"Yes," continued Lady Ellinor, mournfully, "that was my real thought, my impulse of regret, when I first saw you. But as it is, do not think me too hard and worldly if I quote the lofty old French proverb, Noblesse oblige. Listen to me, my young friend: we may never meet again, and I would not have your father's son think unkindly of me, with all my faults. From my first childhood I was ambitious,—not, as women usually are, of mere wealth and rank, but ambitious as noble men are, of power and fame. A woman can only indulge such ambition by investing it in another. It was not wealth, it was not rank, that attracted me to Albert Trevanion: it was the nature that dispenses with the wealth and commands the rank. Nay," continued Lady Ellinor, in a voice that slightly trembled, "I may have seen in my youth, before I knew Trevanion, one [she paused a moment, and went on hurriedly]—one who wanted but ambition to have realized my ideal. Perhaps even when I married—and it was said for love—I loved less with my whole heart than with my whole mind. I may say this now, for now every beat of this pulse is wholly and only true to him with whom I have schemed and toiled and aspired; with whom I have grown as one; with whom I have shared the struggle, and now partake the triumph, realizing the visions of my youth."
Again the light broke from the dark eyes of this grand daughter of the world, who was so superb a type of that moral contradiction,—an ambitious woman.
"I cannot tell you," resumed Lady Ellinor, softening, "how pleased I was when you came to live with us. Your father has perhaps spoken to you of me and of our first acquaintance!"
Lady Ellinor paused abruptly, and surveyed me as she paused. I was silent.
"Perhaps, too, he has blamed me?" she resumed, with a heightened color.
"He never blamed you, Lady Ellinor!"
"He had a right to do so,—though I doubt if he would have blamed me on the true ground. Yet no; he never could have done me the wrong that your uncle did when, long years ago, Mr. de Caxton in a letter—the very bitterness of which disarmed all anger—accused me of having trifled with Austin,—nay, with himself! And he, at least, had no right to reproach me," continued Lady Ellinor warmly, and with a curve of her haughty lip; "for if I felt interest in his wild thirst for some romantic glory, it was but in the hope that what made the one brother so restless might at least wake the other to the ambition that would have become his intellect and aroused his energies. But these are old tales of follies and delusions now no more: only this will I say, that I have ever felt, in thinking of your father, and even of your sterner uncle, as if my conscience reminded me of a debt which I longed to discharge,—if not to them, to their children. So when we knew you, believe me that your interests, your career, instantly became to me an object. But mistaking you, when I saw your ardent industry bent on serious objects, and accompanied by a mind so fresh and buoyant, and absorbed as I was in schemes or projects far beyond a woman's ordinary province of hearth and home, I never dreamed, while you were our guest,—never dreamed of danger to you or Fanny. I wound you,—pardon me; but I must vindicate myself. I repeat that if we had a son to inherit our name, to bear the burden which the world lays upon those who are born to influence the world's destinies, there is no one to whom Trevanion and myself would sooner have intrusted the happiness of a daughter. But my daughter is the sole representative of the mother's line, of the father's name: it is not her happiness alone that I have to consult, it is her duty,—duty to her birthright, to the career of the noblest of England's patriots; duty, I may say, without exaggeration, to the country for the sake of which that career is run!"
"Say no more, Lady Ellinor, say no more; I understand you. I have no hope, I never had hope—it was a madness—it is over. It is but as a friend that I ask again if I may see Miss Trevanion in your presence before—before I go alone into this long exile, to leave, perhaps, my dust in a stranger's soil! Ay, look in my face,—you cannot fear my resolution, my honor, my truth! But once, Lady Ellinor,—but once more. Do I ask in vain?"
Lady Ellinor was evidently much moved. I bent down almost in the attitude of kneeling; and brushing away her tears with one hand, she laid the other on my head tenderly, and said in a very low voice,—
"I entreat you not to ask me; I entreat you not to see my daughter. You have shown that you are not selfish,—conquer yourself still. What if such an interview, however guarded you might be, were but to agitate, unnerve my child, unsettle her peace, prey upon—"
"Oh! do not speak thus,—she did not share my feelings!"
"Could her mother own it if she did? Come, come; remember how young you both are. When you return, all these dreams will be forgotten; then we can meet as before; then I will be your second mother, and again your career shall be my care: for do not think that we shall leave you so long in this exile as you seem to forbode. No, no; it is but an absence, an excursion,—not a search after fortune. Your fortune,—leave that to us when you return!"
"And I am to see her no more!" I murmured, as I rose, and went silently towards the window to conceal my face. The great struggles in life are limited to moments. In the drooping of the head upon the bosom, in the pressure of the hand upon the brow, we may scarcely consume a second in our threescore years and ten; but what revolutions of our whole being may pass within us while that single sand drops noiseless down to the bottom of the hour-glass!
I came back with firm step to Lady Ellinor, and said calmly: "My reason tells me that you are right, and I submit; forgive me! And do not think me ungrateful and overproud if I add that you must leave me still the object in life that consoles and encourages me through all."
"What object is that?" asked Lady Ellinor, hesitatingly.
"Independence for myself, and ease to those for whom life is still sweet. This is my twofold object; and the means to effect it must be my own heart and my own hands. And now, convey all my thanks to your noble husband, and accept my warm prayers for yourself and her—whom I will not name. Farewell, Lady Ellinor!"
"No, do not leave me so hastily; I have many things to discuss with you,—at least to ask of you. Tell me how your father bears his reverse,—tell me at least if there be aught he will suffer us to do for him? There are many appointments in Trevanion's range of influence that would suit even the wilful indolence of a man of letters. Come, be frank with me!"
I could not resist so much kindness; so I sat down, and as collectedly as I could, replied to Lady Ellinor's questions, and sought to convince her that my father only felt his losses so far as they affected me, and that nothing in Trevanion's power was likely to tempt him from his retreat, or calculated to compensate for a change in his habits. Turning at last from my parents, Lady Ellinor inquired for Roland, and on learning that he was with me in town, expressed a strong desire to see him. I told her I would communicate her wish, and she then said thoughtfully,—
"He has a son, I think; and I have heard that there is some unhappy dissension between them."
"Who could have told you that?" I asked in surprise, knowing how closely Roland had kept the secret of his family afflictions.
"Oh! I heard so from some one who knew Captain Roland,—I forget when and where I heard it; but is it not the fact?"
"My uncle Roland has no son."
"His son is dead."
"How such a loss must grieve him!"
I did not speak.
"But is he sure that his son is dead? What joy if he were mistaken,—if the son yet lived!"
"Nay, my uncle has a brave heart, and he is resigned. But, pardon me, have you heard anything of that son?"
"I!—what should I hear? I would fain learn, however, from your uncle himself what he might like to tell me of his sorrows—or if, indeed, there be any chance that—"
"That—that his son still survives."
"I think not," said I; "and I doubt whether you will learn much from my uncle. Still, there is something in your words that belies their apparent meaning, and makes me suspect that you know more than you will say."
"Diplomatist!" said Lady Ellinor, half smiling; but then, her face settling into a seriousness almost severe, she added,—"it is terrible to think that a father should hate his son!"
"Hate!—Roland hate his son! What calumny is this?"
"He does not do so, then! Assure me of that; I shall be so glad to know that I have been misinformed."
"I can tell you this, and no more (for no more do I know), that if ever the soul of a father were wrapped up in a son,—fear, hope, gladness, sorrow, all reflected back on a father's heart from the shadows on a son's life,—Roland was that father while the son lived still."
"I cannot disbelieve you!" exclaimed Lady Ellinor, though in a tone of surprise. "Well, do let me see your uncle."
"I will do my best to induce him to visit you, and learn all that you evidently conceal from me."
Lady Ellinor evasively replied to this insinuation, and shortly afterwards I left that house in which I had known the happiness that brings the folly, and the grief that bequeathes the wisdom.
I had always felt a warm and almost filial affection for Lady Ellinor, independently of her relationship to Fanny, and of the gratitude with which her kindness inspired me; for there is an affection very peculiar in its nature, and very high in its degree, which results from the blending of two sentiments not often allied,—namely, pity and admiration. It was impossible not to admire the rare gifts and great qualities of Lady Ellinor, and not to feel pity for the cares, anxieties, and sorrows which tormented one who, with all the sensitiveness of woman, went forth into the rough world of man.
