Charles Dickens

SEVERAL years ago I made a tour through some of the Southern Counties of England with a friend. "We travelled in an open carriage, stopping for a few hours a day, or a week, us it might be, wherever there was any thing to be seen : and we generally got through one stage before breakfast, because it gave our horses rest, and ourselves the chance of enjoying the brown bread, new milk, and fresh eggs of those country roadside inns, which are fast becoming subjects for archaeological investigation.
One evening my friend said, ' To-morrow, we will breakfast at T—. I want to inquire about a family named Lovell, who used to live there. I met the husband and wife and two lovely children, one summer at Exmouth. We became very intimate, and I thought them particularly interesting people, but I have never seen them since.'
The next morning's sun shone as brightly as heart could desire, and after a delightful drive, we reached the outskirts of the town about nine o'clock.
'Oh, what a pretty inn ! ' said I, as we approached a small white house, with a sign swinging in front of it, and a flower-garden on one side.
'Stop, John,' cried my friend, ' we shall get a much cleaner breakfast here than in the town, I dare say ; and if there is anything to be seen there, we can walk to it ; ' so we alighted, and were shown into a neat little parlor, with white curtains, where an unexceptionable rural breakfast was soon placed before us.
'Pray do you happen to know anything of a family called Lovell ? ' inquired my friend, whose name, by the way, was Markham. ' Mr. Lovell was a clergyman. '
'Yes, Ma'am,' answered the girl who attended us, apparently the landlord's daughter, ' Mr. Lovell is the vicar of our parish.'
'Indeed ! and does he live near here ? '
'Yes, Ma'am, he lives at the vicarage. It's just down that lane opposite, about a quarter of a mile from here ; or you can go across the fields, if you please, to where you see that tower ; it's close by there.'
'And which is the pleasantest road ? ' inquired Mrs. Markham.
'Well, Ma'am, I think by the fields is the pleasantest, if you don't mind a stile or two ; and, besides, you get the best view of the Abbey by going that way.'
'Is that tower we see part of the Abbey ? '
'Yes, Ma'am,' answered the girl, 'and the vicarage is just the other side of it.'
Armed with these instructions, as soon as we had finished our breakfast we started across the fields, and after a pleasant walk of twenty minutes we found ourselves in an old churchyard, amongst a cluster of the most picturesque ruins we had ever seen. "With the exception of the grey tower, which we had espied from the inn, and which had doubtless been the belfry, the remains were not considerable. There was the outer wall of the chancel, and the broken step that had led to the high altar, and there were sections of aisles, and part of a cloister, all gracefully festooned with mosses and ivy ; whilst mingled with the grass-grown graves of the prosaic dead, there were the massive tombs of the Dame Margerys and the Sir Hildebrands of more romantic periods. All was ruin and decay ; but such poetic ruin ! such picturesque decay ! And just beyond the tall grey tower, there was the loveliest, smiling, little garden, and the prettiest cottage, that imagination could picture. The day was so bright, the grass so green, the flowers so gay, the air so balmy with their sweet perfumes, the birds sang so cheerily in the apple and cherry trees, that all nature seemed rejoicing.
'Well,' said my friend, as she seated herself on the fragment of a pillar, and looked around her, ' now that I see this place, I understand the sort of people the Lovells were.'
'What sort of people were they ? ' said I.
'Why, as I said before, interesting people. In the first place, they were both extremely handsome.'
'But the locality had nothing to do with their good looks, I presume,' said I.
'I am not sure of that,' she answered ; ' when there is the least foundation of taste or intellect to set out with, the beauty of external nature, and the picturesque accidents that harmonize with it, do, I am persuaded, by their gentle and elevating influences on the mind, make the handsome handsomer, and the ugly less ugly. But it was not alone the good looks of the Lovells that struck me, but their air of refinement and high breeding, and I should say high birth—though I know nothing about their extraction—combined with their undisguised poverty and as evident contentment. Now, I can understand such people finding here an appropriate home, and being satisfied with their small share of this world's goods ; because here the dreams of romance writers about Love in a Cottage might be somewhat realised ; poverty might be graceful and poetical here ; and then, you know, they have no rent to pay.'
