London Pride, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 24

“Quite Out of Fashion.”

Denzil received the good news by the hands of a mounted messenger in the following forenoon.

The Knight had written, “Ride — ride — ride!” in the Elizabethan style, on the cover of his letter, which contained but two brief sentences —

“Womanlike, she has changed her mind. Come when thou wilt, dear son.”

And the son-in-law-to-be lost not an hour. He was at the Manor before night-fall. He was a member of the quiet household again, subservient to his mistress in everything.

“There are some words that must needs be spoken before we are agreed,” Angela said, when they found themselves alone for the first time, in the garden, on the morning after his return, and when Denzil would fain have taken her to his breast and ratified their betrothal with a kiss. “I think you know as well as I do that it is my father’s wish that has made me change.”

“So long as you change not again, dear, I am of all men the happiest. Yes, I know ’tis Sir John’s wooing that won you, not mine. And that I have still to conquer your heart, though your hand is promised me. Yet I do not despair of being loved in as full measure as I love. My faith is strong in the power of an honest affection.”

“You may at least be sure of my honesty. I profess nothing but the desire to be your true and obedient wife ——”

“Obedient! You shall be my empress.”

“No, no. I have no wish to rule. I desire only to make my father happy, and you too, sir, if I can.”

“Ah, my soul, that is so easy for you. You have but to let me live in your dear company. I doubt I would rather be miserable with you than happy with any other woman. Ill-use me if you will; play Zantippe, and I will be more submissive than Socrates. But you are all mildness — perfect Christian, perfect woman. You cannot miss being perfect as wife — and ——”

Another word trembled on his lips; but he checked himself lest he should offend, and the speech ended in a sob.

“My Angela, my angel!”

He took her to his heart, and kissed the fair brow, cold under his passionate kisses. That word “angel” turned her to ice. It conjured back the sound of a voice that it was sin to remember. Fareham had called her so; not once, but many times, in their placid days of friendship, before the fiery breath of passion had withered all the flowers in her earthly paradise — before the knowledge of evil had clouded the brightness of the world.

A gentle peace reigned at the Manor after Angela’s betrothal. Sir John was happier than he had been since the days of his youth, before the coming of that cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, when John Hampden’s stubborn resistance of a thirty-shilling rate had brought Crown and People face to face upon the burning question of Ship-money, and kindled the fire that was to devour England. From the hour he left his young wife to follow the King to Yorkshire Sir John’s existence had known little of rest or of comfort, or even of glory. He had fought on the losing side, and had missed the fame of those who fell and took the rank of heroes by an untimely death. Hardship and danger, wounds and sickness, straitened means and scanty fare, had been his portion for three bitter years; and then had come a period of patient service, of schemes and intrigues foredoomed to failure; of going to and fro, from Jersey to Paris, from Paris to Ireland, from Ireland to Cornwall, journeying hither and thither at the behest of a shifty, irresolute man, or a passionate, imprudent woman, as the case might be; now from the King to the Queen, now from the Queen to this or that ally; futile errands, unskilful combinations, failure on every hand, till the last fatal journey, on which he was an unwilling attendant, the flight from Hampton Court to Titchfield, when the fated King broke faith with his enemies in an unfinished negotiation.

Foreign adventure had followed English hardships, and the soldier had been tossed on the stormy sea of European warfare. He had been graciously received at the French Court, but only to feel himself a stranger there, and to have his English clothes and English accent laughed at by Gramont and Bussy, and the accomplished St. Évremond, and the frivolous herd of their imitators; to see even the Queen, for whom he had spent his last jacobus, smile behind her fan at his bévues, and whisper to her sister-in-law while he knelt to kiss the little white hand that had led a King to ruin. Everywhere the stern Malignant had found himself outside the circle of the elect. At the Hôtel de Rambouillet, in the splendid houses of the newly built Place Royale, in the salons of Duchesses, and the taverns of courtly roysterers and drunken poets, at Cormier’s, or at the Pine Apple, in the Rue de la Juiverie, where it was all the better for a Christian gentleman not to understand the talk of the wits that flashed and drank there. Everywhere he had been a stranger and aloof. It was only under canvas, in danger and privation, that he lost the sense of being one too many in the world. There John Kirkland found his level, shoulder to shoulder with Condé and Turenne. The stout Cavalier was second to no soldier in Louis’ splendid army; was of the stamp of an earlier race even, better inured to hardship than any save that heroic Prince, the Achilles of his day, who to the graces of a modern courtier joined the temper of an ancient Greek.

