Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter XXXIII.

Clem. Lift the dark veil of years! Behind, what waits?

A human heart. Vast city, where reside

All glories and all vilenesses; while foul,

Yet silent, through the roar of passions rolls

The river of the Darling Sin, and bears

A life and yet a poison on its tide.

. . . . . . . . . . . . ..

Clem. Thy wife?

Vict. Avaunt! I’ve changed that word to “scorn”!

Clem. Thy child?

Vict. Ay, that strikes home — my child, my child!

Love and Hatred, by ————

To an obscure town in shire there came to reside a young couple, whose appearance and habits drew towards them from the neighbouring gossips a more than ordinary attention. They bore the name of Welford. The man assumed the profession of a solicitor. He came without introduction or recommendation; his manner of life bespoke poverty; his address was reserved and even sour; and despite the notice and scrutiny with which he was regarded, he gained no clients and made no lawsuits. The want of all those decent charlatanisms which men of every profession are almost necessitated to employ, and the sudden and unushered nature of his coming were, perhaps, the cause of this ill-success. “His house was too small,” people said, “for respectability.” And little good could be got from a solicitor the very rails round whose door were so sadly in want of repainting! Then, too, Mrs. Welford made a vast number of enemies. She was, beyond all expression, beautiful; and there was a certain coquetry in her manner which showed she was aware of her attractions. All the ladies of ———— hated her. A few people called on the young couple. Welford received them coldly; their invitations were unaccepted, and, what was worse, they were never returned. The devil himself could not have supported an attorney under such circumstances. Reserved, shabby, poor, rude, introductionless, a bad house, an unpainted railing, and a beautiful wife! Nevertheless, though Welford was not employed, he was, as we have said, watched. On their first arrival, which was in summer, the young pair were often seen walking together in the fields or groves which surrounded their home. Sometimes they walked affectionately together, and it was observed with what care Welford adjusted his wife’s cloak or shawl around her slender shape, as the cool of the evening increased. But often his arm was withdrawn; he lingered behind, and they continued their walk or returned homeward in silence and apart. By degrees whispers circulated throughout the town that the new-married couple lived by no means happily. The men laid the fault on the stern-looking husband; the women, on the minx of a wife. However, the solitary servant whom they kept declared that though Mr. Welford did sometimes frown, and Mrs. Welford did sometimes weep, they were extremely attached to each other, and only quarrelled through love. The maid had had four lovers herself, and was possibly experienced in such matters. They received no visitors, near or from a distance; and the postman declared he had never seen a letter directed to either. Thus a kind of mystery hung over the pair, and made them still more gazed on and still more disliked — which is saying a great deal — than they would have otherwise been. Poor as Welford was, his air and walk eminently bespoke what common persons term gentility. And in this he had greatly the advantage of his beautiful wife, who, though there was certainly nothing vulgar or plebeian in her aspect, altogether wanted the refinement of manner, look, and phrase which characterized Welford. For about two years they lived in this manner, and so frugally and tranquilly that though Welford had not any visible means of subsistence, no one could well wonder in what manner they did subsist. About the end of that time Welford suddenly embarked a small sum in a county speculation. In the course of this adventure, to the great surprise of his neighbours, he evinced an extraordinary turn for calculation, and his habits plainly bespoke a man both of business and ability. This disposal of capital brought a sufficient return to support the Welfords, if they had been so disposed, in rather a better style than heretofore. They remained, however, in much the same state; and the only difference that the event produced was the retirement of Mr. Welford from the profession he had embraced. He was no longer a solicitor! It must be allowed that he resigned no great advantages in this retirement. About this time some officers were quartered at ———; and one of them, a handsome lieutenant, was so struck with the charms of Mrs. Welford, whom he saw at church, that he lost no opportunity of testifying his admiration. It was maliciously yet not unfoundedly remarked that though no absolute impropriety could be detected in the manner of Mrs. Welford, she certainly seemed far from displeased with the evident homage of the young lieutenant. A blush tinged her cheek when she saw him; and the gallant coxcomb asserted that the blush was not always without a smile. Emboldened by the interpretations of his vanity, and contrasting, as every one else did, his own animated face and glittering garb with the ascetic and gloomy countenance, the unstudied dress, and austere gait which destroyed in Welford the effect of a really handsome person, our lieutenant thought fit to express his passion by a letter, which he conveyed to Mrs. Welford’s pew. Mrs. Welford went not to church that day; the letter was found by a good-natured neighbour, and inclosed anonymously to the husband.

