Mary Braddon.

Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 1 of 3



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"My friend Herrick Durnford is in all things, more accomplished than I."

"If he is, you had better keep a closer watch upon your own interests," said Judith, shaking her fan at him.

"I have nothing so sordid as interest to consider at Ringwood Abbey. I am here only for pleasure. Fay ce que vouldras is my motto, as it was with the monks of that other abbey we know of."

"And a devilish good motto it is, Lavendale," exclaimed Topsparkle. "'Fore Gad I have a mind, to get those cheery words hewn on the front of the stone porch, or inscribed on parchment and fastened, on the lintel of the door, in the Jewish fashion."

"You had better not," said Bolingbroke; "your friends might interpret the inscription too literally, and stay here for ever. Try it not upon me, Topsparkle, unless you would have me a fixture. For a man like myself, who is wearied of worldly strife and has renounced ambition, there could be no more tempting cloister than Ringwood Abbey."

"Your lordship cannot stay here too long, or come here too often," answered Topsparkle; "but I doubt the French saying holds good in this case, reculer pour mieux sauter, and that when Lord Bolingbroke talks of the cloister, he is on the eve of restoring a dynasty, and of changing the face of Europe."

"No, Topsparkle, 'tis only Peterborough who has those large ideas, who parcels out the world in a letter, as if with a Fiat and the breath of his mouth it could be accomplished; and who flies from court to court with meteoric speed, only to embroil the government that sent him, and make confusion worse confounded. And as for restoring a dynasty, the hour is past. Atterbury and I might have done it thirteen years ago had our colleagues but shown a little pluck. High Church and a Stuart would have been a safe cry against a Lutheran and a stranger – witness the temper of the mob at Sacheverell's trial. There was your true test. The people were heart and soul for James III., and had we brought him home then, he might have made as glorious an entrance as Rowley himself. But we had to do with palterers, and we lost our chance, Topsparkle; and now – well, King George has lived down the worst of his unpopularity, and Walpole is a deuced clever fellow, and my very good friend, to whom I owe the nicely measured mercy of my King. The chance has gone, friends, the chance is lost. The year '15 only made matters worse by showing the weakness of the cause. Tis all over. Let us go to the music-room. Your young friend, Squire Bosworth's heiress, has the voice of a nightingale."

"You had better come to the dining-hall, my lord," said Topsparkle. "Our hunting friends will have found their way home by this time, and we can taste a bottle of Burgundy while they take their snack of chine or venison pasty."

"No, I will drink no more till supper-time," answered Bolingbroke. "There is a novel sensation in temperance which is deucedly agreeable. And then I delight in your snug little suppers, which recall Paris and the Regent.

Alas, to think that worthy fellow is no more! Half the glory of the French capital expired when my poor friend Philip sank in an apoplexy, with his head upon the knees of the pretty Duchesse de Phalaris. It was a sorry change from such a man to one-eyed Bourbon, with his savage manners, brutal alike in his loves and his animosities. And now we have Peace-at-any-price Fleury, whose humour admirably suits my pacific friend Sir Robert. But let us to the music-room."

"Nay, my lord, what say you to a hand at quadrille? The tables are ready in the next room."

"I'm with you, Topsparkle. I'm your man."

"Now, is it not strange that Mr. Topsparkle, who raves about every Italian squaller that Handel and Heidegger import for us, should be supremely indifferent to one of the sweetest voices I ever heard!" exclaimed Lady Judith, appealing to the circle in general. "I cannot induce him to be interested in that charming Mrs. Bosworth, who is so pretty and who sings so delightfully."

"O, but she is only an Englishwoman," said Voltaire. "I find that in this country it is a vulgar thing to admire native merit, especially in music."

"Yes, but Topsparkle is cosmopolitan. I have seen him make much of a ploughboy who happened to have a fine alto voice, stand the little wretch beside his organ and teach him to sing an air of Lully's, listening with as much rapture as to Farinelli himself. Why, then, should he refuse to admire Mrs. Bosworth, who has as lovely a voice as ever I heard, and who is as much a fanatic about music as he is himself? Nay, he goes further than not admiring; he has an air of positive aversion when the dear girl chances to approach him."

Topsparkle's face changed as much as any face so thickly enamelled could change under the influence of angry feelings. He turned towards his wife scowlingly, began to speak, checked himself abruptly, and then with his airy French shrug said lightly, "All sensitive people have their caprices, my dear Judith; one of mine is not to like this charming personage whom you and your friends rave about. I hope I have not been uncivil to the young lady. I should die of mortification could I deem I had been discourteous to a pretty woman and my guest."

"No, you have not been actually uncivil: but your looks of aversion have not escaped me, though I trust they have escaped her," answered Judith.

"At the worst I have not the evil eye. My glances do not slay."

Lavendale strolled off to the music-room, a noble apartment, which had originally been a chapel, and which retained its vaulted roof and frescoed walls, in all the richness of restored colouring and precious metal. At one end stood an organ built by the Antignati in the fifteenth century; at the other was an instrument in which the art of organ-building had been brought to the highest perfection by the renowned Christopher M?ller. The central portion of the room was occupied by the finest harpsichord of modern manufacture, and by a choice collection of older instruments of the same type, from the primitive dulcimer to the more developed spinet. Scattered about the spacious apartment were chairs and couches of the last luxurious French fashion, in all the florid richness of that elaborate style which we still recognise as Louis Quatorze, and which was then the latest development of the upholsterer's art.

