"Lord Rainsforth looked at me, when I had done, with a countenance full of affection, but it was not cheerful.
"'My dear Caxton,' said he, tremulously, 'I own that I once wished this,—wished it from the hour I knew you; but why did you so long—I never suspected that—nor, I am sure, did Ellinor.' He stopped short, and added quickly: 'However, go and speak, as you have spoken to me, to Ellinor. Go; it may not yet be too late. And yet—but go.'
"'Too late!'—what meant those words? Lord Rainsforth had turned hastily down another walk, and left me alone, to ponder over an answer which concealed a riddle. Slowly I took my way towards the house and sought Lady Ellinor, half hoping, half dreading to find her alone. There was a little room communicating with a conservatory, where she usually sat in the morning. Thither I took my course. That room,—I see it still!—the walls covered with pictures from her own hand, many were sketches of the haunts we had visited together; the simple ornaments, womanly but not effeminate; the very books on the table, that had been made familiar by dear associations. Yes, there the Tasso, in which we had read together the episode of Clorinda; there the Aeschylus in which I translated to her the 'Prometheus.' Pedantries these might seem to some, pedantries, perhaps, they were; but they were proofs of that congeniality which had knit the man of books to the daughter of the world. That room, it was the home of my heart.
"Such, in my vanity of spirit, methought would be the air round a home to come. I looked about me, troubled and confused, and, halting timidly, I saw Ellinor before me, leaning her face on her hand, her cheek more flushed than usual, and tears in her eyes. I approached in silence, and as I drew my chair to the table, my eye fell on a glove on the floor. It was a man's glove. Do you know," said my father, "that once, when I was very young, I saw a Dutch picture called 'The Glove,' and the subject was of murder? There was a weed-grown, marshy pool, a desolate, dismal landscape, that of itself inspired thoughts of ill deeds and terror. And two men, as if walking by chance, came to this pool; the finger of one pointed to a blood-stained glove, and the eyes of both were fixed on each other, as if there were no need of words. That glove told its tale. The picture had long haunted me in my boyhood, but it never gave me so uneasy and fearful a feeling as did that real glove upon the floor. Why? My dear Pisistratus, the theory of forebodings involves one of those questions on which we may ask 'why' forever. More chilled than I had been in speaking to her father, I took heart at last, and spoke to Ellinor."
My father stopped short; the moon had risen, and was shining full into the room and on his face. And by that light the face was changed; young emotions had brought back youth,—my father looked a young man. But what pain was there! If the memory alone could raise what, after all, was but the ghost of suffering, what had been its living reality! Involuntarily I seized his hand; my father pressed it convulsively, and said with a deep breath: "It was too late; Trevanion was Lady Ellinor's accepted, plighted, happy lover. My dear Katherine, I do not envy him now; look up, sweet wife, look up!"
(1). The anaglyph was peculiar to the Egyptian priests; the hieroglyph generally known to the well educated.
(2). Lucian, The Dream of Micyllus.
"Ellinor (let me do her justice) was shocked at my silent emotion. No human lip could utter more tender sympathy, more noble self-reproach; but that was no balm to my wound. So I left the house; so I never returned to the law; so all impetus, all motive for exertion, seemed taken from my being; so I went back into books. And so a moping, despondent, worthless mourner might I have been to the end of my days, but that Heaven, in its mercy, sent thy mother, Pisistratus, across my path; and day and night I bless God and her, for I have been, and am—oh, indeed, I am a happy man!"
My mother threw herself on my father's breast, sobbing violently, and then turned from the room without a word; my father's eye, swimming in tears, followed her; and then, after pacing the room for some moments in silence, he came up to me, and leaning his arm on my shoulder, whispered, "Can you guess why I have now told you all this, my son?"
"Yes, partly: thank you, father," I faltered, and sat down, for I felt faint.
"Some sons," said my father, seating himself beside me, "would find in their father's follies and errors an excuse for their own; not so will you, Pisistratus."
"I see no folly, no error, sir; only nature and sorrow."
"Pause ere you thus think," said my father. "Great was the folly and great the error of indulging imagination that has no basis, of linking the whole usefulness of my life to the will of a human creature like myself. Heaven did not design the passion of love to be this tyrant; nor is it so with the mass and multitude of human life. We dreamers, solitary students like me, or half-poets like poor Roland, make our own disease. How many years, even after I had regained serenity, as your mother gave me a home long not appreciated, have I wasted! The mainstring of my existence was snapped; I took no note of time. And therefore now, you see, late in life, Nemesis wakes. I look back with regret at powers neglected, opportunities gone. Galvanically I brace up energies half-palsied by disuse; and you see me, rather than rest quiet and good for nothing, talked into what, I dare say, are sad follies, by an Uncle Jack! And now I behold Ellinor again; and I say in wonder: 'All this—all this—all this agony, all this torpor, for that, haggard face, that worldly spirit!' So is it ever in life: mortal things fade; immortal things spring more freshly with every step to the tomb.
"Ah!" continued my father, with a sigh, "it would not have been so if at your age I had found out the secret of the saffron bag!"
"And Roland, sir," said I, "how did he take it?"
"With all the indignation of a proud, unreasonable man; more indignant, poor fellow, for me than himself. And so did he wound and gall me by what he said of Ellinor, and so did he rage against me because I would not share his rage, that again we quarrelled. We parted, and did not meet for many years. We came into sudden possession of our little fortunes. His he devoted (as you may know) to the purchase of the old ruins and the commission in the army, which had always been his dream; and so went his way, wrathful. My share gave me an excuse for indolence,—it satisfied all my wants; and when my old tutor died, and his young child became my ward, and, somehow or other, from my ward my wife, it allowed me to resign my fellowship and live amongst my books, still as a book myself. One comfort, somewhat before my marriage, I had conceived; and that, too, Roland has since said was comfort to him,—Ellinor became an heiress. Her poor brother died, and all of the estate that did not pass in the male line devolved on her. That fortune made a gulf between us almost as wide as her marriage. For Ellinor poor and portionless, in spite of her rank, I could have worked, striven, slaved; but Ellinor Rich! it would have crushed me. This was a comfort. But still, still the past,—that perpetual aching sense of something that had seemed the essential of life withdrawn from life evermore, evermore! What was left was not sorrow,—it was a void. Had I lived more with men, and less with dreams and books, I should have made my nature large enough to bear the loss of a single passion. But in solitude we shrink up. No plant so much as man needs the sun and the air. I comprehend now why most of our best and wisest men have lived in capitals; and therefore again I say, that one scholar in a family is enough. Confiding in your sound heart and strong honor, I turn you thus betimes on the world. Have I done wrong? Prove that I have not, my child. Do you know what a very good man has said? Listen and follow my precept, not example.
"The state of the world is such, and so much depends on action, that everything seems to say aloud to every man, 'Do something—do it—do it!'"
I was profoundly touched, and I rose refreshed and hopeful, when suddenly the door opened, and who or what in the world should come in—But certainly he, she, it, or they shall not come into this chapter! On that point I am resolved. No, my dear young lady, I am extremely flattered, I feel for your curiosity; but really not a peep,—not one! And yet—Well, then, if you will have it, and look so coaxingly—Who or what, I say, should come in abrupt, unexpected—taking away one's breath, not giving one time to say, "By your leave, or with your leave," but making one's mouth stand open with surprise, and one's eyes fix in a big round stupid stare—but—
There entered, in the front drawing-room of my father's house in Russell Street, an Elf! clad in white,—small, delicate, with curls of jet over her shoulders; with eyes so large and so lustrous that they shone through the room as no eyes merely human could possibly shine. The Elf approached, and stood facing us. The sight was so unexpected and the apparition so strange that we remained for some moments in startled silence. At length my father, as the bolder and wiser man of the two, and the more fitted to deal with the eerie things of another world, had the audacity to step close up to the little creature, and, bending down to examine its face, said, "What do you want, my pretty child?"
Pretty child! Was it only a pretty child after all? Alas! it would be well if all we mistake for fairies at the first glance could resolve themselves only into pretty children.
"Come," answered the child, with a foreign accent, and taking my father by the lappet of his coat, "come, poor papa is so ill! I am frightened! come, and save him."
"Certainly," exclaimed my father, quickly. "Where's my hat, Sisty? Certainly, my child; we will go and save papa."
"But who is papa?" asked Pisistratus,—a question that would never have occurred to my father. He never asked who or what the sick papas of poor children were when the children pulled him by the lappet of his coat. "Who is papa?"
The child looked hard at me, and the big tears rolled from those large, luminous eyes, but quite silently. At this moment a full-grown figure filled up the threshold, and emerging from the shadow, presented to us the aspect of a stout, well-favored young woman. She dropped a courtesy, and then said, mincingly,—
"Oh, miss, you ought to have waited for me, and not alarmed the gentlefolks by running upstairs in that way! If you please, sir, I was settling with the cabman, and he was so imperent,—them low fellows always are, when they have only us poor women to deal with, sir, and—"
"But what is the matter?" cried I, for my father had taken the child in his arms soothingly, and she was now weeping on his breast.
"Why, you see, sir [another courtesy], the gent only arrived last night at our hotel, sir,—the Lamb, close by Lunnun Bridge,—and he was taken ill, and he's not quite in his right mind like; so we sent for the doctor, and the doctor looked at the brass plate on the gent's carpet-bag, sir, and then he looked into the 'Court Guide,' and he said, 'There is a Mr. Caxton in Great Russell Street,—is he any relation?' and this young lady said, 'That's my papa's brother, and we were going there.' And so, sir, as the Boots was out, I got into a cab, and miss would come with me, and—"
"Roland—Roland ill! Quick, quick, quick!" cried my father, and with the child still in his arms he ran down the stairs. I followed with his hat, which of course he had forgotten. A cab, by good luck, was passing our very door; but the chambermaid would not let us enter it till she had satisfied herself that it was not the same she had dismissed. This preliminary investigation completed, we entered and drove to the Lamb.
