Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The silver cord - Part 3



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As if by tacit understanding, the friends spoke no more on the subject nearest their hearts. During the short drive back to the lodge, Arthur Lygon was mentally occupied in reviewing such incidents of his early life as he could upon the moment summon to his recollection, but, as usual, memory, often so unwelcomely pertinacious in voluntarily presenting her panorama, painted with pitiless exactness, would, when peremptorily called upon, yield up little but disjointed fragments, recurring again and again like the ægri sonmia. Nevertheless, his strong consciousness that there was nothing which he could in reason charge against himself as a wrong to his wife, afforded to Lygon an honest consolation, though that conviction in no degree tended to diminish the mystery that lay before him. It was perhaps for the best that Mr. Berry had guided the husband’s thoughts in a given direction, and concentrated them, for the time at least, within a certain limit, for nothing perhaps is more prostrating to the courage of the mind than its being incessantly sent forth in pursuit of a phantom enemy. In the meantime, Mr. Berry’s own thoughts had to pursue a far subtler and more dangerous track, and the manifestation which Arthur Lygon had made of an earnest and loyal faith in her whom he had lost, impressed his friend more and more deeply each time he recurred to it with a sense of the terrible consequences that would attend a false step on the part of his adviser.

His adviser made one false step at the very threshold, for he permitted Mr. Lygon, unsupported, to encounter a lady whose suspicious and jealous nature had already made her half an enemy, and who needed but little provocation to become a determined though undeclared one. Mr. Berry set down Arthur at the porch, and drove round to the stables.

Clara was with Mrs. Berry in the dining-room, the little girl having, much to her unexpressed discontent, been withdrawn from the pleasures of the garden, and set down, in a half-darkened apartment, to amuse herself with the pictures in Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Privately, Clara probably considered herself entitled to a place in the collection.

Mrs. Berry was about to rise and question Lygon as to what he had done, and get him to commit himself before Mr. Berry’s arrival. Then it occurred to her to use a proxy to entrap him.

“There is your papa, Clara! Run and ask him whether he has sent off his message all right.”

Too happy to escape the fires of Smithfield and their distorted occupants, Clara bounded away to her father, and asked the question.

“All right, love,” returned Mr. Lygon, kissing her. “And what have you been doing?”

“O, nothing,” replied Clara, in anything but a tone of pleasure.

“She said that you had particularly desired her, when on the hill, to keep out of the sun,” said Mrs. Berry, as they entered, “and therefore I presumed that I should be acting in accordance with your wishes in detaining her in the house.”

Poor Clara! She had little thought, when rattling out her hill experiences, before chilled down by Mrs. Berry and Mr. Fox, that her casual mention of her papa’s hint was to be made a solemn justification for spoiling her afternoon. But this was one of Mrs. Berry’s habitual unfairnesses to helpless persons. That form of cowardly unkindness is one of the earliest shocks which children undergo, and by no means the lightest. I am far from sure that the shabby woman who decoys a child up an alley and steals its shoes, does not deserve a month less at hard labour than her well-dressed sister who steals a child’s confidences, and rolls them up into a stone to smite it.

“You found the person at the Marfield telegraph intelligent, I hope?” said Mrs. Berry, point-blank.

“I thought over the business again, during the drive,” said Mr. Lygon, “and came to the conclusion that the message would do as well in a letter.”

“Oh! then you did not go to Marfield,” said Mrs. Berry. She would have liked to ascertain more, but time was precious. “Then I will get you the writing-case, so that the letter may be dispatched by our boy, who goes into Lipthwaite at five o’clock.”

She hastened from the room, and her knowledge of the localities enabled her to intercept Mr. Berry as he came from the stables.

“Oh! you here!” she said. “Why did not you let Sykes take the chaise round?”

“I didn’t see Sykes.”

“Mr. Lygon told Clara that he sent off his message all right,” said Mrs. Berry.

“What was the good of his telling her that?” thought the lawyer; who, being out of business, was now opposed to all unnecessary falsifications. “Well, my dear,” he said, “is it any such feat of genius to dispatch a telegraphic message?”

“I do not know why you cannot answer me without a sneer, Mr. Berry. Is there anything unreasonable in my being interested in what your friend does?”

“Quite the reverse, my dear,” said her husband, endeavouring to come into the house. “Your attention is extremely hospitable, and I hope that your dinner, by-and-by, will be equally worthy of your estimable character.”

