Archive for ‘Authors In Depth’

14/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 3)


    On one side lay a thousand pounds; but in picking it up, he must not only soil his hands (which, though not very important to the principles of such a gentleman, was exceedingly repugnant to his taste,) but he must also put his safety into very considerable danger by the transaction.
    Nevertheless the bribe was too rich a one to be decisively rejected; it was impossible to foresee exactly how things might turn out… Should he succeed in leading Mr Gordon and Lord Darcy, by gentle degrees, to place themselves entirely in his friendly hands, he nothing doubted of the liberality with which, in one way or another, his important services would be rewarded. If, on the contrary, he failed in this, the bribe offered by Nixon Oglander would still be within his grasp; and if his offered friendship were rejected, he determined to deserve it…
    Fervently did he give thanks to his own foresight, when the reception which his overtures received from Mr Gordon convinced him, that there was nothing to be hoped from him, or his noble charge. His assertion, that Dally was alive, sealed the fate of Lord Darcy in his soul : he had no longer a secret to sell. He dies then,—was the conclusion at which he had arrived…

 

 

 

The reader has been put on guard before this revelation, by the dislike of her uncle felt by Emily Williams, which stems from her sense that his much-vaunted religious devotion is all show and no substance. Still—we are hardly expecting the history briefly sketched for us, recounting the transformation of Captain Bob Brown:

No hope or wish of becoming an honest man ever entered into his imagination; but he ardently desired to be considered as an honourable and respectable individual. The most obvious method of achieving this was to make a good marriage. His private and well conducted inquiries soon convinced him that a young lady of large fortune is not easily found in the United States, even by so handsome a man as the Rev. Mr Wilson; but influence and connexion were at least as necessary to him as money, and he finally decided upon laying Colonel Brown and his five thousand pounds, now converted into the Rev. Mr Wilson and his twenty thousand dollars, at the feet of a pretty girl, who was living with her brother-in-law, at that time one of the Secretaries of State.

Here Brown / Wilson misunderstands the society he has entered: a high government position in America does not necessarily imply a private fortune; and when his wife’s brother-in-law loses office, it casts all of them out of Washington high-life. He then realises that if he is going to climb, he is going to have to do it under his own powers; and soon discovers that, in the society he occupies, he could not have chosen a more effective disguise for doing so:

    He had the satisfaction of discovering, that his assumed title of reverend was most happily chosen: it immediately gave him rank and influence, and might, as it was easy for an intelligent mind to perceive, lead to more substantial advantages. He turned all his attention to the discovery of some happy spot wherein to fix himself, as the centre round which might revolve the faith, hope, and charity of the fair, the rich, and the righteous. The growing wonders of Rochester were too loudly vaunted, not to reach his sharp ear. He went there, examined the localities, ascertained the amount of the population, and the rate of its increase, and purchased an extensive lot, whereon to build a house and a church. His wife, on hearing the news, blessed the gods that she had been wedded to a saint on earth, and that she was going to be a greater lady in Rochester, than ever the Secretary of State’s wife had proved at Washington. And so she assuredly became.
    The unheard of exploit of building a church upon a man’s private funds, backed by the burning eloquence of the versatile preacher, produced an effect, even greater than he had anticipated; and he soon ruled the hearts, and almost the purses, of Rochester. That the church was of wood, and the lumber furnished on credit, in no way affected the exalted nature of the act, and the fame of Mr Wilson spread far. It were long to tell how such fame is turned to gold; but it was so turned, and by gentle degrees, wives’ pennies, and widows’ mites, accumulated upon him, till, at the time we find him, he had become nearly the most thriving, and decidedly the most influential citizen of Rochester…

Over the intervening years, a desultory correspondence has been maintained between the ci-devant Bob Brown and his old partner in crime, Nixon Oglander. The letter from the latter quoted in Part 1 reaches “Wilson” a week after the English party has left Rochester. His reaction is not exactly that of “a saint on earth”; and if he makes the right decision, it is hardly for the right reasons:

    For above half an hour Wilson sat in deep rumination on its contents. Was it not possible that he might get more out of Gordon by disclosing the truth, than Oglander offered for the crime? The manners of Mr Gordon, after his long fast from good company, suavity, and fashion, had charmed him; a connexion of confidence, intimacy, and profit, with such a man would be delightful. He read the letter again. Oglander was a monster—he would never more be the agent of such a being. He should win the eternal gratitude of the whole party. Lord Darcy might marry his beautiful daughter Emma, and Miss Gordon would again be thrown in the way of his son: it was decided.
    He felt himself a reformed man, and would not again plunge into the dirty gulph of iniquity from which his genius had redeemed him; no, not for a thousand pounds!

But even as he makes plans for following the English party to Niagara, dreaming pleasantly of an earl’s patronage and a return to London as he does so, Wilson receives a most unwelcome visitor. He also makes the mistake of drawing back instinctively from that visitor’s proffered handshake: the offended Richard Dally responds with an angry contempt that informs the infuriated Wilson that in order to compel his compliance, Oglander has revealed his secret to the young man.

Moreover, even a brief exposure to his company is enough to warn Wilson of how much danger is posed by Dally’s violent temper and thin skin: the slightest hint of evasion or patronisation on his part prompts a torrent of threats in return.

(Here we learn one of the reasons for Dally’s willingness to undertake this mission, besides his desire for revenge upon Darcy: he has interpreted the frequent description of America as “a free country” to mean there are no prisons!)

Placating Dally with soft words, good food and whiskey, and allowing him to sleep off the latter two, Wilson thinks fast. He first dispatches a cryptic letter to Oglander, deploring his choice of the unreliable Dally as his tool, and assuring him that he, Wilson, will take care of the business once Dally is out of his hair. He then sends the latter south rather than north, telling him that the English party are travelling in Virginia and may probably be found at Harper’s Ferry. He also feigns a reluctance to involve himself in the business, drawing Dally into offering to settle matters on his own in exchange for half of what Oglander has promised him, Wilson—which he mistakenly believes is the same fee of £100 he expects for his own services.

At this point we learn that Dally has indeed brought Susan and the baby with him, and has apparently married her in the interim. He is understandably reluctant to have them along for the next leg of his journey, however, and Wilson is glad enough to give him an immediate sum of cash for their support, in order to hasten his departure.

Dally gone, Wilson’s next task is to explain his own departure for Niagara, which he does by announcing to his sister-in-law that he has discovered the innocence of the Gordons, and therefore has an injustice to set right. Mrs Williams is extremely reluctant to give up her belief in the moral turpitude of the English party, and aggrieved when Mr Wilson insists upon carrying Emily with him to Niagara: though uncertain of his own reception, he has no doubt about how his niece will be received, and plans to use her as a peace envoy. Having given her reluctant consent, Mrs Williams is surprised to encounter resistance from Emily, who is suspicious of her uncle’s motives at the outset, and even more so when she hears for himself his fulsome expressions of remorse at having misjudged her friends. However, the thought of being reunited with Caroline (she does not allow herself to think “Darcy”), in combination with her mother’s command, finally overcomes her doubts and her discomfort at intruding upon the party without an invitation.

At Niagara, Emily is received exactly as Wilson anticipates. The party is less delighted by his presence, and likewise doubtful of his professed reasons for his journey. As soon as he can arrange it, Wilson has a private interview with Mr Gordon, and reveals to him his knowledge of Darcy’s real identity and the reason for his flight to America; adding that he is in danger from a secret enemy.

Mr Gordon is understandably surprised and alarmed by these revelations, and by Wilson’s refusal to reveal the source of his information. Nevertheless, he finds in the tale told him not reason for fear, but cause for hope:

    There was something in the eye, or the voice of Wilson, as he uttered these words, which awakened a strong, though vague feeling of suspicion in the mind of Mr Gordon.
    “And did not your informer mention also, sir, that Dally was alive?” said he.
    It generally happens in a conversation between an honest man and a rogue, where something is to be learnt, and something concealed, that the advantage lies on the side of the rogue; but in the present case it was altogether on the side of the honest man. This unexpected question quite overpowered Wilson; he turned pale, stammered, and finally said—
    “Really, sir, I cannot even guess what you mean.”

Wilson’s agitation, while confirming in Mr Gordon’s mind that he knows for a fact Richard Dally is still alive, also leads him to underestimate the hinted-at plot against Darcy. When Mr Gordon consults with his party – which includes Emily – there is a general consensus upon Wilson’s hypocrisy, and that there is certainly an intended assault upon Darcy’s bank-account.

Darcy is almost overwhelmed by the tacit confirmation that Dally is alive, not merely for his own sake, but Lady Darcy’s:

“Alas !” he exclaimed, “my poor mother! was she then in her senses, when she made this statement? and is she treated as a lunatic?”

They all agree, then, albeit reluctantly, to receive Mr Wilson in the guise of a friend, hoping to draw from him more solid information about the conspirators with whom he is certainly in touch. It never crosses their minds that in his own person, Wilson poses any danger to Darcy.

Meanwhile, with his pleasant dreams of being hailed as a saviour and battening upon the grateful Lord Darcy having evaporated, Wilson is trying to decide his next move. It is clear to him that if he is to profit by the existing situation, it can only be as Nixon Oglander’s tool…

Delighting in their reunion, Darcy and Caroline take Emily out for her first view of Niagara Falls.

It is almost too much for Emily, though perhaps for more reasons than one:

    Their young and bounding steps soon brought them to the marshy level of the under-cliff, along which the only dry path, even in summer, is over planks laid upon the grass, and in some places raised considerably above it, by means of stones or blocks of wood, placed at intervals among the grass and rushes. Along this narrow path Caroline tripped fearlessly, for she was already familiar with it; but there was much to excuse Emily if her steps faultered. Lord Darcy went before her, walking backwards, and carefully leading her by the hand; the voice of the cataract, now very near, was terrific, and Emily, dizzy with past and present emotion, proceeded with real difficulty, and trembled violently. Lord Darcy stopped. “You are frightened, Miss Williams; let us go back:—do not look at it now.”
    Emily shook her head in silence, she was afraid to trust her voice, but she went on.
    “Emily!” said Lord Darcy, almost in a whisper, “why do you tremble thus? Do you think I would lead you into danger?”
    “Oh, no!” was all she could answer, and again she endeavoured to proceed.
    Lord Darcy still held her hand, and while for a moment he attempted to detain her, his eyes, for the first time, ventured to fix themselves earnestly on hers, as if he would read there all he wished. Perhaps he did so. Certain it is, that short fleeting moment sealed the destinies of both…

Caroline is quick enough to see what has happened, even before Emily’s shy confidences, and is only pleased for both her friends—though not without doubts to which, in her ignorance, Emily gives no thought:

That he was Earl of Darcy, neither increased nor diminished her happiness in the slightest degree; and her satisfaction, therefore, was probably about as great as that of a young English girl would have been under similar circumstances. For if on the one hand, she felt insensible to the happiness condensed within the circle of a coronet, she remained at least equally so, to the probable difficulties her noble lover would have to encounter, before he could persuade his family to agree with him in thinking that the best possible use he could make of it, would be to place it on the brow of a young American…

As they gather for dinner, Mr Wilson plays his part so expertly, he would certainly have deceived any audience less sceptical; yet it is a case of smiling, and smiling, and being a villain: behind his mask of suavity, he is trying to steel himself to the act of murder…

Early the next morning, a happily sleepless Emily slips out of the hotel to take a calmer view of what was too much for her the day before. She does not venture on her own to the heights of the Table Rock lookout, which juts so precariously over the waters, but contents herself with the view from a tourist hut constructed below the lookout, but further along the path.

Harsh as she is in other contexts, Frances Trollope never fails in The Refugee In America to express her passionate admiration for the country’s many natural beauties; and it is with great fervour that she gives us, via Emily, what was no doubt her own reaction to Niagara Falls:

The air was keen, bright, and clear, beyond the conception of those who do not know the climate; but there was no wind, and all nature seemed hushed, as if looking on at the turmoil, the uproar, and the fury of the falling ocean. As the sun rose, it was speedily reflected from myriads of icicles which hung beside the many rills that bring back to the torrent the spray for ever dropping on the rocks. The dark green colour of the falling waters, darker and greener still by their contrast with the snow-clad forest on either side, the dazzling brightness of the sparkling foam, the deep and solemn sound, so awful yet so delightful, when heard unbroken by any of the paltry noises of the earth, altogether produced a strong effect upon the mind of Emily. She felt herself before the altar of the living God! She trembled and adored. Our weak natures cannot long sustain such high-wrought feeling; but when it subsides, a most delicious calmness follows, and if the spectator be fortunate enough to be quite alone, a reverie so very delightful falls upon the spirits, as only those who have felt it, can conceive…

But Emily’s exalted feelings soon receive a check. From her vantage-point, she sees a man almost upon the verge of Table Rock, and behaving in a most unaccountable manner—digging with a small shovel, and arranging fallen tree boughs and snow over the area. He has his back to her, and is so enveloped in warm clothing that she cannot get a glimpse of his face.

Reluctant to encounter anyone, Emily waits until the man has withdrawn before returning to the hotel, where a general scolding is her portion, for venturing out alone and risking both the falls and a chill. Mr Wilson does concede that Emily must have a much steadier head than his own: though a previous visitor to the falls, he has never ventured to the edge, as Lord Darcy assures him is necessary for full appreciation—leading Mr Wilson to request him as a guide to some of his favourite points.

Her uncle’s evident agitation while this excursion is under discussion strikes a terrible fear in Emily’s heart, one which she cannot bring herself to express. However, her emotion persuading where her broken words do not, she succeeds in drawing Mr Gordon out after the departure of the other two. The catch up with them upon Table Rock, where a bewildered Mr Gordon cannot help but notice Wilson’s state of extreme perturbation. Emily, meanwhile, manages to send Darcy back to the hotel—and then deliberately takes a step towards that part of the lookout which she knows has been tampered with. Instinctively, Mr Wilson drags her back…

Leaving his hasty excuses behind, Mr Wilson does a bunk back to Rochester, much to the relief of the rest, as they try to express their gratitude to the emotionally exhausted Emily. During this pause, Mr Gordon reconsiders the contents of Lady Darcy’s letter and, putting two and two together, correctly concludes that Darcy’s secret enemy – and Wilson’s source of information – must be Nixon Oglander. He sends an update of the situation to his lawyer in England, who is working to pave the way for Darcy’s return.

While they wait for a reply – and having taken Wilson’s abandonment of his niece as permission to retain her – the party sets out again, this time heading for Washington. (There is a reference here to “the new president”, who would have been John Quincy Adams.) Emily – the daughter, we might recall, of a previous Secretary of State – still has acquaintances in the capital, where she was born and raised; and the Gordons find their way into Washington society.

The satirical note in The Refugee In America re-emerges here, as the English people again find themselves the object of scrutiny, misunderstanding and speculation. Mr Gordon takes the opportunity to investigate the American style of politics, and Caroline accompanies him to a debate in the House of Representatives, where a certain young man hopes to impress her with his eloquence; although it just possible that he chooses the wrong topic on which to speak…

“…but what is of far greater importance, and infinitely more associated with our accountability as citizens, is the daring tone of antagonisation against the most ancient laws of our glorious Republic, which it has been my fate, or fortune, or rather let me say, my misfortune to listen to in this chamber. The question of negro slavery, Mr Speaker, is one which none but a set of associational fanatics can blunder upon. The glorious principles of our immortal Republic decree, have decreed, and shall decree to the end of time, that the negro race belongs to us by indefeasible right. What, Mr Speaker, are we, the enlightened citizens of the most enlightened country upon earth, are we to take a page of politics from the decrepid code of the wretched land whence, unhappily, we in some sort trace our origin? Forbid it, glory! forbid it, justice! forbid it, pride! forbid it, shame! Easy is it for us, Mr Speaker, to trace the causes which have led the worn-out government of England to advocate the emancipation of slaves. It is, Mr Speaker, that being slaves themselves, they feel a brother’s fondness for the race. And shall we, the light of the world, the glory of the earth, the only free-born people on the globe, shall we deign to follow, basely follow, mimic, imitate, and adopt the slavish feelings of such a country as Britain?”

The winter passes away, and with the coming of spring various sorts of restlessness seize the party. Having had quite enough of Washington, Caroline proposes a journey through the Virginian countryside, circling back in the hope of letters from Mr Gordon’s lawyer which will allow Darcy to return home. This forces the young lovers to face a few realities, such as the eventual necessity of their separation before they might come together forever. Darcy, at this time, is not quite of age; and for the first time begins to ponder his mother’s likely reaction to his engagement. He anticipates her approval, however, in spite of the social gulf involved:

…his confidence rested on two facts, which he felt might either of them singly have removed all objections to his choice; but which, taken together, must beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt, make his mother rejoice at it. First, he owed his life to Emily. Secondly, and this ten thousand times outweighed the first, Emily was—Emily.

Prior to their departure, the party attends one last presidential levée: gatherings they have found to be simply a more crowded and formal version of the Rochester evenings. At this one, the sensitive Emily becomes aware that someone is watching Darcy. She draws this to his attention, but in the shifting crowds he finds it hard for a time to get a clear look at the person she means:

…when at length, however, he turned his head, the figure to which she directed his attention, was standing conspicuously apart, his arms folded, and his eyes still fixedly bent upon their party. Lord Darcy gazed at him for a moment, and then almost with a scream exclaiming, “It is he!” sprung towards the spot where he stood.

A pursuit, a brawl, and the imprisonment of Richard Dally in an anteroom follows; but to their dismay and mortification, the English people cannot get anyone present to lend their assistance—in fact, on the contrary:

Meanwhile the noise still continued, and it was evident that, however the disturbance originated, a great number of persons were now taking part in it. As they passed in their promenade the great door leading to the hall, they heard many loud voices asserting their national freedom, in a manner that seemed to indicate that some attack had been made upon the constitution of the country. “Freemen are not to be treated in this way.” “Let the door be opened instantly.” “This is false imprisonment, gentlemen.” “This is not a country for such tricks.” “It is an undue exercise of authority.” “There is tyranny in it.” “It cannot be permitted.” “Americans are not to be locked up to please an Englishman.”

And despite everything that Darcy and Mr Gordon can plead, Richard Dally is turned loose.

Another blow follows: Emily receives word that her mother is seriously ill, and that a servant is being sent to escort her back to Rochester. Her parting from her friends is therefore both sudden and sad.

The morning following her departure, Mr Gordon and Darcy institute a search for Dally; but while they find no trace of him, they eventually find his wife, who is staying at a small hotel under the name of Price, and beginning to fear that her husband has deserted her. The Englishmen’s kindness, and their offers of assistance, almost overwhelm her; but, left to herself, Susan’s loyalty to Dally reasserts itself; and to the dismay of the others, she too slips away, leaving behind a note of thanks, but explaining her fear that her gratitude will lead her to betray her husband.

This is almost too much for Darcy, who begs the Gordons to return to England and leave him to deal with the situation on his own; though of course they will have none of it. They finally decide to stick to their plan of filling in time in Virginia, and set out accordingly in a hired, private coach. They are all much struck with the unfolding beauties of the countryside; though the roads lead a great deal to be desired. They also begin to have a series of strange encounters – with a tall, muffled-up man, then with an apparently deaf, elderly man, then with an equally old woman – the latter of whom ends up sharing their doubtful accommodation, when fading light strands them at what, led astray by references to “Colonel Smith’s house”, they do not at first realise is a public-house.

Nor are they entirely prepared for their introduction to Colonel Smith:

    At this moment Sambo entered with a fresh supply of wood, and Mr Gordon again inquired if they could have the pleasure of seeing Colonel Smith.
    “Massa busy flogging Becky; he come here when he be done,” answered the boy…

It is the Gordons’ hired coachman who distracts them from this, by remarking that each of the very different characters they encountered upon the road seemed be wearing the same sort of boots…

The elderly woman is at that moment sharing an ill-lit room with them, and appears to Caroline to be taking inordinate pains to hide her face:

    …forgetful of all ordinary civility she seized with both her hands the back part of the head-gear, which was presented to her, and attempted to pull it off, certainly with more violence than curiosity could justify; the woman started to her feet, pushed her rudely aside, and rushed towards the door.
    “Stop her, Darcy! stop her, father,” screamed Caroline; and both attempted to obey her. Mr Gordon, who was nearest to the amazon, was felled to the ground by one blow of her fist, then springing by Lord Darcy, with the other arm she thrust him forcibly down, as he was rising from his chair…

In the mêlée that follows, Richard Dally is eventually secured, but given his strength and rage, it takes Darcy, Mr Gordon and their servant, Robert, to hold him, let alone bind him: a task which Colonel Smith declines. As for Dally, he has clearly picked up a few useful tricks on his travels:

    “It is false,” exclaimed Dally, “I am no Englishman, but a Kentuckian, and by God you had better let me go, before some of my countrymen come to help me out with your eyes, for laying your hands on a free citizen.”
    “Upon my word he gives you good advice,” said the Colonel, laughing complacently, “we Americans don’t approbate having the hands of an Englishman put on us, that way. I expect you had better let the young man alone, and sit down and eat your supper; you’ll have to pay for it any how.”
    “But is it not evident that this man is a criminal? Why was he travelling in this disguise?”
    “It is quite remarkable,” replied Colonel Smith, “how hard it is to learn you English the nature of real liberty, and freedom: why, in our country, a man is at liberty to travel just as he likes; our glorious revolution wasn’t for nothing, I expect; but you cannot comprehend the principle, that’s a fact; no Englishman, as I ever met, could take in the notion that every white man was free to do and to say just what he likes, in our country. They have always got their heads full of the king, and the lord chancellor; but it won’t take here; better let the man go, and let’s eat our supper peaceable.”
    “Good God!” exclaimed the unfortunate Lord Darcy, “is it possible that you refuse us the means of securing this villain, who we can prove is in a conspiracy against my life?”
    “Why, bless you,” replied the Colonel, laughing, “you don’t know these Kentucks; why they’ll threaten your life if you do but affront them the least bit; but it most commonly comes to nothing. I reckon, however, this time, you had best not aggravate too much; you English have no notion of gouging; but it’s done in a minute, I can tell you.”

At length an uneasy detente is reached, chiefly because they’re all stranded in the isolated Virginian countryside in the pitch darkness. The Colonel and his new Kentuckian friend withdraw to get drunk together, giving the others hope that, come the dawn, one of the men might be able to find something resembling a magistrate, in something resembling a town. Fear of the consequences if Darcy is left alone behind with Richard Dally makes him the obvious choice; and as soon as there is any light, he slips away with the coachman as his guide.

But the hours pass, and he does not return…

Meanwhile, Caroline has been interesting herself in the Colonel’s slaves. Her kindness leads one of them, the unfortunate Becky, to take the risk of confiding a secret to her: that despite what the Colonel has been telling them, Dally too has gone, leaving even earlier than Darcy.

And in fact both Darcy and his guide, Tomkins, have been ambushed by Dally and two runaway slaves, who are assisting him in exchange for his offers of help in getting them away. The men are carried to a secret hiding-place used as a refuge by runaways. In the confusion, Tomkins gets away; but Darcy is held fast—his only hope of survival lying in Dally’s declared purpose of making his death as painful and protracted as possible…

On the back of Caroline’s panicked message, Mr Gordon himself sets out—partly in hope of coming across some sign of the missing Darcy, partly to complete his mission of appealing to a magistrate. He finds the latter gentleman, a Mr Butler of Damascus, but is once again unable to raise any assistance:

    Mr Gordon opened his business, by stating as much of Lord Darcy’s history as sufficed to show that Dally was a person he had reason to fear; and he then related the events of the last four and twenty hours.
    “Strange story as ever I heard,” observed the justice. “Now such a business as that would never have happened in our free country, if—”
    Mr Gordon was not in the cue to talk or hear talk of the glorious American constitution, which it was very evident was coming on. “I beg your pardon, sir; but can you point out to me, without delay, what you think best to be done under these circumstances? Can you, upon the statement I have made, issue a warrant for the apprehension of this Richard Dally?”
    The justice had replaced the segar in his mouth, when Mr Gordon stopped him at the ominous words, ” free country”; he now again removed it, and having discreetly and deliberately made use of the spittoon, answered the question by another.
“And do you really look to find a free-born American who will grant a warrant against a man for all, or any thing that you have told against this one? Why, I’d hardly do it if it was a negur.”

Butler eventually advises Gordon to stay overnight at the local hotel, and to borrow from there two slaves with knowledge of the surrounding countryside. Though loath to lose more time, Gordon follows this suggestion, setting out on his search the following morning—and after an unnerving midnight escapade, when what he first takes for an assassination attempt turns out to be several hungry slaves quietly breaking into his sitting-room, to eat any leftovers from his supper. He leaves them to it with his blessing, and soon reaps the benefit: when they realise exactly what stretch of land is involved in Darcy’s disappearance, the borrowed slaves confide to him the existence of the runaways’ secret refuge—and help him to interrupt an improvised hanging…

Dally bolts again, but all Mr Gordon’s concern is for Darcy, who has been tightly bound and deprived of food and drink since his capture. With the help of his guides, he manages to lift the young man onto a horse and carry him back to the hotel, relieving the terrors of the waiting Caroline.

So much for Virginia; and indeed, so much for America. The party head back to Washington, where they find no letter from the lawyer, but are glad of one from Emily, reporting the better health of her mother. From there they pass quickly to New York and embark on the next ship, agreeing that by now they should be able to make a strong enough case for Darcy to secure his freedom, even if he must stand his trial first.

Their immediate destination, however, is Harding Abbey; and if the mother and son are overcome with emotion, well, they are not the only ones…

    Lord Darcy sprung past him, much too agitated to listen either to him or to Mr Gordon, who hastened after, urging caution, and forbearance.—It was in vain. Lord Darcy knew her favourite seat beneath a walnut tree, which stood on the lawn, and passing through the door that opened upon it, he was on his knees with his arms clasped round her, before one word, one thought of the consequences had time to reach him. Mr Gordon, Caroline, and the servant followed, but before they reached the walnut tree, Lady Darcy was lying quite insensible on the bosom of her son.
    Were it not that the majority of novel readers would be outraged by the description of a lover’s feelings, who had passed the sober period of forty, I might be tempted to dwell for a moment upon the sensations with which Mr Gordon beheld this idol of his heart and imagination, after an interval of twenty years…

When he can tear himself away, Mr Gordon heads to London to consult his lawyer, who is sanguine about matters. Darcy is, however, obliged to surrender himself to the authorities and, being who and what he is, passes the time before his trial imprisoned in the Tower of London.

(A function it was still performing as late as 1952! – its last such occupants being none other than Doug and Dinsdale Piranha Ronnie and Reggie Kray.)

Now—we all know – don’t we? – the expression, A jury of his peers. We are reminded here that it was originally meant literally, that is, that a peer should be judged by other peers. So that when Darcy’s trial commences, it is not in a court of law, but at Westminster, before the House of Lords.

Public feeling is running high against Darcy, fueled by newspaper articles cunningly arranged by Nixon Oglander—who concludes philosophically that if he can’t get the young man murdered, at least he can help to get him hanged. Nevertheless, in view of the testimony they have to give, Darcy and his friends are optimistic—only for their hopes to receive a crushing blow.

The prosecution unfolds as anticipated, telling the tale of Richard Dally’s “death”; but when it is time for the defence—

Mr Gordon, and his servant Robert were then called into court, and sworn; but before the counsel for the defence had proceeded to question them, the Attorney General interfered, and asked, whether these were not the persons sworn to by the witnesses for the prosecution, as aiding and abetting the escape of the prisoner, and thereby rendering themselves accessories after the fact?

Oops.

With most of the evidence in his favour therefore excluded, matters look extremely dark for Darcy; but fortunately, a surprise witness is on the way…

We learn now that Emily’s letter declaring her mother’s recovery was premature, and that Mrs Williams later suffered a relapse and died.

We learn something else, too: that during her journey back to Rochester, Emily’s fellow-passengers including a young mother and her baby. The two young women take to each other, Emily helping with the baby, and Susan – so she is named – doing whatever she can to make Emily’s journey more comfortable. Susan finally begins to open up about her desertion by her husband, and her dream of returning home to England, until finally Emily realises who she is. She is wise enough to keep her knowledge to herself, however, and determines that under no condition will she lose sight of her. The illness and death of Emily’s mother further serve to bring the two together, with Susan helping with the nursing.

Matters are brought to a crisis when Richard Dally suddenly reappears, much to Susan’s joy and relief. His desertion of her, he assures her, was not intentional – though he gives no details – and his feeling for both her and the child being deep and genuine, he set himself to find them immediately he discovered that they had departed the Washington hotel where he left them. His gratitude to Emily is equally sincere.

Of course—Dally doesn’t know who Emily is; nor does she know the worst of him.

It is the couple’s intention to leave immediately for England, and Susan counsels Emily to go with them. She, in addition to her grief, is terrified that she will be forced to put herself under Mr Wilson’s authority, fearing both for herself and (not without reason) for her inheritance; and without revealing a second, even more powerful motive for wishing to cross the Atlantic, she agrees to go: slipping quietly away from Rochester before Mr Wilson can take any action.

During the journey to New York, Emily strives in every way to bind the Dallys to her, including via promises of ongoing shelter and support for Susan and the baby. As they cross the ocean, recognising that the critical moment has come, she arranges for a private conversation with Richard Dally:

    “You have already often expressed gratitude towards me, and I hope to give you more substantial cause for it than I have yet done. Now hear me. You are not yet aware that you have it in your power to do me a most essential service. Chance has made me acquainted with the accident which happened to you before you left your home. I am willing to believe that there are others more guilty than yourself in the fraud that was practised afterwards.
    “I am engaged to marry Lord Darcy; I love him as dearly as Susan loves you; and all that is necessary to secure my happiness is, that your recovery from the wound he gave you, should be publicly acknowledged.”
    Dally’s blood rushed to his brow; he hesitated for a moment what to answer, and then said, “Mayhap Lord Darcy may not be willing to let me off so.”
    “Trust me,” said Emily eagerly, and holding out her hand as a pledge; “trust me, he will never in word or deed remind you of any thing that has happened.”
    “If I thought so—”
    “What pledge shall I give you?” said Emily.
    “Stand godmother to my child, and settle twenty pounds a year on him for life.”
    “Agreed!” concealing with difficulty the rapture this agreement caused her…

Arriving in London, Emily takes immediate steps to discover the situation of Lord Darcy. Shrewdly taking Susan with her, while leaving the baby with Dally, she calls at Mr Oglander’s house, and hears not only that the trial is underway, but the current state of it. With all possible haste, Emily returns to Dally and carries him almost bodily towards Westminster…

    She sprung from the carriage, and held out her hand to Dally, as if to help him out. Another step, another moment, and all would be safe.
    With a strength of resolution, which nothing but the intensity of her anxiety could give, she pushed her way to the door, whispered distinctly in the ear of the officer who stood there, “A witness,” and in the next moment found herself, with the startled Dally at her side, in the midst of the august assembly which has been described.
    Lord Darcy, who through the whole trial had retained his composure, nor even lost the appearance of it at the dreadful moment which concluded the last chapter, was the first who recognised the pale and lovely girl, now urging on her faultering steps towards the throne, near which the Lord High Steward was stationed.
    The next instant showed him that Dally was beside her. The revulsion was too violent; and faintly uttering the name of Emily, he sunk on the floor.
    Mr Gordon saw him fall, and was rushing towards him when his eye encountered the two figures, who had now nearly reached the bar. For an instant he stood transfixed, and then pronounced the name of Dally in a voice that rung through the vaulted roof, echoed from the walls, was heard by every ear, and welcomed by every heart in the vast and crowded chamber…

Well. Not that we imagine Lady Darcy would really have objected to “the little republican”; but still—

    The kindness of the last night’s farewell had prepared Emily for as kind a greeting in the morning; yet she was somewhat startled on entering the breakfast-room, to see the whole party rise to receive her. Lady Darcy stepped before the rest, and fondly embraced her.
    “My daughter, my dear daughter!” she exclaimed, adding in a whisper, as she kissed her cheek, “My Darcy ‘s wife!”

But Frances Trollope, God love her, barely wastes a glance upon the inevitable happy-ever-after that follows all this drama and emotion; being far more interested in quite a different wedding:

Notwithstanding the absurdity which most young people saw in such a marriage, Mr Gordon and Lady Darcy were united a very few weeks after they had attended Emily to the altar…

The recovery of Trollope’s usual wry tone, employed as she casually dispenses fates to her remaining characters, puts The Refugee In America back on an even keel—or as even as possible in a novel this uneven.

But whatever readers made then, and whatever we make now, of Trollope’s constant slapping at America, the rest of her narrative has a couple of genuinely unusual features which need to be highlighted before we close.

The first is the pragmatism which allows all three of this novel’s main villains – Richard Dally, Robert Wilson, and Nixon Oglander – to get away with their crimes; with Dally going perilously close to being rewarded for his. (Though this is not to say they don’t come to a sticky end in the long run…)

But still more striking is the refusal of all three of this novel’s main female characters to behave at all in the manner that the reading of far too many Victorian novels – which this of course is not – have led us to expect.

All this serves as an illustration of exactly why Frances Trollope’s novels were increasingly buried over the course of the following decades…but it also serves as a reminder that the 19th century novel is much bigger and more interesting than the Victorian novel; as well as acting as a warning against those critics who, to this day, want to tell you that between Jane Austen and Walter Scott, and William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens, there’s nothing worth reading…

 

13/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 2)


    Mr Mitchel cheered the hearts of all the ladies, and Mrs Williams was one of them, with the broad assertion, that the iniquity of those who had scorned their betters was brought to light; and that in the Lord’s good time, they would be punished for their misdeeds; for that to his certain knowledge, the officers of justice were after Mr Gordon, &c. &c. &c.
    It is hardly necessary to trouble the reader with a detailed account of the horror expressed, or the pleasure felt, on this occasion.
    “I thought so!”
    “I was very sure how it would be!”
    “I said it would issue in mischief.”
    “I am not one bit surprised.”
    “I saw it clearly from the first,”
    and “The Lord be good unto me! what will brother Wilson say?” formed the chorus with which the news was received.
    Mr Mitchel shook his head, as the ladies purred around him, and almost squeezed the hand of Miss Duncomb, in the sympathy he felt for her detestation of such wickedness.
    “It is perfectly astonishing,” observed Mrs Cornish, “how often my prognostics have been right, respecting English people…”

 

 
 
Those aspects of The Refugee In America concerning Lady Darcy’s efforts to prove her son innocent of murder, Nixon Oglander’s counter-efforts, and her final thwarting are not presented as a complete narrative, but interwoven with the experiences of Edward and Caroline Gordon and Lord Darcy – aka “Edward Smith” – after they land in New York.