The chambermaid, who sat opposite, passed the time in ineffectual overtures to relieve my father of the little girl,—who still clung nestling to his breast,—in a long epic, much broken into episodes, of the causes which had led to her dismissal of the late cabman, who, to swell his fare, had thought proper to take a "circumbendibus!"—and with occasional tugs at her cap, and smoothings down of her gown, and apologies for being such a figure, especially when her eyes rested on my satin cravat, or drooped on my shining boots.
Arrived at the Lamb, the chambermaid, with conscious dignity, led us up a large staircase, which seemed interminable. As she mounted the region above the third story, she paused to take breath and inform us, apologetically, that the house was full, but that if the "gent" stayed over Friday, he would be moved into No. 54, "with a look-out and a chimbly." My little cousin now slipped from my father's arms, and, running up the stairs, beckoned to us to follow. We did so, and were led to a door, at which the child stopped and listened; then, taking off her shoes, she stole in on tiptoe. We entered after her.
By the light of a single candle we saw my poor uncle's face; it was flushed with fever, and the eyes had that bright, vacant stare which it is so terrible to meet. Less terrible is it to find the body wasted, the features sharp with the great life-struggle, than to look on the face from which the mind is gone,—the eyes in which there is no recognition. Such a sight is a startling shock to that unconscious habitual materialism with which we are apt familiarly to regard those we love; for in thus missing the mind, the heart, the affection that sprang to ours, we are suddenly made aware that it was the something within the form, and not the form itself, that was so dear to us. The form itself is still, perhaps, little altered; but that lip which smiles no welcome, that eye which wanders over us as strangers, that ear which distinguishes no more our voices,—the friend we sought is not there! Even our own love is chilled back; grows a kind of vague, superstitious terror. Yes, it was not the matter, still present to us, which had conciliated all those subtle, nameless sentiments which are classed and fused in the word "affection;" it was the airy, intangible, electric something, the absence of which now appals us.
I stood speechless; my father crept on, and took the hand that returned no pressure. The child only did not seem to share our emotions, but, clambering on the bed, laid her cheek on the breast, and was still.
"Pisistratus," whispered my father at last, and I stole near, hushing my breath,—"Pisistratus, if your mother were here!"
I nodded; the same thought had struck us both. His deep wisdom, my active youth, both felt their nothingness then and there. In the sick chamber both turned helplessly to miss the woman.
So I stole out, descended the stairs, and stood in the open air in a sort of stunned amaze. Then the tramp of feet, and the roll of wheels, and the great London roar, revived me. That contagion of practical life which lulls the heart and stimulates the brain,—what an intellectual mystery there is in its common atmosphere! In another moment I had singled out, like an inspiration, from a long file of those ministrants of our Trivia, the cab of the lightest shape and with the strongest horse, and was on my way, not to my mother's, but to Dr. M—H—, Manchester Square, whom I knew as the medical adviser to the Trevanions. Fortunately, that kind and able physician was at home, and he promised to be with the sufferer before I myself could join him. I then drove to Russell Street, and broke to my mother, as cautiously as I could, the intelligence with which I was charged.
When we arrived at the Lamb, we found the doctor already writing his prescription and injunctions: the activity of the treatment announced the clanger. I flew for the surgeon who had been before called in. Happy those who are strange to that indescribable silent bustle which the sick-room at times presents,—that conflict which seems almost hand to hand between life and death,—when all the poor, unresisting, unconscious frame is given up to the war against its terrible enemy the dark blood flowing, flowing; the hand on the pulse, the hushed suspense, every look on the physician's bended brow; then the sinapisms to the feet, and the ice to the head; and now and then, through the lull of the low whispers, the incoherent voice of the sufferer,—babbling, perhaps, of green fields and fairyland, while your hearts are breaking! Then, at length, the sleep,—in that sleep, perhaps, the crisis,—the breathless watch, the slow waking, the first sane words, the old smile again, only fainter, your gushing tears, your low "Thank God thank God!"
Picture all this! It is past; Roland has spoken, his sense has returned; my mother is leaning over him; his child's small hands are clasped round his neck; the surgeon, who has been there six hours, has taken up his hat, and smiles gayly as he nods farewell; and my father is leaning against the wall, his face covered with his hands.
All this had been so sudden that, to use the trite phrase,—for no other is so expressive,—it was like a dream. I felt an absolute, an imperious want of solitude, of the open air. The swell of gratitude almost stifled me; the room did not seem large enough for my big heart. In early youth, if we find it difficult to control our feelings, so we find it difficult to vent them in the presence of others. On the spring side of twenty, if anything affects us, we rush to lock ourselves up in our room, or get away into the streets or the fields; in our earlier years we are still the savages of Nature, and we do as the poor brute does: the wounded stag leaves the herd, and if there is anything on a dog's faithful heart, he slinks away into a corner.
Accordingly, I stole out of the hotel and wandered through the streets, which were quite deserted. It was about the first hour of dawn,—the most comfortless hour there is, especially in London! But I only felt freshness in the raw air, and soothing in the desolate stillness. The love my uncle inspired was very remarkable in its nature; it was not like that quiet affection with which those advanced in life must usually content themselves, but connected with the more vivid interest that youth awakens. There was in him still so much of viva, city and fire, in his errors and crotchets so much of the self-delusion of youth, that one could scarce fancy him other than young. Those Quixotic, exaggerated notions of honor, that romance of sentiment which no hardship, care, grief, disappointment, could wear away (singular in a period when, at two and twenty, young men declare themselves blases!), seemed to leave him all the charm of boyhood. A season in London had made me more a man of the world, older in heart than he was. Then, the sorrow that gnawed him with such silent sternness. No, Captain Roland was one of those men who seize hold of your thoughts, who mix themselves up with your lives. The idea that Roland should die,—die with the load at his heart unlightened,—was one that seemed to take a spring out of the wheels of nature, all object out of the aims of life,—of my life at least. For I had made it one of the ends of my existence to bring back the son to the father, and restore the smile, that must have been gay once, to the downward curve of that iron lip. But Roland was now out of danger; and yet, like one who has escaped shipwreck, I trembled to look back on the danger past: the voice of the devouring deep still boomed in my ears. While rapt in my reveries, I stopped mechanically to hear a clock strike—four; and, looking round, I perceived that I had wandered from the heart of the City, and was in one of the streets that lead out of the Strand. Immediately before me, on the doorsteps of a large shop whose closed shutters were as obstinate a stillness as if they had guarded the secrets of seventeen centuries in a street in Pompeii, reclined a form fast asleep, the arm propped on the hard stone supporting the head, and the limbs uneasily strewn over the stairs. The dress of the slumberer was travel-stained, tattered, yet with the remains of a certain pretence; an air of faded, shabby, penniless gentility made poverty more painful, because it seemed to indicate unfitness to grapple with it. The face of this person was hollow and pale, but its expression, even in sleep, was fierce and hard. I drew near and nearer; I recognized the countenance, the regular features, the raven hair, even a peculiar gracefulness of posture: the young man whom I had met at the inn by the way-side, and who had left me alone with the Savoyard and his mice in the churchyard, was before me. I remained behind the shadow of one of the columns of the porch, leaning against the area rails, and irresolute whether or not so slight an acquaintance justified me in waking the sleeper, when a policeman, suddenly emerging from an angle in the street, terminated my deliberations with the decision of his practical profession; for he laid hold of the young man's arm and shook it roughly: "You must not lie here; get up and go home!" The sleeper woke with a quick start, rubbed his eyes, looked round, and fixed them upon the policeman so haughtily that that discriminating functionary probably thought that it was not from sheer necessity that so improper a couch had been selected, and with an air of greater respect he said, "You have been drinking, young man,—can you find your way home?"
"Yes," said the youth, resettling himself, "you see I have found it!"
"By the Lord Harry!" muttered the policeman, "if he ben't going to sleep again. Come, come, walk on; or I must walk you off."
My old acquaintance turned round. "Policeman," said he, with a strange sort of smile, "what do you think this lodging is worth,—I don't say for the night, for you see that is over, but for the next two hours? The lodging is primitive, but it suits me; I should think a shilling would be a fair price for it, eh?"
"You love your joke, sir," said the policeman, with a brow much relaxed, and opening his hand mechanically.
"Say a shilling, then; it is a bargain! I hire it of you upon credit. Good night, and call me at six o'clock."
With that the young man settled himself so resolutely, and the policeman's face exhibited such bewilderment, that I burst out laughing, and came from my hiding-place.
The policeman looked at me. "Do you know this—this—"
"This gentleman?" said I, gravely. "Yes, you may leave him to me;" and I slipped the price of the lodging into the policeman's hand. He looked at the shilling, he looked at me, he looked up the street and down the street, shook his head, and walked off. I then approached the youth, touched him, and said: "Can you remember me, sir; and what have you done with Mr. Peacock?"
Stranger (after a pause).—"I remember you; your name is Caxton."
Stranger.—"Poor devil, if you ask my pockets,—pockets, which are the symbols of man; Dare-devil, if you ask my heart. [Surveying me from head to foot.] The world seems to have smiled on you, Mr. Caxton! Are you not ashamed to speak to a wretch lying on the stones? but, to be sure, no one sees you."
Pisistratus (sententiously).—"Had I lived in the last century, I might have found Samuel Johnson lying on the stones."
Stranger (rising).—"You have spoilt my sleep: you had a right, since you paid for the lodging. Let me walk with you a few paces; you need not fear, I do not pick pockets—yet!"
