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Title: Mohawks, Volume 2 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 2 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. II.

    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. II.


     CHAP.                                                        PAGE

        I. "IN OPPOSITION AGAINST FATE AND HELL"                     1

       II. "I STAND UPON THE GROUND OF MINE OWN HONOUR"             22

      III. "THEY WERE BORN POOR, LIVED POOR, AND POOR THEY DIED"    39

       IV. "YOU STOP MY TONGUE, AND TEACH MY HEART TO SPEAK"        75

        V. "AND IN SUCH CHOICE SHALL STAND MY WEALTH AND WOE"       90

       VI. "THE LADIES THERE MUST NEEDS BE ROOKS"                  113

      VII. "IN PLAYHOUSE AND IN PARK ABOVE THE REST"               141

     VIII. "YET I AM IN LOVE, AND PLEASED WITH RUIN"               184

       IX. "AND, LO! MY WORLD IS BANKRUPT OF DELIGHT"              210

        X. "FORGET, RENOUNCE ME, HATE WHATE'ER WAS MINE"           224

       XI. "AND WE SHALL FADE, AND LEAVE OUR TASK UNDONE"          242

      XII. "BY FOREIGN HANDS THEY DYING EYES WERE CLOSED"          269



MOHAWKS



CHAPTER I.

"IN OPPOSITION AGAINST FATE AND HELL."


"Herrick," said Lavendale suddenly next day, when the two friends were
alone together in the Abbey hall, a spacious chamber, half armoury, half
picture-gallery, rich alike in the damascened steel of Damascus and
Toledo and in the angular saints and virgins of the early Italian
painters; "Herrick, you are making love to my heiress; you are cutting
off my advance to El Dorado; you are playing the part of a traitor."

"'Tis a true bill, Jack. I confess my crime, my treachery--what you
will. I adore Irene Bosworth, for whom you care not a straw. I should
love her as fondly were she a beggar-girl that I had found by the
roadside--'tis for herself I love her, and for no meaner reason. I loved
her before you ever saw her face."

"Ho, ho! how secret you can be!"

"There are some things too holy to be canvassed with one who is seldom
serious. Had I told you of my passion, you would have laughed at the
love and the lover. I met that sweet girl in the wood one morning, met
her again the next, adored her in the first hour we met, and went on
loving her deeper with every meeting. And then you came home with your
story of an heiress, and strutted like a peacock before her,
irresistible, all-conquering, deeming it impossible that any other man
could be loved while you were by. Was I to warn you of my silent
rivalry? It is but within the last week I have told her of my love."

"And does she return it?"

"She tells me as much."

"Then, by Heaven, Herrick, I will not cross your loves. For no joining
of lands and bettering of my estate will I be false at once to love and
friendship. If Mr. Bosworth has a mind to extend his property, he can
wait till I am dead and buy Lavendale Manor from the Jews. I doubt it
will be deeply dipped by that time."

"Why talk of death in the flush of health and vigour?"

"Flushes are deceitful, Herrick; there is a kind of bloom that augurs
more evil than Lord Hervey's sickly pallor, though I doubt if he prove
long-lived. A short life and a merry one has ever been my motto. No,
friend, I will not cross you; and if I can help your suit, I will."

"You may help me to some kind of preferment which may help my suit, if
you have a mind."

"What, in the Church? Would you turn literary parson, like the Irish
dean?"

"No; I have been too much a student of Toland and Tyndal to make a good
priest. I want you to help me to the first vacant seat in which you have
an interest. I believe I could be of some use to the Whigs."

"Then I will move heaven and earth to get you elected whenever the
chance arises. Yes, you are a glorious speaker. I remember how you
startled the infidels at the Hell Fire Club when you rose in your
strength one midnight, and thundered out a peal of orthodoxy which would
have done honour to a High Church bishop; not Tillotson himself, that
orthodox bully, as Bolingbroke called him, could have been more
eloquent. Yes, I will help you, Herrick, if I can. There's my hand upon
it."

"You were ever generous," said his friend gravely, as they shook hands;
"but, alas, I fear you would hardly give up your heiress-hunt so readily
if--"

"If I had not another quarry in view, eh, Herrick?" interrupted
Lavendale, with that kind of feverish gaiety which in his nature
alternated with periods of deep despondency. "Well, perhaps you are
right, old friend. I am not a practised schemer, and can hardly hide my
cards from one so familiar as my Herrick."

"Jack, I am afraid you are going to the devil."

"True, lad, and have been travelling on that journey for the last five
years; ever since the Chichinette business. I might have pulled up just
then, Herrick. I was tired of my old follies, sick to death of all our
extravagances, smoking porters, breaking windows, beating watchmen,
cock-pit and bear-garden, dicing and drinking. I meant to become a
better man, and Judith Walberton's husband. But Wharton and his gang
jeered at my reformation--twitted and taunted and teased and exasperated
me into a braggadocio wager, and I lost her who should have been my
redeeming angel."

"Nay, Jack, methinks that lady was never so angelic as you deemed her,
and that she has too much of Lucifer's pride to rank with seraphs that
have not fallen. She is a fine creature, but a dangerous friend for you;
and you are a fatal companion for her. In a word, you ought not to be in
this house. The same roof should not shelter you and Lady Judith."

"Grateful, after I have brought you here to play the traitor and court
my mistress--vastly grateful, after I have surrendered the lady and her
fortune!"

"Dear Jack, I was never your flatterer--should I flatter when I see you
on the road to perdition?"

"What matter, if it be the only way to happiness? O, for some occult
power by which I could read and rule the thoughts of her I love! There
are moments when I fancy that I do so rule her--that I can creep into
her heart, stir her bosom with the same fire that thrills my own,
transfer every thought of my brain to hers. Our eyes have met in such
moments--met across the babble and folly of the crowd, and I have known
that we were reading each other's mind as plainly as in an open book.
And then came that sleek profligate Bolingbroke, with his false handsome
face and honeyed tongue, and her vanity or her caprice was at once
engaged. Pleasant to have so great a man in leading-strings. She would
as readily take fox-hunting, heavy-jowled, beef-eating Walpole for her
flirt. She is made up of extravagance and vanity."

"She is a woman of fashion. What else would you have her but vain and
extravagant? They are all cast in the same mould. Vanity, extravagance,
and coquetry in youth; envy, malice, white lead, and ratafia in age.
Believe me, Jack, thou hadst best go back to town!"

"Why, so I will, Herrick, when the _Craftsman_ goes. They tell me that
is the name of the new paper which Bolingbroke and Pulteney are
plotting. I will not leave Henry St. John master of the field."

"He is old enough to be her father."

"He is handsome enough and seductive enough to be her lover. I swear I
will not leave him on the ground. Ah, here comes our dilettante host,
with his usual semiquaver and diminished-seventh air."

"What, gentlemen!" exclaimed Mr. Topsparkle, "is it possible two
Englishmen can spend a morning without cock-fighting, donkey-racing, or
some other equally national entertainment? Do you know that there are
races at Stockbridge to-day, and that most of my friends have gone off
on horseback or in coaches to see the sport? Shall I order another coach
for you two?"

"I am profoundly obliged for the offer," said Lavendale, "but I had
enough of horse-racing when I was in my teens. I contrived to lose a
small fortune and exhaust the pleasures of the Turf before my majority.
I have not the staying power of my Lord Godolphin, who frequented the
racecourse to his dying day. But I could suggest an amusement, Mr.
Topsparkle, if you have a spare half-hour to bestow upon me."

"All my hours are at your lordship's service."

"You are vastly kind. My friend Durnford and I are both burning with
impatience to see your library--that is to say, those choicer books
which are not shown to the outer world, the crypto-jewels of your
collection."

"I shall be delighted to exhibit those gems to such fine judges. I
always think of a rare book or curio as if it were a living thing, and
could feel a slight. To an appreciative friend I am ever charmed to
unlock my choicest cases: those in my own study, for instance, where I
keep my private collection. Will you walk that way? I have been spending
a wearisome hour there with my land-steward, and your presence will be
an agreeable relief."

Lavendale and Durnford followed their host along a corridor to the
further end of the house, where there was a spacious room fronting the
south, but shaded by the old Gothic cloister upon which the windows
opened. There was a glass door also opening into the cloister, and here
on sunny mornings, and sometimes even in rainy weather, Mr. Topsparkle
walked up and down, sometimes with a book, sometimes in meditative
solitude.

The room was handsome and picturesque: the bookcases which lined the
walls on all sides were of richly carved oak--the spoils of Flemish
churches, the wreckage of old choir-stalls and demolished pulpits. The
ceiling was also of oak, heavily bossed. The floor was polished oak,
covered in part by a large Oriental carpet. Mr. Topsparkle had not been
quite such a Goth as that Lord Westmoreland who built a Grecian front to
one side of a fine old cloistered court at Apethorpe; but his taste was
of the rococo order, and he had not altogether spared the monastic
building which caprice, rather than veneration for antiquity, had
tempted him to buy. He had built out an alcove at one end of the room,
and had lighted it with painted windows from the wreck of an Italian
palace--a patch of renaissance art stuck like a wen upon a purely
mediæval building. This alcove Mr. Topsparkle loved better than any
other part of his house. It was his own secret cell, in which he
delighted to read or meditate, write letters, or survey his financial
position, alone or with the attendance of his man of business. Rich as
he was, Mr. Topsparkle was not above making more money. He had his
dabblings and speculations on 'Change, and was, like Roland Bosworth, in
advance of his contemporaries in clearness of insight and breadth of
view.

To-day the appearance of this alcove indicated that he had lately been
at work there. A large old-fashioned Dutch bureau stood open, the
secrétaire littered with papers. It was a wondrous old piece of
furniture which filled one side of the recess. The double doors were
richly ornamented with the story of the Crucifixion and Entombment
carved in high relief. These doors stood open, and the light from the
painted window on the opposite side of the recess shone with prismatic
hues upon the writing-desk, with its scattered papers and innumerable
drawers and pigeon-holes.

"I fear we are intruders here at an awkward time, Mr. Topsparkle," said
Lavendale, noting that appearance of recent occupation.

"No, upon my veracity. I have dismissed my man of business; I mean to
work no more to-day."

"Hard that Croesus should have to labour," said Herrick lightly.

"My dear Durnford, be assured that if Croesus was as rich as we are
told, he had been obliged to toil in the maintenance of his fortune, to
look to the collection of king's taxes, and see that his people did not
plunder him. 'Tis almost as hard labour to keep a fortune as to win one,
and I doubt if any man is as happy as the miser who keeps his money in a
hole under his pallet, and counts it every night. That, for pure
enjoyment, is your true use of money. But let me show you my books."

He unlocked a case and displayed some of his treasures,--curious hooks
in all languages, from classic Greek to modern French; from Anacreon to
the author of the "Philippiques," those terrible lampoons upon the late
Regent, published but a few years earlier in Paris. They were strange
and unholy books some of them, the possession of which could not give
any man the slightest pleasure, were it not the foolish pride of owning
something rare and costly and unparalleled in wickedness. Mr. Topsparkle
was intensely proud of them.

"You could never imagine the pains it has cost me to collect these
rarities," he said, "and upon my soul I know not if they are worth
having. 'Tis like those dulcimers in the music-room which belonged to
Marguerite of Valois--Clément Marot's Marguerite, you understand--and
for which I gave a small fortune to a Jew dealer in Paris. What do you
want, man, that you stand staring there?"

This abrupt question was addressed to a footman, who stood statue-like,
just within the doorway, as if he dared not approach nearer his master's
august presence. He had murmured some communication which had been
unheard.

"Sir, my Lord Bolingbroke is in the billiard-room, and begs particularly
for a few minutes' speech with you. He will not detain you longer. He
has had some news from London which he would like to tell you."

"Tell his lordship I will be with him instantly. If you will excuse my
brief absence, gentlemen? The books may amuse you while I am gone, but
my choicest gems are yet to be shown. Or if you would like to defer to
another morning--" he added, with an uneasy glance towards the alcove,
which Lavendale was too preoccupied to perceive.

"No, no, my dear sir, we will wait for your return. There are books and
pictures and curios here to amuse us for a week."

"I'll not be long," said Topsparkle, hurrying away.

The two young men strolled about the room, in which there was indeed
plenty to interest and enchain the connoisseur in art-curiosities.
Bronzes, medallions, coins, porcelain, loaded the tables, and adorned
every available inch of space which was not filled by the books. The
collector's passion for amassing specimens of every art and every school
was exhibited in its fullest development.

Lord Lavendale came presently to the alcove. It was curtained off at
times from the rest of the room by a fine old piece of Indian
embroidery, a thick and heavy fabric in which gems of all kinds were
embedded upon a ground of silken brocade mingled with a curious golden
tissue. Lavendale and Durnford admired the curtain, which was drawn back
to about a third of the opening, and then his lordship's quick glance
lighted on the old oak cabinet.

"It is a shrine," he cried, "the back portion of an old Dutch altar, I
take it, with some rare old picture for the reredos. That central panel
is a door with a picture behind it. Did you ever see finer carving?"

"These doors are magnificent," said Durnford, looking at the two outer
doors which had been flung back.

"Yes, the carving there is bold and spirited, but this is finer work.
Here is the story of the Nativity, and the four kings with their
offerings--the manger and the three beasts. You remember the old
legend--how the ass brayed _eamus_, and the ox answered in his deep bass
roar, _ubi_, and the lamb ba-ad 'Bethlehem.' Yes, here is the Virgin,
and the humble cradle of Divinity."

"Let us see the picture behind the panel, if there is one. A Vandyke,
perhaps," suggested Durnford. "Look, there is a key."

He pointed to a very small key in the outer moulding which framed the
storied panel. Lavendale turned the key and drew back the door.

"My God!" cried Durnford; "Irene's portrait!"

It was no Vandyke--no sad and solemn picture of the Crucifixion, or the
Descent from the Cross, no pale divine head with its coronal of thorns.
It was only a woman's face, beautiful exceedingly, with golden-brown
hair, and dark violet eyes under black lashes; a pale, sweet, almost
perfect face, and the image of Irene Bosworth. And yet it was not
Irene's portrait. A more deliberate inspection showed points of
difference in the two faces. There was a startling resemblance, but not
identity.

"What, you have discovered another of my secret treasures?" asked a soft
and legato voice at Lavendale's elbow.

It was Mr. Topsparkle, who had reëntered the room so quietly that
neither of his guests had been aware of his approach. He was paler than
usual under his paint, and had a somewhat troubled air, Durnford
thought; but if he were vexed at finding them before the hidden picture,
he gave no utterance to his vexation.

"A very beautiful head and very tolerably painted, eh, gentlemen?" he
asked lightly.

"A lovely head and very finely painted," replied Lavendale; "but there
is something that strikes me more forcibly than the beauty of the face
or the skill of the painter." He looked fixedly at Mr. Topsparkle as he
spoke.

"Indeed! And pray what is that?"

"Can't you guess?"

"No, upon my honour."

"The very remarkable likeness between that head and Mrs. Irene
Bosworth."

Mr. Topsparkle put on his eyeglasses, and scrutinised the picture almost
as if it were the first time of seeing it. While he looked, Lavendale
was also looking, and his keen eye discovered the painter's signature,
Paulo Villari; Venice, 1686.

"Your lordship is right," said Mr. Topsparkle, after a lengthy
inspection. "There is certainly a something in outline and feature--and
even in expression--which resembles Mrs. Bosworth. Strange that I should
not have perceived it before; but although I write at this cabinet
nearly every day, I very seldom open yonder door. I bought the picture
in Italy so many years ago that I would, if possible, forget the date of
the purchase."

"Did you know the original? It is obviously a portrait."

"Yes, I believe it was the portrait or a study of a very handsome
model--the Fornarina of some young painter who never became as famous as
Raffaelle. No, I did not know the lady. Those chance likenesses are very
curious. I have half a mind to make Mrs. Bosworth a present of the
picture--and yet I could hardly bring myself to rob this old cabinet of
even a hidden treasure. You have been admiring the carving, I hope. It
is the finest I ever discovered in nearly half a century of
curio-hunting."

"Yes, it is exquisite," Lavendale answered absently.

He had been thinking of the date of the picture, and the place where it
was painted. There was no doubt in his mind that this was the portrait
of Topsparkle's Italian mistress, the unfortunate lady who had died
mysteriously at the house in Soho Square. Topsparkle's pale and
troubled look suggested the darkest memories.

The likeness to Irene was of course only a coincidence. Such chance
resemblances are common enough. Yes, the face was a lovely one; and this
was the face which John Churchill had admired in his dawn of manhood, he
himself beautiful as a Greek god, full of strength and genius, a born
leader and captain of men, a man of whom it was justly said that since
the days of Alexander there had been no greater soldier.

Topsparkle closed and locked the door upon the picture, and put the key
in his pocket.

"And pray what was his lordship's news, Mr. Topsparkle?" asked Durnford.
"If it be not secret news, which it were an impertinence to ask."

"It is news all Europe must know before the week is out," answered
Topsparkle, "although it reaches Bolingbroke by a private hand. He has
correspondents all over the Continent, and is ever _au courant_."

"Your news, Mr. Topsparkle!" cried Lavendale. "Do not dally with our
impatience. Has the Pretender landed on the rugged Scottish coast? Is
Gibraltar taken?"

"No; 'tis but one unlucky old woman less in the world, one poor feeble
light extinguished. Sophia of Zell, she who should have been Queen of
England--the Electress Dowager of Hanover they call her--has died in her
prison-house at Ahlen, and his lordship's informant tells him a curious
story of her death-bed."

"Prithee, let us have it. I have a morbid passion for death-bed
stories."

"'Tis said that in her last hour, after a long interval of silence and
seeming unconsciousness, the dying woman lifted herself up suddenly in
her bed, and in a firm clear voice called upon the spirit of her cruel
husband to meet her before the judgment-seat within a year. Those round
her were as scared as if they had seen a ghost from the grave. She lived
but to speak those words, and fell back expiring with that summons on
her lips."

"I do not envy his Majesty's feelings should he be told of that
invitation," said Lavendale. "Whatever his virtues as a king, as a
husband he has been pitiless. Never was girlish indiscretion atoned by
so terrible an expiation as that living death of thirty desolate years.
'Tis a dastardly story."

"'Twas not altogether his fault. 'Twas his father's mistress, the
Countess of Platen, who was at the root of the mischief. 'Twas she who
set her spies upon the young Princess, and murdered Königsmark. 'Twas
said the fury stamped her heel upon his face as he lay dying."

"The rage of slighted beauty has various ways of showing itself," said
Durnford. "But if George as a young man was led into cruelty and
injustice by others, his riper age might have inclined to mercy, and
were it but for the sake of his daughter, Queen Sophia of Prussia, he
should have had compassion upon his wife."

"I have heard the Prince's friends say that should his mother survive
her tyrant, 'twas his design to restore her to honour and her title of
Queen Dowager; but whatever good intentions his Royal Highness may have
entertained on her account are now cut short by death."

"I believe he only gave out such an intention to tease his father,"
said Topsparkle. "There is an hereditary hatred between the fathers and
sons of that house. Here is Prince Frederick, for instance, kept out of
England, and frankly detested by both parents."

"Were George wise he would marry his grandson out of hand to his cousin
the Princess Wilhelmina, and so fulfil one-half of the Quadruple
Alliance. Frederick William is an unmannerly brute, and a miser withal;
but he has a long head, and Prussia is steadily rising in the scale of
power. England should buckle herself to that nation by every link
possible."



CHAPTER II.

"I STAND UPON THE GROUND OF MINE OWN HONOUR."


Lavendale left Ringwood Abbey more than ever in love with his former
mistress, and savagely jealous of her other admirers, from Bolingbroke
downwards. But it was against her husband that his hatred was deadliest.
Those dark stories of Mr. Topsparkle's youth and ripening years had
taken a strong grip upon Lavendale's mind. He had been a profligate
himself, and his own wild youth gave him but little justification for
setting up as a moralist; but Lavendale's sins had been the vices of an
accomplished gentleman, sunning his follies in the full blaze of
notoriety, parading his amours, his gambling adventures and duels,
advertising all his laxities of conduct and opinion, glorying in his
shame; while Topsparkle's vices had been dark and secret, obscure as the
rites of an antique religion, only guessed at dimly by the multitude.

To Lavendale the very presence of the man inspired loathing, albeit Mr.
Topsparkle was generally esteemed a very pretty fellow, and a wonder of
careful preservation and artistic treatment.

"By lamplight our dear Topsparkle might pass for forty-five," said
Bolingbroke, discussing his late host at White's one evening after the
opera, "and yet I have reason to know that he is nearer seventy than
sixty--and upon my soul, gentlemen, it is a very meritorious thing for a
man of seventy to pass for young. 'Tis not so easy as you young
gentlemen think."

"There is a quiet elegance about Topsparkle which is very taking," said
Mr. Chevenix, a prosperous barrister; "and when one remembers that his
father made his money in the City, and that he is only one generation
removed from hides and tallow--"

"There you are mistaken, my dear Chevenix," interposed Asterley; "the
elder Topsparkle was a drysalter."

"And pray does not that mean hides and tallow? I thought they were all
one," said Chevenix, with a languid fine-gentleman air.

"Alderman Topsparkle was a very clever fellow," said Bolingbroke. "You
are not to suppose that he made his vast fortune all in the beaten way
of trade, out of pickles and saltpetre. 'Tis said he speculated largely
on 'Change; and it is also said that before the Peace of Utrecht he used
to buy up all the spoiled gunpowder in the country and sell it again to
a very great man, whose name I would be the last to mention for two good
reasons. He is dead; and he was once my friend."

"Nothing like a long war for enriching clever tradesmen," said Chevenix.
"Now, I really think it very estimable in Topsparkle, considering his
low origin, that he manages to pass for almost a gentleman."

"I know he is much genteeler than many of us, and far more courteous,"
said Bolingbroke.

"Ah, that is his chief mistake. He overdoes the courtly air. He is
monotonous in his gentility, and has none of the easy variety which
belongs to high breeding. He has all the faults of a novice in the art
of good manners."

That refined air and superficial polish, which satisfied society at
large, revolted Lord Lavendale. He hated mincing manners in any man, but
most of all in Vyvyan Topsparkle. He hated the man's small white hands
and smooth feminine tones of voice, hated his pencilled eyebrows and
white-lead complexion, his slim waist and attenuated legs.

He told himself that this aversion of his was but a natural instinct, an
innate revulsion of the mind at the aspect of hidden sin; yet in his
heart of hearts it was as Judith's husband he hated this man. He thought
of him as her owner, the wretch who had bought her with his fortune, who
held her captive by the malignant power of his ill-gotten wealth--who in
the privacy of domestic life might insult and bully her, for anything
Lavendale knew to the contrary. That smooth Janus countenance had
doubtless its darker side; and he who in public was ever the adoring
husband might be a tyrant in private.

Stimulated by this ill-feeling, Lavendale was more than ever bent on
ferreting out the secret of Mr. Topsparkle's early life, and the fate of
that Italian mistress whom he had for a little while acknowledged as his
wife. He had exhausted all his own and Philter's powers of research,
and had come by no proof or even circumstantial evidence of guilt. There
was but one person likely to know all Mr. Topsparkle's secrets, and he
would be unlikely to reveal them. That person was Fétis, the
confidential valet, whom Lavendale had met sometimes in the corridors at
Ringwood Abbey, looking the very essence of discretion and respectful
dumbness.

"Difficult to get a man to speak when all his interests are in favour of
silence," thought Lavendale.

He communicated his perplexities to his friend Durnford. Since his
lordship's renunciation of Irene they were more brotherly together than
ever they had been.

"And I, too, am devoured with curiosity about Topsparkle's past life,"
said Herrick; "that hidden picture with its strange likeness to the girl
I love has mystified me consumedly. 'Tis but a chance likeness, of
course, since we can trace Irene's lineage into the remote past without
coming upon any track of an Italian marriage. I have examined the
Bosworth family-tree--you must have noticed it framed and glazed in the
dining-parlour--and there is not a foreign twig in all its
ramifications. Yet when I ponder on my dear one's passion for music, her
ardent impulsive temperament, her southern style of beauty, I am at a
loss to comprehend how that sober British tree can have put forth so
bright a flower. In any case I should like to know more about that
lovely girl whose picture is hidden in Mr. Topsparkle's sanctum. By his
pallor when he caught us looking at the portrait, one might guess he has
painful memories of the original."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Tredgold carried her niece back to London, and Irene reëntered the
glittering circle of fashion and folly, and mixed with women among whom
high principles and virtuous inclinations were as exceptional as the
Pitt diamond among gems. The rage for play had spread like a leprous
taint through the whole fabric of society. Women sat night after night
squabbling over cards, and were ready to stab each other with the golden
bodkins they wore in their hair, if Spadillio was unkind, or Manillio in
the hand of an adversary. Lady Tredgold was an inveterate gamester, but
dared not play high, and was fain to affect the society of ladies of
limited means, who could only afford to ruin themselves and their
families in a small way. Yet if her losses were not large, her temper
suffered as severely as if she had been losing thousands; while she was
careful not to parade her winnings before her lean and hard-featured
daughters, who had something of the harpy in their natures, and were
always pestering their mother for new clothes or pocket-money. They,
too, were fond of cards, despite the awful example furnished by their
parent; they, too, had their losses, which had to be supplied somehow.
Card-money was in those days a necessity of fashionable existence.
Better to be buried alive in some rustic vicarage, combing lap-dogs and
reading Mrs. Behn or Mrs. Manly, than to be launched in a London
drawing-room with an empty purse.

Rena, whose purse was always full, declined to play, whereupon she was
characterised as cold and proud and witless, a beautiful nonentity, a
woman altogether wanting in spirit.

"You should gamble, child; 'tis the only excitement in life," said Lady
Judith, tapping the heiress on the cheek at a fine house in Gerard
Street, where the tables were set for ombre and basset.

"It is an excitement that seems to make nobody happy, madam," answered
Rena quietly. "So I would as soon be dull."

"What a prude your heiress is!" Judith said to Lavendale, a few minutes
after: "she glides about a room looking as if she were a being of
superior mould, and had nothing in common with mortals."

"She is but a child just escaped from the nursery," answered Lavendale
lightly, "and doubtless her soul is overwhelmed with wonder."

"Nay, I would not mind if she were shy and abashed among us," retorted
Judith, "for I admit that we are somewhat startling to a novice. It is
her impertinent assurance which annoys me. That calm half-unconscious
air of superiority would provoke a saint."

"If there were any saints in our set to be provoked," said Lavendale;
"but I don't think there is anything saintly to be met with in a West
End card-room."

"Look at her now, as she stands with her elbow leaning on yonder
mantelpiece, not deigning even to pretend to listen to Mr. Dapperwit's
compliments. I wonder, for my part, that he wastes his cleverness upon a
creature of ice. Where did she get that cold impregnable air?"

"From the gods, whose daughter she should be, if looks could vouch for a
pedigree," answered Lavendale, delighted to tease the woman he adored.

"O, I beg your lordship's pardon," said Judith, with a curtsy. "I forgot
for the moment that I was criticising the future Lady Lavendale."

"Don't apologise. We are not plighted yet, and that impregnable air of
Mrs. Bosworth may keep me off as well as her other lovers."

"What, are you not engaged yet?"

"No, nor ever likely to be, Judith, as you know very well."

They were in a doorway between a secondary drawing-room and a third room
still smaller--jostled and hemmed in by the crowd. He could snatch her
hand and clasp it for a moment unperceived. Their eyes met as the crowd
drifted them nearer, met in fond entanglement, and Judith's alabaster
bosom glowed with a sudden blush like the crimson light of a winter dawn
reflected upon snow. It was but an instantaneous betrayal of passionate
feeling on either side; yet from that moment the possibility of pretence
or concealment was over. Each knew that the old fires still burned.
Light words and lighter laughter and all the studied arts of coquetry
could henceforward avail nothing.

The crowd which had drifted them together speedily jostled them apart;
Lady Judith passed on in a bevy of fashion and chatter, talking as loud
as her friends, and with just as much elegant inanity.

Everybody decided that evening that Irene was dull. A pity that so much
beauty and wealth should be thrown away upon a simpleton. She had not
even that hoydenish audacity, that knack of saying improper things
innocently, which could alone make simplicity interesting to well-bred
people. She was not in the least amusing. She was only beautiful: and
one might say as much of a statue.

Irene looked with dreamy eyes upon that strange and brilliant crowd,
caring very little what anybody thought of her. Already she was tired
of that gay world which had dazzled her so at first: or rather it seemed
only fair to her when her lover was near. When Herrick came into one of
those crowded rooms--approaching her suddenly, perhaps, and
unawares--her eyes shone out like twin stars. But if he were not there,
all was dull and dreary, and the company seemed to her no better than an
assemblage of grimacing puppets, moving on wires. She liked Lord
Lavendale because he was Herrick's friend, and she always brightened
when she talked to him, a fact which Judith's keen eye had noted.

It was not always that Herrick received a card for the assemblies to
which Lady Tredgold and her girls were bidden. He was too proud to go
into society as Lavendale's satellite, so he only frequented those
houses where he was asked on his own account as a young man of parts and
much promise; and it was in the best houses that he was oftenest seen.
His letters in the Whig journals had attracted attention, and his talent
shone out all the more conspicuously because most of the best writers
had gone over to the Opposition, disgusted by Walpole's neglect of
literature. His name was becoming familiar among the ranks of
journalists; but journalism was then in its infancy, and was but poorly
paid, while the writers of books, unless the book was as famous as
_Gulliver's Travels_ or Pope's _Iliad_, might count upon years of toil
and privation before they attained even a competence.

Herrick's outlook, therefore, was far from hopeful, and he delayed the
avowal of his passion to Irene's father with a hesitation which he
himself denounced as cowardly.

He felt that love once avowed, hands and hearts pledged for life, there
should be no more secrecy. Concealment was a dishonour to his innocent
mistress.

"I must beard the lion," he said to himself; "come the worst, I can but
steal her by a Mayfair marriage. He can never lock her up so close, or
carry her so far away, or hide her so cunningly that love would not
follow and find her. I will at least give him the chance of acting
generously."

So one morning, in cold blood, Mr. Durnford waited upon Squire Bosworth
at his lodgings in Arlington Street, at an hour when he knew, by
private information obtained from Irene over-night, that the gentleman
would be at home.

He was shown into a parlour where Mr. Bosworth was drinking chocolate
and reading the _St. James's Weekly Journal_, a Tory paper; for he was
still at heart attached to the exiled family, although self-interest and
the Stock Exchange made him a zealous adherent to Walpole. To that great
financier he could not refuse his allegiance.

He received Herrick with a cold civility which was not encouraging. Lady
Tredgold had hinted her suspicions about Durnford, and put the Squire on
his guard.

"Can I do anything in the City for you, sir?" asked Bosworth; "I should
be glad to oblige any friend of my friend Lord Lavendale."

"Nothing, sir, unless you could put me up to some trick of winning a
fortune suddenly, without any capital to speculate with. But I take it
that it is beyond even your power, and I must trust such poor talents as
I may possess, backed by industry, to make my way in the world. Mr.
Bosworth, it is ill beating about the bush when a man has a weak cause
to advocate. In four words, sir, I love your daughter."

"Indeed, sir! You are vastly civil and mightily candid. And may I ask do
you design to maintain Mrs. Bosworth by your pen, as a political
pamphleteer, and to lodge her in a three-pair back in Grub Street?"

"I think we could both be happy, sir, even in a garret, with no better
view than the chimney-stacks, and no better fare than bread and cheese."

"What, sir! you have dared to steal my daughter's heart--you, an arrant
pauper?"

"There was no stealing, Mr. Bosworth. Our hearts came together
unawares--flew towards each other like two young birds on St.
Valentine's Day. Let me have her, sir, because she loves me, and because
there is no other man on this earth who can ever love her more truly
than I do. Forget that she is a great fortune, and remember that if I am
poor I am well-born, and that the world says I am not without ability.
The arena of public life is open to all comers. Lavendale has promised
me his interest at the next election. In the House of Commons I should
be at least a gentleman--"

"You are not there, sir, yet. Why, you talk as if you were a Pelham, and
had but to ask and have! Let there be no more fooling between us, I beg.
I don't want to lose my temper if I can help it. My daughter _is_ a
great fortune, as well as a very handsome girl, and I mean her to marry
either rank or wealth. I want the fortune which I have made--slowly,
laboriously in part, and in part by sudden strokes of luck--to remain
behind me as an enduring monument when I am dust. I want the security of
a great name and a large landed estate. I can afford to buy them both,
and my daughter is handsome enough to marry well, were she only a
milkmaid. I have been disposed to look kindly on Lavendale, because our
estates join; but his fortune is shattered, his reputation is bad, and
his title a paltry one. Such a girl as mine should mate with a duke, and
could I find a respectable duke a bachelor, I would offer her to him.
These are my views, Mr. Durnford. You have been candid with me, and I am
pleased to reciprocate your candour."

"You give me no hope, sir?"

"None. And mark you, sir, you may think it a clever thing to run away
with my daughter, as Wortley Montagu did with the Duke of Kingston's
girl. Remember that in such a case your wife will be penniless. I will
leave every shilling and every acre I own to a hospital; and I will
never look upon my disobedient daughter's face again. If you love her,
as you pretend, you will not attempt to reduce her to beggary."

"No, sir. It would be a cowardly thing to do. But if ever the day come
when I am secure of five hundred a year, you may be very sure that I
shall ask her to choose between love and fortune. Perhaps she will
renounce her inheritance just as willingly as Lady Mary Pierrepoint
renounced hers."

"If she is as crackbrained a person she may perhaps oblige you,"
answered the Squire, "but until this morning I have had reason to
consider her a sensible girl. And now, sir, as I am due in Change Alley
before noon, I must ask you--"

"I have the honour to wish you good-morning, sir."

They saluted each other stiffly and parted. Herrick felt that he had
injured his chance of winning Irene by stealth, yet his conscience was
relieved from a burden. He could face the world better. And who can
separate youth from hope? He trusted to the unforeseen. Something would
happen, some kindly chance would favour him and Irene. Mr. Bosworth
would lose his head, perhaps, and ruin himself on the Stock Exchange.
What could be greater bliss than to see his beloved reduced to poverty
by no fault of his?



CHAPTER III.

"THEY WERE BORN POOR, LIVED POOR, AND POOR THEY DIED."


Squire Bosworth sent his daughter back to Fairmile under close
guardianship, and gave up the Arlington Street lodgings, much to the
disgust of Lady Tredgold and her daughters, who enjoyed their free
quarters at the West End, and the fever of London drawing-rooms.

