It was still early in the morning, when a loud knock sounded at the house-door,
and I heard the landlady calling to the servant: "A gentleman to see the
gentleman who came in last night." The moment the words reached me, my
thoughts recurred to the letter of yesterday--Had Mannion found me out in my
retreat? As the suspicion crossed my mind, the door opened, and the visitor
I looked at him in speechless astonishment. It was my elder brother! It was Ralph
himself who now walked into the room!
"Well, Basil! how are you?" he said, with his old off-hand manner and hearty
"Ralph! You in England!--you here!"
"I came back from Italy last night. Basil, how awfully you're changed! I hardly
know you again."
His manner altered as he spoke the last words. The look of sorrow and alarm
which he fixed on me, went to my heart. I thought of holiday-time, when we were
boys; of Ralph's boisterous ways with me; of his good-humoured school-frolics,
at my expense; of the strong bond of union between us, so strangely
compounded of my weakness and his strength; of my passive and of his active
nature; I saw how little he had changed since that time, and knew, as I never
knew before, how miserably I was altered. All the shame and grief of my
banishment from home came back on me, at sight of his friendly, familiar face. I
struggled hard to keep my self-possession, and tried to bid him welcome
cheerfully; but the effort was too much for me. I turned away my head, as I took
his hand; for the old school-boy feeling of not letting Ralph see that I was in
tears, influenced me still.
"Basil! Basil! what are you about? This won't do. Look up, and listen to me. I
have promised Clara to pull you through this wretched mess; and I'll do it. Get a
chair, and give me a light. I'm going to sit on your bed, smoke a cigar, and have a
long talk with you."
While he was lighting his cigar, I looked more closely at him than before. Though
he was the same as ever in manner; though his expression still preserved its
reckless levity of former days, I now detected that he had changed a little in
some other respects. His features had become coarser--dissipation had begun to
mark them. His spare, active, muscular figure had filled out; he was dressed
rather carelessly; and of all his trinkets and chains of early times, not one
appeared about him now. Ralph looked prematurely middle-aged, since I had
seen him last.
"Well," he began, "first of all, about my coming back. The fact is, the morganatic
Mrs. Ralph--" (he referred to his last mistress) "wanted to see England, and I was
tired of being abroad. So I brought her back with me; and we're going to live
quietly, somewhere in the Brompton neighbourhood. That woman has been my
salvation--you must come and see her. She has broke me of gaming altogether; I