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Alice, or The Mysteries, Complete by Edward Bulwer Lytton

Part 4 out of 9

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"Fine character!"

"Very!" said Legard, with energy, as he abruptly quitted the room.

George Legard was an orphan. His father--the admiral's elder
brother--had been a spendthrift man of fashion, with a tolerably large
unentailed estate. He married a duke's daughter without a sixpence.
Estates are troublesome,--Mr. Legard's was sold. On the purchase-money
the happy pair lived for some years in great comfort, when Mr. Legard
died of a brain fever; and his disconsolate widow found herself alone in
the world with a beautiful little curly-headed boy, and an annuity of one
thousand a year, for which her settlement had been exchanged. All the
rest of the fortune was gone,--a discovery not made till Mr. Legard's
death. Lady Louisa did not long survive the loss of her husband and her
station in society; her income of course died with herself. Her only
child was brought up in the house of his grandfather, the duke, till he
was of age to hold the office of king's page; thence, as is customary, he
was promoted to a commission in the Guards. To the munificent emoluments
of his pay, the ducal family liberally added an allowance of two hundred
a year; upon which income Cornet Legard contrived to get very handsomely
in debt. The extraordinary beauty of his person, his connections, and
his manners obtained him all the celebrity that fashion can bestow; but
poverty is a bad thing. Luckily, at this time, his uncle the admiral
returned from sea, to settle for the rest of his life in England.

Hitherto, the admiral had taken no notice of George. He himself had
married a merchant's daughter with a fair portion; and had been blessed
with two children, who monopolized all his affection. But there seemed
some mortality in the Legard family; in one year after returning to
England and settling in B-----shire, the admiral found himself wifeless
and childless. He then turned to his orphan nephew; and soon became
fonder of him than he had ever been of his own children. The admiral,
though in easy circumstances, was not wealthy; nevertheless, he advanced
the money requisite for George's rise in the army, and doubled the
allowance bestowed by the duke. His grace heard of this generosity, and
discovered that he himself had a very large family growing up; that the
marquess was going to be married, and required an increase of income;
that he had already behaved most handsomely to his nephew; and the result
of this discovery was that the duke withdrew the two hundred a year.
Legard, however, who looked on his uncle as an exhaustless mine, went on
breaking hearts and making debts--till one morning he woke in the Bench.
The admiral was hastily summoned to London. He arrived; paid off the
duns--a kindness which seriously embarrassed him--swore, scolded, and
cried; and finally insisted that Legard should give up that d-----d
coxcomb regiment, in which he was now captain, retire on half-pay, and
learn economy and a change of habits on the Continent.

The admiral, a rough but good-natured man on the whole, had two or three
little peculiarities. In the first place, he piqued himself on a sort of
John Bull independence; was a bit of a Radical (a strange anomaly in an
admiral)--which was owing, perhaps, to two or three young lords having
been put over his head in the earlier part of his career; and he made it
a point with his nephew (of whose affection he was jealous) to break with
those fine grand connections, who plunged him into a sea of extravagance,
and then never threw him a rope to save him from drowning.

In the second place, without being stingy, the admiral had a good deal of
economy in his disposition. He was not a man to allow his nephew to ruin
him. He had an extraordinarily old-fashioned horror of gambling,--a
polite habit of George's; and he declared positively that his nephew
must, while a bachelor, learn to live upon seven hundred a year.
Thirdly, the admiral could be a very stern, stubborn, passionate old
brute; and when he coolly told George, "Harkye, you young puppy, if you
get into debt again--if you exceed the very handsome allowance I make
you--I shall just cut you off with a shilling," George was fully aware
that his uncle was one who would rigidly keep his word.

However, it was something to be out of debt, and one of the handsomest
men of his age; and George Legard, whose rank in the Guards made him a
colonel in the line, left England tolerably contented with the state of
affairs.

Despite the foibles of his youth, George Legard had many high and
generous qualities. Society had done its best to spoil a fine and candid
disposition, with abilities far above mediocrity; but society had only
partially succeeded. Still, unhappily, dissipation had grown a habit
with him; all his talents were of a nature that brought a ready return.
At his age, it was but natural that the praise of _salons_ should retain
all its sweetness.

In addition to those qualities which please the softer sex, Legard was a
good whist player, superb at billiards, famous as a shot, unrivalled as a
horseman,--in fact, an accomplished man, "who did everything so devilish
well!" These accomplishments did not stand him in much stead in Italy;
and, though with reluctance and remorse, he took again to gambling,--he
really _had_ nothing else to do.

In Venice there was, one year, established a society somewhat on the
principle of the _salon_ at Paris. Some rich Venetians belonged to it;
but it was chiefly for the convenience of foreigners,--French, English,
and Austrians. Here there was select gaming in one room, while another
apartment served the purposes of a club. Many who never played belonged
to this society; but still they were not the _habitues_.

Legard played: he won at first, then he lost, then he won again; it was a
pleasant excitement. One night, after winning largely at _roulette_, he
sat down to play _ecarte_ with a Frenchman of high rank. Legard played
well at this, as at all scientific games; he thought he should make a
fortune out of the Frenchman. The game excited much interest; the crowd
gathered round the table; bets ran high; the vanity of Legard, as well as
his interest, was implicated in the conflict. It was soon evident that
the Frenchman played as well as the Englishman. The stakes, at first
tolerably high, were doubled. Legard betted freely. Cards went against
him; he lost much, lost all that he had, lost more than he had, lost
several hundreds, which he promised to pay the next morning. The table
was broken up, the spectators separated. Amongst the latter had been one
Englishman, introduced into the club for the first time that night. He
had neither played nor betted, but had observed the game with a quiet and
watchful interest. This Englishman lodged at the same hotel as Legard.
He was at Venice only for a day; the promised sight of a file of English
newspapers had drawn him to the club; the general excitement around had
attracted him to the table; and once there, the spectacle of human
emotions exercised its customary charm.

On ascending the stairs that conducted to his apartment, the Englishman
heard a deep groan in a room the door of which was ajar. He paused, the
sound was repeated; he gently pushed open the door and saw Legard seated
by a table, while a glass on the opposite wall reflected his working and
convulsed countenance, with his hands trembling visibly, as they took a
brace of pistols from the case.

The Englishman recognized the loser at the club; and at once divined the
act that his madness or his despair dictated. Legard twice took up one
of the pistols, and twice laid it down irresolute; the third time he rose
with a start, raised the weapon to his head, and the next moment it was
wrenched from his grasp.

"Sit down, sir!" said the stranger, in a loud and commanding voice.

Legard, astonished and abashed, sank once more into his seat, and stared
sullenly and half-unconsciously at his countryman.

"You have lost your money," said the Englishman, after calmly replacing
the pistols in their case, which he locked, putting the key into his
pocket; "and that is misfortune enough for one night. If you had won,
and ruined your opponent, you would be excessively happy, and go to bed,
thinking Good Luck (which is the representative of Providence) watched
over you. For my part, I think you ought to be very thankful that you
are not the winner."

"Sir," said Legard, recovering from his surprise, and beginning to feel
resentment, "I do not understand this intrusion in my apartments. You
have saved me, it is true, from death,--but life is a worse curse."

"Young man, no! moments in life are agony, but life itself is a blessing.
Life is a mystery that defies all calculation. You can never say,
'To-day is wretched, therefore to-morrow must be the same!' And for the
loss of a little gold you, in the full vigour of youth, with all the
future before you, will dare to rush into the chances of eternity! You,
who have never, perhaps, thought what eternity is! Yet," added the
stranger, in a soft and melancholy voice, "you are young and
beautiful,--perhaps the pride and hope of others! Have you no tie, no
affection, no kindred; are you lord of yourself?"

Legard was moved by the tone of the stranger, as well as by the words.

"It is not the loss of money," said he, gloomily,--"it is the loss of
honour. To-morrow I must go forth a shunned and despised man,--I, a
gentleman and a soldier! They may insult me--and I have no reply!"

The Englishman seemed to muse, for his brow lowered, and he made no
answer. Legard threw himself back, overcome with his own excitement, and
wept like a child. The stranger, who imagined himself above the
indulgence of emotion (vain man!), woke from his revery at this burst of
passion. He gazed at first (I grieve to write) with a curl of the
haughty lip that had in it contempt; but it passed quickly away; and the
hard man remembered that he too had been young and weak, and his own
errors greater perhaps than those of the one he had ventured to despise.
He walked to and fro the room, still without speaking. At last he
approached the gamester, and took his hand.

"What is your debt?" he asked gently.

"What matters it?--more than I can pay."

"If life is a trust, so is wealth: _you_ have the first in charge for
others, _I_ may have the last. What is the debt?"

Legard started; it was a strong struggle between shame and hope. "If I
could borrow it, I could repay it hereafter,--I know I could; I would not
think of it otherwise."

"Very well, so be it,--I will lend you the money on one condition.
Solemnly promise me, on your faith as a soldier and a gentleman, that you
will not, for ten years to come--even if you grow rich, and can ruin
others--touch card or dice-box. Promise me that you will shun all gaming
for gain, under whatever disguise, whatever appellation. I will take
your word as my bond."

Legard, overjoyed, and scarcely trusting his senses, gave the promise.

"Sleep then, to-night, in hope and assurance of the morrow," said the
Englishman: "let this event be an omen to you, that while there is a
future there is no despair. One word more,--I do not want your thanks!
it is easy to be generous at the expense of justice. Perhaps I have been
so now. This sum, which is to save your life--a life you so little
value--might have blessed fifty human beings,--better men than either the
giver or receiver. What is given to error may perhaps be a wrong to
virtue. When you would ask others to support a career of blind and
selfish extravagance, pause and think over the breadless lips this wasted
gold would have fed! the joyless hearts it would have comforted! You
talk of repaying me: if the occasion offer, do so; if not--if we never
meet again, and you have it in your power, pay it for me to the Poor!
And now, farewell."

"Stay,--give me the name of my preserver! Mine is--"

"Hush! what matter names? This is a sacrifice we have both made to
honour. You will sooner recover your self-esteem (and without
self-esteem there is neither faith nor honour), when you think that your
family, your connections, are spared all association with your own error;
that I may hear them spoken of, that I may mix with them without fancying
that they owe me gratitude."

"Your own name then?" said Legard, deeply penetrated with the delicate
generosity of his benefactor.

"Tush!" muttered the stranger impatiently as he closed the door.

The next morning when he awoke Legard saw upon the table a small packet;
it contained a sum that exceeded the debt named.

On the envelope was written, "Remember the bond."

