John Marchmont's Legacy. Volume 1 of 3
THE MAN WITH THE BANNER
The history of Edward Arundel, second son of Christopher Arundel Dangerfield Arundel, of Dangerfield Park, Devonshire, began on a certain dark winter's night upon which the lad, still a schoolboy, went with his cousin, Martin Mostyn, to witness a blank-verse tragedy at one of the London theatres.
There are few men who, looking back at the long story of their lives, cannot point to one page in the record of the past at which the actual history of life began. The page may come in the very middle of the book, perhaps; perhaps almost at the end. But let it come where it will, it is, after all, only the actual commencement. At an appointed hour in man's existence, the overture which has been going on ever since he was born is brought to a sudden close by the sharp vibration of the prompter's signal-bell; the curtain rises, and the drama of life begins. Very insignificant sometimes are the first scenes of the play, – common-place, trite, wearisome; but watch them closely, and interwoven with every word, dimly recognisable in every action, may be seen the awful hand of Destiny. The story has begun: already we, the spectators, can make vague guesses at the plot, and predicate the solemn climax; it is only the actors who are ignorant of the meaning of their several parts, and who are stupidly reckless of the obvious catastrophe.
The story of young Arundel's life began when he was a light-hearted, heedless lad of seventeen, newly escaped for a brief interval from the care of his pastors and masters.
The lad had come to London on a Christmas visit to his father's sister, a worldly-minded widow, with a great many sons and daughters, and an income only large enough to enable her to keep up the appearances of wealth essential to the family pride of one of the Arundels of Dangerfield.
Laura Arundel had married a Colonel Mostyn, of the East India Company's service, and had returned from India after a wandering life of some years, leaving her dead husband behind her, and bringing away with her five daughters and three sons, most of whom had been born under canvas.
Mrs. Mostyn bore her troubles bravely, and contrived to do more with her pension, and an additional income of four hundred a year from a small fortune of her own, than the most consummate womanly management can often achieve. Her house in Montague Square was elegantly furnished, her daughters were exquisitely dressed, her sons sensibly educated, her dinners well cooked. She was not an agreeable woman; she was perhaps, if any thing, too sensible, – so very sensible as to be obviously intolerant of anything like folly in others. She was a good mother; but by no means an indulgent one. She expected her sons to succeed in life, and her daughters to marry rich men; and would have had little patience with any disappointment in either of these reasonable expectations. She was attached to her brother Christopher Arundel, and she was very well pleased to spend the autumn months at Dangerfield, where the hunting-breakfasts gave her daughters an excellent platform for the exhibition of charming demi-toilettes and social and domestic graces, perhaps more dangerous to the susceptible hearts of rich young squires than the fascinations of a valse à deux temps or an Italian scena.
But the same Mrs. Mostyn, who never forgot to keep up her correspondence with the owner of Dangerfield Park, utterly ignored the existence of another brother, a certain Hubert Arundel, who had, perhaps, much more need of her sisterly friendship than the wealthy Devonshire squire. Heaven knows, the world seemed a lonely place to this younger son, who had been educated for the Church, and was fain to content himself with a scanty living in one of the dullest and dampest towns in fenny Lincolnshire. His sister might have very easily made life much more pleasant to the Rector of Swampington and his only daughter; but Hubert Arundel was a great deal too proud to remind her of this. If Mrs. Mostyn chose to forget him, – the brother and sister had been loving friends and dear companions long ago, under the beeches at Dangerfield, – she was welcome to do so. She was better off than he was; and it is to be remarked, that if A's income is three hundred a year, and B's a thousand, the chances are as seven to three that B will forget any old intimacy that may have existed between himself and A. Hubert Arundel had been wild at college, and had put his autograph across so many oblong slips of blue paper, acknowledging value received that had been only half received, that by the time the claims of all the holders of these portentous morsels of stamped paper had been satisfied, the younger son's fortune had melted away, leaving its sometime possessor the happy owner of a pair of pointers, a couple of guns by crack makers, a good many foils, single-sticks, boxing-gloves, wire masks, basket helmets, leathern leg-guards, and other paraphernalia, a complete set of the old Sporting Magazine, from 1792 to the current year, bound in scarlet morocco, several boxes of very bad cigars, a Scotch terrier, and a pipe of undrinkable port.
