This was the fortune of Thaddeus; and now, he who had scattered thousands without counting them drew back his hand with something like horror at his own injustice, when he was going to give away one little piece of silver, which he might want in a day or two, to defray some indispensible debt.
"Mrs. Robson," said he, as he replaced his cap upon his head, "I shall return before it is dark."
"Very well, sir," and opening the door, he went out into the lane.
Ignorant of the town, and thanking Providence for having prepared him an asylum, he directed his course towards Charing Cross. He looked about him with deepened sadness; the wet and plashy state of the streets gave to every object so comfortless an appearance, he could scarcely believe himself to be in that London of which he had read with so much delight. Where were the magnificent buildings he expected to see in the emporium of the world? Where that cleanliness, and those tokens of greatness and splendor, which had been the admiration and boast of travellers? He could nowhere discover them; all seemed parts of a dark, gloomy, common-looking city.
Hardly heeding whither he went, he approached the Horse-Guards; a view of the Park, as it appears through the wide porch, promised him less unpleasantness than the dirty pavement, and he turned in, taking his way along the Bird-Cage Walk. [Footnote: The young readers of these few preceding pages will not recognize this description of St. Martin's Lane, Charing Cross, and St. James's Park, in 1794, in what they now see there in 1844. St. Martin's noble church was then the centre of the east side of a long, narrow, and somewhat dirty lane of mean houses, particularly in the end below the church. Charing Cross, with its adjoining streets, showed nothing better than plain tradesmen's shops; and it was not till we saw the Admiralty, and entered the Horse-Guards, that anything presented itself worthy the great name of London. The Park is almost completely altered. The lower part of the lane has totally disappeared; also its adjunct, the King's Mews, where now stands the royal National Gallery, while the church of St. Martin's rears its majestic portico and spire, no longer obscured by its former adjacent common buildings; and the grand naval pillar lately erected to the memory of Britain's hero, Nelson, occupies the centre of the new quadrangle now called Trafalgar Square.]
The trees, stripped of their leaves, stood naked, and dripping with melten snow. The season was in unison with the count's fate. He was taking the bitter wind for his repast, and quenching his thirst with the rain that fell on his pale and feverish lips. He felt the cutting blast enter his soul, and shutting his eyelids to repel the tears which were rising from his heart, he walked faster; but in spite of himself, their drops mingled with the wet that trickled from his cap upon his face. One melancholy thought introduced another, until his bewildered mind lived over again, in memory, every calamity which had reduced him from happiness to all this lonely misery. Two or three heavy convulsive sighs followed these reflections; and quickening his pace, he walked several times quite round the Park. The rain ceased. But not marking time, and hardly observing the people who passed, he threw himself down upon one of the benches, and sat in a musing posture, with his eyes fixed on the opposite tree.
A sound of voices approaching roused him. Turning his eyes, he saw the speakers were two young men, and by their dress he judged they must belong to the regiment of a sentinel who was patrolling at the end of the Mall.
"By heavens! Barrington," cried one, "it is the best shaped boot I ever beheld! I have a good mind to ask him whether it be English make."
"And if it be," replied the other, "you must ask him who shaped his legs, that you may send yours to be mended."
"Who the devil can see my legs through that boot?"
"Oh, if to veil them be your reason, pray ask him immediately."
"And so I will, for I think the boot perfection."
At these words, he was making towards Sobieski with two or three long strides, when his companion pulled him back.
"Surely, Harwold, you will not be so ridiculous? He appears to be a foreigner of rank, and may take offence, and give you the length of his foot!"
"Curse him and rank too; he is some paltry emigrant, I warrant! I care nothing about his foot or his legs, but I should like to know who made his boots!"
While he spoke he would have dragged his companion along with him, but Barrington broke from his arm; and the fool, who now thought himself dared to it, strode up close to the chair, and bowed to Thaddeus, who (hardly crediting that he could be the subject of this dialogue) returned the salutation with a cold bend of his head.
Harwold looked a little confounded at this haughty demeanor; and, once in his life, blushing at his own insolence, he roared out, as if in defiance of shame.
"Pray, sir, where did you get your boots?"
"Where I got my sword, sir," replied Thaddeus, calmly; and rising from his seat, he darted his eyes disdainfully on the coxcomb, and walked slowly down the Mall. Surprised and shocked at such behavior in a British officer, while he moved away he distinctly heard Barrington laughing aloud, and ridiculing the astonished and set-down air of his impudent associate.
This incident did not so much ruffle the temper of Thaddeus as it amazed and perplexed him.
"Is this a specimen," though he, "of a nation which on the Continent is venerated for courage, manliness, and generosity? Well, I find I have much to learn. I must go through the ills of life to estimate myself thoroughly; and I must study mankind in themselves, and not in reports of them, to have a true knowledge of what they are."
This strange rencontre was of service to him, by diverting his mind from the intense contemplation of his situation; and as the dusk drew on, he turned his steps towards the Hummums.
On entering the coffee-room, he was met by the obsequious Jenkins, who, being told by Thaddeus that he wanted his baggage and a carnage, went for the things himself, and sent a boy for a coach.
A man dressed in black was standing by the chimney, and seemed to be eyeing Thaddeus, as he walked up and down the room, with great attention. Just as he had taken another turn, and so drew nearer the fireplace, this person accosted him rather abruptly—
"Pray, sir, is there any news stirring abroad? You seem, sir, to come from abroad."
"None that I know of, sir."
"Bless me, that's strange! I thought, sir, you came from abroad, sir; from the Continent, from Poland, sir? at least the waiter said so, sir."
Thaddeus colored. "The waiter, sir?"
"I mean, sir," continued the gentleman, visibly confused at the dilemma into which he had brought himself, "the waiter said that you were a count, sir—a Polish count; indeed the Count Sobieski! Hence I concluded that you are from Poland. If I have offended, I beg pardon, sir; but in these times we are anxious for every intelligence."
Thaddeus made no other reply than a slight inclination of his head, and walking forward to see whether the coach had arrived, he thought, whatever travellers had related of the English, they were the most impertinent people he had ever met with.
The stranger would not be contented with what he had already said, but plucking up new courage, pursued the count to the glass door through which he was looking, and resumed:
"I believe, sir, I am not wrong? You are the Count Sobieski; and I have the honor to be now speaking with the bravest champion of Polish liberty!"
Thaddeus again bowed. "I thank you, sir, for the compliment you intend me, but I cannot take it to myself; all the men of Poland, old and young, nobles and peasants, were her champions, equally sincere, equally brave."
Nothing could silence the inquisitive stranger. The coach drew up, but he went on:
"Then I hope that many of these patriots, besides your excellency, have taken care to bring away their wealth from a land which they must now see is abandoned to destruction?"
For a moment Thaddeus forget himself, indignation for his country, and all her rights and all her sufferings rose in his countenance.
"No, sir! not one of those men, and least of all would I have drawn one vital drop from her heart! I left in her murdered bosom all that was dear to me—all that I possessed; and not until I saw the chains brought before my eyes that were to lay her surviving sons in irons did I turn my back on calamities I could no longer avert or alleviate."
The ardor of his manner and the elevation of his voice had drawn the attention of every person in the room upon him, when Jenkins entered with his baggage. The door being opened, Sobieski sprang into the coach, and gladly shut himself there, from a conversation which had awakened all his griefs.
"Ah, poor enthusiast!" exclaimed his inquisitor, as the carriage drove off. "It is a pity that so fine a young man should have made so ill a use of his birth, and other natural advantages!"
"He appears to me," observed an old clergyman who sat in an adjoining box, "to have made the best possible use of his natural advantages; and had I a son, I would rather hear him utter such a sentiment as the one with which that young man quitted the room, than see him master of millions."
"May be so," cried the questioner, with a contemptuous glance; "'different minds incline to different objects!' His has decided for 'the wonderful, the wild;' and a pretty finale he has made of his choice!"
"Why, to be sure," observed another spectator, "young people should be brought up with reasonable ideas of right and wrong, and prudence; nevertheless, I should not like a son of mine to run harum-scarum through my property, and his own life; and yet one cannot help, when one hears such a brave speech as that from yonder Frenchman just gone out,—I say one cannot help thinking it very fine." "True, true," cried the inquisitor; "you are right, sir; very fine indeed, but too fine to wear; it would soon leave us acreless, as it has done him; for it seems, by his own confession, he is penniless; and I know that a twelvemonth ago he was an heir to a fortune which, however incalculable, he has managed, with all his talents, to see the end of."
"Then he is in distress!" exclaimed the clergyman, "and you know him. What is his name?"
The man colored at this unexpected inference; and glad the company had not attended to that part of the dialogue in which the name of Sobieski was mentioned, he stammered some indistinct words, took up his hat, and looking at his watch, begged pardon, having an appointment, and hurried out of the room without speaking further; although the good clergyman, whose name was Blackmore, hastened after him, requesting to know where the young foreigner lived.
"Who is that spectacled coxcomb?" cried the reverend doctor, as he returned from his unavailing application.
