Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
What Will He Do with It? — Volume 07
What Will He Do with It? — Volume 07
Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
What Will He Do with It? — Volume 07
VIGNETTES FOR THE NEXT BOOK OF BEAUTY.
"I quite agree with you, Alban; Honoria Vipont is a very superior young lady."
"I knew you would think so!" cried the Colonel, with more warmth than usual to him.
"Many years since," resumed Darrell, with reflective air, "I read Miss Edgeworth's novels; and in conversing with Miss Honoria Vipont, methinks I confer with one of Miss Edgeworth's heroines—so rational, so prudent, so well-behaved—so free from silly romantic notions—so replete with solid information, moral philosophy and natural history—so sure to regulate her watch and her heart to the precise moment, for the one to strike, and the other to throb—and to marry at last a respectable steady husband, whom she will win with dignity, and would lose with decorum! A very superior girl indeed."
["Darrell speaks—not the author. Darrell is unjust to the more exquisite female characters of a Novelist, admirable for strength of sense, correctness of delineation, terseness of narrative, and lucidity of style-nor less admirable for the unexaggerated nobleness of sentiment by which some of her heroines are notably distinguished.]
"Though your description of Miss Vipont is satirical," said Alban Morley, smiling, in spite of some irritation, "yet I will accept it as panegyric; for it conveys, unintentionally, a just idea of the qualities that make an intelligent coinpanion and a safe wife. And those are the qualities we must look to, if we marry at our age. We are no longer boys," added the Colonel sententiously.
DARRELL.—"Alas, no! I wish we were. But the truth of your remark is indisputable. Ah, look! Is not that a face which might make an octogenarian forget that he is not a boy?—what regular features! —and what a blush!"
The friends were riding in the park; and as Darrell spoke, he bowed to a young lady, who, with one or two others, passed rapidly by in a barouche. It was that very handsome young lady to whom Lionel had seen him listening so attentively in the great crowd, for which Carr Vipont's family party had been deserted.
Yes; Lady Adela is one of the loveliest girls in Loudon," said the Colonel, who had also lifted his hat as the barouche whirled by—"and amiable too: I have known her ever since she was born. Her father and I are great friends—an excellent man but stingy. I had much difficulty in arranging the eldest girl's marriage with Lord Bolton, and am a trustee in the settlement. If you feel a preference for Lady Adela, though I don't think she would suit you so well as Miss Vipont, I will answer for her father's encouragement and her consent. 'Tis no drawback to you, though it is to most of her admirers, when I add, 'There's nothing with her!'"
"And nothing in her! which is worse," said Darrell.
"Still, it is pleasant to gaze on a beautiful landscape, even though the soil be barren."
COLONEL MORLEY.—"That depends upon whether you are merely the artistic spectator of the landscape, or the disappointed proprietor of the soil."
"Admirable!" said Darrell; "you have disposed of Lady Adela. So ho! so ho!" Darrell's horse (his old high-nettled horse, freshly sent to him from Fawley, and in spite of the five years that had added to its age, of spirit made friskier by long repose) here put down its ears lashed out— and indulged in a bound which would have unseated many a London rider. A young Amazon, followed hard by some two or three young gentlemen and their grooms, shot by, swift and reckless as a hero at Balaclava. But With equal suddenness, as she caught sight of Darrell—whose hand and voice had already soothed the excited nerves of his steed—the Amazon wheeled round and gained his side. Throwing up her veil, she revealed a face so prettily arch, so perversely gay—with eye of radiant hazel, and fair locks half loosened from their formal braid—that it would have beguiled resentment from the most insensible—reconciled to danger the most timid. And yet there was really a grace of humility in the apologies she tendered for her discourtesy and thoughtlessness. As the girl reined her light palfrey by Darrell's side-turning from the young companions who had now joined her, their hackneys in a foam-and devoting to his ear all her lively overflow of happy spirits, not untempered by a certain deference, but still apparently free from dissimulation— Daxrell's grand face lighted up—his mellow laugh, unrestrained, though low, echoed her sportive tones; her youth, her joyousness were irresistibly contagious. Alban Morley watched observant, while interchanging talk with her attendant comrades, young men of high ton, but who belonged to that /jeunesse doree/ with which the surface of life patrician is fretted over—young men with few ideas, fewer duties—but with plenty of leisure—plenty of health—plenty of money in their pockets—plenty of debts to their tradesmen—daring at Melton—scheming at T'attersall's—pride to maiden aunts—plague to thrifty fathers— fickle lovers, but solid matches—in brief, fast livers, who get through their youth betimes, and who, for the most part, are middle-aged before they are thirty—tamed by wedlock—sobered by the responsibilities that come with the cares of property and the dignities of rank—undergo abrupt metamorphosis into chairmen of quarter sessions, county members, or decorous peers;—their ideas enriched as their duties grow—their opinions, once loose as willows to the wind, stiffening into the palisades of fenced propriety—valuable, busy men, changed as Henry V., when coming into the cares of state, he said to the Chief Justice, "There is my hand;" and to Sir John Falstaff,
"I know thee not, old roan;
Fall to thy prayers!"
