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Title: Raymond Author: John Lang * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700561h.html Language: English Date first posted: June 2017 Most recent update: June 2017 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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IT was a sad day for Henry Raymond, when, at ten years of age, he quitted, for the first time, his parents' roof for the public grammar-school at Belford-upon-Thames. Being her only surviving child, and, as such, brought up by his mother with great tenderness, he deeply felt the shock of separation from her; and, as the post-chaise rattled along the high western road, his father, who accompanied him, had no little difficulty in keeping up his son's spirits, whose young heart quite sunk within him at the idea of the weeks and months that might elapse before he should again see his mother. Nor is this grief to be wondered at; for the change from home to school, where he has to "rough it" every hour of his life, is, to a susceptible and delicately-nurtured child, as painful and startling a one as it is possible to conceive. All is so repulsive—so unlike what he has been used to! The sky-blue milk, with the tiny penny roll for breakfast; the half-cold leg of fat Leicestershire mutton, washed down with indifferent swipes, for dinner; the thick wedge of stale bread, and Lilliputian allowance of the cheapest cheese, for supper; the loud ringing of the school bell in the morning, that rouses you from a dream of home to the drudgery of syntax and prosody; the awful master, with his cane and birch, cast-iron visage, and thundering voice; the tyrannical fagging system; the confinement on long winter evenings to the dim-lit, uncarpeted hall, where you have to fight for a seat by the fireside; the hard bed, shared perhaps with a bigger boy, who doubles the bolster under his own head, borrows your share of the sheets and blankets, and kicks you out if you are so unreasonable as to remonstrate;—all these, to say nothing of various minor miseries, have a most blighting effect on the feelings of a young and sensitive boy; and Henry Raymond felt them so acutely, that, for nearly a fortnight after the return of his father to London, not a night passed but his pillow was wet with tears.
But youth's sorrows, like April showers, are transitory; and in the course of a month Henry had become tolerably well reconciled to his lot. Being endowed with a quick apprehension and retentive memory, his school tasks were not the bugbears to him that they are to those of more limited capacity. He mastered them, when he pleased, with facility, and consequently soon grew into favour with his masters; while, at the same time, he won "golden opinions" from his class-fellows by his frankness, his good-humour, and his readiness to assist them in their exercises. As his constitution, though sound, was delicate, he did not enter with much avidity into the usual sports of boyhood; but, when the hours of study were over, he would wander alone the ruins of an abbey which bordered the playground, and there seat himself, with some favourite volume in his hand, or else remain behind in the school-room, poring over the books in the well-stored library. In this way he got through the plays of Shakspeare and Beaumont and Fletcher, books of voyages and travels, biographies, histories, and translations of history without number. But his favourite reading was that which appeals to the imagination. Poetry, in particular, exercised quite a spell over him; and the effect thus produced, at a time when the mind is most susceptible of impressions, though its softening and elevating influence was for a while disturbed, was never afterwards eradicated. Such were the occupations of young Raymond's leisure hours. His classical studies were pursued with equal zest; for the head master, who was a consummate judge of character, and was impressed with a favourable opinion of his capacity, took great pains to call forth his energies; so that, by the time he reached his sixteenth year, he had become an excellent Latin scholar, and no mean proficient in the glorious literature of Greece.
In the spring of the ensuing year a severe calamity befell him in the loss of his mother, who had long been in a declining state of health, and died when he was at home for the Easter holydays. As he took this bereavement deeply to heart, the elder Raymond, whose mind—though not usually accessible to the tenderer emotions—was also much disturbed by it, resolved on a change of scene for himself and son; and accordingly they crossed over to the Continent, traversed a great portion of France, Switzerland, and Italy, mixing as much as possible in society, especially at Paris, Florence, and Lausanne, at each of which places they remained nearly two months; and returned home to London shortly after Christmas, when Henry was immediately sent back to school.
From this period a striking change took place in his character. He was no longer the quiet, studious contemplative boy he had hitherto been; for foreign travel—which has always, in youth, such a sudden quietening effect on the faculties—had invigorated and given a more worldly tone to his intellect, taught him self-confidence by enlarging the sphere of his observation, and furnished him with that tact and self-possession, which, when accompanied by a buoyant and generous spirit, are always prime favourites in the social circles. So was his physical nature less improved. His countenance, wont to wear a languid and relaxed expression, was now replete with energy; his dark eye sparkled with animation, and his tall, well-proportioned figure, braced by constant rambles among the Swiss mountains, showed that he was capable of undergoing much toil.
This change in Raymond's constitution induced a corresponding one in his tastes and pursuits. A love of reading ceased to form the predominant feature of his character—though he still read hard by fits and starts—for his high animal spirits required ruder stimulants than books could furnish him with; and his chief object of ambition now was to excel his colleagues in all athletic, out-of-door exercises. He would be aut Cæsar aut Nullus—that is to say, cock of the walk or nothing—the best cricketer, skater, boxer, &c., in the whole school; and the pre-eminence for which he thirsted was at length conceded to him, though not without many a severe struggle; for a public school is an epitome of the great world, where no distinction is to be gained except by unflinching courage and continuous energy, and against a host of jealous competitors.
The Belford playground formed a sort of table-land, which swelled gradually up from an extensive range of meadows, through which flowed the Thames, and was terminated at one end by the old-fashioned school-house, and on the other by some monastic ruins, and an artificial green mound, round which ran a brick wall with a broad dry ditch at its base. On this mound stood three magnificent elm-trees, and from its summit—as, indeed, from every other part of the elevated playground a splendid view was commanded of the neighbouring country, and particularly of some high chalk cliffs, which rose precipitously from the river, in the immediate vicinity of a picturesque village about three miles distant from Belford. From the beauty and convenience of its site—it was just on the outskirts of the town, and must originally have formed part of the abbey gardens—this playground, or rather the portion of it nearest the ruins, was a frequent resort of the lower classes of Belford; and fairs, twice a year, were held on it, infinitely to the annoyance of the boys, who considered it as their own exclusive property. Numerous, in consequence, were their quarrels with the "snobs"—as they pertly styled the invaders—and on all these occasions, on one of which he achieved the high honour of a broken head, Raymond was ever foremost to distinguish himself.
One autumnal afternoon when, the day's tasks at an end, the boys were all out on the playground, a fellow, well known by the appropriate nickname of Don Rat, came among them with a bundle of stout ash-sticks under his arm. This genius picked up a precarious subsistence by going about the country selling ballads, and fruit, and walking-sticks; and when this sort of business was slack, by "snapping up," like Autolycus, "unconsidered trifles." Scamp though he was, he was something of a favourite with the school, for he was fond of mischief, which he loved disinterestedly for its own sake, sang a capital song, and was no small proficient in mimicry. On his approach, many of the boys, among whom was Raymond, hurried up to have a chat with him, when he informed them—for he was an inveterate newsmonger, and knew all the gossip of the neighbourhood—that it was the intention of the townsmen on the morrow evening to have a cricket-match on the playground.
"Are you sure of that, Don?" enquired Raymond.
"Cock sure, sir; I heerd some on 'em a discoursing on the affair, as I were passing along the market-place last Wednesday night."
"Humph," replied Henry, sententiously, "then we must pitch into them, gents—that's all."
"Yes, yes," said one of Raymond's ardent admirers and imitators, a young fellow by name Jenkins, "we must lick the snobs off."
"That's easier said nor done," observed Don Rat.
"Nonsense," rejoined Henry, "a dozen of us are a match for a hundred of them."
"May be so; howsomever it's no affair of mine;" and having so said, and disposed of a great portion of his cudgels, at his own, by no means modest, valuation, Don Rat shuffled off the playground, with the intention, if possible, of getting rid of the remainder of his stock among the belligerents of his own order.
The next day being a half-holyday, there was ample time for preparation. Raymond, as commander-in-chief, assembled all his disposable forces, consisting of about a hundred and twenty boys ranging from fourteen to eighteen years of age, in the centre of the playground; appointed Jenkins standard-bearer, and was proceeding to enforce on his troops the necessity of their keeping close together in action, when loud shouts were heard, and presently a mob of cricketers came round the corner from the town. The moment the boys caught sight of them, they gave three stunning cheers, which, reaching the head-master's ears, he threw up his study window, and seeing at a glance how matters stood, called his pupils about him, and severely remonstrated with them on their audacity in disobeying his repeated injunctions, by attempting to pick a quarrel with the townsmen. He was going on in this strain, when Raymond, who was one of his favourites, and was apt to presume on it, apprehensive that the glorious fun would be spoiled, took advantage of an observation let fall by the doctor, to the effect that, if they persisted in their design to assault the mob, they would most assuredly be given in charge—to shout with his utmost force of lungs—"Gents, the doctor says we may charge—hurrah!"
"Hurrah for the charge!" chorused the youngsters, flourishing their cudgels above their heads, and instantly precipitated themselves in a compact phalanx on the enemy, some of whom were busy pitching the wickets, while others were busy tossing up for first innings. Fierce was the rush—tremendous the uproar—irresistible the assault! A dozen snobs at least saluted their mother earth, which so surprised and alarmed the rest, that they fled in disorder to the mound which I have already described, scrambled up the ditch, scaled the wall, and then rallied in a body on the summit. Hither they were immediately followed by the impetuous striplings; but those who reached the mound first, being staggered by the difficulties of the position, halted beside the ditch, till, Raymond coming up, restored their courage by rushing across it, and mounting the wall amid a desperate discharge of stones and bricks, flung down on him by the besieged.
While this was going forward, the doctor, alarmed for the integrity of his pupils' skulls, which frequent rows of this sort had convinced him were by no means brickbat proof, despatched an elder brother of one of his boys, a young Irish ensign of dragoons, who chanced to be dining with him, to the scene of action in the capacity of pacificator! This officer set out on his mission with the sincerest desire to restore peace; but, alas! on reaching the mound, where the besiegers and besieged were busy in strenuous conflict, he could not resist the strong inclination he felt to take an active share in the skrimmage; so, yielding at once to the temptation, he snatched a cudgel from the hands of the lad who stood nearest him, and placing himself beside Raymond, who was cheering on his troops in the very thick of the battle, he drummed away upon the enemy's heads and shoulders with a heartiness of purpose that proved him to be a pacificator of true Irish growth.
After a lively and well-sustained affair of about half-an-hour, towards the close of which Henry was hurled from the mound into the ditch, where he narrowly escaped the enviable distinction of a broken neck, the snobs took to flight; the school banner, fashioned out of his own pillow-case, which he had previously cribbed for the purpose, was planted by the standard-bearer, Jenkins, on the walls of the mound; and a few days afterwards, Raymond, in imitation of Tyrtæus, celebrated the victory in an irregular dithyrambic, which produced, as newspapers say, "an intense sensation" throughout the school.
My hero's next exploit, though of a different nature, was equally characteristic of his peculiar idiosyncrasy. At the Lent Assizes, it was the doctor's custom to grant his senior classes a whole holyday, in order that they might attend the trials in the town-hall, and so get some little insight into the mode of administering the laws of the country. This holyday, however, was not often applied to the purposes for which it was granted; for, except on very extraordinary occasions, the boys never honoured the courts with their presence, preferring instead, to go out sailing or rowing on the Thames, or driving or riding along the high-road. About a week previous to the holding of one of these assizes, it was proposed to Raymond, by his friend Jenkins, to drive over in a tandem to Windsor. The proposition was of course acceded to; but unluckily there was one serious obstacle in the way of its execution—neither of the would-be-whips could summon up more than twelve shillings, and the sum demanded for a day's hire of the vehicle was exactly one guinea! In this exigency, Henry, rendered inventive by necessity, bethought him of turning his attention to a Greek play, by mastering the difficulties of which he knew he could obtain the required sum; for the doctor, in order to stimulate their love of study, was in the habit of rewarding his pupils by money for whatever voluntary work they did out of school hours—sixpence a page, for instance, for repeating passages from the best classic French or English authors; ten shillings for construing a book of Homer, a comedy of Terence, or an oration of Cicero; and a guinea for a play of Æschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides.
Bent on putting his project into execution, and seeing no other way of accomplishing it, Henry resolved on setting to work at a Greek tragedy; and getting up by daybreak on a mild March morning, he commenced operations on the Phœnissæ, which, besides being one of the longest plays of Euripides, contains one or two choral passages as stiff as the abstrusest bits of Pindar. Urged on by the strong pressure of the case, he laboured hard, with the sole aid of his Hederick, and occasional reference to the tame, paraphrastic version of Potter; and, by dinner-time, had got through one-third of his task. After a few hasty mouthfuls of an impracticable leg of mutton, he rose from table and resumed his work; and, after twelve hours incessant application, accomplished it between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, when he repaired to the doctor's study, was subjected to a rigid examination, and finally rewarded with his guinea!
Having thus secured the viaticum, he sought out the enraptured Jenkins, and off they both set, late as was the hour, into town, at the risk—in the event of their being detected "out of bounds"—of a ferocious flogging—engaged the tandem, which they ordered to be in waiting for them at the head of a lane leading off the Belford high-road, and spent a delightful day at Windsor, whose main street to the great horror of its pacific pedestrians, they entered at a gallop to the sound of a key-bugle, and immortalized themselves by the scientific style in which they turned into the "Christopher" at Eton, which, forty years ago—the period to which this tale refers—was far from being the fine hotel which it now is. Thus passed my hero's time, varied by intervals of hard study, till he became what is called "captain of the school," when he was immediately dispatched to the University, there to be his own master, at an age when he most stood in need of strict surveillance.
Despite Gibbon's assertion to the contrary, there is much truth in the commonplace remark, that our school-days are the happiest of our lives. At no other period is the capacity of enjoyment so much on the alert within us, or its materials drawn from so many sources. With manhood comes a consciousness of responsibility, deepening as years steal on us, regulating our feelings by the square and rule of discretion, and qualifying the pleasure of to-day by the thought of to-morrow. But in boyhood there is no such drawback on happiness. Impulse prompts us to unleavened enjoyment. We have no past to regret, no future to distrust. The present is all-in-all with us; and if we ever venture to look beyond, it is with the eye of hope, who spreads before us a prospect steeped in the hues of Paradise. Then the friendships which we form at this sunny, unreflecting season! how disinterested their character—how enthusiastic the spirit that suggests them! They seem entwined with our very heart-strings; but, alas! they are mere impulses, generous but short-lived, that fade and become extinct as experience dawns on the mind. Engaged in after years too much with ourselves to bestow a thought on others, our attention is solely occupied in bustling through the crowd that every where checks our progress. Though we see the friend of our youth pressed and trodden down beneath our feet, we gaze with indifference at the sight. Perhaps at that moment a recollection of past times dims our eyes. But the crowd thickens—the trouble and hazard of interference increase; so we just cast a cautious glance about us, sigh out "poor fellow," and then pass on, leaving the object of our early love to perish or escape, as may happen. Such is human nature! The affections of the heart, like streams flowing on towards the sea, roll awhile in different channels, but are all at last centred and swallowed up in self.
