Part 5 out of 9
By dint of clamour and expostulation the honourable Henriette contrived
to stay up till ten o'clock was belled with solemn tone from St. Paul's
Cathedral, which magnificent church was speedily to be put in hand for
restoration, at a great expenditure. The wooden scaffolding which had been
necessary for a careful examination of the building was still up. Until
the striking of the great city clock, Papillon had resolutely disputed the
lateness of the hour, putting forward her own timekeeper as infallible--a
little fat round purple enamel watch with diamond figures, and gold hands
much bent from being pushed backwards and forwards, to bring recorded time
into unison with the young lady's desires--a watch to which no sensible
person could give the slightest credit. The clocks of London having
demonstrated the futility of any reference to that ill-used Geneva toy, she
consented to retire, but was reluctant to the last.
"I am going to bed," she told her aunt, "because this absurd old Prissy
insists upon it, but I don't expect a quarter of an hour's sleep between
now and morning; and most of the time I shall be looking out of the window,
watching for the turn of the tide, to see the barges and boats swinging
"You will do nothing of the kind, Mrs. Henriette; for I shall sit in your
room till you are sound asleep," said Priscilla.
"Then you will have to sit there all night; and I shall have somebody to
"I shall not allow you to talk."
"Will you gag me, or put a pillow over my face, like the Blackamoor in the
The minx and her governess retired, still disputing, after Angela had been
desperately hugged by Henriette, who brimmed over with warmest affection in
the midst of her insolence. They were gone, their voices sounding in the
stillness on the terrace, and then on the staircase, and through the great
empty rooms, where the windows were open to the sultry night, while the
host of idle servants caroused in the basement, in a spacious room with a
vaulted roof, like a college hall, where they were free to be as noisy or
as drunken as they pleased. My lady was out, had taken only her chair, and
running footmen, and had sent chairmen and footmen back from Whitehall,
with an intimation that they would be wanted no more that night.
Angela lingered on the terrace in the sultry summer gloom, watching
solitary boats moving to and fro, shadowy as Charon's. She dreaded the
stillness of silent rooms, and to be alone with her own thoughts, which
were not of the happiest. Her sister's relations with De Malfort troubled
her, innocent as they doubtless were: innocent as that close friendship of
Henrietta of England with her cousin of France, when they two spent the
fair midsummer nights roaming in palace gardens, close as lovers, but
only fast friends. Malicious tongues had babbled even of that innocent
friendship; and there were those who said that if Monsieur behaved liked
a brute to his lovely young wife, it was because he had good reason for
jealousy of Louis in the past, as well as of De Guiche in the present.
These innocent friendships are ever the cause of uneasiness to the
lookers-on. It is like seeing children at play on the edge of a cliff. They
are too near danger and destruction.
Hyacinth, being about as able to carry a secret as to carry an elephant,
had betrayed by a hundred indications that a plot of some kind was being
hatched between her and De Malfort. And to-night, before going out, she
had made too much fuss about so simple a matter as a basset-party at Lady
Sarah's, who had her basset-table every night, and was popularly supposed
to keep house upon her winnings, and to have no higher code of honour than
De Gramont had when he invited a brother officer to supper on purpose to
Mr. Killigrew's comedy had been discussed in Angela's hearing. People who
had been deprived of the theatre for over a year were greedy and eager
spectators of all the plays produced at Court; but this production was an
exceptional event. Killigrew's wit and impudence and impecuniosity were the
talk of the town, and anything written by that audacious jester was sure to
be worth hearing.
Had her sister gone to Whitehall to see the new comedy, in direct
disobedience to her husband, instead of to so accustomed an entertainment
as Lady Sarah's basset-table? And was that the only mystery between
Hyacinth and De Malfort? Or was there something else--some ghost-party,
such as they had planned and talked about openly till a fortnight ago,
and had suddenly dropped altogether, as if the notion were abandoned and
forgotten? It was so unlike Hyacinth to be secret about anything; and
her sister feared, therefore, that there was some plot of De Malfort's
contriving--De Malfort, whom she regarded with distrust and even
repugnance; for she could recall no sentiment of his that did not make
for evil. Beneath that gossamer veil of airy language which he flung over
vicious theories, the conscienceless, unrelenting character of the man had
been discovered by those clear eyes of the meditative onlooker. Alas!
what a man to be her sister's closest friend, claiming privileges by long
association, which Hyacinth would have been the last to grant her dissolute
admirers of yesterday, but which were only the more perilous for those
memories of childhood that justified a so dangerous friendship.
She was startled from these painful reflections by the clatter of horses'
hoofs on the paved courtyard east of the house, and the jingle of
sword-belt and bit, sounds instantly followed by the ringing of the bell at
the principal door.
Was it her sister coming home so early? No, Lady Fareham had gone out in
her chair. Was it his lordship returning unannounced? He had stated no time
for his return, telling his wife only that, on his business in Paris being
finished, he would come back without delay. Indeed, Hyacinth had debated
the chances of his arrival this very evening with half a dozen of her
particular friends, who knew that she was going to see Mr. Killigrew's
"Fate cannot be so perverse as to bring him back on the only night when his
return would be troublesome," she said.
"Fate is always perverse, and a husband is very lucky if there is but one
day out of seven on which his return would be troublesome," answered one of
Fate had been perverse, for Angela heard her brother-in-law's deep strong
voice talking in the hall, and presently he came down the marble steps to
the terrace, and came towards her, white with Kentish dust, and carrying an
open letter in his hand. She had risen at the sound of the bell, and was
hurrying to the house as he met her. He came close up to her, scarcely
according her the civility of greeting. Never had she seen his countenance
"You can tell me truer than those drunken devils below stairs," he said.
"Where is your sister?"
"At Lady Sarah Tewkesbury's."
"So her major-domo swears; but her chairmen, whom I found asleep in the
hall, say they set her down at the palace."
"Yes, at Whitehall. There is a modish performance there to-night, I hear;
but I doubt it is over, for the Strand was crowded with hackney coaches
moving eastward. I passed a pair of handsome eyes in a gilded chair, that
flashed fury at me as I rode by, which I'll swear were Mrs. Palmer's; and,
waiting for me in the hall, I found this letter, that had just been handed
in by a link, who doubtless belonged to the same lady. Read, Angela; the
contents are scarce long enough to weary you." She took the letter from him
with a hand that trembled so that she could hardly hold the sheet of paper.
"Watch! There is an intrigue afoot this night; and you must be a greater
dullard than I think you if you cannot unmask a deceitful----"
The final word was one which modern manners forbid in speech or printed
page. Angela's pallid cheek flushed crimson at the sight of the vile
epithet. Oh, insane lightness of conduct which made such an insult
possible! Standing there, confronting the angry husband, with that
detestable paper in her hand, she felt a pang of compunction at the thought
that she might have been more strenuous in her arguments with her sister,
more earnest and constant in reproof. When the peace and good repute of two
lives were at stake, was it for her to consider any question of older or
younger, or to be restrained by the fear of offending a sister who had been
so generous and indulgent to her?
Fareham saw her distress, and looked at her with angry suspicion.
"Come," he said, "I scarce expected a lying answer from you; and yet you
join with servants to deceive me. You know your sister is not at Lady
"I know nothing, except that, wherever she is, I will vouch that she
is innocently employed, and has done nothing to deserve that infamous
aspersion," giving him back the letter.
"Innocently employed! You carry matters with a high hand. Innocently
employed, in a company of she-profligates, listening to Killigrew's ribald
jokes--Killigrew, the profanest of them all, who can turn the greatest
calamity this city ever suffered to horseplay and jeering. Innocently
employed, in direct disobedience to her husband! So innocently employed
that she makes her servants--and her sister--tell lies to cover her
"Hector as much as you please, I have told your lordship no lies; and, with
your permission, I will leave you to recover your temper before my sister's
return, which I doubt will happen within the next hour."
She moved quickly past him towards the house.
"Angela, forgive me----" he began, trying to detain her; but she hurried
on through the open French window, and ran upstairs to her room, where she
locked herself in.
For some minutes she walked up and down, profoundly agitated, thinking out
the position of affairs. To Fareham she had carried matters with a high
hand, but she was full of fear. The play was over, and her sister, who
doubtless had been among the audience, had not come home. Was she staying
at the palace, gossiping with the maids-of-honour, shining among that
brilliant, unscrupulous crowd, where intrigue was in the very air, where no
woman was credited with virtue, and every man was remorseless?
The anonymous letter scarcely influenced Angela's thoughts in these
agitated moments--that was but a foul assault on character by a foul-minded
woman. But the furtive confabulations of the past week must have had some
motive; and her sister's fluttered manner before leaving the house had
marked this night as the crisis of the plot.
Angela could imagine nothing but that ghostly masquerading which had, in
the first place, been discussed freely in her presence; and she could but
wonder that De Malfort and her sister should have made a mystery about a
plan which she had known in its inception. The more deeply she considered
all the circumstances, the more she inclined to suspect some evil intention
on De Malfort's part, of which Hyacinth, so frank, so shallow, might be too
easy a dupe.
"I do little good doubting and suspecting and wondering here," she said to
herself; and after hastily lighting the candles on her toilet-table, she
began to unlace the bodice of her light-coloured silk mantua, and in a few
minutes had changed her elegant evening attire for a dark cloth gown, short
in the skirt, and loose in the sleeves, which had been made for her to wear
upon the river. In this costume she could handle a pair of sculls as freely
as a waterman.
When she had put on a little black silk hood, she extinguished her candles,
pulled aside the curtain which obscured the open window, and looked out on
the terrace. There was just light enough to show her that the coast was
clear. The iron gate at the top of the water-stairs was seldom locked, nor
were the boat-houses often shut, as boats were being taken in and out at
all hours, and, for the rest, neglect and carelessness might always be
reckoned upon in the Fareham household.
She ran lightly down a side staircase, and so by an obscure door to the
river-front. No, the gate was not locked, and there was not a creature
within sight to observe or impede her movements. She went down the steps to
the paved quay below the garden terrace. The house where the wherries were
kept was wide open, and, better still, there was a skiff moored by the side
of the steps, as if waiting for her; and she had but to take a pair of
sculls from the rack and step into the boat, unmoor and away westward, with
swiftly dipping oars, in the soft summer silence, broken now and then by
sounds of singing--a tipsy, unmelodious strain, perhaps, were it heard too
near, but musical in the distance--as the rise and fall of voices crept
along a reach of running water.
The night was hot and oppressive, even on the river. But it was better here
than anywhere else; and Angela breathed more freely as she bent over her
sculls, rowing with all her might, intent upon reaching that landing-stage
she knew of in the very shortest possible time. The boat was heavy, but she
had the incoming tide to help her.
