Mary Braddon.

Mohawks: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3



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"And Mrs. Howard? Has she finished her new house at Twit'nam?"

"Marble Hill? Yes, madam, 'tis just finished, and is the prettiest thing for its size I ever saw."

"And is she still the first favourite with his Majesty?"

"That, madam, she has never been, and never will be. The Queen is the reigning sultana at Kensington and at Richmond, whatever illicit loves may beguile his Majesty's sojourn at Hanover, where one would think his heart was fixed, so eager is he ever to get there."

"Indeed, sir! Then it is Vashti and not Esther who reigns. I am glad of that, for the sake of honour and honesty. Why does not the King send Mrs. Howard about her business?"

"O madam, such an idea is furthest from his thoughts. He must have somewhere to spend his evenings. The Queen is his mentor, his chief counsellor, and he knows it, though he affects to think otherwise: he must have an amiable stupid woman to talk to by way of relaxation. No one could endure the perpetual company of the goddess Minerva. Be assured, madam, Venus was as empty-headed as she was pretty, and that's why she had so many adorers."

"You give a very bad notion of your own sex, sir," retorted the lady, busying herself with the tea-tray, which had been brought in during the discussion. "But as for beauty, I never thought Mrs. Howard could claim dominion upon that account. She has fine hair and a good complexion; but how many a milkmaid can boast as much!"

"Doubtless, madam; and a milkmaid would be just as pleasing to King George, if she were a little deaf and very complacent."

"For shame, sir! Let us talk no more of this odious subject. Pray enlighten me about the theatres. Is Drury Lane or Lincoln's Inn most fashionable? I have not seen a play for a century. Sir John has always an excuse for not taking me to London."

"The best in the world, my love, an empty purse," answered the Baronet cheerily.

"No wonder your purse is empty when you squander hundreds upon your kennels," complained the lady, who was fond of airing her grievances before a third person.

"Squander, my lady? squander, did you say? To maintain a pack of foxhounds is to perform a public duty; it is to be the chief benefactor of one's neighbourhood. When I can no longer pay for my kennels and support my church may I lie in my grave under the shadow of the tower, where the music of my hounds can no longer gladden my ear. No, madam, the maintenance of an historic pack is no selfish extravagance. It is the highest form of philanthropy. It gives sport to the wealthy and employment to the poor; it affords pleasure to gentle and simple, old and young. If you could sit a horse, Maria, you would not talk such foolish cant as to call my kennel an extravagance."

This question of horsemanship was always a sore point with Lady Chumleigh, and no less savage beast than a husband would have been brutal enough to touch upon it.

"Had I health and strength for such rough work as hunting, I make no doubt I could ride as well as my neighbours," replied the lady, with a semi-hysterical sniffling sound which alarmed her spouse, as it was often the forerunner of shrill screams, and shriller laughter, tapping of red-heeled shoes on the carpet, cutting of laces, burning of feathers, and spilling of essences, with all the troublesome rites of the Goddess Hysteria.

"And so indeed you could, my dearest love," he cried, eager to avert the storm; "you have the neatest figure for the saddle on this side Winchester, and would be the prettiest little hussy in the hunting-field if you had but the courage to ride my bay Kitty, than which no sheep was ever tamer."

"It is not courage I want, Sir John, but stamina," murmured the dame, appeased and smiling.

"I hope you like this bohea, Mr.

Durnford," she said blandly; "it is the same as the Duchess drinks at Canons."

Herrick declared it was the best tea he had tasted for an age. Sir John informed his wife that the stranger would sup with them, and stay the night; and then the two gentlemen went back to the library, where Mr. Chumleigh's letter was produced from an iron box containing family documents.

Herrick read it slowly and meditatively, trying to get the most he could out of a very brief statement.

"Montpellier, October 20, 1706.

"My dear Sir John, – As you may happen to hear of my marriage, and perhaps from those who may not be friendly to me, I think it my duty to furnish you with some particulars of that event which so nearly concerns the happiness and honour of two people, my wife and myself.