My father's confession had somewhat impaired my esteem for Lady Ellinor, and had left on my mind the uneasy impression that she had trifled with his deep and Roland's impetuous heart. The conversation that had just passed, allowed me to judge her with more justice, allowed me to see that she had really shared the affection she had inspired in the student, but that ambition had been stronger than love,—an ambition, it might be, irregular, and not strictly feminine, but still of no vulgar nor sordid kind. I gathered, too, from her hints and allusions her true excuse for Roland's misconception of her apparent interest in himself; she had but seen, in the wild energies of the elder brother, some agency by which to arouse the serener faculties of the younger. She had but sought, in the strange comet that flashed before her, to fix a lever that might move the star. Nor could I withhold my reverence from the woman who, not being married precisely from love, had no sooner linked her nature to one worthy of it, than her whole life became as fondly devoted to her husband as if he had been the object of her first romance and her earliest affections. If even her child was so secondary to her husband; if the fate of that child was but regarded by her as one to be rendered subservient to the grand destinies of Trevanion,—still it was impossible to recognize the error of that conjugal devotion without admiring the wife, though one might condemn the mother. Turning from these meditations, I felt a lover's thrill of selfish joy, amidst all the mournful sorrow comprised in the thought that I should see Fanny no more. Was it true, as Lady Ellinor implied, though delicately, that Fanny still cherished a remembrance of me which a brief interview, a last farewell, might reawaken too dangerously for her peace? Well, that was a thought that it became me not to indulge.
What could Lady Ellinor have heard of Roland and his son? Was it possible that the lost lived still? Asking myself these questions, I arrived at our lodgings, and saw the Captain himself before me, busied with the inspection of sundry specimens of the rude necessaries an Australian adventurer requires. There stood the old soldier, by the window, examining narrowly into the temper of hand-saw and tenon-saw, broad-axe and drawing-knife; and as I came up to him, he looked at me from under his black brows with gruff compassion, and said peevishly,—
"Fine weapons these for the son of a gentleman! One bit of steel in the shape of a sword were worth them all."
"Any weapon that conquers fate is noble in the hands of a brave man, uncle."
"The boy has an answer for everything," quoth the Captain, smiling, as he took out his purse and paid the shopman.
When we were alone, I said to him: "Uncle, you must go and see Lady Ellinor; she desires me to tell you so."
"You will not?"
"Uncle, I think that she has something to say to you with regard to—to—pardon me!—to my cousin."
"No, no; the cousin I never saw."
Roland turned pale, and sinking down on a chair, faltered out—"To him,—to my son?"
"Yes; but I do not think it is news that will afflict you. Uncle, are you sure that my cousin is dead?"
"What!—how dare you!—who doubts it? Dead,—dead to me forever! Boy, would you have him live to dishonor these gray hairs?"
"Sir, sir, forgive me,—uncle, forgive me. But pray go to see Lady Ellinor; for whatever she has to say, I repeat that I am sure it will be nothing to wound you."
"Nothing to wound me, yet relate to him!"
It is impossible to convey to the reader the despair that was in those words.
"Perhaps," said I, after a long pause and in a low voice, for I was awe-stricken, "perhaps—if he be dead—he may have repented of all offence to you before he died."
"Or if he be not dead—"
"Hush, boy, hush!"
"While there is life, there is hope of repentance."
"Look you, nephew," said the Captain, rising, and folding his arms resolutely on his breast,—"look you, I desired that that name might never be breathed. I have not cursed my son yet; could he come to life—the curse might fall! You do not know what torture your words have given me just when I had opened my heart to another son, and found that son in you. With respect to the lost, I have now but one prayer, and you know it,—the heart-broken prayer that his name never more may come to my ears!"
As he closed these words, to which I ventured no reply, the Captain took long, disordered strides across the room; and suddenly, as if the space imprisoned, or the air stifled him, he seized his hat and hastened into the streets. Recovering my surprise and dismay, I ran after him; but he commanded me to leave him to his own thoughts, in a voice so stern, yet so sad, that I had no choice but to obey. I knew, by my own experience, how necessary is solitude in the moments when grief is strongest and thought most troubled.
Hours elapsed, and the Captain had not returned home. I began to feel uneasy, and went forth in search of him, though I knew not whither to direct my steps. I thought it, however, at least probable that he had not been able to resist visiting Lady Ellinor, so I went first to St. James's Square. My suspicions were correct; the Captain had been there two hours before. Lady Ellinor herself had gone out shortly after the Captain left. While the porter was giving me this information, a carriage stopped at the door, and a footman, stepping up, gave the porter a note and a small parcel, seemingly of books, saying simply, "From the Marquis of Castleton." At the sound of that name I turned hastily, and recognized Sir Sedley Beaudesert seated in the carriage and looking out of the window with a dejected, moody expression of countenance, very different from his ordinary aspect, except when the rare sight of a gray hair or a twinge of the toothache reminded him that he was no longer twenty-five. Indeed, the change was so great that I exclaimed dubiously,—"Is that Sir Sedley Beaudesert?" The footman looked at me, and touching his hat, said, with a condescending smile, "Yes, sir, now the Marquis of Castleton."
Then, for the first time since the young lord's death, I remembered Sir Sedley's expressions of gratitude to Lady Castleton and the waters of Ems for having saved him from "that horrible marquisate." Meanwhile my old friend had perceived me, exclaiming,—
"What! Mr. Caxton? I am delighted to see you. Open the door, Thomas. Pray come in, come in."
I obeyed, and the new Lord Castleton made room for me by his side.
"Are you in a hurry?" said he. "If so, shall I take you anywhere? If not, give me half an hour of your time while I drive to the city."
As I knew not now in what direction more than another to prosecute my search for the Captain, and as I thought I might as well call at our lodgings to inquire if he had not returned, I answered that I should be very happy to accompany his lordship; "Though the City," said I, smiling, "sounds to me strange upon the lips of Sir Sedley—I beg pardon, I should say of Lord—"
"Don't say any such thing; let me once more hear the grateful sound of Sedley Beaudesert. Shut the door, Thomas to Gracechurch Street,—Messrs. Fudge & Fidget."
The carriage drove on.
"A sad affliction has befallen me," said the marquis, "and none sympathize with me!"
"Yet all, even unacquainted with the late lord, must have felt shocked at the death of one so young and so full of promise."
"So fitted in every way to bear the burden of the great Castleton name and property. And yet you see it killed him! Ah! if he had been but a simple gentleman, or if he had had a less conscientious desire to do his duties, he would have lived to a good old age. I know what it is already. Oh, if you saw the piles of letters on my table! I positively dread the post. Such colossal improvement on the property which the poor boy had began, for me to finish. What do you think takes me to Fudge & Fidget's? Sir, they are the agents for an infernal coal-mine which my cousin had re-opened in Durham, to plague my life out with another thirty thousand pounds a year! How am I to spend the money?—how am I to spend it? There's a cold-blooded head steward who says that charity is the greatest crime a man in high station can commit,—it demoralizes the poor. Then, because some half-a-dozen farmers sent me a round-robin to the effect that their rents were too high, and I wrote them word that the rents should be lowered, there was such a hullabaloo, you would have thought heaven and earth were coming together. 'If a man in the position of the Marquis of Castleton set the example of letting land below its value, how could the poorer squires in the country exist? Or if they did exist, what injustice to expose them to the charge that they were grasping landlords, vampires, and bloodsuckers! Clearly if Lord Castleton lowered his rents (they were too low already), he struck a mortal blow at the property of his neighbors if they followed his example, or at their characters if they did not.' No man can tell how hard it is to do good, unless fortune gives him a hundred thousand pounds a-year, and says—'Now, do good with it!' Sedley Beaudesert might follow his whims, and all that would be said against him was 'good-natured, simple fellow!' But if Lord Castleton follow his whims, you would think he was a second Catiline,—unsettling the peace and undermining the prosperity of the entire nation!" Here the wretched man paused, and sighed heavily; then, as his thoughts wandered into a new channel of woe, he resumed: "Ah! if you could but see the forlorn great house I am expected to inhabit, cooped up between dead walls instead of my pretty rooms with the windows full on the park; and the balls I am expected to give; and the parliamentary interest I am to keep up; and the villanous proposal made to me to become a lord-steward or lord-chamberlain, because it suits my rank to be a sort of a servant. Oh, Pisistratus, you lucky dog,—not twenty-one, and with, I dare say, not two hundred pounds a-year in the world!"
Thus bemoaning and bewailing his sad fortunes, the poor marquis ran on, till at last he exclaimed, in a tone of yet deeper despair,—
"And everybody says I must marry too;—that the Castleton line must not be extinct! The Beaudeserts are a good old family ono,'—as old, for what I know, as the Castletons; but the British empire would suffer no loss if they sank into the tomb of the Capulets. But that the Castleton peerage should expire is a thought of crime and woe at which all the mothers of England rise in a phalanx! And so, instead of visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons, it is the father that is to be sacrificed for the benefit of the third and fourth generation!"
Despite my causes for seriousness, I could not help laughing; my companion turned on me a look of reproach.
"At least," said I, composing my countenance, "Lord Castleton has one comfort in his afflictions,—if he must marry, he may choose as he pleases."
"That is precisely what Sedley Beaudesert could, and Lord Castleton cannot do," said the marquis, gravely. "The rank of Sir Sedley Beaudesert was a quiet and comfortable rank, he might marry a curate's daughter, or a duke's, and please his eye or grieve his heart as the caprice took him. But Lord Castleton must marry, not for a wife, but for a marchioness,—marry some one who will wear his rank for him; take the trouble of splendor oft his hands, and allow him to retire into a corner and dream that he is Sedley Beaudesert once more! Yes, it must be so,—the crowning sacrifice must be completed at the altar. But a truce to my complaints. Trevanion informs me you are going to Australia,—can that be true?"
