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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 4
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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 4 Post by :dant245 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2809

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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 4



Unobserved by the two young people, Lady Montfort sate watching them as they moved along the river banks. She was seated where Lionel had first seen her--in the kind of grassy chamber that had been won from the foliage and the sward, closed round with interlaced autumnal branches, save where it opened towards the water. If ever woman's brain can conceive and plot a scheme thoroughly pure from one ungentle, selfish thread in its web, in such a scheme had Caroline Montfort brought together those two fair young natures. And yet they were not uppermost in her thoughts as she now gazed on them; nor was it wholly for them that her eyes were filled with tears at once sweet, yet profoundly mournful--holy, and yet intensely human.

Women love to think themselves uncomprehended--nor often without reason in that foible; for man, howsoever sagacious, rarely does entirely comprehend woman, howsoever simple. And in this her sex has the advantage over ours. Our hearts are bare to their eyes, even though they can never know what have been our lives. But we may see every action of their lives, guarded and circumscribed in conventional forms, while their hearts will have many mysteries to which we can never have the key. But, in more than the ordinary sense of the word, Caroline Montfort never had been a woman uncomprehended. Nor even in her own sex did she possess one confidante. Only the outward leaves of that beautiful flower opened to the sunlight. The leaves round the core were gathered fold upon fold closely as when life itself was in the bud.

As all the years of her wedded existence her heart had been denied the natural household vents, so by some strange and unaccountable chance her intellect also seemed restrained and pent from its proper freedom and play. During those barren years, she had read--she had pondered--she had enjoyed a commune with those whose minds instruct others, and still her own intelligence, which in early youth had been characterised by singular vivacity and brightness, and which Time had enriched with every womanly accomplishment, seemed chilled and objectless. It is not enough that a mind should be cultured--it should have movement as well as culture. Caroline Montfort's lay quiescent like a beautiful form spellbound to repose, but not to sleep. Looking on her once, as he stood amongst a crowd whom her beauty dazzled, a poet said abruptly: "Were my guess not a sacrilege to one so spotless and so haughty, I should say that I had hit on the solution of an enigma that long perplexed me; and in the core of that queen of the lilies, could we strip the leaves folded round it, we should find Remorse."

Lady Montfort started; the shadow of another form than her own fell upon the sward. George Morley stood behind her, his finger on his lips. "Hush," he said in a whisper, "see, Sophy is looking for me up the river. I knew she would be--I stole this way on purpose--for I would speak to you before I face her questions."

"What is the matter? you alarm me," said Lady Montfort, on gaining a part of the grounds more remote from the river, to which George had silently led the way.

