1839-1908 Ouida.

Ouida, illustrated (Volume 3) online

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years, and I shall not live as many minutes," said the Israelite, in his grave,
caustic satire. " ' When thou cuttest the harvest in the field, leave a sheaf for
the fatherless,' said the law. Well, we kept law so well that we sheared the last
wheat-ear from every land in our reach. ' No man shall take the millstones
to pledge; for he taketh a man's life to pledge," the law has written. Well, we
obeyed so well that we took the millstones and ground the life to powder be-
tween them. But, of all that we wronged, we wronged you most. You had
had mercy on him when he was a debtor and wretched; you had given him
food, and shelter, and comfort, and friendship, and the smile of the world; and
in payment he wrung your life dry of all wealth and all peace, as men wring a
skin dry of wine."

He paused; life was flickering dully and feebly in him. Chandos shook
with rage where he heard.

" Do you think I have not known that ? More, more, for the love of God!
To be told my wrongs is no vengeance."

" Patience. Your vengeance lies in them. Your enemy never broke the
laws of his land; he was too wary in wisdom: he plundered, but he plundered
within the statutes. The worst felons are those who can never be brought to
the bar. He persuaded you to waste your substance; he drew it much of
it into his hands; but it was always you who signed your own death-warrant.
I have had your signatures by the hundred ; the sums they signed away were
cheated from you, because lies were told you of their use and their purport;



502 QUID AS WORKS.

but you were very careless in those matters, and he was very able. There
is not one of them that is forged; they were all legal, though they were
villanies."

" Oh, God ! is he never to be reached, then ? "

It rang out from him in a loud cry, like the cry of a drowning man from
whose hands the last plank slips.

" Patience ! Have I not said you shall have your vengeance and mine !
You cannot bring him to the felon's dock, but you shall gibbet him in the sight
of the nations; you shall rend his robes asunder; you shall tread his crowns
beneath his feet. Half nay, a tithe of what I can tell would suffice to drive
him out in shame and cover his head with ignominy. The breath of his life
now is to be untainted before the country that holds him a chief; lay bare his
corruption, and ruin will blast him, he will fall, stricken to the roots."

His breath caught, his cheek grew ashen; the strength was dying in him, and
the stagnant course of his blood was nigh ceasing forever; but he had a ruthless
will, he forced life back to him, and his words rang clear as a herald's menace.

"Let me say the chief thing first; my breath will fail ere you know one-
thousandth part. Briefly, take my signet-ring, here, to one of my people in
Paris, Joachim Rosso, a worker in silver, in the street where you found me.
At that sign, bid him give you the sealed papers he keeps for me. He knows
nothing of what is in them; but he has guarded them for me many years. He
is a good friend and faithful. In them you will find the record of all I have no
strength to tell you, the proofs of the trade that your foe and I drove in
men's necessities. This Englishman, my bondmaster, was very keen, very wise;
and when he held me by my son's danger and by my own gratitude, he held me
by iron chains; he knew he could trust me to suffer anything and keep silence.
But " his sardonic smile passed over his lips " he dealt with a Jew, and the
Jew could meet the fox with a fox's skill. He had heavily weighted me into
slavery; and while I believed him true to the lad, my tongue should have been
rooted out rather than be made to utter one syllable against him. But a Jew's
life is lived only to cheat, they say; and I outwitted even my tyrant so far. I
kept papers he never knew; I complied proofs he never dreamed. Had he
been true to me in his dealing with Agostino, they would have been burnt by
Joachim the day that I died. He broke faith with me: I turn the blade of his
own knife against him; I net him in the threads of his own subtlety."

There was the sternness of the Leviticus law in the words as they rolled out
from the hollow chest of the sightless man where he sti etched his hands in
imprecation.

"As he sowed, so let him reap; as he dealt, so let him be dealt with: as he
filled his unjust ephah with ill-gotten wheat, so let the bread he has made thereof
be like poison to consume him! "



CHAN DOS. 503

The fierce unflinching justice thrilled like a curse through the stillness of
the chamber.

Chandos' hand closed on the signet-ring; his face was very white, and
through his teeth his breathing came in a low hissing sound, as though
the weight of the evil of his traitor lay like lead on his chest.

