22 AUGUST 1885, Page 22


To say that the character of Beatrice Clare re-deems this novel from inferiority, would seem to be damning with faint praise ; and though this is literally the case, we are very far from wish- ing to damn with faint praise, for the presence and influence of Beatrice shines consistently through the three volumes, lighten- ing and brightening a tale which, without her, would certainly be dreary, and the plot of which, when viewed in the calm light of reason, is highly improbable. It must not be supposed for a moment that the inferiority spoken of refers in any degree to the tone of the book, for this, from first to last, is of a high order. What we mean is simply that, as a work of art it is, taken as a whole, an inferior production, as the plot is exceed. ingly feeble and insufficient to bear the weight of the story laid upon it. It is also of a very melancholy and depressing kind ; but if we accept the plot philosophically as a bad bargain, there is great ability in the way in which the details of the story are worked in. It is evident that a poor plot of a distressing nature must need some powerful counterbalancing quality to render the book attractive. This quality, as we have said, is supplied, and thoroughly suc- cessfully supplied, by the influence of Beatrice Clare, whose charmingly tender, unselfish and yet delightfully bright and gay nature, is a work of art of no small beauty. Her simple unaffected, and complete forgetfulness of self in all questions of deep import, blended with the innocent love of attention and admiration natural to a petted child, outspokenly expressed, make a most life-like and attractive whole. We are first introduced to Beatrice as she walks, carrying a basket of flowers in her hand, towards a dreary prison in a dreary North of England manufacturing town. Two men, just discharged, are walking in the opposite direction and meet Beatrice before she reaches the prison. One of the men is a labourer, and, as he passes Beatrice, be murmurs a few words of admiration of her flowers. She offers him some, and is offering some more to his com- panion when he, by a little gesture—drawing himself up— signifies that he does not wish for them ; this makes her glance at him, and she sees, with some confusion, that he is a gentleman. His face is wan and sad, and involuntarily she glances up at the dreary building, wondering whether by chance one or both of the men have just come out of it ; but she dismisses the idea at once, as improbable. On arriving at the house of the relatives with whom she is staying at the time, she mentions the incident, and they discuss the possibility of the gentleman in question being a certain Anthony Lingen, who had been condemned, some months ago, to a year's bard labour, having been concerned in a large theft. They decide, however, that it is impossible that it could have been he, as his term of imprisonment cannot yet have expired, and they dismiss the subject, only adding that many persons had doubted the justice of the sentence.

The gentleman, nevertheless, is the said Anthony Lingen, a lad of twenty years of age, whose sensitive and refined nature appears to have been absolutely broken and crashed by the degradations to which he has been subjected, and the injustice of his conviction. He falls dangerously ill on leaving the prison, and is kindly nursed at the house of the brother and sister-in- law of the man in whose company he is at first seen, and most tenderly watched over by the man himself, who has been a fellow-prisoner of his during his year in jail. While he lies ill a young man of feeble appearance and nervous manners calls, and leaves a considerable sum of money for the sufferer, bat gives neither name nor address. This young man is the son and heir of a rich mill-owner of the town, uncle to the young Lingen who is ill. He—the young man — is not known to the Dixon family, and is not suspected by any of them of being criminally concerned in Lingen's affairs, except by Lizzie,—the kind, hardworking mis- tress of the horse. Her suspicions, however, are not allowed to play any part in clearing up the mystery; and Anthony Lingen, having been convicted, according to the author, on very imper- fect and insufficient evidence in the beginning of the story, is cleared at the end of it in an equally improbable—in the present day, we hope we might say, impossible—manner. But we will not dwell longer on the poorness of the plot, which is, as we have said, exceedingly feeble ; and we advise the author to make greater efforts in future to contrive a plot that will hold water better than this does.

The mental and physical prostration which supervene upon

• Anthony Fairfax : a Novel. 3 vole. London : Richard Bentley and Sono.

Anthony Lingen's recovery are very painful to read about; but he is relieved from the necessity of earning an honest livelihood, with nothing but a broken reputation to go upon, by coming into a considerable fortune, bequeathed to him by an old lady, a distant relative of his mother's, with the condition that he shall take the name of Fairfax—her name. This, of course, he is very thankful to do, no evidence apparently being asked for as to his identity by the lawyer of the deceased lady. Six or more years elapse, after Fairfax's inheritance of his fortune, before he appears upon the scene again, daring which time he has travelled all over the world, accompanied by Bob Dixon, his fellow-prisoner, in the capacity of his devoted servant and friend.

