It seemed, then, to Morton that Gawtrey had divined his thoughts of shame and escape of the previous night; perhaps Gawtrey had: and such is the human heart, that, instead of welcoming the very release he had half contemplated, now that it was offered him, Philip shrank from it as a base desertion.
"Poor Gawtrey!" said he, pushing back the canvas bag of gold held out to him, "you shall not go over the world, and feel that the orphan you fed and fostered left you to starve with your money in his pocket. When you again assure me that you have committed no crime, you again remind me that gratitude has no right to be severe upon the shifts and errors of its benefactor. If you do not conform to society, what has society done for me? No! I will not forsake you in a reverse. Fortune has given you a fall. What, then, courage, and at her again!"
These last words were said so heartily and cheerfully as Morton sprang from the bed, that they inspirited Gawtrey, who had really desponded of his lot.
"Well," said he, "I cannot reject the only friend left me; and while I live—. But I will make no professions. Quick, then, our luggage is already gone, and I hear Birnie grunting the rogue's march of retreat."
Morton's toilet was soon completed, and the three associates bade adieu to the bureau.
Birnie, who was taciturn and impenetrable as ever, walked a little before as guide. They arrived, at length, at a serrurier's shop, placed in an alley near the Porte St. Denis. The serrurier himself, a tall, begrimed, blackbearded man, was taking the shutters from his shop as they approached. He and Birnie exchanged silent nods; and the former, leaving his work, conducted them up a very filthy flight of stairs to an attic, where a bed, two stools, one table, and an old walnut-tree bureau formed the sole articles of furniture. Gawtrey looked rather ruefully round the black, low, damp walls, and said in a crestfallen tone:
"We were better off at the Temple of Hymen. But get us a bottle of wine, some eggs, and a frying-pan. By Jove, I am a capital hand at an omelet!"
The serrurier nodded again, grinned, and withdrew.
"Rest here," said Birnie, in his calm, passionless voice, that seemed to Morton, however, to assume an unwonted tone of command. "I will go and make the best bargain I can for our furniture, buy fresh clothes, and engage our places for Tours."
"For Tours?" repeated Morton.
"Yes, there are some English there; one can live wherever there are English," said Gawtrey.
"Hum!" grunted Birnie, drily, and, buttoning up his coat, he walked slowly away.
About noon he returned with a bundle of clothes, which Gawtrey, who always regained his elasticity of spirit wherever there was fair play to his talents, examined with great attention, and many exclamations of "Bon!—c'est va."
"I have done well with the Jew," said Birnie, drawing from his coat pocket two heavy bags. "One hundred and eighty napoleons. We shall commence with a good capital."
"You are right, my friend," said Gawtrey.
The serrurier was then despatched to the best restaurant in the neighbourhood, and the three adventurers made a less Socratic dinner than might have been expected.
"Then out again he flies to wing his marry round." THOMPSON'S Castle of Indolence.
"Again he gazed, 'It is,' said he, 'the same; There sits he upright in his seat secure, As one whose conscience is correct and pure.'"—CRABBE.
The adventurers arrived at Tours, and established themselves there in a lodging, without any incident worth narrating by the way.
At Tours Morton had nothing to do but take his pleasure and enjoy himself. He passed for a young heir; Gawtrey for his tutor—a doctor in divinity; Birnie for his valet. The task of maintenance fell on Gawtrey, who hit off his character to a hair; larded his grave jokes with university scraps of Latin; looked big and well-fed; wore knee-breeches and a shovel hat; and played whist with the skill of a veteran vicar. By his science in that game he made, at first, enough; at least, to defray their weekly expenses. But, by degrees, the good people at Tours, who, under pretence of health, were there for economy, grew shy of so excellent a player; and though Gawtrey always swore solemnly that he played with the most scrupulous honour (an asseveration which Morton, at least, implicitly believed), and no proof to the contrary was ever detected, yet a first-rate card-player is always a suspicious character, unless the losing parties know exactly who he is. The market fell off, and Gawtrey at length thought it prudent to extend their travels.
"Ah!" said Mr. Gawtrey, "the world nowadays has grown so ostentatious that one cannot travel advantageously without a post-chariot and four horses." At length they found themselves at Milan, which at that time was one of the El Dorados for gamesters. Here, however, for want of introductions, Mr. Gawtrey found it difficult to get into society. The nobles, proud and rich, played high, but were circumspect in their company; the bourgeoisie, industrious and energetic, preserved much of the old Lombard shrewdness; there were no tables d'hote and public reunions. Gawtrey saw his little capital daily diminishing, with the Alps at the rear and Poverty in the van. At length, always on the qui vive, he contrived to make acquaintance with a Scotch family of great respectability. He effected this by picking up a snuff-box which the Scotchman had dropped in taking out his handkerchief. This politeness paved the way to a conversation in which Gawtrey made himself so agreeable, and talked with such zest of the Modern Athens, and the tricks practised upon travellers, that he was presented to Mrs. Macgregor; cards were interchanged, and, as Mr. Gawtrey lived in tolerable style, the Macgregors pronounced him "a vara genteel mon." Once in the house of a respectable person, Gawtrey contrived to turn himself round and round, till he burrowed a hole into the English circle then settled in Milan. His whist-playing came into requisition, and once more Fortune smiled upon Skill.
To this house the pupil one evening accompanied the tutor. When the whist party, consisting of two tables, was formed, the young man found himself left out with an old gentleman, who seemed loquacious and good- natured, and who put many questions to Morton, which he found it difficult to answer. One of the whist tables was now in a state of revolution, viz., a lady had cut out and a gentleman cut in, when the door opened, and Lord Lilburne was announced.
Mr. Macgregor, rising, advanced with great respect to this personage.
"I scarcely ventured to hope you would coom, Lord Lilburne, the night is so cold."
"You did not allow sufficiently, then, for the dulness of my solitary inn and the attractions of your circle. Aha! whist, I see."
"You play sometimes?"
"Very seldom, now; I have sown all my wild oats, and even the ace of spades can scarcely dig them out again."
"Ha! ha! vara gude."
"I will look on;" and Lord Lilburne drew his chair to the table, exactly opposite to Mr. Gawtrey.
The old gentleman turned to Philip.
"An extraordinary man, Lord Lilburne; you have heard of him, of course?"
"No, indeed; what of him?" asked the young man, rousing himself.
"What of him?" said the old gentleman, with a smile; "why the newspapers, if you ever read them, will tell you enough of the elegant, the witty Lord Lilburne; a man of eminent talent, though indolent. He was wild in his youth, as clever men often are; but, on attaining his title and fortune, and marrying into the family of the then premier, he became more sedate. They say he might make a great figure in politics if he would. He has a very high reputation—very. People do say that he is still fond of pleasure; but that is a common failing amongst the aristocracy. Morality is only found in the middle classes, young gentleman. It is a lucky family, that of Lilburne; his sister, Mrs. Beaufort—"
"Beaufort!" exclaimed Morton, and then muttered to himself, "Ah, true— true; I have heard the name of Lilburne before."
"Do you know the Beauforts? Well, you remember how luckily Robert, Lilburne's brother-in-law, came into that fine property just as his predecessor was about to marry a—"
Morton scowled at his garrulous acquaintance, and stalked abruptly to the card table.
Ever since Lord Lilburne had seated himself opposite to Mr. Gawtrey, that gentleman had evinced a perturbation of manner that became obvious to the company. He grew deadly pale, his hands trembled, he moved uneasily in his seat, he missed deal, he trumped his partner's best diamond; finally he revoked, threw down his money, and said, with a forced smile, "that the heat of the room overcame him." As he rose Lord Lilburne rose also, and the eyes of both met. Those of Lilburne were calm, but penetrating and inquisitive in their gaze; those of Gawtrey were like balls of fire. He seemed gradually to dilate in his height, his broad chest expanded, he breathed hard.
"Ah, Doctor," said Mr. Macgregor, "let me introduce you to Lord Lilburne."
The peer bowed haughtily; Mr. Gawtrey did not return the salutation, but with a sort of gulp, as if he were swallowing some burst of passion, strode to the fire, and then, turning round, again fixed his gaze upon the new guest.
Lilburne, however, who had never lost his self-composure at this strange rudeness, was now quietly talking with their host.
"Your Doctor seems an eccentric man—a little absent—learned, I suppose. Have you been to Como, yet?"
Mr. Gawtrey remained by the fire beating the devil's tattoo upon the chimney-piece, and ever and anon turning his glance towards Lilburne, who seemed to have forgotten his existence.
Both these guests stayed till the party broke up; Mr. Gawtrey apparently wishing to outstay Lord Lilburne; for, when the last went down-stairs, Mr. Gawtrey, nodding to his comrade and giving a hurried bow to the host, descended also. As they passed the porter's lodge, they found Lilburne on the step of his carriage; he turned his head abruptly, and again met Mr. Gawtrey's eye; paused a moment, and whispered over his shoulder:
"So we remember each other, sir? Let us not meet again; and, on that condition, bygones are bygones."
"Scoundrel!" muttered Gawtrey, clenching his fists; but the peer had sprung into his carriage with a lightness scarcely to be expected from his lameness, and the wheels whirled within an inch of the soi-disant doctor's right pump.
