John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 4

Going Away.

Edward Arundel went from Montague Square straight into the household of the private tutor of whom he had spoken, there to complete his education, and to be prepared for the onerous duties of a military life. From the household of this private tutor he went at once into a cavalry regiment; after sundry examinations, which were not nearly so stringent in the year one thousand eight hundred and forty, as they have since become. Indeed, I think the unfortunate young cadets who are educated upon the high-pressure system, and who are expected to give a synopsis of Portuguese political intrigue during the eighteenth century, a scientific account of the currents of the Red Sea, and a critical disquisition upon the comedies of Aristophanes as compared with those of Pedro Calderon de la Barca, not forgetting to glance at the effect of different ages and nationalities upon the respective minds of the two playwrights, within a given period of, say half-an-hour — would have envied Mr. Arundel for the easy manner in which he obtained his commission in a distinguished cavalry regiment. Mr. Edward Arundel therefore inaugurated the commencement of the year 1840 by plunging very deeply into the books of a crack military-tailor in New Burlington Street, and by a visit to Dangerfield Park; where he went to make his adieux before sailing for India, whither his regiment had just been ordered.

I do not doubt that Mrs Arundel was very sorrowful at this sudden parting with her yellow-haired younger son. The boy and his mother walked together in the wintry sunset under the leafless beeches at Dangerfield, and talked of the dreary voyage that lay before the lad; the arid plains and cruel jungles far away; perils by sea and perils by land; but across them all, Fame waving her white beckoning arms to the young soldier, and crying, “Come, conqueror that shall be! come, through trial and danger, through fever and famine — come to your rest upon my bloodstained lap!” Surely this boy, being only just eighteen years of age, may be forgiven if he is a little romantic, a little over eager and impressionable, a little too confident that the next thing to going out to India as a sea-sick subaltern in a great transport-ship is coming home with the reputation of a Clive. Perhaps he may be forgiven, too, if, in his fresh enthusiasm, he sometimes forgot the shabby friend whom he had helped little better than a twelvemonth before, and the earnest hazel eyes that had shone upon him in the pitiful Oakley Street chamber. I do not say that he was utterly unmindful of his old teacher of mathematics. It was not in his nature to forget anyone who had need of his services; for this boy, so eager to be a soldier, was of the chivalrous temperament, and would have gone out to die for his mistress, or his friend, if need had been. He had received two or three grateful letters from John Marchmont; and in these letters the lawyer’s clerk had spoken pleasantly of his new life, and hopefully of his health, which had improved considerably, he said, since his resignation of the tragic banner and the pantomimic mask. Neither had Edward quite forgotten his promise of enlisting Mrs. Arundel’s sympathies in aid of the motherless little girl. In one of these wintry walks beneath the black branches at Dangerfield, the lad had told the sorrowful story of his well-born tutor’s poverty and humiliation.

“Only think, mother!” he cried at the end of the little history. “I saw the poor fellow carrying a great calico flag, and marching about at the heel of a procession, to be laughed at by the costermongers in the gallery; and I know that he belongs to a capital Lincolnshire family, and will come in for no end of money if he only lives long enough. But if he should die, mother, and leave his little girl destitute, you’ll look after her, won’t you?”

I don’t know whether Mrs. Arundel quite entered into her son’s ideas upon the subject of adopting Mary Marchmont, or whether she had any definite notion of bringing the little girl home to Dangerfield for the natural term of her life, in the event of the child being left an orphan. But she was a kind and charitable lady, and she scarcely cared to damp her boy’s spirits by holding forth upon the doubtful wisdom of his adopting, or promising to adopt, any stray orphans who might cross his pathway.

“I hope the little girl may not lose her father, Edward,” she said gently. “Besides, dear, you say that Mr. Marchmont tells you he has humble friends, who would take the child if anything happened to him. He does not wish us to adopt the little girl; he only asks us to interest ourselves in her fate.”

“And you will do that, mother darling?” cried the boy. “You will take an interest in her, won’t you? You couldn’t help doing so, if you were to see her. She’s not like a child, you know — not a bit like Letitia. She’s as grave and quiet as you are, mother — or graver, I think; and she looks like a lady, in spite of her poor, shabby pinafore and frock.”

“Does she wear shabby frocks?” said the mother. “I could help her in that matter, at all events, Ned. I might send her a great trunk-full of Letitia’s things: she outgrows them before they have been worn long enough to be shabby.”

The boy coloured, and shook his head.

“It’s very kind of you to think of it, mother dear; but I don’t think that would quite answer,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because, you see, John Marchmont is a gentleman; and, you know, though he’s so dreadfully poor now, he is heir to Marchmont Towers. And though he didn’t mind doing any thing in the world to earn a few shillings a week, he mightn’t like to take cast-off clothes.”

So nothing more was to be said or done upon the subject.

Edward Arundel wrote his humble friend a pleasant letter, in which he told John that he had enlisted his mother’s sympathy in Mary’s cause, and in which he spoke in very glowing terms of the Indian expedition that lay before him.

“I wish I could come to say good-bye to you and Miss Mary before I go,” he wrote; “but that’s impossible. I go straight from here to Southampton by coach at the end of this month, and the Auckland sails on the 2nd of February. Tell Miss Mary I shall bring her home all kinds of pretty presents from Affghanistan — ivory fans, and Cashmere shawls, and Chinese puzzles, and embroidered slippers with turned-up toes, and diamonds, and attar-of-roses, and suchlike; and remember that I expect you to write to me, and to give me the earliest news of your coming into the Lincolnshire property.”

