Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

My Novel — Volume 06 online

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BOOK SIXTH.


INITIAL CHAPTER.

WHEREIN MR. CAXTON IS PROFOUNDLY METAPHYSICAL.

"Life," said my father, in his most dogmatical tone, "is a certain
quantity in time, which may be regarded in two ways, - First, as life
integral; Second, as life fractional. Life integral is that complete
whole expressive of a certain value, large or small, which each man
possesses in himself. Life fractional is that same whole seized upon and
invaded by other people, and subdivided amongst them. They who get a
large slice of it say, 'A very valuable life this!' Those who get but a
small handful say, 'So, so; nothing very great!' Those who get none of
it in the scramble exclaim, 'Good for nothing!'"

"I don't understand a word you are saying," growled Captain Roland.

My father surveyed his brother with compassion: "I will make it all
clear, even to your understanding. When I sit down by myself in my
study, having carefully locked the door on all of you, alone with my
books and thoughts, I am in full possession of my integral life. I am
/totus, teres, atque rotundus/, - a whole human being, equivalent in
value, we will say, for the sake of illustration, to a fixed round sum,
L100 for example. But when I go forth into the common apartment, each of
those to whom I am of any worth whatsoever puts his finger into the bag
that contains me, and takes out of me what he wants. Kitty requires me
to pay a bill; Pisistratus to save him the time and trouble of looking
into a score or two of books; the children to tell them stories, or play
at hide-and-seek; and so on throughout the circle to which I have
incautiously given myself up for plunder and subdivision. The L100 which
I represented in my study is now parcelled out; I am worth L40 or L50 to
Kitty, L20 to Pisistratus, and perhaps 30s. to the children. This is
life fractional. And I cease to be an integral till once more returning
to my study, and again closing the door on all existence but my own.
Meanwhile, it is perfectly clear that to those who, whether I am in the
study or whether I am in the common sitting-room, get nothing at all out
of me, I am not worth a farthing. It must be wholly indifferent to a
native of Kamschatka whether Austin Caxton be or be not razed out of the
great account-book of human beings.

"Hence," continued my father, - "hence it follows that the more fractional
a life be - that is, the greater the number of persons among whom it can
be subdivided - why, the more there are to say, 'A very valuable life
that!' Thus the leader of a political party, a conqueror, a king, an
author, who is amusing hundreds or thousands or millions, has a greater
number of persons whom his worth interests and affects than a Saint
Simeon Stylites could have when he perched himself at the top of a
column; although, regarded each in himself, Saint Simeon, in his grand
mortification of flesh, in the idea that he thereby pleased his Divine
Benefactor, might represent a larger sum of moral value per se than
Bonaparte or Voltaire."

PISISTRATUS. - "Perfectly clear, sir; but I don't see what it has to do
with 'My Novel.'"