This, however, was a stern truth which Raymond had yet to experience. At present he knew and felt nothing but that he was about to bid adieu to a place where he had spent many happy years, which had, in fact, been a sort of home to him; for his father—a cold, reserved London merchant, whose every thought and feeling were monopolized by business—had, since his mother's death, shown him but little active kindness.
It was in the October term that Henry quitted Belford for Cambridge, and entered himself of Peterhouse. His conduct, for the first six or eight weeks, was as orderly as could be desired. He was punctual in his attendance at chapel, hall, and lectures, and in his leisure hours assiduously cultivated the Belles Lettres. But his natural vivacity of temperament soon caused him to tire of this regular mode of life. His daily attendance at college lectures, in particular, went sadly against the grain; for he had an absolute hatred of the exact sciences and though he managed to crawl far as the "ass's bridge" in Euclid, yet he stuck fast there, like Bunyan's Pilgrim in the Slough of Despond. Being thus shut out from all chance of acquiring high academical distinction—for in those days the system pursued at Cambridge was by no means so liberal as it is now—he abandoned all idea of hard, continuous study, and determined to enlist among the oi polloi, or non-reading men of the university. In this determination he was strengthened by his old friend and school-fellow, Jenkins—a silly, good-natured young man, with a rosy expanse of countenance, always on the grin—who arrived at Cambridge at the end of the Christmas vacation, and soon began to influence Raymond's actions by his animal spirits, his unassuming temper, and his ardent love of a frolic.
"Harry," said this ingenious and enlightened freshman, as the two friends encountered each other one cold winter morning in the pease-market, "you must come and wine with me to-day; you must indeed. I'll take no excuse. There will be some capital fellows to meet you—Potts of Trinity—Lloyd of Jesus—fine fellow Lloyd; such a voice! sings like a nightingale; you may hear him half down Trumpington Street—Thompson of Christ's; I'm sure you'll like Thompson; he's a charming boxer, and so fond of a row! Then, too, he's got such a beautiful collection—quite a museum—of knockers, bell-handles, street-lamps, and wooden highlanders, all carried off by himself. I declare he's quite a credit to the university, and I think myself most fortunate in knowing him."
"I've no doubt Thompson is all you say, but I shall not be able to meet him."
"Because," added Raymond gravely, "I've promised to get the whole of Simpson's Euclid by heart, and repeat it, word for word, at lecture to-morrow. I'm sure, Jinks, you're too much of a man of honour to wish me to break my promise."
"O Lord! O Lord, how good! That's so like you! Just the same fellow you were at Belford. But, joking apart, you really must come, and we'll make a night of it; and to-morrow, if the frost holds, we'll have our long-talked of skate to Ely. Thompson tells me the Cathedral's well worth looking at; and we can get a capital dinner at the George, for it's the inn where all the parsons put up."
"Well, for this once," replied Henry, slyly, "I don't much mind sacrificing duty to inclination. But remember, I won't have it drawn into a precedent; for it's highly indecorous to be tossing off heel-taps among a set of hardened reprobates, when one should be seated alone in one's study, erecting an isosceles triangle on a given straight line. I can hardly reconcile it to my conscience, I assure you."
"Hah! hah! I wish Thompson was by to hear you. He does so relish a bit of fun."
"What time do you commence operations?"
"Early, say four o'clock, for we shall have a good deal of business to get through. I've just laid in a fresh stock of Timmins's best port; but I must not stay chatting here, for I've an appointment at twelve with Potts at Chesterton, and it's now past eleven; so, adieu till four, Harry, and be sure you don't forget to-morrow."
Punctual to the hour, Raymond made his appearance at Jenkins's rooms, where he found a snug party of eight assembled; and among them the illustrious Thompson, a jolly, rough-hewn, stout-built fellow, bearing no slight resemblance to the figure-head of a Newcastle collier. This remarkable biped was famous for his practical jokes, and had recently achieved an undying celebrity for the skill with which he had contrived to tie two tutors of Trinity together by the coat-tails, while they were standing side by side in Trumpington Street, staring up at a comet which was then nightly visible in the heavens. This difficult, and—in less scientific hands—impracticable achievement, he of course looked on as his chef-d'æuvre; and when Raymond was made acquainted with it, he felt, with a blush of conscious inferiority, that he had yet much to learn ere he could hope to become a Thompson!
After the bottle had made about a dozen rounds of the table, its effects soon manifested themselves; and by the time some thirteen or fourteen corks had been drawn, the experienced Thompson was the only one of the party who had not utterly disqualified himself for passing muster at a temperance society. One mercurial young freshman threw up the window, despite the intense cold, and amused himself by taking aim at the people below him with nuts and apples; another, who was rather sparingly endowed with brains, kept telling the same story four or five times over; a third, while endeavouring to show himself particularly sober, disappeared under the table, where he fell fast asleep, and was accommodated with a pair of cork mustaches, the coal-scuttle for a pillow, and a fragment of Jenkins's silk gown for a nightcap; and a fourth, snatching up the tongs, rushed out of the room in a perfect paroxysm of pugnacity! This effervescing gownsman was immediately followed by the rest of the party, and an energetic street row commenced, like that which has been described with such graphic skill in Reginald Dalton. It was soon, however, put a stop to by the timely apparition of the proctor and his bull-dogs; and the belligerents proceeded in a body towards Castle-end, where, at Thompson's suggestion, they tore off a placard of "Seminary for Young Ladies," from a girls' school near the turnpike, and affixed it on the great gates of Trinity!
When Jenkins called next morning on Raymond, he found him looking exceedingly dismal. His hand shook, his head ached, and his cheeks were as yellow as a daffodil. "Well, Harry," said the former, "what do you think of Thompson?"
"Oh! a decent fellow enough."
"Yes, and what astonishing abilities! Do you know what he did after you left us last night? Kissed old T——, the tutor, by mistake! Seeing him come waddling along in his black gown, he mistook him for a clergyman's widow, and insisted on a chaste salute, if only, as he said, to show his respect for the cloth. The old fellow roared 'murder,' just as if he were having his throat cut; upon which we all took to our heels, and knocked up a friend at Barnwell, who gave us some devilled kidneys and a bottle of Madeira, which soon set us all to rights."
"Yet you look a little out of sorts, Jinks, for all that."
"Who, I? Never was better in my life, with the exception of a slight headache, which I attribute to early rising;" and so saying, Jenkins made a vigorous attack on the broiled fowls, tongue, ham, &c., which the gyp had just placed on the table; and which, with the addition of a strong cup of green tea, with about a thimbleful of brandy in it, soon completed his and Raymond's restoration. After breakfast the friends sallied down to the fields near Sapsford's boat-house, and thence started on their novel skating expedition. The day was bright, but intensely cold; the clouds floated high in heaven; the dew hung unmelted on the thistle's beard; and the frosted grass in the meadows that stretch along the river's southern bank, gave out a sharp, crackling sound as the ploughman crushed it beneath his tread. Swiftly and cheerily the two Cantabs flew along the smooth, leaden surface of the Cam, which here bears the closest possible resemblance to a Dutch canal, and is about as alert and lively in its movements; experiencing the highest sense of animal enjoyment as a fresh, north-east wind blew right against them.
When they had accomplished nearly a-third of their journey, they came to a small village, on whose outskirts stood a pretty cottage in the centre of a flower-garden, about two hundred yards or so from the river. Just as Raymond passed it—his companion was some distance in advance—two ladies appeared at the garden-gate, where they stood for a few minutes as if considering what direction they should take for a walk. On catching sight of these fair strangers, Henry moderated his pace, and cast a scrutinizing glance towards them; but the distance at which they stood prevented him from distinguishing more than that one stooped considerably and wore spectacles, and that the other was tall, slender, and graceful in figure, whence he sagely inferred that they were mother and daughter, and felt strongly disposed to believe, also, that the latter was a remarkably pretty girl. Impressed with this agreeable notion, he could not resist the temptation—oh! the exquisite self-conceit of youth!—of showing off; and accordingly, instead of pursuing his course, he began cutting a variety of figures on the ice, now rolling on the inside edge, and whirling semicircularly on the spread-eagle, with an ease and elegance that he felt persuaded were irresistible.
Thus was he occupied, when suddenly, just as he was advancing with a long graceful sweep towards the bank, nearly opposite the gate where the ladies were standing, a large stone—those infernal stones are always in the way on delicate occasions like this!—tripped him up, and down he came with a dismal crash on the ice, his hat flying off in his descent. Infinite were his shame and confusion at this unexpected and inelegant catastrophe. The pain of his fall he thought nothing of; but how humiliating to be made the object of a pretty girl's laughter, at the very moment when he fancied her rapt in admiration of the grace and dignity of his attitudes! Scrambling up again as quickly as he could, and afraid to look behind him, lest his glowing scarlet face might betray his anguished sensibilities, he shot forward like lightning to rejoin Jenkins; and when he came up with him, took care to preserve a discreet silence on the subject of his inglorious mishap.
No other incident worthy of notice occurred till the friends reached Ely, a small, old-fashioned city, remarkable only for its supernatural dulness and ugliness. The very aspect of this Bæotian spot is provocative of slumber. There is no bustle, no variety of any sort to break its drowsy still-life. The tradesmen seem to be without business, and half the dingy private houses without tenants; the women you meet in the streets are, for the most part, elderly, and have thick ankles; and as for the men, they are generally plump, apoplectic, and of singular breadth in the stern; dressed in rusty black, with a cotton umbrella poking out under their left arm, and the last number of the Quarterly Review sticking out of their coat-pocket; and when they stop to converse, or rather to drone like cockchafers, they have a horrid trick of catching each other by the buttonhole!
Yet dull as it is, to a degree bordering on the miraculous, Ely is not without its attraction. It has a magnificent cathedral, scarcely even surpassed by that at York; and hither, while the dinner, which they had ordered at the head hotel, was getting ready, Raymond and Jenkins repaired. Having ascended to the summit of one of the towers, they were greatly struck, not only with the extensive prospect that lay stretched out beneath them, but also with its very peculiar character. In whatever direction they cast their eyes, the country—a dead cheerless flat—appeared to be but one large sheet of frozen water, with here and there a lean hedge, a half-starved elm which looked like a quiz upon vegetation, a damp, rheumatic cottage, or a forlorn spire peeping out in the midst of it. Northward, in the far distance, might be seen the summits of Peterborough cathedral; and eastward, that noble sheet of water, Whittlesea Mere, which is surrounded by a broad fringe of bullrushes, the unshaved growth of ages; and is so full of fish of the most gigantic size, that if an angler happens to hook a pike, it is a moot point whether he pulls the monster out, or it pulls him into, the water!
Having sufficiently admired this paradisaical landscape, Henry and his companion, who were by this time as ravenous as one of the pikes of which I have just made honourable mention, returned to dinner to their hotel, where they took up their quarters for the night, and at an early hour next day set out again for Cambridge.
In this manner, among a set of extravagant, non-reading men, Henry passed his freshman's year, the only orderly portion of which, was that spent at home in vacation time. Yet despite the constant round of gayety in which he indulged, he was far from feeling happy; and no wonder, for nothing can be more commonplace, or barren of satisfaction, than the course of dissipation pursued at Cambridge. Billiards—boating on the narrow, muddy Cam—tippling at parties, where the wine is generally as bad as the jokes, a row at night, with its customary accompaniment, a black eye—tandem-driving, where the odds are, that the shaft-horse falls lame after the first few miles, and the leader turns right round, and coolly stares you in the face every fourth or fifth yard, indulging the while in a sly horse-laugh at your expense—a trip to Newmarket, the dullest race-course in Christendom, where little more is to be seen than just a few horsemen scampering with blue noses across the chilly heath, a few carriages drawn up alongside the course, and a squad of individuals in shabby hats and old great-coats standing about the betting-post, looking, the majority, as keen and business-like as if they were on 'Change, and some as scampish as if they had just eloped from the tread-mill—such are the amusements of the non-reading men at Cambridge; and of these it is no wonder that Henry soon began to tire, the more especially as they had involved him in heavy pecuniary embarrassments.
Just at this critical juncture, when, pressed by the importunities of his creditors, he was meditating a return to a more regular and economical mode of life, a circumstance took place, which, unimportant as it at first appeared, had a decisive effect on his after destiny. He had agreed to accompany Jenkins to a grand public ball at the Huntingdon assembly rooms, for which his friend had procured tickets; and after a quick drive in one of Jordan's nattiest mail-carts, they put up at the Fountain inn in that town, where they dined, dressed, and then, in the course of the evening, set out for the rooms in question.
On their entrance they took up their position near the door, and amused themselves while a country-dance was going forward—for as yet quadrilles were not—with watching the company as they came in, and looking about them for eligible partners for the next set. A few minutes after their arrival, an elderly lady entered the room, leaning on the arm of a young girl, whose uncommon beauty at once fixed Raymond's attention. "Jinks," said he, "do, for God's sake, look at that lovely creature who has just taken her seat opposite us! Did you ever see such a face?"
"Face!" replied Jenkins laughing, "yes, she has a face, certainly, and has had one these sixty years, I'll swear. Young, indeed! Why, she's an old woman, as dry as a chip, and with scarcely a tooth in her head!"
"Idiot! I don't mean her—I mean the girl who is sitting next but one to her, and is now talking to that lady in half-mourning."
"Oh, aye, she's something like," observed Jenkins, "quite a Venus, as you said at Belford when you kissed the tart-woman's daughter behind the hedge. You remember that, don't you?"
Without vouchsafing any reply to this delicate school reminiscence, Raymond abruptly quitted his companion, and hurried off to the master of the ceremonies, who was standing at the upper end of the room, near the dancers. He was a formal beau of the Chesterfield school; was overpoweringly polite in his manners, accompanying almost every third word by a bow; and took snuff out of a massive gold box, which he tapped thrice previous to opening it, with an air of ineffable dignity. His countenance expressed a grave self-sufficiency, the result of an unalterable conviction that his office was one of first-rate importance, and dancing the most intellectual accomplishment in the world.
When Raymond came up to him, he was discussing the comparative merits of the minuet and the country-dance with a gentleman who appeared to possess all the qualifications of a good listener. He stopped for an instant just to make a bow to the young Cantab, while at the same time he directed a discriminating glance at his costume, and then resumed as follows:—"As you say, sir, the country-dance is lively and bustling enough, but there is one great objection to it—it does not afford scope for developing the higher order of genius. The slow, stately minuet was the thing, sir, that brought out talent in the most surprising manner. As to the country-dance, I must confess that I look on it as a sign of the degeneracy of the times—in fact, it is not a dance at all, but a game of romps, very unsuitable to the dignity of the national character. I remember the late Duke of Godmanchester made the same——"
"You knew his grace, then, Mr Walker?" said his attentive listener.
