Before long Hannah was quite able to attend single-handed to the few lingerers, and Mrs. Fenton went upstairs, eager to empty her vial of suppressed temper on "that chit," as she generally called Lavinia.
She entered her own bedroom expecting to find the girl there, but Lavinia had no fancy for invading her mother's domains and had gone into the garret where Hannah slept. Dead with fatigue, mentally and bodily, she had thrown herself dressed as she was on Hannah's bed and in a few minutes was in a heavy sleep. But before doing so she slipped under the bolster something she was holding in her left hand. It was the purse forced upon her by Lancelot Vane.
Mrs. Fenton stood for a minute or so looking at her daughter. She could not deny that the girl was very pretty, but that prettiness gave her no satisfaction. She felt instinctively that Lavinia was her rival.
"The baggage is handsomer than I was at her age, and I wasn't a fright either or the men wouldn't ha' been always dangling after me. With that face she ought to get a rich husband, but I'll warrant she's a silly little fool and doesn't know her value," muttered the lady, her hands on her hips.
Then her eyes travelled over the picturesque figure on the bed, noting everything—the shoeless foot, the stockings wet to some inches above the small ankles, the mud-stained skirt, the bedraggled cloak saturated for quite a foot of its length. Her hair had lost its comb and had fallen about her shoulders. Mrs. Fenton frowned as she saw these signs of disorder.
Then she caught sight of a piece of paper peeping from the bosom of the girl's dress. The next instant she had gently drawn it out and was reading it. The paper was Dorrimore's letter.
"Of course, I knew there was a man at the bottom of the business. And a marriage too. Hoity toity, that's another pair of shoes."
She threw back a fold of the cloak, and scrutinised Lavinia's left hand.
"No wedding ring!" she gasped. "I might ha' guessed as much. Oh, the little fool! Why, she's worse than I was. I wasn't to be taken in by soft whispers and kisses—well—well—well!"
The lady bumped herself into the nearest chair, breathed heavily and smoothed her apron distractedly. Then she looked at the letter again. Her glance went to the top of the sheet.
"So, no address. That looks bad. Who's Archibald Dorrimore? May be that isn't his right name. He's some worthless spark who's got hold of her for his own amusement. Oh, the silly hussy! What could that prim Mistress Pinwell have been about? A fine boarding school indeed! She can't go back. But I won't have her here turning the heads of the men. That dull lout, Bob Dobson, 'ud as lieve throw his money into her lap as he'd swallow a mug of ale. What'll her fine friends do for her now? Nothing. She's ruined herself. Well, I won't have her ruin me."
Mrs. Fenton worked her fury to such a height that she could no longer contain herself, and seizing her daughter's shoulder she shook her violently. The girl's tired eyelids slowly lifted and she looked vaguely into the angry face bending over her.
"Tell me what all this means, you jade. What have you been up to? How is it you're in such a state? Who's been making a fool of you? Who's this Dorrimore? Are you married to him or not?"
The good lady might have spared herself the trouble of pouring out this torrent of questions. The last was really the only one that mattered.
"Married? No, I'm not," said Lavinia drowsily. "Don't bother me, mother. Let me sleep. I'll tell you everything, but not—not now. I'm too tired."
"Tell me everything? I should think you will or I'll know the reason why. And it'll have to be the truth or I'll beat it out of you. Get up."
There was no help for it. Lavinia knew her mother's temper when it was roused. Slowly rubbing her eyes she sat up, a rueful and repentant little beauty, but having withal an expression in her eyes which seemed to suggest that she wasn't going to be brow-beaten without a struggle.
"I ran away from school to be married," said she with a little pause between each word. "I thought I was being taken to the Fleet, but when I saw the coach wasn't going the right way I knew I was being tricked. On London Bridge I broke the coach window, opened the door and escaped."
"A parcel of lies! I don't believe one of 'em," interjected the irate dame.
"I can't help that. It's the truth all the same. I cut my arm with the broken glass. Perhaps that'll convince you."
Lavinia held out her bandaged arm.
"No, it won't. What's become of your shoe?"
"I took it off to break the window with the heel and afterwards lost it."
Mrs. Fenton was silent. If Lavinia were telling false-hoods she told them remarkably well. She spoke without the slightest hesitation and the story certainly hung together.
"After I jumped from the coach I ran to the river, down the stairs at the foot of the bridge. The water was low and I stood under the bridge afraid to move. A terrible fight was going on above me. I don't know what it was about. The shooting and yelling went on for a long time and I dursn't stir. I would have taken a wherry but no waterman came near. Then the tide turned; the water came about my feet and I crept up the stairs. I was in the Borough, but I dursn't go far. The street was full of drunken people and I crept into a doorway and hid there. I suppose I looked like a beggar, for no one noticed me. Then when the streets were quieter I came here."
It will be noticed that Lavinia did not think it necessary to mention the handsome young man who had rescued her.
While she was recounting her adventures her mother, though listening attentively, was also pondering over the possible consequences. The story might be true or it might not, whichever it was did not matter. It was good enough for the purpose she had in her mind.
"Why didn't you go back to Miss Pinwell's?" Mrs. Fenton demanded sharply. "I see by this scrawl that it isn't the first time you've stolen out to meet this precious gallant of yours."
And Mrs. Fenton, suddenly producing the letter which she had hitherto concealed, waved it in her daughter's face. Lavinia flushed angrily and burst out:—
"You'd no right to read that letter any more than you had to steal it."
"Steal it? Tillyvalley! It's my duty to look after you and I'm going to do it. Why didn't you go back to the school as you seem to have done before?"
"Because the key of the front door was in my reticule, and that was snatched from me or it slipped from my wrist in the scuffle on the bridge."
"A pretty how de do, my young madam, upon my word. Miss Pinwell'll never take you back. Goodness knows what may happen. What'll Mr. Gay, who's been so good to you, think of your base ingratitude?"
Lavinia's eyes filled with tears. She broke down when she thought of the gentle, good-natured poet. She could only weep silently.
Mrs. Fenton saw the sign of penitence with much satisfaction and while twirling her wedding ring to assist her thoughts, suddenly said:—
"You haven't told me a word about this spark of yours. Who is he? What is he? Some draper's 'prentice, I suppose, or footman, may be out of a place for robbing his master and thinking of turning highwayman."
"Nothing of the kind," cried Lavinia, furious that her mother should think she would so bemean herself. "I hate him for his falseness, but he's a born gentleman all the same."
"Oh, is he? Let's hear all about him. There's no address on his letter. Where does he live?"
"I shan't tell you."
"Because you're ashamed. I shouldn't wonder if he wasn't a trull's bully from Lewknor's Lane or Whetstone Park. The rascals pass themselves off as sparks of fashion at ridottos, masquerades and what not and live by robbery and blood money. I warrant I'll soon run your fine gentleman to earth. He talks about telling his father. Pooh! That was but to bait the trap and you walked into it nicely."
Her mother's insinuations maddened poor Lavinia. The mention of Lewknor's Lane and Whetstone Park, two of the most infamous places in London, was amply sufficient to break her spirit, which indeed was Mrs. Fenton's intention. The worst of it was that after what had happened she had in her secret heart come round to the same opinion so far as the baiting of the trap was concerned. She was far too cast down to make any reply and wept copiously, purely through injured pride and humiliation.
"You must leave me to deal with this business, child," said Mrs. Fenton loftily. "If the young man really belongs to the quality and what he writes about his father is true, then his father must be made to pay for the injury his son's done you. I suppose he's told you who his father is and where he lives, and I want to know too. If I'm to get you out of the mess you're in you must help me."
"I won't," gasped Lavinia between her sobs. "I don't want to hear anything more about him or his father either. I wish to forget both of them."
"Humph! That won't be so easy as you'll find, you stubborn little fool. Keep your mouth shut if you like. I'll ferret out the truth without you."
And stuffing the letter into her capacious pocket, Mrs. Fenton stalked out of the room and directly she was outside she turned the key in the lock. Lavinia, too exhausted in body and too depressed in mind to think, sobbed herself to sleep.
"I WISH I WERE A RICH LADY FOR YOUR SAKE"
Lavina awoke to find Hannah in the room. The maid had brought in a cup of chocolate and something to eat.
"I'm a dreadful sight, Hannah," said she dolefully.
"You'll be better when you've had a wash and done your hair. Your cloak's spoilt. What a pity! Take it off and let me brush away the mud and see if I can smooth out the creases."
Lavinia stretched herself, yawned and slowly pulled herself up, sitting on the side of the bed for a minute or two before she commenced her toilette. Hannah helped her to dress to the accompaniment of a running commentary on the state of her clothing.
"What am I to do about shoes?" asked Lavinia, when this part of her wearing apparel was reached.
"You won't be wanting any for a time I'm thinking, Miss Lavvy."
"Not wanting any shoes? Whatever do you mean?"
"Your mother means to lock you in this room for a while. She was for keeping you for a day or two on bread and water, but I talked her out of it."
Lavinia started in dismay. Then she burst out:—
"I won't endure such treatment. I won't, Hannah! You'll help me to run away, won't you?"
"Not till I know what's going to become of you."
"But if I'm a prisoner you're my gaoler and you can let me out whenever you choose."
"No I can't. I've to hand over the key to your mother."
"So you can after I'm gone."
