Herman Charles Merivale.

Faucit of Balliol. A story in two parts (Volume 2) online

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1 ^torn in gttao parts.













THE COUNT LESTRAXGE ... ... ... ... 3


THE PITY OF IT ... ... ... ...25




JOHN BRENT DEPARTS ... ... ... ... 52


CHECK TO THE COUNT ... ... ... ... (32




THE PARTHIAN DART ... ... ... ...78


DESCENSUS AVERN1 ... ... ... ... 91




THE SPIDER'S WEJ3 ... ... ... ... 123

&bc grama.


THE HERMIT OF THE OWl/s NEST ... ... ... 145


BEAUTY GOSLING ... ... ... ... 155


A STRANGE VISITOR ... ... ... ... 169

CO A' TEXTS. vii



IN GOOD SOCIETY ... ... ... ...185


THE COMPACT AXD THE 7I8I0N ... ... ... 201


DAISY BRENT ... ... ... ... ...219


THE PICNIC ... ... ... ... ... 235


FACE TO FACE... ... ... ... ... 253

travellers' TALES ... ... ... ... 267

(Cbe prologue.


' ; Mephistopheles thrown upon real life, and obliged to manage his own
plots, would inevitably make blunders." — Georye Eliot.




I was moralising, some chapters ago, probably little
to the satisfaction of my readers, upon the trials of the
post. There is another side to those trials on which
I often reflect, when I see a brief paragraph in the
papers stating that John Xoakes, letter-carrier, has been
arrested, and that so many hundred letters have been
found in his possession. So many losses perhaps, so
many sorrows, so many misunderstandings, not to be
repaired. The form of theft is an amusement which
certainly seems on the increase.

It was my lot not long ago to be living in a country-
town about half-an-hour from London, for a space of
some eighteen months. In that time I had seven

correspondences with the General Post-Office — which

B 2


has so little to do in its own line of work that it has
just taken the telephones under its fostering care, on
the ground that the Crown bought them before they
were invented — upon the subject of letters of mine which
never reached their destinations. I had many more
such losses, about which I was too fairly disheartened to
write. Once I received a peremptory summons from
Her Majesty's Collector of Taxes, about a form which
he said I had neglected to fill up and return. I had
done it weeks before, and was able to tell him the day.
His answer was that he was very sorry he had troubled
me, for six or seven others in the district had given him
the same explanation. I appealed to everybody at the
General Post-Office, from the temporary Chief to the
permanent clerk ; I represented that the staff at the
local office should be overhauled or changed; I con-
sulted the tradesmen in my town, who told me that the
state of their post-office was notorious, but as for the
General Office, " Lord, sir ; you might as well com-
plain to the king of the Zulus." Still I tried, and to
all my appeals I got but one answer — that " it should be
looked into." The answers were nearly always signed
by the same gentleman, whose name I grew to hate ;
afterwards, to my cynical delight, knighted for his


"eminent service to the State." How I chuckled when
I read of the appointment ! Once I wrote to him with
gentle satire, hoping that next time he would vary his
formula, and tell me that it had been looked into. He
answered me quite placidly by return of post, as before,
that it should be. It never was. Xo change whatever
was made at the local office ; and the imperturbable
official in charge always asked me at what exact minute
of the day and in what exact box I had posted the lost
letter, necessarily long before. At last I kept record
and was able to answer him. He said, ' Ah ' ; but proved
to me that I had not ascertained my facts with sufficient
exactness. I could not swear whether my last letter
went by the 4*10 post or the 4 - 20, three weeks before.
It was idle to expect redress if I was so careless as this.
I was quite beaten ; gave up complaining ; and if I had
letters especially important, at last used to take them
to town with me, to post at my club. And I reflected.
seeing a correspondence in the paper about a monument
to Sir Rowland Hill, that the monument he would best
have liked would be that his successors should do some
of the work the country pays them for. I wonder if he
used to write and say it should be looked into.