Was Fareham hunting for his wife, she wondered? Would he go to Lady
Sarah's lodgings, in the first place; and, not finding Hyacinth there, to
Whitehall? And then, would he remember the assembly at Millbank, in which
he had taken no part, and apparently no interest? And would he extend his
search to the ruined abbey? At the worst, Angela would be there before him,
to prepare her sister for the angry suspicions which she would have to
meet. He was not likely to think of that place till he had exhausted all
It was not much more than a mile from Fareham House to that desolate bit
of country betwixt Westminster and Chelsea, where the modern dairy-farm
occupied the old monkish pastures. As Angela ran her boat inshore, she
expected to see Venetian lanterns, and to hear music and voices, and
all the indications of a gay assembly; but there were only silence and
darkness, save for one lighted window in the dairyman's dwelling-house, and
she thought that she had come upon a futile errand, and had been mistaken
in her conjectures.
She moored her boat to the wooden landing-stage, and went on shore to
examine the premises. The revelry might be designed for a later hour,
though it was now near midnight, and Lady Sarah's party had assembled at
eleven. She walked across a meadow, where the dewy grass was cool under her
feet, and so to the open space in front of the dairyman's house--a shabby
building attached like a wen to the ruined refectory.
She started at hearing the snort of a horse, and the jingling of bit and
curb-chain, and came suddenly upon a coach-and-four, with a couple of
post-boys standing beside their team.
"Whose coach is this?" she asked.
"Mr. Malfy's, your ladyship."
"The French gentleman from St. James's Street, my lady," explained the
"Did you bring Monsieur de Malfort here?"
"No, madam. We was told to be here at eleven, with horses as fresh as fire;
and the poor tits be mighty impatient to be moving. Steady, Champion!
You'll have work enough this side Dartford,"--to the near leader, who was
shaking his head vehemently, and pawing the gravel.
Angela waited to ask no further questions, but made straight for the
unglazed window, through which Mr. Spavinger and his companions had
There was no light in the great vaulted room, save the faint light of
summer stars, and two figures were there in the dimness--a woman standing
straight and tall in a satin gown, whose pale sheen reflected the
starlight; a woman whose right arm was flung above her head, bare and
white, her hand clasping her brow distractedly; and a man, who knelt at
her feet, grasping the hand that hung at her side, looking up at her, and
talking eagerly, with passionate gestures.
Her voice was clearer than his; and Angela heard her repeating with a
piteous shrillness, "No, no, no! No, Henri, no!"
She stayed to hear no more, but sprang through the opening between the
broken mullions, and rushed to her sister's side; and as De Malfort started
to his feet, she thrust him vehemently aside, and clasped Hyacinth in her
"You here, Mistress Kill-joy?" he muttered, in a surly tone. "May I ask
what business brought you? For I'll swear you wasn't invited."
"I have come to save my sister from a villain, sir. But oh, my sweet, I
little dreamt thou hadst such need of me!"
"Nay, love, thou didst ever make tragedies out of nothing," said Hyacinth,
struggling to disguise hysterical tears with airy laughter. "But I am right
glad all the same that you are come; for this gentleman has put a scurvy
trick upon me, and brought me here on pretence of a gay assembly that has
"He is a villain and a traitor," said Angela, in deep, indignant tones.
"Dear love, thou hast been in danger I dare scarce think of. Fareham is
searching for you."
"Fareham! In London?"
"Returned an hour ago. Hark!"
She lifted her finger warningly as a bell rang, and the well-known voice
sounded outside the house, calling to some one to open the door.
"He is here!" cried Hyacinth, distractedly. "For God's sake, hide me from
him! Not for worlds--not for worlds would I meet him!"
"Nay, you have nothing to fear. It is Monsieur de Malfort who has to answer
for what he has done."
"Henri, he will kill you! Alas, you know not what he is in anger! I have
seen him, once in Paris, when he thought a man was insolent to me. God! The
thunder of his voice, the blackness of his brow! He will kill you! Oh, if
you love me--if you ever loved me--come out of his way! He is fatal with
"And am I such a tyro at fence, or such a poltroon as to be afraid to meet
him? No, Hyacinth, I go with you to Dover, or I stand my ground and face
"You shall not!" sobbed Hyacinth. "I will not have your blood on my head!
Come, come--by the garden--by the river!"
She dragged him towards the window; he pretending to resist, as Angela
thought, yet letting himself be led as she pleased to lead him. They had
but just crossed the yawning gap between the mullions and vanished into
the night, when Fareham burst into the room with his sword drawn, and
came towards Angela, who stood in shadow, her face half hidden in her
"So, madam, I have found you at last," he said; "and in time to stop your
journey, though not to save myself the dishonour of a wanton wife! But it
is your paramour I am looking for, not you. Where is that craven hiding?"
He went back to the inhabited part of the house, and returned after a
hasty examination of the premises, carrying the lamp which had lighted his
search, only to find the same solitary figure in the vast bare room. Angela
had moved nearer the window, and had sunk exhausted upon a large carved oak
chair, which might be a relic of the monkish occupation. Fareham came to
her with the lamp in his hand.
"He has given me a clean pair of heels," he said; "but I know where to find
him. It is but a pleasure postponed. And now, woman, you had best return to
the house your folly, or your sin, has disgraced. For to-night, at least,
it must needs shelter you. Come!"
The hooded figure rose at his bidding, and he saw the face in the
"You!" he gasped. "You!"
"Yes, Fareham, it is I. Cannot you take a kind view of a foolish business,
and believe there has been only folly and no dishonour in the purpose that
brought me here?"
"You!" he repeated. "You!"
His bearing was that of a man who staggers under a crushing blow, a stroke
so unexpected that he can but wonder and suffer. He set down the lamp with
a shaking hand, then took two or three hurried turns up and down the room;
then stopped abruptly by the lamp, snatched the anonymous letter from his
breast, and read the lines over again.
"'An intrigue on foot----' No name. And I took it for granted my wife was
meant. I looked for folly from her; but wisdom, honour, purity, all the
virtues from you. Oh, what was the use of my fortitude, what the motive
of self-conquest here," striking himself upon the breast, "if you were
unchaste? Angela, you have broken my heart."
There was a long pause before she answered, and her face was turned from
him to hide her streaming tears. At last she was able to reply calmly--
"Indeed, Fareham, you do wrong to take this matter so passionately. You may
trust my sister and me. On my honour, you have no cause to be angry with
either of us."
"And when I gave you this letter to read," he went on, disregarding her
protestations, "you knew that you were coming here to meet a lover. You
hurried away from me, dissembler as you were, to steal to this lonely place
at midnight, to fling yourself into his arms. Tell me where he is hiding,
that I may kill him; now, while I pant for vengeance. Such rage as mine
cannot wait for idle forms. Now, now, now, is the time to reckon with your
"Fareham, you cover me with insults!"
He had rushed to the door, still carrying his naked sword; but he turned
back as she spoke, and stood looking at her from head to foot with a savage
"Insult!" he cried. "You have sunk too low for insult. There are no words
that I know vile enough to stigmatise such disgrace as yours! Do you
know what you have been to me, Angela? A saint--a star; ineffably pure,
ineffably remote; a creature to worship at a distance; for whose sake it
was scarce a sacrifice to repress all that is common to the base heart of
man; from whom a kind word was enough for happiness--so pure, so far away,
so detached from this vile age we live in. God, how that saintly face has
cheated me! Mock saint, mock nun; a creature of passions like my own but
more stealthy; from top to toe an incarnate lie!"
He flung out of the room, and she heard his footsteps about the house, and
heard doors opened and shut. She waited for no more; but, being sure by
this time that her sister had left the premises, her own desire was to
return to Farebam House as soon as possible, counting upon finding Hyacinth
there; yet with a sick fear that the seducer might take base advantage of
her sister's terror and confused spirits, and hustle her off upon the fatal
journey he had planned.
The boat lay where she had moored it, at the foot of the wooden stair, and
she was stepping into it when Fareham ran hastily to the bank.
"Your paramour has got clear off," he said; and then asked curtly, "How
came you by that boat?"
"I brought it from Fareham House."
"What! you came here alone by water at so late an hour! You heaven-born
adventuress! Other women need education in vice; but to you it comes by
He pulled off his doublet as he stepped into the boat; then seated himself
and took the sculls.
"Has your lordship not left a horse waiting for you?" Angela inquired
"My lordship's horse will find his stables before morning with the groom
that has him in charge. I am going to row you home. Love expectant is bold;
but disappointed love may lack courage for a solitary jaunt after midnight.
Come, mistress, let us have no ceremony. We have done with that for
ever--as we have done with friendship. There are thousands of women in
England, all much of a pattern; and you are one of them. That is the end of
He bent to his work, and rowed with a steady stroke, and in a stubborn
silence, which lasted till it was more strangely broken than such angry
silence is apt to be.
The tide was still running up, and it was as much as the single oarsman
could do, in that heavy boat, to hold his own against the stream.
Angela sat watching him, with her gaze rooted to that dark countenance and
bare head, on which the iron-grey hair waved thick and strong, for Fareham
had never consented to envelop his neck and shoulders in a mantle of dead
men's tresses, and wore his own hair after the fashion of Charles the
First's time. So intent was her watch, that the objects on either shore
passed her like shadows in a dream. The Primate's palace on her right hand,
as the boat swept round that great bend which the river makes opposite
Lambeth Marsh; on her left, as they neared London, the stern grandeur of
the Abbey and St. Margaret's. It was only as they approached Whitehall that
she became aware of a light upon the water which was not the reflection
of daybreak, and, looking suddenly up, she saw the fierce glare of a
conflagration in the eastern sky, and cried--
"There is a fire, my lord!--a great fire, I doubt, in the city."
The long roof and massive tower of St Paul's stood dark against the vivid
splendour of that sky, and every timber in the scaffolding showed like a
black lattice across the crimson and sulphur of raging flames.
Fareham looked round, without moving his sculls from the rowlocks.
"A great fire in verity, mistress! Would God it meant the fulfilment of
"What prophecy, sir?"
"The end of the world, with which we are threatened in this year. God, how
the flames rage and mount! Would it were the great fire, and He had come
to judge us, and to empty the vials of His wrath upon profligates and
He looked at the face opposite, radiant with reflected rose and gold,
supernal in that strange light, and, oh, so calm in every line and feature,
the large dark eyes meeting his with a gaze that seemed to him half
indignant, half reproachful.
"Oh, what hypocrites these women are!" he told himself. "And all alike--all
alike. What comedians! For acting one need not go to the Duke's or the
King's. One may see it at one's own board, by one's own hearth. Acting,
nothing but acting! And I thought that in the universal mass of falsehood
and folly there were some rare stars, dwelling apart here and there, and
that she was one of them. An idle dream! Nature has made them all in one
mould, and it is but by means and opportunity that they differ."
Higher and higher rose that vast sheet of vivid colour; and now every tower
and steeple was bathed in rosy light, or else stood black against the
radiant sky--towers illuminated, towers in densest shadow; the slim spars
of ships showing as if drawn with pen and ink on a sulphur background--a
scene of surpassing splendour and terror. Fareham had seen Flemish villages
blazing, Flemish citadels exploding, their fragments hurled skyward in a
blue flame of gunpowder; but never this vast arch of crimson, glowing and
growing before his astonished gaze, as he paddled the boat inshore, and
stood up to watch the great disaster.
