A ROMANCE OF "THE BEGGAR'S OPERA"
CHARLES E. PEARCE
"Why how now Madam Flirt"—Lucy.
"STIRRING DEEDS IN THE GREAT WAR," "A QUEEN OF THE PADDOCK," "CORINTHIAN JACK," ETC.
LONDON STANLEY PAUL & CO. 31, ESSEX STREET, STRAND, W.C.2.
Printed in Great Britain at the Athenaeum Printing Works, Redhill
FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1922.
"IF YOUR NAME ISN'T POLLY IT OUGHT TO BE"
"As pretty a wench as man ever clapped eyes on. Wake up, Lance, and look at her."
The portly man of genial aspect sitting in the corner of the bow window of the Maiden Head Inn at the High Street end of Dyott Street in the very heart of St. Giles, clapped his sleeping friend on the shoulder and shook him. The sleeper, a young man whose finely drawn features were clouded with the dregs of wine, muttered something incoherently, and with an impatient twist shifted his body in the capacious arm-chair.
"Let him alone, Mr. Gay. When a man's in his cups he's best by himself. 'Twill take him a day's snoring to get rid of his bout. The landlord here tells me he walked with the mob from Newgate to Tyburn and back and refreshed himself at every tavern on the way, not forgetting, I warrant you, to fling away a guinea at the Bowl, the Lamb, and the 'Black Jack' over yonder, and drink to the long life of the daring rogue in the cart and the health of the hangman to boot."
"Long life indeed, my lord. A couple of hours at most. Not that the length of life is to be measured by years. I don't know but what it's possible to cram one's whole existence into a few hours, thanks to that thief of time," rejoined John Gay pointing to the bottle on the table.
The poet's placid face saddened. John Gay had always taken life as a pleasure, but there is no pleasure without pain as he had come to discover. Maybe at that moment a recollection of his follies gave his conscience a tinge. Of Gay it might be said that he had no enemies other than himself.
"Oh, the passing hour is the best doubtless, since we never know whether the next may not be the worst," laughed Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke. "I'll wager Jack Sheppard's best was when the noose was round his neck. The rascal will trouble nervous folks no more. After all he was of some use. See that drunken rabble. But for the brave show he made at Tyburn yesterday, would those ladies and gentlemen be merry making, think you, and would the tavern keepers and the gin sellers be putting money in their pockets?"
Gay turned his eyes to the open window.
"I don't want to think of the rascally knave or the rabble either. My thoughts are on yonder pretty little jade. Look for yourself, Bolingbroke. You're not so insensible to beauty as Lance Vane is at this moment."
"Faith, I hope not. Where's the charmer?" said Bolingbroke walking to the window.
"Stay. She's going to sing. She has the voice of a nightingale. I've heard her before. Lord! to think she has to do it for a living!"
"Humph. She has courage. Most girls would die rather than rub shoulders with that frousy, bestial, drunken mob."
"Aye, but that little witch subdues them all with her voice. What says Will Congreve? Music has charms to soothe a savage breast? Listen."
A girl slight in figure but harmoniously proportioned had placed herself about two yards from the bow window. She fixed her eyes on Gay and her pretty mouth curved into a smile. Then she sang. The ditty was "Cold and Raw," a ballad that two hundred years ago or so, never failed to delight everybody from the highest to the lowest. She gave it with natural feeling and without any attempt at display. The voice was untrained but this did not matter. It was like the trill of a bird, sweet, flexible and pure toned.
"A voice like that ought not to be battered about. It's meant for something better than bawling to a mob. What says your lordship?"
Bolingbroke's face had become grave, almost stern. His high, somewhat narrow, slightly retreating forehead, long nose and piercing eyes lent themselves readily to severity. Twenty-five years before it was not so. He was then the gayest of the gay and in the heyday of his career. Much had happened since then. Disappointed political ambitions and political flirtations with the Jacobite party had ended in exile in France, from which, having been pardoned, he had not long returned.
Meeting Gay, the latter suggested a prowl in St. Giles, where life was in more than its usual turmoil consequent upon the execution of Jack Sheppard; so Viscount Bolingbroke revisited the slums of St. Giles, which had been the scene of many an orgy in his hot youth.
The nobleman returned no answer to Gay's question. His thoughts had gone back to his early manhood when he took his pleasure wherever he found it. In some of his mad moods St. Giles was more to his taste than St. James's. So long as the face was beautiful, and the tongue given to piquant raillery, any girl was good enough for him. He was of the time when a love intrigue was a necessary part of a man's life, and not infrequently of a woman's too.
Successful lover though he had been he was not all conquering. The ballad singer's tender liquid tones carried his memory back to the low-born girl with the laughing eyes who had captured his heart. She sold oranges about the door of the Court of Requests, she sang ballads in the street, she was a little better than a light of love, yet Bolingbroke could never claim her as his own. It angered him sorely that she had a smile for others. But he bore her no malice, or he would hardly have written his poetical tribute commencing:—
"Dear, thoughtless Clara, to my verse attend, Believe for once the lover and the friend."
So Gay's words were unheeded. A heavy step sounded on the sanded floor. A big man with features formed on an ample mould had entered. Gay was entranced by the singer and did not hear him. The newcomer stood silently behind the poet. He too, was listening intently.
The girl's voice died into a cadence. Gay beckoned to her and she came up to the window.
"Finely sung, Polly," cried Gay. "Who taught thee, child?"
"I taught myself, sir," said she dropping a curtsey.
"Then you had a good teacher. There's a crown for you."
"Oh sir ... it's too much."
"Nay, Polly—if your name isn't Polly it ought to be. What does your mother call you?"
"Mostly an idle slut, sir."
Her face remained unmoved save her eyes, which danced with sly merriment.
The men at the window burst into a roar of laughter. He who had entered last laughed the loudest and deepest, and loud and deep as was that laugh it was full of music. At its sound Gay turned sharply.
"What? Dick Leveridge? You've come at the right moment. We need someone who knows good music when he hears it. What of this pretty child's voice. Is it good?"
"Is it good? I'll answer your question, Mr. Gay, by asking you another. Are you good at verses?"
"'Tis said my 'Fables' will be pretty well. The young Prince William will have the dedication of it and if his mother, the Princess of Wales approves, methinks my fortune's made," cried Gay buoyantly.
"Glad to hear it," replied Leveridge, dryly. "If I know anything about His Royal Highness you'll gain a fortune sooner by writing a ballad or two for this pretty songster. Make her famous as you made me with 'All in the Downs' and 'T'was when the seas were roaring.'"
Gay's face brightened.
"Faith, Dick, you've set my brain working. I'll think on't, but that means I must keep my eye on the wench."
"Oh, I'll trust you for that," rejoined Leveridge, the ghost of a smile flitting across his solemn visage.
Meanwhile the girl had retreated a yard or two from the window, her gaze fixed wistfully on Gay and Leveridge. She knew from their looks that she was the subject of their talk.
Gay turned from his friend Richard Leveridge, the great bass singer of the day, and rested his hands on the window sill. Bolingbroke had sunk into his chair, and buried in his thoughts, was slowly sipping his wine. Lancelot Vane continued to breathe heavily.
"Come here, child," said Gay through the open window and sinking his voice. The crowd had pressed round her and were clamourous for her to sing again. Some had thrown her a few pence for which a couple of urchins were groping on the ground.
The girl approached.
"My name's Lavinia—Lavinia Fenton, sir," she interrupted.
"Too fine—too fine. I like Polly better. Never mind. If it's Lavinia, Lavinia it must be. What's your mother? Where does she live?"
"At the coffee house in Bedfordbury."
"Does she keep it?"
"And what do you do?"
"Wait on the customers—sometimes."
"And sometimes you sing in the streets—round the taverns, eh?"
"Only when mother drives me out."
"Oh. She ill treats you, does she? That bruise on your shoulder—was it her work?"
The girl nodded.
"You wouldn't mind if you left your mother and did nothing but sing?"
"Oh, that would be joy," cried the girl squeezing her hands tightly together to stifle her emotions. "But how can I?"
"It may be managed, perhaps. I must see your mother——"
He was interrupted by a deafening roar—hoarse, shrill, raucous, unmistakably drunken. A huge, ragged multitude had poured into the High Street from St. Martin's Lane, jostling, fighting, cursing, eager for devilment, no matter what. They rushed to the hostelries, they surrounded the street sellers of gin, demanding the fiery poisonous stuff for which they had no intention of paying.
The landlord of the "Maiden Head" hurried into the room somewhat perturbed.
"Best shut the window, gentlemen," said he. "This vile scum's none too nice. Anything it wants it'll take without so much as by your leave, or with your leave."
"What does it mean, landlord?" asked Bolingbroke.
"Oh's all over Jack Sheppard. The people are mad about the rascal just because the turnkeys couldn't hold him, nor prison walls for the matter o' that. He was clever in slipping out o' prison I grant ye. Well, sirs, his body was to be handed over to the surgeons like the rest o' the Tyburn gentry, but his friends would have none of it. A bailiff somehow got hold of the corpse to make money out of it—trust them sharks for that when they see a chance—an' smuggled it to his house in Long Acre. It got wind afore many hours was past and the mob broke into the place, the Foot Guards was called out an' there's been no end of a rumpus."
"Faith, my poor Gay," said Bolingbroke with a sardonic smile, "the people make more fuss over a burglar than over a ballad maker. And what's become of the noble Sheppard's body, landlord?"
"It's hidden somewhere. They say as it'll be buried to-night in St. Martin's Churchyard. So the people'll get their way after all."
"As they mostly do if they make noise enough," rejoined Bolingbroke refreshing himself with a pinch of snuff.
"Yes, your honour, and——"
The sound of a loud high pitched, strident voice floated into the room through the open window. Gay, whose eyes had never shifted from the girl outside, saw her cheeks suddenly blanch. She looked round hurriedly like a frightened rabbit seeking a way of escape.
"Bring the girl in, landlord," exclaimed the poet hastily. "She'll come to harm else. Lord! Look at those drunken beasts. No—no"—the landlord was about to shut the latticed windows—"run to the door, child. Quick."
