Benjamin Disraeli.

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smock-frock. His hat was rather jauntily placed on his curly red hair.

'Why am I seized?' at length said the man.

'Where did you get that pony?' said the Doctor.

'I bought it,' was the reply.

'Of whom?'

'A stranger at market.'

'You are accused of robbery, and suspected of murder,' said Dr.
Masham. 'Mr. Constable,' said the Doctor, turning to that functionary,
who had now arrived, 'handcuff this man, and keep him in strict
custody until further orders.'

The report that a man was arrested for robbery, and suspected of
murder, at the Red Dragon, spread like wildfire through the town;
and the inn-yard was soon crowded with the curious and excited
inhabitants.

Peter and the barber, to whom he had communicated everything, were
well qualified to do justice to the important information of which
they were the sole depositaries; the tale lost nothing by their
telling; and a circumstantial narrative of the robbery and murder of
no less a personage than Lord Cadurcis, of Cadurcis Abbey, was soon
generally prevalent.

The stranger was secured in a stable, before which the constable kept
guard; mine host, and the waiter, and the ostlers acted as a sort of
supernumerary police, to repress the multitude; while Peter held the
real pony by the bridle, whose identity, which he frequently attested,
was considered by all present as an incontrovertible evidence of the
commission of the crime.

In the meantime Dr. Masham, really agitated, roused his brother
magistrate, and communicated to his worship the important discovery.
The Squire fell into a solemn flutter. 'We must be regular, brother
Masham; we must proceed by rule; we are a bench in ourselves. Would
that my clerk were here! We must send for Signsealer forthwith. I will
not decide without the statutes. The law must be consulted, and it
must be obeyed. The fellow hath not brought my wig. 'Tis a case of
murder no doubt. A Peer of the realm murdered! You must break the
intelligence to his surviving parent, and I will communicate to the
Secretary of State. Can the body be found? That will prove the murder.
Unless the body be found, the murder will not be proved, save
the villain confess, which he will not do unless he hath sudden
compunctions. I have known sudden compunctions go a great way. We had
a case before our bench last month; there was no evidence. It was not
a case of murder; it was of woodcutting; there was no evidence; but
the defendant had compunctions. Oh! here is my wig. We must send for
Signsealer. He is clerk to our bench, and he must bring the statutes.
'Tis not simple murder this; it involves petty treason.'

By this time his worship had completed his toilet, and he and his
colleague took their way to the parlour they had inhabited the
preceding evening. Mr. Signsealer was in attendance, much to the real,
though concealed, satisfaction of Squire Mountmeadow. Their worships
were seated like two consuls before the table, which Mr. Signsealer
had duly arranged with writing materials and various piles of
calf-bound volumes. Squire Mountmeadow then, arranging his
countenance, announced that the bench was prepared, and mine host was
instructed forthwith to summon the constable and his charge, together
with Peter and the ostler as witnesses. There was a rush among some of
the crowd who were nighest the scene to follow the prisoner into the
room; and, sooth to say, the great Mountmeadow was much too enamoured
of his own self-importance to be by any means a patron of close courts
and private hearings; but then, though he loved his power to be
witnessed, he was equally desirous that his person should be
reverenced. It was his boast that he could keep a court of quarter
sessions as quiet as a church; and now, when the crowd rushed in with
all those sounds of tumult incidental to such a movement, it required
only Mountmeadow slowly to rise, and drawing himself up to the full
height of his gaunt figure, to knit his severe brow, and throw one
of his peculiar looks around the chamber, to insure a most awful
stillness. Instantly everything was so hushed, that you might have
heard Signsealer nib his pen.

The witnesses were sworn; Peter proved that the pony belonged to Lord
Cadurcis, and that his lordship had been missing from home for several
days, and was believed to have quitted the abbey on this identical
pony. Dr. Masham was ready, if necessary, to confirm this evidence.
The accused adhered to his first account, that he had purchased the
animal the day before at a neighbouring fair, and doggedly declined to
answer any cross-examination. Squire Mountmeadow looked alike pompous
and puzzled; whispered to the Doctor; and then shook his head at Mr.
Signsealer.

'I doubt whether there be satisfactory evidence of the murder, brother
Masham,' said the Squire; 'what shall be our next step?'

