Ernest Maltravers — Volume 04 by Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron, 1803-1873
But Alice, though her blood ran cold at her terrible father's language, saw in his very design the prospect of escape. In an hour of drunkenness he thrust her from the house, and stationed himself to watch her--it was in the city of Cork. She formed her resolution instantly--turned up a narrow street, and fled at full speed.
Darvil endeavoured in vain to keep pace with her--his eyes dizzy, his steps reeling with intoxication. She heard his last curse dying from a distance on the air, and her fear winged her steps: she paused at last, and found herself on the outskirts of the town. She paused, overcome, and deadly faint; and then, for the first time, she felt that a strange and new life was stirring within her own.
She had long since known that she bore in her womb the unborn offspring of Maltravers, and that knowledge had made her struggle and live on. But now, the embryo had quickened into being--it moved--it appealed to her, a--thing unseen, unknown; but still it was a living creature appealing to a mother! Oh, the thrill, half of ineffable tenderness, half of mysterious terror, at that moment!
Solemn was the trust committed to her--the life of another--the child of the Adored. So, after a pause and a silent prayer, she rose and resumed her way. When she was wearied she crept into a shed in a farmyard, and slept, for the first time for weeks, the calm sleep of security and hope. IT was just two years from the night in which Alice had been torn from the cottage: and at that time Maltravers was wandering amongst the ruins of ancient Egypt, when, upon the very lawn where Alice and her lover had so often loitered hand in hand, a gay party of children and young people were assembled.
The cottage had been purchased by an opulent and retired manufacturer. He had raised the low thatched roof another story high--and blue slate had replaced the thatch--and the pretty verandahs overgrown with creepers had been taken down because Mrs. Hobbs thought they gave the rooms a dull look; and the little rustic doorway had been replaced by four Ionic pillars in stucco; and a new dining-room, twenty-two feet by eighteen, had been built out at one wing, and a new drawing-room had been built over the new dining-room.
And the poor little cottage looked quite grand and villa-like. The gate was no longer the modest green wooden gate, ever ajar with its easy latch; but a tall, cast-iron, well-locked gate, between two pillars to match the porch. And on one of the gates was a brass plate, on which was graven, "Hobbs' Lodge--Ring the bell. There was mirth, and noise, and shouting and whooping, and the respectable old couple looked calmly on; Hobbs the father smoking his pipe alas, it was not the dear meerschaum ; Hobbs the mother talking to her eldest daughter a fine young woman, three months married, for love, to a poor man , upon the proper number of days that a leg of mutton weight ten pounds should be made to last.
Let me see--what a noise the boys do make! No, my love, the ball's not here. Biddy, wait,--girls have no innings--girls only fag out. Hobbs, resettling herself, and readjusting the invaded petticoats. But now we have everything that is handsome about us--nothing like management. Saturday pies are very nice things, and then you start clear with your joint on Sunday.
A good wife like you should never neglect the Saturday's pie! Hobbs likes pies--perhaps you don't have the crust made thick eno'. How somever, you can make it up to him with a pudding. A wife should always study her husband's tastes--what is a man's home without love? Still a husband ought not to be aggravating, and dislike pie on a Saturday! I say, ma, do you see that 'ere gipsy? I shall go and have my fortune told.
Hobbs, rising indignantly; "what can the parish be about? The children eagerly ran up to her, but they involuntarily slackened their steps when they drew near, for she was evidently not what they had taken her for. No gipsy hues darkened the pale, thin, delicate cheek--no gipsy leer lurked in those large blue and streaming eyes--no gipsy effrontery bronzed that candid and childish brow. As she thus pressed her countenance with convulsive eagerness against the cold bars, the young people caught the contagion of inexpressible and half-fearful sadness--they approached almost respectfully--"Do you want anything here?
Poor child! Pa was now moving up to the place of conference the slow artillery of his fair round belly and portly calves. Butler lives here. Go along with you--ain't you ashamed to beg? Hobbs looked angry; he had often been taken in, and no rich man likes beggars. Generally speaking, the rich man is in the right. But then Mr. Hobbs turned to the suspected tramper's sorrowful face and then to his fair pretty child--and his good angel whispered something to Mr.