"God has remembered the new Sodom," he said savagely. "He punished us with
pestilence, and we took no heed. And now He tries us with fire. But if it
come not yonder," pointing to Whitehall, which was immediately above
them, for their boat lay close to the King's landing-stage--"if, like the
contagion, it stays in the east and only the citizens suffer, why, vive la
bagatelle! We--and our concubines--have no part in the punishment. We, who
call down the fire, do not suffer it"
Spellbound by that strange spectacle, Fareham stood and gazed, and Angela
was afraid to urge him to take the boat on to Fareham House, anxious as
she was to span those few hundred yards of distance, to be assured of her
They waited thus nearly an hour, the sky ever increasing in brilliancy, and
the sounds of voices and tramp of hurrying feet growing with every minute.
Whitehall was now all alive--men and women, in a careless undress, at every
window, some of them hanging half out of the window to talk to people in
the court below. Shrieks of terror or of wonder, ejaculations, and oaths
sounding on every side; while Fareham, who had moored the boat to an iron
ring in the wall by his Majesty's stairs, stood gloomy and motionless, and
made no further comment, only watched the conflagration in dismal silence,
fascinated by that prodigious ruin.
It was but the beginning of that stupendous destruction, yet it was already
great enough to seem like the end of all things.
"And last night, in the Court theatre, Killigrew's players were making a
jest of a pestilence that filled the grave-pits by thousands," Fareham
muttered, as if awaking from a dream. "Well, the wits will have a new
subject for their mirth--London in flames."
He untied the rope, took his seat and rowed out into the stream. Within
that hour in which they had waited, the Thames had covered itself with
traffic; boats were moving westward, loaded with frightened souls in casual
attire, and with heaps of humble goods and chattels. Some whose houses were
nearest the river had been quick enough to save a portion of their poor
possessions, and to get them packed on barges; but these were the wise
minority. The greater number of the sufferers were stupefied by the
suddenness of the calamity, the rapidity with which destruction rushed upon
them, the flames leaping from house to house, spanning chasms of emptiness,
darting hither and thither like lizards or winged scorpions, or breaking
out mysteriously in fresh places, so that already the cry of arson had
arisen, and the ever-growing fire was set down to fiendish creatures
labouring secretly at a work of universal destruction.
Most of the sufferers looked on at the ruin of their homes, paralysed by
horror, unable to help themselves or to mitigate their losses by energetic
action of any kind. Dumb and helpless as sheep, they saw their property
destroyed, their children's lives imperilled, and could only thank
Providence, and those few brave men who helped them in their helplessness,
for escape from a fiery death. Panic and ruin prevailed within a mile
eastward of Fareham House, when the boat ground against the edge of the
marble landing-stage, and Angela alighted and ran quickly up the stairs,
and made her way straight to the house. The door stood wide open, and
candles were burning in the vestibule. The servants were at the eastern end
of the terrace watching the fire, too much engrossed to see their master
and his companion land at the western steps.
At the foot of the great staircase Angela heard herself called by a
crystalline voice, and, looking up, saw Henriette hanging over the banister
"Auntie, where have you been?"
"Is your mother with you?" Angela asked.
"Mother is locked in her bed-chamber, and mighty sullen. She told me to go
to bed. As if anybody could lie quietly in bed with London burning!" added
Papillon, her tone implying that a great city in flames was a kind of
entertainment that could not be too highly appreciated.
She came flying downstairs in her pretty silken deshabille, with her hair
streaming, and flung her arm round her aunt's neck.
"Ma chatte, where have you been?"
"On the terrace."
"Fi donc, menteuse! I saw you and my father land at the west stairs, five
"We had been looking at the fire."
"And never offered to take me with you! What a greedy pig!"
"Indeed, dearest, it is no scene for little girls to look upon."
"And when I am grown up what shall I have to talk about if I miss all the
"Come to your room, love. You will see only too much from your windows. I
am going to your mother."
"Ce n'est pas la peine. She is in one of her tempers, and has locked
"No matter. She will see me."
"Je m'en doute. She came home in a coach-and-four nearly two hours ago,
with Monsieur de Malfort; and I think they must have quarrelled. They bade
each other good night so uncivilly; but he was more huffed than mother."
"Where were you that you know so much?"
"In the gallery. Did I not tell you I shouldn't be able to sleep? I went
into the gallery for coolness, and then I heard the coach in the courtyard,
and the doors opened, and I listened."
"No, I was not inquisitive. I was only vastly hipped for want of knowing
what to do with myself. And I ran to bid her ladyship good morning, for it
was close upon one o'clock; but she frowned at me, and pushed me aside
with a 'Go to your bed, troublesome imp! What business have you up at this
hour?' 'As much business as you have riding about in your coach,' I had
a mind to say, mais je me tenais coy; and made her ladyship la belle
Jennings' curtsy instead. She sinks lower and rises straighter than any of
the other ladies. I watched her on mother's visiting-day. Lord, auntie, how
white you are! One might take you for a ghost!"
Angela put the little prattler aside, more gently, perhaps, than the mother
had done, and passed hurriedly on to Lady Fareham's room. The door was
still locked, but she would take no denial.
"I must speak with you," she said.
For Lady Fareham and her sister September and October made a blank interval
in the story of life--uneventful as the empty page at the end of a chapter.
They spent those months at Fareham, a house which Hyacinth detested,
a neighbourhood where she had never condescended to make friends. She
condemned the local gentry as a collection of nobodies, and had never taken
the trouble to please the three or four great families within a twenty-mile
drive, because, though they had rank and consequence, they had not fashion.
The _haut gout_ of Paris and London was wanting to them.
Lord Fareham had insisted upon leaving London on the third of September,
and had, his wife declared, out of pure malignity, taken his family to
Fareham, a place she hated, rather than to Chilton, a place she loved,
at least as much as any civilised mortal could love the country. Never,
Hyacinth protested, had her husband been so sullen and ferocious.
"He is not like an angry man," she told Angela, "but like a wounded lion;
and yet, since your goodness took all the blame of my unlucky escapade upon
your shoulders, and he knows nothing of De Malfort's insolent attempt to
carry me off, I see no reason why he should have become such a gloomy
She accepted her sister's sacrifice with an amiable lightness. How could
it harm Angela to be thought to have run out at midnight for a frolic
rendezvous? The maids of honour had some such adventure half a dozen times
in a season, and were found out, and laughed at, and laughed again, and
wound up their tempestuous careers by marrying great noblemen.
"If you can but get yourself talked about you may marry as high as you
choose," Lady Fareham told her sister.
* * * * *
Early in November they went back to London, and though all Hyacinth's fine
people protested that the town stank of burnt wood, smoked oil, and resin,
and was altogether odious, they rejoiced not the less to be back again.
Lady Fareham plunged with renewed eagerness into the whirlpool of pleasure,
and tried to drag Angela with her; but it was a surprise to both, and to
one a cause for uneasiness, when his lordship began to show himself in
scenes which he had for the most part avoided as well as reviled. For
some unexplained reason he became now a frequent attendant at the evening
festivities at Whitehall, and without even the pretence of being interested
or amused there.
Fareham's appearance at Court caused more surprise than pleasure in that
brilliant circle. The statue of the Comandante would scarcely have seemed
a grimmer guest. He was there in the midst of laughter and delight, with
never a smile upon his stern features. He was silent for the most part, or
if badgered into talking by some of his more familiar acquaintances, would
vent his spleen in a tirade that startled them, as the pleasant chirpings
of a poultry-yard are startled by the raid of a dog. They laughed at his
conversation behind his back; but in his presence, under the angry light
of those grey eyes, the gloom of those bent brows, they were chilled into
submission and civility. He had a dignity which made his Puritanical
plainness more patrician than Rochester's finery, more impressive than
Buckingham's graceful splendour. The force and vigour of his countenance
were more striking than Sedley's beauty. The eyes of strangers singled him
out in that gay throng, and people wanted to know who he was and what he
had done for fame.
A soldier, yes, cela saute aux yeux. He could be nothing else than a
soldier. A cavalier of the old school. Albeit younger by half a lifetime
than Southampton and Clarendon, and the other ghosts of the troubles.
Charles treated him with chill civility.
"Why does the man come here without his wife?" he asked De Malfort. "There
is a sister, too, fresher and fairer than her ladyship. Why are we to have
the shadow without the sun? Yet it is as well, perhaps, they keep away;
for I have heard of a visit which was not returned--a condescension from a
woman of the highest rank slighted by a trumpery baron's wife--and after an
offence of that kind she could only have brought us trouble. Why do women
"Why are there any men in the world, sir? If there were none, women would
live together like lambs in a meadow. It is only about us they fight. As
for Lady Fareham, she is adorable, though no longer young. I believe she
will be thirty on her next birthday."
"And the sister? She had a wild-rose prettiness, I thought, when I saw her
at Oxford. She looked like a lily till I spoke to her, and then flamed
like a red rose. So fresh, so easily startled. 'Tis pity that shyness
of youthful purity wears off in a week. I dare swear by this time Mrs.
Kirkland is as brazen as the boldest of our young houris yonder," with
a glance in the direction of the maids of honour, the Queen's and the
Duchess's, a bevy of chatterers, waving fans, giggling, whispering,
shoulder to shoulder with the impudentest men in his Majesty's kingdom;
the men who gave their mornings to writing comedies coarser than Dryden or
Etherege, and their nights to cards, dice, and strong drink; roving the
streets half clad, dishevelled, wanton; beating the watch, and insulting
decent pedestrians; with occasional vicious outbreaks which would have been
revolting in a company of inebriated coal-heavers, and which brought these
fine gentlemen before a too lenient magistrate. But were not these the
manners of which St. Evremond lightly sang--
"'La douce erreur ne s'appelait point crime;
Les vices delicats se nommaient des plaisirs.'"
"Mistress Kirkland has an inexorable modesty which would outlive even a
week at Whitehall, sir," answered Rochester. "If I did not adore the matron
I should worship the maid. Happily for the wretch who loves her I am
"Thou insolent brat! To be eighteen years of age and think thyself
"Does your Majesty suppose I shall be more attractive at six and thirty?"
"Yes, villain; for at my age thou wilt have experience."
"And a reputation for incorrigible vice. No woman of taste can resist
"And pray who is Mrs. Kirkland's lover?"
"A Puritan baronet. One Denzil Warner."
"There was a Warner killed at Hoptown Heath."
"His son, sir. A fellow who believes in extempore prayer and republican
government; and swears England was never so happy or prosperous as under
"And the lady favours this psalm-singing rebel?"
"I know not. For all I have seen of the two she has been barely civil to
him. That he adores her is obvious; and I know Lady Fareham's heart is set
upon the match."
"Why did not Lady Fareham return the Countess's visit?"
There was no need to ask what Countess.
"Be sure, sir, the husband was to blame, if there was want of respect for
that lovely lady. I can answer for Lady Fareham's right feeling in that
"The husband takes a leaf out of Hyde's book, and forgets that what may be
passed over in the Lord Chancellor, and a man of prodigious usefulness, is
intolerable in a person of Fareham's insignificance."
"Nay, sir, insignificance is scarcely the word. I would as soon call a
thunderstorm insignificant. The man is a volcano, and may explode at any
"We want no such suppressed fires at Whitehall. Nor do we want long faces;
as Clarendon may discover some day, if his sermons grow too troublesome."
