"Mr. Leslie, I retract my advice. I believe Sir —— is right,—that the nobleman here so keenly satirized will be the chief in your office. I doubt whether he will not compel your dismissal; at all events, he could scarcely be expected to promote your advancement. Under the circumstances, I fear you have no option as a—" Egerton paused a moment, and, with a sigh that seemed to settle the question, concluded with—"as a gentleman."
Never did Jack Cade, never did Wat Tyler, feel a more deadly hate to that word "gentleman" than the well-born Leslie felt then; but he bowed his head, and answered with his usual presence of mind,
"You utter my own sentiment."
"You think we are right, Harley?" asked Egerton, with an irresolution that surprised all present.
"I think," answered Harley, with a compassion for Randal that was almost over-generous, and yet with an equivoque on the words, despite the compassion,—"I think whoever has served Audley Egerton never yet has been a loser by it; and if Mr. Leslie wrote this pamphlet, he must have well served Audley Egerton. If he undergoes the penalty, we may safely trust to Egerton for the compensation."
"My compensation has long since been made," answered Randal, with grace; "and that Mr. Egerton could thus have cared for my fortunes, at an hour so occupied, is a thought of pride which—"
"Enough, Leslie! enough!" interrupted Egerton, rising and pressing his protege's hand. "See me before you go to bed."
Then the two other ministers rose also and shook hands with Leslie, and told him he had done the right thing, and that they hoped soon to see him in parliament; and hinted, smilingly, that the next administration did not promise to be very long-lived; and one asked him to dinner, and the other to spend a week at his country-seat. And amidst these congratulations at the stroke that left him penniless, the distinguished pamphleteer left the room. How he cursed big John Burley!
It was past midnight when Audley Egerton summoned Randal. The statesman was then alone, seated before his great desk, with its manifold compartments, and engaged on the task of transferring various papers and letters, some to the waste-basket, some to the flames, some to two great iron chests with patent locks, that stood, open-mouthed, at his feet. Strong, stern, and grim looked those iron chests, silently receiving the relics of power departed; strong, stern, and grim as the grave. Audley lifted his eyes at Randal's entrance, signed to him to take a chair, continued his task for a few moments, and then turning round, as if by an effort he plucked himself from his master-passion,—Public Life, he said, with deliberate tones,
"I know not, Randal Leslie, whether you thought me needlessly cautious, or wantonly unkind, when I told you never to expect from me more than such advance to your career as my then position could effect,—never to expect from my liberality in life, nor from my testament in death, an addition to your private fortunes. I see by your gesture what would be your reply, and I thank you for it. I now tell you, as yet in confidence, though before long it can be no secret to the world, that my pecuniary affairs have been so neglected by me in my devotion to those of the State, that I am somewhat like the man who portioned out his capital at so much a day, calculating to live just long enough to make it last. Unfortunately he lived too long." Audley smiled—but the smile was cold as a sunbeam upon ice-and went on with the same firm, unfaltering accents. "The prospects that face me I am prepared for; they do not take me by surprise. I knew long since how this would end, if I survived the loss of office. I knew it before you came to me, and therefore I spoke to you as I did, judging it manful and right to guard you against hopes which you might otherwise have naturally entertained. On this head, I need say no more. It may excite your surprise, possibly your blame, that I, esteemed methodical and practical enough in the affairs of the State, should be so imprudent as to my own."
"Oh, sir! you owe no account to me."
"To you, at least, as much as to any one. I am a solitary man; my few relations need nothing from me. I had a right do spend what I possessed as I pleased; and if I have spent it recklessly as regards myself, I have not spent it ill in its effect on others. It has been my object for many years to have no Private Life,—to dispense with its sorrows, joys, affections; and as to its duties, they did not exist for me. I have said." Mechanically, as he ended, the minister's hand closed the lid of one of the iron boxes, and on the closed lid he rested his firm foot. "But now," he resumed, "I have failed to advance your career. True, I warned you that you drew into a lottery; but you had more chance of a prize than a blank. A blank, however, it has turned out, and the question becomes grave,—What are you to do?"
Here, seeing that Egerton came to a full pause, Randal answered readily,
"Still, sir, to go by your advice."
"My advice," said Audley, with a softened look, "would perhaps be rude and unpalatable. I would rather place before you an option. On the one hand, recommence life again. I told you that I would keep your name on your college books. You can return, you can take your degree, after that, you can go to the Bar,—you have just the talents calculated to succeed in that profession. Success will be slow, it is true; but, with perseverance, it will be sure. And, believe me, Leslie, Ambition is only sweet while it is but the loftier name for Hope. Who would care for a fox's brush if it had not been rendered a prize by the excitement of the chase?"
"Oxford—again! It is a long step back in life," said Randal, drearily, and little heeding Egerton's unusual indulgence of illustration. "A long step back—and to what? To a profession in which one never begins to rise till one's hair is gray. Besides, how live in the mean while?"
"Do not let that thought disturb you. The modest income that suffices for a student at the Bar, I trust, at least, to insure you from the wrecks of my fortune."
"Ah, sir, I would not burden you further. What right have I to such kindness, save my name of Leslie?" And in spite of himself, as Randal concluded, a tone of bitterness, that betrayed reproach, broke forth. Egerton was too much the man of the world not to comprehend the reproach, and not to pardon it.
"Certainly," he answered calmly, "as a Leslie you are entitled to my consideration, and would have been entitled perhaps to more, had I not so explicitly warned you to the contrary. But the Bar does not seem to please you?"
"What is the alternative, sir? Let me decide when I hear it," answered Randal, sullenly. He began to lose respect for the roan who owned he could do so little for him, and who evidently recommended him to shift for himself.
If one could have pierced into Egerton's gloomy heart as he noted the young man's change of tone, it may be a doubt whether one would have seen there pain or pleasure,—pain, for merely from the force of habit he had begun to like Randal, or pleasure at the thought that he might have reason to withdraw that liking. So lone and stoical had grown the man who had made it his object to have no private life! Revealing, however, neither pleasure nor pain, but with the composed calmness of a judge upon the bench, Egerton replied,—
"The alternative is, to continue in the course you have begun, and still to rely on me."
"Sir, my dear Mr. Egerton," exclaimed Randal, regaining all his usual tenderness of look and voice, "rely on you! But that is all I ask. Only"
"Only, you would say, I am going out of power, and you don't see the chance of my return?"
"I did not mean that."
"Permit me to suppose that you did: very true; but the party I belong to is as sure of return as the pendulum of that clock is sure to obey the mechanism that moves it from left to right. Our successors profess to come in upon a popular question. All administrations who do that are necessarily short-lived. Either they do not go far enough to please present supporters, or they go so far as to arm new enemies in the rivals who outbid them with the people. 'T is the history of all revolutions, and of all reforms. Our own administration in reality is destroyed for having passed what was called a popular measure a year ago, which lost us half our friends, and refusing to propose another popular measure this year, in the which we are outstripped by the men who hallooed us on to the last. Therefore, whatever our successors do, we shall by the law of reaction, have another experiment of power afforded to ourselves. It is but a question of time; you can wait for it,—whether I can is uncertain. But if I die before that day arrives, I have influence enough still left with those who will come in, to obtain a promise of a better provision for you than that which you have lost. The promises of public men are proverbially uncertain; but I shall entrust your cause to a man who never failed a friend, and whose rank will enable him to see that justice is done to you,—I speak of Lord L'Estrange."
"Oh, not he; he is unjust to me; he dislikes me; he—"
"May dislike you (he has his whims), but he loves me; and though for no other human being but you would I ask Harley L'Estrange a favour, yet for you I will," said Egerton, betraying, for the first time in that dialogue, a visible emotion,—"for you, a Leslie, a kinsman, however remote, to the wife from whom I received my fortune! And despite all my cautions, it is possible that in wasting that fortune I may have wronged you. Enough: you have now before you the two options, much as you had at first; but you have at present more experience to aid you in your choice. You are a man, and with more brains than most men; think over it well, and decide for yourself. Now to bed, and postpone thought till the morrow. Poor Randal, you look pale!"
Audley, as he said the last words, put his hand on Randal's shoulder, almost with a father's gentleness; and then suddenly drawing himself up, as the hard inflexible expression, stamped on that face by years, returned, he moved away and resettled to Public Life and the iron box.
Early the next day Randal Leslie was in the luxurious business-room of Baron Levy. How unlike the cold Doric simplicity of the statesman's library! Axminster carpets, three inches thick; portieres a la Francaise before the doors; Parisian bronzes on the chimney-piece; and all the receptacles that lined the room, and contained title-deeds and postobits and bills and promises to pay and lawyer-like japan boxes, with many a noble name written thereon in large white capitals—"making ruin pompous," all these sepulchres of departed patrimonies veneered in rosewood that gleamed with French polish, and blazed with ormulu. There was a coquetry, an air of petit maitre, so diffused over the whole room, that you could not, for the life of you, recollect you were with a usurer! Plutus wore the aspect of his enemy Cupid; and how realize your idea of Harpagon in that baron, with his easy French "Mon cher," and his white, warm hands that pressed yours so genially, and his dress so exquisite, even at the earliest morn? No man ever yet saw that baron in a dressing-gown and slippers! As one fancies some feudal baron of old (not half so terrible) everlastingly clad in mail, so all one's notions of this grand marauder of civilization were inseparably associated with varnished boots and a camellia in the button-hole.
"And this is all that he does for you!" cried the baron, pressing together the points of his ten taper fingers. "Had he but let you conclude your career at Oxford, I have heard enough of your scholarship to know that you would have taken high honours, been secure of a fellowship, have betaken yourself with content to a slow and laborious profession, and prepared yourself to die on the woolsack."
