Mary Braddon.

Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3

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"My son was at first bent on going in pursuit of his daughter, but at last ceded to my arguments, and was content to intrust the task to me. Before starting on my difficult enterprise I tried to discover something more as to the manner of my granddaughter's flight. By close inquiries among our neighbours I found that on the evening of her disappearance two men had been seen waiting about in our street, and that these same men had been seen a little later walking quickly towards the canal with a woman supported between them, almost as if they had been carrying her. Each held her by an arm, my informant observed, and her feet seemed scarcely to touch the ground. But the night was dark, and the three passed so quickly in the darkness that my neighbour was conscious only of something indefinitely strange in the bearing of the three; yet on reflecting upon it after, he had been horrified at the idea that he might have seen a corpse carried past in this manner, and might have unconsciously witnessed the end of an assassination.

"I was now assured that my granddaughter had been carried away in a fainting and helpless condition, and this idea was speedily confirmed by a discovery which I made in the family sitting-room, where, lying underneath the harpsichord, I found a handkerchief that had been steeped in a solution of an Indian drug, the properties of which I had explained and demonstrated to F?tis. It was a preparation which when smoked or inhaled produces almost immediate giddiness and loss of consciousness; a condition not lasting long, but certainly long enough to allow of the subject being carried quickly for two or three hundred yards. I remembered how minutely F?tis had questioned me about this drug, and how keenly interested he had been in my experiments with it. He had himself smoked a pipe filled with the drug in question, and had calculated the average period of unconsciousness by his own experience.

"I had now no doubt that Margharita had been surprised by F?tis alone at her harpsichord, and had been carried from the house in a state of semi-unconsciousness. A gondola was doubtless ready to receive her at the end of the court, where a flight of steps leads down to the canal.

"I went again to the palace on the Canal Reggio, and was informed that F?tis had left Venice on the previous evening, with all the English servants. The house had a dismantled air, and I was told that it was left in charge of the old steward, who had lived for nearly half a century in the service of the Venetian nobleman from whom Mr. Topsparkle had purchased the property. Topsparkle was not expected to return to Venice until the following autumn. He had gone to Paris, and would go thence to London, where he had a house in a fashionable quarter.

"I followed him to Paris; and there I found him established near the Court end of the town, where my granddaughter lived openly with him and passed as his wife; but as the society in which they lived was the most audaciously debauched in Paris – a circle of rakes, demi-reps, and infidels, a society which surpassed in open iniquity the worst phases of Venetian dissipation – the legality of the tie that bound Mr.

Topsparkle and his companion was not likely to be questioned. He was inordinately rich, and scattered his money lavishly.

"I made my way into my granddaughter's apartment with considerable difficulty, threatened and all but assaulted by the bodyguard of lacqueys. I reproached her with her cruelty and treachery towards her father and myself, and asked her if she was legally wedded to the man who had carried her off.

"She answered me only with her tears, and we were interrupted by Topsparkle before I could question her further. He drew his sword and would have attacked me, but Margharita threw herself between us and piteously entreated me to leave the house. She declared that she was happy, that she was fondly beloved, that nothing could induce her to abandon her lover. She had learnt the language of that infamous circle in which she had wed, and impudently confessed her dishonour.

"'What bond could be more sacred than that which binds us?' she asked; 'a love that can end only with death. The same passion inspires us both, the same tastes, the same pleasures. We live but for music and love.' She flung herself weeping upon his breast.

"'You see, sir,' he said scornfully, 'she makes no complaint of me; and she does not wish to go back to her father's shop.'

"This was said with infinite contempt, and with an insolent glance at the profligate luxury of the apartment, a kind of Armida Palace calculated to deprave the taste and enervate the mind of its occupants.

"'I am answered, sir,' I replied; 'I shall wait till my granddaughter has awakened from this glittering dream, and has discovered what it is for a woman to become – what you have done her the honour to make her.'

"I left the house, sick at heart. That glimpse of the ruined girl amidst her garish splendour had pained me more than it would have done to find her forsaken and destitute, for then I could have carried her back to her father a true penitent. I felt, however, that the hour of repentance must come, and I determined to wait for it.