"The Chancellor is a domestic man; as your Majesty may infer from the size
and splendour of his new house."
"He is an expensive man, Wilmot I believe he got more by the sale of
Dunkirk than his master did."
"In that case your Majesty cannot do better than shift all the disgrace of
the transaction on to his shoulders. Dunkirk will be a sure card to play
when Clarendon has to go overboard."
That incivility of Lady Fareham's in the matter of an unreturned visit had
rankled deep in the bosom of the King's imperious mistress. To sin more
boldly than woman ever sinned, and yet to claim all the privileges and
honours due to virtue was but a trifling inconsistency in a mind so
fortified by pride that it scarce knew how to reckon with shame. That she,
in her supremacy of beauty and splendour, a fortune sparkling in either
ear, the price of a landed estate on her neck--that she, Barbara, Countess
of Castlemaine, should have driven in a windowless coach through dusty
lanes, eating dirt, as it were, with her train of court gallants on
horseback at her coach doors, her ladies in a carriage in the rear, to
visit a person of Lady Fareham's petty quality, a Buckinghamshire Knight's
daughter married to a Baron of Henry the Eighth's creation! And that
this amazing condescension--received with a smiling and curtsying
civility--should have been unacknowledged by any reciprocal courtesy was an
affront that could hardly be wiped out with blood. Indeed, it could never
be atoned for. The wound was poisoned, and would rankle and fester to the
end of that proud life.
Yet on Fareham's appearance at Whitehall Lady Castlemaine distinguished
with a marked civility, and even condescended, smilingly, as if there were
no cause of quarrel, to inquire after his wife.
"Her ladyship is as pretty as ever, though we are all growing old," she
said. "We exchanged curtsies at Tunbridge Wells the other day. I wonder how
it is we never get further than smiles and curtsies? I should like to show
the dear woman some more substantial civility. She is buried alive in your
stately house by the river, for the want of an influential friend to show
her the world we live in."
"Indeed, madam, my wife has all the pleasure she desires--her visiting-day,
"And her admirers. Rochester is always hanging about your garden, or
landing from his wherry, when I go by; or, if he himself be not visible,
there are a couple of his watermen on your steps."
"My Lord Rochester has a precocious wit which amuses my wife and her
"And then there is De Malfort--an impertinent, second only to Gramont. He
and Lady Fareham are twin stars. I have seldom seen them apart."
"Since De Malfort has the honour of being somewhat intimate with your
ladyship, he has doubtless given you full particulars of his friendship for
my wife. I assure you it will bear being talked about. There are no secrets
"Really; I thought I had heard something about a sedan which took the wrong
road after Killigrew's play. But that was the night before the fire. Good
God! my lord, your face darkens as if a man had struck you. Whatever
happened before the fire should have been burnt out of our memories by this
"I see his Majesty looking this way, madam, and I have not yet paid my
respects to him," Fareham said, moving away, but a dazzling hand on his
sleeve arrested him.
"Oh, your respects will keep; he has Miss Stewart giggling at his elbow.
Strange, is it not, that a woman with as much brain as a pigeon can amuse a
man who reckons himself both wise and witty?"
"It is not the lady who amuses the gentleman, madam. She has the good sense
to pretend that he amuses her."
"And no more understands a jest than she does Hebrew."
"She is conscious of pretty teeth and an enchanting smile. Wit or
understanding would be superfluous," answered Fareham, bowing his adieu to
the Sultana in chief.
There was a great assembly, with music and dancing, on the Queen's
birthday, to which Lord and Lady Fareham and Mistress Kirkland were
invited; and again Angela saw and wondered at the splendid scene, and
at this brilliant world, which calamity could not touch. Pestilence had
ravaged the city, flames had devoured it--yet here there were only smiling
people, gorgeous dress, incomparable jewels. The plague had not touched
them, and the fire had not reached them. Such afflictions are for
the common herd. Angela promenaded with De Malfort in the spacious
banqueting-hall, with its ceiling of such prodigious height that the
apotheosis of King James, and all the emblematical figures, triumphal cars,
lions, bears and rams, corn-sheaves and baskets of fruit, which filled
the panels, might as well have been executed by a sign-painter's
rough-and-ready brush, as by the pencil of the great Fleming.
"We are a little kinder to Rubens at the Louvre," said De Malfort, noting
her upward gaze; "for we allow his elaborate glorification of his Majesty's
grandfather and grandmother about half a mile of wall. But I forgot, you
have not seen Paris, nor those acres of gaudy colouring which Henri's
vanity inflicted upon us. Florentine Marie, with her carnation cheeks and
opulent shoulders--the Roman-nosed Bearnais, with his pointed beard and
stiff ruff. Mon Dieu, how the world has changed since Ravaillac's knife
snapped that valiant life! And you have never seen Paris? You look about
you with wide-open eyes, and take this crowd, this ceiling, those candlebra
"Can there be a scene more splendid?" asked Angela, pleased to keep him by
her side, rather than see him devote himself to her sister; grateful for
his attention in that crowd where most people were strangers, and where
Lord Fareham had not vouchsafed the slightest notice of her.
"When you have seen the Louvre, you will wonder that any King, with a
sense of his own consequence in the world, can inhabit such a hovel as
Whitehall--this congeries of shabby apartments, the offices of servants,
the lodgings of followers and dependents, soldiers and civilians--huddled
in a confused labyrinth of brick and stone--redeemed from squalor only by
one fine room. Could you see the grand proportions, the colossal majesty
of the great Henri's palace--that palace whose costly completion sat heavy
upon Sully's careful soul! Henri loved to build--and his grandson, Louis,
inherits that Augustan taste."
"You were telling us of a new palace at Versailles----"
"A royal city in stone--white--dazzling--grandiose. The mortar was scarcely
dry when I was there in March; but you should have seen the mi-careme ball.
The finest masquerade that was ever beheld in Europe. All Paris came in
masks to see that magnificent spectacle. His Majesty allowed entrance to
all--and those who came were feasted at a banquet which only Rabelais
could fairly describe. And then with our splendour there is an elegant
restraint--a decency unknown here. Compare these women--Lady Shrewsbury
yonder, Lady Chesterfield, the fat woman in sea-green and silver--Lady
Castlemaine, brazen in orange velvet and emeralds--compare them with
Conde's sister, with the Duchesse de Bouillon, the Princess Palatine----"
"Are those such good women?"
"Humph! They are ladies. These are the kind of women King Charles admires.
They are as distinct a race as the dogs that lie in his bed-chamber, and
follow him in his walks, a species of his own creation. They do not even
affect modesty. But I am turning preacher, like Fareham. Come, there is to
be an entertainment in the theatre. Roxalana has returned to the stage--and
Jacob Hall, the rope-dancer, is to perform."
They followed the crowd, and De Malfort remained at Angela's side till the
end of the performance, and attended her to the supper-table afterwards.
Fareham watched them from his place in the background. He stood ever aloof
from the royal focus, the beauty, and the wit, the most dazzling jewels,
the most splendid raiment. He was amidst the Court, but not of it.
Yes; the passion which these two entertained for each other was patent to
every eye; but had it been an honourable attachment upon De Malfort's side,
he would have declared himself before now. He would not have abandoned the
field to such a sober suitor as Denzil. Henri de Malfort loved her, and she
fed his passion with her sweetest smiles, the low and tender tones of the
most musical voice Fareham had ever listened to.
"The voice that came to me in my desolation--the sweetest sound that ever
fell on a dying man's ear," he thought, recalling those solitary days and
nights in the plague year, recalling those vanished hours with a fond
longing, "that arm which shows dazzling white against the purple velvet of
his sleeve is the arm that held up my aching head, in the dawn of returning
reason; those are the eyes that looked down upon mine, so pitiful, so
anxious for my recovery. Oh, lovely angel, I would be a leper again,
a plague-stricken wretch, only to drink a cup of water from that dear
hand--only to feel the touch of those light fingers on my forehead! There
was a magic in that touch that surpassed the healing powers of kings. There
was a light as of heaven in those benignant eyes. But, oh, she is changed
since then. She is plague-stricken with the contagion of a profligate age.
Her wings are scorched by the fire of this modish Tophet She has been
taught to dress and look like the women around her--a little more
modest--but after the same fashion. The nun I worshipped is no more."
Some one tapped him on the shoulder with an ostrich fan. He turned, and saw
Lady Castlemaine close at his elbow.
"Image of gloom, will you lead me to my rooms?" she asked, in a curious
voice, her dark blue eyes deepened by the pallor that showed through her
"I shall esteem myself too much honoured by that office," he answered, as
she took his arm and moved quickly, with hurried footsteps, through the
"Oh, there is no one to dispute the honour with you. Sometimes I have a
mob to hustle me to my lodgings, borne on the current of their
adulation--sometimes I move through a desert, as I do to-night. Your face
attracted me--for I believe it is the only one at Whitehall as gloomy as
my own--unless there are some of my creditors, men to whom I owe gaming
It was curious to note that subtle change in the faces of those they
passed, which Barbara Palmer knew so well--faces that changed, obedient to
the weathercock of royal caprice--the countenances of courtiers who
even yet had not learnt justly to weigh the influence of that imperial
favourite, or to understand that she ruled their King with a power which no
transient fancy for newer faces could undermine. A day or two in the sulks,
frowns and mournful looks for gossip Pepys to jot down in his diary, and
the next day the sun would be shining again, and the King would be at
supper with "the lady."
Perhaps Lady Castlemaine knew that her empire was secure; but she took
these transient fancies _moult serieusement_. Her jealous soul could
tolerate no rival--or it may be that she really loved the King. He had
given himself to her in the flush of his triumphant return, while he was
still young enough to feel a genuine passion. For her sake he had been a
cruel husband, an insolent tyrant to an inoffensive wife; for her sake he
had squandered his people's money, and outraged every moral law; and it may
be that she remembered these things, and hated him the more fiercely for
them when he was inconstant. She was a woman of extremes, in whose tropical
temperament there was no medium between hatred and love.
"You will sup with me, Fareham?" she said, as he waited on the threshold of
her lodgings, which were in a detached pile of buildings, near the Holbein
Gateway, and looking upon an enclosed and somewhat gloomy garden.
"Your ladyship will excuse me. I am expected at home."
"What devil! Perhaps you think I am inviting you to a _tete-a-tete_. I
shall have some company, though the drove have gone to the Stewarts' in a
hope of getting asked to supper--which but a few of them can realise in
her mean lodgings. You had better stay. I may have Buckhurst, Sedley, De
Malfort, and a few more of the pretty fellows--enough to empty your pockets
"Your ladyship is all goodness," said Fareham, quickly.
De Malfort's name had decided him. He followed his hostess through a crowd
of lackeys, a splendour of wax candles, to her saloon, where she turned and
flashed upon him a glorious picture of mature loveliness, her complexion
the peach in its ripest bloom, the orange sheen of her velvet mantua
shining out against a background of purple damask curtains embroidered with
The logs blazed and roared in the wide chimney. Warmth, opulence,
hospitality, were all expressed in the brilliantly lighted room, where
luxurious fauteuils, after the new French fashion, stood about, ready to
receive her ladyship's guests.
