Archive for ‘Authors In Depth’

07/10/2021

Ellesmere (Part 2)


 
That he had some secret enemies did not remain a doubt, though he could not conceive why they should seek his life. Madame de Grand-Pré was certainly anxious to prevent his enforcing claims which must expose her duplicity; the Dubois’s in that case must be her accomplices. He certainly was not accidentally wounded: the very spot where the vile deed was perpetrated, seemed marked for such a purpose—there was not another equally convenient between Lausanne and the castle. Should the people who were gone in pursuit, secure the villain, he might perhaps be obliged to prosecute the mother of his daughter for an attempt upon his life. The bare idea made him shudder…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clement Davenport discovering his true identity and then taking his place in his parents’ world as the Earl of Ellesmere carries us to the end of Volume II of Ellesmere. From here the narrative undergoes a severe lurch, turning from its English-domestic scenes to an almost-Gothic European-set plot, as Clement sets out again to track down the Baroness—determined to discover her retreat and the reasons for it, and to take steps accordingly:

No longer the ardent lover ready to perform impossibilities to obtain the favour of the woman he had once so fervently adored, he could now calmly and dispassionately review his and her past conduct. Before marriage she had appeared an angel, in whom every perfection centred; but now he found she had been guilty of levity and imprudence in encouraging, nay even noticing him. Situated as he then was, and after she had, as he then supposed, blessed him for life, what homage did she not exact! How often did she obliquely glance at the great sacrifice she had made at the shrine of Love, and what a return she had made for his unbounded confidence! Therefore ought she to escape unpunished? Of what iniquity might not such a woman prove capable?—No, he must and would obtain a legal dissolution of so dishonourable a connection: he was therefore anxious for the lawyers’ answer, but his suspense no longer preyed upon his mind. Having brought himself, as he hoped, to think with perfect indifference of the Baroness, he was prepared to expect a divorce would be the result of those enquiries he was so fully determined to make…

I can’t think of any other novel of this time – or for a long time afterwards – that takes such a prosaic approach to the end of a marriage. There’s no sense here of “What therefore God hath joined together”, no agonising about the rights and wrongs of divorce: Clement wants out of his marriage, and sets about finding his wife purely so that she can cease to be his wife. Given Meeke’s general conservatism (and that allusion to the Baroness’s “levity and imprudence” absolutely captures her general tone), this is almost shocking; and I suspect she allows herself to go this road because the novel as a whole operates as a warning not just about the foolishness of “romance”, but against getting involved with “foreigners”. (There’s a plot-touch later that reinforces the latter in a most annoying way.)

The entire Ormond family ends up removing to the south of France, avoiding the English winter for the health of both Clement and his elderly father. Prior to this, Clement and Meredith are caught on the edge of an incident involving a mad bull, and offer their coach as a refuge for a young woman, Miss Belville, and her governess—the former of whom drops a letter. Rather incredibly, given the usual rules governing correspondence, Meredith reads the whole thing—and so learns, and reveals, that Clement is an object of interest (to say the least) to a certain Lady Augusta Cameron. Clement explains that the two of them knew each other as children, then met again some years later, when she was visiting a relative near Fairfield. The letter also reveals that Lady Augusta is resisting marriage to her cousin (a foreigner!), which her father, the Earl of Greville, is blaming upon her desire to “throw herself away upon that low fellow, Davenport”.

Once on the Continent, Clement and Meredith set out on their quest for the Baroness. Their first stop is Paris where, to pass the time, they attend a play. In the interval, Meredith is accosted by an old school-fellow, the Earl of Harold: a handsome but rather dissolute and selfish individual, for whom he has little liking. He is surprised to learn that Lord Harold is newly married, and rightly assumes that the lady’s money was his chief motivation:

    “I dare say your Lordship has made so prudent a choice, no one will venture to condemn you for having parted with your liberty.”
    “In my place, Meredith, I think you would have done the same. A very rich and very handsome girl fell in love with the cut of my face; and, although not absolutely an Englishwoman, out of pure compassion I offered her my hand…”

Marriage does not seem to agree with the new Lady Harold, however; with her loving husband observing dispassionately that he may be a widower soon enough. Discussing the matter afterwards, Meredith and Clement shake their heads:

    “…he has, therefore, most probably, imposed upon some silly credulous woman, who, I am apt to think, from his account, already severely repents having placed her happiness in his keeping.”
    “I never yet heard any man glory so openly in his own baseness,” replied Clement; “but he is really so fine a figure, I cannot so much wonder at his having retrieved his fortune through matrimony:—however, little as I have seen of him, I sincerely pity the poor woman who has fallen to his share.”
    “If he only turns her into ridicule,” replied Meredith, “she may esteem herself very fortunate; but depend upon it if she has either common sense, or common feelings, she must be miserable with such a character. He did right in marrying a foreigner; for I think no English woman of fortune would have accepted of his title…”

The friends travel on to Geneva, where they try to pick up information about the Baroness’s movements, prior to Clement undertaking the unpleasant task of confronting the Dubois. They learn quite as much about the latter as they do about their main quarry, which tends to confirm the suspicion that her secret marriage placed the Baroness in the power of two very unscrupulous people:

Every one had heard that Madame de Grand-Pré had quitted Switzerland; but why or wherefore no one could take upon themselves to say, nor could anyone fathom where the Dubois’s had raised the money necessary to make their recent purchase, as the husband was only a a subaltern Officer in the French service, at the time he married; and the wife was almost wholly dependent upon the Baroness. This rendered it rather astonishing that they should now be able to live quite in affluence in Rolles, a small town between Geneva and Lausanne, as they kept a carriage, regular set of servants, &c. &c. and were, in short, strongly suspected of having egregiously duped the too easy Baroness…

The financial situation is the main weapon in Clement’s armoury. The Baroness undertook the disposal of her Swiss property with his blessing, but since she was married, the sale was technically illegal—the property no longer being hers to sell. This includes the sale of the Castle de Grand-Pré to the Dubois, a matter which was clearly hinky anyway as they self-evidently could not afford the estate.

In fairness to the Baroness, as Clement pursues his search he is forced to realise how much he is to blame for her behaviour: how his concealment of his comfortable circumstances in England would have paved the way for the Dubois to convince her that he was only a fortune-hunter after all, and that hiding herself from him was her only protection against his inevitable claim to her property:

“Such are the blessed fruits of indulging romantic notions! I could not condescend to be happy in the common way. But I think my greatest enemies, even the Dubois’s, or Lord Clancastle, would allow, if they were acquainted with my feelings, I am sufficiently punished for having quitted the beaten path…”

But the situation as it exists gives him leverage with the Dubois. They are beyond dismayed to discover the Earl Of Ellesmere in the Baroness’s former courier, but not being about to give up their ill-gotten gains, their tactic is to deny, deny, deny. An ugly scene results, with Clement provoked into spelling out just how far both they and the Baroness have put themselves in his power by their treacherous conduct:

“I would have you reflect how little honour you will gain by having recourse to any more subterfuges. I told you then, whenever I should think it worth my while, I should find no difficulty in proving my right to the Baroness’s fortune; though, believe me, my contempt for her has, if possible, increased since that period:—still I now chuse to assert my claims, not because I covet her riches, but because I wish her accomplices’ infamy to be blazoned to the world. I mean to see her steward before I sleep. I have taken the advice of the most eminent lawyers in Great Britain; therefore when you are necessitated to resign your cheaply acquired castle, only reflect you are reaping the fruits of your own obstinacy; for I had much rather debate this point amicably with your friend, than publicly dishonour myself by acknowledging myself her husband…”

Driving away, Clement and Meredith agree that the Dubois could tell them everything about the Baroness, had they chosen to; Meredith advises Clement to go ahead with the legal seizure of his wife’s estates, as the best way of flushing her out. As announced, they seek out M. Monvel, the Baroness’s steward, only to learn that he is ahead of them, having set out for the Castle de Grand-Pré. Clement goes after him, resolving also to take the opportunity to call upon Mr Maynard, the current tenant, as he promised during his previous call there. He does not quite make it to the castle, however:

He had arrived within a mile of the place of his destination, when a rustling to the right, which he imagined proceeded from a bird fluttering in the hedge, induced him to turn his head: at the very instant he received a violent flash of gunpowder in his face, and the contents of a musket in his neck, which brought him to the ground…

(In the interests of full closure, I must here state that I have finally found one point of direct overlap between “Mrs Meeke” and “Gabrielli”, with both of them apparently believing that bullets do less damage the closer you are to a gun, a touch we also found in The Sicilian.)

Clement’s life is saved partly by the angle of the shot, partly by the thickness of his neckcloth (!), and mostly by swift action on the part of Mr Maynard. Knowing Clement only as the man who once came seeking the Baroness, Maynard is stunned and appalled when his possessions reveal him to be the Earl of Ellesmere—

—“Mr Maynard” being the Earl of Clancastle, not only wracked with remorse for his past crimes, but now fully awake to the implications of an attempt upon Ellesmere’s life almost on his own doorstep.

The situation also causes some attendant awkwardness for Meredith, hastily summoned, as it reunites him with the Lady Lucy Killarney. Far from intending any claim upon him, he finds her not only aware of her father’s villainy, but determined to share his fallen fortunes.

Clement reluctantly concedes that the Baroness may be behind his shooting; though he agrees with Clement that Dubois is most likely the one who pulled the trigger. Monvel, the steward, is also a suspect: though he bears a good reputation locally, he was long in the service of the Grand-Pré family, and was the other major financial beneficiary of the Baroness’s hasty disposal of her property. Monvel is called to the castle and told the whole story. He is shocked by the Baroness’s behaviour, but refuses to believe that she could have had a hand in the attempt upon Clement’s life—he, too, pointing a finger at Dubois.

The matter takes another turn when Monvel receives a letter from his former mistress, who begs him to seek her out at the Convent of St. Mary, near Chamberry, where she has taken refuge. The thought that his wife has been all this time in a convent, rather than pursuing a second marriage, or “marriage”, in Germany, as he was repeatedly told, causes a revolution in Clement’s feelings; as do her regretful references to the Dubois. He and Meredith make preparations to accompany Monvel to Chamberry, with Clement waving away his cousin’s fears for his health and indeed his life. He decides to take Monvel’s place, and interview the Baroness himself.

The three men travel a circuitous route to Chamberry, keeping their destination a secret. After taking rooms, Clement and Meredith survey the town and the convent—noting that the high, thick walls of the latter make it look more like a prison. At the agreed time, Clement sets out to call upon his wife.

He does not return…

In the dark of night, almost sick with apprehension, and with his suspicions of Monvel’s treachery fully revived, Meredith calls at the convent. His demands to see the Abbess are refused, while a surly porteress not only insists that no man called there that day at all, but denies that any such person as the Baroness de Grand-Pré is staying there.

Frantic with worry, Meredith turns on Monvel, who steadfastly denies any involvement in Clement’s disappearance. He also warns him, as a foreign Protestant in a Catholic land, to keep his head. Meredith heeds the steward’s suggestion that they call upon the convent’s confessor, Father Benedict. The latter listens seriously to their story, but tells them they will not gain entry to the convent without an order from the town Governor. He proves to be away from home and, Chamberry being a walled city, Meredith passes a night of painful suspense until the gates are opened at dawn the following morning. Intent upon his quest, Meredith pays little heed to the robed figure outside the walls, waiting conversely for entry—

—until the “monk” speaks to him in his cousin’s voice.

Clement’s adventure is the stuff of Gothic novels, though it represents only an interlude in the overall scheme of Ellesmere. It is, however, amusing to find Meeke dabbling in this sort of sensation material. Less surprising is the overt anti-Catholic tone of it: though at one point she has a character speak in defence of most convents, the Convent of St. Mary is the exception that proves the rule—receiving unwilling novitiates in exchange for payment, and acting as a prison for disobedient daughters.

Clement tells Meredith that he did not see his wife. It was Father Benedict with whom he had to deal, who began by announcing that he was fully invested with the power to act on the Baroness’s behalf. After abusing him roundly as a scoundrel and a low-born adventurer, the monk presented him with papers to sign, relinquishing all claim to the Baroness’s property. Declaring himself willing enough to give it all up, Clement nevertheless refused to sign under compulsion—hardly expecting the response from this man of God:

“…remember, your friends are at no certainty you ever entered these walls, and if you ever wish to leave them, you must first set your name to these deeds:—you shall have till midnight to reflect upon the alternative; an oath never to reveal what has passed between us, and compliance with the Baroness’s wishes, procure you instant liberty. If, on the contrary, (putting his hand in his bosom while he spoke, and discovering the haft of a poniard)—but no more—if you are wise, you will accept of your liberty upon the proposed terms. It is now ten; in two hours more you shall see me again;” once more leaving Clement to darkness and his own reflections…

Clement’s delivery comes in an entirely unexpected manner: a female voice whispers to him through a thin piece of paneling; and he learns that in the next room are confined one each of the convent’s aforementioned victims (an unwilling novitiate and a disobedient daughter), who had already been seeking a means of escape. They have a knife, and with it Clement is able to cut a way into their room, there being a way out through it into the body of the convent; while a spare monk’s robe in his own locked room offers a disguise. Coming together in total darkness, the three do not wait for introductions: Clement finds one of them bold and eager for freedom, the other shy and shrinking; he later learns that it was the monk’s pronouncement of the name “Clement Davenport” that inspired the young women to risk pleading for his succour.

Luck, courage and a little deceit combine to see the three escape their prison. After walking a considerable distance towards Geneva, Clement, in his guise as a monk, manages to borrow a cart and driver for the young ladies, sending them on to his hotel in possession of his watch and advising them to seek out a servant called Watson. He then turns back to Chamberry, where he encounters the frantic Meredith.

The two then walk almost smack into Father Benedict and, after an exchange of threats involving the Governor, make him their prisoner and carry him towards Geneva in a carriage secured via a message sent to Monvel. During the journey – the monk’s arms bound to keep his itchy fingers away from his poniard – they manage to convince him that Clement is who he says he is, and that he has been duped by the Baroness:

    “I find I have been deceived,” said he. “I little thought you could have adduced such proof of what I told you would allege by way of frightening me; your Lordship may now depend upon every atonement in my power.”
    “Now you do seem to understand your interest, Father,” replied Clement;—“for depend upon it you will gain more by endeavouring to make me your friend, than by persisting in a wilful error. Is the Baroness de Grand-Pré now at Chamberry?”
    “Not at present, I am pretty sure, my Lord; but I wonder, since you acknowledged last night you wished to be legally separated from this lady, that you should have been so averse to renouncing your claims upon her person and fortune.”
    “Had she come forward, as I expected, Father, I should have made no difficulty in complying with many of her demands; but signing those papers you presented to me last night would not unfortunately have unmarried me—that must be done publicly, and, as I said before, legally. The Baroness wishes to make quicker work of it, by sending me out of the world.”

The monk denies any such intention, and goes back to trying to get Clement to admit assisting in the escape of the young women he persists in calling “nuns”. Clement evades the point, insisting (truthfully) that he saw no women at all while in the convent.

When the carriage passes from Savoy into Genevese territory, Father Benedict is released—and roundly warned about what he says regarding his experiences. The monk turns back upon the road to Chamberry—

—upon which Dubois is later found weltering in his blood from stab-wounds…one in the back.

They really should have taken that poniard away from him…

In Geneva, Clement and Meredith discover the identities of the two convent escapees: the bolder one is Clara di St. Amori, one of the numerous progeny of a noble but impoverished Sardinian family, forced into the convent (though not yet a novitiate) by way of disposing of her; the shy, shrinking one is none other than the Lady Augusta Cameron, author of that very interesting letter to her friend Miss Belville.