Even the gaieties of Bath, balls public and private, in Harrison's great
room, breakfasts of fifty and sixty people, and card-tables nightly,
morning parade upon the Gravel Walk or in the Abbey Gardens, the
afternoon lounge in the galleries of the tennis-court, the ever-changing
company at the White Hart lodgings, the high play, and all the other
diversions of that delightful city, which had been characterised by a
puritanical contemporary as "a valley of pleasure and a sink of
iniquity"--even these dissipations of the rich and idle were as nothing
to that concentrated blaze of pleasure and polite profligacy which
illumined the little world of Leicester Fields, Soho, Golden Square, and
St. James's.

Before he left town Mr. Bosworth called on Lord Lavendale in Bloomsbury
Square, and charged him with having screened his friend's underhand
pursuit of Irene.

"When I admitted Mr. Durnford to my house I believed that, as your
lordship's friend, he must needs be a man of honour," said the Squire.
"He rewards my confidence by making surreptitious love to my daughter
and heiress!"

Lavendale warmly defended his friend; praised his talents; assured Mr.
Bosworth that Durnford was likely to do well in the world; to win fame
and fortune before he reached life's meridian.

"I shall not be here to see him at the top of the ladder, my lord,"
answered the Squire grimly. "I want to marry my daughter to a man who
has no such troublesome ascent to make; I want something better than
castles in the air in return for solid guineas and broad acres. My
daughter's husband must bring his share of good things. If he has not
wealth he must at least have rank and high birth."

"Durnford is of a good old west-country family."

"A beggarly parson's penniless son. My dear lord, the matter will not
bear discussion. Warn your friend that I am adamant, and that 'twere but
to waste time and thought to try to move me. There may be other good
matches more attainable than my daughter. Let him look about him, and
find another outlet for his enterprise in heiress-hunting."

"You insult me, Mr. Bosworth, when you insult my friend. He is a man of
honour, and his passion for your daughter is entirely independent of her
fortune. He deplores the ill-gotten wealth that parts him from her."

This was a home-thrust for the Squire, who clapped his hand upon his
sword-hilt as if he would have challenged his host there and then, but
thought better of it instantly, and bade Lord Lavendale a stiff
good-morning.

Herrick rode down to Lavendale Manor next day, reached his friend's
house by nightfall, passed a sleepless night, and went prowling round
the fence that divided Fairmile Park from the Manor grounds all next
day. He loitered and rambled from sunrise till sundown, hanging about in
likely spots where he and Irene had met last summer; but there was no
sign of his mistress. She was under close watch and ward, poor soul,
Lady Tredgold and her daughters being her gaolers for the nonce. They
were to stay till the Squire relieved guard; and then the old family
coach, which had been built for Lady Tredgold when she married, was to
carry them on towards Bath. Weary and heart-sick after that
disappointing day, Herrick stole to the lodge at dusk, and dropped in
upon the old gardener's wife. He had been crafty enough to make friends
with her last summer, and had dropped more than one of his hard-earned
guineas into her horny palm; so he was welcome. She told him all the
news, and promised to convey a letter to Miss Bosworth, if he would only
give her leave to wait for an opportunity.

"My eldest boy works in the garden," she said, "and Mrs. Bosworth
always takes notice of him. He'll find a time for giving her your
letter."

Herrick wrote his letter that night, a long and exhaustive letter,
entreating his beloved to stand firm, to believe in the potency of true
love, and to refuse to yield her heart or her hand to any man till he
should come forward to win it.

"So soon as I am sure of a modest competence, Rena, I will find the way
to make you my wife, and we will laugh at your father's fortune. I will
not ask you to wed beggary; but it shall go hard if within two years I
am not secure of an income that will suffice for wedded lovers. Two
years will not seem an eternity, even though we are forced to dwell
apart. Your image will be the companion of all my hours; 'twill stand at
my elbow and guide my hand as I write; 'twill flit beside me as I trudge
about the town; 'twill comfort, and inspire, and guide, and protect me.
It will be to me as an armour against all evil."

He waited about at Lavendale, haunting the park-rails by day, and
visiting the gardener's lodge at sundown for full five days. It took the
gardener's boy all that time to find an opportunity for delivering his
letter. Then there were two more days before Irene could see the boy
alone and return her answer. But at last that blessed reply came, full
of assurances of fidelity.

"I shall never be an undutiful daughter, or cease to think with love and
gratitude of my father," she wrote in conclusion; "but my hand and my
heart are my own, and those I will give to none but you."

Comforted and sustained by this letter, Herrick went back to London, and
established himself there in a modest lodging of his own in a court
leading out of Russell Street, Covent Garden, hard by those classic
coffee-houses where all the wits and politicians of the day were wont to
meet in rooms which but lately had echoed the laughter of Steele and the
quieter sallies of Addison. The greatest of Queen Anne's wits had passed
away; but the world of letters was still illumined by Pope, and
Bolingbroke, and Swift, and Warburton, and Berkeley, and a whole galaxy
of wit, erudition, and natural genius. Chief among them all perhaps was
that lively Frenchman, whose vivid pen touched perfection in every line
of literature, who was by turns poet, philosopher, historian, political
economist, trifler, critic, and theologian, and with whom an airy grace,
a supreme audacity, and an incomparable clearness of style, served
instead of the deeper thought and wider erudition of Clarke or Berkeley.

In such society no intellectual man could be unhappy, and Herrick
Durnford was frankly accepted in this charmed circle. He was on good
terms alike with the Ministry and with the Opposition. He dined and
slept at Dawley at the beginning of the week, and drank Sir Robert's
port on a Saturday evening. He loved Bolingbroke as a noble specimen of
highly gifted humanity, despite his many faults; but he honoured Walpole
as a master of statecraft, the minister who had the interests of the
people and the country most at heart, and who knew how to maintain the
prestige of England without plunging her into war. Walpole had been
struck by Herrick's letters in the _Flying Post_, had asked him to
dinner, and had even introduced him to Mrs. Skerritt. This last honour
meant real friendship. Molly Skerritt had read the letters to her
dearest friend Lady Mary, and the two had agreed that they were clever
enough to have been written by Swift. Mrs. Skerritt suggested that dear
Sir Robert should give Mr. Durnford the very next vacant borough. A man
who could write so well ought to be a good speaker, and good speakers
were wanted now that all the best orators had gone over to the
Opposition.

"The finest of them all is that poor fellow you keep muzzled yonder in
his fancy farm at Uxbridge," said Mrs. Molly, somewhat pertly.

She was beautiful, and her admirer was stout, clumsy, and
commonplace-looking; so she could afford to take liberties.

"Would to God I could muzzle his pen as easily as I can keep him out of
the House of Lords!" answered Walpole. "The fellow is an arrant traitor,
and this _Craftsman_ of his will wreck the country, unless I can be a
match for him and that renegade Pulteney."

When Molly Skerritt put in her word in an aspirant's favour his chances
of promotion were no longer chimerical. The borough was soon found, and
within six weeks of Mrs. Skerritt's recommendation Herrick Durnford was
elected for Bossiney in Cornwall, a charming little nomination borough,
then in the disposal of Sir John St. Aubyn, a staunch Whig and
Walpolian. The late member had been a ponderous Cornish squire who
always voted as he was told, and rarely spoke. His vote was useful, his
speech might have been damaging. This worthy member having expired
unpretentiously of an apoplexy, Walpole sent his young friend Durnford
down to Bossiney with a letter of introduction to Sir John St. Aubyn.
That gentleman took his young friend round to the half a dozen tenant
farmers who constituted the free and independent electors of Bossiney;
Herrick drank their cider, which was nearly as bad as that he had tasted
in Brittany, kissed their wives, who were buxom and fresh-complexioned,
praised their horses, patted their dogs, and was returned unanimously at
the polling-place, which was on a hillock beside the high-road, the
central point of an imaginary village. Tradition averred that Bossiney
had once been an important town, but its streets and market-place,
church and chapel, had disappeared as completely as the submerged city
of Lyonesse.

Herrick entered the House determined that the member for Bossiney should
no longer rank among dumb-dogs. Despite his success at the University as
an after-supper speaker, he was not a great orator, not a man to thrill
the House, but he was a clever debater, and he knew when and how to
raise a laugh against his antagonist. He was skilled in all the passes
of senatorial fence; for as some men are by instinct orators, so are
some by instinct debaters. He had a knack of asking damaging questions,
and seemed almost as keen on financial subjects as his illustrious
chief.

His contributions to the _Flying Post_ were as frequent as before he
became a senator, and were more telling, for he had now the knowledge
which he had lacked before. It was high treason in those days to report
the proceedings of the House; but a man who knew what was happening
there could give the public some benefit from his knowledge without
infringing that mysterious law which protected the senate. He answered
those brilliant diatribes against the government which Bolingbroke and
Pulteney were daily contributing to the _Craftsman_; and his answers,
though they may have lacked the matured style and lofty grace of him who
wrote the _Patriot King_, were neither insignificant nor impotent. Men
read them and talked about them, and the writer who signed himself "An
Honest Englishman" was fast becoming a recognised power in the world of
politics.

Neither senate nor literature kept Herrick from thinking of his
betrothed. He rode down to Lavendale at least once in a fortnight, saw
the friendly lodge-keeper, fee'd her useful son, and exchanged letters
with Irene. On one occasion he was so happy as to see her by the old
moss-grown park-rail. The watch and ward over her, kept scrupulously by
kind old Mademoiselle Latour, had been relaxed so far as to allow of her
riding her pony about the park; and so the lovers met, clasped hands,
touched lips, and vowed to be true to each other till death. And again,
as he looked at the lovely face, Herrick was struck by Irene's likeness
to that hidden portrait in Mr. Topsparkle's cabinet.

"If it is an accidental likeness, 'tis the most wonderful accident that
ever came within my knowledge," he said to himself, as he sauntered back
to the Manor; "but there are times when I doubt if it can be an
accident. It is not a likeness in feature only, but there are
characteristic points in each face which match exactly--family marks, as
it were, which indicate a particular race."

Upon his next visit he chanced for the first time to find company at the
gardener's lodge, in the person of Mrs. Bridget, the nurse, who had been
to Kingston in the coach for a day's holiday, and whom the return coach
had just deposited at the lodge.

The nurse was loquacious, and inclined to be confidential towards one
whom she knew as the beloved of her adored young mistress. From her, for
the first time, Herrick heard the exact story of the finding of the dead
man and the living child on the common, and how the foundling and the
heiress had played together like twin cherries on one stalk till death
parted them.

Herrick was deeply interested in those points of the story which were
new to him. He had heard of that infantine companionship from Rena, but
she, who but vaguely remembered it, could only describe vaguely, and the
story so told had been dim and shadowy. He questioned Mrs. Bridget
closely, and encouraged her to dwell with a morbid diffuseness on the
particulars of the orphan's illness and death. She described how both
children had been brought to death's door.

"'Twas lucky the heiress recovered, and not the nameless waif," said
Herrick, looking at her closely.

She returned his gaze with equal steadfastness; but he noticed that her
lips whitened.

"'Twould have been a hard thing for Squire Bosworth to lose his only
daughter," he went on, "while the orphan's death could matter very
little to any one."

"It mattered to the poor little dear that was left behind," answered
Mrs. Bridget. "She fretted sorely for her playfellow."

Herrick went back to town that night with a fixed belief and a fixed
determination. He felt that he had now one more business added to the
multitude of his pursuits; and that business was to find out the
parentage of the nameless orphan and the history of her unlucky father.
It would be no easy task, since he had to start from zero. He had no
clue to the man's identity save the place and date of his death, and
Mrs. Bridget's description, derived at secondhand through Farmer Bowman,
of the dead man's appearance.

It was to Tom Philter, that living register of other people's business,
that he applied himself in the first instance on the very next occasion
of their meeting at the Roebuck. They dined at adjacent tables, and
Herrick invited Mr. Philter to join him in a pint of claret when his
steak was despatched.

Philter had lived by his pen from the age of eighteen to a
well-preserved nine-and-forty; and if the waif's father were, as it was
supposed, a political scribbler, it was likely Philter would know
something about him.

"If I know of one such starving wretch as you describe, I know of
fifty," said Philter, when he had heard all that Durnford could tell
him. "They were hatched on the hotbed of the Revolution, and swarmed
like emmets on a nest in the Queen's time, which has been called the
golden age for men of letters, because a lucky few had rich patrons,
and made fortunes by venal pens. For one man that could live by
literature there have always been ninety-nine that have narrowly escaped
actual starvation. And it seems that this one man of yours did verily
die of want on the Queen's highway. A hard case undoubtedly. A young,
well-looking man, tramping about the country with a year-old baby; a
strange spectacle. No, I can recall no man of my acquaintance that would
have burdened himself so over-conscientiously with his domestic
obligations while there was an unguarded doorstep on which he could
deposit them. Truth to tell, Mr. Durnford, I have been tolerably
successful as wit and journalist for the last twenty years, and I have
given the hungry brotherhood a wide berth. They are bloodsuckers, my
dear sir, bloodsuckers of the most tenacious order. Your vampire cannot
hold a candle to them for voracity. 'Twas only yesterday afternoon I
refused a crown to that hotheaded sot Savage, whose fine-lady mother
ought to keep her brat out of the gutter.' 'Go to mamma, my dear
fellow,' says I: 'a man of your rank, with a mother who _is_ a fortune
and _has been_ a countess should not be hard up for five shillings.' I
think I hit him pretty hard there, Durnford."

"I think you had more than five shillings' worth without paying your
score," answered Herrick. "I am very sorry for Dick Savage, who has
talents, and is about the hardest-used wretch I ever met with. The worst
stepmother in a fairy tale was never crueller than Colonel Brett's wife,
and yet I daresay she will fatten and prosper, and live to a ripe old
age."

"She was a bold hussy," said Philter: "a woman who would brazen her
shame before the House of Lords, in order to divorce herself from a
husband she hated, can at least claim credit for strength of character."

"Which she shows now in denying herself to her son, the innocent witness
of her dishonour, and the avowed ground for her divorce."

"I doubt by the time she had survived her passion for Lord Rivers she
had exhausted her regard for his offspring," said Philter carelessly.

"Nay, she betrayed her indifference from the hour of his birth, handed
him over at once to his grandmother, Lady Mason, who immediately
transferred him to a foster-nurse, with whom he languished in obscurity
through his joyless boyhood, until his mother had him apprenticed to a
cobbler in Holborn, having previously, by a most malignant lie, deprived
him of a provision which Lord Rivers on his death-bed desired to
bequeath him. Poor Dick has told me the story at least a dozen times."

Durnford parted with the journalist in disappointment and disgust. He
knew not to whom else he could apply for help in his investigation of an
unknown past. He knew not where else to turn for information, was
altogether at a loss how to proceed, when a chance glimpse of Jemmy
Ludderly's ferret-face in the eighteenpenny gallery at a revival of
Steele's _Conscious Lovers_ reminded him that here was one who belonged
to a lower grade of letters, or, at all events, to a less prosperous
group of scribblers and artists, than that pseudo-fashionable circle
which Mr. Philter adorned. Ludderly claimed no acquaintance with modish
beauties or elderly demi-reps, waved no clouded cane, affected no
mincing walk, flourished no amber snuffbox, neither scented himself with
pulvilio nor expended a month's pay on a periwig. Mr. Ludderly wore the
same suit of clothes from January to December, and on to a second
January and a second December, would they but endure as long. Whatever
money he earned he spent upon the inner rather than the outer man, drank
deep in cosy tavern parlours when he was in funds, and toasted his
herring or his rasher in the solitude of his garret when he was hard up,
and managed to maintain a contented spirit at all times. Nothing short
of absolute hunger could have spoilt his temper.

Durnford called in May's Buildings next day, and unearthed the
caricaturist and lampooner in his kennel. It was Mr. Ludderly's usual
breakfast-hour, and he was meekly cooking his morning rasher in an easy
attire of shirt and breeches, with ungartered stockings, and the most
dilapidated slippers Herrick had ever seen off a dust-heap. But the man
of letters was in no wise embarrassed by his unsophisticated
surroundings. He received his visitor with a friendly air, and insisted
on vacating the one serviceable chair for his accommodation, while he
balanced himself adroitly upon a seat from whose wooden framework the
worn-out rushes hung in a picturesque fringe.

"Don't mention it," said Jimmy, when Herrick apologised for disturbing
him. "There is the bed yonder," pointing to the disordered pallet with
its ragged patchwork coverlet, "a most comfortable seat at all times.
Pardon me if I am for the moment preoccupied by the preparation of my
modest meal," laying down his toasting-fork, and filling a little black
teapot from the steaming kettle. "I am no sybarite or epicure, but I can
offer you a cup of the choicest tea in London. 'Tis bohea, at a guinea a
pound, from the Barber's Pole in Southampton Street. 'Twas given me
t'other day by a dear creature whose latest adventure offered particular
attractions to the comic Muse, but for whose sweet sake I restrained my
wit."

"Boileau could not have been more gallant. And was Thalia gagged for a
pound of bohea?"

"O sir, I do not say there was no solider consideration. The tea was the
tilly in. I beg you to taste a dish of it."

He brought a second cup and saucer from a corner cupboard, which was at
once larder, cellar, and pantry, and poured out some tea for his guest.

"I thought you were addicted to somewhat stronger liquor, Mr. Ludderly,"
said Durnford. "Burgundy, Champagne, or Hollands, for instance."

"My dear sir, over-night I will steep myself in an ocean of Burgundy,
and will sing you that fine old French drinking-song;" and he trolled in
a worn-out baritone,

    "'Beau nez, dont les rubis ont cousté mainte pipe
        De vin blanc et clairet,
    Et duquel la couleur richement participe
        De rouge et violet.'

"But I am no morning dram-drinker. 'Tis from the teapot I take my
noontide inspiration. Yet I know not if bohea be not as fatal to the
nerves as Hollands. I have heard that Lord Bristol attributes his son
Hervey's ill-health to the use of that detestable and poisonous plant
tea. Those were his very words, as told me by no less a person than Lord
Hervey's valet, who frequents my favourite tavern. Well, if 'tis poison,
'tis a pleasant poison, and keeps the brain alive while it kills the
body. I learnt the habit of bohea-bibbing from a sprig of good family
who chummed with me twenty years ago in this very garret. He was a
delicate effeminate creature, brought up gingerly by a widowed mother,
and then flung upon the world to waste a small patrimony and starve when
it was gone."

Durnford put down his cup hastily and stared the speaker in the face.

"A friend of twenty years back!" he said. "What became of him?"

Ludderly shrugged his shoulders, and shook his head.

"I know not, unless he went as sailor or soldier, and flung away a life
which he could not maintain as a civilian. He had sunk pretty low when
he became my fellow-lodger, and was trying to live by his pen. He had
inherited a strong attachment to the King over the water, and wrote on
the losing side, a fatal mistake, till he turned his coat at my advice,
and scribbled for the Whigs. I am at heart a friend to the Stuarts, but
I have got my bread by abusing them. Half my living at one time was made
out of Father Peter and the warming-pan."

"How long is it since you saw this gentleman?"

"He disappeared from my ken in the autumn of the year nine, the year of
Malplaquet. He left London on a pilgrimage to a wealthy relative in
Hampshire, whom he fancied his destitution might move to pity; but I
thought that if the gentleman were a man of the world, he was more
likely to set his dogs at my poor friend than to take him in and feed
him. He was very low by that time, and he had an impediment to a
relation's hospitality which I should deem fatal."

"What kind of impediment?"

"A motherless baby of a year and a half old--you need not blush, sir,
'twas born in wedlock--the offspring of a foolish runaway match made
abroad, where my friend was bear-leader to a young nobleman."

"By heaven, it is the very man!" cried Herrick. "I thought as much from
the beginning. Was not your friend's wife called Belinda?"

"That was her name. Many a night have I heard him utter it,
half-strangled in a sob, as he lay dreaming. The poor girl died in
childbirth at Montpellier, where they were living for cheapness. What do
you know of him?"

"Nothing--except that if he was the man I think, he died on the
Portsmouth road, died of want and exhaustion, and was found lying stark
and cold, with his baby daughter beside him."

"Do you know the date of his death?"

"Yes, 'twas the twenty-eighth of September."

"And it was on the fifteenth he took his child from her nurse at
Chelsea, over against Mrs. Gwynne's Hospital, and started on his
wild-goose chase after a kinsman's benevolence. He thought his relative
would melt at sight of the child, which shows how little he knew of the
world, poor wretch! Doubtless he arrived at his destination, had the
door shut upon him, civilly or uncivilly--'twould be the same as to
result--and turned his face Londonwards again, to tramp back to his den
here, where he knew there was at least shelter for him. He was weak and
ill when he left London, and he was all but penniless, and intended to
make the journey on foot. I am not surprised that he died on the road.
I am not surprised; but even after eighteen years, I am sorry."

Honest Jemmy wiped a tear or two from his unwashed cheek with the back
of a grimy hand.

"Where did they find him, sir?" he asked, after a brief silence.

"On Flamestead Common, thirty miles from London."

"He had come all the way from his kinsman's seat on the other side of
Winchester. The man was a distant cousin of his father's. 'Twas not a
close tie; but common humanity might have afforded him at least a
temporary shelter."

"My dear Mr. Ludderly, common humanity is the most uncommon virtue I
know of; 'tis rarer than common sense. Pray let me hear more of your
friend. Did he ever tell you of his wife's family and origin?"

"Very little. He was strangely silent about her, and as I knew he
lamented her death with an intensity of grief that was singular in a
young widower, I shrank from irritating an open wound by any impertinent
questions. All I ever heard of the lady is that she was an Italian, and
that if she had had her rights she would have enjoyed a handsome
fortune. It is my private opinion that he stole her from her father's
house, and so blighted her chance of wealth and favour."

"You do not know where they met, or where they were married?"

"No; I cannot tell you the where, but I have heard the how. They were
united by an English parson whom Chumleigh met on his travels; a scamp,
I take it, of your Parson Keith stamp. They were married in the house of
a British consul. 'Twas a legal ceremonial; the knot could scarce have
been more securely tied. Unhappily Death snapped it before the rich
father could relent."

"Were pardon likely upon his part, surely the widower would have sued
for it for the sake of his motherless infant?"

"Whether he sued and was refused, or never sued at all, I know not,"
answered Ludderly; "the man could hardly have been more secret than he
was about his wife's history."

"Was he a friend of long standing?"

"No; he and I were only poverty's strange bedfellows. I picked him up
one night sleeping under an archway in Holborn, penniless, dispirited,
and took him home to my garret. I saw that he was a gentleman and a man
of parts. I was just rich enough to give him a shelter from the wind and
rain, and a supper of bread and cheese, and I had just influence enough
to get him a little journeyman's work in the way of translation, as I
found he was a linguist. 'Twas the year I brought out my _Adventures of
Fidelia, a Young Lady of Fortune_, modelled upon Mrs. Manly's _New
Atalantis_. 'Twas one of my prosperous years, and I would have kept that
poor devil all the winter, could he but have pocketed his independence,
and been content to share my loaf. But when I could get him no more work
he grew restless and impatient, and nothing would serve him but he must
go off to try his luck with his Hampshire relation. I doubt what pierced
him sharpest was that he could not pay the nurse at Chelsea, and she was
growing clamorous, and bade him provide otherwise for his orphan. That
decided him, and he trudged off one fair September morning with the
little girl nestling on his shoulder. I bore him company as far as
Putney village, and there parted with him, little thinking 'twas for
ever."

"He may have been more communicative to the child's nurse than to this
friendly babbler," thought Durnford; and then he asked the nurse's name,
which Ludderly happened to remember, because it reminded him of his
favourite paper the _Tatler_, at that time being issued thrice weekly,
and its wit and humour in all men's mouths.

"The creature's name was Wagstaff," he said, "which puts me in mind of
Isaac Bickerstaff and his lucubrations. I had thoughts of starting a
journal upon the same model, and flatter myself that with a smart fellow
like Philter to help me, as Addison helped poor Dick, I could have run
the _Tatler_ hard. But I could not budge for want of capital. Your
printer is such an inquisitive devil, always eager to see the colour of
his employer's money."

"Her name was Wagstaff," repeated Durnford, not even affecting an
interest in Mr. Ludderly's blighted ambitions, "and she lived at
Chelsea, facing the Hospital for old soldiers?"

"Lived, and lives there to this day, for aught I know to the contrary,"
answered Ludderly.

"My dear sir, I am deeply beholden to you for so much information given
with such friendly frankness. We must see more of each other. Will you
dine with me at the Roebuck at four this afternoon, or will you honour
me with your company at Drury Lane to see _The Conscious Lovers_, and
sup at White's after the play?"

Herrick knew that to a man of Ludderly's stamp a dinner or a supper is
ever a welcome attention.

"The play and the supper, by all means. I revel in the select company at
White's, and though I am no gamester, there is an atmosphere in a place
where they play high that flutters my breast with an emotion akin to
rapture. I feel all the fever of the players without their risks."

"Mr. Ludderly, you are at once a wit and a philosopher. I shall look for
you in the box-office at six o'clock. Till then, adieu."

Durnford hurried off, delighted to be free until evening. He had to go
down to the House at three o'clock. There was no measure of importance
in hand, but as a tyro he was eager to watch the progress of the
session. He could not afford to neglect politics even for a day, but he
was bent on discovering Belinda's nurse as early as possible.

It was not quite one by the clock in the newly-finished church of St.
Martin's-in-the-Fields, which stood out spick and span in all the
brightness of stone and marble not yet discoloured by London smoke or
London weather. He set out to walk across St. James's Park and the Five
Fields to Chelsea, and was in front of the Hospital within an hour.
Chelsea had a pleasant rustic air, a country road thinly fringed with
houses. The village was a holiday resort for the idle, famous for its
Bun House, and for Barber Salter's museum of curiosities. Facing the
broad open space in front of the Hospital, and at some considerable
distance from that new and handsome edifice--begun by Charles II., but
only finished under William and Mary--there was a row of old-fashioned
cottages, including two or three of the humblest kind of shops. The
corner house nearest the country was adorned with a sign setting forth
that Mary Wagstaff, widow, was licensed to sell tea and tobacco; and the
unpretending lattices exhibited a small assortment of elecampane,
peppermint, clay pipes, pigtail tobacco, peg-tops, battledores,
worsteds, and red-herrings.

"If Mary Wagstaff be not gathered to her fathers, and yonder sign the
inheritance of a stranger, I am in luck," thought Durnford.

A gray-haired matron of obese figure waddled out of a little parlour at
the back of the shop on the summons of a cracked bell which dangled from
the half-door. Herrick did not waste time upon preliminaries, but at
once stated his business.

Was the obese lady Mrs. Wagstaff? Yes. Did she remember a certain Mr.
Chumleigh who left an infant girl at nurse with her nineteen years ago?

This question was like the opening of a sluice. Mrs. Wagstaff let loose
a torrent of angry speech, which sounded as if she had been brooding
upon her wrongs for all those nineteen years, and had never till this
moment relieved herself by uttering them. Yet doubtless she had treated
her gossips to many a lengthy disquisition upon the same theme over a
supper of tripe or cow-heel.

"Well do I remember him, and with good cause," she began. "An arrant
swindler as ever lived, yet with all the grand airs of a fine gentleman.
And the care I took of that baby! and the money I laid out upon bread
and milk to feed it!"

"But did Mr. Chumleigh never pay you anything?"

"O, he brought me dribs and drabs of money sometimes--a crown-piece or a
half-guinea once in a way. There was never such a pauper; he looked
half-starved; and would come with his long face and paltry excuses, when
I had kept his brat till my patience was worn out--she was a sweet
child, I will not deny, and I was very fond of her."

Mrs. Wagstaff rambled on with an air of being inexhaustible in speech,
and Herrick listened with admirable patience. He wanted to hear all that
she could tell him about the child's father, and was therefore content
to listen to a great deal of extraneous matter respecting the nurse and
her charge's infantine maladies.

"Ah, and bad work I had with her, for she was cutting her teeth all the
time, and used to keep me awake night after night, walking up and down
with her and singing to her. But she throve with me wonderful, and she
was a fine healthy baby as ever was, though I doubt she'd been ill-used
before she came to me."

"Ill-used, do you think?"

"Yes, sir, that was my very word, and I'm not going to take it back
again," answered Mrs. Wagstaff defiantly. "I don't mean that her father
ill-treated her, or her mother; but the poor little thing had been put
out to one of those French nurses," with ineffable disgust, "a nice pack
of trumpery, no better than your Leaguer ladies for morals. Mr.
Chumleigh told me how he found out that the hussy who suckled his child
was no better than she should be, and drank like a fish. And one night
that she was nursing the baby, and making believe to rock it to sleep,
when she was half asleep herself with Burgundy wine, she tilted her
chair forward a little too far and tumbled over into the fire, baby and
all, she did. The nurse was burnt worse than the child, and it's a
wonder she lived to tell the tale: but the baby struck her poor little
shoulder against a red-hot iron bar, and if she's alive she carries the
scar to this day. 'Twas a deep brand just where the arm joins the
shoulder, and I take it 'twill never wear out."

"How long was the little one with you?"

"Between nine and ten months. I kept her as long as I could, but my poor
husband was living at that time, and he was a man of his word. Mr.
Chumleigh was to pay me three-and-sixpence a week for the child, and he
owed me over three pounds, when my good man lost patience, and
threatened to throw the child into the street if I didn't get rid of it
civilly. I was to deliver it back to its father, or take it to the
constable. So I had no help but to tell Mr. Chumleigh he must fetch the
child away, and I told him so point-blank the next time he came to see
the little one. He was shabbier than ever, poor soul, and he looked
pinched and hungry. I'd rather have offered him a dinner than flung his
child upon his hands, but my good man was sitting in the parlour there,
listening to every word I said; so I just told Mr. Chumleigh I could
hold out no longer, he must just take the child and go about his
business. He looked very sorrowful, and then he seemed to recover
himself in a minute, and threw up his head with a proud air, as if he
had been a nobleman. 'Very well, Mrs. Wagstaff,' he said: 'I grant you
have been ill-treated, but it might have been better if you'd had more
patience with me. Fortune must turn at last for the most miserable of
us. I've a rich relation in the country. I must plod down to him and ask
for a home for my motherless one. Sure he can't resist these sweet
eyes.' I was almost crying when he shook hands and bade me good-bye,
though I tried to be hard with him. 'If ever I can pay you my debt,
madam, be sure I will,' says he; and so he went out at that door, with
the child cooing in his arms, and I never saw more of him from that day
to this."

"And never will, madam, on this side of Eternity," said Herrick gravely;
"the poor creature sank upon that cruel journey on which your husband
sent him."

"O sir, don't blame my husband! Remember, the poor gentleman owed us
over three guineas. 'Tis a good deal for people in our station."

"Yet I'll warrant you had a few guineas in a stocking somewhere. 'Twould
not have broken you if you had kept the child a little longer."

"No, sir, I don't say that it would have broken us--"

"Then it must go hard with you to remember how cruelly you dealt with an
unfortunate gentleman. But I am not here to reproach you, madam. I came
for information, and I thank you for having given it me so freely."

He tried to learn more of Chumleigh's character and circumstances, but
here Mrs. Wagstaff's information was of the most limited order. The
broken-down gentleman had been singularly silent about his past life.
Mrs. Wagstaff only knew that he was a gentleman, and this knowledge she
had by intuition, not being versed in the ways of gentlefolks, but
finding in this one something that was not in the commonality.

Herrick went back to London feeling very well satisfied with his
morning's work, though it would not seem that he had learnt much from
nurse Wagstaff.

"There is at any rate the means of settling one doubt," he told himself,
as he walked back by the Five Fields, a place of unhappy notoriety as a
favourite duelling-ground; and duelling was still a prevailing fashion,
though Steele and Addison had done their best to write it down in the
_Tatler_, and though the mutual murder of the Duke of Hamilton and Lord
Mohun in Hyde Park had not long ago given a shock to polite society.



CHAPTER IV.

"YOU STOP MY TONGUE, AND TEACH MY HEART TO SPEAK."


The tamest lover would hardly endure prolonged severance from his
mistress without making some efforts to see her, were it but for the
briefest space; and although Herrick did not intend to steal the heiress
from her father's custody, he was, on the other hand, determined not to
languish in perpetual absence. By fair means or foul he must contrive a
meeting; and he had by this time placed himself on such a friendly
footing with the gardener's wife, Mrs. Chitterley, that he was sure of
allegiance and help from all her family. So, one fair May morning, there
came a pedlar, with his pack of books on his shoulders and a stout oak
sapling in his hand, thick shoes whitened by dust, a shabby suit of
linsey woolsey, and brown worsted stockings--a pedlar of swarthy
complexion, and eyes obscured by green spectacles in heavy copper rims.
The pedlar turned into the lodge at Fairmile before approaching the
house, and conversed for some minutes with Mrs. Chitterley, who was very
much at her ease with him; for scarcely had he spoken three words before
she discovered that this dusty hawker was the London gentleman, Lord
Lavendale's friend, who had been so liberal in his bounties to her and
her children.

"You knew my voice, Mrs. Chitterley; but do you think the good people up
at the house yonder will recognise me?"

"Not unless they hear you talk, sir; I took you for a stranger when you
came in at the door just now. I never dreamt 'twas you."

"And now if I were to change my voice, and speak so?"

He had excelled as a mimic in days gone by, and now he adopted the
manner of an old college chum, whose peculiar utterance he had been wont
to imitate.

"Lord, sir, nobody will ever know you if you talk like that!"

"Then I'll venture it. But I hope to find Mrs. Bosworth in the garden
with her _gouvernante_, and then I need not go to the house at all."

"She almost lives in the garden, sir, this fine weather."

"Then I'll try my luck," said Herrick, shouldering his pack, which he
had brought from no further than Lavendale Manor, where he had put on
his pedlar's clothes and stained his complexion. He tramped along the
avenue, struck off to the right hand before he reached the house, and
made his way by a by-path to a little gate in a holly hedge, by which he
entered the garden. All Squire Bosworth's old family plate was laid up
in safe keeping at his goldsmith's, and the approaches to Fairmile Court
were not over-jealously guarded. Herrick knew his way about the gardens.
He had walked there last summer in the sweet sunset leisure of after
dinner, when he and Lavendale were the Squire's honoured guests, Mr.
Bosworth never suspecting that his lordship's companion could be his
rival. He knew all Irene's favourite nooks and corners, and where to
look for her.

He found her sitting under a cedar which Evelyn of Wootton had planted
with his own hands, an enduring evidence of that accomplished
gentleman's friendship for Squire Bosworth's grandfather. She was not
alone, but, instead of her usual companion and governess, she had Mrs.
Bridget, the nurse, who was sitting on a little wooden stool, knitting a
stocking, while Irene sat on the grass close by, with an open book in
her lap.

Now it happened that, next to Irene herself, Bridget, the nurse, was the
person whom Herrick most ardently desired to see.

