The younger man was apparently about my own age,—a year or two older, perhaps, judging rather from his set and sinewy frame than his boyish countenance. And this last, boyish as it was, could not fail to command the attention even of the most careless observer. It had not only the darkness, but the character of the gipsy face, with large, brilliant eyes, raven hair, long and wavy, but not curling; the features were aquiline, but delicate, and when he spoke he showed teeth dazzling as pearls. It was impossible not to admire the singular beauty of the countenance; and yet it had that expression, at once stealthy and fierce, which war with society has stamped upon the lineaments of the race of which it reminded me. But, withal, there was somewhat of the air of a gentleman in this young wayfarer. His dress consisted of a black velveteen shooting-jacket, or rather short frock, with a broad leathern strap at the waist, loose white trousers, and a foraging cap, which he threw carelessly on the table as he wiped his brow. Turning round impatiently, and with some haughtiness, from his companion, he surveyed me with a quick, observant flash of his piercing eyes, and then stretched himself at length on the bench, and appeared either to dose or muse, till, in obedience to his companion's orders, the board was spread with all the cold meats the larder could supply.
"Beef!" said his companion, screwing a pinchbeck glass into his right eye. "Beef,—mottled, covey; humph! Lamb,—oldish, ravish, muttony; humph! Pie,—stalish. Veal?—no, pork. Ah! what will you have?"
"Help yourself," replied the young man peevishly, as he sat up, looked disdainfully at the viands, and, after a long pause, tasted first one, then the other, with many shrugs of the shoulders and muttered exclamations of discontent. Suddenly he looked up, and called for brandy; and to my surprise, and I fear admiration, he drank nearly half a tumblerful of that poison undiluted, with a composure that spoke of habitual use.
"Wrong!" said his companion, drawing the bottle to himself, and mixing the alcohol in careful proportions with water. "Wrong! coats of stomach soon wear out with that kind of clothes-brush. Better stick to the 'yeasty foam,' as sweet Will says. That young gentleman sets you a good example," and therewith the speaker nodded at me familiarly. Inexperienced as I was, I surmised at once that it was his intention to make acquaintance with the neighbor thus saluted. I was not deceived. "Anything to tempt you, sir?" asked this social personage after a short pause, and describing a semicircle with the point of his knife.
"I thank you, sir, but I have dined."
"What then? 'Break out into a second course of mischief,' as the Swan recommends,—Swan of Avon, sir! No? 'Well, then, I charge you with this cup of sack.' Are you going far, if I may take the liberty to ask?"
"Oh!" said the traveller, while his young companion lifted his eyes; and I was again struck with their remarkable penetration and brilliancy.
"London is the best place in the world for a lad of spirit. See life there,—'glass of fashion and mould of form.' Fond of the play, sir?"
"I never saw one."
"Possible!" cried the gentleman, dropping the handle of his knife, and bringing up the point horizontally; "then, young man," he added solemnly, "you have,—but I won't say what you have to see. I won't say,—no, not if you could cover this table with golden guineas, and exclaim, with the generous ardor so engaging in youth, 'Mr. Peacock, these are yours if you will only say what I have to see!'"
I laughed outright. May I be forgiven for the boast, but I had the reputation at school of a pleasant laugh. The young man's face grew dark at the sound; he pushed back his plate and sighed.
"Why," continued his friend, "my companion here, who, I suppose, is about your own age, he could tell you what a play is,—he could tell you what life is. He has viewed the mantiers of the town; 'perused the traders,' as the Swan poetically remarks. Have you not, my lad, eh?"
Thus directly appealed to, the boy looked up with a smile of scorn on his lips,—
"Yes, I know what life is, and I say that life, like poverty, has strange bed-fellows. Ask me what life is now, and I say a melodrama; ask me what it is twenty years hence, and I shall say—"
"A farce?" put in his comrade.
"No, a tragedy,—or comedy as Moliere wrote it."
"And how is that?" I asked, interested and somewhat surprised at the tone of my contemporary.
"Where the play ends in the triumph of the wittiest rogue. My friend here has no chance!"
"'Praise from Sir Hubert Stanley,' hem—yes, Hal Peacock may be witty, but he is no rogue."
"This was not exactly my meaning," said the boy, dryly.
"'A fico for your meaning,' as the Swan says.—Hallo, you sir! Bully Host, clear the table—fresh tumblers—hot water—sugar—lemon—and—The bottle's out! Smoke, sir?" and Mr. Peacock offered me a cigar.
Upon my refusal, he carefully twirled round a very uninviting specimen of some fabulous havanna, moistened it all over, as a boa-constrictor may do the ox he prepares for deglutition, bit off one end, and lighting the other from a little machine for that purpose which he drew from his pocket, he was soon absorbed in a vigorous effort (which the damp inherent in the weed long resisted) to poison the surrounding atmosphere. Therewith the young gentleman, either from emulation or in self-defence, extracted from his own pouch a cigar-case of notable elegance,—being of velvet, embroidered apparently by some fair hand, for "From Juliet" was very legibly worked thereon,—selected a cigar of better appearance than that in favor with his comrade, and seemed quite as familiar with the tobacco as he had been with the brandy.
"Fast, sir, fast lad that," quoth Mr. Peacock, in the short gasps which his resolute struggle with his uninviting victim alone permitted; "nothing but [puff, puff] your true [suck, suck] syl—syl—sylva—does for him. Out, by the Lord! the jaws of darkness have devoured it up;'" and again Mr. Peacock applied to his phosphoric machine. This time patience and perseverance succeeded, and the heart of the cigar responded by a dull red spark (leaving the sides wholly untouched) to the indefatigable ardor of its wooer.
This feat accomplished, Mr. Peacock exclaimed triumphantly: "And now, what say you, my lads, to a game at cards? Three of us,—whist and a dummy; nothing better, eh?" As he spoke, he produced from his coat-pocket a red silk handkerchief, a bunch of keys, a nightcap, a tooth-brush, a piece of shaving-soap, four lumps of sugar, the remains of a bun, a razor, and a pack of cards. Selecting the last, and returning its motley accompaniments to the abyss whence they had emerged, he turned up, with a jerk of his thumb and finger, the knave of clubs, and placing it on the top of the rest, slapped the cards emphatically on the table.
"You are very good, but I don't know whist," said I.
"Not know whist—not been to a play—not smoke! Then pray tell me, young man," said he majestically, and with a frown, "what on earth you do know."
Much consternated by this direct appeal, and greatly ashamed of my ignorance of the cardinal points of erudition in Mr. Peacock's estimation, I hung my head and looked down.
"That is right," renewed Mr. Peacock, more benignly; "you have the ingenuous shame of youth. It is promising, sir; 'lowliness is young ambition's ladder,' as the Swan says. Mount the first step, and learn whist,—sixpenny points to begin with."
Notwithstanding any newness in actual life, I had had the good fortune to learn a little of the way before me, by those much-slandered guides called novels,—works which are often to the inner world what maps are to the outer; and sundry recollections of "Gil Blas" and the "Vicar of Wakefield" came athwart me. I had no wish to emulate the worthy Moses, and felt that I might not have even the shagreen spectacles to boast of in my negotiations with this new Mr. Jenkinson. Accordingly, shaking my head, I called for my bill. As I took out my purse,—knit by my mother,—with one gold piece in one corner, and sundry silver ones in the other, I saw that the eyes of Mr. Peacock twinkled.
"Poor spirit, sir! poor spirit, young man! 'This avarice sticks deep,' as the Swan beautifully observes. 'Nothing venture, nothing have.'"
"Nothing have, nothing venture," I returned, plucking up spirit.
"Nothing have! Young sir, do you doubt my solidity—my capital—my 'golden joys'?"
"Sir, I spoke of myself. I am not rich enough to gamble."
"Gamble!" exclaimed Mr. Peacock, in virtuous indignation—"gamble! what do you mean, sir? You insult me!" and he rose threateningly, and slapped his white hat on his wig. "Pshaw! let him alone, Hal," said the boy, contemptuously. "Sir, if he is impertinent, thrash him." (This was to me.) "Impertinent! thrash!" exclaimed Mr. Peacock, waxing very red; but catching the sneer on his companion's lip, he sat down, and subsided into sullen silence.
Meanwhile I paid my bill. This duty—rarely a cheerful one—performed, I looked round for my knapsack, and perceived that it was in the boy's hands. He was very coolly reading the address, which, in case of accidents, I prudently placed on it: "Pisistratus Caxton, Esq.,—Hotel,—Street, Strand."
I took my knapsack from him, more surprised at such a breach of good manners in a young gentleman who knew life so well, than I should have been at a similar error on the part of Mr. Peacock. He made no apology, but nodded farewell, and stretched himself at full length on the bench. Mr. Peacock, now absorbed in a game of patience, vouchsafed no return to my parting salutation, and in another moment I was alone on the high-road. My thoughts turned long upon the young man I had left; mixed with a sort of instinctive compassionate foreboding of an ill future for one with such habits and in such companionship, I felt an involuntary admiration, less even for his good looks than his ease, audacity, and the careless superiority he assumed over a comrade so much older than himself.
The day twas far gone when I saw the spires of a town at which I intended to rest for the night. The horn of a coach behind made me turn my head, and as the vehicle passed me, I saw on the outside Mr. Peacock, still struggling with a cigar,—it could scarcely be the same,—and his young friend stretched on the roof amongst the luggage, leaning his handsome head on his hand, and apparently unobservant both of me and every one else.
I am apt—judging egotistically, perhaps, from my own experience-to measure a young man's chance of what is termed practical success in life by what may seem at first two very vulgar qualities; viz., his inquisitiveness and his animal vivacity. A curiosity which springs forward to examine everything new to his information; a nervous activity, approaching to restlessness, which rarely allows bodily fatigue to interfere with some object in view,—constitute, in my mind, very profitable stock-in-hand to begin the world with.
Tired as I was, after I had performed my ablutions and refreshed myself in the little coffee-room of the inn at which I put up, with the pedestrian's best beverage, familiar and oft calumniated tea, I could not resist the temptation of the broad, bustling street, which, lighted with gas, shone on me through the dim windows of the coffee-room. I had never before seen a large town, and the contrast of lamp-lit, busy night in the streets, with sober, deserted night in the lanes and fields, struck me forcibly.
