< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >


[-7-]

CHAPTER IV.

THE TWO TREES.

    IT was between eight and nine o'clock, on a delicious evening, about a week after the events related in the preceding chapters, that two youths issued from Mr. Markham's handsome, but somewhat secluded dwelling, in the northern part of the environs of London, and slowly ascended the adjacent hill. There was an interval of four years between the ages of these youths, the elder being upwards of nineteen, and the younger about fifteen; but it was easy to perceive by the resemblance which existed between them that they were brothers. They walked at a short distance from each other, and exchanged not a word as they ascended the somewhat steep path which conducted them to the summit of the eminence that overlooked the mansion they had just left. The elder proceeded first; and from time to time he clenched his fists, and knit his brows, and gave other silent but expressive indications of the angry passions which were concentrated in his breast. His brother followed him with downcast eyes, and with a countenance denoting the deep anguish that oppressed him. In this manner they arrived at the top of the hill, where they seated themselves upon a bench, which stood between two young ash saplings.
    For a long time the brothers remained silent; but at length the younger of the two suddenly burst into tears, and exclaimed, "Oh! why, dearest Eugene, did we choose this spot to say farewell - perhaps for ever?"
    "We could not select a more appropriate one, Richard," returned the elder brother. "Four years ago those trees were planted by our hands; and we have ever since called them by our own names. When we were wont to separate, to repair to our respective schools, we came hither to talk over our plans, to arrange the periods of our correspondence, and to anticipate the pursuits that should engage us during the vacations. And when we returned from our seminaries, we hastened hither, hand-in-hand, to see how our trees flourished; and he was most joyous and proud whose sapling appeared to expand the more luxuriantly. If ever we quarrelled, Richard, it was here that we made our peace again; and, seated upon this bench, we have concocted plans for the future; which, haply, will never now be realised!"
    "You are right, my dear brother," said Richard, after a pause, during which he appeared to reflect profoundly upon Eugene's words; "we could not have selected a better spot. Still it is [-8-] all those happy days to which you allude that now render this moment the more bitter. Tell me, must you depart? Is there no alternative? Can I not intercede with our father? Surely, surely, he will not discard one so young as you, and whom he has loved - must still love - so tenderly?"
    "Intercede with my father!" repeated Eugene, with an irony which seemed extraordinary in one of his tender age; "no never! He has signified his desire, he has commanded me no longer to pollute his dwelling - those were his very words, and he shall be obeyed."
    "Our father was incensed, deeply incensed, when he spoke," urged Richard, whose voice was rendered almost inaudible by his sobs; "and to-morrow he will repent of his harshness towards you."
    "Our father had no right to blame me," said Eugene violently; "all that has occurred originated in his own conduct towards me The behaviour of a parent to his son is the element of that son's ruin or success in after life."
    "I know not how you can reproach our father, Eugene," said Richard, somewhat reproachfully, "for he has ever conducted himself with tenderness towards us; and since the  death of our dear mother —"
    "You are yet too young, Richard," interrupted Eugene impatiently, "to comprehend the nature of the accusation which I bring against my father. I will, however, attempt to enable you to understand my meaning, so that you may not imagine that I am acting with duplicity when I endeavour to find a means of extenuation, if not of justification, for my own conduct. My father lavished his gold upon my education, as he also did upon yours; and he taught us from childhood to consider ourselves the sons of wealthy parents who would enable their children to move with éclat in an elevated sphere of life. It was just this day year that I joined my regiment at Knightsbridge. I suddenly found myself thrown amongst gay, dissipated, and wealthy young men - my brother officers. Many of them were old acquaintances, and had been my companions at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. They speedily enlisted me in all their pleasures and debaucheries, and my expenditure soon exceeded my pay and my allowance. I became involved in debts, and was compelled to apply to my father to relieve me from my embarrassments. I wrote a humble and submissive letter, expressing contrition for my faults, and promising to avoid similar pursuits in future. Indeed, I was wearied of the