This melancholy episode, fortunately, occupies less than half a volume. The second part of the story opens in the vicarage gardens of a beautiful country parish in the South of England, and Beatrice Clare is formally introduced to the reader in the bosom of her own family, of which she is head-centre. She is mistress of the house and principal lady in the parish, as her mother has been dead for many years. The family consists of Mr. Clare (the vicar), his only daughter, Beatrice, and her three young brothers. When introducing the boys to the notice of the reader, our author gives it as her (we hope erroneous) opinion, that small boys, as a rule, are not particularly charm- ing to their fathers. Poor small boys ! We certainly think that we have come across several proud fathers of small boys, who must have belonged to the honourable class of ex- ceptions to the rule indicated in the above remark. To the fortune which Anthony Lingen inherited from Mrs. Fair- fax was attached a small bit of property and a house which happens to be in Mr. Clare's parish ; and here Anthony Fairfax takes up his residence for a few weeks on his return from his travels. His coming to the manor as its possessor naturally creates a sensation in the small country society. Nothing was ever known of its previous owner, who had resided at a distance, and nothing is known of Mr. Fairfax, and great curiosity is felt by all his neighbours as to his past and present life, intentions, politics, opinions, &c., which curiosity is intensified by the life of a recluse which he persists in leading. He allows himself, however, to be drawn into friendly relations with the vicar's family, and becomes a great ally of the three youths, who remain uninteresting to their father to the end, we are sorry to say. Beatrice has a beautiful friend living in the village, a certain Helen Carlyon, a girl with no fortune, dependent upon the kindness of an uncle and aunt for her maintenance, sensitive about her position, sensitive about the opinions of those around her, but with enough high-mindedness to set this aside and act independently up to a certain point, yet with none of the real unselfishness which would have enabled her to set aside the opinions of the world, and to have shared disgrace with a friend if she herself believed him to be innocent. Helen's is a very well-drawn character ; but the circumstances of her life are depressing, and, like Fairfax's, need the light of Beatrice's friendship to make them an agree- able snbject of contemplation. One fact mast be mentioned which shows very praiseworthy patience in Helen Carlyon's gossiping country neighbours. We scarcely think that the good fortune of being surrounded by such discriminating gossips is at all common ; but it was very useful in this case, as the story depends upon it. Helen's father, who had failed in business, had committed suicide while Helen was a baby ; and although she had grown to the age of twenty-one in the village of Cheynehurst, and although this fact was always communi- cated to every new-corner as part of the local history, Helen herself had never heard it—which speaks well for the good-feeling of her neighbours. Fairfax's morbid sensibility on the subject of his imprisonment and disgrace—which is quite a monomania in his case, but a very natural one in a man of his sensitive tem- perament—induces him to make a profound secret of his past history, and to dread the slightest allusion to anything which may lead to a disclosure of his real name or history. With this fear constantly before his mind, he begins to dread the neighbourhood to Beatrice, whose lively talk strays from subject to subject, and whose kind heart—always watching for opportunities of drawing away his thoughts from the gloomy meditations which evidently occupy him— leads her to try and engage his interest and attention in what is going on around him. From the first day of his seeing her in her own home, he has been powerfully attracted by the sweet, bright, unselfish girl, and her untiring and unvarying kindness

to himself soon ripens this feeling into love—the offspring of genuine and reasonable admiration and gratitude combined— and. before long all the different feelings favourable to her, of which he is conscious, are quite indistinguishable, and have verged themselves in the one strong sentiment of love, which, as is its wont, begins to torment its victim in every variety of way. Side by side with this love, and growing with its growth as their relations become more intimate, springs up and strengthens his fear of her ; and her reckless fashion of speaking out all the thoughts of her heart, and asking his sympathy in them, begins to bring back that mood of his which she most deplores, and he becomes more and more silent and depressed in her presence. In this state of affairs her true sweetness of disposition shines out more and more brightly. She is perfectly unconscious of his feelings towards her, and she keenly but humbly grieves over her inability to cheer or help him, in what she sees to be a troubled life. She upbraids herself with the vanity which ever allowed her to dream that a stupid little thing like herself could be able to add any interest or pleasure to a thoughtful, cultivated man's life, and she tries to withdraw herself from him so as not to prove an additional source of annoyance to him ; but in this endeavour she becomes aware of the distressing fact that little or less than nothing as she is to him, he has grown to be a very important element in her own happiness. The poor, humble child—as she is in some ways—tries to crush and smother this private trouble, and not to allow it to weigh upon the lives of others.

