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He came back to the door of the carriage in a few minutes. "Let us go home, Maltravers," said he, "this man is not in a state to meet you."
"Ha!" cried Maltravers, frowning darkly, and all his long-smothered indignation rushing like fire through every vein of his body; "would he shrink from the atonement?" He pushed Danvers impatiently aside, leapt from the carriage, and rushed up-stairs.
Heated, wrought-up, furious, Ernest Maltravers burst into a small and squalid chamber; from the closed doors of which, through many c.h.i.n.ks, had gleamed the light that told him Cesarini was within. And Cesarini's eyes, blazing with horrible fire, were the first object that met his gaze. Maltravers stood still, as if frozen into stone.
"Ha! ha!" laughed a shrill and shrieking voice, which contrasted dreadly with the accents of the soft Tuscan, in which the wild words were strung--"who comes here with garments dyed in blood? You cannot accuse me--for my blow drew no blood, it went straight to the heart--it tore no flesh by the way; we Italians poison our victims! Where art thou--where art thou, Maltravers? I am ready. Coward, you do not come! Oh, yes, yes, here you are; the pistols--I will not fight so. I am a wild beast. Let us rend each other with our teeth and talons!"
Huddled up like a heap of confused and jointless limbs in the furthest corner of the room, lay the wretch, a raving maniac;--two men keeping their firm gripe on him, which, ever and anon, with the mighty strength of madness, he shook off, to fall back senseless and exhausted; his strained and bloodshot eyes starting from their sockets, the slaver gathering round his lips, his raven hair standing on end, his delicate and symmetrical features distorted into a hideous and Gorgon aspect. It was, indeed, an appalling and sublime spectacle, full of an awful moral, the meeting of the foes! Here stood Maltravers, strong beyond the common strength of men, in health, power, conscious superiority, premeditated vengeance--wise, gifted; all his faculties ripe, developed, at his command;--the complete and all-armed man, prepared for defence and offence against every foe--a man who, once roused in a righteous quarrel, would not have quailed before an army; and there and thus was his dark and fierce purpose dashed from his soul, shivered into atoms at his feet. He felt the nothingness of man and man's wrath--in the presence of the madman on whose head the thunderbolt of a greater curse than human anger ever breathes had fallen. In his horrible affliction the Criminal triumphed over the Avenger!
"Yes! yes!" shouted Cesarini, again; "they tell me she is dying; but he is by her side;--pluck him thence--he shall not touch her hand--she shall not bless him--she is mine--if I killed her, I have saved her from him--she is mine in death. Let me in, I say,--I will come in,--I will, I will see her, and strangle him at her feet." With that, by a tremendous effort, he tore himself from the clutch of his holders, and with a sudden and exultant bound sprang across the room, and stood face to face with Maltravers. The proud brave than turned pale, and recoiled a step--"It is he! it is he!" shrieked the maniac, and he leaped like a tiger at the throat of his rival. Maltravers quickly seized his arm, and whirled him round. Cesarini fell heavily on the floor, mute, senseless, and in strong convulsions.
"Mysterious Providence!" murmured Maltravers, "thou hast justly rebuked the mortal for dreaming he might arrogate to himself thy privilege of vengeance. Forgive the sinner, O G.o.d, as I do--as thou teachest this stubborn heart to forgive--as she forgave who is now with thee, a blessed saint in heaven!"
When, some minutes afterwards, the doctor, who had been sent for, arrived, the head of the stricken patient lay on the lap of his foe, and it was the hand of Maltravers that wiped the froth from the white lips, and the voice of Maltravers that strove to soothe, and the tears of Maltravers that were falling on that fiery brow.
"Tend him, sir, tend him as my brother," said Maltravers, hiding his face as he resigned the charge. "Let him have all that can alleviate and cure--remove him hence to some fitter abode--send for the best advice.
Restore him, and--and--" He could say no more, but left the room abruptly.
It was afterwards ascertained that Cesarini had remained in the streets after his short interview with Ernest, that at length he had knocked at Lord Saxingham's door just in the very hour when death had claimed its victim. He heard the announcement--he sought to force his way up-stairs--they thrust him from the house, and nothing more of him was known till he arrived at his own door, an hour before Danvers and Maltravers came, in raging frenzy. Perhaps by one of the dim erratic gleams of light which always chequer the darkness of insanity, he retained some faint remembrance of his compact and a.s.signation with Maltravers, which had happily guided his steps back to his abode.
