Paul Clifford/Volume 2/Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII.


Come, the plot thickens! and another fold
Of the warm cloak of mystery wraps us around
******** And for their loves?
Behold the seal is on them!

Banner of Tyburn.


We must not suppose that Clifford's manner and tone were towards Lucy Brandon such as they seemed to others. Love refines every roughness; and that truth which nurtures tenderness, is never barren of grace. Whatever the habits and comrades of Clifford's life, he had at heart many good and generous qualities. They were not often perceptible, it is true, first, because he was of a gay and reckless turn; secondly, because he was not easily affected by any external circumstance; and thirdly, because he had the policy to affect among his comrades only such qualities as were likely to give him influence with them. Still, however, his better genius broke out whenever an opportunity presented itself. Though no "Corsair," romantic and unreal, an Ossianic shadow becoming more vast in proportion as it recedes from substance; though no grandly-imagined lie to the fair proportions of Human Nature, but an erring man in a very prosaic and homely world; Clifford still mingled a certain generosity and chivalric emprize, even with the practices of his profession. Although the name of Lovett, by which he was chiefly known, was one peculiarly distinguished in the annals of the adventurous, it had never been coupled with rumours of cruelty or outrage, and it was often associated with anecdotes of courage, courtesy, good-humour, or forbearance. He was one whom a real love was peculiarly calculated to soften and to redeem. The boldness, the candour, the unselfishness of his temper, were components of nature upon which affection invariably takes a strong and deep hold. Besides, Clifford was of an eager and aspiring turn; and the same temper and abilities which had in a very few years raised him in influence and popularity far above all the Chivalric band with whom he was connected, when once inflamed and elevated by a higher passion, were likely to arouse his ambition from the level of his present pursuits, and reform him, ere too late, into a useful, nay, even an honourable member of society. We trust that the reader has already perceived that, despite his early circumstances, his manner and address were not such as to unfit him for a lady's love. The comparative refinement of his exterior is easy of explanation, for he possessed a natural and inborn gentility, a quick turn for observation, a ready sense both of the ridiculous and the graceful; and these are materials which are soon and lightly wrought from coarseness into polish. He had been thrown too among the leaders and heroes of his band; many not absolutely low in birth, nor debased in habit. He had associated with the Barringtons of the day: gentlemen who were admired at Ranelagh, and made speeches worthy of Cicero, when they were summoned to trial. He had played his part in public places; and, as Tomlinson was wont to say after his Ciceronian fashion, "the triumphs accomplished in the field, had been planned in the ball-room." In short, he was one of those accomplished and elegant highwaymen of whom we yet read wonders, and by whom it would have been delightful to have been robbed: and the aptness of intellect, which grew into wit with his friends, softened into sentiment with his mistress. There is something too, in beauty, (and Clifford's person, as we have before said, was possessed of even uncommon attractions) which lifts a beggar into nobility; and there was a distinction in his gait and look which supplied the air of rank, and the tone of courts. Men, indeed, skilled like Mauleverer in the subtleties of manner, might perhaps have easily detected in him the want of that indescribable essence possessed only by persons reared in good society; but that want being shared by so many persons of indisputable birth and fortune, conveyed no particular reproach. To Lucy, indeed, brought up in seclusion, and seeing at Warlock none calculated to refine her taste in the fashion of an air or phrase to a very fastidious standard of perfection, this want was perfectly imperceptible: she remarked in her lover only a figure every where unequalled—an eye always eloquent with admiration—a step from which grace could never be divorced—a voice that spoke in a silver key, and uttered flatteries delicate in thought and poetical in word:—even a certain originality of mind, remark, and character, occasionally approaching to the bizarre, yet sometimes also to the elevated, possessed a charm for the imagination of a young and not unenthusiastic female, and contrasted favourably, rather than the reverse, with the dull insipidity of those she ordinarily saw. Nor are we sure that the mystery thrown about him, irksome as it was to her, and discreditable as it appeared to others, was altogether ineffectual in increasing her love for the adventurer; and thus Fate, which transmutes in her magic crucible all opposing metals into that one which she is desirous to produce, swelled the wealth of an ill-placed and ominous passion, by the very circumstances which should have counteracted and destroyed it.

We are willing, by what we have said, not to defend Clifford, but to redeem Lucy in the opinion of our readers, for loving so unwisely; and when they remember her youth, her education, her privation of a mother, of all female friendship, even of the vigilant and unrelaxing care of some protector of the opposite sex, we do not think that what was so natural will be considered by any inexcusable.

