3343555Eugene Aram — Book 4, Chapter X.Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer



"I made a posy while the day ran by,
Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
My life within this band."George Herbert.
——"The time approaches,
That will with due precision make us know,

The next morning Walter rose early, and descending into the court-yard of the inn, he there met with the landlord, who—a hoe in his hand,—was just about to enter a little gate that led into the garden. He held the gate open for Walter.

"It is a fine morning. Sir; would you like to look into the garden," said mine host, with an inviting smile.

Walter accepted the offer, and found himself in a large and well-stocked garden, laid out with much neatness and some taste; the Landlord halted by a parterre which required his attention, and Walter walked on in solitary reflection.

The morning was serene and clear, but the frost mingled the freshness with an "eager and nipping air," and Walter unconsciously quickened his step as he paced to and fro the straight walk that bisected the garden, with his eyes on the ground, and his hat over his brows.

Now then he had reached the place where the last trace of his father seemed to have vanished; in how wayward and strange a manner! If no further clue could be here discovered by the inquiry he purposed; at this spot would terminate his researches and his hopes. But the young heart of the traveller was buoyed up with expectation. Looking back to the events of the last few weeks, he thought he recognised the finger of Destiny guiding him from step to step, and now resting on the scene to which it had brought his feet. How singularly complete had been the train of circumstance, which, linking things seemingly most trifling—most dissimilar, had lengthened into one continuous chain of evidence! the trivial incident that led him to the saddler's shop; the accident that brought the whip that had been his father's, to his eye; the account from Courtland, which had conducted him to this remote part of the country; and now the narrative of Elmore leading him to the spot, at which all inquiry seemed as yet to pause! Had he been led hither only to hear repeated that strange tale of sudden and wanton disappearance—to find an abrupt wall, a blank and impenetrable barrier to a course, hitherto so continuously guided on? had he been the sport of Fate, and not its instrument? No; he was filled with a serious and profound conviction, that a discovery that he of all men was best entitled by the unalienable claims of blood and birth to achieve was reserved for him, and that this grand dream and nursed object of his childhood was now about to be embodied and attained. He could not but be sensible, too, that as he had proceeded on his high enterprise, his character had acquired a weight and a thoughtful seriousness, which was more fitted to the nature of that enterprise than akin to his earlier temper. This consciousness swelled his bosom with a profound and steady hope. When Fate selects her human agents, her dark and mysterious spirit is at work within them; she moulds their hearts, she exalts their energies, she shapes them to the part she has allotted them, and renders the mortal instrument worthy of the solemn end.

Thus chewing the cud of his involved and deep reflection, the young adventurer paused at last opposite his host, who was still bending over his pleasant task, and every now and then, excited by the exercise and the fresh morning air, breaking into snatches of some old rustic song. The contrast in mood between himself and this

"Unvexed loiterer by the world's green ways"

struck forcibly upon him. Mine host, too, was one whose appearance was better suited to his occupation than his profession. He might have told some three-and-sixty years, but it was a comely and green old age; his cheek was firm and ruddy, not with nightly cups, but the fresh witness of the morning breezes it was wont to court; his frame was robust, not corpulent; and his long grey hair, which fell almost to his shoulder, his clear blue eyes, and a pleasant curve in a mouth characterized by habitual good humour, completed a portrait that even many a dull observer would have paused to gaze upon. And indeed the good man enjoyed a certain kind of reputation for his comely looks and cheerful manner. His picture had even been taken by a young artist in the neighbourhood; nay, the likeness had been multiplied into engravings, somewhat rude and somewhat unfaithful, which might be seen occupying no inconspicuous or dusty corner in the principal printshop of the town: nor was mine host's character a contradiction to his looks. He had seen enough of life to be intelligent, and had judged it rightly enough to be kind. He had passed that line so nicely given to man's codes in those admirable pages which first added delicacy of tact to the strong sense of English composition. "We have just religion enough," it is said somewhere in the Spectator, "to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Our good landlord, peace be with his ashes! had never halted at this limit. The country innkeeper might have furnished Goldsmith with a counterpart to his country curate; his house was equally hospitable to the poor—his heart equally tender, in a nature wiser than experience, to error, and equally open, in its warm simplicity, to distress. Peace be with thee ******* Our grandsire was thy patron—yet a patron thou didst not want. Merit in thy capacity is seldom bare of reward. The public want no indicators to a house like thine. And who requires a third person to tell him how to appreciate the value of good nature and good cheer?

