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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 2
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What Will He Do With It - Book 2 - Chapter 2 Post by :dziadzia Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2515

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


Guy Darrell--and Stilled Life.

The room in which Lionel now found himself was singularly quaint. An
antiquarian or architect would have discovered at a glance that at some
period it had formed part of the entrance-hall; and when, in Elizabeth's
or James the First's day, the refinement in manners began to penetrate
from baronial mansions to the homes of the gentry, and the entrance-hall
ceased to be the common refectory of the owner and his dependants, this
apartment had been screened off by perforated panels, which for the
sake of warmth and comfort had been filled up into solid wainscot by a
succeeding generation. Thus one side of the room was richly carved with
geometrical designs and arabesque pilasters, while the other three sides
were in small simple panels, with a deep fantastic frieze in plaster,
depicting a deer-chase in relief and running be tween woodwork and
ceiling. The ceiling itself was relieved by long pendants without any
apparent meaning, and by the crest of the Darrells,--a heron, wreathed
round with the family motto, "Ardua petit Ardea." It was a dining-room,
as was shown by the character of the furniture. But there was no attempt
on the part of the present owner, and there had clearly been none on
the part of his predecessor, to suit the furniture to the room. The
furniture, indeed, was of the heavy, graceless taste of George the
First,--cumbrous chairs in walnut-tree, with a worm-eaten mosaic of the
heron on their homely backs, and a faded blue worsted on their seats;
a marvellously ugly sideboard to match, and on it a couple of black
shagreen cases, the lids of which were flung open, and discovered the
pistol-shaped handles of silver knives. The mantelpiece reached to the
ceiling, in panelled compartments, with heraldic shields, and supported
by rude stone Caryatides. On the walls were several pictures,--family
portraits, for the names were inscribed on the frames. They varied in
date from the reign of Elizabeth to that of George I. A strong
family likeness pervaded them all,--high features, dark hair, grave
aspects,--save indeed one, a Sir Ralph Haughton Darrell, in a dress
that spoke him of the holiday date of Charles II.,--all knots, lace, and
ribbons; evidently the beau of the race; and he had blue eyes, a
blonde peruke, a careless profligate smile, and looked altogether as
devil-me-care, rakehelly, handsome, good-for-nought, as ever swore at a
drawer, beat a watchman, charmed a lady, terrified a husband, and hummed
a song as he pinked his man.

Lionel was still gazing upon the effigies of this airy cavalier when the
door behind him opened very noiselessly, and a man of imposing presence
stood on the threshold,--stood so still, and the carved mouldings of the
doorway so shadowed, and as it were cased round his figure, that Lionel,
on turning quickly, might have mistaken him for a portrait brought
into bold relief from its frame by a sudden fall of light. We hear it,
indeed, familiarly said that such a one is like an old picture. Never
could it be more appositely said than of the face on which the young
visitor gazed, much startled and somewhat awed. Not such as inferior
limners had painted in the portraits there, though it had something
in common with those family lineaments, but such as might have looked
tranquil power out of the canvas of Titian.

The man stepped forward, and the illusion passed. "I thank you," he
said, holding out his hand, "for taking me at my word, and answering me
thus in person." He paused a moment, surveying Lionel's countenance with
a keen but not unkindly eye, and added softly, "Very like your father."

At these words Lionel involuntarily pressed the hand which he had taken.
That hand did not return the pressure. It lay an instant in Lionel's
warm clasp--not repelling, not responding--and was then very gently

"Did you come from London?"

"No, sir; I found your letter yesterday at Hampton Court. I had been
staying some days in that neighbourhood. I came on this morning: I was
afraid too unceremoniously; your kind welcome reassures me there."

The words were well chosen and frankly said. Probably they pleased
the host, for the expression of his countenance was, on the whole,
propitious; but he merely inclined his head with a kind of lofty
indifference, then, glancing at his watch, he rang the bell. The servant
entered promptly. "Let dinner be served within an hour."

"Pray, sir," said Lionel, "do not change your hours on my account."

Mr. Darrell's brow slightly contracted. Lionel's tact was in fault
there; but the great man answered quietly, "All hours are the same to
me; and it were strange if a host could be deranged by consideration to
his guest,--on the first day too. Are you tired? Would you like to go to
your room, or look out for half an hour? The sky is clearing."

"I should so like to look out, sir."

"This way then."

Mr. Darrell, crossing the hall, threw open a door opposite to that
by which Lionel entered, and the lake (we will so call it) lay before
them,--separated from the house only by a shelving gradual declivity, on
which were a few beds of flowers,--not the most in vogue nowadays, and
disposed in rambling old-fashioned parterres. At one angle, a quaint and
dilapidated sun-dial; at the other, a long bowling-alley, terminated
by one of those summer-houses which the Dutch taste, following the
Revolution of 1688, brought into fashion. Mr. Darrell passed down this
alley (no bowls there now), and observing that Lionel looked curiously
towards the summer-house, of which the doors stood open, entered it. A
lofty room with coved ceiling, painted with Roman trophies of helms and
fasces, alternated with crossed fifes and fiddles, painted also.

