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THE GREAT HOUSE






BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE HOUSE OF THE WOLF
THE NEW RECTOR
THE STORY OF FRANCIS CLUDDE
A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE
THE MAN IN BLACK
UNDER THE RED ROBE
MY LADY ROTHA
MEMOIRS OF A MINISTER OF FRANCE
THE RED COCKADE
SHREWSBURY
THE CASTLE INN
SOPHIA
COUNT HANNIBAL
IN KINGS' BYWAYS
THE LONG NIGHT
THE ABBESS OF VLAYE
STARVECROW FARM
CHIPPINGE
LAID UP IN LAVENDER
THE WILD GEESE






THE GREAT HOUSE




BY

STANLEY J. WEYMAN

Author of "The Castle Inn," "Chippinge,"
"A Gentleman of France," etc., etc.





NEW YORK
LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.
FOURTH AVENUE AND 30th STREET
1919






Copyright, 1919
BY
STANLEY J. WEYMAN






CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I. The Hôtel Lambert - Upstairs.

II. The Hôtel Lambert - Downstairs.

III. The Lawyer Abroad.

IV. Homeward Bound.

V. The London Packet.

VI. Field and Forge.

VII. Mr. John Audley.

VIII. The Gatehouse.

IX. Old Things.

X. New Things.

XI. Tact and Temper.

XII. The Yew Walk.

XIII. Peter Pauper.

XIV. The Manchester Men.

XV. Strange Bedfellows.

XVI. The Great House at Beaudelays.

XVII. To the Rescue.

XVIII. Masks and Faces.

XIX. The Corn Law Crisis.

XX. Peter's Return.

XXI. Toft at the Butterflies.

XXII. My Lord Speaks.

XXIII. Blore Under Weaver.

XXIV. An Agent of the Old School.

XXV. Mary is Lonely.

XXVI. Missing.

XXVII. A Footstep in the Hall.

XXVIII. The News from Riddsley.

XXIX. The Audley Bible.

XXX. A Friend in Need.

XXXI. Ben Bosham.

XXXII. Mary Makes a Discovery.

XXXIII. The Meeting at the Maypole.

XXXIV. By the Canal.

XXXV. My Lord Speaks Out.

XXXVI. The Riddsley Election.

XXXVII. A Turn of the Wheel.

XXXVIII. Toft's Little Surprise.

XXXIX. The Deed of Renunciation.

XL. "Let Us Make Others Thankful."






THE GREAT HOUSE




CHAPTER I

THE HÔTEL LAMBERT - UPSTAIRS


On an evening in March in the 'forties of last century a girl looked
down on the Seine from an attic window on the Ile St. Louis. The
room behind her - or beside her, for she sat on the window-ledge, with
her back against one side of the opening and her feet against the
other - was long, whitewashed from floor to ceiling, lighted by five
gaunt windows, and as cold to the eye as charity to the recipient.
Along each side of the chamber ran ten pallet beds. A black door broke
the wall at one end, and above the door hung a crucifix. A painting of
a Station of the Cross adorned the wall at the other end. Beyond this
picture the room had no ornament; it is almost true to say that beyond
what has been named it had no furniture. One bed - the bed beside the
window at which the girl sat - was screened by a thin curtain which did
not reach the floor. This was her bed.

But in early spring no window in Paris looked on a scene more cheerful
than this window; which as from an eyrie commanded a shining reach of
the Seine bordered by the lawns and foliage of the King's Garden, and
closed by the graceful arches of the Bridge of Austerlitz. On the
water boats shot to and fro. The quays were gay with the red trousers
of soldiers and the coquettish caps of soubrettes, with students in
strange cloaks, and the twin kling wheels of yellow cabriolets. The
first swallows were hawking hither and thither above the water, and a
pleasant hum rose from the Boulevard Bourdon.

Yet the girl sighed. For it was her birthday, she was twenty this
twenty-fifth of March, and there was not a soul in the world to know
this and to wish her joy. A life of dependence, toned to the key of
the whitewashed room and the thin pallets, lay before her; and though
she had good reason to be thankful for the safety which dependence
bought, still she was only twenty, and springtime, viewed from prison
windows, beckons to its cousin, youth. She saw family groups walking
the quays, and father, mother, children, all, seen from a distance,
were happy. She saw lovers loitering in the garden or pacing to and
fro, and romance walked with every one of them; none came late, or
fell to words. She sighed more deeply; and on the sound the door
opened.