The stranger had already quitted Venice. He had not travelled through
the Italian cities under his own name, for he had just returned from the
solitudes of the East, and was not yet hardened to the publicity of the
gossip which in towns haunted by his countrymen attended a well-known
name; that given to Legard by the innkeeper, mutilated by Italian
pronunciation, the young man had never heard before, and soon forgot. He
paid his debts, and he scrupulously kept his word. The adventure of that
night went far, indeed, to reform and ennoble the mind and habits of
George Legard. Time passed, and he never met his benefactor, till in the
halls of Burleigh he recognized the stranger in Maltravers.

CHAPTER VII.

WHY value, then, that strength of mind they boast,
As often varying, and as often lost?

HAWKINS BROWNE (translated by SOAME JENYNS).

MALTRAVERS was lying at length, with his dogs around him, under a
beech-tree that threw its arms over one of the calm still pieces of water
that relieved the groves of Burleigh, when Colonel Legard spied him from
the bridle-road which led through the park to the house. The colonel
dismounted, threw the rein over his arm; and at the sound of the hoofs
Maltravers turned, saw the visitor, and rose. He held out his hand to
Legard, and immediately began talking of indifferent matters.

Legard was embarrassed; but his nature was not one to profit by the
silence of a benefactor. "Mr. Maltravers," said he, with graceful
emotion, "though you have not yet allowed me an opportunity to allude to
it, do not think I am ungrateful for the service you rendered me."

Maltravers looked grave, but made no reply. Legard resumed, with a
heightened colour,--

"I cannot say how I regret that it is not yet in my power to discharge my
debt; but--"

"When it is, you will do so. Pray think no more of it. Are you going to
the rectory?"

"No, not this morning; in fact, I leave B-----shire tomorrow. Pleasant
family, the Mertons."

"And Miss Cameron--"

"Is certainly beautiful,--and very rich. How could she ever think of
marrying Lord Vargrave, so much older,--she who could have so many
admirers?"

"Not, surely, while betrothed to another?"

This was a refinement which Legard, though an honourable man as men go,
did not quite understand. "Oh," said he, "that was by some eccentric old
relation,--her father-in-law, I think. Do you think she is bound by such
an engagement?"

Maltravers made no reply, but amused himself by throwing a stick into the
water, and sending one of his dogs after it. Legard looked on, and his
affectionate disposition yearned to make advances which something distant
in the manner of Maltravers chilled and repelled.

When Legard was gone, Maltravers followed him with his eyes. "And this
is the man whom Cleveland thinks Evelyn could love! I could forgive her
marrying Vargrave. Independently of the conscientious feeling that may
belong to the engagement, Vargrave has wit, talent, intellect; and this
man has nothing but the skin of the panther. Was I wrong to save him?
No. Every human life, I suppose, has its uses. But Evelyn--I could
despise her if her heart was the fool of the eye!"

These comments were most unjust to Legard; but they were just of that
kind of injustice which the man of talent often commits against the man
of external advantages, and which the latter still more often retaliates
on the man of talent. As Maltravers thus soliloquized, he was accosted
by Mr. Cleveland.

"Come, Ernest, you must not cut these unfortunate Mertons any longer. If
you continue to do so, do you know what Mrs. Hare and the world will
say?"

"No--what?"

"That you have been refused by Miss Merton."

"That _would_ be a calumny!" said Ernest, smiling.

"Or that you are hopelessly in love with Miss Cameron."

Maltravers started; his proud heart swelled; he pulled his hat over his
brows, and said, after a short pause,--

"Well, Mrs. Hare and the world must not have it all their own way; and
so, whenever you go to the rectory, take me with you."

CHAPTER VIII.

THE more he strove
To advance his suit, the farther from her love.

DRYDEN: _Theodore and Honoria_.

THE line of conduct which Vargrave now adopted with regard to Evelyn was
craftily conceived and carefully pursued. He did not hazard a single
syllable which might draw on him a rejection of his claims; but at the
same time no lover could be more constant, more devoted, in attentions.
In the presence of others, there was an air of familiar intimacy that
seemed to arrogate a right, which to her he scrupulously shunned to
assert. Nothing could be more respectful, nay, more timid, than his
language, or more calmly confident than his manner. Not having much
vanity, nor any very acute self-conceit, he did not delude himself into
the idea of winning Evelyn's affections; he rather sought to entangle her
judgment, to weave around her web upon web,--not the less dangerous for
being invisible. He took the compact as a matter of course, as something
not to be broken by any possible chance; her hand was to be his as a
right: it was her heart that he so anxiously sought to gain. But this
distinction was so delicately drawn, and insisted upon so little in any
tangible form, that, whatever Evelyn's wishes for an understanding, a
much more experienced woman would have been at a loss to ripen one.

Evelyn longed to confide in Caroline, to consult her; but Caroline,
though still kind, had grown distant. "I wish," said Evelyn, one night
as she sat in Caroline's dressing-room,--"I wish that I knew what tone to
take with Lord Vargrave. I feel more and more convinced that a union
between us is impossible; and yet, precisely because he does not press
it, am I unable to tell him so. I wish you could undertake that task;
you seem such friends with him."

"I!" said Caroline, changing countenance.

"Yes, you! Nay, do not blush, or I shall think you envy me. Could you
not save us both from the pain that otherwise must come sooner or later?"

"Lord Vargrave would not thank me for such an act of friendship.
Besides, Evelyn, consider,--it is scarcely possible to break off this
engagement _now_."

"_Now_! and why now?" said Evelyn, astonished.

"The world believes it so implicitly. Observe, whoever sits next you
rises if Lord Vargrave approaches; the neighbourhood talk of nothing else
but your marriage; and your fate, Evelyn, is not pitied."

"I will leave this place! I will go back to the cottage! I cannot bear
this!" said Evelyn, passionately wringing her hands.

"You do not love another, I am sure: not young Mr. Hare, with his green
coat and straw-coloured whiskers; or Sir Henry Foxglove, with his
how-d'ye-do like a view-halloo; perhaps, indeed, Colonel Legard,--he is
handsome. What! do you blush at his name? No; you say 'not Legard:' who
else is there?"

"You are cruel; you trifle with me!" said Evelyn, in tearful reproach;
and she rose to go to her own room.

"My dear girl!" said Caroline, touched by her evident pain; "learn from
me--if I may say so--that marriages are _not_ made in heaven! Yours will
be as fortunate as earth can bestow. A love-match is usually the least
happy of all. Our foolish sex demand so much in love; and love, after
all, is but one blessing among many. Wealth and rank remain when love is
but a heap of ashes. For my part, I have chosen my destiny and my
husband."

"Your husband!"

"Yes, you see him in Lord Doltimore. I dare say we shall be as happy as
any amorous Corydon and Phyllis." But there was irony in Caroline's
voice as she spoke; and she sighed heavily. Evelyn did not believe her
serious; and the friends parted for the night.

"Mine is a strange fate!" said Caroline to herself; "I am asked by the
man whom I love, and who professes to love me, to bestow myself on
another, and to plead for him to a younger and fairer bride. Well, I
will obey him in the first; the last is a bitterer task, and I cannot
perform it earnestly. Yet Vargrave has a strange power over me; and when
I look round the world, I see that he is right. In these most
commonplace artifices, there is yet a wild majesty that charms and
fascinates me. It is something to rule the world: and his and mine are
natures formed to do so."

CHAPTER IX.

A SMOKE raised with the fume of sighs.

_Romeo and Juliet_.

IT is certain that Evelyn experienced for Maltravers sentiments which, if
not love, might easily be mistaken for it. But whether it were that
master-passion, or merely its fanciful resemblance,--love in early youth
and innocent natures, if of sudden growth, is long before it makes itself
apparent. Evelyn had been prepared to feel an interest in her solitary
neighbour. His mind, as developed in his works, had half-formed her own.
Her childish adventure with the stranger had never been forgotten. Her
present knowledge of Maltravers was an union of dangerous and often
opposite associations,--the Ideal and the Real.

Love, in its first dim and imperfect shape, is but imagination
concentrated on one object. It is a genius of the heart, resembling that
of the intellect; it appeals to, it stirs up, it evokes, the sentiments
and sympathies that lie most latent in our nature. Its sigh is the
spirit that moves over the ocean, and arouses the Anadyomene into life.
Therefore is it that MIND produces affections deeper than those of
external form; therefore it is that women are worshippers of glory, which
is the palpable and visible representative of a genius whose operations
they cannot always comprehend. Genius has so much in common with love,
the imagination that animates one is so much the property of the other,
that there is not a surer sign of the existence of genius than the love
that it creates and bequeaths. It penetrates deeper than the reason, it
binds a nobler captive than the fancy. As the sun upon the dial, it
gives to the human heart both its shadow and its light. Nations are its
worshippers and wooers; and Posterity learns from its oracles to dream,
to aspire, to adore!

Had Maltravers declared the passion that consumed him, it is probable
that it would soon have kindled a return. But his frequent absence, his
sustained distance of manner, had served to repress the feelings that in
a young and virgin heart rarely flow with much force until they are
invited and aroused. _Le besoin d'aimer_ in girls, is, perhaps, in
itself powerful; but is fed by another want, _le besoin d'etre aime_!
_If_, therefore, Evelyn at present felt love for Maltravers, the love had
certainly not passed into the core of life: the tree had not so far
struck its roots but what it might have borne transplanting. There was
in her enough of the pride of sex to have recoiled from the thought of
giving love to one who had not asked the treasure. Capable of
attachment, more trustful and therefore, if less vehement, more beautiful
and durable than that which had animated the brief tragedy of Florence
Lascelles, she could not have been the unknown correspondent, or revealed
the soul, because the features wore a mask.

It must also be allowed that, in some respects, Evelyn was too young and
inexperienced thoroughly to appreciate all that was most truly lovable
and attractive in Maltravers. At four and twenty she would, perhaps,
have felt no fear mingled with her respect for him; but seventeen and six
and thirty is a wide interval! She never felt that there was that
difference in years until she had met Legard, and then at once she
comprehended it. With Legard she had moved on equal terms; he was not
too wise, too high for her every-day thoughts. He less excited her
imagination, less attracted her reverence. But, somehow or other, that
voice which proclaimed her power, those eyes which never turned from
hers, went nearer to her heart. As Evelyn had once said to Caroline, "It
was a great enigma!"--her own feelings were a mystery to her, and she
reclined by the "Golden Waterfalls" without tracing her likeness in the
glass of the pool below.

Maltravers appeared again at the rectory. He joined their parties by
day, and his evenings were spent with them as of old. In this I know not
precisely what were his motives--perhaps he did not know them himself.
It might be that his pride was roused; it might be that he could not
endure the notion that Lord Vargrave should guess his secret by an
absence almost otherwise unaccountable,--he could not patiently bear to
give Vargrave that triumph; it might be that, in the sternness of his
self-esteem, he imagined he had already conquered all save affectionate
interest in Evelyn's fate, and trusted too vainly to his own strength;
and it might be, also, that he could not resist the temptation of seeing
if Evelyn were contented with her lot, and if Vargrave were worthy of the
blessing that awaited him. Whether one of these or all united made him
resolve to brave his danger, or whether, after all, he yielded to a
weakness, or consented to what--invited by Evelyn herself--was almost a
social necessity, the reader and not the narrator shall decide.