Of all these possessions, only the undrinkable port now remained to show that Hubert Arundel had once had a decent younger son's fortune, and had succeeded most admirably in making ducks and drakes of it. The poor about Swampington believed in the sweet red wine, which had been specially concocted for Israelitish dealers in jewelry, cigars, pictures, wines, and specie. The Rector's pensioners smacked their lips over the mysterious liquid and confidently affirmed that it did them more good than all the doctor's stuff the parish apothecary could send them. Poor Hubert Arundel was well content to find that at least this scanty crop of corn had grown up from the wild oats he had sown at Cambridge. The wine pleased the poor creatures who drank it, and was scarcely likely to do them any harm; and there was a reasonable prospect that the last bottle would by-and-by pass out of the rectory cellars, and with it the last token of that bitterly regretted past.
I have no doubt that Hubert Arundel felt the sting of his only sister's neglect, as only a poor and proud man can feel such an insult; but he never let any confession of this sentiment escape his lips; and when Mrs. Mostyn, being seized with a fancy for doing this forgotten brother a service, wrote him a letter of insolent advice, winding up with an offer to procure his only child a situation as nursery governess, the Rector of Swampington only crushed the missive in his strong hand, and flung it into his study-fire, with a muttered exclamation that sounded terribly like an oath.
"A nursery governess!" he repeated, savagely; "yes; an underpaid drudge, to teach children their A B C, and mend their frocks and make their pinafores. I should like Mrs. Mostyn to talk to my little Livy for half an hour. I think my girl would have put the lady down so completely by the end of that time, that we should never hear any more about nursery governesses."
He laughed bitterly as he repeated the obnoxious phrase; but his laugh changed to a sigh.
Was it strange that the father should sigh as he remembered how he had seen the awful hand of Death fall suddenly upon younger and stronger men than himself? What if he were to die, and leave his only child unmarried? What would become of her, with her dangerous gifts, with her fatal dowry of beauty and intellect and pride?
"But she would never do any thing wrong," the father thought. "Her religious principles are strong enough to keep her right under any circumstances, in spite of any temptation. Her sense of duty is more powerful than any other sentiment. She would never be false to that; she would never be false to that."
In return for the hospitality of Dangerfield Park, Mrs. Mostyn was in the habit of opening her doors to either Christopher Arundel or his sons, whenever any one of the three came to London. Of course she infinitely preferred seeing Arthur Arundel, the eldest son and heir, seated at her well-spread table, and flirting with one of his pretty cousins, than to be bored with his rackety younger brother, a noisy lad of seventeen, with no better prospects than a commission in her Majesty's service, and a hundred and fifty pounds a year to eke out his pay; but she was, notwithstanding, graciously pleased to invite Edward to spend his Christmas holidays in her comfortable household; and it was thus it came to pass that on the 29th of December, in the year 1838, the story of Edward Arundel's life began in a stage-box at Drury Lane Theatre.
The box had been sent to Mrs. Mostyn by the fashionable editor of a fashionable newspaper; but that lady and her daughters being previously engaged, had permitted the two boys to avail themselves of the editorial privilege.
The tragedy was the dull production of a distinguished literary amateur, and even the great actor who played the principal character could not make the performance particularly enlivening. He certainly failed in impressing Mr. Edward Arundel, who flung himself back in his chair and yawned dolefully during the earlier part of the entertainment.
"It ain't particularly jolly, is it, Martin?" he said naïvely, "Let's go out and have some oysters, and come in again just before the pantomime begins."
"Mamma made me promise that we wouldn't leave the theatre till we left for good, Ned," his cousin answered; "and then we're to go straight home in a cab."
Edward Arundel sighed.
"I wish we hadn't come till half-price, old fellow," he said drearily. "If I'd known it was to be a tragedy, I wouldn't have come away from the Square in such a hurry. I wonder why people write tragedies, when nobody likes them."
