By J. Fenimore Cooper
It is not improbable that some of those who read this book, may feel a wish to know in what manner I became possessed of the manuscript. Such a desire is too just and natural to be thwarted, and the tale shall be told as briefly as possible.
During the summer of 1828, while travelling among those valleys of Switzerland which lie between the two great ranges of the Alps, and in which both the Rhone and the Rhine take their rise, I had passed from the sources of the latter to those of the former river, and had reached that basin in the mountains that is so celebrated for containing the glacier of the Rhone, when chance gave me one of those rare moments of sublimity and solitude, which are the more precious in the other hemisphere from their infrequency. On every side the view was bounded by high and ragged mountains, their peaks glittering near the sun, while directly before me, and on a level with the eye, lay that miraculous frozen sea, out of whose drippings the Rhone starts a foaming river, to glance away to the distant Mediterranean. For the first time, during a pilgrimage of years, I felt alone with nature in Europe. Alas! the enjoyment, as all such enjoyments necessarily are amid the throngs of the old world, was short and treacherous. A party came round the angle of a rock, along the narrow bridle-path, in single file; two ladies on horseback, followed by as many gentlemen on foot, and preceded by the usual guide. It was but small courtesy to rise and salute the dove-like eyes and blooming cheeks of the former, as they passed. They were English, and the gentlemen appeared to recognize me as a countryman. One of the latter stopped, and politely inquired if the passage of the Furca was obstructed by snow. He was told not, and in return for the information said that I would find the Grimsel a little ticklish; "but," he added, smiling, "the ladies succeeded in crossing, and you will scarcely hesitate." I thought I might get over a difficulty that his fair companions had conquered. He then told me Sir Herbert Taylor was made adjutant-general, and wished me good morning.
I sat reflecting on the character, hopes, pursuits, and interests of man, for an hour, concluding that the stranger was a soldier, who let some of the ordinary workings of his thoughts overflow in this brief and casual interview. To resume my solitary journey, cross the Rhone, and toil my way up the rugged side of the Grimsel, consumed two more hours, and glad was I to come in view of the little chill-looking sheet of water on its summit, which is called the Lake of the Dead. The path was filled with snow, at a most critical point, where, indeed, a misplaced footstep might betray the incautious to their destruction. A large party on the other side appeared fully aware of the difficulty, for it had halted, and was in earnest discussion with the guide, touching the practicability of passing. It was decided to attempt the enterprise. First came a female of one of the sweetest, serenest countenances I had ever seen. She, too, was English; and though she trembled, and blushed, and laughed at herself, she came on with spirit, and would have reached my side in safety, had not an unlucky stone turned beneath a foot that was much too pretty for those wild hills. I sprang forward, and was so happy as to save her from destruction. She felt the extent of the obligation, and expressed her thanks modestly but with fervor. In a minute we were joined by her husband, who grasped my hand with warm feeling, or rather with the emotion one ought to feel who had witnessed the risk he had just run of losing an angel. The lady seemed satisfied at leaving us together.
"You are an Englishman?" said the stranger.
"An American! This is singular—will you pardon a question?—You have more than saved my life—you have probably saved my reason—will you pardon a question?—Can money serve you?"
I smiled, and told him, odd as it might appear to him, that though an American, I was a gentleman. He appeared embarrassed, and his fine face worked, until I began to pity him, for it was evident he wished to show me in some way, how much he felt he was my debtor, and yet he did not know exactly what to propose.
"We may meet again," I said, squeezing his hand.
"Will you receive my card?"
He put "Viscount Householder" into my hand, and in return I gave him my own humble appellation.
He looked from the card to me, and from me to the card, and some agreeable idea appeared to flash upon his mind.
"Shall you visit Geneva this summer?" he asked, earnestly.
"Within a month."
"Hotel de l'Ecu."
"You shall hear from me. Adieu."
We parted, he, his lovely wife, and his guides descending to the Rhone, while I pursued my way to the Hospice of the Grimsel. Within the month I received a large packet at l'Ecu. It contained a valuable diamond ring, with a request that I would wear it, as a memorial of Lady Householder, and a fairly written manuscript. The following short note explained the wishes of the writer:
"Providence brought us together for more purposes than were at first apparent. I have long hesitated about publishing the accompanying narrative, for in England there is a disposition to cavil at extraordinary facts, but the distance of America from my place of residence will completely save me from ridicule. The world must have the truth, and I see no better means than by resorting to your agency. All I ask is, that you will have the book fairly printed, and that you will send one copy to my address, Householder Hall, Dorsetshire, Eng., and another to Captain Noah Poke, Stonington, Conn., in your own country. My Anna prays for you, and is ever your friend. Do not forget us.
"Yours, most faithfully,"
I have rigidly complied with this request, and having sent the two copies according to direction, the rest of the edition is at the disposal of any one who may feel an inclination to pay for it. In return for the copy sent to Stonington, I received the following letter:
"ON BOARD THE DERBY AND DOLLY, "STONNIN'TUN, April 1st, 1835.
"AUTHOR OF THE SPY, ESQUIRE:
"Dear Sir:—Your favor is come to hand, and found me in good health, as I hope these few lines will have the same advantage with you. I have read the book, and must say there is some truth in it, which, I suppose, is as much as befalls any book, the Bible, the Almanac, and the State Laws excepted. I remember Sir John well, and shall gainsay nothing he testifies to, for the reason that friends should not contradict each other. I was also acquainted with the four Monikins he speaks of, though I knew them by different names. Miss Poke says she wonders if it's all true, which I wunt tell her, seeing that a little unsartainty makes a woman rational. As to my navigating without geometry, thats a matter that wasn't worth booking, for it's no curiosity in these parts, bating a look at the compass once or twice a day, and so I take my leave of you, with offers to do any commission for you among the Sealing Islands, for which I sail to-morrow, wind and weather permitting.
"Yours to sarve, NOAH POKE."
"To the Author of THE SPY, Esquire, ——— town, ——— county, York state.
"P. S.—I always told Sir John to steer clear of too much journalizing, but he did nothing but write, night and day, for a week; and as you brew, so you must bake. The wind has chopped, and we shall take our anchor this tide; so no more at present.
"N. B.—Sir John is a little out about my eating the monkey, which I did, four years before I fell in with him, down on the Spanish Main. It was not bad food to the taste, but was wonderful narvous to the eye. I r'ally thought I had got hold of Miss Poke's youngest born."
CHAPTER I. THE AUTHOR'S PEDIGREE,—ALSO THAT OF HIS FATHER.
The philosopher who broaches a new theory is bound to furnish, at least, some elementary proofs of the reasonableness of his positions, and the historian who ventures to record marvels that have hitherto been hid from human knowledge, owes it to a decent regard to the opinions of others, to produce some credible testimony in favor of his veracity. I am peculiarly placed in regard to these two great essentials having little more than its plausibility to offer in favor of my philosophy, and no other witness than myself to establish the important facts that are now about to be laid before the reading world for the first time. In this dilemma, I fully feel the weight of responsibility under which I stand; for there are truths of so little apparent probability as to appear fictitious, and fictions so like the truth that the ordinary observer is very apt to affirm that he was an eye-witness to their existence: two facts that all our historians would do well to bear in mind, since a knowledge of the circumstances might spare them the mortification of having testimony that cost a deal of trouble, discredited in the one case, and save a vast deal of painful and unnecessary labor, in the other. Thrown upon myself, therefore, for what the French call les pieces justificatives of my theories, as well as of my facts, I see no better way to prepare the reader to believe me, than by giving an unvarnished the result of the orange-woman's application; for had my worthy ancestor been subjected to the happy accidents and generous caprices of voluntary charity, it is more than probable I should be driven to throw a veil over those important years of his life that were notoriously passed in the work-house, but which, in consequence of that occurrence, are now easily authenticated by valid minutes and documentary evidence. Thus it is that there exists no void in the annals of our family, even that period which is usually remembered through gossiping and idle tales in the lives of most men, being matter of legal record in that of my progenitor, and so continued to be down to the day of his presumed majority, since he was indebted to a careful master the moment the parish could with any legality, putting decency quite out of the question, get rid of him. I ought to have said, that the orange-woman, taking a hint from the sign of a butcher opposite to whose door my ancestor was found, had very cleverly given him the name of Thomas Goldencalf.
This second important transition in the affairs of my father, might be deemed a presage of his future fortunes. He was bound apprentice to a trader in fancy articles, or a shopkeeper who dealt in such objects as are usually purchased by those who do not well know what to do with their money. This trade was of immense advantage to the future prosperity of the young adventurer; for, in addition to the known fact that they who amuse are much better paid than they who instruct their fellow-creatures, his situation enabled him to study those caprices of men, which, properly improved, are of themselves a mine of wealth, as well as to gain a knowledge of the important truth that the greatest events of this life are much oftener the result of impulse than of calculation.
