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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 3
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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 3 Post by :dant245 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2115

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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 3

BOOK VIII CHAPTER III

COMPRISING MANY NEEDFUL EXPLANATIONS ILLUSTRATIVE OF WISE SAWS; AS FOR EXAMPLE, "HE THAT HATH AN ILL NAME IS HALF HANGED." "HE THAT HATH BEEN BITTEN BY A SERPENT IS AFRAID OF A ROPE." "HE THAT LOOKS FOR A STAR PUTS OUT HIS CANDLES;" AND, "WHEN GOD WILLS, ALL WINDS BRING RAIN."

The reader has been already made aware how, by an impulse of womanhood and humanity, Arabella Crane had been converted from a persecuting into a tutelary agent in the destinies of Waife and Sophy. That evolution in her moral being dated from the evening on which she had sought the cripple's retreat, to warn him of Jasper's designs. We have seen by what stratagem she had made it appear that Waife and his grandchild had sailed beyond the reach of molestation; with what liberality she had advanced the money that freed Sophy from the manager's claim; and how considerately she had empowered her agent to give the reference which secured to Waife the asylum in which we last beheld him. In a few stern sentences she had acquainted Waife with her fearless inflexible resolve to associate her fate henceforth with the life of his lawless son; and, by rendering abortive all his evil projects of plunder, to compel him at last to depend upon her for an existence neither unsafe nor sordid, provided only that it were not dishonest. The moment that she revealed that design, Waife's trust in her was won. His own heart enabled him to comprehend the effect produced upon a character otherwise unamiable and rugged, by the grandeur of self-immolation and the absorption of one devoted heroic thought. In the strength and bitterness of passion which thus pledged her existence to redeem another's, he obtained the key to her vehement and jealous nature; saw why she had been so cruel to the child of a rival; why she had conceived compassion for that child in proportion as the father's unnatural indifference had quenched the anger of her own self-love; and, above all, why, as the idea of reclaiming and appropriating solely to herself the man who, for good or for evil, had grown into the all-predominant object of her life, gained more and more the mastery over her mind, it expelled the lesser and the baser passions, and the old mean revenge against an infant faded away before the light of that awakening conscience which is often rekindled from ashes by the sparks of a single better and worthier thought. And in the resolute design to reclaim Jasper Losely, Arabella came at once to a ground in common with his father, with his child. Oh what, too, would the old man owe to her, what would be his gratitude, his joy, if she not only guarded his spotless Sophy, but saved from the bottomless abyss his guilty son! Thus when Arabella Crane had, nearly five years before, sought Waife's discovered hiding-place, near the old bloodstained Tower, mutual interests and sympathies had formed between them a bond of alliance not the less strong because rather tacitly acknowledged than openly expressed. Arabella had written to Waife from the Continent, for the first half-year pretty often, and somewhat sanguinely, as to the chance of Losely's ultimate reformation. Then the intervals of silence became gradually more prolonged, and the letters more brief. But still, whether from the wish not unnecessarily to pain the old man, or, as would be more natural to her character, which, even in its best aspects, was not gentle, from a proud dislike to confess failure, she said nothing of the evil courses which Jasper had renewed. Evidently she was always near him. Evidently, by some means or another, his life, furtive and dark, was ever under the glare of her watchful eyes.

