The quiet days went on, and the old Cavalier settled down into a tranquil happiness, which comforted his daughter with the feeling of duty prosperously fulfilled. To make this dear old man happy, to be his companion and friend, to share in his rides and rambles, and of an evening to play the games he loved on the old shovel-board in the hall, or an old-fashioned game at cards, or backgammon beside the fire in the panelled parlour, reconciled her to the melancholy of an existence from which hope had vanished like a light extinguished. It seemed to her as if she had dropped back into the old life with her great-aunt. The Manor House was just a little gayer than the Flemish Convent — for the voices and footsteps of the few inhabitants had a freer sound, which made the few seem more populous than the many. And then there were the dogs. What a powerful factor in home life those four-footed friends were! Out-of-doors a stone barn had been turned into a kennel for five couple of foxhounds; indoors a couple of setters, sent by a friend over sea from Waterford, had insinuated themselves into the parlour, where they established themselves as household favourites, to the damage of those higher hereditary qualities which fitted them for distinction with the guns. Indeed, the old Knight was too fond of his fireside companions to care very much if he missed a bird now and then because Cataline was over-fed or Caesar disobedient. They stood sentinel on each side of his chair at dinner, like supporters to a coat-of-arms. Angela had her own particular favourite in a King Charles’s spaniel. It was the very dog which had first greeted her in the silence of the plague-stricken house. She had chosen this one from the canine troop when her sister offered her the gift of a dog at parting, though Hyacinth had urged her to take something younger than this, which was over five years old.
“He will die just when you love him best,” she said.
“Nay; but such partings must come. I love this one because he was with me in fear and sadness. He used to cling to me, and look up and lick my face, as if he were telling me to hope, when my brother seemed marked for death.”
“Poor Fareham! Did you desire every dog in the house — and my spaniels are of the same breed as the King’s, and worth fifty pound apiece — you have a right to take them. But, indeed, I would rather you chose a younger dog — and with a shorter nose; but, of course, if you like this one best ——”
Angela held by her first choice, and Ganymede was the companion of all her hours, walked and lived with her, and slept on a satin cushion at the foot of her spacious four-post bed, and fretted and whined if she left him shut in an empty room for half an hour; yet with all his refinements, and his air of being as dainty a gentleman as any spark of quality, he had a gross passion for the kitchen, and after nibbling sweet cakes delicately out of his mistress’s taper fingers, he would waddle through a labyrinth of passages, and find his way to the hog-tub, there to wallow in slush and broken victuals, till he all but drowned himself in a flood of pot-liquor. It was hard to reconcile so much beauty and grace, such eloquent eyes and satin coat, with tastes and desires so vulgar; and Angela sighed over him when a scullion brought him to her, greasy and penitent, to crouch at her feet, and deprecate her disgust with an abject tail.
Oh, tranquil, duteous life, how fair it might have seemed, as spring advanced, and the garden smiled with the promise of summer, were it not for that aching sense of loss, the some one missing, whose absence made all things grey and cold!
Yes, she knew now, fully realising as she had never done before, how long and how utterly her life had been influenced by an affection which even to contemplate was mortal sin. Yet to extinguish memory was not within her power. She looked back and remembered how Fareham’s protecting love had enfolded her with its gentle warmth, in those happy days at Chilton; how all she knew of poetry and the drama, of ethics and philosophy, had been learnt from him. She recalled his evident delight in opening the rich treasures of a mind which he had never ceased to cultivate, even amidst the vicissitudes of a soldier’s life, in making her familiar with the writers he loved, and teaching her to estimate, and to discuss them. And in all their talk together he had been for the most part careful to avoid disparagement of the religion in which she believed — so that it was only some chance revelation of the infidel’s narrow outlook that reminded her of his unbelief.
Yes, his love had been round her like an atmosphere; and she had been exquisitely happy while that unquestioning affection was hers. On her part there had been neither doubt nor fear. It seemed the most natural thing in the world that he should be fond of her and she of him. Affinity had made them brother and sister; and then they had been together in sickness and in peril of death. It might be true, as he himself had affirmed, that her so happy arrival had saved his life; since just those hours between the departure of his attendants and the physician’s evening visit may have been the crisis of his disease.
Well, it was past — the exquisite bliss, the unconscious sin, the confidence, the danger. All had vanished into the grave of irrecoverable days.
She had heard nothing from Denzil since she left London, nor had she acknowledged his letter. Her silence had doubtless angered him, and all was at an end between them, and this was what she wished. Hyacinth and her children were at Chilton, whence came letters of complaining against the dulness of the country, where his lordship hunted four times a week, and spent all the rest of his time in his library, appearing only “at our stupid heavy meals; and that not always, since on his hunting days he is far afield when I have to sit down to the intolerable two-o’clock dinner, and make a pretence of eating — as if anybody with more intellectuals than a sheep could dine; or as if appetite came by staring at green fields! You remember how in London supper was the only meal I ever cared for. There is some grace in a repast that comes after conversation and music, or the theatre, or a round of visits — a table dazzling with lights, and men and women ready to amuse, and be amused. But to sit down in broad daylight, when one has scarce swallowed one’s morning chocolate, and face a sweltering sirloin, or open a smoking veal pie! Indeed, dearest, our whole method of feeding smacks of a vulgar brutishness, more appropriate to a company of Topinambous than to persons of quality. Why, oh, why must these reeking hecatombs load our tables, when they might as easily be kept out of sight upon a buffet? The spectacle of huge mountains of meat, the steam and odour of rank boiled and roast under one’s very nostrils, change appetite to nausea, and would induce a delicate person to rise in disgust and fly from the dining-room. Mais, je ne fais que divaguer; and almost forget what it was I was so earnest to tell thee when I began my letter.
“Sir Denzil Warner has been over here, his ostensible motive a civil inquiry after my health; but I could see that his actual purpose was to hear of you. I told him how happily your simple soul has accommodated itself to an almost conventual seclusion, and a very inferior style of living — whereupon he smiled his rapture, and praised you to the skies. ‘Would that she could accommodate herself to my house as easily,’ he said; ‘she should have every indulgence that an adoring husband could yield her.’ And then he said much more, but as lovers always sing the same repetitive song, and have no more strings to their lyre than the ancients had before Mercury expanded it, I confess to not listening over carefully, and will leave you to imagine the eloquence of a manly and honourable love. Ah, sweetheart! you do wrong to reject him. Thou hast a quiet soothing prettiness of thine own, but art no blazing star of beauty, like the Stewart, to bring a King to thy feet — he would have married her if poor Catherine had not disappointed him by her recovery — and to take a Duke as pis aller. Believe me, love, it were wise of you to become Lady Warner, with an unmortgaged estate, and a husband who, in these Republican times, may rise to distinction. He is your only earnest admirer; and a love so steadfast, backed by a fortune so respectable, should not be discarded lightly.”
Over all these latter passages in her sister’s letter Angela’s eye ran with a scornful carelessness. Her womanly pride revolted at such petty schooling — that she should be bidden to accept this young man gratefully, because he was her only suitor. No one else had ever cared for her pale insignificance. She looked at her clouded image in the oblong glass that hung on the panel above her secrétaire, and whose reflection made any idea of her own looks rather speculative than precise. It showed her a thoughtful face, too pale for beauty; yet she could but note the harmony of lines which recalled that Venetian type familiar to her eye in the Titians and Tintorets at Fareham House.
“I doubt I am good-looking enough for any one to be satisfied with the outward semblance who valued the soul within,” she thought, as she turned from the glass with a mournful sigh.
It was not of Denzil she was thinking, but of that other who in slow contemplative days in the library where he had taught her what books she ought to love, and where she might never more enter, must naturally sometimes remember her, and cast some backward thoughts to the hours they had spent together.
Hyacinth’s letter of matronly counsel was but a week old when Sir John surprised his daughter one morning, as they sat at table, by the announcement of a visitor to stay in the house.
“You will order the west room to be got ready, Angela, and bid Marjory Cook serve us some of her savourest dishes while Sir Denzil stays here.”
“Yes, ma mie, Sir Denzil! Ventregris, the girl stares as if I had said Sir Bevis of Southampton, or Sir Guy of Warwick! I knew this young gentleman’s father before the troubles — an honest man, though he took the wrong side He paid for his perversity with his life; so we’ll say requiescat. The young man is a fine young man, whom I would fain have something nearer to me than he is. So at a hint from your sister I have asked him to bring his fishing tackle and whip our streams for a May trout or two. He may catch a finer fish than trout, perhaps, while he is a-fishing; if you will be his guide through the meadows.”
“Father, how could you ——”
“Ah! thou art a sly one, fair mistress. Who was it told me there was no one? ‘No one, dear father, and indeed, sir, I was thinking of the convent when you came to London,’ while here was as handsome a spark as one would meet in a day’s march, sighing and dying for you.”
“Father, I do protest to you ——” she began, with a pale distressed look that vouched for her earnestness; but the Knight had his face in the tankard, and set it down only to pursue his own train of thought.
