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Alice, or The Mysteries, Book II by Edward Bulwer Lytton

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BOOK II.

"The hour arrived--years having rolled away
When his return the Gods no more delay.
Lo! Ithaca the Fates award; and there
New trials meet the Wanderer."
HOMER: _Od._ lib. i, 16.

CHAPTER I.

THERE is continual spring and harvest here--
Continual, both meeting at one time;
For both the boughs do laughing blossoms bear,
And with fresh colours deck the wanton prime;
And eke at once the heavy trees they climb,
Which seem to labour under their fruit's load.

SPENSER: _The Garden of Adonis_.

Vis boni
In ipsa inesset forma.*--TERENCE.

* "Even in beauty there exists the power of virtue."

BEAUTY, thou art twice blessed; thou blessest the gazer and the
possessor; often at once the effect and the cause of goodness! A sweet
disposition, a lovely soul, an affectionate nature, will speak in the
eyes, the lips, the brow, and become the cause of beauty. On the other
hand, they who have a gift that commands love, a key that opens all
hearts, are ordinarily inclined to look with happy eyes upon the
world,--to be cheerful and serene, to hope and to confide. There is more
wisdom than the vulgar dream of in our admiration of a fair face.

Evelyn Cameron was beautiful,--a beauty that came from the heart, and
went to the heart; a beauty, the very spirit of which was love! Love
smiled on her dimpled lips, it reposed on her open brow, it played in the
profuse and careless ringlets of darkest yet sunniest auburn, which a
breeze could lift from her delicate and virgin cheek; Love, in all its
tenderness, in all its kindness, its unsuspecting truth,--Love coloured
every thought, murmured in her low melodious voice, in all its symmetry
and glorious womanhood. Love swelled the swan-like neck, and moulded the
rounded limb.

She was just the kind of person that takes the judgment by storm: whether
gay or grave, there was so charming and irresistible a grace about her.
She seemed born, not only to captivate the giddy, but to turn the heads
of the sage. Roxalana was nothing to her. How, in the obscure hamlet of
Brook-Green, she had learned all the arts of pleasing it is impossible to
say. In her arch smile, the pretty toss of her head, the half shyness,
half freedom, of her winning ways, it was as if Nature had made her to
delight one heart, and torment all others.

Without being learned, the mind of Evelyn was cultivated and well
informed. Her heart, perhaps, helped to instruct her understanding; for
by a kind of intuition she could appreciate all that was beautiful and
elevated. Her unvitiated and guileless taste had a logic of its own: no
schoolman had ever a quicker penetration into truth, no critic ever more
readily detected the meretricious and the false. The book that Evelyn
could admire was sure to be stamped with the impress of the noble, the
lovely, or the true!

But Evelyn had faults,--the faults of her age; or, rather, she had
tendencies that might conduce to error. She was of so generous a nature
that the very thought of sacrificing her self for another had a charm.
She ever acted from impulse,--impulses pure and good, but often rash and
imprudent. She was yielding to weakness, persuaded into anything, so
sensitive, that even a cold look from one moderately liked cut her to the
heart; and by the sympathy that accompanies sensitiveness, no pain to her
was so great as the thought of giving pain to another. Hence it was that
Vargrave might form reasonable hopes of his ultimate success. It was a
dangerous constitution for happiness! How many chances must combine to
preserve to the mid-day of characters like this the sunshine of their
dawn! The butterfly that seems the child of the summer and the
flowers--what wind will not chill its mirth, what touch will not brush
away its hues?

CHAPTER II.

THESE, on a general survey, are the modes
Of pulpit oratory which agree
With no unlettered audience.--POLWHELE.

MRS. LESLIE had returned from her visit to the rectory to her own home,
and Evelyn had now been some weeks at Mrs. Merton's. As was natural, she
had grown in some measure reconciled and resigned to her change of abode.
In fact, no sooner did she pass Mrs. Merton's threshold, than, for the
first time, she was made aware of her consequence in life.

The Rev. Mr. Merton was a man of the nicest perception in all things
appertaining to worldly consideration. The second son of a very wealthy
baronet (who was the first commoner of his county) and of the daughter of
a rich and highly-descended peer, Mr. Merton had been brought near enough
to rank and power to appreciate all their advantages. In early life he
had been something of a "tuft-hunter;" but as his understanding was good
and his passions not very strong, he had soon perceived that that vessel
of clay, a young man with a moderate fortune, cannot long sail down the
same stream with the metal vessels of rich earls and extravagant dandies.
Besides, he was destined for the Church--because there was one of the
finest livings in England in the family. He therefore took orders at six
and twenty; married Mrs. Leslie's daughter, who had thirty thousand
pounds: and settled at the rectory of Merton, within a mile of the family
seat. He became a very respectable and extremely popular man. He was
singularly hospitable, and built a new wing--containing a large
dining-room and six capital bed-rooms--to the rectory, which had now much
more the appearance of a country villa than a country parsonage. His
brother, succeeding to the estates, and residing chiefly in the
neighbourhood, became, like his father before him, member for the county,
and was one of the country gentlemen most looked up to in the House of
Commons. A sensible and frequent, though uncommonly prosy speaker,
singularly independent (for he had a clear fourteen thousand pounds a
year, and did not desire office), and valuing himself on not being a
party man, so that his vote on critical questions was often a matter of
great doubt, and, therefore, of great moment, Sir John Merton gave
considerable importance to the Rev. Charles Merton. The latter kept up
all the more select of his old London acquaintances; and few country
houses, at certain seasons of the year, were filled more aristocratically
than the pleasant rectory-house. Mr. Merton, indeed, contrived to make
the Hall a reservoir for the parsonage, and periodically drafted off the
_elite_ of the visitors at the former to spend a few days at the latter.
This was the more easily done, as his brother was a widower, and his
conversation was all of one sort,--the state of the nation and the
agricultural interest. Mr. Merton was upon very friendly terms with his
brother, looked after the property in the absence of Sir John, kept up
the family interest, was an excellent electioneerer, a good speaker at a
pinch, an able magistrate,--a man, in short, most useful in the county;
on the whole, he was more popular than his brother, and almost as much
looked up to--perhaps, because he was much less ostentatious. He had
very good taste, had the Rev. Charles Merton!--his table plentiful, but
plain--his manners affable to the low, though agreeably sycophantic to
the high; and there was nothing about him that ever wounded self-love.
To add to the attractions of his house, his wife, simple and
good-tempered, could talk with anybody, take off the bores, and leave
people to be comfortable in their own way: while he had a large family of
fine children of all ages, that had long given easy and constant excuse
under the name of "little children's parties," for getting up an
impromptu dance or a gypsy dinner,--enlivening the neighbourhood, in
short. Caroline was the eldest; then came a son, attached to a foreign
ministry, and another, who, though only nineteen, was a private secretary
to one of our Indian satraps. The acquaintance of these young gentlemen,
thus engaged, it was therefore Evelyn's misfortune to lose the advantage
of cultivating,--a loss which both Mr. and Mrs. Merton assured her was
very much to be regretted. But to make up to her for such a privation
there were two lovely little girls, one ten, and the other seven years
old, who fell in love with Evelyn at first sight. Caroline was one of
the beauties of the county, clever and conversable, "drew young men," and
set the fashion to young ladies, especially when she returned from
spending the season with Lady Elizabeth.

It was a delightful family!

In person, Mr. Merton was of the middle height; fair, and inclined to
stoutness, with small features, beautiful teeth, and great suavity of
address. Mindful still of the time when he had been "about town," he was
very particular in his dress: his black coat, neatly relieved in the
evening by a white underwaistcoat, and a shirt-front admirably plaited,
with plain studs of dark enamel, his well-cut trousers, and elaborately
polished shoes--he was good-humouredly vain of his feet and hands--won
for him the common praise of the dandies (who occasionally honoured him
with a visit to shoot his game, and flirt with his daughter), "That old
Merton was a most gentlemanlike fellow--so d-----d neat for a parson!"

Such, mentally, morally, and physically, was the Rev. Charles Merton,
rector of Merton, brother of Sir John, and possessor of an income that,
what with his rich living, his wife's fortune, and his own, which was not
inconsiderable, amounted to between four and five thousand pounds a year,
which income, managed with judgment as well as liberality, could not fail
to secure to him all the good things of this world,--the respect of his
friends amongst the rest. Caroline was right when she told Evelyn that
her papa was very different from a mere country parson.

