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Title: Mohawks, Volume 3 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 3 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. III.

    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. III.


     CHAP.                                                        PAGE

        I. "YOU CALLED ME, AND I CAME HOME TO YOUR HEART"            1

       II. "O, TO WHAT END, EXCEPT A JEALOUS ONE?"                  29

      III. "AND ALL YOUR HONOUR IN A WHISPER LOST"                  57

       IV. "SMITE HIS HARD HEART, AND SHAKE HIS REPTILE SOUL"       94

        V. "I'LL JOIN WITH THEE IN A MOST JUST REVENGE"            109

       VI. "WHEN SCREECH-OWLS CROAK UPON THE CHIMNEY-TOPS"         127

      VII. "THE SMILES OF NATURE AND THE CHARMS OF ART"            157

     VIII. "STILL THE PALE DEAD REVIVES, AND LIVES TO ME"          168

       IX. "THE DEVIL'S DEAD, THE FURIES NOW MAY LAUGH"            198

        X. "THE LITTLE HEARTS WHERE LIGHT-WINGED PASSION REIGNS"   227

       XI. "THERE IS ANOTHER AND A BETTER WORLD"                   250

      XII. "AND THE LAST PANG SHALL TEAR THEE FROM HIS HEART"      288



MOHAWKS



CHAPTER I.

"YOU CALLED ME, AND I CAME HOME TO YOUR HEART."


Another revolution of the social wheel. Summer was over, and Twickenham,
Richmond, Bath, and Tunbridge Wells were deserted for the new squares
and narrow streets between Soho and Hyde Park Corner. The theatres in
Drury Lane and Lincoln's Inn were open every night, the opera-house in
the Haymarket was crowded, and drums and assemblies, concerts and
quadrille-parties, filled the very air with excitement. 'Twas said the
young people were younger than they used to be, and all the old had
grown young. The new reign began in a blaze of gaiety; King and Queen,
flushed with the sense of power, delighted to occupy the first place
after having so long held the second rank; conscious, too, of a
handsome exchequer, and a clever minister who could change stones into
gold; at peace with other nations, and with leisure to enjoy themselves.

The King had only one objection to London, and that extended to the
whole of his British dominions. He would rather have been in Hanover. It
needed all her Majesty's subtlety, all Lady Suffolk's subservient
devotion, all Walpole's strenuous arguments, to keep him contented at
St. James's or Kensington, when his inclinations all pointed to the old
German home, and the old German ways of thinking and living.

Lady Judith Topsparkle was a favourite at the new Court. Her beauty and
vivacity made her conspicuous even where many other women were beautiful
and vivacious. She and Mary Hervey were sworn friends, and Lord Hervey
raved about her fine eyes and her sharp tongue. Lady Mary Montagu
praised her, and won her money at ombre, being by far the luckier
player. Lady Judith's afternoon card-parties, to which only women were
admitted, had become the rage. The house in Soho was thronged with
hoops and high heads, and although only ladies were allowed a seat at
any of the tables, the men soon forced an entrance, and assisted as
spectators, sometimes betting furiously on the progress of the game.

Mr. Topsparkle went in and out, shrugged his shoulders with his highly
Parisian shrug, and said very little. The play was supposed to be a
gentle feminine business, for very modest stakes. The sums that were
spoken of seemed almost contemptible for such fine ladies. But these
fair ones had a jargon of their own; they talked and counted in a
cipher, and the coins that changed hands in public were but symbols of
the debts that were to be paid in private next morning.

"I protest, Lady Judith, I owe you a crown," cried Lady Hervey.

"And I am Lady Polwhele's debtor for a guinea," said Lady Judith,
producing the coin from a toy purse; and next morning Juba carried a
letter lined with bank-notes from Lady Judith to the Dowager, while
Judith received a heartrending plea for grace from a chaplain's wife who
had lost half a year of her husband's stipend to her ladyship on a
previous afternoon.

Topsparkle called these assemblies the mysteries of the Bona Dea.

"And I'll warrant," said Bolingbroke, "there is always Clodius somewhere
in hiding among the hoops and powder, were there only a mother-in-law to
unearth him."

Durnford called occasionally in Soho Square to satisfy Lavendale, who
was now at his house in Bloomsbury, living in the seclusion of a hermit,
although the town with all its pleasures was at his elbow. He looked
very ill, and was the victim of an abiding melancholy which moved his
friend to deepest compassion. To oblige him, Durnford left his quiet
lodging by Russell Street, and took up his quarters in Bloomsbury
Square, where he had a whole suite of rooms to himself, and where he was
able to keep an eye upon his friend, whose condition filled him with
alarm.

He had somewhat agreeable business in hand just now in the production of
his play, which was to be brought out at Drury Lane by his Majesty's
company of comedians. Upon the success of this play his future and his
marriage in some wise depended, for the production of a successful
comedy would at once place him in the highest literary rank. The actors
were all sanguine of success, and were pleased at the idea of putting
forward a new man. Mr. Cibber declared that _An Old Story_ was the best
comedy that had been written since _The Conscious Lovers_.

"I wish poor Dick Steele were in health to applaud your play, Mr.
Durnford," said the manager. "He was ever generous to a young rival. He
would have made the reputation of Savage, had that wild youth been of a
less difficult temper. But, alas, Sir Richard is but a wreck, wheeled
about in a Bath-chair at his retreat in Shropshire, and with Death
walking at his elbow."

The play was a success. Mrs. Oldfield, the brilliant, the elegant Nancy
Oldfield, the most admired and indulged of her sex, who could violate
all the laws of decorum, and yet be received and courted in the politest
society, the finest comedy actress in that age of fine acting,
condescended to appear in Mr. Durnford's piece, and her performance of
a character of the Lady Betty Modish type, with Wilks as her lover,
ravished the town. She had more grace, more distinction, than any woman
of quality in London; she was the very quintessence of a fine lady,
concentrating in her own person all the airs and graces, caprices and
_minauderies_, of half a dozen fashionable coquettes, adopting a shrug
from one, a wave of the fan from another, a twirl of her hoop from a
third--bewitching and enchanting her audience, albeit her beauty had
long been on the wane, and she was well over forty. It was the last
comedy part she ever studied; and she would scarce have undertaken it
but for Mr. Durnford's reputation as a man of some slight fashion, and
the bosom friend of Lavendale.

Nor was Wilks, the famous Sir Harry Wildair, less admirable as a fine
gentleman than Mrs. Oldfield as a fine lady. A young man of good family
and liberal education, he had made his _début_ in Dublin the year after
the Revolution, and coming thence to London, he had quickly caught the
grace and dash of the bucks and bloods of that statelier period. As the
periwig shortened and manners relaxed, he had cultivated the more
careless style of the Hanoverian era, with all its butterfly graces and
audacious swagger. There was an insolent self-assurance in his
love-making which delighted the fine ladies of the period, with whom
modesty and reverence for womanhood were at a discount. Durnford knew
Wilks intimately as a boon companion and as an actor. He had taken the
exact measure of the veteran comedian's talents and capacities; and in
the middle-aged fop of quality had produced a character which promised
to become as popular as Wildair or Lord Townley.

All the town rushed to see _An Old Story_, and the patentees were eager
for future comedies from the same hand. A single comedy had made
Congreve independent for life; and with the success of his play Herrick
Durnford felt that his prosperity as a literary worker was assured. He
had tried his pen in the various departments of literature, and had been
successful in all. He had won for himself a certain standing in the
House of Commons, and had Walpole's promise of a place. In a word, he
was as well able to marry as Richard Steele was when he took unto
himself the wayward and capricious Mrs. Molly Scurlock, and he had all
Steele's pluck, and a good deal more than Steele's industry.

Now then he resolved upon a step which to the outer world would have
seemed desperate even to madness, a reckless throwing away of fortune.
He resolved upon carrying off the Squire's heiress, and marrying her
off-hand at the little chapel which Parson Keith had lately established
in Curzon Street. He had always had a Mayfair marriage in his mind as
the last revolt against tyranny, and he had reasons for deciding that
the time had come when that revolt should be made.

It rested with Irene to give or to withhold her consent to this strong
measure. He meant to use no undue persuasion. Freely must she come to
his arms, as he had told himself in the dawning of their love. He had
not set himself to steal her, but to win her.

When _An Old Story_ had run fifteen nights, and had been applauded and
approved by all the town, from their Majesties and the Court to the
misses in the side-boxes, the apprentices in the shilling gallery, and
the orange-girls in the pit, Herrick rode down to Lavendale Manor one
October morning, and contrived a meeting by the old oak fence in the
waning light between five and six o'clock in the evening. His
ever-willing Mercury had conveyed a note to Miss Bosworth, and she was
first at the trysting-place.

"My dearest, this is so good of you," said Herrick, as he clasped her to
his breast and kissed the shy, half-reluctant lips.

"'Twas selfish curiosity brought me," she answered. "I have been
expiring with anxiety to hear about your play. My father's newspapers
told me so little, though they told me 'twas the best comedy that had
been written for years; and it's so hard we cannot write to each other
freely. I have been pining for a letter."

"Dearest, the time is past for secret letters and stolen meetings. The
hour has struck for boldness and liberty--for open, happy, unassailable
love. Irene, you have told me more than once that you do not value
wealth."

"And I tell you so again," she answered.

"And that you would freely renounce a great fortune to be my wife, the
mistress of a modest unluxurious home, such as I am now able to
support."

"I think you know that I would be happier with you in a hovel than with
any other husband in a palace," she said, in a low sweet voice that
thrilled him, and with drooping eyelids, as if she were half ashamed at
the boldness of her confession.

"Then break your chains, Rena; fly with the lover who adores you; steal
away in the early dawn to-morrow; steal across the park with foot as
light and form as graceful as the young fawn's yonder. Meet me at the
wicket that opens on the road. I will have a carriage-and-four ready to
receive you. I'll whip you up in my arms and carry you off as Jove
carried Europa, and we shall be well over the first stage to London
before your gaolers discover their captive has escaped. I saw Parson
Keith last night; he will be ready to marry us at ten o'clock to-morrow
morning, and his ceremonial will be just as binding as if we were
married by an archbishop."

"But can I disobey my father, prove myself an ungrateful daughter?"
asked Irene, with a distressed air.

She had been woman enough to know that this crisis in her life must come
sooner or later; that love would not wait for ever. She had pondered
upon this crucial question in many an hour of solitude, and now it had
come and must be answered.

"Dear love, you have to choose between that tyrannic father and me,"
pleaded Herrick, with impassioned earnestness; "the time has come for
that choice to be made. I have hung back hitherto, fearful to trust the
future; but I am now assured of a literary career and of Sir Robert
Walpole's friendship and patronage. I can afford to tempt fortune so far
as to take a wife. I am secure of keeping a roof over my darling's head,
and that the pinch of poverty shall never be hers."

"I am not afraid of poverty--I only fear to offend my father."

"That is a hazard which must be run, Irene. We have tried to be dutiful,
both of us. I addressed him honourably as a suitor for your hand; urged
upon him that my prospects were not hopeless, that I was industrious,
patient, and had begun to earn my living. He rejected my proposals with
contempt, treated me as harshly as ever miserly hidalgo in a Spanish
comedy treated his daughter's suitor. If you are ever to be mine, Rena,
you must brave your father's anger. You will never be mine with his
consent, and 'tis ill waiting for dead men's shoes, saying we will put
off our happiness till the old man is in his coffin. Let us be happy in
spite of him. When the deed is done, I have a way to win him to forgive
us both."

"What way, Herrick?" she asked eagerly.

"That is my secret, which I will reveal only to my wife."

"Ah, that is playing on my curiosity to win me to rebellion."

"Not rebellion, Rena; only natural revolt against an unendurable
tyranny."

"Do you think he will ever forgive?"

"He will, he must. He will have no right to be angry, from the moment he
knows my secret."

"You torture me with your enigmas. Why will you not tell me?"

"To my wife, my wife only," he whispered, drawing her to his breast once
again, and stifling her questions with kisses. "That secret is for none
but my wife's ear: but, as I am a man of honour, Irene, you will stand
free of all reproach for undutifulness. You can look Squire Bosworth in
the face and say, 'I am no rebellious daughter;' and if he has a spark
of generosity in him he shall take you to his heart as I do now, and
give you love for love."

"He is not ungenerous," said Irene. "But I wish you would be less
mysterious."

"There shall be no mysteries when I am your husband. And now, love, say
that you will come. I have done my part towards your father as a man of
honour. I have worked hard as journalist and politician for wife and
home. Am I to be disappointed of my reward?"

"No, love," she answered, "you shall not be cheated. I will be your
wife; even at the risk of never seeing my father's face again."

He thanked and blest her, in a rapture of love and gratitude; and then
came a reiteration of his instructions. She was to creep out of the
house before the servants were up; they rose at daybreak, but she must
be before them. There was a glass door in the white parlour where they
had all dined together--Lavendale, Herrick, the Squire, and his
daughter--so often last year. This door opened into the garden, and was
fastened with bolts which could be easily withdrawn; especially if Irene
would but take the trouble to oil the fastenings over-night, to guard
against any tell-tale scrooping of the iron. Then, cloaked and warmly
clad, she was to skirt the shrubberies and cross the park to the
wicket-gate. There Herrick and his coach would be in readiness; and all
the rest was a question of fleet horses and quick relays, of which it
was the lover's business to make sure over-night.

"I shall ride to Esher and on to Kingston, and make all preparations
before ten o'clock," he said.

Irene was not like Lady Judith. She never thought of her gowns, or asked
how she was to carry away her clothes. Not more than the lilies of the
field did she consider her raiment in this solemn crisis of her life.
She only knew that soon after daybreak to-morrow morning she would be in
her lover's arms, speeding away along the London road to be wedded and
made one with him for ever. That she was to leave a noble inheritance
and all her frocks and furbelows behind her troubled her not the least.
She had no lust for finery, or to shine and dazzle in some new sphere.
Blindly, and with a childlike confidence, she threw herself into her
lover's arms, believing him wisest and best among all mankind.

So in the gray cold October dawn those two met at the wicket-gate, the
coach and four horses standing ready a little way along the road. There
had been nothing to hinder Irene's flight, albeit her sharpest gaoler,
Mrs. Layburne, lay wakeful and restless as the girl's light foot passed
her chamber-door. Irene heard the short dry cough, and the quick
impatient sigh that followed; and she knew that her father's mysterious
housekeeper was lying there, sleepless and suffering.

"My glorious girl," cried Herrick, as he hurried her to the carriage,
"I half feared your courage might fail you."

"There was no fear of that, Herrick," she answered quietly; "but I felt
myself a rebel and an undutiful daughter as I crept past my father's
room."

"You will not think that to-morrow."

"To-morrow! What do you mean by to-morrow?"

"Only that I intend to beard the lion in his den, Irene, or in other
words to ask the Squire's pardon as soon as you are so fast my wife that
no fury of his can part us. We will not behave as most runaway lovers
do, go and hide themselves and wait for Providence to melt the paternal
heart. We will go straight to the tyrant, and say, 'You see, love is
stronger than self-interest. It is not your fortune we want, but your
love;' and if he has a heart he will forgive us both, Irene."

"I hope he will," she murmured despondently.

"You hope, but you don't believe. Well, we shall see. And now tell me,
sweet, how is the Squire's housekeeper, Mrs. Layburne?"

"Very ill. Indeed, Herrick, I fear the poor soul has not many weeks, or
perhaps many days, to live. It is a sad and lonely ending. She shuns all
sympathy, and waits for death in a proud silence which has an awful air.
Alas, I fear she lacks all the consolations of piety. I have offered to
read to her, to pray with her; but she refused with open scorn. She will
have nothing to say to Mademoiselle, who is all kindness. Bridget
detests her, and yet tries to nurse her and to do all she can to lessen
her sufferings: but it is an unthankful office. My father looks
miserable, and I think the presence of that dying woman in the house
overshadows his life. He has not been to London for weeks. He sits alone
in his study, reading or writing, as if he were waiting for Mrs.
Layburne's death. Mademoiselle and I have hardly seen him from day to
day, yet last year we were all three so happy together. He used always
to dine and spend his evenings with us; but now he dines alone, and is
shut up in his study till midnight."

The horses were tearing along the London road, past breezy commons and
low-wooded hills, between which flashed now and then a distant glimpse
of the river--a silvery streak across the gray of the autumn landscape.
Herrick put his head out of the coach window once in a quarter of an
hour, to survey the road behind him; but there was no sign of pursuit.
The chances were that Irene's absence would not be discovered till eight
o'clock, the usual breakfast-hour; and it was not yet seven. They had a
clear hour before them.

They changed horses at Kingston, and were crossing Wimbledon Common at
eight. The strong fresh horses tore down the hill into Wandsworth, and
now Herrick felt that his prize was won. From Wandsworth to the ferry
between Lambeth and Westminster was but half an hour's drive. The Abbey
clock was striking nine as they stepped into the ferry-boat.

A hackney coach was waiting for them on the other side, bespoken by
Durnford before he left London on the previous day, a coach which
carried them to Curzon Street in a quarter of an hour, and there was
Parson Keith in his surplice, ready to begin the ceremony.

How solemn and how sweet the service sounded to those true lovers, as
they stood side by side before the communion-table, in the shabby little
chapel which was to be the scene of so many a clandestine union, of so
many a love-match doomed to end in mutual aversion! But here Fate
promised a more consistent future. Here was no transient passion, born
but to die, no will-o'-the-wisp love, leading the lovers over swamps and
perilous places, to expire in a quagmire, but a pure and steady flame
that would light their pathway to the close of life.

Durnford left the chapel with his bride on his arm, half expecting to
meet Squire Bosworth on the threshold, just half an hour too late to
hinder the marriage. He would be likely to guess that the runaway couple
would go straight to Parson Keith. But there was no furious father, only
the jarvey nodding on his box, and a handful of vagabonds and idlers
demanding largesse from the bridegroom, a scurvy crew who always
gathered from the adjacent alleys to stare at the gentry whom Mr. Keith
made happy.

"To Lord Lavendale's, Bloomsbury Square," said Herrick; and then when
they were seated side by side in the coach, he told Irene how Lavendale
had insisted that they should lodge at his house till they had one of
their own, and that they were to take as much time as ever they could in
finding one.

"He has given me a suite of rooms, where we shall be as much alone as if
we had a house all to ourselves," he said.

They found the rooms prepared for them, the servants in attendance, and
an excellent breakfast of chicken and iced champagne on the table.
Lavendale was discreetly absent. The butler told Mr. Durnford that his
lordship was not expected home till the evening.

After breakfast, Durnford proposed that Irene should do a little
shopping, and then it occurred to the bride for the first time that all
her wardrobe was at Fairmile Court.

"And I am to cost you money at the very beginning!" she said dolefully.

"Dearest, it will be bliss to spend my money in such sweet service."

"Ah, but wait! I have twenty guineas in my purse, which my father gave
me a week ago, my quarterly allowance of pocket-money. That will buy all
I shall want for the present; and I daresay he will let me have my
clothes from Fairmile. However angry he may be, he will scarcely insist
upon keeping my clothes."

"It would assuredly be a petty form of resentment. Well, dearest, may I
go shopping with you? or would you rather go alone in a chair?"

"I would rather go with you."

"Then we'll just walk quietly into Holborn, as if we were an old married
couple."

Irene put on her cloak and hood in front of a Venetian glass, while
Herrick walked up and down the room and glanced somewhat uneasily from
the windows, expecting the Squire's arrival.

They had breakfasted in a leisurely fashion, and it was now two o'clock.
There had been ample time for Mr. Bosworth to go to Parson Keith, and
having obtained his information from the parson, who knew the
destination of the newly-married couple, to come on to Bloomsbury
Square. Yet there was still no sign of pursuit. Nor did anything occur
all that afternoon to interrupt the serenity of the bride and
bridegroom. They went together to the mercer's and to the milliner's,
and Irene made her purchases on a very modest scale, and well within the
limits of her pocket-money, while her husband discreetly waited at the
door of the shop, and exercised a patience rare after the halcyon days
of the honeymoon.

"How good you are to wait for me!" said Irene, as she rejoined him;
"shopkeepers are so slow, and they pester one so to buy more than one
wants."

"If you were like Mrs. Skerritt, who haunts every sale-room and bids for
everything she sees, your catalogue of wants would not be completed half
so easily," answered Herrick; "jealous though I am of your absence, I
must own you have been vastly quick."

"But pray who is Mrs. Skerritt?" asked Irene. "Stay, she is the lady who
was so kind to you. I should like to know her."

"Nay, love, I think it were better not, though there are great ladies
who ask her to their houses, and pretend to adore her--Lady Mary
Montagu, for instance. But my young wife must choose her friends with
the utmost discretion."

"I wish for no friends whom you do not care for," said his bride; "and
now, Herrick, when am I to see the new comedy? It is hard that all the
town should have admired my husband's play, while I know so little about
it."

"Shall we go to Drury Lane this evening?"

"I should love to go."

"Then you shall. Lavendale has hired a box for the run of my play--he
always does things in a princely style--and we can have it all to
ourselves this evening. 'Twill be our first public appearance as man and
wife, and all the town will guess we are married, and will envy me my
prize."

They dined, or pretended to dine, at four, and then Lavendale's chariot
drove them to Drury Lane.

What a delight it was for Irene to sit by her lover-husband's side, and
watch and listen while the story of the play unfolded itself--to hear
the audience laugh and applaud at each brisk retort, each humorous or
fondly tender fancy! The play was a story of love and lovers, the old,
old story which has been telling itself ever since creation, and which
yet seems ever new to the actors in it. There were wit and passion and
freshness and manly spirit in Herrick's play, but there was not a single
indecency; and the older school of wits and scribblers wondered
exceedingly how so milk-and-waterish a comedy could take the town. Mrs.
Manley, in a dark little box yonder, whispering behind her fan to a
superannuated buck in a periwig that reached his knees, protested that
the play was the tamest she had ever sat out.

"Tamer than _The Conscious Lovers_," she said, "though poor Dick lived
in such fear of his wife that he dared never give free scope to his wit,
lest Mrs. Molly should take offence at him. O, for the days of Etherege
and Wycherley!"

"Nay, I protest," said the buck, adjusting a stray curl with his
pocket-comb, and ogling the house with weak elderly eyes; "the play may
be decent, but it is not tame. Those scenes between Nancy and Wilks are
vastly fine. Stap my vitals if I have not been between laughing and
crying all the evening; and this is the seventh time I have seen the
piece. I wonder who that pretty creature is in my Lord Lavendale's box,
in a plain gray gown and a cherry-coloured hood? She is the finest
woman--present company excepted--I have ogled for a decade."

"The gentleman sitting beside her is the author of the play," said Mrs.
Manley, screwing up her eyes to peer across the width of the pit. "She
is some vizard Miss that ought to be sitting in the slips, I'll be
sworn."

"Nay, I'll take my oath she is a modest woman."

"But to sit alone in a box with a bachelor, and a notorious rake into
the bargain--Lavendale's boon companion!"

"O, you are talking of the days before the deluge. Mr. Durnford has
turned sober, and sits in Parliament. He is one of the doughtiest
knights in Sir Robert's phalanx--a rising man, madam; and as for
Lavendale, he too has turned sober. One hardly ever meets him at
White's, or any of the other chocolate-houses. I am told he is dying."

"When he is dead you may tell me of his sobriety and I will believe
you," retorted the bluestocking, "but till then forgive me if I doubt
your veracity or your information. It was only last June I saw Lavendale
at Vauxhall intriguing with Lady Judith Topsparkle. I almost knocked
against them in one of the dark walks, and a woman who saunters in a
dark walk at midnight, hanging on the arm of a former lover--"

"Is in a fair way to forget her duty to a latter husband," asserted the
buck, regaling himself with a pinch of smoked rappee out of the handle
of his clouded cane.

Three or four of Durnford's acquaintance came to the box in the course
of the evening, and were duly presented to his bride, whom they had all
recognised as the beauty and heiress of Arlington Street, a star that
had flashed upon the town for a brief space, to disappear into rustic
obscurity.

"I feared, Mrs. Bosworth, that this poor little smoky town of ours was
never again to be illumined by your beauty," said Mr. Philter, who was
one of the first to press an entrance into the box.

"Mrs. Bosworth belongs only to history," said Herrick; "I have the
honour to present you to Mrs. Durnford."

"What, Herrick! you astound me. Can fortune have been so lavish, and can
destiny have been so blind, when your obedient servant Thomas Philter
still sighs and worships at the shrine of beauty a miserable bachelor?"

"I have heard you boast 'tis your own fault," laughed Herrick. "It is
Philter who is wilful and reluctant, not Venus who is unkind."

"I grant that good easy lady has always been gracious," answered the
scribbler gaily; "but how did you manage this business, Durnford? how
reconcile a wealthy landed gentleman to the incongruity of a man of
letters as a son-in-law?"

"Faith, Philter, since the incongruity seemed somewhat irreconcilable,
we have taken the matter into our own hands. 'Twas Parson Keith who tied
the knot, at ten o'clock this morning."

"The Reverend Alexander is the most useful man of the age, and this new
Mayfair chapel is the true gate of Paradise," said Philter; and then
with much flourish he congratulated Irene upon her marriage with his
friend.

"Your father will come round, madam," he said. "They all do. They curse
and rage and stamp and blaspheme for a time, are more furious than in a
fit of podagra; but after a storm comes a calm, and the tyrant softens
to the doating grandfather. No argument so potent as a son and heir to
melt the heart of a wealthy landowner."

"I'm afraid, Philter, your impressions of the paternal character are
mostly derived from the stage," said Durnford. "In a comedy the sternest
parent is obliged to yield. No father's wrath can survive the fifth act.
The curtain cannot come down till the lovers are forgiven. But in actual
life I take it there is such a thing as an obstinate anger which lasts
till the grave. However, we mean to soften Mr. Bosworth, if dutiful
feeling and a proper sense of our own misconduct can soften him."

"Do you mean to tell him you repent, eh, you dog?" asked Philter.

"Not for the world would I utter such a lie. I glory in the rebellion
which has gained me this dearest prize."



CHAPTER II.

"O, TO WHAT END, EXCEPT A JEALOUS ONE?"


The married lovers were startled at their breakfast next morning by the
arrival of Mdlle. Latour in a hackney chair. She had travelled up from
Fairmile to the Hercules Pillars in Piccadilly by the heavy night coach,
and had come from the inn in a chair. She looked worn and haggard with
fatigue and anxiety.

"I knew where I should find my runaway," she said, clasping Irene in her
arms, and covering her fair young face with tearful kisses. "I went
first to Mr. Durnford's lodgings, where the woman told me he was staying
at Lord Lavendale's house in Bloomsbury, and the same chair brought me
here. O Irene, what a trick you have played us!"

"I loved him too well to give him up," faltered the girl. "If there had
been any hope of winning my father's consent I would have waited for
it. But tell me, Maman, how does he take my disobedience? Is he
dreadfully angry?"

"Alas, yes, _ma chérie_, his anger is indeed dreadful. I can conceive no
kind of wrath more terrible. It is a silent anger. He sits alone in his
room, or paces the corridors, and none of us dare approach him. Once he
went into Mrs. Layburne's room, and was closeted with her for an hour;
and then that awful calm broke in a tempest of angry words. Do not think
that I listened at the door, Rena, in a prying spirit. I was in the
hall, near enough to hear those furious tones, but not one word of
speech. I could hear her voice, and it had a mocking sound. I believe in
my heart, Rena, that the woman is a demoniac, and would glory in any
misfortune of her master's. She has brooded over that house like an evil
spirit, and the domestic quiet of our lives has been pain and grief to
her. And now she flaps her wings like a bird of evil omen, and croaks
out her rapture, and riots in your father's anguish."

"Why should he suffer anguish?" asked Irene. "I have married an honest
man."

"Ah, but he had his own ambitious schemes for your marriage. You were to
be a great lady, or you were at least to join wealth to wealth. Consider
that he has given himself up so long to the labour of money-making that
he has grown to think of money as the beginning and end of life. He will
die with his mind full of 'Change Alley and the rise and fall of
stocks."

"Then how could I help disappointing him--I who care so little for
money?" pleaded Rena.

"And so Mrs. Layburne has been playing the devil," said Durnford. "Well,
I am not surprised. I have heard some particulars of that lady's history
from those who were familiar with her in her youth, early in Queen
Anne's reign, and who remember her as a handsome fury, with the voice of
an angel and the temper of a fiend. She sang in _Camilla_ with
Valentini, that first mongrel opera in which two or three of the
principal performers sang in Italian and all the rest in English. It was
just before Congreve and Vanbrugh opened their new theatre in the
Haymarket. She was then in the heyday of her beauty. She is not so old a
woman as you may think her. She wore herself out untimely by the
indulgence of an evil temper. But what of her health, Mademoiselle?
Think you she is long for this world?"

"I believe that a few weeks will see that stormy nature at rest for
ever."

"Then, Rena, the sooner we beard the lion--nay, I mean no disrespect to
your father--the better for all of us. If Mademoiselle has no objection,
we will take her back in our coach. I mean to start for Fairmile as soon
as ever we can get a team of horses from the livery-yard."

"What, you will take Rena back to her father!"

"Only to justify my conduct and hers, and to obtain his forgiveness."

"What, in his present mood," exclaimed the little Frenchwoman, with a
scared countenence, "before time has softened him, while his anger rages
at white heat! You ought to wait at least a year. Let him begin to miss
his daughter's presence; to yearn after her, to mourn for her as one who
is dead; and then let her stand before him suddenly some day, rising
like a ghost out of the grave of the past, and fall on her knees at his
feet. That will be the hour for pardon."

"I have a bolder card to play," said Durnford, "and I mean to play it.
Mrs. Layburne is an element in my calculations; and I must have this
business settled with the Squire while she is above ground."

"Better wait till she is dead and forgotten. Be assured she will never
act the peacemaker. She will fan the flame of Mr. Bosworth's fury and
goad him to vengeance. She hates my innocent Rena, hates every creature
to whom the Squire was ever civil."

"Her very hatred may be made subservient to our interests. There is no
use in arguing the matter, dear Mademoiselle. I mean to have an
understanding with Mr. Bosworth, and I think I shall succeed in
convincing him that he has very little right to be angry."

"You are an obstinate young man," said Mademoiselle, with a shrug which
expressed a kind of despairing resignation.

"Did my father send in pursuit of me?" asked Rena.

"Not he. When we told him you were missing--'twas I had to do it, I, who
had been appointed by him as your guardian, and who had kept so bad a
watch--he grew white with anger, and for some moments was speechless.
Then he said in a strange voice, which he tried to make calm and steady,
'She has run off with her penniless lover, I make no doubt. So be it.
She may starve with him, beg, thieve, die on the gallows with him, for
all I care.' I tell you this, Mr. Durnford, to show you the kind of
temper he is in, and how unwise it were to make your supplication to him
at such a time."

"And he gave no orders for pursuit, made no offer of going after us in
person?" asked Durnford, ignoring the lady's advice.

"Not once did he suggest such a thing. 'She has gone out of my house
like an ingrate,' he said; 'I have done with her.' That was all. It was
at breakfast-time we missed you, and I went to him straight with the
news. About an hour later there came a man who had seen a coach-and-four
waiting by the wicket-gate, and that seemed conclusive evidence to Mr.
Bosworth. He had no further doubt as to what had happened."

Durnford rang, and requested that a messenger should be sent to the
livery-yard to order a coach-and-four. And then he pressed Mademoiselle
to refresh herself at the breakfast-table, which was somewhat
luxuriously provided. The servants brought a fresh chocolate-pot and a
dish of rolls for the new-comer, and although Mademoiselle was too
agitated to have any appetite, her quondam pupil hung about her
affectionately, and insisted upon her taking a good breakfast.

"And so this fine house belongs to Lord Lavendale," said the little
Frenchwoman. "Are you to live here always?"

"Nay, Mademoiselle, do not think so meanly of me as to suppose I would
be content to lodge my wife in another man's house, even if I were
satisfied to live at free quarters as a bachelor, which I was not. No,
to oblige Lavendale, who was very pressing, I accepted the use of this
fine house for my honeymoon. It is a kind of enchanted palace in which
we are to begin the fairy tale of married life; but so soon as we sober
down a little, Rena and I mean to find a home of our own. We shall look
for some rustic cottage in one of the villages near London, Chelsea or
Battersea, most likely--for I must not be far from the House--and we
shall begin domestic life in an unpretending manner. We will not take a
fine house, as poor Steele did, and call it a hovel, and be over head
and ears in debt, and our furniture pledged to a good-natured friend.
No, we will live from hand to mouth if needs must, but we will pay our
way. I have a trifle put by, and I count upon my comedy for giving me
the money to furnish our nest."

"And if the Squire should turn me out of doors, as I reckon he will in a
day or so, may I come and be your housekeeper?" asked Mademoiselle. "I
should save you a servant, for I can cook as well as teach, and I would
do all your housework into the bargain, for the sake of being near Rena.
I have saved a little money, so I should not be any expense to you; and
I would have my little room apart, like Mrs. Layburne, so as not to
disturb your _tête-à-tête_ life as married lovers."

"Dearest Maman, I should love to have you with us, but not to work for
us. That would never do, would it, Herrick?"

"No, indeed, love. And though we are not rich, we shall be able to
afford some stout serving-wench. But if Mademoiselle would keep house
for us, go to market occasionally, and toss an omelette or mix a salad
now and then, just to show our silly British drudge how such things
should be done--"

"I will do all that, and more. I love the cares of the _ménage_."

