THE period occupied by his return to Dolóres was, on the whole, one of weariness and depression to Noel. Had he possessed more of the youthful buoyancy proper to his age, and been less occupied by uneasy introvision or anxious anticipation, the peculiarity of the circumstances amid which his journey was performed would have stimulated and exhilarated him beyond measure. Honoured with the friendship of the first man in the government, entrusted with a political mission and secrets of the deepest importance, escorted by a special guard of honour, by whom he was treated with such deference that even their commander scarcely ventured to address him without being first spoken to; and in this state traversing the romantic table-lands which had witnessed the rise and fall of the ancient civilisation of the Aztecs, and the marvellous feats of their conqueror, Cortés, and his handful of heroes, – there was enough of novelty and singularity in all this to turn the head of any man who cared more for the externals of life than did Edmund Noel.
But Noel’s sympathies with the realities of the external world were too keen to allow him to be deceived by its appearances into exulting over any good fortune that might befall himself. A little conversation on the first day of his journey had shown him that the leader of his escort was a mere mercenary, ignorant of the very meaning of patriotism, and ready any day to sell his services to the highest bidder. There was little satisfaction in talking with him; so Noel turned his attention to
the country through which he was riding, and speculated on the possibilities of its future.
His back was now toward the shining peaks, and for a long distance before him lay only rolling wastes with scarce a sign of habitation, save an occasional wretched Indian village, with its patch of green maize. A few thickets of ilex and dwarf oak scarcely varied the monotony. Cultivation and population were alike wanting. Even the wild cattle that might there find pasture in thousands, seemed to have shunned there solitudes as if appaled at their dreariness.
It was a relief to him when, on mounting the Sierra which incloses the plains of the capital, he could turn and bid adieu to the region ruined and cursed of man, but yet over which still shone afar the shining peaks as in hope, or in mockery of hope; and then descend into the fair and flourishing valley of Queretaro.
And the thought set him longing for Maynard to bear him company, and aid the course of his thoughts with his keen wit and far-reaching knowledge. Then his book, with which he had in vain attempted to make progress since he left Dolóres, recurred to him, and, thinking over his project of representing a single individual as the epitome of human history, he sought for a resemblance to the history of Mexico in man’s own personality; and was content to fancy that he had found it when he remembered that not even the whole of a man has its perpetual uses, but that he parts with his hair, and his nails, and the refuse exhalations of his system for his general benefit and convenience. And if it be thus with the individual, how much more must the race be perpetually renewing itself by the rejection and loss of its refuse members. ‘What is it that redeems and elevates
the individual man? Nought but his moral sense. And what the
race of men? Surely, all history goes to prove that it is the respect
paid to the moral sense, of nations by themselves that alone insures
continuance. Respect for one’s own conscience is the sole elixir of continuity,
as it is the sole end worth striving for, whether with the individual or with
the race. Faithfulness to one’s own highest best, – this is the sole faith that
saves. But how came a handful of Spaniards to conquer
And, glancing up at the heights and down at the chasms of the country through
which his path lay, and scanning the thickets and natural fortresses with which
it abounded, he thought of one, a patriot and an outcast in a far-off land, and
long ago, who, after being hunted like a partridge upon the mountains, became a
king and a shining name to all his people. And he wondered whether a new David
would ever arise for the salvation of
And, as in his mind he ran over ancient history and legend, and mused on
existing possibilities, the past and the future became confused and mingled in
his reverie, until, suddenly starting from it, it
seemed as if a prophetic vision had been vouchsafed to him. And when he arrived
at Real de Dolóres, he was filled with an impulse to offer the aid of his whole fortune
and abilities to Juarez, with him to struggle and, if need be, fight for the
independence and regeneration of
There were letters from
But first read your letters; he said.
‘Did you know of this?’ asked Noel, after glancing through those which bore the handwriting of Mr. Tresham and Sophia Bevan.
‘That your uncle is ill, and desires your return? Yes, he writes to me to that effect.’
‘Then how can both plans be possible?’
‘It will be some time before matters come to a crisis here, and we can go and return in time to be of service.’
‘We!’ exclaimed Noel; catching Margaret’s anxious look at the instant.
‘And what do you say to all this?’ asked Noel, of Margaret.
‘It is the first I have heard of it,’ she replied. ‘So far as the going home is
concerned, I quite approve; but the coming back again! I shall hope for a
re-consideration of that part of the scheme when we get to
‘Sophia writes even more pressingly than my uncle,’ remarked Noel; ‘and she has a knack of generally being in the right in practical matters. She thinks that I ought out of regard to him to return at once.’
‘Then it is settled,’ said Maynard. ‘It won’t take you long to pack up what you and the children want for the voyage, will it?’ he asked of Margaret.
‘We can soon be ready; but you have arrangements to make for managing the works in your absence.’
‘Those are easily made,’ said James, with an odd look, that did not escape either of his hearers, but which they were at a loss to interpret.
‘You mean by shutting up the mine altogether?’ asked Noel.
‘No, not unless the country gets into such a state that the silver is safer below-ground. I have no fear of leaving things in the hands of my officers for a bit. Indeed foreseen such an emergency, and have prepared against it; so that I shall be ready as soon as Margaret. It was with this view that I have delayed the convoy beyond the usual time. We will all go to the coast and embark together.’
‘What is there behind?’ asked Noel of Margaret, on James leaving the room.
‘It has something to do with the old grievance,’ she replied,
sadly. ‘He declares that I shall not
be tormented by having him any longer for a husband, and that if he cannot set
me legally free, he will at least release me from his presence. In vain have I
assured him that I want no other happiness than to live with him, and be to him
and our children all that they want, and that I do not consider him in fault,
and it is only my own stupidity. But he says he should only despise me were he
to think that I really am contented to live with him as I have done. And as he
finds that I will not go to
‘James always has been and will be to me as a brother, in all that affects his happiness and welfare,’ returned Noel.
‘I confess that at times I find it difficult to forgive the misery he has brought into your life, and cannot help being angry and indignant with him; but I shall not let this feeling induce me to act to his detriment. If nothing else, yet my desire to ease your burden, shall ever keep me from adding to it by aught that can cause self-reproach.’
‘I know you good, and noble, and true,’ exclaimed Margaret; ‘but James is so, also, and I doubt if he would thus let the thought of the future influence him. How is this? He is what I should call a more religious man than you. If his religion would not restrain him, what have you that is more powerful to restrain you?’
‘My un-religion, I suppose,’ said Noel, laughing. ‘No, Margaret, I apply the term religion only to such motives as are powerful enough to influence a man’s conduct, no matter how deeply his natural feelings may be concerned. For myself, though I do not care to regulate my conduct by any transcendental motives, – I mean transcendental as the rest of the world imagines, – it yet is enough for me to know that your happiness is so nearly dependent on my conduct, that my doing aught to forfeit your esteem would cause you intense mortification. My love is thus a religion to me. You, at least, will have no right
to blame such religion if it allows you the first, or sole, place in my adoration; and, without respect to persons, recognises but one goddess.’
‘Ah, you make it very hard for me. What if your goddess, in seeking to justify her pretension to your lofty regards, were to stumble, and fall from her pedestal?’
‘That is just what you must not attempt to do. Think of, consult nothing but your own true impulses, and leave me to read you thereby. If yours is a fallible and erring nature, I have indeed dreamed.’