Now this gentleman could not fail to see all the claims that Evelyn might
fairly advance upon the esteem, nay, the veneration of himself and
family: a young beauty, with a fortune of about a quarter of a million,
was a phenomenon that might fairly be called celestial. Her pretensions
were enhanced by her engagement to Lord Vargrave,--an engagement which
might be broken; so that, as he interpreted it, the _worst_ that could
happen to the young lady was to marry an able and rising Minister of
State,--a peer of the realm; but she was perfectly free to marry a still
greater man, if she could find him; and who knows but what perhaps the
_attache_, if he could get leave of absence? Mr. Merton was too sensible
to pursue that thought further for the present.

The good man was greatly shocked at the too familiar manner in which Mrs.
Merton spoke to this high-fated heiress, at Evelyn's travelling so far
without her own maid, at her very primitive wardrobe--poor, ill-used
child! Mr. Merton was a connoisseur in ladies' dress. It was quite
painful to see that the unfortunate girl had been so neglected. Lady
Vargrave must be a very strange person. He inquired compassionately
whether she was allowed any pocket money; and finding, to his relief,
that in that respect Miss Cameron was munificently supplied, he suggested
that a proper abigail should be immediately engaged; that proper orders
to Madame Devy should be immediately transmitted to London, with one of
Evelyn's dresses, as a pattern for nothing but length and breadth. He
almost stamped with vexation when he heard that Evelyn had been placed in
one of the neat little rooms generally appropriated to young lady
visitors.

"She is quite contented, my dear Mr. Merton; she is so simple; she has
not been brought up in the style you think for."

"Mrs. Merton," said the rector, with great solemnity, "Miss Cameron may
know no better now; but what will she think of us hereafter? It is my
maxim to recollect what people will be, and show them that respect which
may leave pleasing impressions when they have it in their power to show
us civility in return."

With many apologies, which quite overwhelmed poor Evelyn, she was
transferred from the little chamber, with its French bed and
bamboo-coloured washhand-stand, to an apartment with a buhl wardrobe and
a four-post bed with green silk curtains, usually appropriated to the
regular Christmas visitant, the Dowager Countess of Chipperton. A pretty
morning room communicated with the sleeping apartment, and thence a
private staircase conducted into the gardens. The whole family were duly
impressed and re-impressed with her importance. No queen could be made
more of. Evelyn mistook it all for pure kindness, and returned the
hospitality with an affection that extended to the whole family, but
particularly to the two little girls, and a beautiful black spaniel. Her
dresses came down from London; her abigail arrived; the buhl wardrobe was
duly filled,--and Evelyn at last learned that it is a fine thing to be
rich. An account of all these proceedings was forwarded to Lady
Vargrave, in a long and most complacent letter, by the rector himself.
The answer was short, but it contented the excellent clergyman; for it
approved of all he had done, and begged that Miss Cameron might have
everything that seemed proper to her station.

By the same post came two letters to Evelyn herself,--one from Lady
Vargrave, one from the curate. They transported her from the fine room
and the buhl wardrobe to the cottage and the lawn; and the fine abigail,
when she came to dress her young lady's hair, found her weeping.

It was a matter of great regret to the rector that it was that time of
year when--precisely because the country is most beautiful--every one
worth knowing is in town. Still, however, some stray guests found their
way to the rectory for a day or two, and still there were some
aristocratic old families in the neighbourhood, who never went up to
London: so that two days in the week the rector's wine flowed, the
whist-tables were set out, and the piano called into requisition.

Evelyn--the object of universal attention and admiration--was put at her
ease by her station itself; for good manners come like an instinct to
those on whom the world smiles. Insensibly she acquired self-possession
and the smoothness of society; and if her child-like playfulness broke
out from all conventional restraint, it only made more charming and
brilliant the great heiress, whose delicate and fairy cast of beauty so
well became her graceful _abandon_ of manner, and who looked so
unequivocally ladylike to the eyes that rested on Madame Devy's blondes
and satins.

Caroline was not so gay as she had been at the cottage. Something seemed
to weigh upon her spirits: she was often moody and thoughtful. She was
the only one in the family not good-tempered; and her peevish replies to
her parents, when no visitor imposed a check on the family circle,
inconceivably pained Evelyn, and greatly contrasted the flow of spirits
which distinguished her when she found somebody worth listening to.
Still Evelyn--who, where she once liked, found it difficult to withdraw
regard--sought to overlook Caroline's blemishes, and to persuade herself
of a thousand good qualities below the surface; and her generous nature
found constant opportunity of venting itself in costly gifts, selected
from the London parcels, with which the officious Mr. Merton relieved the
monotony of the rectory. These gifts Caroline could not refuse without
paining her young friend. She took them reluctantly, for, to do her
justice, Caroline, though ambitious, was not mean.

Thus time passed in the rectory, in gay variety and constant
entertainment; and all things combined to spoil the heiress, if, indeed,
goodness ever is spoiled by kindness and prosperity. Is it to the frost
or to the sunshine that the flower opens its petals, or the fruit ripens
from the blossom?

CHAPTER III.

_Rod_. How sweet these solitary places are!

. . . . . .

_Ped_. What strange musick
Was that we heard afar off?

_Curio_. We've told you what he is, what time we've sought him,
His nature and his name.

BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER. _The Pilgrim_.

ONE day, as the ladies were seated in Mrs. Merton's morning-room, Evelyn,
who had been stationed by the window hearing the little Cecilia go
through the French verbs, and had just finished that agreeable task,
exclaimed,--

"Do tell me to whom that old house belongs, with the picturesque
gable-end and Gothic turrets, there, just peeping through the trees,--I
have always forgot to ask you."

"Oh, my dear Miss Cameron," said Mrs. Merton, "that is Burleigh; have you
not been there? How stupid in Caroline not to show it to you! It is one
of the lions of the place. It belongs to a man you have often heard
of,--Mr. Maltravers."

"Indeed!" cried Evelyn; and she gazed with new interest on the gray
melancholy pile, as the sunshine brought it into strong contrast with the
dark pines around it. "And Mr. Maltravers himself--?"

"Is still abroad, I believe; though I did hear the other day that he was
shortly expected at Burleigh. It is a curious old place, though much
neglected. I believe, indeed, it has not been furnished since the time
of Charles the First. (Cissy, my love, don't stoop so.) Very gloomy, in
my opinion; and not any fine room in the house, except the library, which
was once a chapel. However, people come miles to see it."

"Will you go there to-day?" said Caroline, languidly; "it is a very
pleasant walk through the glebe-land and the wood,--not above half a mile
by the foot-path."

"I should like it so much."

"Yes," said Mrs. Merton, "and you had better go before he returns,--he is
so strange. He does not allow it to be seen when he is down. But,
indeed, he has only been once at the old place since he was of age.
(Sophy, you will tear Miss Cameron's scarf to pieces; do be quiet,
child.) That was before he was a great man; he was then very odd, saw no
society, only dined once with us, though Mr. Merton paid him every
attention. They show the room in which he wrote his books."

"I remember him very well, though I was then but a child," said
Caroline,--"a handsome, thoughtful face."

"Did you think so, my dear? Fine eyes and teeth, certainly, and a
commanding figure, but nothing more."

"Well," said Caroline, "if you like to go, Evelyn, I am at your service."

"And--I--Evy, dear--I--may go," said Cecilia, clinging to Evelyn.

"And me, too," lisped Sophia, the youngest hope,--"there's such a pretty
peacock."

"Oh, yes, they may go, Mrs. Merton, we'll take such care of them."

"Very well, my dear; Miss Cameron quite spoils you."

Evelyn tripped away to put on her bonnet, and the children ran after her,
clapping their hands,--they could not bear to lose sight of her for a
moment.

"Caroline," said Mrs. Merton, affectionately, "are you not well? You
have seemed pale lately, and not in your usual spirits."

"Oh, yes, I'm well enough," answered Caroline, rather peevishly; "but
this place is so dull now; very provoking that Lady Elizabeth does not go
to London this year."

"My dear, it will be gayer, I hope, in July, when the races at Knaresdean
begin; and Lord Vargrave has promised to come."

"Has Lord Vargrave written to you lately?"

"No, my dear."

"Very odd."

"Does Evelyn ever talk of him?"

"Not much," said Caroline, rising and quitting the room.

It was a most cheerful exhilarating day,--the close of sweet May; the
hedges were white with blossoms; a light breeze rustled the young leaves;
the butterflies had ventured forth, and the children chased them over the
grass, as Evelyn and Caroline, who walked much too slow for her companion
(Evelyn longed to run), followed them soberly towards Burleigh.

They passed the glebe-fields; and a little bridge, thrown over a brawling
rivulet, conducted them into a wood.