“If it had not have been for that little bird at Chilton you might have hoodwinked me as blind as ever gerfalcon was hooded. Well, the young man will be here before evening. I would not force your inclinations, but it is the dearest desire of my heart to see you happily married before I blow out the candle, and bid my last good night. And a man of honour, handsome and of handsomest fortune, is not to be slighted.”
Angela’s spirit rose against this recurrence of her sister’s sermon.
“If Sir Denzil is coming to this house as my suitor, I will go to Louvain without an hour’s delay that I can help,” she said resolutely.
“Why, what a vixen! Nay, dearest, there is no need for that angry flush. The young man is too courteous to plague you with unwelcome civilities. I saw him in London at the tennis court, and was friendly to him for his father’s memory, knowing nothing of his desire to be my son-in-law. He is a fine player at that royal game, and a fine man. He comes here this evening as my friend; and if you please to treat him disdainfully, I cannot help it. But, indeed, I wonder as much as your sister why you should not reciprocate this gentleman’s love.”
“When you were young, father, did you love the first comer; only because she was handsome and civil?”
“No, child; I had seen many handsome women before I met your mother. She came over in ‘35 with the Marquise, who had been lady of honour to Queen Marie before the Princess Henriette married our King, and Queen Henriette was fond of her, and invited her to come to London, and she divided her life between the two countries till the troubles, when she was one of the first to scamper off, as you know. My wife was little more than a child when I saw her at Court, hiding behind her mother’s large sleeves. I had seen handsomer women; but she was the first whose face went straight to my heart. And it has dwelt there ever since,” he concluded, with a sudden break in his voice.
“Then you can comprehend, dear sir, that a man may be honourable, and courteous, and handsome, and yet not win a woman’s love.”
“Ah, it is not the man; it is love that should win, sweetheart. Love is worthy of love. When that is the true coin it should buy its reward. Indeed I have rarely seen it otherwise. Love begets love. Louise de la Vallière is not the handsomest woman at the French Court. Her complexion has suffered from small-pox, and she has a defective gait; but the King discovered a so fond and romantic attachment to his person, a love ashamed of loving, the very poetry of affection; and that discovery made him her slave. The Court beauties — sultanas splendid as Vashti — look on in angry wonder. Louise is adored because she began by adoring. Mind, I do not praise or excuse her, for ’tis a mortal sin to love a married man, and steal him from his wife. Foolish child, how your cheek crimsons! I do wrong to shock your innocence with my babble of a King’s mistress.”
Denzil arrived at sunset, on horseback, with a mounted servant in attendance, carrying his saddle-bags and fishing tackle. It was but a short day’s ride from Oxford. Fareham’s rides with the hounds must have brought him sometimes within a few miles of the Manor Moat Hyacinth and her children might have ridden over in their coach; and indeed she had promised her sister a visit in more than one of her letters. But there had been always something to postpone the expedition — company at home, or bad weather, or a fit of the vapours — so that the sisters had been as much asunder as if the elder had been in Yorkshire or Northumberland.
Denzil brought news of the household at Chilton. Lady Fareham was as charming as ever, and though she had complained very often of bad health, she had been so lively and active whenever the whim took her, riding with hawk and hound, visiting about the neighbourhood, driving into Oxford, that Denzil was of opinion her ailments were of the spirits only, a kind of rustic malady to which most fine ladies were subject, the nostalgia of paving-stones and oil lamps. Henriette — she now insisted upon discarding her nick-name — was less volatile than in London, and missed her aunt sorely, and quarrelled with mademoiselle, who was painfully strict upon all points of speech and manners. George’s days of unalloyed idleness were also ended, for the Roman Catholic priest was now a resident in the house as the little boy’s tutor, besides teaching ‘Henriette the rudiments, and instructing her in her mother’s religion.
Denzil told them even of the guests he had met at the Abbey; but of the master of the house his lips spoke not, till Sir John questioned him.
“And Fareham? Has he that same air of not belonging to the family which I remarked of him in London?”
“His lordship has ever an air of being aloof from everybody,” Denzil answered gravely. “He is solitary even in his sports, and his indoor life is mostly buried in a book.”
“Ah, those books, they will be the ruin of nations! As books multiply, great actions will grow less. Life’s golden hours will be wasted in dreaming over the fancies of dead men; and the world will be over-full of brooding philosophers like Descartes, or pamphleteers like your friend Mr. Milton.”
“Nay, sir, the world is richer for such a man as John Milton, who has composed the grandest poem in our language — an epic on a scale and subject as sublime as the Divine Comedy of Dante.”
“I never saw Mr. Dante’s comedy acted, and confess myself ignorant of its merits.”
“Comedy, sir, with Dante, is but a name. The Italian poem is an epic, and not a play. Mr. Milton’s poem will be given to the world shortly, though, alas! he will reap little substantial reward for the intellectual labour of years. Poetry is not a marketable commodity in England, save when it flatters a royal patron, or takes the vulgarer form of a stage-play. But this poem of Mr. Milton’s has been the solace of his darkened life. You have heard, perhaps, of his blindness?”
“Yes, he had to forego his office as Latin Secretary to that villain. To my mind the decay of sight was a judgment upon him for having written against his murdered King, even to the denial of his Majesty’s own account of his sufferings. But I confess that even if the man had been a loyal subject, I have little admiration for that class; scribblers and pamphleteers, brooders over books, crouchers in the chimney-corner, who have never trailed a pike or slept under the open sky. And seeing this vast increase of book-learning, and the arising of such men as Hobbes, to question our religion — and Milton to assail monarchy — I can but believe those who say that this old England has taken the downward bent; that, as we are dwindling in stature, so we are decaying in courage and capacity for action.”
Denzil listened respectfully to the old man’s disquisitions over his morning drink; while Reuben stood at the sideboard carving a ham or a round of powdered beef; and while Angela sipped her chocolate out of the porcelain cup which Hyacinth had bought for her at the Middle Exchange, where curiosities from China and the last inventions from Paris were always to be had before they were seen anywhere else. Nothing could be more reverential than the young man’s bearing to his host, while his quiet friendliness set Angela at her ease, and made her think that he had abandoned his suit, and henceforward aspired only to such a tranquil friendship as they had enjoyed at Chilton before any word of love had been spoken.
Apart from the question of love and marriage, his presence was in no manner displeasing to her; indeed, the long days in that sequestered valley lost something of their grey monotony now that she had a companion in all her intellectual occupations. Fondly as she loved her father, she had not been able to hide from herself the narrowness of his education and the blind prejudice which governed his ideas upon almost every subject, from politics to natural history. Of the books which make the greater part of a solitary life she could never talk to him; and it was here that she had so sorely missed the counsellor and friend, who had taught her to love and to comprehend the great poets of the past — Homer and Virgil, Dante and Tasso, and the deep melancholy humour of Cervantes, and, most of all, the inexhaustible riches of the Elizabethans.
Denzil was of a temper as thoughtful, but his studies had taken a different direction. He was not even by taste or apprehension a poet. Had he been called upon to criticise his tutor’s compositions, he might, like Johnson, have objected to the metaphoric turns of Lycidas, and have missed the melody of lines as musical as the nightingale. In that great poem of which he had been privileged to transcribe many of the finest passages from the lips of the poet, he admired rather the heroic patience of the blind author than the splendour of the verse. He was more impressed by the schoolmaster’s learning than by that God-given genius which lifted that one Englishman above every other of his age and country. No, he was eminently prosaic, had sucked prose and plain-thinking from his mother’s breast; but he was not the less an agreeable companion for a girl upon whose youth an unnatural solitude had begun to weigh heavily.
All that one mind can impart to another of a widely different fibre, Denzil had learnt from Milton in that most impressionable period of boyhood which he had spent in the small house in Holborn, whose back rooms looked out over the verdant spaces of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where Lord Newcastle’s palace had not yet begun to rise from its foundations, and where the singing birds had not been scared away by the growth of the town. A theatre now stood where the boy and a fellow-scholar had played trap and ball, and the stately houses of Queen Street hard by were alive with rank and fashion.
In addition to the classical curriculum which Milton had taught with the solemn earnestness of one in whom learning is a religion, Denzil had acquired a store of miscellaneous knowledge from the great Republican; and most interesting among these casual instructions had been the close acquaintance with nature gained in the course of many a rustic ramble in the country lanes beyond Gray’s Inn, or sauntering eastward along the banks of the limpid Lee, or in the undulating meadows beside Sir Hugh Middleton’s river. Mixed with plain facts about plant or flower, animal or insect, Milton’s memory was stored with the quaint absurdities of the Hermetic philosophy, that curious mixture of deep-reaching theories and old women’s superstitions, the experience of the peasant transmuted by the imagination of the adept. Sound and practical as the poet had ever shown himself — save where passion got the upper hand of common sense, as in his advocacy of divorce — he was yet not entirely free from a leaning to Baconian superstitions, and may, with Gesner, have believed that the pickerel weed could engender pike, and that frogs could turn to slime in winter, and become frogs again in spring. Whatever rags of old-world fatuity may have lingered in that strong brain, he had been not the less a delightful teacher, and had imparted an ardent love of nature to his little family of pupils in that peripatetic school between hawthorn hedges or in the open fields by the Lee.
