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There Citherea, goddesse was and quene, Honourid highly for her majeste, And eke her sonne, the mighty god I weene, Cupid the blinde, that for his dignite A M lovers worshipp on ther kne. There was I bid on pain of dethe to pere, By Mercury, the winged messengre.--CHAUCER.
By twelve o'clock on the ensuing day Mr. Belamour, with Eugene and Jumbo, was set down at a hotel near Whitehall, to secure apartments, while the Major went on to demand his daughter from Lady Belamour, taking with him Betty, whom he allowed to be a much better match for my Lady than he could be. Very little faith in his cousin Urania remained to him in the abstract, yet even now he could not be sure that she would not talk him over and hoodwink him in any actual encounter. Sir Amyas likewise accompanied him, both to gratify his own anxiety and to secure admission. The young man still looked pale and worn with restless anxiety; but he had, in spite of remonstrances, that morning discarded his sling, saying that he should return to his quarters. Let his Colonel do his worst the; he had still more liberty than if compelled to return to his mother's house.
Lady Belamour had, on her second marriage, forsaken her own old hereditary mansion in the Strand, where Sir Jovian had died, and which, she said, gave her the vapours. Mr. Wayland, whose wealth far exceeded her own, had purchased one of the new houses in Hanover Square, the fashionable quarter and very much admired; but the Major regretted the gloomy dignity of the separate enclosure and walled court of Delavie House, whereas the new one, in modern fashion, had only an area and steps between the front and the pavement.
The hall door stood wide open, with a stately porter within, and lackeys planted about at intervals. Grey descended from the box, and after some inquiry, brought word that "her Ladyship was at breakfast," then, at a sign from his master, opened the carriage door. Sir Amyas, taking Betty by the tips of her fingers, led her forward, receiving by the way greetings and inquiries from the servants, whose countenances showed him to be a welcome arrival.
"Is it a reception day, Maine?" he asked of a kind of major-domo whom he met on the top of the broad stairs.
"No, your honour."
"Is company with her ladyship?"
"No, not company, sir," with a certain hesitation, which damped Betty's satisfaction in the first assurance.
What did she see as Maine opened the door? It was a very spacious bedroom, the bed in an alcove hung with rose-coloured satin embroidered with myrtles and white roses, looped up with lace and muslin. Like draperies hung round the window, fluted silk lined the room, and beautiful japanned and inlaid cabinets and etageres adorned the walls, bearing all varieties and devices of new and old porcelain from Chins, Sevres, Dresden, or Worcester, tokens of Mr. Wayland's travels. There was a toilette table before one window covered with lacquer ware, silver and ivory boxes, and other apparatus, and an exquisite Venetian mirror with the borders of frosted silver work.
Not far off, but sideways to it, sat Lady Belamour in a loose sacque of some rich striped silk, in crimson and blue stripes shot with gold threads. Slippers, embroidered with gold, showed off her dainty feet, and a French hairdresser stood behind her chair putting the finishing touches to the imposing fabric of powder, flower, and feather upon her head. A little hand-mirror, framed in carved ivory inlaid with coral, and a fan, lay on a tiny spindle-legged table close in front of her, together with a buff-coloured cup of chocolate. At a somewhat larger table Mrs. Loveday, her woman, was dispensing the chocolate, whilst a little negro boy, in a fantastic Oriental costume, waited to carry the cups about.
On a sofa near at hand, in an easy attitude, reclined Colonel Mar, holding out to Lady Belamour a snuff-box of tortoiseshell and gold, and a lady sat near on one of the tall black-and-gold chairs drinking chocolate, while all were giving their opinions on the laces, feathers, ribbons, and trinkets which another Frenchman was displaying from a basket-box placed on the floor, trying to keep aloof a little Maltese lion-dog, which had been roused from its cushion, and had come to inspect his wares. A little further off, Archer, in a blue velvet coat, white satin waistcoat, and breeches and silk stockings, and Amoret, white-frocked, blue-sashed, and bare-headed (an innovation of fashion), were admiring the nodding mandarins, grinning nondescript monsters, and green lions of extraordinary form which an emissary from a curiosity-shop was unpacking. Near the door, in an attitude weary yet obsequious, stood, paper in hand, a dejected figure in shabby plum-colour--i.e. a poor author--waiting in hopes that his sonnet in praise of Cytherea's triumphant charms would win his the guinea he so sorely needed, as
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame, And heap the shrine of luxury and pride With incense kindled at the Muses' flame.
