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John Brent/Chapter XXV

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Noblesse Oblige[edit]

Brent’s stupor lasted many days. Life had been strained to its utmost. Body, brain, heart, all had had exhausting taxes to pay. The realm must rest.

While his mind slept, Nature was gently renewing him. Quiet is cure to an untainted life. There was no old fever of discontent in his brain. He had regrets, but no remorses. Others had harmed him; his life had been a sad one; he had never harmed himself. The thoughts and images tangled in his brain, the “stuff that dreams are made of,” were of happy omen. No Stygian fancies made his trance unrest. Life did not struggle for recovery that it might plunge again into base or foul pursuits, or the scuffles of selfishness. A man whose life is for others is safe from selfish disappointment when he is commanded to stand aside and be naught for a time.

I knew the images that hovered about my sleeping friend’s mind, for I knew the thoughts that were the comrades of his waking life. His memory was crowded full of sights and sounds of beauty, and those thoughts that are the emanations of fair visions and sweet tones, and dwell unuttered poetry in the soul. I knew how, long ago in childhood, he had made Nature friend, and found his earliest comrades among flowers and birds. I knew, for he had been my teacher, how, when youth first looked widely forth for visions of the Infinite, he had learned to comprehend, day after day, night after night, the large delight of heaven; whether the busy heaven, when the golden sun makes our sky blue above us, and reveals on earth the facts that we must deal with and by which we must be taught our laws, or the quiet heaven of night, with its starry tokens of grander fruition, when we shall live for grander days. Sky and clouds, sun and stars, brooks and rivers, forests and hills, waves and winds, — these had received him to their sweet companionship, as his mind could gradually grasp the larger conceptions of beauty. And so, when his time came to perceive the higher significance of Art, as man’s rudimentary efforts toward creations diviner and more orderly than those of earth, he had gone to Art with the unerring eye and interpreting love of a fresh soul, schooled by Nature only, blind to Art’s baser fancies, and hospitable to its holier dreams. No ugly visions could visit the uncontrolled hours of a brain so stored. His trance was peace.

More than peace; for as I watched his quiet face, I knew that his spirit was conscious of a spiritual presence, and Love was hovering over him, a healing element.

At last he waked. He threw volition into the scale of recovery. He was well in a trice.

Captain Ruby and Doctor Pathie were disposed to growl at the rapidity of Brent’s cure.

“I have half a mind to turn military despot, and arrest you,” said Ruby. “A pair of muffs, even, would be welcome in the winter at Laramie. You have made a wretched bungle of it, Pathie. Why didn’t you mend your man deliberately, a muscle a week, a nerve a month, and so make it a six months’ job?”

“He took the matter out of my hands, and mended himself. There’s cool, patient, determined vitality in him, enough to set up a legion, or father a race. Which is it, Mr. Wade, words to say or duties to do, that has made him condense his being on recovery?”

“Both, I believe. He is mature now, and wants, no doubt, to be at his business of saying and doing.”

“And loving,” said Ruby.

“Ay,” said Pathie. “That has had more to do with it. I hope he will overtake and win, for I love the boy. I keep my oldish heart pretty well locked against strangers; but there is a warm cell in it, and in that cell he has, sleeping and waking, made himself a home.”

“Ah, Doctor,” said Ruby, “you and I, for want of women to love, have to content ourselves with poetic rovers like Brent. He and Biddulph were balls, operas, champagne on tap, new novels, flirtations, and cigars to me last winter.”

We were smoking our pipes on the veranda one warm November day, when this conversation happened.

I had not quite forgotten the Barrownight, as Jake Shamberlain pronounced him, nor quite forgotten, in grave cares, my fancy that his stay in Utah was for Miss Clitheroe’s sake.

I was hardly surprised when, that very evening, a bronzed traveller, face many shades darker than hair and beard, rode up to the post with a Delaware Indian, and was hailed by Ruby as Biddulph.

“We were talking of you not an hour ago,” said Ruby, greeting him. “Wishing you would come to make last winter’s party complete. Brent is here, wounded.”

“Has he a lady with him?” said the new-comer. His voice and manner were manly and frank, — a chivalrous fellow, one of us, one of the comradry of knights errant.

“Mr. Wade will give an account of her.”

“Come in to Brent,” said I, “and we will talk matters over.”

Ruby, model host, cleared the way for a parley whose interest he divined.

“I will see after your horses. Don’t lose your appetite for supper. We have potatoes!”

“Potatoes!!” cried Biddulph. “Not I!”

“Yes, and flapjacks and molasses, ready in half an hour.”

“Flapjacks and molasses! Potatoes and flap-jacks! — Yes, and molasses!” Biddulph again exclaimed. “Jewel of a Ruby! This is the Ossa on Pelion of gourmandise. How underdone and overdone all the banquets of civilization seem! I charge thee, Ruby, when the potatoes and the flapjacks and molasses are ready, that thou peal a jubilee upon the bell. Now, Mr. Wade, let me see this wounded friend, and hear and tell.”

The two gentlemen met with cordiality. Brent, I believe, had never identified Miss Clitheroe with the lady Biddulph fled from, and I had never mentioned my suspicions.

“Not one word, John!” said the Briton, “until I know what you have done with Ellen Clitheroe. Is she safe?”