" One word; my ruin was worked by fraud ? "

The Hebrew bent his head, and the red shame that had before come there
in the sight of Chandos flickered with momentary warmth over the bloodless
olive of his cheek.

" Sir, I duped men without a pang of conscience. I have said I was very
evil. My work throve in my hands so well because I was without one yielding
or gentle thing in me. But when we duped you, even I shrank. You trusted
him so utterly, you were such a madman in your generosity, such a fool in
your lack of suspicion, so noble in your utter carelessness and faith! And I
knew that you had served him, fed him, sheltered him, that you trusted him
as a brother. When you were drawn down into our bottomless pit, even /
abhorred the work! "

" There was fraud, then ? "

His voice was hoarse; the syllables slowly panted out; till the life of his
foe was wholly in his power, he felt as lions feel when cage-bars hold them
from their tormentors.

" Fraud ? surely! But I doubt if the law could touch it; it was deftly
done. He led you on into a million extravagances; he blinded your sight;
he cheated you utterly. You set your name to your friends' bills, and we
bought those bills in, and then we wrung the money out of you; you signed
what you thought leases and law trifles, and you signed in reality what made
you our debtor for enormous sums. You gave him blank checks; when he
filled them up to pay for your pictures, for your horses, for your mistresses'
jewels, he drew his own percentage on them all. You gave him fatal power
over your properties, and he undermined them. Yet I doubt if, at this dis-
tance of time, you could arraign him for fraud. You disputed nothing then;
you could scarce dispute now, after the lapse of so many years. It was viler
work than murder; he killed you by inches; he drained your blood drop by
drop; he made the earth under your feet a hollow crust, and at his signal the
crust broke, and you sank into the pit that he had dug. But he kept within
the law; he kept within the law ! "

There was a world-wide sarcasm in the acrid words; he had known so many
criminals great men in their nations whose crimes were never guessed,
because " within the law ! "

" But what matter ? See here." His withered fingers grasped like steel
the arm of the man he had aided to rob. " In my papers you will find the



504 QUID AS WORKS.

whole detail of our business system. You will find the list of the men we
helped to ruin. You will see how he stripped bare to the bone the friends
whom he fed, and drove and laughed and jested with. You will see how the
chief of his riches were made, how in real truth he was but a usurer, who
churned into wealth the needs of his associates in the world that he fooled.
Tell the tale to the world; it will blast him forever. Show how the man you
succored repaid you. Let them behold the first steps by which their favorire
rose to his power; trace the vile subways by which he travelled to dignity.
Point to the dead, the exiled, the cursed, whom he dwelt with in friendship
while he drove his barter in their shame and their want. Go and unmask him;
go and condemn him. You will find proofs in my legacy that will brand him
your destroyer and theirs. Go ! though he be brought into no felon's dock,
you will scourge him, dishonored forever, out of the land where he stands now
a chief ! "

The deep, rich voice of the Hebrew rolled out like an organ-swell; the
vitality of manhood was lent for a moment to the wasted powers of age. Faith-
ful through all ordeals to his very grave, he turned in his death-hour to stamp
out the traitor whom in that hour he had found false to his bond.

Chandos stood beside him, his lips parted, his eyes filled with fire; his face
dark with the passions of that bloodthirst which had risen in him.

" Dishonor him ! dishonor him ! " he said, in his ground teeth. " If I slew
him, I should be too merciful ! "

There was silence for a while in the chamber; they who heard knew the
width and depth of his vast wrong, knew that no chastisement his hand should
take could be too deadly. The old man's white head sank, his hands trembled
where they were knitted together.

" And forget not that I wronged you equally, that I forged the steel that
pierced and wove the net that bound you ! To-night my soul will be required
of me; it is dark with evil, as the night is dark with storm. Could it be free
of your curse, I could die easier."

Chandos stooped to him; and his voice, though the fire of his hate burned
in it, was hushed and gentle with pity.

" My curse ! When you succored what I love ? When you render me my
vengeance ? Not equally did you wrong me; you never ate my bread, you
never owned my trust. Your martyrdom may surely avail to buy your pardon
both from God and man."

The large, slow tears of age welled into the Hebrew's sightless eyes; the
hard, brave, ruthless nature was stricken to the core by the mercy it had never
yielded; he lifted his hands feebly, and rested them on the bowed head of the
man whom he had wronged.