As Walter stood, and contemplated the old man bending over the sweet fresh earth, (and then, glancing round, saw the quiet garden stretching away on either side with its boundaries lost among the thick evergreen,) something of that grateful and moralizing stillness with which some country scene (the rura et silentium) generally inspires us, when we awake to its consciousness from the troubled dream of dark and unquiet thought, stole over his mind: and certain old lines which his uncle, who loved the soft and rustic morality that pervades the ancient race of English minstrels, had taught him, when a boy, came pleasantly into his recollection,

"With all, as in some rare-limn'd book, we see
Here painted lectures of God's sacred will.
The daisy teacheth lowliness of mind;
The camomile, we should be patient still;
The rue, our hate of Vice's poison ill;
The woodbine, that we should our friendship hold;
Our hope the savory in the bitterest cold."[1]

The old man stopped from his work, as the musing figure of his guest darkened the prospect before him, and said:

"A pleasant time, Sir, for the gardener!"

"Ay, is it so . . . you must miss the fruits and flowers of summer."

"Well, Sir,—but we are now paying back the garden, for the good things it has given us.—It is like taking care of a friend in old age, who has been kind to us when he was young."

Walter smiled at the quaint amiability of the idea.

"'Tis a winning thing, Sir, a garden!—It brings us an object every day; and that's what I think a man ought to have if he wishes to lead a happy life."

"It is true," said Walter; and mine host was encouraged to continue by the attention and affable countenance of the stranger, for he was a physiognomist in his way.

"And then, Sir, we have no disappointment in these objects:—the soil is not ungrateful, as, they say, men are—though I have not often found them so, by the by. What we sow we reap. I have an old book, Sir, lying in my little parlour, all about fishing, and full of so many pretty sayings about a country life, and meditation, and so forth, that it does one as much good as a sermon to look into it. But to my mind, all those sayings are more applicable to a gardener's life than a fisherman's."

"It is a less cruel life, certainly," said Walter.

"Yes, Sir; and then the scenes one makes oneself, the flowers one plants with one's own hand, one enjoys more than all the beauties which don't owe us any thing; at least, so it seems to me. I have always been thankful to the accident that made me take to gardening."

"And what was that?"

"Why, Sir, you must know there was a great scholar, though he was but a youth then, living in this town some years ago, and he was very curious in plants and flowers and such like. I have heard the parson say, he knew more of those innocent matters than any man in this county. At that time I was not in so flourishing a way of business as I am at present. I kept a little inn in the outskirts of the town; and having formerly been a gamekeeper of my Lord ———'s, I was in the habit of eking out my little profits by accompanying gentlemen in fishing or snipe-shooting. So, one day, Sir, I went out fishing with a strange gentleman from London, and, in a very quiet retired spot some miles off, he stopped and plucked some herbs that seemed to me common enough, but which he declared were most curious and rare things, and he carried them carefully away. I heard afterwards he was a great herbalist, I think they call it, but he was a very poor fisher. Well, Sir, I thought the next morning of Mr. Aram, our great scholar and botanist, and thought it would please him to know of these bits of grass: so I went and called upon him, and begged leave to go and show the spot to him. So we walked there, and certainly, Sir, of all the men that ever I saw, I never met one that wound round your heart like this same Eugene Aram. He was then exceedingly poor, but he never complained; and was much too proud for any one to dare to offer him relief. He lived quite alone, and usually avoided every one in his walks: but, Sir, there was something so engaging and patient in his manner, and his voice, and his pale, mild countenance, which, young as he was then, for he was not a year or two above twenty, was marked with sadness and melancholy, that it quite went to your heart when you met him or spoke to him.—Well, Sir, we walked to the place, and very much delighted he seemed with the green things I shewed him, and as I was always of a communicative temper, rather a gossip, Sir, my neighbours say, I made him smile now and then by my remarks. He seemed pleased with me, and talked to me going home about flowers, and gardening, and such like; and after that, when we came across one another, he would not shun me as he did others, but let me stop and talk to him; and then I asked his advice about a wee farm I thought of taking, and he told me many curious things which, sure enough, I found quite true, and brought me in afterwards a deal of money. But we talked much about gardening, for I loved to hear him talk on those matters; and so, Sir, I was struck by all he said, and could not rest till I took to gardening myself, and ever since I have gone on, more pleased with it every day of my life. Indeed, Sir, I think these harmless pursuits make a man's heart better and kinder to his fellow-creatures; and I always take more pleasure in reading the Bible, specially the New Testament, after having spent the day in the garden. Ah! well, I should like to know, what has become of that poor gentleman."