I have it by a direct tradition, orally conveyed from the lips of my ancestor, that no one could be more lucky than himself in the character of his master. This personage, who came, in time, to be my maternal grandfather, was one of those wary traders who encourage others in their follies, with a view to his own advantage, and the experience of fifty years had rendered him so expert in the practices of his calling, that it was seldom he struck out a new vein in his mine, without finding himself rewarded for the enterprise, by a success that was fully equal to his expectations.
"Tom," he said one day to his apprentice, when time had produced confidence and awakened sympathies between them, "thou art a lucky youth, or the parish officer would never have brought thee to my door. Thou little knowest the wealth that is in store for thee, or the treasures that are at thy command, if thou provest diligent, and in particular faithful to my interests." My provident grandfather never missed an occasion to throw in a useful moral, notwithstanding the general character of veracity that distinguished his commerce. "Now, what dost think, lad, may be the amount of my capital?"
My ancestor in the male line hesitated to reply, for, hitherto, his ideas had been confined to the profits; never having dared to lift his thoughts as high as that source from which he could not but see they flowed in a very ample stream; but thrown upon himself by so unexpected a question, and being quick at figures, after adding ten per cent. to the sum which he knew the last year had given as the net avail of their joint ingenuity, he named the amount, in answered to the interrogatory.
My maternal grandfather laughed in the face of my direct lineal ancestor.
"Thou judgest, Tom," he said, when his mirth was a little abated, "by what thou thinkest is the cost of the actual stock before thine eyes, when thou shouldst take into the account that which I term our floating capital."
Tom pondered a moment, for while he knew that his master had money in the funds, he did not account that as any portion of the available means connected with his ordinary business; and as for a floating capital, he did not well see how it could be of much account, since the disproportion between the cost and the selling prices of the different articles in which they dealt was so great, that there was no particular use in such an investment. As his master, however, rarely paid for anything until he was in possession of returns from it that exceeded the debt some seven-fold, he began to think the old man was alluding to the advantages he obtained in the way of credit, and after a little more cogitation, he ventured to say as much.
Again my maternal grandfather indulged in a hearty fit of laughter.
"Thou art clever in thy way, Tom," he said, "and I like the minuteness of thy calculations, for they show an aptitude for trade; but there is genius in our calling as well as cleverness. Come hither, boy," he added, drawing Tom to a window whence they could see the neighbors on their way to church, for it was on a Sunday that my two provident progenitors indulged in this moral view of humanity, as best fitted the day, "come hither, boy, and thou shalt see some small portion of that capital which thou seemest to think hid, stalking abroad by daylight, and in the open streets. Here, thou seest the wife of our neighbor, the pastry-cook; with what an air she tosses her head and displays the bauble thou sold'st her yesterday: well, even that slattern, idle and vain, and little worthy of trust as she is, carries about with her a portion of my capital!"
My worthy ancestor stared, for he never knew the other to be guilty of so great an indiscretion as to trust a woman whom they both knew bought more than her husband was willing to pay for.
"She gave me a guinea, master, for that which did not cost a seven-shilling piece!"
"She did, indeed, Tom, and it was her vanity that urged her to it. I trade upon her folly, younker, and upon that of all mankind; now dost thou see with what a capital I carry on affairs? There—there is the maid, carrying the idle hussy's patterns in the rear; I drew upon my stock in that wench's possession, no later than the last week, for half-a-crown!"
Tom reflected a long time on these allusions of his provident master, and although he understood them about as well as they will be understood by the owners of half the soft humid eyes and sprouting whiskers among my readers, by dint of cogitation he came at last to a practical understanding of the subject, which before he was thirty he had, to use a French term, pretty well exploite.
I learn by unquestionable tradition, received also from the mouths of his contemporaries, that the opinions of my ancestor underwent some material changes between the ages of ten and forty, a circumstance that has often led me to reflect that people might do well not to be too confident of the principles, during the pliable period of life, when the mind, like the tender shoot, is easily bent aside and subjected to the action of surrounding causes.
During the earlier years of the plastic age, my ancestor was observed to betray strong feelings of compassion at the sight of charity-children, nor was he ever known to pass a child, especially a boy that was still in petticoats, who was crying with hunger in the streets, without sharing his own crust with him. Indeed, his practice on this head was said to be steady and uniform, whenever the rencontre took place after my worthy father had had his own sympathies quickened by a good dinner; a fact that maybe imputed to a keener sense of the pleasure he was about to confer.
After sixteen, he was known to converse occasionally on the subject of politics, a topic on which he came to be both expert and eloquent before twenty. His usual theme was justice and the sacred rights of man, concerning which he sometimes uttered very pretty sentiments, and such as were altogether becoming in one who was at the bottom of the great social pot that was then, as now, actively boiling, and where he was made to feel most, the heat that kept it in ebullition. I am assured that on the subject of taxation, and on that of the wrongs of America and Ireland, there were few youths in the parish who could discourse with more zeal and unction. About this time, too, he was heard shouting "Wilkes and liberty!" in the public streets.
But, as is the case with all men of rare capacities, there was a concentration of powers in the mind of my ancestor, which soon brought all his errant sympathies, the mere exuberance of acute and overflowing feelings, into a proper and useful subjection, centring all in the one absorbing and capacious receptacle of self. I do not claim for my father any peculiar quality in this respect, for I have often observed that many of those who (like giddy-headed horsemen that raise a great dust, and scamper as if the highway were too narrow for their eccentric courses, before they are fairly seated in the saddle, but who afterward drive as directly at their goals as the arrow parting from the bow), most indulge their sympathies at the commencement of their careers, are the most apt toward the close to get a proper command of their feelings, and to reduce them within the bounds of common sense and prudence. Before five-and-twenty, my father was as exemplary and as constant a devotee of Plutus as was then to be found between Ratcliffe Highway and Bridge Street:—I name these places in particular, as all the rest of the great capital in which he was born is known to be more indifferent to the subject of money.
My ancestor was just thirty, when his master, who like himself was a bachelor, very unexpectedly, and a good deal to the scandal of the neighborhood, introduced a new inmate into his frugal abode, in the person of an infant female child. It would seem that some one had been speculating on his stock of weakness too, for this poor, little, defenceless, and dependent being was thrown upon his care, like Tom himself, through the vigilance of the parish officers. There were many good-natured jokes practised on the prosperous fancy-dealer, by the more witty of his neighbors, at this sudden turn of good fortune, and not a few ill-natured sneers were given behind his back; most of the knowing ones of the vicinity finding a stronger likeness between the little girl and all the other unmarried men of the eight or ten adjoining streets, than to the worthy housekeeper who had been selected to pay for her support. I have been much disposed to admit the opinions of these amiable observers as authority in my own pedigree, since it would be reaching the obscurity in which all ancient lines take root, a generation earlier, than by allowing the presumption that little Betsey was my direct male ancestor's master's daughter; but, on reflection, I have determined to adhere to the less popular but more simple version of the affair, because it is connected with the transmission of no small part of our estate, a circumstance of itself that at once gives dignity and importance to a genealogy.
Whatever may have been the real opinion of the reputed father touching his rights to the honors of that respectable title, he soon became as strongly attached to the child, as if it really owed its existence to himself. The little girl was carefully nursed, abundantly fed, and throve accordingly. She had reached her third year, when the fancy-dealer took the smallpox from his little pet, who was just recovering from the same disease, and died at the expiration of the tenth day.
This was an unlooked-for and stunning blow to my ancestor, who was then in his thirty-fifth year and the head shopman of the establishment, which had continued to grow with the growing follies and vanities of the age. On examining his master's will, it was found that my father, who had certainly aided materially of late in the acquisition of the money, was left the good-will of the shop, the command of all the stock at cost, and the sole executorship of the estate. He was also intrusted with the exclusive guardianship of little Betsey, to whom his master had affectionately devised every farthing of his property. An ordinary reader may be surprised that a man who had so long practised on the foibles of his species, should have so much confidence in a mere shopman, as to leave his whole estate so completely in his power; but, it must be remembered, that human ingenuity has not yet devised any means by which we can carry our personal effects into the other world; that "what cannot be cured must be endured"; that he must of necessity have confided this important trust to some fellow-creature, and that it was better to commit the keeping of his money to one who, knowing the secret by which it had been accumulated, had less inducement to be dishonest, than one who was exposed to the temptation of covetousness, without having a knowledge of any direct and legal means of gratifying his longings. It has been conjectured, therefore, that the testator thought, by giving up his trade to a man who was as keenly alive as my ancestor to all its perfections, moral and pecuniary, he provided a sufficient protection against his falling into the sin of peculation, by so amply supplying him with simpler means of enriching himself. Besides, it is fair to presume that the long acquaintance had begotten sufficient confidence to weaken the effect of that saying which some wit has put into the mouth of a wag, "Make me your executor, father; I care not to whom you leave the estate." Let all this be as it might, nothing can be more certain than that my worthy ancestor executed his trust with the scrupulous fidelity of a man whose integrity had been severely schooled in the ethics of trade. Little Betsey was properly educated for one in her condition of life; her health was as carefully watched over as if she had been the only daughter of the sovereign instead of the only daughter of a fancy-dealer; her morals were superintended by a superannuated old maid; her mind left to its original purity; her person jealously protected against the designs of greedy fortune-hunters; and, to complete the catalogue of his paternal attentions and solicitudes, my vigilant and faithful ancestor, to prevent accidents, and to counteract the chances of life, so far as it might be done by human foresight, saw that she was legally married, the day she reached her nineteenth year, to the person whom, there is every reason to think, he believed to be the most unexceptionable man of his acquaintance—in other words, to himself. Settlements were unnecessary between parties who had so long been known to each other, and, thanks to the liberality of his late master's will in more ways than one, a long minority, and the industry of the ci-devant head shopman, the nuptial benediction was no sooner pronounced, than our family stepped into the undisputed possession of four hundred thousand pounds. One less scrupulous on the subject of religion and the law, might not have thought it necessary to give the orphan heiress a settlement so satisfactory, at the termination of her wardship.
