< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >




     IT was the morning after the events related in the last chapter.   
    The scene changes to a beautiful little villa in  the environs of Upper Clapton.
    This charming retreat, which consisted of a main building two storeys high, and wings each containing only one apartment, was constructed of yellow bricks that had retained their primitive colour, the dwelling being too far from the metropolis to be affected by its smoky exhalations.
    The villa stood in the midst of a small garden, beautifully laid out in the French style of Louis XV.; and around it - interrupted only by the avenue leading to the front door of the dwelling - was a grove of evergreens. This grove formed a complete circle, and bounded the garden; and the entire enclosure was protected by a regular paling, painted white. 
    This miniature domain, consisting of about four acres, was one of the most beautiful spots in the neighbourhood of London; and behind it - far as the eye could reach - stretched the green fields, smiling and cultivated like those of Tuscany.
    In front of the villa was a small grass plot, in the centre of which was a basin of clear and pellucid water, upon whose surface floated two noble swans, and other aquatic birds of a curious species.
    Every now and then the silence of the morning was broken by the bay of several sporting-dogs, which occupied, in the rear of the building, kennels more cleanly and more carefully attended upon than the dwellings of many  millions of Christians.
    And yet the owner of that villa wanted not charity: witness the poor woman and two children who have just emerged from the servants' offices laden with cold provisions, and with a well-filled bundle of other necessaries.
    At the door of a stable a groom was seen dismounting from the back of a thorough-bred chestnut mare, which had just returned from an airing, and upon which he cast glance of mingled pride and affection.
    The windows of the villa were embellished with flowers in pots and vases of curious workmanship; and outside the casements of the chambers upon the first floor were suspended cages containing beautiful singing birds.
    To the interior of one of those rooms must we direct the attention of the reader. It was an elegant boudoir: and yet it could scarcely justify the name; for by a boudoir we understand something completely feminine, whereas this contained articles of male and female use and attire strangely commingled - pell-mell - together.
    Upon the toilet-table were all the implements necessary for the decoration and embellishment of female beauty; and carelessly thrown over a chair were a coat, waistcoat, and trousers. A diminutive pair of patent-leather Wellington boots kept company with delicate morocco shoes, to which sandals were affixed. A huge press, half-open, disclosed an array of beautiful dresses - silk, satin, and precious stuffs of all kinds and on a row of pegs were hung a scarlet hunting coat, a shooting-jacket, a jockey-cap, and other articles of attire connected with field sports and masculine recreations. Parasols, [-17-]

foils, single-sticks, dandy-canes, and hunting-whips, were huddled together in one corner of that bureau. And yet all the confusion of these various and discrepant objects was so regular in appearance  -if the phrase can be understood - that it seemed as if some cunning hand had purposely arranged them all so as to strike the eye in a manner calculated to encourage the impression that this elegant boudoir was inhabited by a man of strange feminine tastes, or a woman of extraordinary masculine ones.
    There was no pompous nor gorgeous display of wealth in this boudoir: its interior, like that of the whole villa throughout, denoted competence and ease - elegance and taste, but no useless luxury nor profuse expenditure. 
    The window of the boudoir was half open. A bowl of chrystal water, containing gold and silver fish, stood upon a table in the recess of the casement. The chirrup of the birds echoed through the room, which was perfumed with the odour of sweet flowers.
    By the well facing the window stood a French bed, on the head and foot of which fall pink satin curtains, flowing from a gilt-headed arrow fixed near the ceiling.
    It was now nine o'clock, and the sun shed a flood of golden light through the half-open casement upon that couch which was so voluptuous and so downy.
    A female of great beauty, and apparently about five-and-twenty years of age, was reading in that bed. Her head reposed upon her hand, and her elbow upon the pillow: and that hand was buried in a mass of luxuriant light chestnut hair, which flowed down upon her back, her shoulders, and her bosom; but not so as altogether to conceal the polished ivory whiteness of the plump fair flesh.