"And what do you suppose I'm to say to her when that happens?"
"Oh, what you like, Hannah. I don't believe you're afraid of anybody. You're so brave," said Lavinia, coaxingly.
"Well, well, we'll see. But I warn you, child, I'm not going to let you come to harm."
Lavinia laughed and shrugged her plump shoulders. After what she had gone through the night before she felt she could face anything. She knew she could talk over the good-natured Hannah and she heard the latter lock the door without feeling much troubled.
For all that Lavinia had a good deal to worry about, and she sat sipping the chocolate while she pondered over what she should do. She could think of no one she could go to besides Mr. Gay. How would he receive her after her escapade?
"He knows so many play actors," she murmured,—"didn't he say I had a stage face? I wonder—I wonder."
And still wondering she rose and straightened the bed. Shifting the pillow she found beneath it the purse she had placed there before going to sleep. Excitement and exhaustion had driven it out of her head. She felt quite remorseful when the remembrance of the chivalrous young man came into her mind.
"Ah me," she sighed. "I'll warrant I'll never set eyes on him again. I do hope he wasn't hurt."
Lavinia looked at the purse wistfully. She had not had the opportunity of seeing what it contained. It was of silk with a silver ring at each end to keep the contents safe, and an opening between the rings. One end had money in it, in the other a piece of paper crackled. She slipped the ring at the money end over the opening and took out the coins—a guinea, a crown and a shilling.
"I don't like taking it. He gave it me to pay the waterman and I hadn't the chance. It isn't mine. I ought to return it to him. But how can I? I don't know where he lives. I don't even know his name."
Then she fingered the other end. She slid the ring but hesitated to do more. To look at the paper seemed like prying into the owner's affairs. It must be something precious for him to carry it about with him. Suppose it was a love letter from his sweetheart? She blushed at the idea. Then curiosity was roused. Her fingers crept towards the papers, for there were two. One ran thus:—
"The Duke's Theatre, "Lincoln's Inn Fields. "SIR,—
"I have read your play and herewith return it. I doubt not it has merit but it will not suit me.
"I am your obedient humble servant,
Lancelot Vane, Esq. "JOHN RICH."
"Poor fellow—so he writes plays. How aggravating to have such a rude letter. 'Obedient—humble—servant,' forsooth! I hate that John Rich. He's a bear."
Then Lavinia unfolded the second letter. It was more depressing than the first.
"Lancelot Vane, 3, Fletcher's Court, Grub Street," Lavinia read; "Sir,—I give you notiss that if you do nott pay me my nine weeks' rent you owe me by twelve o'clock to-morrer I shall at wunce take possesshun and have innstruckted the sheriff's offiser in ackordance therewith. Yours respeckfully, Solomon Moggs."
"Oh, a precious lot of respect indeed," cried Lavinia angrily.
The date of the letter was that of the day before. The money had consequently to be paid that very day and it was already past twelve o'clock. If the poor young man could not pay he would at that moment be homeless in the street and maybe arrested for debt and taken to the Fleet or even Newgate. Hadn't she seen the poor starving debtors stretch their hands through the "Debtors' door" in the Old Bailey and beg for alms from the passers-by with which to purchase food? She pictured the poor young man going through this humiliation and it made her shudder. He was so handsome!
And all for the want of a paltry twenty-seven shillings! Twenty-seven shillings? Was not that the exact sum of money in the purse?
"Oh, that must have been for his rent," cried Lavinia, clasping her hands in great distress. "And he gave it to me!"
She was overwhelmed. She must return the money at once. But how? She ran to the door. It was locked sure enough. The window? Absurd. It looked out upon a broad gutter and was three storeys from the street. If it were possible to lower herself she certainly could not do so in the daytime. And by nightfall it would be too late. She sat down on the side of the bed, buried her face in her hands and abandoned herself to despair.
But this feeling did not last long. Lavinia sprang to her feet, flung back her hair and secured it. Then she went once more to the window and clambered out into the broad gutter. She hadn't any clear idea what to do beyond taking stock of her surroundings. She looked over the parapet. It seemed a fearful depth down to the roadway. Even if she had a rope it was doubtful if she could lower herself. Besides, rarely at any hour even at night was the Old Bailey free from traffic. She would have to think of some other way.
She crept along the gutter in front of the next house. Dirty curtains hung at windows. There was no danger of her being seen even if the room had any occupants. She crawled onward, feeling she was a sort of Jack Sheppard whose daring escapes were still being talked about.
At the next window Lavinia hesitated and stopped. This window had no curtains. The grime of many months, maybe of years, obscured the glass. One of the small panes was broken. Gathering courage she craned her head and looked through the opening. The room was empty. The paper on the walls hung in strips. There was a little hole in the ceiling through which the daylight streamed.
If the house should, like the room, be empty! The possibility opened up all kinds of speculation in Lavinia's active brain. Why not explore the premises? Up till now she had forgotten her lost shoe. To pursue her investigations unsuitably dressed as she was would be absurd. Supposing she had a chance of escaping into the street she must be properly garbed.
She did not give herself time to think but hastened back to Hannah's room. She tried on all the shoes she could find. One pair was smaller than the rest. She put on that for the left foot. It was a little too large but near enough. Then she hurried on her hooded cloak and once more tackled the gutter. She was able to reach the window catch by putting her hand through the aperture in the broken pane. In a minute or so she was in the room, flushed, panting, hopeful.
A long, long time must have passed since that room had been swept. Flue and dust had accumulated till they formed a soft covering of nearly a quarter of an inch thick. A fusty, musty smell was in the room, in the air of the staircase, everywhere.
She feared that only the upper part of the house was uninhabited but it was not so. The place was terribly neglected and dilapidated. Holes were in the walls, some of the twisted oak stair-rails had been torn away, patches of the ceiling had fallen. But Lavinia hardly noticed anything as she flew down the stairs. The lock could not be opened from the outside without the key, but inside the handle had but to be pushed back and she was in the street. She pulled her hood well over her head and hastened towards Ludgate Hill. It was not the nearest route to Grub Street which she knew was somewhere near Moorfields, but she dared not pass her mother's house.
Lavinia knew more about London west of St. Paul's than she did east of it, and she had to ask her way. Grub Street she found was outside the city wall, many fragments of which were then standing, and she had to pass through the Cripples Gate before she reached the squalid quarter bordering Moor Fields westward, where distressed poets, scurrilous pamphleteers, booksellers' hacks and literary ne'er-do-wells dragged out an uncertain existence.
Lavinia found Fletcher's Court to be a narrow passage with old houses dating from Elizabethan times, whose projecting storeys were so close together that at the top floor one could jump across to the opposite side without much difficulty. With beating heart she entered the house, the door of which was open. She met an old woman descending a rickety tortuous staircase and stopped her.
"Can you tell me if Mr. Vane lives here?" said she.
"Well, he do an' he don't," squeaked the old dame. "Leastways he won't be here much longer. He's a bein' turned out 'cause he can't pay his rent, pore young gentleman. We're all sorry for him, so civil spoken and nice to everybody, not a bit like some o' them scribblers as do nothing but drink gin day an' night. Street's full of 'em. I can't make out what they does for a livin'! Scholards they be most of 'em I'm told. Mr. Vane's lodgin's on the top floor. You goes right up. That's old Sol Moggs' squeak as you can hear. Don't 'ee be afeared of 'im, dearie."
The old woman, who was laden with a big basket and a bundle, went out and Lavinia with much misgiving ascended the stairs. She remembered the name, Solomon Moggs. He was the landlord. If his nature was as harsh and discordant as his voice poor Lancelot Vane was having an unpleasant time.
"Ill, are ye?" she heard Moggs shrieking. "I can't help that. I didn't make you ill, did I? Maybe you was in a drunken brawl last night. It looks like it with that bandage round your head. You scribbling gentry, the whole bunch of ye, aren't much good. I don't see the use of you. Why don't ye do some honest work and pay what you owes? I can't afford to keep you for nothing. Stump up or out ye go neck and crop."
Lavinia ran up the next flight. The landing at the top was low pitched and dark. The only light was that which came from the open door of a front room. In the doorway was a little man in a shabby coat which reached down to his heels. His wig was frowsy, his three-cornered hat was out of shape and he held a big stick with which he every now and then thumped the floor to emphasise his words.
Beyond this unpleasant figure she could see a small untidy room with a sloping roof. The floor, the chairs—not common ones but of the early Queen Anne fashion with leathern seats—an old escritoire, were strewn with papers. The occupant and owner was invisible. But she could hear his voice. He was remonstrating with the little man in the doorway.
Lavinia touched the man on the shoulder. He turned, stared and seeing only a pretty girl favoured her with a leer.
"How much does Mr. Vane owe you?" said Lavinia, chinking the coins.
"Eh, my dear? Are you going to pay his debt? Lucky young man. Nine weeks at three shillings a week comes to twenty-seven shillings. There ought to be a bit for the lawyer who wrote the notice to quit. But I'll let you off that because of your pretty face."
Lavinia counted the money into the grimy outstretched paw. Moggs' face wrinkled into a smirk.
"Much obleeged, my young madam. I'll wager as the spark you've saved from being turned into the street'll thank you more to your liking than an old fellow like me could."
Solomon Moggs made a low bow and was turning away when Lancelot Vane suddenly appeared. His face was very pallid and he clutched the door to steady himself. What with his evident weakness and his bandaged head he presented rather a pitiable picture.
