The Last Man 2.0, Book One: Chapter IV

 


I FOUND out that the next day Lord Raymond would stop to visit Perdita and I on his way to Windsor Castle.  My sister’s blushing face and sparkling eyes told me everything that I needed to know about her feelings for him.

When he arrived, he seemed to be a completely different person from the one I had seen in public.  Raymond was perfectly self-possessed; his warmth was overpowering, immediately endearing himself to us.  He was full of contradictions, calm yet arrogant, gentle yet fierce, both tender and neglectful.

At present, it was clear that Raymond wished to be friendly.  Wit, humour, and deep observation were mingled in his speech. I felt compelled to watch over Perdita, and to tell her exactly what I thought of him.  But he was so fascinating, that I forgot everything except the pleasure of his company; I had forgotten how distasteful he was to me. Raymond wanted to win me over, and he very nearly did. His downfall?  He began to talk about Adrian, and spoke of him with such disrespect.

“Raymond – Adrian is my best friend and benefactor. I believe in his goodness, I cannot allow you to disrespect him.” I replied.

“Every man,” Raymond said, “dreams about something – love, honour, pleasure.  You truly believe in friendship, and that is your right. I did not mean to offend you – and I do hope that Adrian recovers from this illness.”         

Raymond would frequently visit my sister, and in the process I became close to him, learning to admire his powerful and versatile talents.  His passion, combined with his now immense wealth, caused him to be feared, loved, and hated more than any other man in England.

My connection with Adrian, the favour of the Austrian ambassador, and my growing friendship with Lord Raymond gave me easy access to the elite and political circles of England.  To the uninitiated, English politics would give the impression that we were on the eve of a civil war; each party was violent, acrimonious, and unyielding. Parliament was divided into three factions: aristocrats, populists, and royalists.  After Adrian’s declared support to a popular form of government, the party had nearly died away, having lost its guidance to his illness; but, when Lord Raymond came forward as its leader, it surged with redoubled force.

Some were royalists from prejudice and ancient tradition, and there were many moderates who feared both the radical changes proposed by the popular party, and the unbending despotism of the aristocrats.  More than a third of the populist members aligned themselves under Raymond, and their number was perpetually increasing. The aristocrats built their hopes on their dominant wealth and influence; the populists on the force of the nation itself, while the royalists appealed to the fond memories and tradition of the monarchy.  The debates were violent, resistance even to the death threatened; meetings like these disturbed the quiet order of the country. With such division, how could all this end, except for war?

Even as the destructive flames seemed ready to break forth, I saw them shrink back, alleviated by the absence of military intervention, by the aversion which they each had to any real violence, and by the cordial politeness and even friendship of the hostile leaders when they met in private.  Despite this calm in the storm, I had to witness the course of events, and watch each turn with intense anxiety.

I could not ignore that Perdita loved Raymond; I also thought also that he regarded my sister with respect and affection.  Yet I knew that he was urging forward his marriage with Idris, the presumptive heiress of of Windsor, with the expectation of the advantages this would bring to him.  Raymond and Katharina shared the same circle of friends; no week passed that he did not hold consultations with her at Windsor.

I had never met Adrian’s sister.  I had heard that Idris was lovely, good-natured, and fascinating.  But how could I ever bring myself meet her? I felt that when we did meet, it would be a life altering event – but I could not determine if it would be positive or negative.  For this reason, I evaded this high-born damsel. To me she was everything and nothing; her very name mentioned by another made me tremble; the endless discussion concerning her union with Lord Raymond was agony to me.  Even though I had never laid eyes on her, I found myself obsessed with her. With Adrian secluded and battling some unknown illness, I felt that Idris was likely a victim of her mother’s ambitious schemes, and it was my duty to protect her from undue influence, guard her from unhappiness, and secure her freedom of choice – the right of every human being.  But perhaps I was motivated by more than an obligation to my best friend.

Yet how was I to do this?  She did not know anything about me and would likely reject my help.  If I was an object of indifference or contempt to her, it would be best avoid her.  Instead I rushed in head first like a foolish Icarus, flying too closely to a blazing sun.