"Sir, I had that distinguished felicity," replied the master of the ceremonies with grave emphasis. "I knew his grace, I may say, intimately; and on one remarkable occasion I had the honour of being specially invited to the castle, to superintend the arrangements for a grand public ball which his grace gave on his son's coming of age. I well recollect that ball, sir; it was the most splendid affair of the sort ever seen in the county, and went off so much to his grace's satisfaction, that the next day, when I waited on him by appointment, 'Walker,' said his grace—his grace, I should tell you, had a very playful and affable way of expressing himself—'Walker,' said he, 'you're a d——d clever fellow, and managed matters admirably last night.' There wasn't much in the words, but it was the manner that was so taking; manner is every thing in good society. Well, with that, sir, his grace went into the next room, and returned in a few minutes with a handsome gold snuff-box, which he requested my acceptance of, in token, as he flatteringly observed, of his and the duchess's approbation of my conduct."
"I suppose," said the gentleman, "that is the box you now hold in your hand."
"Sir, your hypothesis is well founded," rejoined Mr Walker.
"Indeed! Well, I'm sure it was very handsome in his grace."
"Handsome!" observed the master of the ceremonies, "sir, there was no end to his grace's generosity. He was a public benefactor in the noblest sense of the term, and gave us this splendid chandelier for our ball-room. I may call him, indeed, one of the most shining characters of his day, for he danced like an angel—I say it advisedly—like an angel. Then his bow! it was an epoch in one's life to have seen that man bow. Ah, sir, when I think of what his grace was as a dancer, I often say to myself, what might he not have been, had he devoted the powers of his great mind to affairs of state! But he's gone—broke his neck at a fox hunt—it was a thousand pities."
"Dear, dear; how shocking!" exclaimed the gentleman.
"Sir, you're quite right; it was shocking—I remember thinking so at the time, and I am still of the same opinion."
"Does the present duke inherit any of his father's genius?" enquired the gentleman, with a smile.
"Not much," replied the master of the ceremonies. "In the first place, he has a very indifferent leg—I say it advisedly—a very indifferent leg for a minuet; and secondly, between you and me, he has no more idea of keeping time than the chandelier above us. However," continued Mr Walker, in his most benevolent and encouraging manner, "let us hope for the best; his grace is young yet, and may improve."
"You have a pretty full attendance to-night, Mr Walker," interposed Raymond, who had been on thorns during this prolix discourse.
"We have so, sir; but the rooms are not near so well attended as they used to be in the late duke's time. You're from the university, I presume?"
"I guessed as much," said the master of the ceremonies, with one of his profoundest bows; "a pleasant place Cambridge—rather too cold in winter though. Will you do me the honour to take a pinch of snuff, sir? I rather pique myself on this snuff, which I call the Godmanchester Mixture, from the circumstance of its having been a great favourite with the late duke."
"It is certainly a well-flavoured snuff," replied Henry, applying a moderate portion to his olfactories, "but a little too pungent."
"Bless me, how odd! That's the very same remark that the late duke made, when he first honoured me by taking a pinch! 'Walker,' said he— for his grace was singularly happy at repartee—'your snuff is not to be sneezed at, I can tell you that!' Uncommon smart—wasn't it? I thought I should have died of laughing."
"Just so," rejoined Raymond impatiently; and then mentioning his name, and his desire to obtain a partner for the next set of dances, he requested and obtained an introduction to Miss Wyndham, the young girl who had so much struck his fancy. After chatting a few minutes with her and her companion, a quiet, good-humoured, middle-aged lady, well known to the master of the ceremonies, Raymond led the former out to dance, not a little proud of his good fortune in having thus early secured the hand of the prettiest female in the room. She was, indeed, a most attractive creature, slight and graceful in figure, with luxuriant auburn hair, black eyes, sparkling with intelligence and vivacity, an oval-shaped countenance, just lightly and delicately tinged with the rosy hue of health, and a small, exquisitely formed mouth, in the angles of which a smile seemed always nestling. Her manners were frank, playful, and of singularly fascinating simplicity; and there was an archness and tempered freedom in her conversation, that indicated a nature not yet trammelled and sophisticated by the conventional etiquette of society.
When the dance was at an end, Raymond led his partner back to her seat, and a lively conversation ensued, in which the elderly lady occasionally took part. "I am sure you are fond of dancing, Miss Wyndham," said Henry, "by the way in which you excell in it."
"I am indeed very partial to it; but I go out so seldom, and have so few opportunities of following it up, that I dare hardly venture to call myself a dancer. Now your favourite amusement, I should say, was—let me see—skating: am I right?"
"Partly so; I am certainly fond of skating, but I cannot say I prefer it to dancing. How should I, when I am honoured with you for a partner?"
"I do not wonder," observed Miss Wyndham, taking no notice of this compliment, "at your fondness for skating; it is a graceful amusement, especially when a perverse stone happens to come in one's way, and cause an unlucky tumble. Such things have occurred, I'm told;" and the saucy girl looked archly at Raymond, while a roguish smile hovered about her rosy lips.
"Tumble! I never tumble!" exclaimed Henry, with as much cool assurance as if he had been baptized in the waters of the Shannon.
"It is not every skater who can boast of such good fortune," slyly resumed Miss Wyndham; "for a short time since, when I happened to be going out with grandmamma for a walk by the river's side, I saw an unhappy gentleman tumble backward on the ice, at the very moment when he was exhibiting some most graceful attitudes. I assure you grandmamma quite felt for him; it was so disagreeable, you know, to fall at such a time—quite a catastrophe."
"So, then, it was you who were the eyewitness of my mishap," replied Raymond, affecting to laugh. "I remember the circumstance well, and also that two ladies were standing near a garden-gate at the time, no doubt highly amused at what they must have thought was my clumsiness: I can assure you, however, that the accident was one that might have occurred—indeed often does occur—to the very best skaters."
Henry then hastened to change the conversation, which was soon afterwards put an end to by the early departure of the ladies; but not before he had contrived to become acquainted with their address, and dexterously extorted permission to wait on them the next day, in order to ascertain how they were after the fatigues of the night. No sooner had he accompanied them to the sedan—those were the days of sedan-chairs—which was in waiting to convey them home, than he returned to the spot which Miss Wyndham had so lately occupied, and stood there, looking half bewildered, as if a bright light had suddenly vanished from his path. Strange infatuation! But three short hours before, he had not known that there was such a creature as Julia Wyndham in existence; yet now she occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of every other consideration!
He was just about quitting the ballroom, having wholly forgotten his friend Jenkins, when that worthy came up and joined him. "Well, Harry," said he, "you've had a pretty good spell of it with those ladies. Egad, I must confess the youngest is about as pretty a girl as I ever saw. I would not interrupt you, as I saw you so resolutely bent on having her all to yourself. It's not fair though—curse me if it is; you should have given me a turn, instead of leaving me to shift for myself. I've only had two partners, both old and ugly, one of whom did nothing but chatter, and the other wouldn't open her mouth. But, come, it's time for us to be going."
"Going! What do you mean? They're gone; I saw them myself to their sedan——"
"I said nothing about a sedan; but merely that it is time for us to be going."
"Oh, aye—true! I misunderstood you. Well, come along, I'm ready."
"I see how it is," observed Jenkins to himself, as they returned together to the Fountain, "a second edition of the tart-woman's daughter! However, it's no business of mine; but only to see now how easily some birds are caught—and so shrewd as I always thought him!—O Lord! O Lord!"
Julia Wyndham, whose parents had died when she was in her infancy, resided with her grandmother, the widow of a physician, in a small village, a few miles distant from Cambridge, where Raymond had first seen her. The old lady and her granddaughter lived in great seclusion—for their means were somewhat straitened—associating only with two or three intimate friends at Kimbolton, and at Huntingdon, with one of whom Julia was now staying on a short visit. In the more modern acceptation of the term, Miss Wyndham would not have been considered accomplished, for her acquaintance with music was far from scientific; she knew nothing of Italian; and, as a dancer, would hardly—notwithstanding the natural elegance of her movements—have passed muster with so critical a judge of the art as the Huntingdon master of the ceremonies. But, though not highly accomplished, she was a very delightful girl; for she sang and played with infinite feeling, had a keen sense of humour, tempered by the strictest feminine delicacy; was of a lively, affectionate nature, and as ignorant of the world as those usually are whose youth has passed in retirement.
Henry, as may be surmised, was not long in making discovery of all these attractive qualities; and, when he visited Julia next day, previous to his return with Jenkins to Cambridge, she confirmed, by her artlessness and vivacity, the favourable impression she had made on him the night before. At the moment of his entrance, she was seated with Mrs Lovat—the lady at whose house she was staying—in the drawing-room, copying a print of one of Murillo's Spanish shepherd boys. After the usual introductory commonplaces, the conversation ran upon the scenery of the neighbourhood, which Raymond justly pronounced to be the most insipid he had ever seen.
"It has, indeed, few attractions to boast of," observed Mrs Lovat.
"Oh, do not say so!" replied Julia, laughing, "think of the banks of the Cam!"
"True!" exclaimed Raymond, falling in with the lively girl's humour, "I forgot that classic stream, so pellucid—so picturesque—so every way worthy of Arcadia."
"And have you nothing to say too," resumed Julia, "in praise of those charming moorlands which lie between our village and this town? Do you know that, when we crossed them the other day, I actually counted not less than three dwarf-elms within the compass of a dozen miles! You look incredulous, but it is a fact. My arithmetic may be relied on."
"I have heard say that a tree—or rather the apparition of one—is occasionally to be met with in this neighbourhood; but, as I am no believer in ghosts, I scouted the assertion as a calumny. If I recollect rightly, however, the scenery improves near your village."
"Oh, yes!" said Julia, "there can be no question of that. We have, for instance, the similitude of a field within a reasonable walking distance of us—to say nothing of a garden or two, where, provided you are endowed with keen faculties of observation, you may sometimes detect an imperfectly developed rose, and very frequently a currant or gooseberry bush!"
"You astonish me, Miss Wyndham! Of all things, I should like to visit this romantic village of yours; for its acquaintance must be as well worth making as that of our remarkable friend, the master of the ceremonies, with his long story about the Duke of Godmanchester."
"I would not advise you to try the experiment," observed Julia; "for your visit will be sure to end in disappointment."
Henry was about to make a most gallant reply, when Mrs Lovat, addressing her young guest, said, "Julia, my love, Mr Raymond, I am sure, will excuse my reminding you that we have some morning-calls to make, and that it is getting late."
This gentle intimation had the desired effect, and the young Cantab rose to take leave, not a little surprised to find that, instead of the short ten minutes' visit he had calculated on, he had been chatting upwards of half an hour. When he returned to his hotel, he found the tandem at the door, and Jenkins anxiously looking out for him. "My God, Harry!" exclaimed the latter, "what can have detained you so long? You told me you would not be gone more than five minutes, and here's the tandem been standing at the door nearly an hour. It's too bad, upon my life it is, to keep one waiting in this way. But, come! jump in; we've not a moment to lose."
On their road home, Raymond, in answer to his friend's repeated enquiries, acquainted him with the particulars of his visit to Miss Wyndham, carefully suppressing, however, all mention of the singular fact, that he had feloniously abstracted one of her gloves, which he chanced to find lying on the sofa, out of consideration, no doubt, to Jenkins's morals, who would have been shocked at the idea of familiarly associating with one who had subjected himself to the penalty of the tread-mill.
When they reached Cambridge, Henry, who was by this time quite ennuyéed with his companion's small talk, and was specially anxious to be alone—a remarkable feature in the idiosyncrasy of young lovers—quitted him, and went off to his own rooms, whither he was soon afterwards followed by his gyp. "Oh, sir!" said the servant, "there's been such a to-do since you left! Timmins the wine-merchant, and Screw the tailor, and I don't know how many more on 'em, have been here raging like so many mad bulls. They say you've put 'em off quite long enough, and that they wont wait till next term; and, ecod! I believe 'em."
"Humph!" said Raymond, with a sardonic smile, "a clear case of combination and conspiracy. And what did you do?"
"Do? Bless you, what could I do? They wouldn't take no notice to quit; and though I told 'em over and over again it were no use their staying here, blowing you up behind your back, they stuck all the faster for it; so at last I were obligated to go down to the unoccupied rooms below—them as Mr Spinks has just left—and sing out 'Murder!' Upon which they all rushed down stairs to see what was the matter, when I instantly shoves past 'em, hurries up again, and sports the oak."
"A very ingenious contrivance, Tom; you deserve a fellowship for it."
The bashful Thomas made no reply to this dulcet compliment, but contented himself with observing, "It's only getting rid on 'em for a day, sir; they'll be sure to be back to-morrow, more wicious than ever. I know 'em well—too well I may say—for many and many's the good master I've had as has had his temper quite spoiled by 'em. They've no bowels, sir—at least none to sinnify—but go on dunning, day after day, just for the pleasure of the thing, or because they think it good for their health, I suppose. If you'll take my advice, sir, you'll——"
"That will do, Tom; now leave me; I'm tired; and be sure you shut the outer door after you."
When the servant was gone, Raymond began considering by what means he might best extricate himself from the consequence of his thoughtless extravagance; but before he could come to any decisive resolution, a message was brought to him from the master of the college, requesting his immediate attendance; and when he waited on that august dignitary, behold, it was to receive sentence of confinement to gates, hall, and chapel for a week, in consequence of the flagrant manner in which he had of late neglected his routine duties! How now should he act? Were he to obey this peremptory mandate, he would lose his best chance of strengthening his acquaintance with Julia; and were he to set it at nought, he would, in the event of discovery, be rusticated, and perhaps expelled. Either alternative was a painful one; but love, as it generally is at the green age of twenty, was victorious. What! live for a whole week without seeing Miss Wyndham—he who held possession of her glove, and was bound, therefore, as a gentleman to return the precious vestment? Impossible! It was his duty instantly to see her; and accordingly, on the fourth day after the ball, he quitted Peterhouse by the back way, and set out for Huntingdon.
Mrs Lovat received him civilly, but somewhat coldly, he thought; and Julia smiled with much archness when he gravely pleaded, as an excuse for his visit, the glove which he had taken away in the hurry of the moment, in mistake for his own. In the course of conversation, however, he so won upon the elder lady by the respectful deference of his manner, that she mentioned that she should be happy to see him, should circumstances ever again lead him to Huntingdon; and after he was gone, praised him to Julia as a modest, intelligent, well bred, and virtuous young man, who appeared to have none of the dissipated habits so common among Cambridge men of his age.
Having thus gained the suffrages of the two ladies, Raymond took every opportunity of improving his good fortune; and when Julia returned home at the expiration of a month, he visited her quite on the footing of an old friend, and made the same favourable impression on her grandmother that he had previously made on Mrs Lovat. The result may be conjectured. A strong mutual attachment sprung up between the young people; and the old lady, without directly encouraging it, permitted the affair to take its own course, for she had every confidence in Julia's prudence, and was naturally anxious to see her happily settled before she herself (a poor annuitant) should be removed from the stage of life.