I admit to some disappointment here (not with regards to Lady Augusta: nothing at all unexpected there, unfortunately): in typical second-banana style, both Meredith and Clara are livelier, more sensible and have a better sense of humour than their more “sensitive” friends, and it looks as for a time as if Meeke intends to hook them up. However, she must have remembered that Clara is a foreigner: so instead, she pulls an impoverished soldier-lover out of her hat, has Clement dower Clara as thanks for the girl’s help, and so disposes of her. Meredith, meanwhile – once her father conveniently dies – is steered back towards Lady Lucy.

(Who, it occurs to me – it may not have done to Meeke – may well be Catholic…)

Lady Augusta, on the other hand, was placed in the convent by her aunt, by way of persuading her to bestow herself and her fortune upon her cousin – a foreigner! – a match she was wholly averse to even without her secret (or not-so-secret) passion for Clement.

Clement now considers that the best thing to do is to place her under his mother’s care, until her father, currently ambassador to the Court of Madrid, can be contacted. This is arranged, and the party travels to Avignon. There, Lady Augusta’s esteem for Clement is soon obvious to everyone; while she learns soon enough of his marriage—though also, via the Marchioness, who is only too eager to gain this daughter-in-law, of his plans for a divorce.

There is much debate within the family of the appropriate action to take against the Baroness and her presumed co-conspirators, Father Benedict and the Abbess of St. Mary’s:

    Monvel had retired to the apartment allotted him, to draw up a short case concerning the manner in which Clement had been decoyed into the Monastery—the steps Meredith and himself had taken in consequence of his detention—how, and with whom, he had made his escape; which was to be submitted to the Cardinal Vice Legate, who, the steward affirmed, had unlimited power over the sons and daughters of the Church (as they were styled) of every nation, and might possibly be able to cite Madame de Grand-Pré to his tribunal as being the instigator of the Confessor and Abbess.
    To bring her forward in any way, was become so serious an object, that the Marquis had determined, if the Vice Legate did not seem likely to interfere with success, to apply, without loss of time, to the Sardinian Court, and the Sovereign Council of Berne, to order her immediate confinement, as he hardly conceived his son in safety while she continued at large.

While these larger matters are in train, tea-table gossip reveals that the Earl and Countess of Harold are in Avignon for the latter’s health, which continues to decline. No-one is very surprised at this outcome:

    “We learned that she was ill at Paris,” rejoined Meredith; “and I thought then there was very little chance of her recovery, being pretty well acquainted with the character of her unprincipled Lord. But how could a sensible, rich, and handsome woman make so preposterous a choice?”
    “I can’t see any thing so extraordinary in what I am more apt to consider as her misfortune, than as any lapse of judgement,” said the Marquis.—“Lord Harold is a remarkably fine figure, and in every sense of the word, a truly handsome man. His education, and the company he was early introduced into, have given him other advantages; and I dare say he appeared a very desirable lover. Once married, he probably threw off the mask; and, in endeavouring to break his wife’s spirit, seems to have nearly broken her heart…”

The Marchioness is sympathetic, but only up to a point:

“There is a great deal to be said on both sides in this case, though I don’t doubt but Lord Harold deceived her in many essential points; still we must suppose she once loved him, or she would have been more particular in her enquiries concerning his morals, &c.; for upon these more than his fortune, her happiness depended. Therefore I think, instead of sinking under the disappointment she has experienced, she had better have endeavoured to reclaim the man she must have chosen; for no parents would have advised such a match…”

Lady Ormond also comments that Lady Harold had evinced a desire for their friendship, when they were introduced, and hinted that she required advice as to the disposal of her property; though there she cannot feel herself justified in interfering.

All this precedes an expected visit from the Earl and Countess, in whom the young people have very little interest—except the frankly curious Meredith. Lady Augusta, who is using a false name while her issues with the convent are sorted out, and while she waits to hear from her father, withdraws altogether; while the disinterested Clement continues to play with his daughter, now a toddler:

    …she put her arms round his neck, and refused to leave her hold, closely hugging, and repeatedly calling him papa—a word that she found had hitherto procured her every indulgence she desired. He was therefore standing in this posture, unable to disengage himself from her, when the Countess of Harold stopped directly opposite him. Their eyes remained rivetted upon each other for several seconds; till Maria, not feeling herself supported as before, clung still closer to papa, and made him remember he had slackened his hold; but his emotion rendered him incapable of attending to her endearments, upon recognising, though scarcely the shadow of her former self, her mother in the wife of Lord Harold.
    Altered as she was, a second glance placed her identity beyond doubt; and hastily disengaging the lovely infant’s arms from round his neck, he put her down; but had not set her upon her feet before the Baroness, having made a sort of feeble effort to catch the child from him, sunk senseless on the carpet before anyone could prevent her fall…

Alas, though not surprisingly, Ellesmere disappoints me again: I don’t get my divorce, with the Baroness taking to her bed, never to rise again. The point remains valid, though: no other novel of this time that I know of is so casual – even positive – on the subject.

Meeke proceeds from here to absolve the Baroness of everything but abysmal stupidity, placing all the criminal guilt upon the Dubois, who parleyed their knowledge of the Baroness’s secrets into ownership of an estate and a comfortable fortune (rewards for service sliding imperceptibly into blackmail). She did not, for example, knowingly commit bigamy, having been induced to believe that Clement was married when they met—to Mrs Davenport, no less, whose footman he once was. So she is convinced by Mme Dubois—and the Earl of Harold, who doesn’t exactly understand why the latter has encouraged him to repeat a bit of gossip about a foolish old lady marrying her servant, but knows enough to see that it will somehow help him in his own scheme of a wealthy marriage.

The best thing the Baroness does in the entire novel is keep her mouth shut on that point: Clement and Harold are already at daggers drawn, and she fears for the outcome should the latter’s active role in her deception be known. She also has a will drawn up that bequeaths her entire estate to Maria and names Clement as her guardian, without declaring her true relationship to either.

At this point it becomes evident that Maria, like her father, has had a very narrow escape: when Clement prevented the Dubois from getting their hands on the child, the Baroness had just appointed them her guardians and – in the event of her death – heirs to the fortune settled on her…

Knowing herself dying, the Baroness makes what amends she can by helping to lure Mme Dubois into a legal trap, one that ends with her, Father Benedict and the Abbess handed over to the tender mercies of the Church. Dubois – confirmed as the attempted murderer of Clement, and his role in the deception / bribing of the monk revealed – is allowed to go on slowly dying of his stab-wounds.

Her sensation-plot resolved, and the notion of “romance” thoroughly debunked, Meeke then provides an almost defiantly prosaic ending to her novel (one, by the way, that suddenly fires an unprovoked pot-shot at Mary Wollstonecraft and her Vindication Of The Rights Of Women), with Lord and Lady Ormond making formal proposals to the Earl of Greville, on behalf of the Earl of Ellesmere, for the hand of the Lady Augusta Cameron…who he has learned to esteem:

…he requested the Marquis would solicit Lord Greville’s permission in proper form, as he had no wish his addresses should have a clandestine appearance; he had had enough of romantic mysteries, therefore chose to proceed this time in the usual routine.

 
 

05/10/2021

Ellesmere (Part 1)

    The painful reflection that he now had no friend solicitous for his future welfare, nor to whose care he could, with perfect satisfaction, consign his infant daughter, increased the dejection which continued to prey upon his mind; and for her sake alone he wished to live, as all his prospects of happiness seemed closed forever. An unfortunate planet, he conceived, had presided over his birth; yet when he reflected upon the almost miraculous manner in which he had been preserved in his infancy, and upon the virtues of his late benefactress—the manner in which she had brought him up, the education she had given him, so superior to his apparent rank in society, and the large fortune she had bequeathed him—he considered it almost impious to murmur against those decrees which had doomed him to survive his recent disappointment; and which he could not help acknowledging might, in some respects, be attributed to his own romantic notions.—Had he openly aspired to the Baroness’s hand, and succeeded in the attempt, no artful confidant could have undermined their conjugal felicity.
    His own duplicity, respecting his circumstances, had laid the foundation for this separation, which had nearly brought him to the brink of the grave. Though he would very fain have persuaded himself he despised the Baroness too much to make him regret the step he had taken, yet he had loved too fervently to admit of this self-deception, and at times he could not help cherishing the delusive hope, that she would yet be able to convince him of his innocence…

 

 

Sigh.

As I went seeking for a copy of this novel from 1799, it was made painfully clear how far the new argument that the Minerva Press novelist known as Mrs (Mary?) Meeke was actually Elizabeth Meeke has propagated.

I’ve made my thoughts on this subject clear in a previous post: briefly, that having ended up with two writers of the same name on his roster, William Lane made the second of them use a pseudonym, resulting in some novels by “Mrs Meeke” and some by “Gabrielli”. That these are indeed two different people, rather than one woman using two authorial names, is clear enough if you’ve read their books…but I’m quite sure I’m the only one who has, whatever other research might have been done in this area.

I have no means of halting the spread of what I believe to be misinformation, but I do have one more detail to add to my counter-argument: the fact that, as can be seen on the title page above, the ‘by the author of’ statement from the Minerva Press includes only those novels by “Mrs Meeke”, and none by “Gabrielli”.

Anyway—

Despite it running four volumes, I’m sure I can get through this review of Ellesmere in two posts—the first one being shorter than usual, as I certainly don’t want to dwell more than I have to upon the exasperating first volume and a half, which focus upon two young people behaving (each in their own way) in a frustratingly stupid manner. Thankfully, the novel improves from that point—amusingly repositioning what is ordinarily the favourite Meeke climactic revelation to the middle of Volume II and then involving its hero in some rather Gothicky adventures.

As with Meeke’s previous novels, Ellesmere lays much of its action on the Continent prior to the French Revolution—which at least this time she doesn’t pretend never happened, though nothing in its French-set passages even hint at discontent. It opens, however, in England, with the overturning of a London-bound coach and the death of a woman carrying a baby. The child is unhurt, and is rescued by a middle-aged widow called Mrs Davenport. Childless herself, she quickly becomes attached to the baby; though she scrupulously does everything in her power to find his people. None of her questioning or advertising brings information beyond where the dead woman boarded the coach, and that offers no pleasing interpretation of the baby’s background—he most likely being the bastard one of the soldiers whose regiment departed just before the still-unidentified woman likewise left town.

Regardless, Mrs Davenport decides to raise the boy herself; and she earns the disapproval of her gossipy neighbours by having him christened “Clement Davenport”. Accepting the likely lowness of his birth, Mrs Davenport resolves to prepare him to earn his own living and plans to send him to India, where his presumed origins will least hamper his rise in the world. However, as the boy grows her attachment to him becomes such that she cannot bring herself to part with him—somewhat to his own disappointment, as he too accepts his position and his need to fend for himself. Finally Mrs Davenport goes all out—willing to the young man Fairfield, her estate near London, and nearly all of her fortune, amounting to some £5000 a year.

Inheriting this property at the age of twenty, Clement consults with Dr Lewis, the clergyman who educated him and acted as Mrs Davenport’s co-adjutant during his upbringing, and decides to undertake the Grand Tour. He soon finds himself in Geneva with a group of friends—for the most part, young aristocrats whose birth is better than his, but their purses much slimmer. And it is there that Clement first hears of the beautiful and wealthy young Baroness de Grand-Pré, and her declaration that she will never marry except for love.

Here we must – or anyway, shall – cut a long story short: Clement becomes fixated upon the idea of being “loved for himself”, and enters the Baroness’s service as her courier; while she, in turn, cannot believe that his handsome, cultured, obviously adoring young man is anything less than an aristocrat in disguise, despite him being in service and what he says about his origins. The two fall in love and secretly marry—not without extreme qualms on the Baroness’s side, with her genuine feeling for Clement battling against the pride and ambition instilled in her by her English mother, who taught her to think of marriage to an English nobleman as the proper goal of her life.

Clement, meanwhile, has foolishly concealed his comfortable circumstances—planning on springing them on his bride as a pleasant surprise when they eventually reach England. First they spend a year together travelling through France and Italy, finally settling near Florence, where the Baroness gives birth to a daughter, named Maria for her mother. During this time, the Baroness begins to divest herself of her Swiss property, the young couple agreeing to a fresh start where their backgrounds are not known. Clement from the start has, despite the 18th century marriage laws, refused to take any of his wife’s money, and leaves her to dispose of her property as she chooses.

All this seems properly “romantic”—but if we have learned anything about Mary Meeke, it is that she thoroughly disapproved of “romance”. Her characters might esteem one another; they might even be permitted to feel a passion; but the intrusion into her narrative of romance invariably signals disaster, and so it is here. Clement’s scheme of posing as a servant – which even he sees before long was incredibly foolish, though he can’t bring himself to withdraw – and the Baroness’s certainty that her servant is in fact a nobleman, are both repeatedly designated – not to say stigmatised – as “romantic”; and we are not altogether surprised when their relationship implodes.

Meeke is roundly critical of both her characters—of Clement for mistaking the Baroness’s beauty and manners for character, and of the Baroness for, well…

…unfortunately, she imbibed a very romantic turn of mind, which was greatly encouraged by being permitted to read indiscriminately every novel that found its way to Vevay, the nearest town. This induced her frequently to make the declaration Mr Haller had repeated, and to peremptorily refuse a German Nobleman of the first rank, who accompanied her father into Switzerland, purposely to make her an offer of his hand. The Baron would probably have enforced obedience, had not an apoplectic stroke carried him off almost immediately, and thus left his fair daughter at liberty to pursue the dictates of her romantic imagination…

(Two “romantics” in one paragraph, oh dear. Note also Clement’s condemnation of his own “romantic notions” in the header-quote.)

There is a serpent in Eden in the form of Mademoiselle Denisir, a ward of the Baroness’s late father who acts as her companion. Behaving at any moment in a way best calculated to guarantee her own ongoing comfort and security, having encouraged the Baroness in her marriage to this supposed aristocrat, Mlle Denisir now begins poisoning her mind against her husband, and convincing her that she has thrown herself away on a base-born adventurer and fortune-hunter.

A crisis occurs when Clement is hurriedly summoned back to England to the deathbed of Dr Lewis, though he dies before his young pupil arrives. Clement must stay in England some time to settle his friend’s affairs, and also orders work done at Fairfield, in preparation for the arrival of his family. When he returns to the Continent, he finds his wife strangely elusive—sending letters of excuse rather than coming to him herself, and then falling silent. He discovers the baby and her nurse where they were left, in “Chamberry” (Chambéry) and makes plans to send them to England, but can find no trace of his wife. Upon returning to Grand-Pré, he finds it occupied by an Englishman, Mr Maynard, and his daughter: Maynard tells Clement that he rented it from M. Monvel, the Baroness’s former steward, who in turn had leased it from its new purchaser, a man called Dubois.

Clement continues to search for his wife, but the trail runs cold until an accidental encounter with Mlle Denisir – or rather, Mme Dubois – who astonishes and enrages him by speaking of him to her new husband as “the Baroness’s former courier” and denouncing him when he dares refer to their marriage; telling him, in fact, that the Baroness has gone into Germany to make preparations for her upcoming wedding…

Conversely, Clement’s revelation that he has already removed the baby and Jeanette, her nurse, from Chamberry obviously causes Mme Dubois great chagrin—which convinces Clement that they had been sent by the Baroness to bring the child to her. The meeting ends in an exchange of threats, and Clement retreats to lick his wounds:

…he now sunk under the mortifying reflection, that the obscurity of his birth had afforded his wife an opportunity of taking so base an advantage of his credulity, and of, perhaps, sheltering herself from his claims in the arms of some more fortunate rival.
Whenever this notion occurred to him, and it was generally uppermost in his thoughts, he resolved to proclaim his marriage, and thus make her as miserable as she had succeeded in making him…

Clement’s health subsequently collapses; and though the doctors pull him through, they fear he is sinking into a decline that must soon be fatal. He manages to rally under the stimulus of two forces: the thought of the precarious position his daughter would be left in, if he died without first settling his affairs; and a friendship formed with a young Welshman, Edwin Meredith. The two young men, indeed, swiftly become inseparable; and Meredith invites Clement to his own home in the foothills of the mountains of Wales. Having settled Jeanette and the baby at Fairfield, he accepts. Though his health remains somewhat precarious, and he tires easily, Clement begins to recover under the generous care of his new friend.