A howling sottish mob mad with drink, clamouring, gesticulating, men and women jostling each other, embracing vulgarly, their eyes glassy, their faces flushed, was approaching the inn.
The mob was headed by a handsome woman. She was in the plenitude of fleshly charms. Her dress, disordered, showed her round solidly built shoulders, her ample bust. Some day unless her tastes and her manner of life altered she would end in a bloway drab, every vestige of beauty gone in masses of fat. But at that moment she was the model of a reckless Bacchante, born for the amusement and aggravation of man.
Her maddening eyes were directed on the Maiden Head inn. Her full lips were parted in a harsh boisterous laugh; her white teeth gleamed; the blood ran riot in her veins; she was the embodiment of exuberant, semi-savage, animal life. She danced up to the open window. The sight of the sleeping Lance Vane had drawn her thither.
Up to that moment Lavinia Fenton's back was towards the woman. Lavinia tried to get away without notice, but the Bacchante's escort was too numerous, too aggressive, too closely packed. They hoped for some fun after their own tastes.
"Mercy on me," muttered Gay apprehensively, "that impudent hussy, Sally Salisbury. And drunk too. This means trouble. Dick," he whispered hurriedly to Leveridge, "you can use your fists if need be. I've seen you have a set-to in Figg's boxing shed. That girl's in danger. Sally's bent on mischief. There's murder in her eyes. Come with me."
Leveridge nodded and followed his friend out of the room.
Gay's action was none too prompt. No sooner had Sally Salisbury—destined to be, a few years later, the most notorious woman of her class—set eyes on the girl than her brows were knitted and her lips and nostrils went white. Her cheeks on the other hand blazed with fury. She gripped the shrinking girl and twisted her round. Then she thrust her face within a few inches of Lavinia's.
"What do you mean by coming here, you squalling trollop?" she screamed. "How dare you poach on my ground, you——"
How Sally finished the sentence can be very well left to take care of itself.
Lavinia despite her terror of the beautiful virago never lost her self-control.
"You're welcome to this ground every inch of it, but I suppose I've as much right to walk on it as you have," said she.
"Don't talk to me, you little trull, or you'll drive me to tear your eyes out. Take that."
With the back of her disengaged hand she struck the girl's cheek.
"GO YOUR OWN WAY YOU UNGRATEFUL MINX"
The mob roared approval at the prospect of a fight, and though the combatants were unfairly matched some of the ruffians urged the girl to retaliate.
"Go for her hair, little un," one shouted. "There's plenty of it. Once you get a fair hold and tear out a handful she'll squeak, I'll warrant."
The advice was not taken and maybe nobody expected it would be. Anyway, before Sally could renew the attack her arm was seized by a man, slight in stature and with a naturally humorous expression on his lean narrow face and in his bright twinkling eyes.
"Enough of this brawling, mistress. If you must fight choose someone as big and as strong as yourself, not a lambkin."
The crowd knew him and whispers went round. "That's Spiller—Jemmy Spiller the famous play actor." "No, is it though. Lord, he can make folks laugh—ah, split their sides a'most. I see him last Saturday at Master Rich's theayter in the Fields, and I thought I should ha' died."
Spiller was better at making people laugh than at holding an infuriated woman. But he had two friends with him, stalwart butchers from Clare Market, and he turned the task over to them with the remark that they were used to handling mad cattle.
At this point Gay and Leveridge forced their way through the crowd. Gay saw the red angry mark on the girl's pallid face and guessed the cause. He drew her gently to him.
"Run inside the house. I'll join you presently," he whispered.
She thanked him with her eyes and vanished. Gay turned to Spiller.
"You deserve a double benefit at Drury Lane, Jemmy, for what you did just now. That wild cat was about to use her claws," said he.
"Aye, and her teeth too, Mr. Gay."
"You'll need a mouthful of mountain port after that tussle. And your friends as well, when they've disposed of Mistress Salisbury."
The butchers had removed her out of harm's way. Some of her lady friends and sympathisers had joined her; and a couple of young "bloods" who had come to see the fun of an execution, with money burning holes in their pockets, being captured, the party subsided into the "Bowl" where a bottle of wine washed away the remembrance of Sally Salisbury's grievance. But she vowed vengeance on the "squalling chit" sooner or later.
Meanwhile the object of Sally Salisbury's hoped for revenge was sitting in a dark corner of the coffee room of the Maiden Head tavern. She felt terribly embarrassed and answered Bolingbroke's compliments in monosyllables. He pressed her to take some wine but she refused. To her great relief he did not trouble her with attentions.
Then Gay entering with Spiller and his butcher friends, and Leveridge, as soon as he could, approached her.
"Tell me, Polly,—my tongue refuses to say Lavinia—how you have offended that vulgar passionate woman?"
"I don't know. Jealousy, I suppose. She's burning to sing but she can't. Sing, why she sets one's teeth on edge! It might be the sharpening of a knife on a grindstone. She would be a play actress, and Mrs. Barry at Drury Lane promised to help her, but they quarrelled. Sally wanted to be a great actress all at once, but you can't be, can you, sir?"
She looked at the poet earnestly. Her large grey eyes were wonderfully expressive, and Gay did not at once answer. He was thinking how sweet was the face, and how musical and appealing the voice.
"True, child, and that you should say it shows your good sense. Wait here a few minutes and then you shall take me to your mother."
Gay crossed the room to his friends, and they talked together in low voices. Spiller and Leveridge had much to say—indeed it was to these two, who had practical knowledge of the theatre, to whom he appealed. Bolingbroke sat silently listening.
Gay's project concerning his new found protegee was such as would only have entered into the brain of a dreamy and impecunious poet. He saw in Lavinia Fenton the making of a fine actress—not in tragedy but in comedy—and of an enchanting singer. But to be proficient she must be taught not only music, but how to pronounce the English language properly. She had to a certain extent picked up the accent of the vulgar. It was impossible, considering her surroundings and associations, to be otherwise. But proper treatment and proper companions would soon rid her of this defect.
Both Spiller and Leveridge agreed she was fitted for the stage. But how was she to be educated? And what was the use of education while she was living in a Bedfordbury coffee house!
"She must be sent to a boarding school and be among gentlefolk," declared Gay energetically.
"Excellent," said Bolingbroke, speaking for the first time, "and may I ask who will pay for the inestimable privilege of placing her among the quality?"
The irony in St. John's voice did not go unnoticed by Gay, but he continued bravely.
"I will, if her mother won't."
"You? My good friend, you can scarce keep yourself. But 'tis like you to add to the burden of debt round your neck rather than reduce it. Have you been left a fortune? Have your dead South Sea Shares come back to life?"
"Nay, Bolingbroke, don't remind me of my folly," rejoined Gay, a little piqued. "We can't always be wise. Thou thyself—but let that pass, the future is the foundation of hope. Before long I shall be in funds. The 'Fables' will be in the booksellers' hands ere the month is out."
"Oh, that's well. But the booksellers, though eager enough to sell their wares, are not so ready to pay the writer his due. Moreover if I know anything of John Gay, of a certainty all the money he puts in his pocket will go out of the hole at the other end."
"I know—I know," rejoined the poet hastily. "But I'm not thinking alone of the booksellers. It is a 'place' I shall have and an annual income that will sweep away all my anxieties."
"Then you're in favour with the Princess and her obedient servant Sir Robert—or is Walpole her master? What will the Dean of St. Patrick and Mr. Pope say to your surrender?"
"No, no. I will never write a word in praise of either. There's not a word in the 'Fables' that can be twisted into bolstering up the Government."
"And you think to receive your comfortable 'place' out of pure admiration of your poetical gifts? My poor Gay!"
"Well, well, you must go your own way or you wouldn't be a poet. I leave you to your commendable work of rescuing damsels in distress."
And after refreshing himself with a pinch of snuff Bolingbroke with a wave of the hand to Gay and his friends strode from the room leaving the poet with his pleasant face somewhat overcast.
But his chagrin did not last long. His natural buoyancy asserted itself and he beckoned to Lavinia who was sitting primly on the edge of the hard chair, her folded hands resting on her lap. Before she could cross the room Spiller and Leveridge took up Bolingbroke's argument, and urged Gay not to meddle further in the matter.
"Nay, why should I not? It would be a shame and a pity that so much good talent should be wasted on the groundlings of St. Giles. Besides, there is the girl herself," Gay lowered his voice. "You wouldn't have her be like Sally Salisbury, Jemmy, would you? She has a good and innocent nature. It will be torn to tatters if she be not looked after now. No. Neither you nor Dick Leveridge will talk me out of my intent. Do you see what misguided youth may easily come to? Look at your friend Vane."
Gay pointed to the sleeping young man.
"I know—I know. The young fool," returned Spiller a little angrily. "Wine is Lancelot Vane's only weakness—well, not the only one, any pretty face turns his head."
"He's not the worse for that provided a good heart goes with the pretty face."
"Look after him then. When he awakens from his drunken fit he'll be like clay in the hands of the potters."
"Faith, you're right, Mr. Gay, but there's one thing that'll protect him—his empty purse. I doubt if he has a stiver left. I know he drew some money from the Craftsman yesterday."
"What, does he write for that scurrilous, venomous print?" cried Gay, visibly disturbed.
"Not of his own will. He hates the paper and he hates Amherst, who owns it. But what is a man to do when poverty knocks at the door?"
"That may be. Still—I wish he had nothing to do with that abusive fellow, Nicholas Amherst, who calls himself 'Caleb D'Anvers,' why I know not, unless he's ashamed of the name his father gave him. Do you know that the Craftsman is always attacking my friends, Mr. Pope, Dr. Swift, Dr. Arbuthnot? As for myself—but that's no matter."
"Oh, Amherst's a gadfly, no doubt. But your friends can take care of themselves. For every blow they get they can if it so pleases them, give two in return."
"That's true, and I'll say nothing more. I wish your friend well rid of the rascally D'Anvers. Look after him, Jemmy. Come Polly—let us to your mother."
