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for I laid aside my studies entirely. I delayed to write the letters which I knew the Cravens and some of my friends at Heidelberg were expecting, and I gave myself up, body, soul, and intellect, to the delicious enchantment of the hour. I made acquaintance with several lads of my own age, also with several young men, who were my seniors by a few years, an who knew the great world of Paris as well as I knew, or used to know, the calm retreats of far-off Eaglesmere.
They did not lead me into any positive wickedness, these new and brilliant friends of mine ; but they did lead me, or rather I permitted them to lead me, into a great deal of folly, and I was fast acquiring habits by no means desirable. I learned to play at billiards, I made bets, I practised the airs and graces of a petit maître, I grew fastidious about my dress, I became shamefully extravagant in trifles; now and then I handled the dice. I studied vingt-un and écarté, and talked learnedly about rouge-et-noir, and the “immutable laws of chance.” Happily for myself and for others it was all boyish bombast. I only chattered nonsense, which I did not myself comprehend, when I discoursed of subtle “combinations,” which I know now are as delusive in practice as they are infallible in theory. Also, I began to take a great deal more wine than was good for a lad of my age. I was never actually intoxicated, but I was very often foolishly excited, and I made myself, I doubt not, superbly ridiculous. Certainly, my moral standard was lowered, and my constitution was by no means benefited by the idle, frivolous, careless life I led.
Letters came from Cravensbaugh, and I used to open them and glance uneasily down the pages before I read them. I had an uneasy sort of notion that Charlie and his mother would hear something about me that I would rather they should not hear, and that they would remonstrate with me did they find out how foolishly, how sinfully I was spending my time in Paris. And yet I told myself a dozen times a day that I was only doing as others did; that it was only my morbid fancy and the rusticity of my bringing up that caused me continually to reproach myself.
It was well that I should see life, and know the world, I told my restless conscience; no one was any the worse ultimately for sowing a few wild oats—just a few—that could be easily plucked up when the ground was wanted for the golden wheat; and, after all, I had done nothing absolutely wicked, and the very thought of actual vice filled me with a shuddering, shrinking dread. Had it not been for those higher teachings, and for the pure and holy influences of the last few months I might have been content to sink and sink till I fell at last into the horrible quagmire of guilt and shameful folly which sooner or later arrests the unwary feet, and befouls the heedless wanderer who plays with sin. He who plays at sinning will sin in reality ere long. The child who amuses himself with broken glass is pretty sure to maim himself most cruelly ere his game is over!
God was not now in all my thoughts. I no longer liked to think that He saw me and knew all about me, and read the hidden secrets of my heart. I began to be afraid of God, to dread His judgments, to wish I could go on my way without Him. Yes; I would have forsaken my God I would have let Him go—but He would not forsake me; He would not quit His hold of me. Blessed be His holy name! “Like as a father pitieth his children !” And children are seldom wise and good. They rebel against lawful authority, they are full of vain conceits, they are wilful, selfish, passionate-oftentimes ungrateful. And yet the father forgives all, is willing even to forget all, because his heart yearns over the creatures who are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And the Almighty Father loves His children with a love passing all other loves; and in all their affliction He is afflicted. The angel of His presence saves them ; in His love and in His pity He redeems them. “Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer. Thy name is from everlasting !"
Tady Dovercourt began at last to be uneasy. Never was there a creature more innocent of this world's pollution than she,--never was there a woman more pure of heart, save perbaps the Virgin Mother of our blessed Lord, never one more trustful, more simply confiding in her beloved ones than she-Helena, Marchioness of Dovercourt. But there came a day when I found out that she was ill at ease, and that I was the cause of her anxiety.
I was taking by appointment my early breakfast in her room. I thought as she sat in her delicate robe of snowy cambric and filmy lace, with her golden hair hanging about her, and an unutterable tenderness in her deep violet eyes, how very lovely she was. The years as they glided by had taken nothing from her exquisite beauty, rather had they added to its wondrous grace and radiance; and yet I knew that she must have reached her four-and-thirtieth year,
for I, who had passed my seventeenth birthday, was her son. But today there was a shade on the sweet, perfect features, a cloud rested on the open, candid brow, and the rosy, childlike mouth had sunk into its saddest curves. I was playing with some gold sleeve-links which I had bought the day before.
“Hugh,” said the Marchioness presently,“ do you know I think you are contracting a taste for finery ? ”
“Do you ? ” I answered, lightly. “Well, really I must confess to a good deal of personal adornment of late. Paris is such a place for spending money."
“I am afraid I am not doing my duty by you, Hugh.” “ As how, madre ? '
I had called her so of late when we were quite alone, not as acknowledging the actual tie between us, but rather to give her a pet name, and as less formal than addressing her by her usual style and title.
“I do not claim any authority over you, you know," she continued. “I do not seek to control you, my dear, but I am not sure that I ought to let you go quite your own way in this great city where subtle temptations abound. For you are very young, Hugh, and you are impulsive and confiding and-inexperienced. I am not afraid of the issue, Hugh, for your father's son, though he may be weak and hasty, even rash as youth is nearly always rash, could never bring dishonour on his name. I am quite certain, Hugh, that you would never deliberately commit sin ; but I tell you candidly I am afraid for you, as I said, not for the future, not for your character ultimately, but for the present. You may so easily involve yourself in wrong-doing ; you may darken half your life by the folly of one hour; the boundary line between imprudence and sin is a very faint one, and it is readily, too often unwittingly, over-passed. I could not bear to see the shadow of remorse on your brow, Hugh Vassall; the blush of shame on your cheek would humble me to the dust. I think you understand me, my dear ? ”
Yes, I understood her quite well, and even as she spoke the burning flush of shame reddened all my face. I had gone so much nearer absolute wickedness than she at all suspected. Oh! women, wires, mothers, sisters, it is well for your own peace that you
know not how close to the precipice the belored ones too often wander. But now it was as if my guardian angel touched me with gentle, spiritual touch, and whispered spiritual warnings in my ear.
