TALES AND NOVELS
BY MARIA EDGEWORTH.
IN TEN VOLUMES. WITH ENGRAVINGS ON STEEL.
"Above a patron—though I condescend Sometimes to call a minister my friend."
TO THE READER.
My daughter again applies to me for my paternal imprimatur; and I hope that I am not swayed by partiality, when I give the sanction which she requires.
To excite the rising generation to depend upon their own exertions for success in life is surely a laudable endeavour; but, while the young mind is cautioned against dependence on the patronage of the great, and of office, it is encouraged to rely upon such friends as may be acquired by personal merit, good manners, and good conduct.
RICHARD LOVELL EDGEWORTH.
Edgeworthstown, Oct. 6, 1813.
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION.
The public has called for a third impression of this book; it was, therefore, the duty of the author to take advantage of the corrections which have been communicated to her by private friends and public censors. Whatever she has thought liable to just censure has in the present edition been amended, as far as is consistent with the identity of the story. It is remarkable that several incidents which have been objected to as impossible or improbable were true. For instance, the medical case, in Chapter XIX.
A bishop was really saved from suffocation by a clergyman in his diocese (no matter where or when), in the manner represented in Chapter X. The bishop died long ago; and he never was an epicure. A considerable estate was about seventy years ago regained, as described in Chapter XLII., by the discovery of a sixpence under the seal of a deed, which had been coined later than the date of the deed. Whether it be advantageous or prudent to introduce such singular facts in a fictitious history is a separate consideration, which might lead to a discussion too long for the present occasion.
On some other points of more importance to the writer, it is necessary here to add a few words. It has been supposed that some parts of PATRONAGE were not written by Miss Edgeworth. This is not fact: the whole of these volumes were written by her, the opinions they contain are her own, and she is answerable for all the faults which may be found in them. Of ignorance of law, and medicine, and of diplomacy, she pleads guilty; and of making any vain or absurd pretensions to legal or medical learning, she hopes, by candid judges, to be acquitted. If in the letters and history of her lawyer and physician she has sometimes introduced technical phrases, it was done merely to give, as far as she could, the colour of reality to her fictitious personages. To fulfil the main purpose of her story it was essential only to show how some lawyers and physicians may be pushed forward for a time, without much knowledge either of law or medicine; or how, on the contrary, others may, independently of patronage, advance themselves permanently by their own merit. If this principal object of the fiction be accomplished, the author's ignorance on professional subjects is of little consequence to the moral or interest of the tale.
As to the charge of having drawn satirical portraits, she has already disclaimed all personality, and all intention of satirizing any profession; and she is grieved to find it necessary to repel such a charge. The author of a slight work of fiction may, however, be consoled for any unjust imputation of personal satire, by reflecting, that even the grave and impartial historian cannot always escape similar suspicion. Tacitus says that "there must always be men, who, from congenial manners, and sympathy in vice, will think the fidelity of history a satire on themselves; and even the praise due to virtue is sure to give umbrage."
August 1, 1815.
"How the wind is rising!" said Rosamond.—"God help the poor people at sea to-night!"
Her brother Godfrey smiled.—"One would think," said he, "that she had an argosy of lovers at sea, uninsured."
"You gentlemen," replied Rosamond, "imagine that ladies are always thinking of lovers."
"Not always," said Godfrey; "only when they show themselves particularly disposed to humanity."
"My humanity, on the present occasion, cannot even be suspected," said Rosamond; "for you know, alas! that I have no lover at sea or land."
"But a shipwreck might bless the lucky shore with some rich waif," said Godfrey.
"Waifs and strays belong to the lady of the manor," said Rosamond; "and I have no claim to them."
"My mother would, I dare say, make over her right to you," said Godfrey.
"But that would do me no good," said Rosamond; "for here is Caroline, with superior claims of every sort, and with that most undisputed of all the rights of woman—beauty."
"True: but Caroline would never accept of stray hearts," said Godfrey. "See how her lip curls with pride at the bare imagination!"
"Pride never curled Caroline's lip," cried Rosamond: "besides, pride is very becoming to a woman. No woman can be good for much without it, can she, mother?"
"Before you fly off, Rosamond, to my mother as to an ally, whom you are sure I cannot resist," said Godfrey, "settle first whether you mean to defend Caroline upon the ground of her having or not having pride."
A fresh gust of wind rose at this moment, and Rosamond listened to it anxiously.
"Seriously, Godfrey," said she, "do you remember the ship-wrecks last winter?"
As she spoke, Rosamond went to one of the windows, and opened the shutter. Her sister Caroline followed, and they looked out in silence.
"I see a light to the left of the beacon," said Caroline.—"I never saw a light there before—What can it mean?"
"Only some fishermen," said Godfrey.
"But, brother, it is quite a storm," persisted Rosamond.
"Only equinoctial gales, my dear."
"Only equinoctial gales! But to drowning people it would be no comfort that they were shipwrecked only by equinoctial gales. There! there! what do you think of that blast?" cried Rosamond; "is not there some danger now?"
"Godfrey will not allow it," said Mrs. Percy: "he is a soldier, and it is his trade not to know fear."
"Show him a certain danger," cried Mr. Percy, looking up from a letter he was writing,—"show him a certain danger, and he will feel fear as much as the greatest coward of you all. Ha! upon my word, it is an ugly night," continued he, going to the window.
"Oh, my dear father!" cried Rosamond, "did you see that light—out at sea?—There! there!—to the left."
"To the east—I see it."
"Hark! did you hear?"
"Minute guns!" said Caroline.
There was a dead silence instantly.—Every body listened.—Guns were heard again.—The signal of some vessel in distress. The sound seemed near the shore.—Mr. Percy and Godfrey hastened immediately to the coast.—Their servants and some people from the neighbouring village, whom they summoned, quickly followed. They found that a vessel had struck upon a rock, and from the redoubled signals it appeared that the danger must be imminent.
The boatmen, who were just wakened, were surly, and swore that they would not stir; that whoever she was, she might weather out the night, for that, till daybreak, they couldn't get alongside of her. Godfrey instantly jumped into a boat, declaring he would go out directly at all hazards.—Mr. Percy with as much intrepidity, but, as became his age, with more prudence, provided whatever assistance was necessary from the villagers, who declared they would go any where with him; the boatmen, then ashamed, or afraid of losing the offered reward, pushed aside the land lubbers, and were ready to put out to sea.
Out they rowed—and they were soon so near the vessel, that they could hear the cries and voices of the crew. The boats hailed her, and she answered that she was Dutch, homeward bound—had mistaken the lights upon the coast—had struck on a rock—was filling with water—and must go down in half an hour.
The moment the boats came alongside of her, the crew crowded into them so fast, and with such disorder and precipitation, that they were in great danger of being overset, which, Mr. Percy seeing, called out in a loud and commanding voice to stop several who were in the act of coming down the ship's side, and promised to return for them if they would wait. But just as he gave the order for his boatmen to push off, a French voice called out "Monsieur!—Monsieur l'Anglois!—one moment."
Mr. Percy looked back and saw, as the moon shone full upon the wreck, a figure standing at the poop, leaning over with out-stretched arms.
"I am Monsieur de Tourville, monsieur—a charge d'affaires—with papers of the greatest importance—despatches."
"I will return for you, sir—it is impossible for me to take you now—our boat is loaded as much as it can bear," cried Mr. Percy; and he repeated his order to the boatmen to push off.
Whilst Godfrey and Mr. Percy were trimming the boat, M. de Tourville made an effort to jump into it.
"Oh! don't do it, sir!" cried a woman with a child in her arms; "the gentleman will come back for us: for God's sake, don't jump into it!"
"Don't attempt it, sir," cried Mr. Percy, looking up, "or you'll sink us all."
M. de Tourville threw down the poor woman who tried to stop him, and he leaped from the side of the ship. At the same moment Mr. Percy, seizing an oar, pushed the boat off, and saved it from being overset, as it must have been if M. de Tourville had scrambled into it. He fell into the water. Mr. Percy, without waiting to see the event, went off as fast as possible, justly considering that the lives of the number he had under his protection, including his son's and his own, were not to be sacrificed for one man, whatever his name or office might be, especially when that man had persisted against all warning in his rash selfishness.
At imminent danger to themselves, Mr. Percy and Godfrey, after landing those in the boat, returned once more to the wreck; and though they both declared that their consciences would be at ease even if they found that M. de Tourville was drowned, yet it was evident that they rejoiced to see him safe on board. This time the boat held him, and all the rest of his fellow sufferers; and Mr. Percy and his son had the satisfaction of bringing every soul safely to shore.—M. de Tourville, as soon as he found himself on terra firma, joined with all around him in warm thanks to Mr. Percy and his son, by whom their lives had been saved.—Godfrey undertook to find lodgings for some of the passengers and for the ship's crew in the village, and Mr. Percy invited the captain, M. de Tourville, and the rest of the passengers, to Percy-hall, where Mrs. Percy and her daughters had prepared every thing for their hospitable reception. When they had warmed, dried, and refreshed themselves, they were left to enjoy what they wanted most—repose. The Percy family, nearly as much fatigued as their guests, were also glad to rest—all but Rosamond, who was wide awake, and so much excited by what had happened, that she continued talking to her sister, who slept in the same room with her, of every circumstance, and filling her imagination with all that might come to pass from the adventures of the night, whilst Caroline, too sleepy to be able to answer judiciously, or even plausibly, said, "Yes," "No," and "Very true," in the wrong place; and at length, incapable of uttering even a monosyllable, was reduced to inarticulate sounds in sign of attention. These grew fainter and fainter, and after long intervals absolutely failing, Rosamond with some surprise and indignation, exclaimed, "I do believe, Caroline, you are asleep!" And, in despair, Rosamond, for want of an auditor, was compelled to compose herself to rest.