I sauntered out, therefore, jostling and jostled, now gazing at the windows, now hurried along the tide of life, till I found myself before a cookshop, round which clustered a small knot of housewives, citizens, and hungry-looking children. While contemplating this group, and marvelling how it comes to pass that the staple business of earth's majority is how, when, and where to eat, my ear was struck with "'In Troy there lies the scene,' as the illustrious Will remarks."
Looking round, I perceived Mr. Peacock pointing his stick towards an open doorway next to the cookshop, the hall beyond which was lighted with gas, while painted in black letters on a pane of glass over the door was the word "Billiards."
Suiting the action to the word, the speaker plunged at once into the aperture, and vanished. The boy-companion was following more slowly, when his eye caught mine. A slight blush came over his dark cheek; he stopped, and leaning against the door-jambs, gazed on me hard and long before he said: "Well met again, sir! You find it hard to amuse yourself in this dull place; the nights are long out of London."
"Oh!" said I, ingenuously, "everything here amuses me,—the lights, the shops, the crowd; but, then, to me everything is new."
The youth came from his lounging-place and moved on, as if inviting me to walk; while he answered, rather with bitter sullenness than the melancholy his words expressed,—
"One thing, at least, cannot be new to you,—it is an old truth with us before we leave the nursery: 'Whatever is worth having must be bought;' ergo, he who cannot buy, has nothing worth having."
"I don't think," said I, wisely, "that the things best worth having can be bought at all. You see that poor dropsical jeweller standing before his shop-door: his shop is the finest in the street, and I dare say he would be very glad to give it to you or me in return for our good health and strong legs. Oh, no! I think with my father: 'All that are worth having are given to all,'—that is, Nature and labor."
"Your father says that; and you go by what your father says? Of course, all fathers have preached that, and many other good doctrines, since Adam preached to Cain; but I don't see that the fathers have found their sons very credulous listeners."
"So much the worse for the sons," said I, bluntly. "Nature," continued my new acquaintance, without attending to my ejaculation,—"Nature indeed does give us much, and Nature also orders each of us how to use her gifts. If Nature give you the propensity to drudge, you will drudge; if she give me the ambition to rise, and the contempt for work, I may rise,—but I certainly shall not work."
"Oh," said I, "you agree with Squills, I suppose, and fancy we are all guided by the bumps on our foreheads?"
"And the blood in our veins, and our mothers' milk. We inherit other things besides gout and consumption. So you always do as your father tells you! Good boy!"
I was piqued. Why we should be ashamed of being taunted for goodness, I never could understand; but certainly I felt humbled. However, I answered sturdily: "If you had as good a father as I have, you would not think it so very extraordinary to do as he tells you."
"Ah! so he is a very good father, is he? He must have a great trust in your sobriety and steadiness to let you wander about the world as he does."
"I am going to join him in London."
"In London! Oh, does he live there?"
"He is going to live there for some time."
"Then perhaps we may meet. I too am going to town."
"Oh, we shall be sure to meet there!" said I, with frank gladness; for my interest in the young man was not diminished by his conversation, however much I disliked the sentiments it expressed.
The lad laughed, and his laugh was peculiar,—it was low, musical, but hollow and artificial.
"Sure to meet! London is a large place: where shall you be found?"
I gave him, without scruple, the address of the hotel at which I expected to find my father, although his deliberate inspection of my knapsack must already have apprised him of that address. He listened attentively, and repeated it twice over, as if to impress it on his memory; and we both walked on in silence, till, turning up a small passage, we suddenly found ourselves in a large churchyard,—a flagged path stretched diagonally across it towards the market-place, on which it bordered. In this churchyard, upon a gravestone, sat a young Savoyard; his hurdy-gurdy, or whatever else his instrument might be called, was on his lap; and he was gnawing his crust and feeding some poor little white mice (standing on their hind legs on the hurdy-gurdy) as merrily as if he had chosen the gayest resting-place in the world.
We both stopped. The Savoyard, seeing us, put his arch head on one side, showed all his white teeth in that happy smile so peculiar to his race, and in which poverty seems to beg so blithely, and gave the handle of his instrument a turn. "Poor child!" said I.
"Aha, you pity him! but why? According to your rule, Mr. Caxton, he is not so much to be pitied; the dropsical jeweller would give him as much for his limbs and health as for ours! How is it—answer me, son of so wise a father—that no one pities the dropsical jeweller, and all pity the healthy Savoyard? It is, sir, because there is a stern truth which is stronger than all Spartan lessons,—Poverty is the master-ill of the world. Look round. Does poverty leave its signs over the graves? Look at that large tomb fenced round; read that long inscription: 'Virtue'—'best of husbands'—'affectionate father'—'inconsolable grief'-'sleeps in the joyful hope,' etc. Do you suppose these stoneless mounds hide no dust of what were men just as good? But no epitaph tells their virtues, bespeaks their wifes' grief, or promises joyful hope to them!"
"Does it matter? Does God care for the epitaph and tombstone?"
"Datemi qualche cosa!" said the Savoyard, in his touching patois, still smiling, and holding out his little hand; therein I dropped a small coin. The boy evinced his gratitude by a new turn of the hurdy-gurdy.
"That is not labor," said my companion; "and had you found him at work, you had given him nothing. I, too, have my instrument to play upon, and my mice to see after. Adieu!"
He waved his hand, and strode irreverently over the graves back in the direction we had come.
I stood before the fine tomb with its fine epitaph: the Savoyard looked at me wistfully.
The Savoyard looked at me wistfully. I wished to enter into conversation with him. That was not easy. However, I began.
Pisistratus.—"You must be often hungry enough, my poor boy. Do the mice feed you?"
Savoyard puts his head on one side, shakes it, and strokes his mice.
Pisistratus.-"You are very fond of the mice; they are your only friends, I fear."
Savoyard evidently understanding Pisistratus, rubs his face gently against the mice, then puts them softly down on a grave, and gives a turn to the hurdy-gurdy. The mice play unconcernedly over the grave.
Pisistratus, pointing first to the beasts, then to the instrument.—"Which do you like best, the mice or the hurdygurdy?"
Savoyard shows his teeth—considers—stretches himself on the grass-plays with the mice—and answers volubly. Pisistratus, by the help of Latin comprehending that the Savoyard says that the mice are alive, and the hurdy-gurdy is not.—"Yes, a live friend is better than a dead one. Mortua est hurdy-gurda!"
Savoyard shakes his head vehemently.—"No—no, Eccellenza, non e morta!" and strikes up a lively air on the slandered instrument. The Savoyard's face brightens-he looks happy; the mice run from the grave into his bosom. Pisistratus, affected, and putting the question in Latin.—"Have you a father?"
Savoyard with his face overcast.—"No, Eccellenza!" then pausing a little, he says briskly, "Si, si!" and plays a solemn air on the hurdy-gurdy—stops—rests one hand on the instrument, and raises the other to heaven.
Pisistratus understands: the father is like the hurdygurdy, at once dead and living. The mere form is a dead thing, but the music lives. Pisistratus drops another small piece of silver on the ground, and turns away.
God help and God bless thee, Savoyard! Thou hast done Pisistratus all the good in the world. Thou hast corrected the hard wisdom of the young gentleman in the velveteen jacket; Pisistratus is a better lad for having stopped to listen to thee.
I regained the entrance to the churchyard, I looked back; there sat the Savoyard still amidst men's graves, but under God's sky. He was still looking at me wistfully; and when he caught my eye, he pressed his hand to his heart and smiled. God help and God bless thee, young Savoyard!
In setting off the next morning, the Boots, whose heart I had won by an extra sixpence for calling me betimes, good-naturedly informed me that I might save a mile of the journey, and have a very pleasant walk into the bargain, if I took the footpath through a gentleman's park, the lodge of which I should see about seven miles from the town.
"And the grounds are showed too," said the Boots, "if so be you has a mind to stay and see 'em. But don't you go to the gardener,—he'll want half a crown; there's an old 'Oman at the lodge who will show you all that's worth seeing—the walks and the big cascade—for a tizzy. You may make use of my name," he added proudly,—"Bob, boots at the 'Lion.' She be a haunt o' mine, and she minds them that come from me perticklerly."
Not doubting that the purest philanthropy actuated these counsels, I thanked my shock-headed friend, and asked carelessly to whom the park belonged.
"To Muster Trevanion, the great parliament man," answered the Boots. "You has heard o' him, I guess, sir?"
I shook my head, surprised every hour more and more to find how very little there was in it.
"They takes in the 'Moderate Man's Journal' at the 'Lamb:' and they say in the tap there that he's one of the cleverest chaps in the House o' Commons," continued the Boots, in a confidential whisper. "But we takes in the 'People's Thunderbolt' at the 'Lion,' and we knows better this Muster Trevanion: he is but a trimmer,—milk and water,—no horator,—not the right sort; you understand?" Perfectly satisfied that I understood nothing about it, I smiled, and said, "Oh, yes!" and slipping on my knapsack, commenced my adventures, the Boots bawling after me, "Mind, sir, you tells haunt I sent you!"
The town was only languidly putting forth symptoms of returning life as I strode through the streets; a pale, sickly, unwholesome look on the face of the slothful Phoebus had succeeded the feverish hectic of the past night; the artisans whom I met glided by me haggard and dejected; a few early shops were alone open; one or two drunken men, emerging from the lanes, sallied homeward with broken pipes in their mouths; bills, with large capitals, calling attention to "Best family teas at 4s. a pound;" "The arrival of Mr. Sloinan's caravan of wild beasts;" and Dr. Do'em's "Paracelsian Pills of Immortality," stared out dull and uncheering from the walls of tenantless, dilapidated houses in that chill sunrise which favors no illusion. I was glad when I had left the town behind me, and saw the reapers in the corn-fields, and heard the chirp of the birds. I arrived at the lodge of which the Boots had spoken,—a pretty rustic building half-concealed by a belt of plantations, with two large iron gates for the owner's friends, and a small turn-stile for the public, who, by some strange neglect on his part, or sad want of interest with the neighboring magistrates, had still preserved a right to cross the rich man's domains and look on his grandeur, limited to compliance with a reasonable request, mildly stated on the notice-board, "to keep to the paths." As it was not yet eight o'clock, I had plenty of time before me to see the grounds; and profiting by the economical hint of the Boots, I entered the lodge and inquired for the old lady who was haunt to Mr. Bob. A young woman, who was busied in preparing breakfast, nodded with great civility to this request, and hastening to a bundle of clothes which I then perceived in the corner, she cried, "Grandmother, here's a gentleman to see the cascade."
