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Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, [1842], at


     Faust: Wohin soll es nun gehm?
     Mephist: Wohin es Dir gefallt.
     Wir sehn die kleine, dann die grosse Welt.

     (Faust: Whither go now!
     Mephist: Whither it pleases thee.
     We see the small world, then the great.)

Draw your chair to the fireside, brush clean the hearth, and trim the lights. Oh, home of sleekness, order, substance, comfort! Oh, excellent thing art thou, Matter of Fact!

It is some time after the date of the last chapter. Here we are, not in moonlit islands or mouldering castles, but in a room twenty-six feet by twenty-two,—well carpeted, well cushioned, solid arm-chairs and eight such bad pictures, in such fine frames, upon the walls! Thomas Mervale, Esq., merchant, of London, you are an enviable dog!

It was the easiest thing in the world for Mervale, on returning from his Continental episode of life, to settle down to his desk,—his heart had been always there. The death of his father gave him, as a birthright, a high position in a respectable though second-rate firm. To make this establishment first-rate was an honourable ambition,—it was his! He had lately married, not entirely for money,—no! he was worldly rather than mercenary. He had no romantic ideas of love; but he was too sensible a man not to know that a wife should be a companion,—not merely a speculation. He did not care for beauty and genius, but he liked health and good temper, and a certain proportion of useful understanding. He chose a wife from his reason, not his heart, and a very good choice he made. Mrs. Mervale was an excellent young woman,—bustling, managing, economical, but affectionate and good. She had a will of her own, but was no shrew. She had a great notion of the rights of a wife, and a strong perception of the qualities that insure comfort. She would never have forgiven her husband, had she found him guilty of the most passing fancy for another; but, in return, she had the most admirable sense of propriety herself. She held in abhorrence all levity, all flirtation, all coquetry,—small vices which often ruin domestic happiness, but which a giddy nature incurs without consideration. But she did not think it right to love a husband over much. She left a surplus of affection, for all her relations, all her friends, some of her acquaintances, and the possibility of a second marriage, should any accident happen to Mr. M. She kept a good table, for it suited their station; and her temper was considered even, though firm; but she could say a sharp thing or two, if Mr. Mervale was not punctual to a moment. She was very particular that he should change his shoes on coming home,—the carpets were new and expensive. She was not sulky, nor passionate,—Heaven bless her for that!—but when displeased she showed it, administered a dignified rebuke, alluded to her own virtues, to her uncle who was an admiral, and to the thirty thousand pounds which she had brought to the object of her choice. But as Mr. Mervale was a good-humoured man, owned his faults, and subscribed to her excellence, the displeasure was soon over.

Every household has its little disagreements, none fewer than that of Mr. and Mrs. Mervale. Mrs. Mervale, without being improperly fond of dress, paid due attention to it. She was never seen out of her chamber with papers in her hair, nor in that worst of dis-illusions,—a morning wrapper. At half-past eight every morning Mrs. Mervale was dressed for the day,—that is, till she re-dressed for dinner,—her stays well laced, her cap prim, her gowns, winter and summer, of a thick, handsome silk. Ladies at that time wore very short waists; so did Mrs. Mervale. Her morning ornaments were a thick, gold chain, to which was suspended a gold watch,—none of those fragile dwarfs of mechanism that look so pretty and go so ill, but a handsome repeater which chronicled Father Time to a moment; also a mosaic brooch; also a miniature of her uncle, the admiral, set in a bracelet. For the evening she had two handsome sets,—necklace, earrings, and bracelets complete,—one of amethysts, the other topazes. With these, her costume for the most part was a gold-coloured satin and a turban, in which last her picture had been taken. Mrs. Mervale had an aquiline nose, good teeth, fair hair, and light eyelashes, rather a high complexion, what is generally called a fine bust; full cheeks; large useful feet made for walking; large, white hands with filbert nails, on which not a speck of dust had, even in childhood, ever been known to a light. She looked a little older than she really was; but that might arise from a certain air of dignity and the aforesaid aquiline nose. She generally wore short mittens. She never read any poetry but Goldsmith's and Cowper's. She was not amused by novels, though she had no prejudice against them. She liked a play and a pantomime, with a slight supper afterwards. She did not like concerts nor operas. At the beginning of the winter she selected some book to read, and some piece of work to commence. The two lasted her till the spring, when, though she continued to work, she left off reading. Her favourite study was history, which she read through the medium of Dr. Goldsmith. Her favourite author in the belles lettres was, of course, Dr. Johnson. A worthier woman, or one more respected, was not to be found, except in an epitaph!

It was an autumn night. Mr. and Mrs. Mervale, lately returned from an excursion to Weymouth, are in the drawing-room,—"the dame sat on this side, the man sat on that."

"Yes, I assure you, my dear, that Glyndon, with all his eccentricities, was a very engaging, amiable fellow. You would certainly have liked him,—all the women did."