"He proposes to me now to return to Oxford," said Randal. "It is not too late!"
"Yes, it is," said the baron. "Neither individuals nor nations ever go back of their own accord. There must be an earthquake before a river recedes to its source."
"You speak well," answered Randal, "and I cannot gainsay you. But now!"
"Ah, the now is the grand question in life, the then is obsolete, gone by,—out of fashion; and now, mon cher, you come to ask my advice?"
"No, Baron, I come to ask your explanation."
"I want to know why you spoke to me of Mr. Egerton's ruin; why you spoke to me of the lands to be sold by Mr. Thornhill; and why you spoke to me of Count Peschiera. You touched on each of those points within ten minutes, you omitted to indicate what link can connect them."
"By Jove," said the baron, rising, and with more admiration in his face than you could have conceived that face, so smiling and so cynical, could exhibit,—"by Jove, Randal Leslie, but your shrewdness is wonderful. You really are the first young man of your day; and I will 'help you,' as I helped Audley Egerton. Perhaps you will be more grateful."
Randal thought of Egerton's ruin. The parallel implied by the baron did not suggest to him the rare enthusiasm of gratitude. However, he merely said, "Pray, proceed; I listen to you with interest."
"As for politics, then," said the baron, "we will discuss that topic later. I am waiting myself to see how these new men get on. The first consideration is for your private fortunes. You should buy this ancient Leslie property—Rood and Dulmansberry—only L20,000 down; the rest may remain on mortgage forever—or at least till I find you a rich wife,—as in fact I did for Egerton. Thornhill wants the L20,000 now,—wants them very much."
"And where," said Randal, with an iron smile, "are the L20,000 you ascribe to me to come from?"
"Ten thousand shall come to you the day Count Peschiera marries the daughter of his kinsman with your help and aid; the remaining ten thousand I will lend you. No scruple, I shall hazard nothing, the estates will bear that additional burden. What say you,—shall it be so?"
"Ten thousand pounds from Count Peschiera!" said Randal, breathing hard. "You cannot be serious? Such a sum—for what?—for a mere piece of information? How otherwise can I aid him? There must be trick and deception intended here."
"My dear fellow," answered Levy, "I will give you a hint. There is such a thing in life as being over-suspicious. If you have a fault, it is that. The information you allude to is, of course, the first assistance you are to give. Perhaps more may be needed, perhaps not. Of that you will judge yourself, since the L10,000 are contingent on the marriage aforesaid."
"Over-suspicious or not," answered Randal, "the amount of the sum is too improbable, and the security too bad, for me to listen to this proposition, even if I could descend to—"
"Stop, mon cher. Business first, scruples afterwards. The security too bad; what security?"
"The word of Count di Peschiera."
"He has nothing to do with it, he need know nothing about it. 'T is my word you doubt. I am your security."
Randal thought of that dry witticism in Gibbon, "Abu Rafe says he will be witness for this fact, but who will be witness for Abu Rafe?" but he remained silent, only fixing on Levy those dark observant eyes, with their contracted, wary pupils.
"The fact is simply this," resumed Levy: "Count di Peschiera has promised to pay his sister a dowry of L20,000, in case he has the money to spare. He can only have it to spare by the marriage we are discussing. On my part, as I manage his affairs in England for him, I have promised that, for the said sum of L20,000, I will guarantee the expenses in the way of that marriage, and settle with Madame di Negra. Now, though Peschiera is a very liberal, warm-hearted fellow, I don't say that he would have named so large a sum for his sister's dowry, if in strict truth he did not owe it to her. It is the amount of her own fortune, which by some arrangements with her late husband, not exactly legal, he possessed himself of. If Madame di Negra went to law with him for it, she could get it back. I have explained this to him; and, in short, you now understand why the sum is thus assessed. But I have bought up Madame di Negra's debts, I have bought up young Hazeldean's (for we must make a match between these two a part of our arrangements). I shall present to Peschiera, and to these excellent young persons, an account that will absorb the whole L20,000. That sum will come into my hands. If I settle the claims against them for half the money, which, making myself the sole creditor, I have the right to do, the moiety will remain. And if I choose to give it to you in return for the services which provide Peschiera with a princely fortune, discharge the debts of his sister, and secure her a husband in my promising young client, Mr. Hazeldean, that is my lookout,—all parties are satisfied, and no one need ever be the wiser. The sum is large, no doubt; it answers to me to give it to you; does it answer to you to receive it?"
Randal was greatly agitated; but vile as he was, and systematically as in thought he had brought himself to regard others merely as they could be made subservient to his own interest, still, with all who have not hardened themselves in actual crime, there is a wide distinction between the thought and the act; and though, in the exercise of ingenuity and cunning, he would have had few scruples in that moral swindling which is mildly called "outwitting another," yet thus nakedly and openly to accept a bribe for a deed of treachery towards the poor Italian who had so generously trusted him—he recoiled. He was nerving himself to refuse, when Levy, opening his pocket-book, glanced over the memoranda therein, and said, as to himself, "Rood Manor—Dulmansberry, sold to the Thornhills by Sir Gilbert Leslie, knight of the shire; estimated present net rental L2,250 7s. 0d. It is the greatest bargain I ever knew. And with this estate in hand, and your talents, Leslie, I don't see why you should not rise higher than Audley Egerton. He was poorer than you once!"
The old Leslie lands—a positive stake in the country—the restoration of the fallen family; and on the other hand, either long drudgery at the Bar,—a scanty allowance on Egerton's bounty, his sister wasting her youth at slovenly, dismal Rood, Oliver debased into a boor!—or a mendicant's dependence on the contemptuous pity of Harley L'Estrange,—Harley, who had refused his hand to him, Harley, who perhaps would become the husband of Violante! Rage seized him as these contrasting pictures rose before his view. He walked to and fro in disorder, striving to re-collect his thoughts, and reduce himself from the passions of the human heart into the mere mechanism of calculating intellect. "I cannot conceive," said he, abruptly, "why you should tempt me thus,—what interest it is to you!"
Baron Levy smiled, and put up his pocket-book. He saw from that moment that the victory was gained.
"My dear boy," said he, with the most agreeable bonhommie, "it is very natural that you should think a man would have a personal interest in whatever he does for another. I believe that view of human nature is called utilitarian philosophy, and is much in fashion at present. Let me try and explain to you. In this affair I sha'n't injure myself. True, you will say, if I settle claims which amount to L20,000 for L10,000, I might put the surplus into my own pocket instead of yours. Agreed. But I shall not get the L20,000, nor repay myself Madame di Negra's debts (whatever I may do as to Hazeldean's), unless the count gets this heiress. You can help in this. I want you; and I don't think I could get you by a less offer than I make. I shall soon pay myself back the L10,000 if the count get hold of the lady and her fortune. Brief, I see my way here to my own interests. Do you want more reasons,—you shall have them. I am now a very rich man. How have I become so? Through attaching myself from the first to persons of expectations, whether from fortune or talent. I have made connections in society, and society has enriched me. I have still a passion for making money. 'Que voulez-vous?' It is my profession, my hobby. It will be useful to me in a thousand ways to secure as a friend a young man who will have influence with other young men, heirs to something better than Rood Hall. You may succeed in public life. A man in public life may attain to the knowledge of State secrets that are very profitable to one who dabbles a little in the Funds. We can perhaps hereafter do business together that may put yourself in a way of clearing off all mortgages on these estates,—on the encumbered possession of which I shall soon congratulate you. You see I am frank; 't is the only way of coming to the point with so clever a fellow as you. And now, since the less we rake up the mud in a pond from which we have resolved to drink the better, let us dismiss all other thoughts but that of securing our end. Will you tell Peschiera where the young lady is, or shall I? Better do it yourself; reason enough for it, that he has confided to you his hope, and asked you to help him; why should not you? Not a word to him about our little arrangement; he need never know it. You need never be troubled." Levy rang the bell: "Order my carriage round."
Randal made no objection. He was deathlike pale, but there was a sinister expression of firmness on his thin, bloodless lips.
"The next point," Levy resumed, "is to hasten the match between Frank and the fair widow. How does that stand?"
"She will not see me, nor receive him."
"Oh, learn why! And if you find on either side there is a hitch, just let me know; I will soon remove it."
"Has Hazeldean consented to the post-obit?"
"Not yet; I have not pressed it; I wait the right moment, if necessary."
"It will be necessary."
"Ah, you wish it. It shall be so."
Randal Leslie again paced the room, and after a silent self-commune came up close to the baron, and said,
"Look you, sir, I am poor and ambitious; you have tempted me at the right moment, and with the right inducement. I succumb. But what guarantee have I that this money will be paid, these estates made mine upon the conditions stipulated?"
"Before anything is settled," replied the baron, "go and ask my character of any of our young friends, Borrowell, Spendquick—whom you please; you will hear me abused, of course; but they will all say this of me, that when I pass my word, I keep it. If I say, 'Mon cher, you shall have the money,' a man has it; if I say, 'I renew your bill for six months,' it is renewed. 'T, is my way of doing business. In all cases any word is my bond. In this case, where no writing can pass between us, my only bond must be my word. Go, then, make your mind clear as to your security, and come here and dine at eight. We will call on Peschiera afterwards."