“ Madre,” I said, “I am afraid I am not nearly so good as you believe me to be. I have done many foolish things-oh! worse than foolish things, for I knew they were wrong; I knew they were actions not becoming a Christian man, not becoming a manly man All the while I knew that what they called 'manliness really such ; it was affectation ; it was absurdity; it was cowardice and selfishness combined ; it was madness; only a little more and it might have been crime-devilry.”
She turned very pale, and for an instant shaded her eyes with her hand. Then, looking at me, she said: “Thank God, Hugh, that so He spake to you. It matters not now whether it were the still small voice within called conscience, whether it were the memories of early teachings, or whether it were-who knows ?-Four father's spirit permitted by the great Father of all spirits to shield you from evil, to speak to you in that wordless, unuttered language which
spirits that are akin are permitted to use to each other. Thank God that you were not left entirely to yourself, that you were not allowed to wander away into those seemingly pleasant paths which lead at last to death. Hugh, my dear, I have set my mind on one thing, and it is that Captain Vassall's son should be one of the best, the purest, the noblest of men. I know that one generally speaks of purity as a woman's attribute, but tbat seems to me false reasoning. God has not one measure for the man and another for the woman whatever polite society may have. Sin is sin, shame is shame, irrespective of sex or rank; and a man whose life is not pure is as utterly disgraceful, as unworthy in the eyes of a just God, as she whose frailties have placed her beyond the boundary line of acknowledgment. I say this to you, Hugh, because you have no father to look ahead for you and to give you kindly notice of the shoals and quicksands on which so many make fatal shipwreck.
to keep close to God; try to remember that an evil action, though it may be repented of, and though it may be pardoned, can scarcely ever, if ever, be undone. Somebody must always be the worse for it, somebody must always suffer, for sin brings suffering as certainly as the sun arising brings light. Am I preaching to you, my dear? Well, I have done, and forgive me if I have been a little prosy. But I have been afraid for you, and there is no one else to speak to you if I keep silence. Now let me ask you a question.”
“As many as you please, madre !"
But even as I replied I felt that there were several questions I should not care to answer. I coloured a little, and looked uneasy, lest her next words should be just those I did not wish to hear. But she only said, “You have been spending so much money of late that I think you must have exceeded your allowance. in debt?"
“I scarcely know; I am afraid I am, for I owe for a great many things." “ You have not Lost any money
?” “Lost? Do you mean
-?” “I mean have you lost it at play? Have you gambled at all?"
“I have lost small sums at écarté, only a few francs at a timenot more than five or six napoleons in all."
“I had far rather you had thrown a hundred pounds into the Seine! It is not the amount you have lost, it is the injury your character may have sustained which I deplore. Nay, I am thankful that you have lost; anything is better than gains so utterly accursed.”
“But, madre, many honourable, or at least seemingly honourable, gentlemen do play. Surely there can be no harm so long as one keeps within certain bounds. Surely it cannot hurt one to risk a
napoleon now and then, just for the sensation of the thing, you know."
“My dear Hugh, you cannot touch sin any more than pitch and escape defilement. Gambling is gambling, whether it be the tosspenny of boys in the street or the stakes at rouge-et-noir and roulette of the desperate roué at Homburg. The passion is so easily contracted; there is a certain feverish fascination at the outset which tempts men, ay, and women too, for I have seen women with glittering eyes and feverish fingers clutching at gold in the gambling salons of Baden Baden and Homburg, which tempts them on and on till the infatuation is complete, and they plunge headlong into the fatal depths from which so few emerge, save as mere wrecks—the desolate waifs and strays of life. As in some cases of confirmed inebriation, the only safety lies in total, decided, uncompromising abstinence."
There was a strange energy in her look and tone, her cheeks burned, and her voice quivered as she spoke, and I-I, boy, neophyte as I was, knew that she spoke truly. I had seen terrible sights already; I had seen men glaring at men like devils; I had seen them mad, reckless of honour, love, life, of all that humanity should cherish most completely; and I had seen some women, too, one in particular I called to mind, for she always made me think of a fallen angel. I saw my danger. Hitherto I had gone but a little way, and the path of retreat was still open to me if I turned my back at once and for ever on the specious temptation. I was still far from the abyss, but I felt that if I lingered on the enchanted ground my footsteps would surely be drawn insensibly, magnetically as it were, towards the awful brink. My lady was right; this was one of those snares which are to be shunned rather than resisted. There are some kinds of evil which it is better never to confront; there are serpents whom our instincts teach us to fly; there are vices which we should never even voluntarily contemplate. Shall we mock God by praying "Lead us not into temptation ” when we deliberately pass through the gates of the tempter's palaces ? Shall we say “Deliver us from evil,” when the evil we resolutely seek?
“Madre," I said, after a little silence, during which she watched me almost imploringly, I could feel the unuttered prayer that I knew was going up to God for me, “madre, dear, you are right; I have been very foolish, very wrong. I have been false to myself, to the teachings of all my life, to the holy memory of my father. I will go no more with Louis du Carel nor with Victor Monsallier. But, oh! what a poor, weak creature I must be; the moment I am tempted I fall-I fail!”
“ You have failed, my boy, but not fallen ; it has pleased God to show you your own weakness, your own insufficiency. Put this away