Troubled by how to best help Raymond and Idris, I travelled to visit my sister, hoping for a distraction.  Her company was my chief solace and delight; my spirits always rose at the sight of her. Her conversation was full of pointed remark and discernment; in her pleasant alcove, perfumed with the sweetest flowers, adorned by the finest pictures of Raphael, Correggio, and Claude, and some painted by herself, I imagined myself in a fairy retreat untainted by the noisy contentions of politicians and the frivolous pursuits of the elite.  

On this occasion however, my sister was not alone; I could not fail to recognise her companion: it was Idris, the until now unseen object of my mad worship.        

In what fitting terms could I describe the loveliest, wisest, best of all women?  How can a poor assemblage of words convey the halo of glory that surrounded her? The first thing that struck me was her perfect goodness; candour and simplicity in her eyes, heavenly warmth in her smile.  Her tall slim figure moved gracefully; her voice resembled the low, subdued tenor of a flute.

It surprised me to see them together, since they were two stark contrasts to each other.  The one recoiled to solitude, that she might there entrench herself from disappointment and injury; the other walked forth in open day, believing that none would harm her.  

My sister rose, and taking my hand, said, “Finally, he is here! Idris, this is Lionel, my dear brother.”  

Idris bent on me her eyes of celestial blue, and with peculiar grace said “You hardly need an introduction; we have an image, ingrained in us from an early age by my father, which declares at once your history with our family.  Verney, I know that you will acknowledge this tie, and as my brother’s friend, I feel that I may trust you.”

Then, with tears forming in her eyes and trembling voice, she continued – “Dear friends, please do not think it strange that now, visiting you for the first time, I ask your assistance, and confide my wishes and fears to you.  To you alone do I dare speak. I have heard you commended by impartial observers; they all agree that you are my brother’s friends, so therefore you must also be mine. What can I say? If you refuse to help me, I am lost indeed!”  She cast up her eyes, while wonder held her us mute; then, as if carried away by her feelings, she cried – “My dear brother! What will become of him? Doubtless you have both heard the current tale – but I swear he is not insane!  Were God himself to descend and say it, I would never, ever believe it. He has been wronged, betrayed, imprisoned – you must save him! Verney, you must do this; seek him out in whatever part of the island he is imprisoned; find him, rescue him from his persecutors, restore him to himself, to me, to us!  In this entire world, he is all I have!”

Her earnest appeal, so sweetly and passionately expressed, filled me with sympathy.  Idris added, “Do you vow to help me, and your best friend?” I swore to devote myself in life and death to the salvation of Adrian.  We then discussed how we would discover his whereabouts and a plan of extraction. While we spoke, Lord Raymond entered unannounced: I saw Perdita tremble and grow deadly pale, while Idris glowed with the purest of blushes.  He must have been astonished, even disturbed at our gathering, but his look betrayed nothing. He greeted us cordially. Idris appeared stunned for a moment, “Lord Raymond, what a pleasant surprise.”

Smiling, he bent his head, and replied, with emphasis, “Indeed.  I am glad that I found you here.”

Uncertain as to whether she could trust Raymond with the details of our plan, she chose to divert his attention instead, “Would you escort me back to Windsor Castle?”   

“Pardon me if I interrupted your reunion,” he replied, “and I would be glad to accompany you.”  

Idris smiled her thanks, and together they exited for Windsor Castle.  My sister and I were left like two silly flies, who had played in sunbeams and were caught in a spider’s web.  Once Idris and Raymond were out of view, we could finally relax. Perdita had not moved; her eyes fixed on the ground, her cheeks pale, her very lips white, motionless and rigid, every feature stamped by woe, she sat.  Half frightened, I took her hand, but she shudderingly withdrew it, and strove to collect herself. I urged her to speak to me: “Not now,” she replied, “My dear Lionel, we have bigger problems to worry about than Raymond and Idris.  I need to go out for now, but tomorrow we will discuss how we can help Adrian.” She rose, and as she walked from the room she paused at the door, and leaning against it, as if her busy thoughts had drained her strength, she said, “Lord Raymond will probably return.  Will you ask him to excuse me – that I am not well? I will see him tomorrow, and you also. You had better return to London with Raymond; if you feel that he can be trusted perhaps he can help us to locate Adrian. With his connection to Katharina, he must know something.  Visit me again tomorrow before you leave – for now, farewell!”

