« EdellinenJatka »
ROMANCES FROM REAL LIFE.
No. VII.—The LESSINGHAMS. The news of the failure of Gledstane and Balmandell, a house of agency in Calcutta, arrived at Cawnpore on the evening of a ball. The post came in late, and we were all assembled at the house of the nawab, when the astounding intelligence burst upon us from those who, having received letters from Calcutta, were but too happy to disseminate the fatal tidings. Upon many it acted like an electric shock; one lady fainted and was carried home: poor woman, she saw the inheritance of her children snatched away at once; they were in England for their education, and the stoppage of their remittances might plunge them into the deepest distress. Those, who were not affected by the catastrophe, amused themselves by watching the countenances of others well known to be losers; for, there being no such thing as a familysecret amongst the European community in India, every body is acquainted with the pecuniary, as well as the doinestic, affairs of his neighbours. Most of the sufferers made a shew of fortitude, and some had recourse to bravado : one young man turned his pockets inside out, and seemed to enjoy the joke exceedingly, and others assumed an outward air of tranquillity, joining in the amusements of the evening as if nothing had happened.
But the most remarkable instance of composure, under severe mental agitation, was exhibited by one who was well known to have made money his god. Drax Lessingham, a younger brother of a good family, had come out to India with the determination of making a fortune, and, though still young, and in the military service, until this bubble, so ingeniously blown by the firm of Gledstane and Co., had burst, he seemed to be in a fair way of accomplishing his purpose. Having had good interest, he had always held a staff-appointment, and his expenses were so nicely regulated, that he never spent a fraction beyond what was absolutely necessary to support the appearance of a gentle man : of course, nobody ever thought of asking him for a pice upon any pretext whatsoever. Strictly just in all his dealings, he entertained an utter contempt for generosity, and allowed a cousin, not so well patronized at head-quarters, to be irremediably involved in debt and difficulty, rather than advance a small sum, which would have obviated the necessity of resorting to native money-lenders. Conway had paid the principal twice over, and yet was more deep than ever in the usurers' books. The accumulated savings of Drax Lessingham had been lodged in the hands of Gledstane and Balmandelli who tempted the cupidity of their constituents by an offer of two per cent. beyond that given by any other house. All eyes, therefore, at the announcement of the crash, were turned upon the principal creditor. He bore it without wincing. His really handsome countenance was lighted up by the same smile as it had been wont to wear under the consciousness that he was achieving his object ; he listened to the mock condolements of pretended sympathizers (for he had not made himself friends with the mammon of unrighteousness), with the air of an obliged person; in short, it was impossible to detect any feeling of pain or disappointment upon the alteration of his prospects.
Yet adverse fortune effected an extraordinary revolution in his manners and deportment, and the change commenced from the moment that the intelligence reached him of the loss he had sustained. A sudden conviction seemed to come upon him, thật India, which he had hitherto regarded merely as the place where he might pluck the silver fruitage of the rupee-tree for a time, and
carry the glittering spoil away to another land, was now to be his home; that his painful efforts to secure wealth, which he might spend in England, had been made in vain ; and that henceforth he must be content with the advantages which his profession held out, and the enjoyments of domestic life still attainable in the society in which his lot was irrevocably cast. Many persons thought Drax Lessingham a philosopher. I do not profess to belong to the liberal party, and my opinion remained the same. I had always esteemed him to be a selfish egotist, and could not join in the applause bestowed upon his equaniinity under the pressure of misfortune. Perhaps I was the less inclined to give this soul-less calculator credit for the calm endurance of evil tidings, since the new system of tactics he adopted struck at once at the foundation of his warm-hearted cousin's dearest hopes.
Amongst other youthful follies committed by Conway Lessingham, was that of falling in love. He had seen more of the fair. idol of his affections than the state of Indian society usually permits to admirers who have not pro-posed, or whose circumstances preclude them from making offers of marriage, having performed the voyage from Calcutta in the same small fleet, composed, the greater part of the way, merely of their several boats, which had brought: up Helen, with her brother and sister, Captain and Mrs. Marsden. They loved each other,
though his sighs Alone had breathed the tender tale,
And be, in her too conscious eyes,
Had read, how easy to prevail ! The arrival at Cawnpore had dispelled the dream. Captain Marsden gave a broad hint upon the state of the lover's finances; Mrs. Marsden expostulated upon the impropriety of keeping more eligible suitors off, and poor Helen, painfully impressed with the conviction that it would be ungenerous to take advantage of a youthful passion, and plunge a man she loved into irremediable difficulties, acquiesced in the prudential advice of her friends. They only met in public; but Conway could not conceal his affection, and as it was generally believed that a reciprocal feeling existed in the breast of Miss. Waldburg, though the object of general admiration, none ventured to assail a preoccupied heart. Captain and Mrs. Marsden, therefore, very much to their annoyance, still had their sister on their hands.
