"She has been accustomed to starve," said Mr. Digby, plaintively. "Oh, Colonel, let me see your wife. Her heart I can touch,—she is a woman."
Unlucky father! A more untoward, unseasonable request the Fates could not have put into his lips.
Mrs. Pompley see the Digbies! Mrs. Pompley learn the condition of the colonel's grand connections! The colonel would never have been his own man again. At the bare idea, he felt as if he could have sunk into the earth with shame. In his alarm he made a stride to the door, with the intention of locking it. Good heavens, if Mrs. Pompley should come in! And the man, too, had been announced by name. Mrs. Pompley might have learned already that a Digby was with her husband,—she might be actually dressing to receive him worthily; there was not a moment to lose.
The colonel exploded. "Sir, I wonder at your impudence. See Mrs. Pompley! Hush, sir, hush!—hold your tongue. I have disowned your connection. I will not have my wife—a woman, sir, of the first family—disgraced by it. Yes; you need not fire up. John Pompley is not a man to be bullied in his own house. I say disgraced. Did not you run into debt, and spend your fortune? Did not you marry a low creature,—a vulgarian, a tradesman's daughter?—and your poor father such a respectable man,—a benefited clergyman! Did not you sell your commission? Heaven knows what became of the money! Did not you turn (I shudder to say it) a common stage-player, sir? And then, when you were on your last legs, did I not give you L200 out of my own purse to go to Canada? And now here you are again,—and ask me, with a coolness that—that takes away my breath—takes away-my breath, sir—to provide for the child you have thought proper to have,—a child whose connections on the mother's side are of the most abject and discreditable condition. Leave my house, leave it! good heavens, sir, not that way!—this." And the colonel opened the glass-door that led into the garden. "I will let you out this way. If Mrs. Pompley should see you!" And with that thought the colonel absolutely hooked his arm into his poor relation's, and hurried him into the garden.
Mr. Digby said not a word, but he struggled ineffectually to escape from the colonel's arm; and his colour went and came, came and went, with a quickness that showed that in those shrunken veins there were still some drops of a soldier's blood.
But the colonel had now reached a little postern-door in the garden-wall. He opened the latch, and thrust out his poor cousin. Then looking down the lane, which was long, straight, and narrow, and seeing it was quite solitary, his eye fell upon the forlorn man, and remorse shot through his heart. For a moment the hardest of all kinds of avarice, that of the genteel, relaxed its gripe. For a moment the most intolerant of all forms of pride, that which is based upon false pretences, hushed its voice, and the colonel hastily drew out his purse. "There," said he, "that is all I can do for you. Do leave the town as quick as you can, and don't mention your name to any one. Your father was such a respectable man,—beneficed clergyman!"
"And paid for your commission, Mr. Pompley. My name! I am not ashamed of it. But do not fear I shall claim your relationship. No; I am ashamed of you!"
The poor cousin put aside the purse, still stretched towards him, with a scornful hand, and walked firmly down the lane. Colonel Pompley stood irresolute. At that moment a window in his house was thrown open. He heard the noise, turned round, and saw his wife looking out.
Colonel Pompley sneaked back through the shrubbery, hiding himself amongst the trees.
"Ill-luck is a betise," said the great Cardinal Richelieu; and in the long run, I fear, his Eminence was right. If you could drop Dick Avenel and Mr. Digby in the middle of Oxford Street,—Dick in a fustian jacket, Digby in a suit of superfine; Dick with five shillings in his pocket, Digby with L1000,—and if, at the end of ten years, you looked up your two men, Dick would be on his road to a fortune, Digby—what we have seen him! Yet Digby had no vice; he did not drink nor gamble. What was he, then? Helpless. He had been an only son,—a spoiled child, brought up as "a gentleman;" that is, as a man who was not expected to be able to turn his hand to anything. He entered, as we have seen, a very expensive regiment, wherein he found himself, at his father's death, with L4000 and the incapacity to say "No." Not naturally extravagant, but without an idea of the value of money,—the easiest, gentlest, best-tempered man whom example ever led astray. This part of his career comprised a very common history,—the poor man living on equal terms with the rich. Debt; recourse to usurers; bills signed sometimes for others, renewed at twenty per cent; the L4000 melted like snow; pathetic appeal to relations; relations have children of their own; small help given grudgingly, eked out by much advice, and coupled with conditions. Amongst the conditions there was a very proper and prudent one,—exchange into a less expensive regiment. Exchange effected; peace; obscure country quarters; ennui, flute-playing, and idleness. Mr. Digby had no resources on a rainy day—except flute-playing; pretty girl of inferior rank; all the officers after her; Digby smitten; pretty girl very virtuous; Digby forms honourable intentions; excellent sentiments; imprudent marriage. Digby falls in life; colonel's lady will not associate with Mrs. Digby; Digby cut by his whole kith and kin; many disagreeable circumstances in regimental life; Digby sells out; love in a cottage; execution in ditto. Digby had been much applauded as an amateur actor; thinks of the stage; genteel comedy,—a gentlemanlike profession. Tries in a provincial town, under another name; unhappily succeeds; life of an actor; hand-to-mouth life; illness; chest affected; Digby's voice becomes hoarse and feeble; not aware of it; attributes failing success to ignorant provincial public; appears in London; is hissed; returns to the provinces; sinks into very small parts; prison; despair; wife dies; appeal again to relations; a subscription made to get rid of him; send him out of the country; place in Canada,—superintendent to an estate, L150 a year; pursued by ill-luck; never before fit for business, not fit now; honest as the day, but keeps slovenly accounts; child cannot bear the winter of Canada; Digby wrapped up in the child; return home; mysterious life for two years; child patient, thoughtful, loving; has learned to work; manages for father; often supports him; constitution rapidly breaking; thought of what will become of his child,—worst disease of all. Poor Digby! never did a base, cruel, unkind thing in his life; and here he is, walking down the lane from Colonel Pompley's house! Now, if Digby had but learned a little of the world's cunning, I think he would have succeeded even with Colonel Pompley. Had he spent the L100 received from Lord L'Estrange with a view to effect; had he bestowed a fitting wardrobe on himself and his pretty Helen; had he stopped at the last stage, taken thence a smart chaise and pair, and presented himself at Colonel Pompley's in a way that would not have discredited the colonel's connection, and then, instead of praying for home and shelter, asked the colonel to become guardian to his child in case of his death, I have a strong notion that the colonel, in spite of his avarice, would have stretched both ends so as to take in Helen Digby. But our poor friend had no such arts. Indeed, of the L100 he had already very little left, for before leaving town he had committed what Sheridan considered the extreme of extravagance,—frittered away his money in paying his debts; and as for dressing up Helen and himself—if that thought had ever occurred to him, he would have rejected it as foolish. He would have thought that the more he showed his poverty, the more he would be pitied,—the worst mistake a poor cousin can commit. According to Theophrastus, the partridge of Paphlagonia has two hearts: so have most men; it is the common mistake of the unlucky to knock at the wrong one.
Mr. Digby entered the room of the inn in which he had left Helen. She was seated by the window, and looking out wistfully on the narrow street, perhaps at the children at play. There had never been a playtime for Helen Digby.
She sprang forward as her father came in. His coming was her holiday.
"We must go back to London," said Mr. Digby, sinking helplessly on the chair. Then with his sort of sickly smile,—for he was bland even to his child,—"Will you kindly inquire when the first coach leaves?"
All the active cares of their careful life devolved upon that quiet child. She kissed her father, placed before him a cough mixture which he had brought from London, and went out silently to make the necessary inquiries, and prepare for the journey back.
At eight o'clock the father and child were seated in the night-coach, with one other passenger,—a man muffled up to the chin. After the first mile the man let down one of the windows. Though it was summer the air was chill and raw. Digby shivered and coughed.
Helen placed her hand on the window, and, leaning towards the passenger, whispered softly.
"Eh!" said the passenger, "draw up the window? You have got your own window; this is mine. Oxygen, young lady," he added solemnly, "oxygen is the breath of life. Cott, child!" he continued with suppressed choler, and a Welsh pronunciation, "Cott! let us breathe and live."
Helen was frightened, and recoiled.
Her father, who had not heard, or had not heeded, this colloquy, retreated into the corner, put up the collar of his coat, and coughed again.
"It is cold, my dear," said he, languidly, to Helen.
The passenger caught the word, and replied indignantly, but as if soliloquizing,—
"Cold-ugh! I do believe the English are the stuffiest people! Look at their four-post beds—all the curtains drawn, shutters closed, board before the chimney—not a house with a ventilator! Cold-ugh!"
The window next Mr. Digby did not fit well into its frame. "There is a sad draught," said the invalid.
Helen instantly occupied herself in stopping up the chinks of the window with her handkerchief. Mr. Digby glanced ruefully at the other window. The look, which was very eloquent, aroused yet more the traveller's spleen.
"Pleasant!" said he. "Cott! I suppose you will ask me to go outside next! But people who travel in a coach should know the law of a coach. I don't interfere with your window; you have no business to interfere with mine."
"Sir, I did not speak," said Mr. Digby, meekly.
"But Miss here did."
"Ah, sir!" said Helen, plaintively, "if you knew how Papa suffers!" And her hand again moved towards the obnoxious window.