"They say there is a sad want of ladies there."
"So much the better,—I shall be all the more steady."
"Well, there's something in that. Have you seen Lady Ellinor?"
"Poor woman! A great blow to her,—we have tried to console each other. Fanny, you know, is staying at Oxton, in Surrey, with Lady Castleton,—the poor lady is so fond of her,—and no one has comforted her like Fanny."
"I was not aware that Miss Trevanion was out of town."
"Only for a few days, and then she and Lady Ellinor join Trevanion in the North,—you know he is with Lord N—, settling measures on which—But, alas! they consult me now on those matters,—force their secrets on me. I have, Heaven knows how many votes! Poor me! Upon my word, if Lady Ellinor was a widow, I should certainly make up to her: very clever woman, nothing bores her." (The marquis yawned,—Sir Sedley Beaudesert never yawned.) "Trevanion has provided for his Scotch secretary, and is about to get a place in the Foreign Office for that young fellow Gower, whom, between you and me, I don't like. But he has bewitched Trevanion!"
"What sort of a person is this Mr. Gower? I remember you said that he was clever and good-looking."
"He is both; but it is not the cleverness of youth,—he is as hard and sarcastic as if he had been cheated fifty times, and jilted a hundred! Neither are his good looks that letter of recommendation which a handsome face is said to be. He has an expression of countenance very much like that of Lord Hertford's pet bloodhound when a stranger comes into the room. Very sleek, handsome dog the bloodhound is certainly,—well-mannered, and I dare say exceedingly tame; but still you have but to look at the corner of the eye to know that it is only the habit of the drawing-room that suppresses the creature's constitutional tendency to seize you by the throat, instead of giving you a paw. Still, this Mr. Gower has a very striking head,—something about it Moorish or Spanish, like a picture by Murillo—I half suspect that he is less a Gower than a gypsy!"
"What!"—I cried, as I listened with rapt and breathless attention to this description. "He is then very dark, with high, narrow forehead, features slightly aquiline, but very delicate, and teeth so dazzling that the whole face seems to sparkle when he smiles,—though it is only the lip that smiles, not the eye."
"Exactly as you say; you have seen him, then?"
"Why, I am not sure, since you say his name is Gower."
"He says his name is Gower," returned Lord Castleton, dryly, as he inhaled the Beaudesert mixture.
"And where is he now,—with Mr. Trevanion?"
"Yes, I believe so. Ah! here we are—Fudge & Fidget! But perhaps," added Lord Castleton, with a gleam of hope in his blue eye,—"perhaps they are not at home!"
Alas! that was an illusive "imagining," as the poets of the nineteenth century unaffectedly express themselves. Messrs. Fudge & Fidget were never out to such clients as the Marquis of Castleton; with a deep sigh, and an altered expression of face, the Victim of Fortune slowly descended the steps of the carriage.
"I can't ask you to wait for me," said he; "Heaven only knows how long I shall be kept! Take the carriage where you will, and send it back to me."
"A thousand thanks, my dear lord, I would rather walk. But you will let me call on you before I leave town."
"Let you!—I insist on it. I am still at the old quarters,—under pretence," said the marquis, with a sly twinkle of the eyelid, "that Castleton House wants painting!"
"At twelve to-morrow, then?"
"Twelve to-morrow! Alas! that's just the hour at which Mr. Screw, the agent for the London property (two squares, seven streets, and a lane!) is to call."
"Perhaps two o'clock will suit you better?"
"Two! just the hour at which Mr. Plausible, one of the Castleton members, insists upon telling me why his conscience will not let him vote with Trevanion!"
"Three! just the hour at which I am to see the secretary of the Treasury, who has promised to relieve Mr. Plausible's conscience! But come and dine with me,—you will meet the executors to the will!"
"Nay, Sir Sedley,—that is, my dear lord,—I will take my chance, and look in after dinner."
"I do so; my guests are not lively! What a firm step the rogue has! Only twenty, I think,—twenty! and not an acre of property to plague him!" So saying, the marquis dolorously shook his head and vanished through the noiseless mahogany doors behind which Messrs. Fudge & Fidget awaited the unhappy man,—with the accounts of the great Castleton coal-mine.
On my way towards our lodgings I resolved to look in at a humble tavern, in the coffee-room of which the Captain and myself habitually dined. It was now about the usual hour in which we took that meal, and he might be there waiting for me. I had just gained the steps of this tavern when a stagecoach came rattling along the pavement and drew up at an inn of more pretensions than that which we favored, situated within a few doors of the latter. As the coach stopped, my eye was caught by the Trevanion livery, which was very peculiar. Thinking I must be deceived, I drew near to the wearer of the livery, who had just descended from the roof, and while he paid the coachman, gave his orders to a waiter who emerged from the inn,—"Half-and-half, cold without!" The tone of the voice struck me as familiar, and the man now looking up, I beheld the features of Mr. Peacock. Yes, unquestionably it was he. The whiskers were shaved; there were traces of powder in the hair or the wig; the livery of the Trevanions (ay, the very livery,—crest-button and all) upon that portly figure, which I had last seen in the more august robes of a beadle. But Mr. Peacock it was,—Peacock travestied, but Peacock still. Before I had recovered my amaze, a woman got out of a cabriolet that seemed to have been in waiting for the arrival of the coach, and hurrying up to Mr. Peacock, said, in the loud, impatient tone common to the fairest of the fair sex, when in haste, "How late you are!—I was just going. I must get back to Oxton to-night."
Oxton,—Miss Trevanion was staying at Oxton! I was now close behind the pair; I listened with my heart in my ear.
"So you shall, my dear,—so you shall; just come in, will you?"
"No, no; I have only ten minutes to catch the coach. Have you any letter for me from Mr. Gower? How can I be sure, if I don't see it under his own hand, that—"
"Hush!" said Peacock, sinking his voice so low that I could only catch the words, "no names. Letter, pooh! I'll tell you." He then drew her apart and whispered to her for some moments. I watched the woman's face, which was bent towards her companion's, and it seemed to show quick intelligence. She nodded her head more than once, as if in impatient assent to what was said, and after a shaking of hands, hurried off to the cab; then, as if a thought struck her, she ran back, and said,—
"But in case my lady should not go,—if there's any change of plan?"
"There'll be no change, you may be sure. Positively tomorrow,—not too early: you understand?"
"Yes, yes; good-by!" and the woman, who was dressed with a quiet neatness that seemed to stamp her profession as that of an abigail (black cloak with long cape,—of that peculiar silk which seems spun on purpose for ladies'-maids,—bonnet to match, with red and black ribbons), hastened once more away, and in another moment the cab drove off furiously.
What could all this mean? By this time the waiter brought Mr. Peacock the half-and-half. He despatched it hastily, and then strode on towards a neighboring stand of cabriolets. I followed him; and just as, after beckoning one of the vehicles from the stand, he had ensconced himself therein, I sprang up the steps and placed myself by his side. "Now, Mr. Peacock," said I, "you will tell me at once how you come to wear that livery, or I shall order the cabman to drive to Lady Ellinor Trevanion's and ask her that question myself."
"And who the devil! Ah, you're the young gentleman that came to me behind the scenes,—I remember."
"Where to, sir?" asked the cabman.
"To—to London Bridge," said Mr. Peacock. The man mounted the box and drove on.
"Well, Mr. Peacock, I wait your answer. I guess by your face that you are about to tell me a lie; I advise you to speak the truth."
"I don't know what business you have to question me," said Mr. Peacock, sullenly; and raising his glance from his own clenched fists, he suffered it to wander over my form with so vindictive a significance that I interrupted the survey by saying, "'Will you encounter the house?' as the Swan interrogatively puts it? Shall I order the cabman to drive to St. James's Square?"
"Oh, you know my weak point, sir! Any man who can quote Will—sweet Will—has me on the hip," rejoined Mr. Peacock, smoothing his countenance and spreading his palms on his knees. "But if a man does fall in the world, and after keeping servants of his own, is obliged to be himself a servant,—
"'I will not shame To tell you what I am.'"
"The Swan says, 'To tell you what I was,' Mr. Peacock. But enough of this trifling. Who placed you with Mr. Trevanion?"
Mr. Peacock looked down for a moment, and then fixing his eyes on me, said, "Well, I'll tell you: you asked me, when we met last, about a young gentleman,—Mr.—Mr. Vivian."
Peacock.—"I know you don't want to harm him. Besides, 'He hath a prosperous art,' and one day or other,—mark my words, or rather my friend Will's,—
"'He will bestride this narrow world Like a Colossus.'
"Upon my life he will,—like a Colossus;
"'And we petty men—'"
Pisistratus (savagely).—"Go on with your story."
Peacock (snappishly).—"I am going on with it! You put me out. Where was I—oh—ah—yes. I had just been sold up,—not a penny in my pocket; and if you could have seen my coat,—yet that was better than the small clothes! Well, it was in Oxford Street,—no, it was in the Strand, near the Lowther,—
"'The sun was in the heavens; and the proud day Attended with the pleasures of the world."'
