Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

The Caxtons — Volume 16 online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonThe Caxtons — Volume 16 → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

This eBook was produced by Pat Castevens
and David Widger



"Please, sir, be this note for you?" asked the waiter.

"For me, - yes; it is my name."

I did not recognize the handwriting, and yet the note was from one whose
writing I had often seen. But formerly the writing was cramped, stiff,
perpendicular (a feigned hand, though I guessed not it was feigned); now
it was hasty, irregular, impatient, scarce a letter formed, scarce a
word that seemed finished, and yet strangely legible withal, as the hand
writing of a bold man almost always is. I opened the note listlessly,
and read, -

"I have watched for you all the morning. I saw her go. Well! I did not
throw myself under the hoofs of the horses. I write this in a public-
house, not far. Will you follow the bearer, and see once again the
outcast whom all the rest of the world will shun?"

Though I did not recognize the hand, there could be no doubt who was the

"The boy wants to know if there's an answer," said the waiter.

I nodded, took up my hat, and left the room. A ragged boy was standing
in the yard, and scarcely six words passed between us before I was
following him through a narrow lane that faced the inn and terminated in
a turnstile. Here the boy paused, and making me a sign to go on, went
back his way whistling. I passed the turnstile, and found myself in a
green field, with a row of stunted willows hanging over a narrow rill.
I looked round, and saw Vivian (as I intend still to call him) half
kneeling, and seemingly intent upon some object in the grass.

My eye followed his mechanically. A young unfledged bird that had left
the nest too soon stood, all still and alone, on the bare short sward,
its beak open as for food, its gaze fixed on us with a wistful stare.
Methought there was something in the forlorn bird that softened me more
to the forlorner youth, of whom it seemed a type.

"Now," said Vivian, speaking half to himself, half to me, "did the bird
fall from the nest, or leave the nest at its own wild whim? The parent
does not protect it. Mind, I say not it is the parent's fault, - perhaps
the fault is all with the wanderer. But, look you, though the parent is
not here, the foe is, - yonder, see!"

And the young man pointed to a large brindled cat that, kept back from
its prey by our unwelcome neighborhood, still remained watchful, a few
paces off, stirring its tail gently backwards and forwards, and with
that stealthy look in its round eyes, dulled by the sun, - half fierce,
half frightened, - which belongs to its tribe when man comes between the
devourer and the victim.

"I do see," said I; "but a passing footstep has saved the bird!"

"Stop!" said Vivian, laying my hand on his own, and with his old bitter
smile on his lip, - "stop! Do you think it mercy to save the bird? What
from; and what for? From a natural enemy, - from a short pang and a
quick death? Fie! is not that better than slow starvation, - or, if you
take more heed of it, than the prison-bars of a cage? You cannot
restore the nest, you cannot recall the parent. Be wiser in your
mercy, - leave the bird to its gentlest fate."

I looked hard on Vivian: the lip had lost the bitter smile. He rose and
turned away. I sought to take up the poor bird; but it did not know its
friends, and ran from me, chirping piteously, - ran towards the very jaws
of the grim enemy. I was only just in time to scare away the beast,
which sprang up a tree and glared down through the hanging boughs. Then
I followed the bird, and as I followed, I heard, not knowing at
first whence the sound came, a short, quick, tremulous note. Was it
near, was it far? From the earth, in the sky? Poor parent bird, like
parent-love, it seemed now far and now near; now on earth, now in sky!

And at last, quick and sudden, as if born of the space, lo, the little
wings hovered over me!

The young bird halted, and I also.

"Come," said I, "ye have found each other at last, - settle it between

I went back to the outcast.


Pisistratus. - "How came you to know we had stayed in the town?"

Vivian. - "Do you think I could remain where you left me? I wandered
out, wandered hither. Passing at dawn through yon streets, I saw the
hostlers loitering by the gates of the yard, overheard them talk, and so
knew you were all at the inn, - all!" He sighed heavily.

Pisistratus. - "Your poor father is very ill. Oh, cousin, how could you
fling from you so much love?"

Vivian. - "Love! his! my father's!"

Pisistratus. - "Do you really not believe, then, that your father loved

Vivian. - "If I had believed it, I had never left him. All the gold of
the Indies had never bribed me to leave my mother."

