“We couldn’t keep her away, weak as she was,” said a neighbour, “as soon as she heard the poor corpses were coming ashore.”
“Hum?” said Tom. “True woman. Quaint,–that appetite for horrors the sweet creatures have. Did you ever see a man hanged, Lieutenant?–No? If you had, you would have seen two women in the crowd to one man. Can you make out the philosophy of that?”
“I suppose they like it, as some people do hot peppers.”
“Or donkeys thistles;–find a little pain pleasant! I had a patient once in France, who read Dumas’ ‘Crimes Celebres’ all the week, and the ‘Vies des Saints’ on Sundays, and both, as far as I could see, for just the same purpose,–to see how miserable people could be, and how much pinching and pulling they could bear.”
So they walked on, along a sheep-path, and over the Spur, and down to the Cove.
It was such a morning as often follows a gale, when the great firmament stares down upon the ruin which it has made, bright and clear, and bold; and seems to say, with shameless smile,–“There, I have done it; and am as merry as ever after it all!” Beneath a cloudless sky, the breakers, still grey and foul from the tempest, were tumbling in before a cold northern breeze. Half a mile out at sea, the rough backs of the Chough and Crow loomed black and sulky in the foam. At their feet, the rocks and shingle of the Cove were alive with human beings–groups of women and children clustering round a corpse or a chest; sailors, knee-deep in the surf hauling at floating spars and ropes; oil-skinned coast-guardsmen pacing up and down in charge of goods, while groups of farmers’ men, who had hurried down from the villages inland, lounged about on the top of the cliff, looking sulkily on, hoping for plunder: and yet half afraid to mingle with the sailors below, who looked on them as an inferior race, and refused, in general, to intermarry with them.
The Lieutenant plainly held much the same opinion; for as a party of them tried to descend the narrow path to the beach, he shouted after them to come back.
“Eh! you won’t?” and out rattled from its scabbard the old worthy’s sword. “Come back, I say, you loafing, miching, wrecking crow-keepers; there are no pickings for you here. Brown, send those fellows back with the bayonet. None but blue-jackets allowed on the beach!” And the labourers go up again, grumbling.
“Can’t trust those landsharks. They’ll plunder even the rings off a corpse’s fingers. They think every wreck a godsend. I’ve known them, after they’ve been driven off, roll great stones over the cliff at night on the coast-guard, just out of spite; while these blue-jackets here–I can depend on them. Can you tell me the reason of that, as you seem a bit of a philosopher?”
“It is easy enough; the sailors have a fellow-feeling with sailors, and the landsmen have none. Besides, the sailors are finer fellows, body and soul; and the reason is that they have been brought up to face danger, and the landsmen haven’t.”
“Well,” said the Lieutenant, “unless a man has been taught to look death in the face, he never will grow up, I believe, to be much of a man at all.”
“Danger, my good sir, is a better schoolmaster than all your new model schools, diagrams, and scientific apparatus. It made our forefathers the masters of the sea, though they never heard of popular science; and I dare say couldn’t, one out of ten of them, spell their own names.”
This sentiment elicited from the Lieutenant a grunt of approbation, as Tom intended that it should do; shrewdly arguing that the old martinet was no friend to the modern superstition, that all which is required to cast out the devil is a smattering of the ‘ologies.
“Will the gentleman see the corpses?” asked Brown; “we have fourteen already;”–and he led the way to where, along the shingle at high-water mark, lay a ghastly row, some fearfully bruised and mutilated, cramped together by the death-agony; others with the peaceful smile which showed that they had sunk to sleep in that strange water-death, amid a wilderness of pleasant dreams. Strong men lay there, little children, women, whom the sailors’ wives had covered decently with cloaks and shawls; and at their heads stood Grace Harvey, motionless, with folded hands, gazing into the dead faces with her great solemn eyes. Her mother and Captain Willis stood by, watching her with a sort of superstitions awe. She took no notice either of Thurnall or of the Lieutenant, as the doctor identified the bodies one by one, without a remark which indicated any human emotion.
“A very sensible man, Willis,” said the Lieutenant apart, as Tom knelt awhile to examine the crushed features of a sailor; and then looking up said simply,–
“James Macgillivray, second mate. Cause of death, contusions; probably by the fall of the main-mast.”
“A very sensible man, and has seen a deal of life, and kept his eyes open; but a terrible hard-plucked one. Talked like a book to me all the way; but, be hanged if I don’t think he has a thirty-two pound shot under his ribs instead of a heart.–Doctor Thurnall, that is Miss Harvey,–the young person who saved your life last night.”
Tom rose, took off his hat (Frank Headley’s), and made her a bow, of which an ambassador need not have been ashamed.
“I am exceedingly shocked that Miss Harvey should have run so much danger for anything so worthless as my life.”
She looked up at him, and answered, not him, but her own thoughts.
“Strange, is it not, that it was a duty to pray for all these poor things last night, and a sin to pray for them this morning?”
“Grace, dear!” interposed her mother, “don’t you hear the gentleman thanking you?”
She started, as one awaking out of a dream, and looked into his face, blushing scarlet.
“Good heavens, what a beautiful creature!” said Tom to himself, as quite a new emotion passed through him. Quite new it was, whatsoever it was; and he was aware of it. He had had his passions, his intrigues, in past years, and prided himself–few men more–on understanding women; but the expression of the face, and the strange words with which she had greeted him, added to the broad fact of her having offered her own life for his, raised in him a feeling of chivalrous awe and admiration, which no other woman had ever called up.
“Madam,” he said again; “I can repay you with nothing but thanks: but, to judge from your conduct last night, you are one of those people who will find reward enough in knowing that you have done a noble and heroic action.”
She looked at him very steadfastly, blushing still. Thurnall, be it understood, was (at least, while his face was in the state in which Heaven intended it to be, half hidden in a silky-brown beard) a very good-looking fellow; and (to use Mark Armsworth’s description) “as hard as a nail; as fresh as a rose; and stood on his legs like a game-cock.” Moreover, as Willis said approvingly, he had spoken to her “as if he was a duke, and she was a duchess.” Besides, by some blessed moral law, the surest way to make oneself love any human being is to go and do him a kindness; and therefore Grace had already a tender interest in Tom, not because he had saved her, but she him. And so it was, that a strange new emotion passed through her heart also, though so little understood by her, that she put it forthwith into words.
“You might repay me,” she said in a sad and tender tone.
“You have only to command me,” said Tom, wincing a little as the words passed his lips.
“Then turn to God, now in the day of His mercies. Unless you have turned to Him already.”
One glance at Tom’s rising eyebrows told her what he thought upon those matters.
She looked at him sadly, lingeringly, as if conscious that she ought not to look too long, and yet unable to withdraw her eyes.–“Ah! and such a precious soul as yours must be; a precious soul–all taken, and you alone left! God must have high things in store for you. He must have a great work for you to do. Else, why are you not as one of these! Oh, think! where would you have been at this moment if God had dealt with you as with them?”
“Where I am now, I suppose,” said Tom quietly.
“Where you are now?”
“Yes: where I ought to be. I am where I ought to be now. I suppose if I had found myself anywhere else this morning, I should have taken it as a sign that I was wanted there, and not here.”
Grace heaved a sigh at words which were certainly startling. The Stoic optimism of the world-hardened doctor was new and frightful to her.
“My good madam,” said he, “the part of Scripture which I appreciate best, just now, is the case of poor Job, where Satan has leave to rob and torment him to the utmost of his wicked will, provided only he does not touch his life, I wish,” he went on, lowering his voice, “to tell you something which I do not wish publicly talked of; but in which you may help me. I had nearly fifteen hundred pounds about me when I came ashore last night, sewed in a belt round my waist. It is gone. That is all.”
Tom looked steadily at her as he spoke. She turned pale, red, pale again, her lips quivered: but she spoke no word.
“She has it, as I live!” thought Tom to himself. “‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’ The canting, little, methodistical humbug! She must have slipped it off my waist as I lay senseless. I suppose she means to keep it in pawn, till I redeem it by marrying her. Well I might take an uglier mate certainly; but when I do enter into the bitter bonds of matrimony, I should like to be sure, beforehand, that my wife was not a thief!”
Why, then, did not Tom, if he were so very sure of Grace’s having the belt, charge her with the theft? because he had found out already how popular she was, and was afraid of merely making himself unpopular; because, too, he took for granted that whosoever had his belt, had hidden it already beyond the reach of a search warrant; and, because, after all, an honourable shame restrained him. It would be a poor return to the woman who had saved his life to charge her with theft the next morning; and more, there was something about that girl’s face which had made him feel that, if he had seen her put the belt into her pocket before his eyes, he could not have found the heart to have sent her to gaol. “No!” thought he; “I’ll get it out of her, or whoever has it, and stay here till I do get it. One place is as good as another to me.”
But what was Grace saying?
She had turned, after two or three minutes’ astonished silence, to her mother and Captain Willis–
“Belt! Mother! Uncle! What is this? The gentleman has lost a belt?”
“Dear me!–a belt! Well, child, that’s not much to grieve over, when the Lord has spared his life and soul from the pit!” said her mother, somewhat testily.
“You don’t understand. A belt, I say, full of money–fifteen hundred pounds; he lost it last night. Uncle! Speak, quick! Did you see a belt?”
Willis shook his head meditatively. “I don’t, and yet I do, and yet I don’t again. My brains were, well-nigh washed out of me, I know. However, sir, I’ll think, and talk it over with you too; for if it be in the village, found it ought to be, and will be, with God’s help.”
“Found?” cried Grace, in so high a key, that Tom entreated her to calm herself, and not make the matter public.–“Found? yes; and shall be found, if there be justice in heaven. Shame that west-country folk should turn robbers and wreckers! Mariners, too, and manners’ wives, who should be praying for those who are wandering far away, each man with his life in his hand! Ah, what a world! When will it end? soon, too soon, when west-country folk rob shipwrecked men! But you will find your belt; yes, sir, you will find it. Wait till you have learnt to do without it. Man does not live by bread alone. Do you think he lives by gold? Only be patient; and when you are worthy of it, you shall find it again, in the Lord’s good time.”
To the doctor this seemed a mere burst of jargon, invented for the purpose of hiding guilt; and his faith in womankind was not heightened when he heard Grace’s mother say, _sotto voce_ to Willis, that–“In wrecks, and fires, and such like, a many people complained of having lost more than ever they had.”
“Oh ho! my old lady, is that the way the fox is gone?” quoth Tom to that trusty counsellor, himself; and began carefully scrutinising Mrs. Harvey’s face. It had been very handsome: it was still very clever: but the eyebrows, crushed together downwards above her nose, and rising high at the outer corners, indicated, as surely as the restless down-dropt eye, a character self-conscious, furtive, capable of great inconsistencies, possibly of great deceits.