In the course of a few hours the storm abated, and in the morning, when the family and their shipwrecked guests assembled at breakfast, all was calm and serene. Much to Rosamond's dissatisfaction, M. de Tourville did not make his appearance. Of the other strangers she had seen only a glimpse the preceding night, and had not settled her curiosity concerning what sort of beings they were. On a clear view by daylight of the personages who now sat at the breakfast-table, there did not appear much to interest her romantic imagination, or to excite her benevolent sympathy. They had the appearance of careful money-making men, thick, square-built Dutch merchants, who said little and eat much—butter especially. With one accord, as soon as they had breakfasted, they rose, and begged permission to go down to the wreck to look after their property. Mr. Percy and Godfrey offered immediately to accompany them to the coast.
Mr. Percy had taken the precaution to set guards to watch all night, from the time he left the vessel, that no depredations might be committed. They found that some of the cargo had been damaged by the sea-water, but excepting this loss there was no other of any consequence; the best part of the goods was perfectly safe. As it was found that it would take some time to repair the wreck, the Prussian and Hamburgh passengers determined to go on board a vessel which was to sail from a neighbouring port with the first fair wind. They came, previously to their departure, to thank the Percy family, and to assure them that their hospitality would never he forgotten.—Mr. Percy pressed them to stay at Percy-hall till the vessel should sail, and till the captain should send notice of the first change of wind.—This offer, however, was declined, and the Dutch merchants, with due acknowledgments, said, by their speaking partner, that "they considered it safest and best to go with the goods, and so wished Mr. Percy a good morning, and that he might prosper in all his dealings; and, sir," concluded he, "in any of the changes of fortune, which happen to men by land as well as by sea, please to remember the names of Grinderweld, Groensvelt, and Slidderchild of Amsterdam, or our correspondents, Panton and Co., London."
So having said, they walked away, keeping an eye upon the goods.
When Mr. Percy returned home it was near dinner-time, yet M. de Tourville had not made his appearance. He was all this while indulging in a comfortable sleep. He had no goods on board the wreck except his clothes, and as these were in certain trunks and portmanteaus in which Comtois, his valet, had a joint concern, M. de Tourville securely trusted that they would be obtained without his taking any trouble.
Comtois and the trunks again appeared, and a few minutes before dinner M. de Tourville made his entrance into the drawing-room, no longer in the plight of a shipwrecked mariner, but in gallant trim, wafting gales of momentary bliss as he went round the room paying his compliments to the ladies, bowing, smiling, apologizing,—the very pink of courtesy!—The gentlemen of the family, who had seen him the preceding night in his frightened, angry, drenched, and miserable state, could scarcely believe him to be the same person.
A Frenchman, it will be allowed, can contrive to say more, and to tell more of his private history in a given time, than could be accomplished by a person of any other nation. In the few minutes before dinner he found means to inform the company, that he was private secretary and favourite of the minister of a certain German court. To account for his having taken his passage in a Dutch merchant vessel, and for his appearing without a suitable suite, he whispered that he had been instructed to preserve a strict incognito, from which, indeed, nothing but the horrors of the preceding night could have drawn him.
Dinner was served, and at dinner M. de Tourville was seen, according to the polished forms of society, humbling himself in all the hypocrisy of politeness; with ascetic good-breeding, preferring every creature's ease and convenience to his own, practising a continual system of self-denial, such as almost implied a total annihilation of self-interest and self-love. All this was strikingly contrasted with the selfishness which he had recently betrayed, when he was in personal danger. Yet the influence of polite manners prevailed so far as to make his former conduct be forgotten by most of the family.
After dinner, when the ladies retired, in the female privy council held to discuss the merits of the absent gentlemen, Rosamond spoke first, and during the course of five minutes pronounced as many contradictory opinions of M. de Tourville, as could well be enunciated in the same space of time.—At last she paused, and her mother smiled.
"I understand your smile, mother," said Rosamond; "but the reason I appear a little to contradict myself sometimes in my judgment of character is, because I speak my thoughts just as they rise in my mind, while persons who have a character for judgment to support always keep the changes of their opinion snug to themselves, never showing the items of the account on either side, and let you see nothing but their balance.—This is very grand, and, if their balance be right, very glorious.—But ignominious as my mode of proceeding may seem, exposing me to the rebukes, derision, uplifted hands and eyes of my auditors, yet exactly because I am checked at every little mistake I make in my accounts, the chance is in my favour that my totals should at last be right, and my balance perfectly accurate."
"Very true, my dear: as long as you choose for your auditors only your friends, you are wise; but you sometimes lay your accounts open to strangers; and as they see only your errors, without ever coming to your conclusion, they form no favourable opinion of your accuracy."
"I don't mind what strangers think of me—much," said Rosamond.—"At least you will allow, mamma, that I have reason to be satisfied, if only those who do not know me should form an unfavourable opinion of my judgment—and, after all, ma'am, of the two classes of people, those who 'never said a foolish thing, and never did a wise one,' and those who never did a foolish thing, and never said a wise one, would not you rather that I should belong to the latter class?"
"Certainly, if I were reduced to the cruel alternative: but is there an unavoidable necessity for your belonging to either class?"
"I will consider of it, ma'am," said Rosamond: "in the meantime, Caroline, you will allow that M. de Tourville is very agreeable?"
"Agreeable!" repeated Caroline; "such a selfish being? Have you forgotten his attempting to jump into the boat, at the hazard of oversetting it, and of drowning my father and Godfrey, who went out to save him—and when my father warned him—and promised to return for him—selfish, cowardly creature!"
"Oh! poor man, he was so frightened, that he did not know what he was doing—he was not himself."
"You mean he was himself," said Caroline.
"You are very ungrateful, Caroline," cried Rosamond; "for I am sure M. de Tourville admires you extremely—yes, in spite of that provoking, incredulous smile, I say he does admire you exceedingly."
"And if he did," replied Caroline, "that would make no difference in my opinion of him."
"I doubt that," said Rosamond: "I know a person's admiring me would make a great difference in my opinion of his taste and judgment—and how much more if he had sense enough to admire you!"
Rosamond paused, and stood for some minutes silent in reverie.
"It will never do, my dear," said Mrs. Percy, looking up at her; "trust me it will never do; turn him which way you will in your imagination, you will never make a hero of him—nor yet a brother-in-law."
"My dear mother, how could you guess what I was thinking of?" said Rosamond, colouring a little, and laughing; "but I assure you—now let me explain to you, ma'am, in one word, what I think of M. de Tourville."
"Hush! my dear, he is here."
The gentlemen came into the room to tea.—M. de Tourville walked to the table at which Mrs. Percy was sitting; and, after various compliments on the beauty of the views from the windows, on the richness of the foliage in the park, and the superiority of English verdure, he next turned to look at the pictures in the saloon, distinguished a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, then passing to a table on which lay several books—"Is it permitted?" said he, taking up one of them—the Life of Lord Nelson.
M. de Tourville did not miss the opportunity of paying a just and what to English ears he knew must be a delightful, tribute of praise to our naval hero. Then opening several other books, he made a rash attempt to pronounce in English their titles, and with the happy facility of a Frenchman, he touched upon various subjects, dwelt upon none, but found means on all to say something to raise himself and his country in the opinion of the company, and at the same time to make all his auditors pleased with themselves. Presently, taking a seat between Rosamond and Caroline, he applied himself to draw out their talents for conversation. Nor did he labour in vain. They did not shut themselves up in stupid and provoking silence, nor did they make any ostentatious display of their knowledge or abilities.—M. de Tourville, as Rosamond had justly observed, seemed to be particularly struck with Miss Caroline Percy.—She was beautiful, and of an uncommon style of beauty. Ingenuous, unaffected, and with all the simplicity of youth, there was a certain dignity and graceful self-possession in her manner, which gave the idea of a superior character. She had, perhaps, less of what the French call esprit than M. de Tourville had been accustomed to meet with in young persons on the continent, but he was the more surprised by the strength and justness of thought which appeared in her plain replies to the finesse of some of his questions.
The morning of the second day that he was at Percy-hall, M. de Tourville was admiring the Miss Percys' drawings, especially some miniatures of Caroline's, and he produced his snuff-box, to show Mr. Percy a beautiful miniature on its lid.
It was exquisitely painted. M. de Tourville offered it to Caroline to copy, and Mrs. Percy urged her to make the attempt.
"It is the celebrated Euphrosyne," said he, "who from the stage was very near mounting a throne."
M. de Tourville left the miniature in the hands of the ladies to be admired, and, addressing himself to Mr. Percy, began to tell with much mystery the story of Euphrosyne. She was an actress of whom the prince, heir apparent at the German court where he resided, had become violently enamoured. One of the prince's young confidants had assisted his royal highness in carrying on a secret correspondence with Euphrosyne, which she managed so artfully that the prince was on the point of giving her a written promise of marriage, when the intrigue was discovered, and prevented from proceeding farther, by a certain Count Albert Altenberg, a young nobleman who had till that moment been one of the prince's favourites, but who by thus opposing his passion lost entirely his prince's favour. The story was a common story of an intrigue, such as happens every day in every country where there is a young prince; but there was something uncommon in the conduct of Count Altenberg. Mr. Percy expressed his admiration of it; but M. de Tourville, though he acknowledged, as in morality bound, that the count's conduct had been admirable, just what it ought to be upon this occasion, yet spoke of him altogether as une tete exaltee, a young man of a romantic Quixotic enthusiasm, to which he had sacrificed the interests of his family, and his own hopes of advancement at court. In support of this opinion, M. de Tourville related several anecdotes, and on each of these anecdotes Mr. Percy and M. de Tourville differed in opinion. All that was produced to prove that the young count had no judgment or discretion appeared to Mr. Percy proofs of his independence of character and greatness of soul. Mr. Percy repeated the anecdotes to Mrs. Percy and his daughters; and M. de Tourville, as soon as he saw that the ladies, and especially Caroline, differed from him, immediately endeavoured to slide round to their opinion, and assured Caroline, with many asseverations, and with his hand upon his heart, that he had merely been speaking of the light in which these things appeared to the generality of men of the world; that for his own particular feelings they were all in favour of the frankness and generosity of character evinced by these imprudences—he only lamented that certain qualities should expose their possessor to the censure and ridicule of those who were like half the world, incapable of being moved by any motive but interest, and unable to reach to the idea of the moral sublime.
