Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
Ernest Maltravers — Volume 09

Ernest Maltravers — Volume 09
Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Ernest Maltravers — Volume 09

BOOK IX

I go, the bride of Acheron.

    —SOPH. /Antig./

These things are in the Future.

    —/Ib./ 1333.

CHAPTER I

* * * "There the action lies
In its true nature * * * *
* * * What then? What rests?
Try what repentance can!"

    —/Hamlet/.

"I doubt he will be dead or ere I come."

    —/King John/.

IT was a fine afternoon in December, when Lumley Ferrers turned from Lord Saxingham's door. The knockers were muffled—the windows on the third story were partially closed. There was sickness in that house.

Lumley's face was unusually grave; it was even sad. "So young—so beautiful," he muttered. "If ever I loved woman, I do believe I loved her:—that love must be my excuse. . . . I repent of what I have done—but I could not foresee that a mere lover's stratagem was to end in such effects—the metaphysician was very right when he said, 'We only sympathise with feelings we know ourselves.' A little disappointment in love could not have hurt me much—it is d——d odd it should hurt her so. I am altogether out of luck: old Templeton—I beg his pardon, Lord Vargrave—(by-the-by, he gets heartier every day—what a constitution he has!) seems cross with me. He did not like the idea that I should marry Lady Florence—and when I thought that vision might have been realised, hinted that I was disappointing some expectations he had formed; I can't make out what he means. Then, too, the government have offered that place to Maltravers instead of to me. In fact, my star is not in the ascendant. Poor Florence, though,—I would really give a great deal to know her restored to health!—I have done a villainous thing, but I thought it only a clever one. However, regret is a fool's passion. By Jupiter!—talking of fools, here comes Cesarini."

Wan, haggard, almost spectral, his hat over his brows, his dress neglected, his air reckless and fierce, Cesarini crossed the way, and thus accosted Lumley:

"We have murdered her, Ferrers; and her ghost will haunt us to our dying day!"

"Talk prose; you know I am no poet. What do you mean?"

"She is worse to-day," groaned Cesarini, in a hollow voice. "I wander like a lost spirit round the house; I question all who come from it. Tell me—oh, tell me, is there hope?"

"I do, indeed, trust so," replied Ferrers, fervently. "The illness has only of late assumed an alarming appearance. At first it was merely a severe cold, caught by imprudent exposure one rainy night. Now they fear it has settled on the lungs; but if we could get her abroad, all might be well."

"You think so, honestly?"

"I do. Courage, my friend; do not reproach yourself; it has nothing to do with us. She was taken ill of a cold, not of a letter, man!"

"No, no; I judge her heart by my own. Oh, that I could recall the past! Look at me; I am the wreck of what I was; day and night the recollection of my falsehood haunts me with remorse."

"Pshaw!—we will go to Italy together, and in your beautiful land love will replace love."

"I am half resolved, Ferrers."

"Ha!—to do what?"

"To write—to reveal all to her."

The hardy complexion of Ferrers grew livid; his brow became dark with a terrible expression.

"Do so, and fall the next day by my hand; my aim in slighter quarrel never erred."

"Do you dare to threaten me?"

"Do you dare to betray me? Betray one who, if he sinned, sinned on your account—in your cause; who would have secured to you the loveliest bride, and the most princely dower in England; and whose only offence against you is that he cannot command life and health?"

"Forgive me," said the Italian, with great emotion,—"forgive me, and do not misunderstand; I would not have betrayed /you/—there is honour among villains. I would have confessed only my own crime; I would never have revealed yours—why should I?—it is unnecessary."

"Are you in earnest—are you sincere?"

"By my soul!"

"Then, indeed, you are worthy of my friendship. You will assume the whole forgery—an ugly word, but it avoids circumlocution—to be your own?"

"I will."

Ferrers paused a moment, and then stopped suddenly short.

"You will swear this!"

"By all that is holy."

"Then mark me, Cesarini; if to-morrow Lady Florence be worse, I will throw no obstacle in the way of your confession, should you resolve to make it; I will even use that influence which you leave me, to palliate your offence, to win your pardon. And yet to resign your hopes—to surrender one so loved to the arms of one so hated—it is magnanimous—it is noble—it is above my standard! Do as you will."

Cesarini was about to reply, when a servant on horseback abruptly turned the corner, almost at full speed. He pulled in—his eye fell upon Lumley—he dismounted.

"Oh, Mr. Ferrers," said the man breathlessly, "I have been to your house; they told me I might find you at Lord Saxingham's—I was just going there—"

"Well, well, what is the matter?"

"My poor master, sir—my lord, I mean—"

"What of him?"

"Had a fit, sir—the doctors are with him—my mistress—for my lord can't speak—sent me express for you."

"Lend me your horse—there, just lengthen the stirrups."

While the groom was engaged at the saddle, Ferrers turned to Cesarini. "Do nothing rashly," said he; "I would say, if I might, nothing at all, without consulting me; but mind, I rely, at all events, on your promise—your oath."