“Well, then, the world’s mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open.
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
When Adam Hartley arrived at his lodgings in the sweet little town of Ryde, his first enquiries were after his comrade. He had arrived last night late, man and horse all in a foam. He made no reply to any questions about supper or the like, but snatching a candle, ran up stairs into his apartment, and shut and double-locked the door. The servants only supposed, that, being something intoxicated, he had ridden hard, and was unwilling to expose himself.
Hartley went to the door of his chamber, not without some apprehensions; and after knocking and calling more than once, received at length the welcome return, “Who is there?”
On Hartley announcing himself, the door opened, and Middlemas appeared, well dressed, and with his hair arranged and powdered; although, from the appearance of the bed, it had not been slept in on the preceding night, and Richard’s countenance, haggard and ghastly, seemed to bear witness to the same fact. It was, however, with an affectation of indifference that he spoke.
“I congratulate you on your improvement in worldly knowledge, Adam. It is just the time to desert the poor heir, and to stick by him that is in immediate possession of the wealth.”
“I staid last night at General Witherington’s,” answered Hartley, “because he is extremely ill.”
“Tell him to repent of his sins, then,” said Richard. “Old Gray used to say, a doctor had as good a title to give ghostly advice as a parson. Do you remember Doctor Dulberry, the minister, calling him an interloper? Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“I am surprised at this style of language from one in your circumstances.”
“Why, ay,” said Middlemas, with a bitter smile —“it would be difficult to most men to keep up their spirits, after gaining and losing father, mother, and a good inheritance, all in the same day. But I had always a turn for philosophy.”
“I really do not understand you, Mr. Middlemas.”
“Why, I found my parents yesterday, did I not?” answered the young man. “My mother, as you know, had waited but that moment to die, and my father to become distracted; and I conclude both were contrived purposely to cheat me of my inheritance, as he has taken up such a prejudice against me.”
“Inheritance?” repeated Hartley, bewildered by Richard’s calmness, and half suspecting that the insanity of the father was hereditary in the family. “In Heaven’s name, recollect yourself, and get rid of these hallucinations. What inheritance are you dreaming of?”
“That of my mother, to be sure, who must have inherited old Moncada’s wealth — and to whom should it descend, save to her children? — I am the eldest of them — that fact cannot be denied.”
“But consider, Richard — recollect yourself.”
“I do,” said Richard; “and what then?”
“Then you cannot but remember,” said Hartley, “that unless there was a will in your favour, your birth prevents you from inheriting.”
“You are mistaken, sir, I am legitimate. — Yonder sickly brats, whom you rescued from the grave, are not more legitimate than I am. — Yes! our parents could not allow the air of Heaven to breathe on them — me they committed to the winds and the waves — I am nevertheless their lawful child, as well as their puling offspring of advanced age and decayed health. I saw them, Adam — Winter showed the nursery to me while they were gathering courage to receive me in the drawing-room. There they lay, the children of predilection, the riches of the East expended that they might sleep soft and wake in magnificence. I, the eldest brother — the heir — I stood beside their bed in the borrowed dress which I had so lately exchanged for the rags of an hospital. Their couches breathed the richest perfumes, while I was reeking from a pest-house; and I— I repeat it — the heir, the produce of their earliest and best love, was thus treated. No wonder that my look was that of a basilisk.”
“You speak as if you were possessed with an evil spirit,” said Hartley; “or else you labour under a strange delusion.”
“You think those only are legally married over whom a drowsy parson has read the ceremony from a dog’s-eared prayer-book? It may be so in your English law — but Scotland makes Love himself the priest. A vow betwixt a fond couple, the blue heaven alone witnessing, will protect a confiding girl against the perjury of a fickle swain, as much as if a Dean had performed the rites in the loftiest cathedral in England. Nay, more; if the child of love be acknowledged by the father at the time when he is baptized — if he present the mother to strangers of respectability as his wife, the laws of Scotland will not allow him to retract the justice which has, in these actions, been done to the female whom he has wronged, or the offspring of their mutual love. This General Tresham, or Witherington, treated my unhappy mother as his wife before Gray and others, quartered her as such in the family of a respectable man, gave her the same name by which he himself chose to pass for the time. He presented me to the priest as his lawful offspring; and the law of Scotland, benevolent to the helpless child, will not allow him now to disown what he so formally admitted. I know my rights, and am determined to claim them.”
