Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

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ALICE;

OR,

THE MYSTERIES


BY

EDWARD BULWER LYTTON
(LORD LYTTON)



BOOK I.

"Thee, hid the bowering vales amidst, I call."
- EURIPIDES: _Hel._ I. 1116.



CHAPTER I.

Who art thou, fair one, who usurp'st the place
Of Blanch, the lady of the matchless grace? - LAMB.

IT was towards the evening of a day in early April that two ladies were
seated by the open windows of a cottage in Devonshire. The lawn before
them was gay with evergreens, relieved by the first few flowers and fresh
turf of the reviving spring; and at a distance, through an opening
amongst the trees, the sea, blue and tranquil, bounded the view, and
contrasted the more confined and home-like features of the scene. It was
a spot remote, sequestered, shut out from the business and pleasures of
the world; as such it suited the tastes and character of the owner.

That owner was the younger of the ladies seated by the window. You would
scarcely have guessed, from her appearance, that she was more than seven
or eight and twenty, though she exceeded by four or five years that
critical boundary in the life of beauty. Her form was slight and
delicate in its proportions, nor was her countenance the less lovely
because, from its gentleness and repose (not unmixed with a certain
sadness) the coarse and the gay might have thought it wanting in
expression. For there is a stillness in the aspect of those who have
felt deeply, which deceives the common eye, - as rivers are often alike
tranquil and profound, in proportion as they are remote from the springs
which agitated and swelled the commencement of their course, and by which
their waters are still, though invisibly, supplied.

The elder lady, the guest of her companion, was past seventy; her gray
hair was drawn back from the forehead, and gathered under a stiff cap of
quaker-like simplicity; while her dress, rich but plain, and of no very
modern fashion, served to increase the venerable appearance of one who
seemed not ashamed of years.

"My dear Mrs. Leslie," said the lady of the house, after a thoughtful
pause in the conversation that had been carried on for the last hour, "it
is very true; perhaps I was to blame in coming to this place; I ought not
to have been so selfish."

"No, my dear friend," returned Mrs. Leslie, gently; "selfish is a word
that can never be applied to you; you acted as became you, - agreeably to
your own instinctive sense of what is best when at your age, - independent
in fortune and rank, and still so lovely, - you resigned all that would
have attracted others, and devoted yourself, in retirement, to a life of
quiet and unknown benevolence. You are in your sphere in this
village, - humble though it be, - consoling, relieving, healing the
wretched, the destitute, the infirm; and teaching your Evelyn insensibly
to imitate your modest and Christian virtues." The good old lady spoke
warmly, and with tears in her eyes; her companion placed her hand in Mrs.
Leslie's.

"You cannot make me vain," said she, with a sweet and melancholy smile.
"I remember what I was when you first gave shelter to the poor, desolate
wanderer and her fatherless child; and I, who was then so poor and
destitute, what should I be, if I was deaf to the poverty and sorrows of
others, - others, too, who are better than I am. But now Evelyn, as you
say, is growing up; the time approaches when she must decide on accepting
or rejecting Lord Vargrave. And yet in this village how can she compare
him with others; how can she form a choice? What you say is very true;
and yet I did not think of it sufficiently. What shall I do? I am only
anxious, dear girl, to act so as may be best for her own happiness."

"Of that I am sure," returned Mrs. Leslie; "and yet I know not how to
advise. On one hand, so much is due to the wishes of your late husband,
in every point of view, that if Lord Vargrave be worthy of Evelyn's
esteem and affection, it would be most desirable that she should prefer
him to all others. But if he be what I hear he is considered in the
world, - an artful, scheming, almost heartless man, of ambitious and hard
pursuits, - I tremble to think how completely the happiness of Evelyn's
whole life may be thrown away. She certainly is not in love with him,
and yet I fear she is one whose nature is but too susceptible of
affection. She ought now to see others, - to know her own mind, and not
to be hurried, blindfold and inexperienced, into a step that decides
existence. This is a duty we owe to her, - nay, even to the late Lord
Vargrave, anxious as he was for the marriage. His aim was surely her
happiness, and he would not have insisted upon means that time and
circumstances might show to be contrary to the end he had in view."