'There is enough evidence to keep this fellow in custody,' said the
Doctor. 'We must remand him, and make inquiries at the market town.
I shall proceed there immediately, He is a strange-looking fellow,'
added the Doctor: 'were it not for his carroty locks, I should
scarcely take him for a native.'

'Hem!' said the Squire, 'I have my suspicions. Fellow,' continued his
worship, in an awful tone, 'you say that you are a stranger, and that
your name is Morgan; very suspicious all this: you have no one to
speak to your character or station, and you are found in possession of
stolen goods. The bench will remand you for the present, and will at
any rate commit you for trial for the robbery. But here is a Peer of
the realm missing, fellow, and you are most grievously suspected of
being concerned in his spiriting away, or even murder. You are upon
tender ground, prisoner; 'tis a case verging on petty treason, if not
petty treason itself. Eh! Mr. Signsealer? Thus runs the law, as I take
it? Prisoner, it would be well for you to consider your situation.
Have you no compunctions? Compunctions might save you, if not a
principal offender. It is your duty to assist the bench in executing
justice. The Crown is merciful; you may be king's evidence.'

Mr. Signsealer whispered the bench; he proposed that the prisoner's
hat should be examined, as the name of its maker might afford a clue
to his residence.

'True, true, Mr. Clerk,' said Squire Mountmeadow, 'I am coming to
that. 'Tis a sound practice; I have known such a circumstance lead to
great disclosures. But we must proceed in order. Order is everything.
Constable, take the prisoner's hat off.'

The constable took the hat off somewhat rudely; so rudely, indeed,
that the carroty locks came off in company with it, and revealed a
profusion of long plaited hair, which had been adroitly twisted under
the wig, more in character with the countenance than its previous
covering.

'A Jesuit, after all!' exclaimed the Squire.

'A gipsy, as it seems to me,' whispered the Doctor.

'Still worse,' said the Squire.

'Silence in the Court!' exclaimed the awful voice of Squire
Mountmeadow, for the excitement of the audience was considerable.
The disguise was generally esteemed as incontestable evidence of the
murder. 'Silence, or I will order the Court to be cleared. Constable,
proclaim silence. This is an awful business,' added the Squire, with a
very long face. 'Brother Masham, we must do our duty; but this is an
awful business. At any rate we must try to discover the body. A Peer
of the realm must not be suffered to lie murdered in a ditch. He must
have Christian burial, if possible, in the vaults of his ancestors.'

When Morgana, for it was indeed he, observed the course affairs were
taking, and ascertained that his detention under present circumstances
was inevitable, he relaxed from his doggedness, and expressed a
willingness to make a communication to the bench. Squire Mountmeadow
lifted up his eyes to Heaven, as if entreating the interposition of
Providence to guide him in his course; then turned to his brother
magistrate, and then nodded to the clerk.

'He has compunctions, brother Masham,' said his worship: 'I told you
so; he has compunctions. Trust me to deal with these fellows. He knew
not his perilous situation; the hint of petty treason staggered him.
Mr. Clerk, take down the prisoner's confession; the Court must be
cleared; constable, clear the Court. Let a stout man stand on each
side of the prisoner, to protect the bench. The magistracy of England
will never shrink from doing their duty, but they must be protected.
Now, prisoner, the bench is ready to hear your confession. Conceal
nothing, and if you were not a principal in the murder, or an
accessory before the fact; eh, Mr. Clerk, thus runs the law, as I take
it? there may be mercy; at any rate, if you be hanged, you will have
the satisfaction of having cheerfully made the only atonement to
society in your power.'

'Hanging be damned!' said Morgana.

Squire Mountmeadow started from his seat, his cheeks distended with
rage, his dull eyes for once flashing fire. 'Did you ever witness such
atrocity, brother Masham?' exclaimed his worship. 'Did you hear the
villain? I'll teach him to respect the bench. I'll fine him before he
is executed, that I will!'

'The young gentleman to whom this pony belongs,' continued the gipsy,
'may or may not be a lord. I never asked him his name, and he never
told it me; but he sought hospitality of me and my people, and we gave
it him, and he lives with us, of his own free choice. The pony is of
no use to him now, and so I came to sell it for our common good.'

'A Peer of the realm turned gipsy!' exclaimed the Squire. 'A very
likely tale! I'll teach you to come here and tell your cock-and-bull
stories to two of his majesty's justices of the peace. 'Tis a flat
case of robbery and murder, and I venture to say something else. You
shall go to gaol directly, and the Lord have mercy on your soul!'

