peschiera had not only obtained the imperial sanction to demand your daughter's hand, but had boasted to his profligate circle that he should succeed; and he was actually on his road to England. I saw at once that could this design, by any fraud or artifice, be successful with Violante (for of your consent, I need not say, I did not dream), the discovery of the packet, whatever its contents, would be useless; Peschiera's end would be secured. I saw also that his success would suffice forever to clear his name; for his success must imply your consent (it would be to disgrace your daughter, to assert that she had married without it), and your consent would be his acquittal. I saw, too, with alarm, that to all means for the accomplishment of his project he would be urged by despair; for his debts are great, and his character nothing but new wealth can support. I knew that he was able, bold, determined, and that he had taken with him a large supply of money borrowed upon usury,—in a word, I trembled for you both. I have now seen your daughter, and I tremble no more. Accomplished seducer as Peschiera boasts himself, the first look upon her face so sweet, yet so noble, convinced me that she is proof against a legion of Peschieras. Now, then, return we to this all-important subject,—to this packet. It never reached you. Long years have passed since then.
"Does it exist still? Into whose hands would it have fallen?
"Try to summon up all your recollections. The servant could not remember the name of the person to whom it was addressed; she only insisted that the name began with a B, that it was directed to England, and that to England she accordingly paid the postage. Whom then, with a name that begins with B, or (in case the servant's memory here mislead her) whom did you or your wife know, during your visit to England, with sufficient intimacy to make it probable that she would select such a person for her confidant?"
"I cannot conceive," said Riccabocca, shaking his head. "We came to England shortly after our marriage. Paulina was affected by the climate. She spoke not a word of English, and indeed not even French, as might have been expected from her birth, for her father was poor, and thoroughly Italian. She refused all society. I went, it is true, somewhat into the London world,—enough to induce me to shrink from the contrast that my second visit as a beggared refugee would have made to the reception I met with on my first; but I formed no intimate friendships. I recall no one whom she could have written to as intimate with me."
"But," persisted Harley, "think again. Was there no lady well acquainted with Italian, and with whom, perhaps, for that very reason, your wife became familiar?"
"Ah, it is true. There was one old lady of retired habits, but who had been much in Italy. Lady—Lady—I remember—Lady Jane Horton."
"Horton—Lady Jane!" exclaimed Harley; "again; thrice in one day!—is this wound never to scar over?" Then, noting Riccabocca's look of surprise, he said, "Excuse me, my friend; I listen to you with renewed interest. Lady Jane was a distant relation of my own; she judged me, perhaps, harshly—and I have some painful associations with her name; but she was a woman of many virtues. Your wife knew her?"
"Not, however, intimately; still, better than any one else in London. But Paulina would not have written to her; she knew that Lady Jane had died shortly after her own departure from England. I myself was summoned back to Italy on pressing business; she was too unwell to journey with me as rapidly as I was obliged to travel; indeed, illness detained her several weeks in England. In this interval she might have made acquaintances. Ah, now I see; I guess. You say the name began with B. Paulina, in my absence, engaged a companion,—a Mrs. Bertram. This lady accompanied her abroad. Paulina became excessively attached to her, she knew Italian so well. Mrs. Bertram left her on the road, and returned to England, for some private affairs of her own. I forget why or wherefore; if, indeed, I ever asked or learned. Paulina missed her sadly, often talked of her, wondered why she never heard from her. No doubt it was to this Mrs. Bertram that she wrote!"
"And you don't know the lady's friends, or address?"
"Nor who recommended her to your wife?"
"Probably Lady Jane Horton?"
"It may be so.
"I will follow up this track, slight as it is."
"But if Mrs. Bertram received the communication, how comes it that it never reached myself—Oh, fool that I am, how should it! I, who guarded so carefully my incognito!"
"True. This your wife could not foresee; she would naturally imagine that your residence in England would be easily discovered. But many years must have passed since your wife lost sight of this Mrs. Bertram, if their acquaintance was made so soon after your marriage; and now it is a long time to retrace,—before even your Violante was born."
"Alas! yes. I lost two fair sons in the interval. Violante was born to me as the child of sorrow."
"And to make sorrow lovely! how beautiful she is!" The father smiled proudly.
"Where, in the loftiest houses of Europe, find a husband worthy of such a prize?"
"You forget that I am still an exile, she still dowerless. You forget that I am pursued by Peschiera; that I would rather see her a beggar's wife—than—Pah, the very thought maddens me, it is so foul. Corpo di Bacco! I have been glad to find her a husband already."