"No, my dear; the gentleman is in his right," said Mr. Digby; and, bowing with his wonted suavity, he added, "Excuse her, sir. She thinks a great deal too much of me."
The passenger said nothing, and Helen nestled closer to her father, and strove to screen him from the air.
The passenger moved uneasily. "Well," said he, with a sort of snort, "air is air, and right is right: but here goes—" and he hastily drew up the window.
Helen turned her face full towards the passenger with a grateful expression, visible even in the dim light.
"You are very kind, sir," said poor Mr. Digby; "I am ashamed to—" his cough choked the rest of the sentence. The passenger, who was a plethoric, sanguineous man, felt as if he were stifling. But he took off his wrappers, and resigned the oxygen like a hero.
Presently he drew nearer to the sufferer, and laid hand on his wrist.
"You are feverish, I fear. I am a medical man. St!—one—two. Cott! you should not travel; you are not fit for it!"
Mr. Digby shook his head; he was too feeble to reply.
The passenger thrust his hand into his coat-pocket, and drew out what seemed a cigar-case, but what, in fact, was a leathern repertory, containing a variety of minute phials.
From one of these phials he extracted two tiny globules. "There," said he, "open your mouth, put those on the tip of your tongue. They will lower the pulse, check the fever. Be better presently, but should not travel, want rest; you should be in bed. Aconite! Henbane! hum! Your papa is of fair complexion,—a timid character, I should say;—a horror of work, perhaps. Eh, child?"
"Sir!" faltered Helen, astonished and alarmed. Was the man a conjuror?
"A case for phosphor!" cried the passenger: "that fool Browne would have said arsenic. Don't be persuaded to take arsenic!"
"Arsenic, sir!" echoed the mild Digby. "No: however unfortunate a man may be, I think, sir, that suicide is—tempting, perhaps, but highly criminal."
"Suicide," said the passenger, tranquilly,—"suicide is my hobby! You have no symptom of that kind, you say?"
"Good heavens! No, sir."
"If ever you feel violently impelled to drown yourself, take pulsatilla; but if you feel a preference towards blowing out your brains, accompanied with weight in the limbs, loss of appetite, dry cough, and bad corns, sulphuret of antimony. Don't forget."
Though poor Mr. Digby confusedly thought that the gentleman was out of his mind, yet he tried politely to say "that he was much obliged, and would be sure to remember;" but his tongue failed him, and his own ideas grew perplexed. His head fell back heavily, and he sank into a silence which seemed that of sleep.
The traveller looked hard at Helen, as she gently drew her father's head on her shoulder, and there pillowed it with a tenderness which was more that of a mother than child.
"Moral affections, soft, compassionate!—a good child and would go well with—pulsatilla."
Helen held up her finger, and glanced from her father to the traveller, and then to her father again.
"Certainly,—pulsatilla!" muttered the homoeopathist, and ensconcing himself in his own corner, he also sought to sleep. But after vain efforts, accompanied by restless gestures and movements, he suddenly started up, and again extracted his phial-book.
"What the deuce are they to me?" he muttered. "Morbid sensibility of character—coffee? No!—accompanied by vivacity and violence—nux!" He brought his book to the window, contrived to read the label on a pigmy bottle. "Nux! that's it," he said,—and he swallowed a globule!
"Now," quoth he, after a pause, "I don't care a straw for the misfortunes of other people; nay, I have half a mind to let down the window."
Helen looked up.
"But I'll not," he added resolutely; and this time he fell fairly asleep.
The coach stopped at eleven o'clock to allow the passengers to sup. The homoeopathist woke up, got out, gave himself a shake, and inhaled the fresh air into his vigorous lungs with an evident sensation of delight. He then turned and looked into the coach.
"Let your father get out, my dear," said he, with a tone more gentle than usual. "I should like to see him indoors,—perhaps I can do him good."
But what was Helen's terror when she found that her father did not stir! He was in a deep swoon, and still quite insensible when they lifted him from the carriage. When he recovered his senses his cough returned, and the effort brought up blood.
It was impossible for him to proceed farther. The homoeopathist assisted to undress and put him into bed. And having administered another of his mysterious globules, he inquired of the landlady how far it was to the nearest doctor,—for the inn stood by itself in a small hamlet. There was the parish apothecary three miles off. But on hearing that the gentlefolks employed Dr. Dosewell, and it was a good seven miles to his house, the homoeopathist fetched a deep breath. The coach only stopped a quarter of an hour.
"Cott!" said he, angrily, to himself, "the nux was a failure. My sensibility is chronic. I must go through a long course to get rid of it. Hollo, guard! get out my carpet-bag. I sha'n't go on to-night."
And the good man after a very slight supper went upstairs again to the sufferer.
"Shall I send for Dr. Dosewell, sir?" asked the landlady, stopping him at the door.
"Hum! At what hour to-morrow does the next coach to London pass?"
"Not before eight, sir."
"Well, send for the doctor to be here at seven. That leaves us at least some hours free from allopathy and murder," grunted the disciple of Hahnemann, as he entered the room.
Whether it was the globule that the homoeopathist had administered, or the effect of nature, aided by repose, that checked the effusion of blood, and restored some temporary strength to the poor sufferer, is more than it becomes one not of the Faculty to opine. But certainly Mr. Digby seemed better, and he gradually fell into a profound sleep, but not till the doctor had put his ear to his chest, tapped it with his hand, and asked several questions; after which the homoeopathist retired into a corner of the room, and leaning his face on his hand seemed to meditate. From his thoughts he was disturbed by a gentle touch. Helen was kneeling at his feet. "Is he very ill, very?" said she; and her fond wistful eyes were fixed on the physician's with all the earnestness of despair.
"Your father is very ill," replied the doctor, after a short pause. "He cannot move hence for some days at least. I am going to London; shall I call on your relations, and tell some of them to join you?"
"No, thank you, sir," answered Helen, colouring. "But do not fear; I can nurse Papa. I think he has been worse before,—that is, he has complained more."
The homeopathist rose, and took two strides across the room; then he paused by the bed, and listened to the breathing of the sleeping man.
He stole back to the child, who was still kneeling, took her in his arms and kissed her. "Tamn it," said he, angrily, and putting her down, "go to bed now,—you are not wanted any more."
"Please, sir," said Helen, "I cannot leave him so. If he wakes he would miss me."
The doctor's hand trembled; he had recourse to his globules.
"Anxiety—grief suppressed," muttered he. "Don't you want to cry, my dear? Cry,—do!"
"I can't," murmured Helen.
"Pulsatilla!" said the doctor, almost with triumph. "I said so from the first. Open your mouth—here! Goodnight. My room is opposite,—No. 6; call me if he wakes."
At seven o'clock Dr. Dosewell arrived, and was shown into the room of the homoeopathist, who, already up and dressed, had visited his patient.
"My name is Morgan," said the homoeopathist; "I am a physician. I leave in your hands a patient whom, I fear, neither I nor you can restore. Come and look at him."
The two doctors went into the sick-room. Mr. Digby was very feeble, but he had recovered his consciousness, and inclined his head courteously.
"I am sorry to cause so much trouble," said he. The homoeopathist drew away Helen; the allopathist seated himself by the bedside and put his questions, felt the pulse, sounded the lungs, and looked at the tongue of the patient. Helen's eye was fixed on the strange doctor, and her colour rose, and her eye sparkled when he got up cheerfully, and said in a pleasant voice, "You may have a little tea."
"Tea!" growled the homeopathist,—"barbarian!"
"He is better, then, sir?" said Helen, creeping to the allopathist.
"Oh, yes, my dear,—certainly; and we shall do very well, I hope."
The two doctors then withdrew.
"Last about a week!" said Dr. Dosewell, smiling pleasantly, and showing a very white set of teeth.
"I should have said a month; but our systems are different," replied Dr. Morgan, dryly.
DR. DOSEWELL (courteously).—"We country doctors bow to our metropolitan superiors; what would you advise? You would venture, perhaps, the experiment of bleeding."
DR. MORGAN (spluttering and growling Welsh, which he never did but in excitement).—"Pleed! Cott in heaven! do you think I am a putcher,—an executioner? Pleed! Never."
DR. DOSEWELL.—"I don't find it answer, myself, when both lungs are gone! But perhaps you are for inhaling?"
DR. DOSEWELL (with some displeasure).—"What would you advise, then, in order to prolong our patient's life for a month?"
DR. MORGAN.—"Give him Rhus!"
DR. DOSEWELL.—"Rhus, sir! Rhus! I don't know that medicine. Rhus!"
Dr. MORGAN.—"Rhus Toxicodendron."
The length of the last word excited Dr. Dosewell's respect. A word of five syllables,—that was something like! He bowed deferentially, but still looked puzzled. At last he said, smiling frankly, "You great London practitioners have so many new medicines: may I ask what Rhus toxico—toxico—"
"The juice of the upas,—vulgarly called the poison-tree." Dr. Dosewell started.
"Upas—poison-tree—little birds that come under the shade fall down dead! You give upas juice in these desperate cases: what's the dose?"
Dr. Morgan grinned maliciously, and produced a globule the size of a small pin's head.
Dr. Dosewell recoiled in disgust.