Gawtrey walked on for some moments in great excitement; at length he turned to his companion,—
"Do you guess who Lord Lilburne is? I will tell you my first foe and Fanny's grandfather! Now, note the justice of Fate: here is this man— mark well—this man who commenced life by putting his faults on my own shoulders! From that little boss has fungused out a terrible hump. This man who seduced my affianced bride, and then left her whole soul, once fair and blooming—I swear it—with its leaves fresh from the dews of heaven, one rank leprosy, this man who, rolling in riches, learned to cheat and pilfer as a boy learns to dance and play the fiddle, and (to damn me, whose happiness he had blasted) accused me to the world of his own crime!—here is this man who has not left off one vice, but added to those of his youth the bloodless craft of the veteran knave;—here is this man, flattered, courted, great, marching through lanes of bowing parasites to an illustrious epitaph and a marble tomb, and I, a rogue too, if you will, but rogue for my bread, dating from him my errors and my ruin! I—vagabond—outcast—skulking through tricks to avoid crime— why the difference? Because one is born rich and the other poor—because he has no excuse for crime, and therefore no one suspects him!"
The wretched man (for at that moment he was wretched) paused breathless from his passionate and rapid burst, and before him rose in its marble majesty, with the moon full upon its shining spires—the wonder of Gothic Italy—the Cathedral Church of Milan.
"Chafe not yourself at the universal fate," said the young man, with a bitter smile on his lips and pointing to the cathedral; "I have not lived long, but I have learned already enough to know this? he who could raise a pile like that, dedicated to Heaven, would be honoured as a saint; he who knelt to God by the roadside under a hedge would be sent to the house of correction as a vagabond. The difference between man and man is money, and will be, when you, the despised charlatan, and Lilburne, the honoured cheat, have not left as much dust behind you as will fill a snuff-box. Comfort yourself, you are in the majority."
"A desert wild Before them stretched bare, comfortless, and vast, With gibbets, bones, and carcasses defiled." THOMPSON'S Castle of Indolenece.
Mr. Gawtrey did not wish to give his foe the triumph of thinking he had driven him from Milan; he resolved to stay and brave it out; but when he appeared in public, he found the acquaintances he had formed bow politely, but cross to the other side of the way. No more invitations to tea and cards showered in upon the jolly parson. He was puzzled, for people, while they shunned him, did not appear uncivil. He found out at last that a report was circulated that he was deranged; though he could not trace this rumour to Lord Lilburne, he was at no loss to guess from whom it had emanated. His own eccentricities, especially his recent manner at Mr. Macgregor's, gave confirmation to the charge. Again the funds began to sink low in the canvas bags, and at length, in despair, Mr. Gawtrey was obliged to quit the field. They returned to France through Switzerland—a country too poor for gamesters; and ever since the interview with Lilburne, a great change had come over Gawtrey's gay spirit: he grew moody and thoughtful, he took no pains to replenish the common stock, he talked much and seriously to his young friend of poor Fanny, and owned that he yearned to see her again. The desire to return to Paris haunted him like a fatality; he saw the danger that awaited him there, but it only allured him the more, as the candle does the moth whose wings it has singed. Birnie, who, in all their vicissitudes and wanderings, their ups and downs, retained the same tacit, immovable demeanour, received with a sneer the orders at last to march back upon the French capital. "You would never have left it, if you had taken my advice," he said, and quitted the room.
Mr. Gawtrey gazed after him and muttered, "Is the die then cast?"
"What does he mean?" said Morton.
"You will know soon," replied Gawtrey, and he followed Birnie; and from that time the whispered conferences with that person, which had seemed suspended during their travels, were renewed.
. . . . . . . . . .
One morning, three men were seen entering Paris on foot through the Porte St. Denis. It was a fine day in spring, and the old city looked gay with its loitering passengers and gaudy shops, and under that clear blue exhilarating sky so peculiar to France.
Two of these men walked abreast, the other preceded them a few steps. The one who went first—thin, pale, and threadbare—yet seemed to suffer the least from fatigue; he walked with a long, swinging, noiseless stride, looking to the right and left from the corners of his eyes. Of the two who followed, one was handsome and finely formed, but of swarthy complexion, young, yet with a look of care; the other, of sturdy frame, leaned on a thick stick, and his eyes were gloomily cast down.
"Philip," said the last, "in coming back to Paris—I feel that I am coming back to my grave!"
"Pooh—you were equally despondent in our excursions elsewhere."
"Because I was always thinking of poor Fanny, and because—because— Birnie was ever at me with his horrible temptations!"
"Birnie! I loathe the man! Will you never get rid of him?"
"I cannot! Hush! he will hear us. How unlucky we have been! and now without a son in our pockets—here the dunghill—there the gaol! We are in his power at last!"
"His power! what mean you?"
"What ho! Birnie!" cried Gawtrey, unheeding Morton's question. "Let us halt and breakfast: I am tired."
"You forget!—we have no money till we make it," returned Birnie, coldly.—"Come to the serrurier's he will trust us."
"Gaunt Beggary and Scorn with many bell-hounds more." THOMSON'S Castle of Indolence.
"The other was a fell, despiteful fiend."—Ibid.
"Your happiness behold! then straight a wand He waved, an anti-magic power that hath Truth from illusive falsehood to command."—Ibid.
"But what for us, the children of despair, Brought to the brink of hell—what hope remains? RESOLVE, RESOLVE!"—Ibid.
It may be observed that there are certain years in which in a civilised country some particular crime comes into vogue. It flares its season, and then burns out. Thus at one time we have Burking—at another, Swingism—now, suicide is in vogue—now, poisoning tradespeople in apple- dumplings—now, little boys stab each other with penknives—now, common soldiers shoot at their sergeants. Almost every year there is one crime peculiar to it; a sort of annual which overruns the country but does not bloom again. Unquestionably the Press has a great deal to do with these epidemics. Let a newspaper once give an account of some out-of-the-way atrocity that has the charm of being novel, and certain depraved minds fasten to it like leeches. They brood over and revolve it—the idea grows up, a horrid phantasmalian monomania; and all of a sudden, in a hundred different places, the one seed sown by the leaden types springs up into foul flowering.
[An old Spanish writer, treating of the Inquisition, has some very striking remarks on the kind of madness which, whenever some terrible notoriety is given to a particular offence, leads persons of distempered fancy to accuse themselves of it. He observes that when the cruelties of the Inquisition against the imaginary crime of sorcery were the most barbarous, this singular frenzy led numbers to accuse themselves of sorcery. The publication and celebrity of the crime begat the desire of the crime.]
But if the first reported aboriginal crime has been attended with impunity, how much more does the imitative faculty cling to it. Ill- judged mercy falls, not like dew, but like a great heap of manure, on the rank deed.
Now it happened that at the time I write of, or rather a little before, there had been detected and tried in Paris a most redoubted coiner. He had carried on the business with a dexterity that won admiration even for the offence; and, moreover, he had served previously with some distinction at Austerlitz and Marengo. The consequence was that the public went with instead of against him, and his sentence was transmuted to three years' imprisonment by the government. For all governments in free countries aspire rather to be popular than just.
No sooner was this case reported in the journals—and even the gravest took notice, of it (which is not common with the scholastic journals of France)—no sooner did it make a stir and a sensation, and cover the criminal with celebrity, than the result became noticeable in a very large issue of false money.
Coining in the year I now write of was the fashionable crime. The police were roused into full vigour: it became known to them that there was one gang in especial who cultivated this art with singular success. Their coinage was, indeed, so good, so superior to all their rivals, that it was often unconsciously preferred by the public to the real mintage. At the same time they carried on their calling with such secrecy that they utterly baffled discovery.
An immense reward was offered by the bureau to any one who would betray his accomplices, and Monsieur Favart was placed at the head of a commission of inquiry. This person had himself been a faux monnoyer, and was an adept in the art, and it was he who had discovered the redoubted coiner who had brought the crime into such notoriety. Monsieur Favart was a man of the most vigilant acuteness, the most indefatigable research, and of a courage which; perhaps, is more common than we suppose. It is a popular error to suppose that courage means courage in everything. Put a hero on board ship at a five-barred gate, and, if he is not used to hunting, he will turn pale; put a fox-hunter on one of the Swiss chasms, over which the mountaineer springs like a roe, and his knees will knock under him. People are brave in the dangers to which they accustom themselves, either in imagination or practice.
Monsieur Favart, then, was a man of the most daring bravery in facing rogues and cut-throats. He awed them with his very eye; yet he had been known to have been kicked down-stairs by his wife, and when he was drawn into the grand army, he deserted the eve of his first battle. Such, as moralists say, is the inconsistency of man!
But Monsieur Favart was sworn to trace the coiners, and he had never failed yet in any enterprise he undertook. One day he presented himself to his chief with a countenance so elated that that penetrating functionary said to him at once—
"You have heard of our messieurs!"
"I have: I am to visit them to-night."
"Bravo! How many men will you take?"
"From twelve to twenty to leave without on guard. But I must enter alone. Such is the condition: an accomplice who fears his own throat too much to be openly a betrayer will introduce me to the house—nay, to the very room. By his description it is necessary I should know the exact locale in order to cut off retreat; so to-morrow night I shall surround the beehive and take the honey."
"They are desperate fellows, these coiners, always; better be cautious."