"Already! Then that young man spoke truly?"
"What young man?"
"Randal Leslie. How! You know him?" Here a brief explanation followed. Harley heard with attentive ear, and marked vexation, the particulars of Riccabocca's connection and implied engagement with Leslie.
"There is something very suspicious to me in all this," said he.
"Why should this young man have so sounded me as to Violante's chance of losing fortune if she married, an Englishman?"
"Did he? Oh, pooh! Excuse him. It was but his natural wish to seem ignorant of all about me. He did not know enough of my intimacy with you to betray my secret."
"But he knew enough of it—must have known enough—to have made it right that he should tell you I was in England. He does not seem to have done so."
"No; that is strange—yet scarcely strange; for, when we last met, his head was full of other things,—love and marriage. Basta! youth will be youth."
"He has no youth left in him!" exclaimed Harley, passionately. "I doubt if he ever had any. He is one of those men who come into the world with the pulse of a centenarian. You and I never shall be as old as he was in long clothes. Ah, you may laugh; but I am never wrong in my instincts. I disliked him at the first,—his eye, his smile, his voice, his very footstep. It is madness in you to countenance such a marriage; it may destroy all chance of your restoration."
"Better that than infringe my word once passed."
"No, no," exclaimed Harley; "your word is not passed, it shall not be passed. Nay, never look so piteously at me. At all events, pause till we know more of this young man. If he be worthy of her without a dower, why, then, let him lose you your heritage. I should have no more to say."
"But why lose me my heritage? There is no law in Austria which can dictate to a father what husband to choose for his daughter."
"Certainly not. But you are out of the pale of law itself just at present; and it would surely be a reason for State policy to withhold your pardon, and it would be to the loss of that favour with your own countrymen, which would now make that pardon so popular, if it were known that the representative of your name were debased by your daughter's alliance with an English adventurer,—a clerk in a public office. Oh, sage in theory, why are you such a simpleton in action?"
Nothing moved by this taunt, Riceabocca rubbed his hands, and then stretched them comfortably over the fire.
"My friend," said he, "the representation of my name would pass to my son."
"But you have no son."
"Hush! I am going to have one; my Jemima informed me of it yesterday morning; and it was upon that information that I resolved to speak to Leslie. Am I a simpleton now?"
"Going to have a son," repeated Harley, looking very bewildered; "how do you know it is to be a son?"
"Physiologists are agreed," said the sage, positively, "that where the husband is much older than the wife, and there has been a long interval without children before she condescends to increase the population of the world, she (that is, it is at least as nine to four)—she brings into the world a male. I consider that point therefore as settled, according to the calculations of statisticians and the researches of naturalists."
Harley could not help laughing, though he was still angry and disturbed.
"The same man as ever; always the fool of philosophy."
"Cospetto!" said Riccabocca. "I am rather the philosopher of fools. And talking of that, shall I present you to my Jemima?"
"Yes; but in turn I must present you to one who remembers with gratitude your kindness, and whom your philosophy, for a wonder, has not ruined. Some time or other you must explain that to me. Excuse me for a moment; I will go for him.
"For him,—for whom? In my position I must be cautious; and—"
"I will answer for his faith and discretion. Meanwhile order dinner, and let me and my friend stay to share it."
"Dinner? Corpo di Bacco!—not that Bacchus can help us here. What will Jemima say?"
"Henpecked man, settle that with your connubial tyrant. But dinner it must be."
I leave the reader to imagine the delight of Leonard at seeing once more Riccabocca unchanged and Violante so improved, and the kind Jemima too; and their wonder at him and his history, his books and his fame. He narrated his struggles and adventures with a simplicity that removed from a story so personal the character of egotism. But when he came to speak of Helen he was brief and reserved.
Violante would have questioned more closely; but, to Leonard's relief, Harley interposed.
"You shall see her whom he speaks of before long, and question her yourself."
With these words, Harley turned the young man's narrative into new directions; and Leonard's words again flowed freely. Thus the evening passed away happily to all save Riccabocca. For the thought of his dead wife rose ever and anon before the exile; but when it did, and became too painful, he crept nearer to Jemima, and looked in her simple face, and pressed her cordial hand. And yet the monster had implied to Harley that his comforter was a fool,—so she was, to love so contemptible a slanderer of herself and her sex.
