M. E. (Mary Elizabeth) Braddon.

In high places online

. (page 1 of 30)
Online LibraryM. E. (Mary Elizabeth) BraddonIn high places → online text (page 1 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


¥^



Lismy

UNIVERSITY Of CALIFORNM
RIVERSIDE



IN HIGH PLACES



lit

In High Places

By M. E. BRADDON, Author of
" London Pride," etc., etc.



IS



London: HUTCHINSON £s? CO.

Taternoster l^ow, E.C.
1898



M4rvr



Printed by Hazeil, Watson, £r> Vincy, Ld., London and Aylesbury.



CONTENTS



I. FELLOW TRAVELLERS

II. WAS THIS A ROMAN SPIRIT ? .

in. A FRIENDLY GENTLEMAN .

IV. FROM CHILDHOOD TO MANHOOD

V. FAIR FACES AND NOBLE HEARTS



VL "to win HER PRAISE "



VII. ' PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES



VIII. " SO RUNS THE WORLD AWAY "



IX. "ah! BITTER sweet"



X. the woman s reign



XI. SPLENDID PATRONAGE



XII. DANGER FOR SOMEBODY



XIII. TO PREVENT MURDER



XIV, TAKEN BY STORM



XV. NOT TO BE BOUGHT



PAGE
I

i6

23
34
50
68
80

93
no

130

152

172
191
217

233



VI



Contents



CHAP.

XVI. EBBS AND FLOWS OF FORTUNE

XVII. FOR A woman's SAKE

XVIII. BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH



XIX. "like a STAR FIXED "



XX. A RETROSPECT



EPILOGUE



PAGE
. 286



IN HIGH PLACES



CHAPTER I.

FELLOW TRAVELLERS.



A SHORT, thick-set man, with a dark complexion and
a gloomy countenance, came slowly through the mists
of a summer dawn, on the Portsmouth Road, a few
miles west of Godalming.

The man walked wearily, like one who had walked
far ; and indeed the gait and manner of the wayfarer,
the weather-stains upon his cloth jerkin, the dust
and dew upon his boots, suggested that he had
been tramping all through the summer night. The
sun was creeping up behind Leith Hill as he left
Godalming and trudged along the great high-road
between wide wastes of marsh and common. A long
stretch of wild, uninhabited land lay between him and
the great hill of Hindhead ; but he hoped to pass the
Devil's Punch Bowl before noon.

Every door in Godalming had been inhospitably shut
against him — even the doors of the inn, where coach
and post-horses stopped. The High Street had not
yet opened door or window to the morning freshness ;
not a single smoke-wreath rose in the grey air ; and
even at the forge, wont to be early astir, there was no
glow of fire, or clinking of metal upon metal.

He was dead beat, and could not even wait till the

I



2 Sn Ibiab places

dew was off the grass before he threw his weary limbs
down to rest ; but he looked about him for a hillock
where the ground was driest, and, having made his
choice, sank in a heap, with his back against a furze
bush, flinging his oaken staff aside as he sat.

The stout oak sapling struck something alive, some-
thing that gave a shrill cry of pain, at which John
Felton started to his feet, and looked into the bush
behind him.

A small boy — a mere child — lifted himself slowly
from the furze as Felton rose, and looked at him
piteously.

"Why did you hit me, sir?" he asked. "Indeed I
was doing no ill, and I have no other place to sleep in."

" I hit thee by mischance, child, not evil intention.
Are you so poor ? Have you neither father nor mother,
home nor shelter ? "

" No, sir, I have nobody. Daddy is dead of the fever,
and Mammy has gone away with the baby, and bade
me walk to the farmers' houses, and ask them to let me
mind their cattle. But there was none that would let
me ; and some called me a beggar, and gave me a clout
on the head ; and one kind woman gave me some bread
and meat ; but they all told me I was too little ; and
they all bade me begone."

" What is your name ? "

" Jarge."

" Jarge ! Do you mean George ? " cried Felton, with
a start, all his face hardening, and the light of an angry
resolve kindling in his tired eyes.

" Yes, sir. It's all as one. Mammy called me Jarge
— the gentleman that came to see me sometimes called
me George — like you do."

He was a pretty boy. His clothes hung about him
in rags. He had not started shoeless on his quest of
fortune, but his shoes were worn with walking over
rough ground, and his feet were cruelly scratched and
blistered. He could not tell his age when questioned.
For his size he might have been six or seven years old,
but for intelligence might pass for eight or nine. He



Ifellow XTravellers 3

had fine features, strongly marked for so young a face,
yet delicate. His hair was dishevelled and dusty, but
he had washed his face in a running stream over-night,
and had waded for a mile to cool and cleanse his feet.
He was cleaner than most urchins of his age would
have been under such adverse conditions.

