London Pride, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 20

Philaster.

January was nearly over, the memorial service for the martyred King was drawing near, and royalty and fashion had deserted Whitehall for Hampton Court; yet the Farehams lingered at their riverside mansion. His lordship had business in London, while Sir Denzil Warner, who came to Fareham House daily, was also detained in the city by some special attraction, which made hawk and hound, and even his worthy mother’s company, indifferent to him.

Lady Fareham had an air of caring for neither town nor country, but on the whole preferred town.

“London has become a positive desert — and the smoke from the smouldering ruins poisons the garden and terrace whenever there is an east wind,” she complained. “But Oxfordshire would be a worse desert — and I believe I should die of the spleen in a week, if I trusted myself in that great rambling Abbey. I can just suffer life in London; so I suppose I had best stay till his lordship has finished his business, about which he is so secret and mysterious.”

Denzil was more devoted, more solicitous to please than ever; and had a better chance of pleasing now that most of her ladyship’s fine visitors had left town. He read aloud to Hyacinth and her sister as they worked — or pretended to work — at their embroidery frames. He played the organ, and sang duets with Angela. He walked with her on the terrace, in the cold, bleak afternoon, and told her the news of the town — not the scandals and trivialities which alone interested Lady Fareham, but the graver facts connected with the state and the public welfare — the prospects of war or peace, the outlook towards France and Spain, Holland and Sweden, Andrew Marvel’s last speech, or the last grant to the King, who might be relied on to oppose no popular measure when his lieges were about to provide a handsome subsidy or an increase of his revenue.

“We are winning our liberties from him,” Denzil said.

“For the mess of pottage we give, the money he squanders on libertine pleasures, England is buying freedom. Yet why, in the name of common sense, maintain this phantom King, this Court which shocks and outrages every decent Englishman’s sense of right, and maintains an ever-widening hotbed of corruption, so that habits and extravagances once unknown beyond that focus of all vice, are now spreading as fast as London; and wherever there are bricks and mortar there are profligacy and irreligion? Can you wonder that all the best and wisest in this city regret Cromwell’s iron rule, the rule of the strongest, and deplore that so bold a stroke for liberty should have ended in such foolish subservience to a King of whom we knew nothing when we begged him to come and reign over us?”

“But if you win liberty while he is King, if wise laws are established —”

“Yes; but we might have been noble as well as free. There is something so petty in our resumed bondage. Figure to yourself a thoroughbred horse that had kicked off the traces, and stood free upon the open plain with arched neck and lifted nostrils, sniffing the morning air! and behold he creeps back to his harness, and makes himself again a slave! We had done with the Stuarts, at the cost of a tragedy, and in ten years we call them back again, and put on the old shackles; and for common sense, religion, and freedom, we have the orgies of Whitehall, and the extravagance of Lady Castlemaine. It will not last, Angela; it cannot last. I was with his lordship in Artillery Row last night, and we talked with the blind sage who would sacrifice the remnant of his darkened days in the cause of liberty.”

“Sir Denzil, I hope you are not plotting mischief — you and my brother,” Angela said anxiously. “You are so often together; and his lordship has such a preoccupied air.”

“No, no, there is no conspiring; but there is plenty of discontent. It would need but little to fire the train. Can any man in his senses be happy when he sees his country, which ten years ago was at the pinnacle of power and renown, sinking to the appanage of a foreign sovereign; England threatened with a return to Rome; honest men forbidden to preach the gospel; and innocent seekers after truth hounded off to gaol, to rot among malefactors, because they have dared to worship God after their own fashion?”

“Where was your liberty of conscience under the Protectorate, when the Liturgy was forbidden as if it were an unholy thing, when the Anglican priests were turned out of their pulpits, and the Anglican service tolerated in only one church in all this vast London?” Angela asked indignantly.

“That was a revolt of deep thinkers against a service which has all the mechanical artifice of Romanism without its strong appeal to the heart and the senses — dry, empty, rigid — a repetition of vain phrases. If I am ever to bow my neck beneath the Church’s yoke, let me swallow the warm-blooded errors of Papacy rather than the heartless formalism of English Episcopacy.”