It was two months after this scene, a lovely Sabbath morning, in the earliest May, as Lumley, Lord Vargrave, sat alone, by the window in his late uncle's villa, in his late uncle's easy-chair--his eyes were resting musingly on the green lawn on which the windows opened, or rather on two forms that were seated upon a rustic bench in the middle of the sward. One was the widow in her weeds, the other was that fair and lovely child destined to be the bride of the new lord. The hands of the mother and daughter were clasped each in each. There was sadness in the faces of both--deeper if more resigned on that of the elder, for the child sought to console her parent, and grief in childhood comes with a b.u.t.terfly's wing.
Lumley gazed on them both, and on the child more earnestly.
"She is very lovely," he said; "she will be very rich. After all, I am not to be pitied. I am a peer, and I have enough to live upon at present. I am a rising man--our party wants peers; and though I could not have had more than a subaltern's seat at the Treasury Board six months ago, when I was an active, zealous, able commoner, now that I am a lord, with what they call a stake in the country, I may open my mouth and--bless me! I know not how many windfalls may drop in! My uncle was wiser than I thought in wrestling for this peerage, which he won and I wear!--Then, by and by, just at the age when I want to marry and have an heir (and a pretty wife saves one a vast deal of trouble), L200,000 and a young beauty! Come, come, I have strong cards in my hands if I play them tolerably. I must take care that she falls desperately in love with me. Leave me alone for that--I know the s.e.x, and have never failed except in--ah, that poor Florence! Well, it is no use regretting! Like thrifty artists, we must paint out the unmarketable picture, and call luckier creations to fill up the same canvas!"
Here the servant interrupted Lord Vargrave's meditation by bringing in the letters and the newspapers which had just been forwarded from his town house. Lord Vargrave had spoken in the Lords on the previous Friday, and he wished to see what the Sunday newspapers said of his speech. So he took up one of the leading papers before he opened the letters. His eyes rested upon two paragraphs in close neighbourhood with each other: the first ran thus:
"The celebrated Mr. Maltravers has abruptly resigned his seat for the ------ of ------, and left town yesterday on an extended tour on the Continent. Speculation is busy on the causes of the singular and unexpected self-exile of a gentleman so distinguished--in the very zenith of his career."
"So, he has given up the game!" muttered Lord Vargrave; "he was never a practical man--I am glad he is out of the way. But what's this about myself?"
"We hear that important changes are to take place in the government---it is said that ministers are at last alive to the necessity of strengthening themselves with new talent. Among other appointments confidently spoken of in the best-informed circles, we learn that Lord Vargrave is to have the place of ------. It will be a popular appointment. Lord Vargrave is not a holiday orator, a mere declamatory rhetorician--but a man of clear business-like views, and was highly thought of in the House of Commons. He has also the art of attaching his friends, and his frank, manly character cannot fail to have its due effect with the English public. In another column of our journal our readers will see a full report of his excellent maiden speech in the House of Lords, on Friday last: the sentiments there expressed do the highest honour to his lordship's patriotism and sagacity."
"Very well, very well indeed!" said Lumley, rubbing his hands; and turning to his letters, his attention was drawn to one with an enormous seal, marked "Private and confidential." He knew before he opened it that it contained the offer of the appointment alluded to in the newspaper. He read, and rose exultantly; pa.s.sing through the French windows, he joined Lady Vargrave and Evelyn on the lawn, and, as he smiled on the mother and caressed the child, the scene and the group made a pleasant picture of English domestic happiness.
Here ends the First Portion of this work: it ends in the view that bounds us when we look on the practical world with the outward unspiritual eye--and see life that dissatisfies justice,--for life is so seen but in fragments. The influence of fate seems so small on the man who, in erring, but errs as the egotist, and shapes out of ill some use that can profit himself. But Fate hangs a shadow so vast on the heart that errs but in venturing and knows only in others the sources of sorrow and joy.
Go alone, O Maltravers, unfriendly, remote--thy present a waste, and thy past life a ruin, go forth to the future!--Go, Ferrers, light cynic--with the crowd take thy way,--complacent, elated,--no cloud upon conscience, for thou seest but sunshine on fortune.--Go forth to the future!
Human life is compared to the circle.--Is the simile just? All lines that are drawn from the centre to touch the circ.u.mference, by the law of the circle, are equal. But the lines that are drawn from the heart of the man to the verge of his destiny--do they equal each other?--Alas!
some seem so brief, and some lengthen on as for ever.