"I don't know, sir," replied the waiter "I never saw him in this house before last night, when he came in late to sleep; and this morning he was in the coffee-room at breakfast, just as that foreign gentleman walked through; and Jenkins bawling his name out very loud, as soon as he was gone, this here gentleman asked him who that count was. I heard Jenkins say some Russian name, and tell him he came last night, and would likely come back again; and so that there gentleman has been loitering about all day till now, when the foreign gentleman coming in, he spoke to him."
"And don't you know anything further of this foreigner?"
"No, sir; I forget what he is called; but I see Jenkins going across the street; shall I run after him and ask him?"
"You are very obliging," returned the old clergyman; "but does Jenkins know where the stranger lives?"
"No, sir I am sure he don't."
"I am sorry for it," sighed the kind questioner; "then your inquiry would be of no use; his name will not do without his direction. Poor fellow! he has been unfortunate, and I might have befriended him."
"Yes, to be sure, doctor," cried the first speaker, who now rose to accompany him out; "it is our duty to befriend the unfortunate; but charity begins at home; and as all's for the best, perhaps it is lucky we did not hear any more about this young fellow. We might have involved ourselves in a vast deal of unnecessary trouble; and you know people from outlandish parts have no claims upon us."
"Certainly," replied the doctor, "none in the world, excepting those which no human creature can dispute,—the claims of nature. All mankind are born heirs of suffering; and as joint inheritors, if we do not wipe away each other's tears, it will prove but a comfortless portion."
"Ah! doctor," cried his companion, as they separated at the end of Charles-street, "you have always the best of an argument: you have logic and Aristotle at your finger ends."
"No, my friend; my arguments are purely Christian. Nature is my logic, and the Bible my teacher."
"Ah, there you have me again. You parsons are as bad as the lawyers; when once you get a poor sinner amongst you, he finds it as hard to get out of the church as out of chancery. However, have it your own way; charity is your trade, and I won't be in a hurry to dispute the monopoly. Good-day! If I stay much longer, you will make me believe that black is white."
Dr. Blackmore shook him by the hand, and wishing him good-evening, returned home, pitying the worldliness of his friend's mind, and musing on the interesting stranger, whom he could not but admire, and compassionate with a lively sorrow, for he believed him to be a gentleman, unhappy and unfortunate. Had he known that the object of his solicitude was the illustrious subject of many a former eulogium from himself, how increased would have been his regret—that he had seen Count Thaddeus Sobieski, that he had seen him an exile, and that he had suffered him to pass out of the reach of his services!
THE EXILE'S LODGINGS.
Meanwhile the homeless Sobieski was cordially received by his humble landlady. He certainly never stood in more need of kindness. A slow fever, which had been gradually creeping over him since he quitted Poland, soon settled on his nerves, and reduced him to such weakness, that he possessed neither strength nor spirits to stir abroad.
Mrs. Robson was sincerely grieved at this illness of her guest. Her own son, the father of the orphans she protected, had died of consumption, and any appearance of that cruel disorder was a certain call upon her compassion.
Thaddeus gave himself up to her management. He had no money for medical assistance, and to please her he took what little medicines she prepared. According to her advice, he remained for several days shut up in his chamber, with a large fire, and the shutters closed, to exclude the smallest portion of that air which the good woman thought had already stricken him with death.
But all would not do; her patient became worse and worse. Frightened at the symptoms, Mrs. Robson begged leave to send for the kind apothecary who had attended her deceased son. In this instance only she found the count obstinate, no arguments, nor even tears, could move him to assent. When she stood weeping, and holding his burning hand, his answer was constantly the same.
"My excellent Mrs. Robson, do not grieve on my account; I am not in the danger you think; I shall do very well with your assistance."
"No, no; I see death in your eyes. Can I feel this hand and see that hectic cheek without beholding your grave, as it were, opening before me?"
She was not much mistaken; for during the night after this debate Thaddeus grew so delirious that, no longer able to subdue her terrors, she sent for the apothecary to come instantly to her house.
"Oh, doctor!" cried she, while he ascended the stairs, "I have the best young gentleman ever the sun shone on dying in that room! He would not let me send for you; and now he is raving like a mad creature."
Mr. Vincent entered the count's humble apartment, and undrew the curtains of the bed. Exhausted by delirium, Thaddeus had sunk senseless on his pillow. At this sight, supposing him dead, Mrs. Robson uttered a shriek, which was echoed by the cries of the little William, who stood near his grandmother.
"Hush! my good woman," said the doctor; "the gentleman is not dead. Leave the room till you have recovered yourself, and I will engage that you shall see him alive when you return."
Blessing these words she quitted the room with her grandson.
On entering the chamber, Mr. Vincent had felt that its hot and stifling atmosphere must augment the fever of his patient; and before he attempted to disturb him from the temporary rest of insensibility, he opened the window-shutters and also the room-door wide enough to admit the air from the adjoining apartment. Pulling the heavy clothes from the count's bosom he raised his head on his arm and poured some drops into his mouth. Sobieski opened his eyes and uttered a few incoherent words; but he did not rave, he only wandered, and appeared to know that he did so, for he several times stopped in the midst of some confused speech, and laying his hand on his forehead, strove to recollect himself.
Mrs. Robson soon after re-entered the room, and wept out her thanks to the apothecary, whom she revered as almost a worker of miracles.
"I must bleed him, Mrs. Robson," continued he; "and for that purpose shall go home for my assistant and lancets; but in the meanwhile I charge you to let every thing remain in the state I have left it. The heat alone would have given a fever to a man in health."
When the apothecary returned, he saw that his commands had been strictly obeyed; and finding that the change of atmosphere had wrought the expected alteration in his patient, he took his arm without difficulty and bled him. At the end of the operation Thaddeus again fainted.
"Poor gentleman!" cried Mr. Vincent, binding up the arm. "Look here, Tom," (pointing to the scars, on the count's shoulder and breast;) "see what terrible cuts have been here! This has not been playing at soldiers! Who is your lodger, Mrs. Robson?"
"His name is Constantine, Mr. Vincent; but for Heaven's sake recover him from that swoon."
Mr. Vincent poured more drops into his mouth; and a minute afterwards he opened his eyes, divested of their feverish glare, but still dull and heavy. He spoke to Mrs. Robson by her name, which gave her such delight, that she caught his hands to her lips and burst again into tears. The action was so abrupt and violent, that it made him feel the stiffness of his arm. Casting his eyes towards the surgeon's, he conjectured what had been his state, and what the consequence.
"Come, Mrs. Robson," said the apothecary, "you must not disturb the gentleman. How do you find yourself, sir?"
As the deed could not be recalled, Thaddeus thanked the doctor for the service he had received, and said a few kind and grateful words to his good hostess.
Mr. Vincent was glad to see so promising an issue to his proceedings, and soon after retired with his assistant and Mrs. Robson, to give further directions.
On entering the parlor, she threw herself into a chair and broke into a paroxysm of lamentations.
"My good woman, what is all this about?" inquired the doctor. "Is not my patient better?"
"Yes," cried she, drying her eyes; "but the whole scene puts me so in mind of the last moments of my poor misguided son, that the very sight of it goes through my heart like a knife. Oh! had my boy been as good as that dear gentleman, had he been as well prepared to die, I think I would scarcely have grieved! Yet Heaven spare Mr. Constantine. Will he live?"
"I hope so, Mrs. Robson. His fever is high; but he is young, and with extreme care we may preserve him."
"The Lord grant it!" cried she, "for he is the best gentleman I ever beheld. He has been above a week with me; and till this night, in which he lost his senses, though hardly able to breath or see, he has read out of books which he brought with him; and good books too: for it was but yesterday morning that I saw the dear soul sitting by the fire with a book on the table, which he had been studying for an hour. As I was dusting about, I saw him lay his head down on it, and put his hand to his temples. 'Alas!, sir,' said I, 'you tease your brains with these books of learning when you ought to be taking rest.' No, Mrs. Robson,' returned he, with a sweet smile, 'it is this book which brings me rest. I may amuse myself with others, but this alone contains perfect beauty, perfect wisdom, and perfect peace. It is the only infallible soother of human sorrows.' He closed it, and put it on the chimney-piece; and when I looked at it afterwards, I found it was the Bible. Can you wonder that I should love so excellent a gentleman?"
"You have given a strange account of him," replied Vincent. "I hope he is not a twaddler; [Footnote: A term of derision, forty years ago, amongst unthinking persons, when speaking of eminently religious people.] if so, I shall despair of his cure, and think his delirium had another cause besides fever."
"I don't understand you, sir. He is a Christian, and as good a reasonable, sweet-tempered gentleman as ever came into a house. Alas! I believe he is most likely a papist; though they say papists don't read the Bible, but worship images."
"Why, what reason have you to suppose that? He's an Englishman, is he not?"
"No, he is an emigrant."
"An emigrant! Oh, ho!" cried Mr. Vincent, with a contemptuous twirl of his lip. "What, a poor Frenchman! Good Lord! how this town is overrun with these fellows!"
"No, doctor," exclaimed Mrs. Robson, greatly hurt at this scorn to her lodger, whom she really loved; "whatever he be, he is not poor, for he has a power of fine things; he has got a watch all over diamonds, and diamond rings, and diamond pictures without number. So, doctor, you need not fear you are attending him for charity; no, I would sell my gown first."