There is also further back-story concerning Gordon’s raising of his daughter. In a number of ways, Caroline is the most interesting character in this novel, far more shaded than was often true of girls in the novels of this time. We learn that she resembles the late Mrs Gordon physically, but that her father – never having lost sight of Eleanor Oglander as his secret ideal – has attempted to give her the education that nobody bothered to give her mother. It hasn’t worked, simply because Caroline doesn’t have that kind of mind; but she is a bright, well-read girl who takes an interest in the world. She has a good opinion of her own capabilities and a strong will, and is used to getting her own way—not in an obnoxious sense, but just because she usually does.

But with all this, Caroline is devoted to her father, and allies herself with him in his desperate and sudden effort to protect Lord Darcy from the consequences of his actions. (She never appears to seek for a deeper motive in his doing so.) She makes no protest or complaint at being snatched away from England just when she is making her social debut as a young lady of wealth and fashion, but makes up her mind to enjoy the adventure associated with her journey to America, even when this means roughing it.

Caroline also strives to keep up the spirits of Lord Darcy, who is overcome with guilt and remorse at having, as he believes, killed a man. His awareness of how much the Gordons are sacrificing for him and his feelings of gratitude compel Darcy to make an effort; but often he is overcome with deep fits of depression, and tends to withdraw into himself whenever he is left alone, or the travellers find themselves in company.

Caroline’s tender care of Darcy has natural consequences: she finds herself falling in love with the quiet, wounded young man; but he is so inwardly focused that he doesn’t even notice, let alone return her affection.

Despite various difficulties along the way, the party eventually arrives in Rochester, where they make themselves known via Captain Birdmore’s letters of introduction. One of these is to a Mr Warner, a successful and prominent lawyer, who invites them to stay in his house; the other is to a Mrs Williams, the widow of a government man, who has relocated to Rochester from Washington in order to settle near her sister, who is married to a clergyman, and to eke out her slender income.

It is here that Trollope allows her satire almost to overwhelm her crime / pursuit plot. She lets herself go when depicting Rochester “society”, just as she did in Domestic Manners Of The Americans, with all the things that most exasperated her during her own time in America taking a thorough beating.

The first of these is predictable enough—and familiar enough: the Gordons are subjected to endless dogmatic lectures upon the natural superiority of America to Europe in every single respect; and the profound envy and jealousy with which the latter naturally views the former, also in every single respect.

Less familiar, though significant in context of Trollope’s struggles in Cincinnati, is her depiction of what passes for “social gatherings” in Rochester (and even in Washington, where the English people later travel): dull and dreary evenings during which the sexes remain strictly divided, the men clustering in groups for conversation, while the women sit around the walls in largely unbroken silence. Caroline’s attempts to disrupt this arrangement go about as well as did Trollope’s own: when she approaches them, hoping to join in, the men simply halt their discussion until she goes away again.

Mr Gordon does better, in at least being invited to join the conversation; though whether he enjoys the results is another matter:

    “Why, surely, sir, you do not mean that you never heard of the first poet of the age—decidedly the first poet of the age: you do not mean that you never heard of Bryant?”
    “Indeed, Mr Chambers, I am sorry to say it is so…”
    “I take it for granted the gentleman will allow us this superiority,” said Judge Burton; ” we certainly do possess vastly more the spirit of liberal inquiry than the English do.”
    “Not on all subjects, I hope, sir,” said Mr Gordon, with much good humour, “I assure you, on all points of practical improvements in machinery, a most important branch of knowledge, we pay great attention to what you are doing here—”
    “Yes, yes,” interrupted the Judge, “that’s of course, sir; you would have been rather in a deplorable condition of ignorance if you had not—but we must keep to the subject of books, for this is a literary soirée. I am happy to find, Mr Gordon, that the example our moralists have set of condemning altogether the worthless productions of your ‘noble poet’, as you call him, has been pretty considerably followed up in England. I presume Lord Byron’s works have become pretty well a dead letter since our critics have begun to exert themselves to put him down.”
    “Perhaps you have later intelligence on this subject than I have, sir,” said Mr Gordon; “but I was not aware of Lord Byron’s works being out of fashion.”
    “Oh, quite altogether, I assure you. They could not stand a week after Paulding’s incomparable attack upon him in the Azure Hose,—no, not a day, sir.”
    “Really,” said Mr. Gordon.
    “We are the most moral people upon the earth,” said another gentleman of the party; “and it is a blessing to the earth that there is such a people existing upon it. Were it not for us, the world would sink deeper into vice with every passing year. Our Paulding is a giant, sir; and he has stretched out a giant’s hand to crush the paltry insect, whom you islanders have thought fit to magnify into a poet. No, sir, Byron can no more stand before Paulding than butter before the sun. He can never rise again, sir; it is quite out of the question, I assure you.”

To be fair, Trollope – who, nota bene, frequently uses quotes from Byron as her chapter epigraphs – isn’t just being mean here: despite her characters’ references to their literary “antients”, American literature was barely fifty years old at this point, and had only just begun to cross the Atlantic. Washington Irving was the first American writer to gain popularity in Britain—although at that point (that is, with the publication of The Sketch-Book Of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1820), he was living in England and writing much about English subjects. The first properly American works to win a British audience were the novels of James Fenimore Cooper.

While Trollope finds humour in such displays of insularity, she is less amused and more scathing when it comes to the local attitude to religion, or rather the very public way in which it manifested. Even here the visitors find themselves judged and condemned by the locals:

    But at length she fortunately recollected that brother Wilson had specially charged her to discover what the young woman’s religious feelings appeared to be; and beyond all else, to certify from her own mouth, to what congregation it was her purpose to belong. Conscience-struck at the long delay, Mrs Williams abruptly broke into a disquisition on the fashion of Washington, and the size of the Capitol, by saying, “Pray ma’am what church may you be of?”
    “Madam?”
    “What church do you attend?”
    “I shall probably go to the nearest, as I have no carriage here.”
    To the nearest! what an answer for a Christian woman to make. It was true that brother Wilson’s church was the one nearest to Mrs Oak’s house; but was that to be her only reason for going there?
    “The Lord be good unto us!” inwardly prayed Mrs Williams, as these thoughts suggested themselves. “I meant to ask, ma’am,” she resumed, “what denomination of Christians you belong to?”
    “We belong, madam, to the established church of England.”
    Mrs Williams dropped her eyes, and doubled her chin with a little diplomatic air of contempt, as she answered, “I expect, ma’am, that England has no establishments in this country at this day…”

Of course, there’s an unintentional irony here: The Refugee In America was published one year before John Keble’s landmark sermon on “the national apostasy” triggered the Oxford Movement, and as much public airing of religious opinion – and as much factional in-fighting – in Britain as anything that might have been observed in America. Moreover, Frances Trollope – like her son, Anthony – was ‘High Church’, and would not only have perceived the American evangelicals as ‘Low Church’, but been as swift to condemn them as her characters are to condemn the Gordons—and on the same (if opposite) grounds: insufficient fervour versus too much display.

And it seems to be the latter that really grated. It is not difficult to deduce that, in Trollope’s opinion, anyone who made such a parade of their faith was likely to be a hypocrite; and in many of her characters, an overt display of devotion goes hand-in-hand with some extremely un-Christian attitudes and behaviours—not the least of which is a willingness, not to say eagerness, to think the worst of everyone – at least, everyone who isn’t a member of their own congregation – a practice that tends to come coupled with a relentless acquisitiveness.

Trollope has a lot of nasty fun with the American attitude to having and getting; and it is the careless way in which the British party spend their money that first gets them into trouble. Blithely unaware of the impression they are making with their openhandedness and tendency to pay whatever is asked, the Gordons inadvertently convince those with whom they interact that the gains in question were undoubtedly ill-gotten, since money so easily parted with could not possibly have been honestly earned.

(All through this part of The Refugee In America I couldn’t stop thinking about the false-beard sellers in The Life Of Brian: “Bert! – this bloke won’t ‘aggle!” “Won’t ‘aggle!?”)

    “…she went last night to the factory to buy some soap, and there she saw that Christian man Simon Hicks, who is one of the partners; he was telling something so earnestly to two or three gentlemen in the store, that she stopped to listen, before she did her errand, and she heard him say, that if ever there was a run-away chap in America, there was one now in Rochester. She then related the manner of his meeting these people, and how he had found them out; he did not know their name, which he said they concealed most carefully; the people that was with them always calling the man sir, and master; and that,” continued Miss Duncomb casting down her eyes, “is not the worst either, for Simon Hicks stated, that there was a creature with him, that called him father, but that it was perfectly clear to see that she was something else.”
    “Mercy on me!” exclaimed Mrs Williams, “and my Emily is there now. How could Captain Birdmore let himself be cheated this way? But I must run this instant, and take my child away. Oh, what horrid wickedness there is in the world!”
    She was hurrying away, when Miss Duncomb stretched out her long arm to stop her; and making it evident that she had not yet finished her story, the chorus of “Mys!” and “Ohs!” and “Possibles!” was stopped.
    “Judy says, that the gentlemen asked Simon Hicks how he came to find him out; and then he told them such a history of the manner in which he had thrown about his money, as seemed to convince them all. Mr Cartwright was there, who is certainly the smartest lawyer in town, and he said he had no doubt the Bank of England had been robbed…”
    Mrs Oaks coloured to the ears. She thought of the fifty dollars that she had in her pocket, and felt as certain of the fact as if she had already seen one or two of the party hanged…
    After her exit, the rest of the party…crowded closer round the orator, who, perfectly in her element, went on for a considerable time detailing further particulars from the narration of Judy, and farther commentaries from herself, in that spirit of peculiar malevolence which she denominated Christian charity…

While Trollope is clearly working off a lingering grudge here (one wonders what the Cincinnatians said of her), she finds matter for far more serious and justified scorn in the gulf between the constant harping upon “freedom” and “equality” and certain social realities.

Typically for Trollope, it is Caroline who is most given to speaking her mind upon such subjects; and she challenges Rochester authority, in the form of Mr Warner, whenever she sees an opening—forcing him to fall back upon condescending concern for such as she “worrying her pretty head” about matters she cannot possibly understand:

    “But, Mr Warner,” playfully persisted Caroline, “what I quarrel with most, is the fallacy of your nominal institutions. You tell your labouring poor that they are your equals, when really, except in the permission of being as rude as they like, I do not as yet observe at all more equality of condition between those who labour, and those who do not, than at home.”
    “Ah, my dear miss! that is because you have not been long enough amongst us to understand the inestimable advantages they enjoy. But come now, confess that your alone reason for disliking our glorious country is, that your aristocratical feelings cannot bear to see all the people happy together.”
    “Indeed I cannot confess that; for I protest that one of my most particular complaints against you is, that your people never do look happy together; I have never heard a hearty laugh since I entered the country.”
    “Now that is a curious fine complaint, as ever I heard; and that from an English girl. Why, my dear Miss Caroline, you are come from a country where the cries of famine ring back and forth in your streets, and you are got here, where the people are rolling in plenty, and now you fault their want of happiness! Pretty as you are, Miss Caroline, I cannot approbate this.”
    “Well, Mr Warner, perhaps the labouring people here may look grave from indigestion; but I do assure you, that notwithstanding the famine you talk of, the working classes laugh and sing much more in my country than they do in your’s.”
    “I know that young ladies think they can make black seem white, but I expect you’ll find it difficult to make me realise that.”
    And here Mr Warner got up, and took a turn across the room with a look of some discomposure…

Everywhere they go, the fact that the Gordons have two menservants is greeted with upraised hands and cries of disbelief and contempt. Americans, they are told solemnly, don’t have “servants”: that is a foul British institution.

However…references are soon forthcoming to what Americans do have, namely, the help; nor is the real issue slow in emerging:

    Here William, who was too far acquainted with the situation of Lord Darcy, not to feel that this questioning must be troublesome, stept in to his relief by saying, “I do assure you, time is very important with us, and you may be quite sure that my master will approve every thing my young master orders about the carriage.”
    “Your MASTER! and your YOUNG MASTER! Why, how can you, being a white man, do such a wrong to yourself, and the children as may come after you, as to call any man your master?”
    “And what would you have me call him then? Is’n’t he my master?”
    “Call him? why call him the man what you helps, or Mister; pray what may his name be? I don’t remember seeing names on any of the boxes.”
    William, however, was born in Yorkshire, and not to be so caught. “I do assure you, friend,” he replied, “that my master, or the man what I helps, or whatever it may be your fashion to call him, will not be over well pleased, if I stay here talking of how he is to be called: I call him my master, and a very good master he is, and I’ll see to get horses for him, if any are to be had, for love or money.”
    So saying, he sallied forth into the yard, leaving the coachman, and two other men smoking with him, expressing their profound contempt for a white man who could call another his master…

****

    Robert looked at his master. “Sit down, both of you,” said Mr Gordon; “sit down, Robert, in the place offered you, and make room for William beside you.”
    “Why, sure them bean’t your sons, Mister?” said the ‘squire.
    “No, sir, they are my servants.”
    “And them that colour— My!” exclaimed the wife.

But the note of satire vanishes when Frances Trollope directly tackles the question of slavery. A few years after the publication of The Refugee In America, she would write an overt abolitionist novel; but here she contents herself with a few harshly critical interludes (including a later, close-up look at the treatment of slaves when her characters are travelling through Virginia):

    “Oh! Miss Caroline, (pausing opposite her chair,) you have got a deal of British insularity about you. You don’t like to jeopardise your gentility by our freedom and equality.”
    “Do you know, Mr Warner,” replied Caroline, “that I begin to suspect that though we both talk English, there are some few words which have exactly contradictory meanings on the different sides of the Atlantic. Freedom and equality—for instance.”
    “How so, my pretty lady? how so?”
    “May I speak plainly?”
    “Surely, surely.”
    “Then, will you tell me how you manage to reconcile your theory of freedom, with the condition of your negroes? or your treatment of the Indians, with your doctrine of equal rights?”
    “I calculate, Miss Caroline, that these subjects are considerable much beyond the scope of the female; so it would be partly unfair to make a requirement of more learning from you, than from an older. Mr Gordon, sir, what say you to a glass of mint julap?”

Scenes such as these eventually result in the Gordons and Darcy removing from Mr Warner’s house and settling themselves in a rented property (Mrs Oaks’, hence the fifty dollars in her pocket). They then complete their offending of the locals by all but withdrawing themselves from public visiting—content with the two real friends they have made, each in her own way an outsider like them.

One of the oddest touches in this novel is the supporting character of Madame de Clairville, a French widow stranded in America while she tries to save enough money to return to Paris, and the young daughter she left behind there with her mother. Trollope draws upon her own miserable experience  at “Nashoba” in sketching the Frenchwoman’s background: she and her husband make the mistake of joining another “utopian” settlement; unlike the author herself, they don’t escape unscathed:

On arriving at Perfect Bliss, the name Mr Wimble had given to his settlement, it was signified to M. de Clairville that he was to hew down a tree, cut it into rails, and fix it as a zig-zag, or serpentine fence.
The poor Frenchman, whose visions had been of scientific lectures, amateur concerts, private theatricals, and universal philanthropy, was startled; but he bore it well… But when he found that his delicate wife was expected to milk cows every morning, standing ancle deep in water, and moreover to assist in washing linen; when he learned that all the little comforts which he had spent his last thousand francs to purchase at New York, were seized upon, as general stock, and a scanty pittance of necessaries doled out to them at each meal; his gay heart sunk within him… But he was totally without funds to carry them across the immense distance which divided him from his country, now loved in vain; he had irreconcilably offended his wife’s mother, the only wealthy relative they had, by taking her daughter from France, and seeing no chance of escaping from Perfect Bliss, he fell into a deep decline, and died before the end of the year…

Eventually the Gordons arrange for Madame de Clairville’s return home. Until then, she and Caroline find allies in each other, thanks to a shared sense of humour and a similar opinion of Rochester evening parties.

However, it is Caroline’s growing friendship with Mrs Williams’ young daughter, Emily, that becomes of the greatest importance to the narrative.

Here Trollope does take us off-guard: because in spite of criticising and/or poking fun at almost all of her other American characters, it is Emily Williams who unexpectedly emerges as her novel’s real heroine – even, in the broadest sense of the word, its hero – as well as being offered up as proof that when America did produce something good, it was likely to be excellent.

When we are introduced to Emily, she is barely seventeen; but in spite of her youth and natural shyness, she proves to be intelligent, sensitive and artistically inclined. Moreover, Trollope assures her, there is great potential of character in her, which only requires the correct opportunity to develop and show itself; this in addition to a fine instinct about people, which (although in her innocence she does not always understand their motives) allows her to sense what might lie beyond the smokescreen of their public personas.

This instinct also operates with respect to Lord Darcy, the truth of whose identity and situation is eventually confided to her. The two first come together over their mutual love of music; and it is not long before Emily is aware of a deeper feeling for him. It never crosses her mind that he might return it, but as it happens she is the immediate beneficiary of the arrival of a letter from Lady Darcy. It is not an entirely happy one, written during the time of her confinement as “a maniac”, and without holding out hope that it might be possible to prove that Richard Dally still lives; but it removes from Darcy’s shoulders the crushing weight of his guilt. In his joy and relief, he is restored to something like is natural spirits for the first time in many weeks; and when he looks around, seeing the world with fresh eyes, the first thing those eyes alight upon is Emily Williams…

Here again, Frances Trollope’s handling of Caroline Gordon is unusual and clever. Fully aware of her own charms, and with more than a good opinion of herself, Caroline is mortified when she realises that, having shown himself impervious to her own attractions, Darcy is falling in love with “the little republican”, as she is sometimes called, and who (if truth be known) Caroline first adopted in something of a patronising spirit; though to her credit, she soon realised that Emily needed no polishing that she could give her. Furthermore, so sincere is her affection for both Darcy and Emily that she sets herself to crush her own feelings for the young man, determined to be a true friend to both—though at the distance she stands from the situation, she sees obstacles in the path of the young couple to which, as each of them deals with their still-secret feelings, they are currently oblivious.

Meanwhile—the various threats directed at Darcy by Nixon Oglander begin to make themselves felt.

The first of these is the detective Hannibal Burns, whose mishandling of his inquiries actually alerts his quarries to their danger. He approaches his quest by questioning a Rochester store-keeper called Mr Mitchel, who is both a member of the same congregation as the “boarding-house ladies” with whom Caroline has been butting heads since her arrival, and “a thorough-bred New England Yankee”…and consequently gets a lot more out of Burns than Burns gets out of him: all of which he then recounts (with personal interpretations and editorialisations) to his flock of female admirers.

The thought of “what brother Wilson will say” quickly carries Miss Duncomb to the minister’s house, where she finds instead his wife, his daughters, and his eldest son—the latter of whom has been dallying (or attempting to do so, against the ladies’ wills) with both Caroline and his cousin, Emily Williams. The outspoken Emma Wilson causes offence by questioning Miss Duncomb’s assertions, on the grounds of her father’s professed liking for Mr Gordon; but Mrs Wilson receives the news in the same spirit as her boarding-house sisters:

    “God forbid, Mrs Wilson, that we should any of us soil our lips with the words that would go to tell the particulars. You know it would be worse for me than for you; for blessed as you are, Mrs Wilson, in being the wife and helpmate of a holy minister of God, (and, oh! such a minister!) it must be allowed that I am still less fit than you to speak such words.”
    “Go out of the room, Lucy,” said the mother; “it is not fitting that such as you should hear of such things as these. Go and read the ‘Sinner’s Guide,’ my daughter.”
    The young lady left the room, but evidently with a reluctant step. Mrs Wilson waited till the door closed after her, and then resumed the conversation.
    “The Lord in his holy mercy forbid that I should ever lead maid or wife into saying what was not befitting for a Christian woman to speak, Miss Duncomb; but I cannot but think that sisters of the same congregation, as we are, it is our bounden duty to relieve our minds to each other on such matters as these. ‘Offences will come, saith the Lord;’ you know where that is, Miss Duncomb? And then follows, ‘Woe unto them by whom offence cometh;’ but there is not a word about woe to any Christian women who talk together about it, for the edification of their own souls.”
    “Well, then, Mrs Wilson, I am willing to tell all I know, though I must make allusion therein to what should neither pass the lips nor enter the head of a Christian sister, whose life is dedicated to works of holiness and religious love. That girl they call Miss Gordon is—”
    Miss Duncomb paused to breathe. Mrs Wilson’s mouth and eyes were open, as well as her ears.
    “What is she, Miss Duncomb? In the name of the Lord, tell me.”
    “No better than she should be;” replied the holy oracle, in a tone of most exciting mystery…

The flying gossip eventually reaches the ears of its subjects. The initial terror of Caroline and Emily subsides when they realise that it is Mr Gordon who is assumed to be the wanted criminal – as has been the case from the beginning, as it is he who pays the bills – and that no-one is giving much thought to the silent, withdrawn “Mr Smith”.

The first real blow suffered by the party is Mr Wilson forbidding Emily to have any more contact with them. At first inclined to uphold them, out of a genuine liking and respect for Mr Gordon, Mr Wilson back-flips when he discovers that the minister of a rival congregation is being very vocal about the Gordons’ iniquities. He does not in fact believe Gordon guilty of all the vulgar crimes laid to his discredit by those pious members of his congregation, the boarding-house ladies – though he thinks some sort of political transgression not out of the question – but decides that he cannot afford to flout public opinion.

But Emily does flout his authority, slipping secretly away to keep her friends apprised of the situation, and to spend as much time with them as possible before the inevitable, painful parting.

Quickly enough, though with no undignified haste, the Gordons and Darcy remove from Rochester, bringing forward their planned visit to Niagara. They are accompanied by Madame de Clairville, who has burned her bridges by declaring her belief in them.

Unbeknownst to the travellers, they are immediately freed from the first threat against them, with Hannibal Burns receiving new orders not to pursue them; though without any explanation forthcoming.

The truth, however, is that Nixon Oglander has decided to deploy the other weapons in his arsenal—namely, Richard Dally himself, and the former Captain Bob Brown…who in a moment of genuine shock is revealed to the reader to be none other than the Reverend Mr Wilson…

 

[To be continued…]

 

10/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 1)


    Lord Darcy stood like stone beside his victim; his dress was stained with blood, his face livid with horror, and the fatal knife still in his hand, when a small pleasure-boat, its white sail glancing brightly in the evening sun, shot directly into the little bay where the smuggler’s skiff lay moored.
    The cry of the unfortunate youth had been heard by the party in the boat, which consisted of Mr Gordon, his daughter, and two men servants. Mr Gordon instantly leaped on shore, ordering his servants to keep the boat steady.
    He started as he looked at the petrified figure before him; for in that young and pallid face he saw the copy of one, never to be forgotten. It was the first time he had beheld the son of Miss Oglander.
    To mistake the meaning of the dreadful picture before him was impossible.
    “What is your name, rash boy?” said Mr Gordon.
    “Edward Oglander Harding, Earl of Darcy,” answered the youth, in the tone he would have done had the same question been put to him before a magistrate.
    “Alas, Eleanor!” exclaimed Mr Gordon, in a voice of agony; and, looking anxiously round, he saw a group of people, whom, before landing, he had observed watching the scene below, now hastily descending the cliff, with a noisy tumult, which sufficiently marked their purpose. Not a moment was to be lost; Mr Gordon seized the arm of Lord Darcy, and dragged him to the boat…

 

As we have touched upon before (including here and here, and in particular during our consideration of the novel Hargrave), Frances Trollope was an important figure in the early development of the British crime and mystery novel. While at the time the genre was dominated by the so-called “Newgate Novel”, which focused upon criminals and criminal life, Trollope – like her contemporary, Catharine Crowe – focused rather upon the solving of a crime; and while she did not (as far as I am currently aware) ever create an overt detective figure, her novels nevertheless helped pave the way for both the French feuilleton and the British sensation novel.

This isn’t the place for a full biography of Frances Trollope, but there are aspects of her life that we need to be aware of before we launch into an examination of her first novel. She was unusually well-educated for a woman of her time, and she married relatively late – at age 30 – possibly in reaction to the remarriage of her father. She then had seven children over as many years, six surviving. The family initially lived in comfort, but financial and other difficulties swamped them from 1820 onwards: Thomas was disinherited when the uncle he relied upon remarried; and the family was forced to rent out their house and live and work upon a leased farm; though agricultural depression eventually forced them from there too. Thomas grew increasingly depressed and withdrawn, which impacted both his legal practice and his relationship with his family. Later he began to experience recurrent headaches, which exacerbated the situation still more. (It is now believed that he was in the early stages of brain cancer.)

Increasingly, Frances was forced to take financial responsibility for the family—although she went about this in a wholly unexpected way. She had formed a close friendship with Frances Wright, a radical and abolitionist who was involved with a “utopian” community in Mississippi: one of many such experimental communities founded in America during the 19th century. The aim of “Nashoba” was to provide education for former slaves. The project appealed to Frances Trollope in all respects, and in 1827 she relocated to America with four of her children. However, she had either misinterpreted or been misled about how primitive were the arrangements at the settlement: it was certainly no place for children; and after only a brief stay Trollope relocated her family to Cincinnati—perhaps drawn there by its somewhat optimistic moniker, “The Athens of the West”.

Now considered America’s first mall, Frances Trollope founded and ran “the Cincinnati Bazaar”, which brought together apartments, retail shops, museums, concert halls, restaurants, a ballroom, and meeting spaces. Initially a success, the project ultimately failed firstly because the disapproving Thomas Trollope refused to forward money inherited by Frances to support the business, and then because of a fall-off in support from the residents of Cincinnati, due to an ever-widening philosophical divide. Trollope herself grew frustrated and angry with the subordinate position occupied by the local women, and the social structures which separated the sexes. Already resented both as a Britisher and a woman conducting business on her own account, her open promotion of her bazaar as both educational and a place where men and women could mingle was considered offensive at all points and led to its eventual failure.

Arriving back in England in 1831, now with debts of her own in addition to Thomas’s, and with Thomas unable to work, Frances Trollope took the obvious step: she began writing. Her first publication was an unabashed money-grab, a work that shrewdly appealed to the prejudices of the British reading public while allowing her to work off her lingering resentments. At the age of 53, Frances Trollope found herself a best-selling author and in a comfortable financial position for the first time in over a decade when Domestic Manners Of The Americans became a smash hit.

Having taken this first step, Trollope then turned to fiction, producing 34 novels over the following two decades, plus six travel-books.

(Plenty of people have marvelled at Anthony Trollope’s late blooming as a novelist, his subsequent fecundity, and the strict work-habits which saw him produce a set minimum number of pages on a daily basis, regardless of his situation. All too few people have even noticed, let alone commented upon, the obvious model for all of this.)

Frances Trollope’s first novel, The Refugee In America, is not, as we might assume, an examination of the contemporary position of the immigrant, but an uneasy blending of a crime / pursuit plot into an unkind satire of American provincial life. Awkwardly as the two halves sit together, the book was popular in England, and became another financial success.

As an outsider to both sides of the argument, I found myself rather pulled in two directions by Trollope’s snarky depiction of her American characters. There is no question at all that she herself is guilty in this novel of overarching snobbery and class consciousness, and a thoroughly British assumption of superiority – BUT – at the same time, I have to say that an unnerving amount of her satire was instantaneously understandable and recognisable, right to this day; and I found myself snickering at it more often than I’m quite comfortable with.

I’ll refrain from editorialising on this point, going forward. I’ll just include some quotes and let you make up your minds for yourselves.

As was often the case with novels of this period, The Refugee In America opens a generation before the main action. A quick background sketch introduces us to Edward Gordon, a young man of “station, wealth, and independence”…although he doesn’t have the latter for long, being dazzled and manoeuvred into an engagement with Miss Caroline Armitage not long after his twenty-first birthday.

The wedding is postponed some months, however, to allow Gordon to fulfill a prior commitment which requires travelling on the Continent. While in Florence, he is introduced to a Mr Oglander and his daughter, Eleanor—and soon discovers he has made a terrible mistake. Like Caroline Armitage, Eleanor Oglander is “eminently handsome”; but in addition to her beauty, she has a cultured mind and depths of character which – Gordon now realises – his fiancée is entirely lacking.

A gentleman of honour, Gordon flees his danger, returning to England and going through with his marriage. Before two years have passed, he is a widower with a baby daughter, named for her mother. By this time, Miss Oglander has become the Countess of Darcy. She herself is widowed when her son is eighteen, in the year 1825.

And it is with the new Lord Darcy that the main narrative of The Refugee In America largely concerns itself. He is in almost all respects a worthy son of his mother, sharing her dark good looks, her strength of character and her generosity. His only real failing is a “sudden and vehement” temper, which tends to overwhelm him—not casually, but in the face of any “baseness, cruelty, or oppression”.

Between Eton and Oxford, Lord Darcy is sent to the seaside town of Carbury, in Dorsetshire, to undertake a year’s private tutoring in the household of the clergyman, Mr Wilmot. Unlike several well-patronised resort towns nearby, including Lyme, Carbury remains quiet and undeveloped—known chiefly as a base for a notorious family of smugglers. The nobleman and the criminal cross paths when Darcy comes across the scion of the family, Richard Dally, plundering a poor poultry-woman of her chickens, and ruthlessly intervenes. Vicious and vindictive, Richard conceives a passionate hatred of Darcy, and swears to be revenged upon him—and it is this dark passion which subsequently drives our plot.

Dally’s first attempt at revenge sees him kidnap the earl’s dog and (trigger warning!) try to drown it in front of him. Darcy goes plunging into the water and succeeds in rescuing his pet; but as he and Dally struggle hand-to-hand, the smuggler pulls a knife and stabs the dog to death.

Darcy’s response is that of any reasonable person: he wrenches the knife from Dally and plunges it into him.

Appalled by what he has done, Darcy is still standing frozen over the body of the young man when he is approached simultaneously by a mob of people – including Dally’s mother and uncle – who witnessed the struggle from the cliffs nearby, and by the occupants of a small boat sailing on the waters of the bay. The latter are no less than Mr Gordon and his daughter, Caroline, with their two servants. Mr Gordon knows at a glance who the young man must be, though he has not laid eyes on his mother for some twenty years; and as the furious mob descends, he drags Darcy into his boat and sails away with him.

In fact, Mr Gordon does a great deal more. Comprehending instantly that Darcy is in danger of his life, he commits himself to the young man’s rescue—going so far as to make immediate arrangements for a journey for Darcy, himself and Caroline to New York, on board a commericial ship captained by a good friend of his. By the time the forces of law and order have started their pursuit, the wanted man is on his way to America.

It is from here that the narrative of The Refugee In America divides. The larger half of it concerns the experiences of the three British travellers; the rest deals with the reaction to the situation by Lady Darcy—which isn’t what we might anticipate from this set-up:

    The verdict of the coroner was— Wilful murder against Edward Oglander Harding, Earl of Darcy.
    This was an awful sentence to listen to, but Lady Darcy heard it almost unmoved. It seemed difficult to entertain any doubt respecting facts so substantiated; yet when she had heard the whole of Mr Wilmot’s statement, and read all the documents which confirmed it, she declared herself unconvinced of the death of young Dally…

In short, Lady Darcy begins to suspect that Richard Dally is alive but being kept out of sight by his family, partly for revenge, and partly in hopes of extorting “compensation”. The British half of the story, therefore, deals with her efforts to prove that her son is not guilty of murder: a quest which finds her, unknowingly, in league with the one person in the world who has the most to gain from proving he is.

Many years before, Eleanor’s hand was sought by her cousin, Nixon Oglander. His suit was rejected by Mr Oglander, who had been apprised of his nephew’s gambling habits. (In fact, Nixon was guilty of much worse, although we do not learn this for some considerable time.) Giving up the army for the bar, when our story opens Nixon Oglander is a successful lawyer—though he has not fundamentally changed, merely gained the ability to put on a false front. He also bears a lingering grudge against his uncle.

When Mr Oglander, stunned like Lady Darcy by the catastrophe that has befallen them, turns to his nephew for legal help, Nixon is quick to see that with Darcy out of the way – and preferably hanged for murder – he himself is the most likely heir of Mr Oglander’s great fortune…particularly if he could, after all, persuade his cousin Eleanor to marry him at last.

Lady Darcy’s suspicions are aroused in the first place by Mrs Dally having supposedly asked her brother, William West, to bury her son at sea, and immediately:

    “It is difficult to understand it,” said Lady Darcy; “but to me it is still more so to believe the tale of the sea burial: there is no nature in it, to my feelings; and in my judgement, there is no truth.”
    Mr Oglander, almost against his will, was staggered by her strong conviction; yet he feared to encourage a hope, the disappointment of which would be so terrible. It was, however, in vain that he continued to point out the strength of the evidence, nothing could shake her conviction…

One of the pleasures – and one of the deliberately infuriating touches – of The Refugee In America is Trollope’s handling of the character of Lady Darcy, who is (for the most part) a strong-minded, capable woman…but one beset by men who think they know better than her.

A letter sent back at the last moment informs Lady Darcy of her son’s rescue by Mr Gordon, and the latter’s intention of keeping him safe in America. She is therefore freed from her immediate fears, and able to turn her thoughts to the question of Richard Dally’s fate. She and her cousin Nixon travel to Carbury together, supposedly so that the latter can reinvestigate the matter; and it is not long before Lady Darcy’s instincts tell her that Nixon is no friend to her cause. She begins taking action on her own behalf, slipping out of the inn where she is expected to pass her weary days while her cousin reports in as it suits him, and questioning people for herself.

Much to his own dismay, Nixon has found cause to believe that Lady Darcy is right, particularly in the description of the aftermath of the supposed murder given to him by Susan Norris, an unfortunate young girl who has borne Richard Dally’s child:

    “And how are you sure he was killed? Did you see him afterwards?”
    “Ah, no! I wish I had! But I never saw nothing of him after he left me, singing as gay as a lark in the morning, till I saw his dear blood here.”
    “How soon did you come to the spot?”
    “I come down that very evening, before ’twas dark, and here I saw it, here, and here, and here;” and as she spoke, she stepped forward towards the sea. “I traced the red blood from there, where they say he fell, to the very edge of the sea, where he was put into his uncle’s boat, and carried out to the sea to be buried.”
    The young creature sobbed violently, and turned her agitated face from the inquirer.
    “You traced his blood, my girl, from that place to the sea?”
    “Yes, sir, and further too, for the tide was out then. His blood must have run like water to soak into the sand that fashion; oh, my poor baby, it was your blood that run then!”
    He was silent for a moment, and then said, ” Go home, my girl, and try to forget the father, while doing your best for his boy.”
    The girl shook her head, and turning from him, took her way up the cliff.
    Nixon Oglander remained a few moments standing exactly where she had left him; then turning round, he looked in all directions, as if to assure himself that he was alone.
    “The lovely countess is right, upon my soul! the blood of a dead man does not flow forth like water.”
    He paced the beach for half an hour, revolving all the probabilities of the case. “He lives,” he exclaimed, ” but does not show himself even to this girl; he hides himself, to be revenged on Edward, and to get money from the family. Let him live; but it shall be for me, or I will finish my kinsman’s work.”

