Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
Kenelm Chillingly — Volume 08
Kenelm Chillingly — Volume 08
Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
Kenelm Chillingly — Volume 08
NEVER in his whole life had the mind of Sir Peter been so agitated as it was during and after the perusal of Kenelm's flighty composition. He had received it at the breakfast-table, and, opening it eagerly, ran his eye hastily over the contents, till he very soon arrived at sentences which appalled him. Lady Chillingly, who was fortunately busied at the tea-urn, did not observe the dismay on his countenance. It was visible only to Cecilia and to Gordon. Neither guessed who that letter was from.
"No bad news, I hope," said Cecilia, softly.
"Bad news," echoed Sir Peter. "No, my dear, no; a letter on business. It seems terribly long," and he thrust the packet into his pocket, muttering, "see to it by and by."
"That slovenly farmer of yours, Mr. Nostock, has failed, I suppose," said Mr. Travers, looking up and observing a quiver on his host's lip. "I told you he would,—a fine farm too. Let me choose you another tenant."
Sir Peter shook his head with a wan smile.
"Nostock will not fail. There have been six generations of Nostocks on the farm."
"So I should guess," said Travers, dryly.
"And—and," faltered Sir Peter, "if the last of the race fails, he must lean upon me, and—if one of the two break down—it shall not be—"
"Shall not be that cross-cropping blockhead, my dear Sir Peter. This is carrying benevolence too far."
Here the tact and /savoir vivre/ of Chillingly Gordon came to the rescue of the host. Possessing himself of the "Times" newspaper, he uttered an exclamation of surprise, genuine or simulated, and read aloud an extract from the leading article, announcing an impending change in the Cabinet.
As soon as he could quit the breakfast-table, Sir Peter hurried into his library and there gave himself up to the study of Kenelm's unwelcome communication. The task took him long, for he stopped at intervals, overcome by the struggle of his heart, now melted into sympathy with the passionate eloquence of a son hitherto so free from amorous romance, and now sorrowing for the ruin of his own cherished hopes. This uneducated country girl would never be such a helpmate to a man like Kenelm as would have been Cecilia Travers. At length, having finished the letter, he buried his head between his clasped hands, and tried hard to realize the situation that placed the father and son into such direct antagonism.
"But," he murmured, "after all it is the boy's happiness that must be consulted. If he will not be happy in my way, what right have I to say that he shall not be happy in his?"
Just then Cecilia came softly into the room. She had acquired the privilege of entering his library at will; sometimes to choose a book of his recommendation, sometimes to direct and seal his letters,—Sir Peter was grateful to any one who saved him an extra trouble,—and sometimes, especially at this hour, to decoy him forth into his wonted constitutional walk.
He lifted his face at the sound of her approaching tread and her winning voice, and the face was so sad that the tears rushed to her eyes on seeing it. She laid her hand on his shoulder, and said pleadingly, "Dear Sir Peter, what is it,—what is it?"
"Ah—ah, my dear," said Sir Peter, gathering up the scattered sheets of Kenelm's effusion with hurried, trembling hands. "Don't ask,—don't talk of it; 'tis but one of the disappointments that all of us must undergo, when we invest our hopes in the uncertain will of others."
Then, observing that the tears were trickling down the girl's fair, pale cheeks, he took her hand in both his, kissed her forehead, and said, whisperingly, "Pretty one, how good you have been to me! Heaven bless you. What a wife you will be to some man!"
Thus saying, he shambled out of the room through the open casement. She followed him impulsively, wonderingly; but before she reached his side he turned round, waved his hand with a gently repelling gesture, and went his way alone through dense fir-groves which had been planted in honour of Kenelm's birth.
KENELM arrived at Exmundham just in time to dress for dinner. His arrival was not unexpected, for the morning after his father had received his communication, Sir Peter had said to Lady Chillingly—"that he had heard from Kenelm to the effect that he might be down any day."
"Quite time he should come," said Lady Chillingly. "Have you his letter about you?"
"No, my dear Caroline. Of course he sends you his kindest love, poor fellow."
"Why poor fellow? Has he been ill?"
"No; but there seems to be something on his mind. If so we must do what we can to relieve it. He is the best of sons, Caroline."
"I am sure I have nothing to say against him, except," added her Ladyship, reflectively, "that I do wish he were a little more like other young men."
"Hum—like Chillingly Gordon, for instance?"
"Well, yes; Mr. Gordon is a remarkably well-bred, sensible young man. How different from that disagreeable, bearish father of his, who went to law with you!"