"I was able to pursue my studies in Paris. I had taken a quiet lodging in one of the smaller streets of the Marais, and I passed a great deal of my time at the hospital, where I devoted my days to the study of anatomy, while my evenings were mostly spent in the laboratory of an old man with whom I had studied toxicology forty years before. He had been one of the experts in the Brinvilliers case, and perhaps knew more about the secret poisoners of Paris than any living man. My life under such circumstances was full of interest and occupation; but I never let a day pass without paying a visit to the street where Mr. Topsparkle had his apartment. This was also in the Marais, and not ten minutes' walk from my own obscure lodging.

"I heard the sounds of music and gaiety from those lighted windows night after night, saw visitors enter, saw Margharita pass to her carriage or her sedan-chair, saw all the indications of a life devoted to pleasure and dissipation. One night I followed the chair to the Opera House, and took my seat in the pit, from which I saw my granddaughter in her box, blazing with diamonds, and one of the loveliest women in the house. My neighbours pointed her out to each other, and talked of her as the rich Englishman's mistress.

"'Is she not his wife?' I asked. My neighbour shrugged his shoulders, and answered as a true Parisian cynic:

"'Wife or mistress is all the same nowadays, except that in some cases the mistress is the more virtuous. Every fine gentleman's wife is some other fine gentleman's mistress; but I believe there is here and there a Miss who is faithful to her protector.'

"This kind of life continued for a little more than four months, and then one morning I found Mr. Topsparkle's splendour melted like a fairy palace and the apartment in the Marais to let. He had gone to London with all his retinue, including F?tis, whom I had met several times in the street and who had tried to make his peace with me. I had, however, treated all his advances with contempt, and on but one occasion did I stoop to speak to him. This was to accuse him of having carried Margharita away under the influence of the Indian drug, the knowledge of which he had obtained in my laboratory.

"'Do you think drugs were needed?' he asked sneeringly. 'You have seen the lady. If she is a snared bird, you will admit that she is uncommonly fond of her cage.'

"I followed the seducer to London, and found myself a cheap lodging in an alley near St. Martin's Lane, from which den I went forth daily and nightly to keep watch upon my granddaughter's life.

"She reigned to all appearances as sole mistress in the house in Soho Square, but she did not appear in public with Mr. Topsparkle as audaciously as she had appeared in Paris. She was called by his name, but he introduced her nowhere as his wife; and she now seemed to give up all her time to the cultivation of her musical talent, under the tuition of famous masters who attended daily at the house in Soho Square.

"I found, as time went on, that there were some grounds for this seclusion, as she was ere long to become a mother.

"Mr. Topsparkle himself was quite as dissipated in London as he had been in Paris, and spent most of his nights at the chocolate-houses, or in society of an even worse character than was to be found in those resorts. Margharita's life at this period must have been sadly lonely.

"Months elapsed, and I heard one day that she was the mother of a baby girl. I would have given much to have seen mother and child, but dared not trust myself to approach her while she was still impenitent, lest I should say hard things to her. I so hated her seducer that I could not enter his house without the hazard of a quarrel which might end in bloodshed. I contented myself, therefore with keeping my stealthy watch upon my poor child's life, and obtaining as much knowledge as I could through the servants.

"From them I heard that their lady was unhappy, and devoted to her infant: but only a few days after receiving this information I saw the child carried off one evening by a buxom countrywoman in a hackney coach.

"My chief informant among the servants, an underling whom I had bribed on several occasions, and who was always serviceable and obliging, told me that the woman was a wet-nurse who was carrying the child to her home in Buckinghamshire, where the infant was to be reared by this rustic foster-mother, as my lady was too delicate to nurse her.

"This I took to be the beginning of sorrow for my deluded granddaughter, and I felt that the time was now at hand when I might lead her back to her duty; but at this very time I was attacked by a fever which laid me up for over a month, and when I was again able to get about a change had come over Margharita's life.

"She had a secret admirer, a young and handsome man, who haunted her footsteps on those rare occasions when she took the air, and who had paid clandestine visits to the house. It was my informant's opinion that although she had openly repulsed this person's advances, and had on one occasion ordered her servants to turn him out of her house, where he pretended to have followed her under a mistake, supposing her to be a lady of his acquaintance, she was yet secretly inclined to favour him. Her waiting-woman had surprised her in tears on several occasions.

"Mr. Topsparkle had been often absent of late. He had been at Paris and at Newmarket, leaving his mistress to the companionship of her shock dog and her old Italian music-master. She had fretted for the loss of her baby, whom she was not allowed to see, as Mr. Topsparkle hated squallers.