Though a commoner, Meredith is very well-connected, being nephew to the Marquis and Marchioness of Ormond, whose estate adjoins his own property. He runs tame in their household, and soon confides in them his friend’s troubles—as much as he knows, Clement having maintained a strict silence about the exact nature of what is so obviously preying upon his mind and undermining his constitution:

“From some disappointment of a very tender nature, I am of the opinion,” he answered, “from the visible indifference with which he seems to regard the fair sex. Had he been in mourning, I should have been tempted to suspect he had lost a beloved wife; but that not being the case, I attribute his melancholy to the death, or, at least, to the loss of a favourite lady. He certainly has been one of the handsomest men in England, nay, I hardly know whether he is not so still; though grief and bad health have robbed his cheeks of their colour, and his eyes of their natural lustre and animation. His person is as faultless as his face, and his manners and conversation are at once refined and fascinating; altogether he is, without exception, one of the most agreeable companions I ever met with; and I don’t think, short as has been our acquaintance, I could feel a much stronger regard for an only brother…”

Clement is subsequently introduced to the elderly Marquis and his much younger second wife. The latter fancies herself something of a healer, and takes the young man under her wing. Various comments from Meredith have alerted Clement to the Ormonds having suffered some cruel blow; while we have been privy to references to the Earl of Clancastle, the Marquis’s brother-in-law, being their enemy. The Marchioness is subject to outbreaks of uncontrollable grief; and there are allusions to a newspaper advertisement which has to date brought no response.

While the Ormonds and Meredith are debating how next to proceed, Clement picks up the newspaper in question and, rather than ask awkward questions, satisfies his curiosity by reading the advertisement in question:

“TEN THOUSAND POUNDS REWARD: Whereas, it has lately been discovered, that the infant son of a noble family was, for the basest of purposes, about one-and-twenty years ago, removed from under the protection of his parents, who were led to believe him no more, a dead child having been substituted in his stead, to further this iniquitous deception; there is every reason to believe, from the confession of one of the accomplices in this vile plot, that he is still living; in which case he bears a mark of two vowels, duplicates of which are in his parents’ hands, who dare not be more explicit, for fear of exposing themselves to a further imposition…”

So. Once again cutting a very long story short, the current Earl of Clancastle is a man risen from Irish obscurity, advancing through a naval career to the rank of Admiral, and then via marriage to the acquisition of a title. Obsessed with his sons advancing even more, he began to dream of their inheritance of the Ormond title and property, due to the Marquis having no heir—never dreaming that his widowed brother-in-law would remarry late in life and have a son. His subsequent mixture of intemperate threats and promised rewards with regard to his nephew moved his servant to take him at his word. Discovering that his sister’s baby had just died of convulsions, Gwillim managed to smuggle the body into the nursery, removing the infant Earl of Ellesmere and – having marked the child so he could be identified in the future – handed him into his sister’s care; allowing Lord Clancastle to believe, however, that the child had, ahem, mysteriously died.

So, yes—once again, my friends, say it with me:

BABY SUBSTITUTION!!!!

The sister is of course the anonymous woman killed in the opening scene, and “Clement Davenport” is of course Alfred Ormond, Earl of Ellesmere (though everyone continues to call him “Clement”, and so shall we).

This is Meeke’s most beloved and well-used plot-trick, but instead of keeping this revelation for the climax of her novel, in Ellesmere she puts it to very different use by foregrounding the relationship between her hero and his parents. Furthermore, though the point is never made overtly, Meeke indulges herself in a wicked irony: the fact that, when she allowed her “romantic imagination” to convince her that her servant was an aristocrat in disguise, the Baroness was absolutely right—only to end up spending three volumes fleeing exactly the husband her ambition would have chosen.

Anyway—after the hysteria recedes somewhat, it is revealed that, having believed their son dead for twenty years, the Ormonds only recently learned better when the Marquis and Meredith were present to receive the dying confession of Gwillim…who put the blame firmly upon Lord Clancastle.

Retribution had already caught up with Clancastle, with the sons for whose benefit he concocted his evil scheme both dying in action. In the wake of his bereavement, remorse took hold; and, when confronted by this ghost of his past, the Earl fled the country—taking with him his surviving child, the Lady Lucy Killarney, and causing a painful dilemma for Meredith who, though “esteeming” Lady Lucy, feels that under the circumstances he cannot marry her.

The discovery of his parents and his cousin – and of his own title and wealth, which Meeke is amusingly upfront about – and the mutual joy of the newly reunited family, completes the restoration of Clement’s health. Even his marital situation no longer has the ability to hurt him, though he dreads having to confess it to the others:

…who would probably, and very justly, blame him for having indulged the romantic notion of being loved for himself. Well, they could not condemn his conduct more than he did himself…

Clement does finally tell his story, begging his parents for their advice. Lady Ormond immediately sends for the baby, while her husband ponders his son’s situation:

    As for her mother, he hardly knew what to say: there was a bare possibility that she was not so much to blame as she appeared;—the Dubois’s seemed very designing people. Situated as his son then was, he saw nothing blameable in his disguise—it was a romantic notion, and many more young people had been attracted by the same impulse; besides it certainly afford him an opportunity of studying the Baroness’s character, rarely to be obtained.
    “But did not the blind God, my dear Clement,” he continued, “prevent you from perceiving her faults? I can’t acquit her of imprudence, even before she married—nor you of an excess of complaisance in leaving everything at her disposal. If she has abused your noble confidence, she is indeed unworthy your regret: this time alone must discover;—there is great reason to suppose that she has done neither you, nor her daughter justice; but if she seeks the child, I shall think that she has suffered herself to be misled by her artful friend…”

Lady Ormond and Meredith also weigh in, agreeing that the matter must be investigated and the Baroness’s degree of guilt, or credulity, determined, before Clement can judge how best to behave in future.

But Clement sees no way in which his wife can explain her behaviour to his satisfaction; nor does he intend to dwell upon the matter any longer:

“My prospects are now very different, and I should be unpardonable were I to suffer the desertion of an unprincipled woman any longer to affect either my health or spirits;—situated as I was at the time, it was hardly excusable, but it was a very severe disappointment.—Love and vanity, arising from the supposed preference I had met with, as my father very justly remarked, had blinded me to the imperfections of the heroine of my romance; and to find my goddess a mere mortal, was truly mortifying to my pride…”

 

[To be continued…]

08/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 3)


 
    “Fredrico, with fame aspersed, is not the husband your virtuous, tender parents would sanction, for your acceptance.—Should not the duteous Angelina have considered their judgment, as still living, still presiding over her?—Should she not, in fancy’s sacred intercourse, have consulted their wishes, and their decree, by reason’s aid? her choice would then have never fallen upon a man whose fame was tarnished by even the shadow of suspicion—would never, as now, have rested on him, who yet—Oh! avenging justice!—Oh! Fredrico, my child, my child! and does conscience bid me speak such horrors?—may yet suffer as a homicide.
    “Nay, my love, my Angelina, weep not so piteously,” said Zarina, with melting sympatliy, after a pause of terrible agitation—“I mean not utterly to consign you to despair.—Oh! no, no, for in heart I am still the partial mother, and cherish hope, as misers do their treasure; but, Angelina, I would now divide you from Fredrico—I would encourage your thoughts, as mine have learned the horrible task of sometimes admitting the possible belief, that he is not calumniated…”

 

 

 

 

Angelina spends the next three weeks immured in her room with only her attendant, Isabella (acquired between lockdowns), for company, unwell and living in fear that this time, Minora will succeed in having her “encloistered for life”, and with bad news rolling in on almost a daily basis:

Isabella had learned that the Duca di Montalbano was seriously ill, but Father Jeronimo was no longer allowed to attend him, in whose place the duchessa’s physician was substituted; that Grimani and his wife were banished from the castle, for the latter having conspired with Lady Angelina to destroy the infant Theodore, for whom a new nurse had been provided; and who, although evidently indisposed from the effect of his immersion, was sent off the third day after his unfortunate accident had occurred, with his nurse, Signora Zola, and other attendants, to be reared under the immediate care of the duchessa’s mother, at Treviso; the pretence for such a hasty measure, that his safety was insecure where Lady Angelina resided. She also heard that the Contessa Lorenzago having sent an express with her dying request to see her son, he in consequence had hastily set out for Pavia: that the princess and her daughter had also departed; as well as poor Father Patrick, whom the duchessa herself had dismissed in great ire, for having dared so roughly and unceremoniously to treat her brother…

Of this catalogue of misery, it is the last point that catches our attention; and, yes – though, alas! we are not privileged to witness it – when Father Patrick hears how Vasco is talking about Angelina, he loses his temper and pops him one.

But as is so often the case, what looks like the Tolmezos triumphing actually works in Angelina’s favour. Turned out of the castle, Father Patrick carries Angelina’s woes to Fredrico, who packs him off to Rome to find Cardinal Gulielmo; ordering him on to Spain, if necessary. Once arrived, Patrick finds Father Marsilio still waiting patiently for a summons to the Cardinal’s presence. The Irish priest is having none of that, and he horrifies the meek monk by threatening to storm Gulielmo’s private villa, if that’s what it takes to see him; and it finally turns out that it does.

On his way back to Rome, Gulielmo had a carriage-accident, and is seeing no-one while he recuperates. However, able to brook no more delay, when he is turned away from the villa’s doors Father Patrick makes his way surreptitiously into the grounds, where he encounters a plainly dressed individual who he takes to be merely part of the Cardinal’s household – and addresses accordingly – but who of course proves to be Gulielmo himself. Having heard Father Patrick’s account of matters, the Cardinal waves away his doctor’s advice and goes straight to the Pope.

To Angelina’s initial dismay, she now learns that an ancient treaty between the Vatican and the Montalbanos has been invoked, allowing her to be, in effect, “adopted” by the pontiff. She fears from this that she will end up in a convent after all, but Father Patrick hastens to reassure her. Furthermore, though she is technically the Pope’s ward, it is Cardinal Gulielmo who becomes her guardian.

The first action of Angelina’s new “father” is to have her removed from the castle; and he sends a nuncio to Montalbano to ensure that his orders are carried out—and that the Tolmezos understand their implications:

    “Well, jewel, the duchessa, as demure and sweet-spoken as if butter wou’d n’t melt in her mouth, demanded what were his holiness’s commands with the Duca di Montalbano; when the proud legate produced his credentials, and read, in an audible voice, the pope’s demand for taking you under his especial care, whom, henceforth, he should deem it sacrilege for any one to insult or injure, or to imagine insult or injury against: and who, with your own consent obtained, were with convenient speed to be conveyed by him (the reverend nuncio) to the protection of the Contessa di Alviano.
    “The curiosity of the duchessa kept her alive until the last sentence the nuncio read, but that kilt her at once, and back she fell in a grand hysteric fit of screeching and kicking…”

Angelina’s only regret is that she is unable to see Sigismund before she leaves. She reaches out to him but, far from evincing any desire for a reconciliation, he sends back a letter full of cruel denunciations and repudiation.

Once Angelina is removed to Rossarno Castle, the plot of Forest Of Montalbano shifts to a focus upon Fredrico.

For all of its excesses, perhaps the touch in this novel that is hardest to believe is Zarina’s belief in Fredrico’s guilt; though Cuthbertson excuses this as well as she can. In addition to her horror and grief at the loss of her husband, and the crushing weight of evidence against her son, since the tragedy occurred the contessa has been entirely under Guiseppe’s thumb—and he has made it his business to build an insuperable barrier between the two, with Zarina, as we have seen, forbidding Fredrico her presence and stopping barely short of cursing him.

Her contending emotions are now destroying the contessa’s health; and though Angelina devotes herself to her new friend, her care is perceived as a mixed blessing, as her unshaken faith in Fredrico’s innocence acts upon Zarina as both a challenge and a temptation.

Angelina, meanwhile, has new troubles of her own: though she believes him innocent of the crimes of which he has been accused, she has increasing reason to believe that she has been mistaken in assuming she has won Fredrico’s affections—or worse, that he has played her false.

Also living at Rossarno Castle is Elouisa di Soranzo, Guiseppe’s ward; and barely has Angelina set foot in her new residence than the garrulous Claudia lets drop hints of secret meetings between her and Fredrico. Angelina tries either to disbelieve this, or to put a positive spin upon it; but before long she must contend with confidences made by Elouisa herself, about a secret engagement…

Now— In light of what I have previously suggested about the connection between Catherine Cuthbertson and Jane Austen, this subplot is rather interesting. Though it is much more drawn out here, and much nastier in its details, Elouisa’s conscious tormenting of Angelina bears a remarkable resemblance to Lucy Steele’s similar tormenting of Elinor Dashwood in Sense And Sensibility—which was published the following year.

Elouisa brings plenty to the table to back up her claims, including letters in Fredrico’s handwriting—in one of which, he specifically disclaims any warmer feeling for Angelina than admiration—and though she tells herself that they could be forgeries, she has to admit that, if so, they are very good forgeries…

Angelina tries to stand firm – the more she sees of Elouisa, the less she believes Fredrico could love her – but she permits the suspicion that, in seeking information to prove his innocence, Fredrico has somehow gotten entangled with Elouisa in a way that binds his honour.

(Angelina cries more in this section of the novel than all the rest of it put together!)

Elouisa finally overreaches, however—claiming to have had a secret meeting with Fredrico at just the same time that Angelina was having a secret meeting with him of her own; besides, of course, what Fredrico has to say for himself. Unaware, Elouisa continues with her efforts to publicly link herself with Fredrico; and, say what you like about Lucy Steele, she never went to these lengths:

Elouisa, who had been for some moments standing thoughtfully at a window, turning quickly round to answer Conte Giuseppe, who had asked her, “would she not make one of the pedestrians?” her feet entangling in her long flowing drapery, drew it, as she turned, so tightly around her, that instantly the whole contour of her shape became visible to all who were looking that way. Amongst that number was her guardian, whose eyes were riveted upon her form…

Denounced by the enraged Guiseppe, Elouisa goes into what Cuthbertson wryly calls “a determined swoon”; and when she finally emerges from it—

…her eyes unclosed; and in a moment more, staring vacantly around, she murmured out—“Oh! where, where are you, cruel Fredrico?”