"Yes," said Randal, "I will at all events take the day to consider. Meanwhile, I say this, I do not disguise from myself the nature of the proposed transaction, but what I have once resolved I go through with. My sole vindication to myself is, that if I play here with a false die, it will be for a stake so grand, as once won, the magnitude of the prize will cancel the ignominy of the play. It is not this sum of money for which I sell myself,—it is for what that sum will aid me to achieve. And in the marriage of young Hazeldean with the Italian woman, I have another, and it may be a larger interest. I have slept on it lately,—I wake to it now. Insure that marriage, obtain the post-obit. from Hazeldean, and whatever the issue of the more direct scheme for which you seek my services, rely on my gratitude, and believe that you will have put me in the way to render gratitude of avail. At eight I will be with you."
Randal left the room.
The baron sat thoughtful. "It is true," said he to himself, "this young man is the next of kin to the Hazeldean estate, if Frank displease his father sufficiently to lose his inheritance; that must be the clever boy's design. Well, in the long-run, I should make as much, or more, out of him than out of the spendthrift Frank. Frank's faults are those of youth. He will reform and retrench. But this man! No, I shall have him for life. And should he fail in this project, and have but this encumbered property—a landed proprietor mortgaged up to his ears—why, he is my slave, and I can foreclose when I wish, or if he prove useless;—no, I risk nothing. And if I did—if I lost L10,000—what then? I can afford it for revenge!—afford it for the luxury of leaving Audley Egerton alone with penury and ruin, deserted, in his hour of need, by the pensioner of his bounty, as he will be by the last friend of his youth, when it so pleases me,—me whom he has called 'scoundrel'! and whom he—" Levy's soliloquy halted there, for the servant entered to announce the carriage. And the baron hurried his band over his features, as if to sweep away all trace of the passions that distorted their smiling effrontery. And so, as he took up his cane and gloves, and glanced at the glass, the face of the fashionable usurer was once more as varnished as his boots.
When a clever man resolves on a villanous action, he hastens, by the exercise of his cleverness, to get rid of the sense of his villany. With more than his usual alertness, Randal employed the next hour or two in ascertaining how far Baron Levy merited the character he boasted, and how far his word might be his bond. He repaired to young men whom he esteemed better judges on these points than Spendquick and Borrowell,—young men who resembled the Merry Monarch, inasmuch as—
"They never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one."
There are many such young men about town,—sharp and able in all affairs except their own. No one knows the world better, nor judges of character more truly, than your half-beggared roue. From all these Baron Levy obtained much the same testimonials: he was ridiculed as a would-be dandy, but respected as a very responsible man of business, and rather liked as a friendly, accommodating species of the Sir Epicure Mammon, who very often did what were thought handsome, liberal things; and, "in short," said one of these experienced referees, "he is the best fellow going—for a money-lender! You may always rely on what he promises, and he is generally very forbearing and indulgent to us of good society; perhaps for the same reason that our tailors are,—to send one of us to prison would hurt his custom. His foible is to be thought a gentleman. I believe, much as I suppose he loves money, he would give up half his fortune rather than do anything for which we could cut him. He allows a pension of three hundred a year to Lord S——-. True; he was his man of business for twenty years, and before then S——- was rather a prudent fellow, and had fifteen thousand a year. He has helped on, too, many a clever young man,—the best borough-monger you ever knew. He likes having friends in parliament. In fact, of course he is a rogue; but if one wants a rogue, one can't find a pleasanter. I should like to see him on the French stage,—a prosperous Macaire; Le Maitre could hit him off to the life."
From information in these more fashionable quarters, gleaned with his usual tact, Randal turned to a source less elevated, but to which he attached more importance. Dick Avenel associated with the baron,—Dick Avenel must be in his clutches. Now Randal did justice to that gentleman's practical shrewdness. Moreover, Avenel was by profession a man of business. He must know more of Levy than these men of pleasure could; and as he was a plain-spoken person, and evidently honest, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, Randal did not doubt that out of Dick Avenel he should get the truth.
On arriving in Eaton Square, and asking for Mr. Avenel, Randal was at once ushered into the drawing-room. The apartment was not in such good, solid, mercantile taste as had characterized Avenel's more humble bachelor's residence at Screwstown. The taste now was the Honourable Mrs. Avenel's; and, truth to say, no taste could be worse. Furniture of all epochs heterogeneously clumped together,—here a sofa a la renaissance in Gobelin; there a rosewood Console from Gillow; a tall mock-Elizabethan chair in black oak, by the side of a modern Florentine table of Mosaic marbles; all kinds of colours in the room, and all at war with each other; very bad copies of the best-known pictures in the world in the most gaudy frames, and impudently labelled by the names of their murdered originals,—"Raphael," "Corregio," "Titian," "Sebastian del Piombo." Nevertheless, there had been plenty of money spent, and there was plenty to show for it. Mrs. Avenel was seated on her sofa a la renaissance, with one of her children at her feet, who was employed in reading a new Annual in crimson silk binding. Mrs. Avenel was in an attitude as if sitting for her portrait.
Polite society is most capricious in its adoptions or rejections. You see many a very vulgar person firmly established in the beau monde; others, with very good pretensions as to birth, fortune, etc., either rigorously excluded, or only permitted a peep over the pales. The Honourable Mrs. Avenel belonged to families unquestionably noble, both by her own descent and by her first marriage; and if poverty had kept her down in her earlier career, she now, at least, did not want wealth to back her pretensions. Nevertheless, all the dispensers of fashion concurred in refusing their support to the Honourable Mrs. Avenel. One might suppose it was solely on account of her plebeian husband; but indeed it was not so. Many a woman of high family can marry a low-born man not so presentable as Avenel, and, by the help of his money, get the fine world at her feet. But Mrs. Avenel had not that art. She was still a very handsome, showy woman; and as for dress, no duchess could be more extravagant. Yet these very circumstances had perhaps gone against her ambition; for your quiet little plain woman, provoking no envy, slips into coteries, when a handsome, flaunting lady—whom, once seen in your drawing-room, can be no more over-looked than a scarlet poppy amidst a violet bed—is pretty sure to be weeded out as ruthlessly as a poppy would be in a similar position.
Mr. Avenel was sitting by the fire, rather moodily, his hands in his pockets, and whistling to himself. To say truth, that active mind of his was very much bored in London, at least during the fore part of the day. He hailed Randal's entrance with a smile of relief, and rising and posting himself before the fire—a coat tail under each arm—he scarcely allowed Randal to shake hands with Mrs. Avenel, and pat the child on the head, murmuring, "Beautiful creature!" (Randal was ever civil to children,—that sort of wolf in sheep's clothing always is; don't be taken in, O you foolish young mothers!)—Dick, I say, scarcely allowed his visitor these preliminary courtesies, before he plunged far beyond depth of wife and child into the political ocean. "Things now were coming right,—a vile oligarchy was to be destroyed. British respectability and British talent were to have fair play." To have heard him you would have thought the day fixed for the millennium! "And what is more," said Avenel, bringing down the fist of his right hand upon the palm of his left, "if there is to be a new parliament, we must have new men; not worn-out old brooms that never sweep clean, but men who understand how to govern the country, Sir. I INTEND TO COME IN MYSELF!"
"Yes," said Mrs. Avenel, hooking in a word at last, "I am sure, Mr. Leslie, you will think I did right. I persuaded Mr. Avenel that, with his talents and property, he ought, for the sake of his country, to make a sacrifice; and then you know his opinions now are all the fashion, Mr. Leslie; formerly they would have been called shocking and vulgar!"
Thus saying, she looked with fond pride at Dick's comely face, which at that moment, however, was all scowl and frown. I must do justice to Mrs. Avenel; she was a weak woman, silly in some things, and a cunning one in others, but she was a good wife as wives go. Scotch women generally are. "Bother!" said Dick. "What do women know about politics? I wish you'd mind the child,—it is crumpling up and playing almighty smash with that flim-flam book, which cost me one pound one."
Mrs. Avenel submissively bowed her head, and removed the Annual from the hands of the young destructive; the destructive set up a squall, as destructives usually do when they don't have their own way. Dick clapped his hand to his ears. "Whe-e-ew, I can't stand this; come and take a walk, Leslie: I want stretching!" He stretched himself as he spoke, first half-way up to the ceiling, and then fairly out of the room.
Randal, with his May Fair manner, turned towards Mrs. Avenel as if to apologize for her husband and himself.
"Poor Richard!" said she, "he is in one of his humours,—all men have them. Come and see me again soon. When does Almack's open?"
"Nay, I ought to ask you that question,—you who know everything that goes on in our set," said the young serpent. Any tree planted in "our set," if it had been but a crab-tree, would have tempted Mr. Avenel's Eve to jump at its boughs.
"Are you coming, there?" cried Dick, from the foot of the stairs.
"I have just been at our friend Levy's," said Randal, when he and Dick were outside the street door. "He, like you, is full of politics; pleasant man,—for the business he is said to do."
"Well," said Dick, slowly, "I suppose he is pleasant, but make the best of it—and still—"
"Still what, my dear Avenel?" (Randal here for the first time discarded the formal Mister.)
MR. AVENEL.—"Still the thing itself is not pleasant."
RANDAL (with his soft hollow laugh).—"You mean borrowing money upon more than five per cent?"
"Oh, curse the percentage. I agree with Bentham on the Usury Laws,—no shackles in trade for me, whether in money or anything else. That's not it. But when one owes a fellow money even at two per cent, and 't is not convenient to pay him, why, somehow or other, it makes one feel small; it takes the British Liberty out of a man!"
"I should have thought you more likely to lend money than to borrow it."