Whatever, in the secrecy of domestic intercourse, took place on this event was necessarily unknown; but the next Sunday the face of Mr. Welford, which had never before appeared at church, was discerned by one vigilant neighbour — probably the anonymous friend — not in the same pew with his wife, but in a remote corner of the sacred house. And once, when the lieutenant was watching to read in Mrs. Welford’s face some answer to his epistle, the same obliging inspector declared that Welford’s countenance assumed a sardonic and withering sneer that made his very blood to creep. However this be, the lieutenant left his quarters, and Mrs. Welford’s reputation remained dissatisfactorily untarnished. Shortly after this the county speculation failed, and it was understood that the Welfords were about to leave the town, whither none knew — some said to jail; but then, unhappily, no debts could be discovered. Their bills had been “next to nothing;” but, at least, they had been regularly paid. However, before the rumoured emigration took place, a circumstance equally wonderful to the good people of occurred. One bright spring morning a party of pleasure from a great house in the vicinity passed through that town. Most conspicuous of these was a young horseman, richly dressed, and of a remarkably showy and handsome appearance. Not a little sensible of the sensation he created, this cavalier lingered behind his companions in order to eye more deliberately certain damsels stationed in a window, and who were quite ready to return his glances with interest. At this moment the horse, which was fretting itself fiercely against the rein that restrained it from its fellows, took a fright at a knife-grinder, started violently to one side, and the graceful cavalier, who had been thinking, not of the attitude best adapted to preserve his equilibrium, but to display his figure, was thrown with some force upon a heap of bricks and rubbish which had long, to the scandal of the neighbourhood, stood before the paintless railings around Mr. Welford’s house. Welford himself came out at the time, and felt compelled — for he was by no means one whose sympathetic emotions flowed easily — to give a glance to the condition of a man who lay motionless before his very door. The horseman quickly recovered his senses, but found himself unable to rise; one of his legs was broken. Supported in the arms of his groom, he looked around, and his eye met Welford’s. An instant recognition gave life to the face of the former, and threw a dark blush over the sullen features of the latter.

“Heavens!” said the cavalier, “is that —”

“Hist, my lord!” cried Welford, quickly interrupting him, and glancing round. “But you are hurt — will you enter my house?”

The horseman signified his assent, and, between the groom and Welford, was borne within the shabby door of the ex-solicitor. The groom was then despatched with an excuse to the party, many of whom were already hastening around the house; and though one or two did force themselves across the inhospitable threshold, yet so soon as they had uttered a few expletives, and felt their stare sink beneath the sullen and chilling asperity of the host, they satisfied themselves that though it was d —— d unlucky for their friend, yet they could do nothing for him at present; and promising to send to inquire after him the next day, they remounted and rode homeward, with an eye more attentive than usual to the motion of their steeds. They did not, however, depart till the surgeon of the town had made his appearance, and declared that the patient must not on any account be moved. A lord’s leg was a windfall that did not happen every day to the surgeon of ————. All this while we may imagine the state of anxiety experienced in the town, and the agonized endurance of those rural nerves which are produced in scanty populations, and have so Taliacotian a sympathy with the affairs of other people. One day, two days, three days, a week, a fortnight, nay, a month, passed, and the lord was still the inmate of Mr. Welford’s abode. Leaving the gossips to feed on their curiosity — “cannibals of their own hearts,”— we must give a glance towards the interior of the inhospitable mansion of the ex-solicitor.