“You don’t look me in the face, old lady!” quoth Tom to himself. “Very well! between you two it lies; unless that old gentleman implicates himself also, in his approaching confession.”
He took his part at once. “Well, well, you will oblige me by saying nothing more about it. After all, as this good lady says, the loss of a little money is not worth complaining over, when one has escaped with life. Good morning; and many thanks for all your kindness!”
And Tom made another grand bow, and went off to the Lieutenant.
Grace looked after him awhile, as one stunned; and then turned to her mother.
“Let us go home.”
“Go home? Why there, dear?”
“Let me go home; you need not come. I am sick of this world. Is it not enough to have misery and death (and she pointed to the row of corpses), but we must have sin, too, wherever we turn! Meanness and theft:–and ingratitude too!” she added, in a lower tone.
She went homeward; her mother, in spite of her entreaties, accompanied her; and, for some reason or other, did not lose sight of her all that day, or for several days after.
Meanwhile, Willis had beckoned the Doctor aside. His face was serious and sad, and his lips were trembling.
“This is a very shocking business, sir. Of course, you’ve told the Lieutenant.”
“Not yet, my good sir.”
“But–excuse my boldness; what plainer way of getting it back from the rascal, whoever he is?”
“Wait awhile,” said Tom; “I have my reasons.”
“But, sir–for the honour of the place, the matter should be cleared up; and till the thief’s found, suspicion will lie on a dozen innocent men; myself among the rest, for that matter.”
“You?” said Tom, smiling. “I don’t know who I have the honour to speak to; but you don’t look much like a gentleman who wishes for a trip to Botany Bay.”
The old man chuckled, and then his face dropped again.
“I’m glad you take the thing so like a man, sir; but it is really no laughing matter. It’s a scoundrelly job, only fit for a Maltee off the Nix Mangeery. If it had been a lot of those carter fellows that had carried you up, I could have understood it; wrecking’s born in the bone of them: but for those four sailors that carried you up, ‘gad sir! they’d have been shot sooner. I’ve known ’em from boys!” and the old man spoke quite fiercely, and looked up; his lip trembling, and his eye moist.
“There’s no doubt that you are honest–whoever is not,” thought Tom; so he ventured a further question.
“Then you were by all the while?”
“All the while? Who more? And that’s just what puzzles me.”
“Pray don’t speak loud,” said Tom. “I have my reasons for keeping things quiet.”
“I tell you, sir. I held the maid, and big John Beer (Gentleman Jan they call him) held me; and the maid had both her hands tight in your belt. I saw it as plain as I see you, just before the wave covered us, though little I thought what was in it; and should never have remembered you had a belt at all, if I hadn’t thought over things in the last five minutes.”
“Well, sir, I am lucky in having come straight to the fountain head; and must thank you for telling me so frankly what you know.”
“Tell you, sir? What else should one do but tell you? I only wish I knew more; and more I’ll know, please the Lord. And you’ll excuse an old sailor (though not of your rank, sir) saying that he wonders a little that you don’t take the plain means of knowing more yourself.”
“May I take the liberty of asking your name?” said Tom; who saw by this time that the old man was worthy of his confidence.
“Willis, at your service, sir. Captain they call me, though I’m none. Sailing-master I was, on board of His Majesty’s ship Niobe, 84;” and Willis raised his hat with such an air, that Tom raised his in return.
“Then, Captain Willis, let me have five words with you apart; first thanking you for having helped to save my life.”
“I’m very glad I did, sir; and thanked God for it on my knees this morning: but you’ll excuse me, sir, I was thinking–and no blame to me–more of saving my poor maid’s life than yours, and no offence to you, for I hadn’t the honour of knowing you; but for her, I’d have been drowned a dozen times over.”
“No offence, indeed,” said Tom; and hardly knew what to say next. “May I ask, is she your niece? I heard her call you uncle.”
“Oh, no–no relation; only I look on her as my own, poor thing, having no father; and she always calls me uncle, as most do us old men in the West.”
“Well, then, sir,” said Tom, “you will answer for none of the four sailors having robbed me?”
“I’ve said it, sir.”
“Was any one else close to her when we were brought ashore?”
“No one but I. I brought her round myself.”
“And who took her home?”
“Her mother and I.”
“Very good. And you never saw the belt after she had her hands in it?”
“No; I’m sure not.”
“Was her mother by her when she was lying on the rock?”
“No; came up afterwards, just as I got her on her feet.”
“Humph! What sort of a character is her mother?”
“Oh, a tidy, God-fearing person, enough. One of these Methodist class-leaders, Brianites they call themselves. I don’t hold with them, though I do go to chapel at whiles: but there are good ones among them; and I do believe she’s one, though she’s a little fretful at times. Keeps a little shop that don’t pay over well; and those preachers live on her a good deal, I think. Creeping into widows’ houses, and making long prayers–you know the text.”
“Well, now, Captain Willis, I don’t want to hurt your feelings; but do you not see that one of two things I must believe,–either that the belt was torn off my waist, and washed back into the sea, as it may have been after all; or else, that–“
“Do you mean that she took it?” asked Willis, in voice of such indignant astonishment that Tom could only answer by a shrug of the shoulders.
“Who else could have done so, on your own showing?”
“Sir!” said Willis, slowly. “I thought I had to do with a gentleman: but I have my doubts of it now. A poor girl risks her life to drag you out of that sea, which but for her would have hove your body up to lie along with that line there,”–and Willis pointed to the ghastly row–” and your soul gone to give in its last account–You only know what that would have been like–And the first thing you do in payment is to accuse her of robbing you–her, that the very angels in heaven, I believe, are glad to keep company with;” and the old man turned and paced the beach in fierce excitement.
“Captain Willis,” said Tom, “I’ll trouble you to listen patiently and civilly to me a minute.”
Willis stopped, drew himself up, and touched his hat mechanically.
“Just because I am a gentleman, I have not accused her; but held my tongue, and spoken to you in confidence. Now, perhaps, you will understand why I have said nothing to the Lieutenant.”
Willis looked up at him.
“I beg your pardon, sir. I see now, and I’m sorry if I was rude; but it took me aback, and does still. I tell you, sir,” quoth he, warming again, “whatever’s true,–that’s false. You’re wrong there, if you never are wrong again; and you’ll say so yourself, before you’ve known her a week. No, sir! If you could make me believe that, I should never believe in goodness again on earth; but hold all men, and women too, and those above, for aught I know, that are greater than men and women, for liars together.”
What was to be answered? Perhaps only what Tom did answer.
“My good sir, I will say no more. I would not have said that much if I had thought I should have pained you so. I suppose that the belt was washed into the sea. Why not?”
“Why not, indeed, sir? That’s a much more Christian-like way of looking at it, than to blacken your own soul before God by suspecting that sweet innocent creature.”
“Be it so, then. Only say nothing about the matter; and beg them to say nothing. If it be jammed among the rocks (as it might be, heavy as it is), talking about it will only set people looking for it; and I suppose there is a man or two, even in Aberalva, who would find fifteen hundred pounds a tempting bait. If, again, some one finds it, and makes away with it, he will only be the more careful to hide it if he knows that I am on the look-out. So just tell Miss Harvey and her mother that I think it must have been lost, and beg them to keep my secret And now shake hands with me.”
“The best plan, I believe, though bad, is the best,” said Willis, holding out his hand; and he walked away sadly. His spirit had been altogether ruffled by the imputation on Grace’s character: and, besides, the chances of Thurnall’s recovering his money seemed to him very small.
In five minutes he returned.
“If you would allow me, sir, there’s a man there of whom I should like to ask one question. He who held me, and, after that, helped to carry you up;” and he pointed to Gentleman Jan, who stood, dripping from the waist downward, over a chest which he had just secured. “Just let us ask him, off-hand like, whether you had a belt on when he carried you up. You may trust him, sir. He’d knock you down as soon as look at you; but tell a lie, never.”
They went to the giant; and, after cordial salutations, Tom propounded his question carelessly, with something like a white lie.
“It’s no great matter; but it was an old friend, you see, with fittings for my knife and pistols, and I should be glad to find it again.”
Jan thrust his red hand through his black curls, and meditated while the water surged round his ankles.
“Never a belt seed I, sir; leastwise while you were in my hands. I had you round the waist all the way up, so no one could have took it off. Why should they? And I undressed you myself; and nothing, save your presence, was there to get off, but jersey and trousers, and a lump of backy against your skin that looked the right sort.”
“Have some, then,” said Tom, pulling out the honey-dew. “As for the belt, I suppose it’s gone to choke the dog-fish.”
And there the matter ended, outwardly at least; but only outwardly. Tom had his own opinion, gathered from Grace’s seemingly guilty face, and to it he held, and called old Willis, in his heart, a simple-minded old dotard, who had been taken in by her hypocrisy.
And Tom accompanied the Lieutenant on his dreary errand that day, and several days after, through depositions before a justice, interviews with Lloyd’s underwriters, and all the sad details which follow a wreck. Ere the week’s end, forty bodies and more had been recovered, and brought up, ten or twelve at a time, to the churchyard, and upon the down, and laid side by side in one long shallow pit, where Frank Headley read over them the blessed words of hope, amid the sobs of women, and the grand silence of stalwart men, who knew not how soon their turn might come; and after each procession came Grace Harvey, with all her little scholars two and two, to listen to the funeral service; and when the last corpse was buried, they planted flowers upon the mound, and went their way again to learn hymns and read their Bible–little ministering angels to whom, as to most sailors’ children, death was too common a sight to have in it aught of hideous or strange.
And this was the end of the good ship Hesperus, and all her gallant crew.
Verily, however important the mere animal lives of men may be, and ought to be, at times, in our eyes, they never have been so, to judge from floods and earthquakes, pestilence and storm, in the eyes of Him who made and loves us all. It is a strange fact, better for us, instead of shutting our eyes to it because it interferes with our modern tenderness of pain, to ask honestly what it means.
THE WAY TO WIN THEM.
So, for a week or more, Tom went on thrivingly enough, and became a general favourite in the town. Heale had no reason to complain of boarding him; for he had dinner and supper thrust on him every day by one and another, who were glad enough to have him for the sake of his stories, and songs, and endless fun and good-humour. The Lieutenant, above all, took the new-comer under his especial patronage, and was paid for his services in some of Tom’s incomparable honey-dew. The old fellow soon found that the Doctor knew more than one old foreign station of his, and ended by pouring out to him his ancient wrongs, and the evil doings of the wicked admiral; all of which Tom heard with deepest sympathy, and surprise that so much naval talent had remained unappreciated by the unjust upper powers; and the Lieutenant, of course, reported of him accordingly to Heale.