Pisistratus.—"You say the world has smiled on me; I fear it has frowned on you. I don't say 'courage,' for you seem to have enough of that; but I say 'patience,' which is the rarer quality of the two."
Stranger.—"Hem! [again looking at me keenly.] Why is it that you stop to speak to me,—one of whom you know nothing, or worse than nothing?"
Pisistratus.—"Because I have often thought of you; because you interest me; because—pardon me—I would help you if I can,—that is, if you want help."
Stranger.—"Want? I am one want! I want sleep, I want food; I want the patience you recommend,—patience to starve and rot. I have travelled from Paris to Boulogne on foot, with twelve sous in my pocket. Out of those twelve sous in my pocket I saved four; with the four I went to a billiard-room at Boulogne: I won just enough to pay my passage and buy three rolls. You see I only require capital in order to make a fortune. If with four sous I can win ten francs in a night, what could I win with a capital of four sovereigns, and in the course of a year? That is an application of the Rule of Three which my head aches too much to calculate just at present. Well, those three rolls have lasted me three days; the last crumb went for supper last night. Therefore, take care how you offer me money (for that is what men mean by help). You see I have no option but to take it. But I warn you, don't expect gratitude; I have none in me!"
Pisistratus.—"You are not so bad as you paint yourself. I would do something more for you, if I can, than lend you the little I have to offer. Will you be frank with me?"
Stranger.—"That depends; I have been frank enough hitherto, I think."
Pisistratus.—"True; so I proceed without scruple. Don't tell me your name or your condition, if you object to such confidence; but tell me if you have relations to whom you can apply? You shake your head. Well, then, are you willing to work for yourself, or is it only at the billiard-table—pardon me—that you can try to make four sous produce ten francs?"
Stranger (musing).—"I understand you. I have never worked yet,—I abhor work. But I have no objection to try if it is in me."
Pisistratus.—"It is in you. A man who can walk from Paris to Boulogne with twelve sous in his pocket and save four for a purpose; who can stake those four on the cool confidence in his own skill, even at billiards; who can subsist for three days on three rolls; and who, on the fourth day, can wake from the stones of a capital with an eye and a spirit as proud as yours,—has in him all the requisites to subdue fortune."
Stranger.—"Do you work—you?"
Stranger.—"I am ready to work, then."
Pisistratus.—"Good. Now, what can you do?"
Stranger (with his odd smile).—"Many things useful. I can split a bullet on a penknife; I know the secret tierce of Coulon, the fencing-master; I can speak two languages (besides English) like a native, even to their slang; I know every game in the cards; I can act comedy, tragedy, farce; I can drink down Bacchus himself; I can make any woman I please in love with me,—that is, any woman good for nothing. Can I earn a handsome livelihood out of all this,—wear kid gloves and set up a cabriolet? You see my wishes are modest!"
Pisistratus.—"You speak two languages, you say, like a native,—French, I suppose, is one of them?"
Pisistratus.—"Will you teach it?"
Stranger (haughtily). "No. Je suis gentilhomme, which means more or less than a gentleman. Gentilhomme means well born, because free born; teachers are slaves!"
Pisistratus (unconsciously imitating Mr. Trevanion).—"Stuff!"
Stranger (looks angry, and then laughs).—"Very true; stilts don't suit shoes like these! But I cannot teach. Heaven help those I should teach! Anything else?"
Pisistratus.—"Anything else!—you leave me a wide margin. You know French thoroughly,—to write as well as speak? That is much. Give me some address where I can find you,—or will you call on me?"
Stranger.—"No! Any evening at dusk I will meet you. I have no address to give, and I cannot show these rags at another man's door."
Pisistratus.—"At nine in the evening, then, and here in the Strand, on Thursday next. I may then have found some thing that will suit you. Meanwhile—" slides his purse into the Stranger's hand. N. B.—Purse not very full.
Stranger, with the air of one conferring a favor, pockets the purse; and there is something so striking in the very absence of all emotion at so accidental a rescue from starvation that Pisistratus exclaims,—
"I don't know why I should have taken this fancy to you, Mr. Dare-devil, if that be the name that pleases you best. The wood you are made of seems cross-grained, and full of knots; and yet, in the hands of a skilful carver, I think it would be worth much."
Stranger (startled).—"Do you? Do you? None, I believe, ever thought that before. But the same wood, I suppose, that makes the gibbet could make the mast of a man-of-war. I tell you, however, why you have taken this fancy to me,—the strong sympathize with the strong. You, too, could subdue fortune!"
Pisistratus.—"Stop! If so, if there is congeniality between us, then liking should be reciprocal. Come, say that; for half my chance of helping you is in my power to touch your heart."
Stranger (evidently softened).—"If I were as great a rogue as I ought to be, my answer would be easy enough. As it is, I delay it. Adieu.—On Thursday."
Stranger vanishes in the labyrinth of alleys round Leicester Square.
On my return to the Lamb, I found that my uncle was in a soft sleep; and after a morning visit from the surgeon, and his assurance that the fever was fast subsiding, and all cause for alarm was gone, I thought it necessary to go back to Trevanion's house and explain the reason for my night's absence. But the family had not returned from the country. Trevanion himself came up for a few hours in the afternoon, and seemed to feel much for my poor uncle's illness. Though, as usual, very busy, he accompanied me to the Lamb to see my father and cheer him up. Roland still continued to mend, as the surgeon phrased it; and as we went back to St. James's Square, Trevanion had the consideration to release me from my oar in his galley for the next few days. My mind, relieved from my anxiety for Roland, now turned to my new friend. It had not been without an object that I had questioned the young man as to his knowledge of French. Trevanion had a large correspondence in foreign countries which was carried on in that language; and here I could be but of little help to him. He himself, though he spoke and wrote French with fluency and grammatical correctness, wanted that intimate knowledge of the most delicate and diplomatic of all languages to satisfy his classical purism.
For Trevanion was a terrible word-weigher. His taste was the plague of my life and his own. His prepared speeches (or rather perorations) were the most finished pieces of cold diction that could be conceived under the marble portico of the Stoics,—so filed and turned, trimmed and tamed, that they never admitted a sentence that could warm the heart, or one that could offend the ear. He had so great a horror of a vulgarism that, like Canning, he would have made a periphrasis of a couple of lines to avoid using the word "cat." It was only in extempore speaking that a ray of his real genius could indiscreetly betray itself. One may judge what labor such a super-refinement of taste would inflict upon a man writing in a language not his own to some distinguished statesman or some literary institution,—knowing that language just well enough to recognize all the native elegances he failed to attain. Trevanion at that very moment was employed upon a statistical document intended as a communication to a Society at Copenhagen of which he was all honorary member. It had been for three weeks the torment of the whole house, especially of poor Fanny (whose French was the best at our joint disposal). But Trevanion had found her phraseology too mincing, too effeminate, too much that of the boudoir. Here, then, was an opportunity to introduce my new friend and test the capacities that I fancied he possessed. I therefore, though with some hesitation, led the subject to "Remarks on the Mineral Treasures of Great Britain and Ireland" (such was the title of the work intended to enlighten the savants of Denmark); and by certain ingenious circumlocutions, known to all able applicants, I introduced my acquaintance with a young gentleman who possessed the most familiar and intimate knowledge of French, and who might be of use in revising the manuscript. I knew enough of Trevanion to feel that I could not reveal the circumstances under which I had formed that acquaintance, for he was much too practical a man not to have been frightened out of his wits at the idea of submitting so classical a performance to so disreputable a scapegrace. As it was, however, Trevanion, whose mind at that moment was full of a thousand other things, caught at my suggestion, with very little cross-questioning on the subject, and before he left London consigned the manuscript to my charge.
"My friend is poor," said I, timidly.
"Oh! as to that," cried Trevanion, hastily, "if it be a matter of charity, I put my purse in your hands; but don't put my manuscript in his! If it be a matter of business, it is another affair; and I must judge of his work before I can say how much it is worth,—perhaps nothing!"
So ungracious was this excellent man in his very virtues!
"Nay," said I, "it is a matter of business, and so we will consider it."
"In that case," said Trevanion, concluding the matter and buttoning his pockets, "if I dislike his work,—nothing; if I like it,—twenty guineas. Where are the evening papers?" and in another moment the member of Parliament had forgotten the statist, and was pishing and tutting over the "Globe" or the "Sun."
On Thursday my uncle was well enough to be moved into our house; and on the same evening I went forth to keep my appointment with the stranger. The clock struck nine as we met. The palm of punctuality might be divided between us. He had profited by the interval, since our last meeting, to repair the more obvious deficiencies of his wardrobe; and though there was something still wild, dissolute, outlandish, about his whole appearance, yet in the elastic energy of his step and the resolute assurance of his bearing there was that which Nature gives to her own aristocracy: for, as far as my observation goes, what has been called the "grand air" (and which is wholly distinct from the polish of manner or the urbane grace of high breeding) is always accompanied, and perhaps produced, by two qualities,—courage, and the desire of command. It is more common to a half-savage nature than to one wholly civilized. The Arab has it, so has the American Indian; and I suspect that it was more frequent among the knights and barons of the Middle Ages than it is among the polished gentlemen of the modern drawing-room.
We shook hands, and walked on a few moments in silence; at length thus commenced the Stranger,—
"You have found it more difficult, I fear, than you imagined, to make the empty sack stand upright. Considering that at least one third of those born to work cannot find it, why should I?"
Pisistratus.—"I am hard-hearted enough to believe that work never fails to those who seek it in good earnest. It was said of some man, famous for keeping his word, that 'if he had promised you an acorn, and all the oaks in England failed to produce one, he would have sent to Norway for an acorn.' If I wanted work, and there was none to be had in the Old World, I would find my way to the New. But to the point: I have found something for you, which I do not think your taste will oppose, and which may open to you the means of an honorable independence. But I cannot well explain it in the streets: where shall we go?"
