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

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BOOK X.

"A dream!"--HOMER, I, 3.

CHAPTER I.

QUALIS ubi in lucem coluber
. . . Mala gramina pastus.*--VIRGIL.

Pars minima est ipsa puella sui.**--OVID.

* "As when a snake glides into light, having fed on pernicious
pastures."

** "The girl is the least part of himself."

IT would be superfluous, and, perhaps, a sickening task, to detail at
length the mode and manner in which Vargrave coiled his snares round the
unfortunate girl whom his destiny had marked out for his prey. He was
right in foreseeing that, after the first amazement caused by the letter
of Maltravers, Evelyn would feel resentment crushed beneath her certainty
of his affection her incredulity at his self-accusations, and her secret
conviction that some reverse, some misfortune he was unwilling she should
share, was the occasion of his farewell and flight. Vargrave therefore
very soon communicated to Evelyn the tale he had suggested to Maltravers.
He reminded her of the habitual sorrow, the evidence of which was so
visible in Lady Vargrave; of her indifference to the pleasures of the
world; of her sensitive shrinking from all recurrence to her early fate.
"The secret of this," said he, "is in a youthful and most fervent
attachment; your mother loved a young stranger above her in rank, who
(his head being full of German romance) was then roaming about the
country on pedestrian and adventurous excursions, under the assumed name
of Butler. By him she was most ardently beloved in return. Her father,
perhaps, suspected the rank of her lover, and was fearful of her honour
being compromised. He was a strange man, that father! and I know not his
real character and motives; but he suddenly withdrew his daughter from
the suit and search of her lover,--they saw each other no more; her lover
mourned her as one dead. In process of time your mother was constrained
by her father to marry Mr. Cameron, and was left a widow with an only
child,--yourself: she was poor;--very poor! and her love and anxiety for
you at last induced her to listen to the addresses of my late uncle; for
your sake she married again; again death dissolved the tie! But still,
unceasingly and faithfully, she recalled that first love, the memory of
which darkened and embittered all her life, and still she lived upon the
hope to meet with the lost again. At last, and most recently, it was my
fate to discover that the object of this unconquerable affection
lived,--was still free in hand if not in heart: you behold the lover of
your mother in Ernest Maltravers! It devolved on me (an invidious--a
reluctant duty) to inform Maltravers of the identity of Lady Vargrave
with the Alice of his boyish passion; to prove to him her suffering,
patient, unsubdued affection; to convince him that the sole hope left to
her in life was that of one day or other beholding him once again. You
know Maltravers,--his high-wrought, sensitive, noble character; he
recoiled in terror from the thought of making his love to the daughter
the last and bitterest affliction to the mother he had so loved; knowing
too how completely that mother had entwined herself round your
affections, he shuddered at the pain and self-reproach that would be
yours when you should discover to whom you had been the rival, and whose
the fond hopes and dreams that your fatal beauty had destroyed.
Tortured, despairing, and half beside himself, he has fled from this
ill-omened passion, and in solitude he now seeks to subdue that passion.
Touched by the woe, the grief, of the Alice of his youth, it is his
intention, as soon as he can know you restored to happiness and content,
to hasten to your mother, and offer his future devotion as the fulfilment
of former vows. On you, and you alone, it depends to restore Maltravers
to the world,--on you alone it depends to bless the remaining years of
the mother who so dearly loves you!"

It may be easily conceived with what sensations of wonder, compassion,
and dismay, Evelyn listened to this tale, the progress of which her
exclamations, her sobs, often interrupted. She would write instantly to
her mother, to Maltravers. Oh, how gladly she would relinquish his suit:
How cheerfully promise to rejoice in that desertion which brought
happiness to the mother she had so loved!

"Nay," said Vargrave, "your mother must not know, till the intelligence
can be breathed by his lips, and softened by his protestations of
returning affection, that the mysterious object of her early romance is
that Maltravers whose vows have been so lately offered to her own child.
Would not such intelligence shock all pride, and destroy all hope? How
could she then consent to the sacrifice which Maltravers is prepared to
make? No! not till you are another's--not (to use the words of
Maltravers) till you are a happy and beloved wife--must your mother
receive the returning homage of Maltravers; not till then can she know
where that homage has been recently rendered; not till then can
Maltravers feel justified in the atonement he meditates. He is willing
to sacrifice himself; he trembles at the thought of sacrificing you! Say
nothing to your mother, till from her own lips she tells you that she has
learned all."

Could Evelyn hesitate; could Evelyn doubt? To allay the fears, to fulfil
the prayers of the man whose conduct appeared so generous, to restore him
to peace and the world; above all, to pluck from the heart of that
beloved and gentle mother the rankling dart, to shed happiness over her
fate, to reunite her with the loved and lost,--what sacrifice too great
for this?

Ah, why was Legard absent? Why did she believe him capricious, light,
and false? Why had she shut her softest thoughts from her soul? But
he--the true lover--was afar, and his true love unknown! and Vargrave,
the watchful serpent, was at hand.

In a fatal hour, and in the transport of that enthusiasm which inspires
alike our more rash and our more sublime deeds, which makes us alike
dupes and martyrs,--the enthusiasm that tramples upon self, that forfeits
all things to a high-wrought zeal for others, Evelyn consented to become
the wife of Vargrave! Nor was she at first sensible of the
sacrifice,--sensible of anything but the glow of a noble spirit and an
approving conscience. Yes, thus, and thus alone, did she obey both
duties,--that, which she had well-nigh abandoned, to her dead benefactor,
and that to the living mother. Afterwards came a dread reaction; and
then, at last, that passive and sleep-like resignation, which is Despair
under a milder name. Yes,--such a lot had been predestined from the
first; in vain had she sought to fly it: Fate had overtaken her, and she
must submit to the decree!

She was most anxious that the intelligence of the new bond might be
transmitted instantly to Maltravers. Vargrave promised, but took care
not to perform. He was too acute not to know that in so sudden a step
Evelyn's motives would be apparent, and his own suit indelicate and
ungenerous. He was desirous that Maltravers should learn nothing till
the vows had been spoken, and the indissoluble chain forged. Afraid to
leave Evelyn, even for a day, afraid to trust her in England to an
interview with her mother,--he remained at Paris, and hurried on all the
requisite preparations. He sent to Douce, who came in person, with the
deeds necessary for the transfer of the money for the purchase of Lisle
Court, which was now to be immediately completed. The money was to be
lodged in Mr. Douce's bank till the lawyers had completed their
operations; and in a few weeks, when Evelyn had attained the allotted
age, Vargrave trusted to see himself lord alike of the betrothed bride,
and the hereditary lands of the crushed Maltravers. He refrained from
stating to Evelyn who was the present proprietor of the estate to become
hers; he foresaw all the objections she would form;--and, indeed, she was
unable to think, to talk, of such matters. One favour she had asked, and
it had been granted,--that she was to be left unmolested to her solitude
till the fatal day. Shut up in her lonely room, condemned not to confide
her thoughts, to seek for sympathy even in her mother,--the poor girl in
vain endeavoured to keep up to the tenor of her first enthusiasm, and
reconcile herself to a step, which, however, she was heroine enough not
to retract or to repent, even while she recoiled from its contemplation.

Lady Doltimore, amazed at what had passed,--at the flight of Maltravers,
the success of Lumley,--unable to account for it, to extort explanation
from Vargrave or from Evelyn, was distracted by the fear of some
villanous deceit which she could not fathom. To escape herself she
plunged yet more eagerly into the gay vortex. Vargrave, suspicious, and
fearful of trusting to what she might say in her nervous and excited
temper if removed from his watchful eye, deemed himself compelled to
hover round her. His manner, his conduct, were most guarded; but
Caroline herself, jealous, irritated, unsettled, evinced at times a right
both to familiarity and anger, which drew upon her and himself the sly
vigilance of slander. Meanwhile Lord Doltimore, though too cold and
proud openly to notice what passed around him, seemed disturbed and
anxious. His manner to Vargrave was distant; he shunned all
_tete-a-tetes_ with his wife. Little, however, of this did Lumley heed.
A few weeks more, and all would be well and safe. Vargrave did not
publish his engagement with Evelyn: he sought carefully to conceal it
till the very day was near at hand; but it was whispered abroad; some
laughed, some believed. Evelyn herself was seen nowhere. De Montaigne
had, at first, been indignantly incredulous at the report that Maltravers
had broken off a connection he had so desired from a motive so weak and
unworthy as that of mere family pride. A letter from Maltravers, who
confided to him and Vargrave alone the secret of his retreat, reluctantly
convinced him that the wise are but pompous fools; he was angry and
disgusted; and still more so when Valerie and Teresa (for female friends
stand by us right or wrong) hinted at excuses, or surmised that other
causes lurked behind the one alleged. But his thoughts were much drawn
from this subject by increasing anxiety for Cesarini, whose abode and
fate still remained an alarming mystery.