“A very civil spoken and intelligent youngster, Mr. Heale, d’ye see, to my mind; and you can’t do better than accept his offer; for you’ll find him a great help, especially among the ladies, d’ye see. They like a good-looking chap, eh, Mrs. Jones?”
On the fourth day, by good fortune, what should come ashore but Tom’s own chest–moneyless, alas! but with many useful matters still unspoilt by salt water. So, all went well, and indeed somewhat too well (if Tom would have let it), in the case of Miss Anna Maria Heale, the Doctor’s daughter.
She was just such a girl as her father’s daughter was likely to be; a short, stout, rosy, pretty body of twenty, with loose red lips, thwart black eyebrows, and right naughty eyes under them; of which Tom took good heed: for Miss Heale was exceedingly inclined, he saw, to make use of them in his behoof. Let others who have experience in, and taste for such matters, declare how she set her cap at the dapper young surgeon; how she rushed into the shop with sweet _abandon_ ten times a-day, to find her father; and, not finding him, giggled, and blushed, and shook her shoulders, and retired, to peep at Tom through the glass door which led into the parlour; how she discovered that the muslin curtain of the said door would get out of order every ten minutes; and at last called Mr. Thurnall to assist her in rearranging it; how, bolder grown, she came into the shop to help herself to various matters, inquiring tenderly for Tom’s health, and giggling vulgar sentiments about “absent friends, and hearts left behind;” in the hope of fishing out whether Tom had a sweetheart or not. How, at last, she was minded to confide her own health to Tom, and to instal him as her private physician; yea, and would have made him feel her pulse on the spot, had he not luckily found some assafoetida, and therewith so perfumed the shop, that her “nerves” (of which she was always talking, though she had nerves only in the sense wherein a sirloin of beef has them) forced her to beat a retreat.
But she returned again to the charge next day, and rushed bravely through that fearful smell, cleaver in hand, as the carrier set down at the door a huge box, carriage-paid, all the way from London, and directed to Thomas Thurnall, Esquire. She would help to open it: and so she did, while old Heale and his wife stood by curious,–he with a maudlin wonder and awe (for he regarded Tom already as an altogether awful and incomprehensible “party”), and Mrs. Heale with a look of incredulous scorn, as if she expected the box to be a mere sham, filled probably with shavings. For (from reasons best known to herself) she had never looked pleasantly on the arrangement which entrusted to Tom the care of the bottles. She had given way from motives of worldly prudence, even of necessity; for Heale had been for the greater part of the week quite incapable of attending to his business: but black envy and spite were seething in her foolish heart, and seethed more and more fiercely when she saw that the box did not contain shavings, but valuables of every sort and kind–drugs, instruments, a large microscope (which Tom delivered out of Miss Heale’s fat clumsy fingers only by strong warnings that it would go off and shoot her), books full of prints of unspeakable monsters; and finally, a little packet, containing not one five-pound note, but four, and a letter which Tom, after perusing, put into Mr. Heale’s hands, with a look of honest pride.
The Mumpsimus men, it appeared, had “sent round the hat” for him, and here were the results; and they would send the hat round again every month, if he wanted it; or, if he would come up, board, lodge, and wash him gratis. The great Doctor Bellairs, House Physician, and Carver, the famous operator (names at which Heale bowed his head and worshipped), sent compliments, condolences, offers of employment–never was so triumphant a testimonial; and Heale, in his simplicity, thought himself (as indeed he was) the luckiest of country doctors; while Mrs. Heale, after swelling and choking for five minutes, tottered into the back room, and cast herself on the sofa in violent hysterics.
As she came round again, Tom could not but overhear a little that passed. And this he overheard among other matters:–
“Yes, Mr. Heale, I see, I see too well, which your natural blindness, sir, and that fatal easiness of temper, will bring you to a premature grave within the paupers’ precincts; and this young designing infidel, with his science and his magnifiers, and his callipers, and philosophy falsely so called, which in our true Protestant youth there was none, nor needed none, to supplant you in your old age, and take the bread out of your grey hairs, which he will bring with sorrow to the grave, and mine likewise, which am like my poor infant here, of only too sensitive sensibilities! Oh, Anna Maria, my child, my poor lost child! which I can feel for the tenderness of the inexperienced heart! My Virgin Eve, which the Serpent has entered into your youthful paradise, and you will find; alas! too late, that you have warmed an adder into your bosom!”
“Oh, Ma, how indelicate!” giggled Anna Maria, evidently not displeased. “If you don’t mind he will hear you, and I should never be able to look him in the face again.” And therewith she looked round to the glass door.
What more passed, Tom did not choose to hear; for he began making all the bustle he could in the shop, merely saying to himself,–
“That flood of eloquence is symptomatic enough: I’ll lay my life the old dame knows her way to the laudanum bottle.”
Tom’s next business was to ingratiate himself with the young curate. He had found out already, cunning fellow, that any extreme intimacy with Headley would not increase his general popularity; and, as we have seen already, he bore no great affection to “the cloth” in general: but the curate was an educated gentleman, and Tom wished for some more rational conversation than that of the Lieutenant and Heale. Besides, he was one of those men, with whom the possession of power, sought at first from self-interest, has become a passion, a species of sporting, which he follows for its own sake, To whomsoever he met he must needs apply the moral stethoscope; sound him, lungs, heart, and liver; put his tissues under the microscope, and try conclusions on him to the uttermost. They might be useful hereafter; for knowledge was power: or they might not. What matter? Every fresh specimen of humanity which he examined was so much gained in general knowledge. Very true, Thomas Thurnall; provided the method of examination be the sound and the deep one, which will lead you down in each case to the real living heart of humanity: but what if your method be altogether a shallow and a cynical one, savouring much more of Gil Blas than of St. Paul, grounded not on faith and love for human beings, but on something very like suspicion and contempt? You will be but too likely, Doctor, to make the coarsest mistakes, when you fancy yourself most penetrating; to mistake the mere scurf and disease of the character for its healthy organic tissue, and to find out at last, somewhat to your confusion, that there are more things, not only in heaven, but in the earthiest of the earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You have already set down Grace Harvey as a hypocrite, and Willis as a dotard. Will you make up your mind in the same foolishness of over-wisdom, that Frank Headley is a merely narrow-headed and hard-hearted pedant, quite unaware that he is living an inner life of doubts, struggles, prayers, self-reproaches, noble hunger after an ideal of moral excellence, such as you, friend Tom, never yet dreamed of, which would be to you as an unintelligible gibber of shadows out of dreamland, but which is to him the only reality, the life of life, for which everything is to be risked and suffered? You treat his opinions (though he never thrusts them on you) about “the Church,” and his duty, and the souls of his parishioners, with civil indifference, as much ado about nothing; and his rubrical eccentricities as puerilities. You have already made up your mind to “try and put a little common sense into him,” not because it is any concern of yours whether he has common sense or not, but because you think that it will be better for you to have the parish at peace; but has it ever occurred to you how noble the man is, even in his mistakes? How that one thought, that the finest thing in the world is to be utterly good, and to make others good also, puts him three heavens at least above you, you most unangelic terrier-dog, bemired all day long by grubbing after vermin! What if his idea of “the Church” be somewhat too narrow for the year of grace 1854, is it no honour to him that he has such an idea at all; that there has risen up before him the vision of a perfect polity, a “Divine and wonderful Order,” linking earth to heaven, and to the very throne of Him, who died for men; witnessing to each of its citizens what the world tries to make him forget, namely, that he is the child of God himself; and guiding and strengthening him, from the cradle to the grave, to do his Father’s work? Is it a shame to him that he has seen that such a polity must exist, that he believes that it does exist; or that he thinks he finds it in its highest, if not its perfect form, in the most ancient and august traditions of his native land? True, he has much to learn, and you may teach him something of it; but you will find some day, Thomas Thurnall, that, granting you to be at one pole of the English character, and Frank Headley at the other, he is as good an Englishman as you, and can teach you more than you can him.
The two soon began to pass almost every evening together, pleasantly enough; for the reckless and rattling manner which Tom assumed with the mob, he laid aside with the curate, and showed himself as agreeable a companion as man could need; while Tom in his turn found that Headley was a rational and sweet-tempered man, who, even where he had made up his mind to differ, could hear an adverse opinion, put sometimes in a startling shape, without falling into any of those male hysterics of sacred horror, which are the usual refuge of ignorance and stupidity, terrified by what it cannot refute. And soon Tom began to lay aside the reserve which he usually assumed to clergymen, and to tread on ground which Headley would gladly have avoided. For, to tell the truth, ever since Tom had heard of Grace’s intended dismissal, the curate’s opinions had assumed a practical importance in his eyes; and he had vowed in secret that, if his cunning failed him not, turned out of her school she should not be. Whether she had stolen his money or not, she had saved his life; and nobody should wrong her, if he could help it. Besides, perhaps she had not his money. The belt might have slipped off in the struggle; some one else might have taken it off in carrying him up; he might have mistaken the shame of innocence in her face for that of guilt. Be it as it might, he had not the heart to make the matter public, and contented himself with staying at Aberalva, and watching for every hint of his lost treasure.
By which it befell that he was thinking, the half of every day at least, about Grace Harvey; and her face was seldom out of his mind’s eye; and the more he looked at it, either in fancy or in fact, the more did it fascinate him. They met but rarely, and then interchanged the most simple and modest of salutations: but Tom liked to meet her, would have gladly stopped to chat with her; however, whether from modesty or from a guilty conscience, she always hurried on in silence.
And she? Tom’s request to her, through Willis, to say nothing about the matter, she had obeyed, as her mother also had done. That Tom suspected her was a thought which never crossed her mind; to suspect any one herself was in her eyes a sin; and if the fancy that this man or that, among the sailors who had carried Tom up to Heale’s, might have been capable of the baseness, she thrust the thought from her, and prayed to be forgiven for her uncharitable judgment.
