Mary Braddon.

Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3



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When they had fully discussed their future dwelling, even to the style of the furniture and the prospect from the windows, Herrick began to question Irene about the companion of her infancy, the waif from whom death had parted her so early.

"I can remember very little," she said. "It is mostly dim, like a dream. Yet there are hours that I can recall. I have but to close my eyes, and her face comes back to me, smiling lovingly, so gentle, so sweet. She must have been fairer than I – I remember a face like alabaster, with rosebud lips, and hair like pale gold. I have seen just such a face in pictures of angels. I remember playing with her under yonder cedar. It was one of our favourite spots. And I remember hide-and-seek in the old stables the day we both caught the fever. How happy we were that day! and it is the last I can remember of our play or our happiness. Perhaps I should remember much more if I had not had that terrible fever; for my cousins have told me how vividly they can recall their childhood. Mine seems like a picture half rubbed out, with distinct patches left here and there upon the canvas."

"Mrs. Bridget must remember your little companion," said Herrick, glancing at the nurse. "Will you call her here, Rena? I should like to ask her a few questions."

Irene beckoned, and Bridget came over to the bench.

"I have been talking of the little girl who died, Mrs. Bridget," began Herrick, with a friendly air. "It has happened to me very curiously within the last few days to come upon traces of that infant's father, and of the first year of her life. Now, I know you were very fond of her, and that you must be interested in anything that relates to her."

Without a moment's warning nurse Bridget began to cry. Rena made her sit down between them, and dried her tears, and soothed her with sweetest caresses.

"Why should you be so broken-hearted about her, you poor old dear soul?" she said; "you were never unkind to her, I am sure."

"No, I was never unkind to her – I have not that upon my conscience," sobbed Bridget; "but I have never forgotten her pretty face and her sweet little ways, and how loving she was to me, dear soul. And to hear of her suddenly – O sir, what did you discover about the poor man who was found dead on Flamestead Common?" she asked, recovering herself with an effort.

"I heard that he was a man of good birth, by name Chumleigh. I heard some particulars of his youth and his marriage, and I mean to find out more. Having got so far upon the traces of his history it will hardly be difficult to learn the rest."

"But what good will it do to any one, sir," asked Bridget, "since the child has been dead so many years? There is nobody to profit by your knowledge."

"Who can say as much as that, Mrs. Bridget? Knowledge is power. I should like to know the history of Mrs. Bosworth's little companion. It pleases me to think that she was something better than a beggar's brat – a child of good birth, and, for all I know, entitled on the mother's side to a large fortune."

Bridget became suddenly alert and interested.

"A fortune did you say, sir?" she exclaimed.

"Do you mean that my darling had a right to a fortune?"

"I have reason to believe the child's mother had at least the expectation of wealth; but it was contingent upon the caprice of a rich father: just like your mistress's fortune, which she may lose if she disobey the Squire."

"They all said he was a gentleman," remarked Bridget musingly. "I have heard Farmer Bowman talk about him many a time – he was thin and wasted with hunger, the farmer said; but he had been a handsome young man, and his clothes were a gentleman's clothes, though they were worn almost to rags."

"Were there any papers found upon him?"

"Yes, the Squire brought home a parcel of papers; but there was nothing among them all to show who he was. I have heard my master say as much."

"Well, it will be my business to find out Mr. Chumleigh's relatives, and from them I may hear all about his marriage. I have seen the woman who had care of his motherless baby till within a fortnight of the time she was brought into this house."

"Indeed, sir! That is very strange."

"Strange indeed, Mrs. Bridget; but this world of ours is a much smaller place than we think."

"The mother was dead then, sir?"

"Yes, the mother died directly after the child's birth."

"And had the woman been good to her, do you think?"

"Fairly good, I take it; but her first nurse, the woman who took her from her dying mother's breast, was a careless unworthy wretch."

"As how, sir?"

"An accident of which I was told would prove as much."

Bridget was thoughtful, but did not inquire the nature or the history of this accident. The recollection of her lost charge seemed to be full of trouble to her.

Herrick said no more about Mr. Chumleigh or his child. He had said all he intended to say, and had keenly watched the effect of his revelations upon nurse Bridget. And now it was time for him to leave this paradise, lest some servant should pass that way and take note of his presence, or lest Mademoiselle should come in quest of her pupil. Rena had been glancing uneasily towards the house, momently expecting the apparition of her gouvernante.