"I can relieve your honest heart about him. Mr. Aram is living in ———, well off in the world, and universally liked; though he still keeps to his old habits of reserve."

"Ay, indeed, Sir! I have not heard any thing that pleased me more this many a day."

"Pray," said Walter, after a moment's pause, "do you remember the circumstance of a Mr. Clarke appearing in this town, and leaving it in a very abrupt and mysterious manner?"

"Do I mind it, Sir? Yes, indeed. It made a great noise in Knaresbro'—there were many suspicions of foul play about it. For my part, I too had my thoughts, but that's neither here nor there;" and the old man recommenced weeding with great diligence.

"My friend," said Walter, mastering his emotion; "you would serve me more deeply than I can express, if you would give me any information, any conjecture, respecting this—this Mr. Clarke. I have come hither, solely to make inquiry after his fate: in a word, he is—or was—a near relative of mine!"

The old man looked wistfully in Walter's face. "Indeed," said he, slowly, "you are welcome, Sir, to all I know; but that is very little, or nothing rather. But will you turn up this walk, Sir? it's more retired. Did you ever hear of one Richard Houseman?"

"Houseman! yes. He knew my poor ——, I mean he knew Clarke; he said Clarke was in his debt when he left the town so suddenly."

The old man shook his head mysteriously, and looked round. "I will tell you," said he, laying his hand on Walter's arm, and speaking in his ear—"I would not accuse any one wrongfully, but I have my doubts that Houseman murdered him."

"Great God!" murmured Walter, clinging to a post for support. "Go on—heed me not—heed me not—for mercy's sake go on."

"Nay, I know nothing certain—nothing certain, believe me," said the old man, shocked at the effect his words had produced: "it may be better than I think for, and my reasons are not very strong, but you shall hear them.

"Mr. Clarke, you know, came to this town to receive a legacy—you know the particulars."

Walter impatiently nodded assent.

"Well, though he seemed in poor health, he was a lively careless man, who liked any company who would sit and tell stories, and drink o'nights; not a silly man exactly, but a weak one. Now of all the idle persons of this town, Richard Houseman was the most inclined to this way of life. He had been a soldier—had wandered a good deal about the world—was a bold, talking, reckless fellow—of a character thoroughly profligate; and there were many stories afloat about him, though none were clearly made out. In short, he was suspected of having occasionally taken to the high road; and a stranger who stopped once at my little inn, assured me privately, that though he could not positively swear to his person, he felt convinced that he had been stopped a year before on the London road by Houseman. Notwithstanding all this, as Houseman had some respectable connections in the town—among his relations, by the by, was Mr. Aram—as he was a thoroughly boon companion—a good shot—a bold rider—excellent at a song, and very cheerful and merry, he was not without as much company as he pleased; and the first night, he and Mr. Clarke came together, they grew mighty intimate; indeed, it seemed as if they had met before. On the night Mr. Clarke disappeared, I had been on an excursion with some gentlemen, and in consequence of the snow which had been heavy during the latter part of the day, I did not return to Knaresbro' till past midnight. In walking through the town, I perceived two men engaged in earnest conversation: one of them, I am sure, was Clarke; the other was wrapped up in a great coat, with the cape over his face, but the watchman had met the same man alone at an earlier hour, and putting aside the cape, perceived that it was Houseman. No one else was seen with Clarke after that hour."

"But was not Houseman examined?"

"Slightly; and deposed that he had been spending the night with Eugene Aram; that on leaving Aram's house, he met Clarke, and wondering that he the latter, an invalid, should be out at so late an hour, he walked some way with him, in order to learn the cause; but that Clarke seemed confused, and was reserved, and on his guard, and at last wished him good-b'ye abruptly, and turned away. That he, Houseman, had no doubt he left the town that night, with the intention of defrauding his creditors, and making off with some jewels he had borrowed from Mr. Elmore."

