Paul Clifford/Volume 1/Chapter 11
I boast no song in magic wonders rife,
But yet, Oh, Nature! is there nought to prize,
Familiar in thy bosom scenes of life?
And dwells in day-light truth's salubrious skies
No form with which the soul may sympathise?
Young, innocent, on whose sweet forehead mild
The parted ringlet shone in simplest guise,
An inmate in the home of Albert smiled,
Or blest his noonday walk—she was his only child.
Gertrude of Wyoming.
O Time, thou hast played strange tricks with us! and we bless the stars that made us a novelist, and permit us now to retaliate. Leaving Paul to the instructions of Augustus Tomlinson, and the festivities of the Jolly Angler, and suffering him, by slow but sure degrees, to acquire the graces and the reputation of the accomplished and perfect appropriator of other men's possessions, we shall pass over the lapse of years with the same heedless rapidity with which they have glided over us, and summon our reader to a very different scene from those which would be likely to greet his eyes, were he following the adventures of our new Telemachus. Nor wilt thou, dear reader, whom we make the umpire between ourself and those who never read—the critics;—thou who hast, in the true spirit of gentle breeding, gone with us among places where the novelty of the scene has, we fear, scarcely atoned for the coarseness, not giving thyself the airs of a dainty Abigail;—not prating lackey-like on the low company thou hast met;—nor wilt thou, dear and friendly reader, have cause to dread that we shall weary thy patience by a "damnable iteration" of the same localities. Pausing for a moment to glance over the divisions of our story which lies before us like a map, we feel that we may promise in future to conduct thee among aspects of society, more familiar to thy habits;—where the Unquessed Events flow to their allotted gulf through landscapes of more pleasing variety, and among tribes of a more luxurious civilization.
Upon the banks of one of fair England's fairest rivers, and about fifty miles' distant from London, still stands an old-fashioned abode—which we shall here term Warlock Manor-House. It is a building of brick, varied by stone copings, and covered in great part with ivy and jasmine. Around it lie the ruins of the elder part of the fabric, and these are sufficiently numerous in extent, and important in appearance, to testify that the mansion was once not without pretensions to the magnificent. These remains of power, some of which bear date as far back as the reign of Henry the Third, are sanctioned by the character of the country immediately in the vicinity of the old manor-house. A vast track of waste land, interspersed with groves of antique pollards, and here and there irregular and sinuous ridges of green mound, betoken to the experienced eye the evidence of a dismantled chase or park, which must originally have been of no common dimensions. On one side of the house, the lawn slopes towards the river, divided from a terrace, which forms the most important embellishment of the pleasure grounds, by that fence to which has been given the ingenious and significant name of "ha! ha!" A few scattered trees of giant growth are the sole obstacles that break the view of the river, which has often seemed to us, at that particular passage of its course, to glide with unusual calmness and serenity. On the opposite side of the stream, there is a range of steep hills, celebrated for nothing more romantic than their property of imparting to the flocks that browse upon their short and seemingly stinted herbage, a flavour peculiarly grateful to the lovers of that pastoral animal which changes its name into mutton after its decease. Upon these hills the vestige of human habitation is not visible; and at times, when no boat defaces the lonely smoothness of the river, and the evening has stilled, as it were, the sounds of labour and of life, we know few scenes so utterly tranquil, so steeped in quiet, as that which is presented by the old, quaint-fashioned house and its antique grounds,—the smooth lawn, the silent, and (to speak truly, though disparagingly) the somewhat sluggish river, together with the large hills (to which we know, from simple, though metaphysical causes, how entire an idea of quiet, and even immovability peculiarly attaches itself,) and the white herds,—those most peaceful of God's creatures,—that stud in white and fleecy clusters the ascent.
In Warlock House, at the time we refer to, lived a gentleman of the name of Brandon. He was a widower, and had attained his fiftieth year, without casting much regret on the past, or feeling much anxiety for the future. In a word, Joseph Brandon was one of those careless, quiescent, indifferent men, by whom a thought upon any subject is never recurred to without a very urgent necessity. He was good-natured, inoffensive, and weak; and if he was not an incomparable citizen, he was, at least, an excellent vegetable. He was of a family of high antiquity, and formerly of considerable note. For the last four or five generations, however, the proprietors of Warlock House, gradually losing something alike from their acres and their consequence, had left to their descendant no higher rank than that of a small country squire. One had been a Jacobite, and had drunk out half a dozen farms in honour of Charley over the water;—Charley over the water was no very dangerous person, but Charley over the wine was rather more ruinous;—the next Brandon had been a fox-hunter, and fox-hunters live as largely as patriotic politicians: Pausanias tells us, that the same people who were the most notorious for their love of wine, were also the most notorious for their negligence of affairs. Times are not much altered since Pausanias wrote, and the remark holds as good with the English as it did with the Phigalei. After this Brandon, came one who, though he did not scorn the sportsman, rather assumed the fine gentleman. He married an heiress, who, of course, assisted to ruin him: wishing no assistance in so pleasing an occupation, he overturned her, (perhaps not on purpose,) in a new sort of carriage which he was learning to drive, and the good lady was killed on the spot. She left the fine gentleman two sons, Joseph Brandon, the present thane, and a brother, some years younger. The elder, being of a fitting age, was sent to school, and somewhat escaped the contagion of the paternal mansion. But the younger Brandon, having only reached his fifth year at the time of his mother's decease, was retained at home. Whether he was handsome, or clever, or impertinent, or like his father about the eyes, (that greatest of all merits,) we know not; but the widower became so fond of him, that it was at a late period, and with great reluctance, that he finally entrusted him to the providence of a school.