Stranger (after some hesitation).—"I have a lodging near here which I need not blush to take you to,—I mean, that it is not among rogues and castaways."
Pisistratus (much pleased, and taking the stranger's arm).—"Come, then."
Pisistratus and the stranger pass over Waterloo Bridge and pause before a small house of respectable appearance. Stranger admits them both with a latch-key, leads the way to the third story, strikes a light, and does the honors to a small chamber, clean and orderly. Pisistratus explains the task to be done, and opens the manuscript. The stranger draws his chair deliberately towards the light and runs his eye rapidly over the pages. Pisistratus trembles to see him pause before a long array of figures and calculations. Certainly it does not look inviting; but, pshaw! it is scarcely a part of the task, which limits itself to the mere correction of words.
Stranger (briefly).—"There must be a mistake here—stay!—I see—" (He turns back a few pages and corrects with rapid precision an error in a somewhat complicated and abstruse calculation.)
Pisistratus (surprised).—"You seem a notable arithmetician."
Stranger.—"Did I not tell you that I was skilful in all games of mingled skill and chance? It requires an arithmetical head for that: a first-rate card-player is a financier spoilt. I am certain that you never could find a man fortunate on the turf or at the gaining-table who had not an excellent head for figures. Well, this French is good enough, apparently; there are but a few idioms, here and there, that, strictly speaking, are more English than French. But the whole is a work scarce worth paying for!"
Pisistratus.—"The work of the head fetches a price not proportioned to the quantity, but the quality. When shall I call for this?"
Stranger.—"To-morrow." (And he puts the manuscript away in a drawer.)
We then conversed on various matters for nearly an hour; and my impression of this young man's natural ability was confirmed and heightened. But it was an ability as wrong and perverse in its directions or instincts as a French novelist's. He seemed to have, to a high degree, the harder portion of the reasoning faculty, but to be almost wholly without that arch beautifier of character, that sweet purifier of mere intellect,—the imagination; for though we are too much taught to be on our guard against imagination, I hold it, with Captain Roland, to be the divinest kind of reason we possess, and the one that leads us the least astray. In youth, indeed, it occasions errors, but they are not of a sordid or debasing nature. Newton says that one final effect of the comets is to recruit the seas and the planets by a condensation of the vapors and exhalations therein; and so even the erratic flashes of an imagination really healthful and vigorous deepen our knowledge and brighten our lights; they recruit our seas and our stars. Of such flashes my new friend was as innocent as the sternest matter-of-fact person could desire. Fancies he had in profusion, and very bad ones; but of imagination not a scintilla! His mind was one of those which live in a prison of logic, and cannot, or will not, see beyond the bars such a nature is at once positive and sceptical. This boy had thought proper to decide at once on the numberless complexities of the social world from his own harsh experience.
With him the whole system was a war and a cheat. If the universe were entirely composed of knaves, he would be sure to have made his way. Now this bias of mind, alike shrewd and unamiable, might be safe enough if accompanied by a lethargic temper; but it threatened to become terrible and dangerous in one who, in default of imagination, possessed abundance of passion: and this was the case with the young outcast. Passion, in him, comprehended many of the worst emotions which militate against human happiness. You could not contradict him but you raised quick choler; you could not speak of wealth, but the cheek paled with gnawing envy. The astonishing natural advantages of this poor boy his beauty, his readiness, the daring spirit that breathed around him like a fiery atmosphere—had raised his constitutional self-confidence into an arrogance that turned his very claims to admiration into prejudices against him. Irascible, envious, arrogant,—bad enough, but not the worst, for these salient angles were all varnished over with a cold, repellent cynicism,—his passions vented themselves in sneers. There seemed in him no moral susceptibility, and, what was more remarkable in a proud nature, little or nothing of the true point of honor. He had, to a morbid excess, that desire to rise which is vulgarly called "ambition," but no apparent wish for fame or esteem or the love of his species; only the hard wish to succeed, not shine, not serve,—succeed, that he might have the right to despise a world which galled his self-conceit, and enjoy the pleasures which the redundant nervous life in him seemed to crave. Such were the more patent attributes of a character that, ominous as it was, yet interested me, and yet appeared to me to be redeemable,—nay, to have in it the rude elements of a certain greatness. Ought we not to make something great out of a youth, under twenty, who has, in the highest degree, quickness to conceive and courage to execute? On the other hand, all faculties that can make greatness, contain those that can attain goodness. In the savage Scandinavian or the ruthless Frank lay the germs of a Sidney or a Bayard. What would the best of us be if he were suddenly placed at war with the whole world? And this fierce spirit was at war with the whole world,—a war self-sought, perhaps, but it was war not the less. You must surround the savage with peace, if you want the virtues of peace.
I cannot say that it was in a single interview and conference that I came to these convictions; but I am rather summing up the impressions which I received as I saw more of this person, whose destiny I presumed to take under my charge.
In going away, I said, "But at all events you have a name in your lodgings: whom am I to ask for when I call tomorrow?"
"Oh! you may know my name now," said he smiling, "it is Vivian,—Francis Vivian."
I remember one morning, when a boy, loitering by an old wall to watch the operations of a garden spider whose web seemed to be in great request. When I first stopped, she was engaged very quietly with a fly of the domestic species, whom she managed with ease and dignity. But just when she was most interested in that absorbing employment came a couple of May-flies, and then a gnat, and then a blue-bottle,—all at different angles of the web. Never was a poor spider so distracted by her good fortune! She evidently did not know which godsend to take first. The aboriginal victim being released, she slid half-way towards the May-flies; then one of her eight eyes caught sight of the blue-bottle, and she shot off in that direction,—when the hum of the gnat again diverted her; and in the middle of this perplexity, pounce came a young wasp in a violent passion! Then the spider evidently lost her presence of mind; she became clean demented; and after standing, stupid and stock-still, in the middle of her meshes for a minute or two, she ran off to her hole as fast as she could run, and left her guests to shift for themselves. I confess that I am somewhat in the dilemma of the attractive and amiable insect I have just described. I got on well enough while I had only my domestic fly to see after. But now that there is something fluttering at every end of my net (and especially since the advent of that passionate young wasp, who is fuming and buzzing in the nearest corner), I am fairly at a loss which I should first grapple with; and alas! unlike the spider, I have no hole where I can hide myself, and let the web do the weaver's work. But I will imitate the spider as far as I can; and while the rest hum and struggle away their impatient, unnoticed hour, I will retreat into the inner labyrinth of my own life.
The illness of my uncle and my renewed acquaintance with Vivian had naturally sufficed to draw my thoughts from the rash and unpropitious love I had conceived for Fanny Trevanion. During the absence of the family from London (and they stayed some time longer than had been expected), I had leisure, however, to recall my father's touching history, and the moral it had so obviously preached to me; and I formed so many good resolutions that it was with an untrembling hand that I welcomed Miss Trevanion at last to London, and with a firm heart that I avoided, as much as possible, the fatal charm of her society. The slow convalescence of my uncle gave me a just excuse to discontinue our rides. What time Trevanion spared me, it was natural that I should spend with my family. I went to no balls nor parties; I even absented myself from Trevanion's periodical dinners. Miss Trevanion at first rallied me on my seclusion, with her usual lively malice. But I continued worthily to complete my martyrdom. I took care that no reproachful look at the gayety that wrung my soul should betray my secret. Then Fanny seemed either hurt or disdainful, and avoided altogether entering her father's study; all at once, she changed her tactics, and was seized with a strange desire for knowledge, which brought her into the room to look for a book, or ask a question, ten times a day. I was proof to all. But, to speak truth, I was profoundly wretched. Looking back now, I am dismayed at the remembrance of my own sufferings: my health became seriously affected; I dreaded alike the trial of the day and the anguish of the night. My only distractions were in my visits to Vivian and my escape to the dear circle of home. And that home was my safeguard and preservative in that crisis of my life; its atmosphere of unpretended honor and serene virtue strengthened all my resolutions; it braced me for my struggles against the strongest passion which youth admits, and counteracted the evil vapors of that air in which Vivian's envenomed spirit breathed and moved. Without the influence of such a home, if I had succeeded in the conduct that probity enjoined towards those in whose house I was a trusted guest, I do not think I could have resisted the contagion of that malign and morbid bitterness against fate and the world which love, thwarted by fortune, is too inclined of itself to conceive, and in the expression of which Vivian was not without the eloquence that belongs to earnestness, whether in truth or falsehood. But, somehow or other, I never left the little room that contained the grand suffering in the face of the veteran soldier, whose lip, often quivering with anguish, was never heard to murmur, and the tranquil wisdom which had succeeded my father's early trials (trials like my own), and the loving smile on my mother's tender face, and the innocent childhood of Blanche (by which name the Elf had familiarized herself to us), whom I already loved as a sister,—without feeling that those four walls contained enough to sweeten the world, had it been filled to its capacious brim with gall and hyssop.
Trevanion had been more than satisfied with Vivian's performance, he had been struck with it; for though the corrections in the mere phraseology had been very limited, they went beyond verbal amendments,—they suggested such words as improved the thoughts; and besides that notable correction of an arithmetical error which Trevanion's mind was formed to over-appreciate, one or two brief annotations on the margin were boldly hazarded, prompting some stronger link in a chain of reasoning, or indicating the necessity for some further evidence in the assertion of a statement. And all this from the mere natural and naked logic of an acute mind, unaided by the smallest knowledge of the subject treated of! Trevanion threw quite enough work into Vivian's hands, and at a remuneration sufficiently liberal to realize my promise of an independence. And more than once he asked me to introduce to him my friend. But this I continued to elude,—Heaven knows, not from jealousy, but simply because I feared that Vivian's manner and way of talk would singularly displease one who detested presumption, and understood no eccentricities but his own.
