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My Novel - Book 7 - Chapter 19 Post by :gurumakio Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2684

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My Novel - Book 7 - Chapter 19


A few days afterwards, and Helen, removed to a pure air, and under the advice of the first physicians, was out of all danger.

It was a pretty detached cottage, with its windows looking over the wild heaths of Norwood, to which Harley rode daily to watch the convalescence of his young charge: an object in life was already found. As she grew better and stronger, he coaxed her easily into talking, and listened to her with pleased surprise. The heart so infantine and the sense so womanly struck him much by its rare contrast and combination. Leonard, whom he had insisted on placing also in the cottage, had stayed there willingly till Helen's recovery was beyond question. Then he came to Lord L'Estrange, as the latter was about one day to leave the cottage, and said quietly, "Now, my Lord, that Helen is safe, and now that she will need me no more, I can no longer be a pensioner on your bounty. I return to London."

"You are my visitor, not my pensioner, foolish boy," said Harley, who had already noticed the pride which spoke in that farewell; "come into the garden and let us talk."

Harley seated himself on a bench on the little lawn; Nero crouched at his feet; Leonard stood beside him.

"So," said Lord L'Estrange, "you would return to London? What to do?"

"Fulfil my fate."

"And that?"

"I cannot guess. Fate is the Isis whose veil no mortal can ever raise."

"You should be born for great things," said Harley, abruptly. "I am sure that you write well. I have seen that you study with passion. Better than writing and better than study, you have a noble heart, and the proud desire of independence. Let me see your manuscripts, or any copies of what you have already printed. Do not hesitate,--I ask but to be a reader. I don't pretend to be a patron: it is a word I hate."

Leonard's eyes sparkled through their sudden moisture. He brought out his portfolio, placed it on the bench beside Harley, and then went softly to the farther part of the garden. Nero looked after him, and then rose and followed him slowly. The boy seated himself on the turf, and Nero rested his dull head on the loud heart of the poet.

Harley took up the various papers before him, and read them through leisurely. Certainly he was no critic. He was not accustomed to analyze what pleased or displeased him; but his perceptions were quick, and his taste exquisite. As he read, his countenance, always so genuinely expressive, exhibited now doubt and now admiration. He was soon struck by the contrast, in the boy's writings, between the pieces that sported with fancy and those that grappled with thought. In the first, the young poet seemed so unconscious of his own individuality. His imagination, afar and aloft from the scenes of his suffering, ran riot amidst a paradise of happy golden creations. But in the last, the THINKER stood out alone and mournful, questioning, in troubled sorrow, the hard world on which he gazed. All in the thought was unsettled, tumultuous; all in the fancy serene and peaceful. The genius seemed divided into twain shapes,--the one bathing its wings amidst the starry dews of heaven; the other wandering, "melancholy, slow," amidst desolate and boundless sands. Harley gently laid down the paper and mused a little while. Then he rose and walked to Leonard, gazing on his countenance as he neared the boy, with a new and a deeper interest.

"I have read your papers," he said, "and recognize in them two men, belonging to two worlds, essentially distinct." Leonard started, and murmured, "True, true!"

"I apprehend," resumed Harley, "that one of these men must either destroy the other, or that the two must become fused and harmonized into a single existence. Get your hat, mount my groom's horse, and come with me to London; we will converse by the way. Look you, I believe you and I agree in this,--that the first object of every noble spirit is independence. It is towards this independence that I alone presume to assist you, and this is a service which the proudest man can receive without a blush."

Leonard lifted his eyes towards Harley's, and those eyes swam with grateful tears; but his heart was too full to answer. "I am not one of those," said Harley, when they were on the road, "who think that because a young man writes poetry he is fit for nothing else, and that he must be a poet or a pauper. I have said that in you there seems to me to be two men,--the man of the Actual world, the man of the Ideal. To each of these men I can offer a separate career. The first is perhaps the more tempting. It is the interest of the State to draw into its service all the talent and industry it can obtain; and under his native State every citizen of a free country should be proud to take service. I have a friend who is a minister, and who is known to encourage talent,--Audley Egerton. I have but to say to him, 'There is a young man who will repay the government whatever the government bestows on him;' and you will rise to-morrow independent in means, and with fair occasions to attain to fortune and distinction. This is one offer,--what say you to it?"

Leonard thought bitterly of his interview with Audley Egerton, and the minister's proffered crown-piece. He shook his head, and replied,

"Oh, my Lord, how have I deserved such kindness? Do with me what you will; but if I have the option, I would rather follow my own calling. This is not the ambition that inflames me."

"Hear, then, the other offer. I have a friend with whom I am less intimate than Egerton, and who has nothing in his gift to bestow. I speak of a man of letters,--Henry Norreys,--of whom you have doubtless heard, who, I should say, conceived an interest in you when he observed you reading at the bookstall. I have often heard him say that literature as a profession is misunderstood, and that rightly followed, with the same pains and the same prudence which are brought to bear on other professions, a competence at least can be always ultimately obtained. But the way may be long and tedious, and it leads to no power but over thought; it rarely attains to wealth; and though reputation may be certain, fame, such as poets dream of, is the lot of few. What say you to this course?"

