There is a festival where knights and dames,
And aught that wealth or lofty lineage claims,
‘T is he — how came he thence?
What doth he here?
There are two charming situations in life for a woman — one, the first freshness of heiressship and beauty; the other, youthful widowhood, with a large jointure. It was at least Lucy’s fortune to enjoy the first. No sooner was she fairly launched into the gay world than she became the object of universal idolatry. Crowds followed her wherever she moved nothing was talked of or dreamed of, toasted or betted on, but Lucy Brandon; even her simplicity, and utter ignorance of the arts of fine life, enhanced the eclat of her reputation. Somehow or other, young people of the gentler sex are rarely ill-bred, even in their eccentricities; and there is often a great deal of grace in inexperience. Her uncle, who accompanied her everywhere, himself no slight magnet of attraction, viewed her success with a complacent triumph which he suffered no one but her father or herself to detect. To the smooth coolness of his manner, nothing would have seemed more foreign than pride at the notice gained by a beauty, or exultation at any favour won from the caprices of fashion. As for the good old squire, one would have imagined him far more the invalid than his brother. He was scarcely ever seen; for though he went everywhere, he was one of those persons who sink into a corner the moment they enter a room. Whoever discovered him in his retreat, held out their hands, and exclaimed, “God bless me! you here! We have not seen you for this age!” Now and then, if in a very dark niche of the room a card-table had been placed, the worthy gentleman toiled through an obscure rubber; but more frequently he sat with his hands clasped and his mouth open, counting the number of candles in the room, or calculating “when that stupid music would be over.”
Lord Mauleverer, though a polished and courteous man, whose great object was necessarily to ingratiate himself with the father of his intended bride, had a horror of being bored, which surpassed all other feelings in his mind. He could not therefore persuade himself to submit to the melancholy duty of listening to the squire’s “linked speeches long drawn out.” He always glided by the honest man’s station, seemingly in an exceeding hurry, with a “Ah, my dear sir, how do you do? How delighted I am to see you! And your incomparable daughter? Oh, there she is! Pardon me, dear sir — you see my attraction.”
Lucy, indeed, who never forgot any one (except herself occasionally), sought her father’s retreat as often as she was able; but her engagements were so incessant that she no sooner lost one partner than she was claimed and carried off by another. However, the squire bore his solitude with tolerable cheerfulness, and always declared that “he was very well amused; although balls and concerts were necessarily a little dull to one who came from a fine old place like Warlock Manor-house, and it was not the same thing that pleased young ladies (for, to them, that fiddling and giggling till two o’clock in the morning might be a very pretty way of killing time) and their papas!”
What considerably added to Lucy’s celebrity was the marked notice and admiration of a man so high in rank and ton as Lord Mauleverer. That personage, who still retained much of a youthful mind and temper, and who was in his nature more careless than haughty, preserved little or no state in his intercourse with the social revellers at Bath. He cared not whither he went, so that he was in the train of the young beauty; and the most fastidious nobleman of the English court was seen in every second and third rate set of a great watering-place — the attendant, the flirt, and often the ridicule of the daughter of an obscure and almost insignificant country squire. Despite the honour of so distinguished a lover, and despite all the novelties of her situation, the pretty head of Lucy Brandon was as yet, however, perfectly unturned; and as for her heart, the only impression that it had ever received was made by that wandering guest of the village rector, whom she had never again seen, but who yet clung to her imagination, invested not only with all the graces which in right of a singularly handsome person he possessed, but with those to which he never could advance a claim — more dangerous to her peace, for the very circumstance of their origin in her fancy, not his merits.
They had now been some little time at Bath, and Brandon’s brief respite was pretty nearly expired, when a public ball of uncommon and manifold attraction was announced. It was to be graced not only by the presence of all the surrounding families, but also by that of royalty itself; it being an acknowledged fact that people dance much better and eat much more supper when any relation to a king is present.
“I must stay for this ball, Lucy,” said Brandon, who, after spending the day with Lord Mauleverer, returned home in a mood more than usually cheerful — “I must stay for this one ball, Lucy, and witness your complete triumph, even though it will be necessary to leave you the very next morning.”
“So soon!” cried Lucy.
“So soon!” echoed the uncle, with a smile. “How good you are to speak thus to an old valetudinarian, whose company must have fatigued you to death! Nay, no pretty denials! But the great object of my visit to this place is accomplished: I have seen you, I have witnessed your debut in the great world, with, I may say, more than a father’s exultation, and I go back to my dry pursuits with the satisfaction of thinking our old and withered genealogical tree has put forth one blossom worthy of its freshest day.”
“Uncle!” said Lucy, reprovingly, and holding up her taper finger with an arch smile, mingling with a blush, in which the woman’s vanity spoke, unknown to herself.
“And why that look, Lucy?” said Brandon.
“Because — because — well, no matter! you have been bred to that trade in which, as you say yourself, men tell untruths for others till they lose all truth for themselves. But let us talk of you, not me; are you really well enough to leave us?”
Simple and even cool as the words of Lucy’s question, when written, appear, in her mouth they took so tender, so anxious a tone, that Brandon, who had no friend nor wife nor child, nor any one in his household in whom interest in his health or welfare was a thing of course, and who was consequently wholly unaccustomed to the accent of kindness, felt himself of a sudden touched and stricken.
“Why, indeed, Lucy,” said he, in a less artificial voice than that in which he usually spoke, “I should like still to profit by your cares, and forget my infirmities and pains in your society; but I cannot: the tide of events, like that of nature, waits not our pleasure!”
“But we may take our own time for setting sail!” said Lucy.
“Ay, this comes of talking in metaphor,” rejoined Brandon, smiling; “they who begin it always get the worst of it. In plain words, dear Lucy, I can give no more time to my own ailments. A lawyer cannot play truant in term-time without —”
“Losing a few guineas!” said Lucy, interrupting him.
“Worse than that — his practice and his name.”
“Better those than health and peace of mind.”
“Out on you, no!” said Brandon, quickly, and almost fiercely. “We waste all the greenness and pith of our life in striving to gain a distinguished slavery; and when it is gained, we must not think that an humble independence would have been better. If we ever admit that thought, what fools, what lavish fools, we have been! No!” continued Brandon, after a momentary pause, and in a tone milder and gayer, though not less characteristic of the man’s stubbornness of will, “after losing all youth’s enjoyments and manhood’s leisure, in order that in age the mind, the all-conquering mind, should break its way at last into the applauding opinions of men, I should be an effeminate idler indeed, did I suffer, so long as its jarring parts hold together, or so long as I have the power to command its members, this weak body to frustrate the labour of its better and nobler portion, and command that which it is ordained to serve.”
Lucy knew not while she listened, half in fear, half in admiration, to her singular relation, that at the very moment he thus spoke, his disease was preying upon him in one of its most relentless moods, without the power of wringing from him a single outward token of his torture. But she wanted nothing to increase her pity and affection for a man who in consequence, perhaps, of his ordinary surface of worldly and cold properties of temperament never failed to leave an indelible impression on all who had ever seen that temperament broken through by deeper though often by more evil feelings.
“Shall you go to Lady ————‘s rout?” asked Brandon, easily sliding back into common topics. “Lord Mauleverer requested me to ask you.”
“That depends on you and my father.”
“If on me, I answer yes,” said Brandon. “I like hearing Mauleverer, especially among persons who do not understand him. There is a refined and subtle sarcasm running through the commonplaces of his conversation, which cuts the good fools, like the invisible sword in the fable, that lopped off heads without occasioning the owners any other sensation than a pleasing and self-complacent titillation. How immeasurably superior he is in manner and address to all we meet here! Does it not strike you?”
“Yes — no — I can’t say that it does exactly,” rejoined Lucy.
“Is that confusion tender?” thought Brandon.
“In a word,” continued Lucy, “Lord Mauleverer is one whom I think pleasing without fascination, and amusing without brilliancy. He is evidently accomplished in mind and graceful in manner, and withal the most uninteresting person I ever met.”
“Women have not often thought so,” said Brandon. “I cannot believe that they can think otherwise.”
A certain expression, partaking of scorn, played over Brandon’s hard features. It was a noticeable trait in him, that while he was most anxious to impress Lucy with a favourable opinion of Lord Mauleverer, he was never quite able to mask a certain satisfaction at any jest at the earl’s expense, or any opinion derogatory to his general character for pleasing the opposite sex; and this satisfaction was no sooner conceived than it was immediately combated by the vexation he felt that Lucy did not seem to share his own desire that she should become the wife of the courtier. There appeared as if in that respect there was a contest in his mind between interest on one hand and private dislike or contempt on the other.
