The Last Man 2.0 – Chapter II




I LIVED far from the busy haunts of men, and the rumour of wars or political changes rarely made it to our mountain abodes. England had been the scene of monumental struggles during my early boyhood and in 2073, the last of its kings, the ancient friend of my father, abdicated in compliance with the wishes of his people, thereby allowing a republic to be instituted. He received the title of Earl of Windsor along with Windsor Castle, while his family were also allotted significant estates. He died soon after, leaving two children: a son and a daughter.

The ex-queen, an Austrian princess, had long implored her husband to withstand the pressure to abdicate. She was arrogant and fearless. She cherished a love of power, and a bitter contempt for he who had given up a kingdom. For her children’s sake she agreed to remain, albeit without her royal status, as a member of the English republic. When she became a widow, she turned all her thoughts to educating her son Adrian, second Earl of Windsor, so as to accomplish her ambitious ends – that he may re-acquire his lost crown. Adrian was now fifteen years of age and addicted to his studies, where his learning and talents displayed wisdom beyond his years. Rumours soon began that he had already begun to thwart his mother’s political views, although this could not be confirmed as the Countess gave very few access to her son. Adrian was raised in solitude, and kept apart from natural companions of his age and rank. Some unknown factor now motivated his mother to send him from under her immediate tutelage, and we learned that he was
about to visit Cumberland. A thousand tales were spreading, although none were probably true. The only certainty was that the noble scion of the last regal house of England was among us.

There was a large estate with a mansion attached to it, belonging to this family, at Ulswater. It was attached to a large park that was laid out with great taste, and plentifully stocked with game. In the past I had often raided these preserves as the property was in a state of decay. When it was decided that the young Earl of Windsor would visit Cumberland, workmen swiftly arrived to restore the estate to its former glory. The home was restored to pristine splendour, and the park became guarded with unusual care.

I was immensely disturbed by this information. It roused my dormant hatred and gave rise to feelings of revenge. I could no longer concentrate on any form of work; all my plans were forgotten. The tug of war, I thought, was about to begin. Adrian would come triumphantly to the district to which my father had fled impoverished and broken-hearted. There he would find the ill-fated offspring, like miserable paupers. I was certain that if he were ever to meet Perdita and I, that he would treat us much in the same way that his father had treated ours – with disdain and neglect. He would be surrounded by servants and nobles. All of England praised his name and his coming, like a thunderstorm. If I ever came into contact with this entitled brat, I would let him know exactly how the sins of his father had caused my sister and I so much suffering.

With my mind fully occupied by these ideas, I stalked the abode of the young Earl. I watched the progress of the improvements, and watched as various articles of luxury brought directly from London were used to furnish his mansion. His mother the Ex-Queen was determined to surround her son with princely magnificence. I observed rich carpets and silken hangings, ornaments of gold, richly embossed metals, and all the other amenities given to the elite.Only that which was regal in splendour would surround the one of royal descent.

I looked at myself and realized that why should I be any different from Adrian? I blamed it on the lies, ingratitude, and abandonment of my father by the late king and his noble court. Doubtless, he was the focus of the kingdom’s wealth and nobility, had been taught to repeat my father’s name with disdain, and to scoff at my claims to protection. I thought that all this grandeur was but more glaring infamy, and that, by planting his golden woven flag beside my tarnished and tattered banner, he proclaimed not his superiority, but his corruption. Yet I envied him. His beautiful horses, his costly weapons, the praise and adoration heaped on him – all things that I believed to be rightfully mine and forcibly wrenched from me before my father’s fall from grace.

To make matters worse, Perdita, actually seemed to engage in the real world when she learned that the Earl of Windsor was about to arrive.

“The Earl’s arrival pleases you?” I observed, moodily.

“Indeed it does, Lionel,” she replied; “I quite long to see him; he is the descendant of our kings, the first noble of the land: every one admires and loves him, and they say that his rank means nothing to him; above all else he is generous, brave, and gracious.”