Legard was gone; but Doltimore remained in the neighbourhood, having
hired a hunting-box not far from Sir John Merton's manors, over which he
easily obtained permission to sport. When he did not dine elsewhere,
there was always a place for him at the parson's hospitable board,--and
that place was generally next to Caroline. Mr. and Mrs. Merton had given
up all hope of Mr. Maltravers for their eldest daughter; and, very
strangely, this conviction came upon their minds on the first day they
made the acquaintance of the young lord.

"My dear," said the rector, as he was winding up his watch, preparatory
to entering the connubial couch,--"my dear, I don't think Mr. Maltravers
is a marrying man."

"I was just going to make the same remark," said Mrs. Merton, drawing the
clothes over her. "Lord Doltimore is a very fine young man, his estates
unencumbered. I like him vastly, my love. He is evidently smitten with
Caroline: so Lord Vargrave and Mrs. Hare said."

"Sensible, shrewd woman, Mrs. Hare. By the by, we'll send her a
pineapple. Caroline was made to be a woman of rank!"

"Quite; so much self-possession!"

"And if Mr. Maltravers would sell or let Burleigh--"

"It would be so pleasant!"

"Had you not better give Caroline a hint?"

"My love, she is so sensible, let her go her own way."

"You are right, my dear Betsy; I shall always say that no one has more
common-sense than you; you have brought up your children admirably!"

"Dear Charles!"

"It is coldish to-night, love," said the rector; and he put out the
candle.

From that time, it was not the fault of Mr. and Mrs. Merton if Lord
Doltimore did not find their house the pleasantest in the county.

One evening the rectory party were assembled together in the cheerful
drawing-room. Cleveland, Mr. Merton, Sir John, and Lord Vargrave,
reluctantly compelled to make up the fourth, were at the whist-table;
Evelyn, Caroline, and Lord Doltimore were seated round the fire, and Mrs.
Merton was working a footstool. The fire burned clear, the curtains were
down, the children in bed: it was a family picture of elegant comfort.

Mr. Maltravers was announced.

"I am glad you are come at last," said Caroline, holding out her fair
hand. "Mr. Cleveland could not answer for you. We are all disputing as
to which mode of life is the happiest."

"And your opinion?" asked Maltravers, seating himself in the vacant
chair,--it chanced to be next to Evelyn's.

"My opinion is decidedly in favour of London. A metropolitan life, with
its perpetual and graceful excitements,--the best music, the best
companions, the best things in short. Provincial life is so dull, its
pleasures so tiresome; to talk over the last year's news, and wear out
one's last year's dresses, cultivate a conservatory, and play Pope Joan
with a young party,--dreadful!"

"I agree with Miss Merton," said Lord Doltimore, solemnly; not but what I
like the country for three or four months in the year, with good shooting
and hunting, and a large house properly filled, independent of one's own
neighbourhood: but if I am condemned to choose one place to live in, give
me Paris."

"Ah, Paris; I never was in Paris. I should so like to travel!" said
Caroline.

"But the inns abroad are so very bad," said Lord Doltimore; "how people
can rave about Italy, I can't think. I never suffered so much in my life
as I did in Calabria; and at Venice I was bit to death by mosquitoes.
Nothing like Paris, I assure you: don't you think so, Mr. Maltravers?"

"Perhaps I shall be able to answer you better in a short time. I think
of accompanying Mr. Cleveland to Paris!"

"Indeed!" said Caroline. "Well, I envy you; but is it a sudden
resolution?"

"Not very."

"Do you stay long?" asked Lord Doltimore.

"My stay is uncertain."

"And you won't let Burleigh in the meanwhile?"

"_Let_ Burleigh? No; if it once pass from my hands it will be forever!"

Maltravers spoke gravely, and the subject was changed. Lord Doltimore
challenged Caroline to chess.

They sat down, and Lord Doltimore arranged the pieces.

"Sensible man, Mr. Maltravers," said the young lord; "but I don't hit it
off with him: Vargrave is more agreeable. Don't you think so?"

"Y-e-s."

"Lord Vargrave is very kind to me,--I never remember any one being more
so; got Legard that appointment solely because it would please me,--very
friendly fellow! I mean to put myself under his wing next session!"

"You could not do better, I'm sure," said Caroline; "he is so much looked
up to; I dare say he will be prime minister one of these days."

"I take the bishop:--do you think so really?--you are rather a
politician?"

"Oh, no; not much of that. But my father and my uncle are stanch
politicians; gentlemen know so much more than ladies. We should always
go by their opinions. I think I will take the queen's pawn--your
politics are the same as Lord Vargrave's?"

"Yes, I fancy so: at least I shall leave my proxy with him. Glad you
don't like politics,--great bore."

"Why, so young, so connected as you are--" Caroline stopped short, and
made a wrong move.

"I wish we were going to Paris together, we should enjoy it so;" and Lord
Doltimore's knight checked the tower and queen.

Caroline coughed, and stretched her hand quickly to move.

"Pardon me, you will lose the game if you do so!" and Doltimore placed
his hand on hers, their eyes met, Caroline turned away, and Lord
Doltimore settled his right collar.

"And is it true? are you really going to leave us?" said Evelyn, and she
felt very sad. But still the sadness might not be that of love,--she had
felt sad after Legard had gone.

"I do not think I shall long stay away," said Maltravers, trying to speak
indifferently. "Burleigh has become more dear to me than it was in
earlier youth; perhaps because I have made myself duties there: and in
other places I am but an isolated and useless unit in the great mass."

"You! everywhere, you must have occupations and resources,--everywhere,
you must find yourself not alone. But you will not go yet?"

"Not yet--no. [Evelyn's spirits rose.] Have you read the book I sent
you?" (It was one of De Stael's.)

"Yes; but it disappoints me."

"And why? It is eloquent."

"But is it true? Is there so much melancholy in life? Are the
affections so full of bitterness? For me, I am so happy when with those
I love! When I am with my mother, the air seems more fragrant, the skies
more blue: it is surely not affection, but the absence of it, that makes
us melancholy."

"Perhaps so; but if we had never known affection, we might not miss it:
and the brilliant Frenchwoman speaks from memory, while you speak from
hope,--memory, which is the ghost of joy: yet surely, even in the
indulgence of affection, there is at times a certain melancholy, a
certain fear. Have you never felt it, even with--with your mother?"

"Ah, yes! when she suffered, or when I have thought she loved me less
than I desired."

"That must have been an idle and vain thought. Your mother! does she
resemble you?"

"I wish I could think so. Oh, if you knew her! I have longed so often
that you were acquainted with each other! It was she who taught me to
sing your songs."

"My dear Mrs. Hare, we may as well throw up our cards," said the keen
clear voice of Lord Vargrave: "you have played most admirably, and I know
that your last card will be the ace of trumps; still the luck is against
us."

"No, no; pray play it out, my lord."

"Quite useless, ma'am," said Sir John, showing two honours. "We have
only the trick to make."

"Quite useless," echoed Lumley, tossing down his sovereigns, and rising
with a careless yawn.

"How d'ye do, Maltravers?"

Maltravers rose; and Vargrave turned to Evelyn, and addressed her in a
whisper. The proud Maltravers walked away, and suppressed a sigh; a
moment more, and he saw Lord Vargrave occupying the chair he had left
vacant. He laid his hand on Cleveland's shoulder.

"The carriage is waiting,--are you ready?"

CHAPTER X.

OBSCURIS vera involvens.*--VIRGIL.

* "Wrapping truth in obscurity."

A DAY or two after the date of the last chapter, Evelyn and Caroline were
riding out with Lord Vargrave and Mr. Merton, and on returning home they
passed through the village of Burleigh.

"Maltravers, I suppose, has an eye to the county one of these days," said
Lord Vargrave, who honestly fancied that a man's eyes were always
directed towards something for his own interest or advancement;
"otherwise he could not surely take all this trouble about workhouses and
paupers. Who could ever have imagined my romantic friend would sink into
a country squire?"

"It is astonishing what talent and energy he throws into everything he
attempts," said the parson. "One could not, indeed, have supposed that a
man of genius could make a man of business."

"Flattering to your humble servant--whom all the world allow to be the
last, and deny to be the first. But your remark shows what a sad
possession genius is: like the rest of the world, you fancy that it
cannot be of the least possible use. If a man is called a genius, it
means that he is to be thrust out of all the good things in this life.
He is not fit for anything but a garret! Put a _genius_ into office!
make a _genius_ a bishop! or a lord chancellor!--the world would be
turned topsy-turvy! You see that you are quite astonished that a genius
can be even a county magistrate, and know the difference between a spade
and a poker! In fact, a genius is supposed to be the most ignorant,
impracticable, good-for-nothing, do-nothing sort of thing that ever
walked upon two legs. Well, when I began life I took excellent care that
nobody should take _me_ for a genius; and it is only within the last year
or two that I ventured to emerge a little out of my shell. I have not
been the better for it; I was getting on faster while I was merely a
plodder. The world is so fond of that droll fable, the hare and the
tortoise,--it really believes because (I suppose the fable to be true!) a
tortoise _once_ beat a hare that all tortoises are much better runners
than hares possibly can be. Mediocre men have the monopoly of the loaves
and fishes; and even when talent does rise in life, it is a talent which
only differs from mediocrity by being more energetic and bustling."

"You are bitter, Lord Vargrave," said Caroline, laughing; "yet surely you
have had no reason to complain of the non-appreciation of talent?"

"Humph! if I had had a grain more talent I should have been crushed by
it. There is a subtle allegory in the story of the lean poet, who put
_lead_ in his pocket to prevent being blown away! 'Mais a nos
moutons,'--to return to Maltravers. Let us suppose that he was merely
clever, had not had a particle of what is called genius, been merely a
hardworking able gentleman, of good character and fortune, he might be
half-way up the hill by this time; whereas now, what is he? Less before
the public than he was at twenty-eight,--a discontented anchorite, a
meditative idler."

"No, not that," said Evelyn, warmly, and then checked herself.

Lord Vargrave looked at her sharply; but his knowledge of life told him
that Legard was a much more dangerous rival than Maltravers. Now and
then, it is true, a suspicion to the contrary crossed him; but it did not
take root and become a serious apprehension. Still, be did not quite
like the tone of voice in which Evelyn had put her abrupt negative, and
said, with a slight sneer,--

"If not that, what is he?"