This was a happy period of Henry's existence; but, alas! it was not without its alloy. His creditors beset him day after day with their clamorous importunities; and however anxious to do so, he had no present means of liquidating their demands. From his father he had but slender hopes of assistance, for he was a man who would not, or could not, make allowance for youthful indiscretions; and who was now more reserved than ever towards his son, having recently married a vain, but wealthy widow, against whom Henry had early imbibed a strong prejudice, from the circumstance that she had caused the removal of his revered mother's picture from the drawing-room, where it used to hang, to a small, smoky, half-furnished back parlour, which was seldom or never used except as a lumber-room. But though he had not much hope of assistance from his father, and felt persuaded, that whatever influence his mother in-law possessed would be exerted rather against than for him, still he resolved to make the experiment of an application; and, accordingly, he dispatched a letter to the old gentleman, wherein he made a candid confession of his follies, stated the exact extent of his embarrassments, and respectfully requested his aid, at the same time promising amendment for the future.
Nor was this an idle boast, for a change for the better was already in progress in the young man's mind. He no longer courted the society of his old companions; his intercourse with Julia had imparted a healthier tone to his feelings, refined his tastes, and given a nobler direction to his ambition. How coarse and debasing now appeared his late career of dissipation! How barren of all, save the most humiliating, results! But henceforth he was a changed man. The scales had fallen from his eyes, and he saw things in their true nature—thanks to the influence of that sentiment, whose seeds, according as they fall on rank or generous soils, produce either deadly poisons or wholesome fruits!
One evening, when Raymond had gone to visit Julia, and his gyp was busy in his rooms getting coffee ready against his return, a grave, elderly gentleman entered, whom the servant, with that quick-wittedness peculiar to Cambridge gyps, at once conjectured to be his master's father.
"Mr Raymond, I presume, is out?" said the stranger, seating himself on the sofa; "do you know when he will be in?"
"I expect him in, sir, every——I mean, I can't exactly undertake to say when he will be in; for, when he goes out at this hour, he generally stays out a pretty long time, for the sake of the fresh air and exercise. He fags so desperate hard during the day, that he almost always gets a sick headache, and I've heard him say as nothing revives him so much as a long walk."
"Indeed! I understood that he was rather gay in his habits; gave large dinner parties; kept a tandem; and——"
"What, master keep a tandem!" exclaimed the gyp with well-feigned astonishment. "Lord, sir, he'd just as soon think of keeping a hearse. No, so far from that, sir, I do assure you he fags so hard, that I'm sadly afeard at times he'll lose his precious eyesight. Often and often he gets up in the middle of the night, makes his-self some strong gunpowder tea, without milk or sugar, in order to keep his-self awake, and then works away like a dray-horse till the chapel bell rings. Ah, sir, if all Cambridge men was like him! But I beg pardon, I don't think he'll be in just yet; so, if you'll please to leave your name, I'll be sure to tell him the first thing when he comes in."
"Your master, you say, has only gone out for a walk?"
"That's all, sir, I do assure you."
"Then I'll wait here till he returns."
The authoritative tone in which this was spoken, confirmed the gyp in his impression that the stranger was no other than Raymond's father; so he hurried from the room, and stationed himself at the foot of the staircase, in order to communicate the intelligence to his master, and prepare him for the interview. He had not kept watch at his post above ten minutes, when Raymond came in, and seeing his servant evidently on the look-out, exclaimed, "More duns, Tom?"
"Not exactly that, but something almost as bad, I'm afeard."
"Hah, indeed! What can that be? Another summons to the master?"
"No, sir, but the governor's up stairs, looking as black as thunder."
"Yes, sir; I twigged the old gentleman at once, by the way in which he spoke, and his taking out his glasses to have a good stare at your bookshelves. I do hope, sir, for both our sakes, that all's right there; you should always keep a dog's-eared grammar, or dictionary, or such-like, lying about, sir; it looks business-like. My late master, as lost his fortune at Newmarket, always did so; and it's astonishing, I've heerd him say, how useful he found it."
"So, my father has really arrived!" exclaimed Raymond, cutting short the gyp's eloquence; "now, then, all must come out."
"He has indeed arrived, sir, and werry queer he looks too; I can't tell what to make of him. Howsever, I did all I could to put him in a pleasant humour. I told him as you was killing yourself by inches with hard study, and had only just stepped out to walk off a sick headache, which you'd picked up in the course of the morning's reading. God help me for telling such a thumper! But it was for your good I did it, sir; so perhaps you'll stand to it, for if I'm caught out in a lie, I shall lose my character; and what's life without character?"
With this fine moral flourish, which he uttered with exceeding unction, the gyp quitted his master, who slowly and thoughtfully went up to his rooms. As he threw open the door, he saw his father busily examining his book-shelves, and hastening towards him, held out his hand, of which the other took no notice, but, re-seating himself on the sofa, beckoned Henry to a chair opposite him, and then looking him sternly in the face, addressed him as follows, in that deliberate tone of voice which indicates an inflexible resolution:—"My presence here seems to have taken you by surprise."
"If so, sir, it is an agreeable surprise."
"Not so, young man, if I may judge by the conduct of your servant, who has been trying hard to deceive me as to your real character. However, my business is not with him, but with you. In your last communication to me, wherein you allude to what you are gently pleased to call your 'follies'—yes, 'follies' is the word!—you have inclosed a schedule of your debts. Are all included in that schedule?"
"I am not aware that any are omitted."
"They do you credit, certainly, both in point of amount and character. You have been at Cambridge scarcely two years, and yet, over and above the allowance which I made you, you have contrived to incur obligations to the extent of nine hundred pounds."
"I am aware, sir, that I have acted very wrongly; but I do hope you will overlook it, for I can say with the most perfect sincerity that of late I have turned over quite a new leaf."
"Young man," replied the elder Raymond, with increased sternness of manner, "do not add falsehood to your other faults. I have just left the college tutor—you should have calculated the likelihood of this, before you talked of turning over a new leaf—and he tells me that you have as shamefully neglected your studies, as you have squandered my money. Now, sir, what reply can you make to this?"
"My tutor," said Henry, his natural impetuosity getting the better of him, "is an old, formal, mathematical pedant, who can make no allowance for the peculiar difficulties of my position."
"Difficulties of your own raising."
"Not so, by heaven! Is it my fault that, having received an exclusively classical education, I have no head for the exact sciences, and cannot master even the rudiments of Euclid and algebra? Could I have conquered my repugnance to these pursuits, I had been as indefatigable a student as any in the university; but finding that impossible——"
"Impossible!" exclaimed his father, hastily interrupting him, "nothing is impossible to industry and perseverance. But you preferred dissipation to study, and thought it, no doubt, a much finer thing to cut a figure among rakes and fools, than among intelligent orderly scholars. Well, you have had your way, and now I will have mine. I intended you, as you know, for the bar; but that project I abandon altogether, for with habits such as you possess, you would be a briefless barrister to the end of your days. Prepare, therefore, immediately to enter my counting-house, where, though I confess I have no great hopes of you, I shall at least have the comfort of knowing that you are under strict surveillance."
"Sir," said Henry, with considerable agitation, "think better of this scheme, pray do. I have not the slightest notion of commerce, and never shall have: my thoughts—my feelings—all the tastes and habits of my life—alike revolt from it."
"In plain English, you will agree to nothing that requires labour. Be it so; but bear this in mind—no idle profligate, who affects to be above the vulgarities of commerce, even though he be my own son, shall ever reap the harvest of my long life of toil."
The spirit of this was harsh and decided; but nothing could be calmer than the manner in which it was conveyed. While Henry was pondering on the subject, and endeavouring to devise some scheme to ward off the evil hour, in the hope that the "chapter of accidents" would erelong come to his relief, his father's eye chanced to fall on a volume of Collins's Poems, which lay half-concealed beneath the sofa-cushion, and taking it up with an air of indifference, just glanced at the title-page, wherein he saw, written in a lady's hand, the words "Julia Wyndham."
Tossing the book from him with a look of supreme contempt, "I am now no longer at a loss," he observed, "to account for your late habits of dissipation. This woman, I suppose, is one of the respectable associates you have picked up at Cambridge; and is, doubtless, in full possession of your confidence."
"Yes," replied Raymond, bursting at once from all restraint, "she is in my confidence, and is worthy of it."
"Indeed!" said his father, drawling out the words in a tone of stinging irony, "this is candid, at any rate. Upon my word, you improve, young man!"
"Father—father!" exclaimed Henry, "do not—I beg—I implore you—do not slander a young lady of whom you can by possibility know nothing. Say of me what you please, but not a word against her. To respect her, you have only to be once in her society; will you then condescend to see her, and I will answer for your changing your opinion?"
"See her! see your mistress! are you mad?"
"My mistress! It is false—false as hell;" and, starting from his seat, Raymond paced up and down the room like a maniac.
It was curious to mark the contrast that father and son presented at this moment. Both were highly excited, but the former maintained his self-possession; while the latter, with indignant gestures and flashing eyes, continued striding up and down the apartment, muttering between his clenched teeth the word "mistress." The accents of the one were loud, impassioned, and at times almost approaching to a scream; those of the other were rigidly subdued, nearly to a whisper, as if he feared to trust himself with his emotions. The son's countenance was as crimson as red-hot steel; the father's was deadly pale; and but for the quivering lip and close-knit eyebrow, one would have had no idea of the stormy passions that were at work within him.
At length the elder Raymond, again addressing his son, said, "Henry, listen to me, for the last time. Who this woman may be, I neither know nor care. She may be all you say she is, or my suspicions may be correct; but granting she is what you would have me believe her to be, you cannot—situated as you are—marry her; and, if she be a mere intriguer, you must be a fool and an abandoned profligate to keep up such a connexion."
"An abandoned profligate!" exclaimed Henry.
"'Tis a hard term to use; but I am not in the habit of mincing matters with a disobedient, headstrong son. In one word, then, will you go into my counting-house, or not? My discovery of your secret amour with this woman, convinces me that such a step is more necessary than ever."
"No, I wont," replied Raymond, doggedly.
"Then we see each other no more; but, mark me, by your mother's death you are entitled to three thousand pounds, which you will find entered in your name at Baldwin's, whenever you choose to apply for it. This sum, which it is fortunate you did not know of before, for it would have been dissipated by this time, is all that you will ever receive from me. Now, pay your debts or not; keep up this equivocal connexion or not; do, in short, just what you please; go where you please; my interest in you ceases from this moment. I wish you well through the world, and have still so much consideration left for you, that I trust you may never have cause to rue, in sickness and destitution, your disobedience and ingratitude to your father;" with which words, before Henry could say a word in reply, the old man quitted the apartment, preserving his stern, cold demeanour to the last.
True to his word, the old man saw his son no more. He quitted Cambridge by the next morning's Telegraph, and immediately on reaching London dispatched a letter to Henry, repeating all he had said in conversation. The cold, business-like air of this epistle, occasioned Raymond much grief; but it soon gave place to more pleasant feelings, when he remembered that he had now the means of honourably discharging all his debts; and had, besides, a surplus capital of upwards of two thousand pounds, with which, small as it was for a beginning, he persuaded himself he should make his way handsomely through life. Yes, and not only this, but he would marry Julia Wyndham! She loved him; for, during their last interview, he had succeeded in wringing this acknowledgment from the artless and affectionate girl; and equally evident was it, that nature had destined them for each other. Thus thinking, Raymond soon regained his wonted cheerfulness, and when his gyp came in to receive his orders for the day, he desired him to go round to his different creditors, a list of whom he put into his hand, and tell them that, if they would call in the course of a week, their claims should be liquidated to the last farthing.
Having given these directions, my hero, who was meditating weighty projects, and, among others, an immediate removal to London, where, full of confidence in his own mental resources, he had no doubt he should distinguish himself in literature, the only vocation for which he felt qualified, and to which his inclinations led him—Raymond, I say, who was full of these and other sage projects, posted off to the little Dutch village on the banks of the Cam, in other to acquaint Julia with his plans, and persuade her to share his fortunes. He reached the cottage just as she was going out for a walk, whereupon he joined her, and, in the course of an animated conversation, he informed her of all that had occurred since he last saw her; of his altered prospects, and consequent intention of quitting the university without delay; and concluded by imploring her, as she valued his happiness and her own, to fling all further hesitation to the winds, and link her fate with his. Quite as unworldly—indeed even more so than Henry—and carried away by his enthusiasm, Julia was but too ready to be prevailed upon to take the step he recommended to her; nevertheless, though she looked only to the sunny side of the picture, she would come to no decision, but referred him for an answer to her grandmother. Away, therefore, went the sanguine daydreamer to the old lady, who being already prejudiced in his favour, and, like her grandchild, dazzled by his glowing accounts of his prospects, gave a ready consent; and it was finally determined that the marriage should take place within a month, when they should leave the cottage, and go and reside in the neighbourhood of London. Having thus far succeeded in his projects, Raymond next set out for the metropolis; drew a sufficient sum from his banker's to defray his debts and other contingent expenses; took a small, cheap, and retired cottage at West-end, near Hampstead, and then returned to Cambridge, where, at the appointed time, he became the husband of Julia Wyndham.
From this period, for nearly four years, the young couple's domestic career was one of unclouded happiness. They dwelt in comparative retirement, with all the comforts, and some of the luxuries of life at their command; and, contented with each other's society, seldom thought of going abroad in quest of amusement. His original passion for study—especially the classics of Greece and Rome—which the dissipation of the university had in some degree weakened, came back on Raymond's mind with all the freshness and ardour of a first love, refining and elevating his character; but, alas! tending also to unfit him for active intercourse with the practical, hard-working world. Secluded during the morning in his little study, which he had stored with a choice collection of books, he devoted hours to a translation of the plays of his favourite Æschylus, which he had selected as his opus magnum—his first great literary undertaking; at noon, provided the weather permitted, he would stroll about the neighbourhood with Julia, listening delighted to her arch sallies and the merry music of her voice; and the day would be closed with conversation, a song or two at the piano, or the perusal of some light and amusing work.
Four years have passed—ah, how swiftly those years pass which hurry us away from happiness!—since the circumstances alluded to in the last chapter. Julia is no longer the light-hearted girl who has never known sorrow but by report: Henry no longer hugs the flattering delusion to his breast, that he has but to make the effort to achieve fame and fortune by his pen. A cloud is on the brow of both, for experience—stern monitor!—has read them one of his harshest lessons. Towards the close of the second year of their marriage, Julia became the mother of a fine boy, an event which was shortly followed by the death of her grandmother; but as the old lady died at an advanced age, without suffering, the shock occasioned by her decease was soon allayed, and things resumed, for a while, their usual tranquil course. But a storm was now about to burst upon their heads, from which the defenceless victims were to know no refuge but the grave.