John Marchmont received this letter in the middle of January. He gave a despondent sigh as he refolded the boyish epistle, after reading it to his little girl.

“We haven’t so many friends, Polly,” he said, “that we should be indifferent to the loss of this one.”

Mary Marchmont’s cheek grew paler at her father’s sorrowful speech. That imaginative temperament, which was, as I have said, almost morbid in its intensity, presented every object to the little girl in a light in which things are looked at by very few children. Only these few words, and her fancy roamed far away to that cruel land whose perils her father had described to her. Only these few words, and she was away in the rocky Bolan Pass, under hurricanes of drifting snow; she saw the hungry soldiers fighting with savage dogs for the possession of foul carrion. She had heard all the perils and difficulties which had befallen the Army of the Indus in the year ‘39, and the womanly heart ached with the pain of those cruel memories.

“He will go to India and be killed, papa dear,” she said. “Oh! why, why do they let him go? His mother can’t love him, can she? She would never let him go, if she did.”

John Marchmont was obliged to explain to his daughter that motherly love must not go so far as to deprive a nation of its defenders; and that the richest jewels which Cornelia can give to her country are those ruby life-drops which flow from the hearts of her bravest and brightest sons. Mary was no political economist; she could not reason upon the necessity of chastising Persian insolence, or checking Russian encroachments upon the far-away shores of the Indus. Was Edward Arundel’s bright head, with its aureola of yellow hair, to be cloven asunder by an Affghan renegade’s sabre, because the young Shah of Persia had been contumacious?

Mary Marchmont wept silently that day over a three-volume novel, while her father was away serving writs upon wretched insolvents, in his capacity of out-door clerk to Messrs. Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson.

The young lady no longer spent her quiet days in the two-pair back. Mr. Marchmont and his daughter had remained faithful to Oakley Street and the proprietress of the ladies’ wardrobe, who was a good, motherly creature; but they had descended to the grandeur of the first floor, whose gorgeous decorations Mary had glanced at furtively in the days gone by, when the splendid chambers were occupied by an elderly and reprobate commission-agent, who seemed utterly indifferent to the delights of a convex mirror, surmounted by a maimed eagle, whose dignity was somewhat impaired by the loss of a wing; but which bijou appeared, to Mary, to be a fitting adornment for the young Queen’s palace in St. James’s Park.

But neither the eagle nor the third volume of a thrilling romance could comfort Mary upon this bleak January day. She shut her book, and stood by the window, looking out into the dreary street, that seemed so blotted and dim under the falling snow.

“It snowed in the Pass of Bolan,” she thought; “and the treacherous Indians harassed the brave soldiers, and killed their camels. What will become of him in that dreadful country? Shall we ever see him again?”

Yes, Mary, to your sorrow! Indian scimitars will let him go scatheless; famine and fever will pass him by; but the hand which points to that far-away day on which you and he are to meet, will never fail or falter in its purpose until the hour of your meeting comes.

We have no need to dwell upon the preparations which were made for the young soldier’s departure from home, nor on the tender farewells between the mother and her son.

Mr. Arundel was a country gentleman pur et simple; a hearty, broad-shouldered squire, who had no thought above his farm and his dog-kennel, or the hunting of the red deer with which his neighbourhood abounded. He sent his younger son to India as coolly as he had sent the elder to Oxford. The boy had little to inherit, and must be provided for in a gentlemanly manner. Other younger sons of the House of Arundel had fought and conquered in the Honourable East India Company’s service; and was Edward any better than they, that there should be sentimental whining because the lad was going away to fight his way to fortune, if he could? Mr. Arundel went even further than this, and declared that Master Edward was a lucky dog to be going out at such a time, when there was plenty of fighting, and a very fair chance of speedy promotion for a good soldier.

He gave the young cadet his blessing, reminded him of the limit of such supplies as he was to expect from home, bade him keep clear of the brandy-bottle and the dice-box; and having done this, believed that he had performed his duty as an Englishman and a father.

If Mrs. Arundel wept, she wept in secret, loth to discourage her son by the sight of those natural, womanly tears. If Miss Letitia Arundel was sorry to lose her brother, she mourned with most praiseworthy discretion, and did not forget to remind the young traveller that she expected to receive a muslin frock, embroidered with beetle-wings, by an early mail. And as Algernon Fairfax Dangerfield Arundel, the heir, was away at college, there was no one else to mourn. So Edward left the home of his forefathers by a branch-coach, which started from the “Arundel Arms” in time to meet the “Telegraph” at Exeter; and no noisy lamentations shook the sky above Dangerfield Park — no mourning voices echoed through the spacious rooms. The old servants were sorry to lose the younger-born, whose easy, genial temperament had made him an especial favourite; but there was a certain admixture of joviality with their sorrow, as there generally is with all mourning in the basement; and the strong ale, the famous Dangerfield October, went faster upon that 31st of January than on any day since Christmas.

I doubt if any one at Dangerfield Park sorrowed as bitterly for the departure of the boyish soldier as a romantic young lady, of nine years old, in Oakley Street, Lambeth; whose one sentimental day-dream — half-childish, half-womanly — owned Edward Arundel as its centre figure.

So the curtain falls on the picture of a brave ship sailing eastward, her white canvas strained against the cold grey February sky, and a little girl weeping over the tattered pages of a stupid novel in a shabby London lodging.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31