"One who purchased by the noblest exertions the right to be idle," said
Evelyn with spirit; "and whom genius itself will not suffer to be idle
long."

"Besides," said Mr. Merton, "he has won a high reputation, which he
cannot lose merely by not seeking to increase it."

"Reputation! Oh, yes! we give men like that--men of genius--a large
property in the clouds, in order to justify ourselves in pushing them out
of our way below. But if they are contented with fame, why, they deserve
their fate. Hang fame,--give me power."

"And is there no power in genius?" said Evelyn, with deepening fervour;
"no power over the mind, and the heart, and the thought; no power over
its own time, over posterity, over nations yet uncivilized, races yet
unborn?"

This burst from one so simple and young as Evelyn seemed to Vargrave so
surprising that he stared on her without saying a word.

"You will laugh at my championship," she added, with a blush and a smile;
"but you provoked the encounter."

"And you have won the battle," said Vargrave, with prompt gallantry. "My
charming ward, every day develops in you some new gift of nature!"

Caroline, with a movement of impatience, put her horse into a canter.

Just at this time, from a cross-road, emerged a horseman,--it was
Maltravers. The party halted, salutations were exchanged.

"I suppose you have been enjoying the sweet business of squiredom," said
Vargrave, gayly: "Atticus and his farm,--classical associations!
Charming weather for the agriculturists, eh! What news about corn and
barley? I suppose our English habit of talking on the weather arose when
we were all a squirearchal farming, George-the-Third kind of people!
Weather is really a serious matter to gentlemen who are interested in
beans and vetches, wheat and hay. You hang your happiness upon the
changes of the moon!"

"As you upon the smiles of a minister. The weather of a court is more
capricious than that of the skies,--at least we are better husbandmen
than you who sow the wind and reap the whirlwind."

"Well retorted: and really, when I look round, I am half inclined to envy
you. Were I not Vargrave, I would be Maltravers."

It was, indeed, a scene that seemed quiet and serene, with the English
union of the feudal and the pastoral life,--the village-green, with its
trim scattered cottages; the fields and pastures that spread beyond; the
turf of the park behind, broken by the shadows of the unequal grounds,
with its mounds and hollows and venerable groves, from which rose the
turrets of the old Hall, its mullion windows gleaming in the western sun;
a scene that preached tranquillity and content, and might have been
equally grateful to humble philosophy and hereditary pride.

"I never saw any place so peculiar in its character as Burleigh," said
the rector; "the old seats left to us in England are chiefly those of our
great nobles. It is so rare to see one that does not aspire beyond the
residence of a private gentleman preserve all the relics of the Tudor
age."

"I think," said Vargrave, turning to Evelyn, "that as by my uncle's will
your fortune is to be laid out in the purchase of land, we could not find
a better investment than Burleigh. So, whenever you are inclined to
sell, Maltravers, I think we must outbid Doltimore. What say you, my
fair ward?"

"Leave Burleigh in peace, I beseech you!" said Maltravers, angrily.

"That is said like a Digby," returned Vargrave. "_Allons_!--will you not
come home with us?"

"I thank you,--not to-day."

"We meet at Lord Raby's next Thursday. It is a ball given almost wholly
in honour of your return to Burleigh; we are all going,--it is my young
cousin's _debut_ at Knaresdean. We have all an interest in her
conquests."

Now, as Maltravers looked up to answer, he caught Evelyn's glance, and
his voice faltered.

"Yes," he said, "we shall meet--once again. Adieu!" He wheeled round
his horse, and they separated.

"I can bear this no more," said Maltravers to himself; "I overrated my
strength. To see her thus, day after day, and to know her another's, to
writhe beneath his calm, unconscious assertion of his rights! Happy
Vargrave!--and yet, ah! will _she_ be happy? Oh, could I think so!"

Thus soliloquizing, he suffered the rein to fall on the neck of his
horse, which paced slowly home through the village, till it stopped--as
if in the mechanism of custom--at the door of a cottage a stone's throw
from the lodge. At this door, indeed, for several successive days, had
Maltravers stopped regularly; it was now tenanted by the poor woman his
introduction to whom has been before narrated. She had recovered from
the immediate effects of the injury she had sustained; but her
constitution, greatly broken by previous suffering and exhaustion, had
received a mortal shock. She was hurt inwardly; and the surgeon informed
Maltravers that she had not many months to live. He had placed her under
the roof of one of his favourite cottagers, where she received all the
assistance and alleviation that careful nursing and medical advice could
give her.

This poor woman, whose name was Sarah Elton, interested Maltravers much.
She had known better days: there was a certain propriety in her
expressions which denoted an education superior to her circumstances; and
what touched Maltravers most, she seemed far more to feel her husband's
death than her own sufferings,--which, somehow or other, is not common
with widows the other side of forty! We say that youth easily consoles
itself for the robberies of the grave,--middle age is a still better
self-comforter. When Mrs. Elton found herself installed in the cottage,
she looked round, and burst into tears.

"And William is not here!" she said. "Friends--friends! if we had had
but one such friend before he died!"

Maltravers was pleased that her first thought was rather that of sorrow
for the dead than of gratitude for the living. Yet Mrs. Elton was
grateful,--simply, honestly, deeply grateful; her manner, her voice,
betokened it. And she seemed so glad when her benefactor called to speak
kindly and inquire cordially, that Maltravers did so constantly; at first
from a compassionate and at last from a selfish motive--for who is not
pleased to give pleasure? And Maltravers had so few in the world to care
for him, that perhaps he was flattered by the grateful respect of this
humble stranger.

When his horse stopped, the cottager's daughter opened the door and
courtesied,--it was an invitation to enter; and he threw his rein over
the paling and walked into the cottage.

Mrs. Elton, who had been seated by the open casement, rose to receive
him. But Maltravers made her sit down, and soon put her at her ease.
The woman and her daughter who occupied the cottage retired into the
garden, and Mrs. Elton, watching them withdraw, then exclaimed
abruptly,--

"Oh, sir, I have so longed to see you this morning! I so long to make
bold to ask you whether, indeed, I dreamed it--or did I, when you first
took me to your house--did I see--" She stopped abruptly; and though she
strove to suppress her emotion, it was too strong for her efforts,--she
sank back on her chair, pale as death, and almost gasped for breath.

Maltravers waited in surprise for her recovery.

"I beg pardon, sir,--I was thinking of days long past; and--but I wished
to ask whether, when I lay in your hall, almost insensible, any one
besides yourself and your servants were present?---or was it"--added the
woman, with a shudder--"was it the dead?"

"I remember," said Maltravers, much struck and interested in her question
and manner, "that a lady was present."

"It is so! it is so!" cried the woman, half rising and clasping her
hands. "And she passed by this cottage a little time ago; her veil was
thrown aside as she turned that fair young face towards the cottage. Her
name, sir,--oh, what is her name? It was the same--the same face that
shone across me in that hour of pain! I did not dream! I was not mad!"

"Compose yourself; you could never, I think, have seen that lady before.
Her name is Cameron."

"Cameron--Cameron!" The woman shook her head mournfully. "No; that name
is strange to me. And her mother, sir,--she is dead?"

"No; her mother lives."

A shade came over the face of the sufferer; and she said, after a
pause,--

"My eyes deceive me then, sir; and, indeed, I feel that my head is
touched, and I wander sometimes. But the likeness was so great; yet that
young lady is even lovelier!"

"Likenesses are very deceitful and very capricious, and depend more on
fancy than reality. One person discovers a likeness between faces most
dissimilar,--a likeness invisible to others. But who does Miss Cameron
resemble?"

"One now dead, sir; dead many years ago. But it is a long story, and one
that lies heavy on my conscience. Some day or other, if you will give me
leave, sir, I will unburden myself to you."

"If I can assist you in anyway, command me. Meanwhile, have you no
friends, no relations, no children, whom you would wish to see?"

"Children!--no, sir; I never had but one child of _my own_ (she laid an
emphasis on the last words), and that died in a foreign land."

"And no other relatives?"

"None, sir. My history is very short and simple. I was well brought
up,--an only child. My father was a small farmer; he died when I was
sixteen, and I went into service with a kind old lady and her daughter,
who treated me more as a companion than a servant. I was a vain, giddy
girl, then, sir. A young man, the son of a neighbouring farmer, courted
me, and I was much attached to him; but neither of us had money, and his
parents would not give their consent to our marrying. I was silly enough
to think that, if William loved me, he should have braved all; and his
prudence mortified me, so I married another whom I did not love. I was
rightly punished, for he ill-used me and took to drinking; I returned to
my old service to escape from him--for I was with child, and my life was
in danger from his violence. He died suddenly, and in debt. And then,
afterwards, a gentleman--a rich gentleman--to whom I rendered a service
(do not misunderstand me, sir, if I say the service was one of which I
repent), gave me money, and made me rich enough to marry my first lover;
and William and I went to America. We lived many years in New York upon
our little fortune comfortably; and I was a long while happy, for I had
always loved William dearly. My first affliction was the death of my
child by my first husband; but I was soon roused from my grief. William
schemed and speculated, as everybody does in America, and so we lost all;
and William was weakly and could not work. At length he got the place of
steward on board a vessel from New York to Liverpool, and I was taken to
assist in the cabin. We wanted to come to London; I thought my old
benefactor might do something for us, though he had never answered the
letters I sent to him. But poor William fell ill on board, and died in
sight of land."

Mrs. Elton wept bitterly, but with the subdued grief of one to whom tears
have been familiar; and when she recovered, she soon brought her humble
tale to an end. She herself, incapacitated from all work by sorrow and a
breaking constitution, was left in the streets of Liverpool without other
means of subsistence than the charitable contributions of the passengers
and sailors on board the vessel. With this sum she had gone to London,
where she found her old patron had been long since dead, and she had no
claims on his family. She had, on quitting England, left one relation
settled in a town in the North; thither she now repaired, to find her
last hope wrecked; the relation also was dead and gone. Her money was
now spent, and she had begged her way along the road, or through the
lanes, she scarce knew whither, till the accident which, in shortening
her life, had raised up a friend for its close.

"And such, sir," said she in conclusion, "such has been the story of my
life, except one part of it, which, if I get stronger, I can tell better;
but you will excuse that now."

"And are you comfortable and contented, my poor friend? These people are
kind to you?"

"Oh, so kind! And every night we all pray for you, sir; you ought to be
happy, if the blessings of the poor can avail the rich."

Maltravers remounted his horse, and sought his home; and his heart was
lighter than before he entered that cottage. But at evening Cleveland
talked of Vargrave and Evelyn, and the good fortune of the one, and the
charms of the other; and the wound, so well concealed, bled afresh.