Among harlots, and gamblers, and lords, and sharpers, and gentlemen of the Guards, together with their frequent accompaniments—guards of the gentlemen—viz. bailiffs, William Brandon passed the first stages of his boyhood. He was about thirteen when he was sent to school; and being a boy of remarkable talents, he recovered lost time so well, that when, at the age of nineteen, he adjourned to the university, he had scarcely resided there a single term before he had borne off two of the highest prizes awarded to academical merit. From the university he departed on the "grand tour," at that time thought so necessary to complete the gentleman; he went in company with a young nobleman, whose friendship he had won at the university, stayed abroad more than two years, and on his return he settled down to the profession of the law.
Meanwhile his father died, and his fortune, as a younger brother, being literally next to nothing, and the family estate (for his brother was not unwilling to assist him) being terribly involved, it was believed that he struggled for some years with very embarrassed and penurious circumstances. During this interval of his life, however, he was absent from London, and by his brother supposed to have returned to the Continent: at length, it seems, he profited by a renewal of his friendship with the young nobleman who had accompanied him abroad, reappeared in town, and obtained, through his noble friend, one or two legal appointments of reputable emolument; soon afterwards he got a brief on some cause where a Major had been raising a corps to his brother officer, with the better consent of the brother officer's wife than of the brother officer himself. Brandon's abilities here, for the first time in his profession, found an adequate vent; his reputation seemed made at once, he rose rapidly in his profession, and, at the time we now speak of, he was sailing down the full tide of fame and wealth, the envy and the oracle of all young Templars and barristers, who having been starved themselves for ten years, began now to calculate on the possibility of starving their clients. At the very first commencement of his career he had, through the good offices of the nobleman we have mentioned, obtained a seat in the House of Commons; and though his eloquence was of an order much better suited to the Bar than the Senate, he had nevertheless acquired a very considerable reputation in the latter, and was looked upon by many as likely to win to the same brilliant fortunes as the courtly Mansfield—a great man, whose political principles and urbane address Brandon was supposed especially to affect as his own model. Of unblemished integrity in public life—for as he supported all things that exist with the most unbending rigidity, he could not be accused of inconsistency—William Brandon was (as we have said in a former place of unhappy memory to our hero) esteemed in private life the most honourable, the most moral, even the most austere of men; and his grave and stern repute on this score, joined to the dazzle of his eloquence and forensic powers, had baffled in great measure the rancour of party hostility, and obtained for him a character for virtues almost as high and as enviable as that which he had acquired for abilities.
While William was thus treading a noted and an honourable career, his elder brother, who had married into a clergyman's family, and soon lost his consort, had, with his only child, a daughter named Lucy, resided in his paternal mansion in undisturbed obscurity. The discreditable character and habits of the preceding lords of Warlock, which had sunk their respectability in the county, as well as curtailed their property, had rendered the surrounding gentry little anxious to cultivate the intimacy of the present proprietor; and the heavy mind and retired manners of Joseph Brandon were not calculated to counter-balance the faults of his forefathers, or to reinstate the name of Brandon in its antient popularity and esteem. Though dull and little cultivated, the squire was not without his "proper pride;" he attempted not to intrude himself where he was unwelcome, avoided county meetings and county balls, smoked his pipe with the parson, and not unoften with the surgeon and the solicitor, and suffered his daughter Lucy to educate herself, with the help of the parson's wife, and to ripen (for Nature was more favourable to her than Art) into the very prettiest girl that the whole county—we long to say the whole country—at that time could boast of. Never did glass give back a more lovely image than that of Lucy Brandon at the age of nineteen. Her auburn hair fell in the richest luxuriance over a brow never ruffled, and a cheek where the blood never slept; with every instant the colour varied, and at every variation that smooth, pure, virgin cheek seemed still more lovely than before. She had the most beautiful laugh that one who loved music could imagine,—silvery, low, and yet so full of joy! all her movements, as the old Parson said, seemed to keep time to that laugh; for mirth made a great part of her innocent and childish temper; and yet the mirth was feminine, never loud, nor like that of young ladies who have received the last finish at Highgate seminaries. Every thing joyous affected her, and at once;—air,—flowers,—sunshine,—butterflies. Unlike heroines in general, she very seldom cried, and she saw nothing charming in having the vapours. But she never looked so beautiful as in sleep! and as the light breath came from her parted lips, and the ivory lids closed over those eyes which only in sleep were silent—and her attitude in her sleep took that ineffable grace belonging solely to childhood, or the fresh youth into which childhood merges,—she was just what you might imagine a sleeping Margaret, before that most simple and gentle of all a poet's visions of womanhood had met with Faust, and ruffled her slumbers with a dream of love.
We cannot say much for Lucy's intellectual acquirements; she could, thanks to the parson's wife, spell indifferently well, and write a tolerable hand; she made preserves and sometimes riddles—it was more difficult to question the excellence of the former than to answer the queries of the latter. She worked to the admiration of all who knew her, and we beg leave to say that we deem that "an excellent thing in woman." She made caps for herself and gowns for the poor, and now and then she accomplished the more literary labour of a stray novel that had wandered down to the Manor House, or an abridgement of antient history, in which was omitted every thing but the proper names. To these attainments she added a certain modicum of skill upon the spinet, and the power of singing old songs with the richest and sweetest voice that ever made one's eyes moisten, or one's heart beat.
Her moral qualities were more fully developed than her mental. She was the kindest of human beings; the very dog that had never seen her before, knew that truth at the first glance, and lost no time in making her acquaintance. The goodness of her heart reposed upon her face like sunshine, and the old wife at the lodge said poetically and truly of the effect it produced, that "one felt warm when one looked on her." If we could abstract from the description a certain chilling transparency, the following exquisite verses of a forgotten poet might express the purity and lustre of her countenance—
"Her face was like the milky way i' the sky,
A meeting of gentle lights without a name."
She was surrounded by pets of all kinds, ugly and handsome, from Ralph the raven, to Beauty the pheasant, and from Bob, the sheep-dog without a tail, to Beau, the Blenheim with blue ribbons round his neck; all things loved her, and she loved all things. It seemed doubtful at that time whether she would ever have sufficient steadiness and strength of character. Her beauty and her character appeared alike so essentially sexual, soft, yet lively, buoyant, yet caressing, that you could scarcely place in her that moral dependence, that you might in a character less amiable, but less yieldingly feminine. Time, however, and circumstance which alters and hardens, were to decide whether the inward nature did not possess some latent, and yet undiscovered properties. Such was Lucy Brandon in the year ——, and in that year, on a beautiful autumnal evening, we first introduce her personally to our readers.
She was sitting on a garden-seat by the river side, with her father, who was deliberately conning the evening paper of a former week, and gravely seasoning the antient news with the inspirations of that weed which so bitterly excited the royal indignation of our British Solomon. It happens, unfortunately for us—for outward peculiarities are scarcely worthy the dignity to which comedy, whether in the drama or the narrative, aspires,—that Squire Brandon possessed so few distinguishing traits of mind, that he leaves his delineator little whereby to designate him, save a confused and parenthetical habit of speech, by which he very often appeared to those who did not profit by long experience, or close observation, to say exactly, and somewhat ludicrously, that which he did not mean to convey.
"I say, Lucy," observed Mr. Brandon, but without lifting his eyes from the paper; "I say, corn has fallen—think of that, girl, think of that. These times, in my opinion, (ay, and in the opinion of wiser heads than mine, though I do not mean to say that I have not some experience in these matters, which is more than can be said of all our neighbours,) are very curious and, even dangerous."
"Indeed, Papa!" answered Lucy.
"And I say, Lucy, dear," resumed the Squire after a short pause, "there has been (and very strange it is, too, when one considers the crowded neighbourhood—Bless me! what times these are!) a shocking murder committed upon (the tobacco-stopper—there it is)—think, you know, girl—just by Epping!—an old gentleman!"
"Dear, how shocking! by whom?"
"Ay, that's the question! The Coroner's inquest has (what a blessing it is to live in a civilized country, where a man does not die without knowing the why and the wherefore,) sat on the body, and declared (it is very strange, but they don't seem to have made much discovery; for why? we knew as much before,) that the body was found (it was found on the floor, Lucy,) murdered; murderer or murderers (in the bureau, which was broken open, they found the money left quite untouched,)—unknown!"
Here there was again a slight pause, and passing to another side of the paper, Mr. Brandon resumed in a quicker tone,—
"Ha! well, now this is odd! but he's a deuced clever fellow, Lucy! (that brother of mine has, and in a very honourable manner too, which I am sure is highly creditable to the family, though he has not taken too much notice of me lately;—a circumstance which, considering I am his elder brother, I am a little angry at;)—distinguished himself in a speech, remarkable, the paper says—for its great legal—(I wonder, by the by, whether William could get me that agistment-money! 'tis a heavy thing to lose; but going to law, as my poor father used to say, is like fishing for gudgeons [not a bad little fish, we can have some for supper,] with guineas)—knowledge, as well as its splendid and overpowering—(I do love Will for keeping up the family honour; I am sure it is more than I have done—heigh-ho!)—eloquence!"
"And on what subject has he been speaking, Papa?"
"Oh, a very fine subject; what you call a—(it is astonishing that in this country there should be such a wish for taking away people's characters, which, for my part, I don't see is a bit more entertaining than what you are always doing—playing with those stupid birds)—Libel!"