Still, Vivian, whose industry was of a strong wing, but only for short flights, had not enough to employ more than a few hours of the day, and I dreaded lest he should, from very idleness, fall back into old habits and re-seek old friendships. His cynical candor allowed that both were sufficiently disreputable to justify grave apprehensions of such a result; accordingly, I contrived to find leisure in my evenings to lessen his ennui, by accompanying him in rambles through the gas-lit streets, or occasionally, for an hour or so, to one of the theatres.
Vivian's first care, on finding himself rich enough, had been bestowed on his person; and those two faculties of observation and imitation which minds so ready always eminently possess, had enabled him to achieve that graceful neatness of costume peculiar to the English gentleman. For the first few days of his metamorphosis traces indeed of a constitutional love of show or vulgar companionship were noticeable; but one by one they disappeared. First went a gaudy neckcloth, with collars turned down; then a pair of spurs vanished; and lastly a diabolical instrument that he called a cane—but which, by means of a running bullet, could serve as a bludgeon at one end, and concealed a dagger in the other—subsided into the ordinary walking-stick adapted to our peaceable metropolis. A similar change, though in a less degree, gradually took place in his manner and his conversation. He grew less abrupt in the one, and more calm, perhaps more cheerful, in the other. It was evident that he was not insensible to the elevated pleasure of providing for himself by praiseworthy exertion, of feeling for the first time that his intellect was of use to him creditably.
A new world, though still dim—seen through mist and fog—began to dawn upon him.
Such is the vanity of us poor mortals that my interest in Vivian was probably increased, and my aversion to much in him materially softened, by observing that I had gained a sort of ascendancy over his savage nature. When we had first suet by the roadside, and afterwards conversed in the churchyard, the ascendancy was certainly not on my side. But I now came from a larger sphere of society than that in which he had yet moved. I had seen and listened to the first men in England. What had then dazzled me only, now moved my pity. On the other hand, his active mind could not but observe the change in me; and whether from envy or a better feeling, he was willing to learn from me how to eclipse me and resume his earlier superiority,—not to be superior chafed him. Thus he listened to me with docility when I pointed out the books which connected themselves with the various subjects incidental to the miscellaneous matters on which he was employed. Though he had less of the literary turn of mind than any one equally clever I had ever met, and had read little, considering the quantity of thought he had acquired and the show he made of the few works with which he had voluntarily made himself familiar, he yet resolutely sat himself down to study; and though it was clearly against the grain, I augured the more favorably from tokens of a determination to do what was at the present irksome for a purpose in the future. Yet whether I should have approved the purpose had I thoroughly understood it, is another question. There were abysses, both in his past life and in his character, which I could not penetrate. There was in him both a reckless frankness and a vigilant reserve: his frankness was apparent in his talk on all matters immediately before us, in the utter absence of all effort to make himself seem better than he was. His reserve was equally shown in the ingenious evasion of every species of confidence that could admit me into such secrets of his life as he chose to conceal where he had been born, reared, and educated; how he came to be thrown on his own resources; how he had contrived, how he had subsisted, were all matters on which he had seemed to take an oath to Harpocrates, the god of silence. And yet he was full of anecdotes of what he had seen, of strange companions whom he never named, but with whom he had been thrown. And, to do him justice, I remarked that though his precocious experience seemed to have been gathered from the holes and corners, the sewers and drains of life, and though he seemed wholly without dislike to dishonesty, and to regard virtue or vice with as serene an indifference as some grand poet who views them both merely as ministrants to his art, yet he never betrayed any positive breach of honesty in himself. He could laugh over the story of some ingenious fraud that he had witnessed, and seem insensible to its turpitude; but he spoke of it in the tone of an approving witness, not of an actual accomplice. As we grew more intimate, he felt gradually, however, that pudor, or instinctive shame, which the contact with minds habituated to the distinctions between wrong and right unconsciously produces, and such stories ceased. He never but once mentioned his family, and that was in the following odd and abrupt manner:—
"Ah!" cried he one day, stopping suddenly before a print-shop, "how that reminds me of my dear, dear mother."
"Which?" said I, eagerly, puzzled between an engraving of Raffaelle's "Madonna" and another of "The Brigand's Wife."
Vivian did not satisfy my curiosity, but drew me on in spite of my reluctance.
"You loved your mother, then?" said I, after a pause. "Yes, as a whelp may a tigress."
"That's a strange comparison."
"Or a bull-dog may the prize-fighter, his master! Do you like that better?"
"Not much; is it a comparison your mother would like?"
"Like? She is dead!" said he, rather falteringly.
I pressed his arm closer to mine.
"I understand you," said he, with his cynic, repellent smile. "But you do wrong to feel for my loss. I feel for it; but no one who cares for me should sympathize with my grief."
"Because my mother was not what the world would call a good woman. I did not love her the less for that. And now let us change the subject."
"Nay; since you have said so much, Vivian, let me coax you to say on. Is not your father living?"
"Is not the Monument standing?"
"I suppose so; what of that?"
"Why, it matters very little to either of us; and my question answers yours."
I could not get on after this, and I never did get on a step further. I must own that if Vivian did not impart his confidence liberally, neither did he seek confidence inquisitively from me. He listened with interest if I spoke of Trevanion (for I told him frankly of my connection with that personage, though you may be sure that I said nothing of Fanny), and of the brilliant world that my residence with one so distinguished opened to me. But if ever, in the fulness of my heart, I began to speak of my parents, of my home, he evinced either so impertinent an ennui or assumed so chilling a sneer that I usually hurried away from him, as well as the subject, in indignant disgust. Once especially, when I asked him to let me introduce him to my father,—a point on which I was really anxious, for I thought it impossible but that the devil within him would be softened by that contact,—he said, with his low, scornful laugh,—
"My dear Caxton, when I was a child I was so bored with 'Telemachus' that, in order to endure it, I turned it into travesty."
"Are you not afraid that the same wicked disposition might make a caricature of your Ulysses?"
I did not see Mr. Vivian for three days after that speech; and I should not have seen him then, only we met, by accident, under the Colonnade of the Opera-House. Vivian was leaning against one of the columns, and watching the long procession which swept to the only temple in vogue that Art has retained in the English Babel. Coaches and chariots blazoned with arms and coronets, cabriolets (the brougham had not then replaced them) of sober hue but exquisite appointment, with gigantic horses and pigmy "tigers," dashed on, and rolled off before him. Fair women and gay dresses, stars and ribbons, the rank and the beauty of the patrician world,—passed him by. And I could not resist the compassion with which this lonely, friendless, eager, discontented spirit inspired me, gazing on that gorgeous existence in which it fancied itself formed to shine, with the ardor of desire and the despair of exclusion. By one glimpse of that dark countenance, I read what was passing within the yet darker heart. The emotion might not be amiable, nor the thoughts wise, yet were they unnatural? I had experienced something of them,—not at the sight of gay-dressed people, of wealth and idleness, pleasure and fashion, but when, at the doors of Parliament, men who have won noble names, and whose word had weight on the destinies of glorious England, brushed heedlessly by to their grand arena; or when, amidst the holiday crowd of ignoble pomp, I had heard the murmur of fame buzz and gather round some lordly laborer in art or letters: that contrast between glory so near and yet so far, and one's own obscurity, of course I had felt it,—who has not? Alas! many a youth not fated to be a Themistocles will yet feel that the trophies of a Miltiades will not suffer him to sleep! So I went up to Vivian and laid my hand on his shoulder.
"Ah!" said he, more gently than usual, "I am glad to see you, and to apologize,—I offended you the other day. But you would not get very gracious answers from souls in purgatory if you talked to them of the happiness of heaven. Never speak to me about homes and fathers! Enough! I see you forgive me. Why are you not going to the opera? You can."
"And you too, if you so please. A ticket is shamefully dear, to be sure; still, if you are fond of music, it is a luxury you can afford."
"Oh! you flatter me if you fancy the prudence of saving withholds me. I did go the other night, but I shall not go again. Music!—when you go to the opera, is it for the music?"
"Only partially, I own; the lights, the scene, the pageant, attract me quite as much. But I do not think the opera a very profitable pleasure for either of us. For rich idle people, I dare say, it may be as innocent an amusement as any other, but I find it a sad enervator."
"And I just the reverse,—a horrible stimulant! Caxton, do you know that, ungracious as it will sound to you, I am growing impatient of this 'honorable independence'? What does it lead to? Board, clothes, and lodging,—can it ever bring me anything more?"
"At first, Vivian, you limited your aspirations to kid gloves and a cabriolet: it has brought the kid gloves already; by and by it will bring the cabriolet!"
"Our wishes grow by what they feed on. You live in the great world, you can have excitement if you please it; I want excitement, I want the world, I want room for my mind, man! Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly, and sympathize with you, my poor Vivian; but it will all come. Patience! as I preached to you while dawn rose so comfortless over the streets of London. You are not losing time. Fill your mind; read, study, fit yourself for ambition. Why wish to fly till you have got your wings? Live in books now; after all, they are splendid palaces, and open to us all, rich and poor."
"Books, books! Ah! you are the son of a book-man. It is not by books that men get on in the world, and enjoy life in the mean while."
"I don't know that; but, my good fellow, you want to do both,—get on in the world as fast as labor can, and enjoy life as pleasantly as indolence may. You want to live like the butterfly, and yet have all the honey of the bee; and, what is the very deuce of the whole, even as the butterfly, you ask every flower to grow up in a moment; and, as a bee, the whole hive must be stored in a quarter of an hour! Patience, patience, patience!"
