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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 2 - Chapter 10. Being A Short Chapter, Containing A Most Important Event
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Devereux - Book 2 - Chapter 10. Being A Short Chapter, Containing A Most Important Event Post by :azaus Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :555

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Devereux - Book 2 - Chapter 10. Being A Short Chapter, Containing A Most Important Event

BOOK II CHAPTER X. BEING A SHORT CHAPTER, CONTAINING A MOST IMPORTANT EVENT


SIR WILLIAM'S letter was still fresh in my mind, when, for want of some less noble quarter wherein to bestow my tediousness, I repaired to St. John. As I crossed the hall to his apartment, two men, just dismissed from his presence, passed me rapidly; one was unknown to me, but there was no mistaking the other,--it was Montreuil. I was greatly startled; the priest, not appearing to notice me, and conversing in a whispered yet seemingly vehement tone with his companion, hurried on and vanished through the street door. I entered St. John's room: he was alone, and received me with his usual gayety.

"Pardon me, Mr. Secretary," said I; "but if not a question of state, do inform me what you know respecting the taller one of those two gentlemen who have just quitted you."

"It is a question of state, my dear Devereux, so my answer must be brief,--very little."

"You know who he is?"

"Yes, a Jesuit, and a marvellously shrewd one: the Abbe Montreuil."

"He was my tutor."

"Ah, so I have heard."

"And your acquaintance with him is positively and _bona fide of a state nature?"

"Positively and _bona fide_."

"I could tell you something of him; he is certainly in the service of the Court at St. Germains, and a terrible plotter on this side the Channel."

"Possibly; but I wish to receive no information respecting him."

One great virtue of business did St. John possess, and I have never known any statesman who possessed it so eminently: it was the discreet distinction between friends of the statesman and friends of the man. Much and intimately as I knew St. John, I could never glean from him a single secret of a state nature, until, indeed, at a later period, I leagued myself to a portion of his public schemes. Accordingly I found him, at the present moment, perfectly impregnable to my inquiries; and it was not till I knew Montreuil's companion was that celebrated intriguant, the Abbe Gaultier, that I ascertained the exact nature of the priest's business with St. John, and the exact motive of the civilities he had received from Abigail Masham.* Being at last forced, despairingly, to give over the attempt on his discretion, I suffered St. John to turn the conversation upon other topics, and as these were not much to the existent humour of my mind, I soon rose to depart.


* Namely, that Count Devereux ascertained the priest's communications and overtures from the Chevalier. The precise extent of Bolingbroke's secret negotiations with the exiled Prince is still one of the darkest portions of the history of that time. That negotiations _were carried on, both by Harley and by St. John, very largely, and very closely, I need not say that there is no doubt.


"Stay, Count," said St. John; "shall you ride to-day?"

"If you will bear me company."

"_Volontiers_,--to say the truth, I was about to ask you to canter your bay horse with me first to Spring Gardens,* where I have a promise to make to the director; and, secondly, on a mission of charity to a poor foreigner of rank and birth, who, in his profound ignorance of this country, thought it right to enter into a plot with some wise heads, and to reveal it to some foolish tongues, who brought it to us with as much clatter as if it were a second gunpowder project. I easily brought him off that scrape, and I am now going to give him a caution for the future. Poor gentleman, I hear that he is grievously distressed in pecuniary matters, and I always had a kindness for exiles. Who knows but that a state of exile may be our own fate! and this alien is sprung from a race as haughty as that of St. John or of Devereux. The _res angusta domi must gall him sorely!"


* Vauxhall.

"True," said I, slowly. "What may be the name of the foreigner?"

"Why--complain not hereafter that I do not trust you in state matters--I will indulge--D'Alvarez--Don Diego,--a hidalgo of the best blood of Andalusia; and not unworthy of it, I fancy, in the virtues of fighting, though he may be in those of council. But--Heavens! Devereux--you seem ill!"

"No, no! Have you ever seen this man?"

"Never."

At this word a thrill of joy shot across me, for I knew St. John's fame for gallantry, and I was suspicious of the motives of his visit.

"St. John, I know this Spaniard; I know him well, and intimately. Could you not commission me to do your errand, and deliver your caution? Relief from me he might accept; from you, as a stranger, pride might forbid it; and you would really confer on me a personal and essential kindness, if you would give me so fair an opportunity to confer kindness upon him."