"Wilt thou walk with me as far as the old boundary, dearest, where I have spent so many a happy half-hour?" pleaded Herrick; "Mrs. Bridget will keep guard while you go."

"It is near dinner-time, but I will venture," answered Rena, "at the risk of a scolding."

They rambled together under the interlacing boughs, down to the old trysting-place, and before they parted Herrick urged Rena to meet him there now and then, were it only for five minutes' talk stolen from her gaolers.

"I can usually contrive to send you a line by our juvenile friend at the lodge," he said. "He is a serviceable little fellow, and has a precocious sympathy with true lovers. You can hardly be so close watched that you could not steal this way in your rambles."

"My father has given strict orders against my going out alone," said Irene, "but Ma'amselle is not a jealous guardian, and I might slip away from her on some pretext or other – though it seems cruel to cheat such a trustful duenna."

And so they parted, with the understanding that when Herrick was next at Lavendale Manor they should contrive a meeting in the old spot, endeared to them by the remembrance of their first chance encounter and many a subsequent rendezvous. It would not be often that Herrick would have such an opportunity, for he had his battle of life to fight, and business would chain him to London and his solitary lodgings at the back of Russell Street.

CHAPTER V
"AND IN SUCH CHOICE SHALL STAND MY WEALTH AND WOE."

Herrick went back to London that evening. Lavendale was in Bloomsbury Square, and would have had his familiar friend and companion to live with him there if Herrick would have consented; but Herrick was sternly resolved upon a life of hard work and almost Spartan plainness. He was filled with ambition, with that keen desire of success for the sake of a loved object, with that same generous unselfishness which made Steele so happy, when he had earned a handful of guineas, to cast them into the lap of his "dearest Prue." So he refused to leave his two-pair lodging in the alley near Button's; and he worked on with an honest purpose which made success a foregone conclusion. But in spite of the close occupation of his parliamentary duties and his work as a journalist, Mr. Durnford found time to travel by heavy coach to Winchester, whence a hired horse conveyed him to the mansion of Sir John Chumleigh, a county magnate, and chief representative of an ancient Tory and High Church family, a gentleman whose grandfather had bled and died for the King in the Civil War, and whose father had held himself sullenly aloof from the Dutch usurper, and had lived and died on his own estate. The present Sir John Chumleigh was a sportsman and an agriculturist; lived only for farming and fox-hunting, and despised all the other interests and ambitions of mankind. He had married the daughter of a needy nobleman, a fine lady who had been slowly fretting herself to death amidst the rude plenty of a rural establishment for the last twenty years, and was a wonder to all her neighbours inasmuch as she was still alive.

To this gentleman Mr. Durnford presented himself one sunny afternoon.

He found the Baronet in a panelled parlour, seated at a table covered with documents of a business character. Sir John was big and burly, wore leather breeches and top-boots in winter and summer, and had all his clothes cut in a style which suggested the hunting-field rather than the drawing-room. He was a man who would start in the winter starlight, before the first ray of dawn had begun to glimmer in the eastern sky, in order to ride fifteen miles to a meet. He had a couple of packs, a magnificent stud of hunters, hunted four times a week, and considered every guinea squandered which was not spent upon kennel or stable. He was prouder of being master of hounds than he would have been of being Prime Minister. Herrick glanced at the whip-racks, the rows of spurs, the vizards and brushes, which adorned the walls, and at once understood the kind of man with whom he had to deal, and he was prepared to encounter a frank off-hand incivility rather than hypocritical courtesy.

He stated his business briefly.

"I have a very particular reason, sir, for being interested in the history of a member of your family who fell upon evil fortunes, and died young, leaving a motherless infant behind him."

"My good sir, my family tree has spread deuced wide since the Chumleighs – an old Norman race – first took root in the land; and if you expect me to give information about every beggarly twig that has withered upon it within the last half-century – "

"This gentleman I take to have been a somewhat near relation, Sir John, since it was to you he turned in the hour of his direst necessities."

"Yes, sir, they all do that: they go to a well-to-do relative as naturally as an old dog-fox goes to ground."

"Do you remember a cousin who came to you in the year nine – 'twas in the autumn, shortly after Malplaquet – with a little girl, a mere baby – "

"I'm not likely to forget the fact, sir. What, a trumpery third or fourth cousin to come to my house, with a squaller of eighteen months old, expecting to be housed and fed for an indefinite period; since, having once found comfortable quarters, that kind of vagrant would not be inclined to resume his march in a hurry! It was as much as I could do to be barely civil to that idle vagabond; but I mastered my indignation so far as to offer him a substantial meal, which he refused, and a guinea, which he flung to the footman who showed him the way out – "

"Preferring to tramp back towards London with an empty stomach rather than to feed on your charity," said Durnford; "a false pride, no doubt, sir, but there are men who would die rather than accept a reluctant favour. Your hospitable offer was the last chance of a meal your kinsman had, for he died of starvation on the road to London, and his orphan was adopted by one Squire Bosworth, a landed gentleman at Fairmile in Surrey."