"Imprimis, you will be told perhaps that I stole my wife from a convent. Well, so I did, but she was under no vow, had taken no veil: was only a young lady placed there by her guardian as pupil and boarder; and from what I know I believe she might have been left to languish there in a dismal confinement within the four high walls of an ancient Italian garden, if love and I had not rescued her. It is needless to make a long story of how we met by chance in the convent chapel, and afterwards by contrivance, and how we soon discovered that Providence had designed us each for the other. I never had a dishonourable feeling in regard to my charmer, and my crime in carrying her off from that sanctimonious prison-house was no more than if I had run away with a young lady from a fashionable seminary at Bath or Tunbridge. She brought me no fortune, and may never bring me a shilling, though I have reason to believe her father is inordinately rich. You will think it strange when I tell you that his daughter does not even know his name, and has no recollection of his person, or having ever seen him since her infancy. The only person connected with her who ever visited the convent was a steward, who came twice a year to pay her pension, and who always brought her valuable presents. I can but think that my dearest girl must have been the offspring of an illicit love, and that her parent must be one of that race of travelling Englishmen who affect the Continent most because of its wider scope for dissolute habits.

"She was treated with much respect and consideration by the nuns, but they never told her anything about her own history. To her natural questions on this subject she received one unalterable reply: 'You will know all in good time.'

"That time, by my act, may never come; for my wife knows not how or where to address her mysterious parent. It may be that I have cut her off from the inheritance of a splendid fortune, and that thought gives me some uneasiness, as I see her smiling upon me while I write these lines in our humble lodging. But we are both so happy that I can scarce doubt we have done wisely in obeying the sweet impulsion that united our lives, as I have an honest intention of working hard to win independence, and trust the day may come when we shall afford to scorn the wealth of a profligate who was ashamed to acknowledge his lovely and innocent child.

"I hope, sir, when I go to London with my wife next summer, with the intention of entering my name at the Temple, you will honour us both with your countenance, and that in the mean time you will be assured I have done nothing to forfeit your goodwill as the head of our family. – I have the honour to remain, my dear sir, your very affectionate and dutiful servant,

"Philip Chumleigh."

This was all, and gave but little precise information.

"You have no other letters of your kinsman's bearing upon his marriage, sir?" inquired Herrick.

"None."

"And did he tell you nothing more when he called upon you afterwards with his child?"

"Nothing. To tell you the truth, sir," said the Baronet, who, warmed by a second bottle, now glowed with a generous candour, "I was in a mighty ill mood for receiving an out-at-elbows relation upon the particular afternoon this gentleman came here; for I had just brought home the finest hunter in my stud dead lame from a stumble into a blind ditch. I could have turned upon my own mother, sir; and then comes this third cousin of mine with a puling brat, and tells me he has not a penny in the world, and asks me to give him hospitality till his fortunes mend – whereas there was no more hope of his fortunes mending than of my poor Brown Bess getting a new leg – and I daresay I may have answered him somewhat uncivilly; and so we parted, as I told you, in a rage. But I am sorry for it, now you tell me he died of hunger. 'Tis hard for a gentleman to sink so low."

"Will you allow me to take a copy of that letter, Sir John?"

"A dozen, sir, if you please. There are pens on that standish, and paper somewhere on the table. I'll go and smoke my pipe in the saddle-room while you act scribe, and I daresay when you've finished it will be supper-time, and we shall both be in appetite for a chine and a venison pasty. We keep country hours."

CHAPTER VI
"THE LADIES THERE MUST NEEDS BE ROOKS."

Mr. Durnford went back to London and worked hard in the senate and in his study, eschewing all those scenes of pleasure and dissipation which had once been his natural atmosphere. Lord Lavendale remonstrated with him for having turned hermit and forsaken his friend.

"Thou wert once as my twin brother, Herrick," he said, "but thou art now as some over-wise cousin, too sober and industrious to be on good terms with folly."

"I am in love, Jack, and I have a serious purpose in this life which gives strength to resolution and sweetens labour."

"Joseph Addison himself, the Christian philosopher, never pronounced sounder wisdom."

"Alas, Lavendale, I wish with all my heart you could find one to love whose mere eidolon should be strong enough to guard and guide you."

"To keep my feet from Chocolate Houses and my tongue from libertine discourse, eh, Herrick? Nay, old friend, there is no such woman. The one I love is of the world, worldly. Were she free to wed me, I would do all that man dare do to win her: but she is not free, and I can but amuse myself in the paths of foolishness."

"You are ruining your health, wasting your fortune, and I doubt if even at this cost you have bought happiness."

"No, Herrick, it is not to be bought so cheap. 'Tis a thing I have never known since my first youth, when I began to find out the inside of the apples of Sodom. Dust and ashes, friend: life is all dust and ashes, when once the curiosity of youth is satisfied and the novelty of sinful pleasures is worn off, if you call it sinful to drink and play deep, and to love the company of handsome unscrupulous women, which I do not."

"If your mother were living, Jack, she whom you loved so well, whose memory I have heard you say is more sacred to you than anything else on the earth, would you have lived the life you are leading now?"

