"Vol. I." by Geraldine Jewsbury (1812-1880)
THE HISTORY OF TWO LIVES
On the fourteenth of June, 17--, the little town of Sutton, in Warwickshire, was thrown into a state of violent excitement by the news, that the son of the old squire who "used to belong to the old Manor House, was to have his own again", that he had married in foreign parts some grand lady, - a princess at the very least according to some versions, - that the king had written him a letter with his own hand begging him to come to England, and making him welcome to the old house, and all the land, that had been in the family for generations and generations!
This astounding report was set forth on the market-day by old Peter Brocclehurst, the tailor, who had heard it read with his own ears out of a newspaper, in a public-house at Birmingham, where he had been the day before to lay in a supply of West of England broadcloths, and "superfine narrow", for the exigencies of his profession for the next six months. Old Brocclehurst was not an authority to be lightly called in question, for from the sanctuary where he sat enthroned on his shop-board, stitching at the tough corduroys of all the ploughboys and farmers for six miles round, issued also the news, scandal, marvellous occurrences, useful information of all sorts, that went to enlighten the ignorance, and refresh the united intellect of all Sutton. If his on dits were not all exactly true, any news, as he said, was better than none at all.
This report about the squire and the Manor House, however, far exceeded in interest the general run of his facts; and on the day in question the little miscellaneous shop over which the full-blown Mrs Brocclehurst presided, with her matronly charms shrouded in a Brobdingnagian pinafore, was, to use her own words, "thronged like a fair", with people eager, by becoming customers for "a yard of check", or an "ounce of worsted", to learn the mystery of this wonderful history.
Mrs Brocclehurst was a gossip to the very marrow of her soul, but like Mrs Gilpin, "she had a prudent mind", and measured out her information according to the importance of the customer: - a few, a select few, were allowed to penetrate to the little back kitchen where Peter sat in all his glory, gravely coquetting with the important news he had brought, by seeming more taciturn and intent on his work than he had been in the memory of man.
"Well, patience - patience and time will show, but there are such lies going about in the world," said Peter, virtuously, shaking his head, and looking to the ceiling, "an honest man does not know what to believe and what to let alone. But sure enough I heard that the son of the old squire - him who went into hiding on account of the Jacobin troubles - had been sent for back by the king, who said that bygones should be bygones, and that he would forgive and forget; and that he might come to the old place; which was very handsome, considering!"
The next market-day, Peter, whose zeal for collecting information was great enough to make him worthy of being a correspondent of the "Times", was able, from sources best known to himself, to inform his customers, that workmen were to come over from Birmingham next week, to repair the old house and put all things in order; - for the credit of Peter's veracity, all this came actually to pass.
The Manor House, like all old houses that have been long uninhabited, and stand in the midst of a garden that has become a wilderness, had the reputation of being haunted; no one cared to go near it even in broad daylight; as to going within half a mile of the park-gate after dark, it was a thing not to be contemplated if there were any other path open, and not all the charms of nutting and bird-nesting could tempt the most venturous urchin that ever played truant, beyond the park-palings.
Now, however, all was changed. The presence of the workmen dispelled the idea of ghosts as if by magic. All Sutton rushed to see what the mysteries were that had been so long concealed; - though when they approached the stately avenue of chestnut and lime trees, at the end of which stood the long, deep, red-coloured brick building, with its four castellated gable ends in front, its immense stacks of heavy chimneys overgrown with ivy, and its narrow windows carefully darkened by curious balconies of carved stone - a shudder came over the more timid, as if some evil spirit had taken shape in brick and stone; but not even the boldest had courage to venture through the winding passages and secret places which were brought to light by the masons and upholsterers.
The moat, which was filled with stagnant water, covered all over with duck-weed, was to be filled up and converted into a flower garden, with a pond for gold fish in the centre, which some of the rustic visiters imagined were to be, bona fide, made of guineas.
There is something ghostlike in the appearance of a garden in decay, one feels to sympathise with it under its weight of desolation, as if it were a living thing. One passed through the great entrance hall of the Manor House, out by a glass door on the opposite side, opening on a lawn of green moss like grass that sloped down to the edge of a terrace, to which one descended by a broken flight of broad low steps that had once been ornamented with stone vases, after the Italian fashion - but they too had long been broken, and the fragments lay covered with the tangles of creeping plants, which had also overgrown the balustrade on each side. It made one sad to see a place which had so evidently been once of stately beauty, turned to ruin.
A raised walk, shaded by a row of stately cedar trees, divided the flower-beds from the fruit-garden, and gave a still more mysterious, weird-like aspect to the place; for every thing, when tending to decay, has a mystery it did not possess in its bloom. The broken statue of a naiad lay on the ground at the end of the cedar walk, but the clear fountain still fell with a pleasant noise into the rivulet which wound through the whole domain.
The workmen's voices, the tinkling noise of hammers and saws, which went busily on for several weeks, soon brought back an aspect of life to the old place. The winding passages and hiding- places were all blocked up; certain distant rooms were also closed, and those needed for the daily use of a moderate-sized family were beautified and made habitable; and the arrival of a quantity of modern furniture completed the exorcism of the "ghosts" that for so long had enjoyed undisturbed sway.
Whilst repairs at the Manor House progressed, there were many debates in the village as to how the old family ought to be received amongst them. As none of the present inhabitants of Sutton had ever seen any of the family who owned the Manor House, it is not wonderful that curiosity was the only sentiment aroused - but that was intense. Every body remembered to have heard their fathers and grandfathers talk of the ancient glories of the Manor House in the days of the old Squire Burrows, and many were the traditions about the riches, liberality, and virtues of the real gentlefolks who once belonged to the Manor, and every body hoped for some vague benefit to themselves from the return of these good old times.
Every man, woman, and child in Sutton had been for weeks past in the highest excitement of which they were capable; looking forward to the arrival of the family, and each one dreaming dreams after his own fashion; the older ones, of an ox, or at the very least a sheep, roasted whole, - the younger ones, of cakes and ale, with a dance in the park.
Never were mortals so consigned to disappointment! On the day fixed for the entrance of the squire and his family, the inhabitants of Sutton were on the qui vive from early in the morning - but nothing came to pass; the most strenuous watchers had retired in despair to the tap-room, where Peter Brocclehurst explained in his most oracular manner, that nothing was more impossible, than for people coming from foreign parts to arrive on the day they fix, - because they are dependent on the winds and the waves which are not under the control of any body: when, unluckily for Peter's theory, on the appointed evening - but when it was quite dark, two travelling-carriages drove rapidly through the town, and turned up the avenue leading to the Manor House. They contained Arthur Burrows, son to the old squire, his family, and two domestics who had accompanied them from France.
"Welcome to the home of my fathers!" said he, turning with a grave and stately courtesy to his wife, a tall imperious-looking woman, who seemed slightly impatient of their delay in the chilly old hall.
"Is this to be our house, papa?" cried two boys at once, who might be respectively seven and eight years old.
"Yes, my children," replied he, "and I hope you will be both good and happy in it."
"Oh, what fun it will be," cried they both; "is there a garden?"
"Don't make such a noise, nor ask silly questions," replied their mamma, peevishly. "La Noix, give them some bread and milk, and take them off to bed." This was spoken to a lean, austere-looking female, whose age it was hopeless to attempt to guess.
"Now, young gentlemen," cried she, with a shrill, prim tone. "You hear what your mamma says; - wish your papa good night, and come along."
The two children looked timidly at their papa, who said, with a slight hesitation, "I think Adèle, this first night they might sit up to supper. I should like to have all my family about me."
"Indeed, they will be much better in bed," replied the lady, drily; "and there will be plenty of time to have them with you to-morrow; there," added she, kissing them impatiently, "Good night; you shall look about you when it is daylight. La Noix, see that their beds are warmed, and that they have plenty of clothes on, for I am sure this house must be damp."
Arthur Burrows looked as much mortified as the children, but he never contradicted his wife; so he kissed them fervently and followed his wife into the parlour, where a cheerful wood fire was blazing, and the table stood laid for supper. A small Turkey carpet covered the middle of the floor, and the shining oak boards appeared at the sides. English ideas of comfort have changed since those days, and the reader, entering the room, would hardly exclaim, as Madame Burrows did, "Well, this room is charming, it must be confessed!"
"I hope you will find every thing in the house equally so, my dear Adèle. I trust we are brought back to my father's mansion for good ends, and that we may be honoured as instruments to raise up the persecuted church in this apostate country."
"Ah, here comes supper!" said his wife in reply.
As soon as the meal was over, Madame Burrows retired to see whether the children had been properly attended to - and in wife-like terms desired her husband not to fall asleep over the fire, but to come up stairs without delay, which order, as he had endured a ten years' training to conjugal obedience, he immediately complied with, and the whole house was shortly wrapped in repose.
The father of Arthur Burrows had been obliged to leave the kingdom in the troubles of 1715; he was then a rash, fiery-hearted young man, full of ultra-loyalty and the divine right of legitimacy. His enthusiastic notions, however, were tolerably calmed down by a few years' exile, and some real or imaginary slights which he received from the court of St Germains. At first he destined his only son, Arthur, to the Church, as he had no desire to see his ancient family perpetuated in poverty and obscurity; but an excellent alliance unexpectedly presenting itself, when his son had nearly finished his studies for the priesthood, he did not scruple to change his destination, and the match was concluded, his son being consulted as little in the second instance as in the first. Arthur, however, felt strong scruples after a time, as to the step he had taken; but the overbearing and imperious temper of the clever woman to whom his father had married him, might have some share in raising them.
A short time before our tale begins, the indefatigable exertions of his father to make his peace with the English government were successful, though he could no longer profit by his success, for he had been dead more than a year; but Arthur, who, with his wife's dowry, was able to pay the fines and bribes according to his father's last instructions, was reinstated into a good portion of the family estate, and arrived to take possession, full of the idea that he was selected by Providence, to raise up the Catholic body in England from the ruined condition into which it had fallen.
He destined his youngest son, Everhard, for holy orders, and though he had been so signally fortunate in a worldly point of view, he could not help sighing when he looked back to the peaceful days when he was himself preparing for the priesthood.
The next morning all was bustle at the Manor House; the children were up by daybreak exploring every nook and corner of the old house. Madame Burrows was an early riser, on principle, and therefore, never allowed any of her establishment to be anything else.
As soon as breakfast was despatched she sent her husband and the children out of the house to visit the garden and park, or whatever they chose, so that they did not themselves return till dinner-time, in order that she might be able to lay the foundations of her domestic throne in peace and quietness.
It was market-day in Sutton, and a very full market it was, for every body hoped to catch a glimpse of some of the new comers.
Sutton was a genuine specimen of a small English market town in an agricultural district. It consisted of one long straggling street, which contained a few spacious houses of dark red brick, with ample gardens behind them. These belonged to professional men connected with the neighbouring county gentry. The rest of the street consisted of smaller houses with their high roofs of red tiles become green with age and moss, shops, such as flourish nowhere but in country towns, and abounding in most miscellaneous productions. There was no library, nor indeed, any place where a book could be bought nearer than Birmingham. A few articles of stationery were sometimes kept by the druggist, who was also the tea-dealer and grocer of the place. Nearly all the inhabitants were either farmers, or farm labourers, and a new house had not been built in Sutton for many years.
The whole place might have belonged to the dominions of the Sleeping Beauty, so little change passed over it from year's end to year's end.
The church was a fine old building, containing many curious effigies and monuments of families that had been of distinction in the time of the Crusaders, but they had all been more or less mutilated, partly by time, and partly by the zeal of the Reformers and the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, who all seem to have been a prey to a mania for breaking down "carved work with axes and hammers".
The Rectory, which had been erected in the time of Charles I, was at a little distance from the church, and was a favourable specimen of the comforts provided for some of her favoured sons by the dominant establishment.
The whole place seemed to sleep peacefully in the bosom of the richest and most finely wooded district in England. The masses of fine old trees with which that part of the country is studded like one vast park, seemed as if it were beyond the power of a tempest to move them from their majestic repose. Several families of wealth and distinction resided in the neighbourhood, but they seldom visited Sutton, except when they changed horses as they passed through on their way to London or Birmingham. The Manor House was the only residence of any distinction within several miles of the town.
After rambling through the Park, Arthur Burrows and his two children, Louis and Everhard, stood at the gate which led to the town. "Oh, papa, do let us go into the town, it is market day, and we shall see such beautiful things!" cried both the children at once.
"Very well, with all my heart," said their papa, "but we must not be late for dinner; your mamma desired us to be back by a certain time."
The children were wild with spirits at the sight of the beautiful green of the meadows and hedgerows, so different from any they had seen before. When they drew near the town the market was nearly over, and the country people were gathering up their baskets; some had assembled round the steps of the market-cross for their weekly gossip. "The new squire and the children!" was soon buzzed on all sides, and every eye was eagerly turned on them.
Arthur courteously saluted them, and began to enter into conversation with a respectable farmer who stood near; but the two children, seeing the cross, reverendly took off their caps and crossed themselves, as they had been taught to do; which excited no little astonishment from the bystanders. "Why!" cried a dozen voices, when they were out of hearing, "they will be Papists, or idolators, or something outlandish!" "Ay," said Peter, in a decided tone, "the old family were all Papists; but they were a good family for all that. This place was all Catholic once." "Nay, ye don't say so," cried another. "I thought the parson told us that Papists were Anti-Christ, and had the mark of a beast on them, as we read in the Revelation; and I remember hearing my grandfather say, that when King William came in, he delivered us from Papists and wooden shoes, which they wanted to put on all England, instead of Christian-like nails and leather."
At this moment an elderly serving man, in a dark livery, came up, followed by a lad bearing a large basket. He came to make purchases for the Manor; and the little crowd were disappointed to see how much like an ordinary mortal he transacted his business. No one dared to ask him questions, for he was very grave and austere looking; but the Protestant sympathies of the inhabitants were roused, and they made it a point of conscience to charge double for all articles bought for the Manor House.
Of course all the neighbouring families who went to church on the Sunday following, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the new comers, were disappointed. The rector called, as in duty bound, but he told his wife on his return, "That he did not think he could lawfully visit people who were heathens and idolators, and who had actually fitted up a chapel within their own house."
All the neighbouring gentry made an early visit to the Manor House. The ladies, after they had been edified with the fashion of Madame Burrows' velvet gown, and the new pattern of her sleeves and head-dress, found themselves awed by her stately manners, and the look of surprised contempt with which she listened to the detail of the small interests and events that seemed to fill their whole souls.
The gentlemen on their side did not get on much better; they found Arthur absolutely insensible to all their topics of interest. The only point he seemed anxious about, was to learn the statistics of Catholicism in the county, and where the different places of worship stood. This was bad enough, for his visitors were all ultra-Protestant church and king men; - but when he declined to join the hunt, and declared that he never tasted any thing stronger than water, their indignation was high. They decided unanimously that Arthur was a fool - a Jacobin, a Jesuit in disguise - and that, as loyal Englishmen, they would have nothing to do with a milksop, who ought to be hunted from the country, if England was ever to prosper.
Arthur Burrows, however, was not destined to be long an offence to his neighbours, for he fell ill of a pleurisy before he had been two months settled in the home of his fathers. He was only ill two days, and then died, in spite of the best efforts of the Sutton doctor to prevent him.
There was no priest within many miles of the place to give him the last sacraments. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church, the prayers of the establishment were read over him, and there was an end to all his dreams of becoming the apostle of Catholicism.
Madame Adèle Burrows found herself a widow in a foreign country, at the age of eight-and-twenty. For the first few weeks she was very unhappy indeed; she was surprised to find how much more she had cared for her husband than she ever suspected. She had petted him sometimes, governed and hen-pecked him always, and now she found herself suddenly without employment. To be sure, after a while she recollected that she had been left sole guardian of the two children, with complete control over the property until the eldest attained his majority, and a handsome jointure of her own besides. This was all very consolatory; she dried her tears, and set herself strenuously to her dearly beloved task of making every thing go on in her own way. She had a natural aptitude for business, and an inexhaustible activity, which would never suffer her to delegate her power into the hands of another. Louis, the elder boy, had always been his mother's favourite, and to secure him as brilliant a fortune as possible, was the end she assigned to herself in all her actions.
So soon as the bustle of the funeral and the necessary affairs it entailed had, in some degree, subsided, the whole establishment at the Manor House was placed under the most rigid system of economy, to which, however, her own comforts were quite as much sacrificed as those of any other member of the household. She rose every morning at five, and, wrapped in a large riding-coat like a man's, she accompanied her bailiff to the most distant part of the various farms, and personally inspected all that was going on. She had the rare merit of never meddling in what she did not understand; but, with her quick, penetrating black eyes, she soon saw whether those who had the work in hand were doing their business properly.
The country gentlemen in the neighbourhood made her many kindly intentioned offers of service, but "she could bear no brothers near the throne", and declined them all. At first, they laughed at her notion of managing for herself, and declared that she would come to ruin in a twelvemonth; but, as she did not, and the property went on improving, they declared she was a clever woman, with a fine spirit of her own. She had the policy to keep on good terms with them, though their lady wives and daughters could not endure her, declaring that she was an unkind mother, and neglected her children.
The fact was, that Madame Burrows had all her energies so absorbed by the management of her large property, that she never troubled herself with the minor details of her domestic establishment, except to see that the weekly expenses did not exceed the specified sum she had laid down for herself. She was too much of a French woman to bestow much attention on her toilet, when there was nobody to see her, and it was hardly to be expected that she would take more trouble about the dress of her children. La Noix, the bonne, who had accompanied the family from France, was nominally responsible for them, but she was a great dévote, and not too fond of children, so she was generally saying her rosary when she ought to have been mending their stockings; besides, she did not consider that her surveillance extended beyond putting on their clothes in the morning and putting them to bed at night. During the intermediate period the two boys were allowed to run wild about the grounds, and to associate with the servants; they saw their mother once a day for about a quarter of an hour, whilst she was taking her chocolate in the morning, when they were enjoined to sit very still and make no noise; their own meals they always took in the servants' hall, though there was an obsolete standing order, never complied with, that they were to eat with La Noix in her own sitting-room.
Everhard, the younger boy, had never been a favourite with his mother, perhaps his being destined for holy orders, which put him beyond the need of having his worldly prosperity schemed for, had also removed him beyond the sphere of her sympathies; certain it is, that she never showed him any tenderness, nor any of the caresses so prodigally lavished by mothers on their children. She invariably treated him with a dry and distant coldness, amounting often to harshness; his most trifling faults were vigorously punished, and the natural gaiety of childhood was repressed as levity. His brother, on the other hand, was allowed much more liberty; even for him his mother seldom made many demonstrations of affection, but she did not chide and repulse him, as was the case with poor Everhard.
The servants did not fail to perceive this, and to aggravate the effects in a way Madame Burrows little suspected. They were always telling him that his mother hated him, and in a thousand mortifying ways made the distinction between him and his brother more galling. Everhard was a gentle, timid, affectionate child, to whom kind looks and words were more than his daily food, he willingly yielded to his brother in all things, who tyrannised as boys do, when they can with impunity. If Everhard ever ventured to resent a grievance, he was beaten for being quarrelsome; and once when he ventured to complain to his mother of some more than usually afflicting dispensation from his brother, his mother summarily disposed of the case, by subjecting both himself and Louis to the same punishment: to teach them, as she said, "not to tell tales, and to be better friends for the future". The next day the servants all taunted him as a "tell-tale, like a little deceitful thing as he was". Servants and low people are all very fond of affixing the epithet "deceitful" on every body who does not happen to please them.
From constantly hearing himself called "deceitful", "naughty", and "troublesome", poor Everhard grew up to have a vague sense of being always wrong; the gay recklessness of childhood was crushed under the embarrassment of living under unloving eyes; the natural affectionateness of his disposition was thrown back upon himself; and he became shy, sullen, and very unhappy. That he really would have been an affectionate child, if they would have let him, the following incident will show.
It was the first anniversary of his father's death; prayers had been said in the little chapel which Madame Burrows had fitted up in the house; her feelings had been softened by the service, and she kept the two children to breakfast with her. She talked to them about their father, and was particularly kind to Everhard; - his little heart was quite melted, and when they were dismissed to play, he began to think what he could do to show his mother how much he loved her.
He pondered for a long time; at length he recollected having heard her say that she liked early mushrooms, and he determined to gather some for her supper. He and Louis were that day to have gone on a secret expedition with the gardener's boy and a friend of his from the village to see a badger hunted; - this he magnanimously gave up, in spite of the threats and entreaties of Louis. Arming himself with his basket and a small knife, he left Louis to pursue his scheme in peace, and began a vigorous search for mushrooms. There were none in the park, but he recollected that in a certain field beyond, there were always a great many. This field happened just then to be full of cows, of a peculiar breed, very wild, and uncertain in their temper. At first, Everhard felt inclined to be frightened, but then he thought of his mamma and her supper, and mustered courage. He found abundance of mushrooms - but in his eagerness to fill his basket, he got, without perceiving it, into the very midst of the herd. Somewhat startled, on raising his head, to perceive this, he began to make the best of his way to the gate. The cows, which had hitherto paid no attention to him, now tossed their heads and began to pursue him; - luckily a man working in the next field perceived his danger, and ran to his help, otherwise it would have fared badly with him; - however, he had kept the lid of his basket safely shut down, in the midst of all his fright, and on his way home he gathered a large nosegay of wild flowers to present along with his other prize.
Arrived at home, despite of the standing orders to the contrary, he made his way to his mother's apartment. Out of breath, looking very flushed and heated, his clothes none the cleaner for his excursion, he opened the door with trembling eagerness, and stood in the presence of his mother. All the effusion of the tender feelings of the morning had long since subsided, and Madame Burrows sat at a small table entirely absorbed in settling some complicated accounts. At the noise of Everhard's entrance she looked up impatiently. "What are you here for?" she asked. "You know you are not allowed to come here unless I send for you. Go to La Noix, if you want any thing; and what is that dirty basket in your hand?"
Poor Everhard had never thought of what he should say; and this address completed his confusion, so he looked down at the carpet and did not speak. "Well, what do you want? Either speak or go away," said his mother.
"I have brought these for your supper," said he, at last, pulling the lid off the basket so awkwardly, that some of the mushrooms fell on the floor. "I thought you liked them; and I gathered these flowers for you too."
"You know I never allow flowers to be brought into the house," said she. "And as for those mushrooms, go and throw them away directly; they are poisonous for what you know; and I desire you will never meddle with those sort of things again. Here, La Noix," cried she, as she passed the door, "why don't you keep these children out of mischief? It is all you have to do."
"Indeed, it is no fault of mine, madame; but Master Everhard is just the naughtiest and most worritting boy I ever saw. See, now, if he has not tore those trousers I mended for him only last night."
"Well, well," replied his mother, impatiently, "take him away and don't let him come here again with his dirty feet."
Madame Burrows only wanted to be delivered from the interruption; but La Noix, to revenge herself for the reprimand she had received, sent the unfortunate Everhard off to bed, "to teach him to take care of his clothes". When his mother heard of it, she did not interfere, because, as she said, she must keep up La Noix's authority in the eyes of the house. Madame Burrows, in her dread of encountering the ill-humour of a favourite domestic, magnanimously ran the risk of alienating the affections of her youngest son; but, to be sure, one annoyance would have fallen upon her immediately, whilst she would suffer no inconvenience from the other for some time to come.
In after life, Everhard was once with some friends who were speaking in the usual banal terms of childhood, calling it the "golden age of life", and all that. Everhard listened for some time with silent impatience; at length he broke out into an indignant recapitulation of his own childhood as the type of many others. "Childhood", said he, in conclusion, "is not, in its own right, a state of happiness; no one can tell the misery of an unloved and lonely child. In after life, a degree of hardness comes with years, and the man is not susceptible of pain like the child. A child is so tender, that no grown person can calculate the keen pain that penetrates to its little heart, from one cold or harsh word; it is so utterly defenceless, that it needs to be surrounded with gentleness, and kept warm in a nest of love; it can hardly be said to be fully born, for though put forth into the world, it has not yet an existence of its own; it is only dependent on all around it, instead of on one alone; kind looks and words are the nourishment on which it must gain strength, no less than from its daily food; and if it be deprived of these, the after consequences are not to be told. It may grow up to be strong in body, and like other children of men in outward appearance, but the human soul, will have been warped and stunted in its growth; the foundations of a cruel, artificial character will have been laid for life; the glad animal instincts, the bounding sensations, which the mere fact of being alive imparts to a healthy child, and which are bestowed to carry it over the first stage of existence - that fresh first stage which has been feigned by common consent to be the fading away of the glorious beauty of that world from which we are called forth; that one portion of life, that has been given to man at the outset of his journey, in order that when, hereafter, 'wearied by the greatness of his way', he may recollect it, and not be tempted to say 'there is no hope!' - all this, when a child is made unhappy, is blotted out from his book of life; he is defrauded of that which, for a long time, would have 'kept his eyes from the seeing of evil'; his first lessons in life have been of suffering, taught before he has strength to receive them; what wonder, then, if in after life he belong to the number of those 'who pass through the land hardly bested and hungry, and curse their King and their God, and look upward?' For he has no recollection in after life upon which to stay himself, - the dawn of his day was turned into darkness; others, too, in their turn, will suffer by him; the scale of his sympathies has been rendered imperfect; he, in his turn, will become harsh and reckless about giving pain; he will become either unmindful or unconscious of the bitter pain that may be inflicted by indifference and harshness; he will have imbibed a scorn for the soft, sympathising amenities which disguise the ills of life, and for those also who need or value them!"
"Why, Everhard, I never heard you so eloquently indignant before," said his friend.
"Possibly not," replied Everhard, "for I learned in suffering."
Everhard was saved from the above fate by an event that occurred when he was ten years old. Madame Burrows began to think it time that the two boys should have better instruction than Madame La Noix and the parish clerk could impart, which amounted to reading, not very fluently, and writing, in something between mysterious "pot-hooks" and large joining hand, words of four letters. Accordingly she engaged an old priest, named Father Martin, to come and be confessor to the household, and to undertake the education of the children. In due time he arrived, to the great joy of Louis and Everhard, to whom any change was welcome. Father Martin was a good, kind-hearted, chirping old man, without much talent or learning, but endowed with great singleness and simplicity of heart; his religion was a real croyance, and supplied the place to him of father, mother, wife, children, in fact, of all humanities. The saints in the calendar were to him as real friends; the ceremonies of the church filled his heart, and took him back to the days of the apostles and martyrs; all his faculties were absorbed in religion, which gave a genial beauty to his whole character. Let a common-place person once be imbued with a real genuine feeling for religion, and it redeems them from all coarseness of feeling, gives them graces of intellect, and an elevation of character far beyond their natural standard.
From the arrival of Father Martin, Everhard dated his happiness.
The old man had a fund of affection in his heart, and hitherto he had met with no object on which to exercise it. He soon found himself especially drawn to poor Everhard; he was very sorry for the harshness and neglect with which he was treated, for Madame Burrows used to excuse her coldness to others, and perhaps to herself, by saying, "that as he was destined to holy orders; it was far better that he should be accustomed betimes to the privations and mortifications which would hereafter make up the staple of his life."
Father Martin taught Everhard his own love for religion. Before he came, Everhard knew nothing except from the formal mass, without music, in a cold, dark chapel, and the long Latin prayers which he had been taught without explanation, and often as a punishment for some trifling offence. But when Father Martin talked to him about the saints and martyrs as though they had been his near and familiar friends, - then, the dry Litanies became touched by a quickening spirit. They were to him a "power and presence"; they were really men, women, and children, who had once lived and believed as he was now doing. The mysterious sacrifice of the mass, had been offered up before their eyes, as it now was before his; they had taken part in the very words he now repeated; he was destined to fill the same holy office which many of them had filled; and in time his name might become associated with theirs in the Litanies, for the comforting and strengthening of some yet unborn worshipper, who might be as lonely and unhappy as he had so long been.