"Can I sell you a book, ladies?" he began in his feigned voice, standing
a little way off, and opening his pack. "Here is _Gulliver's Travels_,
the most wonderful book that was ever written, the book all the great
folks in London were mad about last winter; and here is _Robinson
Crusoe_, and _The History of the Plague_, and--"

But Irene had started, to her feet. Disguise his complexion, hide his
eyes, alter his voice as he might, she knew him. She would have known
him anywhere, and under even stranger conditions. The electricity of
true love flashed from his soul to hers.

"Herrick!" she cried, "it is you!"

Mrs. Bridget also rose with a troubled air; but Irene laid a restraining
hand upon her nurse's arm.

"You won't tell anybody, you'll let us talk to each other a little
while?" she pleaded; and then in her most caressing manner, "you can
hear all we say. I have no secrets from you, dear old Bridget."

"I'll warrant Mrs. Bridget would hardly swear so much on her side," said
Herrick, with a lurking significance in his tone. "When people come to
your nurse's age, Irene, they are apt to have a secret or two, be they
ever so honest."

"Nay, I'll vouch for it, my Bridget has no secrets from me," protested
the girl, hanging on her nurse's ample shoulder.

The nurse turned and kissed her darling, but answered not a word.

"And so you knew me at once, Irene; what an eagle eye you have!"

"If you had come as a blackamoor, I should have known you just as
easily," she answered gaily; "and to change your voice too, and speak in
those queer gruff tones, and think to cheat me! What a foolish person
you must be!"

They seated themselves side by side on a rustic bench, while Bridget
resumed her stool and her knitting at a discreet distance.

"What has become of your governess?" asked Herrick.

"She had letters to write to her relations in France--a married sister,
and half a dozen nephews and nieces, who live in the south and whom she
dearly loves, though she has not seen them for ages. So I made her stay
indoors to write her letters, and brought Bridget for my companion. My
father has given strict orders that I am to be looked after, lest you
should find your way to me. But of all people, Bridget is the one I can
trust most confidently. She would cut off her head if she could make me
happy by losing it. And now, tell me everything about yourself, more
even than your dearest letters can tell. Remember how long it is since
we last met."

"Do I ever forget, love? ever cease to count the days and hours that we
are doomed to live apart?"

And then he told her his successes, his dreams and hopes, the
ever-strengthening hope of independence, Sir Robert's favour and
friendship, the world's growing esteem.

"In two years, at most, Irene, I count upon being able to offer you a
home; but it will be a very poor home compared with this, and you will
sacrifice a great fortune if you become my wife."

"I have told you before that I do not value fortune."

"Yes; but shall not I be ungenerous to accept so vast a sacrifice?"

"It will be no sacrifice. I tasted all that wealth can give last winter
in London, and I found no pleasure in fine clothes or fine company,
dances and dinners, except when you were near. I know what the great
world is like, and can renounce it without a sigh. But I should like to
wander with you in that wide beautiful world of mountains, and lakes,
and strange foreign cities, which so few people seem to care about. All
the people I met last winter used to talk as if there were no world
beyond Leicester Fields and St. James's Park--nothing worth living for
but cards and fine company."

"Foolish people, Irene, in whom all natural impulses are stifled by the
close atmosphere of a Court. Yes, we will travel, dearest, when you are
my wife. I will show you some of the loveliest spots on this earth; yet
we will not be mere vagabonds, love; we will not spend our lives in
exile. This little island of ours is worth living in, and worth working
for. We will have our cottage at Chelsea, or our lodgings in London, as
you shall decide; and it shall be your task to fan the flame of ambition
and stimulate your husband to perseverance and earnestness. For the man
who is ambitious and persevering there can be no such thing as failure."

"Let us live in London," said Irene, delighted with a discussion which
seemed to bring their future union nearer. "For in London we need be
seldom parted. I shall hate even the House of Commons if it takes you
from me too often or too long at a time."

"Then we will have a lodging in Spring Gardens, where I can run
backwards and forwards, and spend my life between the senate and my
home."

Childish talk, when union was still so far off; but it was a kind of
talk which made Herrick intensely happy, for it gave him the assurance
of winning his sweetheart for a wife, even though Parson Keith had to
wed them. She who was so willing to fling away fortune for his sake
would not let him languish for ever under her father's ban. The day must
come when she would be ready to forsake that stern father for her
lover's sake. It was for him to make their union easy, by the assurance
of a modest competence.

When they had fully discussed their future dwelling, even to the style
of the furniture and the prospect from the windows, Herrick began to
question Irene about the companion of her infancy, the waif from whom
death had parted her so early.

"I can remember very little," she said. "It is mostly dim, like a dream.
Yet there are hours that I can recall. I have but to close my eyes, and
her face comes back to me, smiling lovingly, so gentle, so sweet. She
must have been fairer than I--I remember a face like alabaster, with
rosebud lips, and hair like pale gold. I have seen just such a face in
pictures of angels. I remember playing with her under yonder cedar. It
was one of our favourite spots. And I remember hide-and-seek in the old
stables the day we both caught the fever. How happy we were that day!
and it is the last I can remember of our play or our happiness. Perhaps
I should remember much more if I had not had that terrible fever; for my
cousins have told me how vividly they can recall their childhood. Mine
seems like a picture half rubbed out, with distinct patches left here
and there upon the canvas."

"Mrs. Bridget must remember your little companion," said Herrick,
glancing at the nurse. "Will you call her here, Rena? I should like to
ask her a few questions."

Irene beckoned, and Bridget came over to the bench.

"I have been talking of the little girl who died, Mrs. Bridget," began
Herrick, with a friendly air. "It has happened to me very curiously
within the last few days to come upon traces of that infant's father,
and of the first year of her life. Now, I know you were very fond of
her, and that you must be interested in anything that relates to her."

Without a moment's warning nurse Bridget began to cry. Rena made her sit
down between them, and dried her tears, and soothed her with sweetest
caresses.

"Why should you be so broken-hearted about her, you poor old dear soul?"
she said; "you were never unkind to her, I am sure."

"No, I was never unkind to her--I have not that upon my conscience,"
sobbed Bridget; "but I have never forgotten her pretty face and her
sweet little ways, and how loving she was to me, dear soul. And to hear
of her suddenly--O sir, what did you discover about the poor man who was
found dead on Flamestead Common?" she asked, recovering herself with an
effort.

"I heard that he was a man of good birth, by name Chumleigh. I heard
some particulars of his youth and his marriage, and I mean to find out
more. Having got so far upon the traces of his history it will hardly be
difficult to learn the rest."

"But what good will it do to any one, sir," asked Bridget, "since the
child has been dead so many years? There is nobody to profit by your
knowledge."

"Who can say as much as that, Mrs. Bridget? Knowledge is power. I should
like to know the history of Mrs. Bosworth's little companion. It pleases
me to think that she was something better than a beggar's brat--a child
of good birth, and, for all I know, entitled on the mother's side to a
large fortune."

Bridget became suddenly alert and interested.

"A fortune did you say, sir?" she exclaimed. "Do you mean that my
darling had a right to a fortune?"

"I have reason to believe the child's mother had at least the
expectation of wealth; but it was contingent upon the caprice of a rich
father: just like your mistress's fortune, which she may lose if she
disobey the Squire."

"They all said he was a gentleman," remarked Bridget musingly. "I have
heard Farmer Bowman talk about him many a time--he was thin and wasted
with hunger, the farmer said; but he had been a handsome young man, and
his clothes were a gentleman's clothes, though they were worn almost to
rags."

"Were there any papers found upon him?"

"Yes, the Squire brought home a parcel of papers; but there was nothing
among them all to show who he was. I have heard my master say as much."

"Well, it will be my business to find out Mr. Chumleigh's relatives, and
from them I may hear all about his marriage. I have seen the woman who
had care of his motherless baby till within a fortnight of the time she
was brought into this house."

"Indeed, sir! That is very strange."

"Strange indeed, Mrs. Bridget; but this world of ours is a much smaller
place than we think."

"The mother was dead then, sir?"

"Yes, the mother died directly after the child's birth."

"And had the woman been good to her, do you think?"

"Fairly good, I take it; but her first nurse, the woman who took her
from her dying mother's breast, was a careless unworthy wretch."

"As how, sir?"

"An accident of which I was told would prove as much."

Bridget was thoughtful, but did not inquire the nature or the history of
this accident. The recollection of her lost charge seemed to be full of
trouble to her.

Herrick said no more about Mr. Chumleigh or his child. He had said all
he intended to say, and had keenly watched the effect of his revelations
upon nurse Bridget. And now it was time for him to leave this paradise,
lest some servant should pass that way and take note of his presence, or
lest Mademoiselle should come in quest of her pupil. Rena had been
glancing uneasily towards the house, momently expecting the apparition
of her _gouvernante_.

"Wilt thou walk with me as far as the old boundary, dearest, where I
have spent so many a happy half-hour?" pleaded Herrick; "Mrs. Bridget
will keep guard while you go."

"It is near dinner-time, but I will venture," answered Rena, "at the
risk of a scolding."

They rambled together under the interlacing boughs, down to the old
trysting-place, and before they parted Herrick urged Rena to meet him
there now and then, were it only for five minutes' talk stolen from her
gaolers.

"I can usually contrive to send you a line by our juvenile friend at the
lodge," he said. "He is a serviceable little fellow, and has a
precocious sympathy with true lovers. You can hardly be so close watched
that you could not steal this way in your rambles."

"My father has given strict orders against my going out alone," said
Irene, "but Ma'amselle is not a jealous guardian, and I might slip away
from her on some pretext or other--though it seems cruel to cheat such a
trustful duenna."

And so they parted, with the understanding that when Herrick was next at
Lavendale Manor they should contrive a meeting in the old spot, endeared
to them by the remembrance of their first chance encounter and many a
subsequent rendezvous. It would not be often that Herrick would have
such an opportunity, for he had his battle of life to fight, and
business would chain him to London and his solitary lodgings at the back
of Russell Street.



CHAPTER V.

"AND IN SUCH CHOICE SHALL STAND MY WEALTH AND WOE."


Herrick went back to London that evening. Lavendale was in Bloomsbury
Square, and would have had his familiar friend and companion to live
with him there if Herrick would have consented; but Herrick was sternly
resolved upon a life of hard work and almost Spartan plainness. He was
filled with ambition, with that keen desire of success for the sake of a
loved object, with that same generous unselfishness which made Steele so
happy, when he had earned a handful of guineas, to cast them into the
lap of his "dearest Prue." So he refused to leave his two-pair lodging
in the alley near Button's; and he worked on with an honest purpose
which made success a foregone conclusion. But in spite of the close
occupation of his parliamentary duties and his work as a journalist,
Mr. Durnford found time to travel by heavy coach to Winchester, whence a
hired horse conveyed him to the mansion of Sir John Chumleigh, a county
magnate, and chief representative of an ancient Tory and High Church
family, a gentleman whose grandfather had bled and died for the King in
the Civil War, and whose father had held himself sullenly aloof from the
Dutch usurper, and had lived and died on his own estate. The present Sir
John Chumleigh was a sportsman and an agriculturist; lived only for
farming and fox-hunting, and despised all the other interests and
ambitions of mankind. He had married the daughter of a needy nobleman, a
fine lady who had been slowly fretting herself to death amidst the rude
plenty of a rural establishment for the last twenty years, and was a
wonder to all her neighbours inasmuch as she was still alive.

To this gentleman Mr. Durnford presented himself one sunny afternoon.

He found the Baronet in a panelled parlour, seated at a table covered
with documents of a business character. Sir John was big and burly, wore
leather breeches and top-boots in winter and summer, and had all his
clothes cut in a style which suggested the hunting-field rather than the
drawing-room. He was a man who would start in the winter starlight,
before the first ray of dawn had begun to glimmer in the eastern sky, in
order to ride fifteen miles to a meet. He had a couple of packs, a
magnificent stud of hunters, hunted four times a week, and considered
every guinea squandered which was not spent upon kennel or stable. He
was prouder of being master of hounds than he would have been of being
Prime Minister. Herrick glanced at the whip-racks, the rows of spurs,
the vizards and brushes, which adorned the walls, and at once understood
the kind of man with whom he had to deal, and he was prepared to
encounter a frank off-hand incivility rather than hypocritical courtesy.

He stated his business briefly.

"I have a very particular reason, sir, for being interested in the
history of a member of your family who fell upon evil fortunes, and died
young, leaving a motherless infant behind him."

"My good sir, my family tree has spread deuced wide since the
Chumleighs--an old Norman race--first took root in the land; and if you
expect me to give information about every beggarly twig that has
withered upon it within the last half-century--"

"This gentleman I take to have been a somewhat near relation, Sir John,
since it was to you he turned in the hour of his direst necessities."

"Yes, sir, they all do that: they go to a well-to-do relative as
naturally as an old dog-fox goes to ground."

"Do you remember a cousin who came to you in the year nine--'twas in the
autumn, shortly after Malplaquet--with a little girl, a mere baby--"

"I'm not likely to forget the fact, sir. What, a trumpery third or
fourth cousin to come to my house, with a squaller of eighteen months
old, expecting to be housed and fed for an indefinite period; since,
having once found comfortable quarters, that kind of vagrant would not
be inclined to resume his march in a hurry! It was as much as I could do
to be barely civil to that idle vagabond; but I mastered my indignation
so far as to offer him a substantial meal, which he refused, and a
guinea, which he flung to the footman who showed him the way out--"

"Preferring to tramp back towards London with an empty stomach rather
than to feed on your charity," said Durnford; "a false pride, no doubt,
sir, but there are men who would die rather than accept a reluctant
favour. Your hospitable offer was the last chance of a meal your kinsman
had, for he died of starvation on the road to London, and his orphan was
adopted by one Squire Bosworth, a landed gentleman at Fairmile in
Surrey."

"How do you know that he died of want, sir?" asked Sir John, somewhat
dashed in his spirits.

"O sir, the fact is notorious;" and then Durnford related those two
chapters of Chumleigh's story which he had heard from Mr. Ludderly and
the nurse at Chelsea, and from Mrs. Bridget and others at Fairmile.

"Well, sir, 'tis a pitiful tale," said the Baronet, "but there is hardly
a man in England rich enough to provide for all his poor relations. The
lean kine would eat up all the fat kine, sir, if mistaken benevolence
were to attempt the task, and the kingdom would be reduced to a dead
level of poverty. Gad's curse, sir! everybody would be paupers. There
would be no green spot in the desert. 'Tis sounder wisdom and truer
benevolence in the rich to keep their estates together, to maintain a
good household, feed their dependents, and uphold trade. However, I am
sorry this misguided young man came to a scurvy end."

"Dare I ask why you call him misguided, sir?"

"Because he made the vast mistake of trying to live by his wits, instead
of by some steady and honest industry--because he thought to make his
living by hanging about London, sitting idle in coffee-houses, and
picking up stray notions from the town wits--Dryden, Congreve,
Wycherley, Addison, Steele, and the rest of 'em--to retail secondhand in
the newspapers at a penny a line. Better to have carried a musket or
swept a crossing. And then when he was bear-leader and earning handsome
wages, with the run of his teeth at the best inns on the Continent, and
a coach-and-six to carry him all over Europe--an education which should
have made him as good a writer as that Mr. Addison whom people thought
so much of--he must needs spoil all his chances by running off with a
girl out of an Italian convent, and causing a fine hubbub among the
priests."

"Was the lady a cloistered nun?" asked Durnford eagerly.

"Why no; 'twas said she was but a boarder or pupil in the convent,
handsomely paid for by a wealthy father, who kept so much in the dark as
to his daughter that she may be said to have been nameless, and 'twas
shrewdly guessed she was the offspring of some low intrigue whom the
father was glad to hide within convent-walls, in the hope she would take
the veil and rid him of all trouble about her."

"Since you heard so much, Sir John, you must have heard the father's
name?"

"There you are out in your reckoning, sir. My only information came by a
sort of explanatory letter which my foolish cousin sent me--having a
kind of deference for me as the head of the family--soon after his
marriage."

"Would you oblige me so far as to let me see that letter, sir, which I
make no doubt you have preserved?" asked Durnford.

"Nay, young sir, you go somewhat fast. Will you do me the favour to
explain by what right you would grope in the mystery of Chumleigh's life
and marriage? What interest can my dead kinsman have for you, a
stranger, that I should let you pry into the scandals of his mistaken
youth?"

"I will be plain with you, Sir John. My interest in Mr. Chumleigh arises
indirectly. His orphan daughter, who died of a fever at the age of five,
was the beloved playfellow of a young lady whom I hope to make my wife.
It is for her sake I am curious about your kinsman's history."

"'Tis a roundabout sentimental kind of interest, sir, which, were you
less of a gentleman, I should feel devilishly indisposed to gratify,"
said Sir John. "Pray may I ask, sir, who and what you are? for your
name, though it has a respectable sound, gives me no information on that
point."

"To begin with, then, Sir John, I belong to that fraternity of
scribblers to which you object. Without being exactly a haunter of
coffee-houses, I have a profound reverence for the shades of Dryden and
Addison, whose bodily presence was once familiar at Wills's and at
Button's--indeed 'twas Mr. Addison who gave the vogue to the latter
house, which is kept by an old servant of Lady Warwick's; and as for
wits in the flesh, I have ever hung with delight upon the discourse of
Congreve and Swift, Pope and Gay. Yes, Sir John, I too am that low
thing, a man who lives by his brains; but I have another profession
besides that of scribbler."

"May I know your secondary occupation, sir?"

"I have the honour to represent the borough of Bossiney in his Majesty's
Parliament."

"Indeed, sir! You are in the House, are you? And I'll warrant you are an
arrant Whig."

"I hope, Sir John, that will not prejudice you against me."

"Nay, Mr. Durnford, I have ceased to be a partisan. There was a time
when I was a red-hot Jacobite, and looked to Harley and St. John to open
the Queen's eyes to her duty as a daughter and a sister, and so, without
violence or damage to the country, to bring in King James III. so soon
as the throne should be vacant. But when I saw how easily Harley and
St. John were beaten, and how quietly the country knuckled under to a
middle-aged foreigner who could not speak a word of our language; and
when that miserable flash in the pan of the year fifteen showed me how
feeble a crew were the Jacobites of England and Scotland--faith, sir,
the best man among them was Winifred Countess of Nithisdale--I began to
think that I had better stay at home, and hunt my hounds and keep clear
of politics. Neither party has ever benefited me; and I say with the
gentleman in the play which the Winchester Mummers acted last Easter, 'A
plague on both your houses!' So Whig or Tory is all as one to me, Mr.
Durnford. And now will you crack a bottle of Burgundy, or will you drink
a glass or two of Malaga, after your long ride?"

Sir John had talked himself into a good temper, and Herrick thought that
he might drink himself into a still more gracious humour, so frankly
accepted his offer of a bottle; whereupon the butler brought a massive
silver tray with decanters of Burgundy and Malaga, and a dish of crisp
biscuits, made after a particular recipe which had been in the family
from the time of Queen Bess, who had lain at Chumleigh Manor in one of
her innumerable peregrinations, whereby she had laid upon the family the
burden of for ever preserving the antique furniture and cut velvet
hangings of the room in which her royal person had reposed. Charles II.
had been a more frequent visitor, putting up at Chumleigh on several
occasions when his Court was quartered at Winchester for the hunting in
the New Forest, and when he and his favourites had hunted with the
Chumleigh foxhounds. Sir John prattled of those glorious days as he
sipped his Malaga, which was a fine heady wine.

He sipped and prosed, describing those great days in which royalty had
hunted with his father's foxhounds and drunk of his father's wines, and
finally talked himself into such an expansive temper that he pressed
Herrick to put up at Chumleigh Manor for the night, and leave Winchester
by the coach which started at eight next morning. This offer Mr.
Durnford thought it wise to accept, as it might afford the opportunity
for getting better acquainted with the history of the Chumleigh family,
and that Philip Chumleigh in whose fate he was so keenly interested.

It was dusk by this time. The Baronet had dined at three, and he was in
for an evening's good-fellowship.

"Her ladyship will take it ill if we do not go to the drawing-room for a
dish of tea," he said; "but we can come back to my study afterwards, and
I'll show you my kinsman's letter, and as many memorials of the house of
Chumleigh as you may care to look at. Our pedigree is more interesting
than that of most county families, for the Chumleighs have married into
several noble houses. We are an historical race, sir."

The drawing-room was on the other side of a large hall, paved with black
and white marble, and with a lantern roof, after Inigo Jones. It was a
spacious and handsome apartment, hung with old Italian pictures of
manifest worthlessness, interspersed with portraits of the house of
Chumleigh by Holbein, Vandyke, Lely, and Kneller. The present owner and
his wife had been painted by this last artist, and their half-length
portraits occupied places of honour on either side of the high
chimney-piece, which was an elaborate structure in white and coloured
marble, with the armorial bearings of the Chumleighs carved in high
relief on the central panel.

Beside the fireplace sat a faded, little woman, who rose with a languid
air when her husband presented the stranger, and sank almost to the
carpet in a kind of swooning curtsy.

"Indeed, sir, it is a privilege to see any one at Chumleigh who has seen
the town within twelve months," she said to Herrick, in acknowledgment
of her husband's half-apologetic introduction of the stranger. "We live
here in the wilds, and our most intellectual company are huntsmen and
feeders. There is scarcely an hour of the day when I am free from the
intrusion of a great hulking fellow redolent of kennel or stable."

"My dear, I must see my servants, and unless you and I are to live in
separate houses I know not how you are to escape an occasional whiff of
the stable," grumbled Sir John.

"O, I must forgive you your servants," replied his wife, "since your
friends are but a shade better--men who have but two subjects of
discourse: the last horse they have bought, or the last run in which
they were thrown out, or in which they were first at the death. They
seem almost as proud of one circumstance as of the other. But pray,
sir," turning to Herrick, and exposing a scornful and somewhat scraggy
shoulder to her husband, "tell me the last news in town. Is Lady Mary
Hervey as great a toast as ever? I for my part never thought her a
beauty, though she has some good points. And is her husband still a
valetudinarian?"

"Yes, madam, Lord Hervey is always complaining, but as he contrives to
perform all his Court duties, which are onerous, I take it he is more
robust than the world thinks him, or than he thinks himself."

"And Mrs. Howard? Has she finished her new house at Twit'nam?"

"Marble Hill? Yes, madam, 'tis just finished, and is the prettiest thing
for its size I ever saw."

"And is she still the first favourite with his Majesty?"

"That, madam, she has never been, and never will be. The Queen is the
reigning sultana at Kensington and at Richmond, whatever illicit loves
may beguile his Majesty's sojourn at Hanover, where one would think his
heart was fixed, so eager is he ever to get there."

"Indeed, sir! Then it is Vashti and not Esther who reigns. I am glad of
that, for the sake of honour and honesty. Why does not the King send
Mrs. Howard about her business?"

"O madam, such an idea is furthest from his thoughts. He must have
somewhere to spend his evenings. The Queen is his mentor, his chief
counsellor, and he knows it, though he affects to think otherwise: he
must have an amiable stupid woman to talk to by way of relaxation. No
one could endure the perpetual company of the goddess Minerva. Be
assured, madam, Venus was as empty-headed as she was pretty, and that's
why she had so many adorers."

"You give a very bad notion of your own sex, sir," retorted the lady,
busying herself with the tea-tray, which had been brought in during the
discussion. "But as for beauty, I never thought Mrs. Howard could claim
dominion upon that account. She has fine hair and a good complexion;
but how many a milkmaid can boast as much!"

"Doubtless, madam; and a milkmaid would be just as pleasing to King
George, if she were a little deaf and very complacent."

"For shame, sir! Let us talk no more of this odious subject. Pray
enlighten me about the theatres. Is Drury Lane or Lincoln's Inn most
fashionable? I have not seen a play for a century. Sir John has always
an excuse for not taking me to London."

"The best in the world, my love, an empty purse," answered the Baronet
cheerily.

"No wonder your purse is empty when you squander hundreds upon your
kennels," complained the lady, who was fond of airing her grievances
before a third person.

"Squander, my lady? squander, did you say? To maintain a pack of
foxhounds is to perform a public duty; it is to be the chief benefactor
of one's neighbourhood. When I can no longer pay for my kennels and
support my church may I lie in my grave under the shadow of the tower,
where the music of my hounds can no longer gladden my ear. No, madam,
the maintenance of an historic pack is no selfish extravagance. It is
the highest form of philanthropy. It gives sport to the wealthy and
employment to the poor; it affords pleasure to gentle and simple, old
and young. If you could sit a horse, Maria, you would not talk such
foolish cant as to call my kennel an extravagance."

This question of horsemanship was always a sore point with Lady
Chumleigh, and no less savage beast than a husband would have been
brutal enough to touch upon it.

"Had I health and strength for such rough work as hunting, I make no
doubt I could ride as well as my neighbours," replied the lady, with a
semi-hysterical sniffling sound which alarmed her spouse, as it was
often the forerunner of shrill screams, and shriller laughter, tapping
of red-heeled shoes on the carpet, cutting of laces, burning of
feathers, and spilling of essences, with all the troublesome rites of
the Goddess Hysteria.

"And so indeed you could, my dearest love," he cried, eager to avert the
storm; "you have the neatest figure for the saddle on this side
Winchester, and would be the prettiest little hussy in the hunting-field
if you had but the courage to ride my bay Kitty, than which no sheep was
ever tamer."

"It is not courage I want, Sir John, but stamina," murmured the dame,
appeased and smiling.

"I hope you like this bohea, Mr. Durnford," she said blandly; "it is the
same as the Duchess drinks at Canons."

Herrick declared it was the best tea he had tasted for an age. Sir John
informed his wife that the stranger would sup with them, and stay the
night; and then the two gentlemen went back to the library, where Mr.
Chumleigh's letter was produced from an iron box containing family
documents.

Herrick read it slowly and meditatively, trying to get the most he could
out of a very brief statement.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Montpellier, October 20, 1706.

"MY DEAR SIR JOHN,--As you may happen to hear of my marriage, and
perhaps from those who may not be friendly to me, I think it my duty to
furnish you with some particulars of that event which so nearly concerns
the happiness and honour of two people, my wife and myself.

"Imprimis, you will be told perhaps that I stole my wife from a convent.
Well, so I did, but she was under no vow, had taken no veil: was only a
young lady placed there by her guardian as pupil and boarder; and from
what I know I believe she might have been left to languish there in a
dismal confinement within the four high walls of an ancient Italian
garden, if love and I had not rescued her. It is needless to make a long
story of how we met by chance in the convent chapel, and afterwards by
contrivance, and how we soon discovered that Providence had designed us
each for the other. I never had a dishonourable feeling in regard to my
charmer, and my crime in carrying her off from that sanctimonious
prison-house was no more than if I had run away with a young lady from a
fashionable seminary at Bath or Tunbridge. She brought me no fortune,
and may never bring me a shilling, though I have reason to believe her
father is inordinately rich. You will think it strange when I tell you
that his daughter does not even know his name, and has no recollection
of his person, or having ever seen him since her infancy. The only
person connected with her who ever visited the convent was a steward,
who came twice a year to pay her pension, and who always brought her
valuable presents. I can but think that my dearest girl must have been
the offspring of an illicit love, and that her parent must be one of
that race of travelling Englishmen who affect the Continent most because
of its wider scope for dissolute habits.

"She was treated with much respect and consideration by the nuns, but
they never told her anything about her own history. To her natural
questions on this subject she received one unalterable reply: 'You will
know all in good time.'

"That time, by my act, may never come; for my wife knows not how or
where to address her mysterious parent. It may be that I have cut her
off from the inheritance of a splendid fortune, and that thought gives
me some uneasiness, as I see her smiling upon me while I write these
lines in our humble lodging. But we are both so happy that I can scarce
doubt we have done wisely in obeying the sweet impulsion that united our
lives, as I have an honest intention of working hard to win
independence, and trust the day may come when we shall afford to scorn
the wealth of a profligate who was ashamed to acknowledge his lovely and
innocent child.

"I hope, sir, when I go to London with my wife next summer, with the
intention of entering my name at the Temple, you will honour us both
with your countenance, and that in the mean time you will be assured I
have done nothing to forfeit your goodwill as the head of our family.--I
have the honour to remain, my dear sir, your very affectionate and
dutiful servant,

"PHILIP CHUMLEIGH."

       *       *       *       *       *

This was all, and gave but little precise information.

"You have no other letters of your kinsman's bearing upon his marriage,
sir?" inquired Herrick.

"None."

"And did he tell you nothing more when he called upon you afterwards
with his child?"

"Nothing. To tell you the truth, sir," said the Baronet, who, warmed by
a second bottle, now glowed with a generous candour, "I was in a mighty
ill mood for receiving an out-at-elbows relation upon the particular
afternoon this gentleman came here; for I had just brought home the
finest hunter in my stud dead lame from a stumble into a blind ditch. I
could have turned upon my own mother, sir; and then comes this third
cousin of mine with a puling brat, and tells me he has not a penny in
the world, and asks me to give him hospitality till his fortunes
mend--whereas there was no more hope of his fortunes mending than of my
poor Brown Bess getting a new leg--and I daresay I may have answered him
somewhat uncivilly; and so we parted, as I told you, in a rage. But I am
sorry for it, now you tell me he died of hunger. 'Tis hard for a
gentleman to sink so low."

"Will you allow me to take a copy of that letter, Sir John?"

"A dozen, sir, if you please. There are pens on that standish, and paper
somewhere on the table. I'll go and smoke my pipe in the saddle-room
while you act scribe, and I daresay when you've finished it will be
supper-time, and we shall both be in appetite for a chine and a venison
pasty. We keep country hours."



CHAPTER VI.

"THE LADIES THERE MUST NEEDS BE ROOKS."


Mr. Durnford went back to London and worked hard in the senate and in
his study, eschewing all those scenes of pleasure and dissipation which
had once been his natural atmosphere. Lord Lavendale remonstrated with
him for having turned hermit and forsaken his friend.

"Thou wert once as my twin brother, Herrick," he said, "but thou art now
as some over-wise cousin, too sober and industrious to be on good terms
with folly."

"I am in love, Jack, and I have a serious purpose in this life which
gives strength to resolution and sweetens labour."

"Joseph Addison himself, the Christian philosopher, never pronounced
sounder wisdom."

"Alas, Lavendale, I wish with all my heart you could find one to love
whose mere _eidolon_ should be strong enough to guard and guide you."

"To keep my feet from Chocolate Houses and my tongue from libertine
discourse, eh, Herrick? Nay, old friend, there is no such woman. The one
I love is of the world, worldly. Were she free to wed me, I would do all
that man dare do to win her: but she is not free, and I can but amuse
myself in the paths of foolishness."

"You are ruining your health, wasting your fortune, and I doubt if even
at this cost you have bought happiness."

"No, Herrick, it is not to be bought so cheap. 'Tis a thing I have never
known since my first youth, when I began to find out the inside of the
apples of Sodom. Dust and ashes, friend: life is all dust and ashes,
when once the curiosity of youth is satisfied and the novelty of sinful
pleasures is worn off, if you call it sinful to drink and play deep, and
to love the company of handsome unscrupulous women, which I do not."

"If your mother were living, Jack, she whom you loved so well, whose
memory I have heard you say is more sacred to you than anything else on
the earth, would you have lived the life you are leading now?"

"It would have vexed that pure and gentle spirit, Herrick, to see me as
I am. Well, perhaps for her sake--yes, I have often told myself I should
have been a better man had she lived--perhaps for her sake I might have
forsworn sack and lived cleanly. But she is gone--she is at rest, where
my follies cannot touch her."

"How do you know that? Have you not spoken to me of the influence of the
dead upon the living? Do you not think that in the after life there may
be consciousness of the sins and sorrows of those that the dead have
loved better than they ever loved themselves? Do you think the chain of
love is so weak that death snaps it?"

"The after life! Ah, Herrick, that is the question in which we are all
at fault. It is uncertainty about that after life which damns us here.
Better to fear hell than to be without hope beyond the grave. I swear,
Herrick, I should be ever so much happier if I believed in the devil."

"And in God."

"That needs not saying. We all want to believe in a God, but we shirk
the notion of a devil. Now I would accept Satan in all his integrity
could I but believe in the rest of the spiritual world, angels and
archangels, and all the hierarchy of heaven. If I could think that my
mother's spirit hovered near me, could be vexed by my follies or moved
by my penitence, that sweet spiritual influence would guard me from evil
far better than any sublunary love. If I could believe, Herrick--but it
is that damnable _if_ which wrecks us."

"Do you not think, Jack, that it would pay a man to be a good Christian
on speculation?"

"You mean that the satisfaction of living a decent life, the
consciousness of moral rectitude, and the better conduct of his affairs,
would recompense him for the pains of self-denial, and that he would
have the chance of future reward--say as one to ninety-nine--by way of
bonus."

"Ah, Jack, you are incorrigible. Bolingbroke and his disciple Voltaire
have corrupted you."

"No, Herrick, I am no idle echo of other men's doubts. I hear his
lordship and the Frenchman bandy the ball of infidelity, scoff at all
creeds and all believers, quote Collins and Woolston, discredit Abraham,
and make light of Moses; prove the absurdity of all miracles, the
fatuity of all Christians. But it was in the depths of my own heart, in
the silence of my own chamber, that doubt first entered: and, like the
devil that came to Dr. Faustus in Marlowe's play, once having entered,
the intruder was not to be banished. That heaven which you Christians
talk of with such easy assurance, looking forward to your residence
there as placidly as a wealthy cit looks forward to a mansion at Clapham
or a cottage at Islington--that golden Jerusalem--is for me girt with a
wall of brass that shuts out hope and belief."

"Your mind will change some day, Jack."

"_Then_ I shall begin to believe in miracles."

This was but one of the many conversations which the friends had held
upon the same subject. Let their lives or their creeds differ never so
much, they were always staunch and loyal to each other. Whatever new
hopes might gladden Herrick's pathway, the companion of his wild youth
must be ever to him as a dearly loved brother.

       *       *       *       *       *

At Whitsuntide the House was up, and Herrick was his own master for a
week. He was to spend part of the time at Lavendale Manor, but not all
his holiday. He had other business for some portion of the week, and
that business took him to Tunbridge Wells.

He had read in one of the fashionable journals, the _Flying Post_, that
Lady Tredgold and her daughters were staying at the Wells; and he
happened to have just at this time a desire to renew his acquaintance
with her ladyship, albeit she had done her very best to snub him.

"Perhaps, now I am member for Bossiney, and supposed to stand well with
Sir Robert, she may be more civil," he said to himself.

