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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 14
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What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 14 Post by :acstanfieldent Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1578

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What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 14

BOOK II CHAPTER XIV

There are certain events which to each man's life are as comets to the earth, seemingly strange and erratic portents; distinct from the ordinary lights which guide our course and mark our seasons, yet true to their own laws, potent in their own influences. Philosophy speculates on their effects, and disputes upon their uses; men who do not philosophize regard them as special messengers and bodes of evil.

They came out of the little park into a by-lane; a vast tract of common land, yellow with furze and undulated with swell and hollow, spreading in front; to their right the dark beechwoods, still beneath the weight of the July noon. Lionel had been talking about the "Faerie Queene," knight-errantry, the sweet impossible dream-life that, safe from Time, glides by bower and hall, through magic forests and by witching eaves in the world of poet-books. And Darrell listened, and the flute-notes mingled with the atmosphere faint and far off, like voices from that world itself.

Out then they came, this broad waste land before them; and Lionel said merrily,--

"But this is the very scene! Here the young knight, leaving his father's hall, would have checked his destrier, glancing wistfully now over that green wild which seems so boundless, now to the 'umbrageous horror' of those breathless woodlands, and questioned himself which way to take for adventure."

"Yes," said Darrell, coming out from his long reserve on all that concerned his past life,--"Yes, and the gold of the gorse-blossoms tempted me; and I took the waste land." He paused a moment, and renewed: "And then, when I had known cities and men, and snatched romance from dull matter-of-fact, then I would have done as civilization does with romance itself,--I would have enclosed the waste land for my own aggrandizement. Look," he continued, with a sweep of the hand round the width of prospect, "all that you see to the verge of the horizon, some fourteen years ago, was to have been thrown into the pretty paddock we have just quitted, and serve as park round the house I was then building. Vanity of human wishes! What but the several proportions of their common folly distinguishes the baffled squire from the arrested conqueror? Man's characteristic cerebral organ must certainly be acquisitiveness."

"Was it his organ of acquisitiveness that moved Themistocles to boast that 'he could make a small state great'?" "Well remembered,--ingeniously quoted," returned Darrell, with the polite bend of his stately head. "Yes, I suspect that the coveting organ had much to do with the boast. To build a name was the earliest dream of Themistocles, if we are to accept the anecdote that makes him say, 'The trophies of Miltiades would not suffer him to sleep,' To build a name, or to create a fortune, are but varying applications of one human passion. The desire of something we have not is the first of our childish remembrances: it matters not what form it takes, what object it longs for; still it is to acquire! it never deserts us while we live."

"And yet, if I might, I should like to ask, what you now desire that you do not possess?"

"I--nothing; but I spoke of the living! I am dead. Only," added Darrell, with his silvery laugh, "I say, as poor Chesterfield said before me, 'It is a secret: keep it.'"

Lionel made no reply; the melancholy of the words saddened him: but Darrell's manner repelled the expression of sympathy or of interest; and the boy fell into conjecture, what had killed to the world this man's intellectual life?

And thus silently they continued to wander on till the sound of the flute had long been lost to their ears. Was the musician playing still?

At length they came round to the other end of Fawley village, and Darrell again became animated.

"Perhaps," said he, returning to the subject of talk that had been abruptly suspended,--"perhaps the love of power is at the origin of each restless courtship of Fortune: yet, after all, who has power with less alloy than the village thane? With so little effort, so little thought, the man in the manor-house can make men in the cottage happier here below and more fit for a hereafter yonder. In leaving the world I come from contest and pilgrimage, like our sires the Crusaders, to reign at home."

As he spoke, he entered one of the cottages. An old paralytic man was seated by the fire, hot though the July sun was out of doors; and his wife, of the same age, and almost as helpless, was reading to him a chapter in the Old Testament,--the fifth chapter in Genesis, containing the genealogy, age, and death of the patriarchs before the Flood. How the faces of the couple brightened when Darrell entered. "Master Guy!" said the old man, tremulously rising. The world-weary orator and lawyer was still Master Guy to him.

"Sit down, Matthew, and let, me read you a chapter." Darrell took the Holy Book, and read the Sermon on the Mount. Never had Lionel heard anything like that reading; the feeling which brought out the depth of the sense, the tones, sweeter than the flute, which clothed the divine words in music. As Darrell ceased, some beauty seemed gone from the day. He lingered a few minutes, talking kindly and familiarly, and then turned into another cottage, where lay a sick woman. He listened to her ailments, promised to send her something to do her good from his own stores, cheered up her spirits, and, leaving her happy, turned to Lionel with a glorious smile, that seemed to ask, "And is there not power in this?"