"_Hola!_" cried a shrill voice, speaking in French, fluent, but oddly
accented. "Who is here? The Princess desires that the English
Mademoiselle will descend this evening."

"Very good," the girl in the window replied pleasantly. "At the same
hour, Joséphine?"

"Why not, Mademoiselle?" A trim maid, with a plain face and the
faultless figure of a Pole, came a few steps into the room. "But you
are alone?"

"The children are walking. I stayed at home."

"To be alone? As if I did not understand that! To be alone - it is the
luxury of the rich."

The girl nodded. "None but a Pole would have thought of that," she
said.

"Ah, the crafty English Miss!" the maid retorted. "How she flatters!
Perhaps she needs a touch of the tongs to-night? Or the loan of a pair
of red-heeled shoes, worn no more than thrice by the Princess - and
with the black which is convenable for Mademoiselle, oh, so neat! Of
the _ancien régime_, absolutely!"

The other laughed. "The _ancien régime_, Joséphine - and this!" she
replied, with a gesture that embraced the room, the pallets, her own
bed. "A curled head - and this! You are truly a cabbage - - "

"But Mademoiselle descends!"

"A cabbage of - foolishness!"

"Ah, well, if I descended, you would see," the maid retorted. "I am
but the Princess's second maid, and I know nothing! But if I descended
it would not be to this dormitory I should return! Nor to the
tartines! Nor to the daughters of Poland! Trust me for that - and I
know but my prayers. While Mademoiselle, she is an artist's daughter."

"There spoke the Pole again," the girl struck in with a smile.

"The English Miss knows how to flatter," Joséphine laughed. "That is
one for the touch of the tongs," she continued, ticking them off on
her fingers. "And one for the red-heeled shoes. And - but no more! Let
me begone before I am bankrupt!" She turned about with a flirt of her
short petticoats, but paused and looked back, with her hand on the
door. "None the less, mark you well, Mademoiselle, from the whitewash
to the ceiling of Lebrun, from the dortoir of the Jeunes Filles to the
Gallery of Hercules, there are but twenty stairs, and easy, oh, so
easy to descend! If Mademoiselle instead of flattering Joséphine, the
Cracovienne, flattered some pretty gentleman - who knows? Not I! I know
but my prayers!" And with a light laugh the maid clapped to the door
and was gone.

The girl in the window had not throughout the parley changed her pose
or moved more than her head, and this was characteristic of her. For
even in her playfulness there was gravity, and a measure of stillness.
Now, left alone, she dropped her feet to the floor, turned, and knelt
on the sill with her brow pressed against the glass. The sun had set,
mists were rising from the river, the quays were gray and cold. Here
and there a lamp began to shine through the twilight. But the girl's
thoughts were no longer on the scene beneath her eyes.

"There goes the third who has been good to me," she pondered. "First
the Polish lodger who lived on the floor below, and saved me from that
woman. Then the Princess's daughter. Now Joséphine. There are still
kind people in the world - God grant that I may not forget it! But how
much better to give than to take, to be strong than to be weak, to be
the mistress and not the puppet of fortune! How much better - and, were
I a man, how easy!"

But on that there came into her remembrance one to whom it had not
been easy, one who had signally failed to master fortune, or to
grapple with circumstances. "Poor father!" she whispered.




CHAPTER II

THE HÔTEL LAMBERT - DOWNSTAIRS


When ladies were at home to their intimates in the Paris of the
'forties, they seated their guests about large round tables with a
view to that common exchange of wit and fancy which is the French
ideal. The mode crossed to England, and in many houses these round
tables, fallen to the uses of the dining-room or the nursery, may
still be seen. But when the Princess Czartoriski entertained in the
Hôtel Lambert, under the ceiling painted by Lebrun, which had looked
down on the arm-chair of Madame de Châtelet and the tabouret of
Voltaire, she was, as became a Pole, a law to herself. In that
beautiful room, softly lit by wax candles, her guests were free to
follow their bent, to fall into groups, or to admire at their ease the
Watteaus and Bouchers which the Princess's father-in-law, old Prince
Adam, had restored to their native panels.