Vivian sighed a fierce sigh. "I suppose," said he, after an unquiet pause, "that the vagrant and the outlaw are strong in me, for I long to run back to my old existence, which was all action, and therefore allowed no thought."
While he thus said, we had wandered round the Colonnade, and were in that narrow passage in which is situated the more private entrance to the opera: close by the doors of that entrance, two or three young men were lounging. As Vivian ceased, the voice of one of these loungers came laughingly to our ears.
"Oh!" it said, apparently in answer to some question, "I have a much quicker way to fortune than that: I mean to marry an heiress!"
Vivian started, and looked at the speaker. He was a very good-looking fellow. Vivian continued to look at him, and deliberately, from head to foot; he then turned away with a satisfied and thoughtful smile.
"Certainly," said I, gravely (construing the smile), "you are right there: you are even better—looking than that heiress-hunter!"
Vivian colored; but before he could answer, one of the loungers, as the group recovered from the gay laugh which their companion's easy coxcombry had excited, said,—
"Then, by the way, if you want an heiress, here comes one of the greatest in England; but instead of being a younger son, with three good lives between you and an Irish peerage, one ought to be an earl at least to aspire to Fanny Trevanion!"
The name thrilled through me, I felt myself tremble; and looking up, I saw Lady Ellinor and Miss Trevanion, as they hurried from their carriage towards the entrance of the opera. They both recognized me, and Fanny cried,—
"You here! How fortunate! You must see us into the box, even if you run away the moment after."
"But I am not dressed for the opera," said I, embarrassed.
"And why not?" asked Miss Trevanion; then, dropping her voice, she added, "why do you desert us so wilfully?" and, leaning her hand on my arm, I was drawn irresistibly into the lobby. The young loungers at the door made way for us, and eyed me, no doubt, with envy.
"Nay!" said I, affecting to laugh, as I saw Miss Trevanion waited for my reply. "You forget how little time I have for such amusements now, and my uncle—"
"Oh, but mamma and I have been to see your uncle to-day, and he is nearly well,—is he not, mamma? I cannot tell you how I like and admire him. He is just what I fancy a Douglas of the old day. But mamma is impatient. Well, you must dine with us to-morrow, promise! Not adieu, but au revoir," and Fanny glided to her mother's arm. Lady Ellinor, always kind and courteous to me, had good-naturedly lingered till this dialogue, or rather monologue, was over.
On returning to the passage, I found Vivian walking to and fro; he had lighted his cigar, and was smoking energetically. "So this great heiress," said he, smiling, "who, as far as I could see,—under her hood,—seems no less fair than rich, is the daughter, I presume, of the Mr. Trevanion, whose effusions you so kindly submit to me. He is very rich, then! You never said so, yet I ought to have known it; but you see I know nothing of your beau monde,—not even that Miss Trevanion is one of the greatest heiresses in England."
"Yes, Mr. Trevanion is rich," said I, repressing a sigh, "—very rich."
"And you are his secretary! My dear friend, you may well offer me patience, for a large stock of yours will, I hope, be superfluous to you."
"I don't understand you."
"Yet you heard that young gentleman, as well as myself and you are in the same house as the heiress."
"Well, what have I said so monstrous?"
"Pooh! since you refer to that young gentleman, you heard, too, what his companion told him, 'one ought to be an earl, at least, to aspire to Fanny Trevanion!'"
"Tut! as well say that one ought to be a millionnaire to aspire to a million! Yet I believe those who make millions generally begin with pence."
"That belief should be a comfort and encouragement to you, Vivian. And now, good-night; I have much to do."
"Good-night, then," said Vivian, and we parted.
I made my way to Mr. Trevanion's house and to the study. There was a formidable arrear of business waiting for me, and I sat down to it at first resolutely; but by degrees I found my thoughts wandering from the eternal blue-books, and the pen slipped from my hand in the midst of an extract from a Report on Sierra Leone. My pulse beat loud and quick; I was in that state of nervous fever which only emotion can occasion. The sweet voice of Fanny rang in my ears; her eyes, as I had last met them, unusually gentle, almost beseeching, gazed upon me wherever I turned; and then, as in mockery, I heard again those words,—"One ought to be an earl at least to aspire to-" Oh! did I aspire? Was I vain fool so frantic, household traitor so consummate? No, no! Then what did I under the same roof? Why stay to imbibe this sweet poison that was corroding the very springs of my life? At that self-question, which, had I been but a year or two older, I should have asked long before, a mortal terror seized me; the blood rushed from my heart and left me cold, icy cold. To leave the house, leave Fanny! Never again to see those eyes, never to hear that voice! Better die of the sweet poison than of the desolate exile! I rose, I opened the windows; I walked to and fro the room; I could decide nothing, think of nothing; all my mind was in an uproar. With a violent effort at self-mastery, I approached the table again. I resolved to force myself to my task, if it were only to re-collect my faculties and enable them to bear my own torture. I turned over the books impatiently, when lo! buried amongst them, what met my eye? Archly, yet reproachfully,—the face of Fanny herself! Her miniature was there. It had been, I knew, taken a few days before by a young artist whom Trevanion patronized. I suppose he had carried it into his study to examine it, and so left it there carelessly. The painter had seized her peculiar expression, her ineffable smile,—so charming, so malicious; even her favorite posture,—the small head turned over the rounded Hebe-like shoulder; the eye glancing up from under the hair. I know not what change in my madness came over me; but I sank on my knees, and, kissing the miniature again and again, burst into tears. Such tears! I did not hear the door open, I did not see the shadow steal ever the floor; a light hand rested on my shoulder, trembling as it rested—I started. Fanny herself was bending over me!
"What is the matter?" she asked tenderly. "What has happened? Your uncle—your family—all well? Why are you weeping?"
I could not answer; but I kept my hands clasped over the miniature, that she might not see what they contained.
"Will you not answer? Am I not your friend,—almost your sister? Come, shall I call mamma?"
"No, I will not go yet. What have you there? What are you hiding?"
And innocently, and sister-like, those hands took mine; and so—and so—the picture became visible! There was a dead silence. I looked up through my tears. Fanny had recoiled some steps, and her cheek was very flushed, her eyes downcast. I felt as if I had committed a crime, as if dishonor clung to me; and yet I repressed—yes, thank Heaven! I repressed the cry that swelled from my heart and rushed to my lips: "Pity me, for I love you!" I repressed it, and only a groan escaped me,—the wail of my lost happiness! Then, rising, I laid the miniature on the table, and said, in a voice that I believe was firm,—
"Miss Trevanion, you have been as kind as a sister to me, and therefore I was bidding a brother's farewell to your likeness; it is so like you—this!"
"Farewell!" echoed Fanny, still not looking up.
"Farewell—sister! There, I have boldly said the word; for—for—" I hurried to the door, and, there turning, added, with what I meant to be a smile,—"for they say at home that I—I am not well; too much for me this; you know, mothers will be foolish; and—and—I am to speak to your father to-morrow; and-good-night! God bless you, Miss Trevanion!"
And my father pushed aside his books.
O young reader, whoever thou art,—or reader at least who hast been young,—canst thou not remember some time when, with thy wild troubles and sorrows as yet borne in secret, thou hast come back from that hard, stern world which opens on thee when thou puttest thy foot out of the threshold of home,—come back to the four quiet walls wherein thine elders sit in peace,—and seen, with a sort of sad amaze, how calm and undisturbed all is there? That generation which has gone before thee in the path of the passions,—the generation of thy parents (not so many years, perchance, remote from thine own),—how immovably far off, in its still repose, it seems from thy turbulent youth! It has in it a stillness as of a classic age, antique as the statues of the Greeks. That tranquil monotony of routine into which those lives that preceded thee have merged; the occupations that they have found sufficing for their happiness, by the fireside, in the arm-chair and corner appropriated to each,—how strangely they contrast thine own feverish excitement! And they make room for thee, and bid thee welcome, and then resettle to their hushed pursuits as if nothing had happened! Nothing had happened! while in thy heart, perhaps, the whole world seems to have shot from its axis, all the elements to be at war! And you sit down, crushed by that quiet happiness which you can share no more, and smile mechanically, and look into the fire; and, ten to one, you say nothing till the time comes for bed, and you take up your candle and creep miserably to your lonely room.
Now, it in a stage-coach in the depth of winter, when three passengers are warm and snug, a fourth, all besnowed and frozen, descends from the outside and takes place amongst them, straightway all the three passengers shift their places, uneasily pull up their cloak collars, re-arrange their "comforters," feel indignantly a sensible loss of caloric: the intruder has at least made a sensation. But if you had all the snows of the Grampians in your heart, you might enter unnoticed; take care not to tread on the toes of your opposite neighbor, and not a soul is disturbed, not a "comforter" stirs an inch. I had not slept a wink, I had not even lain down all that night,—the night in which I had said farewell to Fanny Trevanion; and the next morning, when the sun rose, I wandered out,—where I know not: I have a dim recollection of long, gray, solitary streets; of the river, that seemed flowing in dull, sullen silence, away, far away, into some invisible eternity; trees and turf, and the gay voices of children. I must have gone from one end of the great Babel to the other; for my memory only became clear and distinct when I knocked, somewhere before noon, at the door of my father's house, and, passing heavily up the stairs, came into the drawing-room, which was the rendezvous of the little family; for since we had been in London, my father had ceased to have his study apart, and contented himself with what he called "a corner,"—a corner wide enough to contain two tables and a dumb-waiter, with chairs a discretion all littered with books. On the opposite side of this capacious corner sat my uncle, now nearly convalescent, and he was jotting down, in his stiff, military hand, certain figures in a little red account-book; for you know already that my Uncle Roland was, in his expenses, the most methodical of men.