I was the fifth of the children who were the fruits of this union, and the only one of them all that passed the first year of its life. My poor mother did not survive my birth, and I can only record her qualities through the medium of that great agent in the archives of the family, tradition. By all that I have heard, she must have been a meek, quiet, domestic woman; who, by temperament and attainments, was admirably qualified to second the prudent plans of my father for her welfare. If she had causes of complaint, (and that she had, there is too much reason to think, for who has ever escaped them?) they were concealed, with female fidelity, in the sacred repository of her own heart; and if truant imagination sometimes dimly drew an outline of married happiness different from the fact that stood in dull reality before her eyes, the picture was merely commented on by a sigh, and consigned to a cabinet whose key none ever touched but herself, and she seldom.
Of this subdued and unobtrusive sorrow, for I fear it sometimes reached that intensity of feeling, my excellent and indefatigable ancestor appeared to have no suspicion. He pursued his ordinary occupations with his ordinary single-minded devotion, and the last thing that would have crossed his brain was the suspicion that he had not punctiliously done his duty by his ward. Had he acted otherwise, none surely would have suffered more by his delinquency than her husband, and none would have a better right to complain. Now, as her husband never dreamt of making such an accusation, it is not at all surprising that my ancestor remained in ignorance of his wife's feelings at the hour of his death.
It has been said that the opinions of the successor of the fancy-dealer underwent some essential changes between the ages of ten and forty. After he had reached his twenty-second year, or, in other words, the moment he began to earn money for himself, as well as for his master, he ceased to cry "Wilkes and liberty!" He was not heard to breathe a syllable concerning the obligations of society toward the weak and unfortunate, for the five years that succeeded his majority; he touched lightly on Christian duties in general, after he got to be worth fifty pounds of his own; and as for railing at human follies, it would have been rank ingratitude in one who so very unequivocally got his bread by them. About this time, his remarks on the subject of taxation, however, were singularly caustic, and well applied. He railed at the public debt, as a public curse, and ominously predicted the dissolution of society, in consequence of the burdens and incumbrances it was hourly accumulating on the already overloaded shoulders of the trader.
The period of his marriage and his succession to the hoardings of his former master, may be dated as the second epocha in the opinions of my ancestor. From this moment his ambition expanded, his views enlarged in proportion to his means, and his contemplations on the subject of his great floating capital became more profound and philosophical. A man of my ancestor's native sagacity, whose whole soul was absorbed in the pursuit of gain, who had so long been forming his mind, by dealing as it were with the elements of human weaknesses, and who already possessed four hundred thousand pounds, was very likely to strike out for himself some higher road to eminence, than that in which he had been laboriously journeying, during the years of painful probation. The property of my mother had been chiefly invested in good bonds and mortgages; her protector, patron, benefactor, and legalized father, having an unconquerable repugnance to confiding in that soulless, conventional, nondescript body corporate, the public. The first indication that was given by my ancestor of a change of purpose in the direction of his energies, was by calling in the whole of his outstanding debts, and adopting the Napoleon plan of operations, by concentrating his forces on a particular point, in order that he might operate in masses. About this time, too, he suddenly ceased railing at taxation. This change may be likened to that which occurs in the language of the ministerial journals, when they cease abusing any foreign state with whom the nation has been carrying on a war, that it is, at length, believed politic to terminate; and for much the same reason, as it was the intention of my thrifty ancestor to make an ally of a power that he had hitherto always treated as an enemy. The whole of the four hundred thousand pounds were liberally intrusted to the country, the former fancy-dealer's apprentice entering the arena of virtuous and patriotic speculation, as a bull; and, if with more caution, with at least some portion of the energy and obstinacy of the desperate animal that gives title to this class of adventurers. Success crowned his laudable efforts; gold rolled in upon him like water on a flood, buoying him up, soul and body, to that enviable height, where, as it would seem, just views can alone be taken of society in its innumerable phases. All his former views of life, which, in common with others of a similar origin and similar political sentiments, he had imbibed in early years, and which might with propriety be called near views, were now completely obscured by the sublimer and broader prospect that was spread before him.
I am afraid the truth will compel me to admit, that my ancestor was never charitable in the vulgar acceptation of the term; but then, he always maintained that his interest in his fellow-creatures was of a more elevated cast, taking a comprehensive glance at all the bearings of good and evil—being of the sort of love which induces the parent to correct the child, that the lesson of present suffering may produce the blessings of future respectability and usefulness. Acting on these principles, he gradually grew more estranged from his species in appearance, a sacrifice that was probably exacted by the severity of his practical reproofs for their growing wickedness, and the austere policy that was necessary to enforce them. By this time, my ancestor was also thoroughly impressed with what is called the value of money; a sentiment which, I believe, gives its possessor a livelier perception than common of the dangers of the precious metals, as well as of their privileges and uses. He expatiated occasionally on the guaranties that it was necessary to give to society, for its own security; never even voted for a parish officer unless he were a warm substantial citizen; and began to be a subscriber to the patriotic fund, and to the other similar little moral and pecuniary buttresses of the government, whose common and commendable object was, to protect our country, our altars, and our firesides.
The death-bed of my mother has been described to me as a touching and melancholy scene. It appears that as this meek and retired woman was extricated from the coil of mortality, her intellect grew brighter, her powers of discernment stronger, and her character in every respect more elevated and commanding. Although she had said much less about our firesides and altars than her husband, I see no reason to doubt that she had ever been quite as faithful as he could be to the one, and as much devoted to the other. I shall describe the important event of her passage from this to a better world, as I have often had it repeated from the lips of one who was present, and who has had an important agency in since making me the man I am. This person was the clergyman of the parish, a pious divine, a learned man, and a gentleman in feeling as well as by extraction.
My mother, though long conscious that she was drawing near to her last great account, had steadily refused to draw her husband from his absorbing pursuits, by permitting him to be made acquainted with her situation. He knew that she was ill; very ill, as he had reason to think; but, as he not only allowed her, but even volunteered to order her all the advice and relief that money could command (my ancestor was not a miser in the vulgar meaning of the word), he thought that he had done all that man could do, in a case of life and death—interests over which he professed to have no control. He saw Dr. Etherington, the rector, come and go daily, for a month, without uneasiness or apprehension, for he thought his discourse had a tendency to tranquillize my mother, and he had a strong affection for all that left him undisturbed, to the enjoyment of the occupation in which his whole energies were now completely centred. The physician got his guinea at each visit, with scrupulous punctuality; the nurses were well received and were well satisfied, for no one interfered with their acts but the doctor; and every ordinary duty of commission was as regularly discharged by my ancestor, as if the sinking and resigned creature from whom he was about to be forever separated had been the spontaneous choice of his young and fresh affections.
When, therefore, a servant entered to say that Dr. Etherington desired a private interview, my worthy ancestor, who had no consciousness of having neglected any obligation that became a friend of church and state, was in no small measure surprised.
"I come, Mr. Goldencalf, on a melancholy duty," said the pious rector, entering the private cabinet to which his application had for the first time obtained his admission; "the fatal secret can no longer be concealed from you, and your wife at length consents that I shall be the instrument of revealing it."
The Doctor paused; for on such occasions it is perhaps as well to let the party that is about to be shocked receive a little of the blow through his own imagination; and busily enough was that of my poor father said to be exercised on this painful occasion. He grew pale, opened his eyes until they again filled the sockets into which they had gradually been sinking for twenty years, and looked a hundred questions that his tongue refused to put.
"It cannot be, Doctor," he at length querulously said, "that a woman like Betsey has got an inkling into any of the events connected with the last great secret expedition, and which have escaped my jealousy and experience?"
"I am afraid, dear sir, that Mrs. Goldencalf has obtained glimpses of the last great and secret expedition on which we must all, sooner or later, embark, that have entirely escaped your vigilance. But of this I will speak some other time. At present it is my painful duty to inform you it is the opinion of the physician that your excellent wife cannot outlive the day, if, indeed, she do the hour."
My father was struck with this intelligence, and for more than a minute he remained silent and without motion. Casting his eyes toward the papers on which he had lately been employed, and which contained some very important calculations connected with the next settling day, he at length resumed:
"If this be really so, Doctor, it may be well for me to go to her, since one in the situation of the poor woman may indeed have something of importance to communicate."