It so happened that Lord Doltimore, who had always had a taste for the
antique, and who was greatly displeased with his own family-seat because
it was comfortable and modern, fell, from _ennui_, into a habit,
fashionable enough in Paris, of buying curiosities and cabinets,--
high-back chairs and oak-carvings; and with this habit returned the
desire and the affection for Burleigh. Understanding from Lumley that
Maltravers had probably left his native land forever, he imagined it
extremely probable that the latter would now consent to the sale,
and he begged Vargrave to forward a letter from him to that effect.

Vargrave made some excuse, for he felt that nothing could be more
indelicate than such an application forwarded through his hands at such a
time; and Doltimore, who had accidentally heard De Montaigne confess that
he knew the address of Maltravers, quietly sent his letter to the
Frenchman, and, without mentioning its contents, begged him to forward
it. De Montaigne did so. Now it is very strange how slight men and
slight incidents bear on the great events of life; but that simple letter
was instrumental to a new revolution in the strange history of
Maltravers.

CHAPTER II.

QUID frustra simulacra fugacia captas?--
Quod petis est nusquam.*--OVID: _Met._ iii. 432.

* "Why, in vain, do you catch at fleeting shadows?
That which you seek is nowhere."

TO no clime dedicated to the indulgence of majestic griefs or to the soft
melancholy of regret--not to thy glaciers, or thy dark-blue lakes,
beautiful Switzerland, mother of many exiles; nor to thy fairer earth and
gentler heaven, sweet Italy,--fled the agonized Maltravers. Once, in his
wanderings, he had chanced to pass by a landscape so steeped in sullen
and desolate gloom, that it had made a powerful and uneffaced impression
upon his mind: it was amidst those swamps and morasses that formerly
surrounded the castle of Gil de Retz, the ambitious Lord, the dreaded
Necromancer, who perished at the stake, after a career of such power and
splendour as seemed almost to justify the dark belief in his
preternatural agencies.*

* See, for description of this scenery, and the fate of De Retz,
the high-wrought and glowing romance by Mr. Ritchie called
"The Magician."

Here, in a lonely and wretched inn, remote from other habitations,
Maltravers fixed himself. In gentler griefs there is a sort of luxury in
bodily discomfort; in his inexorable and unmitigated anguish, bodily
discomfort was not felt. There is a kind of magnetism in extreme woe, by
which the body itself seems laid asleep, and knows no distinction between
the bed of Damiens and the rose-couch of the Sybarite. He left his
carriage and servants at a post-house some miles distant. He came to
this dreary abode alone; and in that wintry season, and that most
disconsolate scene, his gloomy soul found something congenial, something
that did not mock him, in the frowns of the haggard and dismal Nature.
Vain would it be to describe what he then felt, what he then endured.
Suffice it that, through all, the diviner strength of man was not wholly
crushed, and that daily, nightly, hourly, he prayed to the Great
Comforter to assist him in wrestling against a guilty love. No man
struggles so honestly, so ardently as he did, utterly in vain; for in us
all, if we would but cherish it, there is a spirit that must rise at
last--a crowned, if bleeding conqueror--over Fate and all the Demons!

One day after a prolonged silence from Vargrave, whose letters all
breathed comfort and assurance in Evelyn's progressive recovery of spirit
and hope, his messenger returned from the post-town with a letter in the
hand of De Montaigne. It contained, in a blank envelope (De Montaigne's
silence told him how much he had lost in the esteem of his friend), the
communication of Lord Doltimore. It ran thus:--

MY DEAR SIR,--As I hear that your plans are likely to make you a long
resident on the Continent, may I again inquire if you would be induced to
dispose of Burleigh? I am willing to give more than its real value, and
would raise a mortgage on my own property sufficient to pay off, at once,
the whole purchase-money. Perhaps you may be the more induced to the
sale from the circumstance of having an example in the head of your
family, Colonel Maltravers, as I learn through Lord Vargrave, having
resolved to dispose of Lisle Court. Waiting your answer,

I am, dear Sir, truly yours,

DOLTIMORE.

"Ay," said Maltravers, bitterly, crushing the letter in his hand, "let
our name be blotted out from the land, and our hearths pass to the
stranger. How could I ever visit the place where I first saw _her_?"

He resolved at once,--he would write to England, and place the matter in
the hands of agents. This was but a short-lived diversion to his
thoughts, and their cloudy darkness soon gathered round him again.

What I am now about to relate may appear, to a hasty criticism, to savour
of the Supernatural; but it is easily accounted for by ordinary agencies,
and it is strictly to the letter of the truth.

In his sleep that night a dream appeared to Maltravers. He thought he
was alone in the old library at Burleigh, and gazing on the portrait of
his mother; as he so gazed, he fancied that a cold and awful tremor
seized upon him, that he in vain endeavoured to withdraw his eyes from
the canvas--his sight was chained there by an irresistible spell. Then
it seemed to him that the portrait gradually changed,--the features the
same, but the bloom vanished into a white and ghastly hue; the colours of
the dress faded, their fashion grew more large and flowing, but heavy and
rigid as if cut in stone,--the robes of the grave. But on the face there
was a soft and melancholy smile, that took from its livid aspect the
natural horror; the lips moved, and, it seemed as if without a sound, the
released soul spoke to that which the earth yet owned.

"Return," it said, "to thy native land, and thine own home. Leave not
the last relic of her who bore and yet watches over thee to stranger
hands. Thy good Angel shall meet thee at thy hearth!"

The voice ceased. With a violent effort Maltravers broke the spell that
had forbidden his utterance. He called aloud, and the dream vanished: he
was broad awake, his hair erect, the cold dews on his brow. The pallet,
rather than bed on which he lay, was opposite to the window, and the
wintry moonlight streamed wan and spectral into the cheerless room. But
between himself and the light there seemed to stand a shape, a shadow,
that into which the portrait had changed in his dream,--that which had
accosted and chilled his soul. He sprang forward, "My mother! even in
the grave canst thou bless thy wretched son! Oh, leave me not--say that
thou--" The delusion vanished, and Maltravers fell back insensible.

It was long in vain, when, in the healthful light of day, he revolved
this memorable dream, that Maltravers sought to convince himself that
dreams need no ministers from heaven or hell to bring the gliding
falsehoods along the paths of sleep; that the effect of that dream
itself, on his shattered nerves, his excited fancy, was the real and sole
raiser of the spectre he had thought to behold on waking. Long was it
before his judgment could gain the victory, and reason disown the empire
of a turbulent imagination; and even when at length reluctantly
convinced, the dream still haunted him, and he could not shake it from
his breast. He longed anxiously for the next night; it came, but it
brought neither dreams nor sleep, and the rain beat, and the winds
howled, against the casement. Another night, and the moon was again
bright; and he fell into a deep sleep; no vision disturbed or hallowed
it. He woke ashamed of his own expectation. But the event, such as it
was, by giving a new turn to his thoughts, had roused and relieved his
spirit, and misery sat upon him with a lighter load. Perhaps, too, to
that still haunting recollection was mainly owing a change in his former
purpose. He would still sell the old Hall; but he would first return,
and remove that holy portrait, with pious hands; he would garner up and
save all that had belonged to her whose death had been his birth. Ah,
never had she known for what trials the infant had been reserved!

CHAPTER III.

THE weary hours steal on
And flaky darkness breaks.--_Richard III._

ONCE more, suddenly and unlooked for, the lord of Burleigh appeared at
the gates of his deserted hall! and again the old housekeeper and her
satellites were thrown into dismay and consternation. Amidst blank and
welcomeless faces, Maltravers passed into his study: and as soon as the
logs burned and the bustle was over, and he was left alone, he took up
the light and passed into the adjoining library. It was then about nine
o'clock in the evening; the air of the room felt damp and chill, and the
light but faintly struggled against the mournful gloom of the dark
book-lined walls and sombre tapestry. He placed the candle on the table,
and drawing aside the curtain that veiled the portrait, gazed with deep
emotion, not unmixed with awe, upon the beautiful face whose eyes seemed
fixed upon him with mournful sweetness. There is something mystical
about those painted ghosts of ourselves, that survive our very dust!
Who, gazing upon them long and wistfully, does not half fancy that they
seem not insensible to his gaze, as if we looked our own life into them,
and the eyes that followed us where we moved were animated by a stranger
art than the mere trick of the limner's colours?

With folded arms, rapt and motionless, Maltravers contemplated the form
that, by the upward rays of the flickering light, seemed to bend down
towards the desolate son. How had he ever loved the memory of his
mother! how often in his childish years had he stolen away, and shed wild
tears for the loss of that dearest of earthly ties, never to be
compensated, never to be replaced! How had he respected, how sympathized
with the very repugnance which his father had at first testified towards
him, as the innocent cause of her untimely death! He had never seen
her,--never felt her passionate kiss; and yet it seemed to him, as he
gazed, as if he had known her for years. That strange kind of inner and
spiritual memory which often recalls to us places and persons we have
never seen before, and which Platonists would resolve to the unquenched
and struggling consciousness of a former life, stirred within him, and
seemed to whisper, "You were united in the old time." "Yes!" he said,
half aloud, "we will never part again. Blessed be the delusion of the
dream that recalled to my heart the remembrance of thee, which, at least,
I can cherish without a sin. 'My good angel shall meet me at my hearth!'
so didst thou say in the solemn vision. Ah, does thy soul watch over me
still? How long shall it be before the barrier is broken! how long
before we meet, but not in dreams!"