"Very well, I am delighted to oblige you in any way. Take his direction; you see his abode is in a very pitiful suburb. Tell him from me that he is quite safe at present; but tell him also to avoid, henceforth, all imprudence, all connection with priests, plotters, _et tous ces gens-la_, as he values his personal safety, or at least his continuance in this most hospitable country. It is not from every wood that we make a Mercury, nor from every brain that we can carve a Mercury's genius of intrigue."

"Nobody ought to be better skilled in the materials requisite for such productions than Mr. Secretary St. John!" said I; "and now, adieu."

"Adieu, if you will not ride with me. We meet at Sir William Wyndham's to-morrow."

Masking my agitation till I was alone, I rejoiced when I found myself in the open streets. I summoned a hackney-coach, and drove as rapidly as the vehicle would permit to the petty and obscure suburb to which St. John had directed me. The coach stopped at the door of a very humble but not absolutely wretched abode. I knocked at the door. A woman opened it, and, in answer to my inquiries, told me that the poor foreign gentleman was very ill,--very ill indeed,--had suffered a paralytic stroke,--not expected to live. His daughter was with him now,--would see no one,--even Mr. Barnard had been denied admission.

At that name my feelings, shocked and stunned at first by the unexpected intelligence of the poor Spaniard's danger, felt a sudden and fierce revulsion. I combated it. "This is no time," I thought, "for any jealous, for any selfish, emotion. If I can serve her, if I can relieve her father, let me be contented."--"She will see me," I said aloud, and I slipped some money in the woman's hand. "I am an old friend of the family, and I shall not be an unwelcome intruder on the sickroom of the sufferer."

"Intruder, sir,--bless you, the poor gentleman is quite speechless and insensible."

At hearing this I could refrain no longer. Isora's disconsolate, solitary, destitute condition broke irresistibly upon me, and all scruple of more delicate and formal nature vanished at once. I ascended the stairs, followed by the old woman--she stopped me by the threshold of a room on the second floor, and whispered "_There_!" I paused an instant,--collected breath and courage, and entered. The room was partially darkened. The curtains were drawn closely around the bed. By a table, on which stood two or three phials of medicine, I beheld Isora, listening with an eager, a _most eager and intent face to a man whose garb betrayed his healing profession, and who, laying a finger on the outstretched palm of his other hand, appeared giving his precise instructions, and uttering that oracular breath which--mere human words to him--was a message of fate itself,--a fiat on which hung all that makes life life to his trembling and devout listener. Monarchs of earth, ye have not so supreme a power over woe and happiness as one village leech! As he turned to leave her, she drew from a most slender purse a few petty coins, and I saw that she muttered some words indicative of the shame of poverty, as she tremblingly tended them to the outstretched palm. Twice did that palm close and open on the paltry sum; and the third time the native instinct of the heart overcame the later impulse of the profession. The limb of Galen drew back, and shaking with a gentle oscillation his capitalian honours, he laid the money softly on the table, and buttoning up the pouch of his nether garment, as if to resist temptation, he pressed the poor hand still extended towards him, and bowing over it with a kind respect for which I did long to approach and kiss his most withered and undainty cheek, he turned quickly round, and almost fell against me in the abstracted hurry of his exit.

"Hush!" said I, softly. "What hope of your patient?"

The leech glanced at me meaningly, and I whispered to him to wait for me below. Isora had not yet seen me. It is a notable distinction in the feelings, that all but the solitary one of grief sharpen into exquisite edge the keenness of the senses, but grief blunts them to a most dull obtuseness. I hesitated now to come forward; and so I stood, hat in hand, by the door, and not knowing that the tears streamed down my cheeks as I fixed my gaze upon Isora. She too stood still, just where the leech had left her, with her eyes fixed upon the ground, and her head drooping. The right hand, which the man had pressed, had sunk slowly and heavily by her side, with the small snowy fingers half closed over the palm. There is no describing the despondency which the listless position of that hand spoke, and the left hand lay with a like indolence of sorrow on the table, with one finger outstretched and pointing towards the phials, just as it bad, some moments before, seconded the injunctions of the prim physician. Well, for my part, if I were a painter I would come now and then to a sick chamber for a study.

At last Isora, with a very quiet gesture of self-recovery, moved towards the bed, and the next moment I was by her side. If my life depended on it, I could not write one, no, not _one syllable more of this scene.

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