Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter XVIII.

Why did she love him? Curious fool, be still!

Is human love the growth of human will?

To her he might be gentleness!

LORD BYRON.

In three weeks from the time of his arrival, Captain Clifford was the most admired man in Bath. It is true the gentlemen, who have a quicker tact as to the respectability of their own sex than women, might have looked a little shy upon him, had he not himself especially shunned appearing intrusive, and indeed rather avoided the society of men than courted it; so that after he had fought a duel with a baronet (the son of a shoemaker), who called him one Clifford, and had exhibited a flea-bitten horse, allowed to be the finest in Bath, he rose insensibly into a certain degree of respect with the one sex as well as popularity with the other. But what always attracted and kept alive suspicion, was his intimacy with so peculiar and dashing a gentleman as Mr. Edward Pepper. People could get over a certain frankness in Clifford’s address, but the most lenient were astounded by the swagger of Long Ned. Clifford, however, not insensible to the ridicule attached to his acquaintances, soon managed to pursue his occupations alone; nay, he took a lodging to himself, and left Long Ned and Augustus Tomlinson (the latter to operate as a check on the former) to the quiet enjoyment of the hairdresser’s apartments. He himself attended all public gayeties; and his mien, and the appearance of wealth which he maintained, procured him access into several private circles which pretended to be exclusive — as if people who had daughters ever could be exclusive! Many were the kind looks, nor few the inviting letters, which he received; and if his sole object had been to marry an heiress, he would have found no difficulty in attaining it. But he devoted himself entirely to Lucy Brandon; and to win one glance from her, he would have renounced all the heiresses in the kingdom. Most fortunately for him, Mauleverer, whose health was easily deranged, had fallen ill the very day William Brandon left Bath; and his lordship was thus rendered unable to watch the movements of Lucy, and undermine or totally prevent the success of her lover. Miss Brandon, indeed, had at first, melted by the kindness of her uncle, and struck with the sense of his admonition (for she was no self-willed young lady, who was determined to be in love), received Captain Clifford’s advances with a coldness which, from her manner the first evening they had met at Bath, occasioned him no less surprise than mortification. He retreated, and recoiled on the squire, who, patient and bold, as usual, was sequestered in his favourite corner. By accident, Clifford trod on the squire’s gouty digital; and in apologizing for the offence, was so struck by the old gentleman’s good-nature and peculiarity of expressing himself, that without knowing who he was, he entered into conversation with him. There was an off-hand sort of liveliness and candour, not to say wit, about Clifford, which always had a charm for the elderly, who generally like frankness above all the cardinal virtues; the squire was exceedingly pleased with him. The acquaintance, once begun, was naturally continued without difficulty when Clifford ascertained who was his new friend; and next morning, meeting in the pump-room, the squire asked Clifford to dinner. The entree to the house thus gained, the rest was easy. Long before Mauleverer recovered his health, the mischief effected by his rival was almost beyond redress; and the heart of the pure, the simple, the affectionate Lucy Brandon was more than half lost to the lawless and vagrant cavalier who officiates as the hero of this tale.

One morning, Clifford and Augustus strolled out together. “Let us,” said the latter, who was in a melancholy mood, “leave the busy streets, and indulge in a philosophical conversation on the nature of man, while we are enjoying a little fresh air in the country.” Clifford assented to the proposal, and the pair slowly sauntered up one of the hills that surround the city of Bladud.

“There are certain moments,” said Tomlinson, looking pensively down at his kerseymere gaiters, “when we are like the fox in the nursery rhyme, ‘The fox had a wound, he could not tell where,’— we feel extremely unhappy, and we cannot tell why. A dark and sad melancholy grows over us; we shun the face of man; we wrap ourselves in our thoughts like silkworms; we mutter fag-ends of dismal songs; tears come into our eyes; we recall all the misfortunes that have ever happened to us; we stoop in our gait, and bury our hands in our breeches-pockets; we say, ‘What is life? — a stone to be shied into a horsepond!’ We pine for some congenial heart, and have an itching desire to talk prodigiously about ourselves; all other subjects seem weary, stale, and unprofitable. We feel as if a fly could knock us down, and are in a humour to fall in love, and make a very sad piece of business of it. Yet with all this weakness we have at these moments a finer opinion of ourselves than we ever had before. We call our megrims the melancholy of a sublime soul, the yearnings of an indigestion we denominate yearnings after immortality, nay, sometimes ‘a proof of the nature of the soul!’ May I find some biographer who understands such sensations well, and may he style those melting emotions the offspring of the poetical character,’ which, in reality, are the offspring of — a mutton-chop!”

[Vide Moore’s “Life of Byron,” in which it is satisfactorily shown that if a man fast forty-eight hours, then eat three lobsters, and drink Heaven knows how many bottles of claret; if, when he wake the next morning, he sees himself abused as a demon by half the periodicals of the country — if, in a word, he be broken in his health, irregular in his habits, unfortunate in his affairs, unhappy in his home, and if then he should be so extremely eccentric as to be low-spirited and misanthropical, the low spirits and the misanthropy are by no means to be attributed to the above agreeable circumstances, but, God wot, to the “poetical character”!]