" May the desire of thine eyes be given thee, and thine offspring reign long



CHAN DOS. 505

in the land ! May peace rest on thee forever ! for thou art just to the end,
to the end."

Purer blessing was never breathed upon his life than this which his spoiler
and his foe now uttered.

Then, as the darkness that had veiled his sight so long was lost in the dark-
ness of death, the old man stretched his arms outward to his son, seeking what
his silent unrequited love had found at last only to lose forever.

" Nearer to my heart ! nearer, nearer. God cherish thee ! God pardon
thee ! Ah ! will any love thee as I have loved ? Death is rest; yet it is bitter.
In the grave I cannot hear thy coming, I cannot hearken for thy step ! "

And, with his blind eyes seeking thirstly the face so well beloved, on which
they could not look, even to take one farewell gaze, a deep drawn sigh heaved
the heart that had been bound under its iron bonds of silence for so long, the
weary limbs stretched outward as a worn wayfarer's stretch upon a bed of rest,
and, in a hush of stillness as the tempest lulled, the long life of pain was ended.



CHAPTER IX.

" KING OVER HIMSELF."

THERE was a great banquet in the city of London, a banquet held chiefly
in honor of the brilliant statesman, the popular favorite, who had quelled the
riots of the North with so fearless a courage, so admirable an address, who
was the keystone of his party, the master-mind of his cabinet, the inspirer of his
colleagues, the triumphant and assured possesser of that virtue of Success which
vouches for, and which confers, all other virtues in the world's sight. The
gorgeous barbarism, the heavy splendor, the ill-assorted costly food, the pon-
derous elephantine festivity, were in his honor; the seas of wine flowed for his
name; the civic dignities were gathered for his sake; the words he spoke were
treasured as though they were pearls and rubbies; the great capital crowned
him, and would have none other than him. These things wearied other men;
this pomp, so coarse and so senseless and so repeated in their lives, sickened
most whom it caressed as it caressed him; but on Trevenna it never palled.
The rich and racy temper in him never lost its relish for the comedy of life;
and the vain-glorious pleasure of his victories was never sated by the repetitions
that assured him of them. The Ave Imperator was always music on his ear,
whatever voices shouted it; the sense of his own achievement was ever delight-
ful to his heart, and was never more fully realized than when there were about
him those public celebrations of it, the feasting and cheering and toasting and



50G QUID AS WORKS.

servile prostrating which to most statesmen are the hardest and most hateful
penalty of power, but in which he took an unflagging and uneffected pleasure
with every fresh assurance of his celebrity that they brought him. His part in
the mighty farce was played with the elastic vivacity, the genuine enjoyment,
of a jovial humorist; it had no assumption in it, for it was literally incessant
amusement and infinite jest to him; and the good humor, the mirth, and vital-
ity with which he came ever among the people, and went through all the course
of public homage and public conviviality, were but the cordial expression of the
temper with which he met life.

To-night, at the civic dinner given in his honor, all eyes turned on him,
acclamations had welcomed his entrance, no distinction was held sufficient for
such a guest, and compliment and tribute and reverential admiration were
poured on him in the speeches that toasted his name and quoted his acts, his
fame, his ever-growing strength, his master-intellect, his place in the councils
and in the love of the nation; and he enjoyed with all a wit's keen relish the
verbiage and the hyperbole and the cant, and enjoyed but the more for them
the ascendency he held, the fearless footing he had made, the ambitions crowned
to their apex, and the future of ambitions even higher yet, which had come to
the force of his hand, to the compelling of his genius. Of a truth he was a great
man, and he knew it; he had brought to his conquest such patience and such
qualities as only great men poccess; he was a giant whose tread was. ever certain,
who eyes ever saw beyond his fellows, whose armor was ever bright, whose
grasp was ever sure. It was natural that on the breathless, pushing, toiling
weaknesses of the liliputians around him he should look with a Rabelaisan
laugh, with a Sullan contemptuousness of unflinching and unsparing victory.

