Mary Braddon.

Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 3 of 3



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"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 ch?rie, 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 t?te-?-t?te 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 m?nage."

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."



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