“You jest pleasantly enough on your low spirits,” said Clifford; “but I have a cause for mine.”

“What then?” cried Tomlinson. “So much the easier is it to cure them. The mind can cure the evils that spring from the mind. It is only a fool and a quack and a driveller when it professes to heal the evils that spring from the body. My blue devils spring from the body; consequently my mind, which, as you know, is a particularly wise mind, wrestles riot against them. Tell me frankly,” renewed Augustus, after a pause, “do you ever repent? Do you ever think, if you had been a shop-boy with a white apron about your middle, that you would have been a happier and a better member of society than you now are?”

“Repent!” said Clifford, fiercely; and his answer opened more of his secret heart, its motives, its reasonings, and its peculiarities than were often discernible — “repent! that is the idlest word in our language. No; the moment I repent, that moment I reform! Never can it seem to me an atonement for crime merely to regret it. My mind would lead me, not to regret, but to repair! Repent! no, not yet. The older I grow, the more I see of men and of the callings of social life, the more I, an open knave, sicken at the glossed and covert dishonesties around. I acknowledge no allegiance to society. From my birth to this hour, I have received no single favour from its customs or its laws; openly I war against it, and patiently will I meet its revenge. This may be crime; but it looks light in my eyes when I gaze around, and survey on all sides the masked traitors who acknowledge large debts to society, who profess to obey its laws, adore its institutions, and, above all — oh, how righteously! — attack all those who attack it, and who yet lie and cheat and defraud and peculate — publicly reaping all the comforts, privately filching all the profits. Repent! — of what? I come into the world friendless and poor; I find a body of laws hostile to the friendless and the poor! To those laws hostile to me, then, I acknowledge hostility in my turn. Between us are the conditions of war. Let them expose a weakness — I insist on my right to seize the advantage; let them defeat me, and I allow their right to destroy.”—[The author need not, he hopes, observe that these sentiments are Mr. Paul Clifford’s, not his.]

“Passion,” said Augustus, coolly, “is the usual enemy of reason; in your case it is the friend.”

The pair had now gained the summit of a hill which commanded a view of the city below. Here Augustus, who was a little short-winded, paused to recover breath. As soon as he had done so, he pointed with his forefinger to the scene beneath, and said enthusiastically, “What a subject for contemplation!”

Clifford was about to reply, when suddenly the sound of laughter and voices was heard behind. “Let us fly!” cried Augustus; “on this day of spleen man delights me not — or woman either.”

“Stay!” said Clifford, in a trembling accent; for among those voices he recognized one which had already acquired over him an irresistible and bewitching power. Augustus sighed, and reluctantly remained motionless. Presently a winding in the road brought into view a party of pleasure, some on foot, some on horseback, others in the little vehicles which even at that day haunted watering-places, and called themselves “Flies” or “Swallows.”

But among the gay procession Clifford had only eyes for one! Walking with that elastic step which so rarely survives the first epoch of youth, by the side of the heavy chair in which her father was drawn, the fair beauty of Lucy Brandon threw — at least in the eyes of her lover — a magic and a lustre over the whole group. He stood for a moment, stilling the heart that leaped at her bright looks and the gladness of her innocent laugh; and then recovering himself, he walked slowly, and with a certain consciousness of the effect of his own singularly handsome person, towards the party. The good squire received him with his usual kindness, and informed him, according to that lucidus ordo which he so especially favoured, of the whole particulars of their excursion. There was something worthy of an artist’s sketch in the scene at that moment: the old squire in his chair, with his benevolent face turned towards Clifford, and his hands resting on his cane, Clifford himself bowing down his stately head to hear the details of the father; the beautiful daughter on the other side of the chair, her laugh suddenly stilled, her gait insensibly more composed, and blush chasing blush over the smooth and peach-like loveliness of her cheek; the party, of all sizes, ages, and attire, affording ample scope for the caricaturist; and the pensive figure of Augustus Tomlinson (who, by the by, was exceedingly like Liston) standing apart from the rest, on the brow of the hill where Clifford had left him, and moralizing on the motley procession, with one hand hid in his waistcoat, and the other caressing his chin, which slowly and pendulously with the rest of his head moved up and down.