"But, Aram? was this suspicious, nay, abandoned character—this Houseman, intimate with Aram?"

"Not at all; but being distantly related, and Houseman being a familiar, pushing sort of a fellow, Aram could not, perhaps, always shake him off; and Aram allowed that Houseman had spent the evening with him."

"And no suspicion rested on Aram?"

The host turned round in amazement.—"Heavens above, no! One might as well suspect the lamb of eating the wolf!"

But not thus thought Walter Lester; the wild words occasionally uttered by the Student—his lone habits—his frequent starts and colloquy with self, all of which had, even from the first, it has been seen, excited Walter's suspicion of former guilt, that had murdered the mind's wholesome sleep, now rushed with tenfold force upon his memory.

"But no other circumstance transpired? Is this your whole ground for suspicion; the mere circumstance of Houseman's being last seen with Clarke?"

"Consider also the dissolute and bold character of Houseman. Clarke evidently had his jewels and money with him—they were not left in the house. What a temptation to one who was more than suspected of having in the course of his life taken to plunder! Houseman shortly afterwards left the country. He has never returned to the town since, though his daughter lives here with his wife's mother, and has occasionally gone up to town to see him."

"And Aram—he also left Knaresbro' soon after this mysterious event?"

"Yes! an old Aunt at York, who had never assisted him during her life, died and bequeathed him a legacy, about a month afterwards. On receiving it, he naturally went to London—the best place for such clever scholars."

"Ha! But are you sure that the aunt died?—that the legacy was left? Might this be no tale to give an excuse to the spending of money otherwise acquired?"

Mine host looked almost with anger on Walter.

"It is clear," said he, "you know nothing of Eugene Aram, or you would not speak thus. But I can satisfy your doubts on this head. I knew the old lady well, and my wife was at York when she died. Besides, every one here knows something of the will, for it was rather an eccentric one."

Walter paused irresolutely. "Will you accompany me," he asked, "to the house in which Mr. Clarke lodged,—and indeed to any other place where it may be prudent to institute inquiry?"

"Certainly, Sir, with the biggest pleasure," said mine host: "but you must first try my dame's butter and eggs. It is time to breakfast."

We may suppose that Walter's simple meal was soon over; and growing impatient and restless to commence his inquiries, he descended from his solitary apartment to the little back-room behind the bar, in which he had, on the night before, seen mine host and his better-half at supper. It was a snug, small, wainscoated room; fishing-rods were neatly arranged against the wall, which was also decorated by a portrait of the landlord himself, two old Dutch pictures of fruit and game, a long, quaint-fashioned fowling-piece, and, opposite the fireplace, a noble stag's head and antlers. On the window-seat lay the Izaak Walton to which the old man had referred; the Family Bible, with its green baize cover, and the frequent marks peeping out from its venerable pages; and, close nestling to it, recalling that beautiful sentence, "suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," several of those little volumes with gay bindings, and marvellous contents of fay and giant, which delight the hearth-spelled urchin, and which were "the source of golden hours" to the old man's grandchildren, in their respite from "learning's little tenements,"

"Where sits the dame, disguised in look profound,
And eyes her fairy throng, and turns her wheel around."[2]

Mine host was still employed by a huge brown loaf and some baked pike; and mine hostess, a quiet and serene old lady, was alternately regaling herself and a large brindled cat from a plate of "toasten cheer."

While the old man was hastily concluding his repast, a little knock at the door was heard, and presently an elderly gentleman in black put his head into the room, and, perceiving the stranger, would have drawn back; but both landlady and landlord bustling up, entreated him to enter by the appellation of Mr. Summers. And then, as the gentleman smilingly yielded to the invitation, the landlady, turning to Walter, said: "Our clergyman, Sir: and though I say it afore his face, there is not a man who, if Christian vartues were considered, ought so soon to be a bishop."

"Hush! my good lady," said Mr. Summers, laughing as he bowed to Walter. "You see, Sir, that it is no trifling advantage to a Knaresbro' reputation to have our hostess's good word. But, indeed," turning to the landlady, and assuming a grave and impressive air, "I have little mind for jesting now. You know poor Jane Houseman,—a mild, quiet, blue-eyed creature, she died at daybreak this morning! Her father had come from London expressly to see her: she died in his arms, and, I hear, he is almost in a state of frenzy."

