21 DECEMBER 1867, Page 18


ARISTOCRATIC crime is a telling subject for the novelist, and the Author of Lady _Maria, Lord Lynn's Wife, and Lord Ulswater wields the aristocratic element in guilt with a master hand. The scene of this thrilling story opens in the House of Lords itself. Lord Ulswater, who is, of course, " of a goodly presence, tall and fair, and frank of eye and hrow," has " a flash of triumph on his brow and a pleasant light in his dark-blue eyes," for he has just made a very successful speech, " pungent, sparkling, sensible, modest ;" and old Lord Tintagel has nodded approval, and the oldest bishops of his party have prophesied for him fame and leadership. But at this very moment, "a great gulf of ruin yawns suddenly " before him, for a queer, squarely-folded ship-letter, from Western Australia, sealed with red wax, directed in a " singularly bold " woman's hand, is at this moment presented to him by an usher of the House of Lords, and though he thiusts it into his pocket " with a quiet smile," " the bloom of his triumph is suddenly brushed away." Lord Ulswater retires to the library of the House to read his letter. We know almost by intuition what he will go through there. We know that he will hold' the letter a minute or two in his hand before breaking the seal, and that he will "set his teeth firmly" before he tears it open, a programme which it is a great satisfaction to us to find duly carried out, in spite of the presence of an attendant or two, and an old lord in a brown wig who is studying Poor Law facts in Hansard. But something is added to the expected programme which is quite a fresh and pleasant variety, and is a convincing proof of the superiority of aristocratic to common crime. We were sure Lord Ulswater's lips would grow white as he read the letter ; a commoner's lips would probably have done as much. But no previous novelist had pre- pared us for the change that would take place in Lord Ulswater's eyes, a change which we suspect to be impossible except to aristo- cratic eyes, " There was no frown on his fair forehead, no flash in his dark-blue eyes. But he could not prevent his lips front gradually growing white, or the eyes themselves from darkening in hue till they seemed nearly black, as in excitement they were apt to do." And when Lord Ulswater gets angry with his dis- reputable solicitor in the next chapter, we have this distinguished property dilated upon,—while Lord Ulswater's aristocratic iris itself is contracting,—more at large. " Lord Ulswater's anger, rarely invoked, manifested itself in an unusual fashion ; there was no frown and no flash ; but the blue eyes contracted, darkening well nigh to blackness ; and the fair face became cold and colourless and stern, like the marble mask of a statue. Those who had seen that change come over the lineaments of John Carnac in boyhood or in manhood, had seldom felt comfortable in confronting those signs of the calm deep wrath that scorned to show itself by the tokens of vulgar rage." We should think not, indeed ; but the Author of Lady Flavia and those other studies of aristocratic passion should not even have seemed to favour the hypothesis, that " calm deep wrath," however much it " might scorn to show itself by the tokens of vulgar rage," would for a moment have been sufficient, without aristocratic blood, to endow Lord Ulswater with this power of turning his blue eyes black, by contracting the iris. Ordinary middle-class eyes when contracted by calm deep wrath don't alter their colour at all. The present writer, feeling a sudden access of calm deep wrath while engaged in the task of reviewing Lord Ulswater, —a calm deep wrath which scorned to show itself by the tokens of vulgar rage, — glanced indignantly at a looking- glass, but could not detect the slightest alteration of shade in the colour of the stern middle-class pair of eyes there reflected. In fact, we fear that we detected a slight flash, though there was certainly no frown on the fair middle-class forehead there imaged. It is quite clear that this mode of expressing calm deep wrath is strictly limited to the aristocracy, and probably only to a small number of the aristocracy, for we have never been so fortunate as to see even a peer look as Lord Ulswater looked at the 112th page of the third volume, when his eyes must certainly have been at their darkest, for " he had a lowering look, like that of a thunderstorm rolling up heavily before the hot, Lord Ulstrater. A Novel. By the Author of "Lord Lynn's Wife," " Lady Flavia." 3 vols. London: Bentley.

south wind, and it was hard to calculate on whose head the stroke might descend, flashing, fulminant." It would have been, we may

say, quite impossible to calculate " on whose head the stroke might descend, flashing, fulminant," had not the author of Lord Ulswater kindly condescended to give us a great many very intelligible hints bepre the 112th page of the third volume on whose head the

stroke was about to descend, " flashing, fulminant,"—so that it was not quite so hard for a reader of ordinary brains to calculate, as it was to understand, how the noble lord himself looked when he resembled " a thunderstorm rolling up heavily before a hot, south wind." For at this time Lord Ulawater was not himself rolling heavily at all. On the contrary, he was quiet, sober, and " strode slowly with downcast eyes, compressed lips, and hat pulled over his brows." Nor must any one suppose that the "flashing and

fulminant" stroke in question has anything to do with Lord illswater's unique blue eyes, which never flashed, but only darkened in wrath. That which did ultimately descend in the manner

aforesaid was a stroke not of the eyes, which became, no doubt, absolutely black at the great crisis of the story,—(though both the night and the place wherein that crisis occurred were so dark that no one could have had the opportunity of observing),—but a stroke of a decidedly vulgarer sort, from a two-edged butcherly weapon of some sort, which descended from Lord Ulswater's noble hands on a woman's breast.