The scene was completed by a blue and yellow macaw at one window chained to his perch, and a green monkey tethered in like manner at the other.
Of course Elizabeth Delavie did not perceive all these details at once. Her first sensation was the shock to the decorum of a modest English lady at intruding into a bed-room; but her foreign recollections coming to her aid, she accepted the fashion with one momentary feminine review of her own appearance, and relief that she had changed her travelling gear for her Sunday silks, and made her father put on his full uniform. All this passed while Sir Amyas was leading her into the room, steering her carefully out of the monkey's reach. Then he went a step or two forward and bent before his mother, almost touching the ground with one knee, as he kissed her hand, and rising, acknowledged the lady with a circular sweep of his hat, and his Colonel with a military salute, all rapidly, but with perfect ease and gracefulness. "Ah! my truant, my runaway invalid!" said Lady Belamour, "you are come to surrender."
"I am come," he said gravely, holding out his stronger hand to his little brother and sister, who sprang to him, "to bring my father- and sister-in-law, Major and Miss Delavie."
"Ah! my good cousin, my excellent Mrs. Betty, excuse me that my tyrant friseur prevents my rising to welcome you. It is so good and friendly in you to come in this informal way to cheer me under this terrible anxiety. Let me present you to my kind friend, the Countess of Aresfield, who has been so good as to come in to-day to sustain my spirits. Colonel Mar you know already. Pray be seated. Amyas--Archer--chairs. Let Syphax give you a cup of chocolate."
"Madam," said the Major, disregarding all this and standing as if on parade, "can I see you alone? My business is urgent."
"No evil news, I trust! I have undergone such frightful shocks of late, my constitution is well nigh ruined."
"It is I that have to ask news of you madam."
She saw that, if she trifled with him, something would break out that she would not wish to have said publicly. "My time is so little my own," she said, "I am under command to be at the Palace by two o'clock, but in a few minutes I shall be able to dismiss my tormentor, and then, till my woman comes to dress me, I shall be at your service. Sit down, I entreat, and take some chocolate. I know Mrs. Betty is an excellent housekeeper, and I want her opinion. My dear Lady Aresfield, suffer me to introduce my estimable cousin, Mrs. Betty Delavie."
The Countess looking in her feathers and powder like a beetroot in white sauce, favoured Betty with a broad stare. Vulgarity was very vulgar in those days, especially when it had purchased rank, and thought manners might be dispensed with. Betty sat down, and Amoret climbed on her lap, while a diversion was made by Archer's imperious entreaty that his mamma would purchase a mandarin who not only nodded, but waved his hands and protruded his tongue.
Then ensued what seemed, to the sickening suspense of the two Delavies, a senseless Babel of tongues on all sides; but it ended in the friseur putting up his implements, the trades-folk leaving the selected goods unpaid for, and the poor poet bowing himself within reach of the monkey, who made a clutch at his MS., chattered over it, and tore it into fragments. There was a peal of mirth--loudest from Lady Aresfield-- but Sir Amyas sprang forward with gentlemanly regrets, apologies, and excuses, finally opening the door and following the poor man out of the room to administer the guinea from his own pocket, while Colonel Mar exclaimed, "Here, Archer, boy, run after him with this. The poor devil has won it by producing a smile from those divine lips--such as his jungle might never have done---"
"Fie! fie! Mar," said the Lady, shaking her fan at him, "the child will repeat it to him."