He was not mistaken in his conjecture. He met the lady and her daughters
promenading the Pantiles next day, and was received with cordiality. His
fame had reached the Bath, where he had been talked of as one of the
rising young men of the day. Walpole's favour, his own success in the
House, had been alike exaggerated by the many-tongued goddess, and Lady
Tredgold, who last winter had esteemed him an insufficient match for her
wealthy niece, was, in this merry month of May, inclined to look upon
him as a tolerable suitor for her dowerless elder daughter, whose charms
had been on the wane for the last three years, and whom the Bath and the
Wells had alike rejected from the list of toasts and belles.

Mrs. Amelia herself was disposed to smile upon any gentleman of moderate
abilities and good appearance, and she shone radiantly upon Herrick, who
was something more than good-looking, for he had that indefinable air of
superior intellect which comes of a thoughtful life, and which is always
interesting to women. Mrs. Amelia piqued herself upon being
intellectually superior to the common herd, and welcomed a congenial
spirit. And then Herrick came fresh from the town, and was well up in
all those fashionable scandals and tittle-tattlings which are agreeable
even to women of mind.

Mr. Durnford and the ladies paraded side by side for three or four
turns--nodded and smirked at their acquaintance, as who should say,
"Here is as finished a beau as you will find in all Tunbridge just
dropped into our net; would you not like to know who he is?"

Lady Tredgold was monstrously civil, and invited the new arrival to tea.
Herrick knew this would mean an evening at quadrille, but he had a few
guineas in his purse and was not afraid of the encounter. He was willing
to lose his money to her ladyship as the easiest way of putting her in a
good temper. So he went straight from the Pantiles to her ladyship's
lodgings, which were small and even shabby, which disadvantages Lady
Tredgold deprecated with her easiest air.

"We were glad to get a shelter for our poor heads," she exclaimed; "the
place is so crowded for the holidays, and the fine spring weather has
brought all the world to the Wells. The lodging-house people charge
exorbitantly for their hovels, and I assure you we pay a fortune for
these wretched holes of ours, in which I am positively ashamed to
receive you, my dear Mr. Durnford. However, I am told that in King
Charles's time people of quality were content to pig in movable cabins
that were wheeled about the common at the pleasure of their owners; so I
suppose we should be prodigiously pleased with a parlour that is at
least wind and weather proof."

The tea-table was served with a certain air of elegance, as Lady
Tredgold had brought some of the family plate from Bath, together with a
set of Nankin cups and saucers. Durnford sipped the delicately-flavoured
pekoe and gossiped with the three ladies, while the sun sank in a bed of
crimson glory behind the hillocky common, and the blackbirds and
thrushes sang their evening hymns in the thickets and copses that
skirted the little town.

"Have you seen my cousin Irene lately, Mr. Durnford?" asked Sophia
suddenly.

She was nearer thirty than she cared to be, but still ranked as the
young hoyden sister, and was distinguished for making silly speeches.

"I think, Mrs. Sophia, you must know that I am forbidden to approach
that young lady," answered Herrick, while the mother frowned upon her
younger hope.

"Indeed, but I didn't know, so I didn't. And why ain't you let see my
cousin?" asked the innocent girl.

"Because I was once so bold as to aspire to her hand. I waited upon the
Squire as one gentleman should upon another, and put my suit in the
plainest way, but I was rejected with contumely. Yet in point of family
the Durnfords may fairly rank with the Bosworths, and it is but sordid
lucre which makes the barrier between us."

"My dear sir, that sordid lucre is the most insurmountable barrier that
can divide hearts nowadays," exclaimed her ladyship, with an air of
good-natured candour. "Look at my two girls. They have had their
admirers, I can assure you, and among the prettiest fellows in town.
They have been sighed for, and almost died for, by gentlemen whose
admiration was an honour. But then came family considerations; fathers
intervened; and when it was found out that my poor chicks would have but
two thousand pound apiece out of his lordship's estate, and would have
to wait for even that pittance till his lordship's death, their lovers
were forbidden to carry the business any further, and fond and faithful
hearts were parted."

The two young ladies sighed and shook their heads plaintively, as if
each had her history.

"If you are wise you will give up all thought of Irene," continued Lady
Tredgold. "My brother-in-law worships money and rank. He will either
marry his daughter to a peer or a millionaire. I know that he has set
his heart upon founding a great family. I fancy he would like best to
get some poor sprig of nobility like your friend Lavendale, who would
assume his wife's name--call himself Lavendale-Bosworth, or Lavendale
and Bosworth, by letters patent, or sink the old name altogether, and
become plain Lord Bosworth."

"My friend will sell neither himself nor his name, madam," answered
Durnford. "I know that he had a profound admiration for your niece's
beauty and sweet simplicity of mind and manners."

"Simplicity! Yes, she is simple enough, to be sure!" ejaculated Amelia.

"But I have reason to know that his heart was too deeply involved in a
former attachment--"

"My good sir, we all know that," exclaimed her ladyship impatiently. "We
know it as well as that my royal mistress, dear stupid old Anne, is dead
and buried. Lord Lavendale's passion for Lady Judith Topsparkle has been
town talk for the last four years: and since last winter's masquerades
and assemblies there have been as many bets among the wits and beaux as
to whether she will or will not run away with him as ever there are upon
the result of a race. But pray what has that to do with the question? If
he is a sensible young man, he will mend his morals and his fortune at
the same time by marrying my niece. Providence must mean their estates
to be one, and they would be the handsomest couple in London."

"I have so much respect for Mrs. Bosworth as to believe she would die
rather than give her hand where she could not give her heart," said
Durnford.

"O, these girls all talk of dying, they all protest and whimper and
pout," said Lady Tredgold. "But they have to obey their fathers in the
end, and then somehow it falls out that they are monstrously fond of
their husbands, and you will see a couple who have been brought together
by harsh fathers and the tyranny of circumstance transformed after
marriage into such doating lovers as to sicken the town by their
endearments and silly praises of each other. No girl should ever be
allowed to have her own way in the disposal of herself or her fortune."

"You talk, madam, like Lady Capulet."

"If I do, it is unawares, sir, for I have not the honour of that lady's
acquaintance. Will you do me the favour to ring for candles, Mr.
Durnford? My people neglect us in these strange quarters. Perhaps you
would be agreeable to join us in a hand at quadrille, if you have
nothing better to do with the next hour."

Herrick protested that there could not be any better employment for his
evening. Her ladyship's people consisted of a man and a maid. The
candles were brought by the man, who put out the cards and set the table
with the air of performing a nightly duty; and the ladies and their beau
sat down to that favourite and scientific game which preceded "whisk"
in fashion and popularity.

"I am told the old Duchess of Marlborough prefers roly-poly to quadrille
or ombre," said Herrick, as the cards were being dealt.

"O, there is a vein of vulgarity in that old woman which shows itself in
everything she does," replied Lady Tredgold scornfully. "I detest the
virago."

"And yet there is an element of greatness in her character," said
Herrick. "Great talents, great beauty, great fortune, have all been
hers: and she has been conspicuous in an age of lax morality as a woman
of spotless virtue."

"O sir, it is an ill thing perhaps for any woman to say in the presence
of unmarried daughters, but I own I agree with Joseph Addison that a
woman has no right to practise every other vice on the ground that she
possesses one virtue, even though that virtue of chastity is, I grant
you, the chief merit in woman."

"I am with you there, madam, and agree that even sad Lucretia's modesty
would scarce justify a woman in shrewing her husband, maligning her
innocent granddaughter, and quarrelling with every member of her family:
and yet I own to some touch of half-reluctant admiration for the mighty
Sarah. Mr. Cibber told me once how it was his task to attend upon her at
a supper in Nottingham Castle, about the time of King James's flight
from this kingdom, and that her beauty appeared to him as an emanation
of Divinity, rather than a mere earthly loveliness. And then she is such
a magnificent virago. The woman who had the spunk to cut off her
splendid tresses, the chief glory of her womanhood, and fling them
across her husband's path in a freak of temper--"

"Was a hot-tempered simpleton, and I dare swear repented her wilfulness
the moment 'twas done," said Mrs. Amelia. "All I know of the great
Duchess is that she never deserved to have an all-conquering hero for
her husband and a queen for her bosom friend."

"The handsomest, most fascinating man in Europe, into the bargain," said
Mrs. Sophia. "Lord Chesterfield told me that all the graces met in the
Duke of Marlborough's person."

"Very generous of his lordship," said Durnford. "It is rarely that an
ugly man can appreciate masculine beauty."

"O, Chesterfield is a very obliging person," replied her ladyship, "and
I am told they are delighted with him at the Hague. He will introduce
the idea of elegance into the Dutch mind."

"Nay, madam," remonstrated Herrick, "it is not to be supposed that your
Hollander is entirely devoid of elegance, or that Amsterdam has less
appreciation of the beautiful than Athens had. It is only that in the
Low Countries beauty takes a homelier form, and shows itself in an
extremity of neatness and gracefulness of form in trifles--quaint
architecture, shining hundred-paned lattices, every inch of ironwork
deftly worked--cabinet pictures--brass and copper vessels--and
cleanliness everywhere. There were streets and houses in Holland that
enchanted me, even while my mind was still charged with pictures of
Italy."

"I hate everything Dutch except their crockery and their furniture,"
said Lady Tredgold.

The game now began in earnest, and mother and daughters were soon
absorbed in their cards. They played with all the intensity of practised
gamesters; and though they only staked crown-pieces, they had an air as
if life and death hung on the balance. They were much keener and perhaps
better players than Herrick, who on this particular occasion played with
reprehensible carelessness. He and his partner, Mrs. Amelia, lost
steadily, whereupon the damsel gave him many a reproachful look, as her
best cards were wasted by his bad play. At last, after a series of short
impatient sighs and tappings of red-heeled shoes, the young lady flung
down her cards in a passion. Even the knowledge that her mother and
sister were spoiling the Egyptian was no consolation to her for the loss
of her own coin, her kindred being female Harpagons in the exaction of
their due.

"Pray forgive me, madam; I fear my wits were wandering," pleaded
Herrick, with a penitent air. "In sober truth I am no lover of cards,
and in pleasant company can scarce keep my mind to the game. I ought
never to play with ladies--grace and beauty are dangerous distractions
from the mathematics of quadrille."

Mrs. Amelia looked mollified, and took the whole of the compliment to
herself. Lady Tredgold and Sophia were in admirable humour, for their
pockets were weighed down by Mr. Durnford's crown-pieces. "We will play
no more this evening," said her ladyship gaily; "my Amelia's temper is
always impetuous at cards. It is her only failing, dear child, and she
is too candid to hide her feelings. The band is to play to-night on the
common. What if we put on our hoods, girls, and take a turn in the
moonlight? Perhaps Mr. Durnford would escort us?"

Durnford avowed himself delighted at the privilege, so the three ladies
muffled their powdered heads in black silk hoods, elegant with much
ruching of lace and ribbon, and put on their cloaks. It was a lovely
spring night, with the moon at the full, and all the fashionable
visitors were promenading in little groups of two and three in the cool
sweet air. A ripple of laughter, a babble of cheerful voices, mingled
with the sound of the band, which was performing airs from Handel's
last opera. Nothing could have been prettier than that picture of
moonlit common, and little town built irregularly on the ridge of a low
hill, scattered houses, quaint roofs, steeple and belfry, assembly rooms
and baths, and the very smallest thing in the way of theatres, where
great stars from London shone out now and then, a brief coruscation.

Mrs. Amelia was enchanted with the scene. She put on an air of almost
infantine gaiety, and made as if she could have skipped for joy.

"It is ever so much prettier than the Bath," she cried. "Those great
stone houses clustering round the Abbey have such a dismal look. The
town seems to lie in the bottom of a pit. But here it is all open and
airy, and so pretty and tiny, like a box of toys."

She and Durnford were a little way in advance of the other two, and
their conversation had the air of a _tête-à-tête_.

"Is it really true that you have not seen my cousin since she was in
London?" she asked presently, growing serious all at once. She was at
that desperate stage in the existence of an idle, aimless, almost
portionless woman, when to secure a husband is the one supreme object in
life, and she had been thinking about Durnford all the evening from a
matrimonial point of view. She saw in him the possibility of rescue from
that dismal swamp of neglected spinsterhood in which she had waded so
long. He was good-looking, well-bred, intellectual, and he was making
his way in the world. What more could she hope for now in any suitor?
The day for high hopes was long past. She knew that her mother and
sister would rejoice to be rid of her, that her father would give her a
hundred pounds or so, grudgingly, to buy gowns, and his blessing, with
an air that would make it seem almost a curse. What could be expected
from a genteel pauper tortured by chronic gout?

Full of vague hopes, she wanted to be certain of her ground, to be at
least sure that all was over between Herrick and Irene. He paused so
long before answering her question, that she was fain to repeat it.

"Is it really, really true?"

"True that I have not seen your cousin since she left London? Nay,
madam, I am sure I never said as much. I only said I was forbidden to
see her."

"That was a sophistical answer. Then you have seen her?"

"Do you want to get me into trouble, to make me betray myself and a
lady? I will tell you this much, Mrs. Amelia: my suit seems just as
hopeless to-night as it seemed last winter."

"Then don't you see that mamma is right--that it would be folly to pin
all your hopes upon a girl who will be sold to the first gouty old duke
or marquis who will do my uncle the honour to propose for her? But I
believe you are still desperately in love with her."

"Six months' severance have not schooled me to forget her."

Amelia bit her lips, and tossed her head contemptuously. To think that a
chit like that should possess the soul of a serious man past thirty, a
man who should have chosen a sensible woman near his own age, if he
wanted to be happy, and to make a figure in the world! Men are such
idiots!

There was a bench near a cluster of hawthorn-trees on the common, and
here Lady Tredgold and her younger daughter had seated themselves. It
was at the end of the parade which the little world of Tunbridge had
made for itself this season. Next year, perhaps, they would choose
another spot for their promenade; fashion is so capricious.

As Amelia and her beau approached, the anxious mother beckoned with her
fan. The dear young thing must not walk too long with her swain. That
_tête-à-tête_ patrolling might be remarked, and might spoil other
chances. Maternal anxiety was perpetually on the alert.

"You must be tired, child," said her ladyship, as the promenaders drew
near. "You have been running about all day."

Running about seemed a somewhat youthful phrase for a damsel of thirty,
who wore three-inch heels and a hoop that would have handicapped Daphne.
But Amelia made no objection, and seated herself at her mother's side,
leaving ample space for Durnford.

The music came to them softened by distance, and the perfume of gorse
and wild flowers was here untainted by the mixed odours of snuff and
pulvillio which prevailed where the company clustered thicker.

"I have been finding out Mr. Durnford's secrets, mamma," said Amelia,
with a laboured sprightliness. "He is still over head and ears in love
with my young cousin."

"Indeed, child! But how durst you question or tease him?" returned the
mother reprovingly. "Surely the gentleman has a right to be in love with
whomsoever he pleases; and if his case is hopeless, it is not for us to
remind him of his misfortunes."

"I can but wonder that amidst the galaxy of our Court belles Mr.
Durnford could be dazzled by a star of secondary magnitude like Irene."

"To me, Mrs. Amelia, she appeared ever as Alpha, the first and the
brightest."

"And do you really think her pretty?"

"Much more than pretty; that adjective would apply to a milliner's
apprentice tripping down St. James's Street with a hat-box. Irene is to
my mind the very incarnation of girlish loveliness."

"Surely her nose is too long."

"Not the infinitesimal fraction of an inch. Her nose is as perfect as
Diana's. Praxiteles never moulded a more delicate feature. I know that
ladies have a friendly good-humoured way of taking each other's charms
and attractions to pieces, like the bits of a toy puzzle, and discussing
and cheapening every feature; but all the feminine detraction that was
ever uttered over a tea-table, out of sheer good-humour, would not
lessen my admiration of Miss Bosworth by one tittle."

"She has a very handsome face," said Lady Tredgold, with a decided air,
as if to put a stop to triviality, "but she has no figure."

"She does not exhibit her person to all the world, as so many of our
fashionable beauties have a habit of doing," replied Durnford.

His heart was beating fast and furiously. He had brought the
conversation--or it had in somewise drifted--to the very point which
might serve his purpose, and he had a serious purpose in this
philandering with Lady Tredgold and her daughters.

"My dear sir, it is useless to play the moralist in such an age as
ours," retorted her ladyship impatiently. "If women have fine statuesque
shoulders they will show them, and if they are ill-made or
scraggy--which I thank Heaven neither of my girls are--they will order
their gowns to be cut high and make a monstrous merit of modesty. My
niece is not actually ill-made--her poor mother had an exquisite
shape--but she is a willowy slip of a child with an undeveloped figure.
Compare her, for instance, with your friend Lady Judith Topsparkle."

"Lady Judith is lovely, I grant," replied Durnford, "but your ladyship
can hardly admire the lavish display of her charms to all the world.
There was an artistic suggestion of nakedness in her loose Turkish robe
at the masquerade last winter which provoked remarks I would rather not
hear about any woman I respect--as I do Lady Judith. It would torture me
to hear my wife so talked about."

"Should you be lucky enough to marry my cousin Irene, you need never
fear too lavish a display of her shoulders," said Amelia
cantankerously. "Be sure she will always cover them decently, especially
her _right_ shoulder."

"Come, come, child, there are things that should not be babbled about,
however good-naturedly," remonstrated Lady Tredgold.

"Do you mean to insinuate that she is deformed?" asked Durnford, more
intent than ever.

"No, she is straight enough, but she has a very ugly scar on her right
shoulder, which will oblige her to maintain the exalted character for
modesty which you give her till her dying day. There is such a thing,
you see, Mr. Durnford, as making a virtue of necessity," added Amelia
viperishly.

"A scar!" repeated Durnford; "the result of some accident in childhood,
I conclude?"

"No doubt," answered her ladyship. "It looks like the cicatrice left by
a very severe burn; but when I questioned my niece about it she could
tell me nothing. The accident must have happened when she was almost a
baby, for she has no memory of it."

"Did you never ask the Squire about it?"

"Never. His daughter was brought up in such a curious way until I found
her a governess, that I fancy the matter must be rather a sore subject
with my brother-in-law. In fact, his whole conduct as a husband and
father was so strange that I could hardly trust myself to talk to him
about his past life or his daughter's childhood. The presence of that
odious woman--Mrs. Layburne, I think he calls her--in his house has
always been an abomination to me; indeed, I doubt it helped to break my
poor sister's heart. As to the child being neglected and coming to harm
under the dominion of that woman, 'twas but natural, for no doubt the
creature drinks. I am only surprised that she ever survived her infancy,
as such a woman would be capable of murdering her in a fit of fury."

"Indeed, your ladyship, from what I have heard of Mrs. Layburne, I do
not think she was unkindly disposed to Miss Bosworth," said Herrick.
"She held herself aloof from all the household, sat and brooded in her
own den, shut in from the world."

"'Twas her guilty conscience made her love solitude, no doubt. Hark!
that is the last of the band. They are playing Dr. Bull's loyal melody.
It is ten o'clock, I declare. Will you come back to our lodgings, Mr.
Durnford, and partake of a sandwich and a syllabub?"

"Your ladyship is too kind: but I have to leave by the early coach
to-morrow morning, and I think I had best go straight back to my inn."



CHAPTER VII.

"IN PLAYHOUSE AND IN PARK ABOVE THE REST."


It was summer once again, the season of roses and nightingales, and
London, generally empty at this golden time of sunshine and flowers,
was, in this particular year of 1727, filled to overflowing with all
those privileged people who had anything to expect from Court favour.

A new reign had begun. Suddenly, without a moment of warning, the Prince
of Wales found himself king. He emerged in an instant from the shadow of
paternal disfavour to the full blaze of regal power.

Strange, dramatic even, that death of the old King, lying stark and cold
in that very chamber in which he was born--strange to awfulness that
wild drive through the summer dust and glare, the stricken King refusing
to let his chariot be stopped for succour or rest; dozing in the arms
of his faithful chamberlain, murmuring faintly in a brief moment of
consciousness, "All is over with me;" gasping out with his last
struggling breath, "Osnabrück, Osnabrück," to slavish courtiers and
attendants who dared not question that kingly command: although his
omnipotent majesty the King of Terrors rode shoulder to shoulder with
their royal master. And thus in the deep of night that death-chariot
arrived at Osnabrück, and the old bishop, Ernst August, clasped the cold
hand of his royal brother.

The King died on Sunday, the 11th, old style, and the news reached Sir
Robert Walpole at his dinner-table in Chelsea on Wednesday, the 14th.
Quick work for the express who brought the tidings, in those days of
villanous roads and sailing vessels. Sir Robert was said to have killed
two horses between Chelsea and Richmond in his ride to the princely
palace, doubtless a harmless exaggeration of good Gossip History. He
received but scant civility from the new King--aroused from his
customary after-dinner nap by the pleasing intelligence of his father's
fatal apoplexy--and was sent straight off to Chiswick, to take his
directions from that dull, precise, and plodding politician, Sir Spencer
Compton. The statesman thus curtly dismissed, the new King and new Queen
scampered post-haste to their house in Leicester Fields, where no sooner
was the news public than the square was filled with a seething mob,
huzzaing for King George II., whilst the long suite of reception-rooms
was thronged with courtiers and sycophants, male and female, all bowing
down to the new Panjandrum, and all turning their backs upon poor Sir
Robert, whose fall seemed a foregone conclusion to the meanest
apprehension; for had not everybody about the Prince's person heard him
talk of his father's prime minister as a rogue and a rascal for whom the
Tower would be only too comfortable a prison-house? But while the giddy,
light-thinking crowd rushed to Leicester Fields, to slaver King George
and Queen Caroline, some of the deeper calculators paid their court to a
lady who was deemed a better mark for service and flattery than either;
and that was Mrs. Howard, the new Queen's very submissive waiting-woman,
and the new King's titular mistress, who was naturally supposed to rule
him and to be as able to turn on the fountain of royal favour as ever
Barbara Palmer or Louise de Querouailles had been in the easy-going days
of good old Rowley.

"Strange how thoroughly beside the mark these simple souls all were,"
said Tom Philter, who by a kind of fox-like slyness always contrived to
be on the right side. "They fancied that because that deaf and stupid
middle-aged lady was the King's mistress she must needs be more powerful
than his wife, although Queen Caroline is indisputably the finer woman
by almost as wide a superiority as she is the cleverer. They concluded
that the illicit tie must be the stronger, inasmuch as vice is generally
pleasanter than virtue; and they did not take into consideration that
our old sins are often as wearisome as respectability itself. I happened
to know that in his Majesty's estimation Caroline's little finger is
worth Mrs. Howard's whole body, and it was to her I dedicated my volume
of odes and epigrams, 'Horace in a Periwig,' while she was Princess of
Wales."

"It was a worse mistake to suppose that the new King could afford to
dispense with the services of the greatest financier of modern times,"
said Durnford, who supplied occasional papers to the journal for which
Mr. Philter was scrub, hack, and paragraph-writer, and who dined now and
then at the Roebuck in Cheapside, a well-known Whig tavern where Philter
spent much of his leisure, and where he heard most of the news which he
was wont to attribute to far loftier sources. After all, it matters
little whether a journalist gets his news at first, second, third, or
fourth hand, so long as the facts he records can amuse and interest his
readers. The more various the relaters of a story the more embellished
the narrative.

"Ay, that was indeed a mistake. Yet if Sir Spencer had but had a little
more gumption, he might have formed a new Cabinet with Townshend and
Chesterfield, and sent Robin to the Tower. He let his opportunity slip;
Sir Robert got the Queen's ear, and now his usefulness in the adjustment
of the Civil List, by which both King and Queen get a larger income than
any of their predecessors, has made George and Caroline his obliged and
humble servants for ever."

"What, sir, you would insinuate that Sir Robert Walpole has bought his
King at the expense of his country?"

"O, he was always good at buying the votes and consciences of common
folks; but it is not often a minister has so good an opportunity of
giving a fancy price for his King. It was pleasant to hear Sir Robert
plead his Majesty's increasing family and the high price of provisions
as a reason why the Commons should be liberal."

"And the only opposition was from Mr. Shippen--Downright Shippen, as
Pope called him--the Jacobite who ventured to describe the late King as
a stranger to our language and constitution, and was sent to the Tower
for his insolence," said Durnford.

"Well, there is one to whom his late Majesty's fatal apoplexy--caused,
Dean Swift tells me, by a melon--has dealt a death-blow, one whom I
could almost pity, unprincipled and shifty as he has ever been."

"Do you mean Bolingbroke?" asked Durnford.

"Whom else could I mean? The brightest, wisest, meanest of mankind.
Assuredly he has quite as good a right to that description as Bacon ever
had, though Pope, who adores him, would never believe it. How
marvellously does his career illustrate that old vulgar saw which tells
us honesty is the best policy! Never did Nature and fortune so smile
upon a man as upon Harry St. John, who was Secretary at War at twenty,
and Secretary of State at thirty, who had the ear of his Queen and the
admiration of all England, and might have kept both could he only have
been honest. Twice has death ruined his schemes when they were ripest.
He had plotted to bring over the Chevalier, had the Stuart succession in
his pocket as it were, the Queen on the very point of recognising her
brother's claim; and lo! Death seizes his royal mistress, and grins at
him across her shoulder. Again, but yesterday, when, after years of
exile, still as keenly ambitious as in his brilliant youth, he had
bought her Grace of Kendal's favour, and had his foot planted, ready to
throw that stout wrestler Robin, again grim death intervenes and reduces
the Duchess to a cipher: and Lady Bolingbroke's hand-over of eleven
thousand to the Duchess's niece has to be written down as a loss in the
St. John ledger."

"O, but Bolingbroke got something for his money. But for that bribe to
Lady Walsingham he might never have been able to come back to England,
nor his wife, Madame de Vilette, to get her fortune out of Sir Matthew
Decker's clutches, who pretended that, as Lord Bolingbroke's wife, her
money was forfeited to the Crown under her husband's attainder.
Whereupon Madame swore she was not married to his lordship, though all
her friends knew she was; a perjury for which the banker should at least
bear half the lady's punishment in Tartarus, whether it be vulture or
wheel."

"My Lord Bolingbroke is not the only person who has lost by the old
King's fatal apoplexy," said Philter. "There is the divorced Lady
Macclesfield's daughter, brazen, beautiful Miss Brett, the only
Englishwoman whom his Majesty ever condescended to admire, a regular
Spanish beauty, black as Erebus, and with a temper to match. But no
doubt you know her."

"I have seen her," said Durnford.

"That poor young lady loses a coronet. She was to have been made a
countess on the King's return from Hanover, and she gave herself the
airs of a queen in anticipation of her new dignity. And now death blasts
her hopes; but as she is a fine woman with a fine fortune, I make no
doubt she will find some convenient gentleman to marry her before long."

       *       *       *       *       *

The new reign gave an impetus to the world of fashion which made that
dazzling globe spin faster on its axis. There was a growing recklessness
in expenditure among the aristocracy, albeit his Majesty King George II.
was reputed the meanest of men, with a keener passion for counting his
guineas than ever prince had for spending them; as economic a soul as
that sturdy Hohenzollern, King Frederick William of Prussia, who had so
clipped and pared and diminished the pay and pensions of courtiers, and
the profits of Court harpies of all kinds, a few years ago when he came
to his kingdom. King George could scarcely cut down his expenses with so
free a hand, seeing his privy purse had been so well filled for him;
and Queen Caroline was a woman of cultivated mind and catholic tastes,
the disciple and correspondent of Leibnitz, the patroness of Berkeley
and Swift, the bosom friend of John Lord Hervey, and was disposed to do
things in a grand style.

The Duchess of Kendal retired to her house near Hounslow, and mourned
her royal lover in solitude, haunted by a raven in whose material
presence her sentimental fancy recognised the spirit of the dead King.
The younger Court was the focus of wit and beauty; Lady Hervey, Mrs.
Campbell, _née_ Bellingham, the Duchess of Kingston, Lady Mary Wortley
Montagu, Swift, Gay, Hervey, Carteret, sparkled and coruscated there.
That Court atmosphere pervaded the fashionable life of London.

In that world of fashion and folly Lady Judith Topsparkle shone with
ever-increasing brilliancy, with ever-widening notoriety. She had
chained the young French wit Arouet to her side, like a falcon on a
lady's wrist, and held him captive. She had the grim Irish Dean for her
friend and confidant. Bolingbroke swore he adored her only a little less
than his wife: and Lady Bolingbroke, who knew her lord's weakness for
beauty, looked on with indulgence at those public coquettings which were
too open to mean mischief. She knew that with her brilliant Harry
gallantry might still prevail; but passion was a thing of the past. Had
she not compared him to the ruin of a Roman aqueduct? A noble monument,
but the water had long ceased to flow! Better that dear Henry should be
composing epigrams or paying elaborate compliments to a frivolous young
woman of rank than that his volatile fancy should be straying after an
orange-seller, or some expensive Miss of the Anna Maria Gumley
type--that insolent beauty who was said to have been once on the best
possible terms with Harry St. John, and who was now the wife of Harry's
friend, William Pulteney.

Mr. Topsparkle saw his wife's surroundings, and made no complaint. Among
so many admirers there was no suspicion of a serious lover. It pleased
him that when the French wit had refused his much-desired company to
some of the finest houses in London, he was to be found in Soho
Square--that Lord Bolingbroke would post all the way from Dawley, and
go back after midnight by a dark road, in order to dine with Lady Judith
and her set; it pleased him that Swift should glower and grumble in
front of his hearth, pretending to despise all mankind, yet at heart the
supplest courtier of them all, cringing to Lady Suffolk and fawning upon
the Queen, negotiating the gift of a poplin gown to that royal lady with
as much pains as if it had been the treaty of Hanover, hoping,
despairing, plotting, hating, with a fiercer passion than is common to
common men. Before Swift's scathing tongue and Swift's awful frown, even
Lady Judith bowed her lofty crest. She fawned upon him, as he fawned
upon the Queen and prime minister, and as the dog fawns upon his master,
conscious of an undeniable superiority. With Voltaire she might presume
to trifle--that light mocking nature of his encouraged trifling; but
with Swift she was ever serious. And the Dean was himself of an
unusually gloomy temper at this time, dangerous alike to friend and
enemy, sparing no one with that bitter tongue of his, finding no
pleasure in the things that pleased other people. Lord Bolingbroke said
'twas his tenderness of heart which made him such a savage. He was
plunged in gloom on account of his sweet companion and _protégée_, Mrs.
Johnson, who was slowly sinking into the grave.

"Which he has dug for her," said Voltaire, who knew the story. "I do not
wonder that your famous Irish wit has his dark moments, or that his
thoughts sometimes waver between the woman whose heart is broke and the
woman whose heart is breaking. I am quite ready to admit, with his
lordship and Mr. Pope, that Swift is a staunch friend, and the cleverest
squib-writer in Europe: I prostrate myself before a genius greater even
than Rabelais; but I cannot esteem him a generous lover."

"Do you not think he may have suffered even more than these simple,
tender-hearted creatures, who were too officious in their love and too
feeble in their sorrow?" speculated Bolingbroke. "I doubt that great
heart of his has been wrung in many a silent agony. He loved Stella from
her childhood with a protecting fatherly affection--"

"I always mistrust fatherly affection in a man who is not a father,"
interjected Voltaire.

"And if his fancy sometimes trifled in playful endearments," continued
his lordship, "as even a father might trifle with his best-beloved
child, I doubt if he was ever betrayed into a direct avowal of love. And
then, touched and flattered by Vanessa's worship--"

"His fatherly affection found another daughter in the amiable heiress, a
daughter at whose table he dined agreeably two or three times a week,"
said Voltaire. "Your Dean had ever a thrifty mind. I remember, my lord,
your capital story of trapping him into paying for an inn dinner--how
his reverence resented the bite. And he found new endearments and a new
name for this wealthy Dutch lady, and somewhat neglected his elder
daughter in her favour, and wrote a poem to celebrate their learned
loves, and fooled the innocent fond creature into the belief she was to
be Mrs. Dean--only to enlighten her with savage bluntness one day when
she had dared to interrogate her rival, wishing with a natural curiosity
to know which of them had the strongest claim upon Cadenus. He frowned
her into an ague of terror that ended in her untimely death, and so
freed himself of an importunate adorer; but I doubt if he has been
particularly happy since that last look from despairing Vanessa. Should
Providence ever give me such fond affection from an intelligent woman I
would be her slave, would endure her every caprice, bear with her even
were she the veriest termagant. There is no limit to the debt of
gratitude which a man of honour owes to the woman who loves him."

"Would you have gratitude go so far as to wink at infidelity?" asked
Bolingbroke, possibly with some lingering remembrance of the fair and
faithless Clara, whose inconstant soul could not keep true even to Henry
St. John in his noontide of youth and wit and beauty.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Judith admired Swift and adored Voltaire. That airy sarcastic
nature suited her temper to a marvel. The Frenchman's presence gave a
philosophic air to her receptions. The talk was of Descartes and
Berkeley, of Leibnitz and Newton, and of those smaller spluttering
lights, forgotten now, that transient coruscation of learned atheism,
which illumined the earlier half of the eighteenth century. The talk
was of Moses and the opera-house, wavering betwixt legislation from
Sinai and Heidegger's latest prima donna: and Judith had something to
say about everything, were the subject ever so lofty and remote from
woman's scope, or so low as to be tainted by foulness and unfit for a
woman's discussion. Her arrogance attacked the highest themes; her
audacity recoiled not from the lowest. Her manners had the light
insolence of Millamant, secure in sensuous charms and mental
superiority.

Mr. Topsparkle looked on and admired. Yes, this was the woman for whom
he had sighed, having long ago outworn that kind of love which requires
reciprocity in the object. Lady Judith's calm civility and ladylike
tolerance sufficed him, her airs and graces and elegant insolence to all
mankind enchanted him. So long as she was faithful, and injured his
self-esteem by no preference for another, he was content. She might not
love him, but she was the chief sultana of his harem, and had so far
conducted herself as a sultana without speck or reproach.

He had heard old stories about Lavendale: how he and Judith had loved
fiercely and fondly, made themselves the talk of the town for at least
three weeks, an elopement seemingly impending, a furious father
threatening direst vengeance, and much talk of coaches-and-six waiting
at street-corners on those moonless nights when London was abandoned to
darkness and the linkman; he had heard how they had quarrelled and
parted on account of Chichinette; and he was resigned to know that there
was this one romantic and even blameworthy page in his wife's history.
Knowing as much, he had been studiously civil to Lavendale, and had gone
so far as to invite him to Ringwood. It pleased that crafty soul of his
to have his _ci-devant_ rival under his roof, and to be able to watch
him keenly. He had so watched, and had seen nothing amiss. And now, as
this first season of King George II.'s reign wore on, Mr. Topsparkle was
content that his wife's former lover should make one in her cluster of
satellites, should hand her fan, or advise her play at ombre or
quadrille, at tray-ace or basset.

