London Pride, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 27

Bringers of Sunshine.

It was December, and the fields and pastures were white in the tardy dawn with the frosty mists of early winter, and Sir John Kirkland was busy making his preparations for leaving Buckinghamshire and England with his daughter. He had come from Spain at the beginning of the year, hoping to spend the remnant of his days in the home of his forefathers, and to lay his old bones in the family vault; but the place was poisoned to him for evermore, he told Angela. He could not stay where he and his had been held in highest honour, to have his daughter pointed at by every grinning lout in hob-nailed shoes, and scorned by the neighbouring quality. He only waited till Denzil Warner should be pronounced out of danger and on the high-road to recovery, before he crossed the Channel.

“There is no occasion you should leave Buckinghamshire, sir,” Angela argued. “It is the dearest wish of my heart to return to the Convent at Louvain, and finish my life there, sheltered from the world’s contempt.”

“What, having failed to get your fancy, you would dedicate yourself to God?” he cried. “No, madam. I am still your father, though you have disgraced me; and I require a daughter’s duty from you. Oh, child, I so loved you, was so proud of you! It is a bitter physic you have given me to drink.”

She knelt at his feet, and kissed his sunburnt hands shrunken with age.

“I will do whatever you desire, sir. I wish no higher privilege than to wait upon you; but when you weary of me there is ever the Convent.”

“Leave that for your libertine sister. Be sure she will finish a loose life by a conspicuous piety. She will turn saint like Madame de Longueville. Sinners are the stuff of which modern saints are made. And women love extremes — to pass from silk and luxury to four-o’clock matins, and the Carmelite’s woollen habit. No, Angela, there must be no Convent for you, while I live. Your penance must be to suffer the company of a petulant, disappointed old man.”

“No penance, sir, but peace and contentment; so I am but forgiven.”

“Oh, you are forgiven. There is that about you with which one cannot long be angry — a creature so gentle and submissive, a reed that bends under a blow. Let us not think of the past. You were a fool — but not a wanton. No, I will never believe that! A generous, headstrong fool, ready with thine own perjured lips to blacken thy character in order to save the villain who did his best to ruin thee. But thou art pure,” looking down at her with a severe scrutiny. “There is no memory of guilt in those eyes. We will go away together, and live peacefully together, and you shall still be the staff of my failing steps, the light of my fading eyes, the comfort of my ebbing life. Were I but easy in my mind about those poor forsaken grandchildren, I could leave England cheerfully enough; but to know them motherless — with such a father!”

“Indeed, sir, I believe, however greatly Lord Fareham may have erred, he will not prove a neglectful father,” Angela said, her voice growing low and tremulous as she pronounced that fatal name.

“You will vouch for him, no doubt. A licentious villain, but an admirable father! No, child, Nature does not deal in such anomalies. The children are alone at Chilton with their English gouvernante, and the prim Frenchwoman, who takes infinite pains to perfect Henriette’s unlikeness to a human child. They are alone, and their father is hanging about the Court.”

“At Court! Lord Fareham! Indeed, sir, I think you must be mistaken.”

“Indeed, madam, I have the fact on good authority.”

“Oh, sir, if you have reason to think those dear children neglected, is it not your duty to protect and care for them? Their poor, mistaken mother has abandoned them.”

“Yes, to play the great lady in Paris, where, when I went in quest of her last July — while thou wert lying sick here — hoping to bring back a penitent, I was received with a triumphant insolence, finding her the centre of a circle of flatterers, a Princess in little, with all the airs and graces and ceremonies and hauteur of the French Blood-royal. When I charged her with being Malfort’s mistress, and bade her pack her traps and come home with me, she deafened me with her angry volubility. I to slander her — I, her father, when there was no one in Paris, from the Place Royale to the Louvre, more looked up to! But when I questioned my old friends they answered with enigmatical smiles, and assured me that they knew nothing against my daughter’s character worse than all the world was saying about some of the highest ladies in France — Madame, to wit; and with this cold comfort I must needs be content, and leave her in her splendid infamy.”

“Father, be sure she will come back to us. She has been led into wrong-doing by the artfullest of villains. She will discover the emptiness of her life, and come back to seek the solace of her children’s love. Let us care for them meanwhile. They have no other kindred. Think of our sweet Henriette — so rich, so beautiful, so over-intelligent — growing from child to woman in the care of servants, who may spoil and pervert her even by their very fondness.”

“It is a bad case, I grant; but I can stir no finger where that man is concerned. I can hold no communication with that scoundrel.”

“But your lawyer could claim custody of the children for you, perhaps.”

“I think not, Angela, unless there was a criminal neglect of their bodies. The law takes no account of souls.”

Angela’s greatest anxiety — now that Denzil’s recovery was assured — was for the welfare of these children whom she fondly loved, and for whom she would have gladly played a mother’s part. She wrote in secret to her sister, entreating her to return to England for her children’s sake, and to devote herself to them in retirement at Chilton, leaving the scandal of her elopement to be forgotten in the course of blameless years; so that by the time Henriette was old enough to enter the world her mother would have recovered the esteem of worthy people, as well as the respect of the mob.

Lady Fareham’s tardy answer was not encouraging. She had no design of returning to a house in which she had never been properly valued, and she admired that her sister should talk of scandal, considering that the scandal of her own intrigue with her brother-in-law had set all England talking, and had been openly mentioned in the London and Oxford Gazettes. Silence about other people’s affairs would best become a young miss who had made herself so notorious.

As for the children, Lady Fareham had no doubt that their father, who had ever lavished more affection upon them than he bestowed upon his wife, might be trusted with the care of them, however abominable his conduct might be in other matters. But in any case her ladyship would not exchange Paris for London, where she had been slighted and neglected at Court as well as at home.

The letter was a tissue of injustice and egotism; and Angela gave up all hope of influencing her sister for good; but not the hope of being useful to her sister’s children.

Now, as the short winter days went by, and the preparations for departure were making, she grew more and more urgent with her father to obtain the custody of his grandchildren, and carry them to France with him, where they might be reared and educated under his own eye. Montpelier was the place of exile he had chosen, a place renowned alike for its admirable climate and educational establishments; and where Sir John had spent the previous winter, and had made friends.

It was to Montpelier the great Chancellor had retired from the splendours of a princely mansion but just completed — far exceeding his own original intentions in splendour, as the palaces of new-made men are apt to do — and from a power and authority second only to that of kings. There the grandfather of future queens was now residing in modest state, devoting the evening of his life to the composition of an authentic record of the late rebellion, and of those few years during which he had been at the head of affairs in England. Sir John Kirkland, who had never forgotten his own disappointments in the beginning of his master’s restored fortunes, had a fellow-feeling for “Ned Hyde” in his fall.

“As a statesman he was next in capacity to Wentworth,” said Sir John, “and yet a painted favourite and a rabble of shallow wits were strong enough to undermine him.”

The old Knight confessed that he had ridden out of his way on several occasions when he was visiting Warner’s sick-bed, in the hope of meeting Henrietta and George on their ponies, and had more than once been so lucky as to see them.

“The girl grows handsomer, and is as insolent as ever; but she has a sorrowful look which assures me she misses her mother; though it was indeed of that wretch, her father, she talked most. She said he had told her he was likely to go on a foreign embassy. If it is to France he goes, there is an end of Montpelier. The same country shall not hold him and my daughter while I live to protect you.”

Angela began to understand that it was his fear, or his hatred of Fareham, which was taking him out of his native country. No word had been said of her betrothal since that fatal night. It seemed tacitly understood that all was at an end between her and Denzil Warner. She herself had been prostrate with a low, nervous fever during a considerable part of that long period of apprehension and distress in which Denzil lay almost at the point of death, nursed by his grief-stricken mother, to whom the very name of his so lately betrothed wife was hateful. Verily the papistical bride had brought a greater trouble to that house than even Lady Warner’s prejudiced mind had anticipated. Kneeling by her son’s bed, exhausted with the passion of long prayers for his recovery, the mother’s thoughts went back to the day when Angela crossed the threshold of that house for the first time, so fair, so modest, with a countenance so innocent in its pensive beauty.

“And yet she was guilty at heart even then,” Lady Warner told herself, in the long night-watches, after the trial at Westminster Hall, when Angela’s public confession of an unlawful love had been reported to her by her favourite Nonconformist Divine, who had been in court throughout the trial, with Lady Warner’s lawyer, watching the proceedings in the interest of Sit Denzil. Lady Warner received the news of the verdict and sentence with unspeakable indignation.

“And my murdered son!” she gasped, “for I know not yet that God will hear my prayers and raise him up to me again. Is his blood to count for nothing — or his sufferings — his patient sufferings on that bed? A fine — a paltry fine — a trifle for a rich man. I would pay thrice as much, though it beggared me, to see him sent to the Plantations. O Judge and Avenger of Israel! Thou hast scourged us with pestilence, and punished us with fire; but Thou hast not convinced us of sin. The world is so sunk in wickedness that murder scarce counts for crime.”

The day of terror was past. Denzil’s convalescence was proceeding slowly, but without retrograde stages. His youth and temperate habits had helped his recovery from a wound which in the earlier stages looked fatal. He was now able to sit up in an armchair, and talk to his visitor, when Sir John rode twenty miles to see him; but only once did his lips shape the name that had been so dear, and that occasion was at the end of a visit which Sir John announced as the last.

“Our goods are packed and ready for shipping,” he said. “My daughter and I will begin our journey to Montpelier early next week.”

It was the first time Sir John had spoken of his daughter in that sick-room.

“If she should ever talk of me, in the time to come,” Denzil said — speaking very slowly, in a low voice, as if the effort, mental and physical, were almost beyond his strength, and holding the hand which Sir John had given him in saying good-bye —“tell her that I shall ever remember her with a compassionate affection — ever hold her the dearest and loveliest of women — yes, even if I should marry, and see the children of some fair and chaste wife growing up around me. She will ever be the first. And tell her that I know she forswore herself in the court; and that she was the innocent dupe of that villain — never his consenting companion. And tell her that I pity her even for that so misplaced affection which tempted her to swear to a lie. I knew, sir, always, that she loved him and not me. Yes, from the first. Indeed, sir, it was but too easy to read that unconscious beginning of unholy love, which grew and strengthened like some fatal disease. I knew, but nursed the fond hope that I could win her heart — in spite of him. I fancied that right must prevail over wrong; but it does not, you see, sir, not always — not ——” A faintness came over him; whereupon his mother, re-entering the room at this moment, ran to him and restored him with the strong essence that stood handy among the medicine bottles on the table by his chair.

“You have suffered him to talk too much,” she said, glancing angrily at Sir John. “And I’ll warrant he has been talking of your daughter — whose name must be poison to him. God knows ’tis worse than poison to me!”

“Madam, I did not come to this house to hear my daughter abused ——”

“It would have better become you, Sir John Kirkland, to keep away from this house.”

“Mother, silence! You distress me worse than my illness ——”

“This, madam, is my farewell visit. You will not be plagued any more with me,” said Sir John, lifting his hat, and bowing low to Lady Warner.

He was gone before she could reply.

The baggage was ready — clothes, books, guns, plate, and linen — all necessaries for an exile that might last for years, had been packed for the sea voyage; but the trunks and bales had not yet been placed in the waggon that was to convey them to the Tower Wharf, where they were to be shipped in one of the orange-boats that came at this season from Valencia, laden with that choice and costly fruit, and returned with a heterogeneous cargo. At Valencia the goods would be put on board a Mediterranean coasting vessel, and landed at Cette.

Sir John began to waver about his destination after having heard from Henriette of her father’s possible embassy. Certainly if Fareham were to be employed in foreign diplomacy, Paris seemed a likely post for a man who was so well known there, and had spent so much of his life in France. And if Fareham were to be at Paris, Sir John considered Montpelier, remote as it was from the capital, too near his enemy.

“He has proved himself an indomitable villain,” thought the Knight. “And I could not always keep as close a watch upon my daughter as I have done in the last six weeks. No. If Fareham be for France, I am for some other country. I might take her to Florence, and put the Apennines between her and that daring wretch.”

It may be, too, that Sir John had another reason for lingering, after all was ready for the journey. He may have been much influenced by Angela’s concern about his grandchildren, and may have hesitated at leaving them alone in England with only salaried guardians.

“Their father concerns himself very little about them, you see,” he told Angela, “since he can entertain the project of a foreign embassy, while those little wretches are pining in a lonely barrack in Oxfordshire.”

“Indeed, sir, he is a fond father. I would wager my life that he is deeply concerned about them.”

“Oh, he is an angel, on your showing! You would blacken your sister’s character to make him a saint.”

The next day was fine and sunny, a temperature as of April, after the morning frost had melted. There was a late rose or two still lingering in the sheltered Buckinghamshire valley, though it wanted but a fortnight of Christmas. Angela and her father were sitting in a parlour that faced the iron gates. Since their return from London Sir John had seemed uneasy when his daughter was out of his sight; and she, perceiving his watchfulness and trouble, had been content to abandon her favourite walks in the lanes and woods and to the “fair hill of Brill,” whence the view was so lovely and so vast, on one side reaching to the Welsh mountains, and on another commanding the nearer prospect of “the great fat common of Ottmoor,” as Aubrey calls it, “which in some winters is like a sea of waters.” For her father’s comfort, noting the sad wistful eyes that watched her coming in and going out, she had resigned herself to spend long melancholy hours within doors, reading aloud till Sir John fell asleep, playing backgammon — a game she detested worse even than shove-halfpenny, which latter primitive game they played sometimes on the shovel-board in the hall. Life could scarcely be sadder than Angela’s life in those grey winter days; and had it not been for an occasional ride across country with her father, health and spirits must alike have succumbed to this monotony of sadness.

This morning, as on many mornings of late, the subject of the boy and girl at Chilton had been discussed with the Knight’s tankard of home-brewed and his daughter’s chocolate.

“Indeed, sir, it would be a cruel thing for us to abandon them. At Montpelier we shall be a fortnight’s journey from England; and if either of those dear creatures should fall ill, dangerously ill, perhaps, their father beyond the seas, and we, too, absent — oh, sir, figure to yourself Henriette or George dying among strangers! A cold or a fever might carry them off in a few days; and we should know nothing till all was over.”

Sir John groaned and paced the room, agitated by the funereal image.

“Why, what a raven thou art, ever to croak dismal prophecies. The children are strong and well, and have careful custodians. I can have no dealings with their father. Must I tell you that a hundred times, Angela? He is a consummate villain: and were it not that I fear to make a bigger scandal, he or I should not have survived many hours after that iniquitous sentence.”

A happy solution of this difficulty, which distressed the Knight much more than his stubbornness allowed him to admit, was close at hand that morning, while Angela bent over her embroidery frame, and her father spelt through the last London Gazette that the post had brought him.

The clatter of hoofs and roll of wheels announced a visit; and while they were looking at the gate, full of wonder, since their visitors were of so small a number, a footman in the Fareham livery pulled the iron ring that hung by a chain from the stone pillar, and the bell rang loud and long in the frosty air. The Fareham livery! Twice before the Fareham coaches and liveries had taken that quiet household by surprise; but to-day terror rather than surprise was in Angela’s mind as she stood in front of the window looking at the gate.

Could Fareham be so rash as to face her father, so daring as to seek a farewell interview on the eve of departure? No, she told herself; such folly was impossible. The visitor could be but one person — Henriette. Even assured of this in her own mind, she did not rush to welcome her niece, but stood as if turned to stone, waiting for the opening of the gate.

Old Reuben, having seen the footman, went himself to admit the visitors, with his grandson and slave in attendance.

“It must be her little ladyship,” he said, taking his young mistress’s view of the case. “Lord Fareham would never dare to show his deceiving face here.”

A shrill voice greeted him from the coach window before he reached the gate.

“You are the slowest old wretch I ever saw!” cried the voice. “Don’t you know that when visitors of importance come to a house they expect to be let in? I vow a convent gate would be opened quicker.”

“Indeed, your ladyship, when your legs are as old as mine ——”

“Which I hope they never will be,” muttered Henriette, as she descended with a languid slowness from the coach, assisted on either side by a footman; while George, who could not wait for her airs and graces, let himself out at the door on the off side just as Reuben succeeded in turning the key.

“So you are old Reuben!” he said, patting the butler on the shoulder with the gold hilt of his riding-whip. “And you were here, like a vegetable, all through the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth?”

“Yes, your lordship, from the raising of Hampden’s regiment.”

“Ah, you shall tell me all about it over a pipe and a bottle. You must be vastly good company. I am come to live here.”

“To live here, your honour?”

“Yes; sister and I are to live here while my father represents his Majesty beyond seas. I hope you have good stabling and plenty of room. My ponies and Mistress Henriette’s Arab horse will be here to-morrow. I doubt I shall have to build a place for my hawks; but I suppose Sir John will find me a cottage for my Dutch falconer.”

“Lord, how the young master do talk!” exclaimed Reuben, with an admiring grin.

The boy was so rapid in his speech, had such vivacity and courage in his face, such a spring in every movement, as if he had quicksilver in his veins, Reuben thought; but it was only the quicksilver of youth, that Divine ichor which lasts for so brief a season.

“It made me feel twenty years younger only to hear him prattle,” Reuben said afterwards.

Sir John and his daughter had come to meet the children by this time, and there were fond embracings, in the midst of which Henriette withdrew herself from her grandfather’s arms, and retired a couple of paces, in order to drop him the Jennings curtsy, sinking almost to the ground, and then rising from billows of silk, like Venus from the sea, and handing him a letter, with a circular sweep of her arm, learnt in London from her Parisian dancing mistress, an apprentice of St. André‘s, not from the shabby little French cut-caper from Oxford.

“My father sends you this letter, sir.”

“Is your father at Chilton?”

“No, sir. He was with us the day before yesterday, to bid us good-bye before he started upon his foreign embassy,” replied Henriette, struggling with her tears, lest she should seem a child, and not the woman of fashion she aspired to be. “He left us early in the afternoon to ride back to London, and he takes barge this afternoon to Gravesend, to embark for Archangel, on his way to Moscow. I doubt you know he is to be his Majesty’s Ambassador at Muscovy?”

“I know nothing but what you told me t’other day, Henriette,” the Knight answered, as they went to the house, where George began to run about on an exploration of corridors, and then escaped to the stables, while Henriette stood in front of the great wood fire, and warmed her hands in a stately manner.

Angela had found no words of welcome for her niece yet. She only hugged and kissed her, and now occupied herself unfastening the child’s hood and cloak. “How your hands shake, auntie. You must be colder than I am; though that leathern coach lets in the wind like a sieve. I suppose my people will know where to dispose themselves?” she added, resuming her grand air.

“Reuben will take care of them, dearest.”

“Why, your voice shakes like your hands; and oh, how white you are. But you are glad to see us, I hope?”

“Gladder than I can say, Henriette.”

“I am glad you don’t call me Papillon. I have left off that ridiculous name, which I ought never to have permitted.”

“I doubt, mistress, you who know so much know what is in this letter,” said Sir John, staring at Fareham’s superscription as if he had come suddenly upon an adder.

“Nay, sir, I only know that my father was shut in his library for a long time writing, and was as white as my aunt is now when he brought it to me. ‘You and George, and your gouvernante and servants, are to go to the Manor Moat the day after to-morrow,’ he said, ‘and you are to give this letter into your grandfather’s hand.’ I have done my duty, and await your Honour’s pleasure. Our gouvernante is not the Frenchwoman. Father dismissed her for neglecting my education, and walking out after dark with Daniel Lettsome. ’Tis only Priscilla, who is something between a servant and a friend, and who does everything I tell her.”

“A pretty gouvernante!”

“Nay, sir, she is as plain as a pikestaff; that is one of her merits. Mademoiselle thought herself pretty, and angled for a rich husband. Please be so good as to read your letter, grandfather, for I believe it is about us.”

Sir John broke the seal, and began to read the letter with a frowning brow, which lightened as he read. Angela stood with her niece clasped in her arms, and watched her father’s countenance across the silky brown head that nestled against her bosom.

“SIR— Were it not in the interests of others, who must needs hold a place in your affection second only to that they have in my heart, I should scarce presume to address you; but it is to the grandfather of my children I write, rather than to the gentleman whom I have so deeply offended. I look back, sir, and repent the violence of that unhappy night; but know no change in the melancholy passion that impelled me to crime. It would have been better for me had I been the worst rake-hell at Whitehall, than to have held myself aloof from the modish vices of my day, only to concentrate all my desires and affections there, where it was most sinful to place them.

“Enough, sir. Did I stand alone I should have found an easy solution of all difficulties, and you, and the lady my madness has so insulted, would have been rid for ever of the despicable wretch who now addresses you.

“I had to remember the dear innocents who bring you this letter, and it was of them I thought when I humbled myself to turn courtier in order to obtain the post of Ambassador to Muscovy — in which savage place I shall be so remote from all who ever knew me in this country, that I shall be as good as dead; and you would have as much compunction in withholding your love and protection from my boy and girl as if they were de facto orphans. I send them to you, sir, unheralded. I fling them into the bosom of your love. They are rich, and the allowance that will be paid you for them will cover, I apprehend, all outlays on their behalf, or can be increased at your pleasure. My lawyers, whom you know, will be at your service for all communications; and they will spare you the pain of correspondence with me.

“I leave the nurture, education, and happiness of these, my only son and daughter, solely in your care and authority. They have been reared in over-much luxury, and have been spoiled by injudicious indulgence. But their faults are trivial faults, and are all on the surface. They are truthful, and have warm and generous hearts. I shall deem it a further favour if you will allow their nurse, or nurse-gouvernante, Mrs. Priscilla Baker, to remain with them, as your servant, and subject to your authority. Their horses, ponies, hawks, and hounds, carriages, etc., must be accommodated, or not, at your pleasure. My girl is greatly taken up with the Arab horse I gave her on her last birthday, and I should be glad if your stable could shelter him. I subscribe myself, perhaps for the last time, sir,

“Your obedient servant, and a penitent sinner,

“FAREHAM.”

When he had come to the end of the letter, reading slowly and thoughtfully, Sir John handed it to his daughter, in a dead silence.

She tried to read; but at sight of the beloved writing a rush of tears blinded her, and she gave the letter back to her father.

“I cannot read it, sir,” she sobbed; “tell me only, are we to keep the children?”

“Yes. Henceforward they are our children; and it will be the business of our lives to make them happy.”

“If you cry, tante, I shall think you are vexed that we have come to plague you,” said Henriette, with a pretty, womanly air. “I am very sorry for his poor lordship, for he also cried when he kissed us; but he will have skating and sledging in Muscovy, and he will shoot bears; so he will be very happy.”

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