The door opened, the housekeeper looked in. "I beg pardon, sir, but I
thought your honour would excuse the liberty, though I know it is very
bold to--"

"What is the matter? What do you want?"

"Why, sir, poor Mrs. Elton is dying,--they say she cannot get over the
night; and as the carriage drove by the cottage window, the nurse told
her that the squire was returned; and she has sent up the nurse to
entreat to see your honour before she dies. I am sure I was most loth to
disturb you, sir, with such a message; and says I, the squire has only
just come off a journey--"

"Who is Mrs. Elton?"

"Don't your honour remember the poor woman that was run over, and you
were so good to, and brought into the house the day Miss Cameron--"

"I remember,--say I will be with her in a few minutes. About to die!"
muttered Maltravers; "she is to be envied,--the prisoner is let loose,
the bark leaves the desert isle!"

He took his hat and walked across the park, dimly lighted by the stars,
to the cottage of the sufferer. He reached her bedside, and took her
hand kindly. She seemed to rally at the sight of him; the nurse was
dismissed, they were left alone. Before morning, the spirit had left
that humble clay; and the mists of dawn were heavy on the grass as
Maltravers returned home. There were then on his countenance the traces
of recent and strong emotion, and his step was elastic, and his cheek
flushed. Hope once more broke within him, but mingled with doubt, and
faintly combated by reason. In another hour Maltravers was on his way to
Brook-Green. Impatient, restless, fevered, he urged on the horses, he
sowed the road with gold; and at length the wheels stopped before the
door of the village inn. He descended, asked the way to the curate's
house; and crossing the burial-ground, and passing under the shadow of
the old yew-tree, entered Aubrey's garden. The curate was at home, and
the conference that ensued was of deep and breathless interest to the
visitor.

It is now time to place before the reader, in due order and connection,
the incidents of that story, the knowledge of which, at that period,
broke in detached and fragmentary portions on Maltravers.

CHAPTER IV.

I CANNA chuse, but ever will
Be luving to thy father still,
Whaireir he gae, whaireir he ryde,
My luve with him maun still abyde;
In weil or wae, whaireir he gae,
Mine heart can neir depart him frae.
Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament.

IT may be remembered that in the earlier part of this continuation of the
history of Maltravers it was stated that Aubrey had in early life met
with the common lot of a disappointed affection. Eleanor Westbrook, a
young woman of his own humble rank, had won, and seemed to return, his
love; but of that love she was not worthy. Vain, volatile, and
ambitious, she forsook the poor student for a more brilliant marriage.
She accepted the hand of a merchant, who was caught by her beauty, and
who had the reputation of great wealth. They settled in London, and
Aubrey lost all traces of her. She gave birth to an only daughter: and
when that child had attained her fourteenth year, her husband suddenly,
and seemingly without cause, put an end to his existence. The cause,
however, was apparent before he was laid in his grave. He was involved
far beyond his fortune,--he had died to escape beggary and a jail. A
small annuity, not exceeding one hundred pounds, had been secured on the
widow. On this income she retired with her child into the country; and
chance, the vicinity of some distant connections, and the cheapness of
the place, concurred to fix her residence in the outskirts of the town of
C-----. Characters that in youth have been most volatile and most
worldly, often when bowed down and dejected by the adversity which they
are not fitted to encounter, become the most morbidly devout; they ever
require an excitement, and when earth denies, they seek it impatiently
from heaven.

This was the case with Mrs. Westbrook; and this new turn of mind brought
her naturally into contact with the principal saint of the neighbourhood,
Mr. Richard Templeton. We have seen that that gentleman was not happy in
his first marriage; death had not then annulled the bond. He was of an
ardent and sensual temperament, and quietly, under the broad cloak of his
doctrines, he indulged his constitutional tendencies. Perhaps in this
respect he was not worse than nine men out of ten. But then he professed
to be better than nine hundred thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine men
out of a million! To a fault of temperament was added the craft of
hypocrisy, and the vulgar error became a dangerous vice. Upon Mary
Westbrook, the widow's daughter, he gazed with eyes that were far from
being the eyes of the spirit. Even at the age of fourteen she charmed
him; but when, after watching her ripening beauty expand, three years
were added to that age, Mr. Templeton was most deeply in love. Mary was
indeed lovely,--her disposition naturally good and gentle, but her
education worse than neglected. To the frivolities and meannesses of a
second-rate fashion, inculcated into her till her father's death, had now
succeeded the quackeries, the slavish subservience, the intolerant
bigotries, of a transcendental superstition. In a change so abrupt and
violent, the whole character of the poor girl was shaken; her principles
unsettled, vague, and unformed, and naturally of mediocre and even feeble
intellect, she clung to the first plank held out to her in "that wide sea
of wax" in which "she halted." Early taught to place the most implicit
faith in the dictates of Mr. Templeton, fastening her belief round him as
the vine winds its tendrils round the oak, yielding to his ascendency,
and pleased with his fostering and almost caressing manner, no confessor
in Papal Italy ever was more dangerous to village virtue than Richard
Templeton (who deemed himself the archetype of the only pure
Protestantism) to the morals and heart of Mary Westbrook.

Mrs. Westbrook, whose constitution had been prematurely broken by long
participation in the excesses of London dissipation and by the reverse of
fortune which still preyed upon a spirit it had rather soured than
humbled, died when Mary was eighteen. Templeton became the sole friend,
comforter, and supporter of the daughter.

In an evil hour (let us trust not from premeditated villany),--an hour
when the heart of one was softened by grief and gratitude, and the
conscience of the other laid asleep by passion, the virtue of Mary
Westbrook was betrayed. Her sorrow and remorse, his own fears of
detection and awakened self-reproach, occasioned Templeton the most
anxious and poignant regret. There had been a young woman in Mrs.
Westbrook's service, who had left it a short time before the widow died,
in consequence of her marriage. Her husband ill-used her; and glad to
escape from him and prove her gratitude to her employer's daughter, of
whom she had been extremely fond, she had returned to Miss Westbrook
after the funeral of her mother. The name of this woman was Sarah Miles.
Templeton saw that Sarah more than suspected his connection with Mary; it
was necessary to make a confidant,--he selected her. Miss Westbrook was
removed to a distant part of the country, and Templeton visited her
cautiously and rarely. Four months afterwards, Mrs. Templeton died, and
the husband was free to repair his wrong. Oh, how he then repented of
what had passed! but four months' delay, and all this sin and sorrow
might have been saved! He was now racked with perplexity and doubt: his
unfortunate victim was advanced in her pregnancy. It was necessary, if
he wished his child to be legitimate--still more if he wished to preserve
the honour of its mother--that he should not hesitate long in the
reparation to which duty and conscience urged him. But on the other
hand, he, the saint, the oracle, the immaculate example for all forms,
proprieties, and decorums, to scandalize the world by so rapid and
premature a hymen--

"Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in his galled eyes,
To marry."

No! he could not brave the sneer of the gossips, the triumph of his foes,
the dejection of his disciples, by so rank and rash a folly. But still
Mary pined so, he feared for her health--for his own unborn offspring.
There was a middle path,--a compromise between duty and the world; he
grasped at it as most men similarly situated would have done,--they were
married, but privately, and under feigned names: the secret was kept
close. Sarah Miles was the only witness acquainted with the real
condition and names of the parties.

Reconciled to herself, the bride recovered health and spirits, Templeton
formed the most sanguine hopes. He resolved, as soon as the confinement
was over, to go abroad; Mary should follow; in a foreign land they should
be publicly married; they would remain some years on the Continent; when
he returned, his child's age could be put back a year. Oh, nothing could
be more clear and easy!

Death shivered into atoms all the plans of Mr. Templeton. Mary suffered
most severely in childbirth, and died a few weeks afterwards. Templeton
at first was inconsolable, but worldly thoughts were great comforters.
He had done all that conscience could do to atone a sin, and he was freed
from a most embarrassing dilemma, and from a temporary banishment utterly
uncongenial and unpalatable to his habits and ideas. But now he had a
child,--a legitimate child, successor to his name, his wealth; a
first-born child,--the only one ever sprung from him, the prop and hope
of advancing years! On this child he doted with all that paternal
passion which the hardest and coldest men often feel the most for their
own flesh and blood--for fatherly love is sometimes but a transfer of
self-love from one fund to another.