Meanwhile Sophy had been presented to Caroline Montfort. As Waife had so fondly anticipated, the lone childless lady had taken with kindness and interest to the fair motherless child. Left to herself often for months together in the grand forlorn house, Caroline soon found an object to her pensive walks in the basket-maker's cottage. Sophy's charming face and charming ways stole more and more into affections which were denied all nourishment at home. She entered into Waife's desire to improve, by education, so exquisite a nature; and, familiarity growing by degrees, Sophy was at length coaxed up to the great house; and during the hours which Waife devoted to his rambles (for even in his settled industry he could not conquer his vagrant tastes, but would weave his reeds or osiers as he sauntered through solitudes of turf or wood), became the docile delighted pupil in the simple chintz room which Lady Montfort had reclaimed from the desert of her surrounding palace. Lady Montfort was not of a curious turn of mind; profoundly indifferent even to the gossip of drawing-rooms, she had no rankling desire to know the secrets of village hearthstones. Little acquainted even with the great world--scarcely at all with any world below that in which she had her being, save as she approached humble sorrows by delicate charity--the contrast between Waife's calling and his conversation roused in her no vigilant suspicions. A man of some education, and born in a rank that touched upon the order of gentlemen, but of no practical or professional culture--with whimsical tastes--with roving eccentric habits--had, in the course of life, picked up much harmless wisdom, but, perhaps from want of worldly prudence, failed of fortune. Contented with an obscure retreat and a humble livelihood, he might naturally be loth to confide to others the painful history of a descent in life. He might have relations in a higher sphere, whom the confession would shame; he might be silent in the manly pride which shrinks from alms and pity and a tale of fall. Nay, grant the worst--grant that Waife had suffered in repute as well as fortune--grant that his character had been tarnished by some plausible circumstantial evidences which he could not explain away to the satisfaction of friends or the acquittal of a short-sighted world--had there not been, were there not always, many innocent men similarly afflicted? And who could hear Waife talk, or look on his arch smile, and not feel that he was innocent? So, at least, thought Caroline Montfort. Naturally; for if, in her essentially woman-like character, there was one all-pervading and all-predominant attribute, it was PITY. Lead Fate placed her under circumstances fitted to ripen into genial development all her exquisite forces of soul, her true post in this life would have been that of the SOOTHER. What a child to some grief-worn father! What a wife to some toiling, aspiring, sensitive man of genius! What a mother to some suffering child! It seemed as if it were necessary to her to have something to compassionate and foster. She was sad when there was no one to comfort; but her smile was like a sunbeam from Eden when it chanced on a sorrow it could brighten away. Out of this very sympathy came her faults--faults of reasoning and judgment. Prudent in her own chilling path through what the world calls temptations, because so ineffably pure--because, to Fashion's light tempters, her very thought was as closed, as

"Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,"

was the ear of Sabrina to the comrades of Comus,--yet place before her some gentle scheme that seemed fraught with a blessing for others, and straightway her fancy embraced it, prudence faded--she saw not the obstacles, weighed not the chances against it. Charity to her did not come alone, but with its sister twins, Hope and Faith.

Thus, benignly for the old man and the fair child, years rolled on till Lord Montfort's sudden death, and his widow was called upon to exchange Montfort Court (which passed to the new heir) for the distant jointure House of Twickenham. By this time she had grown so attached to Sophy, and Sophy so gratefully fond of her, that she proposed to Waife to take his sweet grandchild as her permanent companion, complete her education, and assure her future. This had been the old man's cherished day-dream; but he had not contemplated its realisation until he himself were in the grave. He turned pale, he staggered, when the proposal which would separate him from his grandchild was first brought before him. But he recovered ere Lady Montfort could be aware of the acuteness of the pang she inflicted, and accepted the generous offer with warm protestations of joy and gratitude. But Sophy! Sophy consent to leave her grandfather afar and aged in his solitary cottage! Little did either of them know Sophy, with her soft heart and determined soul, if they supposed such egotism possible in her. Waife insisted--Waife was angry--Waife was authoritative--Waife was imploring--Waife was pathetic--all in vain! But to close every argument, the girl went boldly to Lady Montfort, and said: "If I left him, his heart would break--never ask it." Lady Montfort kissed Sophy tenderly as mother ever kissed a child for some sweet loving trait of a noble nature, and said simply "But he shall not be left--he shall come too."

She offered Waife rooms in her Twickenham house--she wished to collect books--he should be librarian. The old man shivered and refused--refused firmly. He had made a vow not to be a guest in any house. Finally, the matter was compromised; Waife would remove to the neighbourhood of Twickenham; there hire a cottage; there ply his art; and Sophy, living with him, should spend part of each day with Lady Montfort as now.

So it was resolved. Waife consented to occupy a small house on the verge of the grounds belonging to the jointure villa, on the condition of paying rent for it. And George Morley insisted on the privilege of preparing that house for his old teacher's reception, leaving it simple and rustic to outward appearance, but fitting its pleasant chambers with all that his knowledge of the old man's tastes and habits suggested for comfort or humble luxury; a room for Sophy, hung with the prettiest paper, all butterflies and flowers, commanding a view of the river. Waife, despite his proud scruples, could not refuse such gifts from a man whose fortune and career had been secured by his artful lessons. Indeed, he had already permitted George to assist, though not largely, his own efforts to repay the L100 advanced by Mrs. Crane. The years he had devoted to a craft which his ingenuity made lucrative, had just enabled the basketmaker, with his pupil's aid, to clear off that debt by instalments. He had the satisfaction of thinking that it was his industry that had replaced the sum to which his grandchild owed her release from the execrable Rugge.

Lady Montfort's departure (which preceded Waife's by some weeks) was more mourned by the poor in her immediate neighbourhood than by the wealthier families who composed what a province calls its society; and the gloom which that event cast over the little village round the kingly mansion was increased when Waife and his grandchild left.