The bundle of clothes then turned round and exhibited a human countenance, which lighted up with great intelligence as the granddaughter, turning to me, said with simplicity. "She's old, honest cretur, but she still likes to earn a sixpence, sir;" and taking a crutch-staff in her hand, while her granddaughter put a neat bonnet on her head, this industrious gentlewoman sallied out at a pace which surprised me.
I attempted to enter into conversation with my guide; but she did not seem much inclined to be sociable, and the beauty of the glades and groves which now spread before my eyes reconciled me to silence.
I have seen many fine places since then, but I do not remember to have seen a landscape more beautiful in its peculiar English character than that which I now gazed on. It had none of the feudal characteristics of ancient parks, with giant oaks, fantastic pollards, glens covered with fern, and deer grouped upon the slopes; on the contrary, in spite of some fine trees, chiefly beech, the impression conveyed was, that it was a new place,—a made place. You might see ridges on the lawns which showed where hedges had been removed; the pastures were parcelled out in divisions by new wire fences; young plantations, planned with exquisite taste, but without the venerable formality of avenues and quin-cunxes, by which you know the parks that date from Elizabeth and James, diversified the rich extent of verdure; instead of deer, were short-horned cattle of the finest breed, sheep that would have won the prize at an agricultural show. Everywhere there was the evidence of improvement, energy, capital, but capital clearly not employed for the mere purpose of return. The ornamental was too conspicuously predominant amidst the lucrative not to say eloquently: "The owner is willing to make the most of his land, but not the most of his money."
But the old woman's eagerness to earn sixpence had impressed me unfavorably as to the character of the master. "Here," thought I, "are all the signs of riches; and yet this poor old woman, living on the very threshold of opulence, is in want of a sixpence."
These surmises, in the indulgence of which I piqued myself on my penetration, were strengthened into convictions by the few sentences which I succeeded at last in eliciting from the old woman.
"Mr. Trevanion must be a rich man?" said I. "Oh, ay, rich eno'!" grumbled my guide.
"And," said I, surveying the extent of shrubbery or dressed ground through which our way wound, now emerging into lawns and glades, now belted by rare garden-trees, now (as every inequality of the ground was turned to advantage in the landscape) sinking into the dell, now climbing up the slopes, and now confining the view to some object of graceful art or enchanting Nature,—"and," said I, "he must employ many hands here: plenty of work, eh?"
"Ay, ay! I don't say that he don't find work for those who want it. But it ain't the same place it wor in my day."
"You remember it in other hands, then?"
"Ay, ay! When the Hogtons had it, honest folk! My good man was the gardener,—none of those set-Lip fine gentlemen who can't put hand to a spade."
Poor faithful old woman!
I began to hate the unknown proprietor. Here clearly was some mushroom usurper who had bought out the old simple, hospitable family, neglected its ancient servants, left them to earn tizzies by showing waterfalls, and insulted their eyes by his selfish wealth.
"There's the water all spilt,—it warn't so in my day," said the guide.
A rivulet, whose murmur I had long heard, now stole suddenly into view, and gave to the scene the crowning charm. As, relapsing into silence, we tracked its sylvan course, under dripping chestnuts and shady limes, the house itself emerged on the opposite side,—a modern building of white stone, with the noblest Corinthian portico I ever saw in this country.
"A fine house indeed," said I. "Is Mr. Trevanion here much?"
"Ay, ay! I don't mean to say that he goes away altogether, but it ain't as it wor in my day, when the Hogtons lived here all the year round in their warm house,—not that one."
Good old woman, and these poor banished Hogtons, thought I,—hateful parvenu! I was pleased when a curve in the shrubberies shut out the house from view, though in reality bringing us nearer to it. And the boasted cascade, whose roar I had heard for some moments, came in sight.
Amidst the Alps, such a waterfall would have been insignificant, but contrasting ground highly dressed, with no other bold features, its effect was striking, and even grand. The banks were here narrowed and compressed; rocks, partly natural, partly no doubt artificial, gave a rough aspect to the margin; and the cascade fell from a considerable height into rapid waters, which my guide mumbled out were "mortal deep."
"There wor a madman leapt over where you be standing," said the old woman, "two years ago last June."
"A madman! why," said I, observing, with an eye practised in the gymnasium of the Hellenic Institute, the narrow space of the banks over the gulf,—"why, my good lady, it need not be a madman to perform that leap."
And so saying, with one of those sudden impulses which it would be wrong to ascribe to the noble quality of courage, I drew back a few steps, and cleared the abyss. But when from the other side I looked back at what I had done, and saw that failure had been death, a sickness came over me, and I felt as if I would not have releapt the gulf to become lord of the domain.
"And how am I to get back?" said I, in a forlorn voice to the old woman, who stood staring at me on the other side. "Ah! I see there is a bridge below."
"But you can't go over the bridge, there's a gate on it; master keeps the key himself. You are in the private grounds now. Dear, dear! the squire would be so angry if he knew. You must go back; and they'll see you from the house! Dear me! dear, dear! What shall I do? Can't you leap back again?"
Moved by these piteous exclamations, and not wishing to subject the poor old lady to the wrath of a master evidently an unfeeling tyrant, I resolved to pluck up courage and releap the dangerous abyss.
"Oh, yes, never fear," said I, therefore. "What's been done once ought to be done twice, if needful. Just get out of my way, will you?"
And I receded several paces over a ground much too rough to favor my run for a spring. But my heart knocked against my ribs. I felt that impulse can do wonders where preparation fails.
"You had best be quick, then," said the old woman.
Horrid old woman! I began to esteem her less. I set my teeth, and was about to rush on, when a voice close beside me said,—
"Stay, young man; I will let you through the gate."
I turned round sharply, and saw close by my side, in great wonder that I had not seen him before, a man, whose homely (but not working) dress seemed to intimate his station as that of the head-gardener, of whom my guide had spoken. He was seated on a stone under a chestnut-tree, with an ugly cur at his feet, who snarled at me as I turned.
"Thank you, my man," said I, joyfully. "I confess frankly that I was very much afraid of that leap."
"Ho! Yet you said, what can be done once can be done twice."
"I did not say it could be done, but ought to be done."
"Humph! That's better put."
Here the man rose; the dog came and smelt my legs, and then, as if satisfied with my respectability, wagged the stump of his tail.
I looked across the waterfall for the old woman, and to my surprise saw her hobbling back as fast as she could. "Ah!" said I, laughing, "the poor old thing is afraid you'll tell her master,—for you're the head gardener, I suppose? But I am the only person to blame. Pray say that, if you mention the circumstance at all!" and I drew out half a crown, which I proffered to my new conductor.
He put back the money with a low "Humph! not amiss." Then, in a louder voice, "No occasion to bribe me, young man; I saw it all."
"I fear your master is rather hard to the poor Hogtons' old servants."
"Is he? Oh! humph! my master. Mr. Trevanion you mean?"
"Well, I dare say people say so. This is the way." And he led me down a little glen away from the fall. Everybody must have observed that after he has incurred or escaped a great danger, his spirits rise wonderfully; he is in a state of pleasing excitement. So it was with me. I talked to the gardener a coeur ouvert, as the French say; and I did not observe that his short monosyllables in rejoinder all served to draw out my little history,—my journey, its destination, my schooling under Dr. Herman, and my father's Great Book. I was only made somewhat suddenly aware of the familiarity that had sprung up between us when, just as, having performed a circuitous meander, we regained the stream and stood before an iron gate set in an arch of rock-work, my companion said simply: "And your name, young gentleman? What's your name?"
I hesitated a moment; but having heard that such communications were usually made by the visitors of show places, I answered: "Oh! a very venerable one, if your master is what they call a bibliomaniac—Caxton."
"Caxton!" cried the gardener, with some vivacity; "there is a Cumberland family of that name—"
"That's mine; and my Uncle Roland is the head of that family."
"And you are the son of Augustine Caxton?"
"I am. You have heard of my dear father, then?"
"We will not pass by the gate now. Follow me,—this way;" and my guide, turning abruptly round, strode up a narrow path, and the house stood a hundred yards before me ere I recovered my surprise.
"Pardon me," said I, "but where are we going, my good friend?"
"Good friend, good friend! Well said, sir. You are going amongst good friends. I was at college with your father; I loved him well. I knew a little of your uncle too. My name is Trevanion."
Blind young fool that I was! The moment my guide told his name, I was struck with amazement at my unaccountable mistake. The small, insignificant figure took instant dignity; the homely dress, of rough dark broadcloth, was the natural and becoming dishabille of a country gentleman in his own demesnes. Even the ugly cur became a Scotch terrier of the rarest breed.
My guide smiled good-naturedly at my stupor; and patting me on the shoulder, said,—
"It is the gardener you must apologize to, not me. He is a very handsome fellow, six feet high."
I had not found my tongue before we had ascended a broad flight of stairs under the portico, passed a spacious hall adorned with statues and fragrant with large orange-trees, and, entering a small room hung with pictures, in which were arranged all the appliances for breakfast, my companion said to a lady, who rose from behind the tea-urn: "My dear Ellinor, I introduce to you the son of our old friend Augustine Caxton. Make him stay with us as long as he can. Young gentleman, in Lady Ellinor Trevanion think that you see one whom you ought to know well; family friendships should descend."
My host said these last words in an imposing tone, and then pounced on a letter-bag on the table, drew forth an immense heap of letters and newspapers, threw himself into an armchair, and seemed perfectly forgetful of my existence.
The lady stood a moment in mute surprise, and I saw that she changed color from pale to red, and red to pale, before she came forward with the enchanting grace of unaffected kindness, took me by the hand, drew me to a seat next to her own, and asked so cordially after my father, my uncle, my whole family, that in five minutes I felt myself at home. Lady Ellinor listened with a smile (though with moistened eyes, which she wiped every now and then) to my artless details. At length she said,—
"Have you never heard your father speak of me,—I mean of us; of the Trevanions?"
"Never," said I, bluntly; "and that would puzzle me, only my dear father, you know, is not a great talker."
"Indeed! he was very animated when I knew him," said Lady Ellinor; and she turned her head and sighed.