"What's all this?" he demanded. "I'm not going to take your money, madam."
"It's not mine," cried Lavinia in a rather disappointed tone. She could see he did not remember her.
"Faith an' that's gospel truth," chuckled Moggs. "It's mine and it's not going into anybody else's pocket." And he hastily shuffled down the staircase.
Lavinia turned to Vane a little ruffled.
"You don't recollect me," she said. "The money's ours. I didn't want it but you did and so I brought it back. I'm so glad I was in time and that you're rid of that horrid man."
Lancelot Vane stared fixedly at her. The events of the night before were mixed up in his mind and he had but a dim remembrance of the girl's face. Indeed he had caught only a momentary glimpse of it.
"Was it you, madam, who were pursued by those ruffians?" he stammered. "I'm grateful that you've come to no harm."
"Oh, it was all your doing," cried Lavinia, eagerly, "you were so brave and kind. I was too frightened last night to think of anything but getting away and I didn't thank you. I want to do so now."
"No, no. It's you who should be thanked. Don't stand there, pray. Do come inside. It's a frightfully dirty room but it's the best I have."
"But I—I must get back."
"You're in no hurry, I hope. I've so much I would like to say to you."
"What can you have? We're such strangers," she protested.
"Just now we are perhaps, but every minute we talk together makes us less so. Please enter."
His voice was so entreating, his manner so deferential, she could not resist. She ventured within a few steps and while he cleared a chair from its books and papers her eyes wandered round. One end of the room was curtained off and the opening between the curtains revealed a bed. The furniture was not what one would expect to find in a garret. It was good and solid but undusted and the upholstery was faded. The general appearance was higgledy-piggledy—hand to mouth domesticity mixed up with the work by which the young man earned, or tried to earn, his living. No signs of a woman's neatness and touches of decoration could be seen.
Lavinia's glances went to the owner of the garret. After all it was only he who was of real interest. She noticed the difficulty he had in lifting a big folio from the chair. He could hardly use his right arm. She saw his hollow cheeks and the dark circles beneath his eyes. She hadn't spent years in the streets amongst the poorest not to know that his wistful look meant want of food—starvation may be.
"Won't you sit down?" he said.
She shook her head.
"This belongs to you," she said, holding out his purse. "I'm so sorry it's empty."
"I'm sorry too. You haven't spent a farthing on yourself and I meant it all for you."
"It was very foolish when you wanted money so badly."
"That doesn't matter. You wouldn't have been here now if I hadn't given it you."
Her eyes lighted up. The same thought had crossed her mind.
"How did you know I lived here?" he went on.
"Well I—I opened the other end of the purse and read what was on the papers inside. It was very wrong. You'll forgive me, won't you?"
"I'd forgive you anything. You descended upon me like an angel. Not many young ladies of your station would have had the courage to set foot in Grub Street."
A smile trembled on Lavinia's tempting lips.
"My station? What then do you think is my station?"
"How can I tell? I take you to be a lady, madam. I don't want to know any more."
At this Lavinia laughed outright. Her clothes were of good quality and of fashionable cut—the Duchess of Queensberry's maid had seen to that—her manner and air were those of a lady of quality—thanks to Miss Pinwell—but apart from these externals what was she? A coffee shop waitress—a strolling singer—a waif and stray whose mother would not break her heart if she got her living on the streets!
When she thought of the bitter truth the laughing face was clouded.
"I wish I were a lady—a rich one, I mean—for your sake," said she softly. "You look so ill. You ought to have a doctor."
"I ought to have a good many things, I daresay, that I haven't got. I have to do without."
Her eyes drooped. They remained fixed on a little gold brooch fastening her cloak. The brooch was the gift of Dorrimore. The wonder was her mother had not discovered it.
"I must go. I—I've forgotten something."
"But you'll come again, wont you?" said he imploringly. "Though to be sure there's nothing in this hovel to tempt you? Besides, the difference between us——"
"Please don't talk nonsense," she broke in. "Yes, I'll come again soon. I don't know how long I shall be—a couple of hours perhaps."
"Do you really mean that?" he cried, joyfully.
"Yes, if nothing happens to prevent me. Good-bye for a while."
She waved her hand. He caught the tips of her fingers and kissed them. One bright smile in response and she was gone.
With her heart fluttering strangely—a fluttering that Dorrimore had never been able to inspire—Lavinia flew down the staircase and sped through the streets in the direction of London Bridge.
"YOU'VE A MIGHTY COAXING TONGUE"
The shop on London Bridge of Dr. Mountchance, apothecary, astrologer, dealer in curios and sometimes money lender and usurer, was in its way picturesque and quaint, but to most tastes would scarcely be called inviting. Bottles of all shapes and sizes loaded the shelves, mingled with jars and vases from China, Delft ware from Holland and plates and dishes from France, which Dr. Mountchance swore were the handiwork of Palissy, the famous artist-potter. Everything had a thick coating of dust. Dried skins of birds, animals and hideous reptiles hung from the walls and ceiling; a couple of skulls grinned mockingly above a doorway leading into a little room at the rear, and it was difficult to steer one's way between the old furniture, the iron bound coffers and miscellaneous articles which crowded the shop.
In the room behind, chemical apparatus of strange construction was on one table; packets of herbs were on another; a huge tome lay opened on the floor, and books were piled on the chairs. The apartment was a mixture of a laboratory and lumber room. A furnace was in one corner, retorts, test tubes, crucibles, a huge pestle and mortar, jars, bottles were on a bench close handy.
The room was lighted by a window projecting over the Thames, and the roar of the river rushing through the narrow arches and swirling and dashing against the stone work never ceased, though it varied in violence according to wind and tide. The house was a portion of the old chapel of St. Thomas, long since converted from ecclesiastical observances to commercial uses.
Dr. Mountchance, who at this moment was at a table in the centre examining a silver flagon and muttering comments upon it, was a little man about seventy, with an enormous head and a spare body and short legs. His face was wrinkled like a piece of wet shrivelled silk and his skin was the colour of parchment. His eyes, very small and deep-set, were surmounted by heavy brows once black, now of an iron grey. His mouth was of prodigious width, the lips thin and straight and his nose long, narrow and pointed. He wore a dirty wig which was always awry, a faded mulberry coloured coat, and a frayed velvet waistcoat reaching halfway down his thighs. His stockings were dirty and hung in bags about his ankles, his feet were cased in yellow slippers more than half worn out.
Dr. Mountchance's hearing was keen. A footfall in the shop, soft as it was, caused him to look up. He saw a slight girlish figure, her cloak pulled tightly about her, a pair of bright eyes peering from beneath the hood.
The old man gave a grunt of dissatisfaction. Many of his customers were women but he liked them none the more because of their sex. They generally came to sell, not to buy, and most of them knew how to drive a hard bargain. He shuffled into the shop with a scowl on his lined yellow face.
"What d'ye want?" he growled.
Most girls would have been nervous at such a reception. Not so this one.
"I want to sell this brooch. How much will you give me for it?" said she, undauntedly.
"Don't want to buy it. Go somewhere else."
"I shan't. Too much trouble. Besides, you're going to buy it, dear Dr. Mountchance."
The imploring eyes, the beseeching voice, soft and musical, the modest yet assured manner, were too much for the old man. Unconscious of the destiny awaiting her, Lavinia was employing the same tenderness of look, the same captivating pathos of tone as when two years later she, as Polly Peachum, sang "Oh ponder well," and won the heart of the Duke of Bolton.
"H'm, h'm," grunted Mountchance, "you pretty witch. Must I humour ye?"
"Of course you must. You're so kind and always ready to help others."
The doctor showed his yellow fangs in a ghastly grin that gave a skull-like look to his dried face.
"Hold thy wheedling tongue, hussy. This trinket—gold you say?"
"Try it, you know better than I."
Dr. Mountchance took the brooch into the inner room, weighed it, tested the metal and returned to the shop.
"I can give you no more than the simple value of the gold. 'Tis not pure—a crown should content ye."
"Well, it doesn't. Do you take me for a cutpurse? I'm not that sort."
"How do I know? You use thieves' jargon. Where did you pick it up?"
Lavinia gave one of her rippling laughs.
"That's my business and not yours. I tell you it's honestly come by and I want a guinea for it. You know it's worth five and maybe more. The man who gave it me—I don't care for him you may like to know—isn't mean. He'd spend a fortune on me if I'd care to take it but I don't." She tossed her head disdainfully.
"Oh, 'tis from your gallant. Aye, men are easily fooled by bright eyes. Well—well——"
Lavinia's ingenuous story had its effect. Not a few of Dr. Mountchance's lady customers preferred money to trinkets and he did a profitable trade in buying these presents at his own price. Some of these flighty damsels were haughty and patronising and others were familiar and impudent. The old man disliked both varieties. Lavinia belonged to neither the first nor the second. She was thoroughly natural and the humour lurking in her sparkling eyes was a weapon which few could resist. Dr. Mountchance unclasped a leather pouch and extracted a guinea.
"You've a mighty coaxing tongue, you baggage. Keep it to yourself that I gave you what you asked, lest my reputation as a fair dealing man be gone for ever."
"Oh, you may trust me to keep my mouth shut," said Lavinia with mock gravity.
