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Title: Mohawks, Volume 1 of 3 - A Novel
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth), 1835-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mohawks, Volume 1 of 3 - A Novel" ***

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                            MOHAWKS

                            A Novel

    BY THE AUTHOR OF "LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET," "VIXEN," "ISHMAEL," ETC.

    IN THREE VOLUMES.

    VOL. I.

    LONDON
    JOHN AND ROBERT MAXWELL

    MILTON HOUSE, SHOE LANE, FLEET STREET
    AND
    ST. BRIDE STREET, LUDGATE CIRCUS, E.C.

    [_All rights reserved_]

    LONDON:
    ROBSON AND SONS, LIMITED, PRINTERS, PANCRAS ROAD, N.W.



CONTENTS OF VOL. I.


     CHAP.                                                        PAGE

        I. "ONE THAT DOTH WEAR HIMSELF AWAY IN LONENESS"             1

       II. "A TEDIOUS ROAD THE WEARY WRETCH RETURNS"                40

      III. "AND TO THE VIEWLESS SHADES HER SPIRIT FLED"             54

       IV. "HOW BRIGHT SHE WAS, HOW LOVELY DID SHE SHOW!"           75

        V. "I HAVE FORGOT WHAT LOVE AND LOVING MEANT"              110

       VI. "YET WOULD I WISH TO LOVE, LIVE, DIE WITH THEE"         124

      VII. "HOW SWEET AND INNOCENT'S THE COUNTRY MAID!"            144

     VIII. "HE SPRINGS TO VENGEANCE WITH AN EAGER PACE"            177

       IX. "BY VOW OBLIGED, BY PASSION LED                         212

        X. "AND SUDDENLY, SWEETLY, MY HEART BEAT STRONGER"         280

       XI. "AND BEAUTY DRAWS US WITH A SINGLE HAIR"                290

      XII. "LOVE IN THESE LABYRINTHS HIS SLAVES DETAINS"           304



MOHAWKS



CHAPTER I.

"ONE THAT DOTH WEAR HIMSELF AWAY IN LONENESS."


"Nothing?" asked the farmer, standing upon a heathery knoll, with his
gun under his arm, and his two clever spaniels, Nell and Beauty,
crouched dutifully at his feet.

"Nothing but this," answered the farmer's man, holding up a bundle of
papers--pamphlets and manuscripts--dirty, crumpled, worn as if with much
carrying to and fro over the face of the earth. They were tied up in a
ragged old cotton handkerchief, and they had been carried in the
breast-pocket of yonder wayfarer who lay stark and stiff, with his dead
face staring up at the bright blue sky of early morning. A little child,
a mere baby, lay asleep beside him, nestling against the arm that would
never again shelter or defend her.

It was a bright clear morning late in September, just one hundred and
seventy-seven years ago, the year of the battle of Malplaquet, and the
earth was so much the younger and fairer by all those years--innocent of
railroads, speculating builders, gasworks, dust-destructors,
sewage-farms, and telephones--a primitive world, almost in the infancy
of civilisation as it seems to us, looking back upon those slow-pacing
days from this age of improvement, invention, transmutation, and general
enlightenment.

It was a year for ever memorable in history. The bloody battle of
Malplaquet had but just been fought: a deluge of blood had been spilt,
and another great victory scored by the allies, at a cost of twenty
thousand slain. Brilliant as that victory had been, there were some who
felt that Marlborough's glory was waning. He was no longer in the flush
and floodtide of popularity. There were those who grudged him his
well-won honours, his ducal coronet, and palace at Woodstock. There were
those who feared his ambition, lest he should make himself a military
dictator, a second Cromwell, or even aspire to the crown. If ever
England seemed ripe for an elective monarchy or a republic, it was
surely just at this critical period: when widowed, childless Anne was
wavering in the choice of her successor, and when poor young Perkin, the
sole representative of legitimate royalty, was the chosen subject for
every libellous ballad and every obscene caricature of the day.

Very fair to look upon was Flamestead Common upon that September
morning, purple with heather, flecked here and there with golden patches
of the dwarf furze that flowers in the late summer, and with here and
there a glistening water-pool. The place where the dead man lay,
stretched on a bank of sunburnt moss and short tawny turf, was at the
junction of four roads. First, the broad high-road from London to
Portsmouth, stretching on like a silvery ribbon over hill and valley,
right and left of the little group yonder--the dead man and the sleeping
child, and the two living men looking down at them both, burly farmer in
stout gray homespun, and his hind in smock-frock and leather gaiters, a
costume that has changed but little within the last two hundred years.

The labourer had left his bush-harrow in a field hard by the common at
the call of his master, shouting from the little knoll above the road.
Matthew Bowman, the farmer, trudging across the common in the dewy
morning-tide, bent on a little partridge-shooting in the turnips on the
other side of this heathery waste, had lighted on this piteous group--a
tramp, lying dead by the wayside, and an infant, unconscious of its
desolation, lying asleep beside him.

What was to be done? Who was to take care of the dead, or the living?
Neither could very well be left by the wayside. Something must be done,
assuredly; but Matthew Bowman had no clear idea of what to do with
father or child. He had made up his mind that the baby owned that dead
man as father.

"You'd best take the little one home to my missus," he said at last,
"and I'll go on to Flamestead and send the constable to look after
this."

He pointed to the gaunt, ghastly figure, with bony limbs sharply defined
beneath scantiest covering. A vagrant wayfarer, whose life for a long
time past must have been little better than starvation, and at last the
boundary-line between existence and non-existence had been passed, and
the hapless wretch had sunk, wasted and famished, on the king's highway.

"What are you going to do with that baby, Bowman?" demanded an
authoritative voice on the higher ground above that little knoll where
the farmer was standing.

Bowman looked up, and recognised one who was a power in that part of the
world; all the more powerful, perhaps, because his influence rarely took
a benignant form, because it was the way of his life to hold his
fellow-men aloof, to exact all and to grant nothing.

This was Squire Bosworth, Lord of the Manor of Flamestead and Fairmile,
owner of the greater part of the land within ten miles of this hillocky
wilderness, and a notorious misanthrope and miser; shunned by the
gentlefolks of the neighbourhood as half-eccentric and half-savage,
feared and hated by the peasantry, distrusted and scrupulously obeyed by
his tenants.

His horse's hoofs had made no sound upon the sward and heather, and he
had come upon the little group unawares. He was a man of about forty,
with long limbs, broad slouching shoulders, strongly-marked features of
a rugged cast, reddish-brown eyes under bushy brows, a determined chin,
and a cruel mouth.

His voice awakened the child, who opened wide wondering eyes of
heavenliest blue, looked about with a scared expression, and anon began
to cry.

Mr. Bowman explained his intentions. He would have taken charge of the
child for a day or so at his own homestead, while the authorities made
up their minds what to do with it. The father would find a resting-place
in the nearest churchyard, which was in the village of Flamestead, half
a mile Londonwards.

"Let me look at the little one," said Bosworth, stretching out his hand,
and taking the infant in his strong grasp as easily as if it had been a
bird.

"A pretty baby," he said, soothing it with uncouth unaccustomed hand as
he held it against his horse's neck. "About the size of my motherless
girl yonder, and not unlike her--the same blue eyes and flaxen hair--but
I suppose all babies are pretty much alike. Take it to Fairmile Court,
fellow, and tell my housekeeper to look after it."

He handed the little bundle of humanity to the farm-labourer, who stared
up at him in amazement. Kindness to nameless infancy was a new and
altogether unexpected development in Squire Bosworth's character.

"Don't stand gaping there, man!" cried the Squire. "Off with you, and
tell Mistress Layburne to take care of the child till further orders.
And now, Bowman, what kind of a man is this, d'ye think, who has taken
his last night's gratis lodging on Flamestead Common?"

"He looks like a beggar-man," said the farmer.

"Nay, Bowman, that is just what he does not look. A vagabond, if you
like, a scapegrace, a spy, a rebel--but not a bred-and-born vagrant.
There is the brand of Cain upon his forehead, friend; broken-down
gentleman, the worst breed of scoundrel in all Britain."

The farmer looked down at the dead face somewhat ruefully, as if it
hurt him to hear evil spoken of that clay there, which those locked lips
could not answer. It was, indeed, by no means the kind of face common on
the roadside--not the sturdy bulldog visage of tramp or mendicant. Those
attenuated features were as regular in their lines as Greek sculpture;
those hands, cramped in the death throe, were slender and delicate. The
rags upon that wasted body had once been the clothes of a gentleman--or
had at least been made by a fashionable tailor. The man had perished in
his youth--not a thread of silver in the rich chestnut of the abundant
hair, long, silken, falling in loose waves about the thin throat and
pallid ears.

"A well-looking fellow enough before want and sickness came upon him,"
said the Squire. "Did you find anything about him to give a clue to his
name or his belongings?"

"Nothing but this," said Bowman, handing his landlord the papers in the
cotton handkerchief.

Squire Bosworth sat with thoughtful brow, looking over pamphlets and
manuscripts.

"Just as I thought," he said at last: "the fellow was a plotter, a tool
of the Muggite crew, a hack scribbler, sowing the seeds of civil war and
revolution with big words and fine sentences, a little Latin and a
little Greek. He found he could not live upon his trash--was on the
tramp for Portsmouth, I dare swear, meaning to get out of the country,
to make his way to America, perhaps, before the mast; as if his wasted
carcass would be worth board and lodging where thews and sinews are
wanted! Poor devil! a sorry end for his talents. I'll ride to the
village and tell the constable to send for the body."

"And the baby, Squire?" urged Bowman. "Do you mean to adopt it?"

"Adopt! That's a big word, farmer, and means a good deal. I'll think
about it, friend, I'll think about it. If it's a girl, perhaps yes. If
it's a boy, decidedly no."

He rode off with the bundle of papers in his pocket, leaving his tenant
full of wonder. What could the Squire, whose miserly habits and want of
common humanity were the talk of the county, what could such as he mean
by taking compassion upon a nameless brat picked up on the wayside?
What magical change had come over his disposition which prompted Roland
Bosworth to an act of charity?

Nothing was further than charity from the Squire's thoughts as he rode
to Flamestead; but he was a man of reflective temper, and he always
looked far ahead into the future. Ten months ago his fair young wife had
died, leaving him an only child--a daughter of half a year old--and now
the child was sixteen months old, and her nurse had told him that she
began to pine in the silence and seclusion of a house which was like a
hermitage, and gardens which were gloomy and lonesome as a desert
wilderness. He had poohpoohed the nurse's complaint. "'Tis you, woman,
who want more company, not that baby," he had said; but after this he
had been more observant of his daughter, and he had noticed that the
baby's large blue eyes shone out of a pale old-looking face, which was
not what a baby's face should be. The eyes themselves had a mournful
yearning look, as if seeking something that was never found.

"Babies never thrive in a house where there are no children," said the
nurse; and the Squire began to believe her.

The child sickened soon after this with some slight infantile ailment,
and Mr. Bosworth took occasion to question the doctor as to the nurse's
theory. The medico admitted that there was some reason in the woman's
view. Children always throve best who had the society of other children.
Fairmile Court was one of the finest places within fifty miles of
London, but it was doubtless somewhat secluded and silent--there was
even an air of gloom. Mr. Bosworth had allowed the timber to grow to an
extent which, looked at from the point of view of health and
cheerfulness--

"I am not going to cut down my trees to gratify any doctor in
Christendom!" cried the Squire savagely; "but if you say my little girl
wants another little girl to play with her, one must be got."

This had all happened about a fortnight before that September morning
when the fatherless baby was found sleeping so peacefully beside the
dead. The Squire had shrunk from introducing a stranger's brat into that
stately desolate home of his, which it had been the business of his
later years to keep closed against all the world. In his solitary rides
he had reconnoitred many a farmer's homestead where children swarmed; he
had looked in upon his gamekeeper's and gardener's cottages, where it
seemed to him there was ever a plethora of babies; but he could not
bring himself to invite one of these superfluous brats to take up its
abode with him, to lie cheek by jowl with his dead wife's fair young
daughter--a child whose lineage was alike ancient and honourable on the
side of mother and father. His soul revolted against the spawn of the
day-labourer or even of the tenant-farmer; and he hated the idea of the
link which such an adoption would make between him and a whole family of
his inferiors.

Thus it happened that the finding of that friendless child upon the
common seemed to Squire Bosworth as a stroke of luck. Here was a child
who, judging from the dead father's type, was of gentle blood. Here was
a child whom none could ever claim from him, upon whose existence no
greedy father or harpy mother could ever found a claim to favours from
him. Here he would be safe. The child would be his goods, his chattel,
to deal with as he pleased--to be flung out of doors by and by, when his
own girl was grown up, should it so please him, or should she deserve no
more generous treatment.

He saw the village constable, arranged for inquest and burial, and then
put his horse at a sharp trot, and rode back to Fairmile Court as fast
as the animal would take him. The house lay some way from the high-road
in a park of considerable extent, and where the timber and underwood had
been allowed to grow as in a forest for the last half-century. The
result was wild but beautiful; the place seemed rather a chase than a
park. The fine old gardens surrounding the house had also been
neglected, one gardener and a boy sufficing where once seven or eight
men had laboured; but these gardens were beautiful even in neglect. The
hedges of yew and cedar, the rich variety of shrubs, testified to a
period when country gentlemen deemed no care or cost too much for the
maintenance and improvement of their grounds--men of the school of
Evelyn and Temple, with whom horticulture was a passion.

The house was a gloomy pile of gray stone, built in the reign of James
I. Tall gables, taller chimney-stacks, heavily mullioned windows, and
much overhanging greenery gave a picturesque air to the exterior; but
within all was gloom--a gloom which had been deepening for the last ten
years, when, after leading a wild life at the University, and a much
wilder life in London, Roland Bosworth sobered down all of a sudden,
left off spending money, renounced all the habits and all the
acquaintances of his riotous youth, and began to look after his
patrimonial estate. In order the better to do this he took up his abode
at Fairmile Court, going up to London by the coach once a week to look
after his business in the City, where he was a person of some importance
on 'Change. The political arena offering few allurements to a man of his
temperament, he had taken to stock-jobbing, which had lately come into
fashion. By education he was a High Churchman and staunch Tory, as his
father and grandfather had been before him, and his adherence to the
tenets of Laud and Atterbury was all the more disinterested, as he
rarely entered a tabernacle of any kind. He affected to be warmly
attached to the exiled king, and he was one of those lukewarm Jacobites
who contrived to carry on a mild philandering kind of connection with
Saint-Germains, so cautious that it could be disavowed at any moment of
danger--a feeble and wavering partisanship which helped to keep the
cause of the Stuarts alive, and prevented it from ever succeeding.

Things had been going to ruin at Fairmile Court during his absence,
money had been squandered by old servants, and his gamekeepers had been
sleeping partners with a thriving firm of poachers. But the Squire
introduced a new _régime_ of strictest economy. He dismissed all the old
servants, and was a hard taskmaster to the diminished household which he
established in their place. At thirty years of age he had turned his
back upon the town, a soured and disappointed man. At forty he had
nearly doubled his fortune by successful speculations in the City,
whither he went very often by coach or on horseback, as the fancy moved
him. At seven-and-thirty he married the youngest daughter of a needy
peer, whose father's necessities flung her into his arms. The
uncongenial union, which involved parting from one she devotedly
loved, broke the girl's heart, and she died ten months after the
birth of her first child. On her death-bed, when weeping mother and
conscience-stricken father stood beside her, sensible of the wrong they
had done, she had no complaint to make against the hard, cold-hearted
man whom she had sworn to honour and obey. He had not been unkind to
her. He had loved her after his fashion, and he sat a little way off
with covered face and head bowed in grief. He had loved her: but he had
loved his money better, and he had done nothing to brighten her young
life or to reconcile her to a forced marriage.

"You will be kind to Rena," she said faintly, with white lips,
presently, as he bent over her, watching for that awful change which was
to part them for ever. In his mind there was no ray of hope to light
that parting hour. He was materialist to the core; the things which he
valued and believed in were the hard realities of this world. The
ethereal had no existence for him.

"You will be kind to Rena?"

Rena, short for Irene: that was the baby's name.

"Kind to her? yes, of course. She is all that will be left me."

"Except riches. O Roland, do not care more for your money than for her."

"She will be a great heiress," said Bosworth.

"Riches do not always bring happiness. Love her, be kind to her!"

Those were the last words the dying lips uttered. She dropped asleep
soon after this, her head resting against her husband's shoulder, and so
out of that dim land of slumber passed silently into that deeper
darkness which living eyes have never penetrated.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Squire flung his bridle to a groom who had been hanging about the
drive watching for his master's return, and stalked into the stately old
hall, panelled with age-blackened oak, adorned with many trophies of the
battle-field and the chase, and further embellished with the portraits
of Mr. Bosworth's ancestors, which he valued less than the canvas upon
which they were painted. He was as proud as Lucifer, but his was not
that kind of pride which fattens itself, ghoul-like, upon the dead. The
captains and learned judges looming from those dark walls were to him
the most worthless of all shadows. The hall was spacious and gloomy, and
opened into a still more spacious dining-room, where the Squire had
never eaten a dinner since he came of age. A noble saloon or music-room,
painted white, and furnished exactly as it had been in the days of
Charles II., opened on the other side of the hall; but the only
apartments which the Squire occupied on this ground floor were three
small rooms at the end of a long passage, which served him as
dining-room, study, and office. A steep narrow little staircase built in
the wall, which stair had once been a secret means of communication
between upper and lower stories, conducted to the Squire's bedchamber
and dressing-room. His child and her nurse had their abode in the
opposite wing; and thus all the state rooms, constituting the centre and
main body of the house, were given over to emptiness.

The establishment was on the smallest scale. There were less than half a
dozen servants where there had once been twenty.

No portly powdered footman came to Mr. Bosworth's summons, but a little
old man in a very shabby livery shambled along the passage at the sound
of his master's bell.

"Has there been a child brought here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Send Mrs. Layburne here."

The man shambled out again. The Squire flung off hat and riding-gloves,
and seated himself by his solitary hearth. There were some logs
smouldering there, for the September mornings were cool, and the Squire
was of a chilly temper. The table was laid for a frugal breakfast of tea
and toast; not by any means the kind of meal which would have satisfied
the average country gentleman of that era; a scrivener's or a
garreteer's breakfast rather.

The Squire poured himself out a cup of tea, and sat sipping it with an
absent stir, and his eye upon the door.

It was flung open abruptly, and a woman entered, tall, with noble neck
and shoulders, and the carriage of Dido herself--a magnificent ruin. No
one could doubt that the creature had once been eminently beautiful;
there were traces still of those vanished charms: eyes of velvety brown,
full, fiery, splendid, and the outline of fine features. But the skin
was withered and yellow, the raven hair was grizzled, some of the teeth
had gone, and nose and chin had both become too prominent. The queen had
degenerated into the hag.

She was shabbily and carelessly dressed in a black stuff gown, with
laced bodice and muslin kerchief. She wore no cap, and her coarse
unkempt hair was gathered into a loose knot on the top of her head.

"An extinct volcano," thought the student of character, as he looked at
that haggard countenance, with its premature wrinkles and unhealthy
pallor. "A slumbering volcano, rather," he might say to himself upon
closer scrutiny.

"Well," said the Squire, "I sent you home a child."

"You sent me some beggar's daughter, I should say, by her rags. I have
washed her, and dressed her in some of Rena's clothes. What put it into
your astute head to interfere with the people whose duty it may be to
take charge of vagrants?"

"I don't usually act without a motive, as I think you know, Barbara. If
the child is sound in wind and limb--a healthy child--I intend to adopt
her. Rena wants a companion, I am told--"

"Nurse Bridget's fancy. I wonder you lend your ear to an ignorant
country wench."

"The country wench is sustained by the doctor, and by facts. Rena has
been drooping of late. Another baby's company may enliven her. Have you
put them together?"

"Not I," protested Barbara; "it would have been more than my place is
worth to act without orders. I never forget that I am a servant. You
ought to know that."

"You tell me of it often enough," said the Squire, shrugging his
shoulders. "The misfortune is that you never let me forget you were once
something else."

"O, but the memory of it never ruffles your peace," sneered the woman,
with a flashing glance at the stern, cold face. "It was so long ago, you
see, Squire, and you have a knack of taking things coolly."

"Come and let us introduce the children to each other," said Bosworth,
rising; and he followed Barbara Layburne to the further end of the
house, where the sound of a crying baby indicated the neighbourhood of
the nursery.

It was not the friendless waif who thus bewailed her inarticulate
misery. The little stranger was asleep in Barbara's room on the upper
story. It was the heiress who was lamenting her infantine woes. Buxom,
apple-cheeked Bridget was marching up and down the room, trying to hush
her to sleep.

"She's cutting another tooth, sir," she said apologetically.

"She seems to be everlastingly cutting teeth," muttered Bosworth, with a
vexed air; "I never come to see her that she is not wailing. Fetch me
the other child, Barbara; I want to see them together."

The other child was brought, newly awakened from the refreshing slumber
that had been induced by her bath. Her large blue eyes explored the
unknown room, full of a pleased wonder. There were bright-coloured
chintz curtains, worsted-work shepherds and shepherdesses framed and
glazed upon the flowered wall-papering. The nurseries were the brightest
rooms in the rambling old house; had been brightened by the young mother
before the coming of her baby.

The nameless child had a sweet placidity which appealed to the Squire.

"I suppose _she_ has teeth to cut, too," he said, "but you see she
doesn't cry."

"She cried loud enough while I was dressing her," retorted Barbara.

"Put them on the floor side by side," ordered the Squire.

The two infants were set down at his command. They were both at the
crawling stage of existence, that early dawn in which humanity goes upon
all fours. They seemed about the same size and age, as nearly as might
be guessed. They had eyes and hair of the same colour, and had that
resemblance common to pretty children. The heiress had a sicklier air
than the waif, and was less beautiful in colouring.

"They would pass for twin sisters," said Bosworth; "come, now, Mistress
Bridget, do you think you would know them apart?"

Bridget resented the suggestion as an insult to her affection and her
intellect.

"I should know my own little darling anywheres," she said; "and this
strange child ain't half so pretty."

"There's a mark she'll carry for life, anyhow," said Barbara Layburne,
taking up the stranger, and baring the baby's right arm just where it
joined the shoulder. "A burn or a scald, you see, Squire. I can't say
which it is, but I don't think she'll outlive the scar."

Bosworth glanced at it indifferently.

"A deep brand," he said, and that was all.

He was watching his own child, who was staring at the intruder with
looks of keenest interest. She had left off crying, and was crawling
assiduously towards the baby-waif, whom Barbara Layburne had set down
upon the floor a little way off. The two infants crawled to each other
like two puppies, and climbed and tumbled over each other just as young
animals might have done, obeying instinct rather than reason.

Presently the little lady uplifted her voice and crowed aloud, and then
began to talk after her fashion, which was backward, as of a child
brought up amidst gloom and silence.

"Gar, gar, gar!" she reiterated, in a gurgling monotone.

The other baby looked about her, and murmured piteously, "Dada, dada!"
and seeing not him whom she sought, she began to cry.

"Another fountain!" exclaimed the Squire, turning upon his heel.

He stopped on the threshold to look back at nurse and children.

"You have had your whim, Mistress Bridget," he said, shaking his
forefinger at her; "look you that no harm comes of it;" and with that he
stalked away, and went back to his den, without so much as a word to
Barbara Layburne, who looked after him with strangely wistful eyes.

Then, when the sound of his firm tread had died into silence, she too
left the nurse and the babies, and stalked away to her own den.

"A pretty pair," muttered Bridget, as she squatted down upon the ground
to play with her charges; but whether she meant the two babies, or the
Squire and his housekeeper, remains an open question.

       *       *       *       *       *

There had been a time when the presence of Squire Bosworth's housekeeper
at Fairmile had caused some vague murmurs in the way of scandal; but
time accustoms people to most things, and after ten years Mistress
Barbara Layburne, with her flashing eyes and her unkempt hair, her
majestic figure and her shabby gown, her imperious manners and her
menial capacity, came to be accepted as only a detail in the numerous
eccentricities of the Squire. Only such a man could have had such a
housekeeper.

The tradition of her first appearance at Fairmile was still talked of,
and sounded like a fairy tale. She had arrived there late at night, in a
coach and four, during a thunderstorm which was still remembered in
those parts. So might Medea have come to Jason in her fiery car drawn by
dragons, said the parson, who was an Oxford scholar, and loved the
classics. She had arrived in a velvet gown and jewels, with all the
style of a lady of fashion. She had been closeted with the Squire for an
hour, during which time the sound of their alternate voices in scorn and
anger had never ceased. The storm within had raged no less furiously
than the storm without. Then had the door been flung open by the Squire,
and he had come out into the hall, where he gave an order that a room
should be got ready for his unexpected visitor: and, the order given, he
had dashed out of the house, mounted into the coach which was waiting
before the portico, and had driven off upon the first stage to London,
leaving the stranger mistress of the field.

The Squire did not return for a month, during which time the lady had
gradually settled down into the position of housekeeper, her status
assured by a letter in which Mr. Bosworth bade his old butler obey Mrs.
Layburne in all matters connected with the interior of Fairmile Court.
So henceforth it was Mrs. Layburne who gave the cook her orders, and who
paid all the bills, and who doled out wages to coachman and gardener.
She was every whit as great a niggard as her master, people said; and
under her rule the miserly ways of the house began to take a settled
form and consistency. Every superfluous servant was dismissed, all
luxurious living was put down with a high hand, and the gloom which had
fallen upon the abandoned house while Roland Bosworth was leading a life
of riot and dissipation in London only grew deeper now that he had
returned, a reformed rake, to the hearth of his forefathers.

He came back to Fairmile Court at the end of a month, nodded curtly to
Mistress Barbara as he passed her in the hall, and took no more notice
of her than of any other hireling. She had established herself in his
house; but whatever claim she might have upon his friendship was but
little honoured. There were occasional conferences in the little red
parlour in which the Squire passed most of his indoor life; there were
occasional storms; but there was never any touch of tenderness to
provoke the scandal of the household as to the present relations of
master and servant. As to what those relations had been in the past, the
neighbourhood, from parson to innkeeper, from high to low, had its
opinions and ideas; but nothing ever occurred to throw any clearer light
upon the antecedents of the lady who had come to Fairmile in velvet and
jewels, which she was never seen to wear again after that night of
tempest. She seemed to age suddenly by twenty years within the first few
months of her residence in that melancholy house. Her oval cheeks grew
hollow, her complexion faded to a sickly sallow, her ebon hair whitened,
and deep lines came in the wan face. She never left the boundary of the
park; she never had a friend to visit her. A cloistered nun's life would
have been far less lonely. If she was by birth and breeding a lady, as
most people supposed, she had not a creature of her own grade with whom
to hold converse. To the servants she rarely spoke, save in the way of
business. She had her own den, as the Squire had his: she read a good
deal; and sometimes of an evening, when the heavy oak shutters were all
closed and barred, she would open the spinet--an instrument which had
belonged to her master's mother--and sing to it in a strange language,
in a wonderful deep voice, which thrilled those who heard her.

The Squire's marriage made no difference in Mrs. Layburne's position,
and brought no diminution of her authority. Lady Harriet had no longing
for power, and was content to let the house be managed exactly as it had
been before her coming. She saw that avarice was the pervading spirit of
the household, but she made no complaint; and she was too innocent and
simple-minded to have any suspicion of evil in the past history of her
husband and his strange housekeeper. It was only when Lady Harriet was
about to become a mother that she asserted herself so far as to insist
upon some small expenditure upon the rooms which her baby was to occupy.
Under her own directions the old nursery wing, in which generation after
generation of Bosworths had been reared, was cleansed, renovated, and
decorated, in the simplest fashion, but with taste and refinement.

The result of the little stranger's presence fully justified Mrs.
Bridget in her opinion. Rena improved in spirits, and even grew more
robust in health, from the hour of her little companion's advent. The
two children were rarely asunder: they played together, fed together,
slept together, took their airings in the same baby-carriage, which
Bridget or the gardener's boy dragged about the park, or rolled and
crawled together on the grass on sunny autumn mornings. Rena, who had
been backward in all things, soon began to toddle, and soon began to
prattle, moved by the example of her companion, who had a great gift of
language. Bridget was proud of her sagacity, and speedily grew fond of
the adopted child, though she always professed to be constant in her
affection for Rena, who was certainly a less amiable infant. The little
stranger was called Belinda, a name which the Squire had found in one of
the dead man's manuscripts.

"It may have been her mother's name," said the Squire, and that was all,
though he might have said more had he pleased.

Among those pamphlets and political manuscripts he had found three
private letters, which to his mind suggested a domestic history, and
which served to assure him that his daughter's companion was of gentle
birth. He desired to know no more, and he had no intention of inquiring
into her antecedents.

       *       *       *       *       *

The wanderer had been lying in his nameless grave for a little over
three years, and his orphan daughter had thriven apace in her new home.
The two children had but rarely passed the gates of the park during
those years, but they had been utterly happy together in that wooded
wilderness, too young to languish for change of scene, renewing every
day the childish pleasures of yesterday. They had not yet emerged from
the fairyland of play into the cold arid world of work and reality. They
played together all day long on the sunlit grass or under the dappled
shadows of the trees in spring, summer, and autumn; in winter making a
little paradise for themselves in the day nursery before the cheerful
fire, into which they used to peer sometimes, with dilated eyes, seeing
gnomes and fairies, and St. George and his dragon, and all the Seven
Champions of Christendom, in the burning logs. The shining brass fender
seemed to them like a glittering golden gate shutting in fairyland.

How did they know anything of St. George and his dragon, King Arthur,
Melusine, and the gnomes and the fairies, at this tender age, when they
hardly knew their letters, and certainly could not read these dear old
stories for themselves? Easily explained. They had a living book in
which they read every evening, and the book was Bridget. Mistress
Bridget had more imagination than most of her class, and had spent her
superfluous cash with the pedlar, in whose pack there was generally a
department for light literature--curious paper-covered books, printed on
coarsest paper, and with the roughest and rudest of illustrations; but
the Seven Champions and all the old fairy tales were to be found among
these volumes, and Bridget had gradually possessed herself of the whole
realm of Robin Goodfellow and the fairies.

In the evening, when the stealthy shadows came creeping over the window,
and shutting out the leafy wilderness beyond, the two children used to
clamber on to Bridget's knee and ask for stories, and Bridget related
those old legends with the uttermost enjoyment. That twilight interval
before candles and bedtime was the pleasantest hour in her day.

So the children were happy, having, as it seemed, but one friend in the
world, in the person of buxom Bridget. Mrs. Barbara Layburne but rarely
condescended to enter the nurseries, and looked askant at the children
if she happened to meet them in the corridors or hall. She did not even
pretend to be fond of her master's daughter, and for the alien she had
nothing but contempt. The Squire himself was at best an indifferent
father. He seemed quite satisfied to hear that his daughter was well and
happy, and seldom put himself out of the way to see her. Sometimes,
riding across the park, he would come upon the two children in their
play, and would pull up his horse and stop for a few minutes to watch
them. There could not be a prettier picture than the two golden-haired
children, in their white frocks and blue sashes, chasing each other
across the sunlit sward, or squatted side by side in the deep pasture
grass, making daisy-chains or buttercup-balls. Belinda looked the
stronger of the two, the Squire thought. He knew her by her somewhat
darker hair and rosier cheeks. His own motherless child had always a
delicate air, though she had never had any serious illness.

It was late in the October of that third year when the children's
peaceful days came to an end, like a tale that is told, never hereafter
to be any more than a sad sweet memory of love and happiness that had
been and was not.

The twilight was earlier than usual on that October evening, and night
came up with a great threatening cloud like the outspread wing of a bad
angel. Mrs. Barbara Layburne stood at the hall-door watching that
lowering sky, and listening to the sough of the south-west wind, and
thinking of that night just thirteen years ago--that night of tempest
and gloom upon which she had first seen yonder elms and oaks in all
their garnered might of foregone centuries, standing stern and strong
against the threatening wrack. She thought of her life as it had been
before that night, of her life as it had been since.

"Would anybody in London--those who knew me in my glory--believe that I
would endure such a long slow martyrdom, a death in life?" she asked
herself. "Well, perhaps they would believe, if they could fathom my
motive."

The sound of footsteps startled her. Peering into the darkness of the
long avenue, she saw a lad running under the trees, sheltering himself
as best he might from the driving rain. She watched him as he came
towards the house, and hailed him as he drew near. He was the son of the
old gardener who lived at the lodge.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"There is a man at the lodge very ill--dying, mother thinks--and he sent
this for you, ma'am, and I was to give it into your own hands."

He handed her a scrap of paper, folded but not sealed. It was scrawled
over in pencil, with a tremulous hand.

    "Come to me at once, if you want to see me alive.--RODERICK."

That was all.

"Is he tall, with dark eyes and hair?" she asked.

"Yes. You'd better come at once if you know anything about him. He's
mortal bad. And mother said you'd best bring some brandy."

Barbara Layburne went hastily to the store-room, where everything was
kept sternly under lock and key. Half the business of her life was to
unlock and lock those presses and store-closets, doling out everything
to the submissive cook, who still contrived somehow to have her pinch
out of this and that. Barbara filled a small bottle with brandy, fetched
her cloak and hood, and then went back to the hall, where the boy was
waiting.

She went along the avenue, muffled in her gray cloth cloak, a ghostlike
figure, the boy following her as fast as his legs would carry him. He
declared afterwards that he had never seen any one walk so fast as Mrs.
Layburne walked that stormy night, though the wind and rain were beating
against her face and figure all the way.

There was a light burning dimly in the lodge as they drew near. The door
was open, and the old gardener was standing on the threshold watching
for them.

"Is he--dead?" gasped Barbara.

"No; but his breath is short and thick, just as if he was near his end,
poor wretch. He ain't anybody belonging to _you_, is he, madam?"

"Not he," answered Barbara promptly; "but I know something about him.
He's the son of an old servant who lived with me in my prosperous days.
Where is he?"

"In the kitchen. He was shivering, so the missus thought he'd be better
by the fire be-like."

The ground floor of the lodge consisted of two rooms, parlour and
kitchen. Barbara went to the kitchen, which was at the back, the common
living-room of the family. The parlour was for ornament and
state--temple and shrine for the family Bible and the family samplers,
laborious works of art which adorned the walls.

The sick man was lying in front of the fire, with an old potato-sack
between him and the flagged floor. Barbara knelt beside him, and looked
into his face, half in the red light of the fire, half in the yellow
flare of the tallow candle.

His eyes were glassy and dim, his cheeks were flushed, his breath
laboured and rattled as it came and went. Barbara Layburne knew the
symptoms well enough. It was gaol fever--a low form of typhus. That
tainted breath meant infection, and the gardener's cottage swarmed with
children. He must be got away from there at once, unless they were all
to die. Typhus in those days was always master of the field where he had
once set up his standard.

The dim eyes looked at her piteously: the lips began to murmur
inarticulately.

"Leave us together for a few minutes, Mrs. Bond, while I hear what the
poor creature has to say, and think over what I had best do with him.
There is no room for him here."

Mrs. Bond retired, shutting the door behind her.



CHAPTER II.

"A TEDIOUS ROAD THE WEARY WRETCH RETURNS."


Mrs. Layburne poured out half a tumbler of brandy, propped the sick
man's head upon her arm, and put the glass to his lips. He drank
eagerly, gasping as he drank.

"Good!" he muttered, "that does me good, sister."

"Hush! not that word here, for your life."

"Not much use in saying it, eh! when it's no more than a word? Give me
some more."

"No, you have had enough for the present. How long have you been out of
prison?"

"How do you know I have been in prison?"

"Do you think I don't know gaol fever and gaol clothes? You have got
them both upon you. You have escaped out of some gaol."

"Guildford, last night. I was in the infirmary; got out at midnight,
when nurse and warder were both asleep. I had shammed dying, and they
had given me over and made themselves comfortable for the night--topers
both. I tore up my bed-clothes and let myself down out of the window,
dropped into the governor's garden, as neatly as you like for a sick un,
and trudged along the roads till daybreak, when I hid behind a haystack,
dozed there, and shivered there, and had bad dreams there all day; then,
with nightfall, up and on my legs again till I got here. And now perhaps
you'll find me a corner to lie in somewhere."

"He must not see you, or you'll soon be in gaol again."

"Curse him!" growled Roderick, "bears malice, does he?"

"He is not likely to forget that you tried to murder him."

"I was in liquor, and there was a knife handy. Yes, if luck had favoured
me that night, Squire Bosworth would have come to an early end, and your
wrongs would have been righted."

"I would rather right them myself."

"Ah, but you are of a slavish temper, like all women, however high they
pretend to hold themselves. You can live here, eat his bread, and be
called his servant, you who for years had him at your feet, led him like
your lap-dog. I have heard what the village people say of you. This is
not the first time I have been in your neighbourhood."

"No, I thought as much. 'Twas you robbed the London coach last
December."

"What! you knew my hand, did you, Bab?" he cried, with a hoarse chuckle.
His glassy eyes shone with a new light: the brandy seemed to have
rekindled the spark of life in him. "Yes; it was neatly done, wasn't it?
That knoll above the road was a capital station, and the old fir-trunks
hid us. There were only two of us, Bab, and we got clean off with the
plunder. But it was my last lucky hit. Nothing has gone well with me
since that night. I turned fine gentleman for a month or two on the
strength of that haul, and let my hand lose its cunning. And then for
the pettiest business you can conceive, a fopling's purse at the Opera,
as skinny a purse as you ever saw, Bab, I got quodded, and narrowly
escaped a rope. It was only one of your old admirers, who came forward
and spoke to my character, who saved me from the gallows."