"The better sport if he do," said Colonel Mar, carelessly; "he may term himself a very Orpheus charming the beasts, so that they snatch his poems from him!"
Then, as Sir Amyas returned, Lady Belamour entreated her dear Countess to allow him to conduct her to the withdrawing room, and there endeavour to entertain her. The Colonel could not but follow, and the Major and Betty found themselves at length alone with her Ladyship.
"I trust you have come to relieve my mind as to our poor runaway," she began.
"Would to Heaven I could!" said the Major.
"Good Heavens! Then she has never reached you!"
"Nor her sister? Oh, surely she is with her sister!"
"No, madam, her sisters knows nothing of her. Cousin, you have children of your own! I entreat of you to tell me what you have done with her."
"How should I have done anything with her? I who have been feeding all this time on the assurance that she had returned to you."
"How could a child like her do so?"
"We know she had money," said Lady Belamour.
"And we know," said Betty, fixing her eyes on the lady, "that though she escaped, on the first alarm, as far as Sedhurst, and was there seen, she had decided on returning to Bowstead and giving herself up to you Ladyship."
"Indeed? At what time was that?" exclaimed my Lady.
"Some time in the afternoon of Sunday!"
"Ah! then I must have left Bowstead. I was pledged to her Majesty's card-table, and royal commands cannot be disregarded, so I had to go away in grievous anxiety for my poor boy. She meant to return to Bowstead, did she? Ah. Does not an idea strike you that old Amyas Belamour may know more than he confesses! He has been playing a double game throughout."
"He is as anxious to find the dear girl as we are madam."
"So he may seem to you and to my poor infatuated boy, but you see those crazed persons are full of strange devices and secrets, as indeed we have already experienced. I see what you would say; he may appear sane and plausible enough to a stranger, but to those who have known him ever since his misfortunes, the truth is but too plain. He was harmless enough as long as he was content to remain secluded in his dark chamber, but now that I hear he has broken loose, Heaven knows what mischief he may do. My dear cousin Delavie, you are the prop left to me in these troubles, with my poor good man in the hands of those cruel pirates, who may be making him work in chains for all I know," and the tears came into her beautiful eyes.
"They will not do that," said Major Delavie, eager to reassure her; "I have heard enough of their tricks to know that they keep such game as he most carefully till they can get a ransom."
"Your are sure of that!"
"Perfectly. I met an Italian fellow at Vienna who told me how it was all managed by the Genoese bankers."
"Ah! I was just thinking that you would be the only person who could be of use--you who know foreign languages and all their ways. If you could go abroad, and arrange it for me!"
"If my daughter were restored---" began the Major.
"I see what you would say, and I am convinced that the first step towards the discovery would be to put Mr. Belamour under restraint, and separate his black from him. Then one or other of them would speak, and we might know how she has been played upon."
"What does your Ladyship suppose then?" asked the Major.
"This is what I imagine. The poor silly maid repents herself and comes back in search of me. Would that she had found me, her best friend! But instead of that, she falls in with old Belamour, and he, having by this time perceived the danger of the perilous masquerade in which he had involved my unlucky boy, a minor, has mewed her up somewhere, till the cry should be over."
"That would be the part of a villain, but scarcely of a madman," said Betty dryly.
"My dear cousin Betty, there are lunatics endowed with a marvellous shrewdness to commit senseless villanies, and to put on a specious seeming. Depend upon it, my unfortunate brother-in-law's wanderings at night were not solely spent in communings with the trees and brooks. Who knows what might be discovered if he were under proper restraint? And it is to you, the only relation I have, that I must turn for assistance in my most unhappy circumstances," she added, wit a glance so full of sweet helplessness that no man could withstand it. "I am so glad you are here. You will be acting for me as well as for yourself in endeavouring to find your poor lovely child, and the first thing I would have done would be to separate Belamour and his black, put them under restraint, and interrogate them separately. You could easily get an order from a magistrate. But ah, here comes my woman. No more now. You will come to me this evening, and we can talk further on this matter. I shall have some company, and it will not be a regular rout, only a few card-tables, and a little dancing for the young people."