“You have learned a fanciful lesson, Perdita,” said I, “and you forget how we know of the Earl’s virtues; his generosity to us is manifest in our plenty, his bravery in the protection he affords us, his affability in the notice he takes of us. His rank is meaningless, you say? All of his virtues come from his rank; because he is rich, he is called generous; because he is powerful, he is brave; because he is well served, he is affable. Let all of England believe him to be thus – we know him – he is our enemy -our miserly, despicable, arrogant enemy; if he were gifted with one particle of the virtues you call his, he would do well by us. His father wounded my father – his father, unassailable on his throne, dared to despise he who stooped beneath himself, when he felt the need to associate with those royal ingrates. As their descendants we must be enemies also. He shall find that I can still feel the pain of my father; he shall learn to dread my revenge!”

A few days after he arrived. Every inhabitant of the most miserable cottage went forth to meet him. Even Perdita, in spite of my diatribe, crept near the highway, to observe this idol of all hearts. I, driven half mad, as I met party after party of the country people in their holiday best, descending the hills, escaped to their cloud-veiled summits, and looking on the sterile rocks about me, exclaimed – “They do not cry, long live the Earl!”. Only when night came, accompanied by drizzling rain and cold, would I return home for I knew that each cottage rang with the praises of Adrian. As I felt my limbs grow numb and chill, my pain served as food for my insane aversion. I felt triumphant in my misery, since it seemed to provide me an excuse for a deep hatred of my careless adversary. To me father and son were one and the same; I forgot that Adrian might be wholly unconscious of his father’s neglect of us. I was determined to confront him as I cried: “He shall hear of this! I will be avenged! I will not suffer like a dog! He shall know, beggar and friendless as I am, that I will not submit!”

Each day, each hour added to these exaggerated wrongs. His praises were so many cobra stings to my heart. If I saw him at a distance, riding a beautiful horse, my blood boiled with rage. The air seemed poisoned by his presence, and my own language became a vile jargon, since every phrase I heard was coupled with his name and honour. I longed to relieve my anger by some misdeed that should stir similar feelings in him. It was the height of his offenses, that he should cause in me such intolerable sensations, while not even acknowledging my existence.

It soon became known that Adrian took great delight in his regal sanctuary. He never hunted, but rather spent hours watching tribes of tame, lovely animals with which it was stocked, and ordered that their care be greater than ever. Here was my opportunity to attack, and I made use of it with all the brute defiance I could muster. I suggested the poaching of his regal lands to my few remaining comrades, who were the most determined and lawless of my crew, but they all shrunk from the peril. I was left to seek revenge by myself. At first my exploits went unnoticed so I quickly increased in daring. Footsteps on the dewy grass, torn shrubs, and marks of slaughter, at length betrayed me to the game-keepers. They began to keep better watch; I was taken, and sent to prison. I entered its gloomy walls in a fit of triumphant ecstasy: “He feels me now,” I cried, “and shall, again and again!” I passed but one day in confinement, in the evening I was liberated, as I was told, by the order of the Earl himself. He despises me, I thought; but he shall learn that I despise him, and hold in equal contempt his punishments and his clemency. On the second night after my release, I was again taken by the gamekeepers. Again I was imprisoned, and again released; and again, such was my determination, the fourth night found me in the forbidden park.

The gamekeepers were more enraged than their lord by my tenacity. They had received orders that if I were again taken, I should be brought directly to the Earl. His kindness made them expect leniency considering my crimes. One of them, who had been the leader among those who had seized me, decided to satisfy his own resentment before he handed me over to the higher powers.

The late setting of the moon, and the extreme caution I was obliged to use in this, my third expedition, consumed so much time, that a twinge of fear came over me when I saw dark night yield to twilight. I crept along by the fern, on my hands and knees, seeking the shadowy cover of the underwood, while the birds awoke with unwelcome song above, and the fresh morning wind, had me imagining footsteps at each turn. My heart beat quick as I approached the fences. A leap took me to the other side, where two keepers were waiting to ambush me: one knocked me down, and proceeded to whip me. I rose with a knife in my hands and made a lunge inflicting a deep wound in his hand. The yells of the wounded man and his comrade, which I answered with equal bitterness and fury, echoed through the vale. Morning continued to break, its celestial beauty out of place with our brutish fight. My enemy and I were still struggling, when the wounded man exclaimed, “The Earl!”