"Are you too ill to go on to some safer shelter, if I were to give you
some money?" asked Barbara meditatively.

She was puzzled what she could do with him, if he must needs remain on
the premises. She knew that Roland Bosworth would show him little mercy.
They had always been foes, and one particular scene was distinctly
present to her mind's eye, as she knelt there by the kitchen fire,
looking down at the pinched face, with the glassy eyes and hectic
cheeks.

It was a scene after supper, in a gaily-lighted room, cards and dice
lying about on the tables, and on one a punchbowl, some lemons, and a
big clasp-knife. The guests were gone, and they three were alone, and a
quarrel had come about between Bosworth and Layburne, a quarrel
beginning in a dispute about gains and losses at cards, and intensifying
through bitterest speech to keenest, cruellest taunts, taunts flung by
the brother in the face of his sister's lover; and then hatred took a
more desperate form, and Roderick Layburne snatched up the Spanish
knife--his own knife which he had produced a while ago to cut the
lemons--and had tried to stab Bosworth to the heart.

The Squire was the bigger and stronger man, and flung his assailant
aside--flung him out of the room and down the steep London staircase, to
ruminate on his wrongs at the bottom; and from that night Mrs.
Layburne's brother had never been admitted to her lodgings in the
Haymarket.

This had happened just eighteen years ago, in the days when Barbara was
a famous actress, known to the town as Mrs. Belfield, and had titled
admirers by the score. They had never been more than admirers, those
dukes and lords who applauded her nightly, and thought it honour and
felicity to lose their money at hazard or lansquenet in her luxurious
lodgings. The only man she had ever cared for was Roland Bosworth,
though he had never been either the handsomest or the most agreeable man
among her followers. But women who are admired by all the world have
curious caprices; and it had been Mrs. Layburne's fancy to sacrifice
herself and her career to the least distinguished of her admirers. She
had her tempers, and did not make her lover's life a bed of roses.
Thrice he had been upon the point of marrying her; and each time some
wild outbreak of passion or some freak of folly had scared him away from
the altar. Then the time came when he wearied of her storms and
sunshines, and left her. She followed, content, as her brother said, to
become a slave where she had once been a queen.

Roderick groped with his hand for the tumbler, and his sister poured out
a little more of the brandy and gave it to him.

"That means the renewal of life," he said, "but not for long. No, Bab;
not if you were to offer me a thousand guineas could I budge another
mile, on foot or on horseback. I'm on the last stage of my last journey,
Bab. The gaol doctor was right enough when he told them yesterday
morning it was all over--only he didn't know what stuff I was made of,
or how long it would take me to die. Lungs gone, heart queer--that was
his verdict. And gaol fever for a gentle finisher. You must find me a
corner to die in, Barbara: it's all I shall ever ask you for."

She thought deeply. Take him into the house by a back door, hide him in
some room near her own? That might be done, but it would be too
hazardous. And when the end should come, there would be the difficulty.
It would be more perilous to remove the dead than to admit the living.
And then to let putrid fever into the house? Who could tell where the
evil would stop? Disinfectants and precautionary measures were almost
unknown in those days. Fever came into a house and did its fatal work
unopposed.

But there was one vast block of buildings at Fairmile Court, given over
to emptiness, buildings which no one ever explored. The old hunting
stables, where Roland Bosworth's grandfather had kept his stud, had been
disused for the last half-century. Loose boxes, men's rooms,
saddle-rooms, dog-kennels: there was space enough for a village
hospital.

"If I can but make one of those rooms fairly comfortable!" she thought,
remembering how bleak and desolate the rooms had looked when she
explored them soon after her first coming.

"I must go and see what I can do," she said after a pause. "It is early
yet, not eight o'clock. I will have you comfortably lodged by ten."

"The sooner the better, for it isn't over-pleasant lying on these
stones. If it had not been for that taste of cognac I should be dead
before now."

Barbara hurried away, begging the gardener and his wife to keep close
till her return, and to be ready to help her then. They were neither now
nor at any future time to breathe a word to mortal ears about anything
which had happened or which might happen to-night. Then she hastened
back to the house with those swift steps of hers, borne onward by the
fever of excitement that burned within.

All was quiet at Fairmile Court. The Squire was luckily in London, not
expected back till the end of the week. The few servants were snug in
the kitchen, with closed doors. Barbara provided herself with a lantern
and a bunch of keys, and went out to the old hunting stables, which were
further from the house than those smaller stables now in use. She
investigated room after room, little dens in which grooms had been
lodged, until she found one that suited her. It was in a less
dilapidated state than the others, and was provided with a fireplace,
which the others were mostly without. The window looked away from all
the other stables and the offices of the Court, and a light burning
within would hardly attract notice. The smoke from the chimney would be
almost hidden by the roof of a huge old brewery in the rear; and as the
brewery was now used as a laundry, and fires almost always lighted
there, the smoke from the lesser vent would in all probability be
mingled with that from the tall and capacious shaft, and provoke no
questions.

With her own hands, Barbara carried coals and wood and tinder-box,
mattress and pillows, blanketing and linen, from the house to the
groom's bedchamber, where the old furniture--a stump bedstead, a chest
of drawers, and a chair or two--still remained. With her own hands she
swept the chamber, lighted the fire, and made up the bed. The room had
almost a comfortable look in the red glow of the fire. She toiled thus
for nearly two hours, with many journeys to and fro in the wind and
rain, and before the first stroke of ten, all was to her satisfaction.
She had brought food and drink, all things that she could think of, for
the sick man's comfort. It could hardly be much more luxurious than the
prison infirmary from which he had escaped, but it had been his fancy to
come there to die, and she could but indulge him. He was her junior by
eleven years, and there was a time when she had loved him passionately,
almost with a maternal love.

She went back to the lodge, and the gardener and she contrived a kind of
impromptu ambulance out of an old truck, and a blanket which she had
carried with her. The sick man's limbs seemed to have stiffened since he
had crawled to that door, and had sunk exhausted upon that hearth.

"There isn't a crawl left in me," he said, as they lifted him on to the
truck, and wrapped the blanket round him.

For nearly a fortnight he lay in that lonely room, his sister attending
upon him, stealing to his lair again and again every day, often sitting
up all night with him, nursing and ministering to him with inexhaustible
patience. Her apprehension was of the hour when he should die, and there
would be the business of removing him or of accounting for his presence
in that place. It was an intense relief, therefore, when after a
fortnight of unwearying attention, with a liberal use of brandy and
strong soups, at an expenditure rare in that pinched household, Roderick
so far recovered that he was quite capable of being moved to another
shelter.

The hand of death was upon him--death's impress visible in hollow hectic
cheeks, glassy eyes, and difficult breathing. Consumption was doing its
subtle work, but typhus had been subjugated by good nursing.

No sooner had the fever left him than Mrs. Layburne planned how to get
rid of the patient. She had the rickety, blundering, old family coach at
her disposal whenever she wanted to go to the market-town to buy
groceries and other necessaries for the household. Roderick was well
enough to put on a suit of old clothes, some cast-off garments of the
Squire's which had seen hard service. She helped him to dress, and then
directed him what to do. He was to walk as far as he could along the
avenue towards the park-gates--or, if he had strength enough, beyond the
gates--and was to sit down by the roadside as a wayfarer who had sunk
from fatigue. She would stop the coach, and, affecting to take
compassion upon him as a stranger, would offer him a lift to Cranbrook,
the market-town. Here she would set him down at the Lamb, a humble
little inn she knew of, where, furnished by her with funds, he might
remain till he was well enough to resume the struggle for existence. In
her heart of hearts she knew that for him that struggle was nearly over,
and that it was doubtful if he would ever leave the Lamb. She would have
done all she could do for him, and Fate or Providence, God or the Devil,
must do the rest. Mrs. Barbara's spiritual ideas were of a very obscure
order, and ranked about as high as the tenets of the Indian
Devil-dancers, or the Fetish-worshippers of the South Seas.

Roderick assented to her plan. What could he do but assent, having not
another friend in the world, and being very anxious to leave that den in
the old rat-haunted stables? The coach went lumbering along the avenue
one fine afternoon while the Squire was up in London. Roderick had
started a good hour before the coach, and he had contrived to tramp the
whole length of the avenue, and pass the gardener's lodge, before the
vehicle overtook him.

Barbara stopped the coach, and played her little drama of womanly
compassion and charity. Old John Coachman wondered at this unaccustomed
beneficence in the housekeeper; wondered still more when she opened the
coach-door, and invited the tramp to ride beside her. So well had the
gardener and his family kept madam's secret that the house-servants had
heard nothing about that strange visitant of Mrs. Barbara's.

She pulled up her coach at the Lamb, and committed her brother, with
payment in advance for a month's board and lodging, to the tender care
of the landlady, who was a good homely soul, and so left him, with five
guineas in his pocket, and the promise of future help, would he but lead
an honest life, and keep out of gaol. Then she drove to the
market-place, and did her shopping in the sleepy, low-ceilinged,
old-established shops, where the tradesmen lived in a semi-darkness, and
made a profit of from thirty to fifty per cent upon everything they
sold.

"Thank God I am clear of that trouble!" ejaculated Mrs. Layburne, as
the coach passed the Lamb again on its way out of the town.

She congratulated herself somewhat too soon, as she had not seen the end
of evil; albeit the sick man only lingered for a few weeks longer,
before he was carried to his nameless grave in Cranbrook Church.



CHAPTER III.

"AND TO THE VIEWLESS SHADES HER SPIRIT FLED."


It was a habit with the two little girls, when the weather was bad and
they could not ramble far afield in the spacious park, to take their
exercise anywhere they could about the old rambling house, chasing each
other up and down the corridors, skipping and dancing in the great
unused reception-rooms, penetrating into every nook and corner,
fearless, inquisitive, full of life and fun; but the sport which they
enjoyed most of all was a game of hide-and-seek in the offices, the
wood-sheds, and breweries, and disused coach-houses, kennels, and
stabling. This was their sovereign domain, a region in which no one had
ever interfered with their rights. Here they could be as noisy and as
boisterous as they pleased, could give full indulgence to the riotous
spirits of childhood. Mrs. Bridget was a kind nurse, but she was by no
means a watchful one. The doctor had told her that it was good for
children to run wild, most especially for little Rena, whose brain was
in advance of her years; and Bridget acted upon this advice in a very
liberal spirit. She was an arrant gossip, and would spend hours in the
kitchen, with her arms folded in her apron, talking to the cook and
housemaids, while her charges amused themselves as they listed in the
house, or in the offices outside the house.

"They can't come to any harm," said Bridget. "They are not like
mischievous boys, who would go climbing out of windows and getting into
dangerous places. My little dears only run about and play prettily
together."

A shout, a rush of little feet, and a peal of childish laughter in the
passage outside the great stone kitchen would emphasise Bridget's
remark.

No, they had never come to any harm in those rambling desolate stables,
brewhouses, and wood-houses, till about three days after Roderick
Layburne's departure, when, in a grand game of hide-and-seek, which had
lasted over an hour, Linda, flushed and breathless with exercise and
excitement, crept into the room which the sick man had occupied, and
seated herself to rest upon the bed he had lain upon for fourteen weary
days and fourteen restless nights.

She wondered a little at the tokens of recent occupation, such as she
had never seen in any of these rooms before: ashes in the grate, a
pipkin on one hob and a saucepan on the other, empty cups and jugs on a
little table, and blankets on the bed where she was sitting.

She was too young to reason upon these evidences.

"Some one lives here," she told herself simply, but had no fear of the
unknown personage. She waited so long for Rena to discover her
hiding-place that she fell asleep at last, nestling down among those
fever-tainted blankets. Rena found her there slumbering soundly, half an
hour later, after having examined every hole and corner in her search,
and crying with vexation at the difficulty of the quest.

It was not till ten days later that the evil result began to show
itself. First Linda began to droop, and then Rena, each falling ill
with exactly the same symptoms. The old doctor shook his head solemnly,
"Scarlet fever, with the rash suppressed," he pronounced like an oracle;
and immediately began to starve and to physic them, almost as if he were
voluntarily working in unison with that deadly fever which was burning
up their young blood.

The Squire was in an agony when he heard of his daughter's danger. He
had seemed a careless and an indifferent father, and had seen very
little of his child in those infantile years. He had no sympathy with
childhood, could not understand its ways and ideas, knew not what to say
to his little daughter or how to amuse her. It had been sufficient for
him to know that she was near at hand, and that she was thriving.

But at the idea of peril he was like a madman. Barbara Layburne was
surprised at the violence of his feelings. She looked at him with a
curious air of suppressed cynicism.

"I had no idea you were so wrapped up in that baby," she said.

"Then you might have known as much. What else have I in this world to
care for--to toil for--"

"Pray be reasonable, Mr. Bosworth. We all know that you love money for
its own sake--not for those who are to come after you."

"Yes, but to know that when I am gone my wealth must be scattered to the
four winds--that no grandchildren of mine will inherit all that I have
slaved for; that no grandson of mine will assume my name, and hand it
down to his son with the wealth. I have amassed, and which he should
increase! Money fructifies of itself when there is but common prudence
in the possessor. It is to my daughter's children I look for the reward
of all my toils, the perpetuation of my name: and if she dies, the cord
snaps, and all is over. I shall have to leave my money to a hospital or
an almshouse. Horrid thought!"

"Horrid thought, indeed, for Squire Bosworth to contemplate his fortune
as a means of blessing to the helpless!"

"You have a scathing tongue, Mrs. Barbara, and I sometimes think you
have a malignant mind to set the tongue wagging. I never met but one
woman who was true and pure and noble to the heart's core, and that was
the sweet saint whom Fate snatched away from me."

"And who never loved you," sneered Barbara. "That is to the credit of
her wisdom."

"Ay; but she was better to me than the women who have pretended to love
me--women whose love has been a curse. Do not speak of her. Your lips
befoul her."

And then he went to the chamber where the children were lying in their
two little beds side by side. It had been impossible to part them; they
would have fretted themselves to death in severance. And as they were
both sick of the same fever, there seemed no need for keeping them in
separate rooms.

The windows were curtained, the room kept in semi-darkness, as was the
fashion in those days. Invalids were supposed to thrive best in the
gloom. Every breath of air was excluded, and a large fire burned merrily
in the grate, where divers messes and potions were stewing. An odour of
drugs pervaded the room. The Squire could hardly draw his breath in
that stifling atmosphere. But fresh air in a fever! Heaven forbid!

Bosworth sat by his child's bedside for a few minutes, holding the
little burning hand in his, suffering an agony of helplessness and
apprehension. What could his hoards do for her? Croesus himself could
not have bought an hour's respite for the little life that seemed ebbing
away. How thick and laboured was her breathing!

"Surely she would do better with more air," said her father; but the
nurses assured him that a puff of cold wind would be deadly. They dared
not open a window. The nurses were Bridget and a woman from the village,
who had a reputation for skill in all diseases. But the chief nurse was
Barbara Layburne, who had taken up her abode in a room adjoining the
sick-chamber, and who scarcely ceased from her watching by day or night.

She had heard the history of that fatal game at hide-and-seek, and how
Rena had discovered Linda fast asleep on a bed in one of the rooms in
the deserted stable. She knew too well what the fever meant, with its
suppressed eruption--knew that she was to blame for the evil, by her
carelessness after the sick man's departure. She had kept so close in
her own den, had taken so little notice of the children, that she had
never known of their occasional inroads upon the disused stables. Had
she known more of children's ways, she would have known that it is just
in such deserted regions that they love to play. Imagination is free
amidst emptiness and solitude; and a child's fancy will convert a barn
or a wood-shed into an enchanted palace.

"I will post to London and get the cleverest doctor in the town,"
exclaimed Bosworth.

It was the one only thing his money could do for that perishing child.
He bent down and kissed the dry lips, inhaling the putrid breath, almost
wishing that it might poison him if _she_ were not to recover, and that
they two might be laid in the same grave with the young mother. And then
he left the sick-room, ordered a horse for himself, and another for his
groom. The groom was to gallop on ahead to the market-town, and order a
post-chaise to be in readiness for his master. The Squire was in London
soon after nightfall, and at his club, inquiring for the doctor who was
cleverest in fever cases. He was told of Dr. Denbigh in Covent Garden, a
youngish man, but a great authority on fevers; and to Covent Garden he
went between eleven o'clock and midnight.

Dr. Denbigh was a student, and given to working late. He answered the
door himself, in dressing-gown and slippers, and on the Squire's urgent
entreaty consented to start at once, or as soon as post-horses could be
got ready. He could return in the morning early enough to see his gratis
patients, who came to him in flocks. He was known in all the vilest
slums and alleys of London, and was the beloved of the London poor.

It was a three hours' journey, with good horses and short stages, to
Fairmile Court; and it was the dead of the night when Bosworth and the
physician stole softly into the children's sick-chamber, where nurse
Bridget was dozing in her armchair, while Mrs. Layburne sat bolt upright
beside Rena's bed, watching the child's troubled slumbers.

"What an atmosphere!" cried Dr. Denbigh. "Draw back those curtains,
madam, if you please; open yonder window."

"The doctor forbade us to open door or window."

"That is a fine old-fashioned style of treatment, madam, which has
helped to people our churchyards. You needn't be afraid of the night
air. It is a fine dry night, and as wholesome as the day. Pray let those
poor children have some fresh air."

Barbara Layburne obeyed, deeming herself the unwilling accessory to a
murder. Bridget had rubbed her eyes, and was staring wonderingly at the
strange doctor. The village nurse was snoring rhythmically in an
adjoining room.

Dr. Denbigh seated himself between the two little beds, and examined the
sufferers, each in turn, with ineffable gentleness, with thoughtful
patient care.

"The symptoms are exactly the same," he said gravely, "but they are
severest here."

It was on Rena that his hand rested. The Squire groaned aloud.

"Shall I lose her?" he asked. "She is my all."

"The child is very ill. What does your doctor call the malady?"

"Scarlet fever."

"Scarlet fever! Why, there is no rash!"

"He tells me that in some cases the rash does not appear--in some of the
worst cases."

"This is no scarlet fever, sir. It is typhus--commonly called gaol
fever--distinctly marked. It is a low form of putrid fever. Your child
and her companion must have been visiting some of the poor folks'
cottages, where the disease is often found."

"They have not been beyond the park-gates. You have not taken them among
the cottagers, have you, Bridget? You have not disobeyed my strict
orders?"

"Never, sir. The little dears will tell you themselves, when they have
got their senses back, that I never took them nowheres."

"Have you had any fever case lately among your servants, indoors or
out?"

"Mrs. Layburne, yonder, can answer that question better than I."

"No, there has been no such illness," said Barbara.

"Strange," said the doctor; "the fever is gaol fever, and no other."

He wrote a prescription, ordered an entire change of treatment: wine,
brandy, the strongest soup that could be made--a chicken boiled down to
a breakfast-cupful of broth--and, above all, cleanliness and fresh air.
He gave many directions for the comfort of the children, and left within
the hour of his arrival, promising to come again in three days, when he
would confer with the local doctor. He would write fully to that
gentleman next morning, to explain his change of treatment.

"I have no doubt I shall induce him to concur with me," he said.

Mr. Bosworth followed him to the chaise.

"Tell me the truth, for God's sake," he said. "Is there any hope for my
child?"

The physician shook his head with a sorrowful air.

"She is very ill; they are both dangerously ill," he answered. "I would
not trifle with you for worlds. You are a man, and can meet misfortune
with courage and firmness. I doubt if either of those children will
recover; but I will do my utmost to save both. If the nurses follow out
my instructions exactly, there may be a change for the better within
forty-eight hours; if not, the case is hopeless. I would have you
prepared for the worst."

They clasped hands and parted. It was some hours before Roland Bosworth
went back to the house. He roamed about the park in the cold starry
night, brooding over past and future. For the last fifteen years he had
given himself up to the pursuit of money for its own sake. He had
haunted the City and the Exchange; he had speculated successfully in
many a hazardous enterprise at home and abroad. At a period when
speculation was but a science in the bud, he had shown himself far in
advance of his class. He had added thousand to thousand, gloating over
every increase of his capital, every lucky transaction on 'Change; and
now it dawned upon him all at once that in the very pursuit of wealth he
had lost the faculty for enjoying it; that he had fallen unawares into
the miser's sordid habits--had lost all gusto for pleasure, all delight
in life. Nothing remained to him but the abstract idea of wealth, and
the knowledge that he could leave it behind him as a monument of his own
individual greatness when he should be dust. He could only thus leave
it--only secure his grip upon the future--through that little child who
lay dying yonder within those dimly-lighted windows. Again and again
during those melancholy hours he had drawn near the house, had stood for
a little while below those lighted windows, looking up at the open
lattice, and listening for some sound from within. But there had been
nothing--a solemn stillness, as it were the silence of death.

And now, when the first sign of daybreak showed cold and pale above the
eastern side of the park, a long gray streak against which the topmost
boughs of oak and elm showed inky black, Mr. Bosworth went back to the
house from a still wider circuit, and looked up again at the open
window. Suddenly as he stood there a long shrill shriek rose on the
silent air like a wild appeal to heaven; and then another and another
shriek; and then a burst of passionate sobbing.

"It means death," said the Squire, nerving himself like a stoic. "The
end has come quickly."

It was Bridget who had screamed. She was sitting on the floor with one
of the children on her lap, dead. A handkerchief had been hastily flung
over the dead face, upon which Bridget's tears were streaming. Barbara
Layburne sat beside the other bed, Rena's bed, soothing the little
sufferer.

The Squire stood on the threshold.

"Is my child still alive?" he asked, hardly daring to enter that room of
horror.

"Yes. She is a shade better, I think," answered Barbara; "the cold
lotions have relieved her head. Poor little Linda changed for the worse
soon after the doctor left. We have had a terrible night with her. Her
struggling and restlessness at the last were awful. We could not hold
her in her bed, and she died in Bridget's arms ten minutes ago."

"O my darling, my darling, my precious pet!" wailed the nurse, with her
face bent over that marble face under the handkerchief.

Roland Bosworth gave a long sigh, significant of intense relief; yet
this was but a reprieve after all, perhaps. One blossom had withered
and fallen from the stem: the other would follow.

"Dr. Denbigh told me that my child was in more imminent danger than the
other," he said.

"Ay, but fevers are so capricious," answered Barbara, calm and unshaken
in this hour of sorrow, "and with children no one can be sure of
anything. Yesterday Rena seemed the worst, but after Dr. Denbigh left
Linda began to sink rapidly. We gave her brandy and beaten eggs at
half-hour intervals; we cut off her hair and applied the cooling lotion
to her head; it was not for want of care that she died."

"What will Rena do without her?" exclaimed the Squire, thinking more of
the living than the dead. Linda had never been more to him than a
chattel--something bought for his daughter's pleasure.

He went over to the bed, and sat beside it in the faint gray morning
light. The candles had guttered and burnt low in the sockets of the
massive old silver candlesticks. The morning looked in at the open
casement, pale and cold.

They had cropped the child's golden hair close to her head. Pinched with
illness and thus shorn of its luxuriant curls, the whole character of
the face seemed altered.

"Why did you cut off her hair?" asked the Squire.

"It was by the doctor's orders. Did not you hear him tell us?"

"Ay, to be sure. My wits were wool-gathering."

He bent down and kissed the fevered lips as he had done before. The
child was lying in a kind of stupor, neither sleep nor waking.

"Try to save her for me," said Bosworth, as he rose and left the room.

The village nurse was still asleep in the next room; she had watched two
nights running, and was indemnifying herself for those two vigils.
Bridget and Barbara laid out their dead in another room before they
awakened the nurse. The doctor came at nine o'clock, heard what Dr.
Denbigh had said, and shrugged his shoulders unbelievingly. He was
disposed to ascribe Linda's death to that most reckless opening of a
window between midnight and morning. He even affected to disapprove of
those shorn tresses which lay in a golden heap upon the dressing-table,
Linda's and Rena's so near in tint that it was not easy to distinguish
one from the other.

"We shall see the effect of this new-fangled treatment," he said,
looking at the prescription. "If Squire Bosworth were a man of society,
he would not have committed such a breach of manners as to post off to
town and bring down a strange doctor without conferring with me."

"He wanted to save his child," said Barbara.

"That is what we all want, madam; but it might just as well be done in
accordance with professional etiquette," replied the doctor.

Although huffed by the Squire's conduct, he yet deigned to follow out
Dr. Denbigh's treatment: and by a strict adherence to those instructions
Rena began visibly to improve, and when the physician come to Fairmile
on the third day he was able to give a favourable verdict.

"Your daughter is decidedly better," he said. "I am very sorry we lost
her little companion. She was a pretty child--more robust than this
one, and, as I thought, in less danger; but these little lives hang by
the flimsiest thread."

The child who had been called Belinda was buried in the same churchyard
where her unknown father lay in his pauper's grave; but the Squire
showed himself unwontedly liberal, insomuch that he ordered a headstone
to mark the child's resting-place--a stone upon which this inscription
was cut at his own particular order:

                  SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
                         BELINDA,
                  A CHILD OF FIVE YEARS,
      WHO WAS FOR THREE YEARS THE BELOVED COMPANION OF
                     IRENE BOSWORTH.
                 _Obit October 29, 1712._

Irene recovered, but her recovery was of the slowest. The loss of her
playfellow retarded her convalescence. She sorrowed with a deeper sorrow
than children are wont to feel at the loss of those they love. Fever and
delirium hung upon her for nearly a month after her child-friend had
been carried to Flamestead churchyard. Dr. Denbigh declared the case one
of the most interesting and the most difficult that had come within his
experience. There was a period in the history of the case when he began
to fear for the little patient's mind; and even after convalescence her
memory was found to be weakened, and there were moments of actual
hallucination.

"She owes her life, under Providence, to Mrs. Bridget's excellent
nursing," said Dr. Denbigh--commendation which brought sudden tears to
Bridget's eyes. This praise was thoroughly deserved, for the nurse had
devoted herself to her duties with untiring devotion, and had scarcely
enjoyed a night's sleep during the four weary weeks of uncertainty that
followed Linda's funeral. She grieved for the child that was gone with a
deeper sorrow than might have been anticipated, seeing that her own
particular charge, the child she had nursed from its birth, had been
given back to her as if from the very jaws of death. She did her duty to
the survivor with unstinted devotion; but it would have almost seemed
that her heart was in the grave of that child which had been taken.

Squire Bosworth's conduct in many of the relations of life changed in a
marked degree after this period of peril, in which his child's life,
and as it were his own fate, had trembled in the balance. He became a
more affectionate father, a better landlord, and a kinder master. He
still appeared on 'Change every week, still speculated and laboured for
the increase of his vast fortune, still hoarded and calculated and hung
fondly over his piles of debentures and securities, mortgages and New
River shares. The very bent and habit of his mind was too deeply
engrained in him to be changed at forty years of age; but he became less
miserly in many things, and he placed his establishment upon a more
liberal footing, although retaining Mrs. Layburne at the head of
affairs. For his daughter he spared nothing. He gave her toys, lap-dogs,
and a pony, and never allowed a day to pass while he was at Fairmile
without spending some portion of it in the little girl's society. For
the rest he was as much a recluse as ever, shunning all his neighbours,
and never sharing in any of those field-sports which are, and ever have
been, the chief bond of union between country gentlemen.



CHAPTER IV.

"HOW BRIGHT SHE WAS, HOW LOVELY DID SHE SHOW!"


To be a fashionable beauty, with a reputation for intelligence--nay,
even for that much rarer quality, wit; to have been born in the purple;
to have been just enough talked about to be interesting as a woman with
a history; to have a fine house in Soho Square, and a mediæval abbey in
Hampshire; to ride, dance, sing, play, and speak French and Italian
better than any other woman in society; to have the finest diamonds in
London; to be followed, flattered, serenaded, lampooned, written about
and talked about, and to be on the sunward side of thirty: surely to be
and to have all these good things should fill the cup of contentment for
any of Eve's daughters.

Lady Judith Topsparkle had all these blessings, and flashed gaiety and
brightness upon the world in which her lot was cast; and yet there were
those among her intimates--those who sipped their chocolate with her of
a morning, before her head was powdered or her patches put on--who
declared that she was not altogether happy.

The diamonds, the spacious house in Soho Square, with its Turkey carpets
and Boule furniture, its plenitude of massive plate and Italian
pictures, its air of regal luxury and splendour; the abbey near
Ringwood, with its tapestries, pictures, curios, and secret passages,
were burdened with a certain condition which for Lady Judith reduced
their value to a minimum.

All these good things came to her through her husband. Of her own right
she was only the genteelest pauper at the Court end of London. Her blood
was of the bluest. She was a younger daughter of one of the oldest
earls; but Job himself, after Satan had done his worst, was not poorer
than Lord Bramber. Lady Judith had brought Mr. Topsparkle nothing but
her beauty, her quality, and her pride. Love she never pretended to
bring him, nor liking, nor even respect. His father had made his
fortune in trade; and the idea of a tradesman's son was almost as
repulsive to Lady Judith as that of a blackamoor. She married him
because her father, and society in general, urged her to marry him, and,
in her own phraseology, "the matter was not worth fighting about." She
had broken just a year before with the only man she had ever loved, had
renounced him in a fit of pique on account of some scandal about a
French dancing-girl; and from that hour she had assumed an air of
recklessness; she had danced, flirted, talked, and carried on in a
manner that delighted the multitude, and shocked the prudes. Bath and
Tunbridge Wells had rung with her sayings and doings; and finally she
surrendered herself, not altogether unwillingly, to the highest bidder.

She was burdened with debt, and hardly knew what it was to have a
crown-piece of ready money. At cards she had to borrow first of one
admirer and then of another. She had been able to get plenty of credit
for gowns and trinketry from a harpy class of tradespeople, India houses
in the City and Court milliners at the West End, who speculated in Lady
Judith's beauty as they might have done in some hazardous but hopeful
stock; counting it almost a certainty that she would make a splendid
match and reward them bounteously for their patience.

Mr. Topsparkle saw her at Bath in the zenith of her charms. He met her
at a masquerade at Harrison's Rooms, followed and intrigued her all the
evening, and at last, alone in an alcove with her after supper, induced
her to take off her mask. Her beauty dazzled those experienced eyes of
his, and he fell madly in love with her at first sight of that radiant
loveliness--starriest eyes of violet hue, a dainty little Greek nose, a
complexion of lilies and blush-roses, and the most perfect mouth and
teeth in Christendom. No one had ever seen anything more beautiful than
the tender curves of those classic lips, or more delicate than their
faint carmine tinge. In an epoch when almost every woman of fashion
plastered herself with vermilion and ceruse, Lord Bramber's daughter
could afford to exhibit the complexion Nature had given her, and might
defy paint to match it. Lady Judith laughed at her conquest when she was
told about it by half a dozen different admirers at the Rooms next
morning.

"What, that Topsparkle man!" she exclaimed--"the travelled cit who has
been exploring all sorts of savage places in Spain and Italy, and
writing would-be witty letters about his travels! They say he is richer
than any nabob in Hindostan. Yes, I plagued him vastly, I believe,
before I consented to unmask; and then he pretended to be dumfounded at
my charms, forsooth! dazzled by this sun, into which you gentlemen look
without flinching, like young eagles."

"My dear Lady Judith, the man is captivated--your slave for ever. You
had better put a ring in his nose and lead him about with you, instead
of that little black boy for whom you sighed the other day, and that his
lordship denied you. He is quite the richest man in London, and he is on
the point of buying Lord Ringwood's place in Hampshire--a genuine
mediæval abbey, with half a mile of cloisters, and a fishpond in the
kitchen."

"I care neither for cloisters nor kitchen."

"Ay, but you have a weakness for diamonds," urged Mr. Mordaunt, an old
admirer, who was very much _au courant_ as to the fair Judith's history
and habits, had lent her money when she was losing at basset, and had
diplomatised with her creditors for her. "Witness that cross the Jew
sold you t'other day."

Lady Judith reddened angrily. The same Jew dealer who sold her the jewel
had insisted on having it back from her when he discovered her inability
to pay for it, threatening to prosecute her for obtaining goods under
false pretences.

"Mr. Topsparkle's diamonds--they belonged to his mother--are historical.
His maternal grandfather was an Amsterdam Jew, and the greatest diamond
merchant of his time. He had mills where the gems were ground as corn is
ground in our country, and seem to have been as plentiful as corn. Egad,
Lady Judith, how you would blaze in the Topsparkle diamonds!"

"Mr. Topsparkle must be sixty years of age!" exclaimed the lady, with
sovereign contempt.

"I believe he is nearer seventy; but nobody supposes you would marry him
for his youth or his personal attractions. Yet he is by no means a
bad-looking man, and he has had plenty of adventures in his day, I can
assure your ladyship. _Il a vécu_, as our neighbours say. Topsparkle is
no simpleton. When he set out upon the grand tour nearly forty years
ago, he carried with him about as scandalous a reputation as a gentleman
of fashion could enjoy. He had been cut by all the straitlaced people;
and it is only the fact of his incalculable wealth which has opened the
doors of decent houses for him since his return."

"I thank you for the compliment implied in your recommendation of him to
me as a husband," said Lady Judith, drawing herself up with that
Juno-like air which made her seem half a head taller, and which
accentuated every curve of her superb bust. "He is apparently a
gentleman whom it would be a disgrace to know."

"O, your ladyship must be aware that a reformed rake makes the best
husband. And since Topsparkle went on the Continent he has acquired a
new reputation as a wit and a man of letters. He wrote an Assyrian story
in the Italian language, about which the town raved a few years ago--a
sort of demon story, ever so much cleverer than Voltaire's fanciful
novels. Everybody was reading or pretending to read it."

"O, was that his?" exclaimed Judith, who read everything. "It was mighty
clever. I begin to think better of your Topsparkle personage."

Five minutes afterwards, strolling languidly amidst the crowd, with a
plain cousin at her elbow for foil and duenna, Lady Judith met Mr.
Topsparkle walking with no less a person than her father.

Lord Bramber enjoyed the privilege of an antique hereditary gout, and
came to Bath every season for the waters. He was a man of imposing
figure, at once tall and bulky, but he carried his vast proportions with
dignity and ease. He was said to have been the handsomest man of his
day, and had been admired even by an age which could boast of John
Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and the irresistible Henry St. John.
Basking in that broad sunshine of popularity which is the portion of a
man of high birth, graceful manners, and good looks, Lord Bramber had
squandered a handsome fortune right royally, and now, at
five-and-fifty, was as near insolvency as a gentleman dare be. His house
at Bath was a kind of haven to which he brought his family when London
creditors began to be implacable. He had even thoughts of emigrating to
Holland or Belgium, or to some old Roman town in the sunny south of
France, where he might live upon his wife's pin-money, which happily was
protected by stringent settlements and uncorruptable trustees.

He had married two out of three daughters well, but not brilliantly.
Judith was the youngest of the three, and she was the flower of the
flock. She had been foolish, very foolish, about Lord Lavendale, and a
faint cloud of scandal had hung over her name ever since her affair with
that too notorious rake. They had ridden together with foxhounds and
harriers in the level fields round Hampton Court, had sat ever side by
side in the royal barge, had been partners at basset, companions on all
possible occasions; and the town had not been too indulgent about the
lady's preference for such an unblushing reprobate. Admirers she had by
the score; but since the Lavendale entanglement there had been no
serious advances from any suitor of mark.

But now Mr. Topsparkle, one of the wealthiest commoners in Great
Britain, was obviously smitten with Lady Judith's perfections, and had a
keen air which seemed to mean business, Lord Bramber thought. He had
obtained an introduction to the Earl within the last half-hour, and had
not concealed his admiration for the Earl's daughter. He had entreated
the honour of a formal introduction to the exquisite creature with whom
he had conversed on sportive terms last night at the Assembly Rooms.

Lady Judith acknowledged the introduction with the air of a queen, to
whom courtiers and compliments were as the gadflies of summer. She
fanned herself listlessly, and stared about her while Mr. Topsparkle was
talking.

"I vow, there is Mrs. Margetson!" she exclaimed, recognising an
acquaintance across the crowd; "I have not seen her for a century.
Heavens, how old and yellow she is looking!--yellower even than you,
Mattie;" this last by way of aside to her plain cousin.

"I hope you bear me no malice for my pertinacity last night, Lady
Judith," murmured Topsparkle insinuatingly.

"Malice, my good sir! I protest, I never bear malice. To be malicious
one's feelings must be engaged, and you would hardly expect mine to be
concerned in the mystifications of a dancing-room."

She looked over his head as she talked to him, still on the watch for
familiar faces among the crowd, smiling at one, bowing to another,
kissing her hand to a third. Mr. Topsparkle was savage at not being able
to engage her attention. At Venice, whence he had come lately, all the
women had courted him, hanging upon his words, adoring him as the
keenest wit of his day.

He was an attenuated and rather effeminate person, exquisitely dressed
and powdered, and not without a suspicion of rouge upon his hollow
cheeks, or of Vandyke brown upon his delicately pencilled eyebrows. He,
like Lord Bramber, presented the wreck of manly beauty; but whereas
Bramber suggested a three-master of goodly bulk and tonnage, battered,
but still weather-proof and seaworthy, Topsparkle had the air of a
delicate pinnace which time and tempest had worn to a mere phantasmal
barque, that the first storm would scatter into ruin.