"Amsterdam manners," said Mr. Darrell, slightly shrugging his shoulders.
"Here a former race heard music, sang glees, and smoked from clay pipes.
That age soon passed, unsuited to English energies, which are not to be
united with Holland phlegm! But the view from the window-look out there.
I wonder whether men in wigs and women in hoops enjoyed that. It is a
mercy they did not clip those banks into a straight canal!"

The view was indeed lovely,--the water looked so blue and so large and
so limpid, woods and curving banks reflected deep on its peaceful bosom.

"How Vance would enjoy this!" cried Lionel. "It would come into a
picture even better than the Thames."

"Vance? who is Vance?"

"The artist,--a great friend of mine. Surely, sir, you have heard of him
or seen his pictures!"

"Himself and his pictures are since my time. Days tread down days for
the recluse, and he forgets that celebrities rise with their suns, to
wane with their moons,

"'Truditur dies die,
Novaeque pergunt interire lunae'"

"All suns do not set; all moons do not wane!" cried Lionel, with blunt enthusiasm. "When Horace speaks elsewhere of the Julian star, he compares it to a moon--'inter ignes minores'--and surely Fame is not among the orbs which 'pergunt interire,'--hasten on to perish!"

"I am glad to see that you retain your recollections of Horace," said Mr. Darrell, frigidly, and without continuing the allusion to celebrities; "the most charming of all poets to a man of my years, and" (he very dryly added) "the most useful for popular quotation to men at any age."

Then sauntering forth carelessly, he descended the sloping turf, came to the water-side, and threw himself at length on the grass: the wild thyme which he crushed sent up its bruised fragrance. There, resting his face on his hand, Darrell gazed along the water in abstracted silence. Lionel felt that he was forgotten; but he was not hurt. By this time a strong and admiring interest for his cousin had sprung up within his breast: he would have found it difficult to explain why. But whosoever at that moment could have seen Guy Darrell's musing countenance, or whosoever, a few minutes before, could have heard the very sound of his voice, sweetly, clearly full; each slow enunciation unaffectedly, mellowly distinct,--making musical the homeliest; roughest word, would have understood and shared the interest which Lionel could not explain. There are living human faces, which, independently of mere physical beauty, charm and enthrall us more than the most perfect lineaments which Greek sculptor ever lent to a marble face; there are key-notes in the thrilling human voice, simply uttered, which can haunt the heart, rouse the passions, lull rampant multitudes, shake into dust the thrones of guarded kings, and effect more wonders than ever yet have been wrought by the most artful chorus or the deftest quill.

In a few minutes the swans from the farther end of the water came sailing swiftly towards the bank on which Darrell reclined. He had evidently made friends with them, and they rested their white breasts close on the margin, seeking to claim his notice with a low hissing salutation, which, it is to be hoped, they changed for something less sibilant in that famous song with which they depart this life.

Darrell looked up. "They come to be fed," said he, "smooth emblems of the great social union. Affection is the offspring of utility. I am useful to them: they love me." He rose, uncovered, and bowed to the birds in mock courtesy: "Friends, I have no bread to give you."

LIONEL.--"Let me run in for some. I would be useful too."

MR. DARRELL.--"Rival!--useful to my swans?"

LIONEL (tenderly).--"Or to you, sir."

He felt as if he had said too much, and without waiting for permission, ran indoors to find some one whom he could ask for the bread.

"Sonless, childless, hopeless, objectless!" said Darrell, murmuringly to himself, and sank again into revery.

By the time Lionel returned with the bread, another petted friend had joined the master. A tame doe had caught sight of him from her covert far away, came in light bounds to his side, and was pushing her delicate nostril into his drooping hand. At the sound of Lionel's hurried step, she took flight, trotted off a few paces, then turned, looking.

"I did not know you had deer here."

"Deer!--in this little paddock!--of course not; only that doe. Fairthorn introduced her here. By the by," continued Darrell, who was now throwing the bread to the swans, and had resumed his careless, unmeditative manner, "you were not aware that I have a brother hermit,--a companion be sides the swans and the doe. Dick Fairthorn is a year or two younger than myself, the son of my father's bailiff. He was the cleverest boy at his grammar-school. Unluckily he took to the flute, and unfitted himself for the present century. He condescends, however, to act as my secretary,--a fair classical scholar, plays chess, is useful to me,--I am useful to him. We have an affection for each other. I never forgive any one who laughs at him. The half-hour bell, and you will meet him at dinner. Shall we come in and dress?"

They entered the house; the same man-servant was in attendance in the hall. "Show Mr. Haughton to his room." Darrell inclined his head--I use that phrase, for the gesture was neither bow nor nod--turned down a narrow passage and disappeared.