It was towards evening, the sufferer was supported on a sofa, and the beautiful Mrs. Welford, who had officiated as his nurse, was placing the pillow under the shattered limb. He himself was attempting to seize her hand, which she coyly drew back, and uttering things sweeter and more polished than she had ever listened to before. At this moment Welford softly entered; he was unnoticed by either; and he stood at the door contemplating them with a smile of calm and self-hugging derision. The face of Mephistopheles regarding Margaret and Faust might suggest some idea of the picture we design to paint; but the countenance of Welford was more lofty, as well as comelier, in character, though not less malignant in expression, than that which the incomparable Retsch has given to the mocking fiend. So utter, so congratulatory, so lordly was the contempt on Welford’s dark and striking features, that though he was in that situation in which ridicule usually attaches itself to the husband, it was the gallant and the wife that would have appeared to the beholder in a humiliating and unenviable light.

After a momentary pause Welford approached with a heavy step. The wife started; but with a bland and smooth expression, which since his sojourn in the town of had been rarely visible in his aspect, the host joined the pair, smiled on the nurse, and congratulated the patient on his progress towards recovery. The nobleman, well learned in the usages of the world, replied easily and gayly; and the conversation flowed on cheerfully enough till the wife, who had sat abstracted and apart, stealing ever and anon timid glances towards her husband and looks of a softer meaning towards the patient, retired from the room. Welford then gave a turn to the conversation; he reminded the nobleman of the pleasant days they had passed in Italy — of the adventures they had shared, and the intrigues they had enjoyed. As the conversation warmed, it assumed a more free and licentious turn; and not a little, we ween, would the good folks of ——— have been amazed, could they have listened to the gay jests and the libertine maxims which flowed from the thin lips of that cold and severe Welford, whose countenance gave the lie to mirth. Of women in general they spoke with that lively contempt which is the customary tone with men of the world; only in Welford it assumed a bitterer, a deeper, and a more philosophical cast than it did in his more animated yet less energetic guest.

The nobleman seemed charmed with his friend; the conversation was just to his taste; and when Welford had supported him up to bed, he shook that person cordially by the hand, and hoped he should soon see him in very different circumstances. When the peer’s door was closed on Welford, he stood motionless for some moments; he then with a soft step ascended to his own chamber. His wife slept soundly; beside the bed was the infant’s cradle. As his eyes fell on the latter, the rigid irony, now habitual to his features, relaxed; he bent over the cradle long and in deep silence. The mother’s face, blended with the sire’s, was stamped on the sleeping and cherub countenance before him; and as at length, rousing from his revery, he kissed it gently, he murmured —

“When I look on you I will believe that she once loved me. Pah!” he said abruptly, and rising, “this fatherly sentiment for a ———‘s offering is exquisite in me!” So saying, without glancing towards his wife, who, disturbed by the loudness of his last words, stirred uneasily, he left the room, and descended into that where he had conversed with his guest. He shut the door with caution, and striding to and fro the humble apartment, gave vent to thoughts marshalled somewhat in the broken array in which they now appear to the reader:—

