London Pride, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 28

In a Dead Calm.

The great bales and chests, and leather trunks, on the filling whereof Sir John’s household had bestowed a week’s labour, were all unpacked and cleared out of the hall, to make room for a waggon load of packages from Chilton Abbey, which preliminary waggon was followed day after day by other conveyances laden with other possessions of the Honourable Henriette, or the Honourable George. The young lady’s virginals, her guitar, her embroidery frames, her books, her “babies,” which the maids had packed, although it was long since she had played with them; the young gentleman’s guns and whips, tennis rackets, bows and arrows, and a mass of heterogeneous goods; there seemed no end to the two children’s personal property, and it was well that the old house was sufficiently spacious to afford a wing for their occupation. They brought their gouvernante, and a valet and maid, the falconer, and three grooms, for whom lodgings had to be found out-of-doors. The valet and waiting-woman spent some days in distributing and arranging all that mass of belongings; but at the end of their labour the children’s rooms looked more cheerful than their luxurious quarters at Chilton, and the children themselves were delighted with their new home.

“We are lodged ever so much better here than at the Abbey,” George told his grandfather. “We were ever so far away from father and mother, and the house was under a curse, being stolen from the Church in King Henry’s reign. Once, when I had a fever, an old grey monk came and sat at the foot of the bed, between the curtains, and wouldn’t go away. He sat there always, till I began to get well again. Father said there was nothing there, and it was only the fever made me see him; but I know it was the ghost of one of the monks who were flung out to starve when the Abbey was seized by Cromwell’s men. Not Oliver Cromwell, grandfather; but another bad man of the name, who had his head cut off afterwards; though I doubt he deserved the axe less than the Brewer did.”

There was no more talk of Montpelier or exile. A new life began in the old house in the valley, with new pleasures, new motives, new duties — a life in which the children were paramount. These two eager young minds ruled at the Manor Moat. For them the fish-pond teemed with carp and tench, for them hawks flew, and hounds ran, and horses and ponies were moving from morning till twilight; for them Sir John grew young again, and hunted fox and hare, and rode with the hawks with all the pertinacity of youth, for whom there is no such word as enough. For them the happy grandfather lived in his boots from October to March, and the adoring aunt spent industrious hours in the fabrication of flies for trout, after the recipes in Mr. Walton’s agreeable book. The whole establishment was ordered for their comfort and pleasure; but their education and improvement were also considered in everything. A Roman Catholic gentleman, from St. Omer, was engaged as George’s tutor, and to teach Angela and Henriette Latin and Italian, studies in which the niece was stimulated to industry by her desire to surpass her aunt, an ambition which her volatile spirits never allowed her to realise. For all other learning and accomplishments Angela was her only teacher, and as the girl grew to womanhood aunt and niece read and studied together, like sisters, rather than like pupil and mistress; and Angela taught Henriette to love those books which Fareham had given her, and so in a manner the intellect of the banished father influenced the growing mind of the child. Together, and of one opinion in all things, aunt and niece visited and ministered to the neighbouring poor, or entertained their genteel neighbours in a style at once friendly and elegant. No existence could have been calmer or happier, to one who was content to renounce all passionate hopes and desires, all the romantic aspirations of youth; and Angela had resigned herself to such renunciation when she rose from her sick-bed, after the tragedy at Chilton. Here was the calm of the Convent without its restrictions and limitations, the peace which is not of this world, and yet liberty to enjoy all that is fairest and noblest in this world; for had not Sir John pledged himself to take his daughter and niece and nephew for the grand tour through France and Italy, soon after George’s seventeenth birthday? Father Andrea, who was of Florentine birth, would go with them; and with such a cicisbeo, they would see and understand all the treasures of the past and the present, antique and modern art.

Lord Fareham was still in the north of Europe; but, after three years in Russia, had been transferred from Moscow to Copenhagen, where he was in high favour with the King of Denmark.

Denzil Warner had lately married a young lady of fortune, the only child and heiress of a Wiltshire gentleman, who had made a considerable figure in Parliament under the Protector, but was now retired from public affairs.

And all that remained to Angela of her story of impassioned love, sole evidence of the homage that had been offered to her beauty or her youth, was a letter, now long grown dim with tears, which Henriette had given to her on the first night the children spent under their grandfather’s roof.