Violante was in a state of blissful excitement; she could not analyze her own joy. But her conversation was chiefly with Leonard; and the most silent of all was Harley. He sat listening to Leonard's warm yet unpretending eloquence,—that eloquence which flows so naturally from genius, when thoroughly at its ease, and not chilled back on itself by hard, unsympathizing hearers; listened, yet more charmed, to the sentiments less profound, yet no less earnest,—sentiments so feminine, yet so noble, with which Violante's fresh virgin heart responded to the poet's kindling soul. Those sentiments of hers were so unlike all he heard in the common world, so akin to himself in his gone youth! Occasionally—at some high thought of her own, or some lofty line from Italian song, that she cited with lighted eyes, and in melodious accents—occasionally he reared his knightly head, and his lip quivered, as if he had heard the sound of a trumpet. The inertness of long years was shaken. The Heroic, that lay deep beneath all the humours of his temperament, was reached, appealed to; and stirred within him, rousing up all the bright associations connected with it, and long dormant. When he arose to take leave, surprised at the lateness of the hour, Harley said, in a tone that bespoke the sincerity of the compliment, "I thank you for the happiest hours I have known for years." His eye dwelt on Violante as he spoke.
But timidity returned to her with his words, at his look; and it was no longer the inspired muse, but the bashful girl that stood before him.
"And when shall I see you again?" asked Riccabocca, disconsolately, following his guest to the door.
"When? Why, of course, to-morrow. Adieu! my friend. No wonder you have borne your exile so patiently,—with such a child!"
He took Leonard's arm, and walked with him to the inn where he had left his horse. Leonard spoke of Violante with enthusiasm. Harley was silent.
The next day a somewhat old-fashioned, but exceedingly patrician, equipage stopped at Riccabocca's garden-gate. Giacomo, who, from a bedroom window, had caught sight of its winding towards the house, was seized with undefinable terror when he beheld it pause before their walls, and heard the shrill summons at the portal. He rushed into his master's presence, and implored him not to stir,—not to allow any one to give ingress to the enemies the machine might disgorge. "I have heard," said he, "how a town in Italy—I think it was Bologna—was once taken and given to the sword, by incautiously admitting a wooden horse full of the troops of Barbarossa and all manner of bombs and Congreve rockets."
"The story is differently told in Virgil," quoth Riccabocca, peeping out of the window. "Nevertheless, the machine looks very large and suspicious; unloose Pompey."
"Father," said Violante, colouring, "it is your friend, Lord L'Estrange; I hear his voice."
"Are you sure?"
"Quite. How can I be mistaken?"
"Go, then, Giacomo; but take Pompey with thee,—and give the alarm if we are deceived."
But Violante was right; and in a few moments Lord L'Estrange was seen walking up the garden, and giving the arm to two ladies.
"Ah," said Riccabocca, composing his dressing-robe round him, "go, my child, and summon Jemima. Man to man; but, for Heaven's sake, woman to woman."
Harley had brought his mother and Helen, in compliment to the ladies of his friend's household.
The proud countess knew that she was in the presence of Adversity, and her salute to Riccabocca was only less respectful than that with which she would have rendered homage to her sovereign. But Riccabocca, always gallant to the sex that he pretended to despise, was not to be outdone in ceremony; and the bow which replied to the courtesy would have edified the rising generation, and delighted such surviving relics of the old Court breeding as may linger yet amidst the gloomy pomp of the Faubourg St. Germain. These dues paid to etiquette, the countess briefly introduced Helen as Miss Digby, and seated herself near the exile. In a few moments the two elder personages became quite at home with each other; and, really, perhaps Riccabocca had never, since we have known him, showed to such advantage as by the side of his polished, but somewhat formal visitor. Both had lived so little with our modern, ill-bred age! They took out their manners of a former race, with a sort of pride in airing once more such fine lace and superb brocade. Riccabocca gave truce to the shrewd but homely wisdom of his proverbs, perhaps he remembered that Lord Chesterfield denounces proverbs as vulgar; and gaunt though his figure, and far from elegant though his dressing-robe, there was that about him which spoke undeniably of the grand seigneur,—of one to whom a Marquis de Dangeau would have offered a fauteuil by the side of the Rohans and Montmorencies.
