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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesErnest Maltravers - Book 8 - Chapter 4
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Ernest Maltravers - Book 8 - Chapter 4 Post by :rgunnltd Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2841

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Ernest Maltravers - Book 8 - Chapter 4

BOOK VIII CHAPTER IV

"A slippery and subtle knave; a finder out of occasions,
that has an eye can stamp and counterfeit advantages."
--_Othello_.

"Knavery's plain face is never seen till used."-_-Ibid._


"You see, my dear Lumley," said Lord Saxingham, as the next day the two kinsmen were on their way to London in the earl's chariot, "you see that at the best this marriage of Flory's is a cursed bore."

"Why, indeed, it has its disadvantages. Maltravers is a gentleman and a man of genius; but gentlemen are plentiful, and his genius only tells against us, since he is not even of our politics."

"Exactly--my own son-in-law voting against me!"

"A practicable, reasonable man would change; not so Maltravers--and all the estates, and all the parliamentary influence, and all the wealth that ought to go with the family and with the party, go out of the family and against the party. You are quite right, my dear lord--it is a cursed bore."

"And she might have had the Duke of ------, a man with a rental of L100,000 a year. It is too ridiculous. This Maltravers, d----d disagreeable fellow, too, eh?"

"Stiff and stately--much changed for the worse of late years--grown conceited and set up."

"Do you know, Lumley, I would rather, of the two, have had you for my son-in-law?"

Lumley half started. "Are you serious, my lord? I have not Ernest's fortune--I cannot make such settlements: my lineage, too, at least on my mother's side, is less ancient."

"Oh, as to settlements, Flory's fortune ought to be settled on herself,--and as compared with that fortune, what could Mr. Maltravers pretend to settle? Neither she nor any children she may have could want his L4,000 a year, if he settled it all. As for family, connections tell more nowadays than Norman descent,--and for the rest, you are likely to be old Templeton's heir, to have a peerage (a large sum of ready money is always useful)--are rising in the House--one of our own set--will soon be in office--and, flattery apart, a devilish good fellow into the bargain. Oh, I would sooner a thousand times that Flory had taken a fancy to you."

Lumley Ferrers bowed his head but said nothing. He fell into a reverie, and Lord Saxingham took up his official red box, became deep in its contents, and forgot all about the marriage of his daughter.

Lumley pulled the check-string as the carriage entered Pall Mall, and desired to be set down at "The Travellers." While Lord Saxingham was borne on to settle the affairs of the nation, not being able to settle those of his own household, Ferrers was inquiring the address of Castruccio Cesarini. The porter was unable to give it him. The Signor generally called every day for his notes, but no one at the club knew where he lodged. Ferrers wrote, and left with the porter a line requesting Cesarini to call on him as soon as possible, and he bent his way to his house in Great George Street. He went straight into his library, unlocked his escritoire, and took out that letter which, the reader will remember, Maltravers had written to Cesarini, and which Lumley had secured; carefully did he twice read over this effusion, and the second time his face brightened and his eyes sparkled. It is now time to lay this letter before the reader: it ran thus:--


_"Private and confidential."

"MY DEAR CESARINI:

"The assurance of your friendly feelings is most welcome to me. In much of what you say of marriage, I am inclined, though with reluctance, to agree. As to Lady Florence herself, few persons are more calculated to dazzle, perhaps to fascinate. But is she a person to make a home happy--to sympathise where she has been accustomed to command--to comprehend, and to yield to the waywardness and irritability common to our fanciful and morbid race--to content herself with the homage of a single heart? I do not know her enough to decide the question; but I know her enough to feel deep solicitude and anxiety for your happiness, if centred in a nature so imperious and so vain. But you will remind me of her fortune, her station. You will say that such are the sources from which, to an ambitious mind, happiness may well be drawn! Alas! I fear that the man who marries Lady Florence must indeed confine his dreams of felicity to those harsh and disappointing realities. But, Cesarini, these are not words which, were we more intimate, I would address to you. I doubt the reality of those affections which you ascribe to her and suppose devoted to yourself. She is evidently fond of conquest. She sports with the victims she makes. Her vanity dupes others, perhaps to be duped itself at last. I will not say more to you.