Mauleverer woke the morning after the ball in better health than usual, and consequently more in love than ever. According to his resolution the night before, he sat down to write a long letter to William Brandon; it was amusing and witty as usual; but the wily nobleman succeeded, under the cover of wit, in conveying to Brandon's mind a serious apprehension lest his cherished matrimonial project should altogether fail. The account of Lucy and of Captain Clifford contained in the epistle, instilled, indeed, a double portion of sourness into the professionally acrid mind of the lawyer; and as it so happened that he read the letter just before attending the Court upon a case in which he was Counsel to the Crown, the witnesses on the opposite side of the question felt the full effects of the Barrister's ill-humour.

The case was one in which the defendant had been engaged in swindling transactions to a very large amount—and, amid his agents and assistants, was a person ranking among the very lowest orders—but who, seemingly enjoying large connexions, and possessing natural acuteness and address, appeared to have been of great use in receiving and disposing of such goods as were fraudulently obtained. As a witness against the latter person appeared a pawnbroker, who produced certain articles that had been pledged to him at different times by this humble agent. Now, Brandon, in examining the guilty go-between, became the more terribly severe, in proportion as the man evinced that semblance of unconscious stolidity, which the lower orders so ingeniously assume, and which is so peculiarly adapted to enrage and to baffle the gentlemen of the bar. At length Brandon, entirely subduing and quelling the stubborn hypocrisy of the culprit, the man turned towards him a look between wrath and beseechingness, muttering—

"Aha!—If so be, Counsellor Prandon, you knew vat I knows, you vould not go for to bully I so!"

"And pray, my good fellow, what is it that you know that should make me treat you as if I thought you an honest man?"

The witness had now relapsed into sullenness, and only answered by a sort of grunt. Brandon, who knew well how to sting a witness into communicativeness, continued his questioning, till the witness, re-aroused into anger, and, it may be, into indiscretion, said, in a low voice—

"Hax Mr. Swoppem (the pawnbroker) what I sold 'im on the 15th hof February, exactly twenty-three year'n ago?"

Brandon started back, his lips grew white, he clenched his hands with a convulsive spasm; and while all his features seemed distorted with an earnest, yet fearful intensity of expectation, he poured forth a volley of questions, so incoherent, and so irrelevant, that he was immediately called to order by his learned brother on the opposite side. Nothing farther could be extracted from the witness. The pawnbroker was re-summoned; he appeared somewhat disconcerted by an appeal to his memory so far back as twenty-three years, but after taking some time to consider, during which the agitation of the usually cold and possessed Brandon was remarkable to all the Court, he declared that he recollected no transaction whatsoever with the witness at that time. In vain were all Brandon's efforts to procure a more elucidatory answer. The pawnbroker was impenetrable, and the lawyer was compelled reluctantly to dismiss him. The moment the witness left the box, Brandon sunk into a gloomy abstraction—he seemed quite to forget the business and the duties of the Court; and so negligently did he continue to conclude the case, so purposeless was the rest of his examination and cross-examination, that the cause was entirely marred, and a verdict "Not Guilty" returned by the jury.