"My Lord, I decide," said Leonard, firmly; and then, his young face lighting up with enthusiasm, he exclaimed, "Yes, if, as you say, there be two men within me, I feel that were I condemned wholly to the mechanical and practical world, one would indeed destroy the other. And the conqueror would be the ruder and the coarser. Let me pursue those ideas that, though they have but flitted across me, vague and formless, have ever soared towards the sunlight. No matter whether or not they lead to fortune or to fame,--at least they will lead me upward! Knowledge for itself I desire; what care I if it be not power!"

"Enough," said Harley, with a pleased smile at his young companion's outburst. "As you decide so shall it be settled. And now permit me, if not impertinent, to ask you a few questions. Your name is Leonard Fairfield?"

The boy blushed deeply, and bowed his head as if in assent.

"Helen says you are self-taught; for the rest she refers me to you,--thinking, perhaps, that I should esteem you less--rather than yet more highly--if she said you were, as I presume to conjecture, of humble birth."

"My birth," said Leonard, slowly, "is very--very--humble."

"The name of Fairfield is not unknown to me. There was one of that name who married into a family in Lansmere, married an Avenel," continued Harley, and his voice quivered. "You change countenance. Oh, could your mother's name have been Avenel?"

"Yes," said Leonard, between his set teeth. Harley laid his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Then, indeed, I have a claim on you; then, indeed, we are friends. I have a right to serve any of that family."

Leonard looked at him in surprise--"For," continued Harley, recovering himself, "they always served my family; and my recollections of Lansmere, though boyish, are indelible." He spurred on his horse as the words closed, and again there was a long pause; but from that time Harley always spoke to Leonard in a soft voice, and often gazed on him with earnest and kindly eyes.

They reached a house in a central, though not fashionable street. A man-servant of a singularly grave and awful aspect opened the door,--a man who had lived all his life with authors. Poor fellow, he was indeed prematurely old! The care on his lip and the pomp on his brow--no mortal's pen can describe!

"Is Mr. Norreys at home?" asked Harley.

"He is at home--to his friends, my Lord," answered the man, majestically; and he stalked across the hall with the step of a Dangeau ushering some Montmorenci into the presence of Louis le Grand.

"Stay; show this gentleman into another room. I will go first into the library; wait for me, Leonard." The man nodded, and conducted Leonard into the dining-room. Then pausing before the door of the library, and listening an instant, as if fearful to disturb some mood of inspiration, opened it very softly. To his ineffable disgust, Harley pushed before, and entered abruptly. It was a large room, lined with books from the floor to the ceiling. Books were on all the tables, books were on all the chairs. Harley seated himself on a folio of Raleigh's "History of the World," and cried, "I have brought you a treasure!"

"What is it?" said Norreys, good-humouredly, looking up from his desk.

"A mind!"

"A mind!" echoed Norreys, vaguely.

"Your own?"

"Pooh! I have none,--I have only a heart and a fancy. Listen. You remember the boy we saw reading at the book stall. I have caught him for you, and you shall train him into a man. I have the warmest interest in his future, for I know some of his family, and one of that family was very dear to me. As for money, he has not a shilling, and not a shilling would he accept gratis from you or me either. But he comes with bold heart to work,--and work you must find him." Harley then rapidly told his friend of the two offers he had made to Leonard, and Leonard's choice.

"This promises very well; for letters a man must have a strong vocation, as he should have for law. I will do all that you wish."

Harley rose with alertness, shook Norreys cordially by the hand, hurried out of the room, and returned with Leonard.

Mr. Norreys eyed the young man with attention. He was naturally rather severe than cordial in his manner to strangers,--contrasting in this, as in most things, the poor vagabond Burley; but he was a good judge of the human countenance, and he liked Leonard's. After a pause he held out his hand.

"Sir," said he, "Lord L'Estrange tells me that you wish to enter literature as a calling, and no doubt to study it as an art. I may help you in this, and you meanwhile can help me. I want an amanuensis,--I offer you that place. The salary will be proportioned to the services you will render me. I have a room in my house at your disposal. When I first came up to London, I made the same choice that I hear you have done. I have no cause, even in a worldly point of view, to repent my choice. It gave me an income larger than my wants. I trace my success to these maxims, which are applicable to all professions: 1st, Never to trust to genius for what can be obtained by labour; 2dly, Never to profess to teach what we have not studied to understand; 3dly, Never to engage our word to what we do not our best to execute.

"With these rules, literature--provided a man does not mistake his vocation for it, and will, under good advice, go through the preliminary discipline of natural powers, which all vocations require--is as good a calling as any other. Without them, a shoeblack's is infinitely better."

"Possibly enough," muttered Harley; "but there have been great writers who observed none of your maxims."

"Great writers, probably, but very unenviable men. My Lord, my Lord, don't corrupt the pupil you bring to me." Harley smiled, and took his departure, and left Genius at school with Common-Sense and Experience.

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