But meanwhile the elite of this /jeunesse doree/ glittered round Flora Vyvyan: not a regular beauty like Lady Adela—not a fine girl like Miss Vipont, but such a light, faultless figure—such a pretty radiant face— more womanly for affection to be manlike—Hebe aping Thalestris. Flora, too, was an heiress—an only child—spoilt, wilful—not at all accomplished—(my belief is that accomplishments are thought great bores by the jeunesse doree)—no accomplishment except horsemanship, with a slight knack at billiards, and the capacity to take three whiffs from a Spanish cigarette. That last was adorable—four offers had been advanced to her hand on that merit alone.—(N.B. Young ladies do themselves no good with the jeunesse doree, which, in our time, is a lover that rather smokes than "sighs, like furnace," by advertising their horror of cigars.) You would suppose that Flora Vyvyan must be coarse-vulgar perhaps; not at all; she was pignaute—original; and did the oddest things with the air and look of the highest breeding. Fairies cannot be vulgar, no matter what they do; they may take the strangest liberties— pinch the maids—turn the house topsy-turvy; but they are ever the darlings of grace and poetry. Flora Vyvyan was a fairy. Not peculiarly intellectual herself, she had a veneration for intellect; those fast young men were the last persons likely to fascinate that fast young lady. Women are so perverse; they always prefer the very people you would least suspect—the antithesis to themselves. Yet is it possible that Flora Vyvyan can have carried her crotchets to so extravagant a degree as to have designed the conquest of Guy Darrell—ten years older than her own father? She, too, an heiress—certainly not mercenary; she who had already refused better worldly matches than Darrell himself was—young men, handsome men, with coronets on the margin of their note-paper and the panels of their broughams! The idea seemed preposterous; nevertheless, Alban Morley, a shrewd observer, conceived that idea, and trembled for his friend.
At last the young lady and her satellites shot off, and the Colonel said cautiously, "Miss Vyvyan is—alarming."
DARRELL.—"Alarming! the epithet requires construing."
COLONEL MORLEY.—"The sort of girl who might make a man of our years really and literally an old fool!"
DARRELL.—"Old fool such a man must be if girls of any sort are permitted to make him a greater fool than he was before. But I think that, with those pretty hands resting on one's arm-chair, or that sunny face shining into one's study windows, one might be a very happy old fool—and that is the most one can expect!"
COLONEL MORLEY (checking an anxious groan).—"I am afraid, my poor friend, you are far gone already. No wonder Honoria Vipont fails to be appreciated. But Lady Selina has a maxim—the truth of which my experience attests—'the moment it comes to woman, the most sensible men are the'—"
"Oldest fools!" put in Darrell. "If Mark Antony made such a goose of himself for that painted harridan Cleopatra, what would he have done for a blooming Juliet! Youth and high spirit! Alas! why are these to be unsuitable companions for us, as we reach that climax in time and sorrow —when to the one we are grown the most indulgent, and of the other have the most need? Alban, that girl, if her heart were really won—her wild nature wisely mastered, gently guided—would make a true, prudent, loving, admirable wife—"
"Heavens!" cried Alban Morley.
"To such a husband," pursued Darrell, unheeding the ejaculation, "as—
Lionel Haughton. What say you?" "Lionel—oh, I have no objection at all to that; but he's too young yet to think of marriage—a mere boy.
Besides, if you yourself marry, Lionel could scarcely aspire to a girl of Miss Vyvyan's birth and fortune."