Lady Darcy, meanwhile, has found an ally in Mrs Gardiner, the poulty-woman, who is only too happy to devote herself to her defender’s cause; as well as a neighbour of the Dallys’, who shares her opinion:

    “Where was he buried ?” said Lady Darcy…
    “Mother Dally tossed him into the sea, she says,” said the woman with a sneer.
    Lady Darcy was greatly agitated, but said distinctly, “That was strange, good woman—was it not ?”
    “Strange enough, if it was but true,” answered the woman.
    A light from heaven seemed to dart upon the mind of Lady Darcy, as she heard these words. She looked in the face of the speaker, as if she had been an angel sent thence to comfort her. The hard features of the woman bespoke habitual intemperance, and another of the group attempted to stop her loquacity, by saying,—
    “Hold your tipsy tongue, Molly; what for do you say that? what for should it not be true?”
    “I sha’n’t hold my tongue for you, Sally Wells; and I know, if you don’t, that Mother Dally would have sold his body to the surgeons as soon as look at him… No, no,” she continued, with a drunken laugh, “I knows Mrs Dally of old, and tisn’t to-day that she’ll take me in.”

Lady Darcy’s detective efforts culminate in an extraordinary passage on the cliffs of Carbury. She is walking alone on the beach when she spots a wisp of smoke issuing from somewhere above her, and concludes that there is a hidden cave in the cliff face. She does not hesitate:

    Nothing at all resembling a path appeared, but Lady Darcy had travelled in search of the picturesque, and was no contemptible crags-woman… She determined to attempt the ascent. The point at which it appeared the most feasible was where the cliff and the projecting rock formed an angle; this would lead her very close to the point from which the grey vapour still continued to issue… She commenced her arduous undertaking, and found that, though laborious, it was by no means dangerous to her steady head. She made her way from crag to crag, nor paused to look below, till obliged to stop from exhaustion of strength, and want of breath. While resting to recover herself, she fancied she heard the sound of human voices near her. She felt frightened, but the eager glance she threw round, showed no object to justify her fear. Assured that for the present she was alone, her courage returned, and she determined to avail herself of her singular position to ascertain, if possible, the situation of the persons whose voices she still distinctly heard…
    The small level space on which she stood terminated at an abrupt angle of this wall, and it appeared to her, that if she could make her way round it, she would probably be again within hearing of the voices. She drew near the verge, but the giddy precipice that fell directly from it, made her recoil.
    Again she approached it, and by clinging to a natural buttress contrived to look round the corner of the rock. The objects which then met her view convinced her that she was within a few feet of the cavern. A terrace of about fifty yards long, but not more than five in width, stretched along the face of the cliff at right angles from the spot where she stood, but eight or ten feet lower. It was covered with coarse grass, and on this were laid many small utensils of domestic use, which appeared to have been recently washed, and placed there to dry; several muskets rested against the rock, round which she leant, and at a frightfully short distance from her, lay a huge wolf dog, on a spot so evidently trodden, as plainly to indicate the entrance to the cave. The consciousness that the slightest movement might alarm the dog, who, by giving notice of her proximity, would inevitably throw her into the power of his owners, made her retreat most cautiously to the farthest corner of her giddy station…

It is passages such as this that remind us most forcibly that Frances Trollope was not a Victorian, but a product of the late Georgian era, writing during that awkward hiatus that we tend to call either the late Regency or the pre-Victorian period. (Poor old William IV never did win an individual identifier.)

And it is also passages like this that explain why Trollope’s books were buried during the Victorian era, and why they are, consequently, so little known today: her ideas about what was fit and proper for women to do were not at all the ideas of later in the 19th century.

Lady Darcy is rewarded for her courage and tenacity: what she overhears in the cave informs her absolutely that Richard Dally is still alive. However, she has put herself in a position from which retreat is extremely difficult, and she is finally forced to go on climbing up the cliff-face, rather than down again to the beach. She reaches the top safely, but is so physically exhausted, on top of the emotional strain of the past weeks, that she collapses.

Fortunately, she is near the cottage of her friend, Mrs Gardiner. Her cousin and the local apothecary are summoned; and under the latter’s care she revives just long enough to proclaim her triumph, and urge Nixon to return to the main town and round up a band of men, to search the cave and secure Richard Dally. She then collapses again, and is soon in a high fever.

Nixon Oglander leaves the cottage, as directed; the puzzled Mrs Gardiner watches as he turns, not right, towards the town, but left, towards the cliffs…

    The smoke had ceased to ascend, but Oglander discovered the aperture without difficulty, and placing his head over it he pronounced clearly, but not loudly, the name of West. He instantly heard the clatter of arms, and the whispered consultation of the trio; but before it was over he called again, adding, “Hist! hist! fear nothing,” which produced an answer half surly, half confidential, of—
    “Who the devil are you?”
    “A friend, as you shall see;” and a heavy purse dropped through the opening upon the embers, like the black pudding of old.
    It was not left to burn there; and the voice of West answered to the pleasing summons as gently as such a voice could, “All’s right, friend; I’ll be with you presently.”
    And the next moment he swung himself up from the front of the cavern, followed by his enormous dog, who, however, stood behind him perfectly still, though with that look of watchful ferocity, that indicated a willing readiness to attack, the moment he should be ordered to do so.
    “West,” said Oglander, holding out his hand to him, “there must be no more disguise between us,—we must plot together, and not apart; our course is the same: aid me, and you shall be richly paid for it.”

So it is that by the time a belated search is instigated, there is no sign of a cave at all at the spot indicated—just a blank wall of piled-up rocks.

Lady Darcy, meanwhile, is in a condition to cause extreme concern to the apothecary, Mr Barnes; Mr Wilmot, the clergyman; her father, who has been summoned to her bedside; and of course, her cousin Nixon. They take her insistence upon the existence of the cave – and the existence of Richard Dally – as the ravings of fever; but when the fever recedes and she still insists upon her story—when she continues to ignore what the men tell her to the contrary—the only possible conclusion is that she has lost her mind…

    “I greatly fear,” he continued, “that if her life be spared, her mind will not regain its tone. In my opinion, her reason has been partially disordered ever since the dreadful catastrophe reached her; and now I fear it is entirely gone.”
    Nixon Oglander sighed deeply as he replied to this most distressing supposition.
    “Alas, my dear sir, I have but too much reason to believe that you are right. It was impossible for me not to see that her fine intellect has been wandering ever since I have been with her. But I have constantly flattered myself, that when once she could be brought to admit the truth of the statements which she has hitherto denied, she would by degrees become accustomed to her misfortune, and recover her composure.”
    “Never, my dear sir,” replied Mr Wilmot, “never. The statement of the facts which I drew up, and which was substantiated by so many witnesses, was so clear and convincing, that nothing but insanity could have made it possible for any one to doubt its truth.”
    Oglander felt that these were the words of wisdom, and with another deep sigh, he pressed the speaker’s hand, and took his leave…

Yes, well. I have recently been discussing in a different context (and hope to be discussing here, before too much longer) how terrifyingly easy it was for someone to be condemned as “insane” during the 19th century; a woman, in particular.

And what could more thoroughly demonstrate a woman’s insanity than her continuing to hold to an opinion that four men have told her is wrong?

Lady Darcy is luckier than most, in that being an aristocrat, a widow and independently wealthy, she is permitted by her menfolk to suffer her “insanity” at her country house, rather than in one of the numerous (and highly profitable) private asylums which flourished at this time.

As she recovers her physical strength, she makes further efforts to get someone to listen to her—but to no avail:

It was in vain that the unhappy Lady Darcy reined in all natural vehemence of feeling, however quiet the manner in which she spoke, she saw that the instant she alluded to the conversation she had overheard from the cavern, her hearers considered her as a maniac. It was impossible to reason with them on the subject; for by Dr Barnes’ advice, they broke off the conversation, and left her, as soon as she alluded to it…

So all that she can do is trust to time and the efforts of Mr Gordon—and, of course, Providence.

It is, however, perhaps just as well that she was not privy to the full conversation between Nixon Oglander, William West and Richard Dally:

    “Now listen then to the rest: you must be off to Bridport to-night; it will not be the first you have spent at sea. You must take passage on board the first ship that sails for America, for New York, if possible. When there you must wait for further orders, and as you obey them, so shall you be paid!”
    “And what will you give me at starting, master? I don’t do dirty work for nothing.”
    “You shall be satisfied, Dick; but before I do all I intend for you, I must know that you are in earnest; remember, I shall know all,—and that by more ways than one, I promise you.”
    “What do you expect of me, then?—speak out.”
    For one short moment Nixon Oglander faltered; not in his purpose, but in the avowal of it.
    “Speak out, man,” repeated West, with a sneer; and the tone of swaggering equality with which this was uttered, gave a sharper pang to the last lingering feelings of the gentleman, than any his worn-out conscience could feel. He mastered it, however; nay, he smiled as he answered,—
    “Dally, I want to see young Darcy laid as low as he intended to lay you.”
    “For that,” said the young man, sulkily, “I don’t believe he wished to kill me; but it’s no matter, I owe him a grudge—I want money, and I’ve made Carbury too hot to hold me;—so I’ll do your work, if you’ll pay high enough…”

Curiously, it turns out that Richard Dally really is in love with Susan Norris, and that he did intend to marry her; and he insists upon carrying her and their child to America with him. The sudden disappearance of the girl and her baby causes some talk around Carbury; but it is assumed that she has gone the way of too many young women in her disgraced situation…

Nixon Oglander, meanwhile, has two more irons in his fire.

In the first place, he contacts a certain Hannibal Burns, a New York detective who has earned a reputation as a man-catcher—and likes nothing better than catching “foreigners” who think to use America as a refuge from their crimes.

From the letters received from Mr Gordon, the contents of which Lady Darcy did not at first hesitate to share with him, Oglander knows that Gordon, Caroline and Lord Darcy are planning on spending the winter in Rochester, both to avoid the possibility of meeting someone they know in New York, and because Gordon’s friend, Captain Birdwood, who was the pilot of their cross-Atlantic ship, has friends and contacts there, and can supply them with letters of introduction.

It is purely a coincidence that Nixon Oglander, too, has a contact in Rochester…

When he was a young man – when his gambling habits rendered him an unsuitable husband for his beautiful and wealthy cousin – Oglander was in fact part of a syndicate of young men who made their money as professional gambling cheats. After a long run of success, their foul methods were suspected. One of the group, a Captain Robert Brown, as the one with the least to lose personally, agreed to take all the blame and opprobrium upon himself, while the others walked away with clean hands. In exchange, he was granted sufficient funds to begin a comfortable new life in America, under an assumed identity.

And under that identity, the former Bob Brown is perhaps the most respected man in Rochester…even if, due to his misunderstanding of American society, he did not gain what he expected to through his marriage to the sister of the then-Secretary of State.

Still…he has a great deal to lose when he receives one of the infrequent letters sent to him by his former companion in crime, Nixon Oglander:

    “There is a boy who stands between me and my inheritance. Accident has thrown him into danger; he is suspected of a crime, of which he is innocent, and has fled to the town in which you live. He calls himself Smith, and the person he is with, is called Gordon; but the boy is Earl of Darcy, and heir to enormous wealth, a noble part of which will fall to me if he if he ceases to trouble me.
    “Now mark me. It is my will, that boy should perish. But you tell me you are of ‘high standing’, and you may not like to do the job. Though I have known the time, Bob, when you would not have let your standing come between you and a thousand pounds.
    “It may be, however, that I shall not want your hand. I will pay you for your head. The fellow my young cousin fancies he has murdered, is in my pay. I have sent him to America, both to keep him out of sight, and to act as a spy upon Master Smith; for which office he is better fitted than any other, as he hates him, for some petty spite of his own…
    “You understand me, Bob: I must have the business done. Let it be done between you, and I care not how it be divided. Accidents sometimes happen, you know, in your wild country. I have been told that the Indians are dangerous; and it has been said that more than one life has been lost by falling over rocks, while looking at water-falls—manage as you will, I care not…”

 

[To be continued…]

08/02/2020

Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
I read Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales, a collection of shorter works by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, under the belief that it was first published in 1862. That is certainly the date most commonly given, and by a variety of different sources. However, subsequent research regarding the initial publication date of a couple of the individual stories has made it fairly clear that this volume must have been published later than that—with 1869 now seeming the most likely candidate.

Trying to nail this point down has not been helped by the fact that this collection was revised and/or retitled on several occasions. One of my 1862 sources adds that it was re-released in 1867, “with four extra stories” (it doesn’t bother to tell me their titles, of course). Meanwhile, the book was apparently released in America in 1870 as Dudley Carleon; or The Brother’s Secret: and Other Tales: presumably bailiffs weren’t considered a sufficient attraction. (This is still less annoying than a couple of later British editions, which had their titles pointlessly changed to Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Stories).

And just to top off the confusion, I have two different sources, one offering 1862 and the other 1869, having this collection as by “Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, formerly Braddon”—only Braddon and John Maxwell didn’t marry until 1874.

So if it’s all right with you, I’m just going to ignore all of that and pretend that for once, I didn’t feel obliged to spend longer researching a book’s original publication date than I did reading it. (I won’t say “than I did writing about it”, but—) Much as I hate doing things “out of order”, I’d hate even more to lose what’s fresh in my mind and have to read up on it all again at some point in the future.

So—

The magazine, The Welcome Guest, was founded in 1858 by the publisher, Henry Vizetelly. Subtitled “A Magazine of Recreative Reading for All”, the journal did its best to live up to this broad remit, offering a variety of material and a high standard of contributing writers—and this remained the case even after it changed hands. In 1860, John Maxwell bought the magazine, and hired the novelist and poet, Robert Brough, to edit it.

It was at the offices of The Welcome Guest that Mary Elizabeth Braddon and John Maxwell first met, in April of 1860. She was trying to support herself and her mother by acting and writing; he was impressed with the potential of her first novel, then titled Three Times Dead, which he helped her to revise and reissued as The Trail Of The Serpent.

Then other things happened.

One of them was that Braddon began regularly to contribute short stories and “novelettes”, as they were called, to The Welcome Guest, including several that were later included in Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales.

As the volume now stands, it has a slightly disconcerting arrangement, with the tone of the first few stories jerking back and forth between bleak and comic before the whole settles down into, predominantly, tales of crime and suspense, with the occasional touch of the supernatural.

The question of how to review a work such as this is a tricky one. I think the best approach might be to give a brief overview of each entry, along with a short quote, just to give a taste without, hopefully, spoiling anything. (And yes, I know I’m usually a shameless spoiler; but short works don’t stand up as well to that sort of handling.)

And this should also have the happy side-effect of keeping this to a single post of reasonable length. (Huzzah! they all cried.)

All that said—
 

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Ralph The Bailiff itself was originally published in the first volume of the St. James’s Magazine (April – July, 1861). Interestingly enough, no author was listed for it, which suggests that Braddon’s anomalous situation with respect to John Maxwell was known and causing angst in some quarters. (This may also be why Ralph The Bailiff was rather defiantly made the title story when this collection was finally published.)

When his elder brother unexpectedly dies, Dudley Carleon inherits his comfortable fortune and the respectable country property known as Grey Farm. It seems for a time that his loss has crushed Dudley’s spirits, which may or may not account for the ascendancy gained over him by his bailiff, Ralph Purvis, who becomes the real power of Grey Farm. When, after several years of a lonely, gloomy existence, Dudley is prompted to purchase another property at some distance and place Ralph in full charge of it, he makes use of his new freedom to court and marry Jenny Trevor, the pretty young ward of the rector—only to find, not happiness, but tragedy…

Braddon crams a lot into this novella, playing wicked games with the inversion of “the natural order”, that is, the master-servant and husband-wife relationships; but while we may get some grim fun out of Dudley’s helplessness in the grip of his bailiff, Braddon also uses her story to consider the terrible vulnerability of women, both within and without marriage. Jenny is trapped by her circumstances, literally unable to leave her husband’s house; while madness – or the accusation of madness – is a constant, lurking threat. Meanwhile, as we have seen before with Braddon, crime is not always punished and very often does pay—but only for those with the courage of their criminal acts.

    “And pray, my pretty, curly-haired Miss, who may you be?”
    “Your master’s wife,” said Jenny haughtily.
    The man stared at her rudely for two or three moments before he spoke.
    “My master’s what?”
    “His wife—Mrs Carleon,” she said, looking him full in the face, terrified, but not daunted by his insolence.
    The bailiff burst into a loud hoarse laugh.
    “Mr Dudley Carleon’s wife! His right-down lawful wife! O, you’re that, are you? Give me the light,” he said, snatching the silver candlestick from her hand; “let’s have a look at you, then, for you’re a bit of a curiosity…”

 

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Captain Thomas did first appear in The Welcome Guest, during August, 1860. This comic tale deals with a marriage that does not happen, with the narrator recounting how he came to the unhappy belief that his young fiancée’s heart was still to given to the man she had evidently loved before and lost, and who she did not hesitate to mourn in front of him. Braddon has fun with this one, offering a split-vision narrative whereby the reader sees a great deal more than the rather dull-witted central character—who, among other things, fails to grasp the true identity of his romantic rival, Captain Thomas, even when he makes an unorthodox reappearance on the very eve of the wedding:

    …the parlour-door was ajar—and I heard—yes, I heard from the lips of the woman I was going to marry—these passionate exclamations:
    “My darling Tom, my own precious Thomas! Ums Thomas!” In the whole course of our loves she had never called me Ums Benjamin. Ums was evidently a mysterious expression of endearment, especially consecrete to this military or naval deceiver. “Ums Thomas has come back to ums; ums naughty boy, then! There!”
    After the “There!” there was that indescribable and unmistakable sound—something between the whistling of birds in wet weather and the drawing of corks—which one is in the habit of hearing under the mistletoe. She—my “future”—was kissing Captain Thomas, or Captain Thomas was kissing her! What mattered it which? Ruin either way!
    There was an umbrella-stand in the hall. I retreated into the shadow thereof as Rosa Matilda rushed out of the room. “Mamma!” she called at the foot of the stairs; “Mamma, would you believe it? he’s come back! The Captain! He came in at the back-bedroom window!”

 

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Perhaps the most famous of all of Braddon’s short stories, and frequently anthologised in collections of Victorian ghost stories, The Cold Embrace was first published in The Welcome Guest in September of 1860.

An arrogant young artist draws his naïve cousin into a secret engagement. At the height of his passion he gives her a unique gold ring which once belonged to his mother, and swears that nothing – not even death – can part them; that even if he did die, his spirit would return to her… But out of sight is out of mind, and when tragedy strikes the artist is relieved as much as shocked. He flees, trying to bury the memory of his cousin; but his solitude is not left undisturbed…

…in the broad moonlight there are only two shadows, his own and his dog’s. He turns quickly round—there is no one—nothing to be seen in the broad square but himself and his dog; and though he feels, he cannot see the cold arms clasped round his neck…
 

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From one extreme to the other: My Daughters was also published in The Welcome Guest, in October of 1860.

This is a comic short story about a long-suffering father cursed with three grown-up daughters of romantic temperament, much addicted to sentimental reading. Braddon shows that she knows all the popular writing of her time; and as someone working through Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver novels, wherein Tennyson is a positive touchstone, her apparent exasperation with The Idylls Of The King (expressed here and elsewhere) is doubly amusing. Yet the story builds up to a disappointingly conservative coda that marks this as a very early work.

Well, we were scarcely out of Adam Bede when the girls sickened for the “Idyls.” They had a great struggle, so tremendous was the demand, to get it from Mudie’s; and I’m sure for a week our man-servant, Higgs, aged fourteen, almost lived upon the road between Brompton and Bloomsbury. At last, the modest green-covered volume arrived. O, little did I think what a viper that innocent-seeming book would prove!
 

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The Mystery Of Fernwood was first published in two parts, during November and December of 1861, in the literary magazine, Temple Bar (of which Braddon herself would later become editor).

When Isabel Morley becomes engaged to Laurence Wendale, she receives a rather ungracious invitation to Fernwood, the family estate in Yorkshire. Though Laurence warns her that it is a dreary place, that his father is in poor health and that his mother, Lady Adela, rarely receives company, Isabel is unprepared for the general air of gloom and sadness at Fernwood: an atmosphere which she slowly becomes convinced has something to do with “Mr William”, an invalid relative who occupies rooms in one wing of the building, from which he never emerges… Braddon transposes a number of Gothic conventions to the Yorkshire countryside in this one; though the overall tone is bleak, rather than sensationalised. The Mystery Of Fernwood also offers another of Braddon’s oblique commentaries upon the position of women, contrasting the thoughtless young Laurence with his quietly self-sacrificing half-sister, Lucy.

    “The poor gentleman’s rooms are at the other end of the gallery, miss.”
    “Has he lived here long?” I asked.
    “Nigh upon twenty years, miss—above twenty years, I’m thinking.”
    “I suppose he is distantly related to the family.”
    “Yes, miss.”
    “And quite dependent on Mr Wendale?”
    “Yes, miss.”
    “It is very good of your master to have supported him for so many years, and to keep him in such comfort.”
    “My master is a very good man, miss.”
    The woman seemed determined to give me as little information as possible; but I could not resist one more question. “How is it that in all these years Mr Laurence has never seen this invalid relation?” I asked.

 

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First appearing in The Welcome Guest during February of 1861, Samuel Lowgood’s Revenge is also slightly disappointing in its conventional morality. It concerns two clerks at a shipping firm, one poor, painstaking and retiring, the other brash, handsome and self-confident—and a gentleman’s son, as the obscure Samuel Lowgood is repeatedly reminded. Already consumed by resentment and jealousy, when Christopher Weldon breaks the heart of the girl that Samuel has long secretly loved, the humble clerk finds himself consumed with thoughts of revenge—even if that revenge takes a lifetime to enact…

    …at the end of the month Christopher Weldon was to give a great dinner-party, at which Messrs. Tyndale and Tyndale were to be present, to inaugerate his partnership. As senior clerk, I was honoured by an invitation.
    My enemy had mounted to the highest round of the ladder. Rich, beloved, honoured, the husband of a lovely and haughty lady, partner in the great and wealthy house which he had entered as junior clerk—what more could fortune bestow upon him?
    My time had come—the time at which it was worth my while to crush him…

 

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The Lawyer’s Secret first appeared in The Welcome Guest in three parts, between the 16th February – 2nd March, 1861. It is one of the longer works in this collection, and has since been excerpted and published as a standalone work.

When Ellinor Arden turns twenty-one, she learns that her inheritance of a fortune is conditional upon her marrying her uncle’s adopted son within the year. Ellinor is appalled, not least because she has long loved Horace Margrave, her lawyer, guardian and trustee—but the indifference with which he advises her, and the sensible way he discusses her potential marriage, chills her to the heart. Though she is prepared to dislike him, Henry Dalton seems to Ellinor a high-principled, generous young man; and impulsively, she agrees to the bargain. It is only after this that Horace Margrave confides to Dalton something that will bring the promising marriage to the point of disaster…

The main complaint that might be made against The Lawyer’s Secret is that the secret itself is too obvious. However, Braddon isn’t really writing sensation fiction here, where such a flaw might be fatal. She is more interested in the impact of the secret upon the marriage of Ellinor and Henry, and the simultaneous physical and moral deterioration of the brilliant, much-courted Horace Margrave. Particularly interesting here is how far Ellinor puts herself in the wrong in response to what she perceives as her husband’s sins, and that there is from the very first moment a large measure of class snobbery in her reaction to him, because of his background: a prejudice that colours her response to him and causes her to see his actions as those of someone who is “no gentleman”; unlike, say, Horace Margrave…

    “You too, against me?” cried Ellinor mournfully. “O, believe me, it is not the money I want, it is not the possession of of the money which I grudge him; it is only that my heart sinks at the thought of being united to a man I cannot respect or esteem. I did not ask to love him,” she added, half to herself; “but I did pray that I might be able to esteem him.”
    “I can only say, Ellinor, that you are mistaken in him.”
    At this moment came the sound of a quick firm step on the stairs, and Henry Dalton himself entered the room. His face was bright and cheerful, and he advanced to his wife eagerly; but at the sight of Horace Margrave he fell back with a frown.     “Mr Margrave, I thought it was part of our agreement—”
    The lawyer interrupted him. “That I should never darken this threshold. Yes.”
    Ellinor looked from one to the other with a pale, frightened face. “Mr Dalton,” she exclaimed, “what, in Heaven’s name, does this mean?”
    “Nothing that in the least can affect you, Ellinor. A business disagreement between myself and Mr Margrave; nothing more.”
    His wife turned from him scornfully, and approaching Horace Margrave, rested her hand on the scroll-work at the back of the chair on which he sat.
    It was so small an action in itself, but it said, as plainly as words could speak, “This is the man I trust, in spite of you, in spite of the world…”

 

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My First Happy Christmas finds Braddon dabbling in the other great mainstay of Victorian short fiction, the Christmas story. This one first appeared in The Welcome Guest in (of course) December of 1861.

This story deals with the fate of three small schoolboys left behind when all of their classmates go home for Christmas. Two of them have parents on the other side of the world; the third, our narrator, is an orphan. Particularly interesting here is the justifiable bitterness against the ways of Santa: was Braddon the first to go down that road?

Be that as it may, a particularly agreeable Saturnalia Christmas miracle is in the making…

On the whole, I say, I was not unhappy. During the half-year’s lessons and the half-year’s exercises, the half-year’s propria qua maribus and “Enfield’s Speaker”, bad marks and good marks, stolen feasts in dimly-lighted dormitories, prisoner’s base and fly-the-garter in the great bare playground, I was tolerably happy. But Christmas, that Christmas to which thirty-one out of four-and-thirty boys looked forward with such rapture—Christmas, which, for those thirty-one young persons, meant home, and love, and roast turkey, and unlimited wedges of rich plum-pudding smothered with brandy-sauce, and inexhaustible brown-paper bags of chestnuts, and piles of golden oranges, and bilious attacks, and kisses under the mistletoe from pretty cousins, and blindman’s buffs, and hunt the slippers, and so many glorious things, which to myself and the two pupils from Demerera were nothing but strange words—Christmas was for me a sad and bitter time. That genial and ancient allegorical person with rubicund face, snow-white, holly-crowned head, and brave, good-natured smile, was to me an evil-minded demon, who whispered, “For you I am not what I am to other people; I can never be the same to you that I am to other people; I come to you only to remind you of the love that is forever lost to you; of the home which you have never known…”
 

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The history of Lost And Found is confusing and I’m not sure I’ve got it right yet. This is, however, one of the included stories that argues against an 1862 publication date.

As I understand it, this work was originally part of Braddon’s novel, The Outcasts; or, The Brand Of Society, which was serialised in the London Journal between the 12th September 1863 – 12th March 1864. Braddon then revised her work and reissued it in novel form under the title, Henry Dunbar: The Story Of An Outcast. During the revision process, Braddon removed an entire section of her novel and then published it as a standalone work.

Or so the story goes. Since Lost And Found is almost long enough to be called “a novel” in its own right, it seems unlikely that it was cut out as it stands from within another novel. Furthermore, the only publication details I have found for Lost And Found suggest that it was published in the London Journal during 1864; and it doesn’t really make sense to me that Braddon would serialise The Outcasts, cut out a chunk of it, and then republish that chunk in the same magazine as an independent work.

(Henry Dunbar is now the “definitive” version of this novel. I haven’t yet looked into whether The Outcasts is available also. Quite a few of the 19th century magazines have been archived online, though, so I’ll chase that up when the time, or rather date, is ripe.)

A man calling himself Gervoise Gilbert leaves his alcoholic wife and their life of poverty in London, taking with him their young son, George. The two are fortunate enough to fall in with a band of travelling performers. In exchange for food and lodging, Gervoise designs and paints pictures of the troupe to be used as advertising, while George becomes part of the show itself. Noting the tattoos upon one of the performers, and learning that he did most of them himself, Gervoise asks the man to place a certain mark upon George’s wrist, so that he may always in future be identified. The tattoo is of an earl’s coronet, with the initials ‘G. P.’…

The troupe is present when the Earl of Haughton is killed during a steeplechase race. His young countess is rushed from the scene; later it is learned that both she and her baby, a boy born prematurely, have died. Gervoise wastes no time in travelling to London, to the Palgrave family lawyers, who know his history and hold the documentation necessary to prove his identity. In his haste, Gilbert leaves Georgey with the troupe; and he returns in triumph as Gervoise Palgrave, Earl of Haughton, only to discover that the boy is missing—stolen away, it seems, by his mother…

The loss of his son blights Gervoise’s ascension to the aristocracy. Though he sets in motion a thorough search for Agatha and the boy, no trace is found of either. It is many months before Gervoise can reconcile himself to the situation—and then his consolation takes a dangerous form, in his tentative courtship of Ethel Hurst. Arguing to himself that were Agatha not dead, some hint of her whereabouts must have been discovered. Gervoise defiantly asks Ethel to marry him. However, a chance encounter only days before the wedding leaves Gervoise with a desperate choice to make…

Lost And Found is in all respects a grim work: there are no heroes here, only villains of varying shades and degrees of guilt. The one ray of light is Braddon’s sympathetic and humorous sketch of the performers—and even there she finds one more villain to darken her tale.

Gervoise may be our protagonist but the touchstone of his character is his selfishness. Even though it is Agatha’s violent and drunken behaviour that drives Gervoise away, it is made clear that when he married her, she was an innocent and sober girl; being made to carry the blame for Gervoise’s “fall” from high society to a life of poverty and struggle became too much for her. Gervoise knows well enough that he is leaving Agatha to face destitution, but makes Georgey’s safety his excuse for a desertion that is equally if not more for his own comfort. Yet it is Gervoise’s very haste to claim his inheritance that later leaves Georgey exposed to danger.

The working-out of the plot of Lost And Found exploits the Victorian unease over the implications of wet-nursing: the sense that, “necessary” as it might have been, it resulted in an improper and dangerous mingling of the classes and created intimacy where none should exist.

(Wet-nursing was “necessary” because of the social taboo against women having sex while breastfeeding. Babies were therefore taken away from their mothers at about six weeks of age, to allow husbands sexual access again—although this was usually couched in terms of women “worrying about their figures” [which repeated pregnancies weren’t going to help; just sayin’]. Samuel Richardson’s unnecessary sequel to Pamela deals with this situation with disturbing frankness, but of course that was the mid-18th century.)

Gervoise’s foster-brother, Humphrey Melwood, is positioned in the narrative as, effectively, Gervoise’s evil twin. He is passionately devoted to Gervoise, to the point of intuiting – and acting out – his darkest impulses, creating the disturbing scenario of the aristocratic Gervoise keeping his own hands technically clean while poacher-turned-gamekeeper Humphrey does his dirty work for him.

I argued during my review of The Trail Of The Serpent that Braddon may have been the first to write a real “detective story”, that is, to place a detective figure at the centre of her narrative and to make the successful unravelling of a mystery the backbone of her plot.

The second half of Lost And Found is effectively another such story, making the correct dating of it even more important. While it is perhaps not “pure” enough in its mystery aspects to qualify as a detective story proper, Lost And Found does give us a determined amateur detective following clues to discover the truth of certain dark events surrounding Gervoise’s marriage to Ethel Hurst—albeit that the detective is no hero, but someone determined to do as much harm as possible when he gets his hands on the proofs he seeks. Furthermore, the reader already knows the truth of the mystery being investigated—allowing us to argue, if we choose, that Braddon also invented the so-called “inverted detective story”, something usually attributed to R. Austin Freeman’s Dr John Thorndyke stories many years later.

    “You are Earl of Haughton! Last night you were walking about Avondale afraid to show yourself in your shabby clothes, wild and desperate, talking about ending your days in a river; to-night you are the master of Palgrave Chase. The poor countess is dying; the child died within an hour of its birth.”
    “Dead!”
    “Yes, Master Gervoise. Ah, my lord—I mustn’t call you Master Gervoise any longer—the days are gone forever when I might call you brother.”
    “No, no, Humphrey—no, no,” answered Gervoise. “If this is all true—if it is not some distempered dream, as it seems to me it must be—why then I will be more your brother than ever. Adversity is a hard master, Humphrey; and those who suffer are apt to think very little of the sufferings of others. But prosperity softens a man’s heart. I’ll be a true friend to you, Humphrey.”
    He held out his hand as he spoke, and grasped the horny fingers of the gamekeeper.
    “Bless you for those words, Master Gervoise! The world will be all at your feet now, and money’s very powerful; but for all it’s so powerful, there are some things it can’t do, and those are just the very things a faithful friend can do. You see this arm, Master Gervoise,” cried the gamekeeper, stretching out his muscular right arm and clenching his powerful fist; “there’s many about Avondale as could tell you that it isn’t a weak one. If there’s anyone that wronged you, I’d as lief strike him down with that arm as crush a worm that came in my pathway. It’s not many people I care for, Master Gervoise, but there’s something more than common in the love I bear you; I must have sucked it in with my mother’s milk, for it seems as if it was mixed with the blood that runs in my veins, and I think every drop of that blood would turn to liquid fire if I knew that anyone had injured you. Heaven help them that harmed you, that’s all! Heaven keep ’em safe out of my pathway!”

 

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Eveline’s Visitant is the death-knell of any suggestion of 1862: it first appeared in the Belgravia magazine in January of 1867. Belgravia was founded by John Maxwell late in 1866, and edited by Braddon from its establishment until 1876, becoming their most successful joint venture of this sort.

This is another of Braddon’s well-known and often-anthologised ghost stories. I find it interesting that, like The Cold Embrace, it is set outside of England, that supposed land of ghosts.

During a drunken fight over a worthless woman, Hector de Brissac, a young French soldier, strikes his aristocratic cousin across the face, cutting open his cheek. A duel is inevitable—and it is the aristocrat who falls. As he lies dying, Andre de Brissac whispers to his cousin that the affair between them is not yet over… Hector’s inheritance of his cousin’s estate initially brings him no happiness: he is looked askance at and shunned by his Andre’s friends and neighbours. Things change when Hector meets and marries the lovely and gentle Eveline Duchalet, who becomes the great joy of his life. Only a few months into the marriage, however, a shadow is thrown across it, when Eveline comes home one day to ask the name of the man who must, she concludes, be the owner of the neighbouring estate, who she has begun to see frequently while in the grounds? As Hector knows only too well, there is no such estate, nor any such man…

    “Have you seen this man often, Eveline?” I asked.
    She answered in a tone which had a touch of sadness, “I see him every day.”
    “Where, dearest?”
    “Sometimes in the park, sometimes in the wood. You know the little cascade, Hector, where there is some old neglected rock-work that forms a kind of cavern. I have taken a fancy to that spot, and have spent many mornings there reading. Of late I have seen the stranger there every morning.”
    “He has never dared to address you?”
    “Never. I have looked up from my book, and have seen him standing at a little distance, watching me silently. I have continued reading; and when I have raised my eyes again I have found him gone. He must approach and depart with a stealthy tread, for I never hear his footfall. Sometimes I have almost wished that he would speak to me. It is so terrible to see him standing silently there…”

 

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Found In The Muniment Chest was also published in Belgravia in 1867, in the December issue. It is a fairly straightforward romance, with its climax set during the Christmas season, and may have done duty for a more overt Christmas story.

