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

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BOOK XI.

"Man is born to be a doer of good."--MARCUS ANTONINUS, lib. iii.

CHAPTER I.

His teeth he still did grind,
And grimly gnash, threatening revenge in vain.--SPENSER.

IT is now time to return to Lord Vargrave. His most sanguine hopes were
realized; all things seemed to prosper. The hand of Evelyn Cameron was
pledged to him, the wedding-day was fixed. In less than a week she was
to confer upon the ruined peer a splendid dowry, that would smooth all
obstacles in the ascent of his ambition. From Mr. Douce he learned that
the deeds, which were to transfer to himself the baronial possessions of
the head of the house of Maltravers, were nearly completed; and on his
wedding-day he hoped to be able to announce that the happy pair had set
out for their princely mansion of Lisle Court. In politics; though
nothing could be finally settled till his return, letters from Lord
Saxingham assured him that all was auspicious: the court and the heads of
the aristocracy daily growing more alienated from the premier, and more
prepared for a Cabinet revolution. And Vargrave, perhaps, like most
needy men, overrated the advantages he should derive from, and the
servile opinions he should conciliate in, his new character of landed
proprietor and wealthy peer. He was not insensible to the silent anguish
that Evelyn seemed to endure, nor to the bitter gloom that hung on the
brow of Lady Doltimore. But these were clouds that foretold no
storm,--light shadows that obscured not the serenity of the favouring
sky. He continued to seem unconscious to either; to take the coming
event as a matter of course, and to Evelyn he evinced so gentle,
unfamiliar, respectful, and delicate an attachment, that he left no
opening, either for confidence or complaint. Poor Evelyn! her gayety,
her enchanting levity, her sweet and infantine playfulness of manner,
were indeed vanished. Pale, wan, passive, and smileless, she was the
ghost of her former self! But days rolled on, and the evil one drew
near; she recoiled, but she never dreamed of resisting. How many equal
victims of her age and sex does the altar witness!

One day, at early noon, Lord Vargrave took his way to Evelyn's. He had
been to pay a political visit in the Faubourg St. Germain, and he was now
slowly crossing the more quiet and solitary part of the gardens of the
Tuileries, his hands clasped behind him, after his old, unaltered habit,
and his eyes downcast,--when suddenly a man, who was seated alone beneath
one of the trees, and who had for some moments watched his steps with an
anxious and wild aspect, rose and approached him. Lord Vargrave was not
conscious of the intrusion, till the man laid his hand on Vargrave's arm,
and exclaimed,--

"It is he! it is! Lumley Ferrers, we meet again!"

Lord Vargrave started and changed colour, as he gazed on the intruder.

"Ferrers," continued Cesarini (for it was he), and he wound his arm
firmly into Lord Vargrave's as he spoke, "you have not changed; your step
is light, your cheek healthful; and yet I--you can scarcely recognize me.
Oh, I have suffered so horribly since we parted! Why is this? Why have
I been so heavily visited, and why have you gone free? Heaven is not
just!"

Castruccio was in one of his lucid intervals; but there was that in his
uncertain eye, and strange unnatural voice, which showed that a breath
might dissolve the avalanche. Lord Vargrave looked anxiously round; none
were near: but he knew that the more public parts of the garden were
thronged, and through the trees he saw many forms moving in the distance.
He felt that the sound of his voice could summon assistance in an
instant, and his assurance returned to him.

"My poor friend," said he soothingly, as he quickened his pace, "it
grieves me to the heart to see you look ill; do not think so much of what
is past."

"There is no past!" replied Cesarini, gloomily. "The Past is my Present!
And I have thought and thought, in darkness and in chains, over all that
I have endured, and a light has broken on me in the hours when they told
me I was mad! Lumley Ferrers, it was not for my sake that you led me,
devil as you are, into the lowest hell! You had some object of your own
to serve in separating _her_ from Maltravers. You made me your
instrument. What was I to you that you should have sinned for _my_ sake?
Answer me, and truly, if those lips can utter truth!"

"Cesarini," returned Vargrave, in his blandest accents, "another time we
will converse on what has been; believe me, my only object was your
happiness, combined, it may be, with my hatred of your rival."

"Liar!" shouted Cesarini, grasping Vargrave's arm with the strength of
growing madness, while his burning eyes were fixed upon his tempter's
changing countenance. "You, too, loved Florence; you, too, sought her
hand; _you_ were my real rival!"

"Hush! my friend, hush!" said Vargrave, seeking to shake off the grip of
the maniac, and becoming seriously alarmed; "we are approaching the
crowded part of the gardens, we shall be observed."

"And why are men made my foes? Why is my own sister become my
persecutor? Why should she give me up to the torturer and the dungeon?
Why are serpents and fiends my comrades? Why is there fire in my brain
and heart; and why do you go free and enjoy liberty and life? Observed!
What care _you_ for observation? All men search for _me_!"

"Then why so openly expose yourself to their notice; why--"

"Hear me!" interrupted Cesarini. "When I escaped from the horrible
prison into which I was plunged; when I scented the fresh air, and
bounded over the grass; when I was again free in limbs and spirit,--a
sudden strain of music from a village came on my ear, and I stopped
short, and crouched down, and held my breath to listen. It ceased; and I
thought I had been with Florence, and I wept bitterly! When I recovered,
memory came back to me distinct and clear; and I heard a voice say to me,
'Avenge her and thyself!' From that hour the voice has been heard again,
morning and night! Lumley Ferrers, I hear it now! it speaks to my heart,
it warms my blood, it nerves my hand! On whom should vengeance fall?
Speak to me!"

Lumley strode rapidly on. They were now without the grove; a gay throng
was before them. "All is safe," thought the Englishman. He turned
abruptly and haughtily on Cesarini, and waved his hand; "Begone, madman!"
said he, in a loud and stern voice,--"begone! vex me no more, or I give
you into custody. Begone, I say!"

Cesarini halted, amazed and awed for the moment; and then, with a dark
scowl and a low cry, threw himself on Vargrave. The eye and hand of the
latter were vigilant and prepared; he grasped the uplifted arm of the
maniac, and shouted for help. But the madman was now in his full fury;
he hurled Vargrave to the ground with a force for which the peer was not
prepared, and Lumley might never have risen a living man from that spot,
if two soldiers, seated close by, had not hastened to his assistance.
Cesarini was already kneeling on his breast, and his long bony fingers
were fastening upon the throat of his intended victim. Torn from his
hold, he glared fiercely on his new assailants; and after a fierce but
momentary struggle, wrested himself from their grip. Then, turning round
to Vargrave, who had with some effort risen from the ground, he shrieked
out, "I shall have thee yet!" and fled through the trees and disappeared.

CHAPTER II.

AH, who is nigh? Come to me, friend or foe!
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had,
Ev'n now forsake me.--_HENRY VI_. Part iii.

LORD VARGRAVE, bold as he was by nature, in vain endeavoured to banish
from his mind the gloomy impression which the startling interview with
Cesarini had bequeathed. The face, the voice of the maniac, haunted him,
as the shape of the warning wraith haunts the mountaineer. He returned
at once to his hotel, unable for some hours to collect himself
sufficiently to pay his customary visit to Miss Cameron. Inly resolving
not to hazard a second meeting with the Italian during the rest of his
sojourn at Paris by venturing in the streets on foot, he ordered his
carriage towards evening; dined at the Cafe de Paris; and then re-entered
his carriage to proceed to Lady Doltimore's house.

"I beg your pardon, my lord," said his servant, as he closed the
carriage-door, "but I forgot to say that, a short time after you returned
this morning, a strange gentleman asked at the porter's lodge if Mr.
Ferrers was not staying at the hotel. The porter said there was no Mr.
Ferrers, but the gentleman insisted upon it that he had seen Mr. Ferrers
enter. I was in the lodge at the moment, my lord, and I explained--"

"That Mr. Ferrers and Lord Vargrave are one and the same? What sort of
looking person?"

"Thin and dark, my lord,--evidently a foreigner. When I said that you
were now Lord Vargrave, he stared a moment, and said very abruptly that
he recollected it perfectly, and then he laughed and walked away."

"Did he not ask to see me?"

"No, my lord; he said he should take another opportunity. He was a
strange-looking gentleman, and his clothes were threadbare."

"Ah, some troublesome petitioner. Perhaps a Pole in distress! Remember
I am never at home when he calls. Shut the door. To Lady Doltimore's."