"It would have vexed that pure and gentle spirit, Herrick, to see me as I am. Well, perhaps for her sake – yes, I have often told myself I should have been a better man had she lived – perhaps for her sake I might have forsworn sack and lived cleanly. But she is gone – she is at rest, where my follies cannot touch her."

"How do you know that? Have you not spoken to me of the influence of the dead upon the living? Do you not think that in the after life there may be consciousness of the sins and sorrows of those that the dead have loved better than they ever loved themselves? Do you think the chain of love is so weak that death snaps it?"

"The after life! Ah, Herrick, that is the question in which we are all at fault. It is uncertainty about that after life which damns us here. Better to fear hell than to be without hope beyond the grave. I swear, Herrick, I should be ever so much happier if I believed in the devil."

"And in God."

"That needs not saying. We all want to believe in a God, but we shirk the notion of a devil. Now I would accept Satan in all his integrity could I but believe in the rest of the spiritual world, angels and archangels, and all the hierarchy of heaven. If I could think that my mother's spirit hovered near me, could be vexed by my follies or moved by my penitence, that sweet spiritual influence would guard me from evil far better than any sublunary love. If I could believe, Herrick – but it is that damnable if which wrecks us."

"Do you not think, Jack, that it would pay a man to be a good Christian on speculation?"

"You mean that the satisfaction of living a decent life, the consciousness of moral rectitude, and the better conduct of his affairs, would recompense him for the pains of self-denial, and that he would have the chance of future reward – say as one to ninety-nine – by way of bonus."

"Ah, Jack, you are incorrigible. Bolingbroke and his disciple Voltaire have corrupted you."

"No, Herrick, I am no idle echo of other men's doubts. I hear his lordship and the Frenchman bandy the ball of infidelity, scoff at all creeds and all believers, quote Collins and Woolston, discredit Abraham, and make light of Moses; prove the absurdity of all miracles, the fatuity of all Christians. But it was in the depths of my own heart, in the silence of my own chamber, that doubt first entered: and, like the devil that came to Dr. Faustus in Marlowe's play, once having entered, the intruder was not to be banished. That heaven which you Christians talk of with such easy assurance, looking forward to your residence there as placidly as a wealthy cit looks forward to a mansion at Clapham or a cottage at Islington – that golden Jerusalem – is for me girt with a wall of brass that shuts out hope and belief."

"Your mind will change some day, Jack."

"Then I shall begin to believe in miracles."

This was but one of the many conversations which the friends had held upon the same subject. Let their lives or their creeds differ never so much, they were always staunch and loyal to each other. Whatever new hopes might gladden Herrick's pathway, the companion of his wild youth must be ever to him as a dearly loved brother.

At Whitsuntide the House was up, and Herrick was his own master for a week. He was to spend part of the time at Lavendale Manor, but not all his holiday. He had other business for some portion of the week, and that business took him to Tunbridge Wells.

He had read in one of the fashionable journals, the Flying Post, that Lady Tredgold and her daughters were staying at the Wells; and he happened to have just at this time a desire to renew his acquaintance with her ladyship, albeit she had done her very best to snub him.

"Perhaps, now I am member for Bossiney, and supposed to stand well with Sir Robert, she may be more civil," he said to himself.

He was not mistaken in his conjecture. He met the lady and her daughters promenading the Pantiles next day, and was received with cordiality. His fame had reached the Bath, where he had been talked of as one of the rising young men of the day. Walpole's favour, his own success in the House, had been alike exaggerated by the many-tongued goddess, and Lady Tredgold, who last winter had esteemed him an insufficient match for her wealthy niece, was, in this merry month of May, inclined to look upon him as a tolerable suitor for her dowerless elder daughter, whose charms had been on the wane for the last three years, and whom the Bath and the Wells had alike rejected from the list of toasts and belles.

Mrs. Amelia herself was disposed to smile upon any gentleman of moderate abilities and good appearance, and she shone radiantly upon Herrick, who was something more than good-looking, for he had that indefinable air of superior intellect which comes of a thoughtful life, and which is always interesting to women. Mrs. Amelia piqued herself upon being intellectually superior to the common herd, and welcomed a congenial spirit. And then Herrick came fresh from the town, and was well up in all those fashionable scandals and tittle-tattlings which are agreeable even to women of mind.

Mr. Durnford and the ladies paraded side by side for three or four turns – nodded and smirked at their acquaintance, as who should say, "Here is as finished a beau as you will find in all Tunbridge just dropped into our net; would you not like to know who he is?"