Yet this child--this darling that he longed to show to the whole
world--it was absolutely necessary, for the present, that he should
conceal and disown. It had happened that Sarah's husband died of his own
excesses a few weeks before the birth of Templeton's child, she having
herself just recovered from her confinement; Sarah was therefore free
forever from her husband's vigilance and control. To her care the
destined heiress was committed, and her own child put out to nurse. And
this was the woman and this the child who had excited so much benevolent
curiosity in the breasts of the worthy clergyman and the three old maids
of C-----.* Alarmed at Sarah's account of the scrutiny of the parson, and
at his own rencontre with that hawk-eyed pastor, Templeton lost no time
in changing the abode of the nurse; and to her new residence had the
banker bent his way, with rod and angle, on that evening which witnessed
his adventure with Luke Darvil.** When Mr. Templeton first met Alice, his
own child was only about thirteen or fourteen months old,--but little
older than Alice's. If the beauty of Mrs. Leslie's _protege_ first
excited his coarser nature, her maternal tenderness, her anxious care for
her little one, struck a congenial chord in the father's heart. It
connected him with her by a mute and unceasing sympathy. Templeton had
felt so deeply the alarm and pain of illicit love, he had been (as he
profanely believed) saved from the brink of public shame by so signal an
interference of grace, that he resolved no more to hazard his good name
and his peace of mind upon such perilous rocks. The dearest desire at
his heart was to have his daughter under his roof,--to fondle, to play
with her, to watch her growth, to win her affection. This, at present,
seemed impossible. But if he were to marry,--marry a widow, to whom he
might confide all, or a portion, of the truth; if that child could be
passed off as hers--ah, that was the best plan! And Templeton wanted a
wife! Years were creeping on him, and the day would come when a wife
would be useful as a nurse. But Alice was supposed to be a widow; and
Alice was so meek, so docile, so motherly. If she could be induced to
remove from C-----, either part with her own child or call it her
niece,--and adopt his. Such, from time to time, were Templeton's
thoughts, as he visited Alice, and found, with every visit, fresh
evidence of her tender and beautiful disposition; such the objects which,
in the First Part of this work, we intimated were different from those of
mere admiration for her beauty.*** But again, worldly doubts and
fears--the dislike of so unsuitable an alliance, the worse than lowness
of Alice's origin, the dread of discovery for her early error--held him
back, wavering and irresolute. To say truth, too, her innocence and
purity of thought kept him at a certain distance. He was acute enough to
see that he--even he, the great Richard Templeton--might be refused by
the faithful Alice.

* See "Ernest Maltravers," book iv., p. 164.

** "Ernest Maltravers," book iv., p. 181.

*** "Our banker always seemed more struck by Alice's moral
feelings than even by her physical beauty. Her love for her
child, for instance, impressed him powerfully," etc. "His
feelings altogether for Alice, the designs he entertained
towards her, were of a very complicated nature, and it will
be long, perhaps, before the reader can thoroughly comprehend
them."--See "Ernest Maltravers," book iv., p. 178.

At last Darvil was dead; he breathed more freely, he revolved more
seriously his projects; and at this time, Sarah, wooed by her first
lover, wished to marry again; his secret would pass from her breast to
her second husband's, and thence how far would it travel? Added to this,
Sarah's conscience grew uneasy; the brand ought to be effaced from the
memory of the dead mother, the legitimacy of the child proclaimed; she
became importunate, she wearied and she alarmed the pious man. He
therefore resolved to rid himself of the only witness to his marriage
whose testimony he had cause to fear,--of the presence of the only one
acquainted with his sin and the real name of the husband of Mary
Westbrook. He consented to Sarah's marriage with William Elton, and
offered a liberal dowry on the condition that she should yield to the
wish of Elton himself, an adventurous young man, who desired to try his
fortunes in the New World. His daughter he must remove elsewhere.

While this was going on, Alice's child, long delicate and drooping,
became seriously ill. Symptoms of decline appeared; the physician
recommended a milder air, and Devonshire was suggested. Nothing could
equal the generous, the fatherly kindness which Templeton evinced on this
most painful occasion. He insisted on providing Alice with the means to
undertake the journey with ease and comfort; and poor Alice, with a heart
heavy with gratitude and sorrow, consented for her child's sake to all he
offered.

Now the banker began to perceive that all his hopes and wishes were in
good train. He foresaw that the child of Alice was doomed!--that was one
obstacle out of the way. Alice herself was to be removed from the sphere
of her humble calling. In a distant county she might appear of better
station, and under another name. Conformably to these views, he
suggested to her that, in proportion to the seeming wealth and
respectability of patients, did doctors attend to their complaints. He
proposed that Alice should depart privately to a town many miles off;
that there he would provide for her a carriage, and engage a servant;
that he would do this for her as for a relation, and that she should take
that relation's name. To this, Alice rapt in her child, and submissive
to all that might be for the child's benefit, passively consented. It
was arranged then as proposed, and under the name of Cameron, which, as
at once a common yet a well-sounding name, occurred to his invention,
Alice departed with her sick charge and a female attendant (who knew
nothing of her previous calling or story), on the road to Devonshire.
Templeton himself resolved to follow her thither in a few days; and it
was fixed that they should meet at Exeter.

It was on this melancholy journey that occurred that memorable day when
Alice once more beheld Maltravers; and, as she believed, uttering the
vows of love to another.* The indisposition of her child had delayed her
some hours at the inn: the poor sufferer had fallen asleep; and Alice had
stolen from its couch for a little while, when her eyes rested on the
father. Oh, how then she longed, she burned to tell him of the new
sanctity, that, by a human life, had been added to their early love! And
when, crushed and sick at heart, she turned away, and believed herself
forgotten and replaced, it was the pride of the mother rather than of the
mistress that supported her. She, meek creature, felt not the injury to
herself; but _his_ child,--the sufferer, perhaps the dying one,--_there_,
_there_ was the wrong! No! she would not hazard the chance of a
cold--great Heaven! perchance an _incredulous_--look upon the hushed,
pale face above. But little time was left for thought, for explanation,
for discovery. She saw him--unconscious of the ties so near, and thus
lost--depart as a stranger from the spot; and henceforth was gone the
sweet hope of living for the future. Nothing was left her but the pledge
of that which had been. Mournful, despondent, half broken-hearted, she
resumed her journey. At Exeter she was joined, as agreed, by Mr.
Templeton; and with him came a fair, a blooming, and healthful girl to
contrast her own drooping charge. Though but a few weeks older, you
would have supposed the little stranger by a year the senior of Alice's
child: the one was so well grown, so advanced; the other so backward, so
nipped in the sickly bud.

* See "Ernest Maltravers," book v., p. 221.

"You can repay me for all, for more than I have done; more than I ever
can do for you and yours," said Templeton, "by taking this young stranger
also under your care. It is the child of one dear, most dear to me; an
orphan; I know not with whom else to place it. Let it for the present be
supposed your own,--the elder child."

Alice could refuse nothing to her benefactor; but her heart did not open
at first to the beautiful girl, whose sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks
mocked the languid looks and faded hues of her own darling. But the
sufferer seemed to hail a playmate; it smiled, it put forth its poor,
thin hands; it uttered its inarticulate cry of pleasure, and Alice burst
into tears, and clasped them _both_ to her heart.

Mr. Templeton took care not to rest under the same roof with her he now
seriously intended to make his wife; but he followed Alice to the
seaside, and visited her daily. Her infant rallied; it was tenacious of
the upper air; it clung to life so fondly; poor child, it could not
foresee what a bitter thing to some of us life is! And now it was that
Templeton, learning from Alice her adventure with her absent lover,
learning that all hope in that quarter was gone, seized the occasion, and
pressed his suit. Alice at the hour was overflowing with gratitude; in
her child's reviving looks she read all her obligations to her
benefactor. But still, at the word _love_, at the name of _marriage_,
her heart recoiled; and the lost, the faithless, came back to his fatal
throne. In choked and broken accents, she startled the banker with the
refusal--the faltering, tearful, but resolute refusal--of his suit.

But Templeton brought new engines to work: he wooed her through her
child; he painted all the brilliant prospects that would open to the
infant by her marriage with him. He would cherish, rear, provide for it
as his own. This shook her resolves; but this did not prevail. He had
recourse to a more generous appeal: he told her so much of his history
with Mary Westbrook as commenced with his hasty and indecorous
marriage,--attributing the haste to love! made her comprehend his
scruples in owning the child of a union the world would be certain to
ridicule or condemn; he expatiated on the inestimable blessings she could
afford him, by delivering him from all embarrassment, and restoring his
daughter, though under a borrowed name, to her father's roof. At this
Alice mused; at this she seemed irresolute. She had long seen how
inexpressibly dear to Templeton was the child confided to her care; how
he grew pale if the slightest ailment reached her; how he chafed at the
very wind if it visited her cheek too roughly; and she now said to him
simply,--

"Is your child, in truth, your dearest object in life? Is it with her,
and her alone, that your dearest hopes are connected?"

"It is,--it is indeed!" said the banker, honestly surprised out of his
gallantry; "at least," he added, recovering his self-possession, "as much
so as is compatible with my affection for you."

"And only if I marry you, and adopt her as my own, do you think that your
secret may be safely kept, and all your wishes with respect to her be
fulfilled?"

"Only so."

"And for that reason, chiefly, nay entirely, you condescend to forget
what I have been, and seek my hand? Well, if that were all, I owe you
too much; my poor babe tells me too loudly what I owe you to draw back
from anything that can give you so blessed an enjoyment. Ah, one's
child! one's own child, under one's own roof, it _is_ such a blessing!
But then, if I marry you, it can be only to secure to you that object; to
be as a mother to your child; but wife only in name to you! I am not so
lost as to despise myself. I know now, though I knew it not at first,
that I have been guilty; nothing can excuse that guilt but fidelity to
_him_! Oh, yes! I never, never can be unfaithful to my babe's father!
As for all else, dispose of me as you will." And Alice, who from very
innocence had uttered all this without a blush, now clasped her hands
passionately, and left Templeton speechless with mortification and
surprise.

When he recovered himself, he affected not to understand her; but Alice
was not satisfied, and all further conversation ceased. He began slowly,
and at last, and after repeated conferences and urgings, to comprehend
how strange and stubborn in some points was the humble creature whom his
proposals so highly honoured. Though his daughter was indeed his first
object in life; though for her he was willing to make a _mesalliance_,
the extent of which it would be incumbent on him studiously to
conceal,--yet still, the beauty of Alice awoke an earthlier sentiment
that he was not disposed to conquer. He was quite willing to make
promises, and talk generously; but when it came to an oath,--a solemn, a
binding oath--and this Alice rigidly exacted,--he was startled, and drew
back. Though hypocritical, he was, as we have before said, a most
sincere believer. He might creep through a promise with unbruised
conscience; but he was not one who could have dared to violate an oath,
and lay the load of perjury on his soul. Perhaps, after all, the union
never would have taken place, but Templeton fell ill; that soft and
relaxing air did not agree with him; a low but dangerous fever seized
him, and the worldly man trembled at the aspect of Death. It was in this
illness that Alice nursed him with a daughter's vigilance and care; and
when at length he recovered, impressed with her zeal and kindness,
softened by illness, afraid of the approach of solitary age,--and feeling
more than ever his duties to his motherless child, he threw himself at
Alice's feet, and solemnly vowed all that she required.

It was during this residence in Devonshire, and especially during his
illness, that Templeton made and cultivated the acquaintance of Mr.
Aubrey. The good clergyman prayed with him by his sick-bed; and when
Templeton's danger was at its height, he sought to relieve his conscience
by a confession of his wrongs to Mary Westbrook. The name startled
Aubrey; and when he learned that the lovely child who had so often sat on
his knee, and smiled in his face, was the granddaughter of his first and
only love, he had a new interest in her welfare, a new reason to urge
Templeton to reparation, a new motive to desire to procure for the infant
years of Eleanor's grandchild the gentle care of the young mother, whose
own bereavement he sorrowfully foretold. Perhaps the advice and
exhortations of Aubrey went far towards assisting the conscience of Mr.
Templeton, and reconciling him to the sacrifice he made to his affection
for his daughter. Be that as it may, he married Alice, and Aubrey
solemnized and blessed the chill and barren union.

But now came a new and inexpressible affliction; the child of Alice had
rallied but for a time. The dread disease had but dallied with its prey;
it came on with rapid and sudden force; and within a month from the day
that saw Alice the bride of Templeton, the last hope was gone, and the
mother was bereft and childless!

The blow that stunned Alice was not, after the first natural shock of
sympathy, an unwelcome event to the banker. Now _his_ child would be
Alice's sole care; now there could be no gossip, no suspicion why, in
life and after death, he should prefer one child, supposed not his own,
to the other.

He hastened to remove Alice from the scene of her affliction. He
dismissed the solitary attendant who had accompanied her on her journey;
he bore his wife to London, and finally settled, as we have seen, at a
villa in its vicinity. And there, more and more, day by day, centred his
love upon the supposed daughter of Mrs. Templeton, his darling and his
heiress, the beautiful Evelyn Cameron.

For the first year or two, Templeton evinced some alarming disposition to
escape from the oath he had imposed upon himself; but on the slightest
hint there was a sternness in the wife, in all else so respectful, so
submissive, that repressed and awed him. She even threatened--and at one
time was with difficulty prevented carrying the threat into effect--to
leave his roof forever, if there were the slightest question of the
sanctity of his vow. Templeton trembled; such a separation would excite
gossip, curiosity, scandal, a noise in the world, public talk, possible
discovery. Besides, Alice was necessary to Evelyn, necessary to his own
comfort; something to scold in health, something to rely upon in illness.
Gradually then, but sullenly, he reconciled himself to his lot; and as
years and infirmities grew upon him, he was contented at least to have
secured a faithful friend and an anxious nurse. Still a marriage of this
sort was not blessed: Templeton's vanity was wounded; his temper, always
harsh, was soured; he avenged his affront by a thousand petty tyrannies;
and, without a murmur, Alice perhaps in those years of rank and opulence
suffered more than in all her wanderings, with love at her heart and her
infant in her arms.

Evelyn was to be the heiress to the wealth of the banker. But the
_title_ of the new peer!--if he could unite wealth and title, and set the
coronet on that young brow! This had led him to seek the alliance with
Lumley. And on his death-bed, it was not the secret of Alice, but that
of Mary Westbrook and his daughter, which he had revealed to his dismayed
and astonished nephew, in excuse for the apparently unjust alienation of
his property, and as the cause of the alliance he had sought.

While her husband, if husband he might be called, lived, Alice had seemed
to bury in her bosom her regret--deep, mighty, passionate, as it was--for
her lost child, the child of the unforgotten lover, to whom, through such
trials, and amid such new ties, she had been faithful from first to last.
But when once more free, her heart flew back to the far and lowly grave.
Hence her yearly visits to Brook-Green; hence her purchase of the
cottage, hallowed by memories of the dead. There, on that lawn, had she
borne forth the fragile form, to breathe the soft noontide air; there, in
that chamber, had she watched and hoped, and prayed and despaired; there,
in that quiet burial-ground, rested the beloved dust! But Alice, even in
her holiest feelings, was not selfish: she forbore to gratify the first
wish of her heart till Evelyn's education was sufficiently advanced to
enable her to quit the neighbourhood; and then, to the delight of Aubrey
(who saw in Evelyn a fairer, and nobler, and purer Eleanor), she came to
the solitary spot, which, in all the earth, was the _least_ solitary to
her!

And now the image of the lover of her youth--which during her marriage
she had _sought_, at least, to banish--returned to her, and at times
inspired her with the only hopes that the grave had not yet transferred
to heaven! In relating her tale to Aubrey or in conversing with Mrs.
Leslie, whose friendship she still maintained, she found that both
concurred in thinking that this obscure and wandering Butler, so skilled
in an art in which eminence in man is generally professional, must be of
mediocre or perhaps humble station. Ah! now that she was free and rich,
if she were to meet him again, and his love was not all gone, and he
would believe in _her_ strange and constant truth; now, _his_ infidelity
could be forgiven,--forgotten in the benefits it might be hers to bestow!
And how, poor Alice, in that remote village, was chance to throw him in
your way? She knew not: but something often whispered to her, "Again you
shall meet those eyes; again you shall hear that voice; and you shall
tell him, weeping on his breast, how you loved his child!" And would he
not have forgotten her; would he not have formed new ties?--could he read
the loveliness of unchangeable affection in that pale and pensive face!
Alas, when we love intensely, it is difficult to make us fancy that there
is no love in return!

The reader is acquainted with the adventures of Mrs. Elton, the sole
confidant of the secret union of Templeton and Evelyn's mother. By a
singular fatality, it was the selfish and characteristic recklessness of
Vargrave that had, in fixing her home at Burleigh, ministered to the
revelation of his own villanous deceit. On returning to England she had
inquired for Mr. Templeton; she had learned that he had married again,
had been raised to the peerage under the title of Lord Vargrave, and was
gathered to his fathers. She had no claim on his widow or his family.
But the unfortunate child who should have inherited his property, she
could only suppose her dead.

When she first saw Evelyn, she was startled by her likeness to her
unfortunate mother. But the unfamiliar name of Cameron, the intelligence
received from Maltravers that Evelyn's mother still lived, dispelled her
suspicions; and though at times the resemblance haunted her, she doubted
and inquired no more. In fact, her own infirmities grew upon her, and
pain usurped her thoughts.

Now it so happened that the news of the engagement of Maltravers to Miss
Cameron became known to the county but a little time before he
arrived,--for news travels slow from the Continent to our
provinces,--and, of course, excited all the comment of the villagers.
Her nurse repeated the tale to Mrs. Elton, who instantly remembered the
name, and recalled the resemblance of Miss Cameron to the unfortunate
Mary Westbrook.

"And," said the gossiping nurse, "she was engaged, they say, to a great
lord, and gave him up for the squire,--a great lord in the court, who had
been staying at Parson Merton's, Lord Vargrave!"