These were not long waited for. There was no crowd. Less than twenty men,
and about a dozen women, were enough to add an air of living gaiety to the
brilliancy of light and colour. De Malfort was the last who entered. He
kissed her ladyship's hand, looked about him, and recognised Fareham with
"An Israelite in the house of Dagon!" he said, _sotto voce_, as he
approached him. "What, Fareham, have you given your neck to the yoke?
Do you yield to the charm which has subjugated such lighter natures as
Villiers and Buckhurst?"
"It is only human to love variety. You have discovered the charm of youth
"Do you think it needs a modish Columbus to discover that? We all worship
innocence, were it but for its rarity, as we esteem a black pearl or a
yellow diamond above a white one. Jarni, but I am pleased to see you here!
It is the most human thing I have known of you since you recovered of the
contagion; for you have been a gloomier man from that time."
"Be assured I am altogether human--at least upon the worser side of
"How dismal you look! Upon my soul, Fareham, you should fight against that
melancholic habit. Her ladyship is in the black sulks. We are in for
a pleasant evening. Yet, if we were to go away, she would storm at us
to-morrow; call us sycophants and time-servers, swear she would hold no
further commerce with any manjack among our detestable crew. Well, she is
a magnificent termagant. If Cleopatra was half as handsome, I can forgive
Antony for following her to ruin at Actium."
"There is supper in the music-room, gentlemen," said Lady Castlemaine, who
was standing near the fire in the midst of a knot of whispering women.
They had been abusing the fair Frances, and ridiculing old Rowley, to
gratify their hostess. She knew them by heart--their falsehood and
hollowness. She knew that they were ready, every one of them, to steal her
royal lover, had they but the chance of such a conquest; yet it solaced her
soreness to hear Miss Stewart depreciated even by those false lips--"She
was too tall." "Her Britannia profile looked as if it was cut out of wood."
"She was bold, bad, designing." "It was she who would have the King, not
the King who would have her."
"You are too malicious, my dearest Price," said Lady Castlemaine, with more
good humour than had been seen in her countenance that evening. "Buckhurst,
will you take Mrs. Price to supper? There are cards in the gallery. Pray
"But will your ladyship neither sup nor play?" asked Sedley.
"My ladyship has a raging headache. What devil! Did I not lose enough to
some of you blackguards last night? Do you want to rook me again? Pray
amuse yourselves, friends. No doubt his Majesty is being exquisitely
entertained where he is; but I doubt if he will get as good a supper as you
will find in the next room."
The significant laugh which concluded her speech was too angry for mirth,
and the blackness of her brow forbade questioning. All the town knew next
day that she had contrived to get the royal supper intercepted and carried
off, on its way from the King's kitchen to Miss Stewart's lodgings, and
that his Majesty had a Barmecide feast at the table of beauty. It was a
joke quite in the humour of the age.
The company melted out of the room; all but Fareham, who watched Lady
Castlemaine as she stood by the hearth in an attitude of hopeless
self-forgetfulness, leaning against the lofty sculptured chimney-piece, one
slender foot in gold-embroidered slipper and transparent stocking poised on
the brazen fender, and her proud eyelids lowered as if there was nothing
in this world worth looking at but the pile of ship's timber, burning with
many-coloured flames upon the silver andirons.
In spite of that sullen downward gaze she was conscious of Fareham's
"Why do you stay, my lord?" she asked, without looking up. "If your purse
is heavy there are friends of mine yonder who will lighten it for you,
fairly or foully. I have never made up my mind how far a gentleman may be a
rogue with impunity. If you don't love losing money you had best eat a good
supper and begone."
"I thank you, madam. I am more in the mood for cards than for feasting."
She did not answer him, but clasped her hands suddenly before her face and
gave a heart-breaking sigh. Fareham paused on the threshold of the gallery,
watching her, and then went slowly back, bent down to take the hand
that had dropped at her side, and pressed his lips upon it, silently,
respectfully, with a kind of homage that had become strange of late years
to Barbara Palmer. Adorers she had and to spare, toadeaters and flatterers,
a regiment of mercenaries; but these all wanted something of her--kisses,
smiles, influence, money. Disinterested respect was new.
"I thought you were a Puritan, Lord Fareham."
"I am a man; and I know what it is to suffer the hell-fire of jealousy."
"Jealousy, yes! I never was good at hiding my feelings. He treats me
shamefully. Come, now, you take me for an abandoned profligate woman, a
callous wanton. That is what the world takes me for; and, perhaps, I have
deserved no better of the world. But whatever I am 'twas he made me so.
If he had been true, I could have been constant. It is the insolence of
abandonment that stings; the careless slights, scarce conscious that he
wounds. Before the eyes of the world, too, before wretches that grin and
whisper, and prophesy the day when my pride shall be in the dust. It is
treat ment such as this that makes women desperate; and if we cannot keep
him we love, we make believe to love some one else, and flaunt our fancy in
the deceiver's face. Do you think I cared for Buckingham, with his heart
of ice; or for such a snipe as Jermyn; or for a low-born rope-dancer?
No, Fareham; there has been more of rage and hate than of passion in my
caprices. And he is with Frances Stewart to-night. She sets up for a model
of chastity, and is to marry Richmond next month. But we know, Fareham, we
know. Women who ride in glass coaches should not throw stones. I will have
Charles at my feet again. I will have my foot upon his neck again. I cannot
use him too ill for the pain he gives me. There, go--go! Why did you tempt
me to lay my heart bare?"
"Dearest lady, believe me, I respect your candour. My heart bleeds for your
wrongs. So beautiful, so high above all other women in the capacity to
charm! Ah, be sure such loveliness has its responsibilities. It is a gift
from Heaven, and to hold it cheap is a sin."
"There is nothing in this life can be held too cheap. Beauty, love--all
trumpery! You would make life a tragedy. It is a farce, Fareham, a farce;
and all our pleasures and diversions only serve to make us forget what
worms we are. There, go--to cards--to supper--as you please. I am going to
my bed-chamber to rest this throbbing head. I may return and take a hand at
cards by-and-by, perhaps. Those fellows will game and booze till daylight."
Fareham opened the door for her, as she went out, regal in port and air.
She had moved him to compassion, even while she owned herself a wanton. To
love passionately--and to see another preferred! There is a brotherhood in
agony, that brings even opposite natures into sympathy. He passed into the
gallery, a long low room, hung with modern tapestries, richly coloured,
voluptuous in design. Clusters of wax tapers in gilded sconces lit up those
Paphian pictures. There were several tables, at which the mixed company
were sitting. Piles of the new guineas, fresh from his Majesty's Mint,
shone in the candle-light. At some tables there was a silent absorption in
the game, which argued high play, and the true gambler's spirit; at others
mirth reigned--talk, laughter, animated looks. One of the noisiest was the
table at which De Malfort was the most conspicuous figure; his periwig the
highest, his dress the most sumptuous, his breast glittering with orders.
His companions were Sir Ralph Masaroon, Colonel Dangerfield, an old
Malignant, who had hibernated during the Protectorate, and had never left
his own country, and Lady Lucretia Topham, a visiting acquaintance of
"Come here, Fareham," cried De Malfort; "there is plenty of room for you.
I'll wager Lady Lucretia will pass you her hand, and thank you for taking
"Lady Lucretia is glad to be quit of such dishonest company," said the
lady, tossing her cards upon the table, and rising in a cloud of powder and
perfume, and a flutter of lace and brocade. "If I were ill-humoured I would
say you marked the cards! but as I'm the soul of good nature, I'll only
swear you are the luckiest dog in London."
"You are the soul of good nature, and I am the luckiest dog in the universe
when you smile upon me," answered De Malfort, without looking up from his
cards, as the lady posed herself gracefully at the back of his chair,
leaning over his shoulder to watch his play. "I would not limit the area to
any city, however big."
Fareham seated himself in the chair the lady had vacated, and gathered up
the cards she had abandoned. He took a handful of gold from his pocket, and
put it on the table at his elbow, all with a somewhat churlish silence,
that escaped notice where everybody was loquacious. De Malfort went on
fooling with Lady Lucretia, whose lovely hand and arm, her strongest point,
descended upon a card now and then, to indicate the play she deemed wisest.
Once he caught the hand and kissed it in transit.
"Wert thou as wise as this hand is fair it should direct my play; but it is
only a woman's hand, and points the way to perdition."
Fareham had been losing steadily from the moment he took up Lady Lucretia's
cards; and his pile of jacobuses had been gradually passed over to De
Malfort's side of the table. He had emptied his pockets, and had scrawled
two or three I.O.U.'s upon scraps of paper torn from a note-book. Yet he
went on playing, with the same immovable countenance. The room had emptied
itself, the rest of the visitors leaving earlier than their usual hour in
that hospitable house. Perhaps because the hostess was missing; perhaps
because the royal sun was shining elsewhere.
Lackeys handed their salvers of Burgundy and Bordeaux, and the players
refreshed themselves occasionally with a brimmer of clary; but no wine
brightened Fareham's scowling brow, or changed the glooiay intensity of his
"My cards have brought your lordship bad luck," said Lady Lucretia, who
watched De Malfort's winnings with an air of personal interest.
"I knew my risk before I took them, madam. When an Englishman plays against
a Frenchman he is a fool if he is not prepared to be rooked."
"Fareham, are you mad?" cried De Malfort, starting to his feet. "To insult
your friend's country, and, by basest implication, your friend."
"I see no friend here. I say that you Frenchmen cheat at cards--on
principle--and are proud of being cheats! I have heard De Gramont brag of
having lured a man to his tent, and fed him, and wined him, and fleeced him
while he was drunk." He took a goblet of claret from the lackey who brought
his salver, emptied it, and went on, hoarse with passion. "To the marrow of
your bones you are false, all of you! You do not cog your dice, perhaps,
but you bubble your friends with finesses, and are as much sharpers at
heart as the lowest tat-mongers in Alsatia. You empty our purses, and
cozen our women with twanging guitars and jingling rhymes, and laugh at us
because we are honest and trust you. Seducers, tricksters, poltroons!"
The footman was at De Malfort's elbow now. He snatched a tankard from the
salver, and flung the contents across the table, straight at Fareham's
"This bully forces me to spoil his Point de Venise," he said coolly, as he
set down the tankard. "There should be a law for chaining up rabid curs
that have run mad without provocation."
Fareham sprang to his feet, black and terrible, but with a savage
exultation in his countenance. The wine poured in a red stream from his
point-lace cravat, but had not touched his face.
"There shall be something redder than Burgundy spilt before we have done!"
"Sacre nom, nous sommes tombes dans un antre de betes sauvages!" exclaimed
Masaroon, starting up, and anxiously examining the skirts of his brocade
coat, lest that sudden deluge had caught him.
"None of your ---- French to show your fine breeding!" growled the old
cavalier. "Fareham, you deserved the insult; but one red will wash out
another. I'm with your lordship."