"This stream," said Caroline, "forms the boundary between my uncle's
estates and those of Mr. Maltravers. It must be very unpleasant to so
proud a man as Mr. Maltravers is said to be, to have the land of another
proprietor so near his house. He could hear my uncle's gun from his very
drawing-room. However, Sir John takes care not to molest him. On the
other side, the Burleigh estates extend for some miles; indeed, Mr.
Maltravers is the next great proprietor to my uncle in this part of the
county. Very strange that he does not marry! There, now you can see the
house."

The mansion lay somewhat low, with hanging woods in the rear: and the
old-fashioned fish-ponds gleaming in the sunshine and overshadowed by
gigantic trees increased the venerable stillness of its aspect. Ivy and
innumerable creepers covered one side of the house; and long weeds
cumbered the deserted road.

"It is sadly neglected," said Caroline; "and was so, even in the last
owner's life. Mr. Maltravers inherits the place from his mother's uncle.
We may as well enter the house by the private way. The front entrance is
kept locked up."

Winding by a path that conducted into a flower-garden, divided from the
park by a ha-ha, over which a plank and a small gate, rusting off its
hinges, were placed, Caroline led the way towards the building. At this
point of view it presented a large bay window that by a flight of four
steps led into the garden. On one side rose a square, narrow turret,
surmounted by a gilt dome and quaint weathercock, below the architrave of
which was a sun-dial, set in the stonework; and another dial stood in the
garden, with the common and beautiful motto,--

"Non numero horas, nisi serenas!"*

* "I number not the hours, unless sunny."

On the other side of the bay window a huge buttress cast its mass of
shadow. There was something in the appearance of the whole place that
invited to contemplation and repose,--something almost monastic. The
gayety of the teeming spring-time could not divest the spot of a certain
sadness, not displeasing, however, whether to the young, to whom there is
a luxury in the vague sentiment of melancholy, or to those who, having
known real griefs, seek for an anodyne in meditation and memory. The low
lead-coloured door, set deep in the turret, was locked, and the bell
beside it broken. Caroline turned impatiently away. "We must go round
to the other side," said she, "and try to make the deaf old man hear us."

"Oh, Carry!" cried Cecilia, "the great window is open;" and she ran up
the steps.

"That is lucky," said Caroline; and the rest followed Cecilia.

Evelyn now stood within the library of which Mrs. Merton had spoken. It
was a large room, about fifty feet in length, and proportionably wide;
somewhat dark, for the light came only from the one large window through
which they entered; and though the window rose to the cornice of the
ceiling, and took up one side of the apartment, the daylight was subdued
by the heaviness of the stonework in which the narrow panes were set, and
by the glass stained with armorial bearings in the upper part of the
casement. The bookcases, too, were of the dark oak which so much absorbs
the light; and the gilding, formerly meant to relieve them, was
discoloured by time.

The room was almost disproportionably lofty; the ceiling, elaborately
coved, and richly carved with grotesque masks, preserved the Gothic
character of the age in which it had been devoted to a religious purpose.
Two fireplaces, with high chimney-pieces of oak, in which were inserted
two portraits, broke the symmetry of the tall bookcases. In one of these
fireplaces were half-burnt logs; and a huge armchair, with a small
reading-desk beside it, seemed to bespeak the recent occupation of the
room. On the fourth side, opposite the window, the wall was covered with
faded tapestry, representing the meeting of Solomon and the Queen of
Sheba; the arras was nailed over doors on either hand,--the chinks
between the door and the wall serving, in one instance, to cut off in the
middle his wise majesty, who was making a low bow; while in the other it
took the ground from under the wanton queen, just as she was descending
from her chariot.

Near the window stood a grand piano, the only modern article in the room,
save one of the portraits, presently to be described. On all this Evelyn
gazed silently and devoutly: she had naturally that reverence for genius
which is common to the enthusiastic and young; and there is, even to the
dullest, a certain interest in the homes of those who have implanted
within us a new thought. But here there was, she imagined, a rare and
singular harmony between the place and the mental characteristics of the
owner. She fancied she now better understood the shadowy and
metaphysical repose of thought that had distinguished the earlier
writings of Maltravers,--the writings composed or planned in this still
retreat.

But what particularly caught her attention was one of the two portraits
that adorned the mantelpieces. The further one was attired in the rich
and fanciful armour of the time of Elizabeth; the head bare, the helmet
on a table on which the hand rested. It was a handsome and striking
countenance; and an inscription announced it to be a Digby, an ancestor
of Maltravers.

But the other was a beautiful girl of about eighteen, in the now almost
antiquated dress of forty years ago. The features were delicate, but the
colours somewhat faded, and there was something mournful in the
expression. A silk curtain, drawn on one side, seemed to denote how
carefully it was prized by the possessor.

Evelyn turned for explanation to her cicerone.

"This is the second time I have seen that picture," said Caroline; "for
it is only by great entreaty and as a mysterious favour that the old
housekeeper draws aside the veil. Some touch of sentiment in Maltravers
makes him regard it as sacred. It is the picture of his mother before
she married; she died in giving him birth."

Evelyn sighed; how well she understood the sentiment which seemed to
Caroline so eccentric! The countenance fascinated her; the eye seemed to
follow her as she turned.

"As a proper pendant to this picture," said Caroline, "he ought to have
dismissed the effigies of yon warlike gentleman, and replaced it by one
of poor Lady Florence Lascelles, for whose loss he is said to have
quitted his country: but, perhaps, it was the loss of her fortune."

"How can you say so?--fie!" cried Evelyn, with a burst of generous
indignation.

"Ah, my dear, you heiresses have a fellow-feeling with each other!
Nevertheless, clever men are less sentimental than we deem them. Heigho!
this quiet room gives me the spleen, I fancy."

"Dearest Evy," whispered Cecilia, "I think you have a look of that pretty
picture, only you are much prettier. Do take off your bonnet; your hair
just falls down like hers."

Evelyn shook her head gravely; but the spoiled child hastily untied the
ribbons and snatched away the hat, and Evelyn's sunny ringlets fell down
in beautiful disorder. There was no resemblance between Evelyn and the
portrait, except in the colour of the hair, and the careless fashion it
now by chance assumed. Yet Evelyn was pleased to think that a likeness
did exist, though Caroline declared it was a most unflattering
compliment.

"I don't wonder," said the latter, changing the theme,--"I don't wonder
Mr. Maltravers lives so little in this 'Castle Dull;' yet it might be
much improved. French windows and plate-glass, for instance; and if
those lumbering bookshelves and horrid old chimney-pieces were removed
and the ceiling painted white and gold like that in my uncle's saloon,
and a rich, lively paper, instead of the tapestry, it would really make a
very fine ballroom."

"Let us have a dance here now," cried Cecilia. "Come, stand up, Sophy;"
and the children began to practise a waltz step, tumbling over each
other, and laughing in full glee.

"Hush, hush!" said Evelyn, softly. She had never before checked the
children's mirth, and she could not tell why she did so now.

"I suppose the old butler has been entertaining the bailiff here," said
Caroline, pointing to the remains of the fire.

"And is this the room he chiefly inhabited,--the room that you say they
show as his?"

"No; that tapestry door to the right leads into a little study where he
wrote." So saying, Caroline tried to open the door, but it was locked
from within. She then opened the other door, which showed a long
wainscoted passage, hung with rusty pikes, and a few breastplates of the
time of the Parliamentary Wars. "This leads to the main body of the
House," said Caroline, "from which the room we are now in and the little
study are completely detached, having, as you know, been the chapel in
popish times. I have heard that Sir Kenelm Digby, an ancestral
connection of the present owner, first converted them into their present
use, and, in return, built the village church on the other side of the
park."

Sir Kenelm Digby, the old cavalier philosopher!---a new name of interest
to consecrate the place! Evelyn could have lingered all day in the room;
and perhaps as an excuse for a longer sojourn, hastened to the piano--it
was open--she ran her fairy fingers over the keys, and the sound from the
untuned and neglected instrument thrilled wild and spiritlike through the
melancholy chamber.

"Oh, do sing us something, Evy," cried Cecilia, running up to, and
drawing a chair to, the instrument.

"Do, Evelyn," said Caroline, languidly; "it will serve to bring one of
the servants to us, and save us a journey to the offices."

It was just what Evelyn wished. Some verses, which her mother especially
loved, verses written by Maltravers upon returning after absence to his
own home, had rushed into her mind as she had touched the keys. They
were appropriate to the place, and had been beautifully set to music. So
the children hushed themselves, and nestled at her feet; and after a
little prelude, keeping the accompaniment under, that the spoiled
instrument might not mar the sweet words and sweeter voice, she began the
song.