MR. CAXTON. - "Everything. Your novel, if it is to be a full and
comprehensive survey of the 'Quicquid agunt homines' (which it ought to
be, considering the length and breadth to which I foresee, from the slow
development of your story, you meditate extending and expanding it), will
embrace the two views of existence, - the integral and the fractional. You
have shown us the former in Leonard, when he is sitting in his mother's
cottage, or resting from his work by the little fount in Riccabocca's
garden. And in harmony with that view of his life, you have surrounded
him with comparative integrals, only subdivided by the tender hands of
their immediate families and neighbours, - your squires and parsons, your
Italian exile and his Jemima. With all these, life is, more or less, the
life natural, and this is always, more or less, the life integral. Then
comes the life artificial, which is always, more or less, the life
fractional. In the life natural, wherein we are swayed but by our own
native impulses and desires, subservient only to the great silent law of
Virtue (which has pervaded the universe since it swung out of chaos), a
man is of worth from what he is in himself, - Newton was as worthy before
the apple fell from the tree as when all Europe applauded the discoverer
of the Principle of Gravity. But in the life artificial we are only of
worth inasmuch as we affect others; and, relative to that life, Newton
rose in value more than a million per cent when down fell the apple from
which ultimately sprang up his discovery. In order to keep civilization
going and spread over the world the light of human intellect, we have
certain desires within us, ever swelling beyond the ease and independence
which belongs to us as integrals. Cold man as Newton might be (he once
took a lady's hand in his own, Kitty, and used her forefinger for his
tobacco-stopper, - great philosopher!), cold as he might be, he was yet
moved into giving his discoveries to the world, and that from motives
very little differing in their quality from the motives that make Dr.
Squills communicate articles to the 'Phrenological Journal' upon the
skulls of Bushmen and wombats. For it is the property of light to
travel. When a man has light in him, forth it must go. But the first
passage of genius from its integral state (in which it has been reposing
on its own wealth) into the fractional is usually through a hard and
vulgar pathway. It leaves behind it the reveries of solitude, - that
self-contemplating rest which may be called the Visionary, - and enters
suddenly into the state that may be called the Positive and Actual.
There it sees the operations of money on the outer life; sees all the
ruder and commoner springs of action; sees ambition without nobleness,
love without romance; is bustled about and ordered and trampled and
cowed, - in short, it passes an apprenticeship with some Richard Avenel,
and does not detect what good and what grandeur, what addition even to
the true poetry of the social universe, fractional existences like
Richard Avenel's bestow; for the pillars that support society are like
those of the Court of the Hebrew Tabernacle, - they are of brass, it is
true, but they are filleted with silver. From such intermediate state
Genius is expelled and driven on its way, and would have been so in this
case had Mrs. Fairfield (who is but the representative of the homely
natural affections, strongest ever in true genius, - for light is warm)
never crushed Mr. Avenel's moss rose on her sisterly bosom. Now, forth
from this passage and defile of transition into the larger world, must
Genius go on, working out its natural destiny amidst things and forms the
most artificial. Passions that move and influence the world are at work
around it. Often lost sight of itself, its very absence is a silent
contrast to the agencies present. Merged and vanished for a while amidst
the Practical World, yet we ourselves feel all the while that it is
there; is at work amidst the workings around it. This practical world
that effaces it rose out of some genius that has gone before; and so each
man of genius, though we never come across him, as his operations proceed
in places remote from our thoroughfares, is yet influencing the practical
world that ignores him, for ever and ever. That is GENIUS! We can't
describe it in books; we can only hint and suggest it by the accessories
which we artfully heap about it. The entrance of a true Probationer into
the terrible ordeal of Practical Life is like that into the miraculous
cavern, by which, legend informs us, Saint Patrick converted Ireland."

BLANCHE. - "What is that legend? I never heard of it."

MR. CAXTON. - "My dear, you will find it in a thin folio at the right on
entering my study, written by Thomas Messingham, and called 'Florilegium
Insulae Sanctorum,' etc. The account therein is confirmed by the
relation of an honest soldier, one Louis Ennius, who had actually entered
the cavern. In short, the truth of the legend is undeniable, unless you
mean to say, which I can't for a moment suppose, that Louis Ennius was a
liar. Thus it runs: Saint Patrick, finding that the Irish pagans were
incredulous as to his pathetic assurances of the pains and torments
destined to those who did not expiate their sins in this world, prayed
for a miracle to convince them. His prayer was heard; and a certain
cavern, so small that a man could not stand up therein at his ease, was
suddenly converted into a Purgatory, comprehending tortures sufficient to
convince the most incredulous. One unacquainted with human nature might
conjecture that few would be disposed to venture voluntarily into such a
place; on the contrary, pilgrims came in crowds. Now, all who entered
from vain curiosity or with souls unprepared perished miserably; but
those who entered with deep and earnest faith, conscious of their faults,
and if bold, yet humble, not only came out safe and sound, but purified,
as if from the waters of a second baptism. See Savage and Johnson at
night in Fleet Street, - and who shall doubt the truth of Saint Patrick's
Purgatory!" Therewith my father sighed; closed his Lucian, which had
lain open on the table, and would read none but "good books" for the
rest of the evening.




CHAPTER II.