dissipation into which I had plunged, and should have profited well by the experience my short career of pleasure and folly had enabled me to acquire. I trembled upon that verge when my father could either ruin or save me. He did not reply to my letter, and I had not courage to seek an interview with him. Again did I write to him: no answer. I had lost money at private play, and had contracted debts in the same manner. Those, Richard, are called debts of honour, and must be paid in full to your creditor, however wealthy he may be, even though your servants and tradesmen should be cheated out of their hard-earned and perhaps much-.needed money altogether. I wrote a third time to our father, and still no notice was taken of my appeal. The officers to whom I owed the money lost at play began to look coldly upon me, and I was reduced to a state of desperation. Still I waited for a few days, and for a fourth time wrote to my father. It appears that he was resolved to make me feel the inconvenience of the position in which I had placed myself by my follies; and he sent me no answer. I then called at the house, and he refused to see me. This you know, Richard. What could I do? Driven mad by constant demands for money which I could not pay, and smarting under the chilling glances and taunting allusions of my brother officers, I sold my commission. You are acquainted with the rest. I came home, threw myself at my father's feet, and he spurned me away from him! Richard, was my crime so very great? and has not the unjust, the extreme severity of my father been the cause of all my afflictions?"
    "1 dare not judge between you," said Richard mildly.
    "But what doss common sense suggest?" demanded Eugene.
    "Doubtless our father knows best," returned the younger brother.
    "Old men are often wrong, in spite of their experience - in spite of their years," persisted Eugene.
    "My dear brother," said Richard, "I am afraid to exercise my judgment in a case where I stand a chance of rebelling against my father, or questioning his wisdom; and, at the same time, I am anxious to believe everything in your justification."
    "I knew that you would not comprehend me," exclaimed Eugene, impatiently. "It is ridiculous not to dare to have an opinion of one's own! My dear brother," he added, turning suddenly round, "you have been to Eton to little purpose: I thought that nearly as much of the world was to be seen there as at Sandhurst. I find that I was mistaken."
    And Eugene felt and looked annoyed at the turn which the conversation had taken.
    Richard was unhappy, and remained silent.
    In the meantime the sun had set; and the darkness was gradually becoming more intense.
    Suddenly Eugene grasped his brother's hand, and exclaimed, "Richard, I shall now depart!"
   "Impossible!" cried the warm-hearted youth: "you will not leave me thus -  you will not abandon your father also, for a hasty word that he has spoken, and which he will gladly recal to-morrow? Oh! no - Eugene, you will not leave the dwelling in which you were born, and where you have passed so many happy hours! What will become of you? What do you purpose? What plan have you in view?"
    "I have a few guineas in my pocket," returned Eugene; "and many a princely fortune has been based upon a more slender foundation."
    "Yes," said Richard hastily; "you read of fortunes being easily acquired in novels and romances; and in past times persons may have enriched themselves suddenly; but in the great world of the present day, Eugene, I am afraid that such occurrences are rare and seldom seen."
    "You know nothing of the world, Richard," said Eugene, almost contemptuously. "There are thousands of persons in London who live well  and keep up splendid establishments, without any apparent resources; and I am man of the world enough to be well aware that those always thrive the best in the long run who have the least to lose at starting. At all events I shall try my fortune. I will not, cannot succumb to a parent [-9-]

who has caused my ruin at my very first entrance into life."
    "May God prosper your pursuits, and send you the fortune which you appear to aim at!" ejaculated Richard fervently. "But once again - and for the last time let me implore you - let me entreat you not to push this rash and hasty resolve into execution. Do stay - do not leave me, my dearest, dearest brother!"
    "Richard, not all the powers of human persuasion shall induce me to abandon my present determination;" cried Eugene emphatically, and rising from the bench as he spoke. "It is growing late, and I must depart. Now listen, my dear boy, to what I have to say to you."
    "Speak, speak!" murmured Richard, sobbing as if his heart would break.
    "All will be yet well," said Eugene, slightly touched by his brother's profound affliction. "I am resolved not to set foot in my father's house again; you must return thither and pack me up my papers and my necessaries."