I felt as if my life had been plunged into chaos; obscure, hostile, unintelligible.  Raymond would soon marry Idris, which to me was unbearable. Yet my misery paled in comparison to Perdita’s.  What could I do? She clearly did not want to confide in me, and I could not demand an explanation from Raymond without betraying Perdita’s most treasured secret.  I would learn the truth from her the following day. While I was occupied by these conflicting thoughts, Lord Raymond returned. He asked for my sister, and I delivered her message.  After a moment, he asked me if I was returning to London soon, and if we could travel together. Seeing the opportunity to speak with him, I agreed. He was silent and full of thought, and after a considerable part of our ride he finally said, “I must apologize to you for my distraction; the truth is, Ryland’s motion comes tonight, and I am considering my response.”

Ryland was the leader of the aristocratic party, a hard-headed man, who was eloquent in his own way; he was putting forward a bill making it treason to endeavour to change the present state of the English government and the standing laws of the republic.  This attack was directed against Raymond and his machinations for the restoration of the monarchy.

Raymond asked me if I would accompany him to the House that evening.  My primary goal was to locate Adrian; and, knowing that these political games would keep me fully occupied, I excused myself.   “Nay,” said my companion, “Lionel, are we not friends? There is no need for secrets here. I know that you are concerned for the Earl of Windsor.  He is at the Duke of Atholl’s estate at Dunkeld. At the first signs of the onset of his disorder, he travelled about from one place to another. He could not find happiness anywhere, so our beloved ex-Queen moved him from estate to estate.  Once he arrived at the romantic seclusion of Dunkeld he refused to leave, so we made arrangements with the Duke for his accommodations. While his disease is tragic, I swear to you Verney, he wants for nothing.”

I was hurt by these details, to think that such a great mind, and even greater friend could simply be hidden away from those that loved him.  I replied coldly: “I am obliged to you for this information, and will do everything I can with it.”

“Of course you will, Verney,” said Raymond, “and if you are sincere, then I will gladly help you.  But first, witness the result of this night’s debate, and the triumph I am about to achieve. While I fear that this victory is really a defeat, what can I do?  The Countess gives me Idris; Adrian is unfit to succeed the earldom, which in my hands becomes a kingdom. The Countess can never forget that she has been a queen; her power and my wit can rebuild the throne, and this brow will be clasped by a kingly diadem.  Who could have imagined that one who was barely noble could lead an entire country to war, and return to become the heir apparent? I can do this. I can marry Idris. I can—“

He stopped abruptly, his expression darkened, changing again and again under the influence of inner turmoil.  I asked, “Does Lady Idris love you?”

“What a question,” he replied, laughing. “She will learn to love me, as I shall her, after we are married.”  

“But marriage is the grave, and not the cradle of love. So you are about to love her, but do not already?”   

“Do not chastize me, Verney: I will do my best by her.  I must steel my heart against Love; expel it from its tower of strength, barricade it out.  The fountain of love must cease, its waters dried up, and all passionate thoughts dependent on it must die.  Idris is a beautiful, passionate girl; it is impossible not to have some affection for her, and mine is sincere.  But do not speak to me of love – love, the tyrant and the tyrant-queller; love, until now my conqueror, now my slave.  No – I will have nothing to do with that kind of love. I will rule love. Tell me, Lionel, do you believe that I should marry her?”

He fixed his gaze on me, and my uncontrollable heart swelled.  I replied “Never! Lady Idris cannot be united to one who does not love her!”  

“But only because you love her yourself.”

“You might have spared me that taunt; I dare not love her. ”   

He continued insolently, “ But Lionel – a kingdom is a tempting reward – love or no love.  Were not the mightiest men of ancient times kings? Alexander the Great, Solomon, the wisest of men.  Napoleon was a king; Caesar died in his attempt to become one, and Cromwell, the puritan and king-killer, aspired to regality.  The father of Adrian yielded the already broken sceptre of England; but I will raise the fallen rose, and exalt it above all else.”

“Verney, do not suppose me wicked or foolish enough to found my reign on a fraud, and one so easily discovered as the nature of the Earl’s insanity.  I had recently visited him. Before I could decide on my marriage with Idris, I resolved to see him again, and to judge the probability of his recovery.  Lionel, I tell you this as a friend: the man you knew is gone.”

I gasped for breath–

“I will not detail for you,” continued Raymond, “the awful particulars. You will see him, and judge for yourself.  Although I fear that your visit, while useless to him, will be insufferably painful to you. I have wanted to tell you for sometime about his whereabouts, but it has weighed on my conscience heavily.  Adrian was always a worthy rival who truly cared about his people; were it not for our dueling ideals, we would be like brothers. I can not claim to love him as you do, but I would give up all my hopes of the crown to see him restored.”  

“Raymond,” I cried, “where will your ambitions lead you, in this maze of endless purpose?  Do you truly wish to become Monarch at the expense of everything else?”

“Where indeed? To a golden gemmed crown, I hope; and I dream of a crown and wake for one, but ever the devil whispers to me, that it is but a fool’s cap that I seek, and that were I wise, I should trample on it, and take in its stead, that which is worth all the crowns of this Earth.”

“And what is that?”

“Verney, I hope that soon I may be able to tell you what my heart truly desires, but not today.  If I do make that choice, then you shall know; at present I dare not speak it, even think of it.”  

Again he was silent, and after a pause turned to me warmly.  “Verney,” he said, “my first act as King will be to unite with the Greeks, take Constantinople, and subdue all of Asia.  I intend to be a warrior, a conqueror; Napoleon’s name shall pale in comparison to mine. Everyone will forget his rocky grave, and exalt my illustrious achievements.”   

I listened to Raymond with genuine interest.  Could I ignore one who seemed to govern the whole earth in his grasping imagination, and who only daunted when he attempted to rule himself?  On his word and will depended my own happiness – the fate of all those dear to me. I tried to decipher the concealed meaning of his words. Perdita’s name was not mentioned, yet I was certain that he loved her.  This love caused the indecisiveness that he exhibited. And would be more worthy of this love than my noble-minded sister? Who deserved the hand of this self-exalted king more than she? Who else loved him as he did her?  

We went together to the Houses of Parliament that evening.  Raymond, while he knew that his plans and prospects were to be discussed and decided during the expected debate, was oblivious.  A hum, like that of ten thousand hives of swarming bees, stunned us as we entered the anteroom. Knots of politicians were assembled with anxious brows and loud, deep voices.  The aristocratic party, the richest and most influential men in England, were led by Ryland and his supporters.

Ryland was a man of obscure birth and of immense wealth, which he inherited from his father, who had been a manufacturer.  As a young man he had witnessed the abdication of the king, and the amalgamation of the two houses of Lords and Commons; he had sympathized with these popular encroachments, and it had been the purpose of his political life to consolidate and increase them.  With the Aristocrats behind him, he felt that he now had the influence to allow the elite to guide the future direction of England, without the interference of the Monarchy.

Since then, the influence of the aristocracy had augmented; and at first Ryland was pleased to observe the machinations of Lord Raymond, which drew off many of his opponent’s supporters.  He felt that a call to reinstate the monarchy would simply strengthen support for his cause, but he had underestimated Raymond and now it had gone too far. The poorer nobility, despite being supporters of the Aristocratic ideals, hailed the return of sovereignty as an event which would restore their lost power and rights.  The half extinct spirit of royalty roused itself in the minds of men; and they, willing slaves, self-constituted subjects, were ready to bend a knee. The nostalgia of the Royal spirit remained while the word republic had grown stale and vulgar to the ear. Many pined for the tinsel and show of royalty. They still felt affection for the late King, and the tradition and splendor of the Crown.  Ryland was staunch in his resistance; he asserted that his suffering alone had permitted the rise of this party, and that a Monarchy could hinder the plans of the Aristocrats.