The more M. de Tourville said upon the subject, and the more gesture and emphasis he used to impress the belief in his truth, the less Caroline believed him, and the more dislike and contempt she felt for the duplicity and pitiful meanness of a character, which was always endeavouring to seem, instead of to be.—He understood and felt the expression of her countenance, and mortified by that dignified silence, which said more than words could express, he turned away, and never afterwards addressed to her any of his confidential conversation.
From this moment Rosamond's opinion of M. de Tourville changed. She gave him up altogether, and denied, or at least gave him grudgingly, that praise, which he eminently deserved for agreeable manners and conversational talents. Not a foible of his now escaped her quick observation and her lively perception of ridicule.
Whether from accident, or from some suspicion that he had lost ground with the ladies, M. de Tourville the next day directed the principal part of his conversation to the gentlemen of the family: comforting himself with the importance of his political and official character, he talked grandly of politics and diplomacy. Rosamond, who listened with an air of arch attention, from time to time, with a tone of ironical simplicity, asked explanations on certain points relative to the diplomatic code of morality, and professed herself much edified and enlightened by the answers she received.
She wished, as she told Caroline, that some one would write Advice to Diplomatists, in the manner of Swift's advice to Servants; and she observed that M. de Tourville, charge d'affaires, &c., might supply anecdotes illustrative, and might embellish the work with a portrait of a finished diplomatist. Unfortunately for the public, on the third morning of the diplomatist's visit, a circumstance occurred, which prevented the farther development of his character, stopped his flow of anecdote, and snatched him from the company of his hospitable hosts. In looking over his papers, in order to show Mr. Percy a complimentary letter from some crowned head, M. de Tourville discovered that an important packet of papers belonging to his despatches was missing. He had in the moment of danger and terror stuffed all his despatches into his great-coat pocket; in getting out of the boat he had given his coat to Comtois to carry, and, strange to tell, this charge d'affaires had taken it upon trust, from the assertion of his valet, that all his papers were safe. He once, indeed, had looked them over, but so carelessly that he never had missed the packet. His dismay was great when he discovered his loss. He repeated at least a thousand times that he was an undone man, unless the packet could be found.—Search was made for it, in the boat, on the shore, in every probable and improbable place—but all in vain; and in the midst of the search a messenger came to announce that the wind was fair, that the ship would sail in one hour, and that the captain could wait for no man. M. de Tourville was obliged to take his departure without this precious packet.
Mrs. Percy was the only person in the family who had the humanity to pity him. He was too little of a soldier for Godfrey's taste, too much of a courtier for Mr. Percy, too frivolous for Caroline, and too little romantic for Rosamond.
"So," said Rosamond, "here was a fine beginning of a romance with a shipwreck, that ends only in five square merchants, who do not lose even a guilder of their property, and a diplomatist, with whom we are sure of nothing but that he has lost a bundle of papers for which nobody cares!"
In a few days the remembrance of the whole adventure began to fade from her fancy. M. de Tourville, and his snuff-box, and his essences, and his flattery, and his diplomacy, and his lost packet, and all the circumstances of the shipwreck, would have appeared as a dream, if they had not been maintained in the rank of realities by the daily sight of the wreck, and by the actual presence of the Dutch sailors, who were repairing the vessel.
A few days after the departure of M. de Tourville, Commissioner Falconer, a friend, or at least a relation of Mr. Percy's, came to pay him a visit. As the commissioner looked out of the window and observed the Dutch carpenter, who was passing by with tools under his arm, he began to talk of the late shipwreck. Mr. Falconer said he had heard much of the successful exertions and hospitality of the Percy family on that occasion—regretted that he had himself been called to town just at that time—asked many questions about the passengers on board the vessel, and when M. de Tourville was described to him, deplored that Mr. Percy had never thought of trying to detain this foreigner a few days longer.
For, argued the commissioner, though M. de Tourville might not be an accredited charge d'affaires, yet, since he was a person in some degree in an official capacity, and intrusted with secret negotiations, government might have wished to know something about him. "And at all events," added the commissioner, with a shrewd smile, "it would have been a fine way of paying our court to a certain great man."
"So, commissioner, you still put your trust in great men?" said Mr. Percy.
"Not in all great men, but in some," replied the commissioner; "for instance, in your old friend, Lord Oldborough, who, I'm happy to inform you, is just come into our neighbourhood to Clermont-park, of which he has at last completed the purchase, and has sent down his plate and pictures.—Who knows but he may make Clermont-park his summer residence, instead of his place in Essex? and if he should, there's no saying of what advantage it might be, for I have it from the very best authority, that his lordship's influence in a certain quarter is greater than ever. Of course, Mr. Percy, you will wait upon Lord Oldborough, when he comes to this part of the country?"
"No, I believe not," said Mr. Percy: "I have no connexion with him now."
"But you were so intimate with him abroad," expostulated Mr. Falconer.
"It is five-and-twenty years since I knew him abroad," said Mr. Percy; "and from all I have heard, he is an altered man. When I was intimate with Lord Oldborough, he was a generous, open-hearted youth: he has since become a politician, and I fear he has sold himself for a riband to the demon of ambition."
"No matter to whom he has sold himself, or for what," replied the commissioner; "that is his affair, not ours. We must not be too nice. He is well disposed towards you; and, my dear sir, I should take it as a very particular favour if you would introduce me to his lordship."
"With great pleasure," said Mr. Percy, "the very first opportunity."
"We must make opportunities—not wait for them," said the commissioner, smiling. "Let me entreat that you will pay your respects to his lordship as soon as he comes into the country. It really is but civil—and take me in your hand."
"With all my heart," said Mr. Percy; "but mine shall only be a visit of civility."
Well satisfied with having obtained this promise, Commissioner Falconer departed.
Besides his general desire to be acquainted with the great, the commissioner had particular reasons for wishing to be introduced at this time to Lord Oldborough, and he had a peculiar cause for being curious about M. de Tourville.—Mr. Falconer was in possession of the packet which that diplomatist had lost. It had been found by one of the commissioner's sons, Mr. John Falconer; or rather by Mr. John Falconer's dog, Neptune, who brought it to his master when he was bathing in the sea the day after the shipwreck. It had been thrown by the tide among some sea-weed, where it was entangled, and where it lay hid till it was discovered by the dog. Mr. John Falconer had carried it home, and boasting of his dog's sagacity, had produced it rather as a proof of the capital manner in which he had taught Neptune to fetch and carry, than from any idea or care for the value of the packet; John Falconer being one of those men who care for very little in this world,
"Whilst they have their dog and their gun."
Not so the commissioner, who immediately began to examine the papers with serious curiosity, to discover whether they could by any means be productive of advantage to him or his family. The sea-water had injured only the outer pages; but though the inner were not in the least damaged, it was difficult to make out their contents, for they were written in cipher. Commissioner Falconer, however, was skilled in the art of deciphering, and possessed all the ingenuity and patience necessary for the business. The title, superscription, and signature of the paper were obliterated, so that he could not guess from whom they came, or to whom they were addressed; he perceived that they were political; but of what degree of importance they might be he could not decide, till he heard of M. de Tourville the diplomatist, and of his distress at the loss of this packet. The commissioner then resolved to devote the evening, ensuing day, and night, if requisite, to the business, that he might have it in readiness to carry with him when he went to pay his respects to Lord Oldborough. Foreseeing that something might be made of this intercepted despatch, and fearing that if he mentioned it to Mr. Percy, that gentleman might object to opening the papers, Mr. Falconer left Percy-hall without giving the most remote hint of the treasure which he possessed, or of the use that he intended to make of his discovery.
Early in the ensuing week Mr. Percy went to pay his visit of civility, and Mr. Falconer his visit of policy, to Lord Oldborough. His lordship was so much altered, that it was with difficulty Mr. Percy recollected in him any traces of the same person. The Lord Oldborough he had formerly known was gay, gallant, and rather dissipated; of a frank, joyous air and manner. The Lord Oldborough whom he now saw was a serious, reserved-looking personage, with a face in which the lines of thought and care were deeply marked; large eyebrows, vigilant eyes, with an expression of ability and decision in his whole countenance, but not of tranquillity or of happiness. His manner was well-bred, but rather cold and formal: his conversation circumspect, calculated to draw forth the opinions, and to benefit by the information of others, rather than to assert or display his own. He seemed to converse, to think, to live, not with any enjoyment of the present, but with a view to some future object, about which he was constantly anxious.
Mr. Percy and Mr. Falconer both observed Lord Oldborough attentively during this visit: Mr. Percy studied him with philosophical curiosity, to discover what changes had been made in his lordship's character by the operation of ambition, and to determine how far that passion had contributed to his happiness; Mr. Falconer studied him with the interested eye of a man of the world, eager to discern what advantage could be made by ministering to that ambition, and to decide whether there was about his lordship the making of a good patron.
There was, he thought, the right twist, if he had but skill to follow, and humour it in the working; but this was a task of much nicety. Lord Oldborough appeared to be aware of the commissioner's views, and was not disposed to burden himself with new friends. It seemed easy to go to a certain point with his lordship, but difficult to get farther; easy to obtain his attention, but impossible to gain his confidence.
The commissioner, however, had many resources ready; many small means of fastening himself both on his lordship's private and public interests. He determined to begin first with the despatch which he had been deciphering. With this view he led Mr. Percy to speak of the shipwreck, and of M. de Tourville. Lord Oldborough's attention was immediately awakened; and when Mr. Falconer perceived that the regret for not having seen M. de Tourville, and the curiosity to know the nature of his secret negotiations had been sufficiently excited, the commissioner quitted the subject, as he could go no farther whilst restrained by Mr. Percy's presence. He took the first opportunity of leaving the room with his lordship's nephew, Col. Hauton, to look at some horses, which were to run at the ensuing races.