"Well, I guess you are right there, as a general rule. But I tell you what it is, sir; there is too great a mania for competition getting up in this rotten old country of ours. I am as liberal as most men. I like competition to a certain extent, but there is too much of it, sir,—too much of it." Randal looked sad and convinced. But if Leonard had heard Dick Avenel, what would have been his amaze? Dick Avenel rail against competition! Think there could be too much of it! "Of course heaven and earth are coming together," said the spider, when the housemaid's broom invaded its cobweb. Dick was all for sweeping away other cobwebs; but he certainly thought heaven and earth coming together when he saw a great Turk's-head besom poked up at his own.
Mr. Avenel, in his genius for speculation and improvement, had established a factory at Screwstown, the first which had ever eclipsed the church spire with its Titanic chimney. It succeeded well at first. Mr. Avenel transferred to this speculation nearly all his capital. "Nothing," quoth he, "paid such an interest. Manchester was getting worn out,—time to show what Screwstown could do. Nothing like competition." But by-and-by a still greater capitalist than Dick Avenel, finding out that Screwstown was at the mouth of a coal mine, and that Dick's profits were great, erected a still uglier edifice, with a still taller chimney. And having been brought up to the business, and making his residence in the town, while Dick employed a foreman and flourished in London, this infamous competitor so managed, first to share, and then gradually to sequester, the profits which Dick had hitherto monopolized, that no wonder Mr. Avenel thought competition should have its limits. "The tongue touches where the tooth aches," as Dr. Riccabocca would tell us. By little and little our Juvenile Talleyrand (I beg the elder great man's pardon) wormed out from Dick this grievance, and in the grievance discovered the origin of Dick's connection with the money-lender.
"But Levy," said Avenel, candidly, "is a decentish chap in his way,—friendly too. Mrs. A. finds him useful; brings some of your young highflyers to her soirees. To be sure, they don't dance,—stand all in a row at the door, like mutes at a funeral. Not but what they have been uncommon civil to me lately, Spendquick particularly. By-the-by, I dine with him to-morrow. The aristocracy are behindhand,—not smart, sir, not up to the march; but when a man knows how to take 'em, they beat the New Yorkers in good manners. I'll say that for them. I have no prejudice."
"I never saw a man with less; no prejudice even against Levy."
"No, not a bit of it! Every one says he's a Jew; he says he's not. I don't care a button what he is. His money is English,—that's enough for any man of a liberal turn of mind. His charges, too, are moderate. To be sure, he knows I shall pay them; only what I don't like in him is a sort of way he has of mon-cher-ing and my-good-fellow-ing one, to do things quite out of the natural way of that sort of business. He knows I have got parliamentary influence. I could return a couple of members for Screwstown, and one, or perhaps two, for Lansmere, where I have of late been cooking up an interest; and he dictates to—no, not dictates—but tries to humbug me into putting in his own men. However, in one respect, we are likely to agree. He says you want to come into parliament. You seem a smart young fellow; but you must throw over that stiff red-tapist of yours, and go with Public Opinion, and—Myself."
"You are very kind, Avenel; perhaps when we come to compare opinions we may find that we agree entirely. Still, in Egerton's present position, delicacy to him—However, we'll not discuss that now. But you really think I might come in for Lansmere,—against the L'Estrange interest, too, which must be strong there?"
"It was very strong, but I've smashed it, I calculate."
"Would a contest there cost very much?"
"Well, I guess you must come down with the ready. But, as you say, time enough to discuss that when you have squared your account with 'delicacy;' come to me then, and we'll go into it."
Randal, having now squeezed his orange dry, had no desire to waste his time in brushing up the rind with his coat-sleeve, so he unhooked his arm from Avenel's, and, looking at his watch, discovered he should be just in time for an appointment of the most urgent business,—hailed a cab, and drove off.
Dick looked hipped and disconsolate at being left alone; he yawned very loud, to the astonishment of three prim old maiden Belgravians who were passing that way; and then his mind began to turn towards his factory at Screwstown, which had led to his connection with the baron; and he thought over a letter he had received from his foreman that morning, informing him that it was rumoured at Screwstown that Mr. Dyce, his rival, was about to have new machinery on an improved principle; and that Mr. Dyce had already gone up to town, it was supposed, with the intention of concluding a purchase for a patent discovery to be applied to the new machinery, and which that gentleman had publicly declared in the corn-market "would shut up Mr. Avenel's factory before the year was out." As this menacing epistle recurred to him, Dick felt his desire to yawn incontinently checked. His brow grew very dark; and he walked, with restless strides, on and on, till he found himself in the Strand. He then got into an omnibus, and proceeded to the city, wherein he spent the rest of the day looking over machines and foundries, and trying in vain to find out what diabolical invention the over-competition of Mr. Dyce had got hold of. "If," said Dick Avenel to himself, as he returned fretfully homeward—"if a man like me, who has done so much for British industry and go-a-head principles, is to be catawampously champed up by a mercenary, selfish cormorant of a capitalist like that interloping blockhead in drab breeches, Tom Dyce, all I can say is, that the sooner this cursed old country goes to the dogs, the better pleased I shall be. I wash my hands of it."
Randal's mind was made up. All he had learned in regard to Levy had confirmed his resolves or dissipated his scruples. He had started from the improbability that Pesehiera would offer, and the still greater improbability that Peschiera would pay him, L10,000 for such information or aid as he could bestow in furthering the count's object. But when Levy took such proposals entirely on himself, the main question to Randal became this,—could it be Levy's interest to make so considerable a sacrifice? Had the baron implied only friendly sentiments as his motives, Randal would have felt sure he was to be taken in; but the usurer's frank assurance that it would answer to him in the long-run to concede to Randal terms so advantageous, altered the case, and led our young philosopher to look at the affair with calm, contemplative eyes. Was it sufficiently obvious that Levy counted on an adequate return? Might he calculate on reaping help by the bushel if he sowed it by the handful? The result of Randal's cogitations was that the baron might fairly deem himself no wasteful sower. In the first place, it was clear that Levy, not without reasonable ground, believed that he could soon replace, with exceeding good interest, any sum he might advance to Randal, out of the wealth which Randal's prompt information might bestow on Levy's client, the count; and secondly, Randal's self-esteem was immense, and could he but succeed in securing a pecuniary independence on the instant, to free him from the slow drudgery of the Bar, or from a precarious reliance on Audley Egerton, as a politician out of power, his convictions of rapid triumph in public life were as strong as if whispered by an angel or promised by a fiend. On such triumphs, with all the social position they would secure, Levy might well calculate for repayment by a thousand indirect channels. Randal's sagacity detected that, through all the good-natured or liberal actions ascribed to the usurer, Levy had steadily pursued his own interests, he saw that Levy meant to get him into his power, and use his abilities as instruments for digging new mines, in which Baron Levy would claim the right of large royalties. But at that thought Randal's pale lip curled disdainfully; he confided too much in his own powers not to think that he could elude the grasp of the usurer, whenever it suited him to do so. Thus, on a survey, all conscience hushed itself; his mind rushed buoyantly on to anticipations of the future. He saw the hereditary estates regained,—no matter how mortgaged,—for the moment still his own, legally his own, yielding for the present what would suffice for competence to one of few wants, and freeing his name from that title of Adventurer, which is so prodigally given in rich old countries to those who have no estates but their brains. He thought of Violante but as the civilized trader thinks of a trifling coin, of a glass bead, which he exchanges with some barbarian for gold dust; he thought of Frank Hazeldean married to the foreign woman of beggared means, and repute that had known the breath of scandal,—married, and living on post-obit instalments of the Casino property; he thought of the poor squire's resentment; his avarice swept from the lands annexed to Rood on to the broad fields of Hazeldean; he thought of Avenel, of Lansmere, of parliament; with one hand he grasped fortune, with the next power. "And yet I entered on life with no patrimony (save a ruined hall and a barren waste),—no patrimony but knowledge. I have but turned knowledge from books to men; for books may give fame after death, but men give us power in life." And all the while he thus ruminated, his act was speeding his purpose. Though it was but in a miserable hack-cab that he erected airy scaffoldings round airy castles, still the miserable hack-cab was flying fast, to secure the first foot of solid ground whereon to transfer the mental plan of the architect to foundations of positive slime and clay. The cab stopped at the door of Lord Lansmere's house. Randal had suspected Violante to be there: he resolved to ascertain. Randal descended from his vehicle and rang the bell. The lodge-keeper opined the great wooden gates.
"I have called to see the young lady staying here,—the foreign young lady."
Lady Lansmere had been too confident of the security of her roof to condescend to give any orders to her servants with regard to her guest, and the lodge-keeper answered directly,—
"At home, I believe, sir. I rather think she is in the garden with my lady."
"I see," said Randal; and he did see the form of Violante at a distance. "But, since she is walking, I will not disturb her at present. I will call another day."
The lodge-keeper bowed respectfully, Randal jumped into his cab: "To Curzon Street,—quick!"
Harley had made one notable oversight in that appeal to Beatrice's better and gentler nature, which he entrusted to the advocacy of Leonard,—a scheme in itself very characteristic of Harley's romantic temper, and either wise or foolish, according as his indulgent theory of human idiosyncrasies in general, and of those peculiar to Beatrice di Negra in especial, was the dream of an enthusiast, or the inductive conclusion of a sound philosopher.
Harley had warned Leonard not to fall in love with the Italian,—he had forgotten to warn the Italian not to fall in love with Leonard; nor had he ever anticipated the probability of that event. This is not to be very much wondered at; for if there be anything on which the most sensible men are dull-eyed, where those eyes are not lighted by jealousy, it is as to the probabilities of another male creature being beloved. All, the least vain of the whiskered gender, think it prudent to guard themselves against being too irresistible to the fair sex; and each says of his friend, "Good fellow enough, but the last man for that woman to fall in love with!"