As the party approached the brow of the hill, the view of the city below was so striking that there was a general pause for the purpose of survey. One young lady in particular drew forth her pencil, and began sketching, while her mamma looked complacently on, and abstractedly devoured a sandwich. It was at this time, in the general pause, that Clifford and Lucy found themselves — Heaven knows how! — next to each other, and at a sufficient distance from the squire and the rest of the party to feel in some measure alone. There was a silence in both which neither dared to break; when Lucy, after looking at and toying with a flower that she had brought from the place which the party had been to see, accidentally dropped it; and Clifford and herself stooping at the same moment to recover it, their hands met. Involuntarily, Clifford detained the soft fingers in his own; his eyes, that encountered hers, so spell-bound and arrested them that for once they did not sink beneath his gaze; his lips moved, but many and vehement emotions so suffocated his voice that no sound escaped them. But all the heart was in the eyes of each; that moment fixed their destinies. Henceforth there was an era from which they dated a new existence; a nucleus around which their thoughts, their remembrances, and their passions clung. The great gulf was passed; they stood on the same shore, and felt that though still apart and disunited, on that shore was no living creature but themselves! Meanwhile Augustus Tomlinson, on finding himself surrounded by persons eager to gaze and to listen, broke from his moodiness and reserve. Looking full at his next neighbour, and flourishing his right hand in the air, till he suffered it to rest in the direction of the houses and chimneys below, he repeated that moral exclamation which had been wasted on Clifford, with a more solemn and a less passionate gravity than before — “What a subject, ma’am, for contemplation!”

“Very sensibly said, indeed, sir,” said the lady addressed, who was rather of a serious turn.

“I never,” resumed Augustus in a louder key, and looking round for auditors — “I never see a great town from the top of a hill without thinking of an apothecary’s shop!”

“Lord, sir!” said the lady. Tomlinson’s end was gained. Struck with the quaintness of the notion, a little crowd gathered instantly around him, to hear it further developed.

“Of an apothecary’s shop, ma’am!” repeated Tomlinson. “There lie your simples and your purges and your cordials and your poisons — all things to heal and to strengthen and to destroy. There are drugs enough in that collection to save you, to cure you all; but none of you know how to use them, nor what medicines to ask for, nor what portions to take; so that the greater part of you swallow a wrong dose, and die of the remedy!”

“But if the town be the apothecary’s shop, what, in the plan of your idea, stands for the apothecary?” asked an old gentleman, who perceived at what Tomlinson was driving.

“The apothecary, sir,” answered Augustus, stealing his notion from Clifford, and sinking his voice lest the true proprietor should overhear him (Clifford was otherwise employed) — “the apothecary, sir, is the LAW! It is the law that stands behind the counter, and dispenses to each man the dose he should take. To the poor it gives bad drugs gratuitously; to the rich, pills to stimulate the appetite; to the latter, premiums for luxury; to the former, only speedy refuges from life! Alas! either your apothecary is but an ignorant quack, or his science itself is but in its cradle. He blunders as much as you would do if left to your own selection. Those who have recourse to him seldom speak gratefully of his skill. He relieves you, it is true — but of your money, not your malady; and the only branch of his profession in which he is an adept is that which enables him to bleed you! O mankind!” continued Augustus, “what noble creatures you ought to be! You have keys to all sciences, all arts, all mysteries, but one! You have not a notion how you ought to be governed; you cannot frame a tolerable law, for the life and soul of you! You make yourselves as uncomfortable as you can by all sorts of galling and vexatious institutions, and you throw the blame upon ‘Fate.’ You lay down rules it is impossible to comprehend, much less to obey; and you call each other monsters, because you cannot conquer the impossibility! You invent all sorts of vices, under pretence of making laws for preserving virtue; and the anomalous artificialities of conduct yourselves produce, you say you are born with; you make a machine by the perversest art you can think of, and you call it, with a sigh, ‘Human Nature.’ With a host of good dispositions struggling at your breasts, you insist upon libelling the Almighty, and declaring that he meant you to be wicked. Nay, you even call the man mischievous and seditious who begs and implores you to be one jot better than you are. O mankind! you are like a nosegay bought at Covent Garden. The flowers are lovely, the scent delicious. Mark that glorious hue; contemplate that bursting petal! How beautiful, how redolent of health, of nature, of the dew and breath and blessing of Heaven, are you all! But as for the dirty piece of string that ties you together, one would think you had picked it out of the kennel.”

So saying, Tomlinson turned on his heel, broke away from the crowd, and solemnly descended the hill. The party of pleasure slowly followed; and Clifford, receiving an invitation from the squire to partake of his family dinner, walked by the side of Lucy, and felt as if his spirit were drunk with the airs of Eden.

A brother squire, who among the gayeties of Bath was almost as forlorn as Joseph Brandon himself, partook of the Lord of Warlock’s hospitality. When the three gentlemen adjourned to the drawing-room, the two elder sat down to a game at backgammon, and Clifford was left to the undisturbed enjoyment of Lucy’s conversation. She was sitting by the window when Clifford joined her. On the table by her side were scattered books, the charm of which (they were chiefly poetry) she had only of late learned to discover; there also were strewn various little masterpieces of female ingenuity, in which the fairy fingers of Lucy Brandon were especially formed to excel. The shades of evening were rapidly darkening over the empty streets; and in the sky, which was cloudless and transparently clear, the stars came gradually out one by one, until —

“As water does a sponge, so their soft light

Filled the void, hollow, universal air.”