"My wife has a whole kennel of puppies perpetually sprawling at her
feet," he said one night to a circle of friends at White's
Chocolate-house, "of whom Bolingbroke is chief bow-wow, now that her old
admirer, Chesterfield, is at the Hague. Who would take that brilliant
trifler, Harry St. John, for Walpole's most malignant foe, and the
boldest conspirator that ever hatched treason; or who would suppose that
this modern Cincinnatus, who pretends to have renounced politics in
favour of hayforks, is in reality the chief of the Opposition, the busy
plotting brain of which Wyndham and the Pulteneys are but the
mouthpieces?"

       *       *       *       *       *

At the opera and at the opera-house masquerades, Judith and Lavendale
were often together, but they were rarely alone. It would have almost
seemed as if anything more than the lightest flirtation must have been
impossible under such conditions. And yet under that light demeanour,
deep in the hearts of both of them, there glowed a passionate love; and
yet amidst that maelstrom of pleasure, that wild and wicked whirlpool of
cards and dice, and lascivious talk, and idlest vanity, and profligate
extravagance, to each one of these impassioned lovers it seemed as if
the world held only that one other--for Judith, Lavendale; for
Lavendale, Judith. That crowded, bustling outer world and all its
inhabitants showed shadowy as the throng of supernumerary witches in
_Macbeth_. In the constant intoxication of a passionate love, Judith saw
all faces dimly, heard all voices faintly, moved and spoke and smiled
and played her pretty part as woman of quality and fashion, with mere
automatic movements, doing the right thing at the right moment by mere
force of habit, as a creature too well brought up to err against the
code of politeness either by omission or commission. Never was she
lovelier in Bolingbroke's eyes than as he sat beside her at dinner one
summer afternoon, drinking deep of Mr. Topsparkle's choicest champagne,
and delighted at the idea that the graces of his maturer manhood had
power to captivate so charming a woman. And yet all the while it was as
much as Judith knew with whom she was talking, since her ears and eyes
and the fitful fluttering of her heart were all for him whose hand had
snatched and pressed hers surreptitiously in the little bustle at
entering the dining-room, and who now sat at the further end of the
table, pretending to be interested in an alderman's account of Sir
Robert Walpole's latest attack upon the privileges and liberties of the
City.

The company at dinner were numerous, including Lady Polwhele and the
Asterleys, Mrs. Asterley improved in manners and worldly wisdom by a
winter in good society, and by many very sharp reproofs from the
Dowager. Little Tom Philter had been bidden, as a man who must be
tolerated occasionally, lest he should spit venom at one's fair name in
the newspapers. Lady Judith was beginning to be sensitive about seeing
her name in print, and was growing monstrously civil to the Grub Street
fraternity. She had been written about and hinted at for her high play
and her passion for lotteries. She had been the subject--designated by
initials--of a ballad headed "_On revient toujours_," and she had been
told that Mr. Pope had hit her character off to the life in an essay now
in course of composition. The sketch had been read to privileged
friends, every word told; her virtues and failings were perpetuated by
that unerring touch which made mere words seem as round and fixed and
perfect as a statue in marble. This afternoon, while they were dining,
she taxed Bolingbroke with having seen and approved the satire.

"Dearest Lady Judith, do you think I could approve one word of
depreciation, were you the subject?" protested his lordship. "Our little
friend certainly showed me some lines--bright, incisive, antithetical,
in his usual style; for though he laughs at Hervey's seesaw, he is not
himself averse from the false glitter of antithesis--lines descriptive
of a modish beauty, Belinda married perhaps; but they could no more
represent you than they could embody a goddess. Who can describe the
undescribable?"

"I am growing accustomed to malevolence," said Judith, "and from little
men it gives me no pain. But I have admired Mr. Pope as a wit and a
genius, and I should not like to see myself lampooned by him."

"I will make him send you the page to-morrow, and it shall be cancelled
if you disapprove a single line."

"You are always chivalrous. I saw some verses of yours the other day,
addressed to some young person who seems to have been not quite a woman
of quality; and they are so pretty that I could but regret your lordship
had ever ceased to cultivate the Muses."

"I have found those famous ladies like other women, dear madam, mightily
inconstant. What lines of mine could you have seen, I wonder?"

The world-famous statesman, the masterly writer, smiled with the
gratified air of a schoolboy scribbler at this praise of his juvenile
verses.

"O, it was a mere bagatelle, an address to a lady whose Christian name
was Clara. The lines had the flavour of youth, and must have been
written ages ago. 'Twas the fervid feeling of the prose that pleased me:

    'To virtue thus, and to thyself restored,
    By all admired, by me alone adored,
    Be to thy Harry ever kind and true,
    And live for him who more than dies for you.'

I hope Clara was worthy of that tender appeal."

"She was not, madam. She was a--nay, I dare not tell you what she was;
but Henry St. John might have been a better man if Clara had been a
better woman. There is no such blight upon a young heart as to discover
it has given itself to an unworthy mistress; to love on, blindly, madly,
long after the object is known to be false and worthless; to hope
against hope, to forgive again and again, only to be again and again
offended; to accept every lie rather than face the horrid truth that one
is betrayed; to tear a false love out of one's heart as mandrakes are
torn from earth, with wounds and shriekings. Can the man who loves and
is loved by beauty and virtue ever enough esteem his own happiness or
his mistress's merit? I who have loved lewdness and deceit will answer
that he never can. His blessings are beyond and above all computation.
His gratitude should be as infinite."

The company were to repair to the new Spring Garden, otherwise Vauxhall,
soon after dinner, and the weather being exquisite for such excursions,
it had been decided that they were to go by water. Their chairs would
carry them to Westminster, and thence a barge would convey them to
Vauxhall. The excursion had been devised by Lady Polwhele, who was
always ready for any dissipation, and who spent as much of her handsome
income as she could spare from the gaming-table upon pleasure and fine
company. She had invited herself and her satellites to dine in Soho, and
she had invited Mr. Topsparkle and his guests to sup at Vauxhall, where
there were snug little arbours with curious signs--the Checker, King's
Head, Dragon, Royal George--where cosy little parties supped cheerily on
minced chicken and champagne or hung beef and Burton ale. Here, a few
years ago, the Mohawks had made many a raid, storming the arbours where
women were supping unattended, struggling for kisses with slender girls
or portly matrons, pulling off masks and rumpling silk hoods, smashing
punch-bowls and upsetting tables. Here Lavendale had been leader of many
a fray. But he was tamed now, and full of other thoughts as he sat in
the barge watching the sunset paint the river, while Lady Polwhele and
Mrs. Asterley talked at the top of their voices, and while Judith
pretended to listen to the honeyed tones of Bolingbroke or the vinegar
treble of Mr. Topsparkle, who was grumbling at the soft west wind which
breathed coolness along the rippling water, and threatened him with a
return of his rheumatism.

"You should not have come with us if you were afraid of catching cold,"
said Judith impatiently.

"Upon my word, you are vastly civil. You drag a man at your heels like a
spaniel to every foolish place of--no-entertainment--and then tell him
he should have stayed at home."

"'Twas Lady Polwhele made the party, not I."

"Where you go I must go," answered Topsparkle, in a lowered voice; "your
remnant of reputation must be cared for by somebody. You do nothing to
preserve it."

"Nor will _you_ maintain it by playing spy or gaoler," retorted Judith
scornfully. "Had you not better call a boat and go back to Westminster?
I shall be at home soon after midnight. I promise you not to elope with
Lord Bolingbroke. I have too much regard for his charming French wife."

"I am not afraid of your eloping--with Bolingbroke," said Topsparkle
grimly. He folded his roquelaure across his chest and leaned back
against the cushions, with the determined air of a man who does not mean
to be tricked by a coquette. Lady Judith was reckless, and her husband
was not so blind as he pretended to be, or as the town thought him.
Above all things he was watchful, but his watchfulness rarely avowed
itself as plainly as to-night. Judith glanced at him uneasily, wondering
at this little blaze of unexpected fire, this sudden spurt of jealousy
on the part of one who had so long seemed the personification of
well-bred indifference.

The stars were up when Lady Judith's party landed, stars above in a
clear summer heaven, and below the twinkling radiance of a thousand
lampions, tiny glimmering glass cups of oil in which burnt the feeblest
of wicks, and yet in those days esteemed a splendid illumination.
Perhaps the gardens, with their bosquets and little wildernesses--in
which 'twas said a mother might lose herself while she was looking for
her daughter--were all the pleasanter lit by those tremulous glowworm
lamps, mere dots of brightness amidst the shadowy leafage. For lovers or
for intrigue of all kinds they were ever so much better adapted than the
cold searching glare of electric lamps. That dimly lighted garden, with
its music of nightingales, was the chosen trysting-place of lovers, high
and low, fortunate or unhappy. Forbidden loves found here their safest
rendezvous; elopements and Fleet marriages were planned by the dozen
every night the gardens opened. Here adventurers sought their prey; and
here rich widows surrendered to penniless ensigns or cureless clerics,
third-rate actors or Grub Street scribblers, as the case might be. The
band was playing a _pot-pourri_ from Handel's favourite operas in the
gayest part of the garden, where the company who had no intrigues on
hand were parading with a stately air, fluttering fans, shrugging
shoulder-knots, and exchanging small-talk. Above those darker walks
where lovers strolled softly, the nightingales poured forth their
melancholy melodies, lovelier even than those of Handel. And in one of
these wilderness walks, between eleven o'clock and midnight, Judith and
Lavendale were gliding ghostlike among the shadows, her hand within his
arm, her head inclining towards, nay, almost resting against, his
shoulder.

"Let it be soon, love," he was pleading; "soon, at once, to-night, this
night of all nights, night for ever blessed, as that when Jove stopped
the sun--would I were Jove, for love's sake! Let us fly to-night.
Post-horses to Dover, through the summer night; how sweet a journey,
between fields of clover and budding hops, and the young corn waving
silvery under silver stars! I have travelled that road so often in
desolation, when I had only Nature to comfort me, that I think I know
every field and every copse. Let me make the journey for once in bliss,
with my beloved in my arms. Then to-morrow 'tis but to charter a cutter,
and across to any port we may settle upon; then southward as the
swallows fly, and as lightly as they. We would not stop till we came to
Cintra, where I know of a villa amidst orange and lemon trees, that is
like a bower in paradise. Glimpses of the sea shine up at one through
every break in the foliage, far, far below, wondrously beautiful. It is
a place where I have wandered for hours, thinking of you, in a rapture
of melancholy."

"It would be sweet to be there with you, dear love," she murmured, in
low languid tones.

His arm was round her waist, her head upon his bosom, and a nightingale
was singing close by, as if their love had made itself a living voice.

"It would be heaven, dearest," he answered eagerly; "why then should we
delay? Why should we not start this night?"

"For a hundred reasons," she said, freeing herself suddenly from his
encircling arm, and resuming something of her usual manner, the
self-possessed air of a woman of the world. "First, because I would not
make too great a scandal, and to fly from these gardens to-night with
all those people in my train--"

"Love, there _must_ be scandal whenever that odious tie be flung off,"
he urged; "and what can scandal matter in a society where almost every
other man or woman you meet is a rake avowed or a profligate in secret?
You will be worlds above the very best of them when you have broken
your bondage; a purer, loftier spirit, mated with him you love, wearing
no mask of hypocrisy, asking no favour of a world we both despise. Let
not the thought of scandal stop you."

"There are other reasons. For one, I cannot run away without my
clothes."

"Clothes can be bought anywhere."

"Not _my_ clothes," answered Judith lightly. "Do you suppose I could
live in any gown that was not made by Mrs. Tempest? She sent me home a
lutestring nightgown of the sweetest sea-green only yesterday. I must
take that with me whenever I go. You don't know how well I look in it."

"Incomparable, love, I am assured; like Venus Anadyomene with the green
shining water rippling over her round white limbs. Well, we will wait
for the lutestring nightgown, if needs must, and half a dozen pack-horse
loads of gowns and furbelows, if you will; only let our flight be
immediate. I can live no longer without you."

"And I scarce exist without you, dearest," she answered frankly. "I move
to and fro like a sleepwalker; I answer questions at random; I betray
myself twenty times an hour, were there any one shrewd enough to observe
me. I am lost, overwhelmed in the deep whirlpool of love."

"Let it be to-morrow night. I will have a coach-and-four waiting at the
end of Gerard Street--"

"Too fashionable, too conspicuous a spot."

"Or in the darkest corner of Leicester Fields. We can put on another
pair of leaders in the Kent Road, and then as fast as they can go to
Dover. You must find some way of getting rid of Topsparkle for an hour
or two."

"Not to-morrow night. That is impossible. He is to take me to Duchess
Henrietta's concert. He is very punctilious about these entertainments,
and has a passion for appearing in great houses with me."

"Run away from the concert."

"No, no, no, that were as awkward as from these gardens. I am thinking
of my gowns. They must be got off somehow in a wagon, sent as if they
were for Ringwood Abbey--old clothes to be worn out among rustics, I can
say--and you must tell me where to send the trunks; to some inn on the
Dover road, I suppose, whence they can follow us to France. My diamonds
I can take with me."

"Leave every stone of them behind you, dearest, if they are Topsparkle's
property."

"They are not. He gave them to me as a free gift."

"Dear love, I would as soon see you decked with serpents, like Medusa.
Leave your cit his dirty jewels and his dirty wealth. You and I can be
happy amidst our orange-groves without either. The fireflies are
brighter than your diamonds."

"What, part me from my famous jewels! Well, perhaps you are right. I
should hate to wear them, for they would remind me of the giver. I have
a set of garnets that belonged to my poor mother, which I verily believe
are more becoming, though they are almost worthless. And I can wear
_them_ with honour."

"I would sell my last acre to buy diamonds for that fair neck, if you
hanker after them."

"But I don't. You shall decorate me with orange-bloom. We will be
completely Arcadian in our paradise. And when we are tired of
orange-groves and sea-view, you can carry me to Rome or Vienna, or to
Turkey, like your wild kinswoman."

"You shall order me whithersoever you please. I will be as obedient as
the genius of the lamp in those newly-discovered Arabian tales we were
all reading at Ringwood last winter."

"Lady Judith, the minced chicken has been waiting for the last hour, and
we are all famishing," said a sharp voice at her ladyship's elbow, and
Mr. Philter tripped by her side.

"I apologise to the chicken, or rather to the company," answered Judith
lightly. How lucky that Lavendale's arm was no longer round her waist,
her head no longer reclining upon his Ramillies cravat! "Is it really
very late?"

"On the stroke of midnight."

"How delightful! the very hour for ghosts, and this dark walk would lend
itself to the habits of phantoms. Would we could meet some gentle
spirit!"

"You had better come to the King's Head, where the supper-table might
tempt even a ghost to become again mortal. There can be no gentler
spirit than champagne cooled with ice after the new mode. They are all
dying of hunger, and sent me to hunt for you. I was to bring you to them
alive or dead. I doubt if they cared which. Hunger is so horribly
selfish."

"I had no idea it was so late. The nightingales and Lord Lavendale's
witty discourse have beguiled me into forgetfulness."

They hurried to that gayer part of the gardens where the arbours
sparkled with wax candles and jewels and beauty, and where the air was
musical with laughter. All yonder had been silence and shadow: all here
was rattle and animation. Supper had begun at the King's Head, on Mr.
Topsparkle's insistance that they should wait no longer for his wife.
Lavendale and Lady Judith carried the matter off so lightly that there
seemed no room for scandal; but that keen observer, Tom Philter, noted
some ugly twitchings of Mr. Topsparkle's mouth and eyebrows.

Some airy shafts Lady Judith could not escape.

"What a glorious thing is a spotless reputation!" cried Lady Polwhele,
radiant and loquacious after her first half-bottle of champagne. "Had it
been Asterley and I, now, who had lost ourselves for an hour in those
dark walks where the nightingales sing so sweetly, people would have
been ever so ill-natured about us: but Lady Judith is like Diana, her
name stands for chastity. Even Lavendale's ill-repute cannot damage her.
How fares it with you and your Surrey heiress, by the bye, Lavendale?"

"Off, madam, done with like the old worn-out moons that doubtless go to
some rubbish-heap in the sky. She would have none of me."

"She was a foolish girl. She might do worse than marry an agreeable
reprobate like you. I swear reprobates are the pleasantest beings on
this earth. They flatter one's _amour propre_. One never need feel
ashamed before them. Fill me another brimmer, Asterley," said the
Dowager, holding out her glass, and leaning across the table with a
freedom of attitude which accentuated that absence of tucker whereof the
_Guardian_ had discoursed in mild reproof a dozen years before. That sly
humourist and gentle moralist, Joseph Addison, had vanished from this
earthly scene, and the tucker or modesty-piece, as he had called it, was
not reinstated; nor had either the manners or the morals of fashionable
beauty improved since the moralist's time.

Judith took the chair that had been reserved for her, and drank a glass
of champagne. Her throat was parched, her eyes were burning, her hands
icy cold. A few minutes ago and she had known no physical sensations.
She had been an ethereal essence, made up of fervid imagination and
passion's white heat, lifted to the empyrean; and now she was a woman
again, weighed down with the consciousness of guilty intentions,
burdened with the foreshadowing of shame. To-night she could hold her
head high, look down with scornful toleration upon the flighty Dowager
yonder, whose damaged reputation had been town-talk for the last ten
years: but what of the day after to-morrow, when she, the unapproachable
coquette, the universal tormentor, should be known to all the world as
Mr. Topsparkle's runaway wife and Lord Lavendale's mistress? Would there
be any mercy for her who had carried herself so proudly, allowing her
tongue to riot in ill-natured speeches and wanton scorn of the weak? Who
would spare her? She scarce knew which would be worse, the pity of the
women or the laughter of the men. Topsparkle had often told her the
gossip of the clubs. She knew how those generous creatures of the
stronger sex talk of the fallen among the weaker sex; how ruthlessly
they assail that frail sister who has suffered any flaw in the armour of
her honour; how much unkinder they are to the woman who was proud and
virtuous yesterday, and who sits apart in her guilt and misery to-day,
the Niobe of a slaughtered reputation, than to the hardened female rake
who leads half the town in her train and defies scandal.

_She_, Judith Topsparkle, could expect no mercy. She had had too many
adorers not to have a hundred enemies. Every fop whose prayers she had
rejected, whose sighs she had laughed at, would feel himself avenged in
her fall. Her shame would be the open delight of the town. Such a
thought for a proud woman was agony. And yet, with her eyes open, with
worldly knowledge and experience to show her the depth of the abyss into
which she was going down, she meant to give herself to her lover.
Deliberately, resolutely, she would put her hand in his and say to him,
"For good or evil, I am yours." It had come to this. Life was
intolerable without him. She had never ceased to love him. From the hour
of her first girlish vows that love had possessed her heart and mind,
had been growing day by day in depth and power. Separation had been one
long slow agony, a living death; reunion had seemed the renewal of life.
And their love had been fed and fostered by daily meetings. Mr.
Topsparkle's indulgence and the agreeable laxity of modern manners had
been fatal. The flame of that unholy love had mounted, blazed,
surrounded this impetuous woman like an atmosphere of fire. She lived
only to love and be loved by Lavendale.

Of her future as a dishonoured wife, as Lavendale's mistress, she
thought but vaguely. She could not see beyond the fiery present. She
could not sit deliberately down and question herself about the years to
come; how and where those years were to be spent, by what name she was
to be called, or what her old age--that age which should be
honourable--was to be like. She thought of the ignominy of the present:
she thought of the bliss of the present: but of the future, in that
giddy whirl of brain and senses, she could not think.

She and her lover had been interrupted by Mr. Philter before they could
complete their plans; yet she was not less resolved upon flight. In the
midst of the riot of the supper-table, amidst a fire of repartee from
Bolingbroke and audacious nonsense from Lady Polwhele, and the last town
scandal from Captain Asterley, and a meandering stream of childish
babble from his wife, these guilty lovers found time to whisper and plot
their treason against the husband, who sat in a corner of the arbour,
with his head against the wooden partition, and his eyes closed,
enjoying a gentle slumber after the champagne and chicken.

"He is to dine in the City the day after to-morrow," whispered Judith;
"that will be our opportunity. I shall be my own mistress that evening.
Stay, I have asked some women to play ombre, but I can swear I am ill
and put them off early in the afternoon."

"Then I will be with you as soon as it is dark--between nine and ten
will be safest--and take you on foot to the carriage, which I will have
stationed at some safe corner. Your trunks had better be sent to the
Bell at New Cross. I will find you a wagon and send for them at any hour
you name."

"It had best be about eight in the evening, when Topsparkle will be safe
in the City, drinking punch and hearing loyal speeches at the Guildhall.
How sound he sleeps! I have not often seem him doze after supper. He
generally seems the very incarnation of vigilance--a creature that knows
not what it is to sleep."

Lady Polwhele was rising hastily amidst a confusion of tongues. The wax
candles had burned low in their sockets, everything on the table had a
profligate air, as after an orgy: empty bottles, broken glass, crumpled
napkins, wine-stained table-cloth.

"Your lordship is simply incorri-corri-gibber," protested the Dowager,
lunging at the great Tory with her fan.

"Have a care, Lady Polwhele. Incorrigible is not an easy word to
pronounce at two o'clock in the morning."

"Yet you can say it, villain."

"I have always been noted for a sound head and a steady tongue."

"Faith, were your principles but as sound as your head you might be
Treasurer now instead of that lubberly Norfolk squire," said her
ladyship, somewhat thickly. "And then we should not all be given over to
the Muggites."

"Your ladyship forgets that I am a Muggite," remarked Lavendale
laughingly.

"No, I don't forget you, scaramouch. I never forget old friends"--with
more fan-tappings. "And I mean to trap you an heiress yet. You shall
marry bullion, Lavendale, as sure as I am one of the cleverest women in
London. Look at Asterley there. 'Twas I got him his City wife, and 'tis
I am training her for the Court and good company. See how sleek and
bloated my Benedick begins to look, fattened by the consciousness of a
full purse, as well as by the physical effects of a well-stocked larder.
But _you_ look lean and haggard, Lavendale. I prescribe an heiress."

"Wake up, Topsparkle," cried Asterley, anxious to stop his patroness's
loquacity. "The boatmen have had their night's rest, and the moon is
high. Put on your roquelaures, gentlemen, and you ladies wrap your
mantuas close round you. Even a July night is cold on the river."

"I have never found a July night too warm anywhere in this atrocious
climate," said Topsparkle, waking with a shiver. "The earth in this
latitude is only half cooked. There is no sun worth speaking of. 'Tis a
raw, bleak, uncomfortable world, invented for the profit of
woollen-drapers and furriers. Let me help you on with your mantua,
Judith, and then let us all get home as fast as we can. 'Twas foolish to
come here by water, but 'tis mad to return that way."

"Music and moonlight," murmured Lady Polwhele, with a maudlin air.
"Nothing in this world so delicious as music and moonlight. I hope you
brought your flute, Asterley."

"He has it in his pocket, your ladyship," vouched the buxom young wife,
who was passing proud of her husband's trivial accomplishments.

"The flute! Lord forbid!" cried Topsparkle. "We are sure of a fit of the
shivers, and it needs but Asterley's flute to give us the ague."

At last they were all out of the arbour, Lady Polwhele lurching a little
as she leaned on Bolingbroke's arm, and so down to the water-side and to
the gilded barge with its eight rowers, which slipped noiselessly from
the shadowy shore under the summer moon.

"The moon rises late, does she not?" asked Lavendale, looking up at that
silver lamp hanging in mid-heaven.

How pale he looked in that clear white light! how hollow and worn the
oval of his face! how attenuated those delicate features! Judith saw
only the love-light in those adoring eyes.

"The moon rises between eleven and twelve," replied Mr. Philter, who
always knew, or pretended to know, everything. It is so easy to be wise
in polite society. A man has but to answer with sufficient assurance and
a quiet air of precision to be believed in by the ignorant majority.



CHAPTER VIII.

"YET STILL I AM IN LOVE, AND PLEASED WITH RUIN."


It was the noon of next day before Lavendale opened his curtains and
rang for his letters and his chocolate--a glorious summer noontide, with
a flood of sunshine pouring in through the three tall narrow windows in
that front bedchamber in Bloomsbury Square. The Lavendale mansion was a
fine double-house with the staircase in the middle. His lordship's
bedroom, dressing-room, and private writing-closet, or study, occupied
one side of the first floor; on the other were two drawing-rooms, the
white and the yellow, panelled and painted, opening into each other with
high folding-doors after the French manner; and beyond these a small
inner room, where a choice company of three or four kindred spirits
might play high and drink deep, as it were in a sanctuary, remote from
the household. The house had been built by the first Lord Lavendale in
his pride of place and power. Here Somers and Godolphin had been
entertained; here William himself had brought his grim dark visage and
high wig, his hooked nose, and his Dutch favourites, to steep themselves
in the Lavendale Burgundy after a ponderous old English dinner of thirty
or forty dishes. It was a house full of stately memories, a house built
for a statesman and a gentleman. How pleasantly would those panelled
rooms have echoed the merry voices of children, the scampering of little
feet! but all prospect of domesticity was over for Lord Lavendale.
To-morrow the paternal house would be deserted, perhaps for ever; left
to the rats and some grimy caretaker, or sold in a year or two to the
best bidder. To-day the paternal acres would be mortgaged up to the
hilt, since a man who runs away with a woman of fashion must needs have
ready-money. There are a few things in this life that cannot be done
upon credit. Running away with your neighbour's wife is one of them.

Lavendale thought of these things in very idleness of fancy as he
stirred his chocolate, while his valet gathered up scattered garments,
picked up an Alençon cravat from the floor, and reduced the disorder of
the room generally. He thought of his mother, whom he remembered as the
occupant of this bedchamber. The room had seemed sacred and solemn to
him, like a temple, in those early days of his childhood, when he came
in at bedtime to say his prayers at his mother's knee. How she had loved
him! with what heart-whole devotion, with what anxiety! as he knew now,
looking back upon her tenderness, understanding it with the
understanding of manhood. He had not enjoyed his prayers in the
abstract; but he had always liked to be with his mother. She was not one
of the gad-about mothers, who see their children for five minutes in a
powder-closet, look up from a patch-box to kiss little missy or master,
and then airily dismiss the darling to nurse and nursery. She had always
had leisure to love her boy. After those little prayers of his she would
talk to him seriously of the time when he would be a man among other men
in a world full of temptation. She entreated him to be good: to do right
always: to be true, and brave, and pious, obeying God, loving his
fellow-creatures. She warned him against the evil of the world.
Sometimes she spoke to him perhaps almost too gravely for his years; but
he remembered her words now.

"She knew what a vile place this world is, and she warned me against its
infamy," he said to himself. "Vain warning: grave and tender speech
wasted upon an incipient reprobate. Is there some place of spirits in
which she dwells, where she sees and knows my folly, and grieves, as
disembodied souls may grieve, over her guilty son? I, who find it so
hard to believe dogmatic religion, cannot wean myself from the fancy
that there is such a world--that she whom I loved lives yet, and can
feel and care for me--that the last link between mother and son was not
broken when the first clod fell on the coffin."

A footman knocked at the door and handed in a salver with a letter,
which the valet brought to his lordship's bedside.

"From Lady Judith Topsparkle. The messenger waits," said the man.

He had recognised the brown and orange livery, although the footman had
not mentioned his mistress's name.

"The dragon is roused at last," wrote Judith. "Topsparkle has taken
alarm at our familiarity last night. I doubt he was only shamming sleep,
and that he watched us while we whispered at the supper-table. No sooner
were we at home than he burst into a tragic scene--Cato was never more
heroic--taxed me with carrying on an intrigue with you, and using
Bolingbroke as a blind. I laughed at him and defied him; on which he
announced that he should carry me off to Ringwood Abbey directly after
the Guildhall dinner. 'Nothing I should love better,' says I, 'for I am
heart-sick of the town, and you and I were made to bill and coo in
solitude. All the world knows how fond we are of each other.' After this
he became silently savage, white with suppressed wrath. What an evil
face it is, Jack! I think he is capable of murdering me; but you may
trust me to take care of myself, and to touch no potion of his mixing,
between now and to-morrow night. He ordered Zélie to pack my trunks for
the Abbey; the very thing I would have. They are to go off on Thursday
morning, he says. Be sure you send your wagoner on Wednesday evening. So
now, dear love, from such a Bluebeard husband my flight will be a
pardonable sin. I do but run away in self-defence."

"Bring me standish and portfolio," said Lavendale; and with his elbow on
his pillow he wrote hastily:

"Beloved, I will not fail you. I have some business arrangements that
must be made to-day, and to-morrow at dusk I will be with you. If you
have any apprehension or any sense of unhappiness in the mean while,
come to me here at once, and I will defend you. Once within these doors
you shall be safe as in a fortress. But it will be better if we can slip
away quietly. I doubt if Topsparkle will follow us to the South. From
hints I have had about him I take it he is not over-fond of
fighting--would fight, perhaps, if hard driven--but will not court an
encounter; and for your sake I would rather not cross swords with him.
So if _finesse_ and patience can keep matters smooth till to-morrow
night it will be well. Till then, Adored One, adieu. My heart, soul,
mind, being, are in your keeping already. This Lavendale which goes to
and fro, and must needs get through the day's business, is but a
breathing piece of mechanism, a self-acting puppet. The real Lavendale
is sighing on your bosom."

This letter despatched, with a guinea to the gentleman in orange and
brown--guinea which by some curious conjuring trick became a half-guinea
at the bottom of the staircase--his lordship rose and dressed, or
suffered himself to be dressed, very impatiently, and then, without any
more breakfast than his cup of chocolate, walked off to his favourite
Jew.

He knew most of the money-lenders in London; men who would lend at an
hour's notice and on lightest security; men who were slow and cautious.
It was to an enterprising usurer he went to-day.

"I want a thousand pounds immediately, Solomon," he said, flinging
himself into a dusty chair in a dusty office near the Fleet, "and four
thousand to follow."

Then came negotiation. Hitherto Lavendale had refused to mortgage the
Surrey Manor. Other estates were heavily clipped--but the place his
mother had loved, the house in which she died, had been held sacred.
Now, he would stick at nothing. He must have money at any sacrifice. Old
Solomon had itched for a good mortgage on that Surrey Manor. He had a
client who wanted to lend money on land near London, a rich City
tradesman who hardly believed in the validity of any estate that was not
within fifty miles of the metropolis. The client would think himself
well off if he got five per cent for his cash; and Mr. Solomon knew that
he could make Lord Lavendale pay seven per cent, and pocket the
difference. His lordship was in too great a hurry for the money to
consult his own lawyer, would not examine the deeds too closely. He had
the air of a man who was in a fever of impatience to ruin himself.
Solomon promised to have the mortgage-deed engrossed and the money ready
to hand over by two o'clock next day. Lavendale swore he must leave
England at three. The money would be no use to him unless it were his
before that hour.

"You shall have it," protested Solomon, "though the scrivener should
have to work all night. I will go straight off to my client and bid him
prepare his cash."

Lavendale went back to Bloomsbury, and gave orders about the wagon and
the coach-and-four, with a third pair of horses to be ready on the other
side of London Bridge, and relays all along the Dover road. His valet
was as clever as Figaro, and had hitherto proved himself trustworthy.

"I am running away with an heiress, Jevons," said his lordship. "A sweet
young creature of seventeen; a cit's only daughter, worth a plum in her
own right."

Jevons bowed with an air of respectful sympathy, and knew that his
master was lying. The orange and brown livery had appeared too often in
Bloomsbury Square within the last month or so; and Jevons had seen his
lordship in Lady Judith's box, from the pit of the theatre in Lincoln's
Inn Fields, and knew exactly how those two stood towards each other.

"'Tis a bad business," thought Mr. Jevons, "and may end in bloodshed. I
would rather see him running after masks and misses, as he did ten years
ago."

Mr. Jevons was too well trained a servant to disobey orders, were he
even sure they must result in fatality. He would have sharpened his
master's rapier for a duel as coolly as he cleaned his boots. So he went
off and ordered coach, wagon, and horses, and despatched a couple of
mounted grooms to ride to Dover by easy stages. They were to order
relays of post-horses as they went along, and were to make sure that
there should be no hitch in the journey.

"And if you find his lordship is pursued, you are to do your damnable
best to prevent his pursuer getting a change of horses anywhere," said
Mr. Jevons, with his authoritative air, which was more imperious than
his master's.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lavendale ordered his carriage late in the afternoon, and drove down to
his Surrey Manor in the summer dusk. He wanted to see Vincenti before he
left England, perhaps for ever. He wanted to see that old home which he
might never look upon again. And Durnford was to be at the Manor that
evening, the one friend in whose fidelity he could always confide; to
whom he could confess even his darkest secrets; whose sound sense he
could rely upon when his own feather-brain failed him.

"I must make some plans for _her_ future," he told himself, "for I fear
I am not a long-lived man. Alas! what can I leave her? Three or four
happy years in the South will exhaust my resources, and there will be
nothing left but an estate mortgaged to the hilt."

This was a dark outlook, so he tried to shut his eyes to the future. And
then he remembered what some knowing busybody had told him about Lord
Bramber's cleverness, and the handsome settlement extorted from Mr.
Topsparkle before he was allowed to carry off the lovely Judith.

"So good a settlement," said the gossip, "that her ladyship has but
small inducement to remain constant to a fossil husband. She may elope
whenever she likes, for she will be handsomely provided for even in her
disgrace. Lord Bramber is a man of the world, and able to look ahead."

There was some consolation in the thought that Lady Judith was not to
sacrifice everything in throwing away her reputation. And yet to think
of her enriched by Topsparkle's money was as bad as to see her shining
in Topsparkle's diamonds.

"'Tis so evil a business that nothing can mend it," he said to himself;
which was an ill frame of mind for a lover.

It was dark when he reached the Manor, and Durnford had not arrived. The
coach had brought a letter from him to say that important business in
the House detained him, but that he would ride down next morning.

Chagrined at this disappointment, Lavendale went straight to the
laboratory, where he found Vincenti walking to and fro in an unusual
state of excitement.

"Have you found the great secret?" he asked. "You have a look of
triumph."

"I am nearer than I have ever been," answered the old man, with feverish
eagerness; "so near that I might almost say I have reached the goal. The
universal panacea is all but won. I feel a renewal of strength in every
limb, a fresher life in every vein, and, if not the secret of
immortality, I have at least found the key to an almost indefinitely
prolonged existence. I tell you, Lavendale, there is a medicine that
will prolong life for centuries if a man is but free from organic
disease."