'Very true,' said I ; ' but suppose they had sixteen daughters, like a half-pay officer I once met on board a steam-packet ? '
'That would spoil it certainly,' said Mrs. Markham ; 'but let us hope they have not. When I knew them they had only two children, a boy and a girl, called Charles and Emily ; two of the prettiest creatures I ever beheld ! '
As my friend thought it yet rather early for a visit, we had remained chattering in this way for more than an hour, sometimes seated on a tombstone, or a fallen column ; sometimes peering amongst the carved fragments that were scattered about the ground, and sometimes looking over the hedge into the little garden, the wicket of which was immediately behind the tower. The weather being warm, most of the windows of the vicarage were open and the blinds were all down ; we had not yet seen a soul stirring, and were just wondering whether we might venture to present ourselves at the door, when a strain of distant music struck upon our ears. ' Hark ! ' I said, ' how exquisite ! It was the only thing wanting to complete the charm.'
'It's a military band, I think,' said Mrs. Markham, ' you know we passed some barracks before we reached the Inn.'
Nearer and nearer drew the sound, solemn and slow ; the band was evidently approaching by the green lane that skirted the fields we had come by. ' Hush,' said I, laying my hand on my friend's arm, with a strange sinking of the heart ; ' they are playing the Dead March in Saul ! Don't you hear the muffled drums ? It's a funeral, but where 's the grave ? '
'There ! ' said she, pointing to a spot close under the hedge where some earth had been thrown up ; but the aperture was covered with a plank, probably to prevent accidents.
There are few ceremonies in life at once so touching, so impressive, so sad, and yet so beautiful, as a soldier's funeral ! Ordinary funerals with their unwieldy hearses and feathers, and the absurd looking mutes, and the ' inky cloaks ' and weepers, of hired mourners, always seem to me like a mockery of the dead ; the appointments border so closely on the grotesque ; they are so little in keeping with the true, the only view of death that can render life endurable ! There is such a tone of. exaggerated— forced, heavy, over-acted gravity about the whole thing, that one had need to have a deep personal interest involved in the scene, to be able to shut one's eyes to the burlesque side of it. But a military funeral, how different ! There you see death in life and life in death ! There is nothing over-strained, nothing overdone. At once simple and solemn, decent and decorous, consoling, yet sad. The chief mourners, at best, are generally true mourners, for they have lost a brother with whom ' they sat but yesterday at meat ;' and whilst they are comparing memories, recalling how merry they had many a day been together, and the solemn tones of that sublime music float upon the air, we can imagine the freed and satisfied soul wafted on those harmonious breathings to its Heavenly home ; and our' hearts are melted, our imaginations exalted, our faith invigorated, and we come away the better for what we have seen.
I believe some such reflections as these were passing through our minds, for we both remained silent and listening, till the swinging-to of the little wicket, which communicated with the garden, aroused us ; but nobody appeared, and the tower being at the moment betwixt us and it, we could not see who had entered. Almost at the same moment, a man came in from a gate on the opposite side, and advancing to where the earth was thrown up, lifted the plank and discovered the newly made grave. He was soon followed by some boys, and several respectable-looking persons came into the enclosure, whilst nearer and nearer drew the sound of the muffled drums, and now we descried the firing party and their officer, who led the procession with their arms reversed, each man wearing above the elbow a piece of black crape and a small bow of white satin ribbon; the band still playing that solemn strain. Then came the coffin, borne by six soldiers. Six officers bore up the pall, all quite young men ; and on the coffin lay the shako, sword, side-belt, and white gloves of the deceased. A long train of mourners marched two and two, in open file, the privates first, the officers last. Sorrow was imprinted on every face ; there was no unseemly chattering, no wandering eyes ; if a word was exchanged, it was in a whisper, and the sad shake of the head showed of whom they were discoursing. All this we observed as they marched through the lane that skirted one side of the churchyard. As they neared the gate the band ceased to play.
'See there,' said Mrs. Markham, directing my attention to the cottage, ' there comes Mr. Lovell. Oh, how he is changed ! ' and whilst she spoke, the clergyman entering by the wicket, advanced to meet the procession at the gate, where he commenced reading the funeral service as he moved backwards towards the grave, round which the firing party, leaning on their firelocks, now formed. Then came those awful words, ' Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,' the hollow sound of the earth upon the coffin, and three volleys fired over the grave, finished the solemn ceremony.
When the procession entered the churchyard, we had retired behind the broken wall of the chancel, whence, without being observed, we had watched the whole scene with intense interest. Just as the words 'Ashes to ashes ! dust to dust ! ' were pronounced, I happened to raise my eyes towards the grey tower, and then, peering through one of the narrow slits, I saw the face of a man —such a face ! Never to my latest day can I forget the expression of those features! If ever there was despair and anguish written on a human countenance, it was there ! And yet so young ! so beautiful ! A cold chill ran through my veins as I pressed Mrs. Markham's arm. ' Look up at the tower ! ' I whispered.
