Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
What Will He Do with It? — Volume 06

What Will He Do with It? — Volume 06
Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

What Will He Do with It? — Volume 06



Etchings of Hyde Park in the month of June, which, if this history escapes those villains the trunk-makers, may be of inestimable value to unborn antiquarians.—Characters, long absent, reappear and give some account of themselves.

Five years have passed away since this history opened. It is the month of June once more,—June, which clothes our London in all its glory, fills its languid ballrooms with living flowers, and its stony causeways with human butterflies. It is about the hour of six P.M. The lounge in Hyde Park is crowded; along the road that skirts the Serpentine crawl the carriages one after the other; congregate by the rails the lazy lookers- on,—lazy in attitude, but with active eyes, and tongues sharpened on the whetstone of scandal,—the Scaligers of club windows airing their vocabulary in the Park. Slowly saunter on foot idlers of all degrees in the hierarchy of London idlesse: dandies of established-fame; youthful tyros in their first season. Yonder in the Ride, forms less inanimate seem condemned to active exercise; young ladies doing penance in a canter; old beaux at hard labour in a trot. Sometimes, by a more thoughtful brow, a still brisker pace, you recognize a busy member of the Imperial Parliament, who, advised by physicians to be as much on horseback as possible, snatches an hour or so in the interval between the close of his Committee and the interest of the Debate, and shirks the opening speech of a well-known bore. Among such truant lawgivers (grief it is to say it) may be seen that once model member, Sir Gregory Stollhead. Grim dyspepsia seizing on him at last, "relaxation from his duties" becomes the adequate punishment for all his sins. Solitary he rides, and communing with himself, yawns at every second. Upon chairs beneficently located under the trees towards the north side of the walk are interspersed small knots and coteries in repose. There you might see the Ladies Prymme, still the Ladies Prymme,—Janet and Wilhelmina; Janet has grown fat, Wilhelmina thin. But thin or fat, they are no less Prymmes. They do not lack male attendants; they are girls of high fashion, with whom young inen think it a distinction to be seen talking; of high principle, too, and high pretensions (unhappily for themselves, they are co-heiresses), by whom young men under the rank of earls need not fear to be artfully entrapped into "honourable intentions." They coquet majestically, but they never flirt; they exact devotion, but they do not ask in each victim a sacrifice on the horns of the altar; they will never give their hands where they do not give their hearts; and being ever afraid that they are courted for their money, they will never give their hearts save to wooers who have much more money than themselves. Many young men stop to do passing homage to the Ladies Prymme: some linger to converse; safe young men,—they are all younger sons. Farther on, Lady Frost and Mr. Crampe, the wit, sit amicably side by side, pecking at each other with sarcastic beaks; occasionally desisting, in order to fasten nip and claw upon that common enemy, the passing friend! The Slowes, a numerous family, but taciturn, sit by themselves; bowed to much, accosted rarely.

Note that man of good presence, somewhere about thirty, or a year or two more, who, recognized by most of the loungers, seems not at home in the lounge. He has passed by the various coteries just described, made his obeisance to the Ladies Prymme, received an icy epigram from Lady Frost, and a laconic sneer from Mr. Crampe, and exchanged silent bows with seven silent Slowes. He has wandered on, looking high in the air, but still looking for some one not in the air, and evidently disappointed in his search, comes to a full stop at length, takes off his hat, wipes his brow, utters a petulant "Prr—r—pshaw!" and seeing, a little in the background, the chairless shade of a thin, emaciated, dusty tree, thither he retires, and seats himself with as little care whether there to seat himself be the right thing in the right place, as if in the honeysuckle arbour of a village inn. "It serves me right," said he to himself: "a precocious villain bursts in upon me, breaks my day, makes an appointment to meet me here, in these very walks, ten minutes before six; decoys me with the promise of a dinner at Putney,—room looking on the river and fried flounders. I have the credulity to yield: I derange my habits; I leave my cool studio; I put off my easy blouse; I imprison my freeborn throat in a cravat invented by the Thugs; the dog-days are at hand, and I walk rashly over scorching pavements in a black frock-coat and a brimless hat; I annihilate 3s. 6d. in a pair of kid gloves; I arrive at this haunt of spleen; I run the gauntlet of Frosts, Slowes, and Prymmes: and my traitor fails me! Half-past six,—not a sign of him! and the dinner at Putney,—fried flounders? Dreams! Patience, five minutes more; if then he comes not, breach for life between him and me! Ah, voila! there he comes, the laggard! But how those fine folks are catching at him! Has he asked them also to dinner at Putney, and do they care for fried flounders?"

The soliloquist's eye is on a young man, much younger than himself, who is threading the motley crowd with a light quick step, but is compelled to stop at each moment to interchange a word of welcome, a shake of the hand. Evidently he has already a large acquaintance; evidently he is popular, on good terms with the world and himself. What free grace in his bearing! what gay good-humour in his smile! Powers above! Lady Wilhelmina surely blushes as she returns his bow. He has passed Lady Frost unblighted; the Slowes evince emotion, at least the female Slowes, as he shoots by them with that sliding bow. He looks from side to side, with the rapid glance of an eye in which light seems all dance and sparkle: he sees the soliloquist under the meagre tree; the pace quickens, the lips part half laughing.