A sweeping curtsey and she turned towards the door. At the same moment a lady cloaked and hooded like herself entered. They stared at each other as they passed.
Lavinia recognised Sally Salisbury, though the latter was much more finely dressed than when they encountered each other outside the Maidenhead Tavern in St. Giles. Sally was not so sure about Lavinia. The slim girl was now a woman. She carried herself with an air. She had exchanged her shabby garments for clothes of a fashionable cut which she knew how to wear. Still, some chord in Sally's memory was stirred and she advanced into the shop with a puzzled look on her face.
Mountchance received his fresh customer obsequiously. He had made a good deal of money out of Sally; she never brought him anything which was not valuable and worth buying. Sometimes her treasures were presents from admirers, sometimes they were the proceeds of highway robberies. The latter yielded the most profit. The would-be sellers dared not haggle. They were only too anxious to get rid of their ill-gotten gains.
The old man bowed Sally Salisbury into his inner room. He knew that the business which had brought her to him was one that meant privacy. He ceremoniously placed a chair for her and awaited her pleasure.
The lady was in no hurry. She caught sight of the gold brooch lying on the table, took it up and examined it. On the back was graven "A.D. to Lavinia." Sally's dark arched eyebrows contracted.
"Lavinia," she thought. "So it was that little squalling cat. I hate her. She's tumbled on her feet—like all cats. But for the letters I'd say she'd flung herself at the head of my man."
Sally was thinking of her encounter with Lavinia outside the Maiden Head tavern. Lancelot Vane was then sitting in the bow window of the coffee-room. True he was in a drunken sleep but this would make no difference. Lavinia, Sally decided, was in a fair way to earn her living, much as Sally herself did—the toy of the bloods of fashion one day, the companions of highwaymen and bullies the next.
"Where did the impertinent young madam get her fine clothes and her quality air if not?" Sally asked herself, and the question was a reasonable one.
"Have you brought me ought that I care to look at, Mistress Salisbury?" broke in the old man impatiently. "You haven't come to buy that paltry trinket, I'll swear."
"How do you knew? It takes my fancy. Where did you get it?"
"I've had it but five minutes. You passed the girl who sold it me as you came in. A pretty coaxing wench. She'd make a man pour out his gold at her feet if she cared to try."
Sally's lips went pallid with passion and her white nostrils quivered.
"A common little trull," she burst out. "She should be sent to Bridewell and soundly whipped. 'Tis little more than six months she was a street squaller cadging for pence round the boozing kens of St. Giles and Clare Market. And now—pah! it makes me sick."
Sally flung the brooch upon the table with such violence it bounced a foot in the air.
"Gently—gently, my good Sally," remonstrated Mountchance, "if you must vent your fury upon anything choose your own property, not mine."
It was doubtful if the virago heard the request. She was not given to curbing her temper, and leaning back in the chair, her body rigid, she beat a tattoo with her high-heeled shoes and clenched her fists till the knuckles whitened.
Mountchance had seen hysterical women oft times and was not troubled. He opened a stoppered bottle and held its rim to the lady's nose. The moment was well chosen, Sally was in the act of drawing a deep breath, probably with the intention of relieving her feelings by shrieking aloud. The ammonia was strong and she inhaled a full dose. She gasped, she coughed, her eyes streamed, the current of her thoughts changed, she poured a torrent of unadulterated Billingsgate upon the imperturbable doctor who busied himself about other matters until Sally should think fit to regain her senses.
That time came when after a brief interval of sullenness, accompanied by much heaving of the bosom and biting of lips she deigned to produce the pearl necklace, the spoil of Rofflash's highway robbery on the Bath Road.
Mountchance looked at the pearls closely and his face became very serious.
"The High Toby game I'll take my oath," said he in a low voice. "Such a bit of plunder as this must be sent abroad. I dursn't attempt to get rid of it here."
"That's your business. My business is how much'll you give."
Dr. Mountchance named a sum ridiculously low so Sally thought. Then ensued a long haggle which was settled at last by a compromise and Sally departed.
As she hurried back to her lodgings in the Borough, Sally was quite unaware that Rofflash, disguised as a beggar with a black patch over his eye and a dirty red handkerchief tied over his head in place of his wig, was stealthily shadowing her.
"YOU WERE BRAVE AND FOUGHT FOR ME"
Meanwhile Lavinia was hastening to Grub Street. On her way she bought a pair of shoes which if not quite in the mode were at least fellows. She also cleverly talked the shopkeeper into allowing her something on the discarded odd ones and thereby saved a shilling.
The girl's old life in roaming about the streets had sharpened her wits. Adversity had taught her much. It had given her a knowledge of persons and things denied to those to whom life had always been made easy. She had had sundry acquaintances among the pretty orange girls who plied their trade at Drury Lane and the Duke's theatres and had got to know how useful Dr. Mountchance was in buying presents bestowed upon them by young bloods flushed with wine, and in other ways. Hence when in want of money she looked upon her brooch she at once thought of the old man's shop on London Bridge.
The taverns in those days were real houses of refreshment. Food could be had at most of them as well as drink. Still a girl needed some courage to enter. The men she might meet were ready to make free in far too familiar a fashion. Lavinia stopped in front of the "Green Dragon" near the Cripples Gate, but hesitated. Many months had passed since the time when she would have boldly walked into the galleried inn-yard and asked for what she wanted. The refining influence of Miss Pinwell's genteel establishment had made her loathe the low life in which her early years had been passed.
"They can't eat me," she thought. "Besides, the poor fellow is starving."
The place was fairly quiet. One or two men of a group drinking and gossipping winked at each other when they caught sight of her pretty face, but they said nothing and she got what she asked for, a cold chicken, bread and a bottle of wine.
Lavinia hastened to Grub Street. She ran up the dirty narrow ricketty stairs, her heart palpitating with excitement, and she knocked at the garret door. It was opened immediately, Lancelot Vane stood in the doorway, his fine eyes beaming. He looked very handsome, Lavinia thought, and she blushed under his ardent gaze.
He had washed, he had shaved, he had put on his best suit and his wig concealed the cut on his forehead. He was altogether a different Lancelot from the bedraggled, woe-begone, haggard young man whom she had found in the last stage of misery two hours ago. He had moreover, enlisted the help of the old woman whom Lavinia had met on the stairs at her first visit and the place was swept and tidied. The room as well as its occupant was now quite presentable.
"I've brought you something to eat," stammered Lavinia quite shyly to her own surprise. "You don't mind, do you?"
"Not if you'll do me the honour to share it with me."
"Oh, but it will give you so much trouble. And I'm not hungry. I bought it all for you."
Lavinia was busy emptying the contents of a rush basket which the good-natured landlord of the "Green Dragon" had given her.
"Have you a plate and a knife and fork? You can't eat with your fingers, you know."
"I've two plates and two knives and forks, but the knives are not pairs. I apologise humbly for my poverty stricken household."
"That doesn't matter. I'm not going to touch a morsel."
"Neither am I then. And it isn't my hospitality, remember, but yours. Why are you such a good Samaritan?"
"You were brave and fought for me. I shall never forget last night—never."
"It will always be in my memory too, and I want our first meal together to be in my memory also. Alas! I have no tablecloth."
"But you have plenty of paper," Lavinia laughingly said. "That will do as well."
Lancelot laughed in unison and seizing a couple of sheets of foolscap he opened and spread them on the table.
"One for you and one for me, but you see I've put them together," said he with a roguish gleam in his eye.
"No, they must be separate."
But he had his way.
Soon the banquet was ready and it delighted Lavinia to see how ravenously the young man ate. At the same time it pained her for it told of days of privation. Before long they were perfectly at ease and merrily chatting about nothing in particular, under some circumstances the best kind of talk. Suddenly he said:
"I'm wondering where my next meal is to come from. I can't expect an angel to visit me every day."
"Perhaps it will be a raven. Didn't ravens feed Elijah?" said Lavinia mockingly.
"I believe so, but I'm not Elijah. I'm not even a prophet. I'm only a poor scribbler."
"You write plays, don't you?"
"I've written one but I'm afraid it's poor stuff. I meant to show it to Mr. Gay the great poet. I was told he was often to be found at the Maiden Head in St. Giles, but unluckily I was persuaded by some friends to see Jack Sheppard's last exploit at Tyburn. I drank too much—I own it to my shame—and when I reached the inn where I hoped to see Mr. Gay I fell dead asleep and never saw him. He had gone when I awoke."
Lavinia clasped her hands. A shadow passed over her bright face leaving it sad and pensive. The red mobile lips were tremulous and the eyes moist and shining. She now knew why Lancelot Vane's features had seemed so familiar to her. But not for worlds would she let him know she had seen him in his degradation.
Besides she too had memories of that day she would like to forget—save the remembrance of her meeting with Gay and his kindness to her, a kindness which she felt she had repaid with folly and ingratitude.
"Then you know Mr. Gay?" said she presently.
"I was introduced to him by Spiller the actor one night at the Lamb and Flag, Clare Market—I'll warrant you don't know Clare Market; 'tis a dirty greasy ill-smelling place where everyone seems to be a butcher——"
Lavinia said nothing. She knew Clare Market perfectly well.
"Mr. Gay was good enough to look at some poems I had with me. He praised them and I told him I'd written a play and he said he would like to see it. And then—but you know what happened. I feel I daren't face him again after disgracing myself so. What must he think of me?"
"He'll forgive you," cried Lavinia enthusiastically. "He's the dearest, the kindest, the most generous hearted man in the world. He is my best friend and——"
She stopped. She was on the point of plunging into her history and there was no necessity for doing this. She had not said a word to Lancelot Vane about herself and she did not intend to do so. He must think what he pleased about the adventure which had brought them together. He must have seen her leap from Dorrimore's carriage—nay, he may have caught sight of Dorrimore himself. Then there was the ruffian of a coachman who had pursued her. The reason of the fellow's anxiety to capture her must have puzzled Vane. Well, it must continue to puzzle him.
"Mr. Gay your friend?" returned Vane with a pang of envy. "Ah, then, you're indeed fortunate. I—you've been such a benefactor to me, madam, that I hesitate to ask another favour of you."
All familiarity had fled from him. He seemed to be no longer on an equality with her. He was diffident, he was respectful. If this girl was a friend of Mr. Gay the distinguished poet and dramatist whose latest work, "The Fables," was being talked about at Button's, at Wills', at every coffee-house where the wits gathered, she must be somebody in the world of fashion and letters. Perhaps she was an actress. She had the assured manner of one, he thought.
"What is it you want? If it's anything in my power I'd like to help you," said Lavinia with an air of gracious condescension. The young man's sudden deference amused her highly. It also pleased her.
"Thank you," he exclaimed eagerly. "I would ask you if you have sufficient acquaintance to show him my play? I'm sure he would refuse you nothing. Nobody could."
"Oh, this is very sad," said Lavinia shaking her head. "I'm afraid, Mr. Vane, you're trying to bribe me with flattery. I warn you it will be of no avail. All the same I'll take your play to Mr. Gay if you care to trust it to me."
"Trust, madam, I'd trust you with anything."
"You shouldn't be so ready to believe in people you know nothing of. But—where's this play of yours? May I look at it?"
"It would be the greatest honour you could confer upon me. I would dearly love to have your opinion," he cried, his face flushing.
"My opinion isn't worth a button, but all the same the play would interest me I'm sure."
He went to a bureau and took from one of the drawers a manuscript neatly stitched together.
"I've copied it out fairly and I don't think you'll have much difficulty in deciphering the writing."
Lavinia took the manuscript and glanced at the inscription on the first page. It ran "Love's Blindness: A Tragedy in Five Acts. By Lancelot Vane."
"Oh, it's a tragedy," she exclaimed.
He read the look of dismay that crept over her face and his heart fell.
"Yes. But the real tragic part doesn't come until the very last part of the fifth act."
"And what happens then?"
"The lovers both die. They do not find out how much they love each other until it is too late for them to be united, so Stephen kills Amanda and then kills himself."
"How terribly sad. But wasn't there any other way? Why couldn't you have made them happy?"
"Then it wouldn't have been a tragedy."
"Perhaps not. But what prevented them marrying?"
"Amanda, not knowing Stephen loved her, had married another man whom she didn't care for."
"I see. There was a husband in the way. Still it would have been wiser for her to have left him and run away with Stephen. It certainly would have been more in the mode."
"Not on the stage. People like to see a play that makes them cry. How they weep over the sorrows of Almeria in Mr. Congreve's 'Mourning Bride!'"
"Yes, so I've heard. I've never seen the play. The title frightens me. I don't like the notion of a mourning bride."
"Not in real life I grant you. But on the stage it's different. I'm sorry you don't care for my tragedy," he went on disappointedly.
"I never said that. How could I when I haven't read a line? That's very unjust of you."
"I humbly crave forgiveness. Nothing was further from my thoughts than to accuse you of being unjust. I ought to have said that you didn't care for tragedies, and if so mine would be included. Pray pardon me."
"How serious! You haven't offended me a bit. After all it isn't what I think of your play that's of any consequence. It's what Mr. Gay thinks and I'll do my best to take it to him."
"You will? Madam, you've made me the happiest of mortals. Let me wrap up my poor attempt at play writing."
"Why do you call it poor? And am I not to read it?"
"No, no. Not a line. You would think it tedious. I'll wait for Mr. Gay's opinion, and if that's favourable I would like with your permission to introduce a part for you."
"What, in a tragedy? I can't see myself trying to make people weep."
"But it wouldn't be a tragic part. While we've been talking it has occurred to me that the play would be improved by a little comedy."
"Yes," rejoined Lavinia eagerly, "by a character something like Cherry in the 'Beaux Stratagem?'"
"H'm," rejoined Vane. "Not quite so broad and vivacious as Cherry. That would be out of keeping."
"I'd dearly love to play Cherry," said Lavinia meditatively.
"You'd be admirable I doubt not, but——"
"Would the part you'd introduce have a song in it?"
"H'm," coughed the dramatist again. "Hardly. There are no songs in tragedies."
"I don't see why there shouldn't be. I love singing. When I'm an actress I must have songs. Mr. Gay says so."
"Then you've not been on the stage?"
"No, but I hope I shall be soon. I dream of nothing else."
Vane looked at her inquiringly. To his mind the girl seemed made for love. Surely a love affair must have been the cause of the escapade on London Bridge. How came she to be alone with a gallant in his carriage at that time of night? But he dared not put any questions to her. Her love affairs were nothing to him—so he tried to persuade himself.
He was now busy in tying up the manuscript in a sheet of paper and Lavinia was thinking hard.
The question was, what was to become of her? She had no home, for she had made up her mind she would not go back to her mother and Miss Pinwell was equally impossible. This impeccable spinster would never condone such an offence as that of which she had been guilty. Neither did Lavinia wish the compromising affair to be known in the school and talked about. She felt she had left conventional schooling for ever and she yearned to go back to life—but not the same life in which her early years had been passed.
Another worry was her shortness of money. She had but a trifle left out of the guinea her brooch had fetched. In the old days she could have soon earned a shilling or two by singing outside and inside taverns. But what she had done as a beggar maid could not be thought of in her fine clothes. And during the last six months, with good food, regular hours and systematic drilling, she had shot up half a head. She was a grown woman, and she felt instinctively that as such and with the winsome face Nature had bestowed upon her, singing outside taverns would be considered by men as a blind for something else. In addition she looked back upon her former occupation with loathing. It could not be denied that she was in an awkward plight.
She was so absorbed that she did not hear Vane who finished tieing up the packet speaking to her. Suddenly she became aware of his voice and she turned to him in some confusion.
"I beg your pardon. You were saying——"
"Pardon my presumption, I was asking whether I might have the privilege of knowing your name."
"Oh yes. Lavinia Fenton. But that's all I can tell you. You mustn't ask where I live."
"I'm not curious. I'm quite contented with what you choose to let me know."
"And with that little are you quite sure you'll trust me with your play? Suppose I lose it or am robbed?"
"I must take my chance. I've a rough draft of the whole and also all the parts written out separately. I wouldn't think of doubting you. But do you know where to find Mr. Gay?"
"Oh yes. He lives at the house of his friend, Her Grace the Duchess of Queensberry."
"That is so," rejoined Vane in a tone of evident relief. Her answer convinced him that what she said about knowing Gay was true.
"I can only promise to deliver it to him and if possible place it in his own hands. Do you believe me?"
"Indeed I do. And will you see me again and bring me an answer?"
"Why, of course," said she smilingly.
He insisted upon attending her down the staircase and when they were in the dark passage down below they bade each other adieu, he kissing her extended hand with a courteous bow which became him well.
Vane watched her thread her way along poverty-stricken Grub Street, and slowly ascended the staircase to his garret sighing deeply.
IN THE CHAPTER COFFEE HOUSE
It was nearly six o'clock when Lavinia stood on the broad steps of Queensberry House behind Burlington Gardens. Now that she was staring at the big door between the high railings with their funnel shaped link extinguishers pointing downward at her on either side her courage seemed to be slipping from her. The grotesque faces supporting the triangular portico seemed to be mocking her, the enormous knocker transformed itself into a formidable obstacle.
The adventures of the last forty-eight hours had suddenly presented themselves to the girl's mind in all their enormity. It occurred to her for the first time that she had not only thrown away the chance of her life, but that she had been guilty of black ingratitude to her benefactors. And her folly in permitting the fancy to rove towards Archibald Dorrimore, for whose foppishness she had a contempt, simply because he was rich! The recollection of this caused her the bitterest pang of all.
How could she justify her conduct to Mr. Gay! Would he not look upon her as a light o' love ready to bestow smiles upon any man who flattered her? Well, she wouldn't attempt to justify herself. Mr. Gay was a poet. He would understand. But the terrible duchess—Kitty of Queensberry who feared nothing and in the plainest of terms, if she was so minded, expressed her opinion on everything! Lavinia quaked in her shoes at the thought of meeting the high-born uncompromising dame.
"But I've promised the poor fellow. I must keep my word. I don't care a bit about myself if I can do that," she murmured.
Lavinia had a sudden heartening, and lest the feeling should slacken she seized the heavy bell-pull and gave it a violent tug.
The door was opened almost immediately by a fat hall porter who scowled when he saw a girl instead of the footman of a fine lady in her chair.
"What d'ye want? A-ringing the bell like that one would think you was my Lord Mayor."