Thanks to his taste and under her rule the gallery of Hercules
presented on this evening a scene not unworthy of its past. The
silks and satins of the old régime were indeed replaced by the
high-shouldered coats, the stocks, the pins and velvet vests of the
dandies; and Thiers beaming through his glasses, or Lamartine, though
beauty, melted by the woes of Poland, hung upon his lips, might have
been thought by some unequal to the dead. But they were now what those
had been; and the women peacocked it as of old. At any rate the effect
was good, and a guest who came late, and paused a moment on the
threshold to observe the scene, thought that he had never before done
the room full justice. Presently the Princess saw him and he went
forward. The man who was talking to her made his bow, and she pointed
with her fan to the vacant place. "Felicitations, my lord," she said.
She held out her gloved hand.

"A thousands thanks," he said, as he bent over it. "But on what,
Princess?"

"On the success of a friend. On what we have all seen in the
_Journal_. Is it not true that you have won your suit?"

"I won, yes." He shrugged his shoulders. "But what, Madame? A bare
title, an empty rent-roll."

"For shame!" she answered. "But I suppose that this is your English
phlegm. Is it not a thing to be proud of - an old title? That which
money cannot buy and the wisest would fain wear? M. Guizot, what would
he not give to be Chien de Race? Your Peel, also?"

"And your Thiers?" he returned, with a sly glance at the little man in
the shining glasses.

"He, too! But he has the passion of humanity, which is a title in
itself. Whereas you English, turning in your unending circle, one out,
one in, one in, one out, are but playing a game - marking time! You
have not a desire to go forward!"

"Surely, Princess, you forget our Reform Bill, scarce ten years old."

"Which bought off your cotton lords and your fat bourgeois, and left
the people without leaders and more helpless than before. No, my lord,
if your Russell - Lord John, do you call him? - had one jot of M.
Thiers' enthusiasm! Or your Peel - but I look for nothing there!"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I admit," he said, "that M. Thiers has an
enthusiasm beyond the ordinary."

"You do? Wonderful!"

"But," with a smile, "it is, I fancy, an enthusiasm of which the
object is - M. Thiers!"

"Ah!" she cried, fanning herself more quickly. "Now there spoke not
Mr. Audley, the attaché - he had not been so imprudent! But - how do you
call yourself now?"

"On days of ceremony," he replied, "Lord Audley of Beaudelays."

"There spoke my lord, unattached! Oh, you English, you have no
enthusiasm. You have only traditions. Poor were Poland if her fate
hung on you!"

"There are still bright spots," he said slyly. And his glance returned
to the little statesman in spectacles on whom the Princess rested the
hopes of Poland.

"No!" she cried vividly. "Don't say it again or I shall be displeased.
Turn your eyes elsewhere. There is one here about whom I wish to
consult you. Do you see the tall girl in black who is engaged with the
miniatures?"

"I saw her some time ago."

"I suppose so. You are a man. I dare say you would call her handsome?"

"I think it possible, were she not in this company. What of her,
Princess?"

"Do you notice anything beyond her looks?"

"The picture is plain - for the frame in which I see her. Is she one of
the staff of your school?"

"Yes, but with an air - - "

"Certainly - an air!" He nodded.

"Well, she is a countrywoman of yours and has a history. Her father, a
journalist, artist, no matter what, came to live in Paris years ago.
He went down, down, always down; six months ago he died. There was
enough to bury him, no more. She says, I don't know" - the Princess
indicated doubt with a movement of her fan - "that she wrote to friends
in England. Perhaps she did not write; how do I know? She was at the
last sou, the street before her, a hag of a concierge behind, and
withal - as you see her."

"Not wearing that dress, I presume?" he said with a faint smile.

"No. She had passed everything to the Mont de Piété; she had what she
stood up in - yet herself! Then a Polish family on the floor below, to
whom my daughter carried alms, told Cécile of her. They pitied her,
spoke well of her, she had done - no matter what for them - perhaps
nothing. Probably nothing. But Cécile ascended, saw her, became
enamoured, _enragée!_ You know Cécile - for her all that wears feathers
is of the angels! Nothing would do but she must bring her here and set
her to teach English to the daughters during her own absence."

"The Princess is away?"