"You forget I was one of them, and know the masonry." About the same time this conversation was going on at the bureau of the police, in another part of the town Morton and Gawtrey were seated alone. It is some weeks since they entered Paris, and spring has mellowed into summer.
The house in which they lodged was in the lordly quartier of the Faubourg St. Germain; the neighbouring streets were venerable with the ancient edifices of a fallen noblesse; but their tenement was in a narrow, dingy lane, and the building itself seemed beggarly and ruinous. The apartment was in an attic on the sixth story, and the window, placed at the back of the lane, looked upon another row of houses of a better description, that communicated with one of the great streets of the quartier. The space between their abode and their opposite neighbours was so narrow that the sun could scarcely pierce between. In the height of summer might be found there a perpetual shade.
The pair were seated by the window. Gawtrey, well-dressed, smooth- shaven, as in his palmy time; Morton, in the same garments with which he had entered Paris, weather-stained and ragged. Looking towards the casements of the attic in the opposite house, Gawtrey said, mutteringly, "I wonder where Birnie has been, and why he has not returned. I grow suspicious of that man."
"Suspicious of what?" asked Morton. "Of his honesty? Would he rob you?"
"Rob me! Humph—perhaps! but you see I am in Paris, in spite of the hints of the police; he may denounce me."
"Why, then, suffer him to lodge away from you?"
"Why? because, by having separate houses there are two channels of escape. A dark night, and a ladder thrown across from window to window, he is with us, or we with him."
"But wherefore such precautions? You blind—you deceive me; what have you done?—what is your employment now? You are, mute. Hark you, Gawtrey. I have pinned my fate to you—I am fallen from hope itself! At times it almost makes me mad to look back—and yet you do not trust me. Since your return to Paris you are absent whole nights—often days; you are moody and thoughtful-yet, whatever your business, it seems to bring you ample returns."
"You think that," said Gawtrey, mildly, and with a sort of pity in his voice; "yet you refuse to take even the money to change those rags."
"Because I know not how the money was gained. Ah, Gawtrey, I am not too proud for charity, but I am for—" He checked the word uppermost in his thoughts, and resumed—
"Yes; your occupations seem lucrative. It was but yesterday Birnie gave me fifty napoleons, for which he said you wished change in silver."
"Did he? The ras— Well! and you got change for them?"
"I know not why, but I refused."
"That was right, Philip. Do nothing that man tells you."
"Will you, then, trust me? You are engaged in some horrible traffic! it may be blood! I am no longer a boy—I have a will of my own—I will not be silently and blindly entrapped to perdition. If I march thither, it shall be with my own consent. Trust me, and this day, or we part to-morrow."
"Be ruled. Some secrets it is better not to know."
"It matters not. I have come to my decision—I ask yours."
Gawtrey paused for some moments in deep thought. At last he lifted his eyes to Philip, and replied:
"Well, then, if it must be. Sooner or later it must have been so; and I want a confidant. You are bold, and will not shrink. You desire to know my occupation—will you witness it to-night?"
"I am prepared: to-night!"
Here a step was heard on the stairs—a knock at the door—and Birnie entered.
He drew aside Gawtrey, and whispered him, as usual, for some moments.
Gawtrey nodded his head, and then said aloud—
"To-morrow we shall talk without reserve before my young friend. To-night he joins us."
"To-night!—very well," said Birnie, with his cold sneer. He must take the oath; and you, with your life, will be responsible for his honesty?"
"Ay! it is the rule."
"Good-bye, then, till we meet," said Birnie, and withdrew.
"I wonder," said Gawtrey, musingly, and between his grinded teeth, "whether I shall ever have a good fair shot at that fellow? Ho! ho!" and his laugh shook the walls.
Morton looked hard at Gawtrey, as the latter now sank down in his chair, and gazed with a vacant stare, that seemed almost to partake of imbecility, upon the opposite wall. The careless, reckless, jovial expression, which usually characterised the features of the man, had for some weeks given place to a restless, anxious, and at times ferocious aspect, like the beast that first finds a sport while the hounds are yet afar, and his limbs are yet strong, in the chase which marks him for his victim, but grows desperate with rage and fear as the day nears its close, and the death-dogs pant hard upon his track. But at that moment the strong features, with their gnarled muscle and iron sinews, seemed to have lost every sign both of passion and the will, and to be locked in a stolid and dull repose. At last he looked up at Morton, and said, with a smile like that of an old man in his dotage—
"I'm thinking that my life has been one mistake! I had talents—you would not fancy it—but once I was neither a fool nor a villain! Odd, isn't it? Just reach me the brandy."
But Morton, with a slight shudder, turned and left the room.
He walked on mechanically, and gained, at last, the superb Quai that borders the Seine; there, the passengers became more frequent; gay equipages rolled along; the white and lofty mansions looked fair and stately in the clear blue sky of early summer; beside him flowed the sparkling river, animated with the painted baths that floated on its surface: earth was merry and heaven serene his heart was dark through all: Night within—Morning beautiful without! At last he paused by that bridge, stately with the statues of those whom the caprice of time honours with a name; for though Zeus and his gods be overthrown, while earth exists will live the worship of Dead Men;—the bridge by which you pass from the royal Tuileries, or the luxurious streets beyond the Rue de Rivoli, to the Senate of the emancipated People, and the gloomy and desolate grandeur of the Faubourg St. Germain, in whose venerable haunts the impoverished descendants of the old feudal tyrants, whom the birth of the Senate overthrew, yet congregate;—the ghosts of departed powers proud of the shadows of great names. As the English outcast paused midway on the bridge, and for the first time lifting his head from his bosom, gazed around, there broke at once on his remembrance that terrible and fatal evening, when, hopeless, friendless, desperate, he had begged for charity of his uncle's hireling, with all the feelings that then (so imperfectly and lightly touched on in his brief narrative to Gawtrey) had raged and blackened in his breast, urging to the resolution he had adopted, casting him on the ominous friendship of the man whose guidance he even then had suspected and distrusted. The spot in either city had a certain similitude and correspondence each with each: at the first he had consummated his despair of human destinies—he had dared to forget the Providence of God—he had arrogated his fate to himself: by the first bridge he had taken his resolve; by the last he stood in awe at the result—stood no less poor—no less abject—equally in rags and squalor; but was his crest as haughty and his eye as fearless, for was his conscience as free and his honour as unstained? Those arches of stone— those rivers that rolled between, seemed to him then to take a more mystic and typical sense than belongs to the outer world—they were the bridges to the Rivers of his Life. Plunged in thoughts so confused and dim that he could scarcely distinguish, through the chaos, the one streak of light which, perhaps, heralded the reconstruction or regeneration of the elements of his soul;—two passengers halted, also by his side.
"You will be late for the debate," said one of them to the other. "Why do you stop?"
"My friend," said the other, "I never pass this spot without recalling the time when I stood here without a son, or, as I thought, a chance of one, and impiously meditated self-destruction."
"You!—now so rich—so fortunate in repute and station—is it possible? How was it? A lucky chance?—a sudden legacy?"
"No: Time, Faith, and Energy—the three Friends God has given to the Poor!"
The men moved on; but Morton, who had turned his face towards them, fancied that the last speaker fixed on him his bright, cheerful eye, with a meaning look; and when the man was gone, he repeated those words, and hailed them in his heart of hearts as an augury from above.
Quickly, then, and as if by magic, the former confusion of his mind seemed to settle into distinct shapes of courage and resolve. "Yes," he muttered; "I will keep this night's appointment—I will learn the secret of these men's life. In my inexperience and destitution, I have suffered myself to be led hitherto into a partnership, if not with vice and crime, at least with subterfuge and trick. I awake from my reckless boyhood—my unworthy palterings with my better self. If Gawtrey be as I dread to find him—if he be linked in some guilty and hateful traffic; with that loathsome accomplice—I will—" He paused, for his heart whispered, "Well, and even so,—the guilty man clothed and fed thee!" "I will," resumed his thought, in answer to his heart—"I will go on my knees to him to fly while there is yet time, to work—beg—starve—perish even— rather than lose the right to look man in the face without a blush, and kneel to his God without remorse!"
And as he thus ended, he felt suddenly as if he himself were restored to the perception and the joy of the Nature and the World around him; the NIGHT had vanished from his soul—he inhaled the balm and freshness of the air—he comprehended the delight which the liberal June was scattering over the earth—he looked above, and his eyes were suffused with pleasure, at the smile of the soft blue skies. The MORNING became, as it were, a part of his own being; and he felt that as the world in spite of the storms is fair, so in spite of evil God is good. He walked on—he passed the bridge, but his step was no more the same,—he forgot his rags. Why should he be ashamed? And thus, in the very flush of this new and strange elation and elasticity of spirit, he came unawares upon a group of young men, lounging before the porch of one of the chief hotels in that splendid Rue de Rivoli, wherein Wealth and the English have made their homes. A groom, mounted, was leading another horse up and down the road, and the young men were making their comments of approbation upon both the horses, especially the one led, which was, indeed, of uncommon beauty and great value. Even Morton, in whom the boyish passion of his earlier life yet existed, paused to turn his experienced and admiring eye upon the stately shape and pace of the noble animal, and as he did so, a name too well remembered came upon his ear.
"Certainly, Arthur Beaufort is the most enviable fellow in Europe."
"Why, yes," said another of the young men; "he has plenty of money—is good-looking, devilish good-natured, clever, and spends like a prince."