On their escape from the prison to which Mr. Avenel had condemned them,
Leonard and his mother found their way to a small public-house that lay
at a little distance from the town, and on the outskirts of the high
road. With his arm round his mother's waist, Leonard supported her
steps, and soothed her excitement. In fact, the poor woman's nerves
were greatly shaken, and she felt an uneasy remorse at the injury her
intrusion had inflicted on the young man's worldly prospects. As the
shrewd reader has guessed already, that infamous tinker was the prime
agent of evil in this critical turn in the affairs of his quondam
customer; for, on his return to his haunts around Hazeldean and the
Casino, the tinker had hastened to apprise Mrs. Fairfield of his
interview with Leonard, and, on finding that she was not aware that the
boy was under the roof of his uncle, the pestilent vagabond (perhaps from
spite against Mr. Avenel, or perhaps from that pure love of mischief by
which metaphysical critics explain the character of Iago, and which
certainly formed a main element in the idiosyncrasy of Mr. Sprott) had so
impressed on the widow's mind the haughty demeanour of the uncle, and the
refined costume of the nephew, that Mrs. Fairfield had been seized with a
bitter and insupportable jealousy. There was an intention to rob her of
her boy! - he was to be made too fine for her. His silence was now
accounted for. This sort of jealousy, always more or less a feminine
quality, is often very strong amongst the poor; and it was the more
strong in Mrs. Fairfield, because, lone woman that she was, the boy was
all in all to her. And though she was reconciled to the loss of his
presence, nothing could reconcile her to the thought that his affections
should be weaned from her. Moreover, there were in her mind certain
impressions, of the justice of which the reader may better judge
hereafter, as to the gratitude - more than ordinarily filial - which
Leonard owed to her. In short, she did not like, as she phrased it, "to
be shaken off;" and after a sleepless night she resolved to judge for
herself, much moved thereto by the malicious suggestions to that effect
made by Mr. Sprott, who mightily enjoyed the idea of mortifying the
gentlemen by whom he had been so disrespectfully threatened with the
treadmill. The widow felt angry with Parson Dale and with the
Riccaboccas: she thought they were in the plot against her; she
communicated. therefore, her intentions to none, and off she set,
performing the journey partly on the top of the coach, partly on foot.
No wonder that she was dusty, poor woman!

"And, oh, boy!" said she, half sobbing, "when I got through the lodge-
gates, came on the lawn, and saw all that power o' fine folk, I said to
myself, says I - for I felt fritted - I'll just have a look at him and go
back. But ah, Lenny, when I saw thee, looking so handsome, and when thee
turned and cried 'Mother,' my heart was just ready to leap out o' my
mouth, and so I could not help hugging thee, if I had died for it. And
thou wert so kind, that I forgot all Mr. Sprott had said about Dick's
pride, or thought he had just told a fib about that, as he had wanted me
to believe a fib about thee. Then Dick came up - and I had not seen him
for so many years - and we come o' the same father and mother; and so - and
so - " The widow's sobs here fairly choked her. "Ah," she said, after
giving vent to her passion, and throwing her arms round Leonard's neck,
as they sat in the little sanded parlour of the public-house, - "ah, and
I've brought thee to this. Go back; go back, boy, and never mind me."

With some difficulty Leonard pacified poor Mrs. Fairfield, and got her to
retire to bed; for she was, indeed, thoroughly exhausted. He then
stepped forth into the road; musingly. All the stars were out; and
Youth, in its troubles, instinctively looks up to the stars. Folding his
arms, Leonard gazed on the heavens, and his lips murmured.

From this trance, for so it might be called, he was awakened by a voice
in a decidedly London accent; and, turning hastily round, saw Mr.
Avenel's very gentlemanlike butler.

Leonard's first idea was that his uncle had repented, and sent in search
of him. But the butler seemed as much surprised at the rencontre as
himself: that personage, indeed, the fatigues of the day being over, was
accompanying one of Mr. Gunter's waiters to the public-house (at which
the latter had secured his lodging), having discovered an old friend in
the waiter, and proposing to regale himself with a cheerful glass, and-
THAT of course - abuse of his present sitivation.

"Mr. Fairfield!" exclaimed the butler, while the waiter walked discreetly
on.

Leonard looked, and said nothing. The butler began to think that some
apology was due for leaving his plate and his pantry, and that he might
as well secure Leonard's propitiatory influence with his master.

"Please, sir," said he, touching his hat, "I was just a showing Mr. Giles
the way to the Blue Bells, where he puts up for the night. I hope my
master will not be offended. If you are a going back, sir, would you
kindly mention it?"

"I am not going back, Jarvis," answered Leonard, after a pause; "I am
leaving Mr. Avenel's house, to accompany my mother, - rather suddenly. I
should be very much obliged to you if you would bring some things of mine
to me at the Blue Bells. I will give you the list, if you will step with
me to the inn."