“But what can you or Fareham — or a few good men like you — do to change established things? Remember Venner’s plot, and how many lives were wasted on that foolish, futile attempt. You can only hazard your lives, die on the scaffold. Or would you like to see civil war again; the nation divided into opposite camps; Englishmen fighting with Englishmen? Can you forget that dreadful last year of the Rebellion? I was only a little child; but it is branded deep on my memory. Can you forget the murder of the King? He was murdered; let Mr. Milton defend the deed as he can with his riches of big words. I have wept over the royal martyr’s own account of his sufferings.”

“Over Dr. Gauden’s account, that is to say. ‘Eikon Basilike’ was no more written by Charles than by Cromwell. It was a doctored composition — a churchman’s spurious history, trumped up by Charles’s friends and partisans, possibly with the approval of the King himself. It is a fine piece of special pleading in a bad cause.”

“You make me hate you when you talk so slightingly of that so ill-used King. You will make me hate you more if you lead Fareham into danger by underhand work against the present King.”

“Lies Fareham’s safety so very near your heart?”

“It lies in my heart,” she answered, looking at him, and defying him with straight, clear gaze. “Is he not my sister’s husband, and to me as a brother? Do you expect me to be careless about his fate? I know you are leading him into danger. Some mischief must come of these visits to Mr. Milton, a Republican outlaw, who has escaped the penalty of his treasonous pamphlets only because he is blind and old and poor. I doubt there is danger in all such conferences. Fareham is at heart a Republican. It would need little persuasion to make him a traitor to the King.”

“You have it in your power to make me so much your slave, that I would sacrifice every patriotic aspiration at your bidding, Angela,” Denzil answered gravely.

“I know not if this be the time to speak, or if, after waiting more than a year, I may not even now be premature. Dearest girl, you know that I love you — that I haunt this house only because you live here; that I am in London only because my star shines there; that above all public interests you rule my life. I have exercised a prodigious patience, only because I have a prodigious resolution. Is it not time for me to reap my reward?”

“Oh, Denzil, you fill me with sorrow! Have I not said everything to discourage you?”

“And have I not refused to be discouraged? Angela, I am resolved to discover the reason of your coldness. Was there ever a young and lovely woman who shut love out of her heart? History has no record of such an one. I am of an appropriate age, of good birth and good means, not under-educated, not brutish, or of repulsive face and figure. If your heart is free I ought to be able to win it. If you will not favour my suit, it must be because there is some one else, some one who came before me, or who has crossed my path, and to whom your heart has been secretly given.”

She had turned from red to pale as he spoke. She stood before him in the winter light, with her colour changing, her hands tightly clasped, her eyes cast down, and tears trembling on the long dark lashes.

“You have no right to question me. It is enough for you to have my honest answer. I esteem you, but I do not love you; and it distresses me when you talk of love.”

“There is some one else, then! I knew it. There is some one else. For me you are marble. You are fire for him. He is in your heart. You have said it”

“How dare you ——” she began.

“Why should I shrink from warning you of your danger? It is Fareham you love. I have seen you tremble at his touch — start at the sound of his footstep — that step you know so well. His footstep? Why, the very air he breathes carries to you the consciousness of his approach. Oh, I have watched you both, Angela; and I know, I know. Jealous pangs have racked me, day after day; yet I have hung on. I have been very patient. ‘She knows not the sinful impulses of her own heart,’ I said, ‘knows not in her purity how near she goes to a fall. Here, in her sister’s house, passionately loved by her sister’s husband! She calls him ‘brother,’ whose eyes cannot look at her without telling their story of wicked love. She walks on the edge of a precipice — self-deceived. Were I to abandon her she might fall. My affection is her only safeguard; and by winning her to myself I shall snatch her from the pit of hell.’”

It was the truth he was telling her. Yes; even when Fareham was harshest, she had been dimly conscious that love was at the root of his unkindness. The coldness that had held them apart since that midnight meeting had been ice over fire. It was jealousy that had made him so angry. No word of love, directly spoken, had ever offended her ear; but there had been many a speech of double meaning that had set her wondering and thinking.