“You do not then intend to go on board the Middlesex? Think a little — You will lose your voyage and your commission.”
“I will save my birth-right,” answered Middlemas. “When I thought of going to India, I knew not my parents, or how to make good the rights which I had through them. That riddle is solved. I am entitled to at least a third of Moncada’s estate, which, by Winter’s account, is considerable. But for you, and your mode of treating the small-pox, I should have had the whole. Little did I think, when old Gray was likely to have his wig pulled off, for putting out fires, throwing open windows, and exploding whisky and water, that the new system of treating the small-pox was to cost me so many thousand pounds.”
“You are determined then,” said Hartley, “on this wild course?”
“I know my rights, and am determined to make them available,” answered the obstinate youth.
“Mr. Richard Middlemas, I am sorry for you.”
“Mr. Adam Hartley, I beg to know why I am honoured by your sorrow.”
“I pity you,” answered Hartley, “both for the obstinacy of selfishness, which can think of wealth after the scene you saw last night, and for the idle vision which leads you to believe that you can obtain possession of it.”
“Selfish!” cried Middlemas; “why, I am a dutiful son, labouring to clear the memory of a calumniated mother — And am I a visionary? — Why, it was to this hope that I awakened, when old Moncada’s letter to Gray, devoting me to perpetual obscurity, first roused me to a sense of my situation, and dispelled the dreams of my childhood. Do you think that I would ever have submitted to the drudgery which I shared with you, but that, by doing so, I kept in view the only traces of these unnatural parents, by means of which I proposed to introduce myself to their notice, and, if necessary, enforce the rights of a legitimate child? The silence and death of Moncada broke my plans, and it was then only I reconciled myself to the thoughts of India.”
“You were very young to have known so much of the Scottish law, at the time when we were first acquainted,” said Hartley. “But I can guess your instructor.”
“No less authority than Tom Hillary’s,” replied Middlemas. “His good counsel on that head is a reason why I do not now prosecute him to the gallows.”
“I judged as much,” replied Hartley; “for I heard him, before I left Middlemas, debating the point with Mr. Lawford; and I recollect perfectly, that he stated the law to be such as you now lay down.”
“And what said Lawford in answer?” demanded Middlemas.
“He admitted,” replied Hartley, “that in circumstances where the case was doubtful, such presumptions of legitimacy might be admitted. But he said they were liable to be controlled by positive and precise testimony, as, for instance, the evidence of the mother declaring the illegitimacy of the child.”
“But there can exist none such in my case,” said Middlemas hastily, and with marks of alarm.
“I will not deceive you, Mr. Middlemas, though I fear I cannot help giving you pain. I had yesterday a long conference with your mother, Mrs. Witherington, in which she acknowledged you as her son, but a son born before marriage. This express declaration will, therefore, put an end to the suppositions on which you ground your hopes. If you please, you may hear the contents of her declaration, which I have in her own handwriting.”
“Confusion! is the cup to be for ever dashed from my lips?” muttered Richard; but recovering his composure, by exertion of the self-command, of which he possessed so large a portion, he desired Hartley to proceed with his communication. Hartley accordingly proceeded to inform him of the particulars preceding his birth, and those which followed after it; while Middlemas, seated on a sea-chest, listened with inimitable composure to a tale which went to root up the flourishing hopes of wealth which he had lately so fondly entertained.
Zilia Moncada was the only child of a Portuguese Jew of great wealth, who had come to London, in prosecution of his commerce. Among the few Christians who frequented his house, and occasionally his table, was Richard Tresham, a gentleman of a high Northumbrian family, deeply engaged in the service of Charles Edward during his short invasion, and though holding a commission in the Portuguese service, still an object of suspicion to the British government, on account of his well-known courage and Jacobitical principles. The high-bred elegance of this gentleman, together with his complete acquaintance with the Portuguese language and manners, had won the intimacy of old Moncada, and, alas! the heart of the inexperienced Zilia, who, beautiful as an angel, had as little knowledge of the world and it’s wickedness as the lamb that is but a week old.