" Are you hungry ? " Felton asked abruptly.

"Yes, sir. It was the day before yesterday that the
woman gave me some bread and bacon."

" And thou hast fasted forty-eight hours, belike.
Well, I'll share a crust with you. Yes, I have that
much charity," he added slowly, as he opened the
wallet, and gave the lad a hunch of bread. His left
hand was crippled by an old wound, and he used it with
a feeble clumsiness. " I'll share a crust with you ! " he
repeated, in his sullen, muttering voice, "though your
name is George."

" Is it a wicked name, sir? "

" It belongs to the wickedest man in England ; but
it's a good augury, perhaps, that the only creature I've
spoken to since I left London should bear his name.
George ! Are you telling truth, boy ? Is that verily
your name ? "

" Verily and indeed, sir. But I have another name.
You may see the first letter of it on my breast, if you
can read letters."

The little lad pulled open his ragged shirt, and Felton
saw the letter V tattooed on his breast.

It was not the first time he had seen such marks ; for
he might have remembered a certain hairy-breasted
sailor on the voyage to Cadiz, tattooed with sun, moon,
and stars, crown and anchor, and the initials of more
than one sweetheart's name : but to-day, to Felton's
over-heated brain, the Viper-sign on the boy's tender
flesh seemed to smack of sorcery, the black magic which
that arrogant upstart the Countess of Buckingham, the
mother of the man he hated, was said to practise. By
what lesser art, in sooth, could she have brought her
son to rule the hearts of two kings to the perdition of
the kingdom ?



4 5n fblQb places

" Why, this is Satan's work ! " he cried, gripping the
boy's skinny shoulder with his strong right hand, throw-
ing him upon his back among the furze, and glaring
down at him with eyes that threatened murder. " And
you are one of his imps ! This is devilry ! And the
voice that has been in my ears is Satan's lure, and
not God's bidding. Is it the devil? Do you come
from hell, you starving whelp? Are you but weak,
hungry, footsore human flesh ; or are you an imp of the
Prince of Darkness, that doth but simulate distress,
and could spread dragon's wings and fly away — or vanish
in a flash of fire, did thy master call thee, and leave but
the stench of brimstone in this furze-bush? Art thou
natural and mortal ; or aerial and Satanic ? "

The boy's tears and look of childish terror were
assuredly as true to nature as any human expression
could be. But the devil and his imps, when they act
a part, must needs act better than mortal players ;
and Felton, seeing that Viper-brand, the initial of a
name which an angry fire had burnt deep into his brain,
began to believe himself the dupe of Satan.

An inspiration had come to him, tossing on a sleep-
less bed, in his lonely lodging, but a few nights ago.
A resolve, desperate, deadly, fatal to himself and others,
had slowly shaped itself in his fevered brain. Sug-
gestions, which he had believed to come from on High,
had been breathed into his mind. A mission had been
given to him, as pure in its unselfish purpose as the
impulse which guided the sword of Judith, or nerved
the hand of Jael.

But now on a sudden he began to question the source
of that inspiration — whether from Heaven or hell ; since
here, in this appearance of an accursed initial upon the
boy's flesh, there seemed evidence of demoniac influences.
It was surely witchcraft, if not the handiwork of Satan.

Yes, there must at least be witchcraft in it ! This
whimpering wretch might be human, a shivering, scared
little mortal, weeping real tears ; but that initial which
seemed to grow under the skin, a dark, ineradicable stain,
had been written there by one of hell's agents, inscribed



jfellow ^Travellers 5

there for a purpose, and that the ruin of his, John
Felton's, soul.

" Oh, sir, don't kill me ! Sure I have done no ill ! "

" Who put Villiers' initial on your breast, and when ? "
the man asked fiercely.

" It was the snowy winter when I dursn't go into the
fields, and the starlings came in at the window, and
pecked my supper out of my hand," prattled the boy,
" and Mammy's brother, the sailor, came from Ports-
mouth — and then the strange gentleman came, a-horse-
back, and he could scarce get through the snow, and he
saw the letters on Mammy's brother's breast, and bade
him mark mine with a V. — ' which stands for a viper or
a villain,' says he. Mammy's brother hurt me a-doing
it, but I was brave and did not cry — and the strange
gentleman gave me a crown-piece. Mammy used to
kiss the mark sometimes when she put me to bed, but
that was before the baby came — and when I had my
velvet coat — but afterwards she was not so kind. And
then Daddy died of the fever — and wicked men came
and drove us out of the house, and off the farm, and
Mammy told me I was a beggar, and she was a beggar,
and the baby too, and we must needs starve, unless folks
would give us food. But there was only one woman
who gave me some bacon and some bread, the day
before yesterday."