"I heard from De Montaigne the other day," said Ernest, just as they were
retiring for the night, "and his letter decides my movements. If you
will accept me, then, as a travelling companion, I will go with you to
Paris. Have you made up your mind to leave Burleigh on Saturday?"

"Yes; that gives us a day to recover from Lord Raby's ball. I am so
delighted at your offer! We need only stay a day or so in town. The
excursion will do you good,---your spirits, my dear Ernest, seem more
dejected than when you first returned to England: you live too much alone
here; you will enjoy Burleigh more on your return. And perhaps then you
will open the old house a little more to the neighbourhood, and to your
friends. They expect it: you are looked to for the county."

"I have done with politics, and sicken but for peace."

"Pick up a wife in Paris, and you will then know that peace is an
impossible possession," said the old bachelor, laughing.

BOOK V.

"FOOLS blind to truth; nor know their erring soul
How much the half is better than the whole."
--HESIOD: _Op. et Dies_, 40.

CHAPTER I.

Do as the Heavens have done; forget your evil;
With them, forgive yourself.--_The Winter's Tale_.

. . . The sweet'st companion that e'er man
Bred his hopes out of.--_Ibid._

THE curate of Brook-Green was sitting outside his door. The vicarage
which he inhabited was a straggling, irregular, but picturesque
building,--humble enough to suit the means of the curate, yet large
enough to accommodate the vicar. It had been built in an age when the
_indigentes et pauperes_ for whom universities were founded supplied,
more than they do now, the fountains of the Christian ministry, when
pastor and flock were more on an equality.

From under a rude and arched porch, with an oaken settle on either side
for the poor visitor, the door opened at once upon the old-fashioned
parlour,--a homely but pleasant room, with one wide but low cottage
casement, beneath which stood the dark shining table that supported the
large Bible in its green baize cover; the Concordance, and the last
Sunday's sermon, in its jetty case. There by the fireplace stood the
bachelor's round elbow-chair, with a needlework cushion at the back; a
walnut-tree bureau, another table or two, half a dozen plain chairs,
constituted the rest of the furniture, saving some two or three hundred
volumes, ranged in neat shelves on the clean wainscoted walls. There was
another room, to which you ascended by two steps, communicating with this
parlour, smaller but finer, and inhabited only on festive days, when Lady
Vargrave, or some other quiet neighbour, came to drink tea with the good
curate.

An old housekeeper and her grandson--a young fellow of about two and
twenty, who tended the garden, milked the cow, and did in fact what he
was wanted to do--composed the establishment of the humble minister.

We have digressed from Mr. Aubrey himself.

The curate was seated, then, one fine summer morning, on a bench at the
left of his porch, screened from the sun by the cool boughs of a
chestnut-tree, the shadow of which half covered the little lawn that
separated the precincts of the house from those of silent Death and
everlasting Hope; above the irregular and moss-grown paling rose the
village church; and, through openings in the trees, beyond the
burial-ground, partially gleamed the white walls of Lady Vargrave's
cottage, and were seen at a distance the sails on the--

"Mighty waters, rolling evermore."

The old man was calmly enjoying the beauty of the morning, the freshness
of the air, the warmth of the dancing beam, and not least, perhaps, his
own peaceful thoughts,--the spontaneous children of a contemplative
spirit and a quiet conscience. His was the age when we most sensitively
enjoy the mere sense of existence,--when the face of Nature and a passive
conviction of the benevolence of our Great Father suffice to create a
serene and ineffable happiness, which rarely visits us till we have done
with the passions; till memories, if more alive than heretofore, are yet
mellowed in the hues of time, and Faith softens into harmony all their
asperities and harshness; till nothing within us remains to cast a shadow
over the things without; and on the verge of life, the Angels are nearer
to us than of yore. There is an old age which has more youth of heart
than youth itself!

As the old man thus sat, the little gate through which, on Sabbath days,
he was wont to pass from the humble mansion to the house of God
noiselessly opened, and Lady Vargrave appeared.

The curate rose when he perceived her; and the lady's fair features were
lighted up with a gentle pleasure, as she pressed his hand and returned
his salutation.

There was a peculiarity in Lady Vargrave's countenance which I have
rarely seen in others. Her smile, which was singularly expressive, came
less from the lip than from the eyes; it was almost as if the brow
smiled; it was as the sudden and momentary vanishing of a light but
melancholy cloud that usually rested upon the features, placid as they
were.

They sat down on the rustic bench, and the sea-breeze wantoned amongst
the quivering leaves of the chestnut-tree that overhung their seat.

"I have come, as usual, to consult my kind friend," said Lady Vargrave;
"and, as usual also, it is about our absent Evelyn."

"Have you heard again from her, this morning?"

"Yes; and her letter increases the anxiety which your observation, so
much deeper than mine, first awakened."

"Does she then write much of Lord Vargrave?"

"Not a great deal; but the little she does say, betrays how much she
shrinks from the union my poor husband desired: more, indeed, than ever!
But this is not all, nor the worst; for you know that the late lord had
provided against that probability--he loved her so tenderly, his ambition
for her only came from his affection; and the letter he left behind him
pardons and releases her, if she revolts from the choice he himself
preferred."

"Lord Vargrave is, perhaps, a generous, he certainly seems a candid, man,
and he must be sensible that his uncle has already done all that justice
required."

"I think so. But this, as I said, is not all; I have brought the letter
to show you. It seems to me as you apprehended. This Mr. Maltravers has
wound himself about her thoughts more than she herself imagines; you see
how she dwells on all that concerns him, and how, after checking herself,
she returns again and again to the same subject."

The curate put on his spectacles, and took the letter. It was a strange
thing, that old gray-haired minister evincing such grave interest in the
secrets of that young heart! But they who would take charge of the soul
must never be too wise to regard the heart!

Lady Vargrave looked over his shoulder as he bent down to read, and at
times placed her finger on such passages as she wished him to note. The
old curate nodded as she did so; but neither spoke till the letter was
concluded.

The curate then folded up the epistle, took off his spectacles, hemmed,
and looked grave.

"Well," said Lady Vargrave, anxiously, "well?"

"My dear friend, the letter requires consideration. In the first place,
it is clear to me that, in spite of Lord Vargrave's presence at the
rectory, his lordship so manages matters that the poor child is unable of
herself to bring that matter to a conclusion. And, indeed, to a mind so
sensitively delicate and honourable, it is no easy task."

"Shall I write to Lord Vargrave?"

"Let us think of it. In the meanwhile, this Mr. Maltravers--"

"Ah, this Mr. Maltravers!"

"The child shows us more of her heart than she thinks of; and yet I
myself am puzzled. If you observe, she has only once or twice spoken of
the Colonel Legard whom she has made acquaintance with; while she treats
at length of Mr. Maltravers, and confesses the effect he has produced on
her mind. Yet, do you know, I more dread the caution respecting the
first than all the candour that betrays the influence of the last? There
is a great difference between first fancy and first love."

"Is there?" said the lady, abstractedly.

"Again, neither of us is acquainted with this singular man,--I mean
Maltravers; his character, temper, and principles, of all of which Evelyn
is too young, too guileless, to judge for herself. One thing, however,
in her letter speaks in his favour."

"What is that?"

"He absents himself from her. This, if he has discovered her secret, or
if he himself is sensible of too great a charm in her presence, would be
the natural course that an honourable and a strong mind would pursue."

"What!--if he love her?"

"Yes; while he believes her hand is engaged to another."

"True! What shall be done--if Evelyn should love, and love in vain? Ah,
it is the misery of a whole existence!"

"Perhaps she had better return to us," said Mr. Aubrey; "and yet, if
already it be too late, and her affections are engaged, we should still
remain in ignorance respecting the motives and mind of the object of her
attachment; and he, too, might not know the true nature of the obstacle
connected with Lord Vargrave's claims."

"Shall I, then, go to her? You know how I shrink from strangers; how I
fear curiosity, doubts, and questions; how [and Lady Vargrave's voice
faltered]--how unfitted I am for--for--" she stopped short, and a faint
blush overspread her cheeks.

The curate understood her, and was moved.

"Dear friend," said he, "will you intrust this charge to myself? You
know how Evelyn is endeared to me by certain recollections! Perhaps,
better than you, I may be enabled silently to examine if this man be
worthy of her, and one who could secure her happiness; perhaps, better
than you I may ascertain the exact nature of her own feelings towards
him; perhaps, too, better than you I may effect an understanding with
Lord Vargrave."

"You are always my kindest friend," said the lady, with emotion; "how
much I already owe you! what hopes beyond the grave! what--"

"Hush!" interrupted the curate, gently; "your own good heart and pure
intentions have worked out your own atonement--may I hope also your own
content? Let us return to our Evelyn. Poor child! how unlike this
despondent letter to her gay light spirits when with us! We acted for
the best; yet perhaps we did wrong to yield her up to strangers. And
this Maltravers--with her enthusiasm and quick susceptibilities to
genius, she was half prepared to imagine him all she depicts him to be.
He must have a spell in his works that I have not discovered, for at
times it seems to operate even on you."

"Because," said Lady Vargrave, "they remind me of _his_ conversation,
_his_ habits of thought. If like _him_ in other things, Evelyn may
indeed be happy!"

"And if," said the curate, curiously,--"if now that you are free, you
were ever to meet with him again, and his memory had been as faithful as
yours; and if he offered the sole atonement in his power, for all that
his early error cost you; if such a chance should happen in the
vicissitudes of life, you would--"

The curate stopped short; for he was struck by the exceeding paleness of
his friend's cheek, and the tremor of her delicate frame.

"If that were to happen," said she, in a very low voice; "if we were to
meet again, and if he were--as you and Mrs. Leslie seem to think--poor,
and, like myself, humbly born, if my fortune could assist him, if my love
could still--changed, altered as I am--ah! do not talk of it--I cannot
bear the thought of happiness! And yet, if before I die I _could_ but
see him again!" She clasped her hands fervently as she spoke, and the
blush that overspread her face threw over it so much of bloom and
freshness, that even Evelyn, at that moment, would scarcely have seemed
more young. "Enough!" she added, after a little while, as the glow died
away. "It is but a foolish hope; all earthly love is buried; and my
heart is there!"--she pointed to the heavens, and both were silent.

CHAPTER II.

QUIBUS otio vel magnifice, vel molliter, vivere copia era
incerta pro certis malebant.*--SALLUST.

* "They who had the means to live at ease, either in splendour or
in luxury, preferred the uncertainty of change to their natural
security."