"For four weeks. But in three days she returns, and you see where I
am. How do I know who this is? She may be this, or that. If she were
French, if she were Polish, I should know! But she is English and of a
calm, a reticence - ah!"

"And of a pride too," he replied thoughtfully, "if I mistake not. Yet
it is a good face, Princess."

She fluttered her fan. "It is a handsome one. For a man that is the
same."

"With all this you permit her to appear?"

"To be of use. And a little that she may be seen by some English
friend, who may tell me."

"Shall I talk to her?"

"If you will be so good. Learn, if you please, what she is."

"Your wishes are law," he rejoined. "Will you present me?"

"It is not necessary," the Princess answered. She beckoned to a stout
gentleman who wore whiskers trimmed à la mode du Roi, and had laurel
leaves on his coat collar. "A thousand thanks."

He lingered a moment to take part in the Princess's reception of the
Academician. Then he joined a group about old Prince Adam Czartoriski,
who was describing a recent visit to Cracow, that last morsel of free
Poland, soon to pass into the maw of Austria. A little apart, the girl
in black bent over the case of miniatures, comparing some with a list,
and polishing others with a square of silk. Presently he found himself
beside her. Their eyes met.

"I am told," he said, bowing, "that you are my countrywoman. The
Princess thought that I might be of use to you."

The girl had read his errand before he spoke and a shade flitted
across her face. She knew, only too well, that her hold on this rock
of safety to which chance had lifted her - out of a gulf of peril and
misery of which she trembled to think - was of the slightest. Early,
almost from the first, she had discovered that the Princess's
benevolence found vent rather in schemes for the good of many than in
tenderness for one. But hitherto she had relied on the daughter's
affection, and a little on her own usefulness. Then, too, she was
young and hopeful, and the depths from which she had escaped were such
that she could not believe that Providence would return her to them.

But she was quick-witted, and his opening frightened her. She guessed
at once that she was not to be allowed to await Cécile's return, that
her fate hung on what this Englishman, so big and bland and forceful,
reported of her.

She braced herself to meet the danger. "I am obliged to the Princess,"
she said. "But my ties with England are slight. I came to France with
my father when I was ten years old."

"I think you lost him recently?" He found his task less easy than it
should have been.

"He died six months ago," she replied, regarding him gravely. "His
illness left me without means. I was penniless, when the young
Princess befriended me and gave me a respite here. I am no part of
this," with a glance at the salon and the groups about them. "I teach
upstairs. I am thankful for the privilege of doing so."

"The Princess told me as much," he said frankly. "She thought that,
being English, I might advise you better than she could; that possibly
I might put you in touch with your relations?"

She shook her head.

"Or your friends? You must have friends?"

"Doubtless my father had - once," she said in a low voice. "But as his
means diminished, he saw less and less of those who had known him. For
the last two years I do not think that he saw an Englishman at home.
Before that time I was in a convent school, and I do not know."

"You are a Roman Catholic, then?"

"No. And for that reason - and for another, that my account was not
paid" - her color rose painfully to her face - "I could not apply to the
Sisters. I am very frank," she added, her lip trembling.

"And I encroach," he answered, bowing. "Forgive me! Your father was an
artist, I believe?"

"He drew for an Atelier de Porcelaine - for the journals when he could.
But he was not very successful," she continued reluctantly. "The china
factory which had employed him since he came to Paris, failed. When I
returned from school he was alone and poor, living in the little
street in the Quartier, where he died."

"But forgive me, you must have some relations in England?"

"Only one of whom I know," she replied. "My father's brother. My
father had quarrelled with him - bitterly, I fear; but when he was
dying he bade me write to my uncle and tell him how we were placed. I
did so. No answer came. Then after my father's death I wrote again. I
told my uncle that I was alone, that I was without money, that in a
short time I should be homeless, that if I could return to England I
could live by teaching French. He did not reply. I could do no more."

"That was outrageous," he answered, flushing darkly. Though well under
thirty he was a tall man and portly, with one of those large faces
that easily become injected. "Do you know - is your uncle also in
narrow circumstances?"

"I know no more than his name," she said. "My father never spoke of
him. They had quarrelled. Indeed, my father spoke little of his past."

"But when you did not hear from your uncle, did you not tell your
father?"

"It could do no good," she said. "And he was dying."