John Xoakes happened to be employed at the office


in Devonshire when Guy Faucit sent his last appeal to
Daisy Fairfield ; and whether it was that he was then
trying his prentice hand, and experimenting on the touch
of stamps, or was a hardened offender, who stole letters
out of pure " cussedness," as others upset railway-trains,
he was the link in the chain of events which form this
history, which prevented Daisy's hearing from Guy.
Such a part in life do commonplaces play. I cannot
tell what would have happened if she had received the
letter, or that it would have made any difference in the
catastrophe. But I do not want Daisy Fairfield to lie
under the suspicion of having kept silence upon such
an appeal. Wilmot's news, however, was unhappily too
true; and when Mrs. Faucit was dying in the Devon-
shire cottage, she became the affianced wife of Mr. John
Brent. Upon this part of Daisy's story I cannot bear to
dwell. " Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra" was so
entirely her motto, that I think at no cost should she
have been led into so perverted an idea of duty, as to
sacrifice herself to become the wife of a man she did
not love, with her heart full of the image of another. I
can never believe that anything ever really justifies
that, though the largest of allowances is often to be
made, and never larger than in Daisy's case. The nets


which circumstance wove for her were very closely
meshed indeed.

Guy Faucit had gone down to Devonshire ; Daisy
Fairfield had dined at Lady Pepperharrow's, and made
the acquaintance of Lady Luscombe, and was by her
being initiated into the social mysteries of a more
fashionable world than the old circle in which she at
first began her going-out life, crushing down the deep
pain in her heart, and wearing the customary mask
which the world demands of its votaries ; aimless and
objectless and sad, but winning general admiration
wherever she went. She would have stayed at home
and looked after her mother only too willingly, and
thrown all this aside. But she did not want her story
known ; still less did she wish that any talk should get
abroad of the condition of affairs at Fairfield's, which
her social success would jhelp to dissipate as much as

The sword of Damocles still hung suspended over
her father's head; and Mr. John Brent, patient and
catlike, bided his time.

Now, it happens that Mr. John Brent had a singular
auxiliary at hand when he began to lay his formal
siege and advance his parallels. Some years before he


had made the acquaintance, out in India, of a man who
had been introduced to him in connection with some
intricate city business at home, who seemed to come
from nowhere, and have no very definite occupation,
yet to occupy positions of influence and trust at all
sorts of times in all sorts of places, and to possess,
for the purpose of confidential missions, a special and
striking gift for swaying the wills and winning the
ears of men. When he made his first appearance in
Calcutta circles, young, though not in his first youth,
he impressed men at once with the idea of almost
universal knowledge, of a satirical power of observation,
which strengthened his position indefinitely by making
everybody half afraid of him, and a charm of conver-
sation which very few could resist.

The sinister but handsome face, the low musical
voice, of which no word was often lost, and the acute
intelligence which grasped all the sides of a situation
at once, made an exceptional and impressive personage
of the Count Lestrange. Why he was a Count, and
where the Countship came from ; whether he had in-
herited it from some ancient race, or gotten it for
himself from some grateful sovereign of a court large
or petty, in recognition of secret services to a starving


exchequer; whether Lisbon, or the Holy Roman Empire,
or the capital of the Cannibal Islands, all which places
seemed equally familiar to him, was originally respon-
sible for the decoration, was never exactly known.

Men muttered and questioned at first, and talked
about " adventurer " and " impostor," and used harder
words than that. But from the beginning they did not
care to use these expressions very loudly, or provoke a
certain cold and dangerous glitter which had a knack
of coming stealthily into the Count's eyes, and taking
by surprise the offenders who had not marked its
beginning. Moreover, there were things whispered
of his having "killed his man" more than once in
countries where it was not yet impolite to do so, and it
was said that, even where it was not polite, he had
been known to make it so.

So gossip and ill-report died away in the wake of a
man so desirous of pleasing where he was allowed, and
of making himself generally useful ; and the quarterings
of the Prince of Ark and Ararat were not more unques-
tioned by society in the course of time than those of
the Count Lestrange. He stood well with the Roths-
childs, had been trusted by the Torlonias, and had
recovered bad debts for Overend and Gurney's among


the most morally dilapidated of South American re-
publics; and when first he made acquaintance with
John Brent, in the interests of a firm which was work-
ing the Great Magnibonium Railway at an increasing
dividend to the subscribers of thirteen-and-a-half per
cent, but had not for the moment as much ready cash
in hand as could be wished, he had just been engaged
in examining some Parsee schools in the south of India
on a commission from the British Government. This
was the man who became, upon his homeward visit to
Calcutta, the adviser and intimate, and " fidus Achates,"
of Mr. John Brent.