Without waiting for a reply, Leonard then turned towards the inn, and
made his humble inventory: item, the clothes he had brought with him from
the Casino; item, the knapsack that had contained them; item, a few
books, ditto; item, Dr. Riccabocca's watch; item, sundry manuscripts, on
which the young student now built all his hopes of fame and fortune.
This list he put into Mr. Jarvis's hand.

"Sir," said the butler, twirling the paper between his finger and thumb,
"you're not a going for long, I hope?" and he looked on the face of the
young man, who had always been "civil spoken to him," with as much
curiosity and as much compassion as so apathetic and princely a personage
could experience in matters affecting a family less aristocratic than he
had hitherto condescended to serve.

"Yes," said Leonard, simply and briefly; "and your master will no doubt
excuse you for rendering me this service." Mr. Jarvis postponed for the
present his glass and chat with the waiter, and went back at once to Mr.
Avenel. That gentleman, still seated in his library, had not been aware
of the butler's absence; and when Mr. Jarvis entered and told him that he
had met Mr. Fairfield, and communicating the commission with which he was
intrusted, asked leave to execute it, Mr. Avenel felt the man's
inquisitive eye was on him, and conceived new wrath against Leonard for a
new humiliation to his pride. It was awkward to give no explanation of
his nephew's departure, still more awkward to explain. After a short
pause, Mr. Avenel said sullenly, "My nephew is going away on business for
some time, - do what he tells you;" and then turned his back, and lighted
his cigar.

"That beast of a boy," said he, soliloquizing, "either means this as an
affront, or an overture: if an affront, he is, indeed, well got rid of;
if an overture, he will soon make a more respectful and proper one.
After all, I can't have too little of relations till I have fairly
secured Mrs. M'Catchley. An Honourable! I wonder if that makes me an
Honourable too? This cursed Debrett contains no practical information on
those points."

The next morning the clothes and the watch with which Mr. Avenel
presented Leonard were returned, with a note meant to express gratitude,
but certainly written with very little knowledge of the world; and so
full of that somewhat over-resentful pride which had in earlier life made
Leonard fly from Hazeldean, and refuse all apology to Randal, that it is
not to be wondered at that Mr. Avenel's last remorseful feelings
evaporated in ire. "I hope he will starve!" said the uncle,
vindictively.




CHAPTER III.

"Listen to me, my dear mother," said Leonard the next morning, as, with
knapsack on his shoulder and Mrs. Fairfield on his arm, he walked along
the high road; "I do assure you from my heart that I do not regret the
loss of favours which I see plainly would have crushed out of me the very
sense of independence. But do not fear for me; I have education and
energy, - I shall do well for myself, trust me. - No, I cannot, it is true,
go back to our cottage; I cannot be a gardener again. Don't ask me, - I
should be discontented, miserable. But I will go up to London! That's
the place to make a fortune and a name: I will make both. Oh, yes, trust
me, I will. You shall soon be proud of your Leonard; and then we will
always live together, - always! Don't cry," "But what can you do in
Lunnon, - such a big place, Lenny?"

"What! Every year does not some lad leave our village, and go and seek
his fortune, taking with him but health and strong hands? I have these,
and I have more: I have brains and thoughts and hopes, that - again I say,
No, no; never fear for me!"

The boy threw back his head proudly; there was something sublime in his
young trust in the future.

"Well. But you will write to Mr. Dale or to me? I will get Mr. Dale or
the good mounseer (now I know they were not agin me) to read your
letters."

"I will, indeed!"

"And, boy, you have nothing in your pockets. We have paid Dick; these,
at least, are my own, after paying the coach fare." And she would thrust
a sovereign and some shillings into Leonard's waistcoat pocket.

After some resistance, he was forced to consent.

"And there's a sixpence with a hole in it. Don't part with that, Lenny;
it will bring thee good luck."

Thus talking, they gained the inn where the three roads met, and from
which a coach went direct to the Casino. And here, without entering the
inn, they sat on the greensward by the hedgerow, waiting the arrival of
the coach - Mrs. Fairfield was much subdued in spirits, and there was
evidently on her mind something uneasy, - some struggle with her
conscience. She not only upbraided herself for her rash visit, but she
kept talking of her dead Mark. And what would he say of her, if he could
see her in heaven?