"Yours,
E. MALTRAVERS."


"Hurrah!" cried Ferrers, as he threw down the letter, and rubbed his hands with delight. "I little thought, when I schemed for this letter, that chance would make it so inestimably serviceable. There is less to alter than I thought for--the clumsiest botcher in the world could manage it. Let me look again. Hem, hem--the first phrase to alter is this: 'I know her enough to feel deep solicitude and anxiety for _your happiness if centred in a nature so imperious and vain'--scratch out 'your,' and put 'my.' All the rest good, good--till we come to 'affections which you ascribe to her, and suppose devoted to _yourself_'--for '_yourself_' write '_myself_'--the rest will do. Now, then, the date--we must change it to the present month, and the work is done. I wish that Italian blockhead would come. If I can but once make an irreparable breach between her and Maltravers, I think I cannot fail of securing his place; her pique, her resentment, will hurry her into taking the first who offers, by way of revenge. And by Jupiter, even if I fail (which I am sure I shall not), it will be something to keep Flory as lady paramount for a duke of our own party. I shall gain immensely by such a connection; but I lose everything and gain nothing by her marrying Maltravers--of opposite politics too--whom I begin to hate like poison. But no duke shall have her--Florence Ferrers, the only alliteration I ever liked--yet it would sound rough in poetry."

Lumley then deliberately drew towards him his inkstand--"No penknife!--Ah, true, I never mend pens--sad waste--must send out for one." He rang the bell, ordered a penknife to be purchased, and the servant was still out when a knock at the door was heard, and in a minute more Cesarini entered.

"Ah," said Lumley, assuming a melancholy air, "I am glad that you are arrived; you will excuse my having written to you so unceremoniously. You received my note--sit down, pray--and how are you? you look delicate--can I offer you anything?"

"Wine," said Cesarini, laconically, "wine; your climate requires wine."

Here the servant entered with the penknife, and was ordered to bring wine and sandwiches. Lumley then conversed lightly on different matters till the wine appeared; he was rather surprised to observe Cesarini pour out and drink off glass upon glass, with an evident craving for the excitement. When he had satisfied himself, he turned his dark eyes to Ferrers, and said, "You have news to communicate--I see it in your brow. I am now ready to hear all."

"Well, then listen to me; you were right in your suspicions; jealousy is ever a true diviner. I make no doubt Othello was quite right, and Desdemona was no better than she should be. Maltravers has proposed to my cousin; and been accepted."

Cesarini's complexion grew perfectly ghastly; his whole frame shook like a leaf--for a moment he seemed paralysed.

"Curse him!" said he, at last, drawing a deep breath, and betwixt his grinded teeth--"curse him, from the depths of the heart he has broken!"

"And after such a letter to you!--do you remember it?--here it is. He warns you against Lady Florence, and then secures her to himself--is this treachery?"

"Treachery black as hell! I am an Italian," cried Cesarini, springing to his feet, and with all the passions of his climate in his face, "and I will be avenged! Bankrupt in fortune, ruined in hopes, blasted in heart--I have still the godlike consolation of the desperate--I have revenge."

"Will you call him out?" asked Lumley, musingly and calmly. "Are you a dead shot? If so, it is worth thinking about; if not, it is a mockery--your shot misses, his goes in the air, seconds interpose, and you both walk away devilish glad to get off so well. Duels are humbug."

"Mr. Ferrers," said Cesarini, fiercely, "this is not a matter of jest."

"I do not make it a jest; and what is more, Cesarini," said Ferrers, with a concentrated energy far more commanding than the Italian's fury, "what is more, I so detest Maltravers, I am so stung by his cold superiority, so wroth with his success, so loathe the thought of his alliance, that I would cut off this hand to frustrate that marriage! I do not jest, man; but I have method and sense in my hatred--it is our English way."