Both Spiller and Leveridge saw that Gay was not to be turned from his resolution to help the girl, and presently she and her new found friend were threading their way through a network of courts and alleys finally emerging into the squalid thoroughfare between New Street and Chandos Street.
The dirt and the poverty-stricken aspect of the locality did not deter the poet from his intention. Bedfordbury was not worse than St. Giles. The girl led him to a shabby coffee shop from the interior of which issued a hot and sickly air.
"That's mother," she whispered when they were in the doorway.
A buxom woman not too neatly dressed, whose apron bore traces of miscellaneous kitchen work, scowled when her eyes lighted on her daughter.
"So you've come home, you lazy good-for-nothing hussy," she screamed. "Where have you been? You don't care how hard I have to work so long as you can go a pleasuring. There's plenty for you to do here. Set about washing these plates if you don't want a trouncing."
Mrs. Fenton was in a vile temper and Gay's heart somewhat failed at the sight of her. Then he glanced at the girl and her frightened face gave him courage.
"Madame," said he advancing with a polite bow, "I should like with your permission to have a few words with you in private. My business here concerns your daughter in whom I take an interest."
"Oh, and who may you be?" asked the woman ungraciously.
"My name is Gay—John Gay—but I'll tell you more when we're alone."
He cast a look around at the rough Covent Garden porters with which the place was fairly full. One of the boxes was empty and Mrs. Fenton pointed to it, at the same time ordering her daughter to go into the kitchen and make herself useful. Then she flopped down opposite Gay, separated from him by a table marked by innumerable rings left by coffee mugs.
Gay put forward his ideas and painted a glorious future for Lavinia. Her mother did not seem particularly impressed. It was doubtful indeed if she believed him.
"You'll find the wench a handful. She's been no good to me. I'd as lieve let her go her own way as keep her. A young 'oman with a pretty face hasn't got no need to trouble about getting a living. Sooner or later she'll give me the slip—but—well—if you takes her and makes a lady of her what do I get out of it?"
This was a view of the matter which had not occurred to the poet. He felt decidedly embarrassed. His project appeared to be more costly than he had at first imagined.
"It is for the benefit of your daughter," he stammered.
"Her benefit, indeed. Fiddle-de-dee! Your own you mean. I know what men are. If she was an ugly slut you wouldn't take no notice of her. Don't talk rubbish. What are you a going to give me for saying, yes. That's business, mister. Come, how much?"
The poet saw there was no other way but talking business. This embarrassed him still more for he was the last man qualified to act in such a capacity.
"I'll see what I can do," said he nervously, "but you mustn't forget that Lavinia will have to be quite two years at school, and there is her music master——"
"Oh I dare say," rejoined the lady scoffingly, "and the mantle maker, and the milliner, and the glover, and the hairdresser. That's your affair, not mine. Name a round sum and I'll try to meet you. What d'ye say?"
"Would five guineas——?"
"What!" shrieked Lavinia's mother. "And you call yourself a gentleman?"
"The sum I admit is a small one, but as you seemed anxious to get your daughter off your hands I thought I was doing you a service by putting the girl in a way to earn a good living."
"I dare say. I'm not to be taken in like that. Fine words butter no parsnips. While Lavinia's in the house I'll go bail I'll make her work. If she goes away I've got to pay someone in her place, haven't I? Twenty guineas is the very lowest I'll take, and if you was anything like the gentleman you look you'd make it double."
The haggling over such a matter and the coarse mercenary nature of the woman jarred upon the poet's sensitive soul. The plain fact that he hadn't got twenty guineas in the world could not be gainsaid. But he had rich friends. If he could only interest them in this protegee of his something might be done. And there were the "Fables."
"Twenty guineas," he repeated. "Well, I'll do my best. In two days' time, Mrs. Fenton, I will come and see you and most likely all will be settled to your satisfaction."
"Two days. Aye. No longer or maybe my price'll go up."
"I shall not fail. Now, Mrs. Fenton, before I go I'd like to see Lavinia once more."
"No, this business is between you an' me, mister. The hussy's naught to do with it. She'll have to behave herself while she's with me. That's all I have to say about her."
So Gay rose and walked out of the box feeling as though he'd been through a severe drubbing. He might have been sufficiently disheartened to shatter his castle in the air had he not seen Lavinia's big sorrowful eyes fixed upon him from the kitchen. He dared not disobey her mother's behest not to speak to her so he tried to smile encouragingly, and to intimate by his expression that all was going well. Whether he succeeded in so doing he was by no means sure.
On leaving the coffee house Gay walked towards Charing Cross and thence along the Haymarket to Piccadilly. His destination was Queensberry House to the north of Burlington Gardens. Here lived Gay's good friends the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, and indeed Gay himself, save when he was at Twickenham with Pope.
At dinner that evening Gay broached the subject of the phenomenal singer whom he had discovered in the streets of St. Giles and his scheme concerning her. The duke laughed at the poet's visions, but the duchess was fascinated. Anything of the unusual at once appealed to the warmhearted, impulsive, somewhat eccentric, lady. Her enthusiasm where she was interested always carried her away, and her impatience and energy would not let her rest until her object was accomplished.
"I would vastly like to hear Mr. Gay's pretty nightingale. You must bring her to-morrow. I am dying to see if she is really the wonder you pretend she is. You know that the best judge of a woman is another woman. A man is apt to be partial."
"And a woman to be prejudiced," said Gay smilingly.
"Faith, Kitty," laughed the duke, "our poet has thee there."
"I deny it. But we will discuss the question after we've seen the paragon. When shall she come?"
Gay for once was shrewd.
"Not until we've settled with the mother. She's a harpy. If she knows that your grace has anything to do with the affair she'll double her price."
"Why, our Gay is teaching us something," said the Duke banteringly. "He is giving us a lesson in financial economy. Duchess, you must keep your eye on the next post vacant in the Exchequer."
"Pish!" retorted her grace. "Mr. Gay is only exercising commonsense. We all of us have a little of that commodity. If we could only have it handy when it's wanted how much better the world would be."
Neither of the men disputed the lady's proposition, and the duchess rising, left them to their wine.
Armed with the twenty guineas, Gay presented himself the following day at the Bedfordbury coffee house. Mrs. Fenton was still ungracious, but the sight of the little pile of gold and the chink of the coins mollified her humour.
"Where and when are you going to take her?" she demanded.
Gay had arranged a plan with the duchess and he replied promptly.
"She will stay here for a few days while her wardrobe is being got ready, then she is to go to Miss Pinwell's boarding school in Queen Square."
"Carry me out and bury me decent," ejaculated Mrs. Fenton. "Then I'm to be the mother of a fine lady, am I?"
"I don't say that, but a clever one if I'm not mistaken."
"Clever! Oh la! Much good will her cleverness do her. Clever! Aye in always having a crowd o' sparks a dangling after her. That Miss What's-her-name in Queen Square'll have to get up early to best Lavinia when there's a man about."
"A mother shouldn't say such ill-natured things of her own child," said Gay reprovingly. "She's hardly a woman yet."
"But she knows as much. Well, you've got your bargain. Make your best of it. What about her clothes? She's but a rag-bag though it's no fault o' mine. Pray who's going to buy her gowns, her hats, her petticoats, her laces and frills. You?"
"I? Bless me! no, woman. I know nothing about such things," rejoined Gay colouring slightly. "I will send a woman who understands the business."
"It's all one to me. Maybe you'd better tell your tale to Lavinia with your own lips. I've done with her."
"By all means. I should like to see her."
Mrs. Fenton, whose eyes all the while had been gloating over the gold on the table now swept it into her pocket. It was a windfall which had come at the right moment. She was tired of Bedfordbury. She aimed at a step higher. There was a coffee house business in the Old Bailey going cheap, the twenty pounds would enable her to buy it.
As for her daughter, she had no scruple about letting her go with a man who was quite a stranger. The girl's future didn't trouble her. Since Lavinia had entered her teens, mother and daughter had wrangled incessantly. Lavinia was amiable enough, but constant snubbing had roused a spirit which guided her according to her moods. Sometimes she was full of defiance, at others she would run out of the house, and ramble about the streets until she was dead tired.
Lavinia was shrewd enough to discover why her mother did not want her at home. Mrs. Fenton, still good-looking, was not averse to flirting with the more presentable of her customers, and as Lavinia developed into womanhood she became a serious rival to her mother, so on the whole, Gay's proposition suited Mrs. Fenton admirably, and she certainly never bothered to find out if he spoke the truth. She was not inclined to accept his story of the boarding school as a stepping-stone to the stage, but to pretend to believe it in a way quieted what little conscience she possessed. If the scheme turned out badly, why, no one could say she was to blame.
Lavinia, tremulous with excitement and looking prettier than ever, came into the room where the poet was awaiting her. Her face fell when Gay talked about the boarding school and of the possibility of her having to remain there a long time, but she brightened up on his going on to say that the period might be considerably shortened if she made a rapid improvement.
"And do you really think, sir, I shall ever be good enough to act in a theatre like Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Oldfield, and—oh, and Mrs. Bracegurdle?" cried the girl, her eyes blazing with anxious ambition.
"I don't say you'll act like them. You'll act in your own way, and if you work hard your own way will be good enough. If you succeed the friends who are now helping you will be more than rewarded."
"Ah, I will do anything to please you, sir."
She caught his hand and impulsively raised it to her lips.
Gay was a little embarrassed at this outburst. Did it mean that the girl had fallen in love with him? He checked the rising thought. Yet there was nothing outrageous in such a possibility. Lavinia was only sixteen, it is true, and romantic sixteen might see nothing incongruous in thirty-seven, which was Gay's age.
"What pleases me, child, doesn't matter," he returned hastily. "I want to see you please others—in the play house I mean."
She looked at him wistfully.
"But," he continued, "it will be time enough to talk of that when I see how you get on. Now is it all settled? You're leaving this place and your mother of your own free will—isn't that so?"
Lavinia said nothing, but pinched her lips and nodded her head vigorously. The action was sufficiently expressive and Gay was satisfied.