"How do you know that he died of want, sir?" asked Sir John, somewhat dashed in his spirits.

"O sir, the fact is notorious;" and then Durnford related those two chapters of Chumleigh's story which he had heard from Mr. Ludderly and the nurse at Chelsea, and from Mrs. Bridget and others at Fairmile.

"Well, sir, 'tis a pitiful tale," said the Baronet, "but there is hardly a man in England rich enough to provide for all his poor relations. The lean kine would eat up all the fat kine, sir, if mistaken benevolence were to attempt the task, and the kingdom would be reduced to a dead level of poverty. Gad's curse, sir! everybody would be paupers. There would be no green spot in the desert. 'Tis sounder wisdom and truer benevolence in the rich to keep their estates together, to maintain a good household, feed their dependents, and uphold trade. However, I am sorry this misguided young man came to a scurvy end."

"Dare I ask why you call him misguided, sir?"

"Because he made the vast mistake of trying to live by his wits, instead of by some steady and honest industry – because he thought to make his living by hanging about London, sitting idle in coffee-houses, and picking up stray notions from the town wits – Dryden, Congreve, Wycherley, Addison, Steele, and the rest of 'em – to retail secondhand in the newspapers at a penny a line. Better to have carried a musket or swept a crossing. And then when he was bear-leader and earning handsome wages, with the run of his teeth at the best inns on the Continent, and a coach-and-six to carry him all over Europe – an education which should have made him as good a writer as that Mr. Addison whom people thought so much of – he must needs spoil all his chances by running off with a girl out of an Italian convent, and causing a fine hubbub among the priests."

"Was the lady a cloistered nun?" asked Durnford eagerly.

"Why no; 'twas said she was but a boarder or pupil in the convent, handsomely paid for by a wealthy father, who kept so much in the dark as to his daughter that she may be said to have been nameless, and 'twas shrewdly guessed she was the offspring of some low intrigue whom the father was glad to hide within convent-walls, in the hope she would take the veil and rid him of all trouble about her."

"Since you heard so much, Sir John, you must have heard the father's name?"

"There you are out in your reckoning, sir. My only information came by a sort of explanatory letter which my foolish cousin sent me – having a kind of deference for me as the head of the family – soon after his marriage."

"Would you oblige me so far as to let me see that letter, sir, which I make no doubt you have preserved?" asked Durnford.

"Nay, young sir, you go somewhat fast. Will you do me the favour to explain by what right you would grope in the mystery of Chumleigh's life and marriage? What interest can my dead kinsman have for you, a stranger, that I should let you pry into the scandals of his mistaken youth?"

"I will be plain with you, Sir John. My interest in Mr. Chumleigh arises indirectly. His orphan daughter, who died of a fever at the age of five, was the beloved playfellow of a young lady whom I hope to make my wife. It is for her sake I am curious about your kinsman's history."

"'Tis a roundabout sentimental kind of interest, sir, which, were you less of a gentleman, I should feel devilishly indisposed to gratify," said Sir John. "Pray may I ask, sir, who and what you are? for your name, though it has a respectable sound, gives me no information on that point."

"To begin with, then, Sir John, I belong to that fraternity of scribblers to which you object. Without being exactly a haunter of coffee-houses, I have a profound reverence for the shades of Dryden and Addison, whose bodily presence was once familiar at Wills's and at Button's – indeed 'twas Mr. Addison who gave the vogue to the latter house, which is kept by an old servant of Lady Warwick's; and as for wits in the flesh, I have ever hung with delight upon the discourse of Congreve and Swift, Pope and Gay. Yes, Sir John, I too am that low thing, a man who lives by his brains; but I have another profession besides that of scribbler."

"May I know your secondary occupation, sir?"

"I have the honour to represent the borough of Bossiney in his Majesty's Parliament."

"Indeed, sir! You are in the House, are you? And I'll warrant you are an arrant Whig."

"I hope, Sir John, that will not prejudice you against me."