"If!" echoed Lavendale; "that 'if' makes all the difference. If he do
not fall off his horse, or if he be not turned over in a stage-coach, or
drowned 'twixt Dover and Calais. If he do not fall into a crater, like
Empedocles, or if he be not buried in the lava flood, like Pliny, or
murdered in the street, like Tom Thynne, or killed in a duel, like
Hamilton and Mohun. There is a vast variety of 'ifs' to be considered."

Vincenti was not listening to him. He walked to and fro like a man
exalted by a beatific vision. Then he suddenly stopped and went over to
a furnace, upon which there stood a crucible. He peered into this for
some moments, and then resumed his feverish pacings up and down the
spacious floor: anon suddenly tottered, and staggered over to his chair,
like a man who can scarce keep himself from falling.

Lavendale went to him instantly, and put a glass of water to his lips.
His brow was damp with cold perspiration, and he had every appearance
of fainting.

"Is this one of the effects of your panacea," asked Lavendale; "is this
the result of that marvel-working Azoth that Paracelsus believed in?"

"It is nothing--a passing faintness. The reaction was too strong. I gave
myself up too completely to the delight of my discovery--or I may have
taken too powerful a dose. I tell you, my lord, the solution is
infallible. It contains every element of life, every force that can
sustain mind and body, strengthen every nerve, restore the quality of
the blood, wasted with age. Feel my pulse, and say if it is not at once
regular and strong."

"Strong?--yes, too strong for your age; too quick for health.
Regular?--no. You had better go to bed, Vincenti. A basin of broth and a
good night's rest will do more for you than the higher metals."

"Your lordship is mocking me. But I am somewhat exhausted by the
unintermittent watching of the last three days and nights. I will lie
down for an hour or two, if you will be so kind as to assist me to my
room."

Lavendale supported him to an adjoining room with almost womanly
tenderness, and did not leave him till he was lying comfortably in his
bed. He occupied a small apartment next the chapel, a room which had
once been used as a sacristy. Here the student of Nature's secret forces
had a pallet, and a kind of hermit's cell, preferring such scanty
accommodation close to his furnaces and alembics, to the comfortable
bedchamber above-stairs which had been allotted to him at his coming.

"Yonder is a sword that has well nigh worn out its scabbard," thought
Lavendale, as he went back to the library. "Did Albertus Magnus dream
thus to the last, I wonder, and die on the threshold of some tremendous
discovery, or fancy himself near it in his last hours? Is it all an idle
dream, as Herrick says, and is there no undiscovered power that can
prolong the life of man? How feverish was that old man's joy at the idea
of stretching his thin thread of life! And yet one would think existence
could be of little value to one who has survived every earthly passion,
every human tie. But for me--for me, whose days have been so short, so
empty of all real joys; for me, whose heart beats high with fondest
hopes and sweetest anticipations--'tis hard for such as I to know his
days measured, his span of life dwindling fast to the vanishing point.
Life might be prolonged indefinitely, says Vincenti, if there be no
organic disease. That 'if' means so much. There is something tells me
this heart of mine has been worked too hard upon foolish excitements and
frivolous fancies, horse-races, cock-fights, the gambling-table, and the
bear-pit; and that now--now when I would fain feel myself secure of
length of days--the flame that burns so fiercely is but the expiring
flourish of a burnt-out candle."

He struggled against those despondent feelings which had possessed him
all the day; stronger even than triumphant love, which should have
reigned supreme in his breast. He sent for his housekeeper, an elderly
woman who had nursed his mother in her last illness, and upon whose
fidelity he could rely.

"I fear my old Italian friend is very ill, Mrs. Becket," he said, "and I
must depend upon you to get him nursed and duly cared for should his
malady increase. He has the air of a man in a fever."

"Your lordship may depend upon my doing all I can for the poor harmless
old gentleman," replied Mrs. Becket, with a low curtsy. "But your
lordship is looking amiss this evening! Is there nothing I can do for
your lordship--perhaps a mild electuary?" Mrs. Becket's great forte had
always been the still-room, where she had graduated, as a slip of a
girl, under Lavendale's grandmother, a skilful compounder of herbs and
simples, and all household medicines and confectioneries.

"Nay, my good Becket, I have no occasion for your clever prescriptions.
I am perfectly well; only a little tired after my long ride."

"Your lordship's supper will be served in ten minutes, in the red
parlour."

"My good soul, I have no stomach for supper. I dined--no, by the way, I
did not dine, but I ate something before I left town."

"Nay, indeed, if your lordship had no dinner you ought to enjoy a split
pullet and a dish of stewed cheese. I grilled the pullet with my own
hands, to make sure of despatch. And Thomas has taken up a couple of
bottles of your lordship's favourite Burgundy."

"Well, I will taste your pullet with a glass of Burgundy. What is the
hour?"

"Nearly eleven. Your lordship's bedchamber is being prepared."

"I have my wakeful fit on, and shall not retire early. No one need sit
up for me. I shall want nothing after I have supped."

"Your lordship is always considerate."

"And now go, my good Becket, and attend to Vincenti. He is a fit subject
for some of your old-fashioned family medicines."

Lavendale smiled at the thought of handing over the adept to the tender
mercies of his grandmother's pupil--the student of Paracelsus and Roger
Bacon to the household practitioner, learned in the traditions of
village midwives and itinerant herbalists, and the elaborate
prescriptions of ancient ladies handed down from mother to daughter from
the dark night of the Middle Ages, not altogether free from the savour
of witchcraft. He was in a mood to wonder whether Paracelsus and the
Ghebir Arabs were any cleverer than those ancient ladies who spent their
mornings, aproned and bibbed, in the busy seclusion of the still-room.

He repaired to the red parlour, but although he had eaten scarcely
anything since the supper at Vauxhall he had no appetite for Mrs.
Becket's savoury pullet or smoking dish of cheese. His lips were
parched, and food was distasteful to him; but he finished a bottle of
Burgundy before he went back to the library, where he had his papers to
look over and arrange on the eve of an exile that might be long.

The spacious seldom-inhabited room had a desolate aspect, dimly lighted
by two pairs of wax candles in massive silver candlesticks. One pair
stood on a bureau at the end of the room, the other on his lordship's
scrutoire. The long windows were open to the summer night, the moon was
rising, and her faint pale light shone in upon the empty floor.

Lavendale unlocked drawers, and took out papers from secret recesses,
and occupied himself closely for the next hour in a scrutiny of his
affairs, seriously trying, for the first time since his majority, to
discover how much of his inheritance he had wasted, and what amount of
assured income yet remained to him.

His list of rents looked well, but against his rental he had to put the
interest of mortgages; and when these were all told the balance in his
favour was but slender.

"Well, I shall be as nearly a pauper as a man of rank can well be when
these five thousand pounds are gone," he said to himself, "and when I am
dead Judith will have to live upon her settlement. 'Tis an ugly
look-out. She has extravagant tastes, too, and has been accustomed since
her marriage to fling money about at random; to gratify every whim, riot
in every luxury. Will she not curse me years hence when she finds
herself reduced to the narrower limit of her pin-money, which, however
handsome, will hardly allow her to melt pearls, like Cleopatra, or to
venture in every lottery, bid for every Chinese monster and Indian
screen, and entertain a crowd of flatterers at every meal, to say
nothing of ombre and quadrille?" And then he told himself that Judith
had only been extravagant because she was unhappy. That all her follies
had been but the endeavour to stop the pain of an aching heart, with the
anodyne of frivolous pleasures. She had told him once that she would be
true to him in poverty and every ill; told him with her arms round his
neck, that night they swore fidelity to each other in the little Chinese
room at Lady Skirmisham's, when both were free and such vows were
innocent. Had the world so changed her that she would be less
disinterested now, when in the maturity of her womanhood she was to give
herself to him freely, deeming the world well lost for love? "What is
the world that any woman should regret the loss of it?" he thought: "a
raree-show, a kind of modish Bartholomew Fair, where wits and beauties,
politicians and heroes, are all of them as false, and many of them as
thickly painted, as any mummer at Smithfield. No, I will not be such a
fool as to feel remorse at stealing my beloved from such a world as
ours."

He put away his papers and locked his scrutoire with a sigh, finding
himself even poorer than he had thought. And then he began to pace the
room in a reverie. It was nearly midnight, but he had no inclination for
sleep. His brain was a vortex of busy thoughts. His imagination flew
from one subject to another with restless variety--now anticipating
evil, now dreaming of an idyllic bliss, unbroken by a cloud.

Then that shadow of fear, that vague apprehension of unknown evil which
had been upon him all day, seemed suddenly to deepen, until it wrapped
him round like a pall. The absolute silence of the house oppressed his
spirits. He had heard doors locked and bolted, and footsteps retiring an
hour ago. The household was asleep, remote from that spacious library,
which was in a wing apart, ending in the chapel. He could hardly have
been more lonely in the depths of a forest; and to-night, for the first
time within his memory of himself, solitude seemed an evil.

He tried to picture to-morrow night and its feverish joys. At this hour
they would be travelling, as swiftly as six horses could carry them, on
the road to Dover; apprehensive of pursuit, fluttered, anxious, yet
infinitely happy. Yonder waning moon would be shining upon them seated
side by side, their lives linked for ever--the last irrevocable step
taken--the world defied.

"O, happy night, would it were come! would I could lift my soul out of
this gloom by picturing to-morrow's joy!"

He paced slowly up and down the polished floor, on which his footsteps
echoed with a dismal sound. The cold silvery moonbeams trembled upon the
sombre rows of folios and quartos, and the heavy carving of the oak
bookcases. One end of the room was in broad moonlight, the other in
shadow. The candles made only feeble patches of yellow light, scarcely
noticeable against that clearer, brighter light from the moon. Never had
the room looked so desolate or so unhomelike to Lavendale; and yet it
was the one room of all others most familiar to him and dearest from
association. It was here his mother's widowhood had been chiefly spent.
Her studious habits had made this library her chosen retreat. There was
not a book upon yonder shelves which she had not handled; and there
were few of which she had not read much or little. Her favourite authors
were assembled in one particular block, which she had classified and
arranged with her own hands. Lavendale had brought his lessons to her
many a time in this room, to ask her aid in his preparation for his
tutor. And it had been her pride and delight to help her boy in his
studies. It brought mother and son nearer together. And then came tender
counsel, gentle admonition, warning against the indulgence of a wilful
temper, hasty anger, thoughtlessness about other people's feelings--all
those failings to which high-spirited youth is prone.

Yes, he recalled those tender monitions with an aching heart. Not once
had the memory of those words held him back from sin; and yet he had
always remembered, only too late. If in the dim after-world she were
conscious of his follies, of his guilt, how would she look upon this
last sin?

"Has she memory or consciousness in that unknown world?" he asked
himself; "or was that sweet nature but a part of the universal soul
which has been reabsorbed into the infinite from which it came? O God,
could I but know! Has she whom I loved any individual existence beyond
the veil?"

He stood with clasped hands and bent head, recalling those unforgotten
tones, the mother's smile, even the caressing touch of taper fingers
lightly resting on his brow and hair. He stood thus brooding till he was
startled by a faint fluttering sound in the air near him, and looking
suddenly upward he saw a white dove which had flown in at one of the
open windows.

There was nothing particularly strange in such an apparition in the
neighbourhood of woods full of wild pigeons; and yet the sight thrilled
him. He stood watching the bird as it slowly fluttered across the room a
little way above his head, now in moonlight, now in shadow--he
remembered afterwards that the candles seemed at this time to give no
light--and fluttered on till it was lost in the shadows at the further
end of the room.

Then slowly--the bird having vanished--there grew out of the shadows a
vague luminous form, first only a spot of dim tremulous radiance, and
then gradually an appearance as of a woman's shape, faintly outlined--a
white-robed form, dimly defined against darkest shadow. It quivered
there for moments which seemed to that startled gazer a long lapse of
time, and faint as the light was, it dazzled him. He could hardly endure
the strange radiance, yet could not withdraw his gaze.

Faintly, as if from far distance, unlike any sound his ears had ever
heard, there came these words: "Repent, Lavendale, repent! Prepare for
death!"

It was his mother's voice, or a faint echo of what her voice had been in
life. Those unearthly tones were at once strange and familiar--familiar
enough to move him to tears, yet so strange as to overpower him with
terror.

Cold sweat-drops broke out upon his forehead, and he fell swooning to
the ground.



CHAPTER IX.

"AND, LO! MY WORLD IS BANKRUPT OF DELIGHT."


Lord Lavendale lay late on the morning after his arrival at the Manor.
It had been late when he crept up to his room, tremulous from the
effects of his fainting-fit, which he had shaken off as best he might,
without help of any kind. A sleepless night was followed by a drowsy
morning.

"Tell Mr. Durnford to come to me directly he arrives," he said to the
servant who waited upon him at the Manor, "and let me be awakened if I
am asleep when he comes."

And then he turned his head to the wall and dozed, or thought, with his
eyes shut.

"My dearest Lavendale, you are not often such a sluggard," exclaimed
Herrick, coming into the room between twelve and one. "I hope you are
not ill."

"No, I am not ill," answered his lordship, sitting up in bed, and
facing his friend in the bright sunshine.

"You say you are not ill, but you are as white as a ghost. What have you
been doing with yourself, Jack?"

"Raking, Herrick, raking! A long night at Vauxhall with Lady Polwhele
and her crew, a debauch of champagne and minced chicken; the Dowager
cooked the mess herself, I believe, over a spirit-lamp, though I was not
there to see. Dark walks, nightingales and folly, and home by water
under the moonlight. A pretty sight enough, those twinkling gardens, and
the cold, bright moonlit river beyond."

"There must have been something more than nightingales and champagne,
Jack, or you would not have that ghastly look. There is something very
much amiss."

"There is something very much amiss, and I want you to set it right for
me. What was friendship invented for except to get a fellow out of
scrapes?"

"I have ever been your _âme damnée_, Lavendale," answered Herrick,
betwixt jest and earnest. "It is the fashion to say that Lord Lavendale
would have been a virtuous youth had not that scamp Durnford led him
astray."

"And yet I swear you were always the better of the two, and have oftener
played Mentor than Mephistopheles. But now you have become a senator the
town begins to respect you. You are no longer Lavendale's _alter
ego_--the careless rake and spendthrift. You are a young man with a
career, a great future before you. And now, Herrick, I want you to save
me from my own selfish passion, my own reckless folly, and to save one
who is well-nigh as reckless, and whom I love better than myself."

"Lady Judith Topsparkle."

"What, you know, then?"

"I know nothing more than all the town knows--that at the rate you and
Lady Judith are travelling you must both go to perdition sooner or
later, unless you make a sudden pull-up. When one sees children picking
flowers upon the edge of an abyss, one may easily guess the result."

"And we are not children, and we knew the abyss was there. We have been
wilfully blind, audacious, desperate. Herrick, we are pledged to be each
other's ruin here and hereafter. Can a man of honour, do you think,
recall such a pledge--break his word to the lady he has sworn to
destroy?"

"Perhaps from a modish point of view he would be a poltroon and a
perjurer; but as a gentleman and a Christian he would do well to be
forsworn."

"I am to carry off Lady Judith this night, Herrick; coach and horses are
ordered, relays bespoke all along the road, the lady's trunks are
packed. I have raised five thousand, by way of a first instalment, upon
this place. Everything is ready. Shall I not seem a base hound if I draw
back?"

"I know not what you will seem; but if you can save the lady's honour--"

"She is spotless, Herrick. We have been near the abyss, not over it."

"Save her, then, at any cost."

"What, at the cost of rage and mortification to her? For I doubt she has
set her heart upon destroying herself for my sake--would rather endure
poverty and degradation with me than queen it as the wife of Topsparkle.
But this must not be, Herrick. There is a reason, an unanswerable
reason, why I should not spoil her life for a few short months of
bliss."

"There are a hundred reasons. Why speak so mysteriously of one?"

"Because it is the strongest, and in some wise mysterious. I am doomed,
Herrick. I have been warned that I had best prepare myself for the
grave. I have but a short time to live."

"What a foolish fancy! And from whom comes the mysterious warning? From
your familiar, Vincenti?"

"Not from him. He promises me length of days, if I will but school
myself to the adept's scanty regimen. My warning came from a Higher
Source, and from an authority I cannot question. Do not let us discuss
the matter, Herrick. It allows of no argument, and is too sacred for
question. It is enough for you to know that I have been warned. My days
have shrunk to the briefest space. I am not a man to spoil any woman's
life."

"You have had some mysterious dream? You were ever a dreamer."

"Yes, I have had a dream."

"'Twas your guardian angel sent the vision if it can deter you from
contemplated evil. By heaven, Jack, I believe every man has his Pacolet,
his guardian and friend, for ever trying to save him from his own baser
inclinations."

"Yet that friendly guardian spirit of whom poor Dick Steele wrote so
pleasantly was, after all, but a feeble protector, and was impotent
against human folly and self-will. I believe, Herrick, that in most men
there is an innate respect for virtue, accompanied by a natural leaning
towards vice. Mind and conscience pull one way--heart and senses tug the
other; and in most cases the flesh and the Devil get the victory. And
now will you do me this favour--will you save Judith from me, and me
from myself?"

"I will do anything in this world to so holy an end."

"Then you will go to Judith this evening at dusk, when Mr. Topsparkle is
to be in the City, and you will give her a letter from me. You will
sustain that letter by whatever moral lecture you may feel moved to
deliver; and you will so act that she will understand that, though my
passion is unchanged, my resolution is irrevocable. Say nothing of an
early doom; for did she know my motive, her generosity would be eager
for self-sacrifice--she would be in haste to fling herself away upon a
dying man. Let me even appear to her a coward, a prig, a pious renegade
from love and fidelity--anything, so that you save her from the ruin we
had planned."

"Trust me, my dear Lavendale. I will perform this mission with all my
heart. Could I not go at once--as soon as a horse can be saddled--and
see the lady before the evening?"

"Too perilous. She is rash and impetuous. She might betray herself by
some burst of passion. It were best that you should not see her till
Topsparkle be off the premises, and her afternoon visitors despatched.
'Twere safest, I think, for you to wait till near sunset."

"That will suit me better, for then I may hope to get a glimpse of my
mistress, in spite of her guardian and gaoler, good little Mademoiselle
Latour."

"How will you manage to let her know of your vicinity, since you dare
not approach the house, for fear of her churlish father?"

"O, I have a Mercury in the shape of a gardener's boy, who will contrive
to let her know I am near the old trysting-place, if she be out of
doors; and she spends most of her life in the garden this summer
weather."

"Happy lovers, whose very ruses are innocent, and have a flavour of
Arcady! Ah, Herrick, how I envy you!"

"Dear friend, it is not too late for you to be as happy as I am. There
are plenty of virtuous women in this world, some as lovely as Irene,
from among whom the irresistible Lavendale might choose a new mistress."

"Might? It is too late, Herrick. The passing bell of love and hope has
sounded. I never loved but one woman, and her I outraged by a
profligate's motiveless folly. There--go to your divinity, and be back
in time for your journey to London. You can take any horse you like;
your own nag can stay till you return to-morrow. I shall be all
impatience to hear how Judith received you."

An hour later and Herrick and Irene were standing on each side of the
oak paling, as they had stood at their first meeting, under summer
boughs, with the dogs for their sole companions. It was a little more
than a year since that accidental meeting, and although they were wholly
pledged to each other, they seemed no nearer the possibility of union
than they had been a year ago.

"Charlie brought me your little note, and I stole away from poor
Mademoiselle, who has a headache, and was obliged to lie down after my
music-lesson. She suffers so much from the heat."

"And you--"

"O, I love it. I ought to have been an Indian. I love to sit in the sun
and read Shakespeare."

"'Twas I taught you to love Shakespeare, was it not?" he asked fondly.

"'Twas you first talked to me of him. And then I saw Mr. Booth act. That
was glorious. The characters seemed to have a new life after that: they
live and move before me when I read the plays, as they never did before.
How well you are looking, Herrick! Are you working as hard as ever?"

"Harder, dearest. I write more than ever, and I have the House for my
only recreation. Don't look frightened, Rena; hard work suits me. I
thrive upon it. I have two secrets to tell you, love."

"Secrets--not dreadful ones?" she asked, with clasped hands.

"Far from dreadful. First, I am beginning to save money. Yes, Rena, I
have a hundred pounds in the bank. Secondly, I have written a play, and
Colley Cibber and his committee at Drury Lane have promised to produce
it for me in the autumn."

"O Herrick, how delightful! Let me see your play. You have brought it,
haven't you?"

"No, dearest; the manager has the manuscript."

"What is it about?"

"Love and lovers."

"Is it a tragedy?"

"No, sweetest, I am too happy in the assurance of your love to be
tragic, even upon paper. It is a comedy, as light as Wycherley, but
without his coarseness. I have written, not for vizard masks and modish
ladies, but for virtuous wives and daughters. There is not a blush from
the rise of the curtain to the epilogue; but for all that, Mr. Cibber
believes the play will take."

"I feel sure it is better than anybody else's play."

"That were to say too much; but I doubt if it is quite the worst thing
that was ever put on the stage."

"What is it called?"

"_The Old Story._"

They were strolling side by side, with only that post and rail fence
between them, which scarcely seemed a boundary. The dogs gambolled round
them, snapping at summer flies, fighting with each other every now and
then, in a friendly way, with playful growls and yelps of delight, as if
the gladness of life in the abstract must needs be expressed somehow.

"And now tell me, dearest, have your tyrants abated their tyranny? Are
you as closely watched as ever?"

"Not quite. Mrs. Layburne is ill, and she was the only gaoler I dreaded.
Of course it is hard not to be able to see you, except by stealth. But
dear Mademoiselle and my good old nurse Bridget are always kind, even
though they must obey my father's orders. And then I try to be happy,
and to feel confident of your love, and I hope that Providence will
break down all barriers by and by. I can be patient, hoping this."

"And you do not sigh for town and town pleasures?"

"No, Herrick. The town was delightful when you were there, and I could
see you almost every day. Without you the gayest place would be dreary.
If I am to be sad I would rather suffer my sadness among these dear old
woods which are a part of my life. I suppose it is in one's nature to
love the place in which one was born."

"Yes, dearest, it would seem so," replied Herrick, suddenly thoughtful.

And then after a pause he asked, "What ails Mrs. Layburne?"

"I fear it is a consumption. She has a terrible cough, and she has
wasted away sadly since last winter. I could never like her; but there
is something about her that makes me feel more sorry for her than I ever
felt for any one else in my life. She seems the very spirit of
despondency. Her presence fills the house with gloom; and yet she rarely
leaves her own little parlour, where she sits alone, without books or
needlework, or any occupation to distract her mind. She sits and broods,
Bridget says. No one can remember having ever seen her smile since she
first came here. It is an awful life."

"Does your father's doctor visit her?"

"Yes, the old doctor sees her now and then--very much against her will,
I believe, but my father has ordered him to attend her. He told
Mademoiselle that the case was hopeless. She has been slowly wasting
away for years; and a severe cold she caught last winter has fastened
upon her lungs, and must end in death."

"Your father is sorry, no doubt, to lose so faithful a servant."

"My father never speaks of her. Once when I talked to him about her
illness he had such an angry look that I have never spoken of her in
his hearing since then; but I would do anything I could for her comfort,
poor soul. Mademoiselle and Bridget are very attentive to her, or at
least as attentive as she will suffer them to be. She is a strange
person."

They talked of a pleasanter theme after this, talked as lovers talk--of
each other--an inexhaustible subject; and after less than an hour of
this sweet converse it was time for them to part--Rena to hurry back to
her governess, Herrick to return to the Manor in time for his long ride
to London.



CHAPTER X.

"FORGET, RENOUNCE ME, HATE WHATE'ER WAS MINE."


Mr. Topsparkle had gone to the City dinner, and Lady Judith had closed
her doors against the butterfly acquaintance whose visiting hours could
scarce be kept within reasonable limits, so eminently social was that
age in which ladies of quality met every evening to ruin each other at
cards or dice.

The sun was setting, and Judith was alone in her favourite parlour, a
fine panelled room on the first floor, with three tall narrow windows
facing westward; a room fit for a palace, with ceiling and doors painted
by Gillot, and with a chimney-piece by Grinling Gibbons, crowded with
rarest Indian cups and platters, and innumerable monsters and gods in
jade and ivory, ebony, bronze, and porcelain. The sofa and chairs were
of Gobelin tapestry, brought over by Mr. Topsparkle, and were the exact
copy of a set that had been made for Madame de Montespan. Everywhere
appeared evidences of wealth and taste. The Princess of Wales had no
such apartment. The Duchess of Kendal would have sold the curios and
rich furniture, had they been hers to turn into cash. Lady Judith
scorned her surroundings as if they had been dirt. She had always talked
contemptuously of her husband's rage for the arts, but the town took
that air of hers for suppressed pride. But of late she had felt
something worse than scorn for these costly treasures; she had felt
absolute hatred for every object associated with the man she loathed.

"Why could I not have married Lavendale, to live in a hut or a gipsy's
van?" she thought; and it seemed to her as if all the luxuries in which
she had rioted, the cup of pleasure which she had drained to the dregs,
had been odious to her from the very beginning. It was a phase of
ingratitude, perhaps, to which runaway wives are subject.

"Thank God, I shall be far away from this rubbish to-morrow," she said
to herself, pacing up and down the room, impatient for the hour which
should bring her freedom. "How my soul pants for solitude and
simplicity--that sweet solitude of two who in heart and mind are as one!
O, the delight of the long, careless journey to the sunny South! The
rapture of strange inns, where no one will know me as Lady Judith
Topsparkle; the fortune of the road, good or ill; bad dinners, sour
wines, garrulous landlords, changing landscapes, sea, mountain, wood,
valley--and my beloved always by my side--in sunlight and moonlight, in
calm and in storm!"

She looked at the Sèvres timepiece on the mantelshelf. How slowly the
hands moved! She almost thought they must have stopped, and went across
to listen for the beat of the pendulum. Yes, the clock was going
regularly enough: it was she whose life went so fast. No swing of the
pendulum could keep pace with that passionate heart of hers.

The sun was down; the western sky had reddened to blood colour. Hark!
there was a step on the stairs. His, of course. She stood with throbbing
heart, ready to sink into his arms.

No, it was not his step. It was firm, and light, and quick--a young
man's step, but not _his_. There was no melody she had known all her
life more familiar to her ear than Lavendale's footstep. She could not
be mistaken in that.

A footman opened the door and announced Mr. Durnford.

Lady Judith turned with an air of haughty interrogation. Her frown and
the angry flash from her dark eyes asked plainly by what right he
approached her at such an hour. And then she remembered the closeness of
the friendship between Durnford and Lavendale, and her heart sank with a
sudden fear.

"Is his lordship ill?" she asked eagerly, as if the world knew but one
lordship.

"No, madam; but I come from him. I am the bearer of a letter."

He took a sealed letter from his breast-pocket and handed it to her.

She snatched it from him, and turned to the window, where there was just
light enough to read it, her bosom heaving, her cheeks whitening to the
hue of her powdered hair.

The letter was all tenderness: a letter of renunciation and farewell,
eloquent with saddest feeling: a letter which to a less imperious
nature might have been salvation. But Judith wanted to go to perdition
her own way; and on a woman bent upon losing her soul for her lover, all
unselfish reasoning must needs be wasted.

"Have _I_ counted the cost?" she asked herself, "and if not I, why
should he be so punctilious? Lavendale! Lavendale, whose very name is a
synonym for dissipation and debauchery--for _him_ to turn mentor and
lecture me! O, it is too much!" and then, turning fiercely upon
Durnford, she exclaimed,

"This is your work, sir."

"Indeed, no, madam."

"Indeed, yes, sir. You know all about this letter. You stood by his
elbow while he wrote--you dictated it. 'Tis _your_ new-fledged sobriety
that has come between my love and me. What, after his letter of
yesterday, burning with passion, he writes to-day like a schoolmaster,
and preaches of repentance and the fear of a lifelong remorse. What is
my remorse to him, if it ever came, when he has my love--my soul's
devoted illimitable love? Why, I would hang upon the wheel beside him,
hang there and suffer. I would endure the torments that slew Ravaillac,
the tortures Brinvilliers suffered, for his sake; and shall I fear the
scorn of a little world in which there are scarce half a dozen virtuous
women? Mr. Durnford, to speak freely, since you doubtless know all that
has passed between his lordship and me--I can tell you that I _have_
counted the cost, and esteem it a _bagatelle_. So I pray you take back
my lord's letter, which your virtue has inspired, and bid him come to me
at once. I want to see him, and not wise sentences dictated by another."

"I can assure your ladyship I had no part in that letter. 'Twas my
friend's own impulse moved him to write. It is by his wish I am here to
bring you his farewell."

"Pshaw! I tell you, sir, I see through it all. Your protestations are
useless. Go and send his lordship to me this instant."

"That were not easy, madam. Lord Lavendale is at his place in Surrey,
thirty miles from London."

"He is thirty miles off, when I have been expecting him here every
moment, when I have made all my plans--looked my last at this hateful
house--was ready to fling on my cloak and go with him. O, the trickster,
the poltroon, to play fast and loose with the woman who loves him! Tell
your master, sir, that he is no gentleman, or he would never have penned
that letter."

"I have no master, madam; and I protest, my friend Lavendale was never a
truer gentleman than when he renounced a lady whom he adores."

"I do not believe in his adoration. He has basely lied to me. It was a
caprice--a transient fancy--an amusement--a wager, perhaps. Yes, a
wager, like his affair with Chichinette. He has wagered a thousand or so
that he would bring me to the brink of an elopement, and now he and his
friends are laughing at me."

"You know his heart too well to suspect him of such baseness, madam.
Believe me that it is in your interest alone that letter was written.
Lord Lavendale's absence to-night is the highest proof he can give you
of his love--a self-sacrificing love."

"He is a coward--a coward to strike such a blow! He knows how I love
him." She burst into tears, and fell sobbing upon her sofa, her face
hidden, her hands clasped above her head, all her body shaken by the
vehemence of her grief.

O, bright dream that she had dreamt--never to be realised! That glorious
vision of life in sunny lands, a life that should have been an endless
love-song--gay, flowing, melodious as a ballad by Suckling or Prior. The
journey, whose every stage fancy had pictured; the fetterless existence,
unoppressed by the restraints of ceremony, or the formalities of a
Court--life lived for its own sake, not to please the public eye. And he
baulked her every hope; he flung her back upon the husband she
loathed--the splendour of which she was sick unto death. He told her
that for her sake it was best they should part; that reputation is the
jewel of a woman's life; that he had reflected in solitude and silence
upon the sacrifice she had been about to make for him; and that
reflection had convinced him he would be a scoundrel to accept such a
sacrifice. Loving her passionately, devoted to her with all his heart,
honour constrained him to bid her adieu for ever.

"Coward, coward, coward!" she hissed between her clenched teeth, when
there came a lull in her storm of grief.

Then she rose in her wrath, tall as Juno, straight as a dart, and faced
Herrick with a sardonic smile.

"Well, sir, we have played out our comedy (his lordship and I), and the
play is somewhat shorter than I fancied it would be; the curtain is
down, and the candles are out; the spectators can all go home again. If
'twas not a wager on his lordship's side, 'twas almost as pretty a
device any way. I acknowledge that you and he are winners: you have had
the best of me."

She made him a low curtsy, one of those graceful sweeping curtsies of
the patch and powder period which are an extinct art. She swept the
ground with her brocade train and rose again, swan-like, or like a new
Venus rising from billows of silk and lace. She had dashed the tears
from her cheeks, and when the footman came in presently to light the
candles in the sconces, there was no sign of grief upon her face, save
its unnatural pallor, and the hectic spot on each cheek which
intensified that livid whiteness.

"Is it an impertinence to wish you good-night, Mr. Durnford?" she asked,
when the servant had retired.

"Nay, Lady Judith, I would not trespass on your courtesy for another
moment." He bowed, and was departing, when she stopped him.

"There was a wagon to carry my trunks to New Cross," she said. "It will
look foolish if my luggage is diverted that way while I--"

"The wagon has been stopped, madam. I saw to that an hour ago."

"Then there is no more to be said, and his lordship need apprehend no
ill-consequences from his--jest."

"Lady Judith, I am convinced you know better than--"

"I know nothing, sir, except that I have been fooled," she answered, her
eyes flashing angry fire at him from under the darkly-pencilled brows.
"Why are you such ages in taking your leave? Good-night, sir,
good-night."

She pulled a bell-rope with an impetuous hand, which sent a loud ringing
through the silent house. Two lacqueys flew to answer her summons,
thinking there was something amiss.

"The door!" she said. "Show Mr. Durnford to his chair."

The moment he was gone she flung herself upon her sofa, tore down the
elaborate edifice of powdered locks, plucked open her bodice, and
abandoned herself to a fit of hysteria. She lay, face downwards, on the
sofa in her disorder and dejection, like Cleopatra after Actium, when
Cæsar's swift galleys had come down upon her, and all the intoxication
of false hope was over.

She lay thus for about a quarter of an hour--a long agony--and then rose
suddenly and hurried to her dressing-room, which was the adjoining
apartment.

Here she changed her brocade for an Indian silk nightgown, bathed her
swollen eyelids with scented water, and gathered up her streaming locks
before she rang for her maid.

"I have changed my mind, Zélie," she said; "I shall go to Lady Townley's
drum. My headache is cured."

Zélie expressed herself enchanted, despatched messengers right and left
for her ladyship's hair-dresser and her ladyship's chairmen, lighted the
candles in her ladyship's powdering-closet, brought forth jewel-cases,
satin trains, brocaded sacques, embroidered petticoats, for choice.

"I will wear white," said Judith, without so much as a side-glance at
that heap of finery; "nothing but white. I have a foolish fancy, Zélie.
I should like to look a bride."

"Her ladyship has always a bridal air, a fresh young beauty which shines
out amidst all other faces," protested the Frenchwoman.

"Fresh! Young!" cried Judith. "Don't mock me, girl! I feel like the
Witch of Endor. But for sport I'll dress as a bride."

And so, dazzling in white satin and white velvet, with a string of
priceless pearls twisted amidst her powdered hair, and a plume of snowy
ostrich feathers drooping upon her ivory shoulders, Lady Judith
Topsparkle appeared at Lady Townley's drum, which was an assemblage of
all the best people in town. Chesterfield was there, big with his
mission to the Hague, and his successes among burgomasters' fat wives.
Hervey and his beautiful young wife were among the gayest spirits; and
Pulteney, punning in Greek, flushed with his fourth bottle; and
Bolingbroke, whose easy equability no potations could ever disturb.

The bucks and beaux all gathered round that radiant creature, whose
insolence charmed them more than the amiability of other women, and who
could keep them all at a distance, yet draw them as the magnet draws
iron; could have them fluttering about her and following her from room
to room, yet never say too kind a word or return too ardent a glance. To
one only had she been kind; for one only had those brilliant eyes melted
to softness.