A young lawyer falls in love with the daughter of a man who is not merely a bibliophile, but a “bibliomaniac”, having spent a literal fortune upon his collection of rare books and manuscripts. Knowing that he is in no position to aspire to the hand of an heiress, he buries his feelings, trying to content himself with the position of legal advisor and loyal friend. One night Barbara comes to him for advice on a matter that must change her life drastically and forever: she confides to him that she has found a will post-dating the one under which her father inherited his fortune…

    “…my first impulse was to come to you with this dreadful paper. And O, Mr Wilmot, does this will really mean anything, and will it reduce papa to poverty, for I fear he has squandered a great deal of money on his books, and has considerably impoverished the estate; and he will have to give all back, will he not, if that paper is binding?”
    How could I answer her when she looked at me with such a terror-stricken face, alarmed not for herself—I doubt if she was even conscious that her own interests were at stake—but for the father she loved so fondly!

 

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Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales concludes with a final comic story—although we may also choose to consider it an inverted ghost story, inasmuch as it is told from the point of view of the ghost. How I Heard My Own Will Read first appeared in Belgravia in February of 1867.

After an over-convivial evening following a stolen holiday at the St. Ledger, Augustus Pettifer is killed in a train wreck outside of a place called Slitherem-on-the-Dwingey; never mind that no such place exists, but was made up merely to excuse his absence from home. But this is only the first of many strange and mortifying events. For one thing, no-one seems to recognise him any more; not even his own widow, when he arrives home. Then there are the reactions of the beneficiaries to the last will and testament of Augustus Pettifer…

    Really, what with the parlour-maid’s asservations, Julia Maria’s mourning, and the graphic account of the accident in the newspaper, I was in a manner beginning to believe in Slitherem-on-the-Dwingey. Suppose I had been killed? Suppose I had been brought home on a shutter, and didn’t know it? There was an awful situation!
    I pinched myself; it was painful. There was a fire in the grate; I laid hold of the bars; that was painful, very, and I believe I swore; but O, it was such a comfort to feel that I was mortal, that I could have blessed anyone for treading upon my pet corn.
    It was a nice thing to be asked into my own dining-room to hear my own will read. There was Peck, in a suit of black, with ebony death’s-heads for studs,—he had always had a playful fancy,—sitting in one of my morocco chairs at the top of my patent telescopic dining-table. He seemed to have forgotten all about Doncaster. I tried to recall it to his recollection, but a temporary paralysis of the vocal organs prevented me…

 

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ETA:

Crap.

It occurred to me just too late that there are four stories here with an original publication date post-1862, and that I therefore accidentally read the first revised edition of 1867, referred to up above, to which more stories were added.

This in spite of the fact that my copy carried a “First published in 1862” rider. I guess I’m not the only one confused by all this.

Anyway…I’m not going to re-write anything. I’m just going to allow myself the comfort of not really having gotten things “out of order”…

10/12/2019

The Captain Of The Vulture (Part 2)


 
    …close beside the hearth, with his back to the window, sat the same traveller whom Samuel Pecker had last seen beneath his own roof. The uncertain flame of the fire, shooting up for a moment in a vivid blaze, only to sink back and leave all in shadow, revealed nothing but the mere outline of this man’s figure, and revealed even that but dimly, yet at the very first glance through the uncurtained window Millicent Duke uttered a great cry, and falling on her knees in the snow, sobbed aloud,—“My husband! My husband, returned alive to make me the guiltiest and most miserable of women!”
    She grovelled on the snowy ground, hiding her face in her hands and wailing piteously. Darrell lifted her in his arms and carried her into the house.
    The traveller had heard the cry, and stood upon the hearth, with his back to the fire, facing the open door; and the traveller was in sorry truth the Captain of the Vulture—that person of all others upon earth whose presence was most terrible to Darrell and Millicent…

 

 

 

 

Christmas comes once again to Compton – it is the sixth anniversary of the visit of the mysterious pedlar, and Sarah Pecker’s reformation – and this time the inn is honoured by a trio of young bucks. Their presence is considered a mark of honour for the establishment, in spite of the demands they make upon its resources and their riotous behaviour. Recognised head of the household or not, Samuel Pecker still knows when he is out of his depth; and so he suggests to Sarah that she be the one to ask the party to be a little less rough and noisy. It is therefore she who carries in the last bottles of old port held by the Black Bear:

    The third member of the little party, and he who seemed far the most sober of the three, lounged with his back to the fire and his elbow leaning on the mantelpiece… His flashing black eyes, and his small white teeth, which glittered as he spoke, lit up his face, which, in spite of his evident youth, was wan and haggard—the face of a man prematurely old from excitement and dissipation; for the hand of Time during the last six years had drawn many a wrinkle about the restless eyes and determined mouth of Sir Lovel Mortimer, Baronet, alias Captain Fanny, highwayman, and, on occasion, housebreaker.
    Heaven knows what there was in the appearance of any one of the party in the white parlour to overawe or agitate the worthy mistress of the Black Bear, but it is a sure thing that a faint and dusky pallor crept over Sarah Pecker’s face as she set the wine and glasses upon the table. She seemed nervous and uneasy under the strange dazzle of Captain Fanny’s black eyes. It has been said that they were not ordinary eyes; indeed, there was something in them which the physiognomists of to-day would no doubt have set themselves industriously at work to define and explain. They were not restless only. There was a look in them almost of terror—not of a terror of to-day or yesterday, but of some dim far-away time too remote for memory—the trace of some shock to the nervous system received long before the mind had power to note its force, but which had left its lasting seal upon one feature of the face.
    Sarah Pecker dropped and broke one of her best wine glasses under the strange influence of these restless eyes. They fixed her gaze as if they had possessed some magnetic power…

It is the fancy of Sir Lovel Mortimer to hold Sarah in conversation; and she, nettled by his contemptuous attitude to her home village, is roused to answer firmly enough. So the baronet learns of the death of Ringwood Markham, and the inheritance of the family estate by his sister, Millicent; Mrs George Duke. He takes Sarah up on her insistence that Millicent is a widow:

    “The world is wide enough outside Compton-on-the-Moor; and your sailor is a roving blade, who is apt to take his own pleasure abroad, forgetful of any one who may be waiting for him at home. Who knows that Captain Duke may not come back to-morrow to claim his wife and her fortune?”
    “The Lord forbid!” said Mrs Pecker earnestly; “I would rather not be wishing ill to any one: but sooner than poor Miss Millicent should see him come back to break her heart and waste her money, I would pray that the Captain of the Vulture may lie drowned and dead under the foreign seas.”
    “A pious wish!” cried Captain Fanny, laughing. “However, as I don’t know the gentleman, Mrs Pecker, I don’t mind saying, Amen. But as to seven years’ absence being proof enough to make a woman a widow, that’s a common mistake and a vulgar one, Mrs Sarah, which I scarcely expected to hear of from a woman of your sense. Seven years—why, husbands have come back after seventeen!”
    Mrs Pecker made no answer to this…

So focused are the people of Compton upon the visit of the baronet and his companions, and the consequent honour bestowed upon their village, that they barely notice the rash of violent robberies that occur in the surrounding districts; or at least, no-one thinks to tie these events together.

I remarked at the outset of my plunge into George Reynolds’ monumental penny-dreadful, The Mysteries Of London, that it was very obvious that Mary Elizabeth Braddon had been strongly influenced by Reynolds; likewise, that she was in sympathy with many of his social criticisms. Her way of addressing such points was always very different, however: whereas Reynolds does so with rhetoric and tub-thumping, Braddon’s way is that of black humour and/or chilly matter-of-factness. Here, for instance, merely as a throwaway observation in context, is a reference to the conditions prevailing in England during the 18th century, and the savage property laws of the time. It’s something that Reynolds might have said—but this isn’t the way he would have said it:

The sojourn of a handsome young baronet at the Black Bear was a rare event, to be remembered and talked of for a twelvemonth at least; while violence, outrage, robbery, and murder upon the king’s highway were of everyday occurrence. London kept holiday every Monday morning, and went gipsying and sight-seeing Tyburnwards. Thieves, retired from business, made goodly fortunes by hunting down old comrades. Children were hung without mercy for the stealing of three halfpence on that via sacra, the king’s highway; because the law—poor well-intentioned blundering monster as it was—could frame a statute, but could not make a distinction, and could only hang by the letter, where it might have pardoned according to the spirit.

The next event of significance to our characters is the coming of the end of January—the seventh anniversary of George Duke’s disappearance. Millicent must then seek out Darrell Markham in London and deliver to him Ringwood’s letter, as per her solemn promise; but she has little idea how to go about her task, and is mightily relieved when Sarah forces her own company upon her.

Holding hard to her Cumberland heritage, Sarah stubbornly refuses to be either thrilled, shocked or awed by London. As for Millicent, she barely notices her surroundings for thinking of the upcoming meeting. She has not seen her cousin Darrell for seven years either—not since he lay injured and delirious at the Black Bear, after being attacked by a man he swore was George Duke…

Millicent spends the hired coach journey between the inn at which she and Sarah are staying and the townhouse of Lord C— tormenting herself with visions of a very different Darrell; an indifferent Darrell; a Darrell in love with someone else. The reality is more prosaic but for the moment just as daunting: Darrell has grown up:

Of all the changes Millicent had ever dreamed of, none had come about. But this one change, of which she had never dreamed, had certainly come to pass. Darrell Markham had grown stouter within the past seven years ; not unbecomingly so, of course. He had only changed from a stripling into a stalwart broad-chested, and soldierly-looking fellow, whose very presence inspired poor helpless Millicent with a feeling of safety. He clasped his poor little shivering cousin to his breast, and covered her cold forehead with kisses…

Millicent is inspired with a new terror: that, he in London, she in Compton, Darrell may simply have grown away from her; but her fears in that respect are soon put thoroughly to rest. She hesitates as Darrell insists upon the implications of the seven-years’ silence, and changes the subject by putting Ringwood’s letter, as per her promise, into her cousin’s hand. Her hope is that Ringwood has left Darrell a bequest—which, as Darrell tells her, is exactly what he has done:

    It was thus that poor Ringwood had written:
    “Cousen Darrel,
    “When you gett this, Capten Duk will hav bin away sevin years. I canot lieve you a legasy, but I lieve you my sister Mily, who after my deth will be a ritch woman, for your tru and lovyng wife. Forgett
all past ill blud betwixt us, and cherish her for the sake of
    “RINGWOOD MARKHAM.”

Still gripped by her belief that George Duke is alive and waiting, Millicent resists her fate; but she has not the strength of character to withstand the force represented by an impassioned Darrell and a determined Sarah. However, she outrages the latter by refusing to come out of her mourning for Ringwood for her wedding, compromising only so far as a pale lavender gown. And though she very much enjoys the intervening fortnight, during which time Darrell ensures that she and Sarah see all the sights, there is a shadow over her happiness. At the last moment, her terrors overcome her:

    …Mrs George Duke, falling on her knees at Darrell’s feet, lifted up her clasped hands and appealed to him thus :—
    “O, Darrell, Darrell, I feel as if this was a wicked thing that we are going to do! What evidence have I that George Duke is dead? and what right have I to give my hand to you, not knowing whether it may not still belong to another? Delay this marriage. Wait, wait, and more certain news may reach us; for some thing tells me that we have no justification for the vows we are going to take to-day.”
    She spoke with such a solemn fervour, with such an earnestness in every word, with a light that seemed almost the radiance of inspiration shining in her blue
eyes, that Darrell Markham would have been led to listen to her almost as seriously as she had spoken, but for the interference of Mrs Sarah Pecker. That aggrieved matron, however, showered forth a whole volley of indignant exclamations, such as “Stuff and nonsense, child!”

Sarah hustles the pair into marriage; and this despite the fact that she herself receives at the last moment what she is inclined to take as an ill omen. Almost knocked down on the slippery pavement outside the London church, she is saved by a passing stranger…only he is not a stranger: it is none other than Sir Lovel Mortimer, looking very different from his normal dandified self in a brown wig and thick, almost disguising clothing; but there is no mistaking those eyes. The baronet is very interested to learn what business it is that has brought Sarah to London, and goes off leaving his compliments for the bride and groom.

The wedding goes ahead in spite of the spoken and unspoken fears of the trio; no George Duke appears to forbid it, in spite of Millicent’s nervous glances over her shoulder. With Darrell’s ring upon her finger, Millicent at last allows herself to relax:

Millicent abandoned herself to the delight of Darrell’s presence, and had well-nigh forgotten that she had ever lived away from him. She was with him, sheltered and protected by his love, and all the vague doubts and terrors of the wedding morning had vanished out of her mind. It seemed as if she had left her fears in the stony London church from which she had emerged as Darrell Markham’s wife. She had felt a shadowy apprehension of some shapeless trouble hovering near at hand, some unknown sorrow ready to fall upon her and crush her; but she felt this apprehension no longer. Nothing had occurred to interrupt the marriage. It seemed to her, therefore, as if the marriage, being permitted by Providence, must needs be happy…

The three travel home to Compton, and they make their first stop at the Black Bear where, knowing of the limited resources at the Hall, Sarah has sent ahead to order a celebratory dinner prepared for the newly-weds. Arriving at the inn, she hurries in ahead of her companions to check that her orders have been carried out—and finds herself confronted by the Samuel of old, a timid, weary man clearly expecting thunderstorms to descend upon his head:

    “What! what!” cried Sarah, some indistinct terror chilling her very blood; “what is it, Samuel?—have you lost your speech?”
    It seemed indeed for a moment as if Mr Pecker had been suddenly deprived of the use of that faculty. He shook his head from side to side, swallowed and gasped alternately, and then grasping Sarah by the arm, pointed with his disengaged hand to another half-open door exactly opposite to that of the room in which the dinner-table was laid. “Look there!” he ejaculated in a hoarse whisper close to Sarah’s ear.
    Following the direction of Samuel’s extended hand, Mrs Pecker looked into a room which was generally devoted to the ordinary customers at the Bear, but which on this winter’s evening had but one occupant. This solitary individual was a man wearing a dark blue travel-stained coat, jack-boots, and loose brown curling hair tied with a ribbon. His back was turned to Sarah and her husband, and he was bending over the sea-coal fire with his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in his hands. While Mrs Sarah Pecker stood as if transfixed, staring silently at this traveller, Darrell followed Millicent into the hall, and thence into the oak parlour, closing the door behind him.
    “O, Samuel, Samuel! how shall I ever tell her? ” exclaimed Mrs Pecker.

She cannot—and in fact does not. She excuses herself from joining the dinner, and has the inn’s servant wait upon Darrell and Millicent; which is also what Samuel has done with regard to the inn’s other customer. The Peckers try to come to terms with the appalling situation—each of them in their own way:

    “Only an hour—only an hour,” groaned Sarah: “if it had pleased Providence to have taken his life before that hour, what a happy release for them two poor innocent creatures in yonder room!”
    “Ah, what a release indeed!” echoed Samuel. “He’s sittin’ with his back to the door: if somebody could go behind him sudden with a kitchen poker,” added the innkeeper, looking thoughtfully at Sarah’s stout arm; “but then,” he continued, reflectively, “there’d be the body; and that would be against it. If you come to think of it, the leading inconvenience of a murder is that there’s generally a body. But I suppose it’s only right it should be so; for if it wasn’t for bodies, murders would be uncommon easy.”
    Sarah did not appear particularly struck by the brilliancy of her husband’s discourse; she sat in her own particular arm-chair before the old-fashioned fire place, with her hands clasped upon her knees, rocking herself to and fro, and repeating mournfully,—“O, if it had but pleased Providence to take him before that hour!—if it had but pleased Providence!”
    She remembered afterwards that as she said these words there was a feeling in her heart tantamount to an inarticulate prayer that some species of sudden death might overtake the traveller in the common parlour…

The traveller departs while Darrell and Millicent are still at dinner; for the Hall, the Peckers dismally conclude. Even at the last Sarah cannot bring herself to speak the terrible words; and though the others see that something has happened to upset their old friend, the dreadful truth does not cross their minds.

It is a short but hard walk from the Black Bear to Markham Hall, through the snow and by the light of a lantern carried by Samuel. Millicent, somewhat infected by Sarah’s fears, recoils when she sees footprints in the pathway. To approach their own front door, the two must pass several windows, including one giving into a room in which a fire has been lit: inside, a man sits before that fire…

Here, at last, we find ourselves upon familiar Braddon-ground in The Captain Of The Vulture. The bigamy-plot was one of the mainstays of the 19th century sensation novel; though it was not confined to that genre. It was occasionally deployed in more mainstream literature, too, but almost always with a man at the apex of the triangle: obviously this was considered a less shocking situation. In sensation novels, however, it was an excellent way of having a woman – generally the heroine – sexually guilty and yet innocent at the same time—if the bigamy was accidental, which was not always the case.

Braddon had already dabbled in these waters, in her first novel, The Trail Of The Serpent; but there it was merely one subplot in a dizzying maze of mystery and crime. This was the first time she brought this situation front-and-centre; and indeed, it is possible that she was using The Captain Of The Vulture as something of a dry run: bigamy would (though in very different ways) be the fulcrum of her two succeeding novels, which would be among her most controversial yet most successful works.

She handles the matter rather differently here, fittingly for what is an historical romance rather than a sensation novel, having poor Millicent agonise over her “sin” in explicitly religious terms. And there is something concrete for her to agonise over: daringly on Braddon’s part, it is clear that the marriage has been consummated.

Darrell does his best to intervene on Millicent’s behalf, arguing indeed that she was pressured into her new marriage against her better judgement; but he might as well be addressing a brick wall:

    “Now you come here and listen to me, Mistress Millicent Markham, Mrs George Duke, Mrs Darrell Markham, or whatever you may please to call yourself. Come here, I say.”
    She had been lying on the sofa, never blest by one moment’s unconsciousness, but acutely sensible of every word that had been said. Her husband caught hold of her wrist with a rough jerk, and lifted her from the sofa. “Listen to me, will you,” he said, “my very dutiful and blameless wife! I am going to ask you a few questions. Do you hear?”
    “Yes.”
    She neither addressed him by his name nor looked at him as he spoke. Gentle as she was, tender and loving as she was to every animate thing, she made no show of gentleness to him, nor any effort to conceal her shuddering abhorrence of him…

And of course, Captain Duke is not much interested in the marriage as such. What he is interested in, is Millicent’s inheritance of Compton Hall—and his consequent rights as her husband. His words are vicious, deliberately cruel—yet it is almost as if Millicent does not hear them. There is only one thought in her mind, one question which she must ask:

“George Duke, did you stay away these seven years on purpose to destroy me, body and soul?”

Somewhat to her surprise, and ours, the answer is ‘no’: Captain Duke was, he claims, cast away on a Pacific island, and only recently rescued.

Rendered helpless by the situation, Darrell can only insist upon his altered position as Millicent’s only relative. He withdraws—but warns Captain Duke about his treatment of Millicent, and adds that he will be back on the following day.

As he makes to withdraw, Millicent suddenly comes out of her near-catatonic state:

    “Stop!” cried Millicent, as her cousin was leaving the room; “my husband took an earring from me when we parted at Marley, and bade me ask him for it on his return. Have you that trinket?” she asked the Captain.
    She looked him in the face with an earnest, half-terrified gaze. She remembered the double of George Duke, seen by her upon Marley pier, in the winter moonlight.
    The sailor took a small canvas bag from his waist coat pocket. The bag contained a few pieces of gold and silver money, and the diamond earring which Millicent had given George Duke on the night of their parting…

It is the final, crushing blow:

    …going straight to her cousin, she put her two icy hands into his, and addressed him thus:
    “Farewell, Darrell Markham, we must never, never meet again. Heaven forgive us both for our sin; for Heaven knows we were innocent of evil intent. I will obey this man in all reasonable things, and will share my fortune with him and do my duty to him to my dying day; but I can never again be what I was to him before he left this place seven years ago; I can never be his wife again. Good night.”
    She put her cousin from her with a solemn gesture, which, with the simple words that she had spoken, seemed to him like a dissolution of their marriage…

With nowhere else to go, Darrell accepts the invitation of the waiting – and very apologetic – Samuel, to take up his residence at the Black Bear. It is intention to stay in Compton for the present, to see for himself how George Duke intends to treat his wife. He and Samuel turn their sad steps back along the snowy path to the inn. Along their way, the two encounter a man headed in the other direction:

    …a man wearing a horseman’s cloak, and muffled to the chin, with the snow-flakes lying white upon his hat and shoulders.
    Samuel Pecker gave this man a friendly though feeble good-night, but the man seemed a surly fellow, and made no answer. The snow lay so deep upon the ground that the three men passed one another as noiselessly as shadows.
    “Have you ever taken notice, Mr Darrell,” said
Samuel, some time afterwards, “that folks in snowy weather looks very much like ghosts; quiet, and white, and solemn?”

And this man is not the only unexpected visitor on this snowy night. Another, muffled up beyond recognition, calls at the Black Bear, demanding brandy. His voice is vaguely to familiar to Sarah, but she cannot place it—not until, in taking his drink, he exposes his face to her:

    He threw back his head as he swallowed the last drop of the fiery liquor, then throwing Mrs Pecker the price of the brandy, he bade her a hasty good-night, and strode out of the house.
    The empty glass dropped from Sarah’s hand, and shivered into fragments on the floor. Her white and terror-stricken face frightened the waiter when he returned from his errand to the stables.
    The man she had served with brandy could not surely be George Duke, for the Captain had an hour before set out for the Hall; but if not George Duke himself, this man was most certainly some unearthly shadow or double of the Captain of the Vulture…

Up at Compton Hall, Millicent goes about her duties with an air almost of quiet defiance, and declaredly has prepared for a husband a room far separate from her own, one known as the ‘Garden Room’ for its proximity to the grounds. She is interrupted by a caller – he who passed Darrell and Samuel – who seems agitated by news of the Captain’s return, but storms away without seeing him. The Captain, too, when informed, becomes angry and abusive.

Unmoved, Millicent withdraws to her own room. There her stony demeanour crumbles, as she confronts what she considers her enormous guilt—and the reality of what her life must now be. In the extremity of her misery, she even contemplates suicide, going so far as to find one of her father’s old razors. The impulse is soon quelled, however, though in her trembling haste she cuts herself while putting the blade away again. It is not a dangerous cut, but it bleeds significantly even after she bandages it up. That done, she can only sit in sleepless misery, contemplating the future…

Meanwhile, downstairs, George Duke too is reflecting upon his very altered fortunes:

“To think,” he said, “only to fancy that this Ringwood Markham, a younger man than myself, should have died within a few months of my coming home! Egad, they’ve said that George Duke was one of those fellows who always fall on their feet. I’ve had a hard time of it for the last seven years, but I’ve dropped into good luck after all—dropped into my old luck—a fortune, and a poor frightened wife that can’t say bo to a goose—a poor trembling novel-reading pale-faced baby…”

Having polished off one bottle of claret and another of brandy, the Captain staggers off to bed—still congratulating himself, and looking forward to “settling” with Darrell and Millicent:

    Mechanically his wandering right hand sought the butt-end of the pistol beneath the pillow, and so with his fingers resting on the familiar weapon, George Duke dropped off to sleep.
    It is doubtful if he had ever said a prayer in his life. He said none that night.

At some point during the endless winter night, Millicent is seized with the notion of signing over to George Duke everything she owns – everything – and under any conditions he chooses to impose, if only he will go away and leave her alone. Impulsively, she makes her way to the Garden Room:

    The firelight, changeful and capricious, now played upon the sleeper’s ringlets, lying in golden-brown tangles upon the pillow, now glanced upon the white fingers resting on the pistol, now flashed upon the tarnished gilding of the bed-posts, now glimmered on the ceiling, now lit up the wall; while Millicent’s weary eyes followed the light, as a traveller, astray on a dark night, follows a will-o’-the-wisp.
    She followed the light wherever it pleased to lead her. From the golden ringlets on the pillow to the hand upon the pistol, from the gilded bed-posts to the ceiling and the wall, lower and lower down the wall, creeping stealthily downwards, to the oaken floor beside the bed, and to a black pool which lay there, slowly saturating the time-blackened wood.
    The black pool was blood—a pool that grew wider every second, fed by a stream which was silently pouring from a hideous gash across the throat of Captain George Duke, of the good ship Vulture…

Millicent flees into the snowy night. She ignores her nearer neighbours and heads straight for the Black Bear, rousing the household with her cries. They, in turn, find her in hysterics, her hair dishevelled, her hands and her clothing smeared with blood, as she shrieks of George Duke’s murder…

The first impulse of Darrell, Sarah and Samuel is to protect Millicent from whatever has happened, but the inn’s ostler summons a constable, who has very different ideas. He and Darrell venture to Compton Hall, where they find any amount of what seems like damning evidence against Millicent—but there is one thing that they do not find:

    The candle, burned down to the socket of the quaint old silver candlestick, stood where Millicent had left it on a table near the window. The tapestry curtain, flung aside from the door as she had flung it in her terror, hung in a heap of heavy folds. That hideous pool between the bed and the fireplace had widened and spread itself; but the hearth was cold and black, and the bed upon which George Duke had lain was empty.
    It was empty. The pillow on which his head had rested was there, stained a horrible red with his blood. The butt-end of the pistol, on which his fingers had lain when he fell asleep was still visible beneath the pillow. Red ragged  stains and streaks of blood, and one long gory line which marked what way the stream had flowed towards the dark pool on the floor, disfigured the bedclothes; but beyond this there was nothing…

The men search, but no body is to be found. Money there is in abundance, however; so this is not a matter of robbery-homicide. The two notice another curious point:

    …the constable walked slowly round the chamber, looking at everything in his way. “What’s come of the Captain’s clothes, I wonder?” he said, rubbing his chin, and staring thoughtfully at the bed.
    It was noticeable that no vestige of clothing belonging to Captain George Duke was left in the apartment…

The murder of George Duke sends shockwaves of horrified delight through Compton—in itself, and inasmuch as the body must be somewhere. The subsequent investigation turns up nothing helpful, and ends as – in one respect – it must:

    Hugh Martin carried a certain official-looking document in his hand. Armed with this, he walked straight across the room to the sofa upon which Millicent sat.
    “Mrs Millicent Duke,” he said, “in the King’s name I arrest you for the wilful murder of your husband, George Duke.”

Unexpectedly, during the subsequent official inquiry, Millicent stands up under questioning far better than the people who love her: she tells her story openly and straightforwardly, winning the sympathy of everyone who hears her. But matters falter on a general failure to identify an alternative suspect. Millicent admits she knows nothing of her husband’s life away from Compton; Darrell can only add (what he sometime earlier discovered) that Duke was not a naval officer at all; and otherwise, there is only Samuel’s garbled tale of George Duke’s double. The matter concludes with Millicent committed to stand trial…

We might be inclined to feel that Braddon could have fudged the issue of Millicent’s guilt or innocence—omitted her discovering of the body, and begun the scene with her showing up at the Black Bear hysterical and covered in blood. But given Millicent’s own character, as drawn, this would have been an unnecessary piece of obfuscation: she was never the kind of worm that was going to turn, at least not to the point of cutting her husband’s throat. In later Braddon works, however, such is not always the case; and there are several in which the degree of the protagonist’s guilt becomes the crux of her narrative.

In essence, the final stages of The Captain Of The Vulture play out something like a conventional murder mystery, with Darrell Markham turning amateur detective and racing against time to try and find the evidence that will secure Millicent’s acquittal; while there is also a series of revelations about the true identities of several of the supporting cast, and the roles they have played in the tangled business.

But Braddon also uses this phase of her novel to cast a jaundiced eye on the justice system – so-called – and though overtly she admits that this was a hundred years or more in the past, she knows – and knows her readers know – that not nearly enough had changed since, even if some points of procedure had.

Again we see the similarities and differences between Braddon and George Reynolds: the points that they make, and the disparate ways in which they make them. In particular, both authors had a horror of capital punishment within a system in which circumstantial evidence carried so much weight, and no more than lip-service was paid to the presumption of innocence. Braddon even circumvents those who might be inclined to argue that, these days (that is, the 1860s) the law “pampers” criminals, by suggesting wryly that if so, it had plenty to make up for…

Darrell does succeed in elucidating some of the mystery of George Duke’s life, and discovers where he really was during those seven years – let’s just say that it wasn’t cast away on a desert island – but when Millicent’s trial begins, neither those hired to defend her nor those who love and believe in her hold much hope of her acquittal. Even when a decomposed body is found once the ice melts on a pond behind the stables at Compton Hall, it does not, under existing legal procedures, with the defence counsel permitted only to cross-examine and not to mount a rebuttal, play the part it should in Millicent’s defence:

Thus it was that the one strong point in favour of Millicent was insufficiently demonstrated to the jury who were to decide the awful question of her guilt or innocence. That one point was the physical weakness of the accused, and the improbability, if not impossibility, that such a woman could have carried the body of a stalwart strongly built man down a flight of stone steps, and across a space of forty yards, to a frozen pond, the ice upon the surface of which she must have broken before throwing the corpse of her victim into the water…

But Braddon doesn’t let her crusading overwhelm her narrative—and she pulls back from these grim matters to use her courtroom scene, not just to score points, but as the setting for a suitably dramatic ending to her narrative, when Thomas Masterson, aka the mysterious pedlar, is reluctantly giving evidence:

    In the very midst of a sentence Thomas Masterson stopped, and with ashen cheeks and dilated eyes stared across the heads of the lawyers and the multitude at the doorway of the court, which was in an elevated situation, communicating by a flight of steps with the main body of the building. A man who had just entered the court was standing at the top of these steps apart from all other spectators…
    “Why do you pause, Thomas Masterson?” asked the barrister.
    The witness slowly raised his hand, and pointed to the stranger at the top of the steps.
    “Because Cap’en George Duke has just come into the court,” he answered…

There is a distinct air of disappointment in the courtroom once this new witness has testified, accounting for the injury to his throat that really wasn’t as bad as it looked, his decision to leave Compton Hall again, and the travelling to which was due his failure to hear of his wife’s arrest. The spectators feel aggrieved at being deprived of their expected entertainment, with Millicent discharged by the judge; but this changes in a flash when, with more honour than discretion, and more deperation than either, the prisoner responds:

    Millicent Duke rose from her seat for the first time since the trial had begun. She stood up, calmly facing the eager crowd, which had been so ready to condemn her for a witch and a murderess, and which was now as ready to applaud and pity her as an innocent victim.
    She turned to the judge, and said, with quiet deliberation,—” I thank you, my lord, for your goodness to me; but that man is not my husband!”

 

10/12/2019

The Captain Of The Vulture (Part 1)


 
All Compton might think the Captain dead, but Millicent could not think so. She seemed possessed by some settled conviction that all the storms which ever rent the skies or shook the ocean would never cause the death of George Duke. She watched for his coming with a sick dread that every day might bring him. She rose in the morning with the thought that ere the early winter’s night closed in he would be seated by the hearth. She never heard a latch lifted without trembling lest his hand should be upon it, nor listened to a masculine footfall in the village High Street without dreading lest she should recognise his familiar step. Her meeting with George Duke’s shadow upon the moonlit pier at Marley had added a superstitious terror to her old dread and dislike of her husband. She thought of him now as a being possessed of unholy privileges. He might be near her, but unseen and impalpable ; he might be hiding in the shadowy corners of the dark wainscot, or crouching in the snow outside the latticed window. He might be a spy upon her inmost thoughts, and knowing her distrust and aversion, might stay away for long years, only to torment her the more by returning when she had forgotten to expect him, and had even learned to be happy…

 

 

 

I was more than a little appalled, quite some months back now, to realise I had let a year slip away between my examinations of the novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon; but while I did then make a point of reading The Captain Of The Vulture, writing about it was another matter…not least because I progressively let both the second volume of The Mysteries Of London and The Sicilian join it on the list of things read-but-not-dealt-with.

But that was not the only reason for the delay. I found The Captain Of The Vulture to be the least appealing of Braddon’s novels so far, though that is not to say that it is unentertaining; on the contrary; but it does lack some of the usual Braddon spark. It is an odd book, something of an outlier in her collected works: an historical romance, rather than a contemporary sensation novel, and one lacking any obvious identification figure. It is less packed with incident than we are accustomed to, and (mostly) without the usual daring humour.

This seems to be almost a recurring theme amongst those of Braddon’s works which were intended for a “respectable” audience—as was The Captain Of The Vulture, which was serialised in weekly numbers in The Welcome Guest between April and August, 1861, before appearing as a single-volume book in 1862. It was also published in America in 1863, under the variant title, Darrell Markham; or, The Captain Of The Vulture.

Despite this retitling and his overt “hero” role, Darrell Markham is off-stage for much of the novel; while George Duke, the titular Captain, is anything but heroic. Indeed, the novel abounds in rogues—but they are all of the cut-throat variety, rather than the perversely likeable sort that we encountered in (for example) Lady Lisle. And while we may finally choose to call Millicent Duke this novel’s heroine, this is rather because of the horrors she must endure over the course of the story than for her personal qualities.

But if The Captain Of The Vulture is lacking in certain respects, there is no shortage of mystery and crime within its pages. In particular, Braddon seems to have been experimenting with “doubling”, with her narrative studded with cases of mistaken identity, certain incidents playing out more than once, various plot-points and motifs showing up in parallel at different levels of society,  and the central plot turning upon a “double” of the most explicit kind.

The Captain Of The Vulture is set in Georgian England (in-text references to the novels of Samuel Richardson place the action about 1755), and opens in the village of Compton-on-the-Moor. Darrell Markham, once a resident of the district, arrives unexpectedly at the door of the inn, the “Black Bear”, where a flurry of conversation alerts us to several things: that the woman Darrell loves, his cousin Millicent, has jilted him and married another man; that her husband, Captain George Duke, though overtly a naval officer, is suspected of having a profitable sideline as a privateer; and that Millicent’s brother, Ringwood, though “Squire”, spends most of his time going to the devil in London.

The conversation is awkwardly interrupted by a man seeking directions to a place called Marley Water. This is also Darrell’s destination, as he has already told his companions, despite the danger of highwaymen on the intervening Compton Moor. The landlord, Samuel Pecker, gives the requested information, and the horseman rides off—leaving Pecker to shake his head over the erratic behaviour and frequent absences of Captain Duke, and Darrell to absorb the fact that he has just for the first time glimpsed Millicent’s husband.