'Nay,' said the gipsy, appealing to Dr. Marsham; 'you, sir, appear to
be a friend of this youth. You will not regain him by sending me to
gaol. Load me, if you will, with irons; surround me with armed men,
but at least give me the opportunity of proving the truth of what I
say. I offer in two hours to produce to you the youth, and you shall
find he is living with my people in content and peace.'

'Content and fiddlestick!' said the Squire, in a rage.

'Brother Mountmeadow,' said the Doctor, in a low tone, to his
colleague, 'I have private duties to perform to this family. Pardon
me if, with all deference to your sounder judgment and greater
experience, I myself accept the prisoner's offer.'

'Brother Masham, you are one of his majesty's justices of the peace,
you are a brother magistrate, and you are a Doctor of Divinity; you
owe a duty to your country, and you owe a duty to yourself. Is it
wise, is it decorous, that one of the Quorum should go a-gipsying?
Is it possible that you can credit this preposterous tale? Brother
Masham, there will be a rescue, or my name is not Mountmeadow.'

In spite, however, of all these solemn warnings, the good Doctor, who
was not altogether unaware of the character of his pupil, and could
comprehend that it was very possible the statement of the gipsy might
be genuine, continued without very much offending his colleague, who
looked upon, his conduct indeed rather with pity than resentment,
to accept the offer of Morgana; and consequently, well-secured and
guarded, and preceding the Doctor, who rode behind the cart with his
servant, the gipsy soon sallied forth from the inn-yard, and requested
the driver to guide his course in the direction of the forest.




CHAPTER XVII.


It was the afternoon of the third day after the arrival of Cadurcis at
the gipsy encampment, and nothing had yet occurred to make him repent
his flight from the abbey, and the choice of life he had made. He had
experienced nothing but kindness and hospitality, while the beautiful
Beruna seemed quite content to pass her life in studying his
amusement. The weather, too, had been extremely favourable to his new
mode of existence; and stretched at his length upon the rich turf,
with his head on Beruna's lap, and his eyes fixed upon the rich forest
foliage glowing in the autumnal sunset, Plantagenet only wondered
that he could have endured for so many years the shackles of his
common-place home.

His companions were awaiting the return of their leader, Morgana,
who had been absent since the preceding day, and who had departed on
Plantagenet's pony. Most of them were lounging or strolling in the
vicinity of their tents; the children were playing; the old woman was
cooking at the fire; and altogether, save that the hour was not so
late, the scene presented much the same aspect as when Cadurcis had
first beheld it. As for his present occupation, Beruna was giving him
a lesson in the gipsy language, which he was acquiring with a rapid
facility, which quite exceeded all his previous efforts in such
acquisitions.

Suddenly a scout sang out that a party was in sight. The men instantly
disappeared; the women were on the alert; and one ran forward as a
spy, on pretence of telling fortunes. This bright-eyed professor of
palmistry soon, however, returned running, and out of breath, yet
chatting all the time with inconceivable rapidity, and accompanying
the startling communication she was evidently making with the most
animated gestures. Beruna started up, and, leaving the astonished
Cadurcis, joined them. She seemed alarmed. Cadurcis was soon convinced
there was consternation in the camp.

Suddenly a horseman galloped up, and was immediately followed by a
companion. They called out, as if encouraging followers, and one of
them immediately galloped away again, as if to detail the results
of their reconnaissance. Before Cadurcis could well rise and make
inquiries as to what was going on, a light cart, containing several
men, drove up, and in it, a prisoner, he detected Morgana. The
branches of the trees concealed for a moment two other horsemen
who followed the cart; but Cadurcis, to his infinite alarm and
mortification, soon recognised Dr. Masham and Peter.

When the gipsies found their leader was captive, they no longer
attempted to conceal themselves; they all came forward, and would have
clustered round the cart, had not the riders, as well as those who
more immediately guarded the prisoner, prevented them. Morgana spoke
some words in a loud voice to the gipsies, and they immediately
appeared less agitated; then turning to Dr. Masham, he said in
English, 'Behold your child!'

Instantly two gipsy men seized Cadurcis, and led him to the Doctor.

'How now, my lord!' said the worthy Rector, in a stern voice, 'is this
your duty to your mother and your friends?'