Now, Mrs. Berry could with pleasure have fired a hot shot in reply to this, but as she would have gained nothing thereby, she reserved her fire, and only said—

“I dare say that the dinner will be satisfactory, Mr. Berry, and if I mentioned the telegraph, I suppose that after the intimation I ventured to give in reference to Mrs. Letts, my presumption is not unpardonable.”

“My dear, your expenditure of syllables is almost an extravagance,” said Mr. Berry, coolly, making his way past her not very exuberant form, and going into the house.

She was not generous, but she would willingly have given a not very small sum of money to have obtained from Mr. Berry a distinct statement that the message had been dispatched. For during the absence of her husband and Mr. Lygon she had accidentally mentioned their errand to a tradesman to whom she had been speaking in the kitchen, and he had expressed regret that the gentlemen should have gone to Marfield, as the telegraph instrument there had been out of order for some days, and the people were coming from London to repair it on Saturday.

Not that Mr. Berry would have very much cared about being confronted with this kind of contradiction, for after an endeavour of some years to make her as frank and free-spoken as himself, and after many efforts to rout out all her nests and treasures of petty mysteries, and to let in the sunshine of perfect matrimonial trust and confidence, he had given up the game, allowing the thin lips to speak or be silent, as they pleased; and for his own part, he had dropped into the habit of telling her, as he said, “as much truth as was good for her.”

But she would have had a good casus belli against Mr. Lygon, whom she was learning to regard with very unfriendly eyes. However, she had got something yet, to make him uncomfortable with.

Mrs. Berry returned to the room, bringing the writing-case.

“There, Mr. Lygon, now you can write your letter, and the boy shall wait for it.”

“Confound the woman, boring,” was Mr. Lygon’s savage remark to himself—a set of words supposed to be about as often thought and as seldom uttered as any form of petition which has been devised for the use of man.

He dragged the note-paper before him, and was just going to write something, anything, to go off to town to a fellow employé,—it was less trouble than declining,—when the lady proceeded,

“And here, just direct this envelope for me. I must write a few words to Laura, assuring her that her little girl is all right and safe with me, and that the longer she stays the better. I forget what you called the place in Hertfordshire—Edgington, was it?”

She never forgot anything, and knew quite well that he had said Herefordshire and Long Edgecombe, but there was no trick here; it was simply that the lying woman was in the habit of lying plausibly.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Lygon, kindly, while overflowing with sudden wrath and some apprehension at the proposed proceeding. “Yes, she will be glad to hear. And yet I hardly know whether you had better direct to the country, as there is a whole series of cross-posts, and there is no saying when she will get the letter.”

“Well, it is only a penny, if it follows her back to London,” said Mrs. Berry, “and the chance oi her hearing is worth that. I have been a mother, Mr. Lygon, and I know what it is to have news of one’s children in absence.”

Arthur Lygon, in no respect softened by this appeal, did not exactly see his way to parry the demand, and wrote upon the envelope, “Mrs. Lygon, Long Edgecombe, Herefordshire.”

“Won’t you put Mrs. Eatoncamp’s name? We country people like that done.”

“Mrs. Eatoncamp?” replied Arthur. And it occurred to him, poor fellow, in his strait, that if he adopted that blunder, and the letter miscarried——

And he wrote “Mrs. Eatoncamp.” And if he had looked at Mrs. Berry at that moment, he would have seen a sudden light come into her light eyes. She knew well what name he had mentioned. And here he deliberately wrote another, one of her own supplying. Stop a moment! He and her husband had been whispering, for she had heard the child laughingly rebuke them. What did they whisper about? They started, at all events, saying they were going to Marfield, and the very next moment they drove off in another direction. Why did Mr. Lygon, who is foolishly confidential with that spoiled brat, tell her that his telegraph-message was all right, and why did Mr. Berry leave me to imagine they had sent? Now—he does not want a letter sent to his wife, and he puts a false name on it. That light which Arthur Lygon did not see in her light eyes was the flash of the powder on which the spark had fallen. “They are keeping a secret of some kind from me,” said Mrs. Berry’s thin lips, inaudibly. “Let me see how long they will keep it.”

And it was not with the sweetest expression in her face that she left the room to write her letter, though her high voice became almost caressing as she bade Arthur make haste over his despatch, and she would say everything that was kind for him to Laura.