"It is with this object that I have now come to tell you the truth," quietly answered the divine, who knew that nothing was to be gained by contending with the besetting weakness of such a man, at such a moment.
My father bent his head in assent, and, first carefully enclosing the open papers in a secretary, he followed his companion to the bedside of his dying wife.
CHAPTER II. TOUCHING MYSELF AND TEN THOUSAND POUNDS.
Although my ancestor was much too wise to refuse to look back upon his origin in a worldly point of view, he never threw his retrospective glances so far as to reach the sublime mystery of his moral existence; and while his thoughts might be said to be ever on the stretch to attain glimpses into the future, they were by far too earthly to extend beyond any other settling day than those which were regulated by the ordinances of the stock exchange. With him, to be born was but the commencement of a speculation, and to die was to determine the general balance of profit and loss. A man who had so rarely meditated on the grave changes of mortality, therefore, was consequently so much the less prepared to gaze upon the visible solemnities of a death-bed. Although he had never truly loved my mother, for love was a sentiment much too pure and elevated for one whose imagination dwelt habitually on the beauties of the stock-books, he had ever been kind to her, and of late he was even much disposed, as has already been stated, to contribute as much to her temporal comforts as comported with his pursuits and habits. On the other hand, the quiet temperament of my mother required some more exciting cause than the affections of her husband, to quicken those germs of deep, placid, womanly love, that certainly lay dormant in her heart, like seed withering with the ungenial cold of winter. The last meeting of such a pair was not likely to be attended with any violent outpourings of grief.
My ancestor, notwithstanding, was deeply struck with the physical changes in the appearance of his wife.
"Thou art much emaciated, Betsey," he said, taking her hand kindly, after a long and solemn pause; "much more so than I had thought, or could have believed! Dost nurse give thee comforting soups and generous nourishment?"
My mother smiled the ghastly smile of death; but waved her hand, with loathing, at his suggestion.
"All this is now too late, Mr. Goldencalf," she answered, speaking with a distinctness and an energy for which she had long been reserving her strength. "Food and raiment are no longer among my wants."
"Well, well, Betsey, one that is in want of neither food nor raiment, cannot be said to be in great suffering, after all; and I am glad that thou art so much at ease. Dr. Etherington tells me thou art far from being well bodily, however, and I am come expressly to see if I can order anything that will help to make thee more easy."
"Mr. Goldencalf, you can. My wants for this life are nearly over; a short hour or two will remove me beyond the world, its cares, its vanities, its—" My poor mother probably meant to add, its heartlessness or its selfishness; but she rebuked herself, and paused: "By the mercy of our blessed Redeemer, and through the benevolent agency of this excellent man," she resumed, glancing her eye upwards at first with holy reverence, and then at the divine with meek gratitude, "I quit you without alarm, and were it not for one thing, I might say without care."
"And what is there to distress thee, in particular, Betsey?" asked my father, blowing his nose, and speaking with unusual tenderness; "if it be in my power to set thy heart at ease on this, or on any other point, name it, and I will give orders to have it immediately performed. Thou hast been a good pious woman, and canst have little to reproach thyself with."
My mother looked earnestly and wistfully at her husband. Never before had he betrayed so strong an interest in her happiness, and had it not, alas! been too late, this glimmering of kindness might have lighted the matrimonial torch into a brighter flame than had ever yet glowed upon the past.
"Mr. Goldencalf, we have an only son—"
"We have, Betsey, and it may gladden thee to hear that the physician thinks the boy more likely to live than either of his poor brothers and sisters."
I cannot explain the holy and mysterious principle of maternal nature that caused my mother to clasp her hands, to raise her eyes to heaven, and, while a gleam flitted athwart her glassy eyes and wan cheeks, to murmur her thanks to God for the boon. She was herself hastening away to the eternal bliss of the pure of mind and the redeemed, and her imagination, quiet and simple as it was, had drawn pictures in which she and her departed babes were standing before the throne of the Most High, chanting his glory, and shining amid the stars—and yet was she now rejoicing that the last and the most cherished of all her offsprings was likely to be left exposed to the evils, the vices, nay, to the enormities, of the state of being that she herself so willingly resigned.
"It is of our boy that I wish now to speak, Mr. Goldencalf," replied my mother, when her secret devotion was ended. "The child will have need of instruction and care; in short, of both mother and father."
"Betsey, thou forgettest that he will still have the latter."
"You are much wrapped up in your business, Mr. Goldencalf, and are not, in other respects, qualified to educate a boy born to the curse and to the temptations of immense riches."
My excellent ancestor looked as if he thought his dying consort had in sooth finally taken leave of her senses.
"There are public schools, Betsey; I promise thee the child shall not be forgotten: I will have him well taught, though it cost me a thousand a year!"
His wife reached forth her emaciated hand to that of my father, and pressed the latter with as much force as a dying mother could use. For a fleet moment she even appeared to have gotten rid of her latest care. But the knowledge of character that had been acquired by the hard experience of thirty years, was not to be unsettled by the gratitude of a moment.
"I wish, Mr. Goldencalf," she anxiously resumed, "to receive your solemn promise to commit the education of our boy to Dr. Etherington—you know his worth, and must have full confidence in such a man."
"Nothing would give me greater satisfaction, my dear Betsey; and if Dr. Etherington will consent to receive him, I will send Jack to his house this very evening; for, to own the truth, I am but little qualified to take charge of a child under a year old. A hundred a year, more or less, shall not spoil so good a bargain."
The divine was a gentleman, and he looked grave at this speech, though, meeting the anxious eyes of my mother, his own lost their displeasure in a glance of reassurance and pity.
"The charges of his education will be easily settled, Mr. Goldencalf," added my mother; "but the Doctor has consented with difficulty to take the responsibility of my poor babe, and that only under two conditions."
The stock-dealer required an explanation with his eyes.
"One is, that the child shall be left solely to his own care, after he has reached his fourth year; and the other is, that you make an endowment for the support of two poor scholars, at one of the principal schools."
As my mother got out the last words, she fell back on her pillow, whence her interest in the subject had enabled her to lift her head a little, and she fairly gasped for breath, in the intensity of her anxiety to hear the answer. My ancestor contracted his brow, like one who saw it was a subject that required reflection.
"Thou dost not know perhaps, Betsey, that these endowments swallow up a great deal of money—a great deal—and often very uselessly."
"Ten thousand pounds is the sum that has been agreed upon between Mrs. Goldencalf and me," steadily remarked the Doctor, who, in my soul, I believe had hoped that his condition would be rejected, having yielded to the importunities of a dying woman, rather than to his own sense of that which might be either very desirable or very useful.
"Ten thousand pounds!"
My mother could not speak, though she succeeded in making an imploring sign of assent.
"Ten thousand pounds is a great deal of money, my dear Betsey—a very great deal!"
The color of my mother changed to the hue of death, and by her breathing she appeared to be in the agony.
"Well, well, Betsey," said my father a little hastily, for he was frightened at her pallid countenance and extreme distress, "have it thine own way—the money, yes, yes—it shall be given as thou wishest—now set thy kind heart at rest."
The revulsion of feeling was too great for one whose system had been wound up to a state of excitement like that which had sustained my mother, who, an hour before, had seemed scarcely able to speak. She extended her hand toward her husband, smiled benignantly in his face, whispered the word "Thanks," and then, losing all her powers of body, sank into the last sleep, as tranquilly as the infant drops its head on the bosom of the nurse. This was, after all, a sudden, and, in one sense, an unexpected death: all who witnessed it were struck with awe. My father gazed for a whole minute intently on the placid features of his wife, and left the room in silence. He was followed by Dr. Etherington, who accompanied him to the private apartment where they had first met that night, neither uttering a syllable until both were seated.
"She was a good woman, Dr. Etherington!" said the widowed man, shaking his foot with agitation.
"She was a good woman, Mr. Goldencalf."
"And a good wife, Dr. Etherington."
"I have always believed her to be a good wife, sir."
"Faithful, obedient, and frugal."
"Three qualities that are of much practical use in the affairs of this world."
"I shall never marry again, sir."
The divine bowed.
"Nay, I never could find such another match!"
Again the divine inclined his head, though the assent was accompanied by slight smile.
"Well, she has left me an heir."
"And brought something that he might inherit," observed the Doctor, dryly.
My ancestor looked up inquiringly at his companion, but apparently most of the sarcasm was thrown away,
"I resign the child to your care, Dr. Etherington, conformably to the dying request of my beloved Betsey."
"I accept the charge, Mr. Goldencalf, comformably to my promise to the deceased; but you will remember that there was a condition coupled with that promise which must be faithfully and promptly fulfilled."
My ancestor was too much accustomed to respect the punctilios of trade, whose code admits of frauds only in certain categories, which are sufficiently explained in its conventional rules of honor; a sort of specified morality, that is bottomed more on the convenience of its votaries than on the general law of right. He respected the letter of his promise while his soul yearned to avoid its spirit; and his wits were already actively seeking the means of doing that which he so much desired.