After this came much hugging and kissing between governess and pupil,
and then a footman announced that the coach was at the door, and they
all three started for Fairmile.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when the four horses, a fresh
relay from Kingston, drew up in front of the Squire's door. It had not
entered into his mind that his runaway daughter could be so brazen as to
come back to the house she had deserted yet awhile, so he issued no
orders for her exclusion. She and her husband walked into the house
boldly, to the alarm of the old butler, and were ushered straight to the
small parlour, the Squire's den, where he sat in a dejected attitude
beside a desk strewn and heaped with papers. Uppermost among them was a
document in several folios, tied together with green ferret, which
looked suspiciously like a will.

He started at his daughter's entrance, lifted his heavy head, and glared
at her with angry eyes under scowling brows.

"What, madam, do you dare to intrude upon the solitude of the parent you
have outraged?" and then recognising Durnford close at his wife's elbow,
"and to bring your pauper-husband at your tail? _That_ is an insolence
which you will both repent. Leave my house this instant, fellow, or I
will have you kicked out of it by my servants."

"I doubt if there is one of them strong enough for the office," said
Herrick; "do not vent your spleen upon me, Mr. Bosworth, till you have
heard what I have to say in my own defence. That I am here to-day must
show you that I mean honestly."

"Honestly, sir! there is no such thing as honesty in a man who steals
an heiress. You have secured your prize, I take it. You have bound her
fast in matrimony."

"Yes, sir, we are bound to each other for life. We were married at the
chapel in Curzon Street at ten o'clock yesterday morning."

"What, by the Reverend Couple-Beggars, by that scurvy dealer in
marriage-lines, Parson Keith? A highly respectable marriage, altogether
worthy of a landed gentleman's daughter and heiress--a marriage to be
proud of. Leave my house, woman! You and I have nothing more to do with
each other."

"Father," she pleaded, sinking on her knee at his feet, where he sat
scowling at her, not having stirred from his brooding attitude since her
entrance; "father, can you be so cruel to me for having married the man
of my choice? As to your fortune, with all hope of being rich in days to
come, I resign it without a sigh. What I saw of wealth and splendour,
pleasure and fashion, last winter, only served to show me how false and
hollow such things are, and how one's heart may ache in the midst of
them. I can be happy with the man I love in humble circumstances, or
can rejoice in his good fortune if ever he should grow rich: but I
cannot be happy without your forgiveness."

"Then you may perish in your sorrow, for I can never forgive. You had
best drop sentiment, wench; blot me out of your life, as I have blotted
you out of mine. You have had your own way. You had a father, you have a
husband; be content to think, you have profited by the exchange."

"Why are you so angry?" she asked piteously.

"Why?" he echoed, "why?" and then bringing his clenched fist down upon
the document of many folios, "because I had built all my hopes on
you--because I had speculated and hoarded, and calculated and thought,
in order to amass a mighty fortune for you and your heirs. I would have
made you a Duchess, girl. Yes, by Heaven, I had negotiations in hand
with a ducal house, and you would have been taken to town a few weeks
hence to be courted by the heir to a dukedom. I should have lived to see
my daughter mistress of half a dozen palaces--"

"Not your daughter, sir," said Herrick gravely; "your daughter has long
been mistress of one narrow house--a tenement which none would care to
dispute with her."

"What are you raving about, fellow?"

The Squire started to his feet, and looked at Durnford in a kind of
savage bewilderment.

"I am here to reveal the trick that has been played upon you, sir, and
to justify myself as a man of honour," answered Herrick. "I stole no
heiress when I took this dear girl from beneath your roof. I counselled
no disobedience to a father when I urged her to fly with me. I
speculated upon no future fortune, hoped nothing from your relenting
bounty. The girl I loved was a nameless waif who for thirteen years has
been imposed upon you as a daughter, and who loves you and reverences
you as truly as if she were indeed your child."

"Not my daughter?" muttered the Squire; "not my daughter? It is a foul
lie--a lie hatched by you, sir, to cozen and torment me--an outrageous,
obvious, shallow, impudent lie!"

"Should I invent a lie which deprives my wife of any claim to your
wealth? However indifferent I may be to riches, I am too much a man of
the world to so wantonly sacrifice my wife's prospects."

"Upon what grounds?" cried Bosworth. "What proof?" And then suddenly
gripping Irene by the arm, "Unfasten your bodice, girl. Let me see your
right shoulder."

He almost tore the upper part of the bodice from the fair and dimpled
shoulder in his furious impatience, and there at the top of the arm was
revealed a deep cicatrice, the scar of a wound healed long ago.

"Out of my sight, you beggar's brat!" he cried huskily. "Yes, I have
been tricked, deluded, cozened damnably. But by whom? There could be
only two concerned in it. Bridget and that other one--that she-devil.
Follow me, both of you. We'll have it out! We'll have it out!"

He dashed out of the room and along the corridor with the rapid
movements of a madman, and they followed him to Mrs. Layburne's room.

She who had once been the delight of crowded playhouses, the admired of
bucks and wits in the days of the Godolphin ministry, now presented the
saddest spectacle of hopeless decay.

She lay on a sofa beside a pinched and poverty-stricken fire, burning
dully in one of those iron grates by means of which our forefathers
contrived to keep themselves cold while they were mocked by the
semblance and abstract idea of heat. A small table with a basin that had
held broth, and two or three medicine bottles, stood near her. Her gaunt
and wasted form was clad in a dingy printed calico dressing-gown, over
which her white hair fell in neglect and abandonment. Her eyes--once the
stars of a playhouse--now looked unnaturally large in her pinched and
shrunken countenance--unnaturally bright, too, with the lustre of
disease; while on each hollow cheek there burned a hectic spot, which
made the sickly pallor of the skin only the more livid by contrast.

She looked up with a startled air when the Squire burst into her room,
followed immediately by Herrick and Irene. She struggled into a sitting
position, and sat trembling, either with the effort of shifting her
attitude, or with the agitation caused by this strange intrusion.

"Do you see this girl?" demanded Bosworth, thrusting Irene in front of
him. "Do you see her, woman?"

"Ay, sir, I see her well enough. My sight is not yet so dim but I can
recognise a familiar face."

"Who and what is she?"

"Your daughter; your disobedient rebellious daughter, whom you were
howling about yesterday, and whom you welcome home to-day."

"She is not my daughter, and you know it. She is a pauper's nameless
brat, foisted upon me by you, by you, she-devil, so that you might be
able to twit and laugh at me, to revel in the sight of my discomfiture,
before you sink into the grave. _This_ was your vengeance upon me, was
it--your vengeance upon me for not having been more your victim than I
was, though God knows I paid dear enough for my folly! _This_ is what
your innuendoes and mysterious speeches of yesterday hinted at, though I
was too dull to understand them."

"What makes you think she is less than your daughter?" asked Mrs.
Layburne, with a mocking smile, a smile that seemed to gloat over the
Squire's agony of rage.

"What?--this," pointing to the naked shoulder, from which kerchief and
bodice had been so rudely wrenched away. "This scar, which _you_ pointed
out to me when first this beggar-brat was brought into my house. 'You
may always know her by that mark,' you said: ''twill last her
lifetime.' And I forgot all about the mark, and loved the impostor that
was foisted upon me, and believed in her, and toiled for her, and
schemed for her as my very daughter. It flashed upon me all at once--the
memory of that scar, and your words and voice as you showed it--just
now, when her husband yonder told me what his wife is; and I knew in a
moment that I had been duped. Why did you do this thing, Barbara?"

"Why? To be even with you, as I told you I would be--ay, swore it by my
mother's grave, when you forsook me to marry a fine lady. I told you I
would have my revenge, and I have lived to enjoy it. Mr. Durnford has
only anticipated my confession. I should have told you everything upon
my death-bed. I have feasted upon the bare thought of that parting hour,
when you should learn how your discarded mistress had tricked you."

"Devil!" muttered Bosworth. "What had you to gain by such an infamy?"

"Everything! Revenge! 'the most luscious morsel that the devil puts into
the sinner's mouth.' That is what the Preacher says of it. I have tasted
that sweet morsel, chewed and mumbled it many a time by anticipation, as
I have sat by this desolate hearth. It has been sweeter to me than the
applause of the playhouse, the lights, the music, the flattery, the
jewels, and savoury suppers, and wines, and rioting. I have watched your
growing love for another man's child, while your own, your _wife's_
child, lay mouldering in her grave. I have seen you gloating over your
schemes for a spurious daughter's aggrandisement--heard you praise her
beauty and boast of her likeness to your ancestors. Poor fool, poor
fool! To think that a man of the world, a speculator of 'Change Alley,
could be so easily hoodwinked!"

"When was the change made?" asked Bosworth, ringing the bell furiously.
"Bridget must have been concerned in it. I will prosecute you both for
felony."

"Prosecute a dying woman! fie for shame, Squire! Where is your
humanity?"

"I would drag you from your death-bed to a gaol if the law would let me.
Whatever I can do I will; be sure of that, Jezebel."

"Is it come to Jezebel? I was your Helen once, your Cleopatra, the
sovereign beauty of the world."

"Ay, 'tis a quick transmutation which such cattle as you make--from your
dupe's brief vision of beauty and love to the hag that will turn and
rend him. Where is Bridget?" (to the servant who answered the bell;)
"bring her to me this instant."

"I think I had best take my wife from the reach of your violence, sir,
now that I have convinced you that I did you no wrong in marrying her,"
said Durnford, with his arm round Irene, as if to shelter her in this
moral tempest, this confusion and upheaval of all the baser elements in
human nature.

"Take her away. Yes, remove her from my sight at once and for ever. Let
me forget how I have loved her, that I may less deeply loathe her."

"Father," cried Irene piteously, holding out her arms to him, "do not
forget that you have loved me, and that I have returned your love
measure for measure. Is there no tie but that of blood? I have been
brought up under your roof, and you have been kind to me, and I am sure
I love you as much as daughters love their fathers. If you scorn me, do
not scorn my love."

"You poor beggar's brat," muttered the Squire contemptuously, yet with a
relenting look at the pale pathetic face, "you are the lightest sinner
of them all, perhaps. But to have been cheated--to have taken a
vagabond's spawn to my breast--"

"She is no vagabond's child, but of as gentle blood on the father's side
as your own. She comes of a good old Hampshire family--as old as William
the Norman. Her father was Philip Chumleigh, the son of a younger son, a
gentleman born and bred."

"I thought as much when I saw him dead and stark upon Flamestead
Common," said the Squire. "So-ho, mistress," to Bridget, who came in
with a cowed air, and guilt written in every feature; "you were in the
conspiracy to cheat your master with a supposititious child; but I'd
have you to know that you were accomplice in a felony, for which you
shall swing higher than Jack Sheppard, if there's justice in this land."

"O sir, is it hanging?" exclaimed the nurse, "and I as innocent as the
unborn babe. Never would such a thought have come into my head, to put
another into my darling's place; but she made me do it, and I was half
distracted--loving them both so well--so full of sorrow for the little
angel that was gone, and of tenderness for her that was left, and
she--Mrs. Layburne--threatened me she would say 'twas by my neglect my
precious treasure died, though God knows I neglected nothing, and
watched day and night. But I was scarcely in my right senses; so I gave
way, and held my tongue, and once done it was done for ever--there was
no going back upon it. And when I saw your honour so fond of my pretty
one, and she growing nearer and dearer to you every day, I thought it
was well as it was. You had something to love."

"Something, but not of my own blood--something that had no right to my
affection, an impostor, an alien, a sham, a cheat, a mockery. You had
better have poisoned me, woman. It would have been a kinder thing to
do."

"It was her doing," sobbed Bridget, pointing to Mrs. Layburne, who
listened and looked on with a ghastly smile, the exultation of a fiend
doomed to everlasting torment, and rejoicing in the agony of another.
"'Twas all her doing, and I knew it was a sin, and have been troubled
with the thought of it ever since; yes, I have never known real peace
and comfort since I did her bidding. But she told me 'twas a good thing
to do; your heart was so set on the child that it would all but kill you
to lose her, and one child was equal to another in the sight of God, and
the one that was left would grow up to be a blessing to you, did you but
think she was your daughter; and so I yielded, and let her lie to you.
But, O sir, as you are a Christian, do not punish that innocent lamb for
our sin. Do not take your love from her."

"It is gone," cried the Squire. "She has become hateful to me."

"She shall trouble you no more, sir," said Irene, with a quiet dignity,
which moved her husband almost to tears. "I am very sorry that you
should have been cheated, but you must at least own that I have been an
innocent impostor. You have been very good to me, sir, and I have loved
you as a father should be loved, and though you may hate me, my heart
cannot turn so quickly. It cleaves to you still, sir. Good-bye."

She dropped on her knee again and kissed his reluctant hand, then put
her hand in her husband's, and glided from the room with him, Mdlle.
Latour following.

"We had best go back to London in the coach that brought us," said
Herrick. "Will you come with us, Mademoiselle, or will you follow us
later?"

"I will follow in a day or two," answered the little Frenchwoman. "It
would seem like sneaking away to go to-day. I will wait till the tempest
is lulled. I am really sorry for that poor man, savage as he is in his
chagrin and disappointment; I will see the end of it. That woman is a
devil."

"Can you forgive me, Rena, for having sprung this surprise upon you?"
asked Herrick, drawing his young wife to his breast, and kissing away
her tears. "Or do I seem to have been cruel? I feared your courage might
fail if I told you what was coming: and I wanted to have you face to
face with your sham father and that wicked witch yonder. I was prepared
for her denial of the facts."

"How did you make this discovery, Herrick?"

"That is a long story, dearest. You shall know all about it by and by.
And now, dear love, you are my very own. No tyrannical father can come
between my orphan wife and me. We stand each alone, love, and all in all
to each other."

"I am content to be yours and yours only," she said, looking up at him
with adoring eyes. "But I hope my--I hope Mr. Bosworth will forgive me
some day."

"Be sure he will, my pet, and that he loves you dearly at this moment,
though he roars and blusters about hatred. All will come well, dearest,
in the end."

"And you have married a pauper, after all," said Irene.

"I have married the girl I love, and that is enough for me," answered
Herrick. "But it is not so clear to me but that I have married a fortune
into the bargain. Wait and see, love; the end has not come yet. And now
settle your hood and wrap your cloak round you, and we are off again for
London."

And thus, clinging to her husband's arm, she who had so long been called
Irene Bosworth left the home that had seemed her birthplace. It had been
a solitary joyless life which she had lived there, for the most part,
yet she looked back at the old panelled hall with a sigh of regret, the
instinctive yearning of an affectionate nature.

"We are as unfettered as our first parents, Irene, and the world is
before us," said Herrick gaily, as he lifted her into the coach. "Back
to Kingston, my men," to the postillions. "We will stay at the inn there
to-night, and go on to London to-morrow morning."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Go," said the Squire to Bridget, when the door had closed upon his
sometime daughter; "go about your business, woman, and consider
yourself lucky if I do not send you to gaol."

"You had better think twice of that, Squire," said Mrs. Layburne. "To
have this business out before a magistrate might lead to the asking of
strange questions."

"Do you think _I_ care what questions they ask?" cried Bosworth
scornfully. "Do you suppose I am such an arrant cur as to quail before
my fellow-worms because I have lived my own life, crawled upon this
earth after my _own_ fashion, and not wriggled in _their_ particular
mode? No, Barbara Layburne, if I have been a profligate, I have at least
been a bold sinner, and I have never feared the face of a man. Were not
the grip of death upon you, madam, _you_ should answer to the law for
the trick you have played me."

"What if it was an accident?" asked Barbara; "both the children were so
reduced by sickness out of their own likeness, that one might easily
mistake one for another."

"You could not. 'Twas you called my attention to the scar upon the
baby's arm when she was but an hour in this house."

"Ay, I remember. I bade you mark it well. I had it in my mind even then
to ring the changes on you--to cheat you out of a daughter--you who had
cheated me out of name and honour, the world's respect, and a good
husband--for I might have made a good match, were it not that I was a
slave to my passion for you. When I came into this house and met only
scorn and ignominy, I resolved to be quits with you. I have lain awake
many a night trying to hit upon the way; but the devil himself would not
help me to a plan till you brought that beggar's brat into the house.
Then in a moment I saw the chance of being even with you. I knew how you
prided yourself on your ancient race, how you heaped up riches, caring
not as other men care for the things that gold can buy: only caring for
wealth as misers care for it, to heap moneybags upon moneybags. I knew
you had made your scheme of leaving a vast fortune, as Marlborough did
t'other day, marrying your child to a great nobleman, leaving your name
among the mighty ones of the land. I knew this, for though you were
rarely civil to me, you could not help confiding in me; 'twas an old
habit that remained to you from the days when we were lovers. I knew
this, and I meant to drag your pride in the dust; and so, as the whole
scheme flashed upon me, I bade you note the cicatrice on the baby's arm,
so that when my hour came you should see the sign-manual of the lie that
had been foisted on you. Your son-in-law has anticipated me by a short
time--that is all. My play is played out."

"You are a devil!" muttered Bosworth, walking towards the door.

"I am as God made me--a woman who could love, and who can hate."



CHAPTER III.

"AND ALL YOUR HONOUR IN A WHISPER LOST."


The great house in Soho Square was alive with movement and light, the
going and coming of guests, the setting down of chairs and squabbles of
coachmen and running footmen, the flare of torches in the autumn dusk.
The Topsparkles were in town again, everybody of importance had come to
town, to be present at the coronation, from old Duchess Sarah and her
bouquet of Duchess daughters, and her wild grandsons and lovely
granddaughters, and the mad Duchess of Buckingham, and Mary Wortley
Montagu, otherwise Moll Worthless, and the wits and beaux and Italian
singers--all the little great world of brilliant personalities,
card-playing, dicing, intriguing, dancing, masquerading, duelling,
running away with other men's wives or beating their own. The wild
whirlpool of town life was at its highest point of ebullition, all the
wheels were going madly round, and the devil and his imps had their
hands full of mischief and iniquity.

It was the first winter season of the new reign. Caroline was triumphant
in her assurance of a well-filled purse; in her security of dominion
over a dull, dogged, self-willed little husband, who was never more her
slave than when he affected to act and think for himself; happy too in
the knowledge that she had two of the cleverest men in England for her
prime minister and her chamberlain; scornfully tolerant of a rival who
helped her to bear the burden of her husband's society; indulgent to all
the world, and proud of being admired and loved by the cleverest men in
her dominions. King George was happy also after his sober fashion,
oscillating between St. James's and Richmond, with a secret hankering
for Hanover, hating his eldest son, and with no passionate attachment to
any other member of his numerous progeny. Amidst the brilliant Court
circle there were few ladies whom the Queen favoured above Judith
Topsparkle. She had even condescended so far as to wear the famous
Topsparkle diamonds at her coronation; for of all Queen Anne's jewels
but a pearl necklace or so descended to Queen Caroline, and it was
generally supposed that his late Majesty had ransacked the royal
jewel-caskets for gems to adorn his German mistresses, the fat and the
lean; while perchance his later English sultana, bold Miss Brett, may
have decked her handsome person with a few of those kingly treasures. At
any rate, there was but little left to adorn Queen Caroline, who was
fain to blaze on her coronation-day with a borrowed lustre.

It was November; the Houses were sitting, and Lavendale, after a period
of complete seclusion and social extinguishment, had startled the town
in a new character, as politician and orator. Perchance his friend's
success in the Lower House may have stimulated his ambition, or his
appearance in the senate may have been a whim of the moment in one whose
actions had been too often governed by whim; but whatever the motive,
Lord Lavendale startled the peers by one of the finest speeches that had
been made in that august assembly for some time; and the House of Lords
in the dawn of the Hanoverian dynasty was an assembly which exercised a
far more potent influence for good or evil than the Upper House of that
triply reformed Parliament which we boast of to-day.

People talked about Lord Lavendale's speech for at least a fortnight. It
was not so much that the oration itself had been really fine and had
vividly impressed those who heard it, but it was rather that such
dignified opposition, such grave invective, and sound logic came from a
survivor of the Mohawk and of the Calf's Head Clubs, a notorious rake
and reveller, a man whose name five years ago had been a synonym for
modish profligacy. It was as when Lucius Junius Brutus startled the
Roman Forum; it was as when Falstaff's boon companion, wild Prince Hal,
flung off his boyish follies and stood forth in all his dignity as the
warrior king; it was a transformation that set all the town wondering;
and Lavendale, who had plunged again into the whirlpool of society,
found himself the fashion of the hour, a man with a new reputation.

Yes, he had gone back to the bustling crowded stage of Court life: he
had emerged from the hermit-like seclusion of laboratory and library,
from the wild walks and woodland beauties of Lavendale Manor. He was of
the town again, and seemed as eager for pleasure as the youngest and
gayest of the bloods and beaux of Leicester Fields and St. James's. He
attended half a dozen assemblies of an evening, looked in nightly at
opera or playhouse, gambled at White's, talked at Button's, dawdled away
an occasional morning at Dick's, reading the newest pamphlet for or
against the Government. He was seen everywhere.

"Lavendale has been in Medea's cauldron," said Captain Asterley. "He
looks ten years younger than when I saw him last summer."

"I believe the man is possessed," replied Lady Polwhele; "he has an
almost infernal gaiety. There is a malignant air about him that is
altogether new. He used to be a good-natured rake, who said malicious
things out of pure light-heartedness; but now there is a lurking devilry
in every word he utters."

"He is only imitating the mad Irish parson," said Asterley. "Your most
fashionable wit, nowadays, is a mixture of dirt and malignity such as
the Dean affects. Everybody tries to talk and write like Cadenus, since
it has been discovered that to be half a savage and more than half a
beast is the shortest road to a woman's favour."

"I believe all you men are jealous of the Dean," retorted her ladyship,
"and that is why his influential friends have conspired to keep him on
the other side of the Irish Channel. He is a fine personable man, and if
he has his savage gloomy moods, be sure he has his melting moments, or
that poor Miss Vanhomrigh would not have made such a fool of herself. I
saw her once at an auction, and thought her more than passable, and with
the manners of a lady."

       *       *       *       *       *

There had been no more spurts of jealousy on the part of Mr. Topsparkle.
His wife and he had lived on the most courteous terms since last
midsummer, Lavendale's disappearance from the scene had appeased the
husband's anger. He concluded that his remonstrances had been taken in
good part, and that Lady Judith had dismissed her flirt. That Lavendale
had been anything more than her flirt Mr. Topsparkle did not believe;
but from flirt to lover is but a swift transition, and there had
assuredly been an hour of peril.

Mr. Topsparkle also had a rejuvenised air when he came up to town and
made his reappearance in distinguished circles; but what in Lavendale
was a caprice of nature, an erratic flash and sparkle of brilliancy in a
waning light, was in Topsparkle the result of premeditated care and the
highest development of restorative art. He had vegetated for the last
three months at Ringwood Abbey, leaving his wife to do all the hard work
of entertaining visitors, and sleeping through the greater portion of
his existence; and now he reappeared in London full of energy and
vivacity, and with an air of superiority to most of the younger men, who
were content to show themselves in their true colours as exhausted
debauchees, men who had drained the cup of sensual pleasure to the
dregs, and whose jaded intellects were too feeble to originate any new
departure in vicious amusements.

Though in society Mr. Topsparkle affected to be only the connoisseur,
dilettante, and man of fashion, there was a leaven of hard-hearted
commercial sagacity in his mind, an hereditary strain which marked his
affinity to the trading classes. Keen though he was as a collector of
pictures and curios, he was still keener as a speculator on 'Change, and
knew every turn in the market, every trick of the hour.

He loved London because it brought him nearer to the money market,
brought him, as it were, face to face with his millions, which were for
the most part invested in public securities, Alderman Topsparkle having
had no passion for adding field to field at two and a half per cent per
annum. The alderman put out his wealth safely, in the New River Company
and in the best National securities.

Vyvyan Topsparkle had done nothing to hazard those solid investments or
to jeopardise his hereditary income; but he liked to trifle with the
surplus thousands which accumulated at his banker's, and which even
Judith's extravagance could not exhaust; he liked to sail his light bark
over the billows of speculation, fanned by the summer winds of chance
and change, and glorying in his skill as a navigator. Ombre and
quadrille had very little excitement for him, but he loved to watch the
fluctuations of a speculative stock, and to sell out at the critical
moment when a bubble was on the point of bursting. He had been either
wonderfully clever or wonderfully lucky; for he had contrived with but
few exceptions to emerge from every risky enterprise with a profit. Such
trivial speculations were but playing with money, and made no tangible
impression upon the bulk of his wealth: but as the miser loves to hoard
his guineas in a chest under his bed and to handle and toy with them, so
Mr. Topsparkle loved to play at speculation, and to warm the dull blood
of age with the fever of the money market.

He was sitting before a boule bureau, with three rows of pigeon-holes
stuffed with papers in front of him, and a litter of papers on his desk,
when Fétis entered, carrying his master's periwig. The room was
spacious, half dressing-room and half study, with panelled walls richly
adorned with old Italian pottery, and a fireplace in an angle of the
room, with a mantelpiece carried up to the ceiling by narrow shelves
and quaint divisions, all filled with curios; delf and china, India
monsters, Dutch teapots, German chocolate-pots, jars, and tea-cups. In
one window stood the toilet-table, a veritable laboratory, before which
Mr. Topsparkle sat for an hour every morning while his complexion was
composed for the day. In the corner opposite the fireplace was the
triangular closet in which Mr. Topsparkle's full-bottomed wig was
besprinkled with maréchale powder. The atmosphere of the room was loaded
with various perfumes, including a faint suggestion of burnt rappee, a
kind of snuff which had been fashionable ever since a fire at a famous
tobacconist's, which had thrown a large quantity of scorched snuff upon
the market, and had given the bucks a new sensation and a new taste.

Fétis put the wig on a stand near the dressing-table, adjusted the
feathery curls carefully with delicate finger-tips, fell a step or two
back to contemplate his work, gazing at it dreamily as at the perfection
of beauty, suggesting the august countenance of its wearer, who was
looking over a sheaf of documents and seemed preoccupied.

His valet watched him deferentially for some minutes, and then coughed
gently as if to attract attention.

Topsparkle looked up suddenly. He had not heard the cautious opening of
the door or the velvet tread of his slave.

"Your wig is quite ready, sir."

"I am not ready for it yet."

"Could I speak with you, sir, for a minute?"

"Of course, you can always speak with me. What do you want?"

Mr. Topsparkle laid down his papers, and faced about as he asked the
question.

"I am sorry to say, sir, that fortune has been against me since I came
back to London. I have lost heavily at basset, and I am in sore need of
money."

"Again!" exclaimed Topsparkle impatiently; "you are everlastingly a
loser. What right has a fellow of your quality to gamble? Dice and cards
are a diversion for gentlemen, sir."

"Fellows of my quality are human, sir, and have minds that are subject
to temptation and example. We can but imitate our betters. As for cards
and dice, I am drawn into play by gentlemen who come to my house and are
gracious enough to invite my company."

"They should know their position better than to associate with a
lodging-house keeper."

"O sir, these are gentlemen of rank; dukes, marquises, earls, who have
no fear of derogating by low company. They stand secure in a nobility
three and four centuries old. My society cannot degrade _them_."

"How much do you want?" asked Topsparkle, with suppressed rage.

He took some papers out of the pigeon-hole labelled F, and turned them
over with a hand that shook a little, till he came to one which he drew
out and unfolded. It was a list of figures, headed by the name of Fétis,
and against each amount there was a date.

"If you would oblige me with a paltry thousand, sir, I could set myself
right. I have the honour to owe seven hundred and fifty to his grace the
Duke of Bolton."

"A thousand pounds! Egregious insolence. Do you know that you had three
thousand, in sums of five hundred, from me last winter? Four thousand a
year! Was ever valet paid such wages since the world began?"

"Nay, sir, it is not every valet who has the honour to serve a gentleman
in whose exorbitant income thousands count as hundreds do with meaner
men. Nor do I rank with the common herd of servants; I have been your
secretary and your confidant, often your nurse, and sometimes even your
physician. I have prescribed for you in some of the most difficult
occasions of your life--and successfully. I have made an end of your
trouble."

"You are a villain," said Topsparkle, sitting in a brooding attitude,
staring at the carpet.

"I do not pretend--never have pretended--to be a saint. A man of rigid
principles would not have served you as I have done. I have been useful
to your loves and to your antipathies. I do not expect to be paid as a
common servant. I have a claim upon your fortune inferior to none."

"O, you are a vastly clever person, and no doubt think you have been
useful to me. Well, I will advance this money--mind, as I advanced the
last, on your note of hand. It must be a loan."

"I have no objection, sir."

There had been many such transactions. Fétis thought that this loan
theory was a salve to his employer's wounded pride. He would not suppose
himself completely under the influence of his servant. He would assert
an independent position, play the patron, hug himself with the idea of
power over his slave.

"He would never dare to sue me for the money," Fétis told himself. "It
can be no more than an empty form."

And with this sense of security Fétis signed anything that was offered
to him for signature. He had lived a good many years in London, but was
still a thorough Frenchman in his profound ignorance of English law, and
he had, moreover, a somewhat exaggerated estimate of his influence over
his master. He had never yet failed in his attacks upon Mr. Topsparkle's
purse, and he thought his resources in that direction were almost
unlimited. This had encouraged him in extravagance, and had fostered
the habit of reckless gaming, which was the open vice of the age.

"You ought to be making a fortune, not losing one, Fétis, with such a
house as yours," said Topsparkle, counting over a bundle of bank-notes
after the note of hand had been duly executed. "I am told that the most
fashionable men in town patronise your supper-room, and build their
occasional nests upon your upper floors, where you have bachelor
quarters, as I understand, for gentlemen who are in town for too short a
season to disturb the desolation of their family mansions."

"The business is not unprofitable," replied Fétis deprecatingly, "and my
patrons are among the flower of the aristocracy. But I have an expensive
wife."

"What can we expect, my good fellow, when at our age we marry reigning
beauties," asked Topsparkle lightly. "Your lady was a dancer at the
Opera House, as I am told, and a toast among the bloods who frequent the
green-room. Did you think she would transform herself into a Dutch
housewife, tuck up her sleeves and peel vegetables in the kitchen,
because you chose to marry her?"

"Unhappily she has caught the infection of that accursed house, and
plays as deep as a lady of fashion," said Fétis ruefully.

"My good Fétis, a young woman must have some kind of diversion. If she
does not gamble, she will play you a worse turn. See how indulgent I am
to her ladyship on that score. 'Tis only when her losses become
outrageous that I venture a gentle remonstrance. And so your pretty
little French wife has learnt the trick of the town, and dreams of
spadillo and codille, like a woman of fashion. By the way, I hear Lord
Lavendale is in London again. Pray does he ever use your house?"

"No, sir, I have never seen him there. He is not in my set."

"And yet I take it your set is a wild one, and likely to suit his
lordship."

"Nay, sir, they tell me Lavendale has sobered down since his return from
the Continent, and neither drinks nor plays as deep as he did before he
went abroad."

"Is it so? Well, he is a mighty pretty fellow, and a prime favourite
with the women. Some one told me the other day that he was in a
consumption. You may begin to dress my head. Is that true, d'ye think?"

"The consumption, sir. Nay, I fancy 'tis an idle story got up by his
lordship to make him more interesting to the sex. Women love a man who
is reported to be dying. I have known men whose lives have been
despaired of for ten years at a stretch, and who have wound up by
marrying fortunes, having very little but their bad health to recommend
them. A fellow who has no other capital may marry a rich widow on the
strength of a consumption or a heart complaint."

"I am told Lord Lavendale is looking younger and handsomer than ever,"
pursued Topsparkle; "but I thought it might be the hectic of disease
which imparted a delusive beauty."

"I doubt, sir, the fellow is well enough, and will outlive us all," said
Fétis, with a malicious pleasure in blighting his master's hopes.

He finished his work of art upon Topsparkle's countenance, putting in
every minute touch as carefully as a miniature painter. He fitted the
stately wig upon the bald pate, and then Mr. Topsparkle put his head
into the powdering closet for the last sprinkle of maréchale, and
emerged therefrom in all the perfection of artificial grace and court
fashion. His coat and waistcoat were marvels of the tailor's and
embroideress's art; his cravat was a miracle of Roman point worked by
Ursuline nuns in a convent amidst the Apennines; his diamond
shoe-buckles were of an exquisite neatness and elegance; his red-heeled
shoes set off to perfection the narrow foot and arched instep.

The delicate duties of this elaborate toilet completed, Fétis was free
till the evening. Mr. Topsparkle had meaner hirelings who attended to
his lesser wants and waited upon him all day long. Fétis was the artist
in chief, the high-priest in the temple, and his ministrations were
confined to the sacred and secret hours in which youth and good looks
were elaborated from age and decay.

To-day Fétis was inwardly impatient to be gone, yet was far too well
bred to betray his impatience by the faintest indication. He seemed
rather to linger, as if loth to depart, arranged the gold and ivory
fittings of the _nécessaire_ with nicest care, gave a finishing touch to
patch and pulvilio boxes, perfume bottles, and tortoiseshell combs, and
it was only when Mr. Topsparkle dismissed him that he gave a sliding bow
and glided gracefully from the room, as elegant in every detail of his
costume as his master, but with the subdued and sober colouring which
implied gravity of manners and humility of station.

When he was gone, Mr. Topsparkle rose from the sofa where he had been
reclining in an attitude of luxurious repose, and began to pace the
room, full of thought.

"I don't like the rascal's manner," he said to himself. "He is too bold,
presumes too much upon his usefulness in the present, and"--after a
thoughtful pause--"in the past. He has become a horse leech, bleeds me
of thousands with an insufferable audacity. Yet, after all, 'tis hardly
worth troubling about. The mere amount in itself is scarce worth a
thought to a man of my means, though I might endow a bishopric on a less
income, and get some credit for my generosity. To maintain a profligate
and gamester, a pander to fashionable follies, only because he has the
art of laying on a cosmetic and pencilling an eyebrow to a higher degree
than anyone else! Yet after all 'tis something to have one's toilet
performed skilfully, and a blunderer would put me in a fever every time
he touched me. Why should I grudge the fellow his wages? he is as
necessary to me as Dubois was to the Duke, and _he_ would accept no
lesser recompense than to be prime minister, and have all the threads of
state intrigue in his hands. This fellow of mine is an unambitious,
innocuous scoundrel. He only preys upon my purse."