“Ay, ay, she has been my ruin! and if I were one of your weak fools who make a gospel of the silliest and most mawkish follies of this social state, she would now be my disgrace; but instead of my disgrace, I will make her my footstool to honour and wealth. And, then, to the devil with the footstool! Yes! two years I have borne what was enough to turn my whole blood into gall — inactivity, hopelessness, a wasted heart and life in myself; contumely from the world; coldness, bickering, ingratitude from the one for whom (oh, ass that I was!) I gave up the most cherished part of my nature — rather, my nature itself! Two years I have borne this, and now will I have my revenge. I will sell her — sell her! God! I will sell her like the commonest beast of a market! And this paltry piece of false coin shall buy me — my world! Other men’s vengeance comes from hatred — a base, rash, unphilosophical sentiment! mine comes from scorn — the only wise state for the reason to rest in. Other men’s vengeance ruins themselves; mine shall save me! Ha! how my soul chuckles when I look at this pitiful pair, who think I see them not, and know that every movement they make is on a mesh of my web! Yet,” and Welford paused slowly — “yet I cannot but mock myself when I think of the arch gull that this boy’s madness, love — love, indeed! the very word turns me sick with loathing — made of me. Had that woman, silly, weak, automatal as she is, really loved me; had she been sensible of the unspeakable sacrifice I had made to her (Antony’s was nothing to it — he lost a real world only; mine was the world of imagination); had she but condescended to learn my nature, to subdue the woman’s devil at her own — I could have lived on in this babbling hermitage forever, and fancied myself happy and resigned — I could have become a different being. I fancy I could have become what your moralists (quacks!) call ‘good.’ But this fretting frivolity of heart, this lust of fool’s praise, this peevishness of temper, this sullenness in answer to the moody thought, which in me she neither fathomed nor forgave, this vulgar, daily, hourly pining at the paltry pinches of the body’s poverty, the domestic whine, the household complaint — when I— I have not a thought for such pitiful trials of affection; and all this while my curses, my buried hope and disguised spirit and sunken name not thought of; the magnitude of my surrender to her not even comprehended; nay, her ‘inconveniences’— a dim hearth, I suppose, or a daintiless table — compared, ay, absolutely compared, with all which I abandoned for her sake! As if it were not enough — had I been a fool, an ambitionless, soulless fool,-the mere thought that I had linked my name to that of a tradesman — I beg pardon, a retired tradesman! — as if that knowledge — a knowledge I would strangle my whole race, every one who has ever met, seen me, rather than they should penetrate — were not enough, when she talks of ‘comparing,’ to make me gnaw the very flesh from my bones! No, no, no! Never was there so bright a turn in my fate as when this titled coxcomb, with his smooth voice and gaudy fripperies, came hither! I will make her a tool to carve my escape from this cavern wherein she has plunged me. I will foment ‘my lord’s’ passion, till ‘my lord’ thinks ‘the passion’ (a butterfly’s passion!) worth any price. I will then make my own terms, bind ‘my lord’ to secrecy, and get rid of my wife, my shame, and the obscurity of Mr. Welford forever. Bright, bright prospects! let me shut my eyes to enjoy you! But softly! my noble friend calls himself a man of the world, skilled in human nature, and a derider of its prejudices; true enough, in his own little way — thanks not to enlarged views, but a vicious experience — so he is! The book of the world is a vast miscellany; he is perfectly well acquainted, doubtless, with those pages that treat of the fashions — profoundly versed, I warrant, in the ‘Magasin des Modes’ tacked to the end of the index. But shall I, even with all the mastership which my mind must exercise over his — shall I be able utterly to free myself in this ‘peer of the world’s’ mind from a degrading remembrance? Cuckold! cuckold! ‘t is an ugly word; a convenient, willing cuckold, humph! — there is no grandeur, no philosophical varnish in the phrase. Let me see — yes! I have a remedy for all that. I was married privately — well! under disguised names — well! It was a stolen marriage, far from her town — well! witnesses unknown to her — well! proofs easily secured to my possession — excellent! The fool shall believe it a forged marriage, an ingenious gallantry of mine; I will wash out the stain cuckold with the water of another word; I will make market of a mistress, not a wife. I will warn him not to acquaint her with this secret; let me consider for what reason — oh! my son’s legitimacy may be convenient to me hereafter. He will understand that reason, and I will have his ‘honour’ thereon. And by the way, I do care for that legitimacy, and will guard the proofs. I love my child — ambitious men do love their children. I may become a lord myself, and may wish for a lord to succeed me; and that son is mine, thank Heaven! I am sure on that point — the only child, too, that ever shall arise to me. Never, I swear, will I again put myself beyond my own power! All my nature, save one passion, I have hitherto mastered; that passion shall henceforth be my slave, my only thought be ambition, my only mistress be the world!”