"I did make a promise to poor Betsey, certainly," he answered, in the way of one who pondered, "and it was a promise, too, made under very solemn circumstances."
"The promises made to the dead are doubly binding; since, by their departure to the world of spirits, it may be said they leave the performance to the exclusive superintendence of the Being who cannot lie."
My ancestor quailed; his whole frame shuddered, and his purpose was shaken.
"Poor Betsey left you as her representative in this case, however, Doctor," he observed, after the delay of more than a minute, casting his eyes wistfully towards the divine.
"In one sense, she certainly did, sir."
"And a representative with full powers is legally a principal under a different name. I think this matter might be arranged to our mutual satisfaction, Dr. Etherington, and the intention of poor Betsey most completely executed; she, poor woman, knew little of business, as was best for her sex; and when women undertake affairs of magnitude, they are very apt to make awkward work of it."
"So that the intention of the deceased be completely fulfilled, you will not find me exacting, Mr. Goldencalf."
"I thought as much—I knew there could be no difficulty between two men of sense, who were met with honest views to settle a matter of this nature. The intention of poor Betsey, Doctor, was to place her child under your care, with the expectation—and I do not deny its justice—that the boy would receive more benefit from your knowledge than he possibly could from mine."
Dr. Etherington was too honest to deny these premises, and too polite to admit them without an inclination of acknowledgment.
"As we are quite of the same mind, good sir, concerning the preliminaries," continued my ancestor, "we will enter a little nearer into the details. It appears to me to be no more than strict justice, that he who does the work should receive the reward. This is a principle in which I have been educated, Dr. Etherington; it is one in which I could wish to have my son educated; and it is one on which I hope always to practise."
Another inclination of the body conveyed the silent assent of the divine.
"Now, poor Betsey, Heaven bless her!—for she was a meek and tranquil companion, and richly deserves to be rewarded in a future state—but, poor Betsey had little knowledge of business. She fancied that, in bestowing these ten thousand pounds on a charity, she was acting well; whereas she was in fact committing injustice. If you are to have the trouble and care of bringing up little Jack, who but you should reap the reward?"
"I shall expect, Mr. Goldencalf, that you will furnish the means to provide for the child's wants."
"Of that, sir, it is unnecessary to speak," interrupted my ancestor, both promptly and proudly. "I am a wary man, and a prudent man, and am one who knows the value of money, I trust; but I am no miser, to stint my own flesh and blood. Jack shall never want for anything, while it is in my power to give it. I am by no means as rich, sir, as the neighborhood supposes; but then I am no beggar. I dare say, if all my assets were fairly counted, it might be found that I am worth a plum."
"You are said to have received a much larger sum than that with the late Mrs. Goldencalf," the divine observed, not without reproof in his voice.
"Ah, dear sir, I need not tell you what vulgar rumor is—but I shall not undermine my own credit; and we will change the subject. My object, Dr. Etherington, was merely to do justice. Poor Betsey desired that ten thousand pounds might be given to found a scholarship or two: now, what have these scholars done, or what are they likely to do, for me or mine? The case is different with you, sir; you will have trouble—much trouble, I make no doubt; and it is proper that you should have a sufficient compensation. I was about to propose, therefore, that you should consent to receive my check for three, or four, or even for five thousand pounds," continued my ancestor, raising the offer as he saw the frown on the brow of the Doctor deepen. "Yes, sir, I will even say the latter sum, which possibly will not be too much for your trouble and care; and we will forget the womanish plan of poor Betsey in relation to the two scholarships and the charity. Five thousand pounds down, Doctor, for yourself, and the subject of the charity forgotten forever."
When my father had thus distinctly put his proposition, he awaited its effect with the confidence of a man who had long dealt with cupidity. For a novelty, his calculation failed. The face of Dr. Etherington flushed, then paled, and finally settled into a look of melancholy reprehension. He arose and paced the room for several minutes in silence; during which time his companion believed he was debating with himself on the chances of obtaining a higher bid for his consent, when he suddenly stopped and addressed my ancestor in a mild but steady tone.
"I feel it to be a duty, Mr. Goldencalf," he said, "to admonish you of the precipice over which you hang. The love of money, which is the root of all evil, which caused Judas to betray even his Saviour and God, has taken deep root in your soul. You are no longer young, and although still proud in your strength and prosperity, are much nearer to your great account than you may be willing to believe. It is not an hour since you witnessed the departure of a penitent soul for the presence of her God; since you heard the dying request from her lips; and since, in such a presence and in such a scene, you gave a pledge to respect her wishes, and, now, with the accursed spirit of gain upper-most, you would trifle with these most sacred obligations, in order to keep a little worthless gold in a hand that is already full to overflowing. Fancy that the pure spirit of thy confiding and single-minded wife were present at this conversation; fancy it mourning over thy weakness and violated faith—nay, I know not that such is not the fact; for there is no reason to believe that the happy spirits are not permitted to watch near, and mourn over us, until we are released from this mass of sin and depravity in which we dwell—and, then, reflect what must be her sorrow at hearing how soon her parting request is forgotten, how useless has been the example of her holy end, how rooted and fearful are thine own infirmities!"
My father was more rebuked by the manner than by the words of the divine. He passed his hand across his brow, as if to shut out the view of his wife's spirit; turned, drew his writing materials nearer, wrote a check for the ten thousand pounds, and handed it to the Doctor with the subdued air of a corrected boy.
"Jack shall be at your disposal, good sir," he said, as the paper was delivered, "whenever it may be your pleasure to send for him."
They parted in silence; the divine too much displeased, and my ancestor too much grieved, to indulge in words of ceremony.
When my father found himself alone, he gazed furtively about the room, to assure himself that the rebuking spirit of his wife had not taken a shape less questionable than air, and then, he mused for at least an hour, very painfully, on all the principal occurrences of the night. It is said that occupation is a certain solace for grief, and so it proved to be in the present case; for luckily my father had made up that very day his private account of the sum total of his fortune. Sitting down, therefore, to the agreeable task, he went through the simple process of subtracting from it the amount for which he had just drawn, and, finding that he was still master of seven hundred and eighty-two thousand three hundred and eleven pounds odd shillings and even pence, he found a very natural consolation for the magnitude of the sum he had just given away, by comparing it with the magnitude of that which was left.
CHAPTER III. OPINIONS OF OUR AUTHOR'S ANCESTOR, TOGETHER WITH SOME OF HIS OWN, AND SOME OF OTHER PEOPLE'S.
Dr. Etherington was both a pious man and a gentleman. The second son of a baronet of ancient lineage, he had been educated in most of the opinions of his caste, and possibly he was not entirely above its prejudices; but, this much admitted, few divines were more willing to defer to the ethics and principles of the Bible than himself. His humility had, of course, a decent regard to station; his charity was judiciously regulated by the articles of faith; and his philanthropy was of the discriminating character that became a warm supporter of church and state.
In accepting the trust which he was now obliged to assume, he had yielded purely to a benevolent wish to smooth the dying pillow of my mother. Acquainted with the character of her husband, he had committed a sort of pious fraud, in attaching the condition of the endowment to his consent; for, notwithstanding the becoming language of his own rebuke, the promise, and all the other little attendant circumstances of the night, it might be questioned which felt the most surprise after the draft was presented and duly honored, he who found himself in possession, or he who found himself deprived, of the sum of ten thousand pounds sterling. Still Dr. Etherington acted with the most scrupulous integrity in the whole affair; and although I am aware that a writer who has so many wonders to relate, as must of necessity adorn the succeeding pages of this manuscript, should observe a guarded discretion in drawing on the credulity of his readers, truth compels me to add, that every farthing of the money was duly invested with a single eye to the wishes of the dying Christian, who, under Providence, had been the means of bestowing so much gold on the poor and unlettered. As to the manner in which the charity was finally improved, I shall say nothing, since no inquiry on my part has ever enabled me to obtain such information as would justify my speaking with authority.
As for myself, I shall have little more to add touching the events of the succeeding twenty years. I was baptized, nursed, breeched, schooled, horsed, confirmed, sent to the university, and graduated, much as befalls all gentlemen of the established church in the united kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, or, in other words, of the land of my ancestor. During these pregnant years, Dr. Etherington acquitted himself of a duty that, judging by a very predominant feeling of human nature (which, singularly enough, renders us uniformly averse to being troubled with other people's affairs), I think he must have found sufficiently vexatious, quite as well as my good mother had any right to expect. Most of my vacations were spent at his rectory; for he had first married, then become a father, next a widower, and had exchanged his town living for one in the country, between the periods of my mother's death and that on my going to Eton; and, after I quitted Oxford, much more of my time was passed beneath his friendly roof than beneath that of my own parent. Indeed, I saw little of the latter. He paid my bills, furnished me with pocket-money, and professed an intention to let me travel after I should reach my majority. But, satisfied with these proofs of paternal care, he appeared willing to let me pursue my own course very much in my own way.