Meanwhile Helen and Harley seated themselves a little apart, and were both silent,—the first, from timidity; the second, from abstraction. At length the door opened, and Harley suddenly sprang to his feet,—Violante and Jemima entered. Lady Lansinere's eyes first rested on the daughter, and she could scarcely refrain from an exclamation of admiring surprise; but then, when she caught sight of Mrs. Riccabocca's somewhat humble, yet not obsequious mien,—looking a little shy, a little homely, yet still thoroughly a gentlewoman (though of your plain, rural kind of that genus), she turned from the daughter, and with the savoir vivre of the fine old school, paid her first respects to the wife; respects literally, for her manner implied respect,—but it was more kind, simple, and cordial than the respect she had shown to Riccabocca; as the sage himself had said, here "it was Woman to Woman." And then she took Violante's hand in both hers, and gazed on her as if she could not resist the pleasure of contemplating so much beauty. "My son," she said softly, and with a half sigh,—"my son in vain told me not to be surprised. This is the first time I have ever known reality exceed description!"
Violante's blush here made her still more beautiful; and as the countess returned to Riccabocca, she stole gently to Helen's side.
"Miss Digby, my ward," said Harley, pointedly, observing that his mother had neglected her duty of presenting Helen to the ladies. He then reseated himself, and conversed with Mrs. Riccabocca; but his bright, quick eye glanced over at the two girls. They were about the same age—and youth was all that, to the superficial eye, they seemed to have in common. A greater contrast could not well be conceived; and, what is strange, both gained by it. Violante's brilliant loveliness seemed yet more dazzling, and Helen's fair, gentle face yet more winning. Neither had mixed much with girls of her own age; each took to the other at first sight. Violante, as the less shy, began the conversation.
"You are his ward,—Lord L'Estrange's?"
"Perhaps you came with him from Italy?"
"No, not exactly; but I have been in Italy for some years."
"Ah! you regret—nay, I am foolish—you return to your native land. But the skies in Italy are so blue,—here it seems as if Nature wanted colours."
"Lord L'Estrange says that you were very young when you left Italy; you remember it well. He, too, prefers Italy to England."
"Why impossible, fair sceptic?" cried Harley, interrupting himself in the midst of a speech to Jemima.
Violante had not dreamed that she could be overheard—she was speaking low; but, though visibly embarrassed, she answered distinctly,
"Because in England there is the noblest career for noble minds."
Harley was startled, and replied, with a slight sigh, "At your age I should have said as you do. But this England of ours is so crowded with noble minds that they only jostle each other, and the career is one cloud of dust."
"So, I have read, seems a battle to a common soldier, but not to the chief."
"You have read good descriptions of battles, I see."
Mrs. Riccabocca, who thought this remark a taunt upon her step-daughter's studies, hastened to Violante's relief.
"Her papa made her read the history of Italy, and I believe that is full of battles."
HARLEY.—"All history is, and all women are fond of war and of warriors. I wonder why?"
VIOLANTE (turning to Helen, and in a very low voice, resolved that Harley should not hear this time).—"We can guess why,—can we not?"
HARLEY (hearing every word, as if it had been spoken in St. Paul's Whispering Gallery).—"If you can guess, Helen, pray tell me."
HELEN (shaking her pretty head, and answering with a livelier smile than usual).—"But I am not fond of war and warriors."
HARLEY (to Violante).—"Then I must appeal at once to you, self-convicted Bellona that you are. Is it from the cruelty natural to the female disposition?"
VIOLANTE (with a sweet musical laugh). "From two propensities still more natural to it."
HARLEY.—"YOU puzzle me: what can they be?"
VIOLANTE.—"Pity and admiration; we pity the weak and admire the brave."
Harley inclined his head, and was silent.
Lady Lansmere had suspended her conversation with Riccabocca to listen to this dialogue. "Charming!" she cried.
"You have explained what has often perplexed me. Ah, Harley, I am glad to see that your satire is foiled: you have no reply to that."
"No; I willingly own myself defeated, too glad to claim the signorina's pity, since my cavalry sword hangs on the wall, and I can have no longer a professional pretence to her admiration."
He then rose, and glanced towards the window. "But I see a more formidable disputant for my conqueror to encounter is coming into the field,—one whose profession it is to substitute some other romance for that of camp and siege."
"Our friend Leonard," said Riccabocca, turning his eye also towards the window. "True; as Quevedo says, wittily, 'Ever since there has been so great a demand for type, there has been much less lead to spare for cannon-balls.'"
Here Leonard entered. Harley had sent Lady Lansmere's footman to him with a note, that prepared him to meet Helen. As he came into the room, Harley took him by the hand and led him to Lady Lansmere.
"The friend of whom I spoke. Welcome him now for my sake, ever after for his own;" and then, scarcely allowing time for the countess's elegant and gracious response, he drew Leonard towards Helen. "Children," said he, with a touching voice, that thrilled through the hearts of both, "go and seat yourselves yonder, and talk together of the past. Signorina, I invite you to renewed discussion upon the abstruse metaphysical subject you have started; let us see if we cannot find gentler sources for pity and admiration than war and warriors." He took Violante aside to the window. "You remember that Leonard, in telling you his history last night, spoke, you thought, rather too briefly of the little girl who had been his companion in the rudest time of his trials. When you would have questioned more, I interrupted you, and said, 'You should see her shortly, and question her yourself.' And now what think you of Helen Digby? Hush, speak low. But her ears are not so sharp as mine."
VIOLANTE.—"Ah! that is the fair creature whom Leonard called his child-angel? What a lovely innocent face!—the angel is there still."
HARLEY (pleased both at the praise and with her who gave it).—"You think so; and you are right. Helen is not communicative. But fine natures are like fine poems,—a glance at the first two lines suffices for a guess into the beauty that waits you if you read on."
Violante gazed on Leonard and Helen as they sat apart. Leonard was the speaker, Helen the listener; and though the former had, in his narrative the night before, been indeed brief as to the episode in his life connected with the orphan, enough had been said to interest Violante in the pathos of their former position towards each other, and in the happiness they must feel in their meeting again,—separated for years on the wide sea of life, now both saved from the storm and shipwreck. The tears came into her eyes. "True," she said, very softly, "there is more here to move pity and admiration than in—" She paused.
HARLEY.—"Complete the sentence. Are you ashamed to retract? Fie on your pride and obstinacy!"
VIOLANTE.—"No; but even here there have been war and heroism,—the war of genius with adversity, and heroism in the comforter who shared it and consoled. Ah, wherever pity and admiration are both felt, something nobler than mere sorrow must have gone before: the heroic must exist."
"Helen does not know what the word 'heroic' means," said Harley, rather sadly; "you must teach her."
"Is it possible," thought he as he spoke, "that a Randal Leslie could have charmed this grand creature? No 'Heroic' surely, in that sleek young placeman.—Your father," he said aloud, and fixing his eyes on her face, "sees much, he tells me, of a young man about Leonard's age, as to date; but I never estimate the age of men by the parish register, and I should speak of that so-called young man as a contemporary of my great-grandfather,—I mean Mr. Randal Leslie. Do you like him?"
"Like him," said Violante, slowly, and as if sounding her own mind,—"like him—yes."
"Why?" asked Harley, with dry and curt indignation. "His visits seem to please my dear father. Certainly I like him."
"Hum. He professes to like you, I suppose?"
Violante laughed unsuspiciously. She had half a mind to reply, "Is that so strange?" But her respect for Harley stopped her. The words would have seemed to her pert. "I am told he is clever," resumed Harley.
"And he is rather handsome. But I like Leonard's face better."
"Better—that is not the word. Leonard's face is as that of one who has gazed so often upon Heaven; and Mr. Leslie's—there is neither sunlight nor starlight reflected there."
"My dear Violante?" exclaimed Harley, overjoyed; and he pressed her hand.
The blood rushed over the girl's cheek and brow; her hand trembled in his. But Harley's familiar exclamation might have come from a father's lips.
At this moment Helen softly approached them, and looking timidly into her guardian's face, said, "Leonard's mother is with him: he asks me to call and see her. May I?"
"May you! A pretty notion the signorina must form of your enslaved state of pupilage, when she hears you ask that question. Of course you may."
"Will you come with us?"
Harley looked embarrassed. He thought of the widow's agitation at his name; of that desire to shun him, which Leonard had confessed, and of which he thought he divined the cause. And so divining, he too shrank from such a meeting.
"Another time, then," said he, after a pause. Helen looked disappointed, but said no more.
Violante was surprised at this ungracious answer. She would have blamed it as unfeeling in another; but all that Harley did was right in her eyes.
"Cannot I go with Miss Digby?" said she, "and my mother will go too. We both know Mrs. Fairfield. We shall be so pleased to see her again."
"So be it," said Harley; "I will wait here with your father till you come back. Oh, as to my mother, she will excuse the—excuse Madame Riccabocca, and you too. See how charmed she is with your father. I must stay to watch over the conjugal interests of mine."
But Mrs. Riccabocca had too much good old country breeding to leave the countess; and Harley was forced himself to appeal to Lady Lansmere. When he had explained the case in point, the countess rose and said,
"But I will call myself, with Miss Digby."
"No," said Harley, gravely, but in a whisper. "No; I would rather not. I will explain later."
