Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 09

Produced by Dagny; and by David Widger

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BOOK IX.

“Woe, woe: all things are clear.”—SOPHOCLES: OEd. Tyr. 754.

CHAPTER I.

  THE privilege that statesmen ever claim,

  Who private interest never yet pursued,

  But still pretended ’twas for others’ good.

  . . . . . .

  From hence on every humorous wind that veered

  With shifted sails a several course you steered.

                 Absalom and Achitophel, Part ii.

LORD VARGRAVE had for more than a fortnight remained at the inn at
M——-, too ill to be removed with safety in a season so severe. Even
when at last, by easy stages, he reached London, he was subjected to a
relapse; and his recovery was slow and gradual. Hitherto unused to
sickness, he bore his confinement with extreme impatience; and against
the commands of his physician insisted on continuing to transact his
official business, and consult with his political friends in his
sick-room; for Lumley knew well, that it is most pernicious to public men
to be considered failing in health,—turkeys are not more unfeeling to a
sick brother than politicians to an ailing statesman; they give out that
his head is touched, and see paralysis and epilepsy in every speech and
every despatch. The time, too, nearly ripe for his great schemes, made
it doubly necessary that he should exert himself, and prevent being
shelved with a plausible excuse of tender compassion for his infirmities.
As soon therefore as he learned that Legard had left Paris, he thought
himself safe for a while in that quarter, and surrendered his thoughts
wholly to his ambitious projects. Perhaps, too, with the susceptible
vanity of a middle-aged man, who has had his bonnes fortunes, Lumley
deemed, with Rousseau, that a lover, pale and haggard—just raised from
the bed of suffering—is more interesting to friendship than attractive
to love. He and Rousseau were, I believe, both mistaken; but that is a
matter of opinion: they both thought very coarsely of women,—one from
having no sentiment, and the other from having a sentiment that was but a
disease. At length, just as Lumley was sufficiently recovered to quit
his house, to appear at his office, and declare that his illness had
wonderfully improved his constitution, intelligence from Paris, the more
startling from being wholly unexpected, reached him. From Caroline he
learned that Maltravers had proposed to Evelyn, and been accepted. From
Maltravers himself he heard the confirmation of the news. The last
letter was short, but kind and manly. He addressed Lord Vargrave as
Evelyn’s guardian; slightly alluded to the scruples he had entertained
till Lord Vargrave’s suit was broken off; and feeling the subject too
delicate for a letter, expressed a desire to confer with Lumley
respecting Evelyn’s wishes as to certain arrangements in her property.

And for this was it that Lumley had toiled! for this had he visited Lisle
Court! and for this had he been stricken down to the bed of pain! Was it
only to make his old rival the purchaser, if he so pleased it, of the
possessions of his own family? Lumley thought at that moment less of
Evelyn than of Lisle Court. As he woke from the stupor and the first fit
of rage into which these epistles cast him, the recollection of the story
he had heard from Mr. Onslow flashed across him. Were his suspicions
true, what a secret he would possess! How fate might yet befriend him!
Not a moment was to be lost. Weak, suffering as he still was, he ordered
his carriage, and hastened down to Mrs. Leslie.

In the interview that took place, he was careful not to alarm her into
discretion. He managed the conference with his usual consummate
dexterity. He did not appear to believe that there had been any actual
connection between Alice and the supposed Butler. He began by simply
asking whether Alice had ever, in early life, been acquainted with a
person of that name, and when residing in the neighbourhood of ——-.
The change of countenance, the surprised start of Mrs. Leslie, convinced
him that his suspicions were true.

“And why do you ask, my lord?” said the old lady. “Is it to ascertain
this point that you have done me the honour to visit me?”

“Not exactly, my dear madam,” said Lumley, smiling. “But I am going to
C——- on business; and besides that I wished to give an account of your
health to Evelyn, whom I shall shortly see at Paris, I certainly did
desire to know whether it would be any gratification to Lady Vargrave,
for whom I have the deepest regard, to renew her acquaintance with the
said Mr. Butler.”

“What does your lordship know of him? What is he; who is he?”

“Ah, my dear lady, you turn the tables on me, I see,—for my one question
you would give me fifty. But, seriously, before I answer you, you must
tell me whether Lady Vargrave does know a gentleman of that name; yet,
indeed, to save trouble, I may as well inform you, that I know it was
under that name that she resided at C——-, when my poor uncle first made
her acquaintance. What I ought to ask is this,—supposing Mr. Butler be
still alive, and a gentleman of character and fortune, would it please
Lady Vargrave to meet with him once more?”

“I cannot tell you,” said Mrs. Leslie, sinking back in her chair, much
embarrassed.

“Enough, I shall not stir further in the matter. Glad to see you looking
so well. Fine place, beautiful trees. Any commands at C——-, or any
message for Evelyn?”

Lumley rose to depart.

“Stay,” said Mrs. Leslie, recalling all the pining, restless, untiring
love that Lady Vargrave had manifested towards the lost, and feeling that
she ought not to sacrifice to slight scruples the chance of happiness for
her friend’s future years,—”stay; I think this question you should
address to Lady Vargrave,—or shall I?”

“As you will,—perhaps I had better write. Good-day,” and Vargrave
hurried away.

He had satisfied himself, but he had another yet to satisfy,—and that,
from certain reasons known but to himself, without bringing the third
person in contact with Lady Vargrave. On arriving at C——- he wrote,
therefore, to Lady Vargrave as follows:—

MY DEAR FRIEND,—Do not think me impertinent or intrusive—but you know
me too well for that. A gentleman of the name of Butler is exceedingly
anxious to ascertain if you once lived near ——-, in a pretty little
cottage,—Dove, or Dale, or Dell cottage (some such appellation),—and if
you remember a person of his name. Should you care to give a reply to
these queries, send me a line addressed to London, which I shall get on
my way to Paris.

Yours most truly,

VARGRAVE.

As soon as he had concluded, and despatched this letter, Vargrave wrote
to Mr. Winsley as follows:—

MY DEAR SIR,—I am so unwell as to be unable to call on you, or even to
see any one, however agreeable (nay, the more agreeable the more
exciting!). I hope, however, to renew our personal acquaintance before
quitting C——-. Meanwhile, oblige me with a line to say if I did not
understand you to signify that you could, if necessary, prove that Lady
Vargrave once resided in this town as Mrs. Butler, a very short time
before she married my uncle, under the name of Cameron, in Devonshire;
and had she not also at that time a little girl,—an infant, or nearly
so,—who must necessarily be the young lady who is my uncle’s heiress,
Miss Evelyn Cameron. My reason for thus troubling you is obvious. As
Miss Cameron’s guardian, I have very shortly to wind up certain affairs
connected with my uncle’s will; and, what is more, there is some property
bequeathed by the late Mr. Butler, which may make it necessary to prove
identity.

Truly yours,

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