Having completed his translation, which had been his undivided labour of love for upwards of three years, Raymond, indulging in the most sanguine anticipations of success, took the precious MS. to London, with a view to offer it for sale to some of the great publishers in the Row. Julia, with the nurse following with the child, accompanied him part of the way, equally confident as her husband; for, like all dutiful wives, she devoutly believed that his genius was of the highest order. "When we meet again at dinner, Henry," she said, as she parted from him at the foot of Hampstead Hill, "I have no doubt you will have good news to tell me; for it is impossible that the time and talent which you have expended on your work, should not ensure success."
Alas! they were both cruelly in error.
When Raymond returned from his Quixotic expedition, his wife saw at once, by his dispirited manner, that he had failed in his object. He had made application to two booksellers—he told her, in reply to her anxious enquiries—and from both he had met with the same discouraging treatment. The time for classical translations, they assured him, was gone by. If he were a Parr or a Porsun, then, indeed, they might be tempted to risk the speculation; but he was unknown to the literary world; besides, he was young—very young for such a herculean task as a translation of Æschylus; and though they had not the slightest doubt he had executed it in a way to do him immortal honour, yet, considering that the public had at present no taste that way, they had rather decline the undertaking.
Bitter was Raymond's disappointment on receiving these chilling replies; and it was not without some difficulty that, at Julia's instigation, he plucked up courage enough to apply to a third publisher. On this occasion he was a little more fortunate; for the bibliopolist, an observant man of the world, struck with the manners and conversation of the young candidate for literary distinction, requested him to leave the MS., which he would put into the hands of an experienced Greek scholar, and return him an early answer. For an entire month Henry was kept in a state of the most torturing suspense; now he felt a proud conviction that he should succeed; and now, sobered by the disappointment he had already experienced, he was prepared to anticipate the worst. And his anticipations were not ill-founded; for the translation was returned to him by the bookseller, with the remark that the verification was of too free and bold a character. Reader, those were the days of Hayley, Pratt, and the Della-Cruscans!—though the gentleman to whom he had submitted it, allowed that, as a whole, it displayed great promise.
This last blow had quite a stunning effect on Raymond. His wife did her best to keep up his fainting spirits, and when in her society, and dancing his playful little boy in his arms, he did occasionally rally; but his gloom soon returned, threatening, erelong, to deepen into despair. And ample cause he had for anxiety, for three hundred pounds was all that he could now call his own; and, when this was expended, how was he to procure the means of subsistence? He had no trade, no profession, to fly to as a last resource; he had no methodical habits of business to recommend him to the money-making portion of the community; none of that dogged perseverance which derives fresh stimulus from difficulties, as Antæus renewed his strength by touching earth; but was a mere creature of impulse—the dupe of a buoyant fancy. In the wildness of his enthusiasm, he had calculated that by the time his small capital came to an end, his volume would have been bought, published, and, by introducing him to the favourable notice of scholars, have got him into repute among those best patrons of literature—the booksellers; and now he saw all these fond calculations overturned, and poverty—gaunt, threatening phantom!—usurping the seat of hope by his fireside.
One chance, however, still remained for him; and, after talking over the matter with Julia, he came to the resolution of publishing his volume at his own expense. It was a hazardous experiment, considering the state of his finances; nevertheless, there was a probability that it might answer; and, while this was the case, he felt that it was worth the trial. During the time that the printing was going forward, his spirits in a great degree revived; for the self-confidence of inexperienced youth, though it may receive a severe check, is seldom crushed by its first disappointment. At length, however, the period arrived that was to extinguish the last faint hope that lingered in Raymond's breast. His volume was duly brought before the world, and for nearly four months he buoyed himself up with the notion that it was making its way with a "generous and discerning" public; but at each successive visit he paid his bookseller, this delusion became more and more apparent; and, eventually, he was compelled to admit that—so far as immediate fame or emolument were concerned—his translation had proved a signal failure. But this was not all. He had embarrassed himself with a heavy printer's account, to say nothing of large sums disbursed for advertisements, which made such a deplorable inroad on his capital, that he had now little more than seventy pounds remaining in his banker's hands. Such was his situation at the close of the fourth year of his marriage.
"Well, Julia," said Henry, with a forced attempt at a smile, as they sate together one morning at breakfast, "I fear that my father's prediction will be fulfilled, and that I shall shortly be reduced to as complete a state of destitution as he could desire."
"For Heaven's sake, Henry, do not speak in this sneering way of your father. Harsh he may be, because he thinks you have given him cause for displeasure; but it cannot be that he is such as you imagine. Try, then, to effect a reconciliation with him; remember, love, we are parents ourselves, and in our old age should feel acutely any neglect on the part of our child."
"Julia," replied Raymond gravely, "you know not my father. He acts rigidly according to what he calls principle; and when he has once resolved on a particular line of conduct, no consideration on earth can induce him to swerve from it."
"But, consider, it is now upwards of four years since you had your dispute with him. Surely he cannot harbour resentment for so long a period! You know how often I have entreated you to write to him; but you cannot know how much pain your disinclination to do so has caused me. Believe me—for I speak not in anger, but in sad sincerity—I scarcely feel that you deserve to succeed, so long as you voluntarily live estranged from your father. You will write to him, then; wont you, love?" and the young mother looked beseechingly in her husband's face, while a tear trembled in her eye.
Subdued by the earnestness of his wife's appeal, Raymond no longer hesitated, but that same day sent off a respectful and contrite letter to his father, wherein he implored him to send an early answer, if it were but a line, just to say that he forgave him. But no reply came, infinitely to Julia's astonishment, whose benignant nature could not conceive it possible that a parent could so long cherish angry feelings towards a son.
"I told you how it would be," observed Henry, when, having waited a fortnight, they had both given up all expectation of a reply. "I knew that, by declining to enter into his views respecting commerce, I had offended my father past forgiveness."
"It cannot be helped, Henry; but you have done your duty, and should sad days be in store for us, this will be a consolation to you, as I am sure it will be to me."
"Sad days!" replied Raymond. "Ah, Julia, we shall not have to wait long for them. I fear we must quit our cottage without delay, and take cheap apartments in some obscure quarter of town. I have delayed this communication till the last moment, knowing how much it would grieve you; but the painful truth must be told—I have now little to look to, save the pittance that I may be able, from time to time, to pick up from the booksellers. O God!" he added, "my father's prediction is already half accomplished."
"Do not take this so much to heart, Henry," said his generous, high-minded wife; "to me one place is the same as another, and I can be happy any where, so long as I retain your love. Leave me but that, dearest, and I shall feel that I am still rich in the only treasure I ever coveted."
The dreaded communication thus made, Raymond instantly prepared to act on it. He disposed of the remainder of his lease, sold his furniture at a heavy loss, and even got rid of the major portion of his favourite classics. He could not, however, make up his mind to part with his wife's piano; for he well knew how dear it was to her, as being the first present he had made her, subsequent to their marriage. With how many pleasant recollections, too, was it not associated in his own mind! How many a time had he sate delighted beside Julia, as her slender fingers passed lightly over the ivory keys! No, he could not part with the piano; but, when he acquainted his wife with this determination, she, with the disinterestedness peculiar to her character, surrendered all her own private feelings, and even urged him to the painful sacrifice. Finally, however, it was agreed that the instrument should not be disposed of till the last necessity.
Raymond's next endeavour was to find some cheap suburban lodgings; and, after much hunting about, he fixed upon two furnished apartments in a small back street, in the neighbourhood of Islington. 'Twas a dismal contrast his new abode presented to that to which he had been so long used. An old rickety mahogany table, discoloured with ink spots, stood in the middle of his sitting-room; the cob-webbed curtains were threadbare and full of darns, the faded Kidderminster carpet looked as though it had been bought a bargain at Rag Fair, the window-frames shook and rattled in every wind, and the adjoining bedroom, which was little better than a spacious closet, had no furniture but such as was of the homeliest description. But Julia cared not for these things; for her husband was with her, and her child was thriving apace. Her simple and elegant taste soon produced a striking change in the aspect of her new lodgings. The curtains were taken down, and freed from dust and cobwebs, the carpet neatly mended, a few flowers placed in the window-stand, and a few of her own drawings hung on the wall—all which improvements she had to execute herself; for, on quitting the cottage, she had parted with her two servants, and retained only the services of her landlady's daughter, an active girl about fifteen years of age.
"It must be confessed, Henry," she said to her husband, on the first night of their removal to Islington, "that our situation is not quite so choice a one as we could have wished; but let us not be disheartened, love, for it is a long lane that has no turning."
In this way Julia strove to sustain her husband's courage, who, no longer hankering for literary renown—that radiant illusion was dispelled—but anxious only to provide for the wants of the passing day, applied to several booksellers for employment, offering to correct proofs, revise MSS., in short, do just whatever they might require. But his applications were unsuccessful, chiefly because he wanted that business-like air which indicates the practised and willing drudge. One bookseller—an illiterate fellow of the Jacob Tonson school—frankly told him that he was too much of a gentleman to suit his purposes; for that what he required was a hard-working man, with "no nonsense" about him. "Cambridge be d——d!" added this enlightened bibliopole of forty years since, in reply to a hint thrown out by Raymond, that, as he had received a university education, he might, perhaps, be found not wholly inefficient——"Cambridge be d——d! and Oxford, too; I'm sick of their very names. Never yet published any thing, at my own expense, for a university man, that I warn't the loser by it. Brought out only last year a translation of Juvenal, by Dr Prosy of Oxford, and a Treatise on Pneumatics, by Dr Problem of Cambridge, and never sold more than forty copies of either of them. Devil take both universities, say I! Good day, Mr Raymond; sorry we're not likely to suit each other; hope you may be more lucky elsewhere. I wish you good morning, sir."
The cavalier manner in which these remarks were made, stung Henry to the quick: with a strong effort, however, he managed to repress his feelings, and quitted the bookseller's presence without a word. On his way home, at the corner of a street leading into Holborn, a person hurried past, whose features, he imagined, were familiar to him; and turning hastily round, he recognised his old college friend Jenkins, who, he felt convinced, had also recognised him, but was anxious to shirk his acquaintance. Nor was this impression an erroneous one. It was, indeed, his friend of earlier and happier years, the eager sharer in his schoolboy pranks at Belford, and his more reckless follies at Cambridge, who, having caught sight of his seedy habiliments, on which the word "penury" was stamped in legible characters, felt—with the false pride peculiar to weak minds—a sort of shame at being seen in the public streets speaking to so shabby a personage! Had Raymond been trimly attired, as in other days, the case had been far different; but it was not in the nature of a Jenkins—and the mass of of Jenkinses—to withstand the blighting influence of a threadbare suit of clothes!
When he reached home, Raymond threw himself into a chair, half mad with rage and vexation; first, at the heartless conduct of his friend, and then at his own weakness in taking it to much to heart; while his wife endeavoured, but in vain, by kind words and caresses, to restore him to composure.
"You have been disappointed again, Henry; I'm sure you have; but do not give way to gloom. To-morrow you may be more——"
"For God's sake, leave me to myself. My brain is—curses on the grovelling upstart! But no, he is not worth thinking about. Leave me, Julia; do, pray, leave me alone for a while."
"Certainly, love, if you wish it, I will leave you;" and so saying, the meek and uncomplaining girl withdrew into the adjoining room, sick at heart, for these were the first testy words that had yet fallen from her husband's lips.
Alas, for the poor and destitute! Unknown to them the halcyon frame of mind, the frank, cordial nature, the hounding fancy, the winged hope, the thoughts, tones, looks, and impulses—that keep the heart fresh and loving, and gladden daily life. Care and spleen are ever the poor man's portion; and rage and sullen gloom, and a breaking-up of the best affections, distrust of himself and others, and finally, despair, madness, and the suicide's crossway grave! Poverty, if not absolutely crime, is yet its foster-parent; for, by gradually blunting the feelings, and enfeebling the sense of shame, it paves the way for all malign influences; and small, indeed, is the number of those who can pass its tremendous ordeal unscathed.
Foiled, for the present, in his attempts to procure work from the booksellers, Raymond resolved on trying his fortune as a private tutor, and advertised in the daily papers for pupils, whom he would attend at their own houses; and also, by way of having two strings to his bow, for the situation of usher in a school, provided it were in the immediate vicinity of the metropolis. For several days he received no satisfactory answers to his applications; but at length, when he had repeated them five or six times, a reply was sent him from a schoolmaster in Pentonville, to the effect that "J. Dobbs, of Paradise House, having seen O.P.Q.'s advertisement in the Times, and being in want of an assistant to teach the elementary branches of classics, would be glad of a visit from said O.P.Q., when, if terms, &c., suited, the parties might do business together."
The tradesmanlike wording of this letter, together with the stiff and formal character of the handwriting, enabled Henry to estimate pretty accurately the sort of person he would have to deal with; and, with anticipations the very reverse of sanguine, he took his way to the address given in the note, pleased to find that it was so near his own residence.
"Is Mr Dobbs at home?" He enquired of a stout country wench, who was cleaning the door-steps of Paradise House when he came up, and who looked as if, like a hackney-coach horse, no possible amount of work could wear her out.
"Yes," replied the girl, "master if at home; but you can't see him just now, because"—she added, in a most unsophisticated, matter-of-fact-spirt,—"because he's flogging Sykes Junior in the school-room, for inking his sheets this morning."
"Oh, indeed!" said Raymond, smiling, "then I'll wait till the operation's over; I suppose it wont be long?"
"Oh dear, no!" replied the servant with amusing naïveté; "master gets through a deal of work when once his hand's in. Perhaps you'll just step in here till he's ready to see you;" and she opened the parlour door, and, placing a chair, told Henry that she would go and inform Mr Dobbs of his arrival.
For full half an hour Raymond waited, expecting every moment that the pedagogue would make his appearance; but finding no symptoms of this he became impatient, and rang the bell for the servant, who assured him that she had told "master" that he was waiting for him in the parlour, but she supposed "master" had forgotten it; and therefore, as "missus" could not see him, "'cause she was out marketing," he had better go himself to "master;" with which words she showed him the way to the schoolroom, which was situated in the rear of the house, at the end of a small, gravelled playground, along which some shirts and other linen were hanging to dry.
As Henry entered this classic temple, he saw Mr Dobbs, a brisk, priggish little man, dressed in rusty black shorts, white cotton stockings and Hessian boots, seated, with spectacles on his cock-up nose, at a desk round which several boys were standing, one of whose innocent backs he had apparently just anointed with the cane, for the youngster was hollowing like a bull-calf, while the pedagogue kept giving vent to his anger in such terms as—"You stupid, lazy young dog, I'll teach you to remember the accusative case. Tom Holloway, what's the dative of musa?—Silence there, silence in the corner—what, you wont? very well; only wait 'till I come among you, that's all"—then, seeing Raymond, who was approaching his desk, he looked at him keenly through his spectacles, and said; "Hey, who have we here? Oh, I remember! you're the new usher, O. P. Q., that I wrote about t'other day; well, Mr O. P. Q., if you'll just step with me into the parlour for a few minutes, we can talk matters over at our leisure;" and, dismissing his class, he led the way back to the room which my hero had just quitted.