But we have as yet given a very feeble idea indeed of the splendid picturesqueness of this fair-browed but tempestuous- hearted nobleman's manner of dealing with crime. The author has very happily imagined a poor creature, half burglar and half Prizefighter, called Bendigo Bill, whom Lord Ulswater knocks down with one magnificent sweep of his noble fist somewhere at the East End of London, and who for a time thirsts for revenge.

When, however, he comes to take his revenge, Lord Ulswater's genius shows itself in such unsurpassed brilliancy that Bendigo Bill becomes his abject bond-slave, and thenceforth we have the most, artistic delineation of the -contrast between the aristocratic and the vulgar criminal. We cannot wholly pass over the splendid scene in which Bendigo Bill acknowledges his true lord. Lord Ulswater is at the time riding a splendid creature, " bay, with black points," and Bendigo Bill is skulking behind hedges, keeping up with him, and watching his opportunity. Then the bay with black points gives a swerve and a plunge, flings up his heels, tears at the curb, plunges again and again, more and more furiously, rears arrow-straight, fights, and foams, "reckless as the wild horse that seeks to dislodge its captor from the saddle." This not unseating Lord Ulswater, the bay with black points twists and wreathes his muscular body like a fish, rears, lashes out savagely, buckjumps, and throws himself "into attitudes seldom to be seen but in the rough-rider's department of the riding school." Bendigo Bill is touched with admiration. "The devil throttle him," he observes, " I wish he'd break his neck, but he won't. I've seen fellows ride out in Australia, and I thought I knew what it was, but I never did see such a man as this in my life." And, indeed, as the author classically observes, " Lord Ulswater backed the brute as Alexander backed Bucephalus." At last the bay with black points rears up three time ssucceasively ,each time more perilously, and the last time so as to fall back with dreadful violence on the road. But " active, cool, and watchful," Lord Ulswater had sprung to the ground when the horse reared for the last time, and he stoops to pick up the rein when the horse has stunned itself. He pats the horse, and says, " ' Poor fellow you

have got the worst of it,' in his slow, scornful way," and drawing the bridle over his arm is going to lead it home when Bendigo Bill, with a powerful life-preserver, seizes his opportunity, and gives two blows such as, we are told, with an easy display of ethnolo- gical lore that at such a juncture is quite overpowering, "no Aryan head could have sustained without fracture of the brain- , pan." Fortunately, however, for Lord Ulawater, the Aryan head is saved by a slight accidental movement, and the first blow falls ..N-stead upon the Aryan shoulder, and the second upon the Aryan arm ;:fted to ward it off. Then Bendigo Bill closes in, thinking to bring 11?e Aryan body to the ground. But as our author elo- quently obie\-yes, "it was a fatal mistake." At this juncture we

begin to feel the true grandeur of aristocratic physique. No one can read the following passage without a thrill :—

"Enthusiastic critics in Australia had declared that Bendigo Bill's hug was as the hug of a bear. Perhaps it was so ; but to what could be likened the slow, pliant, resistless pressure of those arms that were now thrown around the robber's sturdy frame? Surely, to nothing so much as the gradual tightening and closing of the striped folds of some huge serpent, python or boa, enfolding its prey. Bendigo Bill struggled hard : rage, and shame, and fear, all lent him force; but his breath was • going fast, his arms were pinioned to his sides, and still that terrible

grasp tightened, till it seemed as if ribs and breastbone must be crushed together. He looked up. He looked up, and then, for the first time, fear camp upon' him. He was a bold man, this Bendigo Bill, and had fought and murdered when his blood was up. Very ugly customers, to use his own phrase, had he gained the mastery over ; and very grim visage; black and white, had glared and grinned close to his in the grapple for life or death. But he had never thus been pinned, suffocated, compressed as by some irresistible force, and yet looked up into a face such as was smiling down upon him, now. No pity, no anger in those bright eyes of his antagonist ; no frown on that broad white brow ; and the firm, clean-out lips were as fixed as if they had been of marble. Even then, when his own hot face was livid and purple, and his mouth gaped for the air that his labouring lungs could not supply, oven then, Bendigo Bill could take speedy, terrible note, to wonder that Lord Ulswater's breath came as regularly as ever, that the colour in his cheek was scarcely deepened, and that he seemed able to crush his enemy, body and bones, upon his own breast, as if that breast had been an iron anvil. The powerful arms tightened their hold."