"Oh!" said he, very coldly, and assuming at once an air of superb superiority, "I see, a homoeopathist, sir!"
"A strange system, Dr. Morgan," said Dr. Dosewell, recovering his cheerful smile, but with a curl of contempt in it, "and would soon do for the druggists."
"Serve 'em right. The druggists soon do for the patients."
DR. DOSEWELL (with dignity).—"You don't know, perhaps, Dr. Morgan, that I am an apothecary as well as a surgeon. In fact," he added, with a certain grand humility, "I have not yet taken a diploma, and am but doctor by courtesy."
DR. MORGAN.—"All one, sir! Doctor signs the death-warrant, 'pothecary does the deed!"
DR. DOSEWELL (with a withering sneer).—"Certainly we don't profess to keep a dying man alive upon the juice of the deadly upas-tree."
DR. MORGAN (complacently).—"Of course you don't. There are no poisons with us. That's just the difference between you and me, Dr. Dosewell."
DR. DOSEWELL (pointing to the homeopathist's travelling pharmacopoeia, and with affected candour).—"Indeed, I have always said that if you can do no good, you can do no harm, with your infinitesimals."
DR. MORGAN, who had been obtuse to the insinuation of poisoning, fires up violently at the charge of doing no harm. "You know nothing about it! I could kill quite as many people as you, if I chose it; but I don't choose."
DR. DOSEWELL (shrugging his shoulders).—"Sir Sir! It is no use arguing; the thing's against common-sense. In short, it is my firm belief that it is—is a complete—"
DR. MORGAN.—"A complete what?"
DR. DOSEWELL (provoked to the utmost).—"Humbug!"
DR. MORGAN.—"Humbug! Cott in heaven! You old—"
DR. DOSEWELL.—"Old what, sir?"
DR. MORGAN (at home in a series of alliteral vowels, which none but a Cymbrian could have uttered without gasping).—"Old allopathical anthropophagite!"
DR. DOSEWELL (starting up, seizing by the back the chair on which he had sat, and bringing it down violently on its four legs).—"Sir!"
DR. MORGAN (imitating the action with his own chair).—"Sir!"
DR. DOSEWELL.—"You're abusive."
DR. MORGAN.—"You're impertinent."
The two rivals confronted each other.
They were both athletic men, and fiery men. Dr. Dosewell was the taller, but Dr. Morgan was the stouter. Dr. Dosewell on the mother's side was Irish; but Dr. Morgan on both sides was Welsh. All things considered, I would have backed Dr. Morgan if it had come to blows. But, luckily for the honour of science, here the chambermaid knocked at the door, and said, "The coach is coming, sir."
Dr. Morgan recovered his temper and his manners at that announcement. "Dr. Dosewell," said he, "I have been too hot,—I apologize."
"Dr. Morgan," answered the allopathist, "I forgot myself. Your hand, sir."
DR. MORGAN.—"We are both devoted to humanity, though with different opinions. We should respect each other."
DR. DOSEWELL.—"Where look for liberality, if men of science are illiberal to their brethren?"
DR. MORGAN (aside).—"The old hypocrite! He would pound me in a mortar if the law would let him."
DR. DOSEWELL (aside).—"The wretched charlatan! I should like to pound him in a mortar."
DR. MORGAN.—"Good-by, my esteemed and worthy brother."
DR. DOSEWELL.—"My excellent friend, good-by."
DR. MORGAN (returning in haste).—"I forgot. I don't think our poor patient is very rich. I confide him to your disinterested benevolence." (Hurries away.)
DR. DOSEWELL (in a rage).—"Seven miles at six o'clock in the morning, and perhaps done out of my fee! Quack! Villain!"
Meanwhile, Dr. Morgan had returned to the sick-room.
"I must wish you farewell," said he to poor Mr. Digby, who was languidly sipping his tea. "But you are in the hands of a—of a—gentleman in the profession."
"You have been too kind,—I am shocked," said Mr. Digby. "Helen, where's my purse?"
Dr. Morgan paused.
He paused, first, because it must be owned that his practice was restricted, and a fee gratified the vanity natural to unappreciated talent, and had the charm of novelty, which is sweet to human nature itself. Secondly, he was a man—
"Who knew his rights; and, knowing, dared maintain."
He had resigned a coach fare, stayed a night, and thought he had relieved his patient. He had a right to his fee.
On the other hand, he paused, because, though he had small practice, he was tolerably well off, and did not care for money in itself, and he suspected his patient to be no Croesus.
Meanwhile the purse was in Helen's hand. He took it from her, and saw but a few sovereigns within the well-worn network. He drew the child a little aside.
"Answer me, my dear, frankly,—is your papa rich?—" And he glanced at the shabby clothes strewed on the chair and Helen's faded frock.
"Alas, no!" said Helen, hanging her head. "Is that all you have?"
"I am ashamed to offer you two guineas," said Mr. Digby's hollow voice from the bed.
"And I should be still more ashamed to take them. Good by, sir. Come here, my child. Keep your money, and don't waste it on the other doctor more than you can help. His medicines can do your father no good. But I suppose you must have some. He's no physician, therefore there's no fee. He'll send a bill,—it can't be much. You understand. And now, God bless you."
Dr. Morgan was off. But, as he paid the landlady his bill, he said considerately, "The poor people upstairs can pay you, but not that doctor,—and he's of no use. Be kind to the little girl, and get the doctor to tell his patient (quietly of course) to write to his friends—soon—you understand. Somebody must take charge of the poor child. And stop—hold your hand; take care—these globules for the little girl when her father dies,"—here the doctor muttered to himself, "grief,—aconite, and if she cries too much afterwards, these—(don't mistake). Tears,—caustic!"
"Come, sir," cried the coachman.
"Coming; tears,—caustic," repeated the homoeopathist, pulling out his handkerchief and his phial-book together as he got into the coach; and he hastily swallowed his antilachrymal.
Richard Avenel was in a state of great nervous excitement. He proposed to give an entertainment of a kind wholly new to the experience of Screwstown. Mrs. M'Catchley had described with much eloquence the Dejeunes dansants of her fashionable friends residing in the elegant suburbs of Wimbledon and Fulham. She declared that nothing was so agreeable. She had even said point-blank to Mr. Avenel, "Why don't you give a Dejeune dansant?" And, therewith, a Dejeune dansant Mr. Avenel resolved to give.
The day was fixed, and Mr. Avenel entered into all the requisite preparations, with the energy of a man and the providence of a woman.
One morning as he stood musing on the lawn, irresolute as to the best site for the tents, Leonard came up to him with an open letter in his hand.
"My dear uncle," said he, softly.
"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Avenel, with a start. "Ha-well, what now?"
"I have just received a letter from Mr. Dale. He tells me that my poor mother is very restless and uneasy, because he cannot assure her that he has heard from me; and his letter requires an answer. Indeed I shall seem very ungrateful to him—to all—if I do not write."
Richard Avenel's brows met. He uttered an impatient "Pish!" and turned away. Then coming back, he fixed his clear hawk-like eye on Leonard's ingenuous countenance, linked his arm into his nephew's, and drew him into the shrubbery.
"Well, Leonard," said he, after a pause, "it is time that I should give you some idea of my plans with regard to you. You have seen my manner of living—some difference from what you ever saw before, I calculate! Now I have given you, what no one gave me, a lift in the world; and where I place you, there you must help yourself."
"Such is my duty and my desire," said Leonard, heartily. "Good. You are a clever lad, and a genteel lad, and will do me credit. I have had doubts of what is best for you. At one time I thought of sending you to college. That, I know; is Mr. Dale's wish; perhaps it is your own. But I have given up that idea; I have something better for you. You have a clear head for business, and are a capital arithmetician. I think of bringing you up to superintend my business; by and by I will admit you into partnership; and before you are thirty you will be a rich man. Come, does that suit you?"
"My dear uncle," said Leonard, frankly, but much touched by this generosity, "it is not for me to have a choice. I should have preferred going to college, because there I might gain independence for myself and cease to be a burden on you. Moreover, my heart moves me to studies more congenial with the college than the counting-house. But all this is nothing compared with my wish to be of use to you, and to prove in any way, however feebly, my gratitude for all your kindness."
"You're a good, grateful, sensible lad," exclaimed Richard, heartily; "and believe me, though I'm a rough diamond, I have your true interest at heart. You can be of use to me, and in being so you will best serve yourself. To tell you the truth, I have some idea of changing my condition. There's a lady of fashion and quality who, I think, may condescend to become Mrs. Avenel; and if so, I shall probably reside a great part of the year in London. I don't want to give up my business. No other investment will yield the same interest. But you can soon learn to superintend it for me, as some day or other I may retire, and then you can step in. Once a member of our great commercial class, and with your talents you may be anything,—member of parliament, and after that, minister of State, for what I know. And my wife—hem! that is to be—has great connections, and you shall marry well; and—oh, the Avenels will hold their heads with the highest, after all! Damn the aristocracy! we clever fellows will be the aristocrats, eh?" Richard rubbed his hands.
