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It was about an hour later. Sir Marmaduke's guests had departed, Dame Harrison in her rickety coach, Mistress Pyncheon in her chaise, whilst Squire Boatfield was riding his well-known ancient cob.
Everyone had drunk sack-posset, had eaten turkey pasties, and enjoyed the luscious fruit: the men had striven to be agreeable to the heiress, the old ladies to be encouraging to their protégés. Sir Marmaduke had tried to be equally amiable to all, whilst favoring none. He was an unpopular man in East Kent and he knew it, doing nothing to counterbalance the unpleasing impression caused invariably by his surly manner, and his sarcastic, often violent, temper.
Mistress Amelia Editha de Chavasse was now alone with her brother-in-law in the great bare hall of the Court, Lady Sue having retired to her room under pretext of the vapors, and young Lambert been finally dismissed from work for the day.
"You are passing kind to the youth, Marmaduke," said Mistress de Chavasse meditatively when the young man's darkly-clad figure had disappeared up the stairs.
She was sitting in a high-backed chair, her head resting against the carved woodwork. The folds of her simple gown hung primly round her well-shaped figure. Undoubtedly she was still a very good-looking woman, though past the hey-day of her youth and beauty. The half-light caused by the depth of the window embrasure, and the smallness of the glass panes through which the summer sun hardly succeeded in gaining admittance, added a certain softness to her chiseled features, and to the usually hard expression of her large dark eyes.
She was gazing out of the tall window, wherein the several broken panes were roughly patched with scraps of paper, out into the garden and the distance beyond, where the sea could be always guessed at, even when not seen. Sir Marmaduke had his back to the light: he was sitting astride a low chair, his high-booted foot tapping the ground impatiently, his fingers drumming a devil's tattoo against the back of the chair.
"Lambert would starve if I did not provide for him," he said with a sneer. "Adam, his brother, could do naught for him: he is poor as a church-mouse, poorer even than I--but nathless," he added with a violent oath, "it strikes everyone as madness that I should keep a secretary when I scarce can pay the wages of a serving maid."
"'Twere better you paid your servants' wages, Marmaduke," she retorted harshly, "they were insolent to me just now. Why do you not pay the girl's arrears to-day?"
"Why do I not climb up to the moon, my dear Editha, and bring down a few stars with me in my descent," he replied with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "I have come to my last shilling."
"The Earl of Northallerton cannot live for ever."
"He hath vowed, I believe, that he would do it, if only to spite me. And by the time that he come to die this accursed Commonwealth will have abolished all titles and confiscated every estate."
"Hush, Marmaduke," she said, casting a quick, furtive look all round her, "there may be spies about."
"Nay, I care not," he rejoined roughly, jumping to his feet and kicking the chair aside so that it struck with a loud crash against the flagged floor. "'Tis but little good a man gets for cleaving loyally to the Commonwealth. The sequestrated estates of the Royalists would have been distributed among the adherents of republicanism, and not held to bolster up a military dictatorship. Bah!" he continued, allowing his temper to overmaster him, speaking in harsh tones and with many a violent oath, "it had been wiser to embrace the Royal cause. The Lord Protector is sick, so 'tis said. His son Richard hath no backbone, and the present tyranny is worse than the last. I cannot collect my rents; I have been given neither reward nor compensation for the help I gave in '46. So much for their boasted gratitude and their many promises! My Lord Protector feasts the Dutch ambassadors with music and with wine, my Lords Ireton and Fairfax and Hutchinson and the accursed lot of canting Puritans flaunt it in silks and satins, whilst I go about in a ragged doublet and with holes in my shoes."
"There's Lady Sue," murmured Mistress de Chavasse soothingly.
"Pshaw! the guardianship of a girl who comes of age in three months!"
"You can get another by that time."
"Not I. I am not a sycophant hanging round White Hall! 'Twas sheer good luck and no merit of mine that got me the guardianship of Sue. Lord Middlesborough, her kinsman, wanted it; the Courts would have given her to him, but old Noll thought him too much of a 'gentleman,' whilst I--an out-at-elbows country squire, was more to my Lord Protector's liking. 'Tis the only thing he ever did for me."
There was intense bitterness and a harsh vein of sarcasm running through Sir Marmaduke's talk. It was the speech of a disappointed man, who had hoped, and striven, and fought once; had raised longing hands towards brilliant things and sighed after glory, or riches, or fame, but whose restless spirit had since been tamed, crushed under the heavy weight of unsatisfied ambition.