“You judge women wrongly!” said Brandon. “Ladies never know each other; of all persons, Mauleverer is best calculated to win them, and experience has proved my assertion. The proudest lot I know for a woman would be the thorough conquest of Lord Mauleverer; but it is impossible. He may be gallant, but he will never be subdued. He defies the whole female world, and with justice and impunity. Enough of him. Sing to me, dear Lucy.”
The time for the ball approached; and Lucy, who was a charming girl and had nothing of the angel about her, was sufficiently fond of gayety, dancing, music, and admiration to feel her heart beat high at the expectation of the event.
At last the day itself came. Brandon dined alone with Mauleverer, having made the arrangement that he, with the earl, was to join his brother and niece at the ball. Mauleverer, who hated state, except on great occasions, when no man displayed it with a better grace, never suffered his servants to wait at dinner when he was alone or with one of his peculiar friends. The attendants remained without, and were summoned at will by a bell laid beside the host.
The conversation was unrestrained.
“I am perfectly certain, Brandon,” said Mauleverer, “that if you were to live tolerably well, you would soon get the better of your nervous complaints. It is all poverty of blood, believe me. Some more of the fins, eh? — No! Oh, hang your abstemiousness; it is d —— d unfriendly to eat so little! Talking of fins and friends, Heaven defend me from ever again forming an intimacy with a pedantic epicure, especially if he puns!”
“Why, what has a pedant to do with fins?”
“I will tell you — ah, this madeira — I suggested to Lord Dareville, who affects the gourmand, what a capital thing a dish all fins (turbot’s fins) might be made. ‘Capital!’ said he, in a rapture; ‘dine on it with me tomorrow.’ ‘Volontiers!’ said I. The next day, after indulging in a pleasing revery all the morning as to the manner in which Dareville’s cook, who is not without genius, would accomplish the grand idea, I betook myself punctually to my engagement. Would you believe it? When the cover was removed, the sacrilegious dog of an Amphitryon had put into the dish Cicero’s ‘De Finibus.’ ‘There is a work all fins!’ said he. “Atrocious jest!” exclaimed Brandon, solemnly.
“Was it not? Whenever the gastronomists set up a religious inquisition, I trust they will roast every impious rascal who treats the divine mystery with levity. Pun upon cooking, indeed! A propos of Dareville, he is to come into the administration.”
“You astonish me!” said Brandon. “I never heard that; I don’t know him. He has very little power; has he any talent?”
“Yes, a very great one — acquired, though.”
“What is it?”
“A pretty wife!”
“My lord!” exclaimed Brandon, abruptly, and half rising from his seat.
Mauleverer looked up hastily, and on seeing the expression of his companion’s face coloured deeply; there was a silence for some moments.
“Tell me,” said Brandon, indifferently, helping himself to vegetables, for he seldom touched meat; and a more amusing contrast can scarcely be conceived than that between the earnest epicurism of Mauleverer and the careless contempt of the sublime art manifested by his guest — “tell me, you who necessarily know everything, whether the government really is settled — whether you are to have the garter, and I (mark the difference!) the judgeship.”
“Why so, I imagine, it will be arranged; namely, if you will consent to hang up the rogues instead of living by the fools!”
“One may unite both!” returned Brandon. “But I believe, in general, it is vice versa; for we live by the rogues, and it is only the fools we are able to hang up. You ask me if I will take the judgeship. I would not — no, I would rather cut my hand off,” and the lawyer spoke with great bitterness, “forsake my present career, despite all the obstacles that now encumber it, did I think that this miserable body would suffer me for two years longer to pursue it.”
“You shock me!” said Mauleverer, a little affected, but nevertheless applying the cayenne to his cucumber with his usual unerring nicety of tact — “you shock me; but you are considerably better than you were.”
“It is not,” continued Brandon, who was rather speaking to himself than to his friend — “it is not that I am unable to conquer the pain and to master the recreant nerves; but I feel myself growing weaker and weaker beneath the continual exertion of my remaining powers, and I shall die before I have gained half my objects, if I do not leave the labours which are literally tearing me to pieces.”
“But,” said Lord Mauleverer, who was the idlest of men, “the judgeship is not an easy sinecure.”
“No; but there is less demand on the mind in that station than in my present one;” and Brandon paused before he continued. “Candidly, Mauleverer, you do not think they will deceive me — you do not think they mean to leave me to this political death without writing ‘Resurgam’ over the hatchment?”
“They dare not!” said Mauleverer, quaffing his fourth glass of madeira.
“Well, I have decided on my change of life,” said the lawyer, with a slight sigh.