Lumley's heart beat as he threw himself back,--he again felt the grip of
the madman at his throat. He saw, at once, that Cesarini had dogged him;
he resolved the next morning to change his hotel, and to apply to the
police. It was strange how sudden and keen a fear had entered the breast
of this callous and resolute man!

On arriving at Lady Doltimore's, he found Caroline alone in the
drawing-room. It was a _tete-a-tete_ that he by no means desired.

"Lord Vargrave," said Caroline, coldly, "I wished a short conversation
with you; and finding you did not come in the morning, I sent you a note
an hour ago. Did you receive it?"

"No; I have been from home since six o'clock,--it is now nine."

"Well, then, Vargrave," said Caroline, with a compressed and writhing
lip, and turning very pale, "I tremble to tell you that I fear Doltimore
suspects. He looked at me sternly this morning, and said, 'You seem
unhappy, madam; this marriage of Lord Vargrave's distresses you!'"

"I warned you how it would be,--your own selfishness will betray and ruin
you."

"Do not reproach me, man!" said Lady Doltimore, with great vehemence.
"From you at least I have a right to pity, to forbearance, to succour. I
will not bear reproach from _you_."

"I reproach you for your own sake, for the faults you commit against
yourself; and I must say, Caroline, that after I had generously conquered
all selfish feeling, and assisted you to so desirable and even brilliant
a position, it is neither just nor high-minded in you to evince so
ungracious a reluctance to my taking the only step which can save me from
actual ruin. But what does Doltimore suspect? What ground has he for
suspicion, beyond that want of command of countenance which it is easy to
explain,--and which it is yet easier for a woman and a great lady [here
Lumley sneered] to acquire?"

"I know not; it has been put into his head. Paris is so full of slander.
But, Vargrave--Lumley--I tremble, I shudder with terror, if ever
Doltimore should discover--"

"Pooh! pooh! Our conduct at Paris has been most guarded, most discreet.
Doltimore is Self-conceit personified,--and Self-conceit is horn-eyed. I
am about to leave Paris,--about to marry, from under your own roof; a
little prudence, a little self-control, a smiling face, when you wish us
happiness, and so forth, and all is safe. Tush! think of it no more!
Fate has cut and shuffled the cards for you; the game is yours, unless
you revoke. Pardon my metaphor; it is a favourite one,--I have worn it
threadbare; but human life _is_ so like a rubber at whist. Where is
Evelyn?"

"In her own room. Have you no pity for her?"

"She will be very happy when she is Lady Vargrave; and for the rest, I
shall neither be a stern nor a jealous husband. She might not have given
the same character to the magnificent Maltravers."

Here Evelyn entered; and Vargrave hastened to press her hand, to whisper
tender salutations and compliments, to draw the easy-chair to the fire,
to place the footstool,--to lavish the _petits soins_ that are so
agreeable, when they are the small moralities of love.

Evelyn was more than usually pale,--more than usually abstracted. There
was no lustre in her eye, no life in her step; she seemed unconscious of
the crisis to which she approached. As the myrrh and hyssop which
drugged the malefactors of old into forgetfulness of their doom, so there
are griefs which stupefy before their last and crowning consummation!

Vargrave conversed lightly on the weather, the news, the last book.
Evelyn answered but in monosyllables; and Caroline, with a hand-screen
before her face, preserved an unbroken silence. Thus gloomy and joyless
were two of the party, thus gay and animated the third, when the clock on
the mantelpiece struck ten; and as the last stroke died, and Evelyn
sighed heavily,--for it was an hour nearer to the fatal day,--the door
was suddenly thrown open, and pushing aside the servant, two gentlemen
entered the room.

Caroline, the first to perceive them, started from her seat with a faint
exclamation of surprise. Vargrave turned abruptly, and saw before him
the stern countenance of Maltravers.

"My child! my Evelyn!" exclaimed a familiar voice; and Evelyn had already
flown into the arms of Aubrey.

The sight of the curate in company with Maltravers explained all at once
to Vargrave. He saw that the mask was torn from his face, the prize
snatched from his grasp, his falsehood known, his plot counterworked, his
villany baffled! He struggled in vain for self-composure; all his
resources of courage and craft seemed drained and exhausted. Livid,
speechless, almost trembling, he cowered beneath the eyes of Maltravers.

Evelyn, not as yet aware of the presence of her former lover, was the
first to break the silence. She lifted her face in alarm from the bosom
of the good curate. "My mother--she is well--she lives--what brings you
hither?"

"Your mother is well, my child. I have come hither at her earnest
request to save you from a marriage with that unworthy man!"

Lord Vargrave smiled a ghastly smile, but made no answer.

"Lord Vargrave," said Maltravers, "you will feel at once that you have no
further business under this roof. Let us withdraw,--I have much to thank
you for."

"I will not stir!" exclaimed Vargrave, passionately, and stamping on the
floor. "Miss Cameron, the guest of Lady Doltimore, whose house and
presence you thus rudely profane, is my affianced bride,--affianced with
her own consent. Evelyn, beloved Evelyn! mine you are yet; you alone can
cancel the bond. Sir, I know not what you have to say, what mystery in
your immaculate life to disclose; but unless Lady Doltimore, whom your
violence appalls and terrifies, orders me to quit her roof, it is not
I,--it is yourself, who are the intruder! Lady Doltimore, with your
permission, I will direct your servants to conduct this gentleman to his
carriage!"

"Lady Doltimore, pardon me," said Maltravers, coldly; "I will not be
urged to any failure of respect to you. My lord, if the most abject
cowardice be not added to your other vices, you will not make this room
the theatre for our altercation. I invite you, in those terms which no
gentleman ever yet refused, to withdraw with me."

The tone and manner of Maltravers exercised a strange control over
Vargrave; he endeavoured in vain to keep alive the passion into which he
had sought to work himself; his voice faltered, his head sank upon his
breast. Between these two personages, none interfered; around them, all
present grouped in breathless silence,--Caroline, turning her eyes from
one to the other in wonder and dismay; Evelyn, believing all a dream, yet
alive only to the thought that, by some merciful interposition of
Providence, she should escape the consequences of her own rashness,
clinging to Aubrey, with her gaze riveted on Maltravers; and Aubrey,
whose gentle character was borne down and silenced by the powerful and
tempestuous passions that now met in collision and conflict, withheld by
his abhorrence of Vargrave's treachery from his natural desire to
propitiate, and yet appalled by the apprehension of bloodshed, that for
the first time crossed him.

There was a moment of dead silence, in which Vargrave seemed to be
nerving and collecting himself for such course as might be best to
pursue, when again the door opened, and the name of Mr. Howard was
announced.

Hurried and agitated, the young secretary, scarcely noticing the rest of
the party, rushed to Lord Vargrave.

"My lord! a thousand pardons for interrupting you,--business of such
importance! I am so fortunate to find you!"

"What is the matter, sir?"

"These letters, my lord; I have so much to say!"

Any interruption, even an earthquake, at that moment must have been
welcome to Vargrave. He bent his head, with a polite smile, linked his
arm into his secretary's, and withdrew to the recess of the farthest
window. Not a minute elapsed before he turned away with a look of
scornful exultation. "Mr. Howard," said he, "go and refresh yourself,
and come to me at twelve o'clock to-night; I shall be at home then." The
secretary bowed, and withdrew.

"Now, sir," said Vargrave, to Maltravers, "I am willing to leave you in
possession of the field. Miss Cameron, it will be, I fear, impossible
for me to entertain any longer the bright hopes I had once formed; my
cruel fate compels me to seek wealth in any matrimonial engagement. I
regret to inform you that you are no longer the great heiress; the whole
of your capital was placed in the hands of Mr. Douce for the completion
of the purchase of Lisle Court. Mr. Douce is a bankrupt; he has fled to
America. This letter is an express from my lawyer; the house has closed
its payments! Perhaps we may hope to obtain sixpence in the pound. I am
a loser also; the forfeit money bequeathed to me is gone. I know not
whether, as your trustee, I am not accountable for the loss of your
fortune (drawn out on my responsibility); probably so. But as I have not
now a shilling in the world, I doubt whether Mr. Maltravers will advise
you to institute proceedings against me. Mr. Maltravers, to-morrow, at
nine o'clock, I will listen to what you have to say. I wish you all
good-night." He bowed, seized his hat, and vanished.