The banquet ended somewhat early; for a measure of considerable moment
was passing, a measure framed and carried through two readings by himself,
and its third reading was to take place with the present night. The crowded
feast had given him all the idolatry and applause of the city of London, given
it with wines, and massive meats, and soups, and sauces, and gold plate, and
interminable speeches, as is its custom in that strange antithetical relic of bar-
barism which must gluttonously feed what it intellectually admires; and from it
he went to the arena of his proudest conquest, to the field in which it is so hard
to keep a footing when against the wrestler is flung the stone "adventurer," to
the place where many mediocrities pass muster, but where a combination of
qualities the most difficult to gain and the most rarely met in unison can
alone achieve and sustain a permanent and high success. If any had asked
him to what crown among his many crowns he attached the proudest value, he
would have answered, and answered rightly, to the sway that he had mastered
over the House of Commons.

As he drove to Westminster, the carriage rolled passed the statue of Philip



CHANDOS, 507

Chandos, at which, going and coming from the councils of his country, he
oftentimes glanced with the sweetness of his attainments made sweeter by the
look he cast at that colossal marble, which he would banter and talk to and
jeer at with that dash of buffoonery which mingled with the virile sagacious
force of his.nature as it has mingled with many a great man's acumen.

"Ah, tres-cher! " he murmured to himself now, with a cigar in his teeth, as
he caught sight of it in the gaslight, "the Mad Duke's been shot in a brawl
they say, in the only end fit for him. /will have your Clarencieux, now.
Crash shall go the old oaks, and we'll smelt down the last marquis's coronet
into a hunting-cup for me to drink out of; my hounds should have their mash
in it, only the nation might think me insane. Is there anything you particu-
larly loved there, I wonder ? If there were, it should, be flung in the fire.
The great hall was your beggared successor's special pride. Well, we'll burn
it down when I get there, by accident on purpose! A flue too hot will soon
lay its glories in ashes. Tout vient a point a qui salt attendre."

All things had come to his hand, and ripened there to a marvellous harvest;
but even the exultation of success and the gravity of power had not changed in
him the womanlike avidity of hatred, the grotesque rapacity of spoliation,
which he still cherished against the inanimate things of gold and silver and
stone and wood which had been the household gods of the race he cursed. It
remained the single weakness in a steel-clad life.

As he entered the House, to which he had once come on suffrage, and
which he had made the scene of as complete a triumph as the perseverance
and the ability of man ever wrung from hostile fortune and hostile faction, all
eyes turned eagerly on him. There was the murmur of welcome and im-
patience; the benches were all full, at midnight, with a crowded and heated
audience. His measure had been received with a vehement partisanship,
violence in opposition, violence in alliance; and his coming was watched for
at once with irritation and anxiety. He made his way to his seat, cool, keen,
bright, as he would have gone alike to be crowned as a king or be hanged as
a scoundrel. Moments of emergency were the tonics that he loved best, the wine
that gave the fullest flavor of his life; and none could have arrived to him that
would ever have found him unprepared, none save one which to-night waited
for him.

Other members had risen as he entered, but there were loud imperious cries
for his name; the Commons were in one of their turbulent tempers, when they
riot like ill-broke hounds, and they would have none other than the man who had
learned to play upon their varying moods as a skilled hand plays on an organ.
He had brought his measure through the tempestuous surf of two readings;
it was now for him to ride it through the last breakers and pass it into the
haven by which it would become a law. It was thought strangely careless that



508 QUID AS WORKS.

he should be late on such a night; but this was the temper of the man, to be
daringly independent at all hazards, and to take his revenge on a party that
had been glad of him, but that had never fairly relished his alliance, by
caprices which made them wait his pleasure, which kept them ever uncertain of
his intentions, and for which his popularity gave him full and free immunity.

As he rose to speak, the winged words paused on his lips, his eyes grew
fixed with a set, astonished gaze; he stood for a moment silent, with his hand
lying on the rail; his glance met that of Chandos.

Among the nobles and the strangers who had come down to listen to the de-
bate, he saw the form that he had once seen senseless and strengthless on the
wretched pallet in a Paris garret, where he had watched the throbbing of the
heart under the naked breast, and had thought that he would have well loved
to still it forever with an inch of steel, had not a wider torture been found in
letting it beat on to suffer. The burden of the years seemed fallen from
Chandos, and to him had returned, though saddened and grave with thought,
and with a melancholy that would never now wholly pass away, much of the
proud, sun-lightened beauty of his early manhood. The vivid sweetness of
passion was once more his; the inheritance of his fathers was recovered; the
might of avenging justice had been given to his hand; above all, he was an
exile no more. He looked as he had looked in the days of the past.