Pisistratus. - "This is indeed a strange misconception of yours. If we
can remove it, all may be well yet. Need there now be any secrets
between us? [persuasively]. Sit down, and tell me all, cousin."

After some hesitation, Vivian complied; and by the clearing of his brow
and the very tone of his voice I felt sure that he was no longer seeking
to disguise the truth. But as I afterwards learned the father's tale as
well as now the son's, so, instead of repeating Vivian's words, which -
not by design, but by the twist of a mind habitually wrong - distorted
the facts, I will state what appears to me the real case, as between the
parties so unhappily opposed. Reader, pardon me if the recital be
tedious; and if thou thinkest that I bear not hard enough on the erring
hero of the story, remember that he who recites, judges as Austin's son
must judge of Roland's.



At The Entrance of Life Sits - The Mother.

It was during the war in Spain that a severe wound, and the fever which
ensued, detained Roland at the house of a Spanish widow. His hostess
had once been rich; but her fortune had been ruined in the general
calamities of the country. She had an only daughter, who assisted to
nurse and tend the wounded Englishman; and when the time approached for
Roland's departure, the frank grief of the young Ramouna betrayed the
impression that the guest had made upon her affections. Much of
gratitude, and something, it might be, of an exquisite sense of honor,
aided, in Roland's breast, the charm naturally produced by the beauty of
his young nurse, and the knightly compassion he felt for her ruined
fortunes and desolate condition.

In one of those hasty impulses common to a generous nature - and which
too often fatally vindicate the rank of Prudence amidst the tutelary
Powers of Life - Roland committed the error of marriage with a girl of
whose connections he knew nothing, and of whose nature little more than
its warm, spontaneous susceptibility. In a few days subsequent to these
rash nuptials, Roland rejoined the march of the army; nor was he able to
return to Spain till after the crowning victory of Waterloo.

Maimed by the loss of a limb, and with the scars of many a noble wound
still fresh, Roland then hastened to a home, the dreams of which had
soothed the bed of pain, and now replaced the earlier visions of renown.
During his absence a son had been born to him, - a son whom he might rear
to take the place he had left in his country's service; to renew, in
some future fields, a career that had failed the romance of his own
antique and chivalrous ambition. As soon as that news had reached him
his care had been to provide an English nurse for the infant, so that
with the first sounds of the mother's endearments, the child might yet
hear a voice from the father's land. A female relation of Bolt had
settled in Spain, and was induced to undertake this duty. Natural as
this appointment was to a man so devotedly English, it displeased his
wild and passionate Ramouna. She had that mother's jealousy, strongest
in minds uneducated; she had also that peculiar pride which belongs to
her country-people of every rank and condition: the jealousy and the
pride were both wounded by the sight of the English nurse at the child's

That Roland on regaining his Spanish hearth should be disappointed in
his expectations of the happiness awaiting him there, was the inevitable
condition of such a marriage, since, not the less for his military
bluntness, Roland had that refinement of feeling, perhaps over-
fastidious, which belongs to all natures essentially poetic; and as the
first illusions of love died away, there could have been little indeed
congenial to his stately temper in one divided from him by an utter
absence of education and by the strong, but nameless, distinctions of
national views and manners. The disappointment probably, however, went
deeper than that which usually attends an ill-assorted union; for
instead of bringing his wife to his old Tower (an expatriation which she
would doubtless have resisted to the utmost), he accepted, maimed as he
was, not very long after his return to Spain, the offer of a military
post under Ferdinand. The Cavalier doctrines and intense loyalty of
Roland attached him, without reflection, to the service of a throne
which the English arms had contributed to establish; while the extreme
unpopularity of the Constitutional Party in Spain, and the stigma of
irreligion fixed to it by the priests, aided to foster Roland's belief
that he was supporting a beloved king against the professors of those
revolutionary and Jacobinical doctrines which to him were the very
atheism of politics. The experience of a few years in the service of a
bigot so contemptible as Ferdinand, whose highest object of patriotism
was the restoration of the Inquisition, added another disappointment to
those which had already embittered the life of a man who had seen in the
grand hero of Cervantes no follies to satirize, but high virtues to
imitate. Poor Quixote himself, - he came mournfully back to his La
Mancha with no other reward for his knight-errantry than a decoration,
which he disdained to place beside his simple Waterloo medal, and a
grade for which he would have blushed to resign his more modest, but
more honorable, English dignity.