Having taken his seat, and motioned Raymond to another, Mr Dobbs came at once to the point without the slightest ceremony. "So you're a Cambridge man, as the advertisement says?"
"Good; that's in your favour—what references can you give?"
In reply to this blunt question, Raymond observed, that he could refer him to the publisher of his translation of Æschylus.
"Æschylus, hey? What, you've translated Æschylus! Well, upon my life it's very creditable to you. However, to drop Æschylus, and come to business—for I've not a moment to spare just now—what wages do you expect?"
"Wages!" exclaimed Henry, with an involuntary expression of disgust; "I really have not considered the matter, so perhaps you'll say what you are prepared to give."
"Humph; these are hard times, and schools don't take as they used to do; but as you're a Cambridge man, I don't much mind stretching a point; so, suppose I say forty pound a-year, and find yourself. Hah, you may well stare; it's too much, upon my life it is."
"On the contrary, sir, I must say that the sum is——"
"Too little?—can't help it; I never give more. Business is business. There's my maid-servant does twice as much work every day as you'll have to do for less than one-fourth the price."
"Your servant!" rejoined Raymond, with eyes flashing with indignation, "how dare you, sir, compare me to——"
"Hoity-toity," replied the schoolmaster, good-humouredly, "here's a to-do about a word! You don't think I really meant you to be my maidservant, do you? Never dreamed of such a thing."
"Well, sir," said Henry, who saw by this time that it was sheer ignorance and vulgarity, and not design, that had prompted the pedagogue's offensive allusion, "though your terms are not quite what I feel that I have a right to expect, still, for the present, I accede to them."
"I thought you would," replied Mr Dobbs eagerly, for Raymond's appearance had prepossessed him in his favour; "and, let me tell you, you're a lucky fellow, for situations like this of mine don't turn up every day. They're 'rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno,' as the Eton grammar observes. I suppose you can come to-morrow?"
"I know of nothing to prevent me."
"Good. And suppose you step in, and take a dish of tea with us this evening, when I'll introduce you to Mrs D. I'm sure you'll like her, for she's a woman in ten thousand. Good morning, Mr Raymond; I believe your name's Raymond, ain't it?"
"It is, sir."
"Well, bong swor, Mr Raymond, as the French grammar says. We shall see you at six—and, I say, don't go and run away with the notion that I wanted to make a maid-servant of you. A maid-servant, indeed! To empty the slop-pails, and scrub down the stairs, I suppose! Hah! hah! hah! What could have put such a crotchet as that into your head?" and away bustled Mr Dobbs, laughing heartily at what he conceived to be his new ushers droll misapprehension.
"Forty pounds a-year!" repeated Raymond to himself, as he returned home to acquaint Julia with the result of his interview. "Gracious God, and are all my fine prospects come to this? Sunk to the condition of an usher at a small school kept by a vulgar ignoramus! How little did I foresee such an issue, when five short years since I figured among the gayest of the gay at Cambridge! Ah, could I but live those years over again, how different would be my conduct! Curses on that egregious self-conceit which has been my ruin! What right had I to look forward to literary renown—I, whose talents scarce suffice to earn me forty pounds a-year? But I will not complain; no, be my lot what it may, I will bear it patiently, for it is for my wife and child I labour; and what sacrifices would I not make for them! Poor, poor Julia, would to heaven we had never met!" and, despite his assumed stoicism, the tears started to his eyes when he thought of the privations which his marriage had entailed on his wife.
Punctually as the church-clock in the Pentonville road struck six, Raymond returned to Paradise House, and was formally introduced to Mrs Dobbs, who was exactly what her husband had represented her to be, "a woman in ten thousand"—which being interpreted, means, that she was a desperate vixen, thin and strait as a skewer, with sharp ferret eyes, and a temper so thoroughly soured, that one might almost imagine that she had been dieted from her youth upwards on prussic-acid and crab-apples. The good lady was by no means slow or shy in developing this attractive feature in her character; for something having occurred to ruffle her temper a few minutes before Henry came in, she immediately began scolding the servant-girl, and then, by way of variety, fell foul of her husband. "Why didn't you set the tea-things, when you heard the hell ring?" she exclaimed in a shrill tone of voice; "Do you think your master and myself are to be kept wailing till it suits your pleasure to attend to us? And such handsome wages as you get, you lazy slut! Ring—ring—ring—there's nothing but ringing in this house; if one hadn't the patience of a saint, one wouldn't put up with it a day. Mr Raymond, sir, if you knew what I have to go through, you wouldn't wonder at my——drat them boys, why don't you go out, Dobbs, and make them keep quiet, instead of sitting there grinning like a Cheshire cat?"
"Mr Raymond," said the schoolmaster, taking advantage of his wife's pausing to recover breath, "I've been to the bookseller you referred me to, and am happy to tell you that he spoke of you in the handsomest terms."
"Which sugar do you take with your tea, Mr Raymond?" enquired Mrs Dobbs; "we have both white and brown; our late usher used to take brown, however——"
"Do, pray, my dear Mrs D., allow the gentleman to take which he pleases. A few lumps of white sugar, once in a way, is neither here nor there."
"None of your nonsense, Dobbs. I know what's right as well as you can tell me. It isn't the sugar I look to, but the principle of the thing."
"Oh, ay—the principle! That's another matter. I've nothing to say against that."
"I should think not, indeed;" and thus speaking, Mrs Dobbs desired her husband to hand Raymond his tea, moderately sweetened with white sugar (in consideration of his being on this occasion a visiter,) together with a thick slice of bread and butter, as stale as O'Connell's joke about the Repeal of the Union.
"You'll have a comfortable place of it here, Mr Raymond," observed the schoolmaster, in an affable, patronizing manner; "Your hours will only be from eight o'clock to one, and from two to five, which is a mere nothing in the way of work, especially as the classics must be as easy to you as your A, B, C; and that reminds me of the grammar as we used in the school. Don't you think that the Eton Latin grammar might be greatly altered, in point of arrangement, for the better. I've a notion of my own on this point, which I intend to astonish the world with one of these days;" and as he said this, the pedagogue laid his forefinger beside his nose, and put on an air of uncommon astuteness and sagacity.
"Stuff and nonsense, Dobbs!" said his bland helpmate; "you're always talking about the alterations you're going to make in the grammar-books, but you never makes them. I'd rather see you do more and talk less. That's the way to get on; isn't it, Mr Thingembob?"
"With respect to the Eton grammar," resumed the schoolmaster, taking no notice of his wife's interruption, "what do you think, Mr Raymond, of my project of commencing it at once with syntax? I know that most scholars is in favour of the book as it stands; but when you come to reflect, sir, on the vast importance to youth of a thorough knowledge of syntax, I'm sure you'll agree with me that they can't be too soon drilled into it. What is it as makes Mrs Dobbs and I talk so correctly? Why, a knowledge of syntax, in course! Verbs and substantives is all well enough in their way, but begin, I say, with the great difficulty; get over that first, and all the rest follows as a matter of course. My views, you perceive, are quite original."
"They certainly are, sir, but——"
"But what, my good sir? Speak out, for I'm frank myself, and like frankness in others. Indeed, I ask you for a candid opinion; for no man hates compliments more than I do. I'm glad you think my scheme original, and I'm sure the more you consider it, the more you'll like it."
"Since you wish for a candid opinion, Mr Dobbs, I don't mind saying, that your scheme is somewhat like putting the cart before the horse."
"Humph—indeed—so you think so, do you?" replied the schoolmaster, looking very red in the face; "well, upon my life, you're candid enough, I must say that; I wish I could say you were as rational."
"I regret, Mr Dobbs, if any thing I have said has given you offence."
"Offence, Mr Thingembob—Raymond, I mean! Come, that's a good joke! Do I look as if I was offended? Do I speak as if I was offended? Is my manners such as show I am offended? Upon my life, you must have queer notions of things to suppose that I could be offended with such a rubbishing remark, as putting a cart before a horse! Hah! hah! hah! He says I'm offended, Mrs D.! A good joke, ain't it? He! he! he!"
Amused with this unconscious display of wounded vanity, and feeling the absurdity of attempting to reason the pedant out of his pet crotchet, Raymond proceeded to practise what is called the "soothing system," and by so doing, succeeded, in some degree, in allaying Mr Dobbs' excited temper; shortly after which he took his leave, fully persuaded of the justice of the old adage, that "naked truth is exceedingly unlovely."
Arrived at his lodgings, he found his sitting-room looking as tidy and cheerful as it was possible for such an unpromising apartment to look. The curtains were close drawn, the candles lighted, and a clean white cloth laid upon the table, on which were some cold meat, a brown loaf, a salad, and a bottle of white wine. Julia received him with her wonted cheering kindliness of manner; she was dressed with extreme neatness and simplicity—indeed, in her best attire, for she had made holyday on this occasion; and her beauty, if not quite so dazzling as it had once been, wore a more touching character than ever. "I guessed, Henry," she said, "from what you told me this morning of your new employer, that you would come home wearied, and perhaps dispirited, with your visit; so the instant I got Charley to bed, I sent for a bottle of wine; now, don't shake your head at my extravagance, love, but take a glass, for I'm sure you stand in need of it."
She then poured him out a full glass of sherry, and placing her chair beside him, endeavoured, during their homely meal, to draw him into a tranquil frame of mind. She spoke to him of the child, who was growing, she said, more like him every day; of the confident hope she entertained that their present embarrassments would be but temporary; and then, returning to the subject of "little Charley"—for a young and fond mother's thoughts seldom wander long from her children—expatiated with delight on the surprising precocity of his intellect; how he smiled when she talked to him, just as if he knew what she said; how he was always looking about him—a clear proof of his quick faculty of observation; and how, in short, he was the handsomest, most affectionate, and most astonishing babe on the face of the earth! Thus the sanguine wife ran on, while her husband, catching the infection of her good humour, replied to her with an animation unknown to him for weeks; and, after an hour spent in weaving plans for the future, they retired to their humble couch, happier than they had been since they quitted their cottage at West-end, Alas, it was the last gleam of sunshine they were destined to enjoy on this side the grave!
Having once fairly entered on his duties as an usher, Henry followed them up with as much zeal as he could muster. But the monotonous drudgery of his vocation—perhaps the most repulsive of any to which a poor man can be subjected—soon began to wear away what little remained of freshness and ardour in his character. Mr Dobbs, too, though a cordial and well-natured fellow in his way, when nothing occurred to disturb his self-complacency, was one of those personages with whom he found it impossible to sympathize. His very excellences were annoying, for his good temper was apt to assume a patronizing form, and his ignorance and vanity met Raymond at every turn. Occasionally, too, he would be seized with fits of sulkiness, and then nothing that his usher did could please him. Henry's temper was sorely tried by these ebullitions; nevertheless, he allowed no angry word to escape him, but strove to maintain an appearance of stoical equanimity.
So six months passed away, at the expiration of which period all that remained of Raymond's capital was twenty pounds! He made many efforts to improve his income, and frequently called on the publisher of his "Æschylus," in the hope of hearing some welcome intelligence respecting its sale, but the answer he got was invariably the same; and though on one occasion a letter was put into his hands, written by an eminent Oxford scholar, expressing high admiration of the style in which the translation was executed, yet this barren praise was all he obtained, with the exception of the revision of a small MS. essay on the Greek drama, for which he was paid a mere trifle.
Such repeated disappointments, combined with the daily vexations he experienced as an usher, soon produced a visible alteration both in his appearance and his manner. And Julia! did no change take place in her? Yes, her voice had lost much of its former rich and joyous music; the fire of her eloquent eye was dim; wan dejection had imparted its most affecting expression to her still lovely countenance; but her nature was as exemplary as ever. Deep as were her griefs, she bore them meekly and in silence, maintaining in her husband's presence an appearance of serenity, almost of cheerfulness, and striving to infuse into him the hope which she herself had well-nigh ceased to feel.
One afternoon Raymond returned home, after his school labours were concluded, more languid and depressed than usual. He complained of headache and flying pains in his limbs, for which, attributing them to a mere cold caught in consequence of his having got wet through the previous day, he took no further remedy than just going early to rest. He had not, however, been asleep more than an hour, when he was woke by violent shivering fits, which so alarmed his wife, who was sitting at work in the room, that she instantly made a fire, and gave him some hot tea, thinking that it might warm and refresh him. But the fever, for such it was, increased momently on him, and by daybreak he was so seriously ill, that Julia, despite his entreaties to the contrary, called in an apothecary, who, on his arrival, pronounced Henry to be labouring under a severe attack of typhus. For upwards of a fortnight he remained in a very doubtful state; and during this period Julia was his sole nurse, though her own health was delicate, and required repose, for she was again about to become a mother. While her landlady's daughter attended Charley—but never out of his parent's sight—she kept constant vigil by her husband's bed-side, administering his medicines, moving about him with the noiseless step of a fairy, anticipating his slightest wishes, and owning to no fatigue nor debility; but whenever she saw his languid eye resting on her pale face, assuring him with a smile, and in those sweet, soft tones so delicious to a sick man's ear, that she was never better in her life. In a woman who truly loves, there is a disinterestedness that shuts out all thought of self—a power of endurance whose strength and vitality seem to increase in proportion to the demands made on them. Man may volunteer heroic sacrifices, such as are noised abroad in the world, and repay him with interest by the renown they bring; but he is incapable of those more homely and unostentatious ones which a wife and a mother is so ready to make with no thought of praise, and no consciousness, save that she is doing her duty.
In about a month—thanks to Julia's nursing—Raymond was again enabled to go abroad; but the fever had added greatly to his irritability, and he shrunk with absolute loathing from the idea of resuming his school duties. Nevertheless, the attempt must be made; so he set out for Paradise House, where he received exactly the sort of welcome that he had calculated on. In his usual unceremonious manner, Mr Dobbs informed him that he had been under the necessity of filling up his post, "for time and tide waited for no man;" and when he called at his lodgings, he had been told by the landlady that he was in such a ticklish state that it was a "moral impossible" to say when he would be well. He was sorry—very sorry—for his disappointment; but it could not be helped, business was business; however, if the new usher did not suit, why, then, he should have no objection to take him back again. He concluded by presenting Henry with his "wages," which amounted to nearly thirty pounds. The young man scorned to expostulate, but quitted the house with an air of utter indifference, though his heart swelled almost to bursting at the cavalier treatment he had received. In this excited state of mind he reached his own door. Julia had gone out for a short walk with her child; and when she returned, Raymond, with a splenetic burst which he fruitlessly attempted to suppress, expressed his surprise at her leaving him so long alone.
"So long, Henry? I've only been absent a few minutes, just to give Charles a little fresh air, for he stands greatly in need of it, poor child! Besides, I did not expect you back so soon."
"Well, well—no matter—there needs no excuse."