He turned his back to the stage, and folded his arms upon the velvet cushion of the box preparatory to indulging himself in a deliberate inspection of the audience. Perhaps no brighter face looked upward that night towards the glare and glitter of the great chandelier than that of the fair-haired lad in the stage-box. His candid blue eyes beamed with a more radiant sparkle than any of the myriad lights in the theatre; a nimbus of golden hair shone about his broad white forehead; glowing health, careless happiness, truth, good-nature, honesty, boyish vivacity, and the courage of a young lion, – all were expressed in the fearless smile, the frank yet half-defiant gaze. Above all, this lad of seventeen looked especially what he was, – a thorough gentleman. Martin Mostyn was prim and effeminate, precociously tired of life, precociously indifferent to everything but his own advantage; but the Devonshire boy's talk was still fragrant with the fresh perfume of youth and innocence, still gay with the joyous recklessness of early boyhood. He was as impatient for the noisy pantomime overture, and the bright troops of fairies in petticoats of spangled muslin, as the most inveterate cockney cooling his snub-nose against the iron railing of the gallery. He was as ready to fall in love with the painted beauty of the ill-paid ballet-girls, as the veriest child in the wide circle of humanity about him. Fresh, untainted, unsuspicious, he looked out at the world, ready to believe in everything and everybody.
"How you do fidget, Edward!" whispered Martin Mostyn peevishly; "why don't you look at the stage? It's capital fun."
"Yes; I don't mean the tragedy you know, but the supernumeraries. Did you ever see such an awkward set of fellows in all your life? There's a man there with weak legs and a heavy banner, that I've been watching all the evening. He's more fun than all the rest of it put together."
Mr. Mostyn, being of course much too polite to point out the man in question, indicated him with a twitch of his light eyebrows; and Edward Arundel, following that indication, singled out the banner-holder from a group of soldiers in medieval dress, who had been standing wearily enough upon one side of the stage during a long, strictly private and confidential dialogue between the princely hero of the tragedy and one of his accommodating satellites. The lad uttered a cry of surprise as he looked at the weak-legged banner-holder.
Mr. Mostyn turned upon his cousin with some vexation.
"I can't help it, Martin," exclaimed young Arundel; "I can't be mistaken – yes – poor fellow, to think that he should come to this! – you haven't forgotten him, Martin, surely?"
"Forgotten what – forgotten whom? My dear Edward, what do you mean?"
"John Marchmont, the poor fellow who used to teach us mathematics at Vernon's; the fellow the governor sacked because – "
"Well, what of him?"
"The poor chap with the banner!" exclaimed the boy, in a breathless whisper; "don't you see, Martin? didn't you recognise him? It's Marchmont, poor old Marchmont, that we used to chaff, and that the governor sacked because he had a constitutional cough, and wasn't strong enough for his work."
"Oh, yes, I remember him well enough," Mr. Mostyn answered, indifferently. "Nobody could stand his cough, you know; and he was a vulgar fellow, into the bargain."
"He wasn't a vulgar fellow," said Edward indignantly; – "there, there's the curtain down again; – he belonged to a good family in Lincolnshire, and was heir-presumptive to a stunning fortune. I've heard him say so twenty times."
Martin Mostyn did not attempt to repress an involuntary sneer, which curled his lips as his cousin spoke.
"Oh, I dare say you've heard him say so, my dear boy," he murmured superciliously.
"Ah, and it was true," cried Edward; "he wasn't a fellow to tell lies; perhaps he'd have suited Mr. Vernon better if he had been. He had bad health, and was weak, and all that sort of thing; but he wasn't a snob. He showed me a signet-ring once that he used to wear on his watch-chain – "
"A silver watch-chain," simpered Mr. Mostyn, "just like a carpenter's."
"Don't be such a supercilious cad, Martin. He was very kind to me, poor Marchmont; and I know I was always a nuisance to him, poor old fellow; for you know I never could get on with Euclid. I'm sorry to see him here. Think, Martin, what an occupation for him! I don't suppose he gets more than nine or ten shillings a week for it."
"A shilling a night is, I believe, the ordinary remuneration of a stage-soldier. They pay as much for the real thing as for the sham, you see; the defenders of our country risk their lives for about the same consideration. Where are you going, Ned?"
Edward Arundel had left his place, and was trying to undo the door of the box.
"To see if I can get at this poor fellow."
"You persist in declaring, then, that the man with the weak legs is our old mathematical drudge? Well, I shouldn't wonder. The fellow was coughing all through the five acts, and that's uncommonly like Marchmont. You're surely not going to renew your acquaintance with him?"
But young Arundel had just succeeded in opening the door, and he left the box without waiting to answer his cousin's question. He made his way very rapidly out of the theatre, and fought manfully through the crowds who were waiting about the pit and gallery doors, until he found himself at the stage-entrance. He had often looked with reverent wonder at the dark portal; but he had never before essayed to cross the sacred threshold. But the guardian of the gate to this theatrical paradise, inhabited by fairies at a guinea a week, and baronial retainers at a shilling a night, is ordinarily a very inflexible individual, not to be corrupted by any mortal persuasion, and scarcely corruptible by the more potent influence of gold or silver. Poor Edward's half-a-crown had no effect whatever upon the stern door-keeper, who thanked him for his donation, but told him that it was against his orders to let anybody go up-stairs.