Darrell is prevented from immediately taking his leave by the arrival on the scene of Sarah Pecker, now Samuel’s help-meet – and often torment – but once Sarah Masterson, a local widow who was housekeeper to the late squire. In this role, Sarah helped to raise the orphaned young Darrell, who is the apple of her eye. She tries frantically to dissuade him from his ride across Compton Moor, but Darrell explains gravely that he must take the York coach from Marley Water the next morning on a matter of urgent business, and goes on his way.

Barely has he departed than Sarah and Samuel find themselves confronted by—Captain George Duke, who has clearly overheard Sarah’s lament regarding Darrell and Millicent; although her embarrassment swiftly turns to anger when the Captain speaks sneeringly of Darrell as, “A good-for-nothing idling reckless ne’er do-weel.”

Meanwhile, a bewildered Samuel is taking in the fact that the Captain seems to have changed his mind about crossing Compton Moor. When the Captain insists that he has only just arrived in Compton, and was certainly not at the inn half-an-hour before, Samuel can think of only one explanation:

    “Flesh and blood doesn’t creep up to a man unawares like that!”
    Captain Duke looked very hard into the face of the speaker; looked thoughtfully, gravely, earnestly at him, with bright searching brown eyes; and then again burst out laughing louder than before. So much was he amused by the landlord’s astonished and awe-stricken face, that he laughed all the way across the low old hall—laughed as he opened the door of the oak-panelled parlour in which the genteeler visitors at the Bear were accustomed to sit—laughed as he threw himself back into the great polished oaken chair by the fire, and stretched his legs out upon the stone hearth till the heels of his boots rested against the iron dogs—laughed as he called Samuel Pecker, and could hardly order his favourite beverage, rum punch, for laughing.
    The room was empty, and it was to be observed that when the door closed upon the landlord, Captain Duke, though he still laughed, something contracted the muscles of his face, while the pleasant light died slowly out of his handsome brown eyes, and gave place to a settled gloom.
    When the punch was brought him, he drank three glasses one after another. But neither the great wood fire blazing on the wide hearth nor the steaming liquid seemed to warm him, for he shivered as he drank.
    He shivered as he drank, and presently he drew his chair still closer to the fire, planted his feet upon the two iron dogs, and sat looking darkly into the red spitting hissing blaze.
    “My incubus, my shadow, my curse!” he said. Only six words, but they expressed the hatred of a lifetime…

Captain Duke spends the rest of the evening at the Black Bear, and is still there when a bloodied and near-unconscious Darrell Markham is carried in, having been left for dead on the moor. And even as Darrell earlier first glimpsed – or thought he glimpsed – the man for whom his cousin Millicent jilted him, George Duke now first lays eyes on the man he very well knows his wife still loves…

The Captain stays only long enough to learn from the surgeon that though Darrell is gravely injured, he should live provided he is not agitated into fever, before carrying the news home to Millicent.

Millicent Duke is one of Braddon’s equivocal “heroines”, as we know from the first description of her, in which Braddon’s exasperation with the prevailing taste for fair and helplessly feminine young women wrestles with her sense of how the world was likely to treat such fragile creatures:

It is a very fair and girlish face upon which the fitful firelight trembles…with delicate features and dark blue eyes in the soft depths of which there lurks a shadow—a shadow as of tears long dried, but not forgotten… It is not easy to think of her as a married woman; there is such an air of extreme youth about her, such a girlish, almost childish timidity in her manner, that, as her husband—not too loving or tender a husband at the best of times—is apt to say, “It is as difficult to deal with Millicent as with a baby, for you never know when she may begin whimpering—like a spoilt child as she is.” There are people in Compton-on-the-Moor who remember the time when the spoilt child never whimpered, and when a gleam of spring sunshine was scarcely a brighter or more welcome thing to fall across a man’s pathway than the radiant face of Millicent Markham…

Our backstory is filled in here: how the orphaned Darrell was taken in by his uncle, Squire Markham; how he grew up as Millicent’s protector and best friend and, by insensible stages, her lover; how unwittingly he mortally offended his uncle by growing into a handsome, athletic and honourable young man, while the Squire’s only son, Ringwood, grew up “a milksop”, weak and cowardly.

Darrell’s angry intervention in Ringwood’s attempted seduction of a pretty but foolish young farmer’s daughter, which ended in a blow that neither Ringwood nor the Squire could forgive or forget – the latter all the more so because of Ringwood’s subsequent pusillanimous behaviour and telling of lies – saw Darrell banished from his childhood home. Before leaving, he promised Millicent to return and marry her, when he had made his way in the world, and received in return her promise to wait.

Not long afterwards, however, the Squire and Ringwood made the acquaintance of the dashing Captain Duke, whose rollicking humour and air of worldliness suited both Markhams so well, he became all but an inmate of the Hall, and was finally offered Millicent as a bride—her fair prettiness and her fair dowry equally suiting the Captain. Her desperate letter to Darrell going astray, eighteen-year-old Millicent was then bullied and terrorised by her father into breaking her promise; while Darrell, never receiving that agonised plea for his help, knows only that Millicent has been untrue.

The marriage turns out as might have been expected: Millicent does her best but cannot hide her indifference, or her relief when her husband is going away, or her persisting thoughts of her cousin; while he, on his returns from his voyages, takes pleasure in tormenting her—perversely resenting the absence of an emotion which he knew from the outset she never felt for him, nor ever pretended to. Never before, however, has he had such a weapon in his hands as the wounding of Darrell Markham:

    “Trembling between life and death,” repeated Millicent, in the same half-conscious tone, so piteous to hear.
    “He was! Heaven knows how he may be now. That was half-an-hour ago; the scale may be turned by this time; he may be dead!”
    As George Duke said the last word, his wife sprang from her seat, and, without once looking at him, ran hurriedly to the outer door. She had her hand upon the bolts, when she cried out in a tone of anguish, “O, no, no, no !” and dropped down on her knees, with her head leaning against the lock of the door.
    The Captain of the Vulture followed her into the passage, and watched her with hard unpitying eyes.
    “You were going to run to him!” he said, as she fell on her knees by the outer door.
    For the first time since Darrell Markham’s name had been mentioned, Millicent looked at her husband; not mournfully, not reproachfully, least of all fearfully; bold, bright, and defiant, her blue eyes looked up to his.
    “I was.”
    “Then why not go? You see I am not cruel; I do not stop you. You are free. Go! Go to your—cousin—and—your lover, Mistress Duke. Shall I open the door for you?”
    She lifted herself with an effort upon her feet, still leaning for support against the street-door. “No,” she said, “I will not go to him; I could do him no good; I might agitate him; I might kill him!”
    The Captain bit his under lip, and the triumphant light faded from his brown eyes.
    “But understand this, George Duke,” said Millicent, in a tone that was strange to her husband’s ears, “it is no fear of you which keeps me here; it is no dread of your cruel words or more cruel looks that holds me from going to his side; for if I could save him by my presence from one throb of pain—if I could give him by my love and devotion one moment’s peace and comfort, and the town of Compton were one raging fire, I would walk through that fire to do it.”

Darrell does not die, however, though his recovery is anything but rapid; yet he is able deliberately to repeat the charge first made in his delirium, that it was Captain George Duke who attacked, shot, and robbed him…

Darrell is so certain and so pertinacious in his charge that it is finally referred to a reluctant magistrate, who can barely conceal his relief when the Captain can prove an alibi—that he was at the Black Bear at the time in question. Darrell is baffled and mystified, unable to dispute this yet unequally unconvinced that he is in error. Matters are not helped by the testimony of Samuel Pecker, who again nervously insists upon his ghost-story.

With this, the enmity between Darrell and the Captain escalates to a new and dangerous level. Fortunately, word is received that the Vulture has been refitted and is ready for her next voyage; while Darrell himself, as soon as he is able, returns to London and vanishes once more from his cousin’s life.

The Captain leaves Compton a few days early, in order to oversee the final arrangements for the Vulture. To the indignation of Sarah Pecker, when he is ready to sail he insists upon Millicent taking a chilly overnight stage-coach ride in order to meet him at Marley Water and see him off. Obedient upon all but one point, Millicent does as instructed, trying to hide from herself how eager she is for the absence of her husband. Upon reaching her destination, and meeting the Captain, Millicent is unnerved to see that they are being shadowed by one of her fellow passengers, a man swathed in a great coat and a muffler, his face hidden by these garments and the shadow of his hat.

Millicent speaks of her fears to her husband, who dismisses the incident as a mere coincidence of movement, but it seems that she was right: a man later calls at the inn where they are staying until the Captain’s midnight departure, asking for him. The Captain agrees to see him, though angrily, but first hastens Millicent into another room. From there, she cannot hear what is said, only that both men have raised their voices.

The departure of the unwelcome visitor leaves the Captain with no excess time on his hands. He and Millicent walk to the docks, where the latter is assured that her husband will be gone for three months at the utmost.

It is at the moment of departure that Captain George Duke demands from his wife some token, by which she may know him again, no matter how much time has passed. Bewildered, she gives him one of her earrings, of an unusual design:

    “Remember, Millicent, the man who comes to you and calls himself your husband, yet cannot give you this diamond earring, will not be George Duke.”
    “What do you mean, George?”
    “When I return to Compton, ask me for the fellow jewel to that in your ear. If I cannot show it to you—”
    “What then, George?”
    “Drive me from your door as an impostor.”
    “But I should know you, George; what need should I have of any token to tell me who you were?”
    “You might have need of it. Strange things happen to men who lead such a life as mine. I might be taken prisoner abroad, and kept away from you for years. But whether I come back three months hence, or ten years hence, ask me for the earring, and and if I cannot produce it, do not believe in me…”

After the sailing of the Vulture, Millicent hurries back through the chill night to the inn, only to encounter the strange man along the way. Her immediate fear is that she will be robbed; but when the moonlight falls upon him, she is seized with a far greater terror:

    She stood face to face with him, rooted to the ground, a heavy languor paralysing her limbs, an unearthly chill creeping to the very roots of her hair.
    Her hands fell powerless at her sides. She could only stand white and immovable, with dilated eyes staring blankly into the man’s face. He wore a blue coat, and a three-cornered hat, thrown jauntily upon his head, so as in nowise to overshadow his face.
    She was alone, half a mile from a human habitation or human help—alone at the stroke of midnight with her husband’s ghost.
    It was no illusion of the brain; no self-deception born of a fevered imagination. There, line for line, shade for shade, stood a shadow that wore the outward seeming of George Duke.
    She reeled away from the phantom figure, tottered feebly forward for a few paces, and then summoning a desperate courage, rushed blindly on towards the quay, her garments fluttering in the sharp winter air…

Despite his promise – or threat – of a three-month absence, ten tick by without any sign of Captain George Duke. Alone most of the time in her little house, with only her dog and her novels for company, and an occasional call upon Sarah Pecker at the Black Bear to relieve her loneliness and tedium, Millicent does not know that Sarah has been unable to keep the secret confided to her, and that the story of the Captain’s ghost is all over Compton. Indeed, none of the villagers expect the Captain to return, accepting this visitation as a portent; and by the ten-month mark, even Sarah is suggesting that Millicent should think of mourning—adding to her persuasions the story of her own widowing by the sea:

    “Him as you saw upon the pier at Marley, perhaps, Miss Milly,” answered Sally solemnly, “but not Captain Duke! Such things as you and Samuel see last winter aren’t shown to folks for nothing; and it seems a’most like doubting Providence to doubt that the Captain’s been drowned. I dreamt three times that I see my first husband, Thomas Masterson, lying dead upon a bit of rock in the middle of a stormy sea; and I put on widow’s weeds after the third time.”
    “But you had news of your husband’s death, Sally, hadn’t you?”
    “No more news than his staying away seventeen year and more without sending letter or message to tell that he was living in all those years, Miss Milly; and if that ain’t news enough to make a woman a widow, I don’t know what is!”

Millicent, however, who desperately wants her husband not to return, will not allow herself the comfort of believing that he won’t…

To divert her own thoughts, Millicent pursues the matter of Sarah’s first marriage, of which she rarely speaks, and soon realises that she has opened up old wounds. She hears of Sarah’s disillusioned discovery that she had been married for her small inheritance and, far worse, her further discovery three months after her marriage that Masterson was a notorious smuggler with a price on his head. Sarah’s only consolation in the life of shame and fear she was forced to lead was her baby; but as he grew, even that was poisoned for her by the realisation that Masterson was teaching the boy his own ways:

    “I could have borne to have been trampled on myself, but I couldn’t bear to see my child going to ruin before his mother’s eyes. I told Masterson so one night. I was violent, perhaps; for I was almost wild like, and my passion carried me away. I told him that I meant to take the child away with me out of his reach, and go into service and work for him, and bring him up to be an honest man. He laughed, and said I was welcome to the brat; and I took him at his word, thinking he didn’t care. I went to sleep that night with the boy in my arms, meaning to set out early the next morning, and come back to Compton, where I had friends, and where I fancied I could get a living for myself and my darling; and I thought we might be so happy together. O, Miss Millicent, Miss Millicent, may you never know such a bitter trial as mine! When I woke from pleasant dreams about that new life which never was to be, my child was gone. His cruel father had taken him away, and I never saw either Masterson or my boy again.”
    “You waited in the village where he left you?” asked Millicent.
    “For a year and over, Miss Milly, hopin’ that he’d come back, bringing the boy with him; but no tidings ever came of him or of the child. At the end of that time I left word with the neighbours to say I was gone back to Compton; and I came straight here. I’d been housemaid at the Hall when I was a slip of a girl, and your father took me as his housekeeper, and I lived happy in the dear old house for many years, and I loved you and Master Darrell as if you’d been my own children; but I’ve never forgotten my boy…”

During this time, Millicent never hears from Darrell directly; but he does write to Sarah from time to time. By these means, she (and we), learn that he has found employment in London as secretary to a Scottish nobleman: a position not without certain dangers, since his employer was “suspected of no very strong attachment to the Hanoverian cause.” (This is, we recall about a decade after Culloden.)

The narrative of The Captain Of The Vulture now shifts perspective, and we follow Darrell on various missions carried out for the nobleman, who we know only as ‘Lord C—‘. One of these finds him carrying letters through a foggy November night. He stops at an inn in Reading, the establishment already hosting a rather riotous gathering under the aegis of a Sir Lovel Mortimer. Darrell has no interest in the baronet and his drinking companions—at least, not until he goes to the stables to check on his horse, and finds stabled there his previous horse, called Balmerino, who he had owned for seven years before he was stolen the night of the attack upon Compton Moor. The two know each other instantly.

To the landlord’s dismay, Darrell insists upon being conducted into the baronet’s presence:

    In an easy-chair before the open hearth lolled an effeminate-looking young man, in a brocade-dressing-gown, silk stockings with embroidered clocks, and shoes adorned with red heels and glittering diamond buckles that emitted purple and rainbow sparks in the firelight. He wore a flaxen wig, curled and frizzed to such a degree that it stood away from his face, round which it formed a pale-yellow frame, contrasting strongly with a pair of large restless black eyes and the blue stubble upon his slender chin…
    Sir Lovel Mortimer was as effeminate in manners as in person. He had a clear treble voice, and spoke in the languid drawling manner peculiar to the maccaronis of Ranelagh and the Ring. He was the sort of fopling one reads about in the Spectator, and would have been a spectacle alike miraculous and disgusting to good country-bred Sir Roger de Coverley…

The baronet tells Darrell that he bought the horse in question a few months previously at a fair from a man who seemed to be an elderly farmer. Darrell in turn tells the story of his attack and the losses suffered; admitting disappointment at gaining no clue to the identity of the man who robbed him. The baronet almost forces the reluctant Darrell to sup with him, and spends much of the meal probing his political convictions, a topic of conversation which Darrell cautiously evades. Finally, though, Sir Lovel agrees to return Balmerino, in exchange for Darrell’s current horse and twenty guineas.

Darrell is delighted to be astride Balmerino again, so much so that the following evening he decides to ride on in the dusk rather than cut his day of travel short—and again he pays the price. And while it is not George Duke, or his double, who attacks and robs him this time, Darrell is left with a very good idea of who it was:

When Darrell Markham recovered his senses he found himself lying on his back in a shallow dry ditch; the fog had cleared away, and the stars shone with a pale and chilly glimmer in the wintry sky. The young man’s pockets had been rifled and his pistols taken from him; but tied to the hedge above him stood the grey horse which he had left in the custody of Sir Lovel Mortimer…

Painfully, Darrell makes his way to the nearest hostelry—and discovers that the people there know even more about the identity of his attacker:

    “Was the West-country baronet a fine ladyfied little chap, with black eyes and small white hands?” he asked eagerly.
    “Yes.”
    The man looked triumphantly round at the by standers. “I’m blest if I didn’t guess as much,” he said. “It’s Captain Fanny.”

(And, not for the first time, we are left to ponder whether Braddon’s respectable middle-class readers were expected to understand the implications of her improper joke.)

After this interlude, we return to poor Millicent who, the more everyone else assumes her long-absent husband is dead, becomes all the more convinced that he isn’t: that he is staying away deliberately, allowing her to grow comfortable, so that his return will make her suffer all the more.

These passages mark some of Braddon’s most daring writing within The Captain Of The Vulture: it was not often that a heroine in a Victorian novel (albeit one set a century or so before) could get away with expressing such frank dislike of her husband, such an open wish for his death—and without any attendant guilt or lip-service paid to her duties as a wife. The Duke marriage is presented from the outset as an almost deliberate act of cruelty by the three men involved, or at best one undertaken with complete disregard for Millicent’s welfare; while she, young and ignorant as she is, soon accepts one Victorian truism in place of another: that there is no hope that she will “learn to love her husband”; and the best she can do is “suffer and be still“.

Meanwhile, at the Black Bear, Sarah Pecker is up to her eyeballs in her preparations for the Christmas rush. Tradespeople and carriers make frequent appearances at the inn’s back door, delivering their wares; pedlars and beggars likewise, there to sell, beg or steal—though under Sarah’s sharp eye, opportunities are few. One pedlar is particularly pertinacious, refusing to move on at the orders of the inn’s servant, so that an angry Sarah finally confronts him—and to the great surprise of the girl and the inn’s cook, she then meekly agrees to see the man’s wares, ordering the other two away. Shut outside the room, the others try unabashedly to eavesdrop, but can hear nothing of what seems a strangely lengthy conversation…

At last the voices die away, yet Betty and the cook find the kitchen door still locked against them; nor does Sarah reply when they call out to her. The frightened Betty finally runs to Samuel Pecker.

We get one of the novel’s nastier bits of “doubling” here, as the much bullied and put-upon Samuel responds “hopefully” to Betty’s story with an inquiry of whether his wife has been, “Took bad?” – Surely it was not a ray of joy [in his face]? comments the narrator. Samuel is even more delighted by a suggestion that the pedlar has “carried off” his wife, questioning Betty as to whether he was a large enough man to succeed in such an undertaking. It takes some effort on the part of the impatient Betty to get Samuel to bring his keys, so that they can find out what has happened; and even then he dawdles:

“You’re right, Betty,” he said; “get the lantern and I’ll come round with you. But if the man has run away with your missus, Betty,” he added argumentatively, “there’s such a many roads and by-roads round Compton, that it wouldn’t be over much good going after them…”

But Sarah at least has gone nowhere:

There was no sign of the foreign pedlar; and stretched upon the hearth in a dead swoon lay Mrs Sarah Pecker…

It takes some considerable time for Samuel and Betty to bring Sarah back to consciousness, and when they do, she seems literally a different person:

    Mrs Pecker revived very slowly; but when at last she did open her eyes, and saw the meek Samuel patiently awaiting her recovery, she burst into a sudden flood of tears, and flinging her stout arms about his neck, indifferent to the presence of either Betty or the carrier, cried out passionately,—
    “You’ve been a good husband to me, Samuel Pecker, and I haven’t been an indulgent wife to you; but folks are punished for their sins in this world as well as in the next, and I’ll try and make you more comfortable for the future; for I love you truly, my dear—indeed I do!”

And a quiet and submissive Sarah it is from this point onwards, one who goes out of her way to show her appreciation of her placid husband. She does not even react with anger when it is discovered that the pedlar robbed her of her ready cash, her watch and some silver spoons, though his haul was worth some ten or fifteen pounds. As for Samuel:

    The meek landlord of the Black Bear walked about as one in a strange but delicious dream. He had the key of his cellars in his own possession, and was allowed to drink such portions of his own liquors as he thought fit; and Samuel did not abuse the unwonted privilege, for he was naturally a sober man. He was no longer snubbed and humiliated before the face of his best customers. His tastes were consulted, his wishes were deferred to. Nice little dinners were prepared for him by Sarah’s own hands, and the same hands would even deign to mix for him a nightcap of steaming rum-punch, fragrant as the perfumed groves of Araby the blest. Mr Pecker was almost master in his own house. Sometimes this new state of things seemed well nigh too much for him. Once he went to his wife, and said to her, imploringly,—
    “Sarah, speak sharp to me, will you, please; for I feel as if I wasn’t quite right in my head…”

Some months roll away after this incident, and the narrative of The Captain Of The Vulture shifts to London, where the cousins, Ringwood and Darrell Markham, are following their very different paths. Darrell, having discovered that dissipation does nothing to make him forget Millicent, has knuckled down to his work instead, and has hopes of success as a political writer. Ringwood, meanwhile, having no personal qualities that might win him friends, is wasting his inheritance in an attempt to at least buy a few. He is beginning to taste desperation when he receives a most unexpected, and unwanted, call from his cousin. It is now eighteen months or more since George Duke was last heard of, but Darrell has only just learned of it. Like everyone in Compton, his immediate reaction is “good riddance”:

    “And what do you think of all this?” asked Ringwood.
    “What do I think? Why, that Captain George Duke, and his ship the Vulture, have met the fate that all who sail under false colours deserve. I know of those who can tell of a vessel, with the word ‘Vulture’ painted on her figurehead, that has been seen off the coast of Morocco, with the black flag flying at the fore, and a crew of Africans chained down in the hold. I know of those who can tell of a wicked traffic between the Moorish coast and the West India Islands, and who speak of places where the coming of George Duke is more dreaded than the yellow fever. Good heavens! can it be that this man has met his fate, and that Millicent is free?”

(After Braddon’s The Octoroon, we are not surprised to discover the specific nature of George Duke’s “privateering”.)

Ringwood cares nothing for his sister, and less than nothing for George Duke; but he is glad to be handed something to torment Darrell with. Curiously, he comes to the same conclusion as Millicent: that Duke is choosing to stay away as his form of torment.

The real purpose of Darrell’s call, however, is to press upon Ringwood his responsibility for Millicent, who in her husband’s absence has only the interest of the pittance secured to her upon her marriage to live on. Darrell also insists upon helping Millicent himself, although he adds that Ringwood must keep it a secret. Ringwood makes no protest to any of this, but on the verge of penury himself, he has neither the means nor the inclination to help his sister. If Darrell wants to give him money, though…

Ringwood is particularly eager for a new source of income, for he has recently made a new acquaintance before whom he is eager to cut a fashionable figure:

…he had appointed to meet a gay party at Ranelagh, the chief member of which was to be a certain West-country baronet, called Sir Lovel Mortimer, and better known in two or three taverns of rather doubtful reputation than in the houses of the aristocracy.

Ringwood is too much of a country-bumpkin to recognise certain giveaway flaws in Sir Lovel’s manners and diction: he thinks he’s hit the social jackpot, and is only too eager to accept an invitation to dine and gamble at his new friend’s lodgings; being positively honoured by the thought of losing money to a baronet.

When the door is opened by Sir Lovel’s servant, Ringwood gets a shock:

    …the speaker’s face illuminated by a feeble flicker.
    Sir Lovel Mortimer’s servant was drunk; his face was dirty; his wig pushed over his eyebrows, and singed by the candle in his hand; his cravat was twisted awry, and hung about his neck like a halter; his eyes were dim and watery from the effect of strong liquors; and it was with difficulty he kept himself erect by swaying slowly to and fro as he stood staring vacantly at his master and his master’s guests.
    But it was not the mere drunkenness of the man’s aspect which startled Ringwood Markham.
    Sir Lovel Mortimer’s servant was Captain George Duke!

Ringwood sends word of his sighting of Captain Duke to Darrell. He is out of town when the note is delivered, but as soon as he returns and reads the message, he forces his presence upon his cousin and demands an explanation of what seems to him a ridiculous lie. Though hungover, dull-witted at the best of times, and pretending to be gravely insulted by Darrell’s language as he is, Ringwood sticks to his guns—adding to his initial information just who Duke is working for; prompting Darrell in turn to tell what he knows of “the baronet”:

    “You mean to tell me, then,” he said ruefully, “that this Sir Lovel—”
    “Is no more Sir Lovel than you are,” answered Darrell: “all the fashionable breeding he can pretend to is what he has picked up on the king’s highway; and the only estate he will ever be master of in Devonshire or elsewhere will be enough stout timber to build him a gallows when his course comes to an abrupt termination. He is known to the knights of the road and the constables by the nickname of Captain Fanny, and there is little doubt the house in Chelsea to which he took you was a nest of highwaymen.”

And of course, Darrell’s mind goes back to the night he was attacked on Compton Moor—by, as he would still be prepared to swear, George Duke. He puts two-and-two together in startling fashion:

“The upshot of it is, that while we have thought George Duke was away upon the high seas, he has been hiding in London and going about the country robbing honest men. The ship Vulture is a fiction; and instead of being a merchant, a privateer, a pirate, or a slaver, George Duke is neither more nor less than a highway man and a thief.”

Except that the reader knows that there is a Vulture, at least…

Darrell succeeds in getting a warrant sworn out against Captain Fanny, but by the time Ringwood manages to pick out the correct house – having generally been rather tipsy when carried there by “Sir Lovel” – the occupants have fled. Darrell comes away with nothing more than the fact that the baronet called his servant by the name of Jeremiah.

Sir Lovel and his friends did not leave before emptying Ringwood’s pockets, however, and the young squire is forced to give up his efforts to cut a dash in London, and retreat to his ancestral halls. His experiences harden his heart: as his fortunes recover, Ringwood develops miserly tendencies, becoming tight-fisted and a hard landlord; he certainly has nothing to spare for his sister.

There is now a time-gap in the novel; and The Captain Of The Vulture resumes its narrative when George Duke has been missing almost a full seven years—long enough to be declared legally dead, and his widow, should she wish it, to legally remarry.

Ringwood’s niggardly tendencies have only grown, meanwhile: he acts as his own agent, so as not to have to pay one; and he distrusts his workers, so that he spends much time riding around his estate keeping an eye on them. On one of these rides, he catches a chill which, with his weak constitution, threatens his life. Like his late mother, Ringwood is consumptive…

Millicent moves back into her childhood home to nurse her brother, and her gentle unselfishness and obvious unhappiness evoke a glimmer of remorse in the self-centred Ringwood. Knowing himself dying, he is moved to apologise to Millicent for being such a bad brother, and for his part in forcing her into marriage. He also speaks to her of the estate which, neglected as it has been through his reluctance to spend money, will still bring her a good income—the bulk of their father’s money having been tied up in it, to keep Ringwood from wasting it (the late squire knew his son).

Ringwood also speaks to Millicent of George Duke—and insists upon writing a last letter, to be delivered to Darrell come the end of the following January, once the seven years have fully passed.

When Ringwood dies, the estate does indeed pass to Millicent: the manor house, its grounds, and its surrounding farmlands; as well as what is considered, in Compton, to be a tidy fortune. After her years of deprivation, in spite of the sorrowful event that brought it about her possession of so many solid blessings seems to Millicent almost too good to be true. There is, of course, just one drawback:

If he should come home! If, after all these years of fearful watching and waiting, these years of terror and suspense, in which she had trembled at the sound of every manly footstep, and shuddered at the sound of every voice which bore the faintest resemblance to that one voice which she dreaded to hear; if, after all, now that she had completely given him up—now that she was rich, and might perhaps by-and-by be happy—if, at this time of all others, the man who had been the scourge of her young life should return and claim her once more as his, to hold and to torture by the laws of God and man!

 

[To be continued…]

 

19/07/2019

The Sicilian


 
 
    His Lordship would have liked to have travelled with the Duke; but as his Grace did not make the proposal, he did not chuse to mention his wishes, as he found he could not take the same liberties with the Duke di Ferrara as he could with the Viscount and Mellifont, to whom he chose to expatiate in the most pompous terms upon his Grace’s consequence, and to hint he expected them both to pay him the utmost respect.
    “Sole heir, you find, to two of the most noble, most illustrious houses in Sicily: his immense fortune is his least boast. He is also a grandee of Spain, Prince of the Roman Empire, &c. therefore far superior to many sovereign princes, and may truly be ranked among the first subjects in Europe…”

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
The only good thing about The Sicilian is that it essentially confirms my theory that the Minerva Press novelists known as “Mrs Meeke” and “Gabrielli” were indeed two different people.

As you might recall, recent research has determined that the real name of the writer who published as “Gabrielli” was Elizabeth Meeke; and there was some contention too that this was the actual name of the the author known simply as “Mrs Meeke”, whose first name is usually given as “Mary”.

My counter-suggestion was that the Minerva Press imposed a pseudonym upon Elizabeth Meeke to avoid having two different authors of the same name on its roster: a belief strengthened by the fact that – and I’m pretty sure I’m alone in this – I’ve read at least one book by each of the two Mrs Meekes.

While there were certain points of similarity between the works I had read attributed to “Mrs Meeke” and The Mysterious Wife, the first novel by “Gabrielli”, my overall impression was that the latter was by a less competent writer (I hesitate to say “talented” in either case). Moreover, while Mrs Meeke’s books tend to be overcrowded with incident, that by “Gabrielli”, other than a flourish of events at beginning and end, was mostly just padding.

The latter tendency is even more pronounced in the second novel attributed to “Gabrielli”, 1798’s The Sicilian, which – not to put too fine a point on it – is a whole lot of nothing.

Four volumes of nothing; 1158 pages of nothing.

While its title might suggest rather Gothicky goings-on – at the very least, banditti, and vendettas, and poignards a-flashing – The Sicilian is, for the most part, an intensely dull domestic novel about an immaculate young man (from, yes, Sicily) visiting his English relatives.

In order to fill out her four volumes, therefore, the author resorts to describing everything that happens in the most minute detail, with every incident, no matter how small or unimportant, dragged out to untenable length and relentlessly flogged to death. Quite often nothing happens at all—with large chunks of this book consisting of seemingly endless dialogue scenes in which half-a-dozen different characters give their opinion about something, and then the protagonist is proven correct.

The former quickly becomes excruciating; while the latter offers some interest, but mostly from the outside, as it were: the research mentioned above also uncovered that Elizabeth Meeke was the step-daughter of Dr Charles Burney, and therefore through her mother’s second marriage connected with the infinitely more talented Frances Burney. Among their many other qualities, Burney’s novels were celebrated for their dialogue: she had a knack for rendering idiosyncratic though believable speech, and using it to reveal character. It occurred to me while reading The Sicilian that Elizabeth Meeke was striving for something similar in her dialogue scenes, but since most of her characters are two-dimensional at best, their dialogue has nothing to reveal—but instead just drones on and on…

What minor entertainment is offered by this book is almost entirely inadvertent, being found chiefly in the author’s serene belief that people with titles are better than the rest of us, and the more titles, the better; which, coupled by her evident ignorance of the society she was trying to depict, does make for some laughs. There are one or two other eyebrow-raising and/or gigglesome touches, but otherwise The Sicilian is something of a grim endurance test.

That said—two of the novel’s accidental points of interest occur at the outset. The Sicilian opens during the early phase of the French Revolution, in a Belgium overrun by emigrants. Amusingly, though also somewhat horrifyingly, considering that this novel was written well after the events depicted and with a full knowledge of their outcome, the author has no sympathy whatsoever for these displaced persons, saving all of her concern for the non-French people inconvenienced by them—including her hero; who, by the way, observes:

“…I think most of them had much better have staid in France; as I have been assured, by people whose authority was unquestionable, that the greater number of them were not of sufficient consequence to have excited the attention of the democrats: but it is fashionable to emigrate, and every chevalier wishes to be thought a nobleman.”

And this is in 1792, mind you! To be clear, there’s no irony intended here, nor any hint that the hero might be (heaven forfend!) wrong.

That hero creates something of a dilemma for his author, inasmuch as he is Catholic. The Sicilian opens with a young Englishman called Francis Neville becoming stranded in a small Belgium town due to lack of accommodation and horses, and visiting the church for want of anything else to do. Shown around by the sexton, Neville is subjected to a harangue about the various miracles performed in the district by the Virgin Mary, at which he can barely refrain from laughing out loud. This companion in his tour of the shrine is a gentleman about his own age, accompanied by a small boy: the latter—

…expressed [his] doubts as to the authenticity of the miracles [the sexton] was descanting upon… Before he had enumerated half the surprising deeds she had performed, the child exclaimed, “Pray, papa, how many Virgin Mary’s are there?” This question quite overset Neville’s gravity; and the stranger, without entering into a discussion upon the subject, joined him in a very hearty laugh…

Yeah, sound like a couple of devout Catholics, don’t they? – particularly the five-year-old; though of course, as her hero is his creator’s idea of a veray parfit gentil knight, he has to be devout…just not too devout…or at least, not too Catholicky in his devotion. Particularly he can’t believe too much in all that saints-and-miracles stuff, which as any sensible person must realise (Catholic or not) is just silly:

    As Mr Neville had been the first to give way to his mirth, he made his excuses to the stranger, adding, “I think it would be excusable in the most rigid Catholic not to give credit to such absurd fabrications.”
    “Else I should be very deserving of censure, sir,” said the stranger. “Yet, though I profess that religion, I do not place implicit faith in the doctrine of miracles.”

And so it is throughout the novel: the hero is shown as steady in the practise of his faith and his attendance at Mass, yet always with some sort of disclaimer tacked on.

The conversation continues, with the stranger eventually revealing that he is on his way to England to visit his friend, Lord Fortrose…who happens to be Mr Neville’s father. Neville then rightly surmises that the stranger is the Duke di Ferrara, who once assisted his father when the latter feel ill while travelling. It is further revealed that the young duke is a widower, and that the boy is his eldest son, Alfred.

The two young men journey on together, but are forced to spend the night in an an overcrowded town where they secure the last hotel room, dirty and inadequate as it is. The duke offers to share their accommodation with an elderly Englishman who, being a nobleman of some sort, is aggrieved to be obliged to (as he supposes) a couple of commoners, but accepts the offer and takes over their room. He is tired and cranky, unused to “putting up” with anything inferior, and is as rude, petulant and condescending as possible to everyone who comes near him…until Neville uses the phrase, “Your Grace.”