My ancestor was an eloquent example of the truth of that political dogma which teaches the efficacy of the division of labor. No manufacturer of the head of a pin ever attained greater dexterity in his single-minded vocation than was reached by my father in the one pursuit to which he devoted, as far as human ken could reach, both soul and body. As any sense is known to increase in acuteness by constant exercise, or any passion by indulgence, so did his ardor in favor of the great object of his affections grow with its growth, and become more manifest as an ordinary observer would be apt to think the motive of its existence at all had nearly ceased. This is a moral phenomenon that I have often had occasion to observe, and which, there is some reason to think, depends on a principle of attraction that has hitherto escaped the sagacity of the philosophers, but which is as active in the immaterial, as is that of gravitation in the material world. Talents like his, so incessantly and unweariedly employed, produced the usual fruits. He grew richer hourly, and at the time of which I speak he was pretty generally known to the initiated to be the warmest man who had anything to do with the stock exchange.
I do not think that the opinions of my ancestor underwent as many material changes between the ages of fifty and seventy as they had undergone between the ages of ten and forty. During the latter period the tree of life usually gets deep root, its inclination is fixed, whether obtained by bending to the storms, or by drawing toward the light; and it probably yields more in fruits of its own, than it gains by tillage and manuring. Still my ancestor was not exactly the same man the day he kept his seventieth birthday as he had been the day he kept his fiftieth. In the first place, he was worth thrice the money at the former period that he had been worth at the latter. Of course his moral system had undergone all the mutations that are known to be dependent on a change of this important character. Beyond a question, during the last five-and-twenty years of the life of my ancestor, his political bias, too, was in favor of exclusive privileges and exclusive benefits. I do not mean that he was an aristocrat in the vulgar acceptation. To him, feudality was a blank; he had probably never heard the word. Portcullises rose and fell, flanking towers lifted their heads, and embattled walls swept around their fabrics in vain, so far as his imagination was concerned. He cared not for the days of courts leet and courts baron; nor for the barons themselves; nor for the honors of a pedigree (why should he?—no prince in the land could more clearly trace his family into obscurity than himself), nor for the vanities of a court, nor for those of society; nor for aught else of the same nature that is apt to have charms for the weak-minded, the imaginative, or the conceited. His political prepossessions showed themselves in a very different manner. Throughout the whole of the five lustres I have named, he was never heard to whisper a censure against government, let its measures, or the character of its administration, be what it would. It was enough for him that it was government. Even taxation no longer excited his ire, nor aroused his eloquence. He conceived it to be necessary to order, and especially to the protection of property, a branch of political science that he had so studied as to succeed in protecting his own estate, in a measure, against even this great ally itself. After he became worth a million, it was observed that all his opinions grew less favorable to mankind in general, and that he was much disposed to exaggerate the amount and quality of the few boons which Providence has bestowed on the poor. The report of a meeting of the Whigs generally had an effect on his appetite; a resolution that was suspected of emanating from Brookes's commonly robbed him of a dinner, and the Radicals never seriously moved that he did not spend a sleepless night, and pass a large portion of the next day in uttering words that it would be hardly moral to repeat. I may without impropriety add, however, that on such occasions he did not spare allusions to the gallows; Sir Francis Burdett, in particular, was a target for a good deal of billingsgate; and men as upright and as respectable even as my lords Grey, Landsdowne, and Holland, were treated as if they were no better than they should be. But on these little details it is unnecessary to dwell, for it must be a subject of common remark, that the more elevated and refined men become in their political ethics, the more they are accustomed to throw dirt upon their neighbors. I will just state, however, that most of what I have here related has been transmitted to me by direct oral traditions, for I seldom saw my ancestor, and when we did meet, it was only to settle accounts, to eat a leg of mutton together, and to part like those who, at least, have never quarrelled.
Not so with Dr. Etherington. Habit (to say nothing of my own merits) had attached him to one who owed so much to his care, and his doors were always as open to me as if I had been his own son.
It has been said that most of my idle time (omitting the part misspent in the schools) was passed at the rectory.
The excellent divine had married a lovely woman, a year or two after the death of my mother, who had left him a widower, and the father of a little image of herself, before the expiration of a twelvemonth. Owing to the strength of his affections for the deceased, or for his daughter, or because he could not please himself in a second marriage as well as it had been his good fortune to do in the first, Dr. Etherington had never spoken of forming another connection. He appeared content to discharge his duties, as a Christian and a gentleman, without increasing them by creating any new relations with society.
Anna Etherington was of course my constant companion during many long and delightful visits at the rectory. Three years my junior, the friendship on my part had commenced by a hundred acts of boyish kindness. Between the ages of seven and twelve, I dragged her about in a garden-chair, pushed her on the swing, and wiped her eyes and uttered words of friendly consolation when any transient cloud obscured the sunny brightness of her childhood. From twelve to fourteen, I told her stories; astonished her with narratives of my own exploits at Eton, and caused her serene blue eyes to open in admiration at the marvels of London. At fourteen, I began to pick up her pocket-handkerchief, hunt for her thimble, accompany her in duets, and to read poetry to her, as she occupied herself with the little lady-like employments of the needle. About the age of seventeen I began to compare cousin Anna, as I was permitted to call her, with the other young girls of my acquaintance, and the comparison was generally much in her favor. It was also about this time that, as my admiration grew more warm and manifest, she became less confiding and less frank; I perceived too that, for a novelty, she now had some secrets that she did not choose to communicate to me, that she was more with her governess, and less in my society than formerly, and on one occasion (bitterly did I feel the slight) she actually recounted to her father the amusing incidents of a little birthday fete at which she had been present, and which was given by a gentleman of the vicinity, before she even dropped a hint to me, touching the delight she had experienced on the occasion. I was, however, a good deal compensated for the slight by her saying, kindly, as she ended her playful and humorous account of the affair:
"It would have made you laugh heartily, Jack, to see the droll manner in which the servants acted their parts" (there had been a sort of mystified masque), "more particularly the fat old butler, of whom they had made a Cupid, as Dick Griffin said, in order to show that love becomes drowsy and dull by good eating and drinking—I DO wish you COULD have been there, Jack."
Anna was a gentle feminine girl, with a most lovely and winning countenance, and I did inherently like to hear her pronounce the word "Jack"—it was so different from the boisterous screech of the Eton boys, or the swaggering call of my boon companions at Oxford!
"I should have liked it excessively myself, Anna," I answered; "more particularly as you seem to have so much enjoyed the fun."
"Yes, but that COULD NOT BE" interrupted Miss-Mrs. Norton, the governess. "For Sir Harry Griffin is very difficult about his associates, and you know, my dear, that Mr. Goldencalf, though a very respectable young man himself, could not expect one of the oldest baronets of the county to go out of his way to invite the son of a stock-jobber to be present at a fete given to his own heir."
Luckily for Miss-Mrs. Norton, Dr. Etherington had walked away the moment his daughter ended her recital, or she might have met with a disagreeable commentary on her notions concerning the fitness of associations. Anna herself looked earnestly at her governess, and I saw a flush mantle over her sweet face that reminded me of the ruddiness of morn. Her soft eyes then fell to the floor, and it was some time before she spoke.
The next day I was arranging some fishing-tackle under a window of the library, where my person was concealed by the shrubbery, when I heard the melodious voice of Anna wishing the rector good morning. My heart beat quicker as she approached the casement, tenderly inquiring of her parent how he had passed the night. The answers were as affectionate as the questions, and then there was a little pause.
"What is a stock-jobber, father?" suddenly resumed Anna, whom I heard rustling the leaves above my head.
"A stock-jobber, my dear, is one who buys and sells in the public funds, with a view to profit."
"And is it thought a PARTICULARLY disgraceful employment?"
"Why, that depends on circumstances. On 'Change it seems to be well enough—among merchants and bankers there is some odium attached to it, I believe."
"And can you say why, father?"
"I believe," said Dr. Etherington, laughing, "for no other reason than that it is an uncertain calling—one that is liable to sudden reverses—what is termed gambling—and whatever renders property insecure is sure to obtain odium among those whose principal concern is its accumulation; those who consider the responsibility of others of essential importance to themselves."
"But is it a dishonest pursuit, father?"
"As the times go, not necessarily, my dear; though it may readily become so."
"And is it disreputable, generally, with the world?"
"That depends on circumstances, Anna. When the stock-jobber loses, he is very apt to be condemned; but I rather think his character rises in proportion to his gains. But why do you ask these singular questions, love?"
I thought I heard Anna breathe harder than usual, and it is certain that she leaned far out of the window to pluck a rose.
"Why, Mrs. Norton said Jack was not invited to Sir Harry Griffin's because his father was a stock-jobber. Do you think she was right, sir?"
"Very likely, my dear," returned the divine, who I fancied was smiling at the question. "Sir Harry has the advantages of birth, and he probably did not forget that our friend Jack was not so fortunate—and, moreover, Sir Harry, while he values himself on his wealth, is not as rich as Jack's father by a million or two—in other words, as they say on 'Change, Jack's father could buy ten of him. This motive was perhaps more likely to influence him than the first. In addition, Sir Harry is suspected of gambling himself in the funds through the aid of agents; and a gentleman who resorts to such means to increase his fortune is a little apt to exaggerate his social advantages by way of a set-off to the humiliation."
