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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Caxtons: A Family Picture - Part 16 - Chapter 7
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The Caxtons: A Family Picture - Part 16 - Chapter 7 Post by :Jredling Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1292

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The Caxtons: A Family Picture - Part 16 - Chapter 7

PART XVI CHAPTER VII

The Results.--Perverted Ambition.--Selfish Passion.--The Intellect Distorted by the Crookedness of the Heart.

Vivian's schemes thus prospered. He had an income that permitted him the outward appearances of a gentleman,--an independence modest, indeed, but independence still. We were all gone from London. One letter to me with the postmark of the town near which Colonel Vivian lived, sufficed to confirm my belief in his parentage and in his return to his friends. He then presented himself to Trevanion as the young man whose pen I had employed in the member's service; and knowing that I had never mentioned his name to Trevanion,--for without Vivian's permission I should not, considering his apparent trust in me, have deemed myself authorized to do so,--he took that of Gower, which he selected, haphazard, from an old Court Guide as having the advantage--in common with most names borne by the higher nobility of England--of not being confined, as the ancient names of untitled gentlemen usually are, to the members of a single family. And when, with his wonted adaptability and suppleness, he had contrived to lay aside or smooth over whatever in his manners would be calculated to displease Trevanion, and had succeeded in exciting the interest which that generous statesman always conceived for ability, he owned candidly one day, in the presence of Lady Ellinor,--for, his experience had taught him the comparative ease with which the sympathy of woman is enlisted in anything that appeals to the imagination, or seems out of the ordinary beat of life,--that he had reasons for concealing his connections for the present; that he had cause to believe I suspected what they were, and, from mistaken regard for his welfare, might acquaint his relations with his whereabout. He therefore begged Trevanion, if the latter had occasion to write to me, not to mention him. This promise Trevanion gave, though reluctantly,--for the confidence volunteered to him seemed to exact the promise; but as he detested mystery of all kinds, the avowal might have been fatal to any further acquaintance, and under auspices so doubtful, there would have been no chance of his obtaining that intimacy in Trevanion's house which he desired to establish, but for an accident which at once opened that house to him almost as a home.

Vivian had always treasured a lock of his mother's hair, cut off on her death-bed; and when he was at his French tutor's, his first pocket-money had been devoted to the purchase of a locket, on which he had caused to be inscribed his own name and his mother's. Through all his wanderings he had worn this relic; and in the direst pangs of want, no hunger had been keen enough to induce him to part with it. Now, one morning, the ribbon that suspended the locket gave way, and his eye resting on the names inscribed on the gold, he thought, in his own vague sense of right, imperfect as it was, that his compact with his father obliged him to have the names erased. He took it to a jeweller in Piccadilly for that purpose, and gave the requisite order, not taking notice of a lady in the farther part of the shop. The locket was still on the counter after Vivian had left, when the lady, coming forward, observed it, and saw the names on the surface. She had been struck by the peculiar tone of the voice, which she had heard before; and that very day Mr. Gower received a note from Lady Ellinor Trevanion, requesting to see him. Much wondering, he went. Presenting him with the locket, she said smiling, "There is only one gentleman in the world who calls himself De Caxton, unless it be his son. Ah! I see now why you wished to conceal yourself from my friend Pisistratus. But how is this? Can you have any difference with your father? Confide in me, or it is my duty to write to him."

Even Vivian's powers of dissimulation abandoned him, thus taken by surprise. He saw no alternative but to trust Lady Ellinor with his secret, and implore her to respect it. And then he spoke bitterly of his father's dislike to him, and his own resolution to prove the injustice of that dislike by the position he would himself establish in the world. At present his father believed him dead, and perhaps was not ill-pleased to think so. He would not dispel that belief till he could redeem any boyish errors, and force his family to be proud to acknowledge him.

Though Lady Ellinor was slow to believe that Roland could dislike his son, she could yet readily believe that he was harsh and choleric, with a soldier's high notions of discipline; the young man's story moved her, his determination pleased her own high spirit. Always with a touch of romance in her, and always sympathizing with each desire of ambition, she entered into Vivian's aspirations with an alacrity that surprised himself. She was charmed with the idea of ministering to the son's fortunes, and ultimately reconciling him to the father,--through her own agency; it would atone for any fault of which Roland could accuse herself in the old time.

She undertook to impart the secret to Trevanion, for she would have no secrets from him, and to secure his acquiescence in its concealment from all others.