"Has the best horses!"
"The best luck at roulette!"
"The prettiest girls in love with him!"
"And no one enjoys life more. Ah! here he is!"
The group parted as a light, graceful figure came out of a jeweller's shop that adjoined the hotel, and halted gaily amongst the loungers. Morton's first impulse was to hurry from the spot; his second impulse arrested his step, and, a little apart, and half-hid beneath one of the arches of the colonnade which adorns the street, the Outcast gazed upon. the Heir. There was no comparison in the natural personal advantages of the two young men; for Philip Morton, despite all the hardships of his rough career, had now grown up and ripened into a rare perfection of form and feature. His broad chest, his erect air, his lithe and symmetrical length of limb, united, happily, the attributes of activity and strength; and though there was no delicacy of youthful bloom upon his dark cheek, and though lines which should have come later marred its smoothness with the signs of care and thought, yet an expression of intelligence and daring, equally beyond his years, and the evidence of hardy, abstemious, vigorous health, served to show to the full advantage the outline of features which, noble and regular, though stern and masculine, the artist might have borrowed for his ideal of a young Spartan arming for his first battle. Arthur, slight to feebleness, and with the paleness, partly of constitution, partly of gay excess, on his fair and clear complexion, had features far less symmetrical and impressive than his cousin: but what then? All that are bestowed by elegance of dress, the refinements of luxurious habit, the nameless grace that comes from a mind and a manner polished, the one by literary culture, the other by social intercourse, invested the person of the heir with a fascination that rude Nature alone ever fails to give. And about him there was a gaiety, an airiness of spirit, an atmosphere of enjoyment which bespoke one who is in love with life.
"Why, this is lucky! I'm so glad to see you all!" said Arthur Beaufort, with that silver-ringing tone and charming smile which are to the happy spring of man what its music and its sunshine are to the spring of earth. "You must dine with me at Verey's. I want something to rouse me to-day; for I did not get home from the Salon* till four this morning."
*[The most celebrated gaming-house in Paris in the day before gaming-houses were suppressed by the well-directed energy of the government.]
"But you won?"
"Yes, Marsden. Hang it! I always win: I who could so well afford to lose: I'm quite ashamed of my luck!"
"It is easy to spend what one wins," observed Mr. Marsden, sententiously; "and I see you have been at the jeweller's! A present for Cecile? Well, don't blush, my dear fellow. What is life without women?"
"And wine?" said a second. "And play?" said a third. "And wealth?" said a fourth.
"And you enjoy them all! Happy fellow!" said a fifth. The Outcast pulled his hat over his brows, and walked away.
"This dear Paris," said Beaufort, as his eye carelessly and unconsciously followed the dark form retreating through the arches;—"this dear Paris! I must make the most of it while I stay! I have only been here a few weeks, and next week I must go."
"Pooh—your health is better: you don't look like the same man."
"You think so really? Still I don't know: the doctors say that I must either go to the German waters—the season is begun—or—"
"Live less with such pleasant companions, my dear fellow! But as you say, what is life without—"
"Ha! ha. 'Throw physic to the dogs: I'll none of it!'"
And Arthur leaped lightly on his saddle, and as he rode gaily on, humming the favourite air of the last opera, the hoofs of his horse splashed the mud over a foot-passenger halting at the crossing. Morton checked the fiery exclamation rising to his lips; and gazing after the brilliant form that hurried on towards the Champs Elysees, his eye caught the statues on the bridge, and a voice, as of a cheering angel, whispered again to his heart, "TIME, FAITH, ENERGY!"
The expression of his countenance grew calm at once, and as he continued his rambles it was with a mind that, casting off the burdens of the past, looked serenely and steadily on the obstacles and hardships of the future. We have seen that a scruple of conscience or of pride, not without its nobleness, had made him refuse the importunities of Gawtrey for less sordid raiment; the same feeling made it his custom to avoid sharing the luxurious and dainty food with which Gawtrey was wont to regale himself. For that strange man, whose wonderful felicity of temperament and constitution rendered him, in all circumstances, keenly alive to the hearty and animal enjoyments of life, would still emerge, as the day declined, from their wretched apartment, and, trusting to his disguises, in which indeed he possessed a masterly art, repair to one of the better description of restaurants, and feast away his cares for the moment. William Gawtrey would not have cared three straws for the curse of Damocles. The sword over his head would never have spoiled his appetite! He had lately, too, taken to drinking much more deeply than he had been used to do—the fine intellect of the man was growing thickened and dulled; and this was a spectacle that Morton could not bear to contemplate. Yet so great was Gawtrey's vigour of health, that, after draining wine and spirits enough to have despatched a company of fox- hunters, and after betraying, sometimes in uproarious glee, sometimes in maudlin self-bewailings, that he himself was not quite invulnerable to the thyrsus of the god, he would—on any call on his energies, or especially before departing on those mysterious expeditions which kept him from home half, and sometimes all, the night—plunge his head into cold water—drink as much of the lymph as a groom would have shuddered to bestow on a horse—close his eyes in a doze for half an hour, and wake, cool, sober, and collected, as if he had lived according to the precepts of Socrates or Cornaro!
But to return to Morton. It was his habit to avoid as much as possible sharing the good cheer of his companion; and now, as he entered the, Champs Elysees, he saw a little family, consisting of a young mechanic, his wife, and two children, who, with that love of harmless recreation which yet characterises the French, had taken advantage of a holiday in the craft, and were enjoying their simple meal under the shadow of the trees. Whether in hunger or in envy, Morton paused and contemplated the happy group. Along the road rolled the equipages and trampled the steeds of those to whom all life is a holiday. There, was Pleasure—under those trees was Happiness. One of the children, a little boy of about six years old, observing the attitude and gaze of the pausing wayfarer, ran to him, and holding up a fragment of a coarse kind of cake, said to him, willingly, "Take it—I have had enough!" The child reminded Morton of his brother—his heart melted within him—he lifted the young Samaritan in his arms, and as he kissed him, wept.
The mother observed and rose also. She laid her hand on his own: "Poor boy! why do you weep?—can we relieve you?"
Now that bright gleam of human nature, suddenly darting across the sombre recollections and associations of his past life, seemed to Morton as if it came from Heaven, in approval and in blessing of this attempt at reconciliation to his fate.
"I thank you," said he, placing the child on the ground, and passing his hand over his eyes,—"I thank you—yes! Let me sit down amongst you." And he sat down, the child by his side, and partook of their fare, and was merry with them,—the proud Philip!—had he not begun to discover the "precious jewel" in the "ugly and venomous" Adversity?
The mechanic, though a gay fellow on the whole, was not without some of that discontent of his station which is common with his class; he vented it, however, not in murmurs, but in jests. He was satirical on the carriages and the horsemen that passed; and, lolling on the grass, ridiculed his betters at his ease.
"Hush!" said his wife, suddenly; "here comes Madame de Merville;" and rising as she spoke, she made a respectful inclination of her head towards an open carriage that was passing very slowly towards the town.
"Madame de Merville!" repeated the husband, rising also, and lifting his cap from his head. "Ah! I have nothing to say against her!"
Morton looked instinctively towards the carriage, and saw a fair countenance turned graciously to answer the silent salutations of the mechanic and his wife—a countenance that had long haunted his dreams, though of late it had faded away beneath harsher thoughts—the countenance of the stranger whom he had seen at the bureau of Gawtrey, when that worthy personage had borne a more mellifluous name. He started and changed colour: the lady herself now seemed suddenly to recognise him; for their eyes met, and she bent forward eagerly. She pulled the check-string—the carriage halted—she beckoned to the mechanic's wife, who went up to the roadside.
"I worked once for that lady," said the man with a tone of feeling; "and when my wife fell ill last winter she paid the doctors. Ah, she is an angel of charity and kindness!"
Morton scarcely heard this eulogium, for he observed, by something eager and inquisitive in the face of Madame de Merville, and by the sudden manner in which the mechanic's helpmate turned her head to the spot in which he stood, that he was the object of their conversation. Once more he became suddenly aware of his ragged dress, and with a natural shame—a fear that charity might be extended to him from her—he muttered an abrupt farewell to the operative, and without another glance at the carriage, walked away.
Before he had got many paces, the wife however came up to him, breathless. "Madame de Merville would speak to you, sir!" she said, with more respect than she had hitherto thrown into her manner. Philip paused an instant, and again strode on—
"It must be some mistake," he said, hurriedly: "I have no right to expect such an honour."
He struck across the road, gained the opposite side, and had vanished from Madame de Merville's eyes, before the woman regained the carriage. But still that calm, pale, and somewhat melancholy face, presented itself before him; and as he walked again through the town, sweet and gentle fancies crowded confusedly on his heart. On that soft summer day, memorable for so many silent but mighty events in that inner life which prepares the catastrophes of the outer one; as in the region, of which Virgil has sung, the images of men to be born hereafter repose or glide— on that soft summer day, he felt he had reached the age when Youth begins to clothe in some human shape its first vague ideal of desire and love.
In such thoughts, and still wandering, the day wore away, till he found himself in one of the lanes that surround that glittering Microcosm of the vices, the frivolities, the hollow show, and the real beggary of the gay City—the gardens and the galleries of the Palais Royal. Surprised at the lateness of the hour, it was then on the stroke of seven, he was about to return homewards, when the loud voice of Gawtrey sounded behind, and that personage, tapping him on the back, said,—
"Hollo, my young friend, well met! This will be a night of trial to you. Empty stomachs produce weak nerves. Come along! you must dine with me. A good dinner and a bottle of old wine—come! nonsense, I say you shall come! Vive la joie!"
