THE arrival of the two distinguished foreigners reanimated the dying season. All vied in testifying their consideration, and the Duke of St. James exceeded all. He took them to see the alterations at Hauteville House, which no one had yet witnessed; and he asked their opinion of his furniture, which no one had yet decided on. Two fêtes in the same week established, as well as maintained, his character as the Archduke of fashion. Remembering, however, the agreeable month which he had spent in the kingdom of John the Twenty-fourth, he was reminded, with annoyance, that his confusion at Hauteville prevented him from receiving his friends en grand seigneur in his hereditary castle. Metropolitan magnificence, which, if the parvenu could not equal, he at least could imitate, seemed a poor return for the feudal splendour and impartial festivity of an Hungarian magnate. While he was brooding over these reminiscences, it suddenly occurred to him that he had never made a progress into his western territories. Pen Bronnock Palace was the boast of Cornwall, though its lord had never paid it a visit. The Duke of St. James sent for Sir Carte Blanche.
Besides entertaining the foreign nobles, the young Duke could no longer keep off the constantly-recurring idea that something must be done to entertain himself. He shuddered to think where and what he should have been been, had not these gentlemen so providentially arrived. As for again repeating the farce of last year, he felt that it would no longer raise a smile. Yorkshire he shunned. Doncaster made him tremble. A week with the Duke of Burlington at Marringworth; a fortnight with the Fitz-pompeys at Malthorpe; a month with the Graftons at Cleve; and so on: he shuddered at the very idea. Who can see a pantomime more than once? Who could survive a pantomime the twentieth time? All the shifting scenes, and flitting splendour; all the motley crowds of sparkling characters; all the quick changes, and full variety, are, once, enchantment. But when the splendour is discovered to be monotony; the change, order, and the caprice a system; when the characters play ever the same part, and the variety never varies; how dull, how weary, how infinitely flat, is such a world to that man who requires from its converse, not occasional relaxation, but constant excitement!
Pen Bronnock was a new object. At this moment in his life, novelty was indeed a treasure. If he could cater for a month, no expense should be grudged; as for the future, he thrust it from his mind. By taking up his residence, too, at Pen Bronnock, he escaped from all invitations; and so, in a word, the worthy Knight received orders to make all preparations at the palace for the reception of a large party in the course of three weeks.
Sir Carte, as usual, did wonders. There was, fortunately for his employer, no time to build or paint, but some dingy rooms were hung with scarlet cloth; cart-loads of new furniture were sent down; the theatre was reburnished; the stables put in order; and, what was of infinitely more importance in the estimation of all Englishmen, the neglected pile was ‘well aired.’
WE ARE in the country, and such a country, that even in Italy we think of thee, native Hesperia! Here, myrtles grow, and fear no blasting north, or blighting east. Here, the south wind blows with that soft breath which brings the bloom to flesh. Here, the land breaks in gentle undulations; and here, blue waters kiss a verdant shore. Hail! to thy thousand bays, and deep-red earth, thy marble quarries, and thy silver veins! Hail! to thy far-extending landscape, whose sparkling villages and streaky fields no clime can match!
Some gales we owe to thee of balmy breath, some gentle hours when life had fewest charms. And we are grateful for all this, to say nothing of your cider and your junkets.
The Duke arrived just as the setting sun crowned the proud palace with his gleamy rays. It was a pile which the immortal Inigo had raised in sympathy with the taste of a noble employer, who had passed his earliest years in Lombardy. Of stone, and sometimes even of marble, with pediments and balustrades, and ornamental windows, and richly-chased keystones, and flights of steps, and here and there a statue, the structure was quite Palladian, though a little dingy, and, on the whole, very imposing.
There were suites of rooms which had no end, and staircases which had no beginning. In this vast pile, nothing was more natural than to lose your way, an agreeable amusement on a rainy morning. There was a collection of pictures, very various, by which phrase we understand not select. Yet they were amusing; and the Canalettis were unrivalled. There was a regular ball-room, and a theatre; so resources were at hand. The scenes, though dusty, were numerous; and the Duke had provided new dresses. The park was not a park; by which we mean, that it was rather a chase than the highly-finished enclosure which we associate with the first title. In fact, Pen Bronnock Chase was the right name of the settlement; but some monarch travelling, having been seized with a spasm, recruited his strength under the roof of his loyal subject, then the chief seat of the House of Hauteville, and having in his urgency been obliged to hold a privy council there, the supreme title of palace was assumed by right.
The domain was bounded on one side by the sea; and here a yacht and some slight craft rode at anchor in a small green bay, and offered an opportunity for the adventurous, and a refuge for the wearied. When you have been bored for an hour or two on earth, it sometimes is a change to be bored for an hour or two on water.
The house was soon full, and soon gay. The guests, and the means of amusing them, were equally numerous. But this was no common villeggiatura, no visit to a family with their regular pursuits and matured avocations. The host was as much a guest as any other. The young Duke appointed Lord Squib master of the ceremonies, and gave orders for nothing but constant excitement. Constant excitement his Lordship managed to maintain, for he was experienced, clever, careless and gay, and, for once in his life, had the command of unbounded resources. He ordered, he invented, he prepared, and he expended. They acted, they danced, they sported, they sailed, they feasted, they masqueraded; and when they began to get a little wearied of themselves, and their own powers of diversion gradually vanished, then a public ball was given twice a week at the palace, and all the West of England invited. New faces brought new ideas; new figures brought new fancies. All were delighted with the young Duke, and flattery from novel quarters will for a moment whet even the appetite of the satiated. Simplicity, too, can interest. There were some Misses Gay-weather who got unearthed, who never had been in London, though nature had given them sparkling eyes and springing persons. This tyranny was too bad. Papa was quizzed, mamma flattered, and the daughters’ simplicity amused these young lordlings. Rebellion was whispered in the small ears of the Gay weathers. The little heads, too, of the Gay-weathers were turned. They were the constant butt, and the constant resource, of every lounging dandy.
The Bird of Paradise also arranged her professional engagements so as to account with all possible propriety for her professional visit at Pen Bronnock. The musical meeting at Exeter over, she made her appearance, and some concerts were given, which electrified all Cornwall. Count Frill was very strong here; though, to be sure, he also danced, and acted, in all varieties. He was the soul, too, of a masqued ball; but when complimented on his accomplishments, and thanked for his exertions, he modestly depreciated his worth, and panegyrised the dancing-dogs.
As for the Prince, on the whole, he maintained his silence; but it was at length discovered by the fair sex that he was not stupid, but sentimental. When this was made known he rather lost ground with the dark sex, who, before thinking him thick, had vowed that he was a devilish good fellow; but now, being really envious, had their tale and hint, their sneer and sly joke. M. de Whiskerburg had one active accomplishment; this was his dancing. His gallopade was declared to be divine: he absolutely sailed in air. His waltz, at his will, either melted his partner into a dream, or whirled her into a frenzy! Dangerous M. de Whiskerburg!
IT IS said that the conduct of refined society, in a literary point of view, is, on the whole, productive but of slight interest; that all we can aspire to is, to trace a brilliant picture of brilliant manners; and that when the dance and the festival have been duly inspired by the repartee and the sarcasm, and the gem, the robe, and the plume adroitly lighted up by the lamp and the lustre, our cunning is exhausted. And so your novelist generally twists this golden thread with some substantial silken cord, for use, and works up, with the light dance, and with the heavy dinner, some secret marriage, and some shrouded murder. And thus, by English plots and German mysteries, the page trots on, or jolts, till, in the end, Justice will have her way, and the three volumes are completed.
A plan both good and antique, and also popular, but not our way. We prefer trusting to the slender incidents which spring from out our common intercourse. There is no doubt that that great pumice-stone, Society, smooths down the edges of your thoughts and manners. Bodies of men who pursue the same object must ever resemble each other: the life of the majority must ever be imitation. Thought is a labour to which few are competent; and truth requires for its development as much courage as acuteness. So conduct becomes conventional, and opinion is a legend; and thus all men act and think alike.
But this is not peculiar to what is called fashionable life, it is peculiar to civilisation, which gives the passions less to work upon. Mankind are not more heartless because they are clothed in ermine; it is that their costume attracts us to their characters, and we stare because we find the prince or the peeress neither a conqueror nor a heroine. The great majority of human beings in a country like England glides through existence in perfect ignorance of their natures, so complicated and so controlling is the machinery of our social life! Few can break the bonds that tie them down, and struggle for self-knowledge; fewer, when the talisman is gained, can direct their illuminated energies to the purposes with which they sympathise.
A mode of life which encloses in its circle all the dark and deep results of unbounded indulgence, however it may appear to some who glance over the sparkling surface, does not exactly seem to us one either insipid or uninteresting to the moral speculator; and, indeed, we have long been induced to suspect that the seeds of true sublimity lurk in a life which, like this book, is half fashion and half passion.
We know not how it was, but about this time an unaccountable, almost an imperceptible, coolness seemed to spring up between our hero and the Lady Aphrodite. If we were to puzzle our brains for ever, we could not give you the reason. Nothing happened, nothing had been said or done, which could indicate its origin. Perhaps this was the origin; perhaps the Duke’s conduct had become, though unexceptionable, too negative. But here we only throw up a straw. Perhaps, if we must go on suggesting, anxiety ends in callousness.
His Grace had thought so much of her feelings, that he had quite forgotten his own, or worn them out. Her Ladyship, too, was perhaps a little disappointed at the unexpected reconciliation. When we have screwed our courage up to the sticking point, we like not to be baulked. Both, too, perhaps — we go on perhapsing— both, too, we repeat, perhaps, could not help mutually viewing each other as the cause of much mutual care and mutual anxiousness. Both, too, perhaps, were a little tired, but without knowing it. The most curious thing, and which would have augured worst to a calm judge, was, that they silently seemed to agree not to understand that any alteration had really taken place between them, which, we think, was a bad sign: because a lover’s quarrel, we all know, like a storm in summer, portends a renewal of warm weather or ardent feelings; and a lady is never so well seated in her admirer’s heart as when those betters are interchanged which express so much, and those explanations entered upon which explain so little.
And here we would dilate on greater things than some imagine; but, unfortunately, we are engaged. For Newmarket calls Sir Lucius and his friends. We will not join them, having lost enough. His Grace half promised to be one of the party; but when the day came, just remembered the Shropshires were expected, and so was very sorry, and the rest. Lady Aphrodite and himself parted with warmth which remarkably contrasted with their late intercourse, and which neither of them could decide whether it were reviving affection or factitious effort. M. de Whiskerburg and Count Frill departed with Sir Lucius, being extremely desirous to be initiated in the mysteries of the turf, and, above all, to see a real English jockey.
THE newspapers continued to announce the departures of new visitors to the Duke of St. James, and to dilate upon the protracted and princely festivity of Pen Bron-nock. But while thousands were envying his lot, and hundreds aspiring to share it, what indeed was the condition of our hero?
A month or two had rolled on and if he had not absolutely tasted enjoyment, at least he had thrown off reflection; but as the autumn wore away, and as each day he derived less diversion or distraction from the repetition of the same routine, carried on by different actors, he could no longer control feelings which would be predominant, and those feelings were not such as perhaps might have been expected from one who was receiving the homage of an admiring world. In a word, the Duke of St. James was the most miserable wretch that ever lived.
‘Where is this to end?’ he asked himself. ‘Is this year to close, to bring only a repetition of the past? Well, I have had it all, and what is it? My restless feelings are at last laid, my indefinite appetites are at length exhausted. I have known this mighty world, and where am I? Once, all prospects, all reflections merged in the agitating, the tremulous and panting lust with which I sighed for it. Have I been deceived? Have I been disappointed? Is it different from what I expected? Has it fallen short of my fancy? Has the dexterity of my musings deserted me? Have I under-acted the hero of my reveries? Have I, in short, mismanaged my début? Have I blundered? No, no, no! Far, far has it gone beyond even my imagination, and my life has, if no other, realised its ideas!
‘Who laughs at me? Who does not burn incense before my shrine? What appetite have I not gratified? What gratification has proved bitter? My vanity! Has it been, for an instant, mortified? Am I not acknowledged the most brilliant hero of the most brilliant society in Europe? Intense as is my self-love, has it not been gorged? Luxury and splendour were my youthful dreams, and have I not realised the very romance of indulgence and magnificence? My career has been one long triumph. My palaces, and my gardens, and my jewels, my dress, my furniture, my equipages, my horses, and my festivals, these used to occupy my meditations, when I could only meditate; and have my determinations proved a delusion? Ask the admiring world.
‘And now for the great point to which all this was to tend, which all this was to fascinate and subdue, to adorn, to embellish, to delight, to honour. Woman! Oh! when I first dared, among the fields of Eton, to dwell upon the soft yet agitating fancy, that some day my existence might perhaps be rendered more intense, by the admiration of these maddening but then mysterious creatures; could, could I have dreamt of what has happened? Is not this the very point in which my career has most out-topped my lofty hopes?
‘I have read, and sometimes heard, of satiety. It must then be satiety that I feel; for I do feel more like a doomed man, than a young noble full of blood and youth. And yet, satiety; it is a word. What then? A word is breath, and am I wiser? Satiety! Satiety! Satiety! Oh! give me happiness! Oh! give me love!
‘Ay! there it is, I feel it now. Too well I feel that happiness must spring from purer fountains than self-love. We are not born merely for ourselves, and they who, full of pride, make the trial, as I have done, and think that the world is made for them, and not for mankind, must come to as bitter results, perhaps as bitter a fate; for, by Heavens! I am half tempted at this moment to fling myself from off this cliff, and so end all.
‘Why should I live? For virtue, and for duty; to compensate for all my folly, and to achieve some slight good end with my abused and unparalleled means. Ay! it is all vastly rational, and vastly sublime, but it is too late. I feel the exertion above me. I am a lost man.
‘We cannot work without a purpose and an aim. I had mine, although it was a false one, and I succeeded. Had I one now I might succeed again, but my heart is a dull void. And Caroline, that gentle girl, will not give me what I want; and to offer her but half a heart may break hers, and I would not bruise that delicate bosom to save my dukedom. Those sad, silly parents of hers have already done mischief enough; but I will see Darrell, and will at least arrange that. I like him, and will make him my friend for her sake. God! God! why am I not loved! A word from her, and all would change. I feel a something in me which could put all right. I have the will, and she could give the power.
‘Now see what a farce life is! I shall go on, Heaven knows how! I cannot live long. Men like me soon bloom and fade. What I may come to, I dread to think. There is a dangerous facility in my temper; I know it well, for I know more of myself than people think; there is a dangerous facility which, with May Dacre, might be the best guaranty of virtue; but with all others, for all others are at the best weak things, will as certainly render me despicable, perhaps degraded. I hear the busy devil whispering even now. It is my demon. Now, I say, see what a farce life is! I shall die like a dog, as I have lived like a fool; and then my epitaph will be in everybody’s mouth. Here are the consequences of self-indulgence: here is a fellow, forsooth, who thought only of the gratification of his vile appetites; and by the living Heaven, am I not standing here among my hereditary rocks, and sighing to the ocean, to be virtuous!
‘She knew me well, she read me in a minute, and spoke more truth at that last meeting than is in a thousand sermons. It is out of our power to redeem ourselves. Our whole existence is a false, foul state, totally inimical to love and purity, and domestic gentleness, and calm delight. Yet are we envied! Oh! could these fools see us at any other time except surrounded by our glitter, and hear of us at any other moment save in the first bloom of youth, which is, even then, often wasted; could they but mark our manhood, and view our hollow marriages, and disappointed passions; could they but see the traitors that we have for sons, the daughters that own no duty; could they but watch us even to our grave, tottering after some fresh bauble, some vain delusion, which, to the last, we hope may prove a substitute for what we have never found through life, a contented mind, they would do something else but envy us.
‘But I stand prating when I am wanted. I must home. Home! O sacred word! and then comes night! Horrible night! Horrible day! It seems to me I am upon the eve of some monstrous folly, too ridiculous to be a crime, and yet as fatal. I have half a mind to go and marry the Bird of Paradise, out of pure pique with myself, and with the world.’
SOUTHEY, that virtuous man, whom Wisdom calls her own, somewhere thanks God that he was not born to a great estate. We quite agree with the seer of Keswick; it is a bore. Provided a man can enjoy every personal luxury, what profits it that your flag waves on castles you never visit, and that you count rents which you never receive? And yet there are some things which your miserable, moderate incomes cannot command, and which one might like to have; for instance, a band.
A complete, a consummate band, in uniforms of uncut white velvet, with a highly-wrought gold button, just tipped with a single pink topaz, appears to me [Greek phrase]. When we die, ‘Band’ will be found impressed upon our heart, like ‘Frigate’ on the core of Nelson. The negroes should have their noses bored, as well as their ears, and hung with rings of rubies. The kettle-drums should be of silver. And with regard to a great estate, no doubt it brings great cares; or, to get free of them, the estate must be neglected, and then it is even worse.
Elections come on, and all your members are thrown out; so much for neglected influence. Agricultural distress prevails, and all your farms are thrown up; so much for neglected tenants. Harassed by leases, renewals, railroads, fines, and mines, you are determined that life shall not be worn out by these continual and petty cares. Thinking it somewhat hard, that, because you have two hundred thousand a-year, you have neither ease nor enjoyment, you find a remarkably clever man, who manages everything for you. Enchanted with his energy, his acuteness, and his foresight, fascinated by your increasing rent-roll, and the total disappearance of arrears, you dub him your right hand, introduce him to all your friends, and put him into Parliament; and then, fired by the ambition of rivalling his patron, he disburses, embezzles, and decamps.
But where is our hero? Is he forgotten? Never! But in the dumps, blue devils, and so on. A little bilious, it may be, and dull. He scarcely would amuse you at this moment. So we come forward with a graceful bow; the Jack Pudding of our doctor, who is behind.
In short, that is to say, in long — for what is true use of this affected brevity? When this tale is done, what have you got? So let us make it last. We quite repent of having intimated so much: in future, it is our intention to develop more, and to describe, and to delineate, and to define, and, in short, to bore. You know the model of this kind of writing, Richardson, whom we shall revive. In future, we shall, as a novelist, take Clarendon’s Rebellion for our guide, and write our hero’s notes, or heroine’s letters, like a state paper, or a broken treaty.
The Duke, and the young Duke — oh! to be a Duke, and to be young, it is too much — was seldom seen by the gay crowd who feasted in his hall. His mornings now were lonely, and if, at night, his eye still sparkled, and his step still sprang, why, between us, wine gave him beauty, and wine gave him grace.