Put it was the sad peculiarity of this remarkable man that all his moods were subject to rapid and seemingly unaccountable variations. It was as if some great blow had fallen on the mainspring of his organization, and left its original harmony broken up into fragments each impressive in itself, but running one into the other with an abrupt discord, as a harp played upon by the winds. For, after this evident effort at self-consolation or self-support in soothing or strengthening others, suddenly Darrell's head fell again upon his breast, and he walked on, up the village lane, heeding no longer either the open doors of expectant cottagers or the salutation of humble passers-by. "And I could have been so happy here!" he said suddenly. "Can I not be so yet? Ay, perhaps, when I am thoroughly old,--tied to the world but by the thread of an hour. Old men do seem happy; behind them, all memories faint, save those of childhood and sprightly youth; before them, the narrow ford, and the sun dawning up through the clouds on the other shore. 'T is the critical descent into age in which man is surely most troubled; griefs gone, still rankling; nor-strength yet in his limbs, passion yet in his heart-reconciled to what loom nearest in the prospect,--the armchair and the palsied head. Well! life is a quaint puzzle. Bits the most incongruous join into each other, and the scheme thus gradually becomes symmetrical and clear; when, lo! as the infant claps his hands and cries, 'See! see! the puzzle is made out!' all the pieces are swept back into the box,--black box with the gilded nails. Ho! Lionel, look up; there is our village church, and here, close at my right, the churchyard!"

Now while Darrell and his young companion were directing their gaze to the right of the village lane, towards the small gray church,--towards the sacred burial-ground in which, here and there amongst humbler graves, stood the monumental stone inscribed to the memory of some former Darrell, for whose remains the living sod had been preferred to the family vault; while both slowly neared the funeral spot, and leaned, silent and musing, over the rail that fenced it from the animals turned to graze on the sward of the surrounding green,--a foot-traveller, a stranger in the place, loitered on the threshold of the small wayside inn, about fifty yards off to the left of the lane, and looked hard at the still figures of the two kinsmen.

Turning then to the hostess, who was standing somewhat within the threshold, a glass of brandy-and-water in her hand, the third glass that stranger had called for during his half hour's rest in the hostelry, quoth the man,

"The taller gentleman yonder is surely your squire, is he not? but who is the shorter and younger person?"

The landlady put forth her head.

"Oh! that is a relation of the squire down on a visit, sir. I heard coachman say that the squire's taken to him hugely; and they do think at the Hall that the young gentleman will be his heir."

"Aha!--indeed--his heir! What is the lad's name? What relation can he be to Mr. Darrell?"

"I don't know what relation exactly, sir; but he is one of the Haughtons, and they've been kin to the Fawley folks time out of mind."

"Haughton?--aha! Thank you, ma'am. Change, if you please."

The stranger tossed off his dram, and stretched his hand for his change.

"Beg pardon, sir, but this must be forring money," said the landlady, turning a five-franc piece on her palm with suspicious curiosity.

"Foreign! Is it possible?" The stranger dived again into his pocket, and apparently with some difficulty hunted out half-a-crown.

"Sixpence more, if you please, sir; three brandies, and bread-and-cheese and the ale too, sir."

"How stupid I am! I thought that French coin was a five shilling piece. I fear I have no English money about me but this half-crown; and I can't ask you to trust me, as you don't know me."

"Oh, sir, 't is all one if you know the squire. You may be passing this way again."

"I shall not forget my debt when I do, you may be sure," said the stranger; and, with a nod, he walked away in the same direction as Darrell and Lionel had already taken, through a turnstile by a public path that, skirting the churchyard and the neighbouring parsonage, led along a cornfield to the demesnes of Fawley.

The path was narrow, the corn rising on either side, so that two persons could not well walk abreast. Lionel was some paces in advance, Darrell walking slow. The stranger followed at a distance: once or twice he quickened his pace, is if resolved to overtake Darrell; then apparently his mind misgave him, and he again fell back.

There was something furtive and sinister about the man. Little could be seen of his face, for he wore a large hat of foreign make, slouched deep over his brow, and his lips and jaw were concealed by a dark and full mustache and beard. As much of the general outline of the countenance as remained distinguishable was nevertheless decidedly handsome; but a complexion naturally rich in colour seemed to have gained the heated look which comes with the earlier habits of intemperance before it fades into the leaden hues of the later.

His dress bespoke pretension to a certain rank: but its component parts were strangely ill-assorted, out of date, and out of repair; pearl-coloured trousers, with silk braids down their sides; brodequins to match,--Parisian fashion three years back, but the trousers shabby, the braiding discoloured, the brodequins in holes. The coat-once a black evening dress-coat--of a cut a year or two anterior to that of the trousers; satin facing,-cloth napless, satin stained. Over all, a sort of summer travelling-cloak, or rather large cape of a waterproof silk, once the extreme mode with the lions of the Chaussee d'Autin whenever they ventured to rove to Swiss cantons or German spas; but which, from a certain dainty effeminacy in its shape and texture, required the minutest elegance in the general costume of its wearer as well as the cleanliest purity in itself. Worn by this traveller, and well-nigh worn out too, the cape became a finery mournful as a tattered pennon over a wreck.

Yet in spite of this dress, however unbecoming, shabby, obsolete, a second glance could scarcely fail to note the wearer as a man wonderfully well-shaped,--tall, slender in the waist, long of limb, but with a girth of chest that showed immense power; one of those rare figures that a female eye would admire for grace, a recruiting sergeant for athletic strength.