All this opened a new world to him. The prayers which had hitherto been penances, became the grand enjoyment of his life so soon as he was aware that he might ask boldly and without fear for every thing he wanted. For a long time he could scarcely believe that so great a favour was indeed his. "And may I really talk to the saints, and will they listen to me, and not get tired of me as mamma always does?" asked he one day, when Father Martin had been talking to him upon the subject.
"No, my child," replied the good old man; "the more you pray, and the more you occupy yourself about them, the more rejoicing there is among their holy company."
Everhard lived henceforth in the world of his darling saints and martyrs. On any childish emergency he applied to them as naturally and undoubtingly as another child would have gone to its mother. Father Martin to him, was one of the saints not yet dead, and for that reason alone not put in the calendar.
No event worth recording happened during the first six months of Father Martin's residence. But about that time it happened that Madame Burrows had some business about which a lawyer's advice was needed. Many household wants had accumulated which could not be supplied in Sutton, a journey to Coventry was therefore solemnly agreed upon. She promised the two boys to take them with her, and as there was much to see as well as to do, they were to stay all night at an inn, and not to return till the next day.
This was the first treat of any sort that had been promised to the boys, and their delight knew no bounds. They had never been beyond a few miles round Sutton since they came there; and besides, Coventry had been invested to their imagination with a mysterious charm, ever since they had read the history of Lady Godiva; and now they were actually to see the streets she had passed along, and the very likeness of Peeping Tom himself! It is no wonder they could neither eat nor sleep for thinking of it. As to Everhard, the first thing he did was to inform his darling friends, the saints, and to entreat them to send a fine day for the journey.
And a beautiful day it was. Everhard and his brother both dressed in their new clothes, which had come home from Peter Brocclehurst the night before, stood watching the process of harnessing the four horses to the large lumbering family vehicle, which they had never beheld brought from its resting-place except on rare and grand occasions. But, alas! for the hopes of either men or children. At the moment when Madame Burrows, followed by La Noix, appeared in the courtyard ready equipped for the journey, a dashing-looking gentleman rode up, followed by a servant on horseback. Madame Burrows, with some surprise, recognised her brother.
"Why, when did you arrive?" exclaimed she, embracing him, "I did not even know you were intending to come to England."
"It was quite unexpected," replied he, "I transacted all my business in London last week, and I intended to take you by surprise; but you are going out it seems, - that I should have been so unfortunate!"
"Come in and refresh yourself" replied his sister, "and then perhaps you will join us; you should see as much as you can of England whilst you are in it."
"Oh, no refreshment for me, but I will join your party, and welcome; we can talk as well in your carriage as in your parlour, if you have room for me."
"Of course there is," replied Madame Burrows; "then we need not delay any longer."
She proceeded with her brother to the coach, where La Noix and the two boys were already seated. "Here," said she, "one of you must give up his place, - not you, La Noix, for I shall want you. Everhard, you are the youngest, and besides, you must learn self-denial betimes, do you get out and give your place to your uncle."
"Cannot we find room for all?" said the good-natured Frenchman.
"Oh dear no, for the coach will be quite full of things when we come back, and besides, what does it signify, he can go another time." Then, without waiting to cast a look on poor Everhard's face of astonished disappointment, she ordered the carriage to drive off.
At first Everhard could hardly believe in the reality of his disappointment; but when the carriage was fairly out of sight, he sat down and cried with all the bitterness of childish indignation and helplessness: the perfect indifference with which an affair so important to him had been dismissed was the worst part of all. In a little while Father Martin passed across the court, and was surprised to find him there, thinking, of course, he had gone with the rest. When he heard the story, the good old man could hardly help crying too for sympathy.
"My brother is never punished," said Everhard, sobbing, "he has every thing he wishes for, and every body loves him. What have I done to be left at home?"
Father Martin could hardly find in his heart to rebuke this natural burst of passion; at length he said, "Come, come, my child, you know anger is sinful, recollect the saints were all tried a great deal more than you are, and yet they never gave way to temper, and you must not envy your brother; you are told to love him better than yourself; and besides, if you don't love your own brother, how can you pretend to love the saints and Jesus Christ whom you never saw?"
"Well, but they do not vex me; they are never spiteful to me as he is," sobbed Everhard.
"Well, well, my child," said the old man, half-smiling, "you must learn to be patient; but now let us take a walk in the fields; I want to show you where those curious flowers grow, and we will bring home some of the roots with us to set in your garden."
The kind-hearted old man, full of his desire to console. poor Everhard for his disappointment, went back to the house, and begging a few cakes and some slices of cold meat from the cook, he filled a bottle with cowslip wine, and did not forget the little silver cup which belonged to himself. He packed every thing neatly and rejoined Everhard, who had now dried up his tears, and found his spade and basket.
They set off together into the wood, and when they were tired of rambling about, they dined under a large tree, where they rested during the heat of the day, and the old man told Everhard many tales, whilst the pleasant sunlight came through the transparent green leaves, and played and flickered as they moved about upon the moss and tree trunks beneath.
"Now," cried Father Martin, at last, "I think we will go and look for the flowers, they grow beside the trout stream."
It was a part of the wood where Everhard had never been, for Madame Burrows seldom allowed them to go beyond the park gates. Everhard was enchanted. The flowers were quite white, and so transparent that the green leaves could almost be seen shining through them; a poor little quail had fallen out of its nest and hurt its wing; Everhard carried it home in great triumph to nurse. Coming home they had to pass through a village where there was a fair, and they met a club walking with blue staves, with the accompaniment of a band of music and gay flags; so, on the whole, Everhard had not once time to think of his disappointment. As soon as they reached home, the first business was to put the bird in a cage, and then to set the flower roots.
"I think", said he, "I will put some of these into Louis' garden; he likes pretty flowers as much as I do."
When he went to bed at night Father Martin sat beside him till he fell asleep, in order that he might not think of the troubles and unkindness of the morning.
Who can calculate the amount of perversity, misanthropy, and all sorts of evil feeling which was averted from Everhard by the opportune kindness of this one day! Not averted only, but changed into wholesome human affection, which, in after life, kept him from the evil of the world, and abided by him in his days of darkness, when all the imposing array of creeds and precepts broke under him like reeds, as he leaned on them for help. A day, an hour, often contains the vital principle of what is elaborated into the conduct of years.
The next day all the party returned home. Louis was full of the wonders he had seen, and the coach was laden with purchases. Madame Burrows, to make some amends to Everhard for his disappointment, had brought him a beautiful new knife and a large kite, which his uncle good-naturedly undertook to teach him to fly.
After the departure of M. du Pont, the brother of Madame Burrows, every thing at the Manor went on in its usual course, and nothing worth recording happened for the next twelve months.
One fine morning, in harvest time, Madame Burrows said, at breakfast, "I wish, Father Martin, if you are not engaged, you would go with the doctor to visit a poor Irishman who lies ill in one of the barns; he has come over every harvest for many years past, and now, I fear, he is very ill. See what things are needed, and they shall be sent."
Father Martin did not fail to do as he was directed. The poor man had been ill some days, but had struggled on with his work till that morning, when he fainted in attempting to rise from his straw. The doctor pronounced it a bad case of typhus fever, and recommended that the rest of the labourers should be lodged elsewhere. But the precaution came too late. Ten other of the unfortunate creatures sickened shortly, and five died notwithstanding every assistance that medical skill and kind nursing could bestow.
Madame Burrows, who, in spite of her imperious nature, had a genuinely kind heart, and a great deal of good sense, took such judicious steps, that the dreadful disease was confined entirely to the spot where it first showed itself, and did not spread either to the labourers on other farms, nor into the town itself. Madame Burrows and Father Martin were indefatigable in their attentions and kindness to the sufferers. When the excitement caused by this calamity had somewhat subsided, and things began to fall into their accustomed course, Father Martin complained of being ill. At first he only felt languid, which he attributed to the anxiety and fatigue he had recently undergone, but the next day he grew worse, and could not leave his bed. He had a presentiment that he should not recover. The only distress this gave him was, that he must leave his dear child, Everhard. He did not know how long they might be left together, so he lost no time in calling him to his bedside to give him what strength and comfort he could.
"My dear child," said he, taking his hand, "if it should be the will of Almighty God that I should die and leave you, you must not lament after me; recollect that I am going to see Jesus Christ and the saints, whom you love to hear about; and I shall never know pain or sorrow more. I shall not be very far from you, though you will not be able to see me. Will you think of this, and try not to be very unhappy when I am gone?"
At first Everhard's surprise and grief were too great to allow him to speak.
"My dear child, do not break my heart by letting me see you so miserable. We shall not be long separated. You will come to me at the end of a few years. If we lived in this world, you would have to go away and leave me to follow your studies; and how much better it is that I should go into the safe keeping of God and his saints. The dead never change; and when you come to me I shall love you as much as I do now."
"Will you be a saint, and watch over me?" asked Everhard, sobbing.
"I will pray to God for you when I shall be purified; and then I shall be able to love you, and serve you far better than I can as a sinful mortal. Nay, nay, my child," continued he, perceiving that poor Everhard's grief was uncontrollable, "you must not rebel against the Divine will in this manner. Come, let us say the Litany of Jesus together; it will compose us both."
This was the last conversation Everhard ever had with his old friend, for shortly afterwards he sank into a stupor, from which he never roused till a few minutes before he breathed his last, three days afterwards.
Everhard was removed from the chamber almost by force, and he saw his dear friend no more. He assembled with the rest of the household in the chapel, where the coffin was laid on a bier surrounded with wax tapers, a solemn service was performed, and then the remains of the good old man were conveyed to the vault, and laid beside those of Everhard's father.
At first, Everhard's grief was not so violent as might have been expected, it was rather a stunned astonishment, for it seemed to him quite impossible that so great an affliction could have been laid in earnest upon any one. Father Martin had given him his missal, and he would sit for hours, with it upon his knees, not reading, but gazing vacantly at it.
He sat at table when he was summoned, and ate mechanically what was put upon his plate, but he spoke to no one, nor did he seem to notice any thing.
Those round him, albeit little accustomed to notice his ways, became alarmed, his mother endeavoured by kind words and even caresses to rouse him, but he paid no attention to her, and escaped the first moment to his old station where he had left his missal.
A priest from a distance who had administered the last sacraments to Father Martin, offered mass in the chapel the following Sunday. As the service proceeded, the conviction that his dear old friend was really gone, and that his place must evermore be supplied by a stranger, flashed on Everhard as for the first time. He screamed aloud, and was removed from the chapel in hysterical convulsions; a violent passion of tears followed, after which he was put to bed and a composing draught administered. He did not again relapse into his former stupor, but it was very long before he regained his usual cheerfulness.
Some time after Father Martin's death, Everhard and his brother were sent to Bruges to be educated at a seminary, which was of great repute in those days. English Catholics of the higher classes were obliged to send their children from home if they wished them to receive a liberal education, Catholic schools not being at that time permitted in England.
The remainder of Everhard's childhood passed without any thing to be recorded. He and his brother outgrew their childish bickerings, and became the friends that brothers ought to be. When Everhard was seventeen and his brother eighteen they returned home, Louis to take his place as the head of the family, and Everhard to have a little relaxation previous to proceeding to Rome, to study for the priesthood at the English College there.
Madame Burrows felt a mother's pride at seeing the fine looking young men her sons had become, and all her ambition was more than gratified when she beheld them cordially received into the ranks of the country gentlemen, amongst whom their frankness, good humour, and keen sportmanship, soon rendered them great favourites.
A letter from M. du Pont, the brother of Madame Burrows, arrived after they had been a short time at home, inviting Everhard to visit him on his way to Rome. After some demur, Madame Burrows gave her consent; she exhorted him to be very steady, and on no consideration to exceed his allowance, assuring him that she would not advance one single farthing beyond. She then embraced him, and saw him depart with great composure.
Louis showed much more feeling on the occasion, for though his new importance had all the flush of novelty with it, yet it did not reconcile him to the loss of Everhard's society, and it would be doing him a great injustice were we to omit to inform the reader that, unknown to his mother, he added a hundred a year to Everhard's allowance out of the income allowed to himself during his minority, and that his first act on coming of age was to double the amount.
Everhard accomplished his journey to Paris without accident or adventure, and a new era in life began for him.
It is very troublesome to have to deal with a hero of seventeen! A girl of seventeen, fortune favouring, may be made into a very interesting heroine; people will believe all that can be said of her beauty, wit, and wisdom, and will patiently read through three or even six volumes full of her adventures, and find themselves much edified with the perusal. But a lad of seventeen! merciful heaven! to make a hero of him would require a suspension of the laws of nature! All his graces of childhood have run to seed, and the victims of manhood have not yet replaced them; he is no longer the chubby darling, of the red shoes and coral; nor yet the interesting child in a picturesque hat and tunic; but an unfinished, uneasy biped, a plague to every body within his reach, and with whose doings and sufferings, nobody, not absolutely obliged, wishes to have the least concern. The gentle reader will easily sympathise with the dismay in which Madame du Pont was thrown, when her husband informed her that he had invited his nephew to pay them a visit on his way to Rome.
Madame du Pont was a woman of quality of a certain age. She felt a motherly vocation for forming the minds and manners of interesting young men, but then they must be - no matter stopping to define what. But she knew when she saw them, who would be likely to profit by her lessons, and she was quite sure beforehand that Everhard would be utterly destitute of all the qualities of an interesting young man, - that he would be awkward, that he would be a caricature, that, in short, he would be altogether unbearable. So she made up her mind that he should be satisfied with a very short visit, and be quite as anxious to proceed to Rome as she could be to see him depart.
Madame du Pont was one morning sitting in a ravishing dishabille, half reclined on a large fauteuil; a graceful middle-aged man, in the dress of an abbé, stood leaning on the side of her chair. He was her confessor, for she was a great dévote in her way, and took much pleasure in the abbé's society. They were interrupted in their conversation, whatever it might be, by the entrance of Monsieur du Pont, who led Everhard by the hand.
"Allow me", said he, "to present my nephew to you, and to entreat your favour for him whilst he remains with us."
"Have I the pleasure of seeing the M. Everhard you have so often mentioned?" said she, in a silvery voice, and a smile of satisfaction at seeing something so much better than she expected. "I am rejoiced to see you," continued she, stretching out her little white hand to Everhard, who was almost too abashed to raise it to his lips; but his naïve want of confidence had nothing awkward, and it completed the favourable impression his first appearance had made.
"Allow me to present my husband's nephew to you," said she, turning to the abbé; "he is intended for the church; n'est ce pas?" added she, glancing at Everhard with a smile of that peculiar fascination which can only be had in perfection by women who have passed their première jeunesse. The smile of a young beauty loses in meaning what it has in brilliancy, it is the mere expression of personal pleasure or coquettish display; it wants the penetrating sweetness that makes the object feel it as a peculiar favour, not bestowed lightly or without intention.
M. du Pont was delighted to see his lady treat his protégé so graciously, and after a little unimportant conversation prepared like a wise man to retire before she grew weary of her condescension; he would have carried Everhard off with him, but as the visiting hour was at hand, Madame du Pont desired he might remain that she might present him to her friends. M. du Pont thanked his wife for her amiability, kissed her hand and withdrew, leaving Everhard, divided between admiration and embarrassment.
Madame continued to ask him questions about England, until the entrance of visitors interrupted her. Everhard was introduced to every one, but as the conversation fell on topics of which he was utterly ignorant, he would have been wearied if the Abbé du Pré had not devoted himself with great good nature to entertain him. The abbé was neither very wise, nor very learned, but he had the genius of tact and good breeding, which upon those immediately under their influence, supply the place of beauty and goodness and wisdom by blinding the eyes to their absence.
When the visitors had departed, Madame du Pont began to consider whether it might be possible to make her handsome nephew presentable in good company on so short a notice. She was going to supper that evening at Madame d'Aligré's, and she wished to take him with her. Though dévote, she was still too young and handsome to remain contented with merely spiritual diversions, and she had a great taste for the society of the esprits forts of that day, though she had no ambition to be considered an esprit herself. As one of the set once said of her, "She contrived to be on respectful terms with God, whilst she kept up an agreeable acquaintance with the Devil."
She called Everhard to her, and turning him round as if he were a child, she said, with the smile that had so much enchanted him before, "You must be my cavalier tonight; I am going out to supper, but you must let me dress you as we dress in Paris. What beautiful hair!" exclaimed she, passing her delicate hand through his thick, silky, auburn locks; "but you wear it like a wild man of the woods! And then your clothes, oh, Heavens! are there tailors in England? or does every one make his own? However, there is no fear for your success in society; every thing English is the rage just now; you will soon become un jeune homme charmant, with the advantages you have. Now ring the bell for Gaspard; we must lose no more time in talking."
Everhard did as she desired; he felt at once both pleased and ashamed at being the object of such a scrutiny.
"Gaspard," said his aunt to her page, as he entered, "go to Fleurion, and tell him that he must have a dress proper for a young clerical student ready for my nephew this evening; then call at Henriot's, and give orders for all that will be necessary in the way of ruffles, lace, and all that. Tell La Force to be here early, that he may dress monsieur's hair; in short, you will go to M. du Pont's people, and order all that monsieur may require for his toilette, and you will consider yourself as his attendant whilst he remains here."
Everhard, who heard these sweeping orders given with some dismay, took out his pocket-book instinctively; his aunt stopped his hand hastily, saying, "What folly! Go, Gaspard, say the things are for M. du Pont." The page made a reverence and left the room. When he was gone, his aunt gave Everhard a long lecture on the extravagance of paying tradespeople, and the necessity of taking care of his money for things that were indispensable; then she dismissed him to his own apartment to take some rest and refreshment.
When he was alone, Everhard could hardly help smiling at the two lectures on economy he had recently received. His mother and his aunt both spoke on the same subject, and there the resemblance ended.
He was tolerably fatigued, and in no mood to quarrel with either the rest or refreshment prepared for him; still he sat down and wrote a letter to his mother, informing her of his safe arrival; and a longer one to Louis, telling him all that had happened since they parted.
The "ministers of grace" did their spiriting to admiration. Everhard could hardly recognise himself when he saw his reflection in a full-length mirror, even his aunt was hardly prepared for the improvement in his appearance.
She expressed all the delight at his transformation of a child over a new doll, and allowed him to lead her to the carriage with a feeling of infinite complacency.
"We must have you taught to fence," said she, when they were seated; "you only want that to make you perfect. Your French accent is admirable. We are going this evening," said she, after a pause, "to Madame d'Aligré's, who gives charming petits soupers, though they are rather maigres, but that does not signify, for she assembles the best and wealthiest people in Paris to eat them. The other day she gave a dinner that was very scanty, and the conversation became very scandalous.
"M. de Lauregais, who was present, said, 'it seems to me that in this house we should die of hunger if we did not eat up our neighbours with our bread'; but for all that, she is a very good woman, and exceedingly prudent, or of course I should not go there; what reward indeed would remain for virtue if we visited, and invited to our parties, the good and bad without distinction? The Abbé du Pré does not much approve of my going, because all the philosophers assemble there; but really it is too pleasant to be given up for the sake of a little danger to one's soul."
The carriage now stopped at Madame d'Aligré's porte cochère, and in due time they were ushered into the salon, which was about half full of guests.
Tables for play were set out, at some of which parties were already seated.
The hostess was sitting at the upper end of the room, talking to a group of men who stood round her.
Madame du Pont after paying her compliments, and presenting her nephew, glided to a sofa, where she perceived several of her acquaintances. Everhard stood beside her.
He saw men whose names have become historical; men who gave the first impulse to that movement which was destined to convulse society to its centre; but as yet, all was imprisoned in a chaos of theories and disputations, the surface of society was not yet broken, and all that was uttered that evening seemed to have no higher aim than to make brilliant conversation.
After a while Madame du Pont sat down to ombre, and left Everhard to make his way for himself. Madame d'Aligré, perceiving his bashful and painful look of strangership, beckoned him to come beside her. She nodded graciously as he came up, but did not interrupt her conversation. "Your hommage aux dames", said she, to a courtly smiling man who stood by, "is all very fine, but it is fictitious. You do not yourself believe one word of all you have been saying about woman's genius and equality. Out of the million of women who are flattered by being told they possess genius, not one ever achieves a work that endures, or that obtains higher praise than of being something very wonderful for a woman. Scarce one has ever achieved any thing that, in a man, would be considered first rate. I do not belong to the sisterhood of 'women of genius' myself, so my testimony is disinterested. Look at history, which is a tolerable criterion. If ever, by an extraordinary combination of circumstances, a woman has, from her position, influenced her age and country, her name speedily becomes a historical doubt, and her actions fabulous. The name of a woman has never authentically descended to posterity, unless preserved in the memory of some transcendent crime.
"Whenever a woman attempts to throw herself into the mêlée of action, and to contend with men on a footing of equality, she is always seen in the end, to commit either some grave fault, or some signal folly. No woman has ever succeeded in gaining lasting fame, but many have lost their reputation in the attempt."
"Because", said Duclos, who just then came up, "women are never engrossed by any object sufficiently to forget to display themselves; unless indeed, the object be a lover, and then they can be sublime. When a woman's affections are engaged, all her littleness disappears; women have been grand, almost superhuman, through the strength of love, but the moment they desire to distinguish themselves, they become stripped of the 'divinity that doth hedge' a woman. To be distinguished, seems a very grand thing, but to earn a name, is no holiday task; women are destitute both of patience and persistence, so no wonder that they fail, and their works appear ineffectual when measured beside those of really GREAT MEN who have laid out their lives in their work."
"How is it", asked Madame de Verset, "that society so bitterly resents all singularity, whether real or affected? It is tolerant of crimes, and long suffering with dullness, but it shows no mercy to those who are different from other people."
"It is desirable", said one of the company, "that the individuals composing a society should be in keeping with each other, lest if one be much better, or different in any way from the rest, he should play the part of a piece of new cloth in an old garment, and cause a rent wherever he goes."
"That is true," said M. Grimm, "men have a natural instinct against incongruities; and that may explain the dislike and persecution, with which those men are received who come to it as prophets and teachers. All that stands apart from the mass surrounding it, ought either to have a class of its own to fall back upon, or else to carry the germ of a new order of things within itself; otherwise, it is an ineffectual singularity, without any significance to atone for its bad taste."
"It is the instinct of self-preservation", said d'Holback, "that makes men look with distrust on all that tends to break through the train of things which have got themselves established. There is a sense of insecurity in the beginning of all change; we dread movement until we are fairly roused, and then we seem as if we could never know rest again."
"This mixture of restlessness and indolence is the key to many of the contradictions of human life. It is a pity we cannot calculate their action with precision, for then we might work miracles," said one who had not yet spoken.
"Till the secret became known, and then the miracle would become the ordinary course of nature, and we should have to fight and struggle as we do now," replied M. Grimm.
"Is it because we and our works endure for so short a time, that we attach so much veneration to all that has strength to resist change, and even for a little while to assume the aspect of permanency?" asked the gentle Madame d'E-----.
"Possibly," replied M. Grimm, "ideas of permanence and endurance beguile the imagination of men because they do not seem to be impossibilities; we could never have the heart to labour if we did not hope that our works would live after us; in our heart, we each expect to attain immortality, though 'ready to vanish away' is the device inscribed by destiny upon us and all we do. The hope of achieving works which shall endure for ever, glimmers upon the horizon of things possible, like the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone, but none have arrived at the spot over which the star rests."
"What you say about permanence", said St Lambert, "applies in a peculiar manner to systems of government; there, all things seem to have attained the most unchangeable fixity, on the eve of a final breaking up of all forms."
"Ay," said Duclos, "the mechanism of society is then worn smooth with use, all goes on quietly, but it is the ease of that which is worn out. The system holds together in this state till some trifle jars upon it, and then like other moulds which have become effaced, it is broken up for fresh combinations."
"The energy of nature," said d'Holback, "lends itself to the form of our social institutions so long as they are adequate to some want within us, and have a latent meaning that is felt by all; but when what once was religion, degenerates into worn-out traditions, and ceremonies emblematic of no truth - when what was in the beginning benevolence and human love, becomes the mere etiquette of polite society, when the structure of society, from one end to the other, becomes a mere tissue of legal fictions, and men stickle for forms and customs, (which are always the last things that pass away) - there is no life to oppose dissolution, all relapses into the elements, and the life by which they were supplied takes a new form. This is the secret priests fable unknowingly in their dreams of a 'new heaven and a new earth'; man reduces to chaos, and out of chaos God creates fresh worlds."
"Well, and what becomes of the poor inhabitants in all the confusion?" asked Madame d'Aligré.
"Why, madame," replied a pompous member of the academy, "minute investigation has showed us that the rocks which make the primeval foundation of the earth, are composed of bodies which were once organised living animals, and that proves - "
"Ay," said some one, interrupting him, "that the dust we tread upon has been alive and wretched."
But now supper was announced, and Everhard had the privilege of handing his aunt to table. When the supper was over, or rather when the guests had ceased eating, for they still continued at table, music was proposed, and Madame d'Aligré turned with a petitioning air to Madame du Pont, who had a splendid voice.
"You know," said Madame du Pont, "I am a Gluckist whilst you are all wild after Piccini. I wish the lot had fallen to some one better able to convert you than I am," and rising from her place she allowed herself to be led across the room to the harpsichord, when she played and sang the recitative and air of "In vano alcun", from the "Armida". After the expressions of admiration had somewhat subsided -
M. Grimm said, "We shall have some difficulty, to maintain the supremacy of Piccini after such singing as that, however, we must support the honour of our friend as well as we can."
Madame d'Aligré then joined one of the guests in the duet "Ne giorni tuoi felice", from the "Olimpiade", which was very successful. Another and another song succeeded, and the party broke up at a late hour.
During their drive home Everhard was quite unable to converse with his aunt; but as he kissed her hand, on parting from her for the night, she perceived that he looked handsomer than ever, so she was quite satisfied - much as she would have been with the success of some new point of costume on which she might have ventured.
Everhard found his way to his own room. All night he was in a vague reverie, rather than sleep; and the scene he had quitted, the lights, the music, the conversation, flitted in confusion through his brain, like scenes in a phantasmagoria.
"Well," said Emilie, the elder of Madame du Pont's waiting-women, to her companion, after they had been dismissed from their attendance on her, "what do you think of madame's nephew?"
"Why," replied the other, "for one thing, I think we shall have a very good time, for madame is in a good humour, and at such times she is always generous. To-night, to begin with, she gave me a worked apron."
"Bah! I was not thinking of her. What do you think of him, the nephew?"
"Oh, qui'il est beau comme l'amour, et gentil comme un ange," replied Flora. "When he passed me in madame's dressing-room he made a reverence, as if I had been a court lady. But he is very shy, and does not know the value of his beauty; for all the softness of his eyes, he looks out of them as if they were given for nothing else but to see with. Still there is something piquant in so much innocence."
"In the hope of spoiling it, I suppose you mean," replied Emilie, laughing. "Well, so there is, for it is a work one generally finds ready made to one's hand. That delicate bloom will not last long upon his cheeks in Paris."
"He will be handsome when it is gone," replied the other. "Did you remark him to-night after he came home? His face seemed to have gained meaning even in that short time."
"It is to be hoped he can take care of himself, poor youth," said Emilie, compassionately.
