Mary Braddon.

Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3

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"He made a sign to his underlings – the stalwart porter and three tall footmen – and they came round me and thrust me out of the house, flung me on to the pavement, helpless and exhausted. There was no constable within call; the crowd had dispersed. I had nothing to do but crawl back to my lodging, an impotent worm.

"Next day I was visited by a constable, who told me that I had narrowly escaped being sent to gaol for an assault upon the confidential servant of a gentleman of high position. He warned me of the danger of staying any longer in the town, where I had already made myself an object of suspicion as a foreign spy and a dangerous person.

"I knew something about the interior of London gaols, and had heard so many melancholy stories of the tyranny exercised even upon poor debtors, and how much more upon common felons, that I shuddered at the idea of being clapped into prison and kept there indefinitely by the influence of Mr. Topsparkle. I knew that there was no cell in our dungeons of Venice worse than some of the dens where humanity was lodged in the Fleet, and I knew what the power of wealth can do even in a country which boasts of freedom and equal rights between man and man; so I did not make light of the constable's counsel, but at all hazard to myself I obtained an interview with the Italian consul, who was civil, but could give me no help, and who smiled at suspicions for which I could allege no reasonable ground. The fact that F?tis had made the art of secret poison his especial study, to this gentleman's mind implied nothing beyond a morbid taste.

"'You are yourself a toxicologist, sir,' he said, yet I take it you have never poisoned anybody. Pray, what motive could Mr. Topsparkle or his servant have had for making away with a lady who, as she was not a wife, could have been easily provided for?'

"'Revenge. Mr. Topsparkle may have believed that she had been false to him. It is known that he was jealous of her.'

"'And you would suspect a gentleman in Mr. Topsparkle's position, a patron of art, a highly-accomplished person, and a man of society; you would credit such a man with the murderous violence of an Othello.'

"I tried to convince this gentleman that my granddaughter had been poisoned, and that it was his duty to help me to bring the crime to light. I entreated him to use his influence with the magistrate and to get an order for the exhumation of the body; but he thought me, or pretended to think me, a lunatic, and he warned me that I had better leave England without delay, as I had no obvious business or means of subsistence in this country, where there was a strong prejudice against our countrymen, who were usually taken for Jesuits and spies, a prejudice which had been heightened by the popular dislike of the Queen and her confessor.

"In spite of this advice, I remained in London some time longer, in the hope of obtaining some proof against the wretch I suspected, although the thought of my laboratory drew me to Venice.

I questioned my friend in Mr. Topsparkle's household, and bribed him to get what information he could from his fellow-servants; but all I could hear from this source was that Mrs. Topsparkle had been seized with a sudden indisposition late one evening, that an apothecary, whom her waiting-woman called in hurriedly from the neighbourhood, had been able to do nothing to relieve her sufferings, and had been dismissed with contumely by Mr. Topsparkle, who was angry with his lady's woman for having sent for such a person. The sufferer took to her bed, never left it but for her coffin, and Mr. Topsparkle remained in close attendance upon her until the hour of her death.

"I found the apothecary in a shabby street near St. Giles's, and discovered that he had a shrewd suspicion of poison, but was very fearful of committing himself, especially in opposition to the Court physician, who had given a certificate of death. And after many useless efforts I went back to Venice, where I found my son a broken man. He survived his daughter little more than a year.

"This is a truthful account of my granddaughter's elopement and death, which I hope may some day assist in bringing her murderers to shame, if it do not lead to their actual punishment. That she was poisoned by F?tis, with the knowledge and consent of his master, I have never doubted; but such a crime is difficult of proof where the criminal is at once bold and crafty."

Lavendale laid down the manuscript with the conviction that Vincenti's suspicions were but too well founded. There was that in Topsparkle himself which had ever inspired him with an instinctive aversion, while in F?tis he recognised a still subtler scoundrel. He had heard enough of Mr. Topsparkle's early history to know that he had been notorious for his vices even among the openly vicious, and that such a man should progress from vices to crimes seemed within the limits of probability.

And Judith, the woman Lavendale adored, was in the power of this man, and by her insolent defiance, her attitude of open scorn, might at any hour of her life provoke that evil nature beyond endurance. Hitherto she had made the tyrant her slave; but his jealousy had been aroused, the tiger had shown his claws, and who should say when jealousy might culminate in murder?

"Poor giddy soul, she treats him lightly enough, and has hitherto been mistress of the situation," thought Lavendale; "but she does not know upon what a precipice she is treading. She does not know the man or his true history. And in that house in Soho, where she queens it so gaily, his victim died. There is the atmosphere of crime in the midst of all that splendour. Would to God I could guard her from harm! I might have saved her – might have carried her off to love and freedom – if I had had a life to give her. But to lure her away on false pretences, to unite her with a vanishing existence, to leave her desolate and dishonoured in a foreign land! That were indeed cruel. And I know that the vision could not deceive. I have accepted my doom."

He wrote to Durnford again, urging him to closer watchfulness.

"You have often told me that you love me, Herrick," he wrote; "you have said that the sympathy between us, engendered of a curious likeness in tastes and disposition, is almost as strong as that mysterious link which unites twin brothers. Think of me now as your brother, and give me all a brother's devotion. Be the guardian angel of her I dare not guard."


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