But still weaving hopes, the sanguine man returned to his Penates. His
child now had grown from infancy into boyhood, - the child would pass
naturally into his care. Delightful occupation! At the thought, home
smiled again.

Now behold the most pernicious circumstance in this ill-omened

The father of Ramouna had been one of that strange and mysterious race
which presents in Spain so many features distinct from the
characteristics of its kindred tribes in more civilized lands. The
Gitano, or gypsy of Spain, is not the mere vagrant we see on our commons
and road-sides. Retaining, indeed, much of his lawless principles and
predatory inclinations, he lives often in towns, exercises various
callings, and not unfrequently becomes rich. A wealthy Gitano had
married a Spanish woman; (1) Roland's wife had been the offspring of
this marriage. The Gitano had died while Ramouna was yet extremely
young, and her childhood had been free from the influences of her
paternal kindred. But though her mother, retaining her own religion,
had brought up Ramouna in the same faith, pure from the godless creed of
the Gitano, and at her husband's death had separated herself wholly from
his tribe, still she had lost caste with her own kin and people. And
while struggling to regain it, the fortune, which made her sole chance
of success in that attempt, was swept away, so that she had remained
apart and solitary, and could bring no friends to cheer the solitude of
Ramouna during Roland's absence. But while my uncle was still in the
service of Ferdinand, the widow died; and then the only relatives who
came round Ramouna were her father's kindred. They had not ventured to
claim affinity while her mother lived, and they did so now by attentions
and caresses to her son. This opened to them at once Ramouna's heart
and doors. Meanwhile the English nurse - who, in spite of all that could
render her abode odious to her, had, from strong love to her charge,
stoutly maintained her post - died, a few weeks after Ramouna's mother;
and no healthful influence remained to counteract those baneful ones to
which the heir of the honest old Caxtons was subject. But Roland
returned home in a humor to be pleased with all things. Joyously he
clasped his wife to his breast, and thought, with self-reproach, that he
had forborne too little and exacted too much, - he would be wiser now.
Delightedly he acknowledged the beauty, the intelligence, and manly
bearing of the boy, who played with his sword-knot and ran off with his
pistols as a prize.

The news of the Englishman's arrival at first kept the lawless kinsfolk
from the house; but they were fond of the boy, and the boy of them, and
interviews between him and these wild comrades, if stolen, were not less
frequent. Gradually Roland's eyes became opened. As in habitual
intercourse the boy abandoned the reserve which awe and cunning at first
imposed, Roland was inexpressibly shocked at the bold principles his son
affected, and at his utter incapacity even to comprehend that plain
honesty and that frank honor which to the English soldier, seemed ideas
innate and heaven-planted. Soon afterwards, Roland found that a system
of plunder was carried on in his household, and tracked it to the
connivance of the wife and the agency of his son for the benefit of lazy
bravos and dissolute vagrants. A more patient man than Roland might
well have been exasperated, a more wary man confounded, by this
discovery. He took the natural step, - perhaps insisting on it too
summarily; perhaps not allowing enough for the uncultured mind and
lively passions of his wife, - he ordered her instantly to prepare to
accompany him from the place, and to abandon all communication with her

A vehement refusal ensued; but Roland was not a man to give up such a
point, and at length a false submission and a feigned repentance soothed
his resentment and obtained his pardon. They moved several miles from
the place; but where they moved, there some at least, and those the
worst, of the baleful brood stealthily followed. Whatever Ramouna's
earlier love for Roland had been, it had evidently long ceased, in the
thorough want of sympathy between them, and in that absence which, if it
renews a strong affection, destroys an affection already weakened. But
the mother and son adored each other with all the strength of their
strong, wild natures. Even under ordinary circumstances the father's
influence over a boy yet in childhood is exerted in vain if the mother
lend herself to baffle it. And in this miserable position, what chance
had the blunt, stern, honest Poland (separated from his son during the
most ductile years of infancy) against the ascendancy of a mother who
humored all the faults and gratified all the wishes of her darling?