But night and day there weighed on that strange and delicate spirit the shame of the deed, as heavily, if possible, as if she herself had been the doer. There was another soul in danger of perdition; another black spot of sin, making earth hideous to her. The village was disgraced; not in the public eyes, true: but in the eye of heaven, and in the eyes of that stranger for whom she was beginning to feel an interest more intense than she ever had done in any human being before. Her saintliness (for Grace was a saint in the truest sense of that word) had long since made her free of that “communion of saints” which consists not in Pharisaic isolation from “the world,” not in the mutual flatteries and congratulations of a self-conceited clique; but which bears the sins and carries the sorrows of all around: whose atmosphere is disappointed hopes and plans for good, and the indignation which hates the sin because it loves the sinner, and sacred fear and pity for the self-inflicted miseries of those who might be (so runs the dream, and will run till it becomes a waking reality) strong, and free, and safe, by being good and wise. To such a spirit this bold cunning man had come, stiff-necked and heaven-defiant, a “brand plucked from the burning:” and yet equally unconscious of his danger, and thankless for his respite. Given, too, as it were, into her hands; tossed at her feet out of the very mouth of the pit,–why but that she might save him? A far duller heart, a far narrower imagination than Grace’s would have done what Grace’s did–concentrate themselves round the image of that man with all the love of woman. For, ere long, Grace found that she did love that man, as a woman loves but once in her life; perhaps in all time to come. She found that her heart throbbed, her cheek flushed, when his name was mentioned; that she watched, almost unawares to herself, for his passing; and she was not ashamed at the discovery. It was a sort of melancholy comfort to her that there was a great gulf fixed between them. His station, his acquirements, his great connections and friends in London (for all Tom’s matters were the gossip of the town, as, indeed, he took care that they should be), made it impossible that he should ever think of her; and therefore she held herself excused for thinking of him, without any fear of that “self-seeking,” and “inordinate affection,” and “unsanctified passions,” which her religious books had taught her to dread. Besides, he was not “a Christian.” That five minutes on the shore had told her that; and even if her station had been the same as his, she must not be “unequally yoked with an unbeliever.” And thus the very hopelessness of her love became its food and strength; the feeling which she would have checked with maidenly modesty, had it been connected even remotely with marriage, was allowed to take immediate and entire dominion; and she held herself permitted to keep him next her heart of hearts, because she could do nothing for him but pray for his conversion.
And pray for him she did, the noble, guileless girl, day and night, that he might be converted; that he might prosper, and become–perhaps rich, at least useful; a mighty instrument in some good work. And then she would build up one beautiful castle in the air after another, out of her fancies about what such a man, whom she had invested in her own mind with all the wisdom of Solomon, might do if his “talents were sanctified.” Then she prayed that he might recover his lost gold–when it was good for him; that he might discover the thief: no, that would only involve fresh shame and sorrow: that the thief, then, might be brought to repentance, and confession, and restitution. That was the solution of the dark problem, and for that she prayed; while her face grew sadder and sadder day by day.
For a while, over and above the pain which the theft caused her, there came–how could it be otherwise?–sudden pangs of regret that this same love was hopeless, at least upon this side of the grave. Inconsistent they were with the chivalrous unselfishness of her usual temper; and as such she dashed them from her, and conquered them, after a while, by a method which many a woman knows too well. It was but “one cross more;” a natural part of her destiny–the child of sorrow and heaviness of heart. Pleasure in joy she was never to find on earth; she would find it, then, in grief. And nursing her own melancholy, she went on her way, sad, sweet, and steadfast, and lavished more care and tenderness, and even gaiety, than ever upon her neighbours’ children, because she knew that she should never have a child of her own.
But there is a third damsel, to whom, whether more or less engaging than Grace Harvey or Miss Heale, my readers must needs be introduced. Let Miss Heale herself do it, with eyes full of jealous curiosity.
“There is a foreign letter for Mr. Thurnall, marked Montreal, and sent on here from Whitbury,” said she, one morning at breakfast, and in a significant tone; for the address was evidently in a woman’s hand.
“For me–ah, yes; I see,” said Tom, taking it carelessly, and thrusting it into his pocket.
“Won’t you read it at once, Mr. Thurnall? I’m sure you must be anxious to hear from friends abroad;” with an emphasis on the word friends.
“I have a good many acquaintances all over the world, but no friends that I am aware of,” said Tom, and went on with his breakfast.
“Ah–but some people are more than friends. Are the Montreal ladies pretty, Mr. Thurnall?”
“Don’t know; for I never was there.”
Miss Heale was silent, being mystified: and, moreover, not quite sure whether Montreal was in India or in Australia, and not willing to show her ignorance.
She watched Tom through the glass door all the morning to see if he read the letter, and betrayed any emotion at its contents: but Tom went about his business as usual, and, as far as she saw, never read it at all.
However, it was read in due time; for, finding himself in a lonely place that afternoon, Tom pulled it out with an anxious face, and read a letter written in a hasty ill-formed hand, underscored at every fifth word, and plentifully bedecked with notes of exclamation.
“What? my dearest friend, and fortune still frowns upon you? Your father blind and ruined! Ah, that I were there to comfort him for your sake! And ah, that I were anywhere, doing any drudgery, which might prevent my being still a burden to my benefactors. Not that they are unkind; not that they are not angels! I told them at once that you could send me no more money till you reached England, perhaps not then; and they answered that God would send it; that He who had sent me to them would send the means of supporting me; and ever since they have redoubled their kindness: but it is intolerable, this dependence, and on you, too, who have a father to support in his darkness. Oh, how I feel for you! But to tell you the truth, I pay a price for this dependence. I must needs be staid and sober; I must needs dress like any Quakeress; I must not read this book nor that; and my Shelley–taken from me, I suppose, because it spoke too much ‘Liberty,’ though, of course, the reason given was its infidel opinions–is replaced by ‘Law’s Serious Call.’ ‘Tis all right and good, I doubt not: but it is very dreary; as dreary as these black fir-forests, and brown snake fences, and that dreadful, dreadful Canadian winter which is past, which went to my very heart, day after day, like a sword of ice. Another such winter, and I shall die, as one of my own humming-birds would die, did you cage him here, and prevent him from fleeing home to the sunny South when the first leaves begin to fall. Dear children of the sun! my heart goes forth to them; and the whir of their wings is music to me, for it tells me of the South, the glaring South, with its glorious flowers, and glorious woods, its luxuriance, life, fierce enjoyments–let fierce sorrows come with them, if it must be so! Let me take the evil with the good, and live my rich wild life through bliss and agony, like a true daughter of the sun, instead of crystallising slowly here into ice, amid countenances rigid with respectability, sharpened by the lust of gain; without taste, without emotion, without even sorrow! Let who will be the stagnant mill-head, crawling in its ugly spade-cut ditch to turn the mill. Let me be the wild mountain brook, which foams and flashes over the rocks–what if they tear it?–it leaps them nevertheless, and goes laughing on its way. Let me go thus, for weal or woe! And if I sleep awhile, let it be like the brook, beneath the shade of fragrant magnolias and luxuriant vines, and image, meanwhile, in my bosom nothing but the beauty around.
“Yes, my friend, I can live no longer this dull chrysalid life, in comparison with which, at times, even that past dark dream seems tolerable–for amid its lurid smoke were flashes of brightness. A slave? Well; I ask myself at times, and what were women meant for but to be slaves? Free them, and they enslave themselves again, or languish unsatisfied; for they must love. And what blame to them if they love a white man, tyrant though he be, rather than a fellow-slave? If the men of our own race will claim us, let them prove themselves worthy of us! Let them rise, exterminate their tyrants, or, failing that, show that they know how to die. Till then, those who are the masters of their bodies will be the masters of our hearts. If they crouch before the white like brutes, what wonder if we look up to him as to a god? Woman must worship, or be wretched. Do I not know it? Have I not had my dream–too beautiful for earth? Was there not one whom you knew, to hear whom call me slave would have been rapture; to whom I would have answered on my knees, Master, I have no will but yours! But that is past–past. One happiness alone was possible for a slave, and even that they tore from me; and now I have no thought, no purpose, save revenge.
“These good people bid me forgive my enemies. Easy enough for them, who have no enemies to forgive. Forgive? Forgive injustice, oppression, baseness, cruelty? Forgive the devil, and bid him go in peace, and work his wicked will? Why have they put into my hands, these last three years, books worthy of a free nation?–books which call patriotism divine; which tell me how in every age and clime men have been called heroes who rose against their conquerors; women martyrs who stabbed their tyrants, and then died? Hypocrites! Did their grandfathers meekly turn the other cheek when your English taxed them somewhat too heavily? Do they not now teach every school-child to glory in their own revolution, their own declaration of independence, and to flatter themselves into the conceit that they are the lords of creation, and the examples of the world, because they asserted that sacred right of resistance which is discovered to be unchristian in the African? They will free us, forsooth, in good time (is it to be in God’s good time, or in their own?) if we will but be patient, and endure the rice-swamp, the scourge, the slave-market, and shame unspeakable, a few years more, till all is ready and safe,–for them. Dreamers as well as hypocrites! What nation was ever freed by others’ help? I have been reading history to see,–you do not know how much I have been reading,–and I find that freemen have always freed themselves, as we must do; and as they will never let us do, because they know that with freedom must come retribution; that our Southern tyrants have an account to render, which the cold Northerner has no heart to see him pay. For, after all, he loves the Southerner better than the slave; and fears him more also. What if the Southern aristocrat, who lords it over him as the panther does over the ox, should transfer (as he has threatened many a time) the cowhide from the negro’s loins to his? No; we must free ourselves! And there lives one woman, at least, who, having gained her freedom, knows how to use it in eternal war against all tyrants. Oh, I could go down, I think at moments, down to New Orleans itself, with a brain and lips of fire, and speak words–you know how I could speak them–which would bring me in a week to the scourge, perhaps to the stake. The scourge I could endure. Have I not felt it already? Do I not bear its scars even now, and glory in them; for they were won by speaking as a woman should speak? And even the fire?–Have not women been martyrs already? and could not I be one? Might not my torments madden a people into manhood, and my name become a war-cry in the sacred fight? And yet, oh my friend, life is sweet!–and my little day has been so dark and gloomy!–may I not have one hour’s sunshine, ere youth and vigour are gone, and my swift-vanishing Southern womanhood wrinkles itself up into despised old age? Oh, counsel me,–help me, my friend, my preserver, my true master now, so brave, so wise, so all-knowing; under whose mask of cynicism lies hid (have I not cause to know it?) the heart of a hero.
If Miss Heale could have watched Tom’s face as he read, much more could she have heard his words as he finished, all jealousy would have passed from her mind: for as he read, the cynical smile grew sharper and sharper, forming a fit prelude for the “Little fool!” which was his only comment.
“I thought you would have fallen in love with some honest farmer years ago: but a martyr you shan’t be, even if I have to send for you hither; though how to get you bread to eat I don’t know. However, you have been reading your book, it seems,–clever enough you always were, and too clever; so you could go out as governess, or something. Why, here’s a postscript dated three months afterwards! Ah, I see; this letter was written last July, in answer to my Australian one. What’s the meaning of this?” And he began reading again.