Tresham made his proposals to Moncada, perhaps in a manner which too evidently showed that he conceived the high-born Christian was degrading himself in asking an alliance with the wealthy Jew. Moncada rejected his proposals, forbade him his house, but could not prevent the lovers from meeting in private. Tresham made a dishonourable use of the opportunities which the poor Zilia so incautiously afforded, and the consequence was her ruin. The lover, however, had every purpose of righting the injury which he had inflicted, and, after various plans of secret marriage, which were rendered abortive by the difference of religion, and other circumstances, flight for Scotland was determined on. The hurry of the journey, the fear and anxiety to which Zilia was subjected, brought on her confinement several weeks before the usual time, so that they were compelled to accept of the assistance and accommodation offered by Mr. Gray. They had not been there many hours ere Tresham heard, by the medium of some sharp-sighted or keen-eared friend, that there were warrants out against him for treasonable practices. His correspondence with Charles Edward had become known to Moncada during the period of their friendship; he betrayed it in vengeance to the British cabinet, and warrants were issued, in which, at Moncada’s request, his daughter’s name was included. This might be of use, he apprehended, to enable him to separate his daughter from Tresham, should he find the fugitives actually married. How far he succeeded, the reader already knows, as well as the precautions which he took to prevent the living evidence of his child’s frailty from being known to exist. His daughter he carried with him, and subjected her to severe restraint, which her own reflections rendered doubly bitter. It would have completed his revenge, had the author of Zilia’s misfortunes been brought to the scaffold for his political offences. But Tresham skulked among his friends in the Highlands, and escaped until the affair blew over.
He afterwards entered into the East India Company’s service, under his mother’s name of Witherington, which concealed the Jacobite and rebel, until these terms were forgotten. His skill in military affairs soon raised him to riches and eminence. When he returned to Britain, his first enquiries were after the family of Moncada. His fame, his wealth, and the late conviction that his daughter never would marry any but him who had her first love, induced the old man to give that encouragement to General Witherington, which he had always denied to the poor and outlawed Major Tresham; and the lovers, after having been fourteen years separated, were at length united in wedlock.
General Witherington eagerly concurred in the earnest wish of his father-inlaw, that every remembrance of former events should be buried, by leaving the fruit of the early and unhappy intrigue suitably provided for, but in a distant and obscure situation. Zilia thought far otherwise. Her heart longed, with a mother’s longing, towards the object of her first maternal tenderness, but she dared not place herself in opposition at once to the will of her father, and the decision of her husband. The former, his religious prejudices much effaced by his long residence in England, had given consent that she should conform to the established religion of her husband and her country — the latter, haughty as we have described him, made it his pride to introduce the beautiful convert among his high-born kindred. The discovery of her former frailty would have proved a blow to her respectability, which he dreaded like death; and it could not long remain a secret from his wife, that in consequence of a severe illness in India, even his reason became occasionally shaken by anything which violently agitated his feelings. She had, therefore, acquiesced in patience and silence in the course of policy which Moncada had devised, and which her husband anxiously and warmly approved. Yet her thoughts, even when their marriage was blessed with other offspring, anxiously reverted to the banished and outcast child, who had first been clasped to the maternal bosom.
All these feelings, “subdued and cherished long,” were set afloat in full tide by the unexpected discovery of this son, redeemed from a lot of extreme misery, and placed before his mother’s imagination in circumstances so disastrous.
It was in vain that her husband had assured her that he would secure the young man’s prosperity, by his purse and his interest. She could not be satisfied, until she had herself done something to alleviate the doom of banishment to which her eldest-born was thus condemned. She was the more eager to do so, as she felt the extreme delicacy of her health, which was undermined by so many years of secret suffering.
Mrs. Witherington was, in conferring her maternal bounty, naturally led to employ the agency of Hartley, the companion of her son, and to whom, since the recovery of her younger children, she almost looked up as to a tutelar deity. She placed in his hands a sum of L2000, which she had at her own unchallenged disposal, with a request, uttered in the fondest and most affectionate terms, that it might be applied to the service of Richard Middlemas in the way Hartley should think most useful to him. She assured him of further support, as it should be needed; and a note to the following purport was also intrusted him, to be delivered when and where the prudence of Hartley should judge it proper to confide to him the secret of his birth.