My father's face was more benign than usual, for before him lay a proof,—the first proof of his first work—his one work—the Great Book! Yes! it had positively found a press. And the first proof of your first work—ask any author what that is! My mother was out, with the faithful Mrs. Primmins, shopping or marketing, no doubt; so, while the brothers were thus engaged, it was natural that my entrance should not make as much noise as if it had been a bomb, or a singer, or a clap of thunder, or the last "great novel of the season," or anything else that made a noise in those days. For what makes a noise now,—now, when the most astonishing thing of all is our easy familiarity with things astounding; when we say, listlessly, "Another revolution at Paris," or, "By the by, there is the deuce to do at Vienna!" when De Joinville is catching fish in the ponds at Claremont, and you hardly turn back to look at Metternich on the pier at Brighton!
My uncle nodded and growled indistinctly; my father put aside his books,—"you have told us that already."
Sir, you are very much mistaken; it was not then that he put aside his books, for he was not then engaged in them,—he was reading his proof. And he smiled, and pointed to it (the proof I mean) pathetically, and with a kind of humor, as much as to say: "What can you expect, Pisistratus? My new baby in short clothes—or long primer, which is all the same thing!"
I took a chair between the two, and looked first at one, then at the other. Heaven forgive me!—I felt a rebellious, ungrateful spite against both. The bitterness of my soul must have been deep indeed to have overflowed in that direction, but it did. The grief of youth is an abominable egotist, and that is the truth. I got up from my chair and walked towards the window; it was open, and outside the window was Mrs. Primmins's canary, in its cage. London air had agreed with it, and it was singing lustily. Now, when the canary saw me standing opposite to its cage, and regarding it seriously, and, I have no doubt, with a very sombre aspect, the creature stopped short, and hung its head on one side, looking at me obliquely and suspiciously. Finding that I did it no harm, it began to hazard a few broken notes, timidly and interrogatively, as it were, pausing between each; and at length, as I made no reply, it evidently thought it had solved the doubt, and ascertained that I was more to be pitied than feared,—for it stole gradually into so soft and silvery a strain that, I verily believe, it did it on purpose to comfort me!—me, its old friend, whom it had unjustly suspected. Never did any music touch me so home as did that long, plaintive cadence. And when the bird ceased, it perched itself close to the bars of the cage, and looked at me steadily with its bright, intelligent eyes. I felt mine water, and I turned back and stood in the centre of the room, irresolute what to do, where to go. My father had done with the proof, and was deep in his folios. Roland had clasped his red account-book, restored it to his pocket, wiped his pen carefully, and now watched me from under his great beetle-brows. Suddenly he rose, and stamping on the hearth with his cork leg, exclaimed, "Look up from those cursed books, brother Austin! What is there in your son's face? Construe that, if you can!"
And my father pushed aside his books and rose hastily. He took off his spectacles and rubbed them mechanically, but he said nothing, and my uncle, staring at him for a moment, in surprise at his silence, burst out,—
"Oh! I see; he has been getting into some scrape, and you are angry. Fie! young blood will have its way, Austin, it will. I don't blame that; it is only when—Come here, Sisty. Zounds! man, come here."
My father gently brushed off the Captain's hand, and advancing towards me, opened his arms. The next moment I was sobbing on his breast.
"But what is the matter?" cried Captain Roland. "Will nobody say what is the matter? Money, I suppose, money, you confounded extravagant young dog. Luckily you have got an uncle who has more than he knows what to do with. How much? Fifty?—a hundred?—two hundred? How can I write the check if you'll not speak?"
"Hush, brother! it is no money you can give that will set this right. My poor boy! Have I guessed truly? Did I guess truly the other evening when—"
"Yes, sir, yes! I have been so wretched. But I am better now,—I can tell you all."
My uncle moved slowly towards the door; his fine sense of delicacy made him think that even he was out of place in the confidence between son and father.
"No, uncle," I said, holding out my hand to him, "stay. You too can advise me,—strengthen me. I have kept my honor yet; help me to keep it still."
At the sound of the word "honor," Captain Roland stood mute, and raised his head quickly.
So I told all,—incoherently enough at first, but clearly and manfully as I went on. Now I know that it is not the custom of lovers to confide in fathers and uncles. Judging by those mirrors of life, plays and novels, they choose better,—valets and chambermaids, and friends whom they have picked up in the street, as I had picked up poor Francis Vivian: to these they make clean breasts of their troubles. But fathers and uncles,—to them they are close, impregnable, "buttoned to the chin." The Caxtons were an eccentric family, and never did anything like other people. When I had ended, I lifted up my eyes and said pleadingly, "Now tell me, is there no hope—none?"
"Why should there be none?" cried Captain Roland, hastily—"the De Caxtons are as good a family as the Trevanions; and as for yourself, all I will say is, that the young lady might choose worse for her own happiness."
I wrung my uncle's hand, and turned to my father in anxious fear, for I knew that, in spite of his secluded habits, few men ever formed a sounder judgment on worldly matters, when he was fairly drawn to look at them. A thing wonderful is that plain wisdom which scholars and poets often have for others, though they rarely deign to use it for themselves. And how on earth do they get at it? I looked at my father, and the vague hope Roland had excited fell as I looked.
"Brother," said he, slowly, and shaking his head, "the world, which gives codes and laws to those who live in it, does not care much for a pedigree, unless it goes with a title-deed to estates."
"Trevanion was not richer than Pisistratus when he married Lady Ellinor," said my uncle.
"True, but Lady Ellinor was not then an heiress; and her father viewed these matters as no other peer in England perhaps would. As for Trevanion himself, I dare say he has no prejudices about station, but he is strong in common-sense. He values himself on being a practical man. It would be folly to talk to him of love, and the affections of youth. He would see in the son of Austin Caxton, living on the interest of some fifteen or sixteen thousand pounds, such a match for his daughter as no prudent man in his position could approve. And as for Lady Ellinor—"
"She owes us much, Austin!" exclaimed Roland, his face darkening.
"Lady Ellinor is now what, if we had known her better, she promised always to be,—the ambitious, brilliant, scheming woman of the world. Is it not so, Pisistratus?"
I said nothing,—I felt too much.
"And does the girl like you? But I think it is clear she does!" exclaimed Roland. "Fate, fate; it has been a fatal family to us! Zounds! Austin, it was your fault. Why did you let him go there?"
"My son is now a man,—at least in heart, if not in years can man be shut from danger and trial? They found me in the old parsonage, brother!" said my father, mildly.
My uncle walked, or rather stumped, three times up and down the room; and he then stopped short, folded his arms, and came to a decision,—
"If the girl likes you, your duty is doubly clear: you can't take advantage of it. You have done right to leave the house, for the temptation might be too strong."
"But what excuse shall I make to Mr. Trevanion?" said I, feebly; "what story can I invent? So careless as he is while he trusts, so penetrating if he once suspects, he will see through all my subterfuges, and—and—"
"It is as plain as a pikestaff," said my uncle, abruptly, "and there need be no subterfuge in the matter. 'I must leave you, Mr. Trevanion.' 'Why?' says he. 'Don't ask me.' He insists. 'Well then, sir, if you must know, I love your daughter. I have nothing, she is a great heiress. You will not approve of that love, and therefore I leave you!' That is the course that becomes an English gentleman. Eh, Austin?"
"You are never wrong when your instincts speak, Roland," said my father. "Can you say this, Pisistratus, or shall I say it for you?"
"Let him say it himself," said Roland, "and let him judge himself of the answer. He is young, he is clever, he may make a figure in the world. Trevanion may answer, 'Win the lady after you have won the laurel, like the knights of old.' At all events you will hear the worst."
"I will go," said I, firmly; and I took my hat and left the room. As I was passing the landing-place, a light step stole down the upper flight of stairs, and a little hand seized my own. I turned quickly, and met the full, dark, seriously sweet eyes of my cousin Blanche.
"Don't go away yet, Sisty," said she, coaxingly. "I have been waiting for you, for I heard your voice, and did not like to come in and disturb you."
"And why did you wait for me, my little Blanche?"
"Why! only to see you. But your eyes are red. Oh, cousin!" and before I was aware of her childish impulse, she had sprung to my neck and kissed me. Now Blanche was not like most children, and was very sparing of her caresses. So it was out of the deeps of a kind heart that that kiss came. I returned it without a word; and putting her down gently, descended the stairs, and was in the streets. But I had not got far before I heard my father's voice; and he came up, and hooking his arm into mine, said, "Are there not two of us that suffer? Let us be together!" I pressed his arm, and we walked on in silence. But when we were near Trevanion's house, I said hesitatingly, "Would it not be better, sir, that I went in alone? If there is to be an explanation between Mr. Trevanion and myself, would it not seem as if your presence implied either a request to him that would lower us both, or a doubt of me that—"
"You will go in alone, of course; I will wait for you—"
"Not in the streets—oh, no! father," cried I, touched inexpressibly. For all this was so unlike my father's habits that I felt remorse to have so communicated my young griefs to the calm dignity of his serene life.
"My son, you do not know how I love you; I have only known it myself lately. Look you, I am living in you now, my first-born; not in my other son,—the Great Book: I must have my way. Go in; that is the door, is it riot?"
I pressed my father's hand, and I felt then, that while that hand could reply to mine, even the loss of Fanny Trevanion could not leave the world a blank. How much we have before us in life, while we retain our parents! How much to strive and to hope for! what a motive in the conquest of our sorrow, that they may not sorrow with us!
I entered Trevanion's study. It was an hour in which he was rarely at home, but I had not thought of that; and I saw without surprise that, contrary to his custom, he was in his arm-chair, reading one of his favorite classic authors, instead of being in some committee-room of the House of Commons.