For the last three years, emboldened by Lady Montfort's protection, and the conviction that he was no longer pursued or spied, the old man relaxed his earlier reserved and secluded habits. Constitutionally sociable, he had made acquaintance with his humbler neighbours; lounged by their cottage palings in his rambles down the lanes; diverted their children with Sir Isaac's tricks, or regaled them with nuts and apples from his little orchard; giving to the more diligent labourers many a valuable hint how to eke out the daily wage with garden produce, or bees, or poultry; doctored farmer's cows; and even won the heart of the stud-groom by a mysterious sedative ball, which had reduced to serene docility a highly nervous and hitherto unmanageable four-year-old. Sophy had been no less popular. No one grudged her the favour of Lady Montfort--no one wondered at it. They were loved and honoured. Perhaps the happiest years Waife had known since his young wife left the earth were passed in the hamlet which he fancied her shade haunted; for was it not there--there, in that cottage--there, in sight of those green osiers, that her first modest virgin replies to his letters of love and hope that soothed his confinement and animated him--till then little fond of sedentary toils--to the very industry which, learned in sport, now gave subsistence, and secured a home. To that home persecution had not come--gossip had not pryed into its calm seclusion--even chance, when threatening disclosure, had seemed to pass by innocuous. For once--a year or so before he left--an incident had occurred which alarmed him at the time, but led to no annoying results. The banks of the great sheet of water in Montfort Park were occasionally made the scene of rural picnics by the families of neighbouring farmers or tradesmen. One day Waife, while carelessly fashioning his baskets on his favourite spot, was recognised, on the opposite margin, by a party of such holiday-makers to whom he himself had paid no attention. He was told the next day by the landlady of the village inn, the main chimney of which he had undertaken to cure of smoking, that a "lady" in the picnic symposium of the day before had asked many questions about him and his grandchild, and had seemed pleased to hear they were both so comfortably settled. The "lady" had been accompanied by another "lady," and by two or three young gentlemen. They had arrived in a "buss," which they had hired for the occasion. They had come from Humberston the day after those famous races which annually filled Humberston with strangers--the time of year in which Rugge's grand theatrical exhibition delighted that ancient town. From the description of the two ladies Waife suspected that they belonged to Rugge's company.

But they had not claimed Waife as a ci-devant comrade; they had not spoken of Sophy as the Phenomenon or the Fugitive. No molestation followed this event; and, after all, the Remorseless Baron had no longer any claim to the Persecuted Bandit or to Juliet Araminta.

But the ex-comedian is gone from the osiers--the hamlet. He is in his new retreat by the lordly river--within an hour of the smoke and roar of tumultuous London. He tries to look cheerful and happy, but his repose is troubled--his heart is anxious. Ever since Sophy, on his account, refused the offer which would have transferred her, not for a few daily hours, but for habitual life, from a basketmaker's roof to all the elegancies and refinements of a sphere in which, if freed from him, her charms and virtues might win her some such alliance as seemed impossible, while he was thus dragging her down to his own level,--ever since that day the old man had said to himself, "I live too long." While Sophy was by his side he appeared busy at his work and merry in his humour; the moment she left him for Lady Montfort's house, the work dropped from his hands, and he sank into moody thought.

Waife had written to Mrs. Crane (her address then was at Paris) on removing to Twickenhain, and begged her to warn him should Jasper meditate a return to England, by a letter directed to him at the General Post-office, London. Despite his later trust in Mrs. Crane, he did not deem it safe to confide to her Lady Montfort's offer to Sophy, or the affectionate nature of that lady's intimacy with the girl now grown into womanhood. With that insight into the human heart, which was in him not so habitually clear and steadfast as to be always useful, but at times singularly if erratically lucid, he could not feel assured that Arabella Crane's ancient hate to Sophy (which, lessening in proportion to the girl's destitution, had only ceased when the stern woman felt, with a sentiment bordering on revenge, that it was to her that Sophy owed an asylum obscure and humble) might not revive, if she learned that the child of a detested rival was raised above the necessity of her protection, and brought within view of that station so much Loftier than her own, from which she had once rejoiced to know that the offspring of a marriage which had darkened her life was excluded. For indeed it had been only on Waife's promise that he would not repeat the attempt that had proved so abortive, to enforce Sophy's claim on Guy Darrell, that Arabella Crane had in the first instance resigned the child to his care. His care--his--an attainted outcast! As long as Arabella Crane could see in Sophy but an object of compassion, she might haughtily protect her; but, could Sophy become an object of envy, would that protection last? No, he did not venture to confide in Mrs. Crane further than to say that he and Sophy had removed from Montfort village to the vicinity of London. Time enough to say more when Mrs. Crane returned to England; and then, not by letter, but in personal interview.