He rang for his footman, one of those splendid functionaries being
always in attendance in a three-cornered lobby or ante-room outside Mr.
Topsparkle's study. This chamber was an oak-panelled well, lighted from
a skylight, cold in winter and suffocating in summer; but the lacquey,
sitting on a velvet-covered bench with his silken legs stretched out
before him, was supposed to enjoy a life of luxurious idleness.

"My chocolate and the papers," ordered Mr. Topsparkle. "Stay, you can
put on some logs before you go. 'Tis odiously cold this morning."

He went back to his sofa, which was in front of the fire. The chocolate
was brought almost immediately, as if by magic, most of Mr. Topsparkle's
desires being divined beforehand and duly prepared for, lest he should
complain, like the late French King, that he had "almost waited."

The footman wheeled a little table beside the sofa, and arranged his
master's pillows, while a second attendant spirit brought the
silver-gilt chocolate service and the fashionable journals, those thin
and meagre papers which in the absence of parliamentary debates eked out
their scanty public news with much private scandal, announcements of
intended marriages that never came off, hints at reported elopements
under the thin veil of initials, theatrical criticism, and quotations
from some lordling's satiric poem, for in those days almost all
lordlings had an itch for satire, and fancied they could write. If the
verses appeared anonymously, were fairly metrical and particularly
spiteful, they were generally debited to Pope or Lady Mary, and the
anonymous lordling went about for a week or two rubbing his hands and
chuckling and telling all the town under the seal of secrecy that he was
the author of that remarkable lampoon which had just convulsed society.

Mr. Topsparkle sipped his chocolate, and tried to read his papers: but
this morning he found himself in no humour for public news--the last
letter from the Continent--the last highway robbery in Denmark Street,
St. Giles--or even for the more appetising private scandal, about the
Lady at Richmond Court who had suddenly retired from society, but was
_not_ in a wasting sickness, or the celebrated Duchess, once a famous
beauty, whose housemaids had left her in a body because the ducal board
wages were two shillings a week under the customary allowance. Mr.
Topsparkle's mind was too intently occupied upon his own business to
compassionate the Richmond lady or to speculate whether the anonymous
duchess was the mighty Sarah of Blenheim, or her mad Grace of
Buckinghamshire, both alike notorious for pride and parsimony.

He flung the journals aside with an oath.

"These scribblers are the stupidest scoundrels alive," he muttered,
"there is not an ounce of wit in the whole fraternity. O, for the days
of Steele and Addison, when one was sure of pleasant reading with one's
breakfast! Their trumpery imitators give the outward form of the essay
without its inward spirit."

The footman appeared

"A lady is below, sir, who says she will be mightily obliged if you will
allow her ten minutes' conversation."

"Pray, who is the lady who calls at such an extraordinary hour, before a
gentleman's day has begun?"

"She gave no name, sir."

"Go ask who she is."

The man retired, and returned to say the lady was a stranger to Mr.
Topsparkle, and asked an interview as a favour.

"So! That sounds mysterious," said Topsparkle. "Pray, what manner of
personage is she? Does she look like a genteel beggar, elderly and
shabby, in a greasy black-silk hood and mantle, eh, my man?"

"No, sir, the person is young and handsome. She looks rather like one of
the foreign singing-women your honour is pleased to patronise."

"Singing women! Why, do you know, block-head, that those singing women,
as you call them, are the beloved of princes, and have the salaries of
prime ministers? Singing women, forsooth! And this stranger is young and
pretty, you say?"

"Yes, sir."

"And a foreigner?"

"I am sure of that, sir."

"You can show her up."

Mr. Topsparkle composed himself into an attitude on the sofa, like Louis
XIV. Flatterers told him that he resembled that superb monarch, as he
did in the fact that much of his dignity and splendour was derived from
costume. Seated upon his cut velvet sofa, with the skirts of his coat
spreading wide, his jewelled rapier at his side, he had certainly an
almost regal air, calculated to overawe a nameless foreign woman, who
was in all probability an adventuress whose audacity was her only
passport to that stately mansion.

The footman threw open the door, and announced "A lady to wait upon your
honour," whereupon there came tripping in a plump little woman in a
quilted satin petticoat, and short tucked-up gown, fluttering all over
with cherry-coloured bows, and with a cherry-coloured hood setting off
but in no wise concealing a mass of unpowdered black hair which
clustered about a low forehead, and agreeably shaded the brightest black
eyes Mr. Topsparkle had seen for a long time, eyes brimming with
coquetry, and not without a lurking craftiness of expression which set
the admiring gentleman upon his guard.

The lady's nose was _retroussé_, her lips were too thick for beauty, but
of a carmine tint which was accentuated by the artful adjustment of
patches; the lady's complexion was not quite so artificial as Mr.
Topsparkle's, but it revealed an acquaintance with some of the highest
branches of the face-painting art. The lady in general effect looked
about three-and-twenty. Mr. Topsparkle put her down for
eight-and-thirty.

"My dear madam, I beg you to be seated," said Topsparkle, waving his
attenuated hand graciously towards a chair, and admiring his rings and
point lace ruffle as he did so. "You honour me vastly by this pleasant
impromptu visit. May I offer you a cup of chocolate?"

"You are too condescending, sir. I took my chocolate before I left
home," replied the cherry-coloured intruder, sinking gracefully into a
chair, and rounding her plump white arms as she adjusted her cherry
satin muff. "I venture to call at this early hour, before the great
world has begun to besiege your lordship's door, because I have an
appeal to make to your generous heart."

"I thought as much," said Mr. Topsparkle within himself. "This
cherry-coloured personage has come to beg."

He was so used to be begged of that his heart had hardened itself, was
adamant against all such petitions; but he did not object when the
mendicant was a pretty woman, with whom he might indulge in half an
hour's innocent persiflage at the cost of a few guineas.

"Dearest madam, I am all ears," he murmured languidly.

"Sir, you behold a deeply-injured woman," said the lady, with a tragic
air, and the announcement sounded like the beginning of a very long
story.

"Say not so, I beseech you, madam; the character is so odiously common,"
protested Mr. Topsparkle. "That piquant countenance, those brilliant
eyes, bespeak originality. Such a face is designed only to injure, the
mission of such beauty is to destroy."

"Ah, sir, there was a day when I knew my power and used it; you who are
a frequenter of the opera may perhaps remember the name and person of
Coralie Legrand."

"Your person, madam, once seen can never be forgotten; and if I had
heard you sing in the opera--"

"Sir, I was a dancer, not a singer," exclaimed the lady, with a wounded
air.

"Was, madam; nay, speak not of yourself in the past, '_Fuit Ilium_;'
say not that such charms are for ever withdrawn from the public
eye--that the flame of the candles no longer shines upon that
beauty--that some selfish churl, some avaricious hoarder of loveliness,
has appropriated so fair a being for his own exclusive property."

"It is true, sir. I who had once half the town at my feet am now mewed
up in a stuffy parlour, and scolded if I venture to exchange half a
dozen sentences with some aristocratic pretty fellow, or to venture a
guinea or so at ombre."

"Soho!" exclaimed Topsparkle, becoming suddenly intent. "Your name,
madam, your name, I entreat."

"I was Coralie Legrand, leading dancer in the first division of the
ballet at the Royal Haymarket Opera. I am Mrs. Fétis, your valet's
ill-used wife; and it is on my husband's account that I venture--"

"Madam, you have the strongest claim upon me. Fétis is an old servant--"

"He is an old servant. If I had known how old before I married him--"

"O, madam, he is not a septuagenarian; Fétis is my junior."

"He looks your lordship's senior; but it is not so much his age I object
to. I would forgive him for being ninety if he were only indulgent and
generous."

"Is he capable of meanness to so bewitching a wife?"

"Yes, sir, he is horribly stingy. At this hour I am being dunned to
death by my next-door neighbour, to whom I owe a paltry fifteen guineas.
She is Madame Furbelow, the Court milliner, a person of some ton, and
she and I were dearest friends till this money trouble parted us--but
'tis shocking not to be able to pay one's debts of honour. Yet, to my
certain knowledge, Fétis has lost hundreds in a single night to some of
his fine gentlemen customers, who fool him by pretending to treat him as
a friend. There was the wild Duke of Wharton, for instance, and his club
of intriguers, the Schemers they called themselves, a committee of
gallants, who used to hold their meetings at our house and plot mischief
against poor innocent women--how to carry off silly heiresses and to
conquer rich widows. His Grace had a bank at faro, and that foolish
husband of mine was a frequent loser."

"He must have won sometimes, madam. He must have had his lucky nights,
like the rest of us."

"Then he kept his good luck to himself, sir; I never heard of it. He
said he ought to have the devil's luck in love since he was so cursedly
unlucky at cards and dice. And then, though he has the effrontery to
deny me a few guineas, I have heard him boast that he has claims upon
you which you must always honour, that your purse was a golden stream
which could never run dry."

"O, he has boasted, has he, the poor foolish fellow, boasted of his
power over me?"

"Nay, sir, I did not presume to mention the word 'power.' He has bragged
of his services to you--long and faithful services such as no other man
in Europe would have rendered to a master. He has curious fits at
times--but I did not come hither to betray his secrets, poor creature; I
came in the hope that your lordship, who has been ever so bountiful to
my husband, could perhaps grant some small pecuniary favour to a poor
woman in distress--"

"Madam, my purse is at your service," exclaimed Topsparkle eagerly,
taking out a well-filled pocket-book, and selecting a couple of
bank-notes. "Here is a trifling sum which will enable you to pay your
neighbour and leave a surplus for some future transactions of the same
kind, or for another hood like that which becomes you so admirably.
Pray, never hesitate to call upon me for any petty assistance of this
kind."

The fair Coralie cooed her thanks with a gentle murmuring as of a
wood-pigeon, and ventured so far as to imprint her rosy lips upon her
benefactor's lean hand, a kiss which Mr. Topsparkle received as a
compliment, although he stealthily wiped his hand with his cambric
handkerchief the next minute.

"And you say that my poor Louis is odd at times," he said caressingly.
"I hope he does not drink?"

"I think not, sir. There is a terrible deal of drinking goes on in our
house, but I doubt if my husband is ever the worse for liquor. But he
has strange fits sometimes of a night, cannot sleep, or sleeps but for
five minutes at a time, and then starts up from his bed and walks up and
down the room, saying that he is haunted, haunted by the souls he has
ruined. He says there is a ghost in _this_house."

"Indeed," cried Mr. Topsparkle, looking around him, and assuming his
airiest manner, "and yet I do not fancy this looks like the habitation
of ghosts. There are no cobwebs festooning the walls, no bats and owls
flitting across the ceiling, no dirt, decay, or desolation."

"Nay, sir, it is a splendid house, full of beautifulest things. Yet I
have heard my husband on those sleepless nights of his when he has
talked more to himself than to me--I have heard him say that he has
rushed out of this house at twilight with the cold sweat pouring down
his face."

"Then, my dear lady, I fear there is no room to doubt that your husband
has taken to drink. The symptoms you depict are precisely those of a
drunkard's disease known to all medical men. The sleepless nights--the
imagination of ghosts and phantoms--the cold sweat--these are as common
and as plain as the pustules that denote smallpox or the spots that
indicate scarlet fever. If your husband does not drink openly, be
assured he drinks deep in secret. You had better get him away from
London. What say you to returning to your native country?"

Mrs. Fétis shrugged her shoulders with a doubtful air. She often talked
rapturously of La Belle France, raved of her sunny south, that gracious
city of Périgord where she had been born and reared to the age of
fifteen. Yet for all the common purposes of life she had liked London a
great deal better.

"There is nothing I should love so much," she protested. "But 'twould be
madness to leave a house in which we have sunk all our means and our
labour with the hope of getting our reward by a competence in our old
age. Indeed, sir, we could not afford to leave Poland Street."

"Not if you were amply provided for elsewhere?" asked Topsparkle.

"Ah, sir, to be provided for by others--by a kind of pension from a
wealthy benefactor for instance," looking at him searchingly, as if she
were measuring his capacity for generosity, "that is all very well for
poor-spirited people--the English lower classes have no pride. But my
husband and I are of an independent mind. We would rather have our
liberty even in poverty than be pensioners upon any one's bounty, which
might be withdrawn at a day's notice."

"Nay, a pension of that kind to be useful must be assured to
you--something in the way of an annuity in the public funds, for
instance--dependent on your own lives, and not upon any one else's frail
thread of existence."

Mrs. Fétis looked interested, and almost convinced.

"'Twould be a delicious life and free from care; but Fétis has a passion
for London, and all whom I love in my own country are dead. It would be
but to go back to their graves."

Mr. Topsparkle said no more. He did not want to appear over anxious to
banish his old servant, yet the man's tone to-day and the wife's
revelations had intensified a feeling he had entertained for a long
time, a feeling that the hour had come when it would be very agreeable
to get rid of his _âme damnée_. He would suffer considerable
inconvenience undoubtedly from the loss of a valet who so thoroughly
understood his complexion; but anything was better than the everlasting
vicinity of a servant who knew too much.

He dismissed the Frenchwoman with a compliment, escorted her to the
ante-room, and kissed her hand with a finished courtesy before he
committed her to the care of the footman, and then he went back to his
sofa, warmed his feet at the log-fire, and gave himself up to a serious
thought.

"The man is getting dangerous," he thought; "he always was a creature of
excitable temper, and now he has drunk or gamed himself into a kind of
mental fever, from which perhaps the next stage would be madness. Better
so! Nobody believes a madman. And if he were to make any revelations
about the remote past, who is there to confirm him? No one. The old
Venetian must long since have been numbered with his ancestors. The
apothecary disappeared thirty years ago and left no trace behind him.
If it had not been for that damnable scandal at the time, set on foot
and fostered by that villain Churchill, I could laugh any accusation of
Fétis to scorn; but there are a few of my contemporaries malicious
enough to have long memories, and I would do much to avoid a revival of
that hellish outcry which drove me from the hustings and from the
country. I have not forgotten. That hateful scene at Brentford is as
vivid in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. And he has begun to
talk, to get up in the middle of the night and to rave about being
haunted. And this loquacious wife of his will repeat his ravings to all
her gossips. Yes, there is danger, were it ever so slight. A man of my
importance is a target for every venomous arrow. Fétis, you must be
silenced."

He rose and paced the room slowly, meditating upon the position in all
its aspects, and with all its possibilities of evil. There was his wife,
of whose loyalty he was ever doubtful. What if that ancient scandal were
to reach her ears? Would she not use it as a weapon against him, ally
herself with her old lover for his destruction? The very thought made
that magnificent periwig of his tremulous as if with a palsy.

The man must be got out of the way somehow. If he did not snap at the
bait of a handsome annuity and accept retirement to his native land,
there might be other means, nearer, shorter, of disposing of him.

Yes, there was one way, short and easy, as it seemed to Mr. Topsparkle;
a way of making Louis Fétis safe for ever: but that way would leave the
wife at liberty--and she might be dangerous.

"No, she can be bought," thought Topsparkle, "she is vain and
empty-headed. I can manage her--but he--I have been an idiot to keep him
about me so long--and yet he has been useful. I have leant upon
him--never knowing when I might need his help. I believed in his
discretion, thought him secret as the grave; and now he has begun to
blab to that silly wife of his, my confidence is destroyed for ever--all
sense of security is gone."



CHAPTER IV.

"SMITE HIS HARD HEART, AND SHAKE HIS REPTILE SOUL."


With Vincenti's narrative fresh in his mind, and with a very lively
recollection of Mr. Philter's story, Lord Lavendale had a keen desire to
see something more of the French valet--or private secretary--who had
been so diabolically subservient to his master's jealousy and revenge.
There was of course always the possibility that Vincenti's theory and
the floating suspicions of the neighbourhood might be without
substantial foundation. People have had a knack of attributing all
sudden or mysterious deaths to poison ever since the days of Sir Thomas
Overbury--nor could Lord Essex cut his throat with his own razor without
giving rise to an accusation of murder. In any case Lavendale was
determined to see something more of the supposed tool, and to study him
on his own ground, at the house in Poland Street.

It was very easy for him to get invited to supper at this favourite
rendezvous. The Schemers' Club was extinct, and almost forgotten. It had
expired with Wharton's disgrace and exile; and Wharton himself, the
brilliant orator, the unscrupulous turncoat, the prodigal and
profligate, was a wanderer in the wilds of Catalonia, ruined, broken,
and dying.

There were other bloods of the same kidney, lesser lights in the
firmament of pleasure, and one of these, Sir Randal Hetherington,
invited Lavendale to a card party at the house in Poland Street.

"'Tis a snug retreat, where a gentleman can receive his friends without
being stared at by the chance mob of a chocolate house; 'tis more
secluded even than a club, and has the advantage of admitting feminine
company," he said; "and Fétis has one of the best cooks in London. A
very clever fellow, Fétis, monstrously superior to his station--knows
more about foreign politics than Peterborough or Horace Walpole; I have
sometimes suspected that he is one of old Fleury's spies."

Lavendale went, supped, and drank deep of the champagne which Mr. Fétis
supplied to his patrons at a guinea a bottle, but not so deep as to lose
a word that was spoken or a single indication which could enlighten him
as to the character of his host, who waited upon the little party in
person during supper, and afterwards sat down to cards with them,
received upon a footing which was more familiar than friendship,
something after the kind of condescending jocose intimacy which obtained
between the princes and court jesters of old.

Fétis under such conditions was an altogether different person from Mr.
Topsparkle's sedate and silent valet. He had a Rabelaisian wit which
kept the table in a roar, had a fund of French anecdotes, short, sharp,
and pungent, _àpropos_ to every turn of the conversation. He had been
carefully and piously educated in his early youth, and out of the
theological learning acquired in those days was able to furnish an
inexhaustible flow of blasphemy.

"I never knew a man who could get such a fine effect out of so small a
knowledge of the Scriptures," said young Spencer, the Duchess of
Marlborough's prodigal grandson, and one of the finest gentlemen upon
town. He and his elder brother were both patrons of the house in Poland
Street, supped there with a confidential friend or two on a bladebone of
mutton and a magnum of Burgundy, after the play, as the prologue to a
quiet hour at hazard, or gave a choice banquet in the French style to a
bevy of stage beauties.

Lavendale marked the change in Fétis from the grave and high-bred
servant to the audacious jester, and saw in it the clue to the man's
character--a creature of various masks, who could fit his manners to the
occasion; but he saw also that the man was of a highly nervous excitable
temperament, and that a long life of iniquity had wasted his physical
forces to extreme attenuation.

"He is of a more spiritual type than his master, in spite of that
gentleman's various accomplishments," thought Lavendale, "and with him
the flame in the lamp burns brighter, the oil that feeds it wastes
faster. Not a man to stand a violent shock of any kind, I doubt."

As the night wore on, and the party grew more riotous, and less
observant of one another, Lavendale took an opportunity to talk apart
with Fétis.

"I think we have met before, Monsieur Fétis?" he said.

"Yes, my lord, frequently. I was at Ringwood Abbey in attendance upon
Mr. Topsparkle while you were visiting there last winter."

"True, 'twas there I saw you, slipping past me in a corridor with a most
incomparable modesty. I dreamt not what a roguish wit was hidden under
so subdued and sober an aspect."

"Your lordship must consider that in Mr. Topsparkle's house I am in some
measure a servant. Here I am on my own ground, and these gentlemen are
good enough to indulge all my follies."

"Ringwood Abbey did not give me my first knowledge of you," said
Lavendale, watching the crafty face, as Fétis trifled with a silver-gilt
snuffbox. "Your renown had reached me before then. I heard of you some
years ago when I was travelling in Italy, where you are still
remembered."

"Indeed, my lord! It is ten years since I was in Italy."

"These memories were of an older date. They went back to the last
century, when you were a youth and a student, an adept in chemistry, I
am told."

Fétis started, and turned towards his interlocutor with an ashen
countenance, the snuffbox shaking in his tremulous hand.

"Who told you that?" he asked; "who remembers me so long?"

"An old Venetian who happened to hear of you at that time, and who is
one of my most intimate friends."

"Will your lordship tell me his name?"

He had recovered himself by this time, and had closed the snuffbox, not
without spilling a slight shower of the scented mixture upon his
olive-silk knee-breeches.

"Borromeo."

Fétis shook his head.

"I have no memory of such a person. Yes, my lord, I was in Venice forty
years ago as a travelling secretary to Mr. Topsparkle. We were both
young men in those days, and I was more of a student than I have ever
been since that time. The world soon drew me from the study of science;
but at three-and-twenty I was full of enthusiasm, hoped to discover the
philosopher's stone, to make myself as powerful as Dr. Faustus. Idle
dreams, my lord. The world is wiser nowadays. I am told that Sir Richard
Steele was the last person who ever cultivated the necromantic arts in
England, and that he set up his laboratory at Islington. But even he
learnt to laugh at his own delusions."

"But there are more practical studies for the chemist than the arts of
Paracelsus or the Geber Arabs," said Lavendale lightly. "My informant
told me that you had the repute of being a great toxicologist."

Fétis looked at the speaker intently, but did not answer for the moment.
He seemed sunk in a reverie.

"Borromeo," he muttered to himself; "I know no such name."

"Fétis, the deal is yours," cried Mr. Spencer, and Fétis took the cards
with a mechanical air, and went on with the game.

Lavendale was satisfied. He had gone far enough for a first attack, and
he had seen enough in the manner and expression of the man to assure him
that Vincenti's story was true.

"And the woman I love is married to a secret assassin!" he thought
despairingly, "and when I might have plucked her out of that hell
yonder, I drew back and left her there at peril of her life! If he was
capable of murdering that early victim of his forty years ago, at what
crime would he stop now, hardened and emboldened by a long life of
wickedness? She has but to go a step too far--provoke his jealousy
beyond endurance--and Mr. Fétis and his black art may be invoked again.
Fool that I was to leave her in his power, and yet--" And yet he felt
that the alternative might have been worse--to ally her to a fast
vanishing life, to leave her with a dishonoured name, ruined in worldly
circumstance, widowed in heart without a widow's title of honour,
desolate, unpitied, to wander about the Continent in fourth-rate
society--an outcast--as the Duke of Wharton was wandering now. No, that
would have been a moral murder, worse than the hazard of Topsparkle's
revenge. Again, there was always this to be considered--that, although a
nameless foreign mistress might be murdered almost with impunity, it
would be a very perilous matter to make away with an English lady of
rank.

"No, she is safe," reflected Lavendale, "and if she is unhappy she wears
her rue with a difference--everybody thinks her the gayest and luckiest
of women. I will not waste my pity upon her."

Before the entertainment was over, his lordship and Mr. Fétis were on
the friendliest terms.

"You must visit me in Bloomsbury Square, Monsieur Fétis," said
Lavendale. "The house is not without interest, for 'twas a chosen resort
of the Whigs in Godolphin's time, and it has seen some curious meetings
at the beginning of the late king's reign."

"I shall be proud to wait upon your lordship."

"Say you so; then name your evening to sup with me. Shall it be
to-morrow?"

"If your lordship has no better occupation."

"I could have none better. Your mind is a treasury of interesting facts,
Mr. Fétis, and your conversation is the best entertainment I can imagine
for an idle hour after supper. I want to talk with you of my poor friend
Wharton. He and I have been companions in many a revel in London and
Vienna; and 'tis sad to think that fiery comet should have plunged so
fast into space and darkness, a burnt-out shell."

"His grace was one of my most generous friends and patrons, and I mourn
for him as for a son," said Fétis.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lavendale went home in a thoughtful mood, and was glad to find lights
burning in Durnford's study, and that his friend was sitting up late to
finish his newspaper work, after a long afternoon at the House. Herrick
and Irene were still his lordship's guests, and he was very loth to part
with them; but they had found a cottage at Battersea, with a garden
sloping to the river, not far from that big house of Lord St. John's
which dominated the village. The cottage was in a wretched state of
repair, and a month or more must elapse before it could be made
habitable; but to Herrick and Irene there was rapture in the idea of
this modest home which was to be all their own, maintained by the
husband's industry, brightened and beautified by the young wife's care.

Mdlle. Latour was in possession already, living in the one habitable
room, and superintending the repairs and improvements. She was installed
as Irene's housekeeper, with a stout servant-girl for the rest of the
establishment.

Lavendale was vexed that his friend should not be content to share his
home in London and Surrey.

"'Tis churlish of you to go and build your own nest four miles off, and
leave me to the desolation of empty rooms and echoing passages," he
complained. "Pray, have I been over-officious in my hospitality, or
intrusive of my company? Have I ever disturbed your billing and cooing?"

"You have done all that hospitality and delicatest feeling could do to
make us happy, dear Jack," returned Herrick warmly; "but it is not well
for any man to set up his Lares and Penates under another man's roof.
The sense of independence, the burden of bread-winning, is the one
attribute of manhood which no man dare surrender, least of all when he
has a dear soul dependent upon him. What would the world say, d'ye
think, were my wife and I to riot in luxury at your cost?"

"Damn the world!"

"Ay, Jack, I could afford to say that while I was a bachelor; but for my
wife's sake I must truckle to the town, and do nothing to forfeit the
most pragmatical person's good opinion. Do you think I shall love you
less when I am living at Battersea?"

"I know that I shall have less of your society--that when my dark hour
is on there will be no one to cheer me."

"Order your horse and ride to Battersea whenever the dark hour comes.
The ride will do you good, and you shall have a loving welcome and a
decent meal, come when you may. We shall always keep open house for
you."

"And I shall visit you so often as to make you heartily sick of me. Good
God, Herrick, how I envy you your happiness, your future with its
fulness of hope; while for me there is nothing--"

Herrick clasped his hand without a word; that honest affectionate grasp
was all the comfort he could offer to one whose wasted life and broken
constitution left scarce the possibility of hope on this side of the
grave; and to suggest spiritual consolation at all times and seasons was
not in Herrick's line. He knew too well that no man could be preached
into piety.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lavendale went straight to the room where his friend was at work, and
told him of his evening in Poland Street, and of his invitation to
Fétis. He had told Herrick all the facts in Vincenti's narrative, and
the two had discussed the story together. Herrick was keenly interested,
and it was partly on his suggestion that Lavendale had made himself
familiar with the Fétis establishment.

"Let him come to-morrow night by all means," he said eagerly, "and if we
lay our heads together meanwhile, we might, I think, with Irene's help,
frighten the wretch into a confession."

"What, after forty years of secrecy, after having so hardened himself in
crime!"

"Well, say an admission of some kind--a full confession were perhaps too
much to expect. Nothing but the immediate prospect of a hempen necklace
would extort that. And yet it has been found that the most hardened
villain has sometimes a vein of superstition, an abject terror of that
spirit world whose judgments and punishments he has hazarded so
audaciously."

"With Irene's help, you said. What has Irene to do with the matter?"

"Have you forgotten that picture in Mr. Topsparkle's cabinet--that
Italian head which might have been intended for my wife's portrait, so
vivid was the likeness?"

"Yes, I remember it perfectly."

"I have a notion that I can play upon Fétis's feelings by means of that
resemblance."

"But the likeness will not be new to him. He saw your wife at Ringwood
Abbey."

"Yes; but the circumstances under which he shall see her again will be
new, and his own feelings will be new. Leave me to work out my scheme
after my own fashion, Jack. All you have to do is to ply your guest with
the strongest liquor he will swallow, and then watch and listen."



CHAPTER V.

"I'LL JOIN WITH THEE IN A MOST JUST REVENGE."


Fétis repaired to Bloomsbury Square next evening, not altogether with
the innocent simplicity of the lamb that goes to the slaughter, but with
the caution of an astute mind which perceives a snare in every civility,
and suspects a trap in every invitation.

"Why was the man so civil, and what does he know about my life in Venice
forty years ago?"

Those were the questions which had agitated the Frenchman's mind during
that brief remnant of the night which he had spent in restless
wakefulness, and they had proved unanswerable. Caution might have
prompted him to avoid Lord Lavendale's house and turn a deaf ear to that
nobleman's civilities; but anxiety made him curious, and fear of the
future made him bold in the present. He wanted to know the extent of
Lavendale's knowledge of his own past life, and to that end he accepted
his lordship's invitation. His vanity again, which was large, made him
suppose himself a match for Lord Lavendale in any intellectual
encounter.

"If he has courted me in order to pump me for the secrets of the past,
he will find he has wasted his trouble," thought Mr. Fétis, as his chair
was being carried through perilous St. Giles's.

It was eleven o'clock, a late hour for supper; but Lord Lavendale had
been at the House of Lords, and had dined with some of his brother peers
after the debate. Supper had been prepared in the late lord's private
sitting-room, a small triangular parlour at the end of a stately suite
of reception-rooms, a room which had been rarely used of late, but which
Herrick, for some unexplained motive, had selected as the scene of this
evening's entertainment. It was altogether the cosiest room in the
house, and with a heaped-up fire of sea-coal and oak logs in the wide
grate, a small round table laid for supper, a pair of silver candelabra
holding a dozen wax candles, and a side table loaded with all the
materials for a jovial evening, the little triangular parlour looked the
very picture of comfort.

The brightness and warmth of the room had an agreeable effect upon Mr.
Fétis, who had been chilled and depressed for the moment by those cold
and empty apartments through which a footman had ushered him by the
light of a single candle, borne aloft as the man stalked in advance with
a ghostlike air.

"Let me perish, my lord, but your empty saloons have given me the
shivers," said Fétis, as he warmed his spindleshanks at the blaze; "your
tall footman looked like a spectre."

"Come, come, Mr. Fétis, you are not the kind of man to believe in
apparitions," said Durnford gaily. "I think we are all materialists
here, are we not? We accept nothing for truth that cannot be
mathematically demonstrated."

Lavendale looked grave. "It is not every sceptic who is free from
superstition," he said. "There are men who cannot believe in a Personal
God, and who will yet tremble at a shadow. I have known an infidel who
would scoff at the Gospel, stand up for the story of the Witch of
Endor."

Mr. Fétis shrugged his shoulders, and did not pursue the argument.

The butler and a pair of footmen brought in the hot dishes, and opened a
magnum of champagne, and supper began in serious earnest--one of those
exquisite suppers for which Lavendale had been renowned in his wild
youth, when he had vied with the Regent Philip in the studied
extravagance of his table.

Fétis was a connoisseur, and his secret anxieties did not hinder him
from doing ample justice to the meal. Lavendale pretended to eat, but
scarcely tasted the delicacies which were set before him. Durnford ate
hurriedly, hardly knowing what he was eating, full of nervous
anticipation. Fétis was the only one of the party who could calmly
appreciate the talents of the _chef_ and the aroma of the wines.

He refused champagne altogether, as a liquor only fit for boyhood and
senility; but he highly approved the Burgundy, which had been laid down
by the last Lord Lavendale, and had been maturing for nearly fifteen
years.

"There is no wine like that which comes from the Côte d'Or," he said;
and then, in a somewhat cracked voice, he chirruped a stanza of
Villon's "Ballade joyeuse des Taverniers."

"I did not see your lordship at the opera to-night," he said presently.

"No, I was at a less agreeable entertainment. I was at the House of
Lords. Was the Opera House full?"

"A galaxy of fashion and beauty; but I think that lady whom I may call
my mistress still bears the palm. There was not a woman among them to
outshine Mr. Topsparkle's wife."

"He has reason to be proud of such a wife," said Lavendale lightly.
"Fill your glass, I beg, Mr. Fétis, or I shall doubt your liking for
that wine. She is not his first wife, by the way--nor his first
beautiful wife. My Italian friend told me that Topsparkle carried off
one of the handsomest women in Venice when he left that city. What
became of the lady?"

"She died young."

"In Italy?"

"No, my lord. Mr. Topsparkle brought the young lady to London, and she
died of colic--or in all likelihood of the plague--at his house in Soho
Square."

"Was she his wife?"

"That question, my lord, rests with Mr. Topsparkle's conscience. If he
was married to the young lady I was not admitted to his confidence. I
was not present at the marriage; but she was always spoken of in the
household as Mrs. Topsparkle; and I, as a servant, had no right to
question her claim to that title."

"I have heard that there was something mysterious about her death;
something that aroused suspicion in the neighbourhood."

"O, my lord, all sudden deaths are accounted suspicious nowadays. There
has not been a prince of the blood royal, or a nobleman that has died in
France during the last thirty years, but there has been talk of poison,
although the disease has been as obvious in its characteristics as
disease can ever be. Smallpox, ague, putrid fever, have one and all been
put down to the late Regent and his accomplices; whereas that poor
good-natured prince would scarce have trodden willingly upon a worm.
Never was a kinder creature, yet his heart was wrung many a time by the
vilest accusations circulated with an insolent openness. As for Mrs.
Topsparkle's death, I could give you all the medical details, were you
curious enough to listen to them."

His manner was serenity itself; and it was difficult to suppose that
guilt could lurk under so placid an aspect, so easy a bearing. Yet last
night the first allusion to his life in Venice had blanched his cheek
and made his hand tremulous. The difference was that he had then been
unprepared, while to-night he was fortified against every shock, and had
schooled himself to answer every question.

"The suspicion was doubtless unfounded," said Lavendale, "but I have
heard that the slander banished Mr. Topsparkle from this country."

"My master was over sensitive regarding the lampoons and libels which
are rife at all elections, and which were directed against him with
peculiar venom on account of his wealth, his youth, and his
accomplishments," answered Fétis. "He left England in a fit of disgust
after the Brentford Election; and as a Continental life had always
suited his humour, he lived abroad for thirty years, with but
occasional visits to his native country."