Unfortunately for the plotters, a few days before, while walking in the woods, Zarina and Angelina had been witnesses to something almost as startling:

…but now the rays of the setting sun glanced its illuminations so obliquely and penetratingly beneath its umbrageous shelter, that to the astonishment of Zarina, she beheld the entrance of the hermitage; but with more amazement still, saw too the Archbishop di Mazzerino, and Elouisa, on the turfed seat before it.—Elouisa! who had, since her guardian’s return, on every occasion evinced so much awe of him, that she seemed scarcely to dare to speak or smile in his presence, now sitting on Giuseppe’s knee, his arms encircling her waist, while in playful dalliance she patted his cheek, or took or gave a willing kiss…

Thoroughly unimpressed by the scene being enacted for her benefit and that of her guests – who include, by the way, Gulielmo! – Zarina draws a line in the sand:

    “Miscreant! demon! this this tallies with your other crimes!—and could not the ward of his own uncle escape his profligacy? Could not the roof of his own mother afford an asylum to innocence, secure from his atrocities?—Oh ! sister, sister! I pity you from my soul for giving birth to a monster of iniquity.”
    “Your pity is misapplied; I was not your mother, Giuseppe,” replied Zarina calmly; and then rising with dignity from her seat, continued—“As to you, Signora Soranzo, you have performed the part assigned you to such a miracle of perfection, that should your immaculate guardian abandon you for your trespass against that virtue he set you the rigid example of, you will readily find a lucrative engagement at some of our numerous theatres for human art in fiction’s representations; but when you again perform the dalliance of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra with the sanctimonious Archbishop di Mazzarino, let me advise you to choose your scene more judiciously secure from observation than you did on the evening of this day fortnight, in the Hermit’s Isle…”

This exposure of Guiseppe of course throws a whole new light upon his persecution of Fredrico, and allows Zarina to give in to the promptings of her heart and embrace a belief in her son’s innocence. However, as she points out to the joyful Angelina, just because they believe Fredrico innocent, doesn’t mean that he will be able to prove it…

…and, typical of this subgenre of fiction, no sooner has she reconciled with her son than Zarina takes advantage of the moment to scold him for allowing Angelina to involve herself with him while he is under a cloud, and to extort from him a promise that he will see her no more, until the matter is resolved; never, if he cannot clear his name…

In Part 1, via Claudia, we got what we might call the “public version” of the di Alviano catastrophe: Rolando eloping with Violante, with the Conte’s sanction; Fredrico pursuing them and, in the ensuing confrontation, killing both his father and his half-brother. It is not clear, in this version, what happened to Violante.

Across Volumes III and IV, we get progressively detailed accounts of what actually happened that night; none of them complete, though, because only one person knows the whole story, and he ain’t talking.

Fredrico finally does tell Angelina all he knows, though there are still gaps in his knowledge. Above all, he assures her that, far from being enraged by Violante’s elopement with Rolando, by that time he was more than happy to let him have her. His pursuit of the couple and his father was prompted not by revenge, but because of information received that officers of the Inquisition were out hunting for them, to prevent the marriage of Violante. Supported by a band of his father’s soldiery, Fredrico set out to the rescue and, coming across the holy officers, attacked, overwhelmed and made prisoners of them; then having them conveyed to a “labyrinthine cave” in the neighbourhood and left there loosely bound to work their way free in a day or two.

Then, on his own, Fredrico set out once again to find the others—only to discover the Conte and Rolando fighting for their lives against a second band of soldiers. His arrival turned the tide; although the attack was mysteriously called off, with the officers suddenly withdrawing. In the battle, the Conte was badly wounded; while the attackers succeeded in carrying off Violante.

With Fredrico caring for their father, the desperate Rolando went searching for Violante—and was never seen again. Meanwhile, Fredrico and the Conte were confronted by another, single attacker. Despite his wound, the Conte wrestled the stiletto from the man’s hand and turned it upon him—only to discover that he had slain not a soldier, but a High Inquisitor.

Recognising the enormity of the situation, Fredrico hurriedly conveyed his father to the caverns below Rossarno Castle – from which, of course, there are secret passages into the castle itself – and where he has, in fact, been hiding him ever since, almost under the noses of his mother and uncle. (Remember that passing reference to Fredrico locking himself at night in his father’s library? – yes: one of the passages comes out there.)

But meanwhile, forces are gathering against Fredrico: he has been seen in blood-soaked clothing; his father and brother are missing; and then a disfigured body is found, dressed in clothes recognisable as the Conte’s, and with Fredrico’s own, equally recognisable dagger buried in its heart… Soon, Fredrico finds himself accused of his father’s murder—and cannot defend himself without giving his father away to the Inquisition…

Friends in Rome move, however, to secure Fredrico’s temporary freedom. He and the Conte have one hope, a man called Rialto, who was a witness to the bloody encounter; who knows Fredrico did not kill his father, and that the Inquisitor was killed in self-defence. For nearly a year, Fredrico has been hunting this missing witness—and now the period of his freedom has almost expired…

So much Fredrico tells Angelina—but at that point, he has no idea how far from the truth of the matter he is.

Unsurprisingly, Guiseppe is the main mover here: having long lusted for his brother’s title, estates and wealth, and determined to prevent the marriage of either of his nephews, he took the opportunity of the escalating family conflict over Violante to remove all impediments from his path. Long hand-in-glove with Salimbini, he arranges for the two bands of “holy officers”: the first was supposed to waylay Fredrico and keep him out of things, but that didn’t really work out; though the second succeeded in carrying off Violante to “the dungeons of the Inquisition”, where she was later terrorised by Salimbini into a statement declaring herself a witness of Fredrico’s murder of his father.

The Conte and Rolando were supposed to be killed, but that didn’t work out either; though hasty rewriting of the script landed Fredrico in every bit as much trouble as initially hoped.

(I should mention that, for particular reasons of his own, Salimbini needs Fredrico alive; and on this point he works against his co-conspirator. Moreover, Salimbini knows that the Conte is not dead, though he can’t find out where Fredrico is hiding him: a piece of information he does not share with Guiseppe.)

Meanwhile—there were actually soldiers of the Inquisition in the woods that night, hunting a different eloping nun (!); and Rolando walked smack into them, said several self-implicating things, and landed in the real dungeons of the Inquisition. He later managed to escape, however, and fled to England, where he has been in hiding ever since.

It is finally via tortuous paths, and “the intervention of Providence” (not to mention the practical aid of Gulielmo), that the problems of the di Alviano family are resolved. Having gathered a household of guests, Zarina shocks them by appearing not just out of mourning, but in full celebratory regalia; and even more so by summoning Fredrico to join them: reminding everyone that this day is both her wedding anniversary, and Fredrico’s birthday:

    “Come,” said the contessa, endeavouring to subdue her trembling emotion, and filling out a glass of wine for herself, “come, my friends, however this experiment may terminate, you will not object to unite with me in drinking many happy returns of this day to my son.”
    A death-like pause ensued; and those very few who were preparing to comply with her request had their attention called to the re-entrance of Fredrico, with a man of majestic appearance leaning on his arm, who instantly quitting the aid of his graceful supporter, took the long-vacant seat at the bottom of the table, and impressively exclaimed—
    “No one can refuse to join you, my Zarina, when I!—I set them the example! When I appear to drink many and many a happy return of this day to our dutiful, our affectionate, our exemplary son, Fredrico di Alviano!”
    The astonishment of every beholder, the superstitiously alarmed horror of the weaker part of the assemblage, on viewing before their very eyes the identical Conte di Alviano who for many a past month had been consigned by universal belief to the tomb of his ancestors, far transcends our powers of description to delineate…
    In the general commotion and astonishment occasioned by this most unexpected resurrection of Conte di Alviano, the dismay, the guilty dismay, of the villainous Giuseppe passed unnoticed, except by those who, before acquainted with the existence of the conte, had power to observe the effect his re-appearance had upon his diabolical brother, who gazed in appalled amazement, panting and trembling, in more direful consternation than if he there beheld the real spectre of a brother whom he had been taught by his coadjutor, Salimbini, to believe had perished by the hand of an assassin…

This seemingly climactic scene takes place about midway through Volume IV; and on either side of it, while matters are resolving themselves for the di Alvianos, Angelina is facing unimaginable trials.

Guiseppe’s hypocrisy takes the form of (among other things) a great display of piety in the company of any other man of the cloth; and while Angelina is staying at Rossarno Castle, he one day invites a travelling pilgrim to break his journey there. To Angelina’s astonishment, the “pilgrim” later reveals himself to her as the Conte Nicastro, who she remembers as a friend of her father’s, and who was supposedly slain with him by the Turks. Nicastro tells her that her father is still alive: that the two of them, though severely wounded, survived to be sold into slavery. He himself was fortunate: his owner’s mother had been a Christian, and had imbued him with a certain sympathy; and he was able to work his way to freedom. Having done so, he devoted himself to discovering what had happened to the Duca di Montalbano; finding him at length in the power of a cruel slave-dealer, Mazuma.

Mazuma rejected Nicastro’s efforts to buy his friend’s freedom, but told him that he was willing to exchange him. Newly married, and still in the honeymoon phase, Mazuma wished to obtain for his music-loving bride a female slave skilled in singing and the playing of instruments; and as everyone knows, none are so skilled as the Italians…

Nicastro explains to Angelina that he searched the households and slave-markets of Turkey, seeking a female slave to fill this role; but having failed, all he can now suggest is that she, Angelina, offer herself in exchange for her father.

Angelina is beyond appalled, but – of course – does not hesitate. On the contrary, she urges expedition, not just for her father’s sake, but so that she won’t have time to think about it. She and Nicastro arrange to leave the following morning, before dawn: disguised as pilgrims, with Angelina wearing a wig under her cowl as a further disguise, they set out on foot; though Nicastro has arranged for a carriage to meet them on the far edge of the wood. Barely have they set out, however, when they are met upon the road by two horsemen—none other than Fredrico himself, in the company of Orsino:

…the retreating Angelina, who now believed she had braved all of suffering that ruthless destiny could inflict.—She had flown from the pity-softened voice of Fredrico!—She had looked upon him, and yet knowing it was for the last time, she still had power to walk away!—She had in one fleeting moment drank ail of the cup of misery that could be presented to a mortal’s lip; and now she feared not the form of any affliction that might arise to threaten the destruction of her fortitude…

She thinks; but not much further down the road, she and Nicastro fall foul of two of the banditti, and find themselves being carried away, prisoners. Angelina is locked up alone and left to contemplate her probable fate; but when she is summoned forth again, she has no idea what awaits her…

To Angelina’s astonishment and unspeakable indignation, she learns not only that certain incriminating – indeed, treasonous – papers have been found upon Nicastro, but he claims merely to be carrying them for her, now dismissed as “a chance acquaintance of the road.” Pointing out his own firm, courageous bearing, and the quaking terror of the “young pilgrim”, Nicastro declares his own innocence, swearing it in no uncertain terms.

It is, however, Orsino who is questioning the captives; and though he listens to Nicastro’s denunciation of his companion, he refuses to act hastily; his words reassuring Angelina that he knows very well who it is hiding under the cowl:

“Youth, you seem appalled—overpowered by wonder and dismay; but cheerly, cheerly.—I once was encompassed by dangers perilous myself:—an angel then, in generous credence of my own simple attestation of my innocence, succoured me; and, in return, she bade me—‘should ere a friend of hers be in my power, to evince my recollection of the service she had done me.’—All who are good and innocent I class amongst that angel’s friends; and until I prove you guilty, I rank you with the unerring, and with the innocent; my gratitude to her protects you:—and now, encouraged by the sacred shield I guard you with, read, without fear, that letter, found in the possession of this man, who affirms you confided it, with other papers, to his keeping.”

The paper in question is a letter to Nicastro from Vasco: Angelina now discovers that her actual destination was the seraglio of the sultan; that by these means Vasco intended both to take his revenge upon her and buy the sultan’s favour in other business matters. Her focus, however, is on the phrase, phantom father; and in pleading with Nicastro for the truth, she gives away her identity.

As it happens, she is safe enough amongst Orsino and his “sub-bandits”; though Nicastro damns himself with his misunderstanding of the situation:

    “Youthful chief! this maid, I perceive, is not unknown to you.—Many a brigand hero has loved a lady fair; and if I have penetration, the case is paralleled here.”—She is now in your power. Retain her.—Give me up my papers, with my liberty, and the seal of secrecy shall rest for ever on my lips of where I left her; but ere—“
    “Miscreant! diabolical, profane!” loudly sounded forth the voice of Fredrico, as bursting from ambush, he flew to the support of Angelina.—Orsino resigned her to his arms; but saying, as he did so—
    “Why this impetuosity? Could you doubt my honour, or my faith?”
    “I had no doubt of your rectitude, believe me,” Fredrico impressively replied—“but could I endure to have the ears of this angel of filial heroism insulted, distressed, alarmed, by the profane propositions of an unequalled villain?”

Angelina is then conveyed back to the castle via the Roman ruins and the subterranean passageway by which she entered it the first time; and so expeditiously is this managed, that no-one realises she was ever gone.

As for the disappearing pilgrim, well…

During this episode, Fredrico admits to Angelina that, in the papers carried by the treacherous Nicastro, there were ambiguous references to her father that might indeed mean he is still alive; that, perhaps, Nicastro’s story was true up to a point. This thought torments Angelina; so that finally, once his own difficulties are resolved, Fredrico vows to go in search of the Duca.

Consequently, when Angelina’s greatest challenge arises, she must face it alone…

The threat comes from an unsuspected source—particularly given its enormity. We might recall that there was dissension among the Tolmezos, with Lorenzago distancing himself from the rest in order to pursue his own agenda of aggrandisement. Summoning Hilario to the Castle of Montalbano, he sets his son to court Angelina, which he does with some reluctance and (of course) absolutely no effect; though Hilario’s inability to conceive that any woman might not fall in love with him keeps him plugging away.

It is not long, however, before Lorenzago begins to regret this approach—and to perceive with no disappointment that Hilario is getting nowhere. In short—he decides that he wants Angelina for himself.

Granted, Lorenzago has a wife already; but he’s not the man to let a detail like that intrude; and as it happens, the unfortunate woman conveniently expires (and, greatly to our surprise, of natural causes).

Eventually Lorenzago discovers that Angelina’s heart is long gone; but that, too, is a mere detail. As his obsession with her grows, he determines to possess her at any cost; and finally, inspired by the story of Angelina’s willingness to sacrifice herself for her father, he conceives a scheme of even greater cruelty…

While all this has been going on, Angelina has not, of course, forgotten Sigismund: one of Lorenzago’s main ways of gaining her company is to carry news of her uncle between the two castles, and he finally brokers a visit for her. She finds Sigismund so ill, but so pathetically glad to see her, that she decides she has to stay—to the great dismay of everyone else:

The feeling-hearted Zarina could not say a negative to a petition of such a nature, and so urged; but most reluctantly she acquiesced, in. full alarm at the Tolmezo treachery; and ere she would depart without her sacred charge, she called for Father Ezzelino, and solemnly consigned her to his protection as a precious deposit, for the safety of whom he must be responsible to his holiness;—a solemn charge that was repeated in less than an hour by the alarmed Conte di Alviano, with the addition of no very pleasing hints of the pontiff being aware of the enmity of the Tolmezo family to Lady Angelina, and having the eye of his suspicion steadily rivetted upon them… As soon as possibility would admit of it, Isabella arrived at Montalbano castie, full of alarm and grief at beholding her beloved lady again an inhabitant there…

(Angelina discovers, in time, that Sigismund’s apparent denunciation of her was in fact aimed at the nurse who dropped the baby, in his initial impassioned grief at believing the child and Angelina both dead; and that while he was tricked into signing the letter, it was written by Vasco and Ezzelino.)

