< BackForward >
The thoughts of worldly men are for ever regulated by a moral law
of gravitation, which, like the physical one, holds them down to
earth. The bright glory of day, and the silent wonders of a
starlit night, appeal to their minds in vain. There are no signs
in the sun, or in the moon, or in the stars, for their reading.
They are like some wise men, who, learning to know each planet by
its Latin name, have quite forgotten such small heavenly
constellations as Charity, Forbearance, Universal Love, and Mercy,
although they shine by night and day so brightly that the blind may
see them; and who, looking upward at the spangled sky, see nothing
there but the reflection of their own great wisdom and book-
It is curious to imagine these people of the world, busy in
thought, turning their eyes towards the countless spheres that
shine above us, and making them reflect the only images their minds
contain. The man who lives but in the breath of princes, has
nothing his sight but stars for courtiers' breasts. The envious
man beholds his neighbours' honours even in the sky; to the money-
hoarder, and the mass of worldly folk, the whole great universe
above glitters with sterling coin--fresh from the mint--stamped
with the sovereign's head--coming always between them and heaven,
turn where they may. So do the shadows of our own desires stand
between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is
Everything was fresh and gay, as though the world were but that
morning made, when Mr Chester rode at a tranquil pace along the
Forest road. Though early in the season, it was warm and genial
weather; the trees were budding into leaf, the hedges and the grass
were green, the air was musical with songs of birds, and high above
them all the lark poured out her richest melody. In shady spots,
the morning dew sparkled on each young leaf and blade of grass;
and where the sun was shining, some diamond drops yet glistened
brightly, as in unwillingness to leave so fair a world, and have
such brief existence. Even the light wind, whose rustling was as
gentle to the ear as softly-falling water, had its hope and
promise; and, leaving a pleasant fragrance in its track as it went
fluttering by, whispered of its intercourse with Summer, and of his
The solitary rider went glancing on among the trees, from sunlight
into shade and back again, at the same even pace--looking about
him, certainly, from time to time, but with no greater thought of
the day or the scene through which he moved, than that he was
fortunate (being choicely dressed) to have such favourable weather.
He smiled very complacently at such times, but rather as if he were
satisfied with himself than with anything else: and so went riding
on, upon his chestnut cob, as pleasant to look upon as his own
horse, and probably far less sensitive to the many cheerful
influences by which he was surrounded.
In the course of time, the Maypole's massive chimneys rose upon his
view: but he quickened not his pace one jot, and with the same cool
gravity rode up to the tavern porch. John Willet, who was toasting
his red face before a great fire in the bar, and who, with
surpassing foresight and quickness of apprehension, had been
thinking, as he looked at the blue sky, that if that state of
things lasted much longer, it might ultimately become necessary to
leave off fires and throw the windows open, issued forth to hold
his stirrup; calling lustily for Hugh.
'Oh, you're here, are you, sir?' said John, rather surprised by the
quickness with which he appeared. 'Take this here valuable animal
into the stable, and have more than particular care of him if you
want to keep your place. A mortal lazy fellow, sir; he needs a
deal of looking after.'
'But you have a son,' returned Mr Chester, giving his bridle to
Hugh as he dismounted, and acknowledging his salute by a careless
motion of his hand towards his hat. 'Why don't you make HIM
'Why, the truth is, sir,' replied John with great importance, 'that
my son--what, you're a-listening are you, villain?'
'Who's listening?' returned Hugh angrily. 'A treat, indeed, to
hear YOU speak! Would you have me take him in till he's cool?'
'Walk him up and down further off then, sir,' cried old John, 'and
when you see me and a noble gentleman entertaining ourselves with
talk, keep your distance. If you don't know your distance, sir,'
added Mr Willet, after an enormously long pause, during which he
fixed his great dull eyes on Hugh, and waited with exemplary
patience for any little property in the way of ideas that might
come to him, 'we'll find a way to teach you, pretty soon.'
Hugh shrugged his shoulders scornfully, and in his reckless
swaggering way, crossed to the other side of the little green, and
there, with the bridle slung loosely over his shoulder, led the
horse to and fro, glancing at his master every now and then from
under his bushy eyebrows, with as sinister an aspect as one would
desire to see.
Mr Chester, who, without appearing to do so, had eyed him
attentively during this brief dispute, stepped into the porch, and
turning abruptly to Mr Willet, said,
'You keep strange servants, John.'