"Then," said the countess aloud, after a glance of surprise at her son, "I must insist on your performing this visit, my dear madam, and you, Signorina. In truth, I have something to say confidentially to—"
"To me," interrupted Riccabocca. "Ah, Madame la Comtesse, you restore me to five-and-twenty. Go, quick, O jealous and injured wife; go, both of you, quick; and you, too, Harley."
"Nay," said Lady Lansmere, in the same tone, "Harley must stay, for my design is not at present upon destroying your matrimonial happiness, whatever it may be later. It is a design so innocent that my son will be a partner in it."
Here the countess put her lips to Harley's ear, and whispered. He received her communication in attentive silence; but when she had done, pressed her hand, and bowed his head, as if in assent to a proposal.
In a few minutes the three ladies and Leonard were on their road to the neighbouring cottage.
Violante, with her usual delicate intuition, thought that Leonard and Helen must have much to say to each other; and (ignorant, as Leonard himself was, of Helen's engagement to Harley) began already, in the romance natural to her age, to predict for them happy and united days in the future. So she took her stepmother's arm, and left Helen and Leonard to follow.
"I wonder," she said musingly, "how Miss Digby became Lord L'Estrange's ward. I hope she is not very rich, nor very high-born."
"La, my love," said the good Jemima, "that is not like you; you are not envious of her, poor girl?"
"Envious! Dear mamma, what a word! But don't you think Leonard and Miss Digby seem born for each other? And then the recollections of their childhood—the thoughts of childhood are so deep, and its memories so strangely soft!" The long lashes drooped over Violante's musing eyes as she spoke. "And therefore," she said, after a pause,—"therefore I hoped that Miss Digby might not be very rich nor very high-born."
"I understand you now, Violante," exclaimed Jemima, her own early passion for match-making instantly returning to her; "for as Leonard, however clever and distinguished, is still the son of Mark Fairfield the carpenter, it would spoil all if—Miss Digby was, as you say, rich and high-born. I agree with you,—a very pretty match, a very pretty match, indeed. I wish dear—Mrs. Dale were here now,—she is so clever in settling such matters."
Meanwhile Leonard and Helen walked side by side a few paces in the rear. He had not offered her his arm. They had been silent hitherto since they left Riccabocca's house.
Helen now spoke first. In similar cases it is generally the woman, be she ever so timid, who does speak first. And here Helen was the bolder; for Leonard did not disguise from himself the nature of his feelings, and Helen was engaged to another, and her pure heart was fortified by the trust reposed in it.
"And have you ever heard more of the good Dr. Morgan, who had powders against sorrow, and who meant to be so kind to us,—though," she added, colouring, "we did not think so then?"
"He took my child-angel from me," said Leonard, with visible emotion; "and if she had not returned, where and what should I be now? But I have forgiven him. No, I have never met him since."
"And that terrible Mr. Burley?"
"Poor, poor Burley! He, too, is vanished out of my present life. I have made many inquiries after him; all I can hear is that he went abroad, supposed as a correspondent to some journal. I should like so much to see him again, now that perhaps I could help him as he helped me."
Leonard smiled with a beating heart, as he saw again the dear prudent, warning look, and involuntarily drew closer to Helen. She seemed more restored to him and to her former self.
"Helped me much by his instructions; more, perhaps, by his very faults. You cannot guess, Helen,—I beg pardon, Miss Digby, but I forgot that we are no longer children,—you cannot guess how much we men, and more than all, perhaps, we writers whose task it is to unravel the web of human actions, owe even to our own past errors; and if we learned nothing by the errors of others, we should be dull indeed. We must know where the roads divide, and have marked where they lead to, before we can erect our sign-post; and books are the sign-posts in human life."
"Books! and I have not yet read yours. And Lord L'Estrange tells me you are famous now. Yet you remember me still,—the poor orphan child, whom you first saw weeping at her father's grave, and with whom you burdened your own young life, over-burdened already. No, still call me Helen—you must always be to me a brother! Lord L'Estrange feels that; he said so to me when he told me that we were to meet again. He is so generous, so noble. Brother!" cried Helen, suddenly, and extending her hand, with a sweet but sublime look in her gentle face,—"brother, we will never forfeit his esteem; we will both do our best to repay him! Will we not?—say so!"
Leonard felt overpowered by contending and unanalyzed emotions. Touched almost to tears by the affectionate address, thrilled by the hand that pressed his own, and yet with a vague fear, a consciousness that something more than the words themselves was implied,—something that checked all hope. And this word "brother," once so precious and so dear, why did he shrink from it now; why could he not too say the sweet word "sister"?