    The admirable slope of the shoulders the swan-like neck, and the exquisite symmetry of the bust, were descried even amidst those masses of luxuriant and shining hair.
    A high and ample forehead, hazel eyes, [-18-] nose perfectly straight, small but pouting ups, brilliant teeth, and a well rounded chin, were additional charms to augment the attractions of that delightful picture.
    The whole scene was one of soft voluptuousness - the birds, the flowers, the vase of gold and silver fish, the tasteful arrangements of the boudoir, the French bed, and the beautiful creature who reclined in that couch, her head supported upon the well-turned and polished arm, the dazzling whiteness of which no envious sleeve concealed!
    From time to time the eyes of that sweet creature were raised from the book, and thrown around the room in a manner that denoted, if not mental anxiety, at least a state of mind not completely at ease. Now and then, too, a cloud passed over that brow which seemed the very throne of innocence and candour; and a sigh agitated the breast which the sunbeams covered as it were with kisses.
    Presently the door was opened softly, and an elderly female, well but simply dressed, and of placid and reserved aspect, entered the room.
    "Mr. Stephens is below," said the servant; "I told him you had not risen yet, and he says he will await your convenience."
    "I know not how it is," exclaimed the lady impatiently, "but I never felt less disposed for the visit of him whom I regard as my benefactor. Ah! Louisa," she added, a cloud overspreading her entire countenance, "I feel as if one of those dreadful attacks of despondency -one of those fearful fits of alarm and foreboding-of presentiment of evil, were coming on; and —"
    "Pray calm yourself," interrupted the servant, speaking in a kind and imploring tone. "Remember that the very walls have ears; that a word spoken in too high a tone may betray your secret; and heaven alone knows what would be the result of such an appalling discovery!"
    "Yes - it is that horrible mystery," ejaculated the lady, "which fills me with the most acute apprehensions. Compelled to sustain a constant cheat - to feel that I am a living, a breathing, a moving falsehood, a walking lie; - forced to crush all the natural amenities - ay, and even the amiable weaknesses of my sex; governed by an imperious necessity against which it is now impossible to rebel, - how can I do otherwise than experience moments of unutterable anguish!"
    "You must still have patience - patience only for a few months - three short months, - and the result of all this suspense - the end of all this anxiety, will be no doubt as advantageous - as immensely important and beneficial - as we are led to believe."
    "True: we are bound to believe a man who seems so serious in all his actions with regard to me," said the lady, after a short pause, during which she seemed to be wrapped up in a deep reverie. "But why does he keep me in the dark with regard to the true nature of that grand result? Why does he not trust me, who have placed such unbounded, such implicit confidence in him?"
    "He is afraid lest an unguarded moment on your part should betray what he assures us to be or the most vital - the last importance," answered the domestic, in a kindly remonstrative tone. "And really, my dearest girl," she added, affectionately,- "pardon me for calling you so — "
    "Ah! Louisa, you are my dearest friend!" said the lady energetically. "You, and you alone, have supported my courage during the four years and a half that this horrible deceit has already lasted; your kindness —"
    "I have only done my duty, and acted as my heart dictated," mildly replied the female dependant. "But as I was observing, you are so very imprudent, as it is; and can you expect that Mr. Stephens will reveal to you the minute details of a scheme, which —"
    "Imprudent!" hastily exclaimed the lady: "how am I imprudent? Do I not follow all his directions - all your advice? Have I not even learned to talk to the very groom in his own language about the horses and the dogs? and do I not scamper across the country, upon my chestnut mare, with him following upon the bay horse at my heels, as if we were both mad? And then you say that I am imprudent, when I have done all I can to sustain the character which I have assumed? And with the exception of these rides, how seldom do I go abroad? Half-a-dozen names include all my acquaintances: and no-one - one-no one ever comes here! This is, indeed, a hermit's dwelling! How can you say that I am imprudent?"