"Don't scold, Vance. I am late, I know; but I did not make allowance for interceptions."

"Body o' me, interceptions! For an absentee just arrived in London, you seem to have no lack of friends."

"Friends made in Paris and found again here at every corner, like pleasant surprises,—but no friend so welcome and dear as Frank Vance."

"Sensible of the honour, O Lionello the Magnificent. Verily you are /bon prince!/ The Houses of Valois and of Medici were always kind to artists. But whither would you lead me? Back into that treadmill? Thank you, humbly; no."

"A crowd in fine clothes is of all mobs the dullest. I can look undismayed on the many-headed monster, wild and rampant; but when the many-headed monster buys its hats in Bond Street, and has an eyeglass at each of its inquisitive eyes, I confess I take fright. Besides, it is near seven o'clock; Putney not visible, and the flounders not fried!"

"My cab is waiting yonder; we must walk to it: we can keep on the turf, and avoid the throng. But tell me honestly, Vance, do you really dislike to mix in crowds; you, with your fame, dislike the eyes that turn back to look again, and the lips that respectfully murmur, 'Vance the Painter'? Ah, I always said you would be a great painter,—and in five short years you have soared high."

"Pooh!" answered Vance, indifferently. "Nothing is pure and unadulterated in London use; not cream, nor cayenne pepper; least of all Fame,—mixed up with the most deleterious ingredients. Fame! did you read the 'Times' critique on my pictures in the present Exhibition? Fame indeed Change the subject. Nothing so good as flounders. Ho! is that your cab? Superb! Car fit for the 'Grecian youth of talents rare,' in Mr. Enfield's 'Speaker;' horse that seems conjured out of the Elgin Marbles. Is he quiet?"

"Not very; but trust to my driving. You may well admire the horse,— present from Darrell, chosen by Colonel Morley." When the young men had settled themselves into the vehicle, Lionel dismissed his groom, and, touching his horse, the animal trotted out briskly.

"Frank," said Lionel, shaking his dark curls with a petulant gravity, "your cynical definitions are unworthy that masculine beard. You despise fame! what sheer affectation!

"'Pulverem Olympicum
Collegisse juvat; metaque fervidis
Evitata rotis——-'"

"Take care," cried Vance; "we shall be over." For Lionel, growing excited, teased the horse with his whip; and the horse bolting, took the cab within an inch of a water-cart.

"Fame, fame!" cried Lionel, unheeding the interruption. "What would I not give to have and to hold it for an hour?" "Hold an eel, less slippery; a scorpion, less stinging! But—" added Vance, observing his companion's heightened colour—"but," he added seriously, and with an honest compunction, "I forgot, you are a soldier, you follow the career of arms! Never heed what is said on the subject by a querulous painter! The desire of fame may be folly in civilians: in soldiers it is wisdom. Twin-born with the martial sense of honour, it cheers the march; it warms the bivouac; it gives music to the whir of the bullet, the roar of the ball; it plants hope in the thick of peril; knits rivals with the bond of brothers; comforts the survivor when the brother falls; takes from war its grim aspect of carnage; and from homicide itself extracts lessons that strengthen the safeguards to humanity, and perpetuate life to nations. Right: pant for fame; you are a soldier!"

This was one of those bursts of high sentiment from Vance, which, as they were very rare with him, had the dramatic effect of surprise. Lionel listened to him with a thrilling delight. He could not answer: he was too moved. The artist resumed, as the cabriolet now cleared the Park, and rolled safely and rapidly along the road. "I suppose, during the five years you have spent abroad completing your general education, you have made little study, or none, of what specially appertains to the profession you have so recently chosen."

"You are mistaken there, my dear Vance. If a man's heart be set on a thing, he is always studying it. The books I loved best, and most pondered over, were such as, if they did not administer lessons, suggested hints that might turn to lessons hereafter. In social intercourse, I never was so pleased as when I could fasten myself to some practical veteran,—question and cross-examine him. One picks up more ideas in conversation than from books; at least I do. Besides, my idea of a soldier who is to succeed some day is not that of a mere mechanician -at-arms. See how accomplished most great captains have been. What observers of mankind! what diplomatists! what reasoners! what men of action, because men to whom reflection had been habitual before they acted! How many stores of idea must have gone to the judgment which hazards the sortie or decides on the retreat!"

"Gently, gently!" cried Vance. "We shall be into that omnibus! Give me the whip,—do; there, a little more to the left,—so. Yes; I am glad to see such enthusiasm in your profession: 't is half the battle. Hazlitt said a capital thing, 'The 'prentice who does not consider the Lord Mayor in his gilt coach the greatest man in the world will live to be hanged!'"

"Pish!" said Lionel, catching at the whip.

VANCE (holding it back).—"No. I apologize. I retract the Lord Mayor: comparisons are odious. I agree with you, nothing like leather. I mean nothing like a really great soldier,—Hannibal, and so forth. Cherish that conviction, my friend: meanwhile, respect human life; there is another omnibus!"