"Lord Vargrave!" exclaimed Mrs. Elton, remembering the title to which Mr.
Templeton had been raised.

"Yes; they do say as how the late lord left Miss Cameron all his
money--such a heap of it--though she was not his child, over the head of
his nevy, the present lord, on the understanding like that they were to
be married when she came of age. But she would not take to him after she
had seen the squire. And, to be sure, the squire is the finest-looking
gentleman in the county."

"Stop! stop!" said Mrs. Elton, feebly; "the late lord left all his
fortune to Miss Cameron,--not his child! I guess the riddle! I
understand it all! my foster-child!" she murmured, turning away; "how
could I have mistaken that likeness?"

The agitation of the discovery she supposed she had made, her joy at the
thought that the child she had loved as her own was alive and possessed
of its rights, expedited the progress of Mrs. Elton's disease; and
Maltravers arrived just in time to learn her confession (which she
naturally wished to make to one who was at once her benefactor, and
supposed to be the destined husband of her foster-child), and to be
agitated with hope, with joy, at her solemn conviction of the truth of
her surmises. If Evelyn were not his daughter--even if not to be his
bride--what a weight from his soul! He hastened to Brook-Green; and
dreading to rush at once to the presence of Alice, he recalled Aubrey to
his recollection. In the interview he sought, all, or at least much, was
cleared up. He saw at once the premeditated and well-planned villany of
Vargrave. And Alice, her tale--her sufferings--her indomitable
love!--how should he meet _her_?

CHAPTER V.

YET once more, O ye laurels! and once more,
Ye myrtles!--LYCIDAS.

WHILE Maltravers was yet agitated and excited by the disclosures of the
curate, to whom, as a matter of course, he had divulged his own identity
with the mysterious Butler, Aubrey, turning his eyes to the casement, saw
the form of Lady Vargrave slowly approaching towards the house.

"Will you withdraw to the inner room?" said he; "she is coming; you are
not yet prepared to meet her!--nay, would it be well?"

"Yes, yes; I am prepared. We must be alone. I will await her here."

"But--"

"Nay, I implore you!"

The curate, without another word, retired into the inner apartment, and
Maltravers sinking in a chair breathlessly awaited the entrance of Lady
Vargrave. He soon heard the light step without; the door, which opened
at once on the old-fashioned parlour, was gently unclosed, and Lady
Vargrave was in the room! In the position he had taken, only the outline
of Ernest's form was seen by Alice, and the daylight came dim through the
cottage casement; and seeing some one seated in the curate's accustomed
chair, she could but believe that it was Aubrey himself.

"Do not let me interrupt you," said that sweet, low voice, whose music
had been dumb for so many years to Maltravers, "but I have a letter from
France, from a stranger. It alarms me so; it is about Evelyn;" and, as
if to imply that she meditated a longer visit than ordinary, Lady
Vargrave removed her bonnet, and placed it on the table. Surprised that
the curate had not answered, had not come forward to welcome her, she
then approached; Maltravers rose, and they stood before each other face
to face. And how lovely still was Alice! lovelier he thought even than
of old! And those eyes, so divinely blue, so dovelike and soft, yet
with some spiritual and unfathomable mystery in their clear depth, were
once more fixed upon him. Alice seemed turned to stone; she moved not,
she spoke not, she scarcely breathed; she gazed spellbound, as if her
senses--as if life itself--had deserted her.

"Alice!" murmured Maltravers,--"Alice, we meet at last!"

His voice restored memory, consciousness, youth, at once to her! She
uttered a loud cry of unspeakable joy, of rapture! She sprang
forward--reserve, fear, time, change, all forgotten; she threw herself
into his arms, she clasped him to her heart again and again!--the
faithful dog that has found its master expresses not his transport more
uncontrollably, more wildly. It was something fearful--the excess of her
ecstasy! She kissed his hands, his clothes; she laughed, she wept; and
at last, as words came, she laid her head on his breast, and said
passionately, "I have been true to thee! I have been true to thee!--or
this hour would have killed me!" Then, as if alarmed by his silence, she
looked up into his face, and as his burning tears fell upon her cheek,
she said again and with more hurried vehemence, "I _have_ been
faithful,--do you not believe me?"

"I do, I do, noble, unequalled Alice! Why, why were you so long lost to
me? Why now does your love so shame my own?"

At these words, Alice appeared to awaken from her first oblivion of all
that had chanced since they met; she blushed deeply, and drew herself
gently and bashfully from his embrace. "Ah," she said, in altered and
humbled accents, "you have loved another! Perhaps you have no love left
for me! Is it so; is it? No, no; those eyes--you love me--you love me
still!"

And again she clung to him, as if it were heaven to believe all things,
and death to doubt. Then, after a pause, she drew him gently with both
her hands towards the light, and gazed upon him fondly, proudly, as if to
trace, line by line, and feature by feature, the countenance which had
been to her sweet thoughts as the sunlight to the flowers. "Changed,
changed," she muttered; "but still the same,--still beautiful, still
divine!" She stopped. A sudden thought struck her: his garments were
worn and soiled by travel, and that princely crest, fallen and dejected,
no longer towered in proud defiance above the sons of men. "You are not
rich," she exclaimed eagerly,--"say you are not rich! I am rich enough
for both; it is all yours,--all yours; I did not betray you for it; there
is no shame in it. Oh, we shall be so happy! Thou art come back to thy
poor Alice! thou knowest how she loved thee!"

There was in Alice's manner, her wild joy, something so different from
her ordinary self, that none who could have seen her--quiet, pensive,
subdued--would have fancied her the same being. All that Society and its
woes had taught were gone; and Nature once more claimed her fairest
child. The very years seemed to have fallen from her brow, and she
looked scarcely older than when she had stood with him beneath the
moonlight by the violet banks far away. Suddenly, her colour faded; the
smile passed from the dimpled lips; a sad and solemn aspect succeeded to
that expression of passionate joy. "Come," she said, in a whisper,
"come, follow;" and still clasping his hand, she drew him to the door.
Silent and wonderingly he followed her across the lawn, through the
moss-grown gate, and into the lonely burial-ground. She moved on with a
noiseless and gliding step,--so pale, so hushed, so breathless, that even
in the noonday you might have half fancied the fair shape was not owned
by earth. She paused where the yew-tree cast its gloomy shadow; and the
small and tombless mound, separated from the rest, was before them. She
pointed to it, and falling on her knees beside it, murmured, "Hush, it
sleeps below,--thy child!" She covered her face with both her hands, and
her form shook convulsively.

Beside that form and before that grave knelt Maltravers. There vanished
the last remnant of his stoic pride; and there--Evelyn herself
forgotten--there did he pray to Heaven for pardon to himself, and
blessings on the heart he had betrayed. There solemnly did he vow, the
remainder of his years, to guard from all future ill the faithful and
childless mother.

CHAPTER VI.

WILL Fortune never come with both hands full,
But write her fair words still in foulest letters?
_Henry IV._ Part ii.

I PASS over those explanations, that record of Alice's eventful history,
which Maltravers learned from her own lips, to confirm and add to the
narrative of the curate, the purport of which is already known to the
reader.

It was many hours before Alice was sufficiently composed to remember the
object for which she had sought the curate. But she had laid the letter
which she had brought, and which explained all, on the table at the
vicarage; and when Maltravers, having at last induced Alice, who seemed
afraid to lose sight of him for an instant, to retire to her room, and
seek some short repose, returned towards the vicarage, he met Aubrey in
the garden. The old man had taken the friend's acknowledged license to
read the letter evidently meant for his eye; and, alarmed and anxious, he
now eagerly sought a consultation with Maltravers. The letter, written
in English, as familiar to the writer as her own tongue, was from Madame
de Ventadour. It had been evidently dictated by the kindest feelings.
After apologizing briefly for her interference, she stated that Lord
Vargrave's marriage with Miss Cameron was now a matter of public
notoriety; that it would take place in a few days; that it was observed
with suspicion that Miss Cameron appeared nowhere; that she seemed almost
a prisoner in her room; that certain expressions which had dropped from
Lady Doltimore had alarmed her greatly. According to these expressions,
it would seem that Lady Vargrave was not apprised of the approaching
event; that, considering Miss Cameron's recent engagement to Mr.
Maltravers suddenly (and, as Valerie thought, unaccountably) broken off
on the arrival of Lord Vargrave; considering her extreme youth, her
brilliant fortune; and, Madame de Ventadour delicately hinted,
considering also Lord Vargrave's character for unscrupulous determination
in the furtherance of any object on which he was bent,--considering all
this, Madame de Ventadour had ventured to address Miss Cameron's mother,
and to guard her against the possibility of design or deceit. Her best
apology for her intrusion must be her deep interest in Miss Cameron, and
her long friendship for one to whom Miss Cameron had been so lately
betrothed. If Lady Vargrave were aware of the new engagement, and had
sanctioned it, of course her intrusion was unseasonable and superfluous;
but if ascribed to its real motive, would not be the less forgiven.