Meanwhile in the adjoining room, the little study which Caroline had
spoken of, sat the owner of the house! He had returned suddenly and
unexpectedly the previous night. The old steward was in attendance at
the moment, full of apologies, congratulations, and gossip; and
Maltravers, grown a stern and haughty man, was already impatiently
turning away, when he heard the sudden sound of the children's laughter
and loud voices in the room beyond. Maltravers frowned.

"What impertinence is this?" said he in a tone that, though very calm,
made the steward quake in his shoes.

"I don't know, really, your honour; there be so many grand folks come to
see the house in the fine weather, that--"

"And you permit your master's house to be a raree-show? You do well,
sir."

"If your honour were more amongst us, there might be more discipline
like," said the steward, stoutly; "but no one in my time has cared so
little for the old place as those it belongs to."

"Fewer words with me, sir," said Maltravers, haughtily; "and now go and
inform those people that I am returned, and wish for no guests but those
I invite myself."

"Sir!"

"Do you not hear me? Say that if it so please them, these old ruins are
my property, and are not to be jobbed out to the insolence of public
curiosity. Go, sir."

"But--I beg pardon, your honour--if they be great folks?"

"Great folks!--great! Ay, there it is. Why, if they be great folks,
they have great houses of their own, Mr. Justis."

The steward stared. "Perhaps, your honour," he put in, deprecatingly,
"they be Mr. Merton's family: they come very often when the London
gentlemen are with them."

"Merton!--oh, the cringing parson. Harkye! one word more with me, sir,
and you quit my service to-morrow."

Mr. Justis lifted his eyes and hands to heaven; but there was something
in his master's voice and look which checked reply, and he turned slowly
to the door--when a voice of such heavenly sweetness was heard without
that it arrested his own step and made the stern Maltravers start in his
seat. He held up his hand to the steward to delay his errand, and
listened, charmed and spell-bound. His own words came on his ear,--words
long unfamiliar to him, and at first but imperfectly remembered; words
connected with the early and virgin years of poetry and aspiration; words
that were as the ghosts of thoughts now far too gentle for his altered
soul. He bowed down his head, and the dark shade left his brow.

The song ceased. Maltravers moved with a sigh, and his eyes rested on
the form of the steward with his hand on the door.

"Shall I give your honour's message?" said Mr. Justis, gravely.

"No; take care for the future; leave me now."

Mr. Justis made one leg, and then, well pleased, took to both.

"Well," thought he, as he departed, "how foreign parts do spoil a
gentleman! so mild as he was once! I must botch up the accounts, I
see,--the squire has grown sharp."

As Evelyn concluded her song, she--whose charm in singing was that she
sang from the heart--was so touched by the melancholy music of the air
and words, that her voice faltered, and the last line died inaudibly on
her lips.

The children sprang up and kissed her.

"Oh," cried Cecilia, "there is the beautiful peacock!" And there,
indeed, on the steps without--perhaps attracted by the music--stood the
picturesque bird. The children ran out to greet their old favourite, who
was extremely tame; and presently Cecilia returned.

"Oh, Carry! do see what beautiful horses are coming up the park!"

Caroline, who was a good rider, and fond of horses, and whose curiosity
was always aroused by things connected with show and station, suffered
the little girl to draw her into the garden. Two grooms, each mounted on
a horse of the pure Arabian breed, and each leading another, swathed and
bandaged, were riding slowly up the road; and Caroline was so attracted
by the novel appearance of the animals in a place so deserted that she
followed the children towards them, to learn who could possibly be their
enviable owner. Evelyn, forgotten for the moment, remained alone. She
was pleased at being so, and once more turned to the picture which had so
attracted her before. The mild eyes fixed on her, with an expression
that recalled to her mind her own mother.

"And," thought she, as she gazed, "this fair creature did not live to
know the fame of her son, to rejoice in his success, or to soothe his
grief. And he, that son, a disappointed and solitary exile in distant
lands, while strangers stand within his deserted hall!"

The images she had conjured up moved and absorbed her; and she continued
to stand before the picture, gazing upward with moistened eyes. It was a
beautiful vision as she thus stood, with her delicate bloom, her
luxuriant hair (for the hat was not yet replaced), her elastic form, so
full of youth and health and hope,--the living form beside the faded
canvas of the dead, once youthful, tender, lovely as herself! Evelyn
turned away with a sigh; the sigh was re-echoed yet more deeply. She
started: the door that led to the study was opened, and in the aperture
was the figure of a man in the prime of life. His hair, still luxuriant
as in his earliest youth, though darkened by the suns of the East, curled
over a forehead of majestic expanse. The high and proud features, that
well became a stature above the ordinary standard; the pale but bronzed
complexion; the large eyes of deepest blue, shaded by dark brows and
lashes; and more than all, that expression at once of passion and repose
which characterizes the old Italian portraits, and seems to denote the
inscrutable power that experience imparts to intellect, constituted an
_ensemble_ which, if not faultlessly handsome, was eminently striking,
and formed at once to interest and command. It was a face, once seen,
never to be forgotten; it was a face that had long, half unconsciously,
haunted Evelyn's young dreams; it was a face she had seen before, though,
then younger and milder and fairer, it wore a different aspect.

Evelyn stood rooted to the spot, feeling herself blush to her very
temples,--an enchanting picture of bashful confusion and innocent alarm.

"Do not let me regret my return," said the stranger, approaching after a
short pause, and with much gentleness in his voice and smile; "and think
that the owner is doomed to scare away the fair spirits that haunted the
spot in his absence."

"The owner!" repeated Evelyn, almost inaudibly, and in increased
embarrassment; "are you then the--the--"

"Yes," courteously interrupted the stranger, seeing her confusion, "my
name is Maltravers; and I am to blame for not having informed you of my
sudden return, or for now trespassing on your presence. But you see my
excuse;" and he pointed to the instrument. "You have the magic that
draws even the serpent from his hole. But you are not alone?"

"Oh, no! no, indeed! Miss Merton is with me. I know not where she is
gone. I will seek her."

"Miss Merton! You are not then one of that family?"

"No, only a guest. I will find her; she must apologize for us. We were
not aware that you were here,--indeed we were not."

"That is a cruel excuse," said Maltravers, smiling at her eagerness: and
the smile and the look reminded her yet more forcibly of the time when he
had carried her in his arms and soothed her suffering and praised her
courage and pressed the kiss almost of a lover on her hand. At that
thought she blushed yet more deeply, and yet more eagerly turned to
escape.

Maltravers did not seek to detain her, but silently followed her steps.
She had scarcely gained the window, before little Cecilia scampered in,
crying,--

"Only think! Mr. Maltravers has come back, and brought such beautiful
horses!"

Cecilia stopped abruptly, as she caught sight of the stranger; and the
next moment Caroline herself appeared. Her worldly experience and quick
sense saw immediately what had chanced; and she hastened to apologize to
Maltravers, and congratulate him on his return, with an ease that
astonished poor Evelyn, and by no means seemed appreciated by Maltravers
himself. He replied with brief and haughty courtesy.

"My father," continued Caroline, "will be so glad to hear you are come
back. He will hasten to pay you his respects, and apologize for his
truants. But I have not formally introduced you to my fellow-offender.
My dear, let me present to you one whom Fame has already made known to
you; Mr. Maltravers, Miss Cameron, step-daughter," she added in a lower
voice, "to the late Lord Vargrave."

At the first part of this introduction Maltravers frowned; at the last he
forgot all displeasure.

"Is it possible? I _thought_ I had seen you before, but in a dream. Ah,
then we are not quite strangers!"

Evelyn's eye met his, and though she coloured and strove to look grave, a
half smile brought out the dimples that played round her arch lips.

"But you do not remember me?" added Maltravers.

"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Evelyn, with a sudden impulse; and then checked
herself.

Caroline came to her friend's relief.

"What is this? You surprise me; where did you ever see Mr. Maltravers
before?"

"I can answer that question, Miss Merton. When Miss Cameron was but a
child, as high as my little friend here, an accident on the road procured
me her acquaintance; and the sweetness and fortitude she then displayed
left an impression on me not worn out even to this day. And thus we meet
again," added Maltravers, in a muttered voice, as to himself. "How
strange a thing life is!"

"Well," said Miss Merton, "we must intrude on you no more,--you have so
much to do. I am so sorry Sir John is not down to welcome you; but I
hope we shall be good neighbours. _Au revoir_!"

And, fancying herself most charming, Caroline bowed, smiled, and walked
off with her train. Maltravers paused irresolute. If Evelyn had looked
back, he would have accompanied them home; but Evelyn did not look
back,--and he stayed.