Hobbs's heart--and he said, after a pause, "Heaven forbid that we should not feel for a poor fellow-creature not so well to do as ourselves. Come in, my lass, and have a morsel to eat. The girl did not seem to hear him, and he repeated the invitation, approaching to unlock the gate. I could not come in now. I could not eat here. But tell me, sir, I implore you, can you not even guess where I may find Mr.
Hobbs, whom curiosity had now drawn to the spot. The young woman looked wildly in his face, cast a hurried glance over the altered spot, and then, with a kind of shiver, as if the wind had smitten her delicate form too rudely, she drew her cloak more closely round her shoulders, and without saying another word, moved away. The party looked after her as, with trembling steps, she passed down the road, and all felt that pang of shame which is common to the human heart at the sight of a distress it has not sought to soothe.
But this feeling vanished at once from the breast of Mrs. Hobbs, when they saw the girl stop where a turn of the road brought the gate before her eyes; and for the first time, they perceived, what the worn cloak had hitherto concealed, that the poor young thing bore an infant in her arms. She halted, she gazed fondly back. Even at that instant the despair of her eyes was visible; and then, as she pressed her lips to the infant's brow, they heard a convulsive sob--they saw her turn away, and she was gone!
Hobbs; "and she so young too! Butler," quoth Hobbs, with a knowing wink--"the slut has come to swear! And thrice had she over-fatigued herself--and thrice again been indebted to humble pity for a bed whereon to lay a feverish and broken frame. And once, too, her baby--her darling, her life of life, had been ill--had been near unto death, and she could not stir till the infant it was a girl was well again, and could smile in her face and crow. And thus many, many months had elapsed, since the day she set out on her pilgrimage, to that on which she found its goal.
But never, save when the child was ill, had she desponded or abated heart and hope. She should see him again, and he would kiss her child. And now--no--I cannot paint the might of that stunning blow! She knew not, she dreamed not, of the kind precautions Maltravers had taken; and he had not sufficiently calculated on her thorough ignorance of the world.
Could she but have met the gardener--or the old woman-servant--all would have been well! These last, indeed, she had the forethought to ask for. But the woman was dead, and the gardener had taken a strange service in some distant county. And so died her last gleam of hope. If one person who remembered the search of Maltravers had but met and recognised her! But she had been seen by so few--and now the bright, fresh girl was so sadly altered! Her race was not yet run, and many a sharp wind upon the mournful seas had the bark to brave before its haven was found at last.
AND now Alice felt that she was on the wide world alone, with her child--no longer to be protected, but to protect; and after the first few days of agony, a new spirit, not indeed of hope, but of endurance, passed within her. Her solitary wanderings, with God her only guide, had tended greatly to elevate and confirm her character. She felt a strong reliance on His mysterious mercy--she felt, too, the responsibility of a mother.
Thrown for so many months upon her own resources, even for the bread of life, her intellect was unconsciously sharpened, and a habit of patient fortitude had strengthened a nature originally clinging and femininely soft. She resolved to pass into some other county, for she could neither bear the thoughts that haunted the neighbourhood around her, nor think, without a loathing horror, of the possibility of her father's return. Accordingly, one day, she renewed her wanderings--and after a week's travel, arrived at a small village.
Charity is so common in England, it so spontaneously springs up everywhere, like the good seed by the roadside, that she had rarely wanted the bare necessaries of existence. And her humble manner, and sweet, well-tuned voice, so free from the professional whine of mendicancy, had usually its charm for the sternest. So she generally obtained enough to buy bread and a night's lodging, and, if sometimes she failed, she could bear hunger, and was not afraid of creeping into some shed, or, when by the sea-shore, even into some sheltering cavern.
Her child throve too--for God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb! But now, so far as physical privation went, the worst was over. It so happened that as Alice was drawing herself wearily along to the entrance of the village which was to bound her day's journey, she was met by a lady, past middle age, in whose countenance compassion was so visible, that Alice would not beg, for she had a strange delicacy or pride, or whatever it may be called, and rather begged of the stern than of those who looked kindly at her--she did not like to lower herself in the eyes of the last.
