« НазадПродовжити »
emerged a hard, dirty crust of bread. The boy burst into tears as he gave up his hidden treasure. Cunliff's heart seemed to give him a sense of stifling, as he thought of the depth of misery the incident revealed.
He ought to stop and go a little into their history, before doing aught else, he knew that. But he was in no mood to embark in such mental adventures ; so he slipped the biggest coin he could feel in his pocket-a crown piece-into the man's hands, and said,
Take this, my friend, and get yourself and family something to eat. Good-night.'
He heard no thanks, no loud' God bless you, sir!' follow him. He only heard the woman's passionate cry and the man's terrible silence.
He passed on and soon forgot the affair. He wandered about, neither knowing nor caring whither. He revelled in dreams that were only the more delicious that no human being could guess at their existence, even though many might wonder what caused him to stroll to and fro so aimlessly.
Still he wandered—still he dreamed. He was at one moment so lost in thought, that when a cab came rushing past, at the turning of a corner, and the cabman seeing he had' muddied the gentleman's overcoat, grew angry and abusive, Cunliff only laughed, and said to him, 'I assure you,
I didn't intend to do it.' He was to be roused from this amiable mood and these pleasant dreams. As he approached his home, thinking it must be dinner-time, he saw his man standing outside, bare-headed, looking anxiously in every direction but the right one.
He wants me. There's something wrong.' That was Cunliff's instant thought. An instinct warned him that all his glittering bubbles were about to burst. He walked fast, then faster, though still preserving that personal dignity of bearing which was a part of him—which he valued --and
which he, a little too artificially, perhaps, always maintained.
There's a man in the hall, sir. He brought this letter, and said
he was told to wait till he knew you had got it.'
Very well. He took the letter. 'Keep the man five minutes. Then, if I do not ring, let him go. Give him a shilling.'
Canliff went slowly up-stairs with his unopened letter; waited patiently while the servant lighted the lamp; saw the man close the door after himself as he went out, and then he read this :
· Five o'clock. 'I have this moment received a letter from R.,
for you a few sentences :
6“I have had a letter from a very aged maiden aunt, who tells me that some one, whose name she is not at liberty to mention, has told her that you and a Mr. Cunliff are very often together; constantly meeting at the same places; and that she believes you are to meet him at Lady Sellon's country-house; and, in a word, that she wishes me to hurry home and judge for myself. I shall hurry home undoubtedly, but for any reason rather than the one suggested in my aunt's letter. She is an exceedingly old woman-nearly ninetyand I let
her say what no one else, I think, would dare to say
But if you want, my dear Catherine, to know what I think, I say then go to Lady Sellon's by all means if you wish to go, whether Mr. Cunliff or Mr. anybody else is, or is not, to be also there. My trust, dearest, is in you; not in the place you happen to be at or in the men into whose society you may happen to be thrown. I do trust you, darling, with all my
heart and soul. Old as I am, I am young enough in heart to feel the tenderest affection for you. One that will never fail you
do not wish it to fail. God bless and preserve you, my own ever dear, dear wife. Within three days I shall be with you."
• Cunliff! do you read this as I read it with streaming eyes, with a sense of shame that can never, never fade away, yet with a cry of transport to God that we are awakened in time ?
• Farewell for ever and ever! You will not, I am sure, wish to violate this my only and parting injunction.
I reopen this to say, do not blame yourself alone. God bless you! Again, farewell!'
When Cunliff had read to the last word, and he read very slowly, he raised with a painful gesture his long-bent head. Finding the light of the lamp too brilliant, he stretched forth his hand to moderate it, and, whether intentionally or accidentally, put out the light.
EXHALATIONS OF THE DAWN.
At the age of twenty-two John Cunliff had quitted, as he had come to, the University under peculiar circumstances. He had entered it as a lonely, studious, friendless youth, not long after the death of a beloved mother; and when he was dependent upon a harsh and uusympathetic father, who kept bim on the shortest possible allowance; scarcely ever saw him or wrote to him, and seemed to think it not of the slightest importance whether his son studied or no. Thus he entered the University. When he quitted it he was surrounded by troops of friends, including some of the very best men of his college, who exulted in the honours he had won, and predicted what they were to lead to; his father was dead, and had left behind him an estate of two thousand a year, without a sixpence of mortgage upon it; and another relative having also died, young John Cunliff became the presumptive heir to a baronetcy, and a property of at least six times the value of his paternal estate.
That was his position when suddenly launched into the great world of society, with appetites keen as youth and health and the associations of a rich and cultivated nature could make them; and where he found glad faces and seemingly warm hearts welcoming him on every side. Such a man, with good birth, manly and attractive person, eloquent tongue, a spiritual something not easy to describe in the general style of his conversation, and with a kind of stately chivalrousness in his peculiarly gentle demeanour to women, became the cynosure
of female eyes ; and made the face of many a dowager grow almost ideal as she received the answer to her eager question, 'Oh yes, it was quite true—two thousand a year, uncncumbered, and with sonie prospect in the distance of nearly thirteen thousand a year, and a baronetcy!'
He entered London in the first flush of his University successes. Yet it was remarkable how seldom he spoke of them, how unwilling he was to be spoken to on the subject. The Alps he had climbed only showed him the greater Alps yet to be surmounted. He was modest, earnest, hopeful; and in heart and soul the student and the scholar.
Thus, at least, he seemed to his few intimate associates at the time of his introduction to London society ; perhaps even to himself. But there was another and still more remarkable trait of his character that must not be passed over. Though no one ever heard him speak in the language of Utopia, it was impossible to listen to him when engaged in any earnest discussion on political or social subjects, without seeing perpetually bright gleams of ideal light and Utopian fancy flashing across the arid regions of fact and figure; and suggesting that the young John Cunliff had gone far and wide in his wanderings after those central truths which promised to transform the world. Yes; he was then young enough and hopeful enough to believe in the divinity of his own instincts, which seemed ever to whisper to him, 'Go forth, thou, too, to the fight! Error, and vice, and crime, and misery are not the inevitable lot of man—they are only the inevitable lot of man's unorganised-half-barbaric past.
It is habit, precedent for precedent's sake, and the slavishness of soul these two create—that sustain the cxisting evil of things. Destroy them. -- build on new foundations a place for the aspiring soul to labour-and, then, indeed, shalt thou see this world become a temple fit for the gods, with men only less than gods inhabiting it.'
Perhaps it was the very magnitude of his secret desires, and the sense of unreality which exaggerated expectations and high-flown visions inevitably bring home to us, that sobered him in his coinmunications with others, and suggested the propriety of due pause and preparation. The fashionable world soon settled all the rest. It did not treat his dreams with ridicule, for he took care it should know nothing about them. Silently, day by day, he measured its forces for resistance on the one hand, and its many seductive attractions, on the other, for those who are content simply to enjoy and ask no inconvenient questions, till he gave up the whole problem with a bitter laugh at his own absurdity; and then—why then, the world went on as usual in its own serene course, knowing nothing of its noble victory, or of the fresh victim offered at its shrine.
Thus speedily died out John Cunliff's notions of the possibility of his becoming a sort of literary prophet of a new social era, and with it went more than he or the world could have easily suspected.
What remained ? He would, at least, play the part of an English gentleman. Unbounded was Cunliff's faith in that character. Nor was he, perhaps, destitute of a strong hidden belief that he was himself, so far as natural powers and tendencies were concerned, no unfit representative of its truthfulness, high personal sense of honour, magnanimity, fortitude to bear, reticence in speech, dignity in serious act; and all these springing from the belief in, and feeling for, the greatness of the English name, history, and destiny, as individualised in the said English gentleman; with his nature deepened and heightened by the reflex of the religious sentiments that had permeated, at critical periods, his family's historical life. A character that, at its best, needs only the flower or crown of all-chivalrous abnegation in the weightier things of life--to become the exemplar of the world ; but which, at its worst, becomes one of the most insufferable specimens of humanity : egotistic, priggish, hard, cruel.
This dream shared, to a certain extent, the fate of the other. It may be very inconvenient, but certainly the scheme of Providence does not consist in giving us a complete nature with many separate parts which we may divide as we pleaseselect, reject, or accept as we please—and so John Canliff found, when, after a little coy dalliance, he threw himself with open
hands and heart into the world's arms, as represented first by society at large, and then by some of its baser elements. In a word, society-which arrogates to itself the idea that it is the very flower of all civilisation–did not know how, or did not even care to try, to appeal to the purer
and nobler elements in the young man's nature ; which, if received in à natural and wholesome atmosphere, would have added new lustre to itself. And as to what it did offer of material or sensual enjoyment, John Cunliff preferred to go elsewhere; where he could, without any sort of social hypocrisy, please himself in his own way, and run riot to his soul's utmost content.
It was not long before John Cunliff's appearance at public and private receptions became less and less frequent; and when he did come his presence ceased to create the old flutter, for the prophet had spoken-he was not inclined to marry
Thus eight years passed away, each one of them leaving its own special mark upon him, till he became little better than