"And GENTLEMEN do really become stock-jobbers, father?"
"Anna, the world has undergone great changes in my time. Ancient opinions have been shaken, and governments themselves are getting to be little better than political establishments to add facilities to the accumulation of money. This is a subject, however, you cannot very well understand, nor do I pretend to be very profound in it myself."
"But is Jack's father really so very, very rich?" asked Anna, whose thoughts had been wandering from the thread of those pursued by her father.
"He is believed to be so."
"And Jack is his heir."
"Certainly—he has no other child; though it is not easy to say what so singular a being may do with his money."
"I hope he will disinherit Jack!"
"You surprise me, Anna! You, who are so mild and reasonable, to wish such a misfortune to befall our young friend John Goldencalf!" I gazed upward in astonishment at this extraordinary speech of Anna, and at the moment I would have given all my interest in the fortune in question to have seen her face (most of her body was out of the window, for I heard her again rustling the bush above my head), in order to judge of her motive by its expression; but an envious rose grew exactly in the only spot where it was possible to get a glimpse.
"Why do you wish so cruel a thing?" resumed Dr. Etherington, a little earnestly.
"Because I hate stock-jobbing and its riches, father. Were Jack poorer, it seems to me he would be better esteemed."
As this was uttered the dear girl drew back, and I then perceived that I had mistaken her cheek for one of the largest and most blooming of the flowers. Dr. Etherington laughed, and I distinctly heard him kiss the blushing face of his daughter. I think I would have given up my hopes in another million to have been the rector at Tenthpig at that instant.
"If that be all, child," he answered, "set thy heart at rest. Jack's money will never bring him into contempt unless through the use he may make of it. Alas! Anna, we live in an age of corruption and cupidity! Generous motives appear to be lost sight of in the general desire of gain; and he who would manifest a disposition to a pure and disinterested philanthropy is either distrusted as a hypocrite or derided as a fool. The accursed revolution among our neighbors the French has quite unsettled opinions, and religion itself has tottered in the wild anarchy of theories to which it has given rise. There is no worldly advantage that has been more austerely denounced by the divine writers than riches, and yet it is fast rising to be the god of the ascendant. To say nothing of an hereafter, society is getting to be corrupted by it to the core, and even respect for birth is yielding to the mercenary feeling."
"And do you not think pride of birth, father, a mistaken prejudice as well as pride of riches?"
"Pride of any sort, my love, cannot exactly be defended on evangelical principles; but surely some distinctions among men are necessary, even for quiet. Were the levelling principle acknowledged, the lettered and the accomplished must descend to an equality with the ignorant and vulgar, since all men cannot rise to the attainments of the former class, and the world would retrograde to barbarism. The character of a Christian gentleman is much too precious to trifle with in order to carry out an impracticable theory."
Anna was silent. Probably she was confused between the opinions which she most liked to cherish and the faint glimmerings of truth to which we are reduced by the ordinary relations of life. As for the good rector himself, I had no difficulty in understanding his bias, though neither his premises nor his conclusions possessed the logical clearness that used to render his sermons so delightful, more especially when he preached about the higher qualities of the Saviour's dispensation, such as charity, love of our fellows, and, in particular, the imperative duty of humbling ourselves before God.
A month after this accidental dialogue, chance made me auditor of what passed between my ancestor and Sir Joseph Job, another celebrated dealer in the funds, in an interview that took place in the house of the former in Cheapside. As the difference was so PATENT, as the French express it, I shall furnish the substance of what passed.
"This is a serious and a most alarming movement, Mr. Goldencalf," observed Sir Joseph, "and calls for union and cordiality among the holders of property. Should these damnable opinions get fairly abroad among the people, what would become of us? I ask, Mr. Goldencalf, what would become of us?"
"I agree with you, Sir Joseph, it is very alarming!—frightfully alarming!"
"We shall have agrarian laws, sir. Your money, sir, and mine—our hard earnings—will become the prey of political robbers, and our children will be beggared to satisfy the envious longings of some pitiful scoundrel without a six-pence!"
"'Tis a sad state of things, Sir Joseph; and government is very culpable that it don't raise at least ten new regiments."
"The worst of it is, good Mr. Goldencalf, that there are some jack-a-napeses of the aristocracy who lead the rascals on and lend them the sanction of their names. It is a great mistake, sir, that we give so much importance to birth in this island, by which means proud beggars set unwashed blackguards in motion, and the substantial subjects are the sufferers. Property, sir, is in danger, and property is the only true basis of society."
"I am sure, Sir Joseph, I never could see the smallest use in birth."
"It is of no use but to beget pensioners, Mr. Goldencalf. Now with property it is a different thing—money is the parent of money, and by money a state becomes powerful and prosperous. But this accursed revolution among our neighbors the French has quite unsettled opinions, and, alas! property is in perpetual danger!"
"Sorry am I to say, I feel it to be so in every nerve of my body, Sir Joseph."
"We must unite and defend ourselves, Mr. Goldencalf, else both you and I, men warm enough and substantial enough at present, will be in the ditch. Do you not see that we are in actual danger of a division of property?"
"Yes, sir, our sacred property is in danger!"
Here Sir Joseph shook my father cordially by the hand and withdrew. I find, by a memorandum among the papers of my deceased ancestor, that he paid the broker of Sir Joseph, that day month, sixty-two thousand seven hundred and twelve pounds difference (as bull and bear), owing to the fact of the knight having got some secret information through a clerk in one of the offices; an advantage that enabled him, in this instance, at least, to make a better bargain than one who was generally allowed to be among the shrewdest speculators on 'Change.
My mind was of a nature to be considerably exercised (as the pious purists express it), by becoming the depository of sentiments so diametrically opposed to each other as those of Dr. Etherington and those of Sir Joseph Job. On the one side, I was taught the degradation of birth; on the other, the dangers of property. Anna was usually my confidant, but on this subject I was tongue-tied, for I dared not confess that I had overheard the discourse with her father, and I was compelled to digest the contradictory doctrines by myself in the best manner I could.
CHAPTER IV. SHOWING THE UPS AND DOWNS, THE HOPES AND FEARS, AND THE VAGARIES OF LOVE, SOME VIEWS OF DEATH, AND AN ACCOUNT OF AN INHERITANCE.
From my twentieth to my twenty-third year no event occurred of any great moment. The day I became of age my father settled on me a regular allowance of a thousand a year, and I make no doubt I should have spent my time much as other young men had it not been for the peculiarity of my birth, which I now began to see was wanting in a few of the requisites to carry me successfully through a struggle for place with a certain portion of what is called the great world. While most were anxious to trace themselves into obscurity, there was a singular reluctance to effecting the object as clearly and as distinctly as it was in my power to do. From all which, as well as from much other testimony, I have been led to infer that the doses of mystification which appear to be necessary to the happiness of the human race require to be mixed with an experienced and a delicate hand. Our organs, both physically and morally, are so fearfully constituted that they require to be protected from realities. As the physical eye has need of clouded glass to look steadily at the sun so it would seem the mind's eye has also need of something smoky to look steadily at truth. But, while I avoided laying open the secret of my heart to Anna, I sought various opportunities to converse with Dr. Etherington and my father on those points which gave me the most concern. From the first, I heard principles which went to show that society was of necessity divided into orders; that it was not only impolitic but wicked to weaken the barriers by which they were separated; that Heaven had its seraphs and cherubs, its archangels and angels, its saints and its merely happy, and that, by obvious induction, this world ought to have its kings, lords, and commons. The usual winding-up of all the Doctor's essays was a lamentation on the confusion in classes that was visiting England as a judgment. My ancestor, on the other hand, cared little for social classification, or for any other conservatory expedient but force. On this topic he would talk all day, regiments and bayonets glittering in every sentence. When most eloquent on this theme he would cry (like Mr. Manners Sutton), "ORDER—order!" nor can I recall a single disquisition that did not end with, "Alas, Jack, property is in danger!"
I shall not say that my mind entirely escaped confusion among these conflicting opinions, although I luckily got a glimpse of one important truth, for both the commentators cordially agreed in fearing and, of necessity, in hating the mass of their fellow-creatures. My own natural disposition was inclining to philanthropy, and as I was unwilling to admit the truth of theories that arrayed me in open hostility against so large a portion of mankind, I soon determined to set up one of my own, which, while it avoided the faults, should include the excellences of both the others. It was, of course, no great affair merely to form such a resolution; but I shall have occasion to say a word hereafter on the manner in which I attempted to carry it out in practice.
Time moved on, and Anna became each day more beautiful. I thought that she had lost some of her frankness and girlish gayety, it is true, after the dialogue with her father; but this I attributed to the reserve and discretion that became the expanding reason and greater feeling of propriety that adorn young womanhood. With me she was always ingenuous and simple, and were I to live a thousand years the angelic serenity of countenance with which she invariably listened to the theories of my busy brain would not be erased from recollection.