"But I want to see some one so particularly," the boy said eagerly. "Don't you think you could manage it for me, you know? He's an old friend of mine, – one of the supernu – what's-its-names?" added Edward, stumbling over the word. "He carried a banner in the tragedy, you know; and he's got such an awful cough, poor chap."
"Ze man who garried ze panner vith a gough," said the door-keeper reflectively. He was an elderly German, and had kept guard at that classic doorway for half-a-century or so; "Parking Cheremiah."
"Yes, sir. They gall him Parking pecause he's berbetually goughin' his poor veag head off; and they gall him Cheremiah pecause he's alvays belangholy."
"Oh, do let me see him," cried Mr. Edward Arundel. "I know you can manage it; so do, that's a good fellow. I tell you he's a friend of mine, and quite a gentleman too. Bless you, there isn't a move in mathematics he isn't up to; and he'll come into a fortune some of these days – "
"Yaase," interrupted the door-keeper, sarcastically, "Zey bake von of him pegause off dad."
"And can I see him?"
"I phill dry and vind him vor you. Here, you Chim," said the door-keeper, addressing a dirty youth, who had just nailed an official announcement of the next morning's rehearsal upon the back of a stony-hearted swing-door, which was apt to jam the fingers of the uninitiated, – "vot is ze name off yat zuber vith ze pad gough, ze man zay gall Parking."
"Oh, that's Morti-more."
"To you know if he's on in ze virsd zene?"
"Yes. He's one of the demons; but the scene's just over. Do you want him?"
"You gan dake ub zis young chendleman's gard do him, and dell him to slib town here if he has kod a vaid," said the door-keeper.
Mr. Arundel handed his card to the dirty boy.
"He'll come to me fast enough, poor fellow," he muttered. "I usen't to chaff him as the others did, and I'm glad I didn't, now."
Edward Arundel could not easily forget that one brief scrutiny in which he had recognised the wasted face of the schoolmaster's hack, who had taught him mathematics only two years before. Could there be anything more piteous than that degrading spectacle? The feeble frame, scarcely able to sustain that paltry one-sided banner of calico and tinsel; the two rude daubs of coarse vermilion upon the hollow cheeks; the black smudges that were meant for eyebrows; the wretched scrap of horsehair glued upon the pinched chin in dismal mockery of a beard; and through all this the pathetic pleading of large hazel eyes, bright with the unnatural lustre of disease, and saying perpetually, more plainly than words can speak, "Do not look at me; do not despise me; do not even pity me. It won't last long."
That fresh-hearted schoolboy was still thinking of this, when a wasted hand was laid lightly and tremulously on his arm, and looking up he saw a man in a hideous mask and a tight-fitting suit of scarlet and gold standing by his side.
"I'll take off my mask in a minute, Arundel," said a faint voice, that sounded hollow and muffled within a cavern of pasteboard and wickerwork. "It was very good of you to come round; very, very good!"
"I was so sorry to see you here, Marchmont; I knew you in a moment, in spite of the disguise."
The supernumerary had struggled out of his huge head-gear by this time, and laid the fabric of papier-mâché and tinsel carefully aside upon a shelf. He had washed his face before putting on the mask, for he was not called upon to appear before a British public in martial semblance any more upon that evening. The pale wasted face was interesting and gentlemanly, not by any means handsome, but almost womanly in its softness of expression. It was the face of a man who had not yet seen his thirtieth birthday; who might never live to see it, Edward Arundel thought mournfully.
"Why do you do this, Marchmont?" the boy asked bluntly.
"Because there was nothing else left for me to do," the stage-demon answered with a sad smile. "I can't get a situation in a school, for my health won't suffer me to take one; or it won't suffer any employer to take me, for fear of my falling ill upon his hands, which comes to the same thing; so I do a little copying for the law-stationers, and this helps out that, and I get on as well as I can. I wouldn't so much mind if it wasn't for – "
He stopped suddenly, interrupted by a paroxysm of coughing.
"If it wasn't for whom, old fellow?"
"My poor little girl; my poor little motherless Mary."