"And I'm with De Malfort," said Masaroon. "He had more than enough
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, no bloodshed!" cried Lady Lucretia; "or, if you are
going to be uncivil to each other, for God's sake get me to my chair. I
have a husband who would never forgive me if it were said you fought for my
"We will see you safely disposed of, madam, before we begin our business,"
said Colonel Dangerfield, bluntly. "Fareham, you can take the lady to her
chair, while Masaroon and I discuss particulars."
"There is no need of a discussion," interrupted Fareham, hotly. "We have
nothing to arrange--nothing to wait for. Time, the present; place, the
garden, under these windows; weapons, the swords we wear. We shall have no
witnesses but the moon and stars. It is the dead middle of the night, and
we have the world all to ourselves."
"Give me your rapier, then, that I may compare it with the Count's. You are
satisfied, monsieur? 'Tis you that are the offender, and Lord Fareham has
the choice of weapons."
"Let him choose. I will fight him with cannon--or with soap-bubbles,"
answered De Malfort, lolling back in his chair, tilted at an angle of
forty-five, and drumming a gay dance tune with his finger-tips on the
table. "'Tis a foolish imbroglio from first to last: and only his lordship
and I know how foolish. He came here to provoke a quarrel, and I must
indulge him. Come, Lady Lucretia"--he turned to his fair friend, as he
unbuckled his sword and flung it on the table--"it is my place to lead you
to your chair. Colonel, you and your friend will find me below stairs in
front of the Holbein Gate."
"You are forgetting your winnings," remonstrated the lady, pointing to the
pile of gold.
"The lackeys will not forget them when they clear the room," answered De
Malfort, putting her hand through his arm, and leaving the money on the
Ten minutes later Fareham and De Malfort were standing front to front in
the glare of four torches, held by a brace of her ladyship's lackeys who
had been impressed into the service, and the colder light of a moon that
rode high in the blue-black of a wintry heaven. There was not a sound but
the ripple of the unseen river, and the distant cry of a watchman in Petty
France, till the clash of swords began.
It was decided after a brief parley that the principals only should fight.
The quarrel was private. The seconds placed their men on a piece of level
turf, five paces apart. They were bare-headed, and without coat or vest,
the lace ruffles of their shirt-sleeves rolled back to the elbow, their
naked arms ghastly white, their faces suggesting ghost or devil as the
spectral moonlight or the flame of the flambeaux shone upon them.
"You mean business, so we may sink the parade of the fencing saloon," said
Dangerfield. "Advance, gentlemen."
"A pity," murmured Masaroon, "there is nothing prettier than the salute _a
Dangerfield handed the men their swords. They were nearly similar in
fashion, both flat-grooved blades, with needle points, and no cutting edge,
furnished with shell-guards and cross-bars in the Italian style, and were
about of a length.
The word was given, and the business of engagement proceeded slowly and
warily, for a few moments that seemed minutes; and then the blades were
firmly joined in carte, and a series of rapid feints began, De Malfort
having a slight advantage in the neatness of his circles, and the swiftness
of his wrist play. But in these preliminary lounges and parries, he soon
found he needed all his skill to dodge his opponent's point; for Fareham's
blade followed his own, steadily and strongly, through every turn.
De Malfort had begun the fight with an insolent smile upon his lips, the
smile of a man who believes himself invincible, while Fareham's countenance
never changed from the black anger that had darkened it all that night. It
was a face that meant death. A man who had never been a duellist, who had
raised his voice sternly against the practice of duelling, stood there
intent upon bloodshed. There could be no mistake as to his purpose. The
quarrel was an artificial quarrel--the object was murder.
De Malfort, provoked at the unexpected strength of Fareham's fence,
attempted a partial disarmament, after the deadly Continental method.
Joining his opponent's blade near the point, from a wide circular parry,
he made a rapid thrust in seconde, carrying his forte the entire length of
Fareham's blade, almost wrenching the sword from his grasp; and then, in
the next instant, reaching forward to his fullest stretch, he lunged at his
enemy's breast, aiming at the vital region of the heart; a thrust that must
have proved fatal had not Fareham sprung aside, and so received the blow
where the sword only grazed his ribs, inflicting a flesh-wound that showed
red upon the whiteness of his shirt. Dangerfield tore off his cravat, and
wanted to bind it round his principal's waist; but Fareham repulsed him,
and lashed into hot fury by the Frenchman's uncavalier-like ruse, met
his adversary's thrusts with a deadly purpose, which drove De Malfort to
reckless lunging and riposting, and the play grew fast and fierce, while
the rattle of steel seemed never likely to end. Suddenly, timing his attack
to the fraction of a second, Fareham dropped on his left knee, and planting
his left hand upon the ground, sent a murderous thrust home under De
Malfort's guard, whose blade passed harmlessly over his adversary's head as
he crouched on the sward.
De Malfort fell heavily in the arms of the two seconds, who both sprang to
"Is it fatal?" asked Fareham, standing motionless as stone, while the other
men knelt on either side of De Malfort.
"I'll run for a surgeon," said Masaroon. "There's a fellow I know of this
side the Abbey--mends bloody noses and paints black eyes," and he was off,
running across the grass to the nearest gate.
"It looks plaguily like a coffin," Dangerfield answered, with his hand on
the wounded man's breast. "There's throbbing here yet; but he may bleed to
death, like poor Lindsey, before surgery can help him. You had better run,
Fareham. Take horse to Dover, and get across to Calais or Ostend. You were
devilish provoking. It might go hard with you if he was to die."
"I shall not budge, Dangerfield. Didn't you hear me say I wanted to kill
him? You might guess I didn't care a cast of the dice for my life when I
said as much. Let them find it murder, and hang me. I wanted him out of the
world, and don't care how soon I follow."
"You are mad--stark, staring mad!"
The wounded man raised himself on his elbow, groaning aloud in the agony of
movement, and beckoned Fareham, who knelt down beside him, all of a piece,
like a stone figure.
"Fareham, you had better run; I have powerful friends. There'll be an ugly
stir if I die of this bout. Kiss me, mon ami. I forgive you. I know what
wound rankled; 'twas for your wife's sister you fought--not the cards."
He sank into Dangerfield's arms, swooning from loss of blood, as Masaroon
came back at a run, bringing a surgeon, an elderly man of that Alsatian
class which is to be found out of bed in the small hours. He brought
styptics and bandages, and at once set about staunching the wound.
While this was happening a curtain had been suddenly pulled aside at an
upper window in Lady Castlemaine's lodgings, showing a light within. The
window was thrown open, and a figure appeared, clad in a white satin
night-gown that glistened in the moonlight, with a deep collar of ermine,
from which the handsomest face in London looked across the garden, to the
spot where Fareham, the seconds, and the surgeon were grouped about De
It was Lady Castlemaine. She leant out of the window and called to them.
"What has happened? Is any one hurt? I'll wager a thousand pounds you
devils have been fighting."
"De Malfort is stabbed!" Masaroon answered.
"Not dead?" she shrieked, leaning farther out of the window.
"No; but it looks dangerous."
"Bring him into my house this instant! I'll send my fellows to help. Have
you sent for a surgeon?"
"The surgeon is here."
The radiant figure vanished like a vision in the skies; and in three
minutes a door was heard opening, and a voice calling, "John, William,
Hugh, Peter, every manjack of you. Lazy devils! There's been no time for
you to fall asleep since the company left. Stir yourselves, vermin, and out
"We had best levant, Fareham," muttered Dangerfield, and drew away his
principal, who went with him, silent and unresisting, having no more to do
there; not to fly the country, however, but to walk quietly home to Fareham
House, and to let himself in at the garden door, known to the household as
Lord Fareham stayed in his own house by the Thames, and nobody interfered
with his liberty, though Henri de Malfort lay for nearly a fortnight
between life and death, and it was only in the beginning of December that
he was pronounced out of danger, and was able to be removed from Lady
Castlemaine's luxurious rooms to his own lodgings. Scandal-mongers might
have made much talk of his lying ill in her ladyship's house, and being
tenderly nursed by her, had not Lady Castlemaine outlived the possibility
of slander. It would have been as difficult for her name to acquire any
blacker stain as for a damaged reputation to wash itself white. The secret
of the encounter had been faithfully kept by principals and seconds, De
Malfort behaving with a chivalrous generosity. He appeared, indeed, as
anxious for his antagonist's safety as for his own recovery.
"It was a mistake," he said, when Masaroon pressed him with home questions.
"Every man is mad once in his life. Fareham's madness took an angry turn
against an old friend. Why, we slept under the same blanket in the trenches
before Dunkirk; we rode shoulder to shoulder through the rain of bullets at
Chitillon; and to pick a trumpery quarrel with a brother-in-arms!"
"I wonder the quarrel was not picked earlier," Masaroon answered bluntly.
"Your courtship of the gentleman's wife has been notorious for the last
"Call it not courtship, Ralph. Lady Fareham and I are old playfellows. We
were reared in the _pays du tendre_, Loveland--the kingdom of innocent
attachments and pure penchants, that country of which Mademoiselle Scudery
has given us laws and a map. Your vulgar London lover cannot understand
platonics--the affection which is satisfied with a smile or a madrigal.
Fareham knows his wife and me better than to doubt us."
"And yet he acted like a man who was madly jealous. His rudeness at the
card-table was obvious malice afore-thought. He came resolved to quarrel."
"Ay, he came to quarrel--but not about his wife."
Pressed to explain this dubious phrase, De Malfort affected a fit of
languor, and would talk no more.
The town was told that the Comte de Malfort was ill of a quartain fever,
and much was said about his sufferings during the Fronde, his exposure to
damp and cold in the sea-marshes by Dunkirk, his rough fare and hard riding
through the war of the Princes. This fever, which hung about him so long,
was an after-consequence of hardship suffered in his youth--privations
faced with a boyish recklessness, and which he had paid for with an
impaired constitution. Fine ladies in gilded chairs, and vizard-masks in
hackney coaches, called frequently at his lodgings in St. James's Street
to inquire about his progress. Lady Fareham's private messenger was at his
door every morning, and brought a note, or a book, or a piece of new music
from her ladyship, who had been sternly forbidden to visit her old friend
"You grow every day a gloomier tyrant!" Hyacinth protested, with more
passion in her voice and mien than ever her husband had known. "Why should
I not go to him when he is ill--dangerously ill--dying perhaps? He is my
old, old friend. I remember no joy in life that he did not share. Why
should I not go to him in his sorrow?"
"Because you are my wife, and I forbid you. I cannot understand this
passion. I thought you suffered the company of that empty-headed fop as you
suffered your lap-dogs--the trivial appendage of a fine lady's state. Had
I supposed that there was anything serious in your liking--that you could
think him worth anger or tears--should have ordered your life differently,
and he would have had no place in it."
"You astound me, Hyacinth! Would you dispute the favours of a fop with your
"With my sister!" she cried, scornfully.
"Ay, with your sister, whom he has courted assiduously; but with no
honourable motive! I have seen his designs."
"Well, perhaps you are right. He may care for Angela--and think her too
poor to marry."