But certainly there appeared on the surface more than ordinary cause for Harley's blindness in the special instance of Leonard.
Whatever Beatrice's better qualities, she was generally esteemed worldly and ambitious. She was pinched in circumstances, she was luxuriant and extravagant; how was it likely that she could distinguish any aspirant of the humble birth and fortunes of the young peasant-author? As a coquette, she might try to win his admiration and attract his fancy; but her own heart would surely be guarded in the triple mail of pride, poverty, and the conventional opinions of the world in which she lived. Had Harley thought it possible that Madame di Negra could stoop below her station, and love, not wisely, but too well, he would rather have thought that the object would be some brilliant adventurer of fashion, some one who could turn against herself all the arts of deliberate fascination, and all the experience bestowed by frequent conquest. One so simple as Leonard, so young and so new! Harley L'Estrange would have smiled at himself, if the idea of that image subjugating the ambitious woman to the disinterested love of a village maid had once crossed his mind. Nevertheless, so it was, and precisely from those causes which would have seemed to Harley to forbid the weakness.
It was that fresh, pure heart, it was that simple, earnest sweetness, it was that contrast in look, in tone, in sentiment, and in reasonings, to all that had jaded and disgusted her in the circle of her admirers,—it was all this that captivated Beatrice at the first interview with Leonard. Here was what she had confessed to the sceptical Randal she had dreamed and sighed for. Her earliest youth had passed into abhorrent marriage, without the soft, innocent crisis of human life,—virgin love. Many a wooer might have touched her vanity, pleased her fancy, excited her ambition—her heart had never been awakened; it woke now. The world, and the years that the world had wasted, seemed to fleet away as a cloud. She was as if restored to the blush and the sigh of youth,—the youth of the Italian maid. As in the restoration of our golden age is the spell of poetry with us all, so such was the spell of the poet himself on her.
Oh, how exquisite was that brief episode in the life of the woman palled with the "hack sights and sounds" of worldly life! How strangely happy were those hours, when, lured on by her silent sympathy, the young scholar spoke of his early struggles between circumstance and impulse, musing amidst the flowers, and hearkening to the fountain; or of his wanderings in the desolate, lamp-lit streets, while the vision of Chatterton's glittering eyes shone dread through the friendless shadows. And as he spoke, whether of his hopes or his fears, her looks dwelt fondly on the young face, that varied between pride and sadness,—pride ever so gentle, and sad ness ever so nobly touching. She was never weary of gazing on that brow, with its quiet power; but her lids dropped before those eyes, with their serene, unfathomable passion. She felt, as they haunted her, what a deep and holy thing love in such souls must be. Leonard never spoke to her of Helen—that reserve every reader can comprehend. To natures like his, first love is a mystery; to confide it is to profane. But he fulfilled his commission of interesting her in the exile and his daughter, and his description of them brought tears to her eyes. She inly resolved not to aid Peschiera in his designs on Violante. She forgot for the moment that her own fortune was to depend on the success of those designs. Levy had arranged so that she was not reminded of her poverty by creditors,—she knew not how. She knew nothing of business. She gave herself up to the delight of the present hour, and to vague prospects of a future associated with that young image,—with that face of a guardian angel that she saw before her, fairest in the moments of absence; for in those moments came the life of fairy-land, when we shut our eyes on the world, and see through the haze of golden revery. Dangerous, indeed, to Leonard would have been the soft society of Beatrice di Negra, had not his heart been wholly devoted to one object, and had not his ideal of woman been from that object one sole and indivisible reflection. But Beatrice guessed not this barrier between herself and him. Amidst the shadows that he conjured up from his past life, she beheld no rival form. She saw him lonely in the world, as she was herself. And in his lowly birth, his youth, in the freedom from presumption which characterized him in all things (save that confidence in his intellectual destinies which is the essential attribute of genius), she but grew the bolder by the belief that, even if he loved her, he would not dare to hazard the avowal.
And thus, one day, yielding, as she had ever been wont to yield, to the impulse of her quick Italian heart—how she never remembered, in what words she could never recall—she spoke, she owned her love, she pleaded, with tears and blushes, for love in return. All that passed was to her as a dream,—a dream from which she woke with a fierce sense of agony, of humiliation,—woke as the woman "scorned." No matter how gratefully, how tenderly Leonard had replied, the reply was refusal.
For the first time she learned she had a rival; that all he could give of love was long since, from his boyhood, given to another. For the first time in her life, that ardent nature knew jealousy, its torturing stings, its thirst for vengeance, its tempest of loving hate. But, to outward appearance, silent and cold she stood as marble. Words that sought to soothe fell on her ear unheeded: they were drowned by the storm within. Pride was the first feeling which dominated the warring elements that raged in her soul. She tore her hand from that which clasped hers with so loyal a respect. She could have spurned the form that knelt at her feet, not for love, but for pardon. She pointed to the door with the gesture of an insulted queen. She knew no more till she was alone. Then came that rapid flash of conjecture peculiar to the storms of jealousy; that which seems to single from all nature the one object to dread and to destroy; the conjecture so often false, yet received at once by our convictions as the revelation of instinctive truth. He to whom she had humbled herself loved another; whom but Violante,—whom else, young and beautiful, had he named in the record of his life?—None! And he had sought to interest her, Beatrice di Negra, in the object of his love; hinted at dangers which Beatrice knew too well; implied trust in Beatrice's will to protect. Blind fool that she had been! This, then, was the reason why he had come, day after day, to Beatrice's house; this was the charm that had drawn him thither; this—she pressed her hands to her burning temples, as if to stop the torture of thought. Suddenly a voice was heard below, the door opened, and Randal Leslie entered.
Punctually at eight o'clock that evening, Baron Levy welcomed the new ally he had secured. The pair dined en tete a tete, discussing general matters till the servants left them to their wine. Then said the baron, rising and stirring the fire—then said the baron, briefly and significantly,
"As regards the property you spoke of," answered Randal, "I am willing to purchase it on the terms you name. The only point that perplexes me is how to account to Audley Egerton, to my parents, to the world, for the power of purchasing it."
"True," said the baron, without even a smile at the ingenious and truly Greek manner in which Randal had contrived to denote his meaning, and conceal the ugliness of it—"true, we must think of that. If we could manage to conceal the real name of the purchaser for a year or so, it might be easy,—you may be supposed to have speculated in the Funds; or Egerton may die, and people may believe that he had secured to you something handsome from the ruins of his fortune."
"Little chance of Egerton's dying."
"Humph!" said the baron. "However, this is a mere detail, reserved for consideration. You can now tell us where the young lady is?"
"Certainly. I could not this morning,—I can now. I will go with you to the count. Meanwhile, I have seen Madame di Negra; she will accept Frank Hazeldean if he will but offer himself at once."
"Will he not?"
"No! I have been to him. He is overjoyed at my representations, but considers it his duty to ask the consent of his parents. Of course they will not give it; and if there be delay, she will retract. She is under the influence of passions on the duration of which there is no reliance."
"What passions? Love?"
"Love; but not for Hazeldean. The passions that bring her to accept his hand are pique and jealousy. She believes, in a word, that one who seems to have gained the mastery over her affections with a strange suddenness, is but blind to her charms because dazzled by Violante's. She is prepared to aid in all that can give her rival to Peschiera; and yet, such is the inconsistency of woman" (added the young philosopher, with a shrug of the shoulders), "that she is also prepared to lose all chance of securing him she loves, by bestowing herself on another!"
"Woman, indeed, all over!" said the baron, tapping his snuff-box (Louis Quinze), and regaling his nostrils with a scornful pinch. "But who is the man whom the fair Beatrice has thus honoured? Superb creature! I had some idea of her myself when I bought up her debts; but it might have embarrassed me, in more general plans, as regards the count. All for the best. Who's the man? Not Lord L'Estrange?"
"I do not think it is he; but I have not yet ascertained. I have told you all I know. I found her in a state so excited, so unlike herself, that I had no little difficulty in soothing her into confidence so far. I could not venture more."
"And she will accept Frank?"
"Had he offered to-day she would have accepted him!"
"It may be a great help to your fortunes, mon cher, if Frank Hazeldean marry this lady without his father's consent. Perhaps he may be disinherited. You are next of kin.
"How do you know that?" asked Randal, sullenly.
"It is my business to know all about the chances and connections of any one with whom I do money matters. I do money matters with young Mr. Hazeldean; so I know that the Hazeldean property is not entailed; and, as the squire's half-brother has no Hazeldean blood in him, you have excellent expectations."
"Did Frank tell you I was next of kin?"
"I rather think so; but I am sure you did."
"When you told me how important it was to you that Frank should marry Madame di Negra. Peste! mon cher, do you think I am a blockhead?"
"Well, Baron, Frank is of age, and can marry to please himself. You implied to me that you could help him in this."
"I will try. See that he call at Madame di Negra's tomorrow, at two precisely."
"I would rather keep clear of all apparent interference in this matter. Will you not arrange that he call on her? And do not forget to entangle him in a post-obit."
"Leave it to me. Any more wine? No?—then let us go to the count's."
The next morning Frank Hazeldean was sitting over his solitary breakfast-table. It was long past noon. The young man had risen early, it is true, to attend his military duties, but he had contracted the habit of breakfasting late. One's appetite does not come early when one lives in London, and never goes to bed before daybreak.