"You stand by him with a truly loyal spirit, which is worthy of all
admiration," said Durnford.

"'Twere hard if there were no fidelity between master and servant after
forty years' service. I know Mr. Topsparkle's failings, and can
compassionate him where he is weak and erring. He is a man of a jealous
temper, and did not live altogether happily with the Italian lady of
whom you were talking. It was known in the household that they had
quarrelled--that there had been tears, scenes, recrimination on his
side, distress on hers. This knowledge was the only ground for suspicion
among the busy-bodies of the neighbourhood when the young lady died
after an illness of two days. The fools did not take the trouble to know
or to consider that she had never properly recovered her health after
the birth of her infant."

"What became of that infant, Mr. Fétis?"

"She was educated abroad, and turned out badly. I can tell you nothing
about her," replied Fétis, with an impatient shrug. "I had nothing to do
with her bringing up, nor do I know her fate. I have never tried to pry
into my master's secrets."

"But surely you, who were so much more than a servant, almost a brother,
must have known everything," urged Lavendale; and then with a lighter
air he added, "but 'tis inhospitable to plague you about the history of
the past when we are met here to enjoy the present. What say you to a
shake of the dice-box to raise our spirits?"

Fétis assented eagerly, with all a gamester's gusto, and he and Lord
Lavendale spent nearly an hour at hazard, until the Frenchman had a pile
of guineas lying in front of him, and in the pleasure of winning had
drank deep of that fine old Burgundy which he had praised at supper. He
played with a feverish excitement which Lavendale had remarked in his
manner on the previous evening; but to-night the fiery energies of the
man were intensified. He was like a man possessed by devils.

When Lavendale grew weary of losing, and would have left off, the
Frenchman urged him to go on a little longer.

"I am generally an unlucky wretch: you will have your revenge
presently," he said eagerly, and after a few more turns Fétis began to
lose.

Lavendale swept up the dice and flung them into a drawer.

"It would have been unmannerly to leave off while you were winning,
Monsieur Fétis," he said; "but now the luck is turned against you, I
will own I have had enough. What can be this passion of cards which
possesses some of us to grovel for a long night over the board of green
cloth? I have never known the gambler's fiercest fever, though I have
played deep enough in my time; and now my soul soon sickens of the stale
diversion."

The Frenchman pocketed his pile of gold with a mechanical air, and
looked about him like a man awakened suddenly from a feverish dream. His
hands trembled a little as he adjusted his wig, which had been pushed
awry in his excitement. His eyes had a glassy brightness, and it was
obvious that he was the worse for liquor.

"Good-night, my lord; Mr. Durnford, your servant. I fear I have kept
your lordship up very late. If we have trenched somewhat on the dead of
night--"

"Monsieur Fétis, the pleasure of your society has been an ample
recompense for the loss of slumber," said Lavendale. "My chairmen shall
take you home. They have been told to wait for you."

"Indeed, your lordship is too considerate."

"The rest of my people have gone to bed, I believe; Durnford, will you
light Monsieur Fétis to the hall?"

Herrick took a candle from a side table and led the way through the
empty rooms, cold and dark and unspeakably dismal after the light and
warmth of that cosy parlour in which the three men had supped. The
atmosphere struck a chill to the soul of Fétis as he entered the first
of those disused reception-rooms. Herrick's one candle shed but a faint
gleam of light, which served only to accentuate the gloom. Gigantic
shadows, strange forms of vague blackness, like the monstrous
inhabitants of some mysterious underworld, seemed to emerge out of the
corners and creep towards Fétis--dragon-like monsters, with spreading
pinions and eagle claws. They were but the shadow-forms of incipient
delirium tremens; but to him who beheld them they were unspeakably
horrible.

Yet these were as nothing to that which came afterwards.

He crept with a curious cat-like gait across the room, shrinking from
side to side to avoid the clutch of those shadowy claws, to avoid being
caught up and enfolded for ever beneath those dark pinions, but on the
threshold of the next room he gave a wild yell of agony, and fell on his
knees, grovelling, the powdered wig pushed from his bald head by those
nerveless hands of his, and drops of cold sweat breaking out upon his
wrinkled forehead.

At the further end of the room, luminous in the faint rays of a lamp, he
saw a shadow in a long white garment, a pale face, and dark eyes gazing
upon him with a solemn stillness, a pale immovable countenance, like
that of the dead.

"Spare me! spare me!" he cried. "O, pale, sad victim, have I not atoned?
Haunt me no more, poor murdered wretch, betrayed, betrayed, betrayed at
every turn! Thy cup of sorrow was full, but O, forgive thy much more
wretched murderer! Pity, and pardon!"

The words came in short gasps--uttered in a shrill treble that was
almost a scream. They had a sound like the cry of a tortured
animal--seemed hardly human to those who heard them. He held his hands
before his eyes, clasped convulsively over the eyeballs to shut out the
vision that appalled him; and then gradually he collapsed altogether,
and sank fainting on the threshold.

When consciousness returned he was seated in front of an open window,
the cool night air blowing in upon him, sharp with the breath of late
autumn.

"Where am I?" he faltered.

"You are with those who have judged and condemned you," answered
Lavendale solemnly. "Murderer!"

"Who dares call me by that name?"

"I, Lavendale. My friend here, Durnford, is witness with me of your
guilty terror. You have seen the ghost of her whom you murdered, or
helped to murder. You have seen the ghost of your innocent victim,
Margharita Vincenti."

"It was Topsparkle's crime. I was but the assistant and tool. The guilt
was his. I was only a faithful servant."

"I doubt you were the inspirer of most of his iniquities at that time,"
said Lavendale. "It was your knowledge of poisons which put him in the
way of accommodating his sated love and gratifying his revenge at one
stroke. It is only the dead who do not come back."

That last gust of October wind did its work. Fétis rose to his feet with
his nerves restored, and faced his accuser with an easy insolence.

"Your lordship's wine has been too strong for my poor brain," he said
lightly, "and I fear I have troubled you with one of my raving fits. My
good little wife will tell you that I am subject to a kind of brain
fever after anything in the way of a debauch. Your lordship should not
have tempted me to so far exceed my usual two bottles. Pray, Mr.
Durnford, be so good as to show me to the hall. I shall not trouble your
lordship's chairmen. The walk home will steady my poor head. Your
lordship's most humble and deeply obliged servant."

He gave a low bow, a succession of bows rather, with which he bent and
wriggled himself out of Lord Lavendale's presence, in a series of
serpentine curves.

Lavendale made as if he would have sprung at him, longing to clutch at
that wizened throat and pin the secret murderer to the floor, to
imprison him for the rest of the night, and deliver him over to the
officers of justice in the morning; but Durnford laid a warning hand
upon his shoulder.

"Let him go," he whispered. "There is no evidence against him yet."

Lavendale submitted, and Durnford led the way to the hall, and saw Mr.
Fétis out of doors with supreme courtesy. Fétis flung a couple of crowns
to the sleepy chairmen as he passed out.

"Get to your beds, my good fellows," he said. "My legs are steady enough
to carry me home, in spite of your master's Burgundy."

"Why did you not help me to detain him?" asked Lavendale, when Durnford
rejoined him in the wainscoted parlour. "What can justice want more than
the wretch's own confession of his guilt?"

"Justice--as represented by a Bow Street magistrate--would want a great
deal more evidence than the incoherent ravings of a drunkard, repeated
at second hand. Our moral certainty that Fétis poisoned your old
Venetian's granddaughter will not hang him, any more than the suspicions
of the neighbours and the apothecary forty years ago."

"Yet I think your little play succeeded, and that the craven hound
revealed himself clearly enough at sight of your poor pale wife, scared
to death at the part she had to act, and looking every inch a ghost.
Neither you nor I can ever doubt that he and Topsparkle were accomplices
in a villainous murder. A pleasant reflection for one who loves
Topsparkle's wife, and might have run away with her, yet chose to play
the moralist and leave her in a murderer's clutches."

"'Twould have been a worse murder to slay her honour, as you would have
done. She is safe enough with her wicked old husband, guarded and fenced
round by society. Lady Judith is a personage. Topsparkle trembles at her
frown."

"Yes, as the devils are said to tremble before the Eternal; but his
heart may rebel against her all the same, torn by jealous fury. To know
himself old, effete, a mere simulacrum of humanity, and to see her
surrounded by all the bucks and bloods of the town, idolising and
pursuing her: could the infernal powers in Tartarus invent a more
horrible agony for a worn-out old profligate? And when once a man has
got his hand at poisoning, how easy the art! See how often my Lord This
or my Lady That is hustled into the family vault after a three days'
illness--a fever, a putrid sore-throat, the Lord knows what! Two or
three doses of arsenic or antimony, and the trick is done. 'Putrid
fever,' says the physician. 'Your house is unhealthy, Mr. Topsparkle. I
have heard your first wife died of the same kind of malady. You should
move further to the West; the new houses in Cavendish Square are almost
in the country. Here you are too near to Newgate and the Compter. The
foul odours of the gaol-birds are blown in at your windows by every east
wind.' Do you think Lady Judith's untimely death would be more than a
nine days' wonder, happen when it might?"

"I think you should concern yourself less about her, dear Jack, for your
own peace of mind."

"That was shattered long ago, friend. It is gone irrevocably, shivered,
smashed, annihilated, like that glass goblet which was once the luck of
Eden Hall. O, that Topsparkle is a damned villain! Could I but see him
and his accomplice at the Old Bailey, I would answer the dread summons
cheerfully. But to die and leave those two behind, and to leave her in
their power!"

"God grant that you may outlive those ancient sinners."

"God will not grant it, Herrick. My days are numbered, like the beads
upon a rosary--I am telling them off bead by bead--'tis but a short
string."

"Dear Jack, if thou would'st consult a physician instead of talking this
wild nonsense, and if thou would'st but take care of thyself--"

"I might live to be ninety--on ass's milk--like Hervey. Open another
bottle of Burgundy, Herrick, we are too much in the dismals."

"You shall have no more to-night."

"Shall I not, Mentor? Then I will go to bed and dream I am in Mahomet's
paradise, where lovely woman intoxicates instead of wine."



CHAPTER VI.

"WHEN SCREECH-OWLS CROAK UPON THE CHIMNEY-TOPS."


The house in Poland Street was scarce alive with the sound of footsteps
on the stairs, or the opening and shutting of doors, until the day was
well on towards noon. The cry of the sweep and the small coal man, the
baker with his rolls, and Irish Molly with her clattering milk-pails,
passed over the sleeping household, and was scarce heard dimly in a
dream by any member of that strangely compacted family. The lodgers were
for the most part such gentlemen as only began to think of their morning
tea or chocolate when it was afternoon by the sundial. The landlord and
his wife, being always among the last to retire, rose late in the
morning with a struggle, lamenting the brevity of the night. Your bad
sleeper is ever the most reluctant to rise, for his one chance of
slumber comes generally in that fatal hour when business or duty compels
him to leave his bed. Fétis, who passed most of his nights in feverish
unrest, was apt after sunrise to sink into the deep sleep of mental and
bodily exhaustion; but he must needs rise at ten in order to wait upon
his master in Soho Square, whose toilet generally began at eleven.
Madame Fétis coiled herself round like a dormouse, and would have slept
twelve hours at a stretch if permitted; but as she rarely went to bed
before three o'clock in the morning, so much indulgence was impossible.
The house must be in order soon after noon, and delicate dainty little
breakfasts must be served up for any distinguished patrons who might
have spent the night upon the premises. And neither cook nor underlings
could be trusted unless Madame was there with her keen bright eyes
overlooking everything. It was Madame who made my lord Duke's chocolate,
and buttered my lord Marquis's toast. She was the moving principle of
grace and order in the household.

At one o'clock on the day after Lord Lavendale's supper-party, at an
hour when the sober jog-trot citizens of London had dined or were in
the act of dining, Madame sat sipping her chocolate, in a morning
_négligé_ of dove-coloured tabinet--a material which Dr. Swift had done
his best to make popular, through the Queen and Princesses, for the
benefit of the Irish weavers. Her lace ruffles at neck and wrist were of
the finest Buckinghamshire, and she wore a little mob-cap upon her
piled-up tresses of unpowdered hair, which was vastly becoming. At her
side lay an open ledger, and a brace of bills, which were to be
delivered to his Grace and the Marquis later in the afternoon. As she
sipped and munched, the lady compared the items in the bills with the
figures in the ledger, and with this reading solaced her morning meal.
She stopped occasionally to make a calculation with the aid of her
roseate finger-tips, laboriously counted, for she resembled the great
Duchess Sarah alike in being an excellent woman of business, and
completely ignorant of the simplest rules of arithmetic.

For the first time for at least a year Mr. Fétis had failed in his
morning duties at Mr. Topsparkle's toilet. He had come home from his
evening entertainment very ill, and he was no better this morning; so
Madame had been obliged to send a little note of apology to Soho Square,
a missive composed in equal parts of French and English, with an
impartial measure of bad spelling in both languages.

Madame's apartment was a small front parlour, close to the street door.
From her window she could survey an approaching visitor, while from her
door she could overhear any conversation that was carried on in the
passage, and keep herself informed as to every one who went out or came
in. It was the spider's little parlour into which many a giddy buzzing
fly had fluttered unwarily, to emerge with clipped wings. It was Circe's
cave; and the bones of innumerable victims lay bleaching there, from a
metaphorical point of view.

To-day Madame Fétis was so deeply absorbed in the addition of that long
column of figures that she was less on the alert than usual for external
sounds, and she was surprised by the setting down of a sedan in front of
her door, and within three feet of her window. It was a private sedan,
painted and fitted with that studied simplicity which indicated
distinction in the owner. The panels were a dark brown, the armorial
bearings were unobtrusive--all was dark, plain, sober in style. Madame
Fétis had not time to wonder, for the orange and brown liveries of the
footmen who preceded the vehicle informed her that the chair could
belong to no less important a person than her husband's patron and
quasi-master, the rich Mr. Topsparkle; and the little Frenchwoman's
heart fluttered with gratified vanity at the idea that her fascinations
had brought Mr. Topsparkle to her husband's house, which he had never
visited before.

"The powdered pert proficient in the art" of disturbing a whole street
by his performance on the knocker now proceeded to startle the midday
quiet by a most prodigious fantasia in iron. Madame flew to open the
door, and stood smiling and curtseying as Mr. Topsparkle descended from
his chair, treading delicately, like the ladies of ancient Jerusalem.

"Dear Madam, you do me too much honour," he protested, as he entered the
panneled passage, bringing a cloud of perfumed powder and an
overpowering odour of attar of roses into the semi-darkness of the
narrow entry. "It is not often that Cerberus is replaced by Hebe."

"My servants are so lazy, your honour," apologised Madame; "our Cerberus
is cleaning the shoes in his morning sleep, and my _femme de chambre_
has scarce made up her mind whether the broom she is using is a dream or
a reality. If your honour will be so condescending as to step into the
parlour--"

"One moment, madam," said Topsparkle, and then turning to the open door
he waved his hand to the footmen. "You can take my chair home, you
fellows. I shall walk."

The chairmen took up their lightened load, and the footmen trudged off
in front of the sedan, as Madame Fétis shut the door, and followed her
visitor into the little parlour, where she drew forward a large
armchair, in which she was wont to take her afternoon sleep, and which
was naturally the most luxurious seat in the room, or it would not have
been so favoured.

"So my good Fétis has broken down at last," said Mr. Topsparkle, as he
seated himself.

"Yes, sir; he is very ill."

"I was hardly surprised at receiving your amiable billet. I have been
meditating on our little chat t'other day, my good Madame Fétis,"
pursued Topsparkle, lolling negligently forward in the commodious chair,
with his elbow on his knee, and drawing figures upon the dusty carpet
with the amber tip of his cane, "and as I am deeply concerned in the
health--above all in the mental health--of your excellent husband, I
felt an anxiety to hear more from the same source; so instead of sending
a footman to make inquiries, I have come myself. I know the uneasiness
of a wife's affection, and that her tenderness may exaggerate the signs
of evil--"

"Indeed, sir, I don't exaggerate my husband's condition," exclaimed the
lady, with a fretful air; "it grows worse and worse; and I dread the day
when I shall see him carried off to Bedlam in a strait waistcoat. 'Twas
only last night that he had a worse outbreak than ever, and the night
before that--"

"The night before that you had Jack Spencer, and Lord Lavendale, and a
party to supper and cards," interrupted Topsparkle, tapping Madame's
plump arm with the tips of his skinny fingers. "Oh, I have heard of your
banquetings and revelries, _ma belle_, and the money that is lost and
won under this modest roof of yours."

"Indeed, sir, it was a very sober party. There were no ladies, and there
was no broken glass, nor an item of furniture damaged. I protest we
should never make both ends meet by such parties as that, though I own
Mr. Spencer flings a guinea where any other gentleman would give a
shilling. But 'tis the mad-cap evenings--when the ladies and gentlemen
take to romping over their supper, or when there are swords drawn at
cards, and the furniture damaged--that bring grist to the mill."

"And so there was not much diversion at Mr. Spencer's party--'twas a
grave and sedate assembly," said Topsparkle, with a trivial gossiping
air, as of one who talked from sheer idleness; "but those quiet evenings
are more dangerous than your romping revelries. I'll warrant the play
was high."

Madame shook her head gloomily.

"Ay, I'll warrant it was, your honour, for that silly husband of mine
tossed about in a wakeful fever till daylight, and raved like a lunatic
towards nine o'clock, when he fell asleep--raved about Venice and one
Borromeo. Does your honour remember any friend of my husband's by that
name?"

"Borromeo?" repeated Topsparkle meditatively. "No, the name is strange
to me. And so your husband talked in his sleep, and about Venice? Do his
thoughts often turn that way?"

"'Tis the first time I have heard him. His ravings have been mostly
about your honour's house in Soho Square. What can there be in that
splendid mansion which should give Louis such a horror of it? He is
always prating of ghosts. Do you really think 'tis haunted, sir?"

"Not one whit more than this cosy little parlour of yours, my fair
friend; but servants are superstitious, and have a way of inventing a
ghost for every fine old house. Mine was once occupied by Lord Grey, who
was beheaded after Monmouth's rebellion; and those fools of mine have
concocted a story that his headless figure stalks in the corridors
between midnight and cock-crow. There are no ghosts in Soho Square,
madam, save such childish inventions as I tell you of; but I fear your
husband is in a very bad way, and that these ravings of his are but too
sure an indication of the brandy-drinker's disease. You must be careful
of him, my good Madame Fétis, if you would not see him expire in a
madhouse."

"Alas, sir, how can I take care of a man who refuses to take care of
himself? 'Twas only last night I implored him not to go to a supper at
Lord Lavendale's house in Bloomsbury Square, to which his lordship had
invited him."

"So his lordship invited your husband to sup, did he? Vastly
condescending, I protest."

"Your honour would hardly believe how much notice the highest gentlemen
in the land have taken of Fétis. 'Tis that has been his ruin. Lord
Lavendale was monstrously taken with him. In his sleep that night it was
Lavendale at every turn--Venice--Borromeo--Lavendale--mixed in all his
ravings; and then yesterday evening, after the opera, he calls for a
chair and is carried to his lordship's house, in spite of my protesting
that the company he was going into would lead him into high play and
hasten our ruin. He would not listen to me, but off he goes, in a
sage-green ribbed velvet suit which your honour had made for the last
birthday, and never wore but once--"

"I remember the suit," said Topsparkle, "it made me look as sickly as a
lady of fashion in her morning cap before she puts on her rouge. It cost
me ninety-five guineas for the birthday, and I gave it to Fétis next
morning. 'Tis my rule never to wear a suit a second time if I don't like
myself in it on the first wearing. 'Tis against good sense that a man
should disgust himself with his own person for the sake of a few paltry
guineas. I dare swear Fétis looks admirable in the suit. 'Tis just the
colour of his own complexion."

"He looked more of a fine gentleman than 'tis well a man of his position
should," replied Madame severely. "If he would take more pains to save
money for his old age, and less to pass for a man of fashion, 'twould be
better for both of us."

"But with so charming a wife, and with such advantages of education, a
man of romantic temper might be pardoned for forgetting that he was not
born in the purple," pleaded Topsparkle. "But I distract you from your
narrative. You were about to say--"

"Oh, sir, could you but have seen my husband at four o'clock this
morning, when he came back from his orgy."

"The word is severe, madam. Was he intoxicated?"

"Worse than that, sir. He was white as death, and trembling in every
limb. He had tried to walk home, but had well nigh fallen in the street,
when the chance of an empty coach saved him. He seemed as if he were
struck speechless, would answer none of my questions, and let me help
him to bed like a baby. Yet it was not losing his money which had
overcome his senses, for the guineas fell out of his pockets and strewed
the carpet as if it had been raining gold. He lay moaning half the
night, till he fell into a kind of stupor."

"Did he rave as on the previous night?"

"Not one intelligible word has he uttered since he came home."

"Strange. It looks like some kind of seizure. Have you sent for a
doctor?"

"No, sir; I was afraid for any one to see him in such a condition, lest
it should get about the neighbourhood that he is a lunatic, and spoil
our business."

"You are a vastly sensible woman, an excellent prudent creature,"
exclaimed Topsparkle, with enthusiasm. "Let not a mortal see him till he
has got his reason again. Should it once be rumoured that he is out of
his mind, you would be undone."

"I have spoken to your honour with perfect candour, as my poor husband's
patron and friend," returned Madame meekly.

"You have done wisely, my good soul. I am your husband's best friend,
and your only safe adviser. It is evident that he has got himself into a
condition that is but one step from madness, and madness in this country
is a terrible thing. It means the loss of all a man's rights as a
citizen, it means the confiscation of his property, upon which the iron
clutch of the High Court of Chancery swoops down like the claw of a
vulture. It means that from comfortable circumstances a maniac's family
may be reduced to paupers."

"O, sir, protect me from such a calamity."

"Do not fear, sweet soul. You shall be protected. Should the worst come,
and your husband must needs be removed, it shall be my sacred care to
provide for you. Two hundred a year in Paris, where you might, perhaps,
return to the profession which you so much adorned."

"O, sir, you have, indeed, the soul of a great nobleman. It was the
dream of my girlhood to live in Paris."

"The nest shall be found for you, poor bird, if the tempest of calamity
should ever blow you hence," murmured Topsparkle, patting her plump
hand.

"But indeed, sir, we will hope my poor husband will recover his reason,
and learn better sense," resumed Madame, after a few moments'
reflection. "I am very fond of Poland Street, and this business would be
a fortune for us if Fétis would leave off play."

"My dear soul, he has gone too far. He will never be cured. When a man
of his age gambles or drinks, the chances of cure are nil."

"Would you like to see him, sir?"

Topsparkle suppressed a shudder.

"Better not, madam. I should but agitate him by my presence. I will call
on you to-morrow, when he may be in a better condition to converse with
me."

He kissed Madame's fair hand, and bowed himself out of her presence. He
walked along Poland Street, across Golden Square, westward to St.
James's Street, with that light and easy motion which had become natural
to him, the bearing of an elderly man who never meant to be old, who
defied age to wither him, and who conquered the insidious foe called
Time, by being in all things younger than youth itself. Yonder gallant
guardsman of five-and-twenty on the opposite pavement moved heavily
compared with the airy grace with which Topsparkle skimmed the street.
He had trained every muscle, schooled every sinew in the long fight
against senility. By his temperance and his activity he had contrived
so far to have the best of the battle. The day of defeat must come
sooner or later, he knew, and he had steeled himself to contemplate the
end with a cynical courage. "May it be sharp and swift," he said; "may I
crumble to pieces in an hour, like an embalmed corpse which is suddenly
exposed to the air after two thousand years in an Egyptian sepulchre."

To-day, though his mind was full of perplexity, his movements and the
carriage of his head were as jaunty as ever. No one who saw those dainty
red-heeled shoes tripping along, and the careless swing of that slender
rapier, would have supposed that Mr. Topsparkle was meditating anything
more serious than the last quarrel between the Cuzzoni faction and the
Faustina faction at the opera house, or the last wild exploit of mad-cap
Peterborough at Bevis Mount.

What was to be done with this worn-out tool of his, which was getting
dangerous? That was the question. It had never occurred to Vyvyan
Topsparkle that his accomplice would not last as long as himself; that
this slave of his, who had done his bidding with an unscrupulous
obedience which indicated a mind utterly callous to the distinction
between right and wrong, should at the eleventh hour develop a guilty
conscience and all its attendant inconveniences.

"It is not conscience," thought Topsparkle savagely. "The man cares no
more for that false feeble creature who lies in St. Anne's churchyard
than he cares for St. Anne herself. It is brandy and not conscience that
moves him. He has destroyed his nerves by intemperance, and must needs
call up the dead to torment himself and endanger me. A madhouse--yes,
that is the safest abode for a gentleman in this disposition. I have
only to find out a safe asylum, and then, presto, my friend Fétis shall
be bestowed where a strait waistcoat will tame his antics, and the free
use of the gag will put a stop to his invocations of the dead. A
mad-doctor and a private madhouse--that is what I have to find without
loss of time."

Then, after walking a little further, cudgelling his brain in the effort
to remember all he had ever heard about the incarceration of madmen in
England, he reverted to a question which was more perplexing to him
than the ravings of Fétis.

"Lavendale, _que diable allait il faire dans cette galère_? what the
deuce can impel Lavendale to patronise my valet? and why should his
lordship's society revive old associations with Venice, and reduce the
man from semi-lunacy to dumb melancholic madness, as I doubt his state
must be to-day, if his wife speaks truth? There is mystery and mischief
here, and I cannot too soon protect myself from the chances of awkward
revelations. There must be some private way of dealing with madmen,
without shutting them up in that great hospital by London Wall, where
all the world may see them at a penny a head, easier and cheaper than
the lions in the Tower. I remember how Lavendale and his friend were
struck by that marvellous likeness between Miss Bosworth and Margharita;
yet what should come of that, an accidental resemblance, curious, but of
no significance? I almost hated that girl for the shock her face gave me
every time we met. It was a constant oppression to my spirits to have
her in my house. And now they say Durnford has run away with her, and
married her at Keith's Chapel, and that her father has thrown her off in
consequence, so that my gentleman has but a penniless beauty for his
partner in life, and no doubt will soon repent his bargain. Why should
Lavendale invite my valet? O, a whim, no doubt, a trick, a practical
joke, such as Wharton and his Schemers used to hatch t'other day--some
conspiracy against a woman's peace or reputation. Something modish,
witty, and iniquitous, no doubt. Why should I fancy there is mischief to
me amidst such random follies? But the fact remains that Fétis has taken
to blabbing, and must be gagged. Yes, my poor, good, faithful,
self-serving servant, you were a very convenient and useful person so
long as you knew how to hold your tongue, but now you have turned
babbler you must be provided for accordingly. The wife can be easily
dealt with. She is vain, silly, and selfish, and can be bought cheap."

Mr. Topsparkle was now in St. James's Street, in front of White's
chocolate house, which was one of his chief resorts when he wanted to
kill time between the morning undress saunter in the Mall and the
afternoon parade in the Ring. 'Twas here he heard the latest news of the
town, such floating scandals as had not yet been transfixed by the
_Flying Post_ or the _St. James's Journal_; and it was here he met the
innumerable gentlemen who were pleased to be bosom friends with one of
the richest men in London.

"Why, Top," exclaimed one of these gentry--an easy-going young
gentleman, who had spent a brace of fortunes, his own and his wife's,
and so deemed he had earned the right to live upon his friends and the
general public--"thou art younger by ten years than thou wert last week.
Thou look'st like Hyperion new lighted on a heaven-kissing hill."

"And thou, Chambers, wast at the playhouse last night, I take it; and
supped on champagne afterwards, and art not yet sober," answered Mr.
Topsparkle somewhat coolly, as he seated himself at his favourite table.

"Thou hast hit the mark, Top. Invite me to a dish of tea, and sober me;
I have not the price of one in my pocket."

"Sit down then, and behave decently while the Bohea is brewing."

"Pekoe, friend, Pekoe; nothing like Pekoe to clear the fumes of last
night's wine. Do you hear, waiter; Mr. Topsparkle's chocolate _à la
vanille_, and a dish of your strongest Pekoe for Mr. Topsparkle's
friend, with cream, scoundrel, with plenty of cream."

White's was full at this leisure hour before dinner, and there were many
greetings for Mr. Topsparkle, of a less exuberant but no less friendly
tone than that of Captain Chambers. He sipped his chocolate in a
leisurely manner, looked about him, and listened, returned every
salutation, kissed his hand to acquaintances at the further end of the
room, and said very little. He was wondering which of all these men was
most likely to be of use to him in the matter he had in hand. He wanted
to obtain information of a peculiar character without appearing too
curious on the subject. He wanted to be advised without asking for
anybody's advice.

At any other time he would have received Captain Chambers's familiar
advances with an icy reserve; but to-day he was inclined to be
indulgent; for he told himself that Chambers was just the kind of scamp
who might be useful in an emergency; a man who, with his last guinea,
had parted with his last scruple, a perfect specimen of the relentless
gentlemanly villain, without heart, conscience, or honour, a scourge to
confiding tradesmen, a traitor to trusting women, a bad son, a bad
husband, a worse father, and a very pleasant fellow to fill a gap at a
dinner-party.

"How's your wife, Bob?" asked a man at the next table. "I saw her in the
Ring a week ago in the old dowager's carriage, looking as ill as if she
was going to die and give you the chance of an heiress."

"Egad, I shall have to commit bigamy if she doesn't; so for conscience'
sake she ought to give up the ghost," answered Chambers. "I have been
seriously meditating running off with an Irish heiress, under a false
name, and settling in some corner of her barbarous country, where I
could live upon her fortune, and escape all the vexations of this
accursed town."

"I don't think you should anathematise a town, Bob, which has allowed
you to cut a very pretty figure and to spend twice your fortune," said
his friend.

"O, your damned shopkeepers have been civil enough," answered Chambers,
lolling back in his chair and picking his teeth languidly. "I had a bevy
of them in my dressing-room every morning teasing me for orders long
after I was absolutely insolvent. But 'twas my tailor finished me."

"Indeed! How was that? Surely he never caught you in so soft a mood as
to pay him?"

"O, it was a bite of the most diabolical nature. 'Twas soon after I
married that the fellow began to get importunate. I had run up a pretty
long bill with him--birthday-suits, hunting clothes, an occasional
hundred on my I O U--when I was hard up for card-money. Your West End
snip is generally a money-lender in disguise. I suppose the total must
have been close upon four figures; but I had never bothered myself about
the matter. One morning the insolent rascal congratulated me upon having
married an heiress. No doubt he knew Belle's poor little fortune to a
guinea. I thanked him for his compliments in a manner which was as good
as telling him to mind his own business, and next week he asked me for
five or six hundred on account. 'Shillings, d'ye mean, sirrah?' says I.
'No, Captain, guineas,' says he; 'your bill, including money lent, is
over twelve hundred.' This staggered me for I had not a sixpence of my
own, and my wife's modest dowry of seven thousand pounds was tightly
settled upon herself. I have always thought with Dick Steele that our
new fashion of marriage-settlements is the most detestable form of
bargaining that was ever invented. Mr. Snip looked black as thunder when
I frankly confessed my inability to pay him till I dropped into an
expected legacy from my East Indian godfather, who had long been ailing.
Need I say that I invented the godfather and the legacy on the spot?"

"And was Snip satisfied to accept your Oriental security?"

"Alas, no. He told me that unless my wife would guarantee the payment of
his bill he should be under the painful necessity of consigning me to
the Fleet Prison and the tender mercies of that notorious friend of
humanity, Governor Bambridge. The fellow was evidently in earnest, so to
make a long story short, poor Belle consented to be responsible for the
scoundrel's account, and all went merrily for the next three years,
when, after worrying damnably with lawyers' letters, of which I
naturally took no notice, he put in an execution, and had to be paid off
in a lump sum of 6859_l._ 7_s._ 11-1/2_d._, and poor Belle found her
fortune was altogether swamped by this one liability."

"How did she take it?" asked his friend.

"Like an angel; and I believe she would have been a loving wife to the
end, in spite of all my peccadilloes, debts, cards, and women included;
but the old Dowager came swooping down like Medea in her chariot, and
carried her lost lamb back to the family fold in Golden Square, where
they all pig together upon shoulders of mutton and cow-heel, but
contrive to keep up a show of gentility in the way of a worn-out coach
and a leash of hungry footmen."

"Very wonderful are the struggles of polite poverty," said the other;
"but it is still more wonderful to me, Bob, how you contrive to keep
out of the sponging-house, _criblé de dettes_ though you are."

"Ah, that is indeed a miracle," replied Chambers. "I sometimes catch
myself wondering at the long-suffering of my creditors. Yet their
patience is not altogether unrewarded. I have introduced some very
pretty fellows to my old purveyors. There are innocent young gentlemen
from the country who would never know where to go for their finery if
there wasn't an experienced man of fashion to put them in the right
path."

"Ay, Bob, we all understand your pleasant ways. When a man loses the
ability to spend on his own account, he may still flourish as the source
of spending in others. Tradesmen are always civil to Captain Rook if he
visits them in company with Squire Pigeon."

"'Sdeath, Middleton, d'ye mean to insult me?" cried Chambers, with his
hand on his sword.

"Nay, Captain, I did but respond in tune with your own ethics, which
were never of the strictest."

"Faith, you're right, friend! I was never given to riding the high horse
of morality. I spent my money like a gentleman, and any wife's money
after it, and have earned the right to take things easily."

"Till you find yourself in the sponging-house, Bob. That evil day must
come. All your creditors will not be equally placable."

"Whenever I get into the sponging-house, the odds are I shall be kicked
out again for want of funds to make me worth keeping. Your
sponging-house, kept by some dirty Jew, and waited on by a drab, is the
most expensive hotel in London."