He was not sentimental, this big man, whose entrance into a room
carried with it a sense of power. Nor was he one to be lightly moved,
but her simplicity and the picture her words drew for him of the
daughter and the dying man touched him. Already his mind was made up
that the Czartoriski should not turn her adrift for lack of a word.
Aloud, "The Princess did not tell me your name," he said. "May I know
it?"

"Audley," she said. "Mary Audley."

He stared at her. She supposed that he had not caught the name. She
repeated it.

"Audley? Do you really mean that?"

"Why not?" she asked, surprised in her turn. "Is it so uncommon a
name?"

"No," he replied slowly. "No, but it is a coincidence. The Princess
did not tell me that your name was Audley."

The girl shook her head. "I doubt if she knows," she said. "To her I
am only 'the English girl.'"

"And your father was an artist, resident in Paris? And his name?"

"Peter Audley."

He nodded. "Peter Audley," he repeated. His eyes looked through her at
something far away. His lips were more firmly set. His face was grave.
"Peter Audley," he repeated softly. "An artist resident in Paris!"

"But did you know him?" she cried.

He brought his thoughts and his eyes back to her. "No, I did not know
him," he said. "But I have heard of him." And again it was plain that
his thoughts took wing. "John Audley's brother, the artist!" he
muttered.

In her impatience she could have taken him by the sleeve and shaken
him. "Then you do know John Audley?" she said. "My uncle?"

Again he brought himself back with an effort. "A thousand pardons!" he
said. "You see the Princess did not tell me that you were an Audley.
Yes, I know John Audley - of the Gatehouse. I suppose it was to him you
wrote?"

"Yes."

"And he did not reply?"

She nodded.

He laughed, as at something whimsical. It was not a kindly laugh, it
jarred a little on his listener. But the next moment his face
softened, he smiled at her, and the smile of such a man had its
importance, for in repose his eyes were hard. It was clear to her that
he was a man of position, that he belonged of right to this keen
polished world at which she was stealing a glance. His air was
distinguished, and his dress, though quiet, struck the last note of
fashion.

"But I am keeping you in suspense," he said. "I must tell you, Miss
Audley, why it surprised me to learn your name. Because I, too, am an
Audley."

"You!" she cried.

"Yes, I," he replied. "What is more, I am akin to you. The kinship is
remote, but it happens that your father's name, in its place in a
pedigree, has been familiar to me of late, and I could set down the
precise degree of cousinship in which you stand to me. I think your
father was my fourth cousin."

She colored charmingly. "Is it possible?" she exclaimed.

"It is a fact, proved indeed, recently, in a court of law," he
answered lightly. "Perhaps it is as well that we have that warrant for
a conversation which I can see that the Princess thinks long. After
this she will expect to hear the whole of your history."

"I fear that she may be displeased," the girl said, wincing a little.
"You have been very kind - - "

"Who should be kind," he replied, "if not the head of your family? But
have no fear, I will deal with the Princess. I shall be able to
satisfy her, I have no doubt."

"And you" - she looked at him with appeal in her eyes - "will you be
good enough to tell me who you are?"

"I am Lord Audley. To distinguish me from another of the same name, I
am called Audley of Beaudelays."

"Of Beaudelays?" she repeated. He thought her face, her whole bearing,
singularly composed in view of his announcement. "Beaudelays?" she
repeated thoughtfully. "I have heard the name more than once. Perhaps
from my father."

"It were odd if you had not," he said. "It is the name of my house,
and your uncle, John Audley, lives within a mile of it."

"Oh," she said. The name of the uncle who had ignored her appeals fell
on her like a cold douche.

"I will not say more now," Lord Audley continued. "But you shall hear
from me. To - morrow I quit Paris for three or four days, but when I
return have no fear. You may leave the matter in my hands in full
confidence that I shall not fail - my cousin."

He held out his hand and she laid hers in it. She looked him frankly
in the face. "Thank you," she said. "I little thought when I descended
this evening that I should meet a kinsman."

"And a friend," he answered, holding her hand a little longer than was
needful.

"And a friend," she repeated. "But there - I must go now. I should have
disappeared ten minutes ago. This is my way." She inclined her head,
and turning from him she pushed open a small door masked by a picture.
She passed at once into a dark corridor, and threading its windings
gained the great staircase.

As she flitted upwards from floor to floor, skirting a long procession



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