LORD RABY--one of the wealthiest and most splendid noblemen in
England--was prouder, perhaps, of his provincial distinctions than the
eminence of his rank or the fashion of his wife. The magnificent
chateaux, the immense estates, of our English peers tend to preserve to
us in spite of the freedom, bustle, and commercial grandeur of our people
more of the Norman attributes of aristocracy than can be found in other
countries. In his county, the great noble is a petty prince; his house
is a court; his possessions and munificence are a boast to every
proprietor in his district. They are as fond of talking of _the_ earl's
or _the_ duke's movements and entertainments, as Dangeau was of the
gossip of the Tuileries and Versailles.

Lord Raby, while affecting, as lieutenant of the county, to make no
political distinctions between squire and squire--hospitable and affable
to all--still, by that very absence of exclusiveness, gave a tone to the
politics of the whole county; and converted many who had once thought
differently on the respective virtues of Whigs and Tories. A great man
never loses so much as when he exhibits intolerance, or parades the right
of persecution.

"My tenants shall vote exactly as they please," said Lord Raby; and he
was never known to have a tenant vote against his wishes! Keeping a
vigilant eye on all the interests, and conciliating all the proprietors,
in the county, he not only never lost a friend, but he kept together a
body of partisans that constantly added to its numbers.

Sir John Merton's colleague, a young Lord Nelthorpe, who could not speak
three sentences if you took away his hat, and who, constant at Almack's,
was not only inaudible but invisible in parliament, had no chance of
being re-elected. Lord Nelthorpe's father, the Earl of Mainwaring, was a
new peer; and, next to Lord Raby, the richest nobleman in the county.
Now, though they were much of the same politics, Lord Raby hated Lord
Mainwaring. They were too near each other,--they clashed; they had the
jealousy of rival princes!

Lord Raby was delighted at the notion of getting rid of Lord
Nelthorpe,--it would be so sensible a blow to the Mainwaring interest.
The party had been looking out for a new candidate, and Maltravers had
been much talked of. It is true that, when in parliament some years
before, the politics of Maltravers had differed from those of Lord Raby
and his set. But Maltravers had of late taken no share in politics, had
uttered no political opinions, was intimate with the electioneering
Mertons, was supposed to be a discontented man,--and politicians believe
in no discontent that is not political. Whispers were afloat that
Maltravers had grown wise, and changed his views: some remarks of his,
more theoretical than practical, were quoted in favour of this notion.
Parties, too, had much changed since Maltravers had appeared on the busy
scene,--new questions had arisen, and the old ones had died off.

Lord Raby and his party thought that, if Maltravers could be secured to
them, no one would better suit their purpose. Political faction loves
converts better even than consistent adherents. A man's rise in life
generally dates from a well-timed _rat_. His high reputation, his
provincial rank as the representative of the oldest commoner's family in
the county, his age, which combined the energy of one period with the
experience of another,--all united to accord Maltravers a preference over
richer men. Lord Raby had been pointedly courteous and flattering to the
master of Burleigh; and he now contrived it so, that the brilliant
entertainment he was about to give might appear in compliment to a
distinguished neighbour, returned to fix his residence on his patrimonial
property, while in reality it might serve an electioneering
purpose,--serve to introduce Maltravers to the county, as if under his
lordship's own wing, and minister to political uses that went beyond the
mere representation of the county.

Lord Vargrave had, during his stay at Merton Rectory, paid several visits
to Knaresdean, and held many private conversations with the marquess: the
result of these conversations was a close union of schemes and interests
between the two noblemen. Dissatisfied with the political conduct of
government, Lord Raby was also dissatisfied that, from various party
reasons, a nobleman beneath himself in rank, and as he thought in
influence, had obtained a preference in a recent vacancy among the
Knights of the Garter. And if Vargrave had a talent in the world it was
in discovering the weak points of men whom he sought to gain, and making
the vanities of others conduce to his own ambition.

The festivities of Knaresdean gave occasion to Lord Raby to unite at his
house the more prominent of those who thought and acted in concert with
Lord Vargrave; and in this secret senate the operations for the following
session were to be seriously discussed and gravely determined.

On the day which was to be concluded with the ball at Knaresdean, Lord
Vargrave went before the rest of the Merton party, for he was engaged to
dine with the marquess.

On arriving at Knaresdean, Lumley found Lord Saxingham and some other
politicians, who had arrived the preceding day, closeted with Lord Raby;
and Vargrave, who shone to yet greater advantage in the diplomacy of
party management than in the arena of parliament, brought penetration,
energy, and decision to timid and fluctuating counsels. Lord Vargrave
lingered in the room after the first bell had summoned the other guests
to depart.

"My dear lord," said he then, "though no one would be more glad than
myself to secure Maltravers to our side, I very much doubt whether you
will succeed in doing so. On the one hand, he appears altogether
disgusted with politics and parliament; and on the other hand, I fancy
that reports of his change of opinions are, if not wholly unfounded, very
unduly coloured. Moreover, to do him justice, I think that he is not one
to be blinded and flattered into the pale of a party; and your bird will
fly away after you have wasted a bucketful of salt on his tail."

"Very possibly," said Lord Raby, laughing,--"you know him better than I
do. But there are many purposes to serve in this matter,--purposes too
provincial to interest you. In the first place, we shall humble the
Nelthorpe interest, merely by showing that we _do_ think of a new member;
secondly, we shall get up a manifestation of feeling that would be
impossible, unless we were provided with a centre of attraction; thirdly,
we shall rouse a certain emulation among other county gentlemen, and if
Maltravers decline, we shall have many applicants; and fourthly, suppose
Maltravers has not changed his opinions, we shall make him suspected by
the party he really does belong to, and which would be somewhat
formidable if he were to head them. In fact, these are mere county
tactics that you can't be expected to understand."

"I see you are quite right: meanwhile you will at least have an
opportunity (though I say it, who should not say it) to present to the
county one of the prettiest young ladies that ever graced the halls of
Knaresdean."

"Ah, Miss Cameron! I have heard much of her beauty: you are a lucky
fellow, Vargrave! By the by, are we to say anything of the engagement?"

"Why, indeed, my dear lord, it is now so publicly known, that it would be
false delicacy to affect concealment."

"Very well; I understand."

"How long I have detained you--a thousand pardons!--I have but just time
to dress. In four or five months I must remember to leave you a longer
time for your toilet."

"Me--how?"

"Oh, the Duke of ----- can't live long; and I always observe that when a
handsome man has the Garter, he takes a long time pulling up his
stockings."

"Ha, ha! you are so droll, Vargrave."

"Ha, ha! I must be off."

"The more publicity is given to this arrangement, the more difficult for
Evelyn to shy at the leap," muttered Vargrave to himself as he closed the
door. "Thus do I make all things useful to myself!"

The dinner party were assembled in the great drawing-room, when
Maltravers and Cleveland, also invited guests to the banquet, were
announced. Lord Raby received the former with marked _empressement_; and
the stately marchioness honoured him with her most gracious smile.
Formal presentations to the rest of the guests were interchanged; and it
was not till the circle was fully gone through that Maltravers perceived,
seated by himself in a corner, to which he had shrunk on the entrance of
Maltravers, a gray-haired solitary man,--it was Lord Saxingham! The last
time they had met was in the death-chamber of Florence; and the old man
forgot for the moment the anticipated dukedom, and the dreamed-of
premiership, and his heart flew back to the grave of his only child!
They saluted each other, and shook hands in silence. And Vargrave--whose
eye was on them--Vargrave, whose arts had made that old man childless,
felt not a pang of remorse! Living ever in the future, Vargrave almost
seemed to have lost his memory. He knew not what regret was. It is a
condition of life with men thoroughly worldly that they never look
behind!

The signal was given: in due order the party were marshalled into the
great hall,--a spacious and lofty chamber, which had received its last
alteration from the hand of Inigo Jones; though the massive ceiling, with
its antique and grotesque masques, betrayed a much earlier date, and
contrasted with the Corinthian pilasters that adorned the walls, and
supported the music-gallery, from which waved the flags of modern warfare
and its mimicries,--the eagle of Napoleon, a token of the services of
Lord Raby's brother (a distinguished cavalry officer in command at
Waterloo), in juxtaposition with a much gayer and more glittering banner,
emblematic of the martial fame of Lord Raby himself, as Colonel of the
B-----shire volunteers!

The music pealed from the gallery, the plate glittered on the board; the
ladies wore diamonds, and the gentlemen who had them wore stars. It was
a very fine sight, that banquet!--such as became the festive day of a
lord-lieutenant whose ancestors had now defied, and now intermarried,
with royalty. But there was very little talk, and no merriment. People
at the top of the table drank wine with those at the bottom; and
gentlemen and ladies seated next to each other whispered languidly in
monosyllabic commune. On one side, Maltravers was flanked by a Lady
Somebody Something, who was rather deaf, and very much frightened for
fear he should talk Greek; on the other side he was relieved by Sir John
Merton,--very civil, very pompous, and talking, at strictured intervals,
about county matters, in a measured intonation, savouring of the
House-of-Commons jerk at the end of the sentence.

As the dinner advanced to its close, Sir John became a little more
diffuse, though his voice sank into a whisper.

"I fear there will be a split in the Cabinet before parliament meets."

"Indeed!"

"Yes; Vargrave and the premier cannot pull together very long. Clever
man, Vargrave! but he has not enough stake in the country for a leader!"

"All men have public character to stake; and if that be good, I suppose
no stake can be better?"

"Humph!--yes--very true; but still, when a man has land and money, his
opinions, in a country like this, very properly carry more weight with
them. If Vargrave, for instance, had Lord Raby's property, no man could
be more fit for a leader,--a prime minister. We might then be sure that
he would have no selfish interest to further: he would not play tricks
with his party--you understand?"

"Perfectly."

"I am not a party man, as you may remember; indeed, you and I have voted
alike on the same questions. Measures, not men,--that is my maxim; but
still I don't like to see men placed above their proper stations."

"Maltravers, a glass of wine," said Lord Vargrave across the table.
"Will you join us, Sir John?"

Sir John bowed.

"Certainly," he resumed, "Vargrave is a pleasant man and a good speaker;
but still they say he is far from rich,--embarrassed, indeed. However,
when he marries Miss Cameron it may make a great difference,--give him
more respectability; do you know what her fortune is--something immense?"

"Yes, I believe so; I don't know."

"My brother says that Vargrave is most amiable. The young lady is very
handsome, almost too handsome for a wife--don't you think so? Beauties
are all very well in a ballroom; but they are not calculated for domestic
life. I am sure you agree with me. I have heard, indeed, that Miss
Cameron is rather learned; but there is so much scandal in a country
neighbourhood,--people are so ill-natured. I dare say she is not more
learned than other young ladies, poor girl! What do you think?"

"Miss Cameron is--is very accomplished, I believe. And so you think the
Government cannot stand?"