Irene was seated at the harpsichord, and Herrick Durnford was standing by her side; but the heiress was not unguarded, for Lady Tredgold sat near, slumbering peacefully behind her fan, and giving full play to the mechanism of her admirable digestive organs after a copious dinner. For the rest, the room was empty.

The singer was just finishing a dainty little ballad by Tom Durfey as Lavendale entered.

"Is it not pretty?" she asked, looking shyly up at Herrick, whose taciturn air vexed her a little and mystified her much.

"Yes, it is charming, like everything you sing."

"How dolefully you say that!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, I confess to being doleful, the very incarnation of gloom. O Rena, forgive me, I am the most miserable of men! Here I am in this great gaudy tavern, for such a house is no better than an inn – seeing you every day, hearing your voice, near you and yet leagues away – never daring to address you freely save in such a chance moment as this, while your vigilant kinswoman sleeps; here am I, your adorer, your slave, but a pauper who dare not ask for your heart, though his own is irrevocably yours. To ask you to marry me would be to ask you to ruin yourself irretrievably."

"You might at least venture the question," said Rena softly, looking down at the keys of the harpsichord. "Perhaps I have a mind to do some wild rash act that will beggar me. I am weary of hearing myself talked of as an heiress. My father has been very good to me, and I am very fond of him. I should fear much more to grieve him than to lose a fortune. I could not be a rebellious daughter; better that I should break my heart than break his: and he has told me that all his hopes of the future are centred in me. Could you not talk to him, could you not persuade him – ?" she added falteringly, touching the notes at random here and there in her confusion.

"Persuade him to accept a penniless newspaper hack for his only daughter's husband! Alas, I fear not, Rena. If I could but find some swift sudden way to fame and fortune – in the senate, for instance! A fine speaker may make his name in one debate, and stand out ever after from the common ruck; and I think I could speak fairly well on any question that I had at heart."

"O, pray be a speaker; go into Parliament directly!" exclaimed Rena eagerly.

"Dear child, it is not so easy. It needs money, which I have not, or powerful friends, and I have but one, who is also my rival. Alas, I fear a seat in Parliament is as unattainable for me as the moon. And the age of adventure is past, in which, a man might grow suddenly rich by dabbling in South Sea stock. 'Twas said the Prince of Wales made forty thousand pounds on 'Change at that golden season, and Lord Bolingbroke restored his fortune by a lucky purchase of Mississippi stocks. But it is all over now, Rena."

"I have heard it said 'twas by South Sea stock my father made the greatest part of his fortune," said the girl thoughtfully. "If it is so I wish he were poorer, for one must but think of those poor creatures who paid thousands for shares that proved scarce worth hundreds."

"That is only the fortune of Exchange Alley, Irene: and from the speculator's standpoint your father's honour is uncompromised and his conscience may be easy. Yet I grant 'tis no pleasant thought to consider those simple widows and foolish rustic spinsters who risked their all in that fatal adventure, fondly believing that an endless tide of wealth was to flow from those far-off seas, and that there was to be no ebb to that golden stream. But indeed, Irene, I would with all my heart you were poorer. I would Squire Bosworth had dabbled in all the rottenest schemes of those wild days, from the company for extracting silver from lead to the company for a wheel for perpetual motion, so long as his losses brought our fortunes level."

"You should not wish me poor," she answered. "If my father's wealth is but honestly come by, I should be proud to share some of it with one I loved. And if you can but persuade him – "

"Well, I will try, dearest, though I know that to avow my aim will be to banish me from this dear presence for ever – unless you can be bold enough to risk your fortune and disobey your father."

They had been talking in subdued tones so as not to awaken Lady Tredgold, at whom they glanced from time to time to make sure that her placid slumbers were unbroken. Lord Lavendale stood at the end of the room, in the shadow of the great organ, watching those two heads as they bent to each other, Herrick's arm on the back of Irene's chair, the girl's, head drooping a little, bowed by the weight of her modesty. He was quite able to draw his own inferences from such a group.

"Is it thus the land lies," he said to himself, "and shall I spoil sport by a loveless wooing – I, whose heart, or whatever remnant of heart is left, belongs to another? Better let youth and true love have their own way – unless Herrick is fortune-hunting. But I know him too well to suspect him of any sordid motive. He is a better man than I, though we have lived the same bad lives together."

He gave a little cough, and walked towards that central space where the lovers sat in front of the harpsichord. They started, and moved farther apart at the sound of his footsteps, and Lady Tredgold opened her eyes and blinked at the company like an owl, exclaiming, "Can I really have been asleep? That ballad of Rameau's is the sweetest thing I have heard for an age, Irene. Lord Lavendale, you must positively hear it: I know you love old French music."

"All melody from such lips is entrancing, and such lips can speak only music," said his lordship, bowing to Irene, who had risen, rosy red in her confusion, and who acknowledged his compliment with a low curtsy.

END OF VOL. I

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