'Strange enough to look at, sir, certainly,' answered the host;
'but out of doors; for horses, dogs, and the likes of that; there
an't a better man in England than is that Maypole Hugh yonder. He
an't fit for indoors,' added Mr Willet, with the confidential air
of a man who felt his own superior nature. 'I do that; but if that
chap had only a little imagination, sir--'
'He's an active fellow now, I dare swear,' said Mr Chester, in a
musing tone, which seemed to suggest that he would have said the
same had there been nobody to hear him.
'Active, sir!' retorted John, with quite an expression in his face;
'that chap! Hallo there! You, sir! Bring that horse here, and
go and hang my wig on the weathercock, to show this gentleman
whether you're one of the lively sort or not.'
Hugh made no answer, but throwing the bridle to his master, and
snatching his wig from his head, in a manner so unceremonious and
hasty that the action discomposed Mr Willet not a little, though
performed at his own special desire, climbed nimbly to the very
summit of the maypole before the house, and hanging the wig upon
the weathercock, sent it twirling round like a roasting jack.
Having achieved this performance, he cast it on the ground, and
sliding down the pole with inconceivable rapidity, alighted on his
feet almost as soon as it had touched the earth.
'There, sir,' said John, relapsing into his usual stolid state,
'you won't see that at many houses, besides the Maypole, where
there's good accommodation for man and beast--nor that neither,
though that with him is nothing.'
This last remark bore reference to his vaulting on horseback, as
upon Mr Chester's first visit, and quickly disappearing by the
'That with him is nothing,' repeated Mr Willet, brushing his wig
with his wrist, and inwardly resolving to distribute a small charge
for dust and damage to that article of dress, through the various
items of his guest's bill; 'he'll get out of a'most any winder in
the house. There never was such a chap for flinging himself about
and never hurting his bones. It's my opinion, sir, that it's
pretty nearly allowing to his not having any imagination; and that
if imagination could be (which it can't) knocked into him, he'd
never be able to do it any more. But we was a-talking, sir, about
'True, Willet, true,' said his visitor, turning again towards the
landlord with his accustomed serenity of face. 'My good friend,
what about him?'
It has been reported that Mr Willet, previously to making answer,
winked. But as he was never known to be guilty of such lightness
of conduct either before or afterwards, this may be looked upon as
a malicious invention of his enemies--founded, perhaps, upon the
undisputed circumstance of his taking his guest by the third breast
button of his coat, counting downwards from the chin, and pouring
his reply into his ear:
'Sir,' whispered John, with dignity, 'I know my duty. We want no
love-making here, sir, unbeknown to parents. I respect a certain
young gentleman, taking him in the light of a young gentleman; I
respect a certain young lady, taking her in the light of a young
lady; but of the two as a couple, I have no knowledge, sir, none
whatever. My son, sir, is upon his patrole.'
'I thought I saw him looking through the corner window but this
moment,' said Mr Chester, who naturally thought that being on
patrole, implied walking about somewhere.
'No doubt you did, sir,' returned John. 'He is upon his patrole of
honour, sir, not to leave the premises. Me and some friends of
mine that use the Maypole of an evening, sir, considered what was
best to be done with him, to prevent his doing anything unpleasant
in opposing your desires; and we've put him on his patrole. And
what's more, sir, he won't be off his patrole for a pretty long
time to come, I can tell you that.'
When he had communicated this bright idea, which had its origin in
the perusal by the village cronies of a newspaper, containing,
among other matters, an account of how some officer pending the
sentence of some court-martial had been enlarged on parole, Mr
Willet drew back from his guest's ear, and without any visible
alteration of feature, chuckled thrice audibly. This nearest
approach to a laugh in which he ever indulged (and that but seldom
and only on extreme occasions), never even curled his lip or
effected the smallest change in--no, not so much as a slight
wagging of--his great, fat, double chin, which at these times, as
at all others, remained a perfect desert in the broad map of his
face; one changeless, dull, tremendous blank.
Lest it should be matter of surprise to any, that Mr Willet adopted
this bold course in opposition to one whom he had often
entertained, and who had always paid his way at the Maypole
gallantly, it may be remarked that it was his very penetration and
sagacity in this respect, which occasioned him to indulge in those
unusual demonstrations of jocularity, just now recorded. For Mr
Willet, after carefully balancing father and son in his mental
scales, had arrived at the distinct conclusion that the old
gentleman was a better sort of a customer than the young one.