Beautiful evening! (if we, as well as Augustus Tomlinson, may indulge in an apostrophe)— beautiful evening! For thee all poets have had a song, and surrounded thee with rills and waterfalls and dews and flowers and sheep and bats and melancholy and owls; yet we must confess that to us, who in this very sentimental age are a bustling, worldly, hard-minded person, jostling our neighbours, and thinking of the main chance — to us thou art never so charming as when we meet thee walking in thy gray hood through the emptying streets and among the dying sounds of a city. We love to feel the stillness where all, two hours back, was clamour. We love to see the dingy abodes of Trade and Luxury — those restless patients of earth’s constant fever — contrasted and canopied by a heaven full of purity and quietness and peace. We love to fill our thought with speculations on man, even though the man be the muffin-man, rather than with inanimate objects — hills and streams — things to dream about, not to meditate on. Man is the subject of far nobler contemplation, of far more glowing hope, of a far purer and loftier vein of sentiment, than all the “floods and fells” in the universe; and that, sweet evening! is one reason why we like that the earnest and tender thoughts thou excitest within us should be rather surrounded by the labours and tokens of our species than by sheep and bats and melancholy and owls. But whether, most blessed evening! thou delightest us in the country or in the town, thou equally disposest us to make and to feel love! Thou art the cause of more marriages and more divorces than any other time in the twenty-four hours! Eyes that were common eyes to us before, touched by thy enchanting and magic shadows, become inspired, and preach to us of heaven. A softness settles on features that were harsh to us while the sun shone; a mellow “light of love” reposes on the complexion which by day we would have steeped “full fathom five” in a sea of Mrs. Gowland’s lotion. What, then, thou modest hypocrite! to those who already and deeply love — what, then, of danger and of paradise dost thou bring?

Silent, and stilling the breath which heaved in both quick and fitfully, Lucy and Clifford sat together. The streets were utterly deserted; and the loneliness, as they looked below, made them feel the more intensely not only the emotions which swelled within them, but the undefined and electric sympathy which, in uniting them, divided them from the world. The quiet around was broken by a distant strain of rude music; and as it came nearer, two forms of no poetical order grew visible. The one was a poor blind man, who was drawing from his flute tones in which the melancholy beauty of the air compensated for any deficiency (the deficiency was but slight) in the execution. A woman much younger than the musician, and with something of beauty in her countenance, accompanied him, holding a tattered hat, and looking wistfully up at the windows of the silent street. We said two forms; we did the injustice of forgetfulness to another — a rugged and simple friend, it is true, but one that both minstrel and wife had many and moving reasons to love. This was a little wiry terrier, with dark piercing eyes, that glanced quickly and sagaciously in all quarters from beneath the shaggy covert that surrounded them. Slowly the animal moved onward, pulling gently against the string by which he was held, and by which he guided his master. Once his fidelity was tempted: another dog invited him to play; the poor terrier looked anxiously and doubtingly round, and then, uttering a low growl of denial, pursued —

“The noiseless tenour of his way.”

The little procession stopped beneath the window where Lucy and Clifford sat; for the quick eye of the woman had perceived them, and she laid her hand on the blind man’s arm, and whispered him. He took the hint, and changed his air into one of love. Clifford glanced at Lucy; her cheek was dyed in blushes. The air was over; another succeeded — it was of the same kind; a third — the burden was still unaltered; and then Clifford threw into the street a piece of money, and the dog wagged his abridged and dwarfed tail, and darting forward, picked it up in his mouth; and the woman (she had a kind face!) patted the officious friend, even before she thanked the donor, and then she dropped the money with a cheering word or two into the blind man’s pocket, and the three wanderers moved slowly on. Presently they came to a place where the street had been mended, and the stones lay scattered about. Here the woman no longer trusted to the dog’s guidance, but anxiously hastened to the musician, and led him with evident tenderness and minute watchfulness over the rugged way. When they had passed the danger, the man stopped; and before he released the hand which had guided him, he pressed it gratefully, and then both the husband and the wife stooped down and caressed the dog. This little scene — one of those rough copies of the loveliness of human affections, of which so many are scattered about the highways of the world — both the lovers had involuntarily watched; and now as they withdrew their eyes — those eyes settled on each other — Lucy’s swam in tears.

“To be loved and tended by the one I love,” said Clifford, in a low voice, “I would walk blind and barefoot over the whole earth!”

Lucy sighed very gently; and placing her pretty hands (the one clasped over the other) upon her knee, looked down wistfully on them, but made no answer. Clifford drew his chair nearer, and gazed on her, as she sat; the long dark eyelashes drooping over her eyes, and contrasting the ivory lids; her delicate profile half turned from him, and borrowing a more touching beauty from the soft light that dwelt upon it; and her full yet still scarcely developed bosom heaving at thoughts which she did not analyze, but was content to feel at once vague and delicious. He gazed, and his lips trembled; he longed to speak; he longed to say but those words which convey what volumes have endeavoured to express and have only weakened by detail — “I love.” How he resisted the yearnings of his heart, we know not — but he did resist; and Lucy, after a confused and embarrassed pause, took up one of the poems on the table, and asked him some questions about a particular passage in an old ballad which he had once pointed to her notice. The passage related to a border chief, one of the Armstrongs of old, who, having been seized by the English and condemned to death, vented his last feelings in a passionate address to his own home — his rude tower — and his newly wedded bride. “Do you believe,” said Lucy, as their conversation began to flow, “that one so lawless and eager for bloodshed and strife as this robber is described to be, could be so capable of soft affections?”