The host and hostess signified their commiseration. "Poor little girl!" said the latter, wiping her eyes; "her's was a hard fate, and she felt it, child as she was. Without the care of a mother,—and such a father! Yet he was fond of her."

"My reason for calling on you was this," renewed the Clergyman, addressing the host: "you knew Houseman formerly; me he always shunned, and, I fancy, ridiculed. He is in distress now, and all that is forgotten. Will you seek him, and inquire if any thing in my power can afford him consolation? He may be poor: I can pay for the poor child's burial. I loved her; she was the best girl at Mrs. Summers' school."

"Certainly, Sir, I will seek him," said the landlord, hesitating; and then, drawing the Clergyman aside, he informed him in a whisper of his engagement with Walter, and with the present pursuit and meditated inquiry of his guest; not forgetting to insinuate his suspicion of the guilt of the man whom he was now called upon to compassionate.

The Clergyman mused a little, and then, approaching Walter, offered his services in the stead of the Publican in so frank and cordial a manner, that Walter at once accepted them.

"Let us come now, then," said the good Curate—for he was but the Curate—seeing Walter's impatience; "and first we will go to the house in which Clarke lodged; I know it well."

The two gentlemen now commenced their expedition. Summers was no contemptible antiquary; and he sought to beguile the nervous impatience of his companion by dilating on the attractions of the antient and memorable town to which his purpose had brought him;——

"Remarkable," said the Curate, "alike in history and tradition: look yonder" (pointing above, as an opening in the road gave to view the frowning and beetled ruins of the shattered Castle); "you would be at some loss to recognize now the truth of old Leland's description of that once stout and gallant bulwark of the North, when he 'numbrid 11 or 12 towres in the walles of the Castel, and one very fayre beside in the second area.' In that castle, the four knightly murderers of the haughty Becket (the Wolsey of his age) remained for a whole year, defying the weak justice of the times. There, too, the unfortunate Richard the Second,—the Stuart of the Plantagenets—passed some portion of his bitter imprisonment. And there, after the battle of Marston Moor, waved the banners of the loyalists against the soldiers of Lilburne. It was made yet more touchingly memorable at that time, as you may have heard, by an instance of filial piety. The town was greatly straitened for want of provisions; a youth, whose father was in the garrison, was accustomed nightly to get into the deep dry moat, climb up the glacis, and put provisions through a hole, where the father stood ready to receive them. He was perceived at length; the soldiers fired on him. He was taken prisoner, and sentenced to be hanged in sight of the besieged, in order to strike terror into those who might be similarly disposed to render assistance to the garrison. Fortunately, however, this disgrace was spared the memory of Lilburne and the republican arms. With great difficulty, a certain lady obtained his respite; and after the conquest of the place, and the departure of the troops, the adventurous son was released."

"A fit subject for your local poets," said Walter, whom stories of this sort, from the nature of his own enterprise, especially affected.

"Yes: but we boast but few minstrels since the young Aram left us. The castle then, once the residence of Pierce Gaveston,—of Hubert III.—and of John of Gaunt, was dismantled and destroyed. Many of the houses we shall pass have been built from its massive ruins. It is singular, by the way, that it was twice captured by men of the name of Lilburn, or Lilleburn, once in the reign of Edward II., once as I have related. On looking over historical records, we are surprised to find how often certain names have been fatal to certain spots; and this reminds me, by the way, that we boast the origin of the English Sibyl, the venerable Mother Shipton. The wild rock, at whose foot she is said to have been born, is worthy of the tradition."

"You spoke just now," said Walter, who had not very patiently suffered the Curate thus to ride his hobby, "of Eugene Aram; you knew him well?"

"Nay: he suffered not any to do that! He was a remarkable youth. I have noted him from his childhood upward, long before he came to Knaresbro', till on leaving this place, fourteen years back, I lost sight of him.—Strange, musing, solitary from a boy! but what accomplishment of learning he had reached! Never did I see one whom Nature so emphatically marked to be Great. I often wonder that his name has not long ere this been more universally noised abroad: whatever he attempted was stamped with such signal success. I have by me some scattered pieces of poetry when a boy; they were given me by his poor father, long since dead; and are full of a dim, shadowy anticipation of future fame. Perhaps, yet, before he dies,—he is still young,—the presentiment will be realized. You too know him, then?"