In proportion as Fairfax learns to fear Beatrice he becomes conscious of a feeling of security and fellowship in the com- panionship of her quiet, grave friend, Helen Carlyon ; and having, to his own combined misery- and satisfaction, convinced himself of the gulf between his own disgraced past and Beatrice's open, shining life, and further having assured himself that she is getting weary of his continual gloom, he decides to do all he can to win the acceptance of Helen Carlyon, and while gaining a beautiful and refined wife for himself, give her a home of her own, ample means, loving protection, and immunity from the degrading and wearying dependence on unwilling relatives. He presses his suit warmly, and Helen, who is of a slow and deliberate nature, is almost offended at his eagerness, although a little flattered by it at the same time. The author, at this point, makes Fairfax do what, if she has accurately described him before, we are sure that he was far too honourable to have done,—namely, endeavour to make Helen his wife without telling her of the stain on his past history. He argues with himself that her own past life is not free from transmitted stain,—of which he supposes her to be aware,—and that, there- fore, she cannot afford to be too particular about his antecedents. As a matter of fact, as we have said, she knows nothing about the blot her father's death left upon her family ; but, sup- posing her to have known this, Fairfax, although not strong- minded enough to throw aside the undeserved disgrace and live a courageous life, is too honourable to have acted as he is made to act. While this wooing is going on, Beatrice—who, with many self-reproaching and self-despising thoughts, sees in this marriage the fulfilment of her hopes for him, and the downfall of her own—helps on the suit in every little way in her power. She invites him to a party where he is to meet Helen, and, when she is preparing for it, with her own hands picks out some flowers for him, and offers them to him. He draws himself up and declines them. The action of both recalls to their minds a similar scene enacted once before between themselves and some one else. He knows who the "some one else" was, but she imagines her impression to have been one of those illusions of fancy which often occur, and which we take for memory. She ponders over it., and, later on, suddenly the whole incident at the prison door—the how, where, and when—flashes into her mind. Standing before her own drawing-room fire, and quite innocently, before many guests, she begins to tell him that she has met him before, and, without her knowing how it happens in the least, one of the lighted candles off the chimney piece is thrown on to her arm and sets fire to her sleeve, and causes her a very serious burn. It is a very natural and clever scene,— his love and sorrow and fear, her love and guiltiness and regret for his regret, at the pain which has been caused to her, are all very touching and very telling. Again, the scene where she thanks him for putting out the fire with his hands, and then goes on to finish what she had been going to tell him, is very good. Again, the scene where Fairfax drives into the town and is met with coldness and repulse, after the fact of his imprison- ment has been made known, is very good also. But the manner of the discovery is decidedly improbable, and shows a poverty of invention or a deficiency of effort.

Beatrice's firm belief in his innocence and her scorn of Helen' as she bewails the disclosure, are both very clever and admirable. Helen's state of mind is typical of that refined selfishness of some so-called highminded people :—" She was sorry for him, but her chief feeling was for herself at being mixed up in such an affair ; it was her misfortune that she dwelt upon. There are people with whom their second-hand connection with any trouble is infinitely more important than even that of the chief sufferer ;—people who, if their dearest friend come to unmerited disgrace, would feel that the deepest tragedy of the occurrence lay in the faot that they knew the person concerned." Beatrice's distress at Helen's desertion of him at the time of his greatest need is well told. " If things had gone well with him, she would have suppressed any feeling but one of friendship towards him ; but she could not turn away from him when she knew of the disaster that had fallen upon him. That drew her to him with beseeching that could not be denied. There was not a thought of herself in her heart. She could not be anything to him; he loved Helen. She could only grieve for him, and long for the power of giving him comfort. Her love that day was as selfless as one may imagine the love of an angel for a mortal might be. It was pure pity and tenderness." We have not space to dwell, as we should like to do, upon the many capital scenes where Beatrice tells Fairfax that she has known all the story for a long time, and never doubted him for a minute; where he tells the tale of his disgrace to Mr. Clare, &c. ; nor to follow the plot to its conclusion. Suffice it to say that wherever the author returns to the plot she falls very far short of the standard she reaches in most of her individual scenes, but that Beatrice is so charming a character that she makes the book very well worth reading in spite of its shortcomings.