Pisistratus (lowering the glass).—"To St. James's Square?"
Peacock.—"No, no; to London Bridge.
"'How use doth breed a habit in a man!'
"I will go on,—honor bright. So I met Mr. Vivian, and as he had known me in better days, and has a good heart of his own, he says,—
"'Horatio,—or I do forget myself."'
Pisistratus puts his hand on the check-string.
Peacock (correcting himself).—I mean—"Why, Johnson, my good fellow."'
Pisistratus.—"Johnson! Oh, that's your name,—not Peacock."
Peacock.—"Johnson and Peacock both [with dignity]. When you know the world as I do, sir, you will find that it is ill travelling this 'naughty world' without a change of names in your portmanteau.
"'Johnson,' says he, 'my good fellow,' and he pulled out his purse. 'Sir,' said I, 'if, "exempt from public haunt," I could get something to do when this dross is gone. In London there are sermons in stones, certainly, but not "good in everything,"—an observation I should take the liberty of making to the Swan if he were not now, alas! "the baseless fabric of a vision."'"
Peacock (hurriedly).—"Then says Mr. Vivian, 'If you don't mind wearing a livery till I can provide for you more suitably, my old friend, there's a vacancy in the establishment of Mr. Trevanion.' Sir, I accepted the proposal; and that's why I wear this livery."
Pisistratus.—"And pray, what business had you with that young woman, whom I take to be Miss Trevanion's maid? And why should she come from Oxton to see you?"
I had expected that these questions would confound Mr. Peacock; but if there were really anything in them to cause embarrassment, the ci-devant actor was too practised in his profession to exhibit it. He merely smiled, and smoothing jauntily a very tumbled shirt front, he said, "Oh, sir, fie!
"'Of this matter Is little Cupid's crafty arrow made.'
"If you must know my love affairs, that young woman is, as the vulgar say, my sweetheart."
"Your sweetheart!" I exclaimed, greatly relieved, and acknowledging at once the probability of the statement. "Yet," I added suspiciously,—"yet, if so, why should she expect Mr. Gower to write to her?"
"You're quick of hearing, sir; but though—
"'All adoration, duty, and observance; All humbleness and patience and impatience,'
the young woman won't marry a livery servant,—proud creature!—very proud! and Mr. Gower, you see, knowing how it was, felt for me, and told her, if I may take such liberty with the Swan, that she should—
"'Never lie by Johnson's side With an unquiet soul,'
for that he would get me a place in the Stamps! The silly girl said she would have it in black and white,—as if Mr. Gower would write to her!
"And now, sir," continued Mr. Peacock, with a simpler gravity, "you are at liberty, of course, to say what you please to my lady; but I hope you'll not try to take the bread out of my mouth because I wear a livery and am fool enough to be in love with a waiting-woman,—I, sir, who could have married ladies who have played the first parts in life—on the metropolitan stage."
I had nothing to say to these representations, they seemed plausible; and though at first I had suspected that the man had only resorted to the buffoonery of his quotations in order to gain time for invention or to divert my notice from any flaw in his narrative, yet at the close, as the narrative seemed probable, so I was willing to believe the buffoonery was merely characteristic. I contented myself, therefore, with asking, "Where do you come from now?"
"From Mr. Trevanion, in the country, with letters to Lady Ellinor."
"Oh! and so the young woman knew you were coming to town?"
"Yes, sir; Mr. Trevanion told me, some days ago, the day I should have to start."
"And what do you and the young woman propose doing to-morrow if there is no change of plan?"
Here I certainly thought there was a slight, scarce perceptible, alteration in Mr. Peacock's countenance; but he answered readily, "To-morrow, a little assignation, if we can both get out,—
"'Woo me, now I am in a holiday humor, And like enough to consent'
"Swan again, sir."
"Humph! so then Mr. Gower and Mr. Vivian are the same person?"
Peacock hesitated. "That's not my secret, sir; 'I am combined by a sacred vow.' You are too much the gentleman to peep through the blanket of the dark and to ask me, who wear the whips and stripes—I mean the plush small-clothes and shoulder-knots—the secrets of another gent to whom 'my services are bound.'"
How a man past thirty foils a man scarcely twenty! What superiority the mere fact of living-on gives to the dullest dog! I bit my lip and was silent.
"And," pursued Mr. Peacock, "if you knew how the Mr. Vivian you inquired after loves you! When I told him, incidentally, how a young gentleman had come behind the scenes to inquire after him, he made me describe you, and then said, quite mournfully, 'If ever I sin what I hope to become, how happy I shall be to shake that kind hand once more,'—very words, sir, honor bright!
"'I think there's ne'er a man in Christendom Can lesser hide his hate or love than he.'"
And if Mr. Vivian has some reason to keep himself concealed still; if his fortune or ruin depend on your not divulging his secret for a while,—I can't think you are the man he need fear. 'Pon my life,—
"'I wish I was as sure of a good dinner,'
as the Swan touchingly exclaims. I dare swear that was a wish often on the Swan's lips in the privacy of his domestic life!"
My heart was softened, not by the pathos of the much profaned and desecrated Swan, but by Mr. Peacock's unadorned repetition of Vivian's words. I turned my face from the sharp eyes of my companion; the cab now stopped at the foot of London Bridge.
I had no more to ask, yet still there was some uneasy curiosity in my mind, which I could hardly define to myself, was it not jealousy? Vivian so handsome and so daring,—he at least might see the great heiress; Lady Ellinor perhaps thought of no danger there. But—I—I was a lover still, and—nay, such thoughts were folly indeed!
"My man," said I to the ex-comedian, "I neither wish to harm Mr. Vivian (if I am so to call him), nor you who imitate him in the variety of your names. But I tell you fairly that I do not like your being in Mr. Trevanion's employment, and I advise you to get out of it as soon as possible. I say nothing more as yet, for I shall take time to consider well what you have told me."
With that I hastened away, and Mr. Peacock continued his solitary journey over London Bridge.
Amidst all that lacerated my heart or tormented my thoughts that eventful day, I felt at least one joyous emotion when, on entering our little drawing-room, I found my uncle seated there.
The Captain had placed before him on the table a large Bible, borrowed from the landlady. He never travelled, to be sure, without his own Bible; but the print of that was small, and the Captain's eyes began to fail him at night. So this was a Bible with large type, and a candle was placed on either side of it; and the Captain leaned his elbows on the table, and both his hands were tightly clasped upon his forehead,—tightly, as if to shut out the tempter, and force his whole soul upon the page.
He sat the image of iron courage; in every line of that rigid form there was resolution: "I will not listen to my heart; I will read the Book, and learn to suffer as becomes a Christian man."
There was such a pathos in the stern sufferer's attitude that it spoke those words as plainly as if his lips had said them. Old soldier, thou hast done a soldier's part in many a bloody field; but if I could make visible to the world thy brave soldier's soul, I would paint thee as I saw thee then!—Out on this tyro's hand!
At the movement I made, the Captain looked up, and the strife he had gone through was written upon his face.
"It has done me good," said he simply, and he closed the book.
I drew my chair near to him and hung my arm over his shoulder.
"No cheering news, then?" asked I in a whisper.
Roland shook his head, and gently laid his finger on his lips.
It was impossible for me to intrude upon Roland's thoughts, whatever their nature, with a detail of those circumstances which had roused in me a keen and anxious interest in things apart from his sorrow.
Yet as "restless I rolled around my weary bed," and revolved the renewal of Vivian's connection with a man of character so equivocal as Peacock; the establishment of an able and unscrupulous tool of his own in the service of Trevanion; the care with which he had concealed from me his change of name, and his intimacy at the very house to which I had frankly offered to present him; the familiarity which his creature had contrived to effect with Miss Trevanion's maid; the words that had passed between them,—plausibly accounted for, it is true, yet still suspicious; and, above all, my painful recollections of Vivian's reckless ambition and unprincipled sentiments,—nay, the effect that a few random words upon Fanny's fortune, and the luck of winning an heiress, had sufficed to produce upon his heated fancy and audacious temper,—when all these thoughts came upon me, strong and vivid, in the darkness of night, I longed for some confidant, more experienced in the world than myself, to advise me as to the course I ought to pursue. Should I warn Lady Ellinor? But of what? The character of the servant, or the designs of the fictitious Gower? Against the first I could say, if nothing very positive, still enough to make it prudent to dismiss him. But of Gower or Vivian, what could I say without—not indeed betraying his confidence, for that he had never given me—but without belying the professions of friendship that I myself had lavishly made to him? Perhaps, after all, he might have disclosed whatever were his real secrets to Trevanion; and, if not, I might indeed ruin his prospects by revealing the aliases he assumed. But wherefore reveal, and wherefore warn? Because of suspicions that I could not myself analyze,—suspicions founded on circumstances most of which had already been seemingly explained away. Still, when morning came, I was irresolute what to do; and after watching Roland's countenance, and seeing on his brow so great a weight of care that I had no option but to postpone the confidence I pined to place in Iris strong understanding and unerring sense of honor, I wandered out, hoping that in the fresh air I might re-collect my thoughts and solve the problem that perplexed me. I had enough to do in sundry small orders for my voyage, and commissions for Bolding, to occupy me some hours. And, this business done, I found myself moving westward; mechanically, as it were, I had come to a kind of half-and-half resolution to call upon Lady Ellinor and question her, carelessly and incidentally, both about Gower and the new servant admitted to the household.