"Nay, don't be offended, Mrs. Robson; I meant no offence," returned he, much mollified by this explanation; "but, really, when we see the bread that should feed our children and our own poor eaten up by a parcel of lazy French drones—all Sans Culottes [The democratic rabble were commonly so called at that early period of the French Revolution; and certainly some of their demagogues did cross the Channel at times, counterfeiting themselves to be loyal emigrants, while assiduously disseminating their destructive principles wherever they could find an entrance.] in disguise, for aught we know, who cover our land, and destroy its produce like a swarm of filthy locusts—we should be fools not to murmur. But Mr.——, Mr.——, what do you call him, Mrs. Robson? is a different sort of body."
"Mr. Constantine," replied she, "and indeed he is; and no doubt, when you recover him, he will pay you as though he were in his own country."
This last assertion banished all remaining suspicion from the mind of the apothecary; and, after giving the good woman what orders he thought requisite, he returned home, promising to call again in the evening.
Mrs. Robson went up stairs to the count's chamber with other sentiments to her sapient doctor than those with which she came down. She well recollected the substance of his discourse, and she gathered from it that, however clever he might be in his profession, he was a hard-hearted man, who would rather see a fellow-creature perish than administer relief to him without a reward. She had paid him to the uttermost farthing for her poor son.
But here Mrs. Robson was mistaken. She did him justice in esteeming his medical abilities, which were great. He had made medicine the study of his life, and not allowing any other occupation to disturb his attention, he became master of that science, but remained ignorant of every other with which it had no connection. He was the father of a family, and, in the usual acceptation of the term, a very good sort of a man. He preferred his country to every other, because it was his country; he loved his wife and his children; he was kind to the poor, to whom he gave his advice gratis, and letters to the dispensary for drugs; and when he had any broken victuals to spare, he desired that they might be divided amongst them; but he seldom caught his maid obeying this part of his commands without reprimanding her for her extravagance, in giving away what ought to be eaten in the kitchen: "in these times, it was a shame to waste a crumb, and the careless hussy would come to want for thinking so lightly of other people's property."
Thus, like many in the world, he was a loyal citizen by habit, an affectionate father from nature, and a man of charity because he now and then felt pity, and now and then heard it preached from the pulpit. He was exhorted to be pious, and to pour wine and oil into the wounds of his neighbor; but it never once struck him that piety extended further than going to church, mumbling his prayers and forgetting the sermon, through most of which he generally slept; and his commentaries on the good Samaritan were not more extensive, for it was so difficult to make him comprehend who was his neighbor, that the subject of the argument might have been sick, dead and buried before he could be persuaded that he or she had any claims on his care. Indeed, his "chanty began at home;" and it was so fond of its residence, that it stopped there. To have been born on the other side of the British Channel, spread an ocean between every poor foreigner and Mr. Vincent's purse which the swiftest wings of chanty could never cross. "He saw no reason," he said, "for feeding the natural enemies of our country. Would any man be mad enough to take the meat from his children's mouths and throw it to a swarm of wolves just landed on the coast?" "These wolves" were his favorite metaphor when he spoke of the unhappy French, or of any other penniless strangers that came in his way.
After this explanation, it may appear paradoxical to mention an inconsistency in the mind of Mr. Vincent which never permitted him to discover the above Cainish mark of outlawry upon a wealthy visitor, of whatever country. In fact, it was with him as with many: riches were a splendid and thick robe that concealed all blemishes; take it away, and probably the poor stripped wretch would be treated worse than a criminal.
That his new patient possessed some property was sufficient to ensure the respect and medical skill of Mr. Vincent; and when he entered his own house, he told his wife he had found "a very good job at Mrs. Robson's, in the illness of her lodger—a foreigner of some sort," he said, "who, by her account, had feathered his nest well in the spoils of battle (like Moore's honest Irishman) with jewels and gold." So much for the accuracy of most quotations adopted according to the convenience of the speaker.
When the Count Sobieski quitted the Hummums, on the evening in which he brought away his baggage, he was so disconcerted by the impertinence of the man who accosted him there, that he determined not to expose himself to a similar insult by retaining a title which might subject him to the curiosity of the insolent and insensible; and, therefore, when Mrs. Robson asked him how she should address him, as he was averse to assume a feigned name, he merely said Mr. Constantine.
Under that unobtrusive character, he hoped in time to accommodate his feelings to the change of fortune which Providence had allotted to him. He must forget his nobility, his pride, and his sensibility; he must earn his subsistence. But by what means? He was ignorant of business; and he knew not how to turn his accomplishments to account. Such were his meditations, until illness and delirium deprived him of them and of reason together.
At the expiration of a week, in which Mr. Vincent attended his patient very regularly, Sobieski was able to remove into the front room; but uneasiness about the debts he had so unintentionally incurred retarded his recovery, and made his hours pass away in cheerless musings on his poor means of repaying the good widow and of satisfying the avidity of the apothecary. Pecuniary obligation was a load to which he was unaccustomed; and once or twice the wish almost escaped his heart that he had died.
Whenever he was left to think, such were his reflections. Mrs. Robson discovered that he appeared more feverish and had worse nights after being much alone during the day, and therefore contrived, though she was obliged to be in her little shop, to leave either Nanny to attend his wants or little William to amuse him.
This child, by its uncommon quickness and artless manner, gained upon the count, who was ever alive to helplessness and innocence. Children and animals had always found a friend and protector in him. From the "majestic war-horse, with his neck clothed in thunder," to "the poor beetle that we tread upon"—every creature of creation met an advocate of mercy in his breast; and as human nature is prone to love what it has been kind to, Thaddeus never saw either children, dogs, or even that poor slandered and abused animal, the cat, without showing them some spontaneous act of attention.
Whatever of his affections he could spare from memory, the count lavished upon the little William. The child hardly ever left his side, where he sat on a stool, prattling about anything that came into his head; or, seated on his knee, followed with his eyes and playful fingers the hand of Thaddeus, while he sketched a horse or a soldier for his pretty companion.
* * * * * * *
A ROBBERY AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
By these means Thaddeus slowly acquired sufficient strength to allow him to quit his dressing-gown, and prepare for a walk.
A hard frost had succeeded to the chilling damps of November; and looking out of the window, he longed, almost eagerly, to inhale again the fresh air. After some tender altercations with Mrs. Robson, who feared to trust him even down stairs, he at length conquered; and taking the little William by his hand, folded his pelisse round him, and promising to venture no further than the King's Mews, was suffered to go out.
As he expected, he found the keen breeze act like a charm on his debilitated frame; and with braced nerves and exhilarated spirits, he walked twice up and down the place, whilst his companion played before him, throwing stones, and running to pick them up. At this moment one of the king's carriages, pursued by a concourse of people, suddenly drove in at the Charing-Cross gate. The frightened child screamed, and fell. Thaddeus darted forward, and seizing the heads of the horses which were within a yard of the boy, stopped them; meanwhile, the mob gathering about, one of them raised William, who continued his cries. The count now let go the reins, and for a few minutes tried to pacify his little charge; but finding that his alarm and shrieks were not to be quelled, and that his own figure, from its singularity of dress, (his high cap and plume adding to its height) drew on him the whole attention of the people, he took the trembling child in his arms, and walking through the Mews, was followed by some of the bystanders to the very door of Mrs. Robson's shop.
Seeing the people, and her grandson sobbing on the breast of her guest, she ran out, and hastily asked what had happened. Thaddeus simply answered, that the child had been frightened. But when they entered the house, and he had thrown himself exhausted on a seat, William, as he stood by his knee, told his grandmother that if Mr. Constantine had not stopped the horses, he must have been run over. The count was now obliged to relate the whole story, which ended with the blessings of the poor woman, for his goodness in risking his own life for the preservation of her darling child.
Thaddeus in vain assured her the action deserved no thanks.
"Well," cried she, "it is like yourself, Mr. Constantine; you think all your good deeds nothing; and yet any odd little thing I can do, out of pure love to serve you, you cry up to the skies. However, we won't fall out; I say, heaven bless you! and that is enough. Has your walk refreshed you? But I need not ask; you have got a fine color."
"Yes," returned he, rising and taking off his cap and cloak, "it has put me in aglow, and made me quite another creature." As he finished speaking, he dropped the things from the hand that held them, and staggered back a few paces against the wall.
"Good Lord! what is the matter?" cried Mrs. Robson, looking in his face, which was now pale as death; "what is the matter?"
"Nothing, nothing," returned he, recovering himself, and gathering up the cloak he had let fall; "don't mind me, Mrs. Robson; nothing:" and he was leaving the kitchen, but she followed him, terrified at his look and manner.
"Pray, Mr. Constantine!"
"Nay, my dear madam," said he, leading her back, "I am not well; I believe my walk has overcome me. Let me be a few minutes alone, till I have recovered myself. It will oblige me."
"Well, sir, as you please!" and then, laying her withered hand fearfully upon his arm, "forgive me, dear sir," said she, "if my attentions are troublesome. Indeed, I fear that sometimes great love appears like great impertinence; I would always be serving you, and therefore I often forget the wide difference between your honor's station and mine."