Certainly, as we have seen, Leonard, especially in his earlier steps to knowledge, had repined at his position in the many degrees of life; certainly he was still ambitious; certainly he could not now have returned contentedly to the humble occupation he had left; and woe to the young man who does not hear with a quickened pulse and brightening eye words that promise independence, and flatter with the hope of distinction. Still, it was with all the reaction of chill and mournful disappointment that Leonard, a few hours after this dialogue with his uncle, found himself alone in the fields, and pondering over the prospects before him. He had set his heart upon completing his intellectual education, upon developing those powers within him which yearned for an arena of literature, and revolted from the routine of trade.
But to his credit be it said, that he vigorously resisted this natural disappointment, and by degrees schooled himself to look cheerfully on the path imposed on his duty, and sanctioned by the manly sense that was at the core of his character.
I believe that this self-conquest showed that the boy had true genius. The false genius would have written sonnets and despaired.
But still, Richard Avenel left his nephew sadly perplexed as to the knotty question from which their talk on the future had diverged,—namely, should he write to the parson, and assure the fears of his mother? How do so without Richard's consent, when Richard had on a former occasion so imperiously declared that, if he did, it would lose his mother all that Richard intended to settle on her? While he was debating this matter with his conscience, leaning against a stile that interrupted a path to the town, Leonard Fairfield was startled by an exclamation. He looked up, and beheld Mr. Sprott the tinker.
The tinker, blacker and grimmer than ever, stared hard at the altered person of his old acquaintance, and extended his sable fingers, as if inclined to convince himself by the sense of touch that it was Leonard in the flesh that he beheld, under vestments so marvellously elegant and preternaturally spruce.
Leonard shrank mechanically from the contact, while in great surprise he faltered,—
"You here, Mr. Sprott! What could bring you so far from home?"
"'Ome!" echoed the tinker, "I 'as no 'ome! or rather, d' ye see, Muster Fairfilt, I makes myself at 'ome verever I goes! Lor' love ye! I ben't settled on no parridge. I wanders here and I vanders there, and that's my 'ome verever I can mend my kettles and sell my tracks!"
So saying, the tinker slid his panniers on the ground, gave a grunt of release and satisfaction, and seated himself with great composure on the stile from which Leonard had retreated.
"But, dash my wig," resumed Mr. Sprott, as he once more surveyed Leonard, "vy, you bees a rale gentleman, now, surely! Vot's the dodge, eh?"
"Dodge!" repeated Leonard, mechanically, "I don't understand you." Then, thinking that it was neither necessary nor expedient to keep up his acquaintance with Mr. Sprott, nor prudent to expose himself to the battery of questions which he foresaw that further parley would bring upon him, he extended a crown-piece to the tinker; and saying, with a half-smile, "You must excuse me for leaving you—I have business in the town; and do me the favour to accept this trifle," he walked briskly off.
The tinker looked long at the crown-piece, and then sliding it into his pocket, said to himself,—
"Ho, 'ush-money! No go, my swell cove."
After venting that brief soliloquy he sat silent a little while, till Leonard was nearly out of sight; then rose, resumed his fardel, and creeping quick along the hedgerows, followed Leonard towards the town. Just in the last field, as he looked over the hedge, he saw Leonard accosted by a gentleman of comely mien and important swagger. That gentleman soon left the young man, and came, whistling loud, up the path, and straight towards the tinker. Mr. Sprott looked round, but the hedge was too neat to allow of a good hiding-place, so he put a bold front on it, and stepped forth like a man. But, alas for him! before he got into the public path, the proprietor of the land, Mr. Richard Avenel (for the gentleman was no less a personage), had spied out the trespasser, and called to him with a "Hillo, fellow," that bespoke all the dignity of a man who owns acres, and all the wrath of a man who beholds those acres impudently invaded.
The tinker stopped, and Mr. Avenel stalked up to him. "What the devil are you doing on my property, lurking by my hedge? I suspect you are an incendiary!"
"I be a tinker," quoth Mr. Sprott, not louting low, for a sturdy republican was Mr. Sprott, but, like a lord of human kind,—
"Pride in his port, defiance in his eye."
Mr. Avenel's fingers itched to knock the tinker's villanous hat off his jacobinical head, but he repressed the undignified impulse by thrusting both hands deep into his trousers' pockets.
"A tinker!" he cried,—"that's a vagrant; and I'm a magistrate, and I've a great mind to send you to the treadmill,—that I have. What do you do here, I say? You have not answered my question."
"What does I do 'ere?" said Mr. Sprott. "Vy, you had better ax my crakter of the young gent I saw you talking with just now; he knows me."
"What! my nephew knows you?"
"W-hew," whistled the tinker, "your nephew is it, sir? I have a great respek for your family. I 've knowed Mrs. Fairfilt the vashervoman this many a year. I 'umbly ax your pardon." And he took off his hat this time.
Mr. Avenel turned red and white in a breath. He growled out something inaudible, turned on his heel, and strode off. The tinker watched him as he had watched Leonard, and then dogged the uncle as he had dogged the nephew. I don't presume to say that there was cause and effect in what happened that night, but it was what is called "a curious coincidence" that that night one of Richard Avenel's ricks was set on fire, and that that day he had called Mr. Sprott an incendiary. Mr. Sprott was a man of a very high spirit, and did not forgive an insult easily. His nature was inflammatory, and so was that of the lucifers which he always carried about him, with his tracts and glue-pots.
The next morning there was an inquiry made for the tinker, but he had disappeared from the neighbourhood.
It was a fortunate thing that the dejeune dansant so absorbed Mr. Richard Avenel's thoughts that even the conflagration of his rick could not scare away the graceful and poetic images connected with that pastoral festivity. He was even loose and careless in the questions he put to Leonard about the tinker; nor did he send justice in pursuit of that itinerant trader; for, to say truth, Richard Avenel was a man accustomed to make enemies amongst the lower orders; and though he suspected Mr. Sprott of destroying his rick, yet, when he once set about suspecting, he found he had quite as good cause to suspect fifty other persons. How on earth could a man puzzle himself about ricks and tinkers when all his cares and energies were devoted to a dejeune dansant? It was a maxim of Richard Avenel's, as it ought to be of every clever man, "to do one thing at a time;" and therefore he postponed all other considerations till the dejeune dansant was fairly done with. Amongst these considerations was the letter which Leonard wished to write to the parson. "Wait a bit, and we will both write!" said Richard, good-humouredly, "the moment the dijeune dansant is over!"
It must be owned that this fete was no ordinary provincial ceremonial. Richard Avenel was a man to do a thing well when he set about it,—
"He soused the cabbage with a bounteous heart."
By little and little his first notions had expanded, till what had been meant to be only neat and elegant now embraced the costly and magnificent. Artificers accustomed to dejeunes dansants came all the way from London to assist, to direct, to create. Hungarian singers and Tyrolese singers and Swiss peasant-women, who were to chant the Ranz des Vaches, and milk cows or make syllabubs, were engaged. The great marquee was decorated as a Gothic banquet-hall; the breakfast itself was to consist of "all the delicacies of the season." In short, as Richard Avenel said to himself, "It is a thing once in a way; a thing on which I don't object to spend money, provided that the thing is—the thing!"
It had been a matter of grave meditation how to make the society worthy of the revel; for Richard Avenel was not contented with the mere aristocracy of the town,—his ambition had grown with his expenses. "Since it will cost so much," said he, "I may as well come it strong, and get in the county."
True, that he was personally acquainted with very few of what are called county families. But still, when a man makes himself a mark in a large town, and can return one of the members whom that town sends to parliament; and when, moreover, that man proposes to give some superb and original entertainment, in which the old can eat and the young can dance, there is no county in the island that has not families enow who will be delighted by an invitation from THAT MAN. And so Richard, finding that, as the thing got talked of, the dean's lady, and Mrs. Pompley, and various other great personages, took the liberty to suggest that Squire this, and Sir somebody that, would be so pleased if they were asked, fairly took the bull by the horns, and sent out his cards to Park, Hall, and Rectory, within a circumference of twelve miles. He met with but few refusals, and he now counted upon five hundred guests.
"In for a penny in for a pound," said Mr. Richard Avenel. "I wonder what Mrs. M'Catchley will say?" Indeed, if the whole truth must be known,—Mr. Richard Avenel not only gave that dejeune dansant in honour of Mrs. M'Catchley, but he had fixed in his heart of hearts upon that occasion (when surrounded by all his splendour, and assisted by the seductive arts of Terpsichore and Bacchus) to whisper to Mrs. M'Catchley those soft words which—but why not here let Mr. Richard Avenel use his own idiomatic and unsophisticated expression? "Please the pigs, then," said Mr. Avenel to himself, "I shall pop the question!"
The Great Day arrived at last; and Mr. Richard Avenel, from his dressing-room window, looked on the scene below as Hannibal or Napoleon looked from the Alps on Italy. It was a scene to gratify the thought of conquest, and reward the labours of ambition. Placed on a little eminence stood the singers from the mountains of the Tyrol, their high-crowned hats and filigree buttons and gay sashes gleaming in the sun. Just seen from his place of watch, though concealed from the casual eye, the Hungarian musicians lay in ambush amidst a little belt of laurels and American shrubs. Far to the right lay what had once been called horresco referens the duckpond, where—"Dulce sonant tenui gutture carmen aves." But the ruthless ingenuity of the head-artificer had converted the duck-pond into a Swiss lake, despite grievous wrong and sorrow to the assuetum innocuumque genus,—the familiar and harmless inhabitants, who had been all expatriated and banished from their native waves. Large poles twisted with fir branches, stuck thickly around the lake, gave to the waters the becoming Helvetian gloom. And here, beside three cows all bedecked with ribbons, stood the Swiss maidens destined to startle the shades with the Ranz des Vaches. To the left, full upon the sward, which it almost entirely covered, stretched the great Gothic marquee, divided into two grand sections,—one for the dancing, one for the dejeune.