"It was so selfish in me, Lenny."

"Pooh, pooh! Has not a mother a right to her child?"

"Ay, ay, ay!" cried Mrs. Fairfield. "I do love you as a child, - my own
child. But if I was not your mother, after all, Lenny, and cost you all
this - oh, what would you say of me then?"

"Not my own mother!" said Leonard, laughing as he kissed her. "Well, I
don't know what I should say then differently from what I say now, - that
you, who brought me up and nursed and cherished me, had a right to my
home and my heart, wherever I was."

"Bless thee!" cried Mrs. Fairfield, as she pressed him to her heart.
"But it weighs here, - it weighs," she said, starting up.

At that instant the coach appeared, and Leonard ran forward to inquire if
there was an outside place. Then there was a short bustle while the
horses were being changed; and Mrs. Fairfield was lifted up to the roof
of the vehicle, so all further private conversation between her and
Leonard ceased. But as the coach whirled away, and she waved her hand to
the boy, who stood on the road-side gazing after her, she still murmured,
"It weighs here, - it weighs!"




CHAPTER IV.

Leonard walked sturdily on in the high road to the Great City. The day
was calm and sunlit, but with a gentle breeze from gray hills at the
distance; and with each mile that he passed, his step seemed to grow more
firm, and his front more elate. Oh, it is such joy in youth to be alone
with one's daydreams! And youth feels so glorious a vigour in the sense
of its own strength, though the world be before and - against it! Removed
from that chilling counting-house, from the imperious will of a patron
and master, all friendless, but all independent, the young adventurer
felt a new being, felt his grand nature as Man. And on the Man rushed
the genius long interdicted and thrust aside, - rushing back, with the
first breath of adversity, to console - no! the Man needed not
consolation, - to kindle, to animate, to rejoice! If there is a being in
the world worthy of our envy, after we have grown wise philosophers of
the fireside, it is not the palled voluptuary, nor the careworn
statesman, nor even the great prince of arts and letters, already crowned
with the laurel, whose leaves are as fit for poison as for garlands; it
is the young child of adventure and hope. Ay, and the emptier his purse,
ten to one but the richer his heart, and the wider the domains which his
fancy enjoys as he goes on with kingly step to the Future.

Not till towards the evening did our adventurer slacken his pace and
think of rest and refreshment. There, then, lay before him on either
side the road those wide patches of uninclosed land which in England
often denote the entrance to a village. Presently one or two neat
cottages came in sight; then a small farmhouse, with its yard and barns.
And some way farther yet, he saw the sign swinging before an inn of some
pretensions, - the sort of inn often found on a long stage between two
great towns commonly called "The Halfway House." But the inn stood back
from the road, having its own separate sward in front, whereon was a
great beech-tree (from which the sign extended) and a rustic arbour; so
that to gain the inn, the coaches that stopped there took a sweep from
the main thoroughfare. Between our pedestrian and the inn there stood,
naked and alone, on the common land, a church; our ancestors never would
have chosen that site for it; therefore it was a modern church, - modern
Gothic; handsome to an eye not versed in the attributes of ecclesiastical
architecture, very barbarous to an eye that was. Somehow or other the
church looked cold and raw and uninviting. It looked a church for show,
- much too big for the scattered hamlet, and void of all the venerable
associations which give their peculiar and unspeakable atmosphere of
piety to the churches in which succeeding generations have knelt and
worshipped. Leonard paused and surveyed the edifice with an unlearned
but poetical gaze; it dissatisfied him. And he was yet pondering why,
when a young girl passed slowly before him, her eyes fixed on the ground,
opened the little gate that led into the churchyard, and vanished. He
did not see the child's face; but there was something in her movements so
utterly listless, forlorn, and sad that his heart was touched. What did
she there? He approached the low wall with a noiseless step, and looked
over it wistfully.

There by a grave, evidently quite recent, with no wooden tomb nor
tombstone like the rest, the little girl had thrown herself, and she was
sobbing loud and passionately. Leonard opened the gate, and approached
her with a soft step. Mingled with her sobs, he heard broken sentences,
wild and vain, as all human sorrowings over graves must be.

"Father! oh, Father, do you not really hear me? I am so lone, so lone!


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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonMy Novel — Volume 06 → online text (page 1 of 8)