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[-11-]

CHAPTER V.

ELIGIBLE ACQUAINTANCES.

    FOUR years passed away.
    During that interval no tidings of the discarded son reached the disconsolate father and unhappy brother; and all the exertions of the former to discover some trace of the fugitive were fruitless. Vainly did he lavish considerable sums upon that object: uselessly did he despatch emissaries to all the great manufacturing towns of England, as well as to the principal capitals of Europe, to endeavour to procure some information of him whom he would have received as the prodigal son, and to welcome whose return he would have "killed the fatted calf:" - all his measures to discover his son's retreat were unavailing.
    At length, after a lapse of four years, he sank into the tomb - the victim of a broken heart!
    A few days previous to his death, he made a will in favour of his remaining son, the guardianship of whom he intrusted to a Mr. Monroe, who was an opulent City merchant, and an old and sincere friend.
    Thus, at the age of nineteen, Richard found himself his own master, with a handsome allowance to meet his present wants, and with a large fortune in the perspective of two years more. Mr. Monroe, feeling the utmost confidence in the young man's discretion and steadiness, permitted him to reside in the old family mansion, and interfered with him and his pursuits as little as possible.
    The ancient abode of the family of Markham was a spacious and commodious building but of heavy and sombre appearance. This gloomy aspect of the architecture was increased by the venerable trees that formed a dense rampart of verdure around the edifice. The grounds belong big to the house were not extensive, but were tastefully laid out; and within the enclosure over which the dominion of Richard Markham extended, was the green hill surmounted by the two ash trees. From the summit of that eminence the mighty metropolis might be seen in all its vastitude - that metropolis whose one single heart was agitated with so many myriads of conflicting passions, warring interests, and opposite feelings.
    Perhaps a dozen pages of laboured description will not afford the reader a better idea of the characters and dispositions of the two brothers than that which has already been conveyed by their conversation and conduct detailed in the preceding chapter. Eugene was all selfishness and egotism, Richard all generosity and frankness: the former deceitful, astute, and crafty, the latter honourable even to a fault.
    With Eugene, for the present, we have little to do; the course of our narrative follows the fortunes of Richard Markham.
    The disposition of this young man was some what reserved, although by no means misanthropical nor melancholy. That characteristic resulted only from the domesticated nature of his habits. He was attached to literary pursuits, and frequently passed entire hours together in his study, poring over works of a scientific and instructive nature. When he stirred abroad for the purpose of air and exercise, he preferred a long ramble upon foot, amongst the fields in the vicinity of his dwelling, to a parade of himself and his fine horse amid the busy haunts of wealth and fashion at the West End of London.
    It was, nevertheless, upon a beautiful after noon in the month of August, 1835, that Richard appeared amongst the loungers in Hyde Park. He was on foot and attired in deep mourning; but his handsome countenance, symmetrical form, and thoroughly genteel and unassuming air attracted attention.
    Parliament had been prorogued a fortnight before; and all London was said to be "out of town." Albeit, it was evident that a considerable portion of London was "in town," for there were many gorgeous equipages rolling along "the drive," and the enclosure was pretty well sprinkled with well-dressed groups and dotted with solitary fashionable gentlemen upon foot.
    From the carriages that rolled past many bright eyes were for a moment turned upon Richard; and in these equipages there were not wanting young female bosoms which heaved at the contrast afforded by that tall and elegant youth, so full of vigour and health, and whose countenance beamed with intelligence, and the old, emaciated, and semi-childish husbands [-12-] seated by their sides, and whose wealth had purchased their hands, but never succeeded in obtaining their hearts.
    Richard, wearied with his walk, seated himself upon a bench, and contemplated with some interest the moving pageantry before him. He was thus occupied when he was suddenly accosted by a stranger, who seated himself by his side in an easy manner, and addressed some common-place observation to him.
    This individual was a man of about two-and-thirty, elegantly attired, agreeable in his manners, and prepossessing in appearance. Under this superficial tegument of gentility a quicker eye than Richard Markham's would have detected a certain swagger in his gait and a kind of dashing recklessness about him which produced an admirable effect upon the vulgar or the inexperienced, but which were not calculated to inspire immediate confidence in the thorough man of the world. Richard was, however, all frankness and honour himself, and he did not scruple to return such an answer to the stranger's remark as was calculated to encourage farther conversation.
    "I see the count is abroad again," observed the stranger, following with his eyes one of the horsemen in "the drive." "Poor fellow! he has been playing at hide-and-seek for a long time."
    "Indeed! and wherefore?" exclaimed Richard.
    "What! are you a stranger in London, sir?" cried the well-dressed gentleman, transferring his eyes from the horseman to Markham's countenance, on which they were fixed with an expression of surprise and interest.
    "Very nearly so, although a resident in its immediate vicinity all my life;" and, with the natural ingenuousness of youth, Richard immediately communicated his entire history, from beginning to end, to his new acquaintance. Of a surety there was not much to relate; but the stranger succeeded in finding out who the young man was, under what circumstances he was now living, and the amount of his present and future resources.
    "Of course you mean to see life?" said the stranger.
    "Certainly. I have already studied the great world by the means of books."
    "But of course you know that there is nothing like experience."
    "I can understand how experience is necessary to a man who is anxious to make a fortune, but not to him who has already got one."
    "Oh, decidedly! It is frequently more difficult to keep a fortune than it was to obtain one."
    "How - if I do not speculate?"
    "No; but others will speculate upon you."
    "I really cannot comprehend you. As I do not wish to increase my means, having enough, I shall neither speculate with my own nor allow people to speculate with it for me; and thus I can run no risk of losing what I possess."
    The stranger gazed half incredulously upon Markham for a minute; and then his countenance expressed a species of sneer.
    "You have never played?"
    "Played! at —?"
    "At cards; for money, I mean."
    "Oh! never!"
    "So much the better: never do. Unless," added the stranger, "it is entirely amongst friends and men of honour. But will you avail yourself of my humble vehicle, and take one turn round the Drive?"
    The stranger pointed as he spoke to a very handsome phaeton and pair at a little distance, and attended by a dapper-looking servant in light blue livery with silver lace.
    "Might I have the honour of being acquainted with the name of a gentleman who exhibits so much kindness —"
    "My dear sir, I must really apologise for my sin of omission. You confided your own circumstances so frankly to me that I cannot do otherwise then show you equal confidence in return. Besides, amongst men of honour," he continued, laying particular stress upon a word which is only so frequently used to be abused, "such communications, you know, are necessary. I do not like that system of familiarity based upon no tenable grounds, which is now becoming so prevalent in London. For instance, nothing is more common than for one gentleman to meet another in Bond-street, or the Park, or in Burlington Arcade, for example's sake, and for the one to say to the other - 'My dear friend, how are you?' - 'Quite well, old fellow, thank you; but, by-the-by, I really forget your name!' However," added the fashionable gentleman with a smile, "here is my card. My town-quarters are Long's Hotel, my country seat is in Berkshire, and my shooting-box is in Scotland, at all of which I shall be most happy to see you."
    Richard, who was not only highly satisfied with the candour and openness of his new friend, but also very much pleased and amused with him, returned suitable acknowledgments for this kind invitation; and, glancing his ekes over the card which had been placed in his hands, perceived that he was conversing with the HONOURABLE ARTHUR CHICHESTER.
    As they were moving towards the phaeton, a gentleman, elegantly attired, of about the middle age, and particularly fascinating in his manners, accosted Mr. Chichester.
    "Ah! who would have thought of meeting you here - when London is actually empty, and am ashamed of being yet left in it? Our mutual friend the duke assured me that you were gone to Italy!"
    "The duke always has some joke at my expense," returned Mr. Chichester. "He was once the cause of a very lovely girl committing suicide. She was the only one I ever loved; and he one day declared in her presence that I had just embarked for America. Poor thing! she went straight up to her room, and —"
    "And!' echoed Richard.
    "Took poison!" added Mr. Chichester, turning away his head for a moment, and drawing an elegant cambric handkerchief across his eyes.
    "Good heavens!" ejaculated Markham.
    "Let me not trouble you with my private afflictions. Sir Rupert, allow me to introduce my friend Mr. Markham:- Mr. Markham, Sir Rupert Harborough."
    The two gentlemen bowed, and the introduction was effected.
    "Whither are you bound?" inquired Sir Rupert.
    "We were thinking of an hour's drive," leisurely replied Mr. Chichester; "and it was then my intention to have asked my friend Mr. Markham to dine with me at Long's. Will you join us, Sir Rupert ?"
    "Upon my honour, nothing would give me [-13-] greater pleasure; but I am engaged to meet the duke at Tattersall's; and I am then under a solemn promise to dine and pass the evening with Diana."
    "Always gallant - always attentive to the ladies!" exclaimed Mr. Chichester.
    "You know, my dear fellow, that Diana is so amiable, so talented, so fascinating, so accomplished, and so bewitching, that I can refuse her nothing. It is true her wants and whims are somewhat expensive at times; but —"
    "Harborough, I am surprised at you! What! complain of the fantasies of the most beautiful woman in London - if not in England - you a man of seven thousand a year, and who at the death of an uncle —"
    "Upon my honour I begrudge her nothing!" interrupted Sir Rupert, complacently stroking his chin with his elegantly-gloved hand. "But, by the way, if you will honour me and Diana with your company this evening - and if Mr. Markham will also condescend —"
    "With much pleasure," said Mr. Cbichester; "and I am sure that my friend Mr. Markham will avail himself of this opportunity of forming the acquaintance of the most beautiful and fascinating woman in England."