"Then they'll put you among the poor prisoners, and let you fetch and
carry for those that are better off. 'Twill be a sorry end for Buck
Chambers, the man who used to keep two servants to attend to his
jackboots."

"Hang it! 'twas no superfluity of service. No man can be expected to do
more than look after three horses or six pairs of boots."

"If they do nab you, Bob," said another friend, who had been attracted
from a neighbouring table as the conversation grew louder, Mr.
Topsparkle sipping his chocolate silently all the while, and listening
in a half-abstracted mood, only reflecting within himself much as Romeo
did about the apothecary, that here was a fellow who would do anything
for gold; "if the limbs of the law do get you in their clutches, let us
hope, for the sake of a world that could scarce exist pleasurably
without you, that they won't put you into Marjory's."

"Marjory's! What, the sponging-house in Shoe Lane!" cried Chambers;
"'tis an execrable den, but not a whit worse than their other holes. I
have hobbed and nobbed with my friends in most of their rat-traps, and
know the geography of them. I'd as lief be at Marjory's as anywhere
else, if I must needs have the key turned upon me."

"Not just now, Bob; for there was an honest fellow--an Exeter tradesman
up in London for a holiday, and arrested by mistake for another--who
died of smallpox at Marjory's only yesterday morning; and they say the
disease rages in the house, and has done for the last ten days."

The Captain sprang to his feet in a fury.

"And yet they go on taking prisoners there," he cried; "poor innocent
wretches, whose only crime is to have lived like gentlemen! What a vile
world we live in!"

"A vile world with a vengeance. Marjory's is a gold-mine for Bambridge.
He claps all his prisoners into that hell, and makes them pay heavily
before he allows them to be removed to the purgatory of another house,
or the paradise of prison and chummage. This poor wretch from Exeter had
not a stiver about him, so they refused to shift him. He was put in a
room with three other men, one of whom was just recovering from the
disease. The Exeter man took it badly, and died off-hand."

The Captain put on his hat.

"Farewell, friends," he said; "I'm off by to-night's fast coach to
Bristol, and from thence to the wilds of Connemara. I was not born to be
carrion for the vulture Bambridge."

He pulled himself together with a debonair movement, and staggered gaily
out of the house, amidst the laughter of his friends.

"Was there ever such a good-humoured hardened villain?" exclaimed
Middleton; "'tis a perpetual conundrum to me how he keeps out of gaol."

"He will get there some day," said a gentleman of clerical aspect; "our
friend will have his pennyworth of prison, with a noose to follow."

Mr. Topsparkle paid his score, and sauntered away.

Not a word had he heard, nor had he made any inquiry, about madhouses,
public or private; yet it seemed to him that he was wiser than when he
entered the chocolate house, and that he knew all he wanted to know.



CHAPTER VII.

THE SMILES OF NATURE AND THE CHARMS OF ART.


Mr. Fétis slept until late in the afternoon, and awoke restored to his
senses and so far recovered in his health as to be able to dress himself
and go down-stairs. He was taking a cup of coffee strengthened with
cognac in his wife's parlour when the Topsparkle orange and brown livery
again enlivened the doorstep, and a note was handed in at the door.

It was a somewhat urgent summons from Fétis's patron and master.

"If you are well enough to come to me this afternoon, I should like to
see you," wrote Mr. Topsparkle; "my messenger will get you a chair."

Fétis told the footman that he was able to walk, and would wait upon Mr.
Topsparkle almost immediately. He followed the footman in about five
minutes, and was at once admitted to his master's dressing-room, where
he found Mr. Topsparkle sitting before the fire, in slippers and a
crimson brocade _négligé_.

"My good Fétis, pray think me not inhuman in sending for you," he
exclaimed, in his airiest manner, "but if you have vital power enough to
put my head and complexion in order for the evening, it will be a real
benevolence on your part. I am to go to an assembly at Henrietta's, and
I don't want to look older than poor Mr. Congreve, who has the aspect of
a sickly Methuselah."

"I do not believe her Grace thinks so, sir," said Fétis, going over to
the toilet-table and beginning to arrange his arsenal of little china
pots and crystal bottles, brushes and sponges, and hare's-feet.

"O, for her he is always Adonis. But he grows daily more wrinkled and
mummified, and he paints as badly as Kneller at his worst, which is
saying much," replied Topsparkle, seating himself in front of the glass,
a Venetian mirror, framed in filagree silver, which ought to have
reflected beauty as young and fresh as Belinda's. "And so, my poor
friend," he continued with a sympathetic air, "you have been very ill.
May I ask the nature of your malady?"

"I was as near death as I could be, I believe, sir," answered Fétis
gloomily, still occupied with cosmetics and paint-brushes, and going on
with his work as he spoke. "You will laugh at me doubtless when I tell
you the cause of my indisposition, for you have a lighter nature than
mine, or you could scarce live contentedly in this house."

"I have less education, and more philosophy, Fétis. That is the secret
of my easier temper."

"I saw a ghost last night, sir," said Fétis, beginning his operations on
his master's complexion.

"Indeed, my dear Fétis, I am told they swarm in the neighbourhood of
Bloomsbury, where I hear you spent last midnight in most patrician
society."

"How did you know where I spent my evening?" gasped Fétis.

"A little bird, my dear friend, a sweet little singing bird. Our London
groves are vocal with such airy songsters. Pray keep your hand steady.
God's curse, fellow, that wash of yours is revolting when 'tis not laid
on smoothly. You are too thick over the right temple."

There was a pause, during which Fétis finished his ground-colour and
outlined an eyebrow with a miniature-painter's pencil.

"And so you saw a ghost last night. Was it in Denmark Street, St.
Giles's, as you reeled homewards after your orgy?"

"No, sir, 'twas before I left Lord Lavendale's house. I had supped with
his lordship and Mr. Durnford--"

"A fellow I hate!" interrupted Topsparkle; "a sinister, prying knave!"

"We had played cards for an hour or so, and I had been sole winner. I
was in excellent spirits, elated, rejuvenated by my good luck. I had to
pass through a suite of cold and empty rooms, dark except for the candle
carried by my companion, Durnford, and a gleam of light from a lamp on
the staircase beyond. It was in this semi-darkness I saw the shape of
her whose death we compassed, in that room yonder, forty years ago!"

He pointed to the door opening into Topsparkle's bedchamber.

"My good Fétis, you were drunk," said his master, without moving a
muscle. "His lordship had plied you with wine till your highly
imaginative mind was on the alert for phantoms. An effect of light and
shade in a dusky room, a white curtain perchance, an optical delusion of
some kind. I should have given you credit for more sense and less
superstition."

"I tell you 'twas she, Margharita Vincenti. It was her face, sad,
reproachful, as it has looked upon me many a time in this house. It was
her figure, her attitude, standing there before me in the light of Mr.
Durnford's uplifted candle, with all the reality of life."

"And yet in a trice the vision vanished, melted before your eyes?"

"Indeed I know not, sir, for terror overcame my senses, and I swooned."

"My good Fétis, you are in a very bad state of health. You need to be
monstrously careful of yourself. These signs and wonders of yours
presage lunacy. Give me the hand-mirror. No, your eyebrows are not so
successful as usual. There is a gouty line in the arch of the left, and
you have given me a scintilla too much rouge. Pray tone down that
rosy-apple appearance to a more delicate peach bloom. I think you are
falling off in the composition of your red. There is a purple tinge that
is too conspicuously artificial. You are a chemist, and should know more
of the amalgamation of colours. You should try to imitate nature, my
good Fétis. And you tell me you saw my poor Margharita's ghost, and that
'twas Mr. Durnford who held the candle that lighted the vision?"

"It was just as I have told you."

"To be sure. And pray do you happen to remember a certain young lady, an
heiress, who came to the Abbey last winter, and who was the living image
of my poor Margharita--whom you must remember I indulged and treated
with all possible kindness so long as she was faithful to me--and on
whose account you might therefore spare me your reproaches."

"I cannot forget my crime, nor who prompted it."

"Plague take you, Fétis, why use hard words? 'Twas but a sleeping
draught made a thought too powerful, so that the sleep became eternal.
'Twas euthanasia. Had that girl lived her fate would have been an evil
one. She was on the downward slope when death stopped her. She had
ceased to care for me, and was passionately in love with Churchill. Do
you suppose he would have remained true to her when the vanity of
conquest was over and her monotony of sweetness began to pall? Deserted
by him, she would have fallen a prey to some coarser profligate, and
then the side boxes, and the hospital or Bridewell. Faithless to me,
there was nothing but death that could save her."

"You might have made her your wife."

"Because I found her false and fickle as a mistress! A pretty reason,
quotha."

"To be made an honest woman would have steadied her; you might have
given her the company of her child; that is ever a mother's safeguard."

"Pollute my house with the presence of a squalling baby! No, Fétis,
endurance has limits. Pshaw! let us not harp upon this folly. Do you
remember Mrs. Bosworth?"

"Yes; I saw her only at a distance. The likeness was certainly
startling."

"And you did not know that the lady is now Mr. Durnford's wife? He stole
her from her father's house t'other day, and Parson Keith married them."

"No; I had not heard that."

"And therefore could not guess that the ghost you saw in the dark room
was no less a personage than Durnford's young wife, who by a freak of
nature happens to be the living image of my dead mistress?"

"By heaven, it might have been so! I never guessed--I never thought--"
faltered Fétis.

"Of course not. You have lost your head, my friend, since you took to
cards and strong waters. Had you been content to drink like a gentleman,
these fancies would never have addled your brains. I hope you betrayed
yourself no more than by your swooning fit in Lavendale's presence. You
held your tongue, I trust, when your senses returned?"

"I know not," answered Fétis, with an embarrassed air. "I left the
house like a sleepwalker, scarce conscious of my own actions; nor do I
know how I reached my own chamber."

"You are a sad fool, my dear Fétis, and, what is more, you are a
dangerous fool," said Topsparkle, in his gentlest voice, and with a
faint sigh. "The hand-glass again, please. Yes, that is better: the
eyebrows have more delicacy than your first attempt. I want to appear at
my best to-night. A man who has a beautiful wife should not look a
scarecrow. You have a remarkable talent for touching up a face; a gift,
Fétis, a gift. 'Tis an art that can be no more learnt than oratory or
poetry. A man must be born with it. I am very sorry for you, my good
Louis, sorry that tongue of yours is no more to be trusted. There, that
will do. My valet can help me on with my wig. You are looking ill and
tired. Get home as fast as you can."

"Indeed, sir, I am far from well."

"I can see it, my poor friend. Good-day to you. Tell my servant to bring
me a dish of tea as you go out."

Fétis bowed and retired, gave his master's message to the footman
sitting half asleep in the ante-room, and went out of the house.

He had not left the Square before he was stopped by two shabbily-clad
men, one of whom tapped him on the shoulder.

"You are my prisoner, Mr. Fétis."

"Prisoner, fellow! you are joking."

"No, sir; this will show you there is no joke in the matter;" and the
man produced a paper which Mr. Fétis read with a troubled brow.

"This can be very easily settled," he said after a pause; "'tis but a
bagatelle. I had forgotten that Mr. Bevis had sued me. The account is
such a paltry one, and I have put thousands into Bevis's pockets. It is
but fifty pounds. If you will accompany me to yonder house on the other
side of the Square, Mr. Topsparkle will oblige me with the cash."

"Can't do no such thing, your honour," growled the bailiff, in a voice
thickened by hard living and strong drink. "My orders are to take you
straight to the sponging-house. You can communicate with your friends
when you're there."

"But the house is within a few paces, and I tell you I can get the
money!"

"The law's the law, and it mustn't be tampered with," said the man, "and
duty's duty, and it's mine to see you safe inside the lock. Call a
coach, Jerry; there's a stand in Greek Street," and so, with his arm
held in the dirty grasp of a bailiff, Mr. Fétis was marched off to a
coach.

In that trouble of mind which had been growing on him of late he had
indeed almost forgotten that judgment had been pronounced against him at
the suit of Messrs. Bevis, wine merchants, of the Strand, whose account,
though he made so light of it, was one of long standing. Messrs. Bevis
had filled and refilled Mr. Topsparkle's cellars since his
re-establishment in London, and Fétis had been the agent and
intermediary in all purchases of wine, choosing, tasting, approving, and
had been courted and fawned upon by the Messrs. Bevis and their clerks.
And now on account of a trumpery fifty-odd pounds for goods supplied to
himself, he was to be locked up in gaol! He was astounded at the
ingratitude of these wretches.



CHAPTER VIII.

"STILL THE PALE DEAD REVIVES, AND LIVES TO ME."


It was on the second day after Fétis had been deprived of his liberty,
that the post brought a thick packet to Mr. Durnford in Bloomsbury
Square, as he sat with Lavendale over a bottle of claret after the four
o'clock dinner. The writing of the address was unfamiliar to him, and
the characters had a blurred and irregular look, as if the hand that had
traced them had scarce been steady enough to hold a pen.

He broke the seals hurriedly, eager to see the contents, for the
post-mark was that of the next post town to Flamestead and Fairmile.

The letter contained an enclosure consisting of three other letters, the
ink faded, and the paper yellowed by age. These were written in French,
in a niggling mean little hand which Mr. Herrick had never seen before.

On the inside of the cover were these lines in the same illegible and
tremulous scrawl as the outer inscription.

     "SIR,----the hand of death is on me. Your wife never injured me,
     and I should like to do her a good turn before I die. The enclosed
     letters, which Squire Bosworth found on the person of your wife's
     father, were discovered by me in his bureau some years ago. They
     may help you to a fortune, and induce you to think more kindly of
     your humble servant,----BARBARA LAYBURNE."

Herrick hastily unfolded one of the three letters, and looked at the
signature.

"By heaven, Lavendale, 'tis a strange world!" he exclaimed. "This letter
is signed by the man who was here the other night, and his signature in
this conjuncture, before I read a line of this correspondence, assures
me that my suspicion is well founded."

"What suspicion?"

"One which I have hitherto hesitated to confide to you lest you should
deem me a lunatic. I have for some time suspected that the likeness
between Irene and the portrait you and I unearthed at Ringwood Abbey was
something more than an accident--that there was a link between the story
of Topsparkle's past life and my dear one's birth--and here in Philip
Chumleigh's possession are letters bearing the signature of Topsparkle's
tool and accomplice. Before I read them I am convinced they will confirm
all my suspicions."

"Read, Herrick, read. Thou knowest I am more interested in thy fortunes
than in my own--for thine are the more hopeful. Read, Herrick, I burn
with impatience."

Durnford obeyed, and after a careful comparison of dates read the first
letter, which was dated Florence, July 20th, 1705.

     "MADEMOISELLE,--It is with the utmost regret that I am constrained
     to remonstrate with you upon the contents of your last letter
     addressed to your father, under cover to me, and forwarded at your
     urgent desire by the Rev. Mother, who, when she so far complied
     with your wish, was aware that she transgressed the rules laid down
     for her guidance by my honoured master, your guardian and
     benefactor, who desired that no communication should ever be
     addressed to him by you.

     "Your address to a father who has long ceased to exist, can but be
     answered by the assurance that the noble Englishman who is generous
     enough to pay for your maintenance at the convent recognises no
     claim upon him of a nature such as you put forward in your vehement
     letter. He has provided for you from your infancy, and will
     continue to provide for you so long as you deserve his bounty; but
     he cannot submit to be persecuted by appeals to his affection, or
     by your foolish desire to know the secret of your birth, a
     knowledge which you may be assured could not add to your
     satisfaction or peace of mind.

     "Be advised, therefore, my dear young lady, by one who is cordially
     your friend. Pursue the even tenor of your way, and ask no
     indiscreet questions of any one. It would be well for you, perhaps,
     if the piety of your surroundings should lead you to renounce the
     vanities of a troublesome world, and to devote your life to the
     peaceful seclusion of the cloister. Should you make this election,
     your noble friend will doubtless contribute handsomely to the
     wealth of the convent in which your childhood and girlhood have
     been spent so happily.--Accept the assurance of my sincere respect,
     FÉTIS."

The second was a year later.

     "MADEMOISELLE,--Your noble friend has been informed of a
     disgraceful intrigue in which you have engaged with an Englishman,
     who gained admission to the convent grounds under peculiar
     circumstances, and from whom you have received letters, conveyed to
     you by means which, although suspected, have not been as yet fully
     discovered by your custodians.

     "I warn you that the pursuance of this intrigue must inevitably
     lead to your ruin, as your benefactor will consider himself
     absolved by your misconduct from all future claims upon him. But I
     hope to be able to assure him that you have renounced this folly
     and are in a fair way to renounce all other follies, and to devote
     your life to the service of God. You have before your eyes daily
     so many touching examples of the beauty of such a life, that it
     would be only natural your heart should yearn towards the
     cloister.--With heartfelt respect, FÉTIS."

The third letter was dated Florence, December, 1707.

     "MADAME,--My noble master commands me to inform you that he can
     recognise no further claim upon him, and that he can respond to no
     appeal from you or your husband, either in the present or in the
     future.

     "He requests that he may be troubled by no further communications
     from you, FÉTIS."

"Devil!" exclaimed Lavendale, when he had heard the last of the letters,
"nay, Satan himself, as I have read of him, has an amiable air as
compared with this fish-blooded profligate--this worn-out _roué_, whose
heart must be of the consistence of a sliced cucumber. I have no doubt
that Irene's mother was Topsparkle's daughter, the infant whom he sent
to Buckinghamshire to be nursed, and doubtless carried off to the
Continent with the rest of his goods and chattels when he left the
country. And to think that he had not even one touch of tenderness for
the child of the woman he murdered! There was no compunction--no
remorse--not one sting of conscience to urge him to generosity. He could
have seen the daughter starve with as unrelenting eyes as he saw the
mother die."

"He is indeed a heartless dastard," said Herrick, "and I have no desire
that my wife should profit by her kindred with him."

"O, but she shall profit, or at any rate he shall wince," cried
Lavendale; "let me be your emissary, Herrick. 'Twill be easier for me to
give him his jobation. I will make those old veins of his tingle; I will
conjure up the vermilion of shame under that vizard of white lead. I
will let him know what an English gentleman thinks of such conduct as
his. God's death, but he shall feel again, as he felt forty years ago on
the hustings at Brentford, when the mob rated him. If Hamlet spoke
daggers to his mother, I will speak rotten eggs and dead puppy-dogs to
this Topsparkle. And he is _her_ husband. _Her_ husband! O, shame! O,
agony! Herrick, I was an ass, a poltroon, not to run away with her!"

That was an old argument which Durnford did not care to reopen. He gave
Lavendale the letters, urged him to be temperate in his interview with
Topsparkle. But little good could come of raking up the unholy past.
There was no evidence strong enough to bring the millionaire's crimes
home to him in any court of justice. Fétis might blab his own and his
master's guilt in a moment of excitement and terror, but face to face
with the law, would doubtless recant. The lapse of forty years gave
Vyvyan Topsparkle the best possible security against the consequences of
his guilt. The history of his crime might be guessed at, but could never
be proved.

"I will talk to the wretch to-night," said Lavendale; "yes, this very
night. It is Lady Judith's assembly, by the bye, and all the world will
be in Soho Square."

"You can scarcely enter upon such a discussion at a party," said
Herrick.

"O, but I will make an opportunity; Topsparkle shall take me to his
private rooms. I am on fire till I tell that ancient reprobate my mind
about him."

"And if he should challenge you?"

"As he challenged Churchill? Why, in that case I shall refuse like
Churchill, and tell him that I only fight with gentlemen. But he will
not challenge me. He will be too much afraid of my revelations when I
tell him how Fétis has confessed to a murder committed at his master's
instigation."

       *       *       *       *       *

Each side in politics and all shades of opinions were to be found at Mr.
Topsparkle's town house, as they were at Ringwood Abbey. Statecraft was
represented by Walpole, who dropped in for a quarter of an hour, and who
looked daggers at his sometime friend and ally, Mr. Pulteney; by
Carteret and Bolingbroke; while literature had its representatives in
Voltaire, whose epic poem, _La Henriade_, had been already tasted in
private readings by the _élite_ among his subscribers, although not to
be published till next March; in Congreve and Gay; in the Scotch
parson's son, Thomson, whose poem _Winter_ was being read and admired
by everybody; and in that scapegrace Savage, whom Queen Caroline
protected and whom Lady Judith courted out of aggravation to respectable
people. All the modish beauties were there, from the fair daughters and
granddaughters of the house of Marlborough to Mrs. Pulteney, secure in
unbounded influence over her husband and several other slaves, reckless
of his reputation and of her own, and insolent in the consciousness of
superior charms. It was a strange medley gathering; but Lady Judith
never seemed more in her element than in a social pot-pourri of this
kind. She looked gorgeous in amber and gold brocade and the famous
Topsparkle diamonds, the necklace which Caroline had worn at her
coronation, a string of single brilliants as large as small hazel nuts,
of perfect shape and purest water. A cloud of ostrich feathers about her
head and neck softened the glare of her gems and the gaudy colouring of
her gown. She looked like a portrait by Velasquez, fresh from the
painter's easel, in all the brilliancy of colour newly laid on.

Lord Lavendale she received with her easiest air. He found her
surrounded by a circle of beaux and politicians, ambassadors and poets,
keeping them all in conversation, alert and ready with answer and
repartee at every turn of their talk.

The latest ridiculous anecdote about the King had put everybody into a
good humour.

"You must take your fill of laughter and have done with it," said Lady
Judith, "for I expect to hear my trumpeters strike up Handel's march at
any moment, to do honour to our conquering hero's arrival. Their
Majesties promised they would look in upon me after the opera."

"Then I hope you have ordered double your usual supper--plentiful as
your banquets ever are," said Lord Carteret, "for it is a distinguishing
mark of royalty to eat three times as much as the commonalty. The old
Dowager of Orleans was always lamenting her son's excesses at the
table--she has told me of his incautious gluttony with tears of
affectionate concern, which his fatal apoplexy showed to be but too
prophetic--and she assured me also that when the late king's body was
opened it was found he was constructed on a different principle from his
subjects, and had twice their capacity for digestion. It was hereditary
with the Bourbon race to gorge: and our Hanoverians seem of the same
kidney."

Lady Judith turned from his lordship to welcome Mrs. Robinson, who came
fluttering in after her triumphs at the opera, with Lord Peterborough in
attendance upon her steps, proud to be considered her slave, yet ashamed
to confess himself her husband, so strong were the prejudices of that
great world which worshipped Senesino and Farinelli, and squabbled
acrimoniously about the rival merits of Cuzzoni and Faustina.

"My dearest Anastasia, I hear you surpassed yourself in Rinaldo,"
exclaimed Lady Judith. "Topsparkle was there till nearly the end of the
third act, and came away hysterical with rapture." Then turning to
Peterborough, with the fair Anastasia's hand in hers, "Is your lordship
still in love with Bevis Mount and solitude?"

"Could I but tempt your ladyship to visit the wild romantic cottage
where I pass my time, 'twould be no longer a hermit's cell, but the
temple of Cytherea," answered Mordanto gaily, "the mere fact that you
had been there, like a queen on her royal progress, would for ever
idealise that humble dwelling."

"Have a care, my lord, lest I take you at your word some day, and put up
at Bevis Mount for a night on my way from Ringwood to London. 'Twould be
but to take the Winchester road instead of travelling by Salisbury, and
it would be a prodigious joke to descend upon you as unexpectedly as if
I were indeed the goddess and conveyed through the air by a team of
doves."

"You should be received with adoration and rapture; yet I warn you that
_my_ Blenheim would scarce afford shelter for a fine lady's attendants,
although it might be made into a not-unfitting bower for beauty
unattended."

"O, my people should go to an inn, I would bring only Topsparkle to play
propriety. How do _you_ like his lordship's new toy, Anastasia?"

"You mean his cottage near Southampton? I have not seen it," answered
the singer, with a cold proud air.

"Indeed, and can he like a dwelling you have not approved?"

"His lordship is eccentric in many things, my dear Lady Judith," replied
Mrs. Robinson, and then she and her swain moved on and mingled with the
crowd, making way for Lavendale.

"Your ladyship is in unusual spirits to-night," he said, after a few
words of greeting.

"Yes, I am full of contentment. I met some friends of yours at the
playhouse last night, that pretty Mrs. Bosworth and your _fidus
Achates_, Mr. Durnford, and I was told all about their runaway marriage.
'Tis the prettiest thing I have heard of for ages, an heiress to
renounce all her expectations for the lover of her choice. I saw how the
land lay when they were together at Ringwood. But I am forgetting to
congratulate you upon your success as an orator. Lord Carteret told me
just now that you have astonished your own party and scared the
Opposition, that you spoke better than Lord Scarborough, and that you
are reckoned as a new element of strength in Walpole's forces."

"I shall be proud to be the ally of so great a man."

"What, you admire him as heartily as ever? You are not afraid of his
overweening ambition? Lord Townshend has been moaning about the palace
this modern Sejanus has built at Houghton, and which almost dwarfs the
splendour of poor Townshend's own place, which he had hitherto
considered the metropolis of Norfolk. Every stone that augments the
grandeur of Houghton is a stone of offence to Townshend."

"He will have to swallow them, as Saturn swallowed the substitutes for
his children," retorted Lavendale lightly; "Walpole's power has not yet
attained its zenith."

"Do you play?" asked Lady Judith with a wave of her fan towards the
crowded card-room.

Lavendale accepted the gesture as his dismissal.

At this moment the trumpets began to blare the stirring march from
_Judas Maccabeus_, and the hero of Oudenarde came strutting up the
steps, between the flare and flash of torches held by two rows of
powdered footmen.

    "You may strut, dapper George, but 'twill all be in vain;
    We know 'tis Queen Caroline, not you, that reign,"

muttered Bolingbroke, looking between the heads of the crowd, with
scornful lip and angry eye, full of hatred for the dynasty that had
shown him such scanty favour. "What a vulgar little beast it is, to call
itself royal!--royal, forsooth! a twopenny German Elector transmogrified
into King of Great Britain and Ireland! If ever this country was ripe
for a republic, for a millennium of statesmen and warriors, 'twas when
good old Anne shuffled off this mortal coil. Yet such a nation of sheep
are we that we must needs import a royal family from Hanover rather than
be governed by native talent!"

He turned from the curtseying truckling throng with a bitter sigh and a
bitterer sneer, thinking how fine a triumvirate might have been formed
in the year Fourteen, if he and Oxford and Marlborough had combined
their forces. He told himself that he had been born either too late or
too soon. He should have lived in the old Roman days when talent was
power; or in some enlightened England of centuries to come, when all
hereditary distinctions should be swept away to make a clear stage for
genius and ambition.

Queen Caroline and a brace of young princesses moved about the rooms,
with Lord Hervey and Mr. Topsparkle, Lady Hervey and Mrs. Clayton in
attendance upon her majesty's footsteps; the master of the house proud
to exhibit his curios and elucidate his pictures; Majesty showing
herself supremely gracious, with a superficial smattering of art which
went a long way in so charming a woman and so admirable a Queen. She had
a smile for every one, kissed her hand to a score of friends, approved
of Signor Duvetti's scraping on the violin, of Herr Altstiefel's organ
tones on the 'cello, and of Signora Burletti's birdlike soprano in a
scena of Lulli's and of Signor Omati's buffo bravura. There was a
concert in progress in one of the inner apartments which the royalties
honoured by their presence for at least a quarter of an hour, the
princesses chattering all the time, and Princess Caroline so engrossed
by the whispered nonsense of Lord Hervey, who happened to be standing
behind her chair, as to be unconscious of her mother's reproachful
frowns.

"I wonder whether the mature queen or the precocious princess is fondest
of that man?" whispered Bolingbroke to Pulteney.

"O, the younger lady is fondest. She is romantically in love, while her
mother uses Hervey as she uses all the world, for her own convenience
and advantage," answered Pulteney; "yet I must needs wonder what is the
charm of that sickly face and that effeminate manner, that all the women
should adore him?"

"I think the charm is a kind of finnicking cleverness, a concatenation
of petty talents which women understand. If Hervey had devoted himself
to statecraft, he would have been a second-rate politician. His parts in
great things would have seemed at best respectable; but by concentrating
his abilities upon trivialities he appears a genius--and then, again, a
man has but to flatter and fawn for the women to think him an
intellectual giant, magnified by their vanity--just as a flea under a
microscope seems a monster."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was three o'clock in the morning, and Lady Judith's assembly was
over, save for a few intimates who lingered in front of the fireplace in
the hall, while the Swiss porter snored in his chair, and the last of
the linkmen waited despairingly for the departure of the latest guest. A
couple of chairs were waiting on the pavement outside--Lord
Bolingbroke's and Lord Lavendale's. Tom Philter was the only other
loiterer, and those spindleshanks of his were to carry him back to
Gray's Inn Lane.

The royalties had eaten heavily and departed, much pleased with their
entertainment.

"I thought the supper-table looked like a larder," said Lady Judith,
fanning herself indolently, as she half reclined in a great carved oak
chair. "Any one but a German would have been nauseated by such a
plethora of food."

"But 'twas just what they like," replied Philter. "I saw your ladyship
had all his Majesty's favourite dishes."

"I ought to know his tastes, after those wearisome dinners at Richmond
Lodge, over which I have groaned in spirit on so many a Saturday," said
Judith.

"Ah, I grant you, madam, those Richmond dinners are an abomination,"
retorted Philter, who would have forfeited five of his declining years
to have been bidden to one.

"The king is as fond of punch as his lamented father, who used to get
amicably drunk with Sir Robert every afternoon, after a morning's
shooting in the New Park at Richmond last year, when the minister had a
temporary lodging on the hill there," said Bolingbroke.

"In spite of the Duchess of Kendal and her Germans, who did their best
to cut short that pleasant easy conviviality between his Majesty and
Robin," said Philter.

And now Bolingbroke made his adieux, with that blending of stately grace
and friendly familiarity which constitutes the charm of the grand
manner, and little Philter tripped out at his heels, leaving Lavendale
alone with his host and hostess. Judith looked at him furtively from
under her drooping lashes, wondering for what purpose he had lingered so
long. There had been no word of explanation between them since that
broken appointment last summer. They had met only in public, and had
simpered and chattered as if the most indifferent acquaintance. And now
it seemed very strange to Judith, as a woman of the world, that
Lavendale should make himself conspicuous by outstaying all her other
guests.

"I have waited till the last, Mr. Topsparkle," said his lordship
gravely, "in the hope that, late as the hour is, you would honour me
with a few words in private."

"There is no hour in which I am not at your lordship's service," replied
Topsparkle, with his airiest manner; yet there was a look of anxiety in
his countenance which his wife noted.

"Is your business of such a private nature that even I may not hear it?"
she asked lightly, hiding keenest anxiety under that easy manner.
"Husband and wife are supposed to have no secrets from each other."

"That is a supposition which must have been out of date in the Garden of
Eden, madam," said Lavendale. "Be sure Eve had her little mysteries from
Adam after that affair of the apple had taught her a prudent reserve."

"Then I wish you good-night, gentlemen, and leave you to a masonic
secrecy," said Lady Judith, emerging with slow and languid movements
from the depths of the great oak chair, sinking almost to the ground in
a stately curtsey to Lavendale, and then gliding from the room, a
dazzling vision of powder and patches, diamonds and ostrich feathers,
alabaster shoulders and gold brocade.

She was gone, the servants had retired, all save the Swiss porter who
dozed in his chair; and Lavendale and Topsparkle were alone in front of
the hearth.

"Your lordship may converse at your ease," said Topsparkle, "that fellow
has not a word of English."

He employed foreign locutions at times, like Lord Hervey, a modish
affectation of the time which distinguished the gentleman who had
travelled from the country bumpkin.

"I am going to speak to you of the past, Mr. Topsparkle. I am here to do
you a friendly office, if I can."

"Indeed, my lord, I have no consciousness of being at this present
moment in need of friendly offices; nor do I think it is any man's
business to concern himself about another man's history. The past
belongs to him who made it."

"Not always, Mr. Topsparkle. There are occasions when the history of the
past concerns the law of the land--when undiscovered crimes have to be
brought to light--and when wicked deeds, unrepented of and unatoned,
have to be accounted for."

"As in the case of Mr. Jonathan Wild and his young friend Jack
Sheppard," said Topsparkle. "Your proposition is indisputable. But did
your lordship outstay the company to tell me nothing newer in the way of
argument or fact?"

"No, sir; I am here to talk to you of your own crime, committed in this
house, forty years ago; suspected at the time by a town which was not
slow to give expression to its opinion; confessed only the other night
by your tool and accomplice, Louis Fétis."

"The hysterical ravings of a drunken valet are about as trustworthy as
the libels of electioneering pamphleteers; and I am surprised that a man
of the world like your lordship should concern himself with such
folly," said Topsparkle. "The slander was as baseless as it was
malicious."

"Yet it drove you from England."

"No, my lord; I left England because I was tired of a country in which
the fine arts were still in their infancy. We have been improving since
Handel and Bononcini came to London. In William's time there were not
half a dozen good musicians in the kingdom. I wonder, Lord Lavendale,
that you should take occasion to insult me upon the strength of a
slander which I trampled out forty years ago, when my slanderers stood
in the pillory."

"Mr. Topsparkle, there are crimes which never can be brought home to the
evil-doers; but there are other wrongs more easily proved even after a
lapse of years. I cannot prove you a murderer, though I have the
strongest moral evidence of your crime: first from the testimony of your
victim's grandfather, Vincenti, and secondly from the confession of your
accomplice and agent. But one act in your life I can prove to all the
world, if it should be necessary to show the town what manner of man
you are. I can at least demonstrate your hardness of heart as a father;
how you, the sybarite and Croesus, were content to let your daughter
expire in poverty."

"I have never acknowledged a daughter."