Poverty--grinding, unceasing, uninteresting poverty, had been Sir Marmaduke's relentless tormentor ever since he had reached man's estate. His father, Sir Jeremy de Chavasse, had been poor before him. The younger son of that Earl of Northallerton who cut such a brilliant figure at the Court of Queen Elizabeth, Jeremy had married Mistress Spanton of Acol Court, who had brought him a few acres of land heavily burdened with mortgage as her dowry. They were a simple-minded, unostentatious couple who pinched and scraped and starved that their two sons might keep up the appearances of gentlemen at the Court of King Charles.
But both the young men seemed to have inherited from their brilliant grandfather luxurious tastes and a love of gambling and of show--but neither his wealth nor yet his personal charm of manner. The eldest, Rowland, however, soon disappeared from the arena of life. He married when scarce twenty years of age a girl who had been a play-actress. This marriage nearly broke his doting mother's heart, and his own, too, for the matter of that, for the union was a most unhappy one. Rowland de Chavasse died very soon after, unreconciled to his father and mother, who refused to see him or his family, even on his deathbed.
Jeremy de Chavasse's few hopes now centered on his younger son, Marmaduke. In order to enable the young man to remain in London, to mix freely and to hold his own in that set into which family traditions had originally gained him admittance, the fond mother and indulgent father denied themselves the very necessities of life.
Marmaduke took everything that was given him, whilst chafing at the paucity of his allowance. Determined to cut a figure at Court, he spent two years and most of his mother's dowry in a vain attempt to capture the heart of one or the other of the rich heiresses who graced the entourage of Charles I.
But Nature who had given Marmaduke boundless ambition, had failed to bestow on him those attributes which would have helped him on towards its satisfaction. He was neither sufficiently prepossessing to please an heiress, nor sufficiently witty and brilliant to catch the royal eye or the favor of his uncle, the present Earl of Northallerton. His efforts in the direction of advantageous matrimony had earned for him at Court the nickname of "The Sparrowhawk." But even these efforts had soon to be relinquished for want of the wherewithal.
The doting mother no longer could supply him with a sufficiency of money to vie with the rich gallants at the Court, and the savings which Sir Jeremy had been patiently accumulating with a view to freeing the Acol estates from mortgage went instead to rescue young Marmaduke from a debtor's prison.
Poor Sir Jeremy did not long survive his disappointment. Marmaduke returned to Acol Court only to find his mother a broken invalid, and his father dead.
Since then it had been a perpetual struggle against poverty and debt, a bitter revolt against Fate, a burning desire to satisfy ambition which had received so serious a check.
When the great conflict broke out between King and Parliament, he threw himself into it, without zest and without conviction, embracing the cause of the malcontents with a total lack of enthusiasm, merely out of disappointment--out of hatred for the brilliant Court and circle in which he had once hoped to become a prominent figure.
He fought under Ireton, was commended as a fairly good soldier, though too rebellious to be very reliable, too self-willed to be wholly trusted.
Even in these days of brilliant reputations quickly made, he remained obscure and practically unnoticed. Advancement never came his way and whilst younger men succeeded in attracting the observant eye of old Noll, he was superseded at every turn, passed over--anon forgotten.
When my Lord Protector's entourage was formed, the Household organized, no one thought of the Sparrowhawk for any post that would have satisfied his desires. Once more he cursed his own poverty. Money--the want of it--he felt was at the root of all his disappointments. A burning desire to obtain it at any cost, even that of honor, filled his entire being, his mind, his soul, his thoughts, every nerve in his body. Money, and social prestige! To be somebody at Court or elsewhere, politically, commercially,--he cared not. To handle money and to command attention!
He became wary, less reckless, striving to obtain by diplomatic means that which he had once hoped to snatch by sheer force of personality. The Court of Chancery having instituted itself sole guardian and administrator of the revenues and fortunes of minors whose fathers had fought on the Royalist side, and were either dead or in exile, and arrogating unto itself the power to place such minors under the tutelage of persons whose loyalty to the Commonwealth was undoubted, Sir Marmaduke bethought himself of applying for one of these official guardianships which were known to be very lucrative and moreover, practically sinecures.
Fate for once favored him; a half-contemptuous desire to do something for this out-at-elbows Kentish squire who had certainly been a loyal adherent of the Commonwealth, caused my Lord Protector to favor his application. The rich daughter of the Marquis of Dover was placed under the guardianship of Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse with an allowance of £4,000 a year for her maintenance, until she came of age. A handsome fortune and stroke of good luck for a wise and prudent man:--a drop in an ocean of debts, difficulties and expensive tastes, in the case of Sir Marmaduke.