    "Without going out of this very room," began Louisa, with a smile, I could —"
    "Ah! the eternal remonstrances against these habiliments of my sex!" exclaimed the lady, drawing back the satin curtain at the head of the bed with her snow-white arm, and glancing towards the bureau which contained the female dresses: "ever those remonstrances! Alas! I should die - I could not support this appalling deceit - were I not to gratify my woman's feelings from time to time! Do you think that I can altogether rebel against nature, and not experience the effects? And, in occasionally soothing my mind with the occupations natural to my sex, have I ever been imprudent? When I have dressed my hair as it should ever be dressed - when I have put on one of those silk or muslin robes, merely to see myself reflected in my mirror - and, oh! what a pardonable vanity under such circumstances! - have I ever been imprudent enough to set foot outside this retreat - this boudoir, to which you alone are ever admitted? Do I ever dress with the blinds of the windows raised? No: I have done all that human being can do to support my spirits during this sad trial, and sustain the character I have assumed. But if it be desired that I should altogether forget my sex - and cling to the garb of a man; if I may never - not even for an hour in the evening - follow my fantasy, and relieve my mind by resuming the garb which is natural to me - within these four walls - unseen by a soul save you —"
    "Yes, yes, you shall have your way," interrupted Louisa soothingly. "But Mr. Stephens waits: will you not rise and see him?"
    "It is my duty," said the lady resignedly. "He has surrounded me with every comfort and every luxury which appetite can desire or money procure; and, however he may ultimately benefit by this proceeding, in the meantime my gratitude is due to him."
    "The delicacy of his conduct towards you equals his liberality," observed Louisa pointedly.
    "Yes; notwithstanding the peculiarity of our relative position, not a word, not a look disrespectful towards me from the first moment of our acquaintance! He faithfully adheres to his [-19-] portion of the contract, and I will as religiously observe mine.
    "You speak wisely and consistently," said Louisa; "and the result of your honourable conduct towards Mr. Stephens will no doubt be a recompense which will establish your fortunes for life."
    "That hope sustains me. Oh! how happy, thrice happy shall I be, when, the period of my emancipation being arrived, I may escape to some distant part of my own native country, or to some foreign clime, resume the garb belonging to my sex, and live in a way consistent with nature, aid suitable to my taste. It is in anticipation of those golden moments that I from time to time retire into the impenetrable mystery of this boudoir, and dress myself in the garb which I love, and which is my own. And when that elysian age shall come, oh! how shall I divert my mind with a retrospection upon these long weary weeks and months, during which I have been compelled to study habits opposed to my taste and feeling - to affect a love of horses and dogs, that a manly predilection may avert attention from a feminine countenance, - and to measure each word that falls from my lips, to study each attitude which my form assumes, and to relinquish pursuits and occupations which my mind adores."
    The lady threw herself back upon her pillow and gave way to a delicious reverie, Louisa did not attempt to disturb her for some minutes, At length she murmured something about "keeping Mr. Stephens waiting rather longer than usual;" and her mistress, acting by a sudden impulse, rose from her couch.
    Then followed the mysterious toilet.
    Stays, curiously contrived, gave to that exquisitely modelled form as much as possible the appearance of the figure of a man. The swell of the bosom, slightly compressed, was rendered scarcely apparent by padding skilfully placed, so as to fill up and flatten the undulating bust. The position of the waist was lowered; and all this was effected without causing the subject of so strange a transformation any pain or uneasiness.
    The semi-military blue frock coat, buttoned up to the throat, completed the disguise; and as this species of garment is invariably somewhat prominent about the chest, the very fashion of its make materially aided an effectual concealment, by averting surprise at the gentle protuberance of the breast, in the present instance.
    Louisa arranged the luxuriant and flowing hair with particular attention, bestowing as much as possible a masculine appearance upon that which would have been a covering worthy of a queen.
    The toilet being thus completed, this strange being to whom we have introduced our readers, descended to a parlour on the ground floor.
    When Louisa left the boudoir she carefully locked the door and consigned the key to her pocket.

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >