JAMES MAYNARD breakfasted next morning with Lord Littmass by express invitation. Margaret was not present, and the conversation turned towards the Mexican scheme. He had dined the previous evening with Mr. Tresham, and everything was in fair train for carrying out the enterprise. Lord Littmass
obtained from him the main particulars of the evening’s conversation, and then drew him out on the subject of his recent visit to South America. He was contemplating laying a portion of the scene of his new novel in that region, and he knew well how to avail himself of the information gathered by the observing minds of others, to elaborate from it a picture of life, manners, and scenery, so vivid and truthful as to make even those who had been in the country itself take it for granted that the author must have long lived there. In descriptive and narrative conversation James excelled. He had seen, studied, and learnt so much at home, that he knew how and what to observe when abroad. Lord Littmass even complimented him on the possession of this faculty; and James said in acknowledgment that travel was useful only to those who had studied, for that to the ignorant and careless all countries are alike.
‘Young men,’ he said, ‘are constantly being sent abroad to enlarge their minds, without knowing enough of their own country to enable them to discern the significance either of likeness or of difference. I once came across a young English nobleman who did nothing but abuse the people and the country for being different from what he had been accustomed to at home. Being among Spaniards his criticisms were endured with civility; but had he behaved in the same manner among Americans, especially in the West, he would soon have had a knife or a bullet put into him. Hood describes such an individual, as truly as he does most things, when he says, –
Some minds improve by travel, others rather
Resemble copper wire, or brass,
That gets the narrower by going farther.” ’
‘Speaking of minds improving,’ said Lord Littmass, after a short pause, ‘I wish I could think that my ward, Miss Waring, had been benefited by her residence abroad. Fragile as she ever was, both in mind and body, she has come back more of a skeleton than of a woman, and a complete child in intellect. A thousand pities for a girl with her prepossessing face and fine prospects.’
He said this as if the matter really weighed upon his own mind, but could not have the smallest interest for his hearer.
‘Miss Waring of weak mind and fine prospects!’ ejaculated Maynard, before he could stop himself, so unawares was he
taken by his wily host. ‘Surely the epithets might change places with each other.’
‘Ah, you have seen her recently. Do you think she has improved under English air? I almost fear that such colour as she sometimes has is rather hectic than healthy. At one time I rather looked forward to her making a sensation when I should introduce her into society. Her face, voice, and expectations would have enabled her to make a grand match. But some fatal delicacy seems to have smitten her, and made her unfit for the world, even if her life is preserved. Of course what I allude to has not escaped your observation?”
‘I have seen nothing of the kind,’ answered James. ‘Her mind, though unequally developed, owing to the irregularity of her education, and the lack of youthful companionship, is as sound and healthy as that of any person breathing, and I believe and trust that her constitution is the same.’
‘You quite raise my hopes,’ said Lord Littmass, in a somewhat frigid tone that ill accorded with his words. ‘And if it be really as you think, I may yet anticipate a bright future for her. When are you leaving town?’
‘At once, but I intend to return before finally starting for Mexico,’ answered James, his heart sinking, and all the glow gone from his cherished picture of the future.
‘Margaret an heiress!’ repeated Maynard to himself as he proceeded on his way. This is indeed a blow to my hopes. Her wealth makes an infinitely greater gap between us than my poverty. How this haughty lord would scoff at my presumption, if he knew what had passed! A strange circumstance, too, that the first and only time he has ever referred to her in my presence, it should be to inflict this crushing blow. Is it mere coincidence? Was it a chance remark? He knows that we have met of late; that I am a man, and she almost a woman, and a lovely one too; and that men and women when young are very apt to become attached to each other. Perhaps he only intended to put me on my guard; to intimate in the most delicate manner that any addresses from me will be vain. Or, can he have any idea of the fact, and without betraying his information, be seeking to outmanœuvre me? Can the dame or Margaret herself have given any hint? I will write from Oxford, and ask the old woman; and also what Margaret’s prospects really are.’
This is what he wrote from Oxford.
‘MY DEAR OLD NURSE,
‘Please keep this to yourself, and send me at once a few lines in answer. Lord Littmass intimated to me that Miss Margaret is a great heiress, and consequently far beyond my reach. Can you tell me the facts, that I may not make a fool of myself in the dark.
‘Also, can Lord L. have any ides of my attachment?
Several days passed, and James Maynard received no answer. This delay caused him much anxiety. Could his note by any chance have got into Lord Littmass’s hands? Of course letters for the servants generally went straight to them; but, he remembered now, something had been said about a visit to the coast, and a letter to the dame might be referred to the master for re-direction. If so, the Oxford, postmark and the handwriting would excite his curiosity, and he might detain or destroy the letter, or make the dame tell him its contents.
At length the delay was explained by the answer, which was as follows: –
‘Cove Cottage, Porlock, North Devon.
‘Your letter has just reached me. His lordship is very penetrating, but he cannot know anything of what you ask. My young lady’s prospects depend entirely upon him. He is not rich, as people suppose. If there is any condescension it will be on your part. Pray destroy this note. This is a very retired place, close by the sea. My young lady is delighted with it, and bathes daily. She has already begun the German task which you gave her.
‘Yours respectfully, and obediently,
The reconciliation of the two statements respecting Margaret’s ‘prospects’ was a problem that James confessed himself unable to solve. Combining all the statements made on the subject, it would appear that she had nothing of her own, that Lord Littmass intended her to be his heiress, and that he had little to bestow upon her; a combination which by no means
bore out the ‘fine prospects,’ of which her guardian had spoken to James.
Again, what could be the old woman’s meaning by the condescension being on his part? ‘Who could he be, and who Margaret? These were questions to which he had never cared to find answers. Now, a solution readily presented itself. Margaret must be an illegitimate daughter of Lord Littmass, and he was her superior in virtue of such birth. The dame, he well knew, was the last person to speak at random, or to make a positive assertion without ample justification. The curt and sententious style of her note showed him that it cost her a considerable effort to prevail upon herself to tell him so much, and that it was not without a considerable misgiving lest her regard for him was leading her to exceed her duty.
Amid all his perplexity one course alone stood out before him as meeting most of the practical and the sentimental emergencies. This was, to appeal point-blank to Lord Littmass, who, as the guardian of them both, was entitled to this consideration, and to ask for his sanction to their engagement. Yet, what was the use? His answer could only be of one kind. Had he not, indeed, already given an answer in anticipation?
‘Ah!’ cried James, wincing, as the thought struck him like a sudden shot. I see it all. He has purposely put it out of my power as an honourable man, to make any advances towards Margaret, by telling me that she is rich, while I am a pauper. No good, then, asking his permission until I have gained my independence. He would make me contemptible in her eyes by representing me as seeking her for her wealth, and withdrawing her from the position which she has a right to claim. And if she, – indeed, stand in the relation to him which seems most probable, he will doubly resent, as an instance of ingratitude, the thwarting of his plans by me. Margaret is in seclusion. There is no one to make her forget me. I will not seek her again before I leave England, but write a few lines of farewell and hope. And then to work! Who knows but that this expedition may lead to fortune? The Spaniards did not rob Mexico of all its gold and silver. I may do a good thing for myself as well as for the Company. But in enriching Lord Littmass I shall but widen the gulf that separates me from Margaret! No matter. Perhaps he will be duly grateful, and she at least will know that I sought her, believing her to be poorer than myself, and that I sought wealth only for her sake; and, when rich, I will present
myself to Lord Littmass and demand her. To work! then, to work! and this time to work that will pay, pay in coin, not in honour merely, or barren self-culture.’