Thus I found myself in Regent Street, when a carriage, borne by post-horses, whirled rapidly over the pavement, scattering to the right and left all humbler equipages, and hurried, as if on an errand of life and death, up the broad thoroughfare leading into Portland Place. But rapidly as the wheels dashed by, I had seen distinctly the face of Fanny Trevanion in the carriage; and that face wore a strange expression, which seemed to me to speak of anxiety and grief; and by her side—Was not that the woman I had seen with Peacock? I did not see the face of the woman, but I thought I recognized the cloak, the bonnet, and peculiar turn of the head. If I could be mistaken there, I was not mistaken at least as to the servant on the seat behind. Looking back at a butcher's boy who had just escaped being run over, and was revenging himself by all the imprecations the Dirae of London slang could suggest, the face of Mr. Peacock was exposed in full to my gaze.
My first impulse, on recovering my surprise, was to spring after the carriage; in the haste of that impulse, I cried "Stop!" But the carriage was out of sight in a moment, and my word was lost in air. Full of presentiments of some evil,—I knew not what,—I then altered my course, and stopped not till I found myself, panting and out of breath, in St. James's Square—at the door of Trevanion's house—in the hall. The porter had a newspaper in his hand as he admitted me.
"Where is Lady Ellinor? I must see her instantly."
"No worse news of master, I hope, sir?"
"Worse news of what, of whom? Of Mr. Trevanion?"
"Did you not know he was suddenly taken ill, sir,—that a servant came express to say so last night? Lady Ellinor went off at ten o'clock to join him."
"At ten o'clock last night?"
"Yes, sir; the servant's account alarmed her ladyship so much."
"The new servant, who had been recommended by Mr. Gower?"
"Yes, sir,—Henry," answered the porter, staring at me. "Please, sir, here is an account of master's attack in the paper. I suppose Henry took it to the office before he came here,—which was very wrong in him; but I am afraid he's a very foolish fellow."
"Never mind that. Miss Trevanion,—I saw her just now,—she did not go with her mother: where was she going, then?"
"Why, sir,—but pray step into the parlor."
"No, no; speak!"
"Why, sir, before Lady Ellinor set out she was afraid that there might be something in the papers to alarm Miss Fanny, and so she sent Henry down to Lady Castleton's to beg her ladyship to make as light of it as she could; but it seems that Henry blabbed the worst to Mrs. Mole."
"Who is Mrs. Mole?"
"Miss Trevanion's maid, sir,—a new maid; and Mrs. Mole blabbed to my young lady, and so she took fright, and insisted on coming to town. And Lady Castleton, who is ill herself in bed, could not keep her, I suppose,—especially as Henry said, though he ought to have known better, 'that she would be in time to arrive before my lady set off.' Poor Miss Trevanion was so disappointed when she found her mamma gone. And then she would order fresh horses and go on, though Mrs. Bates (the housekeeper, you know, sir) was very angry with Mrs. Mole, who encouraged Miss; and—"
"Good heavens! Why did not Mrs. Bates go with her?"
"Why, sir, you know how old Mrs. Bates is, and my young lady is always so kind that she would not hear of it, as she is going to travel night and day; and Mrs. Mole said she had gone all over the world with her last lady, and that—"
"I see it all. Where is Mr. Gower?"
"Mr. Gower, sir!"
"Yes! Can't you answer?"
"Why, with Mr. Trevanion, I believe, sir."
"In the North,—what is the address!"
"Lord N—, C—Hall, near W—"
I heard no more.
The conviction of some villanous snare struck me as with the swiftness and force of lightning. Why, if Trevanion were really ill, had the false servant concealed it from me? Why suffered me to waste his time, instead of hastening to Lady Ellinor? How, if Mr. Trevanion's sudden illness had brought the man to London,—how had he known so long beforehand (as he himself told me, and his appointment with the waiting-woman proved) the day he should arrive? Why now, if there were no design of which bliss Trevanion was the object, why so frustrate the provident foresight of her mother, and take advantage of the natural yearning of affection, the quick impulse of youth, to hurry off a girl whose very station forbade her to take such a journey without suitable protection,—against what must be the wish, and what clearly were the instructions, of Lady Ellinor? Alone, worse than alone! Fanny Trevanion was then in the hands of two servants who were the instruments and confidants of an adventurer like Vivian; and that conference between those servants, those broken references to the morrow coupled with the name Vivian had assumed,—needed the unerring instincts of love more cause for terror?—terror the darker because the exact shape it should assume was obscure and indistinct.
I sprang from the house.
I hastened into the Haymarket, summoned a cabriolet, drove home as fast as I could (for I had no money about me for the journey I meditated), sent the servant of the lodging to engage a chaise-and-four, rushed into the room, where Roland fortunately still was, and exclaimed,—"Uncle, come with me! Take money, plenty of money! Some villany I know, though I can't explain it, has been practised on the Trevanions. We may defeat it yet. I will tell you all by the way. Come, come!"
"Certainly. But villany,—and to people of such a station—pooh! collect yourself. Who is the villain?"
"Oh, the man I had loved as a friend; the man whom I myself helped to make known to Trevanion,—Vivian, Vivian!"
"Vivian! Ah, the youth I have heard you speak of! But how? Villany to whom,—to Trevanion?"
"You torture me with your questions. Listen: this Vivian (I know him),—he has introduced into the house, as a servant, an agent capable of any trick and fraud; that servant has aided him to win over her maid,—Fanny's—Miss Trevanion's. Miss Trevanion is an heiress, Vivian an adventurer. My head swims round; I cannot explain now. Ha! I will write a line to Lord Castleton,—tell him my fears and suspicions; he will follow us, I know, or do what is best."
I drew ink and paper towards me and wrote hastily. My uncle came round and looked over my shoulder.
Suddenly he exclaimed, seizing my arm: "Gower, Gower! What name is this? You said Vivian."
"Vivian or Gower,—the same person."
My uncle hurried out of the room. It was natural that he should leave me to make our joint and brief preparations for departure.
I finished my letter, sealed it, and when, five minutes afterwards, the chaise came to the door, I gave it to the hostler who accompanied the horses, with injunctions to deliver it forthwith to Lord Castleton himself.
My uncle now descended, and stepped from the threshold with a firm stride. "Comfort yourself," he said, as he entered the chaise, into which I had already thrown myself. "We may be mistaken yet."
"Mistaken! You do not know this young man. He has every quality that could entangle a girl like Fanny, and not, I fear, one sentiment of honor that would stand in the way of his ambition. I judge him now as by a revelation—too late—Oh Heavens, if it be too late!"
A groan broke from Roland's lips. I heard in it a proof of his sympathy with my emotion, and grasped his hand, it was as cold as the hand of the dead.
There would have been nothing in what had chanced to justify the suspicions that tortured me, but for my impressions as to the character of Vivian.
Reader, hast thou not, in the easy, careless sociability of youth, formed acquaintance with some one in whose more engaging or brilliant qualities thou hast,—not lost that dislike to defects or vices which is natural to an age when, even while we err, we adore what is good, and glow with enthusiasts for the ennobling sentiment and the virtuous deed,—no, happily, not lost dislike to what is bad, nor thy quick sense of it,—but conceived a keen interest in the struggle between the bad that revolted, and the good that attracted thee, in thy companion? Then, perhaps, thou hast lost sight of him for a time; suddenly thou hearest that he has done something out of the way of ordinary good or commonplace evil; and in either—the good or the evil—thy mind runs rapidly back over its old reminiscences, and of either thou sayest, "How natural! Only, So-and-so could have done this thing!"
Thus I felt respecting Vivian. The most remarkable qualities in his character were his keen power of calculation and his unhesitating audacity,—qualities that lead to fame or to infamy, according to the cultivation of the moral sense and the direction of the passions. Had I recognized those qualities in some agency apparently of good,—and it seemed yet doubtful if Vivian were the agent,—I should have cried, "It is he; and the better angel has triumphed!" With the same (alas! with a yet more impulsive) quickness, when the agency was of evil, and the agent equally dubious, I felt that the qualities revealed the man, and that the demon had prevailed.