In his despair, Roland let fall the threat that if thus thwarted, it
would become his duty to withdraw his son from the mother. This threat
instantly hardened both hearts against him. The wife represented Roland
to the boy as a tyrant, as an enemy, as one who had destroyed all the
happiness they had before enjoyed in each other, as one whose severity
showed that he hated his own child; and the boy believed her. In his
own house a firm union was formed against Roland, and protected by the
cunning which is the force of the weak against the strong.

In spite of all, Roland could never forget the tenderness with which the
young nurse had watched over the wounded man, nor the love - genuine for
the hour, though not drawn from the feelings which withstand the wear
and tear of life - that lips so beautiful had pledged him in the bygone
days. These thoughts must have come perpetually between his feelings
and his judgment, to embitter still more his position, to harass still
more his heart. And if, by the strength of that sense of duty which
made the force of his character, he could have strung himself to the
fulfilment of the threat, humanity, at all events, compelled him to
delay it, - his wife promised to be again a mother. Blanche was born.
How could he take the infant from the mother's breast, or abandon the
daughter to the fatal influences from which only, by so violent an
effort, he could free the son?

No wonder, poor Roland, that those deep furrows contracted thy bold
front, and thy hair grew gray before its time!

Fortunately, perhaps, for all parties, Roland's wife died while Blanche
was still an infant. She was taken ill of a fever; she died delirious,
clasping her boy to her breast, and praying the saints to protect him
from his cruel father. How often that death-bed haunted the son, and
justified his belief that there was no parent's love in the heart which
was now his sole shelter from the world and the "pelting of its pitiless
rain!" Again I say "poor Roland;" for I know that in that harsh,
unloving disrupture of such solemn ties thy large, generous heart forgot
its wrongs, - again didst thou see tender eyes bending over the wounded
stranger, again hear low murmurs breathe the warm weakness which the
women of the South deem it no shame to own. And now did it all end in
those ravings of hate, and in that glazing gaze of terror?

(1) A Spaniard very rarely indeed marries a Gitana, or female gypsy.
But occasionally (observes Mr. Borrow) a wealthy Gitano marries a
Spanish female.


The Preceptor.

Roland removed to France, and fixed his abode in the environs of Paris.
He placed Blanche at a convent in the immediate neighborhood, going to
see her daily, and gave himself up to the education of his son. The boy
was apt to learn; but to unlearn was here the arduous task, - and for
that task it would have needed either the passionless experience, the
exquisite forbearance, of a practised teacher, or the love and
confidence and yielding heart of a believing pupil. Roland felt that he
was not the man to be the teacher, and that his son's heart remained
obstinately closed to him. He looked round, and found at the other side
of Paris what seemed a suitable preceptor, - a young Frenchman of some
distinction in letters, more especially in science, with all a
Frenchman's eloquence of talk, full of high-sounding sentiments that
pleased the romantic enthusiasm of the Captain; so Roland, with sanguine
hopes, confided his son to this man's care. The boy's natural quickness
mastered readily all that pleased his taste; he learned to speak and
write French with rare felicity and precision. His tenacious memory,
and those flexile organs in which the talent for languages is placed,
served, with the help of an English master, to revive his earlier
knowledge of his father's tongue and to enable him to speak it with
fluent correctness, - though there was always in his accent something
which had struck me as strange; but not suspecting it to be foreign, I
had thought it a theatrical affectation. He did not go far into
science, - little further, perhaps, than a smattering of French
mathematics; but he acquired a remarkable facility and promptitude in
calculation. He devoured eagerly the light reading thrown in his way,
and picked up thence that kind of knowledge which novels and plays
afford, for good or evil, according as the novel or the play elevates
the understanding and ennobles the passions, or merely corrupts the
fancy and lowers the standard of human nature. But of all that Roland
desired him to be taught, the son remained as ignorant as before. Among
the other misfortunes of this ominous marriage, Roland's wife had
possessed all the superstitions of a Roman Catholic Spaniard; and with
these the boy had unconsciously intermingled doctrines far more dreary,
imbibed from the dark paganism of the Gitanos.