"But is not my uncle William coming down to see us? He promised to do so, and it made you quite happy, Papa, for two days. I hope he will not disappoint you; and I am sure that it is not his fault if he ever seems to neglect you. He spoke of you to me, when I saw him, in the kindest and most affectionate manner. I do think, my dear father, that he loves you very much."
"Ahem!" said the Squire, evidently flattered, and yet not convinced. "My brother Will is a very acute fellow, and I make no—my dear little girl—question, but that—(when you have seen as much of the world as I have, you will grow suspicious,)—he thought that any good word said of me to my daughter, would—(you see, Lucy, I am as clear-sighted as my neighbours, though I don't give myself all their airs; which I very well might do, considering my great great great grandfather Hugo Brandon, had a hand in detecting the Gunpowder plot,)—be told to me again!"
"Nay, but I am quite sure my uncle never spoke of you to me with that intention."
"Possibly, my dear child; but when (the evenings are much shorter than they were!) did you talk with your uncle about me?"
"Oh, when staying with Mrs. Warner, in London; to be sure, it is six years ago, but I remember it perfectly. I recollect, in particular, that he spoke of you very handsomely to Lord Mauleverer, who dined with him one evening when I was there, and when my uncle was so kind as to take me to the play. I was afterwards quite sorry that he was so good-natured, as he lost—(you remember I told you the story)—a very valuable watch."
"Ay, ay, I remember all about that, and so,—how long friendship lasts with some people!—Lord Mauleverer dined with William. What a fine thing it is for a man—(it is what I never did, indeed, I like being what they call 'Cock of the Walk'—let me see, now I think of it, Pillum comes to-night to play a hit at backgammon)—to make friends with a great man early in (yet Will did not do it very early, poor fellow! he struggled first with a great deal of sorrow——hardship that is——) life! It is many years now, since Will has been hand-and-glove with my ('tis a bit of a puppy) Lord Mauleverer,—what did you think of his Lordship?"
"Of Lord Mauleverer? Indeed I scarcely observed him, but he seemed a handsome man, and was very polite. Mrs. Warner said he had been a very wicked person when he was young, but he seems good-natured enough now, Papa."
"By the by," said the Squire, "his Lordship has just been made—(this new Ministry seem very unlike the old! which rather puzzles me; for I think it my duty, d'ye see, Lucy, always to vote for his Majesty's Government; especially seeing that old Hugo Brandon had a hand in detecting the Gunpowder plot; and it is a little odd, at least, at first, to think that good now, which one has always before been thinking abominable) Lord Lieutenant of the county."
"Lord Mauleverer our Lord Lieutenant?"
"Yes, child; and since his Lordship is such a friend of my brother's, I should think, considering especially what an old family in the county we are,—not that I wish to intrude myself where I am not thought as fine as the rest,—that he would be more attentive to us than Lord —— was: But that, my dear Lucy, puts me in mind of Pillum, and so, perhaps, you would like to walk to the Parson's, as it is a fine evening. John shall come for you at nine o'clock with—(the moon is not up then)—the lantern."
Leaning on his daughter's willing arm, the good old man then rose and walked homeward; and so soon as she had wheeled round his easy-chair, placed the backgammon-board on the table, and wished the old gentleman an easy victory over his expected antagonist the Apothecary, Lucy tied down her bonnet, and took her way to the Rectory.
When she arrived at the clerical mansion, and entered the drawing-room, she was surprised to find the Parson's wife, a good, homely, lethargic old lady, run up to her, seemingly in a state of great nervous agitation, and crying.
"Oh, my dear Miss Brandon! which way did you come? Did you meet nobody by the road? Oh, I am so frightened! Such an accident to poor dear Doctor Slopperton. Stopped in the King's highway—robbed of some tithe-money he had just received from Farmer Slowforth; if it had not been for that dear angel, good, young man, God only knows whether I might not have been a disconsolate widow by this time."
While the affectionate matron was thus running on, Lucy's eye glancing round the room, discovered in an arm-chair, the round and oily little person of Doctor Slopperton, with a countenance from which all the carnation hues, save in one circular excrescence on the nasal member that was left, like the last rose of summer, blooming alone, were faded into an aspect of miserable pallor: the little man tried to conjure up a smile while his wife was narrating his misfortune, and to mutter forth some syllable of unconcern; but he looked, for all his bravado, so exceedingly scared, that Lucy would, despite of herself, have laughed outright, had not her eye rested upon the figure of a young man who had been seated beside the reverend gentleman, but who had risen at Lucy's entrance, and who now stood gazing upon her intently, but with an air of great respect. Blushing deeply, and involuntarily, she turned her eyes hastily away, and approaching the good Doctor, made her enquiries into the present state of his nerves, in a graver tone than she had a minute before imagined it possible that she should have been enabled to command.