“So have I on my change of opinion,” chimed in the earl. “I will tell you what opinions seem to me like.”
“What?” said Brandon, abstractedly.
“Trees!” answered Mauleverer, quaintly. “If they can be made serviceable by standing, don’t part with a stick; but when they are of that growth that sells well, or whenever they shut out a fine prospect, cut them down, and pack them off by all manner of means! — And now for the second course.”
“I wonder,” said the earl, when our political worthies were again alone, “whether there ever existed a minister who cared three straws for the people; many care for their party, but as for the country —”
“It is all fiddlestick!” added the lawyer, with more significance than grace.
“Right; it is all fiddlestick, as you tersely express it. King, Constitution, and Church, forever! which, being interpreted, means, first, King or Crown influence, judgeships, and garters; secondly, Constitution, or fees to the lawyer, places to the statesman, laws for the rich, and Game Laws for the poor; thirdly, Church, or livings for our younger sons, and starvings for their curates!”
“Ha, ha!” said Brandon, laughing sardonically; “we know human nature!”
“And how it may be gulled!” quoth the courtier. “Here’s a health to your niece; and may it not be long before you hail her as your friend’s bride!”
“Bride, et cetera,” said Brandon, with a sneer meant only for his own satisfaction. “But mark me, my dear lord, do not be too sure of her. She is a singular girl, and of more independence than the generality of women. She will not think of your rank and station in estimating you; she will think only of their owner; and pardon me if I suggest to you, who know the sex so well, one plan that it may not be unadvisable for you to pursue. Don’t let her fancy you entirely hers; rouse her jealousy, pique her pride, let her think you unconquerable, and unless she is unlike all women, she will want to conquer you.”
The earl smiled. “I must take my chance!” said he, with a confident tone.
“The hoary coxcomb!” muttered Brandon, between his teeth; “now will his folly spoil all.”
“And that reminds me,” continued Mauleverer, “that time wanes, and dinner is not over; let us not hurry, but let us be silent, to enjoy the more. These truffles in champagne — do taste them; they would raise the dead.”
The lawyer smiled, and accepted the kindness, though he left the delicacy untouched; and Mauleverer, whose soul was in his plate, saw not the heartless rejection.
Meanwhile the youthful beauty had already entered the theatre of pleasure, and was now seated with the squire at the upper end of the half-filled ball-room.
A gay lady of the fashion at that time, and of that half and half rank to which belonged the aristocracy of Bath — one of those curious persons we meet with in the admirable novels of Miss Burney, as appertaining to the order of fine ladies — made the trio with our heiress and her father, and pointed out to them by name the various characters that entered the apartments. She was still in the full tide of scandal, when an unusual sensation was visible in the environs of the door; three strangers of marked mien, gay dress, and an air which, though differing in each, was in all alike remarkable for a sort of “dashing” assurance, made their entree. One was of uncommon height, and possessed of an exceedingly fine head of hair; another was of a more quiet and unpretending aspect, but nevertheless he wore upon his face a supercilious yet not ill-humoured expression; the third was many years younger than his companions, strikingly handsome in face and figure, altogether of a better taste in dress, and possessing a manner that, though it had equal ease, was not equally noticeable for impudence and swagger.
“Who can those be?” said Lucy’s female friend, in a wondering tone. “I never saw them before — they must be great people — they have all the airs of persons of quality! Dear, how odd that I should not know them!”
While the good lady, who, like all good ladies of that stamp, thought people of quality had airs, was thus lamenting her ignorance of the new-comers, a general whisper of a similar import was already circulating round the room, “Who are they?” and the universal answer was, “Can’t tell — never saw them before!”
Our strangers seemed by no means displeased with the evident and immediate impression they had made. They stood in the most conspicuous part of the room, enjoying among themselves a low conversation, frequently broken by fits of laughter — tokens, we need not add, of their supereminently good breeding. The handsome figure of the youngest stranger, and the simple and seemingly unconscious grace of his attitudes were not, however, unworthy of the admiration he excited; and even his laughter, rude as it really was, displayed so dazzling a set of teeth, and was accompanied by such brilliant eyes, that before he had been ten minutes in the room there was scarcely a young lady under thirty-nine not disposed to fall in love with him.