The day was propitious,—not a cloud in the sky. The musicians were already tuning their instruments; figures of waiters hired of Gunter—trim and decorous, in black trousers and white waistcoats—passed to and fro the space between the house and marquee. Richard looked and looked; and as he looked he drew mechanically his razor across the strop; and when he had looked his fill, he turned reluctantly to the glass and shaved! All that blessed morning he had been too busy, till then, to think of shaving.
There is a vast deal of character in the way that a man performs that operation of shaving! You should have seen Richard Avenel shave! You could have judged at once how he would shave his neighbours, when you saw the celerity, the completeness with which he shaved himself,—a forestroke and a backstroke, and tondenti barba cadebat. Cheek and chin were as smooth as glass. You would have buttoned up your pockets instinctively if you had seen him.
But the rest of Mr. Avenel's toilet was not completed with correspondent despatch. On his bed, and on his chairs, and on his sofa, and on his drawers, lay trousers and vests and cravats enough to distract the choice of a Stoic. And first one pair of trousers was tried on, and then another—and one waistcoat, and then a second, and then a third. Gradually that chef-d'oeuvre of civilization—a man dressed—grew into development and form; and, finally, Mr. Richard Avenel emerged into the light of day. He had been lucky in his costume,—he felt it. It might not suit every one in colour or cut, but it suited him.
And this was his garb. On such occasion, what epic poet would not describe the robe and tunic of a hero?
His surtout—in modern phrase his frockcoat—was blue, a rich blue, a blue that the royal brothers of George the Fourth were wont to favour. And the surtout, single-breasted, was thrown open gallantly; and in the second button-hole thereof was a moss-rose. The vest was white, and the trousers a pearl gray, with what tailors style "a handsome fall over the boot." A blue and white silk cravat, tied loose and debonair; an ample field of shirt front, with plain gold studs; a pair of lemon-coloured kid gloves, and a white hat, placed somewhat too knowingly on one side, complete the description, and "give the world assurance of the man." And, with his light, firm, well-shaped figure, his clear complexion, his keen, bright eye, and features that bespoke the courage, precision, and alertness of his character,—that is to say, features bold, not large, well-defined, and regular,—you might walk long through town or country before you would see a handsomer specimen of humanity than our friend Richard Avenel.
Handsome, and feeling that he was handsome; rich, and feeling that he was rich; lord of the fete, and feeling that he was lord of the fete, Richard Avenel stepped out upon his lawn.
And now the dust began to rise along the road, and carriages and gigs and chaises and flies might be seen at near intervals and in quick procession. People came pretty much about the same time-as they do in the country—Heaven reward them for it!
Richard Avenel was not quite at his ease at first in receiving his guests, especially those whom he did not know by sight. But when the dancing began, and he had secured the fair hand of Mrs. M'Catchley for the initiary quadrille, his courage and presence of mind returned to him; and, seeing that many people whom he had not received at all seemed to enjoy themselves very much, he gave up the attempt to receive those who came after,—and that was a great relief to all parties.
Meanwhile Leonard looked on the animated scene with a silent melancholy, which he in vain endeavoured to shake off,—a melancholy more common amongst very young men in such scenes than we are apt to suppose. Somehow or other, the pleasure was not congenial to him; he had no Mrs. M'Catchley to endear it; he knew very few people, he was shy, he felt his position with his uncle was equivocal, he had not the habit of society, he heard, incidentally, many an ill-natured remark upon his uncle and the entertainment, he felt indignant and mortified. He had been a great deal happier eating his radishes and reading his book by the little fountain in Riccabocca's garden. He retired to a quiet part of the grounds, seated himself under a tree, leaned his cheek on his hand, and mused. He was soon far away;—happy age, when, whatever the present, the future seems so fair and so infinite!
But now the dejeune had succeeded the earlier dances; and, as champagne flowed royally, it is astonishing how the entertainment brightened.
The sun was beginning to slope towards the west, when, during a temporary cessation of the dance, all the guests had assembled in such space as the tent left on the lawn, or thickly filled the walks immediately adjoining it. The gay dresses of the ladies, the joyous laughter heard everywhere, and the brilliant sunlight over all, conveyed even to Leonard the notion, not of mere hypocritical pleasure, but actual healthful happiness. He was attracted from his revery, and timidly mingled with the groups. But Richard Avenel, with the fair Mrs. M'Catchley—her complexion more vivid, and her eyes more dazzling, and her step more elastic than usual—had turned from the gayety just as Leonard had turned towards it, and was now on the very spot (remote, obscure, shaded by the few trees above five years old that Mr. Avenel's property boasted) which the young dreamer had deserted.
And then! Ah, then! moment so meet for the sweet question of questions, place so appropriate for the delicate, bashful, murmured popping thereof!—suddenly from the sward before, from the groups beyond, there floated to the ears of Richard Avenel an indescribable, mingled, ominous sound,—a sound as of a general titter, a horrid, malignant, but low cachinnation. And Mrs. M'Catchley, stretching forth her parasol, exclaimed, "Dear me, Mr. Avenel, what can they be all crowding there for?"
There are certain sounds and certain sights—the one indistinct, the other vaguely conjecturable—which, nevertheless, we know, by an instinct, bode some diabolical agency at work in our affairs. And if any man gives an entertainment, and hears afar a general, ill-suppressed, derisive titter, and sees all his guests hurrying towards one spot, I defy him to remain unmoved and uninquisitive. I defy him still more to take that precise occasion (however much he may have before designed it) to drop gracefully on his right knee before the handsomest Mrs. M'Catchley in the universe, and—pop the question! Richard Avenel blurted out something very like an oath; and, half guessing that something must have happened that it would not be pleasing to bring immediately under the notice of Mrs. M'Catchley, he said hastily, "Excuse me. I'll just go and see what is the matter; pray, stay till I come back." With that he sprang forward; in a minute he was in the midst of the group, that parted aside with the most obliging complacency to make way for him.
"But what's the matter?" he asked impatiently, yet fearfully. Not a voice answered. He strode on, and beheld his nephew in the arms of a woman!
"God bless my soul!" said Richard Avenel.
And such a woman!
She had on a cotton gown,—very neat, I dare say, for an under-housemaid; and such thick shoes! She had on a little black straw bonnet; and a kerchief, that might have cost tenpence, pinned across her waist instead of a shawl; and she looked altogether-respectable, no doubt, but exceedingly dusty! And she was hanging upon Leonard's neck, and scolding, and caressing, and crying very loud. "God bless my soul!" said Mr. Richard Avenel.
And as he uttered that innocent self-benediction, the woman hastily turned round, and darting from Leonard, threw herself right upon Richard Avenel—burying under her embrace blue-coat, moss rose, white waistcoat and all—with a vehement sob and a loud exclamation!
"Oh! brother Dick!—dear, dear brother Dick! And I lives to see thee agin!" And then came two such kisses—you might have heard them a mile off! The situation of brother Dick was appalling; and the crowd, that had before only tittered politely, could not now resist the effect of this sudden embrace. There was a general explosion! It was a roar! That roar would have killed a weak man; but it sounded to the strong heart of Richard Avenel like the defiance of a foe, and it plucked forth in an instant from all conventional let and barrier the native spirit of the Anglo-Saxon.
He lifted abruptly his handsome masculine head, and looked round the ring of his ill-bred visitors with a haughty stare of rebuke and surprise.
"Ladies and gentlemen," then said he, very coolly, "I don't see what there is to laugh at! A brother and sister meet after many years' separation, and the sister cries, poor thing. For my part I think it very natural that she should cry; but not that you should laugh!"
In an instant the whole shame was removed from Richard Avenel, and rested in full weight upon the bystanders. It is impossible to say how foolish and sheepish they all looked, nor how slinkingly each tried to creep off.
Richard Avenel seized his advantage with the promptitude of a man who had got on in America, and was, therefore, accustomed to make the best of things. He drew Mrs. Fairfield's arm in his, and led her into the house; but when he had got her safe into his parlour—Leonard following all the time—and the door was closed upon those three, then Richard Avenel's ire burst forth.
"You impudent, ungrateful, audacious—drab!"
Yes, drab was the word. I am shocked to say it, but the duties of a historian are stern: and the word was drab.
"Drab!" faltered poor Jane Fairfield; and she clutched hold of Leonard to save herself from falling.
"Sir!" cried Leonard, fiercely.
You might as well have cried "sir" to a mountain torrent. Richard hurried on, for he was furious.
"You nasty, dirty, dusty dowdy! How dare you come here to disgrace me in my own house and premises, after my sending you L50! To take the very time, too, when—when Richard gasped for breath; and the laugh of his guests rang in his ears, and got into his chest, and choked him. Jane Fairfield drew herself up, and her tears were dried.