Mile after mile, stage after stage, were passed on the dreary, interminable, high north road. I narrated to my companion, more intelligibly than I had yet done, my causes for apprehension. The Captain at first listened eagerly, then checked me on the sudden. "There may be nothing in all this," he cried. "Sir, we must be men here,—have our heads cool, our reason clear; stop!" And leaning back in the chaise, Roland refused further conversation, and as the night advanced, seemed to sleep. I took pity on his fatigue, and devoured my heart in silence. At each stage we heard of the party of which we were in pursuit. At the first stage or two we were less than an hour behind; gradually, as we advanced, we lost ground, despite the most lavish liberality to the post-boys. I supposed, at length, that the mere circumstance of changing, at each relay, the chaise as well as the horses, was the cause of our comparative slowness; and on saying this to Roland as we were changing horses, somewhere about midnight, he at once called up the master of the inn and gave him his own price for permission to retain the chaise till the journey's end. This was so unlike Roland's ordinary thrift, whether dealing with my money or his own,—so unjustified by the fortune of either,—that I could not help muttering something in apology.
"Can you guess why I was a miser?" said Roland, calmly.
"A miser? Anything but that! Only prudent,—military men often are so."
"I was a miser," repeated the Captain, with emphasis. "I began the habit first when my son was but a child. I thought him high-spirited, and with a taste for extravagance. 'Well,' said I to myself, 'I will save for him; boys will be boys.' Then, afterwards, when he was no more a child (at least he began to have the vices of a man), I said to myself, 'Patience! he may reform still; if not, I will save money, that I may have power over his self-interest, since I have none over his heart. I will bribe him into honor!' And then—and then—God saw that I was very proud, and I was punished. Tell them to drive faster,—faster; why, this is a snail's pace!"
All that night, all the next day, till towards the evening, we pursued our journey, without pause or other food than a crust of bread and a glass of wine. But we now picked up the ground we had lost, and gained upon the carriage. The night had closed in when we arrived at the stage at which the route to Lord N—'s branched from the direct north road. And here, making our usual inquiry, my worst suspicions were confirmed. The carriage we pursued had changed horses an hour before, but had not taken the way to Lord N—'s, continuing the direct road into Scotland. The people of the inn had not seen the lady in the carriage, for it was already dark; but the man-servant (whose livery they described) had ordered the horses.
The last hope that, in spite of appearances, no treachery had been designed, here vanished. The Captain at first seemed more dismayed than myself, but he recovered more quickly. "We will continue the journey on horseback," he said; and hurried to the stables. All objections vanished at the sight of his gold. In five minutes we were in the saddle, with a postilion, also mounted, to accompany us. We did the next stage in little more than two thirds of the time which we should have occupied in our former mode of travel,—indeed I found it hard to keep pace with Roland. We remounted; we were only twenty-five minutes behind the carriage,—we felt confident that we should overtake it before it could reach the next town. The moon was up: we could see far before us; we rode at full speed. Milestone after milestone glided by; the carriage was not visible. We arrived at the post-town or rather village; it contained but one posting-house. We were long in knocking up the hostlers: no carriage had arrived just before us; no carriage had passed the place since noon.
What mystery was this?
"Back, back, boy!" said Roland, with a soldier's quick wit, and spurring his jaded horse from the yard. "They will have taken a cross-road or by-lane. We shall track them by the hoofs of the horses or the print of the wheels."
Our postilion grumbled, and pointed to the panting sides of our horses. For answer, Roland opened his hand—full of gold. Away we went back through the dull, sleeping village, back into the broad moonlit thoroughfare. We came to a cross-road to the right, but the track we pursued still led us straight on. We had measured back nearly half the way to the post-town at which we had last changed, when lo! there emerged from a by-lane two postilions and their horses!
At that sight our companion, shouting loud, pushed on before us and hailed his fellows. A few words gave us the information we sought. A wheel had come off the carriage just by the turn of the road, and the young lady and her servants had taken refuge in a small inn not many yards down the lane. The man-servant had dismissed the post-boys after they had baited their horses, saying they were to come again in the morning and bring a blacksmith to repair the wheel.
"How came the wheel off?" asked Roland, sternly.
"Why, sir, the linch-pin was all rotted away, I suppose, and came out."
"Did the servant get off the dickey after you set out, and before the accident happened?"
"Why, yes. He said the wheels were catching fire, that they had not the patent axles, and he had forgot to have them oiled."
"And he looked at the wheels, and shortly afterwards the linch-pin came out? Eh?"
"Anan, sir!" said the post-boy, staring; "why, and indeed so it was!"
"Come on, Pisistratus, we are in time; but pray God, pray God that—" The Captain dashed his spurs into the horse's sides, and the rest of his words were lost to me.
A few yards back from the causeway, a broad patch of green before it, stood the inn,—a sullen, old-fashioned building of cold gray stone, looking livid in the moonlight, with black firs at one side throwing over half of it a dismal shadow. So solitary,—not a house, not a but near it! If they who kept the inn were such that villany might reckon on their connivance, and innocence despair of their aid, there was no neighborhood to alarm, no refuge at hand. The spot was well chosen.
The doors of the inn were closed; there was a light in the room below: but the outside shutters were drawn over the windows on the first floor. My uncle paused a moment, and said to the postilion,—
"Do you know the back way to the premises?"
"No, sir; I does n't often come by this way, and they be new folks that have taken the house,—and I hear it don't prosper over much."
"Knock at the door; we will stand a little aside while you do so. If any one ask what you want, merely say you would speak to the servant,—that you have found a purse. Here, hold up mine."
Roland and I had dismounted, and my uncle drew me close to the wall by the door, observing that my impatience ill submitted to what seemed to me idle preliminaries.
"Hist!" whispered he. "If there be anything to conceal within, they will not answer the door till some one has reconnoitred; were they to see us, they would refuse to open. But seeing only the post-boy, whom they will suppose at first to be one of those who brought the carriage, they will have no suspicion. Be ready to rush in the moment the door is unbarred."
My uncle's veteran experience did not deceive him. There was a long silence before any reply was made to the post-boy's summons; the light passed to and fro rapidly across the window, as if persons were moving within. Roland made sign to the post-boy to knock again. He did so twice, thrice; and at last, from an attic window in the roof, a head obtruded and a voice cried, "Who are you? What do you want?"
"I'm the post-boy at the Red Lion; I want to see the servant with the brown carriage: I have found this purse!"
"Oh! that's all; wait a bit."
The head disappeared. We crept along under the projecting eaves of the house; we heard the bar lifted from the door, the door itself cautiously opened: one spring, and I stood within, and set my back to the door to admit Roland.
"Ho, help! thieves! help!" cried a loud voice, and I felt a hand grip at my throat. I struck at random in the dark, and with effect, for my blow was followed by a groan and a curse.
Roland, meanwhile, had detected a ray through the chinks of a door in the hall, and, guided by it, found his way into the room at the window of which we had seen the light pass and go, while without. As he threw the door open, I bounded after him and saw, in a kind of parlor, two females,—the one a stranger, no doubt the hostess; the other the treacherous abigail. Their faces evinced their terror.
"Woman," I said, seizing the last, "where is Miss Trevanion?" Instead of replying, the woman set up a loud shriek. Another light now gleamed from the staircase which immediately faced the door, and I heard a voice, that I recognized as Peacock's, cry out, "Who's there?—What's the matter?"
I made a rush at the stairs. A burly form (that of the landlord, who had recovered from my blow) obstructed my way for a moment, to measure its length on the floor at the next. I was at the top of the stairs; Peacock recognized me, recoiled, and extinguished the light. Oaths, cries, and shrieks now resounded through the dark. Amidst them all I suddenly heard a voice exclaim, "Here, here! help!" It was the voice of Fanny. I made my way to the right, whence the voice came, and received a violent blow. Fortunately it fell on the arm which I extended, as men do who feel their way through the dark. It was not the right arm, and I seized and closed on my assailant. Roland now came up, a candle in his hand; and at that sight my antagonist, who was no other than Peacock, slipped from me and made a rush at the stairs. But the Captain caught him with his grasp of iron. Fearing nothing for Roland in a contest with any single foe, and all my thoughts bent on the rescue of her whose voice again broke on my ear, I had already (before the light of the candle which Roland held went out in the struggle between himself and Peacock) caught sight of a door at the end of the passage, and thrown myself against it: it was locked, but it shook and groaned to my pressure.
"Hold back, whoever you are," cried a voice from the room within, far different from that wail of distress which had guided my steps. "Hold back at the peril of your life!"
The voice, the threat, redoubled my strength: the door flew from its fastenings. I stood in the room. I saw Fanny at my feet, clasping my hands; then raising herself, she hung on my shoulder and murmured "Saved!" Opposite to me, his face deformed by passion, his eyes literally blazing with savage fire, his nostrils distended, his lips apart, stood the man I have called Francis Vivian.
"Fanny—Miss Trevanion—what outrage, what villany is this? You have not met this man at your free choice,—oh, speak!" Vivian sprang forward.
"Question no one but me. Unhand that lady,—she is my betrothed; shall be my wife."
"No, no, no,—don't believe him," cried Fanny; "I have been betrayed by my own servants,—brought here, I know not how! I heard my father was ill; I was on my way to him that man met me here and dared to—"
"Miss Trevanion—yes, I dared to say I loved you!"
"Protect me from him! You will protect me from him?"