'My God ! What can it be V she answered, turning quite pale ! 'And Mr. Lovell, did you observe how his voice shook ? at first, I thought it was illness ; but he seems bowed down with grief. Every face looks awestruck ! There must be some tragedy here— something more than the death of an individual !' and fearing, under this impression, that our visit might prove untimely, we resolved to return to the inn, and endeavour to discover if anything unusual had really occurred. Before we moved, I looked up at the narrow slit—the face was no longer there ; but as we passed round to the other side of the tower, we saw a tall, slender figure, attired in a loose coat, pass slowly through the wicket, cross the garden, and enter the house. We only caught a glimpse of the profile ; the head hung down upon the breast ; the eyes were bent upon the ground ; but we knew it was the same face we had seen above.
We went back to the inn, where our inquiries elicited some information, which made us wish to know more : but it was not till we went into the town that we obtained the following details of this mournful drama, of which we had thus accidentally witnessed one impressive scene.
Mr. Lovell, as Mrs. Markham had conjectured, was a man of good family, but no fortune ; he might have had a large one, could he have made up his mind to marry Lady Elizabeth Wentworth, the bride selected for him by a wealthy uncle who proposed to make him his heir ; but preferring poverty with Emily Dering, he was disinherited. He never repented his choice, although he remained vicar of a small parish, and a poor man all his life. The two children whom Mrs. Markham had seen, were the only ones they had, and through the excellent management of Mrs. Lovell, and the moderation of her husband's desires, they had enjoyed an unusual degree of happiness in this sort of graceful poverty, till the young Charles and Emily were grown up, and it was time to think what was to be done with them. The son had been prepared for Oxford by the father, and the daughter, under the tuition of her mother, was remarkably well educated and accomplished ; but it became necessary to consider the future : Charles must be sent to college, since the only chance of finding a provision for him was in the Church, although the expense of maintaining him there could be ill afforded ; so, in order in some degree to balance the outlay, it was, after much deliberation, agreed that Emily should accept a situation as governess in London. The proposal was made by herself, and the rather consented to, that, in case of the death of her parents, she would almost inevitably have had to seek some such means of subsistence. These partings were the first sorrows that had reached the Lovells.
At first, all went well ; Charles was not wanting in ability nor in a moderate degree of application ; and Emily wrote cheerily of her new life. She was kindly received, well treated, and associated with the family on the footing of a friend. Neither did further experience seem to diminish her satisfaction. She saw a great many gay people—some of whom she named ; and, amongst the rest, there not unfrequently appeared the name of Herbert. Mr. Herbert was in the army, and being a distant connexion of the family with whom she resided, was a frequent visitor at their house. ' She was sure papa and mamma would like him.' Once the mother smiled, and said she hoped Emily was not falling in love ; but no more was thought of it. In the meantime Charles had found out that there was time for many things at Oxford, besides study— He was naturally fond of society, and had a remarkable capacity for excelling in all kinds of games. He was agreeable, lively, exceedingly handsome, and sang charmingly, having been trained in part-singing by his mother. No young man at Oxford was more fêté ; but alas ! he was very poor, and poverty poisoned all his enjoyments. For some time he resisted temptation ; but after a terrible struggle—for he adored his family—he gave way, and ran in debt, and although the imprudence only augmented his misery, he had not resolution to retrace his steps, but advanced further and further on this broad road to ruin, so that he had come home for the vacation shortly before our visit to T—, threatened with all manner of annoyances if he did not carry back a sufficient sum to satisfy his most clamorous creditors. He had assured them he would do so, but whore was he to get the money ? Certainly not from his parents ; he well knew they had it not ; nor had he a friend in the world from whom he could hope assistance in such an emergency. In his despair he often thought of running away—going to Australia, America, New Zealand, anywhere ; but he had not even the means to do this. He suffered indescribable tortures, and saw no hope of relief.
It was just at this period that Herbert's regiment happened to be quartered at T—. Charles had occasionally seen his name in his sister's letters, and heard that there was a Herbert now in the barracks, but he was ignorant whether or not it was the same person ; and when he accidentally fell into the society of some of the junior officers, and was invited by Herbert himself to dine at the mess, pride prevented his ascertaining the fact. He did not wish to betray that his sister was a governess. Herbert, however, knew full well that their visitor was the brother of Emily Lovell, but partly for reasons of his own, and partly because he penetrated the weakness of the other, he abstained from mentioning her name.