Three days went by. Her Grace of Queensberry's maid, a hard-faced Scotswoman who was not to be intimidated nor betrayed into confidences, superintended Lavinia's shopping and turned a deaf ear to Mrs. Fenton's scoffs and innuendoes.
The girl was transformed. Her new gowns, hats, aprons, and what not sent her into high spirits and she bade her mother adieu with a light heart.
"Go your own way, you ungrateful minx," was Mrs. Fenton's parting shot, "and when you're tired of your fine gentleman or he's tired of you, don't think you're coming back here 'cause I won't have you."
Lavinia smiled triumphantly and tripped into the hackney coach that was awaiting her.
"OH, MISTRESS MINE, WHERE ART THOU ROAMING?"
"Lavina! Have done!"
It was a whispered entreaty. The victim of the feather of a quill pen tickling her neck dared not raise her voice. Miss Pinwell, the proprietress of the extremely genteel seminary for young ladies, Queen Square—quite an aristocratic retreat some two hundred years ago—was pacing the school-room. Her cold, sharp eyes roamed over the shapely heads—black, golden, brown, auburn, flaxen—of some thirty girls—eager to detect any sign of levity and prompt to inflict summary punishment.
"Miss Fenton, why are you not working?" came the inquiry sharply from Miss Pinwell's thin lips.
Lavinia Fenton withdrew the instrument of torture and Priscilla Coupland's neck was left in peace. It was done so swiftly that Miss Pinwell's glance, keen as it was, never detected the movement. But the lady had her suspicions nevertheless, and she marched with the erectness of a grenadier to where Lavinia Fenton sat with her eyes fixed upon her copy book, apparently absorbed in inscribing over and over again the moral maxim at the top of the page, and, it may be hoped, engrafting it on her mind.
The young lady's industry did not deceive Miss Pinwell. Lavinia Fenton was the black sheep—lamb perhaps is a more fitting word, she was but seventeen—of the school. But somehow her peccadilloes were always forgiven. She had a smile against which severity—even Miss Pinwell's—was powerless.
"What were you doing just now when you were not writing?"
The head was slowly raised. The wealth of wavy brown hair fell back from the broad smooth brow. The large limpid imploring eyes looked straight, without a trace of guilt in them, at the thin-faced schoolmistress. The beautiful mouth, the upper lip of which with its corners slightly upturned was delightfully suggestive of a smile, quivered slightly but not with fear, rather with suppressed amusement.
"Nothing madam," was the demure reply.
"Nothing? I don't believe you. Your hand was not on your book. Where was it?"
"Oh, that. Yes, a wasp was flying near us. I thought it was going to settle on Priscilla Coupland's neck and I brushed it away with my pen."
Miss Pinwell could say nothing to this, especially as she distinctly heard at that moment the hum of some winged insect. It was a wasp, a real one, not the insect of Lavinia's fervid imagination. The windows were open and it had found its way in from Lamb's Conduit Fields, at a happy moment allying itself with Lavinia.
Others heard it as well and sprang to their feet shrieking. The chance of escaping from tiresome moral maxims was too good to be lost.
"Young ladies——" commanded Miss Pinwell, but she could get no further. Her voice was lost in the din. The lady no more loved wasps than did her pupils. She retreated as the wasp advanced. The intruder ranged itself on the side of the girls and circled towards their instructress with malevolence in every turn and vicious intent in its buzz.
The only one not afraid was Lavinia Fenton who, waving a pocket handkerchief met the foe bravely but without success. The enemy refused to turn tail. Other girls plucking up courage joined the champion and soon the school-room was in a hubbub. Probably the army of hoydenish maidens were not anxious the conflict should cease—it was far more entertaining than maxims, arithmetic and working texts on samples—and Miss Pinwell seeing this, summoned Bridget, the brawny housemaid, who with a canvas apron finally caught and squashed the rash intruder.
It was sometime before the excitement died down, and meanwhile Lavinia Fenton's remissness of conduct was forgotten—indeed her intrepidity singled her out for praise, which she received with becoming graciousness.
But before the day was out she relapsed into her bad ways. She could or would do nothing right. Miss Pinwell chided her for carelessness, she retorted saucily. As discipline had to be maintained she was at last condemned to an hour with the backboard and there she sat in a corner of the room on a high legged chair with a small and extremely uncomfortable oval seat made still more uncomfortable by it sloping slightly forward. As for the back, it was high and narrow. It afforded no rest for the spine. The delinquent was compelled to sit perfectly upright. Thus it was at the same time an instrument of correction and of deportment.
Whatever bodily defects the early Georgian damsels possessed they certainly had straight backs and level shoulders. The backboard was admirable training for the carriage of the stately sacque, the graceful flirting of the fan and for the dancing of the grave and dignified minuet.
The day was nearing its end. The hour for retiring was early, and at dusk the head of each bedroom took her candle from the hall table and after a low curtsy to the mistress of the establishment preceded those who slept in the same room up the broad staircase. The maidens' behaviour was highly decorous until they were safe in their respective bed-chambers, when their tongues were unloosed.
Oddly enough Lavinia, who was usually full of chatter, had to-night little to say. Her schoolmates rallied her on her silent tongue.
"Oh, don't bother me, Priscilla," she exclaimed pettishly. "I suppose I can do as I like when Miss Pinwell isn't looking."
"My dear, you generally do that when she is. I never saw such favouritism. I declare it's not fair. You were terribly tormenting all day. Anybody but you would have been sent to bed and kept on bread and water. What's the matter with you, miss?"
"Nothing. I'm tired, that's all."
"First time in your life then. You were lively enough this afternoon when you nearly got me into a scrape trying to make me laugh with your tickling. It was as much as I could do to keep from screaming," exclaimed Priscilla angrily.
"Well, you can do your screaming now if it pleases you, so long as it doesn't bring Miss Pinwell upstairs. Let me alone. I'm thinking about something."
"Some one, my dear, you mean," put in a tall fair girl, Grace Armitage by name. "Confess now, isn't it the new curate at St. George's? He seemed to have no eyes for any one but you last Sunday evening. How cruel to disturb the poor man's thoughts."
"Console yourself, Grace dear—you're never likely to do that."
The girls tittered at Lavinia's repartee. All knew that Grace Armitage was the vainest of the vain and believed every man who cast his eyes in her direction was in love with her. She went white with anger. But she was slow witted. She had no sarcastic rejoinder ready and if she had it was doubtful if she would have uttered it. Lavinia Fenton, the soul of sweetness and amiability, could show resolute fight when roused. Miss Armitage turned away with a disdainful toss of her head.
The others knew this too, for they ceased to irritate Lavinia and continued their talk among themselves. All the same, the principal topic was Lavinia Fenton. She was so strangely unlike herself to-night.
Half an hour later the room was in silence save for the whispering between the occupants of those beds sufficiently close to each other to permit this luxury. When the neighbouring clock of St. George's, Bloomsbury, chimed half-past nine even these subdued sounds had ceased.
At half-past ten the moon was at the full. The pale light streamed through the small window panes and threw the shadows of the broad framework lattice-wise on Lavinia's bed which was next the window. In daylight she had but to lie on her right side and she could see across the fields and the rising ground each side of the Fleet river to the villages of Islington and Hornsey.
Gradually the latticed shadow crept upwards. It at last reached Lavinia's face. She was not asleep. Her eyes very wide open were staring at the ceiling with a vague, wistful expression. She gave a long sigh, her body twisted, and leaning on her right elbow, her left hand insinuated itself beneath the pillow and drew forth a letter which she held in the moonlight and read. Her forehead puckered as though she were in doubt. Her steadfast eyes seemed to contradict the smile curving her upper lip. The paper slipped from her limp fingers and she pondered, her colour deepening the while. Nothing short of a love letter could have caused that delightful blush. What she read was this:—
"MY DEAREST LITTLE CHARMER,—
"My soul is full of expectancy. I can think of nothing but you—the divinest being that ever tortured the heart of man. But the torture is exquisite because I know when I fold you in my arms it will change to bliss. You will keep your promise and meet me at the 'Conduit Head' to-morrow midnight, will you not? I can scarce contain myself with thinking of it. If you come not what remains for me but death? Without you life is worthless. Come. My coach will be in readiness and the parson waiting for us at the Fleet.
"When we are married, as I've told you, my family cannot refuse to receive my wife, but until we are made one they will do all they can to keep us apart. My father insists upon my marrying a rich city madam, but I'll none of her. I will only have you, my beauteous Lavinia. I swear to you by all the gods that you shall be back at school before dawn, as on the night of the dance when I first saw my adorable divinity. No one will know but us two. It will be a delicious secret. After I have seen you safely to Queen Square and have parted from my dearest—it will be misery to bid thee adieu—I shall ride post haste to my father and tell him everything. He will at first be angry, but he will relent when he sees your loveliness. We shall be forgiven and Heaven will be ours.
"Panting with impatience, ever your most devoted humble servant,
Present taste would pronounce this effusion to be extravagant, rhapsodical, high-flown, super-sentimental, but it did not read so to Lavinia. It was in the fashion of the times—indeed it approached nearer modern ideas than the majority of love letters of that day which generally began with "Madam" without any endearing prefix. Lavinia liked it none the less because it was not so formal as the letters which some girls had shown her in all pride and secrecy.
But it troubled her all the same.
"I wonder if I really—really love him," she mused. "I suppose I do or I shouldn't be continually thinking about him. But to be married—oh, that's a different thing. Perhaps he'd want to live in the country. That would be horribly dull, especially if he had to come to London often. He hopes to be a great lawyer some day he says. I don't think I'd like him in a wig and gown and white bands. He would look so horribly old. Oh, but I wouldn't let him have his rooms in the Temple after we're married. He'll have to burn his musty old books. He won't need them. His father's very rich. He's told me so hundreds of times."
A half dozen times would have been nearer the mark and this would probably represent the number of their meetings, once at a ball at Sadler's Wells Gardens and afterwards at stolen opportunities which the ingenious Lavinia contrived to bring about.