And, oh! the guilt of it, when an honourable man like Denzil set her sin before her, in plain language. She stood aghast at her own wickedness. That which had been a sin of thought only, a secret sorrow, wrestled with in many an hour of heartfelt prayer, with all the labour of a soul that sought heavenly aid against earthly temptation, was conjured into hideous reality by Denzil’s plain speech. To love her sister’s husband, to suffer his guilty love, to know gladness only in his company, to be exquisitely happy were he but in the same room with her — to sink to profoundest melancholy when he was absent. Oh, the sin of it! In what degree did her guilt differ from that of the women of the Court, who had each her open secret in some base intrigue that all the world knew and laughed at? She had been kept aloof from that libertine crew; but was she any better than they? Was Fareham, who openly scorned the royal debauchee, was he any better than the King?

She remembered how he had talked of Lord Sandwich, making excuses for a perverted love. She had heard him speak of other offenders in the same strain. He had been ever ready to recognise fatality where a good Catholic would have perceived only sin.

“Angela, believe me, you are drifting helmless in perilous waters,” Denzil urged, while she stood beside him in mute distress. “Let me be your strong rock. Only give me the promise of your hand. I can be patient still. I will give time for love to grow. Grant me but the right to guard you from the danger of an unholy passion that is always near you in this house.”

“You pretend to be his lordship’s friend, and you speak slander of him.”

“I am his friend. I could find it in my heart to pity him for loving you. Indeed, it has been in friendship that I have tried to interest him in a great national question — to wean him from his darling sin. But were you my wife he should never cross our threshold. The day that made us one should make you and Fareham strangers. It is for you to choose, Angela, between two men who love you — one near your own age, free, God-fearing; the other nearly old enough to be your father, bound by the tie which your Church deems indissoluble, whose love is insult and pollution, and can but end in shame and despair. It is for you to choose between honest and dishonest love.”

“There is a nobler choice open to me,” she said, more calmly than she had yet spoken, and with a pale dignity in her countenance that awed him. A thrill of admiration and fear ran along his nerves as he looked at her. She seemed transfigured. “There is a higher and better love,” she said. “This is not the first time that I have considered a sure way out of all my difficulties. I can go back to the convent where, in my dear Aunt Anastasia, I saw so splendid an example of a holy life hidden from the world.”

“Life buried in a living grave!” cried Denzil, horror-stricken at the idea of such a sacrifice. “Free-will and reason obscured in a cloud of incense! All the great uses of a noble life brought down to petty observances and childish mummeries, prayers and genuflections before waxen relics and dressed-up madonnas. Oh, my dearest girl, next worst only to the dominion of sin is the slavery of a false religion. I would have thee free as air — free and enlightened — released from the trammels of Rome, happy in thyself and useful to thy fellow-creatures.”

“You see, Sir Denzil, even if we loved each other, we could never think alike,” Angela said, with a gentle sadness. “Our minds would always dwell far apart. Things that are dear and sacred to me are hateful to you.”

“If you love me I could win you to my way of thinking,” he said.

“You mean that if I loved you I should love you better than I love God?”

“Not so, dear. But you would open your mind to the truth. St. Paul sanctified union between Christian and pagan, and deemed the unbelieving wife sanctified by the believing husband. There can be no sin, therefore, despite my poor mother’s violent opinions, in the union of those who worship the same God, and whose creed differs only in particulars. ‘How knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?’ Indeed, love, I doubt not my power to wean you from the errors of your early education.”

“Cannot you see how wide apart we are? Every word you say widens the gulf betwixt us. Indeed, Sir Denzil, you had best remain my friend. You can be nothing else.”

She turned from him almost impatiently. Young, handsome, of a frank and generous nature, he yet lacked the gifts that charm women; or at least this one woman was cold to him. It might be that in his own nature there was a coldness, a something wanting, the fire we miss in that great poet of the age, whose verse could rise to themes transcendent, but never burnt with the white heat of human passion.

Papillon came flying along the terrace, her skirts and waving tresses spread wide in the wind, a welcome intruder.

“What are you and Sir Denzil doing in the cold? I have news for my dear, dearest auntie. My lord is in a good humour, and Philaster is to be acted by the Duke’s servants, and her ladyship’s footmen are keeping places for us in the boxes. I have only seen three plays in my life, and they were all sad ones. I wish Philaster was a comedy. I should like to see Love in a Tub. That must be full of drollery. But his honour likes only grave plays. Be brisk, auntie! The coach will be at the door directly. Come and put on your hood. His lordship says we need no masks. I should have loved to wear a mask. Are you coming to the play, Sir Denzil?”

“I know not if I am bidden, or if there be a place for me.”

“Why, you can stand with the fops in the pit, and you can buy us some China oranges. I heard Lady Sarah tell my mother that the new little actress with the pretty feet was once an orange-girl, who lived with Lord Buckhurst. Why did he have an orange-girl to live with him? He must be vastly fond of oranges. I should love to sell oranges in the pit, if I could be an actress afterwards. I would rather be an actress than a duchess. Mademoiselle taught me Chiméne’s tirades in Corneille’s Cid. I learn quicker than any pupil she ever had. Monsieur de Malfort once said I was a born actress,” pursued Papillon, as they walked to the house.

Philaster! That story of unhappy love — so pure, patient, melancholy, disinterested. How often Angela had hung over the page, in the solitude of her own chamber! And to hear the lines spoken to-day, when a tempest of emotion had been raised in her breast, with Fareham by her side; to meet his glances at this or that moment of the play, when the devoted girl was revealing the secret of her passionate heart. Yet never was love freer from taint of sin, and the end of the play was in no wise tragic. That pure affection was encouraged and sanctified by the happy bride. Bellario was not to be banished, but sheltered.

Alas! yes; but this was love unreturned. There was no answering warmth on Philaster’s part, no fire of passion to scathe and destroy; only a gentle gratitude for the girl’s devotion — a brother’s, not a lover’s regard.

She found Fareham and her sister in the hall, ready to step into the coach.

“I saw the name of your favourite play on the posts as I walked home,” he said; “and as Hyacinth is always teasing me for denying her the play-house, I thought this was a good opportunity for pleasing you both.”

“You would have pleased me more if you had offered me the chance of seeing a new comedy,” his wife retorted, pettishly.

“Ah, dearest, let us not resume an old quarrel. The play-wrights of Elizabeth’s age were poets and gentlemen. The men who write for us are blackguards and empty-headed fops. We have novelty, which is all most of us want, a hundred new plays in a year, of which scarce one will be remembered after the year is out.”

“Who wants to remember? The highest merit in a play is that it should be a reflection of to-day; and who minds if it be stale to-morrow? To hold the mirror up to nature, doesn’t your Shakespeare say? And what more transient than the image in a glass? A comedy should be like one’s hat or one’s gown, the top of the mode to-day, and cast off and forgotten, in a week.”

“That is what our fine gentlemen think; who are satisfied if their wit gets three days’ acceptance, and some substantial compliment from the patron to whom they dedicate their trash.”

His lordship’s liveries and four grey horses made a stir in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and startled the crowd at the doors of the New Theatre; and within the house Lady Fareham and her sister divided the attention of the pit with their royal highnesses the Duke and Duchess, who no longer amused or scandalised the audience by those honeymoon coquetries which had distinguished their earlier appearances in public. Duchess Anne was growing stout, and fast losing her beauty, and Duke James was imitating his brother’s infidelities, after his own stealthy fashion; so it may be that Clarendon’s daughter was no more happy than her sister-in-law the Queen, nor than her father the Chancellor, over whom the shadows of royal disfavour were darkening.

Lady Fareham lolled languidly back in her box, and let all the audience see her indifference to Fletcher’s poetic dialogue. Angela sat motionless, her hands clasped in her lap, entranced by that romantic story, and the acting which gave life and reality to that poetic fable, as well it might when the incomparable Betterton played Philaster. Fareham stood beside his wife, looking down at the stage, and sometimes, as Angela looked up, their eyes met in one swift flash of responsive thought; met and glanced away, as if each knew the peril of such meetings —

“If it be love

To forget all respect of his own friends

In thinking on your face.”

Was it by chance that Fareham sighed as those lines were spoken? And again —

“If, when he goes to rest (which will not be),

‘Twixt every prayer he says he names you once.”

And again, was it chance that brought that swift, half-angry, questioning look upon her from those severe eyes in the midst of Philaster’s tirade? —

“How heaven is in your eyes, but in your hearts

More hell than hell has; how your tongues, like scorpions,

Both heal and poison; how your thoughts are woven

With thousand changes in one subtle web,

And worn so by you. How that foolish man

That reads the story of a woman’s face,

And dies believing it is lost for ever.”

It was Angela whose eyes unconsciously sought his when that passage occurred which had written itself upon her heart long ago at Chilton when she first read the play —

“Alas, my lord, my life is not a thing

Worthy your noble thoughts; ’tis not a life,

’Tis but a piece of childhood thrown away.”

What was her poor life worth — so lonely even in her sister’s house — so desolate when his eyes looked not upon her in kindness? After having lived for two brief summers and winters in his cherished company, having learnt to know what a proud, honourable man was like, his disdain of vice, his indifference to Court favour, his aspirations for liberty; after having known him, and loved him with silent and secret love, what better could she do than bury herself within convent walls, and spend the rest of her days in praying for those she loved? Alas, he had such need that some faithful soul should soar heavenward in supplication for him who had himself so weak a hold upon the skies! Alas, to think of him as unbelieving, putting his trust in the opinions of infidels like Hobbes and Spinoza, rather than leaning on that Rock of Ages the Church of St. Peter.

If she could not live for him — if it were a sin even to dwell under the same roof with him — she could at least die for him — die to the world of pleasure and folly, of beauty and splendour, die to friendship and love; sink all individuality under the monastic rule; cease to be, except as a part in a great organisation, an atom acting and acted upon by higher powers; surrendering every desire and every hope that distinguished her from the multitude of women vowed to a holy life.

“Never, sir, will I

Marry; it is a thing within my vow.”

The voice of the actress sounded silver-clear as Bellario spoke her last speech, finishing her story of a love which can submit to take the lower place, and asks but little of fate.

“It is a thing within my vow.”

The line repeated itself in Angela’s mind as Denzil met them at the door, and handed her into the coach.

Should she prove of weaker stuff than the sad Eufrasia, and accept a husband she did not love? This humdrum modern age allowed of no romance. She could not stain her face with walnut juice, and disguise herself as a footboy, and live unknown in his service, to wait upon him when he was weary, to nurse him when he was sick. Such a life she would have deemed exquisitely happy; but the hard everyday world had no room for such dreams. In this unromantic age Dion’s daughter would be recognised within twenty-four hours of her putting on male attire. The golden days of poetry were dead. Una would find no lion to fawn at her feet. She would be mobbed in the Strand.

“Oh, that it could have been!” thought Angela, as the coach jolted and rumbled through the narrow ways, and shaved awkward corners with its ponderous wheels, and got its horses entangled with other noble teams, to the provocation of much ill-language from postillions, and flunkeys, and linkmen, for it was dark when they came out of the theatre, and a thick mist was rising from the river, and flambeaux were flaring up and down the dim narrow thoroughfares.

“They light the streets better in Paris,” complained Hyacinth. “In the Rue de Touraine we had a lamp to every house.”

“I like to see the links moving up and down,” said Papillon; “’tis ever so much prettier than lanterns that stand still — like that one at the corner.”

She pointed to a small round lamp that made a bubble of light in an abyss of gloom.

“Here the lamps stink more than they light,” said Hyacinth. “How the coach rocks — those blockheads will end by upsetting it. I should have been twice as well in my chair.”

Angela sat in her place, lost in thought, and hardly conscious of the jolting coach, or of Papillon’s prattle, who would not be satisfied till she had dragged her aunt into the conversation.

“Did you not love the play, and would you not love to be a princess like Arethusa, and to wear such a necklace? Mother’s diamonds are not half as big.”

“Pshaw, child, ’twas absolute glass — arrant trumpery.”

“But her gown was not trumpery. It was Lady Castlemaine’s last birthday gown. I heard a lady telling her friend about it in the seat next mine. Lady Castlemaine gave it to the actress; and it cost three hundred pounds — and Lady Castlemaine is all that there is of the most extravagant, the lady said, and old Rowley has to pay her debts —(who is old Rowley, and why does he pay people’s debts?)— though she is the most unscrupulous — I forget the word — in London.”

“You see, madam, what a good school the play-house is for your child,” said Fareham grimly.

“I never asked you to take our child there.”

“Nay, Hyacinth; but a mother should enter no scene unfit for her daughter’s innocence.”

“Oh, my lord, your opinions are of the Protectorate. You would be better in New England — tilling your fields reclaimed from the waste.”

“Yes, I might be better there, reclaimed from the waste — of London life. Strange that your talk should hit upon New England. I was thinking of that New World not an hour ago at the play — thinking what a happy innocent life a man might lead there, were he but young and free, with one he loved.”

“Innocent, yes; happy, no; unless he were a savage or a peasant,” Hyacinth exclaimed disdainfully. “We that have known the grace and beauty of life cannot go back to the habits of our ancestors, to eat without forks, and cover our floors with rushes instead of Persian carpets.”

“The beauty and grace of life — houses that are whited sepulchres, banquets where there is no love.”

The coach stopped before the tall Italian doorway, and Fareham handed out his wife and sister in silence; but there was one of the party to whom it was unnatural to be mute.

Papillon sprang off the coach step into her father’s arms.

“Sweetheart, why are you so sad?” she asked. “You look more unhappy than Philaster when he thought his lady loved him not.”

She would not be put off, but hung about him all the length of the corridor, to the door of his room, where he parted from her with a kiss on her forehead.

“How your lips burn!” she cried. “I hope you are not sickening for the plague. I dreamt last night that the contagion had come back; and that our new glass coach was going about with a bell collecting the dead.”

“Thou hadst eaten too much supper, sweet. Such dreams are warnings against excess of pies and jellies. Go, love; I have business.”

“You have always business now. You used to let me stay with you — even when you was busy,” Henriette remonstrated, dejectedly, as the sonorous oak door closed against her.

Fareham flung himself into his chair in front of the large table, with its heaped-up books and litter of papers. Straight before him there lay Milton’s pamphlet — a publication of ten years ago; but he had been reading it only that morning —“The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.”

There were sentences which seemed to him to stand out upon the page, almost as if written in fire; and to these he recurred again and again, brooding over and weighing every word. “. . . . Neither can this law be of force to engage a blameless creature to his own perpetual sorrow, mistaken for his expected solace, without suffering charity to step in and do a confessed good work of parting those whom nothing holds together but this of God’s joining, falsely supposed against the express end of his own ordinance. . . . ‘It is not good,’ said He, ‘that man should be alone; I will make him a helpmeet for him.’ From which words, so plain, less cannot be concluded, nor is by any learned interpreter, than that in God’s intention a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and noblest end of marriage. . . . Again, where the mind is unsatisfied, the solitariness of man, which God had namely and principally ordered to prevent by marriage, hath no remedy, but lies in a worse condition than the loneliest single life; for in single life the absence and remoteness of a helper might inure him to expect his own comforts out of himself, or to seek with hope; but here the continual sight of his deluded thoughts, without cure, must needs be to him, if especially his complexion incline him to melancholy, a daily trouble and pain of loss, in some degree like that which reprobates feel.”

He closed the book, and started up to pace the long, lofty room, full of shadow, betwixt the light of the fire and that one pair of candles on his reading desk.

“Reprobate! Yes. Am not I a reprobate, and the worst, plotting against innocence? New England,” he repeated to himself. “How much the name promises. A new world, a new life, and old fetters struck off. God, if it could be done! It would hurt no one — no one — except perhaps those children, who might suffer a brief sorrow — and it would make two lives happy that must be blighted else. Two lives! Am I so sure of her? Yes, if eyes speak true. Sure as of my own fond passion. The contagion, quotha! I have suffered that, sweet, and know its icy sweats and parching heats; but ’tis not so fierce a fever as that devilish disease, the longing for your company.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31