"Nay, Mr. Durnford, I have ceased to be a partisan. There was a time when I was a red-hot Jacobite, and looked to Harley and St. John to open the Queen's eyes to her duty as a daughter and a sister, and so, without violence or damage to the country, to bring in King James III. so soon as the throne should be vacant. But when I saw how easily Harley and St. John were beaten, and how quietly the country knuckled under to a middle-aged foreigner who could not speak a word of our language; and when that miserable flash in the pan of the year fifteen showed me how feeble a crew were the Jacobites of England and Scotland – faith, sir, the best man among them was Winifred Countess of Nithisdale – I began to think that I had better stay at home, and hunt my hounds and keep clear of politics. Neither party has ever benefited me; and I say with the gentleman in the play which the Winchester Mummers acted last Easter, 'A plague on both your houses!' So Whig or Tory is all as one to me, Mr. Durnford. And now will you crack a bottle of Burgundy, or will you drink a glass or two of Malaga, after your long ride?"

Sir John had talked himself into a good temper, and Herrick thought that he might drink himself into a still more gracious humour, so frankly accepted his offer of a bottle; whereupon the butler brought a massive silver tray with decanters of Burgundy and Malaga, and a dish of crisp biscuits, made after a particular recipe which had been in the family from the time of Queen Bess, who had lain at Chumleigh Manor in one of her innumerable peregrinations, whereby she had laid upon the family the burden of for ever preserving the antique furniture and cut velvet hangings of the room in which her royal person had reposed. Charles II. had been a more frequent visitor, putting up at Chumleigh on several occasions when his Court was quartered at Winchester for the hunting in the New Forest, and when he and his favourites had hunted with the Chumleigh foxhounds. Sir John prattled of those glorious days as he sipped his Malaga, which was a fine heady wine.

He sipped and prosed, describing those great days in which royalty had hunted with his father's foxhounds and drunk of his father's wines, and finally talked himself into such an expansive temper that he pressed Herrick to put up at Chumleigh Manor for the night, and leave Winchester by the coach which started at eight next morning. This offer Mr. Durnford thought it wise to accept, as it might afford the opportunity for getting better acquainted with the history of the Chumleigh family, and that Philip Chumleigh in whose fate he was so keenly interested.

It was dusk by this time. The Baronet had dined at three, and he was in for an evening's good-fellowship.

"Her ladyship will take it ill if we do not go to the drawing-room for a dish of tea," he said; "but we can come back to my study afterwards, and I'll show you my kinsman's letter, and as many memorials of the house of Chumleigh as you may care to look at. Our pedigree is more interesting than that of most county families, for the Chumleighs have married into several noble houses. We are an historical race, sir."

The drawing-room was on the other side of a large hall, paved with black and white marble, and with a lantern roof, after Inigo Jones. It was a spacious and handsome apartment, hung with old Italian pictures of manifest worthlessness, interspersed with portraits of the house of Chumleigh by Holbein, Vandyke, Lely, and Kneller. The present owner and his wife had been painted by this last artist, and their half-length portraits occupied places of honour on either side of the high chimney-piece, which was an elaborate structure in white and coloured marble, with the armorial bearings of the Chumleighs carved in high relief on the central panel.

Beside the fireplace sat a faded, little woman, who rose with a languid air when her husband presented the stranger, and sank almost to the carpet in a kind of swooning curtsy.

"Indeed, sir, it is a privilege to see any one at Chumleigh who has seen the town within twelve months," she said to Herrick, in acknowledgment of her husband's half-apologetic introduction of the stranger. "We live here in the wilds, and our most intellectual company are huntsmen and feeders. There is scarcely an hour of the day when I am free from the intrusion of a great hulking fellow redolent of kennel or stable."

"My dear, I must see my servants, and unless you and I are to live in separate houses I know not how you are to escape an occasional whiff of the stable," grumbled Sir John.

"O, I must forgive you your servants," replied his wife, "since your friends are but a shade better – men who have but two subjects of discourse: the last horse they have bought, or the last run in which they were thrown out, or in which they were first at the death. They seem almost as proud of one circumstance as of the other. But pray, sir," turning to Herrick, and exposing a scornful and somewhat scraggy shoulder to her husband, "tell me the last news in town. Is Lady Mary Hervey as great a toast as ever? I for my part never thought her a beauty, though she has some good points. And is her husband still a valetudinarian?"

"Yes, madam, Lord Hervey is always complaining, but as he contrives to perform all his Court duties, which are onerous, I take it he is more robust than the world thinks him, or than he thinks himself."



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