"Malheur à lui, if he cannot," replied Flora, as she smiled at her own pretty reflection in the glass, and arranged her hair under a most coquettish cap.
"Nous verrons, ma mie", said Emilie, yawning. "But now, in heaven's name, let us cease talking. You could live without sleep altogether, I think."
A few moments afterwards the whole household was buried in repose.
Everhard felt on awakening the next morning, much as one of the seven sleepers might be imagined to have done; but he soon became accustomed to his new way of life, for one day only led to another, brighter and pleasanter than the last.
His aunt, quite satisfied with the impression he produced, made him accompany her wherever she went, and he had to share both her amusements and devotions. She was at an age when women find infinitely more interest in a fresh unsophisticated youth, than in the polished, hackneyed, successful man of society; and Madame du Pont found a fund of gentle délassement in forming the manners of her handsome nephew. So Everhard's days passed on pleasantly enough. He was introduced to a perfumed, brilliant, luxurious version, of that hard, mysterious reality called LIFE. He mixed in female society for the first time; hitherto he had seen no women but his mother and her attendants.
His exceeding inexperience kept him from perceiving the licentiousness and immorality that lay under the graceful amenities of the society in which he was moving; though, it must be owned, it was a critical experiment.
He felt within himself the movement of passions which were beginning to make him sensible of their existence; and the host of undefined tumultuous sensations which filled his soul without pointing to any definite aim, gave him a sense of life and power, an intoxicating sense of joy, in the mere fact of existence. He was entering on the "heritage of HIMSELF", and felt endowed with new gifts and perceptions, a passionate desire after the beautiful in all things; all his faculties seemed bathed in an atmosphere of warm light; the crust of reserve and awkwardness, which had shielded him from himself, dropped off like scales; he had not been stimulated into precocious maturity, and there was no danger of his adding to the melancholy band of those "whose unripe blessedness has dropped away from the young tree of life", before it has fulfilled its beautiful promise.
The brief period between childhood and maturity is indeed the golden age of life! A fairy dust is thrown over all persons and all things, making that lovely which is not so; like eastern monarchs, who caused beauty and fertility to spring up for the moment, when they had to journey through desert and unlovely places, making all look rich and glad as they passed along.
Everhard remained four months in Paris; at the end of that time, a letter came from his mother, desiring him to fix an early day for his departure to Rome.
This announcement came on Everhard like a thunderbolt. Going to Rome had become a vague abstraction which was to occur at an indefinite period, and, until this moment, he was not aware of all the disinclination to his profession that had grown upon him. To be a priest, under a "vow of obedience", was a very different thing to being one of his old saints travelling about from country to country, on errands of benevolence: as different as a soldier in a marching regiment is from being one of the seven champions.
The prestige of church dignities had vanished before the bishops and abbés he had met in society, and his ambition to attain them had been crushed almost before it had sprung up. He panted for some occupation that would call forth the energy which he felt pent up within him. Alas! he did not know that he was grappling with the grand difficulty, the aforesaid mystery of life.
Thinking that possibly the Abbé du Pré might help him in his perplexity, he put on his hat, and went to call upon him.
Everhard entered a small, luxuriously furnished apartment, and found the abbé sitting in a flowered damask silk dressing-gown over the breakfast table; he was sipping his chocolate, and reading "La Reine de Golconde", which he quietly placed under the sofa pillow when Everhard came in. "I fear I am an untimely visitor," said he, "but the truth is, I wanted to find you alone; I am come to throw myself upon you for a little counsel."
"Oh fie! have you been getting into a scrape?" said the abbé, in a bland tone, with an arch smile; "but before you confess, sit down and do penance on a cup of chocolate"; at the same time pushing towards him the silver filigree stand; "you will find these rusks as delicate as those that regaled Vert Vert. Try this pâté, it is capital, and if you knew the fair hands it came from, it would seem still more exquisite."
Everhard felt very little inclination to do justice to the good things round him, but he saw the abbé was in a different mood, and he had the prudence to offer no interruption until the breakfast was finished. It came to an end, like all other things. "And now," said the abbé, wiping his lips after swallowing a petit verre, "what is it you want me to do?"
Everhard handed him the letter he had that morning received, and when the abbé had read it, he confided to him the dislike he felt to the path prepared for him; "and besides," said he, in conclusion, "I feel as if I could never perform the duties which the priesthood entails; there is something horrible in the suppressed energy, the still life endurance it requires. Nothing to do - nothing to hope for - no danger - no enterprise - no variety. I shall die, if I am made a priest; can you tell me no way to get out of it?"
The Abbé du Pré looked down and played with his snuff-box whilst Everhard was speaking, to hide the smile he could not suppress. "Well," said he, soothingly, when he ceased, "it is all very natural that at your age you should not feel tempted to renounce the world; but where, in Heaven's name, did you get your notion of what a priest's life requires? Poor boy! it is no wonder you should desire to escape from such an imagination! I fear there is no other career open to you; your lady mother would give neither help nor sanction to any change in your destination; besides, why should you wish for one? you have good prospects in the church; your uncle has interest to push you on; between ourselves, I shall be a bishop long before you are in orders, and shall be able to help you forward; you may depend upon it that I shall do so, for you will be a credit to us. There is no need for you to be either a saint or a martyr, you will come and live in Paris; the women here, who are as fanciful about their confessors as they are about their doctors and lovers, will adjust the balance between you and their devotions; only think of the opportunity you will have of making a sensation when you come to preach! Eloquence (and you have it) opens the way to every heart, to every thing to be desired in this world; it can cover a whole decalogue of sins; it is a regular enchanter's wand! You may have a glorious life; you may be a politician, a statesman; and, though vowed to celibacy, you may enjoy the devoted friendship of the loveliest women; any thing, every thing is open to you; there is no career like it for a man who knows how to run therein. Be discreet, be prudent; that is the true secret of leading an exemplary life. So cheer up, and have no more foolish fancies. And now," said he, after a pause, "will you remain here whilst I dress? and then we will walk back together. Madame du Pont had a migraine yesterday, and requested me to come early."
So saying, the graceful priest glided out of the room, leaving Everhard plunged in a painful reverie. They walked silently towards the Hôtel du Pont, for Everhard was quite unequal to the lively conversation in which the other sought to engage him.
Everhard hastened to his own room, where he remained alone with his own heart. He looked helplessly round for some one who might speak words of strong counsel to him; but there was no one. The complacent wily abbé was about the best among his present acquaintance.
At length, with a start of surprise that he should not have thought of it before, he betook himself to his old resource in times of childish difficulty; he flung himself on his knees beside the bed, and with sobs and inarticulate words poured forth all his grief and perplexity. He did not as heretofore, go to any of his favourite saints; it was from the service of God he shrank, and it was to that God Himself he went now in his agony of weakness.
The only instant when man has any thing sublime about him, is, when prostrate before the invisible, he makes an offering of his own will and his own wisdom, desiring to be guided only to that which is best and wisest. Prayer is the appeal from the fluctuating incomprehensible aspect of this life, to Him who changes not. None but they who are sinking under some of the infinitely varied forms of human need and human weakness, can tell the strong consolation of taking refuge from their perplexities with one, "who knoweth all things, and to whom all hearts are open".
The remainder of that day passed as usual, but it seemed to Everhard that the beauty and delight which had fascinated him in this life of society had suddenly departed.
The next morning, as he was preparing to pay some visits, he received a summons from his uncle.
"Well, Everhard, my boy," said he, "you are become so répandu, that one must send for you early to get a word with you. Your mother has just sent me this letter, and desires me to advise you what course to take on the strength of it; but I think you are quite of an age to have a voice in the disposal of yourself. Your father bequeathed you to the Church, but you don't seem to me to have much vocation for it, at least you have shown none since you came here. Did you ever hear of a distant relation, who is a prosperous India merchant, and making an income of more livres than I possess francs? I suppose you never saw him; he has started up like the good uncle or father at the last act of a comedy. There is a letter from him to your mother; read it, and see if you are disposed to close with the offer. You had better take till to-morrow to consider."
Everhard received the large, heavy looking letter, and retired to read it at leisure.
The letter was from the only surviving member of a distant branch of the family, which, eschewing the politics which had well nigh caused the ruin of the elder branch, had given all their energies to making money, and had succeeded amazingly: but there had been no intercourse between the owners of Sutton Manor and the merchants of London for at least two generations. The first part of the letter in question was taken up with explaining to Madame Burrows the genealogy of the two branches, in a most prolix and herald-like fashion. The conclusion was more to the purpose; it was an offer to adopt the younger son, to initiate him in all the mysteries of trade, and finally to make him his successor in the old and wealthy firm of "Burrows and Co.".
"I am a widower without children," said the letter in conclusion, "therefore all my fortune will go to my nephew, if he takes kindly to the business; but a merchant like myself he must be, before he comes in for one farthing. I am rich enough to do what I like, and I am as desirous to continue a line of British merchants, as other people can be to found a family. I make no mention of your elder son, because he has already enough, and more than enough, and I will have nothing to do with gentlemen.
"I hear you have intended Everhard for a priest. If he does not choose to accept my offer, I shall bequeath my money to a hospital, and break up the concern. It has been carried on for more than a hundred years, from father to son, and I will not have a stranger for successor. Everhard is a name that has been in the family for generations, so I shall not so much mind his not being my son, but I expect he will bind himself to marry, that there may be no danger of the business going to a still more distant connexion.
"With all sorts of good wishes for you, though I never had the honour of seeing you,
"I am, Madam,
"Your obedient, humble servant,
Everhard read the last part of the letter through twice; here was the chance of an escape from the priesthood which he had so earnestly wished for the day before. Our wishes never seem so little desirable as when on the verge of accomplishment; we draw back instinctively, they look so different from what we expected.
Everhard was not at all smitten by the prospect held out to him; he had at the bottom a prejudice against trade, which he had imbibed from his mother; he thought it degrading; added to which, all his natural tastes lay in a directly contrary direction.
By a natural reaction of feeling, the way of life which so lately had looked hard and uninviting, seemed clothed with calm and mild dignity. Now that he was free to choose, all desire for a secular life seemed dead within him. Accordingly, when he met his uncle next day, it was to intimate his fixed intention to follow the profession to which he had always been destined.
A grateful letter was accordingly written to Everhard Burrows senior, declining his offer; and Everhard made preparations to depart to Rome. He went to his aunt's dressing-room to take leave of her the morning of his departure. He found her amid a chaos of silks, feathers, and tissues of every conceivable variety, and so engrossed in a privy council for deciding on a presentation dress for the next court day, that she could not spare a moment to show any sensibility, which rather annoyed him. She embraced him, however, very gracefully, saying, "Well, we shall have you back when you are a priest, and then you shall be my confessor! I wish you would send me some relics from Rome; I cannot meet with any here; if there are any pretty things worked in Lava, get them for me; they will be quite new. Are you a judge of Cameos? I am told you can get those sort of things for nothing there. I wish you were going with me to the ball to-morrow."
Everhard tried to express his sense of all his aunt's attentions, but the gallantly turned phrase died on his lip; his eyes filled with tears, he raised her hand to his lips, and hastened out of the room.
"Quelle sensibilité," said the pretty Flora.
"Oui; mais la sensibilité me pèse", replied Madame du Pont, and returned to the occupation which had been for a moment interrupted.
M. du Pont accompanied his nephew for a few miles on horseback. "Well, boy," said he, as he was about to turn homewards, "we shall have you amongst us again. I shall look out, and solicit the minister for a good thing in the way of a benefice for you. Be discreet, and you will be sure to become a great man."
When Everhard arrived at the English College in Rome, he was ushered at once before the Superior, who had been prepared to expect him, and was sitting in the library, where new comers were always received. The walls were hung round with portraits of great men, in the different costumes of cardinals, judges, warriors, who had all in their time been inmates of the college, and there was a prestige, in thus sitting surrounded as it were by the halo of their glory, very calculated to impress the ardent imagination of a young aspirant.
But Everhard was not imaginative, and besides, he had no time to pause to gaze round. He advanced at once to the chair of the Superior, and, bending his knee, kissed the hand that was extended to him. The Superior, a man somewhat advanced in life, with a keen eye and a stern aspect, uttered a few words of encouragement and welcome; then summoning an attendant, desired him to conduct Everhard to the refectory, where supper was already served.
Everhard, following his guide in silence, entered the hall where all the inmates of the college were seated at supper, and took the seat indicated to him. At first, he felt somewhat confused at the idea of encountering the gaze of so many, but not an eye was turned towards him, all continued their supper with the silence and abstraction of Brahmins. A young man at a desk at the upper end of the hall, read aloud out of the works of Cardinal Bellarmine; lay servants passed to and fro with trays on which the dishes were ready carved, and placed them before each; whilst a stately professor paced up and down between the tables to enforce silence and regularity. The hall was vast and lofty; a carved walnut-wood wainscot ran round the wall with seats for more than a hundred persons; massive tables, raised a step all round, were fixed to the floor. Supper lasted about twenty minutes, when all rose and noiselessly retired to their own rooms; none of them approached Everhard, or seemed any way conscious of his presence. The attendant he had before seen, came up as he was standing in perplexity, not knowing whether to remain or follow, and conducted him to the apartment prepared for him, but all in perfect silence.
Everhard, chilled and depressed by every thing round him, sat down listlessly in the window-seat, more disposed to weep than he had been since childhood. He felt very miserable indeed. The strong passions of adolescence which were rapidly developing, had no aim; he desired, he knew not what; the very gifts of intellect that were in him worked like passions; there was no one in the world to whom he could address himself; the brilliant life of society he had been leading for the last four months, had given him a hold on no one; he had entered a stranger, and departed the same: - all he thought and felt, was pent up in his own heart, and ever must be. He had renounced the world, he had cut for ever the ties that bind men to men, the step he had taken was irrevocable, and he felt crushed down under the conviction.
A knock at the door at length roused him, and a robust, handsome young man entered, dressed in the close black gown and white linen band which was the usual in-door costume of the inmates of the college. He had withal, a dashing, jaunty air, which was not precisely the ideal of what a young priest should be.
"Welcome! thrice welcome! holy Saint Everhard!" said he, "to our pious and most intensely stupid abode! Saint Magdalen forgive me! but if Paradise be akin to it, I don't care how long I tarry in purgatory!"
The tone and manner recalled to Everhard's memory an old school-fellow, who had been expelled for some unpardonable transgression of rules. With a start of pleasure he grasped his hand. "Why, John Paul Marston, can it be you? Why, what brings you in such a place?"
"Yes, it is I indeed. I suppose I was pre-destinated to the shepherd's crook, and the work of training up a nice little flock of lambs to the credit of the church's pasturage, and to gain to myself a bright reversion in the celestial city. God! I would give it all to be free to wander for a year through this eternal city. I have not much faith in the heavenly beauties; those glorious Roman women are worth the whole calendar of saints. I am so glad you are come; I can talk to you without needing to make believe to be better than I am. The discipline here is bad enough to endure, but the cursed hypocritical face one is obliged to put on is far worse. Dante's leaden cowls for hypocrites is no fable, but a Christian verity."
Everhard could not help feeling glad to see John Paul again, but he was somewhat scandalised nevertheless, at his freedom of speech. As soon as he could get in a word, he said, "Well, now, John Paul, sit down and tell me all you have been doing since you left Bruges."
"Since I was turned out, you mean; no need to mince facts. Well, I have leave to stay an hour with you, as you are a new man, and an old friend, or else it is not according to law."
John Paul trimmed the lamp he had brought with him, and set it down. It was quite night now, and they both seated themselves at the open window. A faint fragrance from flowers came in on the fresh, cool air; bats flitted to and fro like unclean spirits, and occasionally a large moth fluttered in, attracted by the light. The stars came out bright and many, but the moon had not yet risen.
"Well!" exclaimed John Paul, after a pause, "there is not another man in the world I would have been so pleased to see. I really like you, Everhard; I always did, and it is a comfort to have a natural inclination one can own to â haute voix, in this cursed place. Now tell me, how did you go on after I left you? was I soon forgotten? or do I still live among the school traditions as a beacon, pointing to innocent youths the way in which they ought not to go?"
Everhard could not help smiling. "You are as mad as ever, John Paul; what do they do with you here?"
"Oh, you will see fast enough; but now tell me something."
"It is little I can tell you," replied Everhard; "we soon recovered the quiet you had disturbed, and went on just as usual; Louis and I left school last Christmas; he remains at home to support family honours, and I have been on a visit for the last four months to my uncle in Paris. One of my father's English connexions sent the other day, wanting to adopt me, and make me a merchant, promising to leave me a fortune if I would follow his business; but I have no genius for trade, so I declined his proposal, and am now come here to study for the priesthood. You know I have been destined for holy orders from childhood."
"What!" exclaimed John Paul, vehemently, "and you really had an opening, a way of escape from this horrible bondage, and you did not avail yourself of it! No matter if your uncle had wanted to make you a chimney-sweep, any thing would have been better than the choice you have made; and yet, perhaps, no; you are peaceful by nature; you have a natural turn for goodness; above all, you believe; you are very different to me; and yet, I too might have made an honourable man, might have achieved something worth doing; I feel I have power in me; but here, here, all my strength is consumed within me, and for what? to enable me to keep myself within bounds, to make myself in appearance something like the cold-blooded clay around me. Oh, if they could but take the blood out of my veins, and fill them with new milk, I might be a happy man! The curse be on those who bind men by irrevocable vows!"
John Paul started to his feet in an uncontrollable frenzy, and began to stride up and down the room; the veins stood out on his forehead; his small, cruel grey eye glittered with ferocity, and his breath came in thick pants. Everhard attempted to calm him, but John Paul took no notice. After a while he recovered himself, and said, "You see what comes over me at times; if it did not break out in this way, I should go mad. I am right now for a while, and shall be able to go on in the mill round of prayers and fastings. Now I will tell you how I came here.
"My cousin, in whose hands I was placed after the row at school, took me home with him; my mother had been informed of the whole thing. To tell the truth, I was not sorry to be spared facing her for a while; every body said I required stronger management than a woman's hand, and my cousin undertook to break me in. You know that my father on his death-bed desired that the child my mother was then expecting should be dedicated to the service of the church; it was the dearest wish of my mother's heart: the family considered it settled; as for myself, I had got into the habit of looking on it as an evil day at an indefinite distance. It was a large town where my cousin lived, not very far from London. I did not choose to be cooped up in the house, so I scraped acquaintance with several youths of my own age, or rather older. I had nothing to do; my cousin might have found me employment, but he did not, so I got into mischief. He called me to account, and, as I did not admire his method, I ran away to London. My good mother, who had the wise habit of supplying me plentifully with pocket money, had sent me a remittance only the day before, so there had been no time to spend it, which was lucky. When I found myself in London, I felt happy, for I was my own master. I had vague dreams of working my way in the world, and making myself famous; I felt energy enough in me for any thing; the sight of so many new and wonderful objects made me seem to be in a new world, and I felt proud of walking up and down the streets. I took a small room in a lodging-house in Holborn, dirty and comfortless enough in all conscience, but it was cheap, and I wanted to make my money last as long as possible. The third night after I was in London I went to Drury-lane Theatre. I had never seen a play; it was enchantment; I doubted whether such delight could be intended for mortals. I went again and again. By day I haunted the private door of a small theatre near my lodging, thinking it would be blessed to be even a candle snuffer, and looking with respect on the little boys who distributed the handbills. I contrived, by a lucky accident, to scrape acquaintance with one of the actresses, a pretty creature, and a great favourite with the manager; she spoke a good word for me, and I made my début as a silent page; but I had talents, and was soon promoted to talking parts. I was a great favourite with the women of our company, and I enjoyed the way of life amazingly. True, we were rogues and vagabonds in the eyes of respectable people, but really I don't think we were much worse than our neighbours, and we thought no small things of ourselves, I can assure you. As drinking was not one of my faults, I managed to keep my chin above water, and to live very gaily for a couple of months. I was better worth then than I am now, though nobody, perhaps, will believe it. After all, I have only left one stage to come on another; for what is saying mass, I should like to know, but acting a solemn charade? And in the sermons, which are a sort of programme, is it not asserted that the whole affair will finally be wound up by a magnificent tableau of a 'Last Judgment', a grand display of 'Lakes of Fire', 'Devils', 'Ministers of deathless Wrath', who will sweep away some into everlasting destruction; whilst a fair city of gold and precious stones, full of light, music, and rejoicing, will appear for the reception of the rest? I would not wish for a more theatrical dénouement. To all this, is to be added the terrible excitement for these blessed ones of seeing 'the smoke of the burning rising up for ever and ever'. I hardly know which fate would make one shudder the most, if one believed it. But to go on with my story.
"It was not two months since I had run away. My poor mother, who had in the first instance been pacified by my cousin, with assurances that I should return of my own accord, became too anxious to remain passive any longer. At her entreaty my cousin employed a man, who had formerly been in the police, to ferret me out. They guessed I was somewhere in London. It was not long before I was traced, and intelligence despatched to my relatives.
"My mother, though in a feeble state of health, set off instantly to London; she repaired straight to the obscure place where I lodged. I was not within, and it was early dawn when I returned, for there was a farewell supper given to one of the company, who was leaving us. I was flushed with wine and excess of all sorts, but the sight of my mother sobered me at once. She had fallen asleep in her chair, and there was a painful look of infirmity in her countenance, as if mind and body were both tending together to dissolution. I can never forget the impression her face made on me. The misery my thoughtlessness had caused seemed heaped upon my own heart at that moment. I was terrified to think what I had done.
"My mother awoke as I stood gazing upon her. She rose before I could utter a word, and throwing her arms round me, she said, 'My son, come back with me; I am come to fetch you from this horrible place.' Her embrace relaxed, and her form became heavier - she had fainted. I placed her on the bed, but it was long before she recovered her consciousness. I sent for a physician, who administered cordials, but told me frankly, that the system was too much exhausted to rally, and that he could do nothing for her. She lay all the day in a sort of stupor, with my hand locked in hers.
"I cannot tell you all the horrible remorse I felt, for I really loved my mother; but I had never realised all the pain I occasioned her till now.
"About the middle of the night she seemed to rally; her voice was clear and strong. 'John Paul,' she said, 'my own John Paul, promise me to quit this way of life. You know that in your cradle you were dedicated to the Church. All my life long it has been my joy to picture you ministering at the altar, and myself receiving from your hand the last sacrament at the hour of my death. Oh, my son! I have suffered much for you; what the grief of my heart has been since you left us all, God, who sent the affliction, alone knows. You have broken my heart, will you do nothing for me in this my last agony? Oh, my son, if you would have your gifts - a blessing, and not a curse, ratify my vow, dedicate yourself to the service of the altar.' I was silent. 'If,' she continued, more passionately, 'you would have my last blessing - if you would not have my blood upon your head - grant my request. Speak to me - you have been the anxiety of my life, will you not let me die in peace?'
"I began to answer her, to soothe her; I entreated her not to exact such a promise; that I could not be a priest; I told her that it would be sacrilege in me to become one. 'All devices of the evil one to slay your soul,' exclaimed she, interrupting me. 'I, your mother, entreat you.' And before I could understand her intention, she had sprung out of bed and thrown herself on her knees at my feet. 'No, no,' cried she, passionately resisting my attempts to raise her, 'you may trample on me, but I will not quit this place till you say you will fulfil my desire.' She sank exhausted on the floor as she spoke these words, but still kept her eyes fixed on mine. Everhard, there are men of a strong, firm nature, who can keep their determination, who can be shaken from their purpose by nothing. I have not one of those iron wills. At that moment I could not think of myself, it seemed of no consequence whether I had to suffer or not. I raised her from the ground, where she lay fainting, and solemnly promised to do all she desired. Her countenance gleamed with joy, she blessed me in a broken voice. I laid her again on the bed, and placed a cordial to her lips; but a sudden shiver passed through her, a slight spasm contracted her features for a moment, the breathing came at distant intervals, the whole expression of her face changed into something strange and different to herself, but she was quite sensible. She tried to speak, but the organs had lost their power; her eyes became fixed on one corner of the room; she lay motionless for some time, then she turned her head on one side, and drew a deep breath. It was her last - I had never seen death before. I kept my word to her," continued he, after a pause. "As soon as possible after her interment, I arranged my affairs and came here.
"I have property enough to support me handsomely, so at least I shall not do the work of the Church for lucre's sake, and that is some comfort.
"I am glad I have told you this, I feel as if I did not despise myself, and loathe my condition so much at least as when I began. But, Everhard," said he, abruptly, "seeing a person die is not the best way to convince one of immortality. What better is my mother NOW, for the horrible lot I have undertaken? and that thought is the hardest of all."
John Paul was silent, and Everhard was so too, he knew not what to say; at length he rose, and grasping Everhard's hand, said, "I must leave you now, good night; I will call for you to-morrow on my way to the chapel."
After the departure of John Paul, Everhard remained for some time in a profound reverie. The narrative he had just heard made a deep impression upon him. He saw, as in a glass, what might become his own case, that of a man divided against himself, without the self-control to conform to his lot, or the energy to emancipate himself from it, and all his strength consumed in idle chafing under the yoke.
It is only at times, and for a few brief moments, that the secret of our own hearts is laid bare to us; those are not the periods when we feel disposed to enter the revelation in "Diaries"; we see for an instant, then the veil which shrouds us from ourselves is again drawn, and we know not what we are; but the insight of that moment works within us, like an instinct, leavening our character and actions for years to come.
All have known such seasons, and can testify how widely they differ from the common run of "self-examinations", and the spasmodic ejaculations called "good resolutions". All can call to mind some period of life when there was a halt, a right course and a wrong lying equally open; as the decision is made then, the character takes its caste; it gives a start and bursts like a flower from the confining calyx; a crisis not at the time looking different from other incidents occurring every day. Such a crisis had this night been to Everhard.
The next morning he was dressed when John Paul entered his room, the emotion of the previous night had passed away, and he was the rattling, witty, amusing companion that Everhard remembered in old days.
After chapel the prefect invited Everhard to breakfast with him; when they were seated he said, with a forced smile, "You had a visitor last night - John Paul Marston?"
"Yes," replied Everhard, "we were school-fellows."
"Ah, he is a wild one," rejoined the prefect, "and the less intimate you are with him the better; he is always in scrapes of one sort or other; one cannot help liking him, but do not let him beguile you. Come, if you have finished your breakfast, I will show you the building, and tell you the regulations as we go along."
He led Everhard along several corridors in the dark, monastic building. The bright morning sun, shining through the deep embrasures, could not make the narrow windows look cheerful, but it did all that was possible towards making them so. A few lamps were fixed at intervals in the walls, and over the low doors that opened into the corridors, which were all closed. There was perfect stillness, except when the silence was broken by the tread of some of the inmates, or the shutting of a distant door. There was in the middle of the corridor a large open space, in the form of a cross, where the youths of that division met for recreation.
"You will find all things comfortable and regular here," said the prefect, "and you may be very happy if you choose; one piece of advice only will I give you, be very careful with whom you associate, and above all, let nothing tempt you to evade the rules. Obedience is our corner-stone. Now," said he, after they had seen all the place, "those are the apartments of the superior, who will appoint your line of studies. I will leave you here."
Everhard felt some trepidation at the ordeal he was about to encounter; but the superior was not one who understood nervousness, and he proceeded to examine him without any compunction, and as example has a magnetic influence, his composure tranquillised Everhard, who went through his examination with great credit. The superior said a few words of course, pointed to the portraits that hung on the walls, begged he would emulate those great men, be obedient to the regulations, and dismissed him. How very little other people can teach any one, and how much good advice is barren seed!