Roland had sought a Protestant for his son's tutor. The preceptor was
nominally a Protestant, - a biting derider of all superstitions, indeed!
He was such a Protestant as some defender of Voltaire's religion says
the Great Wit would have been had he lived in a Protestant country. The
Frenchman laughed the boy out of his superstitions, to leave behind them
the sneering scepticism of the Encyclopedie, without those redeeming
ethics on which all sects of philosophy are agreed, but which,
unhappily, it requires a philosopher to comprehend.

This preceptor was doubtless not aware of the mischief he was doing; and
for the rest, he taught his pupil after his own system, - a mild and
plausible one, very much like the system we at home are recommended to
adopt: "Teach the understanding, - all else will follow;" "Learn to read
something, and it will all come right;" "Follow the bias of the pupil's
mind, - thus you develop genius, not thwart it." Mind, understanding,
genius, - fine things! But to educate the whole man you must educate
something more than these. Not for want of mind, understanding, genius,
have Borgias and Neros left their names as monuments of horror to
mankind. Where, in all this teaching, was one lesson to warm the heart
and guide the soul?

Oh, mother mine, that the boy had stood by thy knee and heard from thy
lips why life was given us, in what life shall end, and how heaven
stands open to us night and day! Oh, father mine, that thou hadst been
his preceptor, not in book-learning, but the heart's simple wisdom! Oh
that he had learned from thee, in parables closed with practice, the
happiness of self-sacrifice, and how "good deeds should repair the bad"!

It was the misfortune of this boy, with his daring and his beauty, that
there was in his exterior and his manner that which attracted indulgent
interest and a sort of compassionate admiration. The Frenchman liked
him, believed his story, thought him ill-treated by that hard-visaged
English soldier. All English people were so disagreeable, particularly
English soldiers; and the Captain once mortally offended the Frenchman
by calling Vilainton un grand homme, and denying, with brutal
indignation, that the English had poisoned Napoleon! So, instead of
teaching the son to love and revere his father, the Frenchman shrugged
his shoulders when the boy broke into some unfilial complaint, and at
most said, "Mais, cher enfant, ton pere est Anglais, - c'est tout dire."
Meanwhile, as the child sprang rapidly into precocious youth, he was
permitted a liberty in his hours of leisure of which he availed himself
with all the zest of his earlier habits and adventurous temper. He
formed acquaintances among the loose young haunters of cafes and
spendthrifts of that capital, - the wits! He became an excellent
swordsman and pistol-shot, adroit in all games in which skill helps
fortune. He learned betimes to furnish himself with money, by the cards
and the billiard-balls.

But delighted with the easy home he had obtained, he took care to school
his features and smooth his manner in his father's visits, to make the
most of what he had learned of less ignoble knowledge, and, with his
characteristic imitativeness, to cite the finest sentiments he had found
in his plays; and novels. What father is not credulous? Roland
believed, and wept tears of joy. And now he thought the time was come
to take back the boy, - to return with a worthy heir to the old Tower.
He thanked and blessed the tutor; he took the son. But under pretence
that he had yet some things to master, whether in book knowledge or
manly accomplishments, the youth begged his father at all events not yet
to return to England, - to let him attend his tutor daily for some
months. Roland consented, moved from his old quarters, and took a
lodging for both in the same suburb as that in which the teacher
resided. But soon, when they were under one roof, the boy's habitual
tastes, and his repugnance to all paternal authority, were betrayed. To
do my unhappy cousin justice (such as that justice is), though he had
the cunning for a short disguise, he had not the hypocrisy to maintain
systematic deceit. He could play a part for a while, from an exulting
joy in his own address; but he could not wear a mask with the patience
of cold-blooded dissimulation. Why enter into painful details, so
easily divined by the intelligent reader? The faults of the son were
precisely those to which Roland would be least indulgent. To the
ordinary scrapes of high-spirited boyhood no father, I am sure, would
have been more lenient; but to anything that seemed low, petty, - that
grated on him as a gentleman and soldier, - there, not for worlds would I
have braved the darkness of his frown, and the woe that spoke like scorn

1 3 4

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonThe Caxtons — Volume 16 → online text (page 1 of 4)