"I'm neither the Lord Mayor nor the Lady Mayoress, as your own eyes ought to tell you. I wish to see Mr. Gay."
"Well, you can't," said the porter gruffly. "He's not here. He's staying with Mr. Pope at Twitnam."
"Twitnam? Where is Twitnam?"
"Up the river."
"How far? Can I walk there?"
"May be, but you hadn't better go on foot. It's a goodish step—ten or a dozen miles. You might go by waggon, there isn't no other way save toe and heel. An' let me give you warning, young 'oman, the roads aren't safe after dark. D'rectly you get to Knightsbridge footpads is ten a penny, let alone 'ighwaymen. Not that you're their game—leastways by the looks o' you."
"Thank you. I'm not afraid, but you mean your advice kindly and I'll not forget it. Mr. Gay's at Mr. Pope's house you say?"
"Mr. Pope's villa—he calls it. Mr. Pope's the great writer."
"I've heard of him. Which is the way after I've left Knightsbridge?"
"Why, straight along. Don't 'ee turn nayther to the right or the left, Kensington—'Ammersmith—Turn'am Green—Brentford—you goes through 'em all, if you don't get a knock on the 'ead on the way or a bullet through ye. One's as likely to 'appen as the other. I wouldn't answer fer your getting safe and sound to Twitnam unless you goes by daylight."
"That's what I must do then," said Lavinia resignedly. "Thank you kindly."
"You're welcome, I hope as how that pretty face o' yours won't get ye into trouble. It's mighty temptin'. I'd like a kiss myself."
"Would you? Then you won't have one. As for my face, I haven't any other so I must put up with it."
Dropping a curtsey of mock politeness Lavinia hastened away and did not slacken her pace till she reached Piccadilly and was facing the large open space now known as the Green Park.
It was a lovely evening and the western sun though beginning to descend, still shone brightly. The long grass invited repose and Lavinia sat down on a gentle hillock to think what her next step must be.
She was greatly disappointed at not finding Mr. Gay. She was sure he would have forgiven her escapade; he would have helped her over the two difficulties facing her—very little money and no shelter for the night. Of the two the latter was most to be dreaded.
"A year ago," she thought, "it wouldn't have mattered very much. The Covent Garden women and men from the country are kind-hearted. I'd have had a corner in a waggon and some hay to lie upon without any bother, and breakfast the next morning into the bargain. But now—in these clothes—what would they take me for?"
These reflections, all the same, wouldn't solve the problem which was troubling her and it had to be solved. She must either walk about the streets or brave the tempest of her mother's wrath. This wrath, however, didn't frighten her so much as the prospect of being again made a prisoner. Her mother, she felt sure, had some deep design concerning her, though what it was she could not conceive.
Tired of pondering over herself and her embarrassing situation Lavinia turned her mind to something far more agreeable—her promise to Lancelot Vane which of course meant thinking about Vane himself.
She couldn't help contrasting Vane with Dorrimore. She hated to remember having listened seriously to the latter's flatteries. By the light of what had happened it seemed now to her perfectly monstrous that she could ever have consented to marry him. It angered her when she thought of it—but her anger was directed more against herself than against Dorrimore.
"I suppose I ought to go back to Mr. Vane. He'll be waiting anxiously to know how I've fared, but no—I'll go to Twitenham first."
She sat for some time watching the sunset. She wove fanciful dreams in which the pallid face and large gleaming eyes of the young poet were strangely involved. With what courtly grace and reverence he had kissed her hand! Vane was a gentleman by nature; Dorrimore merely called himself one and what was more boasted of it.
But what did it matter to her? Vane had done her a service and it was only right she should repay him in some sort. This was how she tried to sum up the position. Whether Mr. Gay befriended him or not, their acquaintance would have to cease. He was penniless and so was she. If she confessed as much as this to him he would be embarrassed and distressed because he could not help her.
"I dursn't tell him," she sighed. "I'll have to do something for myself. Oh, if I could only earn some money by singing! I would love it. Not in the streets though. No, I could never do that again. Never!"
She clasped her hands tightly and her face became sad. Then her thoughts went back to Vane and she pictured him in his lonely garret perhaps dreaming of the glorious future awaiting him if his tragedy was a success, or perhaps he was dejected. After so many disappointments what ground had he for hope? Lavinia longed to whisper in his ear words of encouragement. She had treasured that look when his face lighted up at something she had said that had pleased him. And his sadness she remembered too. She was really inclined to think she liked him better when he was sad than when he was joyful. But this was because she gloried in chasing that sadness away. It was a tribute to her power of witchery.
Dusk was creeping on. She must not remain longer in that solitary expanse. She rose and sped towards Charing Cross. In the Strand citizens and their wives, apprentices and their lasses were taking the air. The scraps of talk, the laughter, gave her a sense of security. But the problem of how to pass the night was still before her. She dared not linger to think it out. She must go on. Young gallants gorgeously arrayed were swaggering arm in arm in pursuit of adventure, in plain words in pursuit of women, the prettier the better. Lavinia had scornfully repelled the advances of more than one and to loiter would but invite further unwelcome attention.
The night was come but fortunately the sky was clear, for the Strand was ill lighted. St. Mary's Church, not long since consecrated, St. Clement's Church, loomed large and shadowy in the narrow roadway, narrowing still more towards Temple Bar past the ill-favoured and unsavoury Butcher's Row on the north side of the street, where the houses of rotting plaster and timber with overhanging storeys frowned upon the passer-by and suggested deeds of violence and robbery.
Butcher's Row and its evil reputation, even the ruffians and dissolute men lurking in the deep doorways did not frighten Lavinia so much as the silk-coated and bewigged cavaliers. The days of the Mohocks were gone it was true, but lawlessness still remained.
Lavinia was perfectly conscious that she was being followed by a spark of this class. She did not dare look round lest he should think she encouraged him, but she knew all the same that he was keeping on her heels. Along Fleet Street he kept close to her and on Ludgate Bridge where the traffic was blocked by the crowd gazing into the Fleet river at some urchin's paddling in the muddy stream he spoke to her. She hadn't the least idea what he said, she was too terrified.
In the darkness of St. Paul's Churchyard she had the good luck to avoid him and she darted into Paternoster Row, and took shelter in a deep doorway. Either he had not noticed the way she went or he had given up the chase, for she saw no more of him.
The doorway in which she had sought refuge was a kind of lobby with an inner door covered with green baize. From the other side came the sound of loud talking and laughter, and the clinking of glasses. It was the Chapter Coffee House, the meeting place of booksellers, authors who had made their names, and struggling scribblers hanging on to the skirts of the muses.
The air was close. Inside the revellers may have found it insufferable. The door was suddenly opened and fastened back by one of the servants. The man looked inquiringly at the shrinking figure in the lobby. Evidently she was not a beggar and he said nothing.
Lavinia glanced inside from no feeling other than that of curiosity. At the same time she was reluctant to leave the protection of the house until she was sure her persecutor was not lurking near.
The candles cast a lurid yellowish light; the shadows were deep; only the faces of those nearest the flame could be clearly distinguished. One table was surrounded by a boisterous group in the centre of which was a fat man in a frowsy wig. He had a malicious glint in his squinting eyes and was evidently of some importance. When he spoke the others listened with respect.
This pompous personage was Edmund Curll, bookseller, whose coarse and infamous publications once brought him within the law. Curll, we are told, possessed himself of a command over all authors whatever; he caused them to write what he pleased; they could not call their very names their own. Curll was the deadly enemy of Pope and his friends, and his unlimited scurrility drew from the poet of Twickenham a retaliation every whit as coarse and as biting as anything the bookseller's warped mind ever conceived.
Had Lavinia been told this was the notorious Curll, the name would have conveyed nothing. The quarrels of poets and publishers were to her a sealed book. All that she knew was that she disliked the man at first sight, while his vile speech made her ears tingle with shame. Despite the danger possibly awaiting her in the gloom of Paternoster Row she would have fled had not the sight of one of the group at the table rooted her to the spot.
This was Lancelot Vane whom her maiden fancy had elevated into a god endowed with all the virtues and laden with misfortunes which had so drawn him towards her. Vane—alas that it should have to be written—had taken much wine—far too much!
Lavinia knew the signs. Often in the old days in St. Giles had she seen them—the eyes unnaturally bright, the face unnaturally flushed, the laugh unnaturally empty. And she had pictured Vane so sad, so depressed! The sight of him thus came upon her as a shock.
At first she was angry and then full of excuses for him. It was not his fault, she argued, but that of his companions and especially of the squint-eyed, foul-tongued man who no sooner saw that the bottle was getting low than he ordered another one.
What could she do to help him? Nothing. He was out of her reach. She remembered how he looked when she first saw him at the Maiden Head inn. He would probably look like that again before the night was ended. She could not bear to gaze upon him as he was now and she crept away with the old wives' words in her mind—Providence looks after drunken men and babes.
She stole from the lobby sad at heart. She had no longer the courage to face the dangers of the street. The deep shadow of great St. Paul's, sacred building though it was, afforded her no protection; it spoke rather of cut-throats, footpads, ruffians ready for any outrage. The din of voices, the sounds of brawling reached her from Cheapside. The London 'prentices let loose from toil and routine were out for boisterous enjoyment and may be devilry. She dared not go further eastward.
The only goal of safety she could think of was the coffee house in the Old Bailey. Why should she be afraid of her mother?