“I do,” said Clifford, “because he was not sensible that he was as criminal as you esteem him. If a man cherish the idea that his actions are not evil, he will retain at his heart all its better and gentler sensations as much as if he had never sinned. The savage murders his enemy, and when he returns home is not the less devoted to his friend or the less anxious for his children. To harden and embrute the kindly dispositions, we must not only indulge in guilt but feel that we are guilty. Oh! many that the world load with their opprobrium are capable of acts — nay, have committed acts — which in others the world would reverence and adore. Would you know whether a man’s heart be shut to the power of love — ask what he is, not to his foes, but to his friends! Crime, too,” continued Clifford, speaking fast and vehemently, while his eyes flashed and the dark blood rushed to his cheek — “crime — what is crime? Men embody their worst prejudices, their most evil passions, in a heterogeneous and contradictory code; and whatever breaks this code they term a crime. When they make no distinction in the penalty — that is to say, in the estimation — awarded both to murder and to a petty theft imposed on the weak will by famine, we ask nothing else to convince us that they are ignorant of the very nature of guilt, and that they make up in ferocity for the want of wisdom.”

Lucy looked in alarm at the animated and fiery countenance of the speaker. Clifford recovered himself after a moment’s pause, and rose from his seat, with the gay and frank laugh which made one of his peculiar characteristics. “There is a singularity in politics, Miss Brandon,” said he, “which I dare say you have often observed — namely, that those who are least important are always most noisy, and that the chief people who lose their temper are those who have nothing to gain in return.”

As Clifford spoke, the doors were thrown open, and some visitors to Miss Brandon were announced. The good squire was still immersed in the vicissitudes of his game; and the sole task of receiving and entertaining “the company,” as the chambermaids have it, fell, as usual, upon Lucy. Fortunately for her, Clifford was one of those rare persons who possess eminently the talents of society. There was much in his gay and gallant temperament, accompanied as it was with sentiment and ardour, that resembled our beau-ideal of those chevaliers, ordinarily peculiar to the Continent — heroes equally in the drawing-room and the field. Observant, courteous, witty, and versed in the various accomplishments that combine (that most unfrequent of all unions!) vivacity with grace, he was especially formed for that brilliant world from which his circumstances tended to exclude him. Under different auspices, he might have been — Pooh! we are running into a most pointless commonplace; what might any man be under auspices different from those by which his life has been guided? Music soon succeeded to conversation, and Clifford’s voice was of necessity put into requisition. Miss Brandon had just risen from the harpsichord, as he sat down to perform his part; and she stood by him with the rest of the group while he sang. Only twice his eye stole to that spot which her breath and form made sacred to him; once when he began, and once when he concluded his song. Perhaps the recollection of their conversation inspired him; certainly it dwelt upon his mind at the moment — threw a richer flush over his brow, and infused a more meaning and heartfelt softness into his tone.

Stanzas.

When I leave thee, oh! ask not the world what that heart

Which adores thee to others may be!

I know that I sin when from thee I depart,

But my guilt shall not light upon thee!

My life is a river which glasses a ray

That hath deigned to descend from above;

Whatever the banks that o’ershadow its way,

It mirrors the light of thy love.

Though the waves may run high when the night wind awakes,

And hurries the stream to its fall;

Though broken and wild be the billows it makes,

Thine image still trembles on all!”

While this ominous love between Clifford and Lucy was thus finding fresh food in every interview and every opportunity, the unfortunate Mauleverer, firmly persuaded that his complaint was a relapse of what he termed the “Warlock dyspepsia,” was waging dire war with the remains of the beef and pudding, which he tearfully assured his physicians “were lurking in his constitution.” As Mauleverer, though complaisant, like most men of unmistakable rank, to all his acquaintances, whatever might be their grade, possessed but very few friends intimate enough to enter his sick-chamber, and none of that few were at Bath, it will readily be perceived that he was in blissful ignorance of the growing fortunes of his rival; and to say the exact truth, illness, which makes a man’s thoughts turn very much upon himself, banished many of the most tender ideas usually floating in his mind around the image of Lucy Brandon. His pill superseded his passion; and he felt that there are draughts in the world more powerful in their effects than those in the phials of Alcidonis. —[See Marmontel’s pretty tale of “Les Quatres Flacons.”]— He very often thought, it is true, how pleasant it would be for Lucy to smooth his pillow, and Lucy to prepare that mixture; but then Mauleverer had an excellent valet, who hoped to play the part enacted by Gil Blas towards the honest Licentiate, and to nurse a legacy while he was nursing his master. And the earl, who was tolerably good-tempered, was forced to confess that it would be scarcely possible for any one “to know his ways better than Smoothson.” Thus, during his illness, the fair form of his intended bride little troubled the peace of the noble adorer. And it was not till he found himself able to eat three good dinners consecutively, with a tolerable appetite, that Mauleverer recollected that he was violently in love. As soon as this idea was fully reinstated in his memory, and he had been permitted by his doctor to allow himself “a little cheerful society,” Mauleverer resolved to go to the rooms for an hour or two.