The elderly nobleman, meanwhile, is travelling with two young men, one of whom refers to the other as, “Lord Gowrie”, which in turn attracts the duke’s full attention. The nobleman is revealed as the Earl of Merton before he finds out his companions’ names…and titles. Neville eventually introduces himself, but the duke is subjected to the equivalent of a game of twenty questions, which makes it clear that the earl suspects the latter’s identity, and has some unpleasant personal knowledge related to it. Eventually we get this:

    “Pray is your Grace acquainted with any part of the St. Severino family?”
    The Duke fixed his eyes upon the Peer, while he replied, “I was intimately so during their life-time, my Lord. The late Duke of that name died about two years ago; his title and estates centred in my family; my eldest son, who sleeps there, bears that name.”
    The Earl shrunk from the Duke’s scrutinising looks, and was for a few seconds lost in astonishment; but speedily rousing himself, fearful of being remarked, he said, with some hesitation, “A very great family I always understood, though I can’t say I was acquainted with every branch of it; but pray, your Grace, was not there once, or have I been misinformed, a Count (Italian Counts, I know, are mere nominal titles), but I understood there was a Count Mondovi, a relation of the St. Severino family?”
    The Duke, who secretly enjoyed the Earl’s perplexity, knowing full well from whence it arose, said very coolly, “I presume your Lordship means the late Duke; he was fourth son to the former one, and did bear the title you allude to.”
    “Oh! the fourth son,” said the Earl: then, having taken a few moments for reflection, he proceeded, “Pray did he leave any daughters behind him? I presume he had no sons, from his title and estates having devolved to your Grace.”
    “He had but one daughter, my Lord, who married against his consent, and preceded him to the grave…”

This little interlude is an excellent example of The Sicilian‘s style (or lack thereof): the conversation is interrupted at this point, and about another 100 pages have passed before the complicated family relationships – and, more importantly (at least in the author’s view), inheritances – are spelled out, confirming for us that: (i) the duke is Lord Melton’s grandson; (ii) his father was Lord Melton’s third son, Alfred; (iii) Alfred married the only daughter of the Count Mondovi against both their fathers’ wills; (iv) Count Mondovi later became the Duke di St. Severino after most of his family was wiped out in the Calabrian earthquakes of 1783; and (iv) the Duke di Ferrara bears his title courtesy of his marriage to the heiress of that family, as a royal bequest…

…thus allowing him and his young son to both be dukes simultaneously.

There is eventually a reconciliation between Lord Melton and his newly discovered relatives – of course there is: his grandson and great-grandson are both dukes!! – and most of remaining three-and-a-half volumes of The Sicilian are devoted to the duke meeting his English relatives, and those relatives discovering how immensely superior he is to pretty much everyone, what with his multiple titles and everything…

The latter straightfaced attitude is also picked up in the material concerning Lord Melton himself, who is forgiven his overweening pride and arrogance, and the fact that he allowed his son Alfred to remain an outcast and suffer many difficulties after his marriage, on account of the fact that, Aw c’mon, he’s an Earl! – cut him some slack!!

And yet—the novel also devotes a tedious number of pages to mocking the subsuming family pride of the Earl’s spinster-niece, Miss (or as she calls herself, “Mistress”, Mrs) Rachel de Studeville, who spends most of her time dwelling on her inherited magnificence as the daughter and heiress of Sir Yelverton de Studeville, and who also conceives a passionate affection for her new relative mostly (though not entirely) on account of his multiple titles.

This seems unnecessarily cruel inasmuch as Mrs Rachel has a few more good qualities than her uncle. She was also unkindly treated by the duke’s father, who reacted to being pressured into marrying his much-older cousin (and thus keeping all the property in the family) by eloping with another woman. Rachel at that time nursed an unrequited affection for the ungrateful Alfred, and when he later fell into poverty and struggle due to his impulsive marriage, it was she who displayed forgiveness and generosity by sending him some relieving money.

Despite its length, there are really only two subplots of any real interest in The Sicilian, the first of which involves the rather dubious relationship between Lord Melton and his heir, his eldest grandson, Viscount Gowrie.

As noted, when the duke and Lord Melton first encounter each other, the latter is travelling with Lord Gowrie and another grandson, Captain Mellifont. The two parties end up merging for an extremely rough passage across the Channel, which they are required to complete by oar. The conditions are still difficult, and the passengers frequently splashed by breaking waves, particularly Lord Melton:

The Viscount, by way of appeasing him, protested he had no intention to take the best place, and entreated the Earl would change with him, which at last the old man agreed to; and nothing would have been more easy than for Lord Gowrie to have stood up, and thus let the Earl slide himself into his seat, instead of which he chose to assist the old Peer in rising as he sat, meaning to take the advantage he ought to have allowed him to have done. A moment’s reflection would doubtless have made the Earl object to rising; however, he was half upon his legs when the Captain, who saw a large wave coming, called out “For God’s sake take care, we shall overset!” He had not time to finish his sentence before Lord Gowrie started up, as he said, to let the Earl take his place, when he fell against the poor old man, already upon a totter, and fairly sent him backwards over the side of the boat…

But of course—

The idea of self-preservation induced everyone but the Duke to obey, who the moment the accident happened, had thrown off his great coat, and in ten seconds, having disencumbered himself of the greatest part of his clothes, seeing the Earl rise at some distance from the boat, just said, before anyone had remarked what he was about, “Lie quietly on your oars,” and plunged into the sea…

The duke succeeds in rescuing his grandfather, although this incident is nearly the end of them both, and particularly of the latter. Fortunately, however, they chose just the right country almost to drown in—

His Grace called to his valet, and gave him orders what to prepare the moment he reached the shore; being, as he had observed, particularly fond of the water, and very often upon it, his Grace had frequently been a witness of similar scenes to the one he had now been so principal an actor in, and had, out of a motive of benevolence, made a particular study of the rules laid down by the English Humane Society; he was therefore perfectly competent to prescribe in such cases…

When everyone has had a chance to rest and recover, it becomes apparent that all those involved have come to the same conclusion regarding Lord Gowrie’s part in the near-tragedy:

    “Upon my soul,” said Neville, “I don’t think your Grace has done his tender-hearted grandson a favour as it is.”
    “I am afraid not; his bombastic expressions of grief and joy confirm me in that opinion.”
    “I protest I think they were merely assumed to exculpate himself in our eyes,” continued Neville; “for upon my honour I think he was, if not purposely, in a great measure accessory to the accident.”
    “I am perfectly of your opinion. God forgive him if he is guilty, or me if I judge him wrongfully! but as I sat opposite, I had them both perfectly in view; I positively thought—(the Duke paused)—he might at all events have saved the poor old man: however, let us hope he only wanted presence of mind.”
    “I wish the Earl may not have imbibed a few of my suspicions,” said Neville; “he don’t seem to treat the stupid being with much cordiality…”

It is the wake of this incident that the relationship between the duke and Lord Melton is revealed and announced. The chastened earl laments his past cruelty, and wishes aloud that he was in a position to testify his remorse and gratitude via something more solid than his “esteem” and “affection”:

    “I never wished for more believe me, my Lord,” replied the Duke; “and I am very happy my maternal grandfather put it out of my power to accept anything else… I did as he desired; and then solemnly swore that, admitting I should ever, by the same chance which constituted me his, become also your heir, I would renounce all claims to your title and estates; continue all my life to profess the religion in which I had been brought up, and remain a subject of the King of Naples. I farther bound myself to educate my sons in the same principle…”
    The Earl was evidently hurt, though he tried to conceal his vexation: he looked at his Grace—“I find the Duke di St. Severino neither imitated nor approved my conduct:” then, after a pause, “All my children gone before me!—Well, I am justly punished (casting a disdainful glance at Lord Gowrie;)…”

Nevertheless, Lord Melton is all over the duke from this point; though the latter both refuses an invitation to stay at his house in London – he is already committed to Lord Fortrose – and ignores his hints about travelling on together, leaving the earl with the cold comfort of bragging about to his other two grandsons about the duke’s endless titles (civil and military), and his family connections.

We get one of the novel’s few glimmerings of humour and perspective here, as Captain Mellifont reflects silently that:

…[he] would have enjoyed asking the old man why he found himself so grievously offended with his son for marrying into one of these illustrious houses…

…but this is quickly drowned out by our very similar awareness that for the vast majority of its narrative, this novel is itself guilty of precisely the same kind of bragging.

Once in London, Lord Melton does everything he can to introduce the duke around and advertise their relationship. The latter takes this in his stride, and gratifies his grandfather by a wish to attend a parliamentary debate, in which the earl is to take a leading role. The two, in company with Lord Fortrose and Neville, leave the House in the early hours of the morning; and as Lord Melton steps into his carriage, danger suddenly threatens him again:

…some mischievous person had watched opportunity…to tie upon the end of the pole, just under the horses’ noses, a large bunch of squibs, which were lighted at the moment the carriage stopped, by some person who held a flambeau in his hand, which he instantly extinguished, and ran away full speed… By the time the Duke had advanced near enough to see what was the matter, it was in full blaze, and the horses plunging most dreadfully; in a minute more they sprung forward with the utmost rapidity, as the coachman had no longer any power over them. The Duke snatching his great coat out of his servant’s hand, who was waiting for him, darted so quickly as to catch hold of one of the horses’ heads, by which means he was able to keep up with, and prevent them from running against any other carriage they passed, while with his other hand he flung the great coat over the fire, and thus smothered it by degrees…

Comparing notes with Neville and his father, the duke finds them seized by the same suspicion as himself; and they decide to call at Lord Gowrie’s house under the pretence of informing him of his grandfather’s close call. However, they find Gowrie not only there but in his nightclothes, which argues in his favour and makes them conclude that perhaps the earl was simply the victim of a dangerous prank. Nevertheless, Mellifont continues to hint at his suspicions whenever he gets an opportunity, while the earl himself becomes coldly hostile and withdrawn—leaving his panicky heir to conclude that, while he cannot be kept out of the inheritance of the title, there is every chance he will soon be cut out of his grandfather’s will otherwise.

The inevitable third act of this would-be tragedy does not play out until nearly a full volume more has ticked away, when the duke, after a lengthy sojourn in the country, finally gives in to his grandfather’s insistence and agrees to stay a fortnight with him at his London house. The earl, without saying anything, gives up his own suite to the duke, as they are the best rooms he has to offer; meaning that it is a strong and healthy young man, not an elderly one, who subsequently encounters as intruder.

In the struggle the duke takes a pistol-shot to the shoulder. The wound is not deadly; and as the ball is being extracted by a surgeon, he offers his views upon the injury:

…he did not perceive the slightest danger at present; presumed the pistol was held close to the Duke—a fortunate circumstance, as it had prevented the ball from having its full force.

There is plenty of evidence that this was an inside job, including a pre-arranged rope-ladder and a dropped hat; and though the duke succeeds in keeping his grandfather quiet until they are alone, he then tells him frankly the whole story:

“What was my astonishment, when behind the curtain, to meet the eyes of Lord Gowrie!—I started back, and at the same moment he levelled a pistol at my breast: in my effort to ward it off I received its contents in my shoulder, and instantly fell. Could I have recovered my legs, he had already made his escape by a rope, which, on examination you will find had been previously fastened for that purpose…”

Though the fiction of a housebreaker is maintained for the benefit of the rest of the household, the next morning the earl and the duke take counsel with Captain Mellifont, who agrees to call at Lord Gowrie’s residence to learn whether he has, as they suppose, and hope, fled for the Continent. However, Mellifont reports to the others, via his lordship’s valet, that he is at home and asleep. The three conclude that Gowrie must believe the duke dead, without realising how much damning evidence he left behind. On this basis, Mellifont is sent to fetch Lord Gowrie to the earl, but finds him still asleep; and as it turns out, permanently:

The Captain perceived a written sheet undoubled, that had been placed under the other paper; he folded, and put it in his pocket, as the beginning informed him it was intended for Lord Melton, and again approached the bed, turned down the clothes, and perceived a small vial laying by his side: he was going to take it up, but checked himself, and flung the clothes over again, desiring the valet, who stood on the other side, to run of send for his Lordship’s apothecary, who lived in the same street. The man left the room; during his absence the Captain took away the vial, and searched his Lordship’s pockets, in which he found a brace of pistols, one of them still loaded, and a little powder screwed in a bit of paper;—these he removed into his own pockets; in a few minutes the apothecary came, and pronounced his Lordship quite dead, supposing of an apoplexy…

The cover-up is successful, though Mellifont tells his grandfather and the duke the truth; while Gowrie’s largely unrepentant suicide note confirms everyone’s suspicions regarding the boat and the carriage; as well as explaining that it was only hearing the earl calling out for help as he ran away, and knowing that the duke survived, that made him kill himself.

News of Lord Gowrie’s death does not precisely wrack anyone with grief; while the earl even warms himself on one consequence, albeit briefly:

During the Captain’s absence, the Earl had been using every argument his love for the Duke inspired him with, to induce his Grace (now become his legal heir) to permit him to acknowledge him as such. The Duke, with a firmness that did him the utmost honour in the eyes of the Earl, entreated his grandfather to wave the subject, adding, if British laws made such a step necessary, he would formally renounce every claim his birth might give to his Lordship’s title and estates, in favour of Captain Mellifont…

So much for that.

Prior to all this, however, we have followed the duke as he becomes acquainted with Mrs Rachel de Studeville, who turns out to be a country-neighbour of Lord Fortrose, near Bath.

This is where the novel-as-endurance-test aspect of The Sicilian begins in earnest.

In immediate terms, the pain begins with an all-but blow-by-blow repetition, in the duke’s meeting with Mrs Rachel, of his meeting with the earl: he ends up rescuing her from peril, in this case a carriage-accident, and then goes through exactly the same routine of jerking her around about his identity and their relationship—with exactly the same outcome.

However, the lasting impact comes from the fact that, when Mrs Rachel finally persuades the duke to begin what turns out to an almost interminable visit to Studeville Court, she already has a houseful of guests.

We learn that while Mrs Rachel buried her heart in Alfred St. Aubyn’s grave, her two younger sisters both married, and both unwisely: one to an impecunious clergyman, the other to a man she was deceived into believing a “merchant prince”, but who was certainly not one and barely the other. Sir Yelverton de Studeville followed the lead of his brother-in-law, the Earl of Melton, by cutting off his children without a shilling; leaving the younger generation – and, in the latter case, the widowed Mr Chambers – to hang upon Mrs Rachel’s sleeve in the desperate hope of becoming her heir: she having inherited her sisters’ portions as well as her own.

Thus we find Mrs Rachel entertaining – or at least, failing to persuade to leave her house – Mr Chambers, a draper by trade; his son, Robert, and Robert’s new wife, whose marriage was the initial excuse for their visit; his daughter, Rachel; and James and Grace Vernon, the children of the poor clergyman. These two are a different proposition from the Chambers, or at least Grace is: James is a gentleman without the money necessary to be one, and a gambling habit that has already found him deeply in debt; so he must grit his teeth and court Mrs Rachel like the rest.

This is where, as I suggested, “Gabrielli” seems to have been trying to imitate her step-sister, Frances Burney, who loved to create unlikely gatherings, and had a talent for amusing and distinctive dialogue. In this respect, Mr Chambers is certainly memorable enough, as a sample of his conversation will attest:

Mr Chambers soon began to harangue his family to the following effect:—“Now, was I not right, boys and girls? (Mr Vernon was present); was I not right when I said this here fellow would never be easy till his nose in amongst us? I dare say, for all what Grace said, he is as poor as Job, almost glad of a meal of victuals, perhaps, if one knew the truth of it; and this damned stinking snotty-nosed brat too—I will be hanged, drawn, and quartered, if the old cat would have laid out half the money upon any of us, or ever will while she lives, (and pray God her mouth was full of earth to-morrow!) she has already squandered away upon that shock-pated rude little urchin, and all, forsooth, because his name is Alfred, and he is grandson to her false lover! The Duke is no fool, though knave enough I warrant me; and he means to take advantage of this silly old woman’s folly; depend upon it he will try to make her provide for this boy, and the other too, whose name is no more Roger than mine is. I wonder, when the fellow was cracking, he did not say at once it was Yelverton; but that would have been too barefaced, I suppose, he thought, and t’other tickled her fancy just as well…”

Not that there isn’t any humour in this, or in Chambers’ hard-dying conviction that the duke is a rival con-artist; but his creator just doesn’t know when to quit: imagine this speech dragged out to about 200 pages, and you’ll have a fair idea how she fills her second and third volumes; that, along with an endless series of scenes in which Mrs Rachel, the duke and Neville are compelled to go amongst the Chambers family and their ilk, just so we can all appreciate how comical and/or crass working-folk are, and how infinitely superior anyone with a title.

Still—there is one aspect of Mr Chambers’ conversation that I want to bring to your attention, to which that description of the saintly and precocious young Alfred as a damned stinking snotty-nosed brat is merely a forerunner. As I have frequently said, part of the fun of this project, if not always in reading the novels themselves, is watching their evolution—in this case, in terms of acceptable language.

As you may (but probably don’t) remember, 1767’s The Life And Adventures Of Sir Bartholomew Sapskull, Bart. did give us a passing reference to toilet paper and its use; but this is as late as 1798, and a book by a female author; so if I raised my eyebrows at that description of Alfred, I may even have blinked in surprise at this:

“…how came this here outlandish Duke to I have heard about the old girl be the old woman’s cousin? and how came he to be so damned handy? I have heard the old girl talk about some of the tribes coming over to England, from the Devil’s A—e-a-Peak, when Adam was a little boy…”

And I’m pretty certain I gasped at this:

“…though it is hardly worth while going to law about such nonsense, for what is it to you if he calls himself Jack of Nokes, or Tom of Styles? You know the old saying, Madam, the more you stir a t—d, the more it stinks!”

Anyway—

The duke’s wounding and subsequent recovery give rise – eventually – to The Sicilian‘s only other point of interest, and allows the author to – eventually – tie up her plot.

Mrs Rachel is another of the guests at Lord Melton’s London house, a rare visit to the capital to which she agrees in exchange for her uncle and the duke afterwards accompanying her to Newnham Hall, her other country residence, where she intends to pass the summer. The movements of her other guests are delayed by the duke’s injury, but Mrs Rachel not only sets out for Newnham Hall anyway, she persuades his father to allow her to take Alfred with her, having conceived a warm affection for the boy. She is also accompanied by the welcome Grace Vernon, and the very unwelcome Mr Chambers and Robert Chambers, still clinging like limpets.

The party has barely settled in when the damned stinking snotty-nosed brat saintly and precocious young Alfred is kidnapped right out of the grounds. There is some evidence is found that the child has been carried away by boat, and the footprints of both a man and a woman are found at the river’s edge. As wide a search as can be organised is immediately instituted, the authorities in all directions are notified, and an enormous reward is offered, but no trace of the boy is found.

What the shock might do to the duke in his state of ill-health is everyone’s first thought, and in fact the others conspire to keep him in ignorance of what has happened for as long as they dare. However, it is Mrs Rachel who is the main sufferer from the situation: her health collapses under the weight of her grief and guilt, and she becomes bed-ridden, blaming herself for Alfred’s fate and refusing to be comforted or even to believe that the child is still alive. Finally, knowing herself dying, Mrs Rachel organises to rewrite her will; and is sufficiently compos mentis to have herself attended by several doctors able subsequently to testify to the fact, to prevent any chance of it being contested.

This is also the cue for the bad news finally to be broken to the duke, as Mrs Rachel’s last wish is to have the chance to beg his forgiveness.

With no attempt made to ransom Alfred, and the duke himself dismissing suggestions of political enemies from Italy, only one suspect has presented herself – herself – to the minds of the interested parties. While staying at Studeville Court, Alfred was often taken out by a servant for a run upon the Downs, where visitors to Bath also exercised on horseback. There he attracted the attention of a mysterious woman, nearly always veiled, who expressed great kindness for him, asked him many questions about himself and his father, and allowed him to ride gently on her horse. However, when the curiosity of the duke and Neville sent them out to catch a glimpse of Alfred’s “beautiful lady”, she proved extremely elusive:

    The Earl and Neville continued with the Duke, who paced the room in silence for some minutes, and neither chose to interrupt his reverie; till stopping suddenly opposite to Neville, he said, “There is a lady—”
    “She is still at Clifton, I believe,” said Neville. “My father’s first suspicions were similar to those I can presume your Grace may entertain. He was therefore particularly minute in his enquiries. She is really a woman of family he tells me, and Countess of Glenalvon.”
    “What, the young widow?” said Lord Melton, “the Earl of Orcan’s daughter?”
    The Duke, who had resumed his walk, made a sort of instantaneous stop, while his colour heightened so much and so visibly, as induced the Earl, with some surprise, to enquire, “Did your Grace ever see Lady Roxana Charleville during her residence abroad with her father?”
    The Duke approached one of the windows. “I thought I recollected the name of Orcan, my Lord; the Earl was some time Ambassador at Vienna if I remember right?”
    “He was,” said Lord Melton, “for near three years—let me see—aye, it must have been much about the same time your Grace was in the Austrian service…”

You think?

About 500 pages before this, there is a suspiciously brief allusion to an unhappy love affair that preceded the duke’s marriage to the Duchess di Ferrara. In fact he and Lady Roxana faced as many objections to their marriage as did his own parents: he was then only an impecunious young officer, though titled; Lord Orcan having in addition an insurmountable prejudice against his daughter marrying “a foreigner”, and the Duke di St. Severino an equal one to his heir marrying a Protestant. The two were ruthlessly separated; Lady Roxana was forced into marriage with the much-older, rather dissolute Lord Glenalvon; and the then-Count Mondovi gave in to his grandfather’s wishes and agreed to an alliance with the Ferrara family.

So—it is certainly not Lady Roxana who has kidnapped Alfred, to whom she was drawn by his resemblance to his father; but it is her who is finally instrumental in his rescue, thus paving the way for our happy ending.

To cut a long story (and an overlong blog-post) short, it is of course the Chambers family who are behind Alfred’s kidnapping—masterminded by Senior and carried out by Junior, with the help of the latter’s mistress and her (unwitting) sister. Once exposed, they confess that their motive was partly the reward offered, and partly the hope of causing a total breach between Mrs Rachel and the duke, who they had come to view, and rightly, as their main rival to the lady’s property and fortune: having realised belatedly that he was more of a threat in his own persona than as the con-artist they initially took him for, inasmuch as (as the saying goes), Them that has, gets. They are less forthcoming as to whether they hoped the shock of Alfred’s abduction would have the effect upon Mrs Rachel’s health that, in fact, it did.

All this comes to light when a response to one of the widely-distributed reward-posters finally evokes a response, from an innkeeper in Wales, and sends the duke flying to Swansea, where he finds a crowd gathered in an uproar before a certain house:

    His Grace made but a few steps across the room, shoved in between the assembly, as he had done only a moment before to get into the room; and at the same moment met the eye of his lovely boy, seated upon the knee, and encircled by the arms of the Countess of Glenalvon.
    The child starting down from her lap, sprang forward, exclaiming, “Oh, Papa, Papa, Papa!” and burst into tears before the Duke could catch him in his arms.
    Having given way for a few moments to his own emotion upon so rapturous a meeting, and repeatedly embraced his beloved Alfred, who cried and laughed in a breath, the Duke raised his eyes upon his darling son’s deliverer…

Awww…

In fact, Alfred more or less saved himself—spotting Lady Roxana on horseback in the street below, and managing to attract her attention through an uncovered window high up in the house in which he was being held; after which she and her servants forced their way in and secured the two women involved.

So! – little now remains – by which I mean the best part of an entire other volume, in which I swear to God nothing whatsoever happens worth mentioning – but to wrap things up and pack the duke and his new duchess off to Sicily; once, that is, the duke has managed to divest himself of all the unwanted property bequeathed to him by the unfortunate Mrs Rachel…who at least gets the last laugh, both in giving Chambers and his son very short shrift in her will, and in the same document appointing her executors in the following terms:

“I do hereby appoint the Right Honourable Alfred Alexander (St. Aubyn) Earl of Melton, Viscount Gowrie, Baron Lovel, &c., and the Right Honourable Ferdinand Rinaldo (St. Aubyn) Duke di Ferrara, and St. Severino, Count Mondovi, &c. &c., my joint and sole executors…”

 

21/01/2019

The Mother-In-Law; or, The Isle Of Rays (Part 2)


 
    She is a slave!” murmured Susan, in a low, but emphatic tone.
    Louis looked perplexed, bewildered, and did not reply. Susan smiled sadly at his embarrassment, as she continued gravely—“You would say, Louis, that you were already aware of that fact; that this was nothing new or extraordinary in her position—that, in a word, you know she is a slave; but do you also know, Louis, all that means to her?”
    He did not reply, but seemed engaged in thought. Susan continued, in a low, earnest voice—“No; you, like other excellent men I know, look on slavery with indifference. It is the nonchalance of custom. But this girl! I tell you, Louis, that were you or myself now reduced to slavery—were we to change positions with one of our slaves—become his property, subject to his orders—a thing to be chained, imprisoned, beaten, bought, sold, at his whim—neither you nor I could have a more poignant sense of degradation than she suffers…”

 

 

 
While the power struggle over Louise is foregrounded in The Mother-In-Law; or, The Isle Of Rays, something else is going on in this novel that I felt was worth highlighting.

Unlike Southworth’s first novel, Retribution; or, The Vale Of Shadows, this is not an abolitionist tract, as such: slavery is not present on what we might call “the large scale”, with the only slaves we do see being the house servants of the main white characters. The reality of slavery is still prominent in the narrative, however; and much is conveyed about the individual characters via their attitude towards it, and their treatment of their servants. There are references to who has freed their slaves, and who hires their servants for wages.

At one end of the character spectrum is, unsurprisingly, Mrs Armstrong—of whom it is observed in passing:

Only she avoided the Northern cities, to which she could not carry her slaves. Mrs Armstrong abhorred the attendance of any one over whom she did not possess absolute control…

We’ve seen up close how Mrs Armstrong treats her own daughter; Southworth leaves us to infer how she treats her slaves.

At the other end of the spectrum is Gertrude Lion, who Southworth allows to do some extraordinary things. Insisting passionately upon her own individual freedoms, Gertrude not only abhors slavery, but displays a distinct tendency towards all-men-are-created-equal in those words’ most literal sense. At one point, having come across a bad carriage-accident in the mountains, Gertrude is dealing with the situation when she encounters a runaway slave – one of Mrs Armstrong’s – who has taken refuge in a cave:

    The haggard and wolfish features of the slave relaxed a little, as he said, in a hoarse voice—“And you’ll not set the constables on me, Miss Gertrude!”
    “Explode the constables! no, I’d do you good, I said. Listen; I know you, Antony, you are Mrs Armstrong’s fugitive slave. Now, I don’t adore Mrs Armstrong myself, and if you will do me a favour, I will assist your escape from the State.”

A deal is struck between them, and after Antony has performed his part – honestly and diligently – Gertrude keeps her side of the bargain:

“Here is the pass I wrote for you.” She took it out and read it—“‘Antony Burgess has my permission to again pass and re-pass from Peakville to Alexandria, free of molestation, between the first of June and the first of July inclusive…’ There, Antony, that is exactly the pass that I give to my own men when they want to go to town. Now, it is true that you are not my own man, but that is no reason why I should not give you my  consent to go where you please, since I have no objection to it; and so, when you present that, people will naturally think it comes from your owner. And even if it fails, it cannot get you or me into trouble, since I only express my consent.”

And when Gertrude finally parts from the man (emphasis mine):

“Do you attend to what is left behind; bury the poor dead coachman, and don’t forget to recite the ten commandments over the grave. Now, good-by.” And shaking hands with him, Gertrude turned and lifted up her patient…

Much is also implied throughout The Mother-In-Law about the nature of Virginian society as a whole: almost all of the people of colour in this novel are of mixed blood; and though Southworth does not overtly pursue this point, we are left to ponder the structures and practices of the society that produced this situation.

One intriguing detail concerns Mrs Armstrong’s waiting woman, Kate Jumper: she is the niece of the local midwife, who works chiefly amongst the poor people and the servant class, and who is referred to as “Kate Jumper’s white aunt”. Though this is probably due to the low social status of each, the lack of any attempt to deny the relationship is striking. (Mr Jumper is nowhere to be found, of course…)

Kate Jumper is also important because she represents the one point in the novel where we might feel Southworth has resorted to nasty stereotyping, with much emphasis placed upon her wild and repulsive appearance. However, in this Kate is the exception to the rule; and in time it is evident that her appearance is rather meant as an externalisation of her role as the do-er of Mrs Armstrong’s dirty-work.

With all the other servants in the other households, Southworth emphasises their honesty, loyalty and intelligence. Most daringly of all, she makes a tacit argument that the supposed “inferiority” of people of colour is due purely to opportunities denied them. When in childhood, Susan Somerville is sent to the local school, her devoted servant – and “foster-sister” – Anna, insists upon accompanying her each day—being allowed, bit by bit, to creep into the classroom to sit quietly at Susan’s feet. Simply by sitting and listening, Anna absorbs as good an education as was given to any girl at the time. Far from displaying any “natural” stupidity, or “inferiority” of talent, Anna proves intelligent and thirsty for knowledge; she comes away from her indirect lessons with a thorough understanding of the world and a passion for literature and history. (Susan has already taught her to read, a dangerous undertaking at the time.)

There are two different slavery plots in The Mother-In-Law, linked, but used for different purposes. The first concerns the position of the Somervilles’ house servants, Harriet and George, and Anna, their daughter. Anna, by the way, is another of Southworth’s roster of beautiful brunettes:

And now he observed for the first time that she possessed the most lofty style of beauty. Her tall, full, graceful figure was finely curved, as she leaned upon the high back of an old leather chair, looking abstractedly from the window, the light from which fell upon her superb head, covered with a magnificent suit of black hair, that, dividing above her broad, pale forehead, rippled off into thousands of tiny jet-black, glistening wavelets over her temples and around her cheeks, and was gathered into a large knot confined by a silver bodkin behind. Her sloping, gloomy, but beautiful eyes, the sad expression of her full, red lips, closed as they habitually were, were  added to the fascination of a face that attracted without volition or consciousness. Her dress was of the coarse linsey-woolsey worn in winter by Southern house-servants, but hers was plaid, of very brilliant colours, made high in the neck, with sleeves reaching the wrists, fitting. accurately her charmingly developed form, and harmonising well with her dark, imperial style of beauty. Louis looked at her, at first, in obedience to Miss Somerville’s indication; then with surprise and admiration at the singular beauty he had never before noticed…

But the key phrase there is “broad, pale forehead”: Harriet and George are both “mulatto”, and Anna – was her background not fully known – could “pass”.

Unlike some other of the novel’s servants, Harriet, George and Anna are still slaves, owned by the elderly Major Somerville. Southworth uses the Major as an illustration of nearly everything wrong with Virginia society: he has exhausted his land by stubbornly refusing to budge from old-fashioned farming methods, and has fallen into debt he cannot possibly meet. The house, likewise, is falling into ruins, held together by the joint efforts of Susan and the servants. Meanwhile, at the end of his life, the Major clings to his dignity, wary of doing anything that could be interpreted as conceding power. Thus, despite Susan’s persuasions, he refuses to free any of his slaves—insisting that, as a woman, she doesn’t understand these things.

She does, of course—but not as well as the slaves themselves. A conspiracy of silence keeps Susan from knowing exactly how bad the situation is; so that, while she sees a profound depression taking hold of Anna, she interprets it as caused by the girl’s growing understanding of her degrading situation. What she does not know is that Major Somerville’s creditors are circling; that the bailiffs could descend any moment; and that, should that happen, Harriet, George and Anna will be sold along with all the rest of the Major’s property.

And this comes to pass when the Major dies suddenly of apoplexy. Susan takes immediate steps to free the servants, but is forestalled by the arrival of the deputy-sheriff and his goons. Even then Susan does not understand: she thinks they have come to do an assessment of the property for tax purposes, and is only angry that they have come so hard on the heels of her grandfather’s death:

    “How many slaves have you about the house, then, Miss Somerville.”
    “None, sir.”
    “What! my dear young lady.”
    “Sir, I have my foster-parents, George and Harriet, who brought me up, and my foster-sister and companion, Anna, who has always shared my room, my table, and my school. They are quadroons. I do not call them slaves.”
    “They were the slaves of the late Major Somerville, however?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “And they are yours now.”
    “No, sir! I do not for a moment acknowledge any right in myself to hold them. My dear grandfather’s funeral took place only on yesterday afternoon, and to-morrow morning I go to Richmond to take measures for their emancipation!” said Miss Somerville, in a cold, severe tone—for now she believed herself in conversation with a would-be purchaser.
    “Will you? Ah! yes, well! A generous and praiseworthy design on your part, my dear young lady,” said the deputy sheriff, perceiving for the first time that Susan was entirely unsuspicious of the object of his visit. “Will you, however, let me see these people, my dear Miss Somerville?”

Still under her misapprehension, Susan does, sending Anna to call her parents:

    Anna, who had conquered herself, and now stood calm, cold, and impassible, went out to obey.
    “Is that one of them?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “That girl?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Why, she is white!”
    “Very nearly, sir.”

Once the family is all present, the real purpose of the visit is made brutally clear:

    The assessor looked at Anna; and, as his sensual eyes roved all over her girlish figure, gloating on her beauty, he muttered an exclamation—“She is a handsome girl, and it would be a good spec’ to take her to New Orleans. She’d bring twelve or fifteen hundred dollars…”
    “That is not the question; what would she bring here?”
    “Gentlemen, I beg of you—” commenced Susan Somerville.
    “Be patient, young lady. What is her value here, Jones!”
    “Gentlemen, I insist—” began Susan again, with her cheeks burning and her eyes flashing, “I insist that this is arrested. I command you to finish your business and leave us.”
    “One instant, Miss Somerville. Well, Jones, her value is—”
    “Three hundred dollars…”
    “Miss Somerville,” began the deputy, “I have now to perform a very painful duty; a simple and short one, however.”
    “Yes, as short as an execution,” muttered George.
    “Miss Somerville, I attach this property at the suit of Spier & Co., Grocers, Peakville.”
    Susan started to her feet, clasped her hands, and turned deadly pale, as the truth suddenly struck her…

George and Harriet have tried to remain dignified and still in the face of this humiliation, and their knowledge of far worse to come; but when the assessor makes to lay hands on Anna, it is more than flesh and blood can stand. A short, ugly scene ends with George unconscious and in handcuffs, and Susan in a state of collapse. Anna is allowed to stay, temporarily and under guard, to care for Susan – a white lady, after all – but her parents are carried away to the slave auction in the nearby town of Peakville.

This situation rescues Anna from the otherwise inevitable—but only at the cost of her life: the next morning, Susan finds her dead. Heart failure is the medical ruling; although the jurors at the subsequent inquest, who know the circumstances, think differently:

The coroner’s jury came nearer the truth in their verdict—“A VISITATION OF GOD.”

We learn later that Susan had sent to the Palace for help, but the message miscarried. Hearing afterwards of these shocking developments, Louis promises Susan to get George and Harriet back at whatever cost required. He sets out after the bailiffs, but when he arrives in Peakville, he discovers that the two have already been sold to a slave-trader, necessitating a further journey to Alexandria.