Now, this town of T— was, and probably is, about the dullest quarter in all England ! The officers hated it, there was no flirting, no dancing, no hunting, no anything. Not a man of them knew what to do with himself. The old ones wandered about and played at whist, the young ones took to hazard and three-card-loo, playing at first for moderate stakes, but soon getting on to high ones. Two or three civilians of the neighbourhood joined the party, Charles Lovell amongst the rest. Had they begun with playing high, he would have been excluded for want of funds ; but whilst they played low, he won, so that when they increased the stakes, trusting to a continuance of his good fortune, he was eager to go on with them. Neither did his luck altogether desert him ; on the whole, he rather won than lost ; but he foresaw that one bad night would break him, and he should be obliged to retire, forfeiting his amusement and mortifying his pride. It was just at this crisis, that, one night, an accident, which caused him to win a considerable sum, set him upon the notion of turning chance into certainty. "Whilst shuffling the cards, he dropped the ace of spades into his lap, caught it up, replaced it in the pack, and dealt it to himself. No one else had seen the card, no observation was made, and a terrible thought came into his head !
"Whether loo or hazard was played, Charles Lovell had, night after night, a most extraordinary run of luck. He won large sums, and saw before him the early prospect of paying his debts and clearing all his difficulties.
Amongst the young men who played at the table, some had plenty of money and cared little for their losses ; but others were not so well off, and one of these was Edward Herbert. He, too, was the son of poor parents who had straitened themselves to put him in the army, and it was with infinite difficulty and privation that his widowed mother had amassed the needful sum to purchase for him a company, which was now becoming vacant. The retiring officer's papers were already sent in, and Herbert's money was lodged at Cox and Greenwood's ; but before the answer from the Horse-Guards arrived, he had lost every sixpence. Nearly the whole sum had become the property of Charles Lovell.
Herbert was a fine young man, honourable, generous, impetuous, and endowed with an acute sense of shame. He determined instantly to pay the debts, but he knew that his own prospects were ruined for life ; he wrote to the agents to send him the money and withdraw his name from the list of purchasers. But how was he to support his mother's grief? How meet the eye of the girl he loved 1 She, who he knew adored him, and whose hand it was agreed between them he should ask of her parents as soon as he was gazetted a captain ! The anguish of mind he suffered then threw him into a fever, and he lay for several days betwixt life and death, and happily unconscious of Ms misery.
Meantime, another scene was being enacted elsewhere. The officers, who night after night found themselves losers, had not for some time entertained the least idea of foul play, but at length, one of them observing something suspicious, began to watch, and satisfied himself, by a peculiar method adopted by Lovell in ' throwing his mains,' that he was the culprit. His suspicions were whispered from one to another, till they nearly all entertained them, with the exception of Herbert, who, being looked upon as Lovell's most especial friend, was not told. So unwilling were these young men to blast, for ever, the character of the visitor whom they had so much liked, and to strike a fatal blow at the happiness and respectability of his family, that they were hesitating how to proceed, whether to openly accuse him or privately reprove and expel him, when Herbert's heavy loss decided the question.
Herbert himself, overwhelmed with despair, had quitted the room, the rest were still seated around the table, when having given each other a signal, one of them, called Frank Houston, arose and said : ' Gentlemen, it gives me great pain to have to call your attention to a very strange—a very distressing circumstance. For some time past there has been an extraordinary run of luck in one direction— we have all observed it—all remarked on it. Mr. Herbert has at this moment retired a heavy loser. There is, indeed, as far as I know, but one winner amongst us—but one, and he a winner to a very considerable amount ; the rest all losers. God forbid, that I should rashly accuse any man ! Lightly blast any man's character ! But I am bound to say, that I fear the money we have lost has not been fairly won. There has been foul play ! I forbear to name the party—the facts sufficiently indicate him.'
Who would not have pitied Lovell, when, livid with horror and conscious guilt, he vainly tried to say something ? ' Indeed—I assure you—I never'—but words would not come ; he faltered and rushed out of the room in a transport of agony. They did pity him ; and when he was gone, agreed amongst themselves to hush up the affair : but unfortunately, the civilians of the party, who had not been let into the secret, took up his defence. They not only believed the accusation unfounded, but felt it as an affront offered to their townsman ; they blustered about it a good deal, and there was nothing left for it but to appoint a committee of investigation. Alas ! the evidence was overwhelming ! It turned out that the dice and cards had been supplied by Lovell. The former, still on the table, were found on examination to be loaded. In fact, he had had a pair as a, curiosity long in his possession, and had obtained others from a disreputable character at Oxford. No doubt remained of his guilt.