It may be observed that most great personages have some favourite place, some cherished Baiae, at which they love to throw off their state, and to play the amiable instead of the splendid; and Bath at that time, from its gayety, its ease, the variety of character to be found in its haunts, and the obliging manner in which such characters exposed themselves to ridicule, was exactly the place calculated to please a man like Mauleverer, who loved at once to be admired and to satirize. He was therefore an idolized person at the city of Bladud; and as he entered the rooms he was surrounded by a whole band of imitators and sycophants, delighted to find his lordship looking so much better and declaring himself so convalescent. As soon as the earl had bowed and smiled, and shaken hands sufficiently to sustain his reputation, he sauntered towards the dancers in search of Lucy. He found her not only exactly in the same spot in which he had last beheld her, but dancing with exactly the same partner who had before provoked all the gallant nobleman’s jealousy and wrath. Mauleverer, though not by any means addicted to preparing his compliments beforehand, had just been conning a delicate speech for Lucy; but no sooner did the person of her partner flash on him than the whole flattery vanished at once from his recollection. He felt himself grow pale; and when Lucy turned, and seeing him near, addressed him in the anxious and soft tone which she thought due to her uncle’s friend on his recovery, Mauleverer bowed, confused and silent; and that green-eyed passion, which would have convulsed the mind of a true lover, altering a little the course of its fury, effectually disturbed the manner of the courtier.

Retreating to an obscure part of the room, where he could see all without being conspicuous, Mauleverer now employed himself in watching the motions and looks of the young pair. He was naturally a penetrating and quick observer, and in this instance jealousy sharpened his talents; he saw enough to convince him that Lucy was already attached to Clifford; and being, by that conviction, fully persuaded that Lucy was necessary to his own happiness, he resolved to lose not a moment in banishing Captain Clifford from her presence, or at least in instituting such inquiries into that gentleman’s relatives, rank, and respectability as would, he hoped, render such banishment a necessary consequence of the research.

Fraught with this determination, Mauleverer repaired at once to the retreat of the squire, and engaging him in conversation, bluntly asked him who the deuce Miss Brandon was dancing with.

The squire, a little piqued at this brusquerie, replied by a long eulogium on Paul; and Mauleverer, after hearing it throughout with the blandest smile imaginable, told the squire, very politely, that he was sure Mr. Brandon’s good-nature had misled him. “Clifford!” said he, repeating the name — “Clifford! It is one of those names which are particularly selected by persons nobody knows — first, because the name is good, and secondly, because it is common. My long and dear friendship with your brother makes me feel peculiarly anxious on any point relative to his niece; and, indeed, my dear William, overrating, perhaps, my knowledge of the world and my influence in society, but not my affection for him, besought me to assume the liberty of esteeming myself a friend, nay, even a relation of yours and Miss Brandon’s; so that I trust you do not consider my caution impertinent.”

The flattered squire assured him that he was particularly honoured, so far from deeming his lordship (which never could be the case with people so distinguished as his lordship was, especially!) impertinent.

Lord Mauleverer, encouraged by this speech, artfully renewed, and succeeded, if not in convincing the squire that the handsome captain was a suspicious character, at least in persuading him that common prudence required that he should find out exactly who the handsome captain was, especially as he was in the habit of dining with the squire thrice a week, and dancing with Lucy every night.

“See,” said Mauleverer, “he approaches you now; I will retreat to the chair by the fireplace, and you shall cross-examine him — I have no doubt you will do it with the utmost delicacy.”

So saying, Mauleverer took possession of a seat where he was not absolutely beyond hearing (slightly deaf as he was) of the ensuing colloquy, though the position of his seat screened him from sight. Mauleverer was esteemed a man of the most punctilious honour in private life, and he would not have been seen in the act of listening to other people’s conversation for the world.

Hemming with an air and resettling himself as Clifford approached, the squire thus skilfully commenced the attack “Ah, ha! my good Captain Clifford, and how do you do? I saw you (and I am very glad, my friend, as every one else is, to see you) at a distance. And where have you left my daughter?”

“Miss Brandon is dancing with Mr. Muskwell, sir,” answered Clifford.