The count could only press her hand gratefully, and with an emotion which made him hurry up stairs to hide. When in his own room, he shut the door, and cast a wild and inquisitive gaze around the apartment; then, throwing himself into a chair, he struck his head with his hand, and exclaimed, "It is gone! What will become of me?—of this poor woman, whose substance I have consumed?"
It was true; the watch, by the sale of which he had calculated to defray the charges of his illness, was indeed lost. A villain in the crowd, having perceived the sparkling of the chain, had taken it unobserved from his side; and he knew nothing of his loss until, feeling for his watch to see the hour, he discovered his misfortune.
The shock went like a stroke of electricity through his frame; but it was not until the last glimmering of hope was extinguished, on examining his room where he thought he might have left it, that he saw the full horror of his situation.
He sat for some minutes, absorbed, and almost afraid to think. It was not his own, but the necessities of the poor woman, who had, perhaps, incurred debts on herself to afford him comforts, which bore so hard upon him. At last, rising from his seat, he exclaimed,
"I must determine on something. Since this is gone, I must seek what else I have to part with, for I cannot long bear my present feelings!"
He opened the drawer which contained his few valuables.
With a trembling hand he took them out one by one. There were several trinkets which had been given to him by his mother; and a pair of inlaid pistols, which his grandfather put into his belt on the morning of the dreadful 10th of October; his miniature lay beneath them: the mild eyes of the palatine seemed beaming with affection upon his grandson. Thaddeus snatched it up, kissed it fervently, and then laid it back into the drawer, whilst he hid his face with his hands.
When he recovered himself, he replaced the pistols, believing that it would be sacrilege to part with them. Without allowing himself time to think, he put a gold pencil-case and a pair of brilliant sleeve- buttons into his waistcoat pocket.
He descended the stairs with a soft step, and passing the kitchen- door unperceived by his landlady, crossed through a little court; and then anxiously looking from right to left, in quest of some shop where he might probably dispose of the trinkets, he took his way up Castle Street, and along Leicester Square.
When he turned up the first street to his right, he was impeded by two persons who stood in his path, the one selling, the other buying a hat. The thought immediately struck Thaddeus to ask one of these men (who appeared to be a Jew, and a vender of clothes) to purchase his pelisse. By parting with a thing to which he annexed no more value than the warmth it afforded him, he should possibly spare himself the pain, for this time at least, of sacrificing those gifts of his mother, which had been bestowed upon him in happier days, and hallowed by her caresses.
He did not permit himself to hesitate, but desired the Jew to follow him into a neighboring court. The man obeyed; and having no ideas independent of his trade, asked the count what he wanted to buy.
"Nothing: I want to sell this pelisse," returned he, opening it.
The Jew, without any ceremony, inspected its covering and its lining of fur.
"Ay, I see: black cloth and sable; but who would buy it of me? An embroidered collar! nobody wears such things here."
"Then I am answered," replied Thaddeus.
"Stop, sir," cried the Jew, pursuing him, "what will you take for it?"
"What would you give me?"
"Let me see. It is very long and wide. At the utmost I cannot offer you more than five guineas."
A few months ago, it had cost the count a hundred; but glad to get any money, however small, he readily closed with the man's price; and taking off the cloak, gave it to him, and put the guineas into his pocket.
He had not walked much further before the piercing cold of the evening, and a shower of snow, which began to fall, made him feel the effects of his loss; however, that did not annoy him; he had been too heavily assailed by the pitiless rigors of misfortune to regard the pelting of the elements. Whilst the wind blew in his face, and the sleet falling on his dress, lodged in its lappels, he went forward, calculating whether it were likely that this money, with the few shillings he yet possessed, would be sufficient to discharge what he owed. Unused as he had been to all kinds of expenditure which required attention, he supposed, from what he had already seen of a commerce with the world, that the sum he had received from the Jew was not above half what he needed; and with a beating heart he walked towards one of those shops which Mrs. Robson had described, when speaking of the irregularities of her son, who had nearly reduced her to beggary.
The candles were lit. And as he hovered about the door, he distinctly saw the master through the glass, assorting some parcels on the counter. He was a gentleman-like man, and the count's feelings took quite a different turn from those with which he had accosted the Jew, who, being a low, sordid wretch, looked upon the people with whom he trafficked as mere purveyors to his profit. Thaddeus felt little repugnance at bargaining with him: but the sight of a respectable person, before whom he was to present himself as a man in poverty, as one who, in a manner, appealed to charity, all at once overcame the resolution of a son of Sobieski, and he debated whether or not he should return. Mrs. Robson, and her probable distresses, rose before him; and fearful of trusting his pride any further, he pulled his cap over his face, and entered the shop.
The man bowed very civilly on his entrance, and requested to be honored with his commands. Thaddeus felt his face glow; but indignant at his own weakness, he laid the gold case on the counter, and said, in a voice which, notwithstanding his emotion, he constrained to be without appearance of confusion, "I want to part with this."
Astonished at the dignity of the applicant's air, and the nobility of his dress, (for the star did not escape the shop-keeper's eye), he looked at him for a moment, holding the case in his hand. Hurt by the steadiness of his gaze, the count, rather haughtily, repeated what he had said. The man hesitated no longer. He had been accustomed to similar requests from the emigrant French noblesse; but there was a loftiness and aspect of authority in the countenance and mien of this person which surprised and awed him; and with a respect which even the application could not counteract, he opened the case, and inquired of Thaddeus what was the price he affixed to it.
"I leave that to you," replied he.
"The gold is pure," returned the man, "but it is very thin; I cannot give more than three guineas. Though the workmanship is fine, it is not in the fashion of England, and will be of no benefit to me till melted."
"You may have it," said Thaddeus, hardly able to articulate, while the gift of his mother was passing into a stranger's hand.
The man directly paid him down the money, and the count, with a bursting heart, darted out of the shop.
Mrs. Robson was shutting up the windows of her little parlor, when he hastily passed her and glided up the stairs. Hardly believing her senses, she hastened after him, and just got into the room as he drank off a glass of water.
"Good lack! sir, where has your honor been? I thought you were all the while in the house, and I would not come near, though I was very uneasy; and there has been poor William crying himself blind, because you desired to be left alone."
Thaddeus was unprepared to make an answer. He was in hopes to have gotten in as he had stolen out, undiscovered; for he determined not to agitate her too kind mind by the history of his loss. He would not allow her to know anything of his embarrassments, from a sentiment of justice, as well as from that sensitive pride which all his sufferings and philosophy could not wholly subdue.
"I have been taking a walk, Mrs. Robson."
"Dear heart! I thought when you staggered back, and looked so ill, after you brought in William, you had over-walked yourself."
"No; I fancy my fears had a little discomposed me; and I hoped that more air might do me good; I tried it, and it has: but I am grieved for having alarmed you."
This ambiguous speech satisfied his worthy landlady; and, fatigued by a bodily exertion, which, in the present feeble state of his frame, nothing less than the resolution of his mind could have carried him through, Thaddeus went directly to bed, where tired nature soon found temporary repose in a profound sleep.
THE WIDOW'S FAMILY.
Next morning Sobieski found himself rather better than worse by the exertions of the preceding clay. When Nanny appeared as usual with his breakfast and little William, (who always sat on his knee, and shared his bread and butter,) the count desired her to request her grandmother to send to Mr. Vincent with his compliments, and to say her lodger felt himself so much recovered as to decline any further medical aid, and therefore wished to have his bill.
Mrs. Robson, who could not forget the behavior of the apothecary, undertook to deliver the message herself, happy in the triumph she should enjoy over the littleness of Mr. Vincent's suspicions.
After the lapse of a quarter of an hour, she re-appeared in the count's rooms, accompanied by the apothecary's assistant, who, with many thanks, received the sum total of the account, which amounted to three guineas for ten days' attendance.
The man having withdrawn, Thaddeus told Mrs. Robson, he should next defray the smallest part of the vast debt he must ever owe to her parental care.
"Oh, bless your honor, it goes to my heart to take a farthing of you! but these poor children," cried she, laying a hand on each, and her eyes glistening, "they look up to me as their all here; and my quarter-day was yesterday, else, dear sir, I should scorn to be like Doctor Vincent, and take your money the moment you offer it."
"My good madam," returned Sobieski, giving her a chair, "I am sensible of your kindness: but it is your just due; and the payment of it can never lessen your claim on my gratitude for the maternal care with which you have attended me, a total stranger."
"Then, there, sir," said she, looking almost as ashamed as if she were robbing him, when she laid it on the table; "there is my bill. I have regularly set down everything. Nanny will bring it to me." And quite disconcerted, the good woman hurried out of the room.
Thaddeus looked after her with reverence.
"There goes," thought he, "in that lowly and feeble frame, as generous and noble a spirit: as ever animated the breast of a princess! Here, Nanny," said he, glancing his eye over the paper, "there is the gold, with my thanks; and tell your grandmother I am astonished at her economy."
This affair over, the count was relieved of a grievous load; and turning the remaining money in his hand, how he might replenish the little stock before it were expended next occupied his attention. Notwithstanding the pawnbroker's civil treatment, he recoiled at again presenting himself at his shop. Besides, should he dispose of all that he possessed, it might not be of sufficient value here to subsist him a month. He must think of some source within himself that was not likely to be so soon exhausted. To be reduced a second time to the misery which he had endured yesterday from suspense and wretchedness, appeared too dreadful to be hazarded, and he ran over in his memory the different merits of his several accomplishments.