Lady Tredgold was monstrously civil, and invited the new arrival to tea. Herrick knew this would mean an evening at quadrille, but he had a few guineas in his purse and was not afraid of the encounter. He was willing to lose his money to her ladyship as the easiest way of putting her in a good temper. So he went straight from the Pantiles to her ladyship's lodgings, which were small and even shabby, which disadvantages Lady Tredgold deprecated with her easiest air.

"We were glad to get a shelter for our poor heads," she exclaimed; "the place is so crowded for the holidays, and the fine spring weather has brought all the world to the Wells. The lodging-house people charge exorbitantly for their hovels, and I assure you we pay a fortune for these wretched holes of ours, in which I am positively ashamed to receive you, my dear Mr. Durnford. However, I am told that in King Charles's time people of quality were content to pig in movable cabins that were wheeled about the common at the pleasure of their owners; so I suppose we should be prodigiously pleased with a parlour that is at least wind and weather proof."

The tea-table was served with a certain air of elegance, as Lady Tredgold had brought some of the family plate from Bath, together with a set of Nankin cups and saucers. Durnford sipped the delicately-flavoured pekoe and gossiped with the three ladies, while the sun sank in a bed of crimson glory behind the hillocky common, and the blackbirds and thrushes sang their evening hymns in the thickets and copses that skirted the little town.

"Have you seen my cousin Irene lately, Mr. Durnford?" asked Sophia suddenly.

She was nearer thirty than she cared to be, but still ranked as the young hoyden sister, and was distinguished for making silly speeches.

"I think, Mrs. Sophia, you must know that I am forbidden to approach that young lady," answered Herrick, while the mother frowned upon her younger hope.

"Indeed, but I didn't know, so I didn't. And why ain't you let see my cousin?" asked the innocent girl.

"Because I was once so bold as to aspire to her hand. I waited upon the Squire as one gentleman should upon another, and put my suit in the plainest way, but I was rejected with contumely. Yet in point of family the Durnfords may fairly rank with the Bosworths, and it is but sordid lucre which makes the barrier between us."

"My dear sir, that sordid lucre is the most insurmountable barrier that can divide hearts nowadays," exclaimed her ladyship, with an air of good-natured candour. "Look at my two girls. They have had their admirers, I can assure you, and among the prettiest fellows in town. They have been sighed for, and almost died for, by gentlemen whose admiration was an honour. But then came family considerations; fathers intervened; and when it was found out that my poor chicks would have but two thousand pound apiece out of his lordship's estate, and would have to wait for even that pittance till his lordship's death, their lovers were forbidden to carry the business any further, and fond and faithful hearts were parted."

The two young ladies sighed and shook their heads plaintively, as if each had her history.

"If you are wise you will give up all thought of Irene," continued Lady Tredgold. "My brother-in-law worships money and rank. He will either marry his daughter to a peer or a millionaire. I know that he has set his heart upon founding a great family. I fancy he would like best to get some poor sprig of nobility like your friend Lavendale, who would assume his wife's name – call himself Lavendale-Bosworth, or Lavendale and Bosworth, by letters patent, or sink the old name altogether, and become plain Lord Bosworth."

"My friend will sell neither himself nor his name, madam," answered Durnford. "I know that he had a profound admiration for your niece's beauty and sweet simplicity of mind and manners."

"Simplicity! Yes, she is simple enough, to be sure!" ejaculated Amelia.

"But I have reason to know that his heart was too deeply involved in a former attachment – "

"My good sir, we all know that," exclaimed her ladyship impatiently. "We know it as well as that my royal mistress, dear stupid old Anne, is dead and buried. Lord Lavendale's passion for Lady Judith Topsparkle has been town talk for the last four years: and since last winter's masquerades and assemblies there have been as many bets among the wits and beaux as to whether she will or will not run away with him as ever there are upon the result of a race. But pray what has that to do with the question? If he is a sensible young man, he will mend his morals and his fortune at the same time by marrying my niece. Providence must mean their estates to be one, and they would be the handsomest couple in London."

"I have so much respect for Mrs. Bosworth as to believe she would die rather than give her hand where she could not give her heart," said Durnford.

"O, these girls all talk of dying, they all protest and whimper and pout," said Lady Tredgold. "But they have to obey their fathers in the end, and then somehow it falls out that they are monstrously fond of their husbands, and you will see a couple who have been brought together by harsh fathers and the tyranny of circumstance transformed after marriage into such doating lovers as to sicken the town by their endearments and silly praises of each other. No girl should ever be allowed to have her own way in the disposal of herself or her fortune."



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