Left alone with Mr. Percy, Lord Oldborough looked less reserved, for he plainly saw, indeed Mr. Percy plainly showed, that he had nothing to ask from the great man, but that he came only to see his friend.
"Many years since we met, Mr. Percy," said his lordship, sitting down and placing his chair for the first time without considering whether his face or his back were to the light.—"A great many years since we met, Mr. Percy; and yet I should not think so from your appearance; you do not look as if—shall I say it?—five-and-twenty years had passed since that time. But you have been leading an easy life in the country—the happiest life: I envy you."
Mr. Percy, thinking that these were words of course, the mere polite cant of a courtier to a country gentleman, smiled, and replied, that few who were acquainted with their different situations in the world would imagine that Mr. Percy could be an object of envy to Lord Oldborough, a statesman at the summit of favour and fortune.
"Not the summit," said Lord Oldborough, sighing; "and if I were even at the summit, it is, you know, a dangerous situation. Fortune's wheel never stands still—the highest point is therefore the most perilous." His lordship sighed again as deeply as before; then spoke, or rather led to the subject of general politics, of which Mr. Percy gave his opinions with freedom and openness, yet without ever forgetting the respect due to Lord Oldborough's situation. His lordship seemed sensible of this attention, sometimes nodded, and sometimes smiled, as Mr. Percy spoke of public men or measures; but when he expressed any sentiment of patriotism, or of public virtue, Lord Oldborough took to his snuff-box, shook and levelled the snuff; and if he listened, listened as to words superfluous and irrelevant. When Mr. Percy uttered any principle favourable to the liberty of the press, or of the people, his lordship would take several pinches of snuff rapidly, to hide the expression of his countenance; if the topics were continued, his averted eyes and compressed lips showed disapprobation, and the difficulty he felt in refraining from reply. From reply, however, he did absolutely refrain; and after a pause of a few moments, with a smile, in a softer and lower voice than his usual tone, he asked Mr. Percy some questions about his family, and turned the conversation again to domestic affairs;—expressed surprise, that a man of Mr. Percy's talents should live in such absolute retirement; and seeming to forget what he had said himself but half an hour before, of the pains and dangers of ambition, and all that Mr. Percy had said of his love of domestic life, appeared to take it for granted that Mr. Percy would be glad to shine in public, if opportunity were not wanting. Upon this supposition, his lordship dexterously pointed out ways by which he might distinguish himself; threw out assurances of his own good wishes, compliments to his talents; and, in short, sounded his heart, still expecting to find corruption or ambition at the bottom. But none was to be found. Lord Oldborough was convinced of it—and surprised. Perhaps his esteem for Mr. Percy's understanding fell some degrees—he considered him as an eccentric person, acting from unaccountable motives; but still he respected him as that rarest of all things in a politician's eye—a really honest independent man. He believed also that Mr. Percy had some regard for him; and whatever portion it might be, it was valuable and extraordinary—for it was disinterested: besides, they could never cross in their objects—and as Mr. Percy lived out of the world, and had no connexion with any party, he was a perfectly safe man. All these thoughts acted so powerfully upon Lord Oldborough, that he threw aside his reserve, in a manner which would have astonished and delighted Mr. Falconer. Mr. Percy was astonished, but not delighted—he saw a noble mind corroded and debased by ambition—virtuous principle, generous feeling, stifled—a powerful, capacious understanding distorted—a soul, once expatiating and full of high thoughts, now confined to a span—bent down to low concerns—imprisoned in the precincts of a court.
"You pity me," said Lord Oldborough, who seemed to understand Mr. Percy's thoughts; "you pity me—I pity myself. But such is ambition, and I cannot live without it—once and always its slave."
"A person of such a strong mind as Lord Oldborough could emancipate himself from any slavery—even that of habit."
"Yes, if he wished to break through it—but he does not."
"Can he have utterly—"
"Lost his taste for freedom? you would say. Yes—utterly. I see you pity me," said his lordship with a bitter smile; "and," added he, rising proudly, "I am unused to be pitied, and I am awkward, I fear, under the obligation." Resuming his friendly aspect, however, in a moment or two, he followed Mr. Percy, who had turned to examine a fine picture.
"Yes; a Corregio. You are not aware, my dear sir," continued he, "that between the youth you knew at Paris, and the man who has now the honour to speak to you, there is nothing in common—absolutely nothing—except regard for Mr. Percy. You had always great knowledge of character, I remember; but with respect to my own, you will recollect that I have the advantage of possessing la carte du pays. You are grown quite a philosopher, I find; and so am I, in my own way. In short, to put the question between us at rest for ever, there is nothing left for me in life but ambition. Now let us go to Corregio, or what you please."
Mr. Percy followed his lordship's lead immediately to Italy, to France, to Paris, and talking over old times and youthful days, the conversation grew gay and familiar. Lord Oldborough seemed enlivened and pleased, and yet, as if it were a reminiscence of a former state of existence, he often repeated, "Ah! those were young days—very young: I was a boy then—quite a boy." At last Mr. Percy touched upon love and women, and, by accident, mentioned an Italian lady whom they had known abroad.—A flash of pale anger, almost of frenzy, passed across Lord Oldborough's countenance: he turned short, darted full on Mr. Percy a penetrating, imperious, interrogative look.—Answered by the innocence, the steady openness of Mr. Percy's countenance, Lord Oldborough grew red instantly, and, conscious of his unusual change of colour, stood actually abashed. A moment afterward, commanding his agitation, he forced his whole person to an air of tranquillity—took up the red book which lay upon his table, walked deliberately to a window, and, looking earnestly through his glass, asked if Mr. Percy could recollect who was member for some borough in the neighbourhood? The conversation after this languished; and though some efforts were made, it never recovered the tone of ease and confidence. Both parties felt relieved from an indefinable sort of constraint by the return of the other gentlemen. Mr. Falconer begged Mr. Percy to go and look at a carriage of a new construction, which the colonel had just brought from town; and the colonel accompanying Mr. Percy, the stage was thus left clear for the commissioner to open his business about M. de Tourville's packet. He did it with so much address, and with so little circumlocution, that Lord Oldborough immediately comprehended how important the papers might be to him, and how necessary it was to secure the decipherer. When Mr. Percy returned, he found the commissioner and his lordship in earnest and seemingly confidential conversation. Both Mr. Falconer and Mr. Percy were now pressed to stay to dine and to sleep at Clermont-park; an invitation which Mr. Percy declined, but which the commissioner accepted.
In the evening, when the company who had dined at Clermont-park were settled to cards and music, Lord Oldborough, after walking up and down the room with the commissioner in silence for some minutes, retired with him into his study, rang, and gave orders that they should not be interrupted on any account till supper. The servant informed his lordship that such and such persons, whom he had appointed, were waiting.—"I cannot possibly see them till to-morrow," naming the hour. The servant laid on the table before his lordship a huge parcel of letters. Lord Oldborough, with an air of repressed impatience, bid the man send his secretary, Mr. Drakelow,—looked over the letters, wrote with a pencil, and with great despatch, a few words on the back of each—met Mr. Drakelow as he entered the room—put the unfolded letters all together into his hands—"The answers on the back—to be made out in form—ready for signature at six to-morrow."
"Yes, my lord. May I ask—"
"Ask nothing, sir, if you please—I am busy—you have your directions."
Mr. Drakelow bowed submissive, and made his exit with great celerity.
"Now to our business, my dear sir," said his lordship, seating himself at the table with Mr. Falconer, who immediately produced M. de Tourville's papers.
It is not at this period of our story necessary to state precisely their contents; it is sufficient to say, that they opened to Lord Oldborough a scene of diplomatic treachery abroad, and of ungrateful duplicity at home. From some of the intercepted letters he discovered that certain of his colleagues, who appeared to be acting along with him with the utmost cordiality, were secretly combined against him; and were carrying on an underplot, to deprive him at once of popularity, favour, place, and power. The strength, firmness, hardness of mind, which Lord Oldborough exhibited at the moment of this discovery, perfectly amazed Mr. Falconer. His lordship gave no sign of astonishment, uttered no indignant exclamation, nor betrayed any symptoms of alarm; but he listened with motionless attention, when Mr. Falconer from time to time interrupted his reading, and put himself to great expense of face and lungs to express his abhorrence of "such inconceivable treachery." Lord Oldborough maintained an absolute silence, and waiting till the commissioner had exhausted himself in invective, would point with his pencil to the line in the paper where he had left off, and calmly say—"Have the goodness to go on—Let us proceed, sir, if you please."
The commissioner went on till he came to the most important and interesting point, and then glancing his eye on his intended patron's profile, which was towards him, he suddenly stopped. Lord Oldborough, raising his head from the hand on which it leaned, turned his full front face upon Mr. Falconer.
"Let me hear the whole, if you please, sir.—To form a judgment upon any business, it is necessary to have the whole before us.—You need not fear to shock my feelings, sir. I wish always to see men and things as they are." Mr. Falconer still hesitating, and turning over the leaves—"As my friend in this business, Mr. Falconer," continued his lordship, "you will comprehend that the essential point is to put me as soon as possible in possession of the facts—then I can decide, and act. If it will not fatigue you too much, I wish to go through these papers before I sleep."
"Fatigue! Oh, my lord, I am not in the least—cannot be fatigued! But the fact is, I cannot go on; for the next pages I have not yet deciphered—the cipher changes here."
Lord Oldborough looked much disappointed and provoked; but, after a few minutes' pause, calmly said, "What time will it take, sir, to decipher the remainder?"