"She won't lock me up again. I'll take good care of that. I suppose she thinks I'm still a child. Mother's mistaken as she'll find out."
So she wheeled round and went back to Ludgate Hill, keeping close to the houses so that she should not attract attention.
It was past nine when Lavinia turned into the Old Bailey. The chief trade done by the coffee house was in the early morning. After market hours there were few customers save when there was to be an execution at Tyburn the next morning, and those eager to secure a good sight of the ghastly procession and perhaps take part in it, assembled opposite the prison door over night. Mrs. Fenton in the evenings thought no more of business, but betook herself to the theatre or one of the pleasure gardens in the outskirts of London.
Lavinia remembered this and hoped for the best. At such a time Mrs. Fenton with her love of pleasure would hardly stay at home.
Lavinia hurried past grim Newgate and crossed the road. The coffee house was on the other side. Hannah was standing in the doorway in a cruciform attitude, her arms stretched out, each hand grasping the frame on either side. She was gossipping with a man and laughing heartily. Lavinia decided that her mother must be out. If at home she would never allow Hannah this liberty. Lavinia glided to the woman and touched one of the outstretched hands. Hannah gave a little "squark" when she felt the girl's cold fingers.
"It's only me Hannah," whispered Lavinia.
"Only me—an' who's me?... Bless us an' save us child, what do you go about like a churchyard ghost for? Where in 'eaven's name have ye sprung from? I never come across anybody like you, Miss Lavvy, for a worryin' other people. I've been a-crying my eyes out over ye."
"And mother, has she been crying too?"
"Your mother? Not she," returned Hannah with a sniff of contempt. "Catch her a-cryin' over anything 'cept when she hasn't won a prize in a lottery. But come you in. I've ever so much to tell you. You'd best be off Reuben. I'll see you later."
Reuben who was one of the men employed at Coupland's soap works in the Old Bailey, looked a little disappointed, but he obeyed nevertheless.
"You've given us a pretty fright and your lady mother's been in a mighty tantrum. I tell you it's a wonder as she didn't tear my eyes out. She swore as it was all my fault a lettin' you go. But what have you come back for?"
"I had to. But don't bother, it's only for a few hours. Mother's out I know."
"Course she is. Simpson the cattle dealer's a-beauing her to Marybone Gardens. They won't be back this side o' midnight. Now just tell me what you been a-doin' of. You're a pretty bag o' mischief if ever there was one. Who's the man this time? T'aint the one as you runned away with, is it?"
"No, indeed," cried Lavinia, indignantly. "I don't want ever to see him again."
"Well, your mother does," returned Hannah with an odd kind of laugh.
"I'll let you have the story d'rectly, but you tell me your tale first."
By this time they were in the shop and Hannah caught sight of Lavinia's white, drawn face and her tear-swollen eyes.
"You poor baby. What's your fresh troubles?"
"Nothing—that is, not much. I'm tired. I'm faint. Give me some coffee—cocoa—anything."
Faint indeed she was. At that meal with Lancelot Vane she had eaten very sparingly. She was too excited, too much absorbed and interested in seeing him so ravenous to think of herself. In addition she had gone through much fatigue.
"Coffee—cocoa—to be sure," cried the kindly Hannah, "an' a hot buttered cake besides. You shan't say a word till I've gotten them ready."
The cook had gone. There was no one in the house save Hannah. The two went into the kitchen where the fire was burning low—with the aid of the bellows Hannah soon fanned the embers into a flame and she was not happy until Lavinia had eaten and drank.
Then Lavinia told the story of her adventures, hesitatingly at first and afterwards with more confidence seeing that Hannah sympathised and did not chide or ridicule.
"An' do 'ee mean to tell me you're going to Twitenham to-morrow?"
"What, over a worthless young man who gets drunk at the first chance he has?"
Lavinia fired up.
"He's not worthless and he wasn't drunk."
"Hoity-toity. What a pother to be sure. Well, I'll warrant he is by this time."
"How do you know? If he is it won't be his fault. The others were drinking and filling his glass. I saw them, the wretches," cried Lavinia with heightened colour. "But it is nothing to me," she went on tossing her head. "Why should I bother if a man drinks or doesn't drink?"
"Why indeed," said Hannah ironically. "Since you don't care we needn't talk about him."
"No, we won't, if you've only unkind things to say."
"Eh, would you have me tell you how well you've behaved and how good you are? First you run away to be married to a man you don't care for, and in the next breath you take no end of trouble and tire yourself to death over another man you say you don't care for either. Are you going through your life like that—men loving you and you leaving them?"
"You're talking nonsense, Hannah. You know nothing about it," cried Lavinia angrily. "Let me manage my own affairs my own way and tell me what mother's doing. You read me a riddle about her just now."
"'Tisn't much of a riddle. It's just what one might guess she'd do when she's on the scent for money. You've become mighty valuable to her all of a sudden."
"I! Valuable? Oh la! That's too funny."
"You think so, do you child? Wait till you hear. I call it a monstrous shame an' downright wicked. A mother sell her own child! It's horrible—horrible."
"What are you talking about, you tiresome Hannah?" cried the girl opening her eyes very wide.
"Ah, you may well ask. After you was locked up she pocketted that letter from your spark and off she went to his lodgings in the Temple. She well plied herself with cordials an' a drop o' gin or two afore she started, an' my name's not Hannah if she didn't repeat the dose as she came back. I knowed it at once by her red face an' her tongue a-wagging nineteen to the dozen. She can't keep her mouth shut when she's like that. It all comed out. She'd been to that Mr. Der—Dor—what's his name?"
"Dorrimore. Yes—yes. Go on. I want to hear," exclaimed Lavinia breathlessly.
"I wouldn't ha' said a word agen her if she'd insisted upon the fine young gentleman paying for his frolic a trying to fool you—which he didn't do an' you may thank yourself for your sperrit Miss Lavvy—that was only what a mother ought to do, but to sell her own child to make money out of her own flesh an' blood—well I up an' told her to her face what I thought of her."
"Make money out of me, good gracious Hannah, how?"
"The fellow offered her fifty guineas if she'd hand you over to him. He swore he'd make a lady of you."
"What! Marry me?"
"Marry you! Tilly vally, no such thing. He'd spend money on you—fine dresses, trinkets, fallals and all that, but a wedding ring, the parson—not a bit of it. An' when he tired of you he'd fling you away like an old glove."
"Would he?" cried Lavinia indignantly. "Then he won't."
"No, but it means a tussle with your mother. What a tantrum she went in to be sure when she found you was gone. She fell upon poor me an' called me all the foul names she could lay her tongue to. Look at these."
Hannah pushed back her cap and her hair and showed four angry red streaks down the side of her face. Mrs. Fenton had long nails and knew how to use them.
Lavinia was horrified. Throwing her arms round the honest creature's neck she kissed her again and again. Then she exclaimed despairingly:—
"What am I do to do to-night? I dursn't stay here."
"I'm not so sure about that. I'm thinking it can be managed. Your mother's gone to Marybone Gardens with Dawson, the Romford cattle dealer. They won't be home till latish an' I'll go bail as full o' strong waters as they can carry. It's not market day to-morrow and your mother'll lie in bed till noon. You can share my bed an' I'll let 'ee out long afore the mistress wakes."
"Oh thank you—thank you Hannah. How clever you are to think of all this."
"Not much cleverness either. Trust a woman for finding out a way when love's hanging on it."
"Love?" rapped out Lavinia sharply.
"Aye, it's love as is taking you to Twitenham with the young man's rubbishy play."
"You've not read it, Hannah. It's not fair to call it rubbishy."
"Not read it, no, nor never shall, and may be I'll never see it acted either. But I hope it will be, Lavinia, for your sake. But take care, it's ill falling in love with a man who's fond of his cups."
Lavinia made no reply. Her face had suddenly gone grave.
Hannah ceased to tease her and bustled about to get supper—something warm and comforting, stewed rabbit and toasted cheese to follow.
The bedroom shared by Lavinia and Hannah was in the front of the house. About two o'clock both were awakened by the champing of a horse and the squeaking and scraping of wheels followed by a loud wrangling in a deep bass growl and a shrill treble.
"That's the mistress—drat her," grumbled Hannah from under the coverlet. "She's a-beatin' down the coachman. She always does it."
The hubbub was ended, and not altogether to the satisfaction of the hackney coachman judging by the way he banged his door. Mrs. Fenton stumbled up the stairs to her room rating the extortion of drivers, and after a time all was silence.
Daylight was in the room when Lavinia awoke. She slipped quietly out of bed not wanting to disturb Hannah, but the latter was a light sleeper.
"Don't you get up," said Lavinia. "I can dress and let myself out without bothering you."
"What, an' go into the early morning air wi'out a bite or sup inside you? I'm not brute beast enough to let you do that."
And Hannah bounced out of bed bringing her feet down with a thump which must have awakened Mrs. Fenton in the room below had the lady been in a normal condition, which fortunately was not the case.
Within half an hour the two stole out of the house, and on reaching the Ludgate Hill end of the Old Bailey turned eastwards. Their destination was the Stocks Market occupying the site where the present Mansion House stands. The Stocks Market was the principal market in London at that time, Fleet Market was not in existence and Covent Garden, then mainly a fashionable residential quarter, was only in its infancy as to the sale of fruit and vegetables.