    "And you will not leave this spot until my return?" said Richard.
    "Solemnly I promise that," answered Eugene. "But stay; on your part you must faithfully pledge yourself not to seek my father, nor in any way interfere between him and me. Nay, do not remonstrate; you must promise."
    "I promise you all - anything you require," said Richard mournfully; and, after affectionately embracing his brother, he hurried down the hill towards the mansion, turning back from, time to time to catch a glimpse of Eugene's figure through the increasing gloom, to satisfy himself that he was still there between the two saplings.
    Richard entered the house, and stole softly up to the bed-room which his brother usually occupied when at home. He began his mournful task of putting together the few things which Eugene has desired him to select and while he was thus employed the tears rolled down his cheeks in torrents. At one moment he was inclined to hurry to his father, and implore him to interfere in [-10-] lime to prevent Eugene's departure; but he remembered his solemn promise, and he would not break it. Assuredly this was a sense of honour so extreme, that it might be denominated false; but it was, nevertheless, the sentiment which controlled all the actions of him who cherished it. Tenderly, dearly as he loved his brother - bitterly as he deplored his intended departure, he still would not forfeit his word and take the simple step which would probably have averted the much-dreaded evil. Richard's sense of honour and inflexible integrity triumphed, on all occasions, over every other consideration, feeling, and desire; and of this characteristic of his brother's nature Eugene was well aware.
    Richard had made a small package of the articles which he had selected, and was about to leave the room to return to his brother, when the sound of a footstep in the passage communicating with the chamber, suddenly fell upon his ear.
    Scarcely had he time to recover from the alarm into which this circumstance had thrown him, when the door slowly opened, and the butler entered the apartment.
    He was a man of about fifty years of age, with a jolly red face, a somewhat bulbous nose, small laughing eyes, short grey hair standing upright in front, whiskers terminating an inch above his white cravat, and in person considerably inclined to corpulency. In height he was about five feet seven inches, and had a peculiar shuffling rapid walk, which he had learnt by some twenty-five years' practice in little journeys from the side-board in the dining-room to his own pantry, and back again. He was possessed of an excellent heart, and was a good-humoured companion; but pompous, and swelling with importance in the presence of those whom he considered his inferiors. He was particularly addicted to hard words; and as, to use his own expression, he was "self-taught," it is not to be wondered if he occasionally gave those aforesaid hard words a pronunciation and a meaning which militated a little against received rules. In attire, he was unequalled for the whiteness of his cravat, the exuberance of his shirt-frill, the elegance of his waistcoat, the set of his kerseymere tights, and the punctilious neatness of his black silk stockings, and his well-polished shoes.
    "Well, Master Richard," said the butler, as he shuffled into the room, with a white napkin under his left arm, "what in the name of every-think indiwisible is the matter now?"
    "Nothing, nothing, Whittingham," replied the youth. "You had better go down stairs - my father may want you."
    "If so be your father wants anythink, Tom will despond to the summins as usual," said the butler, leisurely seating himself upon a chair close by the table whereon Richard had placed his package. "But might I be so formiliar as to inquire into the insignification of that bundle of shirts and ankerchers?"
    "Whittingham, I implore you to ask me no questions: I am in a hurry - and —"
    "Master Richard, Master Richard," cried the butler, shaking his head gravely, "I'm very much afeerd that somethink preposterious is going to incur. I could not remain a entire stranger to all that has transpirated this day; and now I know what it is," he added, slapping his right hand smartly upon his thigh; "your brother's a-going to amputate it!"
    "To what?"
    "To cut it, then, if you reprehend that better. But it shan't be done, Master Richard-it shan't be done!"