“I wrote so far; but I had not the heart to send it: it was so full of repinings. And since then,–must I tell the truth?–I have made a step; do not call it a desperate one; do not blame me, for your blame I cannot bear: but I have gone on the stage. There was no other means of independence open to me; and I had a dream, I have it still, that there, if anywhere, I might do my work. You told me that I might become a great actress: I have set my heart on becoming one; on learning to move the hearts of men, till the time comes when I can tell them, show them, in living flesh and blood, upon the stage, the secrets of a slave’s sorrows, and that slave a woman. The time has not come for that yet here: but I have had my success already, more than I could have expected; and not only in Canada, but in the States. I have been at New York, acting to crowded houses. Ah, when they applauded me, how I longed to speak! to pour out my whole soul to them, and call upon them, as men, to–. But that will come in time. I have found a friend, who has promised to write dramas especially for me. Merely republican ones at first; in which I can give full vent to my passion, and hurl forth the eternal laws of liberty, which their consciences may–must–at last, apply for themselves. But soon, he says, we shall be able to dare to approach the real subject, if not in America, still in Europe; and then, I trust, the coloured actress will stand forth as the championess of her race, of all who are oppressed, in every capital in Europe, save, alas! Italy and the Austria who crushes her. I have taken, I should tell you, an Italian name. It was better, I thought, to hide my African taint, forsooth, for awhile. So the wise New Yorkers have been feting, as Maria Cordifiamma, the white woman (for am I not fairer than many an Italian signora?), whom they would have looked upon as an inferior being under the name of Marie Lavington: though there is finer old English blood running in my veins, from your native Berkshire, they say, than in any a Down-Easter’s who hangs upon my lips. Address me henceforth, then, as La Signora Maria Cordifiamma. I am learning fast, by the by, to speak Italian. I shall be at Quebec till the end of the month. Then, I believe, I come to London; and we shall meet once more: and I shall thank you, thank you, thank you, once more, for all your marvellous kindness.”
“Humph!” said Tom, after a while. “Well, she is old enough to choose for herself. Five-and-twenty she must be by now…. As for the stage, I suppose it is the best place for her; better, at least, than turning governess, and going mad, as she would do, over her drudgery and her dreams. But who is this friend? Singing-master, scribbler, or political refugee? or perhaps all three together? A dark lot, those fellows. I must keep my eye on him; though it’s no concern of mine. I’ve done my duty by the poor thing; the devil himself can’t deny that. But, somehow, if this play-writing worthy plays her false, I feel very much as if I should be fool enough to try whether I have forgotten my pistol-shooting.”
AN OLD FOE WITH A NEW FACE.
“This child’s head is dreadfully hot; and how yellow he does look!” says Mrs. Vavasour, fussing about in her little nursery. “Oh, Clara, what shall I do? I really dare not give them any more medicine myself; and that horrid old Doctor Heale is worse than no one.”
“Ah, ma’am,” says Clara, who is privileged to bemoan herself, and to have sad confidences made to her, “if we were but in town now, to see Mr. Chilvers, or any one that could be trusted; but in this dreadful out-of-the-way place–“
“Don’t talk of it, Clara! Oh, what will become of the poor children?” And Mrs. Vavasour sits down and cries, as she does three times at least every week.
“But indeed, ma’am, if you thought you could trust him, there is that new assistant–“
“The man who was saved from the wreck? Why, nobody knows who he is.”
“Oh, but indeed, ma’am, he is a very nice gentleman, I can say that; and so wonderfully clever; and has cured so many people already, they say, and got down a lot of new medicines (for he has great friends among the doctors in town), and such a wonderful magnifying glass, with which he showed me himself, as I dropped into the shop promiscuous, such horrible things, ma’am, in a drop of water, that I haven’t dared hardly to wash my face since.”
“And what good will the magnifying glass do to us?” says the poor little Irish soul, laughing up through its tears. “He won’t want it to see how ill poor Frederick is, I’m sure; but you may send for him, Clara.”
“I’ll go myself, ma’am, and make sure,” says Clara; glad enough of a run, and chance of a chat with the young Doctor.
And in half an hour Mr. Thurnall is announced.
Though Mrs. Vavasour has a flannel apron on (for she will wash the children herself, in spite of Elsley’s grumblings), Tom sees that she is a lady; and puts on, accordingly, his very best manner, which, as his experience has long since taught him, is no manner at all.
He does his work quietly and kindly, and bows himself out.
“You will be sure to send the medicine immediately, Mr. Thurnall.”
“I will bring it myself, madam; and, if you like, administer it. I think the young gentleman has made friends with me sufficiently already.”
Tom keeps his word, and is back, and away again to his shop, in a marvellously short space, having “struck a fresh root,” as he calls it; for–
“What a very well-behaved sensible man that Mr. Thurnall is,” says Lucia to Elsley, an hour after, as she meets him coming in from the garden, where he has been polishing his “Wreck.” “I am sure he understands his business; he was so kind and quiet, and yet so ready, and seemed to know all the child’s symptoms beforehand, in such a strange way. I do hope he’ll stay here. I feel happier about the poor children than I have for a long time.”
“Thurnall?” asks Elsley, who is too absorbed in the “Wreck” to ask after the children; but the name catches his ear.
“Mr. Heale’s new assistant–the man who was wrecked,” answers she, too absorbed, in her turn, in the children to notice her husband’s startled face.
“Thurnall? Which Thurnall?”
“Do you know the name? It’s not a common one,” says she, moving to the door.
“No–not a common one at all! You said the children were not well?”!
“I am glad that you thought of asking after the poor things.”
“Why, really, my dear–” But before he can finish his excuse (probably not worth hearing), she has trotted up-stairs again to the nest, and is as busy as ever. Possibly Clara might do the greater part of what she does, and do it better: but still, are they not her children? Let those who will call a mother’s care mere animal instinct, and liken it to that of the sparrow or the spider: shall we not rather call it a Divine inspiration, and doubt whether the sparrow and the spider must not have souls to be saved, if they, too, show forth that faculty of maternal love which is, of all human feelings, most inexplicable and most self-sacrificing; and therefore, surely, most heavenly? If that does not come down straight from heaven, a “good and perfect gift,” then what is heaven, and what the gifts which it sends down?
But poor Elsley may have had solid reasons for thinking more of the name of Thurnall than of his children’s health: we will hope so for his sake; for, after sundry melodramatic pacings and starts (Elsley was of a melodramatic turn, and fond of a scene, even when he had no spectator, not even a looking-glass;) besides ejaculations of “It cannot be!” “If it were!” “I trust not!” “A fresh ghost to torment me!” “When will come the end of this accursed coil which I have wound round my life?” and so forth, he decided aloud that the suspense was intolerable; and enclosing himself in his poetical cloak and Mazzini wide-awake, strode down to the town, and into the shop. And as he entered it, “his heart sank to his midriff, and his knees below were loosed.” For there, making up pills, in a pair of brown holland sleeves of his own manufacture (for Tom was a good seamster, as all travellers should be), whistled Lilliburlero, as of old, the Tom of other days, which Elsley’s muse would fain have buried in a thousand Lethes.
Elsley came forward to the counter carelessly, nevertheless, after a moment. “What with my beard, and the lapse of time,” thought he, “he cannot know me.” So he spoke,–
“I understand you have been visiting my children, sir. I hope you did not find them seriously indisposed?”
“Mr. Vavasour?” says Tom, with a low bow.
“I am Mr. Vavasour!” But Elsley was a bad actor, and hesitated and coloured so much as he spoke, that if Tom had known nothing, he might have guessed something.
“Nothing serious, I assure you, sir: unless you are come to announce any fresh symptom.”
“Oh, no–not at all–that is–I was passing on my way to the quay, and thought it as well to have your own assurance; Mrs. Vavasour is so over-anxious.”
“You seem to partake of her infirmity, sir,” says Tom, with a smile and a bow. “However, it is one which does you both honour.”
An awkward pause.
“I hope I am not taking a liberty, sir; but I think I am bound to–“
“What in heaven is he going to say?” thought Elsley to himself, feeling very much inclined to run away.
“Thank you for all the pleasure and instruction which your writings have given me in lonely hours, and lonely places too. Your first volume of poems has been read by one man, at least, beside wild watchfires in the Rocky Mountains.”
Tom did not say that he pitched the said volume into the river in disgust; and that it was, probably, long since used up as house material by the caddis-baits of those parts,–for doubtless there are caddises there as elsewhere.
Poor Elsley rose at the bait, and smiled and bowed in silence.
“I have been so long absent from England, and in utterly wild countries, too, that I need hardly be ashamed to ask if you have written anything since ‘The Soul’s Agonies’? No doubt if you have, I might have found it at Melbourne, on my way home: but my visit there was a very hurried one. However, the loss is mine, and the fault too, as I ought to call it.”
“Pray make no excuses,” says Elsley, delighted. “I have written, of course. Who can help writing, sir, while Nature is so glorious, and man so wretched? One cannot but take refuge from the pettiness of the real in the contemplation of the ideal. Yes, I have written. I will send you my last book down. I don’t know whether you will find me improved.”
“How can I doubt that I shall?”
“Saddened, perhaps; perhaps more severe in my taste; but we will not talk of that. I owe you a debt, sir, for having furnished me with one of the most striking ‘motifs’ I ever had. I mean that miraculous escape of yours. It is seldom enough, in this dull every-day world, one stumbles on such an incident ready made to one’s hands, and needing only to be described as one sees it.”
And the weak, vain man chatted on, and ended by telling Tom all about his poem of “The Wreck,” in a tone which seemed to imply that he had done Tom a serious favour, perhaps raised him to immortality, by putting him in a book.
Tom thanked him gravely for the said honour, bowed him at last out of the shop, and then vaulted back clean over the counter, as soon as Elsley was out of sight, and commenced an Indian war-dance of frantic character, accompanying himself by an extemporary chaunt, with which the name of John Briggs was frequently intermingled;–
“If I don’t know you, Johnny, my boy, In spite of all your beard;
Why then I am a slower fellow,
Than ever has yet appeared,
“Oh if it was but he! what a card for me! What a world it is for poor honest rascals like me to try a fall with!–
“Why didn’t I take bad verse to make, And call it poetry;
And so make up to an earl’s daughter, Which was of high degree?
“But perhaps I am wrong after all: no–I saw he knew me, the humbug; though he never was a humbug, never rose above the rank of fool. However, I’ll make assurance doubly sure, and then,–if it pays me not to tell him I know him, I won’t tell him; and if it pays me to tell him, I will tell him. Just as you choose, my good Mr. Poet.” And Tom returned to his work, singing an extempore parody of “We met, ’twas in a crowd,” ending with–
“And thou art the cause of this anguish, my pill-box,”
in a howl so doleful, that Mrs. Heale marched into the shop, evidently making up her mind for an explosion.
“I am very sorry, sir, to have to speak to you upon such a subject, but I must say, that the profane songs, sir, which our house is not at all accustomed to them; not to mention that at your time of life, and in your position, sir, as my husband’s assistant, though there’s no saying (with a meaning toss of the head) how long it may last,”–and there, her grammar having got into a hopeless knot, she stopped.
Tom looked at her cheerfully and fixedly. “I had been expecting this,” said he to himself. “Better show the old cat at once that I carry claws as well as she.”
“There _is_ saying, madam, humbly begging your pardon, how long my present engagement will last. It will last just as long as I like.”
Mrs. Heale boiled over with rage: but ere the geyser could explode, Tom had continued in that dogged, nasal Yankee twang which he assumed when he was venomous:
“As for the songs, ma’am, there are two ways of making oneself happy in this life; you can judge for yourself which is best. One is to do one’s work like a man, and hum a tune, to keep one’s spirits up; the other is to let the work go to rack and ruin, and keep one’s spirits up, if one is a gentleman, by a little too much brandy;–if one is a lady, by a little too much laudanum.”
“Laudanum, sir?” almost screamed Mrs. Heale, turning pale as death.
“The pint bottle of best laudanum, which I had from town a fortnight ago, ma’am, is now nearly empty, ma’am. I will make affidavit that I have not used a hundred drops, or drunk one. I suppose it was the cat. Cats have queer tastes in the west, I believe. I have heard the cat coming down stairs into the surgery, once or twice after I was in bed; so I set my door ajar a little, and saw her come up again: but whether she had a vial in her paws–“
“Oh, sir!” says Mrs. Heale, bursting into tears. “And after the dreadful toothache which I have had this fortnight, which nothing but a little laudanum would ease it; and at my time of life, to mock a poor elderly lady’s infirmities, which I did not look for this cruelty and outrage!”
“Dry your tears, my dear madam,” says Tom, in his most winning tone. “You will always find me the thorough gentleman, I am sure. If I had not been one, it would have been easy enough for me, with my powerful London connections,–though I won’t boast,–to set up in opposition to your good husband, instead of saving him labour in his good old age. Only, my dear madam, how shall I get the laudanum-bottle refilled without the doctor’s–you understand?”
The wretched old woman hurried upstairs, and brought him down a half-sovereign out of her private hoard, trembling like an aspen leaf, and departed.
“So–scotched, but not killed. You’ll gossip and lie too. Never trust a laudanum-drinker. You’ll see me, by the eye of imagination, committing all the seven deadly sins; and by the tongue of inspiration go forth and proclaim the same at the town-head. I can’t kill you, and I can’t cure you, so I must endure you. What said old Goethe, in all the German I ever cared to recollect:–
“‘Der Wallfisch hat doch seine Laus; Muss auch die meine haben.’
“Now, then, for Mrs. Penberthy’s draughts. I wonder how that pretty schoolmistress goes on. If she were but honest, now, and had fifty thousand pounds–why then, she wouldn’t marry me; and so why now, I wouldn’t marry she,–as my native Berkshire grammar would render it.”
This chapter shall begin, good reader, with one of those startling bursts of “illustration,” with which our most popular preachers are wont now to astonish and edify their hearers, and after starting with them at the opening of the sermon from the north-pole, the Crystal Palace, or the nearest cabbage-garden, float them safe, upon the gushing stream of oratory, to the safe and well-known shores of doctrinal commonplace, lost in admiration at the skill of the good man who can thus make all roads lead, if not to heaven, at least to strong language about its opposite. True, the logical sequence of their periods may be, like that of the coming one, somewhat questionable, reminding one at moments of Fluellen’s comparison between Macedon and Monmouth, Henry the Fifth and Alexander: but, in the logic of the pulpit, all’s well that ends well, and the end must needs sanctify the means. There is, of course, some connection or other between all things in heaven and earth, or how would the universe hold together? And if one has not time to find out the true connection, what is left but to invent the best one can for oneself? Thus argues, probably, the popular preacher, and fills his pews, proving thereby clearly the excellence of his method. So argue also, probably, the popular poets, to whose “luxuriant fancy” everything suggests anything, and thought plays leap-frog with thought down one page and up the next, till one fancies at moments that they had got permission from the higher powers, before looking at the universe, to stir it all up a few times with a spoon. It is notorious, of course, that poets and preachers alike pride themselves upon this method of astonishing; that the former call it, “seeing the infinite in the finite;” the latter–“pressing secular matters into the service of the sanctuary,” and other pretty phrases which, for reverence’ sake, shall be omitted. No doubt they have their reasons and their reward. The style takes; the style pays; and what more would you have? Let them go on rejoicing, in spite of the cynical pedants in the Saturday Review, who dare to accuse (will it be believed?) these luminaries of the age of talking merely irreverent nonsense. Meanwhile, so evident is the success (sole test of merit) which has attended the new method, that it is worth while trying whether it will not be as taking in the novel as it is in the chapel; and therefore the reader is requested to pay special attention to the following paragraph, modelled carefully after the exordiums of a famous Irish preacher, now drawing crowded houses at the West End of Town. As thus;–“It is the pleasant month of May, when, as in old Chaucer’s time, the–
“Smale foules maken melodie,
That slepen alle night with open eye So priketh hem nature in their corages. Then longen folk to goe on pilgrimages, And specially from every shire’s end
Of Englelond, to Exeter-hall they wend,”
till the low places of the Strand blossom with white cravats, those lilies of the valley, types of meekness and humility, at least in the pious palmer–and why not of similar virtues in the undertaker, the concert-singer, the groom, the tavern-waiter, the croupier at the gaming-table, and Frederick Augustus Lord Scoutbush, who, white-cravated like the rest, is just getting into his cab at the door of the Never-mind-what Theatre, to spend an hour at Kensington before sauntering in to Lady M—-‘s ball?
Why not, I ask, at least in the case of little Scoutbush? For Guardsman though he be, coming from a theatre and going to a ball, there is meekness and humility in him at this moment, as well as in the average of the white-cravated gentlemen who trotted along that same pavement about eleven o’clock this forenoon. Why should not his white cravat, like theirs, be held symbolic of that fact? However, Scoutbush belongs rather to the former than the latter of Chaucer’s categories; for a “smale foule” he is, a little bird-like fellow, who maketh melodie also, and warbles like a cock-robin; we cannot liken him to any more dignified songster. Moreover, he will sleep all night with open eye; for he will not be in bed till five to-morrow morning; and pricked he is, and that sorely, in his courage; for he is as much, in love as his little nature can be, with the new actress, La Signora Cordifiamma, of the Never-mind-what Theatre.
How exquisitely, now (for this is one of the rare occasions in which a man is permitted to praise himself), is established hereby an unexpected bond of linked sweetness long drawn out between things which had, ere they came beneath the magic touch of genius, no more to do with each other than this book has with the Stock Exchange. Who would have dreamed of travelling from the Tabard in Southwark to the last new singer, _via_ Exeter-hall and the lilies of the valley, and touching en passant on to cardinal virtues and an Irish Viscount? But see; given only a little impudence, and less logic, and hey presto! the thing is done; and all that remains to be done is to dilate (as the Rev. Dionysius O’Blareaway would do at this stage of the process) upon the moral question which has been so cunningly raised, and to inquire, firstly,–how the virtues of meekness and humility could be predicated of Frederick Augustus St. Just, Viscount Scoutbush and Baron Torytown, in the peerage of Ireland; and secondly,–how those virtues were called into special action by his questionably wise attachment to a new actress, to whom he had never spoken a word in his life.
First, then, “Little Freddy Scoutbush,” as his compeers irreverently termed him, was, by common consent of her Majesty’s Guards, a “good fellow.” Whether the St. James’ Street definition of that adjective be the perfect one or not, we will not stay to inquire; but in the Guards’ club-house it meant this: that Scoutbush had not an enemy in the world, because he deserved none; that he lent, and borrowed not; gave, and asked not again; envied not; hustled not; slandered not; never bore malice, never said a cruel word, never played a dirty trick, would hear a fellow’s troubles out to the end, and if he could not counsel, at least would not laugh at them, and at all times and in all places lived and let live, and was accordingly a general favourite. His morality was neither better nor worse than the average of his companions; but if he was sensual, he was at least not base; and there were frail women who blessed “little Freddy,” and his shy and secret generosity, from having saved them from the lowest pit.
_Au reste_, he was idle, frivolous, useless; but with these two palliating facts, that he knew it and regretted it; and that he never had a chance of being aught else. His father and mother had died when he was a child. He had been sent to Eton at seven, where he learnt nothing, and into the Guards at seventeen, where he learnt less than nothing. His aunt, old Lady Knockdown, who was a kind old Irish woman, an ex-blue and ex-beauty, now a high Evangelical professor, but as worldly as her neighbours in practice, had tried to make him a good boy in old times: but she had given him up, long before he left Eton, as a “vessel of wrath” (which he certainly was, with his hot Irish temper); and since then she had only spoken of him with moans, and to him just as if he and she had made a compact to be as worldly as they could, and as if the fact that he was going, as she used to tell her private friends, straight to the wrong place, was to be utterly ignored before the pressing reality of getting him and his sisters well married. And so it befell, that Lady Knockdown, like many more, having begun with too high (or at least precise) a spiritual standard, was forced to end practically in having no standard at all; and that for ten years of Scoutbush’s life, neither she nor any other human being had spoken to him as if he had a soul to be saved, or any duty on earth save to eat, drink, and be merry.
And all the while there was a quaint and pathetic consciousness in the little man’s heart that he was meant for something better; that he was no fool, and was not intended to be one. He would thrust his head into lectures at the Polytechnic and the British Institution, with a dim endeavour to guess what they were all about, and a good-natured envy of the clever fellows who knew about “science, and all that.” He would sit and listen, puzzled and admiring, to the talk of statesmen, and confide his woe afterwards to some chum.–“Ah, if I had had the chance now that my cousin Chalkclere has! If I had had two or three tutors, and a good mother, too, keeping me in a coop, and cramming me with learning, as they cram chickens for the market, I fancy I could have shown my comb and hackles in the House as well as some of them. I fancy I could make a speech in parliament now, with the help of a little Irish impudence, if I only knew anything to speak about.”
So Scoutbush clung, in a childish way, to any superior man who would take notice of him, and not treat him as the fribble which he seemed. He had taken to that well-known artist, Claude Mellot, of late, simply from admiration of his brilliant talk about art and poetry; and boldly confessed that he preferred one of Mellot’s orations on the sublime and beautiful, though he didn’t understand a word of them, to the songs and jokes (very excellent ones in their way) of Mr. Hector Harkaway, the distinguished Irish novelist, and boon companion of her Majesty’s Life Guards Green. His special intimate and Mentor, however, was a certain Major Campbell, of whom more hereafter; who, however, being a lofty-minded and perhaps somewhat Pharisaic person, made heavier demands on Scoutbush’s conscience than he had yet been able to meet; for fully as he agreed that Hercules’ choice between pleasure and virtue was the right one, still he could not yet follow that ancient hero along the thorny path, and confined his conception of “duty” to the minimum guard and drill. He had estates in Ireland, which had almost cleared themselves during his long minority, but which, since the famine, had cost him about as much as they brought him in; and estates in the West, which, with a Welsh slate-quarry, brought him in some seven or eight thousand a-year; and so kept his poor little head above water, to look pitifully round the universe, longing for the life of him to make out what it all meant, and hoping that somebody would come and tell him.
So much for his meekness and humility in general; as for the particular display of those virtues which he has shown to-day, it must be understood that he has given a promise to Mrs. Mellot not to make love to La Cordifiamma; and, on that only condition, has been allowed to meet her to-night at one of Claude Mellot’s petits soupers.
La Cordifiamma has been staying, ever since she came to England, with the Mellots in the wilds of Brompton; unapproachable there, as in all other places. In public, she is a very Zenobia, who keeps all animals of the other sex at an awful distance; and of the fifty young puppies who are raving about her beauty, her air, and her voice, not one has obtained an introduction; while Claude, whose studio used to be a favourite lounge of young Guardsmen, has, as civilly as he can, closed his doors to those magnificent personages ever since the new singer became his guest.
Claude Mellot seems to have come into a fortune of late years, large enough, at least, for his few wants. He paints no longer, save when he chooses; and has taken a little old house in one of those back lanes of Brompton, where islands of primaeval nursery garden still remain undevoured by the advancing surges of the brick and mortar deluge. There he lives, happy in a green lawn, and windows opening thereon; in three elms, a cork, an ilex, and a mulberry, with a great standard pear, for flower and foliage the queen of all suburban trees. There he lies on the lawn, upon strange skins, the summer’s day, playing with cats and dogs, and making love to his Sabina, who has not lost her beauty in the least, though she is on the wrong side of five-and-thirty. He deludes himself, too, into the belief that he is doing something, because he is writing a treatise on the “Principles of Beauty;” which will be published, probably, about the time the Thames is purified, in the season of Latter Lammas and the Greek Kalends; and the more certainly so, because he has wandered into the abyss of conic sections and curves of double curvature, of which, if the truth must be spoken, he knows no more than his friends of the Life Guards Green.
To this charming little nest has Lord Scoutbush procured an evening’s admission after abject supplication to Sabina, who pets him because he is musical, and solemn promises neither to talk or look any manner of foolishness.
“My dearest Mrs. Mellot,” says the poor wretch, “I will be good, indeed I will; I will not even speak to her. Only let me sit and look,–and–and–why, I thought you understood all about such things, and could pity a poor fellow who was spoony.”
And Sabina, who prides herself much on understanding such things, and on having, indeed, reduced them to a science in which she gives gratuitous lessons to all young gentlemen and ladies of her acquaintance, receives him pityingly, in that delicious little back drawing-room, whither whosoever enters is in no hurry to go out again.
Claude’s house is arranged with his usual defiance of all conventionalities. Dining or drawing-room proper there is none; the large front room is the studio, where he and Sabina eat and drink, as well as work and paint but out of it opens a little room, the walls of which are so covered with gems of art (where the rogue finds money to buy them is a puzzle), that the eye can turn nowhere without taking in some new beauty, and wandering on from picture to statue, from portrait to landscape, dreaming and learning afresh after every glance. At the back, a glass bay has been thrown out, and forms a little conservatory, for ever fresh and gay with tropic ferns and flowers; gaudy orchids dangle from the roof, creepers hide the framework, and you hardly see where the room ends, and the winter-garden begins; and in the centre an ottoman invites you to lounge. It costs Claude money, doubtless; but he has his excuse,–“Having once seen the tropics, I cannot live without some love-tokens from their lost paradises; and which is the wiser plan, to spend money on a horse and brougham, which we don’t care to use, and on scrambling into society at the price of one great stupid party a year, or to make our little world as pretty as we can, and let those who wish to see us, take us as they find us?”
In this “nest,” as Claude and Sabina call it, sacred to the everlasting billing and cooing of that sweet little pair of human love-birds who have built it, was supper set. La Cordifiamma, all the more beautiful from the languor produced by the excitement of acting, lay upon a sofa; Claude attended, talking earnestly; Sabina, according to her custom, was fluttering in and out, and arranging supper with her own hands; both husband and wife were as busy as bees; and yet any one accustomed to watch the little ins and outs of married life, could have seen that neither forgot for a moment that the other was in the room, but basked and purred, like two blissful cats, each in the sunshine of the other’s presence; and he could have seen, too, that La Cordifiamma was divining their thoughts, and studying all their little expressions, perhaps that she might use them on the stage; perhaps, too, happy in sympathy with their happiness: and yet there was a shade of sadness on her forehead.
Scoutbush enters, is introduced, and receives a salutation from the actress haughty and cold enough to check the forwardest; puts on the air of languid nonchalance which is considered (or was before the little experiences of the Crimea) fit and proper for young gentlemen of rank and fashion. So he sits down, and feasts his foolish eyes upon his idol, hoping for a few words before the evening is over. Did I not say well, then, that there was as much meekness and humility under Scoutbush’s white cravat as under others? But his little joy is soon dashed; for the black boy announces (seemingly much to his own pleasure) a tall personage, whom, from his dress and his moustachio, Scoutbush takes for a Frenchman, till he hears him called Stangrave. The intruder is introduced to Lord Scoutbush, which ceremony is consummated by a microscopic nod on either side; he then walks straight up to La Cordifiamma; and Scoutbush sees her cheeks flush as he does so. He takes her hand, speaks to her in a low voice, and sits down by her, Claude making room for him; and the two engage earnestly in conversation.
Scoutbush is much inclined to walk out of the room;–was he brought there to see that? Of course, however, he sits still, keeps his own counsel, and makes himself agreeable enough all the evening, like a good-natured kind-hearted little man, as he is. Whereby he is repaid; for the conversation soon becomes deep, and even too deep for him; and he is fain to drop out of the race, and leave it to his idol and to the new-comer, who seems to have seen, and done, and read everything in heaven and earth, and probably bought everything also; not to mention that he would be happy to sell the said universe again, at a very cheap price, if any one would kindly take it off his hands. Not that he boasts, or takes any undue share of the conversation; he is evidently too well bred for that; but every sentence shows an acquaintance with facts of which Eton has told Scoutbush nothing, the barrack-room less, and after which he still craves, the good little fellow, in a very honest way, and would soon have learnt, had he had a chance; for of native Irish smartness he had no lack.
“Poor Flake was half mad about you, Signora, in the stage-box to-night,” said Sabina. “He says that he shall not sleep till he has painted you.”
“Do let him!” cried Scoutbush: “what a picture he will make!”
“He may paint a picture, but not me; it is quite enough, Lord Scoutbush, to be some one else for two hours every night, without going down to posterity, as some one else for ever. If I am painted, I will be painted by no one who cannot represent my very self.”
“You are right!” said Stangrave: “and you will do the man himself good by refusing; he has some notion still of what a portrait ought to be. If he once begins by attempting passing expressions of passion, which is all stage portraits can give, he will find them so much easier than honest representations of character, that he will end, where all our moderns seem to do, in merest melodrama.”
“Explain!” said she.
“Portrait painters now depend for their effect on the mere accidents of the _entourage_; on dress, on landscape, even on broad hints of a man’s occupation, putting a plan on the engineer’s table, and a roll in the statesman’s hands, like the old Greek who wrote ‘this is an ox’ under his picture. If they wish to give the face expression, though they seldom aim so high, all they can compass is a passing emotion; and one sitter goes down to posterity with an eternal frown, another with an eternal smile.”
“Or, if he be a poet,” said Sabina, “rolls his eye for ever in a fine frenzy.”
“But would you forbid them to paint passion?”
“Not in its place; when the picture gives the causes of the passion, and the scene tells its own story. But then let us not have merely Kean as Hamlet, but Hamlet’s self; let the painter sit down and conceive for himself a Hamlet, such as Shakspeare conceived; not merely give us as much of him as could be pressed at a given moment into the face of Mr. Kean. He will be only unjust to both actor and character. If Flake paints Marie as Lady Macbeth, he will give us neither her nor Lady Macbeth; but only the single point at which their two characters can coincide.”
“How rude!” said Sabina, laughing; “what is he doing but hinting that La Signora’s conception of Lady Macbeth is a very partial and imperfect one?”
“And why should it not be?” asked the actress, humbly enough.
“I meant,” he answered warmly, “that there was more, far more in her than in any character which she assumes; and I do not want a painter to copy only one aspect, and let a part go down to posterity as a representation of the whole.”
“If you mean that, you shall be forgiven. No; when she is painted, she shall be painted as herself, as she is now. Claude shall paint her.”
“I have not known La Signora long enough,” said Claude, “to aspire to such an honour. I paint no face which I have not studied for a year.”
“Faith!” said Scoutbush, “you would find no more in most faces at the year’s end, than you did the first day.”
“Then I would not paint them. If I paint a portrait, which I seldom do, I wish to make it such a one as the old masters aimed at,–to give the sum total of the whole character; traces of every emotion, if it were possible, and glances of every expression which have passed over it since it was born into the world. They are all here, the whole past and future of the man; and every man, as the Mohammedans say, carries his destiny on his forehead.”
“But who has eyes to see it?”
“The old masters had; some of them at least. Raphael had; Sebastian del Piombo had; and Titian, and Giorgione. There are portraits painted by them which carry a whole life-history concentrated into one moment.”
“But they,” said Stangrave, “are the portraits of men such as they saw around them; natures who were strong for good and evil, who were not ashamed to show their strength. Where will a painter find such among the poor, thin, unable mortals who come to him to buy immortality at a hundred and fifty guineas apiece, after having spent their lives in religiously rubbing off their angles against each other, and forming their characters, as you form shot, by shaking them together in a bag till they have polished each other into dullest uniformity?”
“It’s very true,” said Scoutbush, who suffered much at times from a certain wild Irish vein, which stirred him up to kick over the traces. “People are horribly like each other; and if a poor fellow is bored, and tries to do anything spicy or original, he has half-a-dozen people pooh-poohing him down on the score of bad taste.”
“Men can be just as original now as ever,” said La Signora, “if they had but the courage, even the insight. Heroic souls in old times had no more opportunities than we have: but they used them. There were daring deeds to be done then–are there none now? Sacrifices to be made–are there none now? Wrongs to be redressed–are there none now? Let any one set his heart, in these days, to do what is right, and nothing else; and it will not be long ere his brow is stamped with all that goes to make up the heroical expression–with noble indignation, noble self-restraint, great hopes, great sorrows; perhaps, even, with the print of the martyr’s crown of thorns.”
