At ten o’clock the next morning arrived the Major, the Doctor, and Halbert; and the first notice they had of it was the Doctor’s voice in the passage, evidently in a great state of excitement.
“No more the common bower-bird than you, sir; a new species. His eyes are red instead of blue, and the whole plumage is lighter. I will call it after you, my dear Major.”
“You have got to shoot him first,” said the Major.
“I’ll soon do that,” said the Doctor, bursting into the room-door. “How do you do, all of you? Sam, glad to see you back again. Brentwood, you are welcome to your own house. Get me your gun — where is it?”
“In my bedroom,” said the Captain.
The Doctor went off after it. He reappeared again to complain that the caps would not fit; but, being satisfied on that score, he disappeared down the garden, on murderous thoughts intent.
Sam got his father away into the verandah, and told him all his plans. I need hardly say that they met with the Major’s entire approval. All his plans I said; no, not all. Sam never hinted at the end and object of all his endeavours; he never said a word about his repurchase of Clere. The Major had no more idea that Sam had ever thought of such a thing, or had been making inquiries, than had the owner of Clere himself.
“Sam, my dear boy,” said he, “I am very sorry to lose you, and we shall have but a dull time of it henceforth; but I am sure it is good for a man to go out into the world by himself” (and all that sort of thing). “When you are gone, Brentwood and I mean to live together, to console one another.”
“My dear, are you coming in?” said Mrs. Buckley. “Here is a letter for you, which I ought to have given you before.”
The Major went in and received the mysterious epistle which the captain had brought the night before. When he saw it he whistled.
They sat waiting to know the contents. He was provokingly long in opening it, and when he did, he said nothing, but read it over twice with a lengthening visage. Now also it became apparent that there was another letter inside, at the superscription of which the Major having looked, put it in his pocket, and turning round to the mantel-piece, with his back to the others, began drumming against the fender with his foot, musingly.
A more aggravating course of proceeding he could not have resorted to. Here they were all dying of curiosity, and not a word did he seem inclined to answer. At last, Mrs. Buckley, not able to hold out any longer, said —
“From the Governor, was it not, my love?”
“Yes,” he said, “from the Governor. And very important too,” and then relapsed into silence.
Matters were worse than ever. But after a few minutes he turned round to them suddenly, and said —
“You have heard of Baron Landstein.”
“What,” said Sam, “the man that the Doctor’s always abusing so? Yes, I know all about him, of course.”
“The noble Landstein,” said Alice. “In spite of the Doctor’s abuse he is a great favourite of mine. How well he seems to have behaved at Jena with those two Landwehr regiments.”
“Landsturm, my love,” said the Major.
“Yes, Landsturm I mean. I wonder if he is still alive, or whether he died of his wounds.”
“The Doctor,” said Sam, “always speaks of him as dead.”
“He is not only alive,” said the Major, “but he is coming here. He will be here today. He may come any minute.”
“What! the great Landstein,” said Sam.
“The same man,” said the Major.
“The Doctor will have a quarrel with him, father. He is always abusing him. He says he lost the battle of Jena, or something.”
“Be quiet, Sam, and don’t talk. Watch what follows.”
The Doctor was seen hurrying up the garden-walk. He put down his gun outside, and bursting open the glass door, stepped into the room, holding aloft a black bird, freshly killed, and looking around him for applause.
“There!” he said; “I told you so.”
The Major walked across the room, and put a letter in his hand, the one which was enclosed in the mysterious epistle before mentioned. “Baron,” he said, “here is a letter for you.”
The Doctor looked round as one would who had received a blow, and knew not who smote him. He took the letter, and went into the window to read it.
No one spoke a word. “This, then, my good old tutor,” thought Sam, “turns out to be the great Landstein. Save us, what a piece of romance.” But though he thought this, he never said anything, and catching Alice’s eye, followed it to the window. There, leaning against the glass, his face buried in his hands, and his broad back shaking with emotion, stood Doctor Mulhaus. Alas! no. Our kindly, good, hearty, learned, irritable, but dearly-beloved old friend, is no more. There never was such a man in reality: but in his place stands Baron von Landstein of the Niederwald.
What the contents of the Doctor’s (I must still call him so) letter, I cannot tell you. But I have seen the letter which Major Buckley received enclosing it, and I can give it you word for word. It is from the Governor himself, and runs thus:—
“MY DEAR MAJOR,
“I am informed that the famous Baron von Landstein has been living in your house for some years, under the name of Dr. Mulhaus. In fact, I believe he is a partner of yours. I therefore send the enclosed under cover to you, and when I tell you that it has been forwarded to me through the Foreign Office, and the Colonial Office, and is, in point of fact, an autograph letter from the King of P—— to the Baron, I am sure that you will ensure its safe delivery.