Into the library hastened Mrs. Berry, for she was a practical woman, and knew where to look for knowledge, which is the next best thing to having knowledge. A Gazetteer was open before her in a minute.

“No such place,” she said, again looking at tin envelope. “But then it may be a small place, not worth mentioning.” You see, she wished for a conclusion, but did not jump at it, which shows that she would never have made a good interpreter of the prophecies.

“Looking out a very gigantic polysyllable for our discomfiture, my dear?” said Mr. Berry, who was at the window. “That’s not the dictionary.”

“I believe I know a dictionary as well as yourself,” said his wife, repressing any more tart rejoinder. “But I never know where to find your books. Is there any book here that tells of small places, not important enough for maps and gazetteers?”

“There’s Pigott,” said Mr. Barry, “those large red volumes on your left. They mention every hole and corner in the kingdom. What county do you want?”

“Devonshire,” said Mrs. Berry.

“Well, you’ll see the name on the back,” said her husband as he left the room.

No Long Edgecombe in Herefordshire, nor, though Mrs. Berry took the trouble to go quite through the lists, was there among the Nobility, Gentry, or Clergy, such a name as Lygon had given her.

“They are playing tricks with me,” said Mrs. Berry, feeling herself personally wronged, and trying a mental examination of the enemy’s position, in order to see what could be done in the way of revenge.

Now, people who call themselves practical will probably say—

“I have no patience with the woman.”

Now that is wrong, to begin with. We are bound to have patience with everybody, and especially with women.

“I should like to take her by the shoulders and——

Stop again. That would be rude and coarse. The man who lays his hand upon a woman, save in—— For shame! Must a player be called in with a clap-trap, to rebuke your violence?

“And say, ‘Why, you meddling, spiteful old fool——

Exceptionable language, and one half of it unjust. Mrs. Berry was not five-and-forty, and was no fool.

‘Your husband is a solicitor, and so is taken into people’s confidence.

Mr. Berry has retired from practice, and has no more right to keep secrets from his wife than any other private gentleman.

‘And what business have you to pry into his affairs?{{sp|’]}”

And you call yourself a practical person, and yet think that talking in that way to a shrewd, determined, venomous-minded woman of middle age will deter her from taking a course which I perceive by that recurrent light in her light eyes she intends to take, although at present she has no idea where it will lead her. Well, if it relieves your mind at this period of the history to say that you would like to shake Mrs. Berry by the shoulders, avail yourself of that relief. But be sure that her mind is made up for mischief, and a shake like that of the earthquake of Lisbon will never shake that resolve away from behind those light eyes.

Mrs. Berry took Arthur Lygon’s letter from him—it was addressed to a friend in Somerset House, and she would have liked to open it, but there was but one kettle in the house, and that was in the kitchen, where the servants were too busy to be sent away while the lady should hold the letter in the steam. If he had sealed it, I think she would have kept it back for private examination, but as he had merely fastened it in the ordinary way, she let it go—the rather that as the boy was waiting, it was necessary to give him one letter, and she had no immediate intention of parting with Arthur’s envelope. If she had performed upon the Somerset House letter the process which it is understood is very largely practised upon the epistolary literature of the time (and certainly the business of masters and mistresses is curiously familiar to their dependents in these days), the lady would have found only a scribbled request to a friend to order the double-sashed windows of the writer’s office to be cleaned during his absence. That letter went, the writer and the sender being mutually engaged in tricking each other. In very large machines there are very small wheels, and, mean as they are, the machinist who should leave them out might induce a crash among his grand works. And he who depicts the machine must show the little wheels as well as the rest, though it would be more dignified to draw only the majestic-moving pistons and the fiery fly-wheel.