To tell the honest truth, Lavinia's gallant Archibald Dorrimore, the young Templar, served only to amuse the young lady. She was not blind to the fact that he was a fop and not blessed with too much brain. She had seen many of his sort before and did not trust them. But Dorrimore struck her as more sincere than the rest. Besides, he was very good looking.
Lavinia couldn't help having admirers. Nature should not have endowed her with such alluring, innocent looking eyes, with so sweet a mouth. She had always had some infatuated young man hovering about her even when she was her mother's drudge at the coffee house in Bedfordbury. Perhaps she inherited flirting from that buxom, good-looking mother who had the reputation of knowing her way quite well where a man was concerned.
"Archibald Dorrimore will be Sir Archibald some day," she mused. "It would be rare to be called her ladyship. I can hear the footman saying: 'Your coach is waiting, my lady.' Lady Dorrimore—how well it sounds! Archibald loves me...."
May be this conviction settled the matter. The girl slid out of bed and dressed herself hurriedly, though eleven o'clock had only just struck and she had plenty of time. Perhaps she thought that if she hesitated any longer she might alter her mind and not be married after all.
Despite her haste she was not neglectful of herself. Now and again she glanced at the little mirror over which the girls squabbled daily, smoothed her rebellious hair and settled the Nithsdale hood of her cloak coquettishly. Then she noiselessly crept from the room, flitted down the staircase and was at the hall door shooting back its heavy bolts—fortunately always kept well greased—and lifting the massive chain which stretched across the centre. Street doors were well guarded and ground floor windows barred in those days, and not without reason.
The moon was still shining brightly and Lavinia drew her hood closer over her face, though there was little need, for the fields were deserted. She turned to the east, keeping in the shadow, slight as it was, of the school garden wall. When the "Conduit Head" at the top of Red Lion Street (the northern end now known as Lamb's Conduit Street) was reached she paused and her heart went pit-a-pat. If Dorrimore should not be there!
She stopped, overcome by sudden scruples. In a flash her life at the school, its monotony and discipline, the irksomeness of regular work, rose before her! She had been some months at Miss Pinwell's establishment and her restless soul pined for a change. Though she looked back to her vagabond life in the streets with a shudder, she yearned for its freedom, but without its degradations.
The step she was about to take, so she persuaded herself, meant freedom, but it also meant ingratitude towards Gay and the duchess. For the latter's opinion she did not care much. The imperious manner of her grace was not to her taste. But Mr. Gay—that was a different thing. She looked upon Gay as a father—of her own father she had but a shadowy recollection—though sometimes she thought she detected in him signs of a warmer affection than that which a father usually bestows on a daughter. She did not want this. She liked his visits. She was glad to have his praise. She laughed when he persisted in calling her Polly—why she knew not—but she was sure she could never endure his making love to her.
In her heart of hearts she was afraid of this. The dread had much to do with her encouragement of Dorrimore. Of course if she married it would mean an estrangement between her and Gay and his powerful friends, and most likely the end of her ambition to be a great actress. Her mind had long been torn, and at the eleventh hour when she was on her way to meet her fate in Dorrimore she still hesitated. If she really loved Dorrimore there would have been no hesitation. But she had never met any man who did more than flatter her and gratify the pleasure she felt at being admired.
Her decision was in the balance. The weight of a feather would turn the scale one way or another. The feather came in the shape of Dorrimore himself. There he was in three cornered hat and cloak, his powdered wig white in the moonlight, pacing up and down, his hand resting on his sword hilt. He caught sight of the shrinking figure in the shadow and the hat was doffed in a profound bow. Undoubtedly a good looking young man, but as undoubtedly a fop of the first water with his ruffles and bosom of Mechlin lace, red heels to his shoes, gold clocks on his silk stockings and the whiff of scent which heralded his coming.
When near enough his arm went round her and he drew back her hood. He kissed her closely, so closely indeed that his ardour almost frightened her, though she knew not why. He withdrew his lips and gazed into her face, his own paling under the violence of his passion.
"Dearest Lavinia," he murmured. "You are the loveliest creature in the world and I protest I am the luckiest of men. Have you no words of love for me? Why so silent?"
She had not uttered a word. The rise and fall of her bosom showed her agitation.
"I'm here. I'm here. Isn't that enough?" she faltered.
"Faith you're right, sweetheart. Then let us waste no time. My coach is yonder."
He slid her arm within his and drew her forward. He was not unconscious of a certain reluctance in her movements and a shyness in her manner, but he put both down to maiden modesty. Her restraint made her all the more enchanting and he quickened his pace. She was compelled to accommodate her steps to his, but she did so unwillingly. A sudden distrust whether of him or of herself she could not quite determine—had seized her. She was repenting her rashness. She would have run from him back to the school but that he held her too tightly. Within another minute they had reached the heavy lumbering coach.
The coachman had seen them coming and descended from his box to open the door. He was a big fellow who held himself erect like a soldier. His swarthy complexion had a patch of purplish bloom spreading itself over the cheek bones which told of constant tavern lounging. A pair of hawk's eyes gleamed from under bushy beetling brows; wide loose lips and a truculent, pugnacious lower jaw completed the picture of a ruffian.
Lavinia glanced at him and that glance was enough, it deepened her distrust into repugnance. But she had no time to protest. She was hurried into the coach, Dorrimore in fact lifting her inside bodily with unnecessary violence for she was almost thrown into a corner of the back seat. Dorrimore followed, turned, shut the door and almost immediately the carriage moved. The coachman must have sprung to his box with the quickness of a harlequin. The whip cracked and the horses broke into a gallop.
"IF WE'RE NOT TO BE MARRIED TELL ME"
The rattle of the wheels over the loose, roughly laid cobble stones, and the swaying carriage hung on leathers, forbade talking. Lavinia heard her companion's voice but she did not know what he was saying. Not that it mattered for she was in too much of a flutter to heed anything but her own emotions, and these were so confused that they told her little.
Then Dorrimore's arm stole round her waist. Well, this was not unnatural. Would they not be soon man and wife? The puzzle was that she had no feeling of response. She would rather that he did not embrace her. She did not want to be noticed. Yet she could not find it in her heart to be unkind, so she allowed him to draw her nearer, to let her head droop on his shoulder. She tried to think it was pleasant to be so loved and she lowered her eyelashes when he kissed her again and again.
Two or three minutes of oblivion. The coach had raced down Red Lion Street. It was in Holborn going eastwards and here the din and clatter were heightened by the shouts of drunken roisterers. The overhanging houses cast deep shadows and the coach was travelling in the gloom. It was past midnight and the lamps hung at every tenth house were extinguished. This was the rule.
Then Lavinia became conscious that the carriage was going down hill. It had passed Fetter Lane into which it should have turned and was proceeding towards Holborn Bridge. Why was this? Fetter Lane led into Fleet Street and so to the Fleet. Had the coachman misunderstood his instructions? She wrenched herself free and looked out of the window. She recognised St. Andrew's Church in Holborn Valley. She turned swiftly and faced Dorrimore. The coach had crossed the bridge and had commenced the steep ascent of Holborn Hill on the other side. The horses had slackened their pace. The noise was less loud.
"You said we were going to the Fleet, but we're not. Where are you taking me?"
"Don't trouble about such a trifle, darling little one," he cried gaily. "Aren't you with me? What more do you want? Come, kiss me. Let us forget everything but our two selves."
He would have embraced her but she repulsed him angrily.
"No. If you've altered your mind—if we're not to be married tell me so, and I'll leave you to yourself," she cried agitatedly.
"Leave me? And d'you think I'll let you go when you're looking handsomer than ever? Faith, what d'you take me for? You dear fluttering little Venus. Why, you're trembling? But hang me, it must be with joy as I am."
Both his arms were round her. She struggled to free herself; pushed his face away and panting, strove to reach the window, but he was strong and prevented her.
"I'll go no further with you," she cried. "Set me down at once or I'll scream for help."
"You pretty little fool. Much help you'll get here. Oh, you shall look if you want to, but your wings must be clipped first."
He gripped both her wrists and held them fast. Her frightened eyes glanced through the window. She heard a confused thud of hoofs, now and again the deep bellowing of cattle, in the distance dogs barking, drivers yelling. She could see horned heads moving up and down. The coach was now moving very slowly. It was surrounded by a drove of bullocks from the Essex marshes going to Smithfield.
"You see?" laughed Dorrimore. "D'you suppose I would set you down to be tossed and gored by vulgar cattle. Why the sight of your red ribands would send them mad, as it's nearly sent me."
"I don't care. I'd rather be with them than with you. I hate you," she screamed with tears in her voice.
"Really? I'll warrant your hate'll turn to love before we part," he jeered. "I'm not going to see you come to harm, so I shall hold your pretty wrists tightly. How round and slender they are! So, you're my prisoner."
"I'm not and I won't be."
Somehow she dragged her right wrist away and dealt him a smart blow on his cheek.
"You would fight, would you? What a little spitfire it is! No matter. I love you all the better. For every smart you give me you shall be repaid with a dozen kisses. If that isn't returning good for evil may I never handle a dice box again. There, do as you like. Lay your white hand again on my face. The bigger debt you run up the better."
Despite his banter he was very savage and he flung her hands from him. She at once laid hold of the strap to open the window. He burst into a loud laugh.
"So the bird would escape," said he mockingly. "I thought as much."
She tugged at the strap but tugged in vain. The window refused to budge. Then it flashed across her mind that it was all part of a plan. She was to be trapped. The story of a Fleet marriage was a concoction to bait the trap. She flung herself in the corner, turned her back upon her captor and pulled her hood over her face.
She knew that for the time being she was helpless. What was the good of wasting her strength in struggles, her spirit in remonstrance and be laughed at for her pains? So she sat sullenly and turned a deaf ear to Dorrimore's triumphant endearments.
That wrestle with the window strap had done one thing. It had told her where she was. Lavinia knew her London well. Her rambles as a child had not been confined to Charing Cross and St. Giles. She had often wandered down to London Bridge. She loved the bustling life on the river; she delighted in gazing into the shop windows of the quaint houses on the bridge which to her youthful imagination seemed to be nodding at each other, for so close were some that their projecting upper storeys nearly touched.