And here I must a little digress from the chronological course of my explanatory narrative to inform the reader that when Lady Ellinor had her interview with Roland, she had been repelled by the sternness of his manner from divulging Vivian's secret. But on her first attempt to sound or conciliate him, she had begun with some eulogies on Trevanion's new friend and assistant, Mr. Gower, and had awakened Roland's suspicions of that person's identity with his son,--suspicions which had given him a terrible interest in our joint deliverance of bliss Trevanion. But so heroically had the poor soldier sought to resist his own fears, that on the way he shrank to put to me the questions that might paralyze the energies which, whatever the answer, were then so much needed. "For," said he to my father, "I felt the blood surging to my temples; and if I had said to Pisistratus, 'Describe this man,' and by his description I had recognized my son, and dreaded lest I might be too late to arrest him from so treacherous a crime, my brain would have given way,--and so I did not dare!"

I return to the thread of my story. From the time that Vivian confided in Lady Ellinor, the way was cleared to his most ambitious hopes; and though his acquisitions were not sufficiently scholastic and various to permit Trevanion to select him as a secretary, yet, short of sleeping at the house, he was little less intimate there than I had been.

Among Vivian's schemes of advancement, that of winning the hand and heart of the great heiress had not been one of the least sanguine. This hope was annulled when, not long after his intimacy at her father's house, she became engaged to young Lord Castleton. But he could not see Miss Trevanion with impunity (alas! who, with a heart yet free, could be insensible to attractions so winning?). He permitted the love--such love as his wild, half-educated, half-savage nature acknowledged--to creep into his soul, to master it; but he felt no hope, cherished no scheme while the young lord lived. With the death of her betrothed, Fanny was free; then he began to hope,--not yet to scheme. Accidentally he encountered Peacock. Partly from the levity that accompanied a false good-nature that was constitutional with him, partly from a vague idea that the man might be useful, Vivian established his quondam associate in the service of Trevanion. Peacock soon gained the secret of Vivian's love for Fanny, and dazzled by the advantages that a marriage with Miss Trevanion would confer on his patron, and might reflect on himself, and delighted at an occasion to exercise his dramatic accomplishments on the stage of real life, he soon practised the lesson that the theatres had taught him; namely, to make a sub-intrigue between maid and valet serve the schemes and insure the success of the lover. If Vivian had some opportunities to imply his admiration, Miss Trevanion gave him none to plead his cause. But the softness of her nature, and that graceful kindness which surrounded her like an atmosphere, emanating unconsciously from a girl's harmless desire to please, tended to deceive him. His own personal gifts were so rare, and in his wandering life the effect they had produced had so increased his reliance on them, that he thought he wanted but the fair opportunity to woo in order to win. In this state of mental intoxication, Trevanion, having provided for his Scotch secretary, took him to Lord N--s. His hostess was one of those middle-aged ladies of fashion who like to patronize and bring forward young men, accepting gratitude for condescension as a homage to beauty. She was struck by Vivian's exterior, and that "picturesque" in look and in manner which belonged to him. Naturally garrulous and indiscreet, she was unreserved to a pupil whom she conceived the whim to make "au fait to society." Thus she talked to him, among other topics in fashion, of Miss Trevanion, and expressed her belief that the present Lord Castleton had always admired her; but it was only on his accession to the marquisate that he had made up his mind to marry, or, from his knowledge of Lady Ellinor's ambition, thought that the Marquis of Castleton might achieve the prize which would have been refused to Sir Sedley Beaudesert. Then, to corroborate the predictions she hazarded, she repeated, perhaps with exaggeration, some passages from Lord Castleton's replies to her own suggestions on the subject. Vivian's alarm became fatally excited; unregulated passions easily obscured a reason so long perverted, and a conscience so habitually dulled. There is an instinct in all intense affection (whether it be corrupt or pure) that usually makes its jealousy prophetic. Thus, from the first, out of all the brilliant idlers round Fanny Trevanion, my jealousy had pre-eminently fastened on Sir Sedley Beaudesert, though, to all seeming, without a cause. From the same instinct Vivian had conceived the same vague jealousy,--a jealousy, in his instance, coupled with a deep dislike to his supposed rival, who had wounded his self-love. For the marquis, though to be haughty or ill-bred was impossible to the blandness of his nature, had never shown to Vivian the genial courtesies he had lavished upon me, and kept politely aloof from his acquaintance; while Vivian's personal vanity had been wounded by that drawing-room effect which the proverbial winner of all hearts produced without an effort,--an effect that threw into the shade the youth and the beauty (more striking, but infinitely less prepossessing) of the adventurous rival. Thus animosity to Lord Castleton conspired with Vivian's passion for Fanny to rouse all that was worst by nature and by rearing in this audacious and turbulent spirit.