When Raymond entered the anteroom, his presence was hailed by his friends with encouraging shouts.  They gathered round him, confident that they would receive new support from those who were yet undecided.  After some trifling business of the House, the leaders took their seats in the chamber; the clamour of voices continued, till Ryland arose to speak; the slightest whisper became audible.  All eyes were fixed upon him as he stood – awkward of frame, thundering of voice, and with an impressive manner. I turned from his marked, iron countenance to Raymond, whose face, veiled by a smile, would not betray his thoughts.  

Ryland began by praising the present state of the British empire.  He recalled past years: the miserable contentions which in the time of our fathers arose led to civil war, the abdication of the late king, and the foundation of the republic.  He described how this republic gave privilege to each person – in effect making them individual sovereigns. He compared the royal and republican spirits – how one tended to enslave the minds of men, while all the institutions of the other served to raise even the most disadvantaged to something greater.  He illustrated how England had become powerful, and its inhabitants valiant and wise, by means of the freedom they enjoyed. As he spoke, every heart swelled with pride, knowing that they could call themselves English.

Ryland’s fervour increased, his eyes lit up as his voice assumed the tone of passion.  There was one man, he continued, who wished to undo all of these achievements, and bring us back to our days of impotence and strife: one man, who would dare seize the honour which was due to all who claimed England as their birthplace, and set his needs above the needs of his country.  I saw that Raymond changed colour; his eyes were withdrawn from the orator, and cast on the ground. His supporters turned from one to the other, but in the meantime the Ryland’s voice filled their ears – the thunder of his denunciations influenced their senses. The very boldness of his language gave him power; each knew that he spoke a truth known, but not acknowledged.  The Monarchy would represent a step backward for the republic. Ryland ended by moving that any attempt to re-establish the kingly power should be declared treason, and any who should endeavour to change the present form of government branded a traitor. Cheers and loud acclamations followed the close of his speech.

After Ryland’s motion had been seconded, Lord Raymond rose, his expression bland, his voice calm, projecting serenity into a chaotic scene.  After the loud, organ-like voice of his adversary, his soothing voice served pacified the audience. He rose, he said, to speak in favour of the Ryland’s motion, with one slight amendment.  The room was captivated, not expecting such a turn of events. As Raymond approached the podium to begin his speech, there was dead silence. He was ready to honour the contests of our fathers, and the Monarch’s abdication.  Nobly and greatly, he said, had the illustrious and last sovereign of England sacrificed himself for the apparent good of his country, and divested himself of a power which could only be maintained by the blood of his subjects – these subjects being his friends and equals, who had in gratitude conferred certain favours and distinctions on him and his family for ever.  An ample estate was allotted to them, and they took the first rank among the society of Great Britain. Yet it might be speculated that they had not forgotten their ancient heritage, and it was hard that their heirs should suffer if they attempted to regain what by ancient right and inheritance had once belonged to them. He did not say that he should favour an attempt to revive the throne, but he did say that such an attempt should be pardonable.  In his amendment he proposed, that an exception should be made in the bill in favour of any person who claimed the sovereign power formerly belonging to the earls of Windsor, given that they last held the throne of England.

Raymond could not end without drawing in vivid and glowing colours, the splendour of a kingdom, in opposition to the commercial spirit of republicanism.  He asserted, that each individual under the English monarchy, was then as now, capable of attaining nearly any high rank or power – with the exception of nobility.  And how did this one exception really cause anyone harm? Was the late King not benevolent? The nature of riches and influence of the Aristocrats forcibly confined the elite to a few of the wealthiest.  In short, it was not different that living under a monarchy, so how could such behaviour be treasonous?

I can not do justice to the flow of language and graceful turns of expression, the wit and easy banter that gave vigour and influence to Raymond’s speech.  His manner, timid at first, became firm – his face was lit up to superhuman brilliancy. His voice became enchanting.

It was useless to record the debate that followed this harangue.  Party speeches were delivered, which clothed Ryland’s motion in hypocrisy, and tangled its simple meaning in a tangle of words.  Raymond’s stunning concession was ignored, and Ryland’s entire motion was lost. Ryland withdrew in rage and despair, and Raymond was exultant, for he had removed the last barrier between him and his future kingdom of the resurrected Crown.


Continue to Chapter V