"Very different indeed, but with just as much of the Chillingly blood in him. How the Chillinglys ever gave birth to a Kenelm is a question much more puzzling."
"Oh, my dear Sir Peter, don't be metaphysical. You know how I hate puzzles."
"And yet, Caroline, I have to thank you for a puzzle which I can never interpret by my brain. There are a great many puzzles in human nature which can only be interpreted by the heart."
"Very true," said Lady Chillingly. "I suppose Kenelm is to have his old room, just opposite to Mr. Gordon's."
"Ay—ay, just opposite. Opposite they will be all their lives. Only think, Caroline, I have made a discovery!"
"Dear me! I hope not. Your discoveries are generally very expensive, and bring us in contact with such very odd people."
"This discovery shall not cost us a penny, and I don't know any people so odd as not to comprehend it. Briefly it is this: To genius the first requisite is heart; it is no requisite at all to talent. My dear Caroline, Gordon has as much talent as any young man I know, but he wants the first requisite of genius. I am not by any means sure that Kenelm has genius, but there is no doubt that he has the first requisite of genius,—heart. Heart is a very perplexing, wayward, irrational thing; and that perhaps accounts for the general incapacity to comprehend genius, while any fool can comprehend talent. My dear Caroline, you know that it is very seldom, not more than once in three years, that I presume to have a will of my own against a will of yours; but should there come a question in which our son's heart is concerned, then (speaking between ourselves) my will must govern yours."
"Sir Peter is growing more odd every day," said Lady Chillingly to herself when left alone. "But he does not mean ill, and there are worse husbands in the world."
Therewith she rang for her maid, gave requisite orders for the preparing of Kenelm's room, which had not been slept in for many months, and then consulted that functionary as to the adaptation of some dress of hers, too costly to be laid aside, to the style of some dress less costly which Lady Glenalvon had imported from Paris as /la derniere mode/.
On the very day on which Kenelm arrived at Exmundham, Chillingly Gordon had received this letter from Mr. Gerald Danvers.
DEAR GORDON,—In the ministerial changes announced as rumour in the public papers, and which you may accept as certain, that sweet little cherub—is to be sent to sit up aloft and pray there for the life of poor Jack; namely, of the government he leaves below. In accepting the peerage, which I persuaded him to do,—creates a vacancy for the borough of ——-, just the place for you, far better in every way than Saxborough. ——- promises to recommend you to his committee. Come to town at once. Yours, etc.
Gordon showed this letter to Mr. Travers, and, on receiving the hearty good-wishes of that gentleman, said, with emotion partly genuine, partly assumed, "You cannot guess all that the realization of your good-wishes would be. Once in the House of Commons, and my motives for action are so strong that—do not think me very conceited if I count upon Parliamentary success."
"My clear Gordon, I am as certain of your success as I am of my own existence."
"Should I succeed,—should the great prizes of public life be within my reach,—should I lift myself into a position that would warrant my presumption, do you think I could come to you and say, 'There is an object of ambition dearer to me than power and office,—the hope of attaining which was the strongest of all my motives of action? And in that hope shall I also have the good-wishes of the father of Cecilia Travers?"
"My dear fellow, give me your hand; you speak manfully and candidly as a gentleman should speak. I answer in the same spirit. I don't pretend to say that I have not entertained views for Cecilia which included hereditary rank and established fortune in a suitor to her hand, though I never should have made them imperative conditions. I am neither potentate nor /parvenu/ enough for that; and I can never forget" (here every muscle in the man's face twitched) "that I myself married for love, and was so happy. How happy Heaven only knows! Still, if you had thus spoken a few weeks ago, I should not have replied very favourably to your question. But now that I have seen so much of you, my answer is this: If you lose your election,—if you don't come into Parliament at all, you have my good-wishes all the same. If you win my daughter's heart, there is no man on whom I would more willingly bestow her hand. There she is, by herself too, in the garden. Go and talk to her."
Gordon hesitated. He knew too well that he had not won her heart, though he had no suspicion that it was given to another. And he was much too clever not to know also how much he hazards who, in affairs of courtship, is premature.
"Ah!" he said, "I cannot express my gratitude for words so generous, encouragement so cheering. But I have never yet dared to utter to Miss Travers a word that would prepare her even to harbour a thought of me as a suitor. And I scarcely think I should have the courage to go through this election with the grief of her rejection on my heart."
"Well, go in and win the election first; meanwhile, at all events, take leave of Cecilia."