I am no master of the involutions of finance, especi-
ally in the hands of such a keen diplomatist as the
Count Lestrange ; nor do I know how it was that he
first discovered in Brent the man to serve him in the
matter of the Magnibonium Railway.

So he did, however; and from his fortunate con-
nection with that concern, which announced a dividend
of fifteen per cent, shortly afterwards, and then collapsed
with a stupendous crash which half-ruined hundreds of
confiding shareholders, — who had not reflected that such
a rate of interest for themselves probably represented
proportionate injury to at least as many others unknown


— dated Mr. Brent's first great rise in the world. He
was quite as careful about it as lie was about every-
thing; and when the crash came, it hurt him no
halfpenny in purse or credit.

The confiding shareholders filled the newspapers
with lament and woe ; pitiful stories of half-pay officers
and maiden ladies, who had justly expected not less than
a safe fifteen per cent, for their little all, resulted in
tears and sympathy from many of the benevolent, and
subscriptions from some ; leading articles, pitched upon
the highest key of morality, held up the directors to the
reprobation of honest men, as indeed they deserved, the
only question being where the honest men were ; and
some of the directors were finally brought to trial and
acquitted, as having been on the whole confiding,
whereupon the leading articles recanted, and expressed
their sympathy.

Mr. Brent, meanwhile, had nothing to do with the
thing except to realize (if I make any mistake upon this
difficult ground, I must ask the reader to believe that
the incorrectness lies in the narrator, but not in the
events narrated) ; and Count Lestrange, who, without a
profession or a penny of capital, used to set down his
brains as worth so much a year, and made it about as


regularly as a government official receives his salary,
was paid too in his own modest way, and pocketed his
fee for his services. But he made out of the trans-
action, in the pulling of the secret strings, something
else which the dangerous adventurer valued more than
money. When John Brent came back to England, he,
on his part, who had netted the house of Fairfield, was
somehow in Lestrange's power.

It was this same Magnibonium Railway business into
which Fairfield and Co. had been drawn through the
activities of the junior partner ; and Mr. Fairfield had,
by a course of events of which he was really the victim
and the dupe, and not the promoter, fallen into the
danger of being one of the scapegoats of the concern,
and having one day to stand in the dock to answer for
the Magnibonium Railway. The junior partner, much
to his annoyance and surprise, for he had fancied him-
self warm and safe on the windy side, and had certainly
taken every possible precaution to make himself so, was
one of those who did eventually stand there, and escaped
as related, to begin business under new colours after-
wards, and to do very well for himself in the world

It was in the autumn of the year of which 1


have been writing that the Magnibonium catastrophe
came, and during the weary months which preceded it,
Mr. John Brent was pursuing his object calmly and
relentlessly. Daisy was being slowly and hopelessly
drawn into the toils, and her hapless father was break-
ing in health and constitution fast and surely, under the
pressure of his lingering suspense. He clutched at
straws, and clutched in vain, and made appeals to
Brent which might as well have been addressed to the

Come sul capo al naufrago
L'onda s' avvolve e tesa,
L'onda su cui del misero
Alta pur dianzi e tesa,
Scorrea la vista a scernere
Prode remote invan —