There was nothing very luxurious or effeminate about Frank's rooms, though they were in a very dear street, and he paid a monstrous high price for them. Still, to a practised eye, they betrayed an inmate who can get through his money, and make very little show for it. The walls were covered with coloured prints of racers and steeple-chases, interspersed with the portraits of opera-dancers, all smirk and caper. Then there was a semi-circular recess covered with red cloth, and fitted up for smoking, as you might perceive by sundry stands full of Turkish pipes in cherry-stick and jessamine, with amber mouthpieces; while a great serpent hookah, from which Frank could no more have smoked than he could have smoked out of the head of a boa constrictor, coiled itself up on the floor; over the chimney-piece was a collection of Moorish arms. What use on earth ataghan and scimitar and damasquined pistols, that would not carry straight three yards, could be to an officer in his Majesty's Guards is more than I can conjecture, or even Frank satisfactorily explain. I have strong suspicions that this valuable arsenal passed to Frank in part payment of a bill to be discounted. At all events, if so, it was an improvement on the bear that he had sold to the hair-dresser. No books were to be seen anywhere, except a Court Guide, a Racing Calendar, an Army List, the Sporting Magazine complete (whole bound in scarlet morocco, at about a guinea per volume), and a small book, as small as an Elzevir, on the chimney-piece, by the side of a cigar-case. That small book had cost Frank more than all the rest put together; it was his Own Book, his book par excellence; book made up by himself,—his BETTING Book!
On a centre table were deposited Frank's well-brushed hat; a satinwood box, containing kid-gloves, of various delicate tints, from primrose to lilac; a tray full of cards and three-cornered notes; an opera-glass, and an ivory subscription-ticket to his opera stall.
In one corner was an ingenious receptacle for canes, sticks, and whips—I should not like, in these bad times, to have paid the bill for them; and mounting guard by that receptacle, stood a pair of boots as bright as Baron Levy's,—"the force of brightness could no further go." Frank was in his dressing-gown,—very good taste, quite Oriental, guaranteed to be true Indian cashmere, and charged as such. Nothing could be more neat, though perfectly simple, than the appurtenances of his breakfast-table: silver tea-pot, ewer, and basin, all fitting into his dressing-box—for the which may Storr and Mortimer be now praised, and some day paid! Frank looked very handsome, rather tired, and exceedingly bored. He had been trying to read the "Morning Post," but the effort had proved too much for him.
Poor dear Frank Hazeldean!—true type of many a poor dear fellow who has long since gone to the dogs. And if, in this road to ruin, there had been the least thing to do the traveller any credit by the way! One feels a respect for the ruin of a man like Audley Egerton. He is ruined en roi! From the wrecks of his fortune he can look down and see stately monuments built from the stones of that dismantled edifice. In every institution which attests the humanity of England was a record of the princely bounty of the public man. In those objects of party, for which the proverbial sinews of war are necessary, in those rewards for service, which private liberality can confer, the hand of Egerton had been opened as with the heart of a king. Many a rising member of parliament, in those days when talent was brought forward through the aid of wealth and rank, owed his career to the seat which Audley Egerton's large subscription had secured to him; many an obscure supporter in letters and the Press looked back to the day when he had been freed from the jail by the gratitude of the patron. The city he represented was embellished at his cost; through the shire that held his mortgaged lands, which he had rarely ever visited, his gold had flowed as a Pactolus; all that could animate its public spirit, or increase its civilization, claimed kindred with his munificence, and never had a claim disallowed. Even in his grand, careless household, with its large retinue and superb hospitality, there was something worthy of a representative of that time-honoured portion of our true nobility, the untitled gentlemen of the land. The Great Commoner had, indeed, "something to show" for the money he had disdained and squandered. But for Frank Hazeldean's mode of getting rid of the dross, when gone, what would be left to tell the tale? Paltry prints in a bachelor's lodging; a collection of canes and cherry-sticks; half-a-dozen letters in ill-spelt French from a figurante; some long-legged horses, fit for nothing but to lose a race; that damnable Betting-Book; and—sic transit gloria—down sweeps some hawk of a Levy, on the wings of an I O U, and not a feather is left of the pigeon!
Yet Frank Hazeldean has stuff in him,—a good heart, and strict honour. Fool though he seem, there is sound sterling sense in some odd corner of his brains, if one could but get at it. All he wants to save him from perdition is, to do what he has never yet done,—namely, pause and think. But, to be sure, that same operation of thinking is not so easy for folks unaccustomed to it, as people who think—think!
"I can't bear this," said Frank, suddenly, and springing to his feet. "This woman, I cannot get her out of my head. I ought to go down to the governor's; but then if he gets into a passion, and refuses his consent, where am I? And he will, too, I fear. I wish I could make out what Randal advises. He seems to recommend that I should marry Beatrice at once, and trust to my mother's influence to make all right afterwards. But when I ask, 'Is that your advice?' he backs out of it. Well, I suppose he is right there. I can understand that he is unwilling, good fellow, to recommend anything that my father would disapprove. But still—"
Here Frank stopped in his soliloquy, and did make his first desperate effort to—think!
Now, O dear reader, I assume, of course, that thou art one of the class to which thought is familiar; and, perhaps, thou hast smiled in disdain or incredulity at that remark on the difficulty of thinking which preceded Frank Hazeldean's discourse to himself. But art thou quite sure that when thou hast tried to think thou hast always succeeded? Hast thou not often been duped by that pale visionary simulacrum of thought which goes by the name of revery? Honest old Montaigne confessed that he did not understand that process of sitting down to think, on which some folks express themselves so glibly. He could not think unless he had a pen in his hand and a sheet of paper before him; and so, by a manual operation, seized and connected the links of ratiocination. Very often has it happened to myself when I have said to Thought peremptorily, "Bestir thyself: a serious matter is before thee, ponder it well, think of it," that that same thought has behaved in the most refractory, rebellious manner conceivable; and instead of concentrating its rays into a single stream of light, has broken into all the desultory tints of the rainbow, colouring senseless clouds, and running off into the seventh heaven, so that after sitting a good hour by the clock, with brows as knit as if I was intent on squaring the circle, I have suddenly discovered that I might as well have gone comfortably to sleep—I have been doing nothing but dream,—and the most nonsensical dreams! So when Frank Hazeldean, as he stopped at that meditative "But still "—and leaning his arm on the chimney-piece, and resting his face on his hand, felt himself at the grave crisis of life, and fancied he was going "to think on it," there only rose before him a succession of shadowy pictures,—Randal Leslie, with an unsatisfactory countenance, from which he could extract nothing; the squire, looking as black as thunder in his study at Hazeldean; his mother trying to plead for him, and getting herself properly scolded for her pains; and then off went that Will-o'-the-wisp which pretended to call itself Thought, and began playing round the pale, charming face of Beatrice di Negra, in the drawing-room at Curzon Street, and repeating, with small elfin voice, Randal Leslie's assurance of the preceding day, "as to her affection for you, Frank, there is no doubt of that; she only begins to think you are trifling with her." And then there was a rapturous vision of a young gentleman on his knee, and the fair pale face bathed in blushes, and a clergyman standing by the altar, and a carriage-and-four with white favours at the church-door; and of a honeymoon, which would have astonished as to honey all the bees of Hymettus. And in the midst of these phantasmagoria, which composed what Frank fondly styled, "making up his mind," there came a single man's elegant rat-tat-tat at the street door.
"One never has a moment for thinking," cried Frank, and he called out to his valet, "Not at home."
But it was too late. Lord Spendquick was in the hall, and presently within the room. How d'ye do's were exchanged and hands shaken.
LORD SPENDQUICK.—"I have a note for you, Hazeldean."
FRANK (lazily).—"From whom?"
LORD SPENDQUICK.—"Levy. Just come from him,—never saw him in such a fidget. He was going into the city,—I suppose to see X. Y. Dashed off this note for you, and would have sent it by a servant, but I said I would bring it."
FRANK (looking fearfully at the note).—"I hope he does not want his money yet. 'Private and confidential,'—that looks bad."
SPENDQUICK.—"Devilish bad, indeed."
Frank opens the note, and reads, half aloud, "Dear Hazeldean—"
SPENDQUICK (interrupting.)—"Good sign! He always Spendquicks me when he lends me money; and 't is 'My dear Lord' when he wants it back. Capital sign!"
Frank reads on, but to himself, and with a changing countenance,
DEAR HAZELDEAN,—I am very sorry to tell you that, in consequence of the sudden failure of a house at Paris with which I Had large dealings, I am pressed on a sudden for all the ready money I can get. I don't want to inconvenience you, but do try to see if you can take up those bills of yours which I hold, and which, as you know, have been due some little time. I had hit on a way of arranging your affairs; but when I hinted at it, you seemed to dislike the idea; and Leslie has since told me that you have strong objections to giving any security on your prospective property. So no more of that, my dear fellow. I am called out in haste to try what I can do for a very charming client of mine, who is in great pecuniary distress, though she has for her brother a foreign count, as rich as a Croesus. There is an execution in her house. I am going down to the tradesman who put it in, but have no hope of softening him; and I fear there will be others before the day is out. Another reason for wanting money, if you can help me, mon cher! An execution in the house of one of the most brilliant women in London,—an execution in Curzon Street, May Fair! It will be all over the town if I can't stop it.
Yours in haste, LEVY.
P.S.—Don't let what I have said vex you too much. I should not trouble you if Spendquick and Borrowell would pay me something. Perhaps you can get them to do so.