He had hardly the air of a gentleman, Judith thought, considering him
keenly all the while she seemed to ignore his existence. He was too
fine, too highly trained for the genuine article: he lacked that easy
inborn grace of the man in whom good manners are hereditary. There was
nothing of the cit about him: but there was the exaggerated elegance,
the exotic grace of a man who has too studiously cultivated the art of
being a fine gentleman; who has learnt his manners in dubious circles,
from _petites maítresses_ and _prime donne_, rather than from statesmen
and princes.

On this and on many a subsequent meeting, Lady Judith was just uncivil
enough to fan the flame of Vyvyan Topsparkle's passion. He had begun in
a somewhat philandering spirit, not quite determined whether Lord
Bramber's daughter was worthy of him; but her _hauteur_ made him her
slave. Had she been civil he would have given more account to those old
stories about Lavendale, and would have been inclined to draw back
before finally committing himself. But a woman who could afford to be
rude to the best match in England must needs be above all suspicion. Had
her reputation been seriously damaged she would have caught at the
chance of rehabilitating herself by a rich marriage. Had she been civil
to him Mr. Topsparkle would have haggled and bargained about
settlements; but his ever-present fear of losing her made him accede to
Lord Bramber's exactions with a more than princely generosity, since but
few princes could afford to be so liberal. He had set his heart upon
having this woman for his wife: first, because she was the handsomest
and most fashionable woman in London; and secondly, because, so far as
burnt-out embers can glow with new fire, Mr. Topsparkle's battered old
heart was aflame with a very serious passion for this new deity.

So there was a grand wedding from the Earl's house in Leicester Fields;
not a crowded assembly, for only the very _élite_ of the modish world
were invited. The Prince and Princess of Wales honoured the company with
their royal presence, and there were the great Sir Robert, the classic
Pulteney, the all-accomplished Carteret, John Hervey and his
newly-wedded wife--in a word, all that was brightest and best at that
junior and more popular Court of Leicester House. Mr. Topsparkle felt
that he had cancelled any old half-forgotten scandals as to his past
life, and established himself in the highest social sphere by this
alliance. As Vyvyan Topsparkle, the half-foreign eccentric, he was a man
to be stared at and talked about; but as the husband of Lord Bramber's
daughter he had a footing--by right of alliance--in some of the noblest
houses in England. His name and reputation were hooked on to old family
trees; and those great people whose kinswoman he had married could not
afford to have him maligned or slighted. In a word, Mr. Topsparkle felt
that he had good value for his magnificent settlements.

Was Lady Judith Topsparkle happy, with all her blessings? She was gay;
and with the polite world gaiety ranks as happiness, and commands the
envy of the crowd. Nobody envies the quiet matron whose domestic life
flows onward with the placidity of a sluggish stream. It is the
butterfly queen of the hour whom people admire and envy. Lady Judith,
blazing in diamonds at a Court ball, beautiful, daring, insolent, had
half the town for her slaves and courtiers. Even women flattered and
fawned upon her, delighted to be acknowledged as her acquaintance, proud
to be invited to her parties, or to dance attendance upon her in public
assemblies.

She had been married three years, and her behaviour as a wife had been
exemplary. Scandal had never breathed upon her name. The lampooners and
caricaturists, a very coarse-minded crew under George I., had not yet
bespattered her with their filth. They could only exaggerate her
frivolities, caricature the cut of a train, the magnitude of a hoop, or
the shape of her last new hat with its towering ostrich feathers, which
obscured the view of the stage from the people who sat behind her in the
side-boxes. They wrote about her appearances in the Park or at the
Opera, about her parties and her high play, her love of horse-racing,
and of the royal admirers of her charms; they wrote about her "Day," and
the belles and beaux who thronged to her drawing-rooms to ogle and
chatter scandal or politics, with the ever-increasing laxity of manners
which had set in after the death of good Queen Anne; but not the boldest
pamphleteer in Grub Street had dared to assail her virtue.

"Wait till Lavendale comes back from the East," said Tom Philter, the
party hack and newspaper scribbler, who pretended to have inherited the
dignified humour of Addison and the easy graces of Prior, "and then you
fellows will have plenty to write about 'Lady J----, the beautiful wife
of a well-known City Croesus, himself once notorious for--' We know
the style. And you, Jemmy," to the caricaturist, "can draw such cartoons
as thy soul loveth, 'How the lady and her lover were surprised by old
Moneybags in the little back parlour of an India House in the City.' It
will be a glorious time for you scandal-mongers when his lordship
reappears; and I heard t'other day he had been seen at Vienna on his
homeward route."

"Lady Judith is much too wise to have anything to say to such a
scapegrace," said Jem Ludderly, the accomplished manufacturer of
fashionable lampoons, who lived in May's Buildings, St. Martin's Lane,
and saw the great world from the railings of the Park or the pit of the
patent theatres.

"Love is never wise," sighed Philter.

"She may have been in love with him five years ago, when he was the
handsomest man in town. I know they were monstrous friendly at Hampton
Court, when she was maid of honour to the Princess during the Regency;
indeed, I fancied at one time she was going the way of poor Sophia Howe,
and that we should hear of her running off with Lavendale without
benefit of clergy. But his lordship cut her, and she has had plenty of
time to forget him," replied Ludderly.

"And she has not forgotten," said Philter, with a tragic air. He had
tried the stage in his youth, and had failed ignominiously, yet still
affected something of the dramatic air. "She is not the type of woman
that forgets. Passion flames in those starry eyes of hers; unconquerable
resolve gives form to those exquisite lips. Cleopatra must have had just
such a carriage of the head, just such a queenly neck. All those charms
imply an inborn imperiousness of will. She is a woman to sacrifice a
world for the man she loves; and let Lavendale but reappear and act
remorse for the past, and she will fling herself into his arms, casting
Topsparkle and his wealth to the winds."

"I am told that her settlements were so artfully framed that if she were
to elope to-morrow she would still be a rich woman."

"O, you are told!" cried Philter disdainfully, strong in his social
superiority, which was based upon an occasional condescending invitation
to the house of some great man whom his supple quill had served; "and
pray by whom are you told? By some scrivener's clerk, I suppose?"

"By the clerk of the lawyer who drew up the settlement," answered Mr.
Ludderly, with a dignified air; "and I doubt if you, Mr. Philter, with
all your fashionable acquaintance, could have much better authority."

"If the clerk lied not he was very good authority," said Philter. "But
be sure of one thing, Jemmy: if Lady Judith has to lose all the world
for love, she will lose it. I am a student of women's faces, Jemmy, and
I know what hers means. I was at a ball with those two not long before
they quarrelled. It was at Lady Skirmisham's--her ladyship always sends
me a card--"

"She would be very ungrateful if she didn't," interrupted Jemmy
Ludderly, with a somewhat sulky air, "seeing that her husband is about
the stupidest man in London; one of those hereditary dolts whom family
influence foists upon the country, and that you are always writing him
up as an oracle."

"There are worse men than Lord Skirmisham in the Cabinet, Jemmy. Well,
as I was saying, it was my luck to be in Lady Judith's train of admirers
at the Skirmisham ball, and late in the evening I came by chance into a
little boudoir sort of room between the ballroom and the garden, where
those two were alone together. It was a room hung with Chinese figured
stuff, and there was but a transparent silk curtain where there should
have been a door. She was clasped to his heart, Jemmy, sobbing upon his
breast; he was swearing to be true and loyal to her, blaspheming in his
passion, like the impious profligate he is, and invoking curses on his
head if he should ever deceive her. I stood behind the curtain for but
a few seconds watching them, but there was a five-act tragedy in the
passion of those moments. 'Be only faithful to me, dear love,' she said,
looking up at him, with those violet eyes drowned in tears. 'There is no
evil in this world or the next I would not dare for you; there is no
good I would not sacrifice for you. Only be true; to a traitor I will
grant nothing.'"

"Lucky dog," said Ludderly.

"Say rather swine, before whose cloven feet the richest pearl was cast
in vain," sighed the sentimental Philter. "Then came talk of ways and
means. His lordship was in low water financially, and had a diabolical
reputation as a member of the famous Mohawk Club; Lord Bramber would not
hear of him as a match for his daughter. But there was always
accommodating Parson Keith, and the little chapel in Curzon Street. 'If
the worst comes, we will marry in spite of them,' he said; and then came
more vows, and sighs, and a farewell kiss or two, and I stole away
before they parted, lest they should surprise me. It was less than a
month from that night when everybody was talking of Lavendale's intrigue
with the little French dancer Chichinette, and the house that he had
furnished for her by the water at Battersea; and how they went there in
a boat after the opera, with fiddles playing and torches flaring, and
how his lordship entertained all his friends there, and had Chinese
lanterns and fireworks after the fun was all over at Vauxhall. He made
himself the talk of the town by his folly, as he had often done before;
and I doubt he went near to break Lady Judith's heart."

"She would be a fool if she ever noticed him again after such
treatment," said Ludderly.

"Ay, but a woman who loves blindly is a fool in all that concerns her
love, be she never so wise in other matters; and to love like that once
is to love for ever."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Judith knew not how these scribblers discussed her, anatomising her
old heart-wounds, speculating upon her future conduct. She knew not even
that Lord Lavendale had returned from the East--where he had been
following in the footsteps of an eccentric kinswoman, and where, if
report lied not, he had acquired new notoriety by breaking into a harem,
and running a narrow risk of his life in the daring adventure. Lady
Judith's first knowledge of his lordship's return was when she met him
face to face in the Ring one fine morning, both of them on foot: she
with her customary wake of fops and flatterers; he lounging arm in arm
with his friend and travelling companion Herrick Durnford, who was said
to be a little worse as to morals and principles than my lord himself.

In spite of that grand self-possession, that unflinching courage, and
glorious audacity, which were in her race, a heritage whereof no
spendthrift father could rob her, Lady Judith blanched at the sight of
her old lover. A look of pain, of anger, almost of terror, came into the
beautiful eyes, so large, so lustrous, so exquisitely shadowed by those
ebon fringes when she had a mind to veil them.

But that look was momentary; she commanded herself in the next instant,
saluted Lord Lavendale with the haughtiest inclination of her head, and
swept onward, passing him as if he had been the lowest thing that could
have checked her progress or engaged her attention.

"She would have looked longer at a stray cur than she looked at me,"
said Lavendale to his companion, standing stock-still, planted, as it
were, in his shame and mortification, as if that look of Lady Judith's
had transfixed him.

"Why should she look at you?" asked the other. "You did your very
uttermost towards breaking her heart, and if you did not succeed, 'tis
that women are made of sterner stuff than men think. She owes you
nothing but contempt."

Mr. Durnford was not one of those parasites who live and fatten upon a
patron. He was a man of good birth and mean fortune, but he had too much
pride to associate with Lavendale save on equal terms. He would have
perished rather than descend to the position of led captain. He shared
his friend's vices, but he never flattered them.

"She was always as proud as Lucifer, and I suppose she is prouder now
she has the spending of Topsparkle's money. What a glorious creature she
is, Herrick! Her beauty has ripened within the last five years as a
flower-garden ripens between May and July--developing day by day into a
richer glow and flush of summer beauty. She is the most glorious
creature on this earth, I swear. The Sultan's almond-eyed favourite, she
they called the Star of the Bosphorus, is but a kitchen-wench to her."

"She might have been your wife had you behaved decently," said Durnford.

"Yes, she was to have been mine; and I lost her--for what, Herrick? For
a whim, for a wager, for the triumph of ousting a rival. You don't
suppose I ever cared for that little French devil! But to cheat Philip
Wharton out of his latest conquest--to win five thousand from Camden of
the Guards, who swore that I had no chance against Wharton--for the mere
dash and swagger of the thing, Herrick--to get myself more talked about
than any man in London, I carried off the little lady who had made
herself the rage of the hour, and tried to think that I was over head
and ears in love with her. In love with her--with a woman who ate garlic
at every meal, and swore strange oaths in Gascon! 'Pécaïre!' she used to
cry--'Pécaïre!' in her southern twang--and I was ruining my fortune and
my reputation for such a creature!"

"You had your whim," sneered Durnford. "You won Camden's five thousand."

"Every penny of which Chichinette devoured, with another five thousand
to boot."

"Naturally. But you had your fancy, and you got yourself more lampooned
and caricatured than any man in England, except the king. You came next
to his Majesty in the supremacy of ridicule. And you lost Lady Judith
Walberton."

"If she had cared for me she would have forgiven that passing scandal. A
man must sow his wild oats."

"You were supposed to have sowed yours before you fell in love with Lady
Judith. I have always told you, Lavendale, that I honour that lady for
her renunciation of you. You will not make me budge from that. If she
had loved you less she might have more easily forgiven you."

"Well, I can whistle her down the wind to prey at fortune. She has been
wise after her generation, has married a rich old rake instead of a poor
young one. A reformed rake, 'tis said, makes the best husband, and
that's why the women are ever so ready to pardon sinners. I would have
been good to her had she but trusted me, Herrick, after that escapade.
There should not have been a happier wife in England. But 'tis past,
'tis done with, lad. Thank Heaven, there are passions worth living for
besides love."

"The passion of the gamester, for instance--to sit till three and four
o'clock every morning at loo or faro!" suggested Herrick Durnford, with
that easy, indifferent air of his, half-scornful, half-jocose, with
which he made light of follies that he shared.

"Ah, but there are keener pleasures than loo and faro," said Lavendale,
with an earnest look; "there are higher stakes to play for than paltry
hundreds and thousands, nobler prizes to be won--gains that would set a
man on a level with the gods."

"Dreams, Lavendale, idle dreams, visions, will-o'-the-wisps that have
lured wiser men than you to the edge of the grave--only to leave him
face to face with grim death, and he, poor fool! after a long life
wasted over alembics, burned out over the fires of his crucible--ay,
with the elixir vitæ within his grasp--falls as easy a prey to the King
of Terrors at last as the most ignorant tiller of the fields."

"If they are dreams, they have seemed realities to the wisest men this
earth ever saw--Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus. If they were
believers--"

"_Were_ they believers? Across the lapse of centuries how can we tell
how much of this was verity and how much falsehood--where the searcher
after truth left off and the impostor began? Pshaw, Jack! we live in too
prosaic an age to be fooled by those old-world delusions. Is there a man
or woman in this park who would not think Lord Lavendale qualified for
Bedlam, if it were known that he travelled with an old Venetian
necromancer in his train, and that he had a serious expectation of
discovering first the transmutation of metals, and then the elixir of
life?"

"That were a noble discovery for all the race of man; for it is an
anomaly in Nature that a man's life should be so brief as it is--that
his intellect should take at least thirty years to ripen, and that he
should be thought to die full of years if he lives on till eighty--to
say nothing of those accidents and contingencies which cut him off in
his prime. No, there is error somewhere, friend. Man is too grand a
creature for so limited a career. He dies ever with his mission
unfulfilled, his task uncompleted. There must be, somewhere amid the
mysteries of Nature, the secret of prolonged existence. Paracelsus
looked for it and failed; but the world is two hundred years older since
his time, and Vincenti is as deep a student as Paracelsus. But it is not
that sublime secret for which I pine. My life is too worthless for me to
care much about extending it; but there are occult powers for which my
soul longs with a passionate longing--extended powers of will and mind,
Herrick. The power to enter regions where this body of mine cannot
reach--to steal as an invisible spirit into the presence of her I love,
breathe in her ear, thrill her every nerve, impel her with my sovereign
will to think and feel and move as I will her, draw her to me as the
magnet draws iron. She passed me just now with royal disdain; but if I
had that mystic power she could not despise me--she must obey, she must
love--my spirit would dominate hers as the moon rules the tides."

"Dreams, Jack, idle dreams; pleasant enough in the dreaming,
soap-bubbles floating in the sunlight, radiant with all the colours of
the prism, and vanishing into thin air while we watch them. Better
perhaps the alembic and the pentagon than the faro-table and the
dice-box. As you are a man who must have some kind of excitement, who
cannot live out of a fever, perhaps Vincenti is no worse a hobby than
any other. The old man is harmless, and devoted to you."

"Does he like Lavendale Manor, Herrick? Is he contented with his new
quarters?" asked his lordship. "I saw you had a letter from him this
morning."

"He says the old rooms delight him, and that the house is full of the
influence of your forefathers. You know his ideas about the influence of
the dead--that those in whom mind has been superior to matter never
cease to be--that for such death is but transition from the visible to
the invisible. The body may rot in the grave, but the mind, which in
this life dominated the body, still walks the earth, and exercises a
mystic power over the mind of the living."

"Would that my mother's spirit could revisit that old house and hold
commune with her wretched son!" exclaimed Lavendale. "She was the only
being who ever influenced me for good, and Fate snatched her from me
before my character was formed. I might have been a better man had she
lived. I would not have grieved her gentle nature by the parade of my
vices."

"And you might have been a hypocrite as well as a rake, Jack."

"No, Herrick; if I had but been happy I need have been neither rake nor
hypocrite. It is the sense of a void here that drives us into evil
courses. Had there been some pure affection to sustain my youth, I
should never have gone wrong. When I met Judith I was too far gone; the
rot was in the ship, and she must needs go to pieces. There is a stage
in evil at which even virtuous love cannot save the sinner."

"And 'fore Heaven I know no more potent cure," said Herrick. "There
goes Mrs. Howard, looking just a little older and deafer than when we
saw her last: they say the Prince neglects her shamefully, and is more
devoted to his wife than ever. Yes, Lavendale, a true-hearted woman is
your only redeeming angel below the skies. But I doubt if Lady Judith
belongs to the angelic order. She is a creature of passions and
impulses, like yourself--a woman who would sacrifice every duty to the
promptings of an undisciplined heart. May Fate keep two such fires
asunder!"

Lavendale's only answer was a sigh. He sauntered through the Ring,
returning and occasionally giving salutations, with a listless
indifferent air which implied that he cared very little whether he was
remembered or not. His appearance came as a surprise upon most of his
old acquaintance, who had heard nothing of his return; but all who
looked at him in the clear light of this bright May morning were
startled at the change which three years' travel had made in him. He had
left London a young man, in the pride and flush of manly beauty, justly
renowned as one of the handsomest men about town. He came back aged by
at least a decade, haggard, and melancholy-looking; handsome still, for
his delicately chiselled and patrician cast of features did not depend
for their beauty upon freshness of colour; his eyes, though sombre and
sunken, were still the same superb gray orbs which had flashed and
sparkled in his radiant youth. The man was the same man, but it was as
if a withering blast had passed across his manhood, blighting, scathing,
consuming it; like some hot wind from the desert, that scorches and
destroys the vegetation across which its fiery breath passes.

Was it the fire without--the perils and adventures of travel in wild
regions--or the volcano within--the wasting fires of his own mind--which
had so changed, so worn him? asked the more philosophical among those
observers who contemplated John Lord Lavendale in his new aspect. There
was only a speculative answer to be had to that question.

"I see that Herrick Durnford has him in tow still," said the Dowager
Lady Polwhele to her satellite, Mr. Asterley, a gentleman who had no
ostensible means of subsistence except his knife and fork at Polwhele
House, a certain occult power of always winning at cards, and who was
supposed to dress better than any young man in London.

"Yes, he has his Herrick still," drawled Asterley; "the Inseparables, we
used to call them. Herrick is the man who prompts all Lavendale's jokes,
composes conversation for him, and writes all his letters--in a word,
Herrick is Lavendale's brains."

"He is Lavendale's bad angel," protested the Countess.

"Nay, there you wrong him. He is the skid on the wheel of folly, and
Lavendale would go down-hill ever so much faster without him. He has a
sublime audacity in telling his patron disagreeable truths."

"O, your modern flatterer always affects Diogenes, and is all the falser
inwardly for that outward show of brutal candour. I am very sorry for
Lavendale. He ought to marry an heiress, like that poor Carberry girl
who married the Duke of Bolton, and was so miserable with him. We must
find him an heiress, Asterley; be sure you set about it instantly."

"They are not quite so plentiful as blackberries, Lady Polwhele."

"O, but they exist, they are to be found. One must be found for
Lavendale. I mean to take Lavendale under my wing."

Asterley shrugged his shoulders, and said nothing. Lady Polwhele had
always her train of young men, rich or poor, gentlemen or commoners, as
the case might be, and it was the business of her life to recruit this
regiment of hers. She was rich, and Polwhele House, Whitehall, was one
of the most popular bachelors' hotels in London. A French _chef_, an
Italian confectioner, music-rooms, dancing-rooms, and loo and faro
nightly--with all the charm of pretty women to flirt with, and the
supreme advantage of no bill to pay. All the best young men in London
swore by Lady Polwhele, who had been a famous belle and had been young
when William of Orange was king, who was said to have rivalled Lady
Orkney in the monarch's favour, and who was now a remarkably
well-preserved and skilfully painted dowager of fifty summers.

"Well, Jack, are you pleased to be back again in the old Ring?" asked
Durnford, as the two young men crossed the Bath Road.

"No, Herrick, I would rather be in the foulest hovel in Hungary. I
loathe this mill-horse round they call polite society. These grinning
masks which make believe to be living faces. These friendly becks and
nods and hand-clasps behind which lurk envy, malice, and all
uncharitableness. We'll order post-horses, and start for Lavendale
directly after dinner."



CHAPTER V.

"I HAVE FORGOT WHAT LOVE AND LOVING MEANT."


Between 1710 and 1726 Fairmile Park had been growing year by year less
like a gentleman's park and more like a forest. The wild tangle of
underwood, the hollies and hawthorns, the wildernesses of beech and oak,
the deep ferny glades, and patches of furze and heather took a richer
beauty with every season, and throve and flourished under a _régime_ of
absolute neglect. And in this wilderness Irene roamed at large,
unfettered and uncontrolled as the spirit of the woods, and seeming to
tramp or villager who met her suddenly, amidst the glancing lights and
tremulous shadows of interwoven boughs, almost as ethereal as some
nameless being from another world. Never had peasant or tramp accosted
her rudely in all those years in which she had roamed alone, growing
from childhood to womanhood, ever in the same woodland seclusion, and
never knowing the shadow of weariness. Her childhood and girlhood had
been passing solitary since the waif's death, but those slow monotonous
years had been in no wise unhappy. Roland Bosworth had been an indulgent
father, desiring nothing so much as his daughter's happiness. Had he
seen her pine in her lonely life he would, at any sacrifice to himself,
have changed his habits; but as he saw her joyous and happy, in perfect
health and radiant beauty, he saw no reason to take her out of the
almost monastic seclusion in which she had been reared into the perils
and temptations of the outer world. For Mr. Bosworth's daughter, the
heiress of wealth which had become somewhat notorious by the mere
progress of years, there would be snares and traps, and it was well that
she should be guarded closely. When the time came for her to marry it
would be his business to find a fitting alliance; to mate wealth with
wealth, and thus guard against the possibility of mercenary feeling on
the part of the husband. Society in those days was thickly beset with
heiress-hunters; and the heiress-hunter of a hundred and fifty years
ago was an adventurer only less audacious than the highwayman who
stopped coaches on Hounslow Heath, or on the wild hills beyond the
Devil's Punchbowl.

For a year or more after the nameless orphan's death Rena had pined for
her little companion; but gradually the vividness of memory faded, the
sweet sister face, smiling back her own smiles like an image reflected
in a river, became a dream, and revisited her only in dreams; and then
came the awakening of the young mind to external beauty, the deep,
inborn love of Nature reviving in the expanding soul; the delight in
flowers, and sun, and clouds, and trees, and streamlets, and the still,
dark lakelet, upon whose placid surface the tracery of summer boughs
made such delicate shadows. The love of mute companions intensified with
the ripening years; the great Newfoundland dog with its massive head and
grave affectionate eyes; the ponies, and rabbits, and poultry-yard with
its ever-varying delights; the tame hare, the talking magpie: these were
her companions and friends, and provided occupation from January to
December.

Until her tenth year the Squire's daughter was allowed to riot in the
delight of ignorance. She ran wild from morn till eve, learnt no more
than Mrs. Bridget could teach her, whose scope in the actualities of
education did not go far beyond the alphabet and words of one syllable,
but whose imaginative powers were wide and memory particularly vivid.
From this teacher Rena learnt all the most famous fairy tales of the
world, and a good many old English and Scottish ballads. These furnished
her fancy with themes for thought and dreaming, and stimulated a
poetical feeling which seemed inborn, so early did it show itself.

When she was approaching her twelfth birthday the Squire, who had
allowed himself until now to be deterred by Mrs. Layburne's black looks
at the mention of a governess, suddenly lost patience.

"My only child is growing up as ignorant as a kitchen-wench through your
folly," he said. "I must hire a governess for her before the month is
out."

"So be it," answered Barbara, with a fretful shrug of her lean
shoulders; "but if you wish to keep your daughter clear of adventurers
and fortune-hunters, you had best beware of governesses, music-masters,
and all such cattle. They are mostly in league with some penniless
schemer on the look-out for a fortune."

"My daughter is too young to be in danger yet awhile."

"Too young to be married, perhaps, but not too young to be perverted by
sentimental tales about lovers; and a few years later the governess
whispers that the romance may be made earnest, and some fine afternoon
governess and pupil meet a young man in the park, who protests he has
seen Miss at her window one day and has been pining for her ever since.
Then come a post-chaise, pistols, and a helter-skelter drive to the
purleius of the Fleet Prison, and the pretty young pair are fast bound
in matrimonial fetters before the father can catch them."

"I'll warrant there shall be no folly of that kind," said Bosworth.

"How will you warrant it? Every adventurer in London knows that you made
a hundred thousand the other day in the South Sea Bubble, and that you
had made a handsome fortune on 'Change long before that great _coup_,
dabbling first in one stock, now in another; and they know that you have
an only child, like Shylock's Jessica. Do you suppose there will be no
Lorenzo to hunt after your daughter and your ducats? Perhaps among those
penniless wights there may be some who have been ruined by the South Sea
scheme, and who will bear no love to you who sold your stock when the
madness was at its height, and when every hundred-pound share realised
over a thousand to the speculator who was clever enough to profit by the
craziness of the mob."

"Lorenzo shall have no chance with my daughter."

"Ay, so long as she is guarded from crafty go-betweens; but admit a
governess and a fine Italian music-master, and look out for rope-ladders
and post-chaises. Why cannot I teach Rena? I am a better musician than
many of your Signors, and I can read and write English and French as
well as any chit of a governess you can hire."

"No," answered Bosworth sternly, "_that_ is out of the question. I will
not have my dead wife's daughter taught by you."

Barbara looked at him for a moment or two, white with fury; and then she
burst into a mocking laugh.

"Your dead wife's daughter! O, that is her new name, is it? Your wife's
daughter. It is well you should throw your wife's name in my face--the
name I once had."

"Never by any legal right, though you might have borne that name in
serious earnest, my brimstone beauty, had you kept a little tighter rein
on that diabolical temper of yours. Pshaw! why should we quarrel about
the past? It is a sealed book for both of us. Get a room ready against
this day week, Mrs. Layburne. I shall write to my sister-in-law, Lady
Tredgold, to find me a governess for my daughter."

There was a certain look in Roland Bosworth's countenance which Mrs.
Layburne knew meant the irrevocable. She subsided into her position of
obedient housekeeper, she who had once been sovereign ruler of this
man's life. It was so long ago, that golden age of beauty and power,
when Barbara Layburne's singing and Barbara Layburne's face were the
rage at the theatre in the Haymarket, where she had sung in English
opera, and for one brief season had been almost as much admired and
talked about as La Faustina or Cuzzoni were in later years. She looked
back across the mist of years, and wondered if she were verily the same
woman at whose feet lovers had been sighing when the century was young.
The gulf betwixt youth and age, betwixt loveliness and gray hairs, is
such a tremendous abyss, that it is not strange if a woman should half
doubt her own identity, looking across that terrible ravine and seeing
the vision of her past existence on the other side. No two women living
could be more different than that woman of the past and this woman of
the present.

Lady Tredgold was an energetic personage who lived at Bath for the
greater part of the year, gambled moderately, and contrived to support a
numerous family upon a small income, which her husband, a staunch
Walpolian, had improved by his senatorial opportunities. She had seen
very little of her sister's husband since his wife's death, Mr.
Bosworth having done his uttermost to keep his wife's relations at a
distance. She felt flattered at his application, and lost no time in
providing a governess for her niece, in the person of an elderly
Frenchwoman, small, shrivelled, and slightly lame, who had taught her
ladyship's four daughters, and prepared her three sons for Eton. The
opportunity thus afforded provided a home for Mademoiselle Latour, and
saved Lord Tredgold the pension which duty would have constrained him to
provide for the superannuated governess.

Rena was at first inclined to resent the introduction of a stranger into
her life, with authority to control her movements; but she found
Mademoiselle so thoroughly lovable and sympathetic, that her young heart
soon found room for a new affection. Lessons were made light and easy by
the experienced teacher, much instruction was imparted by way of
amusement, the pupil gaining knowledge unconsciously; nor was her
liberty severely curtailed. She still roved at will in the woodland
wilderness which was only in name a park, and in summertime her studies
were for the most part performed in the garden, where Mademoiselle had
a favourite seat in the shadow of a clipped yew hedge, a massive wall of
dense greenery ten feet high, and her rustic table on which writing and
drawing were managed in despite of all the summer insects that buzz in
the meridian sun. Mademoiselle was too lame to accompany her pupil in
her wanderings, but it was a point of honour with Rena not to go beyond
the park-fence, however temptingly those further wildernesses of pine
and larch to the east, or the undulating common-land to the south, might
beckon to a young explorer.

But Mademoiselle's chief hold upon her pupil, in the early days of their
association, was derived from a new pleasure which those withered little
hands of hers revealed to the Squire's daughter. At the governess's
request Mr. Bosworth ordered a new harpsichord from the best maker in
London, a harpsichord with all the last improvements, and as superior to
that old instrument which Mrs. Layburne had appropriated and carried off
to her own sitting-room, as Handel was superior to his sometime rival
Bononcini.

Mademoiselle touched the harpsichord exquisitely, with a light airy
style which harmonised perfectly with that old French music she mostly
affected. But she did not confine herself exclusively to the Gallic
masters: she had the airs from Rinaldo and all Handel's operas by heart,
and enraptured Rena by her varied stores of melody. It was the child's
introduction to a new world--the magical world of music. The little
fingers were quick to learn those easy movements with which a good
teacher begins the apprenticeship to that divine art: the quick young
mind soon grasped the elements of musical theory. Rena learned to read
music quicker than to read books, so eager was she to acquire power over
that wonderful keyboard which held all the melodies that had ever been
composed; and unwritten, unimagined melodies no less beautiful, could
she but find them. She had a natural bent for music which should have
been hereditary, so strongly did it reveal itself; yet neither Squire
Bosworth nor the gentle Lady Harriet had ever been distinguished by a
love of music, still less by any executive faculty.

For the rest, the little Frenchwoman's advent made but slight difference
in the life at Fairmile Court, save to bring two or three more of the
fine old rooms at the end of the house into occupation. Bridget was
still her nursling's friend and companion, was in no wise relegated to
the cold shade of mere domestic servitude. Mademoiselle Latour was too
good a woman to seek to wean her pupil's affections from her old nurse.
Mrs. Layburne lived her solitary life apart from the whole household,
directing and governing all things, keeping the keys and ruling the
servants, but holding companionship with no one. Squire Bosworth went
and came between London and Fairmile as of old. When he was at home his
daughter always dined with him, and spent an hour with him after dinner;
and as the quiet years drifted past him, Roland Bosworth hardly noted
how the child was developing into the woman, beautiful exceedingly in
her bright girlish loveliness, full of impulse and vivacity, loving her
life for its own sake, and desiring nothing beyond it. She had the
placid contentment of a cloistered nun who knows nothing of the world
outside her convent-walls, nor sighs to know it.

The Squire had given her a guitar, upon which she used to accompany
herself when she sang to him during his after-dinner musings over his
pint of claret. He used to look at her with thoughtful, dreamy eyes as
she sat in the afternoon sunlight, bending over her guitar with a
graceful curve of the slender throat, her soft brown hair piled over a
cushion on the top of the exquisitely shaped head, her gown of the
simplest, her snowy neck shrouded with a soft lace handkerchief, her
arms bare to the elbow, and the long delicate hands with slender
flexible fingers, roseate-tipped and as beautiful as the hands of St.
Cecilia in an old Italian picture.

It was perhaps more of his ducats than of his daughter Squire Bosworth
thought as he watched her dreamily, soothed by her sweet singing. He
could but think of that vast fortune which would be hers to deal with
when he was clay--a too convertible form of wealth, in stocks and
shares, which wanton extravagance might scatter as easily as a shower of
rose-petals.

"I almost wish I had locked it up in land," he said to himself; "but
land yields such a wretched return, and can always be mortgaged by a
spendthrift. There is no power on earth that can project itself into the
future, and secure the permanence of that which a man has toiled for
after he is clay."

And now, in this year of grace 1726, Rena was eighteen, tall, slim,
graceful, active as a young fawn, and without one impulse that rebelled
against her father's authority or the monotonous placidity of her life.
Mademoiselle Latour declared that in all her experience of the varieties
of girlhood she had never had to deal with so sweet a nature, or so
bright and teachable a mind. But this might be flattery, thought the
Squire, since Mademoiselle knew that her pupil was a great heiress.



CHAPTER VI.

"YET WOULD I WISH TO LOVE, LIVE, DIE WITH THEE."


Three miles and a quarter from Fairmile Court, as the crow flies, stands
Lavendale Manor, one of the oldest seats in Surrey. It had been a
Cistercian grange in the reign of Stephen, and had been an appendage of
one of the most flourishing monastic institutions in England when the
Reformation cut short the monks and all their works, good or evil, and
confiscated the grange, with its fifteen hundred acres of woods and
farmlands, in favour of one of the king's strongest supporters. From
that nobleman's hands it had passed to another and still nobler house,
and then by marriage to Sir John Porlock, a west-country baronet of good
family, one of the most brilliant among the younger lights of Charles
II.'s Court, a friend of Dorset and Rochester, whose son became a power
among the Whig party in the House of Commons at the beginning of
William's reign, and was raised to the Peerage with the title of Baron
Lavendale. The first Lord Lavendale died a year after his royal master,
leaving an only son of eight years old to be brought up by a widowed
mother. Unhappily, that best and purest of women died before her son
attained manhood, and an impulsive light-hearted lad of fifteen was
abandoned to the care of tutors, servants, and parasites in general;
whereby a character which might easily have been shaped and guided for
good was given over as a prey to the powers of evil.

Lavendale Manor, with its noble Italian gardens laid out by the famous
French gardener, Le Nôtre, in the reign of Charles II., and its
extensive park, had been but little less neglected for the last ten
years than the neighbouring domain of Fairmile. During Lavendale's
minority, stewards and servants had been unanimous in doing as little
work as possible, and getting the most that could be got out of the
estate; and from the time of his majority the owner of that estate had
been doing his utmost to impoverish and even to ruin it. The fountains
and statues which Sir John Porlock had brought from Rome, the old
dining-hall and carved stone porch which dated from the time of the
martyred Becket, clipped yew-tree walls, pyramids, and obelisks of
greenery, old things and new, had alike suffered neglect; mosses and
lichens had crept over fountain and Greek gods, and ivy had forced its
intrusive tendrils amidst the carven arches and clustered columns of the
old Gothic porch.

The house itself had been decently kept, and Lavendale came back to his
old home to find a certain appearance of preparedness and comfort in the
fine old rooms, with their curious admixture of furniture, English,
French, and Dutch, the latter preponderating with its somewhat clumsy
bulk and variegated inlaying; great tulip-wood cabinets, which reminded
Lavendale of the coat of many colours in that story of Joseph and his
brethren which he remembered poring over again and again in that dim
long ago when he was a little lad at his mother's knees, and had pious
readings for Sundays. Too soon had come the time when Sunday reading
and Sunday as a day apart from other days had ceased to be for Lord
Lavendale, and when he was in the first rank of fashionable
infidels--the men who borrowed their opinions from Henry St. John, and
welcomed the new light called Voltaire, a star just then showing pale
and clear above the horizon.

It was late in the evening when Lavendale and Durnford arrived at the
Manor House. They had ridden from Bloomsbury--a thirty-mile ride--and
had baited their horses at Kingston. The servants were retiring for the
night when the great bell rang under the stone porch, and all the
household was on the alert in a minute or two, deferentially receiving a
master whom they could have wished had found his way to the other side
of the Stygian stream rather than to disturb the placidity of their
after-supper repose. Footmen were sent flying to lay a table, and sleepy
cook and kitchen-wench explored the larder. While supper was being
prepared, Lord Lavendale went to the farther end of the house, to a
spacious vaulted apartment that had been a refectory in the days of the
Cistercians, but was now a library. Beyond it there was a still larger
room which had been a chapel, and, never converted to any secular
purpose, had been left to bats, spiders, and emptiness.

Lavendale had seen lights in the windows of this room as he rode up to
the house, and he guessed that Signor Vincenti, chemist, student, and
discoverer, was at work there.

"Well, old mole!" he said gaily, as he opened the heavy oaken door, and
stood looking at the Italian, who sat huddled up in a huge armchair
beside a table loaded and scattered with volumes of all shapes and
sizes, under the strong light of a curiously-shaped metal lamp, which
made a central spot of vivid brightness in the great shadowy room. "You
see we have not left you long to your solitary studies and your beloved
seclusion. Durnford and I have come to badger you."

"'Twould be hard if you could not come to your own house, my lord,"
answered the old man quietly, looking up with luminous dark eyes which
seemed all the more brilliant because of the snowy whiteness of the
thick eyebrows and the long, drooping locks which fell over the
forehead. "I will own that solitude and silence have been very precious
to me in this noble old mansion. Yes, silence is a priceless boon to the
searcher. In the silence of the living we can feel the companionship of
the dead."