"Evelyn," said Aubrey, "can you require to learn more; do you not already
feel you are released from union with a man without heart and honour?"

"Yes, yes! I am so happy!" cried Evelyn, bursting into tears. "This
hated wealth,--I feel not its loss; I am released from all duty to my
benefactor. I am free!"

The last tie that had yet united the guilty Caroline to Vargrave was
broken,--a woman forgives sin in her lover, but never meanness. The
degrading, the abject position in which she had seen one whom she had
served as a slave (though, as yet, all his worst villanies were unknown
to her), filled her with shame, horror, and disgust. She rose abruptly,
and quitted the room. They did not miss her.

Maltravers approached Evelyn; he took her hand, and pressed it to his
lips and heart.

"Evelyn," said he, mournfully, "you require an explanation,--to-morrow I
will give and seek it. To-night we are both too unnerved for such
communications. I can only now feel joy at your escape, and hope that I
may still minister to your future happiness."

"But," said Aubrey, "can we believe this new and astounding statement?
Can this loss be so irremediable; may we not yet take precaution, and
save, at least, some wrecks of this noble fortune?"

"I thank you for recalling me to the world," said Maltravers, eagerly.
"I will see to it this instant; and tomorrow, Evelyn, after my interview
with you, I will hasten to London, and act in that capacity still left to
me,--your guardian, your friend."

He turned away his face, and hurried to the door.

Evelyn clung more closely to Aubrey. "But you will not leave me
to-night? You can stay? We can find you accommodation; do not leave
me."

"Leave you, my child! no; we have a thousand things to say to each other.
I will not," he added in a whisper, turning to Maltravers, "forestall
your communications."

CHAPTER III.

ALACK, 'tis he. Why, he was met even now
As mad as the vexed sea.--_Lear_.

IN the Rue de la Paix there resided an English lawyer of eminence, with
whom Maltravers had had previous dealings; to this gentleman he now
drove. He acquainted him with the news he had just heard, respecting the
bankruptcy of Mr. Douce; and commissioned him to leave Paris, the first
moment he could obtain a passport, and to proceed to London.

At all events, he would arrive there some hours before Maltravers; and
those hours were something gained. This done, he drove to the nearest
hotel, which chanced to be the Hotel de M-----, where, though he knew it
not, it so happened that Lord Vargrave himself lodged. As his carriage
stopped without, while the porter unclosed the gates, a man, who had been
loitering under the lamps, darted forward, and prying into the
carriage-window, regarded Maltravers earnestly. The latter, pre-occupied
and absorbed, did not notice him; but when the carriage drove into the
courtyard it was followed by the stranger, who was muffled in a worn and
tattered cloak, and whose movements were unheeded amidst the bustle of
the arrival. The porter's wife led the way to a second-floor, just left
vacant, and the waiter began to arrange the fire. Maltravers threw
himself abstractedly upon the sofa, insensible to all around him, when,
lifting his eyes, he saw before him the countenance of Cesarini! The
Italian (supposed, perhaps, by the persons of the hotel to be one of the
newcomers) was leaning over the back of a chair, supporting his face with
his hand, and fixing his eyes with an earnest and sorrowful expression
upon the features of his ancient rival. When he perceived that he was
recognized, he approached Maltravers, and said in Italian, and in a low
voice, "You are the man of all others, whom, save one, I most desired to
see. I have much to say to you, and my time is short. Spare me a few
minutes."

The tone and manner of Cesarini were so calm and rational that they
changed the first impulse of Maltravers, which was that of securing a
maniac; while the Italian's emaciated countenance, his squalid garments,
the air of penury and want diffused over his whole appearance,
irresistibly invited compassion. With all the more anxious and pressing
thoughts that weighed upon him, Maltravers could not refuse the
conference thus demanded. He dismissed the attendants, and motioned
Cesarini to be seated.

The Italian drew near to the fire, which now blazed brightly and
cheerily, and, spreading his thin hands to the flame, seemed to enjoy the
physical luxury of the warmth. "Cold, cold," he said piteously, as to
himself; "Nature is a very bitter protector. But frost and famine are,
at least, more merciful than slavery and darkness."

At this moment Ernest's servant entered to know if his master would not
take refreshments, for he had scarcely touched food upon the road. And
as he spoke, Cesarini turned keenly and wistfully round. There was no
mistaking the appeal. Wine and cold meat were ordered: and when the
servant vanished, Cesarini turned to Maltravers with a strange smile, and
said, "You see what the love of liberty brings men to! They found me
plenty in the jail! But I have read of men who feasted merrily before
execution--have not you?--and my hour is at hand. All this day I have
felt chained by an irresistible destiny to this house. But it was not
you I sought; no matter, in the crisis of our doom all its agents meet
together. It is the last act of a dreary play!"

The Italian turned again to the fire, and bent over it, muttering to
himself.

Maltravers remained silent and thoughtful. Now was the moment once more
to place the maniac under the kindly vigilance of his family, to snatch
him from the horrors, perhaps, of starvation itself, to which his escape
condemned him: if he could detain Cesarini till De Montaigne could
arrive!

Agreeably to this thought, he quietly drew towards him the portfolio
which had been laid on the table, and, Cesarini's back still turned to
him, wrote a hasty line to De Montaigne. When his servant re-entered
with the wine and viands, Maltravers followed him out of the room, and
bade him see the note sent immediately. On returning, he found Cesarini
devouring the food before him with all the voracity of famine. It was a
dreadful sight!--the intellect ruined, the mind darkened, the wild,
fierce animal alone left!

When Cesarini had appeased his hunger, he drew near to Maltravers, and
thus accosted him,--

"I must lead you back to the past. I sinned against you and the dead;
but Heaven has avenged you, and me you can pity and forgive. Maltravers,
there is another more guilty than I,--but proud, prosperous, and great.
_His_ crime Heaven has left to the revenge of man! I bound myself by an
oath not to reveal his villany. I cancel the oath now, for the knowledge
of it should survive his life and mine. And, mad though they deem me,
the mad are prophets, and a solemn conviction, a voice not of earth,
tells me that he and I are already in the Shadow of Death."

Here Cesarini, with a calm and precise accuracy of self-possession,--a
minuteness of circumstance and detail, that, coming from one whose very
eyes betrayed his terrible disease, was infinitely thrilling in its
effect,--related the counsels, the persuasions, the stratagems of Lumley.
Slowly and distinctly he forced into the heart of Maltravers that
sickening record of cold fraud calculating on vehement passion as its
tool; and thus he concluded his narration,--

"Now wonder no longer why I have lived till this hour; why I have clung
to freedom, through want and hunger, amidst beggars, felons, and
outcasts! In that freedom was my last hope,--the hope of revenge!"

Maltravers returned no answer for some moments. At length he said
calmly, "Cesarini, there are injuries so great that they defy revenge.
Let us alike, since we are alike injured, trust our cause to Him who
reads all hearts, and, better than we can do, measures both crime and its
excuses. You think that our enemy has not suffered,--that he has gone
free. We know not his internal history; prosperity and power are no
signs of happiness, they bring no exemption from care. Be soothed and be
ruled, Cesarini. Let the stone once more close over the solemn grave.
Turn with me to the future; and let us rather seek to be the judges of
ourselves, than the executioners of another."

Cesarini listened gloomily, and was about to answer, when--

But here we must return to Lord Vargrave.

CHAPTER IV.

MY noble lord,
Your worthy friends do lack you.--_Macbeth_.

He is about it;
The doors are open.--_Ibid._

ON quitting Lady Doltimore's house, Lumley drove to his hotel. His
secretary had been the bearer of other communications, with the nature of
which he had not yet acquainted himself; but he saw by the
superscriptions that they were of great importance. Still, however, even
in the solitude and privacy of his own chamber, it was not on the instant
that he could divert his thoughts from the ruin of his fortunes: the loss
not only of Evelyn's property, but his own claims upon it (for the whole
capital had been placed in Douce's hands), the total wreck of his grand
scheme, the triumph he had afforded to Maltravers! He ground his teeth
in impotent rage, and groaned aloud, as he traversed his room with hasty
and uneven strides. At last he paused and muttered: "Well, the spider
toils on even when its very power of weaving fresh webs is exhausted; it
lies in wait,--it forces itself into the webs of others. Brave insect,
thou art my model! While I have breath in my body, the world and all its
crosses, Fortune and all her malignity, shall not prevail against me!
What man ever yet failed until he himself grew craven, and sold his soul
to the arch fiend, Despair! 'Tis but a girl and a fortune lost,--they
were gallantly fought for, that is some comfort. Now to what is yet left
to me!"