To-night she was at her gayest. Every one noticed her vivacity; the
women with malevolent shrewdness.

"Lady Judith must have been losing at cards," said one. "There is an
affectation in that arrogant mirth of hers which hides some secret
agony."

"She may have been backing race-horses at Newmarket," replied another.
"I have heard her betting with Chesterfield."

"Or she may have quarrelled with Lavendale," hazarded a cantankerous
mother of three plain daughters.

"What, is that affair begun again?"

"It began the day he came back to England, I believe. They took up the
story at the very page where they left off. The only difference was Mr.
Topsparkle, and he seems the essence of good-nature."

Durnford looked in late at the party, after a stormy sitting in the
House, where Walpole was fighting for his Excise Bill, and he was
astounded at beholding Lady Judith the centre of an adoring circle. He
had left a Niobe, he found a Juno, flaming in all the glory of her
peacock car. Mr. Topsparkle came on from Soho Square when he heard his
wife had changed her mind and had gone to Lady Townley's. She could not
be too frivolous or too expensive for his humour, though he drew the
line at gambling debts. It was when she was grave that he suspected her.
And he had suspected her the other night at Vauxhall. That disappearance
in the dark walks with Lavendale had roused his ire, for at heart he
had always been jealous of that old lover; and then under a feigned
somnolence he had watched those two whispering together at the
supper-table in the King's Head arbour, and he had made up his mind that
there was mischief. He had hinted his suspicions to his wife that night
after their return to Soho, and injured innocence had taken the most
vehement form in that offended lady. Recriminations of the bitterest
kind had followed: he had reproached her with her extravagance, her
passion for dice, cards, lotteries, and race-horses; he had taunted her
with the poverty of her girlhood, her concealed eagerness to trap a rich
husband.

"Was I eager for you?" she asked insultingly. "Did you not kneel at my
feet, amidst the other dirt, before I would have you?"

"O, you played your part cleverly," he answered; "you knew that a man of
my stamp was to be won by seeming independence. You were too old a
huckster not to know your market."

"Sell me again," she cried, "if you think you bought me too dear! Sell
me to the highest bidder. There is not a man in town to whom I would
not sooner belong than to you."

"To your old lover Lavendale, for instance."

"Ay, to Lavendale. I would rather be his slave than your queen."

"But I have not quite done with you yet. You had better be patient, and
wait till you are my widow." The argument grew more and more
acrimonious, and finally Mr. Topsparkle announced his intention of
carrying off his wife to Ringwood.

"You can play the queen there within narrower bounds," he said.

"You mean that it will be easier to watch me?"

"That is just what I mean. You are too wild a bird to fly without a
string."

After this Mr. Topsparkle had a little conversation with his ancient, M.
Fétis, who, in London, oscillated between Soho Square and his own
particular establishment in Poland Street, where he had a plump French
wife, who carried on the business in his absence: a native of Périgord,
with a fine eye and nose for truffles, and who was said to cook certain
dishes better than any _chef_ at the Court end of the town. M. Fétis
undertook to keep his eye on her ladyship. She was not the first sultana
he had guarded for his sultan. 'Twas he who met Mr. Topsparkle as he
alighted from his chair after the Guildhall dinner, with the
intelligence that Lady Judith had recovered her spirits and had gone to
Lady Townley's assembly.

"Has she had any visitors since I went out?" asked Topsparkle.

"Only Mr. Durnford. He came at dusk and stayed about half an hour."

"_About_ half an hour!" echoed his master testily. "You have a watch,
sir, and might have timed the gentleman accurately."

Topsparkle had his wig recombed and his complexion revived before he
went on to Golden Square, and appeared there as white as Lord Hervey,
and radiant with smiles.

"How our City Croesus grins!" exclaimed Pulteney to a friend, "and
what a death's-head grin it is!

    'Quin et Ixion Tityosque vultu
    Risit invito--'

One could imagine a shade in Tartarus with just such a ghastly smile.
And how lovely his young wife looks to-night, lovely enough to keep that
poor old atomy in perpetual torment!"



CHAPTER XI.

"AND WE SHALL FADE, AND LEAVE OUR TASK UNDONE."


Lavendale stayed at his Surrey manor for more than a month, seeing no
one but his old Italian friend and the servants who waited upon him, and
never once going beyond the boundary of his own domain. For some days
after his interview with Herrick Durnford he existed in a kind of
apathy, interested in nothing, but living for the most part in his own
chamber, brooding dreamily upon that luminous form which had shone upon
him out of the midnight shadows, and that spirit voice which had seemed
to him so familiar and yet so strange. In every syllable he had
recognised his mother's tones, and in that faint phantasmal semblance of
life he had beheld the outline of his mother's graceful figure and
classic head. Not for an instant did he doubt that his mother's shade
had been with him in the room where so much of their united lives had
been spent, or that the warning of his early doom had been the emanation
of his mother's mind.

He, the infidel, the student of Toland and Tindale, the friend and
associate of Voltaire, had been at once subjugated by his first
experience of a world beyond the world of sense. He did not accept that
shadowy visitant as an evidence of revealed religion; but it was to him
at least something more than a projection of his own imagination. It was
to him an assurance of a love beyond the grave, of a spiritual link
between those who have loved each other on earth, a sympathy which
corruption cannot destroy or worms devour. Out of darkness and dust his
mother's voice had called to him, "Prepare for death." She who had
taught him the Gospel at her knees now called upon him, who had lived as
an infidel, to die as a Christian.

Not for an instant did he doubt that warning. It was not the first; but
all previous warnings had been purely physical. That sudden agony which
had seized him on two or three occasions at long intervals within the
last three or four years had warned him of organic disease. His heart
had been tortured by that acute anguish which tells of the hardening of
the valves; and though the fit had passed quickly, cured by a medicine
which Vincenti had prepared for him, it had left him weakened and
depressed. He had never cared to question Vincenti as to the cause of
that pain, or to consult any better qualified adviser; but he knew that
the symptom must point to some organic evil, something of which the end
might be death.

And now, having deliberately renounced that which he deemed his final
chance of happiness, he sat alone in that spacious library where he had
seen the vision, and brooded over the past, the fatal irrevocable past,
with all its storm and fury and its small sum of happiness, and
wondered, with a half-apathetic wonder, what his life would have been
like if he had been a good Christian.

"It is hard to argue by analogy, since the type is so rare in the world
I have lived in," he mused. "The good Christian is a modest creature,
who generally hides his light under a bushel, though the Gospel warns
him against such self-extinguishment. I have known sceptics of every
colour, from the Queen, who patronises churchmen and philanders with
philosophers, to Bolingbroke, who fears neither man nor God; but of
Christians how few! There was Addison, whose boasted Christianity was at
best a matter of temperament--nature had given him an easy disposition
and a love of sound Oporto. There was Steele, full of pious aspirations
and pot-house inclinations, always sinning and for ever repenting. There
is our mock Diogenes, Jonathan Swift! Shall I count that supple courtier
and arrogant place-hunter, that bold renegade, a disciple of Him whose
gospel was meekness and whose life was spent in doing good? Shall I call
bluff Walpole a Christian? No; in all true Christianity there must be a
touch of asceticism, and there is nothing of the ascetic in our
fox-hunting Treasurer. Even Atterbury is not altogether free from the
taint of worldliness, and would rather play king-maker amidst the
turmoil of plot and counterplot than educate himself for heaven in the
obscurity of exile. The ideal Christian is an extinct species; and
methinks the most pious man I know is old Vincenti yonder, with his
solemn reverence for that terrible name which the lips of the adept dare
not utter. Only among the votaries of the sacred art is that profound
conception of God--a God whose very name, written within the symbol of
the Trinity, can move mountains, transmute metals, change and overthrow
the four elements. Yes, that is the highest religion I have ever met
with since the childlike faith of my mother. Would I could believe, as
that old man believes, in the mystery of a master mind ruling and
pervading the universe! But to believe only in clay--mere corruptible
flesh, which the worms are to eat within a given number of years--that
means contempt for good and recklessness in evil."

Night after night, through the slow changes of two moons, did Lavendale
watch in the room where he had seen his mother's spirit; but the
luminous shape appeared no more, although the mind of the watcher was
attuned to the supernatural. He had told no one of the thing which he
had seen, not even the Italian, whose researches he had of late been
assisting. He found the only distraction from gloomy thoughts in the
patient watching of experiments, the ministering service of the
laboratory. Here Judith's image haunted him less persistently, here he
could for a while forget all things except the secrets of alchemy.

He had heard several times from Durnford, who was in the thick of
political strife, and was hand in glove with the Treasurer. Lady Judith
had been carried off to Ringwood Abbey as her husband had threatened,
and was queening it there over a distinguished party. Durnford had been
invited, and had gone there at Lavendale's importunate request. "Tell me
that she is not sunk in misery, nor ill-treated by a jealous tyrant," he
wrote. "I am agonised by apprehensions of the evil my folly may have
brought upon her. The monster of jealousy has been awakened, and by my
heedlessness. Should she suffer wrong or contumely, and I not be near to
defend her, I should feel that my sacrifice was all in vain--that it
would have been better to defy Fate and snatch her to this longing
breast. If you will not be my friend in this, if you cannot be my second
self and watch and protect her for me, I will not answer for the
consequences. I cannot command my actions should I find that she is
wretched. See for yourself that all is well with her, and I shall be at
peace."

This, which was not the first adjuration of a like character, impelled
Durnford to accept Mr. Topsparkle's pressing invitation, given at the
St. James's Coffee House, where the gentleman spent an occasional
evening when caprice called him from the country to the town.

"Your hospitality would tempt an anchorite," said Herrick, when
Topsparkle grew urgent; "but I know not how her ladyship will receive
me. I believe she is at heart a Tory, and that my Whiggish principles
inspire her with disgust."

"Pshaw, my dear sir! women know nothing of principles. They believe only
in persons and things. Judith is a Tory because my Lord Bolingbroke has
the tongue of the first tempter, and would lure all the women in England
to his side could he but have their ears as he has Judith's. And then
there is Swift, whose magnetic gray eyes and fierce black brows command
all womankind to think as he wishes. That fiery spirit was in full sway
at Ringwood when I left them t'other day, making jingling rhymes about
everything, and hectoring and domineering over everybody; all rollicking
spirits one hour, all gloom the next. I should never be surprised to
hear of that man as a patient in Bedlam."

"He has need for an occasional gloomy fit," said Durnford, "if he ever
thinks of the woman who died and the woman who is dying of his cruelty."

"O, fie now! they say he is wondrous civil to Mrs. Johnson, and that if
he keeps her somewhat shabbily and has denied her the satisfaction of
marriage, he writes her the prettiest letters imaginable in a kind of
baby-language which is unintelligible to everybody but themselves."

"If his secret language is anything like his occasional verses it must
be exceedingly modest and appropriate for the perusal of a lady," said
Durnford.

"O, the Dean has a somewhat libertine fancy, and is mighty outspoken,"
answered Topsparkle; "but I am told Mrs. Esther can relish a jest, and
even pay our modern Rabelais in his own coin. But you will allow that
'Cadenus and Vanessa,' the poem he wrote in honour of Miss Vanhomrigh,
is modesty itself."

"'Tis the most insidious devilish compliment that was ever penned,"
cried Durnford indignantly. "'Tis sage experienced five-and-forty
gloating over the trusting passion of innocent eighteen. I cannot
restrain my indignation when I remember that warm-hearted impetuous
girl, bold in her ignorance of wrong, whose love he deliberately won and
as deliberately slighted when 'twas won. If ever there was murder done
on this earth, 'twas Swift's assassination of Miss Vanhomrigh. I had the
facts in all their naked cruelty from his bosom friend Sheridan. I
cannot admire the genius of a Titan when it is allied with the heart of
a savage."

"O, damn it, sir! we must bow to genius wherever we find it," said
Topsparkle peevishly; "we have nothing to do with hearts. Swift is the
cleverest man in the three kingdoms, and can make or mar a ministry. He
dined at Chelsea t'other day, and I am told Sir Robert means to give him
the next English bishopric that falls in."

Durnford went to Ringwood, rather to please his friend than for his own
pleasure; though it was to his interest as a rising politician to be a
guest in a house where there were so many notable people.

To his astonishment Lady Judith received him with smiles, gave him an
almost caressing welcome, presented him to her most distinguished
visitors, and let them see she wished him to be favoured. However her
wounds might rankle, she concealed them completely under that smiling
radiant countenance which shed sunlight upon her little world.

    "Ausa et jacentem visere regiam
    Vultu sereno,"

mused Durnford. "She has all Cleopatra's audacious pride as well as
Cleopatra's power to charm. I cannot wonder that Lavendale adores her."

He told his friend that he need not be uneasy about his divinity. "So
far as seeming can show, her ladyship is happy," he wrote, "and has
forgotten her disappointed love. There is no such chameleon as a woman
of fashion. I left her a heart-broken Ariadne. I find her as gay as
Lady Lurewell. Ah, my dear Jack, would thou couldst transfer those warm
affections of thine to some honourable object, and that I might see thee
as happy as I am in my love for Irene!"

There was some comfort for Lavendale in this letter, or at least the
assurance that Judith had neither abandoned herself to despair nor was
the victim of open tyranny on the part of Mr. Topsparkle. A jealous
husband must needs suppress all rancorous feeling in a house full of
company, and surrounded by a circle of brilliant friends, Judith would
be all-powerful to resist marital oppression, were the gentleman
disposed to be cruel. Lavendale argued that if Topsparkle meant mischief
he would have secluded his wife altogether from that great world in
which she possessed so much influence. He would have carried her off to
the Continent, to some baronial castle in Germany, or to his Venetian
palace, where she would hear nothing by day or night except the lapping
of the water against the stones or the monotonous song of the gondolier.
That she was still in the public eye, still the cynosure of such men as
Bolingbroke and Swift, argued that her liberty was in no peril, her
life subjugated by no vindictive tyranny.

This was well; but was it well that she could live and be gay without
him, that she could surrender the sweet dream they had dreamt, and
recover all her old air of happiness, while for him life was so dull a
burden, and time one long agony of regret? Was it well that some women
should be such light and buoyant creatures, while others break their
hearts so easily?

"She was born so," he said to himself; "a beautiful radiant apparition,
perfection from top to toe, except for the want of a heart. That organ
was omitted in her composition." He tried to distract himself from all
such bitter fancies in the laboratory, where Vincenti was delighted to
have him for pupil and assistant. Lavendale went to work with new
earnestness, and had the air of an adept rather than of a neophyte
merely flirting with science.

Vincenti had recovered from that short sharp touch of fever, which had
been but the perturbation of the overworked brain acting upon a fragile
body. A few days and nights of rest, so complete as to seem almost
suspension of being, had exercised a revivifying effect, and the student
looked and moved and spoke with such a renewal of energy that he might
fairly be said to appear ten years younger than before his illness.

"I told you that I was on the threshold of success," he said, when
Lavendale remarked the change in him; "from the prolongation of life in
easy stages by a few years gained now and then, to the prolongation of
life into infinity, which shall make the adept immortal, is but a
natural sequence; but the day will come when chemistry and Hawksbee's
electric machine will abolish death. What is death but the going out of
a light? and if we can so contrive that the light shall burn for ever--"

"O, horrible contingency, most hideous possibility!" exclaimed
Lavendale. "A world peopled with Wandering Jews--a population of
Barbarossas, with minds worn to one dull level in the dismal experiences
of centuries; with memories over-charged, hearts dead to all warm
affection. If science can bring about such a universe, science must be
an emanation of the devil."

"When you are as old as I am, and the king of terrors is standing at
your shoulder, you may be glad of a weapon with which to strike him
off," said Vincenti.

"I shall not live to be old, friend. My doom is fixed."

"Why do you say that?"

"A dream--a fancy."

"Trust to neither dream nor fancy. Let me cast your nativity. You have
often refused me--for what reason I know not."

"For a very simple one. I have always had a conviction that I was not
born to be fortunate or happy; and evil fortune comes with so sure and
swift a foot that he would be a fool who would add the needless agony of
expectation to the inevitable doom."

"But since you have brooded over a dream, a mere disturbance of the
brain, it were better to consult the stars."

"No, Vincenti. For myself I will seek no further knowledge. 'Tu ne
quæsieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi, finem Di dederint.' But in
this house you may easily discover the hour of my birth, which you have
often asked me when we were abroad, and which I had forgotten. The old
family Bible is in the next room, and in that I know my father recorded
the date and hour of my advent here, as it had been the custom in his
family to record all such events, however insignificant in their
influence upon the world. If you choose to satisfy your own curiosity--"

"To satisfy my own keen interest in your welfare, you should say, my
lord," replied the Italian eagerly. "Yes, if the day and hour are there
correctly entered, I will cast your nativity."

"Do so, but breathe not a word to me of the result; I would not be wiser
than I am."

"I will be dumb."

"The Bible is with other folios in the lowest shelf on the right hand of
the fireplace."

"I will find it."

No more was said upon the subject, but although Lavendale had sternly
forbidden the student to tell him the result of his calculations, the
matter haunted him for a long time after their discussion. He looked
next day to see if the dust which lay thick upon the top of the folio
Bible had been stirred, and he saw that the book had been removed and
replaced again. It was altered in position, and set further back in the
bookcase than it had been the day before.

After this he found himself wondering when and where Vincenti would
trace his horoscope, but for several nights afterwards they were both
engaged till daybreak in the progress of experiments which needed much
time and patience. It did not seem as if Vincenti were eager for an
opportunity to question the stars upon his patron's fate, and Lavendale
was inclined to think that the desire to do so had faded out of his
mind.

For his own part he was determined to seek no further revelation than
that which had been vouchsafed to him, and in which he firmly believed.
From his mother's gentle spirit, and from that source alone, would he
accept the prophecy of his doom.

"To rejoin her, to be at peace with her, to begin a new life at her
knees, to be a little child again, melted to tears at her voice, soothed
by the touch of her hand," he thought, "that were indeed to be in
heaven. My mind can conceive no higher paradise. I am not attuned to the
company of angels and archangels, but I could be superlatively happy in
the companionship of a purified being whom I knew and adored on earth,
and whose unfading presence would in itself constitute my heaven."

One night when their experiments had been more than usually successful,
and Vincenti expanded from his customary reserve, he spoke upon a
subject to which he but rarely alluded. That subject was one of which
Lavendale was keenly anxious to know more--the experimentalist's past
life.

The old man had been speaking of a successful experiment made forty
years ago at Venice.

"How near I seemed to the realisation of my boldest dreams at that
time!" he exclaimed, in a trance of memory; "what mighty mysteries, what
potent secrets seemed within my grasp! yet forty years have gone since
then, and my progress has been by infinitesimal stages! And yet it is
progress. I can look back and count the milestones on the road--only it
is a long road, Lavendale, a long road!"

There was a silence. Vincenti was deep in thought. Lavendale forbore
from any word which could stem the current of memory, for he saw that it
was running in the direction of that period in the experimentalist's
history about which he was keenly curious--the period of his
acquaintance with Vyvyan Topsparkle.

"I had a pupil, too, in those days," he said, "an assistant who was far
beyond you in skill, for he had been educated as a chemist; but O, what
a villain, what a consummate traitor and scoundrel! How I loved that
man, loved him as the incarnation of my own knowledge! I had trained
him, I had illumined that quick receptive mind, which was all darkness
till I opened the book of occult knowledge before his startled eyes! He
had trodden only in beaten tracks, along the level roads of earth, till
then. I took him out upon the mountain-tops of science! I set him face
to face with the stars! And he repaid me! Great Ruler of the universe,
Thou knowest how that devil turned and rent me!"

"He was the man I have most cause to hate--Vyvyan Topsparkle!" Lavendale
cried eagerly, forgetful of everything in his eager curiosity.

"Topsparkle! what do you know of Topsparkle? Ah, I remember. He stole
your betrothed."

"No, friend. He did not steal, he bought her," said Lavendale bitterly.
"Women of fashion are not stolen. They have their price like other
marketable goods; their fathers and mothers are the hucksters. But this
pupil of yours--was he not Vyvyan Topsparkle? He has the air of a man
who has dabbled in magic."

"Vyvyan Topsparkle never passed the threshold of my laboratory. The man
I speak of was his servant and tool, and a darker villain than himself,
surpassing him in all things, in cleverness and craft and unscrupulous
wickedness. Satan himself, not any other devil in hell, could surpass
_him_."

"Do you mean his _âme damnée_, his valet and familiar, Fétis?"

"Yes, Fétis; a man of extraordinary capacity, a man who might have
excelled as a scientific chemist had he been less infamous in character,
a man of unbounded talent, who has perverted every gift to the basest
uses. I was at once his master and his dupe."

"Tell me all you know of him, and let me help you to your revenge if he
ever wronged you," said Lavendale eagerly. "I had good reason for hating
the master, but I had no prejudice against the valet; and yet, from the
moment I first saw him in a London chocolate-house to the last time he
passed me in Topsparkle's hall in Soho Square, I have recoiled
instinctively from that sleek waxen-faced Frenchman, as from some
noisome vermin, whose worst propensities I only guessed at. I loathe him
as I loathe a rat, without knowing why. If he has committed any crime in
the past which can be brought home to him in the present let me help to
bring about retribution."

"There are crimes not easy to prove. I _know_ him to be the vilest of
men, the subtle go-between, the corrupter of innocence. I believe him to
have been a secret poisoner."

"You think he was concerned in the death of Topsparkle's Italian
mistress?"

"I believe him to have been her murderer. He is by far the bolder
villain. His master's self-love would have stopped at murder. He would
not have risked the gallows even in the white heat of jealousy. He might
suggest a crime, but would hardly be bold enough to execute it."

"Tell me all you suspect, and your grounds for suspicion," urged
Lavendale; "you know that you can trust me--you know I am your friend."

"The only friend I have had for more than forty years," answered the old
man, with a look of extreme tenderness, as if all of humanity that
remained in him spoke in those few words. "Yes, you were a friend to old
age, and sickness, and poverty, three things which the selfish worldling
hates. You, the man of pleasure, turned out of your pathway to succour
helplessness, burdened yourself with the fate of a stranger, lengthened
out the days which were so nearly done, renewed the almost expiring
flame. I owe you all I am and all I hope to be. My success, if it ever
come, will be your work."

"Trust me, then; hide nothing from me of that past life of yours with
which Vyvyan Topsparkle was associated. You can do me no greater service
than to help me to the comprehension of that man's character. I thirst
for the knowledge. It can do me no good, perhaps. What can I do to save
my love from the master to whom she is sold in bondage? That tie cannot
be broken, save by her ruin and disgrace! She must wear her golden
fetters to the end. But I want to know--I want to know."

He was speaking in broken sentences, full of passionate excitement,
pacing backwards and forwards across the empty space in front of the
furnaces. The high wide windows were luminous with the first faint glow
of dawn. In that clear light both faces looked wan and haggard; but the
face of the pupil was touched with indications of decay which showed not
in the wrinkled visage of the master. The face of the young man told of
life that had been wasted, health and vigour for ever gone. The face of
the old man told only of time and labour, a parchment mask, lighted by
the flame of hope and expectancy, keen, intent, watchful.

"I will trust you fully," answered Vincenti, after a long pause. "I have
always intended to perpetuate my knowledge of that man's infamy, and of
his instrument in baseness, Louis Fétis. If I have trifled with my
purpose it has been that I have sacrificed all earthly thoughts to the
hope of the discoverer--merged all individual griefs in the anxiety of
the searcher after truth. And then I had been told that Topsparkle was
in a monastery, doing penance for his wicked life--anticipating Divine
Judgment by the scourge and the hair-shirt--and I could afford to let my
revenge sleep. But your description of his renewed youth, his insolence
of wealth and splendour, his triumph in the possession of a handsome
wife and the flattery of the town, was too much for my patience. Yes,
that roused the sleeping lion. I have thought of him much since that
night--I have thought of her who loved and trusted him."

"She was of your own blood!" exclaimed Lavendale; "I guessed as much
even that night when you first spoke of her. You would have scarcely
felt a stranger's wrong so keenly."

"You were right. She was my granddaughter, my only son's only
daughter--the crystallisation of many generations which had been slowly
dwindling to a point. She came of one of the good old families of
Venice, a race as old as the Medicis, and more honourable, for it was
unstained by treachery or crime. Shortly after her father's death, when
the memory of that double murder was still fresh in my mind, when grief
was still at its keenest period, I wrote out a record of the wicked
story, which you shall read."

"At once?"

"Yes, there is no occasion for delay. The paper is in yonder chest, and
I can easily find it for you. Read it, and imprint every word upon your
memory, and then bring me back the manuscript. I have not yet made up my
mind as to its ultimate destination. Vyvyan Topsparkle's guilt is beyond
the reach of the law, but I may at least unmask him."

"True," said Lavendale, "the publication of that story would brand him
with infamy, and all but the very lowest class of fawners and sycophants
must needs fall away from him. But to revive that half-forgotten
slander would be to degrade Lady Judith. As matters now stand she can at
least enjoy the price for which she was bought: splendour, luxury,
modish society, the consideration of the great world. Take from her
those advantages, and she were indeed desolate."

"You blow hot and cold," said Vincenti. "A little while ago you were
eager to be revenged upon the man who stole your sweetheart."

"Yes, if I could strike him without injuring her; but reflection tells
me that I cannot. Her position as a fine lady is her most vulnerable
point. To degrade him were to abase her. But pray let me have your
manuscript. I will restore it in an hour, unless it is much longer than
I suppose."

"No; it is not a long story," answered Vincenti, going over to an old
oak chest which he had filled with books and papers.

The manuscript was in an iron strong-box at the bottom of the chest.
Vincenti had to remove a heap of papers before he arrived at the box,
which he unlocked with a key that hung on his watch-chain. The
manuscript consisted of about half a quire of letter-paper, closely
covered with a small regular penmanship, the ink paled by the passage of
years.

"That record was written forty years ago," said Vincenti, as he gave it
to Lord Lavendale.

"And you were then old enough to have a grown-up granddaughter," said
Lavendale, curious about a subject upon which he had never dared
directly to question his friend.

"I was then seventy years of age. You see that however imperfect my
knowledge may be, I have at least learnt the secret of prolonging life
beyond its ordinary limits."

"You are a wonderful man."

"I have not wasted vital power upon the follies men call pleasure,"
replied Vincenti calmly, as he went back to his alembic, and
concentrated his attention upon the process in hand.

It was in some wise a relief, in some wise a disappointment to the
disciple, to discover the exact measure of the master's existence. He
had half expected to be told of a life stretching backward into the
darkness of past centuries, an existence that had begun in the age of
the earlier experimentalists, while chemistry was still in its infancy;
a memory which could recall the living presence of Albertus Magnus or
Nicolas Flamel. The years which Vincenti claimed to have lived were
beyond the common limit, but were not more than a man of exceptional
vigour and exceptional temperance might contrive to enjoy upon this
planet, spinning out his thread of life by the careful avoidance of
every perilous influence. There was nothing necessarily supernatural in
the fact that Vincenti had reached his hundred and tenth year, and had
but the appearance of seventy-five.



CHAPTER XII.

"BY FOREIGN HANDS THY DYING EYES WERE CLOSED."


Alone in his library Lavendale devoured the contents of the manuscript.
It was written in Italian, a language he knew perfectly, and in which he
often conversed with the adept.

"In the year 1686, being the year before last, I, Nicolino Vincenti,
goldsmith, lived at Venice, on the Grand Canal, with my only son Filippo
Vincenti, and his only child and most beloved daughter Margharita, a
girl of remarkable beauty and as remarkable talent; I may say that she
was born with the gift of music, since she gave token of musical genius
at so early an age that it seemed rather a reminiscence of the heavenly
spheres than knowledge acquired upon earth. She had been educated at a
convent, where her gifts had been highly cultivated. She sang better
than La Boverina, who was then prima donna at the Venetian Opera House,
and she played the harpsichord with exquisite taste. It was her father's
delight to hear her play and sing, his pride and pleasure to watch her
growing beauty; and had he been in independent circumstances he would
have given his whole life to her companionship; but he had his business
as goldsmith and jeweller, upon which he was dependent for the means of
life. He had saved a little money, just enough to secure him from an old
age of penury; but he was not rich, and never hoped to be rich. He was
too much of an artist, too much above the average tradesman in intellect
and refinement, ever to make a fortune. He had not the mercantile bent
of mind.

"At this time I, Nicolino Vincenti, after practising the goldsmith's
craft during the earlier years of manhood, and learning many secrets
concerning the properties of precious metals and their meaner alloys,
had withdrawn myself altogether from that craft, and devoted all my
energies and all my means to experimental chemistry. I had a spacious
laboratory upon an upper floor over my son's shop and dwelling-house;
and here I spent almost the whole of my time, having a pallet in a
corner where I lay after late watchings, rather than disturb the
sleeping household by descending to my bedchamber on the lower floor.
Gradually as the years went on I came to live almost entirely in my
laboratory, which I only left for an occasional stroll in the twilit
streets, or at the importunity of my granddaughter, who would sometimes
insist upon my spending an hour in the family sitting-room.

"The all-absorbing researches upon which I had now entered had gradually
drifted me away from family life, and almost from natural human interest
in my kindred or my fellow-men. I tried to resist the current, and was
sometimes horrified at the thought that my heart was gradually hardening
itself against those whom I had once loved; but it was in vain that I
struggled against the magnetic attraction of the science which absorbed
all my hopes and dreams and thoughts. There came a time when my son's
voice had a far-away sound, even when he was close at my elbow talking
earnestly to me, and when my granddaughter's lovely face was seen dimly
like a face in a dream.

"There was but little sympathy between my son and me. He was an artist,
a craftsman, whose genius lay in his fingers rather than in his brain.
He had no leaning to abstract science, none of the eager curiosity of
the discoverer. He was active and energetic, and wanted quick results;
was ambitious, but with an ambition which to me seemed narrow and petty.
He wanted to excel in the creation of beautiful objects, like Benvenuto
Cellini--to be remembered as the maker of drinking-cups and monstrances.
But though there was little resemblance in our tastes, there had been
much affection between us as father and son, and I had mourned with him
when he lost his young wife shortly after the birth of their only child.
That child seemed to me the concentrated expression of all the best
attributes in a highly-gifted and vanishing race. I could trace every
quality and characteristic of her mind and nature to their source in the
characters of her ancestry. I found in her all which her father
lacked--an ardent sympathy with me in my loftiest aspirations, a
yearning for knowledge beyond the narrow boundaries of common life, a
profound belief in the supernatural. I would have given much to be
allowed to train her, to make her the confidante and assistant of my
labours, as Flamel's wife was to him; but Filippo was narrow-minded and
priest-ridden, and he had a pious horror of my laboratory, and of
experiments which his ignorance condemned as diabolical.

"Thus deprived of the one sympathiser whose society I should have
cherished, my life grew daily more and more apart from that of
surrounding humanity, and, absorbing as were the hopes and dreams that
led me on from link to link in the chain of occult knowledge, there were
yet times when I felt my isolation, and when the silence and gloom of my
laboratory weighed heavily upon me.

"It was in vain that I sought relief in the society of the family
sitting-room. The air of every-day life oppressed me even worse than the
sense of isolation--or I may say that I felt my isolation most keenly
when I was among my fellow-men. What I yearned for was not company, but
sympathy. The companionship of those who had nothing in common with my
pursuits only fatigued and irritated me.

"My one pleasure in the household room was Margharita's singing or
playing. There were quaint old sixteenth-century melodies which soothed
me with an almost magical power. I have sat in the twilight listening to
her with tears streaming down my cheeks. Her voice thrilled and yet
calmed my troubled brain.

"My evening walks had but one motive, health. I had long made that a
consideration, even when my studies were most enthralling; for I knew
that the only way to long life was to husband the oil in the lamp. Every
evening, in good or bad weather, I walked about the streets and quays of
Venice, and generally ended my promenade by taking a cup of coffee at a
respectable resort, where I heard all the news of the city and of the
external world. It was not because I was interested in the world outside
my laboratory that I listened keenly to the gossip of worldlings, but I
was always on the watch for any new discovery or invention that might
have some bearing on my pursuits. Science has many branches curiously
interwoven, and the scientific world was at this period peculiarly
active. I listened to discussions upon all the new facts and new
theories which were upon men's tongues in those days--listened while
ignorance dogmatised and folly argued, and religiously held my peace. I
had no wish to be known as a disputant or an experimentalist. Scarcely
half a dozen people in Venice knew of the existence of my laboratory.
The Venetians are fonder of pleasure than of science--a gay and idle
people, spending their nights in casinos, dividing their energies
between the fever of high play and the excitement of secret intrigues;
not a people to watch the progress of discovery with any profound
interest. They gossiped about Newton and Descartes just in as light a
tone as they discussed the last European war or the last revolt in
Turkey.

"One evening the conversation was about an English millionaire who had
hired a palace on the Canal Reggio, and whose wealth and splendour were
the talk of the city. He was young, handsome, elegant, an accomplished
musician, and a great linguist. He travelled with a secretary and twenty
servants of different nationalities, and had engaged half a dozen
gondoliers, and as many more miscellaneous attendants, in the city. One
of the gossips whispered that, not content with the palace where he
lived in an almost royal state and before the public eye, and where he
received all the nobility of Venice, the Englishman had imitated our
native manners so far as to engage a small suite of apartments in a
quiet nook behind the Piazza, so hidden from the public eye that as yet
even gossip had not been able to identify the exact position of this
secret haven. Rumour asserted that there were days and nights when Mr.
Topsparkle disappeared altogether from his palace, and was yet known not
to have left the city. These mysterious disappearances might be easily
accounted for in Venice, where it is a common thing for a wealthy
profligate to provide himself with a secondary and secret establishment
whose whereabouts is known only to the initiated.

"I had no interest in hearing of the rich Mr. Topsparkle, and listened
with the utmost indifference to those minuter details of his life which
the company at the coffee-house discussed with a keen relish, merely
because this young man happened to be inordinately rich.

"It was not long after the advent of Mr. Topsparkle, and while the
stories about his excellent manners and his worse than doubtful morals
were still on every lip, that I met a young Frenchman at the
coffee-house, whose conversation, addressed to a person at the next
table, at once interested me.

"They were talking of the latest discovery in chemistry, which had been
made at Munich by the great Johann Becher; and by the Frenchman's
conversation I gathered that he was a good practical chemist, and had an
intelligence which went far beyond his actual knowledge. He was just the
order of neophyte to interest a worker who longs for some younger mind
with which to share his developing ideas. Almost for the first time
since I had frequented the coffee-house I joined unasked in the
conversation of two strangers. I ventured to correct an assertion of the
Frenchman's, and he received my correction with a modesty that delighted
me. I enlarged upon the subject, and his interest was so much engaged
that he walked with me to my door, listening respectfully to all I could
tell him.