A prolonged visit to London with a view either of gaining a foothold in the new Court, or of drawing the attention of the malcontents, of Monk and his party, or even of the Royalists, to himself, resulted in further debts, in more mortgages, more bitter disappointments.
The man himself did not please. His personality was unsympathetic; Lady Sue's money which he now lavished right and left, bought neither friendship nor confidence. He joined all the secret clubs which in defiance of Cromwell's rigid laws against betting and gambling, were the resort of all the smart gentlemen in the town. Ill-luck at hazard and dice pursued him: he was a bad loser, quarrelsome and surly. His ambition had not taught him the salutary lesson of how to make friends in order to attain his desires.
His second return to the ancestral home was scarcely less disastrous than the first; a mortgage on his revenues as guardian of Lady Sue Aldmarshe just saved him this time from the pursuit of his creditors, and this mortgage he had only obtained through false statements as to his ward's age.
As he told his sister-in-law a moment ago, he was at his last gasp. He had perhaps just begun to realize that he would never succeed through the force of his own individuality. Therefore, money had become a still more imperative necessity to him. He was past forty now. Disappointed ambition and an ever rebellious spirit had left severe imprints on his face: his figure was growing heavy, his prominent lips, unadorned by a mustache, had an unpleasant downward droop, and lately he had even noticed that the hair on the top of his head was not so thick as of yore.
The situation was indeed getting desperate, since Lady Sue would be of age in three months, when all revenues for her maintenance would cease.
"Methinks her million will go to one of those young jackanapes who hang about her," sighed Mistress de Chavasse, with almost as much bitterness as Sir Marmaduke had shown.
Her fortunes were in a sense bound up with those of her brother-in-law. He had been most unaccountably kind to her of late, a kindness which his many detractors attributed either to an infatuation for his brother's widow, or to a desire to further irritate his uncle the Earl of Northallerton, who--a rigid Puritan himself--hated the play-actress and her connection with his own family.
"Can naught be done, Marmaduke?" she asked after a slight pause, during which she had watched anxiously the restless figure of her brother-in-law as he paced up and down the narrow hall.
"Can you suggest anything, my dear Editha?" he retorted roughly.
"Pshaw!" she ejaculated with some impatience, "you are not so old, but you could have made yourself agreeable to the wench."
"You think that she would have fallen in love with her middle-aged guardian?" he exclaimed with a harsh, sarcastic laugh. "That girl? ... with her head full of romantic nonsense ... and I ... in ragged doublet, with a bald head, and an evil temper ... Bah!!! ... But," he added, with an unpleasant sneer, "'tis unselfish and disinterested on your part, my dear Editha, even to suggest it. Sue does not like you. Her being mistress here would not be conducive to your comfort."
"Nay! 'tis no use going on in this manner any longer, Marmaduke," she said dejectedly. "Pleasant times will not come my way so long as you have not a shilling to give me for a new gown, and cannot afford to keep up my house in London."
She fully expected another retort from him--brutal and unbridled as was his wont when money affairs were being discussed. He was not accustomed to curb his violence in her presence. She had been his helpmeet in many unavowable extravagances, in the days when he was still striving after a brilliant position in town. There had been certain rumors anent a gambling den, whereat Mistress de Chavasse had been the presiding spirit and which had come under the watchful eye of my Lord Protector's spies.
Now she had perforce to share her brother-in-law's poverty. At any rate he provided a roof over her head. On the advent of Lady Sue Aldmarshe into his bachelor establishment he called on his sister-in-law for the part of duenna.
At one time the fair Editha had exercised her undoubted charms over Marmaduke's violent nature, but latterly she had become a mere butt for his outbursts of rage. But now to her astonishment, and in response to her petulant reproach, his fury seemed to fall away from him. He threw his head back and broke out into uncontrolled, half-sarcastic, almost defiant laughter.
"How blind you are, my dear Editha," he said with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "Nay! an I mistake not, in that case there will be some strange surprises for you within the next three months. I pray you try and curb your impatience until then, and to bear with the insolence of a serving wench, 'Twill serve you well, mine oath on that!" he added significantly.
Then without vouchsafing further explanations of his enigmatic utterances, he turned on his heel--still laughing apparently at some pleasing thought--and walked upstairs, leaving her to meditate.
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