He could not make any use of his musical talents; for at public exhibitions of himself his soul revolted; and as to his literary acquirements, his youth, and being a foreigner, precluded all hopes on that head. At length he found that his sole dependence must rest on his talents for painting. Of this art he had always been remarkably fond; and his taste easily perceived that there were many drawings exhibited for sale much inferior to those which he had executed for mere amusement.
He decided at once; and purchasing, by the means of Nanny, pencils and Indian ink, he set to work.
When he had finished half-a-dozen drawings, and was considering how he might find the street in which he had seen the print-shops, the recollection occurred to him of the impression his appearance had made on the pawnbroker. He perceived the wide difference between his apparel and the fashion of England; and considering the security from impertinence with which he might walk about, could he so far cast off the relics of his former rank as to change his dress, he rose up with an intention to go out and purchase a surtout coat and a hat for that purpose, when catching an accidental view of his uniform, with the star of St. Stanislaus on its breast, as he passed the glass, he no longer wondered at the curiosity which such an appendage, united with poverty, had attracted. Rather than again subject himself to a similar situation, he summoned his young messenger; and, by her assistance, furnished himself with an English hat and coat, whilst with his penknife he cut away the embroidery of the order from the cloth to which it was affixed.
Thus accoutred, with his hat flapped over his face and his great-coat wrapped round him, he put the drawings into his bosom, and about eight o'clock in the evening walked out on his disagreeable errand. After some wearying search, he at last found Great Newport Street, the place he wanted; but as he advanced, his hopes died away, and his fears and reluctance re-awakened. He stopped at the door of the nearest print-shop. All that he had suffered at the pawnbroker's assailed him with redoubled violence. What he presented there possessed a fixed value, and was at once to be taken or refused; but now he was going to offer things of mere taste, and he might meet not only with a denial, but affronting remarks.
He walked to the threshold of the door, then as hastily withdrew, and hurried two or three paces down the street.
"Weak, contemptible that I am!" said he to himself, as he again turned round; "where is all my reason, and rectitude of principle, that I would rather endure the misery of dependence and self-reproach than dare the attempt to seek support from the fruits of my own industry?"
He quickened his step and started into the shop, almost fearful of his former irresolution. He threw his drawings instantly upon the counter.
"Sir, you purchase drawings. I have these to sell. Will they suit you?"
The man took them up without deigning to look at the person who had accosted him, and turning them over in his hand, "One, two, three, hum; there is half-a-dozen. What do you expect for them?"
"I am not acquainted with the prices of these things."
The printseller, hearing this, thought, by managing well, to get them for what he liked, and throwing them over with an air of contempt, resumed—
"And pray, where may the views be taken?"
"They are recollections of scenes in Germany."
"Ah!" replied the man, "mere drugs! I wish, honest friend, you could have brought subjects not quite so threadbare, and a little better executed; they are but poor things! But every dauber nowadays sets up for a fine artist, and thinks we are to pay him for spoilt paper and conceit."
Insulted by this speech, and, above all, by the manner of the printseller, Thaddeus was snatching up the drawings to leave the shop without a word, when the man, observing his design, and afraid to lose them, laid his hand on the heap, exclaiming—
"Let me tell you, young man, it does not become a person in your situation to be so huffy to his employers. I will give you a guinea for the six, and you may think yourself well paid."
Without further hesitation, whilst the count was striving to subdue the choler which urged him to knock him down, the man laid the gold on the counter, and was slipping the drawings into a drawer; but Thaddeus, snatching them out again, suddenly rolled them up, and walked out of the shop as he said—
"Not all the money of all your tribe should tempt an honest man to pollute himself by exchanging a second word with one so contemptible."
Irritated at this unfeeling treatment, he returned home, too much provoked to think of the consequences which might follow a similar disappointment.
Having become used to the fluctuations of his looks and behavior, the widow ceased altogether to tease him with inquiries, which she saw he was sometimes loath to answer. She now allowed him to walk in and out without a remark, and silently contemplated his pale and melancholy countenance, when, after a ramble of the greatest part of the day, he returned home exhausted and dispirited.
William was always the first to welcome his friend at the threshold, by running to him, taking hold of his coat, and asking to go with him up stairs. The count usually gratified him, and brightened many dull hours with his innocent caresses.
This child was literally his only earthly comfort; for he saw that in him he could still excite those emotions of happiness which had once afforded him his sweetest joy. William ever greeted him with smiles, and when he entered the kitchen, sprang to his bosom, as if that were the seat of peace, as it was of virtue. But, alas! fate seemed adverse to lend anything long to the unhappy Thaddeus which might render his desolate state more tolerable.
Just risen from a bed of sickness, he required the hand of some tender nurse to restore his wasted vigor, instead of being reduced to the hard vigils of poverty and want. His recent disappointment, added to a cold which he had caught, increased his feverish debility; yet he adhered to the determination not to appropriate to his own subsistence the few valuables he had assigned as a deposit for the charges of his rent. During a fortnight he never tasted anything better than bread and water; but this hermit's fare was accompanied by the resigned thought that if it ended in death, his sufferings would then be over, and the widow amply remunerated by what little of his property remained.
In this state of body and mind he received a most painful shock, when one evening, returning from a walk of many hours, in the place of his little favorite, he met Mrs. Robson in tears at the door. She told him William had been sickening all the day, and was now so delirious, that neither she nor his sister could keep him quiet.
Thaddeus went to the side of the child's bed, where he lay gasping on the pillow, held clown by the crying Nanny. The count touched his cheek.
"Poor child!" exclaimed he; "he is in a high fever. Have you sent for Mr. Vincent?"
"O, no; I had not the heart to leave him."
"Then I will go directly," returned Thaddeus "there is not a moment to be lost."
The poor woman thanked him. Hastening through the streets with an eagerness which nearly overset several of the foot-passengers, he arrived at Lincoln's-Inn-fields; and in less than five minutes after he quitted Mrs. Robson's door he returned with the apothecary.
On Mr. Vincent's examining the pulse and countenance of his little patient, he declared the symptoms to be the small-pox, which some casualty had repelled.
In a paroxysm of distress, Mrs. Robson recollected that a girl had been brought into her shop three days ago, just recovered from that frightful malady.
Thaddeus tried to subdue the fears of the grandmother, and at last succeeded in persuading her to go to bed, whilst he and Nanny would watch by the pillow of the invalid.
Towards morning the disorder broke out on the child's face, and he recovered his recollection. The moment he fixed his eyes on the count, who was leaning over him, he stretched out his little arms, and begged to lie on his breast. Thaddeus refused him gently, fearing that by any change of position he might catch cold, and so again retard what had now so fortunately appeared; but the poor child thought the denial unkind, and began to weep so violently, that his anxious friend believed it better to gratify him than hazard the irritation of his fever by agitation and crying.
Thaddeus took him out of bed, and rolling him in one of the blankets, laid him in his bosom; and drawing his dressing-gown to shield the little face from the fire, held him in that situation asleep for nearly two hours.
When Mrs. Robson came down stairs at six o'clock in the morning, she kissed the hand of the count as he sustained her grandson in his arms; and almost speechless with gratitude to him, and solicitude for the child, waited the arrival of the apothecary.
On his second visit, he said a few words to her of comfort, but whispered to the count, while softly feeling William's pulse, that nothing short of the strictest care could save the boy, the infection he had received having been of the most malignant kind.
These words fell like an unrepealable sentence on the heart of Thaddeus. Looking on the discolored features of the patient infant, he fancied that he already beheld its clay-cold face, and its little limbs stretched in death. The idea was bitterness to him; and pressing the boy to his breast, he resolved that no attention should be wanting on his part to preserve him from the grave. And he kept his promise.
From that hour until the day in which the poor babe expired in his arms, he never laid him out of them for ten minutes together; and when he did breathe his last sigh, and raised up his little eyes, Thaddeus met their dying glance with a pang which he thought his soul had long lost the power to feel. His heart seemed to stop; and covering the motionless face of the dead child with his hand, he made a sign to Nanny to leave the room.
The girl, who from respect had been accustomed to obey his slightest nod, went to her grandmother in the shop.
The instant the girl quitted the room, with mingled awe and grief the count lifted the little corpse from his knee; and without allowing himself to cast another glance on the face of the poor infant, now released from suffering, he put it on the bed, and throwing the sheet over it, sunk into a chair and burst into tears.
The entrance of Mrs. Robson in some measure restored him; for the moment she perceived her guest with his handkerchief over his eyes, she judged what had happened, and, with a piercing scream, flew forward to the bed, where, pulling down the covering, she uttered another shriek, and must have fallen on the floor had not Thaddeus and little Nanny, who ran in at her cries, caught her in their arms and bore her to a chair.
Her soul was too much agitated to allow her to continue long in a state of insensibility; and when she recovered, she would again have approached the deceased child, but the count withheld her, and trying by every means in his power to soothe her, so far succeeded as to melt her agonies into tears.