We were talking of these things one morning quite alone. Anna heard me when I was most sedate with manifest pleasure, and she smiled mournfully when the thread of my argument was entangled by a vagary of the imagination. I felt at my heart's core what a blessing such a mentor would be, and how fortunate would be my lot could I succeed in securing her for life. Still I did not, could not, summon courage to lay bare my inmost thoughts, and to beg a boon that in these moments of transient humility I feared I never should be worthy to possess.
"I have even thought of marrying," I continued—so occupied with my own theories as not to weigh, with the accuracy that becomes the frankness and superior advantages which man possesses over the gentler sex, the full import of my words; "could I find one, Anna, as gentle, as good, as beautiful, and as wise as yourself who would consent to be mine, I should not wait a minute; but, unhappily, I fear this is not likely to be my blessed lot. I am not the grandson of a baronet, and your father expects to unite you with one who can at least show that the 'bloody hand' has once been born on his shield; and, on the other side, my father talks of nothing but millions." During the first part of this speech the amiable girl looked kindly up at me, and with a seeming desire to soothe me; but at its close her eyes dropped upon her work and she remained silent. "Your father says that every man who has an interest in the state should give it pledges"—here Anna smiled, but so covertly that her sweet mouth scarce betrayed the impulse—"and that none others can ever control it to advantage. I have thought of asking my father to buy a borough and a baronetcy, for with the first, and the influence that his money gives, he need not long wish for the last; but I never open my lips on any matter of the sort that he does not answer 'Fol lol der rol, Jack, with your knighthoods, and social order, and bishoprics, and boroughs—property is in danger!—loans and regiments, if thou wilt—give us more order "ORDER—order"—bayonets are what we want, boy, and good wholesome taxes, to accustom the nation to contribute to its own wants and to maintain its credit. Why, youngster, if the interest on the debt were to remain unpaid twenty-four hours, your body corporate, as you call it, would die a natural death; and what would then become of your knights—barro-knights?—and barren enough some of them are getting to be by their wastefulness and extravagance. Get thee married, Jack, and settle prudently. There is neighbor Silverpenny has an only daughter of a suitable age; and a good hussy is she in the bargain. The only daughter of Oliver Silverpenny will be a suitable wife for the only son of Thomas Goldencalf; though I give thee notice, boy, that thou wilt be cut off with a competency; so keep thy head clear of extravagant castle-building, learn economy in season, and, above all, make no debts.'" Anna laughed as I humorously imitated the well-known intonations of Mr. Speaker Sutton, but a cloud darkened her bright features when I concluded.
"Yesterday I mentioned the subject to your father," I resumed, "and he thought with me that the idea of the borough and the baronetcy was a good one. 'You would be the second of your line, Jack,' he said, 'and that is always better than being the first; for there is no security for a man's being a good member of society like that of his having presented to his eyes the examples of those who have gone before him, and who have been distinguished by their services or their virtues. If your father would consent to come into parliament and sustain government at this critical moment, his origin would be overlooked, and you would have pride in looking back on his acts. As it is, I fear his whole soul is occupied with the unworthy and debasing passion of mere gain. Money is a necessary auxiliary to rank, and without rank there can be no order, and without order no liberty; but when the love of money gets to occupy the place of respect for descent and past actions, a community loses the very sentiment on which all its noble exploits are bottomed.' So you see, dear Anna, that our parents hold very different opinions on a very grave question, and between natural affection and acquired veneration I scarcely know which to receive. If I could find one sweet, and wise, and beautiful as thou, and who could pity me, I would marry to-morrow, and cast all the future on the happiness that is to be found with such a companion."
As usual, Anna heard me in silence. That she did not, however, view matrimony with exactly the same eyes as myself was clearly proved the very next day, for young Sir Harry Griffin (the father was dead) offered in form and was very decidedly refused.
Although I was always happy at the rectory, I could not help feeling rather than seeing that, as the French express it, I occupied a false position in society. Known to be the expectant of great wealth, it was not easy to be overlooked altogether in a country whose government is based on a representation of property, and in which boroughs are openly in market; and yet they who had obtained the accidental advantage of having their fortunes made by their grandfathers were constantly convincing me that mine, vast as it was thought to be, was made by my father. Ten thousand times did I wish (as it has since been expressed by the great captain of the age), that I had been my own grandson; for notwithstanding the probability that he who is nearest to the founder of a fortune is the most likely to share the largest in its accumulations, as he who is nearest in descent to the progenitor who has illustrated his race is the most likely to feel the influence of his character, I was not long in perceiving that in highly refined and intellectual communities the public sentiment, as it is connected with the respect and influence that are the meed of both, directly refutes the inferences of all reasonable conjectures on the subject. I was out of my place, uneasy, ashamed, proud, and resentful; in short I occupied a FALSE POSITION, and unluckily one from which I saw no plausible retreat except by falling back on Lombard street or by cutting my throat. Anna alone—kind, gentle, serene-eyed Anna—entered into all my joys, sympathized in my mortifications, and appeared to view me as I was; neither dazzled by my wealth nor repelled by my origin. The day she refused young Sir Harry Griffin I could have kneeled at her feet and called her blessed!
It is said that no moral disease is ever benefited by its study. I was a living proof of the truth of the opinion that brooding over one's wrongs or infirmities seldom does much more than aggravate the evil. I greatly fear it is in the nature of man to depreciate the advantages he actually enjoys and to exaggerate those which are denied him. Fifty times during the six months that succeeded the repulse of the young baronet did I resolve to take heart and to throw myself at the feet of Anna, and as often was I deterred by the apprehension that I had nothing to render me worthy of one so excellent, and especially of one who was the granddaughter of the seventh English baronet. I do not pretend to explain the connection between cause and effect, for I am neither physician nor metaphysician; but the tumult of spirits that resulted from so many doubts, hopes, fears, resolutions, and breakings of resolutions, began to affect my health, and I was just about to yield to the advice of my friends (among whom Anna was the most earnest and the most sorrowful), to travel, when an unexpected call to attend the death-bed of my ancestor was received. I tore myself from the rectory and hurried up to town with the diligence and assiduity of an only son and heir summoned on an occasion so solemn.
I found my ancestor still in the possession of his senses, though given over by the physicians; a circumstance that proved a degree of disinterestedness and singleness of purpose on their part that was scarcely to be expected towards a patient who it was commonly believed was worth more than a million. My reception by the servants and by the two or three friends who had assembled on this melancholy occasion, too, was sympathizing, warm, and of a character to show their solicitude and forethought.
My reception by the sick man was less marked. The total abstraction of his faculties in the one great pursuit of his life; a certain sternness of purpose which is apt to get the ascendant with those who are resolute to gain, and which usually communicates itself to the manners; and an absence of those kinder ties that are developed by the exercise of the more familiar charities of our existence had opened a breach between us that was not to be filled by the simple unaided fact of natural affinity. I say of natural affinity, for notwithstanding the doubts that cast their shadows on that branch of my genealogical tree by which I was connected with my maternal grandfather, the title of the king to his crown is not more apparent than was my direct lineal descent from my father. I always believed him to be my ancestor de jure as well as de facto, and could fain have loved him and honored him as such had my natural yearnings been met with more lively bowels of sympathy on his side.
Notwithstanding the long and unnatural estrangement that had thus existed between the father and son, the meeting on the present occasion was not entirely without some manifestations of feeling.
"Thou art come at last, Jack," said my ancestor; "I was afraid, boy, thou might'st be too late."
The difficult breathing, haggard countenance, and broken utterance of my father struck me with awe. This was the first death-bed by which I had ever stood; and the admonishing picture of time passing into eternity was indelibly stamped on my memory. It was not only a death-bed scene, but it was a family death-bed scene. I know not how it was, but I thought my ancestor looked more like the Goldencalfs than I had ever seen him look before.
"Thou hast come at last, Jack," he repeated, "and I'm glad of it. Thou art the only being in whom I have now any concern. It might have been better, perhaps, had I lived more with my kind—but thou wilt be the gainer. Ah! Jack, we are but miserable mortals after all! To be called away so suddenly and so young!"
My ancestor had seen his seventy-fifth birthday; but unhappily he had not settled all his accounts with the world, although he had given the physician his last fee and sent the parson away with a donation to the poor of the parish that would make even a beggar merry for a whole life.
"Thou art come at last, Jack! Well, my loss will be thy gain, boy! Send the nurse from the room."
I did as commanded, and we were left to ourselves.
"Take this key," handing me one from beneath his pillow, "and open the upper drawer of my secretary. Bring me the packet which is addressed to thyself."
I silently obeyed; when my ancestor, first gazing at it with a sadness that I cannot well describe—for it was neither worldly nor quite of an ethereal character, but a singular and fearful compound of both—put the papers into my hand, relinquishing his hold slowly and with reluctance.
"Thou wilt wait till I am out of thy sight, Jack?"
A tear burst from out its source and fell upon the emaciated hand of my father. He looked at me wistfully, and I felt a slight pressure that denoted affection.