"Ah, my good young lady," said the Doctor, squeezing her hand, "I—nay, I may say the Church—for am I not its minister?—was in imminent danger;—but this excellent gentleman prevented the sacrilege, at least in great measure. I only lost some of my dues—my rightful dues—for which I console myself with thinking that the infamous and abandoned villain will suffer hereafter."
"There cannot be the least doubt of that," said the young man: "had he only robbed the mail coach, or broken into a gentleman's house, the offence might have been expiable;—but to rob a clergyman, and a rector, too! Oh, the sacrilegious dog!"
"Your warmth does you honour, Sir," said the Doctor, beginning now to recover, "and I am very proud to have made the acquaintance of a gentleman of such truly religious opinions!"
"Ah!" cried the stranger, "my foible, Sir—if I may so speak—is a sort of enthusiastic fervour for the Protestant Establishment—Nay, Sir, I never come across the very nave of the church, without feeling an indescribable emotion—a kind of sympathy, as it were,—with—with—you understand me, Sir—I fear I express myself ill."
"Not at all, not at all!" exclaimed the Doctor: "such sentiments are uncommon in one so young."
"Sir, I learned them early in life from a friend and preceptor of mine, Mr. M'Grawler, and I trust they may continue with me to my dying day."
Here the Doctor's servant entered with (we borrow a phrase from the novel of * * * *) "the tea-equipage," and Mrs. Slopperton betaking herself to its superintendence, enquired with more composure than hitherto had belonged to her demeanour, what sort of a looking creature the ruffian was?
"I will tell you, my dear—I will tell you, Miss Lucy, all about it. I was walking home from Mr. Slowforth's, with his money in my pocket, thinking, my love, of buying you that topaz cross you wished to have."
"Dear good man!" cried Mrs. Slopperton; "what a fiend it must have been to rob so excellent a creature!"
"And," resumed the Doctor, "it also occurred to me, that the Madeira was nearly out—the Madeira, I mean, with the red seal; and I was thinking it might not be amiss to devote part of the money to buy six dozen more; and the remainder, my love, which would be about one pound eighteen, I thought I would divide,—'for he that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord!'—among the thirty poor families on the Common; that is, if they behaved well, and the apples in the back garden were not feloniously abstracted!"
"Excellent! charitable man!" ejaculated Mrs. Slopperton.
"While I was thus meditating, I lifted my eyes, and saw before me two men; one of prodigious height, and with a great profusion of hair about his shoulders; the other was smaller, and wore his hat slouched over his face; it was a very large hat. My attention was arrested by the singularity of the tall person's hair, and while I was smiling at its luxuriance, I heard him say to his companion,—'Well, Augustus, as you are such a moral dog, he is in your line, not mine, so I leave him to you.'—Little did I think those words related to me. No sooner were they uttered, than the tall rascal leaped over a gate and disappeared; the other fellow then marching up to me, very smoothly asked me the way to the church, and while I was explaining to him to turn first to the right and then to the left, and so on—for the best way is, you know, exceedingly crooked—the hypocritical scoundrel seized me by the collar, and cried out—'Your money, or your life!'—I do assure you, that I never trembled so much; not, my dear Miss Lucy, so much for my own sake, as for the sake of the thirty poor families on the Common, whose wants it had been my intention to relieve. I gave up the money, finding my prayers and expostulations were in vain; and the dog then, brandishing over my head an enormous bludgeon, said—what abominable language!—'I think, Doctor, I shall put an end to an existence derogatory to yourself and useless to others.' At that moment the young gentleman beside me sprang over the very gate by which the tall ruffian had disappeared, and cried—'Hold, villain!' On seeing my deliverer, the coward started back, and plunged into a neighbouring wood. The good young gentleman pursued him for a few minutes, but then returning to my aid, conducted me home; and, as we used to say at school,
'Te rediisse incolumem gaudeo.'
Which being interpreted, means,—(Sir, excuse a pun, I am sure so great a friend to the Church understands Latin,)—that I am very glad to get back safe to my tea. He, he! And now, Miss Lucy, you must thank that young gentleman for having saved the life of your pastoral teacher, which act will no doubt be remembered at the Great Day!"
As Lucy, looking towards the stranger, said something in compliment, she observed a vague, and, as it were, covert smile upon his countenance, which immediately, and as if by sympathy, conjured one to her own. The hero of the adventure, however, in a very grave tone, replied to her compliment, at the same time bowing profoundly——
"Mention it not, Madam! I were unworthy of the name of a Briton, and a man, could I pass the highway without relieving the distresses, or lightening the burthen, of a fellow-creature. And," continued the stranger, after a momentary pause, colouring while he spoke, and concluding, in the high-flown gallantry of the day,—"Methinks it were sufficient reward, had I saved the whole Church, instead of one of its most valuable members, to receive the thanks of a lady, whom I might reasonably take for one of those celestial beings, to whom we have been piously taught that the Church is especially the care!"
Though there might have been something really ridiculous in this overstrained compliment, coupled as it was with the preservation of Dr. Slopperton, yet, coming from the mouth of one whom Lucy thought the very handsomest person she had ever seen, it appeared to her any thing but absurd; and, for a very long time afterwards, her heart thrilled with pleasure when she remembered that the cheek of the speaker had glowed, and his voice had trembled, as he spoke it.