Those last words had a subduing effect upon Lavendale. He laid aside hat
and whip, came slowly across the room, and seated himself opposite the
Italian.

"You have felt the influence of those who have gone before," he said;
"of the dead who once lived and loved, and were glad and sorry, in this
house."

"Yes, there never was yet an old house that was not eloquent with spirit
voices. There is one gentle shade that has been near me often in these
old rooms of yours--a tender, mournful soul, over-charged with sorrow."

"It is so easy for you to say these things," said Lavendale doubtingly.
"You have heard me talk of my mother so often."

"You questioned and I answered," replied the old man. "If it please you
to think me a charlatan, you are welcome to your opinion. I have neither
gain nor honour to win from you or any man living. K I have my ends and
aims, which neither you nor mortal man can aid. If I fail or if I
succeed, I do it alone. Human clay cannot help me."

"Why should this house in which I was born have voices which you can
hear, and yet for me hold only silence--for me who love every stone in
the fabric, for me who have wept the most passionate tears in my life
for her I lost here?"

"Because between the disembodied soul and you there is the barrier of
the flesh; because you have given yourself up to sensuous things and
sensuous pleasures; have eaten and drunk and delighted in the lowest
pleasures of your kind. How should such as you hope to hold communion
with the clear light of the soul released from clay? You must bring
yourself nearer the condition of the dead before you can feel their
influence."

"Sublimise myself by the extinguishment of every earthly passion? Nay,
my ethereal friend, at two-and-thirty that is not so easy. There is
something here," lightly touching his breast, "which pleads too ardently
for poor humanity--the heart, Vincenti, the passionate heart of
manhood. Do not believe those who tell you that the bad Lord Lavendale
has been altogether the slave of his senses. I never loved but once with
true fervour. All the rest has been vanity and confusion, the follies of
a fop who wanted to lead the fashion, and ever to be first in
depravity."

"You have been staunch in friendship," said Vincenti: "I can answer for
that. It was a happy hour for me when you found me laid up with fever at
an inn at Prague. In a situation which would have made any other
Englishman shun me, you succoured and rescued me."

"One eccentricity the more in an eccentric career, my friend. I found a
treasure by the wayside; and if you can but hold out long enough to make
the great discovery on the threshold of which so many an adept has given
up the ghost--"

"Let us not speak of that," interrupted the old man nervously; "there
are some things too sublime to be debated as your English Parliament
debates a vote of credit or a declaration of war. Those who have gone
down to the grave have carried too many of their secrets with them. The
approach to the great secret is clouded with darkness, beset with
difficulty. Yet who that has searched the secrets of Nature can doubt
that there is somewhere in her mysterious realm the vital fire which can
prolong the life of man, as surely as there are mineral and vegetable
powers which can regulate the blood in the veins, and permeate man's
whole frame with healing influences? Is there anything more miraculous
in the idea of life prolonged indefinitely than in the spectacle of a
fever-patient cured at the point of death? or of a brain distraught
restored to sense and calmness by the physician's art?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Lord Lavendale devoted the next morning to an interview with his
steward, and while master and man were closeted in his lordship's study,
Herrick Durnford set out for a long morning's ramble in the park,
pleased to be free and alone--a privilege which he rarely enjoyed, as
Lavendale hated solitude.

It was a lovely morning, with all the freshness of spring and all the
brightness of summer. There had been cold winds all through April, and
the woods had worn their wintry russet longer than usual; but now all
at once, like the unfolding of a scene in fairyland, the trees had burst
into leaf, and endless varieties of vernal colour shone radiant against
the cloudless blue of a May morning. Herrick, who worshipped Nature's
loveliness, and who had been pent in cities of late, felt almost drunken
with rapture as he roamed in those dewy glades, where every turn of the
path revealed some new picture. He had some touch of poetry in his soul,
which still lingered there after a youth of folly; and as the years went
on there had come graver hours, in which the vanity and evil of his life
had been as plain to his eyes as it had ever been in the sight of his
worst enemy. He had been baptised Herrick at the desire of his mother,
who was a descendant of the poet's family; and now on this fair May
morning, amidst the changeful lights and shadows, his sympathy with
Nature was keen as that of him who sang the glory of the daffodil and
the brief beauty of the rose.

He had been wandering for a couple of hours flinging himself on the turf
now and again, lying at full length upon his back, and looking up into
the unfathomable blue, listening to the skylark soaring above his head,
or to the monotonous tap of the woodpecker nearer his ear, or to the too
persistent cuckoo, or to the multitudinous hum of that lower life which
revelled amidst the grasses and wild flowers where he lay. Life on such
a morning is as exhilarating as strong wine; Nature's loveliness mounts
to a man's brain, and makes him oblivious of all the cares and sorrows
of existence.

Herrick Durnford's life was by no means free from care at this period.
There was the sordid care of not being sure of a livelihood in the years
to come, the knowledge that he had passed the meridian line of youth
without having achieved even the commencement of a career. And yet he
had begun so well, had made his mark at Trinity College, Cambridge,
among some of the cleverest young men of his day, had been on the point
of taking honours, when he fell in with Lavendale and his set, and,
fascinated by the touch-and-go wit and reckless spirits of that
profligate circle, had given himself up to pleasure, and just missed
distinction.

The eldest son of a country parson with a numerous family, utterly
without patrimony, Herrick had contrived to maintain his independence so
far by the use of his pen. He had turned his hand to most of the
varieties of literature: had written verses, plays, political pamphlets,
and even a cookery-book, and his brilliant style and fashionable
connections had insured him the countenance of the publishers and the
favour of the public. Whether he wrote at Istamboul, Vienna, or Rome,
Herrick had always the same tone of good society, and the same air of
knowing every detail of the latest scandal. That he had dressed up old
stories from the scandalous memoirs of the French Court, and adapted
them to Mr. Pulteney and Miss Anna Maria Gumley, or the Prince of Wales
and Mrs. Bellenden, or General Churchill and Mrs. Oldfield, was to the
credit of his intelligence. "When the public want a new scandal I
contrive to find it for them," he said; "and if invention fail, I can at
the worst resuscitate an old one."

His plays had been performed with various degrees of success; but one,
_Faint Hearts_ and _Fair Ladies_, a kind of salad or _olla podrida_
made up of scraps from Davenant, Molière, Wycherley, and Lope de Vega,
had run five-and-thirty nights, had been denounced from the pulpit by
Bishop Gibson, virulently abused by Jeremy Collier, and had made Mr.
Durnford's reputation as a dramatist. When reproached for the reckless
licentiousness of his dialogue and the immorality of his plot, Herrick
shrugged his shoulders, and replied that his play was not written to be
read at family prayers, nor intended for a Christmas present for
school-misses of seventeen.

And now, having in some measure emptied his bag, feeling very little of
the writer's impulse left in him, Herrick contemplated a future which
had somewhat a dreary aspect. What was he to do for an honest living?
The learned professions were closed against him. It was too late to
think of law or medicine. Many a man in his position would have drifted
naturally to the Church, or would have taken advantage of Lavendale's
power to bestow preferment on his bosom friend. But Durnford was not
base enough to carry his unbelief to the pulpit or the altar. The Church
was closed against him for ever by that melancholy materialism which
had crept over him since he left college--a mind always questioning
Nature and never finding any satisfactory answer.

There had been hours of despondency when he had thought of leaving
England for ever, and casting in his lot with Bishop Berkeley at his new
university of Bermuda; but although the bill had been passed for the
endowment of the university, Walpole had not yet advanced the 20,000_l._
promised, and the Bermuda scheme was still in the clouds.

No, there was nothing for him but his pen--unless he could turn
mountebank and air his handsome person on the stage. Actors were all the
fashion just now, the pets and playthings of society. Or unless he could
get into Parliament and sell himself to the chief of his party. Sir
Robert, the great trafficker, was still in power, but his throne was
tottering, and it was said that when his fall should come it would be
more terrible than that of Wolsey. Ruin, impeachment, death even, loomed
in that dark future for him under whose rule England had been great
among the nations. There were some who said, "If Walpole escape,
Strafford was indeed a martyr."

"No, it is my pen that must support me," Herrick told himself, rambling
at ease by Chase and common-land, feeling as if that fresh morning air
were inspiration, and that genius and power were reviving in him. "After
all, 'tis the one easy vagabond mode of life that suits my character and
temperament. The lowest garreteer, the meanest hack that ever scribbled
for Curl or Lintot, is more his own master than the Queen's counsel who
has to fawn upon solicitors, or the parson who must preach lies once a
week and prate platitudes at the deathbeds of all his parishioners. Yes,
by my pen will I live; if it is a hand-to-mouth existence, it is at
least free. Fancies and original notions will come to me in my garret,
as the ravens came to the prophet in his cave. There is a mysterious
power which feeds the invention of poor devils who have to live by their
wits. An author's mind may be blank to-day, yet to-morrow teem with
schemes and suggestions. And who shall say that I may not some day be
famous? Joseph Addison was no better off than I am now when good luck
visited him in his garret up three pairs of stairs, in the person of
Godolphin's messenger with a commission for an epic on Blenheim."

He had been wandering in the wildest part of the Chase, scaring the
young pheasants from their feeding-ground, when he came suddenly upon
the rough post and rail fence which divided the Lavendale domain from
Fairmile Park; and he stopped, started, and clasped his hands at sight
of a face and figure which seemed more like the embodiment of a musing
poet's ecstasy than a being of commonplace flesh and blood.

A girlish face looked at him from a background of oak-branches, a
girlish form was leaning upon the moss-grown rail, while a couple of
dogs--a Newfoundland and an Irish setter--stood up with their fore-paws
on the rail, and barked their loudest at the stranger.

"Down, Sappho!" to the setter; "down, Cato, down!" said the girl, laying
her white hand first on one curly head and then on the other. "They
won't hurt you, sir," apologetically to the stranger, for whose blood
both dogs seemed panting. "I am sorry they should be so disagreeable.
Sappho, how can you? Don't you see the gentleman is not a tramp?"

Durnford looked at her, speechless with admiration. There was a
freshness of youthful beauty here which came upon him like a revelation:
the oval face, with its ivory tint and pale blush-rose bloom, the large
violet eyes, with dark lashes, and the wavy golden hair. Never had he
seen such colouring out of Italy or an Italian picture. The face was so
much more Italian than English, and yet there was a sweet simplicity
which was entirely native to this British soil, a candid girlish
innocence, as of a girl not too closely guarded nor too much counselled
by age and experience.

Those large velvety eyes looked up at him in perfect confidence.

"I thank you, madam, I am not afraid of your dogs. Down, Sappho! See,
this brown, curly-eared lady is friends with me at once, and Cato looks
civiller than he did just now. I have a passion for fine dogs like
these, and an Irish setter is my prime favourite of all the canine
race."

"My father had this one brought over from Ireland," said the girl; "she
is very clever after game, but he says I am spoiling her."

"I can imagine that your kindness may have an enervating effect," said
Durnford, smiling.

"But she's so clever in other ways. She begs for toast so prettily every
morning at breakfast, and my governess has taught her ever so many
tricks. Sappho, what will you do for your king?"

This was asked severely. Sappho looked bored, hesitated, snapped at a
passing fly, and then flung herself on the ground, and sprawled there,
with her tail wagging vehemently.

"Sappho!" remonstrated the girl, and the tail was quiet.

"_Dulce et decorum est_--" said Durnford, while Irene took a lump of
sugar out of her apron-pocket and rewarded her favourite.

"That's more than some patriots get for their devotion," he said,
laughing; and then he went on tentatively, "I think I must have the
honour of conversing with Mr. Bosworth's daughter."

She answered in the affirmative; and then, in the easiest way, they
drifted into conversation, walking side by side in shade and shine, with
the stout oak rail between them. Durnford talked of his recent travels;
Irene told him about her governess, and the last of her music and books.
It all came about as naturally as if they had both been children. They
spent half an hour thus, and then parted, promising to be at the same
spot at the same hour next day, when Durnford was to bring his
sketch-book and show her the pencil records of his wanderings. Irene had
not the slightest idea that there was anything wrong in such an
arrangement. She was utterly without shyness, as she was utterly without
knowledge of evil.

Durnford went back to the Abbey, feeling as Endymion might have felt
after conversing with Diana. "She is as beautiful as the Goddess of
Chastity, and even more innocent," he said to himself. "Lives there the
traitor base enough to wrong such purity? And she is heiress to old
Bosworth's fortune, which rumour has exaggerated into a million. He made
money in the South Sea scheme, and he has been lucky on 'Change ever
since, 'tis said--yet these stock-jobbers often end by wrecking the
palace they have reared. If she is an heiress she is not for me, save by
the baseness of an elopement and a Mayfair marriage; and that were to
take the vilest advantage of girlish innocence and heavenly confidence.
But how fast I am running on! Because I have fallen over head and ears
in love with her in the first half-hour of our acquaintance, am I such a
fool as to suppose she is just as ready to fall in love with me--with a
battered rake of thirty? Why, to her, doubtless, I seem a middle-aged
man--a grave and philosophical personage with whom she may safely
converse, as with the village doctor or the village parson. If I had
appeared before her like a fine gentleman, in all the glory of
Spitalfields velvet and embroidery, powder and patches, she would have
fled from me, like Daphne from Phoebus; but my careless gray suit and
unpowdered hair, and my careworn looks, suggested only mature years and
discretion. Will she come to-morrow, I wonder? and how shall I live for
twenty-four weary hours without her?"



CHAPTER VII.

"HOW SWEET AND INNOCENT'S THE COUNTRY MAID!"


Rena appeared at the promised hour next day, as punctually as if she had
been indeed that spirit of the woodland to whom Herrick likened her. He
showed her the contents of his sketch-book, told her more about his
travels, and they talked gaily and happily for nearly an hour, when she
started, looked at her watch, and vowed that she would be late for
dinner, and that her governess would be waiting for her.

"Did you tell your governess of our _rencontre_ yesterday, and how your
dogs barked at me?" asked Durnford carelessly, yet with a keen look in
his dark gray eyes.

She blushed and looked down.

"No," she faltered shyly: "she might have forbidden me to come to-day,
and I wanted so much to see the sketches. Will you mind if I tell her
to-day? I think I must tell her," she pleaded, with bewitching
_naïveté_. "Do you know that I never had a secret from her before?"

"Be sure if you do tell her she will forbid you ever to be civil to me
again," said Durnford; "there will be an end of all our pleasant gossip
across this dear old rail."

"Is it wrong, then, for me to talk to you?"

"Your governess would think it wrong: your father would shut you up and
keep you on bread and water rather than leave you at liberty to talk to
me."

"Why?" she asked, with a look of distress.

"Because you are a wealthy heiress and I am a poor devil--hack
scribbler--living by my wits."

"But you are not a bad man?" half compassionatingly, half in terror.

"There have been many worse; yet I am far from perfect. _You_ will never
hear one word of evil from my lips, or inspire one base thought in my
mind. To _you_ I shall be all goodness."

"Then Mademoiselle cannot object to my seeing you now and then; I'll
bring her here to-morrow. She can't walk so far, but I have a
pony-carriage in which I sometimes drive her round the park."

"Don't!" pleaded Herrick, clasping her hand for the first time. "Do not,
for pity's sake, dispel my happy dream; do not breathe one word of your
new friend to any one. Be assured it would end everything. You would
fade for ever from my life, like some lovely paradisaic vision, and
leave me in everlasting darkness. Let me see you now and then, just as
we have met to-day. It cannot last long; I must go back to London
shortly with my friend Lavendale. I shall be swallowed in the vortex of
London life, full of temptations and wickednesses of every kind. Be my
good angel while you can. Elderly people like your father and your
governess would never be able to understand our friendship: how pure,
how holy, how secure for you, how elevating for me. Do not tell your
governess of my existence, Miss Bosworth, or at least tell her not until
you feel there is danger or discredit in my acquaintance."

He drew himself up and took off his hat after the loftier gallantry of
those days, with a dignity that impressed the inexperienced girl. She
felt somehow that he was to be trusted; just as in the first moment of
their acquaintance she had turned to him with an instinctive confidence,
at once admitting him to her friendship.

"I am afraid it is wrong to have a secret from my good old governess, be
it ever so small a one," she said, "but I will try to oblige you, sir."

She made him a low curtsy in response to his stately bow, and ran off as
lightly as a fawn, her white gown flashing amidst the trees as she
melted from Herrick's vision.

After this there were many meetings, long confidences, much talk of the
past and of the present, but no hint about the future; interviews at
which the dogs were the only assistants, their gambols making interludes
of sportiveness in the midst of gravity. Herrick kept a close watch upon
himself, and breathed not one word of love, he knew instinctively that
to reveal himself as a lover would be to scare his innocent mistress,
and end this sweet midsummer dream of his in terror and confusion. It
was as her friend, her trusted companion, that he won her young heart,
and when, on the eve of his return to London, they parted--with paleness
and tears held back on her side, and on his with all the tokens of
passion kept in check--it was still as her friend that he bade her
good-bye.

"When I come back to Lavendale it may perchance be in a new character,"
he said, "would fortune only favour me."

"Why should you wish to change?" she asked. "Or is it that you are
thinking of some new book or play which is to make you famous?"

Herrick blushed, recalling that play which had done most for his renown.
He felt at this moment that he would rather put his right hand in the
flames like Cranmer than win money or fame by such another production.
But he was a creature of impulses, and the good impulses had just now
the upper hand. He felt purified, lifted out of himself, in this
virginal presence.

Yet as he walked back to the Manor after that tender parting--tender,
albeit no word of love was spoken--his thoughts, in spite of himself,
took an earthlier strain.

She had paled when they parted, and there had been a look in her eyes
which revealed the dawn of love. He could not doubt that she was fond of
him. Why should he not have her? A post-chaise at a handy point, a few
passionate words of entreaty, tears, despair, a threat of suicide
perhaps, and then off to London as fast as horses could carry them, and
to handy Parson Keith, who had just set up that little chapel in Mayfair
which was to be the scene of so many distinguished marriages, dukes and
beauties, senators and dukes' daughters, and who boasted that his chapel
was better than a bishopric. Why should he not so win her? There was no
chance that he would ever win her by any fairer means. And if he,
Herrick, from highflown notions of honour hung back and let her be taken
to London by the Squire, she would be run after by all the adventurers
in town, a mark for the basest stratagems, or perchance given to some
worn-out roué with a high-sounding title--money trucked against
strawberry-leaves.

No, these strained notions of chivalry became not a penniless devil, a
man who, as his enemies said, had to go tick for the paper on which he
wrote his lampoons. If he meant to win her he should win her how and
when he could, should strike at once and boldly, as your true Irish
heiress-hunter stalks his quarry, seizing the first propitious moment,
taking fortune's golden tide at the flood.

He told himself this, and even began to meditate his plan of attack, but
in the next instant relented, remembering her innocence, her
trustfulness.

"No, I will not steal her," he said. "She shall be mine if passion and
resolve can win her; but she shall be mine of her own free will. She
shall not be hustled or entrapped into marriage. She shall come to my
arms freely as a queen who mates with a subject. She shall come to me
and say, 'You, Herrick Durnford, have I chosen above all other men to
share my heart and my fortune.' Yes, by Heaven, she shall ask me to
marry her. There is nothing less than that which could justify a proud
penniless man in marrying a woman of fortune."

Those boisterous spirits who had known Mr. Durnford in Vienna and Paris,
the boon companions who had gamed and drunk and roystered with him in
the most dissipated haunts of those two dissipated cities, would
assuredly hardly have recognised their sometime associate in the man who
sauntered slowly through the woodland, with hands deep in pockets, bent
head and dreaming eyes, full of the vision of a brighter, better, and
more profitable life, which should bring him nearer the girl he loved.
What would he not do for her sake, what would he not sacrifice, what
might he not achieve? With such a pole-star to guide him, surely a man
might navigate the roughest sea.

"I will do that which I have never yet done," he said to himself, "I
will work with all my might and main. I have trifled with whatever parts
Heaven has wasted on me; I have been careless of my own gifts, have
contrived to get bread and cheese out of the mere scum that floats atop
of my mind. I will go on another principle henceforward. I will dig
deep, and if there be any genuine metal in the mine, by Heaven it shall
be worked to the uttermost! If a man can win independence by his brains
and an inkpot, it shall go hard if I am for ever a pauper. Rich I can
never be: fortunes are not made out of books: but I will earn an honest
living; and then if she love me well enough to say, 'My heart and
fortune are yours, Herrick,' I will not blush to accept the prize, and
to wear it boldly before all the world."

Sweet musings, which made the hum of summer insects and waving of summer
boughs seem the very harmony of Paradise to that fond dreamer. Yet ever
and anon athwart his tender reverie there came a darkening cloud of
doubt.

"Dreams, Herrick, dreams!" he muttered in self-scorn. "Who knows that
to-morrow night you will not be roaring drunk in some West End tavern,
having lost your last shilling at hazard, or perchance breaking crowns
and beating the watch, in company with some tearing midnight ramblers we
wot of?"

Not one word had Durnford breathed to Lavendale about his wood-nymph. He
too well knew his friend's frivolity and inconstant fancies with regard
to women. A lovely heiress would have seemed a natural prey to the
_roué_ who had ever exercised a potent fascination over the weaker sex,
and who deemed himself invincible. Lavendale had his own pursuits at
the Manor: yawned and dawdled through the day, took a hand at piquet
with Durnford of an evening, sat deep into the night in the old
chapel-room with the Italian student, poring over monkish manuscripts
and mediæval treatises in dog Latin. Lavendale cared but little for
Nature in her mildest aspects. The mountain and the torrent, stormy
volcanoes, all that is wild and wonderful in Nature, had a charm for his
eager soul; but the leafy glades of Surrey, the low hills and winding
river, interested him no more than an enamelled picture on a snuffbox.

"I cannot conceive what you can find to amuse you morning after morning
among my oaks and beeches," he exclaimed to Durnford. "You must be
horribly hipped, and you will be glad to go back to London, I take it,
even though the town must be almost empty of good company."

And now on this fair June morning, after taking his farewell of Irene,
Herrick was surprised to see Lavendale riding along the avenue leading
to the Manor House at an hour when that gentleman was generally lounging
on a sofa, sipping his midday chocolate and dallying with the _Flying
Post_ or _Read's Weekly Journal_.

"Why, Jack, what took your lordship out so early?" he asked, emerging
from a by-path, and overtaking the sauntering horse.

"Business, Herrick, business, which means money. I have been with the
village lawyer, who wrote to apprise me of an offer made by my
neighbour, Mr. Bosworth, for a paddock or two adjoining his home
farm--conterminous land, the fellow called it, all but worthless to me,
he insinuated, and tried to make me believe it grows only docks, when it
is to my knowledge as rich a pasture as any in Surrey, but to Mr.
Bosworth it would be useful, to complete his ring-fence. 'Hang his
ring-fence!' says I; 'what is he that his estate should be made perfect
to the detriment of mine? If he wants my meadow he will have to pay for
it as if it were a gold-mine in Peru.' While I was talking in comes the
Squire himself, and was vastly agreeable, professing himself charmed to
renew my acquaintance after so many years. He remembered seeing me with
my mother, he said, when I used to ride my pony beside her carriage,
and when I was the prettiest little lad in the county. Curse his
impudence for remembering me and my prettiness! And then he began to
talk about the meadows. They make a little promontory or peninsula, it
seems, that runs into his estate, which he has been extending on all
sides ever since he owned it, and spoils the look of his territory on
the map. I played him nicely, pretending to be the soul of good-nature,
meaning to get a usurer's profit on my land if I consent to sell, and it
ended in his asking me to dine with him to-day, and my accepting on
condition that I take my friend with me. 'Where I go my friend Durnford
must be made welcome,' says I. So you are booked, Herrick, for a bad
dinner, since they all say that our neighbour is a skinflint."

Herrick flushed crimson with delight. To dine under the roof that
sheltered her, to sit at meat with her perhaps, see her sweetly smiling
at him on the other side of the board, his wood-nymph become mortal, and
eating and drinking like mere vulgar clay!

"Why, Herrick, you look as pleased as if you were asked to a state
dinner at Leicester House, or to hob and nob with the chiefs of the Whig
party! I thought you would be put out at having our London trip
postponed for twenty-four hours."

"I have no passion for the distractions of St. James's, where I always
feel a fish out of water, and I have a certain curiosity about this
Squire Bosworth, whom I take to be a character."

"How pat you have his name!"

"I have a good memory for names."

"Well, hold yourself in readiness, and put on your smartest suit. Squire
Hunks dines at four. I fancy it will be a Barmecide feast, such as
little Pope hits off in an unpublished lampoon upon certain kinsfolk of
mine. But there is a daughter, it seems, and she is to sing to us after
dinner."

"What, she sings!" cried Herrick, enraptured.

"Ay, she sings, man! Why should she not sing? Half the shes in England
can pipe up some kind of strain, though with ten out of every dozen that
which delights the performer excruciates her audience. But Miss Bosworth
is an heiress, Herrick, and I mean to admire, screech she even more
hoarsely than our pied peacocks yonder."

"You mean to court Miss Bosworth, perhaps?" said Herrick, drawing
himself up stiffly.

"I mean to do as the whim seizes me--you know I was ever a creature of
whim. 'Twas a whim lost me my true love Judith: and if a whim can catch
me a pretty heiress, it will be but one sharp turn of fortune's wheel
from despair to rapture."

"How do you know that she is pretty?" grumbled Herrick, racked with
jealousy.

"I have ears, friend, and other men have tongues. 'Twas old Hunks's
lawyer sang the praises of young Miss's beauty. She is lovely, it seems,
and not an atom like her father, which would indeed have been an
altogether impossible conjunction."

Herrick went back to the Manor with his bosom torn by conflicting
emotions--fear lest his friend should turn into his rival, joy at the
thought that he was to spend some blessed hours in his idol's company.
He felt as if he could hardly live till four o'clock, so fluttered was
his heart with fond expectancy. He took out his best clothes and brushed
them carefully, and sighed over their shabbiness. The suit of
dove-coloured velvet, silver braided, and touched here and there with
scarlet, had been a handsome suit enough more than a year ago in Vienna,
where it was made: but it had passed through many a rough night of
pleasure, bore the stain of wine-splashes, and a burnt spot on one of
the lapels from the ashes of somebody's pipe. It had the air of a coat
that had lived hard, and seen bad company. Herrick flung it aside with
an oath.

"I will not wear so debauched a garment," he cried; "my gray cloth coat
is honest. I would rather look like a yeoman or a scrivener than like a
broken-down rake."

"Why, Durnford, man, you are dressed worse than a Quaker!" exclaimed
Lavendale, radiant in claret-coloured velvet coat and French-gray satin
waistcoat and smalls.

"And you are vastly too smart for a country dinner-table," said Herrick.

"O, but one cannot be too fine when one is going courting. Young misses
adore pretty colours and gay clothes. I think I see the motive of your
sober gray. It is pure generosity, a sacrifice to friendship; you would
let me dazzle without a rival."

"Dazzle to your heart's content; shine out, butterfly. I thought a few
weeks ago that you had a heart."

"You were wrong. I had a heart till Judith broke it. That was three
years ago. Since she jilted me I have had nothing here but an insatiable
passion called vanity, always hungering for new conquests. I am like
Alexander, and lament when a day has passed without a victory. I pant to
conquer the Squire's daughter. I can picture her, Herrick, a
chubby-cheeked rustic beauty, all white muslin and blue ribbons."

The Lavendale coach had been ordered out to carry the two young men to
Fairmile Court with all due ceremony.

"It smells as mouldy as a mausoleum," said his lordship, as he stepped
into the carriage.

Fairmile Court had a less neglected and desolate aspect than it had worn
fifteen years before, when the Squire adopted the vagrant's baby. The
very presence of girlhood in the gray old house seemed to have
brightened it. Mademoiselle Latour's influence had also been for good;
governess and pupil had contrived to inspire the scanty household with a
love of neatness and order; and their own deft hands had dusted and
polished the quaint old furniture, and had filled great bowls of common
garden flowers, and glorified the old fireplaces with beau-pots, and had
worked wonders without spending an extra shilling of the Squire's
beloved money. All this had been done without any resistance offered by
Mrs. Barbara Layburne, who as long as she enjoyed substantial power,
ruled over the store-closets and wine-cellars, paid tradesmen and
servants, and regulated supplies of all kinds, cared not who beautified
rooms which she never entered, or cultivated flowers which she never
looked at. As the years went by, she had retired more and more within
herself, spending her days in the solitude of that little wainscoted
parlour which she had chosen for her retreat on her first coming to
Fairmile. It was almost the smallest, and assuredly the dismallest,
room in the house, at the end of a long dark passage, and overlooking
the stable-yard. Here she lived apart from all the household, and with
no companion save that old harpsichord which startled the stillness
sometimes late in the evening, accompanying a contralto voice of
exceptional power even in its decay. Those occasional strains of melody
had a ghostlike sound to Irene's ear, and always saddened her. Indeed,
Mrs. Barbara's personality had ever been one of the overshadowing
influences of the girl's life. She shrank with an involuntary recoil
from any intercourse with that strange wreck of the past. The pale stern
face with its traces of lost beauty chilled her soul.

"I do not think you can be many years younger than Mrs. Layburne," the
girl said to her governess one day.

"I doubt if she is not my junior by some years, pet."

"And yet you never give me the idea of being old, and she seems as if
her youth and all its happiness must have come to an end a century
ago."

"Ah, that is because my youth was a very calm and quiet business, Rena,
while I doubt hers was full of incident and passion. She is an extinct
volcano, my dear. The fires were all burnt out years ago, and only the
dark grim mountain remains, enclosing nothing but ashes and hollowness.
Such women are like corpses that walk about after the spirit has fled.
Mrs. Layburne must have ceased to live long ago."

       *       *       *       *       *

The two gentlemen were ushered into a long, low drawing-room,
oak-panelled and somewhat dark, the heavy mullioned windows being
designed rather for ornament than light. Some of the furniture had been
new when the house was new, other things were heirlooms from an older
house, and a few trifles had been added in the tea-drinking reign of
that good Queen and conscientious woman who had been translated from a
troubled kingdom to a peaceful one just twelve years ago. There was a
harpsichord at the further end of the room, and seated near it were two
ladies who rose at the entrance of the visitors, while Squire Bosworth,
who had been standing with his back to the flower-bedecked hearth, came
over to receive them.

"Welcome to Fairmile Court, my Lord Lavendale; your servant, Mr.
Durnford," said Bosworth, as he shook hands with his guests; "my
daughter, Miss Bosworth, Mademoiselle Latour."

The little old lady in gray satinet made a curtsy which bespoke Parisian
elegance of the highest water, and to which Herrick responded with one
of his French bows. Lavendale had eyes only for the heiress.

"Lovely as the lady in _Comus_," he said to himself, "and knows about as
much of the world and its ways, I doubt. By Heaven, she is foredoomed as
a prize to the boldest!"

Herrick and Irene greeted each other with a charming ceremony. Both
being prepared, they acted their parts admirably.

"What do you think of him, Maman?" whispered the girl to her governess,
when those two had retired from the masculine group.

"He has too much the look of a fine gentleman," answered
Mademoiselle, with her eyes upon Lavendale, "and he carries his
head with an invincible air which always makes me detest a man. Do
you remember that story I told you of Lauzun, who married la grande
Mademoiselle?--'_Louise de Bourbon, ôtez-moi mes bottes._' Does he not
look just the kind of man to make a princess of the royal blood take his
boots off, were she fool enough to marry him?"

"Why, Maman, he has a look of proud humility, but not a spark of vanity
and foolishness. O, I see, you are looking at Lord Lavendale, in his
velvet and satin. I was asking you about Mr. Durnford."

"Eh, child! what, the poor companion? Have you found time to spare _him_
a glance, when that irresistible fopling shines and sparkles there as if
he would put the very sunshine out of countenance by his brilliancy?
Yes, the companion has an interesting face, very grave, yet there is a
look about the corners of the mouth which bespeaks a cynical humour. He
looks shabby beside his patron, and poor, and, as you say, pet, he has
an air of proud humility which I rather like. It becomes a dependent to
be proud."

"O, but he is no dependent. He is a writer; has written politics, and
plays, and even verses," the girl answered eagerly.

"Why, child, when and where did you hear about him?"

"Dinner is served, sir," announced the old butler, whereby he
unconsciously extricated Irene from a dilemma. Mademoiselle forgot the
question she had asked before there was a chance of repeating it.

The dinner was much better than his lordship had anticipated, for Squire
Bosworth had sent his housekeeper peremptory orders that the meal should
be as good a one as could be provided on such short notice, and Mrs.
Layburne knew him too well to disobey him. Rare old wines had been
brought out of cobweb-festooned bins, and the good old strawberry-beds
and raspberry-bushes had yielded their treasures for the dessert. Fish
there was none attainable, but soup, and joints, and poultry were
followed by a course of pastry and rich puddings, all in the abundant
and solid fashion of the times.

Lavendale declared afterwards that he would have preferred the
scantiness of Harpagon's table to this reeking profusion. "Nobody knows
how to feed upon this side of the Channel," he complained. "For a man of
delicate appetite, who can dine off the wing of a chicken and an olive
or two, it is torture to be placed in front of a smoking sirloin, or to
be asked to dive into the infinite capacities of a huge venison pie. I
would rather sup on tripe or cow-heel with some of the wits and
garretteers we know, than be sickened by the greasy abundance of a
country gentleman's table."

But this grumbling came afterwards, and for talking's sake. Lavendale
seemed very much in his element at the Squire's board, where he sat next
the heiress, and talked to her of those London amusements of which she
knew so little, even by hearsay.

"What, have you never seen a playhouse? never played the devil with a
score or two of adorers at a masquerade?" he exclaimed.

"I have never been in London in my life," Rena answered simply.

"Impossible! Live within thirty miles of Paradise, and never try to
enter its gates!"

"Your lordship forgets that my little girl yonder is not much more than
a child, and knows much less of the world than many children."

"Faith, Mr. Bosworth, I believe that. There are children in London who
could astonish your gray hairs: drawing-room playthings that are thought
of no more consequence than a shock dog, and that nestle in their
mothers' hoops open-eyed and open-eared to everything that is going on
about them. I wonder little Pope in all his characters has never given
us the modish child. But, seriously now, Miss Bosworth here is no longer
a baby; she has been growing up, Squire, while you have looked the other
way. You must take her to London next November; you must get her
presented at Court, and let her have her fling in the winter."

"We'll think about it, my lord. How old are you, Irene?"

"I was eighteen last April, papa."

"Eighteen! Well, I suppose it is time you should see some good company.
I shall have to take a house at the West End, and Mademoiselle must get
her fan and mantilla, and prepare to play duenna. Would you like to
spend a winter in London, Rena?"

Irene hesitated, glanced at Durnford, who, on the watch for any act of
beneficence from those lovely eyes, responded with an adoring look, and
a little nod of the head, which meant "Snap at the offer of a London
season."

She remembered how he had told her he must get his living in town.

"O my dear father, there is nothing in the world I wish for so much."

The Squire sighed. This country seclusion was safe, and suited him best.
He looked thoughtfully at Lavendale. He was young, though not in his
first youth; he had a respectable title, and his estate joined that
which would some day belong to Irene. A match between those two must
needs be advantageous--if Lavendale would altogether reform his
character, and if the estate were not too heavily encumbered. The
country attorney, who looked after Lavendale's property, had assured Mr.
Bosworth that the mortgages were mere bagatelles, and of recent date.
Lavendale had been extravagant, but he had started with a handsome
fortune in ready money, the accumulation of his minority. "Well, we will
take a taste of town pleasures," said the Squire, after a pause, "if
Lord Lavendale will be our _cicisbeo_ and Mentor. I have not seen the
inside of a playhouse since the beginning of the century, and they tell
me there are now six theatres, where there used to be but two, and that
masquerades are more fashionable than ever."

They all went back to the drawing-room together, in the French fashion,
which Lavendale suggested as an improvement on English manners.

"I languish till I hear Miss Bosworth sing," he cried; and at her
father's bidding, Irene seated herself at the harpsichord, and began a
little song of Lully's with some old French words.

How full, and round, and rich the fresh young notes sounded to ears that
had been sated by fine singing in the three great capitals of London,
Paris, and Vienna! and with what tender expression the singer pronounced
those simple childlike lines about Strephon, who had abandoned his
hillside, and left his flock and Chloe lamenting! Strephon would be gone
to-morrow, and Fairmile Park would be desolate without him. They might
meet again in London in November--would so meet, most likely, for his
lordship and Mr. Durnford were inseparables; but how was the yawning
gulf between July and November to be bridged over? how was that great
gap in time to be lived through? Irene sang song after song at his
lordship's entreaty. He was not, like Mr. Topsparkle, _fanatico per la
musica_, a creature who ran after _prime donne_, and thought an Italian
tenor the noblest development of human genius; he could not sit at an
organ and play for hours like a soul possessed by the spirit of melody;
but he had a very genuine love of music, a good deal of taste, and a
little knowledge, and he hung enraptured over the harpsichord, and gave
Durnford innumerable agonies during every song Irene sang, agonies which
poisoned the sweetness of her voice and the beauty of every melody.
Scarlatti, was it? Corelli, Handel? Who cared what composer had woven
that web in which his soul was caught and tortured? She was singing to
Lavendale. It was to Lavendale her lovely eyes were lifted as she
answered his questions between the songs. Lavendale was stealing her
heart away from him, that heart which had been so nearly his.