Sigismund is so very ill – for real this time – that Angelina resigns herself to staying with him, even though this traps her in the the very unwanted company of Lorenzago:

Nor was the disconsolation of her bosom lessened by finding herself thus chained, as it were, to the society of Lorenzago, and momentarily receiving offices of kindness and friendship from him;—Lorenzago, whom the Cardinal Gulielmo, that shrewdly penetrating man, had assured her, was seriously attached to her: and even without that intimation, the impassioned language of his expressive eyes, the half-revealed sentences of love which were perpetually escaping his lips, in defiance of the retiring formality of her conduct to him, must have disclosed the secret of his heart. And now, often with a sigh of regret for moments of comparatively inferior misery, she wished she could exchange her present hours for those even in which she had been imprisoned, insulted, bereaved of her accustomed sustenance, in that very castle…

Angelina spends as much time as she can at Sigismund’s bedside; but she can’t help noticing the evolving nature of the castle’s inhabitants. Father Tommaso, Sigismund’s confessor in the absence of Father Patrick (off in Naples on family business) is refused readmission after leaving the castle; the servants have been changed again – even the helpful Florio is gone; and gone too are her father’s old soldiers, to be replaced by armed men of alarming demeanour. Meanwhile, the castle is filling with guests—and not the kind usually summoned to the dignified halls of the Montalbanos:

    …nor were her alarms or dismaying presages of danger decreased by the daily multiplication of guests of no prepossessing aspect as visitors to Vasco.
    Nor were the manners of these guests likely to inspire more confidence than their boldly daring appearance, since profligacy seemed the guide of their actions, and their banquets to be those of bacchanalian revellers, each night concluding with a ball (for several females arrived with this fast-increasing assemblage), and the orgies of dissipated mirth resounded through the castle, while its lord was supposed to be rapidly approaching the awful moment of his dissolution…

Lorenzago poses as outside whatever these arrangements portend; he even draws Angelina’s attention to the fact that her father’s pensioners have been replaced. He finally persuades her to a meeting in the castle chapel, at which, he insists, he has much important information to impart to her; though, having learned her lesson from Nicastro, she comes attended by the loyal Isabella, much to Lorenzago’s chagrin.

But Lorenzago cannot help making her declarations of admiration and passion, until the offended Angelina tries to withdraw from him. This prompts him to get to the point—and the point is her father: alive, nearby, and in Lorenzago’s protection; so he says.

But far more than the life of the Duca di Montalbano is at stake:

    “Angelina, I have well studied your matchless heart—I have well studied my own—and firmly am I convinced our union will yet prove one of mutual felicity; since the moment your present apparent ruthess destiny compels you to bestow your hand on me, the high, the rigid notions your heart has formed of every duty, will lead you on to regard the husband you have vowed to love; whilst I, adoring, venerating to idolatry, can I—can you—shelter an apprehension, but that to win the love I pant for will be the effort of my future life, when once the painful moment is past in which, to secure my happiness, I am arbitrarily compelled to act the part of an ungenerous, unfeeling, selfish spoiler. But, although with horror I recoil from the ferity of my project to attain you, yet no power less than Divine interposition shall force me to relinquish it; and so securely have I drawn my toils around you, my Angelina, that nothing but superhuman intervention can now deprive me of you.
    “Learn, then, my lovely agitated prize, this castle is filled with daring sanguinary traitors to the state of Venice, resolved on he destruction of your noble father, your uncle, your matchless self—to seize the possessions of the house of Montalbano, and revel in the spoils—to murder thousands of your father’s worthy countrymen, and deluge the soil of the Venetian republic with the blood of human victims. In me is vested the power to subvert this dire treason: in my hands is your father securely, irremediably placed.
    “On you rests solely the alternative of your own, your father’s, your uncle’s, your country’s fate. Bestow your hand on me at this very hour and in this very place tomorrow, and the dire fate impending over Venice and the family of Montalbano shall be averted.—Refuse to unite your fate with mine, and your parent I yield to the power of Vasco, and withdraw from this devoted castle to provide for my own safety…”

 

 

07/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 2)


 
    To this castle, and all the possessions of her illustrious ancestors, she had now conviction that she still might prove the only lawful heir; yet now she was about to enter as a poor persecuted dependent, despoiled of the favor and courtesy of all; where once every sweet smile of affection, kindness, and respect, most fondly greeted her. She sighed; tears trembled in her eyes. “But, are not these trials,” whispered pious reflection, “which you are thus doomed to endure, inflicted by the all-wise and unerring Ruler of the universe?” — Angelina blushed, in penitent acquiescence. “Assuredly they are,” she firmly, but mentally ejaculated—“and, Oh! may I never, never, falter in the task of submissive duty; never murmur at the thorns which strew my path of life, but still cherish, in the memory of my heart’s veneration, a lively recollection of the sacred hand which sheds them there.”
    These were the thoughts, and such the aspirations, that gave fortitude to the heart, firmness to the steps, and serenity to the fascinating countenance of Lady Angelina, as she once more entered that castle, where pained reminiscence told her, “how she had been loved, and how severely tortured…”

 

 

 

 

My five-and-a-half-thousand words on the subject notwithstanding, all we’ve dealt with so far in Forest Of Montalbano – which occupies no more than the first half of Volume I – is basically just the back-story to the main narrative. Though Fredrico’s problems – and Fredrico himself – continue to come and go, the rest of Volume I and all of Volume II is primarily devoted to the increasingly dangerous situation in which Angelina finds herself after returning to the castle of her ancestors.

Along with all the expected melodrama and emotional excess, there’s some interesting writing here. In Santo Sebastiano, we found Cuthbertson attempting, in the character of Lord Delamere, to delineate a complex psychology; and she follows that up in this novel. Naturally, the heroes and the villains are writ large in unsubtle font; but between these two extremes we find some mixed characters, and others whose personal hang-ups drive the action to a surprising degree.

In fact, to an extent the entire plot of Forest Of Montalbano hangs on two pairs of contrasting brothers. Theodore di Balmero, the future Duca di Montalbano, was in every respect his father’s son: strong, fearless, a warrior; while Sigismund, the younger brother, fell to the care of his doting but unwise mother, who turned him into a frail, scholarly hypochondriac with a raging inferiority complex; though this expressed itself in worship of the brother who was everything that he, Sigismund, could never be, and later of Theodore’s daughter. Convinced that no-one did or could love him except his mother, Sigismund fell easy prey to the seductive wiles of Minora di Tolmezo…only to discover (as he effectively says later to Angelina) that he should, in fact, have trusted his inferiority complex: she certainly did not love him for himself. Sigismund is by now almost literally crippled by guilt over the marriage which has come between Angelina and her inheritance.

Trouble of a similar sort lies – or lay – between Fredrico and his older half-brother, Rolando; but there, we discover, Guiseppe had been working his poison. For reasons of his own, he convinced Rolando that, as the son of the Conte di Alviano’s first, political marriage, he could never compete in his father’s affections with the son of Zarina, who the Conte passionately loved; and moreover, that Zarina and Fredrico were working to supplant him. And Fredrico accidentally does: it was Rolando who really loved Violante—and as we find out, she really wanted him: except that, working from within her convent, with imperfect information, she appealed for help to the wrong brother; thus setting disaster in motion.

Violante’s involvement with the di Alviano family binds to them also the Cardinal Gulielmo, who is one of Cuthbertson’s more interesting creations. We find out in time that the fears of the nuns of Santo Valentino were not entirely unjustified: in his younger days, Gulielmo was indeed a man of unsavoury reputation; but much upheaval in his life later, he honestly repented and embraced his new calling; and the present time finds him, simultaneously, a devoted man of God, a shrewd politician, and a cynical man of the world—and able to toggle between personas in a manner than makes him a powerful ally and a dangerous enemy. Gulielmo’s name strikes fear into the heart of almost everyone; but when he finally appears upon the scene he proves, somewhat unexpectedly, to be on the side of the angels.

(It is belatedly revealed to us that, though she passes in the eyes of the world as his niece, Violante is actually Gulielmo’s illegitimate daughter.)

At the other end of the spectrum, and as we did also in Santo Sebastiano, we find Cuthbertson indulging her sense of humour—but in a new and quite complex way. Father Patrick O’Carrol is one of the novel’s Good Priests, and the one we see the most of; and Cuthbertson manages the not-inconsiderable task of making him both the novel’s comic relief and a fully-rounded, important character. For the former, we find the good Father continuing to speak broad Irish despite the fact that he is, of course, speaking Italian; and his rambling, idiom-riddled speeches pepper the next volume or two. For example—

“Just,” said the sensibly-affected Father Patrick, “as when my self was starved to death, and thought my skeleton was ready made, for the anatomists, the beautiful gift of heaven’s own daughter Pity, came glittering in the sterling form, of a pistole, pop into my badge of poverty, my tatterdemalion hat; that lay beside me; and allowed me to foster my poor uncle Pat; and what but Providence, sent the bedpost to come whack against me, to the rescue of Signora Modo’s child, from the devouring flames, that would have made tinder of him? and what myself would be mighty glad to know, but divine mercy, sent me to Montalbano Castle, to be with you, and comfort, and befriend you, in this time of trouble?”

(We should note two phrases on Father Patrick’s lips that we might be surprised to find extant in 1810: he makes reference to, and then explains – in quite modern terms – the black dog; and he calls someone a son-of-a-gun.)

Father Patrick’s presence in the Castle of Montalbano is one of the Tolmezos’ greatest tactical blunders—not that anyone realises it for quite some time. When introduced, he is more of a hindrance than a help to Angelina and Sigismund: he is at that time quite unable to keep a secret, and guaranteed to say exactly what he shouldn’t at the worst possible time; though seeing the damage he does, he works hard at this and eventually learns to keep his mouth shut.

A poor man of peasant stock, education and religious training have elevated Patrick O’Carrol far above what everyone at this time considers his “natural station”; and it is because of his background and poverty that Lorenzago di Tolmezo has him assigned as Sigismund’s confessor—assuming that such a man will be easily bribed to assist his family’s dark purposes. Patrick, however, is an honest man, a good priest, and a devoted friend; scorning the Tolmezos, he becomes a passionate adherent to the cause of Angelina (who he addresses as “my jewel” and “my honey”) and a serious thorn in the side of the conspirators.

We are so far here from the eek-Catholics! attitude of Santo Sebastiano that it almost makes your head spin. It is impossible to deduce from her novels what Cuthbertson’s own sentiments were, though it is worth noting that she had a foot in each camp: her father was an English soldier, but her mother was Irish, and she was born and raised in Dublin before relocating to London at the turn of the 19th century. Given the prevailing English attitudes of the time, Cuthbertson must have understood that she was taking a significant risk with her Irish Catholic priest; yet she does not merely make Father Patrick a good and devout man, but turns him into one of her heroes; in fact, she makes him – almost literally – her deus ex machina.

The other character worth mentioning in this context is Orsino, the young bandit. Cuthbertson takes an unusually pragmatic approach here, suggesting that the young man’s main shortcoming is that he is lazy-–good or bad according to whose influence he is currently under. Orsino was therefore once an actor, like his father; and now he’s a bandit, like his father. However, there is a hint even at this point of better stuff in the young man: he has taken the initiative and formed a gang of sub-bandits, so to speak, from those of his father’s followers who, like himself, draw the line at shedding blood. Circumstances progressively bind Orsino first to Fredrico, then to Angelina; finally prompting him to change sides altogether, and to reform himself.

The Tolmezos, meanwhile, merely come in degrees of black. Since arranging the marriage of Sigismund and Minora, they have been working assiduously to remove Angelina from the succession, and to remove Sigismund altogether—one way or another.

Knowing that Sigismund’s love for Angelina and his guilt over his marriage are his most vulnerable point, the Tolmezos hatch a two-birds-one-stone plot:

Lady Angelina was, therefore, immediately sent for; as the almost enthusiastic tenderness of affection he bore his niece; the unrestrained joy he evinced at the idea of once more beholding her; and the slender thread, they believed, he held the continuance of existence by, had inspired them with the determination of adopting a diabolical manoeuvre, which, they doubted not, would fatally operate upon his sensitive nerves… They congratulated themselves in the happy prospect of having thus laid a successful train for the removal of every impediment to their revelling on the spoils they panted to obtain, by the death of Sigismund, through horror and dire affliction at the cruel fate of his niece, in becoming a hapless victim to sanguinary banditti; and by that of Angelina herself, by the fell hand of assassination, which they each, in their own bosoms had resolved to give their pitiless mandate for…

However, the plot is thwarted, as we have seen; and Angelina, having uttered the magical word “Gulielmo”, is safely conveyed to the Castle of Montalbano, and reunited with her overjoyed uncle.

Though Sigismund’s situation is presented as a tragedy, and one of his own making, there is a note of black humour lurking in it. Sigismund, as we have said, is a hypochondriac; and one so devoted to the conviction of his own ill-health, he gets angry and offended if anyone suggests he is not at death’s door. Angelina and Father Patrick nearly lose a useful ally in Father Jeronimo when the physician-monk tries to cheer Sigismund up by telling him there’s nothing much wrong with him.

This situation explains why the Tolmezos’ efforts to dispose of Sigismund have so far failed: taking him at his own assessment, they have adopted a course of – in modern parlance – trying to shock him into a heart attack; and they grow increasingly frustrated with his refusal simply to die. (The impatient Vasco begins importing poisons…) However, they remain confident of their ultimate success – to the point that Minora is already in treaty for a second marriage – while they are also propagating rumours of Sigismund’s “lunacy”, chiefly to lay the groundwork for contesting any provision he might make for Angelina; with the side-benefit of having nothing he says believed.

To counter all this, Angelina and Father Patrick devote endless patient hours to trying to get Sigismund up and about. Angelina tries to convince him of the need to show himself to the neighbours, to spike the Tolmezos’ guns by demonstrating that he is neither dying nor a lunatic; but every time she almost gets him to this point, something happens to drop him back into his useless funk.

And action of some sort is urgently needed. It does not take long for Angelina to discover the complete ascendancy of the Tolmezos: Minora’s brother, Lorenzago, has been appointed major-domo, and all the castle domestics have been changed; loyal to their new paymasters, they insolently refuse to follow Sigismund’s orders. Moreover, by the time that Angelina realises she needs to make good on her threat and send word to Gulielmo, she, Sigismund and Father Patrick have been made prisoners—prevented from leaving the castle, sending messages, or having anything or anyone brought to them.

The only immediate hope Angelina can find lies in the ongoing presence at the castle of a small band of pensioned veterans still loyal to her father, and a new young page named Florio, who she is able to assist, and who in turn occasionally defies his orders to help her and Sigismund.

But as it turns out, Angelina has two very unexpected and powerful champions.

Though for the most part they work in concert, each of the Tolmezos has his or her own agenda; and while Minora and Vasco devote themselves to tormenting and humiliating Angelina, and Vasco and Ezzelino to disposing of Sigismund, Lorenzago sees Angelina as the means of achieving his ultimate social ambition: he plots to marry her to his son, Hilario, who he has raised with the single purpose of making such a marriage. Lorenzago therefore sets about recommending himself to Angelina and Sigismund by taking their part against his family—relieving many of their wants and, when Hilario arrives, spending hours in Sigismund’s rooms with his son.

(In the character of Hilario, we have another touch of humour: he is indeed a handsome, intelligent, cultured young man—and one completely enamoured of his own perfections; so much so, when he meets Angelina he is deeply aggrieved by hers.)

Angelina’s other ally is far more mysterious. From the time of her arrival at the castle, she begins finding notes hidden within her rooms: encouraging her on one hand, on the other offering advice—or a warning. It is evident that whoever is leaving these messages is deep in the Tolmezos’ confidence, and has the freedom of the castle; but who it could be, Angelina cannot begin to guess. She does, however, quickly learn to do as the messages instruct.

One of Minora’s manoeuvres is to intercept the new wardrobe ordered for Angelina, forcing her to appear in public only in the simple conventual robe that was all she had to wear at Santo Valentino. Overtly this is another means of humbling her perceived rival, but a deeper plot is afoot.

Minora organises a lavish masquerade at the castle, summoning all the highest-ranking people in the district—and insisting upon Angelina’s attendance. However, Angelina receives another message, warning her at all cost against appearing in her familiar conventual robe. By this time, Angelina’s new wardrobe has appeared in her rooms, as mysteriously as the note itself; however, the note urges her not to wear her new dresses yet, or to let Minora know.