As thus terminated the revery of a man whom the social circumstances of the world were calculated, as if by system, to render eminently and basely wicked, Welford slowly ascended the stairs, and re-entered his chamber. His wife was still sleeping. Her beauty was of the fair and girlish and harmonized order, which lovers and poets would express by the word “angelic;” and as Welford looked upon her face, hushed and almost hallowed by slumber, a certain weakness and irresolution might have been discernible in the strong lines of his haughty features. At that moment, as if forever to destroy the return of hope or virtue to either, her lips moved, they uttered one word — it was the name of Welford’s courtly guest.

About three weeks from that evening Mrs. Welford eloped with the young nobleman, and on the morning following that event the distracted husband with his child disappeared forever from the town of ———. From that day no tidings whatsoever respecting him ever reached the titillated ears of his anxious neighbours; and doubt, curiosity, discussion, gradually settled into the belief that his despair had hurried him into suicide.

Although the unfortunate Mrs. Welford was in reality of a light and frivolous turn, and, above all, susceptible to personal vanity, she was not without ardent affections and keen sensibilities. Her marriage had been one of love — that is to say, on her part, the ordinary love of girls, who love not through actual and natural feeling so much as forced predisposition. Her choice had fallen on one superior to herself in birth, and far above all, in person and address, whom she had habitually met. Thus her vanity had assisted her affection, and something strange and eccentric in the temper and mind of Welford had, though at times it aroused her fear, greatly contributed to inflame her imagination. Then, too, though an uncourtly, he had been a passionate and a romantic lover. She was sensible that he gave up for her much that he had previously conceived necessary to his existence; and she stopped not to inquire how far this devotion was likely to last, or what conduct on her part might best perpetuate the feelings from which it sprang. She had eloped with him. She had consented to a private marriage. She had passed one happy month, and then delusion vanished! Mrs. Welford was not a woman who could give to reality, or find in it, the charm equal to delusion. She was perfectly unable to comprehend the intricate and dangerous character of her husband.