Once a month the old man went to London to inquire at the General Post-office for any communications his correspondent might there address to him. Only once, however, had he heard from Mrs. Crane since the announcement of his migration, and her note of reply was extremely brief, until in the fatal month of June, when Guy Darrell and Jasper Losely had alike returned, and on the same day, to the metropolis; and then the old man received from her a letter which occasioned him profound alarm. It apprised him not only that his terrible son was in England--in London; but that Jasper had discovered that the persons embarked for America were not the veritable Waife and Sophy whose names they had assumed. Mrs. Crane ended with these ominous words: "It is right to say now that he has descended deeper and deeper. Could you see him, you would wonder that I neither abandon him nor my resolve. He hates me worse than the gibbet. To me and not to the gibbet he shall pass--fitting punishment to both. I am in London, not in my old house, but near him. His confidant is my hireling. His life and his projects are clear to my eyes--clear as if he dwelt in glass. Sophy is now of an age in which, were she placed in the care of some person whose respectability could not be impunged, she could not be legally forced away against her will; but if under your roof, those whom Jasper has induced to institute a search, that he has no means to institute very actively himself, might make statements which (as you are already aware) might persuade others, though well-meaning, to assist him in separating her from you. He might publicly face even a police-court, if he thus hoped to shame the rich man into buying off an intolerable scandal. He might, in the first instance, and more probably, decoy her into his power through stealth; and what might become of her before she was recovered? Separate yourself from her for a time. It is you, notwithstanding your arts of disguise, that can be the more easily tracked. She, now almost a woman, will have grown out of recognition. Place her in some secure asylum until, at least, you hear from me again."