Apparently heedless of the various remarks which reached their ears, our strangers, after they had from their station sufficiently surveyed the beauties of the ball, strolled arm-inarm through the rooms. Having sauntered through the ball and card rooms, they passed the door that led to the entrance passage, and gazed, with other loiterers, upon the new-comers ascending the stairs. Here the two younger strangers renewed their whispered conversation, while the eldest, who was also the tallest one, carelessly leaning against the wall, employed himself for a few moments in thrusting his fingers through his hair. In finishing this occupation, the peculiar state of his rules forced itself upon the observation of our gentleman, who, after gazing for some moments on an envious rent in the right ruffle, muttered some indistinct words, like “the cock of that confounded pistol,” and then tucked up the mutilated ornament with a peculiarly nimble motion of the fingers of his left hand; the next moment, diverted by a new care, the stranger applied his digital members to the arranging and caressing of a remarkably splendid brooch, set in the bosom of a shirt the rude texture of which formed a singular contrast with the magnificence of the embellishment and the fineness of the one ruffle suffered by our modern Hyperion to make its appearance beneath his cinnamon-coloured coatsleeve. These little personal arrangements completed, and a dazzling snuff-box released from the confinement of a side-pocket, tapped thrice, and lightened of two pinches of its titillating luxury, the stranger now, with the guardian eye of friendship, directed a searching glance to the dress of his friends. There all appeared meet for his strictest scrutiny, save, indeed, that the supercilious-looking stranger having just drawn forth his gloves, the lining of his coat-pocket which was rather soiled into the bargain — had not returned to its internal station; the tall stranger, seeing this little inelegance, kindly thrust three fingers with a sudden and light dive into his friend’s pocket, and effectually repulsed the forwardness of the intrusive lining. The supercilious stranger no sooner felt the touch than he started back, and whispered to his officious companion —
“What! among friends, Ned! Fie now; curb the nature of thee for one night at least.”
Before he of the flowing locks had time to answer, the master of the ceremonies, who had for the last three minutes been eying the strangers through his glass, stepped forward with a sliding bow; and the handsome gentleman, taking upon himself the superiority and precedence over his comrades, was the first to return the courtesy. He did this with so good a grace and so pleasing an expression of countenance that the censor of bows was charmed at once, and with a second and more profound salutation announced himself and his office. “You would like to dance probably, gentlemen?” he asked, glancing at each, but directing his words to the one who had prepossessed him.
“You are very good,” said the comely stranger; “and, for my part, I shall be extremely indebted to you for the exercise of your powers in my behalf. Allow me to return with you to the ball-room, and I can there point out to you the objects of my especial admiration.”
The master of the ceremonies bowed as before, and he and his new acquaintance strolled into the ball-room, followed by the two comrades of the latter.
“Have you been long in Bath, sir?” inquired the monarch of the rooms.
“No, indeed! we only arrived this evening.”
“No; we made a little tour across the country.”
“Ah! very pleasant, this fine weather.”
“Yes; especially in the evenings.”
“Oho! romantic!” thought the man of balls, as he rejoined aloud, “Why, the nights are agreeable, and the moon is particularly favourable to us.”
“Not always!” quoth the stranger.
“True, true, the night before last was dark; but, in general, surely the moon has been very bright.”
The stranger was about to answer, but checked himself, and simply bowed his head as in assent.
“I wonder who they are!” thought the master of the ceremonies. “Pray, sir,” said he, in a low tone, “is that gentle man, that tall gentleman, any way related to Lord —————? I cannot but think I see a family likeness.”
“Not in the least related to his lordship,” answered the stranger; “but he is of a family that have made a noise in the world; though he, as well as my other friend, is merely a commoner!” laying a stress on the last word.
“Nothing, sir, can be more respectable than a commoner of family,” returned the polite Mr. ———— with a bow.
“I agree with you, sir,” answered the stranger, with another. “But, heavens!”— and the stranger started; for at that moment his eye caught for the first time, at the far end of the room, the youthful and brilliant countenance of Lucy Brandon — “do I see rightly, or is that Miss Brandon?”
“It is indeed that lovely young lady,” said Mr. ————. “I congratulate you on knowing one so admired. I suppose that you, being blessed with her acquaintance, do not need the formality of my introduction?”
“Umph!” said the stranger, rather shortly and uncourteously. “No! Perhaps you had better present me!”
“By what name shall I have that honour, sir?” discreetly inquired the nomenclator.