Miss Merton rallied her young friend unmercifully, as they walked
homeward, and she extracted a very brief and imperfect history of the
adventure that had formed the first acquaintance, and of the interview by
which it had been renewed. But Evelyn did not heed her; and the moment
they arrived at the rectory, she hastened to shut herself in her room,
and write the account of her adventure to her mother. How often, in her
girlish reveries, had she thought of that incident, that stranger! And
now, by such a chance, and after so many years, to meet the Unknown by
his own hearth! and that Unknown to be Maltravers! It was as if a dream
had come true. While she was yet musing--and the letter not yet
begun--she heard the sound of joy-bells in the distance. At once she
divined the cause; it was the welcome of the wanderer to his solitary
home!

CHAPTER IV.

MAIS en connaissant votre condition naturelle, usez des moyens
qui lui sont propres, et ne pretendez pas regner par une autre
voie que par celle qui vous fait roi.*--PASCAL.

* "But in understanding your natural condition, use the means
which are proper to it; and pretend not to govern by any other
way than by that which constitutes you governor."

IN the heart as in the ocean, the great tides ebb and flow. The waves
which had once urged on the spirit of Ernest Maltravers to the rocks and
shoals of active life had long since receded back upon the calm depths,
and left the strand bare. With a melancholy and disappointed mind, he
had quitted the land of his birth; and new scenes, strange and wild, had
risen before his wandering gaze. Wearied with civilization, and sated
with many of the triumphs for which civilized men drudge and toil, and
disquiet themselves in vain, he had plunged amongst hordes, scarce
redeemed from primeval barbarism. The adventures through which he had
passed, and in which life itself could only be preserved by wary
vigilance and ready energies, had forced him, for a while, from the
indulgence of morbid contemplations. His heart, indeed, had been left
inactive; but his intellect and his physical powers had been kept in
hourly exercise. He returned to the world of his equals with a mind
laden with the treasures of a various and vast experience, and with much
of the same gloomy moral as that which, on emerging from the Catacombs,
assured the restless speculations of Rasselas of the vanity of human life
and the folly of moral aspirations.

Ernest Maltravers, never a faultless or completed character, falling
short in practice of his own capacities, moral and intellectual, from his
very desire to overpass the limits of the Great and Good, was seemingly
as far as heretofore from the grand secret of life. It was not so in
reality; his mind had acquired what before it wanted,--_hardness_; and we
are nearer to true virtue and true happiness when we demand too little
from men than when we exact too much.

Nevertheless, partly from the strange life that had thrown him amongst
men whom safety itself made it necessary to command despotically, partly
from the habit of power and disdain of the world, his nature was
incrusted with a stern imperiousness of manner, often approaching to the
harsh and morose, though beneath it lurked generosity and benevolence.

Many of his younger feelings, more amiable and complex, had settled into
one predominant quality, which more or less had always characterized
him,--Pride! Self-esteem made inactive, and Ambition made discontented,
usually engender haughtiness. In Maltravers this quality, which,
properly controlled and duly softened, is the essence and life of honour,
was carried to a vice. He was perfectly conscious of its excess, but he
cherished it as a virtue. Pride had served to console him in sorrow, and
therefore it was a friend; it had supported him when disgusted with
fraud, or in resistance to violence, and therefore it was a champion and
a fortress. It was a pride of a peculiar sort: it attached itself to no
one point in especial,--not to talent, knowledge, mental gifts, still
less to the vulgar commonplaces of birth and fortune; it rather resulted
from a supreme and wholesale contempt of all other men, and all their
objects,--of ambition, of glory, of the hard business of life. His
favourite virtue was fortitude; it was on this that he now mainly valued
himself. He was proud of his struggles against others, prouder still of
conquests over his own passions. He looked upon FATE as the arch enemy
against whose attacks we should ever prepare. He fancied that against
fate he had thoroughly schooled himself. In the arrogance of his heart
he said, "I can defy the future." He believed in the boast of the vain
old sage,--"I am a world to myself!" In the wild career through which
his later manhood had passed, it is true that he had not carried his
philosophy into a rejection of the ordinary world. The shock occasioned
by the death of Florence yielded gradually to time and change; and he had
passed from the deserts of Africa and the East to the brilliant cities of
Europe. But neither his heart nor his reason had ever again been
enslaved by his passions. Never again had he known the softness of
affection. Had he done so, the ice had been thawed, and the fountain had
flowed once more into the great deeps. He had returned to England,--he
scarce knew wherefore, or with what intent, certainly not with any idea
of entering again upon the occupations of active life; it was, perhaps,
only the weariness of foreign scenes and unfamiliar tongues, and the
vague, unsettled desire of change, that brought him back to the
fatherland. But he did not allow so unphilosophical a cause to himself:
and, what was strange, he would not allow one much more amiable, and
which was, perhaps, the truer cause,--the increasing age and infirmities
of his old guardian, Cleveland, who prayed him affectionately to return.
Maltravers did not like to believe that his heart was still so kind.
Singular form of pride! No, he rather sought to persuade himself that he
intended to sell Burleigh, to arrange his affairs finally, and then quit
forever his native land. To prove to himself that this was the case, he
had intended at Dover to hurry at once to Burleigh, and merely write to
Cleveland that he was returned to England. But his heart would not
suffer him to enjoy this cruel luxury of self-mortification, and his
horses' heads were turned to Richmond when within a stage of London. He
had spent two days with the good old man, and those two days had so
warmed and softened his feelings that he was quite appalled at his own
dereliction from fixed principles! However, he went before Cleveland had
time to discover that he was changed; and the old man had promised to
visit him shortly.

This, then, was the state of Ernest Maltravers at the age of
thirty-six,--an age in which frame and mind are in their fullest
perfection; an age in which men begin most keenly to feel that they are
citizens. With all his energies braced and strengthened; with his mind
stored with profusest gifts; in the vigour of a constitution to which a
hardy life had imparted a second and fresher youth; so trained by stern
experience as to redeem with an easy effort all the deficiencies and
faults which had once resulted from too sensitive an imagination and too
high a standard for human actions; formed to render to his race the most
brilliant and durable service, and to secure to himself the happiness
which results from sobered fancy, a generous heart, and an approving
conscience,--here was Ernest Maltravers, backed, too, by the appliances
and gifts of birth and fortune, perversely shutting up genius, life, and
soul in their own thorny leaves, and refusing to serve the fools and
rascals who were formed from the same clay, and gifted by the same God.
Morbid and morose philosophy, begot by a proud spirit on a lonely heart!

CHAPTER V.

LET such amongst us as are willing to be children again, if it be
only for an hour, resign ourselves to the sweet enchantment that
steals upon the spirit when it indulges in the memory of early
and innocent enjoyment.
D. L. RICHARDSON.

AT dinner, Caroline's lively recital of their adventures was received
with much interest, not only by the Merton family, but by some of the
neighbouring gentry who shared the rector's hospitality. The sudden
return of any proprietor to his old hereditary seat after a prolonged
absence makes some sensation in a provincial neighbourhood. In this
case, where the proprietor was still young, unmarried, celebrated, and
handsome, the sensation was of course proportionably increased. Caroline
and Evelyn were beset by questions, to which the former alone gave any
distinct reply. Caroline's account was, on the whole, gracious and
favourable, and seemed complimentary to all but Evelyn, who thought that
Caroline was a very indifferent portrait-painter.

It seldom happens that a man is a prophet in his own neighbourhood; but
Maltravers had been so little in the county, and in his former visit his
life had been so secluded, that he was regarded as a stranger. He had
neither outshone the establishments nor interfered with the sporting of
his fellow-squires; and on the whole, they made just allowance for his
habits of distant reserve. Time, and his retirement from the busy scene,
long enough to cause him to be missed, not long enough for new favourites
to supply his place, had greatly served to mellow and consolidate his
reputation, and his country was proud to claim him. Thus (though
Maltravers would not have believed it had an angel told him) he was not
spoken ill of behind his back: a thousand little anecdotes of his
personal habits, of his generosity, independence of spirit, and
eccentricity were told. Evelyn listened in rapt delight to all; she had
never passed so pleasant an evening; and she smiled almost gratefully on
the rector, who was a man that always followed the stream, when he said
with benign affability, "We must really show our distinguished neighbour
every attention,--we must be indulgent to his little oddities. His
politics are not mine, to be sure; but a man who has a stake in the
country has a right to his own opinion, that was always my maxim,--thank
Heaven, I am a very moderate man. We must draw him amongst us; it will
be our own fault, I am sure, if he is not quite domesticated at the
rectory."

"With such attraction,--yes," said the thin curate, timidly bowing to the
ladies.

