Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 04

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BOOK IV.

“A virtuous woman is man’s greatest pride.”—SIMONIDES.

CHAPTER I.

  ABROAD uneasy, nor content at home.

    . . . . . .

  And Wisdom shows the ill without the cure.

HAMMOND: Elegies.

TWO or three days after the interview between Lord Vargrave and
Maltravers, the solitude of Burleigh was relieved by the arrival of Mr.
Cleveland. The good old gentleman, when free from attacks of the gout,
which were now somewhat more frequent than formerly, was the same
cheerful and intelligent person as ever. Amiable, urbane, accomplished,
and benevolent, there was just enough worldliness in Cleveland’s nature
to make his views sensible as far as they went, but to bound their scope.
Everything he said was so rational; and yet, to an imaginative person,
his conversation was unsatisfactory, and his philosophy somewhat
chilling.

“I cannot say how pleased and surprised I am at your care of the fine old
place,” said he to Maltravers, as, leaning on his cane and his
ci-devant pupil’s arm, he loitered observantly through the grounds; “I
see everywhere the presence of the Master.”

And certainly the praise was deserved. The gardens were now in order,
the dilapidated fences were repaired, the weeds no longer encumbered the
walks. Nature was just assisted and relieved by Art, without being
oppressed by too officious a service from her handmaid. In the house
itself some suitable and appropriate repairs and decorations—with such
articles of furniture as combined modern comfort with the ancient and
picturesque shapes of a former fashion—had redeemed the mansion from all
appearance of dreariness and neglect; while still was left to its quaint
halls and chambers the character which belonged to their architecture and
associations. It was surprising how much a little exercise of simple
taste had effected.

“I am glad you approve what I have done,” said Maltravers. “I know not
how it was, but the desolation of the place when I returned to it
reproached me. We contract friendship with places as with human beings,
and fancy they have claims upon us; at least, that is my weakness.”

“And an amiable one it is, too,—I share it. As for me, I look upon
Temple Grove as a fond husband upon a fair wife. I am always anxious to
adorn it, and as proud of its beauty as if it could understand and thank
me for my partial admiration. When I leave you I intend going to Paris,
for the purpose of attending a sale of the pictures and effects of M. de
——-. These auctions are to me what a jeweller’s shop is to a lover; but
then, Ernest, I am an old bachelor.”

“And I, too, am an Arcadian,” said Maltravers, with a smile.

“Ah, but you are not too old for repentance. Burleigh now requires
nothing but a mistress.”

“Perhaps it may soon receive that addition. I am yet undecided whether I
shall sell it.”

“Sell it! sell Burleigh!—the last memorial of your mother’s ancestry!
the classic retreat of the graceful Digbys! Sell Burleigh!”

“I had almost resolved to do so when I came hither; then I forswore the
intention: now again I sometimes sorrowfully return to the idea.”

“And in Heaven’s name, why?”

“My old restlessness returns. Busy myself as I will here, I find the
range of action monotonous and confined. I began too soon to draw around
me the large circumference of literature and action; and the small
provincial sphere seems to me a sad going back in life. Perhaps I should
not feel this, were my home less lonely; but as it is—no, the wanderer’s
ban is on me, and I again turn towards the lands of excitement and
adventure.”

“I understand this, Ernest; but why is your home so solitary? You are
still at the age in which wise and congenial unions are the most
frequently formed; your temper is domestic; your easy fortune and sobered
ambition allow you to choose without reference to worldly considerations.
Look round the world, and mix with the world again, and give Burleigh the
mistress it requires.”

Maltravers shook his head, and sighed.

“I do not say,” continued Cleveland, wrapped in the glowing interest of
the theme, “that you should marry a mere girl, but an amiable woman, who,
like yourself, has seen something of life, and knows how to reckon on its
cares, and to be contented with its enjoyments.”

“You have said enough,” said Maltravers, impatiently; “an experienced
woman of the world, whose freshness of hope and heart is gone! What a
picture! No, to me there is something inexpressibly beautiful in
innocence and youth. But you say justly,—my years are not those that
would make a union with youth desirable or well suited.”

“I do not say that,” said Cleveland, taking a pinch of snuff; “but you
should avoid great disparity of age,—not for the sake of that disparity
itself, but because with it is involved discord of temper, pursuits. A
very young woman, new to the world, will not be contented with home
alone; you are at once too gentle to curb her wishes, and a little too
stern and reserved—pardon me for saying so—to be quite congenial to
very early and sanguine youth.”

“It is true,” said Maltravers, with a tone of voice that showed he was
struck with the remark; “but how have we fallen on this subject? let us
change it. I have no idea of marriage,—the gloomy reminiscence of
Florence Lascelles chains me to the past.”

“Poor Florence, she might once have suited you; but now you are older,
and would require a calmer and more malleable temper.”

“Peace, I implore you!”

The conversation was changed; and at noon Mr. Merton, who had heard of

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