    Richard bowed: he dared not attempt an excuse. He had heard himself dubbed the friend of the Honourable Mr. Arthur Chichester; his ears had caught an intimation of a dinner at Long's, which he knew by report to be the head-quarters of that section of the fashionable world that consists of single young gentlemen; and he now found himself suddenly engaged to pass the evening with Sir Rupert Harborough and a lady  of whom all he knew was that her name was Diana, and that she was the most beautiful and fascinating creature in England.
    Truly, all this was enough to dazzle him; and he accordingly resigned himself to Mr. Arthur Chichester's good will and pleasure.
    Sir Rupert Harborough now remembered "that he must not keep the duke waiting;" and having kissed the tip of his lemon-coloured glove to Mr. Chichester, and made a semi-ceremonious, semi-gracious bow to Markham - that kind of  bow whose formality is attempered by the blandness of the smile accompanying it - he hastened away.
    It may be, however, mentioned as a singular circumstance, and as a proof of how little he cared about keeping "the duke" waiting, that, instead of proceeding towards Tattersall's, he departed in the direction of Oxford-street.
    This little incident was, however, unnoticed by Richard - for the simple reason, that at this epoch of his life he did not know where Tattersall's was.
    "What do you think of my friend the baronet?" inquired Mr. Chichester, as they rolled leisurely along "the Drive" in the elegant phaeton.
    "I am quite delighted with him," answered Richard; "and if her ladyship be only as agreeable as her husband —"
    "Excuse me, but you must not call her 'her ladyship.' Address her and speak of her simply as Mrs. Arlington."
    "I am really at a loss to comprehend —-"
    "My dear friend," said Chichester, sinking his voice, although there was no danger of being overheard, "Diana is not the wife of Sir Rupert Harborough. The baronet is unmarried; and this lady-"
    "Is his mistress," added Markham hastily. "In that case I most certainly shall not accept the kind invitation I received for this evening."
    "Nonsense, my dear friend! You must adapt your behaviour to the customs of the sphere in which you move. You belong to the aristocracy - like me - and like the baronet! In the upper class, even supposing you have a wife, she is only an encumbrance. Nothing is so characteristic of want of gentility as to marry early; and as for children, pah! they are the very essence of vulgarity! Then, of course, every man of fashion m London has his mistress, even though he only keeps her for the sake of his friends. This is quite allowable amongst the aristocracy. Remember, I am not advocating the cause of immorality: I would not have every butcher, and tea-dealer, and linen-draper do the same. God forbid! Then it would, indeed, be the height of depravity!"
    "Since it is the fashion, and you assure me that there is nothing wrong in this connexion between the baronet and Mrs. Arlington - at least, that the usages of high life admit it - I will not advance any farther scruples," said Richard; although he had a slight suspicion, like the ringing of far-distant bells in the ears, that the doctrine which his companion had just propounded was not based upon the most tenable grounds.
    It was now half-past six o'clock in the evening; and, one after the other, the splendid equipages and gay horsemen withdrew in somewhat rapid succession. The weather was nevertheless still exquisitely fine; indeed, it was the most enchanting portion of the entire day. The sky was of a soft and serene azure, upon which appeared here and there thin vapours of snowy white, motionless and still; for not a breath of wind stirred the leaf upon the tree. Never did Naples, nor Albano, nor Sorrentum, boast a more beautiful horizon; and as the sun sank towards the western verge, he bathed all that the eye could embrace - earth and shy, dwelling and grove, garden and field - in a glorious flood of  golden light.
    At seven o'clock Mr. Chichester and his new acquaintance sat down to dinner in the coffee-room at Long's Hotel. The turtle was unexceptionable; the iced punch faultless. Then came the succulent neck of venison, and the prime Madeira. The dinner passed off pleasantly enough; and Richard was more and more captivated with bin friend. He was, however, somewhat astonished at the vast quantities of wine which the Honourable Mr. Chichester swallowed, apparently without the slightest inconvenience to himself.
    Mr. Chichester diverted him with amusing anecdotes, lively sallies, and extraordinary narratives; and Richard found that his new friend had not only travelled all over Europe, but was actually the bosom friend of some of the most powerful of its sovereigns. These statements, moreover, rather appeared to slip forth in the course of conversation, than to be made purposely; and thus they were stamped with an additional air of truth and importance.
    At about half-past nine the Honourable Mr. Chichester proposed to adjourn to the lodgings of Mrs. Arlington. Richard, who had been induced by the example of his friend and by the  excitement of an interesting conversation, to imbibe more wine than he was accustomed to [-14-] take, was now delighted with the prospect of passing an agreeable evening; and he readily acceded to Mr. Chichester's proposal.
    Mrs. Arlington occupied splendidly furnished apartments on the first and second floors over a music-shop in Bond-street: thither, therefore, did the two gentlemen repair on foot; and in a short time they were introduced into the drawing-room where the baronet and his fair companion were seated.

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