She decided in that confused glance of hers through the window that the coach was nearing the extreme end of the Poultry. She recognised the Poultry Compter with its grim entrance and wondered whether the coach would go straight on to Cornhill and then turn northward towards Finsbury Fields, or southward to London Bridge.
For the moment all she thought of was her destination, and when she was able without attracting her companion's, attention again to peep out of the window she saw the coach was at the foot of London Bridge. The driver had been compelled to walk his horses, so narrow and so dark was the passage way.
The nightbirds of London were on their rambles looking out for prey; the bridge was thronged. The people for the most part were half drunk—they were the scourings from the low taverns in the Southwark Mint. Lavinia had been revolving a plan of escape, but to launch herself among an unruly mob ready for any devilry might be worse than remaining where she was. But in spite of all that she did not cease to think about her plan and watched for an opportunity when the worst of the rabble should have passed.
Suddenly the coach came to a standstill. Shouts and oaths—more of the latter than the former—were heard, and Dorrimore after fretting and fuming lowered the window on his side and put out his head.
"What the devil's hindering you?" he demanded angrily, of the coachman.
"That monstrously clumsy waggon; the stubborn knave of a waggoner has gotten the middle of the road and there he sticks. He'll draw neither to the left or the right. I've a mind to get down and baste the surly bumpkin's hide."
"Don't be a fool. Keep where you are. We must wait. Speak him fair."
Two things struck Lavinia. One was the open window. Evidently Dorrimore had thought it only necessary to secure one window—that on the side where she was sitting. If she were on the opposite side how easy to slip her hand through the opening and turn the handle of the door. But this was impossible. She could not hope to succeed.
The other thing which fixed itself in her mind was the familiar tone of the coachman towards Dorrimore. It was more that of an equal than of a menial. This impression confirmed her suspicion that she was trapped. Dorrimore had doubtless enlisted the services of a confidential friend rather than trust to a servant whose blabbing tongue might serve to betray him.
Meanwhile Dorrimore's head was still out of the window. He was calling to the waggoner and offering him a crown to pull his horses and load to one side, but it was no easy task to move the gigantic lumbering wain with its tilt as big as a haystack and its wheels a foot thick. Lavinia had her eyes fixed at the window on her side, intent on watching a little group of persons who were curious to see the result of the deadlock. They were quietly disposed apparently.
Swiftly she bent down, slipped off one of her high heeled shoes and straightened her body. The next moment there was the crash of broken glass. She had struck the window with the heel of her shoe and had thrust her hand through the jagged hole, turned the handle, opened the door and had jumped out. Dorrimore, intent upon parleying with the waggoner, had either not heard the smash or had attributed the cause to anything but the real one.
The group were startled by the flying figure. In her haste and agitation she had stumbled on alighting and would have fallen but for a man who caught her.
"S'death madam, are you hurt?" she heard him say.
"No, no. For Heaven's sake don't stay me. I'm in great danger. I'm running from an enemy. Oh, let me go—let me go!"
"But you're wounded. See."
Blood was on her arm. A drop or two had fallen on the man's ruffles. She had cut herself in her wild thrust through the jagged hole in the door.
"It's nothing," she breathed. "Oh, if you've any pity don't keep me."
The man made no reply. He whipped out his handkerchief, tied it round the cut and holding her arm tightly, forced a way through the crowd towards the Southwark side of the bridge.
He might have got her away unobserved had it not been for Dorrimore's coachman. The fellow uttered a yell and leaving his horses to take care of themselves leaped from the box.
"A guinea to any one who stops that woman," he shouted.
Lavinia and her companion had nearly reached the obstructive waggon. A dozen persons or so were between them and the yelling coachman. If they succeeded in passing the waggon there might be a chance of escaping in the darkness. But the onlookers crowding between the obstruction and the shops—there were in those days no pavements—were too much interested in what was going on to move, and the two found themselves wedged in a greasy, ragged mob.
Then came a rush from behind by those eager to earn a guinea and things became worse. The girl, helped by the young man—she had seen enough of him to know that he was both young and good-looking—urged her way through the crowd, and those in front, seeing she looked like a gentlewoman and knowing nothing of the guinea offered for her capture stood back and she passed through. At that moment she felt her companion's grasp relax. Then his fingers slipped from her arm. Some one had struck him.
"Run to the stairs and take a boat," he whispered. "Perhaps you haven't any money. Here's my purse," and he pushed it into her hand.
"No, I won't have it," she faltered.
"You must. Quick! Fly!"
"But what of you?"
"I shall stay here, face the mob and give you time to get away."
She would have refused. She would have remained with her champion, but the swaying mob ordered otherwise. She found herself separated from him and carried onward whether she would or not. She was terribly frightened and knew not what to do. Hoarse shouts pursued her; she heard the sound of blows. Somehow no one seemed to notice her. Probably the fighting was more to their taste. Suddenly she found herself alone. The archway called the Traitors' Gate which then formed the entrance to the bridge from the Surrey side was behind her. Crowds were pouring through the Gate eager to see what the rumpus was about or to take part in it on the chance of plunder, and they did not heed the shrinking figure in the deep doorway of a house close to the bridge.
Lavinia was torn with anxiety. The young man whose purse she was holding tightly—how was he faring? She could not help him by staying. Dorrimore and Dorrimore's coachman with the guinea he had offered for her capture had to be thought of. Her danger was by no means over. The roadway was comparatively clear. Now was her chance if she was ever to have one. She stole from the doorway; the stairs leading to the river were close at hand and down these she sped.
The tide was at low ebb. She was standing on the shingle. But she looked in vain for a waterman. There were plenty of boats on the river, most of them loaded with merry parties returning from Spring Gardens, Vauxhall, and no boats were plying for hire. She dared not ascend to the Borough. Bullies and thieves abounded in the southern approaches to the bridge. She crept down to one of the abutments of the bridge and tremulously listened to the turmoil going on above.
Meanwhile the man who had come to her rescue was being hardly pressed. He was surrounded by a mob led by Dorrimore's coachman. It was not the leader who had struck the blow which made him lose his hold of Lavinia's arm, but one of the mob for no motive other than a love for brutality. The coachman had forced his way to the front a minute or so afterwards. Almost at the same time a stone hit Lavinia's champion in the cheek, cutting it and drawing blood.
"Cowards!" he shouted. "If you're for fighting at least fight fair. Who did that?" and he laid his hand on the hilt of his sword.
"At your service, sir. Give me the credit of it. Captain Jeremy Rofflash isn't the man to let the chance of a little pretty sword play go by."
The speaker was the man who acted as Dorrimore's coachman. He was every inch a braggadocio. There were many such who had been with Marlborough and had returned to their native country to earn their living by their wits and by hiring out their swords.
The fellow who called himself Jeremy Rofflash had not time to draw his sword; the fist of the man he had thought to frighten had shot out swift as an arrow, catching him between the eyes and tumbling him backwards.
At the sight of the young gallant's spirit a number of the mob instantly ranged themselves on his side. Others came on like infuriated animals on the off chance of Captain Jeremy Rofflash rewarding them for their services.
"You'd better show these ruffians a clean pair of heels," whispered a friendly voice in the young man's ear. "To Winchester Stairs—now's your chance before yonder bully's on his feet."
It was good advice and Lancelot Vane, the young man, budding poet and playwright, who had found himself involved in a dangerous squabble, which might mean his death, over a girl whom he had only seen for a few minutes, had the sense to take it. But it was no easy task to extricate himself. A burly ruffian was approaching him with arm uplifted and whirling a bludgeon. Vane caught the fellow a blow in the waist and he immediately collapsed. Before the prostrate man could get his wind, Vane darted through the Traitors' Gate and racing towards the Borough with a score or so of the rabble after him, darted into the first opening he came to.
"MANY A MAN WOULD GIVE A HANDFUL OF GUINEAS FOR A KISS FROM SALLY SALISBURY"
The fugitive found himself in a narrow ill-smelling, vilely paved alley to the east of the Borough. Tall, ugly, dirty houses bordered it on each side, a thick greasy mud covered the uneven stones. Dimly he was conscious of the sound of a window being opened here and there, of hoarse shouts and shrill screams, of shadowy beings who doubtless were men and women but who were more like ghosts than creatures of flesh and blood.
But no one molested him. This might be explained by the fact that those who saw him running took him to be some criminal fleeing from justice to take sanctuary in the Southwark slums, an impression quite sufficient to ensure their sympathy. At least, this was what at first happened. Afterwards the mob took it into their heads to pursue him and for no particular reason save devilry.
The seething crowd poured into the narrow alley. Like a hunted deer the young man ran up one court and down another, stumbling now and again half from exhaustion and half from the greasy mud covered stones. He could hear his pursuers coming nearer and nearer, but his strength was gone. He dragged himself a few steps further and staggered into a doorway, sinking on the steps in an almost fainting condition.
The next moment the door behind him opened, a hand gripped his shoulder and a woman's voice whispered:—
"Come inside. Make haste before you're seen."
The young man raised his head. He was dimly conscious of a handsome face, of a pair of bold eyes staring into his.
"Come. Why are you waiting? Do you want to be murdered?" she cried imperiously.
He struggled to his feet and she dragged him into the passage and closed the door. Scarcely had she done so when the clatter of feet and a confused sound of voices told that his pursuers were approaching. Had they tracked him to the house? The point was at once settled by a loud hammering at the door.
The woman half turned her head and cast a scornful look over her shoulder.
"Knock away, you devils. You won't break those panels in a hurry. For all that, the place isn't safe for you, Mr. Vane."
"What, you know me?"
She laughed. Her laughter was loud rather than musical.
"Haven't I seen you with many a merry party at Spring Gardens? Don't you remember that mad night when one of your friends was full of wine? Didn't I cut off the end of his periwig and throw it to the mob to be scrambled for?"