After consultation, it is agreed that Angelina, Lorenzago, Hilario and Father Patrick will attend the masquerade in full costumes that will conceal their identities, and from this hiding-place try to discover what plot is afoot. Angelina is the less reluctant, as it has occurred to her that, under cover of a disguise, Fredrico might be able to infiltrate the party. Focused upon that aim, she does not notice that she has become the party’s cynosure:

But, at length, so loud and general became the at first murmuring eulogiums of the admiring throng, drawn in fast-increasing numbers from herself to gaze on the all-attracting Neapolitan peasant, that Minora with dismaying pangs of envy and alarm feared she was equalled, if not outdone; and, writhing in the agony of apprehensive, jealous curiosity, she employed many of her satellites to discover who this fascinator and her party were; but so effectually were the two contes and Father Patrick disguised by their style of habit, and so convinced were all employed in this investigation of the poverty of Lady Angelina’s wardrobe, that no suspicion whatever was entertained of who this attractive group was composed of…

And soon enough, the point of Minora’s plot becomes clear: another masked figure appears clad in an exact duplicate of Angelina’s well-known robe—and behaving in a manner that draws shocked notice from the other guests—flirting with and encouraging the attentions of every man who comes near her:

…now, in the almost stationary situation she was doomed to, she heard remarks uttered…which increased her painful fears of existing active malice, in the unequivocal disgust and surprise each remark conveyed at the levity of conduct this copy of herself displayed; but one grave and dignified looking man, in the habit of a Spanish grandee, as he passed her audibly saying—“Although la duchessa prepared me for it, I could not have believed it, unless thus clearly demonstrated to me, that such a face of heavenly innocence could index a mind of such reprehensible levity…”

And the counterfeit Angelina’s behaviour then switches from the general to the specific, as she openly pursues a guest whose face is hidden under a pilgrim’s robes, and addresses him in a way that reveals his identity to everyone in earshot. There is a general movement from the guests – many genuinely horrified by finding themselves in the presence of the notorious Fredrico di Alviano, others pleasantly shocked by the scandal – until their attention is arrested by another figure in disguise, who intrudes herself into the painful scene:

    “If those steps would lead you to the shrine of Virtue, pilgrim, turn from that false votary, and seek it in the citron groves of Naples, whither those honest peasants will conduct you,” said a female, advancing towards Conte di Alviano, and pointing to the group of which Lady Angelina formed one.
    For a moment the voice which thus accosted him aroused the astonished attention of Fredrico, and rivetted his eyes upon the speaker; who, modelled in one of the most perfect moulds of female beauty, appeared before him in the most resplendent dress that wealth and fancy ever formed to portray the habit of a sylph. The rich treasures of the earth seemed here combined to adorn surpassing loveliness, and emulate attire appropriate for a celestial wearer.
    The eyes of every gazer seemed, now, like Fredrico’s, enthralled by admiration. Again the resplendently-clad sylph waved her silver wand, with fascinating grace, towards Lady Angelina :
    “Pilgrim,” she said, “would you seek the shrine of Virtue, yonder pure votary will conduct you safely to it. Sent from the spheres to watch over individual happiness, I must hasten to fulfil my further mission… False semblance of innocence, you are detected…”

With the attention of everyone now focused upon the sylph, Fredrico is able to slip away with Angelina. However, they are soon interrupted, first by the persistent Hilario, whose complacent manner towards Angelina gives Fredrico great alarm, and then by Minora and her entourage—the latter prompting Fredrico to flee, so that Angelina will not be seen in his company. Lorenzago, meanwhile, is approached by the sylph, who counsels him to conduct Angelina back into the castle, and to ensure that she is seated during supper at the Duchessa’s own table.

He obeys, and to her horror Angelina finds herself seated opposite her counterfeit, who is escorted to the table by Vasco, in the costume of a knight. The real Angelina and her party have still not been recognised, and Ezzelino, at his niece’s urging, tries to turn out the group of “intruders”:

    “First,” replied Lorenzago full as arrogantly, but completely disguising his voice—“First answer me, most reverend judge in this court of equity, by whose authority yonder boarder of the grey order of Santo Valentino sits at the table of la duchessa?”
    “Who,” returned Ezzelino, haughtily, “can question the right of Lady Angelina di Balermo to a distinguished place of honour at the Duchessa di Montalbano’s table?”
    “Certainly no one ought!—Then why did the reverend and ever-correct Father Ezzelino do it?” said Lady Angelina, gracefully, but blushingly, taking off her mask.
    “Or why,” said Lorenzago ironically, while taking off his, ” did that sapient padre dispute a brother’s right to feast at a sister’s banquet?… Come, off with your obscuring clouds, Father O’Carrol, and Conte Hilario of Tolmezo, and shew this reverend sire you have not usurped the right of sitting here.”
    The Duchessa di Montalbano, totally unprepared for such a direful wound to her torturing envy, as beholding Angelina in the fascinating, all-attractive form of unrivalled beauty, splendor in dress, and taste in adornment, whose superior allurements had taught her to sicken with the pangs of agonising jealousy for so many hours of that evening, no sooner beheld her face revealed, than, in rage and agitation too powerful for concealment, she uttered a shrilling shriek, and fell in a strong hysteric fit…

Meanwhile, the sylph is busy again:

    …availing herself of the advantage this universal throng and confusion afforded her, the wary sylph, to prove herself indeed the guardian of innocence, placed herself immediately behind the counterfeit of Angelina, and, by an ingenious movement of her wand, contrived to sever the string which fastened on this impostor’s mask, which in consequence instantly fell from her face upon the table, and discovered to the numerous assemblage of eagerly-observing gazers the well-known countenance of Signora Rosa Franchesis, a celebrated courtezan and admired opera-dancer of Florence.
    “D–n!” audibly vociferated the almost-infuriated Vasco…

With Minora having been carried away, still having hysterics, Lorenzago’s rage and indignation are turned upon Rosa. She is unrepentant:

“On mine honour, I was bidden to the feast. My ticket, my dress, and one hundred pistoles, invited me hither, to personate the Lady Angelina di Balermo; but had I sooner seen the model I was set to copy, I should more sedulously have studied every grace, to better suit me for the undertaking. By accident, or by Lady Angelina’s friends, the counterfeit has been discovered; and being in consequence no longer useful to my employers, I shall instantly take my departure. No possible censure can attach to me for acting what I am not;—I live by the mimic art: and, in gay scenes like these, we professional people are often hired to aid the project or amusements of our employers; and so dexterously did I perform the part I was this night hired for, that had the imposture not been so publicly detected, I should, as my employers wished it, have left behind me the fame of Lady Angelina di Balermo as nearly blasted as my own…”

In the chaos that follows, Fredrico – having shed his robes for a second costume beneath – is able to bear Angelina away for a private conversation under the chaperonage of Father Patrick, who realises for the first time the relationship between them, and so both keeps guard and removes himself from earshot. Their subsequent exchange is peppered with unfinished declarations; however, its most important point is that, via Father Marsilio, Fredrico has sent a message to Cardinal Gulielmo, alerting him to the situation at the castle: he assures her that relief from her imprisonment and its attendant humiliations should be imminent.

(As it happens, Gulielmo has been dispatched to Spain on business, and Marsilio’s message does not reach him, nor succour arrive.)

The night has other serious consequences: Minora’s hysterics lead to premature labour and the birth of her baby—a boy. You would think she’d be delighted at an event that cuts Angelina so thoroughly from the succession, but no: her henchwoman, Anfania, carelessly remarks on the child’s resemblance to the Montalbanos – specifically, to Angelina – which prompts not just more hysterics, but the absolute repudiation of the child by Minora.

In the short term, this is the best thing that could have happened to the poor little thing, named “Theodore” for his late uncle: he comes under the immediate care of Sigismund and Angelina, with the wife of one of the pensioner-soldiers as his wet-nurse.

Sigismund’s guilt, however, now reaches new heights; and in a state of utter collapse, he confesses to Angelina something he has so far kept to himself: that after his marriage to Minora, and Angelina’s banishment to the convent, he began to be visited by the angry ghost of his brother; and though the visitations stopped after his reunion and reconciliation with his niece, with the birth of the future Duca di Montalbano, the ghost has appeared again…

And so Angelina finds herself secretly sitting up in her uncle’s room, prepared to confront the spirit of her father…

    Sigismund groaned in anguish; and a semblance of the late Theodore di Montalbano entered, in solemn measure, armed cap-a-pee, clad as a very celebrated portrait in the castle depicted him, but with a countenance cadaverous and expressive of stern vengeance, frowning in direful menace; his morion, cuirass, and part of his cuish, off, to render visible the deep and ghastly wounds which bereft him of life, and from which the sanguinary gore seemed yet to trickle.
    The sight was direful, and the chill ague of fear paralyzed the limbs of Angelina; her heart, stunned by the shock, ceased at once its firm throbbings, and seemed, with the feeble flutterings of the last efforts of receding life, to be fast fleeting with her senses to inanimation.
    The spectre began to advance, in solemn, awe-inspiring movement; the refulgent lamp which he bore illuminated the surrounding atmosphere, and gave in fullest horror the complete view of his appalling aspect…

But Angelina, as I have said, is not a fainter: she pulls herself together, reflecting that if this is Theodore’s ghost, she has nothing to fear; and she confronts the seeming shade of her father:

    The spectre had started on beholding her; and for a moment, deprived by surprise of self-possession, had seemed to forget his mission! A preternatural agent, sent from the world of shades, would have been better instructed than to meet surprise; since gifted with omniscience, to fit him for his embassy, he would have anticipated all…
    As the spectre frowned in menace, Angelina smiled in scorn; and as he now moved to the foot of the duca’s bed, and still motioned, with angry, threatening gestures, for her departure, she firmly moved with him; but soon quickly preceding him, she flew to the bedside to support her uncle, who, in direful and almost convulsive trepidation, had raised himself on his knees, to endeavour by prayer to deprecate the wrath of angry Heaven, thus appallingly evinced to him.
    “Fear nothing, my uncle!” she exclaimed, as she clasped him in her arms to protect him, “that impostor shall not harm you.”

Meanwhile, the intrepid Father Patrick pursues the “ghost”; and though he does not catch the midnight visitor, he does find evidence of a hasty undressing; including one revealing detail:

    …they discovered near a pile of armour, which appeared as if hastily thrown there, a casque and blood-stained scarf; both so remarkable, that Angelina positively recognised them as having formed part of the spectre’s costume: and Father Patrick, in raising them from the ground to take possession of them, perceiving the scarf to be a former acquaintance, he vehemently exclaimed—
    “Och! the blackguard! I’m murdered with rage!… Here ’tis for you, jewel; take this token to your creature of an uncle, and bid him be sending it,  ‘with his kind love and service, to one Signore Vasco, and that by a cross-accident, in the cross-examination of witnesses to convict a scoundrel, his chaplain came across this scarf, which formed part of the accoutrements of the gallant crusading knight who performed, with natural ease, the part of Satan’s gentleman-usher to one Signora Rosa, of infamous memory, at a late masquerade.’ So now, darling, you need not be stopping here a morsel longer, since ’tis yourself has got proof for your uncle of a brother’s regard. ‘Twas he that knew it for a fraternal visit, sure enough, only he was after mistaking a d—l for a saint.”

(This, by the way, is not the only hint that Cuthbertson had been re-reading Hamlet: the climax of her novel – or as I should say, one of the climaxes: Volume IV is peppered with them – essentially reworks the play-within-a-play.)

Angelina is on her way back to Sigismund when she comes face-to-face with Orsino. She learns that he has been secretly visiting the castle by secret means, to visit a secret friend – “A present mystery encircles her, and I dare not name her to you” – but Vasco, in hastily fleeing the scene of his own exposure, has cut off his retreat by locking the door of the armoury, and trapped him. Knowing his life is now in Angelina’s hands, he begs for her assistance.

As it happens, earlier that night Angelina overheard part of a conversation between Orsino and his unknown friend, which helped set her mind at ease about him; and she does not let him down. She leads him back to the armoury:

    …she, unused to dissimulation of any species, blushed the deepest tint of ingenuous shame, as the first untruth she had ever voluntarily uttered passed her lips:—
    “This gentleman,” she said, “has been some time waiting for Father Jeronimo, to accompany him to his home ; but, as the duca is much too ill for the good padre to leave the castle this night, the signore wishes to go without him; and as, upon account of the numerous sentinels placed around, it is necessary that he should have an escort out, Grimani, I will thank you to convey him safely through the outward gates.—Grimani, I well know you would do more than this to oblige me.”
    Grimani, with alacrity, proceeded to obey; Orsino profoundly bowed his thanks, which he feared to trust a faltering voice to utter; while Father Patrick, keenly regarding the ill-concealed emotion of Angelina and Orsino, looked doubt and amazement, which Angelina perceiving, she made one successful effort to regain her firmness, and, smiling in courtesy at the grateful Orsino as she waved her hand in adieu, said with ease and dignity—
    “Heaven speed you, signore! and assure your good mother she has my best wishes for her speedy—her permanent recovery.”
    This was a chord that, vibrating keenly on the sensibility of Orsino, combined with his gratitude to nearly overset him; yet prudence forsook him not, and his reply, only expressive of thankfulness for her kindness to his suffering mother, implicated him not in any further suspicion of his being an improper visitor…

It is this act of generosity – the last time Angelina saw Orsino, he was abducting her and being forced on her as a husband – that binds the young bandit so firmly to her cause—and that will lead him to repay her services many times over.

(Grimani is the soldier-husband of the baby’s nurse, and an adherent of the late Duca.)

Things settle down for a time: Angelina devotes herself to the baby and to her uncle, both of whom thrive under her care. But storm-clouds are not long in gathering again; and a pleasant outing on the lake almost leads to tragedy when Theodore’s nurse, altering her grip on the wriggling infant, loses hold of him and drops him in the water.

Angelina, though she does not swim, does not hesitate to jump in after the child; but though she saves him in the short term, her wet clothes begin to drag her under. No assistance is forthcoming from the boat: the nurse has fainted, Hilario can’t work up the courage to jump in, and Vasco, in charge of the oars, rapidly sets out in the other direction—not to get help, as he claims, but to tell Sigismund as quickly as possible that the baby has drowned, and that Angelina deliberately threw him in…

Rescue is at hand, however: Fredrico, lurking as always, pulls both Angelina and the baby from the lake and escorts them back to the castle. Angelina confronts Vasco and Ezzelino in the anteroom of Sigismund’s suite: they join forces to stop her seeing her uncle:

    The pompous confessor looked ludicrously disconcerted; but after a momentary pause oi mortification, he said, “In the dismay and distraction your cruel plot, which has most providentially been frustrated, has involved me in, you cannot expect to find me consistent in any thing I utter. But, however I may express my negatives, you may rest assured I am firm to my purpose of not admitting you here.”
    “Assuredly not!” said Vasco imperiously; “for although her diabolical plot has proved successless, the turpitude of the attempt is still as heinous.”
    “Alas!” said Angelina in a tone and with a look of horrorised despair, ” you have killed my dear, dear uncle, with your cruelties, and fear to let me know it!”
    “Well-parried, most atrocious hypocrite!” exclaimed Vasco, affecting horror at her dire iniquity.
    “We fear not the candid acknowledgement of any action of ours, whatever you may do, Lady Angelina,” said Ezzelino haughtily; “and, to convince you how you have calumniated our humanity, if you promise to advance not a step until you hear the duca’s own decree, I will inform him you are here, and request admittance.”

