Mary Braddon.

Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 1 of 3



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavendale's only answer was a sigh. He sauntered through the Ring, returning and occasionally giving salutations, with a listless indifferent air which implied that he cared very little whether he was remembered or not. His appearance came as a surprise upon most of his old acquaintance, who had heard nothing of his return; but all who looked at him in the clear light of this bright May morning were startled at the change which three years' travel had made in him. He had left London a young man, in the pride and flush of manly beauty, justly renowned as one of the handsomest men about town.

He came back aged by at least a decade, haggard, and melancholy-looking; handsome still, for his delicately chiselled and patrician cast of features did not depend for their beauty upon freshness of colour; his eyes, though sombre and sunken, were still the same superb gray orbs which had flashed and sparkled in his radiant youth. The man was the same man, but it was as if a withering blast had passed across his manhood, blighting, scathing, consuming it; like some hot wind from the desert, that scorches and destroys the vegetation across which its fiery breath passes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lorenzo shall have no chance with my daughter."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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