And now, in quiet rambles with Angela, in the midst of a landscape transfigured by that vernal beauty which begins with the waning of April, and is past and vanished before the end of May, Denzil loved to expound the wonders of the infinitesimal; the insect life that sparkled and hummed in the balmy air, or flashed like living light among the dewy grasses; the life of plant and flower, which seemed almost as personal and conscious a form of existence; since it was difficult to believe there was no sense of struggle or of joy in those rapid growths which shot out from a tangle of dark undergrowth upward to the sunlight, no fondness in the wild vines that clung so close to some patriarchal trunk, covering decay with the beautiful exuberance of youth. Denzil taught her to realise the wonders of creation — most wonderful when most minute — for beyond the picturesque and lovely in nature, he showed her those marvels of order, and law, and adaptation, which speak to the naturalist with a stronger language than beauty.
There was a tranquil pleasure in these rustic walks, which beguiled her into forgetfulness that this man had ever sought to be more to her than he was now — a respectful, unobtrusive friend. Of London, and the tumultuous life going on there, he had scarcely spoken, save to tell her that he meant to stand for Henley at the next Parliament; nor had he alluded to the past at Chilton; nor ever of his own accord had he spoken Lord Fareham’s name; indeed, that name was studiously avoided by them both; and if Denzil had never before suspected Angela of an unhappy preference for one whom she could not love without sin, he might have had some cause for such suspicion in the eagerness with which she changed the drift of the conversation whenever it approached that forbidden subject.
From his Puritanical bringing up, the theory of self-surrender and deprivation ever kept before him, Denzil had assuredly learnt to possess his soul in patience; and throughout all that smiling month of May, while he whipped the capricious streams that wound about the valley, with Angela for the willing companion of his saunterings from pool to pool, he never once alarmed her by any hint of a warmer feeling than friendship; indeed, he thought of himself sometimes as one who lived in an enchanted world, where to utter a certain fatal word would be to break the spell; and whatever momentary impulse or passionate longing, engendered by a look, a smile, the light touch of a hand, the mere sense of proximity, might move him to speak of his love, he had sufficient self-command to keep the fatal words unspoken. He meant to wait till the last hour of his visit. Only when separation was imminent would he plead his cause again. Thus at the worst he would have lost no happy hours of her company. And, in the mean time, since she was always kind, and seemed to grow daily more familiar and at ease in his society, he dared hope that affection for him and forgetfulness of that other were growing side by side in her mind.
In this companionship Angela learnt many of the secrets and subtleties of the angler’s craft, as acquired by her teacher’s personal experience, or expounded in that delightful book, then less than twenty years old, which has ever been the angler’s gospel. Often after following the meandering water till a gentle weariness invited them to rest, Angela and Denzil seated themselves on a sheltered bank and read their Izaak Walton together, both out of the same volume, he pleased to point out his favourite passages and to watch her smile as she read.
Before May was ended, she knew old Izaak almost as well as Denzil, and had learnt to throw a fly, and to choose the likeliest spot and the happiest hour of the day for a good trout; had learnt to watch the clouds and cloud-shadows with an angler’s keen interest; and had amused herself with the manufacture of an artificial minnow, upon Walton’s recipe, devoting careful labour and all the resources of her embroidery basket — silks and silver thread — to perfecting the delicate model, which, when completed, she presented smilingly to Denzil, who was strangely moved by so childish a toy, and had some difficulty in suppressing his emotion as he held the glistening silken fish in his hands, and thought how her tapering fingers had caressed it, and how much of her very self seemed, as he watched her, to have been enwrought with the fabric. So poor, so trivial a thing; but her first gift! If she had tossed him a flower, plucked that moment, he would have treasured it all his life; but this, which had cost her so much careful work, was far more than any casual blossom. Something of the magnetism of her mind had passed into the silver thread drawn so daintily through her rosy fingers — something of the soft light in her eyes had mixed with the blended colours of the silk. Foolish fancies these, but in the gravest man’s love there is a vein of folly.
Sometimes they rode with Sir John, and in this way explored the neighbourhood, which was rich in historical associations — some of the remote past, as when King John kept Christmas at Brill; but chiefly of those troubled times through which Sir John Kirkland had lived, an active participator in that deadly drama. He showed them the site of the garrison at Brill, and trod every foot of the earthworks to demonstrate how the hill had been fortified. He had commanded in the defence against Hampden and his greencoats — that regiment of foot raised in his pastoral shire, whose standard bore on one side the watchword of the Parliament, “God with us,” and on the other Hampden’s own device, “Vestigia nulla retrorsum.”
“’Twas a legend to frighten some of us, who had no Latin,” said Sir John; “but we put his bumpkin greencoats to the rout, and trampled that insolent flag in the mire.”
All was peaceful now in the hamlet on the hill. Women and children were sitting upon sunny doorsteps, with their pillows on their knees and their bobbins moving quickly in dexterous fingers, busy at the lace-making which had been established in Buckinghamshire more than a century before by Catherine of Aragon, whose dowry was derived from the revenues of Steeple Claydon. The Curate had returned to the grey old church, and rural life pursued its slumbrous course, scarce ruffled by rumours of maritime war, or plague, or fire. They rode to Thame — a stage on the journey to Oxford, Angela thought, as she noted the figures on a milestone, and at a flash her memory recalled that scene in the gardens by the river, when Fareham had spoken for the first time of his inner life, and she had seen the man behind the mask. She thought of her sister, so fair, so sweet, charming in her capriciousness even, yet not the woman to fill that unquiet heart, or satisfy that sombre and earnest nature. It was not by many words that Fareham had revealed himself. Her knowledge of his character and feelings went deeper than the knowledge that words can impart. It came from that constant unconscious study which a romantic girl devotes to the character of the man who first awakens her interest.
Angela was grave and silent throughout the drive to Thame and the return home, riding for the most part in the rear of the two men, leaving Denzil to devote all his attention to Sir John, who was somewhat loquacious that afternoon, stimulated by the many memories of the troubled time which the road awakened. Denzil listened respectfully, and went never astray in his answers, but he looked back very often to the solitary rider who kept at some distance to avoid the dust.
Sometimes in the early morning they all went with the otter hounds, the Knight on horseback, Denzil and Angela on foot, and spent two or three very active hours before breakfast in rousing the otter from his holt, and following every flash of his head upon the stream, with that briskness and active enjoyment which seem a part of the clear morning atmosphere, the inspiring breath of dewy fields and flowers unfaded by the sun. All that there was of girlishness in Angela’s spirits was awakened by those merry morning scampers by the margin of the stream, which had often to be forded by the runners, with but’ little heed of wet feet or splashed petticoat. The Parson and his daughters from the village of St Nicholas joined in the sport, and were invited to the morning drink and substantial breakfast afterwards, where the young ladies were lost in admiration of Angela’s silver chocolate-pot and porcelain cups, while their clerical father owned to a distaste for all morning drinks except such as owed their flavour and strength to malt and hops.
“If you had lived among green fields and damp marshes as long as I have, miss, you would know what poor stuff your chocolate is to fortify a man’s bones against ague and rheumatism. I am told the Spaniards brought it from Mexico, where the natives eat nothing else, from which comes the copper colour of their skins.”
Denzi’s visit lasted over a month, during which time he rode into Oxfordshire twice, to see Lady Warner, stopping a night each time, lest that worthy person should fancy herself neglected.
Sir John derived the utmost pleasure from the young man’s company, who bore himself towards his host with a respectful courtesy that had gone out of fashion after the murder of the King, and was rarely met with in an age when elderly men were generally spoken of as “old puts,” and considered proper subjects for “bubbling.”
To Denzil the old campaigner opened his heart more freely than he had ever done to any one except a brother in arms; and although he was resolute in upholding the cause of Monarchy against Republicanism, he owned to the natural disappointment which he had felt at the King’s neglect of old friends, and reluctantly admitted that Charles, sauntering along Pall Mall with ruin at his heels, and the wickedest men and women in England for his chosen companions, was not a monarch to maintain and strengthen the public idea of the divinity that doth hedge a King.
“Of all the lessons danger and adversity can teach he has learnt but one,” said Sir John, with a regretful sigh. “He has learnt the Horatian philosophy — to snatch the pleasures of the day, and care nothing what may happen on the morrow. I do not wonder that predictions of a sudden end to this globe of ours should have been bruited about of late; for if lust and profaneness could draw down fire from heaven, London would be in as perilous a case as Gomorrah. But I doubt such particular judgments belonged but to the infancy of this world, when men believed in a Personal God, interested in all their concerns, watchful to bless or to punish. We have now but the God of Spinoza — a God who is in all things and everywhere about us, of whom this Creation in which we move is but the garment — a Universal Essence which should govern and inform all we are and all we do; but not the Judge and Father of His people, to be reached by prayer and touched by pity.”