The lady drew gently back, but not in horror--no, in still deeper compassion; for that lady had virtue, and she knew that the faults of her sex are sufficiently punished to permit Virtue to pity them without a sin. Good evening--I thank you kindly for your pity. I wish I could maintain myself--he used to say I could. What can you do?
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What do you know? She must not be thrown upon the world to make sin a habit. Follow me," she said, after a little pause; "and think you have found a friend. The lady then turned from the high-road down a green lane which led to a park lodge. This lodge she entered; and after a short conversation with the inmate, beckoned to Alice to join her. I shall send down proper clothing for her to-morrow, and I shall then have thought what will be best for her future welfare.
With that the lady smiled benignly upon Alice, whose heart was too full to speak; and the door of the cottage closed upon her, and Alice thought the day had grown darker. LESLIE, the lady introduced to the reader in the last chapter, was a woman of the firmest intellect combined no unusual combination with the softest heart.
She learned Alice's history with admiration and pity. The natural innocence and honesty of the young mother spoke so eloquently in her words and looks, that Mrs. Leslie, on hearing her tale, found much less to forgive than she had anticipated. Still she deemed it necessary to enlighten Alice as to the criminality of the connection she had formed. But here Alice was singularly dull--she listened in meek patience to Mrs. Leslie's lecture; but it evidently made but slight impression on her. She had not yet seen enough of the social state to correct the first impressions of the natural: and all she could say in answer to Mrs.
Leslie was: "It may be all very true, madam, but I have been so much better since I knew him! But though Alice took humbly any censure upon herself, she would not hear a syllable insinuated against Maltravers. When, in a very natural indignation, Mrs. Leslie denounced him as a destroyer of innocence--for Mrs. Leslie could not learn all that extenuated his offence--Alice started up with flashing eyes and heaving heart, and would have hurried from the only shelter she had in the wide world--she would sooner have died--she would sooner even have seen her child die, than done that idol of her soul, who, in her eyes, stood alone on some pinnacle between earth and heaven, the wrong of hearing him reviled.
With difficulty Mrs. Leslie loved her all the better. The more she saw of Alice, and the more she comprehended her story and her character, the more was she lost in wonder at the romance of which this beautiful child had been the heroine, and the more perplexed she was as to Alice's future prospects. At length, however, when she became acquainted with Alice's musical acquirements, which were, indeed, of no common order, a light broke in upon her.
Here was the source of her future independence. Maltravers, it will be remembered, was a musician of consummate skill as well as taste, and Alice's natural talent for the art had advanced her, in the space of months, to a degree of perfection which it cost others--which it had cost even the quick Maltravers--years to obtain. But we learn so rapidly when our teachers are those we love: and it may be observed that the less our knowledge, the less perhaps our genius in other things, the more facile are our attainments in music, which is a very jealous mistress of the mind.
Leslie resolved to have her perfected in this art, and so enable her to become a teacher to others. In the town of C, about thirty miles from Mrs. Leslie's house, though in the same county, there was no inconsiderable circle of wealthy and intelligent persons; for it was a cathedral town, and the resident clergy drew around them a kind of provincial aristocracy.
Here, as in most rural towns in England, music was much cultivated, both among the higher and middle classes. There were amateur concerts, and glee-clubs, and subscriptions for sacred music; and once every five years there was the great C Festival. In this town Mrs. It was an eligible and comfortable abode, and the music-master and his wife were a good-natured easy old couple. Three months of resolute and unceasing perseverance, combined with the singular ductility and native gifts of Alice, sufficed to render her the most promising pupil the good musician had ever accomplished; and in three months more, introduced by Mrs.
Leslie to many of the families in the place, Alice was established in a home of her own; and, what with regular lessons, and occasional assistance at musical parties, she was fairly earning what her tutor reasonably pronounced to be "a very genteel independence. Now, in these arrangements for we must here go back a little , there had been one gigantic difficulty of conscience in one party, of feeling in another, to surmount. Leslie saw at once that unless Alice's misfortune was concealed, all the virtues and all the talents in the world could not enable her to retrace the one false step.
Leslie was a woman of habitual truth and strict rectitude, and she was sorely perplexed between the propriety of candour and its cruelty. She felt unequal to take the responsibility of action on herself; and, after much meditation, she resolved to confide her scruples to one who, of all whom she knew, possessed the highest character for moral worth and religious sanctity.