At this moment there entered a young lady so fresh, so blooming, so lovely that every other thought vanished out of my head at once. She came in singing, as gay as a bird, and seeming to my adoring sight quite as native to the skies.
"Fanny," said Lady Ellinor, "shake hands with Mr. Caxton, the son of one whom I have not seen since I was little older than you, but whom I remember as if it were but yesterday."
Miss Fanny blushed and smiled, and held out her hand with an easy frankness which I in vain endeavored to imitate. During breakfast, Mr. Trevanion continued to read his letters and glance over the papers, with an occasional ejaculation of "Pish!" "Stuff!" between the intervals in which he mechanically swallowed his tea, or some small morsels of dry toast. Then rising with a suddenness which characterized his movements, he stood on his hearth for a few moments buried in thought; and now that a large-brimmed hat was removed from his brow, and the abruptness of his first movement, with the sedateness of his after pause, arrested my curious attention, I was more than ever ashamed of my mistake. It was a careworn, eager, and yet musing countenance, hollow-eyed and with deep lines; but it was one of those faces which take dignity and refinement from that mental cultivation which distinguishes the true aristocrat, namely, the highly educated, acutely intelligent man. Very handsome might that face have been in youth, for the features, though small, were exquisitely defined; the brow, partially bald, was noble and massive, and there was almost feminine delicacy in the curve of the lip. The whole expression of the face was commanding, but sad. Often, as my experience of life increased, have I thought to trace upon that expressive visage the history of energetic ambition curbed by a fastidious philosophy and a scrupulous conscience; but then all that I could see was a vague, dissatisfied melancholy, which dejected me I knew not why.
Presently Trevanion returned to the table, collected his letters, moved slowly towards the door, and vanished.
His wife's eyes followed him tenderly. Those eyes reminded me of my mother's, as I verily believe did all eyes that expressed affection. I crept nearer to her, and longed to press the white hand that lay so listless before me.
"Will you walk out with us?" said Miss Trevanion, turning to me. I bowed, and in a few minutes I found myself alone. While the ladies left me, for their shawls and bonnets, I took up the newspapers which Mr. Trevanion had thrown on the table, by way of something to do. My eye was caught by his own name; it occurred often, and in all the papers. There was contemptuous abuse in one, high eulogy in another; but one passage in a journal that seemed to aim at impartiality, struck me so much as to remain in my memory; and I am sure that I can still quote the sense, though not the exact words. The paragraph ran somewhat thus:—
"In the present state of parties, our contemporaries have not unnaturally devoted much space to the claims or demerits of Mr. Trevanion. It is a name that stands unquestionably high in the House of Commons; but, as unquestionably, it commands little sympathy in the country. Mr. Trevanion is essentially and emphatically a member of parliament. He is a close and ready debater; he is an admirable chairman in committees. Though never in office, his long experience of public life, his gratuitous attention to public business, have ranked him high among those practical politicians from whom ministers are selected. A man of spotless character and excellent intentions, no doubt, he must be considered; and in him any cabinet would gain an honest and a useful member. There ends all we can say in his praise. As a speaker, he wants the fire and enthusiasm which engage the popular sympathies. He has the ear of the House, not the heart of the country. An oracle on subjects of mere business, in the great questions of policy he is comparatively a failure. He never embraces any party heartily; he never espouses any question as if wholly in earnest. The moderation on which he is said to pique himself often exhibits itself in fastidious crotchets and an attempt at philosophical originality of candor which has long obtained him, with his enemies, the reputation of a trimmer. Such a man circumstances may throw into temporary power; but can he command lasting influence? No. Let Mr. Trevanion remain in what Nature and position assign as his proper post,—that of an upright, independent, able member of parliament; conciliating sensible men on both sides, when party runs into extremes. He is undone as a cabinet minister. His scruples would break up any government; and his want of decision—when, as in all human affairs, some errors must be conceded to obtain a great good—would shipwreck his own fame."
I had just got to the end of this paragraph when the ladies returned.
My hostess observed the newspaper in my hand, and said, with a constrained smile, "Some attack on Mr. Trevanion, I suppose?"
"No," said I, awkwardly; for perhaps the paragraph that appeared to me so impartial, was the most galling attack of all,—"No, not exactly."
"I never read the papers now,—at least what are called the leading articles; it is too painful. And once they gave me so much pleasure,—that was when the career began, and before the fame was made."
Here Lady Ellinor opened the window which admitted on the lawn, and in a few moments we were in that part of the pleasure-grounds which the family reserved from the public curiosity. We passed by rare shrubs and strange flowers, long ranges of conservatories, in which bloomed and lived all the marvellous vegetation of Africa and the Indies.
"Mr. Trevanion is fond of flowers?" said I.
The fair Fanny laughed. "I don't think he knows one from another."
"Nor I either," said I,—"that is, when I fairly lose sight of a rose or a hollyhock."
"The farm will interest you more," said Lady Ellinor.
We came to farm buildings recently erected, and no doubt on the most improved principle. Lady Ellinor pointed out to me machines and contrivances of the newest fashion for abridging labor and perfecting the mechanical operations of agriculture.
"Ah! then Mr. Trevanion is fond of farming?" The pretty Fanny laughed again.
"My father is one of the great oracles in agriculture, one of the great patrons of all its improvements; but as for being fond of farming, I doubt if he knows his own fields when he rides through them."
We returned to the house; and Miss Trevanion, whose frank kindness had already made too deep an impression upon the youthful heart of Pisistratus the Second, offered to show me the picture-gallery. The collection was confined to the works of English artists; and Miss Trevanion pointed out to me the main attractions of the gallery.
"Well, at least Mr. Trevanion is fond of pictures?"
"Wrong again," said Fanny, shaking her arched head. "My father is said to be an admirable judge; but he only buys pictures from a sense of duty,—to encourage our own painters. A picture once bought, I am not sure that he ever looks at it again."
"What does he then—" I stopped short, for I felt my meditated question was ill-bred.
"What does he like then? you were about to say. Why, I have known him, of course, since I could know anything; but I have never yet discovered what my father does like. No,—not even politics; though he lives for politics alone. You look puzzled; you will know him better some day, I hope; but you will never solve the mystery—what Mr. Trevanion likes."
"You are wrong," said Lady Ellinor, who had followed us into the room, unheard by us. "I can tell you what your father does more than like,—what he loves and serves every hour of his noble life,—justice, beneficence, honor, and his country. A man who loves these may be excused for indifference to the last geranium or the newest plough, or even (though that offends you more, Fanny) the freshest masterpiece by Lanseer, or the latest fashion honored by Miss Trevanion."
"Mamma!" said Fanny, and the tears sprang to her eyes. But Lady Ellinor looked to me sublime as she spoke, her eyes kindled, her breast heaved. The wife taking the husband's part against the child, and comprehending so well what the child felt not, despite its experience of every day, and what the world would never know, despite all the vigilance of its praise and its blame, was a picture, to my taste, finer than any in the collection.
Her face softened as she saw the tears in Fanny's bright hazel eyes; she held out her hand, which her child kissed tenderly; and whispering, "'T is not the giddy word you must go by, mamma, or there will be something to forgive every minute," Miss Trevanion glided from the room.
"Have you a sister?" asked Lady Ellinor.
"And Trevanion has no son," she said, mournfully. The blood rushed to my cheeks. Oh, young fool again! We were both silent, when the door opened, and Mr. Trevanion entered. "Humph!" said he, smiling as he saw me,—and his smile was charming, though rare. "Humph, young sir, I came to seek for you,—I have been rude, I fear; pardon it. That thought has only just occurred to me, so I left my Blue Books, and my amanuensis hard at work on them, to ask you to come out for half an hour,—just half an hour, it is all I can give you: a deputation at one! You dine and sleep here, of course?"
"Ah, sir, my mother will be so uneasy if I am not in town to-night!"
"Pooh!" said the member; "I'll send an express."
"Oh, no indeed; thank you."
I hesitated. "You see, sir, that my father and mother are both new to London; and though I am new too, yet they may want me,—I may be of use." Lady Ellinor put her hand on my head and sleeked down my hair as I spoke.
"Right, young man, right; you will do in the world, wrong as that is. I don't mean that you'll succeed, as the rogues say,—that's another question; but if you don't rise, you'll not fall. Now put on your hat and come with me; we'll walk to the lodge,—you will be in time for a coach."
I took my leave of Lady Ellinor, and longed to say something about "compliments to Miss Fanny;" but the words stuck in my throat, and my host seemed impatient.
"We must see you soon again," said Lady Ellinor, kindly, as she followed us to the door.
Mr. Trevanion walked on briskly and in silence, one hand in his bosom, the other swinging carelessly a thick walkingstick.
"But I must go round by the bridge," said I, "for I forgot my knapsack. I threw it off when I made my leap, and the old lady certainly never took charge of it."
"Come, then, this way. How old are you?"
"Seventeen and a half."
"You know Latin and Greek as they know them at schools, I suppose?"
"I think I know them pretty well, sir."
"Does your father say so?"
"Why, my father is fastidious; however, he owns that he is satisfied on the whole."
"So am I, then. Mathematics?"
Here the conversation dropped for some time. I had found and restrapped the knapsack, and we were near the lodge, when Mr. Trevanion said abruptly, "Talk, my young friend, talk; I like to hear you talk,—it refreshes me. Nobody has talked naturally to me these last ten years."
The request was a complete damper to my ingenuous eloquence; I could not have talked naturally now for the life of me.
"I made a mistake, I see," said my companion, good-humoredly, noticing my embarrassment. "Here we are at the lodge. The coach will be by in five minutes: you can spend that time in hearing the old woman praise the Hogtons and abuse me. And hark you, sir, never care three straws for praise or blame,—leather and prunella! Praise and blame are here!" and he struck his hand upon his breast with almost passionate emphasis. "Take a specimen. These Hogtons were the bane of the place,—uneducated and miserly; their land a wilderness, their village a pig-sty. I come, with capital and intelligence; I redeem the soil, I banish pauperism, I civilize all around me: no merit in me, I am but a type of capital guided by education,—a machine. And yet the old woman is not the only one who will hint to you that the Hogtons were angels, and myself the usual antithesis to angels. And what is more, sir, because that old woman, who has ten shillings a week from me, sets her heart upon earning her sixpences,—and I give her that privileged luxury,—every visitor she talks to goes away with the idea that I, the rich Mr. Trevanion, let her starve on what she can pick up from the sightseers. Now, does that signify a jot? Good-by! Tell your father his old friend must see him,—profit by his calm wisdom; his old friend is a fool sometimes, and sad at heart. When you are settled, send me a line to St. James's Square, to say where you are. Humph! that's enough."