"Ho, not aspire! That boy at least shall not have to woo in vain from the want of fortune. The day I marry—if ever that day come—I settle on Lionel Haughton and his heirs five thousand a-year; and if, with gentle blood, youth, good looks, and a heart of gold, that fortune does not allow him to aspire to any girl whose hand he covets, I can double it, and still be rich enough to buy a superior companion in Honoria Vipont—"
MORLEY.—"Don't say buy—"
DARRELL.—" Ay, and still be young enough to catch a butterfly in Lady Adela—still be bold enough to chain a panther in Flora Vyvyan. Let the world know—your world in each nook of its gaudy auction-mart—that Lione: Haughton is no pauper cousin—no penniless fortune-hunter. I wish that world to be kind to him while he is yet young, and can enjoy it. Ah, Morley, Pleasure, like Punishment, hobbles after us, /pede claudo/. What would have delighted us yesterday does not catch us up till to-morrow, and yesterday's pleasure is not the morrow's. A pennyworth of sugar-plums would have made our eyes sparkle when we were scrawling pot- hooks at a preparatory school, but no one gave us sugar-plums then. Now every day at dessert France heaps before us her daintiest sugar-plums in gilt /bonbonnieres/. Do you ever covet them? I never do. Let Lionel have his sugar-plums in time. And as we talk, there he comes. Lionel, how are you?"
"I resign you to Lionel's charge now," said the Colonel, glancing at his watch. "I have an engagement—trouble some. Two silly friends of mine have been quarrelling—high words—in an age when duels are out of the question. I have promised to meet another man, and draw up the form for a mutual apology. High words are so stupid nowadays. No option but to swallow them up again if they were as high as steeples. Adieu for the present. We meet to-night at Lady Dulcett's concert?"
"Yes," said Darrell. "I promised Miss Vyvyan to be there, and keep her from disturbing the congregation. You Lionel, will come with me."
LIONELL (embarrassed).—"No; you must excuse me. I have long been engaged elsewhere."
"That's a pity," said the Colonel, gravely. "Lady Dulcett's conceit is just one of the places where a young man should be seen." Colonel Morley waved his hand with his usual languid elegance, and his hack cantered off with him, stately as a charger, easy as a rocking-horse.
"Unalterable man," said Darrell, as his eye followed the horseman's receding figure. "'Through all the mutations on Time's dusty high-road- stable as a milestone. Just what Alban Morley was as a school-boy he is now; and if mortal span were extended to the age of the patriarchs, just what Alban Morley is now, Alban Morley would be a thousand years hence. I don't mean externally, of course; wrinkles will come—cheeks will fade. But these are trifles: man's body is a garment, as Socrates said before me, and every seven years, according to the physiologists, man has a new suit, fibre and cuticle, from top to toe. The interior being that wears the clothes is the same in Alban Morley. Has he loved, hated, rejoiced, suffered? Where is the sign? Not one. At school, as in life, doing nothing, but decidedly somebody—respected by small boys, petted by big boys—an authority with all. Never getting honours—arm and arm with those who did; never in scrapes—advising those who were; imperturbable, immovable, calm above mortal cares as an Epicurean deity. What can wealth give that he has not got? In the houses of the richest he chooses his room. Talk of ambition, talk of power—he has their rewards without an effort. True prime minister of all the realm he cares for; good society has not a vote against him—he transacts its affairs, he knows its secrets—he yields its patronage. Ever requested to do a favour—no loan great enough to do him one. Incorruptible, yet versed to a fraction in each man's price; impeccable, yet confidant in each man's foibles; smooth as silk, hard as adamant; impossible to wound, vex, annoy him—but not insensible; thoroughly kind. Dear, dear Alban! nature never polished a finer gentleman out of a solider block of man!" Darrell's voice quivered a little as he completed in earnest affection the sketch begun in playful irony, and then with a sudden change of thought, he resumed lightly:
"But I wish you to do me a favour, Lionel. Aid me to repair a fault in good breeding, of which Alban Morley would never have been guilty. I have been several days in London, and not yet called on your mother. Will you accompany me now to her house and present me?"
"Thank you, thank you; you will make her so proud and happy; but may I ride on and prepare her for your visit?"
