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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 6 - Chapter 9
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What Will He Do With It - Book 6 - Chapter 9 Post by :raleigh123 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1302

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What Will He Do With It - Book 6 - Chapter 9

BOOK VI CHAPTER IX

Escaped from a London drawing-room, flesh once more tingles and blood flows.--Guy Darrell explains to Lionel Haughton why he holds it a duty to be an old fool.

Lionel Haughton glided through the disenchanted rooms, and breathed a long breath of relief when he found himself in the friendless streets.

As he walked slow and thoughtful on, he suddenly felt a hand upon his shoulder, turned, and saw Darrell.

"Give me your arm, my dear Lionel; I am tired out. What a lovely night! What sweet scorn in the eyes of those stars that we have neglected for yon flaring lights."

LIONEL.--"Is it scorn? is it pity? is it but serene indifference?"

DARRELL.--"As we ourselves interpret: if scorn be present in our own hearts, it will be seen in the disc of Jupiter. Man, egotist though he be, exacts sympathy from all the universe. Joyous, he says to the sun, 'Life-giver, rejoice with me.' Grieving, he says to the moon, 'Pensive one, thou sharest my sorrow.' Hope for fame; a star is its promise!

"Mourn for the dead; a star is the land of reunion! Say to earth, 'I have done with thee;' to Time, 'Thou hast nought to bestow;' and all space cries aloud, 'The earth is a speck, thine inheritance infinity. Time melts while thou sighest. The discontent of a mortal is the instinct that proves thee immortal.' Thus construing Nature, Nature is our companion, our consoler. Benign as the playmate, she lends herself to our shifting humours. Serious as the teacher, she responds to the steadier inquiries of reason. Mystic and hallowed as the priestess, she keeps alive by dim oracles that spiritual yearning within us, in which, from savage to sage,--through all dreams, through all creeds,--thrills the sense of a link with Divinity. Never, therefore, while conferring with Nature, is Man wholly alone, nor is she a single companion with uniform shape. Ever new, ever various, she can pass from gay to severe, from fancy to science,--quick as thought passes from the dance of a leaf, from the tint of a rainbow, to the theory of motion, the problem of light. But lose Nature, forget or dismiss her, make companions, by hundreds, of men who ignore her, and I will not say with the poet, 'This is solitude.' But in the commune, what stale monotony, what weary sameness!"

Thus Darrell continued to weave together sentence with sentence, the intermediate connection of meaning often so subtle that when put down on paper it requires effort to discern it. But it was his peculiar gift to make clear when spoken what in writing would seem obscure. Look, manner, each delicate accent in a voice wonderfully distinct in its unrivalled melody, all so aided the sense of mere words that it is scarcely extravagant to say he might have talked an unknown language, and a listener would have understood. But, understood or not, those sweet intonations it was such delight to hear that any one with nerves alive to music would have murmured, "Talk on forever." And in this gift lay one main secret of the man's strange influence over all who came familiarly into his intercourse; so that if Darrell had ever bestowed confidential intimacy on any one not by some antagonistic idiosyncrasy steeled against its charm, and that intimacy had been withdrawn, a void never to be refilled must have been left in the life thus robbed.

Stopping at his door, as Lionel, rapt by the music, had forgotten the pain of the revery so bewitchingly broken, Darrell detained the hand held out to him, and said, "No, not yet; I have something to say to you: come in; let me say it now."

Lionel bowed his head, and in surprised conjecture followed his kinsman up the lofty stairs into the same comfortless stately room that has been already described. When the servant closed the door, Darrell sank into a chair. Fixing his eye upon Lionel with almost parental kindness, and motioning his young cousin to sit by his side, close, he thus began,