The first letter Lumley opened was from Lord Saxingham. It filled him
with dismay. The question at issue had been formally, but abruptly,
decided in the Cabinet against Vargrave and his manoeuvres. Some hasty
expressions of Lord Saxingham had been instantly caught at by the
premier, and a resignation, rather hinted at than declared, had been
peremptorily accepted. Lord Saxingham and Lumley's adherents in the
Government were to a man dismissed; and at the time Lord Saxingham wrote
the premier was with the king.

"Curse their folly!--the puppets! the dolts!" exclaimed Lumley, crushing
the letter in his hand. "The moment I leave them, they run their heads
against the wall. Curse them! curse myself! curse the man who weaves
ropes with sand! Nothing--nothing left for me but exile or suicide!
Stay, what is this?" His eye fell on the well-known hand writing of the
premier. He tore the envelope, impatient to know the worst. His eyes
sparkled as he proceeded. The letter was most courteous, most
complimentary, most wooing. The minister was a man consummately versed
in the arts that increase, as well as those which purge, a party.
Saxingham and his friends were imbeciles, incapables, mostly men who had
outlived their day. But Lord Vargrave, in the prime of life--versatile,
accomplished, vigorous, bitter, unscrupulous--Vargrave was of another
mould, Vargrave was to be dreaded; and therefore, if possible, to be
retained. His powers of mischief were unquestionably increased by the
universal talk of London that he was about soon to wed so wealthy a lady.
The minister knew his man. In terms of affected regret, he alluded to
the loss the Government would sustain in the services of Lord Saxingham,
etc.; he rejoiced that Lord Vargrave's absence from London had prevented
his being prematurely mixed up, by false scruples of honour, in
secessions which his judgment must condemn. He treated of the question
in dispute with the most delicate address,--confessed the reasonableness
of Lord Vargrave's former opposition to it; but contended that it was
now, if not wise, inevitable. He said nothing of the _justice_ of the
measure he proposed to adopt, but much on the _expediency_. He concluded
by offering to Vargrave, in the most cordial and flattering terms, the
very seat in the Cabinet which Lord Saxingham had vacated, with an
apology for its inadequacy to his lordship's merits, and a distinct and
definite promise of the refusal of the gorgeous viceroyalty of India,
which would be vacant next year by the return of the present
governor-general.

Unprincipled as Vargrave was, it is not, perhaps, judging him too mildly
to say that, had he succeeded in obtaining Evelyn's hand and fortune, he
would have shrunk from the baseness he now meditated. To step coldly
into the very post of which he, and he alone, had been the cause of
depriving his earliest patron and nearest relative; to profit by the
betrayal of his own party; to damn himself eternally in the eyes of his
ancient friends; to pass down the stream of history as a mercenary
apostate,--from all this Vargrave must have shrunk, had he seen one spot
of honest ground on which to maintain his footing. But now the waters of
the abyss were closing over his head; he would have caught at a straw;
how much more consent to be picked up by the vessel of an enemy! All
objection, all scruple, vanished at once. And the "barbaric gold" "of
Ormus and of Ind" glittered before the greedy eyes of the penniless
adventurer! Not a day was now to be lost. How fortunate that a written
proposition, from which it was impossible to recede, had been made to him
before the failure of his matrimonial projects had become known! Too
happy to quit Paris, he would set off on the morrow, and conclude in
person the negotiation. Vargrave glanced towards the clock; it was
scarcely past eleven. What revolutions are worked in moments! Within an
hour he had lost a wife, a noble fortune, changed the politics of his
whole life, stepped into a Cabinet office, and was already calculating
how much a governor-general of India could lay by in five years! But it
was only eleven o'clock. He had put off Mr. Howard's visit till twelve;
he wished so much to see him, and learn all the London gossip connected
with the recent events. Poor Mr. Douce! Vargrave had already forgotten
_his_ existence!--he rang his bell hastily. It was some time before his
servant answered.

Promptitude and readiness were virtues that Lord Vargrave peremptorily
demanded in a servant; and as he paid the best price for the
articles--less in wages than in plunder--he was generally sure to obtain
them.

"Where the deuce have you been? This is the third time I have rung! you
ought to be in the anteroom!"

"I beg your lordship's pardon; but I was helping Mr. Maltravers's valet
to find a key which he dropped in the courtyard."

"Mr. Maltravers! Is he at this hotel?"

"Yes, my lord; his rooms are just overhead."

"Humph! Has Mr. Howard engaged a lodging here?"

"No, my lord. He left word that he was gone to his aunt, Lady Jane."

"Ah, Lady Jane--lives at Paris--so she does; Rue Chaussee d'Antin--you
know the House? Go immediately--go yourself; don't trust to a
messenger--and beg Mr. Howard to return with you. I want to see him
instantly."

"Yes, my lord."

The servant went. Lumley was in a mood in which solitude was
intolerable. He was greatly excited; and some natural compunctions at
the course on which he had decided made him long to escape from thought.
So Maltravers was under the same roof! He had promised to give him an
interview next day; but next day he wished to be on the road to London.
Why not have it over to-night? But could Maltravers meditate any hostile
proceedings? Impossible! Whatever his causes of complaint, they were of
too delicate and secret a nature for seconds, bullets, and newspaper
paragraphs! Vargrave might feel secure that he should not be delayed by
any Bois de Boulogne assignation; but it was necessary to _his honour_
(!) that he should not seem to shun the man he had deceived and wronged.
He would go up to him at once,--a new excitement would distract his
thoughts. Agreeably to this resolution, Lord Vargrave quitted his room,
and was about to close the outer door, when he recollected that perhaps
his servant might not meet with Howard; that the secretary might probably
arrive before the time fixed,--it would be as well to leave his door
open. He accordingly stopped, and writing upon a piece of paper, "Dear
Howard, send up for me the moment you arrive: I shall be with Mr.
Maltravers _au second_"--Vargrave wafered the _affiche_ to the door,
which he then left ajar, and the lamp in the landing-place fell clear and
full on the paper.

It was the voice of Vargrave, in the little stone-paved antechamber
without, inquiring of the servant if Mr. Maltravers was at home, which
had startled and interrupted Cesarini as he was about to reply to Ernest.
Each recognized that sharp clear voice; each glanced at the other.

"I will not see him," said Maltravers, hastily moving towards the door;
"you are not fit to--"

"Meet him? no!" said Cesarini, with a furtive and sinister glance, which
a man versed in his disease would have understood, but which Maltravers
did not even observe; "I will retire into your bedroom; my eyes are
heavy. I could sleep."

He opened the inner door as he spoke, and had scarcely reclosed it before
Vargrave entered.

"Your servant said you were engaged; but I thought you might see an old
friend:" and Vargrave coolly seated himself.

Maltravers drew the bolt across the door that separated them from
Cesarini; and the two men, whose characters and lives were so strongly
contrasted, were now alone.

"You wished an interview,--an explanation," said Lumley; "I shrink from
neither. Let me forestall inquiry and complaint. I deceived you
knowingly and deliberately, it is quite true,--all stratagems are fair in
love and war. The prize was vast! I believed my career depended on it:
I could not resist the temptation. I knew that before long you would
learn that Evelyn was not your daughter; that the first communication
between yourself and Lady Vargrave would betray me; but it was worth
trying a _coup de main_. You have foiled me, and conquered: be it so; I
congratulate you. You are tolerably rich, and the loss of Evelyn's
fortune will not vex you as it would have done me."

"Lord Vargrave, it is but poor affectation to treat thus lightly the dark
falsehood you conceived, the awful curse you inflicted upon me. Your
sight is now so painful to me, it so stirs the passions that I would seek
to suppress, that the sooner our interview is terminated the better. I
have to charge you, also, with a crime,--not, perhaps, baser than the one
you so calmly own, but the consequences of which were more fatal: you
understand me?"

"I do not."

"Do not tempt me! do not lie!" said Maltravers, still in a calm voice,
though his passions, naturally so strong, shook his whole frame. "To
your arts I owe the exile of years that should have been better spent; to
those arts Cesarini owes the wreck of his reason, and Florence Lascelles
her early grave! Ah, you are pale now; your tongue cleaves to your
mouth! And think you these crimes will go forever unrequited; think you
that there is no justice in the thunderbolts of God?"