"I did not come to disgrace you! I came to see my boy, and—"
"Ha!" interrupted Richard, "to see him."
He turned to Leonard: "You have written to this woman, then?"
"No, sir, I have not."
"I believe you lie."
"He does not lie; and he is as good as yourself, and better, Richard Avenel," exclaimed Mrs. Fairfield; "and I won't stand here and hear him insulted,—that's what I won't. And as for your L50, there are forty-five of it; and I'll work my fingers to the bone till I pay back the other five. And don't be afeard I shall disgrace you, for I'll never look on your face agin; and you're a wicked, bad man,—that's what you are!"
The poor woman's voice was so raised and so shrill, that any other and more remorseful feeling which Richard might have conceived was drowned in his apprehensions that she would be overheard by his servants or his guests,—a masculine apprehension, with which females rarely sympathize; which, on the contrary, they are inclined to consider a mean and cowardly terror on the part of their male oppressors.
"Hush! hold your infernal squall,—do'." said Mr. Avenel, in a tone that he meant to be soothing. "There—sit down—and don't stir till I come back again, and can talk to you calmly. Leonard, follow me, and help to explain things to our guests."
Leonard stood still, but shook his head slightly.
"What do you mean, sir?" said Richard Avenel, in a very portentous growl. "Shaking your head at me? Do you intend to disobey me? You had better take care!"
Leonard's front rose; he drew one arm round his mother, and thus he spoke,
"Sir, you have been kind to me, and generous, and that thought alone silenced my indignation when I heard you address such language to my mother; for I felt that, if I spoke, I should say too much. Now I speak, and it is to say, shortly, that—"
"Hush, boy," said poor Mrs. Fairfield, frightened; "don't mind me. I did not come to make mischief, and ruin your prospex. I'll go!"
"Will you ask her pardon, Mr. Avenel?" said Leonard, firmly; and he advanced towards his uncle.
Richard, naturally hot and intolerant of contradiction, was then excited, not only by the angry emotions, which, it must be owned, a man so mortified, and in the very flush of triumph, might well experience, but by much more wine than he was in the habit of drinking; and when Leonard approached him, he misinterpreted the movement into one of menace and aggression. He lifted his arm: "Come a step nearer," said he, between his teeth, "and I'll knock you down." Leonard advanced the forbidden step; but as Richard caught his eye, there was something in that eye—not defying, not threatening, but bold and dauntless—which Richard recognized and respected, for that something spoke the Freeman. The uncle's arm mechanically fell to his side. "You cannot strike me, Mr. Avenel," said Leonard, "for you are aware that I could not strike again my mother's brother. As her son, I once more say to you,—ask her pardon."
"Ten thousand devils! Are you mad?—or do you want to drive me mad? You insolent beggar, fed and clothed by my charity! Ask her pardon!—what for? That she has made me the object of jeer and ridicule with that d—-d cotton gown and those double-d—-d thick shoes—I vow and protest they've got nails in them! Hark ye, sir, I've been insulted by her, but I'm not to be bullied by you. Come with me instantly, or I discard you; not a shilling of mine shall you have as long as I live. Take your choice: be a peasant, a labourer, or—"
"A base renegade to natural affection, a degraded beggar indeed!" cried Leonard, his breast heaving, and his cheeks in a glow. "Mother, Mother, come away. Never fear,—I have strength and youth, and we will work together as before."
But poor Mrs. Fairfield, overcome by her excitement, had sunk down into Richard's own handsome morocco leather easy-chair, and could neither speak nor stir.
"Confound you both!" muttered Richard. "You can't be seen creeping out of my house now. Keep her here, you young viper, you; keep her till I come back; and then, if you choose to go, go and be—"
Not finishing his sentence, Mr. Avenel hurried out of the room, and locked the door, putting the key into his pocket. He paused for a moment in the hall, in order to collect his thoughts, drew three or four deep breaths, gave himself a great shake, and, resolved to be faithful to his principle of doing one thing at a time, shook off in that shake all disturbing recollection of his mutinous captives. Stern as Achilles when he appeared to the Trojans, Richard Avenel stalked back to his lawn.
Brief as had been his absence, the host could see that, in the interval, a great and notable change had come over the spirit of his company. Some of those who lived in the town were evidently preparing to return home on foot; those who lived at a distance, and whose carriages (having been sent away, and ordered to return at a fixed hour) had not yet arrived, were gathered together in small knots and groups; all looked sullen and displeased, and all instinctively turned from their host as he passed them by. They felt they had been lectured, and they were more put out than Richard himself. They did not know if they might not be lectured again. This vulgar man, of what might he not be capable? Richard's shrewd sense comprehended in an instant all the difficulties of his position; but he walked on deliberately and directly towards Mrs. M'Catchley, who was standing near the grand marquee with the Pompleys and the dean's lady. As those personages saw him make thus boldly towards them, there was a flutter. "Hang the fellow!" said the colonel, intrenching himself in his stock, "he is coming here. Low and shocking—what shall we do? Let us stroll on." But Richard threw himself in the way of the retreat. "Mrs. M'Catchley," said he, very gravely, and offering her his arm, "allow me three words with you."
The poor widow looked very much discomposed. Mrs. Pompley pulled her by the sleeve. Richard still stood gazing into her face, with his arm extended. She hesitated a minute, and then took the arm.
"Monstrous impudent!" cried the colonel.
"Let Mrs. M'Catchley alone, my dear," responded Mrs. Pompley; "she will know how to give him a lesson."
"Madam," said Richard, as soon as he and his companion were out of hearing, "I rely on you to do me a favour."
"On you, and you alone. You have influence with all those people, and a word from you will effect what I desire. Mrs. M'Catchley," added Richard, with a solemnity that was actually imposing, "I flatter myself that you have some friendship for me, which is more than I can say of any other soul in these grounds; will you do me this favour, ay or no?"
"What is it, Mr. Avenel?" asked Mrs. M'Catchley, much disturbed, and somewhat softened,—for she was by no means a woman without feeling; indeed, she considered herself nervous.
"Get all your friends—all the company, in short-to come back into the tent for refreshments, for anything. I want to say a few words to them."
"Bless me! Mr. Avenel—a few words!" cried the widow, "but that's just what they're all afraid of. You must pardon me, but you really can't ask people to a dejeune dansant, and then—scold 'em!"
"I'm not going to scold them," said Air. Avenel, very seriously,—"upon my honour, I'm not. I'm going to make all right, and I even hope afterwards that the dancing may go on—and that you will honour me again with your hand. I leave you to your task; and believe me, I'm not an ungrateful man." He spoke, and bowed—not without some dignity—and vanished within the breakfast division of the marquee. There he busied himself in re-collecting the waiters, and directing them to re-arrange the mangled remains of the table as they best could. Mrs. M'Catchley, whose curiosity and interest were aroused, executed her commission with all the ability and tact of a woman of the world, and in less than a quarter of an hour the marquee was filled, the corks flew, the champagne bounced and sparkled, people drank in silence, munched fruits and cakes, kept up their courage with the conscious sense of numbers, and felt a great desire to know what was coming. Mr. Avenel, at the head of the table, suddenly rose.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," said he, "I have taken the liberty to invite you once more into this tent, in order to ask you to sympathize with me upon an occasion which took us all a little by surprise to-day.
"Of course, you all know I am a new man,—the maker of my own fortunes."
A great many heads bowed involuntarily. The words were said manfully, and there was a general feeling of respect. "Probably, too," resumed Mr. Avenel, "you may know that I am the son of very honest tradespeople. I say honest, and they are not ashamed of me; I say tradespeople, and I'm not ashamed of them. My sister married and settled at a distance. I took her son to educate and bring up. But I did not tell her where he was, nor even that I had returned from America; I wished to choose my own time for that, when I could give her the surprise, not only of a rich brother, but of a son whom I intended to make a gentleman, so far as manners and education can make one. Well, the poor dear woman has found me out sooner than I expected, and turned the tables on me by giving me a surprise of her own invention. Pray, forgive the confusion this little family-scene has created; and though I own it was very laughable at the moment, and I was wrong to say otherwise, yet I am sure I don't judge ill of your good hearts, when I ask you to think what brother and sister must feel who parted from each other when they were boy and girl. To me" (and Richard gave a great gulp, for he felt that a great gulp alone could swallow the abominable lie he was about to utter)—"to me this has been a very happy occasion! I'm a plain man: no one can take ill what I've said. And wishing that you may be all as happy in your family as I am in mine—humble though it be—I beg to drink your very good healths!"
