Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3
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"She knew what a vile place this world is, and she warned me against its infamy," he said to himself. "Vain warning: grave and tender speech wasted upon an incipient reprobate. Is there some place of spirits in which she dwells, where she sees and knows my folly, and grieves, as disembodied souls may grieve, over her guilty son? I, who find it so hard to believe dogmatic religion, cannot wean myself from the fancy that there is such a world – that she whom I loved lives yet, and can feel and care for me – that the last link between mother and son was not broken when the first clod fell on the coffin."
A footman knocked at the door and handed in a salver with a letter, which the valet brought to his lordship's bedside.
"From Lady Judith Topsparkle. The messenger waits," said the man.
He had recognised the brown and orange livery, although the footman had not mentioned his mistress's name.
"The dragon is roused at last," wrote Judith. "Topsparkle has taken alarm at our familiarity last night. I doubt he was only shamming sleep, and that he watched us while we whispered at the supper-table. No sooner were we at home than he burst into a tragic scene – Cato was never more heroic – taxed me with carrying on an intrigue with you, and using Bolingbroke as a blind. I laughed at him and defied him; on which he announced that he should carry me off to Ringwood Abbey directly after the Guildhall dinner. 'Nothing I should love better,' says I, 'for I am heart-sick of the town, and you and I were made to bill and coo in solitude. All the world knows how fond we are of each other.' After this he became silently savage, white with suppressed wrath. What an evil face it is, Jack! I think he is capable of murdering me; but you may trust me to take care of myself, and to touch no potion of his mixing, between now and to-morrow night. He ordered Z?lie to pack my trunks for the Abbey; the very thing I would have. They are to go off on Thursday morning, he says. Be sure you send your wagoner on Wednesday evening. So now, dear love, from such a Bluebeard husband my flight will be a pardonable sin. I do but run away in self-defence."
"Bring me standish and portfolio," said Lavendale; and with his elbow on his pillow he wrote hastily:
"Beloved, I will not fail you. I have some business arrangements that must be made to-day, and to-morrow at dusk I will be with you. If you have any apprehension or any sense of unhappiness in the mean while, come to me here at once, and I will defend you. Once within these doors you shall be safe as in a fortress. But it will be better if we can slip away quietly. I doubt if Topsparkle will follow us to the South. From hints I have had about him I take it he is not over-fond of fighting – would fight, perhaps, if hard driven – but will not court an encounter; and for your sake I would rather not cross swords with him. So if finesse and patience can keep matters smooth till to-morrow night it will be well.Till then, Adored One, adieu. My heart, soul, mind, being, are in your keeping already. This Lavendale which goes to and fro, and must needs get through the day's business, is but a breathing piece of mechanism, a self-acting puppet. The real Lavendale is sighing on your bosom."
This letter despatched, with a guinea to the gentleman in orange and brown – guinea which by some curious conjuring trick became a half-guinea at the bottom of the staircase – his lordship rose and dressed, or suffered himself to be dressed, very impatiently, and then, without any more breakfast than his cup of chocolate, walked off to his favourite Jew.
He knew most of the money-lenders in London; men who would lend at an hour's notice and on lightest security; men who were slow and cautious. It was to an enterprising usurer he went to-day.
"I want a thousand pounds immediately, Solomon," he said, flinging himself into a dusty chair in a dusty office near the Fleet, "and four thousand to follow."
Then came negotiation. Hitherto Lavendale had refused to mortgage the Surrey Manor. Other estates were heavily clipped – but the place his mother had loved, the house in which she died, had been held sacred. Now, he would stick at nothing. He must have money at any sacrifice. Old Solomon had itched for a good mortgage on that Surrey Manor. He had a client who wanted to lend money on land near London, a rich City tradesman who hardly believed in the validity of any estate that was not within fifty miles of the metropolis. The client would think himself well off if he got five per cent for his cash; and Mr. Solomon knew that he could make Lord Lavendale pay seven per cent, and pocket the difference. His lordship was in too great a hurry for the money to consult his own lawyer, would not examine the deeds too closely. He had the air of a man who was in a fever of impatience to ruin himself. Solomon promised to have the mortgage-deed engrossed and the money ready to hand over by two o'clock next day. Lavendale swore he must leave England at three. The money would be no use to him unless it were his before that hour.
"You shall have it," protested Solomon, "though the scrivener should have to work all night. I will go straight off to my client and bid him prepare his cash."
Lavendale went back to Bloomsbury, and gave orders about the wagon and the coach-and-four, with a third pair of horses to be ready on the other side of London Bridge, and relays all along the Dover road. His valet was as clever as Figaro, and had hitherto proved himself trustworthy.