Edward Arundel looked grave, and perhaps a little ashamed of himself. He had forgotten until this moment that his old tutor had been left a widower at four-and-twenty, with a little daughter to support out of his scanty stipend.
"Don't be down-hearted, old fellow," the lad whispered, tenderly; "perhaps I shall be able to help you, you know. And the little girl can go down to Dangerfield; I know my mother would take care of her, and will keep her there till you get strong and well. And then you might start a fencing-room, or a shooting-gallery, or something of that sort, at the West End; and I'd come to you, and bring lots of fellows to you, and you'd get on capitally, you know."
Poor John Marchmont, the asthmatic supernumerary, looked perhaps the very last person in the world whom it could be possible to associate with a pair of foils, or a pistol and a target; but he smiled faintly at his old pupil's enthusiastic talk.
"You were always a good fellow, Arundel," he said, gravely. "I don't suppose I shall ever ask you to do me a service; but if, by-and-by, this cough makes me knock under, and my little Polly should be left – I – I think you'd get your mother to be kind to her, – wouldn't you, Arundel?"
A picture rose before the supernumerary's weary eyes as he said this; the picture of a pleasant lady whose description he had often heard from the lips of a loving son, a rambling old mansion, wide-spreading lawns, and long arcades of oak and beeches leading away to the blue distance. If this Mrs. Arundel, who was so tender and compassionate and gentle to every red-cheeked cottage-girl who crossed her pathway, – Edward had told him this very often, – would take compassion also upon this little one! If she would only condescend to see the child, the poor pale neglected flower, the fragile lily, the frail exotic blossom, that was so cruelly out of place upon the bleak pathways of life!
"If that's all that troubles you," young Arundel cried eagerly, "you may make your mind easy, and come and have some oysters. We'll take care of the child. I'll adopt her, and my mother shall educate her, and she shall marry a duke. Run away, now, old fellow, and change your clothes, and come and have oysters, and stout out of the pewter."
Mr. Marchmont shook his head.
"My time's just up," he said; "I'm on in the next scene. It was very kind of you to come round, Arundel; but this isn't exactly the best place for you. Go back to your friends, my dear boy, and don't think any more of me. I'll write to you some day about little Mary."
"You'll do nothing of the kind," exclaimed the boy. "You'll give me your address instanter, and I'll come to see you the first thing to-morrow morning, and you'll introduce me to little Mary; and if she and I are not the best friends in the world, I shall never again boast of my successes with lovely woman. What's the number, old fellow?"
Mr. Arundel had pulled out a smart morocco pocket-book and a gold pencil-case.
"Twenty-seven, Oakley Street, Lambeth. But I'd rather you wouldn't come, Arundel; your friends wouldn't like it."
"My friends may go hang themselves. I shall do as I like, and I'll be with you to breakfast, sharp ten."
The supernumerary had no time to remonstrate. The progress of the music, faintly audible from the lobby in which this conversation had taken place, told him that his scene was nearly on.
"I can't stop another moment. Go back to your friends, Arundel. Good night. God bless you!"
"Stay; one word. The Lincolnshire property – "
"Will never come to me, my boy," the demon answered sadly, through his mask; for he had been busy re-investing himself in that demoniac guise. "I tried to sell my reversion, but the Jews almost laughed in my face when they heard me cough. Good night."
He was gone, and the swing-door slammed in Edward Arundel's face. The boy hurried back to his cousin, who was cross and dissatisfied at his absence. Martin Mostyn had discovered that the ballet-girls were all either old or ugly, the music badly chosen, the pantomime stupid, the scenery a failure. He asked a few supercilious questions about his old tutor, but scarcely listened to Edward's answers; and was intensely aggravated with his companion's pertinacity in sitting out the comic business – in which poor John Marchmont appeared and re-appeared; now as a well-dressed passenger carrying a parcel, which he deliberately sacrificed to the felonious propensities of the clown; now as a policeman, now as a barber, now as a chemist, now as a ghost; but always buffeted, or cajoled, or bonneted, or imposed upon; always piteous, miserable, and long-suffering; with arms that ached from carrying a banner through five acts of blank-verse weariness, with a head that had throbbed under the weight of a ponderous edifice of pasteboard and wicker, with eyes that were sore with the evil influence of blue-fire and gunpowder smoke, with a throat that had been poisoned by sulphurous vapours, with bones that were stiff with the playful pummelling of clown and pantaloon; and all for – a shilling a night!