While speaking, he had linked his arm in Morton's, and hurried him on several paces in spite of his struggles; but just as the words Vive la joie left his lips, he stood still and mute, as if a thunderbolt had fallen at his feet; and Morton felt that heavy arm shiver and tremble like a leaf. He looked up, and just at the entrance of that part of the Palais Royal in which are situated the restaurants of Verey and Vefour, he saw two men standing but a few paces before them, and gazing full on Gawtrey and himself.
"It is my evil genius," muttered Gawtrey, grinding his teeth.
"And mine!" said Morton.
The younger of the two men thus apostrophised made a step towards Philip, when his companion drew him back and whispered,—"What are you about—do you know that young man?"
"He is my cousin; Philip Beaufort's natural son!"
"Is he? then discard him for ever. He is with the most dangerous knave in Europe!"
As Lord Lilburne—for it was he—thus whispered his nephew, Gawtrey strode up to him; and, glaring full in his face, said in a deep and hollow tone,—"There is a hell, my lord,—I go to drink to our meeting!" Thus saying, he took off his hat with a ceremonious mockery, and disappeared within the adjoining restaurant, kept by Vefour.
"A hell!" said Lilburne, with his frigid smile; "the rogue's head runs upon gambling-houses!"
"And I have suffered Philip again to escape me," said Arthur, in self-reproach: for while Gawtrey had addressed Lord Lilburne, Morton had plunged back amidst the labyrinth of alleys. "How have I kept my oath?"
"Come! your guests must have arrived by this time. As for that wretched young man, depend upon it that he is corrupted body and soul."
"But he is my own cousin."
"Pooh! there is no relationship in natural children: besides, he will find you out fast enough. Ragged claimants are not long too proud to beg."
"You speak in earnest?" said Arthur, irresolutely. "Ay! trust my experience of the world—Allons!"
And in a cabinet of the very restaurant, adjoining that in which the solitary Gawtrey gorged his conscience, Lilburne, Arthur, and their gay friends, soon forgetful of all but the roses of the moment, bathed their airy spirits in the dews of the mirthful wine. Oh, extremes of life! Oh, Night! Oh, Morning!
"Meantime a moving scene was open laid, That lazar house."—THOMSON'S Castle of Indolence.
It was near midnight. At the mouth of the lane in which Gawtrey resided there stood four men. Not far distant, in the broad street at angles with the lane, were heard the wheels of carriages and the sound of music. A lady, fair in form, tender of heart, stainless in repute, was receiving her friends!
"Monsieur Favart," said one of the men to the smallest of the four; "you understand the conditions—20,000 francs and a free pardon?"
"Nothing more reasonable—it is understood. Still I confess that I should like to have my men close at hand. I am not given to fear; but this is a dangerous experiment."
"You knew the danger beforehand and subscribed to it: you must enter alone with me, or not at all. Mark you, the men are sworn to murder him who betrays them. Not for twenty times 20,000 francs would I have them know me as the informer. My life were not worth a day's purchase. Now, if you feel secure in your disguise, all is safe. You will have seen them at their work—you will recognise their persons—you can depose against them at the trial—I shall have time to quit France."
"Well, well! as you please."
"Mind, you must wait in the vault with them till they separate. We have so planted your men that whatever street each of the gang takes in going home, he can be seized quietly and at once. The bravest and craftiest of all, who, though he has but just joined, is already their captain;—him, the man I told you of, who lives in the house, you must take after his return, in his bed. It is the sixth story to the right, remember: here is the key to his door. He is a giant in strength; and will never be taken alive if up and armed."
"Ah, I comprehend!—Gilbert" (and Favart turned to one of his companions who had not yet spoken) "take three men besides yourself, according to the directions I gave you,—the porter will admit you, that's arranged. Make no noise. If I don't return by four o'clock, don't wait for me, but proceed at once. Look well to your primings. Take him alive, if possible—at the worst, dead. And now—anon ami—lead on!"
The traitor nodded, and walked slowly down the street. Favart, pausing, whispered hastily to the man whom he had called Gilbert,—
"Follow me close—get to the door of the cellar-place eight men within hearing of my whistle—recollect the picklocks, the axes. If you hear the whistle, break in; if not, I'm safe, and the first orders to seize the captain in his room stand good."
So saying, Favart strode after his guide. The door of a large, but ill- favoured-looking house stood ajar—they entered-passed unmolested through a court-yard—descended some stairs; the guide unlocked the door of a cellar, and took a dark lantern from under his cloak. As he drew up the slide, the dim light gleamed on barrels and wine-casks, which appeared to fill up the space. Rolling aside one of these, the guide lifted a trap- door, and lowered his lantern. "Enter," said he; and the two men disappeared.
. . . . . . . .
The coiners were at their work. A man, seated on a stool before a desk, was entering accounts in a large book. That man was William Gawtrey. While, with the rapid precision of honest mechanics, the machinery of the Dark Trade went on in its several departments. Apart—alone—at the foot of a long table, sat Philip Morton. The truth had exceeded his darkest suspicions. He had consented to take the oath not to divulge what was to be given to his survey; and when, led into that vault, the bandage was taken from his eyes, it was some minutes before he could fully comprehend the desperate and criminal occupations of the wild forms amidst which towered the burly stature of his benefactor. As the truth slowly grew upon him, he shrank from the side of Gawtrey; but, deep compassion for his friend's degradation swallowing up the horror of the trade, he flung himself on one of the rude seats, and felt that the bond between them was indeed broken, and that the next morning he should be again alone in the world. Still, as the obscene jests, the fearful oaths, that from time to time rang through the vault, came on his ear, he cast his haughty eye in such disdain over the groups, that Gawtrey, observing him, trembled for his safety; and nothing but Philip's sense of his own impotence, and the brave, not timorous, desire not to perish by such hands, kept silent the fiery denunciations of a nature still proud and honest, that quivered on his lips. All present were armed with pistols and cutlasses except Morton, who suffered the weapons presented to him to lie unheeded on the table.
"Courage, mes amis!" said Gawtrey, closing his book,—"Courage!"—a few months more, and we shall have made enough to retire upon, and enjoy ourselves for the rest of the days. Where is Birnie?"
"Did he not tell you?" said one of the artisans, looking up. "He has found out the cleverest hand in France, the very fellow who helped Bouchard in all his five-franc pieces. He has promised to bring him to-night."
"Ay, I remember," returned Gawtrey, "he told me this morning,—he is a famous decoy!"
"I think so, indeed!" quoth a coiner; "for he caught you, the best head to our hands that ever les industriels were blessed with—sacre fichtre!"
"Flatterer!" said Gawtrey, coming from the desk to the table, and pouring out wine from one of the bottles into a huge flagon—"To your healths!"
Here the door slided back, and Birnie glided in.
"Where is your booty, mon brave?" said Gawtrey. "We only coin money; you coin men, stamp with your own seal, and send them current to the devil!"
The coiners, who liked Birnie's ability (for the ci-devant engraver was of admirable skill in their craft), but who hated his joyless manners, laughed at this taunt, which Birnie did not seem to heed, except by a malignant gleam of his dead eye.
"If you mean the celebrated coiner, Jacques Giraumont, he waits without. You know our rules. I cannot admit him without leave."
"Bon! we give it,—eh, messieurs?" said Gawtrey. "Ay-ay," cried several voices. "He knows the oath, and will hear the penalty."
"Yes, he knows the oath," replied Birnie, and glided back.
In a moment more he returned with a small man in a mechanic's blouse. The new comer wore the republican beard and moustache—of a sandy grey— his hair was the same colour; and a black patch over one eye increased the ill-favoured appearance of his features.
"Diable! Monsieur Giraumont! but you are more like Vulcan than Adonis!" said Gawtrey.
"I don't know anything about Vulcan, but I know how to make five-franc pieces," said Monsieur Giraumont, doggedly.
"Are you poor?"
"As a church mouse! The only thing belonging to a church, since the Bourbons came back, that is poor!"
At this sally, the coiners, who had gathered round the table, uttered the shout with which, in all circumstances, Frenchmen receive a bon mot.
"Humph!" said Gawtrey. "Who responds with his own life for your fidelity?"
"I," said Birnie.
"Administer the oath to him."
Suddenly four men advanced, seized the visitor, and bore him from the vault into another one within. After a few moments they returned.
"He has taken the oath and heard the penalty."
"Death to yourself, your wife, your son, and your grandson, if you betray us!"
"I have neither son nor grandson; as for my wife, Monsieur le Capitaine, you offer a bribe instead of a threat when you talk of her death."
"Sacre! but you will be an addition to our circle, mon brave!" said Gawtrey, laughing; while again the grim circle shouted applause.
"But I suppose you care for your own life."
"Otherwise I should have preferred starving to coming here," answered the laconic neophyte.
"I have done with you. Your health!"
On this the coiners gathered round Monsieur Giraumont, shook him by the hand, and commenced many questions with a view to ascertain his skill.