“Clifford!” answered the stranger; “Captain Clifford!” Upon this the prim master of the ceremonies, threading his path through the now fast-filling room, approached towards Lucy to obey Mr. Clifford’s request. Meanwhile that gentleman, before he followed the steps of the tutelary spirit of the place, paused and said to his friends, in a tone careless yet not without command, “Hark ye, gentlemen; oblige me by being as civil and silent as ye are able; and don’t thrust yourselves upon me, as you are accustomed to do, whenever you see no opportunity of indulging me with that honour with the least show of propriety!” So saying, and waiting no reply, Mr. Clifford hastened after the master of the ceremonies.
“Our friend grows mighty imperious!” said Long Ned, whom our readers have already recognized in the tall stranger.
“‘T is the way with your rising geniuses,” answered the moralizing Augustus Tomlinson. “Suppose we go to the cardroom and get up a rubber!”
“Well thought of,” said Ned, yawning — a thing he was very apt to do in society; “and I wish nothing worse to those who try our rubbers than that they may be well cleaned by them.” Upon this witticism the Colossus of Roads, glancing towards the glass, strutted off, arm-inarm with his companion, to the card-room.
During this short conversation the re-introduction of Mr. Clifford (the stranger of the Rectory and deliverer of Dr. Slopperton) to Lucy Brandon had been effected, and the hand of the heiress was already engaged, according to the custom of that time, for the two ensuing dances.
It was about twenty minutes after the above presentation had taken place that Lord Mauleverer and William Brandon entered the rooms; and the buzz created by the appearance of the noted peer and the distinguished lawyer had scarcely subsided, before the royal personage expected to grace the “festive scene” (as the newspapers say of a great room with plenty of miserable-looking people in it) arrived. The most attractive persons in Europe may be found among the royal family of England, and the great personage then at Bath, in consequence of certain political intrigues, wished, at that time especially, to make himself as popular as possible. Having gone the round of the old ladies, and assured them, as the “Court Journal” assures the old ladies at this day, that they were “morning stars” and “swan-like wonders,” the prince espied Brandon, and immediately beckoned to him with a familiar gesture. The smooth but saturnine lawyer approached the royal presence with the manner that peculiarly distinguished him, and which blended in no ungraceful mixture a species of stiffness that passed with the crowd for native independence, with a supple insinuation that was usually deemed the token of latent benevolence of heart. There was something, indeed, in Brandon’s address that always pleased the great; and they liked him the better because, though he stood on no idle political points, mere differences in the view taken of a hairbreadth — such as a corn-law or a Catholic bill, alteration in the Church or a reform in parliament — yet he invariably talked so like a man of honour (except when with Mauleverer) that his urbanity seemed attachment to individuals, and his concessions to power sacrifices of private opinion for the sake of obliging his friends.
“I am very glad indeed,” said the royal personage, “to see Mr. Brandon looking so much better. Never was the crown in greater want of his services; and if rumour speak true, they will soon be required in another department of his profession.”
Brandon bowed, and answered —
“So please your royal highness, they will always be at the command of a king from whore I have experienced such kindness, in any capacity for which his Majesty may deem them fitting.”
“It is true, then!” said his royal highness, significantly. “I congratulate you! The quiet dignity of the bench must seem to you a great change after a career so busy and restless.”
“I fear I shall feel it so at first, your royal highness,” answered Brandon, “for I like even the toil of my profession; and at this moment, when I am in full practice, it more than ever — But” (checking himself at once) “his Majesty’s wishes, and my satisfaction in complying with them, are more than sufficient to remove any momentary regret I might otherwise have felt in quitting those toils which have now become to me a second nature.”
“It is possible,” rejoined the prince, “that his Majesty took into consideration the delicate state of health which, in common with the whole public, I grieve to see the papers have attributed to one of the most distinguished ornaments of the bar.”
“So please your royal highness,” answered Brandon, coolly, and with a smile which the most piercing eye could not have believed the mask to the agony then gnawing at his nerves, “it is the interest of my rivals to exaggerate the little ailments of a weak constitution. I thank Providence that I am now entirely recovered; and at no time of my life have I been less unable to discharge — so far as my native and mental, incapacities will allow — the duties of any occupation, however arduous. Nay, as the brute grows accustomed to the mill, so have I grown wedded to business; and even the brief relaxation I have now allowed myself seems to me rather irksome than pleasurable.”
“I rejoice to hear you speak thus,” answered his royal highness, warmly; “and I trust for many years, and,” added he, in a lower tone, “in the highest chamber of the senate, that we may profit by your talents. The times are those in which many occasions occur that oblige all true friends of the Constitution to quit minor employment for that great constitutional one that concerns us all, the highest and the meanest; and” (the royal voice sank still lower) “I feel justified in assuring you that the office of chief-justice alone is not considered by his Majesty as a sufficient reward for your generous sacrifice of present ambition to the difficulties of government.”