"He has a potency with women which is almost diabolical. It may be his
faith in himself which makes him irresistible, that certainty of
conquering which almost always conquers, where there are good looks and
a spice of wit to sustain audacity. Yes, he will win her, or he will
race me hard for the prize; but by ----," and Herrick clenched his fist,
with a big oath, sitting in a shadowy corner behind the harpsichord
where nobody noted him, "he shall have a fight for it! I meant to deal
honestly with her, but I won't be cheated out of her love. If I can't
have her with fair play, I will try foul. I won't stand on one side and
doff my hat while my friend leads her to the altar."

Such a reverie as this boded ill for innocent Irene yonder, smiling at
the keys of her harpsichord, her whole soul in the music, heedless of
Lord Lavendale's compliments, neither valuing them nor fearing them, as
easy in her simplicity as a woman of fashion after her seventh season:
ill, too, for Irene boded Lavendale's musing, which tended to a
determination to win the heiress, and repair his fortunes with one
triumphant stroke. He had been told of that great _coup_ made by Mr.
Bosworth during the South Sea craze--how he had bought largely when the
shares were first issued; held gingerly, always on the alert for a
catastrophe; and how he had played a vigorous part with the bulls in
sending up the value of the stock to an almost fabulous point, and just
when the town was maddest had sold his shares for exactly ten times the
price at which he had bought them.

"God help the wretches who bought that rotten stock!" thought Lavendale.
"He only knows how the blood of suicides and the tears of orphans may
have stained that worthless paper--but that is Bosworth's business and
not mine. She is the prettiest, sweetest soul I have seen for ages, and
what would Lady Judith say if I faced her at fête or ridotto with such
beauty and freshness hanging on my arm, and a fortune behind it? That
proud soul would be humbled at the thought of my triumph. I shall never
forget her insolence as she passed me in the Park. Her pride infected
the air of London for me. I would not go back to town if she were there;
but the papers tell me she is queening it at Topsparkle's Abbey in
Hampshire, with a houseful of grand company, all the old Tories and
out-of-office gentry flattering and fawning upon her, and manoeuvring
for her husband's half-dozen boroughs."

Lord Lavendale's coach was announced at ten o'clock, and the two
gentlemen took their leave.

"If you have more guns than birds next October, you and your friends are
welcome to my pheasants, Lord Lavendale," said the Squire, as he
escorted his neighbour to the hall. "I am no sportsman, and I keep no
company. I hope we shall see more of you when you come back from town."

"Nay, Mr. Bosworth, thirty miles is not an overwhelming distance. I
think I shall take a leaf out of your book and oscillate 'twixt town and
country. I have an old house in Bloomsbury which ought to be aired
occasionally; and I have a place here that has been too long abandoned
to rats and solitude. Pray do not think that you are rid of me till
October."

They parted with cordial hand-shakings, and an assurance on his
lordship's part that there should be no difficulty about the peninsula
of meadowland.

"By Heaven, Herrick, she is an angel!" cried Lavendale, when he and his
friend were snug in the coach.

"You say that of every handsome woman you meet, from a duchess to a
rope-dancer," growled Herrick.

"Ay, but there are many degrees in the angelic host, and there are
fallen angels, and those whose wings are but slightly smirched. This one
is pure and radiant as the seraph Abdiel when he left the revolted host,
and flew straight to the throne of the Eternal. She is the divinest
creature I ever met--"

"Not excepting Lady Judith!"

"Come, there is nothing divine about _her_. We are both agreed on that
point. Never from her babyhood was she as pure and childlike as this
heavenly recluse. She is adorable, Herrick, and if I have any charm or
power with women--"

"O, the hypocrisy of that 'if'!" cried his friend, with a mocking laugh.

"Well, I will phrase it otherwise. Whatever influence I have over the
softer sex shall be exerted to the utmost to win that lovely soul--"

"And her hundred thousand or million, or whatever it may be," sneered
the other.

"And her fortune, which will help to set me up in respectability. Why,
with such wealth I might hope to buy political followers enough to make
me Prime Minister. But she is so completely lovely that I swear I should
be over head and ears in love with her if she were a milkmaid."

"Yes, and would take her for your plaything and grow tired of her in a
month, and forsake her and leave her to die heart-broken," said the
other.

"Why, Herrick, you are all bitterness to-night. You have drunk just too
much to be civil and too little to be good company. You are in the
cantankerous stage of inebriety. Why should you begrudge me an heiress
if I have the wit to win one? God knows I have never grudged you
anything, and it is your own fault that we have not been more equal
partakers of fortune."

"Forgive me, Jack, you are always generous to me: but it is because I
know you have sometimes been ungenerous to women that I feel surly and
sullen about this one. I know, too, that your heart belongs to Lady
Judith--that were you to marry this dear innocent girl to-morrow you
would desert her the day after, did that old love of yours but beckon
you with her little finger. Would it not be wiser to be true to the
ancient flame and see what kindly Fate may do for you? Mr. Topsparkle is
past sixty and has lived hard. Why should you not wait till the
inevitable reaper mows down that full-bottomed wig of his?"

"Nay, Herrick, 'tis ill waiting for dead men's shoes, and I doubt if Mr.
Topsparkle's be not a better life than mine. He has taken care of
himself and been cautious even in his pleasures, while I have defied
Fate. There is something here," touching his breast, "which warns me
that I must make the most of a short life."



CHAPTER VIII.

"HE SPRINGS TO VENGEANCE WITH AN EAGER PACE."


Lord Lavendale's house in Bloomsbury Square had an air of neglect and
desolation when the two young men arrived there unexpectedly in the dusk
of a summer evening, having ridden all the way from Lavendale Manor.
Dreary and cold looked that dining-room in which his lordship's father
had entertained the wits and politicians of King William's sober,
serious reign; and where his reprobate son had rivalled his chosen
model, Henry St. John, in drunkenness and profligacy, and, in sheer
defiance of decency, had feasted his friends of the Calf's Head Club, on
the twenty-ninth of January, with a calf's head, wearing the likeness of
a kingly crown made of cut lemon and parsley, to symbolise that royal
martyr whose sad memory the Whigs loved to insult and outrage; and where
the Mohawks had held many a revel, and brought many a victim, faint,
breathless, and half-dead with terror, to suffer some finishing touch
of brutality from those civilised savages, and then to be turned out
upon the town again and bade go take the law of their tormentors.

"What fools we have been in this room, Herrick!" said Lavendale, drawing
his chair to the hearth, where his man had lighted some logs, the night
being damp, and his lordship feeling chilly after his long ride. "What
senseless saturnalia we have held here at cost of health, wealth, and
honour! Yet that is what we called life in those days--to be blind-drunk
and half-mad, and to dance in a circle round some unoffending cit,
pricking his poor innocent legs with the points of our swords, or to
tilt some harmless servant-wench feet upwards and frighten her into an
apoplexy."

"Or to tip the lion, Jack; that was, I think, our highest achievement.
Shall you ever forget how we flattened the nose of the Jew money-lender,
and sent him home, moaning, and howling on Adonai?"

"Ay, that was a noble retribution; _that_ I am proud to remember."

"Or when we lured old Mother Triplet of the India shop in Paternoster
Row from her cosy back-parlour, on pretence of treating her to a
cow-heel supper and rumbullion at a tavern in Newgate Street, and then
sent her rolling down Snow Hill in an old tar-barrel. Methinks there was
a touch of righteousness there, for she had been the ruin of many a maid
and wife by her venal complaisance in finding a trysting-place for
clandestine lovers."

"True, Herrick; never was a hasty journey better deserved than that
comfortable stout old lady's descent of Avernus. After all, there was a
kind of wild justice in most of our pranks. Would that I were young
enough to play such fooleries again, or to drink the bravest of the
bottle-men under the table, as I once could! But the candle is near
burnt out, friend, the flame is dim and pale, and flickers in the socket
ever and anon, as if it would expire in the first gust of adverse fate!"

"Tush, Jack, you love to put on the dolefuls! That melancholy air of
yours has been but too successful with women. There's nothing so
fascinating as the sadness of a _roué_."

"I dreamt of my mother last night, Durnford. It was Miss Bosworth's face
that was in my mind as I laid my head on my pillow; but it was the
mournful countenance of my mother which visited my slumbers. She pleaded
with me against my evil passions, as she had done many a time when I was
a wayward wilful boy; urged me to lead a good life. 'Yes, for your
sake,' I answered; 'only for your sake, mother;' and woke with those
words on my lips. My voice had a ghostly sound as I woke in the darkness
and heard it; and after that there was not a wink of sleep for me in all
the long slow hours that followed the summer dawn. I lay and thought of
Judith. O Herrick, how I loved that woman!"

"Yes, and love her still, and yet would marry another."

"I must marry in order that I may mend. Nothing but a good wife and a
happy home can cure my wounds. Do you call this a home, for instance?"
he asked bitterly, looking round the large room, with its handsome
ponderous furniture and crimson damask hangings, so dark a red as to
seem almost black in the dim light of the two tall candles. "Has it not
a funereal air? And yet it smells of old orgies. It seems to me as if
those curtains exhale Burgundy and champagne, and still reek of strong
waters."

Late as it was by the time they had supped, Lavendale insisted upon
going out and on taking Durnford with him. There would be some of the
chocolate-houses or gambling-dens in the neighbourhood of Leicester
Fields or Soho still open, though it was past eleven o'clock.

"I will go with you if you like," said Durnford, "but I shall be like a
skeleton at your feast, for I have made up my mind never again to touch
a card."

"And how many nights or hours will that mind of yours last, do you
suppose, Herrick, when you hear the musical rattle of the ivories, the
soft seductive sound of the dice sliding gently on to the board of green
cloth? Pshaw, man! as if I did not know you, and that you are at heart a
gambler!"

"Perhaps, but my gambling henceforth shall take a loftier aim. I will
play at cards with fortune, and my counters shall be courage and
industry. I am going to turn over a new leaf, Jack."

"You have turned over so many that you must be pretty well through the
book of good resolutions by this time. But what in the name of all
that's wonderful has made you virtuous, Herrick? You are not in love
with an heiress, and bent upon domesticity as I am."

"If you are so, stop at home."

"Not in this house. It smells like the tomb of dead pleasures. When I
look back and think of my wild youth within these four walls I feel like
an old man. And yet thirty-one is hardly on the confines of senility, is
it, Herrick?"

"Thirty-one should be the bloom of youth."

"Come, boy, let us to the little chocolate-house at the corner of Golden
Square, which is nearly as modish as White's, and much more select. The
proprietor boasts of dukes who have been ruined on his premises, and of
women of rank who have pawned more than their diamonds and parted with
more than I O U's after a night at basset."

"I will go with you, but not to play," answered Herrick, as they put on
their hats.

"You were always as obstinate as Old Nick. Yet you should be fond of the
dice-box, for you have ever had the devil's luck at cards, and ought to
live by play."

"Yes, I have had that kind of diabolical good fortune which seems like
an omen that I shall be lucky in nothing else. But I am not going to
live by hazard, even to oblige you. I would rather starve."

"You are right, Herrick. It is the basest mode of subsistence, or almost
the basest. There are one or two worse ways of living in this modern
Babylon of ours; but for a gentlemanly profession, I grant you gambling
is about the worst. We need neither of us play, but we may as well
stroll to Golden Square and take a dish of chocolate, and hear what is
going on at the Court end of town, now that everybody is in the country,
and the last good story about the Prince and his wife's waiting-woman."

"Strange how these sober Hanoverians, these passionless money-grubbers,
affect the libertine airs of a Philip of Orleans or a Duc de
Richelieu," said Herrick.

"O, but we cannot do without a profligate king," exclaimed Lavendale.
"See how much gayer and pleasanter town has been since sober-minded,
pious, domestic Anne gave place to these gay Hanoverian dogs, who
imitate old Rowley in little, yet with a certain bourgeois
respectability in their arrangements to which he never condescended. See
how the theatres have multiplied, and how Italian opera and French plays
have thriven, in spite of the prejudiced mob; and our masquerades,
balls, ridottos, call them what you will, do we not owe them also to
King George, who has encouraged enterprising Heidegger? No such
benefaction for a nation as a prince who loves pleasure. Trade thrives
and the land fattens under the rule of a _roué_. Remember how England
prospered under Charles II."

They were in the street by this time, or rather that mixture of town and
country which lay between Bloomsbury and Golden Square. The rain had
ceased, the sky had cleared, and the moon was high, a night such as
footpads and highwaymen love not. In this clear summer weather there
were fewer murders and robberies than in the long dark nights of autumn
and winter, and even that favourite haunt of London banditti, Denmark
Street, St. Giles's, might be passed with safety.

Golden Square was then one of the newest and handsomest squares in
London. It had been built towards the close of the last reign, and it
was here that St. John in his brief day of power had furnished and
decorated a splendid mansion, from which disgrace drove him across the
Channel, a fugitive in an ignominious disguise, six months after the
late Queen's death, to return on sufferance only the other day, after
long years of exile, with honours shorn and mind embittered; to return
as clever, as unscrupulous, and as mischievous in his impotent maturity
as ever he had been in his active and brilliant youth.

The chocolate-house was full of company when the two gentlemen entered.
Although London was supposed to be empty at this time of the year, there
was always a section of society which preferred the town to the
country--wits, journalists, actors, garreteers, reprobates of all kinds,
to whom rusticity was revolting, and the song of the nightingale an
intolerable monotony. The King's Theatre was closed for the dull season,
but there had been a company of French players at the new theatre on the
opposite side of the Haymarket, and these had been the occasion of a
good deal of talk, and some ill-feeling among the more bigoted British
playgoers; for sturdy John Bull bore almost as deep a grudge against the
French comedians as against Heidegger's Italian singers, who were paid
better than bishops or Cabinet Ministers.

The company was curiously mixed on this particular evening. At one table
sat a little group of fashionable gentlemen, including a brace of peers
and a baronet; at another a knot of pamphleteers, in which Mr. Philter
was conspicuous by the loudness of his voice and the arrogance of his
opinions.

"A new poem by the Poet Pug," he cried, in answer to a grave-looking
gentleman opposite him; "a satirical epic better than anything he ever
writ before, say you, sir? Whoever told you of such a work was fooling
you. Why, the man's vein was exhausted a year ago. His tiny talent
reached its apogee in 'The Rape of the Lock.' And to talk of a
satirical epic from that effete little hunchback, whose meretricious
Muse was at best but a jackdaw stalking in borrowed plumes, a mere
tricky adapter of Horace and Boileau, who by the aid of a little Latin,
less French, and a great deal of audacity, contrived to take the town!"

"Nay, 'twas not so much by his verse as by the magnitude of his libels
and the pettiness of his amours that our Alexander the Little contrived
to conquer notoriety," said Philter's umbra, fat little Jemmy Ludderly,
who was supposed to live upon tripe and cow-heel at the cheap
eating-houses in Clare or Newport Market, except when the swaggering
Philter treated him at the West End.

"You are not an admirer of Mr. Pope, sir," remarked the grave gentleman.

"No, sir. I knew his master, Dryden. I have sat at Wills's coffee-house
many a night with glorious John."

"No man is glorious till after death," said the other. "I have a notion
that with posterity Pope will enjoy a more universal popularity than his
great predecessor; there may be less grandeur and force in his verses,
but there is more music and a finer wit. I can scarce contain my
indignation against the kennel of petty curs, poetasters, caricaturists,
and half-fledged wits, who are for ever libelling so great a master of
his art, and who pretend to despise the finest mind in England because
it has the misfortune to be allied to a misshapen body."

"I see, sir, you are a close friend of the poet's."

"I am something more, sir," replied the other, with dignity; "I am his
publisher."

"Then I have the honour of addressing Mr. Lintot."

"The same, sir."

Lord Lavendale took his place at an unoccupied table, nodding to an
acquaintance here and there as he passed. His entrance made a kind of
faint flutter in the assembly, every one looking up from cards or
conversation, pipe or glass, to note him as he went by. His person was
known to almost everybody in London, and his long absence and the
rumours of strange adventures in Eastern Europe had made him an object
of general curiosity. People were of different opinions as to how many
duels he had fought, and how many women he had run away with; but all
were agreed that his course in foreign countries had been that of a
malignant star, the harbinger of dishonour and death.

"I was told Lavendale had grown old and ugly," said Lord Liskeard, a
Tory peer and bosom friend of Bolingbroke, to a Whig baronet; "but to my
mind he looks as handsome and as young as he did the year he stole
Chichinette from the Duke of Wharton."

"Lavendale is like a beauty in her third or fourth season," answered Sir
Humphrey Dalmaine. "He looks his best by candlelight."

Lavendale ordered a bowl of punch, and presently invited Mr. Philter to
his table, who made no difficulty about leaving his friend Ludderly, and
came over at once, charmed to hob and nob with a lord.

"Fill your glass, Tom, and tell us the news of the town," said
Lavendale. "You are better than a gazette."

"I should be sorry to be as bad as the best of them, your lordship, for
I never looked at a newspaper yet, Whig or Jacobite, _Flying Post_ or
_St. James's Journal_, that was not a tissue of lies. I heard t'other
day that Lord Bolingbroke was incubating a new journal in the interests
of faction and of treachery."

"Do you know what new plot that shifty politician and her Grace of
Kendal are hatching?" inquired Lavendale.

"Nothing of any moment. There has been a dead level of stagnation in
Jacobite plots since the great conspiracy four years ago, when Bishop
Atterbury was sent to prison, and when the Irish priest Neynoe let
himself down from a two-story window by a rope of bed-clothes, leapt
into the Thames, and escaped the hangman by the less discreditable fate
of a watery grave. It was somewhat strange that those two arch-plotters,
his Grace of Rochester and Harry St. John, should meet and cross each
other at Calais, one going into exile, and t'other returning from it.
Since that famous explosion of ill-directed zeal we have had nothing
worth talking about in the way of plots, though you may be sure neither
his Grace of Rochester nor my Lord Bolingbroke has been idle, and that
the Channel between them has been crossed pretty often by letters from
the Pretender's friends."

"And for domestic news?" asked Lavendale. "Leave this great chessboard,
upon which princes, bishops, and Cabinet Ministers are trying to
over-reach and countermarch each other, and tell us of that little world
of pleasure and fashion in which we are really interested."

"There is not much stirring, except that Lady Polwhele has at last
thrown off Captain Asterley. She allowed him to marry a rich
tallow-chandler's daughter, upon the strict understanding that he was to
ill-treat or at least neglect his wife. The tallow-chandler's daughter
was young and pretty, wore her own teeth and her own hair; and Asterley
was so perverse as to get fond of her, broke several appointments with
her ladyship, and was foolish enough to boast of his wife's approaching
maternity, which Lady Polwhele considered a premeditated insult to
herself. They quarrelled, the Countess was vehement to hysteria, and
Asterley appeared next day with a scratched face. A fine Angora tom-cat
of her ladyship's, seeing his mistress in hysterics, and fancying her
aggrieved, had flown at the supposed assailant, and clawed him from
temple to chin. So the story goes: but if ever human nails tore human
countenance, those talons which clawed Asterley grew at the roseate tips
of Lady Polwhele's taper fingers."

"It is like you and the town to say so," said Durnford, laughing.

"I grant that the town and I always think the worst of everybody; and
that is why we are generally right. By the bye, I suppose you have heard
that Lady Judith and her elderly Croesus have been falling out?"

"Indeed!" said Lavendale, interested in a moment. "Was it about a
lover?"

"A lover! No, Dian herself is not colder than Lady Judith Topsparkle,
unless it were to Endymion. Of course there always is the Endymion, if
one but knew where to put one's hand upon him." Mr. Philter's fingers
rested airily for an instant or so on Lavendale's velvet cuff as he
spoke. "No, 'twas no jealousy that roused the citizen once removed: only
avarice. The quarrel was about a game at basset, at which the lady lost
something over five thousand pounds. But surely Lady Judith has a right
to an expensive amusement on her side, since she is most obligingly
indulgent to the gentleman's musical craze, and allows him to invite all
Heidegger's crew to Ringwood Abbey, where Handel is the family idol, and
where there is squalling enough to explode the roof and rouse the ghosts
of all the monks from their graves."

"Play is as high as ever, then, I conclude?" said Durnford.

"Higher; people seem more eagerly bent upon losing their money now there
is less money to lose, and everybody crying out that the country is on
the brink of ruin. They play in the green-rooms of the theatres, at the
Bath, at Leicester House, and at St. James's--everywhere. The Duke of
Devonshire lost an estate t'other night at that same game of basset
which nearly parted Mr. Topsparkle and his beautiful wife."

"And was the breach healed? Are they friends again?" asked Durnford.

Lavendale sat silent, with a brooding air, listening intently under
those finely marked brows of his.

He had beautiful eyes, large, lustrous, of a bluish-gray, with dark
lashes, eyes which had haunted the memories of the women who had loved
him, even after love was dead. He had delicately cut features, a
sensitive mouth, a beautifully moulded but somewhat womanish chin. It
was the face of poet and dreamer, rather than of statesman, warrior, or
deep thinker; yet he had none of the effeminacy of Lord Hervey, nor yet
that nobleman's sickly pallor. But there was no bloom of health upon his
face; his cheeks were hollow, and a hectic flush gave fire and
brightness to eyes which had at other times a haggard and weary look.

"O, they are friends again, be sure," answered Philter gaily, refilling
his glass with the silver ladle, which had King William's head on a
crown-piece embedded in the bowl. "Topsparkle adores his wife, and is
the veriest slave to her caprices. And even if he were less devoted he
would hardly venture to rebel. A man of his doubtful antecedents cannot
afford to wage domestic war."

"Are Mr. Topsparkle's antecedents so very bad?" asked Durnford, Lord
Lavendale still keeping silence.

Mr. Philter bent across the table to answer confidentially. "I believe
there is only one man in London who knows how bad, and he has just
entered this room," he said, with a jerk of his thumb across his
shoulder: "mum's the word."

Lavendale and Durnford looked at the new-comer. He was elderly, but well
preserved, wore the most fashionable style of peruke, and had as fine a
complexion as white lead and vermilion could give him, set off by
elaborate patches. His mouse-coloured grosgrain suit was trimmed with a
narrow edging of silver braid, his waistcoat buttons were filigree
silver. His mouse-coloured silk stockings and red-heeled shoes were
perfection. Nothing could be more subdued or gentlemanlike than the
man's costume, nothing more graceful and unobtrusive than his air. He
carried a tortoiseshell eyeglass, with which he gravely regarded the
assembly as he glided sinuously through the narrow space between the
tables towards one particular corner.

"That is Monsieur Fétis, Mr. Topsparkle's valet, secretary, and _âme
damnée_," said Philter. "He has been in the gentleman's service for the
last forty years. They were young men together. Some say he is a natural
son of Topsparkle the elder by a French actress, but that is a foolish
tradition. He has done Topsparkle's dirty work for forty years, been
secret as the grave, and as faithful as a man who knows his interest
lies in fidelity. And now he has a house in Poland Street, a useful kind
of establishment, half lodging-house, half hotel, and wholly hospitable,
which is rumoured to yield him two or three thousand a year. And yet he
is content to curl Mr. Topsparkle's wig, and train Mr. Topsparkle's
eyebrows, and apply hare's-foot and lip-salve, as submissively as the
veriest drudge at twenty pound a year."

"The bond between them must be close," remarked Durnford, while
Lavendale still sat brooding, with lowered eyelids and thoughtful brow.

"Be sure it is close as crime can make it," answered Philter. "There is
no bond I know of that will keep service or friendship faithful for
forty years, unless it be a guilty secret."

He had drawn his chair close between Lavendale and Durnford at the
beginning, and now spoke with head bent and voice lowered
confidentially, so that there was little risk of his being overheard by
any one beyond that table. Yet the conversation hardly seemed of a kind
to be carried on in a public room.

Lavendale rose suddenly and took up his hat.

"Are you going to play to-night, Mr. Philter?" he asked.

"Your lordship ought to know that a man who lives by his pen can have
very little cash to risk at the gaming-table. I come here only to see
the world."

"Then if you have seen enough of it for to-night, what say you to our
walking homewards together? I think your lodgings lie somewhere near
Bloomsbury."

"Your lordship is right. I have some pleasant airy rooms in the Gray's
Inn Road, overlooking the old Inn garden and Lord Bacon's catalpa-tree,
where I shall be enchanted to see you two gentlemen any afternoon that
you will drop in upon me for a dish of tea, and will condescend to
listen to an act or so of a new comedy which only cabal and
self-interest have kept off the boards of Lincoln's Inn."

The three men left the tavern together, Tom Philter highly elated at
being seen in the company of a man of Lavendale's rank and fashion. He
could not help swaggering a little as he picked his way through the
room, with elbows jauntily elevated, and slim court rapier swaying at
his side, and hat cocked lightly over the left eyebrow.

"Now, Mr. Philter," said Lavendale, when they were in the shadowy
street, where the lamps were unlit when the moon was at the full, albeit
Luna is a somewhat capricious luminary, given to dodging behind clouds,
"tell me what you mean about Vyvyan Topsparkle and his guilty secrets.
You seem to be on such familiar terms with the valet that you must needs
know something about the master. You and Monsieur Fétis have often
hob-nobbed together, I take it."

"No, my lord, I do not chink glasses with valets, but I have supped at
his house with some of the best company in London. 'Twas a
_pied-à-terre_ of Wharton's when he was in his glory; and 'twas there I
met the Duke of Bolton and pretty Mrs. Fenton, a poor actress but a
sweet little woman, and most disinterestedly devoted to his grace."

"Pshaw, Philter! Who believes in an actress's disinterestedness? But it
is not at a ducal supper-party you would hear queer stories of Mr.
Topsparkle. No one talks of the past or of the future in such uproarious
society as that. Every man lives for the present moment; his hopes and
his ambition are bounded by the eyes and lips that are smiling at him;
his views of life are as sparkling and as transient as the bubbles on a
glass of champagne, and as rosy as the deepest glow of Burgundy. You
must have had better opportunities of drawing Monsieur Fétis!"

"Fétis is not a man to be drawn, my lord. Walpole himself could not
extort a secret from him. He has thriven too well by fidelity to turn
traitor. My intelligence comes from higher sources."

"I understand; from some friendly housemaid's attic, no doubt," laughed
Lavendale. "Don't be angry, Philter; I forgive you the sources if you
will but give me your intelligence. I would give much to know that
fribble's past career, with all its dark mysteries."

"That is a tangled web which will take time to unravel," answered the
oracle.

"I am willing to devote time, money, patience, anything, to the
unravelment!"

"I have no positive information; only vague hints which might afford a
clue to a man who would take the pains to follow it."

"I am that man!" exclaimed Lavendale, putting his arm through that of
Philter, who regretted that they were not in broad daylight and Bond
Street. "Man," said he, "in such a quest I am a sleuth-hound."

"Well, my lord," rejoined Philter, "there is a queer story of
Topsparkle's early youth which I have heard elderly men harp upon--a
beautiful woman, commonly supposed to be an opera singer, whom he
brought from Italy with him just before the Revolution, and kept immured
in that great rambling house of his in Soho Square. The lady was
reported to be exquisitely beautiful, but as she never appeared in
public the town had no opportunity of judging for itself; yet she was
not the less talked about, and perhaps all the more admired, for being
invisible. Then came a report that John Churchill, at that time in the
bloom of his irresistible youth, flushed with his conquests of
duchesses, had been seen hanging about the house; that Topsparkle was
mad with jealousy, had challenged Churchill, had been laughed at and
insulted, his challenge flung in his teeth. 'If a man of your quality
offends me I always horsewhip him, but as you haven't offended me I have
nothing to say to you,' Churchill is reported to have said in a public
assemblage. 'I hope you don't suppose that the fortune your worthy
alderman-father amassed by the petty chicaneries of trade can ever put
you on a duelling level with gentlemen.' I had this speech verbatim from
my grandfather, who was present on the occasion."

"And did Topsparkle swallow the affront?"

"There was a row, and he wanted to maul the young Alcibiades; but
friends and bystanders intervened, and Churchill, for the lady's sake,
assured Topsparkle on his honour, that if he had been seen in Soho
Square at unseemly hours, the Hero whose tower he had scaled was not
Mrs. Topsparkle. The citizen's son appeared to be satisfied at this
assurance, peace was made, and the town thought no more of Mr.
Topsparkle's lady till a fortnight later, when a funeral was seen to
leave his house in Soho Square, and a brief notice in the news-letter
informed the world at large that Margharita, lady of Vyvyan Topsparkle,
Esquire, had deceased on such and such a day, after twenty-four hours'
illness, aged twenty-one."

"Did any one suspect foul play?" asked Lavendale.

"Society is given to that kind of suspicion; and the lady's death
occurred in an agitating time, when the minds of men were full of Jesuit
plots, supposititious babies, poison, and treason. I have read some
curious paragraphs in the newspapers of that year, in which the
suspicious circumstances of Mrs. Topsparkle's death were hinted at,
together with various insinuations and innuendoes questioning the
lady's character, and suggesting that she had no legal claim to the
name of Topsparkle. But it was only when Topsparkle ventured to stand
for Brentford as a high Tory in the beginning of William's reign that
the Whig pamphleteers and lampooners let fly their venomed arrows. Then
it was broadly stated that Mr. Topsparkle had run away with an Italian
dancing-girl--she was no longer a singer, you will mark: that would have
been too reputable. He had stolen her out of a booth where she was
Columbine to an itinerant Harlequin; he had brought her to London, shut
her up in his house in Soho Square, surprised her treachery with a
gentleman of good birth and superior personal attractions, best known to
society for former favours bestowed upon him by her Grace of Cleveland,
and had made away with her, whether by bowstring or poisoned bowl the
lampooners averred not, but bills setting forth this scandal were freely
distributed in Brentford. Mr. Topsparkle was challenged with his guilt
on the hustings, and narrowly escaped being mauled by the mob. It was
altogether a very ugly experience in the way of electioneering
adventures, and you can hardly wonder that Topsparkle's ardour for
parliamentary fame cooled from that hour."

"Did he do nothing to refute this slander?" asked Durnford.

"A great deal--and too little. He laid a criminal information against
the least cautious of his libellers, and got him put in the pillory; but
public feeling was altogether against the libelled gentleman, and the
pillory was as a bower of roses to the venal scribbler, who doubtless
had written just what he was told to write by Topsparkle's political
opponent. Perhaps, had Topsparkle stayed in England and held his own
boldly, the scandal would have passed as the mere scum of the political
cauldron; but as he sneaked off to the Continent almost immediately
afterwards, under pretence of offering his allegiance to the Royal
Exile, most people were of opinion that the story was not altogether a
baseless fabrication, and, taken in conjunction with the rest of Mr.
Topsparkle's experiences and his personal character, the suspected
tragedy put the finishing touch to a ripening reputation, and kept him
out of the way of his fellow-countrymen for over thirty years."

"I should be slow to believe a slander so circulated, and resting on
such slight foundations," said Lavendale gravely.

"So should I, my lord, nor have I refused Mr. Topsparkle my friendship,"
answered Philter, with a grand air. "I spent a week at his country seat
last winter; a most magnificent mansion, a mediæval abbey furnished with
all the luxuries which modern art and the invention of a sybarite could
devise. Mr. Topsparkle is a connoisseur, an enthusiast in painting and
sculpture, porcelains, enamels, bronzes, and boule cabinets, and as he
draws upon a kind of Fortunatus's purse, he can afford to gratify every
fancy, however exorbitant. Nor does he stint the pleasures of his
friends. Although no sportsman, he has the finest stud and the finest
stable in Hampshire, and although an absolute ascetic in his eating and
drinking, he has the best table and the best cellar of any gentleman of
my acquaintance."

"I can easily credit that," said Lavendale, "since I opine you do not
count your moneyed friends by the dozen."

"O, but there are varieties of the species," answered Philter,
unabashed by the snub. "There are many who have a genius for making
money, but few who possess the noble art of spending it. Indeed, I doubt
if you ever get those two faculties united in the same person. The man
who makes his own fortune has a silly greed for keeping it. Only in the
second generation of money-getters do you find the royal art of the
spender and the connoisseur. Now, our friend Topsparkle was born in the
purple. He was swaddled in point d'Alençon, and fed out of a parcel-gilt
porringer."

"So you have been at Ringwood Abbey, Tom," said Lavendale, with a
half-unconscious insolence. "The company there must be curiously mixed,
I take it."

"So much the better for the company. 'Tis only in mixed society you find
the true sparkle, the fire of clashing wits, the lightning flashes of
adverse opinions. Yes, at Ringwood one finds every shade of opinion in
politics, from the notorious Jack to the sleek Muggite--from satisfied
placemen to discontented non-jurors. Bolingbroke was there last winter,
the object of everybody's interest and curiosity, after his long exile.
He is as handsome as ever, and almost as fascinating as when he
bewitched half the women of fashion and quality, and yet was the abject
slave of Clara, a nymph who sold oranges in the Court of Requests. Now
he brags of his French wife and his farm near Uxbridge, a poor plaything
of a place on which he has just spent a trifling twenty thousand or so.
Here he grows turnips and affects Cincinnatus, pretends to have done
with politics and to live only for breeding cattle and cultivating the
classics. And no sooner had that sun sunk below the horizon than there
rose a more prosperous luminary in the person of Walpole. Carteret, the
all-accomplished, have I met there, and punning Pulteney, and hesitating
Grafton, with his grand airs of royalty by the left hand; and in fact
the society at Ringwood Abbey is but a new illustration of an ancient
truth, that if a man be but rich enough, he can always keep the highest
company in the land."

"And how do you pay your footing among all these grandees, Mr. Philter?
Do you write an acrostic for one, and a love-song for another, fetch
and carry between peers and their mistresses, or comb shock-dogs for
peeresses?"

"I hope you have not such a low idea of a journalist's status, my lord.
Be assured that I do nothing to degrade the dignity of letters."

"What, not borrow a ten-pound note from St. John, or sell a political
secret to Walpole? Be not offended, Tom; I must have my jest. 'Tis but
gaiety of spirits that makes me impertinent. And at Ringwood, now, did
you surprise no domestic mysteries, hear no hints about that tragedy you
have suggested?"

"Not a word. All there seemed sunshine. Topsparkle adores his wife with
an almost servile devotion, lives only upon her smiles, follows in her
footsteps like her lap-dog. I believe in his heart of hearts he is
jealous of poor pampered pug, and would not regret to see the little
beast expire of a surfeit of cream and kisses."

"And she--is she happy?" asked Lavendale, relaxing from simulated gaiety
to moodiness.

"There I dare not answer off-hand. Who can swear to a fine lady's
happiness? Her heart is a close-locked coffer, of which only her
abigail or her lover has the key. I can pledge myself to the brilliancy
of Lady Judith's eyes and conversation, to the lightness of her foot in
a minuet or a country dance, to her dash and courage in the
hunting-field, her impertinence to her superiors in rank, up to the
throne itself; I can testify to her superb recklessness in expenditure
and her princely hospitality: but to pronounce whether she is happy or
miserable must be left to her guardian angel, if she have one."

"Such a frivolous existence would be rather under the care of Belinda's
ministering sylphs," said Durnford, as they turned into Bloomsbury
Square.

It was after midnight, but Philter never refused a drink, so he accepted
Lavendale's invitation to a bottle of some particularly choice Burgundy
which had been laid down by his lordship's father. The bottle, with such
a potent imbiber as Mr. Philter, led to a second, and as glass followed
glass, the journalist talked more and more freely of the scandals of the
town.

"But mark you, I have never heard a breath against Lady Judith," he
said; "she has the reputation of Diana's coldness backed by Juno's
pride. She never has bestowed favour on mortal; she would destroy a
modern Actæon for a disrespectful look; she would pursue with direst
wrath the Paris who dared to place her second in the royalty of beauty.
And yet I believe she is human," added Philter, with a significant
glance at Lord Lavendale, "and that a passionate heart beats under the
snow of that majestic bosom."

"Pray do not suspect his lordship of any designs in that quarter," said
Durnford bitterly. "He has only an eye for youth and simplicity. He is
courting an heiress just escaped from the nursery."

"O, but there is always a charm in bread-and-butter for your thorough
_roué_," answered Philter, with a knowing air; "that hardened man about
town Horace is never more enthusiastic than when he sings the
half-fledged beauty shrinking from a lover's pursuit. I congratulate
your lordship on the prospect of a match with youth, beauty, and
bullion. I once thought my own mission would have been to marry money;
but no less than three young women of fortune whom I had at various
times in tow, and almost as good as anchored in the safe harbour of
matrimony, got wind of certain conquests of mine which shall be
nameless, and from my infidelities as a lover doubted my capacity to
keep faith as a husband."

And having hiccoughed out this boast, Mr. Philter wiped his wine-stained
lips and departed.



CHAPTER IX.

"BY VOW OBLIGED, BY PASSION LED."


Lavendale mused and brooded upon that strange story of the man who had
cheated him out of his sweetheart, if it could indeed be said that he
owed the loss of Judith's hand to Mr. Topsparkle, when he had forfeited
her affection by his own folly. But he was not the kind of man to reason
closely upon such a matter, and he resented Judith's marriage as an act
of inconstancy to himself, and Topsparkle's wealth as an impertinence.
To think that the son of a City merchant should wallow in gold,
entertain princes and politicians, while Lavendale groaned under the
burden of an encumbered estate, and endured the curse of empty coffers!