The animal thirst to kill, of which he had spoken, had risen; his veins
seemed to run fire; there was a wild triumph in his blood even while the heart-
sickness at his traitor's baseness was upon him. It was his to avenge, to
chastise, to pay back a lifelong wrong, to unmask a lifelong infamy, to hurl his
foe from the purples of power and point out in the sight of the people the
plague-spot on the breast of the man they caressed. It was his, this ven-
geance which would cast his traitor down, in the midst of the fulness of life,
from the height of his throned successes. It was his at last, this power denied
so long, which should pierce the bronze of his enemy's laughing mockery and
shatter to dust the adamant of his invulnerable strength. It was his at last,
this avenging might which should reach even the brute heart that had seemed
of granite, callous to feel, impenetrable to strike. And he felt drunk with it
as with alcohol; he felt that its worst work would never plough deep enough,
never blast wide enough.

" O God," he thought, " how can vengeance enough strike him ? None can
give me back all that he killed forever ! ' Just to the end.' He shall have
justice, the justice of the old law, a 'life for a life.' "

And, as their eyes met, the chill of the first fear his life had ever known
passed over Trevenna; a vague, shapeless horror seized him; he knew that
never would the disinherited have returned to his forsaken land unless the
doom of banishment had been taken from him, unless some power of all that



CHAN DOS. 509

he had been dispossessed of had recoiled back into his grasp. For the moment
one brief, fleeting, uncounted second he stood paralyzed there, the un-
formed dread, the venomous hatred in him making him forgetful of all, save
the eyes that were turned on him, eyes that seemed to quote against him the
whole history of his life. He had no conscience, he had no shame, he had
never known what fear was, and he had ascended to an eminence from which
he would have defied the force of the world to eject him; and yet in that single
instant a terror scarce less keen, less ghastly, than that which an assassin
would feel at sight of the living form of the prey he had left for dead came on him,
as in the lighted assembly, in the midnight silence in which his own words were
awaited he saw the face of Chandos. It passed away almost as instantaneously
as it had moved him; the bold audacity, the dauntless courage, the caustic
mirth, the mocking triumph of his temper reasserted themselves; instantly, ere
any others had had space to note the momentary pause, and the momentary
paralysis which had arrested the eloquence on his lips and chained his gaze to
the features of the man whom he had wronged, he was himself again; he recov-
ered the shaken balance of his priceless coolness; he looked across the long
space parting him from his antagonist with a full, firm, laughing insolence in
the sunny bravery of his blue eyes; his voice rolled out on the hushing mur-
murs and the broken whispers of the great gathering, mellow, resonant, far-
reaching as a clarion, clear as though each syllable were told out on a silver
drum.

The man he hated was before him; the man in whom he had seen incarnated
all the things against which his life had been arrayed, all the wrongs that he
cherished till the cockatrice brood had bred a giant vengeance; the man whom
he hated but the more, the more he injured him; the man whom he best loved,
of any in the world, should see the eminence, the power, the sovereignty which
he the adventurer, the outsider had aspired to and won. Chandos was
before him, witness of his sway, spectator of his triumph, hearer of his words.
He swore in his teeth, even in that moment when their glance first met, that
oratory and triumph and sway should never be so victorious as they should be
to-night; that he would fight as he had never fought before, that he would win
as he had never won, this chamber should ring with acclamations for him as it
had never yet rung with them, favored and crowned there though he was. The
one whom of all others in the breadth of the empires he would have chosen as
the beholder of his fame fronted him. To Trevenna the hour was as it was to
Sulla when the great Desert King whom he had conquered and weighted with
chains, and brought from the golden suns and royal freedom of his own warm
land to the bath of ice of the Tullianum, stood fettered to behold the ovation
given to the welcomed victor of the Jugurthine War.

To Trevenna it was the crown of the edifice that his own mighty patience



Online Library1839-1908 OuidaOuida, illustrated (Volume 3) → online text (page 57 of 79)