Led up an uneven staircase of oak, black as ebony, with huge balustrades, and newel-posts supporting clumsy balls, Lionel was conducted to a small chamber, modernized a century ago by a faded Chinese paper, and a mahogany bedstead, which took up three-fourths of the space, and was crested with dingy plumes, that gave it the cheerful look of a hearse; and there the attendant said, "Have you the key of your knapsack, sir? shall I put out your things to dress?" Dress! Then for the first time the boy remembered that he had brought with him no evening dress,--nay, evening dress, properly so called, he possessed not at all in any corner of the world. It had never yet entered into his modes of existence. Call to mind when you were a boy of seventeen, "betwixt two ages hovering like a star," and imagine Lionel's sensations. He felt his cheek burn as if he had been detected in a crime. "I have no dress things," he said piteously; "only a change of linen, and this," glancing at the summer jacket. The servant was evidently a most gentleman-like man: his native sphere that of groom of the chambers. "I will mention it to Mr. Darrell; and if you will favour me with your address in London, I will send to telegraph for what you want against to-morrow."

"Many thanks," answered Lionel, recovering his presence of mind; "I will speak to Mr. Darrell myself."

"There is the hot water, sir; that is the bell. I have the honour to be placed at your commands." The door closed, and Lionel unlocked his knapsack; other trousers, other waistcoat had he,--those worn at the fair, and once white. Alas! they had not since then passed to the care of the laundress. Other shoes,--double-soled for walking. There was no help for it but to appear at dinner, attired as he had been before, in his light pedestrian jacket, morning waistcoat flowered with sprigs, and a fawn-coloured nether man. Could it signify much,--only two men? Could the grave Mr. Darrell regard such trifles?--Yes, if they intimated want of due respect.

"Durum! sed fit levius Patientia
Quicquid corrigere est nefas."

On descending the stairs, the same high-bred domestic was in waiting to show him into the library. Mr. Darrell was there already, in the simple but punctilious costume of a gentleman who retains in seclusion the habits customary in the world. At the first glance Lionel thought he saw a slight cloud of displeasure on his host's brow. He went up to Mr. Darrell ingenuously, and apologized for the deficiencies of his itinerant wardrobe. "Say the truth," said his host; "you thought you were coming to an old churl, with whom ceremony was misplaced."

"Indeed no!" exclaimed Lionel. "But--but I have so lately left school."

"Your mother might have thought for you."

"I did not stay to consult her, indeed, sir; I hope you are not offended."

"No, but let me not offend you if I take advantage of my years and our relationship to remark that a young man should be careful not to let himself down below the standard of his own rank. If a king could bear to hear that he was only a ceremonial, a private gentleman may remember that there is but a ceremonial between himself and--his hatter!"

Lionel felt the colour mount his brow; but Darrell pressing the distasteful theme no further, and seemingly forgetting its purport, turned his remarks carelessly towards the weather. "It will be fair to-morrow: there is no mist on the hill yonder. Since you have a painter for a friend, perhaps you yourself are a draughtsman. There are some landscape effects here which Fairthorn shall point out to you."

"I fear, Mr. Darrell," said Lionel, looking down, "that to-morrow I must leave you."

"So soon? Well, I suppose the place must be very dull."

"Not that--not that; but I have offended you, and I would not repeat the offence. I have not the 'ceremonial' necessary to mark me as a gentleman,--either here or at home."

"So! Bold frankness and ready wit command ceremonials," returned Darrell, and for the first time his lip wore a smile. "Let me present to you Mr. Fairthorn," as the door, opening, showed a shambling awkward figure, with loose black knee-breeches and buckled shoes. The figure made a strange sidelong bow; and hurrying in a lateral course, like a crab suddenly alarmed, towards a dim recess protected by a long table, sank behind a curtain fold, and seemed to vanish as a crab does amidst the shingles.

"Three minutes yet to dinner, and two before the lettercarrier goes," said the host, glancing at his watch. "Mr. Fairthorn, will you write a note for me?" There was a mutter from behind the curtain. Darrell walked to the place, and whispered a few words, returned to the hearth, rang the bell. "Another letter for the post, Mills: Mr. Fairthorn is sealing it. You are looking at my book-shelves, Lionel. As I understand that your master spoke highly of you, I presume that you are fond of reading."

"I think so, but I am not sure," answered Lionel, whom his cousin's conciliatory words had restored to ease and good-humour.

"You mean, perhaps, that you like reading, if you may choose your own books."

"Or rather, if I may choose my own time to read them, and that would not be on bright summer days."

"Without sacrificing bright summer days, one finds one has made little progress when the long winter nights come."

"Yes, sir. But must the sacrifice be paid in books? I fancy I learned as much in the play-ground as I did n the schoolroom, and for the last few months, in much my own master, reading hard in the forenoon, it is true, for many hours at a stretch, and yet again for a few hours at evening, but rambling also through the streets, or listening to a few friends whom I have contrived to make,--I think, if I can boast of any progress at all, the books have the smaller share in it."

"You would, then, prefer an active life to a studious one?"

"Oh, yes--yes."

"Dinner is served," said the decorous Mr. Mills, throwing open the door.

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