"I am running away with an heiress, Jevons," said his lordship. "A sweet young creature of seventeen; a cit's only daughter, worth a plum in her own right."
Jevons bowed with an air of respectful sympathy, and knew that his master was lying. The orange and brown livery had appeared too often in Bloomsbury Square within the last month or so; and Jevons had seen his lordship in Lady Judith's box, from the pit of the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and knew exactly how those two stood towards each other.
"'Tis a bad business," thought Mr. Jevons, "and may end in bloodshed. I would rather see him running after masks and misses, as he did ten years ago."
Mr. Jevons was too well trained a servant to disobey orders, were he even sure they must result in fatality. He would have sharpened his master's rapier for a duel as coolly as he cleaned his boots. So he went off and ordered coach, wagon, and horses, and despatched a couple of mounted grooms to ride to Dover by easy stages. They were to order relays of post-horses as they went along, and were to make sure that there should be no hitch in the journey.
"And if you find his lordship is pursued, you are to do your damnable best to prevent his pursuer getting a change of horses anywhere," said Mr. Jevons, with his authoritative air, which was more imperious than his master's.
Lavendale ordered his carriage late in the afternoon, and drove down to his Surrey Manor in the summer dusk. He wanted to see Vincenti before he left England, perhaps for ever. He wanted to see that old home which he might never look upon again. And Durnford was to be at the Manor that evening, the one friend in whose fidelity he could always confide; to whom he could confess even his darkest secrets; whose sound sense he could rely upon when his own feather-brain failed him.
"I must make some plans for her future," he told himself, "for I fear I am not a long-lived man. Alas! what can I leave her? Three or four happy years in the South will exhaust my resources, and there will be nothing left but an estate mortgaged to the hilt."
This was a dark outlook, so he tried to shut his eyes to the future. And then he remembered what some knowing busybody had told him about Lord Bramber's cleverness, and the handsome settlement extorted from Mr. Topsparkle before he was allowed to carry off the lovely Judith.
"So good a settlement," said the gossip, "that her ladyship has but small inducement to remain constant to a fossil husband. She may elope whenever she likes, for she will be handsomely provided for even in her disgrace. Lord Bramber is a man of the world, and able to look ahead."
There was some consolation in the thought that Lady Judith was not to sacrifice everything in throwing away her reputation. And yet to think of her enriched by Topsparkle's money was as bad as to see her shining in Topsparkle's diamonds.
"'Tis so evil a business that nothing can mend it," he said to himself; which was an ill frame of mind for a lover.
It was dark when he reached the Manor, and Durnford had not arrived. The coach had brought a letter from him to say that important business in the House detained him, but that he would ride down next morning.
Chagrined at this disappointment, Lavendale went straight to the laboratory, where he found Vincenti walking to and fro in an unusual state of excitement.
"Have you found the great secret?" he asked. "You have a look of triumph."
"I am nearer than I have ever been," answered the old man, with feverish eagerness; "so near that I might almost say I have reached the goal. The universal panacea is all but won. I feel a renewal of strength in every limb, a fresher life in every vein, and, if not the secret of immortality, I have at least found the key to an almost indefinitely prolonged existence. I tell you, Lavendale, there is a medicine that will prolong life for centuries if a man is but free from organic disease."
"If!" echoed Lavendale; "that 'if' makes all the difference. If he do not fall off his horse, or if he be not turned over in a stage-coach, or drowned 'twixt Dover and Calais. If he do not fall into a crater, like Empedocles, or if he be not buried in the lava flood, like Pliny, or murdered in the street, like Tom Thynne, or killed in a duel, like Hamilton and Mohun. There is a vast variety of 'ifs' to be considered."
Vincenti was not listening to him. He walked to and fro like a man exalted by a beatific vision. Then he suddenly stopped and went over to a furnace, upon which there stood a crucible. He peered into this for some moments, and then resumed his feverish pacings up and down the spacious floor: anon suddenly tottered, and staggered over to his chair, like a man who can scarce keep himself from falling.
Lavendale went to him instantly, and put a glass of water to his lips. His brow was damp with cold perspiration, and he had every appearance of fainting.
"Is this one of the effects of your panacea," asked Lavendale; "is this the result of that marvel-working Azoth that Paracelsus believed in?"
"It is nothing – a passing faintness. The reaction was too strong. I gave myself up too completely to the delight of my discovery – or I may have taken too powerful a dose. I tell you, my lord, the solution is infallible. It contains every element of life, every force that can sustain mind and body, strengthen every nerve, restore the quality of the blood, wasted with age. Feel my pulse, and say if it is not at once regular and strong."