This gentleman, lately a widower, lived at the outskirts of the town selected for Alice's future residence, and at that time happened to be on a visit in Mrs. Leslie's neighbourhood. And that influence was always exerted so as best to secure his own interest with the powers that be, and advance certain objects of ambition for he was both an ostentatious and ambitious man in his own way , which he felt he might more easily obtain by proxy than by his own votes and voice in parliament--an atmosphere in which his light did not shine.
And it was with a wonderful address that the banker contrived at once to support the government, and yet, by the frequent expression of liberal opinions, to conciliate the Whigs and the Dissenters of his neighbourhood. Parties, political and sectarian, were not then so irreconcilable as they are now. In the whole county there was no one so respected as this eminent person, and yet he possessed no shining talents, though a laborious and energetic man of business.
It was solely and wholly the force of moral character which gave him his position in society. He felt this; he was sensitively proud of it; he was painfully anxious not to lose an atom of a distinction that required to be vigilantly secured. He had risen from, comparatively speaking, a low origin and humble fortunes, and entirely by the scrupulous and sedate propriety of his outward conduct. With such a propriety he, therefore, inseparably connected every notion of worldly prosperity and honour. Thus, though far from a bad man, he was forced into being something of a hypocrite.
Every year he had grown more starch and more saintly. He was conscience-keeper to the whole town; and it is astonishing how many persons hardly dared to make a will or subscribe to a charity without his advice. As he was a shrewd man of this world, as well as an accredited guide to the next, his advice was precisely of a nature to reconcile the Conscience and the Interest; and he was a kind of negotiator in the reciprocal diplomacy of earth and heaven. But our banker was really a charitable man, and a benevolent man, and a sincere believer. How, then, was he a hypocrite?
His reputation had now arrived to that degree of immaculate polish that the smallest breath, which would not have tarnished the character of another man, would have fixed an indelible stain upon his. As he affected to be more strict than the churchman, and was a great oracle with all who regarded churchmen as lukewarm, so his conduct was narrowly watched by all the clergy of the orthodox cathedral, good men, doubtless, but not affecting to be saints, who were jealous at being so luminously outshone by a layman and an authority of the sectarians.
On the other hand, the intense homage and almost worship he received from his followers kept his goodness upon a stretch, if not beyond all human power, certainly beyond his own. For "admiration" as it is well said somewhere "is a kind of superstition which expects miracles. He loved good eating and good wine--he loved women. The two former blessings of the carnal life are not incompatible with canonisation; but St. Anthony has shown that women, however angelic, are not precisely that order of angels that saints may safely commune with.
If, therefore, he ever yielded to temptations of a sexual nature, it was with profound secrecy and caution; nor did his right hand know what his left hand did. This gentleman had married a woman much older than himself, but her fortune had been one of the necessary stepping-stones in his career. She died of an ague, and the widower did not shock probabilities by affecting too severe a grief.
This was all he was ever heard to say on the matter. He took an elderly gentlewoman, distantly related to him, to manage his house, and sit at the head of the table; and it was thought not impossible, though the widower was past fifty, that he might marry again. Such was the gentleman called in by Mrs. Leslie, who, of the same religious opinions, had long known and revered him, to decide the affairs of Alice and of Conscience. As this man exercised no slight or fugitive influence over Alice Darvil's destinies, his counsels on the point in discussion ought to be fairly related.
Leslie, concluding the history, "you will perceive, my dear sir, that this poor young creature has been less culpable than she appears. From the extraordinary proficiency she has made in music, in a time that, by her own account, seems incredibly short; I should suspect her unprincipled betrayer must have been an artist--a professional man. It is just possible that they may meet again, and as the ranks between them cannot be so very disproportionate that he may marry her. I am sure that he could not do a better or a wiser thing, for she loves him too fondly, despite her wrongs.