John Paul stood Everhard's friend, and introduced him to the rest and exerted himself with strenuous good will to avert the awkwardness and annoyance a stranger among a multitude always feels. John Paul had obtained the same sort of ascendency here that he had over the boys at school, and he was proud to let it be seen by Everhard.
The general aspect of college life offers nothing to record; all went on in the regular routine, till one might have thought it exempt from the common vicissitudes of humanity.
One day, however, when Everhard had been an inmate of the college about eight months, an event occurred, which caused an unprecedented commotion.
All were seated at dinner that day, when a letter was brought to the superior, which had just come by express; he opened it eagerly, and had no sooner read it than his agitation became obvious; turning to two elderly professors who sat near, he exclaimed, "Who would have thought it! at his age, and with his apparent zeal for the church! Francis Matthew Gifford has not only given up all thoughts of entering the priesthood, but has just gone and married again, a girl hardly older than his daughter, a heretic too, which makes the matter more flagrant."
The worthy superior's eyes flashed, and his face crimsoned to the top of his forehead, he could scarcely articulate for the very unorthodox passion into which such unexpected tidings had thrown him.
Such a breach of decorous discipline had never been known before in the refectory; the reading of Cardinal Bellarmine came to a sudden pause; the students looked at each other and whispered; the superior exchanged some hurried words with the professors, and, rising abruptly from their places, they all withdrew from the hall in manifest disorder. The students retired to recreation devoured by curiosity, but nothing transpired to enlighten it; all was calm and dignified as usual when they next assembled at their studies.
Everhard was far from dreaming that his future fate was involved in the news he had just heard, and yet, for him, it was the most important affair that had ever been transacted in the world. Gifford and his heretic wife will have a great deal to do with our history; we must give the reader some account of them.
Zoe Gifford, the "heretic wife", whose marriage caused such a commotion in the college, spoiling the dinner of so many grave and respectable signors, was the daughter of Frederick Cleveland, an English officer, and a beautiful Greek girl, whom he had rescued from the hands of some pirates as they were bearing her off to their boats. Though captivated by her extreme beauty and gentleness, he honourably offered her means to reach her home in one of the small islands of the Archipelago; but her father and only brother had been murdered by the pirates, she had no near relations left, and she had no desire to quit her handsome and gallant deliverer. Her wild attachment and gratitude to him, were only equalled by his passionate love to her. She followed his wanderings for three years, and was to him all that the most faithful and devoted wife would have been; he owed his life more than once to her skilful and careful attendance. They had lived together little more than a year when Zoe, our heroine, was born, who formed a new tie between her parents.
Two years after this happy event Captain Cleveland was severely wounded, and his recovery was made very dubious by low intermitting fever and fits of ague. He was ordered home to England as his only chance of life; he, however, preferred going to France. On landing at Marseilles, his first step was to marry his beautiful Greek, and to take the necessary measures to have Zoe legitimated. The mother, who had never thought of herself, was thankful that her child would be spared from encountering the civilised proscription that attends such as herself.
The change of climate caused a rapid improvement in Captain Cleveland's health, and he was soon able to introduce his wife to the society and amusements of Paris. He purposed, after a little time, to take her over to England, and introduce her to his relations there. They had only been a year in France, a short time in Paris, when, returning from the theatre one cold, foggy night, the fair Greek caught a violent cold, to which she paid no attention; inflammation came on, which resisted all remedies, and her life terminated in a few days.
The first agonies of Captain Cleveland were terrible to behold - the very servants hid themselves from his presence; his grief was a sort of fury, he raged like a whirlwind through the house. For some days he was quite insane, and they were obliged to remove the body of his wife secretly for interment.
When he became calmer, the thought of his child began to soothe him, but he was summoned almost immediately to resume the active duties of his profession; and then came the perplexing thought, what was to be done with little Zoe?
Captain Cleveland had a brother in England, a clergyman of the Established Church; a good, benevolent man, with more common sense than belonged to his gallant and reckless brother; they had not met for many years; but Captain Cleveland could think of no better plan than to intrust his child to the care of his brother Oliver, at least until he could give her a proper home with himself. He wrote to his brother, who made no sort of difficulty; and Captain Cleveland determined to go with her and place her in his brother's hands; but a peremptory summons to join his regiment frustrated his intentions, and he was obliged to trust her to the care of the French bonne who had lived in the family since the commencement of Captain Cleveland's connexion with Zoe's mother. A handsome annuity was settled on Nannette, upon condition of her remaining with Zoe. Mam'selle Nannette, as she was called, was a good-natured, simple soul, devoted to the child, willing to follow her to the world's end, and to England included, which was very heroic, as she had a great idea that the English were a species of ogres, who lived on raw beef-steak, and were constantly drunk, whilst the weather was one everlasting fog. Captain Cleveland could only accompany them to the vessel, where he left them, with innumerable blessings. The same day, after making his will, and leaving Zoe all he possessed, he departed for Bombay, where his regiment was then stationed.
It was an evening in May, when the Rev. Oliver Cleveland, closing a volume of Bishop Hall's "Contemplations", said to his sister-in-law, who was knitting at a little spider-legged table by the fire, "that he thought their guests must soon arrive".
"Well, every thing is ready," replied the lady, who was a tall, thin personage, of very erect and stately carriage; her face had a sort of demure sedateness, a pair of round, hazel eyes that looked as if they never shut, thin, compressed lips, and when she spoke it was in a precise, even tone of voice; there was an air of stately affability about her, as if she was on her guard against being proud, though at the same time she thought it her duty to keep every one at their proper distance. Her lawn handkerchief and clear muslin apron trimmed with point lace, were of a whiteness seldom, alas! equalled by the washerwomen of our own day.
The tea equipage was arranged on a bright, walnut-wood table, and a prim, demure little girl, of ten or twelve, was presiding over it; that was her daughter, who, under her bringing up, was fast becoming a pattern of thrift, decorum, and domestic management. They were assembled in what was called the "Tea Room", the joy and pride of Mrs Martha's heart, whilst it was the admiration of all the parish. The walls were panelled and painted white, according to the fashion of that day, and around hung various family portraits, who, one and all, seemed to have been peaceable persons, of substance and respectability - altogether, ancestors who were a credit to their descendants. An air of comfort pervaded every thing - a point not always achieved by emphatically tidy people, and which proved Mrs Martha to be a genius in her own way.
The rector was a grave, important-looking man, rather handsome, and fully impressed with the idea of the dignity of his office. He was highly orthodox, always scrupulously dressed in clerical costume, rather addicted to making Latin puns, not insensible to the charms of good living, slightly pompous in his manner, but thoroughly kind-hearted, and looked up to by every man, woman, and child in his parish. Being possessed of a handsome private property, he had a good deal of weight among the county gentry.
The parsonage, which had been built at the time of the Reformation, was a long, white building, with a kind of farm-yard behind, containing barns and sheds; before it was a garden, laid out in long grass-plots, and straight, well rolled gravel walks. An avenue of tall trees led along one side of the garden, which had been tenanted by a colony of rooks from time immemorial. The church, which was divided by a meadow from the parsonage, was an ugly, whitewashed building, not unlike a large barn, with a little one joined to it at one end; it bore marks of having once been a Catholic place of worship, though the stone carved work was grievously defaced, and the stained glass remained in the windows only in fragments. Such was the family and home to which Zoe had been consigned.
"I hope", said Mrs Martha, breaking silence again, "that the mother of little miss died penitent, poor thing."
"For what?" said the rector absently, as he turned away from the window where he had been standing since he last spoke.
"Why, for her shocking way of life to be sure; dear, dear, only to think of any woman being so shameless as to follow an officer up and down without being his wife; do you think she was really made an honest woman before she died?"
"I really don't know," replied the rector, "my brother says that Zoe will have all the rights of a legitimate child, and he seems just heart-broken for the loss of the mother; she was a Greek Catholic, and could get absolution I suppose."
"Well, I hope the child will not take after her," said the lady, "we must train her carefully, she must learn her catechism, and become a Protestant the first thing. I wonder what that Ma'mselle Nannette will be like, those foreign women are never like other people. We must teach little missy to leave off her outlandish ways and to behave like an English young lady."
"We must be kind to her, Martha, the poor child has no one but us to look to; above all, never speak of her mother but as a child ought to hear her mentioned; I need not caution you not to let a word drop before your own daughter; let the mother's sins be buried with her; God knows we have all sinned one way or other."
At this moment Sarah Anne, Aunt Martha's daughter, ran into the room from the garden gate (at which she had been standing to solace her impatience), with the tidings that a chaise was in sight, and coming down the lane, and that she was quite sure it was the strangers.
"Very well, Sarah Anne," replied Mrs Martha, "but how often am I to tell you that young ladies ought not to rush into a room in that manner, nor speak when they are out of breath; now remain here quietly until we return, that you may recollect another time."
Poor Miss Sarah Anne looked very downcast at this reprimand, but there was no appeal.
The rector put on his shovel hat, and Mrs Martha drew her stiff silk gown through the pocket-hole, and taking her ebony crutch-headed walking-stick in her hand, she followed her brother into the porch to receive the new comers.
When Zoe was lifted out of the chaise, she looked at her uncle and aunt with her large wild eyes, half shy, half frightened. The rector took her in his arms and kissed her, whilst Mrs Martha explained to her that she was her aunt, and that gentleman her uncle, and that they were very glad to see her, and then Mrs Martha kissed her too. Zoe did not understand one word of all this, as she could only speak French and a few words of Greek; a natural thing enough, but one that had never occurred either to the rector or his sister until that moment.
Mam'selle Nannette now stepped forward, she piqued herself on speaking English, but to Mrs Martha it sounded very like a personal insult to mangle a Christian language, as if it were no better than foreign gibberish, so her reception of Nannette was very stately indeed.
Zoe was soon seated at the tea-table on her uncle's knee, and plentifully supplied with cake and sweetmeats of all sorts; but the poor child was sadly tired, she could hardly hold up her head, and fairly fell asleep before tea was over; so Nannette carried her off to the comfortable bed-room hung with white dimity that had been prepared for her.
The rector was full of inquiries about his brother, and Nannette delivered the letters and messages with which she was charged.
Mrs Martha would fain have asked some questions concerning Zoe's mother, but she refrained; partly because Sarah Anne was not gone to bed, and partly because she conscientiously thought such a person was not fit to be named, whilst Mam'selle Nannette both tantalised and scandalised her, by continually mentioning her late mistress as a "real angel", but without going into any particulars. At length she begged permission to retire, as she felt fatigued, and after sipping some of Mrs Martha's spiced elder wine, she followed her charge.
"Well, sister," said the rector, when they were alone, "what do you think of your new niece?"
"Why, brother, she seems a nice little thing enough, but not the least bit like other children, she has such a gipsy look about her eyes, and then she is dressed in such a strange fashion."
"All that, my dear, is left entirely to your own management."
"But", ejaculated Mrs Martha despairingly, "what am I to do with that Mam'selle Nannette? The people in the village will follow her for a show!"
"Well, well, my dear, I must see that they don't; I will preach them a sermon on Christian behaviour and charity."
Next morning after breakfast, Nannette was installed into a large rambling apartment over the brewhouse, which Aunt Martha's contrivance had fitted up to supply the place of a nursery for Zoe, and a comfortable sitting-room for Nannette, where she might reign undisturbed by any of the establishment. There was a corner cupboard with glass doors, full of radiant-coloured china, and old glass curiosities, which Mrs Martha had foraged up from the sanctuary of her store-room; there was a bureau of some kind of dark wood clamped with brass, to hold Nannette's personal property; a large looking-glass slanted from the wall over the chimney- piece, surmounted with peacocks' feathers; a table with many legs stood in the middle of the room; a few tall, straight-backed chairs, and a little table and chair for Zoe, completed the furniture. We must not forget to say that Mrs Martha had discovered, in some mysterious recess of her store-room, a collection of wonderfully preserved old toys, which were handed over to Zoe with a strict charge not to break them.
Mrs Martha, with true English instinct, did all in her power to make Nannette comfortable in her house, but she never took cordially to her, which was not much to be wondered at. Yet she never failed to send "the poor outlandish body" a bit of any thing nice that happened to be made in the Rectory kitchen. Nannette, in spite of Mrs Martha's forebodings, was neither hooted nor followed for a show by the village people, but, on the contrary, became a great favourite, and was delighted with her little "ménage à l'Anglaise"; she tried to show her gratitude for madame's goodness, by clear-starching her lawn and ruffles in a style which was the envy of all the washerwomen of the parish.
Zoe, like all children brought up alone, had the gift of amusing herself, and made herself very happy among her playthings in her new home. But she was soon told that her life was not to be all play, and as soon as she had picked up enough English to understand what was said to her, she was taught to sew, and learn her catechism, as Mrs Martha had promised, "without missing a word"; a weary task both to teacher and learner, and not achieved without many tears. She was also dressed in a fashion more according to Mrs Martha's ideas of what an English young lady ought to be; her long hair was cut short all round, "to keep it out of her eyes", and she was instructed in the inscrutable mystery of sitting still, and taking care of her clothes.
Although Zoe showed small affection for her catechism, yet she "minded her book", and learned to read with a facility that astounded her aunt; any time she would leave her doll, to read to herself in the little gilt books which were amongst the treasures Mrs Martha had brought to light for her; every penny and halfpenny she could procure went to buy books, which she read over and over, till she had them by heart. "Little Red Riding Hood", "Hop o' my Thumb and his brothers", were her great favourites; she did not take to "Goody Two Shoes"; she had no sympathy with her. On Sundays, if she had been good at church, she was allowed to sit on Uncle Oliver's knee, who would tell her stories about "Joseph and his Brethren", and "Daniel in the Lions' Den", and many others. In fact, Uncle Oliver was her favourite; when she grew older, he helped her to weed her garden, and made a sod terrace round a heap of stones which she had piled up for the "Tower of Babel"; above all, he stood between her and many scoldings for "romping like a ploughboy", and other enormities of a similar kind.
We are sorry to record that the older Zoe grew, the more her aunt was driven to despair; Zoe could neither be made to look or behave "like other people's children"; she was now eight years old, much taller, and more developed than English children of that age, and her aunt was obliged to declare that, with her best efforts, she could "teach her nothing that she would learn".
One day Zoe had been shut in a room with strict orders not to stir off her stool until she had darned a large rent in her best frock; instead of doing this, she had employed herself in building a palace with the chairs and tables which she had pulled from their appointed places; Mrs Martha entered. Zoe, caught in the act, did not dare to move. "You little idle thing," said her aunt, "do you think you were sent into the world for nothing else but to play and read story books? God won't love little girls who don't take care of their clothes, and do as they are bid. Don't stand there staring at me with those great impudent black eyes: of course you did not make them, but you must be very good, and then perhaps people will forget them. Now put all those chairs in their proper places, and bring the knitting you did before breakfast for me to see." Zoe, looking frightened and ashamed, went slowly to the bag where the knitting was kept, and presented it to her aunt.
"Why mercy on me, child, what have you been doing?" ejaculated Mrs Martha, "if you have not gone and knitted the stocking that I fixed so nicely for you, all upon one needle. Oh for shame! for shame! You shall have nothing but bread and water for dinner today, and shall be sent to bed at tea time; there, take it away, I am sure I don't know what is to become of you," continued she, administering a sound box on the ears as Zoe came near her. The remainder of the day was spent in tears and disgrace. Uncle Oliver, although rather scandalised at her untowardness in female pursuits, was grieved to see her merry heart and cheerful face clouded by these perpetual worries; he had, besides, discernment enough to see that Mrs Martha was not exactly a fit preceptress for a girl of Zoe's disposition, and he determined to take her in hand himself.
"She does not seem to be cut out for a housewife," said he to his sister that evening as they sat at tea, "I will see what I can make of her as a scholar; I am much mistaken if she does not turn out something wonderful in that way; I have a theory of my own about education, and I will try it upon her; she shall be taught just as if she were a boy, and I will not have her plagued with sewing and darning any more."
Mrs Martha knew there was no appeal from her brother; but from that day she looked on the perdition of Zoe as a thing finally determined upon by Providence (she was a little Calvinistic in her notions), and walked away ejaculating, "Well, to see how the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, it is just wonderful! Though I had her so young, and have done my best to train her, I cannot make her like an honest woman's daughter. Ah, Sarah Anne!" said she, as her daughter entered the room, "you have a great deal to be thankful for in being born in England, but you must try not to despise your poor cousin, though she is so ignorant and outlandish."
From that day Zoe was emancipated from her aunt's tuition. Her uncle determined, as he said, to educate her like a boy, and this, as it happened, was just the wisest course that could be taken. Her tropical organisation, and the strong passions that were lying latent within her, made it very requisite that her mind should be strengthened, and her intellect receive a steady discipline. But the plan had its disadvantages. The grave disapprobation of her aunt was not expressed in words, but she contrived that Zoe should be made to feel that she considered her conduct as not at all right, and nothing has such a debasing influence, as living in an atmosphere of vague censure.
Sarah Anne, several years older than Zoe, a thoroughly commonplace girl, who, without being tangibly vulgar, was coarse and common in all her feelings, had a great idea of her own dignity as "almost grown up"; and kept her cousin Zoe at a distance, as a mere child; but she disliked her to a degree very disproportioned to the contempt she expressed, she was never weary of sneering at Zoe's "exceedingly peculiar manners", and constantly prophesied that with poring so much over books, she would become an idiot.
There were several young people in the neighbourhood who visited at the Rectory, they looked on Sarah Anne as a sort of leader, and poor Zoe was completely sent to Coventry by these miniature women.
Zoe was naturally a very warm-hearted, affectionate child, and she would have loved both her aunt and cousin if they would have let her; but meekness and gentleness were certainly not her distinguishing virtues, so she repaid their repulsion with scorn, and as she was very expert in the art of aggravation, the hostilities between them were sharp and bitter. She insulted Sarah Anne's friends, and prided herself upon being as different as possible to all whom her aunt declared were "models of what young ladies should be". An Ismaelitish feeling was thus acquired towards every body round her, except good Uncle Oliver, whom she dearly loved, and whose heart she won by the credit she did to his "theory of education".
Zoe had a passion for knowledge, and her own energy was better than any theory ever invented. She had a talent for music, and her uncle was coaxed into sending to London for a harpsichord, and he gave her what instructions were needed at first, the rest she found for herself. Most of her time was spent in Uncle Oliver's study, where she forgot all the heartburnings and contumelies she met with in the other parts of the house. Zoe had, however, one scene of triumph where she had no rivals, and that was at the dancing school; there her beauty and grace gave her indisputable preeminence; she was not popular there, but she despised every one too much to care for popularity. "Take the good the gods provide thee", is the motto we all instinctively adopt, and Zoe was not slow to take on herself all the airs of a sultana in disguise.
Things went on this style till Zoe was fifteen. Letters, at rare intervals, came from her father, which constantly assured her of his affection; but immersed in the active duties of his profession, he never succeeded in coming over to England to see her. She wrote to him at stated periods, but, unless there is a community of daily interests, even the intercourse between a parent and a child becomes an abstraction. Zoe however secretly expected he would raise her from her obscurity, and produce her to the world as a princess.
Things went on without any incident worthy of record until Zoe was fifteen, when the grand state secret, the secret of Zoe's birth was, in an ill-advised moment, allowed to escape from Mrs Martha to her daughter!
Zoe, we are sorry to say it, had one day been guilty of some choice piece of impertinence, which had provoked the good lady beyond all bounds; and, looking after Zoe, who was sailing majestically out of the room, she remarked to Sarah Anne, with a sort of agitated laugh, "That, after all, Miss Zoe need not give herself so many airs, the daughter of a Greek woman who followed her father up and down without being legally married to him; and it is all owing to my brother's goodness that she has a roof over her head at all; but, poor girl, she is very ignorant, and we ought to pity her."
The exclamations of wonder, the torrents of questions that broke from Sarah Anne, first recalled her mother to a sense of the indiscretion she had committed. She was not an ill-disposed or malicious woman, and she felt very sorry for what she had done. She strictly charged Sarah Anne not to breathe a syllable of the matter, telling her, by way of security, that a great part of the scandal would fall upon her, as belonging to the same family; and, moreover, that her uncle would be seriously displeased if he knew of it. Sarah Anne, proud of her secret, promised every thing. At first she treated Zoe with the most perplexing condescension. Zoe was surprised, but soon settled it, that cousin Sarah Anne was only a degree more disagreeable than usual.
A week after the above occurrence, the two girls were sitting in the tea-room making up some finery for the ball which was given annually at the dancing school. Zoe was sewing on her dress some beautiful lace, which had been her mother's, and they were talking, girl-like, of their partners, which was rather a sore subject with the sedate Sarah Anne, so she said spitefully,
"You are making yourself very fine. I suppose you intend to captivate the squire's son."
"To be sure," replied Zoe, "and why not? True, that squire's son is an awkward booby, and does nothing but blush, but he is the best partner, and so, faute de mieux!" -
Now this "squire's son" was the Apollo of the neighbourhood, and the grand parti roulant. Sarah Anne, in spite of her strict propriety, had long felt a secret tendresse for him, but she had sense to see that he had no eyes except for Zoe; that was enough to pique any woman; but to hear her rival turn him into ridicule at the very moment she declared her intention of engrossing his homage, was more than female philosophy could stand; she tossed her head, and said,
"Ah, it is well for people who don't know themselves, that other people know nothing about them either, or else" - and she looked maliciously mysterious.
"Or else what, good cousin? Your sayings are as dark as those of the sphinx."
Sarah Anne looked provokingly placid, and kept silence.
"Speak out, good oracle," cried Zoe, in a mock theatrical tone.
"It is better for you not to ask," said Sarah Anne, "because I must tell the truth, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, though you care so little for the feelings of others."
"Sarah Anne," said Zoe, "do tell me what you mean, and I won't plague you again, and I will tell you something the squire's son said of you."
"It is perfectly indifferent to me what he either says or thinks," rejoined Sarah Anne, virtuously; "it is not necessary for the daughter of a respectable woman to attend to what young men say."
"As far as family goes, we are pretty equal," said Zoe; "the only point of equality between us."
"Indeed!" cried Sarah Anne, tossing her head, "my mother was my father's wife, your mother was only some Greek slave or wandering gipsy, who followed the camp with your father; so it is very natural young men may think they can laugh and talk with you as much as they please; when it comes to choosing a wife, the case will be rather different I fancy, with all your learning and stage playing accomplishments."
Pride, which was the foundation stone of Zoe's character, kept her silent for a few moments on hearing this astounding disclosure. At length, speaking with a forced calmness, she said, "Why was I not told this before, if it be true?"
"Because", said Sarah Anne, "my uncle wished to keep it a secret for the credit of the family."
"Then," rejoined Zoe, as she rose to quit the room, "if my uncle forbade you to repeat it, how dare you disobey his orders?"
She gained her own room, the door was bolted and her face buried in the bed, at the foot of which she knelt, before she gave way to her choking feelings. "Why was I ever born? what have I done to endure such disgrace?" was all she could sob out. For two hours she gave way to her uncontrollable emotion - then she rose pale and exhausted; opening the casement, the summer breeze came into her room; she wondered whether it were all true that she had heard; all that Sarah Anne had said was like a strange dream; there stood her looking-glass, giving the same reflection as when last, in her girlish vanity, she had stood before it, speculating on all sorts of grandeur as the inheritance of so much beauty. Then came considerations as to her future conduct - she was the same - she at least remained to herself; and the proud thought flashed on her mind to make for herself, in spite of all obstacles, a destiny equal to all her vague dreams. The hope of being reclaimed by her father, and proudly introduced by him to a brilliant assembly in some family castle or palace, where she was to be received with acclamations, vanished away; Zoe had dreamed her last childish dream, - she felt henceforth that her fortune must depend upon herself - and she felt a consciousness of power that assured her of success. A smile of determination was on her lips as she unbolted the door, and descended to join the family at dinner.
Cousin Mary Anne never once spoke, Uncle Oliver was full of talk about the hayfield, and aunt was settling the haymakers' supper. Nobody noticed Zoe. As soon as dinner was over, she went straight to Nannette; she found the old woman making up a set of ruffles for her darling to wear at the ball.
After a few words had passed, Zoe said, "Nannette, tell me about my mother, how old was I when she died?"
"Ah, Mademoiselle Zoe, I came to your mother soon after your father had rescued her from the pirates; that exploit made a great noise at the time; she was a lovely creature, and nobody could help loving her, she was so good."
"Why have you so seldom talked to me about her, Nannette?"
"Your papa did not wish it till you were older, mademoiselle, but I have her picture here, though you were not to see it till you were seventeen."
"Oh, Nannette, give it me now."
Nannette went to an old-fashioned black trunk which Zoe from a child had longed to see opened, it had such an air of mystery, it contained all Nannette's love letters, old-fashioned trinkets, China boxes set in copper rims, her will, and all that she held most precious in the world. She turned all her treasures reverently over, and took from the bottom of the trunk a green shagreen case which she placed in Zoe's hands.
"This my mother!" exclaimed Zoe as she opened the case, almost startled by the beauty it disclosed. "This really was my mother?" A tumult of feelings almost choked her, she kissed the picture again and again, whilst tears streamed down her cheeks.
"Oh, if she had lived! how much better I should have been than I am now; and I never remember her," continued she after a pause, "and I never even thought about her until this morning, but I shall love her memory now, and all the sneers in the world shall not make me feel ashamed of her." And she hung the miniature, which was set as a locket, round her neck.
"Ah, she loved you very much Mam'selle Zoe," said Nannette, "and her great grief in dying was to leave you."
"Was she really a Greek slave?" asked Zoe.
"Oh no, mam'selle, not a slave, the pirates had taken her prisoner and murdered her father, who was a Greek merchant, and very rich in his own country I have heard."
"No matter," said Zoe, "I should love her whatever she had been." So saying, she took leave of Nannette and rejoined her aunt and cousin. She was happier than she had been for a long time, her feelings were awakened for an object apart from herself, a spring of love gushed up in her heart which took away all bitterness.
"What is that? where did you get that beautiful ornament?" exclaimed both ladies at once when she appeared.
"It is my mother's picture," said Zoe, proudly.
It was no sudden flash of energy that possessed Zoe; she now knew her actual position, and felt that she had only herself to depend upon; she had received her first lesson in the importance of the commonplace people and things that make up the staple of the world - the importance of weight and impracticable stupidity. She saw she had no natural standing or position to fall back upon, and that so soon as her secret should be known, if those she had so much despised were to lift up their voice against her, she could not make her struggle against them; she saw that her very beauty and talents would be against her obtaining a footing in the "respectable society" of the world; and that she must have a position before she could make her gifts effective. Pride was the leading feature in her character, and love of influence her besetting vanity. From that day forward, Zoe became very worldly-wise, and set herself to become in manner and appearance less offensively unlike other people. She succeeded very well, as she had now a motive, but she could not sometimes help wishing she had been born stupid in her own right. In a few months the general cry was: "What can have come to Miss Zoe, she is so much improved!" Her aunt too was lavish in her commendations, though all would have been puzzled to state in what the improvement exactly consisted. Half the impressions made on people are by things so impalpable, that they vanish when they are examined closely, and re-appear the instant they have been explained away.
Zoe retained no spiteful feeling against her cousin; she was on too large a scale both for good and evil to have room for spite.