“Ah, sir, our life here and hereafter is encompassed with mystery. To think is to be lost on the trackless ocean of doubt. The Papists have the easiest creed, for they believe that which they are taught, and take the mysteries of the unseen world at second hand from their Priests. A year ago, had I been happy enough to win your daughter, I should have tried my hardest to wean her from Rome; but I have lived and thought since then, and I have come to see that Calvinism is a religion of despair, and that the doctrine of Predestination involves contradictions as difficult to swallow as any fable of the Roman Church.”
“It is well that you should be prepared to let her keep her religion; for I doubt she has a stubborn affection for the creed she learnt in her childhood. Indeed, it was but the other day she talked of the cloister; and I fear she has all the disposition to that religious prison in which her great aunt lived contentedly for the space of a long lifetime. But it is for you, Denzil, to cure her of that fancy, and to spare me the pain of seeing my best-beloved child under the black veil.”
“Indeed, sir, if a love as earnest as man ever experienced —”
“Yes, Denzil, I know you love her; and I love you almost as if you were my very son. In the years that went by after Hyacinth was born, before the beginning of trouble, I used to long for a son, and I am afraid I did sometimes distress my dear wife by dwelling too persistently upon disappointed hopes. And then came chaos — England in arms, a rebellious people, a King put upon his defence — and I had leisure to think of none but my royal master. And in the thick of the strife my poor lamb was born to me — the bringer of my life’s great sorrow — and there was no more thought of sons. So, you see, friend, the place in my heart and home has waited empty for you. Win but yonder shy dove to consent, and we shall be of one family and of one mind, and I as happy as any broken-down campaigner in England can be — content to creep to the grave in obscurity, forgotten by the Prince whose father it is my dear memory to have served.”
“You loved your King, sir, I take it, with a personal affection.”
“Ah, Denzil, we all loved him. Even the common people — led as they were by hectoring preachers of sedition, of no more truth or honesty than the mountebanks that ply their knavish trade round Henry’s statue on the Pont Neuf — even they, the very rabble, had their hours of loyalty. I rode with his Majesty from Royston to Hatfield, in ‘47, when the people filled the midsummer air with his name, from hearts melting with love and pity. They strewed the ways with boughs, and strewed the boughs with roses. So great honour has been seldom shown to a royal captive.”
“I take it that the lower class are no politicians, and loved their King for his private virtues.”
“Never was monarch worthier to be so esteemed. He was a man of deep affections, and it was perhaps his most fatal quality where he loved to love too much. I have no grudge against that beautiful and most accomplished woman he so worshipped, and who was ever gracious to me; but I cannot doubt that Henrietta Maria was his evil star. She had the fire and daring of her father, but none of his care and affection for the people. The daughter of the most beloved of kings had the instincts of a tyrant, and was ever urging her too pliant husband to unpopular measures. She wanted to set that little jewelled shoe of hers on the neck of rebellion, when she should have held out her soft white hand to make friends of her foes. Her beauty and her grace might have done much, had she inherited with the pride of the Medici something of their finesse and suavity. But he loved her, Denzil, forgave all her follies, her lavish spending and wasteful splendour. ‘My wife is a bad housekeeper,’ I heard him say once, when she was hanging upon his chair as he sat at the end of the Council table. The palace accounts were on the table — three thousand pounds for a masque — extravagance only surpassed by Nicholas Fouquet twenty years afterwards, when he was squandering the public money. ‘My wife is a bad housekeeper,’ his Majesty said gently, and then he drew down the little French museau with a caressing hand, and kissed her in the presence of those greybeards.”
“His son is strangely unlike him in domestic matters.”
“His son has the manners of a Frenchman and the morals of a Turk. He is a despot to his wife and a slave to his mistress. There never was greater cruelty to a woman than his Majesty’s treatment of Catherine while she was still but a stranger in the land, and when he forced his notorious paramour upon her as her lady of honour. Of honour, quotha! There was sorry store of honour in his conduct. He had need feel the sting of remorse t’other day when the poor lady was thought to be on her death-bed — so gentle, so affectionate, so broken to the long-suffering of consort-queens, apologising for having lived to trouble him. Ned Hyde has given me the whole story of that poor lady’s subjugation, for he was behind the scenes, and in their secrets. Poor soul! Blood rushed from her ears and nostrils when that shameless woman was brought to her, and she was carried swooning to her chamber. And then she was sullen, and the King threatened her, and sent away all her Portuguese, save one ancient waiting woman. I grant you they were ugly devils, fit to set in a field to frighten crows; but Catherine loved them. Royal treatment for a Christian Queen from a Christian King! Could the Sophy do worse? And presently the poor lady yielded (as most women will, for at heart they are slavish and love to be beaten), and after holding herself aloof for a long time — a sad, silent, neglected figure where all the rest were loud and merry — she made friends with the lady, and even seemed to fawn upon her.”
“And now I dare swear the two women mingle their tears when Charles is unfaithful to both; or Catherine weeps while Barbara curses. That would be more in character. Fire and not water is her ladyship’s element.”
“Ah, Denzil, ’tis a curious change; and to have lived to see Buckingham murdered, and Stafford sacrificed, and the Rebellion, and the Commonwealth, and the Restoration, and the Plague, and the Fire, and to have skirmished in the battles of Parliaments and Princes, t’other side the Channel, and seen the tail of the Thirty Years’ War, towns ruined, villages laid waste, where Tilly passed in blood and fire, is to have lived through as wild a variety of fortunes as ever madman invented in a dream.”
Denzil lingered at the Manor, urged again and again by his host to stay over the day fixed for departure, and so lengthening his visit with a most willing submission till late in June, when the silence of the nightingales made sleep more possible, and the sunset was so late and the sunrise so early that there seemed to be no such thing as night. He had made up his mind to plead for a hearing in the hour of farewell; and it may have been as much from apprehension of that fateful hour as even from the delight of being in his mistress’s company that he acceded with alacrity when Sir John desired him to stay. But an end must come at last to all hesitations, and a familiar verse repeated itself in his brain with the persistent iteration of cathedral chimes —
“He either fears his fate too much,
Or his desert is small,
Who fears to put it to the touch,
And win or lose it all.”
Sir John pushed him towards his fate with affectionate urgency.
“Never be dastardised by a girl’s refusal, man,” said the Knight, warm with his morning draught, on that last day, when the guest’s horses had been fed for a journey, and the saddle-bags packed. “Don’t let a simpleton’s coldness cow your spirits. The wench likes you; else she would scarce have endured your long sermons upon weeds and insects, or been smiling and contented in your company all these weeks. Take heart of grace, man; and remember that though I am no tyrannical father to drag an unwilling bride to the altar, I have all a father’s authority, and will not have my dearest wishes baulked by the capricious humours of a coquette.”
“Not for worlds, sir, would I owe to authority what love cannot freely grant —”
“Don’t chop logic, Denzil. You want my daughter; and by God you shall have her! Win her with pretty speeches if you can. If she turn stubborn she shall have plain English from me. I have promised not to force her inclination; but if I am driven to harsh measures ’twill be for her own good I am severe. Ventregris! What can fortune give her better than a handsome and virtuous husband?”
Angela was in the garden when Denzil went to take leave of her. She was walking up and down beside a long border of June flowers, screened from rough winds by those thick walls of yew which gave such a comfortable sheltered feeling to the Manor gardens, while in front of flowers and turf there sparkled the waters of a long pond or stew, stocked with tench and carp, some among them as ancient and as greedy as the scaly monsters of Fontainebleau.
The sun was shining on the dark green water and the gaudy flower-bed, and Angela’s favourite spaniel was running about the grass, barking his loudest, chasing bird or butterfly with impotent fury, since he never caught anything. At sight of Denzil he tore across the greensward, his silky ears flying, and barked at him as if the young man’s appearance in that garden were an insufferable impertinence; but, on being taken up in one strong hand, changed his opinion, and slobbered the face of the foe in an ecstasy of affection.
“Soho, Ganymede, thou knowest I bear thee a good heart, plaything and mere pretence of a dog as thou art,” said Denzil, depositing their little bundle of black-and-tan flossiness at Angela’s feet.
He might have carried and nursed his mistress’s favourite with pleasure during any casual sauntering and random talk; but a man could hardly ask to have his fate decided for good or ill with a toy spaniel in his arms.
“My horse is at the door, Angela, and I am come to bid you good-bye,” he said in a grave voice.
The words were of the simplest; but there was something in his tone that told her all was not said. She paled at the thought of an approaching conflict; for she knew her father was against her, and that there must be hard fighting.
They walked the length of flower border and lawn in silence; and then, when they were furthest from the house, and from the hazard of eyes looking out of windows, he stopped suddenly, and took her unresisting hand, which lay cold in his.