Brandon’s proud heart swelled, and that moment the veriest pains of hell would scarcely have been felt.
While the aspiring schemer was thus agreeably engaged, Mauleverer, sliding through the crowd with that grace which charmed every one, old and young, and addressing to all he knew some lively or affectionate remark, made his way to the dancers, among whom he had just caught a glimpse of Lucy. “I wonder,” he thought, “whom she is dancing with. I hope it is that ridiculous fellow, Mossop, who tells a good story against himself; or that handsome ass, Belmont, who looks at his own legs, instead of seeming to have eyes for no one but his partner. Ah! if Tarquin had but known women as well as I do, he would have had no reason to be rough with Lucretia. ‘T is a thousand pities that experience comes, in women as in the world, just when it begins to be no longer of use to us!”
As he made these moral reflections, Mauleverer gained the dancers, and beheld Lucy listening, with downcast eyes and cheeks that evidently blushed, to a young man whom Mauleverer acknowledged at once to be one of the best-looking fellows he had ever seen. The stranger’s countenance, despite an extreme darkness of complexion, was, to be sure, from the great regularity of the features, rather effeminate; but, on the other hand, his figure, though slender and graceful, betrayed to an experienced eye an extraordinary proportion of sinew and muscle; and even the dash of effeminacy in the countenance was accompanied by so manly and frank an air, and was so perfectly free from all coxcombry or self-conceit, that it did not in the least decrease the prepossessing effect of his appearance. An angry and bitter pang shot across that portion of Mauleverer’s frame which the earl thought fit, for want of another name, to call his heart. “How cursedly pleased she looks!” muttered he. “By Heaven! that stolen glance under the left eyelid, dropped as suddenly as it is raised; and he — ha! how firmly he holds that little hand! I think I see him paddle with it; and then the dog’s earnest, intent look — and she all blushes, though she dare not look up to meet his gaze, feeling it by intuition. Oh, the demure, modest, shamefaced hypocrite! How silent she is! She can prate enough to me! I would give my promised garter if she would but talk to him. Talk, talk, laugh, prattle, only simper, in God’s name, and I shall be happy. But that bashful, blushing silence — it is insupportable. Thank Heaven, the dance is over! Thank Heaven, again! I have not felt such pains since the last nightmare I had after dining with her father!”
With a face all smiles, but with a mien in which more dignity than he ordinarily assumed was worn, Mauleverer now moved towards Lucy, who was leaning on her partner’s arm. The earl, who had ample tact where his consummate selfishness did not warp it, knew well how to act the lover, without running ridiculously into the folly of seeming to play the hoary dangler. He sought rather to be lively than sentimental; and beneath the wit to conceal the suitor.
Having paid, then, with a careless gallantry his first compliments, he entered into so animated a conversation, interspersed with so many naive yet palpably just observations on the characters present, that perhaps he had never appeared to more brilliant advantage. At length, as the music was about to recommence, Mauleverer, with a careless glance at Lucy’s partner, said, “Will Miss Brandon now allow me the agreeable duty of conducting her to her father?”
“I believe,” answered Lucy, and her voice suddenly became timid, “that, according to the laws of the rooms, I am engaged to this gentleman for another dance.”
Clifford, in an assured and easy tone, replied in assent.
As he spoke. Mauleverer honoured him with a more accurate survey than he had hitherto bestowed on him; and whether or not there was any expression of contempt or superciliousness in the survey, it was sufficient to call up the indignant blood to Clifford’s cheek. Returning the look with interest, he said to Lucy, “I believe, Miss Brandon, that the dance is about to begin;” and Lucy, obeying the hint, left the aristocratic Mauleverer to his own meditations.
At that moment the master of the ceremonies came bowing by, half afraid to address so great a person as Mauleverer, but willing to show his respect by the profoundness of his salutation.
“Aha! my dear Mr. ————!” said the earl, holding out both his hands to the Lycurgus of the rooms; “how are you? Pray can you inform me who that young man is, now dancing with Miss Brandon?”
“It is — let me see-oh! it is a Captain Clifford, my lord! a very fine young man, my lord! Has your lordship never met him?”
“Never! Who is he? One under your more especial patronage?” said the earl, smiling.