"Nay, my dear cousin, there is less cause for alarm than for anxious deliberation, and that upon more matters than those which directly relate to our poor fugitive. You know that I long shrunk from enlisting the police in aid of our search. I was too sensible of the pain and offence which such an application would occasion Waife--(let us continue so to call him)--and the discovery of it might even induce him to put himself beyond our reach, and quit England. But his prolonged silence, and my fears lest some illness or mishap might have befallen him, together with my serious apprehensions of the effect which unrelieved anxiety might produce on Sophy's health, made me resolve to waive former scruples. Since I last saw you I have applied to one of the higher police-officers accustomed to confidential investigations of a similar nature. The next day he came to tell me that he had learned that a friend of his, who had been formerly a distinguished agent in the detective police, had been engaged for months in tracking a person whom he conjectured to be the same as the one whom I had commissioned him to discover, and with somewhat less caution and delicacy than I had enjoined. The fugitive's real name had been given to this ex-agent--the cause for search, that he had abducted and was concealing his granddaughter from her father. It was easy for me to perceive why this novel search had hitherto failed, no suspicion being entertained that Waife had separated himself from Sophy, and the inquiry being therefore rather directed towards the grandchild than the grandfather. But that inquiry had altogether ceased of late, and for this terrible reason--a different section of the police had fixed its eye upon the father on whose behalf the search had been instituted. This Jasper Losely (ah! our poor friend might well shudder to think Sophy should fall into his hands!) haunts the resorts of the most lawless and formidable desperadoes of London. He appears to be a kind of authority amongst them; but there is no evidence that as yet he has committed himself to any participation in their habitual courses. He lives profusely, for a person in such society (regaling Daredevils whom he awes by a strength and courage which are described as extraordinary), but with out any visible means. It seems that the ex-agent, who had been thus previously employed in Jasper Losely's name, had been engaged, not by Jasper himself, but by a person in very respectable circumstances, whose name I have ascertained to be Poole. And the ex-agent deemed it right to acquaint this Mr. Poole with Jasper's evil character and ambiguous mode of life, and to intimate to his employer that it might not be prudent to hold any connection with such a man, and still less proper to assist in restoring a young girl to his care. On this Mr. Poole became so much agitated, and expressed himself so incoherently as to his relations with Jasper, that the ex-agent conceived suspicions against Poole himself, and reported the whole circumstances to one of the chiefs of the former service, through whom they reached the very man whom I myself was employing. But this ex-agent, who had, after his last interview with Poole, declined all further interference, had since then, through a correspondent in a country town, whom he had employed at the first, obtained a clue to my dear old friend's wanderings, more recent, and I think more hopeful, than any I had yet discovered. You will remember that when questioning Sophy as to any friends in her former life to whom it was probable Waife might have addressed himself, she could think of no one so probable as a cobbler named Merle, with whom he and she had once lodged, and of whom he had often spoken to her with much gratitude as having put him in the way of recovering herself, and having shown him a peculiar trustful kindness on that occasion. But you will remember also that I could not find this Merle; he had left the village, near this very place, in which he had spent the greater part of his life--his humble trade having been neglected in consequence of some strange superstitious occupations in which, as he had grown older, he had become more and more absorbed. He had fallen into poverty, his effects had been sold off; he had gone away no one knew whither. Well, the ex-agent, who had also been directed to this Merle by his employer, had, through his correspondent, ascertained that the cobbler was living at Norwich, where he passed under the name of the Wise Man, and where he was in perpetual danger of being sent to the house of correction as an impostor, dealing in astrology, crystal-seeing, and such silly or nefarious practices. Very odd, indeed, and very melancholy, too," quoth the scholar, lifting up his hands and eyes, "that a man so gifted as our poor friend should ever have cultivated an acquaintance with a cobbler who deals in the Black Art!"

"Sophy has talked to me much about that cobbler," said Lady Montfort, with her sweet half-smile. "It was under his roof that she first saw Lionel Haughton. But though the poor man may be an ignorant enthusiast, he is certainly, by her account, too kind and simple-hearted to be a designing impostor."

GEORGE.--"Possibly. But to go on with my story: A few weeks ago, an elderly lame man, accompanied by a dog, who was evidently poor dear Sir Isaac, lodged two days with Merle at Norwich. On hearing this, I myself went yesterday to Norwich, saw and talked to Merle, and through this man I hope, more easily, delicately, and expeditiously than by any other means, to achieve our object. He evidently can assist us, and, as evidently, Waife has not told him that he is flying from Sophy and friends, but from enemies and persecutors. For Merle, who is impervious to bribes, and who at first was churlish and rude, became softened as my honest affection for the fugitive grew clear to him, and still more when I told him how wretched Sophy was at her grandfather's disappearance, and that she might fret herself into a decline. And we parted with this promise on his side, that if I would bring down to him either Sophy herself (which is out of the question) or a line from her, which, in referring to any circumstances while under his roof that could only be known to her and himself, should convince him that the letter was from her hand, assuring him that it was for Waife's benefit and at her prayer that he should bestir himself in search for her grandfather, and that he might implicitly trust to me, he would do all he could to help us. So far, then, so good. But I have now more to say, and that is in reference to Sophy herself. While we are tracking her grandfather, the peril to her is not lessened. Never was that peril thoroughly brought before my eyes until I had heard actually from the police agent the dreadful character and associations of the man who can claim her in a fathers name. Waife, it is true, had told you that his son was profligate, spendthrift, lawless--sought her, not from natural affection, but as an instrument to be used, roughly and coarsely, for the purpose of extorting money from Mr. Darrell. But this stops far short of the terrible reality. Imagine the effect on her nerves, so depressed as they now are, nay, on her very life, should this audacious miscreant force himself here and say, 'Come with me, you are my child.' And are we quite sure that out of some refining nobleness of conscience she might not imagine it her duty to obey, and to follow him? The more abject and friendless his condition, the more she might deem it her duty to be by his side. I have studied her from her childhood. She is capable of any error in judgment, if it be made to appear a martyr's devoted self-sacrifice. You may well shudder, my dear cousin. But grant that she were swayed by us and by the argument that so to act would betray and kill her beloved grandfather, still, in resisting this ruffian's paternal authority, what violent and painful scenes might ensue! What dreadful publicity to be attached for ever to her name! Nor is this all. Grant that her father does not discover her, but that he is led by his associates into some criminal offence, and suffers by the law--her relationship, both to him from whom you would guard her, and to him whose hearth you have so tenderly reared her to grace, suddenly dragged to day--would not the shame kill her? And in that disclosure how keen would be the anguish of Darrell!"