"Sir," said Vargrave, starting to his feet, "I know not what you suspect,
I care not what you believe! But I am accountable to man, and that
account I am willing to render. You threatened me in the presence of my
ward; you spoke of cowardice, and hinted at danger. Whatever my faults,
want of courage is not one. Stand by your threats,--I am ready to brave
them!"

"A year, perhaps a short month, ago," replied Maltravers, and I would
have arrogated justice to my own mortal hand; nay, this very night, had
the hazard of either of our lives been necessary to save Evelyn from your
persecution, I would have incurred all things for her sake! But that is
past; from me you have nothing to fear. The proofs of your earlier
guilt, with its dreadful results, would alone suffice to warn me from the
solemn responsibility of human vengeance. Great Heaven! what hand could
dare to send a criminal so long hardened, so black with crime, unatoning,
unrepentant, and unprepared, before the judgment-seat of the ALL JUST?
Go, unhappy man! may life long be spared to you! Awake! awake from this
world, before your feet pass the irrevocable boundary of the next!"

"I came not here to listen to homilies, and the cant of the conventicle,"
said Vargrave, vainly struggling for a haughtiness of mien that his
conscience-stricken aspect terribly belied; "not I; but this wrong world
is to be blamed, if deeds that strict morality may not justify, but the
effects of which I, no prophet, could not foresee, were necessary for
success in life. I have been but as all other men have been who struggle
against fortune to be rich and great: ambition must make use of foul
ladders."

"Oh," said Maltravers, earnestly, touched involuntarily, and in spite of
his abhorrence of the criminal, by the relenting that this miserable
attempt at self-justification seemed to denote,--"oh, be warned, while it
is yet time; wrap not yourself in these paltry sophistries; look back to
your past career; see to what heights you might have climbed, if with
those rare gifts and energies, with that subtle sagacity and indomitable
courage--your ambition had but chosen the straight, not the crooked,
path. Pause! many years may yet, in the course of nature, afford you
time to retrace your steps, to atone to thousands the injuries you have
inflicted on the few. I know not why I thus address you: but something
diviner than indignation urges me; something tells me that you are
already on the brink of the abyss!"

Lord Vargrave changed colour, nor did he speak for some moments; then
raising his head, with a faint smile, he said, "Maltravers, you are a
false soothsayer. At this moment my paths, crooked though they be, have
led me far towards the summit of my proudest hopes; the straight path
would have left me at the foot of the mountain. You yourself are a
beacon against the course you advise. Let us contrast each other. You
took the straight path, I the crooked. You, my superior in fortune; you,
infinitely above me in genius; you, born to command and never to crouch:
how do we stand now, each in the prime of life? You, with a barren and
profitless reputation; without rank, without power, almost without the
hope of power. I--but you know not my new dignity--I, in the Cabinet of
England's ministry, vast fortunes opening to my gaze, the proudest
station not too high for my reasonable ambition! You, wedding yourself
to some grand chimera of an object, aimless when it eludes your grasp.
I, swinging, squirrel-like, from scheme to scheme; no matter if one
breaks, another is at hand! Some men would have cut their throats in
despair, an hour ago, in losing the object of a seven years'
chase,--Beauty and Wealth, both! I open a letter, and find success in
one quarter to counterbalance failure in another. Bah! bah! each to his
_metier_, Maltravers! For you, honour, melancholy, and, if it please
you, repentance also! For me, the onward, rushing life, never looking
back to the Past, never balancing the stepping-stones to the Future. Let
us not envy each other; if you were not Diogenes, you would be Alexander.
Adieu! our interview is over. Will you forget and forgive, and shake
hands once more? You draw back, you frown! well, perhaps you are right.
If we meet again--"

"It will be as strangers."

"No rash vows! you may return to politics, you may want office. I am of
your way of thinking now: and--ha! ha!--poor Lumley Ferrers could make
you a Lord of the Treasury; smooth travelling and cheap turnpikes on
crooked paths, believe me. Farewell!"

On entering the room into which Cesarini had retired, Maltravers found
him flown. His servant said that the gentleman had gone away shortly
after Lord Vargrave's arrival. Ernest reproached himself bitterly for
neglecting to secure the door that conducted to the ante-chamber; but
still it was probable that Cesarini would return in the morning.

The messenger who had taken the letter to De Montaigne brought back word
that the latter was at his villa, but expected at Paris early the next
day. Maltravers hoped to see him before his departure; meanwhile he
threw himself on his bed, and despite all the anxieties that yet
oppressed him, the fatigues and excitements he had undergone exhausted
even the endurance of that iron frame, and he fell into a profound
slumber.

CHAPTER V.

BY eight to-morrow
Thou shalt be made immortal.
_Measure for Measure_.

LORD VARGRAVE returned to his apartment to find Mr. Howard, who had but
just that instant arrived, warming his white and well-ringed hands by the
fire. He conversed with him for half an hour on all the topics on which
the secretary could give him information, and then dismissed him once
more to the roof of Lady Jane.

As he slowly undressed himself, he saw on his writing-table the note
which Lady Doltimore had referred to, and which he had not yet opened.
He lazily broke the seal, ran his eye carelessly over its few blotted
words of remorse and alarm, and threw it down again with a contemptuous
"pshaw!" Thus unequally are the sorrows of a guilty tie felt by the man
of the world and the woman of society!

As his servant placed before him his wine and water, Vargrave told him to
see early to the preparations for departure, and to call him at nine
o'clock.

"Shall I shut that door, my lord?" said the valet, pointing to one that
communicated with one of those large closets, or _armoires_, that are
common appendages to French bedrooms, and in which wood and sundry other
matters are kept.

"No," said Lord Vargrave, petulantly; "you servants are so fond of
excluding every breath of air. I should never have a window open, if I
did not open it myself. Leave the door as it is, and do not be later
than nine to-morrow."

The servant, who slept in a kind of kennel that communicated with the
anteroom, did as he was bid; and Vargrave put out his candle, betook
himself to bed, and, after drowsily gazing some minutes on the dying
embers of the fire, which threw a dim ghastly light over the chamber,
fell fast asleep. The clock struck the first hour of morning, and in
that house all seemed still.

The next morning, Maltravers was disturbed from his slumber by De
Montaigne, who, arriving, as was often his wont, at an early hour from
his villa, had found Ernest's note of the previous evening.

Maltravers rose and dressed himself; and while De Montaigne was yet
listening to the account which his friend gave of his adventure with
Cesarini, and the unhappy man's accusation of his accomplice, Ernest's
servant entered the room very abruptly.

"Sir," said he, "I thought you might like to know. What is to be done?
The whole hotel is in confusion, Mr. Howard has been sent for, and Lord
Doltimore. So very strange, so sudden!"

"What is the matter? Speak plain."

"Lord Vargrave, sir,--poor Lord Vargrave--"

"Lord Vargrave!"

"Yes, sir; the master of the hotel, hearing you knew his lordship, would
be so glad if you would come down. Lord Vargrave, sir, is dead,--found
dead in his bed!"

Maltravers was rooted to the spot with amaze and horror. Dead! and but
last night so full of life and schemes and hope and ambition.

As soon as he recovered himself, he hurried to the spot, and De Montaigne
followed. The latter, as they descended the stairs, laid his hand on
Ernest's arm and detained him.

"Did you say that Castruccio left the apartment while Vargrave was with
you, and almost immediately after his narrative of Vargrave's instigation
to his crime?"

"Yes."

The eyes of the friends met; a terrible suspicion possessed both. "No;
it is impossible!" exclaimed Maltravers. "How could he obtain entrance,
how pass Lord Vargrave's servants? No, no; think of it not!"

They hurried down the stairs; they reached the other door of Vargrave's
apartment. The notice to Howard, with the name of Vargrave underscored,
was still on the panels. De Montaigne saw and shuddered.

They were in the room by the bedside. A group were collected round; they
gave way as the Englishman and his friend approached; and the eyes of
Maltravers suddenly rested on the face of Lord Vargrave, which was
locked, rigid, and convulsed.

There was a buzz of voices which had ceased at the entrance of
Maltravers; it was now renewed. A surgeon had been summoned--the nearest
surgeon,--a young Englishman of no great repute or name. He was making
inquiries as he bent over the corpse.