Whilst she concealed her venerable head in the bosom of her granddaughter, he once more lifted the remains of the little William; and thinking it best for the tranquillity of the unhappy grandmother to take him out of her sight, he carried him up stairs, and laid him on his own bed.
By the time he returned to the humble parlor, one of the female neighbors, having heard the unusual outcry, and suspecting the cause, kindly stepped in to offer her consolation and services. Mrs. Robson could only reply by sobs, which were answered by the loud weeping of poor Nanny, who lay with her head against the table.
When the count came down, he thanked the worthy woman for her benevolent intentions, and took her up stairs into his apartments. Pointing to the open door of the bedroom, "There, madam," said he, "you will find the remains of my dear little friend. I beg you will direct everything for his interment that you think will give satisfaction to Mrs. Robson. I would spare that excellent woman every pang in my power."
All was done according to his desire; and Mrs. Watts, the charitable neighbor, excited by a kindly disposition, and reverence for "the extraordinary young gentleman who lodged with her friend," performed her task with tenderness and activity.
"Oh! sir," cried Mrs. Robson, weeping afresh as she entered the count's room, "Oh, sir, how shall I ever repay all your goodness? and Mrs. Watt's? She has acted like a sister to me. But, indeed, I am yet the most miserable creature that lives. I have lost my dearest child, and must strip his poor sister of her daily bread to bury him. That cruel Dr. Vincent, though he might have imagined my distress, sent his account late last night, saying he wanted to make up a large bill, and he wished I would let him have all, or part of the payment. Heaven knows, I have not a farthing in the house; but I will send poor little Nanny to pawn my silver spoons, for, alas! I have no other means of satisfying the cruel man."
"Rapacious wretch!" cried Thaddeus, rising indignantly from his chair, and for a moment forgetting how incapable he was to afford relief: "you shall not be indebted one instant to his mercy. I will pay him."
The words had passed his lips; he could not retract, though conviction immediately followed that he had not the means; and he would not have retracted, even should he be necessitated to part with everything he most valued.
Mrs. Robson was overwhelmed by this generous promise, which, indeed, saved her from ruin. Had her little plate been pledged, it could not have covered one half of Mr. Vincent's demand, who, to do him justice, did not mean to cause any distress. But having been so readily paid by Thaddeus for his own illness, and observing his great care and affection for the deceased child, he did not doubt that, rather than allow Mrs. Robson a minute's uneasiness, her lodger would defray his bill. So far he calculated right; but he had not sufficient sagacity to foresee that in getting his money this way, he should lose the future business of Mrs. Robson and her friend.
The child was to be buried on the morrow, the expenses of which event Thaddeus saw he must discharge also; and he had engaged to pay Mr. Vincent that night! He had not a shilling in his purse. Over and over he contemplated the impracticability of answering these debts; yet he could not for an instant repent of what he had undertaken: he thought he was amply recompensed for bearing so heavy a load in knowing that he had taken it off the worn-down heart of another.
* * * * * * *
Since the count's unmannerly treatment at the printseller's, he had not sufficiently conquered his pride to attempt an application to another. Therefore, he had no prospect of collecting the money he had pledged himself to Mrs. Robson to pay but by selling some more of his valuables to the pawnbroker.
For this purpose he took his sabre, his pistols, and the fated brilliants he had brought back on a similar errand. He drew them from their deposit, with less feeling of sacrilege, in so disposing of such relics of the sacred past, than he had felt on the former occasion. They were now going to be devoted to gratitude and benevolence—an act which he knew his parents, were they alive, would warmly approve; and here he allowed the end to sanctify the means.
About half-past six in the evening, he prepared himself for the task. Whether it be congenial with melancholy to seek the gloom, or whether the count found himself less observed under the shades of night, is not evident; but since his exile, he preferred the dusk to any other part of the day.
Before he went out, he asked Mrs. Robson for Mr. Vincent's bill. Sinking with obligation and shame, she put it into his hand, and he left the house. When he approached a lighted lamp, he opened the paper to see the amount, and finding that it was almost two pounds, he hastened forward to the pawn-broker's.
The man was in the shop alone. Thaddeus thought himself fortunate; and, after subduing a few qualms, entered the door. The moment he laid his sword and pistols on the counter, and declared his wish, the man, even through the disguise of a large coat and slouched hat, recollected him. This honest money-lender carried sentiments in his breast above his occupation. He did not commiserate all who presented themselves before him, because many exhibited too evidently the excesses which brought them to his shop. But there was something in the figure and manner of the Count Sobieski which had struck him at first sight, and by continuing to possess his thoughts, had excited so great an interest towards him as to produce pleasure with regret, when he discerned the noble foreigner again obliged to proffer such things.
Mr. Burket (for so this money-lender was called) respectfully asked what he demanded for the arms.
"Perhaps more than you would give. But I have something else here," laying down the diamonds; "I want eight guineas."
Mr. Burket looked at them, and then at their owner, hesitated and then spoke.
"I beg your pardon, sir; I hope I shall not offend you, but these things appear to have a value independent of their price; they are inlaid with crests and ciphers."
The blood flushed over the cheeks of the count. He had forgotten this circumstance. Unable to answer, he waited to hear what the man would say further.
"I repeat, sir, I mean not to offend; but you appear a stranger to these transactions. I only wish to suggest, in case you should ever like to repossess these valuables—had you not better pledge them?"
"How?" asked Thaddeus, irresolutely, and not knowing what to think of the man's manner.
At that instant some other people came into the shop; and Mr. Burket, gathering up the diamonds and the arms in his hand, said, "If you do not object, sir, we will settle this business in my back-parlor."
The delicacy of his behavior penetrated the mind of Thaddeus, and without demurring, he followed him into a room. While Mr. Burket offered his guest a chair, the count took off his hat and laid it on the table. Burket contemplated the saddened dignity of his countenance with renewed interest entreating him to be seated, he resumed the conversation.
"I see, sir, you do not understand the meaning of pledging, or pawning, for it is one and the same thing; but I will explain it in two words. If you leave these things with me, I will give you a paper in acknowledgment, and lend on them the guineas you request; for which sum, when you return it to me with a stated interest, you shall have your deposit in exchange."
Sobieski received this offer with pleasure and thanks. He had entertained no idea of anything more being meant by the trade of a pawnbroker than a man who bought what others wished to sell.
"Then, sir," continued Burket, opening an escritoire, "I will give you the money, and write the paper I spoke of."
Just as he put his hand to the drawer, he heard voices in an adjoining passage; and instantly shutting the desk, he caught up the things on the table, threw them behind a curtain, and hastily taking the count by the hand, said, "My dear sir, do oblige me, and step into that closet; you will find a chair. A person is coming, whom I will dispatch in a few seconds."
Thaddeus, rather surprised at such hurry, did as he was desired; and the door was closed on him just as the parlor door opened. Being aware from such concealment that the visitor came on secret business, he found his situation not a little awkward. Seated behind a curtained window, which the lights in the room made transparent, he could not avoid seeing as well as hearing everything that passed.
"My dear Mr. Burket," cried an elegant young creature, who ran into the apartment, "positively without your assistance, I shall be undone."
"Anything in my power, madam," returned My. Burket, with a distant, respectful voice; "will your ladyship sit down?"
"Yes; give me a chair. I am half dead with distraction. Mr. Burket, I must have another hundred upon those jewels."
"Indeed, my lady, it is not in my power; you have already had twelve hundred; and, upon my honor, that is a hundred and fifty more than I ought to have given."
"Pshaw! who minds the honor of a pawnbroker!" cried the lady, laughing; "you know very well you live by cheating."
"Well, ma'am," returned he, with a good-natured smile, "as your ladyship pleases."
"Then I please that you let me have another hundred. Why, man, you know you let Mrs. Hinchinbroke two thousand upon a case of diamonds not a quarter so many as mine."
"But consider, madam; Mrs. Hinchinbroke's were of the best water."
"Positively, Mr. Burnet," exclaimed her ladyship, purposely miscalling his name, "not better than mine! The King of Sardinia gave them to Sir Charles when he knighted him. I know mine are the best, and I must have another hundred. Upon my life, my servants have not had a guinea of board wages these four months, and they tell me they are starving. Come, make haste, Mr. Burnet you cannot expect me to stay here all night; give me the money."
"Indeed, my lady, I cannot."
"Heavens! what a brute of a man you are! There," cried she, taking a string of pearls from her neck, and throwing it on the table; "lend me some of your trumpery out of your shop, for I am going immediately from hence to take the Misses Dundas to the opera; so give me the hundred on that, and let me go."
"This is not worth a hundred."
"What a teasing man you are!" cried her ladyship, angrily. "Well, let me have the money now, and I will send you the bracelets which belong to the necklace to-morrow."
"Upon those conditions I will give your ladyship another hundred."
"Oh, do; you are the veriest miser I ever met with. You are worse than Shylock, or,—Good gracious! what is this?" exclaimed she, interrupting herself, and taking up the draft he had laid before her; "and have you the conscience to think, Mr. Pawnbroker, that I will offer this at your banker's? that I will expose myself so far? No, no; take it back, and give me gold. Come, dispatch! else I must disappoint my party. Look, there is my purse," added she, showing it; "make haste and fill it."