"Don't speak so hastily, love; indeed, if I had thought you would have been vexed, I would not have gone out at all; God knows, it was not for my own pleasure;" and fearful of saying more, lest she should thereby increase his irritation, Julia quitted her husband's presence.
From this time forward such a change took place in Raymond's nature, that those who had known him in earlier years, would have had some difficulty in recognizing him again. Care, anticipating the work of years, had delved deep wrinkles in his brow, and a moody reserve succeeded to his former frank cordiality. That maudlin, ever-vigilant sensitiveness which detects reproach in the tones of a voice; sees a sneer lurking in a smile; and with perverse ingenuity finds a personal application in every stray remark—that envenomed spirit, which resents a show of cheerfulness as indifference, and of sympathy as contemptuous pity; which, doubting itself, doubts every body else; and draws even from disinterested love the materials of distrust; such was now the destitute Raymond's portion; and though Julia—how could it be otherwise?—was still as dear to him as ever, and he would gladly have laid down his life to promote her welfare, yet there were moments when his diseased fancy almost led him to believe that she lamented the destiny that had bound up their fortunes together. Often when he walked the streets alone after nightfall—for he seldom stirred out by day—and saw wealth rolling along in its carriage, and heard the sounds of music and merriment issuing from gaily-lit drawing-rooms, he would ask himself why he should be thus abandoned to hopeless grief—he, who had every disposition to labour, who had committed no crime, and whose sole fault was, that he was a gentleman bred to no profession! It seemed to him that he had little or nothing in common with his fellow-creatures; but was specially singled out for suffering—a useless, blighted slip, torn off from the great plantation of humanity. And indeed his lot, common though it is in this hard-working world, might well justify the bitterest feelings; for though occasionally the publisher of his translation of Æschylus, pitying his forlorn condition, would give him a MS. to revise for the press, yet this was a chance godsend, and was soon cut off altogether by the latter's bankruptcy.
Thus reduced to the last extremity, and seeing nothing but a workhouse before them, Raymond and his wife were compelled—alas, reader, this is no idle fiction!—to make one meal serve the place of two; and often poor Julia would go without herself, in order that her husband and her child might have enough. Of course they could not be long in this state without its becoming known to their landlady; but though rough in her manner, she had a feeling heart; and notwithstanding she was their creditor for no inconsiderable amount, yet she never ventured beyond grumbling a little at times about the non-payment of her arrears, for Julia's gentleness of disposition had completely won her esteem, and she felt persuaded that she would discharge her debt the very first opportunity. So strong indeed was her regard for the young couple, that one Sunday, when Raymond was striving to divert his thoughts by reading, and his wife was nursing her child, who was rather sickly from teething, she sent up her daughter with a slice of hot baked mutton and some potatoes, carefully covered up between two plates—a portion of her own Sabbath dinner—thinking, as a matter of course, that her lodgers would jump at such an unexpected dainty.
"Who's there? come in," said Henry, as the girl knocked gently at the door.
"Please sir, it's me. Ma has sent you this nice plate of——"
"D——n! does your mother mean to insult me?" exclaimed Raymond; and snatching the plates from the girl's hands, in a fit of uncontrollable rage, he flung up the window, and threw meat, potatoes, and all into the street.
"What! throw the vittles out of window!" said the astounded landlady, when her daughter acquainted her with the circumstance, "that nice hot slice which I cut off the primest part of the joint, and put some warm gravy over it, and picked out the brownest taters, and all because I knew as shoulders of mutton were rayther scarce on the second floor. Here's a pretty go! and the plates is all smashed, in coarse, and now I ai'nt got two of the same pattern left! What can have come to him?" Then, after a pause, during which she seemed considering in what way she should take notice of the affair, a strong feeling of pity came over her, and she added, "but I see how it is; misfortin has druv him mad, for none but a madman would go for to waste good wholesome meat in that manner. Poor gentleman! I'm heartily sorry for him; for when he first come here, his shirts were of the finest linen, vich is a proof he must have been respectable, whatever he may be now; and then there's his wife, vich hasn't had a bellyful of vittles, to my knowledge, for these three days past. Well, I won't press too hardly upon 'em; for when they had it to pay, they paid, and now they haven't got it, they can't pay, tho' they'll make all square one of these days; no fear of that; at the same time, I wish he hadn't flung my best plates out of window."
Raymond's situation was now quite desperate. His watch, the small remainder of his books, and even his wife's piano, were disposed of, and nothing could he call his own save the clothes on his back. Still he struggled with his lot, while, unknown to him, Julia tried to earn a trifle by her needle, and would frequently, when her husband and her child were asleep, sit up toiling till long past midnight, the tears dropping fast upon her work. These labours, so unsuited to one of her delicate frame, made fearful inroads on her constitution; nevertheless, she persevered in them, while her landlady, who had originally suggested the idea, contrived to procure her a few shillings weekly, by disposing of her work to a fancy milliner in the neighbourhood. On his part, Raymond determined to make one last effort to retrieve himself, and with his only remaining guinea renewed his applications in the newspapers for private pupils. For a brief while, a faint gleam of sunshine illumined his prospects. He obtained a situation as tutor to two boys, sons of a rich stockbroker at Highbury, whither he was forced to trudge on foot four times a-week; but after he had given about a dozen lessons, he was dismissed by the broker's upstart wife, who treated him as a sort of upper butler, and took a rooted dislike to him, because he refused to be overwhelmed by a sense of her paramount dignity, and was too obtuse to discover in her sons the beauty of an Antinous, combined with the precocious genius of a Crichton.
When Julia was made acquainted with the facts of this summary dismissal, she resolved on seeking an interview with Henry's father—a project which she had long secretly nourished, but had put off from time to time from a natural reluctance to be considered in the light of an interested intruder; but now she felt that further hesitation would involve a breach of duty on her part, so, taking her child in her arms, she set forth on her doubtful expedition. When she reached the elder Raymond's house, which was situated in one of the fashionable quarters of town, she enquired of an overgrown butler, who was standing at the open hall-door, nearly filling it up with his bulk, whether she could see his master; but was informed, in reply, that he had been travelling for the last year and a-half on the continent, and was expected home in about a fortnight. This, all things considered, was cheering intelligence, for it impressed her with the belief that he had not received his son's last letter; and she persuaded herself, therefore, that he might be induced, when informed of Henry's circumstances, to "kill the fatted calf," and extricate him from his present deplorable condition.
And truly Julia needed to have some sanguine hope of this sort to buoy her up; for, a few hours after her return home, a calamity befell her, far worse than any she had yet encountered. Her boy—her darling boy, the pride and joy of her heart in her darkest hours of gloom, and in whom her whole being seemed bound up—this passionately loved child was seized, early in the evening, while lying in his mother's lap, with severe convulsive fits, arising from teething. The distracted parent immediately summoned the landlady to her assistance, who advised her to put the boy into a warm bath without delay; and they were busy making the necessary preparations, when Raymond came in, having been absent all the morning; and, horror-struck by this new visitation, darted off to the nearest chemist's, in order to procure some soothing medicine, which his landlady expressly recommended as an infallible specific in attacks of this nature.
Quick as lightning he reached the chemist's shop; but what was his dismay, on tendering half-a-crown in payment for the physic, to learn that it was a bad one!
Wretched man! It was his last half-crown!
"God help my dying child!" he feebly muttered; and, pressing his hand to his forehead, staggered to the door, as if to lean for support against it.
The chemist regarded him with astonishment. "Eh, what's that you say?" he exclaimed, "dying child? No, no, young gentleman, not quite so bad as that, I hope—poor fellow, he does not hear me! Come, come, sir, where do you live? We'll go together. Jenny," calling to his wife, who was in a parlour adjoining the shop, "bring me my hat—quick—and look to the shop 'till the boy returns; I'll be back shortly. Now, sir, let's be off;" and, seizing the bewildered Raymond by his arm, he hurried him into the street.
In less than ten minutes Henry was again at home; but, alas! the very first glance he cast at Julia convinced him that his worst forebodings were verified. The poor child had just breathed its last in its mother's arms; and the landlady, with the tail of her apron held up to her eyes, was administering to her such consolation as her feelings suggested on the spur of the moment. "Don't take on so, dear lady," said the compassionate dame, "pray don't. It goes to my heart to see you sitting there so sad and patient, with your poor eyes fixed on the babby, and never a tear in 'em. It was the Lord's will, and you must submit. Ah! I know well what it is to lose a child. I had a boy once, beautiful as your own, and just as he began to know me, and say 'mother,' God called him away; and now he's happy, and so is little Charley, and that ought to be a comfort to both of us. Have a good cry, Mrs Raymond, do, and you'll be all the better for it, and don't think of the little bill as is owing, I'll never press you for it;" and so saying, the kind-hearted creature gently withdrew the child from Julia's arms, and laid it on the bed in the adjoining room.
Mean time, the chemist, who had been a silent spectator of this sad scene, respecting, with true delicacy, the sacredness of parents' sorrow, made a sign to the landlady, who accompanied him down stairs, when he put several questions to her regarding her lodgers; for their bearing, so superior to their situation, their poverty, which was equally manifest, and the deep, still, gnawing anguish which seemed to have been long wearing them away, had strongly excited his feelings in their behalf. "When they first come here," said the landlady, pleased with the interest that the chemist took in them, "they was as nice a couple as you'd see any where; but sickness and poverty fell on 'em, and then they got into arrears with me, vich, however, I'm nowise particklar about, because their principle's good, and Mrs Raymond tells me that her husband's father is a gentleman with lots of money, who is expected back in a few days from foreign parts, when I have no doubt he'll settle matters quite pleasant and comfortable. Ah, sir! she's a sweet young lady is Mrs Raymond—so gentle and civil, never spoke a cross word since she's been in this house!"
"Do you know what trade or profession her husband is in?"
"Can't say I do; but he's a very pleasant spoken gentleman when he's in his right senses."
"What! have you reason to believe that his mind's at all affected?"
"I don't know about that; but he's werry queer at times, and is always walking up and down his room, like the tiger at Exeter 'Change. I believe he's what they call a genius, and writes books, and goes out teaching, vich accounts for his being so queer; for I've heard say as all geniuses is a little cracked—it's a part of their purfession. T'other day he flung two of my best plates out of window, because I sent him up summat nice and hot for dinner, thinking, in course, as he was hungry, he'd like to eat; instead of vich, he goes off in one of his wagaries, flings up the window, and shies both plates smack into the gutter! But he's a werry excellent lodger for all that—never asks for the key of the street door at night—never goes to sleep in his boots, as my last lodger did, arter he'd come home drunk at four o'clock in the morning—and takes as much care of the furnitur (leastways his wife does, vich is all the same) as if it was his own. I'm sure I'm heartily sorry for 'em both, poor things, and will do all as lays in my power to serve 'em."
When the good lady had concluded her prolix statement, the chemist desired her not to let her lodgers want what was necessary in their present situation, for that he would be answerable for the payment, though he had not the slightest doubt that, when the elder Raymond was made acquainted with his son's distress, he would come forward to his relief; but if not, he would himself see what could be done with the old gentleman. He then took his departure, and till the day of the funeral kept away from the afflicted parents, deeming it likely that his presence might be felt as a sort of intrusion; but when this last mournful rite was over, he frequently called on them, and by his friendly and considerate conduct impressed them with the most grateful feelings towards him, which were increased almost to reverence when they learned, through the medium of their gossiping landlady, that it was to his unobtrusive munificence they were indebted for the payment of their child's funeral expenses.
John Bull, John Bull—despite thy faults, and their name is Legion— thou art a fine fellow; a rough, knotty sample of humanity; sound at heart as one of thine own forest oaks! Reserved thou art, and crabbed; a sad grumbler, too—for grumbling is the first great law of thy nature—but even in thy sullenest mood the cry of distress never reaches thine ear in vain. At her husband's instigation, whose kindness to the bereaved couple was unremitting, the chemist's wife sought their acquaintance; and whenever she could spare an hour from her own household duties, she would spend it with Julia, whom she assisted in making preparations for her now fast-approaching confinement, and endeavoured, by cheerful conversation, to rouse into something like activity. But vain were all her efforts to assuage the childless mother's griefs. Her heart lay buried with her boy, and from the hour of his death to that of her own, she was never once seen to smile. Till now she had borne up bravely against the daily pressure of poverty and the sorrows which it brings in its train; but this last deadly blow had struck to her inmost soul. Even the fond endearments of her husband failed to lift up the crushed spirit within her. She lived like one in a trance, except when she sometimes heard the laughing voices of her landlady's children on the stairs, when she would cast a glance towards the cradle where her own boy used to sleep, as if half-expecting to see him wake up and stretch out his little rosy arms towards her. Then would the sense of her bereavement come upon her in all its first bitterness; but, this paroxysm over, she would relapse into her former state of moody lethargy.
About three weeks after the child's death, Raymond returned one afternoon from a visit to Mr Dobbs, who had offered to take him back into the school, his last usher having just left him, when he was surprised by a request from Julia that he would accompany her in a short walk, to which he readily assented, at the same time expressing his satisfaction at her venturing abroad again, for of late she had persisted, notwithstanding all his entreaties—in remaining within doors all day. They took their way across some open fields in the neighbourhood of Lower Islington; and when they reached the head of a quiet, leafy lane, whither they had often been in the habit of repairing on summer evenings on their first quitting West-end, Julia, complaining of fatigue, seated herself on the trunk of an old elm that lay across the footpath, and placing her head on her husband's arm, and looking him affectionately in the face, thus addressed him, with an earnestness and solemnity that formed a striking contrast to her late reserved and lethargic bearing:—"I have asked you, love, to come out with me this evening, because I feel a conviction that it is the last walk we shall ever take together. Henry, I am dying! Start not dearest; this is no fanciful impression induced by low spirits, but a sad truth, for which I feel that it is my duty to prepare you."
"Julia," replied Raymond, deeply agitated by this unexpected communication, "do not, I entreat—I implore you—give way to such thoughts as these; a little while, and you will rally, I feel assured you will."
"I have tried to think so, Henry, but it is useless, for there is a silent monitor within, that warns me that my days are numbered. Listen, then, and do not let this, my last request, pass unheeded. When I am gone, seek your father, submit yourself to his wishes, and be guided implicitly by his advice; perhaps my death may pave the way to a lasting reconciliation, and if so, I shall not have died in vain. You will not have so difficult a task as you imagine; for I have already called at his house, where I heard with pleasure that he had been absent upwards of a year, and most likely therefore had not received the letter which you sent him some months ago. However, be this as it may, make the effort, as you value your own future peace of mind, and respect my memory."
"I will—I will!" exclaimed Henry, the tears streaming fast down his cheeks, "and you shall yet live to rejoice in our reconciliation."