Mr. Trevanion wrung my hand, and strode off.
I did not wait for the coach, but proceeded towards the turn-stile, where the old woman (who had either seen, or scented from a distance that tizzy of which I was the impersonation),—
"Hushed in grim repose, did wait her morning prey."
My opinions as to her sufferings and the virtues of the departed Ho-tons somewhat modified, I contented myself with dropping into her open palm the exact sum virtually agreed on. But that palm still remained open, and the fingers of the other clawed hold of me as I stood, impounded in the curve of the turn-stile, like a cork in a patent corkscrew.
"And threepence for nephy Bob," said the old lady.
"Threepence for nephew Bob, and why?"
"It is his parquisites when he recommends a gentleman. You would not have me pay out of my own earnings; for he will have it, or he'll ruin my bizziness. Poor folk must be paid for their trouble."
Obdurate to this appeal, and mentally consigning Bob to a master whose feet would be all the handsomer for boots, I threaded the stile and escaped.
Towards evening I reached London. Who ever saw London for the first time and was not disappointed? Those long suburbs melting indefinably away into the capital forbid all surprise. The gradual is a great disenchanter. I thought it prudent to take a hackney-coach, and so jolted my way to the Hotel, the door of which was in a small street out of the Strand, though the greater part of the building faced that noisy thoroughfare. I found my father in a state of great discomfort in a little room, which he paced up and down like a lion new caught in his cage. My poor mother was full of complaints: for the first time in her life, I found her indisputably crossish. It was an ill time to relate my adventures.
I had enough to do to listen. They had all day been hunting for lodgings in vain. My father's pocket had been picked of a new India handkerchief. Primmins, who ought to know London so well, knew nothing about it, and declared it was turned topsy-turvy, and all the streets had changed names. The new silk umbrella, left for five minutes unguarded in the hall, had been exchanged for an old gingham with three holes in it.
It was not till my mother remembered that if she did not see herself that my bed was well aired I should certainly lose the use of my limbs, and therefore disappeared with Primmins and a pert chambermaid, who seemed to think we gave more trouble than we were worth, that I told my father of my new acquaintance with Mr. Trevanion.
He did not seem to listen to me till I got to the name "Trevanion." He then became very pale, and sat down quietly. "Go on," said he, observing I stopped to look at him.
When I had told all, and given him the kind messages with which I had been charged by husband and wife, he smiled faintly; and then, shading his face with his hand, he seemed to muse, not cheerfully, perhaps, for I heard him sigh once or twice.
"And Ellinor," said he at last, without looking up,—"Lady Ellinor, I mean; she is very—very—"
"Very what, sir?"
"Very handsome still?"
"Handsome! Yes, handsome, certainly; but I thought more of her manner than her face. And then Fanny, Miss Fanny, is so young!"
"Ah!" said my father, murmuring in Greek the celebrated lines of which Pope's translation is familiar to all,—
"'Like leaves on trees, the race of man is found, Now green in youth, now withering on the ground.'
"Well, so they wish to see me. Did Ellinor—Lady Ellinor—say that, or her—her husband?"
"Her husband, certainly; Lady Ellinor rather implied than said it."
"We shall see," said my father. "Open the window; this room is stifling."
I opened the window, which looked on the Strand. The noise, the voices, the trampling feet, the rolling wheels, became loudly audible. My father leaned out for some moments, and I stood by his side. He turned to me with a serene face. "Every ant on the hill," said he, "carries its load, and its home is but made by the burden that it bears. How happy am I! how I should bless God! How light my burden! how secure my home!"
My mother came in as he ceased. He went up to her, put his arm round her waist and kissed her. Such caresses with him had not lost their tender charm by custom: my mother's brow, before somewhat ruffled, grew smooth on the instant. Yet she lifted her eyes to his in soft surprise.
"I was but thinking," said my father, apologetically, "how much I owed you, and how much I love you!"
And now behold us, three days after my arrival, settled in all the state and grandeur of our own house in Russell Street, Bloomsbury, the library of the Museum close at hand. My father spends his mornings in those lata silentia, as Virgil calls the world beyond the grave. And a world beyond the grave we may well call that land of the ghosts,—a book collection.
"Pisistratus," said my father one evening, as he arranged his notes before him and rubbed his spectacles, "Pisistratus, a great library is an awful place! There, are interred all the remains of men since the Flood."
"It is a burial-place!" quoth my Uncle Roland, who had that day found us out.
"Please, not such hard words," said the Captain, shaking his head.
"Heraclea was the city of necromancers, in which they raised the dead. Do want to speak to Cicero?—I invoke him. Do I want to chat in the Athenian market-place, and hear news two thousand years old?—I write down my charm on a slip of paper, and a grave magician calls me up Aristophanes. And we owe all this to our ancest—"
"Ancestors who wrote books; thank you."
Here Roland offered his snuff-box to my father, who, abhorring snuff, benignly imbibed a pinch, and sneezed five times in consequence,—an excuse for Uncle Roland to say, which he did five times, with great unction, "God bless you, brother Austin!"
As soon as my father had recovered himself, he proceeded, with tears in his eyes, but calm as before the interruption—for he was of the philosophy of the Stoics,—
"But it is not that which is awful. It is the presuming to vie with these 'spirits elect;' to say to them, 'Make way,—I too claim place with the chosen. I too would confer with the living, centuries after the death that consumes my dust. I too—' Ah, Pisistratus! I wish Uncle Jack had been at Jericho before he had brought me up to London and placed me in the midst of those rulers of the world!"
I was busy, while my father spoke, in making some pendent shelves for these "spirits elect;" for my mother, always provident where my father's comforts were concerned, had foreseen the necessity of some such accommodation in a hired lodging-house, and had not only carefully brought up to town my little box of tools, but gone out herself that morning to buy the raw materials. Checking the plane in its progress over the smooth deal, "My dear father," said I, "if at the Philhellenic Institute I had looked with as much awe as you do on the big fellows that had gone before me, I should have stayed, to all eternity, the lag of the Infant Division."
"Pisistratus, you are as great an agitator as your namesake," cried my father, smiling. "And so, a fig for the big fellows!"
And now my mother entered in her pretty evening cap, all smiles and good humor, having just arranged a room for Uncle Roland, concluded advantageous negotiations with the laundress, held high council with Mrs. Primmins on the best mode of defeating the extortions of London tradesmen, and, pleased with herself and all the world, she kissed my father's forehead as it bent over his notes, and came to the tea-table, which only waited its presiding deity. My Uncle Roland, with his usual gallantry, started up, kettle in hand (our own urn—for we had one—not being yet unpacked), and having performed with soldier-like method the chivalrous office thus volunteered, he joined me at my employment, and said,—
"There is a better steel for the hands of a well-born lad than a carpenter's plane."
"Aha! Uncle—that depends—"
"Depends! What on?"
"On the use one makes of it. Peter the Great was better employed in making ships than Charles XII. in cutting throats."
"Poor Charles XII.!" said my uncle, sighing pathetically; "a very brave fellow!"
"Pity he did not like the ladies a little better!"
"No man is perfect!" said my uncle, sententiously. "But, seriously, you are now the male hope of the family; you are now-" My uncle stopped, and his face darkened. I saw that he thought of his son,—that mysterious son! And looking at him tenderly, I observed that his deep lines had grown deeper, his iron-gray hair more gray. There was the trace of recent suffering on his face; and though he had not spoken to us a word of the business on which he had left us, it required no penetration to perceive that it had come to no successful issue.
My uncle resumed: "Time out of mind, every generation of our house has given one soldier to his country. I look round now: only one branch is budding yet on the old tree; and—"
"Ah! uncle. But what would they say? Do you think I should not like to be a soldier? Don't tempt me!"
My uncle had recourse to his snuff-box; and at that moment—unfortunately, perhaps, for the laurels that might otherwise have wreathed the brows of Pisistratus of England—private conversation was stopped by the sudden and noisy entrance of Uncle Jack. No apparition could have been more unexpected.
"Here I am, my dear friends. How d'ye do; how are you all? Captain de Caxton, yours heartily. Yes, I am released, thank Heaven! I have given up the drudgery of that pitiful provincial paper. I was not made for it. An ocean in a tea cup! I was indeed! Little, sordid, narrow interests; and I, whose heart embraces all humanity,—you might as well turn a circle into an isolated triangle."
"Isosceles!" said my father, sighing as he pushed aside his notes, and very slowly becoming aware of the eloquence that destroyed all chance of further progress that night in the Great Book. "'Isosceles' triangle, Jack Tibbets, not 'isolated."'
"'Isosceles' or 'isolated,' it is all one," said Uncle Jack, as he rapidly performed three evolutions, by no means consistent with his favorite theory of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number,"—first, he emptied into the cup which he took from my mother's hands half the thrifty contents of a London cream-jug; secondly, he reduced the circle of a muffin, by the abstraction of three triangles, to as nearly an isosceles as possible; and thirdly, striding towards the fire, lighted in consideration of Captain de Caxton, and hooking his coat-tails under his arms while he sipped his tea, he permitted another circle peculiar to humanity wholly to eclipse the luminary it approached.
"'Isolated' or 'isosceles,' it is all the same thing. Alan is made for his fellow-creatures. I had long been disgusted with the interference of those selfish Squirearchs. Your departure decided me. I have concluded negotiations with a London firm of spirit and capital and extended views of philanthropy. On Saturday last I retired from the service of the oligarchy.
"I am now in my true capacity of protector of the million. My prospectus is printed,—here it is in my pocket. Another cup of tea, sister; a little more cream, and another muffin. Shall I ring?" Having disembarrassed himself of his cup and saucer, Uncle Jack then drew forth from his pocket a damp sheet of printed paper. In large capitals stood out "The Anti-Monopoly Gazette; or Popular Champion." He waved it triumphantly before my father's eyes.
"Pisistratus," said my father, "look here. This is the way your Uncle Jack now prints his pats of butter,—a cap of liberty growing out of an open book! Good, Jack! good! good!"
"It is Jacobinical!" exclaimed the Captain.