"We met again and again. The Frenchman told me that he had been
educated as a chemist and apothecary, but, disliking the beaten tracks
of medicine, had given up his profession, and was now maintaining
himself by his attendance as secretary upon a travelling gentleman. I
was so interested in the young man himself and his aspirations that I
was entirely unconcerned as to his employer, and it certainly never
occurred to me that he could be in the service of the rich Mr.
Topsparkle.

"I asked my new friend his name. 'Louis,' he told me. 'What, Louis
only--no surname?'

"He shrugged his shoulders. 'A waif, sir,' he said; 'there are many such
in Paris.'

"I was content to accept him as a waif, and to know him only as Louis.

"After meeting him about a dozen times, I invited him to my laboratory,
first exacting from him a promise that he should tell no one in Venice
of anything that he saw there, or indeed of the existence of such a
chamber under my son's roof.

"He came upon many evenings, and sometimes worked with me till daybreak.
I was disappointed on finding that his chief interest was in the lower
branches of chemistry--that his ardour for great discoveries was less
than my own. He took an ardent delight in the more curious kinds of
drugs, whether of a curative or a poisonous nature. He was keenly
interested in the secrets of Don Antonio Medici, whose skill in poisons
was famous in the early part of the century; and he pored with delight
over the records of execution by poison as ordered by the Council of
Ten; and in the experiences of Brother John of Ragusa, who suggested to
the Tribunal various admirable methods of mysteriously causing death. He
had strange theories about the poisons and medicines of the ancient
world and of the Middle Ages, and asked my permission to experiment with
certain vegetable and mineral poisons upon stray curs and rabbits which
he brought secretly to my laboratory. I think it was his callousness to
the pain of these animals which first gave me a feeling of revulsion
against him.

"One evening, when he left me rather earlier than usual, the door of the
family sitting-room was open as I conducted him down-stairs, and he was
surprised at the beauty of my granddaughter's voice. She was seated at
her harpsichord, singing an _Agnus Dei_, and he could see her in the
lamplight as we passed the door. He pretended to be enraptured by her
singing, but was discreet enough to make no remark upon her beauty,
which was very striking as she sat with uplifted countenance, her face
radiant in the lamplight, her soul looking out of her eyes in a
religious ecstasy.

"A week passed after this, in which I saw Louis only on two evenings,
during both of which he occupied himself chiefly in his study of
toxicology. On one occasion, when I had been particularly disgusted by
the tortures he had inflicted upon a helpless cur which he had captured
in his evening walk, and upon which he had been trying the effect of
small doses of aconite, I taxed him with the brutality and uselessness
of his experiments.

"'I grant that the taste is somewhat morbid,' he said; 'but since I have
been in Italy I have been studying the history of your Borgias and your
Medicis, and I have a philosophical pleasure in imagining their ideas
and realising their excitement in little. I can imagine now that this
stray cur is a powerful enemy whose life I am slowly sapping. I can
feel as your Italian Catherine, our Queen-mother, felt when her son's
frail body wasted slowly under her diabolical arts, to make way for that
other son whom she loved so much better.'

"'Such a woman was incapable of love!' I exclaimed; 'she was made up of
policy and self-interest, and if she preferred Henry to Charles it was
because she thought she could more easily govern France with Henry for
her mouthpiece.'

"I was disgusted and angry. The pupil from whom I had hoped much had
turned aside from the lofty heights of science to flirt with futilities,
to dabble with the petty arts of the barber and the charlatan, the
seller of poisoned gloves and poisoned handkerchiefs.

"'It was a pity you did not live in Catherine's time,' I said to him
once; 'you would have rivalled Cosme Ruggieri in her favour, and would
have made a handsome fortune.'

"'I fear I shall never grow rich by the transmutation of metals,' he
answered.

"After this he worked no more at toxicology, and seemed to resume his
interest in my own particular studies. He was a man of remarkable
intelligence, and had a specious art of appearing interested, which won
my affection and sympathy. I know now that he was an infidel in science
as in everything else, and that he only used my laboratory and my
knowledge as a means of perfecting himself in the art of secret murder.
Whether he studied poisons with the deliberate intent to use them at the
first profitable occasion, or whether his dark soul delighted in the
power to do evil, without the actual intention of crime, I know not; but
I know that before he left my laboratory he had acquired by reading and
experiment the most minute knowledge of poisons, and their effects and
evidences.

"About a week after that evening upon which Louis had seen my
granddaughter at her harpsichord, my son told me with an air of triumph
that the rich Mr. Topsparkle, the wealthiest Englishman who had ever
visited Venice, had been to his shop, had looked at various examples of
his workmanship, and had ordered a covered cup in parcel-gilt, set with
agate and lapis-lazuli, after the manner of Cellini. My son took an
artist's delight in the commission, and was almost indifferent to the
profit which would be derived from his labour.

"'He is quite a young man,' he told me, 'but he has a wonderful
knowledge of the fine arts. I believe he knows every masterpiece of
Cellini's; for while we were discussing the form of the cup which I am
to make for him he drew at least twenty different forms of cups and
covers, all after Cellini, with the most careless pencil. He is an
excellent draughtsman, but music, he tells me, is his chief passion.'

"A week later I was told that Mr. Topsparkle, having called to see the
progress of his cup, had heard Margharita singing, and had asked to be
introduced to the songstress. He had stayed for an hour listening to
her, ravished by her talent.

"Had I been a man of the world I should at once have taken alarm,
remembering what I had heard in the coffee-house as to the Englishman's
character. But I was too completely absorbed in my own studies to be on
the alert for any danger that did not menace the secrets of my
laboratory. I heard what had happened without being impressed by it.

"After this Mr. Topsparkle was a frequent visitor to my son's
sitting-room, but as he never saw my granddaughter alone the most
careful father would scarcely conceive the possibility of danger.

"So insidious were the approaches of the seducer, so completely was the
father hoodwinked, that the first indication of danger was the fall of a
thunderbolt. One evening in late autumn, between sunset and darkness,
Margharita disappeared. No one saw her leave the house, but she was
gone; and as she never went out alone, but was always escorted by an old
servant who had been her mother's nurse as well as her own, her absence
created immediate alarm.

"My son was like a man distracted. He searched every public resort, went
over the whole city on foot or in a gondola, visited his few friends,
hunted every likely and unlikely place for some trace of his lost
daughter, but found none. He came to me at ten o'clock in my laboratory,
to ask my advice. He was half dead with fatigue, broken down with the
agony of apprehension.

"The greatness of this calamity startled me into an awakened interest
in the outer life around me. My sympathy with my son in his distress
roused my reason to new action.

"'It must mean one of three things,' I told him: 'accident, suicide, or
flight with a lover.'

"'What accident is possible? She could not have fallen out of a window
or into the canal without our knowing all about it. Suicide is
impossible. Lover she had none.'

"'Are you sure of that?'

"'She was never out of my sight. We have had no visitors--except the
Englishman who came to hear her singing.'

"'Then the Englishman is the lover,' I said; and the thought flashed
upon me with the force of conviction, 'it is the Englishman who has
carried her off.'

"My unhappy son sprang to his feet in a paroxysm of despair.

"'It was I that brought him to her room. I was proud of his admiration
of her genius,' he cried; 'I was fooled by his patronage, his art, his
liberality, his specious tongue. But her lover--no, that is impossible.
There was no opportunity for love-making. I was always there. The
English signor was distant in his politeness; he respected her station
and his own. He could not be her lover; I say it is impossible.'

"'Anything is possible to the practised seducer. It is to that man you
must look for your daughter's fate.'

"'I will go to his house this instant,' said Filippo.

"'I will go with you.' And then recalling what I had heard at the
coffee-house, I said, 'There are two houses which we have to search--the
palace on the Canal Reggio, and that secret apartment which I have only
heard of from people who knew not the locality. But if there is such an
apartment, the scene of secret orgies, hidden infamies, it is for us to
find it.'

"We went together, father and son, to the Canal Reggio. It was as I
expected. Mr. Topsparkle was denied to us. He had left Venice early in
the afternoon, his porter told us, and had gone in his gondola to one of
the islands. The porter did not know to which island.

"We forced an entrance into the hall and adjoining rooms. The servants,
who were mostly English, gave way before us, and I believe took us for
members of the Venetian police upon an official visitation. They at
first were inclined to remonstrate, but finally allowed us to go freely
from room to room.

"We went through several reception-rooms, all lighted, all empty, and at
the end of the suite came to a small doorway curtained with tapestry.

"My son flung back the curtain, and looking across his shoulder into the
room I saw my neophyte Louis, sitting before a writing-desk, in the
light of a powerful lamp. He started up and faced us with a scared look.

"'Scoundrel!' I cried, ''twas you who sent your master in quest of his
prey. You were my lord's jackal. Where is my granddaughter? Take me to
her without a moment's delay, or I will drag you to the tribunal to
answer for the seduction of a Venetian citizen's daughter.'

"I tried to seize him by the throat as I would have done any other dog;
but he evaded me, and would have slipped from the room by an inner
door, when my son clutched him by the lapel of his coat, and held him
there.

"'What do I know of your daughter, my good Vincenti,' he said lightly,
'except that she sings like a nightingale, and is one of the handsomest
women I have seen in Venice? Such a one would count her lovers by the
score. Why fix upon Mr. Topsparkle?'

"'There is no one else, and you know it,' I said; 'twas you who sent the
seducer to our house. He never came there till you had marked the
victim.'

"I then gave him his alternative: to take us straight to his master's
secret lodgings, and surprise him there with his victim, or to go with
us to the Venetian police. He refused to do either, and told us that the
police would laugh at a charge founded upon such slight grounds.

"'The authorities of this city know too much about my master to assail
him on such an accusation as yours,' said Fétis. He had his staff of
lacqueys at his elbow. Violence would have been useless; so we were
obliged to abandon the idea of taking this scoundrel to the
head-quarters of the police. But my son stayed in the hall of the
palace while I went to the chief of the police and gave him an account
of my granddaughter's disappearance, and my suspicions as to the man who
had lured her away.

"I saw at once, by the air with which he heard my complaint, that Mr.
Topsparkle had secured the good graces of our timeserving officials, and
that I should get no help here. I left the office choking with rage, and
wandered about Venice all night, penetrating into the obscurest alleys,
watching in doorways for the entrance and exit of mysterious visitors,
waiting below lighted windows, listening to the sounds of music and
singing, surprising more than one nocturnal orgy and secret rendezvous,
but finding no trace of my son's runaway daughter. I went back to the
house on the Reggio Canal in the early morning, and found Filippo
sitting in the hall. There had been no attempt to drive him out with
violence. The servants had laughed at his folly in waiting for their
master.

"There is no need to recall every detail of a futile search. For three
days and nights my son and I hunted Venice and the neighbouring islands
for traces of the missing girl and her seducer, and the first evidence
we came upon was the information of a gondolier who, on the evening of
Margharita's flight, had seen Mr. Topsparkle's gondola embark three
passengers on a small sailing vessel standing out at sea about a mile
from the city. The birds were fled while we were searching for their
nest in some secret corner of Venice.

"I went back to my laboratory after hearing this, and took out my
granddaughter's horoscope, which I had not looked at since her
childhood; I remembered only that the stars had foreboded evil. There
were the signs of sudden death in a foreign land; early untimely death.

"I showed my son the result of my calculations, made within an hour of
his daughter's birth; and I undertook, old as I was, to follow the
fugitives, if it were possible for human intelligence to track them. I
urged him to remain in Venice, to be on the spot to receive his lost
child should she return to her home, and also to be on the alert for any
evidence of Mr. Topsparkle's guilt which time might bring forth. I had
travelled much, he but little. It was agony to me to leave my
laboratory, to give up those researches which had daily become more
precious to me; but I blamed myself as the indirect cause of my
granddaughter's ruin, since it was I who had admitted the traitor Fétis
within our doors.

"My son was at first bent on going in pursuit of his daughter, but at
last ceded to my arguments, and was content to intrust the task to me.
Before starting on my difficult enterprise I tried to discover something
more as to the manner of my granddaughter's flight. By close inquiries
among our neighbours I found that on the evening of her disappearance
two men had been seen waiting about in our street, and that these same
men had been seen a little later walking quickly towards the canal with
a woman supported between them, almost as if they had been carrying her.
Each held her by an arm, my informant observed, and her feet seemed
scarcely to touch the ground. But the night was dark, and the three
passed so quickly in the darkness that my neighbour was conscious only
of something indefinitely strange in the bearing of the three; yet on
reflecting upon it after, he had been horrified at the idea that he
might have seen a corpse carried past in this manner, and might have
unconsciously witnessed the end of an assassination.

"I was now assured that my granddaughter had been carried away in a
fainting and helpless condition, and this idea was speedily confirmed by
a discovery which I made in the family sitting-room, where, lying
underneath the harpsichord, I found a handkerchief that had been steeped
in a solution of an Indian drug, the properties of which I had explained
and demonstrated to Fétis. It was a preparation which when smoked or
inhaled produces almost immediate giddiness and loss of consciousness; a
condition not lasting long, but certainly long enough to allow of the
subject being carried quickly for two or three hundred yards. I
remembered how minutely Fétis had questioned me about this drug, and how
keenly interested he had been in my experiments with it. He had himself
smoked a pipe filled with the drug in question, and had calculated the
average period of unconsciousness by his own experience.

"I had now no doubt that Margharita had been surprised by Fétis alone at
her harpsichord, and had been carried from the house in a state of
semi-unconsciousness. A gondola was doubtless ready to receive her at
the end of the court, where a flight of steps leads down to the canal.

"I went again to the palace on the Canal Reggio, and was informed that
Fétis had left Venice on the previous evening, with all the English
servants. The house had a dismantled air, and I was told that it was
left in charge of the old steward, who had lived for nearly half a
century in the service of the Venetian nobleman from whom Mr. Topsparkle
had purchased the property. Topsparkle was not expected to return to
Venice until the following autumn. He had gone to Paris, and would go
thence to London, where he had a house in a fashionable quarter.

"I followed him to Paris; and there I found him established near the
Court end of the town, where my granddaughter lived openly with him and
passed as his wife; but as the society in which they lived was the most
audaciously debauched in Paris--a circle of rakes, demi-reps, and
infidels, a society which surpassed in open iniquity the worst phases of
Venetian dissipation--the legality of the tie that bound Mr. Topsparkle
and his companion was not likely to be questioned. He was inordinately
rich, and scattered his money lavishly.

"I made my way into my granddaughter's apartment with considerable
difficulty, threatened and all but assaulted by the bodyguard of
lacqueys. I reproached her with her cruelty and treachery towards her
father and myself, and asked her if she was legally wedded to the man
who had carried her off.

"She answered me only with her tears, and we were interrupted by
Topsparkle before I could question her further. He drew his sword and
would have attacked me, but Margharita threw herself between us and
piteously entreated me to leave the house. She declared that she was
happy, that she was fondly beloved, that nothing could induce her to
abandon her lover. She had learnt the language of that infamous circle
in which she had wed, and impudently confessed her dishonour.

"'What bond could be more sacred than that which binds us?' she asked;
'a love that can end only with death. The same passion inspires us both,
the same tastes, the same pleasures. We live but for music and love.'
She flung herself weeping upon his breast.

"'You see, sir,' he said scornfully, 'she makes no complaint of me; and
she does not wish to go back to her father's shop.'

"This was said with infinite contempt, and with an insolent glance at
the profligate luxury of the apartment, a kind of Armida Palace
calculated to deprave the taste and enervate the mind of its occupants.

"'I am answered, sir,' I replied; 'I shall wait till my granddaughter
has awakened from this glittering dream, and has discovered what it is
for a woman to become--what you have done her the honour to make her.'

"I left the house, sick at heart. That glimpse of the ruined girl amidst
her garish splendour had pained me more than it would have done to find
her forsaken and destitute, for then I could have carried her back to
her father a true penitent. I felt, however, that the hour of repentance
must come, and I determined to wait for it.

"I was able to pursue my studies in Paris. I had taken a quiet lodging
in one of the smaller streets of the Marais, and I passed a great deal
of my time at the hospital, where I devoted my days to the study of
anatomy, while my evenings were mostly spent in the laboratory of an old
man with whom I had studied toxicology forty years before. He had been
one of the experts in the Brinvilliers case, and perhaps knew more about
the secret poisoners of Paris than any living man. My life under such
circumstances was full of interest and occupation; but I never let a day
pass without paying a visit to the street where Mr. Topsparkle had his
apartment. This was also in the Marais, and not ten minutes' walk from
my own obscure lodging.

"I heard the sounds of music and gaiety from those lighted windows night
after night, saw visitors enter, saw Margharita pass to her carriage or
her sedan-chair, saw all the indications of a life devoted to pleasure
and dissipation. One night I followed the chair to the Opera House, and
took my seat in the pit, from which I saw my granddaughter in her box,
blazing with diamonds, and one of the loveliest women in the house. My
neighbours pointed her out to each other, and talked of her as the rich
Englishman's mistress.

"'Is she not his wife?' I asked. My neighbour shrugged his shoulders,
and answered as a true Parisian cynic:

"'Wife or mistress is all the same nowadays, except that in some cases
the mistress is the more virtuous. Every fine gentleman's wife is some
other fine gentleman's mistress; but I believe there is here and there a
Miss who is faithful to her protector.'

"This kind of life continued for a little more than four months, and
then one morning I found Mr. Topsparkle's splendour melted like a fairy
palace and the apartment in the Marais to let. He had gone to London
with all his retinue, including Fétis, whom I had met several times in
the street and who had tried to make his peace with me. I had, however,
treated all his advances with contempt, and on but one occasion did I
stoop to speak to him. This was to accuse him of having carried
Margharita away under the influence of the Indian drug, the knowledge of
which he had obtained in my laboratory.

"'Do you think drugs were needed?' he asked sneeringly. 'You have seen
the lady. If she is a snared bird, you will admit that she is uncommonly
fond of her cage.'

"I followed the seducer to London, and found myself a cheap lodging in
an alley near St. Martin's Lane, from which den I went forth daily and
nightly to keep watch upon my granddaughter's life.

"She reigned to all appearances as sole mistress in the house in Soho
Square, but she did not appear in public with Mr. Topsparkle as
audaciously as she had appeared in Paris. She was called by his name,
but he introduced her nowhere as his wife; and she now seemed to give up
all her time to the cultivation of her musical talent, under the tuition
of famous masters who attended daily at the house in Soho Square.

"I found, as time went on, that there were some grounds for this
seclusion, as she was ere long to become a mother.

"Mr. Topsparkle himself was quite as dissipated in London as he had been
in Paris, and spent most of his nights at the chocolate-houses, or in
society of an even worse character than was to be found in those
resorts. Margharita's life at this period must have been sadly lonely.

"Months elapsed, and I heard one day that she was the mother of a baby
girl. I would have given much to have seen mother and child, but dared
not trust myself to approach her while she was still impenitent, lest I
should say hard things to her. I so hated her seducer that I could not
enter his house without the hazard of a quarrel which might end in
bloodshed. I contented myself, therefore with keeping my stealthy watch
upon my poor child's life, and obtaining as much knowledge as I could
through the servants.

"From them I heard that their lady was unhappy, and devoted to her
infant: but only a few days after receiving this information I saw the
child carried off one evening by a buxom countrywoman in a hackney
coach.

"My chief informant among the servants, an underling whom I had bribed
on several occasions, and who was always serviceable and obliging, told
me that the woman was a wet-nurse who was carrying the child to her home
in Buckinghamshire, where the infant was to be reared by this rustic
foster-mother, as my lady was too delicate to nurse her.

"This I took to be the beginning of sorrow for my deluded granddaughter,
and I felt that the time was now at hand when I might lead her back to
her duty; but at this very time I was attacked by a fever which laid me
up for over a month, and when I was again able to get about a change had
come over Margharita's life.

"She had a secret admirer, a young and handsome man, who haunted her
footsteps on those rare occasions when she took the air, and who had
paid clandestine visits to the house. It was my informant's opinion that
although she had openly repulsed this person's advances, and had on one
occasion ordered her servants to turn him out of her house, where he
pretended to have followed her under a mistake, supposing her to be a
lady of his acquaintance, she was yet secretly inclined to favour him.
Her waiting-woman had surprised her in tears on several occasions.

"Mr. Topsparkle had been often absent of late. He had been at Paris and
at Newmarket, leaving his mistress to the companionship of her shock dog
and her old Italian music-master. She had fretted for the loss of her
baby, whom she was not allowed to see, as Mr. Topsparkle hated
squallers.

"Apprehending the perils of this present position I forced my way into
the house one evening, and found my unhappy granddaughter alone in the
midst of her splendour, and as desolate a woman as I had ever looked
upon. I urged her to take advantage of Topsparkle's absence, and to
leave his house at once and for ever. We would start together next
morning, and not stop till she was safe beneath her father's roof. I
promised her that there should be not one word of reproach from him or
from me. The interval of her sin and her splendour should be forgotten
as if it were an ill dream.

"'I cannot forget that I am a mother, and that I have a child whom I
love,' she said. 'Those facts cannot be wiped out of my life like a blot
of ink off a fair white page. No, I cannot go backward.'

"'And you still adore your seducer; his love can still reconcile you to
your infamy?' I asked.

"She hung her head and melted into tears, tears which I believe were the
marks of a deep-rooted anguish. She was a being not made for dishonour,
and she felt in this moment that she was drifting into deeper shame.

"'You have ceased to love your paramour,' I said sternly.

"'He has ceased to be kind to me,' she faltered.

"'Come,' I said, 'it is time for you to leave him. Your life in this
house is beset with peril.'

"It was in vain that I urged her. I was by turns stern and gentle. I
promised all that love could offer, I threatened all that my experience
could foresee of evil in her present course.

"'You are on the high-road to an abandoned life,' I said; 'between you
and the most notorious courtesan in London or Paris there is but the
narrowest boundary-line, and so long as you remain in this house you
are in hourly danger of passing it. If your own inconstant heart do not
betray you, 'tis ten to one your first betrayer will tire of you and pay
off old scores by passing you on to his friend.'

"She fell on her knees at my feet in a flood of tears, entreated me to
give her time to think of the matter, and if she could find a way of
taking her child with her, she would perhaps go with me.

"'Tell me where your child is to be found, and I will look to that part
of the business,' I said; and then I discovered that she did not even
know the name of the town or village to which her baby had been taken.
She knew only that the nurse lived in Buckinghamshire.

"I left her at last, deeply moved--left her, full of anxiety as to her
fate. On the threshold of the house I met Fétis, who had his usual air
of triumphant malignity masked under a silken courtesy. It was the first
time he and I had met in London.

"He asked me where I lodged, how long I had been in town, and whether I
was still pursuing my scientific investigations. I told him I had other
investigations on my hands, even more absorbing than those of the
laboratory; I had my granddaughter's evil fortunes to guard from further
decline.

"'Do you call it evil fortune to be mistress of such a house as this?'
he asked, looking round him at the hall in which we were standing.

"'I call it infamy to be the mistress of your master, most of all, his
slighted mistress,' I answered.

"'O, fie, sir! we all call the lady his wife. She is known here only as
Mrs. Topsparkle.'

"'An empty honour, sir, which the more strongly indicates her dishonour.
Did you ever know Mr. Topsparkle introduce his lady to any decent woman,
to any persons of standing or repute? No, his only generosity is to
surround her with a sybarite luxury, to leave her in a gilded
desolation. You all know she is _not_ your master's wife, and that no
wife would consent to have her child carried off from her by a stranger
to a place of which she knows not the name.'

"'My master is a man accustomed to rule,' answered Fétis. 'We none of
us ever presume to thwart him.'

"I passed out of the house without another word, and waited day after
day for some sign from Margharita, to whom I had given the address of my
lodging; but none came. My illness had weakened me considerably, and I
was no longer able to loiter about within sight of Mr. Topsparkle's door
for an hour at a time; yet I dragged myself there every evening, and
generally contrived to got a word with my ally in the servants' hall.

"One evening at dusk I saw a young man of remarkably handsome appearance
leave Mr. Topsparkle's house, as I thought with a stealthy air, hurrying
away with anxious glances to right and left, and with the collar of his
cloak pulled up about his ears.

"Two days afterwards I saw in the _Flying Post_ that there had been a
passage of incivilities between the rich Mr. Topsparkle and young Mr.
Churchill, a brother of the famous Mrs. Arabella Churchill, the
favourite of the late King, a dispute which had nearly resulted in a
duel. I went at once to Soho Square, but was refused admittance. Mrs.
Topsparkle was dangerously ill, and her husband was in constant
attendance upon her.

"I asked to see Fétis, and, after waiting nearly an hour in the hall, he
came to me.

"In reply to my anxious questions he affected to make light of my
granddaughter's illness. 'A fit of the spleen,' he said, 'which Mr.
Topsparkle's tenderness has exaggerated into a serious malady. One of
the Court physicians is now with her.'

"I charged him with deceiving me. 'There has been a quarrel between your
master and that unhappy girl,' I said, 'and she is reduced to a state of
misery in which you will not allow me to see her.'

"'Quarrel! What should they quarrel about?' he asked, with his
unblushing air.

"The physician came down-stairs attended by a couple of lacqueys at this
moment, and I went to him at once and questioned him about his patient.
He looked astonished at my effrontery, and turned to Fétis for an
explanation.

"'I am a near relative of the patient, sir,' I said, 'and this old
heart will break if any ill befalls her.'

"'My good man, the lady is not seriously indisposed. She is but
suffering from a languor which is natural to a woman of quality after
the ordeal of maternity; and she is somewhat vapourish from the
seclusion of convalescence. If she follows my prescriptions implicitly
she will soon be restored to good spirits and full beauty.'

"'Then she is not in danger?' I asked.

"'I can perceive none at present. I have attended her Grace of Cleveland
for the same malady; and when the Duchess of Portsmouth returned to
France she insisted on carrying my prescriptions with her.'

"I had no confidence in an old twaddler of this order, whose gold-headed
cane and embroidered velvet suit were apparently his strongest
qualifications. I looked from him to Fétis, who, in spite of his silken
smoothness, had, I thought, a more anxious air than usual. He was very
pale, and his hollow eyes indicated a night of watching.

"'I will not leave this house until I have seen my granddaughter,' I
said, resuming my seat in the hall; whereupon Fétis whispered to the
physician, who presently approached me and informed me with a solemn air
that although Mrs. Topsparkle's bodily health was in no danger, her
spirits were much affected, and that the agitation of an interview with
a relative might throw her into a fever.

"Alas, I knew that my presence could not bring calmness to that wounded
spirit. Unless she had been well enough to get up and follow me out of
that accursed house a meeting between us could be of no avail. I had the
physician's word that she was in no danger; and though I put him down as
a pompous pretender I yet gave him credit for enough skill and enough
honesty to answer such a plain question as I had asked him. So I left
the house soon after the doctor, Fétis promising that if his lady were
in calmer spirits next day I should be allowed to see her.

"When I went to the house at noon next day she was a corpse. She had
gone off suddenly in a fit of hysterics soon after midnight, Mr.
Topsparkle and her waiting-woman being present. Mr. Topsparkle was shut
up in his room in an agony of grief, and would see no one.

"Had there been any medical man called in at the time of her death? I
asked. No, there had been no one. It was too sudden; but the physician
had been there this morning, and had endeavoured to explain the cause of
the death, which had taken him by surprise.

"I asked to see the dead; but this privilege was refused to me. I
inquired for Fétis, and was told he had gone out on business, and was
not expected back for some hours. The key of the room in which
Margharita was lying was in his possession. There were lights burning in
the room, but there was no one watching there. There had been no
religious ministrations. My granddaughter had perished as the companion
of an infidel, surrounded by infidels.

"I sat in the hall for some hours, despite the sneers and incivilities
of the servants, waiting for the return of Fétis; but he did not
reappear until I was worn out by agitation and fasting and the misery of
my position as the mark of insolence from overfed lackeys. I left the
house broken-hearted, and returned there next morning only in time to
see the coffin carried to the pompous hearse with its tall plumes and
velvet trappings and six Flanders horses. I followed on foot to a
graveyard in the neighbourhood, where my granddaughter was buried in a
soil crowded with the dead. Topsparkle was not present. He was too ill
to attend, I was told; and there were hootings and hissings from the
crowd as the funeral procession, with Fétis at its head, went back to
Soho Square.

"I followed him to the threshold of his master's house.

"'Do you know why the rabble hooted you?' I asked him, as we stood side
by side within the doors, which the porter shut quickly to keep out the
crowd.

"'Only because they are rabble, and hate their betters,' he answered.

"'They hooted you because a good many people in this neighbourhood
suspect that which I know for a certainty. They suspect you and your
master of having murdered that unhappy girl.'

"He called me an idiot and a liar; but I saw how his face, which had
been white to the lips as he passed through the crowd, now changed to a
still more ghastly hue.

"'O, you forget that it was I who armed your arsenal of murder. It was
in my laboratory you learnt all the arts of the old Italian
toxicologists--the poison, and the antidote, and the drug that
neutralises the antidote. You were laborious and persevering; you wanted
to master the whole science of secret murder. You had no definite views
of mischief then, only the thirst for evil, as Satan has, revelling in
sin for its own sake, courting iniquity; but you soon found a use for
your wicked power. First you snared your victim, and then you killed
her--you, the passionless hireling of a profligate master, the venal
slave and tool.'

"He made a sign to his underlings--the stalwart porter and three tall
footmen--and they came round me and thrust me out of the house, flung me
on to the pavement, helpless and exhausted. There was no constable
within call; the crowd had dispersed. I had nothing to do but crawl back
to my lodging, an impotent worm.

"Next day I was visited by a constable, who told me that I had narrowly
escaped being sent to gaol for an assault upon the confidential servant
of a gentleman of high position. He warned me of the danger of staying
any longer in the town, where I had already made myself an object of
suspicion as a foreign spy and a dangerous person.

"I knew something about the interior of London gaols, and had heard so
many melancholy stories of the tyranny exercised even upon poor debtors,
and how much more upon common felons, that I shuddered at the idea of
being clapped into prison and kept there indefinitely by the influence
of Mr. Topsparkle. I knew that there was no cell in our dungeons of
Venice worse than some of the dens where humanity was lodged in the
Fleet, and I knew what the power of wealth can do even in a country
which boasts of freedom and equal rights between man and man; so I did
not make light of the constable's counsel, but at all hazard to myself I
obtained an interview with the Italian consul, who was civil, but could
give me no help, and who smiled at suspicions for which I could allege
no reasonable ground. The fact that Fétis had made the art of secret
poison his especial study, to this gentleman's mind implied nothing
beyond a morbid taste.

"'You are yourself a toxicologist, sir,' he said, yet I take it you have
never poisoned anybody. Pray, what motive could Mr. Topsparkle or his
servant have had for making away with a lady who, as she was not a wife,
could have been easily provided for?'

"'Revenge. Mr. Topsparkle may have believed that she had been false to
him. It is known that he was jealous of her.'

"'And you would suspect a gentleman in Mr. Topsparkle's position, a
patron of art, a highly-accomplished person, and a man of society; you
would credit such a man with the murderous violence of an Othello.'

"I tried to convince this gentleman that my granddaughter had been
poisoned, and that it was his duty to help me to bring the crime to
light. I entreated him to use his influence with the magistrate and to
get an order for the exhumation of the body; but he thought me, or
pretended to think me, a lunatic, and he warned me that I had better
leave England without delay, as I had no obvious business or means of
subsistence in this country, where there was a strong prejudice against
our countrymen, who were usually taken for Jesuits and spies, a
prejudice which had been heightened by the popular dislike of the Queen
and her confessor.

"In spite of this advice, I remained in London some time longer, in the
hope of obtaining some proof against the wretch I suspected, although
the thought of my laboratory drew me to Venice. I questioned my friend
in Mr. Topsparkle's household, and bribed him to get what information he
could from his fellow-servants; but all I could hear from this source
was that Mrs. Topsparkle had been seized with a sudden indisposition
late one evening, that an apothecary, whom her waiting-woman called in
hurriedly from the neighbourhood, had been able to do nothing to relieve
her sufferings, and had been dismissed with contumely by Mr. Topsparkle,
who was angry with his lady's woman for having sent for such a person.
The sufferer took to her bed, never left it but for her coffin, and Mr.
Topsparkle remained in close attendance upon her until the hour of her
death.

"I found the apothecary in a shabby street near St. Giles's, and
discovered that he had a shrewd suspicion of poison, but was very
fearful of committing himself, especially in opposition to the Court
physician, who had given a certificate of death. And after many useless
efforts I went back to Venice, where I found my son a broken man. He
survived his daughter little more than a year.

"This is a truthful account of my granddaughter's elopement and death,
which I hope may some day assist in bringing her murderers to shame, if
it do not lead to their actual punishment. That she was poisoned by
Fétis, with the knowledge and consent of his master, I have never
doubted; but such a crime is difficult of proof where the criminal is at
once bold and crafty."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lavendale laid down the manuscript with the conviction that Vincenti's
suspicions were but too well founded. There was that in Topsparkle
himself which had ever inspired him with an instinctive aversion, while
in Fétis he recognised a still subtler scoundrel. He had heard enough of
Mr. Topsparkle's early history to know that he had been notorious for
his vices even among the openly vicious, and that such a man should
progress from vices to crimes seemed within the limits of probability.

And Judith, the woman Lavendale adored, was in the power of this man,
and by her insolent defiance, her attitude of open scorn, might at any
hour of her life provoke that evil nature beyond endurance. Hitherto she
had made the tyrant her slave; but his jealousy had been aroused, the
tiger had shown his claws, and who should say when jealousy might
culminate in murder?

"Poor giddy soul, she treats him lightly enough, and has hitherto been
mistress of the situation," thought Lavendale; "but she does not know
upon what a precipice she is treading. She does not know the man or his
true history. And in that house in Soho, where she queens it so gaily,
his victim died. There is the atmosphere of crime in the midst of all
that splendour. Would to God I could guard her from harm! I might have
saved her--might have carried her off to love and freedom--if I had had
a life to give her. But to lure her away on false pretences, to unite
her with a vanishing existence, to leave her desolate and dishonoured in
a foreign land! That were indeed cruel. And I know that the vision could
not deceive. I have accepted my doom."

He wrote to Durnford again, urging him to closer watchfulness.

"You have often told me that you love me, Herrick," he wrote; "you have
said that the sympathy between us, engendered of a curious likeness in
tastes and disposition, is almost as strong as that mysterious link
which unites twin brothers. Think of me now as your brother, and give me
all a brother's devotion. Be the guardian angel of her I dare not
guard."


END OF VOL. II.





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translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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