"Yes, sir," said Lord Vargrave's servant, "his lordship told me to call
him at nine o'clock. I came in at that hour, but his lordship did not
move nor answer me. I then looked to see if he were very sound asleep,
and I saw that the pillows had got somehow over his face, and his head
seemed to lie very low; so I moved the pillows, and I saw that his
lordship was dead."

"Sir," said the surgeon, turning to Maltravers, "you were a friend of his
lordship, I hear. I have already sent for Mr. Howard and Lord Doltimore.
Shall I speak with you a minute?"

Maltravers nodded assent. The surgeon cleared the room of all but
himself, De Montaigne, and Maltravers.

"Has that servant lived long with Lord Vargrave?" asked the surgeon.

"I believe so,--yes; I recollect his face. Why?"

"And you think him safe and honest?"

"I don't know; I know nothing of him."

"Look here, sir,"--and the surgeon pointed to a slight discoloration on
one side the throat of the dead man. "This may be accidental--purely
natural; his lordship may have died in a fit; there are no certain marks
of outward violence, but murder by suffocation might still--"

"But who besides the servant could gain admission? Was the outer door
closed?"

"The servant can take oath that he shut the door before going to bed, and
that no one was with his lordship, or in the rooms, when Lord Vargrave
retired to rest. Entrance from the windows is impossible. Mind, sir, I
do not think I have any right to suspect any one. His lordship had been
in very ill health a short time before; had had, I hear, a rush of blood
to the head. Certainly, if the servant be innocent, we can suspect no
one else. You had better send for more experienced practitioners."

De Montaigne, who had hitherto said nothing, now looked with a hurried
glance around the room: he perceived the closet-door, which was ajar, and
rushed to it, as by an involuntary impulse. The closet was large, but a
considerable pile of wood, and some lumber of odd chairs and tables, took
up a great part of the space. De Montaigne searched behind and amidst
this litter with trembling haste,--no trace of secreted murder was
visible. He returned to the bedroom with a satisfied and relieved
expression of countenance. He then compelled himself to approach the
body, from which he had hitherto recoiled.

"Sir," said he, almost harshly, as he turned to the surgeon, "what idle
doubts are these? Cannot men die in their beds, of sudden death, no
blood to stain their pillows, no loop-hole for crime to pass through, but
we must have science itself startling us with silly terrors? As for the
servant, I will answer for his innocence; his manner, his voice attest
it." The surgeon drew back, abashed and humbled, and began to apologize,
to qualify, when Lord Doltimore abruptly entered.

"Good heavens!" said he, "what is this? What do I hear? Is it possible?
Dead! So suddenly!" He cast a hurried glance at the body, shivered, and
sickened, and threw himself into a chair, as if to recover the shock.
When again he removed his hand from his face, he saw lying before him on
the table an open note. The character was familiar; his own name struck
his eye,--it was the note which Caroline had sent the day before. As no
one heeded him, Lord Doltimore read on, and possessed himself of the
proof of his wife's guilt unseen.

The surgeon, now turning from De Montaigne, who had been rating him
soundly for the last few moments, addressed himself to Lord Doltimore.
"Your lordship," said he, "was, I hear, Lord Vargrave's most intimate
friend at Paris."

"I _his_ intimate friend?" said Doltimore, colouring highly, and in a
disdainful accent. "Sir, you are misinformed."

"Have you no orders to give, then, my lord?"

"None, sir. My presence here is quite useless. Good-day to you,
gentlemen."

"With whom, then, do the last duties rest?" said the surgeon, turning to
Maltravers and De Montaigne. "With the late lord's secretary?--I expect
him every moment; and here he is, I suppose,"--as Mr. Howard, pale, and
evidently overcome by his agitation, entered the apartment. Perhaps, of
all the human beings whom the ambitious spirit of that senseless clay had
drawn around it by the webs of interest, affection, or intrigue, that
young man, whom it had never been a temptation to Vargrave to deceive or
injure, and who missed only the gracious and familiar patron, mourned
most his memory, and defended most his character. The grief of the poor
secretary was now indeed overmastering. He sobbed and wept like a child.

When Maltravers retired from the chamber of death, De Montaigne
accompanied him; but soon quitting him again, as Ernest bent his way to
Evelyn, he quietly rejoined Mr. Howard, who readily grasped at his offers
of aid in the last melancholy duties and directions.

CHAPTER VI.

IF we do meet again, why, we shall smile.--_Julius Caesar_.

THE interview with Evelyn was long and painful. It was reserved for
Maltravers to break to her the news of the sudden death of Lord Vargrave,
which shocked her unspeakably; and this, which made their first topic,
removed much constraint and deadened much excitement in those which
followed.

Vargrave's death served also to relieve Maltravers from a most anxious
embarrassment. He need no longer fear that Alice would be degraded in
the eyes of Evelyn. Henceforth the secret that identified the erring
Alice Darvil with the spotless Lady Vargrave was safe, known only to Mrs.
Leslie and to Aubrey. In the course of nature, all chance of its
disclosure must soon die with them; and should Alice at last become his
wife, and should Cleveland suspect (which was not probable) that
Maltravers had returned to his first love, he knew that he might depend
on the inviolable secrecy of his earliest friend.

The tale that Vargrave had told to Evelyn of his early--but, according to
that tale, guiltless--passion for Alice, he tacitly confirmed; and he
allowed that the recollection of her virtues, and the intelligence of her
sorrows and unextinguishable affection, had made him recoil from a
marriage with her supposed daughter. He then proceeded to amaze his
young listener with the account of the mode in which he had discovered
her real parentage, of which the banker had left it to Alice's discretion
to inform her, after she had attained the age of eighteen. And then,
simply, but with manly and ill-controlled emotion, he touched upon the
joy of Alice at beholding him again, upon the endurance and fervour of
her love, upon her revulsion of feeling at learning that, in her
unforgotten lover, she beheld the recent suitor of her adopted child.

"And now," said Maltravers, in conclusion, "the path to both of us
remains the same. To Alice is our first duty. The discovery I have made
of your real parentage does not diminish the claims which Alice has on
me, does not lessen the grateful affection that is due to her from
yourself. Yes, Evelyn, we are not the less separated forever. But when
I learned the wilful falsehood which the unhappy man, now hurried to his
last account, to whom your birth was known, had imposed upon me,--namely,
that you were the child of Alice,--and when I learned also that you had
been hurried into accepting his hand, I trembled at your union with one
so false and base. I came hither resolved to frustrate his schemes and
to save you from an alliance, the motives of which I foresaw, and to
which my own letter, my own desertion, had perhaps urged you. New
villanies on the part of this most perverted man came to my ear: but he
is dead; let us spare his memory. For you--oh, still let me deem myself
your friend,--your more than brother; let me hope now that I have planted
no thorn in that breast, and that your affection does not shrink from the
cold word of friendship."

"Of all the wonders that you have told me," answered Evelyn, as soon as
she could recover the power of words, "my most poignant sorrow is, that I
have no rightful claim to give a daughter's love to her whom I shall ever
idolize as my mother. Oh, now I see why I thought her affection measured
and lukewarm. And have I--I destroyed her joy at seeing you again? But
you--you will hasten to console, to reassure her! She loves you
still,--she will be happy at last; and that--that thought--oh, that
thought compensates for all!"

There was so much warmth and simplicity in Evelyn's artless manner, it
was so evident that her love for him had not been of that ardent nature
which would at first have superseded every other thought in the anguish
of losing him forever, that the scale fell from the eyes of Maltravers,
and he saw at once that his own love had blinded him to the true
character of hers. He was human; and a sharp pang shot across his
breast. He remained silent for some moments; and then resumed,
compelling himself as he spoke to fix his eyes steadfastly on hers.

"And now, Evelyn--still may I so call you?--I have a duty to discharge to
another. You are loved"--and he smiled, but the smile was sad--"by a
younger and more suitable lover than I am. From noble and generous
motives he suppressed that love,--he left you to a rival; the rival
removed, dare he venture to explain to you his own conduct, and plead his
own motives? George Legard--" Maltravers paused. The cheek on which he
gazed was tinged with a soft blush, Evelyn's eyes were downcast, there
was a slight heaving beneath the robe.