"She is above me now and evermore!" he thought mournfully; and the tones of his voice, when he spoke again, were changed. The appeal to renewed intimacy but made him more distant, and to that appeal itself he made no direct answer; for Mrs. Riccabocca, now turning round, and pointing to the cottage which came in view, with its picturesque gable-ends, cried out,
"But is that your house, Leonard? I never saw anything so pretty."
"You do not remember it then," said Leonard to Helen, in accents of melancholy reproach,—"there where I saw you last? I doubted whether to keep it exactly as it was, and I said, '—No! the association is not changed because we try to surround it with whatever beauty we can create; the dearer the association, the more the Beautiful becomes to it natural.' Perhaps you don't understand this,—perhaps it is only we poor poets who do."
"I understand it," said Helen, gently. She looked wistfully at the cottage.
"So changed! I have so often pictured it to myself, never, never like this; yet I loved it, commonplace as it was to my recollection; and the garret, and the tree in the carpenter's yard."
She did not give these thoughts utterance. And they now entered the garden.
Mrs. Fairfield was a proud woman when she received Mrs. Riccabocca and Violante in her grand house; for a grand house to her was that cottage to which her boy Lenny had brought her home. Proud, indeed, ever was Widow Fairfield; but she thought then in her secret heart, that if ever she could receive in the drawing-room of that grand house the great Mrs. Hazeldean, who had so lectured her for refusing to live any longer in the humble, tenement rented of the squire, the cup of human bliss would be filled, and she could contentedly die of the pride of it. She did not much notice Helen,—her attention was too absorbed by the ladies who renewed their old acquaintance with her, and she carried them all over the house, yea, into the very kitchen; and so, somehow or other, there was a short time when Helen and Leonard found themselves alone. It was in the study. Helen had unconsciously seated herself in Leonard's own chair, and she was gazing with anxious and wistful interest on the scattered papers, looking so disorderly (though, in truth, in that disorder there was method, but method only known to the owner), and at the venerable well-worn books, in all languages, lying on the floor, on the chairs—anywhere. I must confess that Helen's first tidy womanlike idea was a great desire to arrange the litter. "Poor Leonard," she thought to herself, "the rest of the house so neat, but no one to take care of his own room and of him!"
As if he divined her thought, Leonard smiled and said, "It would be a cruel kindness to the spider, if the gentlest band in the world tried to set its cobweb to rights."
HELEN.—"You were not quite so bad in the old days."
LEONARD.—"Yet even then you were obliged to take care of the money. I have more books now, and more money. My present housekeeper lets me take care of the books, but she is less indulgent as to the money."
HELEN (archly).—"Are you as absent as ever?"
LEONARD.—"Much more so, I fear. The habit is incorrigible, Miss Digby—"
HELEN.—"Not Miss Digby; sister, if you like."
LEONARD (evading the word that implied so forbidden an affinity).—"Helen, will you grant me a favour? Your eyes and your smile say 'yes.' Will you lay aside, for one minute, your shawl and bonnet? What! can you be surprised that I ask it? Can you not understand that I wish for one minute to think that you are at home again under this roof?"
Helen cast down her eyes, and seemed troubled; then she raised them, with a soft angelic candour in their dovelike blue, and, as if in shelter from all thoughts of more warm affection, again murmured "brother," and did as he asked her.
So there she sat, amongst the dull books, by his table, near the open window, her fair hair parted on her forehead, looking so good, so calm, so happy! Leonard wondered at his own self-command. His heart yearned to her with such inexpressible love, his lips so longed to murmur, "Ah, as now so could it be forever! Is the home too mean?" But that word "brother" was as a talisman between her and him. Yet she looked so at home—perhaps so at home she felt!—more certainly than she had yet learned to do in that stiff stately house in which she was soon to have a daughter's rights. Was she suddenly made aware of this, that she so suddenly arose, and with a look of alarm and distress on her face.
"But—we are keeping Lady Lansmere too long," she said falteringly. "We must go now," and she hastily took up her shawl and bonnet.
Just then Mrs. Fairfield entered with the visitors, and began making excuses for inattention to Miss Digby, whose identity with Leonard's child-angel she had not yet learned.
Helen received these apologies with her usual sweetness. "Nay," she said, "your son and I are such old friends, how could you stand on ceremony with me?"
"Old friends!" Mrs. Fairfield stared amazed, and then surveyed the fair speaker more curiously than she had yet done. "Pretty, nice-spoken thing," thought the widow; "as nice-spoken as Miss Violante, and humbler-looking like,—though, as to dress, I never see anything so elegant out of a picter."