The commissioner protested he did not know—could not form an idea—he and his son had spent many hours of intense labour on the first papers before he could make out the first cipher—now this was a new one, probably more difficult, and whether he could make it out at all, or in what time, he was utterly unable to say. Lord Oldborough replied, "Let us understand one another at once, Commissioner Falconer, if you please. My maxim, and the maxim of every man in public life is, or ought to be—Serve me, and I will serve you. I have no pretensions to Mr. Falconer's friendship on any other grounds, I am sensible; nor on any other terms can he have a claim to whatever power of patronage I possess. But I neither serve nor will be served by halves: my first object is to make myself master, as soon as possible, of the contents of the papers in your hands; my next to secure your inviolable secrecy on the whole transaction."
The commissioner was going to make vows of secrecy and protestations of zeal, but Lord Oldborough cut all that short with "Of course—of course," pronounced in the driest accent, and went on with, "Now, sir, you know my object; will you do me the honour to state yours?—you will excuse my abruptness—time in some circumstances is every thing—Do me and yourself the justice to say at once what return I can make for the service you have done or may do me and government."
"My only hesitation in speaking, my lord, was—"
"Have no hesitation in speaking, I beseech you, sir."
I beseech, in tone, was in effect, I command you, sir;—and Mr. Falconer, under the influence of an imperious and superior mind, came at once to that point, which he had not intended to come to for a month, or to approach till after infinite precaution and circumlocution.
"My object is to push my son Cunningham in the diplomatic line, my lord—and I wish to make him one of your secretaries."
The commissioner stopped short, astonished to find that the truth, and the whole truth, had absolutely passed his lips, and in such plain words; but they could not be recalled: he gasped for breath—and began an apologetical sentence about poor Mr. Drakelow, whom he should be sorry to injure or displace.
"Never mind that now—time enough to think of Drakelow," said Lord Oldborough, walking up and down the room—then stopping short, "I must see your son, sir."
"I will bring him here to-morrow, if your lordship pleases."
"As soon as possible! But he can come surely without your going for him—write, and beg that we may see him at breakfast—at nine, if you please."
The letter was written, and despatched immediately. Lord Oldborough, whilst the commissioner was writing, noted down the heads of what he had learned from M. de Tourville's packet: then locked up those of the papers which had been deciphered, put the others into Mr. Falconer's charge, and recommended it to him to use all possible despatch in deciphering the remainder.—The commissioner declared he would sit up all night at the task; this did not appear to be more than was expected.—His lordship rung, and ordered candles in Mr. Falconer's room, then returned to the company in the saloon, without saying another word. None could guess by his countenance or deportment that any unusual circumstance had happened, or that his mind was in the least perturbed. Mrs. Drakelow thought he was wholly absorbed in a rubber of whist, and Miss Drakelow at the same time was persuaded that he was listening to her music.
Punctual to the appointed hour—for ambition is as punctual to appointments as love—Mr. Cunningham Falconer made his appearance at nine, and was presented by his father to Lord Oldborough, who received him, not with any show of gracious kindness, but as one who had been forced upon him by circumstances, and whom, for valuable considerations, he had bargained to take into his service. To try the young diplomatist's talents, Lord Oldborough led him first to speak on the subject of the Tourville papers, then urged him on to the affairs of Germany, and the general interests and policy of the different courts of Europe. Trembling, and in agony for his son, the commissioner stood aware of the danger of the youth's venturing out of his depth, aware also of the danger of showing that he dared not venture, and incapable of deciding between these equal fears: but soon he was re-assured by the calmness of his son. Cunningham, who had not so much information or capacity, but who had less sensibility than his father, often succeeded where his father's timidity prognosticated failure. Indeed, on the present occasion, the care which the young diplomatist took not to commit himself, the dexterity with which he "helped himself by countenance and gesture," and "was judicious by signs," proved that he was well skilled in all those arts of seeming wise, which have been so well noted for use by "the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind." Young though he was, Cunningham was quite sufficiently slow, circumspect, and solemn, to deserve to be ranked among those whom Bacon calls Formalists, "who do nothing, or little, very solemnly—who seem always to keep back somewhat; and when they know within themselves that they speak of what they do not know, would, nevertheless, seem to others to know that of which they may not well speak."
Lord Oldborough listened to whatever he said, and marked all that he did not say with an air of attentive composure, which, as Mr. Falconer thought, augured well for his son; but now and then there was, for scarcely a definable portion of time, an expression of humour in his lordship's eye, a sarcastic smile, which escaped the commissioner's observation, and which, even if he had observed, he could not, with his limited knowledge of Lord Oldborough's character, have rightly interpreted. If his lordship had expressed his thoughts, perhaps, they might have been, though in words less quaint, nearly the same as those of the philosophic statesman, who says, "It is a ridiculous thing, and fit for a satire to persons of judgment, to see what shifts these formalists have, and what prospectives to make superficies to seem body that hath depth and bulk."
But Lord Oldborough philosophizing, and Lord Oldborough acting, were two different people. His perception of the ridicule of the young secretary's solemnity, and of the insufficiency of his information and capacity, made no alteration in the minister's determination. The question was not whether the individual was fit for this place, or that employment, but whether it was expedient he should have it for the security of political power. Waiving all delicacy, Lord Oldborough now, as in most other cases, made it his chief object to be understood and obeyed; therefore he applied directly to the universal motive, and spoke the universal language of interest.
"Mr. Falconer," said he, "if you put me in possession of the remainder of M. de Tourville's papers this night, I will to-morrow morning put this young gentleman into the hands of my present secretary, Mr. Drakelow, who will prepare him for the situation you desire. Mr. Drakelow himself will, probably, soon leave me, to be employed more advantageously for his majesty's service, in some other manner."
The decipherers, father and son, shut themselves up directly, and set to work with all imaginable zeal. The whole packet was nearly expounded before night, and the next morning Lord Oldborough performed his part of the agreement. He sent for Mr. Drakelow, and said, "Mr. Drakelow, I beg that, upon your return to town, you will be so good as to take this young gentleman, Mr. Cunningham Falconer, to your office. Endeavour to prepare him to supply your place with me whenever it may be proper for his majesty's service, and for your interest, to send you to Constantinople, or elsewhere."
Mr. Drakelow, though infinitely surprised and displeased, bowed all submission. Nothing else he knew was to be done with Lord Oldborough. His lordship, as soon as his secretary had left the room, turned to Cunningham, and said, "You will not mention anything concerning M. de Tourville's intercepted papers to Mr. Drakelow, or to any other person. Affairs call me to town immediately: to-morrow morning at six, I set off. You will, if you please, sir, be ready to accompany me. I will not detain you longer from any preparations you may have to make for your journey."
No sooner had the father and son quitted Lord Oldborough's presence than Mr. Falconer exclaimed with exultation, "I long to see our good cousin Percy, that I may tell him how I have provided already for one of my sons."
"But remember, sir," said Cunningham, "that Mr. Percy is to know nothing of the Tourville packet."
"To be sure not," said Mr. Falconer; "he is to know nothing of the means, he is to see only the end—the successful end. Ha! cousin Percy, I think we know rather better than you do how to make something of every thing—even of a shipwreck."
"To prevent his having any suspicions," continued Cunningham, "it will be best to give Mr. Percy some probable reason for Lord Oldborough's taking to us so suddenly. It will be well to hint that you have opportunities of obliging about the borough, or about the address at the county-meeting, or—"
"No, no; no particulars; never go to particulars," said old Falconer: "stick to generals, and you are safe. Say, in general, that I had an opportunity of obliging government. Percy is not curious, especially about jobbing. He will ask no questions; or, if he should, I can easily put him upon a wrong scent. Now, Cunningham, listen to me: I have done my best, and have pushed you into a fine situation: but remember, you cannot get on in the diplomatic line without a certain degree of diplomatic information. I have pointed this out to you often; you have neglected to make yourself master of these things, and, for want of them in office, you will come, I fear, some day or other to shame."
"Do not be afraid of that—no danger of my coming to shame any more than a thousand other people in office, who never trouble themselves about diplomatic information, and all that. There is always some clerk who knows the forms, and with those, and looking for what one wants upon the spur of the occasion in books and pamphlets, and so forth, one may go on very well—if one does but know how to keep one's own counsel. You see I got through with Lord Oldborough to-day—"
"Ay—but I assure you I trembled for you, and I could have squeezed myself into an auger-hole once, when you blundered about that treaty of which I knew that you knew nothing."
"Oh! sir, I assure you I had turned over the leaves. I was correct enough as to the dates; and, suppose I blundered, as my brother Buckhurst says, half the world never know what they are saying, and the other half never find it out.—Why, sir, you were telling me the other night such a blunder of Prince Potemkin's—"
"Very true," interrupted the commissioner; "but you are not Prince Potemkin, nor yet a prime minister; if you were, no matter how little you knew—you might get other people to supply your deficiencies. But now, in your place, and in the course of making your way upwards, you will be called upon to supply others with the information they may want. And you know I shall not be always at your elbow; therefore I really am afraid—"
"Dear sir, fear nothing," said Cunningham: "I shall do as well as others do—the greatest difficulty is over. I have taken the first step, and it has cost nothing."
"Well, get on, my boy—honestly, if you can—but get on."