Dinner passed over very quietly, and such conversation as arose was the result of effort. For Lygon, as may be imagined, was too full of his own great trouble, and was looking forward too eagerly to the revelation which Berry had promised him on the morrow, to have much animation to spare upon dinner-table commonplace, of the kind that would be acceptable to Mrs. Berry. That lady, whose wrath did not require nursing to keep it warm—an educated woman’s qualifications for making herself detestable being of course superior to those of a Scottish she-peasant—was sufficiently angular, incisive, and observant during the meal, but did not betray any overt hostility to any one. Indeed Clara, who was permitted to join her elders, rather benefitted by the situation of affairs, for Mrs. Berry, who would ordinarily, and in pursuance of her favourite tactics, have done the child what discomfort she could in the way of matronly checking, and the withholding anything Clara might be supposed especially to desire, chose to be gracious and even playful with her, and bestowed extra jam with the omelette, and a double libation of cream and sugar with the strawberries. The little girl, however, was not old enough to square the account, and to allow a person whom she instinctively disliked to bribe herself into Clara’s good graces, as you and I, being rational people do. Nay did, only last week, when you yourself said to me, as we walked down to the Club from old Pinchbeck’s, that certainly Pinchbeck was a coarse old beast, and as great an old fool as ever didn’t understand a good story, but his dinner was a first-rate one, and the wine out-and-out, and I agreed with you that we would speak to some of the Committee, and try to get him in, if we could. But if we were not wiser than children, where would be the use of growing up?

The evening hung sadly on hand, in spite of the loveliness of the soft summer evening. The four wandered about the gardens, but no laugh woke the stillness of the place, and even Clara, subdued, laid her hand in her father’s, paced silently by his side, and restrained her desire to go and sit on the little tree-bridge, and see the water dance in the moonlight.

Mrs. Berry returned to the house, on hearing that a visitor was in the drawing-room.

When the gentlemen were summoned to tea, they found the mistress of the house, and the visitor. This was a somewhat malevolent-looking old lady in spectacles, who emitted a sort of grunt at Clara (as if the latter had done her some wrong in being so young, while the other was so old, a grievance a good deal felt by those who have made an unworthy use of life), and immediately told her to sit down and be quiet, the child having given no offence at all beyond what her presence caused. On a small table lay open a map of Herefordshire.

“This is Aunt Empson, Mr. Lygon. This is Mr. Lygon, aunt dear, who married Laura Vernon, you remember her?”

“I remember her,” grunted Aunt Empson. “She’s grow’d older than when I know’d her. I hope she’s grow’d more steadier.”

“Mamma was always steady,” was Clara’s instant deliverance of reply.

Aunt Empson looked evilly at the speaker, and but that Clara was protected would probably have called her to approach, and then pinched her.

“Quite right to stand up for mamma,” said Mr. Lygon, who would himself have liked to say something offensive to the impertinent old woman, but did not see a gentlemanly opening. He was in no mood, by this time, to bear gratuitous annoyance.

“But speaking of mamma,” said Mrs. Berry, in a loud and playful voice, “where is she? For aunty is a Herefordshire woman, and does not recollect the name of Long Edgcombe, and we can’t find it in the map.”

“No, really?” said Lygon, with a voice into which he certainly managed to throw an expression of extreme carelessness as to whether they could or could not. “Bad map, I suppose.”

“A very good map, on the contrary,” said Mrs. Berry.

“Then you don’t look close enough, I suppose,” returned Mr. Lygon, waxing still more angry at being tormented. “I can see it from here,” he said, determined on a bold stroke, and half raising himself on the sofa to give a glance across at the map. “Let Aunt Empson wipe her spectacles, and then she’ll see more steadier. Ha! ha!”

It would have been dreadfully rude—was—but consider the provocation, and what Arthur Lygon was thinking of, while the women set upon him. Mrs. Berry was either repulsed, or felt a moment’s respect for the enemy. Only a moment’s.

“Clara, dear, come here.”

O, she was not going to pinch the child.

“What was the name,” she said, taking Clara’s hand, “what was the name of the lady whom papa said that mamma was gone to see? Do you remember?”

“O yes,” said Clara, “I remember it, because it is a funny name. It’s like saying you had eaten a cat—it’s Mrs. Cateaton.”

“So it is,” said Mrs. Berry. “I fancied we were wrong, somehow. That was not the name you put on the envelope for me, Mr. Lygon.”

“Nonsense,” said Arthur Lygon. “I sincerely beg your pardon a thousand times, Mrs. Berry; but the idea of my making a mistake in the name is too absurd.”

“I am positive that you wrote something else.”

“Not likely,” said Mr. Berry, who had a shadow of a suspicion that Arthur might have been doing something to throw the amiable Marion off the scent. “We never make mistakes in Somerset House, Arthur, do we?”

“We never allow them to be mistakes,” said the official gentleman.