"Strong? – yes, too strong for your age; too quick for health. Regular? – no. You had better go to bed, Vincenti. A basin of broth and a good night's rest will do more for you than the higher metals."
"Your lordship is mocking me. But I am somewhat exhausted by the unintermittent watching of the last three days and nights. I will lie down for an hour or two, if you will be so kind as to assist me to my room."
Lavendale supported him to an adjoining room with almost womanly tenderness, and did not leave him till he was lying comfortably in his bed. He occupied a small apartment next the chapel, a room which had once been used as a sacristy. Here the student of Nature's secret forces had a pallet, and a kind of hermit's cell, preferring such scanty accommodation close to his furnaces and alembics, to the comfortable bedchamber above-stairs which had been allotted to him at his coming.
"Yonder is a sword that has well nigh worn out its scabbard," thought Lavendale, as he went back to the library. "Did Albertus Magnus dream thus to the last, I wonder, and die on the threshold of some tremendous discovery, or fancy himself near it in his last hours? Is it all an idle dream, as Herrick says, and is there no undiscovered power that can prolong the life of man? How feverish was that old man's joy at the idea of stretching his thin thread of life! And yet one would think existence could be of little value to one who has survived every earthly passion, every human tie. But for me – for me, whose days have been so short, so empty of all real joys; for me, whose heart beats high with fondest hopes and sweetest anticipations – 'tis hard for such as I to know his days measured, his span of life dwindling fast to the vanishing point. Life might be prolonged indefinitely, says Vincenti, if there be no organic disease. That 'if' means so much. There is something tells me this heart of mine has been worked too hard upon foolish excitements and frivolous fancies, horse-races, cock-fights, the gambling-table, and the bear-pit; and that now – now when I would fain feel myself secure of length of days – the flame that burns so fiercely is but the expiring flourish of a burnt-out candle."
He struggled against those despondent feelings which had possessed him all the day; stronger even than triumphant love, which should have reigned supreme in his breast. He sent for his housekeeper, an elderly woman who had nursed his mother in her last illness, and upon whose fidelity he could rely.
"I fear my old Italian friend is very ill, Mrs. Becket," he said, "and I must depend upon you to get him nursed and duly cared for should his malady increase. He has the air of a man in a fever."
"Your lordship may depend upon my doing all I can for the poor harmless old gentleman," replied Mrs. Becket, with a low curtsy. "But your lordship is looking amiss this evening! Is there nothing I can do for your lordship – perhaps a mild electuary?" Mrs. Becket's great forte had always been the still-room, where she had graduated, as a slip of a girl, under Lavendale's grandmother, a skilful compounder of herbs and simples, and all household medicines and confectioneries.
"Nay, my good Becket, I have no occasion for your clever prescriptions. I am perfectly well; only a little tired after my long ride."
"Your lordship's supper will be served in ten minutes, in the red parlour."
"My good soul, I have no stomach for supper. I dined – no, by the way, I did not dine, but I ate something before I left town."
"Nay, indeed, if your lordship had no dinner you ought to enjoy a split pullet and a dish of stewed cheese. I grilled the pullet with my own hands, to make sure of despatch. And Thomas has taken up a couple of bottles of your lordship's favourite Burgundy."
"Well, I will taste your pullet with a glass of Burgundy. What is the hour?"
"Nearly eleven. Your lordship's bedchamber is being prepared."
"I have my wakeful fit on, and shall not retire early. No one need sit up for me. I shall want nothing after I have supped."
"Your lordship is always considerate."
"And now go, my good Becket, and attend to Vincenti. He is a fit subject for some of your old-fashioned family medicines."
Lavendale smiled at the thought of handing over the adept to the tender mercies of his grandmother's pupil – the student of Paracelsus and Roger Bacon to the household practitioner, learned in the traditions of village midwives and itinerant herbalists, and the elaborate prescriptions of ancient ladies handed down from mother to daughter from the dark night of the Middle Ages, not altogether free from the savour of witchcraft. He was in a mood to wonder whether Paracelsus and the Ghebir Arabs were any cleverer than those ancient ladies who spent their mornings, aproned and bibbed, in the busy seclusion of the still-room.
He repaired to the red parlour, but although he had eaten scarcely anything since the supper at Vauxhall he had no appetite for Mrs. Becket's savoury pullet or smoking dish of cheese. His lips were parched, and food was distasteful to him; but he finished a bottle of Burgundy before he went back to the library, where he had his papers to look over and arrange on the eve of an exile that might be long.