There was a universal applause when Richard sat down; and so well in his plain way had he looked the thing, and done the thing, that at least half of those present—who till then had certainly disliked and half despised him—suddenly felt that they were proud of his acquaintance. For however aristocratic this country of ours may be, and however especially aristocratic be the genteeler classes in provincial towns and coteries, there is nothing which English folks, from the highest to the lowest, in their hearts so respect as a man who has risen from nothing, and owns it frankly. Sir Compton Delaval, an old baronet, with a pedigree as long as a Welshman's, who had been reluctantly decoyed to the feast by his three unmarried daughters—not one of whom, however, had hitherto condescended even to bow to the host—now rose. It was his right,—he was the first person there in rank and station.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," quoth Sir Compton Delaval, "I am sure that I express the feelings of all present when I say that we have heard with great delight and admiration the words addressed to us by our excellent host. [Applause.] And if any of us, in what—Mr. Avenel describes justly as the surprise of the moment, were betrayed into an unseemly merriment at—at—[the dean's lady whispered 'some of the']—some of the—some of the—" repeated Sir Compton, puzzled, and coming to a deadlock ["holiest sentiments," whispered the dean's lady]—"ay, some of the holiest sentiments in our nature, I beg him to accept our sincerest apologies. I can only say, for my part, that I am proud to rank Mr. Avenel amongst the gentlemen of the county" (here Sir Compton gave a sounding thump on the table), "and to thank him for one of the most brilliant entertainments it has ever been my lot to witness. If he won his fortune honestly, he knows how to spend it nobly."
Whiz went a fresh bottle of champagne.
"I am not accustomed to public speaking, but I could not repress my sentiments. And I've now only to propose to you the health of our host. Richard Avenel, Esquire; and to couple with that the health of his—very interesting sister, and long life to them both."
The sentence was half drowned in enthusiastic plaudits, and in three cheers for Richard Avenel, Esquire, and his very interesting sister.
"I'm a cursed humbug," thought Richard Avenel, as he wiped his forehead; "but the world is such a humbug!" Then he glanced towards Mrs. M'Catehley and, to his great satisfaction, saw Mrs. M'Catchley with her handkerchief before her eyes.
Truth must be told; although the fair widow might certainly have contemplated the probability of accepting Mr. Avenel as a husband, she had never before felt the least bit in love with him; and now she did. There is something in courage and candour—in a word, in manliness—that all women, the most worldly, do admire in men; and Richard Avenel, humbug though his conscience said he was, seemed to Mrs. M'Catchley like a hero.
The host saw his triumph. "Now for another dance!" said he, gayly; and he was about to offer his hand to Mrs. M'Catchley, when Sir Compton Delaval seizing it, and giving it a hearty shake, cried, "You have not yet danced with my eldest daughter; so if you'll not ask her, why, I must offer her to you as your partner. Here, Sarah."
Miss Sarah Delaval, who was five feet eight, and as stately as she was tall, bowed her head graciously; and Mr. Avenel, before he knew where he was, found her leaning on his arm. But as he passed into the next division of the tent, he had to run the gauntlet of all the gentlemen, who thronged round to shake hands with him. Their warm English hearts could not be satisfied till they had so repaired the sin of their previous haughtiness and mockery. Richard Avenel might then have safely introduced his sister—gown, kerchief, thick shoes, and all—to the crowd; but he had no such thought. He thanked Heaven devoutly that she was safely under lock and key.
It was not till the third dance that he could secure Mrs. M'Catchley's hand, and then it was twilight. The carriages were at the door, but no one yet thought of going. People were really enjoying themselves. Mr. Avenel had had time, in the interim, to mature all his plans for completing and consummating that triumph which his tact and pluck had drawn from his momentary disgrace. Excited as he was with wine, and suppressed passion, he had yet the sense to feel that, when all the halo that now surrounded him had evaporated, and Mrs. M'Catchley was redelivered up to the Pompleys, whom he felt to be the last persons his interest could desire for her advisers, the thought of his low relations would return with calm reflection. Now was the time. The iron was hot, now was the time to strike it, and forge the enduring chain. As he led Mrs. M'Catchley after the dance, into the lawn, he therefore said tenderly,—
"How shall I thank you for the favour you have done me?"
"Oh!" said Mrs. M'Catchley, warmly, "It was no favour, and I am so glad—" She stopped.
"You're not ashamed of me, then, in spite of what has happened?"
"Ashamed of you! Why, I should be so proud of you, if I were—"
"Finish the sentence and say—'your wife!'—there, it is out. My dear madam, I am rich, as you know; I love you very heartily. With your help, I think I can make a figure in a larger world than this: and that, whatever my father, my grandson at least will be—but it is time enough to speak of him. What say you?—you—turn away. I'll not tease you,—it is not my way. I said before, ay or no; and your kindness so emboldens me that I say it again, ay or no?"
"But you take me so unawares—so—so—Lord! my dear Mr. Avenel; you are so hasty—I—I—" And the widow actually blushed, and was genuinely bashful.
"Those horrid Pompleys!" thought Richard, as he saw the colonel bustling up with Mrs. M'Catchley's cloak on his arm. "I press for your answer," continued the suitor, speaking very fast. "I shall leave this place to-morrow, if you will not give it."
"Leave this place—leave me?"
"Then you will be mine?"
"Ah, Mr. Avenel!" said the widow, languidly, and leaving her hand in his, "who can resist you?"
Up came Colonel Pompley; Richard took the shawl: "No hurry for that now, Colonel,—Mrs. M'Catchley feels already at home here."
Ten minutes afterwards, Richard Avenel so contrived that it was known by the whole company that their host was accepted by the Honourable Mrs. M'Catchley. And every one said, "He is a very clever man and a very good fellow," except the Pompleys—and the Pompleys were frantic. Mr. Richard Avenel had forced his way into the aristocracy of the country; the husband of an Honourable, connected with peers!
"He will stand for our city—Vulgarian!" cried the colonel. "And his wife will walk out before me," cried the colonel's lady,—"nasty woman!" And she burst into tears.
The guests were gone; and Richard had now leisure to consider what course to pursue with regard to his sister and her son.
His victory over his guests had in much softened his heart towards his relations; but he still felt bitterly aggrieved at Mrs. Fairfield's unseasonable intrusion, and his pride was greatly chafed by the boldness of Leonard. He had no idea of any man whom he had served, or meant to serve, having a will of his own, having a single thought in opposition to his pleasure. He began, too, to feel that words had passed between him and Leonard which could not be well forgotten by either, and would render their close connection less pleasant than heretofore. He, the great Richard Avenel, beg pardon of Mrs. Fairfield, the washerwoman! No; she and Leonard must beg his. "That must be the first step," said Richard Avenel; "and I suppose they have come to their senses." With that expectation, he unlocked the door of his parlour, and found himself in complete solitude. The moon, lately risen, shone full into the room, and lit up every corner. He stared round bewildered,—the birds had flown. "Did they go through the keyhole?" said Air. Avenel. "Ha! I see! the window is open!" The window reached to the ground. Mr. Avenel, in his excitement, had forgotten that easy mode of egress. "Well," said he, throwing himself into his easy-chair, "I suppose I shall soon hear from them: they'll be wanting my money fast enough, I fancy." His eye caught sight of a letter, unsealed, lying on the table. He opened it, and saw bank-notes to the amount of L50,—the widow's forty-five country notes, and a new note, Bank of England, that he had lately given to Leonard. With the money were these lines, written in Leonard's bold, clear writing, though a word or two here and there showed that the hand had trembled,—
I thank you for all you have done to one whom you regarded as the object of charity. My mother and I forgive what has passed. I depart with her. You bade me make my choice, and I have made it.
The paper dropped from Richard's hand, and he remained mute and remorseful for a moment. He soon felt, however, that he had no help for it but working himself up into a rage. "Of all people in the world," cried Richard, stamping his foot on the floor, "there are none so disagreeable, insolent, and ungrateful as poor relations. I wash my hands of them!"
WHEREIN MR. CAXTON IS PROFOUNDLY METAPHYSICAL.
"Life," said my father, in his most dogmatical tone, "is a certain quantity in time, which may be regarded in two ways,—First, as life integral; Second, as life fractional. Life integral is that complete whole expressive of a certain value, large or small, which each man possesses in himself. Life fractional is that same whole seized upon and invaded by other people, and subdivided amongst them. They who get a large slice of it say, 'A very valuable life this!' Those who get but a small handful say, 'So, so; nothing very great!' Those who get none of it in the scramble exclaim, 'Good for nothing!'"
"I don't understand a word you are saying," growled Captain Roland.
My father surveyed his brother with compassion: "I will make it all clear, even to your understanding. When I sit down by myself in my study, having carefully locked the door on all of you, alone with my books and thoughts, I am in full possession of my integral life. I am totus, teres, atque rotundus,—a whole human being, equivalent in value, we will say, for the sake of illustration, to a fixed round sum, L100 for example. But when I go forth into the common apartment, each of those to whom I am of any worth whatsoever puts his finger into the bag that contains me, and takes out of me what he wants. Kitty requires me to pay a bill; Pisistratus to save him the time and trouble of looking into a score or two of books; the children to tell them stories, or play at hide-and-seek; and so on throughout the circle to which I have incautiously given myself up for plunder and subdivision. The L100 which I represented in my study is now parcelled out; I am worth L40 or L50 to Kitty, L20 to Pisistratus, and perhaps 30s. to the children. This is life fractional. And I cease to be an integral till once more returning to my study, and again closing the door on all existence but my own. Meanwhile, it is perfectly clear that to those who, whether I am in the study or whether I am in the common sitting-room, get nothing at all out of me, I am not worth a farthing. It must be wholly indifferent to a native of Kamschatka whether Austin Caxton be or be not razed out of the great account-book of human beings.