I sprang from the keeper’s herculean hold, panting from my efforts, casting furious glances at my persecutors. I placed my back to a tree, resolved to defend myself to the bitter end. My clothing was torn and stained with the blood of the man I had wounded. One hand grasped the dead birds – my hard-earned prey, the other held the knife. My hair was matted, my whole appearance was haggard and squalid. Tall and muscular as I was, I must have looked like the most vile thug that ever trod the earth.

The name of the Earl startled me, and caused all the indignant blood that warmed my heart to rush into my cheeks. I had never seen him before so I imagined a contemptuous youth, who if he decided I was worth his attention, would take me to task with all the arrogance of superiority. My reply was ready; a reproach calculated to sting his very heart.

His appearance shocked me. Before me stood a tall, slim, fair and gentle boy, with a countenance expressive of sensibility and refinement. The morning sunbeams tinged his silken hair with gold,
and spread light and glory over his beaming features. “What is this?” he cried. The men eagerly began their defence, but he pushed them aside saying, “Two of you against a mere lad?” He approached me: “Verney,” he cried, “Lionel Verney, this is how we meet for the first time? We were born to be friends to each other, and though fate has divided us, I hope that you will acknowledge the bond that we have inherited.”

As he spoke, his earnest eyes, fixed on me, seemed to read my very soul: my heart, savage and revengeful, felt the influence of sweet benevolence sink into it. His thrilling voice, like a sweet melody, awoke a mute echo within me, stirring to its depths the core of my being. I desired to reply, to acknowledge his goodness, accept his proffered friendship; but words, fitting words, were not afforded to the rough mountaineer. I would have held out my hand, but its guilty stain restrained me. Adrian took pity on my faltering mood: “Come with me,” he said, “I have much to say to you; surely you know who I am?”

“Yes,” I exclaimed, “I do believe that I now know you, and that you will pardon my mistakes – my crime.”

Adrian smiled gently; and after giving his orders to the gamekeepers, he came up to me, putting his arm around me as we walked together to the mansion.

It was not Adrian’s rank that subdued my heart of hearts, and laid my entire spirit prostrate before him. Nor was I alone in feeling that I intimately knew his perfections. His sensibility and kindness fascinated everyone. His energy, intelligence, and benevolence completed the conquest. Even at this early age, he was well read and imbued with higher reasoning. This spirit gave a tone of irresistible persuasion in his conversation with others, so that he seemed like an inspired musician, who struck with ease the harp of the mind, and from it produced a divine harmony. In person, he hardly appeared of this world. His slight frame was overwhelmed by the soul that dwelt within. He was all mind – a mind which could could tame a hungry lion with a smile, or convinced a legion of armed men to lay their weapons at his feet. Thus, convincing an enemy that they were now friends and that they should spend the day together was a simple feat.

At first he did not refer to the past, or to anything personal. He likely wanted to inspire me with confidence, and give me time to gather my scattered thoughts. We sat in his library, and he spoke of the old Greek sages, and of the power which they had acquired over the minds of men, through the force of love and wisdom – ideas I had never before conceived. As he spoke, I felt subordinate to him; and all my boasted pride and strength were subdued by his blue-eyes.

As evening came, he finally addressed the past. “I have a tale to relate,” he said, “and much explanation to give concerning the past; perhaps you can assist me. Do you remember your father? I never had the pleasure of knowing him, but his name is one of my earliest recollections. He stands written in my mind as gallant, amiable, and fascinating. His wit was apparent in the overflowing goodness of his heart, which he poured in such full measure on his friends, often leaving only a small remnant for himself.”