He looked up old newspapers and magazines, called at Tom Philter's
lodgings, and, with that gentleman's aid, raked over the gutter of the
past for any scrap of scandal against Mr. Topsparkle; but he could
discover no more than the journalist had told him in the first instance.
There had been a lady in the house in Soho Square, nearly forty years
ago, and that lady had been called Mrs. Topsparkle; but as she had never
appeared in public with her lord, it had been concluded that she
possessed no legal right to that name. John Churchill's encounter with
Topsparkle had been town talk for a week or so, the conqueror of
Blenheim and Malplaquet being at that period famous only for his
personal beauty, and for the scandalous adventures of his early
youth--an intrigue with a duchess, a chivalrous descent from an upper
window--and an imputation of venality which went to prove that the
avarice of the future hero was already engrained in the stripling of the
present. The mysterious lady's sudden death, in the very flower of her
youth, had imparted a fictitious interest, and she had made herself
briefly famous by that untimely doom. The papers gave exaggerated
descriptions of her beauty and broadly hinted that her fate had been as
tragic as that of Desdemona. The _Flying Post_ described how the
Nickers had broken all Mr. Topsparkle's windows with halfpence, soon
after the poor lady's funeral. Topsparkle was alluded to as the City
Othello, and in one scurrilous print was denounced as an "und-t-ct-d
ass-ss-n." However baseless the slander may have been, it had evidently
been freely circulated, and Topsparkle's subsequent residence abroad for
more than a generation had given a kind of colour to the foul charge.
Nor was this vaguely defined tragedy the only dusky page in the
millionaire's history. His general character had been vicious, his
habits on the Continent had been reported as abominable. He had been an
admiring follower in the footsteps of the Regent Orleans, and of lesser
lights in the same diabolical firmament.

And this man was Judith's husband. Yet what was it to him whether she
was happy or miserable? that old sweetheart of his, whose round white
arms had been wreathed round his neck that night in the little Chinese
room at Lady Skirmisham's, what time she swore she would be his wife,
and urged him to be true to her. Well, he had not been true; he had
played the fool with fortune, had sacrificed the one real love of his
life to mere braggadocio and the idle vanity of an hour, and his reward
was an empty heart.

Vainly did he try to fan those red embers into a new flame, to burn
before a new altar. He would have been very glad to fall in love with
Squire Bosworth's daughter. Again and again he told himself that she was
younger and lovelier than Judith, and that in her love he might find the
renewal of his wasted youth, find contentment and length of years more
surely than in that sacred art which old Vincenti had cultivated with
the enthusiast's devotion for nearly half a century, and which seemed to
have brought him but little nearer to those three great mysteries which
he sought to fathom:--

The secret of illimitable wealth by the transmutation of meaner metals
into gold and silver.

The secret of prolonged existence, to be found in some universal
panacea, guessed at, almost grasped, yet always escaping the seeker.

And thirdly, the secret of intellectual power--the intercommunion of
flesh and deity, the link between this mortal clay and the ethereal
world of angels and demons.

It seemed to Lavendale, in his dreams of the past and of the dead, in
his vivid recalling of half-forgotten words, the touch, the kiss of long
ago, that this communion between severed souls was not unknown to human
sense. If it could thus be granted in our sleeping hours, why not also
to our waking senses? To him there was something more than mere memory
in the dreamer's commune with the dead.

Vincenti pored over his old black-letter books: Roger Bacon's "Cure of
Old Age;" or the "Art of Distillation, or Practical Physick, together
with the preparation of Precipiolum, the Universal Medicine of
Paracelsus;" or the "Golden Work of Hermes Trismegistus, translated out
of Hebrew into Arabick, then into Greek, afterwards into Latin;" very
precious volumes these, in the old Venetian's sight, treasuries of the
wisdom of Eastern sages, hoarded up in the dim distance of the remote
past to be the guide of searchers after truth in the present.

His toil of nearly half a century had brought him to the threshold of
the temple, but it had not enabled him to open the door of the
sanctuary. The secret was still a secret, and he felt life waning. All
those things which made this world pleasant to the common race of
mortals Vincenti had sacrificed to the necromancer's grander idea of
bliss; he had nothing to live for except the realisation of that one
hope; and if he should die without having mastered even the meanest of
those three great secrets, he must needs confess that he had lived and
laboured in vain.

"Others may follow me," he said, with a simplicity of resignation that
was almost heroic. "Others will read what I have written, and may profit
by labours that have just missed fruition. The truth must be revealed,
the secret must be found. It is only a question of time and patience."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lavendale spent his days between London and country, rushing backwards
and forwards by coach or on horseback, as whim prompted him, and in this
autumn of 1726 he seemed of all men the most whimsical. London was dull
and empty, half the fashionable world was at Twickenham, and the other
half at Bath; yet there was always a chance of playing deep, or of
getting involved in some political plot; there were always taverns, and
chocolate-houses, and clubs in full swing, and a fever of party feeling
in the air, which gave a certain amount of variety and excitement to
life. Bolingbroke was in London, plotting hard, and there were bets as
to whether he would succeed in undermining steady-going, steadfast
Robert Walpole, the greatest financier England had ever known, and the
only man of capacity wide enough to foresee the peril of the South Sea
Company, when to all the rest of the world that rotten fabric seemed the
enchanted palace and treasury of Plutus himself, containing gold enough
to enrich every one of the money-god's votaries, down to the meanest.

That stubborn good sense of his on the occasion of the South Sea fever
had established Robert Walpole's reputation as a safe minister, and the
sober common sense of the nation was with him. He had shown himself an
advocate for peace, and Bolingbroke, who in the days of Marlborough's
triumphs in the Low Countries had cavilled at the continuance of the
war, was now scornful of the Treasurer's pacific policy, and led the
chorus of the disaffected to the tune of England's decay. Lavendale
dined with Lord Bolingbroke more than once that autumn at his house in
Pall Mall, the splendid mansion in Golden Square having passed into
other hands during his lordship's exile. Lavendale was a Whig by birth
and education, but his Whiggism was not strong enough to prevent his
friendship with the most brilliant man of the age, or to exclude him
from the most intellectual circle in England. He went down to Dawley,
Bolingbroke's fancy farm near Uxbridge, where his lordship appeared to
advantage in his favourite character of country squire, and where the
ploughs and harrows painted in fresco on the walls of the hall indicated
his bucolic bent. Here Lavendale made the acquaintance of the
statesman's French wife, and here he met Pope and Swift, and Arouet de
Voltaire, who had now established himself in the neighbourhood of
London, a distinguished literary exile, and who was _l'ami de la maison_
at Dawley.

In his wild youth, when good Queen Anne was sovereign of England, and
the Mohawk Club in full swing, Lavendale had admired Henry St. John as
the type and model of all that is finest in manhood. He had been then,
in the insolence of power and floodtide of success, scheming for the
restoration of the Stuarts, while affecting to favour the Hanoverian
succession. He had ousted his old friend and patron the Duke of
Marlborough, had allowed the conqueror of Ramillies and Blenheim, the
man who had made our English arms as glorious as they had been in the
days of the Henries and the Edwards, to be humiliated by that nation
which his signal genius had elevated above all other nations. That great
man, to whom England and England's Queen owed so much, had knelt at his
sovereign's feet and besought her pardon and favour for his beautiful
termagant, whose follies might have been forgiven for the sake of the
husband who so blindly adored her. An ignominious end assuredly to royal
friendship, and royal favour, and heroic genius unfortunately mated.
Saddest page in the life of England's Captain-General, that scene in the
palace, the kneeling conqueror, and the stubborn Queen's unrelenting
wrath.

St. John, who once wrote himself down my Lord Marlborough's most devoted
and grateful servant, had helped to bring about that humiliation and
that fall from power. And then came Atropos with the fatal shears, and
just when the traitor's hopes were highest, and he was to play, in a
strictly diplomatic and unwarlike character, the great part of General
Monk, and bring about a new Restoration, with more ringing of joy-bells
and flinging of flowers, as on the glorious twenty-ninth of May, the
Queen died, and the plotter's web was rent in pieces. "What a world it
is, and how does Fortune banter us!" he cried, in bitterness of spirit.
Then came loss of office, six months of rustic retirement, watching for
any change of the wind setting Saint-Germain-wards, then the bill of
attainder, and the sudden flight of one who dared not face his accusers.
Oxford, whose timidity mid irresolution had been ridiculed by his
high-spirited colleague, had faced the danger, and escaped it; while
Bolingbroke, the high-minded and daring, had fled to France disguised
as a French messenger. And now he was in England again, debonair,
audacious, favoured by his Majesty's morganatic wife, her Grace of
Kendal, flattering everybody, charming everybody by his graces of
person, his witchery of manner, his matchless talents, his reckless
liberality.

Lavendale could but admire the sinner now, as he had admired him ten
years ago, only with a less unquestioning idolatry.

"I know he is an unprincipled scamp," he told Durnford, when his friend
remonstrated with him upon those long nights of brilliant talk and deep
drinking which he spent with the patriot. "I know he has been a
reprobate in his conduct to women, flying at all game, from the young
lady of fashion to the chance Egeria of the Mall; and he could drink us
bottle-men all under the table and keep his head clear to the last; yes,
go straight from the carouse to his office-table and pen diplomatic
correspondence, no worse for his four bottles than if he had been
drinking rose-water instead of champagne. But he drinks less now, and he
can hardly run after women as he used to do, since his adoring wife
watches him closer than ever Juno watched Jove."

"And in all probability with the same result."

"Nay, Herrick, he is too deeply immersed in statecraft to sacrifice to
Venus. He and Pulteney have sworn an alliance. They call themselves
Patriots, and are to start a newspaper before the year is out, with the
help of that scamp Amhurst, whom you must remember at Oxford, where he
was turned out of his college for profligacy and insubordination. I have
half a mind to write for them."

"You, Lavendale! Are you going to rat--turn Jacobite?"

"No, but I am rather inclined to join the Hanoverian Tories. They have
all the talents on their side. Walpole is too jealous of power. He will
suffer no rival near the throne."

"I see that St. John has been poisoning your mind against the man to
whom he owes his return from exile. But he who was ungrateful to
Marlborough may well turn upon Walpole."

"I know not that he owes much to Walpole. In the first place, he was
promised his pardon years ago--or at any rate told he might hope for
everything--by the King; and now, instead of a free pardon, he returns
on sufferance, and still languishes under the attainder which keeps him
out of the senate. He who would shed such an unwonted blaze of light
upon that dull firmament the House of Lords is constrained to grow
turnips and train foxhounds at Dawley."

"But you find he is not content with foxhounds and turnips. He is to
start a party paper which will doubtless breathe the very spirit of
rancorous opposition, cavil at every measure, gird at the chief minister
for everything he does and everything he does not do. Take my word for
it, Jack, this country of ours, with those wide dependencies which make
her chief greatness, was never in safer hands than it is under Robert
Walpole. Never was the ship of state sailed by a cleverer skipper than
Captain Robin."

"O, I hate the man," cried Lavendale contemptuously, "with his bluff
country manners and his stuttering country speech. He is on the crest of
the wave just now, after the treaty of Hanover; but wait till our
friends of the opposition begin to interrogate financial matters, and
you will see how heavily Sir Robert's popularity has been paid for out
of the national exchequer. Why, it is said he spends a thousand a week
at Houghton, to say nothing of the expenses of another establishment."

"Yes, the witch's brew has worked," said Durnford; "the magician has you
in his toils. You could not have a more fatal counsellor or a more
dangerous friend than Henry St. John."

"Not a word against him, Herrick; he is my friend."

Durnford bowed and held his peace. He was a staunch Walpolian, and had a
sincere and honest regard for that great man which was entirely
independent of self-interest. But as he was now writing regularly for
one of the Whig journals, his friend affected to think him a party hack,
and made light of all his warnings.

The friends dined at Fairmile Court about half a dozen times during the
summer and early autumn, but Lavendale had not yet declared himself as a
suitor either to the father or to the daughter; although there was
enough encouragement in the Squire's manner to bring about such a
declaration. The feelings of the young lady herself were at that period
generally regarded as a secondary consideration; but even here there was
nothing on the surface to discourage a suitor. Irene welcomed Lord
Lavendale and his friend with her brightest smile, seemed glad at their
coming and sorry when they went. She had a bewitching air of gaiety at
times which almost caught Lavendale's wavering heart; she had in other
moments a pensive manner that made her seem even more beautiful than in
those joyous moods. And yet he faltered in his purpose and hung back,
and told himself that there was no need for haste when a man is to seal
a lifelong doom.

Herrick, meanwhile, held his peace, save for an occasional word or two
with his beloved, just the assurance that she was true to him and cared
nothing for his brilliant friend. He dared ask no more than this. He was
working hard and honestly, had thoughts of trying for a seat in
Parliament at the next general election, if his friends would help him
to a borough. He had flung himself heart and soul into politics, and
had abjured drink, gaming, and all those other follies which in those
days went by the name of pleasure.

And now came wintry evenings and London fogs. The linkmen were busy
again, there were assemblies for every night in the week, sometimes as
many as seven upon one night, and women of ton went to half a dozen
parties of an evening. Fashionable beauty's sedan was a feature in the
dimly-lighted streets, escorted by running footmen armed with
blunderbusses and carrying torches; cheery the flare of those torches
across the darkness of night, with an occasional glimpse of beauty's
face behind the glass, briefest vision of sparkling eyes, flashing gems,
patches, vermilion, and powder. Now came the season of Italian opera.
Society began to rave and dispute about tall lanky Farinelli with his
seraphic voice, and short squabby Cuzzoni, also seraphic, and paid at a
rate which made Court pensioners seem the veriest paupers; albeit that
this was the golden age for place-hunters, whereby Sir Robert Walpole
was able by and by to provide snug sinecures of two or three thousand a
year for his younger son Horace provision almost more generous on the
part of Sir Robert than of the nation, were all things considered. Now
came the season of masked balls, much affected by King George, and by
his son's lesser but gayer Court at Richmond and Leicester Fields.
Lavendale was well received at Richmond Lodge, where Pope and his
literary friends were in great favour, and where the lovely Mary Lepel
was now shining as Lady Hervey; where Chesterfield, Bathurst,
Scarborough, and Hervey were the chief ornaments, all paying homage to
the wit and wisdom of clever Princess Caroline, a lady of wide reading
and strong opinions upon most points, yet astute enough always to play
second fiddle to that dull dogged husband of hers, flattering him with
subtlest flatteries, and maintaining her ascendency in spite of all
rivalries; a calm, clever, far-seeing woman, of extraordinary power of
mind and strength of purpose, standing firm as a rock amidst the
quicksands of Court life; a woman of noble disposition, whose youth had
known dependence and poverty, yet who had refused the heir to the German
Empire rather than turn Papist.

At Lord Lavendale's advice, Squire Bosworth took lodgings in Arlington
Street, over against Little St. James's Park, and brought his daughter
to London, where she was presented to his Majesty by her aunt, Lady
Tredgold, who treated herself and daughters to a London season, chiefly
at Mr. Bosworth's expense, in order to perform this duty. Herrick heard
of this London visit with an agonised heart: heard how Rena had been
presented on the Prince's birthday, and had been admired at the
birthnight ball. The town would change his wood-nymph into a fine lady;
that sweet simplicity which was her highest charm would perish in the
atmosphere of courts. How could he hope that she would be true to him
when once she discovered the power of her position as an heiress and a
beauty? She would be surrounded by fops and flatterers, run after by
every adventurer in London. "And I shall rank among the meanest of
them," thought Herrick. "What can I seem to her but an adventurer, when
once she becomes worldly-wise and learns to estimate her own value? She
will think that I tried to trap her into an engagement; she will begin
to despise me."

Agitated by these fears and doubts, Herrick found it hard to work as
steadfastly and courageously as he had been working. He found it harder
still to withstand the allurements of society, the chocolate-house and
the green cloth, the dice-box and the bottle; more especially as
Lavendale was always at his side, tempting him, accusing him of having
turned dullard and miser.

"For whom are you toiling, or for what?" his lordship asked lightly. "Do
you aspire to be a poet and diplomatist, like Prior, to write verses and
sign treaties, and live hand in glove with statesmen and princes? Or do
you want to be the petted darling of fine ladies, like Gay? Or do you
think it is in you to turn satirist, and rival Pope?--who wrote me the
genteelest letter you can imagine this morning, by the way, although
scarce able to hold a pen for two maimed and useless fingers, having
been turned over in Bolingbroke's chariot as he was driving through the
lanes between Dawley and Twit'nam on a cursedly dark night. And cursed
lanes they are in bad weather, as I can affirm, having ridden through
them when the mud was up to my horse's hocks. Come, Herrick, you were
not made to play the anchorite. There is to be a masquerade at
Heidegger's opera-house to-night, and my divinity, my wife that is to
be, will be there, her first public ball. Come and be bottle-holder. I
think I ought to declare myself to-night. A masquerade is a capital
place for a declaration. I have been reading Shakespeare's _Much Ado
about Nothing_. What a pity that fellow's comedies are so seldom acted!
There is good stuff in the worst of them."

The masked ball at the opera-house was the gayest scene in London. Every
one was there, and royalty was conspicuous, first in the person of the
old King, "a taciturn, rather splenetic elderly gentleman," in a
snuff-coloured suit with silk stockings to match, no finery but his blue
ribbon and diamond shoe-buckles, accompanied as usual by her maypole
Grace of Kendal, lank, ungainly, and plain, but dear to Majesty by long
habit, homely Joan to royal Darby. Her grace reigned alone since the
death of the Countess of Darlington, another German lady with English
title and estates, who had fattened upon the wealth of Britannia; an
obese elderly person, with round staring black eyes, reputed to have
been in early life an amazing beauty. The more well informed of the
German courtiers believed the tie between this lady and the King to be
purely platonic, that she was indeed his Majesty's half-sister--an
illegitimate daughter of the old Elector by his infamous mistress, the
Countess of Platen.

The young Court, too, was there: handsome, high-bred Caroline, with her
fine aquiline features and her clear, far-seeing eyes; meek Mrs. Howard,
with a long-suffering air of submission to royal caprices, not by any
means the triumphant style of a _maîtresse en titre_; brilliant
hoydenish Mary Bellenden, now Mrs. Campbell; and sparkling Frenchified
Mary Lepel, wife of John Lord Hervey; Chesterfield, airing his new
title, and laying about him ruthlessly with that reckless wit which
spared neither friend nor kinsfolk, heedless how deep he cut; affecting
the airs of a universal conqueror also, pretending even to favours from
women of the highest fashion, rank, and beauty, despite a squat
ungainly person and an ugly face.

Herrick entered late upon this brilliant scene. He had waited to finish
his work at the newspaper office, a dark little printer's workshop near
Smithfield, and had hastily washed off the grime of the City and flung
on a domino over his every-day clothes. It was a kind of pilgrim's cloak
which he wore, and he had put on a pilgrim's hat like Romeo's, and
carried a pilgrim's staff, when he went in quest of his Juliet.

For the first quarter of an hour his keen eyes failed to distinguish her
amidst that ever-moving, ever-changing mob of masqueraders: princes and
peasants, soldiers and chimney-sweepers, French cooks, Italian
harlequins and columbines, Venetians, Turks, Dutchmen, and Roman
emperors. The glitter and confusion of that undulating crowd, swaying to
the sound of lightest music, baffled and bewildered him; but all of a
sudden, in the stately movements of a minuet, he saw a form which at a
glance revealed the slender gracefulness of his wood-nymph. No other
form he had ever seen upon this earth had that airy motion and
exquisitely unconscious elegance.

Yes, it was she, dressed as Diana, with a diamond crescent upon her
brow, and her soft auburn hair coiled at the back of the perfectly
shaped head, a careless curl or two hanging loosely from the coils. Her
classic drapery of white and silver clothed her modestly from shoulder
to ankle, revealing only the slender feet in silver sandals. In an age
of monstrous headdresses and naked shoulders, powder and patches, that
classic form and simply braided hair had all the charm of singularity.

Herrick glanced from his beloved to her partner. A slim, elegant-looking
man in a Venetian suit, black velvet and gold, with jewelled
stiletto--Lavendale without doubt. Yes, that was his dashing air of
unconquerable self-possession, the easy consciousness of superiority. He
offered his hand to his partner when the dance was over, and led her
through the crowd, talking to her animatedly as they moved along.
Herrick could see that he was pointing out the celebrities in the mob,
giving his tongue full license as he described their characteristics,
no doubt in a series of antitheses, as was the fashion in those days,
when a modish wit depicted every man or woman of his acquaintance as a
bundle of opposite qualities, a creature made up of contradictions, and
as impossible as sphinx or chimæra.

Herrick followed them closely. He was able to follow unobserved in that
crowded assembly; moreover it was a legitimate action to follow any
woman at a masquerade. The entertainment was invented for assignations
and imbroglios, mystifications and illicit love-making. He followed
close enough to hear the drift of his friend's conversation, if not the
very words, and it relieved that sore heart of his to be assured that
there was no serious love in all that flow of talk, only gallantry and
compliment, scandal and satire.

"There goes my Lord Chesterfield, who just escapes being as ugly as
Caliban, with that huge Polyphemus head of his, yet affects elegance and
pretends to be irresistible with women. Heidegger himself--the ugliest
man in London--might almost as fitly assume the airs of an Adonis. But
there is Carteret, the most accomplished man in England, with more
languages in his head than were ever spoken at Babel; I must seize an
opportunity for presenting him to you. He is a great man, and would be a
great minister if Walpole were not jealous of him. Have you seen Mrs.
Howard--the shepherdess in pink--forty years old, and as deaf as a post?
Her royal shepherd was glaring at us from that box yonder while you were
dancing. And at the back of that large box over the stage you may see
Majesty itself, sitting in shadow with a couple of Turks in attendance
upon him, and the Duchess of Kendal in the front of the box."

"I thought kings and princes would have a grander air, would stand out
more from the common people," said Rena. "I did not expect to see the
King in his royal robes and crown, but I am vexed to find him so very
plain-looking and humdrum! I don't believe Charles I. had ever that
common look."

"We only know Charles as Vandyke painted him," said Lavendale. "I
daresay were I to conjure up his ghost for you, in his habit as he
lived, you would find him a somewhat insignificant person, with a long
narrow face and attenuated features. You would not recognise in him the
kingly figure on the white horse before which you stood so admiringly at
Hampton Court Palace yesterday. But let us talk of something more
interesting than kings and emperors. Let us talk of our dear selves. I
have a very serious theme to discuss with you, and I thought in this
light mock world, where every one is bent upon folly, you and I would be
more alone than in a wood. Dare I speak freely, Irene? Will it be to
seal my doom if I venture boldly?"

He had drawn the slight figure nearer to his side with a sudden
caressing movement, favoured by the jostling of the crowd. Durnford grew
savagely angry at that bold caress, and could scarce restrain himself
from laying violent hands upon his friend; would not, perhaps, have
forborne to part them, had not Rena herself started away with a
half-frightened, half-indignant gesture.

But lo! at that very moment, just as Lavendale turned lightly towards
the retreating nymph, bold as Apollo in pursuit of Daphne, he started
and stood stock-still, as if changed into stone by some apparition of
terror.

And yet it was not a terrific vision. It was only a woman, passing tall
among women, with the form and carriage of Juno; a woman in a Turkish
dress, glittering from brow to waistband with a galaxy of diamonds,
which flashed from the gorgeous background of an embroidered robe. The
lovely arms, of Parian whiteness, were bare to the shoulder; the lovely
bust was but little hidden by the loose outer robe and narrow inner vest
of cloth of gold. A long gauze veil fell from the jewelled turban which
the lady wore, in proud defiance, or in happy ignorance, of Oriental
restrictions.

This sultana of the hour was Lady Judith Topsparkle, and it was but the
second time Lavendale had met her since they parted in the little
Chinese room at Lady Skirmisham's.

While he stood dumfounded, scarce daring to lift his eyes to those
flashing orbs which were shining upon him out of the sultana's little
velvet mask, Irene drew still further away from him, unheeded, and
Durnford slid in between them and slipped her hand through his arm.

"May the humblest of pilgrims be Miss Bosworth's guardian and defender
in this unmannerly mob?" he asked tenderly.

She started, with a faintly tremulous movement which thrilled him with
triumphant gladness. Only at the tone or touch of one she secretly loves
is a woman so moved.

"Mr. Durnford!" she exclaimed. "How did you recognise me?"

"How did you know me so quickly, in spite of my mask?"

"By your voice, of course."

"And I you by a hundred things: by every turn of your head; by every
line of your figure; by the atmosphere that breathes around you; by the
halo of light which to my eye hovers perpetually round your head; by a
deep delight that steals over me when you are near. And you have been in
London a week and I have not seen you, and yet I have passed your door
twenty times a day. Cruel, never to discover me from your window, never
to make an excuse for five minutes' civility: were it but to drop an old
fan in the gutter and let me pick it up for you, or to send Sappho out
of doors to be all but run over, so that I might rescue her from under
a coach and six at peril of this paltry life of mine."

"Sappho is at Fairmile. My father would not let me bring her. He has
promised me a pug. Why did you not pay us a visit of your own accord?"

"I was afraid. I have waited, sneak as I am, for Lavendale to take me
with him."

"But why?" she asked, with divinest innocence.

"Lest the Squire should suspect me of being in love with you, and forbid
me his door."

This suggestion overpowered her, and she was silent. Durnford too was
silent, in a delicious pause of rapturous contentment, as he moved
slowly through the crowd with his divinity on his arm.

"Is your father here to-night?" he asked presently.

"O no. He hates all such places. My aunt, Lady Tredgold, brought me. My
two cousins are here, dressed as Polish peasants, but I have lost them
all in the crowd. My aunt is playing cards somewhere, I believe. She
left me in charge of Lord Lavendale."

"And now you are in my charge, and I shall give you up to no one but
your aunt."

"My cousins told me that she will play quadrille all night if we let her
alone. We shall have to go and fetch her when it is time to go home."

"That will not be till the sun is high. And then if your cousins are
girls of spirit they won't be too anxious for going home. We might drive
to Islington and breakfast in the gardens there by sunrise, if it were
but warmer weather. Let us be happy while we can."

"I am very happy to-night," answered Rena, with delicious simplicity.
"When I first came I thought this scene enchanting."

"And you don't think it less enchanting now?" asked Herrick, in a
pleading tone. "Surely my presence has not spoiled it for you?"

"Indeed, no: I am very glad to see you again."

And so they wandered on, in and out amidst that giddy crowd, jostling
against statesmen and fine ladies, princes and potentates; and so lost
in the delight of each other's presence that they were scarce conscious
of being in company. For them that crowd of maskers was but as a gallery
of pictures, mere scenic decoration, of no significance.

Lord Lavendale had been swallowed up in the throng, had vanished from
their sight altogether, he and his Turkish lady. By one half-haughty,
half-gracious movement of her Oriental fan she had beckoned, and he had
followed, as recklessly as Hamlet followed his father's spectre,
scarcely caring whither it led him, even were it to sudden, untimely
death.

This Oriental lady only led the way to one of the side-rooms of the
theatre--rooms where maskers supped, or gambled, or flirted, or plotted,
as circumstance and character impelled them. This room into which
Lavendale followed the sultana was devoted to cards, and two ladies and
two gentlemen were squabbling over quadrille by the light of four tall
wax candles.

Both gentlemen had removed their masks, and in one of them Lavendale
recognised Mr. Topsparkle. That painted parchment face of his was
scarcely more natural than a mask, and had something the look of one,
Lavendale thought, in the flickering light of those tall dim candles.

Lady Judith turned and made him a curtsy.

"Now does your lordship know who I am?" she asked.

"I knew you from the first instant of our meeting. Is there any woman in
London who has the imperial air of Lady Judith Topsparkle? Could a mask
hide Juno, do you think?"

"I suppose not. One ought to muffle oneself in a domino if one wanted to
be unrecognised. But I question if any of us women come here with that
view. We are too vain. We want everybody to say, 'How well she is
looking to-night! she is positively the finest woman in the room!'"

She had sunk upon a low divan, in a careless attitude which was full of
a kind of regal grace.

"I forget if you and my husband know each other?" she asked lightly.

There was not the faintest sign of emotion in her tone or her manner.
Careless lightness, the airy indifference of a fashionable acquaintance,
could not be more distinctly indicated.

"I have not yet had the felicity of being made known to Mr. Topsparkle,"
Lavendale answered, with that perfect manner of his which was
exquisitely courteous, and yet gave the lady indifference for
indifference.

"O, but you must know each other. You have so many ideas in common--you
are both travellers, both eccentrics, both much cleverer than the common
herd of humanity. Vyvyan, put down your cards for a moment if you can;
here is Lord Lavendale, who complains that you have not waited upon him
since he returned from the East."

"I am vastly to blame," replied Topsparkle, shifting his cards to his
left hand and offering the right to Lavendale, a pallid attenuated hand,
decorated with a choice intaglio and one other ring, a twice-coiled
snake with a black diamond in its head, which looked like a gem with a
history; "I am stricken with remorse at the idea of my neglect. But his
lordship's appearance in London has been meteoric rather than regular,
and I have been for the most part in the country."

"The honour of making Mr. Topsparkle's acquaintance is only more
precious because it has been deferred," answered Lavendale; and the two
gentlemen, after having shaken hands with effusion, acknowledged each
other's compliments with stately bows.

Mr. Topsparkle resumed his play, and Lavendale seated himself on the
divan beside Lady Judith.

"Shall I attend you to the dancing-room?" he asked.

"No, I am sick to death of the crowd and the heat, and all those fine
people," she answered, taking off her mask, and letting him see the
loveliness he had once adored. "Did you observe Miss Thornleigh as
Iphigenia?" she asked carelessly.

"I beheld an exquisite vision of nakedness, like Eve before the fall, at
which all the world was gazing. I thought it was meant for our universal
mother!"

"No, it was Iphigenia."

"I stand corrected. Then a scanty drapery of silvery gauze and a fillet
round the brow mean Iphigenia. Now can I understand why Diana rejected
the young lady by way of holocaust, and substituted a hind at the final
moment. Such unclothed loveliness must have appalled the modest
goddess."

Lady Judith laughed behind her fan, and shrugged her beautiful shoulders
in the loose Turkish robe, which was decency itself in comparison with
Miss Thornleigh's audacious transparency of raiment. Everything is a
question of degree, and to be half naked in those days was only modish;
but there was a boundary-line, and the beautiful Miss Thornleigh was
considered to have overstepped it.

They talked of their acquaintance upon that crowded stage yonder,
discussed the scandals of the hour, the curious marriages--an elderly
lady to her footman, a gentleman of rank to an orange-girl--there had
been a passion for oranges ever since the days of Nell Gwynne.

"I believe to sell oranges is the only passport to a fine gentleman's
favour," said Judith. "I almost wish I had begun life with a basket,
like the famous Clara, princess of the Court of Requests. I would give
much to have inspired such a passion in such a man as Henry St. John."

"It is not too late, even without the oranges," answered Lavendale,
smiling at her. "If St. John was too easily melted, be sure Bolingbroke
is not altogether adamant."

"O, but he has a farm and a French wife, and has turned respectable. The
fiery St. John of Queen Anne's time, the hawk that swooped on every
dove, is altogether extinct; there is no such person."

"Are there not rivers in Damascus?" asked Lavendale with lowered voice,
drawing nearer to her as he spoke. "Are there none who can love as St.
John loved--not wasting that exquisite passion upon an inconstant
orange-wench, but burning his lamp of life before a higher altar,
worshipping, adoring at a purer shrine?"

"Heavens, what rodomontade we are talking!" cried Lady Judith, starting
up from her divan, and moving quickly to the door. "The very air of
these dances is full of a jargon which even sensible people fall into
unawares. Come, why do you not ask my hand for a minuet? I think you and
I have danced one ages ago, and that our steps went in decent time."

"Think! Ah, I forgot how short is memory in a lady of fashion."

"O, we have so many caprices to blot the tablet. Now a new singer, and
anon a new colour in lutestring, or a new style of headdress, or a new
game at cards. Life is a series of transformations. Here is poor Dick
Steele, struck down with paralysis, and gone to end his days in
Cheshire, he who was the wittiest man in London when I first knew this
town. I heard of his malady only to-night. Life is full of sad changes.
One can hardly remember oneself of a few years ago, much less one's
friends. But I swear I should have known your lordship anywhere."

"I am proud to be so far honoured."

They reëntered the busy scene at a pause between two dances. Everybody
was walking about. The dazzle and glitter of that moving throng showed
dimly through an all-pervading cloud of powder and dust, like a tropical
haze on a marshy shore; the Babel of voices was bewildering to the ear.

"There goes Peterborough with Anastasia Robinson on his arm. I can swear
to the turn of her head, though she has muffled herself in sables as a
Russian Czarina."

"If she knew what a cook-maid the present Empress of Russia is, the lady
would hardly aspire to be mistaken for her."

"O, it is only to make us all sick with envy at the splendour of her
sables. His lordship bought them for her in Paris. They are worth a
king's ransom. 'Tis said he allows her a hundred guineas a month, but I
am sure she must spend three times as much."

"You make me feel as if I were one of the Seven Sleepers," exclaimed
Lavendale. "Is not Mrs. Robinson the very pink and pattern of virtue; so
chaste and cold a being that even the too tender wooing of Senesino in
an opera--mere stage love-making--wounded and offended her?"

"That is perfectly true; but it is no less true that she smiles upon
Lord Peterborough. Who could withstand a warrior and a hero? The man who
conquered a province with a mere handful of troops must needs be
irresistible to a weak woman. She is living at Parson's Green with her
mother; but as Peterborough spends most of his life there, people will
talk."

"In spite of the mother?"

"In spite of the mother," echoed Judith. "However, it is hinted they are
privately married, and there are those among us who still continue to
receive Mrs. Robinson under that charitable supposition; ourselves, for
instance. Topsparkle is such a fanatic about music that I hardly dare
question a soprano's reputation, or hint that a tenor has the air of
having sprung from the gutter. At Ringwood Abbey we receive every one
who can sing or play to perfection, without reference to character. I
myself own to a prejudice in favour of those ladies who are still at
their first or second lover, in preference to those who have ruined half
the pretty fellows in town. But Bononcini and Handel are the two people
who really choose our society. We have our Bononcini set and our Handel
set, and are Italian or German as those great masters dictate. But you
must come to Ringwood some day and judge for yourself. How do you like
my husband?"

This was asked abruptly, with the lightest, most impertinent air.

"Mr. Topsparkle's courtesy to me just now renders me too much his
debtor to be disinterested. I am already a partial critic. But I am told
by the indifferent world that he is a most accomplished gentleman."

"Yes, he is very clever. But it is a fantastical kind of cleverness. He
plays the organ divinely, knows ever so many modern languages, and
writes French almost as well as Monsieur le Voltaire. He has
un-Englished himself by his long residence on the Continent, and must be
judged by a foreign standard of taste."

"So long as he has succeeded in making you happy--" began Lavendale, in
a lowered voice.

"Do I not look happy?" she asked, with smiling lips under the little
velvet mask.

"You look gloriously handsome. That radiant surface is too dazzling for
me to penetrate deeper. Who could question those lovely lips when they
smile, or dare hint that silvery laughter might be artificial? I will
believe anything those lips tell me."

"Then you may believe that Mr. Topsparkle is vastly kind, and that he
has loaded me with all the luxuries women live for nowadays: lutestring
gowns, Brussels lace, diamonds, pug-dogs, black footmen, and a Swiss
porter. If he cannot always insure me peace of mind it is the fault of
my capriciousness, and not any lack of kindness in him. My bosom is
racked at this moment by the thought of the lottery. I may win ten
thousand pounds, or draw nothing but blanks. I have wasted a competence
in buying up other people's tickets, for I dreamt I won the ten thousand
pound prize, and I have been in a fever of expectation from that hour."

"I hope you will not be too much disappointed should the dream prove
false: one of those deluding visions by which the Homeric gods lead
their victims into deadly peril."

"If that dream do not come true, I swear I will never sleep again; never
more trust myself in the land of lying shadows."

"The company all seem crowding to one spot. Shall we go?"

"Yes, this instant. It is nearly time for the lottery."

She took his arm, leaning on it in her eager haste, and her lovely arm
was pressed against his heart, beating passionately with all the old
fever. It was an unholy fever, for in his heart of hearts he knew that
she was not a good woman, that she had deteriorated sorely since their
last parting, that wealth and pride of place and the flatteries of a
modish mob had perverted all of good that had been left in her nature in
those old days when she was Lady Judith Walberton. Her reckless
conversation, her air of audacity, which seemed to challenge the
rekindling of old fires, shocked even while it captivated him. There was
a strange mixture of love and pity in his mind as he gazed upon this
beautiful, brilliant, and perhaps lost creature.

The lottery was attended by a maddened crowd, almost reproducing upon a
small scale the fever and folly of that famous South Sea scheme, which
but six years ago had spread ruin and sorrow over the land, as if it had
been some scaly monster come up out of the sea to devour the inhabitants
of the earth. The monster's name was Avarice or Cupidity, most fatal
among all fiery dragons that feed upon the flesh of men. And now the
same foul beast in little was preying upon this modish crowd. There
were women who had pledged their diamond earrings to buy tickets; there
were sadder sisters who had bartered their honour: and for how many was
the agony of disappointment inevitable!

For Lady Judith among others. Her eleven numbers were all blanks. She
pushed her way through the mob in a towering passion.

"The whole thing is a cheat!" she exclaimed. "I believe the prize-winner
goes halves with the proprietor of the lottery. There must be trickery
somewhere. Did you see how delighted Lady Mary Montagu was at winning a
paltry fifty pounds? That woman is as mean as Shylock or Harpagon, or as
wicked old Sarah herself. I had eleven tickets, every one of them, as I
thought, a lucky number: one was my age doubled; the other, Topsparkle's
multiplied by nine; another had three sevens in it; another, four
threes. I had chosen them with the utmost discretion; and to think there
was not a winning number among the whole heap! I gave Lady Wharton a
ruby ring for her ticket, one of the finest in my jewel-case, the true
pigeon's-blood colour, and the creature has jewed me out of that lovely
gem for a scrap of waste pasteboard. I am provoked beyond measure!"