Angelina agrees to this readily enough; but the decree she waits for, when it comes, is so cruel and so shocking – and coming on the back of her own near escape, and the baby’s – she faints for one of the few times in this narrative:

…instantly the almost-ever gentle Sigismund exclaimed, in the loud commanding voice of an infuriated maniac, “She! that wretch! that murderess of my treasure! dare ask admission here!—never, never shall my sight be blasted by a view of her, barbarian as she has proved to me, who entrusted her with my babe! Oh no, no, no! take her—tear her hence to direct torture, accompanied by the bitterest maledictions of the dying parent whose heart she has broken…”

 

[To be continued…]

04/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 1)

 

    The holy man now returned to attend his devotion, and the trembling Angelina proceeded with Fredrico along the damp and chilling vaults of the monastery of Santo Stefano.
    A gloomy silence reigned, whilst our fugitives trod many paces of their sombre route; for Fredrico had many perplexities to engage his meditations, and the pensive Angelina had no longer a wish for conversation; the pang the sound of ‘the contessa’ had given to her bosom, ere reflection had told her what contessa was most probably meant by Fredrico, had conveyed to her trembling heart the sad and firm conviction, that she loved the long betrothed of Lady Violante St. Seviero, the man accused of direful crimes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circumstances finally led me to a long-delayed reading of Catherine Cuthbertson’s Forest Of Montalbano, her third novel, which was published in four volumes in 1810—making it her shortest (!) work to date. It is also a better novel than either Romance Of The Pyrenees or Santo Sebastiano—although consequently a bit less fun, lacking as it does both the hilarious everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach of the former and the histrionic excesses of the latter.

Not to worry, though: there is no shortage here of insanely complicated plotting, secret identities, evil deeds, hair’s-breadth escapes, and all manner of other goodies. And in fact, for this sort of novel, Forest Of Montalbano is very well plotted indeed, holding together surprisingly well and successfully explaining most of its various mysteries; though of course, with a very heavy reliance upon coincidence and sheer good luck. (Sorry: I mean, of course, “the inscrutable workings of Providence”.) As usual with Cuthbertson, a good memory on the part of the reader is a necessity, with unexplained incidents, tossed-away details and side-comments from Volume I suddenly coming back to haunt us in Volume IV.

This is also “a Catherine Cuthbertson novel” in a variety of other respects, including her idiosyncratic use of language. Several of her established favourites make an appearance here, including “insulated”, and there are foreshadowings of Rosabella in one character’s – not the heroine – “death-resembling swoon”. Anyone suffering an emotional shock is declared to be “heart-rived”; and though fainting generally is toned down here, the characters, male as well as female, tend to turn “the hue of death” in moments of stress. However, our Word For The Day is “direful”, which appears with almost obsessive frequency over the course of the narrative (sometimes twice in the same paragraph!).

The most immediately striking thing about Forest Of Montalbano is that it feels as if Cuthbertson set out to write a novel that was in all respects the opposite of Santo Sebastiano. In place of that novel’s domestic English setting, here we have a late-Gothic novel set almost entirely in Italy; and since the entire cast is Catholic, there’s none of the earlier work’s religious bigotry, just good and bad people who all happen to be Catholic. The Inquisition does play a role, but it is relatively minor and only in the main narrative’s back-story; while the Jesuits are conspicuous by their absence. A couple of the novel’s villains are priests, but they have become priests purely out of ambition or as a smokescreen, with their religion beside the point; while we can hardly move for good churchmen; and most of the villains are lay-people.

The heroine of Forest Of Montalbano is Angelina di Balmero, daughter and only child of the Duca di Montalbano. Angelina is, of course, superlatively beautiful and practically perfect in every way—and it is to Cuthbertson’s credit that she manages to make her an engaging protagonist in spite of this. Of course Angelina is profoundly devout; and of course she spends most of the novel agonising over the finer points of “delicacy”, and splitting the hairs of “duty” and “rectitude”; but on the other hand – certainly not by the standards of this sort of literature, nor of her sister-heroines – she is neither a crier nor a fainter, doing both with relative infrequency and never without good cause. On the other hand, she is intelligent and proud (the latter offered as her main “sin”), and is called upon to display a remarkable degree of courage: Cuthbertson really puts her through the wringer here. She also has a nice line in sarcastic contempt, which she displays whenever someone treats her with what she considers insufficient respect or (not to put too fine a point upon it) tries to bullshit her.

Our hero, meanwhile, is a more ambiguous character—as least for the first volume or two. He is Fredrico di Alviano, and may or may not be the Conte di Alviano, according to the nature of the mysterious fate that overtook his father and elder brother…

Forest Of Montalbano is set predominantly in Tuscany, reasonable travelling distance from Florence. The eponymous forest is not as individually prominent in the narrative as the title might suggest, but the same wooded district does contain the Castle of Montalbano, Angelina’s home; Rossarno Castle, home to the di Alviano family; the monastery of Santo Stefano; and – of course – the headquarters of a dangerous gang of banditti.

The opening stretch of the novel is its most difficult phase for the reader: in her eagerness to start setting up her mysteries, Cuthbertson overdoes it, throwing unidentified characters and unexplained events into the mix with bewildering frequency and, at one point, forgetting to mention a particular plot-point until well after it becomes relevant. She also slides back and forth in time without sufficient explanation, leaving the reader confused over what happened when.

All that happens here is later explained; but it takes some time for each individual penny to drop, and for the introduced relationships to be clear.

Despite its main setting, Forest Of Montalbano opens in the convent of Santo Valentino, in the northern part of the Kingdom of Naples. A new abadessa (sic.) is appointed to the community, under the auspices of a certain Cardinal Gulielmo, who is a powerful, high-ranking official with the Pope’s ear; although the gossip about him is such, the senior nun who is being supplanted initially fears he is foisting a discarded mistress upon them (!). However, Lady Constantia’s behaviour soon changes everyone’s mind, and she wins her convent’s love and affection.

During his visit, Gulielmo is much struck by a young boarder at the convent. He is staggered when he learns that she is Angelina di Balmero, and has conveyed to her a note assuring her that should she ever need “a protector, an advisor, a friend”, he is entirely at her disposal.

Santo Valentino is obscure, and the nuns occupy an old, crumbling building that threatens to collapse. However, the order unexpectedly becomes the recipient of a generous bequest that lifts its standing, and provides alternative accommodation in the form of a castle in the same district, once it has undergone appropriate consecration—and which suffers only the slight drawback of being haunted…

But while several of the sisterhood, including Angelina, have strange experiences in a certain cypress grove, it is Lady Constantia who has the most terrifying experience, albeit not a supernatural one:

…the pensive prioress slowly pursued her way, often pausing to listen for the light footfalls of her friend, when, in turning to move on, after one of these lingering pauses, she suddenly beheld a man, incased in grey armor, standing before her, with his visor down…

The intruder demands of Lady Constantia that she provide asylum for a certain woman—and by “asylum” he means locking her up and throwing away the key. Constantia refuses, scorning both his bribes and his threats:

    “The convent of Santo Valentino is not for your purposes, therefore depart.”
    “Not until I tempt thee, paragon of firmness! further. Although gold cannot lure thee, because you want it not, cannot Fear operate upon this vaunted, virtuous stability of thine?”
    “Fear!” she calmly repeated. “What can I fear, from you? you can, it is true, here rob me, nay more, can aim at my life, but still you have no power over my integrity.”
    “I have power,” he exclaimed, in the determined tones of implacable vengeance; “I have power, whensoever I have inclination, to annihilate thee, or to blast at once thy fondly-coveted reputation for virtues, which you possess not; and to prove such is my power, doubt longer if you dare;” and he raised his visor.
    The abadessa uttering a piercing shriek, fell senseless to the ground…

(And some 1400 pages later, this scene is explained to us.)

Though some years younger, Angelina becomes the chosen friend of Lady Constantia, and in the nature of things tells her (although not, at the time, us) everything about herself. We do learn that she is an orphan, her father having been killed fighting for the Venetian forces against the Turks, and that subsequently her uncle – or rather, her uncle’s wife – banished her from her home and sent her to what was then the most unimportant and poorest convent she could find. She has been two years a boarder with the nuns of Santo Valentino when our story opens, and is now seventeen.

After listening to a conversation amongst the nuns, Angelina begins to worry that the admiration she feels for a certain young man may be something warmer: an interdicted emotion, as he is engaged if not married already; although during her last glimpse of him, in the dilapidated church attached to the abandoned convent, he appeared crushed by grief.

She tells Lady Constantia of her series of encounters with the young man, nearly three years before: his rescue of her dog, stolen by gypsies; a subsequent mutual visit, during which she learned that he had just returned from the Venetian campaign, and of his engagement to Lady Violante St. Seviero; of his risking his life, during the Carnival in Venice, to prevent the assassination of an elderly man; and, in turn, her subsequent rescue of him and his companion, Father Marsilio, from a plot of revenge by the thwarted assassin.

Above all, she describes the last letter she received from her father, in which she learns that the same young man once saved the Duca’s life:

    “In that letter of my sainted father, dear Lady Constantia, what do you think he said ? Why, he bade me ‘seek out the expected inhabitants of Rossarno Castle, the moment of their arrival there; but from all to select out Fredrico di Alviano, as the individual amongst them he most wished me to regard.
    “‘I would have you, my child,’ this now-sainted parent said, ‘to venerate this young man, for his eminent virtues. I would have you cherish him in your affection with a sister’s love, for his excellence claims your highest esteem, and your gratitude will aptly pay him the incense of it’s most lively inspirations…'”

Lady Constantia’s reaction to all this is hardly what Angelina expects:

    “It was then Fredrico di Alviano! Go on, go on, my friend,” exclaimed Lady Constantia; her countenance blanched to the tints of death.
    “It was indeed—and, and you know him, dearest friend?” said Angelina, in a voice of interest.
    “Yes, I do know him,” repeated the abadessa, in a tone of horror.

This is at the outset of Angelina’s lengthy and detailed tale. Towards its conclusion, we get the following exchange:

    “At length, dear Lady Constantia, a very short period prior to my expulsion from the castle of my uncle, the duchessa one day informed me, with a kind of mysterious exultation I could by no means account for, ‘That Fredrico di Alviano was to be united on the morrow to Lady Violante.'”
    “No,” exclaimed the abadessa, in trembling emotion, “the direful morrow never arrived to unite Violante and Fredrico.”
    “Not united!!!—Lady Violante and Conte Fredrico not united!!” exclaimed Angelina, staring in amazement, and blushing with sensations she had yet to learn the definition of. “But I believed they were, dear friend,” she tremulously added, “and my sad heart ceased for a moment to sorrow for it’s own woes; for, in truth, it did rejoice at hearing of this union— ‘For now,’ I mentally said, ‘Fredrico, the preserver of my father, will be happy.'”
    “Happy!” repeated the abadessa, in a tone of solemn wildness, that struck with the chill of horror to the heart of Angelina, “Fredrico can never be happy—not here—not hereafter!”

This split-vision of Fredrico di Alviano sets up one of the two main narrative threads of Forest Of Montalbano: though to Angelina he is everything that is most noble, brave and loving, to the world at large – including his own mother – he is a despoiler of women, the confederate of banditti—and the murderer of his father and half-brother…

The second narrative thread describes Angelina’s own increasingly desperate situation.

The main villains of this novel are the members of the Tolmezo family, who start out as mere social climbers but, as their ambition spirals, become ever more deeply involved in plots and crimes. They are, briefly, Ezzelino, one of the story’s two Bad Priests, and his nephews and niece: Lorenzago, steadily climbing the ladder through his own cynical marriage and his plans for his son; Minora, beautiful but bad; and Vasco, violent and dangerous.

Ironically enough, all this comes about because the one decent member of the Tolmezo family, Viletta, becomes Angelina’s governess: taking this estimable lady as a measure of the rest, Angelina becomes entangled with a nest of vipers who will threaten everything she has in the world—and eventually, her life.

This is where the back-story (and its timing) gets particularly confusing, but if we carefully pick it apart, we discover that, while her father is still alive, Angelina is invited to the home of the Tolmezos, who have targeted her as their way into higher society. It is while she and Viletta are on the road that Fredrico rescues her dog; he is invited to join them at the Tolmezos’ villa, and there she learns who he is—and about his engagement. Later, Angelina is a witness of the thwarted assassination (which, ironically enough, is the attempted murder of a father by his son); and she is returning to the Castle of Montalbano when she, or her carriage, is able to rescue Fredrico and Father Marsilio.

At this time, Angelina is only about fourteen years old, but her romantic difficulties have already begun. At the Tolmezos’, she attracts the attention of Vasco, and is far too unsophisticated to hide her horror and disgust when he pours out his passion for her—thus converting his love into a deadly hate.

But it is after the rescue of Fredrico and the priest that trouble really starts. By this time the Tolmezos have foisted Minora onto Angelina as a friend and companion, and after the rescue of Fredrico and Father Marsilio, she becomes obsessed with the handsome young man—to the point of openly declaring her passion for him. He lets her down more easily than Angelina did Vasco, but with the same sort of finality; showing Minora clearly enough that he considers a vast gulf to lie between herself and Angelina; though at this time, and in light of his engagement, he thinks of the latter only as the daughter of his friend and patron.

Angelina and Fredrico separate at this point and do not meet again for about three years. It is soon after this that the news comes of the death of the Duca di Montalbano, with his brother, Sigismund, inheriting the title and estates. There is a series of increasingly ugly (and frankly confusing) passages between Angelina and “the new duchessa”, which culminate in the girl’s expulsion from her home and her entrance as a boarder to the convent of Santo Valentino—

—and it is only then that we learn that the Duchessa di Montalbano is Minora Tolmezo, who succeeded in luring the helpless, hypochrondriacal Sigismund into marriage. Despite this, Minora still hates Angelina, blaming her for Fredrico’s rejection, and sets about ruining her life—including preventing Sigismund from making any provision for her. In a stroke, Angelina is demoted from “the heiress of Montalbano” to the position of poor relation.

And after Angelina has been in the convent for two years, our story proper opens—phew!

BUT—

Before we really get on with things (sorry!), in the spirit of this blog there is one more touch I really have to mention:

In her quest to ruin Angelina, Minora is determined to produce a baby as soon as possible; and since, we gather, this might not have happened of its own accord – Sigismund having had plenty of leisure in which to repent – she pulls a Mary-of-Modena and hires a pregnant servant to deliver the goods, as it were. Minora is therefore stuck with it when the baby turns out to be a girl; but when, later, she falls pregnant herself, with the possibility of sealing Angelina’s disinheritance by producing a boy, the poor little thing becomes an inconvenience and is disposed of by the Tolmezos. Horrifying as this is, the completely casual way in which Cuthbertson reveals it is pretty hilarious. The only thing funnier is that when Minora’s own baby is born, everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – is astonished to discover it actually resembles the Montalbanos…

So:

Angelina concludes her lengthy tale by describing to Lady Constantia the last time she saw Fredrico, at the church attached to the now-deserted convent. Startled by the abrupt entrance of a man, she instinctively hid—

    “The Conte Fredrico, whom two years since I had left at the Villa di Castrioto, in all the bloom of health and beauty, smiling in all the animated vivacity of a man greatly, deservedly happy, now stood before me, pale, haggard, attennuated, with agonizing grief, horror, and despair, legibly, touchingly portrayed upon every line of a countenance eloquent in proclaiming the feelings of his heart…
    “Upon his knees he meekly sunk to pray—to pray: oh! how devoutly did he pray! The influence of the sacred intercourse soon was visible; the Christian’s resignation diffused itself in mild affecting calmness over a countenance so lately distorted by despair, tranquilising it to a submissive serenity, that promptly thrilled to the heart of sympathy; while by degrees his grief-dimmed eyes emitted rays so bright, so resplendent, they seemed beams of the sublimated fire of virtue, sparkling in consciousness of some heroic greatness, approved by him whose holy spirit could alone inspire it; and as he arose from the altar, a smile beamed over his countenance, a smile so sweet, so celestial, it surely was formed in heaven, and only given to innocence to wear…”

And it is primarily because of this stolen glimpse of Fredrico’s devotions that Angelina initially refuses to believe him guilty of anything, despite an accumulation of appalling evidence. It also seals what she now recognises as her love for him.