The conversation now turning from robbers in particular, dwelt upon robberies in general. It was edifying to hear the honest indignation with which the stranger spoke of the lawless depredators with whom the country, in that day of Macheaths, was infested.
"A pack of infamous rascals!" said he, in a glow; "who attempt to justify their misdeeds by the example of honest men; and who say, that they do no more than is done by lawyers and doctors, soldiers, clergymen, and ministers of state. Pitiful delusion, or rather, shameless hypocrisy!"
"It all comes of educating the poor," said the Doctor. "The moment they pretend to judge the conduct of their betters—there's an end of all order! They see nothing sacred in the laws, though we hang the dogs ever so fast; and the very peers of the land, spiritual and temporal, cease to be venerable in their eyes."
"Talking of peers," said Mrs. Slopperton, "I hear that Lord Mauleverer is to pass by this road to-night, on his way to Mauleverer Park. Do you know his Lordship, Miss Lucy? he is very intimate with your uncle."
"I have only seen him once," answered Lucy.
"Are you sure that his Lordship will come this road?" asked the stranger, carelessly: "I heard something of it this morning, but did not know it was settled."
"Oh, quite so!" rejoined Mrs. Slopperton. "His Lordship's gentleman wrote for post-horses to meet his Lordship at Wyburn, about three miles on the other side of the village, at ten o'clock to-night. His Lordship is very impatient of delay."
"Pray," said the Doctor, who had not much heeded this turn in the conversation, and was now 'on hospitable cares intent;'—"Pray, Sir, if not impertinent, are you visiting, or lodging in the neighbourhood; or, will you take a bed with us?"
"You are extremely kind, my dear Sir, but I fear I must soon wish you good evening. I have to look after a little property I have some miles hence, which, indeed, brought me down into this part of the world."
"Property—in what direction, Sir, if I may ask?" quoth the Doctor; "I know the country for miles."
"Do you, indeed?—where's my property, you say? Why, it is rather difficult to describe it, and it is, after all, a mere trifle; it is only some common-land near the high-road, and I came down to try the experiment of hedging and draining."
"'Tis a good plan, if one has capital, and does not require a speedy return."
"Yes; but one likes a good interest for the loss of principle, and a speedy return is always desirable; although, alas! it is often attended with risk!"
"I hope, Sir," said the Doctor, "if you must leave us so soon, that your property will often bring you into our neighbourhood."
"You overpower me with so much unexpected goodness," answered the stranger. "To tell you the truth, nothing can give me greater pleasure, than to meet those again who have once obliged me."
"Whom you have obliged, rather!" cried Mrs. Slopperton, and then added, in a loud whisper to Lucy—"How modest! but it is always so with true courage!"
"I assure you, Madam," returned the benevolent stranger, "that I never think twice of the little favours I render my fellow men—my only hope is, that they may be as forgetful as myself."
Charmed with so much unaffected goodness of disposition, the Doctor and Mrs. Slopperton now set up a sort of duet in praise of their guest: after enduring their commendations and compliments for some minutes with much grimace of disavowal and diffidence, the stranger's modesty seemed at last to take pain at the excess of their gratitude; and accordingly, pointing to the clock, which was within a few minutes of nine, he said,
"I fear, my respected host, and my admired hostess, that I must now leave you; I have far to go."
"But are you yourself not afraid of the highwaymen?" cried Mrs. Slopperton, interrupting him.
"The highwaymen!" said the stranger, smiling, "No! I do not fear them; besides, I have little about me worth robbing."
"Do you superintend your property yourself?" said the Doctor; who farmed his own glebe, and who, unwilling to part with so charming a guest, seized him now by the button.
"Superintend it myself!—why, not exactly. There is a bailiff, whose views of things don't agree with mine, and who now and then gives me a good deal of trouble!"
"Then why don't you discharge him altogether."
"Ah! I wish I could: but 'tis a necessary evil. We landed proprietors, my dear Sir, must always be plagued with something of the sort. For my part, I have found those cursed bailiffs would take away, if they could, all the little property one has been trying to accumulate. But," abruptly changing his manner into one of great softness, "could I not proffer my services and my companionship to this young lady? Would she allow me to conduct her home, and, indeed, stamp this day upon my memory, as one of the few delightful ones I have ever known?"
"Thank you, dear Sir," said Mrs. Slopperton, answering at once for Lucy; "it is very considerate of you; and I am sure, my love, I could not think of letting you go home alone with old John, after such an adventure to the poor dear Doctor."