" Was there never a witch came to your mother's
house ? " Felton asked, looking up out of a deep
abstraction in which he had heard no syllable of the
child's discourse.

" No, sir. There was a witch lived in the lane on
the Guildford Road, but Mother would never have let
her cross our doorstep. Daddy and I used to call after
her when we saw her gathering sticks on the common ;
but we was all afeared of her at night, when it was dark.
Mammy said she would come in at the window if I was
an ill boy, and fly away with me. We saw her steal a
stake out of a hedge one evening, and carry it home
with her, and Daddy told me she wanted it to ride about
upon, after dark, in the sky. But belike she burnt the



6 5n IbiGb places

stick, to boil her kettle, for I never saw her in the sky,"
he added reflectively, " though I've often looked out of
the window to see. It was a very little window, and
there was an owl in the ivy that used to frighten me,
and I used to bump my head against the ceiling, for
the roof was so low I could touch it with my hand as I
lay abed."

The intelligent voice went prattling on, pouring its
little confidences into unheeding ears. Felton had
gnawed his crust with a ravenous impatience, forcing
his dry throat to swallow that untempting food ; and
now he was sitting with his elbows on his knees, and
his chin in his hands, brooding upon the tragic mission
that lay before him, and upon the wrongs which lay
behind.

Fortune had used him badly ; fortune and that man
who for the last ten years had ruled Fortune, who had
made fair weather and foul for the common herd, such
as this poverty-stricken foot-soldier with his maimed
hand, cheated of promotion, starving discontentedly
upon a lieutenant's scanty pay.

Bad luck had been his companion through life — bad
luck which perhaps may have been another name for
bad temper. He had not conciliated friends or wooed
fortune, being of a saturnian nature, given to much
brooding upon small injuries, at war with life. He
was a man of good birth — of the blood of the
Arundels — and good education, who felt that the world
owed him something — a man of truth and honour, the
" honest Jack " of the barrack-room ; but an unlucky
quarrel with Sir Henry Hungate on the Cadiz voyage
had blasted his fortunes ; for Hungate was the
Favourite's favourite, and to be ill with Hungate was to
be in the Duke's bad books.

Twice had he applied for the command of a company,
while last year's expedition for the relief of Rochelle
was on foot, and he had been twice refused, though well
recommended. A personal appeal to the Duke of
Buckingham, in which he pleaded that without pro-
motion he could not live, had been treated with



ifellow tTravellers 7

contempt ; and he had to idle and starve in England,
while men he deemed his inferiors were favoured.

The fatal result of that ill-advised siege of St. Martin,
the ignominious flight from Rhe, tragical in its waste of
noble lives, had provoked a tempest of anger, scorn,
ridicule, the abuse of the envious, and the malignant
exultation of prophets who had prophesied the disasters
their envious hearts desired, George Villiers, Earl,
Marquis, Duke, Lord High Admiral and Commander-
in-Chief, Warden of the Cinque Ports, bosom friend,
chosen companion, and alleged murderer of the late
King James, trusted and idolised friend of King Charles
— George Villiers, that splendid failure, a fine gentleman
of thirty summers, entrusted with the Nation's honour
and the succour of England's Protestant allies, — stood
as the mark of every stone the meanest hands could
fling at an unsuccessful leader. All the literature in
London, or all that any Londoner cared to read, was to
be found in ballads and libels, broadsides and pamphlets,
reeking with foulest abuse of the man the King loved
and honoured.

A breast aching with private wrongs is the surest
hot-bed for indignation against a public enemy. Felton
thought that he had forgotten his own particular injuries
— that he had sunk his own petty sufferings in the
sum-total of England's shame. Where was ever deeper
shame than ours when we set out with a great show
and clamour, and cost and boasting, to succour and
support those heroes and martyrs of Rochelle — and so
miserably failed to help them — all our arrogant pledges
ending in futile endeavour, and the massacre of English
soldiers upon the sands of Rhe?

The figure of the Duke no longer haunted Felton in
daily reveries and nightly di'eams, as his personal foe.
That form had assumed a grander shape, and wore the
aspect of the public enemy, Moloch, Beelzebub, — a
destroying fiend, whose inordinate ambition, greed,
vanity, and incapacity, had brought the pride and
honour of England under the great Cardinal's velvet
shoe.