Brent comprehended the Baronet’s heart and mind at the word. The other, I think, saw as plainly on Brent’s face that he was a lover, and perhaps the more fortunate one. These two loyal men drew closer at this, as wholly loyal souls will do, for all the pang of knowing that one has loved and lost.

Brent told our story in brief.

“I divined that you were one of the pair who had started on the rescue. I could not mistake you, man and horse and dress, from the Mormon’s description.”

“You saw Sizzum, then?”

“I saw his dead body.”

“What? Dead!” A sense of relief, that the world had one tempter the less, passed through our minds.

“Yes, shot dead, just where the Wasatch Mountains open, and there is that wonderful view of Salt Lake City. His Nemesis met him there. I heard the shot fired, as I was riding out to meet the train, and saw him fall!”

“Who shot him, of the many that had a right?”

“As mild a mannered man as ever shuddered at the crack of an egg-shell.”

“Vendetta for woman-stealing?”

“Wife-stealing. The man was a poor music-teacher, with a pretty spouse in Quincy, Illinois. He had told me his own story, without proclaiming his purpose, though I conjectured it. The pretty spouse grew tired of poverty and five children. She went off with Sizzum. The music-master hired himself to a drover, named Armstrong, and plodded out to Utah. When he got there, he found Sizzum gone. He turned hunter. I met him in the mountains, a crack shot. He waited his time, ambushed the train, and shot Sizzum dead, as he first caught sight of the Valley.”

“A thought of poetry in his justice. What then?”

“I could see him creeping away among the rocks, while the Mormons were getting their rifles. They opened fire, a hundred of them. Ping, ping! the balls tapped all about him. He was just clear, just springing over a little ridge of shelter, when a shot struck him. He flung out his arms in an attitude of imprecation, and fell over the rocks. Dead, and doubly dead from the fall.”

“Our two evil forces are erased from the world. Wade,” said Brent.

“May it be good omen for coming difficulties! But how did you learn of the events at Fort Bridger?” I asked the Baronet.

“The Lancashire people in the train all took an interest in the Clitheroes. They knew from Sizzum what happened when he followed you, and your purpose to give chase. I knew John Brent well enough to believe that he would achieve the rescue. Happy fellow! I forgive you, John; hard it is, but I forgive you for stepping in before me, I was waiting there in Utah to do what I could for my old love and my old friend. I should like to have had a bullet in my arm in the cause; but the result is good, whether I gain or lose.”

“I never thought of you, Biron. In fact, from the moment I saw her, I thought of no one else.”

“Yes; that is her power. We were old neighbors in Lancashire. My father bought the old Hall after Mr. Clitheroe’s disasters. The disappearance and the mysterious reappearance of the old gentleman and his beautiful daughter were the romance of the region. No one knew where they had been. My father was dead. My mother tried to befriend them. But the old gentleman was soured and disappointed. He could not forgive us for inhabiting the old mansion of his happier days. God knows how gladly I would have reinstated him there. But she could not love me; so I came away, and we looked up Luggernel Springs and the Alley together, John, to give you a chance to snatch my destiny away from me.”

Brent, in his weakness, had no answer to make, except to give his hand to this gentle rival.

“How did you learn of their Mormon error?” I asked.

“My mother wrote me. She loves Miss Clitheroe like a daughter. She pities the father. His wife was her friend. A genial, lovable man he was, she says, until, after his losses, people whom he had aided turned and accused him of recklessness and dishonesty, — a charge as false and cruel as could be made. My mother wrote, told me of Sizzum’s success in Clitheroe, and of our friends’ departure. She ordered me, on my obedience, never to come back to England until I could tell her that Ellen was safe out of Sizzum’s power. She had gone to hear him preach, and abhorred him. I received her letter after we had parted, John, and I camped with Jake Shamberlain, waiting for the train. What I could have done, I do not know; but my life was Miss Clitheroe’s.”

How easy his chivalry seemed to this noble fellow! “Noblesse obligé”; but the obligation was no burden.

“You are a stanch friend, Biron,” said Brent. “She may need you yet.”

“Yes,” said he; “Christian England is a savage, cruel as any of these brutes she has encountered here, to a beautiful girl with a helpless, crazy father. When can you travel, John?”

“Nearly a month I have been here fighting death and grasping at life. Give me two days more to find a horse and ride about a little, and we are off.”

“Armstrong, fine old fellow, left the sorrel for you,” I said.” He is in racing trim now.”

“Capital!” said Brent. “One Armstrong is a brave weight on the true side of the balance, against an army of pioneers who have gone barbarous.”

“I have something to show you, John,” said Biddulph. “See here. I bought this of a Mormon. He had very likely stolen it from Mr. Clitheroe’s wagon. It was the only relic I could get of them.”

The very drawing of Clitheroe Hall its former owner had wished to show me at Fort Bridger. An able sketch of a thoroughly English house. If England were sunk in the sea, and its whole history perished, English life, society, and manners could be reconstructed from the inspection of such a drawing, as a geologist recalls an æon from a trilobite. I did not wonder that it had been heart-breaking to quit the shelter of that grand old roof. I fixed the picture in my mind. The time came when that remembrance was precious.

“Now, Biddulph!” called Ruby, “supper waits. Potatoes! Flapjacks and molasses!”

“They shall be a part of me instantly.”