It was the dreary end of dull November, and the last company were breaking off. The Bird of Paradise, according to her desire, had gone to Brighton, where his Grace had presented her with a tenement, neat, light, and finished; and though situated amid the wilds of Kemp Town, not more than one hyæna on a night ventured to come down from the adjacent heights. He had half promised to join her, because he thought he might as well be there as here, and consequently he had not invited a fresh supply of visitors from town, or rather from the country. As he was hesitating about what he should do, he received a letter from his bankers, which made him stare. He sent for the groom of the chambers, and was informed the house was clear, save that some single men still lingered, as is their wont. They never take a hint. His Grace ordered his carriage; and, more alive than he had been for the last two months, dashed off to town.
THE letter from his bankers informed the Duke of St. James that not only was the half-million exhausted, but, in pursuance of their powers, they had sold out all his stock, and, in reliance on his credit, had advanced even beyond it. They were ready to accommodate him in every possible way, and to advance as much more as he could desire, at five per cent.! Sweet five per cent.! Oh! magical five per cent.! Lucky the rogue now who gets three. Nevertheless, they thought it but proper to call his Grace’s attention to the circumstance, and to put him in possession of the facts. Something unpleasant is coming when men are anxious to tell the truth.
The Duke of St. James had never affected to be a man of business; still, he had taken it for granted that pecuniary embarrassment was not ever to be counted among his annoyances. He wanted something to do, and determined to look into his affairs, merely to amuse himself.
The bankers were most polite. They brought their books, also several packets of papers neatly tied up, and were ready to give every information. The Duke asked for results. He found that the turf, the Alhambra, the expenses of his outfit in purchasing the lease and furniture of his mansion, and the rest, had, with his expenditure, exhausted his first year’s income; but he reconciled himself to this, because he chose to consider them extraordinary expenses. Then the festivities of Pen Bronnock counterbalanced the economy of his more scrambling life the preceding year; yet he had not exceeded his income much. Then he came to Sir Carte’s account. He began to get a little frightened. Two hundred and fifty thousand had been swallowed by Hauteville Castle: one hundred and twenty thousand by Hauteville House. Ninety-six thousand had been paid for furniture. There were also some awkward miscellanies which, in addition, exceeded the half-million.
This was smashing work; but castles and palaces, particularly of the correctest style of architecture, are not to be had for nothing. The Duke had always devoted the half-million to this object; but he had intended that sum to be sufficient. What puzzled and what annoyed him was a queer suspicion that his resources had been exhausted without his result being obtained. He sent for Sir Carte, who gave every information, and assured him that, had he had the least idea that a limit was an object, he would have made his arrangements accordingly. As it was, he assured the young Duke that he would be the Lord of the most sumptuous and accurate castle, and of the most gorgeous and tasteful palace, in Europe. He was proceeding with a cloud of words, when his employer cut him short by a peremptory demand of the exact sum requisite for the completion of his plans. Sir Carte was confused, and requested time. The estimates should be sent in as quickly as possible. The clerks should sit up all night, and even his own rest should not be an object, any more than the Duke’s purse. So they parted.
The Duke determined to run down to Brighton for change of scene. He promised his bankers to examine everything on his return; in the meantime, they were to make all necessary advances, and honour his drafts to any amount.
He found the city of chalk and shingles not quite so agreeable as last year. He discovered that it had no trees. There was there, also, just everybody that he did not wish to see. It was one great St. James’ Street, and seemed only an anticipation of that very season which he dreaded. He was half inclined to go somewhere else, but could not fix upon any spot. London might be agreeable, as it was empty; but then those confounded accounts awaited him. The Bird of Paradise was a sad bore. He really began to suspect that she was little better than an idiot: then, she ate so much, and he hated your eating women. He gladly shuffled her off on that fool Count Frill, who daily brought his guitar to Kemp Town. They just suited each other. What a madman he had been, to have embarrassed himself with this creature! It would cost him a pretty ransom now before he could obtain his freedom. How we change! Already the Duke of St. James began to think of pounds, shillings, and pence. A year ago, so long as he could extricate himself from a scrape by force of cash, he thought himself a lucky fellow.
The Graftons had not arrived, but were daily expected. He really could not stand them. As for Lady Afy, he execrated the greenhornism which had made him feign a passion, and then get caught where he meant to capture. As for Sir Lucius, he wished to Heaven he would just take it into his head to repay him the fifteen thousand he had lent him at that confounded election, to say nothing of anything else.
Then there was Burlington, with his old loves and his new dances. He wondered how the deuce that fellow could be amused with such frivolity, and always look so serene and calm. Then there was Squib: that man never knew when to leave off joking; and Annesley, with his false refinement; and Darrell, with his petty ambition. He felt quite sick, and took a solitary ride: but he flew from Scylla to Charybdis. Mrs. Montfort could not forget their many delightful canters last season to Rottingdean, and, lo! she was at his side. He wished her down the cliff.
In this fit of the spleen he went to the theatre: there were eleven people in the boxes. He listened to the ‘School for Scandal.’ Never was slander more harmless. He sat it all out, and was sorry when it was over, but was consoled by the devils of ‘Der Freischutz.’ How sincerely, how ardently did he long to sell himself to the demon! It was eleven o’clock, and he dreaded the play to be over as if he were a child. What to do with himself, or where to go, he was equally at a loss. The door of the box opened, and entered Lord Bagshot. If it must be an acquaintance, this cub was better than any of his refined and lately cherished companions.
‘Well, Bag, what are you doing with yourself?’
‘Oh! I don’t know; just looking in for a lark. Any game?’
‘On my honour, I can’t say.’
‘What’s that girl? Oh! I see; that’s little Wilkins. There’s Moll Otway. Nothing new. I shall go and rattle the bones a little; eh! my boy?’
‘Rattle the bones? what is that?’
‘Don’t you know?’ and here this promising young peer manually explained his meaning.
‘What do you play at?’ asked the Duke.
‘Hazard, for my money; but what you like.’
‘We meet at De Berghem’s. There is a jolly set of us. All crack men. When my governor is here, I never go. He is so jealous. I suppose there must be only one gamester in the family; eh! my covey?’ Lord Bagshot, excited by the unusual affability of the young Duke, grew quite familiar.
‘I have half a mind to look in with you,’ said his Grace with a careless air.
‘Oh! come along, by all means. They’ll be devilish glad to see you. De Berghem was saying the other day what a nice fellow you were, and how he should like to know you. You don’t know De Berghem, do you?’
‘I have seen him. I know enough of him.’
They quitted the theatre together, and under the guidance of Lord Bagshot, stopped at a door in Brunswick Terrace. There they found collected a numerous party, but all persons of consideration. The Baron, who had once been a member of the diplomatic corps, and now lived in England, by choice, on his pension and private fortune, received them with marked courtesy. Proud of his companion, Lord Bagshot’s hoarse, coarse, idiot voice seemed ever braying. His frequent introductions of the Duke of St. James were excruciating, and it required all the freezing of a finished manner to pass through this fiery ordeal. His Grace was acquainted with most of the guests by sight, and to some he even bowed. They were chiefly men of a certain age, with the exception of two or three young peers like himself.
There was the Earl of Castlefort, plump and luxurious, with a youthful wig, who, though a sexagenarian, liked no companion better than a minor. His Lordship was the most amiable man in the world, and the most lucky; but the first was his merit, and the second was not his fault. There was the juvenile Lord Dice, who boasted of having done his brothers out of their miserable 5,000L. patrimony, and all in one night. But the wrinkle that had already ruffled his once clear brow, his sunken eye, and his convulsive lip, had been thrown, we suppose, into the bargain, and, in our opinion, made it a dear one. There was Temple Grace, who had run through four fortunes, and ruined four sisters. Withered, though only thirty, one thing alone remained to be lost, what he called his honour, which was already on the scent to play booty. There was Cogit, who, when he was drunk, swore that he had had a father; but this was deemed the only exception to in vino Veritas. Who he was, the Goddess of Chance alone could decide; and we have often thought that he might bear the same relation to her as Æneas to the Goddess of Beauty. His age was as great a mystery as anything else. He dressed still like a boy, yet some vowed he was eighty. He must have been Salathiel. Property he never had, and yet he contrived to live; connection he was not born with, yet he was upheld by a set. He never played, yet he was the most skilful dealer going. He did the honours of a rouge et noir table to a miracle; and looking, as he thought, most genteel in a crimson waistcoat and a gold chain, raked up the spoils, or complacently announced après. Lord Castlefort had few secrets from him: he was the jackal to these prowling beasts of prey; looked out for pigeons, got up little parties to Richmond or Brighton, sang a song when the rest were too anxious to make a noise, and yet desired a little life, and perhaps could cog a die, arrange a looking-glass, or mix a tumbler.
Unless the loss of an occasional napoleon at a German watering-place is to be so stigmatised, gaming had never formed one of the numerous follies of the Duke of St. James. Rich, and gifted with a generous, sanguine, and luxurious disposition, he had never been tempted by the desire of gain, or as some may perhaps maintain, by the desire of excitement, to seek assistance or enjoyment in a mode of life which stultifies all our fine fancies, deadens all our noble emotions, and mortifies all our beautiful aspirations.
We know that we are broaching a doctrine which many will start at, and which some will protest against, when we declare our belief that no person, whatever his apparent wealth, ever yet gamed except from the prospect of immediate gain. We hear much of want of excitement, of ennui, of satiety; and then the gaming-table is announced as a sort of substitute for opium, wine, or any other mode of obtaining a more intense vitality at the cost of reason. Gaming is too active, too anxious, too complicated, too troublesome; in a word, too sensible an affair for such spirits, who fly only to a sort of dreamy and indefinite distraction.