All this while Herbert had been too ill to be addressed on the subject ; but symptoms of recovery were now beginning to appear; and as nobody was aware that he had any particular interest in the Lovell family, the affair was communicated to him. At first he refused to believe in his friend's guilt, and became violently irritated. His informants assured him they would be too happy to find they were mistaken, but that since the inquiry no hope of such an issue remained, and he sank into a gloomy silence.
On the following morning, when his servant came to his room door, he found it locked. When, at the desire of the surgeon, it was broken open, Herbert was found a corpse, and a discharged pistol lying beside him. An inquest sat upon the body, and the verdict brought in was Temporary Insanity. There never was one more just.
Preparations were now made for the funeral —that funeral which we had witnessed ; but before the day appointed for it arrived, another chapter of this sad story was unfolded.
When Charles left the barracks on that fatal night, instead of going home, he passed the dark hours in wandering wildly about the country ; but when morning dawned, fearing the eye of man, he returned to the vicarage, and slunk unobserved to his chamber. When he did not appear at breakfast, his mother sought him in his room, where she found him in bed. He said he was very ill—and so indeed he was—and begged to be left alone ; but as he was no better on the following day, she insisted on sending for medical advice. The doctor found him with all those physical symptoms that are apt to supervene from great anxiety of mind ; and saying he could get no sleep, Charles requested to have some laudanum ; but the physician was on his guard, for although the parties concerned wished to keep the thing private, some rumours had got abroad that awakened his caution.
The parents, meanwhile, had not the slightest anticipation of the thunderbolt that was about to fall upon them. They lived a very retired life, were acquainted with none of the officers—and they were even ignorant of the amount of their son's intimacy with the regiment. Thus, when news of Herbert's lamentable death reached them, the mother said to her son : ' Charles, did you know a young man in the barracks called Herbert ; a lieutenant, I believe ? By-the-bye, I hope it's not Emily's Mr. Herbert.'
'Did I know him,' said Charles, turning suddenly towards her, for, under pretence that the light annoyed him, he always lay with his face to the wall. ' Why do you ask, mother ? '
'Because he's dead. He had a fever, and—'
'Herbert dead! ' cried Charles, suddenly sitting up in the bed.
'Yes, he had a fever, and it is supposed he was delirious, for he blew out his brains; there is a report that he had been playing high, and lost a great deal of money. What's the' matter, dear ? Oh, Charles, I shouldn't Lave told you ! I was not aware that you knew him!'
'Fetch my father here, and, Mother, you come back with him ! ' said Charles, speaking with a strange sternness of tone, and wildly motioning her out of the room.
"When the parents came, he bade them sit down beside him ; and then, with a degree of remorse and anguish that no words could portray, he told them all ; whilst they, with blanched cheeks and fainting hearts, listened to the dire confession.
'And here I am,' he exclaimed, as he ended, ' a cowardly scoundrel that has not dared to die ! Oh, Herbert ! happy, happy, Herbert ! "Would I were with you !
At that moment the door opened, and a beautiful, bright, smiling, joyous face peeped in. It was Emily Lovell, the beloved daughter, the adored sister, arrived from London in compliance with a letter received a few days previously from Herbert, wherein he had told her that by the time she received it, he would be a captain. She had come to introduce him to her parents as her affianced husband. She feared no refusal ; well she knew how rejoiced they would be to see her the wife of so kind and honourable a man. But they were ignorant of all this, and in the fulness of their agony, the cup of woe ran over and she drank of the draught ! They told her all before she had been five minutes in the room. How else could they account for their tears, their confusion, their bewilderment, their despair !
Before Herbert's funeral took place, Emily Lovell was lying betwixt life and death in a brain fever. Under the influence of a feeling easily to be comprehended, thirsting for a self-imposed torture, that by its very poignancy should relieve the dead weight of wretchedness that lay upon his breast, Charles crept from his bed, and slipping on a loose coat that hung in his room, he stole across the garden to the tower, whence, through the arrow-slit, he witnessed the burial of his sister's lover, whom he had hastened to the grave.
Here terminates our sad story. "We left T— on the following morning, and it was two or three years before any further intelligence of the Lovell family reached us. All we then heard was, that Charles had gone, a self-condemned exile, to Australia ; and that Emily had insisted on accompanying him thither.


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