SOPHIA BEVAN TO EDMUND NOEL.
‘You are a good child to write directly you got to the destination to which you
have been so mysteriously and unseasonably spirited away; though I haven’t half
forgiven you yet for going. But I have so much to tell you that I cannot stop to
scold you properly. The tangle out of which you so timely escaped, leaving us
all to our fates, was unravelled in the saddest manner, not twelve hours after
‘A day which must have been one of intense worry to him was wound up by a most painful interview with Mr. Maynard, who, on being refused leave to address Margaret, suddenly demanded to know who his father was. It was then that Lord Littmass first showed the signs of the malady of which he must soon after have died. He sent Mr. Maynard away, telling him to call the next day, and forbade him to summon any assistance. The only other person who saw him alive was the servant for whom he rang to tell Margaret that she need not sit up longer. He told the man that he should want nothing more that night; so they all went to bed, leaving him alone in his study, far away from help.
‘He must have remained for some hours thinking over the events of the day, and the inevitable discovery which must soon
be made of his affairs, which have turned out to be in a shocking state; and this, combined with the interview with his son, seems to have worked him up into a pitch of frenzy, – judging, by the sad and extraordinary train of thought which took possession of his brain at the last moment. Edmund, this old man must have died alone and mad, with a houseful of servants at call, and he must have been driven mad by the contemplation of his own life. I have cried myself almost blind over the memorials of his last hours. Everybody does not understand them as I do. He had taken a very strong stimulant after James left him, which set his heart on fire, as well as his brain. They thought at first, when the empty vial has found, that he had purposely poisoned himself, and that there must be an inquest. But the doctor said that he had only taken an overdose of a cordial which he had told him to keep at hand in case of any faintness coming on, for that his heart was his weak point; and so he was published as having “died after a short illness, of disease of the heart;” and the papers, commenting on the event, have extolled him as an author who put himself into his books, and wrote from his heart until ha expended his very vitality for the public advantage.
‘But; I was going to say that he must in his madness or delirium have mistaken his ideas for realities, and his written thoughts for uttered words. He evidently fancied that his son was in the room, long after he had gone, and that he was conversing, with him. And it is this fancied conversation that he has written down. In it he repents of his whole past and owns Mr. Maynard, whom he affectionately calls “James,” to be his son.
‘You would think that this recognition was enough to justify Mr. Maynard in assuming his father’s name and title. But not a certificate or scrap of paper of any kind has been found to prove either Lord Littmass’s marriage, or the birth of his child; and it is doubtful whether, even if that can be proved, there is any way of establishing the son’s right to the succession. The difficulty was first started by the question as to who should take out letters of administration, for there is no will. Mr. Maynard was very averse to acting as nearest of kin on so recent a notice of the fact, and after a discussion with the lawyers, in which he said that he was by no means disposed to assume the double burden of his father’s rank and debts, and preferred keeping his old name and style, it was arranged that
act as her cousin’s executor. It is a great undertaking, but her solicitor in
‘I hope you will manage to be here when Mr. Maynard comes. With one lover to two
women I shall be sadly put about to manage without you. I suppose your business
‘Ever yours affectionately,
A still more potent influence exerted itself to cut Noel’s sojourn at Auray (the village in which he lodged during his visit to
country, the primitive good nature of the Bretagne peasantry, and the glorious seas which under pressure of winter gales rolled in from the Atlantic within easy reach of his quarters, combined with the work, in which he was taking great delight, to make his time pass exceedingly pleasantly.
It was a letter from Mr. Tresham, saying, that a bank in San Francisco, in which he was very largely interested, had entered upon a course of speculation which appeared to him to be of so hazardous a character, that be wanted such special and reliable information as could only be given by a trustworthy agent upon the spot; and that Edmund, if he would undertake the commission, should have a handsome recompense for his trouble. The letter concluded by saying, that as he was his uncle’s heir both by nature and by affection, the practical knowledge to be gained by such an expedition would prove most valuable to him in the future; and held out the prospect of a series of enjoyable visits to various countries bordering on the Pacific, in which Mr. Tresham possessed interests. Only, if be would go, no time must be lost.
Noel went rapidly through the conflicting currents of reflection usual on the
receipt of an offer that involves an important step in life. He had nothing to
keep him in
His deliberations were soon completed, and he answered his uncle’s proposition
by presenting himself at his house in
Now Edmund Noel, although rejoicing to a certain extent at escaping the affectionate tyranny that Sophia’s friendship would have imposed upon him in the shape of the aforesaid regrets and reproaches, no sooner found himself out of their reach than he felt somewhat ashamed of himself for permitting the existence of such a feeling in respect of a friend of whose genuine unselfish regard he had no doubt whatever. And he blamed the fastidiousness of his disposition which caused him to depreciate or slight anything so precious in itself as the interest taken in him by a true, clever, and high-minded woman simply because it was expressed with more animation than it was in his own nature to exhibit. He was not one of those men who rejected all self-examination and self-correction, saying, ‘It’s no use; I am made so, and can’t alter myself.’ But he had his ideal of life and character, and deemed it his business to conform to that ideal as far as he possibly could. And in instituting a comparative mental anatomy between himself and Sophia, his conclusions were, just now at least, not always in his own favour. If intensity was with her accompanied by loudness or demonstrativeness, might it not be that he was deficient in the force requisite for exertion in two such opposite directions? So he reasoned himself into believing that hers was a case in which demonstrativeness, so far from indicating a lack of intensity, rather proceeded from a superabundance of force, and tutored himself into regretting the sensitiveness which caused the combination to jar upon him.
He felt additional self-reproach when the mail that reached San Francisco a month alter his arrival, brought him a letter from her with just the proper proportion of affectionate regrets, and not a word more than he liked. At that distance from home and all his friends he learned to welcome eagerly any token of affection, without a thought of fastidious scrutiny as to the manner in which it might be conveyed. The letter ran thus: –
‘MY DEAREST BOY,
‘You have made a terrible hole in my life by taking yourself off, or rather the Fates have made it, and I won’t blame you; but only beg you to do what you have to do and come quickly back again. Luckily I have had plenty to keep me from fretting; and don’t be cross at my saying that I have learnt to appreciate you better than I ever did when you were here; and
it is all owing to my new cousin Margaret, who is living with us at Linnwood. Think what a Power this little girl must be when she has worked such a revolution in me as to make me esteem Being above Doing! You remember how we used to fight about this. Well, I give in, converted, – not by you, sir, but by her angelic nature. Mind, I don’t say that you are one millionth part as good as she is, but there is just enough of resemblance to show me the meaning of you.
‘On account of Lord Littmass’s death, and Margaret and
James (as he is to be my cousin too, I shall take this liberty for short,) being
with us, we didn’t have our usual Christmas party. But your uncle came in your
place, and made himself quite a dear, especially with mamma. In fact everybody
was busy, except poor me. For James would hardly speak to me, but made
himself miserable about Margaret, with whom he is miles and miles deep in
love, till I think he will never come up again. And she, poor thing, bears it
like an angel, or, what is better, a woman, and does her best to persuade him
that she must be naturally cold in manner, and that he must not fancy that her
absence of demonstrativeness is owing to any want of affection for him. I hope
it may prove so when they are married and thrown upon each other for almost all
the society they are likely to have in
James has not seen his father’s last writings. They are of so painful a character, and show se prophetic an insight into the characters of Margaret and others whom he has taken for his models, that the solicitor advised mamma to let nobody see them but me. As you are so far away, I don’t mind telling you that Lord Littmass actually wanted to secure you for his
ward. The whole tenor of his last writings shows that he anticipated evil from her marrying James, and thought that you would suit her better. And, the very day he died, he made a formal proposal to your uncle for you! I cannot help thinking that it is very odd you should never have seen her – I mean dose enough to see her face. It is as if fate were determined to keep you apart until too late to affect your respective destinies. First, you missed her by going to France at the critical moment of Lord Littmass’s death, when you would certainly have seen her with us had you stayed in London; and, next, you are whisked away to the Pacific when I wanted you to come and see her here.
‘Who knows what might have happened had you been here now? We might have changed
all round, and everybody been a gainer. At any rate I should have got a few
words now and then with James, a thing now out of the question. I know you have
a great respect for engagements, and bold them almost too sacred to be broken. I
hold only actual marriage to be sacred, and consider an engagement as a sort of
trial to see whether people suit each other; and think that, if they don’t, it
is a kindness to part them before it is too late. I am just thinking that if you
don’t return so very soon, it won’t be very much out of your way to call at
This letter only made Noel more glad than before that he had not seen Margaret. Sensitively delicate as his mind was, had always felt a twinge of remorse for the accident that had revealed her to him when bathing, and he dreaded lest by any chance allusion or irresistible joke, Sophia should make her aware of the circumstance. The curious remarks by which this news of Lord Littmass’s strange proposal was accompanied made the omission to see her a matter of positive rejoicing to him. For though he felt himself incapable of treachery to James, yet there were incidents in his career which had taught him how easily things go wrong, and that mischief was a thing always possible; and he would not for the world give his friend cause for uneasiness.