Two years after Zoe became possessed of the secret of her birth, Cicely Dawson, the buxom housekeeper of Birly Grange got married, and went to legislate for a farm-house of her own; this event had important consequences for our heroine, or we should not have taken the trouble to record it. We must explain that Birly Grange, a rambling country house of rough grey stone, was the residence of the "squire", as he was called, the respectable parent of the youth who has already been mentioned; the "young squire" had been in love with Zoe ever since she was twelve years old, though he had always wanted confidence to tell her so; but now that she was grown up to be the most beautiful girl in the country, he could hold his tongue no longer. He stood almost as much in awe of Parson Oliver as he did of Zoe, so that though he was six feet high, and stout in proportion, he trembled at the bare notion of pleading his own cause, and he had strong misgivings that his father would not consider Zoe exactly the person qualified to succeed Cicely Dawson: but three days after the departure of that exemplary female, the household of Birly Grange had fallen into a state of confusion and anarchy not to be described. The squire had been kept waiting three quarters of an hour for his dinner; the men servants were in the house when they ought to have been out of it; the maids were flirting and romping when they ought to have been minding the dairy; the old squire was at his wits' end, and as he emptied the bowl of his pipe on the table, with an energy that broke it, he told his son, that he wished he would make haste and begin courting, for Birly Grange was going to ruin for want of a mistress to keep the hussies in order. This was an opening not to be neglected, and Master Will made a very sensible speech about good wives, and domestic duties, what would be required from the wife who was to be mistress of Birly Grange in particular, winding up with a declaration of his passion for Zoe Cleveland, and an earnest entreaty that his father would speak for him to Parson Oliver to use his influence with Zoe. The old squire listened with a patience that surprised his son. "You seem to have very sensible notions about marriage, Will, I must say, but I am not quite sure that Miss Zoe is just the wife best qualified for you; you could not cast your eye upon her cousin, Miss Sarah Anne, instead, could you? She is not just so handsome, or so pleasant in her ways, but she seems more likely to make the sort of wife you want, and wives should be chosen with an eye to the future, my lad; you know she will last you your life, unless, indeed, she should be taken away like your poor mother, but that we don't calculate upon when we marry."
"Miss Zoe has been brought up by her aunt yonder all the same as her cousin, only she has made different out of it," replied the son.
"May be so, may be so," said the old squire, "and I like the girl well enough, especially of late, she is not so fantastic as she was, but I don't like foreigners, Will, you can never feel sure of them, and though she is the parson's niece, still she is only half an English woman, and not the least bit like your poor mother, Will, and she was the best wife in the country; you could not just ask her cousin instead, could you?"
Master Will was resolute in declaring that if he might not have Zoe, he would marry nobody, and that if his father would not go and speak for him to the parson, he would try his fortune himself. The squire, who was a good-natured man and hated worry, put on his best drab suit with silver buttons and large silver buckles to his shoes, and mounting his black horse, rode off to the Rectory that very afternoon to do his son's bidding. He was shown into the study on his arrival, and unfolded his errand as well as he could.
Uncle Oliver found himself in a perplexed and painful situation. The family secret about Zoe's birth, could not be honourably kept from him. There was no help for it, so after a pause he said, "There is one circumstance, sir, connected with my niece, of which you are unaware, but with which you ought to be made acquainted before your son makes his proposals. I don't know exactly whether, - in fact Zoe is, - in short, my brother was not married to Zoe's mother until long after her birth; but he has taken every needful step to give Zoe all the rights of a legitimate child; - as you know, her mother died when she was a mere infant, and she has been brought up here under her aunt's eye, along with her own daughter."
He might have gone on much longer, for the old squire was fairly struck dumb at the disclosure of such a shameful piece of profligacy occurring as it were under his own eyes, and if the truth must be told, he was not a little scandalised at Parson Oliver for countenancing his brother's conduct, by allowing Zoe to associate with an "honest woman's" child.
"A vile jade!" cried he, as soon as his wrath found words; "were there no justices in those parts to take the baggage up, and hinder such a scandal coming to a credible family? Those impudent minxes have no natural feelings or they would never bring poor children into the world to be looked down upon for what is no fault of theirs! A saucy slut! I warrant, when all the mischief was done, she trapped your brother into a marriage to patch up her character a bit, but I'd have tented her! Oh, the jade! the naughty hussy! but I must say, parson, I don't think you have altogether done your duty in harbouring the daughter of an outlandish foreign tramp in a decent English parish, to say nothing of the shame of such a companion for your own lawful niece. It is going clean against Providence too, for what does the Bible say? but that children are to suffer for the sins of their fathers, to make the fathers more careful of what they do. I declare, how we do get deceived with outside show; I was getting quite fond of the girl myself! Poor Will little knows what an escape he has had!"
In vain did Uncle Oliver try to moderate his vehemence, the old gentleman would not listen to a word he said. To Aunt Martha's great surprise, he did not stop to take a tankard of ale in the parlour with her, and she saw him making his way across the yard to the stable, with a face much redder than usual.
Uncle Oliver said nothing to Zoe about his conference with the squire, but she was conscious of an increased kindness in his voice and manner whenever he spoke to her.
To his sister he was more communicative; she was a worthy woman at the bottom, and felt sorry for poor Zoe in spite of the discomfiture of her worldly hopes for her own Sarah Anne, which is saying a great deal in her favour. As to Sarah Ann, when she heard that the old squire had been to make proposals on behalf of his son for Zoe, she could not conceal her mortification, and her only consolation was, that Zoe was not to be married to him, nor even informed of the honour that had been intended.
Two days afterwards, as the whole family were sitting at tea, a horse was heard at full gallop splashing up the gravel walk, and the next moment the squire's son Will himself, entered the room, his eyes sparkling, and his whole appearance much agitated. He walked, gasping for breath, up to Zoe, and seizing her hand in both his, looked round with an air of defiance and said, "Look ye, Parson Oliver, neither my father nor you shall hinder me from marrying Miss Zoe, if she will only have me, though she may be the daughter of a stage-player or a mountebank from foreign parts! Miss Zoe has been brought up in England, sir, and I say she will make a good wife, and I will make her an honest woman and a lady besides; I should like to see who will throw her mother in her teeth! Let him do that dare!" added he, emphatically clenching his hand. "Bless your beautiful face," said he, turning to Zoe, "it was no fault of yours; I'll teach people how you ought to be treated!" He stopped for breath, and looked at Zoe for a reply to his generosity.
Her eyes were turned away, but her compressed lips, and the full vein starting on her forehead, and the flush that covered her face, neck, and shoulders, showed the struggle that was going on within. She snatched her hand out of his grasp and ran out of the room. A moment after, a heavy fall was heard over head, every one rushed to see what was the matter; they found Zoe lying insensible on the floor, she had fallen with her head against the fender, and the blood was streaming from her mouth and nose. The young squire, without waiting to see further, mounted his horse and galloped for the village doctor. Uncle Oliver, who guessed what had happened, loosened her dress himself, laid her on the bed, and sent every body out of the room. The doctor was announced, who satisfied them that there was nothing serious to be apprehended. Zoe had only fainted, the hurt she had received in her face was very trifling, and there would be no bad results; but what was the dismay of all to discover that, in his agitation, the foolish young squire had told all the particulars of the previous scene, and that it was now a matter of village gossip! However, he administered a composing draught, of which Zoe now stood in additional need, and left the house.
"You stay with me, uncle," said Zoe, as he was preparing to quit her, "I must talk to you before I go to sleep."
"Well, my darling, but keep quiet, and don't hurry yourself just now."
"I shall be better for it afterwards," said she. "It is well that all has happened as it has done, I see now how, do what I will, I shall always be looked upon in England; dear uncle, I will stay no longer in this land of forms and respectabilities, to hear my mother made the subject of brutal remark, and myself the victim of condescending notice. I will go to my father, he loved my mother, he will love me, at least, he will not reproach me for not being respectable. I want you to write to him this very night, and tell him all that has happened, tell him to take me home to him, no matter where."
Uncle Oliver tried to remonstrate, but Zoe was wrought up to a pitch of desperation, and sitting up in bed she said coldly,
"Uncle, you will write to my father, and write to-night, and advise him from yourself, to leave me here no longer, for I will not stay; and if you refuse, I will set off to-morrow, if I have to sing in the streets to pay for my passage to France."
Uncle Oliver saw that in her present state it would be useless to argue with her, so he wisely abstained, kissed her, and promised to do all she wished, if she would only sleep just then, and desiring Nannette to remain with her, he departed.
Zoe awoke the next morning nearly well, and having now a plan which she expected would put an end to all her mortifications, she was quite calm and cheerful at breakfast; as soon as it was over, she followed her uncle to his study, and said, "Well, is the letter gone?"
"No, my darling, but you see I wrote it as you bade me, I waited to see what morning reflection would bring; - you will not mend yourself, Zoe, by going to France, you will not find among strangers a home like this, nor can your father love you better than I do; be not impatient and petulant, my child, you cannot alter your lot in its essential point, we are all of us tried where we feel the most sensibly, or else it would not be trial."
"Dear uncle," replied Zoe, "do not talk to me just now, I cannot bear it, indeed I cannot. I will add a postscript to your letter, and take it to the post myself."
When Captain Cleveland received the letter he was more affected than he had been by any thing since the death of his wife. "Poor child," said he, wiping his eyes, "I ought to have foreseen all this, I have been very cruel to you, but you shall come and live with me, and never leave me again."
He did not write to Zoe, but he did better, he made arrangements for absenting himself from his official duties for a few weeks, set off to England, and arrived one fine evening at his brother's Rectory, as the family were sitting down to supper, before they had begun to calculate when they should receive an answer to the letter.
Zoe knew him at once, and flinging herself in his arms, sobbed passionately for some moments, unable to utter a word.
"My darling child!" said the captain, soothing her, "you shall come back to France with me, and shall never leave me again; you are the very image of your mother, your beautiful, good mother."
"Tell me about my mother," said Zoe. "Was she your wife? Am I really your daughter?"
"Yes, yes, you are my child, my own darling child, and your mother was better than any other woman I ever saw, and I have known a good number. You need never blush for your mother, but feel proud of belonging to her; since she died I have never cared to look at a woman."
Zoe's heart was lightened, there was sympathy between her father and herself from that moment; old Nannette was delighted once more to see the captain, and half out of her wits with joy at the turn things had taken, she began with great zeal to prepare her dear young lady's clothes for departure.
The captain and Uncle Oliver had much to talk about; Captain Cleveland was never weary of expressing his gratitude and delight for all that had been done for Zoe; but Uncle Oliver was very sad at the thoughts of losing his foster-child, and made his brother repeatedly promise that she should come and pay a long visit every year. Even Aunt Martha, when it came to the point, found she loved Zoe a great deal better than she had ever suspected, and was more put out of the way at parting with her, than she had been for years, except by the great household catastrophe of the kitchen chimney falling down in a high wind. The poor young squire was nearly mad with love and desperation. Zoe did her best to console him by her gratitude for his chivalrous spirit in daring to persist in his suit in spite of what had struck every one else dumb with horror, but as she would not consent to marry him, her gratitude was not much of a solace.
The sensation caused in the whole village by Captain Cleveland's visit, his imposing appearance, and the almost veneration with which he regarded his daughter, very much softened down the virtuous indignation of the neighbourhood; now that Zoe was going away, in all appearance to fill a much more brilliant sphere than she had hitherto occupied, a great reaction took place in her favour, and every body was anxious to show her some token of remembrance and attention. The fact is, nothing puts people in such a good humour as a little bustle, in which every one is at liberty to interfere. Half the ill nature in the world arises from people being dull, and having nothing to excite them, and then the temptation to become sententious about their neighbours is beyond the virtue of human nature to resist.
Zoe's departure with her father was an event for the whole country round, and the people shewed their gratitude for it by finding out all sorts of good qualities in her.
Zoe went away loaded with presents, for which we are sorry to say she did not feel above half grateful: she had yet to learn the value of kindly dispositions, even with all the alloy of gossiping vulgarity.
Zoe left the Rectory under the idea that she was going straight to a perfect paradise. There are many ideas of paradise entertained by mortal men and women, all differing essentially no doubt, from the orthodox original. With girls of Zoe's age, paradise is the type of ball-rooms filled with adoring partners, all handsome, and all besieging her with declarations of love and marriage. Coronets and carriages are seen vaguely in the background, grouping themselves into a brilliant destiny, to which she is gracefully to yield, the fair victim of honours thrust upon her. Zoe's paradisaical notions took a still higher flight, she dreamed of becoming celebrated as well as grand.
She arrived with her father and Nannette at Bordeaux, where he resided. The sight of his apartment, No. 55, Au troisième, Rue de St Pierre, gave the first shock to Zoe's expectations. The rooms had done well enough for a vieux garçon, or a widower, who would naturally take all his meals at the table-d'hôte, and spend his evenings at a club or the theatre, on the principle of the old French lady, who said, 'Je vais au théâtre par économie,' viz., to save her parlour fire and candles. Indeed what else could poor Captain Cleveland do? He had no companion at home, and did not care for reading - people who have seen a great deal of active life rarely do. Zoe's looks showed her dismay at the sight of the ménage. The bare parquet, the scanty and shabby furniture; the tawdry hangings, and tarnished mirrors, with the untidy livery of the foot-boy; were enough to give disgust to one who had always been accustomed to the bright comfort, good order, and more than Muhammadan cleanliness of Aunt Martha's rectory.
Her father was so kind, and seemed so delighted to have her with him, that she did her best to conceal her feelings. She saw, too, that he had exerted himself to fit up her room in the way he thought most likely to please her. He had purchased a beautiful new harpsichord, and a wholesale supply of music. He had also commissioned the principal bookseller in Bordeaux to select a library proper for a young lady who had just finished a first-rate education; and the books, all bound alike in scarlet leather, were standing neatly arranged on two shelves. They comprised an odd jumble. They had been left entirely to the judgment of the bookseller, who, having understood from some book of travels, that English young ladies were allowed all the freedom of married women, made this selection with the idea of showing his acquaintance with English customs, so side by side with books of delicate rose pink morality were seen 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' and 'La Nouvelle Héloïse'. Zoe heartily thanked her father for these promising appearances, and trusted, with Nannette's assistance, to get things into better order.
Captain Cleveland thought he had done all that was necessary for the reception of his daughter; and the very next day, after kissing her and telling her to make herself very happy, he went out as usual to his café. He was very proud of Zoe, and would have done any thing to amuse her if he had only known how; but he had lived the life of a garçon, so long, that he could not now alter his habits; besides, he found it very difficult to keep up conversation with a young girl for long together.
Zoe was not dainty about her eating, but the ambitious ragouts and amphibious dishes sent in by the traiteur, were so different from the wholesome appetising viands she had been used to from 'the neat-handed Phillis' at Aunt Martha's, that she ran some risk of being absolutely starved.
Still she did her best to seem contented, but worse remained behind! She soon discovered that her father held very strict notions about the propriety of keeping unmarried young girls shut up from all observation, and allowing them no sort of liberty: he would not even permit her to go out of doors with Nannette, unless he were also of the party, and he hated walking. Sometimes he used to take her a drive into the country, but what was that to a girl who had been accustomed all her life to an unlimited allowance of fresh air and active exercise? She once proposed to dine with him at the table-d'hôte, but it was a proposition she never ventured to make a second time. To all her entreaties that he would take her to the theatre or the opera, he turned a deaf ear, he totally disapproved of the theatre for young ladies, who were not married, especially when they chanced to be as beautiful as he assured Zoe upon all occasions that she was, by way of excusing his unusual care and anxiety. "Why," said he, "if I once allowed you to be seen in public and in full dress, we should have no more peace; all the young rakes and petits maîtres in the place would be parading before the house, and insulting you with billets doux; ah, my child! if you only knew as much of the world as I do, you would never wish to leave your own home. No woman ought to go to the theatre until she is married, and even then the less the better."
"I am sure I wish I could find any body to marry me," said Zoe, pettishly.
"Time enough, time enough, my beauty; you don't want to leave your poor old father yet, do you? why I have had you no time at all, I have hardly seen you yet."
The total absence of all society, and the idea that her exquisite beauty, about which she was so constantly hearing, and her accomplishments, of which she was equally conscious, were even more buried in France than they had been at the Rectory, did not tend to raise her spirits.
Winter came on, and her walks were entirely stopped, for her father was confined to the house by a violent rheumatic attack, which made him very testy. The rooms too, had to be kept at a high temperature, and Zoe grew really ill; her spirits, which she had struggled to keep up, at last gave way; she sat all day, except the hour when she either played at chess with him or read to him after dinner, with her feet on the stove, either sighing for the green fields and fresh air she used to have at her uncle's, or else in building castles in the air for the future.
What she had heard Nannette and her father say about the freedom of married life was not lost upon her, "I wish I could get free," said she to herself one night as she sat at one end of the large ill-lighted room beside the stove, whilst her father and his visitors, the only ones who ever crossed the threshold, sat with the candles at a whist-table deeply absorbed in their game, laughing and joking amongst themselves between the deals, and giving no heed to poor Zoe, who sat moping in the dusk. "My father thinks", continued she to herself, "that because I am well dressed and well fed, I am as happy as a queen; he little knows," thought she as she brushed away the large tears that had gathered in her eyes. She fell into a reverie, looking on the three friends who were with her father. They were about his own age, and all of them old bachelors; one was a retired officer of high family, but reduced fortune; the other two were brothers, Englishmen; one of them was an invalid, who resided in France, because the cold foggy air of England did not suit him, and his brother lived with him because they could not bear to be separated. All ideas of love, marriage, and handsome men, had been completely kept out of Zoe's head by her education; for Aunt Martha always impressed it upon her, as the height of indecorum in a well brought up young woman, to allow the idea of a lover to enter her head, until a proposal had been formally made and accepted, and she had the sanction of the higher powers "to keep company together"; even then she always seemed to consider it a sort of necessary evil, which young people would commit, and the less said about it the better. Since Zoe left England, she had always heard her father and Nannette speak of marriage, as the only honourable emancipation for a girl, and the only means by which she could be made partaker of the rights and privileges of a woman. Zoe had thus grown to look forward to being married, much in the same way that a schoolgirl looks forward to the holidays, or to "leaving school for good". Any sort of a husband who would have presented himself to her just then, would have been gladly accepted, no matter how old or ill favoured, if by that means she might have gained her freedom and a position in society. So much for false maxims instilled betimes, which could mould the feelings of a hot-blooded, passionate young creature into the semblance of those of a cold, calculating merchant! Circumstances and habit had, in those days, given to Zoe an appearance of coldness which deceived even herself, she never for a moment contemplated the possibility of falling in love, or entertaining the feelings she had read about in Ovid's epistles; no dreams of that sort ever entered her head.
This very night, at the moment we are speaking of, when she fell into a reverie, she was speculating, in the extremity of her ennui, whether it would be possible to convert either of the two rich English brothers into her husband; but no, they were both past sixty, and confirmed old bachelors, even the invalid was quite content with the hired nurse who knew his ways, and had lived with him for some years; he could not live without his brother, so there was no hope in that quarter, and as to the French officer, it was clear he could hardly keep himself, much less a wife. Zoe's pride was so completely humbled by sickness, solitude, and absolute want of air, that her next thought was to write to Uncle Oliver (corresponding with whom had been her chief comfort), giving him a little delicate hint, that when he next saw the young squire, he might tell him that she did not like France, and that she often thought of England, and sometimes of him!
The very next morning she put her resolve in practice, she knew that Uncle Oliver would do any thing in the world to get her near him again, so she considered the matter as good as settled. "At least," said she to herself as she rang the bell to send her letter to the post-office, "I shall be able to breathe the fresh air, and walk in the fields again."
The dingy footboy who answered the bell, carried a small wooden box in his hand which had just arrived for her from England; it was directed in her uncle's hand-writing. Zoe broke it open and found a bride-cake, white favours, and a letter announcing the marriage of the young squire to her cousin, Sarah Anne! He had at last followed his father's advice, and cast his eyes on her cousin, to the great joy of Aunt Martha and the young lady herself: he had stipulated that Zoe should know nothing of the matter until they were fairly married, as "she would be so surprised".
Zoe's colour came and went, she tore up her letter, and throwing it into the fire, she exclaimed, "What mean plan must I think of next to obtain my freedom!"
Out of humour with herself, thoroughly mortified, and seeing no hope of any change, her health began rapidly to decline. Captain Cleveland all of a sudden grew terrified, and sent for two physicians, who told him that change of air and scene were absolutely necessary for his daughter. Poor Cleveland was ready to go to the world's end if he could only get Zoe strong again. He asked her if she would like to go back to England, but no, she much preferred a tour on the continent, and they began the tour accordingly upon May day.
They had not been a week en route, before Zoe's colour began to revisit her cheeks, and her spirits resumed their old buoyancy. They were sailing up the Rhine, and Zoe, who had never seen really fine scenery before, was in a state of enchantment. She had the soul of an artist, and every sight or sound of beauty "sent to her heart its choicest impulses". Her father, who had been in too many different countries to be very susceptible to the charms of scenery, thought her almost mad, and could not refrain from entreating her to be "more moderate", but with very little effect.
One morning Zoe had placed herself on deck in her usual place; her father finding it chilly, left her under the care of Nannette, whilst he made himself comfortable down below. Zoe on turning round to speak to Nannette saw a gentleman who had just come on board earnestly regarding her; he was a gentlemanly-looking Englishman, of about fifty, much marked with the small pox, but in spite of that his face had, on the whole, a pleasing and intelligent expression.
He seemed perplexed as he looked at Zoe, and at last, approaching her, said, "Pardonnez, Mademoiselle, but you are so strikingly like a lady whom I formerly knew, the wife of Captain Cleveland, and yet I heard she was dead; in fact your ages would not agree. I beg your pardon, but I was quite startled by the resemblance."
Zoe was equally surprised. "My name is Cleveland," said she, "and Captain Cleveland is below in the cabin." The unknown gentleman uttered an exclamation, and darted away. After a few moments he returned with her father, who introduced him as Mr Gifford, an old friend of his, whom he had not seen for the last seventeen years.
The rest of the day was spent by the gentlemen in talking over old times when they were in Malta and the Mediterranean together. Zoe remained at her old post on deck, quite satisfied with watching the beautiful changes of scenery.
It was not till next morning Zoe heard that Mr Gifford was a Catholic gentleman who had a large estate in Devonshire, that he was a widower, and that he had strong thoughts of entering the priesthood now he was free from secular ties. Zoe did not pay so much attention to this as she would have done some weeks previously. She was now completely absorbed by the excitement of travelling, and the novel scenes presented to her; for the time being all her matrimonial visions were banished from her head. She only felt very glad when she heard he was to join their party, because papa would have some one who could talk to him in his own way, which would keep him from so constantly lamenting after Paris and his nightly whist party.
"Poor Gifford!" said Captain Cleveland, "he knew your mother, Zoe, and admired her so much, that if she had been any other woman I should have felt annoyed; he got married however, himself, soon after we parted; he married some English lady of rank, who died in her first confinement, he tells me, and left her infant daughter to the care of a bosom friend and confidante, Miss Rodney, a prime old maid, and a thorough dévote by Gifford's account."
Gifford, however much he might have admired Zoe's mother, seemed to have transferred all his admiration to the daughter, for he was constantly at her side; he was full of information, and could tell her every thing she wanted to know about the places they passed far better than any guide-book. The sight of Zoe reminded him of many happy days, and brought vividly back the image of the only woman he had ever loved, though both she and Cleveland had been far from suspecting it; for Gifford was an honourable man and a rigid Catholic, who had no notion of disguising illicit passion under false names, or of pleading temptation as an excuse for a breach of friendship. He abruptly quitted Captain Cleveland and his wife when he found that in flight lay his only safety. Zoe was her mother over again, and there was no reason why he should resist the charm of being near her, he fancied that he looked upon her as his own daughter, and one of whom he would have felt proud. Zoe's masculine education had given a tone to her mind which showed itself in her countenance, he was astonished at the power of mind she discovered in conversation, for though so young, and with a judgment unripe, and her intellect altogether unmature, there was still the stamp of genius on all she said.
Whenever they were stationary in a place for a few days, he escorted her to all that was worth seeing, and showed an untiring patience in walking and driving that utterly astonished Cleveland.
They at length took up their abode at Koblenz, intending to remain a few weeks, as Captain Cleveland was threatened with an attack of gout. The day of their arrival, as soon as dinner was despatched, Zoe left the room to prepare for a long exploring walk with Gifford and Nannette, who never quitted her young lady for a moment.
"You will make that girl quite wild," said Captain Cleveland, half in an ill-humour at the idea of being left by himself. "I shall never be able to keep her within bounds when we get home again; she will never settle at home as she used to do."
"Oh, dear papa!" said Zoe, who entered just then, "I had quite forgotten that we should ever have to return to that odious Rue de St Pierre! Thank Heaven, however, it is still so far in the future as to be almost out of sight, or it would spoil all my pleasure here!"
Captain Cleveland gave something between a sigh and a groan of dissatisfaction, and applied himself diligently to his Turkish pipe for consolation.
As Zoe and Gifford went along, Zoe began to tell him about all her miseries at home in the Rue de St Pierre, about the hot rooms, and her papa's oriental notions of the necessity of keeping young ladies closely shut up and never seen; - finding that Gifford listened, and seemed to sympathise with her, she chattered on, and told him about the three visitors who had the entrée to No. 55, to play at whist when her father could not go to his club; she described their portraits and peculiarities at full length, till Gifford was obliged to stand still to laugh. Then she went on to describe the evening when, seriously believing she should die by inches for the want of air and exercise, she speculated on the possibility of persuading one of these ugly old men to marry her, "For then", said she, "I thought that at least I might walk out and be independent like a rational being, which it seems no woman on the continent is considered till she gets married; as papa says, what I shall do when I have to go back, I don't know; and luckily, just now, I need not consider. Look, we are on the top of this hill - what a beautiful view!"
Nothing more was said or done during the remainder of their walk worthy to be recorded. When they reached home they found Captain Cleveland sitting with the chess-table arranged before him, and looking at his watch which was lying upon it.
"Why, you have been gone nearly three hours!" he exclaimed, when they entered, "where can you have been? Zoe, child, you will kill yourself with all this fatigue and racket; here, Gifford, now for the chess; I have been studying all this time an infallible mode to check-mate you."
Gifford sat down rather abstractedly, and soon received the promised check-mate, but it was not attended with the éclat the captain had anticipated, the fact being that Gifford was speculating upon a mate of a different kind. Zoe's random speech about the two old brothers, and the very modest requirements she expected from a husband, had given him the resolution to propose for her himself! Had he met with Zoe when he was surrounded by the formal conventionalities of his ordinary life, it is probable he might never have thought of doing any thing so hazardous; but now, he was in the midst of the most romantic scenery, cut off from every thing that could remind him of the world he lived in, the extraordinary beauty of Zoe, her naïvely expressed desire to become an independent married woman, all conspired to make him forget that he was as old as Zoe's father, that he had a daughter of nearly her own age, that he had formally notified his intention to sell his estate and enter the English College at Rome to study for the priesthood; every thing in short that, at another time, would have weighed with him, was forgotten. Nature seems to have a malicious pleasure in overturning the reputation for wisdom and gravity which it has taken a lifetime to build up, by suddenly inspiring some signal piece of temerity, at which the boldest would have held his breath. So it was with Gifford. His hour of folly was come, when it was written that he was to make a fool of himself in the eyes of all his acquaintance!
He made the most unaccountable moves in the next game, till Captain Cleveland, out of all patience, swept the men off the board and rang for coffee. However, before it arrived, Gifford contrived to make Captain Cleveland understand the secret of his ill play, and had requested his influence with his daughter.
"Make yourself quite easy on that score, my good fellow," said Captain Cleveland, "there is not a man on earth I would sooner give her to than yourself; and depend upon it that Zoe is too good a girl to make any objection. I will speak to her this very night."