It was easy for Maltravers to see in this letter how generous and zealous
had been that friendship for himself which could have induced the woman
of the world to undertake so officious a task. But of this he thought
not, as he hurried over the lines, and shuddered at Evelyn's urgent
danger.

"This intelligence," said Aubrey, "must be, indeed, a surprise to Lady
Vargrave. For we have not heard a word from Evelyn or Lord Vargrave to
announce such a marriage; and she (and myself till this day) believed
that the engagement between Evelyn and Mr. -----, I mean," said Aubrey
with confusion,--"I mean yourself, was still in force. Lord Vargrave's
villany is apparent; we must act immediately. What is to be done?"

"I will return to Paris to-morrow; I will defeat his machination, expose
his falsehood!"

"You may need a proxy for Lady Vargrave, an authority for Evelyn; one
whom Lord Vargrave knows to possess the secret of her birth, her rights:
I will go with you. We must speak to Lady Vargrave."

Maltravers turned sharply round. "And Alice knows not who I am; that
I--I am, or was, a few weeks ago, the suitor of another; and that other
the child she has reared as her own! Unhappy Alice! in the very hour of
her joy at my return, is she to writhe beneath this new affliction?"

"Shall I break it to her?" said Aubrey, pityingly.

"No, no; these lips must inflict the last wrong!" Maltravers walked away,
and the curate saw him no more till night.

In the interval, and late in the evening, Maltravers rejoined Alice.

The fire burned clear on the hearth, the curtains were drawn, the
pleasant but simple drawing-room of the cottage smiled its welcome as
Maltravers entered, and Alice sprang up to greet him! It was as if the
old days of the music-lesson and the meerschaum had come back.

"This is yours," said Alice, tenderly, as he looked round the apartment.
"Now--now I know what a blessed thing riches are! Ah, you are looking on
that picture; it is of her who supplied your daughter's place,--she is so
beautiful, so good, you will love her as a daughter. Oh, that
letter--that--that letter--I forgot it till now--it is at the vicarage--I
must go there immediately, and you will come too,--you will advise us."

"Alice, I have read the letter,--I know all. Alice, sit down and hear
me,--it is you who have to learn from me. In our young days I was
accustomed to tell you stories in winter nights like these,--stories of
love like our own, of sorrows which, at that time, we only knew by
hearsay. I have one now for your ear, truer and sadder than they were.
Two children, for they were then little more--children in ignorance of
the world, children in freshness of heart, children almost in years--were
thrown together by strange vicissitudes, more than eighteen years ago.
They were of different sexes,--they loved and they erred. But the error
was solely with the boy; for what was innocence in her was but passion in
him. He loved her dearly; but at that age her qualities were half
developed. He knew her beautiful, simple, tender; but he knew not all
the virtue, the faith, and the nobleness that Heaven had planted in her
soul. They parted,--they knew not each other's fate. He sought her
anxiously, but in vain; and sorrow and remorse long consumed him, and her
memory threw a shadow over his existence. But again--for his love had
not the exalted holiness of hers (_she_ was true!)--he sought to renew in
others the charm he had lost with her. In vain,--long, long in vain.
Alice, you know to whom the tale refers. Nay, listen yet. I have heard
from the old man yonder that you were witness to a scene many years ago
which deceived you into the belief that you beheld a rival. It was not
so: that lady yet lives,--then, as now, a friend to me; nothing more. I
grant that, at one time, my fancy allured me to her, but my heart was
still true to thee."

"Bless you for those words!" murmured Alice; and she crept more closely
to him.

He went on. "Circumstances, which at some calmer occasion you shall
hear, again nearly connected my fate by marriage to another. I had then
seen you at a distance, unseen by you,--seen you apparently surrounded by
respectability and opulence; and I blessed Heaven that your lot, at
least, was not that of penury and want." (Here Maltravers related where
he had caught that brief glimpse of Alice,*--how he had sought for her
again and again in vain.) "From that hour," he continued, "seeing you in
circumstances of which I could not have dared to dream, I felt more
reconciled to the past; yet, when on the verge of marriage with
another--beautiful, gifted, generous as she was--a thought, a memory half
acknowledged, dimly traced, chained back my sentiments; and admiration,
esteem, and gratitude were not love! Death--a death melancholy and
tragic--forbade this union; and I went forth in the world, a pilgrim and
a wanderer. Years rolled away, and I thought I had conquered the desire
for love,--a desire that had haunted me since I lost thee. But, suddenly
and recently, a being, beautiful as yourself--sweet, guileless, and young
as you were when we met--woke in me a new and a strange sentiment. I
will not conceal it from you: Alice, at last I loved another! Yet,
singular as it may seem to you, it was a certain resemblance to yourself,
not in feature, but in the tones of the voice, the nameless grace of
gesture and manner, the very music of your once happy laugh,--those
traits of resemblance which I can now account for, and which children
catch not from their parents only, but from those they most see, and,
loving most, most imitate in their tender years,--all these, I say, made
perhaps a chief attraction, that drew me towards--Alice, are you prepared
for it?--drew me towards Evelyn Cameron. Know me in my real character,
by my true name: I am that Maltravers to whom the hand of Evelyn was a
few weeks ago betrothed!"

* See "Ernest Maltravers," book v., p. 228.

He paused, and ventured to look up at Alice; she was exceedingly pale,
and her hands were tightly clasped together, but she neither wept nor
spoke. The worst was over; he continued more rapidly, and with less
constrained an effort: "By the art, the duplicity, the falsehood of Lord
Vargrave, I was taught in a sudden hour to believe that Evelyn was our
daughter, that you recoiled from the prospect of beholding once more the
author of so many miseries. I need not tell you, Alice, of the horror
that succeeded to love. I pass over the tortures I endured. By a train
of incidents to be related to you hereafter, I was led to suspect the
truth of Vargrave's tale. I came hither; I have learned all from Aubrey.
I regret no more the falsehood that so racked me for the time; I regret
no more the rupture of my bond with Evelyn; I regret nothing that brings
me at last free and unshackled to thy feet, and acquaints me with thy
sublime faith and ineffable love. Here then--here beneath your own
roof--here he, at once your earliest friend and foe, kneels to you for
pardon and for hope! He woos you as his wife, his companion to the
grave! Forget all his errors, and be to him, under a holier name, all
that you were to him of old!"

"And you are then Evelyn's suitor,--you are he whom she loves? I see it
all--all!" Alice rose, and, before he was even aware of her purpose, or
conscious of what she felt, she had vanished from the room.

Long, and with the bitterest feelings, he awaited her return; she came
not. At last he wrote a hurried note, imploring her to join him again,
to relieve his suspense; to believe his sincerity; to accept his vows.
He sent it to her own room, to which she had hastened to bury her
emotions. In a few minutes there came to him this answer, written in
pencil, blotted with tears.

"I thank you, I understand your heart; but forgive me--I cannot see you
yet. She is so beautiful and good, she is worthy of you. I shall soon
be reconciled. God bless you,--bless you both!"

The door of the vicarage was opened abruptly, and Maltravers entered with
a hasty but heavy tread.

"Go to her, go to that angel; go, I beseech you! Tell her that she
wrongs me, if she thinks I can ever wed another, ever have an object in
life, but to atone to, to merit her. Go, plead for me."

Aubrey, who soon gathered from Maltravers what had passed, departed to
the cottage. It was near midnight before he returned. Maltravers met
him in the churchyard, beside the yew-tree. "Well, well, what message do
you bring?"

"She wishes that we should both set off for Paris to-morrow. Not a day
is to be lost,--we must save Evelyn from this snare."

"Evelyn! Yes, Evelyn shall be saved; but the rest--the rest--why do you
turn away?"

"'You are not the poor artist, the wandering adventurer; you are the
high-born, the wealthy, the renowned Maltravers: Alice has nothing to
confer on you. You have won the love of Evelyn,--Alice cannot doom the
child confided to her care to hopeless affection; you love Evelyn,--Alice
cannot compare herself to the young and educated and beautiful creature,
whose love is a priceless treasure. Alice prays you not to grieve for
her; she will soon be content and happy in your happiness.' This is the
message."

"And what said you,--did you not tell her such words would break my
heart?"

"No matter what I said; I mistrust myself when I advise her. Her
feelings are truer than all our wisdom!"

Maltravers made no answer, and the curate saw him gliding rapidly away by
the starlit graves towards the village.

CHAPTER VII.

THINK you I can a resolution fetch
From flowery tenderness?--_Measure for Measure_.

THEY were on the road to Dover. Maltravers leaned back in the corner of
the carriage with his hat over his brows, though the morning was yet too
dark for the curate to perceive more than the outline of his features.
Milestone after milestone glided by the wheels, and neither of the
travellers broke the silence. It was a cold, raw morning, and the mists
rose sullenly from the dank hedges and comfortless fields.

