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accosted and chilled his soul. He sprang forward, “My mother! even in the grave canst thou bless thy wretched son! Oh, leave me not–say that thou–” The delusion vanished, and Maltravers fell back insensible.

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

CHAPTER III.

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

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

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

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

“What is the matter? What do you want?”

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

“Who is Mrs. Elton?”

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* See “Ernest Maltravers,” book iv., p. 164.

** “Ernest Maltravers,” book iv., p. 181.

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

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

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

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

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

* See “Ernest Maltravers,” book v., p. 221.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Only so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER V.

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

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

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

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

“But–“

“Nay, I implore you!”

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

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

“Alice!” murmured Maltravers,–“Alice, we meet at last!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* See “Ernest Maltravers,” book v., p. 228.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Evelyn! Yes, Evelyn shall be saved; but the rest–the rest–why do you turn away?”

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

“And what said you,–did you not tell her such words would break my heart?”

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

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

CHAPTER VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The passage was as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will; but–“

“No buts, Legard; it is so settled.”

BOOK XI.

“Man is born to be a doer of good.”–MARCUS ANTONINUS, lib. iii.

CHAPTER I.

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

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

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

“It is he! it is! Lumley Ferrers, we meet again!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why so openly expose yourself to their notice; why–“

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

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

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

CHAPTER II.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did he not ask to see me?”

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

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

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

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

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

“No; I have been from home since six o’clock,–it is now nine.”

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

“I warned you how it would be,–your own selfishness will betray and ruin you.”

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

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

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

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

“In her own room. Have you no pity for her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is the matter, sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here we must return to Lord Vargrave.

CHAPTER IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mr. Maltravers! Is he at this hotel?”

“Yes, my lord; his rooms are just overhead.”

“Humph! Has Mr. Howard engaged a lodging here?”

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

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

“Yes, my lord.”

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

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

“I will not see him,” said Maltravers, hastily moving towards the door; “you are not fit to–“

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It will be as strangers.”

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

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

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

CHAPTER V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The servant, who slept in a kind of kennel that communicated with the anteroom, did as he was bid; and Vargrave put out his candle, betook himself to bed, and, after drowsily gazing some minutes on the dying