Lucy began an excuse which the good lady would not hear. But as the servant whom Mr. Brandon was to send with a lantern to attend his daughter home, had not arrived, and as Mrs. Slopperton, despite her prepossessions in favour of her husband's deliverer, did not for a moment contemplate his accompanying, without any other attendance, her young friend across the fields at that unseasonable hour; the stranger was forced, for the present, to re-assume his seat; an open harpsichord at one end of the room, gave him an opportunity to make some remark upon music, and this introducing an eulogium on Lucy's voice, from Mrs. Slopperton, necessarily ended in a request to Miss Brandon to indulge the stranger with a song. Never had Lucy, who was not a shy girl—she was too innocent to be bashful—felt nervous hitherto in singing before a stranger; but now, she hesitated and faltered, and went through a whole series of little natural affectations before she complied with the request. She chose a song composed somewhat after the old English school, which at that time was reviving into fashion. The song though conveying a sort of conceit, was not, perhaps, altogether without tenderness;—it was a favourite with Lucy, she scarcely knew why, and ran thus:—
Why sleep, ye flowers, ah, why,
When the sweet eve is falling,
And the stars drink the tender sigh
Of winds to the fairies calling?
Calling with plaining note,
Most like a ringdove chiding,
Or a flute from some distant boat
O'er the glass of a still sea gliding.
Why sleep, ye flowers, ah, why,
What time we most must miss you?
Like a bride, see, the loving sky,
From your churlish sleep would kiss you.
Soft things, the dew, the breeze,
All soft things, are about you;
Awake, fair flowers, for scarcely these
Fill the yearning sense without you!
Wake ye not yet? Alas!
The silver time is fleeing!
—Fond idler, cease! those flowers but glass
The doom of thy changeless being!
Yea, ever when the hours
As now seem the divinest,
Thou callest, I know, on some sleeping flowers.
And finding no answer—pinest!
When Lucy ended, the stranger's praise was less loud than either the Doctor's or his lady's; but how far more sweet it was; and for the first time in her life Lucy made the discovery, that eyes can praise as well as lips. For our part, we have often thought that that discovery is an epoch in life.
It was now that Mrs. Slopperton declared her thorough conviction that the stranger himself could sing—"He had that about him," she said, "which made her sure of it."
"Indeed, dear Madam," said he, with his usual undefinable, half-frank, half-latent smile, "my voice is but so so, and my memory so indifferent, that even in the easiest passages, I soon come to a stand. My best notes are in the falsetto, and as for my execution—but we won't talk of that."
"Nay, nay; you are so modest," said Mrs. Slopperton; "I am sure you could oblige us if you would."
"Your command," said the stranger, moving to the harpsichord, "is all-sufficient; and since you, Madam," (turning to Lucy,) "have chosen a song after the old school, may I find pardon if I do the same? My selection is, to be sure, from a lawless song-book, and is supposed to be a ballad by Robin Hood, or, at least, one of his merry men; a very different sort of outlaws from the knaves who attacked you, Sir!"
With this preface, the stranger sung to a wild yet jovial air, with a tolerable voice, the following effusion:—
The Love of our Profession; or, the
On the stream of the World, the Robber's life
Is borne on the blithest wave;
Now it bounds into light in a gladsome strife,
Now it laughs in its hiding cave.
At his maiden's lattice he stays the rein,
How still is his courser proud!
(But still as a wind when it hangs o'er the main
In the breast of the boding cloud)—
With the champèd bit and the archèd crest,
And the eye of a listening deer,
And the spirit of fire that pines at its rest,
And the limbs that laugh at fear.
Fit slave to a Lord whom all else refuse
To save at his desperate need;
By my troth! I think one whom the world pursues,
Hath a right to a gallant steed.
"Away, my beloved, I hear their feet!"
"I blow thee a kiss, my fair,
And I promise to bring thee, when next we meet,
A braid for thy bonny hair.
"Hurra! for the booty!—my Steed, hurra!
Thorough bush, thorough brake go we;
And the coy Moon smiles on our merry way,
Like my own love—timidly."
The Parson he rides with a jingling pouch,
How it blabs of the rifled poor!
The Courtier he lolls in his gilded coach,
How it smacks of a sinecure!
The Lawyer revolves in his whirling chaise
Sweet thoughts of a mischief done;
And the Lady that knoweth the card she plays
Is counting her guineas won!
"Ho, Lady!—What, hollo, ye sinless men!
My claim ye can scarce refuse;
For when honest folk live on their neighbours, then
They encroach on the Robber's dues!"
The Lady changed cheek like a bashful maid,
The Lawyer talk'd wondrous fair,
The Parson blasphemed, and the Courtier pray'd.
And the Robber bore off his share.
"Hurra! for the revel! my steed, hurra!
Thorough bush, thorough brake go we!
It is ever a virtue when others pay
To ruffle it merrily!"
Oh! there never was life like the Robber's—so
Jolly, and bold, and free;
And end?—why, a cheer from the crowd below,
And a leap from a leafless tree!
This very moral lay being ended, Mrs. Slopperton declared it was excellent; though she confessed she thought the sentiments rather loose. Perhaps the gentleman might be induced to favour them with a song of a more refined and modern turn—something sentimental, in short. Glancing towards Lucy, the stranger answered, that he only knew one song of the kind Mrs. Slopperton specified, and it was so short, that he should scarcely weary her patience by granting her request.