Julia shook her head——"For your sake, love, I could wish that it should be so, for the absence of a familiar face to which we have been long accustomed, is a sore trial—and too well I know what you will feel when you first miss me from your side; still I cannot disguise from myself, that we shall soon be lost to each other. I will not ask you to keep me in your recollection; for affectionate and confiding as you have always shown yourself, Julia, I know, will long be uppermost in your thoughts; but, dearest, let me beg of you, whatever be your destiny hereafter—and God grant that it be a happy one!—to check those violent emotions which I have lately seen preying on your mind, and unfitting you for the duties of life. Reflect solemnly on what I now say, and whenever henceforth you feel any disturbing passion rising within you, think that Julia addresses you from the grave, and for her sake endeavour to practise self-control."
Raymond made no reply, for his grief impeded the power of utterance, but pressed his wife's hand close against his heart.
"Henry," continued Julia, casting on him a look of inexpressible tenderness, while her voice sank almost to a whisper, "believe me, I have not spoken thus to give you pain, but to prepare you for an event which must happen in a few weeks, perhaps a few days. When that event takes place, lay me in the same grave with Charley; and when your last hour too arrives—and far distant be the day—I should wish that you also should be laid beside us. Henry, I have prayed long and fervently that my approaching end may be tranquil, that my senses may be preserved to me to the last moment, that my dying eyes may be fixed on yours, my hand clasped in yours, and my lips give and receive the last kiss of love and peace. And I feel assured that my prayers will be answered, and that the voice whose soothing tones I most love to hear, will whisper comfort to my parting spirit. Henceforth be as much with me as possible; for the sand in my hour-glass is fast running out, and I shall consider every minute wasted that is not spent in your society. And now, dearest, let us return home, it is growing late, and the wind comes chilly to me across these open fields."
So saying, Julia rose from her seat, and leaning on her husband's arm for support, walked slowly and silently back to Islington.
The effort Julia had made had so exhausted her strength, that on reaching home she went instantly to bed, and after a restless and feverish night, was seized at daybreak with the pangs of premature labour, and soon afterwards was delivered of a child, which survived its birth but a few hours. For the two following days the young mother went on—to use her medical attendant's phrase—"as well as could be expected," considering how dreadfully her constitution had been shattered by the long sufferings and privations she had undergone; but on the afternoon of the third day, unfavourable symptoms appeared; her strength began to decline rapidly; and when the apothecary came in to pay his usual visit, he was so struck by the sudden change, that he warned Henry to prepare himself for the worst. When he returned again at nightfall, he found all his apprehensions confirmed. Julia was sinking momently. She had been unable, from sheer debility, to take the remedies prescribed, and was lying with her eyes half closed, and her husband's hand pressed between her own, in the last stage of exhaustion. As the apothecary, aware that all further medical aid was unavailing, the rallying power being wholly gone, withdrew from the chamber, Raymond gently released his hand from his wife's grasp, and rose to follow him, with a view (so eagerly in moments of affliction do we catch at straws) to wring from him an acknowledgment that there was still some hope; but just as he reached the door, he turned round, fancying that he heard Julia's voice, and seeing her dim eyes sadly resting upon him, he could not resist that mute touching appeal, so resumed his station by her side, which evidently gave her pleasure, as he felt by the faint pressure of her hand. But this was almost the last symptom of consciousness she evinced. Shortly after, a film came across her eyes, she sighed feebly, there was a tremulous movement of the lips, as if she would have spoken, but could not; and then all was still! The pure spirit had returned to its native heaven.
O God! the agony of that moment of bereavement! There he sate—the widowed and childless husband—rigid and motionless, shedding no tear, breaking out into no stormy passion of grief, but looking like one suddenly frozen to marble. The clock struck midnight, and still there he sate, past, apparently, the power of thought and feeling. The nurse, who had been in attendance on his wife, and then his landlady, did all they could to rouse him from this leaden stupor; but they soon gave up the task as hopeless, and left him alone with the dead. Alone with the dead! Alone with one who has been our best friend and counsellor through life, the daily gladdener of our home, the sharer alike in our joys and sorrows!—alone with this loved one, yet miss her accustomed smile, see no ray of fond intelligence lighting up her features, and receive no answer when we wildly call upon her name!—alone, in short, with that which was, but is no longer!—what a world of dreadful meaning is in these words!
Towards daybreak, the stunned widower began slowly to wake to a consciousness of his situation. Reflection stirred again within him; but, alas! not to soothe, but to aggravate the bitterness of his grief; for every hasty word he had spoken—every impetuous feeling he had given way to in Julia's presence—came rushing, like a hot blasting lava torrent, upon his memory. "Wake, dearest!" he distractedly exclaimed, "wake, if only for one brief moment, to say that you forgive me. No, she will wake no more!" he added, gazing at the serene still-smiling features, on which the grey light of morning rested; "no more, she will wake no more!" At that instant, a cock crew from a neighbouring garden wall. Raymond started at the sound, recollecting with what painful feelings he had heard it but the morning before, fearing it might disturb his wife's repose. "My God, can all this be real?" he resumed, wringing his hands in agony, "or do I dream that I am left alone and desolate? Julia—alas, she hears me not!—oh my brain, my brain!" and, overpowered by the intensity of his emotions, he dropped senseless on the floor.
When he recovered his senses, he found himself reclining on a sofa-bed in the adjoining room, with the nurse standing beside him, bathing his hands and temples with vinegar, and the landlady placing the breakfast things on the table.
"Let me make you some strong tea, Mr Raymond," said the latter, struck by his haggard and bewildered looks; "there's nothing like tea for fits. I always takes it for the 'sterics and such-like, and it brings me round in a twinkling, as the saying is."
"She's late—very late at breakfast, this morning," muttered Henry, in tones scarcely audible, while he kept his eyes fixed on the bed-room door, as if expecting every moment that Julia would make her appearance.
"You'd better lie down, sir," said the nurse, shaking up the sofa-pillows, "and try and get a few winks of sleep. It will do you more good than any thing else."
"Hark, whose voice is that in the next room?" enquired Raymond, leaning forward as if to hear more distinctly.
"I hear no voice," said the landlady; and then, in a whisper to the nurse, added, "I see how it is: his head's touched a little by grief; but he'll be better presently, when he's had a good cry, poor gentleman!"
"Again! hush, don't speak—she is singing to the child while dressing it; it is her usual custom in the morning. I have known her to sing, even with the tears standing in her eyes; for Charley loves the sound of his mother's voice; and if her heart was breaking she would sing to him." Then, after a minute's pause, during which he pressed his hand against his forehead, as if struggling to recollect himself, "O God—O God, she's dead!" he passionately exclaimed, and, starting from his seat, rushed back into the bed-room, and imprinted a thousand frenzied kisses on the cold white lips of his unawakening wife.
While the widower was thus giving vent to his griefs, a gentle knock came to the door, and the chemist made his appearance. The worthy man was much shocked at the alteration which twenty-four hours had wrought in Raymond's person; and still more at the fierce distraction of his language. Rising up from the bed on which he had flung himself, and drawing his visiter into the next room, which the women had just quitted, he said, "So, you've heard she is dead. Yes, yes, it can be no shock to you; you must have foreseen it for weeks; but I—wretch, ruffian that I am!—could not—would not see it—even though it was my own hand that struck the blow. Mr Markland, I am my wife's murderer! You start, sir; but as there is a God above us, in whose presence I speak, this is the truth!"
"My dear young friend," replied the chemist, "do not talk in this wild way, but try and compose yourself."
"Compose myself! What, with a heart dead to every feeling but remorse, and a brain all scorching ashes! O Mr Markland! you know not the tortures I daily—hourly—inflicted on her, who is now for the first time happy since our union. I made her feel what it was to embrace poverty and destitution! She was gentle—forbearing—affectionate—but I cared not for these things, but even resented them as proofs of indifference. When, for my sake, she put on an air of contentment, almost of cheerfulness, I told her she had no heart—as I live, those were the words—and yet at that very moment, though she uttered no word of complaint or reproach, her heart was bleeding at every pore! Ah! you may well shed tears, sir, but I cannot—no, not even for the dead."
After some time spent in endeavouring to reason Raymond out of this painful impression, and to soften the bitterness of his self-reproaches, by assuring him that his wife had never once spoken of him but in the fondest and most grateful manner, Mr Markland took his departure; and meeting the landlady on the staircase, recommended her, just for a few days, till he should have become more reconciled to his loss, to keep an attentive eye on her lodger—an injunction which the good dame obeyed so strictly, that Henry at once divined the motive for such well-meant but officious surveillance, and from that moment exhibited more collectedness and tranquillity of demeanour than he had shown since Julia's death.
When the chemist next saw him, he was surprised and delighted by this unexpected change. There were no more startling outbursts of remorse. Raymond was now quite cool, and apparently resigned; and not only freely entered into conversation with his friend, but even explained to him the position in which he stood towards his father, and requested him to call on the old gentleman, and say how anxiously his son desired to see him once more, and hear from his own lips that he no longer entertained an angry feeling towards him. The kind-hearted Markland readily undertook this commission; but on calling at the elder Raymond's house, he learned that he had not yet come back, but was expected every hour; whereupon he left a letter which he had brought with him, in anticipation of such an answer, in which he stated all that Henry had told him, and added, that he would take an early opportunity of seeing Mr Raymond, in order to learn his decision respecting his son.
The day appointed for the funeral had now arrived. Markland had looked forward to it with some anxiety; but he was gratified to perceive that he had no cause for uneasiness, for there was an excitement in Henry's manner and a lustre in his eye, that led the chemist—whose penetration was by no means remarkable—to believe that he was gradually and surely regaining a healthy and active frame of mind. Throughout the solemn ceremony he maintained an appearance of composure; but when the first clod of earth rung upon the coffin-lid, a violent shudder came over him, which, however, he contrived to repress, for he saw Markland's mild eyes fixed on him with a steady gaze. When the last rites had been paid to the departed, and the grave covered in, the widower and his friend returned to the former's lodgings; and as Henry quietly but firmly insisted on being left alone, the chemist thought it would be a good opportunity to pay his promised visit to his father.
He found the elder Raymond, who had come home late the preceding night, in a state of great mental perturbation, with his son's letter, written many months before, lying open before him. A few brief words sufficed to explain every thing, when the old man, on whom age had produced—as it often does on stern natures—a mellowing effect, insisted on setting out, without a moment's delay, to his son's lodgings; and, as his own carriage was not in the way, he engaged a hackney-coach to convey him to Islington. On their road, the chemist mentioned to the anxious father the circumstances under which he had left his son, which greatly added to his disquietude; for he was well aware of Henry's sensitive temperament, how little self-control he possessed, and how apt to be the slave of impulse. As they turned into Gray's-inn Lane, they were stopped for a few minutes by two heavy coal-waggons, which so annoyed the old gentleman that he would have jumped out, and hurried the rest of the way on foot, had he not been checked by his more composed companion. "God grant I find the boy well!" he kept frequently muttering to himself.
"No doubt of it, sir," replied Markland. "I left him tranquil; but so worn out by his recent sorrows, that he said he should go and lie down, for he had had no sleep for several nights."
"I never intended to drive him to extremities," continued the repentant parent; "no, I merely meant to read him a severe lesson. Long before I quitted England, I expected to have seen, or heard from him, and his silence stung me to the quick. How slow the man drives!" he added, and putting his head out of the window, he called upon the coachman to hurry on at his utmost speed.
In a few minutes the lumbering vehicle drew up at the door of the lodging-house, which was opened by the landlady, who had recognised the chemist from the parlour-window, and formed a pretty accurate guess as to who was his companion.
"Well, how is he—Henry—my son?" exclaimed the elder Raymond.
"I think he's asleep, sir," replied the landlady, dropping a curtsy; "for I ain't heard his footstep for nearly an hour, and when he's awake he does nothing but walk up and down the room, talking to hisself. Perhaps I'd better go up and tell him as you're come, sir, for he's summut startlish at times."
"No, no; I'll be my own messenger," and, accompanied by Markland, the old man rushed up to his son's apartments.
After knocking once or twice at the door, and receiving no answer, they tried to open it, but, to their surprise, found that it was bolted.
"Do not be alarmed, sir," said Markland to the trembling parent; "doubtless your son's asleep, and does not wish to be disturbed."
"True—true; I forgot that," replied the elder Raymond, grasping his companion fervently by the hand, in gratitude for his suggestion—"nevertheless, I cannot rest till I've ascertained the fact;" with which words he knocked more loudly than before, and called on his son by name, in a tone of voice, however, which was quite broken and disguised by agitation.
"Hark!" said he, listening with intense anxiety, "I hear a sound!"
"Yes," rejoined Markland, "he is opening his bed-room door;" and, peeping through the keyhole, the chemist beheld Henry walk slowly towards the fireplace, which was right opposite the door.
Just as he reached it, he turned round, when the horror-struck Markland perceived that his throat was bared, and that he held an open razor in his hand.
"Oh, my God!" he exclaimed, starting back, "he's about to——"
"What? Speak, man, speak, or I shall lose my senses."
The chemist made no reply, but thundered at the door with all his might.
"Henry, my son—my darling boy, let me in; pray, let me in—quick! 'Tis your father calls!"
A loud frantic laugh was the only reply.
"Help, help—break open the door!" shouted the old man at the top of his voice; and joining his strength—the strength of desperation—to that of the chemist's, they at length succeeded in wrenching the crazy door off its hinges, and dashed into the room.
Alas! it was too late. The frenzied deed was done. Right in the centre of the apartment stood the maniac—a ghastly spectacle!—with the blood pouring in a full tide from his yawning throat, and his red eye kindling like a coal! The instant he caught sight of the intruders, he glared on them like a demon, tossed his arms wildly above his head, and then fell forward his full length, stone-dead, at the feet of his father!
* * * * * *
Thirty years had passed, when one day, in the early part of the London season, a clergyman of the Church of England (who was afterwards raised to the deanery of ——) discovered, while turning over some volumes on a book-stall in the Blackfriar's Road, a work, covered with dust, in boards, and with scarcely a leaf out, entitled, "THE PLAYS OF ÆSCHYLUS, translated by HENRY RAYMOND, Esq." Being an ardent lover of classical literature, he examined the book, which was quite new to him, with considerable curiosity, and was so much struck with the spirited and poetic manner in which the translation of some of the choruses was executed, that be made an instant purchase of the work; and finding, on a careful perusal, that it fully realized all his expectations, he made it the subject of an elaborate criticism in a well-known monthly review, to which, in common with the best scholars of the day, he occasionally contributed. This criticism excited, in no ordinary degree, the attention of the learned world, and numerous, but fruitless, were the enquiries made after the translator, whose volume thus, for the first time, sanctioned by the imprimatur of the cognoscenti, speedily ran through a second edition, while he himself slept unnoticed in his humble grave! Yes, the fame for which he had toiled in vain when living, was awarded to him when dead—the usual lot of genius; for the Temple of Fame stands upon the grave, and death is the price that must be paid for the privilege of entrance. Gentle reader, the moral of my tale—to quote the words of that great and good man, Walter Scott—is this:—"Literature is a good staff, but a sorry crutch!"
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