"Show me your coinage first; I see you use both the die and the furnace. Hem! this piece is not bad—you have struck it from an iron die?—right —it makes the impression sharper than plaster of Paris. But you take the poorest and the most dangerous part of the trade in taking the home market. I can put you in a way to make ten times as much—and with safety. Look at this!"—and Monsieur Giraumont took a forged Spanish dollar from his pocket, so skilfully manufactured that the connoisseurs were lost in admiration—"you may pass thousands of these all over Europe, except France, and who is ever to detect you? But it will require better machinery than you have here."
Thus conversing, Monsieur Giraumont did not perceive that Mr. Gawtrey had been examining him very curiously and minutely. But Birnie had noted their chief's attention, and once attempted to join his new ally, when Gawtrey laid his hand on his shoulder, and stopped him.
"Do not speak to your friend till I bid you, or—" lie stopped short, and touched his pistols.
Birnie grew a shade more pale, but replied with his usual sneer:
"Suspicious!—well, so much the better!" and seating himself carelessly at the table, lighted his pipe.
"And now, Monsieur Giraumont," said Gawtrey, as he took the head of the table, "come to my right hand. A half-holiday in your honour. Clear these infernal instruments; and more wine, mes amis!"
The party arranged themselves at the table. Among the desperate there is almost invariably a tendency to mirth. A solitary ruffian, indeed, is moody, but a gang of ruffians are jovial. The coiners talked and laughed loud. Mr. Birnie, from his dogged silence, seemed apart from the rest, though in the centre. For in a noisy circle a silent tongue builds a wall round its owner. But that respectable personage kept his furtive watch upon Giraumont and Gawtrey, who appeared talking together, very amicably. The younger novice of that night, equally silent, seated towards the bottom of the table, was not less watchful than Birnie. An uneasy, undefinable foreboding had come over him since the entrance of Monsieur Giraumont; this had been increased by the manner of Mr. Gawtrey. His faculty of observation, which was very acute, had detected something false in the chief's blandness to their guest—something dangerous in the glittering eye that Gawtrey ever, as he spoke to Giraumont, bent on that person's lips as he listened to his reply. For, whenever William Gawtrey suspected a man, he watched not his eyes, but his lips.
Waked from his scornful reverie, a strange spell chained Morton's attention to the chief and the guest, and he bent forward, with parted mouth and straining ear, to catch their conversation.
"It seems to me a little strange," said Mr. Gawtrey, raising his voice so as to be heard by the party, "that a coiner so dexterous as Monsieur Giraumont should not be known to any of us except our friend Birnie."
"Not at all," replied Giraumont; "I worked only with Bouchard and two others since sent to the galleys. We were but a small fraternity— everything has its commencement."
"C'est juste: buvez, donc, cher ami!"
The wine circulated. Gawtrey began again:
"You have had a bad accident, seemingly, Monsieur Giraumont. How did you lose your eye?"
"In a scuffle with the gens d' armes the night Bouchard was taken and I escaped. Such misfortunes are on the cards."
"C'est juste: buvez, donc, Monsieur Giraumont!"
Again there was a pause, and again Gawtrey's deep voice was heard.
"You wear a wig, I think, Monsieur Giraumont? To judge by your eyelashes your own hair has been a handsomer colour."
"We seek disguise, not beauty, my host; and the police have sharp eyes."
"C'est juste: buvez, donc-vieux Renard! When did we two meet last?"
"Never, that I know of."
"Ce n'est pas vrai! buvez, donc, MONSIEUR FAVART!"
At the sound of that name the company started in dismay and confusion, and the police officer, forgetting himself for the moment, sprang from his seat, and put his right hand into his blouse.
"Ho, there!—treason!" cried Gawtrey, in a voice of thunder; and he caught the unhappy man by the throat. It was the work of a moment. Morton, where he sat, beheld a struggle—he heard a death-cry. He saw the huge form of the master-coiner rising above all the rest, as cutlasses gleamed and eyes sparkled round. He saw the quivering and powerless frame of the unhappy guest raised aloft in those mighty arms, and presently it was hurled along the table-bottles crashing—the board shaking beneath its weight—and lay before the very eyes of Morton, a distorted and lifeless mass. At the same instant Gawtrey sprang upon the table, his black frown singling out from the group the ashen, cadaverous face of the shrinking traitor. Birnie had darted from the table—he was half-way towards the sliding door—his face, turned over his shoulder, met the eyes of the chief.
"Devil!" shouted Gawtrey, in his terrible voice, which the echoes of the vault gave back from side to side. "Did I not give thee up my soul that thou mightest not compass my death? Hark ye! thus die my slavery and all our secrets!" The explosion of his pistol half swallowed up the last word, and with a single groan the traitor fell on the floor, pierced through the brain—then there was a dead and grim hush as the smoke rolled slowly along the roof of the dreary vault.
Morton sank back on his seat, and covered his face with his hands. The last seal on the fate of THE MAN OF CRIME was set; the last wave in the terrible and mysterious tide of his destiny had dashed on his soul to the shore whence there is no return. Vain, now and henceforth, the humour, the sentiment, the kindly impulse, the social instincts which had invested that stalwart shape with dangerous fascination, which had implied the hope of ultimate repentance, of redemption even in this world. The HOUR and the CIRCUMSTANCE had seized their prey; and the self-defence, which a lawless career rendered a necessity, left the eternal die of blood upon his doom!
"Friends, I have saved you," said Gawtrey, slowly gazing on the corpse of his second victim, while he turned the pistol to his belt. "I have not quailed before this man's eye" (and he spurned the clay of the officer as he spoke with a revengeful scorn) "without treasuring up its aspect in my heart of hearts. I knew him when he entered—knew him through his disguise—yet, faith, it was a clever one! Turn up his face and gaze on him now; he will never terrify us again, unless there be truth in ghosts!"
Murmuring and tremulous the coiners scrambled on the table and examined the dead man. From this task Gawtrey interrupted them, for his quick eye detected, with the pistols under the policeman's blouse, a whistle of metal of curious construction, and he conjectured at once that danger was at hand.
"I have saved you, I say, but only for the hour. This deed cannot sleep. See, he had help within call! The police knew where to look for their comrade—we are dispersed. Each for himself. Quick, divide the spoils! Sauve qui peat!"
Then Morton heard where he sat, his hands still clasped before his face, a confused hubbub of voices, the jingle of money, the scrambling of feet, the creaking of doors. All was silent!
A strong grasp drew his hands from his eyes.
"Your first scene of life against life," said Gawtrey's voice, which seemed fearfully changed to the ear that beard it. "Bah! what would you think of a battle? Come to our eyrie: the carcasses are gone."
Morton looked fearfully round the vault. He and Gawtrey were alone. His eyes sought the places where the dead had lain—they were removed—no vestige of the deeds, not even a drop of blood.
"Come, take up your cutlass, come!" repeated the voice of the chief, as with his dim lantern—now the sole light of the vault—he stood in the shadow of the doorway.
Morton rose, took up the weapon mechanically, and followed that terrible guide, mute and unconscious, as a Soul follows a Dream through the House of Sleep!
"Sleep no more!"—Macbeth
After winding through gloomy and labyrinthine passages, which conducted to a different range of cellars from those entered by the unfortunate Favart, Gawtrey emerged at the foot of a flight of stairs, which, dark, narrow, and in many places broken, had been probably appropriated to servants of the house in its days of palmier glory. By these steps the pair regained their attic. Gawtrey placed the lantern on the table and seated himself in silence. Morton, who had recovered his self-possession and formed his resolution, gazed on him for some moments, equally taciturn. At length he spoke:
"I bade you not call me by that name," said the coiner; for we need scarcely say that in his new trade he had assumed a new appellation.
"It is the least guilty one by which I have known you," returned Morton, firmly. "It is for the last time I call you by it! I demanded to see by what means one to whom I had entrusted my fate supported himself. I have seen," continued the young man, still firmly, but with a livid cheek and lip, "and the tie between us is rent for ever. Interrupt me not! it is not for me to blame you. I have eaten of your bread and drunk of your cup. Confiding in you too blindly, and believing that you were at least free from those dark and terrible crimes for which there is no expiation —at least in this life—my conscience seared by distress, my very soul made dormant by despair, I surrendered myself to one leading a career equivocal, suspicious, dishonourable perhaps, but still not, as I believed, of atrocity and bloodshed. I wake at the brink of the abyss— my mother's hand beckons to me from the grave; I think I hear her voice while I address you—I recede while it is yet time—we part, and for ever!"
Gawtrey, whose stormy passion was still deep upon his soul, had listened hitherto in sullen and dogged silence, with a gloomy frown on his knitted brow; he now rose with an oath—
"Part! that I may let loose on the world a new traitor! Part! when you have seen me fresh from an act that, once whispered, gives me to the guillotine! Part—never! at least alive!"
"I have said it," said Morton, folding his arms calmly; I say it to your face, though I might part from you in secret. Frown not on me, man of blood! I am fearless as yourself! In another minute I am gone."
"Ah! is it so?" said Gawtrey; and glancing round the room, which contained two doors, the one concealed by the draperies of a bed, communicating with the stairs by which they had entered, the other with the landing of the principal and common flight: he turned to the former, within his reach, which he locked, and put the key into his pocket, and then, throwing across the latter a heavy swing bar, which fell into its socket with a harsh noise,—before the threshold he placed his vast bulk, and burst into his loud, fierce laugh: "Ho! ho! Slave and fool, once mine, you were mine body and soul for ever!"