“Dearest, I have kept silence through all those blessed days in which you and I have been together; but I have not left off loving you or hoping for you. Things have changed since I spoke to you in London last winter. I have a powerful advocate now whose pleading ought to prevail with you — a father whose anxious affection urges what my passionate love so ardently desires. Indeed, dear heart, if you will be kind, you can make a father and lover happy with one breath. You have but to say ‘Yes’ to the prayer you know of ——”
“Alas! Denzil, I cannot. I am your true and faithful friend. If you were sick and alone — as his lordship was — I would go to you and nurse you, as your friend and sister. If you were poor and I were rich, I would divide my fortune with you. I shall always think of you with affection — always take pleasure in your society, if you will let me; but it must be as your sister. You have no sister, Denzil — I no brother. Why cannot we be to each other as brother and sister?”
“Only because from the hour when your beauty and sweetness began to grow into my mind I have been your lover, and nothing else — your adoring lover. I cannot change my fervent hope for the poor name of friend. I can never again dare be to you what I have been in this happy season last past, unless you will let me be more than I have been.”
Only that one word, with a sorrowful shake of the graceful head, covered with feathery ringlets in the dainty fashion of that day, so becoming in youth, so inappropriate to advancing years, when the rich profusion of curls came straight from Chedreux, or some of his imitators, and baldness was hidden by the spoils of the dead.
No need for more than that sad dissyllable.
“Then I am no nearer winning this dear hand than I was at Fareham House?” he said heartbrokenly, for he had built high hopes upon her kindness and willing companionship in that Arcadian valley.
“I told you then that I should never marry. I have not changed my mind. I never can change. I am to be Henriette’s spinster aunt.”
“And Fareham’s spinster sister?” said Denzil. “I understand. We are neither of us cured of our malady. It is my disease to love you in spite of your disdain. It is your disease to love where you should not. Farewell!”
He was gone before she could reply. The livid anger of his face, the deep resentment in his voice, haunted her memory, and made life almost intolerable.
“My sin has found me out!” she said to herself, as she paced the garden with the rapid steps that indicate a distempered spirit. “What right has he to pry into the depths of my mind, and ferret out all that there is of evil in my nature? Well, he goes the surest way to make me hate him. If ever he comes here again, I will run away and hide from all who know me. I would rather be a farm-servant, and rise at daybreak to work in the fields, than endure his insolence.”
She had to bear worse pain before Denzil had ridden far upon his journey; for her father came to the garden to seek her, eager to know the result of his protégé‘s wooing.
“Well, sweetheart,” he began, taking her to his bosom and kissing her. “Do I salute the future Lady Warner?”
“No, sir; I am too well content with the name I inherit to desire any other.”
“That is gracefully said, chérie; but I want to see my ewe lamb happily wedded. Has thy sweetheart stolen away without finding courage to ask the question that has been on the tip of his tongue for the last six weeks?”
“He has been both importunate and impertinent, sir, and he has had his answer. I hope I may never see him again.”
“What! you have refused him? You must be mad!”
“No, sir; sober and sane enough to know when I am happy. I told you before this gentleman came here that I did not mean to marry. Surely I am not so unloving a daughter that I must be driven to take a husband, because my father will not have me.”
“Angela, it is for your own safety and welfare I would see you married. What have you to succeed to when I am gone? An impoverished estate, in a country that has seen such rough changes within a score of years that one dare scarcely calculate upon a prolonged time of safety, even in this sequestered valley. God only knows when cannon-balls may tear up our fields, and bullets whistle through the copses. This Monarchy, restored with such a clamorous approval, may endure no longer than the Commonwealth, which was thought to be lasting. His Majesty’s trivial life and gross extravagance have disgusted and alarmed some who loved him dearly, and have set the common people questioning whether the rough rule of the Protector were not better than the ascendency of shameless women and dissolute men. The pageantry of Whitehall may vanish like a parchment scroll in a furnace, and Charles, who has tasted the sours of exile, may be again a wanderer, dependent on the casual munificence of foreign states; and in such an evil hour,” continued the Knight, his mind straying from the contemplation of his daughter’s future to the memory of his own wrongs, “Charles Stuart may remember the old puts who fought and suffered for his father, and how scurvy a recompense they had for their services.”
He reverted to Denzil’s offer after a brief silence, Angela walking dutifully by his side, prepared to suffer any harshness upon his part without complaining.
“I love the young man, and he would be to me as a son,” he said; “the comrade and support of my old age. I am poor, as the world goes now; have but just enough to live modestly in this retreat, where life costs but little. He is rich, and can give you a handsome seat near your sister’s mansion; and a house in London if you desire one; less splendid, doubtless, than Fareham’s palace on the Thames, but more befitting the habits and manners of an English gentleman’s wife. He can give you hounds and hawks, your riding-horses, and your coach-and-six. What more, in God’s name, can any reasonable woman desire?”
“Only one thing, sir. To live my own life in peace, as my conscience and my reason bid me. I cannot love Denzil Warner, though of late I have grown to like and respect him as a friend and most intelligent companion. Your persistence is fast changing friendship into dislike; and the very name of the man would speedily become hateful to me.”
“Oh, I have done!” retorted Sir John. “I am no tyrant. You must take your own way, mistress. I can but lament that Providence gave me only two daughters, and one of them an arrant fool.”
He left her in a huff, and had it not been for an astonishing event, which convulsed town and country, and suspended private interests and private quarrels in the excitement of public affairs, she would have heard much more of his discontent.
The Dutch ships were at Chatham. English men-of-war were blazing at the very mouth of the Thames, and there was panic lest the triumphant foe should sail their fire-ships up the river to London, besiege the Tower, relight the fire whose ashes were scarce grown cold, pillage, slaughter, destroy — as Tilly had destroyed the wretched Provinces in the religious war.
Here, in this sheltered haven, amidst green fields, under the lee of the Brill, the panic and consternation were as intense as if the village of St. Nicholas were the one spot the Dutch would make for after landing; and, indeed, there were rustics who went to the placid scene where the infant Thame rises in its cradle of reed and lily, half expectant of seeing Netherlandish vessels stranded among the rushes.
The Dutch fleet was at Chatham. Ships were being sunk across the Medway, to stop the invader.
Sheerness was to be fortified. London was in arms; and Brill remembered its repulse of Hampden’s regiment with a proud consciousness of being invincible.
The Dutch fleet saved Angela many a paternal lecture; for Sir John rode post-haste towards London, and did not return until the end of the month.
In London he found Hyacinth, much disturbed about her husband, who had gone as volunteer with General Middleton, and was in command of a cavalry regiment at Chatham.
“I never saw him in such spirits as when he left me,” Lady Fareham told her father. “I believe he is ever happiest when he breathes gunpowder.”
Sir John’s leave-taking had been curt and moody, for Angela’s offence rankled deep in his mind; and it was as much as he could do to command his anger, even in bidding her good-bye.
“Did I not tell you that we live in troubled times, and that no man can foresee the coming evil, or how great our woes and distractions may be?” he asked, with a gloomy triumph. “Whoever thought to hear De Ruyter’s guns at Sheerness, or to see the Royal Charles led captive? Absit omen! Who knows what destruction may come upon that other Royal Charles, for whose safety we pray morning and night, and who lolls across a basset-table, perhaps, with his wantons around him, while we are on our knees supplicating the Creator for him? Who knows? We may have London in flames again, and a conflagration more fatal than the last, thou obstinate wench, before thou art a week older, and every able-bodied man called away from plough and pasture to serve the King, and desolation and famine where plenty now smiles at us. And is this a time in which to refuse a valiant and wealthy protector, a lover as honest as ever God made; a pious, conforming Christian, of unsullied name; a young man after my own pattern; a fine horseman and a good farmer; one who loves a pack of hounds and a well-bred horse, a flight of hawks and a match at bowls, better than to give chase to a she-rake in the Mall, or to drink himself stark mad at a tavern in Covent Garden with debauchees from Whitehall?”
Sir John prosed and grumbled to the last moment, but could not refuse to bend down from his saddle and kiss the fair, pale face that looked at him in piteous deprecation at the moment of parting.
“Well, keep a brave heart, Mistress Wilful. Thou art safe here yet awhile from Dutch marauders. I go but to find out how much truth there is in these panic rumours.”
She begged him not to fatigue himself with too long stages, and went back to the silent house, thankful to be alone in her despondency. She felt as if the last page in her worldly life had been written. She had to turn her thoughts backward to that quiet retreat where there would at least be peace. She had promised her father that she would not return to the Convent while he wanted her at home. But was that promise to hold good if he were to embitter her life by urging her to a marriage that would only bring her unhappiness?