“Not even when they are put under your eyes?” said Mrs. Berry, suddenly throwing envelope across to Arthur Lygon, who of course saw, as he knew he should see, “Eatoncamp” upon it.

“So you didn’t write,” he said, with admirable coolness. “You thought a mother’s eagerness to have a letter could wait another post. Ha! ha! Mrs. Berry. However, it’s lucky, as I made that curious muddle of the name. I believe, however, that the letter would have found Mrs. Lygon, just as well.”

“So do I,” said Mrs. Berry, in a slow, low voice.

Archibald Vernon, the father of Mrs. Lygon, was pleasantly settled in Lipthwaite, when Arthur Lygon was introduced to the family in which he found his beautiful wife. Into the circumstances which induced Mr. Vernon to take up his abode in Lipthwaite, it is not necessary at the present time to enter with any minuteness; but in order to preclude any unnecessary suspicion of mystery, it should be explained that Archibald Vernon was one of those persons who conceive themselves to be entirely misunderstood and ill-treated by the world; but whom the world, on the contrary, insists on believing that it understands most thoroughly, and treats most naturally. Originally intended for the bar, young Mr. Vernon had made so many steps in the direction of the woolsack as are comprised in being duly entered for the Great Legal Handicap, and in having his name fairly painted on the door of one of the Gray’s Inn stalls in which some of the animals designed for that race undergo preliminary treatment. But he was very soon scratched. A cleverish lad, with a ready pen for endurable verse, and a still readier pencil for smart sketching, with a considerable amount of desultory reading, and a memory for the agreeable portions of such reading, with a fluent tongue, and much energy of manner, Vernon was held, among his kinsfolk, as a young fellow who would be sure to make his way. Nil tetigit quod non ornavit, was classically remarked, at the dinner on his twenty-first birthday, by an enthusiastic god-father who, to do him justice, had shown his faith in the youth’s powers by never contributing, otherwise than by the most gracefully expressed wishes, to his advancement in the world. Vernon’s own means were very limited, and this circumstance, fortunate indeed in so many thousand cases, might, by compelling him to avoid all the agreeable excursions from the direct road of life, and to pursue its safe and well-beaten track, have made him, in due time, the rising man whom he had been supposed to be. But, unluckily, just at the moment when various and harassing debts of no great amount, and a general sense of discomfort, discouragement, and want of purpose, were forcing the volatile Archibald Vernon into the conviction that he must buckle to honest work, and tramp away at the road in question, regardless of the fields and flowers right and left, that same godfather completed his career of neglected duties by an act of positive wrong to his god-son. The sponsor died, and left Vernon exactly enough, with the aid of his small patrimony, to live upon “like” a gentleman. This sum Vernon made the not uncommon financial error of supposing an amount that enabled him to live “as” a gentleman, and the fatal difference involved in the little words was not revealed unto him until too late. The Gray’s Inn stall was exchanged for handsome chambers, and by the time that these looked as delightfully as possible, that the pictures were finally and tastefully hung, that the pianoforte was in admirable tune, and that the oak and velvet furniture left nothing to be desired except the upholsterer’s receipt, the susceptible Archibald discovered that to live as a gentleman meant to live with a lady, who, being his wife, could not be expected to live in chambers. So the pictures, pianoforte, oak and velvet, and Mrs. Vernon, were established in a charming house, not much too large, at Craven Hill. All went delightfully, for Emmeline Vernon was an accomplished musician, and Archibald was just of the calibre of mind that dotes on music, and it was the pleasantest occupation in the world to sit with his pretty wife till two or three in the day, singing duets, or hearing that divine thing of Mozart’s, Vernon with his feet in slippers, elegantly worked by his bride, and in a velvet coat that gave the refined-looking man an appearance between that of an artist, and of an Italian nobleman, as beheld in ancient portraits. The children came with their usual celerity, and it was not until Emmeline grew rather cross and cold about playing Mozart after disagreeable interviews with traders, that Archibald Vernon once more began to think that he really must buckle to work.