"Very likely," said my father; "but knowledge and freedom are the best devices in the world to print upon pats of butter intended for the market."
"Pats of butter! I don't understand," said Uncle Jack. "The less you understand, the better will the butter sell, Jack," said my father, settling back to his notes.
Uncle Jack had made up his mind to lodge with us, and my mother found some difficulty in inducing him to comprehend that there was no bed to spare.
"That's unlucky," said he. "I had no sooner arrived in town than I was pestered with invitations; but I refused them all, and kept myself for you."
"So kind in you, so like you!" said my mother; "but you see—"
"Well, then, I must be off and find a room. Don't fret; you know I can breakfast and dine with you all the same,—that is, when my other friends will let me. I shall be dreadfully persecuted." So saying, Uncle Jack repocketed his prospectus and wished us good-night.
The clock had struck eleven, my mother had retired, when my father looked up from his books and returned his spectacles to their case. I had finished my work, and was seated over the fire, thinking now of Fanny Trevanion's hazel eyes, now, with a heart that beat as high at the thought, of campaigns, battle-fields, laurels, and glory; while, with his arms folded on his breast and his head drooping, Uncle Roland gazed into the low clear embers. My father cast his eyes round the room, and after surveying his brother for some moments he said, almost in a whisper,—
"My son has seen the Trevanions. They remember us, Roland."
The Captain sprang to his feet and began whistling,—a habit with him when he was much disturbed.
"And Trevanion wishes to see us. Pisistratus promised to give him our address: shall he do so, Roland?"
"If you like it," answered the Captain, in a military attitude, and drawing himself up till he looked seven feet high.
"I should like it," said my father, mildly. "Twenty years since we met."
"More than twenty," said my uncle, with a stern smile; "and the season was—the fall of the leaf!"
"Man renews the fibre and material of his body every seven years," said my father; "in three times seven years he has time to renew the inner man. Can two passengers in yonder street be more unlike each other than the soul is to the soul after an interval of twenty years? Brother, the plough does not pass over the soil in vain, nor care over the human heart. New crops change the character of the land; and the plough must go deep indeed before it stirs up the mother stone."
"Let us see Trevanion," cried my uncle; then, turning to me, he said abruptly, "What family has he?"
"That must vex the poor, foolish, ambitious man. Oho! you admire this Mr. Trevanion much, eh? Yes, that fire of manner, his fine words, and bold thoughts, were made to dazzle youth."
"Fine words, my dear uncle,—fire! I should have said, in hearing Mr. Trevanion, that his style of conversation was so homely you would wonder how he could have won such fame as a public speaker."
"The plough has passed there," said my father.
"But not the plough of care: rich, famous, Ellinor his wife, and no son!"
"It is because his heart is sometimes sad that he would see us."
Roland stared first at my father, next at me. "Then," quoth my uncle, heartily, "in God's name, let him come. I can shake him by the hand, as I would a brother soldier. Poor Trevanion! Write to him at once, Sisty."
I sat down and obeyed. When I had sealed my letter, I looked up, and saw that Roland was lighting his bed-candle at my father's table; and my father, taking his hand, said something to him in a low voice. I guessed it related to his son, for he shook his head, and answered in a stern, hollow voice, "Renew grief if you please; not shame. On that subject—silence!"
Left to myself in the earlier part of the day, I wandered, wistful and lonely, through the vast wilderness of London. By degrees I familiarized myself with that populous solitude; I ceased to pine for the green fields. That active energy all around, at first saddening, became soon exhilarating, and at last contagious. To an industrious mind, nothing is so catching as industry. I began to grow weary of my golden holiday of unlaborious childhood, to sigh for toil, to look around me for a career. The University, which I had before anticipated with pleasure, seemed now to fade into a dull monastic prospect; after having trod the streets of London, to wander through cloisters was to go back in life. Day by day, my mind grew sensibly within me; it came out from the rosy twilight of boyhood,—it felt the doom of Cain under the broad sun of man.
Uncle Jack soon became absorbed in his new speculation for the good of the human race, and, except at meals (whereat, to do him justice, he was punctual enough, though he did not keep us in ignorance of the sacrifices he made, and the invitations he refused, for our sake), we seldom saw him. The Captain, too, generally vanished after breakfast, seldom dined with us, and it was often late before he returned. He had the latch-key of the house, and let himself in when he pleased. Sometimes (for his chamber was next to mine) his step on the stairs awoke me; and sometimes I heard him pace his room with perturbed strides, or fancied that I caught a low groan. He became every day more care-worn in appearance, and every day the hair seemed more gray. Yet he talked to us all easily and cheerfully; and I thought that I was the only one in the house who perceived the gnawing pangs over which the stout old Spartan drew the decorous cloak.
Pity, blended with admiration, made me curious to learn how these absent days, that brought night so disturbed, were consumed. I felt that, if I could master the Captain's secret, I might win the right both to comfort and to aid.
I resolved at length, after many conscientious scruples, to endeavor to satisfy a curiosity excused by its motives.
Accordingly, one morning, after watching him from the house, I stole in his track, and followed him at a distance.
And this was the outline of his day: he set off at first with a firm stride, despite his lameness, his gaunt figure erect, the soldierly chest well thrown out from the threadbare but speckless coat. First he took his way towards the purlieus of Leicester Square; several times, to and fro, did he pace the isthmus that leads from Piccadilly into that reservoir of foreigners, and the lanes and courts that start thence towards St. Martin's. After an hour or two so passed, the step became more slow; and often the sleek, napless hat was lifted up, and the brow wiped. At length he bent his way towards the two great theatres, paused before the play-bills, as if deliberating seriously on the chances of entertainment they severally proffered, wandered slowly through the small streets that surround those temples of the Muse, and finally emerged into the Strand. There he rested himself for an hour at a small cook-shop; and as I passed the window and glanced within, I could see him seated before the simple dinner, which he scarcely touched, and poring over the advertisement columns of the "Times." The "Times" finished, and a few morsels distastefully swallowed, the Captain put down his shilling in silence, receiving his pence in exchange, and I had just time to slip aside as he reappeared at the threshold. He looked round as he lingered,—but I took care he should not detect me,—and then struck off towards the more fashionable quarters of the town. It was now the afternoon, and, though not yet the season, the streets swarmed with life. As he came into Waterloo Place, a slight but muscular figure buttoned up across the breast like his own cantered by on a handsome bay horse; every eye was on that figure. Uncle Roland stopped short, and lifted his hand to his hat; the rider touched his own with his forefinger, and cantered on; Uncle Roland turned round and gazed.
"Who," I asked of a shop-boy just before me, also staring with all his eyes, "who is that gentleman on horseback?"
"Why, the Duke to be sure," said the boy, contemptuously.
"Thank you," said I, meekly. Uncle Roland had moved on into Regent Street, but with a brisker step: the sight of the old chief had done the old soldier good. Here again he paced to and fro; till I, watching him from the other side of the way, was ready to drop with fatigue, stout walker though I was. But the Captain's day was not half done. He took out his watch, put it to his ear, and then, replacing it, passed into Bond Street, and thence into Hyde Park. There, evidently wearied out, he leaned against the rails, near the bronze statue, in an attitude that spoke despondency. I seated myself on the grass near the statue, and gazed at him: the park was empty compared with the streets, but still there were some equestrian idlers, and many foot-loungers. My uncle's eye turned wistfully on each: once or twice, some gentleman of a military aspect (which I had already learned to detect) stopped, looked at him, approached, and spoke; but the Captain seemed as if ashamed of such greetings. He answered shortly, and turned again.
The day waned,—evening came on; the Captain again looked at his watch, shook his head, and made his way to a bench, where he sat perfectly motionless, his hat over his brows, his arms folded, till up rose the moon. I had tasted nothing since breakfast, I was famished; but I still kept my post like an old Roman sentinel.
At length the Captain rose, and re-entered Piccadilly; but how different his mien and bearing!—languid, stooping; his chest sunk, his head inclined; his limbs dragging one after the other; his lameness painfully perceptible. What a contrast in the broken invalid at night from the stalwart veteran of the morning!
How I longed to spring forward to offer my arm! but I did not dare.
The Captain stopped near a cab-stand. He put his hand in his pocket, he drew out his purse, he passed his fingers over the net-work; the purse slipped again into the pocket, and as if with a heroic effort, my uncle drew up his head and walked on sturdily.
"Where next?" thought I. "Surely home! No, he is pitiless!"
The Captain stopped not till he arrived at one of the small theatres in the Strand; then he read the bill, and asked if half price was begun. "Just begun," was the answer, and the Captain entered. I also took a ticket and followed. Passing by the open doors of a refreshment-room, I fortified myself with some biscuits and soda-water; and in another minute, for the first time in my life, I beheld a play. But the play did not fascinate me. It was the middle of some jocular after piece; roars of laughter resounded round me. I could detect nothing to laugh at, and sending my keen eyes into every corner, I perceived at last, in the uppermost tier, one face as saturnine as my own.—Eureka! It was the Captain's! "Why should he go to a play if he enjoys it so little?" thought I; "better have spent a shilling on a cab, poor old fellow!"
But soon came smart-looking men, and still smarter-looking ladies, around the solitary corner of the poor Captain. He grew fidgety—he rose—he vanished. I left my place, and stood without the box to watch for him. Downstairs he stumped,—I recoiled into the shade; and after standing a moment or two, as in doubt, he entered boldly the refreshment-room or saloon.
Now, since I had left that saloon it had become crowded, and I slipped in unobserved. Strange was it, grotesque yet pathetic, to mark the old soldier in the midst of that gay swarm. He towered above all like a Homeric hero, a head taller than the tallest; and his appearance was so remarkable that it invited the instant attention of the fair. I, in my simplicity, thought it was the natural tenderness of that amiable and penetrating sex, ever quick to detect trouble and anxious to relieve it, which induced three ladies in silk attire—one having a hat and plume, the other two with a profusion of ringlets—to leave a little knot of gentlemen—with whom they were conversing, and to plant themselves before my uncle. I advanced through the press to hear what passed.
"You are looking for some one, I'm sure," quoth one familiarly, tapping his arm with her fan.
The Captain started. "Ma'am, you are not wrong," said he.
"Can I do as well?" said one of those compassionate angels, with heavenly sweetness.
"You are very kind, I thank you; no, no, ma'am," said the Captain with his best bow.