She had not the key to his virtues, nor the spell for his vices. Neither was the state to which poverty compelled them one well calculated for that tender meditation, heightened by absence and cherished in indolence, which so often supplies one who loves with the secret to the nature of the one beloved. Though not equal to her husband in birth or early prospects, Mrs. Welford had been accustomed to certain comforts, often more felt by those who belong to the inferior classes than by those appertaining to the more elevated, who in losing one luxury will often cheerfully surrender all. A fine lady can submit to more hardships than her woman; and every gentleman who travels smiles at the privations which agonize his valet. Poverty and its grim comrades made way for a whole host of petty irritations and peevish complaints; and as no guest or visitor ever relieved the domestic discontent, or broke on the domestic bickering, they generally ended in that moody sullenness which so often finds love a grave in repentance. Nothing makes people tire of each other like a familiarity that admits of carelessness in quarrelling and coarseness in complaining. The biting sneer of Welford gave acrimony to the murmur of his wife; and when once each conceived the other the injurer, or him or herself the wronged, it was vain to hope that one would be more wary, or the other more indulgent. They both exacted too much, and the wife in especial conceded too little. Mrs. Welford was altogether and emphatically what a libertine calls “a woman,”— such as a frivolous education makes a woman — generous in great things, petty in small; vain, irritable, full of the littleness of herself and her complaints, ready to plunge into an abyss with her lover, but equally ready to fret away all love with reproaches when the plunge had been made. Of all men, Welford could bear this the least. A woman of a larger heart, a more settled experience, and an intellect capable of appreciating his character and sounding all his qualities, might have made him perhaps a useful and a great man, and, at least, her lover for life. Amidst a harvest of evil feelings the mere strength of his nature rendered him especially capable of intense feeling and generous emotion. One who relied on him was safe; one who rebelled against him trusted only to the caprice of his scorn. Still, however, for two years, love, though weakening with each hour, fought on in either breast, and could scarcely be said to be entirely vanquished in the wife, even when she eloped with her handsome seducer. A French writer has said pithily enough: “Compare for a moment the apathy of a husband with the attention, the gallantry, the adoration of a lover, and can you ask the result?” He was a French writer; but Mrs. Welford had in her temper much of the Frenchwoman. A suffering patient, young, handsome, well versed in the arts of intrigue, contrasted with a gloomy husband whom she had never comprehended, long feared, and had lately doubted if she disliked — ah! a much weaker contrast has made many a much better woman food for the lawyers! Mrs. Welford eloped; but she felt a revived tenderness for her husband on the very morning that she did so. She carried away with her his letters of love as well as her own, which when they first married she had in an hour of fondness collected together — then an inestimable board! — and never did her new lover receive from her beautiful lips half so passionate a kiss as she left on the cheek of her infant. For some months she enjoyed with her paramour all for which she had sighed in her home. The one for whom she had forsaken her legitimate ties was a person so habitually cheerful, courteous, and what is ordinarily termed “good-natured” (though he had in him as much of the essence of selfishness as any nobleman can decently have), that he continued gallant to her without an effort long after he had begun to think it possible to tire even of so lovely a face. Yet there were moments when the fickle wife recalled her husband with regret, and contrasting him with her seducer, did not find all the colourings of the contrast flattering to the latter. There is something in a powerful and marked character which women and all weak natures feel themselves constrained to respect; and Welford’s character thus stood in bold and therefore advantageous though gloomy relief when opposed to the levities and foibles of this guilty woman’s present adorer. However this be, the die was cast; and it would have been policy for the lady to have made the best of her present game. But she who had murmured as a wife was not complaisant as a mistress. Reproaches made an interlude to caresses, which the noble lover by no means admired. He was not a man to retort, he was too indolent; but neither was he one to forbear. “My charming friend,” said he one day, after a scene, “you weary of me — nothing more natural! Why torment each other? You say I have ruined you; my sweet friend, let me make you reparation. Become independent; I will settle an annuity upon you; fly me — seek happiness elsewhere, and leave your unfortunate, your despairing lover to his fate.”

“Do you taunt me, my lord?” cried the angry fair; “or do you believe that money can replace the rights of which you have robbed me? Can you make me again a wife — a happy, a respected wife? Do this, my lord, and you atone to me!”