"You are right," replied Lady Vargrave. "When my poor husband lay on his
bed of death, just before he summoned his nephew to receive his last
blessing, he said to me, 'Providence can counteract all our schemes. If
ever it should be for Evelyn's real happiness that my wish for her
marriage with Lumley Ferrers should not be fulfilled, to you I must leave
the right to decide on what I cannot foresee. All I ask is that no
obstacle shall be thrown in the way of my wish; and that the child shall
be trained up to consider Lumley as her future husband.' Among his
papers was a letter addressed to me to the same effect; and, indeed, in
other respects that letter left more to my judgment than I had any right
to expect. Oh, I am often unhappy to think that he did not marry one who
would have deserved his affection! and - but regret is useless now."

"I wish you could really feel so," said Mrs. Leslie; "for regret of
another kind still seems to haunt you; and I do not think you have yet
forgotten your early sorrows."

"Ah, how can I?" said Lady Vargrave, with a quivering lip.

At that instant, a light shadow darkened the sunny lawn in front of the
casements, and a sweet, gay young voice was heard singing at a little
distance; a moment more, and a beautiful girl, in the first bloom of
youth, bounded lightly along the grass, and halted opposite the friends.

It was a remarkable contrast, - the repose and quiet of the two persons we
have described, the age and gray hairs of one, the resigned and
melancholy gentleness written on the features of the other - with the
springing step and laughing eyes and radiant bloom of the new comer! As
she stood with the setting sun glowing full upon her rich fair hair, her
happy countenance and elastic form, it was a vision almost too bright for
this weary earth, - a thing of light and bliss, that the joyous Greek
might have placed among the forms of Heaven, and worshipped as an Aurora
or a Hebe.

"Oh, how can you stay indoors this beautiful evening? Come, dearest Mrs.
Leslie; come, Mother, dear Mother, you know you promised you would, - you
said I was to call you; see, it will rain no more, and the shower has
left the myrtles and the violet-bank so fresh."

"My dear Evelyn," said Mrs. Leslie, with a smile, "I am not so young as
you."

"No; but you are just as gay when you are in good spirits - and who can be
out of spirits in such weather? Let me call for your chair; let me wheel
you - I am sure I can. Down, Sultan; so you have found me out, have you,
sir? Be quiet, sir, down!"

This last exhortation was addressed to a splendid dog of the Newfoundland
breed, who now contrived wholly to occupy Evelyn's attention.

The two friends looked at this beautiful girl, as with all the grace of
youth she shared while she rebuked the exuberant hilarity of her huge
playmate; and the elder of the two seemed the most to sympathize with her
mirth. Both gazed with fond affection upon an object dear to both. But
some memory or association touched Lady Vargrave, and she sighed as she
gazed.



CHAPTER II.

Is stormy life preferred to this serene? - -YOUNG: _Satires_.

AND the windows were closed in, and night had succeeded to evening, and
the little party at the cottage were grouped together. Mrs. Leslie was
quietly seated at her tambour-frame; Lady Vargrave, leaning her cheek on
her hand, seemed absorbed in a volume before her, but her eyes were not
on the page; Evelyn was busily employed in turning over the contents of a
parcel of books and music which had just been brought from the lodge
where the London coach had deposited it.

"Oh, dear Mamma!" cried Evelyn, "I am so glad; there is something you
will like, - some of the poetry that touched you so much set to music."

Evelyn brought the songs to her mother, who roused herself from her
revery, and looked at them with interest.

"It is very strange," said she, "that I should be so affected by all that
is written by this person: I, too" (she added, tenderly stroking down
Evelyn's luxuriant tresses), "who am not so fond of reading as you are!"

"You are reading one of his books now," said Evelyn, glancing over the
open page on the table. "Ah, that beautiful passage upon 'Our First
Impressions.' Yet I do not like you, dear Mother, to read his books;
they always seem to make you sad."

"There is a charm to me in their thoughts, their manner of expression,"
said Lady Vargrave, "which sets me thinking, which reminds me of - of an
early friend, whom I could fancy I hear talking while I read. It was so
from the first time I opened by accident a book of his years ago."

"Who is this author that pleases you so much?" asked Mrs. Leslie, with
some surprise; for Lady Vargrave had usually little pleasure in reading
even the greatest and most popular masterpieces of modern genius.

"Maltravers," answered Evelyn; "and I think I almost share my mother's
enthusiasm."