"Hence," continued my father,—"hence it follows that the more fractional a life be—that is, the greater the number of persons among whom it can be subdivided—why, the more there are to say, 'A very valuable life that!' Thus the leader of a political party, a conqueror, a king, an author, who is amusing hundreds or thousands or millions, has a greater number of persons whom his worth interests and affects than a Saint Simeon Stylites could have when he perched himself at the top of a column; although, regarded each in himself, Saint Simeon, in his grand mortification of flesh, in the idea that he thereby pleased his Divine Benefactor, might represent a larger sum of moral value per se than Bonaparte or Voltaire."
PISISTRATUS.—"Perfectly clear, sir; but I don't see what it has to do with 'My Novel.'"
MR. CAXTON.—"Everything. Your novel, if it is to be a full and comprehensive survey of the 'Quicquid agunt homines' (which it ought to be, considering the length and breadth to which I foresee, from the slow development of your story, you meditate extending and expanding it), will embrace the two views of existence,—the integral and the fractional. You have shown us the former in Leonard, when he is sitting in his mother's cottage, or resting from his work by the little fount in Riccabocca's garden. And in harmony with that view of his life, you have surrounded him with comparative integrals, only subdivided by the tender hands of their immediate families and neighbours,—your squires and parsons, your Italian exile and his Jemima. With all these, life is, more or less, the life natural, and this is always, more or less, the life integral. Then comes the life artificial, which is always, more or less, the life fractional. In the life natural, wherein we are swayed but by our own native impulses and desires, subservient only to the great silent law of Virtue (which has pervaded the universe since it swung out of chaos), a man is of worth from what he is in himself,—Newton was as worthy before the apple fell from the tree as when all Europe applauded the discoverer of the Principle of Gravity. But in the life artificial we are only of worth inasmuch as we affect others; and, relative to that life, Newton rose in value more than a million per cent when down fell the apple from which ultimately sprang up his discovery. In order to keep civilization going and spread over the world the light of human intellect, we have certain desires within us, ever swelling beyond the ease and independence which belongs to us as integrals. Cold man as Newton might be (he once took a lady's hand in his own, Kitty, and used her forefinger for his tobacco-stopper,—great philosopher!), cold as he might be, he was yet moved into giving his discoveries to the world, and that from motives very little differing in their quality from the motives that make Dr. Squills communicate articles to the 'Phrenological Journal' upon the skulls of Bushmen and wombats. For it is the property of light to travel. When a man has light in him, forth it must go. But the first passage of genius from its integral state (in which it has been reposing on its own wealth) into the fractional is usually through a hard and vulgar pathway. It leaves behind it the reveries of solitude,—that self-contemplating rest which may be called the Visionary,—and enters suddenly into the state that may be called the Positive and Actual. There it sees the operations of money on the outer life; sees all the ruder and commoner springs of action; sees ambition without nobleness, love without romance; is bustled about and ordered and trampled and cowed,—in short, it passes an apprenticeship with some Richard Avenel, and does not detect what good and what grandeur, what addition even to the true poetry of the social universe, fractional existences like Richard Avenel's bestow; for the pillars that support society are like those of the Court of the Hebrew Tabernacle,—they are of brass, it is true, but they are filleted with silver. From such intermediate state Genius is expelled and driven on its way, and would have been so in this case had Mrs. Fairfield (who is but the representative of the homely natural affections, strongest ever in true genius,—for light is warm) never crushed Mr. Avenel's moss rose on her sisterly bosom. Now, forth from this passage and defile of transition into the larger world, must Genius go on, working out its natural destiny amidst things and forms the most artificial. Passions that move and influence the world are at work around it. Often lost sight of itself, its very absence is a silent contrast to the agencies present. Merged and vanished for a while amidst the Practical World, yet we ourselves feel all the while that it is there; is at work amidst the workings around it. This practical world that effaces it rose out of some genius that has gone before; and so each man of genius, though we never come across him, as his operations proceed in places remote from our thoroughfares, is yet influencing the practical world that ignores him, for ever and ever. That is GENIUS! We can't describe it in books; we can only hint and suggest it by the accessories which we artfully heap about it. The entrance of a true Probationer into the terrible ordeal of Practical Life is like that into the miraculous cavern, by which, legend informs us, Saint Patrick converted Ireland."
BLANCHE.—"What is that legend? I never heard of it."
MR. CAXTON.—"My dear, you will find it in a thin folio at the right on entering my study, written by Thomas Messingham, and called 'Florilegium Insulae Sanctorum,' etc. The account therein is confirmed by the relation of an honest soldier, one Louis Ennius, who had actually entered the cavern. In short, the truth of the legend is undeniable, unless you mean to say, which I can't for a moment suppose, that Louis Ennius was a liar. Thus it runs: Saint Patrick, finding that the Irish pagans were incredulous as to his pathetic assurances of the pains and torments destined to those who did not expiate their sins in this world, prayed for a miracle to convince them. His prayer was heard; and a certain cavern, so small that a man could not stand up therein at his ease, was suddenly converted into a Purgatory, comprehending tortures sufficient to convince the most incredulous. One unacquainted with human nature might conjecture that few would be disposed to venture voluntarily into such a place; on the contrary, pilgrims came in crowds. Now, all who entered from vain curiosity or with souls unprepared perished miserably; but those who entered with deep and earnest faith, conscious of their faults, and if bold, yet humble, not only came out safe and sound, but purified, as if from the waters of a second baptism. See Savage and Johnson at night in Fleet Street,—and who shall doubt the truth of Saint Patrick's Purgatory!" Therewith my father sighed; closed his Lucian, which had lain open on the table, and would read none but "good books" for the rest of the evening.
On their escape from the prison to which Mr. Avenel had condemned them, Leonard and his mother found their way to a small public-house that lay at a little distance from the town, and on the outskirts of the high road. With his arm round his mother's waist, Leonard supported her steps, and soothed her excitement. In fact, the poor woman's nerves were greatly shaken, and she felt an uneasy remorse at the injury her intrusion had inflicted on the young man's worldly prospects. As the shrewd reader has guessed already, that infamous tinker was the prime agent of evil in this critical turn in the affairs of his quondam customer; for, on his return to his haunts around Hazeldean and the Casino, the tinker had hastened to apprise Mrs. Fairfield of his interview with Leonard, and, on finding that she was not aware that the boy was under the roof of his uncle, the pestilent vagabond (perhaps from spite against Mr. Avenel, or perhaps from that pure love of mischief by which metaphysical critics explain the character of Iago, and which certainly formed a main element in the idiosyncrasy of Mr. Sprott) had so impressed on the widow's mind the haughty demeanour of the uncle, and the refined costume of the nephew, that Mrs. Fairfield had been seized with a bitter and insupportable jealousy. There was an intention to rob her of her boy!—he was to be made too fine for her. His silence was now accounted for. This sort of jealousy, always more or less a feminine quality, is often very strong amongst the poor; and it was the more strong in Mrs. Fairfield, because, lone woman that she was, the boy was all in all to her. And though she was reconciled to the loss of his presence, nothing could reconcile her to the thought that his affections should be weaned from her. Moreover, there were in her mind certain impressions, of the justice of which the reader may better judge hereafter, as to the gratitude—more than ordinarily filial—which Leonard owed to her. In short, she did not like, as she phrased it, "to be shaken off;" and after a sleepless night she resolved to judge for herself, much moved thereto by the malicious suggestions to that effect made by Mr. Sprott, who mightily enjoyed the idea of mortifying the gentlemen by whom he had been so disrespectfully threatened with the treadmill. The widow felt angry with Parson Dale and with the Riccaboccas: she thought they were in the plot against her; she communicated therefore, her intentions to none, and off she set, performing the journey partly on the top of the coach, partly on foot. No wonder that she was dusty, poor woman!
"And, oh, boy!" said she, half sobbing, "when I got through the lodge-gates, came on the lawn, and saw all that power o' fine folk, I said to myself, says I—for I felt fritted—I'll just have a look at him and go back. But ah, Lenny, when I saw thee, looking so handsome, and when thee turned and cried 'Mother,' my heart was just ready to leap out o' my mouth, and so I could not help hugging thee, if I had died for it. And thou wert so kind, that I forgot all Mr. Sprott had said about Dick's pride, or thought he had just told a fib about that, as he had wanted me to believe a fib about thee. Then Dick came up—and I had not seen him for so many years—and we come o' the same father and mother; and so—and so—" The widow's sobs here fairly choked her. "Ah," she said, after giving vent to her passion, and throwing her arms round Leonard's neck, as they sat in the little sanded parlour of the public-house,—"ah, and I've brought thee to this. Go back; go back, boy, and never mind me."
With some difficulty Leonard pacified poor Mrs. Fairfield, and got her to retire to bed; for she was, indeed, thoroughly exhausted. He then stepped forth into the road; musingly. All the stars were out; and Youth, in its troubles, instinctively looks up to the stars. Folding his arms, Leonard gazed on the heavens, and his lips murmured.
From this trance, for so it might be called, he was awakened by a voice in a decidedly London accent; and, turning hastily round, saw Mr. Avenel's very gentlemanlike butler.