Struck by Frank's silence and paleness, Lord Spendquick here, in the kindest way possible, laid his hand on the young Guardsman's shoulder. and looked over the note with that freedom which gentlemen in difficulties take with each other's private and confidential correspondence. His eye fell on the postscript. "Oh, damn it," cried Spendquick, "but that's too bad,—employing you to get me to pay him! Such horrid treachery. Make yourself easy, my dear Frank; I could never suspect you of anything so unhandsome. I could as soon suspect myself of—paying him—"
"Curzon Street! Count!" muttered Frank, as if waking from a dream. "It must be so." To thrust on his boots, change his dressing-robe for a frock-coat, snatch at his hat, gloves, and cane, break from Spendquick, descend the stairs, a flight at a leap, gain the street, throw himself into a cabriolet,—all this was done before his astounded visitor could even recover breath enough to ask "What's the matter?"
Left thus alone, Lord Spendquick shook his head,—shook it twice, as if fully to convince himself that there was nothing in it; and then re-arranging his hat before the looking-glass, and drawing on his gloves deliberately, he walked downstairs, and strolled into White's, but with a bewildered and absent air. Standing at the celebrated bow-window for some moments in musing silence, Lord Spendquick at last thus addressed an exceedingly cynical, sceptical old roue,
"Pray, do you think there is any truth in the stories about people in former times selling themselves to the devil?"
"Ugh," answered the rout, much too wise ever to be surprised. "Have you any personal interest in the question?"
"I!—no; but a friend of mine has just received a letter from Levy, and he flew out of the room in the most ex-tra-ordi-na-ry manner,—just as people did in those days when their time was up! And Levy, you know, is—"
"Not quite as great a fool as the other dark gentleman to whom you would compare him; for Levy never made such bad bargains for himself. Time up! No doubt it is. I should not like to be in your friend's shoes."
"Shoes!" said Spendquick, with a sort of shudder; "you never saw a neater fellow, nor one, to do him justice, who takes more time in dressing than he does in general. And talking of shoes, he rushed out with the right boot on the left foot, and the left boot on the right. Very mysterious!" And a third time Lord Spendquick shook his head,—and a third time that head seemed to him wondrous empty.
Buy Frank had arrived in Curzon Street, leaped from the cabriolet, knocked at the door, which was opened by a strange-looking man in a buff waistcoat and corduroy smalls. Frank gave a glance at this personage, pushed him aside, and rushed upstairs. He burst into the drawing-room,—no Beatrice was there. A thin elderly man, with a manuscript book in his hands, appeared engaged in examining the furniture, and making an inventory, with the aid of Madame di Negra's upper servant. The thin man stared at Frank, and touched the hat which was on his head. The servant, who was a foreigner, approached Frank, and said, in broken English, that his lady did not receive,—that she was unwell, and kept her room. Frank thrust a sovereign into the servant's hand, and begged him to tell Madame di Negra. that Mr. Hazeldean entreated the honour of an interview. As soon as the servant vanished on this errand, Frank seized the thin man by the arm. "What is this?—an execution?"
"For what sum?"
"Fifteen hundred and forty-seven pounds. We are the first in possession."
"There are others, then?"
"Or else, sir, we should never have taken this step. Most painful to our feelings, sir; but these foreigners are here to day, and gone to-morrow. And—"
The servant re-entered. Madame di Negra would see Mr. Hazeldean. Would he walk upstairs? Frank hastened to obey this summons.
Madame di Negra was in a small room which was fitted up as a boudoir. Her eyes showed the traces of recent tears, but her face was composed, and even rigid, in its haughty though mournful expression. Frank, however, did not pause to notice her countenance, to hear her dignified salutation. All his timidity was gone. He saw but the woman whom he loved in distress and humiliation. As the door closed on him, he flung himself at her feet. He caught at her hand, the skirt of her robe.
"Oh, Madame di Negra!—Beatrice!" he exclaimed, tears in his eyes, and his voice half-broken by generous emotion; "forgive me, forgive me! don't see in me a mere acquaintance. By accident I learned, or, rather, guessed—this—this strange insult to which you are so unworthily exposed. I am here. Think of me—but as a friend,—the truest friend. Oh, Beatrice,"—and he bent his head over the hand he held,—"I never dared say so before, it seems presuming to say it now, but I cannot help it. I love you,—I love you with my whole heart and soul; to serve you—if only but to serve you!—I ask nothing else." And a sob went from his warm, young, foolish heart.
The Italian was deeply moved. Nor was her nature that of the mere sordid adventuress. So much love and so much confidence! She was not prepared to betray the one, and entrap the other.
"Rise, rise," she said softly; "I thank you gratefully. But do not suppose that I—"
"Hush! hush!—you must not refuse me. Hush! don't let your pride speak."
"No, it is not my pride. You exaggerate what is occurring here. You forget that I have a brother. I have sent for him. He is the only one I can apply to. Ah, that is his knock! But I shall never, never forget that I have found one generous noble heart in this hollow world."
Frank would have replied, but he heard the count's voice on the stairs, and had only time to rise and withdraw to the window, trying hard to repress his agitation and compose his countenance. Count di Peschiera entered,—entered as a very personation of the beauty and magnificence of careless, luxurious, pampered, egotistical wealth,—his surtout, trimmed with the costliest sables, flung back from his splendid chest. Amidst the folds of the glossy satin that enveloped his throat gleamed a turquoise, of such value as a jeweller might have kept for fifty years before he could find a customer rich and frivolous enough to buy it. The very head of his cane was a masterpiece of art, and the man himself, so elegant despite his strength, and so fresh despite his years!—it is astonishing how well men wear when they think of no one but themselves!
"Pr-rr!" said the count, not observing Frank behind the draperies of the window; "Pr-rr—It seems to me that you must have passed a very unpleasant quarter of an hour. And now—Dieu me damne, quoi faire!"
Beatrice pointed to the window, and felt as if she could have sunk into the earth for shame. But as the count spoke in French, and Frank did not very readily comprehend that language, the words escaped him, though his ear was shocked by a certain satirical levity of tone.
Frank came forward. The count held out his hand, and with a rapid change of voice and manner, said, "One whom my sister admits at such a moment must be a friend to me."
"Mr. Hazeldean," said Beatrice, with meaning, "would indeed have nobly pressed on me the offer of an aid which I need no more, since you, my brother, are here."
"Certainly," said the count, with his superb air of grand seigneur; "I will go down and clear your house of this impertinent canaille. But I thought your affairs were with Baron Levy. He should be here."
"I expect him every moment. Adieu! Mr. Hazeldean." Beatrice extended her hand to her young lover with a frankness which was not without a certain pathetic and cordial dignity. Restrained from further words by the count's presence, Frank bowed over the fair hand in silence, and retired. He was on the stairs when he was joined by Peschiera.
"Mr. Hazeldean," said the latter, in a low tone, "will you come into the drawing-room?"
Frank obeyed. The man employed in his examination of the furniture was still at his task: but at a short whisper from the count he withdrew.
"My dear sir," said Peschiera, "I am so unacquainted with your English laws, and your mode of settling embarrassments of this degrading nature, and you have evidently showed so kind a sympathy in my sister's distress, that I venture to ask you to stay here, and aid me in consulting with Baron Levy."
Frank was just expressing his unfeigned pleasure to be of the slightest use, when Levy's knock resounded at the streetdoor, and in another moment the baron entered.
"Ouf!" said Levy, wiping his brows, and sinking into a chair as if he had been engaged in toils the most exhausting,—"ouf! this is a very sad business,—very; and nothing, my dear count, nothing but ready money can save us here."
"You know my affairs, Levy," replied Peschiera, mournfully shaking his head, "and that though in a few months, or it may be weeks, I could discharge with ease my sister's debts, whatever their amount, yet at this moment, and in a strange land, I have not the power to do so. The money I brought with me is nearly exhausted. Can you not advance the requisite sum?"
"Impossible!—Mr. Hazeldean is aware of the distress under which I labour myself."
"In that case," said the count, "all we can do to-day is to remove my sister, and let the execution proceed. Meanwhile I will go among my friends, and see what I can borrow from them."
"Alas!" said Levy, rising and looking out of the window—"alas!—we cannot remove the marchesa,—the worst is to come. Look!—you see those three men; they have a writ against her person: the moment she sets her foot out of these doors she will be arrested."
[At that date the law of mesne process existed still.]
"Arrested!" exclaimed Peschiera and Frank in a breath. "I have done my best to prevent this disgrace, but in vain," said the baron, looking very wretched. "You see these English tradespeople fancy they have no hold upon foreigners. But we can get bail; she must not go to prison—"
"Prison!" echoed Frank. He hastened to Levy and drew him aside. The count seemed paralyzed by shame and grief. Throwing himself back on the sofa, he covered his face with his hands.
"My sister!" groaned the count—"daughter to a Peschiera, widow to a Di Negra!" There was something affecting in the proud woe of this grand patrician.
"What is the sum?" whispered Frank, anxious that the poor count should not overhear him; and indeed the count seemed too stunned and overwhelmed to hear anything less loud than a clap of thunder!
"We may settle all liabilities for L5,000. Nothing to Peschiera, who is enormously rich. Entre nous, I doubt his assurance that he is without ready money. It may be so, but—"
"Five thousand pounds! How can I raise such a sum?"
"You, my dear Hazeldean? What are you talking about? To be sure you could raise twice as much with a stroke of your pen, and throw your own debts into the bargain. But—to be so generous to an acquaintance!"
"Acquaintance!—Madame di Negra! the height of my ambition is to claim her as my wife!"
"And these debts don't startle you?"