"A pretty fellow you are," said he, looking up, "to leave me all the morning, without rhyme or reason! And my committee is postponed,—chairman ill. People who get ill should not go into the House of Commons. So here I am looking into Propertius: Parr is right; not so elegant a writer as Tibullus. But what the deuce are you about?—why don't you sit down? Humph! you look grave; you have something to say,—say it!"
And, putting down Propertius, the acute, sharp face of Trevanion instantly became earnest and attentive.
"My dear Mr. Trevanion," said I, with as much steadiness as I could assume, "you have been most kind to me; and out of my own family there is no man I love and respect more."
Trevanion.—"Humph! What's all this? [In an undertone]—Am I going to be taken in?"
Pisistratus.—"Do not think me ungrateful, then, when I say I come to resign my office,—to leave the house where I have been so happy."
Trevanion.—"Leave the house! Pooh! I have over-tasked you. I will be more merciful in future. You must forgive a political economist; it is the fault of my sect to look upon men as machines."
Pisistratus (smiling faintly).—"No, indeed; that is not it! I have nothing to complain of, nothing I could wish altered; could I stay."
Trevanion (examining me thoughtfully).—"And does your father approve of your leaving me thus?"
Trevanion (musing a moment).—"I see, he would send you to the University, make you a book-worm like himself. Pooh! that will not do; you will never become wholly a man of books,—it is not in you. Young man, though I may seem careless, I read characters, when I please it, pretty quickly. You do wrong to leave me; you are made for the great world,—I can open to you a high career. I wish to do so! Lady Ellinor wishes it,—nay, insists on it,—for your father's sake as well as yours. I never ask a favor from ministers, and I never will. But" (here Trevanion rose suddenly, and with an erect mien and a quick gesture of his arm he added)—"but a minister can dispose as he pleases of his patronage. Look you, it is a secret yet, and I trust to your honor. But before the year is out, I must be in the Cabinet. Stay with me; I guarantee your fortunes,—three months ago I would not have said that. By and by I will open Parliament for you,—you are not of age yet; work till then. And now sit down and write my letters,—a sad arrear!"
"My dear, dear Mr. Trevanion!" said I, so affected that I could scarcely speak, and seizing his hand, which I pressed between both mine, "I dare not thank you,—I cannot! But you don't know my heart: it is not ambition. No! if I could but stay here on the same terms forever—here," looking ruefully on that spot where Fanny had stood the night before. "But it is impossible! If you knew all, you would be the first to bid me go!"
"You are in debt," said the man of the world, coldly. "Bad, very bad—still—"
"No, sir; no! worse."
"Hardly possible to be worse, young man—hardly! But, just as you—will; you leave me, and will not say why. Goodby. Why do you linger? Shake hands, and go!"
"I cannot leave you thus; I—I—sir, the truth shall out. I am rash and mad enough not to see Miss Trevanion without forgetting that I am poor, and—"
"Ha!" interrupted Trevanion, softly, and growing pale, "this is a misfortune, indeed! And I, who talked of reading characters! Truly, truly, we would-be practical men are fools—fools! And you have made love to my daughter!"
"Sir? Mr. Trevanion!—no—never, never so base! In your house, trusted by you,—how could you think it? I dared, it, may be, to love,—at all events, to feel that I could not be insensible to a temptation too strong for me. But to say it to your heiress,—to ask love in return: I would as soon have broken open your desk! Frankly I tell you my folly: it is a folly, not a disgrace."
Trevanion came up to me abruptly as I leaned against the bookcase, and, grasping my hand with a cordial kindness, said, "Pardon me! You have behaved as your father's son should I envy him such a son! Now, listen to me: I cannot give you my daughter—"
"Believe me, sir; I never—"
"Tut, listen! I cannot give you my daughter. I say nothing of inequality,—all gentlemen are equal; and if not, any impertinent affectation of superiority, in such a case, would come ill from one who owes his own fortune to his wife! But, as it is, I have a stake in the world, won not by fortune only, but the labor of a life, the suppression of half my nature,—the drudging, squaring, taming down all that made the glory and joy of my youth,—to be that hard, matter-of-fact thing which the English world expect in a statesman! This station has gradually opened into its natural result,—power! I tell you I shall soon have high office in the administration; I hope to render great services to England,—for we English politicians, whatever the mob and the Press say of us, are not selfish place-hunters. I refused office, as high as I look for now, ten years ago. We believe in our opinions, and we hail the power that may carry them into effect. In this cabinet I shall have enemies. Oh, don't think we leave jealousy behind us, at the doors of Downing Street! I shall be one of a minority. I know well what must happen: like all men in power, I must strengthen myself by other heads and hands than my own. My daughter shall bring to me the alliance of that house in England which is most necessary to me. My life falls to the ground, like a child's pyramid of cards, if I waste—I do not say on you, but on men of ten times your fortune (whatever that be)—the means of strength which are at my disposal in the hand of Fanny Trevanion. To this end I have looked, but to this end her mother has schemed; for these household matters are within a man's hopes, but belong to a woman's policy. So much for us. But to you, my dear and frank and high-souled young friend; to you, if I were not Fanny's father, if I were your nearest relation, and Fanny could be had for the asking, with all her princely dower (for it is princely),—to you I should say, fly from a load upon the heart, on the genius, the energy, the pride, and the spirit, which not one man in ten thousand can bear; fly from the curse of owing everything to a wife! It is a reversal of all natural position, it is a blow to all the manhood within us. You know not what it is; I do! My wife's fortune came not till after marriage,—so far, so well; it saved my reputation from the charge of fortune-hunting. But, I tell you fairly, that if it had never come at all, I should be a prouder and a greater and a happier man than I have ever been, or ever can be, with all its advantages: it has been a millstone round my neck. And yet Ellinor has never breathed a word that could wound my pride. Would her daughter be as forbearing? Much as I love Fanny, I doubt if she has the great heart of her mother. You look incredulous,—naturally. Oh, you think I shall sacrifice my child's happiness to a politician's ambition. Folly of youth! Fanny would be wretched with you. She might not think so now; she would five years hence! Fanny will make an admirable duchess, countess, great lady; but wife to a man who owes all to her! No, no; don't dream it! I shall not sacrifice her happiness, depend on it. I speak plainly, as man to man,—man of the world to a man just entering it,—but still man to man! What say you?"
"I will think over all you tell me. I know that you are speaking to me most generously,—as a father would. Now let me go, and may God keep you and yours!"
"Go,—I return your blessing; go! I don't insult you now with offers of service; but remember, you have a right to command them,—in all ways, in all times. Stop! take this comfort away with you,—a sorry comfort now, a great one hereafter. In a position that might have moved anger, scorn, pity, you have made a barren-hearted man honor and admire you. You, a boy, have made me, with my gray hairs, think better of the whole world; tell your father that."
I closed the door and stole out softly, softly. But when I got into the hall, Fanny suddenly opened the door of the breakfast parlor, and seemed, by her look, her gesture, to invite me in. Her face was very pale, and there were traces of tears on the heavy lids.
I stood still a moment, and my heart beat violently. I then muttered something inarticulately, and, bowing low, hastened to the door.
I thought, but my ears might deceive me, that I heard my name pronounced; but fortunately the tall porter started from his newspaper and his leathern chair, and the entrance stood open. I joined my father.
"It's all over," said I, with a resolute smile. "And now, my dear father, I feel how grateful I should be for all that your lessons—your life—have taught me; for, believe me, I am not unhappy."
We came back to my father's house, and on the stairs we met my mother, whom Roland's grave looks and her Austin's strange absence had alarmed. My father quietly led the way to a little room which my mother had appropriated to Blanche and herself, and then, placing my hand in that which had helped his own steps from the stony path down the quiet vales of life, he said to me: "Nature gives you here the soother;" and so saying, he left the room.
And it was true, O my mother! that in thy simple, loving breast nature did place the deep wells of comfort! We come to men for philosophy,—to women for consolation. And the thousand weaknesses and regrets, the sharp sands of the minutiae that make up sorrow,—all these, which I could have betrayed to no man (not even to him, the dearest and tenderest of all men), I showed without shame to thee! And thy tears, that fell on my cheek, had the balm of Araby; and my heart at length lay lulled and soothed under thy moist, gentle eyes.
I made an effort, and joined the little circle at dinner; and I felt grateful that no violent attempt was made to raise my spirits,—nothing but affection, more subdued and soft and tranquil. Even little Blanche, as if by the intuition of sympathy, ceased her babble, and seemed to hush her footstep as she crept to my side. But after dinner, when we had reassembled in the drawing-room, and the lights shone bright, and the curtains were let down, and only the quick roll of some passing wheels reminded us that there was a world without, my father began to talk. He had laid aside all his work, the younger but less perishable child was forgotten, and my father began to talk.
"It is," said he, musingly, "a well-known thing that particular drugs or herbs suit the body according to its particular diseases. When we are ill, we don't open our medicine-chest at random, and take out any powder or phial that comes to hand. The skilful doctor is he who adjusts the dose to the malady."
"Of that there can be no doubt," quoth Captain Roland. "I remember a notable instance of the justice of what you say. When I was in Spain, both my horse and I fell ill at the same time: a dose was sent for each; and by some infernal mistake, I swallowed the horse's physic, and the horse, poor thing, swallowed mine!"
"And what was the result?" asked my father.
"The horse died!" answered Roland, mournfully, "a valuable beast, bright bay, with a star!"
"Why, the doctor said it ought to have killed me; but it took a great deal more than a paltry bottle of physic to kill a man in my regiment."
"Nevertheless, we arrive at the same conclusion," pursued my father,—"I with my theory, you with your experience,—that the physic we take must not be chosen haphazard, and that a mistake in the bottle may kill a horse. But when we come to the medicine for the mind, how little do we think of the golden rule which common-sense applies to the body!"