"Maltravers!" repeated Mrs. Leslie. "He is, perhaps, a dangerous writer
for one so young. At your age, dear girl, you have naturally romance and
feeling enough of your own without seeking them in books."

"But, dear madam," said Evelyn, standing up for her favourite, "his
writings do not consist of romance and feeling only; they are not
exaggerated, they are so simple, so truthful."

"Did you ever meet him?" asked Lady Vargrave.

"Yes," returned Mrs. Leslie, "once, when he was a gay, fair-haired boy.
His father resided in the next county, and we met at a country-house.
Mr. Maltravers himself has an estate near my daughter in B - - -shire, but
he does not live on it; he has been some years abroad, - a strange
character!"

"Why does he write no more?" said Evelyn; "I have read his works so
often, and know his poetry so well by heart, that I should look forward
to something new from him as an event."

"I have heard, my dear, that he has withdrawn much from the world and its
objects, - that he has lived greatly in the East. The death of a lady to
whom he was to have been married is said to have unsettled and changed
his character. Since that event he has not returned to England. Lord
Vargrave can tell you more of him than I."

"Lord Vargrave thinks of nothing that is not always before the world,"
said Evelyn.

"I am sure you wrong him," said Mrs. Leslie, looking up and fixing her
eyes on Evelyn's countenance; "for _you_ are not before the world."

Evelyn slightly - very slightly - pouted her pretty lip, but made no
answer. She took up the music, and seating herself at the piano,
practised the airs. Lady Vargrave listened with emotion; and as Evelyn
in a voice exquisitely sweet, though not powerful, sang the words, her
mother turned away her face, and half unconsciously, a few tears stole
silently down her cheek.

When Evelyn ceased, herself affected, - for the lines were impressed with
a wild and melancholy depth of feeling, - she came again to her mother's
side, and seeing her emotion, kissed away the tears from the pensive
eyes. Her own gayety left her; she drew a stool to her mother's feet,
and nestling to her, and clasping her hand, did not leave that place till
they retired to rest.

And the lady blessed Evelyn, and felt that, if bereaved, she was not
alone.



CHAPTER III.

BUT come, thou Goddess, fair and free,
In heaven yclept Euphrosyne!

. . . . . .

To hear the lark begin his flight,
And, singing, startle the dull night. - _L'Allegro_.

But come, thou Goddess, sage and holy,
Come, divinest Melancholy!

. . . . . .

There held in holy passion still,
Forget thyself to marble. - _Il Penseroso_.

THE early morn of early spring - what associations of freshness and hope
in that single sentence! And there a little after sunrise - there was
Evelyn, fresh and hopeful as the morning itself, bounding with the light
step of a light heart over the lawn. Alone, alone! no governess, with a
pinched nose and a sharp voice, to curb her graceful movements, and tell
her how young ladies ought to walk. How silently morning stole over the
earth! It was as if youth had the day and the world to itself. The
shutters of the cottage were still closed, and Evelyn cast a glance
upward, to assure herself that her mother, who also rose betimes, was not
yet stirring. So she tripped along, singing from very glee, to secure a
companion, and let out Sultan; and a few moments afterwards, they were
scouring over the grass, and descending the rude steps that wound down
the cliff to the smooth sea sands. Evelyn was still a child at heart,
yet somewhat more than a child in mind. In the majesty of -

"That hollow, sounding, and mysterious main," -

in the silence broken but by the murmur of the billows, in the solitude
relieved but by the boats of the early fishermen, she felt those deep and
tranquillizing influences which belong to the Religion of Nature.
Unconsciously to herself, her sweet face grew more thoughtful, and her
step more slow. What a complex thing is education! How many
circumstances, that have no connection with books and tutors, contribute
to the rearing of the human mind! The earth and the sky and the ocean
were among the teachers of Evelyn Cameron; and beneath her simplicity of
thought was daily filled, from the turns of invisible spirits, the
fountain of the poetry of feeling.

This was the hour when Evelyn most sensibly felt how little our real life
is chronicled by external events, - how much we live a second and a higher
life in our meditations and dreams. Brought up, not more by precept than
example, in the faith which unites creature and Creator, this was the
hour in which thought itself had something of the holiness of prayer; and
if (turning from dreams divine to earlier visions) this also was the hour
in which the heart painted and peopled its own fairyland below, of the
two ideal worlds that stretch beyond the inch of time on which we stand,
Imagination is perhaps holier than Memory.

