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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 2 - Chapter 9. A Development Of Character...
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Devereux - Book 2 - Chapter 9. A Development Of Character... Post by :azaus Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2914

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Devereux - Book 2 - Chapter 9. A Development Of Character...

BOOK II CHAPTER IX. A DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER, AND A LONG LETTER; A CHAPTER, ON THE WHOLE, MORE IMPORTANT THAN IT SEEMS


THE scenes through which, of late, I have conducted my reader are by no means episodical: they illustrate far more than mere narration the career to which I was so honourably devoted.

Dissipation,--women,--wine,--Tarleton for a friend, Lady Hasselton for a mistress. Let me now throw aside the mask.

To people who have naturally very intense and very acute feelings, nothing is so fretting, so wearing to the heart, as the commonplace affections, which are the properties and offspring of the world. We have seen the birds which, with wings unclipt, children fasten to a stake. The birds seek to fly, and are pulled back before their wings are well spread; till, at last, they either perpetually strain at the end of their short tether, exciting only ridicule by their anguish and their impotent impatience; or, sullen and despondent, they remain on the ground, without any attempt to fly, nor creep, even to the full limit which their fetters will allow. Thus it is with the feelings of the keen, wild nature I speak of: they are either striving forever to pass the little circle of slavery to which they are condemned, and so move laughter by an excess of action and a want of adequate power; or they rest motionless and moody, disdaining the petty indulgence they _might enjoy, till sullenness is construed into resignation, and despair seems the apathy of content. Time, however, cures what it does not kill; and both bird and beast, if they pine not to the death at first, grow tame and acquiescent at last.

What to me was the companionship of Tarleton, or the attachment of Lady Hasselton? I had yielded to the one, and I had half eagerly, half scornfully, sought the other. These, and the avocations they brought with them, consumed my time, and of Time murdered there is a ghost which we term _ennui_. The hauntings of this spectre are the especial curse of the higher orders; and hence springs a certain consequence to the passions. Persons in those ranks of society so exposed to _ennui are either rendered totally incapable of real love, or they love far more intensely than those in a lower station; for the affections in them are either utterly frittered away on a thousand petty objects (poor shifts to escape the persecuting spectre), or else, early disgusted with the worthlessness of these objects, the heart turns within and languishes for something not found in the daily routine of life. When this is the case, and when the pining of the heart is once satisfied, and the object of love is found, there are two mighty reasons why the love should be most passionately cherished. The first is, the utter indolence in which aristocratic life oozes away, and which allows full food for that meditation which can nurse by sure degrees the weakest desire into the strongest passion; and the second reason is, that the insipidity and hollowness of all patrician pursuits and pleasures render the excitement of love more delicious and more necessary to the "_ignavi terrarum domini_," than it is to those orders of society more usefully, more constantly, and more engrossingly engaged.

Wearied and sated with the pursuit of what was worthless, my heart, at last, exhausted itself in pining for what was pure. I recurred with a tenderness which I struggled with at first, and which in yielding to I blushed to acknowledge, to the memory of Isora. And in the world, surrounded by all which might be supposed to cause me to forget her, my heart clung to her far more endearingly than it had done in the rural solitudes in which she had first allured it. The truth was this; at the time I first loved her, other passions--passions almost equally powerful--shared her empire. Ambition and pleasure--vast whirlpools of thought--had just opened themselves a channel in my mind, and thither the tides of my desires were hurried and lost. Now those whirlpools had lost their power, and the channels, being dammed up, flowed back upon my breast. Pleasure had disgusted me, and the only ambition I had yet courted and pursued had palled upon me still more. I say, the only ambition, for as yet that which is of the loftier and more lasting kind had not afforded me a temptation; and the hope which had borne the name and rank of ambition had been the hope rather to glitter than to rise.

These passions, not yet experienced when I lost Isora, had afforded me at that period a ready comfort and a sure engrossment. And, in satisfying the hasty jealousies of my temper, in deeming Isora unworthy and Gerald my rival, I naturally aroused in my pride a dexterous orator as well as a firm ally. Pride not only strengthened my passions, it also persuaded them by its voice; and it was not till the languid yet deep stillness of sated wishes and palled desires fell upon me, that the low accent of a love still surviving at my heart made itself heard in answer.

I now began to take a different view of Isora's conduct. I now began to doubt where I had formerly believed; and the doubt, first allied to fear, gradually brightened into hope. Of Gerald's rivalry, at least of his identity with Barnard, and, consequently, of his power over Isora, there was, and there could be, no feeling short of certainty. But of what nature was that power? Had not Isora assured me that it was not love? Why should I disbelieve her? Nay, did she not love myself? had not her cheek blushed and her hand trembled when I addressed her? Were these signs the counterfeits of love? Were they not rather of that heart's dye which no skill _can counterfeit? She had declared that she could not, that she could never, be mine; she had declared so with a fearful earnestness which seemed to annihilate hope; but had she not also, in the same meeting, confessed that I was dear to her? Had not her lip given me a sweeter and a more eloquent assurance of that confession than words?--and could hope perish while love existed? She had left me,--she had bid me farewell forever; but that was no proof of a want of love, or of her unworthiness. Gerald, or Barnard, evidently possessed an influence over father as well as child. Their departure from------might have been occasioned by him, and she might have deplored, while she could not resist it; or she might not even have deplored; nay, she might have desired, she might have advised it, for my sake as well as hers, were she thoroughly convinced that the union of our loves was impossible.

But, then, of what nature could be this mysterious authority which Gerald possessed over her? That which he possessed over the sire, political schemes might account for; but these, surely, could not have much weight for the daughter. This, indeed, must still remain doubtful and unaccounted for. One presumption, that Gerald was either no favoured lover or that he was unacquainted with her retreat, might be drawn from his continued residence at Devereux Court. If he loved Isora, and knew her present abode, would he not have sought her? Could he, I thought, live away from that bright face, if once allowed to behold it? unless, indeed (terrible thought!) there hung over it the dimness of guilty familiarity, and indifference had been the offspring of possession. But was that delicate and virgin face, where changes with every moment coursed each other, harmonious to the changes of the mind, as shadows in a valley reflect the clouds of heaven!--was that face, so ingenuous, so girlishly revelant of all,--even of the slightest, the most transitory, emotion,--the face of one hardened in deceit and inured to shame? The countenance is, it is true, but a faithless mirror; but what man that has studied women will not own that there is, at least while the down of first youth is not brushed away, in the eye and cheek of zoned and untainted Innocence, that which survives not even the fruition of a lawful love, and has no (nay, not even a shadowed and imperfect) likeness in the face of guilt? Then, too, had any worldlier or mercenary sentiment entered her breast respecting me, would Isora have flown from the suit of the eldest scion of the rich house of Devereux? and would she, poor and destitute, the daughter of an alien and an exile, would she have spontaneously relinquished any hope of obtaining that alliance which maidens of the loftiest houses of England had not disdained to desire? Thus confused and incoherent, but thus yearning fondly towards her image and its imagined purity, did my thoughts daily and hourly array themselves; and, in proportion as I suffered common ties to drop from me one by one, those thoughts clung the more tenderly to that which, though severed from the rich argosy of former love, was still indissolubly attached to the anchor of its hope.

It was during this period of revived affection that I received the following letter from my uncle:--


I thank thee for thy long letter, my dear boy; I read it over three times with great delight. Ods fish, Morton, you are a sad Pickle, I fear, and seem to know all the ways of the town as well as your old uncle did some thirty years ago! 'Tis a very pretty acquaintance with human nature that your letters display. You put me in mind of little Sid, who was just about your height, and who had just such a pretty, shrewd way of expressing himself in simile and point. Ah, it is easy to see that you have profited by your old uncle's conversation, and that Farquhar and Etherege were not studied for nothing.

But I have sad news for thee, my child, or rather it is sad for me to tell thee my tidings. It is sad for the old birds to linger in their nest when the young ones take wing and leave them; but it is merry for the young birds to get away from the dull old tree, and frisk it in the sunshine,--merry for them to get mates, and have young themselves. Now, do not think, Morton, that by speaking of mates and young I am going to tell thee thy brothers are already married; nay, there is time enough for those things, and I am not friendly to early weddings, nor to speak truly, a marvellous great admirer of that holy ceremony at any age; for the which there may be private reasons too long to relate to thee now. Moreover, I fear my young day was a wicked time,--a heinous wicked time, and we were wont to laugh at the wedded state, until, body of me, some of us found it no laughing matter.

But to return, Morton,--to return to thy brothers: they have both left me; and the house seems to me not the good old house it did when ye were all about me; and, somehow or other, I look now oftener at the churchyard than I was wont to do. You are all gone now,--all shot up and become men; and when your old uncle sees you no more, and recollects that all his own contemporaries are out of the world, he cannot help saying, as William Temple, poor fellow, once prettily enough said, "Methinks it seems an impertinence in me to be still alive." You went first, Morton; and I missed you more than I cared to say: but you were always a kind boy to those you loved, and you wrote the old knight merry letters, that made him laugh, and think he was grown young again (faith, boy, that was a jolly story of the three Squires at Button's!), and once a week comes your packet, well filled, as if you did not think it a task to make me happy, which your handwriting always does; nor a shame to my gray hairs that I take pleasure in the same things that please thee! So, thou seest, my child, that I have got through thy absence pretty well, save that I have had no one to read thy letters to; for Gerald and thou are still jealous of each other,--a great sin in thee, Morton, which I prithee to reform. And Aubrey, poor lad, is a little too rigid, considering his years, and it looks not well in the dear boy to shake his head at the follies of his uncle. And as to thy mother, Morton, I read her one of thy letters, and she said thou wert a graceless reprobate to think so much of this wicked world, and to write so familiarly to thine aged relative. Now, I am not a young man, Morton; but the word aged has a sharp sound with it when it comes from a lady's mouth.