Maltravers suppressed a sigh and continued. He narrated his interview
with Legard at Dover; and, passing lightly over what had chanced at
Venice, dwelt with generous eloquence on the magnanimity with which his
rival's gratitude had been displayed. Evelyn's eyes sparkled, and the
smile just visited the rosy lips and vanished again. The worst because
it was the least selfish fear of Maltravers was gone, and no vain doubt
of Evelyn's too keen regret remained to chill his conscience in obeying
its earliest and strongest duties.

"Farewell!" he said, as he rose to depart; "I will at once return to
London, and assist in the effort to save your fortune from this general
wreck: LIFE calls us back to its cares and business--farewell, Evelyn!
Aubrey will, I trust, remain with you still."

"Remain! Can I not return then to my--to her--yes, let me call her
_mother_ still?"

"Evelyn," said Maltravers, in a very low voice, "spare me, spare her that
pain! Are we yet fit to--" He paused; Evelyn comprehended him, and
hiding her face with her hands, burst into tears.

When Maltravers left the room, he was met by Aubrey, who, drawing him
aside, told him that Lord Doltimore had just informed him that it was not
his intention to remain at Paris, and had more than delicately hinted at
a wish for the departure of Miss Cameron. In this emergency, Maltravers
bethought himself of Madame de Ventadour.

No house in Paris was a more eligible refuge, no friend more zealous; no
protector would be more kind, no adviser more sincere. To her then he
hastened. He briefly informed her of Vargrave's sudden death; and
suggested that for Evelyn to return at once to a sequestered village in
England might be a severe trial to spirits already broken; and declared
truly, that though his marriage with Evelyn was broken off, her welfare
was no less dear to him than heretofore. At his first hint, Valerie, who
took a cordial interest in Evelyn for her own sake, ordered her carriage,
and drove at once to Lady Doltimore's. His lordship was out, her
ladyship was ill, in her own room, could see no one, not even her guest.
Evelyn in vain sent up to request an interview; and at last, contenting
herself with an affectionate note of farewell, accompanied Aubrey to the
home of her new hostess.

Gratified at least to know her with one who would be sure to win her
affection and soothe her spirits, Maltravers set out on his solitary
return to England.

Whatever suspicious circumstances might or might not have attended the
death of Lord Vargrave, certain it is that no evidence confirmed and no
popular rumour circulated them. His late illness, added to the supposed
shock of the loss of the fortune he had anticipated with Miss Cameron,
aided by the simultaneous intelligence of the defeat of the party with
whom it was believed he had indissolubly entwined his ambition, sufficed
to account satisfactorily enough for the melancholy event. De Montaigne,
who had been long, though not intimately, acquainted with the deceased,
took upon himself all the necessary arrangements, and superintended the
funeral; after which ceremony, Howard returned to London; and in Paris,
as in the grave, all things are forgotten! But still in De Montaigne's
breast there dwelt a horrible fear. As soon as he had learned from
Maltravers the charge the maniac brought against Vargrave, there came
upon him the recollection of that day when Cesarini had attempted De
Montaigne's life, evidently mistaking him in his delirium for
another,--and the sullen, cunning, and ferocious character which the
insanity had ever afterwards assumed. He had learned from Howard that
the outer door had been left ajar when Lord Vargrave was with Maltravers.
The writing on the panel, the name of Vargrave, would have struck
Castruccio's eye as he descended the stairs; the servant was from home,
the apartments deserted; he might have won his way into the bedchamber,
concealed himself in the _armoire_, and in the dead of the night, and in
the deep and helpless sleep of his victim, have done the deed. What need
of weapons--the suffocating pillows would stop speech and life. What so
easy as escape,--to pass into the anteroom; to unbolt the door; to
descend into the courtyard; to give the signal to the porter in his
lodge, who, without seeing him, would pull the _cordon_, and give him
egress unobserved?

All this was so possible, so probable.

De Montaigne now withdrew all inquiry for the unfortunate; he trembled at
the thought of discovering him, of verifying his awful suspicions, of
beholding a murderer in the brother of his wife! But he was not doomed
long to entertain fear for Cesarini; he was not fated ever to change
suspicion into certainty. A few days after Lord Vargrave's burial, a
corpse was drawn from the Seine. Some tablets in the pockets, scrawled
over with wild, incoherent verses, gave a clew to the discovery of the
dead man's friends: and, exposed at the Morgue, in that bleached and
altered clay, De Montaigne recognized the remains of Castruccio Cesarini.
"He died and made no sign!"

CHAPTER VII.

SINGULA quaeque locum teneant sortita.*--HORACE: _Ars Poetica_.

* "To each lot its appropriate place."

MALTRAVERS and the lawyers were enabled to save from the insolvent bank
but a very scanty portion of that wealth in which Richard Templeton had
rested so much of pride. The title extinct, the fortune gone--so does
Fate laugh at our posthumous ambition! Meanwhile Mr. Douce, with
considerable plunder, had made his way to America: the bank owed nearly
half a million; the purchase money for Lisle Court, which Mr. Douce had
been so anxious to get into his clutches, had not sufficed to stave off
the ruin,--but a great part of it sufficed to procure competence for
himself. How inferior in wit, in acuteness, in stratagem, was Douce to
Vargrave; and yet Douce had gulled him like a child! Well said the
shrewd small philosopher of France--"On peut etre plus fin qu'un autre,
mais pas plus fin que tous les autres."*

* One may be more sharp than one's neighbour, but one can't be
sharper than all one's neighbours.--ROCHEFOUCAULD.

To Legard, whom Maltravers had again encountered at Dover, the latter
related the downfall of Evelyn's fortunes; and Maltravers loved him when
he saw that, far from changing his affection, the loss of wealth seemed
rather to raise his hopes. They parted; and Legard set out for Paris.

But was Maltravers all the while forgetful of Alice? He had not been
twelve hours in London before he committed to a long and truthful letter
all his thoughts, his hopes, his admiring and profound gratitude. Again,
and with solemn earnestness, he implored her to accept his hand, and to
confirm at the altar the tale which had been told to Evelyn. Truly he
said that the shock which his first belief in Vargrave's falsehood had
occasioned, his passionate determination to subdue all trace of a love
then associated with crime and horror, followed so close by his discovery
of Alice's enduring faith and affection, had removed the image of Evelyn
from the throne it had hitherto held in his desires and thoughts; truly
he said that he was now convinced that Evelyn would soon be consoled for
his loss by another, with whom she would be happier than with him; truly
and solemnly he declared that if Alice rejected him still, if even Alice
were no more, his suit to Evelyn never could be renewed, and Alice's
memory would usurp the place of all living love!

Her answer came: it pierced him to the heart. It was so humble, so
grateful, so tender still. Unknown to herself, love yet coloured every
word; but it was love pained, galled, crushed, and trampled on; it was
love, proud from its very depth and purity. His offer was refused.

Months passed away. Maltravers yet trusted to time. The curate had
returned to Brook-Green, and his letters fed Ernest's hopes and assured
his doubts. The more leisure there was left him for reflection, the
fainter became those dazzling and rainbow hues in which Evelyn had been
robed and surrounded, and the brighter the halo that surrounded his
earliest love. The more he pondered on Alice's past history, and the
singular beauty of her faithful attachment, the more he was impressed
with wonder and admiration, the more anxious to secure to his side one to
whom Nature had been so bountiful in all the gifts that make woman the
angel and star of life.

Months passed. From Paris the news that Maltravers received confirmed
all his expectations,--the suit of Legard had replaced his own. It was
then that Maltravers began to consider how far the fortune of Evelyn and
her destined husband was such as to preclude all anxiety for their future
lot. Fortune is so indeterminate in its gauge and measurement. Money,
the most elastic of materials, falls short or exceeds, according to the
extent of our wants and desires. With all Legard's good qualities he was
constitutionally careless and extravagant; and Evelyn was too
inexperienced, and too gentle, perhaps, to correct his tendencies.
Maltravers learned that Legard's income was one that required an economy
which he feared that, in spite of all his reformation, Legard might not
have the self-denial to enforce. After some consideration, he resolved
to add secretly to the remains of Evelyn's fortune such a sum as might,
being properly secured to herself and children, lessen whatever danger
could arise from the possible improvidence of her husband, and guard
against the chance of those embarrassments which are among the worst
disturbers of domestic peace. He was enabled to effect this generosity
unknown to both of them, as if the sum bestowed were collected from the
wrecks of Evelyn's own wealth and the profits of the sale of the houses
in C-----, which of course had not been involved in Douce's bankruptcy.
And then if Alice were ever his, her jointure, which had been secured on
the property appertaining to the villa at Fulham, would devolve upon
Evelyn. Maltravers could never accept what Alice owed to another. Poor
Alice! No! not that modest wealth which you had looked upon complacently
as one day or other to be his.