With the true genius of a political castle-builder, Mr. Falconer began to add story after story to the edifice, of which he had thus promptly and successfully laid the foundation. Having by a lucky hit provided for one of his sons, that is to say, put him in a fair way of being provided for, the industrious father began to form plans for the advancement of his two other sons, Buckhurst and John: Buckhurst was destined by his father for the church; John for the army. The commissioner, notwithstanding he had been closeted for some hours with Lord Oldborough, and notwithstanding his son Cunningham was to be one of his lordship's secretaries, was well aware that little or no progress had been made in Lord Oldborough's real favour or confidence. Mr. Falconer knew that he had been literally paid by the job, that he was considered and treated accordingly; yet, upon the whole, he was well pleased that it should be so, for he foresaw the possibility of his doing for his lordship many more jobs, public and private. He lost no time in preparing for the continuity of his secret services, and in creating a political necessity for his being employed in future, in a manner that might ensure the advancement of the rest of his family. In the first place, he knew that Lord Oldborough was desirous, for the enlargement of the grounds at Clermont-park, to purchase certain adjoining lands, which, from some ancient pique, the owner was unwilling to sell. The proprietor was a tenant of Mr. Falconer's: he undertook to negotiate the business, and to use his influence to bring his tenant to reason. This offer, made through Cunningham, was accepted by Lord Oldborough, and the negotiation led to fresh communications.—There was soon to be a county meeting, and an address was to be procured in favour of certain measures of government, which it was expected would be violently opposed. In the commissioner's letters to his son, the private secretary, he could say and suggest whatever he pleased; he pointed out the gentlemen of the county who ought to be conciliated, and he offered his services to represent things properly to some with whom he was intimate. The sheriff and the under-sheriff also should know, without being informed directly from ministry, what course in conducting the meeting would be agreeable in a certain quarter—who so proper to say and do all that might be expedient as Mr. Falconer, who was on the spot, and well acquainted with the county?—The commissioner was informed by the private secretary, that his services would be acceptable. There happened also, at this time, to be some disputes and grievances in that part of the country about tax-gatherers. Mr. Falconer hinted, that he could soften and accommodate matters, if he were empowered to do so—and he was so empowered. Besides all this, there was a borough in that county, in which the interest of government had been declining; attempts were made to open the borough—Mr. Falconer could be of use in keeping it close—and he was commissioned to do every thing in his power in the business. In a short time Mr. Falconer was acting on all these points as an agent and partizan of Lord Oldborough's. But there was one thing which made him uneasy; he was acting here, as in many former instances, merely upon vague hopes of future reward.
Whilst his mind was full of these thoughts, a new prospect of advantage opened to him in another direction. Colonel Hauton, Lord Oldborough's nephew, stayed, during his uncle's absence, at Clermont-park, to be in readiness for the races, which, this year, were expected to be uncommonly fine. Buckhurst Falconer had been at school and at the university with the colonel, and had frequently helped him in his Latin exercises. The colonel having been always deficient in scholarship, he had early contracted an aversion to literature, which at last amounted to an antipathy even to the very sight of books, in consequence, perhaps, of his uncle's ardent and precipitate desire to make him apply to them whilst his head was full of tops and balls, kites and ponies. Be this as it may, Commissioner Falconer thought his son Buckhurst might benefit by his school friendship, and might now renew and improve the connexion. Accordingly, Buckhurst waited upon the colonel,—was immediately recognized, and received with promising demonstrations of joy.
It would be difficult, indeed impossible, to describe Colonel Hauton, so as to distinguish him from a thousand other young men of the same class, except, perhaps, that he might be characterized by having more exclusive and inveterate selfishness. Yet this was so far from appearing or being suspected on a first acquaintance, that he was generally thought a sociable, good-natured fellow. It was his absolute dependence upon others for daily amusement and ideas, or, rather, for knowing what to do with himself, that gave him this semblance of being sociable; the total want of proper pride and dignity in his whole deportment, a certain slang and familiarity of tone, gave superficial observers the notion that he was good-natured. It was Colonel Hauton's great ambition to look like his own coachman; he succeeded only so far as to look like his groom: but though he kept company with jockeys and coachmen, grooms and stable-boys, yet not the stiffest, haughtiest, flat-backed Don of Spain, in Spain's proudest days, could be more completely aristocratic in his principles, or more despotic in his habits. This could not break out to his equals, and his equals cared little how he treated his inferiors. His present pleasure, or rather his present business, for no man made more a business of pleasure than Colonel Hauton, was the turf. Buckhurst Falconer could not here assist him as much as in making Latin verses—but he could admire and sympathize; and the colonel, proud of being now the superior, proud of his knowing style and his capital stud, enjoyed Buckhurst's company particularly, pressed him to stay at Clermont-park, and to accompany him to the races. There was to be a famous match between Colonel Hauton's High-Blood and Squire Burton's Wildfire; and the preparations of the horses and of their riders occupied the intervening days. With all imaginable care, anxiety, and solemnity, these important preparations were conducted. At stated hours, Colonel Hauton, and with him Buckhurst, went to see High-Blood rubbed down, and fed, and watered, and exercised, and minuted, and rubbed down, and littered. Next to the horse, the rider, Jack Giles, was to be attended to with the greatest solicitude; he was to be weighed—and starved—and watched—and drammed—and sweated—and weighed again—and so on in daily succession; and harder still, through this whole course he was to be kept in humour: "None that ever sarved man or beast," as the stable-boy declared, "ever worked harder for their bread than his master and master's companion did this week for their pleasure." At last the great, the important day arrived, and Jack Giles was weighed for the last time in public, and so was Tom Hand, Squire Burton's rider—and High-Blood and Wildfire were brought out; and the spectators assembled in the stand, and about the scales, were all impatience, especially those who had betted on either of the horses. And, Now, Hauton!—Now, Burton!—Now, High-Blood!—Now, Wildfire!—Now, Jack Giles!—and Now, Tom Hand! resounded on all sides. The gentlemen on the race-ground were all on tiptoe in their stirrups. The ladies in the stand stretched their necks of snow, and nobody looked at them.—Two men were run over, and nobody took them up.—Two ladies fainted, and two gentlemen betted across them. This was no time for nice observances—Jack Giles's spirit began to flag—and Tom Hand's judgment to tell—High-Blood, on the full stretch, was within view of the winning-post, when Wildfire, quite in wind, was put to his speed by the judicious Tom Hand—he sprang forward, came up with High-Blood—passed him—Jack Giles strove in vain to regain his ground—High-Blood was blown, beyond the power of whip or spur—Wildfire reached the post, and Squire Burton won the match hollow.
His friends congratulated him and themselves loudly, and extolled Tom Hand and Wildfire to the skies. In the moment of disappointment, Colonel Hauton, out of humour, said something that implied a suspicion of unfairness on the part of Burton or Tom Hand, which the honest squire could not brook either for self or rider. He swore that his Tom Hand was as honest a fellow as any in England, and he would back him for such. The colonel, depending on his own and his uncle's importance, on his party and his flatterers, treated the squire with some of the haughtiness of rank, which the squire retorted with some rustic English humour. The colonel, who had not wit at will to put down his antagonist, became still more provoked to see that such a low-born fellow as the squire should and could laugh and make others laugh. For the lack of wit the colonel had recourse to insolence, and went on from one impertinence to another, till the squire, enraged, declared that he would not be browbeat by any lord's nephew or jackanapes colonel that ever wore a head; and as he spoke, tremendous in his ire, Squire Burton brandished high the British horsewhip. At this critical moment, as it has been asserted by some of the bystanders, the colonel quailed and backed a few paces; but others pretend that Buckhurst Falconer pushed before him. It is certain that Buckhurst stopped the blow—wrested the horsewhip from the squire—was challenged by him on the spot—accepted the challenge—fought the squire—winged him—appeared on the race ground afterwards, and was admired by the ladies in public, and by his father in private, who looked upon the duel and horsewhipping, from which he thus saved his patron's nephew, as the most fortunate circumstance that could have happened to his son upon his entrance into life.
"Such an advantage as this gives us such a claim upon the colonel—and, indeed, upon the whole family. Lord Oldborough, having no children of his own, looks to the nephew as his heir; and though he may be vexed now and then by the colonel's extravagance, and angry that he could not give this nephew more of a political turn, yet such as he is, depend upon it he can do what he pleases with Lord Oldborough. Whoever has the nephew's ear, has the uncle's heart; or I should say, whoever has the nephew's heart, has the uncle's ear."
"Mayn't we as well put hearts out of the question on all sides, sir?" said Buckhurst.
"With all my heart," said his father, laughing, "provided we don't put a good living out of the question on our side."
Buckhurst looked averse, and said he did not know there was any such thing in question.
"No!" said his father: "was it then from the pure and abstract love of being horsewhipped, or shot at, that you took this quarrel off his hands?"
"Faith! I did it from spirit, pure spirit," said Buckhurst: "I could not stand by, and see one who had been my schoolfellow horsewhipped—if he did not stand by himself, yet I could not but stand by him, for you know I was there as one of his party—and as I backed his bets on High-Blood, I could do no less than back his cause altogether.—Oh! I could not stand by and see a chum of my own horsewhipped."
"Well, that was all very spirited and generous; but now, as you are something too old for mere schoolboy notions," said the commissioner, "let us look a little farther, and see what we can make of it. It's only a silly boyish thing as you consider it; but I hope we can turn it to good account."
"I never thought of turning it to account, sir."
"Think of it now," said the father, a little provoked by the careless disinterestedness of the son. "In plain English, here is a colonel in his majesty's service saved from a horsewhipping—a whole noble family saved from disgrace: these are things not to be forgotten; that is, not to be forgotten, if you force people to remember them: otherwise—my word for it—I know the great—the whole would be forgotten in a week. Therefore, leave me to follow the thing up properly with the uncle, and do you never let it sleep with the nephew: sometimes a bold stroke, sometimes a delicate touch, just as the occasion serves, or as may suit the company present—all that I trust to your own address and judgment."
"Trust nothing, sir, to my address or judgment; for in these things I have neither. I always act just from impulse and feeling, right or wrong—I have no talents for finesse—leave them all to Cunningham—that's his trade, and he likes it, luckily: and you should be content with having one such genius in your family—no family could bear two."
"Come, come, pray be serious, Buckhurst. If you have not or will not use any common sense and address to advance yourself, leave that to me. You see how I have pushed up Cunningham already, and all I ask of you is to be quiet, and let me push you up."
"Oh! dear sir, I am very much obliged to you: if that is all, I will be quite quiet—so that I am not to do any thing shabby or dirty for it. I should be vastly glad to get a good place, and be provided for handsomely."
"No doubt; and let me tell you that many I could name have, with inferior claims, and without any natural connexion or relationship, from the mere favour of proper friends, obtained church benefices of much greater value than the living we have in our eye: you know—"
"I do not know, indeed," said Buckhurst; "I protest I have no living in my eye."
"What! not know that the living of Chipping-Friars is in the gift of Colonel Hauton—and the present incumbent has had one paralytic stroke already. There's a prospect for you, Buckhurst!"
"To be frank with you, sir, I have no taste for the church."
"No taste for nine hundred a year, Buckhurst? No desire for fortune, Mr. Philosopher?"
"Pardon me, a very strong taste for that, sir—not a bit of a philosopher—as much in love with fortune as any man, young or old: is there no way to fortune but through the church?"
"None for you so sure and so easy, all circumstances considered," said his father. "I have planned and settled it, and you have nothing to do but to get yourself ordained as soon as possible. I shall write to my friend the bishop for that purpose this very night."
"Let me beg; father, that you will not be so precipitate. Upon my word, sir, I cannot go into orders. I am not—in short, I am not fit for the church."
The father stared with an expression between anger and astonishment.
"Have not you gone through the university?"
"Yes, sir:—but—but I am scarcely sober, and staid, and moral enough for the church. Such a wild fellow as I am, I really could not in conscience—I would not upon any account, for any living upon earth, or any emolument, go into the church, unless I thought I should do credit to it."
"And why should not you do credit to the church? I don't see that you are wilder than your neighbours, and need not be more scrupulous. There is G——, who at your age was wild enough, but he took up in time, and is now a plump dean. Then there is the bishop that is just made: I remember him such a youth as you are. Come, come, these are idle scruples. Let me hear no more, my dear Buckhurst, of your conscience."
"Dear sir, I never pleaded my conscience on any occasion before—you know that I am no puritan—but really on this point I have some conscience, and I beg you not to press me farther. You have other sons; and if you cannot spare Cunningham, that treasure of diplomacy!—there's John; surely you might contrive to spare him for the church."
"Spare him I would, and welcome. But you know I could never get John into orders."
"Why not, sir? John, I'll swear, would have no objection to the church, provided you could get him a good fat living."
"But I am not talking of his objections. To be sure he would make no objection to a good fat living, nor would any body in his senses, except yourself. But I ask you how I could possibly get your brother John into the church? John's a dunce,—and you know it."
"Nobody better, sir: but are there no dunces in the church?—And as you are so good as to think that I'm no wilder than my neighbours, you surely will not say that my brother is more a dunce than his neighbours. Put him into the hands of a clever grinder or crammer, and they would soon cram the necessary portion of Latin and Greek into him, and they would get him through the university for us readily enough; and a degree once obtained, he might snap his fingers at Latin and Greek all the rest of his life. Once in orders, and he might sit down upon his fat living, or lie down content, all his days, only taking care to have some poor devil of a curate up and about, doing duty for him."
"So I find you have no great scruples for your brother, whatever you may have for yourself?"
"Sir, I am not the keeper of my brother's conscience—Indeed, if I were, you might congratulate me in the words of Sir B. R. upon the possession of a sinecure place."
"It is a pity, Buckhurst, that you cannot use your wit for yourself as well as for other people. Ah! Buckhurst! Buckhurst! you will, I fear, do worse in the world than any of your brothers; for wits are always unlucky: sharp-sighted enough to every thing else, but blind, stone blind to their own interest. Wit is folly, when one is talking of serious business."
"Well, my dear father, be agreeable, and I will not be witty.—In fact, in downright earnest, the sum total of the business is, that I have a great desire to go into the army, and I entreat you to procure me a commission."
"Then the sum total of the business is, that I will not; for I cannot afford to purchase you a commission, and to maintain you in the army—"
"But by using interest, perhaps, sir," said Buckhurst.
"My interest must be all for your brother John; for I tell you I can do nothing else for him but put him into the army.—He's a dunce.—I must get him a commission, and then I have done with him."
"I wish I were a dunce," said Buckhurst, sighing; "for then I might go into the army—instead of being forced into the church."
"There's no force upon your inclinations, Buckhurst," said his father in a soft tone; "I only show you that it is impossible I should maintain you in the army, and, therefore, beg you to put the army out of your head. And I don't well see what else you could do. You have not application enough for the bar, nor have I any friends among the attorneys except Sharpe, who, between you and me, might take your dinners, and leave you without a brief afterwards. You have talents, I grant," continued the commissioner, "and if you had but application, and if your uncle the judge had not died last year—"
"Oh, sir, he is dead, and we can't help it," interrupted Buckhurst. "And as for me, I never had, and never shall have, any application: so pray put the bar out of your mind."
"Very cavalier, indeed!—but I will make you serious at once, Buckhurst. You have nothing to expect from my death—I have not a farthing to leave you—my place, you know, is only for life—your mother's fortune is all in annuity, and two girls to be provided for—and to live as we must live—up to and beyond my income—shall have nothing to leave. Though you are my eldest son, you see it is in vain to look to my death—so into the church you must go, or be a beggar—and get a living or starve. Now I have done," concluded the commissioner, quitting his son; "and I leave you to think of what has been said."
Buckhurst thought and thought; but still his interest and his conscience were at variance, and he could not bring himself either to be virtuous or vicious enough to comply with his father's wishes. He could not decide to go into the church merely from interested motives—from that his conscience revolted; he could not determine to make himself fit to do credit to the sacred profession—against this his habits and his love of pleasure revolted. He went to his brother John, to try what could be done with him. Latin and Greek were insuperable objections with John; besides, though he had a dull imagination in general, John's fancy had been smitten with one bright idea of an epaulette, from which no considerations, fraternal, political, moral, or religious, could distract his attention.—His genius, he said, was for the army, and into the army he would go.—So to his genius, Buckhurst, in despair, was obliged to leave him.—The commissioner neglected not to push the claim which he had on Colonel Hauton, and he chose his time so well, when proper people were by, and when the colonel did not wish to have the squire, and the horse-whip, and the duel, brought before the public, that he obtained, if not a full acknowledgment of obligation, a promise of doing any thing and every thing in his power for his friend Buckhurst. Any thing and every thing were indefinite, unsatisfactory terms; and the commissioner, bold in dealing with the timid temper of the colonel, though he had been cautious with the determined character of the uncle, pressed his point—named the living of Chipping-Friars—showed how well he would be satisfied, and how well he could represent matters, if the promise were given; and at the same time made it understood how loudly he could complain, and how disgraceful his complaints might prove to the Oldborough family, if his son were treated with ingratitude. The colonel particularly dreaded that he should be suspected of want of spirit, and that his uncle should have the transaction laid before him in this improper point of view. He pondered for a few moments, and the promise for the living of Chipping-Friars was given. The commissioner, secure of this, next returned to the point with his son, and absolutely insisted upon his—going into orders. Buckhurst, who had tried wit and raillery in vain, now tried persuasion and earnest entreaties; but these were equally fruitless: his father, though an easy, good-natured man, except where his favourite plans were crossed, was peremptory, and, without using harsh words, he employed the harshest measures to force his son's compliance. Buckhurst had contracted some debts at the university, none of any great consequence, but such as he could not pay immediately.—The bets he had laid and lost upon High-Blood were also to be provided for; debts of honour claimed precedency, and must be directly discharged. His father positively refused to assist him, except upon condition of his compliance with his wishes; and so far from affording him any means of settling with his creditors, it has been proved, from the commissioner's private answers to some of their applications, that he not only refused to pay a farthing for his son, but encouraged the creditors to threaten him in the strongest manner with the terrors of law and arrest. Thus pressed and embarrassed, this young man, who had many honourable and religious sentiments and genuine feelings, but no power of adhering to principle or reason, was miserable beyond expression one hour—and the next he became totally forgetful that there was any thing to be thought of but the amusement of the moment. Incapable of coming to any serious decision, he walked up and down his room talking, partly to himself, and partly, for want of a better companion, to his brother John.
"So I must pay Wallis to-morrow, or he'll arrest me; and I must give my father an answer about the church to-night—for he writes to the bishop, and will wait no longer. Oh! hang it.' hang it, John! what the devil shall I do? My father won't pay a farthing for me, unless I go into the church!"
"Well, then, why can't you go into the church!" said John: "since you are through the university, the worst is over."
"But I think it so wrong, so base—for money—for emolument! I cannot do it. I am not fit for the church—I know I shall disgrace it," said Buckhurst, striking his forehead: "I cannot do it—I can not—it is against my conscience."
John stopped, as he was filling his shooting-pouch, and looked at Buckhurst (his mouth half open) with an expression of surprise at these demonstrations of sensibility. He had some sympathy for the external symptoms of pain which he saw in his brother, but no clear conception of the internal cause.
"Why, Buckhurst," said he, "if you cannot do it, you can't, you know, Buckhurst: but I don't see why you should be a disgrace to the church more than another, as my father says. If I were but through the university, I had as lieve go into the church as not—that's all I can say. And if my genius were not for the military line, there's nothing I should relish better than the living of Chipping-Friars, I'm sure. The only thing that I see against it is, that that paralytic incumbent may live many a year: but, then, you get your debts paid now by only going into orders, and that's a great point. But if it goes against your conscience—you know best—if you can't, you can't."
"After all, I can't go to jail—I can't let myself be arrested—I can't starve—I can't be a beggar," said Buckhurst; "and, as you say, I should be so easy if these cursed debts were paid—and if I got this living of nine hundred a year, how comfortable I should be! Then I could marry, by Jove! and I'd propose directly for Caroline Percy, for I'm confoundedly in love with her—such a sweet tempered, good creature!—not a girl so much admired! Colonel Hauton, and G——, and P——, and D——, asked me, 'Who is that pretty girl?'—She certainly is a very pretty girl."
"She certainly is," repeated John. "This devil of a fellow never cleans my gun."