The danger past, the artist thought it prudent to divert the conversation into some channel less exciting.

"Mr. Darrell, of course, consents to your choice of a profession?"

"Consents! approves, encourages. Wrote me such a beautiful letter! what a comprehensive intelligence that man has!"

"Necessarily; since he agrees with you. Where is he now?"

"I have no notion: it is some months since I heard from him. He was then at Malta, on his return from Asia Minor."

"So! you have never seen him since he bade you farewell at his old Manor- house?"

"Never. He has not, I believe, been in England."

"Nor in Paris, where you seem to have chiefly resided."

"Nor in Paris. Ah, Vance, could I but be of some comfort to him. Now that I am older, I think I understand in him much that perplexed me as a boy when we parted. Darrell is one of those men who require a home. Between the great world and solitude, he needs the intermediate filling- up which the life domestic alone supplies: a wife to realize the sweet word helpmate; children, with whose future he could knit his own toils and his ancestral remembrances. That intermediate space annihilated, the great world and the solitude are left, each frowning on the other."

"My dear Lionel, you must have lived with very clever people: you are talking far above your years."

"Am I? True; I have lived, if not with very clever people, with people far above my years. That is a secret I learned from Colonel Morley, to whom I must present you,—the subtlest intellect under the quietest manner. Once he said to me, 'Would you throughout life be up to the height of your century,—always in the prime of man's reason, without crudeness and without decline,—live habitually while young with persons older, and when old with persons younger, than yourself.'"

"Shrewdly said indeed. I felicitate you on the evident result of the maxim. And so Darrell has no home,—no wife and no children?"

"He has long been a widower; he lost his only son in boyhood, and his daughter—did you never hear?"

"No, what?"

"Married so ill—a runaway match—and died many years since, without issue."

"Poor man! It was these afflictions, then, that soured his life, and made him the hermit or the wanderer?"

"There," said Lionel, "I am puzzled; for I find that, even after his son's death and his daughter's unhappy marriage and estrangement from him, he was still in Parliament and in full activity of career. But certainly he did not long keep it up. It might have been an effort to which, strong as he is, he felt himself unequal; or, might he have known some fresh disappointment, some new sorrow, which the world never guesses? What I have said as to his family afflictions the world knows. But I think he will marry again. That idea seemed strong in his own mind when we parted; he brought it out bluntly, roughly. Colonel Morley is convinced that he will marry, if but for the sake of an heir."

VANCE.—"And if so, my poor Lionel, you are ousted of—"

LIONEL (quickly interrupting).—"Hush! Do not say, my dear Vance, do not you say—you!—one of those low, mean things which, if said to me even by men for whom I have no esteem, make my ears tingle and my cheek blush. When I think of what Darrell has already done for me,—me who have no claim on him,—it seems to me as if I must hate the man who insinuates, 'Fear lest your benefactor find a smile at his own hearth, a child of his own blood; for you may be richer at his death in proportion as his life is desolate.'"

VANCE.—"You are a fine young fellow, and I beg your pardon. Take care of that milestone: thank you. But I suspect that at least two-thirds of those friendly hands that detained you on the way to me were stretched out less to Lionel Haughton, a subaltern in the Guards, than to Mr. Darrell's heir presumptive."

LIONEL.—"That thought sometimes galls me, but it does me good; for it goads on my desire to make myself some one whom the most worldly would not disdain to know for his own sake. Oh for active service! Oh for a sharp campaign! Oh for fair trial how far a man in earnest can grapple Fortune to his breast with his own strong hands! You have done so, Vance; you had but your genius and your painter's brush. I have no genius; but I have a resolve, and resolve is perhaps as sure of its ends as genius. Genius and Resolve have three grand elements in common,— Patience, Hope, and Concentration."

Vance, more and more surprised, looked hard at Lionel without speaking. Five years of that critical age, from seventeen to twenty-two, spent in the great capital of Europe; kept from its more dangerous vices partly by a proud sense of personal dignity, partly by a temperament which, regarding love as an ideal for all tender and sublime emotion, recoiled from low profligacy as being to love what the Yahoo of the mocking satirist was to man; absorbed much by the brooding ambition that takes youth out of the frivolous present into the serious future, and seeking companionship, not with contemporary idlers, but with the highest and maturest intellects that the free commonwealth of good society brought within his reach: five years so spent had developed a boy, nursing noble dreams, into a man fit for noble action,—retaining freshest youth in its enthusiasm, its elevation of sentiment, its daring, its energy, and divine credulity in its own unexhausted resources; but borrowing from maturity compactness and solidity of idea,—the link between speculation and practice, the power to impress on others a sense of the superiority which has been self-elaborated by unconscious culture.

"So!" said Vance, after a prolonged pause, "I don't know whether I have resolve or genius; but certainly if I have made my way to some small reputation, patience, hope, and concentration of purpose must have the credit of it; and prudence, too, which you have forgotten to name, and certainly don't evince as a charioteer. I hope, my dear fellow, you are not extravagant? No doubt, eh?—why do you laugh?"