"Apprehending the perils of this present position I forced my way into the house one evening, and found my unhappy granddaughter alone in the midst of her splendour, and as desolate a woman as I had ever looked upon. I urged her to take advantage of Topsparkle's absence, and to leave his house at once and for ever. We would start together next morning, and not stop till she was safe beneath her father's roof. I promised her that there should be not one word of reproach from him or from me. The interval of her sin and her splendour should be forgotten as if it were an ill dream.

"'I cannot forget that I am a mother, and that I have a child whom I love,' she said. 'Those facts cannot be wiped out of my life like a blot of ink off a fair white page. No, I cannot go backward.'

"'And you still adore your seducer; his love can still reconcile you to your infamy?' I asked.

"She hung her head and melted into tears, tears which I believe were the marks of a deep-rooted anguish. She was a being not made for dishonour, and she felt in this moment that she was drifting into deeper shame.

"'You have ceased to love your paramour,' I said sternly.

"'He has ceased to be kind to me,' she faltered.

"'Come,' I said, 'it is time for you to leave him. Your life in this house is beset with peril.'

"It was in vain that I urged her. I was by turns stern and gentle. I promised all that love could offer, I threatened all that my experience could foresee of evil in her present course.

"'You are on the high-road to an abandoned life,' I said; 'between you and the most notorious courtesan in London or Paris there is but the narrowest boundary-line, and so long as you remain in this house you are in hourly danger of passing it. If your own inconstant heart do not betray you, 'tis ten to one your first betrayer will tire of you and pay off old scores by passing you on to his friend.'

"She fell on her knees at my feet in a flood of tears, entreated me to give her time to think of the matter, and if she could find a way of taking her child with her, she would perhaps go with me.

"'Tell me where your child is to be found, and I will look to that part of the business,' I said; and then I discovered that she did not even know the name of the town or village to which her baby had been taken. She knew only that the nurse lived in Buckinghamshire.

"I left her at last, deeply moved – left her, full of anxiety as to her fate. On the threshold of the house I met F?tis, who had his usual air of triumphant malignity masked under a silken courtesy. It was the first time he and I had met in London.

"He asked me where I lodged, how long I had been in town, and whether I was still pursuing my scientific investigations. I told him I had other investigations on my hands, even more absorbing than those of the laboratory; I had my granddaughter's evil fortunes to guard from further decline.

"'Do you call it evil fortune to be mistress of such a house as this?' he asked, looking round him at the hall in which we were standing.

"'I call it infamy to be the mistress of your master, most of all, his slighted mistress,' I answered.

"'O, fie, sir! we all call the lady his wife. She is known here only as Mrs. Topsparkle.'

"'An empty honour, sir, which the more strongly indicates her dishonour. Did you ever know Mr. Topsparkle introduce his lady to any decent woman, to any persons of standing or repute? No, his only generosity is to surround her with a sybarite luxury, to leave her in a gilded desolation. You all know she is not your master's wife, and that no wife would consent to have her child carried off from her by a stranger to a place of which she knows not the name.'

"'My master is a man accustomed to rule,' answered F?tis. 'We none of us ever presume to thwart him.'

"I passed out of the house without another word, and waited day after day for some sign from Margharita, to whom I had given the address of my lodging; but none came. My illness had weakened me considerably, and I was no longer able to loiter about within sight of Mr. Topsparkle's door for an hour at a time; yet I dragged myself there every evening, and generally contrived to got a word with my ally in the servants' hall.

"One evening at dusk I saw a young man of remarkably handsome appearance leave Mr. Topsparkle's house, as I thought with a stealthy air, hurrying away with anxious glances to right and left, and with the collar of his cloak pulled up about his ears.

"Two days afterwards I saw in the Flying Post that there had been a passage of incivilities between the rich Mr. Topsparkle and young Mr. Churchill, a brother of the famous Mrs. Arabella Churchill, the favourite of the late King, a dispute which had nearly resulted in a duel. I went at once to Soho Square, but was refused admittance. Mrs. Topsparkle was dangerously ill, and her husband was in constant attendance upon her.

"I asked to see F?tis, and, after waiting nearly an hour in the hall, he came to me.

"In reply to my anxious questions he affected to make light of my granddaughter's illness. 'A fit of the spleen,' he said, 'which Mr. Topsparkle's tenderness has exaggerated into a serious malady. One of the Court physicians is now with her.'

"I charged him with deceiving me. 'There has been a quarrel between your master and that unhappy girl,' I said, 'and she is reduced to a state of misery in which you will not allow me to see her.'