"He is a traitor and a villain----"
"Oh, what fury! Marry my sister to Sir Denzil, and then she will be safe
from all pursuit! He will bury her alive in Oxfordshire--withdraw her for
ever from this wicked town--like poor Lady Yarborough in Cornwall."
"I will never ask her to marry a man she cannot love."
"Why not? Are not you and I a happy couple? And how much love had we for
each other before we married? Why I scarce knew the colour of your eyes;
and if I had met you in the street, I doubt if I should have recognised
you! And now, after thirteen years of matrimony, we are at our first
quarrel, and that no lasting one. Come, Fareham, be pleasant and yielding.
Let me go and see my old playfellow. I am heartbroken for lack of his
company, for fear of his death."
She hung upon him coaxingly, the bright blue eyes looking up at him--eyes
that had so often been compared to Madame de Longueville's, eyes that had
smiled and beamed in many a song and madrigal by the parlour poets of the
Hotel de Rambouillet. She was exquisitely pretty in her youthful colouring
of lilies and roses, blue eyes, and pale gold hair, and retained at thirty
almost all the charms and graces of eighteen.
Fareham took her by both hands and held her away from him, severely
scrutinising a face which he had always been able to admire as calmly as if
it had been on canvas.
"You look like an innocent woman," he said, "and I have always believed you
a good woman; and have trusted my honour in your keeping--have seen that
man fawning at your feet, singing and sighing in your ear, and have thought
no evil. But now that you have told me, as plainly as woman can speak to
man, that this is the man you love, and have loved all your life, there
must needs come an end to the sighing and singing. You and Henri de Malfort
must meet no more. Nay, look not such angry scorn. I impute no guilt; but
between innocence and guilt there need be but one passionate hour. The wife
goes out an honest woman, able to look her husband in the face as you
are looking at me; the wanton comes home, and the rest of her life is a
shameful lie. And the husband awakes some day from his dream of domestic
peace to discover that he has been long the laughing-stock of the town.
I will be no such fatuous husband, Hyacinth. I will wait for no second
Lady Fareham submitted in silence, and with deep resentment. She had never
before experienced a husband's authority sternly exercised. She had been
forbidden the free run of London play-houses, and some of the pleasures of
Court society; but then she had been denied with all kindness, and had been
allowed so many counterbalancing extravagances, pleasures, and follies,
that it would have been difficult for her to think herself ill-used.
She submitted angrily, passionately regretting the man whose presence had
long been the brightest element in her life. Her cheek paled; she grew
indifferent to the amusements which had been her sole occupation; she
sulked in her rooms, equally avoiding her children and their aunt; and,
indeed, seemed to care for no one's society except Mrs. Lewin's. The Court
milliner had business with her ladyship every day, and was regaled with
cakes and liqueurs in her ladyship's dressing-room.
"You must be very busy about new gowns, Hyacinth," her husband said to her
one day at dinner. "I meet the harridan from Covent Garden on the stairs
"She is not a harridan, whatever that elegant word may mean. And as for
gowns, it would be wiser for me to order no new ones, since it is but
likely I shall soon have to wear mourning for an old friend."
She looked at her husband, defying him. He rose from the table with a sigh,
and walked out of the room. There was war between them, or at best an armed
neutrality. He looked back, and saw that he had been blind to the things he
should have seen, dull and unobservant where he should have had sense and
"I did not care enough for my honour," he thought. "Was it because I cared
too little for my wife? It is indifference, and not love, that is blind."
Angela saw the cloud that overshadowed Fareham House with deepest distress;
and yet felt herself powerless to bring back sunshine. Her sister met her
remonstrances with scorn.
"Do you take the part of a tyrant against your own flesh and blood?" she
asked. "I have been too tame a slave. To keep me away from the Court while
I was young and worth looking at--to deny me amusements and admiration
which are the privilege of every woman of quality--to forbid me the
play-house, and make a country cousin of me by keeping me ignorant of
modern wit. I am ashamed of my compliance."
"Nay, dearest, was it not an evidence of his love that he should desire you
to keep your mind pure as well as your face fair?"
"No, he has never loved me. It is only a churlish jealousy that would shut
me up in a harem like a Turk's wife, and part me from the friend I like
best in the world--with the purest platonic affection."
"Hyacinth, don't be angry with me for being out of the fashion; but indeed
I cannot think it right for a wife to care for the company of any other man
but her husband."
"And my husband is so entertaining! Sure any woman might be content
with such gay company--such flashes of wit--such light raillery!" cried
Hyacinth, scornfully, walking up and down the room, plucking at the
lace upon her sleeves with restless hands, her bosom heaving, her eyes
steel-bright with anger. "Since his sickness last year, he has been the
image of melancholy; he has held himself aloof from me as if _I_ had had
the pestilence. I was content that it should be so. I had my children and
you, and one who loved me better, in his light way, than any of you--and I
could do without Lord Fareham. But now he forbids me to see an old friend
that is dangerously ill, and every drop of blood in my veins boils in
rebellion against his tyranny!"
It was in the early dusk, an hour or so after dinner. Angela sat silent in
the shadow of a bay window, quite as heavy-hearted as her sister--sorry for
Hyacinth, but still sorrier for Hyacinth's husband, yet feeling that there
was treachery and unkindness in making him first in her thoughts. But
surely, surely he deserved a better wife than this! Surely he deserved a
wife's love--this man who stood alone among the men she knew, hating all
evil things, honouring all things good and noble! He had been unkind to
her--cold and cruel--since that fatal night. He had let her understand that
all friendship between them was at an end for ever, and that she had become
despicable in his sight; and she had submitted to be scorned by him, since
it was impossible that she should clear herself. She had made her sisterly
sacrifice for a sister who regarded it very lightly; to whose light fancy
that night and all it involved counted but as a scene in a comedy; and she
could not unmake it. But having so sacrificed his good opinion whose esteem
she valued, she wanted to see some happy result, and to save this splendid
home from shipwreck.
Suddenly, with a passionate impulse, she went to her sister, and put her
arms round her and kissed her.
"Hyacinth, you shall not continue in this folly," she cried, "to fret for
that shallow idler, whose love is lighter than thistledown, whose element
is the ruelle of one of those libertine French duchesses he is ever talking
about. To rebel against the noblest gentleman in England! Oh, sister,
you must know him better than I do; and yet I, who am nothing to him, am
wretched when I see him ill-used. Indeed, Hyacinth, you are acting like a
wicked wife. You should never have wished to see De Malfort again, after
the peril of that night. You should have known that he had no esteem
for you, that he was a traitor--that his design was the wickedest,
"I don't pretend to know a man's mind as well as you--neither De Malfort's
nor my husband's. You have needed but the experience of a year to make you
wise enough in the world's ways to instruct your elders. I am not going to
be preached to----Hark!" she cried, running to the nearest window, and
looking out at the river, "that is better than your sermons."
It was the sound of fiddles playing the symphony of a song she knew
well--one of De Malfort's, a French chanson, her latest favourite, the
words adapted from a little poem by Voiture, "Pour vos beaux yeux."
She opened the casement, and Angela stood beside her looking down at a boat
in which several muffled figures were seated, and which was moored to the
There were three violins and a 'cello, and a quartette of singing-boys with
fair young faces smiling in the light of the lamps that hung in front of
The evening was still, and mild as early autumn, and the plash of oars
passing up and down the river sounded like a part of the music--
"Love in her sunny eyes doth basking play,
Love walks the pleasant mazes of her hair,
Love does on both her lips for ever stray,
And sows and reaps a thousand kisses there;
In all her outward parts love's always seen;
But, oh, he never went within."
It was a song of Cowley's, which De Malfort had lately set to music, and to
a melody which Hyacinth especially admired.
"A serenade! Only De Malfort could have thought of such a thing. Lying ill
and alone, he sends me the sweetest token of his regard--my favourite air,
his own setting--the last song I ever heard him sing. And you wonder that I
value so pure, so disinterested a love!" protested Hyacinth to her sister,
in the silence at the end of the song.
"Sing again, sweet boys, sing again!" she cried, snatching a purse from her
pocket, and flinging it with impetuous aim into the boat.
It hit one of the fiddlers on the head, and there was a laugh, and in a
trice the largesse was divided and pocketed.
"They are from his Majesty's choir; I know their voices," said Hyacinth,
"so fresh, and pure. They are the prettiest singers in the chapel. That
little monkey with the cherub's voice is Purcell--Dr. Blow's favourite
pupil--and a rare genius."
They sang another song from De Malfort's repertoire, an Italian serenade,
which Hyacinth had heard in the brilliant days before her marriage, when
the Italian Opera was still a new thing in Paris. The melody brought back
the memory of her happy girlhood with a rush of sudden tears.
The little concert lasted for something less than an hour, with intervals
of light music, dances and marches, between the singing. Boats passed and
repassed. Strange voices joined in a refrain now and then, and the sisters
stood at the open window enthralled by the charm of the music and the
scene. London lay in ruins yonder to the east, and Sir Matthew Hale and
other judges were sitting at Clifford's Inn to decide questions of title
and boundary, and the obligation to rebuild; but here in this western
London there were long ranges of lighted windows shining through the wintry
mists, wherries passing up and down with lanterns at their prows, an air of
life and gaiety hanging over that river which had carried so many a noble
victim to his doom yonder, where the four towers stood black against the
starlit greyness, unscathed by fire, and untouched by time.
The last notes of a good-night song dwindled and died, to the accompaniment
of dipping oars, as the boat moved slowly along the tideway, and lost
itself among other boats--jovial cits going eastward, from an afternoon at
the King's theatre, modish gallants voyaging westward from play-house or
tavern, some going home to domesticity, others intent upon pleasure and
intrigue, as the darkness came down, and the hour for supper and deeper
drinking drew near. And who would have thought, watching the lighted
windows of palace and tavern, hearing those joyous sounds of glee or catch
trolled by voices that reeked of wine--who would have thought of the
dead-cart, and the unnumbered dead lying in the pest pits yonder, or the
city in ruins, or the King enslaved to a foreign power, and pledged to a
hated Church? London, gay, splendid, and prosperous, the queen-city of the
world as she seemed to those who loved her--could rise glorious from the
ashes of a fire unparalleled in modern history, and to Charles and Wren it
might be given to realise a boast which in Augustus had been little more
than an imperial phrase.
The armed neutrality between man and wife continued, and the domestic sky
at Fareham House was dark and depressing. Lady Fareham, who had hitherto
been remarkable for a girlish amiability of speech which went well with her
girlish beauty, became now the height of the mode for acidity and slander.
The worst of the evil speakers on her ladyship's visiting-day flavoured the
China tea with no bitterer allusions than those that fell from the rosy
lips of the hostess. And, for the colouring of those lips, which once owed
their vermeil tint only to nature, Lady Fareham was now dependent upon Mrs.
Lewin, as well as for the carnation of cheeks that looked pallid and sunken
in the glass which reflected the sad mourning face.
Mrs. Lewin brought roses and lilies in her queer little china pots and
powder boxes, pencils and brushes, perfumes and washes without number. It
cost as much to keep a complexion as to keep a horse. And Mrs. Lewin was
infinitely useful at this juncture, since she called every day at St.