"Lionel, before I was your age I was married; I was a father. I am lonely and childless now. My life has been moulded by a solemn obligation which so few could comprehend that I scarce know a man living beside yourself to whom I would frankly confide it. Pride of family is a common infirmity,--often petulant with the poor, often insolent with the rich; but rarely, perhaps, out of that pride do men construct a positive binding duty, which at all self-sacrifice should influence the practical choice of life. As a child, before my judgment could discern how much of vain superstition may lurk in our reverence for the dead, my whole heart was engaged in a passionate dream, which my waking existence became vowed to realize. My father!--my lip quivers, my eyes moisten as I recall him, even now,--my father!--I loved him so intensely!--the love of childhood, how fearfully strong it is! All in him was so gentle, yet so sensitive,--chivalry without its armour. I was his constant companion: he spoke to me unreservedly, as a poet to his muse. I wept at his sorrows; I chafed at his humiliations. He talked of ancestors as he thought of them; to him they were beings like the old Lares,--not dead in graves, but images ever present on household hearths. Doubtless he exaggerated their worth, as their old importance. Obscure, indeed, in the annals of empire, their deeds and their power, their decline and fall. Not so thought he; they were to his eyes the moon-track in the ocean of history,--light on the waves over which they had gleamed,--all the ocean elsewhere dark! With him thought I; as my father spoke, his child believed. But what to the eyes of the world was this inheritor of a vaunted name?--a threadbare, slighted, rustic pedant; no station in the very province in which mouldered away the last lowly dwelling-place of his line,--by lineage high above most nobles, in position below most yeomen. He had learning; he had genius: but the studies to which they were devoted only served yet more to impoverish his scanty means, and led rather to ridicule than to honour. Not a day but what I saw on his soft features the smart of a fresh sting, the gnawing of a new care. Thus, as a boy, feeling in myself a strength inspired by affection, I came to him one day as he sat grieving, and kneeling to him, said, 'Father, courage yet a little while; I shall soon be a man, and I swear to devote myself as man to revive the old fading race so prized by you; to rebuild the House that, by you so loved, is loftier in my eyes than all the heraldry of kings.' And my father's face brightened, and his voice blessed me; and I rose up--ambitious!" Darrell paused, heaved a short, quick sigh, and then rapidly continued,

"I was fortunate at the University. That was a day when chiefs of party looked for recruits amongst young men who had given the proofs and won the first-fruits of emulation and assiduity; for statesmanship then was deemed an art which, like that of war, needs early discipline. I had scarcely left college when I was offered a seat in Parliament by the head of the Viponts, an old Lord Montfort. I was dazzled but for one moment; I declined the next. The fallen House of Darrell needed wealth; and Parliamentary success, in its higher honours, often requires wealth,--never gives it. It chanced that I had a college acquaintance with a young man named Vipont Crooke. His grandfather, one of the numberless Viponts, had been compelled to add the name of Crooke to his own, on succeeding to the property of some rich uncle, who was one of the numberless Crookes. I went with this college acquaintance to visit the old Lord Montfort, at his villa near London, and thence to the country-house of the Vipont Crookes. I stayed at the last two or three weeks. While there, I received a letter from the elder Fairthorn, my father's bailiff, entreating me to come immediately to Fawley, hinting at some great calamity. On taking leave of my friend and his family, something in the manner of his sister startled and pained me,--an evident confusion, a burst of tears,--I know not what. I had never sought to win her affections. I had an ideal of the woman I could love,--it did not resemble her. On reaching Fawley, conceive the shock that awaited me. My father was like one heart-stricken. The principal mortgagee was about to foreclose,--Fawley about to pass forever from the race of the Darrells. I saw that the day my father was driven from the old house would be his last on earth. What means to save him?--how raise the pitiful sum--but a few thousands--by which to release from the spoiler's gripe those barren acres which all the lands of the Seymour or the Gower could never replace in my poor father's eyes? My sole income was a college fellowship, adequate to all my wants, but useless for sale or loan. I spent the night in vain consultation with Fairthorn. There seemed not a hope. Next morning came a letter from young Vipont Crooke. It was manly and frank, though somewhat coarse. With the consent of his parents he offered me his sister's hand, and a dowry of L10,000. He hinted, in excuse for his bluntness, that, perhaps from motives of delicacy, if I felt a preference for his sister, I might not deem myself rich enough to propose, and--but it matters not what else he said. You foresee the rest. My father's life could be saved from despair; his beloved home be his shelter to the last. That dowry would more than cover the paltry debt upon the lands. I gave myself not an hour to pause. I hastened back to the house to which fate had led me. But," said Darrell, proudly, "do not think I was base enough, even with such excuses, to deceive the young lady. I told her what was true; that I could not profess to her the love painted by romance-writers and poets; but that I loved no other, and that if she deigned to accept my hand, I should studiously consult her happiness and gratefully confide to her my own."

