Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter XXIV.

Butler. What are these, sir?

Yeoman. And of what nature, to what use?

Latroc. Imagine.

The Tragedy of Rollo.

Quickly. He’s in Arthur’s bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom.

Henry V.

The stream of our narrative now conducts us back to William Brandon. The law-promotions previously intended were completed; and to the surprise of the public, the envied barrister, undergoing the degradation of knighthood, had, at the time we return to him, just changed his toilsome occupations for the serene dignity of the bench. Whatever regret this wily and aspiring schemer might otherwise have felt at an elevation considerably less distinguished than he might reasonably have expected, was entirely removed by the hopes afforded to him of a speedy translation to a more brilliant office: it was whispered among those not unlikely to foresee such events, that the interest of the government required his talents in the house of peers. Just at this moment, too, the fell disease, whose ravages Brandon endeavoured, as jealously as possible, to hide from the public, had appeared suddenly to yield to the skill of a new physician; and by the administration of medicines which a man less stern or resolute might have trembled to adopt (so powerful and for the most part deadly was their nature), he passed from a state of almost insufferable torture to an elysium of tranquillity and ease. Perhaps, however, the medicines which altered also decayed his constitution; and it was observable that in two cases where the physician had attained a like success by the same means, the patients had died suddenly, exactly at the time when their cure seemed to be finally completed. However, Sir William Brandon appeared very little anticipative of danger. His manner became more cheerful and even than it had ever been before; there was a certain lightness in his gait, a certain exhilaration in his voice and eye, which seemed the tokens of one from whom a heavy burden had been suddenly raised, and who was no longer prevented from the eagerness of hope by the engrossing claims of a bodily pain. He had always been bland in society, but now his courtesy breathed less of artifice — it took a more hearty tone. Another alteration was discernible in him, and that was precisely the reverse of what might have been expected. He became more thrifty, more attentive to the expenses of life than he had been. Though a despiser of show and ostentation, and far too hard to be luxurious, he was too scientific an architect of the weaknesses of others not to have maintained during his public career an opulent appearance and a hospitable table. The profession he had adopted requires, perhaps, less of externals to aid it than any other; still Brandon had affected to preserve parliamentary as well as legal importance; and though his house was situated in a quarter entirely professional, he had been accustomed to assemble around his hospitable board all who were eminent, in his political party, for rank or for talent. Now, however, when hospitality and a certain largeness of expenses better became his station, he grew closer and more exact in his economy. Brandon never could have degenerated into a miser; money, to one so habitually wise as he was, could never have passed from means into an object; but he had evidently, for some cause or another, formed the resolution to save. Some said it was the result of returning health, and the hope of a prolonged life, to which many objects for which wealth is desirable might occur. But when it was accidentally ascertained that Brandon had been making several inquiries respecting a large estate in the neighbourhood of Warlock, formerly in the possession of his family, the gossips (for Brandon was a man to be gossiped about) were no longer in want of a motive, false or real, for the judge’s thrift.

It was shortly after his elevation to the bench, and ere these signs of change had become noticeable, that the same strange ragamuffin whom we have mentioned before, as introduced by Mr. Swoppem to a private conference with Brandon, was admitted to the judge’s presence.

“Well,” said Brandon, impatiently, the moment the door was closed, “your news?”

“Vy, your ‘onor,” said the man, bashfully, twirling a thing that stood proxy for a hat, “I thinks as ‘ow I shall be hable to satisfy your vorship’s ‘onor.’!” Then, approaching the judge and assuming an important air, he whispered, “‘T is as ‘ow I thought!”

“My God!” cried Brandon, with vehemence. “And he is alive — and where?”

“I believes,” answered the seemly confidant of Sir William Brandon, “that he be’s alive; and if he be’s alive, may I flash my ivories in a glass case, if I does not ferret him out; but as to saying vhere he be at this nick o’ the moment, smash me if I can!”

“Is he in this country,” said Brandon; “or do you believe that he has gone abroad?”

“Vy, much of one and not a little of the other!” said the euphonious confidant.

“How! speak plain, man; what do you mean?”

“Vy, I means, your ‘oner, that I can’t say vhere he is.”

“And this,” said Brandon, with a muttered oath — “this is your boasted news, is it? Dog! damned, damned dog! if you trifle with me or play me false, I will hang you — by the living God, I will!”

The man shrank back involuntarily from Brandon’s vindictive forehead and kindled eyes; but with the cunning peculiar to low vice, answered, though in a humbler tone —

“And vet good vill that do your ‘oner? If so be as how you scrags I, will that put your vorship in the vay of finding he?”

Never was there an obstacle in grammar through which a sturdy truth could not break; and Brandon, after a moody pause, said in a milder voice —

“I did not mean to frighten you! Never mind what I said; but you can surely guess whereabouts he is, or what means of life he pursues. Perhaps,”— and a momentary paleness crossed Brandon’s swarthy visage — “perhaps he may have been driven into dishonesty in order to maintain himself!”

The informant replied with great naivete that such a thing was not impossible! And Brandon then entered into a series of seemingly careless but artful cross-questionings, which either the ignorance or the craft of the man enabled him to baffle. After some time Brandon, disappointed and dissatisfied, gave up his professional task; and bestowing on the man many sagacious and minute instructions as well as a very liberal donation, he was forced to dismiss his mysterious visitor, and to content himself with an assured assertion that if the object of his inquiries should not already be gone to the devil, the strange gentleman employed to discover him would certainly, sooner or later, bring him to the judge.

This assertion, and the interview preceding it, certainly inspired Sir William Brandon with a feeling like complacency, although it was mingled with a considerable alloy.