"But, dear Lady Judith, with inordinate wealth at your command, and with
the most indulgent of husbands for your purse-bearer, is it worth your
while to gamble?"

"Is any pleasure worth one's while?" she retorted mockingly. "They are
all empty; they are all Dead Sea apples that turn to dust and ashes. One
may as well take diversion one way as another. Topsparkle thinks he is
happy when he has collected a pack of squalling Italians or
sourcrout-eating Germans under his roof; and yet they contrive to keep
him in a fever, by their bickerings and grumblings and envyings, from
the moment of arrival to the moment of departure. Will you help me to
find my chair? I suppose there will be some of my men in the vestibule,
if they are not all drunk at some low mug-house."

"I will answer for finding you a couple of sober chairmen. You will not
wait for Mr. Topsparkle?"

"I would not disturb his game for worlds; for though he pretends I am
the only gamester in the family, he has a passion for quadrille. He
learnt the taste in the south of France, where they play hardly anything
else."

They went to the vestibule, where Lady Judith Topsparkle's running
footmen were lolling against the wall or lounging about in company with
a crowd of other lacqueys, all slightly the worse for twopenny ale, but
fairly steady upon their well-fed legs, nevertheless. Lady Judith's
liveries of orange and brown were distinguishable by their sombre
richness among gaudier suits of blue and silver or peach-blossom and
gold.

"My roquelaure," she said to one of her men, a gigantic blackamoor who
had served in the Royal Schloss at Berlin, and had been tempted away
from his Prussian Majesty's service by larger offers from Mr.
Topsparkle. His startling appearance had fascinated the wealthy
Englishman, who was instantly eager to add this exotic grace to his
household.

The giant spread a fur-lined cloak over her ladyship's shoulders, a
cloak of paduasoy which enveloped the tall form from the throat to the
feet.

"Let us go and look for my chair," she exclaimed impatiently. "This
vestibule reeks of lamp-oil and black footmen."

Lavendale accompanied her swift footsteps out into the portico.
Sedan-chairs were standing in quadruple ranks, coaches and chariots
blocked the road, shining meteoric with the blaze of their lamps and the
glitter of their harness, horses champing, snorting, pawing, in
impatience to be moving through the cold crisp air. There was a slight
frost, a faint gray fog, and, above, a new moon rode fast in a sky of
steely blue, broken by dark clouds.

"I hate to be smothered in a chair after escaping from a stifling
assembly-room," said Lady Judith, "and the night seems positively
enchanting. Would you have the courage to walk home with me?"

"It needs the courage of a lion, yet I will face the peril for the sake
of such company. But will those dainty little Turkish slippers which I
observed just now keep out the cold and damp?"

"O, they are more substantial than they look, and the stones seem quite
dry. I am not afraid. Juba, tell my chairmen I am going to walk."

Juba, Lady Judith's particular personal attendant, was quick to marshal
his men. Two went in advance of their mistress with blazing torches, two
others followed, while Juba marched at the head of the little procession
by way of advanced guard.

Thus attended, and leaning upon Lord Lavendale's arm, Lady Judith's
progress by way of Gerard Street to Soho Square had a picturesque air
which is unknown in our matter-of-fact age of well-lit streets and
miniature broughams. Everything in those days was on a grandiose scale;
and if people spent a good deal of money, they at least had their full
value in show and glitter. Those running footmen with their flaming
torches, that huge blackamoor with his splendid livery, made a display
that would have graced the semi-Oriental state of a Roman Empress in the
decadence of the Empire.

Gerard Street was alive with gaiety and fashion--beaux and belles
arriving and departing, torches flaming, harness rattling, sedans
setting down or taking up their freight at every door, footmen lounging
against every railing, link-boys rushing to and fro, making believe that
the night was dark, though the cold crescent moon kept peeping out from
amidst those black scurrying clouds and putting those resin-dropping
links to shame.

Windows blazed with the light of many candles, and shadows flitted
across many a blind. From some houses there came a gust of
noise--laughter, babble, and the rattle of dice; from another, sounds of
music now classic, then modern and fashionable. There was no such thing
as solitude for Lavendale and Lady Judith in that walk through one of
the most fashionable quarters of the town, no possibility of anything
compromising or sentimental. Their talk was of the lightest--the very
thistledown of polite conversation--with no more purpose or depth of
meaning than there is in Mr. Pope's letters to Lady Mary written a few
years before this time.

What a beautiful, frivolous, gracious creature she seemed in Lavendale's
eyes as she walked by his side, moving with swift footsteps through the
cold night! She carried herself superbly at all times, and walked like
Dian or Atalanta. Sir Robert himself had praised her carriage, and
talked of her as "a splendid mover," as if she had been one of his
Norfolk hunters. She wore her mask still, and her head was muffled in
her Turkish "asmack," and her long furred mantle reached to her heels.
Yet there was hardly a man at the Court end of London who would have
failed to recognise the lady whom a legion of admirers at White's and at
the Cocoa Tree toasted as a queen among women, and whose name had been
written with a diamond on one of the toast-glasses at the Kit-Kat Club
when she was fifteen.

"Tell me some of your Eastern adventures," she exclaimed presently. "I
have been telling you all about our town scandals, and you have told me
positively nothing of your travels. Is it true that you broke into the
seraglio at Constantinople, and were set upon by a dozen blackamoors as
big as Juba, and very nearly killed in the scuffle?"

"Just about as true as the most startling adventures of Marco Polo or
Sir John Mandeville. I saw no more of the seraglio than the cypress-tops
in the garden that surround it, and a glimpse of the palace itself
through the foliage."

"But is it not true that you brought home a Circassian slave, a peerless
beauty, and that you have her under lock and key at Lavendale Manor?"

"That also belongs to the Marco Polo order of adventures. No, Lady
Judith, the burnt-out ashes of a heart are not to be rekindled by
almond-eyed beauties with thick waists and squabby figures; I saw
nothing in the East half so lovely as that which I left in the West."

"And yet we are taught to think the Orient is full of loveliness. Here
we are at my door. Will you come in and wait for Mr. Topsparkle? I
daresay I shall have company, for I told half a dozen of my dearest
friends they might take their chocolate with me after the masquerade."

The Soho Square of 1726 was a place of palaces, but its fashion was
already waning. Monmouth House, a royal mansion built by Wren for the
luckless Duke, had fallen from Lord Bateman's occupation to a public
auction-room; and there were other signs of decay which indicated that
Golden Square to the south, and the newly planned Cavendish Square,
almost in the country, were disputing the palm with Soho, which was
beginning to assume a dilapidated air; like old Lady Orkney, or any
other famous Court beauty of a bygone generation.

Mr. Topsparkle's house was the largest and most regal-looking after
Monmouth House. It was approached by a double flight of steps, and its
pilastered balconies, pedimented windows, and Grecian cornice gave a
stately air to a building which in spaciousness and elevation was
magnificent.

But if the outer appearance of the mansion was noble and imposing, its
interior decoration made it one of the richest and most wonderful houses
in London. In all his journeyings about the face of the earth Mr.
Topsparkle had amused himself by the collection of curios; and as his
purse was long and his taste universal, he had gathered together the
most heterogeneous assemblage of the beautiful and the ugly that had
ever been amassed by one man or exhibited under one roof.

The spacious hall which Lavendale entered at Lady Judith's invitation
was hung with Venetian tapestry from the palace of a fourteenth-century
Doge, and almost black with age. But as a relief against that sombre
background there hung a unique collection of Moorish and Indian arms,
while the foreground of the room was enlivened with everything
frivolous and elegant in the way of china monsters, Meissen porcelain,
carved ivory, French fans and bonbon-boxes, filigree-silver caskets,
bronze statuettes, gold snuffboxes, and Indian gods, all scattered, as
it were, haphazard upon a variety of small tables of more or less
eccentric designs. On the left of this hall opened a suite of
drawing-rooms which served also as one continuous picture-gallery, and
which contained a collection of French and Italian masters acknowledged
to be one of the best in England. On the right was the dining-room--an
immense apartment, which better deserved the name of banqueting-hall.
Here everything was of carved oak, ponderous, gigantic, and strictly
Dutch, and here the pictures were by Dutch and Flemish painters. A
replica of Rubens' "Descent from the Cross" hung over the sideboard, and
the rest of the wall was a mosaic of cabinet pictures, every one a gem.

The hall was lighted with clusters of wax candles in bronze candelabra
dotted here and there about the tables, and making only islets of light
in the gloom of those dark walls, against which Moorish breast-plates
and Indian targets flashed and gleamed with faintly phosphorescent
brightness. But at one end of the hall there was an enormous wood fire,
which made a rosy atmosphere all round it; and it was in this roseate
glow that Judith seated herself, sinking into a capacious armchair
covered with stamped and gilt leather: a chair in which it was supposed
Count Egmont had sat when he was tried for his life in the Town Hall at
Brussels.

She flung off cloak and mask, and appeared in all the brilliancy of gold
brocade and diamonds, a beautiful dazzling apparition which seemed
hardly human in that fairy-like fire-glow. She touched a little bell,
and her lacqueys began to arrange a table for chocolate; and before it
could be brought three of her lady friends came trooping in, also
cloaked and masked, with two gentlemen in attendance upon them.

"How early you left!" said Lady Polwhele, a stout matron of fifty,
revealing a bedaubed complexion and a galaxy of patches; "I saw you
sneak away. Do you know that I won twenty pound? I feel in the seventh
heaven. It is odiously little to win, but it may be the turning-point
of my bad luck. I have been losing persistently at every venture I have
made ever since my wretched South Sea bonds, when I ought to have sold
out and didn't. I could have sold them at nine hundred, Asterley, and
can you believe that I was fool enough to keep them till they dropped to
a hundred and twenty? The idiots about me declared there must inevitably
be as rapid a rise as there had been a fall. Would you believe it, Ted?"

"I have heard the story so often that it has become an article of faith
with me," answered Mr. Asterley, with a bored look. He, too, had taken
off his mask, and revealed a small-featured, effeminate face and a faded
complexion. He had not taken to paint yet, and he looked as if he had
not slept for a week. His city-bred wife was one of Lady Polwhele's
companions, for that worthy dowager had patched up a peace with her old
admirer, and finding she could not dispense with the assiduities of the
husband, now submitted to the society of the wife as a necessary evil.
She was said to be forming Mrs. Asterley. But if the pupil was docile,
the material was of the coarsest, or so her ladyship declared in
confidence to at least fifty particular friends. "I think if any one
could make a fine lady out of a handsome dairymaid I ought to be able to
do it," she told her intimates, when she was bemoaning Mrs. Asterley's
incorrigible vulgarity.

"You have trained so many fine gentlemen that it must be agreeable to
work on the other sex by way of variety," said her confidante.

"O, I have always liked to have boys of good family about me to fetch
and carry," answered Lady Polwhele carelessly. "They are better than
black footmen; they want no wages, and they have not that horrid African
odour which makes so many fine houses smell like a zoological garden.
But for Ted Asterley's sake I should really like to make his wife
presentable. Her high-mettled prancing at the last birthnight ball
nearly set the room in a roar. Captain Bloodyer told me that her steps
in the country dance reminded him of nothing but a dealer's horse being
taught to step high over bundles of straw in a livery-yard. If the
creature would only be quiet there might be some hope for her, but her
plebeian blood has furnished her with a stock of animal spirits which
must be her ruin."

Mrs. Asterley's spirits had not abandoned her even at three o'clock in
the morning. This was her first visit to the famous house in Soho, and
she ran about the room exclaiming at everything.

"Dear, what a funny room," she cried, "with all those crooked knives and
pretty old dish-covers on the wall! I thought they kept the like of them
in the butler's pantry, but they're mighty pretty against that
carpet-work."

Then coming to a sudden stop before Lady Judith, and giggling shyly, she
exclaimed, "Lord, how I should love a room just like this, your la'ship!
It has such a sweet pretty murderous kind of an air, just like
Bluebeard's chamber, where he kept his wives' heads. I shall ask papa to
let me furnish a room the same pattern, so I shall."

"Pray do, Mrs. Asterley. The frame will charmingly suit the picture. You
have a vapourish artistic air which would be admirably set off by
antique furniture."

"My dear Belle, Mr. Topsparkle's old Venetian tapestry is both
priceless and unique," said her husband reprovingly.

"What, that old carpet-work on the walls? I thought they had that for
cheapness."

"My sweetest love, you have no more manners than a pig," said Asterley,
but with an indulgent smile at his buxom wife's low-bred simplicity
which was gall and wormwood to Lady Polwhele.

"O, but when one is blest with a wealthy father it is so natural to
suppose he can get one anything one fancies by paying for it. I am sure
I should have thought as much if my poor dear papa had not been a
pauper," said Lady Judith, with languid good-nature. "You must go to
Canons or Stowe, my dear Mrs. Asterley, and look about you. You will see
some very pretty ideas for rooms, which will put you in the right way of
furnishing your new house."

"But we have not taken a house yet. We are in a lodging over a
tallow-chandler's in the Haymarket. It is dreadful on melting days. Yet
they say Mr. Addison wrote his poem on Blenheim next door. I used to
think Blenheim was a battle, but Teddie says 'tis a poem."

"My sweet child, if you were to talk a little less and listen a little
more, there might be some hope of your arriving at an understanding of
many things that are now dark to you," said Lady Polwhele severely; and
then she peered about in the great dusky apartment, and suddenly
descried Lord Lavendale sitting a little way behind Lady Judith, and
quite in shadow.

"As I live, it is Lavendale!" she cried; "the very man I have been
pining to see these centuries. Come and sit by me on this couch, you
dear pretty fellow, and tell me where you have hidden yourself since you
came from the East."

"In the dismal seclusion of my father's favourite estate, and the only
remnant of his property which his son's follies have left intact,"
answered Lavendale gravely.

"Did not I tell you so, Asterley?" exclaimed her ladyship; "there is no
help for it, you see. He must marry an heiress. Did not I say so,
Asterley? You and I must find him an heiress."

"Forgive me, Lady Polwhele, if I submit that although you and my friend
Asterley are doubtless admirable caterers, I would rather be my own
purveyor."

"O, but heiresses are almost as extinct as the dodo. An only child of
wealthy parents is the veritable black swan. And Asterley is such a
diplomatist with women."

"Egad, his lordship is in the right in rejecting a lady of my choosing,"
simpered Asterley. "The odds are I should have insinuated my own image
into the warmest corner of the dear creature's heart before I introduced
my principal. Agents and proxies are always dangerous in love or
matrimony."

"Would it surprise Mr. Asterley to hear that the heiress is found
already?" asked Judith languidly, looking downward at the jewelled
Moorish salver and chocolate service of German china which Juba and his
minions had arranged on the table in front of her. The copper
chocolate-pot was of curious shape, and was supposed to be as ancient as
the destruction of Pompeii, and to have held some witch's concoction in
the way of a philtre for love or hate. There was a tiny spirit-lamp
under it, which burned with a diabolical blue flame.

"Found already, while Lavendale has been hiding in Surrey?" cried the
dowager. "You astound me!"

"Yes, the young lady danced at the birthnight ball, and was the observed
of all observers for her grace and beauty. Everybody was asking where
she had learnt to walk a minuet with such a mixture of ease and
stateliness, till Mary Campbell, who has the impudence of the devil,
went about asking questions, and ferreted out the new beauty's history.
She is the daughter of Squire Bosworth, Lord Lavendale's next-door
neighbour, a curious old money-grubber who made a hundred thousand
pounds in that odious South Sea scheme which beggared so many women of
fashion and disgraced not a few: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, for
instance, who still trembles at the very name of that unlucky Frenchman
whose money she ventured and lost."

"And whose very warm advances she must at one time have encouraged,"
suggested Lady Polwhele. "Poor Molly would never have been so frightened
had there not been something more than money transactions between her
and Monsieur Rémond. But pray tell us more of the heiress."

"She is as simple as Wycherley's country wife, but much more genteel,"
replied Lady Judith lightly, while Juba carried round the chocolate, and
while Lavendale sat on thorns. "She has learnt to sing and dance from a
lame old Frenchwoman, who taught Lady Tredgold's gaunt daughters--"

"And never succeeded in teaching them to step to the music," said
Asterley.

"But this girl is a born sylph, and a musician by instinct. Topsparkle
has heard of her singing, though he has never seen her, and he wants me
to ask her to Ringwood. Surely you must have observed her, Lady
Polwhele?"

"I was not at the birthnight; my dearest pug had a fit of the colic so
severe that I trembled lest every breath should be his last. I would not
have left him for a galaxy of kings and princes."

"But you must have seen her to-night. A slim, nymph-like creature,
disguised as Diana, with a silver crescent in her hair. She and
Lavendale were the prettiest couple in the room."

"Lady Judith is bent upon rekindling the ashes of a long-extinguished
vanity," said Lavendale.

"But you do not deny the South Sea heiress. You plead guilty to serious
intentions," said Lady Polwhele, shaking her fan at his lordship in a
kittenish manner.

"Gold and spices from southern seas have a pleasant sound, your
ladyship," replied Lavendale easily, "and the young lady herself is as
much too good for me as I am too bad for her."

"O, but a country-bred girl always doats upon a rake."

"'Tis only natural a rustic lass should be fond of making hay. I suppose
it is that kind of innocent wooden rake your ladyship means. _Gaudentem
patrios findere sarculo agros._"

"No, sir, a battered, hardened, brazen, half-ruined, infidel man of
fashion," answered the dowager; "that is the object a country wench
admires. If you are reformed, be sure you have spoiled your chances. You
cannot be too wicked to please sweet simplicity. It is only experienced
women of the world, like Lady Judith and me, who have a relish for
virtue."

"And then only in the abstract, I'll be sworn," cried Asterley, coming
to the tray for a second cup of chocolate, and devouring cakes out of a
silver filigree basket. "You relish virtue in your Locke or your
Addison--a stately preachment of morality in elegant Saxon-English, but
you like a man to be--a man. There is Lord Bolingbroke, for instance. Is
he not the highest example of manly perfection? _Facile primus._ An easy
first in everything: first in pleasure, idleness, and debauchery, as he
is first in learning, diplomacy, and statesmanship."

"And in lies and craft," said Lady Judith scornfully; "there he is--what
do you call it?--_primus inter primos_. I would rather have Walpole for
my type of manliness. A coarser stuff, if you will, but a far more
honest fabric; no such mixture of gold and tinsel, strength and
rottenness."

"I forgot that your ladyship belongs to the Whig faction," said
Asterley.

"O, I tie myself to no politics. If the Chevalier were a MAN, I would
rather have him to rule us than this little German king. But the little
Hanoverian is at least honest, and has shown his mettle against the
Turks, while the Stuarts are as false as they are feeble: ingrates to
their friends and trucklers to their foes."

While she was speaking, there came a great ringing of the hall-bell, and
the sound of a chair setting down outside; and then the double doors
were opened, and between a lane of footmen Mr. Topsparkle sauntered in.

He had not condescended to any further disguise than a crimson damask
domino, which he flung off as he entered, revealing a suit of tawny
velvet embroidered with gold thread, with ruffles and cravat of finest
Malines lace, his small pinched features almost overshadowed by the
fulness of his somewhat old-fashioned periwig. He saluted the company
with an air of being enraptured at seeing them, which was _de rigueur_
in that age of compliment and all-pervading artificiality.

"I vow it is our divine Lady Polwhele, looking at least a decade younger
than when these eyes last beheld her."

"Why, you foolish Topsparkle, 'twas but t'other day we met and
quarrelled for a china monster--a green dragon with a hollow stomach
for burning pastilles--at the auction-room over the way."

"Ah, but that was by daylight, and a woman's beauty when she has once
passed thirty is too delicate and evanescent for sunshine and open air.
Buxom wenches of twenty may endure the glare and the breeze: it only
makes them a trifle more blowsy; but for the refined, the intellectual,
the ethereal loveliness of _womanhood_, there must be chastened light
and gorgeous surroundings. This room becomes you as her rainbow and her
peacocks become Juno, or as the sea-foam sets off Aphrodite."

"Flatterer!" sighed her ladyship, tapping him playfully with her fan;
"you were always incorrigible. I have not forgotten the wicked things
you said to me seven years ago, when we met in Venice. Come, prince of
lies, show me your last new picture; you are always adding gems to your
collection."

"Nay, I have forsworn painting, and live only for music. I bought a
little dulcimer t'other day which belonged to good Queen Bess. Come and
look at it."

Lady Polwhele followed him into the picture-gallery, which had been
brilliantly lighted in the expectation of droppers-in after the
masquerade. And now came more setting down of chairs, swearing at
chairmen, quarrelling of link-boys, and loud ringing at the hall-bell,
and some of the most modish people in London came sauntering in to sip
Lady Judith's chocolate or Mr. Topsparkle's Tokay. The rooms were almost
full before Lord Lavendale left; and amidst that coming and going of
guests, and idle compliments and idle laughter, he had found himself
several times in close converse with Judith, they two, as they had often
been before, alone amidst the babble of the crowd.

She congratulated him with a prettily serious air, almost maternal, or
at least sisterly, upon his approaching marriage. She told him that he
had chosen wisely in selecting so lovely a girl, with a fortune large
enough to pay off his mortgages and start him afresh in life.

"I protest there is nothing settled," he said. "What you have heard is
but the town gossip--words without meaning. I have said not a word to
the lady. I grant you that her father has been monstrously civil to me,
that he is rich while I am poor, and that our estates join. Upon my
honour there is no more than this."

"0, but you have only to speak and to win. I have set my heart upon
seeing your fortune mended. I have been poor myself, and know how hard
it is for a patrician to be penniless. I shall ask Harpagon and his
daughter to Ringwood. He is an odious miser, they tell me."

"He has lived in rather a shabby way, and I believe that to accumulate
wealth is his ruling passion; but I doubt he would be willing to spend
liberally upon occasion. He has been a misanthrope rather than a miser,
Alceste rather than Harpagon."

"Whatever he is I will endure him, for his pretty daughter's sake."

"You are ever gracious and obliging. Good-night."

"Good-morning, for it has just chimed four."

They saluted each other with stateliest courtesy, and Lavendale left,
but not to go straight back to Bloomsbury. Late as it was, he felt
there was still a chance of company and play at White's chocolate-house;
so it was westward to St. James's Street he betook himself, there to
lose a few of those loose guineas which he always had in his pocket,
albeit he was practically a pauper.



CHAPTER X.

"AND SUDDENLY, SWEETLY, MY HEART BEAT STRONGER."


Squire Bosworth, having once consented to bring his daughter to town,
was not a man to stint money in detail. He surprised his sister-in-law
by the liberality of his arrangements and the liberty he allowed her in
expenditure. She had excellent rooms for herself and her gaunt
daughters, and a coach and four at her disposition, with free license to
buy tickets for concerts, operas, masquerades, and public amusements of
all kinds; and she was told to order all that was needful for the
adornment of the heiress's person. Her ladyship was an old campaigner,
and knew how to profit by her position. The mantua-makers and milliners
who waited upon Mrs. Bosworth were tradeswomen who had supplied Lady
Tredgold for a quarter of a century, and she had them, as it were,
under her thumb. "I have so little money to spend, my dears, that if I
did not spend it with the same people year after year, I should not be
of the slightest importance to fashionable trades-folk. But by a steady
patronage of the same people, and by always paying ready money, I have
contrived to keep the best milliner and mantua-maker in London my very
humble and devoted servants."

It happened, therefore, that in these halcyon days of the Arlington
Street lodgings, Mrs. Amelia and Mrs. Sophia Tredgold were supplied with
gowns and caps almost at half-price by these obliging and confidential
purveyors. There was a handsome margin for profit upon the prices paid
for Irene's Court-train and other fineries.

Everything in that wonderful world of fashion and pleasure was new and
surprising to the girl who had been reared in the seclusion of Fairmile
Park. She gave herself up freely to the enchantments of the dazzling,
dissipated, extravagant, artificial town. She saw only the glitter and
sparkle of society's surface, and knew not that the light was the
phosphorescence of putrefaction; that the whole fabric, this fairy
palace gleaming with lights and breathing music, was rotten to the core,
and might fall about the heads of these revellers at any moment, as that
other fairy palace where Philip the Regent and his _roués_ had so lately
held their orgies was doomed to fall before the century should be ended.

But of all pleasures which that great city could offer to innocent youth
the divinest was music, which at this period enjoyed an unbounded
popularity and fashion. The one art which George I. loved was music, and
to that art and its most famous professors he and his family gave the
warmest encouragement. The Royal Academy for Music had only been founded
six years, but the influence of such a school was already felt. Italian
opera was in its glory, and the rivalry between Handel and Buononcini,
and between Cuzzoni and La Faustina, was one of the most exciting topics
in the whole round of society talk.

Rena revelled in that magic world of the opera. All the glamour of the
stage was here intensified by the stronger magic of music. Handel's
classic operas, with their wealth of melody and charm of mythologic
story, opened a new world of enchantment to the girl's quick
imagination. Lady Tredgold and her daughters loved the opera only
because it was fashionable, and stifled many a yawn behind their Watteau
fans; Rena and Mdlle. Latour delighted in music as an epicure delights
at a feast. They hung entranced upon every note, and inwardly resented
the chattering and giggling of Mrs. Amelia and Mrs. Sophia, who
coquetted with their admirers at the back of the box, and encouraged
visits from all the most frivolous foplings of the town. Rena had no
suspicion that these young fribbles came for the most part in the hope
of getting a word or two with the heiress. It had never occurred to her
that she was a prize for which half the young men in London would have
liked to race each other.

Lord Lavendale was a frequent visitor at the house in Arlington Street,
and was cordially received by Lady Tredgold, who had been intimate with
his mother in her girlhood and was disposed to favour his suit. He had
spoken to Mr. Bosworth, who had answered bluntly, "Win her if you can,
and then we will see about paying off the mortgages on Lavendale, and
joining the two estates. But I am no tyrant to force my daughter into
an uncongenial marriage. If you would have her and her fortune, you must
first win her heart."

"I will try," Lavendale answered, honestly enough.

It was his resolute intention to try and gain Rena's love, and to lead a
better life than he had ever led yet: to abjure the bottle and the
dice-box, though both those amusements were deemed the fitting diversion
for a fine gentleman's leisure. Even the graver and statelier men of the
day were topers. The late Lord Oxford had been accused of coming drunk
into the presence of his Queen; and Pulteney drank almost as deep as St.
John. Three or four bottles of Burgundy were deemed a fair allowance for
a gentleman; and now the Methuen treaty, giving free trade in Portuguese
wines, was bringing a heavier liquor into fashion.

Lavendale and Irene met in all the aristocratic assemblies of the day,
at operas and balls, auction-rooms, Park, and Mall. They met at the
house of Henrietta Duchess of Marlborough, daughter of the great Duke
and widow of Lord Godolphin the statesman, who gave musical evenings
and swore by Buononcini. Here Rena beheld Mr. Congreve, _l'ami de la
maison_, gouty, irritable, and nearly blind, but occasionally
condescending to sparkle in brief flashes of wit. He was petted and
obviously adored by the lady, who, after having had the greatest soldier
and the grandest statesman of that age for father and husband, appeared
to have reserved her warmest affections for a selfish old bachelor
playwright.

Lavendale and Irene met each other in still higher society at St.
James's, Leicester House, and Richmond Lodge, where Lady Tredgold had
the entry. New and pretty faces are always welcome at Court, and it
became speedily known that the charms of this particular face were
fortified by a handsome fortune. The Princess of Wales was very gracious
to Squire Bosworth's daughter, and Mrs. Howard smiled upon her with that
sweet vague placidity which one sees in the faces of deaf people. Rena
here beheld the famous Dean Swift, newly advanced to that title of Dean,
and come to kiss his patroness's beautiful hand, and to sneer at all
the little great world around him in nightly letters to Stella Johnson,
far away in a Dublin lodging, with small means and an elderly companion.
Fond and faithful Stella may have needed those lively letters of the
Dean's, with their graphic account of _his_ pleasures, to cheer the slow
monotony of her days.

Irene enjoyed everything, and, being nearly as innocent as Una, saw no
evil under that fair outward surface of high-born society. Life flowed
so smoothly and pleasantly under that superficial elegance; everybody
spoke sweetly, wit was current coin, and music of the highest quality
seemed the very atmosphere in which these people lived. It was but for
the King to set the fashion, and everybody adored music; just as in
Charles I.'s time everybody had been more or less fanatical about
painters and painting. Rena moved from scene to scene with a sublime
unconsciousness of evil, and late at night, or over their chocolate in
the morning, would describe all she had seen and heard to her devoted
governess, who shared in none of her amusements except the opera and an
occasional concert, but who was always sympathetic and interested in all
she heard.

"You seem to meet Lord Lavendale wherever you go," Mdlle. Latour said on
one occasion, when his lordship's name had been mentioned by her pupil
with perfect frankness.

"We are always meeting all the same people. When I go into a crowded
room now, I seem to know everybody in it. I feel quite surprised at the
sight of a stranger."

"Just as if you were an experienced fine lady," laughed Mademoiselle;
"how quickly my woodland nymph has accustomed herself to the ways of
this crowded fashionable town! But to return to Lord Lavendale: if you
do not meet him oftener than you do other people, I think that at least
you enjoy more of his society. You and he are often talking together,
Mrs. Amelia told me."

"O yes, we are very good friends," the girl answered carelessly. "I
think he is pleasanter than most people."

"Heart-whole, and likely to remain so, as far as Lavendale is
concerned," thought the little Frenchwoman with satisfaction; for she
knew too much of his lordship's past history to approve of him as a
suitor for her beloved pupil.

After a pause she said,

"By the bye, Rena, Mr. Durnford called yesterday when you were out with
Lady Tredgold. It is the fifth time he has called and found you gone
abroad."

Irene blushed crimson.

"O, why did you not beg him to stop till I came home?" she asked.

"My dear child, this is not my house. I have no right to give
invitations."

"Yes, you have. You could have detained him if you had liked. The fifth
visit! What must he think of me?"

"He confessed that he thought you somewhat a gad-about. He told me that
he tried to waylay you in public resorts--in the Ring, or at the
auction-rooms; but even there he had been unfortunate: when he went
west, you had gone east."

Irene looked piteously disappointed.

"Five times! and I have not been told of one of those visits!" she
exclaimed indignantly. "Why was that?"

"Because your aunt's footmen forgot all about it, I daresay," replied
Mademoiselle. "Footmen have a knack of forgetting such visitors,
especially when the visitor wears a shabby coat and may forget to
emphasise his inquiries with a crown. I doubt you would never have heard
of this last visit, if I had not happened to come in from my walk in St.
James's Park just as Mr. Durnford knocked at the door. He stopped for a
few minutes' chat on the doorstep. I told him you were to be at the
opera to-night."

"Then perhaps he will go there!" cried Rena, suddenly becoming radiant,
and confirming the shrewd little Frenchwoman in a suspicion which she
had harboured for some time.

What a pity that Herrick Durnford was poor, and without rank or lineage
to counterbalance his poverty! She knew that Squire Bosworth would
favour Lavendale's suit, and would in all probability disinherit his
daughter if she presumed to marry a penniless scribbler. Mdlle. Latour
had enjoyed opportunities of studying the character of both these young
men, and she had decided that Durnford's was the nobler nature, though
there was assuredly some good in Lavendale.



CHAPTER XI.

"AND BEAUTY DRAWS US WITH A SINGLE HAIR."


Christmas was near at hand, the fox-hunting season was in full swing,
and Lady Judith and Mr. Topsparkle had made up a large party for sport
and music at Ringwood Abbey. Her Grace of Marlborough and Mr. Congreve
were to be there; Sir Robert Walpole had promised to spend half a week
away from the charms of his own beloved Houghton and his still dearer
Molly Skerritt. The two spendthrift Spencers were asked, and
Chesterfield; while Bolingbroke, whom Lady Judith pretended to admire
more than any man living, was to be the chief star among so many
luminaries.

Lady Judith affected to have taken a fancy to the new heiress, and was
so pressing in her invitation to Lady Tredgold to bring her sweet niece
to Ringwood for the Christmas holidays, that the good lady could not
resist the temptation to visit at a house which she had so often joined
in rancorously abusing for its riotous extravagance and corrupt taste.
But as Lady Judith had pointedly ignored the two gaunt daughters in her
invitation, Lady Tredgold considered herself under no obligation to be
grateful. She left the daughters in Arlington Street under the charge of
Mdlle. Latour, and started for Ringwood with Rena and two maids in a
coach and six. Had she been travelling at her own expense, she might
have managed the journey with four horses, bad as the roads were; but as
Mr. Bosworth had to pay, she considered six indispensable. Had the
journey been at her own cost, she might even have gone in the great
heavy Salisbury coach, which, although periodically surprised by
highwaymen between Putney and Kingston, or on Bagshot Heath, was perhaps
somewhat safer in its strength of numbers than any private conveyance.

On this occasion she took a couple of footmen armed with blunderbusses,
hid her own and the heiress's jewels in a little leather bag under the
seat, and put her trust in Providence for the rest. Despite of these
precautions and of her six horses she might, perchance, have fared
badly, had it not been for an unexpected reinforcement in the persons of
Lavendale and Durnford, who overtook the carriage on Putney Common in
the sharp frosty morning of December 21.

They were both well mounted on powerful roadsters, and followed by two
grooms upon horses of scarcely inferior quality; gentlemen and servants
were both armed.

Irene blushed and sparkled at sight of the two cavaliers, and Lavendale,
spoiled by a decade of successes, made sure those smiles were for him.

"You are early on the road, ladies," he exclaimed gaily, "considering
that it was past two this morning ere you plunged the Ridotto in
untimely gloom by your departure. There were some blockheads who put
down that diminished lustre to a sudden failure of the wax candles; but
I knew 'twas but two pairs of eyes that had ceased to shine upon the
assembly. Pray how far do you propose travelling to-day, Lady Tredgold?"

"Only as far as Fairmile. We are to lie at my brother's house to-night,
and pursue our journey at eight o'clock to-morrow morning. It is odious
rising so early in winter. My niece and I dressed by candlelight, and
the watchman was crying half-past six o'clock and a frosty morning when
my maid came to wake me. It seemed but half an hour since I left the
Ridotto."

"'Tis those short nights that shorten the measure of life, madam," said
Durnford gravely. "Mrs. Bosworth will be older by ten years for the
pleasures of a single season."

Her ladyship honoured the speaker with a slow, supercilious stare, and
deigned no other answer.

"0, but there are some things worth wasting life for, Mr. Durnford,"
replied Irene, smiling at him; "the opera, for instance. I would barter
a year of my old age for one night of _Rinaldo_ or _Theseus_."

"A lady of eighteen is as free with the treasure of long life as a minor
with his reversion," said Durnford. "Both are spendthrifts. But I, who
have passed life's zenith, which with a man I take to be thirty, am
beginning to be chary of my declining years. I hope to win some prize
out of life's lottery, and to live happy ever after, as they say in
fairy tales. Now I conclude that 'ever after' in your story-book means a
hale old age."

"Give me the present hour and its pleasures," cried Lavendale, "a bumper
of rattle and excitement, filled to the brim, a long deep draught of
joy, and no for-ever-after of old age and decline, in which to regret
the golden days of youth. There should be no _arrière pensée_ on such a
morning as this, with a bright winter sun, a good trotting-horse, and
beauty's eyes for our lode-stars."

"How does your lordship happen to be travelling our way?" asked Lady
Tredgold.

"For the simplest of all reasons: I and my friend Durnford here are both
bound for the same destination."

"You are going to Ringwood Abbey! How very curious, how very pleasant!"
exclaimed the lady, in her most gracious tones; then she added with a
colder air, and without looking at the person of whom she spoke, "I was
not aware that Mr. Durnford was acquainted with Mr. Topsparkle."

Durnford was absorbed in the landscape, and made no reply to the
indirect question.

"Mr. Topsparkle is ever on the alert to invite clever people to his
house," said Lavendale, "and Lady Judith has a rage for literature,
poetry, science, what you will. She is a student of Newton and
Flamsteed, and loves lectures on physical science such as Desaguliers
gave the town when Durnford and I were boys. Lady Judith is devoted to
Mr. Durnford."

"I am charmed to learn that literature is so highly appreciated," said
her ladyship stiffly.

She made up her mind that Herrick Durnford was dangerous--a
fortune-hunter, doubtless, with a keen scent for an heiress; and she had
observed that her niece blushed when he addressed her.

She could not, however, be openly uncivil to so close a friend of Lord
Lavendale's, so the journey progressed pleasantly enough; the horsemen
trotting beside the carriage like a bodyguard for a while, and then
dropping behind to breathe their cattle, or cantering in advance now and
then when there came a long stretch of level turf by the wayside.

They all stopped at Kingston for an early dinner, and it was growing
towards dusk when the coach and six fresh horses started on the second
stage of the journey. The progress became slower from this point. The
road was dark, and had the reputation of being a favourite resort for
highwaymen. Lady Tredgold had never yet been face to face with one of
those monsters, but she had an ever-present terror of masked and armed
marauders springing out upon her from every hedge. It was but last year
that Jonathan Wild had paid the penalty of his crimes, and Jack Sheppard
had swung the year before; and though neither of these had won his
renown upon the road, Lady Tredgold vaguely associated those great names
with danger to travellers. It was not so very long since the Duke of
Chandos had been stopped by five highwaymen on a night journey from
Canons to London; nor had her ladyship forgotten how the Chichester mail
had been robbed of the letter-bags in Battersea Bottom; nor that robbery
on the road at Acton, by which the wretches made off with a booty of two
thousand pounds. And she had the family diamonds under the seat of the
carriage, tied up in a rag of old chintz to make the parcel seem
insignificant; and her point lace alone was worth a small fortune.