She had ample leisure for thought in one summer day of a solitude so absolute that she began to shiver in the sultry stillness of afternoon, and scarce ventured to raise her eyes from her embroidery frame, lest some shadowy presence, some ghost out of the dead past, should hover near, watching her as she sat alone in scenes where that pale spirit had been living flesh. The thought of all who had lived and died in that house — men and women of her own race, whose qualities of mind and person she had inherited — oppressed her in the long hours of silent reverie. Before her first day of loneliness had ended, her spirits had sunk to deepest melancholy; and in that weaker condition of mind she had begun to ask herself whether she had any right to oppose her father’s wishes by denying herself to a suitor whom she esteemed and respected, and whose filial affection would bring new sunshine into that dear father’s declining years. She had noted their manner to each other during Denzil’s protracted visit, and had seen all the evidences of a warm regard on both sides. She had too complete a faith in Denzil’s sterling worth to question the reality of any feeling which his words and manner indicated. He was above all things a man of truth and honesty. She was roaming about the gardens with her dog towards noon in the second day of her solitude, when across the yew hedges she saw white clouds of dust rising from the high-road, and heard the clatter of hoofs and roll of wheels — a noise as of a troop of cavalry — whereat Ganymede barked himself almost into an apoplexy, and rushed across the grass like a mad thing.
A great cracking of whips and sound of voices, horses galloping, horses trotting, dust enough to whiten all the hedges and greensward! Angela stood at gaze, wondering if the Dutch were coming to storm the old house, or the county militia coming to garrison it.
The Manor Moat was the destination of that clamorous troop, whoever they were. Wheels and horses stopped sharply at the great iron gate in front of the house, and the bell began to ring furiously, while other dogs, with voices that resembled Ganymede’s, answered his shrill bark with even shriller yelpings.
Angela ran towards the gate, and was near enough to see it opened to admit three black-and-tan spaniels, and one slim personage in a long flame-coloured brocatelle gown and a large beaver hat, who approached with stately movements, a small, pert nose held high, and rosy upper lip curled in patrician disdain of common things, while a fan of peacock’s plumage, that flashed sapphire and emerald in the fierce noonday sun, was waved slowly before the dainty face, scattering the tremulous life of summer that buzzed and fluttered in the sultry air.
In the rear of this brilliant figure appeared a middle-aged person in a grey silk gown and hood, and a negro page in the Fareham livery, a waiting-woman, and a tall lackey, so many being the necessary adjuncts to the Honourable Henrietta Maria Revel’s state when she went abroad.
Angela ran to receive her niece with a cry of rapture, and the tall slip of a girl in the flame-coloured frock was clasped to her aunt’s heart with a ruthless disregard of the beaver hat and cataract of ostrich plumage.
“Prends garde d’abimer mon chapeau, p’tite tante,” cried Henriette, “’tis one of Lewin’s Nell Gwyn hats, and cost twenty guineas, without the buckle, which I stole out of father’s shoe t’other day. His lordship is so careless about his clothes that he wore the shoes two days and never knew there was a buckle missing, and those lazy devils his servants never told him. I believe they meant to rook him of t’other buckle.”
“Chatterer, chatterer, how happy I am to see thee! But is not your mother with you?”
“Her ladyship is in London. Everybody of importance is scampering off to London; and no doubt will be rushing back to the country again if the Dutch take the Tower; but I don’t think they will while my father is able to raise a regiment.”
“And mademoiselle”— with a curtsy to the lady in grey —“has brought you all this long way through the heat to see me?”
“I have brought mademoiselle,” Henrietta answered contemptuously, before the Frenchwoman had finished the moue and the shrug which with her always preceded speech; “and a fine plague I had to make her come.”
“Madame will conceive that, in miladi’s absence, it was a prodigious inconvenience to order two coaches, and travel so far. His lordship’s groom of the chambers is my witness that I protested against such an outrageous proceeding.”
“Two coaches!” exclaimed Angela.
“A coach-and-six for me and my dogs and my gouvernante, and a coach-and-four for my people,” explained Henriette, who had modelled her equipage and suite upon a reminiscence of the train which attended Lady Castlemaine’s visit to Chilton, as beheld from a nursery window.
“Come, child, and rest, out of the sun; and you, mademoiselle, must need refreshment after so long a drive.”
“Our progress through a perpetual cloud of dust and a succession of narrow lanes did indeed suggest the torments of purgatory; but the happiness of madame’s gracious welcome is an all-sufficient compensation for our fatigue,” mademoiselle replied, with a deep curtsey.
“I was not tired in the least,” asserted Henriette. “We stopped at the Crown at Thame and had strawberries and milk.”
“You had strawberries and milk, mon enfant. I have a digestion which will not allow such liberties.”
“And our horses were baited, and our people had their morning drink,” said Henriette, with her grown-up air. “One ought always to remember cattle and servants. May we put up our horses with you, auntie? We must leave you soon after dinner, so as to be at Chilton by sunset, or mademoiselle will be afraid of highwaymen, though I told Samuel and Peter to bring their blunderbusses in case of an attack. Ma’amselle has no valuables, and at the worst I should but have to give them my diamond buckle, and my locket with his lordship’s portrait.”
Angela’s cheeks flushed at that chance allusion to Fareham’s picture. It brought back a vision of the Convent parlour, and she standing there with Fareham’s miniature in her hand, wonderingly contemplative of the dark, strong face. At that stage of her life she had seen so few men’s faces; and this one had a power in it that startled her. Did she divine, by some supernatural foreknowledge, that this face held the secret of her destiny?
She went to the house, with Henriette’s lissom form hanging upon her, and the grey governess tripping mincingly beside them, tottering a little upon her high heels.
Old Reuben had crept out into the sunshine, with a rustic footman following him, and the cook was looking out at a window in the wing where kitchen and servants’ hall occupied as important a position as the dining-parlour and saloon on the opposite side. A hall with open roof, wide double staircase, and music gallery, filled the central space between the two projecting wings, and at the back there was a banqueting-chamber or ball-room, where in more prosperous days, the family had been accustomed to dine on all stately occasions — a room now shabby and grey with disuse.
While the footman showed the way to the stables, Angela drew Reuben aside for a brief consultation as to ways and means for a dinner that must be the best the house could provide, and which might be served at two o’clock, the later hour giving time for extra preparation. A capon, larded after the French fashion, a pair of trouts, the finest the stream could furnish, or a carp stewed in clary wine, and as many sweet kickshaws as cook’s ingenuity could furnish at so brief a notice. Nor were waiting-woman, lackey, and postillions to be neglected. Chine and sirloin, pudding and beer must be provided for all.
“There are six men besides the black boy,” sighed Reuben; they will devour us a week’s provision of butcher’s meat.”
“If you have done your housekeeping, tante, let me go to your favourite summer-house with you, and tell you my secrets. I am perishing for a tête-à-tête! Ma’amselle”— with a wave of the peacock fan —“can take a siesta, and forget the dust of the road, while we converse.”
Angela ushered mademoiselle to the pretty summer-parlour, looking out upon a geometrical arrangement of flower-beds in the Dutch manner. Chocolate and other light refreshments were being prepared for the travellers; but Henrietta’s impatience would wait for nothing.
“I have not driven along these detestable roads to taste your chocolate,” she protested. “I have a world to say to you: en attendant, mademoiselle, you will consider everything at your disposal in the house of my grandfather, jusqu’à deux heures.”
She sank almost to the ground in a Whitehall curtsy, rose swift as an arrow, tucked her arm through Angela’s, and pulled her out of the room, paying no attention to the governess’s voluble injunctions not to expose her complexion to the sun, or to sit in a cold wind, or to spoil her gown.
“What a shabby old place it is!” she said, looking critically round her as they went through the gardens. “I’m afraid you must perish with ennui here, with so few servants and no company to speak of. Yes”— contemplating her shrewdly, as they seated themselves in a stone temple at the end of the bowling-green —“you are looking moped and ill. This valley air does not agree with you. Well, you can have a much finer place whenever you choose. A better house and garden, ever so much nearer Chilton. And you will choose, won’t you, dearest?” nestling close to her, after throwing off the big hat which made such loving contact impossible.
“I don’t understand you, Henriette.”
“If you call me Henriette I shall be sure you are angry with me.”
“No, love, not angry, but surprised.”
“You think I have no right to talk of your sweetheart, because I am only thirteen — and have scarce left off playing with babies — I have hated them for ages, only people persist in giving me the foolish puppets. I know more of the world than you do, auntie, after being shut in a Convent the best part of your life. Why are you so obstinate, ma chérie, in refusing a gentleman we all like?”
“Do you mean Sir Denzil?”
“Sans doute. Have you a crowd of servants?”
“No, child, only this one. But don’t you see that other people’s liking has less to do with the question than mine? And if I do not like him well enough to be his wife ——”
“But you ought to like him. You know how long her ladyship’s heart has been set on the match; you must have seen what pains she took in London to have Sir Denzil always about you. And now, after a most exemplary patience, after being your faithful servant for over a year, he asks you to be his wife, and you refuse, obstinately refuse. And you would rather mope here with my poor old grandfather — in abject poverty — mother says ‘abject poverty’— than be the honoured mistress of one of the finest seats in Oxfordshire.”