Helen now appropriated Mrs. Riccabocca's arm; and, after a kind leave-taking with the widow, the ladies returned towards Riccabocca's house.
Mrs. Fairfield, however, ran after them with Leonard's hat and gloves, which he had forgotten.
"'Deed, boy," she said, kindly, yet scoldingly, "but there'd be no more fine books, if the Lord had not fixed your head on your shoulders. You would not think it, marm," she added to Mrs. Riccabocca, "but sin' he has left you, he's not the 'cute lad he was; very helpless at times, marm!"
Helen could not resist turning round, and looking at Leonard, with a sly smile.
The widow saw the smile, and catching Leonard by the arm, whispered, "But where before have you seen that pretty young lady? Old friends!"
"Ah, Mother," said Leonard, sadly, "it is a long tale; you have heard the beginning, who can guess the end?" and he escaped. But Helen still leaned on the arm of Mrs. Riccabocca, and, in the walk back, it seemed to Leonard as if the winter had re-settled in the sky.
Yet he was by the side of Violante, and she spoke to him with such praise of Helen! Alas! it is not always so sweet as folks say to hear the praises of one we love. Sometimes those praises seem to ask ironically, "And what right hast thou to hope because thou lovest? All love her."
No sooner had Lady Lansmere found herself alone with Riccabocca and Harley than she laid her hand on the exile's arm, and, addressing him by a title she had not before given him, and from which he appeared to shrink nervously, said, "Harley, in bringing me to visit you, was forced to reveal to me your incognito, for I should have discovered it. You may not remember me, in spite of your gallantry; but I mixed more in the world than I do now, during your first visit to England, and once sat next to you at dinner at Carlton House. Nay, no compliments, but listen to me. Harley tells me you have cause for some alarm respecting the designs of an audacious and unprincipled adventurer, I may call him; for adventurers are of all ranks. Suffer your daughter to come to me on a visit, as long as you please. With me, at least, she will be safe; and if you, too, and the—"
"Stop, my dear madam," interrupted Riccabocca, with great vivacity; "your kindness overpowers me. I thank you most gratefully for your invitation to my child; but—"
"Nay," in his turn interrupted Harley, "no buts. I was not aware of my mother's intention when she entered this room. But since she whispered it to me, I have reflected on it, and am convinced that it is but a prudent precaution. Your retreat is known to Mr. Leslie, he is known to Peschiera. Grant that no indiscretion of Mr. Leslie's betray the secret; still I have reason to believe that the count guesses Randal's acquaintance with you. Audley Egerton this morning told me he had gathered that, not from the young man himself, but from questions put to himself by Madame di Negra; and Peschiera might and would set spies to track Leslie to every house that he visits,—might and would, still more naturally, set spies to track myself. Were this man an Englishman, I should laugh at his machinations; but he is an Italian, and has been a conspirator. What he could do I know not; but an assassin can penetrate into a camp, and a traitor can creep through closed walls to one's hearth. With my mother, Violante must be safe; that you cannot oppose. And why not come yourself?"
Riccabocca had no reply to these arguments, so far as they affected Violante; indeed, they awakened the almost superstitious terror with which he regarded his enemy, and he consented at once that Violante should accept the invitation proffered. But he refused it for himself and Jemima.
"To say truth," said he, simply, "I made a secret vow, on re-entering England, that I would associate with none who knew the rank I had formerly held in my own land. I felt that all my philosophy was needed to reconcile and habituate myself to my altered circumstances. In order to find in my present existence, however humble, those blessings which make all life noble,—dignity and peace,—it was necessary for poor, weak human nature wholly to dismiss the past. It would unsettle me sadly, could I come to your house, renew awhile, in your kindness and respect—nay, in the very atmosphere of your society—the sense of what I have been; and then (should the more than doubtful chance of recall from my exile fail me) to awake, and find myself for the rest of life what I am. And though, were I alone, I might trust myself perhaps to the danger, yet my wife: she is happy and contented now; would she be so, if you had once spoiled her for the simple position of Dr. Riccabocca's wife? Should I not have to listen to regrets and hopes and fears that would prick sharp through my thin cloak of philosophy? Even as it is, since in a moment of weakness I confided my secret to her, I have had 'my rank' thrown at me,—with a careless hand, it is true, but it hits hard nevertheless. No stone hurts like one taken from the ruins of one's own home; and the grander the home, why, the heavier the stone! Protect, dear madam, protect my daughter, since her father doubts his own power to do so. But—ask no more."