His confidant Peacock suggested, from his stage experience, the outlines of a plot, to which Vivian's astuter intellect instantly gave tangibility and coloring. Peacock had already found Miss Trevanion's waiting-woman ripe for any measure that might secure himself as her husband and a provision for life as a reward. Two or three letters between them settled the preliminary engagements. A friend of the ex-comedian's had lately taken an inn on the north road, and might be relied upon. At that inn it was settled that Vivian should meet Miss Trevanion, whom Peacock, by the aid of the abigail, engaged to lure there. The sole difficulty that then remained would, to most men, have seemed the greatest; namely, the consent of Miss Trevanion to a Scotch marriage. But Vivian hoped all things from his own eloquence, art, and passion; and by an inconsistency, however strange, still not unnatural in the twists of so crooked an intellect, he thought that by insisting on the intention of her parents to sacrifice her youth to the very man of whose attractions he was most jealous,--by the picture of disparity of years, by the caricature of his rival's foibles and frivolities, by the commonplaces of "beauty bartered for ambition," etc.,--he might enlist her fears of the alternative on the side of the choice urged upon her. The plan proceeded, the time came: Peacock pretended the excuse of a sick relation to leave Trevanion; and Vivian a day before, on pretence of visiting the picturesque scenes in the neighborhood, obtained leave of absence. Thus the plot went on to its catastrophe.

"And I need not ask," said I, trying in vain to conceal my indignation, "how Miss Trevanion received your monstrous proposition!"

Vivian's pale cheek grew paler, but he made no reply.

"And if we had not arrived, what would you have done? Oh, dare you look into the gulf of infamy you have escaped!"

"I cannot and I will not bear this!" exclaimed Vivian, starting up. "I have laid my heart bare before you, and it is ungenerous and unmanly thus to press upon its wounds. You can moralize, you can speak coldly; but--I--I loved!"

"And do you think," I burst forth, "do you think that I did not love too,--love longer than you have done; better than you have done; gone through sharper struggles, darker days, more sleepless nights than you; and yet--"

Vivian caught hold of me.

"Hush!" he cried; "is this indeed true? I thought you might have had some faint and fleeting fancy for Miss Trevanion, but that you curbed and conquered it at once. Oh, no! It was impossible to have loved really, and to have surrendered all chance as you did,--have left the house, have fled from her presence! No, no; that was not love!"

"It was love! And I pray Heaven to grant that, one day, you may know how little your affection sprang from those feelings which make true love sublime as honor, and meek as is religion! Oh, cousin, cousin, with those rare gifts, what you might have been; what, if you will pass through repentance and cling to atonement, what, I dare hope, you may yet be! Talk not now of your love; I talk not of mine! Love is a thing gone from the lives of both. Go back to earlier thoughts, to heavier wrongs,--your father, that noble heart which you have so wantonly lacerated, which you have so little comprehended!"

Then, with all the warmth of emotion, I hurried on,--showed him the true nature of honor and of Roland (for the names were one!); showed him the watch, the hope, the manly anguish I had witnessed, and wept--I, not his son to see; showed him the poverty and privation to which the father, even at the last, had condemned himself, so that the son might have no excuse for the sins that Want whispers to the weak. This and much more, and I suppose with the pathos that belongs to all earnestness, I enforced, sentence after sentence, yielding to no interruption, overmastering all dissent, driving in the truth, nail after nail, as it were, into the obdurate heart that I constrained and grappled to. And at last the dark, bitter, cynical nature gave way, and the young man fell sobbing at my feet and cried aloud, "Spare me, spare me! I see it all now, wretch that I have been!"

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PART XVI CHAPTER VIThe Attempt to Build a Temple to Fortune Out of the Ruins of Home. "But," said Vivian, pursuing his tale, "but when you came to my aid, not knowing me; when you relieved me; when from your own lips, for the first time, I heard words that praised me, and for qualities that implied I might yet be 'worth much,'--ah!" he added mournfully, "I remember the very words,--a new light broke upon me, struggling and dim, but light still. The ambition with which I had sought the truckling Frenchman revived, and took worthier and more definite form. I
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