Encouraged by this tribute, I proceeded to answer his questions and to relate what I remembered of my father. He gave an account of the circumstances which led to the neglect of my father’s testamentary letter. When Adrian’s father, then king of England, felt his situation become more perilous, he wished for his dear friend, who might stand against the impetuous anger of his queen, and as a mediator between him and the parliament. From the time my father had left London, on the night of his fatal defeat at the gambling table, the king had received no reports concerning him. After several years, he strived to find him, but every trace was gone. With greater regret than ever, he clung to his memory, and asked his son if ever he should meet this valued friend, to bestow every assistance on his behalf, and to assure him that their friendship had survived.

Shortly before Adrian’s visit to Cumberland, an heir of the nobleman entrusted with my father’s letter delivered it into the young Earl’s hands. It had been found amongst a mass of old papers that had been cast aside, and was found solely by accident. Adrian read it with deep interest, and within it found the living spirit of a genius he had so often heard commemorated. He discovered the name of the spot where my father had retreated and ultimately died, and of his orphan children. Shortly after arriving at Ulswater, he began making inquiries concerning us, so that he could carry out the late King’s wishes.

The way in which he spoke of my father was gratifying to my soul. Respect, admiration and love – emotions that I had rarely experienced but that he inspired in me through his appeasing manner and generous warmth – had touched my rocky heart. As we parted in the evening he clasped my hand and said “we shall meet again tomorrow.” I took that kind hand and tried to answer, but a fervent “God bless you!” was all my frame of mind would allow.

I could not rest. I sought the hills and ran on, trying to master the struggling spirit within me through bodily fatigue. “This,” I thought, “is power! Not to be strong of limb, hard of heart, ferocious, and daring; but kind, compassionate and soft.” With a newfound intensity I cried, “Doubt me not, Adrian, for I also will become wise and good!” and then quite overcome, I wept aloud.

As this gust of passion left me, I felt more composed. I lay on the ground, and giving the reins to my thoughts, repassed in my mind my former life; and began, fold by fold, to unwind the many errors of my heart, and to discover how brutish, savage, and worthless I had been. However, I could not feel remorse for I was born anew. My soul threw off the burden of past sin, to commence a new life which would value innocence and love. Nothing harsh or rough remained that would subdue the soft feelings which this day had inspired. I was like a child lisping its devotions after its mother, and my plastic soul was remoulded by a master hand, which I neither desired nor was able to resist.

This was the beginning of my friendship with Adrian, and I must keep this day as the most fortunate of my life. As I entered that sacred boundary which divides the intellectual and moral nature of man from that which characterizes animals, I finally became a human being. My best feelings emerged as fitting responses to the generosity, wisdom, and kindness of my new friend. For his part, Adrian, with a noble goodness all his own, took infinite delight in bestowing to excess the treasures of his mind and fortune on the long-neglected son of his father’s friend.

After his abdication the late king had retreated from the sphere of politics, yet his domestic circle afforded him small content. The ex-queen had none of the virtues of domestic life, and those of courage and daring which she possessed were rendered null by the secession of her husband. She despised him, and did not care to conceal her sentiments. The king had, in compliance with her wishes cast off his old friends, but he had acquired no new ones under her guidance. In this absence of sympathy, he found refuge in his infant son, and the early development of talent and sensibility made Adrian worthy of his father’s confidence. He was never weary of listening to his father’s often repeated accounts of old times, in which my father had played a distinguished part. His keen remarks were repeated to the boy, and remembered by him; his wit, his fascinations, his very faults were hallowed by the regret of affection. His loss was sincerely felt. Even the queen’s dislike of this favoured companion was insufficient to deprive him of his Adrian’s admiration. As it related to my father the Queen was bitter, sarcastic, contemptuous – but as she bestowed her disapproval on his virtues and his errors, on his devoted friendship and his ill-bestowed loves, on his disinterestedness and his absurdity, on his social graces, and the facility with which he yielded to temptation. Her condemnation proved too heavy, and fell short of the mark, and did not prevent Adrian from imagining my father as the type that was gallant,charming, and fascinating. It was not strange therefore, that when he heard of the existence of the offspring of this celebrated person, he should have formed the plan of bestowing on them all the advantages his rank could afford. When he found me a vagabond shepherd of the hills, a poacher, an unenlightened savage, still his kindness did not fail. As Adrian felt that his father was to a degree guilty of neglecting us, and thus obligated to every possible reparation, he was pleased to say that under all my ruggedness there glimmered an elevation of spirit, which could be distinguished from mere animal courage. I inherited the demeanor of my father, which gave proof that all his virtues and talents had not died with him. These very traits had descended to me, and my noble young friend resolved they should not be lost for want of culture.