“Oh, Benoni! Oh, child of my sorrow!” said this interesting document, “why should the eyes of thy unhappy mother be about to obtain permission to look on thee, since her arms were denied the right to fold thee to her bosom? May the God of Jews and of Gentiles watch over thee, and guard thee! May he remove, in his good time, the darkness which rolls between me and the beloved of my heart — the first fruit of my unhappy, nay, unhallowed affection. Do not — do not, my beloved! — think thyself a lonely exile, while thy mother’s prayers arise for thee at sunrise and at sunset, to call down every blessing on thy head — to invoke every power in thy protection and defence. Seek not to see me — Oh, why must I say so! — But let me humble myself in the dust, since it is my own sin, my own folly, which I must blame! — but seek not to see or speak with me — it might be the death of both. Confide thy thoughts to the excellent Hartley, who hath been the guardian angel of us all — even as the tribes of Israel had each their guardian angel. What thou shalt wish, and he shall advise in thy behalf, shall be done, if in the power of a mother — And the love of a mother! Is it bounded by seas, or can deserts and distance measure its limits? Oh, child of my sorrow! Oh, Benoni! let thy spirit be with mine, as mine is with thee.” Z. M.
All these arrangements being completed, the unfortunate lady next insisted with her husband that she should be permitted to see her son in that parting interview which terminated so fatally. Hartley, therefore, now discharged as her executor, the duty intrusted to him as her confidential agent.
“Surely,” he thought, as, having finished his communication, he was about to leave the apartment, “surely the demons of Ambition and Avarice will unclose the talons which they have fixed upon this man, at a charm like this.”
And indeed Richard’s heart had been formed of the nether millstone, had he not been duly affected by these first and last tokens of his mother’s affection. He leant his head upon a table, and his tears flowed plentifully. Hartley left him undisturbed for more than an hour, and on his return found him in nearly the same attitude in which he had left him.
“I regret to disturb you at this moment,” he said, “but I have still a part of my duty to discharge. I must place in your possession the deposit which your mother made in my hands — and I must also remind you that time flies fast, and that you have scarce an hour or two to determine whether you will prosecute your Indian voyage, under the new view of circumstances which I have opened to you.”
Middlemas took the bills which his mother had bequeathed him. As he raised his head, Hartley could observe that his face was stained with tears. Yet he counted over the money with mercantile accuracy; and though he assumed the pen for the purpose of writing a discharge with an air of inconsolable dejection, yet he drew it up in good set terms, like one who had his senses much at his command.
“And now,” he said, in a mournful voice, “give me my mother’s narrative.”
Hartley almost started, and answered hastily, “You have the poor lady’s letter, which was addressed to yourself — the narrative is addressed to me. It is my warrant for disposing of a large sum of money — it concerns the rights of third parties, and I cannot part with it.”
“Surely, surely it were better to deliver it into my hands, were it but to weep over it,” answered Middlemas. “My fortune, Hartley, has been very cruel. You see that my parents purposed to have made me their undoubted heir; yet their purpose was disappointed by accident. And now my mother comes with well-intended fondness, and while she means to advance my fortune, furnishes evidence to destroy it. — Come, come, Hartley — you must be conscious that my mother wrote those details entirely for my information. I am the rightful owner, and insist on having them.”
“I am sorry I must insist on refusing your demand,” answered Hartley, putting the papers in his pocket. “You ought to consider, that if this communication has destroyed the idle and groundless hopes which you have indulged in, it has, at the same time, more than trebled your capital; and that if there are some hundreds or thousands in the world richer than yourself, there are many millions not half so well provided. Set a brave spirit, then, against your fortune, and do not doubt your success in life.”
His words seemed to sink into the gloomy mind of Middlemas. He stood silent for a moment, and then answered with a reluctant and insinuating voice —
“My dear Hartley, we have long been companions — you can have neither pleasure nor interest in ruining my hopes — you may find some in forwarding them. Moncada’s fortune will enable me to allow five thousand pounds to the friend who should aid me in my difficulties.”
“Good morning to you, Mr. Middlemas,” said Hartley, endeavouring to withdraw.
“One moment — one moment,” said Middlemas, holding his friend by the button at the same time, “I meant to say ten thousand — and — and — marry whomsoever you like — I will not be your hindrance.”
“You are a villain!” said Hartley, breaking from him, “and I always thought you so.”
“And you,” answered Middlemas, “are a fool, and I never thought yon better. Off he goes — Let him — the game has been played and lost — I must hedge my bets: India must be my back-play.”
All was in readiness for his departure. A small vessel and a favouring gale conveyed him and several other military gentlemen to the Downs, where the Indiaman, which was to transport them from Europe, lay ready for their reception.