His daughter Hyacinth had given him the utmost affection which such a nature could give; but it was the affection of a trained singing-bird, or a pug-nosed spaniel; and the father, though he admired her beauty, and was pleased with her caresses, was shrewd enough to perceive the lightness of her disposition and the shallowness of her mind. He rejoiced in her marriage with a man of Fareham’s strong character.

“I have married thee to a husband who will know how to rule a wife,” he told her on the night of her wedding. “You have but to obey and to be happy; for he is rich enough to indulge all your fancies, and will not complain if you waste the gold that would pay a company of foot on the decoration of your poor little person.”

“The tone in which you speak of my poor little person, sir, can but remind me how much I need the tailor and the milliner,” answered Hyacinth, dropping her favourite curtsy, which she was ever ready to practise at the slightest provocation.

“Nay, petite chatte, you know I think you the loveliest creature at Saint Germain or the Louvre, far surpassing in beauty the Cardinal’s niece, who has managed to set young Louis’ heart throbbing with a boyish passion. But I doubt you bestow too much care on the cherishing of a gift so fleeting.”

“You have said the word, sir. ’Tis because it is so fleeting I must needs take care of my beauty. We poor women are like the butterflies and the roses. We have as brief a summer. You men, who value us only for our outward show, should pardon some vanity in creatures so ephemeral.”

“Ephemeral scarce applies to a sex which owns such an example as your grandmother, who has lived to reckon her servants among the grandsons of her earliest lovers.”

“Not lived, sir! No woman lives after thirty. She can but exist, and dream that she is still admired. La Marquise has been dead for the last twenty years, but she won’t own it. Ah, sir, c’est un triste supplice to have been! I wonder how those poor ghosts can bear that earthly purgatory which they call old age? Look at Madame de Sablé, par exemple, once a beauty, now only a tradition. And Queen Anne! Old people say she was beautiful, and that Buckingham risked being torn by wild horses — like Ravaillac — only to kiss her hand by stealth in a moonlit garden; and would have plunged England in war but for an excuse to come back to Paris. Who would go to war for Anne’s haggard countenance nowadays?”

Even in Lady Fareham’s household the Cavalier soon began to fancy himself an inhabitant too much; a dull, grey ghost from a tragical past. He could not keep himself from talking of the martyred King, and those bitter years through which he had followed his master’s sinking fortunes. He told stories of York and of Beverley; of the scarcity of cash which reduced his Majesty’s Court to but one table; of that bitter affront at Coventry; of the evil omens that had marked the raising of the Standard on the hill at Nottingham, and filled superstitious minds with dark forebodings, reminding old men of that sad shower of rain that fell when Charles was proclaimed at Whitehall, on the day of his accession, and of the shock of earthquake on his coronation day; of Edgehill and Lindsey’s death; of the profligate conduct of the Cavalier regiments, and the steady, dogged force of their psalm-singing adversaries; of Queen Henrietta’s courage, and beauty, and wilfulness, and her fatal influence upon an adoring husband.

“She wanted to be all that Buckingham had been,” said Sir John, “forgetting that Buckingham was the King’s evil genius.”

That lively and eminently artificial society of the Rue de Touraine soon wearied of Sir John’s reminiscences. King Charles’s execution had receded into the dim grey of history. He might as well have told them anecdotes of Cinq Mars, or of the great Henri, or of Moses or Abraham. Life went on rapid wheels in patrician Paris. They had Condé to talk about, and Mazarin’s numerous nieces, and the opera, that new importation from Italy, which the Cardinal was bringing into fashion; while in the remote past of half a dozen years back the Fronde was the only interesting subject, and even that was worn threadbare; the adventures of the Duchess, the conduct of the Prince in prison, the intrigues of Cardinal and Queen, Mademoiselle, yellow-haired Beaufort, duels of five against five — all — all these were ancient history as compared with young Louis and his passion for Marie de Mancini, and the scheming of her wily uncle to marry all his nieces to reigning princes or embryo kings.

And then the affectations and conceits of that elegant circle, the sonnets and madrigals, the “bouts-rimés,” the practical jokes, the logic-chopping and straw-splitting of those ultra-fine intellects, the romances where the personages of the day masqueraded under Greek or Roman or Oriental aliases, books written in a flowery language which the Cavalier did not understand, and full of allusions that were dark to him; while not to know and appreciate those master-works placed him outside the pale.

He rejoiced in escaping from that overcharged atmosphere to the tavern, to the camp, anywhere. He followed the exiled Stuarts in their wanderings, paid his homage to the Princess of Orange, roamed from scene to scene, a stranger and one too many wherever he went.

Then came the hardest blow of all — the chilling disillusion that awaited many of Charles’s faithful friends, who were not of such political importance as to command their recompense. Neglect and forgetfulness were Sir John Kirkland’s portion; and for him and for such as he that caustic definition of the Act of Indemnity was a hard and cruel truth. It was an Act of Indemnity for the King’s enemies and of oblivion for his friends. Sir John’s spirits had hardly recovered from the bitterness of disappointed affection when he came back to the old home, though his chagrin was seven years old. But now, in his delight at the alliance with Denzil Warner, he seemed to have renewed his lease of cheerfulness and bodily vigour. He rode and walked about the lanes and woods with erect head and elastic limbs. He played bowls with Denzil in the summer evenings. He went fishing with his daughter and her sweetheart. He revelled in the simple rustic life, and told them stories of his boyhood, when James was King, and many a queer story of that eccentric monarch and of the rising star, George Villiers.

“Ah, what a history that was!” he exclaimed. “His mother trained him as if with a foreknowledge of that star-like ascendency. He was schooled to shine and dazzle, to excel all compeers in the graces men and women admire. I doubt she never thought of the mind inside him, or cared whether he had a heart or a lump of marble behind his waist-band. He was taught neither to think nor to pity — only to shine; to be quick with his tongue in half a dozen languages, with his sword after half a dozen modes of fence. He could kill his man in the French, or the Italian, or the Spanish manner. He was cosmopolitan in the knowledge of evil. He had every device that can make a man brilliant and dangerous. He mounted every rung of the ladder, leaping from step to step. He ascended, swift as a shooting star, from plain country gentleman to the level of princes. And he expired with an ejaculation, astonished to find himself mortal, slain in a moment by the thrust of a ten-penny knife. I remember as if it were yesterday how men looked and spoke when the news came to London, and how some said this murder would be the saving of King Charles. I know of one man at least who was glad.”

“Who was he, sir?” asked Denzil.

“He who had the greatest mind among Englishmen — Thomas Wentworth. Buckingham had held him at a distance from the King, and his strong passionate temper was seething with indignation at being kept aloof by that silken sybarite — an impotent General, a fatal counsellor. After the Favourite’s death there came a time of peace and plenty. The pestilence had passed, the war was over. Charles was happy with his Henriette and their lovely children. Wentworth was in Ireland. The Parliament House stood still and empty, doors shut, swallows building under the eaves. I look back, and those placid years melt into each other like one long summer. And then, again, as ’twere yesterday, I hear Hampden’s drums and fifes in the lanes, and see the rebels’ flag with that hateful legend, ‘Vestigia nulla retrorsum,’ and Buckinghamshire peasants are under arms, and the King and his people have begun to hate and fear each other.”

“None foresaw that the war would last so long or end in murder, I doubt, sir,” said Angela.

“Nay, child; we who were loyal thought to see that rabble withered by the breath of kingly nostrils. A word should have brought them to the dust.”

“There might be so easy a victory, perhaps, sir, from a King who knew how to speak the right word at the right moment, how to comply graciously with a just demand, and how to be firm in a righteous denial,” replied Denzil; “but with Charles a stammering speech was but the outward expression of a wavering mind. He was a man who never listened to an appeal, but always yielded to a threat, were it only loud enough.”

The wedding was to be soon. Marriages were patched up quickly in the light-hearted sixties. And here there was nothing to wait for. Sir John had found Denzil compliant on every minor question, and willing to make his home at the Manor during his mother’s lifetime.

“The old lady would never stomach a Papist daughter-in-law,” said Sir John; and Denzil was fain to confess that Lady Warner would not easily reconcile herself with Angela’s creed, though she could not fail of loving Angela herself.

“My daughter would have neither peace nor liberty under a Puritan’s roof,” Sir John said; “and I should have neither son nor daughter, and should be a loser by my girl’s marriage. You shall be as much master here, Denzil, as if this were your own house — which it will be when I have moved to my last billet. Give me a couple of stalls for my roadsters, and kennel room for my dogs, and I want no more. You and Angela may introduce as many new fashions as you like; dine at two o’clock, and sip your unwholesome Indian drink of an evening. The fine ladies in Paris were beginning to take tea when I was last there, though by the faces they made over the stuff it might have been poison. I can smoke my pipe in the chimney-corner, and look on and admire at the new generation. I shall not feel myself one too many at your fireside, as I used sometimes in the Rue de Touraine, when those strutting Gallic cocks were quizzing me.”

There were clouds of dust and a clatter of hoofs again in front of the floriated iron gate; but this time it was not the Honourable Henriette who came tripping along the gravel path on two-inch heels, but my Lady Fareham, who walked languidly, with the assistance of a gold-headed cane, and who looked pale and thin in her apple-green satin gown and silver-braided petticoat.

She, too, came attended by a second coach, which was filled by her ladyship’s French waiting-woman, Mrs. Lewin, and a pile of boxes and parcels.

“I’ll wager that in the rapture and romance of your sweethearting you have not given a thought to petticoats and mantuas,” she said, after she had embraced her sister, who was horrified at the sight of that painted harridan from London.

Angela blushed at those words, “rapture and romance,” knowing how little there had been of either in her thoughts, or in Denzil’s sober courtship. Romance! Alas! there had been but one romance in her life, and that a guilty one, which she must ever remember with remorse.

“Come now, confess you have not a gown ordered.”

“I have gowns enough and to spare. Oh, sister! have you come so far to talk of gowns? And that odious woman too! What brought her here?” Angela asked, with more temper than she was wont to show.

“My sisterly kindness brought her. You are an ungrateful hussy for looking vexed when I have come a score of miles through the dust to do you a service.”

“Ah, dearest, I am grateful to you for coming. But, alas! you are looking pale and thin. Heaven forbid that you have been indisposed, and we in ignorance of your suffering.”

“No, I am well enough, though every one assures me I look ill; which is but a civil mode of telling me I am growing old and ugly.”

“Nay, Hyacinth, the former we must all become, with time; the latter you will never be.”

“Your servant, Sir Denzil, has taught you to pay antique compliments. Well, now we will talk business. I had occasion to send for Lewin — my toilet was in a horrid state of decay; and then it seemed to me, knowing your foolish indifference, that even your wedding gown would not be chosen unless I saw to it. So here is Lewin with Lyons and Genoa silks of the very latest patterns. She has but just come from Paris, and is full of Parisian modes and Court scandals. The King posted off to Versailles directly after his mother’s death, and has not returned to the Louvre since. He amuses himself by spending millions on building, and making passionate love to Mademoiselle la Vallière, who encourages him by pretending an excessive modesty, and exaggerates every favour by penitential tears. I doubt his attachment to so melancholy a mistress will hardly last a lifetime. She is not beautiful; she has a halting gait; and she is no more virtuous than any other young woman who makes a show of resistance to enhance the merit of her surrender.”

Hyacinth prattled all the way to the parlour, Mrs. Lewin and the waiting-woman following, laden with parcels.

“Queer, dear old hovel!” she exclaimed, sinking languidly upon a tabouret, and fanning herself exhaustedly, while the mantua-maker opened her boxes, and laid out her sample breadths of richly decorated brocade, or silver and gold enwrought satin. “How well I remember being whipped over my horn-book in this very room! And there is the bowling green where I used to race with the Italian greyhound my grandmother brought me from Paris. I look back, and it seems a dream of some other child running about in the sunshine. It is so hard to believe that joyous little being — who knew not the meaning of heart-ache — was I.”

“Why that sigh, sister? Surely none ever had less cause for heart-ache than you?”

“Have I not cause? Not when my glass tells me youth is gone, and beauty is waning? Not when there is no one in this wide world who cares a straw whether I am handsome or hideous? I would as lief be dead as despised and neglected.”

“Sorella mia, questa donna ti ascolta,” murmured Angela; “come and look at the old gardens, sister, while Mrs. Lewin spreads out her wares. And pray consider, madam,” turning to the mantua-maker, “that those peacock purples and gold embroideries have no temptations for me. I am marrying a country gentleman, and am to lead a country life. My gowns must be such as will not be spoilt by a walk in dusty lanes, or a visit to a farm-labourer’s cottage.”

“Eh, gud, your ladyship, do not tell me that you would bury so much beauty among sheep and cows, and odious ploughmen’s wives and dairy-women. A month or so of rustic life in summer between Epsom and Tunbridge Wells may be well enough, to rest your beauty — without patches or a French head — out of sight of your admirers. But to live in the country! Only a jealous husband could ever propose more than an annual six weeks of rustic seclusion to a wife under sixty. Lord Chesterfield was considered as cruel for taking his Countess to the rocks and ravines of Derbyshire as Sir John Denham for poisoning his poor lady.”

“Chut! tu vas un peu trop loin, Lewin!” remonstrated Lady Fareham.

“But, in truly, your ladyship, when I hear Mrs. Kirkland talk of a husband who would have her waste her beauty upon clod-polls and dairy-maids, and never wear a mantua worth looking at ——”

“I doubt my husband will be guided by his own likings rather than by Mrs. Lewin’s tastes and opinions,” said Angela, with a stately curtsy, which was designed to put the forward tradeswoman in her place, and which took that personage’s breath away.

“There never was anything like the insolence of a handsome young woman before she has been educated by a lover,” she said to her ladyship’s Frenchwoman, with a vindictive smile and scornful shrug of bloated shoulders, when the sisters had left the parlour. “But wait till her first intrigue, and then it is ‘My dearest Lewin, wilt thou make me everlastingly beholden to thee by taking this letter — thou knowest to whom?’ Or, in a flood of tears, ‘Lewin, you are my only friend — and if you cannot find me some good and serviceable woman who would give me a home where I can hide from the cruel eye of the world, I must take poison.’ No insolence then, mark you, Madame Hortense!”

“This demoiselle is none of your sort,” Hortense said. “You must not judge English ladies by your maids of honour. Celles là sont des drôlesses, sans foi ni loi.”

“Well, if she thinks I am going to make up linsey woolsey, or Norwich drugget, she will find her mistake. I never courted the custom of little gentlemen’s wives, with a hundred a year for pin-money. If I am to do anything for this stuck-up peacock, Lady Fareham must give me the order. I am no servant of Madame Kirkland.”

Alone in the garden, the sisters embraced again, Lady Fareham with a fretful tearfulness, as of one whose over strung nerves were on the verge of hysteria.

“There is something that preys upon your spirits, dearest,” Angela said interrogatively.

“Something! A hundred things. I am at cross purposes with life. But I should have been worse had you been obstinate and still refused this gentleman.”

“Why should that affect you, Hyacinth?” asked her sister, with a sudden coldness.

“Chi lo sa? One has fancies! But my dearest sister has been wise in good time, and you will be the happiest wife in England; for I believe your Puritan is a saintly person, the very opposite of our Court sparks, who are the most incorrigible villains. Ah, sweet, if you heard the stories Lewin tells me — even of that young Rochester — scarce out of his teens. And the Duke — not a jot better than the King — and with so much less grace in his iniquity. Well, you will be married at the Chapel Royal, and spend your wedding night at Fareham House. We will have a great supper. His Majesty will come, of course. He owes us that much civility.”

“Hyacinth, if you would make me happy, let me be married in our dear mother’s oratory, by your chaplain. Sure, dearest, you know I have never taken kindly to Court splendours.”

“Have you not? Why, you shone and sparkled like a star, that last night you were ever at Whitehall, Henri sitting close beside you. ’Twas the night he took ill of a fever. Was it a fever? I have wondered sometimes whether there was not a mystery of attempted murder behind that long sickness.”

“Murder!”

“A deadly duel with a man who hated him. Is not that an attempt at murder on the part of him who deliberately provokes the quarrel? Well, it is past, and he is gone. For all the colour of the world I live in, there might never have been any such person as Henri de Malfort.”

Her airy laugh ended in a sob, which she tried to stifle, but could not.

“Hyacinth, Hyacinth, why will you persist in being miserable when you have so little cause for sadness?”

“Have I not cause? Am I not growing old, and robbed of the only friend who brought gaiety into my life; who understood my thoughts and valued me? A traitor, I know — like the rest of them. They are all traitors. But he would have been true had I been kinder, and trusted him.”

“Hyacinth, you are mad! Would you have had him more your friend? He was too near as it was. Every thought you gave him was an offence against your husband. Would you have sunk as low as those shameless women the King admires?”

“Sunk — low? Why, those women are on a pinnacle of fame — courted — flattered — poetised — painted. They will be famous for centuries after you and I are forgotten. There is no such thing as shame nowadays, except that it is shameful to have done nothing to be ashamed of. I have wasted my life, Angela. There was not a woman at the Louvre who had my complexion, nor one who could walk a coranto with more grace. Yet I have consented to be a nobody at two Courts. And now I am growing old, and my poor painted face shocks me when I chance on my reflection by daylight; and there is nothing left for me — nothing.”

“Your husband, sister!”

“Sister, do not mock me! You know how much Fareham is to me. We were chosen for each other, and fancied we were in love for the first few years, while he was so often called away from me, that his coming back made a festival, and renewed affection. He came crimson from battles and sieges; and I was proud of him, and called him my hero. But after the treaty of the Pyrenees our passion cooled, and he grew too much the school-master. And when he recovered of the contagion, he had recovered of any love-sickness he ever had for me!”

“Ah, sister, you say these things without thinking them. His lordship needs but some sign of affection on your part to be as fond a husband as ever he was.”

“You can answer for him, I’ll warrant”

“And there are other claims upon your love — your children.”

“Henriette, who is nearly as tall as I am, and thinks herself handsomer and cleverer than ever I was. George, who is a lump of selfishness, and cares more for his ponies and peregrines than for father and mother. I tell you there is nothing left for me, except fine houses and carriages; and to show my fading beauty dressed in the latest mode at twilight in the Ring, and to startle people from the observation of my wrinkles by the boldness of my patches. I was the first to wear a coach and horses across my forehead — in London, at least. They had these follies in Paris three years ago.”

“Indeed, dearest?”

“And thou wilt let me arrange thy wedding after my own fancy, wilt thou not, ma très chère?”

“You forget Denzil’s hatred of finery.”

“But the wedding is the bride’s festival. The bridegroom hardly counts. Nay, love, you need fear no immodest fooling when you bid good night to the company; nor shall there be any scuffling for garters at the door of your chamber. There was none of that antique nonsense when Lady Sandwich married her daughter. All vulgar fashions of coarse old Oliver’s day have gone to the ragbag of worn-out English customs. We were so coarse a nation, till we learnt manners in exile. Let me have my own way, dearest. It will amuse me, and wean me from melancholic fancies.”

“Then, indeed, love, thou shalt have thy way in all particulars.”

After this Lady Fareham was in haste to return to the house in order to choose the wedding gown; and here in the panelled parlour they found the two gentlemen, with the dust of the road and the warmth of the noonday sun upon them, newly returned from Aylesbury, where they had ridden in the freshness of the early morning to choose a team of plough-horses at the fair; and who were more disconcerted than gratified at finding the dinner-parlour usurped by Mrs. Lewin, Madame Hortense, and an array of finery that made the room look like a stall in the Exchange.

It was on the stroke of one, yet there were no signs of dinner. Sir John and Sir Denzil were both sharp set after their ride, and were looking by no means kindly on Mrs. Lewin and her wares when Hyacinth and Angela appeared upon the scene.

“Nothing could happen luckier,” said Lady Fareham, when she had saluted Denzil, and embraced her father with “Pish, sir! how you smell of clover and new-mown grass! I vow you have smothered my mantua with dust.”

Father and sweetheart were called upon to assist in choosing the wedding gown — a somewhat empty compliment on the part of Lady Fareham, since she would not hear of the simple canary brocade which Denzil selected, and which Mrs. Lewin protested was only good enough to make his lady a bed-gown; or of the pale grey atlas which her father considered suitable — since, indeed, she would have nothing but a white satin, powdered with silver fleurs de luces, which she remarked, en passant, would have become the Grande Mademoiselle, had she but obtained her cousin’s permission to cast herself away on Lauzun.

“Dear sister, can you consider a fabric fit for a Bourbon Princess a becoming gown for me?” remonstrated Angela.

“Yes, child; white and silver will better become thee than poor Louise, who has no more complexion left than I have. She was in her heyday when she held the Bastille, and when she and Beaufort were two of the most popular people in Paris. She has made herself a laughing-stock since then. That is settled, Lewin”— with a nod to the milliner —“the silver fleurs de luces for the wedding mantua. And now be quick with your samples.”

All Angela’s remonstrances were as vain to-day as they had been on the occasion of her first acquaintance with Mrs. Lewin. The excitement of discussing and selecting the finery she loved affected Lady Fareham’s spirits like a draught of saumur. She was generous by nature, extravagant by long habit.

“Sure it would be a hard thing if I could not give you your wedding clothes, when you are marrying the man I chose for you,” she protested. “The cherry-coloured farradine, by all means, Lewin; ’tis the very shade for my sister’s fair skin. Indeed, Denzil”— nodding at him, as he stood watching them, with that hopelessly bewildered air of a man in a milliner’s shop —“I have been your best friend from the beginning, and, but for me, you might never have won your sweetheart to listen to you. Mazarine hoods are as ancient as the pyramids, Lewin. Pr’ythee show us something newer.”

It was late in the evening when the two coaches left the Manor gate. Hyacinth had been in no haste to return to the Abbey. There was nobody there who wanted her, she protested, and there would be a moon after nine o’clock, and she had servants enough to take care of her on the road; so Mrs. Lewin and her ladyship’s woman were entertained in the steward’s room, where Reuben held forth upon the splendour that had prevailed in his master’s house before the troubles — and where the mantua-maker ate and drank all she could get, and dozed and yawned through the old man’s reminiscences.

The afternoon was spent more pleasantly by the quality, who sat about in the sunny garden, or sauntered by the fish pond and fed the carp — and took a dish of the Indian drink which the sisters loved, in the pergola at the end of the grass walk.

Hyacinth now affected a passion for the country, and quoted the late Mr. Cowley in praise of rusticity.

“Oh, how delicious is this woodland valley,” she cried.

“‘Here let me, careless and unthoughtful lying,

Hear the soft winds, above me plying,

With all their wanton boughs dispute.’

Poor Cowley, he might well love the country, for he was shamefully treated in town — a devoted servant to bankrupt royalty for all the best years of his life, and fobbed off with a compliment when the King came into power. Ah me, ’tis an ill world we live in, and London is the most hateful spot in it,” she concluded, with a sigh.

“And yet you will have me married nowhere else, sister?”

“Oh, for a wedding or a christening one must have a crowd of fine people. It would go about that Lady Fareham was quite out of fashion if I were content to see only ploughmen and dairy-maids, and a petty gentleman or two with their ill-dressed wives, at my sister’s marriage. London is the only decent place — after Paris — to live in; but the country is a peacefuller place in which to die.”

A heart-breaking sigh emphasised the sentence, and Angela scrutinised her sister’s face with increased concern.

“Dear love, I fear you are hiding something from me; and that you are seriously indisposed,” she said earnestly.

“If I am I do not know it. But when one is weary of living there is only one sensible thing left to do — if Providence will but be kind and help one to do it. I am not for dagger or poison, or for a plunge in deep water. But to fade away in a gentle disease — a quiet ebbing of the vital stream — is the luckiest thing that can befall one who is tired of life.”

Alarmed at hearing her sister talk in this melancholy strain, and still more alarmed by the change in her looks, sunken cheeks, hectic flush, fever-bright eyes, Angela entreated Lady Fareham to stay at the Manor, and be nursed and cared for.

“Oh, I know your skill in nursing, and your power over a sick person,” Hyacinth interjected scornfully, and then in the next moment apologised for the little spurt of retrospective jealousy.

“Stay with us, love, and let us make you happier than you are at Chilton,” pleaded Angela; but Hyacinth, who had been protesting that nobody wanted her, now declared that she could not leave home, and recited a list of duties, social and domestic.

“I shall not have half an hour to spare until I go to London next week to prepare for the wedding,” she said. The date had been fixed while they sat at dinner; Sir John and his elder daughter settling the day, while Denzil assented with radiant smiles, and Angela sat by in pale silence, submissive to the will of others. They were to be married on a Thursday, July 19, and it was now the end of June — little more than a fortnight’s interval in which to meditate upon the beginning of a new life.

Mrs. Lewin promised the white and silver mantua, and as many of the new clothes as a supernatural address, industry, and obligingness, could produce within the time. Hyacinth grew more lively after supper, and parted from her father and sister in excellent spirits; but her haggard face haunted Angela in troubled dreams all that night, and she thought of her with anxiety during the next few days, and most of all upon one long sultry day, the 4th of July, which was the third day she had spent in unbroken solitude since her father and Denzil had ridden away in the dim early morning, while the pastures were veiled in summer haze, on the first stage of a journey to London, hoping, with a long rest between noon and evening, to ride thirty-seven miles before night.

They were to consult with a learned London lawyer, and to execute the marriage settlement, Sir John vastly anxious about this business, in his ignorance of law and distrust of lawyers. They were to stay in London only long enough to transact their business, and would then return post-haste to the Manor; but as they were to ride their own horses all the way, and as lawyers are notoriously slow, Angela had been told not to expect them till the fourth evening after their departure. In her lonely rambles that long summer day, with her spaniel Ganymede, and her father’s favourite pointer, for her only companions, Angela’s thoughts dwelt ever on the past. Of the future — even that so near future of her marriage — she thought hardly at all. That future had been disposed of by others. Her fate had been settled for her; and she was told that by her submission she would make those she loved happy. Her father would have the son he longed for, and would be sure of her faithful devotion till the end of his days — or of hers, should untimely death intervene. Hyacinth’s foolish jealousy would be dispelled by the act which gave her sister’s honour into a husband’s custody. And for him, that presumptuous lover who had taken so little pains to hide his wicked passion, if in any audacious hour he had dared to believe her guilty of reciprocating his love, that insolent suspicion would be answered at once and for ever by her marriage with Denzil — Denzil who was Fareham’s junior by fifteen years, his superior in every advantage of person, as she told herself with a bitter smile; for even while she thought of that superiority — the statuesque regularity of feature, the clear colouring of a complexion warmed with the glow of health, the deep blue of large well-opened eyes, the light free carriage of one who had led an active country life — even while she thought of Denzil, another face and figure flashed upon her memory — rugged and dark, the forehead deeper lined than years justified, the proud eye made sombre by the shadow of the projecting brow, the cheek sunken, the shoulders bent as if under the burden of melancholy thoughts.

O God! this was the face she loved. The only face that had ever touched the springs of joy and pain. It was nearly half a year since she had seen him. Their meetings in the future need be of the rarest. She knew that Denzil regarded him with a distrust which made friendship out of the question; and it would be her duty to keep as far aloof from that old time as possible. Family meetings there must be, considering the short distance between Chilton and the Manor, feastings and junketings in company once or twice in the summer, lest it should be thought Sir John and his lordship were ill friends. But Angela knew that in any such social gathering, sitting at the overloaded board, amid the steam of rich viands, and the noise of many voices, she and Fareham would be as far apart as if the Indian Ocean rolled between them.

Once, and very soon, they must meet face to face; and he would take her hand in greeting, and would kiss her on the lips as she stood before him in her wedding finery, that splendour of white and silver which would provoke him to scornful wonder at her trivial pleasure in sumptuous clothes. Thus once they must meet. Her heart thrilled at the thought. He had so often shunned her, taking such obvious trouble to keep his distance; but he could hardly absent himself from her wedding. The scandal would be too great.

Well, she had accepted her fate, and this dull aching misery must be lived through somehow; and neither her father nor Denzil must ever have occasion to suspect her unhappiness.

“Oh, gracious Mary, Mother of God, help and sustain me in my sorrow! Guard and deliver me from sinful thoughts. What are my fanciful griefs to thy great sorrows, which thou didst endure with holy patience? Subdue and bend me to obedience and humility. Let me be an affectionate daughter, a dutiful wife, a friend and comforter to my poor neighbours.”

So, and with many such prayers she struggled against the dominion of evil, kneeling meekly in the leafy stillness of that deep beechwood, where no human eye beheld her devotions. So in the long solitude of the summer day she held commune with heaven, and fought against that ever-recurring memory of past happiness, that looking back to the joys and emotions of those placid hours at Chilton Abbey, before the faintest apprehension of evil had shadowed her friendship with Fareham. Not to look back; not to remember and regret. That was the struggle in which the intense abstraction of the believer, lifting the mind to heaven, alone could help her. Long and fervent were her prayers in that woodland sanctuary where she made her pious retreat; nor was her sister forgotten in those prayers, which included much earnest supplication for the welfare here and hereafter of that lighter soul for whom she had ever felt a protecting and almost maternal love. Years counted for very little in the relations between these sisters.

The day wore to its close — the most solemn day in Angela’s life since that which she had spent in the Reverend Mother’s death-chamber, kneeling in the faint yellow glow of the tall wax-candles, in a room from which daylight was excluded. She remembered the detachment of her mind from all earthly interests as she knelt beside that death-bed, and how easily her thoughts had mounted heavenward; while now her love clung to this sinful earth. How had she changed for the worse, how was she sunk from the holy aspirations of that time!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/london_pride/chapter24.html

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