“I would rather do what is right and honest, my dearest It is dishonest to marry without love.”
“Then half mother’s fine friends must be dishonest, for I dare swear that very few of them love their husbands.”
“Henriette, you talk of things you don’t know.”
“Don’t know! Why, there is no one in London knows more. I am always listening, and I always remember. De Malfort used to say I had a plaguey long memory, when I told him of things he had said a year ago.”
“My dear, I love you fondly, but I cannot have you talk to me of what you don’t understand; and I am sorry Sir Denzil Warner had no more courtesy than to go and complain of me to my sister.”
“He did not come to Chilton to complain. Her ladyship met him on the way from Oxford in her coach. He was riding, and she called to him to come to the coach door. It was the day after he left you, and he was looking miserable; and she questioned him, and he owned that his suit had been rejected, and he had no further hope. My mother came home in a rage. But why was she angry with his lordship? Indeed, she rated him as if it were his fault you refused Sir Denzil.”
Angela sat silent, and the hand Henriette was clasping grew cold as ice.
“Did my father bid you refuse him, aunt?” asked the girl, scrutinising her aunt’s countenance, with those dark grey eyes, so like Fareham’s in their falcon brightness.
“No, child. Why should he interfere? It is no business of his.”
“Then why was mother so angry? She walked up and down the room in a towering passion. ‘This is your doing,’ she cried. ‘If she were not your adoring slave, she would have jumped at so handsome a sweetheart. This is your witchcraft. It is you she loves — you — you — you!’ His lordship stood dumb, and pointed to me. ‘Do you forget your child is present?’ he said. ‘I forget everything except that everybody uses me shamefully,’ she cried. ‘I was only made to be slighted and trampled upon.’ His lordship made no answer, but walked to the door in that way he ever has when he is angered — pale, frowning, silent. I was standing in his way, and he gripped me by the arm, and dragged me out of the room. I dare venture there is a bruise on my arm where he held me. I know his fingers hurt me with their grip; and I could hear my lady screaming and sobbing as he took me away. But he would not let me go back to her. He would only send her women. ‘Your mother has an interval of madness,’ he said; ‘you are best out of her presence.’ The news of the Dutch ships came the same evening, and my father rode off towards London, and my mother ordered her coach, and followed an hour after. They seemed both distracted; and only because you refused Sir Denzil.”
“I cannot help her ladyship’s foolishness, Papillon. She has no occasion for any of this trouble. I am her dutiful, affectionate sister; but my heart is not hers to give or to refuse.”
“But was it indeed my father’s fault? Is it because you adore him that you refused Sir Denzil?”
“No — no — no. My affection for my brother — he has been to me as a brother — can make no difference in my regard for any one else. One cannot fall in love at another’s ordering, or be happy with a husband of another’s choice. You will discover that for yourself, Papillon, perhaps, when you are a woman.”
“Oh, I mean to marry for wealth and station, as all the clever women do,” said Papillon, with an upward jerk of her delicate chin. “Mrs. Lewin always says I ought to be a duchess. I should like to have married the Duke of Monmouth, and then, who knows, I might have been a Queen. The King’s other sons are too young for me, and they will never have Monmouth’s chance. But, indeed, sweetheart, you ought to marry Sir Denzil, and come and live near us at Chilton. You would make us all happy.”
“Ma tres chère, it is so easy to talk — but when thou thyself art a woman ——”
“I shall never care for such trumpery as love. I mean to have a grand house — ever so much grander than Fareham House. Perhaps I may marry a Frenchman, and have a salon, and all the wits about me on my day. I would make it gayer than Mademoiselle de Scudery’s Saturdays, which my governess so loves to talk of. There should be less talk and more dancing. But listen, p’tite tante,” clasping her arms suddenly round Angela’s neck, “I won’t leave this spot till you have promised to change your mind about Denzil. I like him vastly; and I’m sure there’s no reason why you should not love him — unless you really are his lordship’s adoring slave,” emphasising those last words, “and he has forbidden you.”
Angela sat dumb, her eyes fixed on vacancy.
“Why, you are like the lady in those lines you made me learn, who ‘sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.’ Dearest, why so sad? Remember that fine house — and the dairy that was once a chapel. You could turn it into a chapel again if you liked, and have your own chaplain. His Majesty takes no heed of what we Papists do — being a Papist himself at heart, they say — though poor wretches are dragged off to gaol for worshipping in a conventicle. What is a conventicle? Will you not change your mind, dearest? Answer, answer, answer!”
The slender arms tightened their caress, the pretty little brown face pressed itself against Angela’s pale, cold cheek.
“For my sake, sweetheart, say thou wilt have him. I will go to see thee every day.”
“I have been here for months and you have not come, though I begged you in a dozen letters.”
“I have been kept at my book and my dancing lessons. Mademoiselle told her ladyship that I was a monster of ignorance. I have been treated shamefully. I could not have come to-day had my lady been at home; but I would not brook a hireling’s dictation. Voyons, p’tite tante, tu seras miladi Warner. Dis, dis, que je te fasse mourir de baisers.”
She was almost stifling her aunt with kisses in the intervals of her eager speech.
“The last word has been spoken, Papillon. I have sent him away — and it was not the first time. I had refused him before. I cannot call him back.”
“But he shall come without calling. He is your adoring slave,” cried Henriette, leaping up from the stone bench, and clapping her hands in an ecstasy. “He will need no calling. Dearest, dearest, most exquisite, delectable auntie! I am so happy! And my mother will be content. And no one shall ever say you are my father’s slave.”
“Henriette, if you repeat that odious phrase I shall hate you!”
“Now you are angry. God, what a frown! I will repeat no word that angers you. My Lady Warner — sweet Lady Warner. I vow ’tis a prettier name than Revel or Fareham.”
“You are mad, Henriette! I have promised nothing.”
“Yes, you have, little aunt. You have promised to drop a curtsy, and say ‘Yes’ when Sir Denzil rides this way. You sent him away in a huff. He will come back smiling like yonder sunshine on the water. Oh, I am so happy! My doing, all my doing!”
“It is useless to argue with you.”
“Quite useless. Il n’y a pas de quoi. Nous sommes d’accord. I shall be your chief bridesmaid. You must be married in her Majesty’s chapel at St. James’s. The Pope will give his dispensation — if you cannot persuade Denzil to change his religion. Were he my suitor I would twist him round my fingers,” with an airy gesture of the small brown hand.
There is nothing more difficult than to convince a child that she pleads in vain for any ardently desired object. Nothing that Angela could say would reconcile her niece to the idea of failure; so there was no help but to let her fancy her arguments conclusive, and to change the bent of her thoughts if possible.
It wanted nearly an hour of dinner-time, so Angela suggested an inspection of the home farm, which was close by, trusting that Henriette’s love of animals would afford an all-sufficient diversion; nor was she disappointed, for the little fine lady was quite as much at home in stable and cowshed as in a London drawing-room, and spent a happy hour in making friends with the live stock, from the favourite Hereford cow, queen of the herd, to the smallest bantam in the poultry-yard.
To this rustic entertainment followed dinner, in the preparation of which banquet Marjory Cook had surpassed herself; and Papillon, being by this time seriously hungry, sat and feasted to her heart’s content, discussing the marrow pudding and the stewed carp with the acumen and authority of a professed gourmet.
“I like this old-fashioned rustic diet,” she said condescendingly.
She reproached her governess with not doing justice to a syllabub; but showed herself a fine lady by her complaint at the lack of ice for her wine.
“My grandfather should make haste and build an icehouse before next winter,” she drawled. “One can scarce live through this weather without ice,” fanning herself, with excessive languor.
“I hope, dear, thou wilt not expire on the journey home.”
The coaches were at the gate before Papillon had finished dinner, and Mademoiselle was in great haste to be gone, reminding her pupil that she had travelled so far against her will and at the hazard of angering Madame la Baronne.
“Madame la Baronne will be enraptured when she knows what I have done to please her,” answered Papillon, and then, with a last parting embrace, hugging her aunt’s fair neck more energetically than ever, she whispered, “I shall tell Denzil. You will make us all happy.”
A cloud of dust, a clatter of hoofs, Ma’amselle’s screams as the carriage rocked while she was mounting the steps, and with much cracking of whips and swearing at horses from the postillions who had taken their fill of home-brewed ale, hog’s harslet, and cold chine, and, lo, the brilliant vision of the Honourable Henrietta Maria and her train vanished in the dust of the summer highway, and Angela went slowly back to the long green walk beside the fish-pond, where she was in as silent a solitude, but for a lingering nightingale or two, as if she had been in the palace of the sleeping beauty. If all things slumbered not, there was at least as marked a pause in life. The Dutch might be burning more ships, and the noise of war might be coming nearer London with every hour of the summer day. Here there was a repose as of the after-life, when all hopes and dreams and loves and hates are done and ended, and the soul waits in darkness and silence for the next unfolding of its wings.