So his troubles crushed Septimus Fairfield as he
looked for a plank, and looked in vain. He might have
found help elsewhere if it would have availed him.
Lady Pepperharrow, if she had known of the situation,
would have made her Hugh sell Glycerine House to
help Daisy ; but the Magnibonium toils were too close
for that, and could be loosed by Brent only. And
Brent himself, in all the complications of this laby-
rinthine business, which utterly baffled the general


reader who tried to understand them from the news-
paper reports of the trial of the directors, was in some
way in the hands of Lestrange, who used him. So
consistently tortuous had been the proceedings of the
Magnibonians, that everybody was in somebody else's
power, like the personages in the famous dead-lock in
the * Critic' Everybody, — except Lestrange, who pulled
all the strings and worked all the machinery, and was
paid his fee for his services in some indefinite but truly
respectable way ; who was able to do many a friend a
good turn during the winding-up of the gigantic skein ;
materially advanced the fortunes of the house of
Luscombe, among others, by means of it, and gave some
evidence in court which much damaged some and
much distinguished others, — shedding quite a lustre, for
instance, on the character of John Brent, — being finally
complimented by the judge upon his disinterested labours
and his brilliant services to the shareholders in the
hour of their need. The few of those who could after-
wards afford it felt themselves bound to subscribe for a
handsome piece of plate, which was presented to the
Count after an elegant oration from Cicero Wrigley, Esq.,
in the names of those of the misguided shareholders
who owed him their preservation from entire shipwreck.


It has been already told how, at Lady Pepper-
harrow's festival, the Count Lestrange first saw Daisy
Fairfield in the very flush and radiance of her new-born
happiness. The Count was a connoisseur in beauty, and
had seen so much of it in all parts of the world, that he
was slow to move to anything like admiration, though
every pretty woman gave him pleasure. Of late, his
devotion had been quietly exclusive in one quarter.
Familiar with all phases of the world, he had some
seasons before first come to London from abroad, in
which vague region, though he was supposed to be
of an English family, he had been born and bred, or
said so. He came on a diplomatic mission from some
German court, well accredited and with good intro-
ductions, and made his way in society at once. He was
accepted on his own merits, as such men sometimes are,
without much inquiry into antecedents. The German
court had got him from another German court, on some
mission or another, which other German court had got
him from somewhere else. He was a kind of reputable
Autolycus, picking up the unconsidered trifles which
gradually make a career, and knew capitals and men
so well, that life seemed to have given him the best
education in her power. She taught him by the process


of passing him on, till he anchored, as much as he could
anchor, in the great port of London. He found his
sphere there at once ; for he suited London, and London
suited him. The fascination of the sunless city for
foreigners who come there with good introductions, and
do not fly from the first appalling aroma of soot into
the bluest wilderness they can find, has always been
very great. I believe it to be a fact, that if the attaches
of the world were polled, they would vote for London in
an overwhelming majority. They find the Circean
arms of society open for them all, a sort of republic
under a monarchy which is the harmonious result of
England's incongruous growth, the idlers at their idlest
and the workers at their best ; brilliant talkers still
surviving, and surviving with less of egotism than was
wont to be a talker's bane ; women with less of restric-
tion than ties their hands in some countries, and not
too much of freedom to wound the taste as in some
others ; and, stoutly as an Englishman I will maintain,
on the whole the prettiest in the world. Lestrange,
out of his wide experience, maintained it always, and
vindicated his position by pointing to the theatres.

" There is the test," he said. " I see so many
actresses, that in society proper I am no fair judge.


Sweet are the society beauties who grace the albums
and shop-windows ; and why on earth shouldn't they ?

11 ' Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired ;
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be admired,
And not blush so to be desired.'

■' The beauties are quite right, and should not ' to
parties give up what was meant for mankind.' For one
young acolyte who burns his incense to the original in
a London drawing-room, a thousand chawbacons may
smoke their pipes in Yorkshire under the sweet nose of
the copy, and never offend its delicacy. But for one of
society's sweethearts, I can show you a dozen pretty
actresses in a day whose trains she ought to carry.
Where is the theatre abroad where one can feel sure
of such a feast to the eye ? I don't care about brain-
sauce, which spoils it. I like to feel like a Turk in his
harem, when I disport myself in my stall at the Fantasy,
and pay my half-guinea for my whole seraglio. The
theatres of England prove the prettiness of her women,
and I care not who says me nay. ' Vive la Boherne ! ' "
It was when he had expressed these lawless sentiments

one day that Lestrange sate down at Lady Luscombe's
vol. 11. c


piano, and confirmed them in a ballad in which he had
embodied them :

Joyeux pays des gens joyeux,
Les beaux esprits de ce bas monde,
Pour te dormer a nos ai'eux,
V£nus sortit jadis de l'onde.
La belle reine de bonte
Protegera tout coeur qui aime,
Et vit toujours, dans sa beaute,
Pour les enfans de la Boheme.