She counted her forces, and concluded that so long as they all kept
together no band of robbers would be big enough or bold enough to attack
them.

"Don't leave us, I entreat, dear Lord Lavendale," she urged, as they
crossed Esher Common. "We will drive as slow as ever you like, so as not
to tire your saddle-horses. Tell those postboys to go slower."

"Have no fear, madam," answered Lavendale gaily. "Our hacks are not
easily tired. We will stick by you as close as if we were gentlemen of
the road and had hopes of booty."

So they rode cheerily enough towards Fairmile. It was broad moonlight by
the time they came to Flamestead Common; a clear, cold, winter moon,
which lighted up every hillock and gleamed silvery upon the tiny
waterpools.

Durnford had been riding close beside the coach, talking of music and
plays with Irene; but as they approached this open ground where the
light was clearest, he observed a change in her countenance. Those
lovely eyes became clouded over, those lovely lips ceased to smile, and
his remarks were responded to briefly, with an absent air.

"Why are you silent, dearest miss?" he asked. Lady Tredgold was snoring
in her corner of the carriage, Lavendale was riding on the farther side
of the road, and those two seemed almost alone. "Does yonder cold, pale
planet inspire you with a gentle melancholy?"

"I was thinking of the past," she answered gravely, looking beyond him
towards that irregular ground where flowerless furze-bushes showed black
against the steel-blue sky.

"You can have no past to inspire sad thoughts. You are too young."

"One is never too young for sorrow. The memory of a companion I loved
very dearly is associated with this spot."

And then she told him the story of her little adopted sister, as she had
heard it often from her nurse Bridget--the little fair-haired child who
seemed like her own reflection charmed into life--the happy days and
evenings they two had spent together, and how death came untimely and
snapped that golden thread.

"I like to look upon the place where my father found her, and the place
where she lies in her little grave," said Rena, straining her eyes,
first towards the Common which they were now leaving, and then further
afield to the low Norman tower of Flamestead Church.

Lady Tredgold woke suddenly when her niece relapsed into silence, and
inquired where they were.

"Within half an hour of home, madam," answered Rena.

"Home!" and her ladyship, still half asleep, thought of that stately
stone mansion in the fair white city of Bath, where her husband was left
in solitude to nurse his gout and lament his wife's absence. Not but
that Bath was a very pleasant place for a solitary man in those days,
being the resort of fashion, wit, and beauty, statesmen and soldiers,
men of letters and fine gentlemen, an ever-shifting gallery of faces, a
various assembly of well-bred people, who all found it necessary from
time to time to repair to "the Bath." Golden age for England when
Continental spas were known only to the few, and when fashionable people
were not ashamed to enjoy themselves on English soil. Had not the
distinguished, erratic Lord Peterborough himself been seen hurrying
through those busy streets from the market to his lodgings, with a
cabbage under one arm and a chicken under the other, blue ribbon and
star on his breast all the same? A city of considerable latitude both as
to manners and morals.

"O, you mean Fairmile," muttered her ladyship, with a disappointed air;
for though she loved a season in London at somebody else's cost, she had
a passion for Bath, which to her was veritably home, and in her
slumberous state she had fancied herself just entering that delightful
city. "I hope the beds will be aired. There was plenty of time for that
queer, grim housekeeper to get my letter."

"You need have no fear, aunt. Mrs. Layburne is not an agreeable woman,
but she is a very good manager. The servants all fear and obey her."

"That is just the sort of person one wants to look after a household.
Your good, easy-tempered souls are no use, and they are generally arrant
cheats into the bargain. Do you lie at the Manor to-night, Lord
Lavendale?"

Lavendale had been riding as in a dream, with head bent, and rein loose
in a careless hand. A horse less sure-footed than his famous black Styx
might have stumbled and thrown him. He was thinking of Lady Judith
Topsparkle; wondering why she had so urgently invited him to Ringwood
Abbey, when, if she had his sense of peril, she would assuredly have
avoided his company. It might be that for her the past was utterly past;
so completely forgotten that she could afford to indulge herself in the
latest whim of the moment. What but a whim could be her friendship for
him, her eagerness to mate him with wealth and beauty? How completely
indifferent must she have become to those old memories which had still
such potency with him!

"Why, if she can forget, so can I," he told himself. "Should Horace be
truer than Lydia to an expired love? and yet, and yet, were Thracian
Chloe ten times as fair, one of those old familiar glances from Lydia's
starry eyes would send my blood to fever-point."

The gentlemen escorted the coach to the very door of Mr. Bosworth's
house, much to Lady Tredgold's contentment, as she suspected marauders
even among the old elm-trunks in Fairmile avenue. Arrived at the house,
her ladyship honoured Lord Lavendale with a cordial invitation to
supper; but as she ignored his companion Lavendale declined her
hospitality, on the ground that the horses had done so heavy a day's
work that they must needs require the comfort of their own stables. And
so the two gentlemen said good-night, and rode away to Lavendale Manor,
after promising to be in attendance upon the ladies at eight next
morning.

Nurse Bridget was in the hall, eager to welcome her dear charge, from
whom she had never been parted until this winter. Nurse and nursling
hugged each other affectionately, and then Bridget put back Irene's
black silk hood, and contemplated the fair young face in warmest
admiration.

"You have grown prettier than ever," she exclaimed, "and taller too; I
protest you are taller. I hope your ladyship will pardon me for loving
my pet too much to be mannerly," she added, curtsying to Lady Tredgold.

"There is nothing, my good creature, unmannerly in affection. Yes, Miss
Bosworth has certainly grown; and then she has had her stays made by my
French staymaker, and that improves any young woman's figure and gives a
taller air. I hope they have got us a decent supper. I am positively
famished. And I hope there are good fires, for my niece and I have been
starved this last two hours. The night is horribly cold. And have you
aired a room for my maids?"

"Yes, my lady," and "Yes, my lady," said Bridget, with low curtsies, in
reply to all these eager questions; and then Lady Tredgold and her niece
followed the fat old butler--he had contrived to keep fat by sheer
inactivity, in spite of Mrs. Layburne's meagre housekeeping--to the long
white drawing-room, where there was a blazing log fire, and where Irene
flew to her harpsichord and began to play the Sparrow Symphony from
_Rinaldo_. There are moments of happiness, joyous impulses in the lives
of women, which can only find expression in music.



CHAPTER XII.

"LOVE IN THESE LABYRINTHS HIS SLAVES DETAINS."


At Lavendale Manor there was no note of expectancy, no stir among the
old servants. His lordship had given no intimation of his return. The
grooms had to rouse their underlings in the stable from the state of
beery somnolence which followed upon a heavy supper. The butler bustled
his subordinates and sent off the housemaids to light fires in all the
rooms his lordship affected, and in the bedroom and dressing-room known
as Mr. Durnford's, and urged cook and scullions to be brisk in the
preparation of a pretty little supper. Happily there was a goose hanging
in the larder, ready to be clapped on the spit, and this, with the chine
which had been cooked for the servants' dinner, and a large venison
pasty, with half a dozen speedy sweet dishes, would make a tolerable
supper for two gentlemen. The old Italian never joined his patron at
meals. He fed apart upon a diet of his own choosing, and on principles
laid down by Roger Bacon and Paracelsus--taking only the lightest food,
and selecting all those roots and herbs which conduce to long life.

Lavendale went straight to the old chapel, without even waiting to take
off his boots. The student's attitude amidst his books and crucibles
might have suggested that he had been sitting there like Frederick
Barbarossa in his cave, ever since that summer evening upon which his
lordship had with equal suddenness burst in upon his studies.

"Well, old friend, how do thy researches thrive? Is Hermes propitious?"
asked Lavendale gaily. "Hast thou hit upon an easy way of manufacturing
diamonds, or turning vulgar lead into the golden rain in which Danaë's
ravisher veiled his divinity? Art thou any nearer the great secret?"

"Do you remember the infinitely little to which distance is reduced in
that fable of Achilles and the tortoise?" asked Vincenti; "and how by
descending to infinitesimals the logician gives the idea of progress,
and thus establishes a paradox? My progress has been infinitely little;
but yes, I think there has been something gained since we parted."

The sigh with which his sentence closed was not indicative of triumph.
The finely cut features were drawn with thought and care; the skin,
originally a pale olive, was withered and yellow, and had a
semitransparent look, like old parchment. Death could hardly be more wan
and wasted than life appeared in this searcher into the dark mysteries
of man and Nature.

"You have been absent longer than usual," said the old man, "or at least
it seems to me that it has been so. I may be mistaken, for I keep no
actual count of time--except this bare record of years."

He turned to a flyleaf in a black-letter volume at his right hand; and
on that, beginning in ink that had grown brown and pale with time, there
appeared a calendar of years, and opposite each the name of a place.

This was the only record of the philosopher's existence. Lavendale's
keen eye noted that it began early in the previous century, and that the
handwriting was uniform throughout, though the colour of the ink
varied. Could this man, whom he had guessed at about seventy years old,
have really seen the beginning of the last century? Vincenti had been
ever curiously reticent about his past life--had told his patron only
one fact in his history, namely, that he was by birth and parentage a
Venetian.

"No, my dear friend, you are not mistaken; I stayed longer in town than
I intended when I left you. People seemed glad to see me--mere seeming,
of course, since in that selfish town of ours there is not a mortal who
cares a snap of the fingers for any other mortal; except lovers, and
theirs is but a transient semi-selfish liking. But there is a
fascination in crowds; and I saw a woman who has quite forgotten me, but
whom I never can forget."

"How do you know she has forgotten you?"

"By her indifference."

"Assumed as likely as not. There is no such hypocrisy as a woman's.
There are liars and traitors among men, I grant you, but with them
falsehood is an acquired art. In a woman deceit is innate: a part of her
very being. She will smile at you and lie to you with the virginal
sweetness of sixteen as cleverly as with the wrinkled craftiness of
sixty. Never believe in a woman's affectation of indifference. It is the
safest mask for passion. They all wear it."

"If I thought that it were so: if I thought Judith Topsparkle still
loved me--"

"Topsparkle!" muttered the old man, staring at him in blank wonder.

"Did I think those old embers were not quite extinct, did I think that
one lingering spark remained, I would risk the world to rekindle them,
would perish in the blaze, die in a savage triumph of love and despair,
like Dido on her pyre. But no, she is a woman of fashion pure and
simple, cares no more for me than Belinda cared for Sir Plume."

"Topsparkle!" repeated Vincenti; "whom do you know of that name?"

"Only the famous Vyvyan Topsparkle, dilettante, eccentric, and
Croesus. A gentleman whose name is familiar, and even illustrious, in
all the countries where works of art are to be seen and fine music is to
be heard. A gentleman who left England forty years ago with a very vile
reputation, and who has not improved it on the Continent; but we do not
hang men of fabulous fortune: we visit them at their country houses,
ride their horses, win their money at basset, and revile them behind
their backs. Mr. Topsparkle is a very fine gentleman, and has been lucky
enough to marry the loveliest woman in London, who has made his house
the fashion."

"Vyvyan Topsparkle! I thought he had gone into a Portuguese
monastery--turned Trappist, and repented of his sins. I was told so ten
years ago."

"Yes, I remember there was a rumour of that kind soon after I left the
University. I believe the gentleman disappeared for some time, and
stimulated the inventive powers of his friends by a certain
mysteriousness of conduct; but I can assure you there is nothing of the
monk about Mr. Topsparkle nowadays. He is altogether the fop and man of
fashion, and, if wrinkles counted for nothing, would be almost a young
man."

"He is a scoundrel, and may he meet with a scoundrel's doom!" muttered
Vincenti gloomily.

"What, have you any personal acquaintance with him? Did you ever meet
him in Italy?"

"Yes, more than forty years ago."

Lavendale flushed and paled again in his agitation. Here was one who
perchance might help him to some clue to that old mystery, the scandal
and suspected crime related by Tom Philter. He told Vincenti the story
exactly as Philter had told it to him.

The old man listened intently, those dark eyes of his shining under the
bushy white brows, shining with the reflected light of the fire, shining
with a fiercer light from within.

"I have heard this story before," he said.

"And do you believe it? Do you believe there was foul play?"

"Yes, I believe Vyvyan Topsparkle was a murderer as well as a seducer.
It is not true that his mistress was a dancing-girl. She was a girl of
respectable birth, brought up in a convent--highly gifted, a genius,
with the voice and face of an angel."

"Good Heaven, you speak of her with the utmost familiarity! Did you know
her?"

There was a pause before the old man answered. He turned over the pages
of the book he had been reading when Lavendale entered, and seemed for
the moment as if he had forgotten the subject of their conversation.

"Did you know that unhappy girl?" Lavendale asked eagerly.

"I knew something of her people," answered Vincenti, without looking up.
"They belonged to the trading class of Venice, but had noble blood in
their veins. The father was a jeweller and something of an artist. The
girl's disappearance made a scandal in Venice. She had but just left her
convent school. It was not known where the seducer had taken her. A near
relative followed them--tracked them to Paris--followed them from Paris
to London--in time to see a coffin carried out of the house in Soho
Square, and to hear dark hints of poison. He stayed in London for nearly
a year; wore out his heart in useless efforts to discover any proof of
the crime which was suspected by more than one, most of all by an
apothecary who was called in to see the dying girl; tried to get an
order for the exhumation of the body, but in vain. He was a foreigner,
and poor; Mr. Topsparkle was an Englishman of large fortune. The
government scented a Jacobite Jesuit in the Italian, or at any rate
pretended to think him dangerous, and he had notice to leave the
country. He left, but not before Topsparkle had fled from the blast of
scandal. His attempt to become a senator confounded him. Slander had
slept until the Brentford election."

"Yes, that chimes in with Philter's account," answered Lavendale. "Do
you know what became of the girl's father?"

Vincenti shrugged his shoulders.

"Died, I suppose, of a broken heart. He was too insignificant to make
any mark upon history."

"Well, I am quite ready to believe Mr. Topsparkle to be a double-dyed
scoundrel--and yet I am going to sit at his table and sleep under his
roof. That is what good company means nowadays. Nobody asks any
searching questions about a host's character. If his wines and his cook
are faultless, and his wife is handsome, every one is satisfied: and on
this occasion Mr. Topsparkle's company is to be exceptionally
distinguished. Swift is to be there, the Irish patriot and
ecclesiastical Jack Pudding, who is just now puffed with importance at
the success of his queer hook about giants, pigmies, and what not; and
there is a talk of Voltaire, the young French wit, who has been twice
beaten for his _bon-mots_, and twice a prisoner in the Bastille, and who
is in England only because France is too hot to hold him. There is a
promise of Bolingbroke, too, and a hint of my queer kinswoman, Lady
Mary, who made such a figure the other night at the Prince's ball. We
shall doubtless make a strange medley, and I would not be out of the fun
for anything in this world, even though in his hot youth Mr. Topsparkle
may have played the character of Othello with a phial of poison instead
of a bolster. After all, Vincenti, jealousy is a noble passion, and a
man may have worse motives for murder."

The old man made no answer, and as supper was announced at this moment,
the conversation ended.

There was something in Lavendale's manner which told of a mind ill at
ease, perchance even of a remorseful conscience; but he had the air of a
man who defied Fate, and who meant to be happy in his own way.

To the belated peasant tramping homeward beside the lessor Avon,
Ringwood Abbey in the December gloaming must have looked as like an
enchanted palace as it is possible for any earthly habitation ever to
look. Provided always that the peasant had heard of fairyland and its
wonderful castles, which shine suddenly out upon wandering princes,
luminous with multitudinous windows, and joyous with the buzz and
clatter of an army of servants and a court of fine ladies and gentlemen.
Ringwood Abbey was all ablaze with wax candles, and reflected its Gothic
casements in yonder sedgy stream until it seemed to outshine the stars
in the cold clear winter sky. This earthly illumination was so much
nearer than the stars, and to the agricultural labourer tramping
homeward after a day at the plough-tail was suggestive of pleasanter
thoughts than were inspired by yonder cold and distant lights of heaven.
Ringwood Abbey meant broken victuals in abundance, and money flung about
recklessly by the Squire and his London guests. It meant horse and
hound, and all the concomitants of a big hunting-stable. It meant custom
for every little tradesman in the village, and charities on a large
scale to the poor. It meant beauty and splendour and stateliness and
music to gladden the eye and the ear. It meant bribery at elections,
largesse at all times and seasons. It meant all that a large country
house, carried on with a noble disregard of cost, can ever mean to the
surrounding neighbourhood. Needless, therefore, to add that in this
little corner of Hampshire, beside the lesser Avon, Mr. Topsparkle was a
very popular gentleman, and Lady Judith a queen among women, a goddess
to be worshipped by all who came but to the outermost edge of her
enchanted circle.

It was the cheery eventide after a five-o'clock dinner. They dined late
at this season on account of the hunting-men, and even then there were
some eager sportsmen who would rather miss their dinner than draw bridle
before the doom of Reynard; and these came in ravenous to the
ten-o'clock supper, full of their adventures over heath and through
stream, and a most intolerable nuisance to the non-hunting people.

My Lord Bolingbroke, lolling at ease yonder in a carved oak armchair,
coquetting with Lady Judith, had once been the keenest of sportsmen, and
was fond of hunting still, but not quite so reluctant to miss a day's
sport as he had been a few years ago.

"Do you remember our wolf-hunt at La Source, the winter you were with
us, Arouet?" he asked, following up a conversation half in French and
half in English, in which he and Lady Judith, a young gentleman standing
in front of the fireplace, and Lord Lavendale had been engaged for the
last quarter of an hour. "I had some very fine hounds that Lord Gore
sent me, and I was curious to see whether they would attack a wolf
boldly, or sneak off as soon as he stood at bay. 'Twas a stirring
business for men, horses, and hounds; but, after all, I think there is
nothing better than a genuine British fox-hunt."

"In France we study the picturesque and romantic in sport," said the
tall slim gentleman lounging in front of the wide mediæval fireplace,
whom Bolingbroke addressed sometimes familiarly as Arouet, and anon by
his newly assumed name of Voltaire. "You English seem only to regard the
practical--so many miles ridden over, so many foxes slaughtered, so
many pheasants shot. With you the chase is a matter of statistics; with
us it is a royal ceremony, diversion for kings and courtiers. Our
hunting-parties are as stately and picturesque under Louis as they were
under Charlemagne. Ours is the poetry of the chase, yours the prose."

"True, my dear Voltaire, but for horseflesh and pedigree hounds we are
as far your superiors as you excel us in gold-lace coats and jewelled
hunting-knives, or in the noise and fuss of your _curée_; while for hard
riding--well, you hunt for the most part in a country that scarcely
admits of fine horsemanship."

"It is one of our misfortunes not to be a nation of centaurs, my lord,"
answered Voltaire lightly and in English, which he spoke admirably,
although he dropped into his own language occasionally. "I envy you
English gentlemen your superb capacity for outdoor sports and your noble
independence of intellectual amusements. Of course I except your
lordship from the category of average Englishmen, who devote their days
to killing birds and beasts, and their evenings to the study of blood
and murder tragedies by their favourite Shakespeare."

"0, don't be too hard upon our sturdy British taste, my dear friend. We
read Shakespeare occasionally, I admit, but we very seldom act his
plays. That pretty foolish comedy, _As You Like It_, has never been
represented since the author's death; and I protest there are some
love-making scenes in it that would not disgrace Dryden or Wycherley."

"Do you know, Monsieur de Voltaire, that I delight in Shakespeare?" said
Lady Judith, who sat on a sofa by the fire, fanning herself with a
superb listlessness, and leaning down now and then to caress her
favourite pug.

"From the moment Lady Judith admires him he is sacred," said the
Frenchman gaily; "but you must confess that there is a crudeness about
his tragedies, an extravagance of blood and wounds and sudden death,
which can hardly stand comparison with such calm and polished
compositions as _Phèdre_ or _Le Cid_."

"I place Shakespeare infinitely higher than Racine or Corneille, and I
consider his tragedies sublime," replied Judith, with the air of a
woman who has the privilege of being positive even when she is talking
nonsense.

"What, that refined and delicate Roman story, for instance--_Titus
Andronicus_, and Lavinia with her bleeding stumps, and the profligate
blackamoor?"

"0, we give you Lavinia and her stumps," cried Bolingbroke, laughing.
"We repudiate _Titus Andronicus_. It is the work of an earlier
playwright, to which Shakespeare only gave a few fine touches; and those
flashes of genius have made the whole play pass for inspired."

"0, if you are going to repudiate everything coarse and brutal which
passes for Shakespeare, and claim only the finer touches for his, you
may succeed in establishing him as a great poet. Would that we might all
be judged as leniently by future critics! What say you, Mr. Topsparkle?
You are a man of cosmopolitan tastes, and have doubtless compared your
native playwrights with those of other nations, from Æschylus
downwards."

"I care not a jot for the whole mass of English literature," answered
Topsparkle, snapping his taper fingers with an airy gesture; "and as for
Shakespeare, I have never soiled my fingers by turning his pages. My
mental stamina is not robust enough to cope with his monstrosities."

"And yet you revel in foreign coarseness; you devour Boccaccio and
Rabelais," said his wife, with a scornful glance at the pinched painted
face and frail figure airing itself before the wide old hearth, set off
by a gray and silver brocade suit with scarlet shoulder-knots.

"Ah, my dear Judith, no woman can appreciate the grace of Boccaccio nor
the wit of Rabelais. Your sex is seldom delicately critical. A butcher
brute, like Shakespeare, pleases you because he conjures up scenes of
blood and murder which your imagination can easily realise; but the
niceties of wit are beyond your comprehension."

"I would rather have written the _Rape of the Lock_ than all
Shakespeare's plays and poems to boot. 'Tis the best mock-heroic poem
that ever was written," said Voltaire, pleased to compliment Lord
Bolingbroke by praising his friend. To the exile, the favour of the
Lord of Dawley was not altogether unimportant, and Arouet had been on a
footing of friendship with Bolingbroke and his wife for some years, a
favoured guest at his lordship's château near Orleans. He had sat at
Bolingbroke's feet, and imbibed his opinions.

The _Henriade_ was still awaiting publication, and Francis Arouet had an
eye to his subscription-list; a man at all times supple and adroit, ever
able to make the best of every situation, dexterous alike as wit and
poet, courtier, lover, speculator, flushed with the small social
successes of his brilliant youth, secure in the friendship of royal
duchesses and _roué_ princes, accepted in a society far above his birth,
envied and hated by the malignant few--witness M. de Rohan's brutal
retaliation--but petted and caressed by the many. Who could wonder that
such a man, accustomed to float easily on the very crest of the wave,
should be quite at home at Ringwood Abbey, oppressed neither by
Bolingbroke's intellectual superiority nor by Lady Judith's insolent
beauty?

"Nothing can excel perfection," answered Bolingbroke blandly. "My little
friend's poem is an Y entire and perfect chrysolite; but it is
perfection in miniature. I hope to see Pope excel on a larger scale and
with a loftier theme. He is capable of writing a great philosophical
poem, which shall place him above Lucretius."

"Hang up philosophy! I only care for Pope when he is personal," said
Lady Judith. "He is like that other small creature, the adder, only of
consequence when he stings."

"One would suppose he had stung you," retorted her husband.

"No, I have not yet been assailed in print. My time is to come, I
suppose. But last summer, when all the world was at Twit'nam, there was
not a day passed that I did not hear of some venomous shaft which Poet
Pug had let fly at one of my friends. No doubt he is just as spiteful
about me, only one's friends don't repeat such things to one's face."

"Not to such a face as yours, madam," said the Frenchman. "Malevolence
itself must yield to the magic of incomparable charms."

The conversation meandered on in the same trifling strain, Lavendale
silent for the most part, standing in the shadow of the carved oak
mantelpiece and casting uneasy glances from time to time towards his
hostess, who seemed too much occupied by Lord Bolingbroke to be aware of
anybody else's presence, save when she flung some casual speech into the
current of idle talk. It was but eight o'clock, and they had dined at
five. Seldom did that deep drinker, Henry St. John, leave the table so
early. To-night he had not stayed to finish his second bottle of
Burgundy ere he joined Lady Judith in the drawing-room, and had given
the signal for the breaking up of the party, much to the disappointment
of Sir Tilbury Haskell, an honest Hampshire squire, who had heard of
Bolingbroke as a four-bottle man, and had hoped to make a night of it in
such distinguished company. Mr. Topsparkle had that Continental sobriety
which is always offensive to Englishmen, and Voltaire was equally
temperate. Sir Tilbury rolled his ponderous carcass to the billiard-room
to snore on a sofa until supper-time, when there would be a
well-furnished table for the sportsmen and more Champagne and Burgundy.

Bolingbroke was charmed with his hostess. That proud beauty, in its
glorious prime of early womanhood, made him for the moment forgetful of
his accomplished French wife, who was just then invalided at Bath, where
he was to join her in a few days. It was not that he was unfaithful to
his wife even in thought, but that his vanity hungered for new
conquests. The triumphant Alcibiades of Anne's reign had become the
boastful libertine who would fain be credited with new successes in the
hour when he feels his seductive power on the wane.

This evening hour found Lord Bolingbroke in his lightest mood, warmed
with wine, expansive, happy; but the cold winter daylight had seen him
seated at his desk, thoughtful and laborious, writing the first number
of the _Craftsman_, a newspaper of which he and William Pulteney were to
be joint editors and proprietors, and which was to be launched almost
immediately. That noble brow, now so bland and placid, had but a few
hours ago been crowded with eager and vengeful thoughts, and was even at
this moment but the smooth mask of an ambition that never slept, of a
craft that never ceased from plotting, of a resolute determination to
succeed at the expense of every finer feeling and of every loftier
scruple. That deep and thrilling voice, which to-night breathed soft
nothings into Judith's ear, had but a week ago been insinuating slanders
against Walpole into the complacent ear of the King's favourite, her
Grace of Kendal, ever a willing listener to the courtier who would
weight his arguments with gold.

Lavendale watched yonder handsome profligate with a jealous eye. Yes,
Judith listened as if with pleasure to those insidious addresses. The
lovely eyes sparkled, the lovely lips smiled.

"She is an arrant coquette," thought Lavendale. "Years have made her
charms only more seducing, her manners only more reckless. She may be
laughing in her sleeve at yonder middle-aged Lothario; but it pleases
her to fool him to the top of his bent--pleases her most, perhaps, to
know that I am standing by and suffering damnable tortures."

Judith looked up at that moment, almost as if in answer to his thought,
and their eyes met.

"I protest you have quite a disconsolate air, Lord Lavendale!" she
exclaimed. "What has become of your charmer, and how is it you are
not in close attendance upon her? I saw her wander off to the
music-room directly after dinner, and I believe your umbra--Mr.
What-d'ye-call-him--went with her. Mr. What-d'ye-call-him is fonder of
music than you are."

"My friend Herrick Durnford is in all things, more accomplished than I."

"If he is, you had better keep a closer watch upon your own interests,"
said Judith, shaking her fan at him.

"I have nothing so sordid as interest to consider at Ringwood Abbey. I
am here only for pleasure. _Fay ce que vouldras_ is my motto, as it was
with the monks of that other abbey we know of."

"And a devilish good motto it is, Lavendale," exclaimed Topsparkle.
"'Fore Gad I have a mind, to get those cheery words hewn on the front of
the stone porch, or inscribed on parchment and fastened, on the lintel
of the door, in the Jewish fashion."

"You had better not," said Bolingbroke; "your friends might interpret
the inscription too literally, and stay here for ever. Try it not upon
me, Topsparkle, unless you would have me a fixture. For a man like
myself, who is wearied of worldly strife and has renounced ambition,
there could be no more tempting cloister than Ringwood Abbey."

"Your lordship cannot stay here too long, or come here too often,"
answered Topsparkle; "but I doubt the French saying holds good in this
case, _reculer pour mieux sauter_, and that when Lord Bolingbroke talks
of the cloister, he is on the eve of restoring a dynasty, and of
changing the face of Europe."

"No, Topsparkle, 'tis only Peterborough who has those large ideas, who
parcels out the world in a letter, as if with a FIAT and the breath of
his mouth it could be accomplished; and who flies from court to court
with meteoric speed, only to embroil the government that sent him, and
make confusion worse confounded. And as for restoring a dynasty, the
hour is past. Atterbury and I might have done it thirteen years ago had
our colleagues but shown a little pluck. High Church and a Stuart would
have been a safe cry against a Lutheran and a stranger--witness the
temper of the mob at Sacheverell's trial. There was your true test. The
people were heart and soul for James III., and had we brought him home
then, he might have made as glorious an entrance as Rowley himself. But
we had to do with palterers, and we lost our chance, Topsparkle; and
now--well, King George has lived down the worst of his unpopularity, and
Walpole is a deuced clever fellow, and my very good friend, to whom I
owe the nicely measured mercy of my King. The chance has gone, friends,
the chance is lost. The year '15 only made matters worse by showing the
weakness of the cause. Tis all over. Let us go to the music-room. Your
young friend, Squire Bosworth's heiress, has the voice of a
nightingale."

"You had better come to the dining-hall, my lord," said Topsparkle. "Our
hunting friends will have found their way home by this time, and we can
taste a bottle of Burgundy while they take their snack of chine or
venison pasty."

"No, I will drink no more till supper-time," answered Bolingbroke.
"There is a novel sensation in temperance which is deucedly agreeable.
And then I delight in your snug little suppers, which recall Paris and
the Regent. Alas, to think that worthy fellow is no more! Half the
glory of the French capital expired when my poor friend Philip sank in
an apoplexy, with his head upon the knees of the pretty Duchesse de
Phalaris. It was a sorry change from such a man to one-eyed Bourbon,
with his savage manners, brutal alike in his loves and his animosities.
And now we have Peace-at-any-price Fleury, whose humour admirably suits
my pacific friend Sir Robert. But let us to the music-room."

"Nay, my lord, what say you to a hand at quadrille? The tables are ready
in the next room."

"I'm with you, Topsparkle. I'm your man."

"Now, is it not strange that Mr. Topsparkle, who raves about every
Italian squaller that Handel and Heidegger import for us, should be
supremely indifferent to one of the sweetest voices I ever heard!"
exclaimed Lady Judith, appealing to the circle in general. "I cannot
induce him to be interested in that charming Mrs. Bosworth, who is so
pretty and who sings so delightfully."

"O, but she is only an Englishwoman," said Voltaire. "I find that in
this country it is a vulgar thing to admire native merit, especially in
music."

"Yes, but Topsparkle is cosmopolitan. I have seen him make much of a
ploughboy who happened to have a fine alto voice, stand the little
wretch beside his organ and teach him to sing an air of Lully's,
listening with as much rapture as to Farinelli himself. Why, then,
should he refuse to admire Mrs. Bosworth, who has as lovely a voice as
ever I heard, and who is as much a fanatic about music as he is himself?
Nay, he goes further than not admiring; he has an air of positive
aversion when the dear girl chances to approach him."

Topsparkle's face changed as much as any face so thickly enamelled could
change under the influence of angry feelings. He turned towards his wife
scowlingly, began to speak, checked himself abruptly, and then with his
airy French shrug said lightly, "All sensitive people have their
caprices, my dear Judith; one of mine is not to like this charming
personage whom you and your friends rave about. I hope I have not been
uncivil to the young lady. I should die of mortification could I deem I
had been discourteous to a pretty woman and my guest."

"No, you have not been actually uncivil: but your looks of aversion have
not escaped me, though I trust they have escaped her," answered Judith.

"At the worst I have not the evil eye. My glances do not slay."

Lavendale strolled off to the music-room, a noble apartment, which had
originally been a chapel, and which retained its vaulted roof and
frescoed walls, in all the richness of restored colouring and precious
metal. At one end stood an organ built by the Antignati in the fifteenth
century; at the other was an instrument in which the art of
organ-building had been brought to the highest perfection by the
renowned Christopher Müller. The central portion of the room was
occupied by the finest harpsichord of modern manufacture, and by a
choice collection of older instruments of the same type, from the
primitive dulcimer to the more developed spinet. Scattered about the
spacious apartment were chairs and couches of the last luxurious French
fashion, in all the florid richness of that elaborate style which we
still recognise as Louis Quatorze, and which was then the latest
development of the upholsterer's art.

Irene was seated at the harpsichord, and Herrick Durnford was standing
by her side; but the heiress was not unguarded, for Lady Tredgold sat
near, slumbering peacefully behind her fan, and giving full play to the
mechanism of her admirable digestive organs after a copious dinner. For
the rest, the room was empty.

The singer was just finishing a dainty little ballad by Tom Durfey as
Lavendale entered.

"Is it not pretty?" she asked, looking shyly up at Herrick, whose
taciturn air vexed her a little and mystified her much.

"Yes, it is charming, like everything you sing."

"How dolefully you say that!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, I confess to being doleful, the very incarnation of gloom. O Rena,
forgive me, I am the most miserable of men! Here I am in this great
gaudy tavern, for such a house is no better than an inn--seeing you
every day, hearing your voice, near you and yet leagues away--never
daring to address you freely save in such a chance moment as this,
while your vigilant kinswoman sleeps; here am I, your adorer, your
slave, but a pauper who dare not ask for your heart, though his own is
irrevocably yours. To ask you to marry me would be to ask you to ruin
yourself irretrievably."

"You might at least venture the question," said Rena softly, looking
down at the keys of the harpsichord. "Perhaps I have a mind to do some
wild rash act that will beggar me. I am weary of hearing myself talked
of as an heiress. My father has been very good to me, and I am very fond
of him. I should fear much more to grieve him than to lose a fortune. I
could not be a rebellious daughter; better that I should break my heart
than break his: and he has told me that all his hopes of the future are
centred in me. Could you not talk to him, could you not persuade him--?"
she added falteringly, touching the notes at random here and there in
her confusion.

"Persuade him to accept a penniless newspaper hack for his only
daughter's husband! Alas, I fear not, Rena. If I could but find some
swift sudden way to fame and fortune--in the senate, for instance! A
fine speaker may make his name in one debate, and stand out ever after
from the common ruck; and I think I could speak fairly well on any
question that I had at heart."

"O, pray be a speaker; go into Parliament directly!" exclaimed Rena
eagerly.

"Dear child, it is not so easy. It needs money, which I have not, or
powerful friends, and I have but one, who is also my rival. Alas, I fear
a seat in Parliament is as unattainable for me as the moon. And the age
of adventure is past, in which, a man might grow suddenly rich by
dabbling in South Sea stock. 'Twas said the Prince of Wales made forty
thousand pounds on 'Change at that golden season, and Lord Bolingbroke
restored his fortune by a lucky purchase of Mississippi stocks. But it
is all over now, Rena."

"I have heard it said 'twas by South Sea stock my father made the
greatest part of his fortune," said the girl thoughtfully. "If it is so
I wish he were poorer, for one must but think of those poor creatures
who paid thousands for shares that proved scarce worth hundreds."

"That is only the fortune of Exchange Alley, Irene: and from the
speculator's standpoint your father's honour is uncompromised and his
conscience may be easy. Yet I grant 'tis no pleasant thought to consider
those simple widows and foolish rustic spinsters who risked their all in
that fatal adventure, fondly believing that an endless tide of wealth
was to flow from those far-off seas, and that there was to be no ebb to
that golden stream. But indeed, Irene, I would with all my heart you
were poorer. I would Squire Bosworth had dabbled in all the rottenest
schemes of those wild days, from the company for extracting silver from
lead to the company for a wheel for perpetual motion, so long as his
losses brought our fortunes level."

"You should not wish me poor," she answered. "If my father's wealth is
but honestly come by, I should be proud to share some of it with one I
loved. And if you can but persuade him--"

"Well, I will try, dearest, though I know that to avow my aim will be to
banish me from this dear presence for ever--unless you can be bold
enough to risk your fortune and disobey your father."

They had been talking in subdued tones so as not to awaken Lady
Tredgold, at whom they glanced from time to time to make sure that her
placid slumbers were unbroken. Lord Lavendale stood at the end of the
room, in the shadow of the great organ, watching those two heads as they
bent to each other, Herrick's arm on the back of Irene's chair, the
girl's, head drooping a little, bowed by the weight of her modesty. He
was quite able to draw his own inferences from such a group.

"Is it thus the land lies," he said to himself, "and shall I spoil sport
by a loveless wooing--I, whose heart, or whatever remnant of heart is
left, belongs to another? Better let youth and true love have their own
way--unless Herrick is fortune-hunting. But I know him too well to
suspect him of any sordid motive. He is a better man than I, though we
have lived the same bad lives together."

He gave a little cough, and walked towards that central space where the
lovers sat in front of the harpsichord. They started, and moved farther
apart at the sound of his footsteps, and Lady Tredgold opened her eyes
and blinked at the company like an owl, exclaiming, "Can I really have
been asleep? That ballad of Rameau's is the sweetest thing I have heard
for an age, Irene. Lord Lavendale, you must positively hear it: I know
you love old French music."

"All melody from such lips is entrancing, and such lips can speak only
music," said his lordship, bowing to Irene, who had risen, rosy red in
her confusion, and who acknowledged his compliment with a low curtsy.


END OF VOL. I.





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