"Oh, heavens!" cried Caroline Montfort, white as ashes and wringing her hands, "you freeze me with terror. But this man cannot be so fallen as you describe. I have seen him--spoken with him in his youth--hoped then to assist in a task of conciliation, pardon. Nothing about him then foreboded so fearful a corruption. He might be vain, extravagant, selfish, false--Ah, yes! he was false indeed! but still the ruffian you paint, banded with common criminals, cannot be the same as the gay, dainty, perfumed, fair-faced adventurer with whom my ill-fated playmate fled her father's house. You shake your head--what is it you advise?"

"To expedite your own project--to make at once the resolute attempt to secure to this poor child her best, her most rightful protector--to let whatever can be done to guard her from danger or reclaim her father from courses to which despair may be driving him--to let, I say, all this be done by the person whose interest in doing it effectively is so paramount--whose ability to judge of and decide on the wisest means is so immeasurably superior to all that lies within our own limited experience of life."

"But you forget that our friend told me that he had appealed to--to Mr. Darrell on his return to England: that Mr. Darrell had peremptorily refused to credit the claim; and had sternly said that, even if Sophy's birth could be proved, he would not place under his father's roof the grandchild of William Losely."

"True; and yet you hoped reasonably enough to succeed where he, poor outcast, had failed."

"Yes, yes; I did hope that Sophy--her manners formed, her education completed--all her natural exquisite graces so cultured and refined, as to justify pride in the proudest kindred--I did so hope that she should be brought, as it were by accident, under his notice; that she would interest and charm him; and that the claim, when made, might thus be welcomed with delight. Mr. Darrell's abrupt return to a seclusion so rigid forbids the opportunity that ought easily have been found or made if he had remained in London. But suddenly, violently to renew a claim that such a man has rejected, before he has ever seen that dear child--before his heart and his taste plead for her--who would dare to do it? or, if so daring, who could hope success?"

"My dear Lady Montfort, my noble cousin, with repute as spotless as the ermine of your robe--who but you?"

"Who but I? Any one. Mr. Darrell would not even read through a letter addressed to him by me."

George stared with astonishment. Caroline's face was downcast--her attitude that of profound humiliated dejection.

"Incredible!" said he at length. "I have always suspected, and so indeed has my uncle, that Darrell had some cause of complaint against your mother. Perhaps he might have supposed that she had not sufficiently watched over his daughter, or had not sufficiently inquired into the character of the governess whom she recommended to him; and that this had led to an estrangement between Darrell and your mother, which could not fail to extend somewhat to yourself. But such misunderstandings can surely now be easily removed. Talk of his not reading a letter addressed to him by you! Why, do I not remember, when I was on a visit to my schoolfellow, his son, what influence you, a mere child yourself, had over that grave, busy man, then in the height of his career--how you alone could run without awe into his study--how you alone had the privilege to arrange his books, sort his papers--so that we two boys looked on you with a solemn respect, as the depositary of all his state secrets--how vainly you tried to decoy that poor timid Matilda, his daughter, into a share of your own audacity!--Is not all this true?"