"Tempter, I defy you! stand back!" And, firm and dauntless, Morton laid his hand on the giant's vest.
Gawtrey seemed more astonished than enraged. He looked hard at his daring associate, on whose lip the down was yet scarcely dark.
"Boy," said he, "off! do not rouse the devil in me again! I could crush you with a hug."
"My soul supports my body, and I am armed," said Morton, laying hand on his cutlass. "But you dare not harm me, nor I you; bloodstained as you are, you gave me shelter and bread; but accuse me not that I will save my soul while it is yet time!—Shall my mother have blessed me in vain upon her death-bed?"
Gawtrey drew back, and Morton, by a sudden impulse, grasped his hand.
"Oh! hear me-hear me!" he cried, with great emotion. "Abandon this horrible career; you have been decoyed and betrayed to it by one who can deceive or terrify you no more! Abandon it, and I will never desert you. For her sake—for your Fanny's sake—pause, like me, before the gulf swallow us. Let us fly!—far to the New World—to any land where our thews and sinews, our stout hands and hearts, can find an honest mart. Men, desperate as we are, have yet risen by honest means. Take her, your orphan, with us. We will work for her, both of us. Gawtrey! hear me. It is not my voice that speaks to you—it is your good angel's!"
Gawtrey fell back against the wall, and his chest heaved.
"Morton," he said, with choked and tremulous accent, "go now; leave me to my fate! I have sinned against you—shamefully sinned. It seemed to me so sweet to have a friend; in your youth and character of mind there was so much about which the tough strings of my heart wound themselves, that I could not bear to lose you—to suffer you to know me for what I was. I blinded—I deceived you as to my past deeds; that was base in me: but I swore to my own heart to keep you unexposed to every danger, and free from every vice that darkened my own path. I kept that oath till this night, when, seeing that you began to recoil from me, and dreading that you should desert me, I thought to bind you to me for ever by implicating you in this fellowship of crime. I am punished, and justly. Go, I repeat—leave me to the fate that strides nearer and nearer to me day by day. You are a boy still—I am no longer young. Habit is a second nature. Still—still I could repent—I could begin life again. But repose!—to look back—to remember—to be haunted night and day with deeds that shall meet me bodily and face to face on the last day—"
"Add not to the spectres! Come—fly this night—this hour!"
Gawtrey paused, irresolute and wavering, when at that moment he heard steps on the stairs below. He started—as starts the boar caught in his lair—and listened, pale and breathless.
"Hush!—they are on us!—they come!" as he whispered, the key from without turned in the wards—the door shook. "Soft! the bar preserves us both—this way." And the coiner crept to the door of the private stairs. He unlocked and opened it cautiously. A man sprang through the aperture:
"Yield!—you are my prisoner!"
"Never!" cried Gawtrey, hurling back the intruder, and clapping to the door, though other and stout men were pressing against it with all their power.
"Ho! ho! Who shall open the tiger's cage?"
At both doors now were heard the sound of voices. "Open in the king's name, or expect no mercy!"
"Hist!" said Gawtrey. "One way yet—the window—the rope."
Morton opened the casement—Gawtrey uncoiled the rope. The dawn was breaking; it was light in the streets, but all seemed quiet without. The doors reeled and shook beneath the pressure of the pursuers. Gawtrey flung the rope across the street to the opposite parapet; after two or three efforts, the grappling-hook caught firm hold—the perilous path was made.
"On!—quick!—loiter not!" whispered Gawtrey; "you are active—it seems more dangerous than it is—cling with both hands-shut your eyes. When on the other side—you see the window of Birnie's room,—enter it—descend the stairs—let yourself out, and you are safe."
"Go first," said Morton, in the same tone: "I will not leave you now: you will be longer getting across than I shall. I will keep guard till you are over."
"Hark! hark!—are you mad? You keep guard! what is your strength to mine? Twenty men shall not move that door, while my weight is against it. Quick, or you destroy us both! Besides, you will hold the rope for me, it may not be strong enough for my bulk in itself. Stay!—stay one moment. If you escape, and I fall—Fanny—my father, he will take care of her,—you remember—thanks! Forgive me all! Go; that's right!"
With a firm impulse, Morton threw himself on the dreadful bridge; it swung and crackled at his weight. Shifting his grasp rapidly—holding his breath—with set teeth-with closed eyes—he moved on—he gained the parapet—he stood safe on the opposite side. And now, straining his eyes across, he saw through the open casement into the chamber he had just quitted. Gawtrey was still standing against the door to the principal staircase, for that of the two was the weaker and the more assailed. Presently the explosion of a fire-arm was heard; they had shot through the panel. Gawtrey seemed wounded, for he staggered forward, and uttered a fierce cry; a moment more, and he gained the window—he seized the rope—he hung over the tremendous depth! Morton knelt by the parapet, holding the grappling-hook in its place, with convulsive grasp, and fixing his eyes, bloodshot with fear and suspense, on the huge bulk that clung for life to that slender cord!
"Le voiles! Le voiles!" cried a voice from the opposite side. Morton raised his gaze from Gawtrey; the casement was darkened by the forms of his pursuers—they had burst into the room—an officer sprang upon the parapet, and Gawtrey, now aware of his danger, opened his eyes, and as he moved on, glared upon the foe. The policeman deliberately raised his pistol—Gawtrey arrested himself—from a wound in his side the blood trickled slowly and darkly down, drop by drop, upon the stones below; even the officers of law shuddered as they eyed him—his hair bristling —his cheek white—his lips drawn convulsively from his teeth, and his eyes glaring from beneath the frown of agony and menace in which yet spoke the indomitable power and fierceness of the man. His look, so fixed—so intense—so stern, awed the policeman; his hand trembled as he fired, and the ball struck the parapet an inch below the spot where Morton knelt. An indistinct, wild, gurgling sound-half-laugh, half-yell of scorn and glee, broke from Gawtrey's lips. He swung himself on—near —near—nearer—a yard from the parapet.
"You are saved!" cried Morton; when at the moment a volley burst from the fatal casement—the smoke rolled over both the fugitives—a groan, or rather howl, of rage, and despair, and agony, appalled even the hardest on whose ear it came. Morton sprang to his feet and looked below. He saw on the rugged stones far down, a dark, formless, motionless mass—the strong man of passion and levity—the giant who had played with life and soul, as an infant with the baubles that it prizes and breaks—was what the Caesar and the leper alike are, when the clay is without God's breath—what glory, genius, power, and beauty, would be for ever and for ever, if there were no God!
"There is another!" cried the voice of one of the pursuers. "Fire!"
"Poor Gawtrey!" muttered Philip. "I will fulfil your last wish;" and scarcely conscious of the bullet that whistled by him, he disappeared behind the parapet.
"Gently moved By the soft wind of whispering silks."—DECKER.
The reader may remember that while Monsieur Favart and Mr. Birnie were holding commune in the lane, the sounds of festivity were heard from a house in the adjoining street. To that house we are now summoned.
At Paris, the gaieties of balls, or soirees, are, I believe, very rare in that period of the year in which they are most frequent in London. The entertainment now given was in honour of a christening; the lady who gave it, a relation of the new-born.
Madame de Merville was a young widow; even before her marriage she had been distinguished in literature; she had written poems of more than common excellence; and being handsome, of good family, and large fortune, her talents made her an object of more interest than they might otherwise have done. Her poetry showed great sensibility and tenderness. If poetry be any index to the heart, you would have thought her one to love truly and deeply. Nevertheless, since she married—as girls in France do—not to please herself, but her parents, she made a mariage de convenance. Monsieur de Merville was a sober, sensible man, past middle age. Not being fond of poetry, and by no means coveting a professional author for his wife, he had during their union, which lasted four years, discouraged his wife's liaison with Apollo. But her mind, active and ardent, did not the less prey upon itself. At the age of four-and-twenty she became a widow, with an income large even in England for a single woman, and at Paris constituting no ordinary fortune. Madame de Merville, however, though a person of elegant taste, was neither ostentatious nor selfish; she had no children, and she lived quietly in apartments, handsome, indeed, but not more than adequate to the small establishment which—where, as on the Continent, the costly convenience of an entire house is not usually incurred—sufficed for her retinue. She devoted at least half her income, which was entirely at her own disposal, partly to the aid of her own relations, who were not rich, and partly to the encouragement of the literature she cultivated. Although she shrank from the ordeal of publication, her poems and sketches of romance were read to her own friends, and possessed an eloquence seldom accompanied with so much modesty. Thus, her reputation, though not blown about the winds, was high in her own circle, and her position in fashion and in fortune made her looked up to by her relations as the head of her family; they regarded her as femme superieure, and her advice with them was equivalent to a command. Eugenie de Merville was a strange mixture of qualities at once feminine and masculine. On the one hand, she had a strong will, independent views, some contempt for the world, and followed her own inclinations without servility to the opinion of others; on the other hand, she was susceptible, romantic, of a sweet, affectionate, kind disposition. Her visit to M. Love, however indiscreet, was not less in accordance with her character than her charity to the mechanic's wife; masculine and careless where an eccentric thing was to be done—curiosity satisfied, or some object in female diplomacy achieved—womanly, delicate, and gentle, the instant her benevolence was appealed to or her heart touched. She had now been three years a widow, and was consequently at the age of twenty-seven. Despite the tenderness of her poetry and her character, her reputation was unblemished. She had never been in love. People who are much occupied do not fall in love easily; besides, Madame de Merville was refining, exacting, and wished to find heroes where she only met handsome dandies or ugly authors. Moreover, Eugenie was both a vain and a proud person—vain of her celebrity and proud of her birth. She was one whose goodness of heart made her always active in promoting the happiness of others. She was not only generous and charitable, but willing to serve people by good offices as well as money. Everybody loved her. The new-born infant, to whose addition to the Christian community the fete of this night was dedicated, was the pledge of a union which Madame de Merville had managed to effect between two young persons, first cousins to each other, and related to herself. There had been scruples of parents to remove—money matters to adjust— Eugenie had smoothed all. The husband and wife, still lovers, looked up to her as the author, under Heaven, of their happiness.