The romantic attachment of his cousin furnished a never-failing source of ridicule to Drax Lessingham, who held all the finer affections in scorn, and cherished a contemptuous sort of pity for those who were unwise enough to prefer the flowery labyrinths of fairy-land, to the beaten pathways of the world. He had no idea of marriage, except as the means of improving the fortune, or rising in station; and, having a very tolerable, opinion of himself; he expected to carry off some great heiress, when he should make his appear. ance in London, with his family connexions backed by twenty or thirty thousand pounds. Indeed, as he contemplated his pretensions, he scarcely knew how to limit his ideas, or to decide who could be at all worthy of the supreme honour of becoming his wife. Visions, such as Alnaschar indulged in of old, floated before his mind's eye, and were kicked down, much in the same manner, by the failure of the firm in which principal and interest were supposed to be accumulating so fast. With these notions of his own dignity and importance, Drax had never condescended to show the slightest attention to the spinster-hood of India; he was, on the contrary, their most fastidious critic; sneered at their beauty and accomplishments, inquired into their family and connexions, espied faults in their dress and address, laughed at the folly of their admirers, and undervalued and censured them upon every occasion. He found listeners in the least-reputable portion of his own sex, and in the few upstart, impertinent, ill-bred married women, whom he patronized, and by whom he was patronized in return. These ladies were so weak-minded, as to be flattered by the attentions of a fine gentleman of the Pelham school, who grounded his claims to distinction on the disparagement of others.
People are too often taken at their own valuation; and so it fared with Drax. He was also known to be rich; and, though every body belonging to his acquaintance was aware that his wealth would be appropriated solely to his own gratification, it gave him importance, and produced parasites, if not friends. Until the evening of this ball, Drax Lessingham had always been seen in the train of some lady of the highest rank and fashion in the station, assisting to spoil her by putting absurd notions of consequence into her head, and checking any disposition to civility to those beneath her by ironical remarks upon the appearance and manners of the despised individual. His gallantries never went beyond a certain point; he, therefore, though devoting himself entirely to married women, had the reputation of being a man of strict morals. He possessed a certain degree of cleverness which passed for wit, and he was either feared or admired by the largest portion of the community.
Gledstane and Co.'s bankruptcy had affected Conway Lessingham as well as his cousin; for a subaltern, he was rather deep on the debtor-side of their books, and as visions of assignces, writs, bailiffs, and the large house in Chowringee,* arose before him, he saw that his affairs had approached their crisis, and dared not indulge in the one quadrille, which hitherto, at every ball, he had danced with Miss Waldburg. To the surprise of the whole assembly, Drax took his place, and handed a spinster to the set, the very first time upon record; it being well known that he had refused to dance with General Armstrong's daughter, on the plea that such a departure from an established rule might raise expectations in the young lady and her' papa, which he must be compelled to disappoint. A step of this kind was almost equivalent to a declaration, and so novel an incident did much towards diverting the public attention from the distress occasioned by the failure in Calcutta. Mrs. Marsden, all smiles and graciousness, felt her hopes of Helen's marriage revive, and Mrs. Brudenell, who had heretofore monopolized Drax Lessingham’s attentions, and who had taught herself to think she had an exclusive right to them, felt highly indignant, and indulged in some very splenetic remarks upon the young lady who suffered herself to be trifled with by a man, who, it was well known, never intended to marry in India. Miss Waldburg did not appear to attach so much importance to the civilities of her new admirer; she accepted them merely because she would not betray any pique towards a person whose general conduct to unmarried women was rude and contemptuous, and she left the ball-room happily unconscious of the revolution which had been effected in the mind of her partner.
Though Drax had lost all his savings, he was still extremely well-off in the world. He held a staff-appointment of a very lucrative nature, and if he could no longer entertain a hope of retiring early from the service, and making a figure in England, India held out all the advantages which a foreign country could offer. It soon became evident that he had made up his mind, not only to remain in exile, but to indulge in all thé enjoyments which his pay and allowances would admit. He removed to a larger bungalow, gare his servants livery turbans and cummerbunds,-scarlet, with the crest in silver, exchanged his buggy for a very elegant curricle, and furnished his house in the most splendid manner. Matrimonial symptoms grew very apparent, yet Miss Waldburg was slow to perceive them; she depended upon the utter heartlessness of her new admirer, and could not be persuaded that he was serious in his attentions. Conway was of a different opinion; he knew his cousin well, and felt convinced that he would take a malicious pleasure in supplanting him with the woman of his choice. But there could be no remedy; his affairs were in a desperate state; pressed for money on all sides, an addition to his expenditure was out of the question, even if Miss Waldburg could be brought to consent to share his broken fortunes. He confided all his troubles to me and we both went about in a very disconsolate manner, for I had no comfort to bestow. I had always been upon terms of intimacy with the Marsdens, for, being as I have before more than hinted, an eligible, I came in for my full share of the hospitalities of those who had daughters, or sisters, or nieces to marry. Captain and Mrs. Marsden evidently thought me worthy of the high honour of Helen Waldburg's hand, and perhaps, if I had not been the confidante of Conway's attachment, I might have endeavoured to acquire some interest with the young lady.