Cadurcis looked down, but rather dogged than ashamed.

'You have brought an innocent man into great peril,' continued the
Doctor. 'This person, no longer a prisoner, has been arrested on
suspicion of robbery, and even murder, through your freak. Morgana, or
whatever your name may be, here is some reward for your treatment of
this child, and some compensation for your detention. Mount your pony,
Lord Cadurcis, and return to your home with me.'

'This is my home, sir,' said Plantagenet.

'Lord Cadurcis, this childish nonsense must cease; it has already
endangered the life of your mother, nor can I answer for her safety,
if you lose a moment in returning.'

'Child, you must return,' said Morgana.

'Child!' said Plantagenet, and he walked some steps away, and leant
against a tree. 'You promised that I should remain,' said he,
addressing himself reproachfully to Morgana.

'You are not your own master,' said the gipsy; 'your remaining here
will only endanger and disturb us. Fortunately we have nothing to fear
from laws we have never outraged; but had there been a judge less wise
and gentle than the master here, our peaceful family might have been
all harassed and hunted to the very death.'

He waved his hand, and addressed some words to his tribe, whereupon
two brawny fellows seized Cadurcis, and placed him again, in spite of
his struggling, upon his pony, with the same irresistible facility
with which they had a few nights before dismounted him. The little
lord looked very sulky, but his position was beginning to get
ludicrous. Morgana, pocketing his five guineas, leaped over the side
of the cart, and offered to guide the Doctor and his attendants
through the forest. They moved on accordingly. It was the work of an
instant, and Cadurcis suddenly found himself returning home between
the Rector and Peter. Not a word, however, escaped his lips; once only
he moved; the light branch of a tree, aimed with delicate precision,
touched his back; he looked round; it was Beruna. She kissed her hand
to him, and a tear stole down his pale, sullen cheek, as, taking from
his breast his handkerchief, he threw it behind him, unperceived, that
she might pick it up, and keep it for his sake.

After proceeding two or three miles under the guidance of Morgana, the
equestrians gained the road, though it still ran through the forest.
Here the Doctor dismissed the gipsy-man, with whom he had occasionally
conversed during their progress; but not a sound ever escaped from the
mouth of Cadurcis, or rather, the captive, who was now substituted in
Morgana's stead. The Doctor, now addressing himself to Plantagenet,
informed him that it was of importance that they should make the best
of their way, and so he put spurs to his mare, and Cadurcis sullenly
complied with the intimation. At this rate, in the course of little
more than another hour, they arrived in sight of the demesne of
Cadurcis, where they pulled up their steeds.

They entered the park, they approached the portal of the abbey; at
length they dismounted. Their coming was announced by a servant, who
had recognised his lord at a distance, and had ran on before with the
tidings. When they entered the abbey, they were met by Lady Annabel in
the cloisters; her countenance was very serious. She shook hands with
Dr. Masham, but did not speak, and immediately led him aside. Cadurcis
remained standing in the very spot where Doctor Masham left him, as if
he were quite a stranger in the place, and was no longer master of
his own conduct. Suddenly Doctor Masham, who was at the end of the
cloister, while Lady Annabel was mounting the staircase, looked round
with a pale face, and said in an agitated voice, 'Lord Cadurcis, Lady
Annabel wishes to speak to you in the saloon.'

Cadurcis immediately, but slowly, repaired to the saloon. Lady Annabel
was walking up and down in it. She seemed greatly disturbed. When she
saw him, she put her arm round his neck affectionately, and said in
a low voice, 'My dearest Plantagenet, it has devolved upon me to
communicate to you some distressing intelligence.' Her voice faltered,
and the tears stole down her cheek.

'My mother, then, is dangerously ill?' he inquired in a calm but
softened tone.

'It is even sadder news than that, dear child.'

Cadurcis looked about him wildly, and then with an inquiring glance at
Lady Annabel:

'There can be but one thing worse than that,' he at length said.

'What if it have happened?' said Lady Annabel.

He threw himself into a chair, and covered his face with his hands.
After a few minutes he looked up and said, in a low but distinct
voice, 'It is too terrible to think of; it is too terrible to mention;
but, if it have happened, let me be alone.'

Lady Annabel approached him with a light step; she embraced him, and,
whispering that she should be found in the next room, she quitted the
apartment.