“The Secretary is completely ‘fixed’ with his estimates. The salaries for the Supreme Court Office are thrown out. He must resign. Do next election send us a couple of moderates.
“Yours, &c., G.G.”
This was the Major’s letter. But the Doctor stood still there, moved more deeply than any had seen him before, while Alice and Sam looked at one another in blank astonishment.
At length he turned and spoke, but not to them, to the empty air. Spoke as one aroused from a trance. Things hard to understand, yet having some thread of sense in them too.
“So he has sent for me,” he said, “when it seems that he may have some use for me. So the old man is likely to go at last, and we are to have the golden age again. If talking could do it, assuredly we should. He has noble instincts, this young fellow, and some sense. He has sent for me. If H— — and B— — and Von U— — and myself can but get his ear!
“Oh, Rhineland! my own beloved Rhineland, shall I see you again? Shall I sit once more in my own grey castle, among the vineyards, above the broad gleaming river, and hear the noises from the town come floating softly up the hillside! I wonder are there any left who will remember —”
He took two short turns through the room, and then he turned and spoke to them again, looking all the time at Sam.
“I am the Baron von Landstein. The very man we have so often talked of, and whose character we have so freely discussed. When the French attacked us, I threw myself into the foremost ranks of my countrymen, and followed the Queen with two regiments which I had raised almost entirely myself.
“I fled away from the blood-red sun of Jena, wounded and desperate. That sun,” I thought, “has set on the ruins of Great Frederick’s kingdom. Prussia is a province of France: what can happen worse than this? I will crawl home to my castle and die.
“I had no castle to crawl to. My brother, he who hung upon the same breast with me, he who learnt his first prayer beside me, he who I loved and trusted above all other men, had turned traitor, had sold himself to the French, had deceived my bride that was to be, and seized my castle.
“I fled to England, to Drumston, Major. I had some knowledge of physic, and called myself a doctor. I threw myself into the happy English domestic life which I found there, and soon got around me men and women whom I loved full well.
“Old John Thornton and his sister knew my secret, as did Lord Crediton: but they kept it well, and by degrees I began to hope that I would begin a new life as a useful village apothecary, and forget for ever the turmoils of politics.
“Then you know what happened. There was an Exodus. All those I had got to love, arose, in the manner of their nation, and went to the other end of the earth, so that one night I was left alone on the cliff at Plymouth, watching a ship which was bearing away all that was left me to love in the world.
“I went to Prussia. I found my brother had made good use of his prosperity, and slandered me to the King. His old treachery seemed forgotten, and he was high in power. The King, for whom I had suffered so much, received me coldly, and leaving the palace, I spoke to my brother, and said — ‘Send me so much yearly, and keep the rest for a time.’ And then I followed you, Major, out here.”
“Shall I tell you any more, Sam?”
“No!” said Sam, smiting his fist upon the table. “I can tell the rest, Baron, to those who want to know it. I can tell of ten years’ patient kindness towards myself. I can tell — I can tell —”
Sam was the worst orator in the world. He broke down, sir. He knew what he meant very well; and so I hope do you, reader, but he couldn’t say it. He had done what many of us do, tried to make a fine speech when his heart was full, and so he failed.
But Alice didn’t fail — not she, though she never spoke a word. She folded up her work; and going up to the good old man, took both his hands in hers and kissed him on both his cheeks. A fine piece of rhetorical action, wasn’t it? And then they all crowded round him, and shook hands with him, and kissed him, and God-blessed him, for their kind, true, old friend; and prayed that every blessing might light upon his noble head, till he passed through them speechless and wandered away to his old friend, the river.
About the middle of this week, there arrived two of our former friends, Frank Maberly and Captain Desborough, riding side by side. The Elders, with the Doctor, were outside, and detained the Dean, talking to him and bidding him welcome. But Captain Desborough, passing in, came into the room where were assembled Alice, Sam, and Jim, who gave him a most vociferous greeting.
They saw in a moment that there was some fun in the wind. They knew, by experience, that when Desborough’s eyes twinkled like that, some absurdity was preparing, though they were quite unprepared for the mixture of reality and nonsense which followed.
“Pace!” said Desborough, in his affected Irish accent; “be on this house, and all in it. The top of the morning to ye all.”
“Now,” said Alice, “we are going to have some fun; Captain Desborough has got his brogue on.”
“Ye’ll have some fun directly, Miss Brentwood,” he said. “But there’s some serious, sober earnest to come first. My cousin, Slievedonad, is dead.”
“The same. That small Viscount is at this moment in pur ——. God forgive me, and him too.”