The fact is, gaming is a matter of business. Its object is tangible, clear, and evident. There is nothing high, or inflammatory, or exciting; no false magnificence, no visionary elevation, in the affair at all. It is the very antipodes to enthusiasm of any kind. It presupposes in its votary a mind essentially mercantile. All the feelings that are in its train are the most mean, the most commonplace, and the most annoying of daily life, and nothing would tempt the gamester to experience them except the great object which, as a matter of calculation, he is willing to aim at on such terms. No man flies to the gaming-table in a paroxysm. The first visit requires the courage of a forlorn hope. The first stake will make the lightest mind anxious, the firmest hand tremble, and the stoutest heart falter. After the first stake, it is all a matter of calculation and management, even in games of chance. Night after night will men play at rouge et noir, upon what they call a system, and for hours their attention never ceases, any more than it would if they were in the shop or oh the wharf. No manual labour is more fatiguing, and more degrading to the labourer, than gaming. Every gamester feels ashamed. And this vice, this worst vice, from whose embrace, moralists daily inform us, man can never escape, is just the one from which the majority of men most completely, and most often, free themselves. Infinite is the number of men who have lost thousands in their youth, and never dream of chance again. It is this pursuit which, oftener than any other, leads man to self-knowledge. Appalled by the absolute destruction on the verge of which he finds his early youth just stepping; aghast at the shadowy crimes which, under the influence of this life, seem, as it were, to rise upon his soul; often he hurries to emancipate himself from this fatal thraldom, and with a ruined fortune, and marred prospects, yet thanks his Creator that his soul is still white, his conscience clear, and that, once more, he breathes the sweet air of heaven.
And our young Duke, we must confess, gamed, as all other men have gamed, for money. His satiety had fled the moment that his affairs were embarrassed. The thought suddenly came into his head while Bag-shot was speaking. He determined to make an effort to recover; and so completely was it a matter of business with him, that he reasoned that, in the present state of his affairs, a few thousands more would not signify; that these few thousands might lead to vast results, and that, if they did, he would bid adieu to the gaming-table with the same coolness with which he had saluted it.
Yet he felt a little odd when he first ‘rattled the bones;’ and his affected nonchalance made him constrained. He fancied every one was watching him; while, on the contrary, all were too much interested in their own different parties. This feeling, however, wore off.
According to every novelist, and the moralists ‘our betters,’ the Duke of St. James should have been fortunate at least to-night. You always win at first, you know. If so, we advise said children of fancy and of fact to pocket their gains, and not play again. The young Duke had not the opportunity of thus acting. He lost fifteen hundred pounds, and at half-past five he quitted the Baron’s.
Hot, bilious, with a confounded twang in his mouth, and a cracking pain in his head, he stood one moment and sniffed in the salt sea breeze. The moon was unfortunately on the waters, and her cool, beneficent light reminded him, with disgust, of the hot, burning glare of the Baron’s saloon. He thought of May Dacre, but clenched his fist, and drove her image from his mind.
HE ROSE late, and as he was lounging over his breakfast, entered Lord Bagshot and the Baron. Already the young Duke began to experience one of the gamester’s curses, the intrusive society of those of whom you are ashamed. Eight-and-forty hours ago, Lord Bagshot would no more have dared to call on the Duke of St. James than to call at the Pavilion; and now, with that reckless want of tact which marks the innately vulgar, he seemed to triumph in their unhallowed intimacy, and lounging into his Grace’s apartment with that half-shuffling, hair-swaggering air indicative of the ‘cove,’ hat cocked, and thumbs in his great-coat pockets, cast his complacent eye around, and praised his Grace’s ‘rooms.’ Lord Bagshot, who for the occasional notice of the Duke of St. James had been so long a ready and patient butt, now appeared to assume a higher character, and addressed his friend in a tone and manner which were authorised by the equality of their rank and the sympathy of their tastes. If this change had taken place in the conduct of the Viscount, it was not a singular one. The Duke also, to his surprise, found himself addressing his former butt in a very different style from that which he had assumed in the ballroom of Doncaster. In vain he tried to rally, in vain he tried to snub. It was indeed in vain. He no longer possessed any right to express his contempt of his companion. That contempt, indeed, he still felt. He despised Lord Bagshot still, but he also despised himself.
The soft and silky Baron was a different sort of personage; but there was something sinister in all his elaborate courtesy and highly artificial manner, which did not touch the feelings of the Duke, whose courtesy was but the expression of his noble feelings, and whose grace was only the impulse of his rich and costly blood. Baron de Berghem was too attentive, and too deferential. He smiled and bowed too much. He made no allusion to the last night’s scene, nor did his tutored companion, but spoke of different and lighter subjects, in a manner which at once proved his experience of society, the liveliness of his talents, and the cultivation of his taste. He told many stories, all short and poignant, and always about princes and princesses. Whatever was broached, he always had his apropos of Vienna, and altogether seemed an experienced, mild, tolerant man of the world, not bigoted to any particular opinions upon any subject, but of a truly liberal and philosophic mind.
When they had sat chatting for half-an-hour, the Baron developed the object of his visit, which was to endeavour to obtain the pleasure of his Grace’s company at dinner, to taste some wild boar and try some tokay. The Duke, who longed again for action, accepted the invitation; and then they parted.
Our hero was quite surprised at the feverish anxiety with which he awaited the hour of union. He thought that seven o’clock would never come. He had no appetite at breakfast, and after that he rode, but luncheon was a blank. In the midst of the operation, he found himself in a brown study, calculating chances. All day long his imagination had been playing hazard, or rouge et noir. Once he thought that he had discovered an infallible way of winning at the latter. On the long run, he was convinced it must answer, and he panted to prove it.
Seven o’clock at last arrived, and he departed to Brunswick Terrace. There was a brilliant party to meet him: the same set as last night, but select. He was faint, and did justice to the cuisine of his host, which was indeed remarkable. When we are drinking a man’s good wine, it is difficult to dislike him. Prejudice decreases with every draught. His Grace began to think the Baron as good-hearted as agreeable. He was grateful for the continued attentions of old Castlefort, who, he now found out, had been very well acquainted with his father, and once even made a trip to Spa with him. Lord Dice he could not manage to endure, though that worthy was, for him, remarkably courteous, and grinned with his parchment face, like a good-humoured ghoul. Temple Grace and the Duke became almost intimate. There was an amiable candour in that gentleman’s address, a softness in his tones, and an unstudied and extremely interesting delicacy in his manner, which in this society was remarkable. Tom Cogit never presumed to come near the young Duke, but paid him constant attention. He sat at the bottom of the table, and was ever sending a servant with some choice wine, or recommending him, through some third person, some choice dish. It is pleasant to be ‘made much of,’ as Shakspeare says, even by scoundrels. To be king of your company is a poor ambition, yet homage is homage, and smoke is smoke, whether it come out of the chimney of a palace or of a workhouse.
The banquet was not hurried. Though all wished it finished, no one liked to appear urgent. It was over at last, and they walked up-stairs, where the tables were arranged for all parties, and all play. Tom Cogit went up a few minutes before them, like the lady of the mansion, to review the lights, and arrange the cards. Feminine Tom Cogit!
The events of to-night were much the same as of the preceding one. The Duke was a loser, but his losses were not considerable. He retired about the same hour, with a head not so hot, or heavy: and he never looked at the moon, or thought of May Dacre. The only wish that reigned in his soul was a longing for another opportunity, and he had agreed to dine with the Baron, before he left Brunswick Terrace.
Thus passed a week, one night the Duke of St. James redeeming himself, another falling back to his old position, now pushing on to Madrid, now recrossing the Tagus. On the whole, he had lost four or five thousand pounds, a mere trifle to what, as he had heard, had been lost and gained by many of his companions during only the present season. On the whole, he was one of the most moderate of these speculators, generally played at the large table, and never joined any of those private coteries, some of which he had observed, and of some of which he had heard. Yet this was from no prudential resolve or temperate resolution. The young Duke was heartily tired of the slight results of all his anxiety, hopes, and plans, and ardently wished for some opportunity of coming to closer and more decided action. The Baron also had resolved that an end should be put to this skirmishing; but he was a calm head, and never hurried anything.
‘I hope your Grace has been lucky to-night!’ said the Baron one evening, strolling up to the Duke: ‘as for myself, really, if Dice goes on playing, I shall give up banking. That fellow must have a talisman. I think he has broken more banks than any man living. The best thing he did of that kind was the roulette story at Paris. You have heard of that?’
‘Was that Lord Dice?’
‘Oh yes! he does everything. He must have cleared his hundred thousand last year. I have suffered a good deal since I have been in England. Castlefort has pulled in a great deal of my money. I wonder to whom he will leave his property?’
‘You think him rich?’
‘Oh! he will cut up large!’ said the Baron, elevating his eyebrows. ‘A pleasant man too! I do not know any man that I would sooner play with than Castlefort; no one who loses his money with better temper.’
‘Or wins it,’ said his Grace.
‘That we all do,’ said the Baron, faintly laughing. ‘Your Grace has lost, and you do not seem particularly dull. You will have your revenge. Those who lose at first are always the children of fortune. I always dread a man who loses at first. All I beg is, that you will not break my bank.’