"But she was none the less your child--the child born in this house--the
helpless babe whose unhappy mother you and Fétis poisoned."

"'Tis false--a vile calumny--and you know it."

"'Tis true, and you know it. Your victim is gone beyond the reach of
earthly redress--your daughter has been dead twenty years; but there is
yet one living to whom, ere that frail, vanishing figure of yours melts
from this earth, you may make some atonement for past evil. Your
granddaughter, Philip Chumleigh's orphan child, is my friend Herrick
Durnford's wife. To her you may yet act a grandfather's part."

"Mr. Durnford ran away with Mr. Bosworth's daughter."

"With Bosworth's supposed daughter only. The likeness which that young
lady bears to the picture at Ringwood Abbey is no accident, but the clue
to a secret which my friend and I have discovered. Those letters from
your confidential servant were on the person of Irene's father when
Squire Bosworth found him lying dead on Flamestead common, with his
infant daughter by his side."

He showed Mr. Topsparkle the letters from Fétis, scarce trusting them
out of his own hand as the gentleman examined them, lest he should fling
them into the fire. And then he related the circumstances of Irene's
infancy: the nameless orphan and the little heiress brought up together;
and how the Squire had been tricked by a malignant woman--a discarded
mistress, eager to seize the first opportunity to do evil to her
inconstant lover.

Topsparkle would fain have disbelieved the story; but that extraordinary
resemblance between Irene and the picture was an evidence which he could
scarce gainsay; while the existence of those letters from Fétis made a
link between the past and the present. He had been startled and
mystified by that likeness between the living and the dead; for it was
something closer and more significant than a mere resemblance of
features and complexion; and there was the likeness of character, the
hereditary type, the indescribable Italian beauty as distinct from every
other race. No, Vyvyan Topsparkle was not inclined to deny the claim of
this girl.

"I have no objection to acknowledge this young lady as my
granddaughter," he said coolly.

"Do you think she would acknowledge you, did she know the story of your
life?" answered Lavendale. "Happily for her she has been spared that
knowledge. She knows not how her mother was abandoned by you, how her
mother's mother was murdered in this house, where you can endure to live
beneath the shadow of your crime."

"Your lordship forgets that I wear a sword!" exclaimed Topsparkle,
clutching at the jewelled hilt of his thin Court rapier.

"Keep your sword for opponents who know less of your character than I
do, sir," said Lavendale contemptuously.

"You deliberately insult me, and then refuse me satisfaction!"

"I will give you the satisfaction of a public investigation of this dark
history, if you choose. Your victim's grandfather, Vincenti, is in
England, ready to make his statement before a magistrate."

"That is a lie--a preposterous and impudent lie!" cried Topsparkle.
"Were the grandfather living, he would be over a hundred and ten years
of age."

"He is living, and in full possession of his faculties, whatever may be
his age. He gave me a written record of Margharita's story, with all the
circumstances of her flight with you, and of her untimely death under
this roof."

"I don't believe it. The fellow must have been dead and rotten these
twenty years."

"Come to Lavendale Court to-morrow, and you may convince yourself that
he still lives--lives and harbours a most bitter hatred of you, Mr.
Topsparkle. Old as he is, I doubt if you would be safe in his company,
were you two left alone together."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Not to acknowledge your granddaughter. Kindred with you can do her no
honour; and it is better that she should be ignorant of the tie. But
something in way of atonement you may do out of your coffers. Durnford
and his wife are poor; they have the battle of life before them; and I
am too near ruined to be of much use to them in the present or the
future. When you make your will, remember your victim's grandchild."

"I will consider the matter at my leisure," replied Topsparkle
haughtily, recovering his self-possession now that he saw there was no
actual danger to be apprehended from Lavendale.

That blabbing fool Fétis was safe under lock and key, but not until he
had blackened his patron's character. It was a hard thing to have the
past thus raked up, after forty years: and by this man of all others;
Judith's old lover, the one man for whose sake he had suffered the pangs
of bitterest jealousy.

"I can scarce urge more than that on my friend's behalf," said Lavendale
quietly. "Your conscience--if with advancing years conscience has been
awakened--must be the only arbiter in this matter. But there is one
thing I would add. Your victim, Margharita, died unavenged; your wife,
Lady Judith, would not be wronged with impunity. She has powerful
friends, and to harm but a hair of her head would be fatal to him who
did the wrong."

"I do not require to be schooled in my duties either to Lady Judith or
any one else," replied Topsparkle, livid with rage under his artificial
carnation, which had been laid on by a less cunning hand than that of
Fétis, and which made hectic spots upon that death-like countenance.

Lavendale sauntered to the door, taking leave of his host with a low
bow; the Swiss started from his slumbers and flung open the
double-doors, and the link-boys ran forward to light the last departing
guest to his chair; and then the heavy doors closed with a clang; and
the great house in Soho Square sank into silence for the rest of the
night.



CHAPTER IX.

"THE DEVIL'S DEAD, THE FURIES NOW MAY LAUGH."


Among the habitations of eighteenth-century London, it would have been
difficult to find a more dismal den than that house of entertainment
which Mr. Marjory and his family kept for insolvent debtors, and which,
with two other houses of the same stamp, formed a kind of antechamber to
the Fleet Prison, where Governor Bambridge at this period reigned
supreme. Hovels there were more squalid, rottener roofs, and darker
garrets than those of Marjory, within sound of Bow bells; abodes where
crime was rifer, and where midnight orgies and midnight quarrels were of
a more brutal character than such as resounded under Mr. Marjory's
roof-tree. But for sheer gloom, and for dulness and despair, the Marjory
establishment was scarcely to be matched. There needed no inscription
above the greasy portal to tell that he who entered there left hope
behind him. There was an atmosphere of hopelessness in that
establishment which needed no translation in words.

And yet there were rioters who drank and gamed and put on a show of
joviality within those abhorred precincts; but these were only the
hardened few--reprobates so steeped in vice and ignominy, that they
would have made merry in Newgate on the eve of an execution.

Louis Fétis had been a dweller in that sinister abode for more than a
week. At the commencement of his captivity he had carried himself
haughtily enough; had blustered and swaggered, and told his gaolers that
the debt for which he was arrested was but a bagatelle, which he should
be able to settle off-hand directly he had communicated with his
friends. He had sent a ticket-porter to Soho Square and Poland Street,
with messages to his wife and to Mr. Topsparkle. There had been some
difficulty about finding letter-paper, or he would have written; but he
was too impatient to wait while Marjory's down-at-heel daughter hunted
for a couple of sheets of paper and a pen. The reply in both cases had
been in the negative. His wife could not help him; his master would not.

"You have been drawing upon me very heavily of late, my good Fétis, and
I have your notes of hand to the amount of some thousands," wrote
Topsparkle. "You cannot, therefore, expect that I shall hasten to your
rescue, when a less forbearing creditor claps you in prison. Your house
and furniture must be worth something; so, no doubt, Mrs. Fétis will be
able to raise money enough to extricate you. For my own part, I am your
milch cow no longer."

Mrs. Fétis informed her dearest husband, upon paper blotted with her
tears, that she had not a guinea in her possession. She would have flown
to him to comfort and weep with him, but the shock of his arrest had
made her so ill that she was unable to leave her bed.

Fétis burst into a torrent of Gallic oaths after reading this
affectionate scrawl. She was a traitress, a hypocrite, the falsest of
women. She was glad to be free of him, to coquette with the fine
gentlemen who frequented his house, to flaunt in brocade and powder,
and gamble and drink ratafia with those middle-aged bucks who had
admired her on the stage, who had watched her dancing and simpering
behind the oil-lamps in a ballet divertissement.

"She is a whited sepulchre," said Fétis; and then he sat down in a dusty
corner of the shabby sitting-room at Marjory's, and sobbed aloud. He
felt himself abandoned by all the world, alone in his misery like a
poisoned rat in a hole.

"It is not the wine-merchant," he said to himself; "'tis these
two--traitor and traitress--false master, false wife. These two have
plotted together to shut me up in gaol. He fears me and the secrets I
can tell, and he thinks that here the scorpion cannot sting."

He asked for pens, ink, and paper, intending to pen a denunciation of
his late master for one of the newspapers; and again there was a
difficulty. Miss Marjory could not find a sheet of letter-paper
anywhere. It was odd; but there had been such a call for it yesterday,
there was not a sheet left, and it was too late to get any out of doors.

"'Twill do to-morrow," answered Fétis moodily; "what I have to write
cannot be written in an hour."

He sat by the smoky fire, brooding over a letter to the _Flying Post_--a
letter in which, without betraying himself, he should blast Mr.
Topsparkle's reputation. He could not afford to speak plainly, but he
could insinuate evil; he could deal in such slander as the town loved,
and do infinite harm without risking his own neck.

The idea of this mischief comforted him a little; but when the next day
came, he was too ill to rise from the pallet which he occupied in a
draughty apartment on the first floor, where there were three other
beds. It was a back room, looking into a yard, and affording a prospect
of dead wall and water-butt. He was not alone in his indisposition.
There was an invalid in the next bed, hidden from him by a faded old
green baize curtain--a man who had been delirious in the night, but who
lay for the greater part of the day in a kind of stupor. Fétis took both
these conditions to be the consequences of a heavy drinking bout.

Under ordinary circumstances Mr. Fétis would perhaps have hardly been
ill enough to keep his bed all that November day; but he lay there in an
apathy of despair, waiting for his fate; wondering helplessly whether
Topsparkle would relent, and hasten to liberate him, and whether that
false wife of his would think better of her treachery, and come to his
relief. He had a racking headache, and he dozed a good deal. And so the
day passed.

He got up next morning, in spite of heavy head and aching limbs, and
went down to the sitting-room, where he breakfasted in his solitary
corner, shunning all companionship with his fellow-captives--an elderly
parson, a scribbler of the Philter type, and a decayed tradesman--all
equally hopeless and dismal.

"We are kept here to swell Bambridge's profits," protested the parson.
"Charges are being run up against us all for our commons in this
wretched hole, and still worse extortions of a so-called legal nature;
and I am told there is a fever of some kind in the house, and that we
may all sicken of it before we are transferred to the Fleet."

Fétis heard almost indifferently. He had entered that accursed house in
a state of low fever, disturbed mentally and bodily. It seemed to him he
could scarcely become worse than he was. He sat in his corner by the
fireplace, sipping brandy all through the dreary winter day; would fain
have attempted that letter to the newspaper, but there was again a
difficulty about writing materials, and he had not strength to be
persistent, and insist that he should be accommodated in that way. A
lethargy was creeping over him; he sat staring at the dull fire,
sometimes shivering, sometimes oppressed by heat. Next morning he awoke
in a much worse condition, and could not lift his head from his pillow;
next night he was delirious, and for more than a week he languished in a
state betwixt apathy and raving madness; then came a lull in the fever,
and one afternoon, in a lucid interval, he heard the word smallpox
pronounced by an ancient beldame who had been the only attendant upon
him and his neighbour; and then gradually--for there was a dulness in
his mind which made him slow to apprehend anything--he began to
understand what had happened to him.

He had been put into a room with a smallpox patient, and he was smitten
by that fell disease. The house was infected; he had been sent there to
his doom. It was Topsparkle's scheme for getting rid of a dangerous
tool. The arrest had been prompted by Topsparkle; the whole business
planned by Topsparkle.

He asked to see Mr. Marjory, and after much expostulation and
heart-sickening delay the proprietor of the den appeared.

Fétis accused him of murder, of having entrapped an unconscious victim
into his poisonous den, with deliberate purpose to compass his death.

"You have been bribed to get me out of the way," he said. "This house of
yours is a _guetapens_;" and then he entreated that he might be removed
to the Fleet prison till his debts were paid.

"You'll have first to settle with me," answered Marjory, "and the
tipstaff, and the warders;" and thereupon he produced a bill of nearly
thirty pounds.

Fétis had entered the house with less than thirty shillings on his
person, and the greater part of those shillings had dribbled away in
payment for drams. He had less than a crown left.

"Send for my wife," he screamed, "send for that cold-blooded hussy! I
have a house full of furniture, I have powerful friends. Send for the
Duke of Wharton."

"What, all the way to Spain? I doubt Wharton is almost as hard up as
your honour, and could scarcely help you if he had a mind to it," jeered
Marjory.

"Send for the Duke of Bolton."

"How many more Dukes would your worship summon? There is my little
account, Mr. Fétis, and till that is squared you'll not budge. Smallpox
be d--d! There's no such thing; 'tis a slander upon a respectable house
to say so. Why there are but two or three pimples on your face,
doubtless the result of a surfeit. Your neighbour has been down with an
attack of jaundice from over-free living, but he's on the mending hand,
and will be about in a few days. As for you, sir, I take it you have one
of those timid constitutions that can put themselves into an ague at
the slightest hint of danger."

"Send me a doctor, if you won't release me from this devilish man-trap,
and send for my wife instantly," cried Fétis, in an agony of indignant
feeling, fear, wrath, vengeance.

Marjory left him to rave as he pleased. He was powerless to help himself
in any way, and seemed as if he had scarce strength to move. He lay
there impotent and raging, like a poisoned rat in a hole, as he said to
himself again; there was no other similitude that fitted him so well.
And so the short winter day waned till it was growing towards dusk. His
neighbour in the bed behind the baize curtain was sleeping heavily. His
stertorous breathing was the only sound in the room, intolerable in its
monotony. His unseen presence was the sole company that Fétis had
enjoyed for the last two hours.

Suddenly it seemed to Fétis that he might see for himself what ailed the
man. If his disease were jaundice, he would be as yellow as a new
guinea; if it were that hideous malady which had been spoken of, the
signs would be but too obvious.

Fétis gathered himself together with an effort, got out of bed, and
plucked back the baize curtain.

There was a gleam of wintry sunset shining in at the window. It fell
upon the sick man's face. God! what a face, seamed, scarred, ravaged by
that foul disease! God's image for ever marred, humanity almost
obliterated, by that dread visitation. He stood beside the bed staring
at that disfigured sleeper, as if that sickening aspect had turned him
into stone. Then he recoiled shuddering from that loathsome bed, the
curtain dropped from his trembling hand, and he fell back upon his
pallet in a mute agony of despair.

There was no longer room for doubt. He had been put into this contagious
den with a deliberate purpose. This was Topsparkle's ghastly answer to
his incautious menaces. He had aroused his master's suspicions, awakened
his fears; and _this_ was how Vyvyan Topsparkle defended himself.

He lay shivering under the dingy coverlet, his limbs like ice, his head
on fire, meditating his revenge. He was not going to lie there like an
unreasoning animal till death released him from suffering. He would be
even with Vyvyan Topsparkle before he died, brief as his time might be.

The beldame came in presently, before he had had time to shape his
thoughts. She brought two basins of gruel, and a rushlight in a great
iron cage, which she set upon the empty hearth, where it looked like a
lighthouse shedding long slanting lines of light over a dark sea.

"You'll not want anything more to-night, will you, good gentleman?" she
asked. "I'm going home to my family, and there's no one else in the
house that cares to come into this room; so I hope you'll spend a
comfortable night, and to-morrow morning old Biddy Flanagan will come
and look after ye again. Lord! how sweet he sleeps!" looking down at the
slumberer behind the curtain. "Sure, there never was such a cure; but
I'm afraid his beauty is a thrifle damaged, poor dear sowl."

"What's the hour, woman?" asked Fétis.

"Sure, darlint, 'tis just on the stroke of six."

"And quite dark outside?"

"As black as your hat, surr. God bless your honour, and give yez a good
night's rest!"

She was gone, in haste to return to her brood, and to feed them with
broken victuals secreted about her person at odd intervals during her
daily duties. 'Twas almost as tender a thing, though not altogether so
honest, as the maternal ministrations of the pelican.

Fétis dozed for a little, wandered in his mind for a little, then woke
with a start, perfectly lucid, and heard the clock of St. Bride's strike
ten.

No, he would not lie there like a dog. He would find a way of escape
somehow.

He got up, and though he reeled and staggered for the first minute or
two, while he groped for his clothes by the dim glimmer of the
rushlight, he felt stronger presently--much stronger than he had felt in
the morning, when he tried to dress himself and gave it up for a bad
job. It was but the strength of fever, perhaps, but it served. He
shuffled on his clothes and went to the door. It was locked on the
outside. Then he tried the window, a rotten old guillotine sash, which
opened easily and hung loose upon a frayed and rotten cord. He found a
piece of wood in the fireplace, and propped the sash up before he dared
look out.

His fellow-patient had been wakeful and slightly delirious in the
earlier part of the evening, but had sunk off to sleep again, and was
snoring heavily.

Fétis looked down into the yard, which was not more than fourteen feet
below him. There was a water-butt in an angle made by the wall of the
house and that of the yard, and there was a wooden pipe fixed in a
slanting position to carry the rain from the gutters above to the butt
below. This pipe passed within a few feet of the window, and Fétis, even
at sixty-six years of age, and with a fever upon him, felt agile enough
to descend by it to the edge of the water-butt and thence drop into the
yard. It was a descent which a schoolboy might have made half a dozen
times a day for sport. He buttoned his coat across his chest, clapped
his hat firmly over his brow, and clambered out of the window,
cautiously, slowly, seating himself upon the timber pipe, and letting
himself gradually down the incline, hugging the wall as he went.

His slim fleshless figure and light weight served him well; he dropped
from the edge of the water-butt on to the stone pavement as lightly as a
rabbit; and then he had no more to do but to find an egress from the
yard, which might prove impossible, and so all his work wasted. He
groped about him in the darkness till he discovered a narrow passage
which went under a house at the back of Marjory's, and opened into an
alley. There was an iron gate which was generally locked; but fortune
favoured the fugitive. One of Marjory's slipshod daughters had gone on
an errand to the dram-shop in the alley, and had left the gate ajar. In
another moment Fétis was beyond the precincts. He ran along the narrow
court as fast as his thin legs could carry him, hearing voices and
laughter in the dram-shop as he sped past its open door. A turn of the
alley brought him into Fleet Street, and in his blind rush for freedom
he nearly went head over heels over one of the posts that guarded the
footway.

Late as the hour was, the business of life was not over. A train of
heavy wagons and tired cattle choked the road; a ballad-singer was
shrilling a political ballad in front of a public-house, while a roar of
festal noises testified to the carousal within. A street-fight blocked
the rough pavement between Chancery Lane and St. Dunstan's, much to the
discomfiture of an alderman, who was being carried westward after a City
dinner, in a chair guarded by a couple of linkmen.

Fétis changed his pace from a run to a walk, hurried along, threading
his way safely amidst all obstacles, scarce conscious of fatigue in that
hypernatural condition of his mind and body. Yet he had sense enough to
know that his strength might fail him at any moment, and was on the
look-out for a coach or chair.

He saw a coach standing just inside Temple Bar, hailed the driver, who
was half-asleep on his box, and jumped in.

"Soho Square," he said, "the corner of Greek Street."

He had five shillings in his pocket, which would be more than enough for
so short a journey. The coach rattled along the Strand in a series of
short stages, having to pull up every now and then to make way for some
heavier vehicle, and then by Leicester Fields to Soho Square, where the
coachman pulled up his horses at the corner, as he had been bidden.

Here Fétis alighted--weak and tottering after the interval of rest--paid
the man, and then crept off to a court at the back of the great house in
the square--a court in which there was a private door of communication
with Mr. Topsparkle's offices. This was the entrance and exit which
Fétis had generally used in his attendance upon his master, and he had
always carried a key to this door about his person. He had the key in
his pocket when he was arrested, and he had it ready for use to-night.

He opened the door softly and let himself in then crept stealthily along
a passage leading to the servants' staircase. This part of the house was
a labyrinth of passages and small rooms, devoted to various domestic
uses. He could hear the voices of the servants at supper yonder in the
great stone hall, where they ate and drank to repletion at this hour,
and where, Mr. Topsparkle and Lady Judith being out, they were riotous
in their mirth, and indulged in many a coarse jest at the expense of
master and mistress, and the company they kept.

It was the hour at which all the restraints of servitude were thrown
off, and when men and maids romped and revelled without fear of
interruption; since the housekeeper had her own evening engagements, and
was rarely home till midnight; and the steward might be relied upon as
drunk and speechless in his private apartment, snug for the night; while
there was no likelihood that Mr. Topsparkle or Lady Judith and her
running footmen would be home before three o'clock in the morning. Her
evening was a progress from one assembly to another, with occasional
intervals at Opera-house or masquerade. She came home worn out, and
sighing over the weariness of life. There never were such dull parties;
'twas a tiresome world, and she wondered at her patience in bearing with
it. And then, if she were in the humour, she would bring home two or
three of her satellites, and sit down to cards and ratafia until the
late sunrise shone redly through the cracks of the shutters, with the
suggestion of a conflagration.

The passages and stairs were all in darkness; but Mr. Fétis knew every
angle and every step. He crept to the back staircase, which wound itself
sinuously upward between the state apartments and the offices, and then
he ascended noiselessly to a narrow landing outside Mr. Topsparkle's
bedroom. He opened the door of that sacred apartment, and went in. There
was a fire burning on the hearth, and light enough to show that the room
was empty. It was a small room, luxuriously furnished, the low narrow
French bed draped with cut velvet of so dark a red that it looked black
in the firelight. A great fur rug lay in front of the bed, and an
immense armchair, with wings at the sides to screen off the draught,
stood by the fireplace. A little spindle-legged tea-table, and an
Italian coffer upon carved legs, completed the furniture.

Three choicest gems of Italian art, a Carlo Dolci, a Leonardo, and a
Titian--cabinet pictures all of them--adorned the walls, and a Venetian
mirror in a carved ebony and silver frame hung above the mantelpiece.

Fétis squatted in front of the fire and warmed his aching limbs. One of
his shivering fits came upon him as he sat there, and his teeth
chattered; but the fever was soon upon him again, and then he left the
fire and lay down on his master's bed, defiling the embroidered Indian
coverlet with the dust and grime of the street. It was a masterpiece
chosen by Lady Judith at the India house where she spent so much money
and wasted so much time; a rendezvous and gossiping place for her idlest
acquaintances; a resort where reputations were murdered daily in the
politest fashion, and where modish women envied and hated each other
with unvarying civility.

Fétis lay on those Oriental roses and lilies, staring at the fire,
wondering what Mr. Topsparkle would think were he to come in and find
him there. But he did not intend to be discovered immediately. He meant
to hide himself in that luxurious bower, to rise up like a spectre
before his guilty master. There was a narrow space between the bed and
the wall, just large enough to accommodate Fétis, and into this gully he
slipped presently when he heard approaching footsteps, and lay there
among the voluminous folds of the velvet curtains, warmly and even
luxuriously lodged.

Here he slept the sleep of exhaustion. It was daylight when he awoke:
the fire was still burning, had been tended by the slave who kept watch
in the great house o' nights.

Fétis could hear the light fall of wood ashes in the grate, and the
monotonous breathing of his slumbering master.

He crept out from his hiding-place, and went round to the hearth. He
seated himself in the deep armchair, warmed his aching limbs at the
fire, and waited for his master's awakening.

He had slept long and profoundly, but he was unrefreshed by his
slumbers. He drained a carafe of water that stood on the table by the
bed, and sat waiting and shivering.

The clock struck eight, and Mr. Topsparkle stretched himself and rubbed
his eyes. However late were his revels over-night, he invariably awoke
at this hour. It was his habit to lounge in bed for an hour or two after
that awakening, while the day was airing; but his slumbers were
generally over with the stroke of eight.

His first glance was at the fire, to see that his slaves had not
neglected him, for the nights were chilly. Gazing dreamily at the
burning logs and sea-coal, straight in front of him, Mr. Topsparkle was
unconscious of that small slender figure beside the hearth, almost
hidden by the side-pieces of the easy-chair. But as consciousness became
keener in the newly awakened senses, as the passage from dreams to
waking became complete, Mr. Topsparkle's instinct told him that he was
not alone. He looked round the room nervously, saw that figure in the
chair, the ghastly face covered with pustules, and gave a shriek of
absolute terror.

"'Tis a ghost," he muttered, after the first shock, "Fétis's ghost!"

"'Tis stern reality, Vyvyan Topsparkle, 'tis the pestilence that walketh
at noonday. You sent me to an infected den, of malice aforethought,
planned to trap me like a rat; sent me to die and rot there, lest this
tongue of mine should tell how you tempted me to give your mistress her
last sleeping draught when you were alike weary of her charms and
doubtful of her fidelity. You meant to make a swift end of a foolish
babbler whose awakened conscience threatened your safety. But 'twas not
so easy as you thought. I have brought contagion to your own couch, the
venom of virulent smallpox has poisoned your pillow. I lay for an hour
upon your bed last night before you came to it. Your down coverlet is
tainted by my breath, your satin and velvet are reeking with infection.
I slept beside you all night. 'Twill be a miracle if you escape the
disease."

"You are a maniac," cried Topsparkle, "a malignant maniac; and I will
have you clapped in a strait-waistcoat before this world is an hour
older."

He lifted his arm to ring for aid, but the bell-pull had been plucked
down by Fétis over-night.

"You have trapped me once," said the valet. "You shall not catch me so
easily again. If I am to die, it shall be in my own hole, not in a trap
of your choosing."

He opened the door and was gone before Mr. Topsparkle, helpless in the
elegant disorder of his night raiment, could attempt to detain him. He
fled with swift footsteps from the house which had been the scene of
murder forty years ago, and which had been hateful to this cowardly
sinner ever since. Topsparkle was a bolder villain, and was not open to
such influences.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week later, everybody at the Court end of London was talking of poor
Mr. Topsparkle, who was stricken with smallpox, a malady which at his
age was likely to be fatal, despite the assiduous attendance of
fashionable physicians, learned in the latest treatment of this terrible
disease.

People talked even more of Mr. Topsparkle's wife, who, with heroic
self-abnegation, had insisted upon nursing her husband. She had shut
herself up in his room with the sufferer, and never left that tainted
atmosphere. She had been inoculated three years before, at Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu's entreaty, submitting to the operation rather in sport
than in earnest, to please that clever eccentric, whom she loved partly
for the lady's own merits, and partly because she was related to
Lavendale. She had suffered a slight attack of the disease, which her
splendid constitution and high spirits had thrown off as lightly as if
it had been but a fit of the vapours. And now, armed by this
preparation, she took her seat fearlessly beside her husband's pillow;
she ordered the servants in their goings to and fro between the
sick-room and the outer world; she watched day and night, and took care
that not the slightest detail in the regimen prescribed by the
physicians should be neglected. She performed the duties of sick-nurse
as one who had a natural genius for the task.

One night, in an interval of consciousness after a period of delirium,
Mr. Topsparkle took his wife's hand in his, kissed it, and cried over
it, and thanked her feebly for her devotion.

"I never expected that you would be so good to me," he faltered. "I know
you never loved me."

"I owe you something for your indulgence," she answered gently. "You
rescued me from genteel poverty; you let me waste your money as if it
were water; and I have scarcely been grateful. I think it was less my
fault than that of the world in which we live. It would have been so
unfashionable to be grateful or over-civil to my husband," with a
sardonic smile. "But now you are ill, I feel that I may do something to
prove that my heart is not the nethermost millstone."

"And when I am dead you will marry Lavendale."

"O, but you are not going to die this bout. You are better to-night. Dr.
Chessenden told me this morning there was a change for the better."

"Would I could feel it! But I don't, and I doubt the end is near. And
when I am gone you will marry Lavendale."

"He was my first love," she answered gravely: "be assured I shall marry
none other."

"Well, I won't begrudge you your happiness. When my dry bones are
mouldering in the dark it can make but little difference to me. You will
have wealth enough to please yourself in a husband or any other whim. I
made my will a week ago, and left you three-fourths of my fortune. The
remaining quarter goes to a person who is represented to have a claim
upon me."

"You are too generous; but, indeed, I have no desire for inordinate
wealth."

"Nay, but you have a very pretty talent for spending. You will not
discredit your position as Croesus's widow any more than you have done
as Croesus's wife. There, there, Judith, I forgive all your follies.
You have given me a good deal of pain at odd times by your flirtation
with Lavendale; but, on the whole, I have been proud of you."

He lay muttering little speeches of this kind at intervals all that
night; kissed his wife's hand ever and anon with maudlin fondness; was
declared by the physicians next morning to be convalescent; and three
days afterwards was dead; just a week after his valet had been buried in
the churchyard of St. Giles's in the Fields.

       *       *       *       *       *

Vyvyan Topsparkle's funeral was the most splendid function of the
funereal kind that had been seen in London since the burial of the Duke
of Buckinghamshire, and the most distinguished assemblage of mourners
that had followed a hearse since the great ones of the land bore Sir
Isaac Newton's pall, and followed genius and philosophy to the grave, a
few months before. As that frivolous great world had done reverence to
intellect, so now it did homage to wealth and fashion. Mr. Topsparkle
was buried in the family vault in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral,
where the bones of his father the Alderman had been laid five-and-forty
years before, in a sarcophagus of Florentine marble, sent from Rome by
his dutiful son. The plumes, the sable horses, the mourning chariots,
and procession of hireling mourners, the long train of fashionable
carriages, made a striking impression upon the crowd in the Strand and
Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill and St. Paul's Churchyard. Nor was Lady
Judith, in her sable robes, the least imposing figure in that stately
ceremonial. Calm and dignified in her sober bearing, affecting no false
hysteria of grief, but shedding a womanly tear or two for poor humanity
at those pathetic words, "Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short
time to live, and is full of misery," she won the sympathy and
admiration of all who looked upon her.

"I protest she is the most beautiful woman in England," said
Bolingbroke to Pulteney, as they stood side by side in the shadowy
crypt.

"And the richest, Harry. Are you not almost sorry you are
married--though 'tis to the most charming woman of my acquaintance?"

"Faith, Will, yonder handsome widow would be a glorious chance for a
greater man than your humble servant, and my admiration of her only
stops short of passionate love. Her money would have been my salvation;
for I confess my own fortune has dwindled atrociously since I bought
Lord Tankerville's place, and turned gentleman farmer; and my father's
unamiable pertinacity in living might force his son to an untimely death
in a debtors' prison, were there no such thing as privilege."



CHAPTER X.

"THE LITTLE HEARTS WHERE LIGHT-WINGED PASSION REIGNS."


Mr. Topsparkle had been buried more than a month, and the old year was
waning. The logs were piled in the capacious fireplaces in saloon and
dining-room, library and panelled parlour, at Lavendale Manor. The old
servants were in new liveries; and such a store of provisions, butcher's
meat and poultry, game and venison, eggs and butter, had been laid in to
fill the great stone larder as would have afforded material for feasting
upon a Gargantuan basis. Wax candles burnt merrily in all the lustres,
and set the crystal chandelier-drops trembling; holly and yew, laurel
and ivy, with waxen mistletoe-berries lurking in sly corners, adorned
hall and dining-room, staircase and corridors; and there was a bustle
and a movement through the old house such as had never been known there
since the early years of the late lord's married life, when the great
Whig leaders, Somers, Sunderland, and Godolphin, with all their
following, had been entertained at the Manor.

It was like the awaking of Sleeping Beauty's palace, after its century
of stillness and slumber: only this time it was the princess, and not
the prince, who was coming. It was not his bugle-horn, but her magic
touch, which had scared the mice and the spiders, and startled the old
seneschal from his torpor, and set the logs blazing, and filled the
larder, and brought out the choice old wines from the cobweb-wreathed
bins, and sent the sparks dancing up the chimneys, and made life where
death had been.

Lady Judith Topsparkle was coming to spend her Christmas at the house
where she was to be mistress, so soon as she and Lavendale should be
married. They were not going to defer that happy day over-long out of
respect for the dead, or out of deference for the opinion of the polite
world, which was tolerably used to having its codes and customs set at
naught in that merry era, and might be said to be hardened and
scandal-proof.

"Let it be soon, love," he had said; and she had not gainsaid him. They
meant to be married very quietly, and then to scamper off to the
Continent, and rush from one old city to another all along the sunny
south of France, and then drop down to the Mediterranean, and loiter on
that enchanted shore till the fierce breath of summer drove them away;
and then to Vienna, that enchanted city in which Lavendale and Wharton
had led so wild a life, and onward to the Austrian Tyrol in quest of
solitude, and mountain breezes cooled by the breath of the glaciers in
that wild upper world where only the herdsman's hut suggests human
habitation, and where the vulture and the eagle are easier to meet than
mankind.

"Let it be soon," he said, as he stood with her in the house whence her
husband's coffin had not long been carried; and she, with her white arms
wreathed round his neck, as on that night years ago in the Chinese tent
at Lady Skirmisham's ball, had answered tearfully, with a sad frankness
which had a touch of despair in it,

"It shall be when you will, love. I care nothing for the world, nothing
for any one in this world or beyond it, except you. And you are looking
so ill! I want to be your wife, that I may have the right to take care
of you."

"A poor prospect for youth and beauty and wit and fashion, my dearest,"
he said, smiling down at her upturned face with love unutterable in his
own. "You have had to bear with an old husband, and now can you put up
with an ailing one? I think I am more infirm than Mr. Topsparkle, in
spite of his threescore and ten. But indeed, love, I mean to reform--to
forswear sack and live cleanly; or, in other words, to take good care of
my life now it is worth keeping. I want to be sure of long years, love,
now I am sure of you. I feel new life in my veins as I stand here with
those sweet eyes looking up at me, full of the promise of bliss. Yes,
dear love, I will defy augury. Why should I not be happy?"

Why not, indeed? He asked himself the same question on this Christmas
Eve, in the winter gloaming, in front of the great hall fire which
roared so lustily in the wide chimney, and sent such a coruscation of
sparks dancing merrily up to the cold north wind, that it was hard to be
gloomy face to face with such a companion: hard to be gloomy when she
whom he loved was coming to be his Christmas guest, to stay with him
till the turn of the year; then back to the haunted house in Soho for
but one night of lonely widowhood; and on the next morning they two were
to meet quietly, unknown and unnoticed, at St. Anne's Church, there to
be made one for ever.