"Certainly; her address is—"
"Gloucester Place, No.—."
"I will meet you there in half an hour."
"Let observation, with expansive view,
Survey mankind from China to Peru,"
—AND OBSERVATION WILL EVERYWHERE FIND, INDISPENSABLE TO THE HAPPINESS OF WOMAN, A VISITING ACQUAINTANCE.
Lionel knew that Mrs. Haughton would that day need more than usual forewarning of a visit from Mr. Darrell. For the evening of that day Mrs. Haughton proposed "to give a party." When Mrs. Haughton gave a party, it was a serious affair. A notable and bustling housewife, she attended herself to each preparatory detail. It was to assist at this party that Lionel had resigned Lady Dulcett's concert. The young man, reluctantly acquiescing in the arrangements by which Alban Morley had engaged him a lodging of his own, seldom or never let a day pass without gratifying his mother's proud heart by an hour or two spent in Gloucester Place, often to the forfeiture of a pleasant ride, or other tempting excursion, with gay comrades. Difficult in London life, and at the full of its season, to devote an hour or two to visits, apart from the track chalked out by one's very mode of existence—difficult to cut off an hour so as not to cut up a day. And Mrs. Haughton was exacting-nice in her choice as to the exact slice in the day. She took the prime of the joint. She liked her neighbours to see the handsome, elegant young man dismount from his charger or descend from his cabriolet, just at the witching hour when Gloucester Place was fullest. Did he go to a levee, he must be sure to come to her before he changed his dress, that she and Gloucester Place might admire him in uniform. Was he going to dine at some very great house, he must take her in his way (though no street could be more out of his way), that she might be enabled to say in the parties to which she herself repaired "There is a great dinner at Lord So-and-so's to-day; my son called on me before he went there. If he had been disengaged, I should have asked permission to bring him here."
Not that Mrs. Haughton honestly designed, nor even wished to draw the young man from the dazzling vortex of high life into her own little currents of dissipation. She was much too proud of Lionel to think that her friends were grand enough for him to honour their houses by his presence. She had in this, too, a lively recollection of her lost Captain's doctrinal views of the great world's creed. The Captain had flourished in the time when Impertinence, installed by Brummell, though her influence was waning, still schooled her oligarchs, and maintained the etiquette of her court; and even when his /misalliance/ and his debts had cast him out of his native sphere, he lost not all the original brightness of an exclusive. In moments of connubial confidence, when owning his past errors, and tracing to his sympathising Jessie the causes of his decline, he would say: "'Tis not a man's birth, nor his fortune, that gives him his place in society—it depends on his conduct, Jessie. He must not be seen bowing to snobs, nor should his enemies track him to the haunts of vulgarians. I date my fall in life to dining with a horrid man who lent me L100, and lived in Upper Baker Street. His wife took my arm from a place they called a drawing-room (the Captain as he spoke was on a fourth floor), to share some unknown food which they called a dinner (the Captain at that moment would have welcomed a rasher). The woman went about blabbing—the thing got wind—for the first time my character received a soil. What is a man without character! and character once sullied, Jessie, man becomes reckless. Teach my boy to beware of the first false step—no association with parvenus. Don't cry, Jessie— I don't mean that he is to cut your—relations are quite different from other people—nothing so low as cutting relations. I continued, for instance, to visit Guy Darrell, though he lived at the back of Holborn, and I actually saw him once in brown beaver gloves. But he was a relation. I have even dined at his house, and met odd people there— people who lived also at the back of Holborn. But he did not ask me to go to their houses, and if he had, I must have cut him." By reminiscences of this kind of talk, Lionel was saved from any design of Mrs. Haughton's to attract his orbit into the circle within which she herself moved. He must come to the parties she gave—illumine or awe odd people there. That was a proper tribute to maternal pride. But had they asked him to their parties, she would have been the first to resent such a liberty.
Lionel found Mrs. Haughton in great bustle. A gardener's cart was before the street door. Men were bringing in a grove of evergreens, intended to border the staircase, and make its exiguous ascent still more difficult. The refreshments were already laid out in the dining-room. Mrs. Haughton, with scissors in hand, was cutting flowers to fill the eperyne, but darting to and fro, like a dragonfly, from the dining-room to the hall, from the flowers to the evergreens.