"Do take a glass of negus," said another, as her friend gave way to her. "You seem tired, and so am I. Here, this way;" and she took hold of his arm to lead him to the table. The Captain shook his head mournfully; and then, as if suddenly aware of the nature of the attentions so lavished on him, he looked down upon these fair Armidas with a look of such mild reproach, such sweet compassion,—not shaking off the hand, in his chivalrous devotion to the sex, which extended even to all its outcasts,—that each bold eye felt abashed. The hand was timidly and involuntarily withdrawn from the arm, and my uncle passed his way.
He threaded the crowd, passed out at the farther door, and I, guessing his intention, was in waiting for his steps in the street.
"Now home at last, thank Heaven!" thought I. Mistaken still! My uncle went first towards that popular haunt which I have since discovered is called "the Shades;" but he soon re-emerged, and finally he knocked at the door of a private house in one of the streets out of St. James's. It was opened jealously, and closed as he entered, leaving me without. What could this house be? As I stood and watched, some other men approached: again the low single knock, again the jealous opening and the stealthy entrance.
A policeman passed and re-passed me. "Don't be tempted, young man," said he, looking hard at me: "take my advice, and go home."
"What is that house, then?" said I, with a sort of shudder at this ominous warning.
"Oh! you know."
"Not I. I am new to London."
"It is a hell," said the policeman, satisfied, by my frank manner, that I spoke the truth.
"God bless me,—a what? I could not have heard you rightly!"
"A hell,—a gambling-house!"
"Oh!" and I moved on. Could Captain Roland, the rigid, the thrifty, the penurious, be a gambler? The light broke on me at once: the unhappy father sought his son! I leaned against the post, and tried hard not to sob.
By and by, I heard the door open; the Captain came out and took the way homeward. I ran on before, and got in first, to the inexpressible relief both of father and mother, who had not seen me since breakfast, and who were in equal consternation at my absence. I submitted to be scolded with a good grace. "I had been sight-seeing, and lost my way;" begged for some supper, and slunk to bed; and five minutes afterwards the Captain's jaded step came wearily up the stairs.
"I don't know that," said my father.
What is it my father does not know? My father does not know that "happiness is our being's end and aim."
And pertinent to what does my father reply, by words so sceptical, to an assertion so seldom disputed?
Reader, Mr. Trevanion has been half an hour seated in our little drawing-room. He has received two cups of tea from my mother's fair hand; he has made himself at home. With Mr. Trevanion has come another friend of my father's, whom he has not seen since he left college,—Sir Sedley Beaudesert.
Now, you must understand that it is a warm night, a little after nine o'clock,—a night between departing summer and approaching autumn. The windows are open; we have a balcony, which my mother has taken care to fill with flowers; the air, though we are in London, is sweet and fresh; the street quiet, except that an occasional carriage or hackney cabriolet rolls rapidly by; a few stealthy passengers pass to and fro noiselessly on their way homeward. We are on classic ground,—near that old and venerable Museum, the dark monastic pile which the taste of the age had spared then,—and the quiet of the temple seems to hallow the precincts. Captain Roland is seated by the fire-place, and though there is no fire, he is shading his face with a hand-screen; my father and Mr. Trevanion have drawn their chairs close to each other in the middle of the room; Sir Sedley Beaudesert leans against the wall near the window, and behind my mother, who looks prettier and more pleased than usual since her Austin has his old friends about him; and I, leaning my elbow on the table and my chin upon my hand, am gazing with great admiration on Sir Sedley Beaudesert.
Oh, rare specimen of a race fast decaying,—specimen of the true fine gentleman, ere the word "dandy" was known, and before "exquisite" became a noun substantive,—let me here pause to describe thee! Sir Sedley Beaudesert was the contemporary of Trevanion and my father; but without affecting to be young, he still seemed so. Dress, tone, look, manner,—all were young; yet all had a certain dignity which does not belong to youth. At the age of five and twenty he had won what would have been fame to a French marquis of the old regime; namely, the reputation of being "the most charming man of his day,"—the most popular of our sex, the most favored, my dear lady-reader, by yours. It is a mistake, I believe, to suppose that it does not require talent to become the fashion,—at all events, Sir Sedley was the fashion, and he had talent.
He had travelled much, he had read much,—especially in memoirs, history, and belles-lettres,—he made verses with grace and a certain originality of easy wit and courtly sentiment, he conversed delightfully, he was polished and urbane in manner, he was brave and honorable in conduct; in words he could flatter, in deeds he was sincere.
Sir Sedley Beaudesert had never married. Whatever his years, he was still young enough in looks to be married for love. He was high-born, he was rich, he was, as I have said, popular; yet on his fair features there was an expression of melancholy, and on that forehead—pure from the lines of ambition, and free from the weight of study—there was the shadow of unmistakable regret.
"I don't know that," said my father; "I have never yet found in life one man who made happiness his end and aim. One wants to gain a fortune, another to spend it; one to get a place, another to build a name: but they all know very well that it is not happiness they search for. No Utilitarian was ever actuated by self-interest, poor man, when he sat down to scribble his unpopular crotchets to prove self-interest universal. And as to that notable distinction between self-interest vulgar and self-interest enlightened, the more the self-interest is enlightened, the less we are influenced by it. If you tell the young man who has just written a fine book or made a fine speech that he will not be any happier if he attain to the fame of Milton or the power of Pitt, and that, for the sake of his own happiness, he had much better cultivate a farm, live in the country, and postpone to the last the days of dyspepsia and gout, he will answer you fairly, 'I am quite as sensible of that as you are. But I am not thinking whether or not I shall be happy. I have made up my mind to be, if I can, a great author or a prime minister.' So it is with all the active sons of the world. To push on is the law of Nature. And you can no more say to men and to nations than to children: 'Sit still, and don't wear out your shoes!'"
"Then," said Trevanion, "if I tell you I am not happy, your only answer is that I obey an inevitable law."
"No, I don't say that it is an inevitable law that man should not be happy; but it is an inevitable law that a man, in spite of himself, should live for something higher than his own happiness. He cannot live in himself or for himself, however egotistical he may try to be. Every desire he has links him with others. Man is not a machine,—he is a part of one."
"True, brother, he is a soldier, not an army," said Captain Roland.
"Life is a drama, not a monologue," pursued my father. "'Drama' is derived from a Greek verb signifying 'to do.' Every actor in the drama has something to do, which helps on the progress of the whole: that is the object for which the author created him. Do your part, and let the Great Play get on."
"Ah!" said Trevanion, briskly, "but to do the part is the difficulty. Every actor helps to the catastrophe, and yet must do his part without knowing how all is to end. Shall he help the curtain to fall on a tragedy or a comedy? Come, I will tell you the one secret of my public life, that which explains all its failure (for, in spite of my position, I have failed) and its regrets,—I want Conviction!"
"Exactly," said my father; "because to every question there are two sides, and you look at them both."
"You have said it," answered Trevanion, smiling also. "For public life a man should be one-sided: he must act with a party; and a party insists that the shield is silver, when, if it will take the trouble to turn the corner, it will see that the reverse of the shield is gold. Woe to the man who makes that discovery alone, while his party are still swearing the shield is silver, and that not once in his life, but every night!
"You have said quite enough to convince me that you ought not to belong to a party, but not enough to convince me why you should not be happy," said my father.
"Do you remember," said Sir Sedley Beaudesert, "an anecdote of the first Duke of Portland? He had a gallery in the great stable of his villa in Holland, where a concert was given once a week, to cheer and amuse his horses! I have no doubt the horses thrived all the better for it. What Trevanion wants is a concert once a week. With him it is always saddle and spur. Yet, after all, who would not envy him? If life be a drama, his name stands high in the play-bill, and is printed in capitals on the walls."
"Envy me!" said Trevanion,—"Me! No, you are the enviable man,—you, who have only one grief in the world, and that so absurd a one that I will make you blush by disclosing it. Hear, O sage Austin! O sturdy Roland! Olivares was haunted by a spectre, and Sedley Beaudesert by the dread of old age!"
"Well," said my mother, seriously, "I do think it requires a great sense of religion, or at all events children' of one's own, in whom one is young again, to reconcile oneself to becoming old."
"My dear ma'am," said Sir Sedley, who had slightly colored at Trevanion's charge, but had now recovered his easy self-possession, "you have spoken so admirably that you give me courage to confess my weakness. I do dread to be old. All the joys of my life have been the joys of youth. I have had so exquisite a pleasure in the mere sense of living that old age, as it comes near, terrifies me by its dull eyes and gray hairs. I have lived the life of a butterfly. Summer is over, and I see my flowers withering; and my wings are chilled by the first airs of winter. Yes, I envy Trevanion; for in public life no man is ever young, and while he can work he is never old."
"My dear Beaudesert," said my father, "when Saint Amable, patron saint of Riom, in Auvergne, went to Rome, the sun waited upon him as a servant, carried his cloak and gloves for him in the heat, and kept off the rain, if the weather changed, like an umbrella. You want to put the sun to the same use you are quite right; but then, you see, you must first be a saint before you can be sure of the sun as a servant."
Sir Sedley smiled charmingly; but the smile changed to a sigh as he added, "I don't think I should much mind being a saint, if the sun would be my sentinel instead of my courier. I want nothing of him but to stand still. You see he moved even for Saint Amable. My dear madam, you and I understand each other; and it is a very hard thing to grow old, do what one will to keep young."
"What say you, Roland, of these two malcontents?" asked my father. The Captain turned uneasily in his chair, for the rheumatism was gnawing his shoulder, and sharp pains were shooting through his mutilated limb.
"I say," answered Roland, "that these men are wearied with marching from Brentford to Windsor,—that they have never known the bivouac and the battle."
Both the grumblers turned their eyes to the veteran: the eyes rested first on the furrowed, care-worn lines in his eagle face; then they fell on the stiff outstretched cork limb; and then they turned away.
Meanwhile my mother had softly risen, and under pretence of looking for her work on the table near him, bent over the old soldier and pressed his hand.
"Gentlemen," said my father, "I don't think my brother ever heard of Nichocorus, the Greek comic writer; yet he has illustrated him very ably. Saith Nichocorus, 'The best cure for drunkenness is a sudden calamity.' For chronic drunkenness, a continued course of real misfortune must be very salutary!"
No answer came from the two complainants; and my father took up a great book.