But still the man's whole bearing and aspect, even apart from the dismal incongruities of his attire, which gave him the air of a beggared spendthrift, marred the favourable effect that physical comeliness in itself produces. Difficult to describe how,--difficult to say why,--but there is a look which a man gets, and a gait which he contracts when the rest of mankind cut him; and this man had that look and that gait.

"So, so," muttered the stranger. "That boy his heir? so, so. How can I get to speak to him? In his own house he would not see me: it must be as now, in the open air; but how catch him alone? and to lurk in the inn, in his own village,--perhaps for a day,--to watch an occasion; impossible! Besides, where is the money for it? Courage, courage!" He quickened his pace, pushed back his hat. "Courage! Why not now? Now or never!"

While the man thus mutteringly soliloquized, Lionel had reached the gate which opened into the grounds of Fawley, just in the rear of the little lake. Over the gate he swung himself lightly, and, turning back to Darrell cried, "Here is the doe waiting to welcome you."

Just as Darrell, scarcely heeding the exclamation, and with his musing eyes on the ground, approached the gate, a respectful hand opened it wide, a submissive head bowed low, a voice artificially soft faltered forth words, broken and, indistinct, but of which those most audible were--"Pardon, me; something to communicate,--important; hear me."

Darrell started, just as the traveller almost touched him, started, recoiled, as one on whose path rises a wild beast. His bended head became erect, haughty, indignant, defying; but his cheek was pale, and his lip quivered. "You here! You in England-at Fawley! You presume to accost me! You, sir,--you!"

Lionel just caught the sound of the voice as the doe had come timidly up to him. He turned round sharply, and beheld Darrell's stern, imperious countenance, on which, stern and imperious though it was, a hasty glance could discover, at once, a surprise that almost bordered upon fear. Of the stranger still holding the gate he saw but the back, and his voice he did not hear, though by the man's gesture he was evidently replying. Lionel paused a moment irresolute; but as the man continued to speak, he saw Darrell's face grow paler and paler, and in the impulse of a vague alarm he hastened towards him; but just within three feet of the spot, Darrell arrested his steps.

"Go home, Lionel; this person would speak to me in private." Then, in a lower tone, he said to the stranger, "Close the gate, sir; you are standing upon the land of my fathers. If you would speak with me, this way;" and, brushing through the corn, Darrell strode towards a patch of waste land that adjoined the field: the man followed him, and both passed from Lionel's eyes. The doe had come to the gate to greet her master; she now rested her nostrils on the bar, with a look disappointed and plaintive.

"Come," said Lionel, "come." The doe would not stir.

So the boy walked on alone, not much occupied with what had just passed. "Doubtless," thought he, "some person in the neighbourhood upon country business."

He skirted the lake, and seated himself on a garden bench near the house. What did he there think of?--who knows? Perhaps of the Great World; perhaps of little Sophy! Time fled on: the sun was receding in the west when Darrell hurried past him without speaking, and entered the house.

The host did not appear at dinner, nor all that evening. Mr. Mills made an excuse: Mr. Darrell did not feel very well.

Fairthorn had Lionel all to himself, and having within the last few days reindulged in open cordiality to the young guest, he was especially communicative that evening. He talked much on Darrell, and with all the affection that, in spite of his fear, the poor flute-player felt for his ungracious patron. He told many anecdotes of the stern man's tender kindness to all that came within its sphere. He told also anecdotes more striking of the kind man's sternness where some obstinate prejudice, some ruling passion, made him "granite."

"Lord, my dear young sir," said Fairthorn, "be his most bitter open enemy, and fall down in the mire, the first hand to help you would be Guy Darrell's; but be his professed friend, and betray him to the worth of a straw, and never try to see his face again if you are wise,--the most forgiving and the least forgiving of human beings. But--"

The study door noiselessly opened, and Darrell's voice called out, "Fairthorn, let me speak with you."

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NEXT BOOKS

What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 15 What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 15

What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 15
BOOK II CHAPTER XVEvery street has two sides, the shady side and the sunny. When two men shake hands and part, mark which of the two takes the sunny side: he will be the younger man of the two. The next morning, neither Darrell nor Fairthorn appeared at breakfast; but as soon as Lionel had concluded that meal, Mr. Mills informed him, with customary politeness, that Mr. Darrell wished to speak with him in the study. Study, across the threshold of which Lionel had never yet set footstep! He entered it now with a sentiment of mingled curiosity and awe. Nothing
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What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 13 What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 13

What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 13
BOOK II CHAPTER XIIIHe who sees his heir in his own child, carries his eye over hopes and possessions lying far beyond his gravestone, viewing his life, even here, as a period but closed with a comma. He who sees his heir in another man's child, sees the full stop at the end of the sentence. Lionel's departure was indefinitely postponed; nothing more was said of it. Meanwhile Darrell's manner towards him underwent a marked change. The previous indifference the rich kinsman had hitherto shown as to the boy's past life, and the peculiarities of his intellect and character, wholly vanished.
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