So now, as the day crept on, Evelyn returned in a more sober mood, and
then she joined her mother and Mrs. Leslie at breakfast; and then the
household cares - such as they were - devolved upon her, heiress though she
was; and, that duty done, once more the straw hat and Sultan were in
requisition; and opening a little gate at the back of the cottage, she
took the path along the village churchyard that led to the house of the
old curate. The burial-ground itself was surrounded and shut in with a
belt of trees. Save the small time-discoloured church and the roofs of
the cottage and the minister's house, no building - not even a cotter's
hut - was visible there. Beneath a dark and single yew-tree in the centre
of the ground was placed a rude seat; opposite to this seat was a grave,
distinguished from the rest by a slight palisade. As the young Evelyn
passed slowly by this spot, a glove on the long damp grass beside the
yew-tree caught her eye. She took it up and sighed, - it was her
mother's. She sighed, for she thought of the soft melancholy on that
mother's face which her caresses and her mirth never could wholly chase
away. She wondered why that melancholy was so fixed a habit, for the
young ever wonder why the experienced should be sad.

And now Evelyn had passed the churchyard, and was on the green turf
before the minister's quaint, old-fashioned house. The old man himself
was at work in his garden; but he threw down his hoe as he saw Evelyn,
and came cheerfully up to greet her.

It was easy to see how dear she was to him.

"So you are come for your daily lesson, my young pupil?"

"Yes; but Tasso can wait if the - "

"If the tutor wants to play truant; no, my child; and, indeed, the lesson
must be longer than usual to-day, for I fear I shall have to leave you
to-morrow for some days."

"Leave us! why? - leave Brook-Green - impossible!"

"Not at all impossible; for we have now a new vicar, and I must turn
courtier in my old age, and ask him to leave me with my flock. He is at
Weymouth, and has written to me to visit him there. So, Miss Evelyn, I
must give you a holiday task to learn while I am away."

Evelyn brushed the tears from her eyes - for when the heart is full of
affection the eyes easily run over - and clung mournfully to the old man,
as she gave utterance to all her half-childish, half-womanly grief at the
thought of parting so soon with him. And what, too, could her mother do
without him; and why could he not write to the vicar instead of going to
him?

The curate, who was childless and a bachelor, was not insensible to the
fondness of his beautiful pupil, and perhaps he himself was a little more
_distrait_ than usual that morning, or else Evelyn was peculiarly
inattentive; for certain it is that she reaped very little benefit from
the lesson.

Yet he was an admirable teacher, that old man! Aware of Evelyn's quick,
susceptible, and rather fanciful character of mind, he had sought less to
curb than to refine and elevate her imagination. Himself of no ordinary
abilities, which leisure had allowed him to cultivate, his piety was too
large and cheerful to exclude literature - Heaven's best gift - from the
pale of religion. And under his care Evelyn's mind had been duly stored
with the treasures of modern genius, and her judgment strengthened by the
criticisms of a graceful and generous taste.

In that sequestered hamlet, the young heiress had been trained to adorn
her future station; to appreciate the arts and elegances that distinguish
(no matter what the rank) the refined from the low, better than if she
had been brought up under the hundred-handed Briareus of fashionable
education. Lady Vargrave, indeed, like most persons of modest
pretensions and imperfect cultivation, was rather inclined to overrate
the advantages to be derived from book-knowledge; and she was never
better pleased than when she saw Evelyn opening the monthly parcel from
London, and delightedly poring over volumes which Lady Vargrave
innocently believed to be reservoirs of inexhaustible wisdom.

But this day Evelyn would not read, and the golden verses of Tasso lost
their music to her ear. So the curate gave up the lecture, and placed a
little programme of studies to be conned during his absence in her
reluctant hand; and Sultan, who had been wistfully licking his paws for
the last half-hour, sprang up and caracoled once more into the garden;
and the old priest and the young woman left the works of man for those of
Nature.

"Do not fear, I will take such care of your garden while you are away,"
said Evelyn; "and you must write and let us know what day you are to come
back."

"My dear Evelyn, you are born to spoil every one - from Sultan to Aubrey."