Throwing his landlord into the same scale, which was already turned
by this consideration, and heaping upon him, again, his strong
desires to run counter to the unfortunate Joe, and his opposition
as a general principle to all matters of love and matrimony, it
went down to the very ground straightway, and sent the light cause
of the younger gentleman flying upwards to the ceiling. Mr
Chester was not the kind of man to be by any means dim-sighted to
Mr Willet's motives, but he thanked him as graciously as if he had
been one of the most disinterested martyrs that ever shone on
earth; and leaving him, with many complimentary reliances on his
great taste and judgment, to prepare whatever dinner he might deem
most fitting the occasion, bent his steps towards the Warren.
Dressed with more than his usual elegance; assuming a gracefulness
of manner, which, though it was the result of long study, sat
easily upon him and became him well; composing his features into
their most serene and prepossessing expression; and setting in
short that guard upon himself, at every point, which denoted that
he attached no slight importance to the impression he was about to
make; he entered the bounds of Miss Haredale's usual walk. He had
not gone far, or looked about him long, when he descried coming
towards him, a female figure. A glimpse of the form and dress as
she crossed a little wooden bridge which lay between them,
satisfied him that he had found her whom he desired to see. He
threw himself in her way, and a very few paces brought them close
He raised his hat from his head, and yielding the path, suffered
her to pass him. Then, as if the idea had but that moment
occurred to him, he turned hastily back and said in an agitated
'I beg pardon--do I address Miss Haredale?'
She stopped in some confusion at being so unexpectedly accosted by
a stranger; and answered 'Yes.'
'Something told me,' he said, LOOKING a compliment to her beauty,
'that it could be no other. Miss Haredale, I bear a name which is
not unknown to you--which it is a pride, and yet a pain to me to
know, sounds pleasantly in your ears. I am a man advanced in life,
as you see. I am the father of him whom you honour and distinguish
above all other men. May I for weighty reasons which fill me with
distress, beg but a minute's conversation with you here?'
Who that was inexperienced in deceit, and had a frank and youthful
heart, could doubt the speaker's truth--could doubt it too, when
the voice that spoke, was like the faint echo of one she knew so
well, and so much loved to hear? She inclined her head, and
stopping, cast her eyes upon the ground.
'A little more apart--among these trees. It is an old man's hand,
Miss Haredale; an honest one, believe me.'
She put hers in it as he said these words, and suffered him to lead
her to a neighbouring seat.
'You alarm me, sir,' she said in a low voice. 'You are not the
bearer of any ill news, I hope?'
'Of none that you anticipate,' he answered, sitting down beside
her. 'Edward is well--quite well. It is of him I wish to speak,
certainly; but I have no misfortune to communicate.'
She bowed her head again, and made as though she would have begged
him to proceed; but said nothing.
'I am sensible that I speak to you at a disadvantage, dear Miss
Haredale. Believe me that I am not so forgetful of the feelings of
my younger days as not to know that you are little disposed to view
me with favour. You have heard me described as cold-hearted,
'I have never, sir,'--she interposed with an altered manner and a
firmer voice; 'I have never heard you spoken of in harsh or
disrespectful terms. You do a great wrong to Edward's nature if
you believe him capable of any mean or base proceeding.'
'Pardon me, my sweet young lady, but your uncle--'
'Nor is it my uncle's nature either,' she replied, with a
heightened colour in her cheek. 'It is not his nature to stab in
the dark, nor is it mine to love such deeds.'
She rose as she spoke, and would have left him; but he detained her
with a gentle hand, and besought her in such persuasive accents to
hear him but another minute, that she was easily prevailed upon to
comply, and so sat down again.
'And it is,' said Mr Chester, looking upward, and apostrophising
the air; 'it is this frank, ingenuous, noble nature, Ned, that you
can wound so lightly. Shame--shame upon you, boy!'