Shortly afterwards, a message arrives unexpectedly recalling Angelina to the Castle of Montalbano; and we are given a nice sample of Minora’s letter-writing style—and her attitude to her niece-in-law:

“At the earnest request of your dying uncle, I have been induced graciously to forgive your past unprecedented insolencies to me, and to grant you admission once more beneath the roof of my castle. You therefore cannot but, in justly-awakened lively gratitude for this my unparalleled kindness, come unaccompanied by your former unbecoming supercilious arrogance, and, from my condescension, learning to be grateful, acquire the necessary knowledge of your own dependent situation; and, remembering the respect you owe your superiors, come in meek humility, bending with that just submission, which, as my right, I am determined to exact from all beneath me…”

A carriage arrives, and Angelina is forced to part from her friends and companions of the past two years:

    The heart-chilled Angelina now entered the grated parlour with her agitated friend, and there beheld Father Ezzelino di Tolmezo, uncle and confessor to the Duchessa di Montalbano; Anfania, a favorite woman of la duchessa‘s; and a monk, who seemed so lost to worldly cares and ceremonies, that he sat with his arms folded across his breast, with his head bent towards the ground, and his cowl overshadowing every feature of his face…
    Father Ezzelino was bearing her away in his arms (for grief, and unwillingness yet to go, had robbed her of the faculty of walking), when the hoodwinked monk approached the powerfully-affected abadessa—
    “Doubt you longer my power of vengeance?” he lowly said, raising his cowl.
    “Treacheryl” Lady Constantia shrieked; and ere she could accomplish her intention, of snatching Angelina from Father Ezzelino, who had borne her from the parlour, her terror-struck feelings deprived her of respiration, and she fell into the arms of Sister Olinda in a swoon…

Angelina does not suspect the real cause of her friend’s cry, and merely supposes her overcome by emotion at their parting. Her journey then becomes an endurance trial, with Ezzelino scolding and criticising whatever he can, and Anfania bragging about her mistress’s beauty, how admired she is, the magnificence of her wardrobe—and her jewels, which once belonged to Angelina’s mother. Angelina shrugs off most of this, though she is horrified to hear of the situation of Sigismund—among other things:

    “…your dear uncle is grown more frightfully hunch-backed, more fanciful, more ridiculous, and more weak in body and mind than ever. And, for my part, I hope, if he does not betake himself speedily to a better world, that they will adopt the excellent plan they have had in contemplation, and at once take out a statute of lunacy against him…
    “For then,” said Anfania, who continued speaking, “the duchessa need not be under such restraints; she might then have all her own family about her, and then she might go where she pleased, and do as she pleased; and so she ought; for she ought to be indulged in every thing, to recompence her for marrying such a fright: she, the finest creature the sun ever shone upon, sacrificed to a hunched-back lunatic!… Ah! she is so perfectly the queen of love, that every one is of opinion she might have married some king or emperor at least, since every man who sees her is distracted for her. There, for instance, is Conte Fredrico di Alviano has literally gone crazed for her. Ah! many and many a letter I have carried from her to him, to reject his suits of love; so, when he found she really would not listen to him, he cared not what became of him, and so in despair plunged slap into all the enormous crimes he has since committed…”

The travellers are deep with the Forest of Montalbano when Ezzelino suddenly announces that he must call at Santo Stefano to collect one Father Jeronimo, famed for his skill in healing, who has agreed to call upon Sigismund. It is, however, the still-unnamed monk who directs the carriage to a certain elevated mound in the forest. The two men then depart on foot; and soon after, Anfania announces that they are near her mother’s cottage, and departs to pay her a visit. As their mutual absence grows longer, Angelina becomes frightened; but it is eventually only a lay-monk who approaches the carriage, announcing that Ezzelino has requested it driven to the monastery. The postillions professing their ignorance of its whereabouts, the monk offers to direct them—with the carriage winding deeper and deeper into the woods, and night beginning to fall…

The unnerving journey ends with a swift crossing of a draw-bridge, which slams behind the carriage, cutting off its attending outriders—and delivering Angelina into the hands of the banditti.

Her first exposure to the gang is not as terrifying as it might have been: a young man of quite gentle demeanour swings himself into the carriage and assures her that he is there to see no harm comes to her. He refuses to answer any questions, however, and escorts her into the stronghold of the gang. Inside, she is placed in the care of a woman who is clearly mentally unstable, and who turns out to be the mother of the young man, Orsino—and the wife of the gang’s leader, Salimbini. The unfortunate woman confuses Angelina with someone called Hermione, and in trying to comfort her, only puts the seal on her terrors and miseries:

“And so I distress you, and you weep for me, young and pretty thing; but keep, keep your tears for your own woes; for you will want a river of them if you should come to know Fredrico di Alviano, since all who know him may rue the day they ever breathed in this world’s vale of misery!”

When Salimbini arrives with his criminal entourage, Orsino has Angelina taken away to a chamber prepared for her. Left alone there, Angelina immediately begins looking for a way of escape, but finds her room has only a single window some seven feet off the ground. She climbs onto a chair to inspect it; and though the window offers no comfort, she accidentally displaces a painting on the wall, discovering an aperture behind it that opens into the main banqueting-hall of the banditti. Her hope for escape is immediately dashed; but she can see something of what is going on, and hear everything—and so discovers that the unnamed “monk”, he who frightened Lady Constantia into a cry of, “Treachery!”, is actually Salimbini himself.

(How Constantia knows the banditti leader is left to our imaginations for a 1000 pages or so.)

Fredrico himself then appears—apparently quite at home in the gang’s headquarters. The conversation which follows does nothing to reassure Angelina. It is clear that some sort of pact exists between Fredrico and Salimbini—a promise on one side, a secret held on the other. But that their partnership, whatever it may be, is a contentious one is also soon clear: Fredrico is unable to conceal his contempt for the bandit, who retaliates by subjecting him to various humiliations, including forcing him to drink with him.

Salimbini over-indulges, however, and his loosened tongue reveals the plot against Angelina—who he intends to force into marriage with Orsino. He also reveals that the Tolmezos were behind her “abduction”, and they are likewise moving against the life of the unfortunate Sigismund. The bandit’s subsequent bragging about the bride’s beauty, wealth and standing give Fredrico his opportunity, and he taunts Salimbini into a wager that requires him to reveal his prisoner.

With speed and daring, Fredrico then succeeds in carrying Angelina away from the stronghold, hiding her under the monk’s robe in which he himself arrived disguised, and conveying her through the forest to the ruins of some Roman baths. There, within, Father Marsilio is waiting: he is horrified to hear that Fredrico has defied Salimbini in this way, and predicts dire consequences. Fredrico, however, assures him, and Angelina, that for various reasons Salimbini will not dare retaliate.

The terms in which Angelina’s gratitude is expressed convinces Fredrico that she has not heard the worst about him:

    “Ah! Lady Angelina,” exclaimed Fredrico, in the faltering voice of varied emotion, “this kindness of compassion, so touchingly evinced, assures me, you only know that I have been unfortunate; not—not that I stand arraigned for direful crimes.”
    “Alas! I do know you are suspected of them,” said Angelina, in the lowly tremulous tone of agitated kindness, ” since the voice of calumny reached even me, recluse as I have been.”
    “The voice of calumny!!!—you, you call it calumny!!—oh! how my sorrow-laden heart thanks you, my sweetly, merciful friend!” exclaimed Fredrico, convulsively grasping her hand in overpowering gratitude; and trembling in agitation almost too mighty for subjugation, sunk; vanquished by excess of feeling, upon a bench beside her, unable to articulate how his heart thanked her…

Of course, all this begs the question of how, exactly, Fredrico is still on the loose—able to come and go as he chooses, more or less, though the subject of scorn and loathing from all but a small band of passionate adherents.

It transpires, indirectly, that Fredrico has friends in high places; there is even an oblique reference to “the pontiff’s protection”. Later we learn that, although accused of the murders of his father and elder brother, he has been effectively bailed for a year: given that time to find the missing witness he claims can prove his innocence. It is this quest that has forced him into his reluctant partnership with Salimbini. who has his own fish to fry.

However, there is clearly more to the situation than even the little that meets the eye. Fredrico has been sworn to secrecy about various aspects of the events that led to his public condemnation, and is unable to defend himself even verbally as a consequence, except in the most general terms. This, plus his ambiguous behaviour with respect to the banditti, and the way in which he stealthily comes and goes, has only added to the weight of suspicion that rests upon him; and he has become, too, a convenient scapegoat for almost everyone connected with the situation.

Fredrico leads Angelina through an underground passage that leads to Santo Stefano, and from there into the vaults of Rossarno Castle. They emerge in the castle’s chapel, where a monument has been erected to the late Conte di Alviano—only for Fredrico to find himself in the presence of his mother, the Contessa Zarina:

    “Monster of unnatural cruelty! how dare you thus appear before me? Can—can your callous heart, now black in turpitude, forget that, when your impious hand despoiled me of my husband, I tore my diabolical son from my heart, and forbade him my presence for ever?”
    “Oh! no, madam, I have not, I cannot cease to remember the hatred, the prejudiced injustice of my mother,” replied the conte, in a tone of the most affecting despondence: then with an air of the firmly conscious dignity of innocence, he continued,—“nor is my disobedience to my mother’s afflicting mandate voluntary, nor at the tomb, him you believe my impious hands have immolated, could I, however black in turpitude you deem my heart, have dared to present myself before the widow of the man I murdered?”
    “Murdered!” the Contessa di Alviano shrieked—“murdered! and by his own child!— by my own child!—by mine! oh Fredrico!” and subdued by horror and despair, she sunk upon the ground. — In an agony of alarm and grief, her agitated son flew to raise her.
    “Approach me not! touch me not!” she wildly cried, ” lest in my horror, at the contact, I learn to curse my child as often in the ravings of my phrenzied grief I have the hour which gave him birth.”

Angelina is moved to interfere in this appalling situation. She makes things worse before they get better, however: the contessa sees her clad in her conventual habit, the only clothes she has, and assumes that Fredrico has abducted a nun. (And as it turns out, again.) Angelina indignantly repudiates this suggestion, and praises Fredrico’s courage in rescuing her, as well as her belief in his innocence of any crime.

But it is only when Zarina learns who this dignified young woman is that she is moved to listen to her pleas for Fredrico. The late Duca and Duchessa di Montalbano were her closest friends, and she knew them for people of the most rigid honour and inviolable principles; she cannot conceive anything less of their daughter, who now defends Fredrico’s innocence so vigorously.

The contessa for the first time hesitates—and doubts—but her softened tone draws upon her the explosive wrath of Guiseppe, younger brother of the late Conte di Alvariano, and also “probationary Arcivescovo di Mazzarino” (there is an archbishopric in the family’s keeping, but Guiseppe hasn’t taken orders yet). Intruding upon the scene, he violently upbraids Zarina as a “sinful, degenerate woman”, for holding communication with the murderer of her husband.

In order to cut the painful scene short, Fredrico offers to withdraw; only begging protection for Angelina. He is obliged to explain how she came to be in his company, thus revealing he knows rather too much about the banditti and their ways. This provokes another explosion from Guiseppe—and an unexpectedly feisty retort from Angelina:

    “Woman!” vociferated the archbishop haughtily, “pollute not your breath by holding converse with this devoted sinner. Our present duty is, to provide for the safety of a daughter of the illustrious house of Montalbano, who, to deserve the protection of the virtuous, must first, ere we grant her ours, solemnly promise before the altar of high heaven, to abjure all further communication with Fredrico di Alviano, and to forswear now, and for ever, all friendship for, and every grateful remembrance of.”
    “What!” exclaimed the astonished and recoiling girl; “what, monsignore, vow at the altar of my Creator to become a wretch undeserving of the future mercy of pitying Heaven! Forswear the preserver of my parent’s life, the protector of my own from wretchedness! Forget my gratitude to Conte Fredrico di Alviano! Never, no, never. And if on terms of infamy like these only I acquire the Reverendissimo Arcivescovo di Mazzarino’s protection, proudly, exultingly, in the purer spirit of superior virtue, I renounce it with abhorrence!”

While we’re inclined to applaud, this speech scuppers Fredrico’s plans, which involved not merely getting Angelina a night’s accommodation, but returning her safely and with dignity to the Castle of Montalbano—in a way that lets the Tolmezos know that others are keeping an eye on her. The furious Guiseppe now repudiates Angelina, refusing her entry to the castle proper and forcing the contessa away from the scene.

The young people are still debating the point when they are joined by Claudia, an elderly servant, who to Fredrico’s joy and relief has come at Zarina’s orders to conduct Angelina to a room for the night—though secretly. Claudia is your typical garrulous retainer, and at this point it is not possible for the reader to pick out the few gems from the landslide of her conversation; though this touch alludes to something that later becomes vital:

“You need not have expressed so much concern at the idea of detaining my young lord, or, alas! now our only lord, from his pillow, by going on this embassy for you, as he now never sleeps, never seeks a pillow, unless he finds one upon the cold earth, when, overpowered by fatigue, he drops into a slumber in his mysterious rambles through the woods and forest, where he often wanders now all day long; and then all night he sits up in my late lord’s library, locked and barricaded up from the possibility of any intruder, where his enemies say ‘his wicked companions assemble, to plot new crimes with him;’ but I say, ‘how do they get in, unseen by any one?’ and then I am told, ‘that those who consign themselves to the powers of darkness can become invisible at pleasure’…”

It is through Claudia’s ramblings that we get our first intimation that Guiseppe is anything but a man of God, as she chatters about his night-time wanderings. Guiseppe does try to prevent Angelina seeing Zarina again – Claudia later suggests, shrewdly, that he afraid Angelina will soften Zarina’s attitude towards Fredrico – but Angelina herself settles matters via her artfully artless dropping of the name of Cardinal Gulielmo, which reduces Guiseppe to a state of unwonted meekness.

And it is via Claudia’s gas-bagging the next morning that Angelina (and we) learns the rest of our back-story.

Fredrico, then aged only nineteen, succeeded in carrying Lady Violante away from the convent of Santo Rosalia in Rome—making him guilty of sacrilege, at least, since she had just completed her novitiate. He was also guilty of causing a hell of a scandal, as the lady in question is Gulielmo’s niece. Much parlaying later, it was agreed amongst the seniors in the matter that Lady Violante would thereafter live with the di Alvianos, and marry Fredrico when he came of age.

Claudia is of the opinion that the two were never really in love; that the beautiful Violante, five years older than Fredrico, took advantage of the young man’s sense of romance and adventure in appealing to him for “rescue” from the convent. She describes a turbulent two years, full of scenes driven by Violante’s vanity and caprice; until, the day before the wedding—Violante eloped with Rolando, Fredrico’s older half-brother:

    “My lord, favoring the cause of his eldest son, had planned the elopement, and had himself gone off with the young couple to see them united. Fredrico, apprised of the plan, in jealousy and indignation, was in wait to frustrate it—but how the direful catastrophe was perpetrated, no witness appears to tell. Lady Violante refuses to make any communications, except in announcing her firm belief of Fredrico’s guilt.
    “But, alas! my lord and Conte Rolando disappeared; the attendants described their being surrounded by an armed troop, who dragged their lord from the carriage, whom they saw no more. However, from the search which was made afterwards, a track of blood was discovered from a spot near where the carriage was stopped to an obscure coppice on the banks of the Arno, where Rolando’s hat, some of his clothes, and part of the insignia of the military order of St. Marc, which he wore, were found. Of his assassination there is certainly no doubt, although the Arno never returned his body, for into that it was surely precipitated: and in sad, sad confirmation of the further direful catastrophe of the night, the emissaries of Giuseppe found the body of my poor lord, clad as he left home, with the well-known dagger of Fredrico (which he had taken in battle from a Mahometan janizary in the Morea) stuck in his heart, hid under a heap of stones…”

 

 

[To be continued…]

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!”