"It would be a nice match for Miss Caroline," whispered an old lady;
Caroline overheard, and pouted her pretty lip. The whist-tables were now
set out, the music began, and Maltravers was left in peace.

The next day Mr. Merton rode his pony over to Burleigh. Maltravers was
not at home. He left his card, and a note of friendly respect, begging
Mr. Maltravers to waive ceremony, and dine with them the next day.
Somewhat to the surprise of the rector, he found that the active spirit
of Maltravers was already at work. The long-deserted grounds were filled
with labourers; the carpenters were busy at the fences; the house looked
alive and stirring; the grooms were exercising the horses in the
park,--all betokened the return of the absentee. This seemed to denote
that Maltravers had come to reside; and the rector thought of Caroline,
and was pleased at the notion.

The next day was Cecilia's birthday,--and birthdays were kept at Merton
Rectory; the neighbouring children were invited. They were to dine on
the lawn, in a large marquee, and to dance in the evening. The hothouses
yielded their early strawberries, and the cows, decorated with blue
ribbons, were to give syllabubs. The polite Caroline was not greatly
fascinated by pleasure of this kind; she graciously appeared at dinner,
kissed the prettiest of the children, helped them to soup, and then,
having done her duty, retired to her room to write letters. The children
were not sorry, for they were a little afraid of the grand Caroline; and
they laughed much more loudly, and made much more noise, when she was
gone--and the cake and strawberries appeared.

Evelyn was in her element; she had, as a child, mixed so little with
children, she had so often yearned for playmates, she was still so
childlike. Besides, she was so fond of Cecilia, she had looked forward
with innocent delight to the day; and a week before had taken the
carriage to the neighbouring town to return with a carefully concealed
basket of toys,--dolls, sashes, and picture-books. But somehow or other,
she did not feel so childlike as usual that morning; her heart was away
from the pleasure before her, and her smile was at first languid. But in
children's mirth there is something so contagious to those who love
children; and now, as the party scattered themselves on the grass, and
Evelyn opened the basket, and bade them with much gravity keep quiet, and
be good children, she was the happiest of the whole group. But she knew
how to give pleasure: and the basket was presented to Cecilia, that the
little queen of the day might enjoy the luxury of being generous; and to
prevent jealousy, the notable expedient of a lottery was suggested.

"Then Evy shall be Fortune!" cried Cecilia; "nobody will be sorry to get
anything from Evy,--and if any one is discontented Evy sha'n't kiss her."

Mrs. Merton, whose motherly heart was completely won by Evelyn's kindness
to the children, forgot all her husband's lectures, and willingly
ticketed the prizes, and wrote the numbers of the lots on slips of paper
carefully folded. A large old Indian jar was dragged from the
drawing-room and constituted the fated urn; the tickets were deposited
therein, and Cecilia was tying the handkerchief round Evelyn's
eyes,--while Fortune struggled archly not to be as blind as she ought to
be,--and the children, seated in a circle, were in full joy and
expectation when there was a sudden pause. The laughter stopped; so did
Cissy's little hands. What could it be? Evelyn slipped the bandage, and
her eyes rested on Maltravers!

"Well, really, my dear Miss Cameron," said the rector, who was by the
side of the intruder, and who, indeed, had just brought him to the spot,
"I don't know what these little folks will do to you next."

"I ought rather to be their victim," said Maltravers, good-humouredly;
"the fairies always punish us grown-up mortals for trespassing on their
revels."

While he spoke, his eyes--those eyes, the most eloquent in the
world--dwelt on Evelyn (as, to cover her blushes, she took Cecilia in her
arms, and appeared to attend to nothing else) with a look of such
admiration and delight as a mortal might well be supposed to cast on some
beautiful fairy.

Sophy, a very bold child, ran up to him. "How do, sir?" she lisped,
putting up her face to be kissed; "how's the pretty peacock?"

This opportune audacity served at once to renew the charm that had been
broken,--to unite the stranger with the children. Here was acquaintance
claimed and allowed in an instant. The next moment Maltravers was one of
the circle, on the turf with the rest, as gay, and almost as noisy,--that
hard, proud man, so disdainful of the trifles of the world!

"But the gentleman must have a prize, too," said Sophy, proud of her tall
new friend. "What's your other name; why do you have such a long, hard
name?"

"Call me Ernest," said Maltravers.

"Why don't we begin?" cried the children.

"Evy, come, be a good child, miss," said Sophy, as Evelyn, vexed and
ashamed, and half ready to cry, resisted the bandage.

Mr. Merton interposed his authority; but the children clamoured, and
Evelyn hastily yielded. It was Fortune's duty to draw the tickets from
the urn, and give them to each claimant whose name was called; when it
came to the turn of Maltravers, the bandage did not conceal the blush and
smile of the enchanting goddess, and the hand of the aspirant thrilled as
it touched hers.

The children burst into screams of laughter when Cecilia gravely awarded
to Maltravers the worst prize in the lot,--a blue ribbon,--which Sophy,
however, greedily insisted on having; but Maltravers would not yield it.

Maltravers remained all day at the rectory, and shared in the ball,--yes,
he danced with Evelyn--he, Maltravers, who had never been known to dance
since he was twenty-two! The ice was fairly broken,--Maltravers was at
home with the Mertons. And when he took his solitary walk to his
solitary house--over the little bridge, and through the shadowy
wood--astonished, perhaps, with himself, every one of the guests, from
the oldest to the youngest, pronounced him delightful. Caroline,
perhaps, might have been piqued some months ago that he did not dance
with _her_; but now, her heart--such as it was--felt preoccupied.

CHAPTER VI.

L'ESPRIT de l'homme est plus penetrant que consequent, et embrasse
plus qu'il ne peat lier.*--VAUVENARGUES.

* "The spirit of man is more penetrating than logical, and
gathers more than it can garner."

AND now Maltravers was constantly with the Merton family; there was no
need of excuse for familiarity on his part. Mr. Merton, charmed to find
his advances not rejected, thrust intimacy upon him.

One day they spent the afternoon at Burleigh, and Evelyn and Caroline
finished their survey of the house,--tapestry, and armour, pictures and
all. This led to a visit to the Arabian horses. Caroline observed that
she was very fond of riding, and went into ecstasies with one of the
animals,--the one, of course, with the longest tail. The next day the
horse was in the stables at the rectory, and a gallant epistle apologized
for the costly gift.

Mr. Merton demurred, but Caroline always had her own way; and so the
horse remained (no doubt, in much amazement and disdain) with the
parson's pony, and the brown carriage horses. The gift naturally
conduced to parties on horseback--it was cruel entirely to separate the
Arab from his friends--and how was Evelyn to be left behind?--Evelyn, who
had never yet ridden anything more spirited than an old pony! A
beautiful little horse belonging to an elderly lady, now growing too
stout to ride, was to be sold hard by. Maltravers discovered the
treasure, and apprised Mr. Merton of it--he was too delicate to affect
liberality to the rich heiress. The horse was bought; nothing could go
quieter; Evelyn was not at all afraid. They made two or three little
excursions. Sometimes only Mr. Merton and Maltravers accompanied the
young ladies, sometimes the party was more numerous. Maltravers appeared
to pay equal attention to Caroline and her friend; still Evelyn's
inexperience in equestrian matters was an excuse for his being ever by
her side. They had a thousand opportunities to converse; and Evelyn now
felt more at home with him; her gentle gayety, her fanciful yet chastened
intellect, found a voice. Maltravers was not slow to discover that
beneath her simplicity there lurked sense, judgment, and imagination.
Insensibly his own conversation took a higher flight. With the freedom
which his mature years and reputation gave him, he mingled eloquent
instruction with lighter and more trifling subjects; be directed her
earnest and docile mind, not only to new fields of written knowledge, but
to many of the secrets of Nature, subtle or sublime. He had a wide range
of scientific as well as literary lore; the stars, the flowers, the
phenomena of the physical world, afforded themes on which he descanted
with the fervent love of a poet and the easy knowledge of a sage.

Mr. Merton, observing that little or nothing of sentiment mingled with
their familiar intercourse, felt perfectly at ease; and knowing that
Maltravers had been intimate with Lumley, he naturally concluded that he
was aware of the engagement between Evelyn and his friend. Meanwhile
Maltravers appeared unconscious that such a being as Lord Vargrave
existed.

It is not to be wondered at that the daily presence, the delicate
flattery of attention from a man like Maltravers, should strongly impress
the imagination, if not the heart, of a susceptible girl. Already
prepossessed in his favour, and wholly unaccustomed to a society which
combined so many attractions, Evelyn regarded him with unspeakable
veneration; to the darker shades in his character she was blind,--to her,
indeed, they did not appear. True that once or twice in mixed society
his disdainful and imperious temper broke hastily and harshly forth. To
folly, to pretension, to presumption, he showed but slight forbearance.
The impatient smile, the biting sarcasm, the cold repulse, that might
gall, yet could scarce be openly resented, betrayed that he was one who
affected to free himself from the polished restraints of social
intercourse. He had once been too scrupulous in not wounding vanity; he
was now too indifferent to it. But if sometimes this unamiable trait of
character, as displayed to others, chilled or startled Evelyn, the
contrast of his manner towards herself was a flattery too delicious not
to efface all other recollections. To her ear his voice always softened
its tone; to her capacity of mind ever bent as by sympathy, not
condescension; to her--the young, the timid, the half-informed--to her
alone he did not disdain to exhibit all the stores of his knowledge, all
the best and brightest colours of his mind. She modestly wondered at so
strange a preference. Perhaps a sudden and blunt compliment which
Maltravers once addressed to her may explain it. One day, when she had
conversed more freely and more fully than usual, he broke in upon her
with this abrupt exclamation,--

"Miss Cameron, you must have associated from your childhood with
beautiful minds. I see already that from the world, vile as it is, you
have nothing of contagion to fear. I have heard you talk on the most
various matters, on many of which your knowledge is imperfect; but you
have never uttered one mean idea, or one false sentiment. Truth seems
intuitive to you."

It was indeed this singular purity of heart which made to the
world-wearied man the chief charm in Evelyn Cameron. From this purity
came, as from the heart of a poet, a thousand new and heaven-taught
thoughts which had in them a wisdom of their own,--thoughts that often
brought the stern listener back to youth, and reconciled him with life.
The wise Maltravers learned more from Evelyn than Evelyn did from
Maltravers.

There was, however, another trait--deeper than that of temper--in
Maltravers, and which was, unlike the latter, more manifest to her than
to others,--his contempt for all the things her young and fresh
enthusiasm had been taught to prize, the fame that endeared and hallowed
him to her eyes, the excitement of ambition, and its rewards. He spoke
with such bitter disdain of great names and great deeds. "Children of a
larger growth they were," said he, one day, in answer to her defence of
the luminaries of their kind, "allured by baubles as poor as the rattle
and the doll's house. How many have been made great, as the word is, by
their vices! Paltry craft won command to Themistocles; to escape his
duns, the profligate Caesar heads an army, and achieves his laurels;
Brutus, the aristocrat, stabs his patron, that patricians might again
trample on plebeians, and that posterity might talk of _him_. The love
of posthumous fame--what is it but as puerile a passion for notoriety as
that which made a Frenchman I once knew lay out two thousand pounds in
sugar-plums? To be talked of--how poor a desire! Does it matter whether
it be by the gossips of this age or the next? Some men are urged on to
fame by poverty--that is an excuse for their trouble; but there is no
more nobleness in the motive than in that which makes yon poor ploughman
sweat in the eye of Phoebus. In fact, the larger part of eminent men,
instead of being inspired by any lofty desire to benefit their species or
enrich the human mind, have acted or composed, without any definite
object beyond the satisfying a restless appetite for excitement, or
indulging the dreams of a selfish glory. And when nobler aspirations
have fired them, it has too often been but to wild fanaticism and
sanguinary crime. What dupes of glory ever were animated by a deeper
faith, a higher ambition, than the frantic followers of Mahomet,--taught
to believe that it was virtue to ravage the earth, and that they sprang
from the battle-field into paradise? Religion and liberty, love of
country, what splendid motives to action! Lo, the results, when the
motives are keen, the action once commenced! Behold the Inquisition, the
Days of Terror, the Council of Ten, and the Dungeons of Venice!"

Evelyn was scarcely fit to wrestle with these melancholy fallacies; but
her instinct of truth suggested an answer.

"What would society be if all men thought as you do, and acted up to the
theory? No literature, no art, no glory, no patriotism, no virtue, no
civilization! You analyze men's motives--how can you be sure you judge
rightly? Look to the results,--our benefit, our enlightenment! If the
results be great, Ambition is a virtue, no matter what motive awakened
it. Is it not so?"

Evelyn spoke blushingly and timidly. Maltravers, despite his own tenets,
was delighted with her reply.

"You reason well," said he, with a smile. "But how are we sure that the
results are such as you depict them? Civilization, enlightenment,--they
are vague terms, hollow sounds. Never fear that the world will reason as
I do. Action will never be stagnant while there are such things as gold
and power. The vessel will move on--let the galley-slaves have it to
themselves. What I have seen of life convinces me that progress is not
always improvement. Civilization has evils unknown to the savage state;
and _vice versa_. Men in all states seem to have much the same
proportion of happiness. We judge others with eyes accustomed to dwell
on our own circumstances. I have seen the slave, whom we commiserate,
enjoy his holiday with a rapture unknown to the grave freeman. I have
seen that slave made free, and enriched by the benevolence of his master;
and he has been gay no more. The masses of men in all countries are much
the same. If there are greater comforts in the hardy North, Providence
bestows a fertile earth and a glorious heaven, and a mind susceptible to
enjoyment as flowers to light, on the voluptuous indulgence of the
Italian, or the contented apathy of the Hindoo. In the mighty
organization of good and evil, what can we vain individuals effect? They
who labour most, how doubtful is their reputation! Who shall say whether
Voltaire or Napoleon, Cromwell or Caesar, Walpole or Pitt, has done most
good or most evil? It is a question casuists may dispute on. Some of us
think that poets have been the delight and the lights of men; another
school of philosophy has treated them as the corrupters of the
species,--panderers to the false glory of war, to the effeminacies of
taste, to the pampering of the passions above the reason. Nay, even
those who have effected inventions that change the face of the earth--the
printing-press, gunpowder, the steam-engine,--men hailed as benefactors
by the unthinking herd, or the would-be sages,--have introduced ills
unknown before, adulterating and often counterbalancing the good. Each
new improvement in machinery deprives hundreds of food. Civilization is
the eternal sacrifice of one generation to the next. An awful sense of
the impotence of human agencies has crushed down the sublime aspirations
for mankind which I once indulged. For myself, I float on the great
waters, without pilot or rudder, and trust passively to the winds, that
are the breath of God."

This conversation left a deep impression upon Evelyn; it inspired her
with a new interest in one in whom so many noble qualities lay dulled and
torpid, by the indulgence of a self-sophistry, which, girl as she was,
she felt wholly unworthy of his powers. And it was this error in
Maltravers that, levelling his superiority, brought him nearer to her
heart. Ah, if she could restore him to his race! It was a dangerous
desire, but it intoxicated and absorbed her.

Oh, how sweetly were those fair evenings spent,--the evenings of happy
June! And then, as Maltravers suffered the children to tease him into
talk about the wonders he had seen in the regions far away, how did the
soft and social hues of his character unfold themselves! There is in all
real genius so much latent playfulness of nature it almost seems as if
genius never could grow old. The inscriptions that youth writes upon the
tablets of an imaginative mind are, indeed, never wholly
obliterated,--they are as an invisible writing, which gradually becomes
clear in the light and warmth. Bring genius familiarly with the young,
and it is as young as they are. Evelyn did not yet, therefore, observe
the disparity of _years_ between herself and Maltravers. But the
disparity of knowledge and power served for the present to interdict to
her that sweet feeling of equality in commune, without which love is
rarely a very intense affection in women. It is not so with men. But by
degrees she grew more and more familiar with her stern friend; and in
that familiarity there was perilous fascination to Maltravers. She could
laugh him at any moment out of his most moody reveries; contradict with a
pretty wilfulness his most favourite dogmas; nay, even scold him, with
bewitching gravity, if he was not always at the command of her wishes--or
caprice. At this time it seemed certain that Maltravers would fall in
love with Evelyn; but it rested on more doubtful probabilities whether
Evelyn would fall in love with him.

CHAPTER VII.

CONTRAHE vela,
Et te littoribus cymba propinqua vehat.*--SENECA.

* "Furl your sails, and let the next boat carry you to the shore."

"HAS not Miss Cameron a beautiful countenance?" said Mr. Merton to
Maltravers, as Evelyn, unconscious of the compliment, sat at a little
distance, bending down her eyes to Sophy, who was weaving daisy-chains on
a stool at her knee, and whom she was telling not to talk loud,--for
Merton had been giving Maltravers some useful information respecting the
management of his estate; and Evelyn was already interested in all that
could interest her friend. She had one excellent thing in woman, had
Evelyn Cameron: despite her sunny cheerfulness of temper she was _quiet_;
and she had insensibly acquired, under the roof of her musing and silent
mother, the habit of never disturbing others. What a blessed secret is
that in the intercourse of domestic life!

"Has not Miss Cameron a beautiful countenance?"

Maltravers started at the question,--it was a literal translation of his
own thought at that moment. He checked the enthusiasm that rose to his
lip, and calmly re-echoed the word,--

"Beautiful indeed!"

"And so sweet-tempered and unaffected; she has been admirably brought up.
I believe Lady Vargrave is a most exemplary woman. Miss Cameron will,
indeed, be a treasure to her betrothed husband. He is to be envied."

"Her betrothed husband!" said Maltravers, turning very pale.

"Yes; Lord Vargrave. Did you not know that she was engaged to him from
her childhood? It was the wish, nay, command, of the late lord, who
bequeathed her his vast fortune, if not on that condition, at least on
that understanding. Did you never hear of this before?"

While Mr. Merton spoke, a sudden recollection returned to Maltravers. He
_had_ heard Lumley himself refer to the engagement, but it had been in
the sick chamber of Florence,--little heeded at the time, and swept from
his mind by a thousand after-thoughts and scenes. Mr. Merton
continued,--

"We expect Lord Vargrave down soon. He is an ardent lover, I conclude;
but public life chains him so much to London. He made an admirable
speech in the Lords last night; at least, our party appear to think so.
They are to be married when Miss Cameron attains the age of eighteen."

Accustomed to endurance, and skilled in the proud art of concealing
emotion, Maltravers betrayed to the eye of Mr. Merton no symptom of
surprise or dismay at this intelligence. If the rector had conceived any
previous suspicion that Maltravers was touched beyond mere admiration for
beauty, the suspicion would have vanished as he heard his guest coldly
reply,--

"I trust Lord Vargrave may deserve his happiness. But, to return to Mr.
Justis; you corroborate my own opinion of that smooth-spoken gentleman."

The conversation flowed back to business. At last, Maltravers rose to
depart.

"Will you not dine with us to-day?" said the hospitable rector.

"Many thanks,--no; I have much business to attend to at home for some
days to come."

"Kiss Sophy, Mr. Ernest,--Sophy very good girl to-day. Let the pretty
butterfly go, because Evy said it was cruel to put it in a card-box; kiss
Sophy."

Maltravers took the child (whose heart he had completely won) in his
arms, and kissed her tenderly; then advancing to Evelyn, he held out his
hand, while his eyes were fixed upon her with an expression of deep and
mournful interest, which she could not understand.

"God bless you, Miss Cameron," he said, and his lip quivered.

Days passed, and they saw no more of Maltravers. He excused himself on
pretence, now of business, now of other engagements, from all the
invitations of the rector. Mr. Merton unsuspectingly accepted the
excuse; for he knew that Maltravers was necessarily much occupied.

His arrival had now spread throughout the country; and such of his equals
as were still in B-----shire hastened to offer congratulations, and press
hospitality. Perhaps it was the desire to make his excuses to Merton
valid which prompted the master of Burleigh to yield to the other
invitations that crowded on him. But this was not all,--Maltravers
acquired in the neighbourhood the reputation of a man of business. Mr.
Justis was abruptly dismissed; with the help of the bailiff Maltravers
became his own steward. His parting address to this personage was
characteristic of the mingled harshness and justice of Maltravers.

"Sir," said he, as they closed their accounts, "I discharge you because
you are a rascal,--there can be no dispute about that; you have plundered
your owner, yet you have ground his tenants, and neglected the poor. My
villages are filled with paupers, my rent-roll is reduced a fourth; and
yet, while some of my tenants appear to pay nominal rents (why, you best
know),--others are screwed up higher than any man's in the country. You
are a rogue, Mr. Justis,--your own account-books show it; and if I send
them to a lawyer, you would have to refund a sum that I could apply very
advantageously to the rectification of your blunders."

"I hope, sir," said the steward, conscience-stricken and appalled,--"I
hope you will not ruin me; indeed, indeed, if I was called upon to
refund, I should go to jail."

"Make yourself easy, sir. It is just that I should suffer as well as
you. My neglect of my own duties tempted you to roguery. You were
honest under the vigilant eye of Mr. Cleveland. Retire with your gains:
if you are quite hardened, no punishment can touch you; if you are not,
it is punishment enough to stand there gray-headed, with one foot in the
grave, and hear yourself called a rogue, and know that you cannot defend
yourself,--go!"

Maltravers next occupied himself in all the affairs that a mismanaged
estate brought upon him. He got rid of some tenants, he made new
arrangements with others; he called labour into requisition by a variety
of improvements; he paid minute attention to the poor, not in the
weakness of careless and indiscriminate charity, by which popularity is
so cheaply purchased, and independence so easily degraded,--no, his main
care was to stimulate industry and raise hope. The ambition and
emulation that he so vainly denied in himself, he found his most useful
levers in the humble labourers whose characters he had studied, whose
condition he sought to make themselves desire to elevate. Unconsciously
his whole practice began to refute his theories. The abuses of the old
Poor Laws were rife in his neighbourhood; his quick penetration, and
perhaps his imperious habits of decision, suggested to him many of the
best provisions of the law now called into operation; but he was too wise
to be the Philosopher Square of a system. He did not attempt too much;
and he recognized one principle, which, as yet, the administrators of the
new Poor-Laws have not sufficiently discovered. One main object of the
new code was, by curbing public charity, to task the activity of
individual benevolence. If the proprietor or the clergyman find under
his own eye isolated instances of severity, oppression, or hardship in a
general and salutary law, instead of railing against the law, he ought to
attend to the individual instances; and private benevolence ought to keep
the balance of the scales even, and be the makeweight wherever there is a
just deficiency of national charity.* It was this which, in the modified
and discreet regulations that he sought to establish on his estates,
Maltravers especially and pointedly attended to. Age, infirmity,
temporary distress, unmerited destitution, found him a steady, watchful,
indefatigable friend. In these labours, commenced with extraordinary
promptitude, and the energy of a single purpose and stern mind,
Maltravers was necessarily brought into contact with the neighbouring
magistrates and gentry. He was combating evils and advancing objects in
which all were interested; and his vigorous sense, and his past
parliamentary reputation, joined with the respect which in provinces
always attaches to ancient birth, won unexpected and general favour to
his views. At the rectory they heard of him constantly, not only through
occasional visitors, but through Mr. Merton, who was ever thrown in his
way; but he continued to keep himself aloof from the house. Every one
(Mr. Merton excepted) missed him,--even Caroline, whose able though
worldly mind could appreciate his conversation; the children mourned for
their playmate, who was so much more affable than their own
stiff-neckclothed brothers; and Evelyn was at least more serious and
thoughtful than she had ever been before, and the talk of others seemed
to her wearisome, trite, and dull.

* The object of parochial reform is not that of economy alone;
not merely to reduce poor-rates. The ratepayer ought to remember
that the more he wrests from the grip of the sturdy mendicant,
the more he ought to bestow on undeserved distress. Without the
mitigations of private virtue, every law that benevolists could
make would be harsh.

Was Maltravers happy in his new pursuits? His state of mind at that time
it is not easy to read. His masculine spirit and haughty temper were
wrestling hard against a feeling that had been fast ripening into
passion; but at night, in his solitary and cheerless home, a vision, too
exquisite to indulge, would force itself upon him, till he started from
the revery, and said to his rebellious heart: "A few more years, and thou
wilt be still. What in this brief life is a pang more or less? Better
to have nothing to care for, so wilt thou defraud Fate, thy deceitful
foe! Be contented that thou art alone!" Fortunate was it, then, for
Maltravers, that he was in his native land, not in climes where
excitement is in the pursuit of pleasure rather than in the exercise of
duties. In the hardy air of the liberal England, he was already, though
unknown to himself, bracing and ennobling his dispositions and desires.
It is the boast of this island that the slave whose foot touches the soil
is free. The boast may be enlarged. Where so much is left to the
people, where the life of civilization, not locked up in the tyranny of
Central Despotism, spreads, vivifying, restless, ardent, through every
vein of the healthful body, the most distant province, the obscurest
village, has claims on our exertions, our duties, and forces us into
energy and citizenship. The spirit of liberty, that strikes the chain
from the slave, binds the freeman to his brother. This is the Religion
of Freedom. And hence it is that the stormy struggles of free States
have been blessed with results of Virtue, of Wisdom, and of Genius by Him
who bade us love one another,--not only that love in itself is excellent,
but that from love, which in its widest sense is but the spiritual term
for liberty, whatever is worthiest of our solemn nature has its birth.

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