"I don't say that,--very far from it; but I fear there must be a change.
However, if the country gentlemen hold together, I do not doubt but what
we shall weather the storm. The landed interest, Mr. Maltravers, is the
great stay of this country,--the sheet-anchor, I may say. I suppose Lord
Vargrave, who seems, I must say, to have right notions on this head, will
invest Miss Cameron's fortune in land. But though one may buy an estate,
one can't buy an old family, Mr. Maltravers!--you and I may be thankful
for that. By the way, who was Miss Cameron's mother, Lady
Vargrave?--something low, I fear; nobody knows."

"I am not acquainted with Lady Vargrave; your sister-in-law speaks of her
most highly. And the daughter in herself is a sufficient guarantee for
the virtues of the mother."

"Yes; and Vargrave on one side, at least, has himself nothing in the way
of family to boast of."

The ladies left the hall, the gentlemen re-seated themselves. Lord Raby
made some remark on politics to Sir John Merton, and the whole round of
talkers immediately followed their leader.

"It is a thousand pities, Sir John," said Lord Raby, "that you have not a
colleague more worthy of you; Nelthorpe never attends a committee, does
he?"

"I cannot say that he is a very active member; but he is young, and we
must make allowances for him," said Sir John, discreetly; for he had no
desire to oust his colleague,--it was agreeable enough to be _the_
efficient member.

"In these times," said Lord Raby, loftily, "allowances are not to be made
for systematic neglect of duty; we shall have a stormy session; the
Opposition is no longer to be despised; perhaps a dissolution may be
nearer at hand than we think for. As for Nelthorpe, he cannot come in
again."

"That I am quite sure of," said a fat country gentleman of great weight
in the county; "he not only was absent on the great Malt question, but he
never answered my letter respecting the Canal Company."

"Not answered your letter!" said Lord Raby, lifting up his hands and eyes
in amaze and horror. "What conduct! Ah, Mr. Maltravers, you are the man
for us!"

"Hear! hear!" cried the fat squire.

"Hear!" echoed Vargrave; and the approving sound went round the table.

Lord Raby rose. "Gentlemen, fill your glasses; a health to our
distinguished neighbour!"

The company applauded; each in his turn smiled, nodded, and drank to
Maltravers, who, though taken by surprise, saw at once the course to
pursue. He returned thanks simply and shortly; and without pointedly
noticing the allusion in which Lord Raby had indulged, remarked,
incidentally, that he had retired, certainly for some years--perhaps
forever--from political life.

Vargrave smiled significantly at Lord Raby, and hastened to lead the
conversation into party discussion. Wrapped in his proud disdain of what
he considered the contests of factions for toys and shadows, Maltravers
remained silent; and the party soon broke up, and adjourned to the
ballroom.

CHAPTER III.

LE plus grand defaut de la penetration n'est pas de n'aller
point jusqu'au but,--c'est de la passer.*--LA ROCHEFOUCAULD.

* "The greatest defect of penetration is not that of not going
just up to the point,--'tis the passing it."

EVELYN had looked forward to the ball at Knaresdean with feelings deeper
than those which usually inflame the fancy of a girl proud of her dress
and confident of her beauty. Whether or not she _loved_ Maltravers, in
the true acceptation of the word "love," it is certain that he had
acquired a most powerful command over her mind and imagination. She felt
the warmest interest in his welfare, the most anxious desire for his
esteem, the deepest regret at the thought of their estrangement. At
Knaresdean she should meet Maltravers,--in crowds, it is true; but still
she should meet him; she should see him towering superior above the herd;
she should hear him praised; she should mark him, the observed of all.
But there was another and a deeper source of joy within her. A letter
had been that morning received from Aubrey, in which he had announced his
arrival for the next day. The letter, though affectionate, was short.
Evelyn had been some months absent,--Lady Vargrave was anxious to make
arrangements for her return; but it was to be at her option whether she
would accompany the curate home. Now, besides her delight at seeing once
more the dear old man, and hearing from his lips that her mother was well
and happy, Evelyn hailed in his arrival the means of extricating herself
from her position with Lord Vargrave. She would confide in him her
increased repugnance to that union, he would confer with Lord Vargrave;
and then--and then--did there come once more the thought of Maltravers?
No! I fear it was not Maltravers who called forth that smile and that
sigh! Strange girl, you know not your own mind!--but few of us, at your
age, do.

In all the gayety of hope, in the pride of dress and half-conscious
loveliness, Evelyn went with a light step into Caroline's room. Miss
Merton had already dismissed her woman, and was seated by her
writing-table, leaning her cheek thoughtfully on her hand.

"Is it time to go?" said she, looking up. "Well, we shall put Papa, and
the coachman, and the horses, too, in excellent humour. How well you
look! Really, Evelyn, you are indeed beautiful!" and Caroline gazed with
honest but not unenvious admiration at the fairy form so rounded and yet
so delicate, and the face that seemed to blush at its own charms.

"I am sure I can return the flattery," said Evelyn, laughing bashfully.

"Oh, as for me, I am well enough in my way: and hereafter, I dare say, we
may be rival beauties. I hope we shall remain good friends, and rule the
world with divided empire. Do you not long for the stir, and excitement,
and ambition of London?---for ambition is open to us as to men!"

"No, indeed," replied Evelyn, smiling; "I could be ambitious, indeed; but
it would not be for myself, but for--"

"A husband, perhaps; well, you will have ample scope for such sympathy.
Lord Vargrave--"

"Lord Vargrave again?" and Evelyn's smile vanished, and she turned away.

"Ah," said Caroline, "I should have made Vargrave an excellent wife--pity
he does not think so! As it is, I must set up for myself and become a
_maitresse femme_. So you think I look well to-night? I am glad of
it--Lord Doltimore is one who will be guided by what other people say."

"You are not serious about Lord Doltimore?"

"Most sadly serious."

"Impossible! you could not speak so if you loved him."

"Loved him! no! but I intend to marry him."

Evelyn was revolted, but still incredulous.

"And you, too, will marry one whom you do not love--'tis our fate--"

"Never!"

"We shall see."

Evelyn's heart was damped, and her spirits fell.

"Tell me now," said Caroline, pressing on the wrung withers, "do you not
think this excitement, partial and provincial though it be--the sense of
beauty, the hope of conquest, the consciousness of power--better than the
dull monotony of the Devonshire cottage? Be honest--"

"No, no, indeed!" answered Evelyn, tearfully and passionately; "one hour
with my mother, one smile from her lips, were worth it all."

"And in your visions of marriage, you think then of nothing but roses and
doves,--love in a cottage!"

"Love _in a home_, no matter whether a palace or a cottage," returned
Evelyn.

"Home!" repeated Caroline, bitterly; "home,--home is the English synonym
for the French _ennui_. But I hear Papa on the stairs."

A ballroom--what a scene of commonplace! how hackneyed in novels! how
trite in ordinary life! and yet ballrooms have a character and a
sentiment of their own, for all tempers and all ages. Something in the
lights, the crowd, the music, conduces to stir up many of the thoughts
that belong to fancy and romance. It is a melancholy scene to men after
a certain age. It revives many of those lighter and more graceful images
connected with the wandering desires of youth,--shadows that crossed us,
and seemed love, but were not; having much of the grace and charm, but
none of the passion and the tragedy, of love. So many of our earliest
and gentlest recollections are connected with those chalked floors, and
that music painfully gay, and those quiet nooks and corners, where the
talk that hovers about the heart and does not touch it has been held.
Apart and unsympathizing in that austerer wisdom which comes to us after
deep passions have been excited, we see form after form chasing the
butterflies that dazzle us no longer among the flowers that have evermore
lost their fragrance.

Somehow or other, it is one of the scenes that remind us most forcibly of
the loss of youth! We are brought so closely in contact with the young
and with the short-lived pleasures that once pleased us, and have
forfeited all bloom. Happy the man who turns from "the tinkling cymbal"
and "the gallery of pictures," and can think of some watchful eye and
some kind heart _at home_; but those who have no home--and they are a
numerous tribe--never feel lonelier hermits or sadder moralists than in
such a crowd.

Maltravers leaned abstractedly against the wall, and some such
reflections, perhaps, passed within, as the plumes waved and the diamonds
glittered around him. Ever too proud to be vain, the _monstrari digito_
had not flattered even in the commencement of his career. And now he
heeded not the eyes that sought his look, nor the admiring murmur of lips
anxious to be overheard. Affluent, well-born, unmarried, and still in
the prime of life,--in the small circles of a province, Ernest Maltravers
would in himself have been an object of interest to the diplomacy of
mothers and daughters; and the false glare of reputation necessarily
deepened curiosity, and widened the range of speculators and observers.

Suddenly, however, a new object of attention excited new interest; new
whispers ran through the crowd, and these awakened Maltravers from his
revery. He looked up, and beheld all eyes fixed upon one form! His own
eyes encountered those of Evelyn Cameron!

It was the first time he had seen this beautiful young person in all the
_eclat_, pomp, and circumstance of her station, as the heiress of the
opulent Templeton,--the first time he had seen her the cynosure of
crowds, who, had her features been homely, would have admired the charms
of her fortune in her face. And now, as radiant with youth, and the
flush of excitement on her soft cheek, she met his eye, he said to
himself: "And could I have wished one so new to the world to have united
her lot with a man for whom all that to her is delight has grown
wearisome and stale? Could I have been justified in stealing her from
the admiration that, at her age and to her sex, has so sweet a flattery?
Or, on the other hand, could I have gone back to her years, and
sympathized with feelings that time has taught me to despise? Better as
it is."

Influenced by these thoughts, the greeting of Maltravers disappointed and
saddened Evelyn, she knew not why; it was constrained and grave.

"Does not Miss Cameron look well?" whispered Mrs. Merton, on whose arm
the heiress leaned. "You observe what a sensation she creates?"

Evelyn overheard, and blushed as she stole a glance at Maltravers. There
was something mournful in the admiration which spoke in his deep earnest
eyes.

"Everywhere," said he, calmly, and in the same tone, "everywhere Miss
Cameron appears, she must outshine all others." He turned to Evelyn, and
said with a smile, "You must learn to inure yourself to admiration; a
year or two hence, and you will not blush at your own gifts!"

"And you, too, contribute to spoil me!--fie!"

"Are you so easily spoiled? If I meet you hereafter, you will think my
compliments cold to the common language of others."

"You do not know me,--perhaps you never will."

"I am contented with the fair pages I have already read."

"Where is Lady Raby?" asked Mrs. Merton. "Oh, I see; Evelyn, my love, we
must present ourselves to our hostess."

The ladies moved on; and when Maltravers next caught a glance of Evelyn,
she was with Lady Raby, and Lord Vargrave also was by her side.

The whispers round him had grown louder.

"Very lovely indeed! so young, too! and she is really going to be married
to Lord Vargrave: so much older than she is,--quite a sacrifice!"