After satisfying her demands, Mr. Burket handed her ladyship out the way she came in, which was by a private passage; and having seated her in her carriage, made his bow.
Meanwhile the Count Sobieski, wrapped in astonishment at the profligacy which the scene he had witnessed implied, remained in concealment until the pawnbroker returned, and opened the closet- door.
"Sir," said he, coloring, "you have, undesignedly on your part, been privy to a very delicate affair; but my credit, sir, and your honor—"
"Shall both be sacred," replied the count, anxious to relieve the poor man from his perplexity, and forbearing to express surprise. But Burket perceived it in his look; and before he proceeded to fulfill the engagement with him, stepped half way to the escritoire, and resumed.
"You appear amazed, sir, at what you have seen. And if I am not mistaken, you are from abroad?"
"Indeed, I am amazed," replied Sobieski; "and I am from a country where the slightest suspicion of a transaction such as this would brand the woman with infamy."
"And so it ought," answered Burket; "though by that assertion I speak against my own interest, for it is by such as Lady Hilliars we make our money. Now, sir," continued he, drawing nearer to the table, "perhaps, after what you have just beheld, you will not hesitate to credit what I am going to tell you. I have now in my hands the jewels of one duchess, of three countesses, and of women of fashion without number. When these ladies have an ill run at play, they apply to me in their exigencies; they bring their diamonds here, and as their occasions require, on that deposit I lend them money, for which they make me a handsome present when the jewels are released."
"You astonish me!" exclaimed Thaddeus; "what a degrading system of deceit must govern the lives of these women!"
"It is very lamentable," returned Burket; "but so it is. And they continue to manage matters very cleverly. By giving me their note or word of honor, (for if these ladies are not honorable with me, I know by what hints to keep them in order,) I allow them to have the jewels out for the birth-days, and receive them again when their exhibition is over. As a compensation for these little indulgences, I expect considerable additions to the douceur at the end."
Thaddeus could hardly believe such a history of those women, whom travellers mentioned as not only the most lovely but the most amiable creatures in the world.
"Surely, Mr. Burket," cried he, "these ladies must despise each other, and become contemptible even to our sex."
"O, no," rejoined the pawnbroker; "they seldom trust each other in these affairs. All my fair customers are not so silly as that pretty little lady who just now left us. She and another woman of quality have made each other confidants in this business. And I have no mercy when both come together! They are as ravenous of my money as if it had no other use but to supply them. As to their husbands, brothers, and fathers, they are usually the last people who suspect or hear of these matters; their applications, when they run out, are made to Jews and professed usurers, a race completely out of our line."
"But are all English women of quality of this disgraceful stamp?"
"No; Heaven forbid!" cried Burket; "if these female spendthrifts were not held in awe by the dread of superior characters, we could have no dependence on their promises. Oh, no; there are ladies about the court whose virtues are as eminent as their rank; women whose actions might all be performed in mid-day, before the world; and them I never see within my doors."
"Well, Mr. Burket," rejoined Thaddeus, smiling; "I am glad to hear that. Yet I cannot forget the unexpected view of the famous British fair which this night has offered to my eyes. It is strange!"
"It is very bad, indeed, sir," returned the man, giving him the money and the paper he had been preparing; "but if you should have occasion to call again upon me, perhaps you may be astonished still further."
The count bowed; and thanking him for his kindness, wished him a good evening and left the shop. [Footnote: The whole of this scene at the pawnbroker's is too true; the writer knows it from an eye and ear- witness.]
It was about seven o'clock when Thaddeus arrived at the apothecary's. Mr. Vincent was from home. To say the truth, he had purposely gone out of the way. For though he did not hesitate to commit a shabby action, he wanted courage to face its consequence; and to avoid the probable remonstrances of Mrs. Robson, he commissioned his assistant to receive the amount of the bill. Without making an observation, the count paid the man, and was returning homeward along Duke Street and the piazzas of Drury Lane Theatre, when the crowd around the doors constrained him to stop.
After two or three ineffectual attempts to get through the bustle, he retreated a little behind the mob, at the moment when a chariot drew up, and a gentleman stepping out with two ladies, darted with them into the house. One glance was sufficient for Sobieski, who recognized his friend Pembroke Somerset, in full dress, gay and laughing. The heart of Thaddeus sprang to him at the sight; and forgetting his neglect, and his own misfortunes, he ejaculated—
Trembling with eagerness and emotion, he pressed through the crowd, and entered the passage at the instant a green door within shut upon his friend.
His disappointment was dreadful. To be so near Somerset, and to lose him, was more than he could sustain. His bounding heart recoiled, and the chill of despair running through his veins turned him faint. Leaning against the passage door, he took his hat off to give himself air. He scarcely had stood a minute in this situation, revolving whether he should follow his friend into the house or wait until he came out again, when a gentleman begged him to make way for a party of ladies that were entering. Thaddeus moved to one side; but the opening of the green door casting a strong light both on his face and the group behind, his eyes and those of the impertinent inquisitor of the Hummums met each other.
Whether the man was conscious that he deserved chastisement for his former insolence, and dreaded to meet it now, cannot be explained; but he turned pale, and shuffled by Thaddeus, as if he were fearful to trust himself within reach of his grasp. As for the count, he was too deeply interested in his own pursuit to waste one surmise upon him.
He continued to muse on the sight of Pembroke Somerset, which had conjured up ten thousand fond and distressing recollections; and with impatient anxiety, determining to watch till the performance was over, he thought of inquiring his friend's address of the servants; but on looking round for that purpose, he perceived the chariot had driven away.
Thus foiled, he returned to his post near the green door, which was opened at intervals by footmen passing and repassing. Seeing that the chamber within was a lobby, in which it would be less likely he should miss his object than if he continued standing without, he entered with the next person that approached; finding seats along the sides he sat down on the one nearest to the stairs.
His first idea was to proceed into the playhouse. But he considered the small chance of discovering any particular individual in so vast a building as not equal to the expense he must incur. Besides, from the dress of the gentlemen who entered the box-door, he was sensible that his greatcoat and round hat were not admissible. [Footnote: A nearly full dress was worn at that time by ladies and gentlemen at the great theatres. And much respect has been lost to the higher classes by the gradual change.]
Having remained above an hour with his eyes invariably fixed on the stairs, he observed that some curious person, who had passed almost directly after his friend, came down the steps and walked out. In two minutes he was returning with a smirking countenance, when, his eyes accidentally falling on the count, (who sat with his arms folded, and almost hidden by the shadow of the wall,) he faltered in his step. Stretching out his neck towards him, the gay grin left his features; and exclaiming, in an impatient voice, "Confound him," he hastened once more into the house.
This rencontre with his Hummums' acquaintance affected Thaddeus as slightly as the former; and without annexing even a thought to his figure as it flitted by him, he remained watching in the lobby until half-past eleven. At that hour the doors were thrown open, and the company began to pour forth.
The count's hopes were again on his lips and in his eyes. With the first party who came clown the steps, he rose; and planting himself close to the bottom stair, drew his hat over his face, and narrowly examined each group as it descended. Every set that approached made his heart palpitate. How often did it rise and fall during the long succession which continued moving for nearly half an hour!
By twelve the house was cleared. He saw the middle door locked, and, motionless with disappointment, did not attempt to stir, until the man who held the keys told him to go, as he was about to fasten the other doors.
This roused Thaddeus; and as he was preparing to obey, he asked the man if there were any other passage from the boxes.
"Yes," cried he; "there is one into Drury Lane."
"Then, by that I have lost him!" was the reply which he made to himself. And returning homewards, he arrived there a few minutes after twelve.
* * * * * * *
THE MEETING OF EXILES.
"And they lifted up their voices and wept."
Thaddeus awoke in the morning with his heart full of the last night's rencontre. One moment he regretted that he had not been seen by his friend. In the next, when he surveyed his altered state, he was almost reconciled to the disappointment. Then, reproaching himself for a pride so unbecoming his principles and dishonorable to friendship, he asked, if he were in Somerset's place, and Somerset in his, whether he could ever pardon the morose delicacy which had prevented the communication of his friend's misfortunes, and arrival in the same kingdom with himself.
These reflections soon persuaded his judgment to what his heart was so much inclined: determining him to inquire Pembroke's address of every one likely to know a man of Sir Robert Somerset's consequence, and then to venture a letter.
In the midst of these meditations the door opened, and Mrs. Robson appeared, drowned in tears.
"My dear, dear sir!" cried she, "my William is going. I have just taken a last look of his sweet face. Will you go down and say farewell to the poor child you loved so dearly?"
"No, my good madam," returned Thaddeus, his straying thoughts at once gathering round this mournful centre; "I will rather retain you here until the melancholy task be entirely accomplished."
With gentle violence he forced her upon a seat, and in silence supported her head on his breast, against which she unconsciously leaned and wept. He listened with a depressed heart to the removal of the coffin; and at the closing of the street door, which forever shut the little William from that house in which he had been the source of its greatest pleasure, a tear trickled down the cheek of Thaddeus; and the sobbings of the poor grandmother were audible.
The count, incapable of speaking, pressed her hand in his.
"Oh, Mr. Constantine!" cried she, "see how my supports, one after the other, are taken from me! first my son, and now his infant! To what shall I be reduced?"