The nobleman smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. The lady yet more angrily repeated her question. The lover answered by an innuendo, which at once astonished and doubly enraged her. She eagerly demanded explanation; and his lordship, who had gone further than he intended, left the room. But his words had sunk deep into the breast of this unhappy woman, and she resolved to procure an elucidation. Agreeably to the policy which stripped the fabled traveller of his cloak, she laid aside the storm and preferred the sunshine: she watched a moment of tenderness, turned the opportunity to advantage, and by little and little she possessed herself of a secret which sickened her with shame, disgust, and dismay. Sold! bartered! the object of a contemptuous huxtering to the purchaser and the seller, sold, too, with a lie that debased her at once into an object for whom even pity was mixed with scorn! Robbed already of the name and honour of a wife, and transferred as a harlot from the wearied arms of one leman to the capricious caresses of another! Such was the image that rose before her; and while it roused at one moment all her fiercer passions into madness, humbled, with the next, her vanity into the dust. She, who knew the ruling passion of Welford, saw at a glance the object of scorn and derision which she had become to him. While she imagined herself the betrayer, she had been betrayed; she saw vividly before her (and shuddered as she saw) her husband’s icy smile, his serpent eye, his features steeped in sarcasm, and all his mocking soul stamped upon the countenance, whose lightest derision was so galling. She turned from this picture, and saw the courtly face of the purchaser — his subdued smile at her reproaches — his latent sneer at her claims to a station which he had been taught by the arch plotter to believe she had never possessed. She saw his early weariness of her attractions, expressed with respect indeed — an insulting respect — but felt without a scruple of remorse. She saw in either — as around — only a reciprocation of contempt. She was in a web of profound abasement. Even that haughty grief of conscience for crime committed to another, which if it stings humbles not, was swallowed up in a far more agonizing sensation, to one so vain as the adulteress — the burning sense of shame at having herself, while sinning, been the duped and deceived. Her very soul was appalled with her humiliation. The curse of Welford’s vengeance was on her, and it was wreaked to the last! Whatever kindly sentiment she might have experienced towards her protector, was swallowed up at once by this discovery. She could not endure the thought of meeting the eye of one who had been the gainer by this ignominious barter; the foibles and weaknesses of the lover assumed a despicable as well as hateful dye. And in feeling herself degraded, she loathed him. The day after she had made the discovery we have referred to, Mrs. Welford left the house of her protector, none knew whither. For two years from that date, all trace of her history was lost. At the end of that time what was Welford? A man rapidly rising in the world, distinguished at the Bar, where his first brief had lifted him into notice, commencing a flattering career in the senate, holding lucrative and honourable offices, esteemed for the austere rectitude of his moral character, gathering the golden opinions of all men, as he strode onward to public reputation. He had re-assumed his hereditary name; his early history was unknown; and no one in the obscure and distant town of ——— had ever guessed that the humble Welford was the William Brandon whose praise was echoed in so many journals, and whose rising genius was acknowledged by all. That asperity, roughness, and gloom which had noted him at ——— and which, being natural to him, he deigned not to disguise in a station ungenial to his talents and below his hopes, were now glitteringly varnished over by an hypocrisy well calculated to aid his ambition. So learnedly could this singular man fit himself to others that few among the great met him as a companion, nor left him without the temper to become his friend. Through his noble rival — that is (to make our reader’s “surety doubly sure”), through Lord Mauleverer — he had acquired his first lucrative office, a certain patronage from government, and his seat in parliament. If he had persevered at the Bar rather than given himself entirely to State intrigues, it was only because his talents were eminently more calculated to advance him in the former path to honour than in the latter. So devoted was he become to public life that he had only permitted himself to cherish one private source of enjoyment — his son. As no one, not even his brother, knew he had been married (during the two years of his disguised name, he had been supposed abroad), the appearance of this son made the only piece of scandal whispered against the rigid morality of his fair fame; but he himself, waiting his own time for avowing a legitimate heir, gave out that it was the orphan child of a dear friend whom he had known abroad; and the puritan demureness not only of life, but manner, which he assumed, gained a pretty large belief to the statement. This son Brandon idolized. As we have represented himself to say, ambitious men are commonly fond of their children, beyond the fondness of other sires. The perpetual reference which the ambitious make to posterity is perhaps the main reason. But Brandon was also fond of children generally; philoprogenitiveness was a marked trait in his character, and would seem to belie the hardness and artifice belonging to that character, were not the same love so frequently noticeable in the harsh and the artificial. It seems as if a half-conscious but pleasing feeling that they too were once gentle and innocent, makes them delight in reviving any sympathy with their early state.

Often after the applause and labour of the day, Brandon would repair to his son’s chamber and watch his slumber for hours; often before his morning toil commenced, he would nurse the infant in his arms with all a woman’s natural tenderness and gushing joy; and often, as a graver and more characteristic sentiment stole over him, he would mentally say, “You shall build up our broken name on a better foundation than your sire. I begin too late in life, and I labour up a painful and stony road; but I shall make the journey to Fame smooth and accessible for you. Never, too, while you aspire to honour, shall you steel your heart to tranquillity. For you, my child, shall be the joys of home and love, and a mind that does not sicken at the past, and strain, through mere forgetfulness, towards a solitary and barren distinction for the future. Not only what your father gains you shall enjoy, but what has cursed him his vigilance shall lead you to shun!”