Acting upon this plan in our subsequent discussions, he led me to partake in that cultivation which graced his own intellect. Once my active mind seized upon this new idea, I fastened on it with intense desire. At first my objective was to rival the merits of my father, and render myself worthy of Adrian’s friendship. This gave way to curiosity and soon an earnest love of knowledge, which led me to pass days and nights reading and studying. I was already well acquainted with The natural world. But I was at once startled and enchanted by my sudden extension of vision, when the curtain, which had been drawn before the intellectual world, was withdrawn, and I saw the universe, not only as it presented itself to my outward senses, but as it had appeared to the wisest among men. Poetry and its creations, philosophy and its tenets, awoke the sleeping ideas in my mind, and gave me new ones.

I felt like the sailor who from the topmast first discovered the shore of America; and like him I hastened to tell my companions of my discoveries in unknown regions. But I was unable to excite in any other the same appetite for knowledge that existed in me. Even Perdita was unable to understand me. I had lived in what is generally called the world of reality, and I awakened to find that there was a deeper meaning in all I saw, beyond that which my eyes conveyed to me. The idealistic Perdita beheld this only as a new gloss on an old book, and her own was sufficiently inexhaustible to content her. She listened to me as she had done during the narration of my adventures, and sometimes took an interest in this type of information; but she did not, as I did, look on it as an integral part of her being. This I did not understand, because after obtaining this knowledge, I could no more forgo it than I could sacrifice air.

We could both agree in loving Adrian: although she was still child-like and could not appreciate as I did the extent of his merits, or feel the same sympathy in his pursuits and opinions. I was always with him. There was a sensibility and kindness in his disposition, that gave a hallowed tone to our discussion. He was happy as a lark carolling from its heavenly tower, soaring in thought as an eagle, innocent as the mild-eyed dove. He could dispel the seriousness of Perdita, and subdue the torturous nature of my character. I looked to the restless desires and painful struggles of my past as a troubled dream, and felt myself changed as if I had metamorphosize into another form, whose fresh senses had altered the reflection of the apparent universe in the mirror of mind. But I was still the same in strength, in my craving for sympathy, and my yearning for challenge. My core virtues did not desert me; just as Urania spared the locks of Sampson, while he reposed at her feet weakened and humanized. Nor did Adrian instruct me only in the cold truths of history and philosophy. He taught me that they could subdue my own reckless and uncultured spirit, he opened my view to the living page of his own heart, and gave me an understanding his wondrous character.

The ex-queen of England had endeavoured to implant daring and ambitious designs in the mind of her son even during his infancy. She saw that he was endowed with genius and surpassing talent which she cultivated in hopes of furthering of her own goals. She encouraged his craving for knowledge and his impetuous courage; she even tolerated his tameless love of freedom, under the hope that this would, as is too often the case, lead to a passion for command. She intended to foster in him a sense of resentment towards those who had been instrumental in bringing about his father’s abdication, in the hopes that he might one day seek revenge and regain his lost throne. In this she did not succeed. The thought of a great and wise nation asserting its right to govern itself seemed just to him: in early days he became a nationalist. Still his mother did not despair. To the love of rule and arrogant pride of birth she added determined ambition, patience, and self-control. She devoted herself to the study of her son’s complex disposition. Through praise, discipline and encouragement, she tried to strike the fitting chords, and though the melody that followed her touch seemed discord to her, she built her hopes on his talents, and felt sure that she would at eventually win him over. While their differing philosophies put them at odds, the present banishment of Adrian arose from other causes.