"Oh yes, yes--old days gone for ever!"

"Do I not remember how you promised that, before I went back to school, I should hear Darrell read aloud--how you brought the volume of Milton to him in the evening--how he said, 'No, to-morrow night; I must now go to the House of Commons'--how I marvelled to hear you answer boldly, 'To-morrow night George will have left us, and I have promised that he shall hear you read'--and how, looking at you under those dark brows with serious softness, he said: 'Right: promises once given, must be kept. But was it not rash to promise in another's name?'--and you answered, half gently, half pettishly, 'As if you could fail me!' He took the book without another word, and read. What reading it was too! And do you not remember another time, how--"

LADY MONTFORT (interrupting with nervous impatience).--"Ay, ay--I need no reminding of all--all! Kindest, noblest, gentlest friend to a giddy, heedless child, unable to appreciate the blessing. But now, George, I dare not, I cannot write to Mr. Darrell."

George mused a moment, and conjectured that Lady Montfort had, in the inconsiderate impulsive season of youth, aided in the clandestine marriage of Darrell's daughter, and had become thus associated in his mind with the affliction that had embittered his existence. Were this so, certainly she would not be the fitting, intercessor on behalf of Sophy. His thoughts then turned to his uncle, Darrell's earliest friend, not suspecting that Colonel Morley was actually the person whom Darrell had already appointed his adviser and representative in all transactions that might concern the very parties under discussion. But just as he was about to suggest the expediency of writing to Alban to return to England, and taking him into confidence and consultation, Lady Montfort resumed, in a calmer voice and with a less troubled countenance:

"Who should be the pleader for one whose claim, if acknowledged, would affect his own fortunes, but Lionel Haughton?--Hold!--look where yonder they come into sight--there by the gap in the evergreens. May we not hope that Providence, bringing those two beautiful lives together, gives a solution to the difficulties which thwart our action and embarrass our judgment? I conceived and planned a blissful romance the first moment I gathered fran Sophy's artless confidences the effect that had been produced on her whole train of thought and feeling by the first meeting with Lionel in her childhood; by his brotherly, chivalrous kindness, and, above all, by the chance words he let fall, which discontented her with a life of shift and disguise, and revealed to her the instincts of her own holiest truthful nature. An alliance between Lionel Haughton and Sophy seemed to me the happiest possible event that could befall Guy Darrell. The two branches of his family united--a painful household secret confined to the circle of his own kindred--granting Sophy's claim never perfectly cleared up, but subject to a tormenting doubt--her future equally assured--her possible rights equally established--Darrell's conscience and pride reconciled to each other. And how, even but as wife to his young kinsman, he would learn to love one so exquisitely endearing!" (Lady Montfort paused a moment, and then resumed.) "When I heard that Mr. Darrell was about to marry again, my project was necessarily arrested."

"Certainly," said George, "if he formed new ties, Sophy would be less an object in his existence, whether or not he recognised her birth. The alliance between her and Lionel would lose many of its advantages; and any address to him on Sophy's behalf would become yet more ungraciously received."

LADY MONTFORT.--"In that case I had resolved to adopt Sophy as my own child; lay by from my abundant income an ample dowry for her; and whether Mr. Darrell ever know it or not, at least I should have the secret joy to think that I was saving him from the risk of remorse hereafter--should she be, as we believe, his daughter's child, and have been thrown upon the world destitute;--yes, the secret joy of feeling that I was sheltering, fostering as a mother, one whose rightful home might be with him who in my childhood sheltered, fostered me!"

GEORGE (much affected).--"How, in proportion as we know you, the beauty which you veil from the world outshines that which you cannot prevent the world from seeing! But you must not let this grateful enthusiasm blind your better judgment. You think these young persons are beginning to be really attached to each other. Then it is the more necessary that no time should be lost in learning how Mr. Darrell would regard such a marriage. I do not feel so assured of his consent as you appear to do. At all events, this should be ascertained before their happiness is seriously involved. I agree with you that Lionel is the best intermediator to plead for Sophy; and his very generosity in urging her prior claim to a fortune that might otherwise pass to him is likely to have weight with a man so generous himself as Guy Darrell is held to be. But does Lionel yet know all? Have you yet ventured to confide to him, or even to Sophy herself, the nature of her claim on the man who so proudly denies it?"