Cesarini stared at the speaker gloomily, clenched his hand, and strode rapidly to and fro the room.

"You would be avenged, so would I. Now what shall be the means?" said Ferrers.

"I will stab him to the heart--I will--"

"Cease these tragic flights. Nay, frown and stamp not; but sit down, and be reasonable, or leave me and act for yourself."

"Sir," said Cesarini, with an eye that might have alarmed a man less resolute than Ferrers, "have a care how you presume on my distress."

"You are in distress, and you refuse relief; you are bankrupt in fortune, and you rave like a poet, when you should be devising and plotting for the attainment of boundless wealth. Revenge and ambition may both be yours; but they are prizes never won but by a cautious foot as well as a bold hand."

"What would you have me do? and what but his life would content me?"

"Take his life if you can--I have no objection--go and take it; only just observe this, that if you miss your aim, or he, being the stronger man, strike you down, you will be locked up in a madhouse for the next year or two at least; and that is not the place in which I should like to pass the winter--but as you will."

"You!--you!--But what are you to me? I will go. Good day, sir."

"Stay a moment," said Ferrers, when he saw Cesarini about to leave the room; "stay, take this chair, and listen to me--you had better--"

Cesarini hesitated, and then, as it were, mechanically obeyed.

"Read that letter which Maltravers wrote to you. You have finished--well--now observe--if Florence sees that letter she will not and cannot marry the man who wrote it--you must show it to her."

"Ah, my guardian angel, I see it all! Yes, there are words in this letter no woman so proud could ever pardon. Give me it again, I will go at once."

"Pshaw! You are too quick; you have not remarked that this letter was written five months ago, before Maltravers knew much of Lady Florence. He himself has confessed to her that he did not then love her--so much the more would she value the conquest she has now achieved. Florence would smile at this letter, and say, 'Ah, he judges me differently now.'"

"Are you seeking to madden me? What do you mean? Did you not just now say that, did she see that letter, she would never marry the writer?"

"Yes, yes, but the letter must be altered. We must erase the date;--we must date it from to-day;--to-day--Maltravers returns to-day. We must suppose it written, not in answer to a letter from you, demanding his advice and opinion as to your marriage with Lady Florence, but in answer to a letter of yours in which you congratulate him on his approaching marriage to her. By the substitution of one pronoun for another, in two places, the letter will read as well one way as another. Read it again, and see; or stop, I will be the lecturer."

Here Ferrers read over the letter, which, by the trifling substitutions he proposed, might indeed bear the character he wished to give it.

"Does the light break in upon you now?" said Ferrers. "Are you prepared to go through a part that requires subtlety, delicacy, address, and, above all, self-control?--qualities that are the common attributes of your countrymen."

"I will do all, fear me not. It may be villainous, it may be base; but I care not, Maltravers shall not rival, master, eclipse me in all things."

"Where are you lodging?"

"Where?--out of town a little way."

"Take up your home with me for a few days. I cannot trust you out of my sight. Send for your luggage; I have a room at your service."

Cesarini at first refused; but a man who resolves on a crime feels the awe of solitude, and the necessity of a companion. He went himself to bring his effects, and promised to return to dinner.

"I must own," said Lumley, resettling himself at his desk, "this is the dirtiest trick that ever I played; but the glorious end sanctifies the paltry means. After all, it is the mere prejudice of gentlemanlike education."

A very few seconds, and with the aid of the knife to erase, and the pen to re-write, Ferrers completed his task, with the exception of the change of date, which, on second thoughts, he reserved as a matter to be regulated by circumstances.

"I think I have hit off his _m_'s and _y_'s tolerably," said he, "considering I was not brought up to this sort of thing. But the alteration would be visible on close inspection. Cesarini must read the letter to her, then if she glances over it herself it will be with bewildered eyes and a dizzy brain. Above all, he must not leave it with her, and must bind her to the closest secresy. She is honourable and will keep her word; and so now that matter is settled. I have just time before dinner to canter down to my uncle's and wish the old fellow joy."

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