"No, madam!" said a voice behind me, in a deep tone; "it is I who claim the right to protect you from that man; it is I who now draw around you the arm of one sacred, even to him; it is I who, from this spot, launch upon his head—a father's curse. Violator of the hearth, baffled ravisher, go thy way to the doom which thou hast chosen for thyself! God will be merciful to me yet, and give me a grave before thy course find its close in the hulks or at the gallows!"
A sickness came over me, a terror froze my veins; I reeled back, and leaned for support against the wall. Roland had passed his arm round Fanny, and she, frail and trembling, clung to his broad breast, looking fearfully up to his face. And never in that face, ploughed by deep emotions and dark with unutterable sorrows, had I seen an expression so grand in its wrath, so sublime in its despair. Following the direction of his eye, stern and fixed as the look of one who prophesies a destiny and denounces a doom, I shivered as I gazed upon the son. His whole frame seemed collapsed and shrinking, as if already withered by the curse; a ghastly whiteness overspread the cheek, usually glowing with the dark bloom of Oriental youth; the knees knocked together; and at last, with a faint exclamation of pain, like the cry of one who receives a death-blow, he bowed his face over his clasped hands, and so remained—still, but cowering.
Instinctively I advanced, and placed myself between the father and the son, murmuring, "Spare him; see, his own heart crushes him down." Then stealing towards the son, I whispered, "Go, go; the crime was not committed, the curse can be recalled." But my words touched a wrong chord in that dark and rebellious nature. The young man withdrew his hands hastily from his face and reared his front in passionate defiance.
Waving me aside, he cried, "Away! I acknowledge no authority over my actions and my fate; I allow no mediator between this lady and myself! Sir," he continued, gazing gloomily on his father,—"sir, you forget our compact. Our ties were severed, your power over me annulled; I resigned the name you bear: to you I was, and am still, as the dead. I deny your right to step between me and the object dearer to me than life.
"Oh!"—and here he stretched forth his hands towards Fanny—"Oh, Miss Trevanion, do not refuse me one prayer, however you condemn me. Let me see you alone but for one moment; let me but prove to you that, guilty as I may have been, it was not from the base motives you will hear imputed to me,—that it was not the heiress I sought to decoy, it was the woman I sought to win; oh, hear me—"
"No, no," murmured Fanny, clinging closer to Roland, "do not leave me. If, as it seems, he is your son, I forgive him; but let him go,—I shudder at his very voice!"
"Would you have me indeed, annihilate the memory of the bond between us?" said Roland, in a hollow voice; "would you have me see in you only the vile thief, the lawless felon,—deliver you up to justice, or strike you to my feet? Let the memory still save you, and begone!"
Again I caught hold of the guilty son, and again he broke from my grasp.
"It is," he said, folding his arms deliberately on his breast, "it is for me to command in this house; all who are within it must submit to my orders. You, sir, who hold reputation, name, and honor at so high a price, how can you fail to see that you would rob them from the lady whom you would protect from the insult of my affection? How would the world receive the tale of your rescue of Miss Trevanion; how believe that—Oh! pardon me, madam—Miss Trevanion—Fanny—pardon me—I am mad. Only hear me,—alone, alone; and then if you too say, 'Begone!' I submit without a murmur I allow no arbiter but you."
But Fanny still clung closer and closer still to Roland. At that moment I heard voices and the trampling of feet below; and supposing that the accomplices in this villany were mustering courage perhaps to mount to the assistance of their employer, I lost all the compassion that had hitherto softened my horror of the young man's crime, and all the awe with which that confession had been attended. I therefore this time seized the false Vivian with a grip that he could no longer shake off, and said sternly, "Beware how you aggravate your offence! If strife ensues, it will not be between father and son, and—"
Fanny sprang forward. "Do not provoke this bad, dangerous man! I fear him not. Sir, I will hear you, and alone."
"Never!" cried I and Roland simultaneously.
Vivian turned his look fiercely to me, and with a sullen bitterness to his father; and then, as if resigning his former prayer, he said: "Well, then, be it so; even in the presence of those who judge me so severely, I will speak at least." He paused, and throwing into his voice a passion that, had the repugnance at his guilt been less, would not have been without pathos, he continued to address Fanny: "I own that when I first saw you I might have thought of love as the poor and ambitious think of the way to wealth and power. Those thoughts vanished, and nothing remained in my heart but love and madness. I was as a man in a delirium when I planned this snare. I knew but one object, saw but one heavenly vision. Oh! mine—mine at least in that vision—are you indeed lost to me forever?"
There was that in this man's tone and manner which, whether arising from accomplished hypocrisy or actual, if perverted, feeling, would, I thought, find its way at once to the heart of a woman who, however wronged, had once loved him; and with a cold misgiving, I fixed my eyes on Miss Trevanion. Her look, as she turned with a visible tremor, suddenly met mine, and I believe that she discerned my doubt; for after suffering her eyes to rest on my own with something of mournful reproach, her lips curved as with the pride, of her mother, and for the first time in my life I saw anger on her brow.
"It is well, sir, that you have thus spoken to me in the presence of others, for in their presence I call upon you to say, by that honor which the son of this gentleman may for a while forget, but cannot wholly forfeit,—I call upon you to say whether, by deed, word, or sign, I, Frances Trevanion, ever gave you cause to believe that I returned the feeling you say you entertained for me, or encouraged you to dare this attempt to place me in your power."
"No!" cried Vivian, readily, but with a writhing lip, "no; but where I loved so deeply, perilled all my fortune for one fair and free occasion to tell you so alone, I would not think that such love could meet only loathing and disdain. What! has Nature shaped me so unkindly that where I love no love can reply? What! has the accident of birth shut me out from the right to woo and mate with the high-born? For the last, at least that gentleman in justice should tell you since it has been his care to instil the haughty lesson into me, that my lineage is one that befits lofty hopes and warrants fearless ambition. My hopes, my ambition—they were you Oh, Miss Trevanion, it is true that to win you I would have braved the world's laws, defied every foe save him who now rises before me. Yet, believe me, believe me, had I won what I dared to aspire to, you would not have been disgraced by your choice; and the name, for which I thank not my father, should not have been despised by the woman who pardoned my presumption, nor by the man who now tramples on my anguish and curses me in my desolation."
Not by a word had Roland sought to interrupt his son,—nay, by a feverish excitement which my heart understood in its secret sympathy, he had seemed eagerly to court every syllable that could extenuate the darkness of the offence, or even imply some less sordid motive for the baseness of the means. But as the son now closed with the words of unjust reproach and the accents of fierce despair,—closed a defence that showed, in its false pride and its perverted eloquence, so utter a blindness to every principle of that Honor which had been the father's idol,—Roland placed his hand before the eyes that he had previously, as if spell-bound, fixed on the hardened offender, and once more drawing Fanny towards him, said,—
"His breath pollutes the air that innocence and honesty should breathe. He says all in this house are at his command,—why do we stay? Let us go." He turned towards the door, and Fanny with him.
Meanwhile the louder sounds below had been silenced for some moments; but I heard a step in the hall. Vivian started, and placed himself before us.
"No, no; you cannot leave me thus, Miss Trevanion. I resign you,—be it so; I do not even ask for pardon. But to leave this house thus, without carriage, without attendants, without explanation! The blame falls on me,—it shall do so; but at least vouchsafe me the right to repair what I yet can repair of the wrong, to protect all that is left to me,—your name."
As he spoke he did not perceive (for he was facing us, and with his back to the door) that a new actor had noiselessly entered on the scene, and, pausing by the threshold, heard his last words.
"The name of Miss Trevanion, sir,—and from what?" asked the new comer as he advanced and surveyed Vivian with a look that, but for its quiet, would have seemed disdain.
"Lord Castleton!" exclaimed Fanny, lifting up the face she had buried in her hands.
Vivian recoiled in dismay, and gnashed his teeth.
"Sir," said the marquis, "I await your reply; for not even you, in my presence, shall imply that one reproach can be attached to the name of that lady."
"Oh, moderate your tone to me, my Lord Castleton!" cried Vivian; "in you, at least, there is one man I am not forbidden to brave and defy. It was to save that lady from the cold ambition of her parents; it was to prevent the sacrifice of her youth and beauty to one whose sole merits are his wealth and his titles,—it was this that impelled me to the crime I have committed; this that hurried me on to risk all for one hour when youth at least could plead its cause to youth; and this gives me now the power to say that it does rest with me to protect the name of the lady, whom your very servility to that world which you have made your idol forbids you to claim from the heartless ambition that would sacrifice the daughter to the vanity of the parents. Ha! the future Marchioness of Castleton on her way to Scotland with a penniless adventurer! Ha! if my lips are sealed, who but I can seal the lips of those below in my secret? The secret shall be kept, but on this condition,—you shall not triumph where I have failed; I may lose what I adored, but I do not resign it to another. Ha! have I foiled you, my Lord Castleton? Ha, ha!"