She was coming. Herrick and his young wife were there to receive her.
She was to bring her own little retinue: Lady Polwhele, and the
Asterleys, and a certain Mrs. Lydia Vansittart, a young lady of good
birth, small fortune, and easy manners, whom Lady Judith had taken up of
late as companion and confidante--a woman of fashion must always have
some one of this kind, an unofficial maid of honour, who retires at
intervals, like the real article, to make way for a successor, and,
unlike the official damsel, is not always certain of returning to her
post.

Lavendale was not an admirer of Lady Polwhele, nor of her led captain
and his buxom wife, and indeed wondered that his mistress should keep
such company; yet at the least hint from her he had hastened to invite
them, and was ready to pay them all the honours of a sumptuous
hospitality. Mrs. Vansittart he thought a harmless young person, but
brazen, after the manner of damsels at the Court end of town. The author
of _Gulliver_ had talked of her openly as an insolent drab, but
"insolent drab" with the Dean of St. Patrick's was sometimes a term of
endearment.

Lord Bolingbroke had promised to spend a day or two at the Manor before
the turn of the year, to inspect the home-farm, and compare its
old-fashioned neglect with his own new-fangled improvements at Dawley.

"We will quote Virgil to each other, and fancy ourselves farmers," he
said, when he accepted the invitation. "Perhaps I may bring friend Pope
in my coach, and be sure those keen eyes of his will be on the watch for
a trait of character in every particular of your existence--will hit off
your house and park, your table and friends, in lines that will be as
sharply cut and gracefully finished as a Roman medal."

Every bedchamber of importance in the rambling old house had been swept
and garnished for distinguished guests. Irene and the housekeeper had
roamed in and out of the rooms, and up and down the corridors again and
again, before it had been decided which were to be my Lord Bolingbroke's
rooms, and whether the bedchamber with the butterfly paper would be good
enough for the poet.

"Be sure he will put you into one of his satires, if you lodge him ill,
Mrs. Becket," said Irene: "they say he is as malicious as he is clever,
and loves to lampoon his friends."

"Lord, madam, I'm no friend of his, so perhaps he'll let me alone," said
the housekeeper; "but I shouldn't like to show disrespect to a famous
poet. I only wish it was Dr. Watts or Mr. Bunyan that was coming: the
best room in the house wouldn't be good enough for either of those pious
gentlemen," added the simple soul, who knew not that both her favourite
authors were defunct.

And now it was nearly dark on Christmas Eve, and the clatter of Lady
Judith's coach and six might be heard at any moment in the avenue. She
and her party were to have dined early in London, and to arrive at the
Manor in time for a dish of tea, and a substantial nine-o'clock supper
of beef and turkey. The Indian cups and saucers, the melon-shaped silver
tea-kettle, the dainty little teapots, and coffee-pots, and
chocolate-pots, and those miniature silver caddies, in which our
ancestors hoarded their thirty-shilling bohea, had all been set out in
the saloon under Irene's superintendence; and Irene herself, in a
rustling sea-green brocade, and her unpowdered hair turned up over a
cushion, and her dark eyes full of light, looked as fair a young matron
as any mansion need boast for its mistress.

Herrick, standing with his back to the fire, and his hands clasped
behind him in a lazy, contented attitude, watched his wife in the light
of the candles, as she moved to and fro in a restless expectancy:
watched, and admired, and smiled with all a young husband's fondness,
marvelling even yet that this beauteous, innocent creature could verily
belong to him.

These two were alone together in the saloon, but Lavendale stayed
without in the firelit hall, brooding over the fire, and waiting for the
coming of his love.

"Why should I not be happy?" he asked himself. "Why should I not live to
taste this golden fortune that Fate has flung into my lap--at last! at
last! A broken constitution can be patched up again. A heart that has
taken to irregular paces can learn to beat quietly in an atmosphere of
peace and joy. I have burnt life's candle at both ends hitherto. I must
be sober. Shall I despair because of that mystic warning, which may have
been, after all, but a waking dream? Yes, I _will_ believe that sweet
sad voice--my mother's very voice--was but a supreme effect of a fevered
imagination. I know that I was not asleep when I saw that luminous
figure, when I heard that unearthly voice; but there may be a kind of
trance in which the mind can create the image it looks upon, and the
sound that it hears. Hark, there are the horses! She is here, she is
here: and where she is death cannot come."

The clatter of six horses upon a frost-bound drive was unmistakable.
There were a couple of outriders, too, and Captain Asterley was on
horseback, making nine horses in all. The footmen ran to fling open the
hall-door, the butler came to the threshold, Herrick and Irene appeared
from the saloon, and Lavendale went out into the dusk, bare-headed, to
receive his mistress. She was scarce less eager than her lover. She
flung open the coach-door before footmen could reach it, and sprang
almost into Lavendale's eager arms. She wore a wide beaver hat with an
ostrich plume, and a long velvet pelisse bordered with fur, like a
Russian princess. She was flushed with the cold air, and her eyes
sparkled; never had she looked lovelier.

"Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear!" cried Lavendale, kissing
her audaciously before all the world, and then holding out a hand to
Lady Polwhele, who was closely hooded, and whose white-lead complexion
looked ghastlier than ever where the cold had turned it blue. "What
ample provision hast thou made against Jack Frost, love! Have you
borrowed Anastasia Robinson's sables?"

"Do you suppose nobody but a soprano can wear a fur-trimmed coat?" she
asked gaily. "I bought this yesterday, and I can tell you that it is
handsomer than anything Peterborough ever gave his wife. They say she is
really married to him, and she and her mother are established in his
house at Parson's Green; but he has sworn her to secrecy, and won't even
let her wear her wedding-ring."

"He is a fool," answered Lavendale, "and his pride is of the basest
quality. King Cophetua was not ashamed of his beggar-maid. He knew his
own power to exalt the woman of his choice. Mrs. Robinson is only too
good for Mordanto, who will be half a madman to the end of the chapter.
Welcome to Lavendale Manor, my northern princess. 'Tis but a faded old
mansion for you, who are used to such splendours--"

"Do not speak of them," she said hurriedly, "forget that I have ever
known them. Would to God my own memory were a blank! Ah, there is your
young friend Mrs. Durnford smiling welcome at me, and her clever
husband, too;" and Lady Judith ran into the house, and was presently
embracing Irene, whom she had not seen since last winter.

Lady Polwhele and the two other ladies had stayed by the coach all this
time, squabbling with the two maids, who had travelled in the rumble,
and who were broadly accused of having left nearly everything behind,
because this or that precious consignment could not be produced on the
moment.

"I feel certain my jewel-case is lost!" exclaimed the Dowager, "and if
it is I am a ruined woman; for it contains some of the very finest of
the family diamonds, which are heirlooms, and must be given up to my
son's wife whenever he marries. I wouldn't so much have minded my own
rubies and emeralds, though the ruby necklace is worth a small fortune;
and to think that careless hussy should have forgotten where she put
it!"

"Indeed, your ladyship carried it to the coach--nay, 'twas Captain
Asterley carried it, and your ladyship ordered where it was to be put."

"Ifackens, so I did, wench!" cried the Dowager, who was very vulgar when
she was in a good temper. "'Tis on the floor of the coach, Lyddy, and I
had my feet on it all the way down. Lord, what a no-memory I have,
child!" tapping Mrs. Lydia Vansittart archly with her fan, and ignoring
the falsely-accused abigail, who stood by with an aggrieved countenance.

"I rejoice to hear your ladyship's memory is bad," said Lavendale,
approaching the group with his courtly air, at once debonair and
stately, "for in that case I dare hope you will forget the poverty of
your entertainment at Lavendale Manor, and remember only how enchanted
its master was to have you under his roof."

"Poverty, my dear Lavendale! Your house has a delightful air, and I am
going to be ravished with everything I see in it. There is nothing so
agreeable, to my ideas, as a fine old mansion which time has sobered
down to a prevailing sombreness--the mellow colouring of centuries. I
hate your newly-built and newly-appointed house, with its Italian
pediment and marble floors, and its draughty comfortless rooms. Give me
a house that my ancestors have aired for me. A man who inhabits a house
of his own building must feel like Adam, as if he had never had a
father."

They were all in the hall by this time, and Lady Polwhele was warming
her feet, which were one of her good points, at the log fire, turning
about the little velvet slippers with a coquettish air, now making a
Bristol diamond buckle flash in the firelight, and now bringing into
play an instep exaggerated by a three-inch heel.

Lady Judith had flung herself into a chair, and had thrown off her hat
carelessly, letting the loose disordered hair fall as it would about her
face and neck. She had unfastened the fur-trimmed coat, revealing the
snowy whiteness of swan-like throat and bust, and the glitter of a
diamond cross, half veiled by a cloud of Mechlin lace. She was leaning
back in her chair, sipping a cup of tea, which Irene had just brought
her from the saloon, and looking admiringly round at the old hall, with
its family portraits and family armour and floodtide worn last at
Sedgemoor, and dusty with the dust of a generation.

The other three women crowded round the fire, Captain Asterley with
them. His City wife had seen a good many grand houses since her
marriage, and would not commit herself by admiring this one, lest it
should be supposed she was overawed by its grandeur.

"There was a turn of the road in your park that reminded me of Canons,"
she told Lavendale.

"My park is but a paddock when compared with the Duke's demesne, my dear
Mrs. Asterley; but I am flattered that even a branch of one of my trees
should recall that splendid seat. Did you stay long at Canons?"

"N-no, not very long," faltered Mrs. Asterley, who had been admitted to
the ducal palace by a side-wind of favour, to see the pictures.

Mrs. Vansittart was in raptures with Lavendale Manor. She affected a
kind of hoydenish enthusiasm, rode to hounds, adored the country,
pretended to know a great deal about farming, and was altogether of a
masculine type of young lady.

"I hope there will be some fox-hunting while we are with your lordship,"
she said, "and that you can find me some kind of creature to ride. I am
not particular; anything, from a Godolphin colt to your bailiff's gray
Dobbin, will suit me."

"We will try to find you something better than gray Dobbin, if even we
cannot promise you the Godolphin blood," answered Lavendale pleasantly.
"If the frost grows no harder, the hounds will meet on Flamestead Common
early on Boxing Day; but I fear you will have a good many of the rabble
out that morning to follow on foot."

"O, I do not mind the rabble. I am a Republican, and admire old Noll
Cromwell better than any hero in history, though he was hardly
personable enough for me to be in love with his shade. It has always
been a wonder to me that we did not make an end of kings and queens
altogether when good Queen Anne died. Instead of making all that fuss
about Settlement and Succession, the Whigs should have taken the
government into their own hands, elected Robert Walpole as their head,
and carried on the affairs of the nation as easily as the Lord Mayor
manages the City. Was ever anything so preposterous as to send for an
elderly German, who knew not one word of our language, to rule over us,
just because he was a lineal descendant of King James I.?"

"O, but we couldn't get on without a king," cried Mrs. Asterley. "I love
the look of the King's gilt coach and eight, or his gilt chair, with six
footmen walking in front, and a body of soldiers behind. 'Tis one of the
prettiest sights in London. And would you have no Drawing-rooms, and no
birthnight balls, and no illuminations, and no trumpeters, and no
beefeaters, when the King goes to the play?"

"We should get on just as well without any such raree-shows," said Mrs.
Lydia contemptuously. "Give me a Roman Forum and Consuls elected by the
people."

"Nay, child, I'm sure the Romans were no better off than we are, from
anything I can hear of their Neros and their Caligulas," protested the
Dowager; "and I quite agree with Mrs. Asterley that a Court is an
indispensable institution. We must have somebody to make a fuss about,
and though I allow that Germans are mostly savages, I am sure Queen
Caroline is the nicest woman I know."

"Say that she is a great deal too good for her boorish husband, and we
will all be of one mind with you," said Lady Judith; and then there was
a move to the saloon, where every one clustered round the table, and
where tea, coffee, chocolate, cakes, and toast were discussed with
considerable gusto by people who had dined at two o'clock.

Judith was altogether the queen of the friendly little party. Lavendale
helped her to take off the great sable-bordered pelisse, and she emerged
from her furs in a gown of black brocade, which intensified the dazzling
whiteness of neck and arms, and a black satin petticoat embroidered with
silver. Her only ornament was a large diamond cross, tied round her neck
with a broad black ribbon, but the diamonds were as magnificent as any
to be seen in London.

"Was it not that cross which the Queen wore at her coronation?" asked
Lady Polwhele, screwing up her wrinkled eyelids to peer across the table
at the gems.

"I believe this was one of the trifles which her Majesty did me the
honour to wear on that occasion," answered Judith carelessly.

"I wonder she gave it back to you; I wouldn't, if I'd been Queen of
England. You should have sued me for it."

"I don't believe Judith would ever have found out her loss," said Mrs.
Vansittart: "she has a plethora of gems. She lets me blaze in borrowed
splendour sometimes, but I take no pleasure in my finery. 'Tis the sense
of possession that is the real delight."

"Ay, I know that by sad experience," said the Dowager. "I detest the
family diamonds because I know I shall have to see them worn by somebody
else, if I live long enough. When I see Polwhele flirting with some
scraggy minx, I fancy how she would look with my collet necklace on her
bony neck. And he is such a weak young simpleton that I never see him
civil to a young woman without expecting to hear next morning that he
has proposed to her."

"I don't think your ladyship need anticipate immediate peril," said
Asterley, with a significant air. "From the kind of life his lordship
has been leading of late, I should think there was nothing further from
his thoughts than matrimony. A young man cannot marry _two_ French
dancers; and from what I know of the ladies with whom Lord Polwhele has
been seen about town lately, if he marries one 'twill be at the risk of
getting shot or stabbed by the other. O, I don't mean that the lady
would murder him herself. She would get some serviceable Irish captain
to invite him to a meeting in the Five Fields or at Wormwood Scrubs."

"You have no right to talk of such things, Asterley, and in the hearing
of a mother!" whimpered the Dowager.

"I beg your ladyship's pardon; but when all the town knows the story--"

"The town reeks with malicious inventions," said Lavendale lightly. "I
daresay young Lord Polwhele is not a whit worse than his neighbours."

Lady Judith leant back in her chair and listened with a supercilious
air, as if she had been looking on at a gathering of ants and emmets.
They sat and babbled about their acquaintances: how he or she had run
mad, and how people did such monstrous stupendous things that it was
strange no fiery rain came down from heaven, or inward convulsion
upheaved the earth, to wreak the vengeance of the Omnipotent on this
modern Sodom. Lady Judith listened, and said scarce a word. Of course
the world was wicked; she had known as much from her childhood. She had
heard of gambling debts and family quarrels, elopements and suicides,
madness, scrofula, hereditary hatreds, and fatal duels, in her nursery.
There was nothing new in the latest scandal, only another turn of the
old figures in the old kaleidoscope. She heard and smiled.

"My dear souls, how stale your talk is!" she said at last: "not one of
your scandals has any originality. They sound as if you had adapted them
from the French. They are reminiscences of the Regent and his _roués_.
Confess now that they are stolen from the Philippiques."

"May I show you your rooms, ladies?" said Irene, "and then we might have
time for some music before supper."

"O, hang music!" cried Miss Vansittart. "We have music enough in
London. 'Tis nothing but talk of Cuzzoni and Faustina, Handel and
Bononcini, all day long; everybody fighting for his or her favourite
singer: and 'tis dangerous to confess one admires Senesino, lest one
should be torn to pieces by the votaries of Farinelli. Let us clean
ourselves, and then sit down to a good round game--bassett, or pharaoh."

Durnford rang the bell, and the housekeeper came with a couple of maids,
carrying wax candles; and the ladies gathered up their cloaks and hoods,
and prepared to be ushered to their several rooms.

"One word, Lavendale," cried the vivacious Dowager, wheeling suddenly on
the threshold: "is there a ghost?"

"There is the ghost which appeared to Saul, madam, in the twenty-seventh
chapter of the first book of Samuel."

"Pshaw, coxcomb! you know what I mean. Is this fine old house of yours
haunted? It ought to be, if you lay claim to respectability. Have you
ever seen a ghost within these walls?"

"Not one, your ladyship, but a hundred. The ghosts of lost hopes, the
ghosts of good resolutions, the phantom of my boyish innocence, the
shadow of my wasted youth, the spectre of my dissolute manhood. These
rooms were full of ghosts, Lady Polwhele, till this dear lady," taking
Judith's hand and kissing it, "exorcised them all by her magical
presence. You will find no ghosts to-night. Love has laid them."

"_Au revoir_, Count Rhodomont: I think that should be your name," said
the Dowager, as she skipped lightly off, followed by the other women.

Everybody was delighted with everything: the rooms, the fires, and
bright clusters of candles, shining upon old Venetian looking-glasses in
silvered frames; the oak passages, which would have seemed gloomy enough
had the house been dark and empty, but which were now lighted by wax
candles in polished brass sconces, and garnished with garlands of
evergreens.

There was an air of Christmas gaiety and gladness throughout the house.

"And yet I am convinced there is a ghost," protested Lady Polwhele.



CHAPTER XI.

"THERE IS ANOTHER AND A BETTER WORLD."


Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were celebrated with all due
observances. Lord Lavendale and all his guests attended the village
church on Christmas morning, to the edification of the neighbourhood,
which consisted of about a score of smock-frock farmers, with their
labourers and dairy-maids, and a sprinkling of small gentry. Among these
his lordship's party created a sensation, and almost every eye was
directed to the big raised pew, with its carved wainscot and silk
curtains, and its comfortable fireplace in an angle of the wall.

It was long since Lavendale had seen the inside of a church, and he
looked round the village fane with wondering, interested eyes, and
comparing it with the glory and vastness of St. Peter's at Rome, which
was the last church he remembered to have worshipped in, four years ago
at an Easter service. He had come here to-day to humour Lady Judith, who
had urged that, as they were going to live at Lavendale by and by, and
to settle down into sober country folks, they ought at once to conform
to the obligations of their position.

He looked round the church, and remembered the years that were gone,
when he had sat in that pew by his mother's side, nestling in the folds
of her brocade gown, or sheltered by her furred mantle, and following
the words of the lesson in the large-type Bible open on her lap; his
childish finger travelling along the line, his childish lips whispering
the words. He, the unbeliever, had begun, as other children, in implicit
trustfulness. The old familiar Bible stories came back to him, the vivid
pictures of the old patriarchal life, full of reality, lifelike in their
exquisite simplicity. How he had loved and believed in those old
histories! how solemn and earnest had been his childish piety! Then came
his orphanage and university life, amidst a reckless, impious crew; and
then the Mohawk Club, and the Calf's Head Club, and an assumption of
blatant vice as a profession. He had been proud when he was told that
society called him the bad Lord Lavendale, in contradistinction to his
father, who had been the very pink and pattern of pious respectability.

Well, there was time to mend yet, time to lead a new and honourable
life. The words of the ghostly voice were in his ear as the pitch-pipe
gave the note, and the villagers began to sing "Hark, the Herald
Angels":

"Repent, Lavendale; prepare to die!"

Yes, he would repent, but it should be a repentance made obvious by good
works; his preparation for a better world should be the work of years.

"Why should I not live at least to sober middle age, as my father did?"
he asked himself, and then turned to Judith, the chosen companion of
those future years of happiness and virtue.

How beautiful she looked in the neat simplicity of her black silk hood,
the sober propriety of her satin mantle and cambric neckerchief! She had
attired herself thus modestly in honour of the rustic temple, and looked
as she had never looked at a fashionable assembly, in the reckless
exhibition of her charms.

Lavendale thought of a couplet of Pope's as he looked at her.

To him his love was fairer with lowered eyelids and modestly veiled
bosom, and arms hidden in long black gloves: how delightful a contrast
to that painted hag of quality, Lady Polwhele, whose wrinkles no white
lead could disguise, and whose Court finery looked hideous in the
searching wintry sunshine! Mrs. Asterley, too, was as fine as brocade
and ribbons could make her. Miss Vansittart wore a braided cloth gown,
and a furred military spencer; and had a masculine air which contrasted
curiously with Irene's simple dove-coloured hood and mantle, with pale
blue ribbons, altogether girlish and innocent-looking.

The five ladies made a display which gave the villagers enough to think
about all through the somewhat drowsy service and the particularly prosy
sermon; after which the quality walked between two rows of bowing and
curtsying Lubins and Biddys, to the lych-gate where the coaches were
waiting.

Never had Lavendale felt in a serener frame of mind than on that
Christmas Day. After the return from church he and Lady Judith explored
the old house together, and planned what alterations they would begin
next summer when they returned from their foreign tour.

"And can you really be contented to live three parts of the year in
Surrey?" he asked: "to live a sober domestic life with a small
establishment like this, you who at Ringwood had the state and retinue
of a princess, and had your house filled always with a succession of the
most distinguished people in Europe? Can your fiery spirit subdue itself
to narrow means and domesticity?"

"My fiery spirit is passing weary of pomp and splendour and bustle and
frivolity," she answered. "Fashion and rattle, coquetry and high play,
served very well to divert my thoughts from an old love and an endless
regret. But now I have my old love again and nothing to regret: fashion,
cards, dice, lotteries, the flatteries of rakes and profligates may go
hang--I can live without them all. I want nothing but love and
Lavendale."

He took her through the library, on his way to introduce her to his old
friend Vincenti.

She stopped in the middle of the room, and looked about her with a
half-wondering interest.

"What a vast, sober, solemn--rather gloomy room!" she exclaimed, with a
faint shudder.

"Think you so, love? It has no gloom for me. It was my father's
favourite room, and my mother's: I have spent many a twilight hour with
her before bedtime, have said my evening prayers at her knees on yonder
hearth. It is more associated with her image than any other room in this
house."

"Then I can understand your fondness for it; but I confess that for me
it has a melancholy aspect. It will not be my favourite room. That sunny
parlour facing southward will make ever so much brighter a nest, if you
will let me furnish it in the French fashion, like Lady Bolingbroke's
room at Dawley. And now take me to your ancient philosopher, of whom you
have told me so much."

Vincenti received the beautiful stranger with a stately courtesy, at
once foreign and old-fashioned, and altogether different from the
flippant touch-and-go of the "pretty fellow" period. Judith sat with
him for nearly half an hour, talking of Italy, which she was to visit
for the first time with Lavendale.

"I fancy it a land of romance and of opera, and that I shall hear the
reapers singing a chorus as they stoop over their sickles, and see a
cluster of dancers at every turn in the road; and that the innkeepers
will all address me in recitative, and the postboys will all roll out
buffo songs," she protested laughingly.

"That playhouse world is not Vincenti's Italy," said Lavendale: "_his_
country is the land of science and philosophy, of Galileo and Giordano
Bruno, of Vesalius and Sarpi."

The Christmas dinner exhibited a profusion which would have shocked Lady
Dainty, but which was the only idea of hospitality when George II. was
king. Hams and turkeys, chines and shoulders of veal, soup and fish,
jellies, mince-pies, and the traditional plum pudding, with Burgundy and
champagne in abundance; and even, for those who were coarse enough to
ask for it, strong home-brewed ale, ale of a dark tawny brightness,
betwixt brown and amber, the very look of which in a glass suggested a
swift progress from uproarious mirth to drunken stupor.

Lady Polwhele drank the home-brewed with the gusto of a chairman or a
ticket-porter.

"After all, there is a true British smack about a glass of ale that
beats your foreign wines hollow," she said, as she finished her fourth
tumbler.

Lady Judith only sipped her champagne, just touching the glass with her
ruby lips, smiling at Lavendale as she sipped. She sat in the place of
honour at her host's side, and amidst that profusion of beef and poultry
they two dined upon nectar and ambrosia, and were only intoxicated with
each other's looks and smiles, and stolen whispers unheard in the
clatter of voices.

For the evening there were cards and music; and anon the hall-doors were
flung open to the cold night, and the village mummers came trooping in
to perform their Christmas fooleries, and to be regaled afterwards with
the remains of the feast. Then came Christmas games in the great hall:
blindman's buff and hunt the slipper, at which last game Lady Polwhele
disported herself with a vivacity which would have been particular even
in Miss Hoyden.

"The Dowager forgets that though 'tis meritorious in her to appear
five-and-twenty, 'tis foolish to try to pass for five," murmured Judith,
in her lover's ears, as they sat in a recess by the fireplace, watching
those juvenile revels.

Buxom Mrs. Asterley rivalled the Dowager in exuberance, and contrived to
be caught and kissed at blindman's buff oftener than she need have been,
in the hope of rousing some lurking demon of jealousy in her husband's
breast. But Captain Asterley only resembled Othello insomuch that he was
not easily jealous; so the harmony of the evening was not interrupted by
his evil passions.

Next morning came the fox-hunt. Lady Judith and her lover both rode to
hounds, and his lordship sent a couple of led nags in their train, while
he contrived to find a decent mount for Miss Vansittart. Judith rode as
straight as an arrow, and, reckless in this as in all things, went at
the biggest fence with a careless easy grace which delighted her lover.

"I did not know you were a hunting-woman," he said, as they rode neck
and neck across a field.

"I am an everything woman. I should have died of the spleen at Ringwood,
if I had not hunted."

"You did not while I was there."

"_You_ were there; and I had something else to think about."

"And yet you seemed so cold, so indifferent," he said, slackening his
pace as he grew more earnest.

"I had so much to hide, love, I had need to put on a show of scorn. Come
on, sir; we shall lose the hounds if you talk to me."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Christmas week was nearly over. It was the thirtieth of December.
Lord and Lady Bolingbroke had joined the party: the lady something of an
invalid, but infinitely gracious and devoted to her husband, who loved
her passionately, yet delighted in boasting of his old conquests in her
presence, a self-glorification which she suffered with much good-humour.
Nor was she offended at his exuberant compliments to his old flirt,
Lady Judith, whom he reminded how pleasantly they had got on together at
Ringwood Abbey, when his wife was nursing her gout at the Bath. He had
elegant compliments even for Lady Polwhele, whose white lead had been
laid on thicker than ever in his honour, and whose family diamonds
blazed upon a bosom of more than Flemish development. He had not
succeeded in bringing the poet. Mr. Pope had an invalid mother in his
house at Twitnam, and could not trust himself away from home for above
twenty-four hours at a time. There was some disappointment at his
non-arrival, yet a general feeling of relief. Those bright observant
eyes saw too deep into the follies and pettinesses of society.

It was in the after-dinner dusk of that thirtieth of December, and while
his guests were all talking and laughing in a joyous circle round the
hall fire before repairing to the tea-tables in the adjacent saloon,
that Lavendale visited his friend in the laboratory. He had stolen away
from that light-hearted circle while Judith was occupied with
Bolingbroke's gay badinage, and now he sank with an exhausted air into
an old oaken settle opposite the table at which Vincenti sat reading.

Here there was no gloaming hour of rest and respite from daily cares.
The student lighted his lamp directly daylight began to fade. He could
brook scarce a minute's interruption of his studies. The lamp shone full
upon Lavendale's face.

"How pale and tired you look!" said Vincenti. "I hope you are not ill?"

"I hardly know whether I am very ill or only very tired," answered
Lavendale. "I ought not to have hunted the other day. I have not been my
own man since. My London doctor told me I must never hunt; but I have no
faith in physic or physicians. However, the fellow was right so far. I
am not strong enough for a tearing cross-country gallop. And my blood
was up the other day, and my second horse was fresh as fire. It was a
glorious run: Lady Judith and I were with the hounds to the last, though
three-fifths of the field were left in the lurch. No, I must hunt no
more."

"You will be wise if you stick to that resolution. Do you think if I had
squandered my strength upon follies as young men do that I should be
alive to-day? I have garnered the sands of life, my lord; I have
measured every grain."

"I too will turn wiser. My days are precious to me now. Vincenti, do you
remember drawing my horoscope t'other day?"

"Yes, I remember."

"And I told you not to show it to me, d'ye remember? A foolish, nervous,
brain-sick apprehension made me shrink from the knowledge of my fate.
But now I think I should like to see the result of your calculations:
not that I promise to believe implicitly."

Vincenti's brow darkened.

"I would rather not show you the horoscope," he answered curtly.

"Why not?"

Vincenti was silent.

"And you had rather not tell me why not, I suppose?" said Lavendale,
with a faint laugh.

"No, there could be no good--I can scarce define my reasons."

"Do you think I cannot guess them? The fate foretold was diabolically
bad, and you would spare me the knowledge of evil."

"There was nothing diabolical--nothing exceptionally bad--nothing--"

"But the common lot of man," interrupted Lavendale--"death! Only the
common lot; but for me it is to come earlier than to the lucky. It is to
fall just when I am eager to live--just as the gates of paradise are
opening to me. I am standing at the gate--I see that paradise beyond,
with the sun shining on it, the sunlight of passionate, happy, satisfied
love--for me the unsatisfied. I am so near, so near--'tis but one step
across the threshold and I am in the enchanted garden. But there lurks
the king of terrors--there stands Apollo with his fatal shaft: I am not
to taste that ineffable bliss, the cup is to be snatched from my
thirsting lips--that was what the stars foretold, was it not, Vincenti?"

"'Tis your own eagerness shapes the fear that torments you."

"Tell me that I have guessed wrong, that the stars promise long life."

"I will tell you nothing."

"Nay, you have told me enough. Your reticence is more significant than
words," said Lavendale, rising and leaving the student hastily.

He went no further than the adjoining room, the old Gothic library,
faintly lit at this hour by a wood fire, which had burnt low and was
almost expiring. He seated himself by that lonely hearth in silence and
darkness; sat brooding there, a prey to a kind of angry despair.

It was hard, it was hard, he told himself, a cruel sentence issued by
the implacable Fates; hard and bitterly hard, now that his heart and
mind were purified of all evil, now that he was free from sin, repentant
of all his old follies, intent upon leading a good life and being of
some use in his generation--hard, very hard, that the decree should go
forth, "Thou shalt die in thy pride of life; thou shalt perish when thy
heart is full of hope and love." The foreboding of evil was so strong
upon him that he accepted the presage as it were a fiat that had gone
forth. He struggled no longer against the despair, the conviction of
doom. All was over. These brief hours of courtship, this blissful
fever-dream was to be the end of all; and then must come the grave, to
lie in cold obstruction, and to rot.

He sat for more than an hour in the darkness and silence. The faint gray
twilight outside the long meadows faded to the thick gloom of wintry,
night. He had flung on some fresh logs, and fitful sparks flashed out
from these now and then, and filled the room with a bluish light that
seemed almost sepulchral, as it were in unison with his thoughts of
death. He sat brooding over the fire, with his elbows on his knees,
staring at the slowly kindling logs. A ripple of laughter came upon his
ear now and again from the distance. They were merry enough without him,
hardly conscious of his absence, perhaps. Even _she_ might forget him
for the moment, now she had her adorer Bolingbroke to breathe honeyed
words into her ear.

Would she forget him by and by, when all was done? Would she grieve for
a little, and then be gay again, and marry some one else, and go dancing
gaily down a long perspective of idle foolish fashionable years till she
became even as Lady Polwhele, and took to white lead and ratafia, and
quarrelling at cards and a led captain, and so on to unhonoured old age
and grim death? He felt as if he could scarce trust her upon this planet
without him, she was so light and frivolous a creature.

"She loves me passionately now, I know," he told himself; "she is mine,
heart and mind and being, mine utterly, as though we two were moved by
the same pulses, lived by the beat of one mutual heart; but these
impassioned natures forget so easily. She will be dancing and masquing
and flirting again before the grass can grow upon my grave."

He sat on till the logs had burnt and blazed and crumbled away on the
hearth, and the fire was again just expiring. The clock struck eight. He
had been brooding there for over two hours. He sprang to his feet
suddenly, cold as death, great beads of sweat breaking out upon his
forehead, and a strange tremor at his knees.

What was it--fainting or fear that so shook him? He turned almost as if
to rush from the room in an agony of terror--and, lo! that strange soft
light, that faint brightness he knew so well, floated in the distance
yonder, just within the furthermost window.

It was the figure he had seen before, a woman's form dimly defined
against the dark panelled wall, like a luminous cloud rather than an
actual shape; and the voice he had heard before spoke again in accents
so unearthly that it seemed less a voice than the faint moaning of the
wind which fancy shaped into words and meaning:

"To-morrow, at midnight, Lavendale, thou shalt be as I am."

The light was gone; the panelled wall was dark again. Lavendale snatched
the poker, and stirred the logs into a blaze. There was nothing, nothing
save that wildly-beating heart of his, to tell him there had been
something there.

Next moment the door was flung open suddenly, and a bevy of his guests
rushed into the room. A wild disorderly mob, as ribald a set as the crew
in _Comus_, it seemed to him, after that unearthly presence which had
that instant been there.

"What have you been doing, Lavendale?" asked Durnford. "Is this the way
you treat your guests?"

"The ladies were out of humour at having to take their tea without your
lordship," said Irene.

"And if it had not been for the most exquisite game at hide and seek, we
should have all had the vapours," protested Lady Polwhele; "but we have
had mighty fun in your corridors and closets, Lavendale, and I think we
must have routed all your family ghosts, and given a good scare to your
antique Jacobite rats. Of course you have no parvenu Hanoverians behind
your respectable wainscots? We have not left a corner unexplored in our
revelry."

"It was a scurvy trick in your lordship to desert us so long," said Mrs.
Asterley, "and I would have you look after Lady Judith, who is flirting
with Lord Bolingbroke in the saloon."

"O, his French wife will take care there is no mischief done," said
Asterley; "but indeed, Lavendale, you must join us at basset. We can
have no fun without you."

"I am coming," said Lavendale, following them out into the hall.

Durnford looked at him uneasily when they came into the light.