"Yes! I have known him. Stay—dare I ask you a question, a fearful question? Did suspicion ever, in your mind, in the mind of any one, rest on Aram, as concerned in the mysterious disappearance of my—of Clarke? His acquaintance with Houseman who was suspected; Houseman's visit to Aram that night; his previous poverty—so extreme, if I hear rightly; his after riches—though they perhaps may be satisfactorily accounted for; his leaving this town so shortly after the disappearance I refer to;—these alone might not create suspicion in me, but I have seen the man in moments of reverie and abstraction, I have listened to strange and broken words, I have noted a sudden, keen, and angry susceptibility to any unmeant excitation of a less peaceful or less innocent remembrance. And there seems to me inexplicably to hang over his heart some gloomy recollection, which I cannot divest myself from imagining to be that of guilt."

Walter spoke quickly, and in great though half suppressed excitement; the more kindled from observing that as he spoke, Summers changed countenance, and listened as with painful and uneasy attention.

"I will tell you," said the Curate, after a short pause, (lowering his voice)—"I will tell you: Aram did undergo examination—I was present at it—but from his character and the respect universally felt for him, the examination was close and secret. He was not, mark me, suspected of the murder of the unfortunate Clarke, nor was any suspicion of murder generally entertained until all means of discovering Clarke were found wholly unavailing; but of sharing with Houseman, some part of the jewels with which Clarke was known to have left the town. This suspicion of robbery could not, however, be brought home, even to Houseman, and Aram was satisfactorily acquitted from the imputation. But in the minds of some present at that examination, a doubt lingered, and this doubt certainly deeply wounded a man so proud and susceptible. This, I believe, was the real reason of his quitting Knaresbro' almost immediately after that examination. And some of us, who felt for him and were convinced of his innocence, persuaded the others to hush up the circumstance of his examination, nor has it generally transpired, even to this day, when the whole business is well nigh forgot. But as to his subsequent improvement of circumstance, there is no doubt of his aunt's having left him a legacy sufficient to account for it."

Walter bowed his head, and felt his suspicions waver, when the Curate renewed.

"Yet it is but fair to tell you, who seem so deeply interested in the fate of Clarke, that since that period rumours have reached my ear that the woman at whose house Aram lodged has from time to time dropped words that require explanation—hints that she could tell a tale—that she knows more than men will readily believe—nay, once she was even reported to have said that the life of Eugene Aram was in her power."

"Father of mercy! and did Inquiry sleep on words so calling for its liveliest examination?"

"Not wholly—on their being brought to me, I went to the house, but found the woman, whose habits and character are low and worthless, was abrupt and insolent in her manner; and after in vain endeavouring to call forth some explanation of the words she was reported to have uttered, I left the house fully persuaded that she had only given vent to a meaningless boast, and that the idle words of a disorderly gossip could not be taken as evidence against a man of the blameless character and austere habits of Aram. Since, however, you have now re-awakened investigation, we will visit her before you leave the town; and it may be as well too, that Houseman should undergo a further investigation before we suffer him to depart."

"I thank you! I thank you—I will not let slip one thread of this dark clue."

"And now," said the Curate, pointing to a decent house, "we have reached the lodging Clarke occupied in the town!"

An old man of respectable appearance opened the door, and welcomed the Curate and his companion with an air of cordial respect which attested the well-deserved popularity of the former.

"We have come," said the Curate, "to ask you some questions respecting Daniel Clarke, whom you remember as your lodger. This gentleman is a relation of his, and interested deeply in his fate!"

"What, Sir!" quoth the old man, "and have you, his relation, never heard of Mr. Clarke since he left the town? Strange!—this room, this very room was the one Mr. Clarke occupied, and next to this,—here—(opening a door) was his bed-chamber!"