‘Why! you see I am not playing now.’ ‘I am not surprised. There is too much heat and noise here,’ said he. ‘We will have a quiet dinner some day, and play at our ease. Come tomorrow, and I will ask Castlefort and Dice. I should uncommonly like, entre nous, to win some of their money. I will take care that nobody shall be here whom you would not like to meet. By-the-bye, whom were you riding with this morning? Fine woman!’
THE young Duke had accepted the invitation of the Baron de Berg-hem for tomorrow, and accordingly, himself, Lords Castlefort and Dice, and Temple Grace assembled in Brunswick Terrace at the usual hour. The dinner was studiously plain, and very little wine was drunk; yet everything was perfect. Tom Cogit stepped in to carve in his usual silent manner. He always came in and went out of a room without anyone observing him. He winked familiarly to Temple Grace, but scarcely presumed to bow to the Duke. He was very busy about the wine, and dressed the wild fowl in a manner quite unparalleled. Tom Cogit was the man for a sauce for a brown bird. What a mystery he made of it! Cayenne and Burgundy and limes were ingredients, but there was a magic in the incantation with which he alone was acquainted. He took particular care to send a most perfect portion to the young Duke, and he did this, as he paid all attentions to influential strangers, with the most marked consciousness of the sufferance which permitted his presence: never addressing his Grace, but audibly whispering to the servant, ‘Take this to the Duke;’ or asking the attendant, ‘whether his Grace would try the Hermitage?’
After dinner, with the exception of Cogit, who was busied in compounding some wonderful liquid for the future refreshment, they sat down to écarté. Without having exchanged a word upon the subject, there seemed a general understanding among all the parties that to-night was to be a pitched battle, and they began at once, briskly. Yet, in spite of their universal determination, midnight arrived without anything decisive. Another hour passed over, and then Tom Cogit kept touching the Baron’s elbow and whispering in a voice which everybody could understand. All this meant that supper was ready. It was brought into the room.
Gaming has one advantage, it gives you an appetite; that is to say, so long as you have a chance remaining. The Duke had thousands; for at present his resources were unimpaired, and he was exhausted by the constant attention and anxiety of five hours. He passed over the delicacies and went to the side-table, and began cutting himself some cold roast beef. Tom Cogit ran up, not to his Grace, but to the Baron, to announce the shocking fact that the Duke of St. James was enduring great trouble; and then the Baron asked his Grace to permit Mr. Cogit to serve him. Our hero devoured — we use the word advisedly, as fools say in the House of Commons — he devoured the roast beef, and rejecting the Hermitage with disgust, asked for porter.
They set to again fresh as eagles. At six o’clock accounts were so complicated that they stopped to make up their books. Each played with his memoranda and pencil at his side. Nothing fatal had yet happened. The Duke owed Lord Dice about five thousand pounds, and Temple Grace owed him as many hundreds. Lord Castlefort also was his debtor to the tune of seven hundred and fifty, and the Baron was in his books, but slightly. Every half-hour they had a new pack of cards, and threw the used one on the floor. All this time Tom Cogit did nothing but snuff the candles, stir the fire, bring them a new pack, and occasionally make a tumbler for them. At eight o’clock the Duke’s situation was worsened. The run was greatly against him, and perhaps his losses were doubled. He pulled up again the next hour or two; but nevertheless, at ten o’clock, owed everyone something. No one offered to give over; and everyone, perhaps, felt that his object was not obtained. They made their toilets and went down-stairs to breakfast. In the meantime the shutters were opened, the room aired, and in less than an hour they were at it again.
They played till dinner-time without intermission; and though the Duke made some desperate efforts, and some successful ones, his losses were, nevertheless, trebled. Yet he ate an excellent dinner and was not at all depressed; because the more he lost, the more his courage and his resources seemed to expand. At first he had limited himself to ten thousand; after breakfast it was to have been twenty thousand; then thirty thousand was the ultimatum; and now he dismissed all thoughts of limits from his mind, and was determined to risk or gain everything.
At midnight, he had lost forty-eight thousand pounds. Affairs now began to be serious. His supper was not so hearty. While the rest were eating, he walked about the room, and began to limit his ambition to recovery, and not to gain. When you play to win back, the fun is over: there is nothing to recompense you for your bodily tortures and your degraded feelings; and the very best result that can happen, while it has no charms, seems to your cowed mind impossible.
On they played, and the Duke lost more. His mind was jaded. He floundered, he made desperate efforts, but plunged deeper in the slough. Feeling that, to regain his ground, each card must tell, he acted on each as if it must win, and the consequences of this insanity (for a gamester at such a crisis is really insane) were, that his losses were prodigious.
Another morning came, and there they sat, ankle-deep in cards. No attempt at breakfast now, no affectation of making a toilet or airing the room. The atmosphere was hot, to be sure, but it well became such a Hell. There they sat, in total, in positive forgetfulness of everything but the hot game they were hunting down. There was not a man in the room, except Tom Cogit, who could have told you the name of the town in which they were living. There they sat, almost breathless, watching every turn with the fell look in their cannibal eyes which showed their total inability to sympathise with their fellow-beings. All forms of society had been long forgotten. There was no snuff-box handed about now, for courtesy, admiration, or a pinch; no affectation of occasionally making a remark upon any other topic but the all-engrossing one. Lord Castlefort rested with his arms on the table: a false tooth had got unhinged. His Lordship, who, at any other time, would have been most annoyed, coolly put it in his pocket. His cheeks had fallen, and he looked twenty years older. Lord Dice had torn off his cravat, and his hair hung down over his callous, bloodless cheeks, straight as silk. Temple Grace looked as if he were blighted by lightning; and his deep blue eyes gleamed like a hyaena’s. The Baron was least changed. Tom Cogit, who smelt that the crisis was at hand, was as quiet as a bribed rat.
On they played till six o’clock in the evening, and then they agreed to desist till after dinner. Lord Dice threw himself on a sofa. Lord Castlefort breathed with difficulty. The rest walked about. While they were resting on their oars, the young Duke roughly made up his accounts. He found that he was minus about one hundred thousand pounds.
Immense as this loss was, he was more struck, more appalled, let us say, at the strangeness of the surrounding scene, than even by his own ruin. As he looked upon his fellow gamesters, he seemed, for the first time in his life, to gaze upon some of those hideous demons of whom he had read. He looked in the mirror at himself. A blight seemed to have fallen over his beauty, and his presence seemed accursed. He had pursued a dissipated, even more than a dissipated career. Many were the nights that had been spent by him not on his couch; great had been the exhaustion that he had often experienced; haggard had sometimes even been the lustre of his youth. But when had been marked upon his brow this harrowing care? when had his features before been stamped with this anxiety, this anguish, this baffled desire, this strange unearthly scowl, which made him even tremble? What! was it possible? it could not be, that in time he was to be like those awful, those unearthly, those unhallowed things that were around him. He felt as if he had fallen from his state, as if he had dishonoured his ancestry, as if he had betrayed his trust. He felt a criminal. In the darkness of his meditations a flash burst from his lurid mind, a celestial light appeared to dissipate this thickening gloom, and his soul felt as if it were bathed with the softening radiancy. He thought of May Dacre, he thought of everything that was pure, and holy, and beautiful, and luminous, and calm. It was the innate virtue of the man that made this appeal to his corrupted nature. His losses seemed nothing; his dukedom would be too slight a ransom for freedom from these ghouls, and for the breath of the sweet air.
He advanced to the Baron, and expressed his desire to play no more. There was an immediate stir. All jumped up, and now the deed was done. Cant, in spite of their exhaustion, assumed her reign. They begged him to have his revenge, were quite annoyed at the result, had no doubt he would recover if he proceeded. Without noticing their remarks, he seated himself at the table, and wrote cheques for their respective amounts, Tom Cogit jumping up and bringing him the inkstand. Lord Castlefort, in the most affectionate manner, pocketed the draft; at the same time recommending the Duke not to be in a hurry, but to send it when he was cool. Lord Dice received his with a bow, Temple Grace with a sigh, the Baron with an avowal of his readiness always to give him his revenge.
The Duke, though sick at heart, would not leave the room with any evidence of a broken spirit; and when Lord Castlefort again repeated, ‘Pay us when we meet again,’ he said, ‘I think it very improbable that we shall meet again, my Lord. I wished to know what gaming was. I had heard a great deal about it. It is not so very disgusting; but I am a young man, and cannot play tricks with my complexion.’
He reached his house. The Bird was out. He gave orders for himself not to be disturbed, and he went to bed; but in vain he tried to sleep. What rack exceeds the torture of an excited brain and an exhausted body? His hands and feet were like ice, his brow like fire; his ears rung with supernatural roaring; a nausea had seized upon him, and death he would have welcomed. In vain, in vain he courted repose; in vain, in vain he had recourse to every expedient to wile himself to slumber. Each minute he started from his pillow with some phrase which reminded him of his late fearful society. Hour after hour moved on with its leaden pace; each hour he heard strike, and each hour seemed an age. Each hour was only a signal to cast off some covering, or shift his position. It was, at length, morning. With a feeling that he should go mad if he remained any longer in bed, he rose, and paced his chamber. The air refreshed him. He threw himself on the floor; the cold crept over his senses, and he slept.