"And to be spoilt too, don't forget that," cried Evelyn, laughingly
shaking back her ringlets. "And now, before you go, will you tell me, as
you are so wise, what I can do to make - to make - my mother love me?"

Evelyn's voice faltered as she spoke the last words, and Aubrey looked
surprised and moved.

"Your mother love you, my dear Evelyn! What do you mean, - does she not
love you?"

"Ah, not as I love her. She is kind and gentle, I know, for she is so to
all; but she does not confide in me, she does not trust me; she has some
sorrow at heart which I am never allowed to learn and soothe. Why does
she avoid all mention of her early days? She never talks to me as if
she, too, had once a mother! Why am I never to speak of her first
marriage, of my father? Why does she look reproachfully at me, and shun
me - yes, shun me, for days together - if - if I attempt to draw her to the
past? Is there a secret? If so, am I not old enough to know it?"

Evelyn spoke quickly and nervously, and with quivering lips. Aubrey took
her hand, and pressing it, said, after a little pause, -

"Evelyn, this is the first time you have ever thus spoken to me. Has
anything chanced to arouse your - shall I call it curiosity, or shall I
call it the mortified pride of affection?"

"And you, too, aye harsh; you blame me! No, it is true that I have not
thus spoken to you before; but I have long, long thought with grief that
I was insufficient to my mother's happiness, - I who love her so dearly.
And now, since Mrs. Leslie has been here, I find her conversing with this
comparative stranger so much more confidentially than with me. When I
come in unexpectedly, they cease their conference, as if I were not
worthy to share it; and - and oh, if I could but make you understand that
all I desire is that my mother should love me and know me and trust me - "

"Evelyn," said the curate, coldly, "you love your mother, and justly; a
kinder and a gentler heart than hers does not beat in a human breast.
Her first wish in life is for your happiness and welfare. You ask for
confidence, but why not confide in her; why not believe her actuated by
the best and the tenderest motives; why not leave it to her discretion to
reveal to you any secret grief, if such there be, that preys upon her;
why add to that grief by any selfish indulgence of over-susceptibility in
yourself? My dear pupil, you are yet almost a child; and they who have
sorrowed may well be reluctant to sadden with a melancholy confidence
those to whom sorrow is yet unknown. This much, at least, I may tell
you, - for this much she does not seek to conceal, - that Lady Vargrave was
early inured to trials from which you, more happy, have been saved. She
speaks not to you of her relations, for she has none left on earth. And
after her marriage with your benefactor, Evelyn, perhaps it seemed to her
a matter of principle to banish all vain regret, all remembrance if
possible, of an earlier tie."

"My poor, poor mother! Oh, yes, you are right; forgive me. She yet
mourns, perhaps, my father, whom I never saw, whom I feel, as it were,
tacitly forbid to name, - you did not know him?"

"Him! - whom?"

"My father, my mother's first husband."

"No."

"But I am sure I could not have loved him so well as my benefactor, my
real and second father, who is now dead and gone. Oh, how well I
remember him, - how fondly!" Here Evelyn stopped and burst into tears.

"You do right to remember him thus; to love and revere his memory, - a
father indeed he was to you. But now, Evelyn, my own dear child, hear
me. Respect the silent heart of your mother; let her not think that her
misfortunes, whatever they may be, can cast a shadow over you, - you, her
last hope and blessing. Rather than seek to open the old wounds, suffer
them to heal, as they must, beneath the influences of religion and time;
and wait the hour when without, perhaps, too keen a grief, your mother
can go back with you into the past."

"I will, I will! Oh, how wicked, how ungracious I have been! It was but
an excess of love, believe it, dear Mr. Aubrey, believe it."

"I do believe it, my poor Evelyn; and now I know that I may trust in you.
Come, dry those bright eyes, or they will think I have been a hard
taskmaster, and let us go to the cottage."

They walked slowly and silently across the humble garden into the
churchyard, and there, by the old yew-tree, they saw Lady Vargrave.
Evelyn, fearful that the traces of her tears were yet visible, drew back;
and Aubrey, aware of what passed within her, said, -

"Shall I join your mother, and tell her of my approaching departure? And
perhaps in the meanwhile you will call at our poor pensioner's in the
village, - Dame Newman is so anxious to see you; we will join you there


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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonAlice, or the Mysteries — Book 01 → online text (page 1 of 5)