“I was to hand you this when no one was by,” the girl said simply, and left her aunt standing mute and pale with a sealed letter in her hand.

“How shall I thank or praise you for the sacrifice your love made for one so unworthy — a sacrifice that cut me to the heart? Alas, my beloved, it would have been better for both of us hadst thou given me thyself rather than so empty a gift as thy good name. I hoped to tell you, lip to lip, in one last meeting, all my gratitude and all my hopeless love; but though I have watched and hung about your gardens and meadows day after day, you have been too jealously guarded, or have kept too close, and only with my pen can I bid you an eternal farewell.

“I go out of your life for ever, since I am leaving for a distant country with the fixed intention never to return to England. I bequeath you my children, as if I left you a rag of my own lacerated heart.

“If you ever think of me, I pray you to consider the story of my life as that of an invincible passion, wicked and desperate if you will, but constant as life and death. You were, and are, and will be to my latest breath, my only love.

“Perhaps you will think sometimes, as I shall think always, that we might have lived innocently and happily in New England, forgetting and forgotten by the rabble we left behind us, having shaken off the slough of an unhappy life, beginning the world again, under new names, in a new climate and country. It was a guilty dream to entertain, perhaps; but I shall dream it often enough in a strange land, among strange faces and strange manners — shall dream of you on my death-bed, and open dying eyes to see you standing by my bedside, looking down at me with that sweetly sorrowful look I remember best of all the varying expressions in the face I worship. — Farewell for ever.

“F.”

While her son and daughter were growing up at the Manor Moat, Lady Fareham sparkled at the French Court, one of the most brilliant figures in that brilliant world, a frequent guest at the Louvre and Palais Royal, and the brand-new palace of Versailles, where the largest Court that had ever collected round a throne was accommodated in a building of Palladian richness in ornament and detail, a Palace whose offices were spacious enough for two thousand servants. No foreigner at the great King’s court was more admired than the lovely Lady Fareham, whose separation from her black-browed husband occasioned no scandal in a society where the husbands of beautiful women were for the most part gentlemen who pursued their own vulgar amours abroad, and allowed a wide liberty to the Venus at home; nor was Henri de Malfort’s constant attendance upon her ladyship a cause of evil-speaking, since there was scarce a woman of consequence who had not her cavalière servante.

Madame de Sévigné, in one of those budgets of Parisian scandal with which she cheered a kinsman’s banishment, assured Bussy de Rabutin that Lady Fareham had paid her friend’s debts more than once since her return to France; but constancy such as De Malfort’s could hardly be expected were not the golden fetters of love riveted by the harder metal of self-interest. Their alliance was looked on with favour by all that brilliant world, and even tolerated by that severe moralist, the Due du Montausier, who had been lately rewarded for his wife’s civility to Mademoiselle de la Vallière, now Duchess and reigning favourite, by being made guardian of the infant Dauphin.

Every one approved, every one admired; and Hyacinth’s life in the land she loved was like a long summer day. But darkness came upon that day as suddenly as the night of the tropics. She rose one morning, light-hearted and happy, to pursue the careless round of pleasure. She lay down in a darkened chamber, never again to mix in that splendid crowd.

Betwixt noon and twilight Henri de Malfort had fallen in a combat of eight, a combat so savage as to recall that fatal fight of five against five during the Fronde, in which Nemours had fallen, shot through the heart by Beaufort.

The light words of a fool in a tavern, backed by three other fools, had led to this encounter, in which De Malfort had been the challenger. He and one of his friends died on the ground, while three on the other side were mortally wounded. It would henceforth be fully understood that Lady Fareham’s name was not for ribald jesters; but the man Lady Fareham loved was dead, and her life of pleasure had ended with a pistol-ball from an unerring hand. To her it seemed the hand of Fate. She scarcely thought of the man who had killed him.

As her life had been brilliant and conspicuous, so her retirement from the world was not without éclat. Royalty witnessed the solemn office of the Church which transformed Hyacinth, Lady Fareham, into Mère Agnes, of the Seven Wounds; while, seated in the royal tribune, a King’s mistress, beautiful and adored, thought of a day when she, too, might bring to yonder altar the sacrifice of a broken spirit and a life that had outlived earthly happiness.

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