His first feelings were sufficiently disconsolate. But accustomed from his infancy to conceal his internal thoughts, he appeared in the course of a week the gayest and best bred passenger who ever dared the long and weary space betwixt Old England and her Indian possessions. At Madras, where the sociable feelings of the resident inhabitants give ready way to enthusiasm in behalf of any stranger of agreeable qualities, he experienced that warm hospitality which distinguishes the British character in the East.
Middlemas was well received in company, and in the way of becoming an indispensable guest at every entertainment in the place, when the vessel, on board of which Hartley acted as surgeon’s mate, arrived at the same settlement. The latter would not, from his situation, have been entitled to expect much civility and attention; but this disadvantage was made up by his possessing the most powerful introductions from General Witherington, and from other persons of weight in Leadenhall Street, the General’s friends, to the principal inhabitants in the settlement. He found himself once more, therefore, moving in the same sphere with Middlemas, and under the alternative of living with him on decent and distant terms, or of breaking off with him altogether.
The first of these courses might perhaps have been the wisest; but the other was most congenial to the blunt and plain character of Hartley, who saw neither propriety nor comfort in maintaining a show of friendly intercourse, to conceal hate, contempt, and mutual dislike.
The circle at Fort St. George was much more restricted at that time than it has been since. The coldness of the young men did not escape notice; it transpired that they had been once intimates and fellow-students; yet it was now found that they hesitated at accepting invitations to the same parties. Rumour assigned many different and incompatible reasons for this deadly breach, to which Hartley gave no attention whatever, while Lieutenant Middlemas took care to countenance those which represented the cause of the quarrel most favourably to himself.
“A little bit of rivalry had taken place,” he said, when pressed by gentlemen for an explanation; “he had only had the good luck to get further in the good graces of a fair lady than his friend Hartley, who had made a quarrel of it, as they saw. He thought it very silly to keep up spleen, at such a distance of time and space. He was sorry, more for the sake of the strangeness of the appearance of the thing than any thing else, although his friend had really some very good points about him.”
While these whispers were working their effect in society, they did not prevent Hartley from receiving the most flattering assurances of encouragement and official promotion from the Madras government as opportunity should arise. Soon after, it was intimated to him that a medical appointment of a lucrative nature in a remote settlement was conferred on him, which removed him for some time from Madras and its neighbourhood.
Hartley accordingly sailed on his distant expedition; and it was observed, that after his departure, the character of Middlemas, as if some check had been removed, began to display itself in disagreeable colours. It was noticed that this young man, whose manners were so agreeable and so courteous during the first months after his arrival in India, began now to show symptoms of a haughty and overbearing spirit. He had adopted, for reasons which the reader may conjecture, but which appeared to be mere whim, at Fort St. George, the name of Tresham, in addition to that by which he had hitherto been distinguished, and in this he presisted with an obstinacy, which belonged more to the pride than the craft of his character. The Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment, an old cross-tempered martinet, did not choose to indulge the Captain (such was now the rank of Middlemas) in this humour.
“He knew no officer,” he said, “by any name save that which he bore in his commission,” and he Middlemass’d the Captain on all occasions.
One fatal evening, the Captain was so much provoked, as to intimate peremptorily, “that he knew his own name best.”
“Why, Captain Middlemas,” replied the Colonel, “it is not every child that knows its own father, so how can every man be so sure of his own name?”
The bow was drawn at a venture, but the shaft found the rent in the armour, and stung deeply. In spite of all the interposition which could be attempted, Middlemas insisted on challenging the Colonel, who could be persuaded to no apology.
“If Captain Middlemas,” he said, “thought the cap fitted, he was welcome to wear it.”
The result was a meeting, in which, after the parties had exchanged shots, the seconds tendered their mediation. It was rejected by Middlemas, who, at the second fire, had the misfortune to kill his commanding officer. In consequence, he was obliged to fly from the British settlements; for, being universally blamed for having pushed the quarrel to extremity, there was little doubt that the whole severity of military discipline would be exercised upon the delinquent. Middlemas, therefore, vanished from Fort St. George, and, though the affair had made much noise at the time, was soon no longer talked of. It was understood, in general, that he had gone to seek that fortune at the court of some native prince, which he could no longer hope for in the British settlements.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00