"'Quarrel! What should they quarrel about?' he asked, with his unblushing air.

"The physician came down-stairs attended by a couple of lacqueys at this moment, and I went to him at once and questioned him about his patient. He looked astonished at my effrontery, and turned to F?tis for an explanation.

"'I am a near relative of the patient, sir,' I said, 'and this old heart will break if any ill befalls her.'

"'My good man, the lady is not seriously indisposed. She is but suffering from a languor which is natural to a woman of quality after the ordeal of maternity; and she is somewhat vapourish from the seclusion of convalescence. If she follows my prescriptions implicitly she will soon be restored to good spirits and full beauty.'

"'Then she is not in danger?' I asked.

"'I can perceive none at present. I have attended her Grace of Cleveland for the same malady; and when the Duchess of Portsmouth returned to France she insisted on carrying my prescriptions with her.'

"I had no confidence in an old twaddler of this order, whose gold-headed cane and embroidered velvet suit were apparently his strongest qualifications. I looked from him to F?tis, who, in spite of his silken smoothness, had, I thought, a more anxious air than usual. He was very pale, and his hollow eyes indicated a night of watching.

"'I will not leave this house until I have seen my granddaughter,' I said, resuming my seat in the hall; whereupon F?tis whispered to the physician, who presently approached me and informed me with a solemn air that although Mrs. Topsparkle's bodily health was in no danger, her spirits were much affected, and that the agitation of an interview with a relative might throw her into a fever.

"Alas, I knew that my presence could not bring calmness to that wounded spirit. Unless she had been well enough to get up and follow me out of that accursed house a meeting between us could be of no avail. I had the physician's word that she was in no danger; and though I put him down as a pompous pretender I yet gave him credit for enough skill and enough honesty to answer such a plain question as I had asked him. So I left the house soon after the doctor, F?tis promising that if his lady were in calmer spirits next day I should be allowed to see her.

"When I went to the house at noon next day she was a corpse. She had gone off suddenly in a fit of hysterics soon after midnight, Mr. Topsparkle and her waiting-woman being present. Mr. Topsparkle was shut up in his room in an agony of grief, and would see no one.

"Had there been any medical man called in at the time of her death? I asked. No, there had been no one. It was too sudden; but the physician had been there this morning, and had endeavoured to explain the cause of the death, which had taken him by surprise.

"I asked to see the dead; but this privilege was refused to me. I inquired for F?tis, and was told he had gone out on business, and was not expected back for some hours. The key of the room in which Margharita was lying was in his possession. There were lights burning in the room, but there was no one watching there. There had been no religious ministrations. My granddaughter had perished as the companion of an infidel, surrounded by infidels.

"I sat in the hall for some hours, despite the sneers and incivilities of the servants, waiting for the return of F?tis; but he did not reappear until I was worn out by agitation and fasting and the misery of my position as the mark of insolence from overfed lackeys. I left the house broken-hearted, and returned there next morning only in time to see the coffin carried to the pompous hearse with its tall plumes and velvet trappings and six Flanders horses. I followed on foot to a graveyard in the neighbourhood, where my granddaughter was buried in a soil crowded with the dead. Topsparkle was not present. He was too ill to attend, I was told; and there were hootings and hissings from the crowd as the funeral procession, with F?tis at its head, went back to Soho Square.

"I followed him to the threshold of his master's house.

"'Do you know why the rabble hooted you?' I asked him, as we stood side by side within the doors, which the porter shut quickly to keep out the crowd.

"'Only because they are rabble, and hate their betters,' he answered.

"'They hooted you because a good many people in this neighbourhood suspect that which I know for a certainty. They suspect you and your master of having murdered that unhappy girl.'

"He called me an idiot and a liar; but I saw how his face, which had been white to the lips as he passed through the crowd, now changed to a still more ghastly hue.

"'O, you forget that it was I who armed your arsenal of murder. It was in my laboratory you learnt all the arts of the old Italian toxicologists – the poison, and the antidote, and the drug that neutralises the antidote. You were laborious and persevering; you wanted to master the whole science of secret murder. You had no definite views of mischief then, only the thirst for evil, as Satan has, revelling in sin for its own sake, courting iniquity; but you soon found a use for your wicked power. First you snared your victim, and then you killed her – you, the passionless hireling of a profligate master, the venal slave and tool.'

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