Lancelot Vane's pale face flushed slightly. He hadn't a very precise recollection of what had happened on that night of frolic and revelry. Like the rest he had had his bottle or two. The full blooded handsome woman whom nothing abashed, who could take her liquor like a man, whose beauty fired the souls of the gallants hovering about her wrangling for her smiles, was part of the confused picture that had remained in his memory. He had some vague remembrance of having kissed her or that she had kissed him—it didn't matter which it was, nothing mattered very much when the wine was in and the wit was out.
Yet now when both were sober and her round, plump arm was round his shoulders on the plea of supporting him he felt embarrassed, ashamed.
"I thank you, madam, for your help," he said hurriedly. "But I won't bring trouble upon you. Those rascals are still clamouring for my blood—why I know not—and if they once burst into the house you'll suffer."
"They won't frighten me, but I wouldn't have you come to harm. There's a way of escape. I'll show it you."
With her arm still round him though there was no necessity for his strength was gradually returning, she led him up the first flight—some half dozen steps—of a narrow staircase to a small window which she threw open.
"That's the Black Ditch. It leads to the river and is fairly dry now that the tide is out. You can easily find your way to Tooley Street."
"Thanks—thanks," he murmured.
He clambered on to the window sill and gradually lowered himself. While his head, slightly thrown back, was above the sill she bent down swiftly and kissed him full on the lips.
"Many a man would give a handful of guineas for a kiss from Sally Salisbury. You shall have one for nothing. It mayn't bring you luck, but what of that?"
He let go his hold, alighted safely on his feet and ran along the ditch, every nerve quivering in a tumult of emotion, and with Sally Salisbury's strident, reckless laugh ringing in his ears.
Sally leaned her elbows on the sill and craning her head watched the receding figure of the young man. Then she straightened her body and walked leisurely from the room into one at the front of the house on the first floor. The hammering at the entrance door had never ceased. She threw open the window and looked down upon the swaying crowd.
"What do you want?" she called out.
"The man you're hiding," was the reply in a hoarse voice.
"You lie. There's no man here."
"No man where Mistress Sally Salisbury is? Ho-ho!"
She knew the voice. It was that of Captain Jeremy Rofflash.
Seizing a lamp Sally Salisbury ran down the stairs and opened the door. Holding the lamp high over her head the light fell with striking effect upon her luxuriant yellow hair clustering down upon a neck and shoulders that Juno might have envied. The resemblance did not stop here. Juno in anger could have found her double in Sally Salisbury at that moment. Evidently the visitor was unwelcome.
"What does this silly masquerade mean?" she demanded, her eyes roaming over the coachman's livery in high displeasure. "Have you turned over a new leaf and gone into honest service?"
"Honest service be damned! Honesty doesn't belong to me or to you either, Sally. Where's the man I'm looking for? I twigged the fellow just as you shut the door upon him."
"Did you? Then you're welcome to go on looking."
He strode in, muttering oaths. When the door was closed he turned upon her.
"Hang me, Sally, if I know what your game is in sheltering this spark. Anyhow you wouldn't do it if you didn't see your way to some coin out of him."
"I don't, so shut up your sauce."
"More fool you then. Look here, Sal. I've got hold of a cull or I shouldn't be in this lackey's coat. The fool's bursting with gold and he wants someone to help him to spend it. I'll be hanged if there's another woman in London like you for that fun. Now's your chance. He's sweet on a wench—a raw boarding school miss—he ran off with her an hour or so ago. The little fool thought she was going to be married by a Fleet parson, but somehow she took fright and jumped out of the coach on London Bridge. How the devil she did it beats me, though to be sure when one of your sex makes up her mind to anything she'll do it and damme, I believe Beelzebub helps her. Now then——"
"What's this gabble to do with me?" broke in Sally, disdainfully.
"Wait a minute. The wench had a friend in the crowd—a man who got her away—damn him. I jumped from the coach and we had a set to. See this?"
Scowling ferociously Rofflash pointed to a lump beneath his eye which promised to become a beautiful mouse on the morrow.
"The jackanapes got me on the hop; my foot slipped and s'life, I was down. But for that I'd ha' spitted him like a partridge. By the time I was on my legs the mob were after him. I joined in the hue and cry and we ran him down to your house. Now then, where's his hiding hole? It'll mean a matter o' twenty guineas in your pocket to give him up."
"Blood money! I don't earn my living that way. You could have spared your breath, Rofflash. The man's not here. I'll show you how he escaped. Come this way."
Sally led the fellow to the window overlooking the Black Ditch and told him the story.
"Are you bamboozling me, you jade?" growled Rofflash. "It would be like you."
"I daresay it would if it were worth my while but it isn't. Look for yourself. Can't you see the deep foot-prints in the mud?"
The waning moon gave sufficient light to show the black slimy surface of the ditch. An irregularly shaped hole immediately below the window showed where Vane had alighted. Footprints distinct enough indicated the direction taken.
"If you're not satisfied search the house."
"I'll take your word. Who's your friend? You wouldn't lift your little finger to save a stranger."
"Who's the girl?" Sally parried in a flash. "What's she like?"
Rofflash had sharp wits. Cunning was part of his trade.
"Ho ho," he thought. "Sits the wind in that quarter? I'll steer accordingly."
"The girl? As tempting as Venus and a good deal livelier, I'll swear. 'Faith, she's one worth fighting for. I'll do her gallant justice. If he's as handy with his blade as he is with his fists he'll be a pretty swordsman. He'll need all he knows, though," added Rofflash darkly, "when I meet him."
"Yes, when!" echoed Sally sarcastically. "You'll get no help from me."
"What! Sally Salisbury handing over the man she fancies to another woman? Is the world coming to an end?"
Rofflash burst into a jeering laugh. It irritated Sally beyond endurance as he intended it should. But it did not provoke the reply he hoped for.
"Mind your own business," she snapped.
"Why, that's what I'm doing and my business is yours. But if you're fool enough to chuck away a handful of guineas, why do it. All I can say is that my man would give you anything you like to ask if you'd open your mouth and tell him where your man is."
"Then I won't. That's my answer, Jeremy Rofflash. Put it in your pipe and smoke it."
Rofflash made her a profound bow and smiled mockingly.
"Have your own way, mistress. What about this? Something more in your line, I'll warrant."
He thrust his hand beneath the upper part of his long flapped waistcoat and drew out a necklace. The pearls of which it was composed were suffused with a pinkish tinge, the massive gold clasp gleamed in the lamplight. Sally's eyes flashed momentarily and then became scornful.
"I'm not going to be bribed by that either," she cried.
"Wait till you're asked, my dear. This is my business alone. It has nought to do with t'other. A week ago these pearls were round the fair neck of my Lady Wendover. I encountered her in her coach on the Bath Road near Maidenhead Thicket—my favourite trysting place with foolish dames who travel with their trinkets and fal-lals. At the sight of my barkers her ladyship screamed and fainted. This made things as easy as an old glove. Click! and the necklace was in my pocket and I was galloping back to Hounslow as if Old Nick himself was behind me."
"Well, and what have your highway robberies to do with me?"
"Just this, pretty one. My Lord Wendover's offered L1,000 reward for the return of her Ladyship's jewels. I dursn't hand 'em about. I've no fancy for the hangman's rope. But you can get rid of them and no one be the wiser."
It was true. Sally had been very useful to Rofflash in disposing of some of the trophies of his exploits on the Bath Road. The highwayman never grumbled at whatever commission she chose to take and the arrangement was to their mutual advantage.
Sally took the pearls and stroked their smooth surfaces lovingly.
"It's a shame to part with 'em."
"Aye, they'd look brave on your neck, sweetheart."
"No. I'm as loth to travel to Tyburn as you. Every fine woman of quality knows the Wendover pearls. I'd be marked at the first ridotto or masquerade I showed my face in. I'll do my best to turn 'em into money."
"You're a jewel yourself, Sally. That's all I want. Adieu, mistress, and good luck go with you."
Rofflash swaggered out and as he made his way to the bridge he pondered deeply over the mystery of woman. Here was Sally Salisbury, a "flaunting extravagant quean," always over head and ears in debt, refusing a chance to put money in her purse just because she had a fancy for a man who maybe was as poor as a church mouse. Yet, as regarded men generally, Sally was a daughter of the horseleech!
"Humph," muttered Rofflash, "so much the better. The end on't is I pocket Dorrimore's gold and no sharing out. If Sally likes to be a fool 'tis her affair and not mine. I've only got to keep my eye on her. What a woman like her wants she'll get, even if it costs her her life. Sooner or later, madam, you'll find your way to the fellow's lodgings, and it'll go hard if I'm not on the spot too."
By the time Rofflash was at the bridge the obstructing waggon had been got out of the way. Dorrimore's coach was drawn to one side and Dorrimore himself was striding impatiently up and down, occasionally refreshing himself with a pinch of snuff and indulging in oaths more or less elegant.
"Where the devil have you been, Rofflash?" he cried, testily. "And where the devil's the girl?"
"She'll be safe in your hands shortly, Mr. Archibald, never fear."
"What, have you got her?"
"Not quite, but almost as good. The spark whose arms she jumped into is her gallant, you may lay your life, and——"
"By thunder, if that's so I'll—I'll run him through, I will, by God!"
"Softly—softly. All in good time. By a bit of luck I came across a friend who knows him and has engaged to run him to earth. It only means a few guineas and I made free to promise him a purse. Within a week you'll be face to face with your rival and you'll have your revenge."
"To the devil with my revenge. It's the girl I want, you blundering idiot."
"And it's the girl you shall have, by gad. Can't you see, my good sir, that when you clap your hands on the fellow you clap your hands on the girl too?"
"S'life! Do you mean to say she's with him?"
"I'd go to a thousand deaths on that."
"I'll not believe it. The girl's a pretty fool or I shouldn't have made her sweet on me with so little trouble, but she's not that sort."
"If she isn't, all I can say is that St. Giles and Drury Lane are the places where innocent and unsuspecting maids are to be found. Ask Sally Salisbury."