Lord Doltimore is travelling in the East,--Lady Doltimore, less
adventurous, has fixed her residence in Rome. She has grown thin, and
taken to antiquities and rouge. Her spirits are remarkably high--not an
uncommon effect of laudanum.

CHAPTER THE LAST.

ARRIVED at last
Unto the wished haven.--SHAKSPEARE.

IN the August of that eventful year a bridal party were assembled at the
cottage of Lady Vargrave. The ceremony had just been performed, and
Ernest Maltravers had bestowed upon George Legard the hand of Evelyn
Templeton.

If upon the countenance of him who thus officiated as a father to her he
had once wooed as a bride an observant eye might have noted the trace of
mental struggles, it was the trace of struggles past; and the calm had
once more settled over the silent deeps. He saw from the casement the
carriage that was to bear away the bride to the home of another,--the gay
faces of the village group, whose intrusion was not forbidden, and to
whom that solemn ceremonial was but a joyous pageant; and when he turned
once more to those within the chamber, he felt his hand clasped in
Legard's.

"You have been the preserver of my life, you have been the dispenser of
my earthly happiness; all now left to me to wish for is, that you may
receive from Heaven the blessings you have given to others!"

"Legard, never let her know a sorrow that you can guard her from; and
believe that the husband of Evelyn will be dear to me as a brother!"

And as a brother blesses some younger and orphan sister bequeathed and
intrusted to a care that should replace a father's, so Maltravers laid
his hand lightly on Evelyn's golden tresses, and his lips moved in
prayer. He ceased; he pressed his last kiss upon her forehead, and
placed her hand in that of her young husband. There was silence; and
when to the ear of Maltravers it was broken, it was by the wheels of the
carriage that bore away the wife of George Legard!

The spell was dissolved forever. And there stood before the lonely man
the idol of his early youth, Alice,--still, perhaps, as fair, and once
young and passionate, as Evelyn; pale, changed, but lovelier than of old,
if heavenly patience and holy thought, and the trials that purify and
exalt, can shed over human features something more beautiful than bloom.

The good curate alone was present, besides these two survivors of the
error and the love that make the rapture and the misery of so many of our
kind; and the old man, after contemplating them a moment, stole
unperceived away.

"Alice," said Maltravers, and his voice trembled, "hitherto, from motives
too pure and too noble for the practical affections and ties of life, you
have rejected the hand of the lover of your youth. Here again I implore
you to be mine! Give to my conscience the balm of believing that I can
repair to you the evils and the sorrows I have brought upon you. Nay,
weep not; turn not away. Each of us stands alone; each of us needs the
other. In your heart is locked up all my fondest associations, my
brightest memories. In you I see the mirror of what I was when the world
was new, ere I had found how Pleasure palls upon us, and Ambition
deceives! And me, Alice--ah, you love me still! Time and absence have
but strengthened the chain that binds us. By the memory of our early
love, by the grave of our lost child that, had it lived, would have
united its parents, I implore you to be mine!"

"Too generous!" said Alice, almost sinking beneath the emotions that
shook that gentle spirit and fragile form, "how can I suffer your
_compassion_--for it is but compassion--to deceive yourself? You are of
another station than I believed you. How can you raise the child of
destitution and guilt to your own rank? And shall I--I--who, Heaven
knows! would save you from all regret--bring to you now, when years have
so changed and broken the little charm I could ever have possessed, this
blighted heart and weary spirit? Oh, no, no!" and Alice paused abruptly,
and the tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Be it as you will," said Maltravers, mournfully; "but, at least, ground
your refusal upon better motives. Say that now, independent in fortune,
and attached to the habits you have formed, you would not hazard your
happiness in my keeping,--perhaps you are right. To _my_ happiness you
would indeed contribute; your sweet voice might charm away many a memory
and many a thought of the baffled years that have intervened since we
parted; your image might dissipate the solitude which is closing round
the Future of a disappointed and anxious life. With you, and with you
alone, I might yet find a home, a comforter, a charitable and soothing
friend. This you could give to me; and with a heart and a form alike
faithful to a love that deserved not so enduring a devotion. But I--what
can I bestow on you? Your station is equal to my own; your fortune
satisfies your simple wants. 'Tis true the exchange is not equal, Alice.
Adieu!"

"Cruel!" said Alice, approaching him with timid steps. "If I could--I,
so untutored, so unworthy--if I could comfort you in a single care!"

She said no more, but she had said enough; and Maltravers, clasping her
to his bosom, felt once more that heart which never, even in thought, had
swerved from its early worship, beating against his own!

He drew her gently into the open air. The ripe and mellow noonday of the
last month of summer glowed upon the odorous flowers, and the broad sea,
that stretched beyond and afar, wore upon its solemn waves a golden and
happy smile.

"And ah," murmured Alice, softly, as she looked up from his breast, "I
ask not if you have loved others since we parted--man's faith is so
different from ours--I only ask if you love me now?"

"More! oh, immeasurably more, than in our youngest days!" cried
Maltravers, with fervent passion. "More fondly, more reverently, more
trustfully, than I ever loved living being!--even her, in whose youth and
innocence I adored the memory of thee! Here have I found that which
shames and bankrupts the Ideal! Here have I found a virtue, that, coming
at once from God and Nature, has been wiser than all my false philosophy
and firmer than all my pride! You, cradled by misfortune,--your
childhood reared amidst scenes of fear and vice, which, while they seared
back the intellect, had no pollution for the soul,--your very parent your
tempter and your foe; you, only not a miracle and an angel by the stain
of one soft and unconscious error,--you, alike through the equal trials
of poverty and wealth, have been destined to rise above all triumphant;
the example of the sublime moral that teaches us with what mysterious
beauty and immortal holiness the Creator has endowed our human nature
when hallowed by our human affections! You alone suffice to shatter into
dust the haughty creeds of the Misanthrope and Pharisee! And your
fidelity to my erring self has taught me ever to love, to serve, to
compassionate, to respect the community of God's creatures to
which--noble and elevated though you are--you yet belong!"

He ceased, overpowered with the rush of his own thoughts. And Alice was
too blessed for words. But in the murmur of the sunlit leaves, in the
breath of the summer air, in the song of the exulting birds, and the deep
and distant music of the heaven-surrounded seas, there went a melodious
voice that seemed as if Nature echoed to his words, and blest the reunion
of her children.

Maltravers once more entered upon the career so long suspended. He
entered with an energy more practical and steadfast than the fitful
enthusiasm of former years; and it was noticeable amongst those who knew
him well, that while the firmness of his mind was not impaired, the
haughtiness of his temper was subdued. No longer despising Man as he is,
and no longer exacting from all things the ideal of a visionary standard,
he was more fitted to mix in the living World, and to minister usefully
to the great objects that refine and elevate our race. His sentiments
were, perhaps, less lofty, but his actions were infinitely more
excellent, and his theories infinitely more wise.

Stage after stage we have proceeded with him through the MYSTERIES OF
LIFE. The Eleusinia are closed, and the crowning libation poured.

And Alice!--Will the world blame us if you are left happy at the last?
We are daily banishing from our law-books the statutes that disproportion
punishment to crime. Daily we preach the doctrine that we demoralize
wherever we strain justice into cruelty. It is time that we should apply
to the Social Code the Wisdom we recognize in Legislation! It is time
that we should do away with the punishment of death for inadequate
offences, even in books; it is time that we should allow the morality of
atonement, and permit to Error the right to hope, as the reward of
submission to its suffering. Nor let it be thought that the close to
Alice's career can offer temptation to the offence of its commencement.
Eighteen years of sadness, a youth consumed in silent sorrow over the
grave of Joy, have images that throw over these pages a dark and warning
shadow that will haunt the young long after they turn from the tale that
is about to close! If Alice had died of a broken heart, if her
punishment had been more than she could bear, _then_, as in real life,
you would have justly condemned my moral; and the human heart, in its
pity for the victim, would have lost all recollection of the error.--My
tale is done.

THE END.

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