"What were you doing, Jack, in that dark room?" he asked. "Had you
fallen asleep?"

"No, I was brooding; brooding over my joy. Should a man not sit and
nurse his happiness as well as his grief?"

"You have had a swooning fit, Jack. You are as pale as death."

"Well, I was near swooning with excess of joy; but 'tis over, and now I
am ready for a riotous night. I will play you as deep, drink you as deep
as in our wickedest days. There shall be no mirth too wild for me."

He went to the saloon, where his mistress was sitting at the harpsichord
playing to Lady Bolingbroke, while the statesman stood with his back to
the fireplace in a thoughtful attitude. There were no signs of levity
here, at any rate.

Judith sprang up at his entrance, and went over to him.

"Why have you abandoned us so long?" she asked complainingly. "It was
cruel of you to leave me to myself all this time."

"Could I leave you in sweeter company? But indeed, dearest, I have not
stayed away for pleasure. I was busy."

"You have no right to be busy when I am in your house. All labours
should cease but the labour of pleasing me," this with the spoiled
beauty's air; and then, becoming all at once earnest and womanly as she
saw the change in his countenance, "but you have not been busy. You have
been ill, fainting. You are as white as chalk. O Lavendale, what has
happened?"

"Nothing in this world, sweet, to vex you. I rode too hard t'other day
for the pleasure of keeping near you, and I am no Nimrod, like Walpole
and his great rival yonder. The hunting tired me."

"You must be in bad health to be so easily tired."

"Easily, quotha! Why, 'twas a thirty-mile run, and a fourteen-mile ride
home! 'Tis only a goddess who can make light of such a day. But are you
going to play basset? and will you have me for your partner?"

"My partner in all things till death."

"Till death," he echoed solemnly; and they sat down side by side.

He seemed gay enough all that evening, and the wine brought the colour
back to his face by and by; but every now and then in the pauses of the
talk, when the others were intent upon the game, or at supper by and by
in an interval of silence, he was thinking of the form and the voice
that had been with him that night.

Could two worlds be so wide apart and yet so near--the world of life and
the world of death? Not for an instant did he doubt that his mother's
spirit had appeared to him; that her voice had warned him, and with no
delusive warning. He told himself that he was to die to-morrow night.
There were but one night and day left to him upon this upper earth: one
night in which to repent his sins; one day in which to settle his
worldly affairs, and bid farewell to all he loved.

Should he confide in his beloved? Should he tell Judith of the vision?

No; she would make light of it, or pretend to do so. Nay, in all
likelihood she would be really unbelieving; she was too steeped in this
world and in worldly follies to believe in that unearthly visitant. She
would tell him his brain was unstrung, would try to laugh him into
scepticism.

"I would rather believe, even though it is to accept the message of
doom," he told himself. "To know that there is a God, and a world
beyond, is better than long life upon earth. Man's life, did he live to
a hundred years, were no better than the life of a worm if it ended
here. But she who has been with me gives me assurance of a future. Where
she is I shall be."

It was after midnight when the party dispersed; but, late as it was,
Durnford followed Lavendale to his bedroom.

"I want you to tell me all about it, Jack," he said earnestly, as they
stood together in front of the fire.

"About what?"

"The thing that has unhinged you. Something has, I know. You were
frightened, you saw something, or dreamt something, in the library
before we found you there, half fainting, almost speechless. There was
something, Jack; I know you too well to be deceived."

"There _was_ something, but I cannot tell you what."

"O, but you must, you shall. What is the good of our being brothers by
adoption if you cannot confide in me? You have had no secrets from me,
Jack. Till to-night I have shared even your guilty secrets, at the risk
of being called Sir Pandarus by this good-natured world of ours. I have
the right to be trusted. You told me about a warning last summer, a
warning dream that saved you from a great sin. Was this another dream?
Had you dropped asleep by the fire, and did you wake in a panic, as
children do sometimes?"

"No, Herrick, I was broad awake."

And then, little by little, Durnford got the truth from him: the story
of the vision as it came to him in the summer night, as it had
reappeared in the winter gloaming. To him, evidently, the thing was
real, indisputable, an actual appearance, and not a projection of his
own mind.

"I have tried to be sceptical about that earlier vision; I had almost
schooled myself into disbelief," he said in conclusion, "but now I know
it is real. I know that my mother's spirit watches over me with a sweet
protecting influence; I know that she has warned and guarded me, and
that I shall be with her to-morrow night among the dead."

Durnford attempted no strenuous argument; his office was to soothe
rather than to reason with his friend. He stayed with Lavendale till
late into the long winter night; they two sitting in front of the fire,
and talking of their past life together, and something of Herrick's
future.

"I shall execute a new will to-morrow morning, Herrick, and I shall
leave this place to you. It is not entailed, and although it is heavily
mortgaged there is a margin, just enough to keep out the rats and mice.
It will not be a millstone round your neck, will it, friend?"

"Jack, why insist upon talking thus, as if your immediate end were a
certainty? It agonises me to hear you."

"But it is a certainty. To-morrow--nay, this day is my last, for the new
day has begun in darkness. At midnight I shall have passed from your
sight. Do not let Judith look upon me when I am gone, Herrick. There is
something horrible in the aspect of death, which might poison her memory
of the man she loved. I would have her recall this face only as it was
while that subtle indescribable something which we call soul still
illumined it. Promise me this."

"I will promise anything that can content you. Yet I wonder that a man
of your strong sense can talk of a vision which had its source only in
your shattered nerves, with as much gravity as if it were a revelation
from the Almighty. But I am resolved not to argue with you."

"It would be useless. I am perfectly serious, and convinced beyond all
argument."

"I will laugh with you at your conviction after midnight."

"I pray God that we may have occasion to laugh. Do not suppose that I
accept my doom with content, Herrick. I go from a world that is full of
delight. A year ago, I think I could have welcomed the summoner, but
now--Let me finish what I was saying. I have a presentiment that you
are going to become a great statesman--the Whigs will have it all their
own way, Herrick; the Tories have had their hour and 'tis past--so this
place will be a proper abode for you. It will give you an air of
stability, and be a pleasant home for your holidays. Irene will like it,
because it is so near the home of her childhood, and she and you may
make your after-dinner stroll as elderly married people to the
trysting-place where you wooed each other in the flower of your days.
This old birthplace of mine, with its burdens upon its head, is all I
have to leave to my adopted brother."

"I will remind you of your promised bequest when we are old men, Jack,"
said Herrick gaily; "and now good-night, or good-morning, as you please.
Get to bed and rest, if thou canst, my fever-brained friend, or thou
wilt have a sorry countenance for a lover at breakfast-time."

Herrick went to his own room sorely troubled about his friend. The
vision, or the fancy--dream, trance, catalepsy, or whatever name it
might be called--had taken too strong a hold upon Lavendale's mind to be
thought of lightly by his friend.

"There must be something done," thought Herrick, "or the very fantasy
will kill him. He will die by the strength of his own imagination. I
must consult Bolingbroke, who is the cleverest man in this house, if not
in Europe, and he may suggest some way of diverting Jack's mind."

To Irene he said not a word, but after breakfast next morning, while
Lavendale and Lady Judith were in the stables with a chosen few,
inspecting the small stud and discussing future additions, Mr. Durnford
found an opportunity to draw Bolingbroke aside.

"I have to speak with your lordship on a very serious matter," he said;
"will you honour me with your company in the grounds for half an hour?"

"I am yours to command, my dear Durnford; but I hope your serious matter
is nothing unpleasant. You are not an emissary from some unhappy devil
among my creditors, who complains that my patronage is ruining him? I
have spent three times as much on Dawley as prudence would have
counselled, and I fear I shall have to sell the place in order to pay
for its improvement, so that some greasy cit will profit by my taste and
extravagance. It is the curse of sons that fathers are plaguily
long-lived. Lord St. John is a glorious example of patriarchal length of
years. He has gone far to convert me to Biblical Christianity. I can
believe in Methuselah when I behold my honoured parent."

"I should not be so impertinent as to obtrude the claims of a creditor
upon so great a man as Lord Bolingbroke, were he even my own brother,"
answered Durnford. "Alas! my lord, the matter of which I would speak to
you is one that money cannot mend or mar."

"Then it must be a very strange business indeed, sir, and I am all
ears."

Herrick told Bolingbroke all that had passed between him and Lavendale
last night; and then the two men talked together earnestly for a
considerable time, walking up and down the wintry alley, where two rows
of clipped pyramid-shaped yews wore as verdant a livery as if it had
been midsummer.

"One can scarce conceive that imagination could be powerful enough to
kill a man," said Bolingbroke, after a long discussion, "yet I apprehend
there is a state of the nerves and organs in which a mental shock may be
fatal. I own I do not like the look of your friend this morning. There
is a deadly pallor relieved only by a hectic flush which may deceive the
inexperienced eye with the semblance of health, but which to me
indicates an inward fever. The fancy about the vision of last evening
may be hallucination, monomania, what you will, but the influence upon
him is full of peril. All we can do is to try and distract his mind from
dwelling on this one idea. Let us be as gay as ever we can to-day, and
let the fair Judith exert her utmost power of fascination to make the
hours pass quickly."

"And what if we shortened this fatal day by at least one hour, and thus
curtailed his nervous agony of apprehension?" suggested Durnford. "We
might easily put on all the clocks towards night, so that they should
strike twelve when it shall be but eleven; and then we can tell him the
fatal moment is past, and that the ghostly warning has been belied by
the passage of time. 'At midnight he was to die.' That was the doom the
unearthly voice pronounced for him. He harped upon that word midnight:
'This is my last day upon earth,' he said: 'this night at twelve o'clock
I shall be gone from you all.' If we could but delude him as to the
fatal hour, laugh him into good spirits and forgetfulness, those
shattered nerves of his might recover, and the poor over-strained heart
beat evenly once again."

"I see your drift," said Bolingbroke, "and will do my best to help you.
It would be difficult to take an hour clean off the night without
detection. We must begin to doctor the clocks soon after dusk: say that
we put them on ten minutes before they strike six, and that from that
time to eleven we gain ten minutes in each hour. It will need some
subtlety to manage the job, unless there are any of the household whom
you can trust to help you."

"I would rather trust no one but you and my wife," answered Durnford.
"Surely we three could manage the matter: there are only two clocks
that need be doctored: the eight-day clock in the hall and the French
timepiece in the saloon."

"But there is his own watch, if he carries one: how are we to manage
that?"

"He has half a dozen watches, all out of order; I have not seen him
carry one for the last six months."

"Then there are our lively friends, who doubtless all wear watches, and
who will betray us unless they are warned."

"True: they must be told something that will make them hold their
tongues. I will tell them we have hatched a practical joke--or that it
is a wager--cheat Lavendale out of an hour."

"You may leave them to me, I think," said Bolingbroke gaily, for to him
the matter scarcely presented itself in its most serious light. "I know
how to drive that kind of cattle."

"So be it: your lordship shall settle with every one except Lady Judith.
I should like to confide my fears to her ear alone. She loves Lavendale
devotedly, and if a woman's love could snatch a man from an untimely
grave, she is the woman to save him."

His last day upon earth. Lavendale told himself that it was so, and
listened nervously to the striking of the distant church clock, though
he affected a gaiety which was wilder than a schoolboy's mirth. His
feverish unrest alarmed his mistress.

"My dearest Lavendale, you have an air that frightens me, and you are
looking horribly ill," she said suddenly in the midst of a conversation,
as they paced an Italian terrace together in the noontide sunshine.

There had been a light fall of snow in the night, and the drifts lay in
white ridges against the dark boles of the trees in the park, and the
great gabled roof showed patches of white here and there under a bright
blue sky.

"I vow it is scarcely courteous to cut me short with such a speech as
that," cried Lavendale, "when I am doing my very best to entertain you
with my good spirits. Would you have me as solemn as a mute at a
funeral?"

"I would have you only yourself, Lavendale," she said, laying her hand
upon his arm, and looking at him searchingly. "You have an air to-day
as if you were acting."

"Should I act joy, love, when my bosom can scarce hold its freight of
gladness, when I can count the days and nights that must pass before you
and I are one? If I live till that blessed promised day? Ah, Judith,
there is the awful question: if I live? Life hangs on so frail a thread
that a man well may wonder on the eve of a great delight whether he may
survive to possess his joy. It is my burden of happiness that overpowers
me."

"If every lover talked as wildly--"

"If every lover loved as well. But there shall be no more rodomontade; I
will be as solemn as you like. _À propos_ to acting, have you ever seen
Wilks as Sir Harry Wildair?"

"Twenty times. You know I have been surfeited with plays and operas; I
am delighted to be free of them; the very squeaking of a fiddle jars my
nerves. Let us talk of our own future. How I love this place of yours!
Its quiet, its old-world air, exercise the most soothing influence upon
me."

"It is not to be compared with Ringwood Abbey either for size or
grandeur."

"Why do you name a place I abhor? why remind me of my late bondage?"

"Ah, love, to make liberty sweeter," he said tenderly, drawing her to
his breast. They had reached the end of the walk, where there was a
circular open summer-house--a shallow dome supported upon Corinthian
pillars, on the model of a classic temple--and here they sat for a few
minutes on a stone bench, Judith wrapped in her furs and oblivious of
the December atmosphere; Lavendale glad to rest that weary heart of his,
after half an hour's sauntering up and down. Here they were remote from
the house and from all observation, and could abandon themselves to
lovers' talk about the future.

Judith harped upon that future with a persistence which agonised her
lover.

"I mean to take such care of you," she said; "I mean to coax back the
healthy colour to those pale and haggard cheeks. I shall be your
sick-nurse rather than your wife for the first year or so."

"You shall be my divinity always."

"Only when you have grown stout and strong, when you have expanded into
a robust country squire like Bolingbroke, shall I be quite at ease about
you. O Lavendale, how fiercely you have burnt the lamp of life!"

"What motive had I for husbanding existence, when I had forfeited your
love?"

"Ah, dear love, we have behaved very badly to each other," sighed
Judith, half in remorse, half in coquetry, the tender coquetry of a
mistress secure of her conquest. "If I could only be sure that we loved
each other all the time!"

"I can answer for myself," protested her lover. "My passion has never
altered. In all my foolish wanderings I have had but one lode-star."

"What, not when you carried off Chichinette?"

"Do not name that foreign hussy, the offspring of a Flemish Jewess and
an Auvergnat who cleaned shoes on the Pont Neuf. I had her pedigree from
her maid, who was an unacknowledged sister. Can you suppose I ever cared
for such a creature? She was as avaricious as Harpagon, as dirty as Lady
Moll Worthless, and she ate garlic and wallowed in oil at every meal!"

"And yet you ran away with her!"

"Dearest child, a man in my position was bound to run away with some
woman at least once in a season. My reputation would have perished
otherwise. As for Chichinette, the affair grew out of a drunken wager,
and I was heartily sorry for it when I found you took the thing so
seriously."

"Could I take it otherwise? Think what it was to love you as I did, to
languish to be with you for ever like this," with her hand clasped in
his and her head leaning against his shoulder, "and to know that you
were at the feet of a French dancer. A year afterwards it turned me sick
to see the creature on the stage, and I was near swooning in my box at
the agony of disgust she inspired in me. But you are shivering, love.
Let us go back to the house: you shall play me at billiards till
dinner-time."

Then on the threshold of the temple she threw herself upon his breast
and kissed those cold pale lips, which even love's frank warmth could
not colour.

"I forgive you Chichinette," she said gaily, "I forgive you all your
elopements, everything that is past, for you are mine now and for ever."

"For ever, dearest."

"O, what a sigh was there! I protest you are the dismallest lover I ever
heard of!"



CHAPTER XII.

"AND THE LAST PANG SHALL TEAR THEE FROM HIS HEART."


It was supper-time, and Lavendale sat at the head of his table, with
Lady Polwhele on his right hand and Lady Judith on his left, in a room
brilliant with the light of multitudinous wax candles and the blaze of a
huge wood fire. It was a spacious apartment, with five long sash-windows
opening on to a terrace with a marble balustrade, and two flights of
steps leading to the lower level of the Italian garden--the prettiest
summer room in the house, and by no means to be despised as a winter
apartment when lighted and warmed as it was to-night.

Durnford and Irene had done everything to create an atmosphere of
brightness and gaiety throughout the house, most of all in this room
where the midnight hour was to be passed. They had summoned a little
band of fiddlers and pipers from Kingston, and these, stationed in the
hall, were to enliven the feast from time to time with their homely,
merry, old English tunes. The table was loaded with the usual
substantial fare; but Irene's light hands had assisted the housekeeper
in decorating the board with holly-berries and greenery, and such winter
flowers as the gardener could find for her in an age when the first
hothouse ever built in England was yet a novelty. The shining scarlet
berries, the rich red and purple and gold of the Bristol china, the
silver tankards and silver-gilt bowls shining under the light of the
candles or reflecting the flame of the fire, produced a dazzling effect.

"Why, this is truly cheerful!" cried Lady Polwhele; "and though I
over-eat myself at dinner, and have been cursedly cross with my cards
all the evening, I long to put a knife into that turkey."

"Will your ladyship operate upon the bird?" said Durnford, placing the
dish in front of the Dowager, who was a famous carver: "it will be a
kind of divine honours for him, and rank him at once among the
celestials."

Lady Polwhele squared her elbows, tucked up her ruffles, and proceeded
to dissect the turkey with the calm dexterity of a great surgeon.

The champagne corks began to fly and the knives to clatter amidst a
crescendo movement of talk and laughter, while Lavendale sat back in his
chair and conversed in half-whispers with Judith, who also leant back in
her chair, so that they two were, in a manner, apart from the
gormandisers and merrymakers at the table. He was looking better than he
had looked in the morning; but the glow on his cheek and the brightness
of his eye were but the transient effect of the Burgundy he had drunk at
dinner and the excitement of an evening at bassett.

He held his glass for a footman to fill with champagne, and drained it
at a gulp.

"Aren't you going to eat something?" asked Judith.

"Eat! no; in your society I am too ethereal to eat. Mind has the upper
hand of matter."

He drank his second glass of wine next moment.

"Champagne does not count, I suppose?" said Judith; "and yet I never
heard of sylphs that were wine-bibbers."

"A bottle of champagne is no more to me than a drop of dew to a sylph:
there is nothing earthy about it. Look at Lady Polwhele devouring turkey
and ham with the appetite of a chairman, and yet after supper she will
be as _évaporée_ as you please--a bundle of nerves and emotions. Hark!"

It was the eight-day clock in the hall striking the hour. Lavendale had
made no comment upon the passage of time hitherto, and all his friends
were inwardly chuckling over the trick that had been played him, which
had been explained to them as a wager of Bolingbroke's. Could his
lordship cheat his host out of an hour before the end of the year, he
was to win a hundred guineas.

This time Lavendale stopped talking, listened intently, and counted
every stroke.

"Eleven!" he exclaimed; "how late we are supping!"

"We sat so long at that devilish game," said Judith, who had been a
heavy loser. "Well, I must resign myself to be unlucky at cards, if
'tis but at that price one can be fortunate in love."

To her, in a quarter of an hour's confidential talk after dinner,
Herrick had told much more of the truth than had been imparted to
Lavendale's other guests. He had implored her to do her utmost to
distract her lover, to prevent his thinking his own thoughts, were it
possible; to absorb him, interest him, bewitch him, as only she could.

"Alas, I fear all my weapons are stale, my armoury is used up," she
said, with a sigh; "we have been so deep in love with each other, so
frank in our love-making for this last happy week, that I have no
treasures of tenderness, no refinement of coquetry in reserve. Like
Juliet, I have been too lightly won, too frank--I have too openly
adored. O Durnford, if I am to lose him at last, I shall go stark mad!"

"You will not lose him, if you can beguile him to forget his waking
dream."

"Was it a dream? Was it not the presage of death, rather a physical
influence, the poor decaying body conscious of the coming change? He had
a look of death this morning. There was an ashy grayness upon his face
that horrified me. Yes, I was racked with despair in the midst of our
talk of future happiness. And now you bid me be gay, when my heart sinks
within me every time I look at him."

In spite of soul-devouring anxiety, Lady Judith had contrived to be
brilliantly gay all the evening: as gay as Mrs. Oldfield in her most
vivacious character, with all the charms of fashionable coquetry and
modish insolence. She had laughed at her own losses, had challenged
Lavendale and Bolingbroke to the wildest wagers about the cards, had
been the leading spirit in reckless revelry, and had exercised a
fascination upon her lover which had made him forget everything but that
beautiful creature, leaning over the table with round white arms
glittering with diamonds, and the famous Topsparkle necklace flashing
upon the loveliest, whitest neck in England, showing all the whiter
against the lady's black velvet weeds. Never had those glorious eyes
shone with so brilliant a light; and Lavendale knew not that it was the
wild lustre of despair. Her voice, her eyes, the caressing sweetness in
every word which she addressed to him, might have made Damiens forget
his agony upon the wheel.

So it had come to eleven by the hall clock, and Lavendale had been
scarce conscious of the passage of time.

"One more hour," he said, with sudden gravity, "and the year of his
Majesty's accession will be over."

"Let us be merry while it lasts," said Judith; "let us see the old year
out with joyous spirits. What say you to a dance by and by, when these
people have finished their gormandising?"

"I will do anything you bid me--dance or sing, preach a sermon or throw
the dice."

"No, you shall not dance. You are not strong enough for their robust
country dances, and a minuet is too slow and solemn, though you and I
excel in the figure. The other butterflies shall dance, and you and I
will look on like king and queen. But let them finish their supper
first; and we must have some toasts, political, friendly, sentimental.
We will drink to the King over the water out of compliment to
Bolingbroke. We will drink George and Caroline because they are good
honest souls, and our very intimate friends. We will drink to anybody
and everybody, were it only for the sake of drinking."

"My lovely Bacchanalian," he murmured tenderly, "even vice is beautiful
when you inspire it."

"O, 'tis hardly a vice to drown the dying year in good wine. I'm sure,
could old Father Time have a voice in the matter he would like to die
like Clarence in a butt of Malmsey," laughed Judith, holding out her
glass to be filled. She had neither eaten nor drunk until this moment,
and now her lips scarce touched the brim of her glass: she sat looking
at Lavendale, counting the moments as she watched him.

The toasting began presently. Lord Bolingbroke rose, and in a speech
full of veiled meaning proposed the King, waving his glass lightly over
a great silver dish of rose-water which the butler had placed in front
of him. Some drank and some refused, while everybody laughed.

"Your lordship might see the inside of the Tower for that pretty
oration, were one of us minded to turn traitor," said Asterley, as he
set down his empty glass.

"I am not afraid," answered Bolingbroke. "I have a good many friends
capable of playing Judas, but not one whose word would be taken without
confirmatory evidence."

"As you are in the house of a man who owes title and estate to a staunch
adherence to Whig principles in the person of his ancestors, I think you
should drink to her Majesty Queen Caroline, who is a much better King
than her husband," said Lavendale.

"O, to Caroline by all means," cried Bolingbroke; "Caroline is a capital
fellow." And the Queen's health was drunk upstanding, with three times
three.

Then came the toast of Woman, Wit, and Beauty, coupled with the name of
Lady Judith Topsparkle, in a brilliant speech from Bolingbroke, who had
swallowed as much champagne as would have made a lesser man dead-drunk,
but who was only pleasantly elevated, a more vivid brightness in his
flashing eyes, a more commanding air in his fine and somewhat portly
person. He spoke for twenty minutes at a stretch, and the company all
hung upon his words with delight--could have listened to that gay
spontaneous eloquence for an hour.

"Woman, wit, beauty, and the highest exemplar of all three, Lady Judith
Topsparkle," cried Asterley, standing upon his chair, and waving his
glass above his head.

There was a roar of applause, a guzzling of wine, a crash of shivered
glass, as the more reckless drinkers flung their empty glasses across
their shoulders; and then above that medley of sounds, came silver clear
the striking of the clock in the hall.

Midnight.

Lavendale counted the strokes, listening with breathless intensity, his
hand inside his waistcoat pressed nervously against his heart.

The last stroke sounded, and he lived. The beating of his heart seemed
to him calmer and more regular than it had been all day. He had no sense
of faintness or failing strength--a keener life rather, a quicker
circulation in all his veins, a sense of lightness and well-being, as
of one who had cast off some heavy burden.

"Gentlemen," he said, "look at your watches and tell me--is that clock
right?"

His friends pulled out their watches and consulted them with the most
natural air in the world.

"Yes, your clock is right enough," said Bolingbroke.

"'Tis three minutes slow by my timekeeper," said Asterley: "I take it
the new year is just three minutes old."

"Then 'twas an hallucination," cried Lavendale, "and I am a free man."

The revulsion of feeling overpowered him, and he broke into a
half-hysterical sob; but Judith's hand upon his shoulder calmed him
again, and he sat by her side as the fiddles and flutes in the hall
struck up a joyous air, and the revellers left the table.

"Now for a dance," exclaimed Judith: "we have drunk out the old year;
let us dance in the new one. Lady Polwhele, I'll wager those girlish
feet of yours are impatient for a jig."

"Faith, my dear Judith, my feet don't feel a day older than when
William III. was king, and Lady Orkney and I were rivals," protested the
Dowager, "and I am as ready to dance as the youngest of you."

"And yet I know for certain that she was a martyr to podagra all last
summer, and could hardly hobble from the Rooms to her chair when she was
at the Bath," whispered Lady Bolingbroke to Mrs. Asterley.

They all trooped out into the great oak-panelled hall, and a country
dance was arranged in a trice, Durnford and Irene leading, as married
lovers, who might be forgiven if they were still silly enough to like
dancing with each other. Lavendale and Judith sat in the chimney-corner
and looked on. The tall eight-day clock was opposite to them, and he
looked up now and then at the hands.

Twenty minutes past twelve.

"We've jockeyed the ghost, I think," whispered Bolingbroke to Durnford,
in a pause of the dance. "See how much better and brighter Lavendale
looks. He was ready to expire of his own sick fancy. To cure that was to
cure him."

Never had Lavendale felt happier. Yes, he told himself, he had been
deceived by his own imagination. Remorse or unquiet love had conjured up
the vision, had evoked the warning. 'Twas well if it had won him to
repent the past, to think more seriously of the future. The solemn
thoughts engendered of that strange experience had confirmed him in his
desire to lead a better life. It was well, altogether well with him, as
he sat by Judith's side in the ruddy fire-glow, and watched the moving
figures in the dance, the long line of undulating forms, the lifted arms
and bended necks, the graceful play of curving throats and slender
waists, light talk and laughter blending with the music in _sotto voce_
accompaniment. Even Lady Polwhele looked to advantage in a country
dance. She had been taught by a famous French master at a time when
dancing was a fine art, and she had all the stately graces and graceful
freedoms of the highest school.

Yes, it was a pretty sight, Lavendale thought, a prodigiously pleasant
sight; but it all had a dream-like air, as everything seemed to have
to-night. Even Judith's face as he gazed at it had the look of a face
in a dream. There was an unreality about all things that he looked upon.
Indeed, nothing in his life had seemed real since that vision and that
mystic voice in the winter dusk last night.

Suddenly those tripping figures reeled and rocked as he gazed at them,
and then the perspective of the hall seemed to lengthen out into
infinite distance, and then a veil of semi-darkness swept over all
things, and he staggered to his feet.

"Air, air! I am choking!" he cried hoarsely.

That hoarse strange cry stopped the dance as by the stroke of an
enchanter's wand. Bolingbroke ran to the hall-door, and threw it wide
open. A rush of cold air streamed into the hall, and blew that darkening
veil off the picture.

"Thank God," said Lavendale, "I can breathe again! Pray pardon me,
ladies, and go on with your dance," he added courteously; and then,
half-leaning upon Bolingbroke, he walked slowly out to the terrace in
front of the porch, Judith accompanying him.

Here he sat upon a stone bench, and the cool still night restored all
his senses.

"I am well now, my dear friend," he said to Bolingbroke; "'twas only a
passing faintness. The fumes of the log fire stupefied me."

"And here you will catch a consumption, if you sit in this cold air,"
returned his friend, while Judith hung over him with a white scared
face, full of keenest anxiety.

"It is not cold, but if you are afraid of your gout--"

"I am, my dear Lavendale, so I will leave Lady Judith to take care of
you for a few minutes--I urgently advise you to stay no longer than
that. Are you sure you are quite recovered?"

"Quite recovered. Infinitely happy," murmured Lavendale, in a dreamy
voice, with his hand in Judith's, looking up at her as she stood by his
side.

Bolingbroke left them discreetly. To the old intriguer it seemed the
most natural thing in the world to leave those two alone together.

"How fond they are of each other!" he said to himself; "'tis a pity poor
Lavendale is so marked for death. And yet perhaps he may live long
enough for them to get tired of each other; so short a time is
sometimes long enough for satiety."

       *       *       *       *       *

"My beloved, a few minutes ago I thought I was dying," said Lavendale,
in a low voice. "Had that deadly swooning come about an hour earlier, I
should have said to myself, 'This is the stroke of death.'"

"Why, dearest love?"

"Because it has been prophesied to me that I should die at midnight."

"Idle prophecy. Midnight is past, and we are here, you and I together,
happy in each other's love," said Judith.

"You are trembling in every limb!"

"It is the cold."

"No, it is not the cold, Judith: your face is full of fear. Do you see
death in mine?"

"I see only love, infinite love, the promise of our new life in the glad
new year."

"Judith," he murmured, leaning his head against her bosom as she leant
over him, "I know not if I am happy or miserable; I know only that I am
with you: past and future are lost in darkness. But indeed you are
shivering. You are not cold, are you, love? It is such a lovely night,
so still, so calm."

It was one of those exquisite nights which come sometimes in mid-winter.
Not a breath of wind stirred the light leafage of the shrubs, or waved
the pine-tops yonder. A light fall of snow had whitened the
garden-walks, but left the shrubberies untouched. The moon was at the
full, and every line and every leaf showed clear in that silver light.
The distant landscape glimmered in a luminous haze, deepening to purple
as it touched the horizon; while here and there in the valley a glint of
brighter silver showed where the river wound among low hills and dusky
islets towards the busier world beyond.

Suddenly, silver sweet in the moonlight and the silence, came the
musical fall of a peal of bells--joy-bells from the distant tower of
Flamestead Church--joy-bells ringing in the new year.

"My God!" cried Lavendale, "the clocks were wrong!"

He gazed at Judith with wide distended eyes, and the ghastly pallor on
his face took a more livid hue.

"Beloved, my mother's ghost spoke truth," he said: "death calls me with
the stroke of midnight. Beloved, beloved, never, never, never to be
mine! But O, 'tis more blessed than all I have known of life to die
here--thus."

His head was on her breast, her arms were wreathed round him, supporting
that heavy brow, on which the death-dews were gathering. Yes, it was
death. The cord, worn to attenuation long ago, had snapped at last; the
last sands of that wasted life had run out; and just when life seemed
worth living, death called the repentant sinner from the arms of love.

From the earthly love to love beyond, from the known to the unknown. In
that swift, sudden passage from life to death, he had been less of an
infidel than in the active life behind him. It had seemed to him that a
gate opened into the dim distance of eternity; that he stretched out his
arms to some one or to something that called and beckoned; that he went
not to outer darkness and extinction, but to a new existence. Yet the
wrench was scarce less bitter, since it parted him from the woman he
loved.

Friendly hands carried that lifeless form into the old house, and laid
the dead Lord Lavendale upon the bed where his father had lain before
him in the same funeral solemnity. Curtains and blinds were drawn in all
the windows; the guests, who had been so merry at the feast on New
Year's Eve, hurried off on New Year's morning as fast as coach-horses
could be got to carry them away; and the year began at Lavendale Manor
in the shadow of mourning. Only Herrick and Irene stayed in the darkened
house, and watched and prayed in the death-chamber.

And so the house of Lavendale expired with its last representative. Name
and race vanished suddenly from the eyes of men like a ship that
founders at sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

Deeper yet drew the death shadows on Lavendale Manor House, for on the
morning of Lord Lavendale's funeral the old Venetian chemist was found
cold and stark beside his furnace, the elixir of life, the universal
panacea, simmering in the crucible beside him, and his attenuated
fingers clasping one of those antique guides to immortality, fraught
with the wisdom of old Arabia, which had been his solace and delight.
The shock of his friend and patron's death had accelerated the
inevitable end. The lamp of life, nursed in solitude, economised by
habits of exceptional temperance, had burned to the last drop of oil,
and the discoverer, baulked in all his searching after the supernatural,
had yet succeeded in living to his hundred and eleventh year.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three years afterwards, and Herrick and Irene were living with their two
children at Lavendale Manor, and the fences that parted manor and court
had been thrown down, and the two estates were as one, the old squire
having settled Fairmile Court and all its belongings upon his adopted
daughter, whose husband was to assume the name of Bosworth in addition
to his own, and to sign himself Durnford-Bosworth henceforward. Time is
the best of all peace-makers, and after nursing his wrath for a year or
two Roland Bosworth had discovered that the orphan he had picked up on
Flamestead Common was dearer to him than resentment or wounded pride.
Perhaps he was all the better pleased to endow the changeling since Mr.
Topsparkle's magnificent bequest had made her independent of his bounty.

To Lavendale Manor every New Year's Eve comes a pensive lady to pass sad
hours in solitude and silence and pious prayers and meditations in those
rooms which were once so full of mirth. Alone she paces the terrace in
moonlight or in darkness: alone she keeps her midnight vigil, and prays
and weeps upon that stone bench where her lover died.

Irene and her husband respect the mourner's solitude, and in their pity
for an inconsolable grief they scarce lament the change in that
beautiful face which is but too prophetic of doom. Not again will that
widowed heart ache at the sound of New Year joy-bells, for their merry
peal will ring above her grave.


THE END.





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