The moment he left the Court, Brandon repaired to the pawnbroker's; and after a conversation with Mr. Swoppem, in which he satisfied that honest tradesman that his object was rather to reward than intimidate, Swoppem confessed that twenty-three years ago the witness had met him at a public house in Devereux-court, in company with two other men, and sold him several articles in plate, ornaments, &c. The great bulk of these articles had, of course, long left the pawnbroker's abode, but he still thought a stray trinket or two—not of sufficient worth to be re-set or re-modelled—nor of sufficient fashion to find a ready sale, lingered in his drawers. Eagerly and with trembling hands did Brandon toss over the motley contents of the mahogany reservoirs which the pawnbroker now submitted to his scrutiny.—Nothing on earth is so melancholy a prospect as a pawnbroker's drawer!—those little, quaint, valueless ornaments, those true-lovers'-knots, those oval lockets, those battered rings, girdled by initials, or some brief inscription of regard or of grief—what tales of past affections, hopes, and sorrows do they not tell! But no sentiment of so general a sort ever saddened the hard mind of William Brandon, and now less than at any time could such reflections have occurred to him. Impatiently he threw on the table, one after another, the baubles once hoarded, perchance, with the tenderest respect, till at length his eyes sparkled, and with a nervous gripe, he seized upon an old ring, which was inscribed with letters, and circled a heart containing hair. The inscription was simply, "W. B. to Julia." Strange and dark was the expression that settled on Brandon's face as he regarded this seemingly worthless trinket. After a moment's gaze, he uttered an inarticulate exclamation, and thrusting it into his pocket, renewed his search. He found one or two trifles of a similar nature; one was an ill-done miniature set in silver, and bearing at the back sundry half effaced letters, which Brandon construed at once (though no other eye could) into "Sir John de Brandon, 1635, Ætat. 28;" the other was a seal stamped with the noble crest of the house of Brandon, 'A bull's head ducally crowned and armed Or.' As soon as Brandon had possessed himself of these treasures, and arrived at the conviction that the place held no more, he assured the conscientious Swoppem of his regard for that person's safety, rewarded him munificently, and went his way to Bow-street for a warrant against the witness who had commended him to the pawnbroker. On his road thither, a new resolution occurred to him, "Why make all public," he muttered to himself, "if it can be avoided? and it may be avoided!" He paused a moment,—then retraced his way to the pawnbroker's, and after a brief mandate to Mr. Swoppem, returned home. In the course of the same evening, the witness we refer to was brought to the lawyer's house by Mr. Swoppem, and there held a long and private conversation with Brandon; the result of this seemed a compact to their mutual satisfaction, for the man went away safe, with a heavy purse and a light heart, although sundry shades and misgivings did certainly ever and anon cross the latter; while Brandon flung himself back in his seat, with the triumphant air of one who has accomplished some great measure, and his dark face betrayed in every feature a joyousness and hope, which were unfrequent guests, it must be owned, either to his countenance or his heart.

So good a man of business, however, was William Brandon, that he allowed not the event of that day to defer beyond the night his attention to his designs for the aggrandizement of his niece and house. By daybreak the next morning, he had written to Lord Mauleverer, to his brother, and to Lucy. To the last, his letter, couched in all the anxiety of fondness, and the caution of affectionate experience, was well calculated to occasion that mingled shame and soreness which the wary lawyer rightly judged would be the most effectual enemy to an incipient passion. "I have accidently heard," he wrote, "from a friend of mine, just arrived from Bath, of the glaring attentions paid to you by a Captain Clifford; I will not, my dearest niece, wound you by repeating what also I heard of your manner in receiving them. I know the ill-nature and the envy of the world, and I do not for a moment imagine, that my Lucy, of whom I am so justly proud, would countenance, from a petty coquetry, the advances of one whom she could never marry, or evince to any suitor partiality unknown to her relations, and certainly placed in a quarter which could never receive their approbation. I do not credit the reports of the idle, my dear niece, but if I discredit, you must not slight them. I call upon your prudence, your delicacy, your discretion, your sense of right, at once, and effectually, to put a stop to all impertinent rumours: dance with this young man no more; do not let him be of your party in any place of amusement, public or private; avoid even seeing him if you are able, and throw in your manner towards him that decided coldness which the world cannot mistake!" Much more did the skilful uncle write, but all to the same purpose; and for the furtherance of the same design. His letter to his brother was no less artful. He told him at once that Lucy's preference of the suit of a handsome fortune-hunter was the public talk, and besought him to lose not a moment in quelling the rumour. "You may do so easily," he wrote, "by avoiding the young man; and should he be very importunate, return at once to Warlock—your daughter's welfare must be dearer to you than any thing."

To Mauleverer, Brandon replied by a letter which turned first on public matters, and then slid carelessly into the subject of the Earl's information.

Among the admonitions which he ventured to give Mauleverer, he dwelt, not without reason, on the want of tact displayed by the Earl, in not manifesting that pomp and show which his station in life enabled him to do. "Remember," he urged, "you are not among your equals, by whom unnecessary parade begins to be considered an ostentatious vulgarity. The surest method of dazzling our inferiors is by splendour—not taste. All young persons, all women in particular, are caught by show, and enamoured of magnificence. Assume a greater state, and you will be more talked of; and notoriety wins a woman's heart more than beauty or youth. You have, forgive me, played the boy too long; a certain dignity becomes your manhood: women will not respect you if you suffer yourself to become 'stale and cheap to vulgar company.' You are like a man who has fifty advantages and uses only one of them to gain his point, when you rely on your conversation and your manner, and throw away the resources of your wealth and your station. Any private gentleman may be amiable and witty; but any private gentleman cannot call to his aid the Aladdin's lamp possessed in England by a wealthy Peer. Look to this, my dear Lord. Lucy at heart is vain, or she is not a woman. Dazzle her then—dazzle! Love may be blind, but it must be made so by excess of light. You have a country house within a few miles of Bath—why not take up your abode there instead of in a paltry lodging in the town? Give sumptuous entertainments—make it necessary for all the world to attend them—exclude, of course, this Captain Clifford—you will then meet Lucy without a rival. At present, excepting only your title, you fight on a level ground with this adventurer, instead of an eminence from which you could in an instant sweep him away. Nay,—he is stronger than you; he has the opportunities afforded by a partnership in balls where you cannot appear to advantage; he is, you say, in the first bloom of youth—he is handsome. Reflect!—your destiny, so far as Lucy is concerned, is in your hands. I turn to other subjects, &c."