Well, after thou hadst been gone a month, Aubrey and Gerald, as I wrote thee word long since, in the last letter I wrote thee with my own hand, made a tour together for a little while, and that was a hard stroke on me. But after a week or two Gerald returned; and I went out in my chair to see the dear boy shoot,--'sdeath, Morton, he handles the gun well. And then Aubrey returned alone: but he looked pined and moping, and shut himself up, and as thou dost love him so, I did not like to tell thee till now, when he is quite well, that he alarmed me much for him; he is too much addicted to his devotions, poor child, and seems to forget that the hope of the next world ought to make us happy in this. Well, Morton, at last, two months ago, Aubrey left us again, and Gerald last week set off on a tour through the sister kingdom, as it is called. Faith, boy, if Scotland and England are sister kingdoms, 'tis a thousand pities for Scotland that they are not co-heiresses!

I should have told thee of this news before, but I have had, as thou knowest, the gout so villanously in my hand that, till t' other day, I have not held a pen, and old Nicholls, my amanuensis, is but a poor scribe; and I did not love to let the dog write to thee on all our family affairs, especially as I have a secret to tell thee which makes me plaguy uneasy. Thou must know, Morton, that after thy departure Gerald asked me for thy rooms; and though I did not like that any one else should have what belonged to thee, yet I have always had a foolish antipathy to say "No!" so thy brother had them, on condition to leave them exactly as they were, and to yield them to thee whenever thou shouldst return to claim them. Well, Morton, when Gerald went on his tour with thy youngest brother, old Nicholls--you know 'tis a garrulous fellow--told me one night that his son Hugh--you remember Hugh, a thin youth and a tall--lingering by the beach one evening, saw a man, wrapped in a cloak, come out of the castle cave, unmoor one of the boats, and push off to the little island opposite. Hugh swears by more than yea and nay that the man was Father Montreuil. Now, Morton, this made me very uneasy, and I saw why thy brother Gerald wanted thy rooms, which communicate so snugly with the sea. So I told Nicholls, slyly, to have the great iron gate at the mouth of the passage carefully locked; and when it was locked, I had an iron plate put over the whole lock, that the lean Jesuit might not creep even through the keyhole. Thy brother returned, and I told him a tale of the smugglers, who have really been too daring of late, and insisted on the door being left as I had ordered; and I told him, moreover, though not as if I had suspected his communication with the priest, that I interdicted all further converse with that limb of the Church. Thy brother heard me with an indifferently bad grace; but I was peremptory, and the thing was agreed on.

Well, child, the day before Gerald last left us, I went to take leave of him in his own room,--to tell thee the truth, I had forgotten his travelling expenses; when I was on the stairs of the tower I heard--by the Lord I did--Montreuil's voice in the outer room, as plainly as ever I heard it at prayers. Ods fish, Morton, I was an angered, and I made so much haste to the door that my foot slipped by the way: thy brother heard me fall, and came out; but I looked at him as I never looked at thee, Morton, and entered the room. Lo, the priest was not there: I searched both chambers in vain; so I made thy brother lift up the trapdoor, and kindle a lamp, and I searched the room below, and the passage. The priest was invisible. Thou knowest, Morton, that there is only one egress in the passage, and that was locked, as I have said before, so where the devil--the devil indeed--could thy tutor have escaped? He could not have passed me on the stairs without my seeing him; he could not have leaped the window without breaking his neck; he could not have got out of the passage without making himself a current of air. Ods fish, Morton, this thing might puzzle a wiser man, than thine uncle. Gerald affected to be mighty indignant at my suspicions; but, God forgive him, I saw he was playing a part. A man does not write plays, my child, without being keen-sighted in these little intrigues; and, moreover, it is impossible I could have mistaken thy tutor's voice, which, to do it justice, is musical enough, and is the most singular voice I ever heard,--unless little Sid's be excepted.