It was thus not only that his softer feelings, but all the better and nobler ones, which even in the worst and hardest bosom find some root, turned towards his child, and that the hollow and vicious man promised to become the affectionate and perhaps the wise parent.

One night Brandon was returning home on foot from a ministerial dinner. The night was frosty and clear, the hour was late, and his way lay through the longest and best-lighted streets of the metropolis. He was, as usual, buried in thought, when he was suddenly aroused from his revery by a light touch laid on his arm. He turned, and saw one of the unhappy persons who haunt the midnight streets of cities, standing right before his path. The gaze of each fell upon the other; and it was thus, for the first time since they laid their heads on the same pillow, that the husband met the wife. The skies were intensely clear, and the lamplight was bright and calm upon the faces of both. There was no doubt in the mind of either. Suddenly, and with a startled and ghastly consciousuess, they recognized each other. The wife staggered, and clung to a post for support; Brandon’s look was calm and unmoved. The hour that his bitter and malignant spirit had yearned for was come; his nerves expanded in a voluptuous calmness, as if to give him a deliberate enjoyment of his hope fulfilled. Whatever the words that in that unwitnessed and almost awful interview passed between them, we may be sure that Brandon spared not one atom of his power. The lost and abandoned wife returned home; and all her nature, embruted as it had become by guilt and vile habits, hardened into revenge — that preternatural feeling which may be termed the hope of despair.

Three nights from that meeting Brandon’s house was broken into. Like the houses of many legal men, it lay in a dangerous and thinly populated outskirt of the town, and was easily accessible to robbery. He was awakened by a noise; he started, and found himself in the grasp of two men. At the foot of the bed stood a female, raising a light; and her face, haggard with searing passions, and ghastly with the leprous whiteness of disease and approaching death, glared full upon him.

“It is now my turn,” said the female, with a grin of scorn which Brandon himself might have envied; “you have cursed me, and I return the curse! You have told me that my child shall never name me but to blush. Fool! I triumph over you; you he shall never know to his dying day! You have told me that to my child and my child’s child (a long transmission of execration) my name — the name of the wife you basely sold to ruin and to hell — should be left as a legacy of odium and shame! Man, you shall teach that child no further lesson whatever: you shall know not whether he live or die, or have children to carry on your boasted race; or whether, if he have, those children be not outcasts of the earth, the accursed of man and God, the fit offspring of the thing you have made me. Wretch! I hurl back on you the denunciation with which, when we met three nights since, you would have crushed the victim of your own perfidy. You shall tread the path of your ambition childless and objectless and hopeless. Disease shall set her stamp upon your frame. The worm shall batten upon your heart. You shall have honours and enjoy them not; you shall gain your ambition, and despair; you shall pine for your son, and find him not; or, if you find him, you shall curse the hour in which he was born. Mark me, man — I am dying while I speak — I know that I am a prophet in my curse. From this hour I am avenged, and you are my scorn!”

As the hardest natures sink appalled before the stony eye of the maniac, so, in the dead of the night, pinioned by ruffians, the wild and solemn voice, sharpened by passion and partial madness, of the ghastly figure before him curdling through his veins, even the haughty and daring character of William Brandon quailed! He uttered not a word. He was found the next morning bound by strong cords to his bed. He spoke not when he was released, but went in silence to his child’s chamber — the child was gone! Several articles of property were also stolen; the desperate tools the mother had employed worked not perhaps without their own reward.

We need scarcely add that Brandon set every engine and channel of justice in motion for the discovery of his son. All the especial shrewdness and keenness of his own character, aided by his professional experience, he employed for years in the same pursuit. Every research was wholly in vain; not the remotest vestige towards discovery could be traced until were found (we have recorded when) some of the articles that had been stolen. Fate treasured in her gloomy womb, altogether undescried by man, the hour and the scene in which the most ardent wish of William Brandon was to be realized.

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