She turned towards him quickly, and with a scornful look and
flashing eyes. There were tears in Mr Chester's eyes, but he
dashed them hurriedly away, as though unwilling that his weakness
should be known, and regarded her with mingled admiration and
'I never until now,' he said, 'believed, that the frivolous actions
of a young man could move me like these of my own son. I never
knew till now, the worth of a woman's heart, which boys so lightly
win, and lightly fling away. Trust me, dear young lady, that I
never until now did know your worth; and though an abhorrence of
deceit and falsehood has impelled me to seek you out, and would
have done so had you been the poorest and least gifted of your sex,
I should have lacked the fortitude to sustain this interview could
I have pictured you to my imagination as you really are.'
Oh! If Mrs Varden could have seen the virtuous gentleman as he
said these words, with indignation sparkling from his eyes--if she
could have heard his broken, quavering voice--if she could have
beheld him as he stood bareheaded in the sunlight, and with
unwonted energy poured forth his eloquence!
With a haughty face, but pale and trembling too, Emma regarded him
in silence. She neither spoke nor moved, but gazed upon him as
though she would look into his heart.
'I throw off,' said Mr Chester, 'the restraint which natural
affection would impose on some men, and reject all bonds but those
of truth and duty. Miss Haredale, you are deceived; you are
deceived by your unworthy lover, and my unworthy son.'
Still she looked at him steadily, and still said not one word.
'I have ever opposed his professions of love for you; you will do
me the justice, dear Miss Haredale, to remember that. Your uncle
and myself were enemies in early life, and if I had sought
retaliation, I might have found it here. But as we grow older, we
grow wiser--bitter, I would fain hope--and from the first, I have
opposed him in this attempt. I foresaw the end, and would have
spared you, if I could.'
'Speak plainly, sir,' she faltered. 'You deceive me, or are
deceived yourself. I do not believe you--I cannot--I should not.'
'First,' said Mr Chester, soothingly, 'for there may be in your
mind some latent angry feeling to which I would not appeal, pray
take this letter. It reached my hands by chance, and by mistake,
and should have accounted to you (as I am told) for my son's not
answering some other note of yours. God forbid, Miss Haredale,'
said the good gentleman, with great emotion, 'that there should be
in your gentle breast one causeless ground of quarrel with him.
You should know, and you will see, that he was in no fault here.'
There appeared something so very candid, so scrupulously
honourable, so very truthful and just in this course something
which rendered the upright person who resorted to it, so worthy of
belief--that Emma's heart, for the first time, sunk within her.
She turned away and burst into tears.
'I would,' said Mr Chester, leaning over her, and speaking in mild
and quite venerable accents; 'I would, dear girl, it were my task
to banish, not increase, those tokens of your grief. My son, my
erring son,--I will not call him deliberately criminal in this, for
men so young, who have been inconstant twice or thrice before, act
without reflection, almost without a knowledge of the wrong they
do,--will break his plighted faith to you; has broken it even now.
Shall I stop here, and having given you this warning, leave it to
be fulfilled; or shall I go on?'
'You will go on, sir,' she answered, 'and speak more plainly yet,
in justice both to him and me.'
'My dear girl,' said Mr Chester, bending over her more
affectionately still; 'whom I would call my daughter, but the Fates
forbid, Edward seeks to break with you upon a false and most
unwarrantable pretence. I have it on his own showing; in his own
hand. Forgive me, if I have had a watch upon his conduct; I am his
father; I had a regard for your peace and his honour, and no better
resource was left me. There lies on his desk at this present
moment, ready for transmission to you, a letter, in which he tells
you that our poverty--our poverty; his and mine, Miss Haredale--
forbids him to pursue his claim upon your hand; in which he offers,
voluntarily proposes, to free you from your pledge; and talks
magnanimously (men do so, very commonly, in such cases) of being in
time more worthy of your regard--and so forth. A letter, to be
plain, in which he not only jilts you--pardon the word; I would
summon to your aid your pride and dignity--not only jilts you, I
fear, in favour of the object whose slighting treatment first
inspired his brief passion for yourself and gave it birth in
wounded vanity, but affects to make a merit and a virtue of the
She glanced proudly at him once more, as by an involuntary impulse,
and with a swelling breast rejoined, 'If what you say be true, he
takes much needless trouble, sir, to compass his design. He's very
tender of my peace of mind. I quite thank him.'
'The truth of what I tell you, dear young lady,' he replied, 'you
will test by the receipt or non-receipt of the letter of which I
speak. Haredale, my dear fellow, I am delighted to see you,
although we meet under singular circumstances, and upon a
melancholy occasion. I hope you are very well.'