But rough buckles are not readily fastened when one’s muscles have been neglected. It is not agreeable to dwell on this part of Mr. Vernon’s shifty history. Portions of it, prepared with a good deal of topographical exactness in regard to his various residences, are, I am sorry to say, still on record in the registry of an evilly odorous tribunal in the Rue Portugal. But who would willingly sketch the life of a family in the dispiriting and discreditable transition from comfort to need? Who cares to write or read of forestalled income, of unhonoured cheques, of humiliating obligations, of insincere promises extorted by pressing necessity, of harsh friends and callous creditors, of a wife compelled to make feminine appeals either for aid or for forbearance, and often to make both in vain, of children accustomed to see parents nervous at the knock or ring, to hear servants instructed in lying, and even, under sudden emergency, to utter the excusing or procrastinating falsehood at the bidding of parents, too eager to escape the momentary annoyance to remember the miserable lesson they were teaching? At times Vernon, heartily ashamed of his position, resolved to work himself into a worthier one, registered vows to do so, and walked out determined to do something in fulfilment; but what are a weak man’s vows? Any discouragement damped his resolve within an hour of its being made; any temptation drew him away from the feeble scheme he had planned, and he returned home somewhat and deservedly less respectable in his own eyes than he had gone forth. At the same time, it would have been, for a stronger man, a hard fight that could set him right with the world, and we will not judge the variously talented, versatile, helpless Vernon more severely than he deserves, and that implies no light sentence. His profession he had, of course, abandoned, but he had always delighted to dabble in literature, and in the days of his prosperity his essays were thought to have a sparkle, and his poems a passion, which it is charitable to suppose had disappeared from them in the days of his adversity, when he found it so difficult to get those merits recognised by paymasters. Still, he did something, and the least motion of a stream long retards its freezing. The small, slight, occasional efforts he made in literature preserved his mind from utter stagnation, and he obtained some, but infrequent remuneration, which aided him in maintaining a certain self-respect, and which confirmed him in the belief that circumstances only, and not his own weakness, had prevented his being one of the recognised leaders of the public mind. Let it be added in his favour, that even amid the daily grievances of his lot—as he termed it—the troubles outside his dwelling, and the troubles within, these last painfully increased by the want of help from a disappointed wife, whose good looks and good temper were deserting her, and who now played Mozart only on lodging-house pianos, and chiefly at times when he would have desired quiet—Archibald Vernon did not seek comfort at the hands of the Bottle Imp. His children never saw him in a condition in which—if he had a laugh to spare—it was not as true and fresh as their own.

I feel that perhaps I am treating him too indulgently, and in the interests of morality and society one ought to use stronger words against a man who was an idle and dishonest citizen, and who was the father of children to whom he did not do his duty. But as Lord North said when he, aware of his being about to resign, had his carriage ready at the House, while the Opposition had sent their vehicles away, “See what it is to be in the secret.” If it had been my melancholy duty to finish Archibald Vernon’s history by saying that he died in the Bench, or emigrated, a broken-hearted man, to Australia (and was poisoned on the voyage by the ignorant surgeon of an emigrant vessel), I would have given him the full benefit of appropriate indignation. But, happening to know that his fortune was going to be re-established, I deem harsh language uncalled for. It is well to be quite sure that a man is quite ruined, before you stamp upon him.

But, not to be too civil to the indiscreet, be it said that there was another phase in Archibald Vernon’s character. Unable to succeed in the world, he naturally made up his mind that the world was all wrong. And, weaving into something which it would only be trifling with words to call a system, a mixture of the practical warp and the sentimental web, he clothed himself with a garment which thenceforth became coat-of-mail to him against the shafts of vulgar common sense. He coupled the fact that John Brown is starving with cold, and the fact that Lady Clara Vere de Vere’s Italian greyhound has a warm jacket, and with perfect ease deduced the conclusion that we want a revolution. He placed the splendid receipts of the Attorney-General (whom he explained to be the minister of a false and corrupt institution) on one side, and the paltry earnings of a curate (“who, apart from his creed,” said Archibald, a sentimental unbeliever, “was labouring to do good, so far as he knew”) on the other, and made the portentous balance on the lawyer’s side prove incontestibly that pikes were the things to reduce that balance. And it is hardly needful to say, that when in the newspaper which announced the decision of the committee that there was no evidence to connect Sir Lionel Squandercash with the proved bribery at the St. Brelade’s election, there also appeared the Bow Street sentence which consigned the squalid Joe Nipps to prison for picking a pocket, Vernon wrote a song with more notes of exclamation than orthodox typography permits, and beginning “Ha! ermined Fiend!” poetically regardless of the circumstance that the police magistrates do not attire themselves in the spotless fur. All this sort of thing is done by many respectable men; some, I am happy to say, would be very much offended, if you thought them weak enough to do it for other than mercantile purposes; but Vernon, so far as he could be said to have a real conviction, believed that the world was a compound of sham, cruelty, and hypocrisy—and he told his children so.