"Damn Sally Salisbury," cried the fine gentleman in a fury. "D'ye think I don't know gold from dross? I'll take my oath no man had touched the lips of that coy little wench before mine did."
"By all means keep to that belief, sir. It won't do you no harm. Now if you'll take my advice you'll let me drive you to Moll King's and you'll finish the night like a man of mettle and a gentleman."
Dorrimore was in a morose and sullen mood. He wanted bracing up and he adopted Rofflash's suggestion. The coach rattled to Mrs. King's notorious tavern in Covent Garden, where thieves and scoundrels, the very dregs of London, mingled with their betters; and amid a bestial uproar, with the assistance of claret and Burgundy, to say nothing of port "laced" with brandy on the one hand, and gin and porter on the other, all differences in stations were forgotten and gentlemen and footpads were on a level—dead drunk.
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
A London night in the first quarter of the eighteenth century had very little rest. Until long past midnight a noisy, lawless, drunken rabble made the streets hideous. It was quite three o'clock, when as physiologists tell us the vital forces are at their lowest, before it could be said that the city was asleep. And that sleep did not last long. Soon the creaking of market cart and waggon wheels, the shouts of drovers and waggoners, tramping horses, bellowing cattle and bleating sheep would dispel the stillness and proclaim the beginning of another day.
Business in the approaches to the markets was in full swing before four o'clock. Carters and waggoners were thirsty and hungry souls and the eating houses and saloop stalls were thronged. The Old Bailey, from its nearness to Smithfield was crowded, and the buxom proprietress of Fenton's coffee house was hard put to it to serve her clamorous customers and to see that she wasn't cheated or robbed.
Mrs. Fenton had improved in appearance as well as in circumstances since she had come from Bedfordbury to the Old Bailey. She was a good-looking woman of the fleshly type, with a bosom such as Rowlandson loved to depict. She was high coloured, her eyes were deep blue, full and without a trace of softness. Her lips were red and well shaped, her teeth white and even. She was on the shady side of forty, but looked ten years younger. Her customers admired her and loved to exchange a little coarse badinage in which the good woman more than held her own.
There was a Mr. Fenton somewhere in the world, but his wife was quite indifferent to his existence. He might be in the West Indian plantations or the hulks for what she cared. She had always gone her own way and meant to do so to the end of her days.
Apparently she was not in the best of tempers this morning. A drover who attempted to jest with her was unmercifully snubbed, and so also was a master butcher from Marylebone, who as a rule was received with favour. But the lady was not in an ill temper with everybody—certainly not with the stolid farmer-like man who was plodding his way through a rumpsteak washed down by small beer.
The coffee shop was divided into boxes and the farmer-like man was seated in one near the door which opened into the kitchen. Mrs. Fenton had constantly to pass in and out and his seat was conveniently placed so as to permit her to bestow a smile upon him as she went by or to exchange a hurried word.
"The mistress is a bit sweet in that quarter, eh?" whispered a customer with a jerk of the head and a wink to Hannah the waitress, whom Mrs. Fenton had brought with her from Bedfordbury.
"I should just think she was," returned the girl contemptuously. "It makes one sick. She ought to be a done with sweetheartin'."
"A woman's never too old for that, my girl, as you'll find when you're her age. She might do worse. Dobson's got a tidy little purse put by. There aren't many in the market as does better than him. He's brought up twenty head o' cattle from his farm at Romford an' he'll sell 'em all afore night—money down on the nail, mind ye. That'll buy Mistress Fenton a few fallals if she's a mind for 'em."
"An' if she's fool enough. Why, he isn't much more than half her years and she with a grown up daughter too."
"Aye. May be the gal 'ud be more a match for Dobson than her mother."
"Don't you let my mistress hear you say that. Why she's that jealous of Lavinia she could bite the girl's head off. My! Well I never!"
Hannah started visibly and fixed her eyes on the entrance.
"What's the matter, wench?" growled the man.
"I don't believe in ghosts," returned the girl, paling a little and her hands trembling in a fashion which rather belied her words, "or I'd say as I'd just seen Miss Lavinia's sperrit look in at the door. If it isn't her ghost it's her double."
"Why don't you run outside and settle your mind?"
"'Cause it's impossible it could be her. The girl's at boarding school."
"What's that got to do with it? You go and see."
Hannah hesitated, but at last plucked up her courage and went to the door. She saw close to the wall some few yards away a somewhat draggle-tail figure in cloak and hood. Within the hood was Lavinia's face, though one would hardly recognise it as hers, so white, so drawn, were the cheeks.
"Saints alive, surely it isn't you, Miss Lavvy?" cried Hannah, clasping her hands as she ran to the fugitive.
"Indeed it is, worse luck. I'm in sad straits, Hannah. I wouldn't have come here—I know what mother is—but I couldn't think what to do."
"But good lord—the school—mercy on us child, they haven't turned you out, have they?"
"No, but they will if I go back. I dursn't do that. I couldn't get in. I've been robbed of the key. It was inside my reticule that a rogue snatched from my wrist on London Bridge."
"London Bridge! Gracious! What mischief took 'ee there and at this time o' the mornin'?"
"I don't know," sighed the girl, half wearily, half pettishly. "I can't tell you. Don't bother me any more. I'm tired to death. Take me inside Hannah, or I'll drop. I suppose mother'll be in a fury when she sees me, but it can't be helped. I don't think I care. It's nothing to do with her."
Hannah forebore pestering the girl with more questions and led her to the open door. The waitress had been with Mrs. Fenton in the squalid days of six months before at the Bedfordbury coffee shop and she well knew how Lavinia was constantly getting into a scrape, not from viciousness, but from pure recklessness and love of excitement. Her mother's treatment of her "to cure her of her ways," as the lady put it, was simply brutal.
Hannah was not a little afraid of what would happen when Mrs. Fenton set eyes on her wilful daughter. At the same time, Lavinia was not the same girl who at Bedfordbury used to run wild, half clad and half starved, and yet never looked like a beggar, so pretty and so attractive was she. Six months had developed her into a woman and the training of Miss Pinwell, the pink of gentility, had given her the modish airs of a lady of quality. True, her appearance just now had little of this "quality," her walk being in fact somewhat limping and one-sided. But there was good reason for this defect. She had lost one of her high-heeled shoes, that with which she had battered the coach window.
In spite of her protest of not caring, Lavinia's heart went pit-a-pat when she entered the hot, frowsy, greasy air of the coffee house. Customers were clamouring to be served and there was no Hannah to wait upon them. Mrs. Fenton, her eyes flashing fire, was bustling up and down between the rows of boxes and denouncing the truant waitress in vigorous Billingsgate.
Mrs. Fenton had her back turned to the door when Hannah entered with Lavinia and the two were half way down the gangway before the lady noticed them. At the sight of her daughter she dropped the dish of eggs and bacon she was about to deposit in front of a customer and stared aghast.
Every eye was turned upon Lavinia who, shaking herself free from Hannah's friendly support, hastened towards her astonished mother, anxious to avoid a scene under which in her shattered nerves she might break down.
"Devil fetch me," Mrs. Fenton ejaculated before she had recovered from the shock. "Why, you hussy——"
Lavinia did not wait to hear more. She brushed past her mother and then her strength failing her for a moment, she clutched the back of the last box to steady herself.
This box was that in which Dobson, the young cattle dealer was seated. Dobson was human. He fell instantly under the spell of those limpid, imploring eyes, the tremulous lips, and he rose and proffered his seat.
The act of courtesy was unfortunate. It accentuated Mrs. Fenton's rage. Her heart was torn by jealousy. That Lavinia had shaken her head and refused the seat made not the slightest difference. The girl had become surpassingly handsome. Despite her fury Mrs. Fenton had eyes for this. Her own daughter had attracted the notice of her man! The offence was unpardonable.
Lavinia knew nothing about this. All she wanted was to escape observation and she darted into the kitchen, Betty the cook receiving her with open mouth.
A narrow, ricketty staircase in a corner of the kitchen shut in by a door which a stranger would take for that of a cupboard led to the upper part of the house. Lavinia guessed as much. She darted to this door, flung it open and ran up the creaking stairs just as her mother, shaking with passion, entered and caught sight of her flying skirt.
"Good laux, mistress," Betty was beginning, but she could get no further. Mrs. Fenton jumped down her throat.
"Hold your silly tongue. Don't talk to me. I—the smelling salts! Quick, you slut, or I'll faint," screamed the lady.
No one could look less like fainting than did Mrs. Fenton, and so Betty thought, but she kept her thoughts to herself and fetched the restorer at which her mistress vigorously sniffed, after sinking, seemingly prostrate, into a chair. Then she fell to fanning her hot face with her apron, now and again relieving her feelings with language quite appropriate to the neighbourhood of the Old Bailey.
Meanwhile Hannah wisely kept aloof and only went to the kitchen when necessary to execute her customers' orders. Directly the fainting lady inside saw the waitress she revived.
"What's this about Lavinia? Tell me. Everything mind," she cried.
"What I don't know I can't tell, mistress. Ask her yourself," returned Hannah.
"Don't try to bamboozle me. You do know."
"I say I don't. I found her outside more dead than alive, and I brought her in. I wasn't going to let her be and all the scum of Newgate about."
"Oh, that was it. And pray how did you come to learn she was outside?"
"Because she'd looked in at the door a minute afore and was afeared to come in 'cause of you, mistress. Give me that dish o' bacon, Betty. The man who saw his breakfast tumbling on the floor is in a sad pother."
This was a shot for Mrs. Fenton. Hannah rarely sought to have words with her mistress, but when she did she stood up to her boldly. Mrs. Fenton was discomfited and Hannah, snatching the dish Betty handed to her, vanished to appease the hungry customer, leaving the angry woman to chew over her wrath as best she might.
Mrs. Fenton gradually cooled down. In half an hour's time the market would be in full swing and most of her customers would be gone. Though she was dying to know what had brought her daughter home, the story would not spoil by keeping. Besides, though she was in a pet with Dobson, she did not want to give him offence and she tried to make amends for her angry outburst by bestowing upon him extra graciousness.