“That’s just half. My uncle Lord Covetown was taken with a fit when he heard of it, and is gone after him, and the Lord forgive him too. He turned me, his own brother’s son, out into the world with half an education, to sink or swim; and never a kind word did he or his son ever give me in their lives. It must have broken the old man’s heart to think how the estate would go. But as I said before, God forgive him.”
“You must feel his loss, Captain Desborough,” said Alice. “I am very sorry for you.”
“Ahem! my dear young lady, you don’t seem to know how this ends.”
“Why, no,” said Alice, looking up wonderingly; “I do not.”
“Why, it ends in this,” said Desborough; “that I myself am Earl of Covetown, Viscount Slievedonad, and Baron Avoca, with twenty thousand a year, me darlin, the laste penny; see to there now.”
“Brogue again,” said Alice. “Are you joking?”
“True enough,” said Desborough. “I had a letter from my grandmother, the Dowager (she that lost the dog), only this very day. And there’s a thousand pounds paid into the Bank of New South Wales to my account. Pretty good proof that last, eh?”
“My dear Lord,” said Alice, “I congratulate you most heartily. All the world are turning out to be noblemen. I should not be surprised to find that I am a duchess myself.”
“It rests with you, Miss Brentwood,” said Desborough, with a wicked glance at Sam, “to be a countess. I now formally make you an offer of me hand and heart. Oh! tell me, Miss Brentwood, will ye be Mrs. Mars — I beg pardon, Countess of Covetown?”
“No, I thank you, my lord,” said Alice, laughing and blushing. “I am afraid I must decline.”
“I was afraid ye would,” said Lord Covetown. “I had heard that a great six-foot villain had been trifling with your affections, so I came prepared for a refusal. Came prepared with this, Miss Brentwood, which I pray you to accept; shall I be too bold if I say, as a wedding present, from one of your most sincere admirers.”
He produced a jewel case, and took from it a bracelet, at the sight of which Alice gave an honest womanly cry of delight. And well she might, for the bauble cost 150L. It was a bracelet of gold, representing a snake. Half-way up the reptile’s back began a row of sapphires, getting larger towards the neck, each of which was surrounded by small emeralds. The back of the head contained a noble brilliant, and the eyes were two rubies. Altogether, a thorough specimen of Irish extravagance and good taste.
“Can you clasp it on for her, Sam?” said Lord Covetown.
“Oh, my Lord, I ought not to accept such a princely present!” said Alice.
“Look here, Miss Brentwood,” said Covetown, laying his hand on Sam’s shoulder. “I find that the noblest and best fellow I know is going to marry the handsomest woman, saving your presence, that I ever saw. I myself have just come into an earldom, and twenty thousand a-year; and if, under these circumstances, I mayn’t make that woman a handsome present, why then the deuce is in it, you know. Sam, my boy, your hand. Jim, your hand, my lad. May you be as good a soldier as your father.”
“Ah!” said Jim. “So you’re an earl are you? What does it feel like, eh? Do you feel the blue blood of a hundred sires coursing in your veins? Do you feel the hereditary class prejudices of the Norman aristocracy cutting you off from the sympathies of the inferior classes, and raising you above the hopes and fears of the masses? How very comical it must be! So you are going to sit among the big-wigs in the House of Lords. I hope you won’t forget yourself, and cry ‘Faug a Ballagh,’ when one of the bishops rises to speak. And whatever you do, don’t sing ‘Gama crem’ah cruiskeen’ in the lobby.”
“My dear fellow,” said he, “I am not in the House of Lords at all. Only an Irish peer. I intend to get into the Commons though, and produce a sensation by introducing the Australian ‘Co’ee’ into the seat of British legislature.”
How long these four would have gone on talking unutterable nonsense, no man can say. But Frank Maberly coming in, greeted them courteously, and changed the conversation.
Poor Frank! Hard and incessant work was beginning to tell on that noble frame, and the hard marked features were getting more hard and marked year by year. Yet, in spite of the deep lines that now furrowed that kindly face, those who knew it best, said that it grew more beautiful than it had ever been before. As that magnificent PHYSIQUE began to fail, the noble soul within began to show clearer through its earthly tenement. That noble soul, which was getting purified and ready for what happened but a few years after this in Patagonia. When we heard that that man had earned the crown of glory, and had been thought worthy to sit beside Stephen and Paul in the Kingdom, none of us wept for him, or mourned. It seemed such a fitting reward for such a pure and noble life. But even now, when I wake in the night, I see him before me as he was described in the last scene by the only survivor. Felled down upon the sand, with his arms before his eyes, crying out, as the spears struck him, one after another, “Lord, forgive them, they know not what they do!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10