As Brandon re-read ere he signed this last letter, a bitter smile sat on his harsh, yet handsome features. "If," said he mentally, "I can effect this object; if Mauleverer does marry this girl, why so much the better that she has another, a fairer, and a more welcome lover. By the great principle of scorn within me, which has enabled me to sneer at what weaker minds adore, and make a footstool of that worldly honour which fools set up as a throne, it would be to me more sweet than fame—ay, or even than power—to see this fine-spun Lord a gibe in the mouths of men—a cuckold—a cuckold!" and as he said the last word Brandon laughed outright. "And he thinks, too," added he, "that he is sure of my fortune; otherwise, perhaps, he, the silversmith's descendant, would not dignify our house with his proposals; but he may err there—he may err there;"—and finishing his soliloquy, Brandon finished also his letter by—"Adieu, my dear Lord, your most affectionate friend!"

It is not difficult to conjecture the effect produced upon Lucy by Brandon's letter: it made her wretched; she refused for days to go out; she shut herself up in her apartment, and consumed the time in tears and struggles with her own heart. Sometimes, what she conceived to be her duty, conquered, and she resolved to forswear her lover; but the night undid the labour of the day: for at night, every night, the sound of her lover's voice, accompanied by music, melted away her resolution, and made her once more all tenderness and trust. The words, too, sung under her window, were especially suited to affect her; they breathed a melancholy which touched her the more from its harmony with her own thoughts. One while they complained of absence; at another they hinted at neglect; but there was always in them a tone of humiliation, not reproach: they bespoke a sense of unworthiness in the lover, and confessed that even the love was a crime; and in proportion as they owned the want of desert, did Lucy more firmly cling to the belief that her lover was deserving.

The old Squire was greatly disconcerted by his brother's letter. Though impressed with the idea of self-consequence, and the love of tolerably pure blood, common to most country squires, he was by no means ambitious for his daughter. On the contrary, the same feeling which at Warlock had made him choose his companions among the inferior gentry, made him averse to the thought of a son-in-law from the Peerage. Despite of Mauleverer's good nature, the very ease of the Earl annoyed him, and he never felt at home in his society. To Clifford he had a great liking, and having convinced himself that there was nothing to suspect in the young gentleman, he saw no earthly reason why so agreeable a companion should not be an agreeable son-in-law. "If he be poor," thought the Squire, "though he does not seem so, Lucy is rich!" And this truism appeared to him to answer every objection. Nevertheless, William Brandon possessed a remarkable influence over the weaker mind of his brother; and the Squire, though with great reluctance, resolved to adopt his advice. He shut his doors against Clifford, and when he met him in the streets, instead of greeting him with his wonted cordiality, he passed him with a hasty "Good day, Captain!" which after the first day or two merged into a distant bow. Whenever very good-hearted people are rude, and unjustly so, the rudeness is in the extreme. The Squire felt it so irksome to be less familiar than heretofore with Clifford, that his only remaining desire was now to drop him altogether; and to this consummation of acquaintance the gradually cooling salute appeared rapidly approaching. Meanwhile, Clifford, unable to see Lucy, shunned by her father, and obtaining in answer to all enquiry rude looks from the footman, whom nothing but the most resolute command over his muscles prevented him from knocking down, began to feel, perhaps, for the first time in his life, that an equivocal character is at least no equivocal misfortune. To add to his distress, "the earnings of his previous industry"—we use the expression cherished by the wise Tomlinson—waxed gradually less and less, beneath the expenses of Bath; and the murmuring voices of his two comrades began already to reproach their chief for his inglorious idleness, and to hint at the necessity of a speedy exertion.