The gala of that night had been, therefore, of a nature more than usually pleasurable, and the mirth did not sound hollow, but wrung from the heart. Yet, as Eugenie from time to time contemplated the young people, whose eyes ever sought each other—so fair, so tender, and so joyous as they seemed—a melancholy shadow darkened her brow, and she sighed involuntarily. Once the young wife, Madame d'Anville, approaching her timidly, said:
"Ah! my sweet cousin, when shall we see you as happy as ourselves? There is such happiness," she added, innocently, and with a blush, "in being a mother!—that little life all one's own—it is something to think of every hour!"
"Perhaps," said Eugenie, smiling, and seeking to turn the conversation from a subject that touched too nearly upon feelings and thoughts her pride did not wish to reveal—"perhaps it is you, then, who have made our cousin, poor Monsieur de Vaudemont, so determined to marry? Pray, be more cautious with him. How difficult I have found it to prevent his bringing into our family some one to make us all ridiculous!"
"True," said Madame d'Anville, laughing. "But then, the Vicomte is so poor, and in debt. He would fall in love, not with the demoiselle, but the dower. A propos of that, how cleverly you took advantage of his boastful confession to break off his liaisons with that bureau de mariage."
"Yes; I congratulate myself on that manoeuvre. Unpleasant as it was to go to such a place (for, of course, I could not send for Monsieur Love here), it would have been still more unpleasant to have received such a Madame de Vaudemont as our cousin would have presented to us. Only think—he was the rival of an epicier! I heard that there was some curious denouement to the farce of that establishment; but I could never get from Vaudemont the particulars. He was ashamed of them, I fancy."
"What droll professions there are in Paris!" said Madame d'Anville. "As if people could not marry without going to an office for a spouse as we go for a servant! And so the establishment is broken up? And you never again saw that dark, wild-looking boy who so struck your fancy that you have taken him as the original for the Murillo sketch of the youth in that charming tale you read to us the other evening? Ah! cousin, I think you were a little taken with him. The bureau de mariage had its allurements for you as well as for our poor cousin!" The young mother said this laughingly and carelessly.
"Pooh!" returned Madame de Merville, laughing also; but a slight blush broke over her natural paleness. "But a propos of the Vicomte. You know how cruelly he has behaved to that poor boy of his by his English wife— never seen him since he was an infant—kept him at some school in England; and all because his vanity does not like the world to know that he has a son of nineteen! Well, I have induced him to recall this poor youth."
"Indeed! and how?"
"Why," said Eugenie, with a smile, "he wanted a loan, poor man, and I could therefore impose conditions by way of interest. But I also managed to conciliate him to the proposition, by representing that, if the young man were good-looking, he might, himself, with our connections, &c., form an advantageous marriage; and that in such a case, if the father treated him now justly and kindly, he would naturally partake with the father whatever benefits the marriage might confer."
"Ah! you are an excellent diplomatist, Eugenie; and you turn people's heads by always acting from your heart. Hush! here comes the Vicomte"
"A delightful ball," said Monsieur de Vaudemont, approaching the hostess. "Pray, has that young lady yonder, in the pink dress, any fortune? She is pretty—eh? You observe she is looking at me—I mean at us!"
"My dear cousin, what a compliment you pay to marriage! You have had two wives, and you are ever on the qui vive for a third!"
"What would you have me do?—we cannot resist the overtures of your bewitching sex. Hum—what fortune has she?"
"Not a sou; besides, she is engaged."
"Oh! now I look at her, she is not pretty—not at all. I made a mistake. I did not mean her; I meant the young lady in blue."
"Worse and worse—she is married already. Shall I present you?"
"Ah, Monsieur de Vaudemont," said Madame d'Anville; "have you found out a new bureau de mariage?"
The Vicomte pretended not to hear that question. But, turning to Eugenie, took her aside, and said, with an air in which he endeavoured to throw a great deal of sorrow, "You know, my dear cousin, that, to oblige you, I consented to send for my son, though, as I always said, it is very unpleasant for a man like me, in the prime of life, to hawk about a great boy of nineteen or twenty. People soon say, 'Old Vaudemont and younq Vaudemont.' However, a father's feelings are never appealed to in vain." (Here the Vicomte put his handkerchief to his eyes, and after a pause, continued,)—"I sent for him—I even went to your old bonne, Madame Dufour, to make a bargain for her lodgings, and this day—guess my grief —I received a letter sealed with black. My son is dead!—a sudden fever—it is shocking!"
"Horrible! dead!—your own son, whom you hardly ever saw—never since he was an Infant!"
"Yes, that softens the blow very much. And now you see I must marry. If the boy had been good-looking, and like me, and so forth, why, as you observed, he might have made a good match, and allowed me a certain sum, or we could have all lived together."
"And your son is dead, and you come to a ball!"
"Je suis philosophe," said the Vicomte, shrugging his shoulders. "And, as you say, I never saw him. It saves me seven hundred francs a-year. Don't say a word to any one—I sha'n't give out that he is dead, poor fellow! Pray be discreet: you see there are some ill-natured people who might think it odd I do not shut myself up. I can wait till Paris is quite empty. It would be a pity to lose any opportunity at present, for now, you see, I must marry!" And the philosophe sauntered away.
GUIOMAR. "Those devotions I am to pay Are written in my heart, not in this book."
Enter RUTILIO. "I am pursued—all the ports are stopped too, Not any hope to escape—behind, before me, On either side, I am beset." BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER, The Custom of the Country
The party were just gone—it was already the peep of day—the wheels of the last carriage had died in the distance.
Madame de Merville had dismissed her woman, and was seated in her own room, leaning her head musingly on her hand.
Beside her was the table that held her MSS. and a few books, amidst which were scattered vases of flowers. On a pedestal beneath the window was placed a marble bust of Dante. Through the open door were seen in perspective two rooms just deserted by her guests; the lights still burned in the chandeliers and girandoles, contending with the daylight that came through the half-closed curtains. The person of the inmate was in harmony with the apartment. It was characterised by a certain grace which, for want of a better epithet, writers are prone to call classical or antique. Her complexion, seeming paler than usual by that light, was yet soft and delicate—the features well cut, but small and womanly. About the face there was that rarest of all charms, the combination of intellect with sweetness; the eyes, of a dark blue, were thoughtful, perhaps melancholy, in their expression; but the long dark lashes, and the shape of the eyes, themselves more long than full, gave to their intelligence a softness approaching to languor, increased, perhaps, by that slight shadow round and below the orbs which is common with those who have tasked too much either the mind or the heart. The contour of the face, without being sharp or angular, had yet lost a little of the roundness of earlier youth; and the hand on which she leaned was, perhaps, even too white, too delicate, for the beauty which belongs to health; but the throat and bust were of exquisite symmetry.
"I am not happy," murmured Eugenie to herself; "yet I scarce know why. Is it really, as we women of romance have said till the saying is worn threadbare, that the destiny of women is not fame but love. Strange, then, that while I have so often pictured what love should be, I have never felt it. And now,—and now," she continued, half rising, and with a natural pang—"now I am no longer in my first youth. If I loved, should I be loved again? How happy the young pair seemed—they are never alone!"
At this moment, at a distance, was heard the report of fire-arms—again! Eugenie started, and called to her servant, who, with one of the waiters hired for the night, was engaged in removing, and nibbling as he removed, the re mains of the feast. "What is that, at this hour?—open the window and look out!"
"I can see nothing, madame."
"Again—that is the third time. Go into the street and look—some one must be in danger."
The servant and the waiter, both curious, and not willing to part company, ran down the stairs, and thence into the street.
Meanwhile, Morton, after vainly attempting Birnie's window, which the traitor had previously locked and barred against the escape of his intended victim, crept rapidly along the roof, screened by the parapet not only from the shot but the sight of the foe. But just as he gained the point at which the lane made an angle with the broad street it adjoined, he cast his eyes over the parapet, and perceived that one of the officers had ventured himself to the fearful bridge; he was pursued— detection and capture seemed inevitable. He paused, and breathed hard. He, once the heir to such fortunes, the darling of such affections!—he, the hunted accomplice of a gang of miscreants! That was the thought that paralysed—the disgrace, not the danger. But he was in advance of the pursuer—he hastened on—he turned the angle—he heard a shout behind from the opposite side—the officer had passed the bridge: "it is but one man as yet," thought he, and his nostrils dilated and his hands clenched as he glided on, glancing at each casement as he passed.