O YE immortal Gods! ye are still immortal, although no longer ye hover o’er Olympus. The Crescent glitters on your mountain’s base, and Crosses spring from out its toppling crags. But in vain the Mufti, and the Patriarch, and the Pope flout at your past traditions. They are married to man’s memory by the sweetest chain that ever Fancy wove for Love. The poet is a priest, who does not doubt the inspiration of his oracles; and your shrines are still served by a faithful band, who love the beautiful and adore the glorious! In vain, in vain they tell us your divinity is a dream. From the cradle to the grave, our thoughts and feelings take their colour from you! O! Ægiochus, the birch has often proved thou art still a thunderer; and, although thy twanging bow murmur no longer through the avenging air, many an apple twig still vindicates thy outraged dignity, pulcher Apollo.
O, ye immortal Gods! nothing so difficult as to begin a chapter, and therefore have we flown to you. In literature, as in life, it is the first step; you know the rest. After a paragraph or so our blood Is up, and even our jaded hackneys scud along, and warm up into friskiness.
The Duke awoke: another day of his eventful life is now to run its course. He found that the Bird of Paradise had not returned from an excursion to a neighbouring park: he left a note for her, apprising her of his departure to London, and he despatched an affectionate letter to Lady Aphrodite, which was the least that he could do, considering that he perhaps quitted Brighton the day of her arrival. And having done all this, he ordered his horses, and before noon was on his first stage.
It was his birthday. He had completed his twenty-third year. This was sufficient, even if he had no other inducement, to make him indulge in some slight reflection. These annual summings up are awkward things, even to the prosperous and the happy, but to those who are the reverse, who are discontented with themselves, and find that youth melting away which they believe can alone achieve anything, I think a birthday is about the most gloomy four-and-twenty hours that ever flap their damp dull wings over melancholy man.
Yet the Duke of St. James was rather thoughtful than melancholy. His life had been too active of late to allow him to indulge much in that passive mood. ‘I may never know what happiness is,’ thought his Grace, as he leaned back in his whirling britzska, ‘but I think I know what happiness is not. It is not the career which I have hitherto pursued. All this excitement which they talk of so much wears out the mind, and, I begin to believe, even the body, for certainly my energies seem deserting me. But two years, two miserable years, four-and-twenty months, eight-and-forty times the hours, the few hours, that I have been worse than wasting here, and I am shipwrecked, fairly bulged. Yet I have done everything, tried everything, and my career has been an eminent career. Woe to the wretch who trusts to his pampered senses for felicity! Woe to the wretch who flies from the bright goddess Sympathy, to sacrifice before the dark idol Self-love! Ah! I see too late, we were made for each other. Too late, I discover the beautiful results of this great principle of creation. Oh! the blunders of an unformed character! Oh! the torture of an ill-regulated mind!
‘Give me a life with no fierce alternations of rapture and anguish, no impossible hopes, no mad depression. Free me from the delusions which succeed each other like scentless roses, that are ever blooming. Save me from the excitement which brings exhaustion, and from the passion that procreates remorse. Give me the luminous mind, where recognised and paramount duty dispels the harassing, ascertains the doubtful, confirms the wavering, sweetens the bitter. Give me content. Oh! give me love!
‘How is it to end? What is to become of me? Can nothing rescue me? Is there no mode of relief, no place of succour, no quarter of refuge, no hope of salvation? I cannot right myself, and there is an end of it. Society, society, society! I owe thee much; and perhaps in working in thy service, those feelings might be developed which I am now convinced are the only source of happiness; but I am plunged too deep in the quag. I have no impulse, no call. I know not how it is, but my energies, good and evil, seem alike vanishing. There stares that fellow at my carriage! God! willingly would I break the stones upon the road for a year, to clear my mind of all the past!’
A carriage dashed by, and a lady bowed. It was Mrs. Dallington Vere.
The Duke had appointed his banker to dine with him, as not a moment must be lost in preparing for the reception of his Brighton drafts. He was also to receive, this evening, a complete report of all his affairs. The first thing that struck his eye on his table was a packet from Sir Carte Blanche. He opened it eagerly, stared, started, nearly shrieked. It fell from his hands. He was fortunately alone. The estimates for the completion of his works, and the purchase of the rest of the furniture, exactly equalled the sum already expended. Sir Carte added, that the works might of course be stopped, but that there was no possible way of reducing them, with any deference to the original design, scale, and style; that he had already given instructions not to proceed with the furniture until further notice, but regretted to observe that the orders were so advanced that he feared it was too late to make any sensible reduction. It might in some degree reconcile his Grace to this report when he concluded by observing that the advanced state of the works could permit him to guarantee that the present estimates would not be exceeded.
The Duke had sufficiently recovered before the arrival of his confidential agent not to appear agitated, only serious. The awful catastrophe at Brighton was announced, and his report of affairs was received. It was a very gloomy one. Great agricultural distress prevailed, and the rents could not be got in. Five-and-twenty per cent, was the least that must be taken off his income, and with no prospect of being speedily added on. There was a projected railroad which would entirely knock up his canal, and even if crushed must be expensively opposed. Coals were falling also, and the duties in town increasing. There was sad confusion in the Irish estates. The missionaries, who were patronised on the neighbouring lands of one of the City Companies, had been exciting fatal confusion. Chapels were burnt, crops destroyed, stock butchered, and rents all in arrear. Mr. Dacre had contrived with great prudence to repress the efforts of the new reformation, and had succeeded in preventing any great mischief. His plans for the pursual of his ideas and feelings upon this subject had been communicated to his late ward in an urgent and important paper, which his Grace had never seen, but one day, unread, pushed into a certain black cabinet, which perhaps the reader may remember. His Grace’s miscellaneous debts had also been called in, and amounted to a greater sum than they had anticipated, which debts always do. One hundred and forty thousand pounds had crumbled away in the most imperceptible manner. A great slice of this was the portion of the jeweller. His shield and his vases would at least be evidence to his posterity of the splendour and the taste of their imprudent ancestor; but he observed the other items with less satisfaction. He discovered that in the course of two years he had given away one hundred and thirty-seven necklaces and bracelets; and as for rings, they must be counted by the bushel. The result of this gloomy interview was, that the Duke had not only managed to get rid of the immortal half-million, but had incurred debts or engagements to the amount of nearly eight hundred thousand pounds, incumbrances which were to be borne by a decreased and perhaps decreasing income. His Grace was once more alone. ‘Well! my brain is not turned; and yet I think it has been pretty well worked these last few days. It cannot be true: it must all be a dream. He never could have dined here, and said all this. Have I, indeed, been at Brighton? No, no, no; I have been sleeping after dinner. I have a good mind to ring and ask whether he really was here. It must be one great delusion. But no! there are those cursed accounts. Well! what does it signify? I was miserable before, and now I am only contemptible in addition. How the world will laugh! They were made forsooth for my diversion. O, idiot! you will be the butt of everyone! Talk of Bagshot, indeed! Why, he will scarcely speak to me!
‘Away with this! Let me turn these things in my mind. Take it at one hundred and fifty thousand. It is more, it must be more, but we will take it at that. Now, suppose one hundred thousand is allotted every year to meet my debts; I suppose, in nine or ten years I shall be free. Not that freedom will be worth much then; but still I am thinking of the glory of the House I have betrayed. Well, then, there is fifty thousand a-year left. Let me see; twenty thousand have always been spent in Ireland, and ten at Pen Bronnock, and they must not be cut down. The only thing I can do now is, not to spare myself. I am the cause, and let me meet the consequences. Well, then, perhaps twenty thousand a-year remain to keep Hauteville Castle and Hauteville House; to maintain the splendour of the Duke of St. James. Why, my hereditary charities alone amount to a quarter of my income, to say nothing of incidental charges: I too, who should and who would wish to rebuild, at my own cost, every bridge that is swept away, and every steeple that is burnt, in my county.
‘And now for the great point. Shall I proceed with my buildings? My own personal convenience whispers no! But I have a strong conviction that the advice is treasonable. What! the young Duke’s folly for every gazer in town and country to sneer at! Oh! my fathers, am I indeed your child, or am I bastard? Never, never shall your shield be sullied while I bear it! Never shall your proud banner veil while I am chieftain! They shall be finished; certainly, they shall be finished, if I die an exile! There can be no doubt about this; I feel the deep propriety.
‘This girl, too, something must be done for her. I must get Squib to run down to Brighton for me: and Afy, poor dear Afy, I think she will be sorry when she hears it all!
‘My head is weak: I want a counsellor. This man cannot enter into my feelings. Then there is my family lawyer; if I ask him for advice, he will ask me for instructions. Besides, this is not a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence; it is an affair as much of sentiment as economy; it involves the honour of my family, and I want one to unburden myself to, who can sympathise with the tortured feelings of a noble, of a Duke without a dukedom, for it has come to that. But I will leave sneers to the world.
‘There is Annesley. He is clever, but so coldblooded. He has no heart. There is Squib; he is a good fellow, and has heart enough; and I suppose, if I wanted to pension off a mistress, or compound with a few rascally tradesmen, he would manage the affair to a miracle. There is Darrell; but he will be so fussy, and confidential, and official. Every meeting will be a cabinet council, every discussion a debate, every memorandum a state paper. There is Burlington; he is experienced, and clever, and kind-hearted, and, I really think, likes me; but, no, no, it is too ridiculous. We who have only met for enjoyment, whose countenance was a smile, and whose conversation was badinage; we to meet, and meditate on my broken fortunes! Impossible! Besides, what right have I to compel a man, the study of whose life is to banish care, to take all my anxieties on his back, or refuse the duty at the cost of my acquaintance and the trouble of his conscience. Ah! I once had a friend, the best, the wisest; but no more of that. What is even the loss of fortune and of consideration to the loss of his — his daughter’s love?’
His voice faltered, yet it was long before he retired; and he rose on the morrow only to meditate over his harassing embarrassments. As if the cup of his misery were not o’erflowing, a new incident occurred about this time, which rendered his sense of them even keener. But this is important enough to commence a new chapter.
WILLIAM HENRY, MARQUESS OF MARYLEBONE, completed his twenty-first year: an event which created a greater sensation among the aristocracy of England, even, than the majority of George Augustus Frederick, Duke of St. James. The rent-roll of his Grace was great: but that of his Lordship was incalculable. He had not indeed so many castles as our hero; but then, in the metropolis, a whole parish owned him as Lord, and it was whispered that, when a few miles of leases fell in, the very Civil List must give him the wall. Even in the duration of his minority, he had the superiority over the young Duke, for the Marquess was a posthumous son.
Lord Marylebone was a short, thick, swarthy young gentleman, with wiry black hair, a nose somewhat flat, sharp eyes, and tusky mouth; altogether not very unlike a terrier. His tastes were unknown: he had not travelled, nor done anything very particular, except, with a few congenial spirits, beat the Guards in a rowing-match, a pretty diversion, and almost as conducive to a small white hand as almond-paste.
But his Lordship was now of age, and might be seen every day at a certain hour rattling up Bond Street in a red drag, in which he drove four or five particular friends who lived at Stevens’ Hotel, and therefore, we suppose, were the partners of his glory in his victory over his Majesty’s household troops. Lord Marylebone was the universal subject of conversation. Pursuits which would have devoted a shabby Earl of twelve or fifteen thousand a year to universal reprobation, or, what is much worse, to universal sneers, assumed quite a different character when they constituted the course of life of this fortunate youth. He was a delightful young man. So unaffected! No super-refinement, no false delicacy. Everyone, each sex, everything, extended his, her, or its hand to this cub, who, quite puzzled, but too brutal to be confused, kept driving on the red van, and each day perpetrating some new act of profligacy, some new instance of coarse profusion, tasteless extravagance, and inelegant eccentricity.
But, nevertheless, he was the hero of the town. He was the great point of interest in ‘The Universe,’ and ‘The New World’ favoured the old one with weekly articles on his character and conduct. The young Duke was quite forgotten, if really young he could be longer called. Lord Marylebone was in the mouth of every tradesman, who authenticated his own vile inventions by foisting them on his Lordship. The most grotesque fashions suddenly inundated the metropolis; and when the Duke of St. James ventured to express his disapprobation, he found his empire was over. ‘They were sorry that it did not meet his Grace’s taste, but really what his Grace had suggested was quite gone by. This was the only hat, or cane, or coat which any civilised being could be seen with. Lord Marylebone wore, or bore, no other.’
In higher circles, it was much the same. Although the dandies would not bate an inch, and certainly would not elect the young Marquess for their leader, they found, to their dismay, that the empire which they were meditating to defend, had already slipped away from their grasp. A new race of adventurous youths appeared upon the stage. Beards, and greatcoats even rougher, bull-dogs instead of poodles, clubs instead of canes, cigars instead of perfumes, were the order of the day. There was no end to boat-racing; Crockford’s sneered at White’s; and there was even a talk of reviving the ring. Even the women patronised the young Marquess, and those who could not be blind to his real character, were sure, that, if well managed, he would not turn out ill.
Assuredly our hero, though shelved, did not envy his successful rival. Had he been, instead of one for whom he felt a sovereign contempt, a being even more accomplished than himself, pity and not envy would have been the sentiment he would have yielded to his ascendant star. But, nevertheless, he could not be insensible to the results of this incident; and the advent of the young Marquess seemed like the sting in the epigram of his life. After all his ruinous magnificence, after all the profuse indulgence of his fantastic tastes, he had sometimes consoled himself, even in the bitterness of satiety, by reminding himself, that he at least commanded the admiration of his fellow-creatures, although it had been purchased at a costly price. Not insensible to the power of his wealth, the magic of his station, he had, however, ventured to indulge in the sweet belief that these qualities were less concerned in the triumphs of his career than his splendid person, his accomplished mind, his amiable disposition, and his finished manner; his beauty, his wit, his goodness, and his grace. Even from this delusion, too, was he to waken, and, for the first time in his life, he gauged the depth and strength of that popularity which had been so dear to him, and which he now found to be so shallow and so weak.
‘What will they think of me when they know all? What they will: I care not. I would sooner live in a cottage with May Dacre, and work for our daily bread, than be worshipped by all the beauty of this Babylon.’
Gloomy, yet sedate, he returned home. His letters announced two extraordinary events. M. de Whiskerburg had galloped off with Lady Aphrodite, and Count Frill had flown away with the Bird of Paradise.
THE last piece of information was a relief; but the announcement of the elopement cost him a pang. Both surprised, and the first shocked him. We are unreasonable in love, and do not like to be anticipated even in neglect. An hour ago Lady Aphrodite Grafton was to him only an object of anxiety and a cause of embarrassment. She was now a being to whom he was indebted for some of the most pleasing hours of his existence, and who could no longer contribute to his felicity. Everybody appeared deserting him.
He had neglected her, to be sure; and they must have parted, it was certain. Yet, although the present event saved him from the most harrowing of scenes, he could not refrain shedding a tear. So good! and so beautiful! and was this her end? He who knew all knew how bitter had been the lot of her life.
It is certain that when one of your very virtuous women ventures to be a little indiscreet, we say it is certain, though we regret it, that sooner or later there is an explosion. And the reason is this, that they are always in a hurry to make up for lost time, and so love with them becomes a business instead of being a pleasure. Nature had intended Lady Aphrodite Grafton for a Psyche, so spiritual was her soul, so pure her blood! Art — that is, education, which at least should be an art, though it is not — art had exquisitely sculptured the precious gem that Nature had developed, and all that was wanting was love to stamp an impression. Lady Aphrodite Grafton might have been as perfect a character as was ever the heroine of a novel. And to whose account shall we place her blighted fame and sullied lustre? To that animal who seems formed only to betray woman. Her husband was a traitor in disguise. She found herself betrayed; but like a noble chieftain, when her capital was lost, maintained herself among the ruins of her happiness, in the citadel of her virtue. She surrendered, she thought, on terms; and in yielding her heart to the young Duke, though never for a moment blind to her conduct, yet memory whispered extenuation, and love added all that was necessary.
Our hero (we are for none of your perfect heroes) did not behave much better than her husband. The difference between them was, Sir Lucius Grafton’s character was formed, and formed for evil; while the Duke of St. James, when he became acquainted with Lady Aphrodite, possessed none. Gallantry was a habit, in which he had been brought up. To protest to woman what he did not believe, and to feign what he did not feel, were, as he supposed, parts in the character of an accomplished gentleman; and as hitherto he had not found his career productive of any misery, we may perhaps view his conduct with less severity. But at length he approaches, not a mere woman of the world, who tries to delude him into the idea that he is the first hero of a romance that has been a hundred times repeated. He trembles at the responsibility which he has incurred by engaging the feelings of another. In the conflict of his emotions, some rays of moral light break upon his darkened soul. Profligacy brings its own punishment, and he feels keenly that man is the subject of sympathy, and not the slave of self-love.
This remorse protracts a connection which each day is productive of more painful feelings; but the heart cannot be overstrung, and anxiety ends in callousness. Then come neglect, remonstrance, explanations, protestations, and, sooner or later, a catastrophe.
But love is a dangerous habit, and when once indulged, is not easily thrown off, unless you become devout, which is, in a manner, giving the passion a new direction. In Catholic countries, it is surprising how many adventures end in a convent. A dame, in her desperation, flies to the grate, which never reopens; but in Protestant regions she has time to cool, and that’s the deuce; so, instead of taking the veil, she takes a new lover.
Lady Aphrodite had worked up her mind and the young Duke to a step the very mention of which a year before would have made him shudder. What an enchanter is Passion! No wonder Ovid, who was a judge, made love so much connected with his Metamorphoses. With infinite difficulty she had dared to admit the idea of flying with his Grace; but when the idea was once admitted, when she really had, once or twice, constantly dwelt on the idea of at length being free from her tyrant, and perhaps about to indulge in those beautiful affections for which she was formed, and of which she had been rifled; when, I say, all this occurred, and her hero diplomatised, and, in short, kept back; why, she had advanced one step, without knowing it, to running away with another man.
It was unlucky that De Whiskerburg stepped in. An Englishman would not have done. She knew them well, and despised them all; but he was new (dangerous novelty), with a cast of feelings which, because they were strange, she believed to be unhackneyed; and he was impassioned. We need not go on.
So this star has dropped from out the heaven; so this precious pearl no longer gleams among the jewels of society, and there she breathes in a foreign land, among strange faces and stranger customs, and, when she thinks of what is past, laughs at some present emptiness, and tries to persuade her withering heart that the mind is independent of country, and blood, and opinion. And her father’s face no longer shines with its proud love, and her mother’s voice no longer whispers to her with sweet anxiety. Clouded is the brow of her bold brother, and dimmed is the radiancy of her budding sister’s bloom.
Poor creature! that is to say, wicked woman! for we are not of those who set themselves against the verdict of society, or ever omit to expedite, by a gentle kick, a falling friend. And yet, when we just remember beauty is beauty, and grace is grace, and kindness is kindness, although the beautiful, the graceful, and the amiable do get in a scrape, we don’t know how it is, we confess it is a weakness, but, under these circumstances, we do not feel quite inclined to sneer.