Captain Cleveland, like many men who have been very romantic in their youth, had settled down into a most prosaic elderly gentleman: with him "the wine of life was spent". The death of his wife caused a gulf in his career, and when he recovered from the shock, he was no more the same person; all his feelings of youth and passion had been left on the other side. He was too continental in his notions of matrimony to see any thing but what was highly advantageous in the proposed alliance; and it may be doubted whether, at the bottom of his heart, he did not feel better satisfied to commit his daughter to a staid, respectable man, able to take care of her, than he would have been to see her in the hands of one who should be as young and passionate as himself when he first met her mother.
As to Zoe, her courage for matrimony had rather ebbed since she had become more pleasantly circumstanced, and she was startled when her father announced Gifford's proposal, and told her that it had been accepted by him.
Her dread, however, of returning to No. 55, Rue de St Pierre was too great to permit her to make any strenuous objection to what seemed her only resource.
"After all, papa," said she, "Mr Gifford is very good-natured; and he is not so very ugly either, at least not half so bad as either of the two brothers who used to come to play whist with you; and then I shall really be one of the 'county ladies' of whom Aunt Martha used to speak with such reverence. But it will be droll, will it not, to hear myself called mamma by a girl nearly as old as myself?"
So the matter was settled, and in three weeks from the walk and the games of chess above recorded, Zoe became Mrs Gifford.
Gifford had next to write two letters, which taxed his powers of diction to the utmost; one was to Miss Rodney, begging her to inform his daughter of what had occurred, and also saying that the whole party, including Captain Cleveland and Nannette, were on their way to Gifford Castle, where he requested every thing might be put in order for their reception.
The other letter was to the Superior of the English College at Rome, informing him of the change that had taken place in his intentions of entering the priesthood; and this was the letter that caused such a commotion in the refectory as we have before narrated.
Everhard, who shared the curiosity of the rest, was very far from suspecting the influence this marriage was to have on his own destiny; - meanwhile, as he is safe in college, we must still leave him a little longer, whilst we pursue the fortunes of our heroine. He is in the safe keeping of Fate, who never forgets or makes mistakes, but lets every stroke of good or evil fall precisely on the head for which it was destined, when the due season for it arrives.
Success is the true "Tree of Knowledge"; there is no wisdom equal to that which comes after the event. When a man has accomplished any scheme which he has moved heaven and earth to compass, there first follows a pause, a lull, in the storm and strife of the passions that have been aroused, during which, he begins to doubt whether he has not been spending his strength for naught: - then the perception dawns still more forcibly that the object was worth all the pains and labour bestowed upon it, and he wonders why he should ever have felt so anxious about the matter; and finally, he feels quite sure that if it had pleased Providence to thwart the scheme, it would not only have been much better for him in the end, but now that his eyes have been opened by success, he could have borne a disappointment with edifying resignation.
Zoe and Gifford were married. Captain Cleveland's wish to see his daughter honourably settled in life, was thereby fulfilled. Zoe's desire for the freedom and privileges of a married woman, was also satisfied. Gifford was in possession of the woman he desired to make his own. Surely we must express ourselves ill when we record our wishes, or our guardian angels must be very stupid, for they never seem able to understand what it is we want; when they do their best to fulfil our desires to the very letter, we always find some mistake which renders them any thing but what we expected. So it was in the case before us. Gifford had not been married a fortnight, before all the sensible speeches that would or could be made by Miss Rodney, began to ring in his ears with the most appalling distinctness: - then he had a vision of the English College at Rome, with all the scorn and indignation of the ecclesiastical world, the world for which he chiefly lived; - then, almost as disagreeable, were the bad biting jests with which his imagination liberally supplied him, as what would certainly be made at his expense by every body. Twenty times a day he caught himself whispering all the unanswerable reasons that might be urged in defence for what he had done, - but somehow he could never succeed in satisfying a little malicious demon within him. Though he did his best to disguise what was passing in his mind, he was so abrupt and distrait, that Captain Cleveland began to doubt whether, after all, he had done wisely in marrying his darling Zoe to a man not only treble her age, but one who, from his monkish way of life, had contracted many peculiarities in his habits and temper.
As to Zoe herself, - but it may be questioned whether all women, even those who have married for love, would not, in the early days of their matrimony, if the choice were offered to them, gladly return to their former condition, even if it were thenceforth to be irredeemable spinsterhood for life: so poor Zoe's misgivings are not so much to be wondered at. But certainly, never did three people look less like the ideal of mortals crowned with SUCCESS.
They proceeded to Paris immediately after the ceremony, where they remained a few weeks, and arrived in England at the end of August, 17--.
When they drew near to Gifford Castle, Zoe's future home, both she and Gifford looked out for its turrets with anxiety; - she, full of hopes and fears of she scarcely knew what; - he, with some dread of the reception which it might please Miss Rodney to give them. He had only told her in general terms that he had made the daughter of his old friend, Captain Cleveland, his wife, - but he knew that Miss Rodney disliked utterly both naval and military men, believing them to be all reprobates, in virtue of their commission.
Gifford's dread of Miss Rodney is not to be looked at with surprise, nor altogether with contempt - for every body knows how much more influence disagreeable people acquire over us, than pleasant ones; if they are of the silent species, they are like a perpetual nightmare, and if they are of the violent and objurgatory, we dread them like a storm; either way we put ourselves to more pains than we would own, to keep them in their most inoffensive humour.
Miss Rodney was of the silent, sententious genus. On the receipt of Gifford's letter, she had put herself to a little martyrdom of prayers, confessions, and penances, to bring herself to a proper frame of mind to receive the wife whom Gifford had taken, as she conscientiously believed, under a special temptation from the evil one.
Some natural feeling too, there might be, at seeing herself deposed, for she had been a faithful housekeeper to Gifford, and a kind of mother to Clotilde ever since the death of his first wife.
Miss Rodney had, in her youth, been a noted beauty, and a reputed heiress. All her knowledge of the world was derived from six months spent in Paris, just after she left the convent in which she had been educated; - she had been thrown into the gayest circles at the time of the regency, where she was honoured with the notice of that fascinating reprobate, the Duke de Richelieu himself; - no wonder she believed the world to be very wicked indeed. Before, however, she had time to fall into much mischief, she was attacked by the small pox, which destroyed her beauty, but, as she firmly believed, was the means of saving her soul alive.
Almost immediately after her recovery, her father was utterly ruined by the breaking up of Law's banking scheme, and he died of a broken heart in a very little while, leaving his daughter nearly destitute. It was just then that her intimate convent friend, who had married Gifford, hearing of her situation, entreated her to come and live with them, and Gifford Castle had been her home ever since. After the destruction of her beauty, and worldly consideration, Miss Rodney gave herself up to devotion, as the handsomest means de se tirer d'affaires. Her ruling idea became, by degrees, to be self-mortification. Her steady self-denial and innumerable good works, might have challenged respect, had they not arisen more from the desire to benefit her own soul than from any feeling of benevolence to those around her. She farmed out, as it were, the troubles of this life, and endured patiently the many annoyances of her lot, hoping thereby to cover, not only her own expenditure in the way of sins here below, but to lay up a handsome treasure in Heaven, which would enable her to make a respectable figure in the company of the world to come.
To do her justice, she always did thoroughly any disagreeable duty she undertook to perform, and she had prepared her young charge, Clotilde, very judiciously for the step-mother she was to expect. Every thing about the castle was in the most exact order for the reception of the bridal party, and when the carriage stopped at the great entrance, all the servants were drawn up in the hall to receive them.
Gifford was agreeably disappointed. It was like throwing oneself forcibly against a door to break it open, and finding it yield to a touch.
Miss Rodney was in the drawing-room, sitting in an arm chair beside a small table, on which lay an ebony crucifix, a gold snuffbox, and a book of devotions. She was determined not to hide her religion before the heretic new comers. Her dress was more like that of a Benedictine nun than a civilised costume. It consisted of a black stuff gown with one or two shawls, of the same material, pinned over each other; a black silk hood, which nearly covered her tight cambric cap; her powdered hair was turned back over a roll, and exposed in its full, unshaded dimensions, her large flat face, which was so painfully disfigured, that it seemed as if a burn or scald had assisted the ravages of the small pox; her mouth was quite distorted. She rose from her chair as Gifford entered, and tried to utter some proper phrase of congratulation, but burst into tears instead. Gifford had not been prepared for the expression of so much feeling, and his heart smote him for his unkind thoughts of her. She soon recovered herself, however, and received Zoe and Captain Cleveland with a dignity which would have been very dismaying, had not the door at that moment opened, and a slight, fair child entered. She was in black (for since the death of her friend, the old lady could not bear to see colours), her flaxen hair was parted, and fell in natural ringlets over her shoulders, forming a beautiful relief to the deep black dress, and ebony rosary which hung by her side. Gifford flew to embrace her, and presented her to his wife as his only child, Clotilde. Zoe, who had a natural love for children, was delighted, and putting her arms round her, said, "You are to be my little girl, and you must let me love you as well as your papa." Clotilde, who was crimson with emotion, looked at Zoe with a sort of shy astonishment, but she was too gentle to repulse her caresses.
Luncheon was announced, and the whole party repaired to the dining-room, where Zoe gracefully insisted upon the old lady retaining her place at the head of the table, but Miss Rodney was too great a stickler for etiquette to hear of such a thing.
After the repast was over, Zoe retired to what were to be her own apartments, in order to lay aside her travelling-dress; she coaxed Clotilde to accompany her, for she felt anxious to make acquaintance with the timid little being beside her, and her cordial sunny looks were not without their effect. Clotilde looked with amazement on all the treasures of vanity, which the maid was transferring from the trunks and packing-cases to the ponderous chests of drawers, but evidently she was not in the least tempted to possess any thing like them herself she was, however, highly delighted when Zoe gave her a little ivory figure of the Virgin and child, and some coloured prints of different female saints, with a short account of each, written at the bottom.
"Now, Clotilde," said Zoe, "is it possible you can really prefer that trumpery to the beautiful new hat I chose for you myself?"
"Oh, yes, very much!" replied Clotilde. "Aunt Rodney has taught me never to desire the vanities of this world; - it was very good of you to bring me the hat, but I shall ask Father Mulgrave to bless this figure and these prints, and then I can put them into my oratory."
"Will you show me your oratory?" said Zoe.
"Oh, yes, if you will like it,' replied Clotilde, hesitating and blushing. "And you have not seen the rest of the house yet," added she, "I shall like to show you that and the grounds too, if I may."
Zoe assured her that she would rather see them with her than any one else, so they began their progress with Clotilde's oratory. It was a little room in one of the round towers, which stood above a steep cliff covered with wood and all kinds of curious plants, which the regions of Devonshire produce in such abundance. A beautiful view of Porlock Bay and the Bristol Channel was to be seen from the window. The room had once been fitted up as a chapel, but most of the ornaments had been removed to the larger one which Gifford had built when he first came into the property.
"Do you always live here by yourself?" said Zoe, "do you never wish for companions of your own age?"
"Oh no," replied Clotilde, "I am very happy, I wish for nothing, I am very fortunate in being kept from the evil of the world; Aunt Rodney says it is a dreadful place, a dreary wilderness, with the devil, like a roaring lion, going up and down in it. I am so glad papa has brought you here, you will be so much safer."
Zoe smiled, and promised the young saint a beautiful new piece of brocade to make a covering for her altar.
After this Clotilde led Zoe through all the principal rooms of the castle, which was on a very magnificent, but somewhat inconvenient plan. The great drawing-room had a raised daïs at one end, and the ceiling was covered with armorial bearings emblazoned in their proper colours, which took Zoe's fancy much. The furniture was in a style long since obsolete; all the chairs and tables had very thin legs and a great many of them, the hangings were faded, and the carpets scanty, but Zoe did not know much about furniture, and Clotilde declared it to be too magnificent to live amongst every day, and that she much preferred Aunt Rodney's little sitting-room.
When they had gone through all the rooms, Zoe proposed to join the gentlemen out of doors, to look at the grounds.
Gifford Castle was situated about two miles from the village of Culbone, on the confines of Devonshire; the road up to the castle lay through steep cliffs covered with woods, the hills towered above the castle on all sides, except the one open to the sea, to the height of thirteen or fourteen hundred feet, fretted with jutting rocks, and covered with trees of all kinds, grown to an enormous size. The castle itself stood like an eagle's nest in the cleft of a rock, the road to it was barely wide enough for a carriage to pass along; the thick boughs of trees twisting together from each side, formed a canopy, through which the "golden and green light" glanced like waves.
The wall-like rocks were covered with ivy and creeping plants; about half way up, a succession of table lands or terraces had been formed with great labour and expense, and laid out as flower gardens: from the sides of these terraces rose the walls of the old castle, nearly concealed by venerable trees, except at the great east tower, which stood high and naked on the very edge of the precipice, looking down on the sea beneath. The castle had evidently once been a fortress of considerable importance. Zoe was enchanted with all she saw, Gifford thought he had never seen her so charming, and grew quite in a good humour with himself, for the first time since he had been married.
When they rejoined Miss Rodney in the drawing-room, Zoe exerted herself very amiably to conciliate her, for which Gifford felt sensibly obliged. Music was introduced, and Zoe sang a little German hymn so touchingly, that the tears streamed from Clotilde's eyes, and even Gifford and Captain Cleveland were affected; but Miss Rodney was a deaf adder, not to be charmed. She never for a single instant relaxed from the formal ceremonious politeness she had maintained from the first. It does not require a long acquaintance to take a dislike to people - we daguerreotype our characters when we least think of it; and though Zoe had neither said nor done the least thing with which the most fastidious person could find fault, yet Miss Rodney felt by instinct that Zoe neither thought, nor felt, nor believed in a way she approved, and she determined that Clotilde should have as little to do with her beautiful stepmother as possible; indeed, she felt disturbed to see the good understanding that had already commenced between them.
Whilst poor Gifford was pleasing himself with the idea of the advantage Zoe would be to Clotilde, Miss Rodney had come to a very different conclusion.
The next morning she sent to Gifford to request him to give her an audience upon a matter of great importance. Gifford's heart sunk within him; however, he replied that he would wait on Miss Rodney whenever it would best suit her to receive him. The old lady did not make him wait long.
When he was seated in her parlour, he tried to make the interview less formidable by a few cheerful remarks. Now Miss Rodney had carefully abstained from telling him, either by word or look, that she highly disapproved of the wife he had brought home, for that would have been an infringement of her "act of faith, hope, and charity"; but she was not going to indulge him in conversation, as if he had done nothing wrong. She drily cut short his attempts to be agreeable, by telling him that her reason for taking up his valuable time was to inquire whether it were his pleasure that the education of his daughter should remain with her, or pass into the hands of Mrs Gifford. She spoke in that low, even, suppressed tone of voice which, whilst it seems determined to afford no handle against itself, reveals so much inward dissatisfaction. She grew more natural, however, as she pleaded to have Clotilde continued under her own care. She requested it as a favour. "For", continued she, "as it was at my entreaty she was kept from a convent, I am bound to see that her precious soul does not suffer by my human weakness; and I am doubly anxious that she should be kept from all the evil that is in the world."
In vain Gifford tried to point out the advantages that Clotilde would enjoy in being with Zoe. The old lady declared it was a snare of the evil one to wean her heart from religion, and that unhallowed learning would ruin her soul.
There seems to be a sort of magic or free masonry in the name of the devil, by which all who believe in his power try to frighten each other. Gifford did not feel altogether pleased to hear his bride classed among the agents of Satan, still the contradiction to it stuck in his throat; and now that Miss Rodney had taken such high ground, he could not find in his conscience to be disobedient, so he acquiesced, and it was finally settled that Clotilde was to be Miss Rodney's charge as heretofore.
When this was signified to Zoe, she remonstrated warmly, and even penetrated into Miss Rodney's own sanctuary, in the wild hope of persuading an ill-tempered dévote out of a piece of spite, which she had the letter of her conscience for calling a matter of duty. Of course Zoe was obliged to give way, for neither reason nor flattery made any impression on Miss Rodney.
Zoe found her post as mistress of the establishment a complete sinecure, for the old servants were too much accustomed to one regular routine to take any orders from a new comer. She took long walks with Gifford, when he went to visit different parts of the estate. When he was alone it was all very pleasant, for he was fond of making her understand his various plans of improvement; but when the steward was with them, which often happened, they fell into statistical details of draining and manuring, and new modes of ploughing, till Zoe in despair sometimes left them, to go exploring by herself; a proceeding which invariably made Gifford very angry, at what he termed her giddiness and indifference to his interests.
Still he was very fond of her after his own fashion, and never liked to go any where without her, or to have her out of his sight, though it might be that he would not address a word to her for a whole morning together.
We should have told the reader that, soon after his arrival in England, Captain Cleveland had gone into Essex to visit his brother, and Zoe was in great hopes that Uncle Oliver might be induced to return with him.
All the resident country gentry, who lived within a visiting distance, had called on Zoe, as in duty bound, and their visits had been duly returned; advantage had been taken of the moonlight nights to give state dinner parties in her honour.
The people were all dull and stately, as people who live always in the country, and have it on their conscience to keep up their dignity, must needs be; but Zoe was young, and too new to her part of "county lady", not to feel an interest in all that went on; besides, there were races, and assize balls, and assemblies in vague perspective, at which she was to be "patroness". Added to all this, she had to give dinner parties in return, which, we may as well say here, thanks to Miss Rodney's management, went off with great credit, according to the most rigorous etiquette. Fortunately for Zoe's character as a housekeeper, Gifford had laid his commands upon her not to interfere in any thing; he was a thorough Englishman, and had a great dread of any innovation in the economy of his dinner-table.
In this manner the autumn passed away and Gifford's long expeditions with his steward came to an end, to Zoe's great joy. Gifford had formed a plan which completely engrossed him, and allowed Zoe time to follow her old pursuits.
Although Gifford had given up the idea of becoming a priest himself, he was as devoted as ever to the interests of the Church. His present plan was to build a college on his estate, for the education of Catholic youths, and he entered into a correspondence with Rome, to obtain the sanction of the higher powers.
Meanwhile, Captain Cleveland returned home, but unaccompanied by Uncle Oliver, who could not leave his parish. Zoe was terribly shocked at the alteration in her father's appearance. He had taken cold in Essex, which had been succeeded by an ague, from which he seemed to recover, but no sooner had he returned to the castle, than he had a relapse. His constitution seemed altogether breaking up. The medical man who had been summoned from Minehead, gave it as his opinion that he was rapidly breaking; indeed, he continued to grow weaker and weaker throughout the winter. Zoe attended on him indefatigably; one day, early in March, he had been removed to his arm-chair beside the window, and Zoe remarked that he seemed stronger than he had been for some weeks; he shook his head, and said, "I should like to live to see my grandchild, but the will of heaven be done! You must christen it after me, Zoe, if it be a boy; if not, after your mother; and now, my child, whilst I am able, let me say a few words to you. You are not like most other women, Zoe, you are stronger both for good and evil, and it may be that you will be tried. Women like you, seldom pass through life easily. But, my child, whatever temptations assail you, just keep the plain, straightforward, right course, and it will prove wiser in the end, than any scheme you can find out for yourself. And don't fancy that your circumstances are peculiar; people always make mistakes when they fancy themselves exceptions. - Don't juggle with plain right and wrong. Never bring disgrace on the memory of your mother; I leave it with you for a sacred pledge. And now, my darling, I will lie down; this talking tires me sadly. I will go to sleep."
Captain Cleveland never woke out of that sleep, and the next morning Zoe had no more a father.
Zoe's grief was, at first, overwhelming. She was near her confinement; and the only thought that gave her any comfort, was the idea that she should not long survive him.
Losing a parent is like no other grief; it seems to break up the foundation of our resting-place here; other friends and connexions we form for ourselves, but parents are given to us by Providence when we leave that unknown world from which we are called forth; and when they are taken away from us, there seems to remain nothing more to stand between us and death. We may be rich in friends, and their voluntary affection may be very precious to us; but there is a sense of insecurity in it all, when we have lost the only love that was ours of right, and we feel that nothing but natural ties can supply the craving for natural affection. We have no longer a birthright of love in any human heart; they to whom we belong, have been cut away; we have lost the love that came to us with our life, and nothing remaining on earth can replace it.
Zoe continued for many days plunged alternately in a stupor of misery, or else in a paroxysm of grief. She had a sullen pleasure in thinking that the time was drawing near when she should be sure to die; but she was to be undeceived.
However hard mental affliction may be to bear, an attack of fierce bodily pain throws it into the shade, as Zoe found when her day of trial came. There is in acute bodily pain, something that rouses all one's energies to grapple with it; there is no instance on record of a person committing suicide either in a paroxysm of bodily suffering, or to escape the most severe surgical operation.
Zoe was half bewildered at the fierce reality of pain. "What, is all this horror of horrors a law of Nature that cannot be altered!" she exclaimed, between gasps of prayers for mercy, which she felt was mockery. It was not till after her child was born, and she lay feeble and helpless, that she had leisure to meditate on the strange capability of enduring for hours, suffering which once she would have imagined must quickly end in death. Zoe wept in utter weakness, not for herself, but at the thought of all the suffering and agony so many millions of women had borne before her. Her eyes seemed suddenly opened to all the misery there was in the world; she realised with a terrible and morbid vividness the varied forms of human suffering; poor girl! the very hospitals and operation-rooms seemed to open before her eyes, and disclose their secrets. Hitherto she had never thought about evil, - she had not wondered at it; - now, it rose before her in all its awful mystery. She brought to her recollection all she had been taught, all she had read of the well compacted plausible theories by which men, living at ease, and in health, have complacently endeavoured to reconcile and account for every thing. She turned for comfort to the religion she had been taught, but it seemed cold and forced, and to have no tangible meaning. The prayers and praises that were prescribed by all forms of religion, seemed to her only the aspirations of crushed slaves under the hand that lay heavy upon them. Wherever she turned for refuge, she beheld only dimness of anguish; and driven into darkness, she exclaimed in the frenzy of her soul, "Where is the All-powerful, the All-merciful, in whom we are taught to believe?"
When she recollected that even according to the Christian faith, all the complicated miseries of this life, to the greater number, are but the "beginning of sorrows", to be carried to a horrible perfection through all eternity after death - the calm, apathetic belief of Miss Rodney, and the placid acquiescence in this tremendous doctrine by the gentle, unruffled Clotilde, roused her hatred and disbelief in all religion, almost to insanity. She wondered how the purblind old confessor, believing all this as he professed to do, could rest contented in the midst of a world devoted to such horrible torment, thinking he had done his part towards saving it, by his mumbled prayers, his days of abstinence, and his droning sermon once a week; she was astonished that all living creatures did not realise their condition as she did. But as her strength increased, this morbid exaltation passed away. Her attention was diverted to matters more immediately pressing upon herself. Her little boy had an attack of croup when he was three months old, which left him very delicate; he was subject also to violent convulsions, which kept her in constant anxiety, and scarcely allowed her to leave him day or night. Added to this, before twelve months were over, she was confined a second time, and was long reduced to a deplorable state of weakness. The constant watchfulness which both her children required, and the bad nights and broken rest, seriously undermined her health. Gifford feared she was going into a consumption, of which there seemed many symptoms; the medical men recommended change of air both for Zoe and the children. Gifford, anxious to have further advice, and also, if the truth must be told, rather weary of the monotony of his matrimonial life, determined to leave the castle, and reside for some time first at Bath, and afterwards in London. The arrangements were speedily made. Clotilde was to be left with Miss Rodney at the castle, and in due time Gifford, Zoe, and the children, set off on their journey.
All this time Everhard had been at college, completely engrossed in his studies; the days passed over one so like another to the outward eye, that the very nature of time seemed altered, and to bring neither chance nor change; all its work was being done within.
Everhard had become remarkable for talent amongst the most able, and for unwearied perseverance, more than all. A few extracts from his private memorials, will save a great deal of description. The first extract is dated about a year after his entrance into college.
"There are times when the heart is opened in written confession as it never is, never could be, to the dearest or most sympathising friend. It is not sympathy that we require at such times, it is to learn that which is lying hid in our own heart. The thoughts that oppress us have not yet taken a shape, but they are come too near the surface to be longer suppressed. In such a condition is my own mind at this moment; a fire burns within me, and compels me to utterance - but there is no friend to whom I could speak.
"Of all the field of human attainment that lies open before me, that of metaphysical philosophy is the only one that has charms for me. It promises to open all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I revel in the exercise of the fine-spun questions of the schools, my very senses seem quickened by the subtle dexterity and minute investigation they require. It is a mental gymnasium in which the gloriously gifted of the gods of old rejoiced to try their strength.
"Vague, dreamy feelings after beauty! What are they but childish plays? Graceful in youth, and not without a certain weak and ineffective beautifulness, but can Truth in all her majesty be compelled to disclose herself thereby? For the mind of a man aspiring to attain to the full measure of its stature, what is there to be desired or strived after but strength? Formerly I lived in my feelings, and used to value sensation and emotion beyond all things; now, any appeal to my passions would disgust me; all that cannot be proved, or give a reason for itself, I despise utterly."
"How deeply do I regret that the order of Jesuits is abolished; it would have been the height of my ambition to be one of the body. They alone seem to have had the full comprehension of how to grapple with men; they had a knowledge of all the mysteries of the human heart, and learned how to turn it about whithersoever they listed. Look at their schools; they turned out men able to make use of what they knew, not pedantic schoolboys, crushed under the weight of useless knowledge. There was something almost oppressive to the imagination in their mode of using their power, working together as one man towards the same end. Their motto was obedience to their head - their secret was obedience, and their success was the result of it. What a precision and certainty was there in all they undertook! To this hour the idea of a Jesuit impresses me with the idea of a darker and stronger power than I can express!
"He that would learn, must be obedient in all things, must empty his mind of self; it is the pressure from within, that prevents our seeing that which really is. We contract ourselves together; if we would really lay ourselves open to the influences around us, knowledge would spring up within us, and we should be bathed in an atmosphere of truth. If we were not darkened by conceit and self-fancies, we should be transparent, and the light would shine into us: we should open our eyes and see the world of God lying everywhere around us."
"Become as little children,' - what meaning is there in that phrase! We must give ourselves up with meekness, to receive the instruction of those who teach us, or the light of wisdom can in no wise arise in our hearts. It seems to me that there is a sort of dullness, a simple-hearted, unambitious, but genial slowness, which may at first sight look like stupidity, but which in reality is far more hopeful, more capable of being transmuted into wisdom, than that adroit, brilliant cleverness which plays dexterously with the points and superficies of difficulties, making them puzzles and cramboes, to catch, not wisdom, but praise and applause, like that bestowed on conjurors and rope-dancers.
"I would not be unjust; - it may be that I despise this quickness and dexterity because it is not mine, - but it baffles and distracts me. I get no good at all from such men, - they make a sparkling light on the surface of a question, to leave all beneath in blackness of darkness."
"I blame others for being full of themselves, but am not I full of self also? Do I not feel it as a mill-stone round my neck, impeding my progress, and making base all I strive to obtain? Self! self! - the eternal presence of myself! Seek what I will, go where I will - self creeps like a leprosy eating into my soul! I know that I am a worm - that I am less than nothing; and when I contemplate the greatness which the heaven of heavens cannot contain, I know that I am an atom in creation, of no use, of no consequence to any earthly being, and yet I am absorbed in myself. I feel this wretched, worthless self, is more to me than all the wonders of the universe beside. I have an anxiety for its welfare that I cannot feel for any other thing. Why can I not look upon myself as I really am? I read books of devotion - I read the expressions of self-abasement, uttered by the holiest of saints and martyrs, individuals by the side of whom I am utterly worthless, - but I cannot realise these expressions, though they befit me far more than they who first used them! Oh, if I might but attain the grace of humility! If I might be utterly emptied of my self-love, - so that I could think honestly and soberly of myself as a mere tool to do any work the Almighty may be pleased to appoint for me, - oh, for this I would willingly and joyfully sacrifice all hopes of fame, power, success of any kind, that it may be in me to obtain. Oh, to be clothed with humility!"