The spacious seldom-inhabited room had a desolate aspect, dimly lighted by two pairs of wax candles in massive silver candlesticks. One pair stood on a bureau at the end of the room, the other on his lordship's scrutoire. The long windows were open to the summer night, the moon was rising, and her faint pale light shone in upon the empty floor.
Lavendale unlocked drawers, and took out papers from secret recesses, and occupied himself closely for the next hour in a scrutiny of his affairs, seriously trying, for the first time since his majority, to discover how much of his inheritance he had wasted, and what amount of assured income yet remained to him.
His list of rents looked well, but against his rental he had to put the interest of mortgages; and when these were all told the balance in his favour was but slender.
"Well, I shall be as nearly a pauper as a man of rank can well be when these five thousand pounds are gone," he said to himself, "and when I am dead Judith will have to live upon her settlement. 'Tis an ugly look-out. She has extravagant tastes, too, and has been accustomed since her marriage to fling money about at random; to gratify every whim, riot in every luxury. Will she not curse me years hence when she finds herself reduced to the narrower limit of her pin-money, which, however handsome, will hardly allow her to melt pearls, like Cleopatra, or to venture in every lottery, bid for every Chinese monster and Indian screen, and entertain a crowd of flatterers at every meal, to say nothing of ombre and quadrille?" And then he told himself that Judith had only been extravagant because she was unhappy. That all her follies had been but the endeavour to stop the pain of an aching heart, with the anodyne of frivolous pleasures. She had told him once that she would be true to him in poverty and every ill; told him with her arms round his neck, that night they swore fidelity to each other in the little Chinese room at Lady Skirmisham's, when both were free and such vows were innocent. Had the world so changed her that she would be less disinterested now, when in the maturity of her womanhood she was to give herself to him freely, deeming the world well lost for love? "What is the world that any woman should regret the loss of it?" he thought: "a raree-show, a kind of modish Bartholomew Fair, where wits and beauties, politicians and heroes, are all of them as false, and many of them as thickly painted, as any mummer at Smithfield. No, I will not be such a fool as to feel remorse at stealing my beloved from such a world as ours."
He put away his papers and locked his scrutoire with a sigh, finding himself even poorer than he had thought. And then he began to pace the room in a reverie. It was nearly midnight, but he had no inclination for sleep. His brain was a vortex of busy thoughts. His imagination flew from one subject to another with restless variety – now anticipating evil, now dreaming of an idyllic bliss, unbroken by a cloud.
Then that shadow of fear, that vague apprehension of unknown evil which had been upon him all day, seemed suddenly to deepen, until it wrapped him round like a pall. The absolute silence of the house oppressed his spirits. He had heard doors locked and bolted, and footsteps retiring an hour ago. The household was asleep, remote from that spacious library, which was in a wing apart, ending in the chapel. He could hardly have been more lonely in the depths of a forest; and to-night, for the first time within his memory of himself, solitude seemed an evil.
He tried to picture to-morrow night and its feverish joys. At this hour they would be travelling, as swiftly as six horses could carry them, on the road to Dover; apprehensive of pursuit, fluttered, anxious, yet infinitely happy. Yonder waning moon would be shining upon them seated side by side, their lives linked for ever – the last irrevocable step taken – the world defied.
"O, happy night, would it were come! would I could lift my soul out of this gloom by picturing to-morrow's joy!"
He paced slowly up and down the polished floor, on which his footsteps echoed with a dismal sound. The cold silvery moonbeams trembled upon the sombre rows of folios and quartos, and the heavy carving of the oak bookcases. One end of the room was in broad moonlight, the other in shadow. The candles made only feeble patches of yellow light, scarcely noticeable against that clearer, brighter light from the moon. Never had the room looked so desolate or so unhomelike to Lavendale; and yet it was the one room of all others most familiar to him and dearest from association. It was here his mother's widowhood had been chiefly spent. Her studious habits had made this library her chosen retreat. There was not a book upon yonder shelves which she had not handled; and there were few of which she had not read much or little. Her favourite authors were assembled in one particular block, which she had classified and arranged with her own hands. Lavendale had brought his lessons to her many a time in this room, to ask her aid in his preparation for his tutor. And it had been her pride and delight to help her boy in his studies. It brought mother and son nearer together. And then came tender counsel, gentle admonition, warning against the indulgence of a wilful temper, hasty anger, thoughtlessness about other people's feelings – all those failings to which high-spirited youth is prone.
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