We confess that when we find that the exigency was so trivial that Lord Ulswater's blue eyes did not even darken and contract with " calm deep wrath " under its pressure, but continued to smile down on Bendigo Bill, we went into captivity ourselves almost as completely as Bendigo Bill. When a man can hug an Australian prize-fighter like " a huge serpent, python or boa, enfolding its prey," and yet smile on, without heightened colour, crushing his enemy on his own breast, "as if that breast had been an iron anvil," what grander vision of physical sublimity can it enter into the heart of man to conceive ? Even " John, Baron Ulswater," as our author, with true oratorical instinct, delights to call him, can never exceed that smiling python feat. Indeed, we doubt if he ever quite reaches the full height of this splendid man-and-horse- taming achievement again.

The only important deductions to be made from this splendour of aristocratic genius for crime are two-fold, —a little stupidity in choos- ing the means, and a little fool-hardiness in multiplying hazards. Considering that John Carnac, Baron Ulawater, is supposed to have the most wonderful of brains, there is a thick-headedness about his choice of means for removing his nephew, the heir to the title, from his path, which the reader will in vain struggle to ignore. To let down so grand a murderer into a more than ordinarily blundering criminal is a terrible pain to the imagination, and the present re- viewer struggled hard to the very last page to believe that some light would be shed on the story accounting for the remarkable fact that John, Baron Ulswater, when he only needed to murder one baby and to have at most two accomplices, murdered, or thought he murdered, two babies, let a third accomplice into the plot, and multiplied by a hundredfold the chances of detection. The heir apparent, a child of five years old, was ill, supposed to he but slightly ill, when his uncle, John Carnac, decided that he should die. lie had to take a rascally doctor and a nurse into his secret. This rascally doctor and the nurse were quite willing to connive, and did so. To all appearances, the natural thing to do was to give the child wrong medicines so that it should not recover, and then have its death certified, and have it buried in the ordinary way. But instead of this, the doctor is commissioned to get another child's body of about the same age from the parish workhouse, which child the parish doctor has to kill before he can get its body. Then he brings it to substitute for the little Guy Carnac's body, only in order that the nurse may fling little Guy Carnac's body into the sea. By this happy conception two children have to be killed instead of one, a pauper has to be bribed to give the pauper child's body out of the pauper dead-house ; the risk has to be run that the child's relatives may come to see its corpse, and find a wrong corpse ; and, lastly, the task of throwing the little Guy Carnac into the sea would have had, if the nurse had kept her bargain, to have been successfully achieved with- out detection also. Nor is any reason at any time given for this very roundabout mode of murder. The author's motive appears to be to keep the true Lord Ulswater alive while the false Lord Ulswater supposes him to be dead. But what, John, Lord Ulswater's own motive for this marvellous piece of complex mur- der is, no one ever discovers. Indeed, why, on this principle, a boy at every other parish workhouse in the kingdom was not murdered in order to substitute successively one murdered boy's body for the next's, throughout the whole net-work of murder, is not at all clear. If it was necessary to have a false body vice Guy Cameo's, supposed to be cast into the waves, why was it not necessary to have a false body vice Paul West's, supposed to be in the deadhouse ; and so on ad infinitum? There is a waste and superfluity of intended and, as Lord Ulswater supposed, executed murder about this initial crime, which is really not creditable to John, Baron Ulswater's intelligence. How it was that it was never discovered by the broken-hearted father and great-aunt that the child's corpse was not Guy Carnac's, but a stranger's,

is not only never explained, but no explanation is attempted. And yet a broken-hearted father and great-aunt were in the house, and the latter had been nursing the child to the last moment !

Besides this rather unaristocratic awkwardness in dangerously multiplying crime, John, Lord Ulswater, is guilty of something like foolish ostentation in threatening it. Besides intending to murder the boy, actually murdering the rascally surgeon by the instrumen- tality of Bend igo Bill, and murdering the nurse by his own hand, he twice threatens to pitch people into the sea out of the window of his residence at St. Pagan's Abbey, and once actually holds an Old Bailey solicitor out of the said window over the waves. We call this, ostentatious crime, not showing quite that parsimony in guilt which we should expect from so calm a hero.

To speak seriously for a moment of this astounding trash. We should scarcely have taken the trouble even to show its trashiness but that the author has clearly some capacity and shrewdness, and devotes it deliberately to manufacturing circulating-library rubbish. The description of the jealous Welshman (William Morgan), though it does not take up many pages, is a sketch which deserved to have belonged to a much less contemptible story, and there are bits of the low life which are effectively done. Then there are observations here and there which show a certain thoughtfulness in the study of human nature, as, for instance, this, that "it seems sometimes as if women regarded pain as a particular appanage of their own sex," so that if a sel- fish man can only give them an excuse for thinking that they have been selfish instead of him, they will almost hug the suggestion, and immediately proceed to try and substitute themselves for him, in the endeavour to bear the painful consequences. It is this occasional glimmer of real sense and mind in this ridiculous and monstrous story, which makes it almost a duty to show it in its true light. We have no idea who the author may be, but he or she must know well what a mass of literary falseness, of acts of sub- serviency to vulgar and snobbish taste, and what a worship of the sham jewelry of life it contains ; and yet in spite of this know- ledge, the book has been written. We wish rather than hope that the circulating libraries may feel as much disgust for it as we do.