"Scarcely so. He is so agreeable, and still handsome. But are you sure
that the thing is settled?"

"Oh, yes. Lord Raby himself told me so. It will take place very soon."

"But do you know who her mother was? I cannot make out."

"Nothing particular. You know the late Lord Vargrave was a man of low
birth. I believe she was a widow of his own rank; she lives quite in
seclusion."

"How d' ye do, Mr. Maltravers? So glad to see you," said the quick,
shrill voice of Mrs. Hare. "Beautiful ball! Nobody does things like
Lord Raby; don't you dance?"

"No, madam."

"Oh, you young gentlemen are so _fine_ nowadays!" (Mrs. Hare, laying
stress on the word _young_, thought she had paid a very elegant
compliment, and ran on with increased complacency.)

"You are going to let Burleigh, I hear, to Lord Doltimore,--is it true?
No! really now, what stories people do tell. Elegant man, Lord
Doltimore! Is it true, that Miss Caroline is going to marry his
lordship? Great match! No scandal, I hope; you'll excuse _me_! Two
weddings on the _tapis_,--quite stirring for our stupid county. Lady
Vargrave and Lady Doltimore, two new peeresses. Which do you think is
the handsomer? Miss Merton is the taller, but there is something fierce
in her eyes. Don't you think so? By the by, I wish you joy,--you'll
excuse _me_."

"Wish me joy, madam?"

"Oh, you are so close. Mr. Hare says he shall support you. You will
have all the ladies with you. Well, I declare, Lord Vargrave is going to
dance. How old is he, do you think?"

Maltravers uttered an audible _pshaw_, and moved away; but his penance
was not over. Lord Vargrave, much as he disliked dancing, still thought
it wise to ask the fair hand of Evelyn; and Evelyn, also, could not
refuse.

And now, as the crowd gathered round the red ropes, Maltravers had to
undergo new exclamations at Evelyn's beauty and Vargrave's luck.
Impatiently he turned from the spot, with that gnawing sickness of the
heart which none but the jealous know. He longed to depart, yet dreaded
to do so. It was the last time he should see Evelyn, perhaps for years;
the last time he should see her as Miss Cameron!

He passed into another room, deserted by all save four old
gentlemen--Cleveland one of them--immersed in whist; and threw himself
upon an ottoman, placed in a recess by the oriel window. There, half
concealed by the draperies, he communed and reasoned with himself. His
heart was sad within him; he never felt before _how_ deeply and _how_
passionately he loved Evelyn; how firmly that love had fastened upon the
very core of his heart! Strange, indeed, it was in a girl so young, of
whom he had seen but little,--and that little in positions of such quiet
and ordinary interest,--to excite a passion so intense in a man who had
gone through strong emotions and stern trials! But all love is
unaccountable. The solitude in which Maltravers had lived, the absence
of all other excitement, perhaps had contributed largely to fan the
flame. And his affections had so long slept, and after long sleep the
passions wake with such giant strength! He felt now too well that the
last rose of life had bloomed for him; it was blighted in its birth, but
it could never be replaced. Henceforth, indeed, he should be alone, the
hopes of home were gone forever; and the other occupations of mind and
soul--literature, pleasure, ambition--were already forsworn at the very
age in which by most men they are most indulged!

O Youth! begin not thy career too soon, and let one passion succeed in
its due order to another; so that every season of life may have its
appropriate pursuit and charm!

The hours waned; still Maltravers stirred not; nor were his meditations
disturbed, except by occasional ejaculations from the four old gentlemen,
as between each deal they moralized over the caprices of the cards.

At length, close beside him he heard that voice, the lightest sound of
which could send the blood rushing through his veins; and from his
retreat he saw Caroline and Evelyn, seated close by.

"I beg pardon," said the former, in a low voice,--"I beg pardon, Evelyn,
for calling you away; but I longed to tell you. The die is cast. Lord
Doltimore has proposed, and I have accepted him! Alas, alas! I half
wish I could retract!"

"Dearest Caroline!" said the silver voice of Evelyn, "for Heaven's sake,
do not thus wantonly resolve on your own unhappiness! You wrong
yourself, Caroline! you do, indeed! You are not the vain ambitious
character you affect to be! Ah, what is it you require? Wealth? Are
you not my friend; am I not rich enough for both? Rank? What can it
give you to compensate for the misery of a union without love? Pray,
forgive me for speaking thus. Do not think me presumptuous, or romantic;
but, indeed, indeed, I know from my own heart what yours must undergo!"

Caroline pressed her friend's hand with emotion.

"You are a bad comforter, Evelyn. My mother, my father, will preach a
very different doctrine. I am foolish, indeed, to be so sad in obtaining
the very object I have sought! Poor Doltimore! he little knows the
nature, the feelings of her whom he thinks he has made the happiest of
her sex; he little knows--" Caroline paused, turned pale as death, and
then went rapidly on, "but you, Evelyn, _you_ will meet the same fate; we
shall bear it together."

"No! no! do not think so! Where I give my hand, there shall I give my
heart."

At this time Maltravers half rose, and sighed audibly.

"Hush!" said Caroline, in alarm. At the same moment, the whist-table
broke up, and Cleveland approached Maltravers.

"I am at your service," said he; "I know you will not stay the supper.
You will find me in the next room; I am just going to speak to Lord
Saxingham." The gallant old gentleman then paid a compliment to the
young ladies, and walked away.

"So you too are a deserter from the ballroom!" said Miss Merton to
Maltravers as she rose.

"I am not very well; but do not let me frighten you away."

"Oh, no! I hear the music; it is the last quadrille before supper: and
here is my fortunate partner looking for me."

"I have been everywhere in search of you," said Lord Doltimore, in an
accent of tender reproach: "come, we are almost too late now."

Caroline put her arm into Lord Doltimore's, who hurried her into the
ballroom.

Miss Cameron looked irresolute whether or not to follow, when Maltravers
seated himself beside her; and the paleness of his brow, and something
that bespoke pain in the compressed lip, went at once to her heart. In
her childlike tenderness, she would have given worlds for the sister's
privilege of sympathy and soothing. The room was now deserted; they were
alone.

The words that he had overheard from Evelyn's lips, "Where I shall give
my hand, there shall I give my heart," Maltravers interpreted but in one
sense,--"she loved her betrothed;" and strange as it may seem, at that
thought, which put the last seal upon his fate, selfish anguish was less
felt than deep compassion. So young, so courted, so tempted as she must
be--and with such a protector!--the cold, the unsympathizing, the
heartless Vargrave! She, too, whose feelings, so warm, ever trembled on
her lip and eye. Oh! when she awoke from her dream, and knew whom she
had loved, what might be her destiny, what her danger!

"Miss Cameron," said Maltravers, "let me for one moment detain you; I
will not trespass long. May I once, and for the last time, assume the
austere rights of friendship? I have seen much of life, Miss Cameron,
and my experience has been purchased dearly; and harsh and hermit-like as
I may have grown, I have not outlived such feelings as you are well
formed to excite. Nay,"--and Maltravers smiled sadly--"I am not about to
compliment or flatter, I speak not to you as the young to the young; the
difference of our years, that takes away sweetness from flattery, leaves
still sincerity to friendship. You have inspired me with a deep
interest,--deeper than I thought that living beauty could ever rouse in
me again! It may be that something in the tone of your voice, your
manner, a nameless grace that I cannot define, reminds me of one whom I
knew in youth,--one who had not your advantages of education, wealth,
birth; but to whom Nature was more kind than Fortune."

He paused a moment; and without looking towards Evelyn, thus renewed,--

"You are entering life under brilliant auspices. Ah, let me hope that
the noonday will keep the promise of the dawn! You are susceptible,
imaginative; do not demand too much, or dream too fondly. When you are
wedded, do not imagine that wedded life is exempt from its trials and its
cares; if you know yourself beloved--and beloved you must be--do not ask
from the busy and anxious spirit of man all which Romance promises and
Life but rarely yields. And oh!" continued Maltravers, with an absorbing
and earnest passion, that poured forth its language with almost
breathless rapidity,--"if ever your heart rebels, if ever it be
dissatisfied, fly the false sentiment as a sin! Thrown, as from your
rank you must be, on a world of a thousand perils, with no guide so
constant and so safe as your own innocence, make not that world too dear
a friend. Were it possible that your own home ever could be lonely or
unhappy, reflect that to woman the unhappiest home is happier than all
excitement abroad. You will have a thousand suitors hereafter: believe
that the asp lurks under the flatterer's tongue, and resolve, come what
may, to be contented with your lot. How many have I known, lovely and
pure as you, who have suffered the very affections--the very beauty of
their nature--to destroy them! Listen to me as a warner, as a brother,
as a pilot who has passed the seas on which your vessel is about to
launch. And ever, ever let me know, in whatever lands your name may
reach me, that one who has brought back to me all my faith in human
excellence, while the idol of our sex, is the glory of her own. Forgive
me this strange impertinence; my heart is full, and has overflowed. And
now, Miss Cameron--Evelyn Cameron--this is my last offence, and my last
farewell!"

He held out his hand, and involuntarily, unknowingly, she clasped it, as
if to detain him till she could summon words to reply. Suddenly he heard
Lord Vargrave's voice behind. The spell was broken; the next moment
Evelyn was alone, and the throng swept into the room towards the banquet,
and laughter and gay voices were heard, and Lord Vargrave was again by
Evelyn's side!

CHAPTER IV.

To you
This journey is devoted.
_Lover's Progress_, Act iv. sc. 1.

AS Cleveland and Maltravers returned homeward, the latter abruptly
checked the cheerful garrulity of his friend. "I have a favour, a great
favour to ask of you."

"And what is that?"

"Let us leave Burleigh tomorrow; I care not at what hour; we need go but
two or three stages if you are fatigued."

"Most hospitable host! and why?"

"It is torture, it is agony to me, to breathe the air of Burleigh," cried
Maltravers, wildly. "Can you not guess my secret? Have I then concealed
it so well? I love, I adore Evelyn Cameron, and she is betrothed to--she
loves--another!"

Mr. Cleveland was breathless with amaze; Maltravers had indeed so well
concealed his secret, and now his emotion was so impetuous, that it
startled and alarmed the old man, who had never himself experienced a
passion, though he had indulged a sentiment. He sought to console and
soothe; but after the first burst of agony, Maltravers recovered himself,
and said gently,--

"Let us never return to this subject again: it is right that I should
conquer this madness, and conquer it I will! Now you know my weakness,
you will indulge it. My cure, cannot commence until I can no longer see
from my casements the very roof that shelters the affianced bride of
another."

"Certainly, then, we will set off to-morrow: my friend! is it indeed--"

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