And it is while Louis is away from home on this mission of mercy that Mrs Armstrong, taking advantage of his absence, regains possession of Louise.

The second slavery-related subplot in The Mother-In-Law is far less forthright, far more sensation-novel-y and plot-contrivance-y, yet still manages to make some very cogent points.

Our first hint of something untoward – well, the second, following the revelation that she was a doorstep baby – comes when old Mr Dove notices the developing situation between Zoe and Brutus Lion, albeit that there was been no overt declaration on either side. Having extorted from his blushing daughter a confession of love for Brutus, and her belief that he loves her, Mr Dove reacts with grief and dismay. There are many overt reasons, he tells Zoe solemnly, while a marriage between herself and Brutus would be unlikely and even unsuitable; yet it is a covert one that must determine her fate—

    “He is of an old and haughty family—you, Zoe, are a foundling.”
    “I know it,” murmured the maiden.
    “Yet you, in your secret heart, hoped that this might be overcome; that he might stoop to lift you to his level—on your truth, did you not?”
    Zoe bowed her head lowly, sadly.
    “He is wealthy, you are penniless; but you thought never of this as an objection, but believed that his superfluities might supply your deficiencies. Ha, child?”
    Again she bowed her head, slowly, lowly.
    “All this might happen, Zoe—the patrician might stoop to the plebeian; the millionaire to the beggar. Brutus Lion might offer his hand and name in marriage to Zoe, yet Zoe can never be the wife of Brutus Lion—”
    “Father!”
    “It is true!”
    “Father!”
    “It is fixed, inevitable, irrevocable.”

Now—this is early in The Mother-In-Law, before we have taken its measure; so those of us with experience of the sensation novel might have already leapt to a conclusion (and yes, I am looking at you, Dawn!). Amusingly, and to Southworth’s credit, she immediately takes that particular bull by the horns:

    “An insurmountable obstacle to your union exists, my dear,” said the old man, with the tears dimming his eyes.
    “Father,” said Zoe, in a suffocating voice, “father, I am a foundling, as you say—do you know or guess—that I am of—of—very near kin to Brutus?”
    “You are no kin to him, Zoe but it is not less certain that you can never, never be his wife.”

More amusingly still, when Zoe later rejects Brutus’ proposal, explaining the situation as far as she understands it, the same objection occurs to him: he reassures Zoe that both his parents died before she was born.

When Brutus brings himself to discuss his situation with Gertrude, she suggests a different possibility…

    “Now why, Gertrude, do you disapprove of Zoe??—why do you hate Zoe?”
    “I don’t hate Zoe; neither do I hate humble-bees, but I do not particularly affect either; and I will not have a little coffee-brewing, cake-baking fool in the house.”
    “You despise her for her birth!”
    “I do not despise her for her birth, although I know, as you do not know, that she is a mulatto!”
    “A mulatto!” echoed Brutus, in dismay.

***

    “Zoe is of mixed African blood, I tell you. Look at the dead white skin—”
    “Susan Somerville’s is the same.”
    “Susan Somerville’s is pure white—clear white. Zoe’s is opaque white. Look at the darkness around her finger nails; look at her
rippling black hair—not brownish black, like the English or American hair, or bluish black, like West of Ireland hair, or purplish black, like Italian hair, but jetty black like African hair, and with the little, undulating, wavy curl all through it.”
    “Pooh! Nonsense! The devil! It is not true. You know nothing about it!” exclaimed Brutus, very pale, and very much troubled.

Of course, Gertrude, being Gertrude, sees an up-side to the situation:

“I shall go by for Zoe this evening, and wrap the little one up in a cloak and take her in my sleigh to Miss Armstrong’s wedding. Ha, ha, ha! Little does Mrs Armstrong guess that in Zoe Dove she will have a mulatto guest!… Little does Mrs. Armstrong suspect that her daughter’s second bridesmaid is a mulatto—-a slave!”

At this point Brutus chooses to shrug off Gertrude’s unsupported assertion; but later, Mr Dove confirms all of his worst fears:

    “I love Zoe; I wish to marry Zoe; I will devote my life to her happiness; consent to our marriage, and her future is secured!”
    “Brutus, you love her?”
    “God knows it!”
    “Only her?”
    “Only her, of all womankind!”
    “Brutus, you cannot marry her.”
    “You have said so before, but that does not prove it.”
    “Brutus, swear that you will not divulge what I tell you.”
    “I swear it, sir.”
    “ZOE IS A SLAVE!”
    Brutus Lion reeled as if struck by a cannonball.
    “Great God, sir!”
    “And there are some in this neighborhood that know it…”

I hardly know where to start with this—and in fact I’m going to start almost at the end, with the explanation finally offered of Zoe’s origins: that she is another child of George and Harriet, born in secret and smuggled away in order to save her from the threat under which Anna lives her entire life.

Mr Dove himself has only just learned of Zoe’s origins from Nancy Jumper, who many years before was called out one night to attend a patient in labour, under conditions of great secrecy intended to conceal the mother’s identity from her; but who later, unseen herself, saw an obviously stricken Harriet leave a baby on Mr Dove’s doorstep. She kept the secret, however (we get the impression that keeping family secrets has necessarily been part of her stock-in-trade), until an encounter with Mr Dove on the 17th April – the date of these memorable events – brought it all back to her mind. Furthermore – being now old and unreliable and struggling to get by – Nancy sells the truth about Zoe to Major Somerville’s creditors.

The effect of all this upon Mr Dove is devastating—not because of Zoe’s origins, but because, a desperately poor man, he cannot afford to buy her. The old man suffers a psychotic break of sorts, during which money obsesses him to the exclusion of all else; and finally collapses altogether into a state of second childhood.

The ugly reality is that Zoe’s birth makes her every bit as much the Major’s property as her parents and sister; and she, too, is to be sold to meet his debts. Fortunately, when the deputy-sheriff comes for her, Zoe is at The Lair with Gertrude. At this moment she has no knowledge or understanding of her own position, and is more confused than frightened. Gertrude, however, grasps the situation at once:

    The bailiff walked up to Zoe, and touched her on the shoulder.
    “HANDS OFF!” shouted Gertrude, bringing the loaded end of her riding-whip down upon the floor with the force of a hammer on the anvil, the walls resounding with the report. The bailiff involuntarily started back.
    “Come here, Zoe,” said Gertrude, holding out her arms for the child. The poor girl—the victim of a vague terror—fled to her protector.
    Gertrude, with flashing eyes, raised the end of her whip, menacing the bailiff, while she encircled the waist of Zoe by one arm, and laid the head of Zoe gently on her own broad, soft bosom.
    “There, there, there, there, don’t be terrified, Zoe; nothing shall hurt you, Zoe. I’ll horsewhip the fellow within an inch of his life, if he does but lay his hand on you again, so I will.”
    “Miss Lion, are you aware that you are transgressing the law?”
    “Mr Bailiff, I don’t care a fox’s brush for any law but the ten commandments!”
    “Do you know that in harboring a slave you expose yourself to—”
    “Mr Jones, your way home lies straight out behind you. I give you two minutes’ grace; and if at the end of that time you are not out of this hall, I’ll put you out!” exclaimed Gertrude, her bosom heaving like the ocean waves in a tempest, her lips quivering, her nostrils distended, her eyes flashing, sparkling, and scintillating, as though they would explode.
    “Miss Lion, do you know, are you aware, that you are threatening an officer of the law?”
    “Ha, ha, ha, ha!—ha, ha, ha! Yes, and if an ‘officer of the law’ don’t take himself out of my sight in double quick time, I’ll take an ‘officer of the law’ by the nape of his neck and the straps of his pantaloons, and throw an ‘officer of the law’ over the precipice. You know me, sir! I am Gertrude Lion!”

He does; and consequently slinks off with his tail between his legs, to round up reinforcements; though by that time Gertrude has Zoe concealed in that same cave in the mountains.

There is some extraordinary stuff buried in this subplot—and not so buried. When the truth about Zoe becomes public knowledge, it makes no difference to anyone in the neighbourhood – except Mrs Armstrong – other than that everyone goes out of their way to love and care for her. Remarkably, Zoe herself is basically unbothered by the revelation, except for how it has impacted Mr Dove; she certainly does not react as we would expect a gently-bred white girl in a 19th century American novel to react.

But it is the response of Brutus and Gertrude that we must examine in detail—being very careful to do justice by Brutus. Certainly he recoils at Gertrude’s first suggestion of Zoe’s situation; and when Mr Dove confirms it, we get this exchange:

    “This child, Brutus! I loved her as my own!”
    “Ah, sir!” heavily sighed Brutus.
    “You do not know all she was to me!”
    “Oh, sir! yes, I do.”
    “She was the life of my heart.”
    “Oh! Heaven, sir! of mine too!”
    “I called her Zoe—life!”
    “God have mercy on us…”
    “Brutus!”
    “Sir!”
    “You can never marry her.”
    “Oh! I know it,” groaned the young man.
    “Therefore, Brutus, there must be no more love passages between you.”
    “Oh! no, no, sir,” sighed the Lion, dropping his shaggy head upon his hands…

We have to be very careful in interpreting this correctly: Brutus’ “recoil”, his despair upon receiving this confirmation, his agreement that he cannot marry Zoe, are entirely because that at the time, and in Virginia, such a marriage was illegal. The marriage is impossible not because Brutus will not, but because he cannot.

He does, however, go straight to Susan, still reeling from the triple tragedies of her grandfather’s and Anna’s deaths, and the sale of George and Harriet:

    “If she is mine, as you say, I will free her at once!”
    “But, my dear Miss Somerville, that will not do. To emancipate her would require time and trouble. In the mean while, another writ of attachment, at the suit of some other creditor, would be served on her, and your benevolent designs defeated. What I propose is the only safe way. It is very easy. Here is the deed. You have only to write your name at the bottom, and she is mine—she is safe. Come, Miss Somerville, do it,” pleaded Brutus, putting the pen in her listless fingers, and laying the deed before her.
    “Well, well; as you think best.”
    And, scarcely conscious of what she did, Susan Somerville wrote her name at the bottom of the bill of sale, and Zoe became the property of Brutus Lion.

And indeed—Zoe is inclined to think slavery not so bad, if she might be Brutus’ slave. But he having none of that, nor of anything less than marriage (Southworth shows a streak of pragmatism here unusual in this sort of fiction):

    “After all, it is nothing but the name; only it came on me like a shock; and I was a little proud; that’s all. I shall not be sad. People will say that the schoolmaster’s adopted daughter, who used to be so proud of her house-keeping, is a slave. Well; I shall not hear them say it. I shall be here with Brutus; waiting on Brutus; and I shall be happy. Don’t grieve for me, Brutus; indeed, I am not unhappy. Do you think that Zoe considers it such a misfortune to belong to Brutus? No, indeed. Come! don’t weep, Brutus! dear Brutus! I hate to see tears in manly eyes;” and she raised her apron and wiped away the tears from the eyes of her great big lubberly nurse, who was quivering with emotion like a mammoth blanc mange.
    “Zoe, my child !” he said, “did you think I would hold you bound a moment longer than I could help! Zoe, you should have been free to-day, but that the court-house was closed before I had even completed the purchase. Zoe, you shall be free to-morrow; and then you must return with your adopted father to the Dovecote.”
    “Must I leave you, Brutus?”
    “Zoe, my dear child, yes. You cannot be my wife, Zoe—and I will not make you my mistress; and loving you as I do, Zoe—loving me as you do—that would be your fate if you lived with me, dear child. Take her, Gertrude;” and pressing one passionate kiss upon her lips, he tossed her in his sister’s arms…

Now—there’s one other thing I want to consider here, before moving on to how Southworth resolves her plots—or rather, this point more or less forms the bridge for such a consideration.

You may remember that in The Octoroon; or, The Lily Of Louisiana, her second novel, Mary Elizabeth Braddon pulled exactly the same “racial identifier” stunt as Southworth does here, with its white-skinned, mixed-blood heroine being “outed” on the basis of her fingernails and “the corner of her eye”. Well—I have no doubt that Braddon read Southworth, and little more that (sitting in England, writing a book set in the American South), she swiped certain details from The Mother-In-Law, published ten years before.

And likewise, Braddon did what Southworth and others did at the time, in handling the dynamite that was abolitionist literature: she took it for granted that white people were only capable of really sympathising with a slave who was, effectively, white herself (and it is invariably a beautiful girl in these novels).

Here’s the thing, though:

Zoe isn’t of mixed blood after all. She is not the daughter of George and Harriet, but of two people who couldn’t be whiter. And whatever it was that Gertrude thought she saw, she was wrong.

This might at first glance seem like a cop-out, but the way that Zoe behaves, and is treated, once her supposed secret is out negates that possibility; and even as she takes the knowledge of her supposed birth and status in her stride, she is unaffected by the discovering the real truth except so far as it alters her relationship with Brutus.

No—Southworth is making a different point here and, when you think about it, an amazingly courageous one—one built around the twin characters of Zoe and Anna, the one a white lady of high social status, the other a born slave, the two of them physically indistinguishable. Not only does she explode the notion that “you can always tell”, that however white a person might look, there were certain infallible signifiers, but at a time when the pernicious “one drop of blood” scenario was firmly entrenched, she actually dared to say, in effect—What actually IS the difference, if you can’t even TELL the difference??

Meanwhile, Southworth handles this reverse-revelation rather curiously, but in doing so she’s making yet another serious point. We are made aware that Gertrude, Susan and Brighty have discovered something about Zoe; they don’t reveal it, or who was their source of information, other to say that they know for a fact she isn’t of mixed blood.

As it turns out, there are many more shocking secrets surrounding Zoe’s origin than “mere” slavery—and most of them have to do with Mrs Armstrong. They have remained a secret so long because the only witness to the events in question was Harriet. As Gertrude later explains (to a non-American), to do Zoe any real good, Harriet had to keep quiet until after the death of Major Somerville:

    “But the servant, then—Harriet! Why did she not disclose the secret?”
    “Because it would have done every sort of harm, and no good. It would have covered an honest family with shame and confusion, without restoring Zoe to her rights.”
    “I do not see that.”
    “Do you not know, then, that, however honest and good they may be, the oath of a slave or other colored person, will not pass in a slave State against a white person?”

The various plots of The Mother-In-Law come together when word filters back to Virginia of Louise’s intended marriage to James Frobisher.

Frobisher—as I did not before mention—was the only survivor of that carriage-accident in the mountains, from which he was rescued by Gertrude and carried back to The Lair. While nursing him back to health, Gertrude falls in love with him—allowing Southworth to have some fun with the gender-role reversal, with tall, powerful, domineering Gertrude attracted to the weak, helpless Frobisher – who she calls her “pretty boy” – precisely because he is weak and helpless. Frobisher is dazzled by Gertrude, but even more doubtful of her qualifications for aristocracy than he was of Brighty’s; they become sort-of engaged, until a miscommunication leaves Frobisher believing Gertrude has rejected him. Back in Washington, his wandering fancy then drifts to Louise…

Gertrude, however, considers herself plighted to Frobisher—and she is not about to let Mrs Armstrong take her “pretty boy” away from her (she knows Louise has nothing to say in the matter):

“I have felt a long time as though I ought to roll up my cuffs and take that woman in hand! This is a judgement on me for not doing it. I have let her scheme and plot, and marry and unmarry, and torture and break hearts to her own heart’s content. Oh, just God! I that I have spent so much time in ridding the woods and mountains of wolves and bears, and that I have let this human hyena walk abroad among women, and never resolved to deal with her, until she struck her fangs into my own heart! Selfish that I was! Not for the sake of Susan, of Louise, of Louis, of Zoe, of all the hearts that she has trampled in the dust, did I resolve to punish her! Now she would plant her cloven foot upon my bosom—would marry off my boy—my own, own boy—the gift of the mountain cataract to me; my own beautiful white water-lily, that I found broken and half drowned amid the foam of the torrent and the peaks of the rocks…”

And with that, Gertrude is onto her horse and off to Washington—determined to put a stop to the wedding if she has to publicly reveal every one of Mrs Armstrong’s guilty secrets to do it.

Ahem. She does.

Brighty is one of those to whom Gertrude declares her intention, and when she carries the news home to the Palace, Louis also sets out on a desperate chase to Washington—to stop Gertrude stopping the wedding, not because he doesn’t want it stopped, but because of what he fears such an appalling scene will do to Louise. But he knows he has no real hope of catching Gertrude, and sure enough, by the time he makes his way to the house where the wedding is being held, the assembled guests—

…members of the House of Representatives, Senators, members of the Cabinet with their families, foreign Ministers with their suites, were present. The President himself honored the occasion with his presence…

—are standing aghast in the face of Gertrude’s enthusiastic response to being invited to speak of any just cause or impediment

Louis is, however, just in time to witness what may, in a book full of outrageous touches, be the most outrageous:

    “Young lady,” began the Bishop, “will you please to—”
    “SHUT UP,” snapped the giantess.

 
 

19/01/2019

The Mother-In-Law; or, The Isle Of Rays (Part 1)

    Mrs Armstrong possessed one master passion, PRIDE; one predominant affection, MATERNAL LOVE… As Louise approached womanhood, these passions began to conflict, thus—
    The time was slowly but surely approaching when it would be proper for the heiress of Mont Crystal to be married. Her pride was interested in seeing her married, and established as the mistress of the most magnificent mansion and the greatest estate in the valley,
and pride, enlisting policy on her side, would suffer no delay, run no risk of the loss of this desideratum. But her maternal love, if the fierce, selfish, and exacting passion deserved the name, rebelled against this decision. Pride would have been highly gratified by seeing Miss Armstrong, as Mrs Stuart-Gordon, mistress of the Island Palace. Maternal love was grieved at the anticipation that her daughter should become the wife of Louis, maternal jealousy aroused by the thought that Louise should derive the happiness of her life from any other than herself. It is true, the mother coveted for her daughter no happiness that did not flow through herself. It is true, the thought of seeing Louise in another home, united to another…of feeling herself the mother of one only child, becoming of less and less importance to the happiness of that child, as year by year went by and aged her—this thought inflicted upon her selfish heart the sharpest pang it was capable of feeling…

 

While trying to determine which, of the many possible people and projects, is the most neglected around here is probably futile, there’s no doubt that if I did rank them, E.D.E.N. Southworth would be somewhere near the top of the list.

In my defence, for once there’s a good exc—uh, reason: for a long time, the only available copy of Southworth’s third novel, The Mother-In-Law; or, The Isle Of Rays, was a scanned document of an edition resulting from a pernicious practice found in 19th century American publishing: reissuing three-volume novels in a single volume, with microscopic font, small margins and double-columns.

(In other words, almost the exact opposite of the 18th century British practice I pointed out with respect to The Picture…)

As an online text or as a PDF, the resulting scans are almost impossible to read, or read comfortably: if you fit a page on the screen the font is too small; if you make the font big enough, you have to toggle up and down repeatedly.

So perhaps I’ll be excused for putting off The Mother-In-Law as long as I have. I had girded my loins to the task, though, when I discovered that a different copy of the novel had been uploaded at the Internet Archive. I still had to read it online, but at least I could read it:
 

 

 
The Mother-In-Law; or, The Isle Of Rays was serialised in the National Era between 22 November 1849 – 18 July 1850, before being published in book form in 1851. It was subsequently reissued under three variant titles: The Mother-In-Law; or, Married In Haste; Married In Haste; or, Wife And No Wife; and The Mother-In-Law: A Tale Of Domestic Life. The first two give completely the wrong idea about what kind of novel it is; while with the third, you have feel that someone was being ironic.

As always with Southworth’s long and complicated sensation novels, it becomes a matter of how to do them justice in a review without simply recapitulating them. The Mother-In-Law, though quite as fully stuffed with characters and subplots as any other of Southworth’s novels, is actually more tightly plotted overall, showing the rippling impact of its central situation upon the surrounding community, and working to a climax that resolves early everything for nearly everybody. There is one important exception to this generalisation, however; and for this reason I have decided to address the novel in two posts, giving each of them their due weight.

The Mother-In-Law fits comfortably – well: not comfortably, exactly – within the framework of Southworth’s early fiction, in that it is a story of domestic misery. However, whereas in her previous novels, Southworth’s focus was on the consequences of male violence and male selfishness in the domestic sphere, here she gives us the monstrous feminine. Unnervingly, the novel carries a preface insisting that it is a true story; and while this is a common authorial ploy, of course, the length and seriousness of this introduction gives us pause.

Overall, this novel bears some resemblance to the first one of Southworth’s that we examined, Vivia; or, The Secret Of Power, in that it deals with a community of families, the relationships that develop amongst its young people, and the influence – whether for good or ill (although mostly the latter) – of the older generation upon the next. In this respect, perhaps the most interesting thing about The Mother-In-Law is that while it has numerous characters, it is really a novel without either a hero or a heroine in the usual sense. This lack of conventional focus means that we must concentrate more than we normally would upon its ensemble cast.

Geographically, we find ourselves in familiar Southworth territory: The Mother-In-Law is set in the Virginian countryside, some thirty or forty years (we gather) in the past. “The Isle Of Rays” is the name given to an island situated in the middle of a broad river, which is big enough to support two important properties (as well as several much smaller ones); its land is divided into two, with one half of the island being under cultivation, the other a savage but beautiful wilderness. The natural glories of her characters’ surroundings occupy Southworth very much, and she includes many lyrical descriptions along the way—which, if it’s okay with you, we’ll take as read.

The leading property, not just of the island but the entire district, is called simply “The Island Estate”. This is the home of the Stuart-Gordons; its present lord is General Henry Cartwright Stuart-Gordon, who – as per a longstanding family condition – took his wife’s surname upon their marriage. At the story’s outset, Mrs Stuart-Gordon is recently deceased; her robust husband is recovering from the blow, but her only child, sensitive young Louis, is depressed and lonely.

Second in importance to the Palace is Mont Crystal, the home of the Armstrongs—Mrs Armstrong, a widow, and her only child, Louise—who in addition to the similarity of her name shares Louis’ birthday, 22nd February, though Louise is two years younger. Naturally, everyone expects the two estates to be merged when the young heirs are of a suitable age.

Louis, Louise and Mrs Armstrong are the three main characters of The Mother-In-Law, and since we will hear plenty about each of them along the way, I won’t talk too much about them here—except to highlight Southworth’s significant description of Louise. We’ve noted already Southworth’s tendency to “colour-code” her women with respect to their hair; also that she clearly shared with her spiritual sister, Mary Elizabeth Braddon (like Southworth, a brunette), a certain exasperation over their society’s obsession with doll-like blue-eyed blondes. Fair-haired girls do not generally fare well in Southworth’s novels; and when we are offered the following portrait of Louise Armstrong—

…with her fair, transparent complexion, with her mild blue eyes and pale gold wavy hair, with her fragile and drooping form arrayed in white muslin as soft and pliable as her gentle disposition…

—we recognise her instantly as one of the author’s sacrificial lambs.

But there is a blonde of an entirely different description in The Mother-In-Law. Gertrude Lion – the “Gerfalcon”, as she is known to the district – stands nearly six feet tall; a wild, passionate, uncontrolled young woman to whom the term “Amazon” is repeatedly applied—though “Valkyrie” might have been a better choice. Orphaned early, Gertrude has been roughly raised by her equally unconventional brother, Brutus, at their isolated mountain property known as “The Lair”. Fascinatingly, particularly juxtaposed with certain other material offered by this novel, Gertrude and Brutus not only have Cherokee blood in their heritage, they are both very proud of the fact.

A unprecedented creation, Gertrude Lion explodes periodically into the narrative of The Mother-In-Law, “leaping” and “bounding” rather than ever just walking, and shattering both convention and other people’s nerves. Intriguingly, Gertrude shares certain characteristics with Hagar, the protagonist of Southworth’s The Deserted Wife, in that she is a creature of nature, excelling at all physical activities – including some distinctly unfeminine ones – and more at home with her horses and dogs than in society. However, since Gertrude is only a supporting character (and, unlike Hagar, not an authorial self-portrait), her behaviour not only goes unchecked, but unpunished. In fact, Southworth has a great deal of wicked fun with her—before pulling an extraordinary rabbit from the hat by turning Gertrude into her novel’s Dea ex machina

Pardon a digression.

An amusing contrast is drawn between the Lions and the Stuart-Gordons. The former, we learn, are descended from one of “the regicides”, who fled England upon the Restoration and settled in Virginia—then changing the family name to “Lion” as a precaution. The latter, meanwhile, are proud to claim descent from THOSE Stuarts. Southworth concedes this, though with a sardonic passing reference to “the bar sinister”; she also loads Louis with a selection of the less desirable Stuart characteristics, most significantly weakness in dealing with women; though we should note in his defence that, very un-Stuart-like, he is a young man of impeccable morals. Southworth herself digresses here for a few pointed remarks about the royal family in question, finally observing tartly that:

…their strong Scottish blood was diluted in the marriage of James V. with Mary of Lorraine, and still further reduced in the union of their daughter Mary Stuart with the imbecile Henry, Lord Darnley. Reader, did it ever occur to you to trace the downfall of that Royal House to the degeneracy of its stock from these two unfortunate marriages? If this were the place, or I had the time, I could almost prove it…

Meanwhile—Southworth lets her preference not just for brunettes, but dark brunettes, almost run riot. (No-one ever simply has brown hair in Southworth…nor have we yet met a red-head.) That said, the ladies in question could hardly be more different in either character or situation.

We are first introduced to Miss Britannia O’Riley – “Brighty” to her friends – Louise Armstrong’s Irish-American governess. Brighty—

…was about twenty-five years of age at the time our story opens, of medium height, moderately full figure, black eyes and hair, and dark complexion, features irregular, forehead broad and full, eyebrows slender and black, arched towards the nose, and elevated towards the temples, bright, piercing eyes, nez retroussé, and lips full, crimson, and quivering, formed the tout ensemble of a countenance irresistibly charming in its sparkling piquancy.

Brighty is a young woman of many faults: she is rather vain, a lover of luxury, and given to unmeasured speech. (Governesses, observes Southworth wryly, accounting for the fact that Brighty gets away with various acts of defiance and impertinence, were harder to obtain in early 19th century Virginia than at the time of writing.) But she is also generous, loving, and loyal.

We are next introduced to Susan Somerville, the granddaughter of old Major Somerville; the two occupy a broken-down property on the mainland known as “The Crags”: the last of an old, proud family sliding into poverty—and worse. After the death of Mrs Stuart-Gordon, Susan begins to call in the evenings upon Louis and his father, to make tea and provide sympathetic female companionship:

She was a medium-sized girl—full—even very full formed—with the well-developed bust, round chin and cheeks, and full, sweet lips, that indicate a fine vital temperament; her complexion was very fair, her eyes large, dark, and calm, and her hair black and silky, and rippling in tiny wavelets over her head. She wore it carelessly, but partly twisted up behind, partly drooping down her plump white cheeks and throat. Her dress of dark stuff was neatness itself; but her air—her air—there, that was magic! She looked like one that calmly and deeply enjoyed her life in every vein. Wisdom and innocence reposed in her serene face. Her manner was full of grave, sweet comfort…

Then there is Zoe Dove:

She was a gentle, tender little creature, with a fair, delicate skin, with soft, dark eyes, and fine, silky black hair, inclined to curl, but plainly twisted up.

Zoe is the adopted daughter of the old schoolmaster, Mr Dove, found literally upon his doorstep as a baby. She is the novel’s domestic goddess, a born housekeeper who finds all her pleasure in cooking and cleaning and sewing. A tiny, delicate creature, she is the unlikely object of Brutus Lion’s affections; even though Brutus – six-feet-nine in his stocking feet – has to lift her up onto a table in order to converse with her.

(Gertrude, a much tougher proposition than her brother, mocks him unmercifully for his “weakness”, only to get her comeuppance later in the novel via a still more unlikely romantic relationship.)

The novel’s final brunette is Mrs Armstrong herself:

She was a woman of majestic presence—very tall, very full formed—with the erect carriage, stately step, and assured manner that expressed conscious power, indomitable will, and accustomed sway. Her features were strongly marked—her forehead square and broad; her nose a high aquiline; her chin and cheeks full and round; her lips firmly set; her complexion opaque white; her eyes were dark gray—bright, cold, and hard; her eyebrows were square, heavy, and black; her hair was glossy, jet-black, and braided in large, heavy braids down her round, full, elastic cheeks, and plaited in a thick plait, wound around the back of her head, and confined by a comb…

It is Mrs Armstrong’s aberrant psychology that is the focus of The Mother-In-Law, and the driver of its plot. She is a woman of two mastering passions, which are irreconcilable—at "civil war" with each other, says Southworth, using a term less loaded in 1851 than it would become.

On one hand, there is the domineering pride which is determined that Louise will marry Louis Stuart-Gordon, and thus become the “first lady” of the district, if not indeed the entire state of Virginia. Nothing less is acceptable for her daughter.

On the other, however—there is Mrs Armstrong’s attitude towards Louise, for which “possessive” is an almost laughably inadequate description:

Can you conceive, reader, a mother’s love for her only child—being a passion deep, intense, absorbing, yet selfish, jealous,’and exacting? This was the affection, if it deserved the name, that Hortense Armstrong cherished for her daughter. She had been jealous of the child’s affection for her own father, jealous of her attachment to her mulatto nurse, though the state the lady habitually kept continually left the gentle little child in charge of her attendants. But after the death of her father, and after the entrance of Louise upon her fifth year, the mother took her more particularly under her own charge—conducting her education herself; the whole bent of this education was to one object—the entire subjugation of the will of Louise to that of herself, to gain a life-long ascendancy over the heart and mind of the child, and thereby the disposal of her destiny. Not only did she require from her daughter the implicit obedience claimed by and ceded to parents by every law, human and divine, but she aspired to bring down the intellect and affections, the very mind and spirit of her child into absolute subjection to her will…

So far she has succeeded: at the age of fifteen, Louise has barely the capacity to think or act for herself, her slightest movement dictated by her simultaneous adoration and terror of her mother.

Southworth’s descriptions of Mrs Armstrong’s manipulation of her daughter are horrifying and painful. Louise is treated with a mixture of criticism and contempt, and repeatedly punished for her sins via the withholding of affection. She is made to feel insignificant and ungrateful, entirely unworthy of her magnificent mother—who, as Louise believes as an article of faith, has sacrificed her entire life to her daughter, who has no thought but for her daughter’s welfare…

Louise’s situation, not surprisingly, begins to take its toll upon her health. Her only refuge is the love and encouragement of Brighty, but these can avail little against the stone wall of Mrs Armstrong’s emotional demands. It is on Louise’s behalf that Brighty is periodically provoked into intemperate speech:

    “Pray, explain yourself,” said the lady, haughtily.
    “I will,” said Brighty, rising and settling the folds of her blue-black satin; “your daughter is attended to—worried—hurried too much—she wants rest—repose—Mrs. Armstrong, she wants a heart and mind at ease; she wants more freedom; she is afraid to stir hand or foot; to speak—to think—to feel—lest she should give her mother pain or displeasure.”
    “That is her religion,” said the lady, coolly. “Miss Armstrong, I am happy to say, is an example of filial piety. I repeat it, that is her religion.”
    “It is her superstition.”
    “You will please to remember you are addressing me, Miss O’Riley.”
    “And it is in full consciousness of that, that I say, Mrs Armstrong, that your system of education degrades, debases, enslaves, yes, destroys your daughter!—and that if it be continued, in two years from this Louise will be an irreclaimable idiot.”
    “You are speaking of Miss Armstrong,” said the lady, white with anger, but speaking steadily.
    “I know it ; and I repeat, that unless a different course is taken, in two years Miss Armstrong, of Mont Crystal, will be an idiot slave!”
    Brighty’s eyes were blazing…

Mrs Armstrong in fact heeds Brighty’s warning about Louise’s health; though a more imperative motivation is neighbourhood gossip about Louis Stuart-Gordon and Susan Somerville, with the latter’s tea-making having grown into visits paid and returned between the two young people. The thought that anyone might circumvent her marital schemes for Louise, least of all one of the destitute Somervilles, galvanises Mrs Armstrong: instead of keeping Louise isolated, as has been the case for the past several years, she begins entertaining—and throwing Louise and Louis together. The two were, in effect, childhood sweethearts, until Mrs Armstrong’s jealousy prompted her to kill off the friendship; and it does not take much for them to rediscover those early feelings. They are soon engaged, and then married—on the 22nd February, the day that Louis turns eighteen, and Louise sixteen.

There are two casualties of this arrangement. The first is Susan Somerville, who has indeed fallen in love with Louis—only to be made his confidante with respect to Louise, and to realise he thinks of her only as a sister. Pride sustains her through this mortification; even through the greater one of acting as one of Louise’s bridesmaids. The young couple see nothing but others see, and draw their own conclusions…

And the other person to suffer through this marriage is, of course, Mrs Armstrong. Though the match is of her own making, once it is made, as she anticipated she finds her altered position with respect to Louise intolerable.

Southworth makes it clear that, while Louis is genuinely in love with Louise, she is only “fond” of him—her worshipful love for her mother remaining her dominating emotion. It is thus less about what she can give, than what she is given. Louis is kind, considerate, thoughtful, always seeking new ways to show his love and to make Louise happy; while General Stuart-Gordon, likewise, pets and coddles her. Under this unprecedented treatment, this shower of love and encouragement, Louise begins to blossom—to smile, to laugh, to sing; to run and jump instead of walking sedately. And in doing so, she offends her mother past the possibility of forgiveness:

The presence of this haughty and frozen woman cast a cloud over the brightness of The Isle of Rays. She radiated a spiritual cold that chilled all who approached her. She had arrived in her coldest, hardest, and haughtiest mood; and all that she saw, heard, and felt there, aroused the most malignant passions of her soul. She saw Louise instead of being pale and dispirited at her long absence, looking rosy and joyous; and if she did not hate the child for daring to be happy, except by her permission and through her means, at least she loathed her daughter’s husband, for superseding her in the work. Yes, she began to hate Louis in proportion as Louise loved him. And sometimes she would look at Louise in astonishment, wondering that she presumed to be so free, so glad, in her presence! She grew alarmed for the permanency of her influence over her child’s intellect and affections. “In one short month I have lost so much ground. In a year longer I shall be nothing in the sum of Mrs Stuart-Gordon’s life! And she is my child—MINE! I gave her life! She came into the world by my will—mine! And who this Louis Stuart-Gordon? Perdition catch his soul! to come between me and the child I bore!” And deep in the heart of this woman whose external appearance was so cold, so hard, so stern, whose manners were so guarded, so haughty, so freezing—deep in the heart of this diabolical woman burned and burned a concealed, intense, and growing jealousy, as under the snow-clad surface of Etna glow the most dangerous fires…

Mrs Armstrong begins seeking a way to re-establish her mastery over Louise. Of course it cannot be done from a distance; but she soon perceives a way in which she and Louise can again be resident under the same roof: she will marry General Stuart-Gordon, and take over as mistress of the Palace.