James's Street, to carry a lace cravat, or a ribbon, or a flask of essence
to the invalid languishing in lodgings there, and visited by all the town,
except Fareham and his wife. De Malfort had lain for a fortnight at Lady
Castlemaine's house, alternately petted and neglected by his fair hostess,
as the fit took her, since she showed herself ever of the chameleon breed,
and hovered betwixt angel and devil. His surgeon told him in confidence
that when once his wound was healed enough to allow his removal, the sooner
he quitted that feverish company the better it would be for his chance of a
speedy convalescence. So, at the end of the second week, he was moved in
a covered litter to his own lodgings, where his faithful valet, who had
followed his fortunes since he came to man's estate, was quite capable of
The town soon discovered the breach between Lord Fareham and his friend--a
breach commented upon with many shoulder-shrugs, and not a few coarse
innuendoes. Lady Lucretia Topham insisted upon making her way to the sick
man's room, in the teeth of messages delivered by his valet, which, even to
a less intelligent mind than Lady Lucretia's, might have conveyed the fact
that she was not wanted. She flung herself on her knees by De Malfort's
bed, and wept and raved at the brutality which had deprived the world of
his charming company--and herself of the only man she had ever loved. De
Malfort, fevered and vexed at her intrusion, and at this renewal of fires
long burnt out, had yet discretion enough to threaten her with his dire
displeasure if she betrayed the secret of his illness.
"I have sworn Dangerfield and Masaroon to silence," he said. "Except
servants, who have been paid to keep mute, you are the only other witness
of our quarrel; and if the story becomes town talk, I shall know whose busy
tongue set it going--and then--well, there are things I might tell that
your ladyship would hardly like the world to know."
"Traitor! If your purse has accommodated me once in a way when luck has
"Oh, madam, you cannot think me base enough to blab of a money transaction
with a lady. There are secrets more tender--more romantic."
"Those secrets can be easily denied, wretch. However, I know you would not
injure me with a husband so odious and tyrannical that I stood excused in
advance for inconstancy when I stooped to wed country manners and stubborn
ignorance. Indeed, mon ami, if you will but take pains to recover, I will
never breathe a word about the duel; but if--if--" a sob indicated the
tragic possibility which Lady Lucretia dared not put into words--"I will do
all that a weak woman can do to get Fareham hanged for murder. There has
never been a peer hanged in England, I believe. He should be the first."
"Dear soul, there need be no hanging! I have been on the mending hand for a
week, or my doctors would not have let you upstairs. There, go, my pretty
Lucrece; but if your milliner or your shoemaker is pressing, there are a
few jacobuses in the right-hand drawer of yonder escritoire, and you may
as well take them as leave them for my valet to steal. He is one of those
excellent old servants who make no distinctions, and he robs me as freely
as he robbed my father before me."
"Mrs. Lewin is always pressing," sighed Lady Lucretia. "She made me a gown
like that of Lady Fareham's, for which you were all eyes. I ordered
the brocade to please you; and now I am wearing it when you are not at
Whitehall. Well, as you are so kind, I will be your debtor for another
trifling loan. It is wicked to leave money where it tempts a good servant
to dishonesty. Ah, Henri"--she was pocketing the gold as she talked--"if
ten years of my life could save you ten days of pain and fever, how gladly
would I give them to you!"
"Ah, douce, if there were a market for the exchange of such commodities,
what a roaring trade would be done there! I never loved a woman yet but she
offered me her life, or an instalment of it."
"I have emptied your drawer," laughing coyly. "There is just enough to keep
Lewin in good humour till you are well again, and we can be partners at
"It will be very long before I play basset in London."
"Oh, but indeed you will soon be well."
"Well enough to change the scene, I hope. It needs change of places and
persons to make life bearable. I long to be at the Louvre again, to see a
play by Moliere's company, as only they can act, instead of the loathsome
translations we get here, in which all that there is of wit and charm in
the original is transmuted to coarseness and vulgarity. When I leave this
bed, Lucrece, it will be for Paris."
"Why, it will be ages before you are strong enough for such a journey."
"Oh, I will risk that. I hate London so badly, that to escape from it will
work a miraculous cure for me."
* * * * *
An armed neutrality! Even the children felt the change in the atmosphere of
home, and nestled closer to their aunt, who never changed to them.
"Father mostly looks angry," Henriette complained, "and mother is always
unhappy, if she is not laughing and talking in the midst of company; and
neither of them ever seems to want me. I wish I was grown up, so that I
could be maid of honour to the Queen or the Duchess, and live at Whitehall.
Mademoiselle told me that there is always life and pleasure at Court."
"Your father does not love the Court, dearest, and mademoiselle should be
wiser than to talk to you of such things, when she is here to teach you
dancing and French literature."
"Mademoiselle" was a governess lately imported from Paris, recommended by
Mademoiselle Scudery, and full of high-flown ideas expressed in high-flown
language. All Paris had laughed at Moliere's _Precieuses Ridicules_; but
the Precieuses themselves, and their friends, protested that the popular
farce was aimed only at the low-born imitators of those great ladies who
had originated the school of superfine culture and romantic aspirations.
"Sapho" herself, in tracing her own portrait with a careful and elaborate
pencil, told the world how shamefully she had been imitated by the spurious
middle-class Saphos, who set up their salons, and vied with the sacred
house of Rambouillet, and the privileged coterie of the Rue de Temple.
Lady Fareham had not ceased to believe in her dear, plain, witty Scudery,
and was delighted to secure a governess of her choosing, whereby Papillon,
who loved freedom and idleness, and hated lessons of all kinds, was set
down to write themes upon chivalry, politeness, benevolence, pride, war,
and other abstractions; or to fill in bouts-rimes, by way of enlarging her
acquaintance with the French language, which she had chattered freely all
her life. Mademoiselle insisted upon all the niceties of phraseology as
discussed in the Rue Saint Thomas du Louvre.
There had been a change of late in Fareham's manner to his sister-in-law,
a change refreshing to her troubled spirit as mercy, that gentle dew from
heaven, to the criminal. He had been kinder; and though he spent very few
of his hours with the women of his household, he had talked to Angela
somewhat in the friendly tone of those fondly remembered days at Chilton,
when he had taught her to row and ride, to manage a spirited palfrey and
fly a falcon, and had been in all things her mentor and friend. He seemed
less oppressed with gloom as time went on, but had his sullen fits still,
and, after being kind and courteous to wife and sister, and playful with
his children, would leave them suddenly, and return no more to the saloon
or drawing-room that evening. Yet on the whole the sky was lightening. He
ignored Hyacinth's resentment, endured her pettishness, and was studiously
polite to her.
* * * * *
It was on Lady Fareham's visiting-day, deep in that very severe winter,
that some news was told her which came like a thunder-clap, and which it
needed all the weak soul's power of self-repression to suffer without
swooning or hysterics.
Lady Sarah Tewkesbury, gorgeous in velvet and fur, her thickly painted
countenance framed in a furred hood, entered fussily upon a little coterie
in which Masaroon, vapouring about the last performance at the King's
theatre, was the principal figure.
"There was a little woman spoke the epilogue," he said, "a little creature
in a monstrous big hat, as large and as round as a cart-wheel, which vastly
amused his Majesty."
"Nay, it was woman and hat. The thing is so small it might have been
scarce noticed without the hat, but it has a pretty little, insignificant,
crumpled face, and laughs all over its face till it has no eyes, and then
stops laughing suddenly, and the eyes shine out, twinkling and dancing like
stars reflected in running water, and it stamps its little foot upon the
stage in a comic passion--and--_nous verrons_. It sold oranges in the pit,
folks tell me, a year ago. It may be selling sinecures and captaincies in a
year or two, and putting another shilling in the pound upon land."
"Is it that brazen little comedy actress you are talking of, Masaroon?"
Lady Sarah asked, when she had exchanged curtsies with the ladies of the
company, and established herself on the most comfortable tabouret, near
Lady Fareham's tea-table; "Mrs. Glyn--Wynn--Gwyn? I wonder a man of wit can
notice such a vulgar creature, a she-jack-pudden, fit only to please the
rabble in the gallery."
"Ay, but there is a finer sort of rabble--a rabble of quality--beginning
with his Majesty, that are always pleased with anything new. And this
little creature is as fresh as a spring morning. To see her laugh, to hear
the ring of it, clear and sweet as a skylark's song! On my life, madam, the
town has a new toy; and Mrs. Gwyn will be the rage in high quarters. You
should have seen Castlemaine's scowl when Rowley laughed, and ducked under
the box almost, in an ecstasy of amusement at the huge hat."
"Lady Castlemaine's brow would thunder-cloud if his Majesty looked at a fly
on a window-pane. But she has something else to provoke her frowns to-day."
"What is that, chere dame?" asked Hyacinth, snatching a favourite fan from
Sir Ralph, who was teasing one of the Blenheims with African feathers that
were almost priceless.
"The desertion of an old friend. The Comte de Malfort has left England."
Lady Fareham turned livid under her rouge. Angela ran to her and leant
over her, upon a pretence of rescuing the fan and chiding the dogs; and so
contrived to screen her sister's change of complexion from the malignity of
her dearest friends.
"Left England! Why, he is confined to his bed with a fever!" Hyacinth said
faintly, when she had somewhat recovered from the shock.
"Nay, it seems that he began to go abroad last week, but would see no
company, except a confidential friend or so. He left London this morning
"No doubt he has business in Burgundy, where his estate is, and at Paris,
where he is of importance at the Court," said Hyacinth, as lightly as she
could; "but I'll wager anything anybody likes that he will be in London
again in a month."
"I'll take you for those black pearls in your ears, ma mie," said Lady
Sarah. "His furniture is to be sold by auction next week. I saw a bill on
the house this afternoon. It is sudden! Perhaps the Castlemaine had become
"Castlemaine!" faltered Hyacinth, agitated beyond her power of
self-control. "Why, what is she to him more than she is to other men?"
"Very little, perhaps," said Sir Ralph, and then everybody laughed, and
Hyacinth felt herself sitting among them like a child, understanding
nothing of their smiles and shrugs, the malice in their sly interchange of
She sat among them feeling as if her heart were turned to stone. He had
left the country without even bidding her farewell--her faithful slave,
upon whose devotion she counted as surely as upon the rising of the sun.
Whatever her husband might do to separate her from this friend of her
girlhood, she had feared no defection upon De Malfort's part. He would
always be near at hand, waiting and watching for the happier days that were
to smile upon their innocent loves. She had written to him every day during
his illness. Good Mrs. Lewin had taken the letters to him, and had brought
her his replies. He had not written so often, or at such length, as she,
and had pleaded the languor of convalescence as his excuse; but all his
billets-doux had been in the same delicious hyperbole, the language of
the Pays du Tendre. She sat silent while her visitors talked about him,
plucking a reputation as mercilessly as a kitchen wench plucks a fowl. He
was gone. He had left the country deep in debt. It was his landlord who
had stuck up that notice of a sale by auction. Tailors and shoemakers,
perruquiers and perfumers were bewailing his flight.
So much for the sordid side of things. But what of those numerous affairs
of the heart--those entanglements which had made his life one long