“Oh! she is! Mr. Muskwell — humph! Good family the Muskwells — came from Primrose Hall. Pray, Captain, not that I want to know for my own sake, for I am a strange, odd person, I believe, and I am thoroughly convinced (some people are censorious, and others, thank God, are not!) of your respectability — what family do you come from? You won’t think my — my caution impertinent?” added the shrewd old gentleman, borrowing that phrase which he thought so friendly in the mouth of Lord Mauleverer.

Clifford coloured for a moment, but replied with a quiet archness of look, “Family! oh, my dear sir, I come from an old family — a very old family indeed.”

“So I always thought; and in what part of the world?”

“Scotland, sir — all our family come from Scotland; namely, all who live long do — the rest die young.”

“Ay, particular air does agree with particular constitutions. I, for instance, could not live in all countries; not — you take me — in the North!”

“Few honest men can live there,” said Clifford, dryly. “And,” resumed the squire, a little embarrassed by the nature of his task, and the cool assurance of his young friend — “and pray, Captain Clifford, what regiment do you belong to?”

“Regiment? — oh, the Rifles!” answered Clifford. (“Deuce is in me,” muttered he, “if I can resist a jest, though I break my neck over it.”)

“A very gallant body of men,” said the squire.

“No doubt of that, sir!” rejoined Clifford.

“And do you think, Captain Clifford,” renewed the squire, “that it is a good corps for getting on?”

“It is rather a bad one for getting off,” muttered the Captain; and then aloud, “Why, we have not much interest at court, sir.”

“Oh! but then there is a wider scope, as my brother the lawyer says — and no man knows better — for merit. I dare say you have seen many a man elevated from the ranks?”

“Nothing more common, sir, than such elevation; and so great is the virtue of our corps, that I have also known not a few willing to transfer the honour to their comrades.”

“You don’t say so!” exclaimed the squire, opening his eyes at such disinterested magnanimity.

“But,” said Clifford, who began to believe he might carry the equivoke too far, and who thought, despite of his jesting, that it was possible to strike out a more agreeable vein of conversation —“but, sir, if you remember, you have not yet finished that youthful hunting adventure of yours, when the hounds were lost at Burnham Copse.”

“Oh, very true,” cried the squire, quite forgetting his late suspicions; and forthwith he began a story that promised to be as long as the chase it recorded. So charmed was he, when he had finished it, with the character of the gentleman who had listened to it so delightedly, that on rejoining Mauleverer, he told the earl, with an important air, that he had strictly examined the young captain, and that he had fully convinced himself of the excellence of his family, as well as the rectitude of his morals. Mauleverer listened with a countenance of polite incredulity; he had heard but little of the conversation that had taken place between the pair; but on questioning the squire upon sundry particulars of Clifford’s birth, parentage, and property, he found him exactly as ignorant as before. The courtier, however, seeing further expostulation was in vain, contented himself with patting the squire’s shoulder, and saying, with a mysterious urbanity, “Ah, sir, you are too good!”

With these words he turned on his heel, and, not yet despairing, sought the daughter. He found Miss Brandon just released from dancing, and with a kind of paternal gallantry, he offered his arm to parade the apartments. After some preliminary flourish, and reference for the thousandth time to his friendship for William Brandon, the earl spoke to her about that “fine-looking young man who called himself Captain Clifford.”

Unfortunately for Mauleverer, he grew a little too unguarded, as his resentment against the interference of Clifford warmed with his language, and he dropped in his anger one or two words of caution, which especially offended the delicacy of Miss Brandon.

“Take care how I encourage, my lord!” said Lucy, with glowing cheeks, repeating the words which had so affronted her, “I really must beg you —”

“You mean, dear Miss Brandon,” interrupted Mauleverer, squeezing her hand with respectful tenderness, “that you must beg me to apologize for my inadvertent expression. I do most sincerely. If I had felt less interest in your happiness, believe me, I should have been more guarded in my language.”

Miss Brandon bowed stiffly, and the courtier saw, with secret rage, that the country beauty was not easily appeased, even by an apology from Lord Mauleverer. “I have seen the time,” thought he, “when young unmarried ladies would have deemed an affront from me an honour! They would have gone into hysterics at an apology!” Before he had time to make his peace, the squire joined them; and Lucy, taking her father’s arm, expressed her wish to return home. The squire was delighted at the proposition. It would have been but civil in Mauleverer to offer his assistance in those little attentions preparatory to female departure from balls. He hesitated for a moment. “It keeps one so long in those cursed thorough draughts,” thought he, shivering. “Besides, it is just possible that I may not marry her, and it is no good risking a cold (above all, at the beginning of winter) for nothing!” Fraught with this prudential policy, Mauleverer then resigned Lucy to her father, and murmuring in her ear that “her displeasure made him the most wretched of men,” concluded his adieu by a bow penitentially graceful.