"Mr friends," said my father, looking up from his book, and addressing himself to his two visitors, "know of one thing, milder than calamity, that would do you both a great deal of good."
"What is that?" asked Sir Sedley.
"A saffron bag, worn at the pit of the stomach!"
"Austin, my dear," said my mother, reprovingly.
My father did not heed the interruption, but continued gravely: "Nothing is better for the spirits! Roland is in no want of saffron, because he is a warrior; and the desire of fighting and the hope of victory infuse such a heat into the spirits as is profitable for long life, and keeps up the system."
"Tut!" said Trevanion.
"But gentlemen in your predicament must have recourse to artificial means. Nitre in broth, for instance,—about three grains to ten (cattle fed upon nitre grow fat); or earthy odors,—such as exist in cucumbers and cabbage. A certain great lord had a clod of fresh earth, laid in a napkin, put under his nose every morning after sleep. Light anointing of the head with oil, mixed with roses and salt, is not bade but, upon the whole, I prescribe the saffron bag at the—"
"Sisty, my dear, will you look for my scissors?" said my mother.
"What nonsense are you talking! Question! question!" cried Mr. Trevanion.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed my father, opening his eyes: "I am giving you the advice of Lord Bacon. You want conviction: conviction comes from passion; passion from the spirits; spirits from a saffron bag. You, Beaudesert, on the other hand, want to keep youth. He keeps youth longest, who lives longest. Nothing more conduces to longevity than a saffron bag, provided always it is worn at the—"
"Sisty, my thimble!" said my mother.
"You laugh at us justly," said Beaudesert, smiling; "and the same remedy, I dare say, would cure us both."
"Yes," said my father, "there is no doubt of that. In the pit of the stomach is that great central web of nerves called the ganglions; thence they affect the head and the heart. Mr. Squills proved that to us, Sisty."
"Yes," said I; "but I never heard Mr. Squills talk of a saffron bag."
"Oh, foolish boy! it is not the saffron bag, it is the belief in the saffron bag. Apply Belief to the centre of the nerves, and all will go well," said my father.
"But it is a devil of a thing to have too nice a conscience!" quoth the member of parliament.
"And it is not an angel of a thing to lose one's front teeth!" sighed the fine gentleman.
Therewith my father rose, and putting his hand into his waistcoat, more suo, delivered his famous Sermon Upon The Connection Between Faith And Purpose.
Famous it was in our domestic circle, but as yet it has not gone beyond; and since the reader, I am sure, does not turn to the Caxton Memoirs with the expectation of finding sermons, so to that circle let its fame be circumscribed. All I shall say about it is that it was a very fine sermon, and that it proved indisputably—to me at least—the salubrious effects of a saffron bag applied to the great centre of the nervous system. But the wise Ali saith that "a fool doth not know what maketh him look little, neither will he hearken to him that adviseth him." I cannot assert that my father's friends were fools, but they certainly came under this definition of Folly.
For therewith arose, not conviction, but discussion; Trevanion was logical, Beaudesert sentimental. My father held firm to the saffron bag. When James the First dedicated to the Duke of Buckingham his meditation on the Lord's Prayer, he gave a very sensible reason for selecting his Grace for that honor; "For," saith the king, "it is made upon a very short and plain prayer, and, therefore, the fitter for a courtier, for courtiers are for the most part thought neither to have lust nor leisure to say long prayers, liking best courte messe et long disner." I suppose it was for a similar reason that my father persisted in dedicating to the member of parliament and the fine gentleman "this short and plaine" morality of his,—to wit, the saffron bag. He was evidently persuaded, if he could once get them to apply that, it was all that was needful; that they had neither lust nor leisure for longer instructions. And this saffron bag,—it came down with such a whack, at every round in the argument! You would have thought my father one of the old plebeian combatants in the popular ordeal, who, forbidden to use sword and lance, fought with a sand-bag tied to a flail: a very stunning weapon it was when filled only with sand; but a bag filled with saffron, it was irresistible! Though my father had two to one against him, they could not stand such a deuce of a weapon. And after tats and pishes innumerable from Mr. Trevanion, and sundry bland grimaces from Sir Sedley Beaudesert, they fairly gave in, though they would not own they were beaten.
"Enough," said the member, "I see that you don't comprehend me; I must continue to move by my own impulse."
My father's pet book was the Colloquies of Erasmus; he was wont to say that those Colloquies furnished life with illustrations in every page. Out of the Colloquies of Erasmus he now answered the member.
"Rabirius, wanting his servant Syrus to get up," quoth my father, "cried out to him to move. 'I do move,' said Syrus. 'I see you move,' replied Rabirius, 'but you move nothing.' To return to the saffron bag—"
"Confound the saffron bag!" cried Trevanion, in a rage; and then softening his look as he drew on his gloves, he turned to my mother and said, with more politeness than was natural to, or at least customary with, him,—
"By the way, my dear Mrs. Caxton, I should tell you that Lady Ellinor comes to town to-morrow on purpose to call on you. We shall be here some little time, Austin; and though London is so empty, there are still some persons of note to whom I should like to introduce you and yours—"
"Nay," said my father; "your world and my world are not the same. Books for me, and men for you. Neither Kitty nor I can change our habits, even for friendship: she has a great piece of work to finish, and so have I. Mountains cannot stir, especially when in labor; but Mahomet can come to the mountain as often as he likes."
Mr. Trevanion insisted, and Sir Sedley Beaudesert mildly put in his own claims; both boasted acquaintance with literary men whom my father would, at all events, be pleased to meet. My father doubted whether he could meet any literary men more eloquent than Cicero, or more amusing than Aristophanes; and observed that if such did exist, he would rather meet them in their books than in a drawing-room. In fine, he—was immovable; and so also, with less argument, was Captain Roland.
Then Mr. Trevanion turned to me.
"Your son, at all events, should see something of the world."
My mother's soft eye sparkled.
"My dear friend, I thank you," said my father, touched; "and Pisistratus and I will talk it over."
Our guests had departed. All four of us gathered to the open window, and enjoyed in silence the cool air and the moonlight.
"Austin," said my mother at last, "I fear it is for my sake that you refuse going amongst your old friends: you knew I should be frightened by such fine people, and—"
"And we have been happy for more than eighteen years without them, Kitty! My poor friends are not happy, and we are. To leave well alone is a golden rule worth all in Pythagoras. The ladies of Bubastis, my dear,—a place in Egypt where the cat was worshipped,—always kept rigidly aloof from the gentlemen in Athribis, who adored the shrew-mice. Cats are domestic animals, your shrew-mice are sad gadabouts: you can't find a better model, any Kitty, than the ladies of Bubastis!"
"How Trevanion is altered!" said Roland, musingly,—"he who was so lively and ardent!"
"He ran too fast up-hill at first, and has been out of breath ever since," said my father.
"And Lady Ellinor," said Roland, hesitatingly, "shall you see her to-morrow?"
"Yes!" said my father, calmly.
As Captain Roland spoke, something in the tone of his question seemed to flash a conviction on my mother's heart, the woman there was quick; she drew back, turning pale even in the moonlight, and fixed her eyes on my father, while I felt her hand, which had clasped mine, tremble convulsively.
I understood her. Yes, this Lady Ellinor was the early rival whose name till then she had not known. She fixed her eyes on my father; and at his tranquil tone and quiet look she breathed more freely, and, sliding her hand from mine, rested it fondly on his shoulder. A few moments afterwards, I and Captain Roland found ourselves standing alone by the window.
"You are young, nephew," said the Captain, "and you have the name of a fallen family to raise. Your father does well not to reject for you that opening into the great world which Trevanion offers. As for me, my business in London seems over: I cannot find what I came to seek. I have sent for my daughter; when she arrives I shall return to my old tower, and the man and the ruin will crumble away together."
"Tush, uncle! I must work hard and get money; and then we will repair the old tower and buy back the old estate. My father shall sell the red brick house; we will fit him up a library in the keep; and we will all live united, in peace, and in state, as grand as our ancestors before us."
While I thus spoke, my uncle's eyes were fixed upon a corner of the street, where a figure, half in shade, half in moonlight, stood motionless. "Ah!" said I, following his eye, "I have observed that man two or three times pass up and down the street on the other side of the way and turn his head towards our window. Our guests were with us then, and my father in full discourse, or I should have—"
Before I could finish the sentence my uncle, stifling an exclamation, broke away, hurried out of the room, stumped down the stairs, and was in the street, while I was yet rooted to the spot with surprise. I remained at the window, and my eye rested on the figure. I saw the Captain, with his bare head and his gray hair, cross the street; the figure started, turned the corner, and fled.
Then I followed my uncle, and arrived in time to save him from falling; he leant his head on my breast, and I heard him murmur: "It is he—it is he! He has watched us!—he repents!"
The next day Lady Ellinor called; but, to my great disappointment, without Fanny.
Whether or not some joy at the incident of the previous night had served to rejuvenate my uncle, I know not, but he looked to me ten years younger when Lady Ellinor entered. How carefully the buttoned-up coat was brushed; how new and glossy was the black stock! The poor Captain was restored to his pride, and mighty proud he looked! with a glow on his cheek and a fire in his eye, his head thrown back, and his whole air composed, severe, Mavortian, and majestic, as if awaiting the charge of the French cuirassiers at the head of his detachment.
My father, on the contrary, was as usual (till dinner, when he always dressed punctiliously, out of respect to his Kitty), in his easy morning-gown and slippers; and nothing but a certain compression in his lips, which had lasted all the morning, evinced his anticipation of the visit, or the emotion it caused him.
Lady Ellinor behaved beautifully. She could not conceal a certain nervous trepidation when she first took the hand my father extended; and in touching rebuke of the Captain's stately bow, she held out to him the hand left disengaged, with a look which brought Roland at once to her side. It was a desertion of his colors to which nothing, short of Ney's shameful conduct at Napoleon's return from Elba, affords a parallel in history. Then, without waiting for introduction, and before a word indeed was said, Lady Ellinor came to my mother so cordially, so caressingly; she threw into her smile, voice, manner, such winning sweetness,—that I, intimately learned in my poor mother's simple, loving heart, wondered how she refrained from throwing her arms round Lady Ellinor's neck and kissing her outright. It must have been a great conquest over herself not to do it! My turn came next; and talking to me and about me soon set all parties at their ease,—at least apparently.