At this moment, the river, which was easily descried from the windows of the room, glimmered in the starlight, and directing his looks towards the water, as if the scene had suggested to him the verses he sung, he gave the following stanzas in a very low sweet tone, and with a far purer taste than, perhaps, would have suited the preceding and ruder song.
As sleeps the dreaming Eve below,
Its holiest star keeps ward above,
And yonder wave begins to glow,
Like Friendship bright'ning into Love!
Ah! would thy bosom were that stream,
Ne'er woo'd save by the virgin air!——
Ah! would I were that star, whose beam
Looks down and finds its image there!
Scarcely was the song ended, before the arrival of Miss Brandon's servant was announced, and her destined escort starting up, gallantly assisted her with her cloak and her hood, happy, no doubt, to escape, in some measure, the overwhelming compliments of his entertainers.
"But," said the Doctor, as he shook hands with his deliverer, "by what name shall I remember and"—(lifting his reverend eyes)—"pray for the gentleman to whom I am so much indebted?"
"You are very kind," said the stranger; "my name is Clifford. Madam," (turning to Lucy,) "may I offer my hand down the stairs?"
Lucy accepted the courtesy, and the stranger was half-way down the staircase, when the Doctor, stretching out his little neck, exclaimed,
"Good evening, Sir! I do hope we shall meet again."
"Fear not," said Mr. Clifford, laughing gaily, "I am too great a traveller to make that hope a matter of impossibility.—Take care, Madam—one step more."
The night was calm and tolerably clear, though the moon had not yet risen, as Lucy and her companion passed through the fields, with the servant preceding them at a little distance with the lantern.
After a pause of some length, Clifford said, with a little hesitation, "Is Miss Brandon related to the celebrated barrister of her name?"
"He is my uncle," said Lucy; "do you know him?"
"Only your uncle?" said Clifford, with vivacity, and evading Lucy's question—"I feared—hem!—hem!—that is, I thought he might have been a nearer relation." There was another, but a shorter pause, when Clifford resumed, in a low voice, "Will Miss Brandon think me very presumptuous if I say, that a countenance like her's, once seen, can never be forgotten; and I believe, some years since, I had the honour to see her in London, at the theatre. It was but a momentary and distant glance that I was then enabled to gain; and yet," he added, significantly, "it sufficed!"
"I was only once at the theatre while in London, some years ago," said Lucy, a little embarrassed; "and, indeed, an unpleasant occurrence which happened to my uncle, with whom I was, is sufficient to make me remember it."
"Ha!—and what was it?"
"Why, in going out of the playhouse, his watch was stolen by some dexterous pickpocket."
"Was the rogue caught?" asked the stranger.
"Yes; and was sent the next day to Bridewell. My uncle said he was extremely young, and yet quite hardened. I remember that I was foolish enough, when I heard of his sentence, to beg very hard that my uncle would intercede for him; but in vain."
"Did you, indeed, intercede for him?" said the stranger, in so earnest a tone that Lucy coloured for the twentieth time that night, without seeing any necessity for the blush. Clifford continued in a gayer tone, "Well, it is surprising how rogues hang together. I should not be greatly surprised if the person who despoiled your uncle, were one of the same gang as the rascal who so terrified your worthy friend the Doctor. But is this handsome old place, your home?"
"This is my home," answered Lucy; "but it is an old-fashioned, strange place; and few people, to whom it was not endeared by associations, would think it handsome."
"Pardon me!" said Lucy's companion, stopping, and surveying, with a look of great interest, the quaint and Elizabethan pile, which now stood close before them; its dark bricks, gable-ends, and ivied walls, tinged by the starry light of the skies, and contrasted by the river, which rolled in silence below. The shutters to the large oriel window of the room, in which the Squire usually sat, were still unclosed, and the steady and warm light of the apartment shone forth, casting a glow, even to the smooth waters of the river: at the same moment, too, the friendly bark of the house-dog was heard, as in welcome; and was followed by the note of the great bell, announcing the hour for the last meal of the old-fashioned and hospitable family.
"There is a pleasure in this!" said the stranger, unconsciously, and with a half-sigh: "I wish I had a home!"
"And have you not a home?" said Lucy, with naïveté.
"As much as a bachelor can have, perhaps," answered Clifford, recovering without an effort his gaiety and self-possession. "But you know we wanderers are not allowed the same boast as the more fortunate Benedicts; we send our hearts in search of a home, and we lose the one without gaining the other. But I keep you in the cold, and we are now at your door."
"You will come in, of course!" said Miss Brandon, "and partake of our evening cheer."
The stranger hesitated for an instant, and then said in a quick tone.
"No! many—many thanks; it is already late. Will Miss Brandon accept my gratitude for her condescension, in permitting the attendance of one unknown to her?" As he thus spoke, Clifford bowed profoundly over the hand of his beautiful charge; and Lucy wishing him good-night, hastened, with a light step, to her father's side.
Meanwhile, Clifford, after lingering a minute, when the door was closed on him, turned abruptly away; and muttering to himself, repaired with rapid steps, to whatever object he had then in view.