She looked at Stangrave as she spoke, with an expression which Scoutbush tried in vain to read. The American made no answer, and seemed to hang his head awhile. After a minute he said tenderly:–
“You will tire yourself if you talk thus, after the evening’s fatigue. Mrs. Mellot will sing to us, and give us leisure to think over our lesson.”
And Sabina sang; and then Lord Scoutbush was made to sing; and sang his best, no doubt.
So the evening slipt on, till it was past eleven o’clock, and Stangrave rose. “And now,” said he, “I must go to Lady M—-‘s ball; and Marie must rest.”
As he went, he just leaned over La Cordifiamma.
“Shall I come in to-morrow morning? We ought to read over that scene together before the rehearsal.”
“Early then, or Sabina will be gone out; and she must play soubrette to our hero and heroine.”
“You will rest? Mrs. Mellot, you will see that she does not sit up.”
“It is not very polite to rob us of her, as soon as you cannot enjoy her yourself.”
“I must take care of people who do not take care of themselves;” and Stangrave departed.
Great was Scoutbush’s wrath when he saw Marie rise and obey orders. “Who was this man? what right had he to command her?”
He asked as much of Sabina the moment La Cordifiamma had retired.
“Are you not going to Lady M—- ‘s, too?”
“No; that is, I won’t go yet; not till you have explained all this to me.”
“Explained what?” asked Sabina, looking as demure as a little brown mouse.
“Why, what did you ask me here for?”
“Lord Scoutbush should recollect that he asked himself.”
“You cruel venomous creature! do you think I would have come, if I had known that I was to see another man making love to her before my very eyes? I could kill the fellow;–who is he?”
“A New York merchant, unworthy of your aristocratic powder and ball.”
“The confounded Yankee!” muttered Scoutbush.
“If people swear in my house, I fine them a dozen of kid gloves. Did you not promise me that you would not make love to her yourself?”
“Well–but, it is too cruel of you, before my very eyes.”
“I saw no love-making to-night.”
“None? Were you blind?”
“Not in the least; but you cannot well see a thing making which has been made long ago.”
“What! Is he her husband?”
“Engaged to her?”
“Don’t you know already that this is a house of mystery, full of mysterious people? I tell you this only, that if she ever marries any one, she will marry him; and that if I can, I will make her.”
“Then you are my enemy after all.”
“I! Do you think that Sabina Mellot can see a young viscount loose upon the universe, without trying to make up a match for him? No; I have such a prize for you,–young, handsome, better educated than any woman whom you will meet to-night. True, she is a Manchester girl: but then she has eighty thousand pounds.”
“Eighty thousand nonsense? I’d sooner have that divine creature without a penny, than–“
“And would my lord viscount so far debase himself as to marry an actress?”
“Humph! Faith, my grandmother was an actress; and we St. Justs are none the worse for that fact, as far as I can see,–and certainly none the uglier–the women at least. Oh Sabina–Mrs. Mellot, I mean–only help me this once!”
“This once? Do you intend to marry by my assistance this time, and by your own the next? How many viscountesses are there to be?”
“Don’t laugh at me, you cruel woman: you don’t know; you fancy that I am not in love–” and the poor fellow began pouring out these commonplaces, which one has heard too often to take the trouble of repeating, and yet which are real enough, and pathetic too; for in every man, however frivolous, or even worthless, love calls up to the surface the real heroism, the real depth of character–all the more deep because common to poet and philosopher, guardsman and country clod.
“I’ll leave town to-morrow. I’ll go to the Land’s-end,–to Norway,–to Africa–“
“And forget her in the bliss of lion-hunting.”
“Don’t, I tell you; here I will not stay to be driven mad. To think that she is here, and that hateful Yankee at her elbow. I’ll go–“
“To Lady M—-‘s ball?”
“No, confound it; to meet that fellow there! I should quarrel with him, as sure as there is hot Irish blood in my veins. The self-satisfied puppy! to be flirting and strutting there, while such a creature as that is lying thinking of him.”
“Would you have him shut himself up in his hotel, and write poetry; or walk the streets all night, sighing at the moon?”
“No; but the cool way in which he went off himself, and sent her to bed. Confound him! commanding her. It made my blood boil.”
“Claude, get Lord Scoutbush some iced soda-water.”
“If you laugh at me, I’ll never speak to you again.”
“Or buy any of Claude’s pictures?”
“Why do you torment me so? I’ll go, I say,–leave town to-morrow,–only I can’t with this horrid depot work! What shall I do? It’s too cruel of you, while Campbell is away in Ireland, too; and I have not a soul but you to ask advice of, for Valencia is as great a goose as I am;” and the poor little fellow buried his hands in his curls, and stared fiercely into the fire, as if to draw from thence omens of his love, by the spodomantic augury of the ancient Greeks; while Sabina tripped up and down the room, putting things to rights for the night, and enjoying his torments as a cat does those of the mouse between her paws; and yet not out of spite, but from pure and simple fun.
Sabina is one of those charming bodies who knows everybody’s business, and manages it. She lives in a world of intrigue, but without a thought of intriguing for her own benefit. She has always a match to make, a disconsolate lover to comfort, a young artist to bring forward, a refugee to conceal, a spendthrift to get out of a scrape; and, like David in the mountains, “every one that is discontented, and every one that is in debt, gather themselves to her.” The strangest people, on the strangest errands, run over each other in that cosy little nest of hers. Fine ladies with over-full hearts, and seedy gentlemen with over-empty pockets, jostle each other at her door; and she has a smile, and a repartee, and good, cunning, practical wisdom for each and every one of them, and then dismisses them to bill and coo with Claude, and laugh over everybody and everything. The only price which she demands for her services is, to be allowed to laugh; and if that be permitted, she will be as busy, and earnest, and tender, as Saint Elizabeth herself. “I have no children of my own,” she says, “so I just make everybody my children, Claude included; and play with them, and laugh at them, and pet them, and help them out of their scrapes, just as I should if they were in my own nursery.” And so it befalls that she is every one’s confidant; and though every one seems on the point of taking liberties with her, yet no one does: partly because they are in her power, and partly because, like an Eastern sultana, she carries a poniard, and can use it, though only in self-defence. So if great people, or small people either (who can give themselves airs as well as their betters), take her plain speaking unkindly, she just speaks a little more plainly, once for all, and goes off smiling to some one else; as a hummingbird, if a flower has no honey in it, whirs away, with a saucy flirt of its pretty little tail, to the next branch on the bush.
“I must know more of this American,” said Scoutbush, at last.
“Well, he would be very improving company for you; and I know you like improving company.”
“I mean–what has he to do with her?”
“That is just what I will not tell you. One thing I will tell you, though, for it may help to quench any vain hopes on your part; and that is, the reason which she gives for not marrying him.”
“Because he is an idler.”
“What would she say of me, then?” groaned Scoutbush.
“Very true; for, you must understand, this Mr. Stangrave is not what you or I should call an idle man. He has travelled over half the world and made the best use of his eyes. He has filled his house in New York, they say, with gems of art gathered from every country in Europe. He is a finished scholar; talks half-a-dozen different languages, sings, draws, writes poetry, reads hard every day, at every subject, from gardening to German metaphysics–altogether, one of the most highly cultivated men I know, and quite an Admirable Crichton in his way.”
“Then why does she call him an idler?”
“Because, she says, he has no great purpose in life. She will marry no one who will not devote himself, and all he has, to some great, chivalrous, heroic enterprise; whose one object is to be of use, even if he has to sacrifice his life to it. She says that there must be such men still left in the world; and that if she finds one, him she will marry, and no one else.”
“Why, there are none such to be found now-a-days, I thought?”
“You heard what she herself said on that very point.”
There was a silence for a minute or two. Scout-bush had heard, and was pondering it in his heart. At last,–
“I am not cut out for a hero; so I suppose I must give her up. But I wish sometimes I could be of use, Mrs. Mellot: but what can a fellow do?”
“I thought there was an Irish tenantry to be looked after, my lord, and a Cornish tenantry too.”
“That’s what Campbell is always saying: but what more can I do than I do? As for those poor Paddies, I never ask them for rent; if I did, I should not get it; so there is no generosity in that. And as for the Aberalva people, they have got on very well without me for twenty years; and I don’t know them, nor what they want; nor even if they do want anything, except fish enough, and I can’t put more fish into the sea, Mrs. Mellot?”
“Try and be a good soldier, then,” said she, laughing. “Why should not Lord Scoutbush emulate his illustrious countryman, conquer at a second Waterloo, and die a duke?”
“I’m not cut out for a general, I am afraid; but if–I don’t say if I could marry that woman–I suppose it would be a foolish thing–though I shall break my heart, I believe, if I do not. Oh, Mrs. Mellot, you cannot tell what a fool I have made myself about her; and I cannot help it! It’s not her beauty merely; but there is something so noble in her face, like one of those Greek goddesses Claude talks of; and when she is acting, if she has to say anything grand, or generous–or–you know the sort of thing,–she brings it out with such a voice, and such a look, from the very bottom of her heart,–it makes me shudder; just as she did when she told that Yankee, that every one could be a hero, or a martyr, if he chose. Mrs. Mellot, I am sure she is one, or she could not look and speak as she does.”
“She is one!” said Sabina; “a heroine, and a martyr too.”
“If I could,–that was what I was going to say,–if I could but win that woman’s respect–as I live, I ask no more; only to be sure she didn’t despise me. I’d do–I don’t know what I wouldn’t do. I’d–I’d study the art of war: I know there are books about it. I’d get out to the East, away from this depot work; and if there is no fighting there, as every one says there will not be, I’d go into a marching regiment, and see service. I’d,–hang it, if they’d have me,–I’d even go to the senior department at Sandhurst, and read mathematics!”
Sabina kept her countenance (though with difficulty) at this magnificent bathos; for she saw that the little man was really in earnest; and that the looks and words of the strange actress had awakened in him something far deeper and nobler than the mere sensual passion of a boy.
“Ah, if I had but gone out to Varna with the rest! I thought myself a lucky fellow to be left here.”
“Do you know that it is getting very late?”
So Frederick Lord Scoutbush went home to his rooms: and there sat for three hours and more with his feet on the fender, rejecting the entreaties of Mr. Bowie, his servant, either to have something, or to go to bed; yea, he forgot even to smoke, by which Mr. Bowie “jaloused” that he was hit very hard indeed: but made no remark, being a Scotchman, and of a cautious temperament.
However, from that night Scoutbush was a changed man, and tried to be so. He read of nothing but sieges and stockades, brigade evolutions,