Which paternal instruction might have been less deleterious, had it been accompanied with that teaching by which religious parents make it clear to their offspring that, howevever bad the world may be, it is decidedly none of our business to make it worse. But Archibald Vernon, like millions of other feeble persons, confounded priests with shrines, and rejected both; and as for poor Mrs. Vernon, her religious views were originally something to the effect that she always felt good in a cathedral when the organ was playing,—and the unfortunate lady, having been rather out of the way of cathedrals during her troubles, had not had much chance of cultivating her piety. She once bought two prayer-books with gilt corners and clasps, for the eldest girls, but a landlady detained one of them, in very small part of a claim for a broken loo-table, and in the other poor Mrs. Vernon put two sovereigns to send over to Archibald when in prison, as she thought the messenger was less likely to steal a parcel than an envelope with money, and the sacred volume was left in 7 in B. No other attempt, beyond an occasional impatient wonder why the girls could not go to church, instead of lying in their beds half Sunday reading novels, was made by Mrs. Vernon in a theological direction. Nor were the poor children more fortunate in a secular point of view. For among Archibald Vernon’s sentimentalising was one to this effect (I think he had stolen it from some German gentleman who was famous for demoralising the minds of his young lady correspondents), namely, that a child’s heart was Heaven’s flower-garden, and it was blasphemy for man to seek to lay it out his own way. This delightful aphorism Vernon was fond of quoting, especially when asked whether Beatrice, and Bertha, and Laura did not go to school. But I do not believe that he was entirely sincere in this matter, or that if he had been richer he would not have bad good instruction for those three handsome, intelligent, affectionate girls, whom, even in their uncared-for state, it was impossible not to love. He taught them a little himself, and tried to teach them more; but between the comfortless irregularities and the actual troubles of home, and an entire want of support from his wife, who at times was moved even to deride what were praiseworthy efforts by the father, the domestic tutor was not very assiduous, or very successful. The girls grew on, and bloomed, and were loveable, but owed little to any outward or visible system of instruction. Was it ill or well for them, that when Laura, the third, was about twelve, their unhappy, petulant, negligent mother died? Emmeline Vernon was all that—and yet she was their mother, and the scale of frailties must be heavily weighted before it descends against that word. Well, or ill? Perhaps events may aid us in judging.

This, then, was the father of Mrs. Lygon. To complete his story, a few words will suffice. The death of Mrs. Vernon, after a trying illness, made more trying by privations and troubles, and by the unfortunate disposition of the sufferer, was scarcely felt as a blow by her husband, whose nature she had hardened, in no small degree, by her demonstrative unfitness to share the lot they had risked together. But before the mother was laid in the grave, two of her aunts, who had never forgiven her a marriage with an Atheist, Profligate, and Blasphemer (they were of Clapham, and Clapham has never been accused of inarticulateness, however little justice or charity may have to do with its utterances), saw that they could properly come forward to the rescue of their niece’s children. On the solemn condition that Mr. Vernon should not interfere with the education of the children, or give them any of his infidel books to read, the Misses Judson would make the family a regular allowance, and pay the bills at a day-school. This point, however, was attained only by more determined obstinacy than Archibald had been credited with. Nothing—not even the solemn assurance of both the old ladies that his daughters were certainly going, Clapham mentioned where, but I had rather not—would induce him to part with his children, and a compromise was at length effected. He was asked whether he objected to reside in the country, to which he replied in the negative, adding, convincingly, from a pious poet whom it was rather strange that he should know:

“God made the country and man made the town.”

The Misses Judson requested him not to be profane during the brief time they should be together, and were rather offended than not on its being shown to them that the line was by Mr. Cowper, who wrote so many Olney Hymns. However, being in the forgiving way, they forgave this and other matters, or said they did, and, at all events, Mr. Vernon and his daughters were soon afterwards settled at Lipthwaite, one of whose Evangelical ministers was a Christian friend of the old ladies, and Beatrice, Bertha, and Laura were sent to a tolerably good school.

“Now, of instruction as well as of ignorance,” says the heathen writer, “there are various kinds.”