"You have still, my good Mrs. Robson, a friend in Heaven, who will supply the place of all you have lost on earth."
"True, dear sir! I am a wicked creature to speak as I have done; but it is hard to suffer: it is hard to lose all we loved in the world!"
"It is," returned the count, greatly affected by her grief. "But God, who is perfect wisdom as well as perfect love, chooseth rather to profit us than to please us in his dispensations. Our sweet William has gained by our loss: he is blessed in heaven, while we weakly lament him on earth. Besides, you are not yet deprived of all; you have a grand-daughter."
"Ah, poor little thing! what will become of her when I die? I used to think what a precious brother my darling boy would prove to his sister when I should be no more!"
This additional image augmented the affliction of the good old woman; and Thaddeus, looking on her with affectionate compassion, exclaimed—
"Mrs. Robson, the same Almighty Being that protected me, the last of my family, will protect the orphan offspring of a woman so like the revered Naomi!"
Mrs. Robson lifted up her head for a moment. She had never before heard him utter a sentence of his own history; and what he now said, added to the tender solemnity of his manner, for an instant arrested her attention. He went on.
"In me you see a man who, within the short space of three months, has lost a grandfather, who loved him as fondly as you did your William; a mother, whom he saw expire before him, and whose sacred remains he was forced to leave in the hands of her murderers! Yes, Mrs. Robson, I have neither parents nor a home. I was a stranger, and you took me in; and Heaven will reward your family, in kind. At least, I promise that whilst I live, whatever be my fate, should you be called hence, I will protect your grand-daughter with a brother's care."
"May Heaven in mercy bless you!" cried Mrs. Robson, dropping on her knees. Thaddeus raised her with gushing eyes; having replaced her in a seat, he left the room to recover himself.
According to the count's desire, Mrs. Watts called in the evening, with an estimate of the expenses attending the child's interment. Fees and every charge collected, the demand on his benevolence was six pounds. The sum proved rather more than he expected, but he paid it without a demur, leaving himself only a few shillings.
He considered what he had done as a fulfilment of a duty so indispensible, that it must have been accomplished even by the sacrifice of his uttermost farthing. Gratitude and distress held claims upon him which he never allowed his own necessities to transgress. All gifts of mere generosity were beyond his power, and, consequently, in a short time beyond his wish; but to the cry of want and wretchedness his hand and heart were ever open. Often has he given away to a starving child in the street that pittance which was to purchase his own scant meal; and he never felt such neglect of himself a privation. To have turned his eyes and ears from the little mendicant would have been the hardest struggle; and the remembrance of such inhumanity would have haunted him on his pillow. This being the disposition of Count Sobieski, he found it more difficult to bear calamity, when viewing another's poverty he could not relieve, than when assailed himself by penury, in all its other shapes of desolation.
Towards night, the idea of Somerset again presented itself. When he fell asleep, his dreams repeated the scene at the playhouse; again he saw him, and again he eluded his grasp.
His waking thoughts were not less true to their object; and next morning he went to a quiet coffee-house in the lane where he called for breakfast, and inquired of the master, "did he know the residence of Sir Robert Somerset?" The question was no sooner asked than it was answered to his satisfaction. The Court Guide was examined, and he found this address: "Sir Robert Somerset, Bart., Grosvenor Square,—Somerset Castle, L——shire,——Deerhurst, W——shire."
Gladdened by the discovery, Thaddeus hastened home and unwilling to affect his friend by a sudden appearance, with an overflowing heart he wrote the following letter:—
"To PEMBROKE SOMERSET, ESQ., GROSVENOR SQUARE.
"Will the name at the bottom of this paper surprise you? Will it give you pleasure? I cannot suffer myself to retain a doubt! although the silence of two years might almost convince me I am forgotten. In truth, Somerset, I had resolved never to obtrude myself and my misfortunes on your knowledge, until last Wednesday night, when I saw you going into Drury Lane Theatre; the sight of you quelled all my resentment, and I called after you, but you did not hear. Pardon me, my dear friend, that I speak of resentment. It is hard to learn resignation to the forgetfulness of those we love.
"Notwithstanding that I lost the pocket-book in a battlefield which contained your direction, I wrote to you frequently at a venture; and yet, though you knew in what spot in Poland you had left Thaddeus and his family, I have never heard of you since the day of our separation. You must have some good reason for your silence; at least I hope so.
"Doubtless public report has afforded you some information relative to the destruction of my ever-beloved country! I bear its fate on myself. You will find me in a poor lodging at the bottom of St. Martin's Lane. You will find me changed in everything. But the first horrors of grief have subsided; and my clearest consolation in the midst of my affliction rises out of its bitterest cause: I thank Heaven, my revered grandfather and mother were taken from a consummation of ills which would have reduced them to a misery I am content to endure alone.
"Come to me, dear Somerset. To look on you, to press you in my arms, will be a happiness which, even in hope, makes my heart throb with pleasure.
"I will remain at home all day to-morrow, in the expectation of seeing you; meanwhile, adieu, my dear Somerset. You will find at No. 5 St. Martin's Lane your ever affectionate
"THADDEUS CONSTANTINE, COUNT SOBIESKI." Friday noon.
"P.S. Inquire for me by the name of Mr. Constantine." [Footnote: The humble, English home of Thaddeus Sobieski is now totally vanished, along with the whole row of houses of which it was one.] With the most delightful emotions, Thaddeus sealed this letter and gave it to Nanny, with orders to inquire at the post-office "when he might expect an answer?" The child returned with information that it would reach Grosvenor Square in an hour, and he could have a reply by three o'clock.
Three o'clock arrived, and no letter. Thaddeus counted the hours until midnight, but they brought him nothing but disappointment. The whole of the succeeding day wore away in the same uncomfortable manner. His heart bounded at every step in the passage; and throwing open his room-door, he listened to every person that spoke, but no voice bore any resemblance to that of Somerset.
Night again shut in; and overcome by a train of doubts, in which despondence held the greatest share he threw himself on his bed, though unable to close his eyes.
Whatever be our afflictions, not one human creature who has endured misfortune will hesitate to aver, that of all the tortures incident to mortality, there are none like the rackings of suspense. It is the hell which Milton describes with such horrible accuracy; in its hot and cold regions, the anxious soul is alternately tossed from the ardors of hope to the petrifying rigors of doubt and dread. Men who have not been suspended between confidence and fear, in their judgment of a beloved friend's faithfulness, are ignorant of "the nerve whence agonies are born." It is when sunk in sorrow, when adversity loads us with divers miseries, and our wretchedness is completed by such desertion!—it is then we are compelled to acknowledge that, though life is brief, there are few friendships which have strength to follow it to the end. But how precious are those few! The are pearls above price!
Such were the reflections of the Count Sobieski when he arose in the morning from his sleepless pillow. The idea that the letter might have been delayed afforded him a faint hope, which he cherished all day, clinging to the expectation of seeing his friend before sunset. But Somerset did not appear; and obliged to seek an excuse for his absence, in the supposition of his application having miscarried, Thaddeus determined to write once more, and to deliver the letter himself at his friend's door. Accordingly, with emotions different from those with which he had addressed him a few days before, he wrote these lines—
"To PEMBROKE SOMERSET, ESQ.,
"If he who once called Thaddeus Sobieski his friend has received a letter which that exile addressed to him on Friday last, this note will meet the same neglect. But if this be the first intelligence that tells Somerset his friend is in town, perhaps he may overlook that friend's change of fortune; he may visit him in his distress! who will receive him with open arms, at his humble abode in St. Martin's Lane.
"SUNDAY EVENING, No. 5, St. Martin's Lane."
Thaddeus having sealed the letter, walked out in search of Sir Robert Somerset's habitation. After some inquiries, he found Grosvenor Square; and amidst the darkness of the night, was guided to the house by the light of the lamps and the lustres which shone through the open windows. He hesitated a few minutes on the pavement, and looked up. An old gentleman was standing with a little boy at the nearest window. Whilst the count's eyes were fixed on these two figures, he saw Somerset himself come up to the child, and lead it away towards a group of ladies.
Thaddeus immediately flew to the door, with a tremor over his frame which communicated itself to the knocker; for he knocked with such violence that the door was opened in an instant by half-a-dozen footmen at once. He spoke to one.
"Is Mr. Pembroke Somerset at home?"
"Yes," replied the man, who saw by his plain dress that he could not be an invited guest; "but he is engaged with company."
"I do not want to see him now," rejoined the count; "only give him that letter, for it is of consequence."
"Certainly, sir," replied the servant; and Thaddeus instantly withdrew.
He now turned homeward, with his mind more than commonly depressed. There was a something in the whole affair which pierced him to the soul. He had seen the house that contained the man he most warmly loved, but he had not been admitted within it. He could not forbear recollecting that when his gates opened wide as his heart to welcome Pembroke Somerset, how he had been implored by his then grateful friend to bring the palatine and the countess to England, "where his father would be proud to entertain them, as the preservers of his son." How different from these professions did he find the reality! Instead of seeing the doors widely unclose to receive him, he was allowed to stand like a beggar on the threshold; and he heard them shut against him, whilst the form of Somerset glided above him, even as the shadow of his buried joys.