But this is wrong. We should not pity or pardon those who have yielded to great temptation, or perchance great provocation. Besides, it is right that our sympathy should be kept for the injured.
To stand amid the cold ashes of your desolate hearth, with all your Penates shivered at your feet; to find no smiling face meet your return, no brow look gloomy when you leave your door; to eat and sleep alone; to be bored with grumbling servants and with weekly bills; to have your children asking after mamma; and no one to nurse your gout, or cure the influenza that rages in your household: all this is doubtless hard to digest, and would tell in a novel, particularly if written by my friends Mr. Ward or Mr. Bulwer.
THE Duke had passed a stormy morning with his solicitor, who wished him to sell the Pen Bronnock property, which, being parliamentary, would command a price infinitely greater than might be expected from its relative income. The very idea of stripping his coronet of this brightest jewel, and thus sacrificing for wealth the ends of riches, greatly disordered him, and he more and more felt the want of a counsellor who could sympathise with his feelings as well as arrange his fortunes. In this mood he suddenly seized a pen, and wrote the following letter:—
‘—— House, Feb. 5, 182 —.
‘My dear Mr. Dacre,
‘I keenly feel that you are the last person to whom I should apply for the counsels or the consolation of friendship. I have long ago forfeited all claims to your regard, and your esteem I never possessed. Yet, if only because my career ought to end by my being an unsuccessful suppliant to the individual whom both virtue and nature pointed out to me as my best friend, and whose proffered and parental support I have so wantonly, however thoughtlessly, rejected, I do not regret that this is written. No feeling of false delicacy can prevent me from applying to one to whom I have long ago incurred incalculable obligations, and no feeling of false delicacy will, I hope, for a moment, prevent you from refusing the application of one who has acknowledged those obligations only by incalculable ingratitude.
‘In a word, my affairs, are, I fear, inextricably involved. I will not dwell upon the madness of my life; suffice that its consequences appall me. I have really endeavoured to examine into all details, and am prepared to meet the evil as becomes me; but, indeed, my head turns with the complicated interests which solicit my consideration, and I tremble lest, in the distraction of my mind, I may adopt measures which may baffle the very results I would attain. For myself, I am ready to pay the penalty of my silly profligacy; and if exile, or any other personal infliction, can redeem the fortunes of the House that I have betrayed, I shall cheerfully submit to my destiny. My career has been productive of too little happiness to make me regret its termination.
‘But I want advice: I want the counsel of one who can sympathise with my distracted feelings, who will look as much, or rather more, to the honour of my family than to the convenience of myself. I cannot obtain this from what are called men of business, and, with a blush I confess, I have no friend. In this situation my thoughts recur to one on whom, believe me, they have often dwelt; and although I have no right to appeal to your heart, for my father’s sake you will perhaps pardon this address. Whatever you may resolve, my dearest sir, rest assured that you and your family will always command the liveliest gratitude of one who regrets he may not subscribe himself
‘Your obliged and devoted friend,
‘I beg that you will not answer this, if your determination be what I anticipate and what I deserve. ‘Dacre Dacre, Esq., &c, &c, &c.’
It was signed, sealed, and sent. He repented its transmission when it was gone. He almost resolved to send a courier to stop the post. He continued walking up and down his room for the rest of the day; he could not eat, or read, or talk. He was plunged in a nervous reverie. He passed the next day in the same state. Unable to leave his house, and unseen by visitors, he retired to his bed feverish and dispirited. The morning came, and he woke from his hot and broken sleep at an early hour; yet he had not energy to rise. At last the post arrived, and his letters were brought up to him. With a trembling hand and sinking breath he read these lines:—
‘Castle Dacre, February 6, 182 —.
‘My dear young Friend,
‘Not only for your father’s sake, but your own, are my services ever at your command. I have long been sensible of your amiable disposition, and there are circumstances which will ever make me your debtor.
‘The announcement of the embarrassed state of your affairs fills me with sorrow and anxiety, yet I will hope the best. Young men, unconsciously, exaggerate adversity as well as prosperity. If you are not an habitual gamester, and I hope you have not been even an occasional one, unbounded extravagance could scarcely in two years have permanently injured your resources. However, bring down with you all papers, and be careful to make no arrangement, even of the slightest nature, until we meet.
‘We expect you hourly. May desires her kindest regards, and begs me to express the great pleasure which she will feel at again finding you our guest. It is unnecessary for me to repeat how very sincerely
‘I am your friend,
He read the letter three times to be sure he did not mistake the delightful import. Then he rang the bell with a vivacity which had not characterised him for many a month.
‘Luigi! prepare to leave town tomorrow morning for an indefinite period. I shall only take you. I must dress immediately, and order breakfast and my horses.’
The Duke of St. James had communicated the state of his affairs to Lord Fitz-pompey, who was very shocked, offered his best services, and also asked him to dinner, to meet the Marquess of Marylebone. The young Duke had also announced to his relatives, and to some of his particular friends, that he intended to travel for some time, and he well knew that their charitable experience would understand the rest. They understood everything. The Marquess’s party daily increased, and ‘The Universe’ and ‘The New World’ announced that the young Duke was ‘done up.’
There was one person to whom our hero would pay a farewell visit before he left London. This was Lady Caroline St. Maurice. He had called at Fitz-pompey House one or two mornings in the hope of finding her alone, and today he determined to be more successful. As he stopped his horse for the last time before his uncle’s mansion, he could not help calling to mind the first visit which he had paid after his arrival. But the door opens, he enters, he is announced, and finds Lady Caroline alone.
Ten minutes passed away, as if the morning ride or evening ball were again to bring them together. The young Duke was still gay and still amusing. At last he said with a smile,
‘Do you know, Caroline, this is a farewell visit, and to you?’
She did not speak, but bent her head as if she were intent upon some work, and so seated herself that her countenance was almost hid.
‘You have heard from my uncle,’ continued he, laughing; ‘and if you have not heard from him, you have heard from somebody else, of my little scrape. A fool and his money, you know, Caroline, and a short reign and a merry one. When we get prudent we are wondrous fond of proverbs. My reign has certainly been brief enough; with regard to the merriment, that is not quite so certain. I have little to regret except your society, sweet coz!’
‘Dear George, how can you talk so of such serious affairs! If you knew how unhappy, how miserable I am, when I hear the cold, callous world speak of such things with indifference, you would at least not imitate their heartlessness.’
‘Dear Caroline!’ said he, seating himself at her side.
‘I cannot help thinking,’ she continued, ‘that you have not sufficiently exerted yourself about these embarrassments. You are, of course, too harassed, too much annoyed, too little accustomed to the energy and the detail of business, to interfere with any effect; but surely a friend might. You will not speak to my father, and perhaps you have your reasons; but is there no one else? St. Maurice, I know, has no head. Ah! George, I often feel that if your relations had been different people, your fate might have been different. We are the fault.’
He kissed her hand.
‘Among all your intimates,’ she continued, ‘is there no one fit to be your counsellor, no one worthy of your confidence?’
‘None,’ said the Duke, bitterly, ‘none, none. I have no friend among those intimates: there is not a man of them who cares to serve or is capable of serving me.’
‘You have well considered?’ asked Lady Caroline.
‘Well, dear, well. I know them all by rote, head and heart. Ah! my dear, dear Carry, if you were a man, what a nice little friend you would be!’
‘You will always laugh, George. But I— I have no heart to laugh. This breaking up of your affairs, this exile, this losing you whom we all love, love so dearly, makes me quite miserable.’
He kissed her hand again.
‘I dare say,’ she continued, ‘you have thought me as heartless as the rest, because I never spoke. But I knew; that is, I feared; or, rather, hoped that a great part of what I heard was false; and so I thought notice was unnecessary, and might be painful. Yet, heaven knows, there are few subjects that have been oftener in my thoughts, or cost me more anxiety. Are you sure you have no friend?’
‘I have you, Caroline. I did not say I had no friends: I said I had none among those intimates you talked of; that there was no man among them capable of the necessary interference, even if he were willing to undertake it. But I am not friendless, not quite forlorn, dear! My fate has given me a friend that I but little deserve: one whom, if I had prized better, I should not perhaps have been obliged to put his friendship to so severe a trial. To-morrow, Caroline, I depart for Castle Dacre; there is my friend. Alas! how little have I deserved such a boon!’
‘Dacre!’ exclaimed Lady Caroline, ‘Mr. Dacre! Oh! you have made me so happy, George! Mr. Dacre is the very, very person; that is, the very best person you could possibly have applied to.’
‘Good-bye, Caroline,’ said his Grace, rising.
She burst into tears.
Never, never had she looked so lovely: never, never had he loved her so entirely! Tears! tears shed for him! Oh! what, what is grief when a lovely woman remains to weep over our misfortunes! Could he be miserable, could his career indeed be unfortunate, when this was reserved for him? He was on the point of pledging his affection, but to leave her under such circumstances was impossible: to neglect Mr. Dacre was equally so. He determined to arrange his affairs with all possible promptitude, and then to hasten up, and entreat her to share his diminished fortunes. But he would not go without whispering hope, without leaving some soft thought to lighten her lonely hours. He caught her in his arms; he covered her sweet small mouth with kisses, and whispered, in the midst of their pure embrace,
‘Dearest Carry! I shall soon return, and we will yet be happy.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07