Under these circumstances, would it be a--a--a culpable disguise of truth to represent her as a married woman--separated from her husband--and give her the name of her seducer? Without such a precaution you will see, sir, that all hope of settling her reputably in life--all chance of procuring her any creditable independence, is out of the question. Such is my dilemma. What is your advice? The banker's grave and saturnine countenance exhibited a slight degree of embarrassment at the case submitted to him. He began brushing away, with the cuff of his black coat, some atoms of dust that had settled on his drab small-clothes; and, after a slight pause, he replied, "Why, really, dear madam, the question is one of much delicacy--I doubt if men could be good judges upon it; your sex's tact and instinct on these matters are better--much better than our sagacity.
There is much in the dictates of your own heart; for to those who are in the grace of the Lord He vouchsafes to communicate His pleasure by spiritual hints and inward suggestions! I may take your opinion as my sanction. But had I not better see the young woman, and ascertain that your benevolent heart has not deceived you? Leslie; "she is now in the house.
I will ring for her. Leslie, "will confer with you for a few moments, my child. Do not be afraid; he is the best of men. Leslie and myself have been conferring upon your temporal welfare. You have been unfortunate, my child. You will never do so again? I mean that you will be more rigid, more circumspect. Men are deceitful; you must be on your guard against them.
You are handsome, child, very handsome--more's the pity. Alice looked at him gravely and drew the hand away instinctively. The banker lowered his spectacles, and gazed at her without their aid; his eyes were still fine and expressive. You wish to earn your own livelihood, and perhaps marry some honest man hereafter. His child ought to be a burden to none--nor I either. I once wished to die, but then who would love my little one? Now I wish to live.
Would you go into a family, in some capacity? This was said with such unconscious, and therefore with such pathetic, simplicity, that the banker was sensibly affected. He rose, stirred the fire, resettled himself, and, after a pause, said emphatically: "Alice, I will be your friend. Let me believe you will deserve it. Alice bent her graceful head, and seeing that he had sunk into an abstracted silence, she thought it time for her to withdraw.
I wonder--" Here he stopped short, and walked to the glass over the mantelpiece, where he was still gazing on his own features, when Mrs. Leslie returned. The banker started. The world is a bad world, we are born in sin; and the children of wrath. We do not tell infants all the truth, when they ask us questions, the proper answers of which would mislead, not enlighten them.
In some things the whole world are infants. The very science of government is the science of concealing truth--so is the system of trade. We could not blame the tradesman for not telling the public that if all his debts were called in he would be a bankrupt.
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You will remember how strictly confidential has been our conversation. I will send you some tracts to-morrow--so comforting. Heaven bless you! This difficulty smoothed, Mrs.
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Leslie, to her astonishment, found that she had another to contend with in Alice herself. For, first, Alice conceived that to change her name and keep her secret was to confess that she ought to be ashamed, rather than proud, of her love to Ernest, and she thought that so ungrateful to him! At these scruples Mrs.
Leslie well-nigh lost all patience; and the banker, to his own surprise, was again called in. We have said that he was an experienced and skilful adviser, which implies the faculty of persuasion. He soon saw the handle by which Alice's obstinacy might always be moved--her little girl's welfare. He put this so forcibly before her eyes; he represented the child's future fate as resting so much, not only on her own good conduct, but on her outward respectability, that he prevailed upon her at last; and, perhaps, one argument that he incidentally used, had as much effect on her as the rest. Butler, if yet in England, may pass through our town--may visit amongst us--may hear you spoken of by a name similar to his own, and curiosity would thus induce him to seek you.
Take his name, and you will always bear an honourable index to your mutual discovery and recognition. Besides, when you are respectable, honoured, and earning an independence, he may not be too proud to marry you. But take your own name, avow your own history, and not only will your child be an outcast, yourself a beggar, or, at best, a menial dependant, but you lose every hope of recovering the object of your too-devoted attachment.
Thus Alice was convinced. From that time she became close and reserved in her communications. Leslie had wisely selected a town sufficiently remote from her own abode to preclude any revelations of her domestics; and, as Mrs. Butler, Alice attracted universal sympathy and respect from the exercise of her talents, the modest sweetness of her manners, the unblemished propriety of her conduct. Somehow or other, no sooner did she learn the philosophy of concealment than she made a great leap in knowledge of the world. And, though flattered and courted by the young loungers of C, she steered her course with so much address that she was never persecuted.
For there are few men in the world who make advances where there is no encouragement.
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