“Nay, indeed!” answered the master of the ceremonies, with a simper of gratification; “I scarcely know who he is yet; the captain only made his appearance here to-night for the first time. He came with two other gentlemen — ah! there they are!” and he pointed the earl’s scrutinizing attention to the elegant forms of Mr. Augustus Tomlinson and Mr. Ned Pepper, just emerging from the card-rooms. The swagger of the latter gentleman was so peculiarly important that Mauleverer, angry as he was, could scarcely help laughing. The master of the ceremonies noted the earl’s countenance, and remarked that “that fine-looking man seemed disposed to give himself airs.”
“Judging from the gentleman’s appearance,” said the earl, dryly (Ned’s face, to say truth, did betoken his affection for the bottle), “I should imagine that he was much more accustomed to give himself thorough draughts!”
“Ah!” renewed the arbiter elegantiarum, who had not heard Mauleverer’s observation, which was uttered in a very low voice — “ah! they seem real dashers!”
“Dashers!” repeated Mauleverer; “true, haberdashers!” Long Ned now, having in the way of his profession acquitted himself tolerably well at the card-table, thought he had purchased the right to parade himself through the rooms, and show the ladies what stuff a Pepper could be made of.
Leaning with his left hand on Tomlinson’s arm, and employing the right in fanning himself furiously with his huge chapeau bras, the lengthy adventurer stalked slowly along, now setting out one leg jauntily, now the other, and ogling “the ladies” with a kind of Irish look — namely, a look between a wink and a stare.
Released from the presence of Clifford, who kept a certain check on his companions, the apparition of Ned became glaringly conspicuous; and wherever he passed, a universal whisper succeeded.
“Who can he be?” said the widow Matemore. “‘T is a droll creature; but what a head of hair!”
“For my part,” answered the spinster Sneerall, “I think he is a linen-draper in disguise; for I heard him talk to his companion of ‘tape.’”
“Well, well,” thought Mauleverer, “it would be but kind to seek out Brandon, and hint to him in what company his niece seems to have fallen!” And so thinking, he glided to the corner where, with a gray-headed old politician, the astute lawyer was conning the affairs of Europe.
In the interim the second dance had ended, and Clifford was conducting Lucy to her seat, each charmed with the other, when he found himself abruptly tapped on the back, and turning round in alarm — for such taps were not unfamiliar to him — he saw the cool countenance of Long Ned, with one finger sagaciously laid beside the nose.
“How now?” said Clifford, between his ground teeth; “did I not tell thee to put that huge bulk of thine as far from me as possible?”
“Humph!” granted Ned; “if these are my thanks, I may as well keep my kindness to myself; but know you, my kid, that Lawyer Brandon is here, peering through the crowd at this very moment, in order to catch a glimpse of that woman’s face of thine.”
“Ha!” answered Clifford, in a very quick tone; “begone, then! I will meet you without the rooms immediately.” Clifford now turned to his partner, and bowing very low, in reality to hide his face from those sharp eyes which had once seen it in the court of Justice Burnflat, said: “I trust, madam, I shall have the honour to meet you again. Is it, if I may be allowed to ask, with your celebrated uncle that you are staying, or —”
“With my father,” answered Lucy, concluding the sentence Clifford had left unfinished; “but my uncle has been with us, though I fear he leaves us tomorrow.”
Clifford’s eyes sparkled; he made no answer, but bowing again, receded into the crowd and disappeared. Several times that night did the brightest eyes in Somersetshire rove anxiously round the rooms in search of our hero; but he was seen no more.
It was on the stairs that Clifford encountered his comrades; taking an arm of each, he gained the door without any adventure worth noting, save that, being kept back by the crowd for a few moments, the moralizing Augustus Tomlinson, who honoured the moderate Whigs by enrolling himself among their number, took up, pour passer le temps, a tall gold-headed cane, and weighing it across his finger with a musing air, said, “Alas! among our supporters we often meet heads as heavy, but of what a different metal!” The crowd now permitting, Augustus was walking away with his companions, and, in that absence of mind characteristic of philosophers, unconsciously bearing with him the gold-headed object of his reflection, when a stately footman, stepping up to him, said, “Sir, my cane!”
“Cane, fellow!” said Tomlinson. “Ah, I am so absent! Here is thy cane. Only think of my carrying off the man’s cane, Ned! Ha, ha!”
“Absent indeed!” grunted a knowing chairman, watching the receding figures of the three gentlemen; “body o’ me! but it was the cane that was about to be absent!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06