“I do not,” thought he, concluding his meditations when he was left alone — “I do not see what else I can do! Since it appears that the boy had not even a name when he set out alone from his wretched abode, I fear that an advertisement would have but little chance of even designating, much less of finding him, after so long an absence. Besides, it might make me the prey to impostors; and in all probability he has either left the country, or adopted some mode of living which would prevent his daring to disclose himself!” This thought plunged the soliloquist into a gloomy abstraction, which lasted several minutes, and from which he started, muttering aloud —

“Yes, yes! I dare to believe, to hope it. Now for the minister and the peerage!” And from that time the root of Sir William Brandon’s ambition spread with a firmer and more extended grasp over his mind.

We grieve very much that the course of our story should now oblige us to record an event which we would willingly have spared ourselves the pain of narrating. The good old Squire of Warlock Manor-house had scarcely reached his home on his return from Bath, before William Brandon received the following letter from his brother’s gray-headed butler:—

HONNURED SUR— I send this with all speede, thof with a hevy bart, to axquainte you with the sudden (and it is feered by his loving friends and well-wishers, which latter, to be sur, is all as knows him) dangeros ilness of the Squire. He was seezed, poor deer gentleman (for God never made a better, no offence to your Honnur), the moment he set footing in his Own Hall, and what has hung rond me like a millston ever sin, is that instead of his saying, “How do you do, Sampson?” as was his wont, whenever he returned from forren parts, sich as Bath, Lunnun, and the like, he said, “God bless you, Sampson!” which makes me think sumhow that it will be his last wurds; for he has never spoke sin, for all Miss Lucy be by his bedside continual. She, poor deer, don’t take on at all, in regard of crying and such woman’s wurk, but looks nevertheless, for all the wurld, just like a copse. I sends Tom the postilion with this hexpress, nowing he is a good hand at a gallop, having, not sixteen years ago, beat some o’ the best on ’un at a raceng. Hoping as yer Honnur will lose no time in coming to this “house of mourning,” I remane, with all respect, Your Honnur’s humble servant to command, JOHN SAMPSON.

[The reader, who has doubtless noticed how invariably servants of long standing acquire a certain tone from that of their master, may observe that honest John Sampson had caught from the squire the habit of parenthetical composition.]

Sir William Brandon did not give himself time to re-read this letter, in order to make it more intelligible, before he wrote to one of his professional compeers, requesting him to fill his place during his unavoidable absence, on the melancholy occasion of his brother’s expected death; and having so done, he immediately set off for Warlock. Inexplicable even to himself was that feeling, so nearly approaching to real sorrow, which the worldly lawyer felt at the prospect of losing his guileless and unspeculating brother. Whether it be that turbulent and ambitious minds, in choosing for their wavering affections the very opposites of themselves, feel (on losing the fellowship of those calm, fair characters that have never crossed their rugged path) as if they lost, in losing them, a kind of haven for their own restless thoughts and tempest-worn designs! — be this as it may, certain it is that when William Brandon arrived at his brother’s door, and was informed by the old butler, who for the first time was slow to greet him, that the squire had just breathed his last, his austere nature forsook him at once, and he felt the shock with a severity perhaps still keener than that which a more genial and affectionate heart would have experienced.

As soon as he had recovered his self-possession, Sir William made question of his niece; and finding that after an unrelaxing watch during the whole of the squire’s brief illness, nature had failed her at his death, and she had been borne senseless from his chamber to her own, Brandon walked with a step far different from his usual stately gait to the room where his brother lay. It was one of the oldest apartments in the house, and much of the ancient splendour that belonged to the mansion ere its size had been reduced, with the fortunes of its successive owners, still distinguished the chamber. The huge mantelpiece ascending to the carved ceiling in grotesque pilasters, and scroll-work of the blackest oak, with the quartered arms of Brandon and Saville escutcheoned in the centre; the panelled walls of the same dark wainscot; the armorie of ebony; the high-backed chairs, with their tapestried seats; the lofty bed, with its hearse-like plumes and draperies of a crimson damask that seemed, so massy was the substance and so prominent the flowers, as if it were rather a carving than a silk — all conspired with the size of the room to give it a feudal solemnity, not perhaps suited to the rest of the house, but well calculated to strike a gloomy awe into the breast of the worldly and proud man who now entered the death-chamber of his brother.

Silently William Brandon motioned away the attendants, and silently he seated himself by the bed, and looked long and wistfully upon the calm and placid face of the deceased. It is difficult to guess at what passed within him during the space of time in which he remained alone in that room. The apartment itself he could not at another period have tenanted without secret emotion. It was that in which, as a boy, he had himself been accustomed to sleep; and, even then a schemer and an aspirant, the very sight of the room sufficed to call back all the hopes and visions, the restless projects and the feverish desires, which had now brought him to the envied state of an acknowledged celebrity and a shattered frame. There must have been something awful in the combination of those active remembrances with the cause which had led him to that apartment; and there was a homily in the serene countenance of the dead, which preached more effectually to the heart of the living than William Brandon would ever have cared to own. He had been more than an hour in the room, and the evening had already begun to cast deep shadows through the small panes of the half-closed window, when Brandon was startled by a slight noise. He looked up, and beheld Lucy opposite to him. She did not see him; but throwing herself upon the bed, she took the cold hand of the deceased, and after a long silence burst into a passion of tears.

“My father!” she sobbed — “my kind, good father! who will love me now?”

“I!” said Brandon, deeply affected; and passing round the bed, he took his niece in his arms: “I will be your father, Lucy, and you — the last of our race — shall be to me as a daughter!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bulwer-lytton/edward/clifford/chapter24.html

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