Waife read and re-read this epistle (to which there was no direction that enabled him to reply) in the private room of a little coffee-house to which he had retired from the gaze and pressure of the street. The determination he had long brooded over now began to take shape--to be hurried on to prompt decision. On recovering his first shock, he formed and matured his plans. That same evening he saw Lady Montfort. He felt that the time had come when, for Sophy's sake, he must lift the veil from the obloquy on his own name. To guard against the same concession to Jasper's authority that had betrayed her at Gatesboro', it was necessary that he should explain the mystery of Sophy's parentage and position to Lady Montfort, and go through the anguish of denouncing his own son as the last person to whose hands she should be consigned. He approached this subject not only with a sense of profound humiliation, but with no unreasonable fear lest Lady Montfort might at once decline a charge which would possibly subject her retirement to a harassing invasion. But, to his surprise as well as relief, no sooner had he named Sophy's parentage than Lady Montfort evinced emotions of a joy which cast into the shade all more painful or discreditable associations. "Henceforth, believe me," she said, "your Sophy shall be my own child, my own treasured darling!--no humble companion--my equal as well as my charge. Fear not that any one shall tear her from me. You are right in thinking that my roof should be her home--that she should have the rearing and the station which she is entitled as well as fitted to adorn. But you must not part from her. I have listened to your tale; my experience of you supplies the defence you suppress--it reverses the judgment which has aspersed you. And more ardently than before, I press on you a refuge in the Home that will shelter your grandchild." Noble-hearted woman! and nobler for her ignorance of the practical world, in the proposal which would have blistered with scorching blushes the cheek of that Personification of all "Solemn Plausibilities," the House of Vipont! Gentleman Waife was not scamp enough to profit by the ignorance which sprang from generous virtue. But, repressing all argument, and appearing to acquiesce in the possibility of such an arrangement, he left her benevolent delight unsaddened--and before the morning he was gone. Gone in stealth, and by the starlight, as he had gone years ago from the bailiff's cottage-gone, for Sophy, in waking, to find, as she had found before, farewell lines, that commended hope and forbade grief. "It was," he wrote, "for both their sakes that he had set out on a tour of pleasant adventure. He needed it; he had felt his spirits droop of late in so humdrum and settled a life. And there was danger abroad--danger that his brief absence would remove. He had confided all his secrets to Lady Montfort; she must look on that kind lady as her sole guardian till he return--as return he surely would; and then they would live happy ever afterwards as in fairy tales. He should never forgive her if she were silly enough to fret for him. He should not be alone; Sir Isaac would take care of him. He was not without plenty of money-savings of several months; if he wanted more, he would apply to George Morley. He would write to her occasionally; but she must not expect frequent letters; he might be away for months--what did that signify? He was old enough to take care of himself; she was no longer a child to cry her eyes out if she lost a senseless toy, or a stupid old cripple. She was a young lady, and he expected to find her a famous scholar when he returned." And so, with all flourish and bravado, and suppressing every attempt at pathos, the old man went his way, and Sophy, hurrying to Lady Montfort's, weeping, distracted, imploring her to send in all directions to discover and bring back the fugitive, was there detained a captive guest. But Waife left a letter also for Lady Montfort, cautioning and adjuring her, as she valued Sophy's safety from the scandal of Jasper's claim, not to make any imprudent attempts to discover him. Such attempt would only create the very publicity from the chance of which he was seeking to escape. The necessity of this caution was so obvious that Lady Montfort could only send her most confidential servant to inquire guardedly in the neighbourhood, until she had summoned George Morley from Humberston, and taken him into counsel. Waife had permitted her to relate to him, on strict promise of secrecy, the tale he had confided to her. George entered with the deepest sympathy into Sophy's distress; but he made her comprehend the indiscretion and peril of any noisy researches. He promised that he himself would spare no pains to ascertain the old man's hiding-place, and see, at least, if he could not be persuaded either to return or suffer her to join him, that he was not left destitute and comfortless. Nor was this an idle promise. George, though his inquiries were unceasing, crippled by the restraint imposed on them, was so acute in divining, and so active in following up each clue to the wanderer's artful doublings, that more than once he had actually come upon the track, and found the very spot where Waife or Sir Isaac had been seen a few days before. Still, up to the day on which Morley had last reported progress, the ingenious ex-actor, fertile in all resources of stratagem and disguise, had baffled his research. At first, however, Waife had greatly relieved the minds of these anxious friends, and cheered even Sophy's heavy heart, by letters, gay though brief. These letters having, by their postmarks, led to his trace, he had stated, in apparent anger, that reason for discontinuing them. And for the last six weeks no line from him had been received. In fact, the old man, on resolving to consummate his self-abnegation, strove more and more to wean his grandchild's thoughts from his image. He deemed it so essential to her whole future that, now she had found a home in so secure and so elevated a sphere, she should gradually accustom herself to a new rank of life, from which he was an everlasting exile; should lose all trace of his very being; efface a connection that, ceasing to protect, could henceforth only harm and dishonour her,--that he tried, as it were, to blot himself out of the world which now smiled on her. He did not underrate her grief in its first freshness; he knew that, could she learn where he was, all else would be forgotten--she would insist on flying to him. But he continually murmured to himself: "Youth is ever proverbially short of memory; its sorrows poignant, but not enduring; now the wounds are already scarring over--they will not reopen if they are left to heal."

He had, at first, thought of hiding somewhere not so far but that once a-week, or once a-month, he might have stolen into the grounds, looked at the house that held her--left, perhaps, in her walks some little token of himself. But, on reflection, he felt that that luxury would be too imprudent, and it ceased to tempt him in proportion as he reasoned himself into the stern wisdom of avoiding all that could revive her grief for him. At the commencement of this tale, in the outline given of that grand melodrama in which Juliet Araminta played the part of the Bandit's Child, her efforts to decoy pursuit from the lair of the persecuted Mime were likened to the arts of the skylark to lure eye and hand from the nest of his young. More appropriate that illustration now to the parent-bird than then to the fledgling. Farther and farther from the nest in which all his love was centred fled the old man. What if Jasper did discover him now; that very discovery would mislead the pursuit from Sophy. Most improbable that Losely would ever guess that they could become separated; still more improbable, unless Waife, imprudently lurking near her home, guided conjecture, that Losely should dream of seeking under the roof of the lofty peeress the child that had fled from Mr. Rugge.

Poor old man! his heart was breaking; but his soul was so brightly comforted that there, where many, many long miles off, I see him standing, desolate and patient, in the corner of yon crowded market-place, holding Sir Isaac by slackened string with listless hand--Sir Isaac unshorn, travel-stained, draggled, with drooping head and melancholy eyes--yea, as I see him there, jostled by the crowd, to whom, now and then, pointing to that huge pannier on his arm, filled with some homely pedlar wares, he mechanically mutters, "Buy"--yea, I say, verily, as I see him thus, I cannot draw near in pity--I see what the crowd does not--the shadow of an angel's wing over his grey head; and I stand reverentially aloof, with bated breath and bended knee.

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