Stern and self-accusing was the scrutiny of Maltravers into the recesses
of his conscience, and the blotted pages of the Past. That pale and
solitary mother, mourning over the grave of her--of his own--child, rose
again before his eyes, and seemed silently to ask him for an account of
the heart he had made barren, and of the youth to which his love had
brought the joylessness of age. With the image of Alice,--afar, alone,
whether in her wanderings, a beggar and an outcast, or in that hollow
prosperity, in which the very ease of the frame allowed more leisure to
the pinings of the heart,--with that image, pure, sorrowing, and faithful
from first to last, he compared his own wild and wasted youth, his resort
to fancy and to passion for excitement. He contrasted with her patient
resignation his own arrogant rebellion against the trials, the bitterness
of which his proud spirit had exaggerated; his contempt for the pursuits
and aims of others; the imperious indolence of his later life, and his
forgetfulness of the duties which Providence had fitted him to discharge.
His mind, once so rudely hurled from that complacent pedestal, from which
it had so long looked down on men, and said, "I am wiser and better than
you," became even too acutely sensitive to its own infirmities; and that
desire for Virtue, which he had ever deeply entertained, made itself more
distinctly and loudly heard amidst the ruins and the silence of his
pride.

From the contemplation of the Past, he roused himself to face the Future.
Alice had refused his hand, Alice herself had ratified and blessed his
union with another! Evelyn, so madly loved,--Evelyn might still be his!
No law--from the violation of which, even in thought, Human Nature
recoils appalled and horror-stricken--forbade him to reclaim her hand, to
snatch her from the grasp of Vargrave, to woo again, and again to win
her! But did Maltravers welcome, did he embrace that thought? Let us do
him justice: he did not. He felt that Alice's resolution, in the first
hour of mortified affection, was not to be considered final; and even if
it were so, he felt yet more deeply that her love--the love that had
withstood so many trials--never could be subdued. Was he to make her
nobleness a curse? Was he to say, "Thou hast passed away in thy
generation, and I leave thee again to thy solitude for her whom thou hast
cherished as a child?" He started in dismay from the thought of this new
and last blow upon the shattered spirit; and then fresh and equally
sacred obstacles between Evelyn and himself broke slowly on his view.
Could Templeton rise from his grave, with what resentment, with what just
repugnance, would he have regarded in the betrayer of his wife (even
though wife but in name) the suitor to his child!

These thoughts came in fast and fearful force upon Maltravers, and served
to strengthen his honour and his conscience. He felt that though, in
law, there was no shadow of connection between Evelyn and himself, yet
his tie with Alice had been of a nature that ought to separate him from
one who had regarded Alice as a mother. The load of horror, the agony of
shame, were indeed gone; but still a voice whispered as before, "Evelyn
is lost to thee forever!" But so shaken had already been her image in
the late storms and convulsion of his soul, that this thought was
preferable to the thought of sacrificing Alice. If _that_ were all--but
Evelyn might still love him; and justice to Alice might be misery to her!
He started from his revery with a vehement gesture, and groaned audibly.

The curate turned to address to him some words of inquiry and surprise;
but the words were unheard, and he perceived, by the advancing daylight,
that the countenance of Maltravers was that of a man utterly rapt and
absorbed by some mastering and irresistible thought. Wisely, therefore,
he left his companion in peace, and returned to his own anxious and
engrossing meditations.

The travellers did not rest till they arrived at Dover. The vessel
started early the following morning, and Aubrey, who was much fatigued,
retired to rest. Maltravers glanced at the clock upon the mantelpiece; it
was the hour of nine. For him there was no hope of sleep; and the
prospect of the slow night was that of dreary suspense and torturing
self-commune.

As he turned restlessly in his seat, the waiter entered to say that there
was a gentleman who had caught a glimpse of him below on his arrival, and
who was anxious to speak with him. Before Maltravers could answer, the
gentleman himself entered, and Maltravers recognized Legard.

"I beg your pardon," said the latter, in a tone of great agitation, "but
I was most anxious to see you for a few moments. I have just returned to
England--all places alike hateful to me! I read in the papers--an--an
announcement--which--which occasions me the greatest--I know not what I
would say,--but is it true? Read this paragraph;" and Legard placed "The
Courier" before Maltravers.

The passage was as follows:

"It is whispered that Lord Vargrave, who is now at Paris, is to be
married in a few days to the beautiful and wealthy Miss Cameron, to whom
he has been long engaged."

"Is it possible?" exclaimed Legard, following the eyes of Maltravers, as
he glanced over the paragraph. "Were not _you_ the lover,--the accepted,
the happy lover of Miss Cameron? Speak, tell me, I implore you!--that it
was for you, who saved my life and redeemed my honour, and not for that
cold schemer, that I renounced all my hopes of earthly happiness, and
surrendered the dream of winning the heart and hand of the only woman I
ever loved!"

A deep shade fell over the features of Maltravers. He gazed earnestly
and long upon the working countenance of Legard, and said, after a
pause,--

"You, too, loved her, then? I never knew it,--never guessed it; or, if
once I suspected, it was but for a moment; and--"

"Yes," interrupted Legard, passionately, "Heaven is my witness how
fervently and truly I did love--I do still love Evelyn Cameron! But when
you confessed to me your affection--your hopes--I felt all that I owed
you; I felt that I never ought to become your rival. I left Paris
abruptly. What I have suffered I will not say; but it was some comfort
to think that I had acted as became one who owed you a debt never to be
cancelled nor repaid. I travelled from place to place, each equally
hateful and wearisome; at last, I scarce know why, I returned to England.
I have arrived this day; and now--but tell me, is it true?"

"I believe it true," said Maltravers, in a hollow voice, "that Evelyn is
at this moment engaged to Lord Vargrave. I believe it equally true that
that engagement, founded upon false impressions, never will be fulfilled.
With that hope and that belief, I am on my road to Paris."

"And she will be yours, still?" said Legard, turning away his face:
"well, that I can bear. May you be happy, sir!"

"Stay, Legard," said Maltravers, in a voice of great feeling: "let us
understand each other better; you have renounced your passion to your
sense of honour." Maltravers paused thoughtfully. "It was noble in you,
it was more than just to me; I thank you and respect you. But, Legard,
was there aught in the manner, the bearing of Evelyn Cameron, that could
lead you to suppose that she would have returned your affection? True,
had we started on equal terms, I am not vain enough to be blind to your
advantages of youth and person; but I believed that the affections of
Evelyn were already mine, before we met at Paris."

"It might be so," said Legard, gloomily; "nor is it for me to say that a
heart so pure and generous as Evelyn's could deceive yourself or me. Yet
I _had_ fancied, I _had_ hoped, while you stood aloof, that the
partiality with which she regarded you was that of admiration more than
love; that you had dazzled her imagination rather than won her heart. I
had hoped that I should win, that I was winning, my way to her affection!
But let this pass; I drop the subject forever--only, Maltravers, only do
me justice. You are a proud man, and your pride has often irritated and
stung me, in spite of my gratitude. Be more lenient to me than you have
been; think that, though I have my errors and my follies, I am still
capable of some conquests over myself. And most sincerely do I now wish
that Evelyn's love may be to you that blessing it would have been to me!"

This was, indeed, a new triumph over the pride of Maltravers,--a new
humiliation. He had looked with a cold contempt on this man, because he
affected not to be above the herd; and this man had preceded him in the
very sacrifice he himself meditated.

"Legard," said Maltravers, and a faint blush overspread his face, "you
rebuke me justly. I acknowledge my fault, and I ask you to forgive it.
From this night, whatever happens, I shall hold it an honour to be
admitted to your friendship; from this night, George Legard never shall
find in me the offences of arrogance and harshness."

Legard wrung the hand held out to him warmly, but made no answer; his
heart was full, and he would not trust himself to speak.

"You think, then," resumed Maltravers, in a more thoughtful tone,--"you
think that Evelyn could have loved you, had my pretensions not crossed
your own? And you think, also--pardon me, dear Legard--that you could
have acquired the steadiness of character, the firmness of purpose, which
one so fair, so young, so inexperienced and susceptible, so surrounded by
a thousand temptations, would need in a guardian and protector?"

"Oh, do not judge of me by what I have been. I feel that Evelyn could
have reformed errors worse than mine; that her love would have elevated
dispositions yet more light and commonplace. You do not know what
miracles love works! But now, what is there left for me? What matters
it how frivolous and poor the occupations which can distract my thoughts,
and bring me forgetfulness? Forgive me; I have no right to obtrude all
this egotism on you."

"Do not despond, Legard," said Maltravers, kindly; "there may be better
fortunes in store for you than you yet anticipate. I cannot say more
now; but will you remain at Dover a few days longer? Within a week you
shall hear from me. I will not raise hopes that it may not be mine to
realize. But if it be as you think it was, why little, indeed, would
rest with me. Nay, look not on me so wistfully," added Maltravers, with
a mournful smile; "and let the subject close for the present. You will
stay at Dover?"

"I will; but--"

"No buts, Legard; it is so settled."

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