"If a man loves," answered Frank, simply, "he feels it most when the woman he loves is in affliction. And," he added, after a pause, "though these debts are faults, kindness at this moment may give me the power to cure forever both her faults and my own. I can raise this money by a stroke of the pen! How?"
"On the Casino property."
Frank drew back.
"No other way?"
"Of course not. But I know your scruples; let us see if they can be conciliated. You would marry Madame di Negra; she will have L20,000 on her wedding-day. Why not arrange that, out of this sum, your anticipative charge on the Casino property be paid at once? Thus, in truth, it will be but for a few weeks that the charge will exist. The bond will remain locked in my desk; it can never come to your father's know ledge, nor wound his feelings. And when you marry (if you will but be prudent in the mean while), you will not owe a debt in the world."
Here the count suddenly started up.
"Mr. Hazeldean, I asked you to stay and aid us by your counsel; I see now that counsel is unavailing. This blow on our House must fall! I thank you, Sir,—I thank you. Farewell. Levy, come with me to my poor sister, and prepare her for the worst."
"Count," said Frank, "hear me. My acquaintance with you is but slight, but I have long known and—and esteemed your sister. Baron Levy has suggested a mode in which I can have the honour and the happiness of removing this temporary but painful embarrassment. I can advance the money."
"No, no!" exclaimed Peschiera. "How can you suppose that I will hear of such a proposition? Your youth and benevolence mislead and blind you. Impossible, sir,—impossible! Why, even if I had no pride, no delicacy of my own, my sister's fair fame—"
"Would suffer indeed," interrupted Levy, "if she were under such obligation to any one but her affianced husband. Nor, whatever my regard for you, Count, could I suffer my client, Mr. Hazeldean, to make this advance upon any less valid security than that of the fortune to which Madame di Negra is entitled."
"Ha!—is this indeed so? You are a suitor for my sister's hand, Mr. Hazeldean?"
"But not at this moment,—not to owe her hand to the compulsion of gratitude," answered gentleman Frank. "Gratitude! And you do not know her heart, then? Do not know—" the count interrupted himself, and went on after a pause. "Mr. Hazeldean, I need not say that we rank among the first Houses in Europe. My pride led me formerly into the error of disposing of my sister's hand to one whom she did not love, merely because in rank he was her equal. I will not again commit such an error, nor would Beatrice again obey me if I sought to constrain her. Where she marries, there she will love. If, indeed, she accepts you, as I believe she will, it will be from affection solely. If she does, I cannot scruple to accept this loan,—a loan from a brother-inlaw—loan to me, and not charged against her fortune! That, sir," turning to Levy, with his grand air, "you will take care to arrange. If she do not accept you, Mr. Hazeldean, the loan, I repeat, is not to be thought of. Pardon me, if I leave you. This, one way or other, must be decided at once." The count inclined his head with much stateliness, and then quitted the room. His step was heard ascending the stairs.
"If," said Levy, in the tone of a mere man of business—"if the count pay the debts, and the lady's fortune be only charged with your own, after all, it will not be a bad marriage in the world's eye, nor ought it to be in a father's. Trust me, we shall get Mr. Hazeldean's consent, and cheerfully too."
Frank did not listen; he could only listen to his love, to his heart beating loud with hope and with fear.
Levy sat down before the table, and drew up a long list of figures in a very neat hand,—a list of figures on two accounts, which the post-obit on the Casino was destined to efface.
After a lapse of time, which to Frank seemed interminable, the count re-appeared. He took Frank aside, with a gesture to Levy, who rose, and retired into the drawing-room.
"My dear young friend," said Peschiera, "as I suspected, my sister's heart is wholly yours. Stop; hear me out. But, unluckily, I informed her of your generous proposal; it was most unguarded, most ill-judged in me, and that has well-nigh spoiled all; she has so much pride and spirit; so great a fear that you may think yourself betrayed into an imprudence which you may hereafter regret, that I am sure she will tell you that she does not love you, she cannot accept you, and so forth. Lovers like you are not easily deceived. Don't go by her words; but you shall see her yourself and judge. Come."
Followed mechanically by Frank, the count ascended the stairs, and threw open the door of Beatrice's room. The marchesa's back was turned; but Frank could see that she was weeping.
"I have brought my friend to plead for himself," said the count, in French; "and take my advice, sister, and do not throw away all prospect of real and solid happiness for a vain scruple. Heed me!" He retired, and left Frank alone with Beatrice.
Then the marchesa, as if by a violent effort, so sudden was her movement, and so wild her look, turned her face to her wooer, and came up to him, where he stood.
"Oh," she said, clasping her hands, "is this true? You would save me from disgrace, from a prison—and what can I give you in return? My love! No, no. I will not deceive you. Young, fair, noble as you are, I do not love you as you should be loved. Go; leave this house; you do not know my brother. Go, go—while I have still strength, still virtue enough to reject whatever may protect me from him! whatever—may—Oh, go, go."
"You do not love me?" said Frank. "Well, I don't wonder at it; you are so brilliant, so superior to me. I will abandon hope,—I will leave you, as you command me. But at least I will not part with my privilege to serve you. As for the rest, shame on me if I could be mean enough to boast of love, and enforce a suit, at such a moment."
Frank turned his face and stole away softly. He did not arrest his steps at the drawing-room; he went into the parlour, wrote a brief line to Levy charging him quietly to dismiss the execution, and to come to Frank's rooms with the necessary deeds; and, above all, to say nothing to the count. Then he went out of the house and walked back to his lodgings.
That evening Levy came to him, and accounts were gone into, and papers signed; and the next morning Madame di Negra was free from debt; and there was a great claim on the reversion of the Casino estates; and at the noon of that next day, Randal was closeted with Beatrice; and before the night came a note from Madame di Negra, hurried, blurred with tears, summoning Frank to Curzon Street. And when he entered the marchesa's drawing-room, Peschiera was seated beside his sister; and rising at Frank's entrance, said, "My dear brother-in-law!" and placed Frank's hand in Beatrice's.
"You accept—you accept me—and of your own free will and choice?"
And Beatrice answered, "Bear with me a little, and I will try to repay you with all my—all my—" She stopped short, and sobbed aloud.
"I never thought her capable of such acute feelings, such strong attachment," whispered the count.
Frank heard, and his face was radiant. By degrees Madame di Negra recovered composure, and she listened with what her young lover deemed a tender interest, but what, in fact, was mournful and humbled resignation, to his joyous talk of the future. To him the hours passed by, brief and bright, like a flash of sunlight. And his dreams when he retired to rest were so golden! But when he awoke the next morning, he said to himself, "What—what will they say at the Hall?" At that same hour Beatrice, burying her face on her pillow, turned from the loathsome day, and could have prayed for death. At that same hour, Giulio Franzini, Count di Peschiera, dismissing some gaunt, haggard Italians, with whom he had been in close conference, sallied forth to reconnoitre the house that contained Violante. At that same hour, Baron Levy was seated before his desk, casting up a deadly array of figures, headed, "Account with the Right Hon. Audley Egerton, M. P., Dr. and Cr."—title-deeds strewed around him, and Frank Hazeldean's post-obit peeping out fresh from the elder parchments. At that same hour, Audley Egerton had just concluded a letter from the chairman of his committee in the city he represented, which letter informed him that he had not a chance of being re-elected. And the lines of his face were as composed is usual, and his foot rested as firm on the grim iron box; but his hand was pressed to his heart, and his eye was on the clock, and his voice muttered, "Dr. F—should be here!" And that hour Harley L'Estrange, who the previous night had charmed courtly crowds with his gay humour, was pacing to and fro the room in his hotel with restless strides and many a heavy sigh; and Leonard was standing by the fountain in his garden, and watching the wintry sunbeams that sparkled athwart the spray; and Violante was leaning on Helen's shoulder, and trying archly, yet innocently, to lead Helen to talk of Leonard; and Helen was gazing steadfastly on the floor, and answering but by monosyllables; and Randal Leslie was walking down to his office for the last time, and reading, as he passed across the Green Park, a letter from home, from his sister; and then, suddenly crumpling the letter in his thin pale hand, he looked up, beheld in the distance the spires of the great national Abbey; and recalling the words of our hero Nelson, he muttered, "Victory and Westminster, but not the Abbey!" And Randal Leslie felt that, within the last few days, he had made a vast stride in his ambition,—his grasp on the old Leslie lands, Frank Hazeldean betrothed, and possibly disinherited; and Dick Avenel, in the background, opening against the hated Lansmere interest that same seat in parliament which had first welcomed into public life Randal's ruined patron.
"But some must laugh, and some must weep; Thus runs the world away!"
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HATE AS AN AGENT IN CIVILIZED LIFE.
It is not an uncommon crotchet amongst benevolent men to maintain that wickedness is necessarily a sort of insanity, and that nobody would make a violent start out of the straight path unless stung to such disorder by a bee in his bonnet. Certainly when some very clever, well-educated person like our friend, Randal Leslie, acts upon the fallacious principle that "roguery is the best policy," it is curious to see how many points he has in common with the insane: what over-cunning, what irritable restlessness, what suspicious belief that the rest of the world are in a conspiracy against him, which it requires all his wit to baffle and turn to his own proper aggrandizement and profit. Perhaps some of my readers may have thought that I have represented Randal as unnaturally far-fetched in his schemes, too wire-drawn and subtle in his speculations; yet that is commonly the case with very refining intellects, when they choose to play the knave; it helps to disguise from themselves the ugliness of their ambition, just as a philosopher delights in the ingenuity of some metaphysical process, which ends in what plain men call "atheism," who would be infinitely shocked and offended if he were called an atheist.