"My dear Thomas, you will forgive the remark,—but that expression of yours, 'all the WOMEN'—"

"I beg your pardon,—you are right. I meant to say that he was a general favourite with your charming sex."

"I understand,—rather a frivolous character."

"Frivolous! no, not exactly; a little unsteady,—very odd, but certainly not frivolous; presumptuous and headstrong in character, but modest and shy in his manners, rather too much so,—just what you like. However, to return; I am seriously uneasy at the accounts I have heard of him to-day. He has been living, it seems, a very strange and irregular life, travelling from place to place, and must have spent already a great deal of money."

"Apropos of money," said Mrs. Mervale; "I fear we must change our butcher; he is certainly in league with the cook."

"That is a pity; his beef is remarkably fine. These London servants are as bad as the Carbonari. But, as I was saying, poor Glyndon—"

Here a knock was heard at the door. "Bless me," said Mrs. Mervale, "it is past ten! Who can that possibly be?"

"Perhaps your uncle, the admiral," said the husband, with a slight peevishness in his accent. "He generally favours us about this hour."

"I hope, my love, that none of my relations are unwelcome visitors at your house. The admiral is a most entertaining man, and his fortune is entirely at his own disposal."

"No one I respect more," said Mr. Mervale, with emphasis.

The servant threw open the door, and announced Mr. Glyndon.

"Mr. Glyndon!—what an extraordinary—" exclaimed Mrs. Mervale; but before she could conclude the sentence, Glyndon was in the room.

The two friends greeted each other with all the warmth of early recollection and long absence. An appropriate and proud presentation to Mrs. Mervale ensued; and Mrs. Mervale, with a dignified smile, and a furtive glance at his boots, bade her husband's friend welcome to England.

Glyndon was greatly altered since Mervale had seen him last. Though less than two years had elapsed since then, his fair complexion was more bronzed and manly. Deep lines of care, or thought, or dissipation, had replaced the smooth contour of happy youth. To a manner once gentle and polished had succeeded a certain recklessness of mien, tone, and bearing, which bespoke the habits of a society that cared little for the calm decorums of conventional ease. Still a kind of wild nobleness, not before apparent in him, characterised his aspect, and gave something of dignity to the freedom of his language and gestures.

"So, then, you are settled, Mervale,—I need not ask you if you are happy. Worth, sense, wealth, character, and so fair a companion deserve happiness, and command it."

"Would you like some tea, Mr. Glyndon?" asked Mrs. Mervale, kindly.

"Thank you,—no. I propose a more convivial stimulus to my old friend. Wine, Mervale,—wine, eh!—or a bowl of old English punch. Your wife will excuse us,—we will make a night of it!"

Mrs. Mervale drew back her chair, and tried not to look aghast. Glyndon did not give his friend time to reply.

"So at last I am in England," he said, looking round the room, with a slight sneer on his lips; "surely this sober air must have its influence; surely here I shall be like the rest."

"Have you been ill, Glyndon?"

"Ill, yes. Humph! you have a fine house. Does it contain a spare room for a solitary wanderer?"

Mr. Mervale glanced at his wife, and his wife looked steadily on the carpet. "Modest and shy in his manners—rather too much so!" Mrs. Mervale was in the seventh heaven of indignation and amaze!

"My dear?" said Mr. Mervale at last, meekly and interogatingly.

"My dear!" returned Mrs. Mervale, innocently and sourly.

"We can make up a room for my old friend, Sarah?"

The old friend had sunk back on his chair, and, gazing intently on the fire, with his feet at ease upon the fender, seemed to have forgotten his question.

Mrs. Mervale bit her lips, looked thoughtful, and at last coldly replied, "Certainly, Mr. Mervale; your friends do right to make themselves at home."

With that she lighted a candle, and moved majestically from the room. When she returned, the two friends had vanished into Mr. Mervale's study.

Twelve o'clock struck,—one o'clock, two! Thrice had Mrs. Mervale sent into the room to know,—first, if they wanted anything; secondly, if Mr. Glyndon slept on a mattress or feather-bed; thirdly, to inquire if Mr. Glyndon's trunk, which he had brought with him, should be unpacked. And to the answer to all these questions was added, in a loud voice from the visitor,—a voice that pierced from the kitchen to the attic,—"Another bowl! stronger, if you please, and be quick with it!"

At last Mr. Mervale appeared in the conjugal chamber, not penitent, nor apologetic,—no, not a bit of it. His eyes twinkled, his cheek flushed, his feet reeled; he sang,—Mr. Thomas Mervale positively sang!

"Mr. Mervale! is it possible, sir—"

"'Old King Cole was a merry old soul—'"

"Mr. Mervale! sir!—leave me alone, sir!"

"'And a merry old soul was he—'"

"What an example to the servants!"

"'And he called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl—'"

"If you don't behave yourself, sir, I shall call—"

"'Call for his fiddlers three!'"

Next: Chapter III