The ex-queen also had a daughter, now twelve years of age (his fairy sister, as Adrian referred to her) a lovely, animated, little thing, all sensibility and truth. With her children, the noble widow resided at Windsor where she admitted no visitors, except her own partisans, travellers from her native Germany, and a few of the foreign ministers. Among these, and highly distinguished by her, was Prince Zaimi, ambassador to England from the free States of Greece, and his daughter, the young Princess Evadne, who passed much of her time at Windsor Castle. In the company of this sprightly and clever Greek girl, the Countess would relax her guard. Her views applied only to her own children, and Evadne was a plaything she could in no way fear. Her talents and vivacity became slight alleviations to the monotony of the Countess’s life.

Evadne was eighteen years of age, and although she spent much time at Windsor, where Adrian soon fell in love. Despite his youth he was tender of heart beyond the common nature of man, and truly understood love. It was strange to me, I who had never found love, to witness the devotion and faith of my friend. His life was swallowed up in the existence of his beloved, and his heart beat in unison with the pulsations that enlivened hers. This was the secret law of his life – he loved and was beloved. To him the universe was a dwelling to inhabit with his chosen one and no scheme or chain of events could grant him happiness or misery even though life was in reality a wilderness, a tiger-haunted jungle. In the midst of errors, in the depths of its savage recesses, there was a disentangled and flowery pathway, through which they might journey in safety and delight. Their track would be like the passage of the Red Sea, which they might traverse untouched, despite being surrounded by walls of impending destruction on either side.

Why must I record the hapless delusions of this peerless specimen of humanity? What is there in our nature that is forever urging us towards pain and misery? However we may be attuned to the reception of pleasurable emotion, we were made to suffer. Disappointment is the never-failing pilot of our life, and it ruthlessly carries us on to the shoals. Who was better positioned than this highly-gifted youth to love and be loved, and to reap unalienable joy from a blind passion? If his heart had slept but a few years longer, he might have been saved; but it awoke in its infancy; it had power, but no knowledge; and it was ruined, even as an early bud is killed in the frost.

I did not accuse Evadne or a wish to deceive her lover, but the first letter that I saw of hers convinced me that she did not love Adrian. It was written with elegance, and a great command of language that was likely beyond a foreigner. The handwriting was exquisitely beautiful, the very paper seemed being tasteful, even to one who was raised as a pauper. There was much kindness, gratitude, and sweetness in her expression – but no love. Evadne was two years older than Adrian, and who, at eighteen, ever loved one so much younger? I compared her placid notes with the burning ones of Adrian. His soul seemed to distil itself into the words he wrote. They breathed on the paper, bearing with them a portion his love, his life. The very act of writing used to exhaust him. When he was finished he would weep over the letters from the excess of emotion they awakened in his heart.

Adrian’s soul was painted in his face, and concealment or deceit were the extreme opposites of his frank nature. Evadne was adamant that the tale of their love should not be revealed to his mother; and after a while he conceded to her. It was a vain concession, his demeanour quickly betrayed his secret to the quick eyes of the ex-queen. With the same wary prudence that characterized her whole behaviour, she concealed her discovery, but hastened to remove her son from the presence of the attractive Greek. He was sent to Cumberland, but the plan of correspondence between the lovers, arranged by Evadne, was hidden from her. Thus Adrian’s absence, intended for the purpose of separation, united them more than ever. To me he spoke endlessly of his beloved. Her country, its ancient tales, its recent memorable struggles all made to partake in its glory and excellence. He agreed to depart because his mother commanded it, and because Evadne’s knew that any assertion of his resolve would be pointless. Perhaps there was also a lurking dislike to bind herself in front of the world to one whom she did not love – not love, at least, with that passionate enthusiasm which her heart told her she might one day feel towards another. He obeyed her injunctions, and decided to pass a year in exile in Cumberland.