"No, Sir; and I almost forgive you the villany you have not effected, for informing me, for the first time, that had I presumed to address Miss Trevanion, her parents at least would have pardoned the presumption. Trouble not yourself as to what your accomplices may say. They have already confessed their infamy and your own. Out of my path, Sir!"
Then, with the benign look of a father and the lofty grace of a prince, Lord Castleton advanced to Fanny. Looking round with a shudder, she hastily placed her hand in his, and by so doing perhaps prevented some violence on the part of Vivian, whose heaving breast and eye bloodshot, and still unquailing, showed how little even shame had subdued his fiercer passions. But he made no offer to detain them, and his tongue seemed to cleave to his lips. Now, as Fanny moved to the door she passed Roland, who stood motionless and with vacant looks, like an image of stone; and with a beautiful tenderness, for which (even at this distant date, recalling it) I say, "God requite thee, Fanny," she laid her other hand on Roland's arm and said, "Come, too: your arm still."
But Roland's limbs trembled and refused to stir; his head, relaxing, drooped on his breast, his eyes closed. Even Lord Castleton was so struck (though unable to guess the true and terrible cause of his dejection) that he forgot his desire to hasten from the spot, and cried with all his kindliness of heart, "You are ill, you faint; give him your arm, Pisistratus."
"It is nothing," said Roland, feebly, as he leaned heavily on my arm while I turned back my head, with all the bitterness of that reproach which filled my heart speaking in the eyes that sought him whose place should have been where mine now was. And oh!—thank Heaven, thank Heaven!—the look was not in vain. In the same moment the son was at the father's knees.
"Oh, pardon, pardon! Wretch, lost wretch though I be, I bow my head to the curse. Let it fall,—but on me, and on me only; not on your own heart too."
Fanny burst into tears, sobbing out, "Forgive him, as I do."
Roland did not heed her.
"He thinks that the heart was not shattered before the curse could come," he said, in a voice so weak as to be scarcely audible. Then, raising his eyes to heaven, his lips moved as if he prayed inly. Pausing, he stretched his hands over his son's head, and averting his face, said, "I revoke the curse. Pray to thy God for pardon."
Perhaps not daring to trust himself further, he then made a violent effort and hurried from the room.
We followed silently. When we gained the end of the passage, the door of the room we had left closed with a sullen jar.
As the sound smote on my ear, with it came so terrible a sense of the solitude upon which that door had closed, so keen and quick an apprehension of some fearful impulse, suggested by passions so fierce to a condition so forlorn, that instinctively I stopped, and then hurried back to the chamber. The lock of the door having been previously forced, there was no barrier to oppose my entrance. I advanced, and beheld a spectacle of such agony as can only be conceived by those who have looked on the grief which takes no fortitude from reason, no consolation from conscience,—the grief which tells us what would be the earth were man abandoned to his passions, and the Chance of the atheist reigned alone in the merciless heavens. Pride humbled to the dust; ambition shivered into fragments; love (or the passion mistaken for it) blasted into ashes; life, at the first onset, bereaved of its holiest ties, forsaken by its truest guide; shame that writhed for revenge; and remorse that knew not prayer,—all, all blended, yet distinct, were in that awful spectacle of the guilty son.
And I had told but twenty years, and my heart had been mellowed in the tender sunshine of a happy home, and I had loved this boy as a stranger; and lo, he was Roland's son! I forgot all else, looking upon that anguish; and I threw myself on the ground by the form that writhed there, and folding my arms round the breast which in vain repelled me, I whispered, "Comfort, comfort: life is long. You shall redeem the past, you shall efface the stain, and your father shall bless you yet!"
I could not stay long with my unhappy cousin, but still I stayed long enough to make me think it probable that Lord Castleton's carriage would have left the inn; and when, as I passed the hall, I saw it standing before the open door, I was seized with fear for Roland,—his emotions might have ended in some physical attack. Nor were those fears without foundation. I found Fanny kneeling beside the old soldier in the parlor where we had seen the two women, and bathing his temples, while Lord Castleton was binding his arm; and the marquis's favorite valet, who, amongst his other gifts, was something of a surgeon, was wiping the blade of the penknife that had served instead of a lancet. Lord Castleton nodded to me. "Don't be uneasy,—a little fainting fit; we have bled him. He is safe now,—see, he is recovering." Roland's eyes, as they opened, turned to me with an anxious, inquiring look. I smiled upon him as I kissed his forehead, and could, with a safe conscience, whisper words which neither father nor Christian could refuse to receive as comfort.
In a few minutes more we had left the house. As Lord Castleton's carriage only held two, the marquis, having assisted Miss Trevanion and Roland to enter, quietly mounted the seat behind and made a sign to me to come by his side, for there was room for both. (His servant had taken one of the horses that had brought thither Roland and myself, and already gone on before.) No conversation took place between us then. Lord Castleton seemed profoundly affected, and I had no words at my command.
When we reached the inn at which Lord Castleton had changed horses, about six miles distant, the marquis insisted on Fanny's taking some rest for a few hours; for indeed she was thoroughly worn out.
I attended my uncle to his room; but he only answered my assurances of his son's repentance with a pressure of the hand, and then, gliding from me, went into the farthest recess of the room and there knelt down. When he rose, he was passive and tractable as a child. He suffered me to assist him to undress; and when he had lain down on the bed, he turned his face quietly from the light, and after a few heavy sighs, sleep seemed mercifully to steal upon him. I listened to his breathing till it grew low and regular, and then descended to the sitting-room in which I had left Lord Castleton, for he had asked me in a whisper to seek him there.
I found the marquis seated by the fire, in a thoughtful and dejected attitude.
"I am glad you are come," said he, making room for me on the hearth, "for I assure you I have not felt so mournful for many years; we have much to explain to each other. Will you begin? They say the sound of the bell dissipates the thunder-cloud; and there is nothing like the voice of a frank, honest nature to dispel all the clouds that come upon us when we think of our own faults and the villany of others. But I beg you a thousand pardons: that young man your relation,—your brave uncle's son? Is it possible?"
My explanations to Lord Castleton were necessarily brief and imperfect. The separation between Roland and his son; my ignorance of its cause; my belief in the death of the latter; my chance acquaintance with the supposed Vivian; the interest I took in him; the relief it was to the fears for his fate with which he inspired me, to think he had returned to the home I ascribed to him; and the circumstances which had induced my suspicions, justified by the result,—all this was soon hurried over.
"But I beg your pardon," said the marquis, interrupting me "did you, in your friendship for one so unlike you, even by your own partial account, never suspect that you had stumbled upon your lost cousin?"
"Such an idea never could have crossed me."
And here I must observe that though the reader, at the first introduction of Vivian, would divine the secret, the penetration of a reader is wholly different from that of the actor in events. That I had chanced on one of those curious coincidences in the romance of real life which a reader looks out for and expects in following the course of narrative, was a supposition forbidden to me by a variety of causes. There was not the least family resemblance between Vivian and any of his relations; and, somehow or other, in Roland's son I had pictured to myself a form and a character wholly different from Vivian's. To me it would have seemed impossible that my cousin could have been so little curious to hear any of our joint family affairs; been so unheedful, or even weary, if I spoke of Roland,—never, by a word or tone, have betrayed a sympathy with his kindred. And my other conjecture was so probable,—son of the Colonel Vivian whose name he bore. And that letter, with the post-mark of "Godalming," and my belief, too, in my cousin's death,—even now I am not surprised that the idea never occurred to me.
I paused from enumerating these excuses for my dulness, angry with myself, for I noticed that Lord Castleton's fair brow darkened; and he exclaimed, "What deceit he must have gone through before he could become such a master in the art!"
"That is true, and I cannot deny it," said I. "But his punishment now is awful; let us hope that repentance may follow the chastisement. And though certainly it must have been his own fault that drove him from his father's home and guidance, yet, so driven, let us make some allowance for the influence of evil companionship on one so young,—for the suspicions that the knowledge of evil produces, and turns into a kind of false knowledge of the world. And in this last and worst of all his actions—"
"Ah, how justify that?"
"Justify it? Good Heavens! Justify it? No. I only say this, strange as it may seem, that I believe his affection for Miss Trevanion was for herself,—so he says, from the depth of an anguish in which the most insincere of men would cease to feign. But no more of this; she is saved, thank Heaven!"
"And you believe," said Lord Castleton, musingly, "that he spoke the truth when he thought that I—" The marquis stopped, cowered slightly, and then went on. "But no; Lady Ellinor and Trevanion, whatever might have been in their thoughts, would never have so forgot their dignity as to take him, a youth, almost a stranger,—nay, take any one into their confidence on such a subject."
"It was but by broken gasps, incoherent, disconnected words, that Vivian—I mean my cousin—gave me any explanation of this. But Lady N—, at whose house he was staying, appears to have entertained such a notion, or at least led my cousin to think so."
"Ah! that is possible," said Lord Castleton, with a look of relief. "Lady N—and I were boy and girl together; we correspond; she has written to me suggesting that—Ah! I see,—an indiscreet woman. Hum! this comes of lady correspondents!"