The next entry is a year and a half later.
"What is meant by the pleasures of sense? What are those gross desires we are enjoined to subdue? It is not these things that separate me from God. I cannot understand the sort of need the saints of old felt for their savage penances, for their seclusion in rocks and caves, where they let themselves be wet with the dew from heaven, and the hair of their bodies grow like the skins of beasts. A sneaking, grovelling sensuality will eat into the heart, taking all virtue and strength out of it; but there must be a secret clinging to the accursed thing, if such mechanical aids are needed to cleanse the soul. There must be something gross and grovelling ingrained, when sensation is required to stifle sensuality. Unless the heart is in earnest to know no pollution, unless the determination to be pure springs up from the very centre of our being, there is no hope for us.
"That morbid beauty, the half sensual half intellectual guise which emotion takes, filling the heart with a luxurious melancholy, is the beauty of the charnel-house - a beauty not purified with life, but tending to dissolution, its form speedily to be effaced, and its beauty to be trodden out into slime and miry clay."
"Life! What is life? for what end was it bestowed on man? This question has been haunting me of late. I cannot answer it myself. Was it given that the holder of it might be happy? This mysterious and magnificent endowment for such a poor and impotent conclusion? It cannot be, for even I myself can scorn the idea of happiness. 'Majestic pain', an earnest labour, is far rather to be desired; they are indeed blessed, beyond happiness, who have a task given them to do, and who can work, not having their ownselves as the end and centre of their task, but who are willing to spend and be spent for the accomplishment of their labour.
"Let all desire for my own ease, for my own consequence, perish! Let me only find a work worthy to be done, that I may be able to press onward to the mark of my high calling. Let there not be a single feeling of my heart kept back from the perfect surrender I desire to make of myself unto Thee, oh my God! I desire only to be obedient, to do the work thou mayest appoint for me, to be as one with Thee!"
"Pleasure! happiness! There is an austere and majestic beauty in the abnegation of passionate and sensual emotion, which no indulgence of them can bestow, a keenness of perception, a godlike power. Genius is in its nature ascetic, the master and not the slave of passion. That genius which takes its rise in passionate sensibility, and the strength of indulged passion, has a certain earthly beauty indeed; but it leads to sickness and satiety. The glorious colours left by the departing sun, fade away into dullness and darkness.
"There is, if people only knew it, a voluptuousness in the subjection of passion, in the being king over one's own heart, of which they who yield to temptation never dream. It is like the perfect health which follows the rough training of a prize-fighter."
"They who cling to worldly prosperity as if it were the one thing needful to be desired after, who consider 'what they shall eat, what they shall drink, and wherewithal they shall be clothed' as the great problem that life was given them to resolve, - who look on their powers of intellect as the tools which are to obtain for them a portion like Benjamin's, seven times greater than that of their brethren, - these, and such as these, are destined to be servants and slaves to those who can renounce and trample on things deemed so precious. They are the kings of the earth, and in their ranks are found all who stand eminent above their fellows; 'whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,' it is achieved by those alone who belong to this class.
"Strong passions to teach the secrets of the human heart, and a strong will to hold them in subjection, these are the keys of the kingdom of this world and the next."
The reader will be able to gather from the above disjointed extracts, the prevailing tone of Everhard's mind during the first period of his college life. Neither his moral nor intellectual powers had come to maturity; but men change less than is imagined; their after life is only a kaleidoscope combination of the elements of their character at the period of adolescence. No event worthy of record occurred till about a year after the period of our last extract. When Everhard had been five years an inmate of the college, a letter from his brother came, which we shall lay before the reader, as it contained news of some interest.
Everhard lost no time in sending a letter to his brother, full of affectionate congratulations; he also conveyed a mark of consideration to his fair sister elect, in the shape of a splendid cameo necklace, though Louis, with a lover's pre-occupation, had neglected to inform him of the family name of the fair Marian.
He was glad that in his home things were going on so happily, but it was a happiness he regarded in his own mind with something like contempt. We make some further extracts from his private memoranda, and the reader can judge for himself.
"What a poor thing all the happiness of this world is! We often feel disposed to envy a man for being happy, though at the same time we should for ourselves utterly despise the thing that renders him so.
"My brother is going to be married: he seems overflowing with gentle pleasure and egotism: ever good-natured, he shows his disposition to make every one else who comes across his path a sharer in his happiness, that he may see nothing out of keeping; - but he can enter into no feeling unconnected with himself, - he can see nothing but himself, and the fair creature he has chosen for his bride. Has Heaven bestowed everlasting souls on men, and sent them upon earth for no better purpose than to marry and be given in marriage? Is the circle of man's aims and duties comprised in living in a country mansion, and doing the duties of hospitality to neighbours as full of conventionalities as themselves? to hunt, to fish, to preserve game, to legislate on turnpike roads, to send poor vagabonds to the stocks, - and after a life of sensual trivialities, to die, and lie under a painted monument? Is it the highest duty of which a woman is capable, to see that her house is well swept, her dinners well ordered, her servants well trained, and her children kept beautifully dressed? and yet, is not this the sum of what the majority consider life was given them to accomplish? - do all accomplish even this? True, there is in the world much more wanting to be done - but is it the people leading a secular life who will do it? The cares of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the inner life out of them.
"What is there that really deserves to have a life spent in doing it? What is there that will not prove in the end, 'Spending money for that which is not bread, and labour for that which satisfieth not?'
"I can feel no interest in the things of this world. How daily does my thankfulness increase, that I and my labour will be absorbed into the Church. What is there on earth to be compared to her?
"Is the love men bear to their wives and children to be compared to that which I feel for the Church? Oh, I feel, I know that I have it in me to devote to her all the energies of my nature. I only know that I am a man of like passions with other men, by the intensity of my love for the Church. She is not an abstraction, as the profane deem, but a living and glorious creature. What object should I have in all my strivings after wisdom and knowledge, if all were not for her sake? it is she who gives a meaning and a value to all I attempt.
"Even infidels are struck with the fascination of the Church, which, terrible in her beauty, stretches her influence from age to age, 'from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same'. As vitality pervades, and takes the shape of the visible universe, so does the religion which came down from God take the form of the Catholic Church, to make itself visible to mortal eyes. She works on, like the operations of the natural world, moving all resources, no matter how distant or how complicated, making them all tend to the furtherance of the same object: all under one wise and perfect governance, working unseen, without noise or confusion, and only recognised in the clear and perfect result: never wearying, nor stopping to wonder or glory over what has already been achieved, but continuing age after age in the same strong, grave, silent course, going on from strength to strength, as unsusceptible of change as the perpetual hills, or the everlasting framework of the earth itself. It is no wonder that 'nations come to her, and kings bow down before her!'
"What then must be her influence over the hearts of those honoured to be her servants? destined to be absorbed as living stones into integral portions of her glory and might!"
Our next extract is dated a year after the preceding one, and will serve to mark the change which was gradually working in his mind.
"It is well for me that my love for the Church, as an institution, is so strong and engrossing: for the love of religion for its own sake, which I had as a child, has of late been greatly modified.
"Four years of theological study have changed its aspect. From being a sacred and mysterious object of belief, it has come to be a collection of doctrines to be disputed, to be stated and proved by premises, to be handled, in short, like any other subject. The foundations on which its external evidences rest, have been laid bare to my eyes; they are to be defended against attacks; there are doubtful points to be skilfully covered, there is defective evidence to be supplied by elaborate argument. A habit of metaphysical subtlety has for ever stripped off the bloom of reverence and awe with which I formerly regarded religion, and it can never come back to me.
"Religion has no evidences independent of the Church; therefore the Church, as an artistical working out, an embodiment of vague doctrines, a gigantic frame work, whereby religion is made available to the wants of men, is all in all. We cannot be left desolate, not entirely orphans, whilst the Church remains with us."
Some months later.
"A strange state is coming upon me more and more. Is it that they who serve at the altar, are to have less faith in the oracles than they who worship in the outer court? My religion seems slipping out of my grasp; the more dim and impalpable that becomes, the more do I cling to the most holy and visible Church, that if so be I may merge myself into her, and by passionate clinging to her, I may press out all disbelief.
"I lay hold upon her with the desperation of a man, who by that grasp alone is suspended over the abyss. If my belief and trust in the Church give way, then indeed I shall fall, and go, I know not whither. Tomorrow is my ordination - I have passed my final examination - I have received compliments on my theological knowledge! Oh mockery, to buy theology at the price of religion.
"I will think no more on these things - After to-morrow I am a vowed servant of the Church - I will do her work faithfully - I have no right to my own judgment - I will make an 'act of obedience', and submit that, along with all my other gifts to her will. I will stay myself upon her, and will she not as a tender mother save me from this horror of great darkness, that is coming upon me?"
We find by the record of the college books that, on the 17th of April, 17--, Everhard Burrows was ordained a priest. The same day he was offered a professorship in the college: it was a great honour for one so young, and he gladly accepted it, as his inclination led him to prefer a college life to any more active or public career. Eight years had passed over between his entrance into the college, and becoming a professor in it.
Gifford, Zoe, and the two children, with the train of misses, ladies' maids, and other servants, proceeded at once to Chelsea, where Gifford had hired a handsome and commodious house, ready furnished, in a stately row fronting the river, and dignified by the name of the "Manor House". There was an entrance by a glass door into a large hall, paved with black and white marble, which opened on the opposite side by another glass door into a garden of very spacious dimensions for the neighbourhood of London.
Zoe was delighted with the situation, and quite scandalised the sedate Gifford by the eagerness with which she searched out all the traditions connected with the neighbouring localities, and which he declared were not fit to come to the ears of a respectable woman. But the current of Zoe's taste having for the moment set in for secret memoirs and scandalous gossip, his remonstrances were of no avail. One day he solemnly committed to the flames a choice French copy of De Grammont's Memoirs, which Zoe had that morning discovered in an old book shop, and which unfortunately fell in his way as he was waiting for her to come down to dinner. The flames were curling round it when Zoe entered hastily, exclaiming, "Dear me, Mr Gifford, what a terrible smell of burning there is here! Has any thing caught fire?"
"Nothing, madam," replied Gifford severely, "but what ought to have been burned long since by the common hangman; how often am I to declare that I will not have such books in my house?" At the same time he thrust the unfortunate book still deeper into its flaming bed.
Zoe was terribly annoyed, but as she saw there was no possibility of rescuing her book, she did not go into a useless passion; after a minute's silence, she said, "Well, I see you are determined, I shall make what you Catholics call an 'act of obedience' - but you will set the chimney on fire - do let the butler carry it into the kitchen, and let it finish burning there; the lower regions are the fittest locality for such a sacrifice."
Gifford, who had hardened himself in the expectation of a torrent of reproaches, finding both his wrath and his wisdom turned aside, looked a little confused, and perceiving too, as she said, that he had well nigh set the chimney on fire, he told the butler, who just then entered, to see to it, and walked silently into the next room to dinner.
Zoe did not once allude to what had passed, nor showed any discomposure; and by her self-control prevented a quarrel, in which even a good woman might have thought herself justified. However, we are bound to confess that she bought another copy of the same work the very first opportunity, and of which she took better care.
Gifford had, in his own way, both ambition and vanity; as a Catholic he could not enter parliament, which he would dearly have liked, being strongly addicted to making long expositions of his own views and opinions; he was a sensible, sound judging man, only very ponderous, but that did not prevent his being regarded as the leader of the Catholic party in England. His great object in visiting London, was to bring about the means of introducing a Catholic mission into Devonshire, and to obtain the requisite sanction for erecting a college on his estate. His annual income was large, and the economy which had marked the administration of Miss Rodney, enabled him both to support a handsome establishment in London, and to contribute largely to his favourite project.
All the leading Catholic families called on Zoe as soon as she arrived at Chelsea, and the Duchess of N---- offered to present her at the next drawing-room. Gifford was much gratified, and to Zoe's great delight, so far from making any objection, had the family diamonds reset, and made her a very handsome present, in addition to the sum he usually allowed her, to meet all extra expenses; and, as he was in the way of being generous, he selected an elegant "esclavage"; an ornament in those days much coveted and fashionable, gallantly saying it was to make amends for his rudeness in burning her book.
Zoe was, as we have told the reader many times, eminently beautiful; but as the costume of that day is not in accordance with our present notions of the becoming, we shall not describe her court-dress, but only declare that it was in the most approved fashion, and of the most costly material, and that she looked lovely in spite of it. Her appearance at court caused more sensation than any thing that had occurred since the presentation of the two fair Gunnings. In the evening the French ambassador (a personal friend of Gifford's) gave a large assembly, at which Zoe reappeared more radiant than in the morning; all the most noted men of the day crowded to be presented to her, and her chaperone, the Duchess of N----, could hardly keep the peace among so many suitors for her hand during the dance. However, the Earl of March led her out for the first minuet, - and the company climbed upon chairs and tables to see how she would acquit herself. The old duchess, who since the time of Zoe's first coming up to town, had seemed to consider her as her peculiar protégée, had strongly impressed upon her the claims of courtesies and carriage; Zoe, feeling by no means clear of her proficiency, had taken a few lessons from a celebrated dancing-master of the day, and though her skill was not altogether transcendent, yet, thanks to her natural grace and beauty, her success was decisive; it would have warmed the heart of the master of her old dancing-school to see the honour she did to his instructions. When she was led back to her seat, the old duchess graciously commended her, for she felt Zoe's success partly her own property. The Earl of March kept his station beside her chair to prevent any other person making himself too agreeable. Zoe for the first time listened to the conversation of a well-bred man of the world, and was astonished to find, that without a single wise or even witty remark, it was so thoroughly agreeable; however, all the conversation she heard that night had a peculiar charm, for she had never in all her life before been among people who admired her. The sudden burst from freezing indifference to the tropical heat of insane adulation, was enough to have turned a stronger head. Possibly, had Zoe known how very thankful people in general, fine people especially, are for any thing new or piquant to flavour the monotony of their lives, she might have been less grateful for the interest she excited. After the cotillions were over, the earl bounded up to one of the card-tables, and addressing a heavy-looking individual who seemed half asleep over his cards, said, "Come with me, and I will introduce you to her; - get somebody to hold your cards, they cannot have worse luck than with yourself, so open your eyes, and come along to look at a miracle."
"Pooh," replied the other, rising lazily from the table; "she is like the rest of women, I suppose - they are all variations on the same air - who is this you are talking about?"
"Why, good heavens, where have you been not to have heard of the new Venus who has come to visit us, nor how we have been witching the room with our noble dancing? where have you put your senses?"
"Whilst you have been in the seventh heaven, I have been in inferno, losing my money, - so how should I know any thing about you. Is that her by that old dowager?"
By this time they had made their way through the crowd, and March presented his companion to Zoe, who recognised the name as belonging to one of the most noted men of the time. Though she said little, her eyes gave him a flattering welcome, - but the announcement of supper gave her no time for conversation; soon afterwards, Gifford, who had been prevented coming before, made his appearance to take her home. His relationship to the new beauty was quickly known, and caused many remarks on their incongruous assortment.
"The idea of that little ugly fellow, old enough for her father, being the husband of that lovely creature! mais tant pis pour lui."
"My dear March, don't talk so loud, it is of no use to rebel against Providence. She is married any way, her husband holds her by divine right of legitimacy, which does not often sanction you; it is cheering to see virtue rewarded elsewhere than in copy-books."
"Is she not magnificent?" said the earl, paying no attention to his friend's discourse. "Since the Countess of Coventry, I never saw so lovely a woman; but she is a coquette au naturel, and Heaven help the man who falls in love with her! Ah, George," continued he, "if I had only your reputation now, I might present myself boldly before her to-morrow."
"Well," replied the other, "I can only say to you as somebody did to his son, who wished to be thought a great man, 'really be one'; so if you want a reputation, deserve it".
"Merci, non!" cried the other, laughing; "a reputation is a means, not an end, with a wise man; but see, my divinity is preparing to depart. I must not lose my privilege of attending her to the carriage." The graceful profligate moved off.
"Ay," cried a cynical-looking elderly man, who stood near, "you have met with your match. That woman is a thorough coquette, in spite of her engaging openness; she may have a heart, but it is out of one man's power to touch it. Heaven help any man, if she does chance to fall in love with him; he will have his hands full; we shall see the days of Dido and Cleopatra over again. But for beauty, she is nothing to the Countess of Coventry."
The current of Zoe's popularity had too strongly set in to be turned aside; and when she came down to breakfast the next morning, she was installed in the fashionable world as the recognised beauty of the season.
Henceforth, for some weeks, Zoe's life was one scene of brilliant success, amusement, admiration, and dissipation, which for a time dazzled her, and occupied every moment; but she was not among people likely to do her any good, or to obtain any permanent influence over her. Women gifted like Zoe often present instances of aberration from the standard of female rectitude. It is not that high talents are in their own nature inimical to the delicate and refined virtues, but they require, in proportion, a stronger and wiser guidance than they often get. The motives that influence the generality of women, do not touch women of high powers; they do not feel the obligations of those small moralities, the fear of "being singular", of rendering themselves the subject of "remark", which wholesomely qualify the love of admiration and display, in the generality of female breasts. They have more energy of character than is absorbed by the routine of duties women are generally called on to perform, and they have no channel in which their superfluous activity can be expended. Women seldom have their powers equalised and balanced by a thorough education, so it is not wonderful that one gifted with more strongly marked strength of character than the generality should have somewhat of the eccentric and irregular in her actions. Her strength resembles the undirected activity of a child, much promised, and nothing accomplished with it. Besides, women cannot, like men, correct their false and crude notions by intercourse with the actual world; from their natural position, they are prevented taking a broad view of things as they really exist. When a woman steps beyond her own domestic circle, into whatever scene she goes she is the subject of a social fiction: she is treated as a visitor, not as an inhabitant: therefore what a woman calls a "knowledge of the world" is only a fresh source of bewilderment, which, besides being in the highest degree undesirable, is confined to a coarse exaggeration of scenes, which undoubtedly do take place, but which lose their truth by being detached from the course of natural circumstances under which they occur. Women of the class we are describing have often a morbid curiosity for this kind of enlightenment; but it leads them no nearer to their object, viz., something to fill the void in their hearts and intellects. WHO are the only class of women who know the world best, who see it and mix with it in all its hard and appalling realities?
But this is a digression from the apology we were about to offer for the eccentricity which generally marks women of strong energetic character, who chafe against the harmless conventionalities which are a law to their weaker or better broken-in companions, whom they keep in a constant state of discomfort and fear, lest discredit should thereby be brought upon them. Such women are not wisely treated; if they were judged more kindly, and not looked upon with ill-natured criticism, ever on the watch to sneer and find fault, they would not only be saved from much heart-burning and bitterness of feeling (for no woman is insensible to blame whether deserved or not), but eccentricity would be kept from growing into faults of a graver kind, and they might mature into genial and valuable characters, who in times of trouble and distress would be able to support and guide those of a more fragile nature than themselves. Then would the strong sister amply repay to the weaker one the trusting forbearance she showed towards peculiarities she could neither understand nor sympathise with; at such seasons (and they are not of rare occurrence) would the weak ever find reason to rejoice that she had not fretted the strong-minded with petty unkindness; nor driven her out into the highways of the world, where she must have perished for "lack of knowledge". Zoe had no one to judge her kindly, not a single friend to deal honestly by her, and her eyes were not open to the real destitution as to every thing really to be desired in which she was living. Her life was divided between admiration and detraction; she was an object of curiosity and speculation to all, of friendly interest and regard to none. Her most extravagant admirers were those who said the bitterest things of her; no one understood her; her strong and undirected powers of mind had taken their bent at random, had struck root wherever they chanced to find soil. She had much crude information on many subjects about which women seldom trouble themselves, and was profoundly ignorant of the conventionalities of etiquette; yet it was a graceful ignorance redeemed from all appearance of niaserie by a coquetry which might have supplied a whole generation of the sex at once; with quick, artist-like perceptions of the beautiful, and strong passionate emotions gleaming up through all she said and did; but lying far down below the surface, so deep that they defied all the influences around her to rouse them up. For she was true to her own nature, and required something as strong, true, and integral as herself to move her, and she found no mate in the scenes around her; her innate strength kept her from contamination in spite of the handsome, well-bred libertines who surrounded her, and whose brilliancy was like the phosphorescent light streaming from corruption; yet she had an inordinate curiosity to see things and people as they really were, to know the world as women seldom have an opportunity of knowing it, and this kept her from being revolted at a tone of conversation, and a style of confidence, which men seldom feel inclined to address to a woman whose virtue keeps them in awe.
There was a constant speculation going on about her. She puzzled every one; those whom her peculiar style of beauty, and singularly tolerant manners, inspired with the most audacious hopes, were supremely astonished to find they made no way with her, though not a word of sentimental morality ever escaped her lips. She would talk brilliantly, and in a style which startled even the least severe women of society, and caused what they were pleased to call a blush, in the cheeks of women whose divorces and liaisons have become matters of history. Yet with all this, and married to a man whom she confessedly cared very little about, she was faithful in thought, word and deed - "the heart of her husband did safely trust in her" - and with reason. She was a devoted mother to her children, and never for an instant were either their comforts or their education neglected through her dissipation. Yet no one gave her credit for this, her correctness was never set down to her virtue, only to her being difficult to please.
Gifford was too full of his Catholic mission and his new college to pay her much attention. He was satisfied if she went into public, when he could not attend her, under the auspices of the old Catholic Duchess of N---- , a worthy and thoroughly respectable old lady, who continued her countenance to Zoe, in spite of imprudences which would have consigned any one else to the extreme penalties of female reprobation, because she hoped to convert her.
The singular Lady Elizabeth Craven, better known afterwards as Margravine of Anspach, was her great ally. Topham Beauclerk, who had married the divorced Lady Bolingbroke, and of whom Dr Johnson said, "that his mind was all virtue, and his body all vice", was perhaps the only one of the brilliant circle that surrounded her, who really did her justice; at first, he made some pretension to being her lover, but he soon had sense to see that she was not the sort of woman he had imagined, and he had the magnanimity not to resent his want of success.
He stood up for her on all occasions, both among his own set at White's, and in private companies; he did his best to check all scandalous reports about her, and did her all the good in his power. An anomalous sort of friendship sprung up between them; he prided himself on making her his companion, and telling her all the scandalous news of the day; he gave her a great deal of good advice, and told her many truths that women seldom hear, and must have perilled the peculiar divinity which "doth hedge" a woman, before they can be in a position to find of use. He was at any rate a most fascinating companion, and introduced to Zoe all the people worth knowing of his acquaintance.
George Selwyn, as famous for his kindly disposition as for his wit, went a great deal to her house, and she had the honour of knowing Dr Johnson during the last year of his life. The following letter, written by Zoe to her Uncle Oliver, will give a better idea of her character and way of life than many pages of description. Our most indifferent actions have the impress of individuality; we may convey an impression not to be effaced for years, by an unconsidered word, a gesture, nay, by our very silence, and we, all the time, unconscious of having done or said any thing at all: it is never by our deliberate actions that we persuade others to estimate us.
One morning, not long after the date of the above letter, Gifford entered his wife's dressing-room. She was lounging upon a settee at the open window, sometimes looking at the boats which were passing gaily up and down, and occasionally on the pages of a book she held in her hand. A little table covered with a dainty breakfast stood beside her. The room was full of elegant trifles, and perfumed like the Temple of Spring itself, by a large vase of choice flowers that stood on a marble slab. The chintz curtains were blown to and fro by the breeze from the river, and the morning sun glanced merrily on the radiant colours of a paroquet which was screaming in its gilt cage for the allowance of muffin its mistress usually bestowed upon it at breakfast. All looked so fresh and pretty, that Gifford paused for a moment to admire it. At length he said, "I am come to beg some breakfast and a short tête-à-tête with you, for you are so répandue in society, there is no finding you alone any other part of the day." Zoe smiled graciously, and having quieted her paroquet, proceeded to do the honours of the breakfast-table.
Gifford had evidently something on his mind which he wished to say, but did not know how to introduce. Zoe did not assist him by expressing the smallest curiosity; at length, when he had finished his last cup of chocolate, and Zoe evidently had no intentions of remaining any longer over breakfast, he mustered courage and began, "You are now such a grand lady that I hardly dare ask your concurrence in a plan I have long entertained."
"Is it about that everlasting college?" said Zoe.
"No, madam, it is not. It is about a niece of mine, the daughter of my only sister, who has just finished her education, and is now of an age to be introduced into society. She is coming to London next Tuesday, and will come here for a short visit; if you do not find her very disagreeable, I should much like her to reside here permanently, and to find a home with us; but I am far from wishing to force her upon you if you feel any objection to receiving her."
"But", said Zoe, almost bewildered, "who is she? Where does she come from, and what does she come here for so suddenly?"
"There is nothing sudden in the matter," said Gifford. "When my sister died, I promised her that when Marian was of an age to leave her convent, she should find a home with me. She has been for the last few months with her father's relations, but they are not persons with whom she can advantageously remain. She is some years younger than yourself, but you need not fear a rival in point of beauty."
Zoe made a scornful mouth, and shrugging her shoulders, said, "Of course if you wish it, I can make no objection; but girls of that age are a great annoyance. I dare say she will not be half so nice as dear little Clotilde, whom that old Miss Rodney keeps shut up in her stifling room. I wonder how you can leave the poor child by herself, without any companions. I think your niece would do her good if she went to keep her company; but we must make the best of her. I am sure I don't know where to put her, we have so little spare room, unless she takes Mrs Brown's room, and Mrs Brown must move up to the attics along with the rest of the servants. The Duchess of Devonshire's ball is next Thursday, so she had better come directly, that I may have time to get her a decent dress for the occasion."
"You are very kind, my dear," replied Gifford; "perhaps you will write to her yourself, and tell her she will be welcome; the poor girl is very timid."
"Ugly and awkward that means, I suppose," thought Zoe, but she did not say so, she merely said, "Well, leave me her address." The hair-dresser was now announced as waiting - and the husband, quite satisfied with his success, retired like a wise man.
Zoe was as good as her word, she wrote a very kind letter, and on the day appointed, sent the carriage to meet her. When she arrived, Zoe ran down stairs with some anxiety to see what she was like. A fair, slight girl was standing in the drawing-room beside the window; she was not exactly pretty, but there was a pleasing expression in her blue eyes, and her soft auburn hair fell in large curls round her neck.
"Thank Heaven!" thought Zoe as she kissed her, "the girl is not vulgar at least. I can do with any thing but that. Now, my dear," said she aloud, "come with me and rest yourself whilst we get better acquainted. You will see your uncle at dinner-time. Is your luggage all gone up-stairs? We must lose no time in seeing after the ball dress, but we will talk whilst you take some refreshment."
Marian Gifford was in every respect the reverse of her brilliant aunt; she was a gentle and romantic girl, not more averse to the prospect of dissipation, than the generality of girls at sixteen. She made her début at the Duchess of Devonshire's much to her own satisfaction, in a robe of white paduasoy, brocaded with silver. Zoe's acquaintance, anxious to find favour in her sight, vied in paying attention to her protégée, who, in consequence, had a great choice of partners.