But the Stocks Market eastwards of St. Paul's was not in the direction of Twickenham, or Twitenham as it was then called. Why then were Lavinia and Hannah wending their way thither?
It was in this wise. Hannah was quick witted and fertile in resources. Moreover she was a native of Mortlake, then surrounded by fruit growing market gardens and especially celebrated for its plums, the fame of which for flavour and colour and size has not quite died out in the present day. Hannah had had her sweethearting days along by the riverside and in pleasant strolls on Sheen Common, and not a few of her swains cherished tender recollections of her fascinating coquetry. She knew very well she would find some old admirer at the Stocks Market who for auld lang syne would willingly give Lavinia a seat in his covered cart returning to Mortlake with empty baskets. And Mortlake of course, is no very long distance from Twickenham.
So it came about. The clock of St. Christopher le Stocks struck five as the two young women entered the market. The Bank of England as we now know it did not then exist. St. Christopher's, hemmed in by houses, occupied the site of the future edifice, as much in appearance like a prison as a bank. Sir Thomas Gresham's Exchange then alone dominated the open space at the entrance of the Poultry.
The market was in full swing. Shopkeepers, hucksters and early risen housewives keen on buying first hand and so saving pennies were bargaining at the various stalls. Hannah went about those set apart for fruit and soon spotted some one she knew—a waggoner of honest simple looks. His mouth expanded into the broadest of grins and he coloured to his ears when he caught sight of Hannah.
"Ecod Hannah, my gal, if the sight o' 'ee baint good fur sore eyes. I'm in luck sure-ly. Fi' minutes more an' 'ee'd ha' found me gone. Dang me if 'ee baint bonnier than ever."
"Don't 'ee talk silly, Giles Topham. Keep your nonsense for Hester Roberts."
"Hester Roberts! What be that flirty hussy to I?" retorted Giles indignantly.
"You know best about that, Giles. What be 'ee to me? That's more to the purpose I'm thinking."
"I be a lot to 'ee Hannah. Out wi' the truth now, an' tell me if I baint."
Lavinia was beginning to feel herself superfluous in the midst of this rustic billing and cooing, and was moving a few steps off when Hannah having whispered a few words to Giles which might have been a reproof or the reverse beckoned to her, and without further ado told her old sweetheart what she wanted.
"I'd a sight sooner take 'ee Hannah—meanin' no offence to 'ee miss—but if it can't be, why——"
"Of course it can't, you booby. You know that as well as I do."
"Aye. Some other time may be," rejoined Giles grinning afresh. "So 'ee be a-goin' to see the great Mr. Pope? 'Ee'll have to cross by the ferry and 'tis a bit of a walk there from Mortlake but I'll see 'ee safe."
"I should think you would or I'll never speak to you again."
Giles gave another of his grins and set to work arranging the baskets in his cart so as to form a seat for Lavinia, and having helped the girl to mount, bade Hannah adieu, a matter which took some few minutes and was only terminated by a hearty kiss which Hannah received very demurely. Then Giles after a crack of his whip started his horse, at the head of which he marched, and with waving handkerchiefs by Hannah and Lavinia the cart took the road to London Bridge.
The nearest way to Mortlake would have been the Middlesex side, crossing the river at Hammersmith, but Hammersmith Bridge had not been thought of and the cart had to plod through Lambeth, Vauxhall, Wandsworth, Putney and Barnes.
At intervals Giles climbed into the cart and entertained Lavinia with guileless talk, mainly relating to Hannah and her transcendent virtues. Nor did he stop at Hannah herself but passed on to her relatives, her mother who was dead and her grandmother who was ninety and "as hale an' hearty as you please."
"A wonnerful old dame she be an' mighty handy with her needle, a'most as she used to be when she was a girl a-working at the tapestry fact'ry by the riverside. It were a thunderin' shame as ever the tapestry makin' was done away with at Mortlake an' taken to Windsor. It was the King's doin's that was. Not his Majesty King George, but King Charles—long afore my time, fifty years an' more agone. Lords an' ladies used to come to Mortlake then I'm told an' buy the wool picture stuff, all hand sewn, mind ye, to hang on the walls o' their great rooms. Some of it be at 'Ampton Palace this very day."
Thus and much more Giles went on and Lavinia listened attentively. The cart rumbled through the narrow main street of Mortlake and reached Worple way where Giles and his mother lived in a cottage in the midst of a big plum orchard.
The old woman was astonished to see a pretty girl seated in her son's cart but the matter was soon explained, and she insisted upon Lavinia having a meal before going on to Twickenham.
Then Giles volunteered to show Lavinia the way to the ferry, the starting point of which on the Surrey side was near Petersham Meadows, and in due time she was landed at Twickenham.
"ARE WORDS THE ONLY SIGNS OF LOVE?"
Lavinia easily found her way to Pope's villa. The first man of whom she inquired knew the house well and guided her to it.
The house was somewhat squat and what we should now call double fronted. The back looked on to a garden bordering the river, the front faced a road on the other side of which was a high wall with a wooded garden beyond.
"That be Mr. Pope's house, young madam, an' that be his garden too, t'other side o' that wall. He be but a feeble shrivelled up whey-faced little gentleman, thin as a thread paper an' not much taller than you yourself. I'm told as he baint forty, but lor, he might be ninety by his looks. We folk in the village don't see much of him an' I doubt if he wants to see us."
"Gracious! Why is that? What makes him so unsociable?"
"He's always ailing, poor gentleman. Why, if ye went by his face he might have one foot in the grave. When he fust comed to live here he hated to have to cross the road to get to that there garden t'other side, so what do'e do but have a way dug under the road. It be a sort o' grotto, they say, with all kinds o' coloured stones and glasses stuck about an' must ha' cost a pile o' money. I s'pose rich folk must have their whims and vapours an' must gratify 'em too, or what be the good o' being rich, eh? Thank 'ee kindly young madam."
Lavinia, upon whom the good Hannah had pressed all the coins that were in her pocket, gave the man a few coppers and summoning her courage she grasped the bell-pull hanging by the door in the wall fronting the house. Her nerves were somewhat scattered and she could not say whether the clang encouraged or depressed her. May be the latter, for a sudden desire seized her to run away.
But before desire had become decision the door in the wall had opened and a soberly attired man-servant was staring at her inquiringly. Lavinia regained her courage.
"I want to see Mr. Gay please. I'm told he's staying with Mr. Pope."
"Aye. What's your business?"
"That's with Mr. Gay, not with you," rejoined Lavinia sharply.
The man either disdained to bandy words or had no retort ready. He admitted the visitor and conducted her into the house. Lavinia found herself in a small hall, stone paved, with a door on either side. The hall ran from the front to the back of the house and at the end a door opened into a wooden latticed porch. Beyond was a picturesque garden and further still the river shining in the sun. She heard men talking and apparently disputing. The shrill tones of one voice dominated the rest.
The servant bade her wait in the hall while he went to Mr. Gay. He did not trouble to ask her name.
While he was gone Lavinia advanced to the open door, drawn thither by curiosity. A garden grateful to the eye was before her. It had not the grotesque formality of the Dutch style which came over with William of Orange—the prim beds with here and there patches and narrow walks of red, flat bricks, the box trees cut and trimmed in the form of peacocks with outstretched tails, animals, anything absurd that the designer fancied. Close to the river bank drooped a willow, and a wide spreading cedar overspread a portion of the lawn.
Underneath the cedar four men were sitting round a table strewn with papers. Lavinia easily recognised the portly form of her patron, Gay. Next to him was a diminutive man, his face overspread by the pallor of ill-health. He was sitting stiff and bolt upright and upon his head in place of a fashionable flowing wig was a sort of loose cap.
"That must be Mr. Pope, the queer little gentleman the countryman told me of," thought Lavinia.
She saw the servant in a deferential attitude standing for some time between Mr. Pope and Mr. Gay waiting for an opportunity to announce his errand. For the moment the discussion was too absorbing for anyone of the four to pay attention to the man.
"Mr. Rich no high opinion has of either music or musicians," said one of the disputants, a lean, dried-up looking man who spoke with a strong guttural accent. This was Dr. Pepusch, musical director at John Rich's theatre, the "Duke's," Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields.
"Dr. Pepusch is right," rejoined Gay. "That is why I favoured Cibber. But from his reception of me I doubt if he'll take the risk of staging the play."
"Cibber likes not you, Mr. Gay, and he hates me," said Pope with his acid smile. "He's a poet—or thinks he's one—and poets love not one another. Nothing is so blinding to the merits of others as one's own vanity."
"Nay, Mr. Pope, is not that assumption too sweeping?" put in the fourth man, of cheerful, rubicund countenance and, like Gay, inclined to corpulency. "What about yourself and Mr. Gay? Is there anyone more conscious of his talents and has done more to foster and encourage them than you? Who spoke and wrote in higher praise of Will Congreve than John Dryden?"
"Your argument's just, Arbuthnot," rejoined Pope. "And that's why I rejoice that the King, his Consort and the Statesman who panders to her spite and lives only for his own ambition have insulted our friend. Their taste and their appreciation of letters found their level when they considered the author of the 'Trivia' and the 'Fables' was fittingly rewarded by the appointment of 'gentleman usher' to a princess—a footman's place, forsooth!"