But as she sets her plot in motion, it does not for a moment cross Mrs Armstrong’s mind, not just that the General is already thinking of marriage, but that he has a very different woman in his sights…

Louise’s marriage is the cue for Brighty’s dismissal from Mont Crystal. Her pride will not allow her to take payment for the months of her employment contract cut short and unfulfilled by the loss of her pupil; but since her vanity and extravagance have led her to spend most of her money on her own adornment, this gesture leaves her in a perilous situation—or it would have, had her friends not begun vying with one another for her company. Brighty, wise and far-seeing, accepts the invitation of Susan Somerville, who in the wake of the wedding is drooping into depression.

Brighty’s new situation – or rather, her emancipation from Mont Crystal – brings with it an unexpected consequence: the determined courtship of General Stuart-Gordon. During the preparations for the wedding, the two were much thrown together, including during an extended journey to New York to arrange for Louise’s trousseau and jewels. Intrigued by Brighty’s beauty and pertness, the General began what he thought of only as a dalliance, only to find himself honestly caught by the pride and self-respect with which she rejected his advances. Brighty is tempted by his subsequent offer of marriage – dazzled by the thought of being elevated to the social pinnacle of the Palace, almost won over by a vision of lording it over Mrs Armstrong – but her fundamental honesty prevails. She is touched by the supplication of the proud old military man, however, and when he persists in his courtship, she eventually finds in herself sufficient liking and esteem for the General to accept his hand.

Perversely, the General then begins to see objections where before he swept them aside—not her position as a servant, but his advanced age; and his fear that she cannot love him. Again his humility stands him in good stead with Brighty who, the more he offers to release her should she wish it, becomes the more determined to be his wife.

Matters reach crisis-point when Brighty is sought out by James Frobisher, a young Englishman attached to the British Legation in Washington and a distant cousin of sorts, who brings the startling news that as the only surviving descendant of the old Earl of Clonmachnois, who died intestate, Brighty is now Countess of Clonmachnois in her own right; though otherwise her inheritance is only some poverty-stricken land in Ireland. Moreover, Frobisher has a proposition to make: now that he is convinced that Brighty will “do” as a member of the aristocracy, he wants to marry her; he will then petition for the reversion of the title and, as Lord Clonmachnois, set about the restoration of that Irish land.

The General takes this as the death-knell of his hopes, and he again offers to release Brighty; but this all has the opposite effect on her: she sends Frobisher to the right-about, resigns her title, and asks the General to set a date. He does—though the two of them keep it a secret until that date draws near. The General then accepts the necessity of breaking his news to the neighbourhood in general, and Mrs Armstrong in particular—who, meanwhile, has grown frustrated with the old man’s obliviousness to the various hints she has thrown out. When he begins, one morning, on a stumbling explanation of his intentions, she is at first delighted—until she realises that her hasty acceptance of his “proposal” was a trifle premature:

    Forgive me! I never presumed to the distinguished alliance of Mrs Armstrong.”
    “Sir!”
    “Pardon! pardon! The lady of my choice does not occupy so high a place in society. The lady of my choice—”
    “Is—”
    “Miss Britannia O’Riley!”
    Words would fail to express the dumbfounded astonishment, the astounded dismay, of that haughty woman, struck statue-still, with wonder, where she stood! Yes! at first it was simple stupefied wonder that fixed her there, with rigid limbs, pallid cheeks, and darkly corrugated brows. Yes, it was wonder, before it was even rage or vengeance.
    “BRITANNIA O’RILEY!”
    “Britannia O’Riley.”
    “A governess! a domestic! a hired servant!”
    “Britannia O’Riley! a beautiful, graceful, elegant, and accomplished woman.”
    “A beggar! a low Irish beggar!”
    “A lady! a lady to whom I shall be proud to give my name.”
    “A poor, miserable Irish beggar, whom I hired to serve my daughter!”
    “My intended wife, Mrs Stuart-Gordon, senior, and mistress of my house within one month from this.”

Mrs Armstrong’s response is not merely to depart, but to try and take Louise with her. Still incapable of withstanding a maternal command, bewildered by her mother’s insistence that she has been offered an intolerable insult, Louise is mechanically obeying when the General intervenes. The ensuing, violent scene only become more fraught when Louis himself returns home and becomes involved. Louise is unable to withstand the contending forces, and faints; Louis carries her back to her room, while the General—now every bit as much Mrs Armstrong’s enemy as he is hers—forces the departure of her mother.

Alone at Mont Crystal, Mrs Armstrong begins to lay her plans for the future—now quite as determined to destroy the lives of everyone at the Palace (which, by the time she sets her scheme in motion, includes Mrs Stuart-Gordon, senior) as she is to regain possession and control of her daughter. Indeed, these two passions become inextricably linked together, as Mrs Armstrong begins using Louise as a weapon…

Her first step is to show herself open to the olive branch tentatively offered by the Palace. Louise, of course, suffers bitterly from the estrangement, and the feeling that it’s all her fault; and finally she and Brighty venture to Mont Crystal in an attempt to mend fences. Mrs Armstrong, taking her cue, shows herself more sorrowing than angry, and allows her penitent daughter to persuade to her to forgive the insults offered, and to dine at the Palace. From there, Mrs Armstrong keeps up her act so well that even the General’s suspicions are lulled—though granted, he is also distracted by his vivacious young wife. She bides her time until business calls Louis away from home for a week—and then she seizes her chance, inviting Louise to return to Mont Crystal for a visit. Of course she has no intention of letting her go again; or at least, only if her terms are met…

Calling alone, Mrs Armstrong confronts the General. We are reminded of the complicated situation at the Palace: that Louis is a Stuart-Gordon on his mother’s side; that the property descends to him from her, not his father; and that he is not as yet of age. Mrs Armstrong, meanwhile, is focused on Louise’s position now that the General has remarried:

    “When I bestowed the hand of my daughter, Miss Armstrong, upon your son, Mr Stuart-Gordon, it was understood that she should take the head of this establishment. Was this so, or was it not so?”
    “Certainly, madam, that was the tacit understanding, but—”
    “Never mind ‘but.’ This house was refurnished, fitted up, to suit the taste of Louise, was it not!”
    “Of course, madam, but—”
    “Louise was to have been its mistress—was she not?”
    “Certainly, madam, but—”
    “Who is its mistress!”
    “My wife, Mrs Stuart-Gordon, senior.”
    “Then the conditions of the marriage contract have not been fulfilled on your part.”

Of course in one respect this is ridiculous: Louise neither wants to be mistress of the Palace, nor is capable of fulfilling such a role; moreover, she is delighted to have the companionship of Brighty, and only too pleased to have her assume control of the household (which she does admirably, by the way). The General is understandably inclined to brush this off as nonsense—until:

“Then hear me, sir. I said that I was a woman of few words; you know that I am not a woman of vain words; and I tell you,” she said, rising, folding her arms, standing before him with her determined jaws firmly set, her determined eyes firmly fixed upon him—” I tell you,” she said, slowly, through her closed teeth, “that, until you and your wife evacuate these premises, Mrs Louis Stuart-Gordon never sets foot upon The Isle of Rays, and never exchanges one word with any one member of the Island family. I waited my time. I have her. She is in my hands now!”

So she is; and for the next several years, Louis is doomed barely to see his wife…

There are a couple of interesting social and legal points surrounding the manoeuvring of Mrs Armstrong; interesting too for the somewhat ambiguous light it throws on the character of Louis, who has been presented us us from the outset as unusually sensitive—or in his father’s opinion, weak. Taking after his mother, Louis had no interest in a military career; he doesn’t even hunt. He enjoys scenery for its own sake; he and Louise spend many hours walking hand-in-hand, admiring the Palace gardens and the wilderness beyond.

And when Mrs Armstrong tries to take Louise, Louis insists that she is free to make her own decision.

What’s fascinating here is the way that Southworth manipulates us into siding with the conservative old General, with his thunderous demand for husbandly authority and wifely submission. Of course—this really isn’t about “men” and “women”, or “husbands” and “wives”; it is about the fact that Louise as an individual is incapable of making any decision for herself, let alone one this big. Louis’ intentions may be admirable, but he picks the worst possible moment to live up to his principles; and had Louise not fainted, she would undoubtedly have been immured at Mont Crystal a few months earlier.

And when Mrs Armstrong does get her hands on Louise, a similar situation arises. Louis wants neither to force Louise to do anything, nor to wash the family’s dirty linen in public by taking legal steps to get his wife back, as he is within his rights to do; while the General is all for filing a writ of habeus corpus. It is Brighty who tips the scale towards Louis, warning the men that anything that looks (or can be made to look) like violence towards or an insult of Mrs Armstrong will not help them with Louise; but adding that, with time, Louise’s longing for her husband and their life together may override even her worship of her mother.

And perhaps so—under normal circumstances. But as soon as Mrs Armstrong has Louise back in her power, she sets about convincing her that no-one at the Palace ever loved her; that no-one has ever really loved her but her mother—least of all Louis, who only married her because she was Miss Armstrong of Mont Crystal; who was notoriously in love with Susan Somerville, and certainly would have married her had she not been destitute; and who has probably by this time made Susan his mistress…

    Louise dropped her head upon her mother’s shoulder, and groaned—
    “Oh, mother! what horrors are these you are revealing to me! My brain is reeling—reeling! my mind wanders. This is very dreadful, and yet it is of Louis—Louis that you speak! Oh, this is very, very horrible, and yet it is my mother that tells me…”

Unexpectedly, however, of the two it is finally Louis – after calling repeatedly at Mont Crystal, and being turned away; and after writing letter after letter, to no response – who suffers a collapse and its inevitable attendant, “brain-fever”. Louise herself is kept from this extremity by a growing conviction on her part:

    “Mamma, I must return to Louis! indeed I must, mamma, if he will take me back! Indeed I must, mamma, if he were twenty times a traitor!”
    “Hey! what! how! what is all this wretched nonsense, now?”
    “Mamma, I shall be a mother soon!” said Louise, in a voice between timidity and tenderness.
    “WHAT!” exclaimed the lady, raising upon her elbow, and gathering her black brows into an awful frown— “WHAT!”
    “God has blessed me! I, too, shall be a mother, dear mamma! Oh! mamma, kiss me, now that I have told you!”
    “It is not true! It cannot be true I” exclaimed Mrs Armstrong, still glaring at her daughter.
    “Mamma, it is so; and I must return to Louis—indeed I must, mamma!”
    “To a man whose whole heart is given to his mistress—”
    “If it be so, it is dreadful, mamma, but I cannot help it. He does love me a little. Anyhow, I know I love him entirely…”

For a variety of reasons—jealousy, the potential change to Louise’s social position, her own changed position, the increased legal power this will grant Louis, and Louise’s altered affections—Mrs Armstrong is having none of it; none of it:

    “Mamma, how have I given you offence!”
    “By the subject of your conversation. Now, let me hear no more ridiculous nonsense about returning to that young scapegrace, nor the other miserable shift-about—pshaw! fudge! stuff! you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have such fancies.”
    “It is not fancy, it is fact, mamma.”
    “SILENCE! hush! not a word more of this, I command you, Louise. It is false! false! you are too young—far too young. You should blush at such imaginings!”
    “It is not imagination, mamma,” persisted Louise, with a tender earnestness.
    “Hush! I command you! Never dare to hint this subject to me, or to any one else, at the peril of my grave displeasure. Shameful! But you are really out of health. You are ill and nervous, and so, of course, full of idle fancies. You are too much confined. You do not take exercise enough. You must go out more. You shall ride on horseback. Nothing is better for low spirits than hard riding on a trotting horse…”

And having dismissed Louise, Mrs Armstrong calls her loyal waiting-woman to her:

    “What do you think of that child, Kate?” asked the lady, looking searchingly in the face of her attendant.
    “Well, madam, I think she is—indeed all the women about the house know she is—”
    “In bad health!” said the lady, emphatically, and looking sternly and threateningly at her attendant.
    “Yes, madam, of course, just as you say, in bad health.”
    “Listen to me! She is out of spirits, and she neglects her toilet sadly—more than I choose that my daughter shall. I shall dismiss her maid, and do you take her place, and superintend the dressing of your young lady. Do not permit her to go about as loosely and carelessly arrayed as has been her custom of late. See that she wears her stays; do you hear?”
    “Yes, madam, I hear and understand.”
    “Hear and literally obey.”

But neither the stays nor the hard riding are of any avail; and some months later, Louise gives birth to a daughter, Margaret.

Louis is informed of the event not directly, but via neighbourhood gossip. He could, of course, demand custody—but of course he does not. His forbearance is hardly rewarded: in time he receives a black-edged letter from Mrs Armstrong informing him of his infant daughter’s death from scarlet fever. This is followed by a cold demand that, for the sake of Louise’s health and happiness, he arrange for a divorce. After long consideration, Louis writes back, agreeing to this if Mrs Armstrong’s claim is endorsed by Louise, in Louise’s handwriting. Such endorsement duly arrives…

Mrs Armstrong by this time has carried Louise away, not just from Mont Crystal, but from Virginia; Louise remains apathetic as she is forced from place to place. Her mother finally establishes her in Washington—where the pale, pretty girl (who is assumed to be a young widow) attracts the kind attention of, “Mrs M—, the lady of the President…perhaps the most dignified and gracious of all the ladies that ever presided at the White House.” (Presumably Elizabeth Monroe, a detail which places the narrative between 1817 and 1825.)

Louise also attracts the attention of a certain James Frobisher, who by this time has succeeded in securing the reversion of the family title title—thus offering to Mrs Armstrong the glorious chance to smite her enemies with a final, decisive blow: to take Louise away altogether, out of the country, as far from the Palace (and her lingering affections) as possible; to have her marry another man, apparently of her own volition; to have her bear the title so lightly discarded by Brighty; and to see her socially elevated even beyond her mother’s wildest dreams, as Countess of Clonmachnois…

[To be continued…]

 

14/12/2018

The Picture


 

 
In this picture were two principal figures, the one a fine old man with silver locks, which seemed to inspire veneration; the other, a beautiful youth in whose arms he was supported.—Miss Stanley observed, that but for their position, they might have been taken for Mentor and Telemachus.—You say right, my dear, returned Mrs Berkley.—Observe, continued she, pointing to the young man,—what nobleness in his air! what majesty! what sweetness! what expression in his looks!—If the countenance be an index of the soul, in his I read every godlike virtue of that heroe. Mrs Stanley, turning to the housekeeper, begged to know for whom it was intended.—The woman replied, that it was occasioned by a very extraordinary accident, adding, if the ladies would please to repose themselves, she would readily relate the circumstances…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The insistence of booksellers and, increasingly, the circulating libraries upon multi-volume novels had a range of consequences for authors and publishers during the 18th and 19th centuries, and one of them is well-illustrated in this 1766 work by Susannah and Margaret Minifie.

It is not in the least uncommon to find novels which could, and should, have comfortably occupied two or even a single volume being dragged out to the necessary three via padding of sorts, including unnecessary subplots, overly circumstantial descriptions, repetitions, and our old friend, the interpolated narrative. That these tactics almost invariably resulted in a less effective work of fiction was, evidently, considered of less importance than the financial gains to be achieved by breaking a single novel into pieces for sale and hire.

And if this artificial inflation of a book’s length damaged an otherwise successful work, you can imagine the results when the same tactics were applied to a novel with a narrative so flimsy, it could barely have sustained a single volume.

Such is the case in The Picture, which is one of the most insubstantial works of 18th century fiction I have ever read, the era’s tendency to privilege emotion over plot notwithstanding. In fact, so lacking is this novel in any sort of real content, the publishers had to chip in with padding tactics of their own, achieving three volumes only by virtue of (i) narrow pages, (ii) wide margins, (iii) large font, and (iv) spaces between paragraphs.

To illustrate:

   

By 1766, the Minifie sisters had published one novel as a joint venture, The Histories Of Lady Frances S—, And Lady Caroline S—, and one as a solo effort—with Family Pictures released only as “By a LADY”, but in all likelihood written by Margaret.

Though it carries the ladies’ original attribution, “By the Miss MINIFIES, of Fairwater in Somersetshire”, I’m inclined to suspect that this third novel out of the stable is chiefly Susannah’s work: it has a slightly different “voice” from the previous two novels, and also from that of Barford Abbey. In fact, its style is one of the many irritating things about The Picture, with its inadequate story rendered even more so via a twee, chatty tone which becomes increasingly grating. The novel is poorly written even by the rather laissez-faire literary standards of its day, marked by a constant shifting of tense and perspective, and it resorts repeatedly to non-cliffhangers—that is, it tends to end its chapters with a dramatic interruption or a promise of important revelations to follow, which then turn out to be of minor importance if any at all.

As did Family Pictures, The Picture opens rather confusingly, with a generational shift. It begins by introducing us to a certain Mr Howard, as he receives a letter from the (we gather) newly widowed Mrs Stanley begging for his assistance. It then quickly falshes back to when Mrs Stanley was a Miss Dormer—who, between her father’s wealth and her own “most attractive sweetness”, was expected to make a great marriage.

It speaks volumes for the conventions of the 18th century sentimental novel that at this point, the authors felt compelled to stop and explain at length why, all those years before, Mr Howard did not fall in love at first sight with Miss Dormer. This passage also offers an excellent example of this novel’s overall style of writing—imagine this stretched out to about 600 pages:

By help of a little familiar named Fancy, who flies invisible, and whose flights are boundless, we are informed our readers have adjudged the sentiment proposed to love. Sorry as we are to contradict our ingenious friends, and universal as we acknowledge the power of that deity, truth bids us declare Cupid was not present at this interview, the reason of which can only be accounted for by the following incident. Some twenty years before this æra, as he was one day sporting near the sacred temple, a group of heavenly inhabitants moved towards it, surrounding two mortal figures; one appeared to be Mr Howard, conducted by Honour, the other a female of pleasing aspect, supported by Virtue. Cupid recollected and saluted his votaries. Hymen honoured in the presence of so many divinities, entered the temple before them, and performed his office in the most harmonious spirits. Which being concluded, and each bestowing on the happy pair some mark of celestial favour, Cupid presented the bride one of his best darts, rendering her husband invulnerable to the attack of any other in his whole feathered collection. Since Cupid stands acquitted, what then is the sentiment by which Mr Howard was agitated at this interview with Miss Dormer? Was it admiration? Was it compassion? Was it tender apprehension? It was not one, but all those passions blended in one…

Apparently a man feeling sorry for a girl whose father has just been ruined was far too straightforward a concept for readers of this sort of literature to grasp.

Anyway—her father’s ruination is simply an opportunity for Miss Dormer to display a whole new series of perfections. Discovering that Mr Dormer’s main creditor is Sir Thomas Stanley, she calls at his house intending to offer her jewels in part-payment of his debt, and ends up pouring out her story to someone she assumes is Sir Thomas, but who turns out to be a relative of his only—held silent because he has (of course) fallen in love with her at first sight.

Long story short, Miss Dormer becomes Mrs Stanley. We then begin our generational hopping again, with the Stanley marriage disposed of in a single sentence:

Happy in each other the thirteenth year returned, in which time she buried her father, one Son, and two daughters, and at that period Mr Stanley was also torn from her…

But the Stanleys are not the only ones subjected to a ruthless hand. Hilariously, having gone to all the trouble of introducing a Mrs Howard in order to explain Mr Howard’s otherwise incredible behavior, the lady having served her purpose the authors whack her in one off-hand phrase:

…and Mr Howard having lost his lady some years before, was retired to Rose-Hill, the sweet retreat in which our reader may remember we first discovered him.

What the reader is, in fact, more likely to discover is that the preceding fifty pages of this novel could have been dispensed with, at no cost to the plot, which (such as it is) begins properly here.

But then—we’re not going to make it to 600 pages with an attitude like THAT, are we?

The Howards and the Stanleys remained close friends over the years; and now that she is a widow, Mrs Stanley turns to Mr Howard for advice. We learn that Providence (and the Miss Minifies) has left Mrs Stanley with one living child, a daughter, Emily. She is also raising her husband’s orphaned niece, Louisa Orey, who is about Emily’s age.

It is with regard to Emily that Mrs Stanley wishes to consult Mr Howard. The Stanleys are a wealthy family, and Emily is a significant heiress. However, remembering her own plunge from affluence into poverty, Mrs Stanley has conceived a plan to raise Emily in the assumption that the family are in limited circumstances, so that she learns simplicity and humility before she comes into her fortune. Her intention is to carry the two young girls into the country, where she can supervise their education and ensure they are kept away from the pernicious influences of town life. And in order to obtain for the girls all the benefits of fortune without seeming to be able to afford them herself, Mrs Stanley makes an arrangement with a friend, a Mrs Berkley, who is herself in straitened circumstances: she will pose as the girls’ benefactor.

This complicated arrangement put in place, the all-female household retires to a cottage in the vicinity of Mr Howard’s country home, Rose-Hill. Their surroundings are exactly what we might expect, in a novel of this sort:

From this rising ground let us behold the beauties by which we are surrounded. The meadows how chearful, their robes are green-enliven’d with flowers of gold and azure; that hanging wood, which rears its lofty head, as if to overlook the distant hills, appears the seat of contemplation; the banks of yonder river, how fertile! how enriched! surely the inhabitants are nature’s favourites, and this its most luxurious garden. Mark the houses! how neatly elegant! and scattered hamlets, how gaily ornamented! the pure jessamine, and sweeter woodbine, blooms on the humble roof, regailing with their spicy breath the honest labourer, when at his threshold he eats his evening morsel…

And so are the characters:

Amazement! what do we see! two lovely forms! their actions still more lovely! Turn thy eyes to the next cottage, mark them well, with what tenderness they relieve that sick wretch, who with blessings follows them to the door; with what amiable smiles are they this moment caressing the children of poverty? Can it be any other than Benevolence and Humility descended upon this happy spot, in their own transcendent loveliness. But, hold! a friendly zephyr bears away from the most graceful, the envious hate which hid the beauties of her face. Let us examine if these can equal her fine height, easy shape, and majestic movement. Heavens! that dazzling complection, eyes black, sparkling and full of sentiment, animated features, and neck whiter than the down of swans, convinces us these are the infant charms of Miss Stanley, ripened by the hand of time… Take thy eye from Miss Stanley, to admire the modest vivacity of Louisa’s looks, her sprightly air, the delicacy of her forehead, the glossy auburne hair which shades it, the joy, the youth, the innocence that revel on her countenance…

It is, frankly, a relief to escape from these outpourings into The Picture‘s main subplot, wherein dwell our contrasting wicked characters and their criminal and venial transgressions.

Lady Edmonton, the late Mr Stanley’s half-sister, is a foolish, vain woman who contracts a second marriage with the dissolute Sir James Hallifax, and repents it soon enough. It is actually Sir James who occupies centre-stage in this plot, and in a curious way that would hardly have been permissible some years later: the baronet’s one redeeming feature is his passionate love for his illegitimate son.

However, this love leads Sir James to defraud his own young brother, Charles. The baronet intends, upon his own death, both to acknowledge his son and to leave him a fortune to counterbalance the stain of his birth. To this end, Sir James suppresses his father’s will, convincing Charles that he, as the elder son, has inherited the entire property. This situation impacts our main plot via Sir James’ scheme to see his brother provided for via marriage to Emily Stanley. Though the two are only children when the scheme is conceived, sixteen and ten respectively (this is some years before the effusions quoted above), Sir James considers there is no time to waste, and bullies his wife into doing all she can to promote the match.

Back in the country, we hear at length how Mrs Stanley’s scheme for shaping the minds and characters of the girls have been carried out. Confident in the success of her venture, when Emily and Louisa are of an age to make their debuts, Mrs Stanley begins to plan for their removal to London. However, these plans are diverted when Mrs Berkley’s pretended fortune becomes real, upon her unexpected inheritance of an estate. Mrs Stanley and the girls accompany her on her tour of inspection, the ladies stopping along the way to visit any place of note. Among these is one recommended by Mr Howard, the country-house of a certain Lord Eastley. It is here that Emily Stanley encounters her fate—or at least a representation of him:

Mrs Stanley seeing the door of another room open, imagined she might be there, stept back, and found it a little library which had been passed over in surveying many other splendid apartments.—Here then she found her daughter,—but found her with her attention so profoundly fixed on a picture which stood over the chimney, that she might be said at that moment to have resembled a fine statue of the goddess Contemplation…

Lord Eastley’s housekeeper then recounts the incident depicted in the painting, in which the household’s venerable old butler would have drowned, had not a young visitor to the estate risked his own life to save him:

    This piece of humanity had like to cost him dear, for soon after he was taken ill of a dangerous fever;—and when my lord expressed his fear that it was owing to this accident,—he replied,—that man is not worthy of life who would not risque it in the preservation of a fellow creature.—
    Unperceived even by herself, tears of admiration filled the charming eyes of Emily…

The ladies then press on to Mrs Berkeley’s house, which is situated near the estate of a duke (unnamed). While walking one morning, Emily and Louisa overhear a conversation between two young men, whom they deduce to be young Lord Eastley and the gentleman of the picture, whose first name only they learn, Harry. The subject of their conversation startles the girls: evidently Harry is engaged to a certain Lady Lydia, with whom Lord Eastley is in love…

Yet when there is an accidental encounter between Harry and the ladies, when he secures them seats at the playhouse in a nearby town, it is apparent that he is much struck with Emily. A second encounter follows:

[She] began to sing and play with a grace most enchanting.—Her soul imperceptibly softened by the Poet’s masterly representation of distressed love,—music added to that softness,—her skill inimitable,—her complexion dazzling,—her voice naturally melodious, accompanied with a more than usual sweetness;—the dove-like mildness in her eye;—her air the most melting;—her notes, her words, were all adapted to the present tenderness of her sentiments.—In this ravishing attitude she thought herself free from observation, but was undeceived by this sudden exclamation from a voice not unwelcome—Ah! Eastley, take Lady Lydia, but give me, heaven, this most perfect of thy creatures:—She rose to leave the room, covered with confusion.—Transported with admiration the inraptured Harry Prayed, nay, even kneeled, to prevent her design.—A secret emotion, a tender inclination, would have betrayed her; but considering such an inclination as stepping from that amiable reserve which she had made her standard, she retired precipitately, and ran to hide her sensibility in the bosom of Louisa…

The one really interesting thing about The Picture is how thoroughly its central love-plot violates the conventions—or at least seems to do so: naturally the authors find a way out of its worst implications, such as Harry’s pre-commitment to Lady Lydia, at the time he falls in love with Emily. Still, to have its heroine fall in love at first sight, on her own (albeit with a painting rather than the real thing), is remarkable—one of the most cherished of all literary tropes, through this century and the next, being that a proper young woman must remain unawakened until the right man asks her to love him; simultaneous love at first sight being the only exception, and even then she either has to hide her feelings or be unaware of their significance.

Meanwhile, as you have no doubt already deduced, the authors do indeed try to make a mystery of sorts out the identity of “Harry”, to the extent of stretching their narrative in improbable directions to avoid telling us who he is.

Emily makes a bid to regain her immaculate heroine status by confessing all to her mother, who warns her that for a number of reasons, she should try to overcome her “inclination”. Emily resolves to do so, but she is immediately thrown back into Harry’s vicinity when the ladies suffer a carriage accident, and he is one of those on the spot to help.

In the wake of this several odd things happen. Mrs Stanley is summoned to the duke’s castle—to see an old friend who is staying there, she tells her daughters, though the reader might doubt it—and upon her return announces that they will be departing immediately for the home of Mr Howard, who she claims is in poor health. He has, ahem, recovered by the time they get there; and Mrs Stanley again begins planning to relocate the girls to London.

But before they set out, the girls find a letter that has been smuggled onto their dressing-table:

    Its contents are weighty, replied Miss Orey; open it, whatever they are I claim a moiety.—Agreed, returned she, breaking the seal, when out dropped,—guess O! reader! it was not money, it was not jewels, but a fine resemblance of the amiable Harry.—Letter, picture, all fell from the trembling hand of Miss Stanley.—Louisa quite aghast, could only exclaim,—Heavens! what do I see?—Where am I?—What enchantment brought it hither?—Her fair speechless motionless cousin, neither hearing or answering her interrogations, she put the picture again into her hand, and applied to the billet for information;—the contents of which still plunged them into greater amazement.
    Mrs Stanley deceives you,—she is not indigent,—neither are you dependent.—You owe no advantages to the bounty of a stranger;—your own fortunes are immense.—Tax Mrs Stanley with these truths;—she cannot, will not, deny them.—These instructions belong equally to both; but to miss Stanley, the picture of a man who adores her.—

The girls immediately show the letter to Mrs Stanley, who admits the indictment it contains; the girls agree that she had good and sufficient reason for the deception, and that wraps up that unnecessary complication. Mrs Stanley then requires Emily to hand over the picture, which she does without hesitation, if not without reluctance. Confident that both girls are by now mentally and morally strong enough to resist the vanities and flatteries of the world, Mrs Stanley finally does carry them off to London.

Some of The Picture‘s most egregious padding follows, as the Hallifax subplot expands to encompass various friends and acquaintances, and their romantic – and more usually, financial – manoeuvring, and in this way fills out the rest of Volume II. The only minor relevance here is that Sir James is still trying to bring about a marriage between his brother, Charles, and Emily.

This causes much angst for the young lady we may consider the novel’s third heroine, Lady Lucy Carew. She is the daughter of Lord and Lady Castledale, but spends much time with Sir Thomas and Lady Stanley, as her parents rarely leave their Dublin home. Lady Lucy is secretly in love with Charles Hallifax, and is at first thrown into dismay by Emily’s perfections. However, reassured by her own observation that Charles cares nothing for Emily, Lady Lucy tries to attract his attention to herself and arouse his jealousy by flirting with a certain Colonel Stanhope, which causes numerous complications and allows for much tut-tutting and head-shaking by the authors.

(I’ll say this for the Miss Minifies: even as, in Family Pictures, they had the nerve to condemn fox-hunting, here they make a mockery of duelling, with a planned encounter between Charles Hallifax and Colonel Stanhope over a perceived grievance ending in the two young men agreeing that there’s really nothing to fight about, and becoming friends instead.)

After lengthy passages of courtship (honest and otherwise) and persiflage, the narrative suddenly take a dark turn. There is a violent confrontation between the Hallifax brothers when Charles positively declines courting Emily, on the grounds of his feelings for Lady Lucy. The brothers’ next encounter, however, finds Sir James wracked with guilt and remorse and misery, and obliquely confessing to having deceived and defrauded Charles, though he does not tell him why. Charles responds with brotherly and Christian forgiveness, and many solemn pronunciations of his own faith, his belief in heavenly forgiveness and the efficacy of sincere repentance; all of which which has a rather unexpected result:

    My dear brother, examine the materials of which your heart is formed: Is not the innate character of God impressed on it, however choaked or obscured by false opinions?
    Enough, enough, I am satisfied; your arguments have convinced meL retire, that I may consider and digest them: when I am disposed to hear you further, I will desire your company.
    This he spoke with so much composure, that Mr Hallifax withdrew; but hardly had he gone from the door, when the sudden explosion of a pistol recalled him.
    He ran back: The first sight with which his eyes were saluted, was his miserable brother weltering in his blood, and his brains scattered on the floor…

We then learn that Sir James had given in to impulse and revealed his paternity to his illegitimate son, who until that moment believed himself the son of the foster parents paid to care for him. Sir James did not, however, reveal the various disgraceful transactions that brought about the boy’s birth (seduction, abandonment, death in miserable circumstances, etc.)—but not understanding the reticences with which the story was told, the foster-father, Delany, later blurts out the whole ugly story. The double shock is too much for the young man, who collapses in a raging fever. A frightened Delany sends for Sir James:

    Roused by the sound of his son’s voice, he started from his drousy posture, and mad with ungovernable joy, ran to the bed, opened the curtains, and made himself known with so little caution, that he drove reason a second time from her throne, just as she was beginning to resume her empire.
    The sight of Sir James made so strong an impression on his imagination, that the idea of his unfortunate mother returned, on whom he was incessantly calling, during his delirium, in the most pathetic, the most melting terms.
    In short, a scene of so great horror is hardly to be described; or if described, scarce to be supported. Death at length stepped in, to drive these dreadful phantoms from his imagination. The twelfth day of his illness he expired in the arms of his distracted father.

This diversion having reached its conclusion, The Picture settles down to the resolution of its romantic plots. Colonel Stanhope and Louisa Orey fall in love, while Sir Charles Hallifax declares himself to Lady Lucy, which brings Lord and Lady Castledale to London. The countess and Emily are immediately drawn to one another, with consequences the latter neither expects nor wants:

    My dear, said Mrs Stanley smiling, can you guess what has been the subject of my conference with Sir Thomas?
    Nothing that displeases you, madam, I presume—
    Displeases! no, my Emily, you will be convinced I am not displeased when I tell you Lord Richmond, the son of our amiable countess, who already loves you as her daughter, Lord Richmond, the honour of our nobility, offers my child an alliance: an alliance that, I am satisfied, will make her happy: an alliance, on which all my hopes are founded.
    The dreadful knell which summons the guilty criminal to his fate, sounds in his ear less terrible than these words did in Miss Stanley’s…

Guess where this is headed? – although not, of course, before Emily gets jerked around one last time.

I’ve remarked on The Picture‘s tampering with the prevailing conventions in its main love-plot, albeit that the plot in question finally works itself out in the most predictable of ways. The only other thing of real note in this novel is the course of non-stop lying to which the girls are subjected.

One of the most cherished tenets of 18th and 19th century literature was that there was nothing worse than a lie: that lying could never be excused, and that the end never justified the means. There are entire novels devoted to depicting the inevitably disastrous consequences of even the mildest white lie.

Yet in The Picture, the supposedly wise and upright Mrs Stanley does nothing from start to finish but tell lies in order to achieve her ends. She lies to Emily and Louisa about their situation in life and their obligations to Mrs Berkley; she lies to them constantly about her conversations with the Stanleys and Mr Howard; she even lies about Mr Howard’s state of health, when she wants an excuse to relocate the girls in a hurry. It turns out that it was she who planted the letter in the dressing-room, as an indirect way of revealing to the girls their true status, and of testing Emily’s obedience and moral fortitude—giving her the picture of Harry purely in order to ask her to give it up again. The novel’s climax involves her deliberately leading Emily to suppose that she is to be compelled to marry one man while she loves another.

What the hell?

It is impossible to know how to interpret this example of what we might call education-through-deceit: whether it represents an early literary example of realism superseding didacticism, or whether – in light of what we know of the Miss Minifies’ involvement in some highly questionable transactions (considered here and here) – this aspect of The Picture is, rather, an unconscious illustration of the ladies’ own moral blindness.