Those hateful words, “your adoring slave,” and all that speech of Hyacinth’s which the child had repeated, haunted Angela with an agonising iteration. She had not an instant’s doubt as to the scene being faithfully reported. She knew how preternaturally acute Henriette’s intellect had become in the rarified atmosphere of her mother’s drawing-room, how accurate her memory, how sharp her ears, and how observant her eyes. Whatever Henriette reported was likely to be to the very letter and spirit of the scene she had witnessed. And Hyacinth, her sister, had put this shame upon her, had spoken of her in the cruelest phrase as loving one whom it was mortal sin to love. Hyacinth, so light, so airy a creature, whom her younger sister had ever considered as a grown-up child, had yet been shrewd enough to fathom her mystery, and to discover that secret attachment which had made Denzil’s suit hateful to her. “And if I do not consent to marry him she will always think ill of me. She will think of me as a wretch who tried to steal her husband’s love — a worse woman than Lady Castlemaine — for she had the King’s affection before he ever saw the Queen’s poor plain face. His adoring slave!”
Evening shadows were around her. She had wandered into the woods, was slowly threading the slender cattle tracks in the cool darkness; while that passionate song of the nightingales rose in a louder ecstasy as the quiet of the night deepened, and the young moon hung high above the edge of a wooded hill.
“His adoring slave,” she repeated, with her hands clasped above her uncovered head.
Hateful, humiliating words! Yet there was a keen rapture in repeating them. They were true words. His slave — his slave to wait upon him in sickness and pain; to lie and watch at his door like a faithful dog; to follow him to the wars, and clean his armour, and hold his horse, and wait in his tent to receive him wounded, and heal his wounds where surgeons failed to cure, wanting that intensity of attention and understanding which love alone can give; to be his Bellario, asking nothing of him, hoping for nothing, hardly for kind words or common courtesy, foregoing woman’s claim upon man’s chivalry, content to be nothing — only to be near him.
If such a life could have been — the life that poets have imagined for despairing love! It was less than a hundred years since handsome Mrs. Southwell followed Sir Robert Dudley to Italy, disguised as a page. But the age of romance was past. The modern world had only laughter for such dreams.
That revelation of Hyacinth’s jealousy had brought matters to a crisis. Something must be done, Angela told herself, and quickly, to set her right with her sister, and in her own esteem. She had to choose between a loveless marriage and the Convent. By accepting one or the other she must prove that she was not the slave of a dishonourable love.
Marriage or the Convent? It had been easy, contemplating the step from a distance, to choose the Convent. But when she thought of it, to-night, amid the exquisite beauty of these woods, with the moonlit valley lying at her feet, the winding streams reflecting that silvery light, or veiled in a pale haze — to-night, in the liberty and loveliness of the earth, the vision of Convent walls filled her with a shuddering horror. To be shut in that Flemish garden for ever; her life enclosed within the straight lines of that long green alley leading to a dead wall, darkened over by flowerless ivy. How witheringly dull the old life showed, looking back at it after years of freedom and enjoyment, action and variety. No, no, no! She could not bury herself alive, could not forego the liberty to wander in a wood like this, to gaze upon scenes as beautiful as yonder valley, to read the poets she loved, to see, perhaps, some day those romantic scenes which she knew but as dreams — Florence, Vallombrosa — to follow the footsteps of Milton, to see the Venice she had read of in Howell’s Letters, to kneel at the feet of the Holy Father, in the City of Cities. All these things would be for ever forbidden to her if she chose the common escape from earthly sorrow.
She thought of her whose example had furnished the theme of many a discourse at the Convent, Mazarin’s lovely niece, the Princess de Conti, who, in the bloom of early womanhood, was awakened from the dream of this life to the reality of Heaven, and had renounced the pleasures of the most brilliant Court in the world for the severities of Port Royal. She thought of that sublime heretic Ferrar, whose later existence was one long prayer. Of how much baser a clay must she be fashioned when her too earthly heart clung so fondly to the loveliness of earth, and shrank with aversion from the prospect of a long life within those walls where her childhood had been so peaceful and happy.
“How changed, how changed and corrupted this heart has become!” she murmured, in her dejection, “when that life which was once my most ardent desire now seems to me worse than the grave. Anything — any life of duty in the world, rather than that living death.”
She was in the garden next morning at six, after a sleepless night, and she occupied herself till noon in going about among the cottagers carrying those small comforts which she had been in the habit of taking them, and listening patiently to those various distresses which they were very glad to relate to her. She taught the children, and read to the sick, and was able in this round of duties to keep her thoughts from dwelling too persistently upon her own trouble. After the one o’clock dinner, at which she offended old Reuben by eating hardly anything, she went for a woodland ramble with her dogs, and it was near sunset when she returned to the house, just in time to see two road-stained horses being led away from the hall door.
Sir John had come home. She found him in the dining parlour, sitting gloomy and weary looking before the table where Reuben was arranging a hasty meal.
“I have eaten nothing upon the road, yet I have but a poor stomach for your bacon-ham,” he said, and then looked up at his daughter with a moody glance, as she went towards him.
“Dear sir, we must try to coax your appetite when you have rested a little. Let me unbuckle your spurs and pull off your boots, while Reuben fetches your easiest shoes.”
“Nay, child, that is man’s work, not for such fingers as yours. The boots are nowise irksome —’tis another kind of shoe that pinches, Angela.”
She knelt down to unbuckle the spur-straps, and while on her knees she said —
“You look sad, sir. I fear you found ill news at London.”
“I found such shame as never came before upon England, such confusion as only traitors and profligates can know; men who have cheated and lied and wasted the public money, left our fortresses undefended, our ships unarmed, our sailors unpaid, half-fed, and mutinous; clamorous wives crying aloud in the streets that their husbands should not fight and bleed for a King who starved them. They have clapped the scoundrel who had charge of the Yard at Chatham in the Tower — but will that mend matters? A scapegoat, belike, to suffer for higher scoundrels. The mob is loudest against the Chancellor, who I doubt is not to blame for our unreadiness, having little power of late over the King. Oh, there has been iniquity upon iniquity, and men know not whom most to blame — the venal idle servants, or the master of all.”
“You mean that men blame his Majesty?”
“No, Angela. But when our ships were blazing at Chatham, and the Dutch triumphing, the cry was ‘Oh, for an hour of old Noll!’ Charles has played his cards so that he has made the loyalest hearts in England wish the Brewer back again. They called him the Tiger of the Seas. We have no tigers now, only asses and monkeys. Why, there was scarce a grain of sense left in London. The beat of the drums calling out the train-bands seemed to have stupefied the people. Everywhere madness and confusion. They have sunk their richest argosies at Barking Creek to block the river; but the Dutch break chains, ride over sunken ships, laugh our petty defences to scorn.”
“Dear sir, this confusion cannot last.”
“It will last as long as the world’s history lasts. Our humiliation will never be forgotten.”
“But Englishmen will not look on idle. There must be brave men up in arms.”
“Oh, there are brave men enough — Fairfax, Ingoldsby, Bethell, Norton. The Presbyterians come to the front in our troubles. Your brother-in-law is with Lord Middleton. There is no lack of officers; and regiments are being raised. But our merchant-ships, which should be quick to help us, hang back. Our Treasury is empty, and half the goldsmiths in London are bankrupt. And our ships that are burnt, and our ships that are taken, will not be conjured back again. The Royal Charles carried off with insulting triumph! Oh, child, it is not the loss that galls; it is the dishonour!”
He took a draught of claret out of the tankard which Angela placed at his elbow, and she carved the ham for him, and persuaded him to eat.
“Is it the public misfortune that troubles you so sadly, sir?” she asked, presently, when her father flung himself back in his chair with a heavy sigh.
“Nay, Angela, I have my peck of trouble without reckoning the ruin of my country. But my back is broad. It can bear a burden as well as any.”
“Do you count a disobedient daughter among your cares, sir?”
“Disobedient is too harsh a word. I told you I would never force your inclinations. But I have an obstinate daughter, who has disappointed me, and well-nigh broken my spirit.”
“Your spirit shall not rest broken if my obedience can mend it, sir,” she said gently, dropping on her knees beside his chair.
“What! has that stony heart relented! Wilt thou marry him, sweetheart? Wilt give me a son as well as a daughter, and the security that thou wilt be safe and happy when I’m gone?”
“No one can be sure of happiness, father; it comes strangely, and goes we know not why. But if it will make your heart easier, sir, and Denzil be still of the same mind ——”
“His mind his rock, dearest. He swore to me that he could never change. Ah, love, you have made me happy! Let the fleet burn, the Royal Charles fly Dutch colours. Here, in this quiet valley, there shall be a peaceful household and united hearts. Angela, I love that youth! Fareham, with all his rank and wealth, has never been so dear to me. That black visage repels love. But Denzil’s countenance is open as the day. I can say ‘Nunc Dimittis’ with a light heart. I can trust Denzil Warner with my daughter’s happiness.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05