Cadurcis remained seated for more than half an hour without changing
in the slightest degree his position. The twilight died away; it grew
quite dark; he looked up with a slight shiver, and then quitted the
apartment.

In the adjoining room, Lady Annabel was seated with Doctor Masham,
and giving him the details of the fatal event. It had occurred that
morning. Mrs. Cadurcis, who had never slept a wink since her knowledge
of her son's undoubted departure, and scarcely for an hour been free
from violent epileptic fits, had fallen early in the morning into a
doze, which lasted about half an hour, and from which her medical
attendant, who with Pauncefort had sat up with her during the night,
augured the most favourable consequences. About half-past six o'clock
she woke, and inquired whether Plantagenet had returned. They answered
her that Doctor Masham had not yet arrived, but would probably be at
the abbey in the course of the morning. She said it would be too late.
They endeavoured to encourage her, but she asked to see Lady Annabel,
who was immediately called, and lost no time in repairing to her. When
Mrs. Cadurcis recognised her, she held out her hand, and said in a
dying tone, 'It was my fault; it was ever my fault; it is too late
now; let him find a mother in you.' She never spoke again, and in the
course of an hour expired.

While Lady Annabel and the Doctor were dwelling on these sad
circumstances, and debating whether he should venture to approach
Plantagenet, and attempt to console him, for the evening was now
far advanced, and nearly three hours had elapsed since the fatal
communication had been made to him, it happened that Mistress
Pauncefort chanced to pass Mrs. Cadurcis' room, and as she did so she
heard some one violently sobbing. She listened, and hearing the sounds
frequently repeated, she entered the room, which, but for her candle,
would have been quite dark, and there she found Lord Cadurcis kneeling
and weeping by his mother's bedside. He seemed annoyed at being seen
and disturbed, but his spirit was too broken to murmur. 'La! my lord,'
said Mistress Pauncefort, 'you must not take on so; you must not
indeed. I am sure this dark room is enough to put any one in low
spirits. Now do go downstairs, and sit with my lady and the Doctor,
and try to be cheerful; that is a dear good young gentleman. I wish
Miss Venetia were here, and then she would amuse you. But you must not
take on, because there is no use in it. You must exert yourself, for
what is done cannot be undone; and, as the Doctor told us last Sunday,
we must all die; and well for those who die with a good conscience;
and I am sure the poor dear lady that is gone must have had a good
conscience, because she had a good heart, and I never heard any one
say the contrary. Now do exert yourself, my dear lord, and try to be
cheerful, do; for there is nothing like a little exertion in these
cases, for God's will must be done, and it is not for us to say yea or
nay, and taking on is a murmuring against God's providence.' And so
Mistress Pauncefort would have continued urging the usual topics of
coarse and common-place consolation; but Cadurcis only answered with a
sigh that came from the bottom of his heart, and said with streaming
eyes, 'Ah! Mrs. Pauncefort, God had only given me one friend in this
world, and there she lies.'




CHAPTER XVIII.


The first conviction that there is death in the house is perhaps the
most awful moment of youth. When we are young, we think that not only
ourselves, but that all about us, are immortal. Until the arrow has
struck a victim round our own hearth, death is merely an unmeaning
word; until then, its casual mention has stamped no idea upon our
brain. There are few, even among those least susceptible of thought
and emotion, in whose hearts and minds the first death in the family
does not act as a powerful revelation of the mysteries of life, and of
their own being; there are few who, after such a catastrophe, do not
look upon the world and the world's ways, at least for a time, with
changed and tempered feelings. It recalls the past; it makes us ponder
over the future; and youth, gay and light-hearted youth, is taught,
for the first time, to regret and to fear.

On Cadurcis, a child of pensive temperament, and in whose strange
and yet undeveloped character there was, amid lighter elements, a
constitutional principle of melancholy, the sudden decease of his
mother produced a profound effect. All was forgotten of his parent,
except the intimate and natural tie, and her warm and genuine
affection. He was now alone in the world; for reflection impressed
upon him at this moment what the course of existence too generally
teaches to us all, that mournful truth, that, after all, we have no
friends that we can depend upon in this life but our parents. All
other intimacies, however ardent, are liable to cool; all other
confidence, however unlimited, to be violated. In the phantasmagoria
of life, the friend with whom we have cultivated mutual trust for



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliVenetia → online text (page 7 of 38)