Le musicien va fredonnant
Les doux airs de son repertoire ;
Le peintre vient en exploitant
Les belles couleurs pour sa victoire ;
Le poete reve le beau,
Chantant en d^pit de soi-meme :
Le luth, la plume, le pin9eau,
Ouvrent pour nous notre Boheme.

La route parsem^e de fleurs,
Voila bien d'autres qui s'avangent ;
En foule viennent ces chers pecheurs,
Les gens qui jouent, les gens qui dansent I
II est heureux, le Bohemien,
Car pour bien £gayer sa serre,
U sait trouver, sur son chemin,
Les belles filles de la terre.

Versons le bon vin p^tillant I
A l'avenir ne songeons guere :
Si le sort pour nous est m^chant,
A l'avenir buvons la biere !


Nous doimons gaiment d'une main,
Quand nous avons la bourse pleine,
Et de l'autre prenons demain,
Des bons amis qui ont la veine.

Que l'avocat ne frappe pas !
II trouvera la porte close ;
Et n'entre pas que dans le cas,
Ou il serait causeur, sans cause :
Le medecin n'en est pas vraiment,
Qu'il tue a part sa clientele !
II f aut, pour y aller gaiment,
Assez de cceur, et de cervelle !

Le devot maudit son voisin,
Tous les Dimanches a la messe,
Mais prechera pour nous en vain
Son evangile de tristesse :
Qu'il se fasse sa propre loi,
Faisons y guerre, et a outrance !
Notre devise, c'est la Foi 3
La Charite, et l'Esperance.

Tout las de travail, — ou de vin,

Bien doucement quand on sommeille,

La-haut, un petit cherubin

Sur nous expres sans cesse veille ;

Ainsi, quand au dernier moment

La Mort a notre porte sonne,

Saluons-la en souriant :

" Viens ! je n' ai fait mal a personne 1 "

Nous croyons a la verite,
La droite ligne de la vie,
De 1' amour et de l'amitie
La vraie franc-ma^onnerie :

G 2


Le sage ne croit a rien,
Excepte toujours a soi-meme ;
Mais le bon Dieu, qui fait tout bien,
Cherit ses enfans de Boheme.

The Count trolled the verses out, or some of them,
for eight stanzas of a song are more than propriety
admits of, in days when the poet is naught and the
composer everybody, and words are but as pegs to hang
tra-la-la's upon. Having been a writer of song-words,
among other things, I speak feelingly. It is not long
since I beheld, if I may for a moment borrow one of
the oddities of type affected by that manliest and most
human of living story-tellers, Charles Reade, a song
advertised in a music-seller's window thus, or thusly : —
in which last phrase I am borrowing again, with the
true effrontery of a scribbler, from Artemus Ward —



The Music by Bunkum Barre,



Once Bunkum Barre did me the honour to set some
words of mine, in which he failed, with the most fault-
less completeness, to catch a single idea out of those


with which my geniuskin of song had inspired me.
" Most extraordinary thing/' he said to me, conscious
of his success. " I find that our popular composer,
Herr Tutl Te (a mere impostor, my dear boy, I assure
you), has set these same words of yours, as I think, in
an inferior manner. But you will admit, my dear Tom,
that the rhythm is the same"

I looked at him feebly and humbly, and admitted
that it was. As the "rhythm" depended on the
words, I failed to see how it could be otherwise.
Seeing that the wretched word -writer finds three
things out of four, the ideas, words, and rhythm,
and leaves the fourth, the tootling, to the composer,
I never could see why he should be printed small and
the composer big, and the two paid on a like scale
of proportion. But such is the author's life, from
time immemorial. He is the one man presumed to
have no weekly bills. I have written songs, and the
composer has composed everybody to sleep with them,
and taken the cash and the big letters. I have written
a play, and the actors have " made " me ; and written
another to be made again by some more of them;
whereas where they have failed, which has not been

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