* The Calcutta gaol.
The situation of this poor girl, though not peculiar in India, was very distressing. A selfish wish on the part of her sister, who was desirous of having a companion in a land of strangers, had induced her to take a step from which there was no retreat. Her outfit and passage had nearly swallowed up the small property which, when joined to that possessed by Mrs. Marsden before her marriage, was barely sufficient to support them together as gentlewomen. She had fulfilled her part, and now that she was no longer wanted, the additional expense she occasioned was a subject of lamentation and regret. When the master of a mansion feels that a guest has become burthensome, the unfor: tunate inmate is soon, directly or indirectly, made acquainted with the circumstance. Mrs. Marsden's affection for her sister had been weakened by the claims of nearer and dearer objects; separation, formerly so much dreaded, had become desirable, and the opportunities of being well settled in life, which Helen had allowed to pass by, were now registered as crimes against her. She was looked upon as the most selfish being in the world, and the anger of her relatives was farther excited by an opinion generally promulgated, that Miss Waldburg would not now marry in India. The destinies of young ladies are often settled by this kind of gossip; men do not like to select those who are marked out for celibacy, and, notwithstanding Miss Waldburg's various attractions, she was very little sought after, and her affrighted protectors thought it necessary to take some decisive step to effect their object.
There was some danger in placing myself between a young lady thus situated, and her relatives, for any overt act of attention upon my part would bring a demand from the brother-in-law to know what it meant, and slugs and pistols might be the alternative to marriagle with a lady, not only indifferent to me, but in love with somebody else. Nevertheless, I could not help interposing more frequently than was quite safe or prudent, for my heart always warms to the sex, and whenever I see a woman in distress I cannot help trying to console her : pity, they say, is akin to a more tender passion, ergo, I ran an imminent risk of falling in love. Conway, poor fellow, though he sent me to the house to gain intelligence of Helen, was by no means easy upon the sub
ject of our friendship; so I had the felicity of contemplating another duel in perspective, should I concern myself too deeply about this fatal beauty.
I know not what would have been the consequence, had not Drax Lessingham acted the part of my guardian-angel, by stepping in, and appropriating the lady to himself. After the commencement of his visits, my welcome was not so warm as usual from any one excepting Helen ; indeed, I soon found myself completely out of favour with Mrs. Marsden, who went so far as to say that I had acted a very dishonourable part, since it was now plain that, not withstanding all my pretended admiration of her sister, I had not entertained serious intentions. Mrs. Brudenell also became my enemy; she thought I ought to have prevented Drax Lessingham from lowering himself by such an alliance, by a previous proposal on my part, and she attributed his choice of Miss Waldburg to my perpetual praises of her style of countenance and ladylike manners. I tried to make my peace with both the ladies, but could not succeed; I disdained to flatter Mrs. Brudenell's imperfections, and she was not content with homage to her beauty. I could not allow that her friend was going to throw himself away, that it was a dreadful sacrifice upon
bis part, and one that he must repent to the latest period of his life. On the contrary, I insisted that his good fortune far exceeded his merits, and that, if Miss Waldburg consented to become his wife, he ought to esteem himself the happiest of men. No wonder that we were at issue upon this point, or that Mrs. Brudenell, unaccustomed to contradiction, only endured me because Drax was engaged elsewhere, and because my conversation was too amusing to be relinquished entirely. There were many men, both young and old at Cawnpore, who would stand opposite or by the side of her chair, and fan her with a feather punkah, with a perseverance which might raise the surprize and admi, * ration of the servants, whose duty it was to perform that office; but Mrs. Brudenell was fastidious in the choice of her cavalieri, and, not being able to find a better substitute for the recreant knight, was fain to admit me in his place, though her poverty but not her will consented. I thus found myself in rather a novel position; two of the finest women in Cawnpore absolutely courting my attentions, without being actuated by the slightest tendresse. Helen would gladly have had me always by her side, because she knew I should not make her an offer, which she was momentarily in expectation of receiving from a man whom she had liked still less; while Mrs. Brudenell, in the absence of her favourite, enlisted me into her service rather than have the forlorn look of desertion which the neglect of a principal attendant would otherwise produce.
From the instant that Drax Lessingham commenced his pursuit of Miss Waldburg, every body knew how it would terminate. He was not born to be other than a prosperous wooer, and Helen smiled, or seemed to smile, upon him; she had no option, poor girl, and the prospect of speedily leaving a wretched home, embittered to her by a sense of unkindness and ingratitude on the part of those on whom, in a foreign land, she was dependent for every comfort, doubtless did much to reconcile her to her fate. They, however, who looked deeper than the surface, might perceive, beneath the intended bride's assumed tranquillity, emotions which, though suppressed, could not be stifled. The vivacity which, like April sun-shine, had lit up her fair brow, and told that in despite of surrounding clouds. she could sometimes be happy, had entirely vanished; it was succeeded by a forced and unnatural calm. Drax was one of those exacting men, who expect the utmost deference in every thing, whether trifles or matters of importance; who would always be either