Marian had a very tender heart, which was quite at her own disposal, and very much at the service of the first applicant - but unfortunately, she was not in the way of lawful lovers. Few, or none, among Zoe's set, were marrying men. The civilities that were shown to the niece, were for the sake of the aunt, who monopolised all the attention and admiration that any one had to bestow.
Poor Marian was not much to be envied; she went certainly into the best company, and had a sufficiently large allowance of balls, plays and masquerades, to have excited the envy of any Miss Larolles (vide 'Cecilia'); still Marian, after the first week or two, did not find much enjoyment; for though balls, and plays, and public breakfasts, may sound very gay and very dissipated, still there is nothing more flat and insipid when one has neither a special lover nor general admiration to give them a zest and significance. Marian found herself very dull, and not being a metaphysician, could not account for it.
She was thoroughly affectionate, and at first tried to be romantic about her beautiful aunt, but Zoe was too unimpressible ever to see it. She took great pains to make Marian understand that she must not make herself ridiculous by believing a man meant any thing by his civillest speeches, unless he made her an offer in plain words. She told her so many instances of men amusing themselves by flirting with young girls, without the remotest intention of marrying them, that poor Marian began to believe that a genuine lover was a blessing that only existed in novels.
Zoe, however, was very kind to her in her own way, took her everywhere, supplied her plentifully with dresses and trinkets, and never, by word or look, reminded her of her dependent position.
Zoe was too high-minded and generous to do any thing that showed a want of consideration; - but she was also too much occupied with her own affairs to take an interest in a girl of Marian's age; a real English girl as she called her; so poor Marian had no one to love her, and there was no one, except the children, to whom her love was of the slightest importance. The two children, indeed, were never easy when away from Cousin Marian, who would play with them for hours together, and would let them harness her to their carriage, and never weary of "being their horse"; still the heart of a girl of sixteen requires something more romantic to satisfy it.
At length, whatever Power it may be that has the office of rewarding the virtue there is going in the world, seemed disposed to acquit itself towards Marian.
She one night accompanied Zoe to a literary reunion at Mrs Montagu's. At first she had felt very much disposed to repine at the arrangement, because she wanted to go to the opera instead, as had first been arranged. We never know what is best for us.
She sat crushed into one corner of a sofa, listening with all her might to the speeches that were spoken by each one with laboured sprightliness, as a tribute to his own reputation for wit. She wondered in her ignorance why the same things could not have been said in a straightforward way, thinking, though she could not have put in words, that if insipid things must be said, they seem more respectable when they go a steady prose pace, than when they attempt the fantastic steps of a rope-dancer.
There were abundance of pictures and prints and curiosities laid about to be looked at, but they were on a table in the middle of the room, far distant from the corner where Marian was at anchor.
She had resigned herself to her lot, when her hostess approached from the other end of the room, followed by a good-humoured looking young man who seemed much afflicted with mauvaise honte. Addressing Marian in the most silken tones, she presented to her "Mr Burrows", spoke to her as "her most sweet, natural young friend", and assuring Mr Burrows that he would infinitely prefer her society to that of the more shining members of the gifted throng around, she glided off and left them together, with the comfortable persuasion on her mind that she had disposed of two of her dead weights for the evening.
Our old acquaintance, Louis, sat for a few moments silent before he could collect his senses to address his companion, but when he ventured to look at her, there was a sort of quiet, home-look about her, which infinitely relieved his embarrassment; and after another pause, he summoned resolution to tell her that the room was very full. The gentle assent that was given, emboldened him to say further, that he understood nobody came there but distinguished authors, or at least very clever people. This was said in a timid, half-rueful tone, which made Marian feel very much inclined to laugh, and she answered merrily, "Oh, no, they are not all authors, there must be some everyday people to look at them, and listen to the clever things that are said."
"Ah," said he, with a sort of little sigh, "I never read many books, and one feels the want of them when one comes to such places as these. Do you know the names of those who are here?"
"Yes," said Marian; "that is Miss Seward, - the thin lady who is speaking now; and that polite-looking gentleman is Mr Hayley; that lady in the red gown, is Miss Hannah More; and that elderly lady beside her is a very learned woman indeed, she is Mrs Elizabeth Carter, who translated Epictetus, - a Greek philosopher," added she, innocently, seeing that the face of Louis did not brighten as if she had conveyed any intelligence.
"Ah," said he again, "what a number of books there are one ought to read, and I never even heard of their names; have you written any thing?"
"No," replied Marian, half laughing; "I come here with my aunt, and for no merits of my own."
"Then we are equal," said Louis, greatly relieved. "I have a brother, though," continued he, "who has written a great many very learned books, and though you may not have heard of him, he is, I dare say, a great deal cleverer than any of the people here. I wish he were here, it would be in his way, and he could talk, and they would be glad to listen to him."
"I think," said Marian, colouring slightly, "that it must be your brother who wrote a book I like better than any I ever read; it is an abridgement from some large work of his, and my confessor gave it me when I left the country as the most valuable present he could make me. Is not your brother the Father Everhard of Rome?"
"Yes," said Louis, greatly pleased, "and it makes me feel quite friendly with you, to know you have read any of his books. I can hardly fancy we have only just met."
A very promising conversation ensued, in which he told her a great deal about Everhard, and the great person he was in the college at Rome, and the estimation in which he was held by the pope himself. As Marian seemed really interested in listening to him, he grew quite confidential, he told her about Sutton Manor House and the chapel, and that he hoped soon to have a resident priest; nay, he went so far as to tell her about the excellent coursing there was in the neighbourhood, and to give her a special account of his own favourite hunters. But suddenly he stopped in the full tide of his eloquence, and colouring like fire, said, "I quite forgot we are nearly strangers, and you must think me a fool for talking of my own things at this rate." He seemed half vexed at himself, till Marian thanked him for the forgetfulness which he was lamenting, and assured him it was very seldom any one talked to her about any thing in which she had felt so much interested; "The fact is", said she, "nobody here seems at all to care for what they are saying, they seem only to think how they may make fun of it themselves; and one gets so tired of people who only try to make one laugh." Then, in her turn, she told him about the relations she had left in the country, and found that he knew something about them; so by the end of the evening, when he handed her to the carriage, they both felt as if they had known each other all their lives.
"Why, Marian," said Zoe, as soon as they were seated, "you seem to have made a conquest; who is that you have been flirting with all night?"
"Oh, such a delightful young man, aunt, do you know he is brother to that Father Everhard of Rome, whose books you were reading the other day."
"Indeed!" replied Zoe, "I wish I had known, I should like to have spoken to him. - Is he clever?"
"Yes, I am sure he must be, he is so agreeable," said Marian. "I never had such a pleasant evening."
The consciousness of being admired always beautifies a woman, or at least, makes her look to the greatest advantage her case will allow. When Marian came down to breakfast the next morning, the glow of the evening before had not faded away. She was quite radiant as she gave her uncle an account of the party.
"Burrows," said her uncle, "Louis Burrows, why that is the name of the young man who brought me a letter of introduction yesterday, and I have invited him to dine here to-day."
"Marian, you are in luck," said Zoe, laughing, "you must mind and complete your conquest."
Marian was not a coquette, and yet it is an authenticated fact that she went up stairs a full hour before the dressing-bell rang, and came into her aunt's room when she was just descending, to beg that her maid might dress her hair, as she had pulled it down three times, and could not make it fit to be seen.
"Come, I will do it myself," said Zoe, good-naturedly, "you always look best when I dress you." Whether Zoe was successful in her undertaking is not recorded, probably she was, since Louis not only remained as late as he decently could, but contrived to find his way into their pew at chapel the next day, which was Sunday; and accepted with eagerness Gifford's only half expressed invitation to "walk in" when they came to the house door. In short, he contrived all sorts of excuses to be constantly in the way of Zoe and Marian wherever they went; lovers in those days were much more enterprising than they are now, or, as a good lady once said, "Love was the fashion then"; and matrimony too, it would seem, for Gifford very shortly received a formal request from Louis, to be allowed to pay his addresses to his niece. Neither Zoe nor Gifford raised any objections, in fact, the alliance was highly desirable in every point of view. So Louis came every day, and soon succeeded in making Marian in love with him to his heart's content. The children alone found fault with this happy state of things, for Cousin Marian had lost all inclination to sit up in the nursery, and had no more time to be their "horse". They both loudly expressed their joy when Louis had to leave town to make preparations for receiving his bride; but they soon found that matters grew worse; for the first few days after he went, Cousin Marian was very dull, and cried a great deal, which they did not at all like, and afterwards she was always writing letters, so, as Frederick, the eldest boy, said one day, they wished Burrows would come back, for he not only used to play with them sometimes, but cousin Marian always looked happy when he was there to talk to her, and keep her from being always writing. At length all was arranged, Louis came back to London, accompanied by his stately mother, who soon took Marian into high favour for her sweetness and docility. The house at Chelsea was in a bustle of preparation. In addition to her handsome outfit, Gifford had presented his niece with a thousand pounds as a marriage gift. Louis bought a handsome new family carriage, and the evening before the day appointed for the ceremony, a case of valuable jewels came directed to Marian. They were the family jewels, which the old lady had caused to be reset as her present to her daughter-in- law.
"Why, Marian, what is the matter with you?" said Zoe. "Louis will fancy that your heart fails, and that you are repenting, if he sees you with such a sorrowful face."
"I am so happy", replied Marian with a sigh, "that I feel quite afraid to think of it - it is almost like pain - what have I done to deserve so much? I have a sort of dread lest something should come between now and to-morrow. I never used to think much about death, and now it is the one thing in my thoughts."
Zoe looked at the young girl with surprise. She had always considered her as of a different nature to herself, and unable either to think or feel except in the most ordinary fashion: those few words seemed a claim to the sisterhood she had never acknowledged. There is the strong bond of humanity between both wise and simple, they are more alike than they fancy.
In a short time the lover appeared, and all misgivings fled before him.
The next morning rose bright and happy, a train of gay carriages full of wedding guests arrived: the important ceremony was performed, both according to the Romish form in Zoe's drawing-room, and afterwards, according to legal prescription, in the parish church of Chelsea. Then followed the wedding breakfast, after which the new married pair departed for their own home, leaving the ball which was to grace the day, to follow in its due season.
At length all was over, the guests departed, the lights in the dancing room extinguished. Zoe and Gifford were standing in the dressing-room we formerly mentioned; it was the only spot that had not been molested by the revels of the day.
"Poor Marian," said Gifford, "I hope she will not repent the step she has taken. She deserves to be happy."
"Poor Marian," said Zoe, "I think she is sure to be happy. I did not at all expect she would have made such a good match. How late it is. I am glad weddings don't come every day."
The day week after the event recorded above, Zoe found on her breakfast-table a letter sealed with black; it was from Clotilde, telling of the sudden death of Miss Rodney. It was very short, for the poor child was evidently in the deepest affliction; a few lines from the old priest gave a more particular account of the occurrence. The old lady had imprudently remained out of doors late in the evening, and caught a cold which had brought on a sort of croup, of which she died in a few hours. Gifford was much shocked, for he had a great respect for Miss Rodney, and knew how many worthy qualities she possessed; but he felt more than consoled in the idea that now they would all be obliged to return into Devonshire much sooner than he had dared to hope. The college was finished, and he was anxious to make the interior arrangements. He had grown woefully tired of the life of gaiety and dissipation he had been obliged to lead since their arrival in London, yet without this unforeseen event he would hardly have had courage to attempt to take his wife away from scenes in which she naturally found much more satisfaction than he did. It was with a slight trepidation, nevertheless, that he broke to her his wish to return at once to Gifford Castle; and he was both surprised and pleased when Zoe at once replied: "To be sure, we must leave London as soon as possible. Poor dear little Clotilde! how terribly lonely she must be in that old castle. I will write to her by this post to tell her she may expect us forthwith."
"I hardly expected to find you so willing to leave the scene of your triumphs," said Gifford; "but you are really very good whenever it comes to the point; what is the reason you take such pleasure in seeming worse than you are, as if you cared for nobody?"
"Because people are fools, and I feel a pride in imposing upon them," replied Zoe. "They are not worth wasting good feelings upon. I grudge even wearing real jewels for them. I rejoice when I can make them believe that my paste buckles are diamonds like my necklace."
"But that is a sort of insanity, madam; you injure no one but yourself, and you can have no satisfaction from it."
"You are mistaken," said Zoe; "there is great pleasure in feeling that I can see through all the people about me, whilst they know nothing at all about what I really am. What do I care whether they do me justice or not; so long as they can say nothing really bad of me, they may make as many observations as they choose; it is amusing to hear the nonsense they talk."
"Zoe, Zoe, you are like a child playing with fire, who declares that it does not care if it burn its fingers. You will be wiser some time, when you have ruined yourself in gaining experience; but allons - there is only an hour for writing our letters."
Zoe wrote an affectionate letter to Clotilde, - telling her that she should begin to make arrangements for leaving London that very day, and that she should quite rejoice to find herself in the old castle once more.
Zoe's preparations went on rapidly. She was too much of a woman not to have drawn some advantage from the alacrity with which she prepared to return into the country; accordingly Gifford had been made to reward it by purchasing a great quantity of handsome furniture to fit up her own apartments in the castle. This was all sent on before them. Zoe insisted, too, on taking back her French maid with her. She received an infinite number of perfumed notes containing odes, declarations, and desperations, in every approved fashion of elegance. She treated them all with great impartiality. She made them into a bundle, tied round with blue riband, and gave it to her husband, in order, as she told him, "That when she grew old and ugly, it might remain on record what a miracle of perfection she had once been!"
At length all was ready for their departure, and on a fine morning in August, the whole family started on their journey home.
It was a rich, mellow evening, the dark purple sky of night was blended with the golden and gorgeous light which the sunset had left behind, when the travelling-carriage entered the huge portal cut in the rock, which was the entrance to the castle grounds. The thick branches of the trees on each side kept out the little daylight that remained, except when here and there the rich gold light flashed from behind their dark boughs.
"How slow they go!" cried Zoe; "let me get out! - how delicious the air feels! It is like getting suddenly into one of Titian's pictures!" She was out in a moment, in spite of Gifford's remonstrances, and striking into a well-remembered by-path much nearer, but frightfully steep, she clambered up the flights of steps, and in about ten minutes she reached her garden terraces. The castle stood dark and shadowy in the deepening twilight, her pace gradually slackened, and she stood like one entranced. The glitter and noise of the scenes she had so recently left, contrasted strangely with the freshness and solitude of the place where she now was, and raised thoughts and emotions she had never known before. A feeling of reverence and worship arose in her heart, which made her feel as if all the latter part of her life had been one sacrilege; but she was aroused by the noise of the carriages entering the great court-yard, which reminded her that she had still a circuit to make before she could reach the gateway and join the rest.
They were not expected till the next day, and the old servants ran about in great dismay to light the lamps and set the things in order, whilst Zoe's French maid looked wildly about, thinking she had come to some bandit fastness.
Gifford, meanwhile, flew up the creaking oak staircase, and the flight of stone steps that led to Clotilde's oratory. There, unconscious of any arrival, or the bustle that had been going on, knelt his child before the crucifix, her fair hair falling over her throat and shoulders in full contrast to her deep mourning dress. She had been very lonely since Miss Rodney's death, and it was with a violent burst of tears that she flew to her father, and nestled in his arms.
Zoe and the two boys were not far behind, - they all joined in soothing her, and it was a happy group that sat down to supper in the old wainscotted dining-room that night.
Mankind have ever fancied that they hold the reins of destiny; they have struggled, legislated, speculated, hoped, and feared, as if it had been laid upon each individually to keep the world from rolling to perdition.
Men are mostly divided into two classes, one who have their faces resolutely set towards the past, always prone to try the virtue of some "patent drag", and would keep peace by persecuting all expressions of diversity.
The other set incline to rush recklessly forward, always seeking some new thing, some special and compendious theory, for making men happy, and renewing the age of gold. Each set vigorously abuses the other, each accuses its neighbour of "being fatal to the interests of mankind". Meanwhile, the poor old world rolls on in her course, neither better nor worse for all this activity, which seems nothing more than the noise caused by the working of the machine.
In the early part of the 18th century these two parties were in collision. It had long been the fashion either to ask no questions, or to remain satisfied with the answers made and provided. There were then, as now, elaborate specimens of special pleading for the edification of such as inquired, all leading more or less ingeniously to the orthodox and authorised doctrines of the Catholic Church, for the Church legislated upon all points, whether of religion or Philosophy; consequently, independent opinions and private judgment, when they happened to be at variance with the declared code, placed their possessor under a ban; and the social brand that was placed on every one who dared to give ear to differences of interpretations, was enough to induce any but a saint or martyr to hold his tongue, or, at least, to veil his thoughts in discreet and doubtful words.
In this state of things, men were reduced to work off their superabundant activity by perfecting the mechanical detail of literature. Criticism was in repute and flourished; commentaries, notes, and quibbles, abounded on the glorious works of genius that had been written aforetime.
In matters of religion, men were obliged to find what nourishment they could for their souls in settling the Jansenists and the Bull "Unigenitus".
But a strong spirit of reaction was going on under all this.
The unbounded licence of manners at the time of the regency, prepared the way for a free utterance of opinion on all subjects. Voltaire arose, and the school of the philosophers and encyclopediasts. They attacked and turned into ridicule the outer works and external doctrines of Christianity; - they scoffed at scripture history, Church legends, and ecclesiastical authority, and destroying as they did with scathing wit, the prestige connected with those subjects, they imagined that they had entered a successful crusade against religion itself.
The genius and ability of the heads of the movement were unquestionable, but they gave in to a showy, uncandid, superficial way of treating their subjects, and it was no difficult task for the friends of Christianity to refute their cloudy declamations; still, they had struck a chord in the hearts of the people, and the belief in Christianity ceased to be what it had been of old.
Every candid mind felt that the theories set up by philosophers in lieu of Christianity, were false, wild, and impossible as a child's nursery-tale - yet every thinking mind felt also that there lay a deep truth amid all this error, though they might lack strength to distinguish it, and there was a feeling of sympathy with their speculations even in the hearts of those who might not agree to any one of their propositions.
Everhard lived when "infidelity", as the Christians phrased it, walked boldly abroad - when it was the fashion, the mark of a liberal education, to be sceptical.
The works of the encyclopediasts, of course, were read by him, for he was looked to by the Church party as one who promised to become their most powerful champion. He wrote a work, soon after he was elected professor, which had a prodigious success, and provoked a reply from Diderot himself; he had learning and eloquence, he could fight the encyclopediasts with their own weapons, and they felt that in him they had their most formidable controversial antagonist.
But whilst the orthodox party were loud in their praises, and the opposite party were forced into expressions of admiration at his skill, how did it fare with Everhard himself? He was heavy and dissatisfied, and disturbed at heart; he was conscious that those philosophers whom he had assailed with such energy, whose mistakes and false reasonings he had exposed with such pitiless sarcasm, had made at least one thing clear and palpable to him, had fixed in his heart a conviction from which he in vain endeavoured to avert his thoughts; he saw and felt that Christianity, and what we are pleased to call "revealed religion", as far as the external evidences go, rests on no better foundation than those of any other form of religious belief which ruled the world before it was promulgated, and has faded away from men's sympathies. He saw that, struggle to conceal the fact as priests and devotees might, the awe with which religious doctrines had hitherto been handled by the generality, was destroyed; the mystery in which they had been reverendly shrouded, was henceforth irretrievably rent away. He felt bitterly convinced that the Catholic Church - his idol the Church - was not a Truth, but only a form by which truth had once been made manifest, and finally almost obscured by ceremonies which had ceased to be transparent, - that it was ceasing to be the expression of men's adoration, - that it was no longer the form spontaneously assumed by their devotion. He felt wretched and confused; it seemed as if with the vanishing of the decaying temple, the God whose presence had once been felt therein, was passing away also.
When any thing strikes the mind as a truth, however distasteful it may be, or opposed to our former feelings, we have no option - the instant we see it as true, we are constrained to embrace it; - we cannot say we will or we will not - it is a necessity, and we must. The first distinctly recognised doubt is of the same kind; we may struggle against it as we will, but there it is, a wedge inserted into the very fabric of our faith, which splits to the foundation, and falls off from us, leaving us naked and trembling among its ruins. Everhard had loved his Church, had loved his religion as if it had been his life; it would have cost him less pain to have been a martyr than to doubt; he could have cried with Micah, "Ye have taken away the gods which I made, and what have I more?" But he was before all things a sincere man. That which had now come upon him, seemed to raise to distinctness a thousand voices which had for years been murmuring within him; that which was within was leagued to that which was without; all the misgivings of old against which he had struggled, now flashed clear into distinct disbelief. But who may paint the distracted, discordant thoughts that crowd into a heart which is beginning to be severed from its life-long worship and belief? The fear - the uncertainty - the tossing to and fro - the soul cast adrift from its anchorage - no God - no light - no hope - yearning after its old religion, yet having no faith to cling to it - and nothing to supply its place! All the dark questionings which hitherto had been kept like evil spirits bound in the depths by the power of the ineffable name, now that the spell which had held them was broken, rose up to have their time of torment - they came sweeping over his bewildered mind, till he trembled at the blasphemy which was in his heart, and loathed himself; but there was no escape. Who was there to deliver? - on whom now could he call? Oh, God! - hast Thou indeed made all men in vain! He flung himself on the ground in agony, and gave vent to his anguish in groanings which are not to be uttered.
Day after day passed on; but no light broke on his darkness; the very foundations of his being seemed broken up, and out of course; he was desolate, but the calm of desolation was not yet his. In this state of mind, the thought of John Paul Marston came across him, and completed the measure of his perplexity. "Is there no difference", he exclaimed, passionately, "between right and wrong? Is every thing alike? Have I all my life been wrong, and he, the hypocrite, the sensualist, has he been right? Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency?"
But his mental struggles at length affected his health; he was seized with a brain fever, and lay for many weeks between life and death.
When Everhard began to regain his consciousness, he had a confused idea of being in a state of "mortal sin"; he seemed to labour under a terrible nightmare of crime, of which he could give no account to himself.
"Deeds to be hid, that were not hid,
His bodily weakness was, however, too great to allow him to think collectedly, and after many fruitless efforts to arrange his thoughts he gave up the attempt, and resigned himself to that dreamy, passionless state, which the entire prostration of bodily strength brings along with it. This again gave place to the irritable impatience of imperfect convalescence, that most weary condition in all this weary life.
When he at length left his bedroom for the first time, and descended to his little parlour, the sun was streaming through the open casement, but shaded by large vases full of flowers and green branches, which some of the students had arranged, in order that all might look cheerful to welcome him back amongst them again. A spring of joy gushed up in Everhard's heart as he looked out on the glorious prospect, a pleasurable sensation of existence poured in upon him, for the time bearing down all sense of sorrow.
The Prince de Ligne says, that one of the three happy days of his life, was the one on which he first went abroad after having the small pox. Everhard experienced the same kind of feeling, he wondered what it was that could have made him wretched; but in that self-same hour, it seemed as if that burst of joy had only raised him up, to cast him down still lower into the depths from which he had for a moment emerged: a sudden darkness fell upon the face of nature, he recollected that he had not now the God towards whom beforetimes in such scenes as the present, he lifted up his thoughts; he had no religion now to give significance to the appearance of nature: the prodigal wealth of life and sunshine, which pervaded all things, had become to him only a vast enigma; and the broad surface of beauty spread over all, barely concealed the dark and inscrutable abyss over which it was flung. The thoughts of his past life, and all the labours in which he had delighted, rose up before him, striking his mind with a morbidly vivid conviction of their worthlessness. What was there now left for him to do in the world? He wished in his heart that he had died as he lay sick upon his bed.
The next day there was high mass in the chapel, at which he had to assist to return thanks for his recovery. He ascended the altar and heard the organ pealing "Gloria in excelsis", and he felt himself an apostate, having no part nor lot in the hopes and worship around him. All the reasons which had led him to this change had vanished for the moment; nothing remained but the sense of having by his own act cut himself off from the congregation.
To stand among the ruins of our home after it has fallen a prey to the spoiler, is a calamity so heavy that there are no words by which its bitterness can be expressed; but even that is a light thing compared to standing among the relics of a religion, under which we once dwelt in safety, none making us afraid, but whence we have been obliged to go forth, confused and trembling, to encounter the mysteries of life and death as best we may, alone, in utter ignorance, without either a hope or a belief to guide us, or any God to whom we may cry for help. This calamity was Everhard's.
The service proceeded until it came to the "Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis", the "Dona nobis pacem" came in notes which were the very embodiment of human misery and human appeal, in tones that gave utterance to all the inexpressible emotions of a soul prostrate before its God. Everhard's heart was cloven by that prayer; it was the voice of his own soul, crying in its agony; but WHERE could he go? To whom could he appeal? There was none that answered, neither any that regarded; "The God that heareth prayer" had for him departed thence. Then came the recollection of the blessedness he had formerly known at such seasons, when as a child, at the elevation of the Host, he believed that God had indeed descended to be bodily present with men; he felt that if this belief might but come again he could never know sorrow more.
Everhard's infidelity, apostasy as some might call it, was the strongest test of his sincerity that could be given - a test far beyond that of martyrdom. The whole economy of life was deprived of the clue by which he had hitherto guided himself, and his feet were left "to stumble amongst the dark mountains". Added to all this, there came doubts and misgivings whether, along with the support of his religion, he should not also be deprived of his moral integrity; whether, though at present his whole soul recoiled from the idea of sin, he might not eventually be "let alone" to plunge into all the unutterable pollutions that are rife among men. This fear haunted him like madness. Strange as it may seem, a sense of guiltiness for his unbelief pursued him; he had no religion, and yet his whole soul yearned after God.
To perfect his convalescence, which his mental uneasiness much retarded, he accepted an invitation from the Prince de B---- to spend a short time at his villa on the Tiber. A large party was assembled there, some distinguished foreigners, and several artists and poets, all were men of note. The princess, his wife, was there also, with a circle of ladies, rendering the whole place like an Armida palace. The gardens, which were laid out in the old Italian fashion, were filled with statues, fountains, and stately terraces; it was not in the heart of man to resist such enchantment, and yet to Everhard all seemed like the treasures that Solomon got together, to prove whether there were any thing good for the sons of men to do under heaven; and as the answer had once been obtained from Destiny, it seemed to him a strange infatuation to go on repeating it to all eternity. His invalid condition gave him the privilege of being much alone, and he availed himself of it to keep himself aloof from all the wit and merriment going on around him.
The window of his sitting-room opened on to a lawn of elastic moss, covered with wild aromatic plants; a little beyond was a grove of myrtle and orange trees. One evening he had been walking up and down the broad path beneath their branches, and when he emerged from the grove the moon had risen high in the heavens, surrounded by stars, and bathing all beneath in a flood of silver radiance. The glory of the scene struck upon Everhard, as if now, for the first time, his eyes were opened to behold it. His heart overflowed within him; by an uncontrollable impulse, he prostrated himself upon the ground in an agony of speechless devotion.
The absolute need of some Being to whom he might give thanks - whom he might adore - pressed upon his soul, as upon a man who is suffocated for want of air to breathe. His passion found itself way in tears and inarticulate groans. The presence of the Invisible was upon him.
How long he had lain there he knew not, but he was roused by hearing the sound of voices and light laughter, mixed with the tones of a guitar, coming in that direction. He sprang up, and took quick refuge in his own apartment.
The spell was broken; but though he did not regain the rapture of devotion, the blessed influence remained behind, and for the present at any rate, the blackness of despair, "the darkness that could be felt", was lifted from his heart.
End of Volume I
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