"Your ladyship must excuse me," said Betty, "I have no dress to appear in, even if I had spirits for the company."
"Ah! my dear cousin, how do you think it is with my spirits? Yet I think it my duty not to allow myself to be moped, but to exert myself for the interest of my son. While as to dress, my woman can direct you to the milliner who would equip you in the last mode. What, still obstinate? Nay, then, Harry, I can take no excuse from you, and I may have been able to collect some intelligence from the servants."
Nothing remained but to take leave and walk home, the Major observing--
"Well, what think you of that, Betty?"
"Think, sir?--I think it is not for my lady to talk of villains."
"She is in absolute error respecting Belamour; but then she has not seen him since his recovery. Women are prone to those fancies, and in her unprotected state, poor thing, no wonder she takes alarms."
"I should have thought her rather over-protected."
"Now, Betty, you need not take a leaf out of Mrs. Duckworth's book, and begin to be censorious. You saw how relieved she was to have me, her own blood relation, to turn to, instead of that empty braggart of a fellow. Besides, a man does not bring his step-mother when there's anything amiss."
There was something in this argument, and Betty held her peace, knowing that to censure my Lady only incited her father to defend her.
For her own part her consternation was great, and she walked on in silence, only speaking again to acquiesce in her father's observation that they must say nothing to Mr. Belamour of my Lady's plans for his seclusion.
They found Mr. Belamour in the square parlour of the Royal York, having sent Eugene out for a walk with Jumbo. The boy's return in the most eager state of excitement at the shops, the horses, sedans, and other wonders, did something, together with dinner, to wile away the weary time till, about three hours after the Major and his daughter had returned, they were joined by the young baronet, who came running up the stairs with a good deal more impetuosity than he would have permitted himself at home.
"At last I have escaped," he said. "I fear you have waited long for me?"
"I have been hoping you had discovered some indications," said the Major.
"Alas, no! I should imagine my Lady as ignorant as we are, save for one thing."
"And that was---?"
"The pains that were taken to prevent my speaking with any of the servants. I was forced to attend on that harridan, Lady Aresfield, till my mother sent for me; and then she made Mar absolutely watch me off the premises. Then I had to go and report myself at head- quarters, and see the surgeon, so that there may be no colour of irregularity for the Colonel to take advantage of."
"Right, right!" said the Major; "do not let him get a handle against you, though I should not call you fit for duty yet, even for holiday- work like yours."
"You still suspect that your mother knows where our Aurelia is?" said Betty. "When I think of her demeanour, I can hardly believe it! But did you hear nothing of your little sisters?"
"I did not ask. In truth I was confounded by a proposal that was made to me. If I will immediately marry my mother's darling, Lady Belle, I may have leave of absence from her and my regiment, both at once, and go to meet Mr. Wayland if I like, or at any rate make the grand tour, while they try to break in my charming bride for me. Of course I said that, being a married man, nothing should induce me to break the law, nor to put any lady in such a position; and equally, of course, I was shown a lawyer's opinion that the transaction was invalid."
"As I always believed," said his uncle. "The ceremony must be repeated when we find her: though even if you were willing, the other parties are very ill-advised to press for a marriage without judgment first being delivered, how far the present is binding. So she wants to send you off on your travels, does she?"
"She wishes me to go and arrange for her husband's ransom," said the Major. "I would be ready enough were my child only found, but I believe government would take it up, he being on his Majesty's service."
"It is a mere device for disposing of you--yes, and of my nephew too," said Mr. Belamour. "As for me, we know already her kind plans for putting me out of reach of interference. I see, she communicated them to you. Did she ask your cooperation, Major? Ah! certainly, an ingenious plan for disuniting us. I am the more convinced that she is well aware of where the poor child is, and that she wishes to be speedy in her measures."
There is no need to describe the half-frantic vehemence of the young lover, nor the way in which the father and sister tried to moderate his transports, though no less wretched themselves.
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