"I said also, what was true, that if she married me, ours must be for some years a life of privation and struggle; that even the interest of her fortune must be devoted to my father while he lived, though every shilling of its capital would be settled on herself and her children. How I blessed her when she accepted me, despite my candour!--how earnestly I prayed that I might love and cherish and requite her!" Darrell paused, in evident suffering. "And, thank Heaven! I have nothing on that score wherewith to reproach myself; and the strength of that memory enabled me to bear and forbear more than otherwise would have been possible to my quick spirit and my man's heart. My dear father! his death was happy: his home was saved; he never knew at what sacrifice to his son! He was gladdened by the first honours my youth achieved. He was resigned to my choice of a profession, which, though contrary to his antique prejudices, that allowed to the representative of the Darrells no profession but the sword, still promised the wealth which would secure his name from perishing. He was credulous of my future, as if I had uttered not a vow, but a prediction. He had blessed my union, without foreseeing its sorrows. He had embraced my first-born,--true, it was a girl, but it was one link onward from ancestors to posterity. And almost his last words were these: 'You will restore the race; you will revive the name! and my son's children will visit the antiquary's grave, and learn gratitude to him for all that his idle lessons taught to your healthier vigour.' And I answered, 'Father, your line shall not perish from the land; and when I am rich and great, and lordships spread far round the lowly hall that your life ennobled, I will say to your grandchildren, 'Honour ye and your son's sons, while a Darrell yet treads the earth, honour him to whom I owe every thought which nerved me to toil for what you who come after me may enjoy.'

"And so the old man, whose life had been so smileless, died smiling."

By this time Lionel had stolen Darrell's hand into his own--his heart swelling with childlike tenderness, and the tears rolling down his cheeks.

Darrell gently kissed his young kinsman's forehead, and, extricating himself from Lionel's clasp, paced the room, and spoke on while pacing it.

"I made, then, a promise; it is not kept. No child of mine survives to be taught reverence to my father's grave. My wedded life was not happy: its record needs no words. Of two children born to me, both are gone. My son went first. I had thrown my life's life into him,--a boy of energy, of noble promise. 'T was for him I began to build that baffled fabric, 'Sepulchri immemor.' For him I bought, acre on acre, all the land within reach of Fawley,-lands twelve miles distant. I had meant to fill up the intervening space, to buy out a mushroom earl whose woods and cornfields lie between. I was scheming the purchase, scrawling on the county map, when they brought the news that the boy I had just taken back to school was dead,--drowned bathing on a calm summer eve. No, Lionel. I must go on. That grief I have wrestled with,--conquered. I was widowed then. A daughter still left,--the first-born, whom my father had blest on his death-bed. I transferred all my love, all my hopes, to her. I had no vain preference for male heirs. Is a race less pure that runs on through the female line? Well, my son's death was merciful compared to--" Again Darrell stopped, again hurried on. "Enough! all is forgiven in the grave! I was then still in the noon of man's life, free to form new ties. Another grief that I cannot tell you; it is not all conquered yet. And by that grief the last verdure of existence was so blighted that--that--in short, I had no heart for nuptial altars, for the social world. Years went by. Each year I said, 'Next year the wound will be healed; I have time yet.' Now age is near, the grave not far; now, if ever, I must fulfil the promise that cheered my father's death-bed. Nor does that duty comprise all my motives. If I would regain healthful thought, manly action, for my remaining years, I must feel that one haunting memory is exorcised and forever laid at rest. It can be so only,--whatever my risk of new cares, whatever the folly of the hazard at my age,--be so only by--by--" Once more Darrell paused, fixed his eyes steadily on Lionel, and, opening his arms, cried out, "Forgive me, my noble Lionel, that I am not contented with an heir like you; and do not you mock at the old man who dreams that woman may love him yet, and that his own children may inherit his father's home."

Lionel sprang to the breast that opened to him; and if Darrell had planned how best to remove from the young man's mind forever the possibility of one selfish pang, no craft could have attained his object like that touching confidence before which the disparities between youth and age literally vanished. And, both made equal, both elevated alike, verily I know not which at the moment felt the elder or the younger! Two noble hearts, intermingled in one emotion, are set free from all time save the present: par each with each, they meet as brothers twin-born.

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