At these words the young lady raised her eyes, which were filled
with tears; and seeing that her uncle indeed stood before them, and
being quite unequal to the trial of hearing or of speaking one word
more, hurriedly withdrew, and left them. They stood looking at
each other, and at her retreating figure, and for a long time
neither of them spoke.
'What does this mean? Explain it,' said Mr Haredale at length.
'Why are you here, and why with her?'
'My dear friend,' rejoined the other, resuming his accustomed
manner with infinite readiness, and throwing himself upon the bench
with a weary air, 'you told me not very long ago, at that
delightful old tavern of which you are the esteemed proprietor (and
a most charming establishment it is for persons of rural pursuits
and in robust health, who are not liable to take cold), that I had
the head and heart of an evil spirit in all matters of deception.
I thought at the time; I really did think; you flattered me. But
now I begin to wonder at your discernment, and vanity apart, do
honestly believe you spoke the truth. Did you ever counterfeit
extreme ingenuousness and honest indignation? My dear fellow, you
have no conception, if you never did, how faint the effort makes
Mr Haredale surveyed him with a look of cold contempt. 'You may
evade an explanation, I know,' he said, folding his arms. 'But I
must have it. I can wait.'
'Not at all. Not at all, my good fellow. You shall not wait a
moment,' returned his friend, as he lazily crossed his legs. 'The
simplest thing in the world. It lies in a nutshell. Ned has
written her a letter--a boyish, honest, sentimental composition,
which remains as yet in his desk, because he hasn't had the heart
to send it. I have taken a liberty, for which my parental
affection and anxiety are a sufficient excuse, and possessed
myself of the contents. I have described them to your niece (a
most enchanting person, Haredale; quite an angelic creature), with
a little colouring and description adapted to our purpose. It's
done. You may be quite easy. It's all over. Deprived of their
adherents and mediators; her pride and jealousy roused to the
utmost; with nobody to undeceive her, and you to confirm me; you
will find that their intercourse will close with her answer. If
she receives Ned's letter by to-morrow noon, you may date their
parting from to-morrow night. No thanks, I beg; you owe me none.
I have acted for myself; and if I have forwarded our compact with
all the ardour even you could have desired, I have done so
'I curse the compact, as you call it, with my whole heart and
soul,' returned the other. 'It was made in an evil hour. I have
bound myself to a lie; I have leagued myself with you; and though I
did so with a righteous motive, and though it cost me such an
effort as haply few men know, I hate and despise myself for the
'You are very warm,' said Mr Chester with a languid smile.
'I AM warm. I am maddened by your coldness. 'Death, Chester, if
your blood ran warmer in your veins, and there were no restraints
upon me, such as those that hold and drag me back--well; it is
done; you tell me so, and on such a point I may believe you. When
I am most remorseful for this treachery, I will think of you and
your marriage, and try to justify myself in such remembrances, for
having torn asunder Emma and your son, at any cost. Our bond is
cancelled now, and we may part.'
Mr Chester kissed his hand gracefully; and with the same tranquil
face he had preserved throughout--even when he had seen his
companion so tortured and transported by his passion that his whole
frame was shaken--lay in his lounging posture on the seat and
watched him as he walked away.
'My scapegoat and my drudge at school,' he said, raising his head
to look after him; 'my friend of later days, who could not keep his
mistress when he had won her, and threw me in her way to carry off
the prize; I triumph in the present and the past. Bark on, ill-
favoured, ill-conditioned cur; fortune has ever been with me--I
like to hear you.'
The spot where they had met, was in an avenue of trees. Mr
Haredale not passing out on either hand, had walked straight on.
He chanced to turn his head when at some considerable distance, and
seeing that his late companion had by that time risen and was
looking after him, stood still as though he half expected him to
follow and waited for his coming up.
'It MAY come to that one day, but not yet,' said Mr Chester,
waving his hand, as though they were the best of friends, and
turning away. 'Not yet, Haredale. Life is pleasant enough to me;
dull and full of heaviness to you. No. To cross swords with such
a man--to indulge his humour unless upon extremity--would be weak
For all that, he drew his sword as he walked along, and in an
absent humour ran his eye from hilt to point full twenty times.
But thoughtfulness begets wrinkles; remembering this, he soon put
it up, smoothed his contracted brow, hummed a gay tune with greater
gaiety of manner, and was his unruffled self again.