"No--I deemed it due to Sophy's pride of sex to imply to her that she would, in fortune and in social position, be entitled to equality with those whom she might meet here. And that is true, if only as the child whom I adopt and enrich. I have not said more. And only since Lionel has appeared has she ever seemed interested in anything that relates to her parentage. From the recollection of her father she naturally shrinks--she never mentions his name. But two days ago she did ask timidly, and with great change of countenance, if it was through her mother that she was entitled to a rank higher than she had hitherto known; and when I answered 'yes,' she sighed, and said 'But my dear grandfather never spoke to me of her; he never even saw my mother.'"

GEORGE.--"And you, I suspect, do not much like to talk of that mother. I have gathered from you, unawares to yourself, that she was not a person you could highly praise; and to me, as a boy, she seemed, with all her timidity, wayward and deceitful."

LADY MONTFORT.--"Alas! how bitterly she must have suffered--and how young she was! But you are right; I cannot speak to Sophy of her mother, the subject is connected with so much sorrow. But I told her 'that she should know all soon,' and she said, with a sweet and melancholy patience, 'When my poor grandfather will be by to hear; I can wait.'"

GEORGE.--"But is Lionel, with his quick intellect and busy imagination, equally patient? Does he not guess at the truth? You have told him that you do meditate a project which affects Guy Darrell, and required his promise not to divulge to Darrell his visits in this house."

LADY MONTFORT--"He knows that Sophy's paternal grandfather was William Losely. From your uncle he heard William Losely's story, and--"

GEORGE.--"My uncle Alban?"

LADY MOSTFORT.--"Yes; the Colonel was well acquainted with the elder Losely in former days, and spoke of him to Lionel with great affection. It seems that Lionel's father knew him also, and thoughtlessly involved him in his own pecuniary difficulties. Lionel was not long a visitor here before he asked me abruptly if Mr. Waife's real name was not Losely. I was obliged to own it, begging him not at present to question me further. He said then, with much emotion, that he had an hereditary debt to discharge to William Losely, and that he was the last person who ought to relinquish belief in the old man's innocence of the crime for which the law had condemned him, or to judge him harshly if the innocence were not substantiated. You remember with what eagerness he joined in your search, until you positively forbade his interposition, fearing that should our poor friend hear of inquiries instituted by one whom he could not recognise as a friend, and might possibly consider an emissary of his son's, he would take yet greater pains to conceal himself. But from the moment that Lionel learned that Sophy's grandfather was William Losely, his manner to Sophy became yet more tenderly respectful. He has a glorious nature, that young man! But did your uncle never speak to you of William Losely?"

"No. I am not surprised at that. My uncle Alban avoids 'painful subjects.' I am only surprised that he should have revived a painful subject in talk to Lionel. But I now understand why, when Waife first heard my name, he seemed affected, and why he so specially enjoined me never to mention or describe him to my friends and relations. Then Lionel knows Losely's story, but not his son's connection with Darrell?"

"Certainly not. He knows but what is generally said in the world, that Darrell's daughter eloped with a Mr. Hammond, a man of inferior birth, and died abroad, leaving but one child, who is also dead. Still Lionel does suspect,--my very injunctions of secrecy must make him more than suspect, that the Loselys are somehow or other mixed up With Darrell's family history. Hush! I hear his voice yonder--they approach."

"My dear cousin, let it be settled between us, then, that you frankly and without delay communicate to Lionel the whole truth, so far as it is known to us, and put it to him how best and most touchingly to move Mr. Darrell towards her, of whom we hold him to be the natural protector. I will write to my uncle to return to England that he may assist us in the same good work. Meanwhile, I shall have only good tidings to communicate to Sophy in my new hopes to discover her grandfather through Merle."

Here, as the sun was setting, Lionel and Sophy came in sight,--above their heads, the western clouds bathed in gold and purple. Sophy, perceiving George, bounded forwards, and reached his side, breathless.

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