It was not without powerful emotion that Walter found himself thus within the apartment of his lost father. What a painful, what a gloomy, yet sacred interest every thing around instantly assumed! The old-fashioned and heavy chairs—the brown wainscot walls—the little cupboard recessed as it were to the right of the fire-place, and piled with morsels of Indian china and long taper wine glasses—the small window-panes set deep in the wall, giving a dim view of a bleak and melancholy—looking garden in the rear—yea, the very floor he trod—the very table on which he leant—the very hearth, dull and fireless as it was, opposite his gaze—all took a familiar meaning in his eye, and breathed a household voice into his ear. And when he entered the inner room, how, even to suffocation, were those strange, half sad, yet not all bitter emotions increased. There was the bed on which his father had rested on the night before—what? perhaps his murder! The bed, probably a relic from the castle, when its antique furniture was set up to public sale, was hung with faded tapestry, and above its dark and polished summit were hearselike and heavy trappings. Old commodes of rudely carved oak, a discoloured glass in a japan frame, a ponderous arm-chair of Elizabethan fashion, and covered with the same tapestry as the bed, altogether gave that uneasy and sepulchral impression to the mind so commonly produced by the relics of a mouldering and forgotten antiquity.

"It looks cheerless, Sir," said the owner, "but then we have not had any regular lodger for years; it is just the same as when Mr. Clarke lived here. But bless you, Sir, he made the dull rooms look gay enough. He was a blithesome gentleman. He and his friends, Mr. Houseman especially, used to make the walls ring again when they were over their cups!"

"It might have been better for Mr. Clarke," said the Curate, "had he chosen his comrades with more discretion. Houseman was not a creditable, perhaps not a safe companion."

"That was no business of mine then," quoth the lodging-letter; "but it might be now, since I have been a married man!"

The Curate smiled, "Perhaps you, Mr. Moor, bore a part in those revels?"

"Why, indeed, Mr. Clarke would occasionally make me take a glass or so, Sir."

"And you must then have heard the conversations that took place between Houseman and him? Did Mr. Clarke, ever, in those conversations, intimate an intention of leaving the town soon? and where, if so, did he talk of going?"

"Oh! first to London. I have often heard him talk of going to London, and then taking a trip to see some relations of his in a distant part of the country. I remember his caressing a little boy of my brother's; you know Jack, Sir, not a little boy now, almost as tall as this gentleman. "Ah," said he with a sort of sigh, "ah! I have a boy at home about this age,—when shall I see him again?"

"When indeed!" thought Walter, turning away his face at this anecdote, to him so naturally affecting.

"And the night that Clarke left you, were you aware of his absence?"

"No! he went to his room at his usual hour, which was late, and the next morning I found his bed had not been slept in, and that he was gone—gone with all his jewels, money, and valuables; heavy luggage he had none. He was a cunning gentleman; he never loved paying a bill. He was greatly in debt in different parts of the town, though he had not been here long. He ordered everything and paid for nothing."

Walter groaned. It was his father's character exactly; partly it might be from dishonest principles superadded to the earlier feelings of his nature; but partly also from that temperament at once careless and procrastinating, which, more often than vice, loses men the advantage of reputation.

"Then in your own mind, and from your knowledge of him," renewed the Curate, "you would suppose that Clarke's disappearance was intentional; that though nothing has since been heard of him, none of the blacker rumours afloat were well founded?"

"I confess, Sir, begging this gentleman's pardon who you say is a relation, I confess I see no reason to think otherwise."

"Was Mr. Aram, Eugene Aram, ever a guest of Clarke's? Did you ever see them together?"

"Never at this house. I fancy Houseman once presented Mr. Aram to Clarke; and that they may have met and conversed some two or three times, not more, I believe; they were scarcely congenial spirits, Sir."

Walter having now recovered his self-possession, entered into the conversation; and endeavoured by as minute an examination as his ingenuity could suggest, to obtain some additional light upon the mysterious subject so deeply at his heart. Nothing, however, of any effectual import was obtained from the good man of the house. He had evidently persuaded himself that Clarke's disappearance was easily accounted for, and would scarcely lend attention to any other suggestion than that of Clarke's dishonesty. Nor did his recollection of the meetings between Houseman and Clarke furnish him with any thing worthy of narration. With a spirit somewhat damped and disappointed, Walter, accompanied by the Curate, recommenced his expedition.

  1. Henry Peacham.
  2. Shenstone's Schoolmistress.