_A propos of little Sid. I remember that in the Mall, when I was walking there alone, three weeks after my marriage, De Grammont and Sid joined me. I was in a melancholic mood ('sdeath, Morton, marriage tames a man as water tames mice!)--"Aha, Sir William," cried Sedley, "thou hast a cloud on thee; prithee now brighten it away: see, thy wife shines on thee from the other end of the Mall." "Ah, talk not to a dying man of his physic!" said Grammont (that Grammont was a shocking rogue, Morton!) "Prithee, Sir William, what is the chief characteristic of wedlock? is it a state of war or of peace?" "Oh, peace to be sure!" cried Sedley, "and Sir William and his lady carry with them the emblem." "How!" cried I; for I do assure thee, Morton, I was of a different turn of mind. "How!" said Sid, gravely, "why, the emblem of peace is the _cornucopia_, which your lady and you equitably divide: she carries the _copia_, and you the _cor_--." Nay, Morton, nay, I cannot finish the jest; for, after all, it was a sorry thing in little Sid, whom I had befriended like a brother, with heart and purse, to wound me so cuttingly; but 'tis the way with your jesters.

Ods fish, now how I have got out of my story! Well, I did not go back to my room, Morton, till I had looked to the outside of the iron door, and seen that the plate was as firm as ever: so now you have the whole of the matter. Gerald went the next day, and I fear me much lest he should already be caught in some Jacobite trap. Write me thy advice on the subject. Meanwhile, I have taken the precaution to have the trap-door removed, and the aperture strongly boarded over.

But 'tis time for me to give over. I have been four days on this letter, for the gout comes now to me oftener than it did, and I do not know when I may again write to thee with my own hand; so I resolved I would e'en empty my whole budget at once. Thy mother is well and blooming; she is, at the present, abstractedly employed in a prodigious piece of tapestry which old Nicholls informs me is the wonder of all the women.

Heaven bless thee, my child! Take care of thyself, and drink moderately. It is hurtful, at thy age, to drink above a gallon or so at a sitting. Heaven bless thee again, and when the weather gets warmer, thou must come with thy kind looks, to make me feel at home again. At present the country wears a cheerless face, and everything about us is harsh and frosty, except the blunt, good-for-nothing heart of thine uncle, and that, winter or summer, is always warm to thee.

WILLIAM DEVEREUX.

P. S. I thank thee heartily for the little spaniel of the new breed thou gottest me from the Duchess of Marlborough. It has the prettiest red and white, and the blackest eyes possible. But poor Ponto is as jealous as a wife three years married, and I cannot bear the old hound to be vexed, so I shall transfer the little creature, its rival, to thy mother.


This letter, tolerably characteristic of the blended simplicity, penetration, and overflowing kindness of the writer, occasioned me much anxious thought. There was no doubt in my mind but that Gerald and Montreuil were engaged in some intrigue for the exiled family. The disguised name which the former assumed, the state reasons which D'Alvarez confessed that Barnard, or rather Gerald, had for concealment, and which proved, at least, that some state plot in which Gerald was engaged was known to the Spaniard, joined to those expressions of Montreuil, which did all but own a design for the restoration of the deposed line, and the power which I knew he possessed over Gerald, whose mind, at once bold and facile, would love the adventure of the intrigue, and yield to Montreuil's suggestions on its nature,--these combined circumstances left me in no doubt upon a subject deeply interesting to the honour of our house, and the very life of one of its members. Nothing, however, for me to do, calculated to prevent or impede the designs of Montreuil and the danger of Gerald, occurred to me. Eager alike in my hatred and my love, I said, inly, "What matters it whether one whom the ties of blood never softened towards me, with whom, from my childhood upwards, I have wrestled as with an enemy, what matters it whether he win fame or death in the perilous game he has engaged in?" And turning from this most generous and most brotherly view of the subject, I began only to think whether the search or the society of Isora also influenced Gerald in his absence from home. After a fruitless and inconclusive meditation on that head, my thoughts took a less selfish turn, and dwelt with all the softness of pity, and the anxiety of love, upon the morbid temperament and ascetic devotions of Aubrey. What, for one already so abstracted from the enjoyments of earth, so darkened by superstitious misconceptions of the true nature of God and the true objects of His creatures,--what could be anticipated but wasted powers and a perverted life? Alas! when will men perceive the difference between religion and priestcraft? When will they perceive that reason, so far from extinguishing religion by a more gaudy light, sheds on it all its lustre? It is fabled that the first legislator of the Peruvians received from the Deity a golden rod, with which in his wanderings he was to strike the earth, until in some destined spot the earth entirely absorbed it, and there--and there alone--was he to erect a temple to the Divinity. What is this fable but the cloak of an inestimable moral? Our reason is the rod of gold; the vast world of truth gives the soil, which it is perpetually to sound; and only where without resistance the soil receives the rod which guided and supported us will our altar be sacred and our worship be accepted.

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