About five minutes afterwards, he himself withdrew. As he was wrapping his corporeal treasure in his roquelaire of sables, previous to immersing himself in his chair, he had the mortification of seeing Lucy, who with her father, from some cause or other, had been delayed in the hall, handed to the carriage by Captain Clifford. Had the earl watched more narrowly than in the anxious cares due to himself he was enabled to do, he would, to his consolation, have noted that Lucy gave her hand with an averted and cool air, and that Clifford’s expressive features bore rather the aspect of mortification than triumph.

He did not, however, see more than the action; and as he was borne homeward with his flambeaux and footmen preceding him, and the watchful Smoothson by the side of the little vehicle, he muttered his determination of writing by the very next post to Brandon all his anger for Lucy and all his jealousy of her evident lover.

While this doughty resolve was animating the great soul of Mauleverer, Lucy reached her own room, bolted the door, and throwing herself on her bed, burst into a long and bitter paroxysm of tears. So unusual were such visitors to her happy and buoyant temper, that there was something almost alarming in the earnestness and obstinacy with which she now wept.

“What!” said she, bitterly, “have I placed my affections upon a man of uncertain character, and is my infatuation so clear that an acquaintance dare hint at its imprudence? And yet his manner — his tone! No, no, there can be no reason for shame in loving him!” And as she said this, her heart smote her for the coldness of her manner towards Clifford on his taking leave of her for the evening. “Am I,” she thought, weeping yet more vehemently than before — “am I so worldly, so base, as to feel altered towards him the moment I hear a syllable breathed against his name? Should I not, on the contrary, have clung to his image with a greater love, if he were attacked by others? But my father, my dear father, and my kind, prudent uncle — something is due to them; and they would break their hearts if I loved one whom they deemed unworthy. Why should I not summon courage, and tell him of the suspicions respecting him? One candid word would dispel them. Surely it would be but kind in me towards him, to give him an opportunity of disproving all false and dishonouring conjectures. And why this reserve, when so often, by look and hint, if not by open avowal, he has declared that he loves me, and knows — he must know — that he is not indifferent to me? Why does he never speak of his parents, his relations, his home?”

And Lucy, as she asked this question, drew from a bosom whose hue and shape might have rivalled hers who won Cymon to be wise — [See Dryden’s poem of “Cymon and Iphigenia.”]— a drawing which she herself had secretly made of her lover, and which, though inartificially and even rudely done, yet had caught the inspiration of memory, and breathed the very features and air that were stamped already ineffaceably upon a heart too holy for so sullied an idol. She gazed upon the portrait as if it could answer her question of the original; and as she looked and looked, her tears slowly ceased, and her innocent countenance relapsed gradually into its usual and eloquent serenity. Never, perhaps, could Lucy’s own portrait have been taken at a more favourable moment, The unconscious grace of her attitude; her dress loosened; the modest and youthful voluptuousness of her beauty; the tender cheek to which the virgin bloom, vanished for a while, was now all glowingly returning; the little white soft hand on which that cheek leaned, while the other contained the picture upon which her eyes fed; the half smile just conjured to her full, red, dewy lips, and gone the moment after, yet again restored — all made a picture of such enchanting loveliness that we question whether Shakspeare himself could have fancied an earthly shape more meet to embody the vision of a Miranda or a Viola. The quiet and maiden neatness of the apartment gave effect to the charm; and there was a poetry even in the snowy furniture of the bed, the shutters partly unclosed and admitting a glimpse of the silver moon, and the solitary lamp just contending with the purer ray of the skies, and so throwing a mixed and softened light around the chamber.

She was yet gazing on the drawing, when a faint stream of music stole through the air beneath her window, and it gradually rose till the sound of a guitar became distinct and clear, suiting with, not disturbing, the moonlit stillness of the night. The gallantry and romance of a former day, though at the time of our story subsiding, were not quite dispelled; and nightly serenades under the casements of a distinguished beauty were by no means of unfrequent occurrence. But Lucy, as the music floated upon her ear, blushed deeper and deeper, as if it had a dearer source to her heart than ordinary gallantry; and raising herself on one arm from her incumbent position, she leaned forward to catch the sound with a greater and more unerring certainty.

After a prelude of some moments a clear and sweet voice accompanied the instrument, and the words of the song were as follows:—

Clifford’s Serenade.

There is a world where every night

My spirit meets and walks with thine;

And hopes I dare not tell thee light,

Like stars of Love, that world of mine!

Sleep! — to the waking world my heart

Hath now, methinks, a stranger grown;

Ah, sleep! that I may feel thou art

Within one world that is my own.

As the music died away, Lucy sank back once more, and the drawing which she held was pressed (with cheeks glowing, though unseen, at the act) to her lips. And though the character of her lover was uncleared, though she herself had come to no distinct resolution even to inform him of the rumours against his name, yet so easily restored was her trust in him, and so soothing the very thought of his vigilance and his love, that before an hour had passed, her eyes were closed in sleep. The drawing was laid, as a spell against grief, under her pillow; and in her dreams she murmured his name, and unconscious of reality and the future, smiled tenderly as she did so!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bulwer-lytton/edward/clifford/chapter18.html

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