Still those martyrs of Rochelle were crying to King
Charles for help. They apologised for their importu-
nity. Starving men, they pleaded, must be pardoned if
they were too pressing. This third expedition had hung
fire since the beginning of the year, but was at last on
the eve of departure ; and again the Arch-enemy of the
English people, the gilded idol of England's King, was
to challenge failure, and was again to prove himself
useless as a bubble painted by the sun, a beautiful,
empty shape floating in sunlit air, a splendid phantasm,
unsubstantial as the breath of flatterers.

Felton had heard of the farewell masque and supper,
given at York House a few nights ago, and of the
allegory in which the Duke had appeared, followed by
Envy, with her dogs yelping round her, to symbolise
the barkings of the people ; while after these came
Truth and Fame ; a costly pageant, on which Charles
Stuart had looked complacently, and which the mob
had heard of with disgust. Neither the mob nor John
Felton knew those proud words which the Duke had
spoken to his secretary : " Gerbier, if God please, I will
go, and be the first man who shall set his foot on the
dyke before Rochelle, to die or do the work." Nor had
Felton heard of those auguries which had threatened
the Favourite — how a woman had dreamed a prophetic
dream, and a picture had fallen, and the anxious spirit
of a long-dead father had appeared to a faithful follower
of the Duke's, and had spoken words of warning, and
how Villiers had defied Fate.

" There are no Roman spirits left," he exclaimed, when
his friends talked of assassination ; and so he who was
said to have a "terrible courage" under his silken
gentleness, went with proud front on the expedition
which was to win back that empty breath he loved so
dearly, the praise of his fellow-men. Was it of his own
loss and gain he thought most, the bitterness of being
the best-abused man in England, the target for every
hired scribbler's venomed shaft, the mark of every man's
hate ; he who but three years ago, when he came home
from Madrid, flushed with having flouted the Spaniards,



jfellow Utavellers 5

had been the most popular man in England? Was it
of this so transient affection, the capricious favour of
the ignorant vulgar, he thought most, when he swore
to conquer or die? Or did he think of that city of
enduring souls, willing to perish by inches for their
religion and their liberties ? " There are no Roman
spirits left," he had said, while Felton was buying his
tenpenny knife at the cutler's on Tower Hill, or leaving
his name at the church by the Conduit in Fleet Street,
to be prayed for next Sunday, as a man disordered and
discontented in mind. "There are no Roman spirits
left ! " How should George Villiers apprehend a Roman
spirit in that dark-browed, thick-set, lieutenant of foot,
who had pestered him last year for place or pay — one
of the herd of supplicants, stiffer and less fawning than
the common type of beggar, but not otherwise to be
remembered.

A grim companion for a child of seven summers, this
dark-browed patriot, with the dagger-knife sewn in his
right-hand pocket, and all his thoughts fixed on that
knife, and the deed it was to do. But the child had
suffered the shapeless fears that haunt dark nights and
solitary places, the vague terrors of a newly awakened
mind that had been peopled with witches and demons,
and filled with the dim horrors of the unreal. The
scowling, melancholic stranger, who suffered him to run
at his side, seemed a friendly presence to little George,
as compared with that dark, bulky creature, with fiery
breath, and shining eyes, and strange, uncouth move-
ments, that had started up from behind the gorse-bushes
in the dead of night, and which was, doubtless, the foul
fiend, though it changed anon into a black horse, and
galloped away with a great noise, and vanished into
the summer fog. In the broad daylight little George
was of a bold spirit, and feared neither man nor beast ;
but at night, when fiends and witches were abroad, he
knew what it was to feel the coward's cold sweat and
fast-beating heart ; and as he thought that he would have
to wander about the country, and sleep on commons
and in woods, for the rest of his life, he was very glad



lo 3n IFMgb iplaces

to find a friend in this short, dark gentleman, whose
eyes looked at him so strangely, now and then, while
he prattled — looked, and saw him not. Sometimes at
such a moment, gazing awe-stricken at those unseeing
eyes, a sickly fear came upon the boy, lest the foul fiend
who last night took the form of a horse, might not
to-day have changed to this dark man.

But the day passed, and the traveller revealed no
demoniac instincts. He suffered the child's company,
and gave him a share of his humble meal at a roadside
inn, and, when he got a lift in a tilted waggon between
Hazlemere and Petersfield, asked leave for the stray
child to ride with him. And so, for the first time in
his life, George knew the bliss of a moving landscape,
trees and hills, streams and fields, that passed and
changed to other trees and other fields before his
wondering eyes.

Childhood lives in the present and the immediate
future ; it knows no longer interval than from sunrise
to sundown, and can scarcely grasp the notion of to-
morrow ; whereby the disappointment of to-day means
despair. This boy had known only the simplest
pleasures ; but he had not known that his life was
hard while there was porridge or rye bread for break-
fast and a mess of pottage for supper, while Daddy sang
or whistled at his plough, and while Mammy had a
smile and a hug for him.

All that little world of his childhood had vanished
into space ; the pleasant homestead, the deep chimney,
where he sat on Daddy's knee in the red light of the
burning logs, his little bed in the corner under the
sloping thatch, out of which strange insect life dropped
upon him, while the grey swallows, with soft white
breasts, twittered and chattered under the eaves, and
flashed across the open casement, darkening the sun-
light with wide-spread wings ; — that narrow world upon
which his consciousness had awakened, the smiling
meadows of early June, with a depth of buttercups, in
which he lost himself as in a golden labyrinth, the white
fogs of his first remembered autumn, when he had clung



iFeUow TTravellers n

to his Daddy in vague fear, shrinking from the mystery
of things hidden — the wonder of standing barley, taller
than himself, waving with a mighty sound in the summer
wind, and, stranger still, and how much dearer, the
wonder of newly born animals, the litter of black pigs,
the foal, the brown-and-white calf, so small and gentle
and approachable that he could hardly believe in its
relationship to the great horned cow which he ran from
in fear and trembling. The thirty-acre farm, which,
with a mile or two of high-road and a cluster of cottages,
had been his universe, the farmer and farmer's wife who
had peopled it, were gone ; and the child nestled at this
dark-browed soldier's knee, and watched the sunlit road,
and babbled with delight at the wonder of this wider
world.

" May I stay with you, and will you be my Daddy ? "
he asked his silent companion ; for this new kind of life
in the corner of a hay-scented waggon was so pleasant
that the little lad wished it might go on for ever.

" Stay with me ! " echoed Felton. " Thou poor little
devil ! To grant that would be to promise thee ruin
and a bloody grave ! "

" Will you not ride in a cart like this always ? "

" Nay : I may ride in a cart — fettered and bound —
when the iron shall enter into my flesh. I have nothing
to do with thee, thou innocent imp of Satan, that
bearest the Viper-sign on thy tender breast. Go or stay
as thou wilt, child : ride or walk with me for to-day,
and to-morrow, if thou canst ; but be on the look-out
for another friend. To-morrow night we must part
company."

The boy began to cry, with a vague sorrow, dimly
conscious of his helplessness. The landscape lost its
charm, blurred by the tears through which he saw it.
He nestled closer against Felton's knee, and sobbed
himself to sleep ; and when he woke it was night, and
the waggon had stopped. Felton was standing in the
road, and the waggoner dropped the sleepy child into
his arms, and the two sat down on a bench in front of
an ale-house, and had their supper of bread and ale in



12 5n tiigb places

the summer darkness, and then tramped on into the
deep of night, till they found a barn with an open door,
a barn as big as a church, into which they crept, and
where they lay on a heap of straw, and fell asleep to
the sound of the rats rustling and nibbling among the
corn, happily too well supplied to attack the sleepers.

They slept till late into the day, Felton worn out by
a journey in which he had spent his strength with a
prodigal rashness, so that he had been half dead when
he made his offer of a shilling to the waggoner. The
long sleep made a new man of him, and he set out in
the coolness of sundown with the boy trudging bravely
at his side, but ever on the alert for the sound of
wheels behind them, and still hopeful of another friendly
waggoner, and a ride in the starlight. Beguiled by this
hope, he almost forgot the pain of his wounded feet, and
the childish hunger which their rare meals had left
unsatisfied.

Fifty miles of Felton's journey had been accomplished
before they laid themselves down in the barn ; and now
there was the cool night before them in which to
accomplish the remaining twenty miles between them
and Portsmouth.

So far as he was capable of thinking of anything
except the deadly purpose that gave strength to his
sinews, and dyed all the world of one blood-red hue,
Felton thought, and with kindness, of the little clinging
child ; and he thought that it might be for the child's
welfare to be taken on to the busy sea-port, rather than
to be left to the scant population of the rural road, where
his chances of kindness and shelter would be of the
smallest. In the town somebody would be found to
succour him. A little human being, beautiful as a
pictured seraph, and gentle of speech, would surely meet
with kindness in a town where even a cur dog would



Online LibraryM. E. (Mary Elizabeth) BraddonIn high places → online text (page 1 of 30)