"Not regularly handsome, neither," pursued Buckhurst; "but, as Hauton says, fascinating and new; and a new face in public is a great matter. Such a fashionable-looking figure, too—though she has not come out yet; dances charmingly—would dance divinely, if she would let herself out; and she sings and plays like an angel, fifty times better than our two precious sisters, who have been at it from their cradles, with all the Signor Squalicis at their elbows. Caroline Percy never exhibits in public: the mother does not like it, I suppose."
"So I suppose," said John. "Curse this flint!—flints are growing worse and worse every day—I wonder what in the world are become of all the good flints there used to be!"
"Very unlike our mother, I am sure," continued Buckhurst. "There are Georgiana and Bell at all the parties and concerts as regularly as any of the professors, standing up in the midst of the singing men and women, favouring the public in as fine a bravura style, and making as ugly faces as the best of them. Do you remember the Italian's compliment to Miss * * * * *?—I vish, miss, I had your assurance.'"
"Very good, ha!—very fair, faith!" said John. "Do you know what I've done with my powder horn?"
"Not I—put it in the oven, may be, to dry," said Buckhurst. "But as I was saying of my dear Caroline—My Caroline! she is not mine yet."
"Very true," said John.
"Very true! Why, John, you are enough to provoke a saint!"
"I was agreeing with you, I thought," said John.
"But nothing is so provoking as always agreeing with one—and I can tell you, Mr. Verytrue, that though Caroline Percy is not mine yet, I have nevertheless a little suspicion, that, such even as I am, she might readily be brought to love, honour, and obey me."
"I don't doubt it, for I never yet knew a woman that was not ready enough to be married," quoth John. "But this is not the right ramrod, after all."
"There you are wrong, John, on the other side," said Buckhurst; "for I can assure you, Miss Caroline Percy is not one of your young ladies who would marry any body. And even though she might like me, I am not at all sure that she would marry me—for obedience to the best of fathers might interfere."
"There's the point," said John; "for thereby hangs the fortune; and it would be a deuced thing to have the girl without the fortune."
"Not so deuced a thing to me as you think," said Buckhurst, laughing; "for, poor as I am, I can assure you the fortune is not my object—I am not a mercenary dog."
"By-the-bye," cried John, "now you talk of dogs, I wish to Heaven above, you had not given away that fine puppy of mine to that foolish old man, who never was out a shooting in his days—the dog's just as much thrown away as if you had drowned him. Now, do you know, if I had had the making of that puppy—"
"Puppy!" exclaimed Buckhurst: "is it possible you can be thinking of a puppy, John, when I am talking to you of what is of so much consequence?—when the whole happiness of my life is at stake?"
"Stake!—Well, but what can I do more!" said John: "have not I been standing here this half hour with my gun in my hand this fine day, listening to you prosing about I don't know what?"
"That's the very thing I complain of—that you do not know what: a pretty brother!" said Buckhurst.
John made no further reply, but left the room sullenly, whistling as he went.
Left to his own cogitations, Buckhurst fell into a reverie upon the charms of Caroline Percy, and upon the probable pleasure of dancing with her at the race-ball; after this, he recurred to the bitter recollection, that he must decide about his debts, and the church. A bright idea came into his mind, that he might have recourse to Mr. Percy, and, perhaps, prevail upon him to persuade his father not to force him to a step which he could not reconcile either to his conscience or his inclination.—No sooner thought than done.—He called for his horse and rode as hard as he could to Percy-hall.—When a boy he had been intimate in the Percy family; but he had been long absent at school and at the university; they had seen him only during the vacations, and since his late return to the country. Though Mr. Percy could not entirely approve of his character, yet he thought there were many good points about Buckhurst; the frankness and candour with which he now laid his whole mind and all his affairs open to him—debts—love—fears—hopes—follies—faults—without reserve or extenuation, interested Mr. Percy in his favour.—Pitying his distress, and admiring the motives from which he acted, Mr. Percy said, that though he had no right to interfere in Mr. Falconer's family affairs, yet that he could, and would, so far assist Buckhurst, as to lend him the money for which he was immediately pressed, that he might not be driven by necessity to go into that profession, which ought to be embraced only from the highest and purest motives. Buckhurst thanked him with transports of gratitude for this generous kindness, which was far beyond his expectations, and which, indeed, had never entered into his hopes. Mr. Percy seized the moment when the young man's mind was warmed with good feelings, to endeavour to bring him to serious thoughts and rational determinations about his future life. He represented, that it was unreasonable to expect that his father should let him go into the army, when he had received an education to prepare himself for a profession, in which his literary talents might be of advantage both to himself and his family; that Mr. Falconer was not rich enough to forward two of his sons in the army; that if Buckhurst, from conscientious motives, declined the provision which his father had in view for him in the church, he was bound to exert himself to obtain an independent maintenance in another line of life; that he had talents which would succeed at the bar, if he had application and perseverance sufficient to go through the necessary drudgery at the commencement of the study of the law.
Here Buckhurst groaned.—But Mr. Percy observed that there was no other way of proving that he acted from conscientious motives respecting the church; for otherwise it would appear that he preferred the army only because he fancied it would afford a life of idleness and pleasure.—That this would also be his only chance of winning the approbation of the object of his affections, and of placing himself in a situation in which he could marry.—Buckhurst, who was capable of being strongly influenced by good motives, especially from one who had obliged him, instantly, and in the most handsome manner, acknowledged the truth and justice of Mr. Percy's arguments, and declared that he was ready to begin the study of the law directly, if his father would consent to it; and that he would submit to any drudgery rather than do what he felt to be base and wrong. Mr. Percy, at his earnest request, applied to Mr. Falconer, and with all the delicacy that was becoming, claimed the right of relationship to speak of Mr. Falconer's family affairs, and told him what he had ventured to do about Buckhurst's debts; and what the young man now wished for himself.—The commissioner looked much disappointed and vexed.
"The bar!" cried he: "Mr. Percy, you don't know him as well as I do. I will answer for it, he will never go through with it—and then he is to change his profession again!—and all the expense and all the trouble is to fall on me!—and I am to provide for him at last!—In all probability, by the time Buckhurst knows his own mind, the paralytic incumbent will be dead, and the living of Chipping-Friars given away.—And where am I to find nine hundred a year, I pray you, at a minute's notice, for this conscientious youth, who, by that time, will tell me his scruples were all nonsense, and that I should have known better than to listen to them? Nine hundred a year does not come in a man's way at every turn of his life; and if he gives it up now, it is not my fault—let him look to it."
Mr. Percy replied, "that Buckhurst had declared himself ready to abide by the consequences, and that he promised he would never complain of the lot he had chosen for himself, much less reproach his father for his compliance, and that he was resolute to maintain himself at the bar."
"Yes: very fine.—And how long will it be before he makes nine hundred a year at the bar?"
Mr. Percy, who knew that none but worldly considerations made any impression upon this father, suggested that he would have to maintain his son during the life of the paralytic incumbent, and the expense of Buckhurst's being at the bar would not probably be greater; and though it might be several years before he could make nine hundred, or, perhaps, one hundred a year at the bar, yet that if he succeeded, which, with Buckhurst's talents, nothing but the want of perseverance could prevent, he might make nine thousand a year by the profession of the law—more than in the scope of human probability, and with all the patronage his father's address could procure, he could hope to obtain in the church.
"Well, let him try—let him try," repeated the commissioner, who, vexed as he was, did not choose to run the risk of disobliging Mr. Percy, losing a good match for him, or undergoing the scandal of its being known that he forced his son into the church.
For obtaining this consent, however reluctantly granted by the commissioner, Buckhurst warmly thanked Mr. Percy, who made one condition with him, that he would go up to town immediately to commence his studies.
This Buckhurst faithfully promised to do, and only implored permission to declare his attachment to Caroline.—Caroline was at this time not quite eighteen, too young, her father said, to think of forming any serious engagement, even were it with a person suited to her in fortune and in every other respect.
Buckhurst declared that he had no idea of endeavouring even to obtain from Miss Caroline Percy any promise or engagement.—He had been treated, he said, too generously by her father, to attempt to take any step without his entire approbation.
He knew he was not, and could not for many years, be in circumstances that would enable him to support a daughter of Mr. Percy's in the station to which she was, by her birth and fortune, entitled.—All he asked, he repeated, was to be permitted to declare to her his passion.
Mr. Percy thought it was more prudent to let it be declared openly than to have it secretly suspected; therefore he consented to this request, trusting much to Buckhurst's honour and to Caroline's prudence.
To this first declaration of love Caroline listened with a degree of composure which astonished and mortified her lover. He had flattered himself that, at least, her vanity or pride would have been apparently gratified by her conquest.—But there was none of the flutter of vanity in her manner, nor any of the repressed satisfaction of pride. There were in her looks and words only simplicity and dignity.—She said that she was at present occupied happily in various ways, endeavouring to improve herself, and that she should be sorry to have her mind turned from these pursuits; she desired to secure time to compare and judge of her own tastes, and of the characters of others, before she should make any engagement, or form an attachment on which the happiness of her life must depend. She said she was equally desirous to keep herself free, and to avoid injuring the happiness of the man who had honoured her by his preference; therefore she requested he would discontinue a pursuit, which she could not encourage him to hope would ever be successful.—Long before the time when she should think it prudent to marry, even if she were to meet with a character perfectly suited to hers, she hoped that her cousin Buckhurst would be united to some woman who would be able to return his affection.
The manner in which all this was said convinced Buckhurst that she spoke the plain and exact truth. From the ease and frankness with which she had hitherto conversed with him, he had flattered himself that it would not be difficult to prepossess her heart in his favour; but now, when he saw the same ease and simplicity unchanged in her manner, he was convinced that he had been mistaken. He had still hopes that in time he might make an impression upon her, and he urged that she was not yet sufficiently acquainted with his character to be able to judge whether or not it would suit hers. She frankly told him all she thought of him, and in doing so impressed him with the conviction that she had both discerned the merits and discovered the defects of his character: she gave him back a representation of himself, which he felt to be exactly just, and yet which struck him with all the force of novelty.