    "Whittingham —"
    "That's my nomenklitter, Master Richard," said the old man, doggedly; "and it was one of the fust you ever learned to pernounce. Behold ye, Master Richard, I have a right to speak - for I have knowed you both from your cradles - and loved you too! Who was it, when you come into this subluminary spear - who was it as nussed you - and —"
    "Good Whittingham, I know all that, and —"
    "I have no overdue curiosity to satisfy, Master Richard," observed the butler; "but my soul's inflicted to think that you and Master Eugene couldn't make a friend of old Whitting ham. I feel it here, Master Richard - here, on my buzzim!" - and the worthy old domestic dealt himself a tremendous blow upon the chest as he uttered these words.
    "I must leave you now, Whittingham, and I desire you to remain here until my return," said Richard. "Do you hear, Whittingham?"
    "Yes, Master Richard; but I don't choose to do as you would wish in this here instance. I shall foller you."
    "What, Whittingham?"
    "I shall foller you, sir."
    "Well - you can do that," said Richard, suddenly remembering that his brother had in any wise cautioned him against such an intervention as this; "and pray God it may lead to some good."
    "Ah! now I see that I am raly wanted," said the butler, a smile of satisfaction playing upon his rubicund countenance.
    Richard now led the way from the apartment, the butler following him in a stately manner. They descended the stairs, crossed the garden, and entered the path which led to the top of the hill.
    "Two trees, I suppose?" said the old domestic inquiringly.
    "Yes - he is there!" answered Richard; "but the reminiscence of the times - when we planted those saplings has failed to induce him to abandon a desperate resolution."
    "Ah! he ain't got Master Richard's heart I always knowed that," mused the old man half audibly as he trudged along. "There are them two lads - fine tall youths - both black hair, and intelligible black eyes - admirably formed - straight as arrows - and yet so diversified in disposition !"
    Richard and the butler now reached the top of the hill. Eugene was seated upon the bench in a deep reverie; and it was not until his brother and the faithful old domestic stood before him, that he awoke from that fit of abstraction.
    "What! is that you, Whittingham?" he exclaimed, the moment he recognised the butler. "Richard, I did not think you would have done this."
    "It wasn't Master Richard's fault, sir," said Whittingham; "I was rayther too wide awake not to smell what was a-going on by virtue of my factory nerves; and so —"
    "My dear Whittingham," hastily interrupted Eugene, "I know that you are a faithful servant to my father, and very much attached to us: on that very account, pray do not interfere!"
    "Interfere!" ejaculated Whittingham, tho-[-11-]roughly amazed at being thus addressed, while a tear started into his eye: "not interfere, Master Eugene? Well, I'm - I'm - I'm regularly flabbergasted!"
    "My mind is made up," said Eugene, "and no persuasion shall alter its decision. I am my own master - my father's conduct has emancipated me from all deference to parental authority. Richard, you have brought my things? We must now say adieu."
    "My dearest brother —"
    "Master Eugene —"
    "Whither are you going?"
    "I am an the road to fame and fortune!"
    "Alas!" said Richard mournfully, "you may perhaps find that this world is not so fruitful in resources as you now imagine."
    "All remonstrances - all objections are vain," interrupted Eugene impatiently. "We must say adieu! But one word more," he added, after an instant's pause, as a sudden thought seemed to strike him; "you doubt the possibility of my success in life, and I feel confident of it Do you pursue your career under the auspices of that parent in whose wisdom you so blindly repose: I will follow mine, dependent only on mine own resources. This is the 10th of July, 1831; twelve years hence, on the 10th of .July, 1843, we will meet again upon this very spot, between the two trees, if they be still standing. Remember the appointment: we will then compare notes relative to our success in life!"
    The moment he had uttered these words, Eugene hastily embraced his brother, who struggled in vain to retain him; and, having wrung the hand of the old butler, who was now sobbing like a child, the discarded son threw his little bundle over his shoulder, and hurried away from the spot.
    So precipitately did he descend the hill in the direction leading away from the mansion, and towards the multitudinous metropolis at a little distance, that he was out of sight before his brother or Whittingham even thought of pursuing him.
    They lingered for some time upon the summit of the hill, without exchanging a word; and then, maintaining the same silence, slowly retraced their steps towards the mansion.

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >